Treble Roundtable: A post-election soundtrack
Welcome back to the roundtable, in which Treble’s writers engage in a casual discussion on music, pop culture and our relation to both. Got a question for us? Feel free to send it over to [email protected] with the subject “Roundtable topic.”
This week’s topic: It’s not often that we get political at Treble. We’ve written about politics, sure, but we don’t typically let our own political beliefs be the focus. However, this week is different. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has hit us all pretty hard and while we’re not a political organization, it’s simply not OK that a reality TV star who boasts about sexual assault and ran a campaign based on hate, misogyny, racism and division—with no experience in governance whatsoever—is now about to be the leader of the free world. So with that, it’s time to talk coping mechanisms: What are you listening to in the aftermath of the election results?
Adam Blyweiss: The Saturday before Election Day my wife and I drove up to New York City. I brought along, but did not listen to, CDs I had bought a while back but somehow hadn’t yet cracked open: David Bowie‘s career-spanning compilation Nothing has Changed. I finally started it up in the car after I voted Tuesday morning, and on a particularly nice drive home that afternoon I blasted his Trent Reznor collaboration “I’m Afraid of Americans.” As the results rolled through Wednesday’s wee hours, I kept going back to that song in my head to refract my growing senses of anger and fear. There’s a string of songs stretching into the second disc containing more dark affirmations (“This is Not America,” Bowie’s ruinous narrator role in “China Girl”) as well as hints of hope and solace (“Under Pressure,” “Loving the Alien,” “Heroes”). But “I’m Afraid of Americans” feels like a perfect encapsulation, and therefore critique, of the “ugly American” stereotype: entitlement, macho bullshit, exceptionalism merged with isolationism. He predicted this hot political mess two decades ago; I can’t help but wonder if he was cosmic enough to know to get out while the getting was good 10 months ago.
Kyle Carney: I’m actually Canadian, so maybe I’m less affected by Trump’s presidency, but it was a shock all the same, and my wife was particularly upset. For some reason I instinctively grabbed Elliott Smith‘s final album when I got home from work. It’s hard for me to say why, as its not especially political. It is, however, tremendously sad. Released posthumously, after Smith’s suicide, From A Basement on The Hill is perhaps his most insular and melancholic record. The kind of album you want to crawl into, a gatefold blanket of warm riffs and desperate lyrics. Its tone is blissfully hopeless, Smith singing “I can’t prepare for death any more than I already have.” I’ve always considered myself an optimist, and I’m sure Americans will get through this somehow. But on Wednesday night, when I dropped the needle on this album, everything seemed overwhelmingly bleak.
Virginia Croft: Since the incredibly frustrating, disheartening puzzle of an election, I’ve turned to classical music. Being a music student, many of my teachers have encouraged us, post election, to just pour ourselves into our music even more. One of my classmates pointed out that, “Awful government brings great music.” Since then, I’ve turned to the composers that poured their political frustration into music—Dvorak, Shostakovich, Bartok. We’re currently working on Dvorak’s “7th Symphony” in orchestra, and it couldn’t be a more fitting time.
Jeff Terich: For a long time after the gut-punching realization that Donald Trump was going to be our next president, I couldn’t really listen to music. I was glued to public radio, which was important for the sake of being informed and infuriating because that information just seemed to keep getting worse. So as I became overheated a bit, I put on Algiers‘ excellent self-titled debut album from last year. In particular, the song “And When You Fall” provides a particularly cleansing catharsis. Algiers are a pretty intensely political band, inspired as much by Marxism and the Black Panthers as they are by Nick Cave and Cabaret Voltaire, and this song in particular seethes with resentment at institutions and figures that only exploit those they’d appear to serve.
“When you got it/You forgot it/It was never yours
You won’t know how/But when it falls down/You’ll know exactly who we are”
In context, it could be about culture, land, or something more intangible, but the message is clear and applies to our possible future. You can use divisive rhetoric, fuel prejudices and exploit peoples’ fears and use that to your own advantage for only so long before it eventually backfires. While voter apathy remains a major problem in American politics, that doesn’t mean his position is any less precarious. Eventually you burn too many bridges to make it back home.
Jackie Im: The day after the election I couldn’t bring myself to listen to anything. I felt this bizarre mixture of numbness and anger and nothing could adequately speak to my mood. It didn’t feel right to listen to songs of mourning because I have had this sense of dread for the political system for days (months? years?). I felt a sickening in my stomach for so long about how deeply fraught this country is. How racism, xenophobia, and misogyny is still entrenched in our systems, both overtly and subtly.
I spent the day reading. My partner, who in his reaction threw himself towards music, sent me the Soundcloud link to Lotic‘s “Formation (Election Anxiety/America is Over Edit).” Dominated with a drumline, a wonderfully and uniquely Black form of expression, Lotic emboldened Beyonce’s already unapologetically Black song into a battle cry. On the song’s page Lotic wrote, “I immediately began to mourn for those whose lives will immediately be affected by the unfortunate outcome of this election. All I knew to do was to try to offer the tiniest bit of hope to them, to all of us.” Lotic underscores the song with sirens that blare—a declaration of the true state of emergency for all of us who are not straight, cis-gendered white Christian people. It rallied me. It reminded me that we will always fight and this was no different. That we should fight for our right to exist and fight against the toxicity that was always there but will bubble over in the coming years.
Cody Davis: In the wake of this year’s election results, I have found myself retreating into music that can help me find a more peaceful place than what is currently outside my doors. In a weird way, black metal helps me become more rooted in my meditation practices and Buddhist philosophies. Call it ironic that a genre of raw cacophony helps me find peace, but in the morning following Trump’s victory I found myself cueing up much of Brooklyn’s Yellow Eyes’ discography and Mare Cognitum’s most recent album, Luminiferous Aether to help fixate wandering thoughts on imagining myself isolated in frozen woods and floating through space. Oddly, it reminds me that things are beyond my control. That the only thing I truly captain is myself and how I choose to approach the coming months and years.
Brian Roesler: Going forward, it’s a time of quiet contemplation and reflection. A time to collect and surround oneself with anthems that can best express exactly what you’re feeling during this time of great uncertainty. I’ve been devouring Bright Eyes‘ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and Cassadaga equal parts folk and deeply emotional contemplation on the state of life, it’s solid stuff. Thursday‘s No Devolucion‘s layers and lyrical depth are more relevant than ever going into an unknown future. Policy of 3‘s savvy blend of emotive yet politically charged tracks off Anthology sound a reminder to stay vigilant about your own values in times of duress.
Paul Pearson: I haven’t been playing anything. The atmosphere’s too thick. I’ve willed myself into the stupor of the rest of disbelieving Northwest. But I’ll tell you what song has been running through my head since Tuesday night: Donald Fagen‘s “Mary Shut the Garden Door.” The barbarians at the gate.
Liam Green: When the election became inevitable, I went to “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen. I felt as empty and bereft as I did over three years ago after the Boston Marathon bombings, falling into the same funk that claimed the whole city after that horror, and had listened to the same song then.
The next day, I returned to that song and the album it punctuates, The Rising. That record’s anthems of mourning and despair, like “Empty Sky,” “Worlds Apart,” “Nothing Man” and “Paradise,” made the most sense, although “Into The Fire,” the Boss’s poem to 9/11 rescue workers, brought me to tears of a desperate sort of hope with its refrain: “May your strength give us strength, may your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope, may your love give us love.”
Later I turned to YG, and seesawed into fury prompted by the three fiery political songs that close out Still Brazy: “Fuck Donald Trump,” “Blacks and Browns” and “Police Get Away With Murder.” I do ultimately believe in Bruce’s words in the wake of this atrocity, but Nipsey Hussle’s verses on “FDT” seem more appropriate right now: “Pressure’s heated up and it’s probably gon’ blow/And if we say ‘go’ then they probably gon’ go.” rings out, as does “It wouldn’t be the U.S.A. without Mexicans/ And if it’s time to team up then let’s begin.”