Glitterer Bio (2021)
It’s been said by more than one terminally dour culture critic that to make, or even care about, art in the wake of mass atrocity is callous, barbaric even. If that’s true then what are we unfortunate denizens of 2020 to make of Glitterer’s deceptively upbeat, synth-infused introspective rock music, which is still being recorded and released in the midst of global plague? Well, the world may have ended but life goes on, and so does consciousness, both individual and collective. Which means Glitterer still has a job to do.
Washington, D.C.,resident and northeastern Pennsylvania native Ned Russin co-fronted Title Fight for many years before the band suspended operations and Ned became Glitterer. Actually, he had always been Glitterer, just as Glitterer had always been him, but there were no Glitterer records until 2017, when the first of two self-released EPs appeared. Those were odd, charming, clever, eloquent, and highly proficient records, hand-made in the spartan bedroom-pop mode: some programmed drums and keyboards with an electric bass and a voice. The songs were about the trap of self-awareness and the impossible dream of self-negation; and despite their being, combined, all of about 18 minutes long, they left long-lasting impressions, stuck themselves in peoples’ heads and stayed put. They attracted a good amount of attention, too, because, yes, many music fans and “industry observers” knew who Ned was. But there was nevertheless a lower-stakes air around the project in those earlier days — something interesting and inchoate that Ned was fiddling with.
But then Glitterer started touring — Ned at the wheel of the rental car, a laptop full of backing tracks riding shotgun — and then came a record deal, and before you knew it there were videos and a debut full-length, Looking Through The Shades. That record came out on Anti- in the summer of 2019, a faintly remembered and much-romanticized period during which musicians were criss-crossing the world, performing live and in the flesh for crowds well in excess of five people. Recorded and co-produced by Arthur Rizk (Code Orange, Power Trip), Looking Through The Shades had a much bigger sound than the EPs — fuzzy guitars, live drums, a nice wide stereo mix befitting the best crunchy indie rock — and it had a cohesive, if somewhat oblique, visual concept that recurred in the videos, press materials, and album layout and that involved Ned going about various banal activities while wearing a red vintage Gorilla Biscuits hoodie. The album was a tight piece of work, is the point: it had vision, focus, ambition, and scope, even though, as before, most of the songs were remarkably concise and direct. It was the work of a curious and confident professional musician engaging perspicaciously with the world as it (then) was.
We all know what has happened since: across-the-board erasure of every single presupposition and condition-to-be-taken-for-granted. A sudden and comprehensive blanking of the slate. A whole new world and a whole new metaphysical terrain. And into this new context of no context comes the second Glitterer full-length album, Life is Not A Lesson, out on Anti- this February.
This time Ned has produced the record himself, notwithstanding some recording and performance help from his twin brother, Ben, and some other friends, as well as mixing and mastering by Rizk. Would it surprise you to hear that, irrespective of worldly doom and gloom, the new songs are even catchier and bigger-sounding than the Looking Through the Shades material? With roomier drums and more electric-guitars-per-square-inch than ever, Life is Not a Lesson has a way of evoking an alternate-universe version of Guided By Voices, one with a hardcore-punk background. And if there was, perhaps, an indirect or “meta” aspect to the pop appeal of Glitterer’s older records, there’s essentially none of that here: this is Glitterer’s most insistently and proudly accessible work. To wit: the single “Didn’t Want It,” a slowed-down, fuzzed-out invocation of Sebadoh’s driving infectiousness circa Bakesale and an unsentimental ode to abandoned ambitions (“Didn’t want to want it all / Found a word, made me feel small … Didn’t want it / Did I now?”).
Lyrically, as with the prior catalog, many of the songs on the new record are short, dialectical considerations of the countless daily miniature panic attacks that attend the rigorously examined life. Take, as a prime example, the epistemological riddle “Are You Sure? (“Feel it in my spine / Certainty is mine / Are you sure?”), whose arrangement combines the tension-building properties of GBV’s “Hot Freaks” with the tension-resolving blast of something like “Gouge Away” (that’s the song, not the band). Life is Not a Lesson proves to be a rigorous reckoning with the life of the mind at a time when there’s not much life outside the mind.
Of course we should make and cherish art in the wake of human tragedies. Those who say otherwise make the mistake, common among too-clever-by-half critical theoreticians, of assuming that art is only ever about prestige, propriety, and good taste — a frivolous social game played by elites with nothing on the line. The truth is that art — the real thing, the good stuff — might be the only part of modern life that isn’t barbaric. The darkest and deadliest events in our history, like the manifold calamities of 2020, aren’t pieces of an academic puzzle to be pondered from a safe remove. Tragedy is not “material”; it’s life. Life is not a lesson; it’s life. And life goes on. Knowing that, all we can do is heed the title track of Glitterer’s new album (maybe the closest thing to an intellectual manifesto that we’ll ever get from Ned Russin): “Think aloud / Inherit doubt / Build another bridge for them to burn / Run away / Speak slowly / Life is not a lesson to be learned.”