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Active Listening: A pair of songs for the end of days

Two things to watch and hear.

People have always imagined the apocalypse. It’s a fundamentally human fixation that taps into questions about why we exist at all. Perhaps when everything finally ends, some of it will make sense. Lately, the apocalypse seems to occupy a more central focus in the public conscious as existential threats to humanity, like climate change and nuclear annihilation, become increasingly unavoidable dilemmas. It was only last week when Hurricane Harvey submerged the 4th largest city in the U.S, killing 60 people, and when monsoons in South Asia killed 1,200 people. This week, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic is set to make landfall in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, before possibly barrelling towards Florida.

And then there’s The President of The United States. The Trump administration’s crass dissolution of DACA, which protected roughly 800,000 people who’ve lived in the U.S since childhood from deportation, is a chilling reminder that despite his unpopularity, Donald J. Trump is still the most powerful man in America.

It’s a fitting time to turn to music to sort through the feelings that each new crisis brings. This week, two songs emerged that considered the apocalypse in emotional terms. What does it feel like at the end of it all?

Oneohtrix Point Never, “The Pure and the Damned (ft. Iggy Pop)”

The Safdie brothers’ latest film, Good Time, is a slow-burning thriller that feels apocalyptic in its own way. The movie zooms in on a single night during which the central character Connie Nikas, played by Robert Pattinson, feverishly tries to get his brother out of prison after a botched bank robbery that he was responsible for. The film is beautifully shot and refreshingly stylish, offering a sleek view of New York that’s endearing in its honesty. There are close ups in the movie that stick with you. Pattinson’s confused and intense stare is eerily pleading, like his character knows the certainty of his fate but can’t help but keep running. The music video for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “The Pure and the Damned,” the song in the film’s closing credits, imagines an alternate ending to the movie that retains a different, perhaps more subtly tumultuous outcome. The song relies on a sparse arrangement, with reverberated piano keys punctuating Iggy Pop’s brooding reminder: both the pure and the damned are doomed.

Corbin, “Giving Up”

The cover to Corbin's album Mourn

The cover to Corbin's album Mourn

The singer Corbin, who formerly created experimental R&B under the name Spooky Black, is skilled at triggering listeners’ latent teenage angst. His debut album, Mourn, which was released this week, is precisely the type of project a moody teenager would have dreamt up. According to a press release, the album is “loosely based on the narrative where a reclusive male protagonist convinces his lover to move into a bunker in the woods due to the current state of affairs in the country. He then dies in a plane crash and she subsequently passes away after moving back home.” Surely with calamity at every corner, the notion of leaving society behind and decamping to the woods is alluring. Tech billionaires definitely seem keen on the idea. It’s what makes the record resonate, even in its more macabre moments. The song “Giving Up,” for example, is a perfect fit for the current mood. “Can’t go back to before, quit lying,” Corbin howls at one point. If you’re like me, and have become increasingly raptured by the thought of what exactly comes after a Donald Trump presidency, this might be the soundtrack to your dread.

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