Maybe it’s because the world is fucked up. Maybe life is more confusing now than it was fifty years ago. If you use music as a litmus test for the world around us this certainly seems to be the case. Don’t even think about lyrics for a second, just listen to the notes. Tensions aren’t always released, melodies only resolve part of the time, and one of the most important memes of our modern vocabulary is dissonance, when two notes don’t match or harmonize in a conventional way.
You can hear it on Someday Came Suddenly, the most recent release from the Ohio-based Screamo band Attack Attack. A kick drum fires off like D-Day under a bed of growling synths. Detuned guitars don’t so much punctuate as puncture the foundation laid by an impossibly low bass and the thrash of jagged cymbals. Way up in the front of the mix is a voice that alternates between sickly sweet hooks and distorted screeches.
But all of this is just timbre. When I say dissonance I mean that moment in their lead single “Stick Stickly” where the bottom drops out of the verse and the notes stop making sense. That riff in “Shred, White and Blue” that sounds like Mozart’s nightmares. These choices aren’t random. They’re intentionally, purposefully discordant. It’s a sonic landscape that is based in confusion, the kind of confusion that comes out a society as complicated and disordered as ours.
And the most prominent dissonance on this record isn’t in the notes, it’s right there in the lyrics. After a few listens it becomes apparent that the “you” being referred to isn’t a girl, or even a human. In this case the “you” is God. And they’re not talking about God as an adversary like most hardcore and punk songs. No, this is the same “you” that they talk about on Sundays and Easter, the same “you” that Mahalia Jackson was talking about.
There’s nothing sordid or treacherous about this. The point of music is to communicate in as many different ways as possible. God is just another subject, another concept to discuss. The great thing about music is the breadth of ideas it covers, and God is certainly an important idea for many people. There’s a long-standing tradition of gospel and vocal harmony groups singing about God and while it’s not mainstream, it’s a completely viable way to discuss religion.
It’s another thing entirely to talk about God over heavy music. For most people this kind of presentation would appear to be a contradiction. Distortion pedals aren’t traditionally seen in church, and you seldom hear someone screaming God’s praises. God and aggressive music is the kind of pairing that people say doesn’t work. It’s kind of like sand in the baby powder, kind of like mixing oil and water. Kind of like two notes that don’t match.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org