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Nana Grizol - South Somewhere Else Music Album Reviews

The jangle-pop band’s latest is a deceptively cheery-sounding reckoning with the violence of white American history.

Theo Hilton started Nana Grizol in 2007 as a way to express his anxiety as a young gay man in Athens, Georgia. Since then, Nana Grizol has released four albums, all unified in their jangle-pop sound and themes of queerness and American ennui. Their newest album, South Somewhere Else, is similar—it’s equally scrappy, with warbling vocals and booming brass band—but now, Hilton seems to be preoccupied with his own whiteness. On South Somewhere Else, he explores his individual identity within the greater American framework of violent white history.
Considering its topic of choice, the album sounds fairly chipper. Guitars bounce around, distorted and messy, and Hilton has a snotty delivery that makes everything sound like a speech he was forced to give in front of his middle-school gym class. “Plantation Country” bursts with crashing cymbals and a shrieking trumpet while Hilton muses on, well, our plantation country, the “beauty that disguises violence,” white complicity in its “soft, insipid silence.” It’s hard to define the mood of this—Is Hilton angry? Ashamed? Or is he just recounting the facts as they stand? His lyrics are often verbose and vague, which prevents some of words from packing a punch in the way he might wish.

You can hear parallels to bands like P.S. Eliot, white bands defined by their small-town experiences, singing about the insecurities and dissatisfactions that plague everyone. For many non-white listeners, myself included, the appeal of these bands lies in the universality of the emotions, but there is still the issue of place and skin. This makes his reckoning on South Somewhere Else welcome, if a little obscure. He wonders about the “comfort in the dream of simple pasts” and asks himself if he finds accountability “too tough to task.” As listeners, do we feel bad for him here? Are we meant to be glad for the white Americans who find solace in rewritten history? Just as the image of a beautiful, bloody plantation conjures up “aggressions/in the answers that evade the questions,” it’s difficult to know where Hilton stands beside sunshine-y guitar and hard-to-parse lyrics.

On the title track, Hilton makes his feelings more explicit. “It was assumed that the South was a thing that took place somewhere else,” he sings, his lilting voice bouncing on top of toe-tapping piano, like he’s talking over beers at his hometown bar. He visits relatives who “couldn’t quite tell” you about your hometown’s history; he gazes out at the “Jim Crow geographies” that “haunt all of the streetscapes we’d come to know well.” This is when Nana Grizol is best. The production is joyous, but a little embarrassed about feeling so. Hilton’s words are precise, and makes it clear that the only reason that the racism and white supremacism of the South felt like it was somewhere else was because the band itself is white. Hilton says it plainly, while tracking his story through “all white restaurants,” that maybe the South was somewhere else, “we weren’t noticing where power was held/Captivated, the capitol’s … white liberal logics prevailed.” And they will prevail, unless white Americans are willing to concede their faults, their obliviousness, and their history, as Hilton does here.

“About the Purpose That We Serve” is one of the album’s most raucous moments, but still self-consciously so. It feels like Hilton is aiming his displeasure at white people or liberals, offering “Some food for thought, one just might choke on what they’re given/There’s so, so many voices—look around and you’ve got choices — but the/Angle’s always altered for convenience.” It’s impossible to deny the timeliness of this sentiment. We have a government that refuses to care for its people, an indoctrinated population that believes what the government gives them is all that they deserve, and everyone else marching in the street, getting shot, maimed, or killed occasionally for not being like the others. But this album isn’t a protest album. It’s an admission of privilege and of history, and an often catchy, summer-y one at that. Hilton ends the album sarcastically, facetiously instructing that “You’ve got no way of knowing/So leave it to the ones who do/Be it a priest or politician/Know it’s never you.” That’s how the ruling class wants you to feel, isn’t it? That the South is somewhere else, that you’re not smart enough, not strong enough, not white enough, or rich enough to do anything that could change anyone’s life. But the South is here, and so are you.
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