What to Fear
Watkins’ What to Fear is full of Bush-era sentiments and politics, in a way that isn’t nostalgic. There’s a twist at the end that saves it from its own quagmire, resulting in a neat little album.
It’s probably the case that there’s plenty of music still being made that seems as though it never stepped foot outside of the Bush-era. 2008 wasn’t that long ago, after all, and there was so much affect associated with it; the fear, the solipsism, the impotence. But all that gets really talked about now is how something is “post-9/11.” Luckily we have Sean Watkins around to remind us, as Green Day did before, just what a fucked up time that was.
It’s a genuine surprise how much the titular “What to Fear” evokes the kind of political imaginary available in, let’s say, 2002-2003. Even more surprising is the direction it takes after that; while less explicitly political (and implicitly conspiratorial), the kinds of relationships that Watkins details are exactly in line with the affects of the moment. By the time “Too Little Too Late” finishes, it’s almost completely overwhelming; even the lightness allowed is overwhelmingly paranoid and solipsistic. After an instrumental palate cleanser in “Local Honey,” Watkins seems to recognize this, and offers “Tribulations.”
Were What to Fear solely reliant on its reconstructing the affects of the bulk of the aughts, it’d be worthwhile if maybe not remarkable; but “Tribulations” is kind of the perfect inclusion. A full on fire-and-brimstone God, backed by soaring guitars, somehow both encapsulates and completely breaks from the rest. It’s a moment of pristine pacing where a quagmire seemed the only possible outcome. It’s a hell of an album.