Soothe the Savage Beast
Former model and member of San Francisco shoegaze outfit The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Miranda Lee Richards is no stranger to the West Coast music scene. Her work has a featherlight quality to it, ethereal and shimmering like a coastal, psychedelic-laced heatwave. With dreamy vocals in the vein of Mazzy Star — all haze and confection— it’s easy to listen to her words without actually hearing them. Despite the weightless feel, Richards’s fourth studio album, Existential Beast, is grounded in the sobering reality of a polarized modern-day America. Her songs explore not only political disjunction but the opposing forces within ourselves, often between animalistic urges and logic.
Richards doesn’t waste time getting to the point. The album opens with “Ashes and Seeds,” her voice surprisingly reassuring while delivering the lines, “I didn’t make these problems, but by them I’m burdened,” and, “will it make me feel better to sign angry letters?” The song, written pre-election, mirrors the feelings of frustration and helplessness felt by many. It’s a hypnotic, psychedelic call to action straight out of the Woodstock era.
Some songs are buoyed by hope while others, like the album’s lone rocker, “Wildwood,” ends with the grim conclusion, “The world cannot be saved and no one gets out alive.” “Golden Gate” breaks down into a reverb-drenched guitar solo that yields to Richards’s haunted, echoing vocals, which ask existential questions of the listener: “Is there such thing as integration of heart and mind, conscious and subconscious?” The abstract query, paired with psychedelic instrumentals, would feel campy coming from anyone else, but Richards manages to make it feel genuine and thought-provoking. Songs like “Autumn Sun” and “Oh Raven” hearken back to ’60s songwriter ballads with delicate fingerpicking and pastoral imagery.
The beauty of Existential Beast is its versatility. Depending on one’s mood, it can be a pick-me-up, lullaby or introspective backdrop. It’s the kind of album that demands several listens to fully grasp and offers something new every time. The tracklist is both refreshingly bold and familiar and Richards comes equipped with a voice to sooth the savage (existential) beast inside all of us.