Right place, right time
It’s a possibility that one of the effects of the pandemic and resulting lockdown is a major shift in the types of artists that get big in the music industry. One of the (many) things that social distancing guidelines make more difficult is the production of music, which is even harder with members in the band. And one of the genres that stands the most to gain is the folk genre. Take Ani DiFranco. She’s a well-established folk artist who started her own label in 1989 and released her debut (self-titled) album the next year. Her new record, Revolutionary Love, comes almost an entire year into the United States’ collective pandemic experience, and it does touch on a fair few topics of the day. And something about this style of music is just unbelievably ‘of the moment.’
The album’s first song, “Revolutionary Love,” is a statement of defiance, of seeing a world that wants you to hate yourself and those around you and choosing love instead. That message resonates particularly well now, with a lot of societal issues and division between groups—choosing love is an extremely well-received message right now. And it’s through messages like the central theme of “Revolutionary Love” that folk can find such a purchase. It’s a deeply emotional, intimate genre, one that cuts to the heart of cultural problems in a very distinct way. And, at the same time, due to a lot of folk songs employing storytelling and narrative structures, they can remain distanced.
The album’s second song is even more emotionally intense than the first. “Bad Dream” is about being blindsided by the loss of a relationship, one that is implied to have been crumbling for some time but which the narrator was unaware of the cracks in. It’s a melodic interpretation of the first stage of grief, denial. It’s a story about having the rug pulled out from under one so fast they don’t notice they’ve fallen. It just hits.
But it doesn’t hit as hard as the third track “Chloroform,” even if it’s for a different reason. This one is exceptionally weird in the context of the rest of the album. It’s a rough, harsh, discordant sound that spins a stranger story about a loved one losing their mind and forcibly putting them to sleep. This is a jarring listening experience, as “Chloroform” is the only song on Revolutionary Love that is somewhat of a challenge to listen to. Every other track follows one of folk’s greatest strengths—the inherent intimacy of music and the ways in which people experience it. So many folk or folk-adjacent artists keep the instrumentation light and acoustic, natural sounding, and “Chloroform” is heavy, dense and absolutely intense. And after it’s done, the album picks up right where it left off.
It would be foolish to sit here and say nothing but ‘folk does this’ or ‘folk does that,’ but genres contain trends and commonalities, and Revolutionary Love is a pretty archetypal example of a folk album. And it’s entirely possible this album would not be as excellent as it is if it had been a more normal year, but folk just has a way of hitting a desire to interact with others, to tell stories. And all of that’s not even mentioning the overt social and political messages on “Station Identification,” whose few words are mostly “I have a dream,” and “Do or Die,” which directly references the sheetless KKK on Pennsylvania Avenue. That can’t even be called subtext, that’s just text.
Revolutionary Love is extremely current. That’s not a bad thing or a good thing inherently, but it’s undeniable that an album of this type is where it is. It’s easy on the ears (except the aforementioned “Chloroform”), talks about relevant issues and keeps the time old tradition of entertaining ourselves with songs in terrible times alive. This is not to say the album (or folk) is big because of the pandemic—folk has been skirting around the mainstream for some time now—but love it or hate it, you can see why it’s here right now. A word of advice—give it a listen. There will be something that will resonate, and that’s something that the world needs a bit more of.