Bjork’s Utopia was one of the most acclaimed records of 2017, but not by me. Nobody has been stopping me on the street to ask why I didn’t love the new Bjork album, but here it is anyway: too many birdsong sound effects and woodwinds. Yes, I know I was just saying that I’m in favor of woodwinds and want to hear more of them in general, but a word to the wise, woodwinds should never be combined with birdsong sound effects lest you summon the vengeful spirit of Enya. When I put on a Bjork album, I don’t want to hear Music for Yoga Studios. Bjork is nothing if not an edgy artist, and if anybody can make it work with the nature sounds and overall spirit of optimism, it is she. But if her last record – which I adored – was the Big Breakup Album of her career, this is her Buck Up Sister and Put Yourself Back Out There album, and I’m happy for her that she’s gotten herself to that point. You’re still young, Bjork, you’ve got so much to offer and I promise you, you’ll find love again, with someone who truly deserves and appreciates you. Now get back to making music that’s dark and discomfiting.
How could you not be impressed? If you came upon Ryn Weaver, not knowing who she was or what to expect, you would be floored. As I was, when I saw her perform as an opening act for Billy Idol. She is just so fresh and compelling in her vocals and her personality, beautiful and great on stage, and once you’ve sat down to really listen, a good writer too. Obviously, in a fair world, she would be a huge star, but it’s not a fair world and the most interesting people are not always the most rewarded. According to her Instagram, Ryn’s biggest news is a rather drastic bleach job. Still awaiting new music though.
You know what I think rock music has always needed more of? Woodwinds. The lowly flute has been sorely underrepresented in rock, despite Ian Anderson’s most heroic efforts. So here’s a rare non-Jethro Tull flute song, courtesy of the Grateful Dead. It hardly qualifies as a rock song, but if there’s another thing the rock world needs more of, it’s classical-inspired compositions. Actually, that’s not a thing rock musicians need to be dabbling with, for the risk of appearing hopelessly pretentious. Rock stars who think they can be composers often find that their ambition far outstrips their skill set. But for a three minute mini-suite with flute, the Dead pull it off nicely.
Conversely, when it’s pissing rain and it looks like nighttime at 11 a.m. what you need is some novelty 80’s music. We’ve obviously all heard this one before, and we probably have a hard time enjoying it with a straight face. To make it exponentially sillier, the video is probably one of the worst videos ever made. I guess that a drunk-looking little person in a Medieval clown suit was considered amusing in 1982, and if it’s not downright offensive to modern eyes it’s definitely cringe-inducingly undignified. What really brings it all home, though, is the singer’s earnest insistence that it’s all about being “anti-establishment” It’s a protest song, you see. It’s about freedom of expression and sticking it to the man. It’s about pogo dancing. As, like, a metaphor for the entire punk rock generation. Yep, whatever you say, 80’s one-hit-wonder man.
It’s a beautiful spring day and the very thing that I need is a morose drone. To dampen any excessively high spirits, you see. So I may just spend the next few hours listening to Interpol, who are a band best suited to the dark depths of a sub-arctic winter. (Are they very popular in Finland, I wonder?) I’ve always held that there’s no wrong time to revisit your own sub-arctic depths. Especially when you’re having the audacity to feel good about your life. That’s when you really need to balance the four humors.
The Clash have remained perennially relevant, and I’m sorry to have to say that. Their ongoing relevance means that the things made angry young people pick up guitars and put safety pins in their faces (and worser things) haven’t changed very much since 1978. The names and details have changed, but inequality, violence, corruption, poverty and oppression remain monolithic. The arguments of the European bourgeoisie about cultural sovereignty, ethnic birthright and economic largesse – a political conversation that was nearly identical a century ago – are trending white-hot again and it’s not encouraging. Maybe someday soon there’ll be a consensus of what constitutes a safe European home, and maybe the answer won’t end up being “Europe for the Europeans.” Maybe then there won’t be a market for punk rock music anymore, just like there’s no longer a market for dead baby portraiture.
Capital Cities are kind of an anonymous musical unit, starting with their nondescript name. The duo are former commercial songwriters who met through a Craigslist ad, presumably under the gigs section, but who knows maybe it was the m4m. The one with the beard is a Syrian national of Armenian descent, so you know he has valid cultural reasons for looking like that and is not entirely a hipster; the other one doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. Lack of prominent personality aside, though, Capital Cities did make one pretty great record, and at least a couple outstanding music videos. Their names and faces may not count for much, but these songs stick in the brain.