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.
Angel Olsen is a relatively new discovery. And when I say relatively new, I mean I found out about her about a year go, said ‘huh, cool’ and promptly forgot. But she’s been gaining traction since then, and I’ve heard her on the radio a bit. So eventually I just had to get her album, and I really liked it. She has a pretty voice! I know the market is rather glutted with singers of introspective piano ballads, as it always seems to be. Personally, I can only take so much of it with the introspective singer-songwriter stuff, but I know that some of you just can’t get enough. Pick and choose what you will, and how much you will. I just came here to say that I really like this woman’s record, and you probably will too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’ve already posted this song, fairly recently. If you remember, I really loved the new Pet Shop Boys album, so much so I made it one of my top 10. So I can’t skip past without posting it again. I honestly think these guys were made to be old and doleful. Because doleful nostalgia is just the right tone to take when you’re two formerly edgy pop prodigies who’ve lived to see all the trails they blazed become superhighways. Pop stars deal with aging in a variety of ways, mostly undignified, and it’s cool to see this duo make it a part of their image. It suits them, more than being young and cool ever really did.
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.