I’ve been listening my way through some year-end best-of lists – NPR, Pitchfork – and I notices that plaintive confessional singer-songwriters still predominate. They all sound exactly the same, of course, a they all write about the same thing. What sets Angel Olsen apart as artist working more or less in confessional singer-songwriter mode? It might be that her songs don’t all sound the same; changing tempos and mixing up styles is a good way to make a record that people will want to listen to more than once, so she’s got that going for her. It might be because she has an emotional range beyond ‘plaintive and sad’, or that she’s not always singing in upper register. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I just like her voice. That beings said though, this is a very plaintive and sad confessional singer-songwriter ballad, and if you’re going to listen to that particular genre, it doesn’t get much better than this, and I say that both as a compliment to Angel Olsen and a detriment to the genre.
If you’re asking yourself what sinsemilla is, you’ve got no business listening to Reggae music and you should go back to whatever suburb of Salt Lake City you came from. Sinsemilla is a strain of cannabis cultivated in a very specific way so as to result in particularly potent psychoactive properties. So he’s got some really good shit growing in his backyard, is what it’s saying. You really can’t separate Reggae culture from drug culture, although the drug culture we American live with doesn’t have the religious component. Which is unfortunate, as it seems like we’re really missing out on an opportunity to commune with God, while the Rasta get to elevate themselves spiritually as the elevate themselves chemically. Honestly, American marijuana culture is just another primo example of white people ruining everything, which is why I like to stay far away from it and from white dudes who wear Peruvian knits. I take my Reggae straight, or drunk, as it were, but I don’t get high much. It ain’t my culture.
Welp, Lady Gaga is an Oscar nominee now. Our Mother Monster is growing up! I have not seen the alleged cinematic masterpiece that is A Star is Born, but I listened to the soundtrack album, and on its own terms it’s really… kind of terrible. I am still, as a fan, very proud of Gaga for the growth she’s shown in her career. She has outgrown, in leaps and bounds, her beginnings as a purveyor of provocative pop songs. She always described herself as an artist who happened to become a pop star, and that rings true. All that growth, obviously, has to be reflected in her music and writing, and it’s cliche but true that her last album was her most vulnerable and mature. But I doubt that she’ll ever really outgrow her flair for the dramatic, or her flamboyance, or her love for huge choruses and bombastic power ballads and four-to-the-floor hooks.
10 September 1933 – 19 February 2019
Remixing is all well and good, modernizing old things for young ears, but some works need no help. Some works are already so modern in their drive and immediacy that it’s like there’s no such thing as changing times. Nina Simone, of course, almost singlehandedly kept jazz music relevant in the 1960’s, when the rock’n’roll youthquake was sweeping away everything minted before 1963. The reputation jazz had acquired for being pompous and louche and the domain of squares who still wore suits and strings of pearls – Nina Simone swept that aside, showing how fierce and subversive jazz could be, how deeply political and historically significant. She tied her music to her political activism, and to her personal struggles as a mentally ill black woman artist trying to make it in unforgiving America. Sinnerman is one of her best known works, a masterpiece in sustained emotional force. It is also, importantly, a traditional Negro spiritual rooted all the way back to times of slavery, grown into a gospel standard during Simone’s childhood, and rearranged as a jazz number in the 50’s. It is in no way ironic that a 1965 recording of a song with a history that may stretch back centuries sounds so unbound by time; things that are deeply important don’t get withered by small things like changing trends.
It’s Mick Jagger in the persona we know best: a smug fuckboy who knows he can be a dick and get away with it because he’s got boundless sexual charisma. Mick Jagger is the best kind of fuckboy, the kind who is absolutely gleeful and unrepentant, fully confident he’s got what girls – and boys! – want. As opposed to the other types, the insecure whiny ones who rely on fake sensitivity and postures of vulnerability in an attempt to make themselves seem harmless and appealing. Nobody wants a wolf in sheep’s clothing, though, everybody just wants the wolf. Or the sheep, some people are into that too, nothing wrong with a little lamb, as long as it’s authentic lamb. But yeah, in the real scheme of things, all the little red riding hoods can’t wait to line up to get eaten by the sexy cocksure wolf. You can call it problematic all you like, but it’s the way of nature.
What a bleak record. I haven’t listened to New Skin For the Old Ceremony is several years, and it’s never been one of Leonard Cohen’s records that I think to reach for. Though you wouldn’t call Cohen a sunshiny guy on the best of days, so much of his work is uplifting in the sense that it’s loaded with spiritual portent. This records, however, feels somehow bitter, as if the singer himself were having a reckoning with his calling. Everyone is entitled to a low point, and if Cohen didn’t have the best time in the mid-seventies, he’s entitled to his own rock bottom.