Even though we know that humanity is doomed, we haven’t stopped making or listening to music. Unsurprisingly, most people have opted to listen to old favorites, looking for comfort and nostalgia in a time of great uncertainty. Those of us who have kept focused on the present have been inundated with a seemingly endless stream of new music, much of it made just for this one moment of time by artists who have resigned themselves to no hope of legacy or lasting success.
A lot of the music is about the end. There are songs about fearing death, songs about embracing death. You hear songs about having faith that the apocalypse will not come, and others that cynically doubt that we’re actually in the end times. Some songwriters try to be rational or humorous about it all, while a lot of it is just nonsensical ramblings of undiluted panic and rage. Weirdos sing about their crackpot conspiracy theories. They point fingers, they blame themselves. They sing about how they think it will end, and how they want it to happen. People romanticize being part of the final generation of humanity, and revel in nihilism and hedonism. Everyone keeps covering and remixing and quoting “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine),” and it always sounds stupid. Aside from all that, a lot of the music is the same as it ever was—you know, songs about love and sex and pain and ego.
We pay particular attention to the famous musicians. We hear the stuff they had in the works before the bad news came, but the songs written after all that resonate more. Kanye’s real-time nervous breakdown mirrors our collective self-involved insanity, and it starts to seem like Lady Gaga was always meant to be the diva of the apocalypse. Random bands pop up out of nowhere and nail one specific fleeting feeling, and then someone else comes along and perfectly expresses the next sudden mood swing. With so many people doing so many things so quickly, there has been a rapid turnover in movements, revivals, and sub-genres. There was a month where everything seemed to have brass instruments going through extreme auto-tune effects, and the brief explosion of schizocore, this thing where kids had beats drastically accelerating and decelerating at seemingly random intervals. The memes spread, splinter off, die out, and the next thing comes along. Even with all of this delightful novelty, people complain about fads and pretend to be above it all while clinging to some notion of timelessness even as we keep running out of time.
Even though we’re all listening to different things, suddenly all this music seems important again, like it expresses something crucial about how we relate to one another. The production of everything else—books, movies, scripted television, comic books, video games—ground to a halt, but the music kept coming, flowing from hard drives to speakers around the world. Ironic, really—the technology that killed the record industry kept music alive and vital when other forms of art became a hassle.
Maybe we’ve become shortsighted. The music of the past only matters when it comforts us, or offers a new perspective on the moment. The future is impossible, so people are emboldened to take creative risks (who knew that Grizzly Bear had it in them to get so heavy, or that Zola Jesus would end up making a goth Meatloaf album?), reunite after long absences (FUGAZI! FUGAZI! FUGAZI!) or forge unexpected, wonderful alliances, like that amazing LCD Soundsystem EP with Beyonce and Big Boi. It all keeps coming faster and faster. Music from three months ago seems incredibly old. The Gauntlet Hair album may as well be Nirvana; Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter IV feels about as old as Public Enemy or Frank Sinatra. Every new now is both fascinating and boring, but totally amazing because it’s here and we’re alive and there’s still something left to say, to feel, to discover.
Matthew Perpetua is the proprietor of Fluxblog.