Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. Beginning earlier this month, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks,.
“Desperate times call for desperate music,” I wrote in my review of The Paranoid Style’s Rolling Disclosure earlier this year. Little did I know how desperate both the times and the music would get by the end of the year. As I trudge along in 2017, I’m immersing myself in music as much as I can, trying to make sense of our new reality. Here are some albums that have helped me, to some degree, get through all of this.
A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic) Albums like this shouldn’t exist, right? An iconic group reunites for their first album in nearly two decades and genius flows out. A new Tribe album alone seemed unlikely but, contextualized by Phife Dawg’s passing and the election–just two elements of the worst year since I started caring–they’ve created a remarkably smart and human work. Q-Tip and company are fully in their element when exploring loss on “Lost Somebody” and “The Donald.” And while the Trump-rally-chant chorus of “We the People…” seemed too on-the-nose for me at first, if ever there was a time to be obvious with our protests, it’s now. Besides, despite the hook-heaviness, the magic happens in the verses. Not to mention Q-Tip’s production, which switches from subtle to grandiose with ease (often in the same song). But the heartbreaking tipping point that makes this more than just a solid final album is the optimism and hope at the heart of the songs, which feels purely pre-Election Day. “The Space Program” and “We the People…” are odes to perseverance and standing together, while “Dis Generation” shows a rare belief in our future. It’s not dated, though, because it’s not wrong. Maybe America was never great, but it’s brought us plenty of great people, including Phife Dawg himself. That’s something. Maybe we’ll be alright after all. 10/10
G.L.O.S.S.: Trans Day of Revenge (Total Negativity/Nervous Nelly/PANSY TWIST distro/Sabatoge) But what good is hope, anyway? Hope is what they pray we bank our money on, staying stagnant while nothing changes. Moreover, what’s the point of being peaceful? Gaining respect from people who will never respect you, some of whom also have zero interest in peace? The best queercore band of the year manages to summarize the failings of pacifism and demand a new course of action on this seven-minute EP, the most energetic and invigorating punk release in years. Released a day after the Pulse shooting, it feels even more timely now that we have further proof of just how ineffective peace can be. 8.5/10
Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (Six Shooter) Maybe peace isn’t always ineffective. In a chilling year for American politics that seemed to bring problems faced by marginalized groups to the forefront in increasingly tragic ways, the victory of the Standing Rock protests felt major. Because of this, the new Tanya Tagaq record not only feels more relevant to this American listener, it also gives me some semblance of hope. “Retribution will be swift,” she sings on the title cut, my favorite song she’s ever done, as the track’s ominous build-up paints a picture of said retribution. Terrifying, but the mere thought of retribution or justice–be it cosmic, natural, or delivered by the human beings who’ve been wronged–is nevertheless something to hold on to. With an appearance from Shad and a closing cover of “Rape Me,” this is about as mainstream as her throat singing can get. And while I prefer Animism, her challenging 2014 Polaris Music Prize winner, few 2016 albums felt this necessary. 8.5/10
Anohni: Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian) It’s hard not to feel defeated. We reassure ourselves in order to avoid feeling too depressed or, er, hopeless. We try to stop thinking about everything, remind ourselves of all the things and people we love, but all it takes is turning on the news or looking at social media to fall back in the hole. More than any other artist this year, Anohni managed to encapsulate the frustration and anger and depression felt by leftists. From song to song, this record covers various issues that kept people despondent during the Obama administration: drones (“Drone Bomb Me”), the NSA (“Watch Me”), patriarchal violence (“Violent Men”), and Obama himself (“Obama”). Of course, the only thing more disappointing than Obama not living up to what liberals built him up as is the fact that he might be the best president we get, not to mention the fact that the worst person to enter the Oval Office may be worse than we could have imagined. But at least we have this eerie, disorienting, often problematic album to encapsulate our feelings. Personally, I’ve never liked her more. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like listening to it, but where else can I find solace? 8/10
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker (Columbia) One day, we will all die. If we’re lucky, we can go out like Cohen, who predicted his exit with Mark Twain-level accuracy and released a final album that capped his life perfectly. That’s not to say that You Want It Darker is a perfect album, or even a particularly good one. But following the present nature of Old Ideas and the contemplative narrative of Popular Problems, this is a satisfying closer to both a marvelous recording career and his final trio of studio albums. Not as rich as his best work, but it is intelligent and, most importantly, features a distinctive level of contentment. We’ll all go some day, because everything eventually ends. All we can do is try to get through all the shit before we get there. 7.5/10
Single of the Week – At the Drive-In: “Governed by Contagions” (Rise)