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Bearing witness to the baroque clusterf*ckery of the world is no longer voluntary. We are all forced to watch. Every possible catastrophe vibrates in our pockets, demanding to be witnessed. In his second album, Forced Witness, out September 8th on Secretly Canadian, Alex Cameron’s solution to the difficulties we face is a danceable and dangerous earnestness, a sense of honesty that heals and relieves even as it cleaves us or makes us laugh in self-defense. He’s offering us vivid portraits of misfits who look at the world without illusion.
Recorded in Berlin, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas and produced by Cameron along withFoxygen’s Jonathan Rado, these tracks at first seem shamelessly entertaining, the driving rhythms and rousing melodies embellished at every turn by Roy Molloy’s warm hornwork. But the love songs and anthems of personal resilience contain as much raw humanity as they do a savvy grasp of the impossible loneliness of the times, especially apparent in the song, “Stranger’s Kiss” — Cameron’s affecting duet with Angel Olsen (who also sings backup on lead single, “Candy May”). The defiantly bloody knuckles in “Runnin’ Outta Luck,” co-written by and featuring Brandon Flowers, and the grime of wet dreams in “Country Figs”occupy the same space as the great sadness of the internet in the catchy and contemplative song “True Lies,” in which Cameron sings about that buzzing hive of randomized sexuality where we can either submit to the stirrings in our own laps or let our fragile hopes catfish us. Penultimate track “Marlon Brando,” is, as Cameron describes it, “a study of a man in the hopeless pursuit of a woman. He is a familiar character in the world, a self-assured jock, a dullard, a low grade human who uses a specific kind of language when he finds a situation outside of his control. The song’s lyrics present a damning indictment of homophobia and misogyny and their genesis in toxic masculinity.”
If there is darkness in these songs, it is not because taboos can titillate but because Cameron knows that confession has a redeeming power and that people are often at their most startlingly beautiful when their skies have fallen. These songs are alive with the rich detail of life lived and the radical distinctiveness of the stories they tell feel universal. In these chaotic times when we aren’t able to look away, Cameron is offering us a pure account of the world as he’s seen it.