An album for a sunny day in the depths of an inevitable dystopia, IMANI COPPOLA’s The Protagonist (out today October 4, 2019 via Ipecac Recordings) radiates with a sense of urgency and inspiration – every song fraying at the edges from Imani’s barefaced need to deliver her message, coming from a place of love, hurt, deep emotion, or a momentous compulsion to be abrasive as fuck.
As a mirror to her sense of urgency and chaos, The Protagonist shifts genres like a gymnast, flawlessly morphing from the Country hoe-down of “Blackteria” to the rhythmic 60s girl group of “Rattle” to the burst of pure drum machine fueled intensity “OfabiO” without a misstep or tumble. The album takes on a dazzling balancing act of production and instrumental dexterity, that with each twist and turn of sonic swerving, punk energy, will force you to rewind and listen again until every song is wedged in your brain like a bedazzled ice pick.
Not one to shy away from difficult subject matters and touching on the current political climate, Imani channels rage into song form for her newest track, the heavy-hearted and potent “Sage.” Written after one of the many recent mass shootings here in America, the chorus of the song is unceremoniously interrupted by a viscerally powerful shotgun blast, adding impact to the already powerful message.
For some tracks on the record, like the frenzied and raucous “Lying To My Therapist” (which Afropunk calls “a blast of gleeful punk nihilism”), Imani turned inward to address her experience with mental health. “I wanted to expose these themes of depression, chemical dependency, self-medication, isolation, self-harm because all too often these topics are ignored until it’s too late and then you end up with a really fucking talented dead person.”
Every song on The Protagonist plays an irreplaceable role in the album’s ability to captivate. Where “Mind of the Monkey” is a genre and instrumental whiplash carefully navigated by meticulous production and a commanding melody, “Light House” is a welcoming tune featuring Imani’s 90’s pop and R&B sensibilities with an indie-acoustic send off. In contradiction, the most dizzyingly theatrical track on the record “Good Day Good Night” is like Annie with an anthemic dystopian twist, plus 80’s synths and strings, closing the curtains on a transcendent performance.
Not just a musical commentary about mental health, The Protagonist is also a reaction to the state of the country, “I needed to make this album as entertaining and upsetting as America itself is right now. I’m a fucking artist, it is my job to react to what’s going on in society, this is not the time to shy away from difficult subject matters, now is the time to grab them by the fucking balls.” Take for instance, “Contributing Member of Society” which features her graceful expertise on the violin and dons a wistful posture and drunken country twang with lyrics that don’t candy-coat Imani’s perceptions and hopes and “SAMO” which hints at the presence of influential neo-expressionist and graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and features Coppola’s own artistic work while using graffiti art to comment on the tribulations of struggling artists.
This album is a powerful force and an honest painting of Imani Coppola’s worldviews. In her words, “I want people to feel shaken, moved, rattled. I want them to feel their own importance in life. I want them to hear their own voice more clearly in their hearts. I want them to be more in touch with their truth. I want them to be kinder to others. I want them to be kinder to themselves. I want them to know they are not alone. And if they think they’re crazy, they’re in a good place. It’s the ones who don’t think they’re crazy you gotta worry about.”
Imani Coppola’s The Protagonist is out today (October 4, 2019) via Ipecac Recordings. Album release party on October 5 @ BAF Gallery Brooklyn (210 24th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232).