Pop star Dua Lipa wasn’t sure if April was a good time to release her album Future Nostalgia, because of Covid-19 – then it was leaked online, so she had to. It received the dubious honor of being the number one hit in the UK with the lowest amount of album sales. The PR reflects the desperation, with Rolling Stone calling it the “perfect prescription for a world without dance floors;” a tone-deaf proclamation aimed at an audience of sad club goers in lockdown who had already been hitting Zoom dance parties like Club Quarantine, wearing out and burning out every dance hit since the nineties and waking up lonely, empty, sometimes hungover. I will never forgive coronavirus for making Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” an unlistenable cliché.
The music video for Dua Lipa’s song “Hallucinate” is not just a nod to LSD, but a greedy sledgehammer of psychedelic clichés from cartoon unicorns, swollen hearts with eyeballs and long-legged Grateful Dead walkers, that V Magazine says, “Will have you in a hallucinogenic haze, even within the confines of your own isolation.” “It’s anthemic for anyone whose perception has been temporarily altered in a moment of ecstasy, seemingly infinite.”
Good to know the drugs people fought for in the underground risking their lives, careers and relationships, are now mainstream enough to boost a flailing pop star in a pandemic. There is no Google-able mention of Dua Lipa actually doing psychedelics, but whatever. I played the song and knew I’d heard that melody before somewhere. It took a night of sleep to realize that “Hallucinate” is a trashy version of “Violence” by Grimes, an actually psychedelic song. It’s from her eerily prophetic Ms. Anthropocene that came out pre-pandemic.
Madness, intellect, audacity– “Before the Fever,” Grimes, Ms. Anthropocene
Truth and the lack thereof
They will kill us all
Ms. Anthropocene was an accelerationist weapon that maybe actually killed American pop music. Katy Perry, Sia and Kanye West didn’t get the memo. Their recently released songs all sound like radio static from a scene in a zombie apocalypse movie, dead on arrival. Pop Smoke’s new album is an exception, but he’s dead, murdered in a rented Hollywood home last February.
Looking for mainstream fresh sounds by living people, I found the artists of K-Pop to be the only oasis; enviable in their joy and innovation, not to mention their power to politically catalyze their stans into action. If you’re wondering whether the disaster that is “America” has permeated all facets of life itself, all you need to do is glance at the pop music charts from the last few months.
It seems like years ago when Fiona Apple broke through just in time, before the fall, with Fetch the Bolt Cutters. It’s an album I personally found too painful to listen to more than once, but I have respect for its raw and independent expression of female ID, maybe the last drop of it we will ever hear again until we re-emerge in our new forms.
Get lonely for what I’ll never know– “Arkadelphia,” Katie Crutchfield/Waxahatchee
Losing the thread of a story, overtold
St. Cloud by Waxahatchee came out in March. I didn’t notice it because I was still dancing by myself under the train tracks, but now even that party feels over. I need emotional assistance. No, actually I need a map. Katie Crutchfield is a lyricist on the level of Bob Dylan, who rode alongside psychedelic rock and roll, keeping his sound close to the dirt while his poetry resonated with the fractal and sublime. Katie is that kind of animal. She has described the album St. Cloud as a stylistic departure and also a testimony to new sobriety, an alchemy that leads to psychedelic truth. I intend to shelter at home in her words, wrapped in an old-world roots sound, awaiting any revelation she ever may have.
And when you get back to St. Cloud– “St. Cloud,” Katie Crutchfield/Waxahatchee
Watch the new world project
A rousing image, scorched earth swinging
Supernatural and complex
And I might show up in a white dress
Turn reluctance on its ear
If the dead just go on living
Well there’s nothing left to fear
A friend just tested positive for Covid-19. She’s ok, just laying low at home. I remember her saying she wasn’t listening to music all that much. I wasn’t either, save for Huaira, an Ecuadorian singer, who blew my heart open at a psilocybin mushroom retreat in Mexico. I don’t want entertainment. I need medicine. I remember songs on the radio from before that fixed me, but now when I go back to listen to these songs, they’re dead. It’s my ear that tells me it’s serious, these times, that we are mutating into a different kind of human.
We are in an extended liminal zone, the liminal being a kind of emergency. It’s a realm of no ground, where we are susceptible to invisible forces – the caterpillar in the cocoon gone liquid before reconstituting and emerging as a butterfly. I have found the sound of that liquid room, or rather, it found me. It’s Tara Jane O’Neil and Beverly Glenn Copeland.
I joked with my girlfriend back in March about “The Pandemic Piano.” It was everywhere with a sad Chopin vibe when it first went down. Piano music was on the news, the radio, in the commercials, seriously it was a thing. Guitar is for bars and crowds. Piano is housebound, domestic, insular. Piano comforted.
I didn’t know that what I really needed was a lonely psychedelic keyboard. Multi-instrumentalist Tara Jane O’Neil’s album, Songs for Peacock, recorded under the name Tjo, begins with a keyboard intro – “Borderline,” by Madonna. It hooks right into the heart like Madonna just died or something. The album continues with covers – “Cruel Summer” (Bananarama), “Happy House” (Siouxsie and the Banshees), “The Chauffeur” (Duran Duran), “Everybody Knows” (Leonard Cohen), and others.
Lately, when a sound hits me with an honesty that transmits the truth of this moment, I just cry. I feel so lucky to not be alone but accompanied by a sound that also knows. Songs for Peacock places me in relationship to artifacts of nostalgia in a way that is post-devastation, without ego attachment, like I am a star within the heart of god listening to a record of a people long gone by. I remember, but I’m not me anymore. Tara’s vocally hyper-processed cover of Cher’s “Believe” delivered Pride Month in three minutes. Remember Pride? I remember we were lovely.
Turns out the last thing I need is music that recalls the days of stadiums and dance clubs. I want the sound of now so I can figure out what the hell NOW is. Songs for Peacock is so clearly recorded in isolation. It’s hard to imagine who this music is intended for, other than just my own ear; definitely not a crowded room.
I read after listening to the album countless times that Tara recorded it as a tribute to her brother who died last year. Some of the songs were from a mix tape he made her after he went away to college. This explains the grief medicine that merges so seamlessly with the tone of Covid times. In the music video for “Cruel Summer,” Tara dances in place in the desert, wearing a jumpsuit and a face mask, her dog bored by her side – pretty much my life now. When my friend texted me that she had Covid-19, Songs for Peacock was the first thing I sent her, before a care package with Paul Stamets’ mushroom medicine.
On a recent high dose mushroom trip, I was told the greatest story of all. There are like three or four, and one of them is this – a human being searches their whole life for wisdom, they look to the powerful, they look to the institutions, all the religions, and then, when they are old, they find a humble mushroom, one that had been there all along, that shows them for the first time, their own heart.
When I listened to “La Vita” by Beverly Glenn Copeland, the greatest story of all was delivered in the form of a song – a thing I never could have imagined existing. “La Vita” starts with dramatic vocals right out of an Italian Opera, then mutates into a soul music confessional, cruising along Bobby Womack style to clearing where the spirit hits – “Remember you gotta breathe! The body says take the time to grieve! The mind says let the silence flow! The mind says allow yourself to grow!”
“And my mother says to me, enjoy your life,” he sings, transmitting mother-of-heaven energy into our hearts. The music video of this song is psychedelic art at its best – no unicorns whatsoever.
The 76-year-old Beverly Glenn Copeland has been making music for decades, starting out in the psychedelic folk scene in the 70’s, then in the 80’s, as a black trans man, he recorded genre-defying keyboard music. He wrote for Sesame Street and I can hear it in some of the songs – that particular brand of happiness, goodwill and psychedelic curiosity. His songs meander, giving you time to wake up and realize you woke up, before setting you down gently. The song, “Ever New,” is a perfect prayer to the simple joys of life on Earth.
“When I wrote this, I said, this is for your children,” he says in the documentary film about his music, Keyboard Fantasies.
Transmissions: The Music of Beverly Glenn Copeland, a career-spanning album is being released in September via the label Transgressive. He says about one of the new songs, “I feel that music originates from the Universe itself, and it comes to me via something I call the UBS i.e. the Universal Broadcasting System. This song ‘River Dreams’” came to me through the UBS. The song has a feeling to it. It’s both calming and interesting because of the unusual signature which is 17 eighth notes to every bar.”
All the music that is currently aiding the survival, mending and remaking of my heart in these times has a thread that weaves them together. All are songs pared down, humble and without excess, music that sits with its own hunger, waiting for spirit to arrive in a line and a melody. They will either bust your heart open or they won’t, but one thing they will not do is dress up as something they are not to get through a door to find you. There’s no time for that. It’s not about large numbers or units of sale; we’re in an emergency. When the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard finds you, especially right now, consider yourself blessed.
Title: Lyric from “Fire” by Katie Crutchfield/Waxahatchee
Image: Grimes – Miss Anthropocene (Deluxe Digital) album art