What gathered my eyes about Exitmusic’s newest album The Recognitions was not any previous knowledge about the group, but a shared name of a favorite book by William Gaddis. Gaddis’s book borrows heavily from religious text, poetry, opera; even the name borrows from the Clementine Recognitions: a religiously gnostic narrative featuring the Apostle Peter told through one Clement.
In the Clementine Recognitions, after defending a prophetic man, passing down the miracles of Christ, from a mob in Rome, Clement agrees to join him to Palestine on a pilgrimage. Upon arriving Clement learns of Peter, who after meeting him accepts Clement as a disciple, destined to follow the apostle city to city. Before their pilgrimage begins Peter is to dispute the heretical Simon, who claims to wield more power than god.
Clement, born of concealed royalty (an common story among authentic, and apocryphal scripture), listens to Peter’s wise advice at night while waiting for Simon. One evening after a tense denouncement, Peter chases Simon away. Shortly after Clement tells his history, two other disciples learn that Clement is their brother, and their father was lost searching for them.
The next morning an old man interrupts Peter’s prayers. Embittered by Simon, the man claims all prayer is a mistake, and life is determined by fate and nemeses. The three siblings recognize the corrupt and ruined man as their lost father. He reveals himself and betrays his children with his hardened bitterness. The elation of the sibling recognition preconditions the recognition of betrayal. Thought more broadly, betrayal need not be patriarchal, but one can betray oneself emotionally as well. These inseparable processes of a familiar betraying, and a new recognition outlines an initial impetus of Exitmusic’s The Recognitions, told through the context of an intimate relationship.
There’s great potential in Exitmusic’s heartbreak. “Iowa’s” heart warming nostalgic love juxtaposes “The Distance’s” quiet solitude. Anyone who’s had a sliver of a breakup can relate to the whirl of emotions following a painful exchange, the oftentimes-unexpected betrayal commonly felt in the recognition that ‘this is going nowhere’. Phrases like, ‘we were doomed from the beginning’, ‘we’ve grown apart’, ‘you’ve changed’, ‘I’ve changed’, attach themselves as unhappy little connotations to each song.
Part of me rolls my eyes at the public self-flagellation of The Recognitions. Controversially this opens a contemporary debate between human nature and cultural influence. In other words, why are there a string of female singer-songwriters singing solely about boys and relationships? On one hand they could be placating to teens going through similar trying times, reflecting a universal heart attack. On the other they might be abusing gender stereotypes to bolster a cynically marketable genre. My, oh my what a salacious conspiracy!
The question begs: who would go to so much creative trouble making money with such sincerity? Of course the themes in The Recognitions can’t stir a person who hasn’t felt criminally underloved their whole life (these people do exist). So one devastating criticism is to attack Exitmusic’s motivations, and point out where they reach cliché.
Rather I think a deeper psychological investigation reveals women as, on average, more agreeable, and neurotic than men (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2031866/). This implication might explain Exitmusic’s central theme of singer Aleska’s failed relationship. It also much explain this particular genres aptitude for the relationship blues, not exclusive to women, but scientifically significant.
That being said, while maintaining emotional wisdom, at times The Recognitions is philosophically shallow. What separates Gaddis and Clement from Exitmusic is the latters lack of depth; the ideas aren’t pushed as far—the emotions are expressed by the artist but not felt by the listener. It takes more than expression to grip the listener. So when the music fails to move the listener doubt rears its critical head. Since Aleska uses such inherently emotional content, the careful listener feels betrayed, like Clement and his siblings, like betrayed lovers, or ones betrayed emotions when a strong connection fails. One way to connect is through common experiences, another is to point beyond unknowable personal experience touched by ideas, symbols, metaphor, a feature lacking in The Recognitions.
Criticism aside, this is an exceptionally in sync album rife with artistic unity. Learning the groups history reveals the two-piece to be married and, further digging shows them to be recently divorced. All suspicious of insincerity and greed vanish. This album marks a full stop to their relationship, and the lyrics are essentially diary entries fluffed up with rhyme and meter!
Aleska and Devon open up their personal lives for our absorptive pleasures. A younger me would have criticized them for harming women’s liberation with gender stereotypes, but an older me sees past the ideological cant and recognizes The Recognition consistent sound and haunting melodies as artistically great. In addition, it is not up to Exitmusic to walk us through all meanings of their art. Listeners must do the work and apply their experience to the songs, as all experience can unlock the door to wisdom.
7.0 / 10
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