Only Acting: Performativity, Expectations, and Experience

I've spent a lot of time thinking about "Only Acting", the lead single off of British pop trio Kero Kero Bonito's sophomore album Time 'n' Place, one of my personal favorites of the past decade. Upon its initial release it marked a distinct turning point in the band's sound and approach to songwriting; while their unique ear for catchy hooks and melodies was as present and strong as ever, the single was more guitar-driven than anything they had put out up to that point, trading in the cutesy, bubbly synth pop of their debut album for instrumentation and chord progressions nostalgic for the power-pop of decades past. The real kicker, however, comes at the end of the track: as the bridge builds up to its final chorus, there's a key change that ends as quickly as it beings, being immediately interrupted by random skips, glitches, and a wall of piercing harsh noise, and just like that, the track ends.

In subverting the expectation of the well used (but nonetheless charming) cliche—one that they've never hesitated to indulge in up to this point—the band discards all notion of a satisfactory resolution in favor of the pop music equivalent of an anxiety attack. It goes against all of our learned expectations for tension, release and resolution in pop songwriting, so much so that they put out a radio version alongside it in which the final chorus is allowed to play through to completion. While many have expressed their preference for this edit, over time I've developed a fondness for this odd, distorted, and unyielding creative left turn; while perhaps not best suited for everyone's musical palette, this subversion isn't random or carelessly tacked on—in fact, it's what makes the song so effective.

I Am a Product of the Streaming Age

At the beginning of February of this year, I decided that I would henceforth sample all of the new music being released each week for the remainder of the year via Spotify. As a musician and an avid fan of music as a narrative art medium, I thought it would be a fun experiment that … Continue reading I Am a Product of the Streaming Age