What use is beautiful language in a crisis? On her previous album as Mega Bog, 2021’s Life, and Another, Erin Birgy found breathtaking ways to describe the world around her and the one inside her head. On “Station to Station,” she hoped her memory would one day “dissolve like an artichoke being gutted around its spine”; a character on “Before a Black Tea” was “30 and scrutinized, the blimp of a moth.” Verdant, intricate arrangements grew around Birgy’s lyrics, like vines from a jasmine bush, blossoming into jazz, avant-folk, funk, and twitchy indie rock. On her seventh album, End of Everything, things have changed: Instead of intricacy and whimsy, the Los Angeles-based musician uses plain, emphatic images to capture the blunt-force horror of the world outside her door. “City skies turn black in the daytime,” she sings on the sparse “Anthropocene.” “I see a burnt-up alligator/What the fuck?”
On End of Everything, a newly sober Birgy is working with far more intensity. The vast, open world of Life, and Another has been replaced with harsher terrain: Environments built with brittle coldwave synths, funereal piano lines, and howling saxophones. End of Everything begins with a suite of propulsive, exhilarating synth-pop tracks, but it soon settles into an eerie, claustrophobic take on prog, its second half devoted almost entirely to tense, exploratory passages. Across these desolate and distended tracks, Birgy comes across a little like a sci-fi heroine, trekking across the surface of some gloomy and unnerving planet. These songs are dogged, searching for some kind of brightness amid universal dejection. “It’s something I’m trying to commit to/The all and everything,” Birgy sings at one point. It feels hopeful, until moments later, when she lets out a chilling, mournful howl.
Birgy has said that End of Everything was inspired by both personal tragedy—a home invasion and subsequent assault she experienced—and the ecological terror of the 21st century. Before the album slips into existential dread and malaise, she makes room for a handful of songs that seem to find at least a little solace in the idea of human connection. On the soaring “Cactus People,” she begs someone not to “leave tonight,” as the taut pulse of drum machines and live drums, both by Big Thief’s James Krivchenia, rattle underneath. On the neon-lit “Love Is,” the kind of pulsating Italo anthem that maybe only the disco divas on an After Dark compilation can really pull off, she tells a lover she’ll “leave my door unlocked/Just in case you want to stop by and let me get lost in your eyes.”
These songs are booming and vivid and catchy, but they almost underserve Birgy; the nuances and intricacies of her music are what make it feel so precious and self-contained. The album still possesses tiny pearls: There’s an aqueous, almost imperceptible whisper beneath Birgy’s vocals on “Cactus People” that’s cool and deeply discomfiting, as if recorded by her own shadow; Birgy’s description of freaking out a potential boyfriend (“I really scared him/Because all I talk about with him is/Beheading young men”) is one of her most casually hilarious lyrics ever. For the most part, though, these details are obliterated by the barnstorming synths that coat the early tracks; squint, and they could resemble old songs by Future Islands or Lower Dens. Life, and Another felt like the musical equivalent of overturning a log to see the insect life teeming beneath; these bullish, ambitious, chunkily melodic songs crush some of that nuance.
When not in this mode, Birgy still captures the beautiful, occasionally petrifying vastness of her earlier music. “Complete Book of Roses” is a universe unto itself, Birgy singing over a tinny drum machine and serrated guitars about a painful, never-ending restlessness: “I’ve got every book out,” she sings, “And the warmth of the words is unnerving.” A guitar solos in the background like a phantom limb, as the beat blooms into a kind of frenetic, moorless samba; Birgy’s voice builds and crumbles, more guttural yelp and exclamation than concrete words. On this song and on “Anthropocene,” she recalls Julia Holter, making formless chamber music that echoes out into a wide, empty universe.
End of Everything’s synth-pop singles were a feint; it’s these longer, more ambling, more psychically tortured songs that define the new epoch of Mega Bog. This album is far more challenging than the lush, sprightly Life, and Another; although a good deal shorter, it’s more dense, and it can feel overwhelming. For that reason, it can sometimes feel more rewarding, too. The title track is a twinkling sermon that casts a breakup and the apocalypse as the same thing. Over a wash of pianos and synths, Birgy sings, plaintively: “What then, I feel shaken?/What then, I feel small?/It’s like Part I: The Punishment/For ever being brave at all.” The rich fantasies of past Mega Bog records have evaporated; all that’s left is harsh, uncompromising reality.
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