I'm not particularly wild about the recent explosion of singers who mix the flavor of R&B with valium-vocals and production that lends everything a hollow stadium sound. Something about the way they present themselves as the drained husk of a once vital person reminds me of all the worst parts of Infinite Jest, when Wallace would devote over thirty pages to characters who spent their time obsessing over just how wretched it was to feel nothing at all. What these characters, and these artists (singers such as Lana Del Rey
and all of their ilk) seem to miss is that they're not complaining about an absence of feeling at all but about the absence of positive feeling: if they were truly empty then they would feel nothing and so would lack the impulse to complain. What they are really doing is dressing up legitimate pain with the affected cool of apathy and distance.
In doubt? Just scope Banks
, a prominent example of this species, and her recent appearance at NPR's Tiny Desk Concert. Unable to hide behind the mounds of gauzy effects that coat her album and forced to make do in this stripped-down space with a stripped-down backing outfit, she can only play the mumbling, doped-up zombie for so long before something in her music starts clamping down on her nerves. It's in these moments that she stops muttering and actually sings with a result that is nothing if not pleasing. No, she's not the finest or most soulful vocalist alive and her lyrics might be less than stellar but there's a developing singer underneath the veneer of aloof iceman who has talent and emotions that warrant mining.
Judge for yourself below: