The Last of the 20th Century Girls is a record that attempts to perform an exorcism. It is the sophomore album of London-based artist, Findlay (Natalie Rose Findlay). While Findlay is a solo musician, she has longtime collaborators and friends that help her create. Head of the list is her producer, Jules Apollinaire, with whom Findlay released the record TTRRUUCES two years ago. In addition, she often performs and records her albums with a backing band.
Guest Post by Yoana Tosheva
Findlay’s music might best be described as indie rock. Her debut album, released five years ago, is full of grit. Its loudness is amplified by the lack of base, which is filled instead with an extra guitar. On the other hand, her new record creates a more cohesive mood, invested primarily in storytelling and following a specific thread.
Findlay has deemed The Last of the 20th Century Girls a sort of “late coming-of-age story.” We’re all likely familiar with the classic coming-of-age stories. In fact, many of us studied them in school with books such as Catcher in the Rye. But what Findlay is processing here is a second coming of age. She is grappling with the pinnacle moment when one enters the world and doesn’t know one’s place in it.
To say the record attempts an exorcism is not to suggest that she performs a supernatural, religious ritual through the music. Rather, Findlay is seeking to expel a sort of personal haunting, to come to terms with what it means to exist when you aren’t sure you really want to.
Work on the album began right at the beginning of lockdown…
Work on the album began right at the beginning of lockdown, over two years ago. Impressively, Findlay was able to bring this project to completion without a label or manager. To say this is an exercise in perseverance would be an understatement. Each song walks a fine line between anxiety and hope. The tracks entertain anxiety and sometimes succumb to it, all while bearing an air of lightness that is somehow removed from the present moment. Through the record, Findlay grapples with her personal self-doubts, and thereby, aims to exorcize them.
The record is perhaps most invested in interrogating the constant thrum of anxiety that circles around not knowing the next step when so many things start seeming out of reach. The opening track of the album, “Life Is But A Dream,” is ethereal, setting the scene immediately for a record that moves between dreamscape and reality, between what is truly there and what might be, always teetering on the edge of a nightmare.
Findlay also directed all of the visuals for the record herself, which includes the music video for “Life is But A Dream.” In the video, we see her setting up a dream world as she floats down a river on a white mattress and wanders around a field. The video is serene and ethereal, like the song, but you cannot shake the fact that this idealized dream state is an induced one. Soon, the visions spiral into a nightmare as monsters start hounding the peaceful scenes, a doll house begins burning, and Findlay rushes back to bed, throwing the covers over her body in attempts to convince herself that her life is, perhaps, only a dream. It’s the perfect opening song for the record that comprehensively introduces what the entire album grapples with.
The song “Night Sweats” is the most upbeat song on the record. It sounds like the first five minutes of a horror film, when normalcy seems extra sweet and shiny because you know what’s coming. These base levels of concern and anxiety are prevalent throughout the record in a constant state of anticipation. Lyrics such as “Who said it was all in your head? / Your mindset is making you feel depressed” and “Mama said just keep trying your best / And no stress go buy yourself a brand-new dress” are setting the scene for us. The poppy, synth-heavy instrumental disguises the song as a safety net, while the title, “Night Sweats,” gives it away. We know better.
The album’s pacing is immaculate…
The album’s pacing is immaculate, much like the intentionality and movement between sound and silence in a horror film’s soundtrack. Both are equally important in building a moment. Sometimes, silence is more terrifying than creaking floorboards or screams. The album moves between its own iterations of silence and screams, too. Findlay offers the listener small pockets of relief or comfort, such as in the sonics of “Night Sweats,” or the ode to dancing your problems away, “Ride.” But, just as quickly, she seamlessly spirals back into a consuming loneliness, such as on “Apricots,” or a numb and removed anger on “Not If You Were The Last Honey On Earth.” In this way, there is a very real presentation of struggle innate within the ordering of the songs on the record as they move between hopeful and distraught.
The entirety of the album also moves between closeness and distance. This distance is manufactured both through a heavy reverb and echo present on many of the songs, as well as in more nuanced ways, such as through language. On “The Parisienne,” the first two verses are in French in an attempt to feel closer to the person who the song is for. However, the language quickly capitulates into self-admission as the translation reads “my French ain’t perfect / I don’t know why you don’t answer me anymore.”
“Horror catharsis” refers to the negative emotions and subconscious fears that are released and safely experienced while watching a scary movie. In this record, through its attempted exorcism, Findlay delves deeply into the world of horror: its significations, the eerie world-building she creates through the music, and in the visuals for the record. In doing so, Findlay creates a space in which she can experience and transmute this negativity safely, into something that is not directed inward, into something that does not destroy her.
For a while after my first listen of the record, I couldn’t decide if the exorcism that Findlay attempts is successful. However, I believe that since the record was released, it has to mean that the self-doubt and anxiety were, to an extent, released. The act of completing and releasing the record becomes its own sort of magic–a testament to strength. Part of the beauty of the record is its functionality as a salve for the listener’s personal loneliness and self-doubt, and proof that a horror film doesn’t always mean certain demise for the protagonist (at least in this soundtrack).
© Yoana Tosehva (8/8/22) – Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Visit Findlay’s website to view upcoming tour dates, shop merch, and more.
Visit Bandcamp if you wish to purchase Findlay’s music. Since March of 2020, the first Friday of each month is known as “Bandcamp Friday” and the company waives all revenue shares, so all profits go to the artist.
Watch Findlay’s music video for “Life is but a Dream” here.
Watch Findlay’s music video for “Night Sweats” here.
CREDITS & PERMISSION
Featured photo: Findlay performing. “Findlay 03/12/2018 #20” by Justin Higuchi is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Bottom Photo: Findlay performing on stage. “Findlay 03/12/2018 #11” by Justin Higuchi is licensed under CC BY 2.0.