Years ago, local DJ Lazlo Geiger hypothesized that the quality of popular music is directly related to whichever political power is in the White House. When the Democrats are in power, he surmised, the music is so-so, and the rest of the country is decent. When the Republicans are in power, the music is great, but everything else sucks.

Barring Lazlo’s obvious liberal bias, he does have a point. Musicians and artists in general, tend to sing…er…swing left. Perhaps because Democrats tend to be more vigorous about supporting First Amendment rights that are so crucial to an artist’s individual freedom to create, and because the Right has way of pissing off liberals with their costly wars and tax breaks for the rich, Republican rule tends to produce more classic protest songs and a heightened creativity in general. Whether eight years of the Obamas has had anything to do with it or not, there’s no question that alternative rock has been mired in somewhat of a rut for several years now.

If Lazlo is correct, however, then surely the Year of Trumpocalypse is a harbinger of wonderful musical things to come. Already 2016 has given us 30 Days, 30 Songs, a collection of anti-Trump anthems by various artists, released, one a day, for the final 30 days of the campaign. That project later expanded to 40, then 50 songs as it became increasingly popular. Three of those songs are on this list.

Whether the mango antichrist and his one-percenter cronies can inspire a new generation of artists to get angry enough to spark a new golden age of popular music, remains to be seen. God knows we need something to get us through this nightmare.

The Criteria

As before, this is not a “best of” list, but merely a presentation of my favorite alternative music tracks within the limited spectrum of music that I had the chance to hear this year. Most of these songs fall within the playlist of local alternative radio Station KRBZ, in Kansas City. Some are holdovers from last year that received the bulk of their airplay this year. Others are non-singles or non-hits from the same period that I simply felt were worth mentioning. As always, the intent here is to focus on the art of songwriting and record making.

 

The List: 2016

21. “2 Heads” – Coleman Hell

Banjo rock has been the scourge of alternative music ever since Marcus Mumford sang his first song about Jesus. My main complaint is not its particular sound or even its potential for emotional impact. (In all fairness, the Mumford’s can be fine songwriters.) And it’s not that the banjo doesn’t have a place on alternative radio. After all, 20 years ago, Tori Amos showed us that even a harpsichord could be relevant to rock and roll.

The problem was that Mumford’s colossal and improbable success insured that their sound quickly became tiresome. And worse, it “inspired” other misguided souls to mistakenly think pairing the preferred instrument of gay movie hillbilly rapists with rock and roll was a novelty worth turning into a movement. It wasn’t.  Hugo’s ridiculous, trivial take on Jay Z’s “99 Problems” comes to mind. And then there’s this year’s” horrifying “Take it all Back,” by Judah and the Lion, a record that nefariously combines the instrument with the dreaded emo, or emotional punk, a mercifully outdated musical style that was neither particularly emotional or punk. Take it all back…. PLEASE!

So, it’s with feet firmly in mouth that I’m forced to concede my love for Coleman Hell’s, “2 Heads”. Avoiding the hokey folk sentimentality that is sometimes the plague of this instrument, at least in the context of rock and roll, Coleman Hell’s rumbling banjo licks in “2 Heads” are more booyah than Hee Haw.

The story, about an intense relationship, is unremittingly dopey: “There must be something in the water/ And there must something about your daughter/ She said our love ain’t nothing but a monster/ With two Heads.” Go ahead and kill me now.

Ultimately though, the pulsating rhythms render content irrelevant. If “2 Heads” doesn’t have you pounding your toes on the car floor, you need to have your dopamine levels checked.

20. Heathens – Twenty One Pilots

Of all the vocalists I might have expected to inspire imitation, Alt-J frontman Joe Newman is probably not on that list. But behold the pinched whining of Tyler Joseph in Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens”. Who knew Adam Sandler’s warbling of “The Hanukah Song” would be such a precursor of great alternative singles to come? Despite the shameless imitation, this is easily the most interesting of the year’s three big hits from the undisputed breakout stars of 2017.

The lead single from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, “Heathens” tackles the crowded, but confined world in which we all exist, side by side (“Welcome to the room of people/ Who have rooms of people that they loved one day/Docked away”), ruminating on the dark side of fame (“All my friends are heathens. Take it slow/ Wait for them to ask you who you know/ Please don’t make any sudden moves/ You don’t know half of the abuse”), and speculating chillingly on the unrevealed darkness of strangers in our midst (“You’ll never know the psychopath sitting next to you.”)

Eschewing complex arrangements, “Heathens” gives its haunting lyrics and creepy vocals room to resonate to disturbing and beautiful effect.

19. “Life Itself” – Glass Animals

 Zamba, the debut album by English indie quartet, Glass Animals, was a deliciously quirky collection of animal noises and jungle-esque synthesizers set to slow islandy rhythms, obscure but endearingly goofy lyrics and simple but addictive melodies.

With How to Be a Human Being, their second full length album, they’ve moved on from that sound, but the weirdness is mercifully intact.

The opening bars of “Life Itself” begin with the familiar feel featuring a funky plucked Asian-style guitar, muffled background noises and the kind of rhythm fans have come to expect. But it quickly deconstructs into a gloriously dissonant vocal line. There are horns, piano, a disco chorus and seemingly everything else under the sun.

The song’s main character, as portrayed by lead singer, Dave Bayley, is an apparent loser with rock star ambitions who sadly and amusingly comes to an honest self-reckoning and in no small doses, self-contempt. “Daddy was dumb,” he sings, “said that I’d be something special/ Brought me up tough but I was a gentle human…When I grew up was gonna be a superstar,” we’re informed. But instead, he sings, “I can’t get a job so I live with my mom/ I take her money, but not quite enough.”  At the depth of despair, he finds himself, “waking up, lost in boxes outside Tesco” looking like a “bum sipping codeine Coca-Cola.”

But all is not lost. A glimmer of hope remains (“Lean back now, lean back and breathe…Gotta get back, gotta get free.”) If  “Life Itself” is autobiographical, we know he succeeded.

18. “Can’t You Tell” – Aimee Mann

 Aimee Mann is no Kate Bush or Stephen Sondheim. Her songs are not adorned with intricate arrangements that intricately delineate time, place, and emotional content. The former ‘Til Tuesday front woman writes simple melodies with spare arrangements and concise, often gut-wrenching lyrics. Think of her as the female Jack Johnson.

“Can’t You Tell”, her contribution to 30 Songs, 30 Days, portrays the then future president as a vain clown obsessively propelled by the force of his insatiable ego and revenge on the critics who dare mock him, toward a future he doesn’t desire. “You handing me grenades is just compelling me to pull the pin.,” she imagines Trump saying. But his obvious cries for help go unrecognized “Isn’t anybody going to stop me,” he asks, “I don’t want this job, my god/ Can’t you tell/ I’m unwell.”

Mann’s melody moves along pleasantly with no excessive use of minor chords, dissonance or dramatic use of dynamics for emotional emphasis. Like Johnson’s, her music sometimes seems unaware of its content. The lyrics tell the story. The melodies are simply hummable, if memorably so. In the tradition of the best folk songwriters, the message is the purpose, the music the vehicle. There’s no point in limiting her universal audience with esoterica. In “Can’t You Tell,” as in all her best work, that’s more than enough.

17. “10,000 Emerald Pools”/ “16. American Money” – BØRNS

These are two exquisitely produced alternative pop love songs, by gender bending Grand Haven Michigan virtuoso, Garrett Borns.

Borns’ lovely harmonies shimmer like rippling water in the opening hook of “10,000 Emerald Pools”. “I’ll dive in deeper, deeper for you/ Down to the bottom, 10,000 emerald pools,” the chorus sings, the usual cliché of drowning in a sea of love here mitigated by a miracle: “You’re all I need to breath.”

In the more sophisticated, emotionally resonant, “American Money”, the miracles of love continue but in a dryer setting (“I was there when you fell from the clouds/ And landed in the desert…There was a wonderful pleasure.”)

Packed with vivid imagery, Born’s lyrics are rich in simile, ranging from the clichéd (“You taste just right/ Sweet like Tennessee honey”, “Paradise in your eyes.) to the bizarrely original (“Like a stallion racing in the rain/ you rode on the back of my bike.”) to the simply bizarre (…your eyes green like American money.”) But his scattershot images are imbued with considerable emotional weight by a soaring melody and a splendid arrangement that culminates in an emotionally riveting climax.

Culled from his 2015 album Dopamine, these lushly produced singles show an artist of considerable gifts bursting with creative energy. “There’s no time to sleep/ living in a dream…,” he sings. Garrett Borns is a dreamer whose dreams one wishes would continue throughout the long night ahead.

15.  “DonaldTrumpMakesMeWantToSmokeCrack” – Ledinsky

Of the three songs on this list from 30 Days, 30 Nights, Ledinsky’s “DonaldTrumpMakesMeWantToSmokeCrack” is, as its title suggests, the least subtle and most overtly political. An old-school hippie liberal, the Dutch American immigrant longs for the good old days of 60’s social revolution. “Where you gone Betty Friedan/ Where you gone Gore Vidal?” he laments.

Railing against a nationalist xenophobia that makes him feel unwelcome, he invites the rest of us “to the boats” because “We’re all immigrants here.” If in the end, he offers no more sophisticated a resistance than a “middle finger in the air,” the anger at least is something most of the rest of us can relate to.

Set to a carnival organ backdrop and a tasty cotton candy confection of a melody, the song has been paired with a cheaply produced, 80’s-style video that’s more inventive and more entertaining than 90 percent of the overproduced music videos on the internet. And it’s more fun than any song about the rape of our beloved Lady Liberty has any right to be.

14. “Way Down We Go” – Kaleo

In the somber, suggestive “Way Down We Go”, Kaleo singer J. J. Julius Son bewails a sad and ominous fate: “Father tell me, do we get what we deserve/And way down we go…” Where we go down to isn’t specifically spelled out: To perdition? To decadence? The apocalypse? The supermarket?

It doesn’t matter of course. This song is all about mood. But in the Year of Trumpocalypse it’s easy to be reminded of the steady, insistent fall of American Babylon. Given the state of confusion and corruption that rules our country today, it’s easy to wonder if President Trump is indeed America getting what it deserves, World War III and all.

Musically, “Way Down We Go”  is such a blatant appropriation of The Black Keys signature garage blues rock sound, that it’s hard to believe this is not some Dan Auerback side project. Still, the style couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s richly melancholic and impossible to shake.

13. “Wow” – Beck

“Giddy-up, giddy- up,” alt-rock icon Beck exclaims at the beginning of “Wow,” a most appropriate prelude for 2016’s wildest pop music ride.

A stand-alone single, “Wow,” is Beck’s first release since he beat Beyoncé for the Album of the Year Grammy, incurring the wrath of that eternal douchebag, Kanye West. That album, Morning Phase, was a gorgeous collection of dreamy 1960’s style folk rock ballads, uncharacteristic of his frequently experimental, eclectic sound.

In “Wow”, the artist returns to his groundbreaking, hip-hop influenced style, an important influence on 90’s alternative rock. But this is no rehash of the music that white gangsta-wannabes ran into the ground two decades ago. “Wow” is so brimming with invention and a general sense of the loopy that it’s hard not to feel like you’re hearing something completely new.

Though initially it appears to be a succession of seemingly nonsensical images and apparent non-sequiturs, “Wow” has more depth to it than initially appears. It’s about living in the moment (“It’s my life, your life/ Live it once, can’t live it twice.”) and appreciating the important things (friends, spouses, spirituality…) in a shallow junk culture. That’s easy to do when a song is as fresh and full of delights as this one.

12. “My Trigger” – Miike Snow

 Like a shiny piece of glass caught by the sun in an empty brown field, “My Trigger”, by Swedish indie pop collective, Miike Snow, catches your attention the moment it announces itself over the white noise of banality that is contemporary radio.

As on their previous hits, “Animal” and “Genghis Khan,” Miike Snow operates in the same ultra-poppy, ear candy arena as MGMT and they are no less inventive. A funky groove and processed vocal flourishes that sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks might sound on some seriously dank kush, are just some of the delights of this record.

11. “Push and Pull” – July Talk

 While the “dreams unrealized” substance abuse narrative of Glass Animal’s “Life Itself” is darkly comic, in “Push and Pull” by Canadian band, July Talk, it’s just dark: “Darkness comes you’ve got to pay your dues, Darkness falls, wants you to overuse/ You’re born to live but now you live to lose.”

Like Banks and Steelz’s “Giant”, July Talk’s aptly named “Push and Pull” derives much of its effect from the pairing of incongruous styles. Peter Dreimanis’s growling, speaker-distorting screams, smash head-on into Lea Fay’s pretty pop pleasantries. “I don’t want to wait,” he roars like some hell-born mutation of James Hetfield and Tom Waites.

Dreimanis, who looks like Klaus Kinski’s meth-head little brother, and Fay, whose appearance is as delicate as her voice, are the perfect alt-rock beauty and beast. Their sonic yin and yang  elevates what otherwise would have been a solid, undeniably danceable, but perhaps unexceptional pop track, into something special.

10. “Giant” – Banks and Steelz

The politics couldn’t be more blatant or goose bump inducing than in Banks and Steelz angry and riveting, “Giant.”

Banks and Steelz, the unlikely pairing of Paul Banks, frontman for one of last decade’s best American rock outfits, the dryly ironic Interpol, and RZA the hardcore rapper from east coast hip-hop collective, Wu Tan Clan, get serious with “Giant,” a fiercely hypnotic comment on American political injustice.

Beginning with the kind of braggadocio one expects from rap these days, RZA broadcasts his intent in the opening lines. “Flash the camera/ I’ma drop the hammer,” we are told, while Bank’s mellow alt-pop chorus proclaims, “Everything is shaking through the walls/ ‘Cause we are giant…” Affirming their intentions, the rapper announces, “Fuck CNN, this is ghetto editorial!”

That editorial involves some angry fist shaking at, “Novus ordo seclorum, a motto from the Great Seal of the United States, meaning “a new order of the ages.” That new order includes the sins of the establishment, including climate change, automation, fracking and deforestation. “Are we dreaming the same dream/ Of money guns and gasoline?” Banks asks. Vowing to fight these forces, he croons, “With the heart of  David, you know it takes just one.”

RZA’s raging rants have an angry desperation about them that is more powerful, more bone chilling than anything else you will hear on commercial alternative radio these days. Banks’s choruses provide the perfect harmonic counterbalance to make those rants palatable for today’s audiences. Like 2014’s “We are Done,” “Giant” illustrates how political commentary and popular music can and often do have a vital symbiotic relationship.

9. “Million Dollar Loan” – Death Cab for Cutie

 Mainstream alternative radio was flooded this year with endless replays of Death Cab for Cutie’s smash “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” as dull a record as the venerable alternative staple has ever produced. As a songwriter, frontman Ben Hibbard is always at his best with simple acoustic guitar-based arrangements that don’t get in the way of his often devastating poetry. This is nowhere better seen in the vastly superior, “Million Dollar Loan”, a quickly produced lo-fi single released as part of the 30 Days, 30 Songs project. This, the first single released from the collection, is the best of the lot.

Like Aimee Mann in “Can’t You Tell”, Hibbard sees in Donald Trump a lonely, isolated Billionaire living in a delusional fantasy. In “Million Dollar Loan,” the billionaire looks down, presumably from Trump Tower “…on his city at night/ from a gilded room/ of gold, marble and soft perfume.” Devoid of self-examination, he prides himself on building his fortune “The old-fashioned way”, because “Nobody makes it on their own/ Without a million-dollar loan.”

Sung in sorrowful harmonies that recall Simon and Garfunkel, “Loans” paints its cynical content in subtle strokes that create a portrait not of anger, but tragedy. Sad.

8. “Worry” – Jack Garratt

The funky blue-eyed soul that Jarryd James so effectively resurrected on last year’s “Do You Remember” lives on in this beautiful, captivating single.

The dejected protagonist of Jack Garratt’s “Worry” endures restless nights “broken up by the sounds of women I’ll never meet,” Defeated by lost love, he feigns indifference telling the lover who’s abandoned him, “Pick apart the pieces you left/ don’t you worry about it.”

Scratchy guitars, dramatic pauses, spare guitar licks and fat analogue-style synths accentuate the singer’s melancholic unrest. Garratt’s falsetto and repeated “ohs,” have the feel of someone crying.

Spare in form, yet lush in feeling, “Worry’s” digital soul perfectly illustrates the ability of electronic music to invigorate classic styles and make them sound completely modern. If there ever was a musical style worthy of resurrection, it’s 60’s and early 70’s soul music arguably the greatest movement in the rich history of post-jazz American popular music. Jack Garratt’s “Worry” is an excellent start toward that goal.

7. “River” – Bishop Briggs

Bishop Briggs, who was forced by the courts to add a fake last name to her fake first name, is one of those “overnight successes” that didn’t happen overnight. With her ballsy blues rock wailer, “River,” Briggs dominated local alternative radio throughout 2016.

With its tight but effective verses and searing chorus of “shut your mouth and run me like a river,” “River” is confident and sincere. If the digital handclaps and macho “Hey” refrains that close out the record mute the song’s bluesy feel just a bit, “River” remains a stirring anthem. With its smart sensibility, memorable melody, pretty guitar licks and ballsy vocal, such minor miscues are easily ignored.

6. “Gimme All Your Love” – Alabama Shakes

 It’s a bit of a stretch calling Alabama Shakes alternative rock. This is dirty, sweaty blues rock, straight-forward and unfettered by nicety.  There’s not another singer on the radio today who can rip you a new one like Brittany Howard. How appropriate that her side project album was released under the pseudonym Thunderbitch. Thunderbitch Indeed! This girl can wail.

“Gimme” All Your Love, with its insistent rhythm, Hammond organ and dirty-assed vocal, moves so authentically between blues and hard rock, you can almost imagine yourself sitting in a smoke-filled bar full of rowdy patrons, thick with the pungent perfume of alcohol.

The lyric is clichéd and irrelevant as it often is in the blues, but so what? The gigantic, gut-grabbing voice of that glorious thunderbitch provides all the emotion one could ever require.

5. “Lost on You” – LP

Breakup songs have been a staple of American popular music since before the blues was called the blues. “Lost on You’s” wit and compelling production bring new life to an old story.

Buoyed by a bouncy strumming guitar, synthetic wolf-like howls, and the singer’s own whistles, “Lost on You” conjures up images of a tumbleweed strewn ghost town that is the perfect metaphor for a dead relationship.

These sonic artifices are the precursors of a coming emotional conflict: “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em ‘cause it’s goin’ down,” she sings. And with the bitter sarcasm of a jilted partner,  “Let’s raise a glass or two/ To all the things I lost on you/ Tell me are they lost on you?”

Pergolizzi, who ironically has written songs for phony crap-meisters like Cher and Backstreet Boys, tells her story with dry restraint. There’s no need to oversell. But like someone who’s dignity has been trampled upon, you feel she could explode any second.  Her voice is shrill but pleasing, direct but mysterious and utterly authentic. She should stick with singing her own songs

4. “Rings of Saturn” – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave was a critical darling in the late 80’s/early 90’s post-punk era. Never a mainstream artist, he is probably best known for his creepy Murder Ballads single “Right Red Hand,” which has been featured in numerous film and television shows over the last three decades from The X-Files to the Scream trilogy, Hellboy, and even Dumb and Dumber.

Cave’s most recent album, the critically lauded Skeleton Tree is permeated by the death of his teenage son Arthur, who died during the album’s production. Though not specifically mentioned in most of the album’s tracks, that event is felt throughout.

In “Rings of Saturn”, a grieving man seeks solace in a one night stand with a predatory lover. In a series of darkly vivid images, she’s compared to various insects: a spider (“Upside down and inside out and, on all eights, you’re like a funnel-web,”) a black fly on the ceiling (“Skinny white haunches high in the sky”) and something resembling “A black oily gash crawling backwards across the carpet…” Finished with her prey, she jumps up “with her leaping brain…up and out of bed and down the hall,” turns and says, “Are you still here.” “Spurting ink over the sheets,” he feels enslaved but holds no grudges, even admiring her detachment. (“This is exactly what she is born to be…this is what she does and this is what she is.”)

Like most of the album, Cave’s lyrics are spoken, not sung. Set to steady unadorned beats, brushed cymbals, and airy synth pillow chords. “Rings of Saturn,” has the feel of a beat generation coffee house recital but without the pretense. Cave’s poetic demeanor is heartbroken, apologetic, and desperately grateful like a lovelorn Leonard Cohen or a mellowed, self-pitying Iggy Pop.

Stark, yet ethereal, frank but exquisite, This is mesmerizing stuff – atmospheric, resonant, indelible.

3. “Burn the Witch” – Radiohead

 Radiohead has been creating new kinds of beauty for over two decades. If their success has never reached the zenith of similarly groundbreaking acts like the Beatles and Pink Floyd it’s likely because those acts came along in a time of extreme creativity, when mainstream audiences were keen to discover new sounds and were perfectly willing to travel unexplored musical territories. Such moments in musical history are rare. Today’s audiences are content with increasingly bland product passing for music.

If Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, their first album since 2011’s King of Limbs, seems at times like a “greatest hits you never heard” collection, it’s an easy reminder of all the ground this group has broken in the past 20 years. All of the tracks in this collection are from previous recording sessions, either outtakes from previous albums or songs that just never got recorded. Since Radiohead built their career on a constantly evolving sound, it’s relatively easy to tell which of these songs are from what period.

Notwithstanding the disappointment of a new Radiohead album that doesn’t break new ground, these are damn good songs. “Burn the Witch”, the closest thing on the album to a radio friendly single, is a sinister and sobering primer for the dark and paranoid times in which we live. With it stabbing orchestral accompaniment and its fat, monotone guitar, “Burn the Witch’ unsettles from the start.

“Stay in the shadows,” lead singer Thom York warns with his sleepy, but surprisingly musical, nasal whine, “This is a low flying panic attack.”  And in typically paranoid Radiohead fashion, recalling the 2000 classic, “Karma Police,” he drawls, “Burn the witch/ We know where you live.”

Radiohead has a long-standing tradition of producing inventive and intriguing videos and “Burn the Witch” doesn’t disappoint. An animated retelling of the classic British thriller, The Wicker Man, “Burn the Witch” is a brightly colored cartoon with a cheery style that belies its chilling content. It’s one of the year’s best.

Seventeen years after their landmark album “Kid A” and its accompanying videos changed the face of modern rock, Radiohead is still challenging listeners with its difficult but deeply satisfying art.

2. “Motel” – Meg Meyers

Few artists in modern rock carry the kind of emotional weight Meg Meyers is capable of. While there is a certain sameness to much of her material, when she’s on target her music has an emotional impact that few can match.

With its spooky, muted horn-like patch, “Motel” sets its melancholic mood from the opening bars. “You’re weak, broken in a motel/ tears are falling down, down, down,” she sings, noting ironically: “You’re free, free inside your own hell.”

“I wanna love…live…breathe…give/ But it’s hard….and we’re doomed from the start’ she sings.” That hopelessness reaches a powerful climax in the song’s bridge, which makes stunning use of that old standby, the found voice clip, this one featuring legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

“How come most of your songs are sad songs?” an interviewer asks Van Zandt. “Don’t you think life is sad?” he responds incredulously, followed by an electrifying half-step key change of the chorus. It’s a riveting climax to a song about loss and desperation.

Like her extraordinary 2013 single “Adelaide”, “Motel” transcends its toe-tapping exterior and overwhelms with naked passion. For a pop track do one or the other is a rare and wonderful thing. When it does both, it’s truly exhilarating.

1. “Community of Hope” – PJ Harvey

After Jack White and Radiohead, it’s hard to think of another artist with a more impressive resume in the past 30 years than Polly Jean (aka PJ) Harvey.  If commercial stardom has eluded her, critical praise, particularly in her homeland, England, has not. She is the only artist to have won the coveted Mercury Prize twice and for good reason. Harvey’s authentic rock pedigree is undeniable whether she’s making quirky punk (Rid of Me) or dirty psychedelic blues rock (To Bring You My Love), but she has never been more vital than she has been in the 2010’s. Her last album, 2011’s Let England Shake, a brutal folk punk collection examining the effects of war, is for my money’ the best album of the decade.

Her latest collection, The Hope Six demolition Project, is nearly as good. This time, she brings her incisive commentary across the pond.

In the blistering “Community of Hope”, a casually heartless narrator gives a guided tour of the Hope Six Demolition Project, a real-life gentrification project in Washington D.C. “Here’s the Hope Six Demolition Project,” she sings, “Stretching down the Benning Road/ The well-known ‘pathway of death”/at least that’s what I’m told.”

Indifferent to the downtrodden human beings about to be displaced by urban renewal, the narrator exclaims “This is just drug town, just zombies, but that’s just life…And the school that looks like a shit-hole/ Does that look like a nice place?” The cold banality of modern urbanization is perfectly summed up in the closing refrain of “They’re gonna put a Walmart here.”

“Community” largely avoids the quirkiness of her usual work for a straightforward rock & roll style that is distinctly and appropriately American. It is perhaps her most accessible single since 1995’s “Down by the Water,” a moderate hit released in rock and roll’s last great decade. What a shame that in today’s safe radio climate, this brilliant single never had a chance.

Advertisements