Photo: Shervin Lainez / Courtesy of All Eyes Media

Dustbowl Revival Explore the Personal and Political on ‘Is It You, Is It Me’

Dustbowl Revival's Is It You, Is It Me undertakes the personal and political. The Americana ensemble are candid in their responses to divisive political conversations all the while setting their missives to masterful instrumentation.

Is It You, Is It Me
Dustbowl Revival
Medium Expectations
31 January 2020

Dustbowl Revival’s newest release, Is It You, Is It Me, undertakes the personal and political. The Americana ensemble are candid in their responses to divisive political conversations, all the while setting their missives to masterful instrumentation. Yet the album is not entirely composed of grandiloquence. Dustbowl Revival also holds space for quieter and tenderer musical narratives. With the signature duel harmony of Z. Lupetin and Liz Beebe, in addition to the lush sound led by Connor Vance, Matt Rubin, Ulf Bjorlin, Josh Heffernan, Is It You, Is It Me is a revelatory album.

Dustbowl Revival don’t settle for wimpy commentary: the album is packed with fearless censures. In “Enemy“, Dustbowl Revival take on the disunity caused by politics. Beebe sings a powerful and vulnerable tale of a daughter lamenting her parents who “made him king / But they forgot the crown / Please pass the salt.” Beebe is crestfallen by their beliefs; the disconnect is the proverbial salt poured into her wounds. The track reflects the generation who lost their parents and family to the likes of Fox News’ divisive rhetoric. Dustbowl Revival captures the emotional toll created by the discord.

Yet the album is not entirely somber. There are indie-rock inspired love songs such as “I Wake Up” and “Ghost”. Other times, Dustbowl Revival’s critiques are given some levity, as in “Nobody Knows (Is It You”). In this track, an eccentric individual finds himself accidentally elected President. This individual is amiable and charismatic, so it’s not Donald Trump. Rather, the character is more akin to Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski and his admirable individualism. Essentially a counter-narrative to Trumpism, “Nobody Knows (Is It You)”, demonstrates the virtue in rejecting power and “moving to the country / To grow my wine / Keep it simple.” Dustbowl Revival contemplation of authenticity is revisited throughout Is It You, Is It Me.

In “Sonic Boom”, the band critique the Panglossian identities constructed and bolstered by social media. When the music and vocals ascend to sing, “Don’t you want to know who I am / Well I don’t know myself /Just who I want to be” there is a distinct earnestness. With straightforward lyrics and lush orchestration, “Sonic Boom” is a clear reminder to stay vigilant and critical of the social media we insatiably consume. Indeed, there is toxicity associated with constructing an authentic identity as depicted in “Dreaming” and “Let it Go”. These tracks contend the exaltation of an idealized self can be both emotionally and physically harmful. But “Just One Song” provides the relief: music is capable of eclipsing the negativity.

It’s at the album’s halfway point where Dustbowl Revival amplifies. The juxtaposition of the tracks “Penelope” and “Get Rid of You” are honest depictions of our youth’s reality and the mythos constructing what said reality resembles. “Get Rid of You” was inspired by the Parkland shooting and the inability of our elected officials to act on gun control. The track extols the teenage activists who emerged from the violence, asking if “your AR-15 [is] worth more than my life / How do you sleep at night?” The track expresses anger towards contemporary American apathy and inactivity: “And all we ever see are the old folks doing nothing / You can shove it where the sun don’t shine / With your thoughts and prayers who fucking cares.” They emphasize voting and activism as the most effective method for removing politicians from office. Accordingly, the Parkland survivors and all those they inspired are “just another bunch of loudmouth kids, and that’s the truth / When they get a little older and wiser gonna get rid of you.”

As “Get Rid of You” ends, the band depicts the Parkland students returning to Stoneham and attempting to regain a sense of normalcy. In short, the culture of fear disallows it, thereby creating a stark contrast to the carefree and safe adolescence illustrated in “Penelope”. The lyrics are a romanticized portrayal of youthful sweetness and innocence: “She told me everything about her favorite animal / The saber tooth tiger / Her main man BB King / Ooh she gave my first kiss.” The song is danceable and upbeat. Essentially, it’s fun – it is everything youth culture should be: free of gun violence, active shooting drills, and the responsibility of being gun control activists.

Dustbowl Revival is not afraid to take a definite political stance. Whereas other musicians might compromise musical integrity for social commentary, Is It You, Is It Me is penetrative. Dustbowl Revival deftly strikes a successful balance between gravity and fun.

RATING 9 / 10