For this new edition of the Indie Playlist, the focus was specifically on music videos and filmed performances. The result? “Radiated country music,” Dante pop, psychedelic Baroque, three harpists with super-high falsetto, and some good old rock ’n’ roll. Watch and listen at tinyurl.com/y3l3dru3.
“Gretel,” Alex G
Alex G’s music has something inexplicable about it. It sounds like post-apocalyptic America — a shimmering, overgrown wasteland. Or radiated country music. In the words of one YouTube commenter, it sounds like “working-class surrealist music.”
In the video for “Gretel,” we follow Alex and two young boys (his kid cousins?) through the woods before arriving at a demolition derby. There appears to be documentary footage mixed in — shots of colliding vehicles, touching portraits of derby-goers, teenagers in camo leaning on American flag-painted cars with the windows blown out.
The lyrics are deceptively simple: “I don’t wanna go back/ Nobody’s gonna push me off track/ I see what they do/ Good people got something to lose.” As in many Alex G songs, feelings of fear, loss, and gratitude coexist harmoniously. At a time of deep resignation about our country’s future, the 28-year-old songwriter humanizes and poeticizes the American landscape as only he can. —Will Powers
La Vita Nuova, Christine and the Queens
Filmed in Paris’s Palais Garnier opera house, Christine and the Queens’ 2020 six-track visual album is a collage within a collage. There is the opera house itself, a sumptuous composite of architectural styles: ceiling paintings, marble friezes, bronze statues. There is the fact that Christine (born Héloïse Letissier) sings in French, Spanish, English, and Italian — the album, named after the Dante text, falls into a lineage of queer art reclaiming the poet’s work. And there is, finally, the way Letissier juxtaposes her edgy aesthetic with that of the grandiose building. She runs down the Palais Garnier’s marble staircase, her white tulle dress parachuting behind her, fuchsia eyeshadow smudged all the way up to her eyebrows.
In the opening scene, Letissier dances on the roof of the opera house wearing an off-white pantsuit, the same hue as Paris’s skyline. There are garish scribbles of what appear to be magic marker on her face, a callback to a lyric in her 2014 song “Tilted.” She leans back off the roof, landing in the arms of a lithe dance troupe in one of the Palais Garnier’s rehearsal spaces.
At the end of the video, having traveled down the various levels of the opera house, à la Dante’s Inferno, Letissier arrives in the building’s bowels. She stumbles upon a neon-lit, glitter-filled dungeon where she dances around in a purple patent leather suit. —Paul Sullivan
“Scherza Infida,” Musica Sequenza
Musica Sequenza is an “electro-baroque” ensemble founded by composer and bassoonist Burak Özdemir in New York City in 2008 and now based in Berlin.
The concept: they combine Baroque instruments and music with EDM beats. This may sound bizarre, but it actually makes some sense. Percussion is relatively absent in Baroque music (though some instruments, like lute and harpsichord, can have a percussive quality). Adding an electronic beat fills a void and creates interesting textures.
This particular track, part of the album Sampling Baroque Handel, is based on the aria “Scherza Infida” from Handel’s Ariodante. While the concept of sampling, of course, did not exist in the Baroque era, there was no copyright, so composers reused old material, or borrowed from others.
The setting is halfway between a concert hall and a nightclub: the stage is illuminated by violet lights and psychedelic projections. Özdemir himself, standing behind a switchboard with his Baroque bassoon, is fun to watch; his Vulcan haircut adds to the sublime weirdness.
My favorite moment is around the four-minute mark, when Özdemir plays a trill that yearns to resolve, but instead, he repeats and elongates it as the other musicians continue playing. —Saskia Maxwell Keller
“Ball and Biscuit”/ “Don’t Hurt Yourself”/ “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” Jack White
Jack White’s Saturday Night Live performance on Oct. 10 was a bright spot in an otherwise dull year. He took the stage alongside drummer Daru Jones and bassist Dominic Davis. The power trio performed, along with another song, a medley of “Ball and Biscuit,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” and “Jesus Is Coming Soon.”
While White’s guitar skills are second to none — he visibly channels all his energy into the music — Daru Jones almost stole the show with his hyper-animated drumming.
The best part about the performance: White was a last-minute substitute. Country artist Morgan Wallen was on tap for the second episode of the new SNL season, but was disinvited for not following Covid-19 protocols.
With minimal rehearsal time, White, Jones, and Davis stepped in to provide one of the best SNL music acts I’ve ever seen — and they weren’t even supposed to be there. —Ryan Fitzgerald
“Quarrel,” Moses Sumney
“Enchanting,” “divine,” “ethereal,” and “majestic” are among the YouTube comments for a 2018 live performance of “Quarrel” by Moses Sumney at 99 Scott in Brooklyn. “This is the purest form of beauty,” reads another. I agree.
Last New Year’s, in 2020, my partner gave me a gift certificate to a music venue in Asheville, N.C., where we were living at the time. He recommended we see Moses Sumney. But the night of the show, we were too tired, or couldn’t be bothered to dress up to leave the house. As it turned out, that was our last opportunity for live music in a long, long time.
In late January, Sumney performed at the Mothlight — a venue now permanently closed. A couple of months later, we moved back to Provincetown. But artists like Sumney continue to give us hope, comfort, and moments of delight in these dark and isolated times. Sumney’s performance of “Quarrel,” accompanied by three harpists, is truly mesmerizing. And pay close attention to his lyrics — there’s far more depth to the song than the title suggests. —Tessera Knowles-Thompson