Cartwheel – Best Days

Best Days is the debut EP from Wichita, Kansas band Cartwheel, aka Kristyn Chapman (guitar & vocals), Riley Day (bass) and William Erickson (drums). Despite being made up of just six songs and clocking in at only 22 minutes, the record tackles some weighty themes, boasting an emotional core that most longer albums could only aspire to match.

The tracks were written during a difficult period for Chapman, and grapples with the pain caused by the sudden death of her brother. “These songs helped me work through the difficult stages of grief,” she explains, “as well as normal things anyone in their twenties experiences, like navigating relationships and becoming yourself. As a whole, it sums up how I view life. Diving into your deepest sorrow allows you to experience the deepest joy.”

Opener ‘Life Doesn’t Wait’ finds Chapman reflecting on the four year anniversary, on things left unsaid and ultimately trying to come to terms with our helplessness in the face of things life throws at us. Despite this it’s not exactly a sad song, the pensive atmosphere balanced by the instrumentation and Chapman’s vocal delivery, resulting in a sense of strength that kindles hope.

I wish you would’ve
talked to me about it,
instead of pretending you were
tough enough to handle it

‘Nothing’ capitalises on that confidence, serving up another slice of vulnerable but resolute indie rock that sees Chapman bare wounds in order to move on. “We’re so afraid to feel anything,” she sings, “but feeling is what makes life full.” This was the song that caused the birth of Cartwheel as a band, the moment a creative block moved aside. “One night a very honest song just fell out of me,” Chapman describes, “the chords, melody, and words came all at once in a rare miracle.”

There’s a Yo La Tengo vibe on ‘Cutting Off a Limb’, which feels fresh and light despite the fact it’s a breakup song. “How do I become separate again?” Chapman asks, summing up the track’s ethos pretty neatly, ruminating on the gaps left behind when people leave our lives. The title track is dedicated to Chapman’s mother (that’s her on the cover), a touching exploration of the most absolute form of grief and a reminder that even the deepest of wounds need not completely incapacitate—although things will never be the same, it is possible to feel emotions other than total despair.

Your tears deserve
to be worn like a smile.
It’s okay to feel however you feel.
There’s a world of color waiting

Closer ‘Break & Mend’ is what Chapman describes to KMUW as “an anthem for quiet people,” and acts as the hopeful resolution of all the introspection and self-examination that has come before. It’s a song that preaches kindness and patience, another assurance that bad periods end, that there is always hope of new growth, even on the barest of earth.

And I can see roots
growing over concrete,
flowers shooting through
beams as big as trees

You can get Best Days now, on cassette, CD, or digital download, from the Cartwheel Bandcamp page.