Be Here Now is the Mynabirds’ most important and urgent endeavor to date.
Recording under the name The Mynabirds since 2010, singer-songwriter Laura Burhenn has proved that she is able to translate her political beliefs into catchy indie pop. Burhenn scattered various political messages over the course of three albums, none more notably than 2012’s Generals, a ten-song collection of openhearted feminist pop. While these albums held a more general political disposition, the politics of her latest release, Be Here Now, have a direct target and historical context.
Written over two weeks following the inauguration of Donald Trump, Be Here Now documents the turbulent changes that suddenly rived America—the freezing of EPA and NPS staffs, the fights at Standing Rock for Native rights, the Muslim travel ban and so on. Conducting a kind of “emotional journalism” by soaking up headlines and social media feeds, Burhenn and co-producer Patrick Damphier penned their reactions in the space of Damphier’s soon-to-be gentrified neighborhood. As Burhenn herself puts it, Be Here Now is “the record of a time and place”; it is both a political time-capsule and a soundtrack of resistance.
Although Burhenn levies specific political critiques throughout the record, album opener and title-track “Be Here Now” asserts social unity as foundational for any kind of resistance. Burhenn wrote the song after her participation in the record-breaking Women’s March on Washington. The empowering refrains of “Everybody, everybody all together” and “Be here now” sung by Burhenn and the McCrary Sisters are both a celebration and an imperative, calling listeners to social unity. The song’s slick production joins together a sliding bassline, bright piano chords, and shimmering synths to uplift the vocals. Even after the piano falls into a chaotic dissonance marred by digital fuzz, the massive harmonies emerge even more powerfully, repeating like a melodic protest chant.
After the funky and punchy “New Moon,” Burhenn displays a Father John Misty-like lyrical range on “The Golden Age”—a piano pop dirge that mourns and ironizes American culture and politics. The album’s political centerpiece, “Golden Age” takes on societal complacency in the face of issues such as institutionalized racism and xenophobia, police brutality and global warming. Burhenn asks, “Where are our heroes” in a society of “ignorant bliss.” A particular lyrical sequence will accrue greater resonance in the wake of recent events: “My heart’s full of love/ And all kinds of peace/ But I think even I/ Could punch a Nazi/ In the face.” These lines get at the tensions in Burhenn’s political disposition, as she struggles to define avenues of protest in a world of terrifying violence.
The remainder of the album shares the lyrical tension of “Golden Age,” as Burhenn explores the variety of ways we can respond to political unrest. For example, “Cocoon” emphasizes the importance of cultivating safe spaces and of being together with ones you love during times of crisis. Lifting up the refugee voices of the Umoja Choir, “Hold On” is an empathetic expression of solidarity and endurance in the face of the Muslim travel ban. Written after the terrorist attack at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris, “Wild Hearts” furthers Burhenn’s calls for solidarity in the aftermath of tragedy. Even as Burhenn responds to specific events, her central message is about the importance of generating solidarity and social unity.
Whereas solidarity and social unity provide the connecting points for the lyrics on Be Here Now, the album is considerably less coherent in terms of its music. Citing David Bowie as her main influence in approaching the record, Burhenn cycles through variety of musical styles, ranging from new wave to indie pop to ‘80s pop. For example, “Shouting at the Dark” smatters jangles of new wave guitar over a driving bass line, while “Witch Wolf” struts with a lo-fi indie punk swagger. “Ashes in the Rain” illuminates a funky bass line with a disco sheen, while “Hold On” expresses a balladeer sensibility. At times, these sonic changes induce a sort of listener’s whiplash, but overall, they display a certain artistic command, allowing Burhenn to dance in different realms of resistance.
Altogether, Be Here Now is the Mynabirds’ most important and urgent endeavor to date. It extends Burhenn’s lifelong work of making the musical political. In so doing, she provides a necessary social commentary in a time of political turmoil. As a musical and lyrical time-capsule, Be Here Now defines a particularly trying historical moment, and as a soundtrack of resistance, it demands us to respond to this moment by coming together and raising our voices as one.