'Push Back' Asks You To Dance To Your Heartbreak, And Then Some

Culture Mar 19, 2021

This article contains discussion of suicide, depression, self-harm and substance abuse/addiction (as does the album). If you’d rather not read about those things, consider skipping this one.

When I first listened to Push Back I was at my desk, between meetings. In the very real world of my corporate day-job, a crisis had been unfolding with a financially crucial client and my team for a fortnight. Weeks of turmoil, late nights and stressful meetings with frustrated business people using fake words about made up stuff that means nothing. It’s been a distracting and exhausting week. I feel thin, like so much clingwrap being stretched so tight over a bowl that the stress is invisible until you go to dig in and your spoon bounces off. So, on that Friday morning when I pressed play on Push Back and heard: 'can we talk about your heart please' I breathed out for the first time in weeks.

Push Back is the debut album from Jetty Bones (aka Kelc Galluzzo et al.). The album delves into Galluzzo’s struggles as a young person trying to exist in the face of the overwhelming mental health and queerness of existing. But more than that, the mundanity of all these feelings.

The album splits itself into two acts: the first few tracks explore the aftermath of a breakup from an abusive relationship. Waking Up Crying paints the day to day presentation of a general, numb suffering. The narrator describes ‘you’ - presumably the figure from a relationship Galluzzo discusses in Crucial States.

This becomes clearer as Nothing and That’s All detail the months after the breakup as Galluzzo tries to come to terms with the reality of being separated. These early tracks are bombastic, dancey and energetic. Nothing is an absolute jammer that gets me up from my desk every time to dance along with Galluzzo explaining her inability to accept a breakup. The poppy, electric 80s tune is a perfect companion for the desperate lyrics and frustration.

‘If you think it’s better for me/Then you don’t know me,’ Galluzzo laments, while simultaneously pleading for the relationship to return. The line that cut me in half arrives in the pre-chorus as the narrator questions if the ex is grieving the relationship. Galluzzo sings ‘Even though we both know you were the one who (who gave up) chose to leave.’

Something about the inner thought ‘who gave up’ bleeding through to the polite phrasing rings very true indeed. You try to remain composed in these moments but if you’ve ever had someone given up on you, you’ll get it. This buried exasperation slides into the energetic chorus, the devastation of the narrator’s anger washed into a brilliant saxophone solo.

This pairing of dire and mundane is a mainstay of Galluzzo’s music, but here it’s brought to full fruition as the album splits itself in half. The track that separates our acts is Ravine.

Ravine dumps us from smooth, dancy numbers to a somber, old school Jetty Bones ballad. It feels like Second Death In The Rabbit Hole but the drums take a backseat to the melodic piano. Ravine is the song that takes this from a collection of songs to a concept album that’s reaching for something else. It’s little coincidence this divergence occurs with a track called Ravine: a dark, hidden place beneath the surface that separates two parts of the world that used to touch.

The keys trickle along with Galluzzo’s voice as she explains she’s slipping, drinking again. And in drinking there is a warm tragedy: “but I can’t really write without it,” she explains. “I guess it’s character immersion.”

Here, it feels like Galluzzo is highlighting the paradox of her art: she writes about recovery, addiction, depression, but to write about it, she must experience the everyday parts of it. This feels more like a meditation on reality than melodrama. And to be clear: Galluzzo does not romanticise her mental health or struggles with sobriety and art. These are presented as artefacts of her life, excavated in the lyrics, rather than a statement.

This exploration continues, almost chronologically (or at least semiotically) into Waking Up Exhausted, where Galluzzo follows Ravine, the descent into the blackness, with the morning after.

Waking Up Exhausted describes exactly that: the sensation of surfacing each morning drained. The feeling of your mind leaden, sluggish, but never so much that you don’t enter the Ravine. Writing about this is difficult because everyone has different experiences with substances and addiction. Some have no issues at all, they’re just not wired for it, while others seem to inherit the trait along with their parents’ hair colour and political views.

The song starts with this lamentation of feeling sick the morning after drinking, but continuing through anyway: just because you’re tired and feel awful, doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done, art to be created. Nor am I sure we’re really just talking about drinking. Anxiety and depression create their own kind of mental hangovers at times. Thinking about the days after huge anxiety attacks or the worst weeks of my depression, I get it. Waking Up Exhausted is more a part of life than a consequence for some of us.

And here, at the end of the song, Galluzzo addresses the audience and sets up the final act of the album. ‘Welcome to my shit show,’ she proclaims, an indicator of what’s to come. And here the album shifts into concept territory. Rather than a series of standalone songs with a cohesive theme, the tail end of the record is a pastiche of the earlier tracks, slowly collapsing to a single focal point.

Bad Time is hard to pick apart. It’s a brief duet with Eric Egan, where Galluzzo and Egan seem to play one half of Galluzzo’s inner monologue.

Galluzzo refutes the audience’s perception of her as a role model, while Egan promises she’s strong and worthy of looking up to. This feels a direct response to people placing Galluzzo as a role model for talking about difficult issues. When you’re someone who suffers through these things, it’s not brave to discuss them, it’s necessary. They are part of the fabric of life, not an indulgence to be addressed and admired for.

Dolly begins the descent: it’s little coincidence the sounds grow louder and more confident here, and Dolly presents as a swinging knee-slapper inspired directly by its namesake. But the lyrics whisk you along in an upbeat discussion of not wanting to live, but not being ready to die.

These thoughts seem divorced from the song, and feel a perfect sonic representation of intrusive thoughts. This sensation is realised so brilliantly I struggled to find an explanation because it felt so natural. If you have those intrusive thoughts, you know what it’s like: you never actively think about it, the thoughts are always there like background radiation. And like radiation, it’s okay for right now, but if you don’t escape them or get your blood worked on, you’ll get more and more sick.

These thoughts are part of the everyday for some of us. That we can dance and jam along while they exist is sort of the point for me. Yes, some days it’s so bad you can’t get up. But other days (most days) you get up anyway. You go to work. You go on dates. You ask about your colleague’s weekend. You exist, and it’s always there, just a little. But as the radiation grows, the songs get louder and louder, and things come into focus.

This focal point is Bad Trick. Bad Trick deserves an article of its own. “I said I wouldn’t drink anymore,” opens the track. But the line that reaches deep into the recesses of my own addiction is the line “it’s the only thing I can control, even when it’s controlling me.”

The idea that even though you’re stuck in a toxic relationship, whether a substance or person, your participation is a choice: it is, in a fucked up way, a choice that you get to make. It’s a choice you make every single time you pick up the bottle. But it’s your choice. Hence the title: Bad Trick. Trick, as in a person in a relationship being used by the other.

Galluzzo invites us to see double here: her relationship with alcohol, her relationship with art, the relationship from the start of the album. Each of these connections Galluzzo describe someone being used by the other. Her drinking seems to help Galluzzo write, while slowly eating away at her. Her relationship to art is one that provides meaning, yes, but at the cost of making things incrementally worse. These thoughts layer, one after another, as the music in Bad Trick swells, and Galluzzo breaks it down for us.

“I'm just I'm a bad trick (And I can feel the alcohol kicking in)” she sings. The parenthetical is a line from Ravine, drawing us back to that separation in the album. That she slipped, “and I'm worse off for it (And I keep waking up exhausted).” This regular, every day conciliation to the problem.

Galluzzo then steps through a series of lines referencing prior songs on the record: ‘l guess I'm feeling like a burden’, ‘And I can feel the alcohol kicking in’, ‘And I keep waking up exhausted’ and at each turn, almost dismisses her own explanations and rationalisations. The idea that yes, these things are all true but they are not justifications, they are explanations.

The line ‘I'm not any “better” yet’ comes at the end of this sequence and is stuck in my brain. Her previous release, titled ‘-’, opens with the track “better”. In that track, Galluzzo describes the fallout of building a life on a faulty foundation. The vivid description of an abusive relationship. ‘I should’ve known better,’ Galluzzo sings. The callback to this title says the obvious: you never get ‘better’ from abuse. You never get ‘better’ from depression, from anxiety, from suicidal ideation. You just get… somewhere else, maybe.

This is why it’s impossible to discuss Bad Trick without discussing the album. The reason this song sinks into my skin is because it’s the whole album at once. The confluence of longing, trauma, anxiety, and need. Galluzzo somehow titrates those moments into a single three minute track. The anxiety (instruments) crashes in, engulfing, and all the rationalisation in the world doesn’t matter. All the gratitude practices and meditation and exercise fail, and everything gets very still indeed.

Which brings us to Bug Life, a sombre guitar tune that Galluzzo wrote in lieu of a suicide note a number of years ago. The track is simple and quiet: a quality requiring magnitudes of confidence and vulnerability given the content. Galluzzo tells us how she has always felt messy, unwanted. Like a bug everyone wishes wasn’t around.

The song concludes with clippings of voicemails from family and friends reaching out to Galluzzo at different points, trying to understand how they can help her suffering. But they can’t.

And the final voicemail is from Galluzzo herself. A voicemail from that night. She apologises in a choked sob, and you can almost hear the tears. They might have been her last words. As an ending to a story, it’s gutting. Sorry for feeling this way. Sorry for lacking the strength to take a hand when offered. Sorry for not realising there is another option. Sorry for not walking away earlier and sorry for feeling sorry about that. Sorry for still being hurt. Sorry I can’t even text you without my chest locking and my heart aching. Sorry for still being in pain about it and sorry for feeling like it’s worth apologising for being in pain. Sorry for being brave enough to want to talk about it and sorry that you left (gave up). Just… sorry.

I’m no longer sure where the album ends and those thoughts begin.

Push Back is characterised by risk and mastery, more than anything else. Galluzzo’s intuitive pairing of dancey, energetic numbers with her darkest moments forms a strange dual-reality, where you’ll end up cranking the volume and yelling along to Nothing, and then staring numbly at the windshield as Ravine creeps in, one piano stroke at a time.

Writing about this album is hard. Thinking about this album is hard. I can’t stop listening to it. This record is a monument to the possibility of what music can do. Though it’s different from Galluzzo’s back catalogue, her vocals and voice are so at home here I have to wonder if we were always going to end up here.

That the record explores the everyday parts of mental health rejects the idea that Galluzzo is somehow a hero or brave for writing about it. The album is titled Push Back, after all, and we all just write about what we know.

The album, as with the back catalogue of Jetty Bones, doesn’t solve these feelings or resolve them. It’s not a statement, so much, as part of the larger conversation that is Jetty Bones. Galluzzo lets us know that she doesn’t have the answers, she’s still trying to figure it out, even now: the slim but important comfort that there are others who understand what you’re working through. And that while it may not be ‘better’ now, it might be one day. But you have to stick around to find out.


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David McNeill

David McNeill is the author of Maynard Trigg and editor-in-chief of ZeroIndent. He's a dedicated storyteller with a background in literary analysis and comms.

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