Feeding People // Island Universe
Recommended Track: Other Side
Some say that at the end of time, the universe will contract and all of creation will be drawn together in an eternal hug of matter at the center of eternal darkness, destined to blow outward once again. It’s the anxious contradiction at the heart of all things: that the difference between creation and destruction is really no difference at all. If anything embodies this philosopher’s dilemma it is popular music, which has gone through so many cycles that it’s begun to eat itself. Case in point: Feeding People. On their mostly spectacular second album Island Universe, the band leaps into this never-ending void and come out the other side with a series of fearless psychedelic rippers and far out lullabies so ferocious they can send chills down your spine, even if the band can’t quite resolve their many influences for the entire running length.
From the moment the needle drops, Feeding People are playing with dualities, both musically and lyrically, starting with opener “Silent Violent”. It begins like a cradle song (“a vessel’s lullaby”), turns into a hallucinatory head-banger, and then makes a left turn into Marlboro Country for the outro. But then, anyone looking for straight line to the center of Island Universe is on a fool’s errand. Even the album artwork, a Dali-esque array of imagery (a key, an ear, a body, a ladder, silhouetted figures drowning in a sea of red) are merely crumbs left on an overgrown path, symbols untethered from meaning. “I’ve got friends on the other side,” Jessie Jones howls on “Other Side”, Island Universe‘s first true-blue rock anthem. The other side of where? Never mind that, just try and keep up.
Led by guitarist Louis Filliger, Feeding People have struck upon an off-kilter style of classic rock, a mash up of The Zombies’ frills and Sabbath’s power, sprinkled with a bit of the late-60s mysticism that teethed the beast known as Led Zeppelin (there’s even a bit of that Plant/Page style call and response thing going on between Jones and Filliger.) Though Feeding People are just as competent on the big rock numbers as the quiet ditties, the small songs can pack a stronger lyrical punch. Title track “Island Universe” is a quintessential teen lullaby, evoking a nebulous longing for an isolation that means freedom from pain. “Baby, you’ll never be hurt,” coos Jones. “Forever young and naive.” Comfort? Yes, but also curse.
Jones joins a distinguished line of female singers whose voices, while distinctive, are not for everyone, but this is isn’t a criticism–many of the most powerful voices toe outside the mainstream, in both music and culture generally. That said, the control she wields over her weapon of choice is electrifying. Here she’s got the kewpie-doll enunciations of Joanna Newsom, there the bone-rattling wails of Grace Slick, the weird growls of Kate Bush, the bell-clear tones of Anne Briggs, sometimes all in the same song. Her caterwauling can frighten, as on genuinely scary number “The Red Queen”, which warns of a menace that “lives inside the iris of my eyes/don’t say you love me cuz you’ll be sorry when the Red Queen comes alive”. Is Jones evil queen or benevolent Cassandra? Like much on Island Universe, she is both.
The second side of Island Universe is less satisfying than the first, with fewer stand-out tracks and less of a hypnotic flow. Trippy travelogue “Desert Sun” is like a pleasant mushroom high that ends too abruptly (perhaps they ran out of weed?) while “Each His Own” is the most unmmemorable track here, overshadowed by the fury of A-side songs like the fiery “Big Mother”. Still, the spacey production courtesy of Crystal Antlers’ Jonny Bell and Hanni El Khatib puts Jones’ voice front and center at all times, which was a wise choice. It makes for compelling listening when the music gets a little smugly psychedelic.
Finally, for a record by such young people, Island Universe sounds very old, and this is no small accomplishment. For all the fetishization of youth that goes hand in hand with rock and roll, in our modern scene there is far too much emphasis on the light and far too little exploration into the essential darkness of youth, or being a human, for that matter. What people seem to forget is that shadows are more consequential than light because they mean there’s something, someone, there. The atmosphere of gentle dread created by Island Universe casts a shadow that proves difficult to shake off.