and oh we had so much time...
It’s the Complexion, Stupid – White Russians
In The Thick is one of my new favorite podcasts. Hosted by NPR journalists Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela, it’s a show about politics and race from a black and brown lens. In this week’s episode, Varela chopped up the role of whiteness in the Trump administration’s approach to Russia with Terrell Starr, senior reporter at Foxtrot Alpha, and Tarini Parti, Capitol Hill reporter for BuzzFeed News. Star repeated the point that, consciously and unconsciously, the hard core of Trump supporters voted for him to protect and uphold the perceived value of whiteness. This topic is largely one that gets talked around but not about in the wider political discourse, but I think it deserves a more central piece of the conversation. As the panel points out, when intelligence and national security agencies agree that Russia poses a greater threat than any other nation to America in 2017, but the president disagrees, it’s worth considering what fundamental things Trump and his base think they share in common with Putin, and what things they think separate them from people in Mexico or China. Somehow, likely through the polarization of our politics that coincided with the end of the Cold War, an inability to see a white-skinned political enemy as a veritable threat has predominated. I’m sure that the rest of Trump’s time in office will present many opportunities to have conversations about the evolving role of whiteness and white identity in American politics, and I hope that In The Thick becomes one conversation in a chorus of frank and goal-oriented talk about race.
We Are All Charged With Treason – Depeche Mode’s Spirit
And oh we had so much time
How could we commit the worst crime?
- “The Worst Crime,” from Spirit
Depeche Mode has never been a subtle band. They hit peak subtext in 1983 with the song “Everything Counts,” as Martin Gore sang “The grabbing hands / grab all they can / all for themselves / after all.” So, it’s understandable that the combination of Brexit, politicized xenophobia, the resurgence of right-wing politics in their native Britain and abroad, and Trump’s election, has brought new life to the group.
For the real DM heads, the progressive politics in this new album are nothing new or exciting. What thrilled me as a longtime fan are the more personal, specific tracks. “Poison Heart” was primarily written by lead singer Dave Gahan and is kind of a masterpiece. Martin Gore, who writes the majority of the band’s songs, said in a Rolling Stone interview it’s the best song Gahan’s ever written. Gahan channels some early Portishead and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to great effect, reminding me that even in an angry, political album, Depeche Mode just can’t make a bad love song.
And Gore, who sings lead vocal on two tracks, stuns even more than Gahan. In his more romantic contribution, “Eternal,” he promises to love through a foreshadowed apocalypse. But his angelic vibrato has never been put to better use than when he sings in “Fail,” the album’s final political song, “Oh, we’re fucked.” In an album primarily full of Gahan’s rallying cries and self-admonitions, there’s extra power in giving the final word to Gore, especially when that final word is one that Depeche Mode has never used in a record. But coarser politics lead to coarser lyrics, and desperate times call for albums like this one.
But I Want Everything – Drake’s More Life
Drake dropped a 22-track playlist last week. This would be an irresponsible number of songs for a straight-up album, but the word “playlist” gives him the freedom to step out of the limelight multiple times throughout the 82-minute running time to give complete, unadulterated shine to other rappers and singers. I have a complicated relation to this kind of generosity from an artist like Drake because, while I ride hard for a lot of his work, I’m still coming to grips with the way in which he folds other genres of music, down to vocal inflections and patois, into his own flows. He continually blurs the line between being influenced by music like UK grime and dancehall, and that dreaded hashtag: cultural appropriation.
So, with this much at stake, and with an album that ranges sonically to four continents, it will take more than a week to digest More Life and its place in the pop canon. For now, here are the album’s winners and losers, as it stands, after 574 minutes of listening:
Winner: All of Britain
Three British musicians get their own tracks on More Life: Skepta, a grime artist from Peckham who started his American ascent last year when he notched a spot on Pitchfork’s 100 Best Songs of 2016 list; Sampha, who also had an entry on that Pitchfork list, and is about to turn James Blake into someone that people describe as “the white Sampha;” and Jorja Smith, a neo-soul singer who supported Drake on tour last year in the UK. A fourth Brit, Giggs, spits some truly hardcore grime on two different tracks on the album. The songs that feature these musicians are some of the best, especially “4422” and “Skepta Interlude,” which both hit immediate replay status in my car.
Drake has found a new musical crush in the African Diaspora, and now that his put-on patois has an Anglo-Caribbean inflection, I’d say Jamaica’s days as Drake’s favorite musical well to draw from are numbered.
I finally get what Young Thug is all about.
Loser: Sheraton Hotels
Please listen to “Can’t Have Everything.” It’s a gift from the shade gods.
Winner: Skepta, in particular
Here’s a lyric from Skepta’s interlude on More Life, wherein he introduces himself to American audiences: “Died and came back as Fela Kuti / Don’t phone me, send a text to Julie.” Julie handles all Skepta’s beefs.
Real Winner: Julie
Julie’s just an HR titan. She’s super into bullet journals. Just, like, very fastidious.
Loser: The cornballs inside all of us who will somehow remember “Fake Love,” the most emotional Drake song on More Life, as the catchiest one, too.
Yet another genre of music saved by Champagne Papi. See: “Get It Together.”
Quavo picked a bad time (read: post-2003 or so) to make an offhand “Ike Turner with the left hand” reference in “Portland.” Hopefully he can ride the wave of think pieces and grow from it.
Winner: Summer, 2017
Between “Blem,” “No Long Talk,” “Passionfruit,” “Portland,” and “Get It Together,” we’re already full-up on summer jams.
Loser: My unborn child
You’re probably going to be conceived to “Passionfruit.”
Drake released a 22-track album this week and, through the staggering amount of genuinely great songs and letting all of England carry twenty percent of the weight of making it memorable, it will likely remain one of Drake’s three best albums for the rest of his career.
 The real, real DM heads know that Gore has always had a better voice than Gahan. Send your angry rebuttals to firstname.lastname@example.org.