Some styles are harder to succeed in than others; virtuosity, sweeping conceptuality; these are hard to master because they demand skills which are almost unobtainable. The laidback, silver New Wave of 26 year old Londoner Will Westerman’s sound is hardly revolutionary: but his chosen style comes with its own set of dilemmas. There are hints of Peter Gabriel, 10cc and Beach House to a washed-out style which has captured hundred bedroom outfits over the past decade, and it’s precisely this saturated market which makes Westerman’s debut so satisfying. Stare through a dozen supporting acts of cardigan wearing, feet-staring dream-pop bandsand it’s easy to forget that this ethereal sound can be enchanting rather than bewitchingly dull, and he strikes that chord immediately.
The approach of the record is slow and cerebral, but among the sounds Westerman plays with producer Nathan Jenkins are sticky choruses and instrumentation which builds into graceful cacophonies; ornate in construction but relaxed in execution. Westerman’s voice is punctuated by circular guitar playing and filled with 21st century touches in the form of thunderous kick drums, loose hi-hats and looped guitar vamps. Songs like “Big Nothing Glow” are intensely detailed but remain elastic, bathed in shimmering synths and thick reverb which keeps the tracks loose and compelling. There are guitar solos too: lots of them.
With references to architecture and a bauhaus aesthetic, it’s an album which would have fit in the canon of early 80s British New Wave alongside Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and co., but Westerman’s concerns are very 2020. Lead single “Blue Comanche” is one of the album’s most luscious, but it’s words sting with anxiety over the ever-expanding harm of environmental loss, with references to acorns and cyborgs abound. It’s hard to imagine this single staying far from the top of the singles charts in 1981, boasting a staunch commitment to whirring synths and call-and-repeat vocals.
Westerman can be emotionally distant – these are erudite songs about grey areas, discourse and modernisation – but they also possess a rare nuance, such as on “The Line”, which wonders aloud where “the line is”. The context is left open – it could refer to political discourse or a row between lovers – but that’s where the poignancy comes from. And somehow the song still slaps: the ear-worm chorus soaring over a fog of synths and sharp guitar licks. Despite their sibylline character, others tracks express concrete affirmation, like the uptempo “Think I’ll Stay”, a reflection on chronic illness which ends with the proclamation: “don’t know how I got here / but now that I am I think I’ll stay”.
This debut album isn’t freewheeling and it isn’t revolutionary, instead it’s a remarkably precocious mastery of a style which has for too long being lost in the fog of it’s own introspection. Will Westerman meets that with directness, precision and a healthy dose of magic.
On his FX show Atlanta, Donald Glover and company have mastered the art of wrapping the political in a veil of surreal comedy and a distinct lack of concern. It’s a show where little happens, and yet says more about race and class in America than a whole month of The Daily Show. Take the skit about a black teenager who wants to transition into “a 35 year old white man” or the quite horrific season two scene where a frat boy tries to impress rapper Paperboi by eulogising Pimp C as “one of the last true prophets” while smoking a joint in front of a confederate flag.
When asked about white people watching the show Glover said to The New Yorker that “I want them to really experience racism, to really feel what it’s like to be black in America… the characters aren’t smoking weed all the time because it’s cool but because they have P.T.S.D.—every black person does. It’s scary to be at the bottom, yelling up out of the hole, and all they shout down is ‘Keep digging! We’ll reach God soon!”.
I mention all of this before even arriving at Glover’s new album as Childish Gambino because this is the new mould of his music too. Just like there is no scene in Atlanta where Earn turns to the camera to eulogise about race in America, there are no protest songs on 3.15.2020, and nor do I think he wanted these songs to be more than jams if the listener didn’t want them to be – but this music is also very much a product of the world as it stands in 2020. Continue reading “Album Review: Childish Gambino – 3.15.2020”→
One of the strangest months in living memory was matched in kind by one of the wildest for music; new gems from Art Blakey and Bob Dylan (17 minutes!), alongside new albums at last from Four Tet, The Weeknd and Childish Gambino, the last released as nameless livestream with no cover. These alongside fantastic cuts from Jarvis Cocker, Haim, Nicolas Jaar, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Jay Electronica, The Dixie Chicks, Disclosure, Norah Jones, Run the The Jewels, Bicep and The Dirty Projectors… If there was every a time to scale this bracing mountain of new talent and thriving legends then it’s now, from the sofa, washing your hands.Find the Apple Music and Spotify playlists below:
Well well well, what a month. The Strokes return. The Avalanches return. New music from Perfume Genius, Dirty Projectors, Car Seat Headrest, US Girls, La Roux, Kesha, Carly Rae Jepsen, Phoebe Bridgers, Gorillaz, Grimes and Mark Kozelek… what is going on?? Newcomers DJ Knuf, 100 Gecs, Emma Jean-Thackray and Ian William Craig drop gorgeous new songs and that’s all without mentioning a multitude of slaps from Denzel Curry, Nicolas Jaar and Pop Smoke, who we sadly lost this month… This one’s for him Find the Apple Music and Spotify playlists below:
This time in February 2016 – the last election year in America – at a rally in South Carolina, Donald Trump said this:
“We’re going to win so much. You’re going to get tired of winning. you’re going to say, ‘Please Mr. President, I have a headache. Please, don’t win so much. This is getting terrible.’ And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again.’ You’re gonna say, ‘Please.’ I said, ‘Nope, nope. We’re gonna keep winning’.
It was one of a multitude of comments spouted by Trump which was clipped, soundbite-d and replayed across Twitter, MSNBC, Have I Got News For You and hundreds of other smug panel shows alike. Back then, it rang with a delicious preposterousness on too many levels to list: the fact that it could be uttered by an elderly adult, a presidential candidate no-less! That “winning” could be used as a measure of success for an entire nation at all, while surely only the people of America could win by being graced by a leader would fight to make the lives of the majority palpably better; and ahistorical too: in the 20th and 21st centuries, hawkish Presidents’ attempts at ‘winning’ normally equated to country losing to a devastating degree. Continue reading “When Will The Democratic Party Become Tired of Donald Trump “Winning”?”→