America is lying in tatters, or at least the nearly 65 million people who turned out on the 8th November to vote for Hillary are. Watching Obama hand over the White House to that fecal monstrosity was akin to watching one of my kids laboriously build a sandcastle only for one of the others to smash it underfoot within seconds of its completion. Enter Kevin Abstract and his second studio album American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. Although certainly a coincidence that this album's release has fallen during such a dark time for the USA, it goes a long way to capturing some of the fears and concerns we have all read about over the last couple of weeks. Essentially an autobiographical concept album, it focuses on life in 21st century America from the point of view of a gay, black teenager.
The album feels like a whirling maelstrom of ups and downs, never stopping long enough to settle into a pattern. Like most relationships, euphoric highs are tethered by crippling lows. One minute, a song like Empty will invoke a nostalgia of standing outside the house of a teenage infatuation on a 12 speed bike, 'emotions tattooed on my sleeve'. The next, the song will twist and indicate that the narrator hates his 'yearbook photo', 'passport', 'last name' and 'everything it stands for'. Things that define a young person have become disposable to him because of what they represent. Then we realise that he isn't standing outside through choice, he's there because he has nowhere else to go.
Interspersed between the songs hang awkward interludes, unfinished thoughts that sit like pages from a teenager's hurriedly hidden journal. There is also usage of excerpts from Brokeback Mountain, a film famously telling the story of two ranch hands who enter into a relationship despite having different levels of understanding and comfort with their own sexualities. Both of these feel like clever tactics by Kevin Abstract to project the brain of a teenager. Confused thoughts, media influenced but ultimately, often inconclusive.
The narrator also talks in detail about his feelings towards himself and themes of loneliness and rejection are heavily explored. Abstract ran away from home when he was a teenager and he speaks openly about this in Echo. He describes how he turned to drugs as a way out before saying 'he was a bad son//so he left home', undoubtedly the words of someone else that he cannot unhear. Papercut and Miserable America feel almost like companion pieces. The first talks about rejecting homosexuality, the narrator says 'the hardest part of my day is wishing I was fucking straight//life could be so fucking easy man'. The latter talks about wanting to accept homosexuality but feeling trapped in denial, 'claustrophobic' at being 'stuck in the closet'.
The musical style reminds me of the times I love Imogen Heap the most, simplistic melodies that place all the emphasis on the voice and the meaning of the words. That's what makes this album work on so many levels. It's about fitting in and it's about standing out. It's about loving someone and hating yourself. It's about loving yourself and hating everyone else. It's about contradictions and there is no greater contradiction in the human experience than being a teenager, especially being black and gay in a country where racism and homophobia is still so alarmingly prevalent.
Abstract talks about teenagers on 'imperfect lonely roads', forced to accept an identity that is false because there is no-one to support them in discovering their true path. Those roads are only becoming more imperfect as we move into a time where increasing numbers of marginalised American communities are going to feel like nobody is listening. By invoking the dreamy quality of young love and juxtaposing it against the isolation that he and millions of others feel, Kevin Abstract has captured tragedy in its truest form.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“His views kinda different from my outlook that's why he's gorgeous”
America in flux
Where one man can share his pain
Others will follow
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