Hot Topic is Crack’s monthly roundup of politically charged music
I won’t spend too much time flapping my gums about the state of the nation today because there’s a lot to get through. I hope you like my selection as much as I do and it inspires you to protest in any way you know how.
Let the scrolling commence!
Lido Pimienta - La Papessa
Lido Pimienta is a Colombian-born artist who calls her shimmering, vast take on beat-driven alternative pop “Pop Satanico”, which in my opinion is just wonderful. Her second album, La Papessa, has been a long time coming. Fleeing civil war, coming to terms with the suicide of her brother and weathering relationship crises in the years prior to the recording, she’s become unapologetically and perhaps inevitably politically-minded, and it shows. This record takes on the global water crisis, ingrained gender bias and more, and is sung in Spanish – a subtly political move that swerves Western pop norms.
La Capacidad (The Capacity), the second track on the album, sums up the tenacity of Pimienta’s vision. “You are the man, and I am just the woman…” she offers coyly in Spanish, before snatching her power back at the end of the song: “but that does not mean that my life is not whole without you. I was not born to cook for you, I was not born to be the mother of your children, I was not born to fit in a heteronormative soap opera. I was not born to set back worldwide feminism.” I’m inspired.
Infinity Crush - Warmth Equation
Another sophomore album, Warmth Equation from DIY dream-pop artist Caroline White, also grapples with the enormity of death. Infinitely intimate, it leaves White’s voice stark and lovely above layers of gorgeous synths and samples as she shapes lyrics around the aftermath of the sudden death of her father. Expertly sifted through the crushing weight of this subject matter is another consideration: how women are expected to deal with death. Speaking to Bandcamp Daily, White explains, “We think it should be chaste – the idea of the widow who wears black forever and lives alone and never has sex again. We don’t think about what it’s like the first time you have sex after someone you love dies. That’s a weird experience, but it happens, and that’s a part of reality.” Weighty, wonderful, and will linger under your skin for days.
Helado Negro - It’s My Brown Skin
Roberto Carlos Lange’s lo-fi pop track It’s My Brown Skin considers the relationship between himself and his mortal coil – particularly, as title suggests, with his skin. “My skin glows in the dark, shines in the light,” he describes, before breaking into the real crux of his subject matter, self-love: “I love you…,” he tells his skin. “You’re stuck on me, and all this time I’m inside you.” By separating himself from his luminescent skin, Lange can consider its beauty, and as a result chooses to love and embrace it. The song makes it sound straightforward, but anyone with a skin can tell you its not, and the casual magic of the song lies in its anti-self-hate attitude. “It’s your brown skin, it will keep you safe,” he repeats at the end, branding himself with the love he deserves.
Solange - A Seat at the Table
One of the highest profile releases of the past month has been Solange’s A Seat at the Table, a tapestry of experience, historical reference, and empathetic stories held down by classic iterations and fluid funk stretches conducted by Solange’s direct, elastic vocals. As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd writes for Pitchfork, “At its spiritual core [the album] is an ode to black women and their healing and sustenance in particular; in writing about herself, Solange turns the mirror back upon them, and crystallises the kinship therein” and as Solange herself has written, it’s “a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.”
It’s huge and hopeful: as Solange navigates her lived experience in order to channel it musically, she takes courage, though she starts out fatigued. On second track Weary, she says, “I’m weary to the ways of the world,” but by the end, she has recognised her own power: “The album ends with Master P saying that we are the chosen ones,” she wrote on her website upon the album’s release. “That shouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable because, for us, as a people to literally go through the journey that we have, endured what we have, and to be where we are right now, we have had to be chosen.”
Kevin Morby - Beautiful Strangers
Kevin Morby, formerly of Woods and The Babies, has released a subtle but unmistakeable protest song in the form of Beautiful Strangers. “Pray for Paris, they cannot scare us, or stop the music,” he peacefully asserts over glowing meditative folk guitar. “Can’t stand the coppers up in their choppers… oh I’m sorry, so sorry, Freddie Gray.” Talking to Bandcamp Daily, he explained the inspiration behind the single. “When I wrote the song, the only image I had was these hundreds of photos that have run through my mind over the past few years – photos of the faces of innocent people who, in a moment, had their lives taken from them.” As well as using his platform as an artist as a vehicle for peace, Morby is donating all proceeds from the sale of the song to Everytown for Gun Safety, “a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.”
Mannequin Pussy - Romantic
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sub 2-minute songs, and this album from Philadelphian punk screamers Mannequin Pussy is packed with them. Musing on social isolation, internet overload, and being overwhelmed by capitalism, the quartet, led by Marisa Dabice inimitable vocals, flush out aggression, pain and anxiety with a roar of victorious anguish. It’s cracked down the middle but refusing to smash, it’s laced with catchy ‘yeah yeaaaah’s, and there are bits that are extremely ‘90s teen movie soundtrack’ juxtaposed with hardcore breaks. Basically, it’s everything I like in the world.