In “Graffiti,” from CHVRCHES’ new album “Love Is Dead,” is Lauren Mayberry writing about the loss of romantic love, putting a what-if counterfactual to music, or is she writing about the imminent death of the world? She sings, “I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old/and now we never will/never will.” There’s a lot of talk about writing names on bathroom stalls and standing in streetlights and making a mess, about “being kids then,” so there’s a sense of looking back on an intense love that dissipated somewhere along the line (for undisclosed reasons), and there also seems to be a powerful regret about the loss of this love, which possibly represents an irremediable wrong that will affect Mayberry forever and preclude her enjoyment of her old age (because she’ll always be thinking about what might have been with this former love). This is nostalgia turned into poisonous rumination, set to CHVRCHES usual array of erupting, overflowing synths. But there’s also that “we” in “and now we never will,” which suggests that this is a collective fate: none of us will grow old; our mistakes will come back to haunt us and there will be no relief. “Graffiti” is at once very pretty and very grim, and most of “Love Is Dead” has that same beautiful and punishing vibe.
Remember chaotic shows, in small theaters, in basements, in a hot attic in Virginia? Early morning Wawa donuts, coffee, and cigarettes. Sitting on brick walls. Someone always brought back handfuls of candy from work. Food, we were always searching for free food. Racing against the clock to get beer before midnight. Our friends snuck into the pool at the Holiday Inn, but we stuck with the one in our apartment complex, full of leaves and dead spiders. We went to see bands in Richmond and Newport News, bands that then dissipated like they’d never existed. You went to Fredericksburg and never came back.
Courtney Barnett’s new album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” feels like it’s about relationships—understanding them, maintaining them. Talking and listening (or, on “Nameless, Faceless,” learning how to ignore that which is unimportant). Telling stories, hearing stories. Trying to place oneself in relation to others in a way that’s sustainable, that works. Like with “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett’s songwriting creates a sense of one-on-one intimacy, like she’s relating these worries and preoccupations to you over a couple beers at the bar, though she doesn’t really indulge in the kind of plainspoken, super-quotidian reporting that, say, Kozalek has done with recent Sun Kil Moon records—the lyrics on “Tell Me How You Really Feel” are universal enough that there’s still room for the listener. She’s got such a range, too, as a songwriter—she’s got songs like “Hopefulessness” and “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” that exude a degree of menace and aggression, songs like “Need a Little Time” and “Sunday Roast” that are tender, solicitous, forgiving, supportive, and kind of stretched-out country jams like “Walkin on Eggshells.” She pulls it all off in such an effortless way, it’s astounding. “Tell Me How You Really Feel” is an easy album to listen to and love.
Poets write novels. Painters often sculpt. Actors direct. Engineers get into crafting. Sidestepping, moving from one world into an adjacent world, can spark something new. Meric Long, guitarist and vocalist of the (awesome) band the Dodos, took a break from his main project after the death of his father and the birth of his first kid. He inherited two synthesizers from his father, instruments that he had no experience with, and found himself playing around on those, writing songs and fragments here and there, which later coalesced into this project, FAN’s debut album, “Barton’s Den.”
Reviewing the first FAN singles, “Fire” and “Disappear,” last year, I mentioned that those songs displayed the same rough characteristics and shape of some Dodos songs, and that’s true for a lot of “Barton’s Den.” If you dig the Dodos, you will love this record—Meric Long has a great voice, and he’s a really good songwriter (good melodies, awesome sense of dynamics in his songs—they’re almost never boring, they’re always shifting and moving). Even if you’ve never heard the Dodos, this record is worth your time: it’s like Long’s sensibilities transposed into the sounds you’d expect to hear on a Handsome Furs or Of Montreal album.
“Barton’s Den” has hopeful and elegiac songs, and songs like “Velour,” more combative, kinetic, questioning (also features some neon-bright, arcing guitar lines from Long). The album feels a lot like a snapshot from a time in someone’s life: full of different moods and impulses, rendered in vivid music.
The heat wave came and never abated. The streets became sludge; you could drive your car maybe two or three feet, but that was it, the tires melted, then it was the bare bones of the rims, exposed. Trees wilted or burst into flame. A flock of odd crows dove straight into a river—you could hear the noise as they entered, witnesses said—and did not come up again. There was no more grass to speak of. Broods of insects never before seen by humans emerged and thrived, everywhere, walking leeches, the mega mosquito, many other types that bore no resemblance to known species. Everything was waiting for cessation, but it all just kept going.
(Black Moth Super Rainbow’s new album, Panic Blooms, is beautiful and bizarre, a mutation and adaptation of soft-focus electronic psychedelia, so warped and altered that it’s a new thing, a voice coming from every direction, couched in alien waves of sound).