Underscores Makes Music About the Anxiety of Being Alive – The Atlantic


Apparently one of the most exciting stories in music this year is a lack of excitement about music. In January, the question “Is old music killing new music?” went viral when a newsletter by the jazz historian Ted Gioia (republished by The Atlantic) highlighted data showing that, from 2020 to 2021, listenership for freshly released songs—in comparison with listenership for older songs—decreased. Gioia argued that the music industry had “lost confidence” in the new, and he shared anecdotes suggesting that kids today are strangely enamored with past generations’ hits. Many people who shared his post on social media used it as an opportunity to declare that listeners were stuck in a retro rut, that today’s music was bad, and that the internet had killed off the very concept of newness.

The conversation generally brushed past the fact that streaming allows us to quantify something that has always happened: People listen to their favorite songs, regardless of when those songs were released, over and over again. But the theory of the old killing the new clearly has broad appeal right now. As we enter the third year of a pandemic, the passage of time feels broken. More than a decade into the Spotify era, culture has fractured in a way that makes it harder to talk about the latest hot thing. The internet’s endless archives have put the past in direct competition with the present. Record labels, as Gioia pointed out, are recalibrating around this reality. Is our culture? Are our artists? When the past is endlessly available, does it shape how the future sounds?

As social media kicked around these questions, I was deep in the throes of an obsession with a new musician: underscores, the recording name of 21-year-old Devon Karpf, who makes intelligent, guitar-loaded electronic pop about the anxiety of being alive. So far their main claims to fame are opening for the hyperpop duo 100 Gecs and working with Blink-182’s Travis Barker. But Karpf’s 2021 debut album, fishmonger, sounds like an expertly produced band with a record deal and not, as is actually the case, an unsigned SoundCloud dabbler who was stuck in their parents’ house because of COVID-19. The music’s glitches, hip-hop backbeats, distorted vocals, and emo melodies feel very now—yet it also drips with nostalgia for 2000s pop punk, ’90s alt-rock, and, most surprising, far-from-cool Millennial touchstones such as MGMT and Cobra Starship. When I first heard the album, I couldn’t work out whether I was so taken by it because it was familiar, or because it wasn’t.

Fishmonger stayed on loop for me—and then underscores put out a follow-up EP, boneyard aka fearmonger, that was even better. The new songs careened from acoustic ballads to EDM freak-outs, with jeering keyboards and fragile, pouting melodies. The vocals seemed to slip between …….


RSS Feeds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts