Review Summary: When we were young the future looked so bright/now that we're older we can see that it's on firemain pop girl 2019
is a testament to itself; it is needy, broken, dramatic, and brash. It sounds like pretty much nothing else out there, but its spirit is subversive and old school, playing out like a millennial update of the gutter poetry found in Separation Sunday
and We Shall All Be Healed
. The album splits the difference between narcotized ballads and breakbeat-infused electropop, taking listeners on a uniquely exhilarating journey. The sound couldn't be any more different, but sole songwriter/lyricist/singer/everything James Brooks seems to know what Darnielle and Finn learned: addiction is a timeless monster, desperation gnawing to the center of a person until the core is rotten and used up. Brooks writes about himself and others with a sweaty, up-close intensity that is affecting but free of judgement; even when things get fucking dire
, James remains an objective bystander, even when it comes to his own actions. It's different than, say, the voyeuristic thrill one gets from listening to an album like Suffer On
, which I believe is wholly genuine but still a performance for the listener, imparting lessons learned and ending in a place of (very hard earned, mind you) hope. Both albums are fashionably uncool and unafraid to be themselves, exhibiting not confidence so much as resolve. The big difference here is that main pop girl 2019
isn't interested in connecting with its audience until the very end, and only then to futilely (facetiously❓) ask if you're still naive enough, after all the wreckage of these songs, to believe the lies Brooks and the characters within tell themselves to make it through another day. Gotta love a happy ending, right❓
If I've made the album sound like a relentless bummer, well, that's only half-right; though the words here are indeed brutal, they're not as discernible as you'd expect from a work of such emotional magnitude. There are times when the vocals are almost completely smothered by numerous effects and overdubs, blurring into the addled and clamorous music. Some songs feature vocals but no lyrics, making it clear that this project is solely an outlet for its creator; after being subjected to something as utterly deflating as the pitiless story of a sex worker on 'heart emoji xo', it's almost a relief to not know the details. As much as I've talked up the lyricism here, I've consciously tried not to share any, as Brooks decidedly treats them as optional most of the time. For a majority of the songs here, you could just turn your brain off and enjoy a deliriously catchy and inventive pop album. From 'when it's over' somehow projecting an ethereal dreampop aura yet folding in ecstatic cowbell to mariachi trumpets interrupting the sleazy back alley lurch of 'reverse chronological order (part 2)', Brooks knows how to hold the listeners attention with sonic twists and turns.
The vocals, which are frequently pitched to warring frequencies, autotuned, etc., are admittedly an acquired taste when they are front and center. Brooks has a thin and nasally voice and seems pretty unconcerned with being traditionally palatable but you'd be doing yourself a huge disservice to turn away, as the most searing highlights here let the music hang back so he can deliver some serious haymakers. 'reverse chronological order (part 1)' is a delicate and shimmering ballad featuring a breathtaking fireworks display of ascendant guitar that houses an eviscerating piece of storytelling, ending with the hopeless conclusion that the only options are endlessly spinning in your own private hell or ending up in jail. The true standout, though, is 'emoji heart xo', a perfect marriage of everything main pop girl 2019
has to offer: warped keyboard and misty synth burbles are joined by a hypnotic breakbeat as Brooks lays bare a procession of stinging poetry and uncomfortably lasting details. If it doesn't affect you in some way, well, I hear the new Ariana Grande is supposed to be pretty good.
main pop girl 2019
absolutely won't be for everyone, and that's by design; it serves only itself, indifferent to the effort one chooses to put into listening to it. For those willing to partake though, to lean in just a little closer, Brooks presents a sugar rush that conceals a viciously sour center. Like a drug, it hooks you, shatters you and spits you out. The feel-good album of the year, I promise.