- Dirt Buyer II Theme
- Gathering Logs
- Tears My Heart In Two
- Wicked Branches
- Sounds Heard Through The Glass
- On & On
Joe Sutkowski (Dirt Buyer)’s new album is a documentation of making it to the other side. Sutkowski grew up in New Jersey, and although he lives in Brooklyn now, he remains “an emo kid at heart,” garnering inspiration from bands like My Chemical Romance and Muse, the latter of whose theatrical, dramatic performances inspired the band’s own vocal-forward, soaring takes. Initially working together as a duo while Sutkowski and Ruben Radlauer (Model/Actriz) were at school in Berklee, the band’s self-titled 2019 debut album was recorded on an IPhone in their practice room on just drums and guitar, and the quietly striking, nuanced stylings earned them accolades far beyond the “fake record label” the two made up to originally release their music.
The band’s new album, Dirt Buyer II (their first on Bayonet), was recorded in February 2020, and represents a foray into heavier material that marks a deeper shift for the band. Now working as a trio, Sutkowski is flanked by Tristan Allen on bass (who is a puppeteer by trade building marionettes for their own solo project), and Mike Costa on drums, a fellow Berklee grad who cut his teeth playing in bands across Boston including past collaborations with Sutkowski. Half-recorded while the band was on tour with Surf Curse, the record finds Sutkowski reaching out for places, people and beliefs to ground him. Reeling from the aftermath of a short, intense relationship, he wrote the songs that would become Dirt Buyer II while his bandmates were out and he was bouncing from house to house on tour.
Sutkowksi grapples with loss throughout the record, often mourning relationships that have yet to come to pass (“Sand”) and questioning the fragility of time. “How the leaves have changed,” he intones, repeating the phrase throughout the album. Three years on, Dirt Buyer II is an artifact of a time that is still preserved through the headrush of peak memory; the magnitude of high highs and low lows that are both addictive and transformative. A lot of the songs are “about impulsivity and not thinking of future you,” a romantic concept in theory that with the prescience of looking back, is more about self destruction and loss of control. “If heavy’s what you wanted / heavy’s what you’re gettin’ / heavy’s what you needed, believe me now / if change is what you wanted / change is what you’re gettin,” he sings on “Heavy,” ironically one of the catchiest tracks on Dirt Buyer II. But with that comes the opportunity to see life for what it’s worth: “I’m fortunate to have a thing that’s an outlet but also an escape.”
What it means to be alive also means coming to terms with mortality itself, and Sutkowski wrote album centerpiece “Fentanyl” about an experience walking to his day job one day and being confronted by a fatal overdose he had to call an ambulance for, before reporting to work and having to carry on with his day. Throughout the album he attempts to wrap his head around the idea of fate and how you can brush up against other people and then leave them behind. The songs themselves play with this concept of light and dark intertwined. Oscillating between urgency and cathartic release and more stripped-back elegies, Sutkowski faces the reality that while the people he’d rather forget can still live on through music, he is able to move on at the same time.
A lot of the record was written when “I fell apart and figured out how to put myself together.” Half-recorded in his mother and uncle’s upstate house where he turned the living room into a studio, he contemplates the beauty and disaster around him (“in the valley you'll find heartache / in the woods you'll find your faith”) - all refracted through visceral visual imagery of how the physical earth meets the unknown to converge in something greater than ourselves. In both he is searching for space: from the person he used to love, both in an exterior relationship and inherently within himself and his family history. “This is all a living chronicle of all I want to do, which is feel good and be happy,” he admits. “I’m a completely different person now - a better version of myself.” Processing the past, Sutkowksi has emerged with newfound belief, fully intact and with a new path forward to the future.