THE PARANOID STYLE – Rolling Disclosure (Bar/None): I maintain frontwoman Elizabeth Nelson is an avowed leftist—a skeptical one, sure, and never dogmatic—because if there’s one thing I don’t appreciate it, it’s a healthy dose in any bulletin-from-the-newsfront of both-siderism. This DC-based outfit take their name from an essay by a guy who also wrote a book called Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which comes to the rather dark conclusion that intellectualism and democracy are largely incompatible. But this album, political but not preachy, transcends both the intellectually bankrupt ‘both sides do it’ and tribal instinct of retreating into unbending ideology. It’s a punk album. It’s loud as shit. And it’s one of the best things you’ll hear in 2016.
Nelson and her husband and bandmate Timothy were at one point lobbyists, which I imagine drove them to the brink of their sanity given the explosiveness of their two EPs and now this, their first full-length, which like The Purposes of Music in General and Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall combines a dark sense of humor with the grim realities of our intertwining institutions—social, economic, democratic—lacing every lyric with multiple meanings. Like how “They say it’s a sin to live off other people’s sadness / But how the fuck else can you maintain your status?” from “Cathedral Lows” isn’t just an obvious jab at rich capitalists profiting off our backs, but an invitation to reflect on how we move day-to-day through a technological and material world of wonder that is largely the product of immense human suffering, most of which we could give up if life weren’t so pesky without a smartphone. (What’re we supposed to do—read books?) They jokingly suggest that the constant streams of horror emanating from 24-hour news networks “can’t all be that because it’s all so entertaining,” because, hey, it comes out of the same box as Top Chef, and Top Chef is great!
They shrug off how the masters of the universe “plan for the best” only to “head for the hills” should this great experiment collapse, the way those still comfortably middle class passively ask themselves “Winter is coming, so where should I summer?” as though waiting for Real Adults to clean up the mess is a viable option. I’ve made the Blondie comparison before, but it’s worth repeating: Nelson sounds like a version of Debbie Harry who graduated summa cum laude in poli sci and realized how useless it is if you want to do anything good in the world.
On Rolling Disclosure the Paranoid Style do the impossible—distill all the incongruous, contradictory, and frankly whacko ingredients that go into Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style, pulled from the antics of rightwing politicos and pundits, aging hippie primitive-utopists, Silicon Valley techno-dystopists, and dutiful centrists-at-all-costs, all of whom share an affinity for the scourge of conspiracy theory, hypocrisy, and doublethink, and articulate it line by line into a simultaneously worrisome and hilarious guidebook of America’s fringe-cultures-gone-mainstream, all wrapped in an indefatigable punching guitar attack. It’s impossible to highlight in a review every brilliant, acidic line Nelson delivers. You’d be better off sitting with a lyrics sheet that has one annotation at the very end: Absolutely right the fuck on. A