Me and another moderator of the anti-work subreddit (come on in, the water’s not OK because of global warming!) saw an album posted a few months ago. The artist was excited to share it on the subreddit because the album (here) was full of anti-capitalist manifestos, as well as a few songs that decried work for acting as a tool of capitalist oppression.
At one point I told them that I would review it.
So here we are…months later.
First off, I’m no expect on music, much less reviewing it. I listen to all sorts of music (especially weird genres like post-rock and math-rock) but I wouldn’t consider myself necessarily more suited to write reviews because of that. I’ve also been a bassist for 10 years off and on (more off than on at this point, really) and so I have some personal experience.
That said, I’m completely aware I’m a musical snob, so I’ve never gotten super into folksy music. It always seemed too simplistic and direct, and at least when punk does that, its aggression gives it something to back it up.
On the other hand, I love early The Front Bottoms as well as Andrew Jackson Jihad so I definitely have a soft spot for folk, here and there.
With that in mind we might look like people for now by Graham Janz wasn’t an album that necessarily got me pumped up.
Instead, it was filled with contemplation and thoughts about nature, capitalism and how work affects our lives. As far as work specifically there is what I’d like to call the “anti-work suite” which covers about 10 songs and around 20 minutes in length.
The songs consist of, working for a living pt. 1, working, if people aren’t working, what will they do?, eco-actualization of exhausting the world’s resources by overworking , (reprise), minimum wager/disconnecting/the ascension of the capitalist dogs, no time to dream, working for a living pt. 2.
The song if people aren’t working, what will they do? is of particular note because Janz made a (fairly simply) music video that you can watch here, of showing just exactly people might do without work. The horror!
There’s also this cool description of the song, taken from Janz himself:
The lyrics of if people aren’t working, what will they do? poke fun at the idea that people will doing nothing if they don’t have a job. The lyrics describe a situation in which a person has a job doing nothing at all and then I recorded music video for the song of myself without a job, but reading a book.Janz
It’s also notable as a song because it was my fellow moderator’s favorite track off the whole album. I’m not sure it’s my favorite (I think that honor goes to working for a living, parts 1 and 2) but it was catchy and enjoyable.
Now, I’m not convinced Janz satire was effective as it sometimes became difficult to tell if he was just quoting from a conservative’s worst nightmare (stated seriously) or a playful folk artist.
In any case there are some good moments in this song which is attributable to Janz’s compelling guitar work throughout this album. Janz is able to deftly blend a quiet but haunting melody left behind from the desolation of our planet through pollution and overwork.
These eco-haunts are especially felt in his instrumentals (wandering and overture for something dumb nobody’s going to write) which I particularly enjoyed. It was great to see Janz kick the more traditional structure of folk and go for something a little more musically detailed.
There’s also a nice subversion of the entire folk genre early in the album on the track landing where Janz starts off with a picturesque example of the individual a folk singer should be shouting the praises of: a farmer.
But early in the song asks what happened to the farmer’s land, the one his grandfather stole? It’s at once a powerful question and a reminder that the figures folk artists often spend so much time defending, are often also complicit in this white supremacist system.
There are few gripes I have with the album, though I don’t have overwhelming praise for it either. I enjoyed the album and it was a listen that made me appreciate our dependency on nature as well as our interconnection to it. It was also awesome to hear anti-work songs that are explicitly called that (anti-work is a label used at the bottom of Janz’s Bandcamp for example).
If I had one thing to gripe about (and it’s a nitpick), although the intersectional analysis is fantastic (discussions of capitalism, ecology, work and even feminism), on the song sometimes the best thing a man can do for a woman is shut up (which is an excellent title!) the lyric, “sometimes a man’s got to stop thinking about his dick ” came off as a bit too essentialist to me.
As someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as non-binary (she/her), it does get a little disheartening to see even the best of radicals reduce men to their genitals, kind of leaves the rest of us without a paddle in the shit creek known as gender.
But I doubt Janz had any ill intent here and like I said, it’s a relatively minor gripe towards an album that wears its radicalism on its sleeves in the best way possible: Unapologetic and clear.
There’s a few distinctions Janz is quick to make between “work” and “working for capitalists” which is partly why working for a living is one of my favorite tracks (besides themes from mediocre endings). It also talks about the toll that working for a living can do, namely making it hard to claim your own personal autonomy in daily life.
And by the time you figure it out, it’s too late.
As such, I hope albums like this and other cultural efforts from fellow anti-workers/idlers can propel us to all rethink the way we live our lives and strive to do better before that happens.
And of course I look forward to more from Janz!