“If you want me to be your god, I will be your god.”
This digital-age mysticism is why I love Yacht. And because their songs are catchy as fuck, obviously. And Claire L. Evans might actually be some sort of small-time deity. Evans and her partner Jona Bechtolt recently blew all their indie cred and cosmic goodwill with a shockingly insensitive and poorly timed publicity hoax involving a ‘sex tape’. It was meant to be some kind of a performance art commentary about the nature of celebrity culture; they thought they could pull it off because they’re not actually all that famous. Well, it’s a fine fine line between stupid and clever, and pretending to be the victim of a sex crime is squarely on the wrong side of it. Bad call, guys, you’re really catching some flak for this one. But, being not actually very famous, I’m sure they’ll quickly move on from this dumb scandal chastened and possibly inspired to make a better commentary next time. Which I’m honestly looking forward to. Evans is too smart and creative not to find a way to translate her brush with notoriety into the thing she does best. Which is putting out electropop music filled with batty spirituality, utopian ideas about space travel, tech jokes, and exhortations to be a better human.
The irony is knee deep here, sadly. Amy Winehouse didn’t live to see this song’s release; it’s a leftover from the sessions for her first album. Perhaps, when she recorded it, she may have really believed in the song’s faith that love will inevitably carry the day. She sounds like she believes every word. She certainly had no way of knowing that her own faith in love and her dedication to the man she thought was the love of her life would directly contribute to the circumstances of her demise. It seems fairly clear, with distance and in hindsight, that she would not have become the loose cannon that she did if she hadn’t fallen for a no-goodnik whose only interests in life appear to have been drugs, alcohol and mayhem. That’s not to blame her for making poor decisions; the heart will undermine every best laid plan, even the will to live. Besides, it’s that heart-forward, open-soul, naked to the world attitude that lit up Amy’s music and made her so appealing, even when she was at her lowest. Let’s not forget, either, the courage it takes to live like that, even for a short amount of time. Most people will learn how to throw up their defenses and never show their hearts to even their nearest and dearest. Amy Winehouse never learned to do that, to her detriment and the world’s gain.
Florence Welch sure has a big presence. Her voice is huge, of course, and she plays up to it. Most importantly, she has a magical vision. Her image is pagan, baroque, bohemian, pre-raphaelite, symbolist, romantic… Notice how those are art movements? The lady has a visual style that is imaginative and invokes a wide palette of reference points, to put it dryly. Really ambitious and transporting musical vision is rare, and not many people would dare being that theatrical. It’s a tricky thing, but Welch goes for maximum effect with supreme confidence, and she really pulls it off with the ornate props and full orchestra. She looks like a faerie queen, and it seems like everything springs from that.
Imagine Mick Jagger drunk and alone in a crappy motel in the middle of nowhere, just dwelling on past slights and trawling for a night’s company. Yeah, that’s a sexy fantasy right there. Of course Mick Jagger would never be drunk and alone in a crappy motel; Mick Jagger would only be drunk and alone in a five star luxury suite, and he wouldn’t be alone for long, because he is Mick Jagger and the world is his oyster. Also it’s doubtful that Damian Marley would ever be stranded without the cash for a taxi ride, because, you know, Marley family money. But if the song stretches credulity, it doesn’t matter; great songs don’t have to reflect real life.
Would you like a side of gender politics with your dance pop? JD Samson and MEN are here to deliver just that. JD Samson is a singer, songwriter, DJ, essayist, activist, former member of Le Tigre and a ladyperson who exists in a hipster vortex of both having a moustache and a tattoo that says ‘moustache’, among many other notable achievements. With Le Tigre, you can thank Samson’s pop hook writing ability for taming Kathleen Hanna’s Riot Grrrl rage into something musically enjoyable. It’s a shame that MEN only recorded two albums (and I haven’t even found the second one) but Samson is a Renaissance style artist who keeps many projects on the stove, so to speak. Obviously, dance music that is not mindless and irrelevant is much needed in the world, and MEN’s Talk About Body is one dance pop album that speaks about feminist, LGBT+, civil rights and economic issues. One complaint about socially conscious activist types is that they often forget how to have fun, but you can’t say that about JD Samson. She delivers her message with a sense of humor. Of course she does, though. You can’t really be an outsider activist without an ironclad sense of humor – the sheer volume and velocity of heteronormative cissexist patriarchal bullshit would quickly make you insane. Thank god for the internet for providing a platform for modern activism; an activism of art, music, dancing and fun.
Oh, Florence and your amazing gift for drama. So visionary. Truly, Florence and the Machine answers the prayers of those of us who thirst for real, reach-for-the-rafters dramatic vision. Most likely the real Flo doesn’t spend her time plummeting off tall buildings or climbing out of murky lakes at night (though I’ve heard that she likes to drink.) But you can easily imagine that that’s what she does. She presents herself as larger than life, with the effect that she seems like the star of some inner movie that we only see bits and pieces of. And we want desperately to see more. Besides making many images of great glamour, the dramatic visionary has the effect of building the ordinary into something grand. The businesses of the heart, so low down petty and mundane, need constantly to be redeemed by art; otherwise we couldn’t live with ourselves. We need to be shown drama and glamour, we need to be validated by something greater than ourselves, we need to believe that we too are the heroes of our own inner movie. That’s what the dramatic visionary does for us.
Now that summer finally appears to have run its course, here is a summer song. Grouplove are a band who, as their name implies, trade in musical good cheer. Trying too hard to evoke the spirit summer fun, or any other specific-yet-ineffable state, can sink into cloying, but this song toes the line. It’s buoyant and fun, and just chirpy enough. The video notches it up an extra level, with tantalizing footage of friends vacationing in Thailand. Exotic group vacations are a treat few of us have the deep pockets for, but the whole beers’n’bikinis thing translates anywhere. You don’t have to go to a faraway locale to enjoy that kind of fun; you can do it in your own backyard. We may not get to live day after day carefree and day-drunk and surrounded by friends, but we get those days every once in a while, and we all get happily sentimental about the feeling of a wet beer can and the sting of mild sunburn.