Spring is here, which is nice, but it might be easier to appreciate if the unseasonably hot non-winter we just breezed through wasn’t so indicative of the damage we have done to our rapidly warming planet. Oh, and maybe we’d all be a little more relaxed if we didn’t live in daily fear that we’re on the verge of being obliterated in a nuclear hellfire unleashed by a brace of emotionally maladjusted, sweaty-browed megalomaniacs, or if we could all wake up one morning without having to read a news report about another gathering of fucking neo-Nazis.
The last two weeks of music have been distinctly, almost unrelentingly dour, with the award for the biggest grumblers going to The National.
At least that general sense of morbidity is being shared by musicians. The last week in music has been dominated by the almost unrelentingly dour, with the award for the biggest grumblers going to The National. The band’s new record, Sleep Well Beast, out now, has been championed by some critics as their mangum opus, but for those of us who were never on the Matt Berninger train to begin with, goddamn if it doesn’t feel like a slog to get through. There’s only so many six-minute songs about heartbreak that one can take in a single sitting after all, and, as usual, the band’s non-existent sense of pacing means the whole affair feels rather like having one’s teeth pulled by an apprentice dentist (sans anaesthetic.)
Elsewhere, Ariel Pink, heir apparent to oddball pioneer R Stevie Moore and general creative loose unit, has finally followed up his masterpiece Pom Pom with Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, 12 tracks of jangled folk and sun-warped, Beach Boys-indebted pop, out Friday September 15. Pink couldn’t make a dour record if he tried, but Dedicated does have a distinct, if vaguely depraved, sense of mourning to it. It’s an album for life’s losers, and songs like ‘Time To Meet Your God’ and ‘Feels Like Heaven’ are more heartfelt than even Pink’s dedicated fanbase might be expecting.
Pink couldn’t make a dour record if he tried, but Dedicated does have a distinct, if vaguely depraved, sense of mourning to it.
Another weirdo swapping out irony for heartache is Alex Cameron, whose Forced Witness, out now, more than builds on the promise of his debut Jumping The Shark. A piss and vinegar stained masterpiece, Forced Witness is one long bad joke, packed with songs about Nigerian scammers, eczema ridden dogs and sexed up, selfie-hungry perverts. It’s depressing stuff, fitting with our fortnight’s theme, but Cameron’s sense of humour stops it from becoming an exercise in nihilism.
Even LCD Soundsystem, the most reliably energetic band in indie rock, have succumbed to their darker impulses. Their new record, American Dream, out now, is the bleakest, meanest album they’ve ever released – for better and for worse. ‘How Do You Sleep?’ a genuine highlight, is a funeral dirge stripped down to its basest components, but album closer ‘Black Screen’, a Bowie eulogy that runs for 12 long minutes, errs too far on the side of the overindulgent.
But who needs mopey yanks when Australia is currently quite so jam-packed with talent? Compare the weepy nonsense of Berninger with something like Two Steps On The Water’s Sword Songs, out Friday September 29, and it is clear who really just dropped their magnum opus.
After all, just as Steps’ God Forbid Anyone Look Me In The Eye proved to be the most exciting, innovative record of 2016, so too is Sword Songs already making its way to the head of the pack this year, standing out as one of the most heartfelt and hardened albums dropped in the last seven months.
“Sword Songs is not about anything other than life itself, and it’s not for anyone but the people who will take every last one of its melodies into their hearts; the people who need it.”
Sure, it’s all those things critics like to moan on about – it’s emotional, and it’s compelling, and it’s honest – but more than anything else, it feels like an album that resists academic jabbering. It’s not about anything other than life itself, and it’s not for anyone but the people who will take every last one of its melodies into their hearts; the people who need it.
Paper Thin is no nostalgia project, nor glorified cover band. Rather, they are a group of astute, clear-eyed songwriters.
Similarly impressive is Paper Thin’s Living With. Being Without, out Wednesday September 13. What with its wormy melodies, and layered, rapidly unraveling guitar work, the four track EP owes a debt to bands like American Football and Mineral, but Paper Thin is no nostalgia project, nor glorified cover band. Rather, they are a group of astute, clear-eyed songwriters, and songs like ‘When You Call’ succeed not because of the subtle musical debts they pay, but because of their great emotional power. One would do well to watch what the band do next.
Elsewhere on the newcomers front (kinda) is Tropical Fuck Storm’s ‘Chameleon Paint’. A supergroup made up of members of The Drones, High Tension and Harmony, Tropical Fuck Storm combine the whomping electro work and good old fashioned punk fuckery of The Drones’ last record, Feelin’ Kinda Free. The new single is lacerating stuff, a riposte to the unending bullshit of social media feeds that’s about as subtle and considered as a brick half to the jaw. Tropical Fuck Storm are already one of the most exciting Australian acts around, and ‘Chameleon Paint’ is already one of the songs of the goddamn year. It’s almost good enough to make you forget we’re a few weeks away from getting annihilated by a swollen orange fascist with his stumpy little fingers on the nuclear button. Almost.
Album Of The Fortnight: Ariel Pink’s Dedicated To Bobby Jameson is more than worth your time, as is Alex Cameron’s new joint, but the real masterpiece is Two Steps On The Water’s Sword Songs. Get on it when it drops on the 29th.
Dud Of The Week: The National’s new record is red-wine ruddied nonsense. A big ole meh.