29 Jan 2013

Ten Favourite Albums of 2012

My last post was a total downer, I know, but it'd be wrong to suggest that 2012 was a total musical disaster. On the contrary, there've been some really excellent records out this last year. As usual, I've been pretty penniless (and I don't download records, or use Spotify because it gives me vertigo) so naturally I've only encountered a small section of the year's output. But still, all the records listed below are both interesting and important. Rather than simply throw around the standard adulations, I've tried to consider how each achieves its particular effect, and what it might tell us about our times, our culture, and the future of music. So here it is, finally,

here are my Top 10 Favourite Albums Of 2012...

10. Advance Base - A Shut-In's Prayer

To describe this beautiful, nostalgia-wracked album as business-as-usual for Owen Ashworth would be a half-truth. After retiring Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in 2010, it's undeniable that many of the core elements of that project return with a vengeance on A Shut-In's Prayer: the bittersweet, major-key jingles, the delicate, rose-tinted details, and the recollection of ephemeral happiness, and hopes and dreams long disappointed. What's more, these melodies, memories and messages are often more effective, direct and devastating than they are on much of his previous work. Songs such as 'Riot Grrrls' and 'My Sister's Birthday' are almost sadistic in their poignancy.

Yet there has also been a qualitative transformation in Ashworth's music. His new moniker indicates a clean break with the more extreme lo-fi aesthetic which characterised CftPA's earliest work, already pretty much abandoned on his previous album Vs. Children. This aesthetic helped frame and explicate Ashworth's particular brand of nostalgia, his character studies and analogue epistles (which I explored in a previous essay in relation to his early album title Answering Machine Music), in a sense disavowing or undermining some of the more idyllic, emotionally-regressive elements of his pastoralism. There was also a clear evolution from the post-graduation crises of Etiquette to the thirty-something crises of Vs. Children, which A Shut-In's Prayer effectively interrupts and resets by fixating on childhood and adolescence.

With Ashworth's embrace of a warmer, fuller sound, and more 'organic' arrangements, as well as a lyrical voice which tends more towards first-person reverie and less towards second-person missive, the listener is enveloped more completely within the haze of hopeless nostalgia. The result is more immediately seductive and less self-critical. In comparison with the nuanced, therapeutic concepts behind his previous albums, which filtered warm obsessions and delusions through cold realities, this new aesthetic can actually appear quite troubling, especially when the album's title is taken into account. But this is Owen Ashworth's speciality, and he still does it best.

9. Beach House - Bloom

It remains a mystery to me how Beach House manage to bend their singular sound into so many exquisite forms. On the surface, they are a perfect example of the contemporary 'designer' band (see also: Grizzly Bear, The xx). Their aesthetic is perfectly wrought from a very refined combination of influences, the most intimidatingly tasteful of palettes, to which every ingredient of every track adheres. Victoria Legrand's voice is pure texture, her lyrics pretty runes, even empty symbols. Moving through Bloom is like moving through an ancient but tastefully-lit cave network, the kind with waxen stalactite formations that simultaneously resemble church organs and internal organs. The infinite variety from one cavern to the next, resulting from millions of years of drip after contingent drip, is somehow of a piece with the singularity of its material, the elaborate drapery of the smooth stone. So too, this is music to be inhabited - at once replete and vacant - from which the bodily presence of the duo of creators has been completely erased, or sublimated, and upon which no mark of human labour remains.

By this, perhaps, I mean that Beach House's sound is one which is perfectly suspended between the real and the unreal - never too organic to appear raw, never too produced to appear virtual - it is instead the mirror image of a 'natural' ensemble sound whose surface is nevertheless perfectly smooth and flat. There is no tension, no conflict, no drama within the dynamics of the various tracks, neither are there any clashes of signifiers, cultural or generic. If there is any drama to Beach House's music, it must be found in our encounter with it as listeners, our integration/interpellation within its logic, our catching sight of ourselves within the mirror. I guess that's what they mean by 'dream pop'.

8. Grimes - Visions

Grimes, while not technically a 'new artist', was surely the quintessential 'breakthrough artist' of the year. Her music has been consistently held up as a sort of zeitgeist aesthetic, a perfect musical reflection of our 'post-internet', globalised, hybridised, digitally-mediated, peer2peer culture. And I don't intend to break that trend. The theories around Grimes's 'contemporariness' are convincing; her easy, sincere combination of genre signifiers goes further than the self-conscious montage or bricolage of postmodernism, positioning her as a second- or even third-generation postmodernist, or arguably as a exponent of an earnest, progressive post-postmodernism. Of a broad and sometimes paradoxically homogeneous school of hybridisers currently obsessing over the spectral echoes of '90s R'n'B and chart pop and the deconstruction of house music, Grimes is the possibly most perfect and the most convincing (if not the most innovative) since the xx.

However, in my opinion, the role of the internet and digital media in the determination of such new aesthetics has been overstated. Materialist as I am, I can't help but understand the proliferation of such artists as a symptom of the cultural apotheosis of our most recent phase of capitalist production, that of 'flexible accumulation', or postmodern/multinational/'late' capitalism, characterised by the fragmentation of markets and an accompanying culture of individualised, identity-focused consumption. This has been the dominant regime of production/consumption for some decades now, but it has reached a point - illustrated perfectly by contemporary pop music - at which the very fragmentation of markets, the irrational creation of niches within niches for their own sake, has become a conscious, self-rationalising project for so-called 'creative capitalism'. Music such as Grimes's achieves an equivalent status to design in other areas of consumption, which has sought more and more autonomy and tangibility, as 'art form' and as 'commodity' in its own right. In his essay collection Design and Crime, art historian Hal Foster updates Guy Debord's definition of 'Spectacle' for the 21st century: 'spectacle', he writes, 'has become 'an image accumulated to the point where it becomes capital'. The internet (acknowledging its apparent failure as a utopian forum of free distribution) might seem a perfect manifestation of this, which is where I'll allow the 'post-net' discourse back in.

Grimes is nothing if not a boutique artist, perfectly designed from the right combination of signifiers, musically embodying the core tenet of bourgeois hipsterdom in which collective identity is characterised by the profusion of individualised identities, each constituted from the same catalogue of empty signifiers. Her aesthetic, and the aesthetic of all the most perspicuous 'contemporary' artists, embraces the truth of this system as it constitutes consuming subjects, and producing artists. In this way, Grimes's music is more honest and more striking than many artists working within escapist 'retro' styles. An artist's engagement with the dominant economic forces of our time need not only be through mindless celebration, but can also help us understand and express the inconsistencies and irrationalities with which they function.

7. The Magnetic Fields - Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

The Magnetic Fields are my favourite band. In 2010 they made one (relatively) bad album, called Realism, and then in 2012 they followed it up with an album that was much less (relatively) bad, automatically placing it in my Top 10 if only through sheer relief. Love At The Bottom Of The Sea is in some way a continuation from the last couple of albums - Realism and its fantastic predecessor Distortion - in that (unlike many of the MFs' albums) there is no overriding lyrical concept uniting these songs. This leaves Stephin Merritt free to indulge in more of the comedy/revue songwriting with which he has been distracted for some time. In full Cole Porter mode, he sets himself virtuoso lyrical challenges, like creating a coherent song around words that rhyme with 'mariachi' or words that rhyme with 'pied-à-terre' (the sort of challenge which was achieved most artfully on 69 Love Songs' 'The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure'). But there's much less overt tweeness on this album. Instead we have a return to the superbly concise, witty and devastating character studies, familiar from i and Distortion, alongside a continuation of Merritt's peerless ethnographic study of romantic love.

With this re-irruption of comic-poignant stories of attraction, obsession and perversion, coinciding with its decisive return to synth arrangements, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea resembles 69 Love Songs (aka the greatest album ever made) more than any of the band's other records. One song - 'Quick!' - would fit perfectly on that album, featuring as it does those same flawless progressions, bass figures and warm glowing textures which have remained at the core of Merritt's work as a composer since his very first album. In this way, all his other wry novelties and pastiching is able to serve as counterpoint and compliment to an incandescently unmistakable style, one that easily stands up to the most perfect pop movements of the '50s and '60s. Most encouragingly of all, a few songs on the album, including lead single 'Andrew in Drag', manage to achieve fantastic results without obvious recourse to any of Merritt's older styles.

Throughout the record, we are reminded just how strange and inventive Merritt's work with synths always was - not quite as strange as on his first few albums, but never ever dull or routine. It achieves nothing like the effect of most of their previous work, but in essence, it's basically more of the same from the best band in the world, and that's certainly no bad thing.

6. Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold: Songs For Christmas, Vols. 6-10

Controversial, I know, but trust me: this was the most underrated album of the year! I have a lot to say about this album, most of which can wait for another, even longer, blog post. Suffice it to say that this is the best 'Christmas album' ever made, because it takes its subject seriously.

Reviewers seem to take it for granted that a 'Christmas album' must be some throwaway thing - a silly exercise in commercialism or sentimentality - or alternatively a restatement of that well-established 'darker'/'sadder' side to the holiday season, which never seems to require much further clarification or exploration. This is because, for nearly everyone in Western society, Christmas has become something of an exercise in cognitive dissonance. We know that it is over-commercialised - that it is a festival of capitalist extravagance - just as we know that, for many people at least, its importance has nothing to do with the Nativity story or Christian mythology. The sum of the contemporary ideology of Christmas in the liberal-democratic West is that we enjoy it and observe it in spite of the capitalist/Christian aspects (while liberally borrowing from/exploiting/being exploited by both). It is enough to know that it still has some meaning or some importance, while that meaning definitely can't be located in either a commercial or religious place, just to know that is enough. It is a strange sort of mysticism that we still can't get enough of, the je ne sais quoi of Christmas, even while we can't seem to express it without recourse to the same Christian and pre-Christian rituals and iconography, coupled with consumerist excess and the empty familiarity of 'seasonal' commodities. Christmas is one big roll of the eyes, but at the same time it is unthinkable (for most Western secular households) that it shouldn't be taken utterly seriously.

This perennial ambivalence about silly, sentimental Christmas, this apparent definition of it as a kind of disavowal of its own stated aims, obscures the enormous power that it has within our culture. The very practice of a Christmas season generates billions of dollars in wealth, it structures our very sense of Time - both in terms of a personal and a 'business'/production year - and it has a huge impact on the continued relevance of traditional institutions such as religion, society, community and, most of all, the family. In the way that Valentine's Day is a kind of ghettofication of romantic sincerity and Mother's Day a ghettofication of filial affection, so Christmas is the scapegoat season on which we purge our outmoded, irrational, unprofitable and awkward tendencies towards basic human kindness, empathy and collectivism. And in this way, they can all be effectively monetised.

So Sufjan Stevens is 'obsessed' with Christmas, as many a condescending critic has observed. At least he acknowledges it. The whole of Western culture is obsessed with Christmas - often the less religious we are, the more obsessed we seem - but we refuse to consider its implications, even to acknowledge it. Christmas is an unparalleled phenomenon in our shared ideology, one of the biggest, most bizarre elephants in the room, almost universally 'discredited' yet more powerful than ever, and wholly seductive. It is the inscrutable paradox, the mirror-portal between capitalist rationality and pagan superstition, the invisible behemoth marrying neoliberalism and neoconservatism. For a Christian artist such as Sufjan, it is a fascinating vortex of Christian mythology and values swirling alongside abject commercialism, capitalist decadence, and the ritualisation of basic human decency. It is as good a subject for a serious artistic study as any in our culture, but - as Sufjan has shown - it is particularly good as a subject of musical study, because it is still (and always has been) so totally suffused with musical signs. To consider Sufjan's work, as the most comprehensive, ethnographically-rigorous collection of 'Christmas music' ever committed to record, is to seriously consider the analogousness of music itself to Christmas as a phenomenon. Both are gapingly empty but vehemently, almost universally meaningful, so meaningful - in fact - that their 'true' meanings cannot even bare consideration and must be approached through iconography, traditions and clichés. Both Christmas and music seem to at once mean everything and nothing.

So Silver and Gold (especially when heard alongside its precursor, Songs for Christmas) is the greatest collection of 'Christmas songs' ever made. Sufjan takes the plurality of Christmas music as his starting point in creating a highly-critical, multi-layered concept album about Christmas, in all its immensity and perpetuity. It is better than The Age of Adz (controversy, controversy, I know!). while also distilling and extrapolating upon that album's exploration of Millenialism and postmodernity. Most of all, it is the very opposite of the 'hodge-podge' of sketches and experiments which most critics heard, and were already conditioned to hear: a fascinating feat of fantasy ethnography, which explodes the heart of the Christmas chimera.

5. Micachu & The Shapes - Never

Micachu is my hero. Her second album is a bold intensification of her debut record Jewellery - noisier, rustier, more virtuosic. Her rhythmic, melodic and textural invention comes as a logical extension of her ingenuity in building new musical contraptions. These musical miniatures explode into locomotion, careering along their tracks without ever coming loose. In their composition, production and even in the incorporation of electronic elements, all their internal gears, pistons and pulleys remain in full view. In a culture obsessed with inscrutable technologies, made to facilitate useless tasks, banal entertainment and basic common-sense from behind seductively blank egg-shell cases, Micachu's brazen yet totally unique musical creatures are a superb antidote.

There is no hope to be found in the obsidian depths of simulation, in digitised voices floating lotus-like on liquid crystal pools. Micachu's music is all friction - the vibrating of real wood and skin and flesh. She inhabits that exciting new nodal point at which the creative Luddism of chamber music (strings, reeds and metals), in its radical materialism, might inherit the emancipatory force of punk. From the grit of her voice to the howl of vacuum cleaners, you hear the physical attraction between instruments, voices, beats - strong and weak forces, electric and magnetic, Sellotape and Pritt Stick - as the overtones and polyrhythms accumulate. There are no surfaces in this music, only energy and movement. In some ways, she is the anti-Grimes. And she's British. Total hero.

4. Deerhoof - Breakup Song

Deerhoof are on a winning streak. Their previous album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, was fantastic, and Breakup Song is arguably better. It might even be their most consistent to date, I can't decide. Most importantly though, it is unlike any of their other records. It retains much of the colourful pop immediacy, but sheds the FM-dial-twizzling eclecticism, of Deerhoof vs. Evil. The material here is more focused, more self-confident.

Most of all though, it is Deerhoof's dance album. A thick, heavy groove extends throughout the whole record, like the undulating, shape-shifting coils of some cosmic ouroboros. This groove is never arbitrary or predictable, of course - the sheer multiplicity of its forms is the central concern of the record. In this way, it is a more concerted exercise in structured variation than many of Deerhoof's previous albums. Rather than corralling a strange menagerie of largely incomparable oddities, the band allow us to focus on the depth of their invention by limiting their parameters. There is a return to some of the band's more extraordinary explorations in rhythm and structure, on earlier high-contrast 'guitar' albums like Apple O', but it is rendered within their current vocabulary of rainbow-hued production, generous dance textures and pop structures.

Listening to Breakup Song is like following a conga line through a series of increasingly trippy rooms, each filled with a different coloured gang of dancing doodles. There are grooves that seem to be constructed upside-down or inside-out, blending samba samples, microtonal arpeggiators and distorted disco bass, chasing Satomi Matsuzaki's diva verses through key areas via Escher-style sideways stairs.  And sure, in some of these rooms, you might be advised to grow a fifth or even a sixth limb to avoid tripping up, and yet its impossible not to cling on all the same.

3. John Maus - A Collection Of Rarities And Previously Unreleased Material

This is the second 'album' on my 2012 list that technically constitutes a collection of tracks recorded over the last few years, yet it easily qualifies as one of the year's best albums. The collection's sixteen tracks, spanning the last decade, obviously don't present as unified a statement as any of John Maus's 'official' studio albums, yet in this way they also demonstrate the incredible breadth and potential of Maus's idiosyncratic compositional technique. Maintaining a core aesthetic which marries shimmery synths and melodic bass, Maus switches between steering a potentially porny palette towards a melancholic italo purgatory ('Bennington', 'North Star') and skimming the refracted halo from the semi-forgotten echoes of trance music ('Angel of the Night', 'I Don't Eat Human Beings'). The relentless seriousness with which he applies Baroque harmonic forms to his perfectly-wrought keyboard textures goes far beyond any suggestion of a joke or pastiche. The Bachian fugue on Love is Real is beginning to look less and less ridiculous.

In a brilliant example of post-ironic overidentification, John Maus imagines these synth voices, banished to the realm of cliché from their very inception, as the beautiful strange new instruments that they implicitly claimed to be - with their sparkles and swooshes and fizzes - even if no-one ever really believed them. And not only the most beautiful but the most modern instruments, circumventing the clomping, striding, arpeggiating of pop keyboard techniques in order to inherit the language of Baroque chamber organ playing. From this starting point, the album proposes an teleology of synth music, via the very Philip Glass-like composition of 'Fish with Broken Dreams' and the closest that I've ever heard to a genuinely atonal pop song on 'Lost'. In this way, some of Maus's experiments provide a startling suggestion of what music might have sound like if we'd made similar technological advances without having inherited the blues harmonies and rag piano technique which defined early Western pop.

The result is both a highly conceptual excursion into a genuinely different musical dimension - a kind of musical 'line of flight' - and a collection of some very beautiful and very strange musical objects that really do sound like nothing else.

2. Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't

This is certainly Jens Lekman's most consistent album, even if its best moments don't quite reach the heights of perfection of his very best work. He manages to navigate with tremendous assurance the highly treacherous 'singer-songwriter' type, a role within which a lot of the very worst contemporary music has been made. By this 'type', I'm referring to the songwriter who embodies her/his own music in a tripartite performance: a) as performing voice/body, b) as performed 'artist'/performing their own authorship, and c) as the human subject at the centre of their songs (embodying the 'I' in the lyrics, not by 'playing a character' but by assuring the audience that this same 'I' is that of a 'real, authentic' subject corresponding to the poet/artist, their body and their voice, etc etc etc etc). I Know What Love Isn't, like a lot of his previous work, is a total masterclass in how to get the 'singer-songwriter' thing right.

The key to it, for Jens at least, can be found in his lyrics - some of the best lyrics being written at the moment. They take ostensibly personal experiences, anecdotes and observations as jumping-off points for more generally applicable, 'universal' ideas. The album focuses on the endless paradoxes of modern romantic love, with each lyric a case study - or mini-thesis - on some particular inconsistency or ideological loophole. In the manner of Stephin Merritt's lyrics (discussed above), Jens perceives very clearly the tragic gap between our cultural mythology of romantic love (the seductive frame to which we are all committed as poets and dreamers) and the unthinkable 'reality' of our petty desires and delusions - our fragmented subjectivities and fragile identities - which are doomed to foil the validation of that mythology. Jens accepts this and yet remains totally committed to the romantic cause, and this attitude is the source of his music's bittersweetness. Nothing in his lyrics is besides the point or extraneous, every detail illuminates his core statement, which is always direct and approached with perfect rhetorical position. It is the essence, dare I say it, of poetry in the most literal sense, and the opposite of the 'direct, authentic' emotional clichés, the outpouring of 'real feelings' from boorishly 'sensitive' male artists, of those who usually represent the singer-songwriter trope in the popular imagination.

I'm also pleased that he's stopped relying so extensively on breezy-cheesy orchestral pop samples upon which to build his songs, of the kind that were used so extensively on Night Falls Over Kortedala. His own arrangements here are just as sweet and melting, but far more subtle and flexible. The key exception, in its outrageous sweep, is thoroughly justified: the panoramic, existential anthem 'The End of the World is Bigger than Love'. But across the album, the balance of full-band and solo, simple and lush, is excellently judged, and it never gets sickly in the way that Kortedala occasionally does. The stand-out single, 'Become Someone Else's', is certainly a front-runner for song of the year, only pipped perhaps by my favourite track from album Number 1...

And my favourite album of 2012 is...

1. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

My favourite album of 2012 is also rapidly becoming one of my favourite albums of all time, I've listened to it so much this last year and it still keeps on giving. It is, quite simply, beautiful and devastating music. The select few chords activated in each song are used to their fullest effect; the soft pull of 'IV's, the sighs of 'vi's and 'dark parts' of 'ii's are all the more potent in their bald presentation, in piano blocks or synth pads (trust me, you feel it). Any more chords and the charm-like quality of each would be diluted and destroyed.

The sheer precarity of this aesthetic, in which the naked relationship between each chord and its neighbour registers as a barely-contained repository of drama and secret history, becomes a central tool in Mike Hadreas's aesthetic. Sure, I can understand his being accused of small-town gay angst of the kind that more sophisticated urban listeners might pass over jadedly, despite its huge importance, relevance and appeal for a great number of less fortunate young people across the world. However, this would still be a perfunctory analysis; Hadreas achieves a lot more on this album. His delicate, desperately earnest music - complemented by his live presence and persona - embodies the hidden vulnerability of sexual truth in all its abnormality, its fragility and its total reliance on the complex of desires, traumas and other half-repressed shadows kept deep within the psyche. These 'songs about gay sex' represent, throughout their aesthetic, a gay sexual self which is dazzling and disarming in its simplicity and its utter non-relation to commodification and to spectacle.

It is so rare to encounter a collection of sexual songs which don't totally commit to the logic of their own desires, to performing their sexuality in an overt and often incredible fashion while announcing their total identification with their own hyperbole or fantasy. Hadreas's songs are quite different, not only where they concern sex but also where they concern identity and subjecthood, or even an intimation of shared understanding or intimacy. In each case, the veneer of fantasy is thin, brittle and transparent, barely hiding a mirror chamber of semi-illuminated depths stretching into a hazy oblivion. In this and other more obvious aspects, he is similar to Antony Hegarty, and a lot of what I've written about Antony could also apply to Hadreas. But this album goes further in this direction, and achieves more than any of Antony's output. The lyrics are integral to all this, of course - totally free of cliché, and in this way perfectly complementary to the simplicity of the music.

It's a challenging aesthetic to analyse, but I think a good way of understanding the peculiar effect of the album is through its successful use of Lynchian references, specifically to the music of Twin Peaks, which Hadreas has attested to. Usually, when musicians make references to David Lynch movies, it is a woeful, embarrassing gesture which clearly totally misunderstands the filmmaker's work, somehow attempting to borrow a vague aura of 'freaky-chic' by arbitrarily listing his key tropes physical (curtains, dwarves) and musical (dreamy reverb vocals, sexy reverb guitar). But when Mike Hadreas channels Julee Cruise on 'Floating Spit', or practically re-records 'Laura Palmer's Theme' on 'Put Your Back N 2 It', he indicates a far more sophisticated reading of Lynch's work, one which complements his own aesthetic perfectly.

It is a reading which is exemplified by Slavoj Žižek in his psychoanalytical film tour A Pervert's Guide to Cinema, which focuses on the representations of desire, the gap between reality and fantasy, and the return of the repressed. Lynch's work inhabits a place between desire and ideology, between the unthinkable subconscious and the theatre (or cinema) of our own constructed realities. This gap is a place from which horrors emerge, within which identities are erased, and across which all sexuality is constructed. To recognise sexuality, in all seriousness, as a symptom of this gap - at once binding our subconscious drives to the functional illusion of ordered 'reality' while also reminding us, through its uncanny presence, of the horrifying existence of that same gap - is to address it in its obvious (but often unsayable) complexity, perverseness, anomaly and total reliance on fantasy logics and narratives.

This is the gap which is disavowed in most 'sexy' pop music, as it is in porn and pornified spectacle, sex as commodity or Hollywood romance, or indeed in the idea of sex as 'safe, healthy, natural' as taught in PC sex education. It is the gap which is all too visible behind Perfume Genius's transparent veneer of 'naive' chords, tame entreaties and soft words. It is the gap which gave 'Laura Palmer's Theme' its unreal poignancy, as the musical manifestation of the impossibly-perfect character whose unrealness we feel so intensely as the true misery of her character's situation is revealed - the double-loss of her real and fantasy deaths. [And if you don't know what I'm talking about, go and watch Twin Peaks right now. (Or at least the first season, the first half of the second, the final episode and the movie.)] It is the gap which yawned behind the furore over YouTube's censorship of the video for 'Hood', the gap that creaks open during the superb video for 'Take Me Home' (best song of the year, by the way), and that howls silently throughout Put Your Back N 2 It.

In this way, Mike Hadreas's work goes way beyond an arbitrary affinity for the exoticised victims of the porn and sex worker industries; it penetrates deep into the dark heart of the civilisation, and the species, which uses these repressed industries as the guttering around which our whole complex of reality has been built, sluicing off our excess desires, carrying away our excremental thoughts. Unlike a band like Xiu Xiu however, Hadreas doesn't wallow in this gap. The beauty of his music comes from the defiance and dignity with which he gazes into it, on songs such as 'Dark Parts', 'All Waters' and 'Normal Song', and the touching sadness of his dogged attempt to cling to some small notion of truth or purity, in the face of a world torn between the oppressive ideologies of 'normalcy' and the unknown chasm of the unconscious.

But this all has another level to it as well. Where there is music involved, ideologies, desires and fantasies will find their musical analogue, in convention, habit and aesthetic. Perfume Genius blasts to the strange heart of the song-form, of the assumed promises of harmony and melody, of the assumed contract between author, singer and listener, of the delicate delusions invoked in associating sounds with 'emotions', voices with 'subjectivities', bodies with 'psychologies'. In his super-charging of simple forms with unquantifiable content, he collapses all the wretched clichés and cynical lies spilt in the name of singer-songwriters, and taps into the nothingness and everythingness of so-called 'emotion' which lies not within music but beyond it.