Bearing witness to the baroque clusterf*ckery of the world is no longer voluntary. We are all forced to watch. Every possible catastrophe vibrates in our pockets, demanding to be witnessed. In his second album, Forced Witness, out September 8th on Secretly Canadian, Alex Cameron’s solution to the difficulties we face is a danceable and dangerous earnestness, a sense of honesty that heals and relieves even as it cleaves us or makes us laugh in self-defense. He’s offering us vivid portraits of misfits who look at the world without illusion.
Recorded in Berlin, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas and produced by Cameron along withFoxygen’s Jonathan Rado, these tracks at first seem shamelessly entertaining, the driving rhythms and rousing melodies embellished at every turn by Roy Molloy’s warm hornwork. But the love songs and anthems of personal resilience contain as much raw humanity as they do a savvy grasp of the impossible loneliness of the times, especially apparent in the song, “Stranger’s Kiss” — Cameron’s affecting duet with Angel Olsen (who also sings backup on lead single, “Candy May”). The defiantly bloody knuckles in “Runnin’ Outta Luck,” co-written by and featuring Brandon Flowers, and the grime of wet dreams in “Country Figs”occupy the same space as the great sadness of the internet in the catchy and contemplative song “True Lies,” in which Cameron sings about that buzzing hive of randomized sexuality where we can either submit to the stirrings in our own laps or let our fragile hopes catfish us. Penultimate track “Marlon Brando,” is, as Cameron describes it, “a study of a man in the hopeless pursuit of a woman. He is a familiar character in the world, a self-assured jock, a dullard, a low grade human who uses a specific kind of language when he finds a situation outside of his control. The song’s lyrics present a damning indictment of homophobia and misogyny and their genesis in toxic masculinity.”
If there is darkness in these songs, it is not because taboos can titillate but because Cameron knows that confession has a redeeming power and that people are often at their most startlingly beautiful when their skies have fallen. These songs are alive with the rich detail of life lived and the radical distinctiveness of the stories they tell feel universal. In these chaotic times when we aren’t able to look away, Cameron is offering us a pure account of the world as he’s seen it.
Molly Burch was exposed to the arts at an early age. Growing up in Los Angeles with a writer/producer father and a casting director mother, Burch’s childhood was filled with old Hollywood musicals and the sounds of Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. After finding her voice in adolescence, Burch packed up for the University of North Carolina in Asheville to study Jazz Vocal Performance.
“I was always really interested in singing before songwriting. I didn’t always have the confidence to write,” Molly says, “Initially it was more about finding the right songs to complement my voice.” And that voice is the first thing you’ll notice on Burch’s debut album, Please Be Mine. It’s smoky, with an incredible range, effortlessly evocative of her early influences. It was in Asheville where Burch would meet guitarist Dailey Toliver, who plays on her debut, and who inspired much of its music.
Searching for a bigger pond, Burch moved to Austin, Texas in an effort to stand on her own two feet. There, Burch began to write her own music in earnest, with the lovelorn Everly Brothers and Sam Cooke as her songwriting guides. Joined by Toliver in Austin a year later, the two connected with Dan Duszynski of Cross Record, and they recorded all the songs on Please Be Mine at his idyllic studio in Dripping Springs, Texas. Motivated by the hourly rate, Burch and her band recorded all the basic tracks and vocals live in one room and in one day, with minimal overdubs for keys and back-up vocals happening a day later. A difficult task for any talented musician, it becomes more mind-blowing when you hear her belt it on tracks like “Downhearted” and “I Love You Still.”
We’re all lucky Molly started writing music simply to complement her voice, as we’ve discovered a great new American songwriter in the process.