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.
Well, this is about the polar opposite of my own life, but I’m glad that Rihanna and Nicki are both getting some. Obviously, the level of bad-bitch-ness that Rih and Nicki Minaj are at is an unattainable ideal, especially for those of us who spend most of our time indoors with our cats. But there’s a little bit of a bad bitch inside of all of us, and we need to remember that when we’re feeling like useless blobs of angst. The musical stylings of Rihanna don’t get a lot of credit for having deep cultural or spiritual impact, and hey, they’re not really there for that. But Bad Gal RiRi is there to remind us that we should be having fun and being fabulous and there’s billions of fish in the sea, just in case anyone cares about fish. Don’t ever misunderestimate how fucking empowering it feels to be fabulous and get in front of the lights and cut loose.
I wager you’re well familiar with ubiquitous hit, and I bet that sometime after the ten thousandth time you heard it, what it’s about may have finally dawned on you. You may have even felt a tiny little bit bad for whistling along. But then you whistled along anyway. It is, to refresh you, an inescapably catchy ode to that peculiarly modern social evil of our time, the school shooting. Making delightful art out of the shittiest things in life isn’t by any means a new phenomenon; people have been making whistle tunes in the face carnage for as long as people have known how to whistle. It’s an interesting thing to think about. We’re reached a point in our society where we just numbly accept the very real likelihood of getting shot by a disgruntled acquaintance or blown up by a terrorist as just a residual risk of living. While the specifics of the threats we face are uniquely ours, the mindset is nothing new. We wearily accept our timely dangers, just as people before us wearily accepted that most of their children would never live to adulthood or that a certain number of people in their communities would inevitably be eaten by lions. It’s not callous, it’s just how we’ve always survived.
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.