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.)
I think I featured this song a couple of years ago, when I first discovered Ryn Weaver. She hasn’t done anything since that time; she is apparently without a record label, despite the moderate success of her first album. Still, I advise everyone to continue patiently keeping an eye on her, because she is amazing. Besides her strength as a writer and performer, she is a very rare thing – a versatile vocalist who doesn’t rely on currently popular tics and mannerisms. We all know that every musical movement/generation has its own specific style, which usually stems from a whole lot of people trying to copy one original trailblazer, on to the point of cliche. Examples; 70’s hard rock singers yowling like Robert Plant, the entire 90’s mumbling like Kurt Cobain, post-Madonna pop stars who can’t actually sing but don’t mind taking their clothes off. Today, the trend seems to be singing at the top of your lungs, presumably the better to reach the back of the stadium. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, plus a host of less popular names; everyone is belting it out like a Broadway diva. It’s effective but not given to nuance. It’s today’s vocal cliche. Ryn Weaver is a singer who could sing like that, because she has the lungs for it, but she doesn’t. Her vocal performances are all over the map, evoking dozens of influences, sometimes all in the course of one song. It shows fantastic confidence for an artist fresh out of the nest, so to speak, and I truly hope she’s given the platform to develop and succeed.
My favorite track from my favorite St. Vincent album. Also, if you recall, this was one of my favorite albums of 2014. I actually haven’t thought about St. Vincent in a while; she’s been off the radar for some time. No can blame her for wanting to keep a low profile, since her last album was such a hit and launched her out of her comfortable space as an acclaimed-but-obscure artist into actual fame, she’s had to experience some of the nastier things success has to offer i.e. paparazzi, speculation about her love life, etc. It’s been long enough, I think, and she’s had her fun doing rock star things like dating supermodels. St. Vincent is an important artist and she needs to reemerge soon. I heard that she’s at work directing a horror movie right now, which is exciting, but not music. Maybe she’ll write music for the movie? That would be a great project.
Marina Diamandis is the camp icon for the millennial set. It’s self-aware pop music for a generation that’s so self-aware and meta and ironic they can’t stop being self-conscious and just allow themselves to feel a natural emotion. Of course, vacuous idle youth have been the bogeybear that every receding generation shakes its stick at before reluctantly conceding that the kids are alright after all. It’s just the technology that keeps updating. Every generation gets the pop idols it deserves, supposedly. We certainly have enough of the kind who wholeheartedly and unironically represent the specifically modern tyranny of aspirational images. Some of them have a touch of the uncanny valley effect about the eyes that makes one wonder if they aren’t just digital sales bots. One suspects that Kendall and Kylie don’t actually exist; their eyes are glassy and they can barely speak in sentences, but their lives are impeccably well designed. Celebrity automatons may be easy targets for intellectual scorn – and may even be deserving of it – but who among us doesn’t spend time curating an ‘aspirational’ public image of ourselves as if we were of interest to anyone besides our 12 closest friends? What does that do to our souls? How does it affect our ability to be real people interacting with other real people? Are the self-regard and narcissism that social media so easily enables actually a satisfying substitute for the hard work of forming and maintaining relationships IRL? Why bother following the prescribed life path when you can just create the illusion that you’re following it? Sure, you’re a half-baked man-child or babygirl with no life- or interpersonal- skills and no interest in acquiring either, but you look like an interesting person on Instagram. And, really, when you think about it, aren’t you just a better-groomed version of the guy who leaves the club alone to go read books in the cemetery because solitary pursuits like reading and moping are so much easier and more fulfilling than the drudge and pain of trying to form meaningful connections with your fellow humans? It’s all the same miserablism played out on a different stage.
This sounds piped in straight from the 1960’s. Partly for the West Coast psychedelic production, but mostly for the retrograde sentiment. It’s been at least four decades since “You’re pretty when you cry” was a legit thing that could be said to someone (one hopes.) And it’s certainly been at least that long since that kind of sentiment was a legit thing you could write an un-ironic song about. The 60’s were all awash with doe-eyed girls singing songs written by men about how their entire lives and identities were built around their men. Funny how, once those girls started writing their own songs, those sentiments faded out real fast. Almost no one writes or sings torch songs anymore, which we may take as a sign of some kind of social progress. For those of us who secretly enjoy crying into our pillow and contemplating soft-grunge suicide when we don’t get all of the male attentions, there’s Lana Del Rey.
Another song from Here Lies Love, featuring the French vocalist Camille. She is best known for recording with Nouvelle Vague, and is also a solo artist. Apparently she has recorded half a dozen albums, some of which were certified platinum in France. After years of knowing her only for her Here Lies Love contribution and as part of the Nouvelle Vague ensemble, I’m curious to discover Camille as an artist in her own right. More on that at a later date.
It may be under the radar for some of you, but for me and a small group of fans, the music event of the year is Karen Elson’s new album. We have been waiting seven years for this! Numerology may be bunk, but seven is a significant number. It’s long time in the life of an artist, and of course, I’m excited to know where Karen Elson is in hers. I was expecting her to start recording heartbreak songs after her 2013 divorce, as many artists do. But she proved that she’s classier than that. It seems that Elson is not the kind of artist who creates compulsively, but one who does so slowly and deliberately. So, I will shortly be coming back with my impressions of the newly released Double Roses. In the meantime, enjoy a throwback from The Ghost Who Walks.