Sonic collage that comes together to form a surprisingly cohesive message
The band Negativland has never shied away from contributing to the conversations that affect humanity as a whole. One of these greater overarching conversations was brought up in a recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. It opened the eyes of millions about the various social media websites located on the internet and their potential threats to society. This sparked a much needed conversation, one that’s further explored in Negativland’s newest album, The World Will Decide.
The experimental band, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, are known for their avant garde sound and even more avant garde members. Known recluse member of the band David Wills, who goes by “The Weatherman,” is a radio jamming enthusiast (which makes sense the more one listens to the newest album). Some members of the band occasionally come together on the radio show Over the Edge, which is a sound collage radio program known for its weird vibes and trippy tunes.
Listening to The World Will Decide is like waking up from the Matrix. It sounds like a dystopian world, like the backing track of a thriller–the part where the mystery is unfolding, where the unknown is all being made clear. Every sound is precisely pointed and intricately placed, and every beat lifts the listener high and higher into whatever elevated plane these musicians are on. The puzzle pieces that make up this album form an intricate message, one that’s hidden if people don’t pay too much attention. Right when the message is made clear, people will plummet.
One of those instances over the course of this album comes on “Before I Ask.” In the patches of sound bites that make up the quilt that is The World Will Decide, “Before I Ask” portrays an underlying feeling of panic that persists throughout the experience of the album. With the help of the voices of Siri, Alexa and Google, the song is able to convey a certain message about social media usage in this day and age, and how scary it can be. It contains the vocals of David “The Weatherman” Wills, who intensely shouts absurd questions into the void, each question getting weirder than the last. Like some songs on the album, this track contains a dark undertone in terms of sound. It’s the type of sound that makes people’s heart beat faster and faster, the feeling of uncertainty pushing down on them.
“Incomprehensible Solution” is another one of these songs. At first, it blends into the rest of the album, but there’s a shift in the middle. Halfway through, the beat changes and becomes more euphoric, still maintaining the use of futuristic synth. The chant, “incomprehensible problem, incomprehensible solution,” begins before fading out into nothingness, leaving the listener in a different realm of existence.
The deeply disturbing lyrics in “Failure” are masked by its childish jingle opening and upbeat rhythm maintained throughout. The beat progressively becomes more grotesque and messy as the song comes to fruition. It’s a song that goes through the motions of failure both good and bad, and all the uncertain parts in between. Uncertainty turns into full blown fear with the song, “I Didn’t Know I Was Dead.” If the question, “What the hell am I listening to?” didn’t arise while listening to the other songs, it’ll arise for this one. The sound and content of the song, simply put, will make your blood run cold.
“Anything Else” takes a different approach to portraying this social media message. It’s less pointed, and much softer. It’s set to a peaceful piano backdrop along with the addition of strings during the beat drop. It includes a man and a woman talking about communication and what the fading authenticity of the internet. The woman asks a question, the man answers, and each answer is followed by the question, “Anything else?” It’s a nice break away from the other more intense songs on the album like closer “The World Will Decide,” which goes on for about seven and a half minutes. Piano and strings are nowhere to be found, as darkness takes over.
Some songs are full-on existential, having less to do with technology and more to do with humanity. Listening to “We Can Really Feel Like We’re Here” is like watching the world as one knows it slipping away from them. Everything that used to be no longer is. The cut and paste sounds and words come together beautifully in this song by creating amazing imagery, combined with intense drum beats and once again, synth. This song isn’t just a sound collage, it’s a vision board.
Negativland created a masterful album with The World Will Decide, which encompasses the uncertainty of being human in a newfound digital world. The bits and pieces that make up the sound collage create a really impactful story, if one listens close enough. It combines the fear of the unknown, as well as the beauty within it. Maybe the world will decide people’s fate as humans continue to create more and more futuristic developments.