When we’re looking back with the warm glow of nostalgia at the decade that was, we’ll remember Alt-J as one of the highlights of 2012. We’re almost into 2020, and the decade reviews are about to ramp up soon. It’s too early to feel truly hazy about it; we’ll really dive into nostalgia pains around 2030, if we’re still alive that long. For now, I have to say that I’ve heard some really great music being made in the last few years. I wish there’d been more weirdness, of course, but some real gems floated to the top. Alt-J was definitely among the odder acts to become popular. They gave some psychedelic flavor to a period heavy on twinkly pop. I’m sure that An Awesome Wave is going to be one of those records that survives for years to come, and not just as an artifact of fond memories.
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.
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.
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.
Regina Spektor is hardly a small town girl; she was born in Moscow and grew up in the Bronx. Anyhow, you won’t hear her trying to pander to the kind of people who think that having one stop light is somehow a virtue. For her, the image of that moon is just a jumping-off point to flex her weirdness. The small town, for one thing, is all in your head, it’s a state of mind. A neurosis, if you will. It’s never about the moon, baby, it’s about your existential crisis. Leave it to a Russian to explain to you that the flourishes of Romanticism are just a fluttering lace curtain masking a landscape of nihilistic despair. Or something. Regina Spektor has a sunnier disposition than that, I suppose, and her message is more about getting some living done while you’re still as young as you’re ever going to be.
I love the plaintiveness of Jake Bugg’s voice. The kid sounds like a sad little angel. In, like, a sexy way. Or course, pretty boys who have the sads for no reason is basically its own genre, and it’s rather a weak basis to build a career on, not that there’s any shortage of people who’ve built careers on just that. Jake Bugg, fortunately, isn’t trying to build his brand on having just one mood. This guy does have some range, although he’s proved that it doesn’t include rapping. And, yes, being all feelsy and sensitive is a strong suit. I like a moderate amount of well-delivered feelsiness, myself. I think this is just the right amount.