Lucinda Williams nails a lot of things about romance, mostly the bad ones. Mostly heartaches; that could be her motto. She really comes at it from every side. What she’s coming at here is, as usual, loss and its afterburn. It’s one of the most painful things about ended romance, a regret that often hangs on for years after desire has died down; it’s the loss of friendship. Long after the love has died, you mourn the companionship, all of the shared things of two lives together, the friends in common and favorite spots and in-jokes and habits. Because when you move on from a longtime love, you’re also reshaping your day to day life. You have to change your routines, your places to go, the people in your circle, the objects in your home. That’s if you’re lucky and you get out with relative ease. You may have to say goodbye to your home, your car, your pets, custody of your children, the face you were born with, your savings, your reputation. Few things descend into destruction and trauma as dramatically and irreversibly fast as the separation of two lives. But even in the most basic and painless breakup, you’re still losing a huge chunk of your life, and you may still mourn the details of that life, and even if you’re past mourning the romance, you may still wish that you’d been friends instead of lovers.
There isn’t an adequate name for Camera Obscura’s style of music. Indie pop is too broad of an umbrella. As is folk, as is folk pop. Retro and twee are adjectives that imply the presence of kitsch. How about KNDP, for knowing naive dream pop? Or, my own best favorite, teatime music. Whatever you want to call it, Camera Obscura nails a very specific mood. Tracyanne Campbell has an otherwordly voice and a jaded schoolgirl persona; she’s basically the musical embodiment of a heroine from a mid-century coming of age novel. She’s a post-post-modern Franny Glass via Glasgow. She’s a 1960’s folk singer sent forward in time by a vengeful Joan Baez. She’s every cool girl who seems wiser than her years. She has, in short, a voice and image you can pin any number of fantasies upon, if you’re given towards the nostalgic and the cerebral.
Still don’t know jackshit about these guys, but I keep playing them. I guess they keep a low profile, what with the long hiatus. I suppose that at some point I’ll look back and point out 2015 as my big Interpol year. Since there’s not much else to remember the year by, that’s a reasonable assumption. I do want to ask “where have you guys been all my life? where were you when I was so much more impressionable than I am now?” The answer, obviously, is that I just wasn’t paying attention until pretty recently. Better late than never, but I could have really used some Interpol when I was younger. Think of all the good glowering and moping I could have got done. Those are things I don’t have much time for anymore, but I used to really wallow in it. I just can’t work up the level of angst this music should be tuned to.
Ready to feel depressed? Lucinda Williams has you covered. Williams long ago proved herself one of the highest masters of documenting every conceivable shade of misery. Because misery isn’t always the same; every hard time has its own particularity. You have to gaze into each abyss and remember it in its uniqueness. In this case, you may recall a long cold winter of the heart that comes after someone has left you. You give up waiting for that person to come back (they never do, do they?) and eventually you’re huddled down waiting just to feel something good again. And if you have to undergo that while in Minneapolis, more bad luck for you. Lucinda is a Southern girl; for her surviving the frost and windchill of Minnesota must be torture on top of torture. Even for those of us bred in permafrost, there’s something so exhausting about the act of wintering. It’s emotionally debilitating to be cold all the time, on top of the physical stress of it. And if your heart is all broken too…
“Beautiful boys on a beautiful dance floor…”
Sexiest song ever. Or one of, at least. In a long time. And of course, the gayest song by a very straight-presenting band ever. Because handsome men in skinny black pants singing about other handsome men in skinny black pants is just about as universally appealing as anything I can think of, including kittens. Am I right? AMIRITE?? But seriously, this appeals to me on so many levels. One, great song you can dance to, obviously, by a very handsome group of men in skinny black pants. Two, lusting after sexy boys is something a lot of us can relate to, but remains mysteriously undeserved as a topic. Lust is, of course, on of the biggest topics for songs, but it’s still overwhelmingly directed at women, often in a horribly skeezy manner. Non-heteronormative desire hardly ever gets any airplay, and when it does it’s usually presented with a heaping platter of stereotype that makes it easy to make fun of and then dismiss. Not since the binary-challenging heyday of the glitter gods has there been such a matter-of-fact declaration of bisexual appetite. Franz Ferdinand have made an outstanding contribution to the small pool of straight-boy-gay-sex-desire representation in pop music. Not quite as career-torpedoing as it would have been back in the day, but still taboo enough to raise eyebrows.
Nick Cave is just the man I need to hear from to reinforce my faith in the basic blind unfairness of the world. The world, and everything in it, is against you, either violently or indifferently, from the moment your mother was foolish enough to not abort you, and the best you can do to survive and keep yourself ambulatory is to sift through the dirt for whatever slivers of beauty you can find to hold on to. And if we didn’t spend the better part of our time psychologically clutching at straws, we would all go insane at the sheer difficulty of taking even one step forward. Hence, our desperate attachment to those that entertain us. There’s alcohol and there’s drugs and there are ill-advised sexual escapades, but it’s addiction to beauty that really gets us through. Just give me one thing of beauty to look at; I’ll never drink again before I stop turning to beauty to elevate myself. Art is the only path to redemption.
The singer Duffy shares her name with a cartoon bear. She should have thought of that before she went and became famous. In actuality though, I don’t think Duffy cares very much about famousness. She’s backed away from her career, partly because of the pressure. Which is a loss, because the world most definitely needs the services of a tiny Welsh blonde who sounds like she time traveled from sixties Motown. Unfortunately, in the world of pop today (and yesterday and most likely tomorrow), pretty blondes get wrung through a very special kind of wringer. Duffy is hardly the first to be unhappy with the dehumanizing side effects of musical success. I hope she makes some kind of peace with it and comes back with more records. Flamboyant self destruction is always an option for those who want to destroy a too-wholesome image, but I don’t recommend it.