Nobody writes songs about mowing the yard like Courtney Barnett does. But don’t mistake writing about boring subjects with actually being boring. Boring subjects are not the same as boring ideas. It may seem like it’s all about the little things but it’s never just the little things. Barnett knows that things like the grass in the yard or the tiles on the ceiling that we fixate on are just placeholders for the bigger things that are going on inside our minds. We talk about the stupid and mundane because we can’t gather the words to talk about the deeply meaningful and we project our unarticulated emotions onto harmless objects because we don’t know how to express ourselves. We’re just as afraid of being understood as we are of being misunderstood. So we fidget and talk about the weather. Some people spend their entire lives fidgeting and talking about the weather, and some people spend their entire lives in a constant state of anxiety because they want to say what they mean but can’t quite find the way to do it. And that’s a mind state even the most confident and articulate of us have been in, usually when confronted with romantic feelings. But, you know, keep on making mistakes until you get it right, right?
I never thought I’d be converted to Miley Cyrus. She’s a former Disney Channel teen idol, fer fuck’s sake! She’s made some excruciatingly bad pop music, and the less said the better regarding her twerking phase. But then she made an album with Flaming Lips, and it was stunning. It seems like this girl has a lot more going on than her various pop star antics have let on. She clearly likes drugs a lot, which is not necessarily always a plus for making good music, but in this case, yes, it’s a plus for making good music. The Flaming Lips’ psychedelic aesthetic is all over this album, of course, but it’s impossible to dismiss it as just a Flaming Lips record with a different vocalist. It is, unmistakably, a very personal record, filled with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, observations and recalled dreams. Will Miley Cyrus do anything as good ever again? Most likely not, but I’ll give her a chance.
Crude title aside, this is classic Modest Mouse. And since being tetchy and asocial is kind of Isaac Brock’s whole thing, persona-wise, the crude title just ties into the big picture anyway. Modest Mouse has always been music for the slightly maladjusted. Life might rub us the wrong way, and love might be incomprehensible, but we do love a good philosophical musing. There’s a balance between a studied persona of sustained grumpiness and deep-thinking, philosophy-struck intellectualism which is echoed by the musical contrast of aggressive near-atonal noise-rock and pop melodies verging on ethereal. Now that I think about it, everything about Modest Mouse is bi-polar like that. I guess that’s what’s kept them interesting for what’s turned out to be decades.
“Underneath it all, we’re just savages
Hidden behind shirts, ties and marriages…”
As if I needed anything to validate my lack of faith in the species. We are, all told, impenetrably dumb, desire-driven dysfunctional monkeys and the only thing we’ve got going for us is a pop song or two. But, as Marina points out, we like to think that our suits and social institutions elevate us somehow. It’s all about that veneer of civilization that makes us think we have our shit together. Shocker, we don’t have our shit together. But, again, we do have culture, which is more than most of the other animals can say for themselves, and if it doesn’t redeem us in the grand universal scheme of things, at least it makes our short and brutish lives a tiny bit more meaningful.
How could you not be impressed? If you came upon Ryn Weaver, not knowing who she was or what to expect, you would be floored. As I was, when I saw her perform as an opening act for Billy Idol. She is just so fresh and compelling in her vocals and her personality, beautiful and great on stage, and once you’ve sat down to really listen, a good writer too. Obviously, in a fair world, she would be a huge star, but it’s not a fair world and the most interesting people are not always the most rewarded. According to her Instagram, Ryn’s biggest news is a rather drastic bleach job. Still awaiting new music though.
“So much of my album has to do with running away and refusing to settle in one place. It’s about the good and the bad of going out on your own.” – Ryn Weaver
Clearly, running away has been a popular theme. It’s particularly poignant for young women who wish to escape from stifling home lives and see the expectations of their future as nothing but a burden. The option to run away and become a traveling musician isn’t exactly a new one; theater troupes and gypsy caravans have called out to the brave for centuries, and the performing arts have long been a designated haven for nonconformists. The idea of making a break for it is still a powerful one, even though we now enjoy a lot more personal freedom than ever before.
Noise can be cathartic and fun, as any toddler could tell you. Some people listen to nothing but aggressive noise-music, which is clearly a red flag regarding their mental health. Most of us have at least one or two really loud and noisy records that our neighbors hate us for blasting. For me, The Dead Weather are a primary ‘venting’ band. They’re not the loudest or most aggressive band that ever was, but they know about distortion and they know about delivering attitude. Just enough to annoy people who are just trying to have a quiet day.