As an artist, Amanda Palmer is such an deft navigator of our brave not-so-new social media world that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that she is a dynamic and gifted musician. The relentless energy with which she shares herself online in multi-faceted ways—creating one of the only robust and truly successful (both emotionally and financially) artist-fan communities of the 21st-century to date in the process—is as admirable as it is, to me, if I’m honest, exhausting-sounding. I can’t imagine how she manages a life that includes paying heed to 12,000 active online patrons, and would be skeptical if not outright cynical about her efforts were it not for that previously stated reality: she is a top-notch singer/songwriter/musician, and somehow (somehow) doesn’t let the potentially immolating realities of an artistic life lived on social media derail or cheapen her creative output.
Here’s her latest: a song, called “Drowning in the Sound,” that is as raw and scintillating as her best music can be, with an added wrinkle: the song was initially crowd-sourced, with the lyrical ideas and inspiration coming from 600 of her Patreon supporters. Oh, and she wrote it as part of a two-day songwriting exercise in August 2017. While piano-based, the song’s musical palette expands in all directions, with textures both rough and intimate, accompanying a lyrical bombardment that feels all too real and up-to-the-minute, painting a picture of a culture on the brink of physical and emotional self-destruction. It’s not fun, no; but the music, with its sophisticated, stop-start dynamics and Bush-ian theatricality, engages the spirit. Palmer’s voice, an agile alto with a spoken-word quality, is more than up to the wide-ranging performance, which includes portions rendered in falsetto, as if things weren’t dramatic enough. I guess if I’m going to hear about the end of the world, I’d rather it come from a song than from cable news: there’s something in the singing and the craft of it that manages yet to inspire hope, which is a crucial element in any effort any of us can take to rescue humanity from prospects that here in 2019 look on the dim side.
“Drowning in the Sound” was originally released in September 2017 as a fund-raiser for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The song has resurfaced recently as a lead single for Palmer’s first album in six years, There Will Be No Intermission, which will be released on March 8, 2019, which is International Women’s Day. MP3 via KEXP.