Goodness, this kid again. I really, really love this record, though. Partly, of course, because it puts me in mind of 2012, which I think may have been a really good year. Also, I like music with English vibes (as opposed to English music that just sounds American.) And pretty young men, I like pretty young men, especially when they’re all sad and shit.
Jake Bugg was basically a sentient walking fetus when he made his first record, but damned if he doesn’t write world weary tunes about love and heartbreak like a man old enough to drink. There’s no conceivable way he actually would have known the feelings he was writing about. But you wouldn’t guess it, because the feelings are there. It’s a sad song that takes you by the heart like the singer has lived all of your life with you. And that is, damn, good songwriting right there.
My emo phase was more murder ballads than sk8er bois, but I’m right there with my generation in that I spent my young adulthood being earnest to Death Cab for Cutie. Death Cab was always great company, being melodic pleasant music that talked about feelsy stuff without touching on anything too sad or disturbing. By 2011 I was well past the emo phase and thought Codes and Keys was fairly blah. It’s well worth revisiting, though. There may be less need for gently mournful chamber pop or romantic ballads, but it’s still good company.
Die Antwoord is just, quite simply, too weird for this world. I’m not entirely sure they’re even real people. Their personas are so heavily tied-in to their musical style and their entire aesthetic feels both authentic and like absolute performance art. Whatever else they are, they’re tricksters pulling the rug out on all the usual conventions. I’m still waiting for their feature film, or visual album, or jukebox musical, or whatever fully realized mission statement they want to make to cap off their wildly uneven but brilliant oeuvre. I love music that shows its literacy in the tropes and conventions – and the history – of American pop culture but exists outside of it. This song doesn’t have a video, but most of their other songs do, and if you’ve ever watched one, you know that they’ve seen enough music videos of American rappers waving guns and they’ve seen Andy Warhol’s screen tests.
Look at the assortment of instruments that Paul Simon brings on stage with him. It’s like the contents of a small music store or antique shop. And how many of them come out for one low-key ballad? That’s just Paul Simon’s way. He incorporates exotic things from all over the world and makes is sound natural. But, of course, you could stuff all wind chimes and flutes and talking drums in the world onto your record and it wouldn’t mean anything if you don’t have songs that are touching. Simon wrote all the songs alone with an acoustic guitar, and anything else added on in the studio is just sprinkles on what’s really hearts-and-bones songwriting. We come to Paul Simon for his thoughts about life, and if there’s a little flute on the side, that’s nice.
Portugal. The Man are from Alaska, which means that they can see Russia from their house (Lord, I never get tired of that joke!) which should give them a unique perspective of what it means to be American. Seriously, though, Alaska is not a proper state; it has a different history, demographic makeup and culture than the proper United States, not to mention a radically different environment. I would imagine that being Alaskan actually would give one a nice remove from which to watch the American culture wars. Just don’t expect to hear about it from this band. Portugal. The Man is not here to write polemics or make comments about the unfolding world. Their songs are not about anything you can put your finger on – they’re just poetic and melodic. And that’s really a relief. I don’t actually want to hear another song about what it means to be ‘so American’ – I already know it’s not gonna be anything good. I just want to hear a catch song.
Amanda Palmer named an album Theatre Is Evil, and she’s got a point. She knows, probably better than most, the incredible power of just getting up on a box with your piano or your ukulele or whatever, and speaking your mind. Palmer started her career literally standing on a box, as a street busker, and she’s built her fanbase through the unconventional means of interfacing with fans directly via social media. She’s earned her share of controversy, mainly from critics (and peers) who cannot wrap their heads around how crowdsourcing and direct patronage even works, and insist that those things have got to be in some way wrong because they cannot understand such a novel model of artist/fan relations. The no-middleman business model isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked out pretty dang well for Amanda Fucking Palmer, and besides all that, it’s given her a unique platform for her activism. She has her very own grassroots network of dedicated supporters, people who may have come for the music but who’ve stayed for the political engagement and consciousness raising. Palmer has always been outspoken in her feminism and keenly aware of her power, as an artist, to be heard and the responsibility to share stories and amplify other voices. Right now, in suddenly turbulent times, she’s tapping and amplifying a deeper rage, as the stakes in activism become increasingly life or death. Amanda Palmer is very serious about being the a spokesvoice for women who are livid with rage and fear, and using her network to blur the lines between entertainment and political action. The personal is the political is the entertainment is the culture is the agent of change.