The visual album is the future. It has been known, since Queen Bey made it so. But I haven’t noticed a stampede of artists trying to emulate the success of Lemonade. Understandable enough. It’s a high bar, making an album is challenging enough without the extra work of producing a visual narrative, and not many people have that much creativity or resources. Still, it’s the future. One artist who has been working in visual album territory is Florence Welch. She released an interconnected series of videos in support of her last album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Though the final film changes the order of the songs, it encompasses the album and tells a loose narrative reflecting its themes. It’s an emotionally turbulent story of the singer’s personal struggle, of dealing with heartbreak, family, heritage and selfhood. Though she has not shared the details of the specific events that inspired her, she has spoken of dealing with depression recently, as well as the isolation and exhaustion that come with stardom – all of which lead to relationship trouble and heavy drinking. All of which is ample material for a dramatic narrative, albeit a fictionalized one that leans on allegory and symbolic imagery.
“We don’t belong here, we were just born here”
This kind of angst is exactly what we go to Modest Mouse for. Feeling slightly displaced in the world has been their grand theme from the beginning. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better with age, either. Lots of people who start out full of angst and fire mellow out over the years. Most do, in fact. Either because they genuinely become happier people, or because they realize that you can’t sell yourself as an angry young ‘un when you’re over 35. However, Isaac Brock appears to have a very real case of misanthropy that isn’t a posture and isn’t about to go away. Maybe there’s a middle-age slump on the way, some ill-advised attempts to stay relevant, a bad new haircut. Maybe he just needs to have a baby to make him see how life is a beautiful miracle and every moment is precious. Maybe ten years from now Modest Mouse will be a pastiche of themselves playing ‘The 2000’s Revue” in Las Vegas.
I think I featured this song a couple of years ago, when I first discovered Ryn Weaver. She hasn’t done anything since that time; she is apparently without a record label, despite the moderate success of her first album. Still, I advise everyone to continue patiently keeping an eye on her, because she is amazing. Besides her strength as a writer and performer, she is a very rare thing – a versatile vocalist who doesn’t rely on currently popular tics and mannerisms. We all know that every musical movement/generation has its own specific style, which usually stems from a whole lot of people trying to copy one original trailblazer, on to the point of cliche. Examples; 70’s hard rock singers yowling like Robert Plant, the entire 90’s mumbling like Kurt Cobain, post-Madonna pop stars who can’t actually sing but don’t mind taking their clothes off. Today, the trend seems to be singing at the top of your lungs, presumably the better to reach the back of the stadium. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, plus a host of less popular names; everyone is belting it out like a Broadway diva. It’s effective but not given to nuance. It’s today’s vocal cliche. Ryn Weaver is a singer who could sing like that, because she has the lungs for it, but she doesn’t. Her vocal performances are all over the map, evoking dozens of influences, sometimes all in the course of one song. It shows fantastic confidence for an artist fresh out of the nest, so to speak, and I truly hope she’s given the platform to develop and succeed.
I promise that I will lay off the dream pop for a while after this. jk. I will never lay off the dream pop. But I may give it a rest with this particular Belle & Sebastian album. I know I’ve been flogging it pretty relentlessly. Dream pop is dream pop for a reason, though. I love the gauzy, slightly twee atmosphere. It’s retro and it feels innocent, even though it may have lyrics that are the opposite of those things. It feels like music from European caper movie from the sixties. If it helps me imagine myself as a glamorous sixties ingenue, don’t judge. I want to feel like Catherine Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sometimes, instead of Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion.
Yes, this record again. I just keep playing it. I have to say that I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song before, but that’s where unasked-for lyric videos come in. You’ll find that it has a little bit more depth than the glowing melodies would suggest. Of course, Belle & Sebastian cornered the market on bookish romanticism a while back, with their penchant for wordy, Morrissey-esque album titles. This isn’t quite master level, but it’s not quite your garden variety I-Love-You pop either. The slight touch of doom pushes it over the edge. Love just means more when the world is threatening to burn; it’s a refute to the wordy title.
Don’t judge, I really love this album. I know it’s a bit sudden and random. I mean, I never cared about Belle & Sebastian before, and they’ve been around for more than a decade. Also the record came out two years ago I’m obsessed with it now. And I still don’t particularly care for any of their other records. They’re kind of boring and low-key. I think maybe I like this because it reminds me of Savoir Adore, who don’t exist anymore. It’s kind of hard to really develop an interest in a band that’s not really a band, though. They’re more of a collective, led by singer Stuart Murdoch, and they’re all very normal and boring in real life. These are the kind of musicians who make music because they’re professional musicians and it’s their job, unlike the kind who set out to become rock stars because they’re too dysfunctional to do literally anything else with their lives. Which kind of a challenge to be a fan of. Call it vague appreciation rather than genuine interest. But still, this is a record that has worked its way into regular rotation, and honestly, not that many albums do that.
This weird little number is my favorite song from the new Modest Mouse album. It’s my favorite, obviously, because it’s the weirdest. Now, I loved the new Modest Mouse album. But I also heard the criticism that it wasn’t nearly weird enough. That’s a valid point; compared to their early work, it wasn’t very weird. It just sounds like a Modest Mouse album, of which there have been enough that we’ve become used to what Modest Mouse sounds like and are now desensitized to how weird the Modest Mouse sound really is even at their most radio friendly. When you delve into it, though, you may recall that Modest Mouse is actually one of the most gratifyingly weird bands to ever enjoy semi-mainstream success in this weirdness-averse godforsaken country. So basically, you gotta take your critical consensus with a grain of salt. Look at the big picture. Take in the broader context. And this song is just genuinely bizarre. Should’ve been, could’ve been the lead single. It would sell!
Oh, and by the way, does the name A. Cunanan ring a bell? It certainly does for me. Andrew Cunanan was the serial killer who murdered Gianni Versace.