A stunningly cinematic synthpop seduction, Primer’s sophomore album ‘Incubator’ is as intimate as it is intense: A captivating half hour of charged passion and invigorating energy.
Stream: “Warning” – Primer
A stunningly cinematic synthpop seduction, Primer’s sophomore album is as intimate as it is intense: A dramatic, expressive, and exhilarating overhaul of soaring sound and stirring feelings that coalesce in a half hour of charged passion and invigorating energy. Captivating and immersive, dynamic and dazzling, Incubator invites us to dwell in the deep end of the sonic spectrum as Primer delivers an engaging soundtrack to escape and indulgence, catharsis and release.
Oh I’m living my life alone
I’m on my own now
And I’ll keep it to myself but I don’t want to
Cuz I’m never gonna feel that way for you again
I want, I wanna feel it for myself
And you know I never could let go
It’s always been all for you
It’s true, but that’s a warning
That’s a warning
That’s a warning to myself…
Released April 15, 2022 via Egghunt Records, Incubator is the irresistible sophomore album from Alyssa Midcalf’s synth-soaked solo project, Primer. The Los Angeles-based artist – formerly one half of the electronic duo PARTS – first introduced her solo endeavor over three years ago, with 2019’s album Novelty carving out a vast universe of vivid sound and color that could be hers and hers alone. Taking trauma and “dressing it up in sounds, rhythms, and melodies” “to turn it into something beautiful,” Primer’s music can be appreciated as a visceral and vulnerable expression of Midcalf’s deepest depths.
Working with Noah Prebish (of psych-pop band and Atwood artist-to-watch Psymon Spine) on her sophomore effort, Midcalf seems to have elevated everything about Primer, and in turn, herself: From the radiant instrumental work and arresting vocal performances, to the sheer tightness and welcoming warmth of this record’s production, Incubator is a breathtaking best foot forward.
“I went into this record wanting to make a pop album,” Midcalf tells Atwood Magazine. “I wanted to really ride the idea of happy sounding songs with dark meanings. So much changed over the course of the record but one thing remained the same throughout the whole process: It’s a pop album.”
This album is years in the making: For Midcalf, the making of Incubator was an arduous, but ultimately rewarding process of slowly chiseling away at a metaphorical slab of marble until she was finally satisfied with the end result.
Welcome to your life
Try to do things right
Find a spouse
Make some kids to replace yourself
Pray to God to save yourself
Feels like I’m being brainwashed
It’s becoming an impossible though
A big machine and I’m a cog
Never stop it’s never enough
“I wrote these songs over a long period of time. They feel like a patchwork of life and have grown alongside me,” she notes. “The material and songs for this album have been developing for years and years. Creating the album was a long gestation period. So much of the process was me being patient while life events got in the way. It almost served as this constant in my life while everything else changed around it, like it was gestating in an incubator while all this chaos happened outside of it. I would nurture it and tend to it and it would develop slowly – so slowly that its small progressions felt like they occurred microscopically over time that led to a form that can exist on its own.”
“As for recording, I started recording this record a few years ago with an ex and in the process of recording with him I realized that a lot of the songs on the album were about the pain that this relationship was causing me,” she adds. “I would sing what was essentially pre-breakup songs in a vocal booth while the person who the songs were about was pressing the record button. Artistically I knew the relationship was over, but that hadn’t materialized in my life yet. A few months after starting the first recording process we broke up and all of the work we did got canned. I started from ground zero with my friend and co-producer Noah Prebish to make the final album.”
Music for me is so intangible. It captures my artistry because it’s my art, and my art is an extension of me.
As easy to dance to as it is to cry to, Incubator is lively, hard-hitting, immediate, and beautifully intense.
Every song is its own insular world that shakes the body and moves the spirit, whilst the overall album charts a profoundly cohesive, compelling journey through the depths of our shared human experience. All the while, Primer envelops our ears and hearts in catchy, charming pop wonder.
The record opens with the intense synth-driven pulse of “Impossible Thoughts,” a fittingly titled feverish eruption of existential angst and dread characterized by such spirited lines as, “Make some kids to replace yourself, pray to God to save yourself” and “Now the world is ending, so I can’t concern myself with the basics of living With an end so near in sight.” From there, Primer seamlessly moves into the album’s standout lead single “Just a Clown,” an undeniably emotional upheaval dressed in dazzling synths and soft, soaring vocals. One of Atwood Magazine’s Editor’s Picks, the song’s confessional lyrics hit on both an individual and a universal level; meanwhile, Midcalf reaches epic heights through stadium-sized sonics and the emotional unrest to match.
Synths shimmer, glimmer, bustle, and pop as the artist dwells in a turbulent space:
I can finally see
The difference between you and me
It’s just this sad pathetic game I play
I try to win but it moves away
I try to find the key
It is sad but it’s true
Who are you, who do you know
Who are you?
Who are you
Who do you know, who are you
Who do you know…
And I can’t believe it has come to this
I’m just a clown and I’ll never win
And I can’t believe it has come to this
I’m just a clown and I’ll never win
“‘Just A Clown’ is about nepotism, failure and having a dream that’s tied to a string that’s being pulled a little further from you every time you feel like you might be close enough to grab it,” Midcalf explains. “It’s about the godless crush of the music industry and more broadly, of capitalism. And how silly and demoralizing it can feel to dream big for something. I wrote the song a few years ago but the feeling behind it is a continuous, ongoing cycle for me. The cycle goes: I get excited and fired up about something > I get a reality check about the thing > I feel like a clown > I want to quit > I get excited about it again. It’s just the most embarrassing feeling to put yourself out there and be vulnerable, earnest and sincere. It’s always been difficult for me so making it the subject of a pop song was a way for me to work through it.”
Midcalf cites the moody, downtempo “Things Fall Apart” and the glitchy, thought-provoking, rip-roaring “Hypercube” as two of her current favorite songs on the record. She goes on to express a particular penchant for this album’s lyrics:
“I really appreciate cerebral lyricists but I’ve always considered myself someone who writes pretty accessible lyrics. Especially for this record, even though the subject matter can be heavy at times, the songs are still pop songs and I want every lyric to be easy to understand. A lot of the words that are the most meaningful to me are the ones that were spoken in my real life; very simple phrases that came out in real conversations. Like “I want you to feel the way I do” or “It never had a thing to do with you” were conversational phrases that stuck with me hard.”
“Also because some of the songs are older, I like to look at the words and reflect on how the meaning shifted over time. Impossible Thoughts is by far the oldest song on the record, so a line like “The world is ending either way, I accept it but I don’t wanna live that way” in 2022 can be interpreted and contextualized way differently than when I wrote that line years ago. Same with “try to do things right, like settle down, find a spouse, make some kids to replace yourself.” The meaning changes over time for me. Writing that line as a queer, closeted teen grappling with the reality that traditional marriage or reproduction might not be in the cards for me, means something different now shifting into adulthood. Even if I am ready to make those life steps they might not be accessible to me because of personal and global circumstances.”
For Midcalf, Incubator‘s release means she can finally relieve herself of all the unrest and excitement, euphoria and heartache that went into making this album.
“It feels good to make art public, but everything beyond that is out of my control,” she shares. “It’s nice for it to be finished, so I can move on to the next album. I give everything I can to music but I don’t expect too much in return.”
While she’s got her sights already set on writing and recording new music, we – Midcalf’s captive audience – finally get to bask in Primer’s enthralling rays. Incubator is an endlessly alluring vessel of energy and emotion; a record that pushes us to dance like nobody’s watching and sing to the high heavens, like no one can hear us. For Primer – and all who care to dive deeper – it’s also a poignant, unapologetically raw reflection on life’s seismic and subtle changes – the ones that throw us off-balance and force us to rethink the way we view ourselves and our surroundings.
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Primer’s Incubator with Atwood Magazine as Alyssa Midcalf goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her sophomore LP!
Stream: ‘Incubator’ – Primer
:: Inside Incubator ::
This was the first song me and my collaborator worked on together. I started writing it when I was a teenager and it was originally about existential angst, and how when you are younger everything feels like the world is ending. Now my existential dread comes from external forces.
Just A Clown
Just A Clown was when I really started to conceptualize abject pop. I wanted to write about the capitalist nature of the music industry and the internal struggles of being an artist, and the demoralization that comes with that.
If You Need Me
This song delves into every stage that goes with supporting a mentally unwell loved one. Reluctance, guarding feelings, realizing you can never truly understand another person’s lived experience, trying to relate your own experience and ultimately offering the only thing you can: a listening ear.
Giving Up is a reaction to If You Need Me. If You Need Me is about experiencing someone else’s depression and Giving Up is about processing your own. I wrote this song when I didn’t want to live and I didn’t want to die. It’s about acceptance, finding beauty in pain and making a pact with yourself that you will never choose to “give up” on living.
Things Fall Apart
I started writing this song when I was very young and didn’t have real life experiences to write about. So I would write about literature that moved me, however, the song isn’t about the book Things Fall Apart. Over time I weaved in moments and experiences from my personal life, particularly in the last verse. I like to think that I started gaining some of the experiences I used to read about in books.
This song is about dimensional tesseracts and rotational animations of hypercubes. It’s about the idea that you will always be limited to your current plane. You will always be confined to your plane and never be able to move to another axis or dimension. It’s just a continuous loop of reverting back to your original plane, like a hypercube rotation.
I feel like a lot of people who are in hopeless relationships start to accept the prison of the relationship and just try to wait for any period of relief and stability. Slowly your brain starts to convince you that your commitment is some kind of romantic altruism or sacrifice.
Feel The Way I Do
This song is about a witch with a little demon living inside her. Sometimes the demon comes out and scares the people she loves and causes chaos in her relationships.
This song is about how our world revolves around the sun but the only reason why it has significance to us is because of proximity. It feels powerful and meaningful to the inhabitants of planet Earth but in reality there’s millions of other stars just the same as the Sun.
When I was a little kid I grew up in musical theater so for me, the last song is always a finale and the finale is always happy in a musical. I wanted to leave the album with a happy final song to sing along to. To leave the album the way I would leave the theater as a little kid; feeling optimistic and powerful.
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📸 © Alyssa Midcalf
:: Stream Primer ::