Fleet Foxes did not suffer the sophomore slump. In fact, their second LP Helplessness Blues was so well received that they seemed to found a different phenomenon: the sophomore peak, where after a six-year absence expectations for their third record were at fever pitch, and a similar level of rapturous acclaim was inevitably unattainable, especially for an album like this. Frontman Robin Pecknold, who’s singular voice defines the third of the band’s records in a way it hasn’t previously, posted on his (very wry) Instagram account a list of ‘inclinations’ for this cycle of music which largely comprise of defiance against the most celebrated characteristics of Helplessness Blues: “avoid singy-songy theatrical vocals” and “establish expectations, subvert expectations”. As a result, Crack-Up is more obtuse than even the subtler moments on Fleet Foxes’ debut, built instead on refused assertions, and contrasts. (more…)
JD Weaver is a 20-year-old singer songwriter from Crewe, who was diagnosed in primary school with muscular dystrophy. Not that that’s stopped him: he claims to write as many as 20 songs a week, last year released his debut EP Where Eagles Fly and is working on his first album, Neon Soul, this summer. He is also an activist, not just for the disabled but for LGBT rights and racial matters also. I spoke to him about his upcoming record, but first he painted to me a sorry picture of the state of attitudes to, and support for, disabled people in Britain in the 21st century.
Can you briefly outline your daily experiences as a member of the disabled community in Britain?
Recently hate crimes against the disabled are actually on the rise. I talk to a lot of people inside the community, and many of them have been attacked, some of them hospitalised – and very little of it has been reported. There are people I know who’ve been beaten up. I’ve been out on the street and verbally abused by elderly people.
What have people said to you on the street?
Words that should be gone by now, words like ‘spastic’, ‘cripple’, ‘retard’… I’ve been told to go and euthanise myself. All the terms that have been used over decades against disabled people, wrapped up in one.
It’s shocking to me because, as you say, it’s not often reported: and in my mind nobody uses those words anymore…
I always say to people that just because you don’t see something, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because I haven’t been racially abused, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that racism isn’t there. The best way to gain knowledge isn’t to read false statistics. One of my Native American friends says that to find truth you have to go and seek it yourself, not try to get it through somebody else – the best way to find out about these things is to ask people from these communities directly; say to them “tell me your experiences”, don’t tell them what’s going on. Somebody tells me how disabled people are treated, but it’s rarely the reality. That’s the reality they write for me. Over 60,000 disabled people are attacked every year in the UK. 80% of disabled people are out of full time employment. The government will try and confuse that by saying it’s actually 60% who are unemployed but that fails to take part-time jobs and volunteer jobs into account: volunteer jobs make up around 15% of the 80% they claim. People don’t know that disabled people are 70% poorer than the average member of society in the UK. (more…)
In 2014 Sun Kil Moon found their oeuvre with a record many instantly deemed classic: Benji, in which frontman Mark Kozelek put up front a lifetime of experience and poignant stories of those lost in his life, with a density of language that bordered on spoken word, and a frankness rarely seen in any medium. On Universal Themes he retreats from this boldness, his stories no longer upfront but introverted somehow – and yet the album is twice as ambitious because of it.
Novelist David Foster Wallace was obsessed with the idea of boredom, and the need for distraction. His final novel, The Pale King, was set in an IRS Station and was about exactly that. He was also an essayist, and one of his more famous speeces on the topic is titled “This is Water” and begins with this story:
“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?””
Wallace’s point is this: the un-thought-of, tedious realities of life are often the most telling and important, and that to understand this necessitates awareness of, and attentiveness to, dull truths that are all around us – yet often go unmentioned. On the amazing Benji Mark Kozelek stunned by frankly delivering heart-wrenching stories of those he’s lost, drawing to attention the million coincidences and dark ironies that surrounded their passing. Universal Themes strives for a similar poignancy, but does it by telling tales of nothing. (more…)