Tuesday 13th September 2022
"Much like Odysseus and Co., on our journey to make the 'difficult second album,' shit got rough," Youngblood says. "A few of us heeded the siren call of 'side projects.' Tumultuous relationships and periods of Imposter Syndrome also impeded progress.
"Worst of all, I couldn't write a chorus," Youngblood continues. "And for a band that worships The Chorus, this was problematic."
Well, the choruses eventually came, and the result is Rookie. Like the band's 2008 debut, Partie Traumatic, the album is a pastiche of the pop of previous decades. You hear the exuberant synth pop, Britpop, and indie rock of the first album, but what else is that in there? Daft Punk? Some Cocteaus? Fleetwood Mac?
"[The track] 'IFFY' sounds like bloody Carly Rae Jepsen," says one anonymous listener. "And I think they'd just had a listen to their old Ace of Base cassettes when they sat down to write 'All The Emotions.' Fucking hell, Black Kids -- I still can't tell whether they're having a laugh."
Says Youngblood, "We still genre-hop, we still make grotesque, saccharine hybrids. We're still beholden, religiously, to the form and structure of The Pop Song."
It was that pop devotion that originally propelled the Jacksonville, Florida-born band to music-press stardom, including receiving Pitchfork's Best New Music for their 2007 Wizard of Ahhhs EP. The next year saw the Columbia Records release of Partie Traumatic (which broke the Top 5 in the U.K.) and its attendant world tours, festival performances, and late-night-TV appearances. Lead single "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" soundtracked everything from sweaty club nights to blockbuster movies. And you still hear it out.
After touring exhaustively in support of Partie Traumatic, Youngblood and his bandmates -- bassist Owen Cohen and keyboardists/vocalists Ali Youngblood and Dawn Watley -- resettled around the U.S., in Brooklyn, Portland, and Athens, Georgia. Reggie started a power-pop group called Blunt Bangs. Owen released records on Kill Rock Stars under the moniker Gospel Music. Ali and Dawn sang and played and crafted. In late 2015, the four convened in Athens to make Rookie. The album was recorded and coproduced by Andy LeMaster at Chase Park Transduction.
Rookie is more lyrically earnest than its predecessor, and Youngblood notes that the "bratty-ness" is toned down -- "but just a lil' bit," he says. "Yeah, the themes from our debut are still firmly in place on our sophomore: I love you, but you don't love me; you love me, but I don't love you; you're mean, I'm mean -- shall we dance?"
Intuition led her to other musical shifts: namely, in her own vocals. “When I made a noise, I thought ‘this is what this song wants to sound like’. My voice is different on this too. The way I’d been singing had changed. Part of me thought I didn’t even know how to sing anymore. That felt really uncomfortable, but it was the way it wanted to come out.”
The subject matter is violation - of power, of love, of access - a pain that may not belong to her alone, but she strives to make sense of what’s being enacted on others. “The people abusing don't see themselves that way. Basically, there's nothing you can do,” she says.
Anger sears on tracks like the burning of us all (“The way they gaslit, swallowed it whole…The way they tried to make them hate the ones they loved”) and flesh and blood (“I will suck the poison out…and spit it back into the black holes of their open mouths”)
Handling the pain of others is delicate, and comes with responsibility. “I’m being protective, because they’re about other people. I wanted it to be a comforting noise,” she explains.
All is underpinned by a deep sense of love. only the sound of the sea would save them imagines a moment’s comfort, found in the elements. until the truth of you offers to bear the pain to spare the beloved (“Give me your sorrow/Give me your blood”). bring me to your open wounds, she pleads, on the album’s most candid, devastating lyric. (“Into them I’ll cry/ And I will lick you clean, my love/ And let you bleed me dry.”)
Abuse, and its deadening silences, can suffocate even the strongest. In crafting these songs, Joseph offers a window into these toxic patterns that she hopes could save someone.
“Partly, it feels like the only thing I can do in terms of saying it out loud,” she says. “It’s like code. No-one will hear their name, or recognise themselves, but in years to come, they might.
“For me, I think maybe there’s someone who might not even realise that they're being abused until they listen to these songs. The ones who are already - I know how strong they are. They’re in my life, and they're surviving it.”
The record is an act of tribute: for you, who are the wronged.
To survivors, their strength and their courage to go on.
“That's what I want to do,” she explains. “Take sore things and them be a document, for people that I love, and the truth of their lives not being told. They don't believe that about themselves, that they're the beautiful and good.
“I want them to know. This is my only way of doing that.”
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