If I had to summarize Sleigh Bells’ sound in one word, I would say ‘chaotic’. Not in the sense that they don’t know what they’re doing or don’t have coherent ideas. On the contrary, their sound is expertly fashioned. It’s just that your head spins with what to make of it. The aggressive contrast between the wall-of-sound noise assault and the bright melodies that run through it, the way Alexis Krauss’s pop tart vocals are distorted, the teeny-bopper reference points, the sheer up-to-11 volume of it. It’s music designed not to be instantly boxed in with one word.
Whatever happened to Sleigh Bells, you ask. Well, they’ve been consistently working and putting out albums. They just released an EP, cleverly titled Kid Khrushchev, a couple of months ago. And they’ve been consistently good albums, too. The reason you’re not hearing hype about it is because in the past seven years, what Sleigh Bells were doing has become what everyone is doing. There are so many groups out there mixing noise pop with grunge rock with feedback with harmony vocals with bad gal attitude. In 2010, Sleigh Bells were the only noise pop grunge duo, and they – for lack of a better word – slayed us with their originality. It’s hard to overstate that. When I first heard Sleigh Bells, it was like nothing else on the radio. Treats was one of my most-played records that year; I couldn’t stop blasting it over and over. It was so fresh, so LOUD, so take it or leave it, so much fun. That’s not an impression that’s easy to make twice, and since then, Sleigh Bells have become just another cool-girl rock-pop band. They’re still good, but they’re not the frontline anymore. But they really kicked off the decade.
This was my first Die Antwoord song! I heard it over the PA at some other concert I was at, and it was an instant “WTF? I love you!” moment. I had to know what this weird shit was, but apparently Shazam doesn’t work when you’re in the middle of 500 people, so I had to wait a few years before I found out. But I never forgot. I love to get sentimental about discovering bands I like; it’s like falling in love with a hot stranger, only better, because you don’t have to give them a ride home in the morning. Anyway. I think we’re all agreed that the world doesn’t actually need a white woman rapper. That’s not really a niche that needs to be filled, given how many black women rappers are on the breadline waiting for their big break. But if it did, Yo-Landi Vi$$er would be the one. This one actually has her own aesthetic and doesn’t pretend she’s from the American delta. She’s got her own culture she’d talking about, and if she checks American hip hop tropes, it’s to satirize them. Die Antwoord aren’t even what you would call a hip hop group; they’re a mashup of things that don’t usually go together, like rap and house music and film and performance art and really really bad tattoos. That’s the kind of originality that makes you stop and say ‘da fuh?’ and then ask for more.
I wish to introduce an artist who I discovered in a most circuitous, thoroughly modern way. Please check out Lissie, a singer-songwriter based in Iowa, of all places. I first heard Lissie as an anonymous voice on an EDM record, which I had to Shazam, because I loved her performance so much. Her vocals sounded organic in a way that most EDM vocals don’t. That song turned out to be The Longest Road by Morgan Page. I decided to follow up, with not much expectation. EDM vocalists, when followed up, usually turn out to be D-list never-were pop divas. I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised to discover Lissie. Her aesthetic is anything but club kid or pop diva. Her music is not-quite-country not-quite-pop-rock of a type there isn’t a whole lot of anymore; unpretentious, heartfelt but not overly earnest, catchy but not grabby. It’s what used to be called middle of the road, I guess, though that term was generally thrown around as an insult. Well, now that the music industry is a global superhighway bristling with niche-market exit ramps, don’t you kind of miss the middle of the road? Frankly, right now, a smart singer-songwriter who doesn’t care about being on-trend is just about the most refreshing thing to come across.
As a rule, I’m a hardened cynic who looks askance at anything too overtly positive or ingratiating. Uplifting entertainment is essentially manipulative, naive and intellectually shallow, is it not? Anyone who wants to deliver me an uplifting message about hanging in there and being my best self or whatever needs to sneak in the back door reeking of alcohol and herrings. Ahem. Enter Hutz, et al. No group of people has ever smuggled so much positivity under the guise of promoting drunk debauchery than Gogol Bordello. It’s because they know a truth that the general US public has lost sight of or just doesn’t care to admit; a good debauch is a necessity if you want to live a happy healthy life. Debauchery brings people together, builds friendships, starts romances and heals old wounds. There’s nothing more wholesome and good for the soul than a communal alcoholic binge, otherwise known as a party. It’s what ties the ties that bind us.
Arcade Fire have been on an upward trajectory. From acclaimed indie band to the kind of genuinely popular act that fills arenas. Aside from the increasing fame, they’ve also gotten more creatively ambitious with each album. After the masterpiece that was Reflektor, can they continue to dial it up, or will they plateau? I’m about to test drive their new album Everything Now, and will get back to you with an update. In the meantime, enjoy a throwback to The Suburbs, which is the when I first got on board. I wasn’t quite on board when Arcade Fire first broke out, but I began catching on. So sue me if I tell you that I didn’t fully commit until David Bowie gave his blessing.
“Revolution is internal, help yourself at any time”
If you haven’t heard, Gogol Bordello are releasing a new album. Obviously, they couldn’t be more relevant than at this moment, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. A lot of us right now are thinking to ourselves “I didn’t leave the fucking motherland to keep on dealing with this shit, I left it so I wouldn’t have to!” I didn’t come to America to be surrounded by mindless violent nationalism, that’s what people come to America to get away from. Unfortunately, America is basically that suspiciously hot girl on Tinder who turns out to have meth mouth and both kinds of hepatitis. So at a time when America’s international diaspora is collectively quaking with fear and rage, we really need an uplifting voice. We need to be reminded of how strong and brave and vital our immigrant communities always have been and always will be. Yes, we’re deeply disappointed right now; we thought we wouldn’t have to be dissidents anymore. But if there’s one thing Joe Make-America-Great-Again doesn’t understand, it’s that people don’t come to America because they think it’s going to be a fun daisy carnival; they come because they’re desperate to survive. Everyone who comes here does so because they’ve seen and lived through things so intolerable there’s nothing left to do but leave. In that regard, we’re way better equipped than any white-bread Americans are to deal with whatever spiteful baby-fascist bullshit comes next. It’s hard to bring people down who’ve already been down. We can be dissidents again. We can drink and party our way through whatever troubled times may come. We pass free thought around with the vodka bottle.