Our Nature

Savoir Adore didn’t create the label dream pop, but their hit song Dreamers (which surely you’re familiar with if you listen to indie radio at all) is a towering masterpiece of that totally legit musical genre. Savoir Adore also don’t really exist anymore; a duo whose one-half leaves the group is now a solo artist. When that one-half happens to be the female vocalist, the remaining partner is now less than a solo artist – he’s a producer in search of talent. That’s what happened when singer Deidre Muro left Savoir Adore. It’s a shame, but their modern day one-hit wonder status is assured. Beyond the hit though, I think they were outstandingly representative of indie pop music in this decade; atmospheric, romantic, trippy, easily tuneful, beautifully sung, knowingly evocative of the past, and vaguely anonymous.

Only Son of the Ladiesman

You wouldn’t immediately imagine it, but this reminds me strongly of early 70’s Elton John. Or, more vaguely, early 70’s albums in general, where stripped down narrative ballads lay hidden in between the amped-up pop hits. Father John Misty is too clever an artists to just write a straightforward narrative ballad – you couldn’t even really call this a narrative, more of a wordy stream of conscious. But the structure and performance call to mind a time when it was possible to get yourself a radio hit singing twelve to thirteen verses about a boat going down on Lake Ontario. This kind of soulful verbosity doesn’t get rewarded nearly as much anymore. I would say that’s a shame, but times change, and you know what? A lot of those long narrative hit songs from the 70’s were crap anyway. I’m not suggesting that this should be a hit. I love it but I don’t want to hear it on the radio. Some songs are meant to be discovered only after you’ve bought the album. Some songs are meant to lie far between the hits, hidden away on the end of Side A, (as if that were still a thing.)

Off to the Races

Light of my life, fire of my loins, be a good baby, do what I want...

Is it trashy to quote Lolita in a song? A song about being a gold-digging, coked-up sugar baby, no less? Well, that depends on how Lana Del Rey rubs you with her retrograde lounge hoochie Nancy Sinatra aesthetic. I know plenty of people hate Del Rey for…well, for a lot of things, from valid concerns about glamorizing suicide and adopting such a blatantly unliberated point of view, to vapid ones like speculating if she’s had her nose done. I think that the Del Rey persona has quite a strong element of camp in it, and you can enjoy her brand of sad sugar baby glamour without taking it too seriously. Her lyrical point of view is not exactly progressive; she plays the part of the seductive sugar baby, the eternal mistress who will never be a wife, the sad floozy, the casting-couch climbing wannabe fucking her way towards the top, the heartbroken girl who wants to die because she thinks she can’t live alone, the woman who is empty and void of purpose without a man to guide her rudder. And yes, she is the lady who publicly said that ‘feminism is not an interesting concept’. (BTW,  I think that asking female celebrities about their position on feminism and then ripping them a new one regardless of what they say is a sexist booby trap in itself.) Yet that is exactly what makes her an interesting artist. All of those roles are ones we see secretly ourselves in, at one point or another, no matter how strong a stance we take in public. It’s essentially adolescent to think that any of those roles are valid identities, but even when we’re old enough to know better, we still find them romantic on some level. There is a powerful appeal to playing those parts, be it because it makes us feel better about the things that make us feel sad, or because sometimes those parts can serve as legitimate survival strategies. Exploring roles that are complicated and problematic is more interesting, and more important, and rings true in a way that taking a simplistic and insincere stance of ’empowerment’ does. The false empowerment of pop stars who offer vapid platitudes about ‘girl power’ and reassurances that ‘it’s ok to have curves because that’s what men like’, is truly threatening and insidiously  anti-feminist because it’s nothing more than an inoffensive facade that puts a gloss of self-love over the same old sexist status quo. Lana Del Rey may not have the well articulated feminist consciousness that Beyonce does, but her understanding of and interest in playing with complex social roles makes her an important and thought-provoking artist, and inadvertently, a feminist ally.

Note to Self

This is precious! Jake Bugg is a precious little boy with fluffy hair. You may even decide it’s a mite too precious. A little bit too self-consciously retro. I mean, look at his adorable precious logo, it’s like he got himself signed to Deram Records. My opinion is, Jake Bugg can get away with pushing the homage towards parody for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, is he’s a seriously talented songwriter and musician, and that gives him a lot of leeway on how he wants to grow his image. And two, what he’s trying to evoke is not what anybody else would think of trying to evoke. He’s reminding me of a young folk-pop troubadour on a package tour in 1965, making an appearance on Ready, Steady, Go, or Thank Your Lucky Stars, or even TOTP. Who even remembers those things? When you might see a teenage David Robert Jones or Steven Georgiou sharing a bill with Billy Fury or Cilla Black on a shoddily produced variety show with a sarcastic host who hates rock’n’roll. That’s not a nostalgic vision many people share; it’s not the sixties kitsch that sells a million t-shirts, and if young Jake mimics those bygone figures a little too well, not many people would even notice.

Next To You

Poolside is a bit of smackdab obvious name for a group that produces what they like to call ‘daytime disco’. It is music designed to be enjoyed as you sip a daiquiri and watch the sun set over rooftop of your resort. It’s also good for other times of intense relaxation. Maybe none of their songs have very much going for them in terms of substance, but that’s hardly the point. Not everybody has ambitions beyond being pleasant and catchy, and when you’re this good at being pleasant and catchy, what’s wrong with that?

Never Let Me Go

Florence Welch fears and dreams of drowning. It fascinates her. She returns again and again to images of water, surrender and death. And eternal love. She’s an artist with a deeply Romantic vision, and the visage of a Pre-Raphaelite muse. Anyone of lesser mettle would be left flailing, dusty and tangled, in Stevie Nicks’ gypsy coattails, but Florence is the kind of visionary destined to have her own hordes of acolytes. She is a fully formed bona fide rock star, with the conviction and the charisma to make her collection of personal obsessions into a creative vision cohesive enough to share, and sell. And most of all, the voice to blow the lid off any doubters.

Nancy From Now On

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This video is #RelationshipGoals. Father John Misty (aka Joshua Tillman) is an intensely charismatic performer and songwriter of rare wit and verbosity. One of the most striking features of his writing is its intimacy; it is, beneath the handy scrim of a somewhat theatrical persona, very deeply personal. Fear Fun, the first Father John Misty album reveals a man finding his voice and artistic vision after years of being an obscure folk singer of not that  much originality (according to his own perspective on his progress.) The second album begins with the title I Love You, Honeybear, and includes tracks with names like The Ideal Husband, True Affection and When You’re Smiling and Astride Me. As you might have surmised, Josh Tillman got married, and his songs have turned to mapping the path of his relationship with his wife. She is the woman in the video. She’s gone from being the stranger in the liqueur store, to the dominatrix in the hotel, to the Honeybear bride who inspired a concept album. That the record is at once a truly affecting wedding album and a sarcastic rebuke to ” the entire franchise of privileged white men making their spiritual void the dark center of the universe” is a small miracle, and a reminder of the fruitfulness and importance of the relationship between an artist and his muse. We don’t talk about muses very much anymore. It feels, in today’s society, slightly retrograde, if not inherently sexist, in that in both elevates and diminishes the woman’s role in a creative relationship. It’s no longer true (and it never really was true) that a woman’s only path to creative greatness is through being an inspiration to a male artist, but it feels as if that power imbalance is always implied when we discuss the role of the muse. We still idolize the great muses – Elizabeth Siddal, Dora Maar, Marianne Faithfull – but we feel uncomfortable applying the title in a modern-day context. It bears reminding that the women who are remembered as muses were very often artists in their own right, whose work has sometimes grown to overshadow their former muse status, and of course, there have been many women throughout history (from what we know of Sappho; through to Gertrude Stein, Anna Akhmatova, Virginia Woolf; to young artists like Sam Taylor-Johnson today) who created freely and leaned upon their own muses (of whatever gender) for inspiration. In short, the muse remains important, and the relationship of artist and muse is necessarily a complicated one, and cannot exist if the flow of inspiration is not mutual and empowering to both parties. To celebrate and elevate a partner as a muse should not be embarrassing, nor should it be seen as a diminishment of that person’s creative status. The most affecting art stems from the most intimate places.