Burhenn was inspired by the 1963 Richard Avedon photo "Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution", a representation of the spirit of righteous battle transformed over the centuries into a mirror of the lineage-based aristocracy the founding American patriots were escaping. This irony pervades Generals, but Burhenn cleverly updates it for the modern moment, when real political action (and music's role in it) is too often trumped by crude capitalist pragmatism. She sings it better than I can explain it, in the opening track "Karma Debt": "We hold our horns like credit cards/ And hope to pay the rent." That sadly poetic equation of a horn-- typically the instrument used to rouse an army to fight-- with a credit card suggests that while Burhenn was initially moved by Avedon's photograph, the fading memory of Woody Guthrie's guitar casts an equal pall over this work. A similar sentiment about the role of politics as unfettered exploitation can be found in the opening moments of the album's rollicking first single "Generals": "I need a political job/ In a blue-collar town/ So I can pay my rent."
A lot of Mynabirds fans were taken aback by the sound of "Generals" a couple of months ago. I, for one, wouldn't have bet that the group that reimagined Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris on its first LP to follow that up with a track that sounds like the Kills. While it's true that Generals is often a much more stripped-down, if not plain uglier, album in parts than its predecessor, it's by design. War is still hell. Burhenn and Swift have added a dirty electronic patina to parts of the record, and while the argument could certainly be made that "late-1990s" isn't the best look for everyone, it can't be denied that on the whole, this album presents a much more varied palette than Fire, without ever coming close to sounding dilettantish. "Body of Work" and "Radiator Sister" are danceable concoctions of rhythm and melody-- the former driven by piano, the latter by what sounds like marimba. "Mightier Than the Sword" is a stark tone poem, Burhenn splitting her vocals in a way that nods toward Dirty Projectors. The piano in "Disaster" has an unmediated physicality to it, like you're hearing an unmastered scratch-track left in the song.
Yet past all the stylistic flourishes, Generals is openhearted, politically engaged, feminist pop that, miraculously, never veers into schmaltz (or worse, didacticism). Over the staggered waltz of "Wolf Mother", she sounds beat up, but determined to keep plowing ahead, perhaps to raise her own standing army of revolutionary daughters. It's not everyday you hear Jean-Paul Sartre quoted on an indie record, but ending "Body of Work" with "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you" perfectly sums up the ideas at play on the album. It's not a matter of beating the bastards at their own game, though. Burhenn bookends the record with the plea, "I'd give it all, for a legacy of love," signaling that she's willing to sacrifice personal gain for the broader good, instead of setting the whole thing ablaze. Maybe it's just her voice (and god, that voice), but I believe her.
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / MP3
7" / MP3