Photograph By Pedro Giaquinto
New artist Declan McKenna hit the top spot in Alternative Nation’s top 18 Countdown with his self produced debut single ‘Brazil” for three weeks in a row at only 18 years of age, though not a lot of people know his name. McKenna is an indie- alternative music singer and songwriter who released his first album What Do You Think About The Car? on July 21st, 2017.
The album was produced by Rostam Batmanglij and James Ford, who worked together with McKenna. Various instruments were used and the samples fit right in with most tracks, the production makes the album unpredictable and unique compared to modern indie artists. His music varies from organic to an unusual synth edge that gives the album an a sense of spontaneity and life. Yet it’s most groundbreaking trait is it’s political relevance and the brave gestures this singer-songwriter makes to to call out injustice.
One of the things that stands out most from this emerging artist is his thought provoking lyrics. He addresses global, social, political and economical issues like discrimination, suicide, and poverty and government corruption with no reservation. He doesn’t claim to be political, but he stands as a well-informed voice of his generation when approaching issues of government corruption and economically, racially or sexually marginalized groups. This is not the stuff of Top-40 hits, and any artist willing to take on these issue deserves some credibility, as long as their musical talent can back it up and they can fight back against a music industry that only wants marketable, catchy messages.
Declan McKenna seems to have no problem with this. Initially, McKenna self-produced his first few singles, but he worked with producers Batmanglij and Ford to complete the album. “Brazil” was McKenna’s first self-produced track where he addresses the problems that the FIFA World Cup in 2014 caused. The corrupt Brazilian government raised taxes on its most impoverished people and forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands to make room for construction. McKenna expressed how Brazilians felt with the lyrics “I’m faithless now. We win, but every time I wonder how.” With this song and the suggestion that economic favoritism triumphs over capability, he won fans in diverse parts of the world.
McKenna’s politics pares down to individual experiences with, “Paracetamol”, the second single on the album. The track was inspired by the real-life tragedy of Leelah Alcorn and McKennah’s concern for the transgender community. Alcorn was a transgender teen who committed suicide after dealing with mental and verbal abuse from her parents and online users that followed her. During an interview with The Guardian, Declan commented, “Not only must it have been a truly horrific experience for Leelah, but knowing that this wasn’t an isolated case genuinely terrified me.” The track “Paracetamol” was written to address the injustice of Leelah’s plight, and McKenna moved on to produce a powerful video that gives viewers a very real perception of what modern life as a transgender teen can be.
He moves on to highlight the dishonesty of an elitist government that can’t possibly care about the previously portrayed atrocities with the track “I Am Everyone Else.” He says, “It became about politicians in general pretending to represent the masses without actually doing it. Pretending that they had the same experiences as normal, everyday people when they’re very far from it.” After filling our ears with tragedy, McKenna seems determined to let us know the powers that be don’t care. Yet, he has told this tragic story so uniquely, distinctly and evocatively, that we can’t help but listen, be moved and find our own resolution.
“What Do You Think About The Car?” is an exceptional album. The fact that McKenna uses his music to emit awareness and change is very rare and makes him outshine other artists who superficially broach these issues in their music. However, he can’t be relegated to the category of a message-only musician either. He inventively draws from classic-rock to modern electro-pop influences to create his own sound and somehow makes it work. His vocal style is conversational, distinctive and pointedly in sync with his authentic lyrics and expressive musical styles. Although the samples in “The Kids Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “Humongous” are somewhat repetitive, along with some of the choruses, he is a great young artist who has something substantial to say and the talent to make him an artist to watch.
If you like indie- rock and politically- conscious lyricism you should look into McKenna’s music. In an age where big-name musicians cater to sales, new artists like McKennah remind us of what an artist with something real to say actually sounds like.
McKennah will be performing at Strummer’s in a local, all ages venue where you can hear his music and message first hand on April 19th at 8:00 p.m. Click here to purchase tickets online.