Words in music

Discussion of genre and implicit political undercurrents in contemporary electronic music, discussed in the Richard Devine thread, got me thinking (not for the first time) what ever happened to words that have meaning in music?

I don’t think your politics are really all that conscious if they are always hidden in the shadows of the implicit. While there is certainly immense power in the subconscious, I can’t help but feel we are missing a huge opportunity to explicitly express our political intent through music right now.


Interested to see if you like this as a mildly indirect “reaction-to-Trump song” or not


That was lovely and timely @alanza, thank you for that.

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Thanks @emenel. Good enough to quote in full:

We need poets, we need painters
we need poets, we need painters
we need poetry and paintings…
Narrow minds are weapons made for mass destruction
file them under giant ass seduction
sheep with crazy leaders, heading for disaster
courting jesters who take themselves for masters

The shrub who took himself for a park
the squeak who took himself for a bark

We need poets, we need painters
we need poets, we need painters
we need poetry and paintings…

We need filmers, and writers, dancers, musicians
actors, and sculptors, bakers, electricians
thinkers, and doctors, cyclists, and builders
lovers, friends, and neighbours, and others
filmers, writers, dancers, musicians
poets, and painters, poets, and painters

The Ex - Listen to the Painters


I saw the Ex open for Fugazi in the late 1990’s and they totally blew me away. I’m not sure if Starters and Alternators was out yet or not but they played a lot of those songs with such intensity that when I heard the versions on the album I was kind of bummed out that the energy didn’t translate. That being said, twenty or so years later and that show still left it’s imprint on me.

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Very likely although I don’t know when this was filmed or anything about her. It definitely resonates with my own sense of displacement in Trumpistan…

I also loved her mouth necklace :+1:

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Paging @ht73 and @Starthief because I enjoyed their comments in the Devine thread…


That would have been amazing. I’ve seen them about 10 times in various forms including with the incredible Ethiopian saxophonist Getchatchew Mekurya.

One of my all time favorite bands.

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I posted this also somewhere else on lines. This is very meaningful and political. Neko Case, especially the last few albums, is someone whose music is not overtly political at first glance but if you pay any attention it’s there.


The focus on poets and painters, and both being necessary, makes me wonder if this is partly a tongue-in-cheek response to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Thoughts on Art and Life”, which is basically what Leo would have written on his blog had they existed at the time, and consists mainly of brutal criticisms of every art form other than painting, especially poetry, interspersed with witticisms and anecdotes.

Replying to myself, must be getting loopy…

When I was, ahem, younger, I used to write a lot of songs with words which often had some political intent…

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to the sense that I prefer to make instrumental music in part because I don’t trust language or authorship or even my own ability to communicate much anymore…

So most of what I do is for my own meditation or pleasure…

I’ve also figured out that as a cis white male, I prefer to not grab the mic, so that others can be heard… I learn less when I talk compared to when I listen…

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I… hope not? …

I can definitely understand this.

But I see it more like a call and response. We listen, and then we stomp our feet and cheer. And then we add our voice in support.

I’ve long held these things at opposite ends of a little spectrum. In a single moment art can deliver an incredible amount of impact, but the nuance of the message (or even the entire thing) is easily lost, forgotten, or misinterpreted. On the other hand, an essay will convey one’s thoughts with much more precision - but in a much less exciting way and thus only to the comparatively few who will engage with it.

The times when I’ve most really wanted to say something in my music, I’ve felt it would be best to additionally say it outside of my music.


This is from back during Occupy Wall Street, when Godspeed had just reformed and released Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, but I think it’s relevant still.

Does political music change anything? Do you want it to? And is that intention for change external, or internal: a changing of hearts, not of social structures? To what extent does Montreal and its politics make you the people you are and the band you are? Do you have narratives in your heads for your music? How problematic is it if people listening hear a different narrative?

What’s political music? All music is political, right? You either make music that pleases the king and his court, or you make music for the serfs outside the walls. It’s what music (and culture) is for, right? To distract or confront, or both at the same time? So many of us know already that shit is fucked.

In a lot of crucial ways, it’s easier to find common cause than it was 10 or 20 years ago. You talk to strangers in bars or on the street, and you realise that we’re all up to our eyeballs in it, right? So that right now, there’s more of us than ever. It’s a true fact. Every day it gets a little harder to pretend that everything’s OK. The rich keep getting more and we keep getting less. Post-9/11, post-7/7, there’s a police state that tightens more every day, and in our day-to-days, we’re all witnesses to the demeaning outcomes of debauched governance – random traffic stops, collapsing infrastructure, corrupt bureaucrats and milk-fed police with their petty intrusions. Our cities are broke, they lay patches on top of patches of concrete, our forests cut down and sold to make newspapers just to tell us about traffic that we get stuck in. […]

So we’re at a particular junction in history now where it’s clear that something has to give – problem is that things could tip any which way. We’re excited and terrified, we sit down and try to make a joyous noise. But fuck us, we make instrumental music, means that we have to work hard at creating a context that fucks with the document and points in the general direction of resistance and freedom. Otherwise it’s just pretty noise saddled to whatever horse comes along. A lot of the time all’s we know is that we won’t play the stupid game. Someone tells us we’re special, we say: “Fuck no, we aren’t special.” Someone asks us what the thing we made means, we say figure it out for yourself, the clues are all there. We think that stubbornness is a virtue. We know that this can be frustrating. It’s fine. We don’t think in terms of narrative so much. We try to play arrangements that are little out of our reach. We try to make sure the songs ring true or not at all.


They’ve got to be true to themselves.

(But I think its a bit of a cop out)

I think it’d be a crime to go any further without mentioning this (bizarre source, eh?):

The last verse rhymes off a lot of other things too… I think it’s more that the phrase makes good lyrics.

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