BY Chloe Stead in Opinion | 01 SEP 23

Editor’s Picks: The Bracing Self-Reflection of Issy Wood’s Music

Other highlights include boygenius’s European and North American tour and Phoebe Walker's debut novel, Temper

BY Chloe Stead in Opinion | 01 SEP 23

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Issy Wood, 'The Blame Pt. 5' (2023)

When I got an email from a PR agent in the summer of 2022 asking if I would like to write about Issy Wood’s debut album, I’ll admit I might have rolled my eyes. Call it the Wolfgang Tillmans effect, but I didn’t want my love of Wood’s paintings to be ruined by what I expected would be mediocre music. When I finally did give the record, cheekily titled ‘My Body Your Choice’, a listen, I realized that I had been wrong to sleep on it. Now, Wood is back with a new EP, ‘The Blame, Pt. 5’, which, like its predecessor, is filled with bracing self-reflection.

‘Whoever created me must have hated me,’ she croons on Heaven. ‘I want my money back. I want it all for free.’ It’s when she turns this gaze outwards, however, that things get really interesting. With lyrics like ‘If I don't respond I want you to take my hand / And show me once and for all you're a businessman,’ it’s hard not to imagine that, somewhere, Larry Gagosian’s ears are burning.

boygenius, Europe and North America Tour

Last week I made a pilgrimage to see boygenius – a supergroup comprising Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus – play at London’s Gunnersbury Park. Joined by singer-songwriters Soak and Ethel Cain, and indie pop band MUNA, it was an all-queer line-up, cheered on by the 25,000-strong crowd, most of whom where women. It was an absolute delight not to have to deal with the kind of laddish energy often found at music festivals, something boygenius not-so-subtly hinted at when they came on stage to Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ (1976) in matching suits and ties.

boygenius gunnersbury park, London, 2023
boygenius, Gunnersbury Park, 2023 via @xboygeniusx

Known for their dulcet sounds, boygenius might seem like an odd band to sell out a stadium, but they managed to switch between guitar-heavy hits (‘$20’, 2023) and piano ballads (‘Letter To An Old Poet’, 2023) without ever losing the crowd. As good as it is, though, the music was almost beside the point. We were all there, it felt like, to watch these three charismatic and talented friends have fun. And no-one seemed to be having more fun than Bridgers, who despite – or perhaps because of – fervent speculation about her relationship status, closed the show by making out with all three members of MUNA.

Phoebe Walker, Temper, 2023

With its red cover and evocative, one-word title, Temper, Phoebe Walker’s debut novel, has clearly been marketed with the success of Raven Leilani’s extramarital drama, Luster (2020), in mind. Even the book’s description, which speaks of a relationship between the unnamed protagonist and ‘a woman she neither likes nor can keep away from’, hints at the kind of dangerous liaison that made Leilani’s novel such an addictive read. To pick up Temper and expect a thriller, however, is to be sorely disappointed. Instead, the book’s strengths come from its realism.

Phoebe Walker, Temper, 2023
Phoebe Walker, Temper, 2023, book cover. Courtesy: Fairlight Books

‘Sour…aimless (and) chronically unenthused,’ the main character lacks the chaotic energy of Luster’s Edie, but I found her story more relatable because of it. In sparse prose we learn of her distaste for life, either in the ‘blue-fringed cell’ of England or the Netherlands, where she has recently relocated, with its canals and ‘carnations [which] bloom and brim over into the water, year-round’. While I wouldn’t describe Temper as a page-turner, this woman’s struggles to fit in, and her dwindling desire to bother trying, resonated with me in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.

Main image: Issy Wood, Study for Longing, detail, 2022, oil on linen, 0.90 x 2.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Werner Gallery, New York

Chloe Stead is assistant editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.