The world is a beautiful place and I’m not afraid to die anymore Always foreign.
Last week in a bar, I ended up talking to a musician who must have been in his fifties about the differences between politics in the 1960s and today, the skyrocketing costs of elections and the growing influence lobbyists and leaving this year in all the ways we both understood things worked. The conversation finally landed on football, where Colin Kaepernick’s career-ending year-long protest against police brutality had just exploded into a public flame war between Donald Trump and the entire NFL. The guy didn’t understand why sports had to be a political battleground; there are spaces, he argued – as others have done this year – where we should be able to drop our differences and defenses for a few hours and share a common interest.
Respectfully, I’ve grown tired of elders wanting the country back to a less visibly political time. They were brought up in an America designed by art, news and the machinations of politicians to believe in and reinforce its own exceptionalism, to reject civil disobedience as the work of underground communist cells and laughable crackpots. (This fall I binge-watched Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Vietnam War, which, in addition to detailing hard facts about a bad idea overseas conflict, focuses on the crushing stories of young patriots whose misplaced faith in government drew them into battles of questionable morality. ) I grew up watching the Gulf War bombings on TV and the carnage crack epidemic on the streets of New York. I’ve never known a world that wasn’t brazenly political. I think the old world was a fake.
With increased awareness comes increased responsibility. “If you see something, say something,” says the MTA’s motto. Unrelenting access to the pure horror movie melodrama of human depravity in 2017 compels us to defy our government and comfort our peers, and it’s heartening to see the many ways people are finding to get the job done. As someone wired to seek comfort in music, I see songwriters going down two distinct paths throughout the year of cultural and spiritual warfare. There are self-care records, and there are despair records, song cycles you sink into to remind yourself that love and warmth are still powerful and possible, and polemics you use to burn rage and avoid breaking nearby furniture.
I focused a lot on self-care records in this space. For the past year or so, I’ve spoken about the albums of Solange, Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry and Lana Del Rey and their attempts to speak to their respective fandoms through the growing sense that the world is heading down irreversibly dark paths. But this week I’m frazzled by the happenings of Las Vegas on Sunday night and watching new releases from punk (and punk-adjacent) bands Protomartyr, Propagandhi and the world is a beautiful place and I’m not afraid to die to mold my righteous indignation.
It is presumptuous to call Protomartyr overtly political; vocalist Joe Casey’s lyrics offer more of the unease of a man thinking in irrational systems than any deliberate partisan sloganeering. His screaming speech and eloquent abstractions are reminiscent of dying hucksters like Mark E. Smith and From her to eternity–era Nick Cave. The band makes taut, dramatic guitar rock that is often classified in the particular vernacular of music critics as “angular”. The sound is both intimidating and pretty, blending the attack of austere early 80s English post-punk and the shimmering guitar tones that their sunnier descendants spurred on rock radio. Protomartyr originated in Detroit in the late 2000s, but by unseen sight you’d be forgiven for placing them somewhere in Thatcher’s Manchester.
The novella of the protomartyr Parents in descent is a music forged in the stress of the time which does not care to say the name of its malaise. What is straight talk throughout Relatives is a feeling that things are bad, and we’re screwed, but that’s no reason not to try to have fun. As Casey repeats in “The Chuckler,” which counts a conversation with a telemarketer as the highlight of a day, “I guess I’ll keep laughing until there’s no more breath in my lungs.” “My Children” leans darker and more sarcastic: “My children, they are the future / Good luck with the mess I left, you innovators.”
A similar obsession with mortality and legacy informs “Adventures in Zoochosis,” the final track from Canadian punk veterans Propagandhi’s new album, victory toweras frontman Chris Hannah, imagining himself as a dying prisoner in a dystopian future, tells his sons to leave their father behind: “Boys, I’ve bowed to the warden’s whip for so long / I think that the sad truth is this the pen is where your old man belongs Hannah doesn’t leave her intentions open to interpretation the song begins with clips of Trump thinking about catching pussies and building walls and ends with a promise to blow up a corrupt system to the highest.
Propaganda has been giving such harsh sermons since at least the first Bush administration. His first album How to clean everything arrived at the exact moment punk rock entered the musical mainstream on the back of skate culture and found itself mobbed by dozens of fans who loved the lightning-fast licks but didn’t care much about the community or politics. The band conned this audience with tracks from 1996 Less chatter, more rock, a biting and political bible of punk, from lyrics to liner notes to song titles: “Resisting Tyrannical Government”, “I Was a Pre-Teen McCarthyist”, “…And We Thought Nation-States Were a Bad Idea”. They haven’t let up since. We needed Propaganda to weigh in on the Trump years the same way we could have used more Rage Against the Machine during the George W. Bush years. Sometimes you absolutely to hear him echoing to you that every element of what’s going on is bullshit to keep your sanity in check.
victory tower is the hard truth and the hard licks on every level; “Comply/Resist” serves up light thrash-metal vibes and a thoughtful, timely rebuttal to essayist Christopher Hitchens’ short-sighted critique of people who think Christopher Columbus was an agent of genocide. “Cop Just Out of Frame” brings bright melodies, searing breakdowns and the story of panicked cops to the site of Buddhist monk Quảng Đức’s chilling self-immolation in 1963, which brought greater international attention to the head injustices in the Vietnam War. Propaganda records drive you crazy, but they send you with reading material on how to make the world a better place and encouraging stories from daring souls who have tried.
For the Philadelphia-based company, the world is a beautiful place and I’m no longer afraid to die, Earth’s true heroes are ordinary people who fight hard. This week Always stranger withdraws from the skyward reach and mythical weight of the 2015s Safetyfavoring slow-building ballads and still-life glimpses of lives in disrepair over the last album’s pair of lyrics about goddesses and riffs reminiscent of Northwest indie-rock touchstones like Modest Mouse. The lonely crowded West. Foreign“Gram” lets his story do the tug: “They locked up our fathers for 20 years, now they limit our culture to Fridays / You had to work four jobs and use two phones, but the pharmacy always ends up with our money. ”
Always stranger sees singer David Bello attempt to balance his own issues with national ones. On the first pass, “Hilltopper” (“Remember the footnote an unpaid intern wrote in your unfinished memoir / About the time you held the world in your hands and left it at the bar”) seems like a murderous dig by Trump, but there are plenty of other interpretations that could be made as well.
The record’s shared goals intertwine with “For Robin”, “Marine Tigers” and “Fuzz Minor”. The former watches helplessly as a drug-addicted friend withdraws from his relationships and disappears into illness, evoking loss and unfinished business as the tangible daily effects of the country’s opioid crisis. “Tigers” and “Minor” touch on the family history of Puerto Rican-Lebanese Bello and the emotional fallout from the government’s efforts to identify and deport Latino and Arab immigrants. write for Always stranger happened around last year’s presidential election, an event whose dizzying flow is marked on every relationship we’ve navigated as it goes. Foreignhis reluctance to say whether to address people in Bello’s personal life or major villains making things difficult for all Americans is an honest tactic; it’s hard to gauge how quietly our individual conflicts are rooted in heightened fear and doomsday nervousness.
The central challenge of all Trump-era art will be the choice between extracting our own experiences of the time from the specifics of current politics and finding unique ways to reconcile the two. Artists across the pop spectrum tend to choose the first option, each for different reasons. Some believe the sharp politics can date a record, and some worry that choosing sides will divide their audience. Others aptly omit names to facilitate safe spaces where Twitter’s president isn’t actively chewing the web of tact and decency. There’s a place for that kind of writing, but there should also be music that makes us want to take our frustrations out on the streets and music that makes us want to laugh in haughty disbelief at how far we’ve fallen .