This has to be one of my favorite hits in recent memory. I think about this song when I go to ride the subway. It’s so indelibly catchy and it should have been on every radio on the planet 2013. As it was, it was only on indie radio and most of you probably don’t know Portugal. The Man from Portugal the geographic location. But you should. (They just released a new album a few days ago, which I’ll get back to you on.) The world needs more ironic club kid anthems like this one. It’s upbeat as fuck, but it speaks to The Way We Live Today, or rather a specific subset of young adults whose personal aesthetic and hashtag lifegoals were formed by Paris Hilton’s sex tape. There’s no higher aspiration than a well documented joyless performance of the act of partying. Because Millennials, amirite? It’s a little disturbing and once again begs the question what is reality and is it even worth experiencing without chemical and technological filters?
Father John Misty has reappeared, and if you thought he was acerbic before, buckle up. The honeymoon is over, and the singer takes aim at the world outside his boudoir. The last Misty album was, of course, the wedding album, and although it had some biting moments, it was essentially an ode to living happily ever after. That was two years ago, and perhaps the world hasn’t actually changed all that much, but the American landscape has been recast, to put it kindly, in a less flattering light. Josh Tillman casts his pen towards the way we live today, and the culture we’ve come to inhabit, and he finds very little to like. In the first minutes of the new album, he correctly identifies the root of all our problems in the biology of birth itself. Birth happens at great, possibly deadly, expense to the mother, and that’s just the beginning. The effort and compromise and sacrifice and danger of keeping alive a human infant – an unviable, helpless creature – are the basis of every structure of civilization, for good or for evil. The society that we’ve built, out of biological necessity, essentially to ease the burden of staying alive, is grotesque and absurd, barely redeemed by what we view as the highlights of human achievement. We’ve evolved and learned enough to mitigate most of the problems that plagued our ancestors; we can reasonably expect that our children will live to adulthood now, and we very rarely die of leprosy anymore. Yet the we refuse to let go of prejudices and superstitions formed centuries ago, we cling to traditions and social mores that no longer serve any purpose, we resist the march of progress every step of the way, all much to our own detriment. What do we even have to redeem us, as a species, except possibly our unique capacity to create shared experiences through art? Art gives us a collective experience of empathy and learning, of sharing our beliefs and feelings, the freedom to enjoy a crude music video prominently featuring Donald Trump and Pepe the Frog. In the end, we can admit, with a bitter spit, that each other’s all we’ve got.
“We don’t belong here, we were just born here”
This kind of angst is exactly what we go to Modest Mouse for. Feeling slightly displaced in the world has been their grand theme from the beginning. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better with age, either. Lots of people who start out full of angst and fire mellow out over the years. Most do, in fact. Either because they genuinely become happier people, or because they realize that you can’t sell yourself as an angry young ‘un when you’re over 35. However, Isaac Brock appears to have a very real case of misanthropy that isn’t a posture and isn’t about to go away. Maybe there’s a middle-age slump on the way, some ill-advised attempts to stay relevant, a bad new haircut. Maybe he just needs to have a baby to make him see how life is a beautiful miracle and every moment is precious. Maybe ten years from now Modest Mouse will be a pastiche of themselves playing ‘The 2000’s Revue” in Las Vegas.
This sounds like a ramshackle bar band drunkenly signing off an hour after last call. Complete with a ‘goodnight’ at the end. That’s exactly the point of The Raconteurs, and all part of Jack White’s vision of highly contrived authenticity. That’s not a knock; few people follow their vision as wholeheartedly as Jack White does. But bending the world to your vision is, of course, a contrivance, and Jack White is not an old troubadour crossing county lines in a painted wagon. He’s facing, like many before him, the conundrum of how authentic an artist he can be now that he’s a millionaire entrepreneur. Nine years ago that wasn’t as much of a pressing question, though. Nine years ago it was all “Let’s throw together a band and dress like we deserted the Confederate army and play a bunch of shows until we make our fingers bleed and/or get bored and move on to the next fun project!”
I imagine that Interpol must be tired of being compared to Joy Division (though it is an honor) and it’s an uncreative thing for a critic to write, but damn, this song reeeaallly reminds me of Joy Division. Not just because everything disaffected and depressing screams Joy Division. Intentionally or not, there’s a lyrical echo of Day of the Lords that’s impossible to miss. That classic song is as bleak as the Holocaust, which is what I think it might actually be about. This one is merely about love. Still, I can’t unhear the common thread. Bodies obtained may remain.
Not moving all that far on the spectrum of tetchy and smart, St. Vincent. She also likes to explore psychopathic territories, sonically and intellectually. She may not be entirely a household name, but for an indie artist who mostly maps the eccentric inside of her own head, she’s as big as they get now. She’s technically savvy and her music ranges in style; she’s definitely not the kind of artist who gets pinned down by what their chosen instrument is. Her music is sometimes emotionally affecting, sometimes disaffected. Mostly her vibe is ‘that girl at the party who is obviously way smarter than you but still wants to talk about guacamole.’ You know, smart but accessible and fun, which is exactly the combination that pop music needs so much more of.
I highly recommend Paul Simon’s new (as of last year) album. It’s an acclaimed hit! It’s thoughtful, lovely music, which is what Paul Simon does best. It reminds us that mastery of gentle rumination should not be overlooked. It may not be the engine that drives popular music, but it’s no small talent. Soothing music isn’t just for coffee shops, y’all. And honestly, if it’s that easy to ignore it’s not soothing, it’s just boring. Soothing means to actively make you feel better, and I think Paul Simon does that. He does that not by being boring or trite, but by being thought provoking (and yes, sometimes still a little angsty.)