As an arts writer, they tell you not to beat dead horses. We are told, when we get the keys to a one-bedroom flat of internet article space to dispose of our thoughts in, not to belabor on topics where debate is no longer generative; where a cultural consensus has been reached, or all viable arguments have been made. When Kim comes out with receipts incriminating Taylor for using Guys-Kanye-Called-Me-A-Bitch-Troops-Assemble feminism for personal gain, we are not supposed to shout into the crowded internet void about it, because the internet is a highly effective instrument that responds at hyper-speed to such events — and there are literally offices full of 20-something bloggers in every major city paid to sit around and wait for stuff like that to happen, and produce appropriately snarky takes on it. So, if you’re not one of those people paid to stare out at the internet and write that first “Taylor Lied and Here’s Why She’s The Whitest and Lamest Feminist Who Ever Lived, Who Gives Me Existential Doubt and Acid Reflux About The State of Feminism” article — don’t. I’ve shouted a lot about indie rock in the past few days.
“Girl power” is a tainted term in our cultural vocabulary. It is infected probably first and foremost by the image of Gwen Stefani, bindi-clad, prostrating herself onstage in her “Just A Girl” music video whimpering “fuck you, I’m a girl,” or of Taylor Swift parading around with her #girlsquad of models/singers/very famous people, explaining to Twitter, (mainly when other women criticize her) how very important it is for “women to support each other.” The term, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness and individualism” has been largely debunked as a commercialized white feminist ideology, based on vague assertions of rights and equality, which ultimately boils down to imitating masculinity while still looking hot. So, while explicit performances of girl power like those of Stefani, Courtney Love, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and the Spice Girls — whose have-it-all, you-go-girl cultural feminist legacy was inherited by Swift and her peers — were subversive in the 90s and aughts, and will always be fun as hell to dance to, it has since become evident that these women’s girl power brands (remember kinderwhore?) were ultimately complicit with the relentless trivialization and eroticization of women within rock culture. In 2016, “girl power” in music is either obsolete, or begging for redefinition. The latter, I argue, is happening, and in an unlikely genre.
Everybody’s a loner bum. All of our ten dollar jackets have bead-black cigarette burns on the sleeves, and we all know how to strum a chord or two on somebody else’s pawn shop guitar. Our hair scraggles in matted insect homes down past our shoulders, and our crumbled asphalt stubble trickles day by sunscorched day into flowing deluges of little follicular lives emanating from dirtstained smiling faces. We’ve all got a thin, spine-worn volume of Bukowski’s poetry shoved haphazard into the ripping back pocket of our wrong-sized jeans. We all know how to write, and we like doing it, too.
Listening to M83’s latest single is how I spent the most needlessly melodramatic six minutes of my day. “Solitude” is a slow, woozy ballad layered with heavy, gummy orchestral instrumentation on top of the French duo’s signature echoey vocal chorus. It’s an awkwardly cinematic and self-serious piece of music, like the final scene in a low-budget action movie: just as you can no longer take it seriously, the hero yells “nooo” in slo-motion and pushes the villain into a volcano — except, like, as a piece of ambient pop. Maybe this sounds promising to you, but unfortunately the track seems to be peculiar for the sake of peculiarity, which ends up being predictably boring. After their bopping, Vampire Weekend-ishly charming and buzzy, “Do It, Try It,” “Solitude” is a tedious disappointment.
Sometimes the sad love songs you listen to are not about the type of love you think they are. Sometimes they aren’t even romantic, though they may be rather striking. Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow — the trio who make up Wet — seem to be early-rising experts at crafting songs that ooze distilled electronic sounds and R&B patterns, gliding along Zutrau’s whimsical voice singing highly realistic and exhausted lyrics to create an enrapturing soundscape. The band’s debut album, Don’t You, is the band’s first release since their 2013 self-titled EP. I started listening to the new album for background music and soon found myself unable to focus on what I was doing because I was so wrapped up in what I was hearing.
Sleater-Kinney, the radical DIY punk rock trio hailing from the riot grrrl scene of Olympia, Washington, was a defining group in rock and roll throughout the nineties and early 2000’s. Punk queens Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (star of IFC’s Portlandia) got their start at Evergreen College screaming about various isms, and subsequently developed into one of the most acclaimed all-female rock groups of all time. Their notorious hiatus finally came to an end after nine years last Tuesday with the release of their eighth studio album No Cities To Love: a hiatus which has paralleled debatably some of the most precarious years for the genre of rock and roll in history. To make one thing clear, rock is not dead — the click-bait eulogizing of entire musical genres being one of the worse hobbies of pseudo-intellectual music bloggers but it has undeniably taken on new shapes in recent years. However, the girls are back in town and No Cities To Love takes us back to a more political and arguably a more dynamic moment in rock and roll, in disarmingly inventive ways.
Ryan Miller is the lead singer of Guster, an acoustic-pop/alternative rock band that formed at Tufts University in 1991 and has built a dedicated fan base over the years. Their seventh album, Evermotion, came out this January and marks a synth-inspired departure from their previous records, while maintaining their strong melodies, catchy hooks, and dense lyricism. Produced by Ryan Swift, who has also worked with the Shins and Foxygen, they are back on the road touring. Guster will perform this Friday at the State Theater, with local group, Darryl Rahn & the Lost Souls of SUNY Purchase opening for them. The Sun had the opportunity to chat with Ryan about the magic of live music and how they stay engaged in after two decades of making records.
Rappers are infamous for leaving home when they make it big: to live somewhere prettier, more glamorous and more insulated. Chance the Rapper does not seem tempted by that prospect; in fact, he is gleeful in his determination to stay home (in his local Chicago) and help his community. At the beginning of his new single “Angels,” he brags, “I got my city doing front-flips, when every father, mayor, rapper jump ship… Clean up the streets so my daughter can have somewhere to play.”
At a time when rap is dominated by different shades of negativity, from Drake’s depressed narcissism to Future’s void-staring nihilism, Chance is refreshingly positive. “Angels” is yet another Chance song that is joyful and optimistic without being sappy or corny, featuring some of Chance’s most exuberant rhyming since 2013’s Acid Rap supported by a slang-laden hook from fellow Chicagoan artist, Saba. “Angels” makes good use of Donnie Trumpet, the trumpet player in Chance’s touring band and collaborator, The Social Experiment.
Kurt Vile is an acoustic guitar-wielding loner on his new album b’lieve i’m goin down; a subdued, confessional and ultimately enjoyable listen. His music cultivates a relaxed and reflective vibe: the stuff of long car trips and late-night conversations; the slow pulse of Vile’s sound evoking the view through a rearview mirror. It sounds like it was recorded in his bedroom
The lyrics read like journal entries. This should be regarded as a strength. b’lieve i’m goin down is about solitude, alienation and introspection: Vile sets the tone on the tightly written opener, “Pretty Pimpin,” when he sings, “I woke up this morning / Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror.” On “I’m An Outlaw,” he aligns himself thematically with country legends like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, singing “I’m an outlaw on the brink of self-implosion” over a banjo groove.
I was not thrilled last semester when I heard that The Pussycat Dolls would be performing on Slope Day. I have no desire, however, to resurrect the long and painful battle that ensued prior to the performance between the Doll lovers and haters. I simply want to use this scuffle as a basis to lay out my intentions. Or, more precisely, to explain what my intentions are not.