I can’t recommend The National enough for all of your mournful, mopey needs. Do you need something to stare balefully at the rain to? Do you have some shitty cooking wine or bottom-shelf liquor you need to consume? Has it been three or four days since you’ve talked to your love interest? Are you getting yourself all worked up remembering that time you were really depressed? The National is here for you. Now, I’m not going so far as to say that it’s music for when you’re actually really depressed. You can make your own judgement call on that one, but for me it’s just gloomy and not straight-up scraping-the-bottom music. You know, there’s a distinction between performatively sad and, like, really depressed and stuff. You can have a performatively sad day, because, I don’t know, maybe you’re not getting enough dick or something, or all of your friends are jerks, or whatever makes you feel the most sorry for yourself.
As far as simple pleasures go, good music will always top the list. There’s nothing like the manufactured angst of another person to soothe our own worries. Like anyone, I love a good emotional ballad. I think this one is well on its way to becoming a classic – at least in my canon! Jake Bugg, of course, has established himself as an artist who’s here to stay. As I was saying last week, the boy wonder had to deal with the growing pains of growing out of his ‘boy wonder’ hype. A challenge for any artist who burst out very young. Bugg has the advantage that he’s always sounded wiser than his years, which makes it easier to become an actual mature adult. (As opposed to someone trying to outgrow an adolescent persona.) Hype itself can do as much harm to a young career as it does good, and it must be a relief to be able to operate and make creative choices without having all that pressure. So here is a young man who got clobbered with a lot of hype right out of the gate, and he’s been growing up ever since, with increasingly less hype but more creative freedom. Some people thought Jake Bugg’s second album was a let-down, after all that hype. Too well-produced! Too similar to the first one! I did think that the Rick Rubin treatment was uncalled for; not every promising young talent needs to be bundled off to Rick Rubin. But in the context of the artist’s progression, it’s a very natural second step, and as you can hear, there’s some great songwriting going on.
From this plaintive ballad you’d never guess that The Joy Formidable are one of the loudest and feedback-happy indie pop groups on the scene. They outshine their peers by sheer fire and fury. Which, in an ocean of tinkly keyboards, is frankly a breath of fresh air. But even the most fierce frontwoman – which Ritzy Bryan most certainly is – needs to take a quiet moment sometimes, and she’s not much of an artist if she doesn’t know how to be vulnerable. I don’t necessarily want to hear an entire album’s worth of plaintive ballads, but I very much want to hear at least one. Because I want to see another side of the artist, get to know them better as a person and whatnot, you know. Are they really someone I can relate to. I can relate to three-quarters fierce and loud and one part plaintive and sad.
Do you ever wonder what discerning hipsters in Albania are listening to? Are they dancing to Euro-hip-hop like everyone else, or are they still weeping into their sardines to the dulcet strains of an accordion? Yes, to both. With multicultural musical collectives like Fanfara Tirana and Transglobal Underground, European audiences can enjoy a heady brew of everything the global diaspora has to offer, from Caribbean funk to sub-Saharan beats to American-style gangsta rap to chanson and tango. Not forgetting those homegrown accordion solos. The open bordered EU has birthed a creative scene that’s the musical equivalent of a crowded railway platform, but obviously a lot more festive. Everyone is coming and going from all corners of the world, and everyone brought an instrument.
I think Wild Belle’s white-girl reggae is one of the best things going on in pop music right now, and if that makes me a basic bitch, so be it. It’s partly because the indie rock world is so monotonous that even white-girl reggae sounds exotic. But mostly because Natalie Bergman has the kind of voice that cuts through trends and puts her far ahead of many other blonde-haired singers with dreampop albums. Also I like a little atmosphere and a little warmheartedness sometimes, even if it’s not turning the world over with depth or originality.
In good music world news, Rhye released a new album this year, and it sounds exactly like their first one. If they made ten albums that all sound exactly the same, it might get tedious, but at this point, twice as many identical Rhye songs is exactly what the world needs. (This one is from 2013, if you can’t tell or don’t remember.) If Rhye’s output it the musical equivalent of an Instagram filter, well, who doesn’t love a good Instagram filter? It makes the ugly world look a tiny bit more beautiful, and your ugly life more appealing. It may be an illusion, but only you know the truth. That’s also what mood music does, only with your emotions. It makes your miserable mental state and sleazy love life seem adventurous and poetic. That, unlike Instagram filters, is an age-old tradition. People have been strategically using music to alter their moods and enhance the atmosphere ever since people invented music.
M.I.A. is one of those rare artists who is more interested in the geopolitical than the personal. She’s always been clear than her private life drama is far less relevant to her work than her identity as an immigrant in a melting pot diaspora. She also has a lot to say about her position as a woman in the music industry, which is notoriously unkind to women, especially ones who aren’t white. So she’s fought what must be an exhausting battle against being constantly sexualized and trivialized by the industry and media, with the added baggage of Asian women generally being seen as exotic, hypersexual, traditional and submissive. Being militantly outspoken and sometimes controversial isn’t a smooth road to popularity, but it is the road to being a compelling artist. And it does the trick, when she does decide to soften up and get personal, of making her more enticingly sexy than twelve dozen half-naked pop divas.