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Editor’s Choice: Do You See What I See?

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Do you trust me?

At the very least, I hope you’ll bear with me as I retread some ground from the previous Editor’s Choice. Last month, we talked about how unchecked power can cause moral rot to seep into the powerful and lead them to abuse the powerless. As I said in the previous piece, rot spreads, and it has a way of deteriorating our trust in the world around us. It’s difficult to go out on a limb when the branches are nearly mulch. Not only do abusers manipulate their victims’ sense of reality, but their mere presence in the world forces us to question the intentions and morality of those around us. Who do we trust? And if we can’t trust anyone, how trustworthy should we act ourselves? Rot spreads. Deceit leads to more deceit. These circumstances call for something counter-intuitive; now more than ever we should believe our eyes when someone presents themselves to the world.

This doesn’t mean that we should take everyone at word; rather, that the way that people carry themselves and the art they create is rarely divorced from who they are.

Over at Pitchfork, Jenn Pelly broke down how the recent accusations against Brand New singer Jesse Lacey were hardly surprising given her experiences in the male-dominated Long Island emo scene. In doing so, she pointed out the ugly warning signs that Lacey weaved into his lyrics: how his music viewed women through a cruel and objectifying lens even when they traded heavily on feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Lacey is far from an isolated example; Pelly points to Jake McElfresh of Front Porch Step.

“I am suggesting here that there is a correlation between misogynist art, the young people who make it, and the younger people who consume it,” says Pelly. The emo scene of the last decade and a half has largely been structured around male musicians performing for an audience that includes a great deal of female fans. It’s hard to argue that there isn’t something particularly icky about a culture that puts teenage girls within reach of men who, despite portraying themselves as sensitive and sympathetic, are more than willing to take advantage of the power being on stage grants them.

Even bands less immediately skeezy than Brand New are fully aware of this dynamic. “[I] could sense who from the crowd would be interested in sleeping with me based on how they watched me perform,” said Evan Stephens Hall, the singer of Pinegrove, in a rambling apology following accusations of sexual coercion. “Nobody coming to a concert deserves to be evaluated based on their sexual potential by the performer.”

The point here isn’t that we shouldn’t be skeptical of bands like Pinegrove or PWR BTTM (remember that? Fuck me, 2017 is long…) who talk the talk of acceptable behavior while walking a much less considerate path; it’s that we be more sparing when giving questionable shit the benefit of the doubt. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did for the “open secret” about Louis C.K. to be more open than secret. A man who joked constantly about masturbation and spent his entire debut film reportedly struggling to justify his admiration of Woody Allen, even studiously copying his aesthetics, admitted to harassing women by masturbating to them in person without their consent. In addition to being too long, 2017 has also been painfully obvious.

If this all makes you a tad uncomfortable, I don’t blame you. Taking art at face value can just as quickly lead to a reductive, literal-minded interpretations that aren’t fair to anyone involved. A world where artists aren’t allowed to be ambiguous or subtle is a world even shittier than the one we’re in now. Allowing your art to have multiple meanings and open questions is a good thing, but being carelessly ambiguous when you’re playing with loaded subject material, as heavy metal often is to its credit, is both reckless and creatively lazy. Dumbing down isn’t the solution — being thoughtful is. Besides, what music hasn’t improved by its artist being deliberate, intentional, and, most importantly, sincere?

This asks something of us in the audience as well. I won’t begrudge you if you prefer to listen to music passively, that’s your prerogative. However, if you do care about what the art you’re listening is about, it’s only fair that we do our due-diligence of examining the art we love with as much deliberation as we hope it was made with. Even when we’re not trying to suss out whether the band we’re listening to are a bunch of racist fucks, listening critically and taking what artists are saying seriously can be a gratifying experience. It’s the same process that leads to dorks like us getting passionately riled up about the art we love. If we’re willing to fight over (and for) this music, we can bring that same intensity to engaging with the art itself. That takes belief that music is worth loving seriously. It takes trust.

Editor’s Choice

Since we’re on the edge of Invisible Oranges’ year-end list blowout bonanza, I’ve been revisiting the highlights of 2017. While they won’t make my personal top-20, I’d feel like a fool not to acknowledge Archspire. Listening to “Remote Tumour Seeker” is like watching someone speedrun an old arcade game. Death metal wasn’t built to be played like a “black midi” remix, but Archspire take their souped tech-death on a joyride. This band delights in how good they are. Each hairpin turn and dizzying volley from instrument to instrument is pulled off with a grinning confidence. Archspire are legitimately playful here, even the chorus indulges itself with a deliberately wonky pronunciation of the song’s title (“re-mote tu-mour see-ker“) that repeats even as the band finishes the track off with a devastating breakdown.

On the other end of the technical music spectrum is Cleric. Their new single “Ifrit” from their upcoming record Retrocasual is a ten-minute trek through the limits of comfort. If Archspire’s speed is meant to tickle you, Cleric are the point where the laughing starts to hurt. “Ifrit” constantly slips out of your grasp, weaseling into grooves only to subvert and distort them. Though the band doesn’t hide their interest in jazz harmony, Cleric is at their best when they aim straight at ugly, layering uneasy synth pads over drum solos and slowing their off-kilter rhythms to a lurch. This song alone is going to take some time to unpack, and the idea that there’s more where this came from is frankly intimidating.

Is it safe to say that the post-metal championship belt has passed into the hands of the Europeans? Between Cult of Luna’s last two records, Amenra‘s Mass VI this year, and [REDACTED]’s upcoming 2018 release (hint: sounds like Hal Jordan’s enemy), it’s hard to argue that the folks across the pond aren’t kinda kicking our ass right now. Key to Mass VI‘s success is “A Solitary Reign.” Though the song spends most of its runtime in an austere low-end stomp, it’s the intro and climax that set it apart. Over a lilting melody, singer Colin H. Van Eeckhout croons of loneliness and separation. It’s at once intimate and profoundly sad, a feeling compounded as his voice remains vulnerable even when the music towers over him. For a genre that many write off as feeling old hat at this point, “A Solitary Reign” feels fresh and vital. It’s undoubtedly part of the tradition that exploded in the mid 2000s, but combines that with flair repurposed from metal’s frilly old-school playing and an emotional core.

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If you thought that having new Converge in my life would satiate my hunger for Converge-inspired metallic hardcore, you severely underestimated my need for skronk. That need isn’t going to be solved by Axis, but boy does “Ravine” hit the spot.

In our premiere of Azar Swan‘s “Shock” a few weeks ago, I made the case that the song was meant to wipe away any expectations. “Territorial,” which follows ‘Shock” on Savage Exile, will sound more familiar to fans of Azar Swan’s older synthesized gothic sound, but not by much. Their elaborate production has been stripped down to the bare essentials: an ominous, pulsing bass surrounded by clattering percussion. Singer Zohra Atash projects in the verses, but for the chorus pulls down into a menacing whisper. This is the ugly side of intimacy, the track gets in close so it that it can go in for the kill.

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