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.
“If you want me to be your god, I will be your god.”
This digital-age mysticism is why I love Yacht. And because their songs are catchy as fuck, obviously. And Claire L. Evans might actually be some sort of small-time deity. Evans and her partner Jona Bechtolt recently blew all their indie cred and cosmic goodwill with a shockingly insensitive and poorly timed publicity hoax involving a ‘sex tape’. It was meant to be some kind of a performance art commentary about the nature of celebrity culture; they thought they could pull it off because they’re not actually all that famous. Well, it’s a fine fine line between stupid and clever, and pretending to be the victim of a sex crime is squarely on the wrong side of it. Bad call, guys, you’re really catching some flak for this one. But, being not actually very famous, I’m sure they’ll quickly move on from this dumb scandal chastened and possibly inspired to make a better commentary next time. Which I’m honestly looking forward to. Evans is too smart and creative not to find a way to translate her brush with notoriety into the thing she does best. Which is putting out electropop music filled with batty spirituality, utopian ideas about space travel, tech jokes, and exhortations to be a better human.
The irony is knee deep here, sadly. Amy Winehouse didn’t live to see this song’s release; it’s a leftover from the sessions for her first album. Perhaps, when she recorded it, she may have really believed in the song’s faith that love will inevitably carry the day. She sounds like she believes every word. She certainly had no way of knowing that her own faith in love and her dedication to the man she thought was the love of her life would directly contribute to the circumstances of her demise. It seems fairly clear, with distance and in hindsight, that she would not have become the loose cannon that she did if she hadn’t fallen for a no-goodnik whose only interests in life appear to have been drugs, alcohol and mayhem. That’s not to blame her for making poor decisions; the heart will undermine every best laid plan, even the will to live. Besides, it’s that heart-forward, open-soul, naked to the world attitude that lit up Amy’s music and made her so appealing, even when she was at her lowest. Let’s not forget, either, the courage it takes to live like that, even for a short amount of time. Most people will learn how to throw up their defenses and never show their hearts to even their nearest and dearest. Amy Winehouse never learned to do that, to her detriment and the world’s gain.
Florence Welch sure has a big presence. Her voice is huge, of course, and she plays up to it. Most importantly, she has a magical vision. Her image is pagan, baroque, bohemian, pre-raphaelite, symbolist, romantic… Notice how those are art movements? The lady has a visual style that is imaginative and invokes a wide palette of reference points, to put it dryly. Really ambitious and transporting musical vision is rare, and not many people would dare being that theatrical. It’s a tricky thing, but Welch goes for maximum effect with supreme confidence, and she really pulls it off with the ornate props and full orchestra. She looks like a faerie queen, and it seems like everything springs from that.
You may have heard that Yacht made a new album last year, and that I, for one, thought it was really great (one of the year’s best, in fact.) But other than that you probably haven’t thought or heard too much about them lately. Why would you; they’re an electro-indie-pop group out of Portland with not much profile outside the indie circuit. So you probably haven’t heard of the minor shitstorm they’ve gotten themselves into this year via social media. You can find the full details on Jezebel, but long story short, they (Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt, who are a couple, in case you didn’t know) claimed to have been the victims of a sex tape theft, then offered to sell the sex tape themselves on their website, then revealed that there was no sex tape and it had all been a publicity stunt. Only, instead of saying ‘publicity stunt’ they said it was a performance art commentary on the nature of celebrity, or something insufferable like that. Now, obviously, that was a deeply stupid thing to do, not least because theft and dissemination of intimate materials (aka revenge porn) is, in fact, a sex crime and a wildly prevalent one that law enforcement has barely begun to get a bead on how to handle; and, as with any other sex crime, making an elaborate publicity-seeking hoax out of it only goes to make things more difficult for actual victims of those crimes. How anybody could think this was be a good idea boggles the mind. Especially people I’ve always thought were pretty awesome. Definitely makes me lose a little respect.
Imagine Mick Jagger drunk and alone in a crappy motel in the middle of nowhere, just dwelling on past slights and trawling for a night’s company. Yeah, that’s a sexy fantasy right there. Of course Mick Jagger would never be drunk and alone in a crappy motel; Mick Jagger would only be drunk and alone in a five star luxury suite, and he wouldn’t be alone for long, because he is Mick Jagger and the world is his oyster. Also it’s doubtful that Damian Marley would ever be stranded without the cash for a taxi ride, because, you know, Marley family money. But if the song stretches credulity, it doesn’t matter; great songs don’t have to reflect real life.
Would you like a side of gender politics with your dance pop? JD Samson and MEN are here to deliver just that. JD Samson is a singer, songwriter, DJ, essayist, activist, former member of Le Tigre and a ladyperson who exists in a hipster vortex of both having a moustache and a tattoo that says ‘moustache’, among many other notable achievements. With Le Tigre, you can thank Samson’s pop hook writing ability for taming Kathleen Hanna’s Riot Grrrl rage into something musically enjoyable. It’s a shame that MEN only recorded two albums (and I haven’t even found the second one) but Samson is a Renaissance style artist who keeps many projects on the stove, so to speak. Obviously, dance music that is not mindless and irrelevant is much needed in the world, and MEN’s Talk About Body is one dance pop album that speaks about feminist, LGBT+, civil rights and economic issues. One complaint about socially conscious activist types is that they often forget how to have fun, but you can’t say that about JD Samson. She delivers her message with a sense of humor. Of course she does, though. You can’t really be an outsider activist without an ironclad sense of humor – the sheer volume and velocity of heteronormative cissexist patriarchal bullshit would quickly make you insane. Thank god for the internet for providing a platform for modern activism; an activism of art, music, dancing and fun.