Queen and Country

The sun used to never set on the British empire, as they used to say. It’s something the Brits were very proud of, and some of them still perversely are. Of course, the glory of the British empire, like all empires, came at the very violent expense of everybody else in the world who wasn’t British or at least continental Europeans, and the expense of the enlisted men who were sent out to do Queen and Country’s dirty work. This reality is now a bit of a national embarrassment, as more and more former colonies politely request if they could maybe have their pillaged art treasures and cultural legacy back, and oh maybe an apology and some restitution for all the killing, rape and enslavement. There may be a few proud Englishmen left who insist that it was all totally worth it, but their numbers are getting fewer, and if you haven’t guessed Ian Anderson is not one of them. It was inevitable that Jethro Tull would at some point take that shot, though this is a pretty mild indictment by Anderson’s standards. He just points out that it kind of sucks to have to be the person sailing around the world fighting and stealing for the enrichment of the Country and its upper classes with not much thanks or benefit to yourself.

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The Queen

Lady Gaga set out to reinvent 80’s style arena rock, and it was just what we didn’t know we needed. Born This Way was full of ridiculously cheesy fist-pump anthems and power ballads. And it was good. So, so good. This is like a long lost Whitney Houston song, but better. So, so much better. Because it has the all of the brio and enthusiasm of a genuine camp aficionado. Obviously, Gaga just loves the hell out of the FM rock tropes of her childhood, but she wants to use them for art. That’s why she called one of her albums ArtPop, because she’s stupidly clever like that. Lady Gaga is a master of high-low, stupid-clever, trash-to-treasure.

Put the Book Back on the Shelf/Songs for Children

Image result for belle & sebastian

I thought I’d put it out there that Belle & Sebastian have other albums besides Girls in Peacetime. I’ve been a bit obsessed with that record, but I realize that it was actually a stylistic break for them, a conscious attempt to be trendier. Their earlier work has a very different vibe, less on-trend indie pop and more bedsitter/shoegazer/soft-emo. It’s music for clever kids who grew up reading foreign literature and don’t go out much. If I have to stoop to sounds-like territory I would say this has a vibe reminiscent of The Smiths in their quieter moments (with whom Stuart Murdoch shares a love for very verbose song titles) and Donovan (with whom Stuart Murdoch shares a Scottish accent.) In other words, charmingly literate and slightly twee but with a lot of heart.

Put Out the Fire

I didn’t love Jake Bugg’s third album as much the first two, and apparently a lot of critics agreed with me. He tried to go in some new directions that really didn’t work. Not everybody is meant to rove all over the map, so to speak. At the risk of becoming that guy who just plows the same rut over and over, Bugg is best sticking at what he’s good at. Which is being a plaintive teen idol for girls who really regret that they missed out on 1962. I really regret that I missed out on 1962, and I love jailbaity young men with feelings, so I’m totally the target market here, and I find songs like this one irresistible. There may be an element of affectation in Bugg’s nostalgic aesthetic, and it would be insufferable without substance, but luckily the music is more than strong enough to balance it out. An artist this talented can allow himself all manner of affectation; in fact, the ability to carry an affectation and pull it off is what makes an artist interesting on top of just talented.

Put a Straw Under Baby

This is my kind of lullaby. It’s a little creepy and a little soothing. Brian Eno does as Brian Eno does. Eno likes to venture into the surreal, as he does on this record quite a lot. Eno’s talent for atmosphere eventually became his guiding principle, but remember that at this point he was still teasing out his aesthetic. Call it the sound of a young genius throwing everything at the wall. I would say that anything Eno throws sticks, but also everything Eno throws is not for everybody.

Put a Light On

Here’s another indie radio favorite, complete with a video that belongs in a time capsule of 2013 hipster aesthetics. The images of a dude smashing a television in an alleyway aren’t trying to say anything. They just look cool in slow motion. Totally average looking people in normal clothes look cool in slow motion. Everyday activities look cool in slow motion. Everything looks cool and nothing is meaningful. Welcome to #HipsterBait. The band in this case is Generationals. They’re two scruffy white guys from New Orleans and they’re indistinguishable from every other electro-indie pop duo in the world. They made a pretty good album. You should check them out.

Pussy

Novelty acid house, anyone? I must be an eternal 12 year old, because I find it hilarious. You may easily guess that it’s not about the joys of pet ownership, and you will be correct. Subtle nuance is not what Lords of Acid are about. They’re about whatever shock value can be gleaned from a woman rapping about her vagina. It’s really not that much shock value, even. Maybe in 1997 it was far more titillating. It’s not trying to be particularly clever, either. That doesn’t make me enjoy any less. It’s naughty and fun, obviously and there’s just something irrepressible about a sustained sex joke, especially when delivered with such matter-of-fact conviction. It’s also gay af, which is always a plus. The world needs more songs celebrating ladies who love ladies, and not just the whiny Birkenstock types.