Organ music is very underutilized in the world of rock’n’roll. Nothing brings a sense of portent to the proceedings like a good organ intro. And if it’s followed by a gospel choir – that’s a recipe for perfection. Why that’s not the formula for every hit pop song on the charts, I don’t know. (I do know: pop charts, and the songs on them, are stupid.) If you haven’t guessed, I freaking love it when someone takes takes unexpected elements from very unhip corners of the music world and uses them to their own weird ends. It’s diversification in action! So we of course have a Devendra Banhart song to listen to today, because he is a modern master of the weird and unexpected, and when he brings in that gospel choir there’s not a dry seat in the church.
A while back I made the executive decision not to feature songs that aren’t written in English, for grammatical reasons, mostly. It’s my rule and it’s made to be broken, and I have broken it many times. Especially when dealing with artists who swing easily between languages and cultures, as Devendra Banhart does. Banhart does some of his best work in Portuguese, and feels equally at home with Latin American rhythms as he does the American pop idiom, maybe more so. In fact, he makes the American pop idiom look laughably limited and one-dimensional, which it very much is. And eccentricity, of course, cuts across language barriers: a fellow eccentric recognizes a kindred spirit from across the world.
I really, really love songs about hard living. They give me something to aspire to! Not everybody can live the highs and lows of rock stars, because most of us don’t have the drug budget to disappear into a never-ending bender, but we can have a taste of it for a weekend, if we’re brave enough. Apparently, though, according to real legit research, most people don’t even bother; not everybody even partakes in the heavenly nectar of fermented grains and vegetables (huh?) and waking up with chemical burns all over your epiglottis because what you inhaled last night turned out to not be cocaine is far from a universal experience (double huh?). Turns out Nancy Reagan’s hard work paid off after all! Recreational drug use among young people is at an all time low, according to social anthropologists who’ve dedicated their lives to studying the ways of the Millennials. (Never mind that right now heroin is the Acai smoothie of the working class.) It’s ironic that our permissive godless secular capitalist society has somehow led to a generation that’s collectively doing less dumb shit than the previous ones. Less drugs, more social activism, less teenage pregnancy, higher literacy rates, etc. But that still leaves precious little to relate to for those of us who consider all-night benders as normal as going to the grocery store. It’s like the more society changes the more it still frowns on killing brain cells as a lifestyle option. Perhaps visiting altered states is best left to people who have something to gain from it; the artists and musicians and poets and visionaries. People whose job is to explore and to suffer and to kill brain cells and to tell something useful or entertaining about it.
I think this is an excellent segue from yesterday, and it’s very on point. Lucinda Williams is always on point writing about love, from her position as a woman who has lived through some serious ups and downs, who has loved many troubled souls and watched them not make it, who didn’t find her personal and professional rewards until she was well over the expiration date that women are usually given for finding those things. From that vantage point she asks, what do we need and expect men to really do for us? And what can lovers ever really do for each other, in the end? What gaping existential void are we asking our mere mortal partners to fill for us? I remember a comment from someone – a poet – that the needs we expect our romantic partners to fill are the same ones that we used to fill with religion. We expect guidance and fulfillment and unconditional love and sacrifice and an ear and a shoulder and a heart to cry to, and the other person inevitably comes up short, because they’re also asking for those things. No wonder so many people would rather burn the world than accept living in a secular society. But regardless if you’re clinging to religious ceremony for comfort or putting all of your emotional eggs in the monogamous long-term relationship basket, those things are still a substitute for the hard work of finding fulfillment within yourself, and there’s no easy shortcut to that. Love and religion can help, or they can hinder you, but you still have got to learn to live with yourself.
This is something I quite relate to. You see, I am exactly the kind of nerd who thinks that paying attention to what’s playing is of such supreme importance it outshines even sex. I try to not be weird and awkward about it. Apparently most people don’t want to talk about music when they could be getting naked. Most people don’t want to talk about music instead of getting naked. They don’t want to talk about music while they’re getting naked. They don’t appreciate you getting out of bed because there’s DJ-ing to be done. But sometimes you just have to drop everything and turn up a pop song!
A particular favorite from one of my favorite relatively new discoveries. I’ve been told that Interpol is great live, and that’s evident from this clip. It’s a performance both dramatic and intimate. It even evokes some of the great goth depressingtons of yore that the band has been (often cheaply) compared to. This could well have been a Joy Division song, and I wouldn’t lightly accuse anyone of channeling Ian Curtis. (People who purposely channel Ian Curtis are lazy schmucks.) It’s gnomic and grand, even if falls apart on paper. The meaning is in the delivery. It’s in the image. It’s in the tension that builds from that first arpeggio.
“People in love lie around and get fat, I didn’t want us to end up like that.”
Well, that’s just about the driest possible way to sum it up, isn’t it. Art Brut’s Eddie Argos singlehandedly took Britpop’s drollness to the next level, while sometimes making a muss of the fine line between clever and irritating. You could say that it’s a bit of a gimmick, shouting sarcastically about one’s insecurities over light-VU feedback. But enough of it is redeemingly, genuinely clever that you roll with the gimmick. And who doesn’t relate or wish that they did to the persona of the common bloke who can’t sing and doesn’t look like much but has his wit always at the ready? I must admit that Art Brut has found quite a bit of space on my iPod, and their interludes are refreshing amid the general doom and gloom there.