Laetitia Sadier Something Shines

[Drag City; 2014]

Styles: communalism, compassion
Others: Robert Wyatt, Stereolab

Events as horrific as the Boko Harum kidnappings, the police brutality of Ferguson, and the IS insurgency in the Levant are enough to make the whole idea of talking about Art Music more than just a little existential. As Rome burns a few tabs over, we talk about the keyboards on Krapp’s last limited-run noise tape. But to get buried under that tomb of a thought is a dodge in itself, because in the same fashion that all criticism functions in a political way — favoring one possible world over others while jotting notes on the distance between this one and that — all music exists on some kind of political level. Records form potential lifeworlds, pockets of situations, glances over someone else’s fence. In this spirit, talking about records is just discussing the world (and all of the problems that come with that) at a step’s distance, absorbing the other through an iPod darkly.

Music maybe offers the most profoundly humanizing grounds for coming to know the world. The Stereolab-Sadier approach has always been thoroughly structural — economically post-Marxist and, in terms of emotional experience, downright Husserlian. The charge has been laid that Stereolab were sloganeering Marxists, a thoroughly American kind of response that ignores the fact that the sneak trick about their space age batchelor pad grooving was that there was a profound political sensibility animating everything they did, rather than the occasional political screed defining the material that surrounded it. Their eclecticism was never colonization; their parts were always subsumed to the whole, and their identity was as strong no matter how the quality fared. Their music was bound by a politics of curiosity, intelligence and collaboration. Basically, it wasn’t structure and superstructure — it was all network.

You can know this without also knowing the lyrics to Stereolab’s “Ping Pong” or “Obscuridad” on this record. Laetitia Sadier’s solo work has continued Stereolab’s approach while also adding a richer psychological core (check the middle of “Transhumance”) and looser, more stream-of-consciousness arrangements. Indeed, like Robert Wyatt’s records of the 1980s, Sadier’s political lyrics aren’t “political” the same way you talk about a Rage Against the Machine album carrying a direct target and import. Instead, they come from the same, larger ethic of communalism and compassion, and that animates all of her work. Why anyone would suggest Sadier be abashed about socialist sloganeering in 2014 is beyond me (especially after translating the lyrics from French), but if Sadier was abashed about that, then all of her work would be moot.

Ultimately, talking about what Something Shines “is” feels like a reductive exercise. This is an island of righteous calm as much as it is a collection of songs. They are uniformly wise and lovely, and by turns elliptical, sad, even political, whatever. I had no idea she could pull off a Marvin Gaye-cum-The Love Boat soft rock hit (“Release From the Centre of Your Heart”), but the thing about all great relationships is that you never cease learning. Virtue ethics isn’t aesthetics, but wherever a record can function as an imagined glance of someone else’s design for life, then it should be grasped as such. Wherever Sadier goes, she sails on charting that true and humane course that’s all her own, no matter what the waves say, and amongst all this sturm und drang, there may be no better spirit in which to sing or listen. So listen close.

Links: Laetitia Sadier - Drag City

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