In the Gutter, Looking at Stars

Veronika Lee, Entertainment Editor

Women are devout consumers of music. We savor and chew and swallow the magic of it and interpret it in such heartfelt ways that it strikes me as sad that there are fewer female critics. The new Alcest record to me physically makes me euphoric – and I’m sure there are many who can relate – but their passionate voices for art are not being heard. Maybe this is a commentary on today’s society where it appears the only thing one can be motivated or passionate about is politics. But then again I think of The Beatles – women essentially launched them into superstardom and then male music writers were gifted the laurels of critical gaze when their music matured.


On Friday, Oct. 25 French blackgaze band Alcest released their sixth studio album, “Spiritual Instinct.” I had to take a day out of my life to commit to listening to this album because that’s the kind of intense relationship I have with music. Right now in my Victorian Literature class with Dr. White, we’re reading Oscar Wilde, who famously said that art exists for art’s sake. In 1891, Wilde wrote “The Decay of Lying,” an essay about his Victorian society that was so committed to bland facts and about how art is the talent of good liars who can make us see the world in ways that are better than it really is. Wilde would have wanted his music critics to be beautiful liars who could understand and empathize with the worlds woven by artists.


When I listen to Alcest, or even music like that of Feck, which I reviewed a few weeks back, I am taken to another world. Music I love colors every moment of my day, so I was truly disappointed that all the reviews were basically regurgitations of their new record label’s press release. As an entertainment/performing arts-centric writer, I’ve pitched my evaluations to countless publications – some major and some quite minor. I have yet to get any bites for my writing in the music realm, and when I look at these bland descriptions, I see the majority of the authors are men. 


“Spiritual Instinct” feels like a physical ride at Epcot. Sometimes the music literally takes my breath away. The band invests quite a bit of time and energy on its corresponding artwork. This album has not-so-cryptic images of mythical griffins and isolated castles and chinks of armor. Alcest as a band has never necessarily plunged into an album with heavy basslines, but they do this time and it feels urgent and important to me as does the new incorporation of tremolo guitar riffs reminiscent of black metal predecessors Darkthrone and sharp keyboard additions that sound like Type O Negative. Aptly, the second track is named “Protection.” I use this band for escapism outside of my own existence and I often wonder, as a songwriter and musician myself, if Neige, the singer of Alcest, has to isolate himself, too, from the outrageous slings and arrows of this harrowing world we are living in. It’s this way of feeling for words in the dark that draws me to intense relationships with an artist’s work and again, I have to believe others feel this way, too. So it’s completely strange to me that all of the criticism of music these days is either about a press release’s intentions, the goals of a major label, or something equally insincere and contrived. And I guess that’s our reality in this “post Truth” world. Despite all of the existing social media mediums, despite all the avenues we have to be able to say what we want to say, there are still gatekeepers, and it’s a hard wall to break.


Passion about anything these days is no longer lingua franca. To sound excited or thrilled or enchanted is to sound disillusioned, misinformed. To sound “cool” in 2019 involves a certain detachment – you can politely say something was awesome “AF” but not even dare to express the vulgar etymology of that phrase. Music publications hope for equal levels of aloof disinterestedness. We discipline the overzealous. 


Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” He would have loathed the brutal realism of Twitter and the bland assessments of detached critics who are a dime a dozen. Each week we meet in the “Driftwood” office and discuss the following paper’s topics and there is a spark of excitement in the air whenever we talk about a film or video game or song that we all know. The energy and enthusiasm we all share in those moments is contagious and almost all of the time informs what I watch or listen to or read about the next week. I’m fortunate to be a part of this team this semester which gives me my own space to write about the stars I see and get to share with you, dear Reader.