Ex Mykah: 16, 17
words by Hunter Sanders
Recommended Listening for Setting Fire to the Establishment, Ex Mykah’s 16, 17.
The apocalypse has really created some good music. In the fall-out of the election, artists wonder at their place in the midst of turmoil. Is beauty cheapened by the addition of the sometimes over-lucid commentary of protest songs? If Ex Mykah’s newest release is to be taken as an answer to that question, it is a firm no.
The debut full-length album of Cuban-American artist Ex Mykah, 16, 17 is a celebratory album in dystopia. The music is inspired by the immigrant experience in Trump’s America. So why am I recommending that you listen to nothing else for the next decade? Well, though the guitar careens and whines with the tension of living under a demagogue, it’s not without a conscious groove that drips with electricity. This album has hooks that leave scars. Saxophone improvisations, field recordings of protest, and distant distorted vocals create the sound of a disparate America.
The songs transition with samplings of thunderstorms and consist of so many seemingly dissimilar genres melding into powerful crescendos and gritty riffs. A mixture of lo-fi 1980s corporate stock music and banjo may be immediately usurped by a rush of violins and what could be either accordions or heavily filtered brass, all while retaining a persistent pop beat and vocals. It is a really wild playlist for really wild times. In the last three years we’ve been forced to become familiar with “innocence recently struggling” as mentioned in 16, 17’s track, “Massacre”. But the track swells beyond the last three years and back into history, asking, “Why do we think that we’ve never been conned?” All western history is a history of theft, and while Ex Mykah reaches back into the past, this retrospective throttles him into a future of artful innovation and the remaining 1:41 brim with strength and happiness.
The craziest thing, the really artful aspect of 16, 17, is how this exploration insists on beauty. Life in hardship is still life, and life is still beautiful. I expected in listening for the energy to diminish, and if it didn’t I imagined I would become bored at repetition. That never happened. Each song builds the energy, and each minute is more innovative the last. This album understands that a proper protest is a party, and that every good party is a riot. It’s something to sway in a storm to. It doesn’t drive, it pushes and exalts. In the same way that along with being years of struggle 2016 and 2017 were years of social triumph, 16, 17 is a dream sequence of dignity in the middle of the apocalypse. All that to say, go little anarchist. Go and sow fire on the kings above you, but don’t forget to bring the exquisite tunes of Ex Mykah.