On Feb. 25, Sole released “Post American Studies” with frequent collaborator DJ Pain 1. It is, according to what’s available on most streaming services, his 27th full-length work.
On Feb. 24, with Russia’s violent military invasion of Ukraine, the world got a stark reminder of what makes his work must-listen each and every time he releases something new.
Sole’s work is so vital in his third decade of making pointed, crisp, aggressive rap albums because of its humanity. He’s become hyper-focused on the local and intimate, the way that policy and rhetoric play out in human lives and on a human scale, and he forces us to examine the narratives we traffic in that allow us to ignore human suffering.
Further, in his unrelenting discourse of forced self-examination, he tasks us with exploring how our beliefs are created and the intellectual emptiness of forcing people to pick arbitrary sides.
It is possible to believe that the United States has committed unspeakable imperial atrocities and that it is wrong for the Russian military to launch missiles that hit residential apartment buildings and force neonatal intensive care units and pediatric cancer wards to makeshift bomb shelters. We can be sad and angry for the Iraq War and the obliteration of Aleppo and still grieve for the human lives lost senselessly due to a contemporary demonstration of inhumanity.
We don’t have to ask, “What about?” We can be angry and sad about many things at once. And, Sole makes clear, we can be joyful and defiant and loving, even as we are angry and sad. We don’t just have to pick one.
“I don’t need no Nazi to tell me,” he raps with an almost weary clarity on “Welcome to the Future,” “The halls of the Capitol are empty/ Politicians hiding under their desks.”
It’s the kind of sentiment that leads even anti-war activists to express admiration for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he stands on the streets of Kyiv and tells the U.S. he needs ammunition, not a ride to safety. Who is this world leader who seems to put the people he serves before himself? It almost doesn’t seem possible in our heyday of disingenuous discourse designed only to tally points on some imaginary political scoreboard (or, worse, to raise money).
But Sole also makes clear that he “don’t need no heroes” and on the catchy and listenable “Lightbringer” he intersperses savage verses of calls for radical transparency and new alternatives – “Democrats in office/ We’re still fucked, just get real/ It’s 2021/ How that boot on your neck feel?” – with Unwoman’s languid chorus: “Bring the light/ Burn the sky/ Torch our lives/ Break it all into parts.”
At his core, Sole offers a call to action. He makes clear that he has dropped out of the rat race as far as he can go and encourages us to do the same: “Staring into my screen, like what we gonna do?/ Y’all I promise this will be my last Zoom call … It’s either hell or utopia/ It’s either new forms of life or new forms of controlling you.”
Which are you going to choose?
It can sound bleak, yes. On “The Collapsing 20s,” though, and in lots of intimate moments, like one of his young children mic-checking with a sense of wonder at the open of “Surrounded” as an ’80s guitar line plays in the background, Sole makes clear he’s not a nihilist. By deploying Ursula Le Guin’s famous speech to the National Book Awards in 2014 – “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of Kings.” – he calls on, as she says, “some real grounds for hope.” After all, “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
And, hey, he offers, “It ain’t every day you get to watch an empire fall.”
Of course, no one will accuse Sole of being an optimist, either. Even as he collaborates with the likes of Decomposure to create eminently singable refrains, they still contain lyrics like, “Losing my breath to a burning sky/ Wound in my chest for the left behind.” The climate crisis, he predicts, won’t be addressed in a meaningful enough fashion to avoid large-scale suffering. Capitalism won’t go quietly. COVID-19 is just a taste of what’s to come.
He is adamant, in “Plague Days,” that “it’s a fucking fact that this thing you call America is dead already.”
Maybe that’s provocative. But maybe it’s what people need to accept if society is to create a more perfect future. The past ain’t coming back.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Sydney the Singer, “Sad Szn” — While she’s had a few singles out recently, and done some backing vocals on local tracks, this three-song EP represents a bit of a coming-out party for Sydney, who offers here some radio-ready R&B that feels right in the moment. The standout is “Easy Way Out,” where she shows off a variety of deliveries and reminds us of Loretta Allen and the Other Bones. And anytime you get a Sarah Violette hit, that’s a good thing.
• OHX and Anna Lombard, “Push” — Now focused on her work with Jon Roods and Dan Connor in the rootsy Love by Numb3rs, Lombard here makes it clear that she is more than capable of doing dance music, R&B, and something just a little breathy. OHX, per usual, shows off their vocalist with aplomb, with glittering production beds and a thumping backbeat.
• FonFon Ru, “Don’t Let the Cat Out” — The first single off the forthcoming “Collapse of the Silver Bridge,” this is straight-ahead rock with a political twist and a thrumming bass line: “I should be part of the middle class/ But y’all went ahead and got rid of it.”
• Flight, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” — A new young bluegrass quartet birthed from 317 Main St. in Yarmouth, Flight has released full-length “Next Wednesday,” full of covers both traditional and, like this one, less so. Listen for Carter Logan’s banjo as it makes a variety of appearances.
• Denim Condom, “Adventures in Capitol Park” — This two-song single, the brainchild of Naythen Wilson in Belgrade, is just 22 seconds long. The pair of jaunty, jingle-style tunes just might send you down an outsider-music rabbit hole, though. Truly weird stuff.
— Sam Pfeifle