We were all in a weird place during quarantine. For many of us, that meant suddenly remembering a song or album we hadn’t heard in a decade or so, diving deep into memories of the time period in which it played a role in our lives, and ultimately realizing for the first time just how bizarre the music is. For me, that was the Christian rock I was spoon fed as a pre-teen (what a strange industry!), while the weird which ex-Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer revisited was a bit more wide-ranging, providing a more complex palette for her debut solo album than what her band ever crafted.
If “extreme” and “unhinged” feel like terms that are a bit too aggressive for Barbarism’s minimal, subtly warped electronic sounds, maybe try giving the record another spin or two. Greer’s warbling vocal effect may immediately signal the left-of-centeredness of the project, yet repeated listens will likely reveal the record’s patchwork collaginess, both in terms of influence and in terms of the instrumentals’ neary perceptible stitches holding everything in place. The result is something Frankensteinian less in the sense of terror it evokes and more in the stirring humanity its many facets represent.
“I think perhaps being in quarantine, a lot of my listening habits while making this record were just me looking for stimulation, something to break up the tedium of the monotonous day-to-day, and the creeping dread of not knowing how long it would last and how quickly the world was deteriorating,” Greer shares of the music she was listening to while the album came together. “I like to feel like music is hitting me viscerally, I want it to grab me by the shoulders and make me pay attention.”
With the record out now, Greer shaped a playlist of some of the tracks that meet this criteria, which aided her in creating a collection of songs that “felt like being lost in the wilderness.” Check out the playlist and her descriptions for each song below.
Hoku, “Perfect Day”
In the third or so week of lockdown my girlfriend at the time (who is still one of my best friends) had finally returned from tour and after quarantining alone for enough time came to stay with me for about a week. I guess I was really starting to lose my marbles because this song—which I hadn’t heard since I was probably in middle school and seemed like the absolute antithesis of our reality—popped into my head one day and wouldn't leave. I started playing it one morning when I woke up and we both thought it was hilarious and also terrifying. It made me feel like Patrick Bateman wielding an ax listening to Huey Lewis, just completely off my rocker and leaning into the absurdity and horrors of reality.
The lyrics (“Sun’s up / It’s a little after 12 / Make breakfast for myself / Leave the work for someone else”) also reminded me what a completely different value system pop culture had in 2001, and wonder about how stuff like that plays into our present reality. Completely unhinged pop music, but also a banger. Shoutout to the Legally Blonde soundtrack.
Andy Stott, “It Should Be Us”
I discovered Andy Stott around the time I started making Barbarism. One of my favorite things about his work is his ability to find a groove in the repetition of a sample that might not sound like anything but an accidental butt-dial voice text on its own. The little “uh-huh-ha!” sound in this song is fascinating to me, and there’s something very aggressive about the air pump sound that gives this song so much texture.
Björk, “It’s Not Up to You”
Björk is one of my favorite artists of all time, and Vespertine is a record I return to again and again. I hear new things each time I listen, and the intricacies and eccentricities of the production choices are constantly an inspiration when I’m trying to paint a very specific and strange picture with sounds. The lyrics in “It’s Not Up To You” felt like a resonant mantra during this period in my life where I was trying to learn how to stop fighting battles that can’t be won (against myself, against aspects of reality I needed to accept, against a global pandemic, etc.).
Ciccone Youth, “Addicted to Love”
I love this song, and I love the way Kim delivers vocals on this version of it. There’s something so exciting to me about what a lot of people consider poorly recorded music. This sounds like it was recorded at a karaoke stand at the mall, which might be uninteresting in a different context. But the band Sonic Youth putting out a noise record where they’re taking on the last name of one of the world’s most famous pop stars and peppering it with occasional pop covers featuring canned synthesizer horns and prerecorded backup vocals gets my mind moving in all kinds of directions. And my body too! Because I wanna dance to it.
Magik Markers, “Axis Mundi”
Boss is my favorite Magik Markers record. I love the way Elisa Ambrogio plays guitar. I once saw her drag the instrument across the stage like she was dragging a person by their hair.
The Knife, “Heartbeats”
To me, this is one of the greatest pop songs of the last 25 years. I was getting stuck on “Dreamt I Talk to Horses” and started getting distracted on the internet. I found a production tutorial class where you downloaded a MIDI pack of “Heartbeats” and kinda reverse-engineered how they arranged and mixed the song, and that exercise is largely the reason that the song sounds the way it does instead of more like somewhere in the middle of Spacemen 3 turning into Spiritualized playing VU covers.
U.S. Girls, “Red Ford Radio”
I’ve been a Meg Remy fan for over a decade and feel inspired by the continual evolution of her sound with U.S. Girls. I was out on a walk when I first heard this song and literally stopped in my tracks I felt so captivated by it. It’s so simple and so heartbreaking. Sometimes when I felt uncertain about the rough-around-the-edges sound I was going for on Barbarism, I’d listen to U.S. Girls to remind myself of the power in choosing sonic elements that don’t go down easily.
Erykah Badu, “The Healer”
I wrote a little bit about how some of New Amerykah Pt. 1: Fourth World War abstractly inspired elements of Barbarism for Talkhouse. I think the first track on the album most directly inspired “Flag Wave Pt. 1” and “Flag Wave Pt. 2,” but this song is one of my favorites. I love what Madlib did with the production. I love songs that are an ode to loving music, both on a personal level and in a global sense.
Bruce Springsteen, “I’m Goin’ Down”
I return to Bruce Springsteen for inspiration as much as I return to Björk. He is, to me, the perfect pop product in that neither the artistry nor the substance are compromised in how they work together. This track was always sort of forgettable to me until I heard it in the hallway of the soft launch of a nightclub. The building was unfinished and they had a jukebox in the hallway before you got to the dancefloor, and this song came on perfectly in time with me passing through the hall, and the weird reverb of this unfinished empty space traveling down the hall to me felt so eerie and provocative. The snare was so much more unrelenting and violent, almost industrial. It was a couple months before the pandemic and maybe because it felt like serendipitous foreshadowing, the moment got lodged in my brain while I was writing the record.
Cindy Lee, “Lucifer Stand”
What’s Tonight to Eternity is an absolutely tortured-sounding record, and also drenched in strange psychedelia. I love how the guitar sounds throughout, and I love how unhinged the woman sampled towards the end of this track sounds. I don’t mean that in a voyeuristic way. She kind of reminds me of how David Lynch will take the most absolutely horrifying feelings that exist deep inside a human psyche, the ones that don’t necessarily make literal sense, and bring them to physical life with his films. You likely can’t relate to a lot of what the characters are experiencing in a movie like Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway or Blue Velvet but somehow, for me at least, their emotions still feel terrifyingly close to me, like an exorcism of that which can’t always be processed otherwise. This track is a little like that for me, too.
Panda Bear, “Comfy in Nautica”
I started relistening to Person Pitch a lot during quarantine, probably for the first time since it was initially released. I’m really inspired by the vastness of what Noah Lennox made with what was likely just a sampler. This song is so beautiful to me, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the amazing ominous creeping terror with how it ends. I always see this song so vividly in my head when I listen to it—it’s very cartoon-like and idyllic, and then this enormous black-cloud void comes to swallow its whole world. Strongly contrasting elements like that are incredibly compelling to me in music.
J Dilla, “Lightworks”
Another loop-based masterpiece I found myself revisiting during lockdown. These are like pop songs to me—they get stuck in my head and feel emotionally resonant, even though they’re not really explicit. I love collages. I love what can be created out of recycled elements, and the idea that the meaning of a sound in one context—say, the woman singing this commercial jingle about a toy from the ’70s—gets totally stripped of its original meaning in the hands of a brilliantly expressive artist like Dilla. I also love that you can listen to this record and know nothing about the person who made it, and why they made it, and love it, or you can read a lot about J Dilla’s story and learn that this is actually a really heavy record about someone processing their own mortality, and have it take on all kinds of meaning.
Les Rallizes Dénudés, “Night of the Assassins”
I just love distortion. I wish I had a giant Crayola box but instead of colors it was just a collection of all my favorite sounds of distortion. Les Rallizes Dénudés make some of the best, most degenerate sounding guitar distortion I've ever heard, and that’s what rock and roll is all about, isn’t it?