It’s not exactly profound to suggest that there is a link between the quality of art produced and the state of the world. Yes, art requires funding and support and education and people to have enough time and money to both enjoy it and pay for enjoying it. And, yes, there is a point at which art becomes basically impossible for people because they have neither the time or resources to make or enjoy it. However, it’s also true that some of the greatest art comes from some of the most difficult times. That for many artists struggle is an important part of their process. That it’s how they find their voice. Every protest needs an anthem.
In music, you can look at the folk and blues that came out of dustbowl, depression era America, or the rise of punk and new wave from the industrial meltdown of late 70’s and early 80’s England. To me, it feels like the last year has resonated in a similar way to those times.
The rise of far right, nationalistic, xenophobic politics magnified through the prism of Brexit and Trump. The never-ending crises of war, poverty and famine leading to an explosion of refugees who are seemingly to blame for having nowhere safe to call home. The continual failings of modern capitalism to balance individual freedom with societal responsibility leaving meritocracy as a fading dream. And all this punctuated by moments of terror about which we must show no fear, because to do so would be to give the criminals that enact these horrors exactly what they want.
Meanwhile the music has got better and harder and more honest. In the States, alternate hip-hop – led by a vanguard of YG and the returning A Tribe Called Quest – has found it’s voice again. Musically, the spectrum is as broad as it’s ever been and the beats as strong. Lyrically, there is a new-found vigour. No one is going quietly into the night.
KXNG Crooked’s Alternative Facts seems almost whimsical at first. Over a lackadaisical beat you’re encouraged to lie to your girlfriend, your boss, the police and your family. And why the hell not? After all, if the President can do it, why shouldn’t you?
The message here is really important. It’s not just about what Trump does, it’s also about what he represents. What does it teach us when the ‘leader of the free world’ thinks it’s not only okay to lie, but also that it’s not a lie if enough people believe it to be true.
Mr Wise’s The Man of Orange is a menacing first person encounter with the mind of Donald Trump. The President’s own words are swallowed whole and spat out again in angry roar. As I learnt to my cost, you shouldn’t listen to this at full volume in your car, unless you want to give people the wrong impression.
And we haven’t even touched the excellent new tracks by Joey Bada$$ and J. Cole. Maybe, another day, because I can’t get through this blog without mentioning the fantastic ‘Our First 100 Days’. 100 artists, 100 songs, one for each of the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. This compilation has been providing fuel to my musical fire for months now and if you haven’t got on board with it, then you should. For a minimum donation of $30 you too can have all these tracks. Not only is this a complete bargain but all the profits go to charities fighting for LGBTQ rights, sensible climate change and immigration policies, and access to safe, objective family planning options. If you haven’t got the point yet, this project gives me a warm, tingly feeling and that’s before we’ve talked about the music.
Adam Torres is relatively new to me but has been quietly stretching the Americana envelope for a decade now (his 2008 record Nostra Nova, in particular, is really great). Dreamers in America is melancholy and gorgeous:
Nathan Bowles is a fantastic banjo player from Virginia. His track the I In The Silence gently quakes my heart, reminding me a little of Dirty Three in their quieter moments:
I cried when I first heard the Piano Version of Julien Baker’s Good News. Her album from last year, Sprained Ankle, was pretty great but this is a wonderful, if brutal 4 minutes:
Most of these songs appear on May’s Skewed Quiff. You should listen to it and then go and buy some music.
1 Arabesque by Pronto Mama
2 Different Now by Chastity Belt
3 Mockingbird (w/ Mimikyu) by Luupy
4 Two Of The Lucky Ones by The Droge & Summer Blend
5 Luxury Vintage Rap by Nick Grant
6 Keston Cobblers Club by Almost Home
7 Filthy Boy by Mental Conditions
8 The I In Silence by Nathan Bowles
9 Imagining My Man by Aldous Harding
10 Good News (Piano Version) by Julien Baker
11 Moonfire by Boy & Bear
12 Let The Drums Speak (Dj XS Right Thing Edit) by Bah Samba
13 Walk Don’t Run by Chimney
14 Animals by Laura Gibson
15 High For Hours by J. Cole
16 Hot Thoughts by Spoon
17 Hey Can You Come Out And Play by Megan Sue Hicks
18 Bird by Kelly Lee Owens
19 Permanent by Carla Sagan
20 Vintage Red by Jay Jay Pistolet
1 Do The Whirlwind by Architecture in Helsinki
2 Sparkle (Teck-Zilla Remix) by Camp Lo
3 The Lives Of Elevators (Findspire live session) by Orouni
4 Chance The Dog (The Song) by The Kraken Quartet
5 Predator by Will Johnson
6 The Sea by Eliza Carthy
7 Turncoat by Pickwick
8 Alternative Facts by KXNG Crooked
9 Smoke Of Dreams by Thurston Moore
10 Laminated Cat by Jeff Tweedy
11 Can’t Hold On by Black Lips
12 One More Love song by Mac Demarco
13 The Man of Orange (prod. by Team Demo) by Mister Wise
14 Modern Highway by Luke Abbott
15 Hellhound in The House by Hip Hatchet
16 Halfway Home by Broken Social Scene
17 Caramel Dreams by Blue Movies
18 Just A Dream (Alternate Take) by Bert Jansch
19 Lil Dead Eye-d by Richard Edwards
20 End Of The World by Sharon Van Etten