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.
Songs about sex. Everyone writes them, but it’s a pretty solid rule of thumb that people who have a nuanced view of sexuality don’t put it right up there as the title. The 1975, as you might have guessed, just by looking at them, are strangers to nuance. In their view, the greatest impediment to sex is… wait for it… “She’s got a boyfriend anyway.” I have to suspect – and the name of the band kind of supports me here – that this is a group of young men who really, reeealllyyy wish today’s music scene had the same groupie culture that it had before all the women realized that instead of giving musicians blowjobs in the limo, they could achieve their rockstar fantasies by actually becoming musicians themselves. Don’t worry, Matty, there will always be girls who want to give you a one-off blowjob in the limo before going home to be with their boyfriends while you go back to your hotel cumstained and alone.
Ok, wow, I haven’t listened to St. Lucia in years. Every time this song pops up on my iPod, I mistake it for some obscure one-hit-wonder from the 80’s. Which, for an electrosynth artist, is paying them the highest of compliments. Reliving what James Murphy called “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties” is what the electro-scene is all about. What exactly these young artists want to sweep us back to I’m not sure. The wonder and magic of John Hughes movies? The delicious frisson of Cold War terror juxtaposed with candy-colored Wham! videos? I don’t remember much about the Eighties either, but I’m still along for this musical ride.
If you’ve been hunting for something enjoyably downbeat and relaxingly depressing, something that’s just really really good to mope to, may I recommend The National. Singer Matt Berninger just has a sad voice, the way some people have sad eyes. Not all of their songs are trying to be sad, but there’s definitely a lot of them that are about love (the sad kind) and crying and at least one song appears to be about suicide (it isn’t this one.) This song is actually one of their less gloomy offerings, having a little bit of a faster tempo, though, of course, the lyrics are still mopey. It’s perfect music for crying in the bathtub, and don’t you even try to tell me you don’t have a ‘crying in the bathtub’ playlist. Let this be a valuable new addition to that playlist.
There’s something to be said for making masks or heavy makeup part of your performing persona, especially if you aren’t blessed with an outstanding physiognomy. Paul Hammer of Savoir Adore is not as strikingly handsome as his dreamy vocals lead me to visualize, though he ain’t bad and the dissonance is not as strong as with, just for example, Future Islands. What I’m saying is, this kind of strongly atmospheric, evocative music deserves equally compelling visuals, and no, I don’t mean a Tide Pod commercial. I would love to see Savoir Adore’s songs incorporated into a vividly drawn Studio Ghibli-style animated film, or at the very least, some visually creative music videos, because it’s honestly very transporting music. I understand, of course, that not everybody can be as physically exceptional as they are talented, but come on, kids, put a little effort into your presentation. Give me something to look at.
Portugal. The Man has quickly become one of my favorite currently active pop groups. Because they play with pop templates in a cheeky way, while still producing ridiculously catchy music. It’s all about euphoric hooks with a lyrical dark side and a little humor. Then, cheekiness and hooks aside, there are some straight-up earnest songs that, unbelievably in this age of irony, are kind of really uplifting. You could never accuse these guys of being schmaltzy, but I can see an army of overly-sincere open-mic troubadours tuning up for their weepy acoustic interpretation of this song. It’s not quite a power ballad, but it builds up for that emotional climax. And I’ll admit that maybe it makes me feel a little twinge of the positive feels, which honestly is nice and kind of hard to come by.