- Strangled Darlings, Twenty Twenty
(Self-released, CD, digital)
"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted," Sarah Michelle Gellar's pseudointellectual porn star character Krysta Now says in the divisive cult film Southland Tales. As philosopher Steven Shaviro points out in his 2010 book Post-Cinematic Affect, this line is (intentionally) ridiculous, since "'futuristic' is not an objective category but an anticipatory inflection of the present."
That definition aptly describes the futurism of indie-pop outfit Strangled Darlings' Twenty Twenty, their fifth full-length album. The formerly peripatetic duo of Jess Anderly and George Veech, now based in Bethel, assesses the present with astute commentary and progressive production. But the musicians' vectors shoot unambiguously forward — much like the RV they lived in for three years while touring America. By chronicling and criticizing hot socioeconomic and political topics of today — namely consumerism and political division — they linger on societal elements that are likely to shape what's to come.
Are Strangled Darlings pessimists? Not exactly. In fact, I think they gaze hopefully toward the future's glowing horizon. Just look at that album art. Indeed, Anderly and Veech created life during the pandemic. And I'm sure they imagine a better world for their son, Asa, even as Twenty Twenty immerses listeners in the messy present.
Building on a repertoire largely considered modern folk, the quarantined couple pushed their sonic limits for the new record. Often steeped in stimulating minor keys, the songs are more adventurous than ever, such as the dub excursion "Alabama" and the sleek, sophisti-pop intro of "Robin Hood." Throughout, the electronic production and Veech's quickly paced, spoken-word breakdowns stand out.
"No Accident" opens the album with a nostalgic air. Its acoustic guitar, thick handclaps and smooth organ are friendly, safe and inviting.
Switching to a sharp, punctuated groove, "Pocket Full of Maybes" is Strangled Darlings' answer to "We Didn't Start the Fire." But rather than let listeners draw their own conclusions from an inane list like Billy Joel did, Veech gives listeners more to go on. He braids together contemporary cultural touchstones and current events with vigor, spitting sour rhymes like an auctioneer.
The album is so packed with ear-catching moments that it's difficult to properly catalog them. The tinny boom-baps on "Linger On" flow forward and backward, as if stepping in and out of a "timestile" in Christopher Nolan's thriller Tenet. The percussive "Terrible Monsters" is texturally captivating, with marimbas providing a bony foundation. And the aforementioned "Robin Hood," an earworm of mammoth proportions, is a shape-shifting jam that seesaws between plodding verses and a twinkling chorus.
Twenty Twenty captivates from start to finish. Anderly and Veech have always been social commentators, but here their incisive observations and witty verbiage are more precise, relevant and relatable than ever.
Twenty Twenty will be available at strangleddarlings.com on Friday, April 9. The same day, the band celebrates its release with a livestream performance on Facebook at 9 p.m.