I was having a tough go of it around this time last year. Like a lot of people, the entirely resistable rise of Donald Trump had ruined me, and I’d wake up each morning a little less convinced that the species that had gifted the universe Flannery O’Connor, Anne Carson and whiskey was ever going to overcome the fault in its genetic hardwiring and throw off xenophobia and paranoia for good. Or like, not even for good – for a few months, long enough to shoo away the fake tan-faced dictator pawing away at the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
I’d spend a lot of time sitting in my backyard, drinking tall, silver cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and thinking about how much I wanted a cigarette. I’d also read and re-read the same passage from a non-fiction book called Command And Control by Eric Schlosser.
In it, there is an account of the very first nuclear test – which was, if not a disaster, then certainly a hint at the incompetence that would define the handling of weapons for years to come. The military brass and scientific personnel who were called in to witness the unveiling stood too close, and were swept off their feet by the resulting detonation. But before one of the scientists who had designed the weapon got thrown back and into the dirt, he saw “a blinding white flash of light” that imprinted itself onto the back of his eyes. He became convinced that the light was “what the last person on the planet earth” would see, one day.
The album is a hideous, beautiful thing, full of repetition and snarling choruses deployed as carefully as iron-jawed traps
The passage was the most terrifying thing I’d ever read. It just made me feel sick – particularly the apocalyptic assessment of a man of science who had only just realised the power of what he had wrought into the world. But I couldn’t stop reading it. And eventually it made me feel, if not calmed, then oddly empowered. It was like sticking my finger into a scab again and again, and feeling the pain ebb away each time. It was like uttering a curse.
Which is all a very longwinded way of saying that although nuclear war is closer now even than it was last year, I am not doing as badly as I was then, in no small part because I have had Torres’ Three Futures, out Friday September 29, to listen to. It is a hideous, beautiful thing, full of repetition and snarling choruses deployed as carefully as gaping, iron-jawed traps.
Mackenzie Scott, the musician behind the moniker, has only buckled down on her talents in the two years since 2015’s Sprinter, and Three Futures is, in every conceivable way, more; more horrific; more inventive; more extraordinary. ‘Concrete Ganesha’ is a smeared, throbbing doctrine, blasted as morally clean as a Cormac McCarthy novel, while closer ‘To Be Given A Body’ is so precise and perfectly put as to resemble a mission statement.
Three Futures is, in every conceivable way, more; more horrific; more inventive; more extraordinary.
The standout, however, is ‘Helen In The Woods.’ There is a moment on that track where Scott sings the line “Your dad said son what’d you do to that girl / Something’s gone and made her whiskers curl.” And the way that she forms her mouth around those words “whiskers curl” makes me think of that scientist, and that first bomb, and that hot, white light.
Equally terrifying – not to mention equally brilliant – is Chelsea Wolfe’s new record, Hiss Spun, out now. Like a velvet glove cast in iron, album highlight ‘The Culling’ is all ’60s folk rock balladry and wide-eyed Wicker Man paranoia, while ‘16 Psyche’ is as crude as a tumour. It always sounds like Wolfe’s songs are one minute away from collapsing into themselves.
Sorry Is Gone is no lullaby: it is a record about defiance, and pain, and independence.
And although Metz’s new record, Strange Peace, out now, owes less to metal than Hiss, it too finds much of worth on the very boundaries of structure. The influence of Steve Albini is clear, not just as a producer, but also as an artistic force – tracks like ‘Cellophane’ fully embrace the “scarf caught in a car wheel” repetition of Shellac’s best songs, and the proceedings frequently cartwheel startlingly close to cliff edges.
At least prima facie, Jessica Lea Mayfield’s Sorry Is Gone, out Friday September 29, appears to be something else entirely – it’s almost a whole radio’s worth of lilting country ballads, and gently spun folk rock stories. But Sorry is no lullaby: it is a record about defiance, and pain, and independence, and what you can do when certain things you thought were owed to you get taken away. Mayfield is not putting up with anything anymore – on the titular track, she sings the line “I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong” with such force it’s like the words get tattooed upon her tongue.
Then, amidst it all, there is Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, and their excellent new record Lotta Sea Lice, out Friday October 13, which is also a story of defiance, and of the resistant properties of art. Because although Vile hits at the big black clouds assembling in his periphery on ‘Over Everything’, Sea Lice is, in its uncomplicated beauty, a kind of salve. It is an album that requires nothing of you but that you listen. I am thankful for it.
Album Of The Fortnight:
Dud Of The Fortnight:
No duds here, friend.
Header image by Ashley Connor.