If I wanted to simplify my musical choices into if-then bytes, I would say that you’d then like Glass Animals if you like Alt-J. Because cryptic, whispery, psychedelic tunes with atmosphere over hooks. But, you know, that’s a simplistic way of explaining things. Let’s just say, here’s another corner of in the psychedelic side of electronic indie music. Glass Animals’ first album Zaba was a triumph of sustained atmosphere. Not really the kind of record where individual songs fly out at you, but the kind that you kind of get into the flow of. This song was a single, and it does stand on its own quite well. I also really love the beautiful claymation video.
I’m offering you this song not because it’s in any way good, but because, in this age of studied self-awareness, it’s so delightfully reminiscent of Spinal Tap. Which is to say, it’s absurd to a degree that absolves it of all the normal standards of taste and quality. Let me count the ways. To begin with, The 1975 are a ridiculous band, on down from the their name, which implies a rock solid commitment to being derivative. They don’t have anything as coherent as their own sound, but at their best they’ve achieved Phoenix-like levels of power-pop-rock. On the uptempo end of their latest album, they sound like their highest calling is to become the next INXS. A quick view of what the band looks like bears this out; singer Matt Healy is a devotee of strategically unbuttoned shirts, gaudy tattoos, and terrible, terrible hair. Now, if you’re ready to enjoy some pretentious rock star self-indulgence, turn to the video below. There you will witness a moderately successful pop/rock band of mediocre talents, fronted by a man who looks like he dressed up as Robert Smith for the office Halloween party and backed by the BBC Philharmonic Fucking Orchestra, playing a thoroughly forgettable instrumental composition with a crudely sexual title. Truly, the spirit Nigel Tufnel is with us on this day!
Don’t judge, I really love this album. I know it’s a bit sudden and random. I mean, I never cared about Belle & Sebastian before, and they’ve been around for more than a decade. Also the record came out two years ago I’m obsessed with it now. And I still don’t particularly care for any of their other records. They’re kind of boring and low-key. I think maybe I like this because it reminds me of Savoir Adore, who don’t exist anymore. It’s kind of hard to really develop an interest in a band that’s not really a band, though. They’re more of a collective, led by singer Stuart Murdoch, and they’re all very normal and boring in real life. These are the kind of musicians who make music because they’re professional musicians and it’s their job, unlike the kind who set out to become rock stars because they’re too dysfunctional to do literally anything else with their lives. Which kind of a challenge to be a fan of. Call it vague appreciation rather than genuine interest. But still, this is a record that has worked its way into regular rotation, and honestly, not that many albums do that.
M.I.A. keeps threatening to retire, and after a decade of speaking her mind and taking the flak for it, we can’t really blame her. But I suspect she won’t be gone long. How can she resist all of this chaos? As a cultural figure, she’s more relevant and necessary now than she was ten years ago. Though Paper Planes was her mainstream peak, in the general optimism of 2008, her message didn’t really sink in. Right now, though, we really really need to hear what she’s been saying all these years. As an artist her subject has always been instability and displacement, and the identities of people who’ve built their lives far from their cultural homeland. In other words, M.I.A. speaks from, and about, the global diaspora. For her, global culture isn’t picking up something ‘exotic’ at the fair trade market, it’s not something to stumble across on Sirius, it isn’t a souvenir. It’s the real experience of living between languages, faiths and customs. It’s toggling between worlds, adapting to new customs, evolving with your surroundings. And there’s a freedom to that, despite the danger and sacrifice. Those brave enough – or desperate enough – to leave everything they know and start over from nothing in a new place, and the children they raise who understand both worlds, those are the people who keep society from stagnating in apathy and conformity, they’re the ones who stir and refresh our shared cultural pot. People like M.I.A. are the future, and we have always been the future.
There’s something a little uncanny about Jake Bugg. He’s a button-faced millennial boy who somehow carries the vibe of an old folksinger who peaked in 1962. He has a voice that belongs on a warped old record you found in your uncle’s basement. How much of that is self-conscious, I’m not sure. He knows his music history, that’s for sure, and he didn’t choose that bowl cut by coincidence, either. But lots of people try to look and sound vintage only to succeed in looking like poseurs. So there’s more to it than just liking the aesthetic very, very much. I honestly didn’t love Bugg’s third album (he experimented with some new directions that didn’t suit him) but I have complete faith in a long solid career about to unfold. Let’s see this kid go from a prodigy to a fully baked artist.
In an unpopular opinion, I’ve always dismissed the Arctic Monkeys as overrated, one of those bands that receive piles of accolades just for playing generic garage rock with competence. Which, in 2006, may have been accurate. But after people I trust have encouraged me to reconsider, I have to admit that the band has definitely become more interesting since then. It’s still basic rock music, but I wouldn’t call it generic anymore. There’s some wit there, some clever turns of phrase. And, not coincidentally, Alex Turner has matured into a more charismatic figure; a competent band is nothing without a commanding frontman, and this guy used to be a huge dork. Now we see a little image happening, a little style and swagger. Some good solid songwriting. All the marks of a good solid band. I don’t like to admit I’m wrong, but also, sometimes you have to wait it out and see.
This has a nice sixties europop vibe. Which is exactly on trend right now, I think. We’re all about celebrating old things that used to be uncool. I suppose that includes Belle & Sebastian themselves. They debuted in 1996, and shoegazing dreampop wasn’t exactly mainstream. The tides have turned quite a bit since then; emo happened, and now nearly everybody is a shoegazer. So I hope that Stuart Murdoch feels a little vindicated, after being mocked by the cool kids for so long.