Survival Guide has today released her new fourth album titled ‘deathdreams’ via Double Helix Records. Emily “Agent M” Whitehurst is an artist you can’t help but respect. Having paid her dues in Tsunami Bomb and The Action Design as well as gracing the stage of The Warped Tour multiple years, Emily is an artist in the trues sense of the meaning.
With ‘deathdreams’, we get a concept of eleven songs culminating from different parts of her psyche, each with their own signature sound reaching different depths of the soul and id. Each solid in their own right. Each distinct from the next.
That pristine combination of weathered angelic voice with monster songwriting is undeniable. This is a future classic.
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“Over the last few years, I’ve had a handful of dreams that involved my own death in various ways, and they’ve all been profound for me,” says Emily “Agent M” Whitehurst, vocalist of indie electropop outfit Survival Guide, about the themes of her own demise encircling her fourth full length album deathdreams, out today (October 19, 2023 via Double Helix Records). “Because of this, it seemed natural to call the album deathdreams after this theme. I like the opposing imagery and feelings those words can conjure. I like how dreams can be interpreted as soft, sweet, or strange and death as dark and ominous. These descriptors fit various songs on the album as well, so it seemed like the right title for the collection.”
Produced by Bob Hoag (Dear and the Headlights, The Ataris, The Format) at Flying Blanket Recording in Mesa, AZ, the songs on deathdreams range from chillingly eerie rhythms (“Stay Dead”), to a ’70s-styled secret agent spy theme (“Sharpshooter”) to a melancholic piano ballad (“I’ll Picture You”). At times a darkly sonic and emotional hand grenade, and others a sparkly shimmering rainbow of rich melodies and textures, deathdreams is a tour de force that showcases the breadth and depth of Whitehurst’s songwriting, lyrical imagery, and vocal fortitude. Far-ranging in its topic matter, the album touches on the themes of anxiety (“wordswordswords”) and the dangers of societal influences (“Bad Little Seed”) coupled with Whitehurst’s dreams about dying (“Lady Neptune”). “My favorite kinds of albums are the ones that take you places and have a song for every mood, so that’s what I made,” she says excitedly.
Led by the first single “Blood Perfume,” Whitehurst found herself writing from the perspective of people or entities (such as social media, religion, an emotionally abusive partner or family member, politics, drugs, etc) that can “turn negative” when we allow them control. “Not that all those things are inherently bad,” she adds, “but we can be so easily manipulated sometimes, and we don’t even know it’s happening. I love how the feel of this song turned out very ominous but also dry and straightforward.” The accompanying music video is a short horror film involving a serial killer who gruesomely dispatches the body.
Following the release of “Blood Perfume,” Whitehurst released two more singles with epic, action-packed videos in preparation for the album release. The first, “Lady Neptune,” references a dream she had involving a chaotic battlefield, full of people fighting and killing each other. In the dream, Emily was struck with the knowledge that if she drowned herself, she’d come back to life and emerge from the water with the power to stop the fighting. Although her newest single (“Pie”) isn’t literally about pie, she uses the imagery to embody a Stepford Wife gone rogue, evoking an exaggerated version of a 1950s baking show. While she is dressed like the perfect “Betty Draper,” the lyrics to the track, on the other hand, feature a vivid metaphor (“Let me bubblewrap you / Hide you from his eyes”), as she reveals herself as a protector, wishing she could prevent younger women from enduring the dark things she’s been through as a woman, herself.
About Survival Guide
Originally a duo, Survival Guide’s first album, Way To Go – described as “passion behind an electronic soul” by New Noise Magazine – was released in 2015. It was around this time when Survival Guide slowly and amicably, yet painfully, became a solo act, leaving Whitehurst unsure of what to do next. Never having written or performed music alone, she considered everything from starting a new band to quitting music altogether. After a significant geographical shift (moving from Petaluma, California to San Antonio, Texas), an acoustic album, and some solo touring, she’s finally returned solo as Survival Guide.
A former Northern California native now residing in San Antonio, Texas, Em is an electronic indie-pop artist with a background in punk. Her music obsession began with Green Day, leading her to a dreams-come-true life of punk rock as she traversed continents fronting the band Tsunami Bomb as “Agent M.” Over the years, her music gradually shifted toward synthpop in The Action Design, then further into the electronic indiepop realm as Survival Guide. Her danceable tunes evoke a sonic birthday cake: alternating layers of Depeche Mode, Metric, Peter Gabriel, and Grimes, with vibrant melodies and vocals as the icing on top. “Music is crucial to my survival,” she says wholeheartedly, adding, “Survival Guide is one woman trying to shape her own place in this world as a musician.”
With her past entirely behind her, Survival Guide is both Whitehurst’s present and future – and if deathdreams is any indication, it is a bright future for Whitehurst, her legions of fans the world over, and the many new fans for whom deathdreams will be the reason they discover Survival Guide for the first time. “I’ve learned a lot over the last few years – not only about songwriting and recording but also about myself and the ways I’ve been holding myself back,” she says. “I’m excited to funnel it all into music.”
Featured image by Kat Carey.