Portugal. The Man, stealin’ from the sixties again. Can’t complain about it – they nail the whole psychedelic rock sound so well that if I didn’t know better I’d be wondering what obscure Haight-Ashbury collective is responsible for this. They got it right, right down to the song titles. What I can’t help but wonder with these guys is just how serious they’re being. You can’t fault their musicality, but is there a subtle element of ironic mockery at play? It may be that I’ve just been raised to expect ironic mockery in everything and have a hard time accepting sincere homage as real, being the jaded millennial that I am. But this is now, and you can’t just sell sunshiny melodies without a dark evil underside. If you’ve ever watched any of Portugal. The Man’s videos, they’re usually as dark as the songs are tuneful. If the music isn’t exactly ironic – and I think that it’s too lovingly well made to be – then it’s at least self-aware.
“I think I came to the studio with a bit of a hangover, and it was one of those strange days where you’re not really sure where a song comes from. [Producer] Paul [Epworth] just had these chords on the organ, and they sounded optimistic and sad at the same time. And I was thinking of regrets, like, you know when you feel like you’re stuck in yourself, you keep repeating certain patterns of behavior, and you kind of want to cut out that part of you and restart yourself. […] So this song was kind of like, ‘Shake yourself out of it, things will be OK,’. [Because] sometimes I have to write songs for myself, reminding me to let it go. But then, the end refrain of ‘What the hell’ is really important as well, because you’ll dance with the devil again at some point, and maybe it will be fun. I’ve heard he does a really good foxtrot. […] I feel weird because I’m always talking about how I’m writing songs when I’m hung over most of the songs weren’t but ‘Shake It Out’ was. Like ‘Cosmic Love‘ (it was) written when you’re not feeling too great. It became the ultimate hangover cure, and then it became about something bigger. Like trying to get rid of ‘hangover ghouls’.” – Florence Welch
There you go, “hangover ghouls”. Clearly, Florence Welch is a woman after my own spirit. She knows that you have to dabble in a little self-destruction to fuel the creativity. It’s constant cycle of wreck and rebuild. But she makes is sound like such dizzy heights though. I wish I could build such mad magic out of my hangovers.
Bait-and-switch! This song isn’t really about sex or sexiness at all. It’s a self-deprecating joke by Art Brut’s Eddie Argos. He can’t really sing, you see. Not only can he not sing, he doesn’t even pretend that he can sing, which is unusual for a professional singer. He’s also rather portly, which is another item of self-deprecation. None of those things have stopped the man from becoming a rock star, or, if not exactly a rock star in the traditional sense, then at least an interesting and well-respected frontman. Well-played self-deprecation is very endearing, unless it’s poorly-played and becomes whiny. In this case I think it’s winningly played. This guy knows his limitations. He knows he’s nobody’s idea of a crooner. But he’s so good at other things, like wit, which is in much shorter supply than crooning.
This is Florence Welch is full pagan priestess mode, which is when I love her best. She has a bit of a dual-sided persona. Sometimes she presents herself as a regular (or regular-ish) English girl who struggles in love and drinks too much. Then there’s the Florence who appears to know the path to fairyland and wants you to know that it’s not necessarily a very nice place. Those two sides intersect, of course. If you give regular old Flo too much trouble, she’s bound to unleash forces from the world beyond. Her new album, and the one before it as well, both felt more firmly rooted in real experience. The artist has been turning away from the baroque and more towards the personal. Not that she would ever entirely reject grand gestures, but it’s been a little bit more intimate with her lately. I still love Ceremonials most dearly out of Florence’s oeuvre thus far, for its epic sweep and having grandest, most baroque orchestration. It’s the artist as the madwoman in the woods, invoking fire and brimstone and deluges.
Kimbra wrote this song when she was sixteen years old. (And recorded it as an adult, thankfully.) In the video she represents her settle-down-wanting little self as a girl much younger than sixteen, which I think implies that the fantasy of white-picket-fence domesticity is something only a complete naif would fall for. If you’re the type of little girl who dreams up names for hypothetical future children while still playing with dolls, you’ve got a lot of learning about the world to do, not least probably how to leave whatever cult you’re being raised in. The broader implication here, I think, is that childhood dreams very frequently go up in flames, and that it’s sometimes for the best that they do.
Speaking of white girl blues… Here is the one and only Adele song you’ll ever hear me playing. Adele is the voice of sad white girls everywhere just as surely as Odetta was the voice of the civil rights movement. You can’t accuse Adele of not having a legit reason for having the blues, either. She’s kind of a fatty, and in the world of white girls, that is the heaviest burden a woman could shoulder. I mean, being a perfectly cute white girl but cursed with a larger dress size, that’s like equally as terrible as being segregated or whatever. JK. Adele is actually having the blues because she went through a real bad breakup one time. It made her really, really sad. Then in made her really, really wealthy, because she’s pumped three mega-selling albums out of it. Whoever that dude was, he should win a Grammy for single-handedly saving the music industry, because that breakup made millions of white girls buy CDs at Starbucks again. And it’s great and I feel that, because we’ve all been through a real bad breakup, some of us more than once, even, and in the world of white girls, getting dumped is the worst possible human indignity. And being a fatty who gets dumped is like those kids in the Congo who had their arms chopped off with a machete or whatever. Like, that’s some next level sad shit, is what I’m saying. Um, so yeah, I don’t actually like Adele very much, is what I’m saying.
Portugal. The Man is great at mining the 1960’s, as evidenced by their breakout success of last year. Of course it’s funny that they’ve finally made it to breakout status after making records for more than ten years. Maybe they haven’t hit mainstream as soon as they could have, but sometimes it’s good to take the time to perfect your craft and whatnot. And as you can hear here, they were crafting hit-worthy time-traveling earworms in 2011. I admit I haven’t gone as far back as their 2006 stuff yet, but I’m going to soon and I’m optimistic that it will be more of the same fun spirit.