Friday, 10 July 2020

the future can be rearranged: music, mental health and momentum

when i was a teenager, it seemed unlikely that my generation (millennial, if you will) would ever live through any significant Historical Events, and within a matter of months we've ended up with a global health pandemic and a burgeoning civil rights movement sparked by the killing of george floyd by police officers in minnesota on may 25th. 

to say i was both horrified and devastated was an understatement, as i first became aware of the black lives matter movement in 2014 following the death of michael brown in ferguson, missouri. i still remember watching the harrowing video of his arrest and the protests which followed, feeling powerless to do anything to help the community. 

fast forward to 2020 and supporters far and wide have been able to use change.org and go fund me to help raise awareness of the injustices faced by black communities and donate to the families affected. 

finally it feels like real change is taking place, with the introduction of breonna's law - named after breonna taylor who was killed in her own home during a police raid - which will ban no-knock search warrants, and a new investigation into elijah mcclain's case taking place after he was killed walking home from a convenience store in colorado last year. 

this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to black people being killed and disrespected by law enforcement, and i've spent the last few months educating myself about systematic racism, signing petitions and donating to various causes, all of which can be found here, or in the link on my about page. 

i'd highly recommend watching documentaries such as traffic stop, baltimore rising3 1/2 minutes and 13th, which might just be the most important documentary i've ever watched, providing an unflinching look at how racial inequality continues to destroy communities across america.  

there have also been incredibly uncomfortable conversations with my parents, particularly my dad, who continues to insist that "all lives matter" and is still clinging to tired racial stereotypes that have no basis in reality. though frustrating at times, i continue to express my views in the hope that maybe one day it could help change his mind. 

so with all this going on, it just didn't seem right to be writing and posting 2000 words about my favourite new songs, and i'm still trying to find a balance between sharing information about the ongoing protests while also making time for my own interests. 

i've been putting off this post for weeks as i wasn't sure how to launch back into writing about pop music during such a stressful time, and have worried about appearing insensitive, but i also appreciate the value of music and the creative arts. at a time when the world feels more divided than ever, that sense of community is vital, so even if this post helps just one person feel slightly more positive, it's better than nothing. 

my decision to start posting again was triggered mostly by a netflix documentary called the show must go on, which explores adam lambert's collaboration with glam rock band queen, and how the remaining members dealt with life after singer freddie mercury died from AIDS complications in 1991. 

i've never been the biggest queen fan - though the live aid performance of radio ga ga remains one of my all time favourite songs - but i was obsessed with adam lambert's debut album for your entertainment, released just a few months after he became the runner-up on american idol in 2009 (!) and have been listening to it non-stop for the last few weeks. 

title track for your entertainment is a gloriously camp bop, and  the party keeps going with the max martin produced if i had you and fever, which was originally written and recorded by lady gaga in 2006

i've also recently revisited whataya want from me, an angst-filled pop/rock bop originally intended for p!nk's fifth album funhouse. adam's version received a grammy nomination for "best male pop vocal performance" and it's not hard to see why. he also shows off his impressive vocal prowess on aftermath and my current favourite pick u up, which contains a key change so spectacular it gave me goosebumps upon hearing it for the first time in years last week. 

the addition of adam lambert to queen's lineup might have seemed odd to some, but seeing him sing with the group on stage in the documentary makes it clear that he has not only the vocal range but the charisma and iconic stage outfits required to front a glam rock band. 

there's also the fact that he's been openly gay ever since his time on american idol, and even now, seeing his casual response to leaked pictures of him and his boyfriend at the time gives me hope that one day the rest of the world will follow suit and accept everyone regardless of their sexuality. 

seeing him on stage also made me desperately miss the escape afforded to me by live music and going to Tha Club, though i've definitely appreciated smaller social gatherings with a few close friends since the lockdown was lifted in the UK. 

it's not just my social life that i've been reassessing while being in quarantine generally; the BLM movement has reignited my desire for a world where everyone is truly and fully equal. i've become much less focused on my own Big Dreams and would rather do something that will make a difference for marginalised communities, though i'm still trying to figure out how i can use my existing writing ~skills~ to do so.

with so many of us that aren't classed as key workers either working from home, furloughed or being made redundant, it's now clear to me that the majority of jobs are in fact bullshit and capitalism is really fucking ugly. 

it's also highlighted what i realised a few months ago, which that the majority of my ~ambitions~ to move to london and work In Fashion were based on a desire to run away from whatever problems i was dealing with at home rather than actually seek help for them, and since i've prioritised other areas of my life, including my own Mental Health and acquiring a group of friends who truly appreciate me as i am, i've definitely felt better. 

while i've had plenty of time to appreciate the music my teenage self loved, i've also been playing newer albums from long-term favourites such as the 1975, charli xcx and lady gaga. 

i took to chromatica like a duck to water; an impeccable album with no filler in sight. gaga has well and truly returned to pop and i couldn't be happier about it. my favourite songs have chopped and changed since its release, but i constantly find myself coming back to mega-banger alice, her ode to anti-psychotic medication 911, and her take on the Don't Need No Man bop, free woman (though i still maintain that the demo version is better). 

if i'm In My Feelings then i'll play plastic doll, 1000 doves, target bonus track love me right and sine from above, her collaboration with elton john. a special shoutout must also be given to babylon, a perfect Walking Song if i ever did hear one, and i'm LIVING for the day i get to hear it in a club at 3am. 

it wasn't so easy for me to get into how i'm feeling, charli xcx's fourth studio album recorded in lockdown, but i'm delighted to say that i now adore every single song. they perfectly capture the emotions i've experienced over the last four months and the sound created by BJ burton, a.g. cook, danny harle and dylan brady of 100 gecs is second to none. 

album opener pink diamond wouldn't look out of place on charli's seminal vroom vroom EP ("in real life could the club even handle us" is now one of my favourite lyrics ever), while claws, detonate, 7 years, enemy and i finally understand are a continuation of the sound explored on her third album, charli. 

fan favourite/leo anthem party 4 u finally received the studio treatment, while click was re imagined as c2.0, an ode to charli's friends that has 100 gecs quite literally written all over it, and of course there are two Absolute Bangers to close out the album, which incidentally are my favourite tracks. 

it was a joy to watch charli's live instagram video where she wrote anthems with the input of several fans who had a way with words, and i hope she'll continue this collaborative process in her future projects. 

then there's visions, which starts out super-emo and ascends into a chaotic mix of synths and hardcore beats that could only have come from the mind of a.g. cook

one of my favourite moments of the last few months was Losing My Shit when this song was played during a queerantine live stream - the online version of my beloved girls night out - which has been taking place via zoom every saturday for the last couple of months, and i'm genuinely afraid of how i'll react when i actually hear it in Tha Club. 

the final album that took a while to work its magic on me was notes on a conditional form by the 1975. to say this album was long awaited is an understatement, as the release was delayed several times, and upon first listen i was disappointed. 

hoping for some more of the 80s-adjacent bops the band have made their trademark since 2013, or the "heavier" sound of people that frontman matty healy promised would make up more of the album, i felt it was lacking... something. 

i tried several times to really Get Into It, and just as i was about to give up, something clicked and i fell in love with its super-nostalgic sound. 

having previously cited 90's garage and ambient music as influences for the album, healy described it as an ode to "british nighttime culture" and told annie mac in a radio 1 interview that it paid homage to "the beauty of the M25 and all those lights and going to mcdonald's and listening to garage records in a haze in a peugeot 206", and once i understood this reference, the sound totally made sense. 

while i would have been too young to partake in the teenage culture of healy's youth, i do have vivid memories from the early 2000s of long car drives back from various family holidays in northern seaside towns across the UK, and tracks like having no head, yeah i know, frail state of mind and i think there's something you should know bring them right to the forefront of my mind. 

the indie influences of the band's early years are strong on then because she goes, the birthday party, guys and roadkill. clearly inspired by the super-confessional lyrical style of the streets, healy weaves together stories of his own life experiences that manage to be both comical and vulnerable at the same time. 

it's this gift which elevates it from yet another brian eno-inspired ambient album to something only they could create, and they continue to evolve sonically on my absolute favourite tracks shiny collarbone and what should i say.

many fans were caught off guard by the contribution of dancehall artist cutty ranks on shiny collarbone, who provides vocals for the track. however i personally love it, probably because - combined with george daniel's impeccable production - it's reminiscent of jamie xx's 2015 album in colour, which i've also been re-listening to as a result. 

both bagsy not in net and don't worry  never fail to break my heart; the former made all the more devastating by an orchestral sample from christopher cross's 1979 song sailing. healy told beats 1 that the chorus is about "wanting to die with your partner" and not wanting to "lose someone that i love"

it's not a break-up album per se, but there's definitely the sense of an ending running throughout notes, maybe because this album marks the end of the band's "music for cars" era and a possible break for the group, who have been touring non-stop for the last six years. 

it's also the first time the group have invited collaborators into their creative process, as both FKA twigs and phoebe bridgers add their vocals to the album, but don't worry is by far my favourite as it features matty's dad, actor tim healy, who wrote the song when matty was just two years old. father and son sing the vocals together and it's given the 1975 treatment with their signature production that evokes the synth-driven, autotuned sound of francis and the lights

overall, notes provides plenty of opportunities to laugh, (ugly) cry and bop, exploring the full range of Human Emotion. while it's not my favourite album they've ever released, i appreciate their efforts to continue creating music that makes them happy, regardless of what their critics may say. 

it's an attitude i'm trying to retain myself as everything i once thought was set in stone is now very much up in the air, but i do feel some sense of comfort knowing that we're all in this together and hope that a fairer society could be on the horizon. 

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