The pop scene moves at blazing speeds nowadays, what with the instant gratification culture of the internet, the social media news cycle, etc. So timespans of only a few years begin to feel like decades stretching forwards and back toward infinity. 2013 feels like a life cycle ago, but it was practically yesterday. Time is a flat pancake, is it not? I discovered a lot of new things in 2013, because that was the year I listened to the radio a lot. So when you discovered the same things two years later, I can confidently say that I’ve known about those things for ages, just ages and ages, like eons of geological time. Ahem.. I was listening to Chvrches before they became well known. Four years ago. Do you know how many fruit flies have lived and died in that timespan?
Does it always look so gray, before the fall?
It’s been a record year for a lot of things, none of them good. Some of us are making peace with saying goodbye to the world as we know it. We may be witnessing the fall of an empire, not from a safe distance – because there is no such thing – but in the front and center of the world’s arena. And yet, as people are wont to do, we go about our lives amidst catastrophes and insist that our lives are meaningful and our feelings are the most important thing at stake at any given time. It is a wonder, maybe a miracle of some sort, that people in a dying world still believe that their love is not like any other love, or even that they still take the time to love at all. (Don’t get me started on people who still think that passing on their genetic material is somehow a good idea.) The world may still end with a bang, which might just be the best we can hope for, but for most of us, it’s going to end with a mournful song. We may be neck deep in record rainfall but we still want to be told that our feelings amount to a hill of beans in this world. And that’s why we have art, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish to introduce an artist who I discovered in a most circuitous, thoroughly modern way. Please check out Lissie, a singer-songwriter based in Iowa, of all places. I first heard Lissie as an anonymous voice on an EDM record, which I had to Shazam, because I loved her performance so much. Her vocals sounded organic in a way that most EDM vocals don’t. That song turned out to be The Longest Road by Morgan Page. I decided to follow up, with not much expectation. EDM vocalists, when followed up, usually turn out to be D-list never-were pop divas. I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised to discover Lissie. Her aesthetic is anything but club kid or pop diva. Her music is not-quite-country not-quite-pop-rock of a type there isn’t a whole lot of anymore; unpretentious, heartfelt but not overly earnest, catchy but not grabby. It’s what used to be called middle of the road, I guess, though that term was generally thrown around as an insult. Well, now that the music industry is a global superhighway bristling with niche-market exit ramps, don’t you kind of miss the middle of the road? Frankly, right now, a smart singer-songwriter who doesn’t care about being on-trend is just about the most refreshing thing to come across.
First off, Suck It and See is a dumb album title, to American ears at least, though the Arctic Monkeys assure us that in the UK it’s not a rude phrase at all. Two nations divided by one language, as they say. Title aside, though, it’s apparently become one of the essential rock albums of the 2010’s, an era that’s been short on good solid rock and roll. Somebody has to tide rock music through one of its periodic dead spells, and these guys nominate themselves. Hence the greaser hair. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on the fence about Arctic Monkeys for a while, with the suspicion that if the competition were stiffer, they’d be less acclaimed. But they’ve been riding an upwards arc, with increasingly stronger music, and I’ve come around and had to admit they’re a good rock band who don’t really need a caveat. Yes, the world needs a good rock band right now but… Hey, hey, my, my, as the poet said.
It’s a PSA! It’s educational, it’s a warning. It might be a satire of the particularly 80’s trend for cheesy PSA’s. It’s Timbuk 3 and it’s all of those things. Timbuk 3 is the cult 80’s band that everybody needs to know about, but nobody does. They might be remembered for having one popular hit song, which satirized the 80’s glaringly misguided sense of optimism. What makes their small output still relevant is their clever and sardonic writing. Some things are forever marked as products of their time, whether it’s bad production decisions or too-pointed cultural references, but big issues don’t change much, and the human condition changes not at all. Driving poorly, for example, is forever.
Ms Mr should be on your radar of very important electropop groups. You might remember me loving their most recent album, way back in 2015. Of course, I’m waiting for whatever may be next. I just really want to observe someone’s career grow and flourish. I want to see that it’s possible to build a long-term career as a mid-level independent artist who works for their fanbase and themselves and doesn’t rely on the corporate machinery that keeps the biggest superstars pumped full of helium. There’s a lot of promising young groups, and inevitably, most of them will most likely throw in the towel sooner rather than later. I’m not making bets on who will or will not thrive, because that’s mean. Rather, I think it’s great that there’s a platform for so many musicians to promote themselves and find a niche and be rewarded, even on a modest scale, thanks to social media and home technology.
Just one more from my favorite band that nobody’s ever heard of, then I’ll lay off telling you about ThouShaltNot for a little while. This song may be more suitable for enjoying late in the night – you can play it at your next seance! I love the slow-building drama here. It’s almost like a goth power ballad, for anyone out there who still identifies as a goth. Does anybody still do that? When they’re not in high school? I don’t know, there’s probably a flaming hot goth scene right under my nose and I haven’t walked into it yet. I know there’s a club that hosts a vampire night. Let’s go to it.