For a song about sorrow, this is actually kind of a bop. It has a nice honky-tonk groove to it. You get the sense that whatever sorrows Elle King is carrying, there real deep down there underneath the party-starting bad girl persona. It seems that King has learned the primary rule of honky-tonk divas since time immemorial: the baddest girls are the saddest girls. She has yet to make a full-on old-school country record, but I’m here for it when she does.
Miley Cyrus has grown out her hair, stopped wagging her tongue at everybody and no longer looks like she makes her living selling drugs at Burning Man. So it would appear that the psychedelic weirdness was a phase, although it’s possible she may have a big divorce relapse. Oh well, at least we’ll always have Miley & her Dead Petz, a real keeper of a contribution to the musical scene of 2015. Dead Petz, of course, refers to collaborators like Flaming Lips, people for whom psychedelic weirdness is a lifelong calling. I’ve always held that if those guys decided that Miley Cyrus was cool to make an album with, then she must be a pretty cool chick. So best of luck to her and hope she doesn’t normie out too hard.
For a girl who like to wear giant glitter-encrusted fruit on her head, Marina Diamandis is sure full of darkness and angst. She comes out looking like she’s about to tell everyone to put their hands up in the air and dance like they just don’t care, and then she goes into a ballad about the existential emptiness inside herself. While all the fifteen-year-old gay bois in the audience sing along in rousing unison. (They’re all wearing giant bananas on their heads.) Yes, I have been to a Marina show. It was like a bespangled fever dream of gender-fluid hormones and inner pain. That’s what makes a camp icon for the ages, kiddos. Now, I wasn’t entirely sure that the younger generation were in need of a camp icon of their own, or if a child of fifteen summers would even know what camp is. But apparently they do and they do. The kids understand very well that the inner pain that’s simpering, boring and mundane in a basic bitch who shops at Marshalls becomes a boiling, heartrending, operatic statement of tragic longing and universal suffering when the sufferer is a glitter slut from outer space. The fission between outer fabulosity and inner turmoil just makes it all – mwah! – pure art.
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.