I’m naming a new music/lyric style category in my mind, and I’m calling it The New Clarity, and you’re welcome to borrow it if you find it useful too. This is in response both to the ongoing mixing process for The Lakes of Zones B and C and me listening to Big Thief for the first time a few hours ago, specifically the track “Simulation Swarm.” (Listening to that track before reading this text will make a lot of what follows more comprehensible. I don’t know if the rest of Big Thief’s work fits in with what I write below but having done a quick scan and seen some live videos I think it might.)
This style has two vectors: lyric and audio.
In audio: gone are all the decadent trappings of slack, the weighty baggage of shoegaze, the preoccupation with damage and distortion and overwhelming the senses. Those things have been replaced by what we hear in “Simulation Swarm”: each instrument is clearly audible, fundamental tones are loudest and overtones are harmonic rather than dissonant, mid-heavy mayo like reverb and delay are used sparingly if at all, percussive elements have fast attack and decay, vocals are clear, room sound is a detail, not centered, performances are studied and rehearsed, tight where appropriate and deliberately loose where appropriate.
In lyrics: gone are all the decadent trappings of slack/post-slack/re-slack indie silliness, the weighty dramatic self-serious baggage of neo-goth, the uncritical glorification of solipsistic narcissism. Those things have been replaced by what we hear in “Simulation Swarm”: each word exists for a purpose, each word could be no other, each word the absolute minimum needed for maximal impact. The words give rise to a clear new emotion, lend form to the chaos of the world as it changes, imply a utopia without preaching, and form concrete but bewildering images which leave the listener with a lot of work to do in projecting multi-interpretative inner cinema that matches.
In both, the artists in Big Thief have freed themselves from the invisible tyranny in place since the emergence of industrial counterculture which requires artists to transgress first and create only as an afterthought to rebellion. The New Clarity tells us with its form to rebel by creating, to start with the building and not waste energy kicking at the old forms as they crumble into themselves, made obsolete not by our railing-against but by our moving-beyond.
All of the above are things I have always longed to do with music and hearing it happen in my headphones when I listened to Big Thief was thrilling, but I think it’s happening in other places too. If I find other examples I will post them here. If I read this in a few days and think I’m wrong I’ll clarify further.
Edit: Phoebe Bridgers, “Garden Song,” has the same properties. Total New Clarity track.