If you’ve ever read this blog- like at all, you ingrate philistine- you know how I spend roughly 40% of my time elucidating how special Katie Crutchfield’s musical project is. I am very much a Waxahitcher, which is a term I’ve just made up for the sort of Waxahatchee fan who’s dedicated/deluded enough to invent a term for the level of insanity that their fandom warrants. She made the most important album of 2013 to me, which, yeah, I didn’t admit at the time, but respect the retcon!
#HanShotWheneverMrLucasSaysHeDid #ThisIsADumbFilmForChildren #GrowUp.
It’s nice to know that you’re on the right side of history. Obviously (and, to be honest, rather embarrassingly) influenced by my long term Waxahatching, 2020 was the year that the wider world came round and decided to admit that Ms Crutchfield was onto something with this whole side Waxahustle she’s been Waxahacting on, and lined up to salivate over her fifth full length record. The Guardian named it their sixth best album of the year, lovingly gushing that it contained “guitar licks that resound with dog-eared familiarity“. Pitchfork went as high as second for an album that moved them to comment that “Its sensory trigger has the power to replace the memory of whatever you call this atrophic season happening around us“*. The Woodworker Magazine also went as high as second best of the year, stating that “With a confidence on can only describe as ‘wood-like’, Crutchfield’s fifth album is as satisfying as plunging your nail into a soft, wet balsa wood plank. And by ‘nail’ I of course mean ‘penis’. And by ‘wet balsa wood plank’ I did literally mean a balsa wood plank. As satisfying as plunging your penis into a wet balsa wood plank“. Catworld, the magazine by cats and for cats, said it was the absolute best of the year, wildly exclaiming that “Meow! Meow meow meow meow. Hissssssss!! Meow? Meow, Meow meow meow meow“. Yeah, they weren’t a fan of track five. The London Review of James Milner was less impressed, ranking it as low as 5’803rd and complaining that “You know how often James Milner turns up on this album? Fucking zero times!! The fuck, man?? I thought I might have heard him on track eight, but it turned out to be a squirrel falling over outside my window. Seriously?? Aw, man, this is total bullshit!! What’s even the point of fucking living anymore, y’know??”.
(*because Pitchfork, never forget, are fucking ridiculous)
Of course, when the wider world gets as invested as you are into one of your interests, what do you do? Do you become overjoyed, glad that this strange obsession of yours is no longer that strange? Do you welcome in all newcomers, opening the gate wide and loudly proclaiming that there’s room for all? Do you join in with the revelry, while secretly smugly satisfied that you got in the Waxawagon at the first station stop?
Come on, dude, Jesus, have you never met a human before? You declare that this new thing your interest has done is not as good as all the things that only you liked, then you gatekeep the fuck out of it!!
‘Saint Cloud’ is an absolutely wonderful album, but it isn’t really that special an album. Much like I declared myself wary of supposed Nick Cave fans who say that ‘The Boatman’s Call’ is their favourite album, I’m not sure if people’s reasons for loving ‘Saint Cloud’ are the reasons that I consider Waxahatchee so extraordinary. It’s an absolutely stellar country rock/Americana album, comparable to many ‘smeared mascara in a wedding dress drinking whiskey out the bottle’ luminaries such as Lucinda Williams or Emilous Harris, but better than anything these artists have ever produced. But I don’t really want that kind of music, the kind that has been served up many times before, from my Waxahatchee record. If Aphex Twin returned next week with an album heavily influenced by Eiffel 65, even if it was comfortably better than anything Eiffel 65 have released themselves, you would still feel that perhaps his sights should be set more on what makes him so unique. Every review is keen to point out how comparable and worthy of Bob Dylan many of the songs are. Big whoop. I hate Bob Dylan, obviously. He often wears unforgivably stupid hats and you can just tell from looking at him that he stinks of piss.
Yeah, this is gatekeeping bullshit, and I hate myself, but this is my blog and fuck all y’all. It’s a great album! It’s number 35! Just… y’know…
Sufjan Stevens marches to the beat of his own drum. He only takes puffs from his own peace pipe. He hop skips to his own jump rope. He salsas to the sound of his own castanets. He bends to the tuning slide of his own tuba. He flies the F-35s of his own Super Bowl halftime flyover. He makes himself the breakfast for the breakfast in bed he’s made for himself in the bed he also made and now has to both lie and eat breakfast in (which is just the way he wants it). He walks his own 500 miles and then he walks his own 500 more. He puts his own bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. He places his individual ram in the rama lama ding dong. He only ever works his own bop into the bop shoo bop shoo bop. Of course, he would only ever dream of being the only one to put the dip into the dip da dip… The fuck am I going with this? He does his own thing, is what I’m saying.
So maybe Sufjan just fancied following a largely acoustic record that was one of the most emotionally affecting and tenderly raw albums of recent times- which received the rare double of being the album of the year at the time and also after retconning– five years later with a dense electronic album full of songs whose meanings are vague and that seem keen to detach themselves from emotion quicker than a middle aged English man making a petrified leap through the window after his five year old child asks for a hug for the first time. And that’s cool. While ‘The Ascension’ is fantastic, containing some of the most subtly triumphant music of Sufjan’s career, it still falls ever so short of what he’s capable. His eighth album has to settle for being merely an incredibly expansive and daringly experimental example of true pop composition, rather than music of such absurdly intense divinity that you’re convinced to travel to Detroit on a private jet that you sold your mother to medical research to fund, just so you could hand over the $10’000’000 you got from selling your daughter to Prince Andrew to Sufjan Stevens in person to bid to simply get the chance to taste a sip of his bathwater. ‘The Ascension’ ain’t that album, but that’s alright, it’s not intended to be that album. It’s intended to be exactly what it is, a near ambient 80 minute rumination on both life’s biggest and most inconsequential meanings. It is what it is, and that’s all that it is, and Sufjan is far too close to a certified genius to care about even the most learned and incisive critical response. Which this site definitely ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
is, of course.
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. Ah-whoo. Ah-way-ah. Way-ah-bum, ba-way.
“Er, actually, lions don’t sleep in the jungle, they’d be more likely to sleep in the the areas of Sub-Saharan Africa that they largely inhabit”.
Oh, shut up! You’re not clever, you’re not funny, you’re not a worthwhile use of bones and flesh and you’re not worth your Mum stopping smoking PCP for that one 9 month period in 1998! Even as your strive to pull your dullard existence further and further into unoriginality and predictability, with the ultimate goal of one day achieving the monotonous existence equal to that of Alan Shearer’s cufflinks, can you not accept a smidgeon of artistic expression? Anyway, the lyrics aren’t “In the jungle, the mighty jungle/Every lion on Earth sleep tonight”. It’s THE lion, they’re obviously speaking of one specific lion, and how do you you know it doesn’t sleep in the freaking jungle?? What, you can read George David Weiss‘s mind and know exactly what lion he was referring to when he stole a black South African*’s song and wrote some English lyrics to it?? “Oh yeah, he’s definitely talking about Larry, and I know for a fact that cunt don’t sleep in no jungle”. Firstly, are you suggesting that all lions are the same and do the same things? Which is, wow, under the circumstances so not the kind of position you should be defending in the current climate. Secondly, are you disputing that any lion has ever slept in the jungle? The mighty jungle? Come on, law of averages. To simply refuse to accept that even being a possibility shows remarkably small-mindedness. It’s a song about one lion! And here we are, in 2020, and you’re arguing that could have never happened! Thirdly, you’re betraying a rather vulgar understanding of how art itself works, and the importance of chronicling the unexpected and the unusual. Ain’t gonna be no song about a lion sleeping in the desert! That’s where you’d expect a lion to sleep!! Why do you think Sarah Brightman’s 2008 song The Man Who Sleeps In His Bed (In a House) was such an unmitigated flop that is hated to this day, yet her earlier hit The Man Who Sleeps Underneath a Trampoline as Koala Bears Jump Above His Head (Bouncy Bastards) won multiple Ivor Novello awards and was so beloved that we all exhumed Princess Diana’s corpse just so we could redo the funeral and have it as the new improved soundtrack? People want to hear about the interesting tales of situations you wouldn’t expect to occur! A lion sleeping in the Serengeti? That’s not selling any tickets. A lion sleeping in the motherfucking jungle?! Sign me up sir, take my money, ravish my significant other, just let me in!
(*yep, in a tale as old as (colonial) time, Solomon Linda wrote the song Mbuba, which had the hook, the arrangements, nearly everything, but was done so dirty by the entertainment industry that he died penniless of liver disease in 1962, the year after The Lion Sleeps Tonight hit number one. You know what that famous “Uyimbube, uyimbube, uyimbube…” refrain means in English? “You’re a lion, you’re a lion, you’re a lion…”.Guessing you’ll find it harder to point out factual inaccuracies in that one. Depends who he’s talking to of course. If he’s talking to a goldfinch then he’s just scientifically wrong)
Hey, I’ve missed these reviews when I can’t think of anything to say so just go off topic not even relevantly enough to be considered tangential. I have so little to say about the fifth Plants and Animals album because I expected so little. Their last album was the perfectly pleasant ‘Waltzed in From the Rumbling‘, which contained one incredible song and then a lot of songs that were less than incredible but confidently inoffensive indie rock. I wasn’t even planning on bothering with ‘The Jungle’, but whatever eye roll and exasperated shrug lead me to it has to go down as one of 2020’s best decisions. Yeah, low bar, but still. Their sound has been expanded, their moods and lyrical themes are less one note, everything kicks with that little bit more bang, and there’s just a whole lot more wonderful meat sliding succulently from these bones.
“Erm, ‘there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas‘? What about Kilimanjaro?”
Yeah we’re done here.
I was so looking forward to destroying this album! Ms Swift has certainly got previous in stepping blissfully and proudly into shit and then inserting that shitty foot straight into her mouth. From often gratingly self-absorbed lyrics to cringeworthy and cackhanded attempted queerbaiting to whatever the hell was going on with the ‘Reputation‘ album that everyone else seems to hate but I actually don’t mind at all- Jonathan Swift’s baby girl never swerves controversy and always courts opinion pieces. When she announced back on July 23rd that she was going to surprise release her eighth studio album at midnight, a folky and rustic exercise in minimalist indie, I already started slowly unwrapping the tape around my boxing gloves. It was announced that the album was produced by The National‘s Aaron Dessner and featured Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon in an embarassingly obvious bid for credibility and- oh momma!- I couldn’t help wiggling my fingers and clenching my fists in anticipation. folklore seemed to be a perfect encapsulation of one of the things that aggravates me most about modern Western pop music: the suffocating and ridiculous obsession with authenticity. It doesn’t matter how many classic pop tunes you’ve got behind you, it doesn’t matter how evident your obvious genius at crafting universally beloved and popular songs is, you’re only legitimate if you make a ‘real’ album using ‘real’ instruments, ideally recorded in a ‘real’ log cabin in the ‘real’ woods, trailed by ‘real’ ‘no filter’ black and white Instagram photos of you staring wistfully off into the distance, possible ruminating on how freaking real everything is. Your music should also be really fucking dull, as there’s nothing as inauthentic as excitement. The title of Swift’s latest*, if she insisted on the lower case, should really have been shit just got real, yo. And it worked! Suddenly, the neckbeards were allowed to solemnly nod their heads and appreciate the artistry of Taylor Swift. Even Mojo magazine, a publication that values artificial authenticity so much that when Shaking Stevens released a polaroid photo of him cutting wood while shirtless and called it an album the magazine gave it 11/10 and the printed review consisted of nothing more than dried semen spread across the page- named it one of their albums of the year!! folklore was a shameless grasp for mainsteam legitimacy, and I rolled my eyes so hard that the optic nerves popped out over my lower lids when I saw that it fucking worked!!
(*shit, she just released another one?? OK, her previous latest album)
Of course, all these complaints about faux legitimacy would be far more legitimate themselves if the album wasn’t so freaking good. Much as us Hot Take Merchants were desperate for folklore to be a laughable ‘For Emma, Forever Ago‘-aping disaster on the level of Justin Timberlake’s hilariously awful ‘Man of the Woods‘ nonsense, we were clearly all intentionally forgetting quite how talented Swift is. folklore is no real reinvention of Swift’s already well established sound- betty isn’t an autotune and explicative-laden cover of Too $hort’s Blowjob Betty, there are no tracks that could justifiably be described as having a ‘clear Drill influence’- it’s all sonically lovely and emotionally honest pop music. She’s not really stepping out of her comfort zone at all, if anything she’s obviously more happy to do the music that she’s most comfortable with for years, potentially ever. And that’s a good thing, because when someone as talented as Swift is making entirely the music she wants to make, you’re guaranteed magic.
You know what? Let’ maybe lay off Taylor for a while. Until she releases her next album, which is called ‘Originally African’ and features covers of both The Lion Sleeps Tonight and The Circle of Life. Then it’s gloves off again!!
I mean, the next album after the one she’s just released…
Fucking idiots… Yeah, I know that I love it, but that’s for legitimate reasons! You’re all marks!!
There are two main takeaways from Mr Sumney’s exquisite second album for us to consider. Firstly, there’s no mincing words here, ‘græ’ is absolute genius. It’s an astonishingly voluminous and sonically beautiful record, an absolutely perfect way to follow an already fabulous debut that was perhaps at times ever so slightly unvaried at times in its earnest austerity. Sumney has learned how to slap hard alongside his already well proven ability to swoon pensively. The fact that it doesn’t even make the top 30 is partly down to there still being perhaps a small handful of tracks feeling nonessential, but is mostly yet more commendation of the general quality of music in 2020.
The increased competition also leads to inaccurate comparisons. ‘græ’ is superior to ‘Armonaticism‘ in every conceivable way. But because Sumney’s debut was released in the comparably barren times of 2017, it reached as high as number 18. So, yeah, technically Moses actually fell thirteen places this year. Statistics aren’t everything. But still, yeah, embarrassing failure, not sure if he’ll ever be able to live this down.
Our first big nine-zero, and absolutely deserved. Just the next thirty albums are better.