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Music

Elena Setién's 'Another Kind of Revolution' Is a Stirring Signal to Defy Gender Conventions

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Elena Setién's Another Kind of Revolution conceptualizes transformation as rooted in empowerment. The album is a recognition of women and their ability to act as catalysts for a popular and personal insurgency.

Another Kind of Revolution
Elena Setién

Thrill Jockey

15 February 2019

Elena Setién's upbringing was influential in shaping her music. She grew up in the Basque region of Spain during the post-dictatorship upheaval of the 1980s. Conditioned by civicism and the pursuit of progression, Setién's music imagines a similar ideology. For Setién, revolution is not always a call to arms or a sudden political power change. Revolution is also liberation from society's prescriptive norms. Her debut album, Another Kind of Revolution conceptualizes transformation as rooted in empowerment. The record is a recognition of women and their ability to act as catalysts for a popular and personal insurgency.

Setién's revolution contests accepted gender inequality. Specifically, in the title track, she addresses women who have been politically, socially, or culturally silenced due to systematic sexism and institutionalized androcentrism. Too frequently these women's contributions are ignored and their influence eclipsed. Meanwhile, these powerful and inspiring women are stationary. She draws a parallel between women's immobility and temporality when she suggests, "in the winter she waited for the green / In the summer she still remained unseen." Setién refers to these women as a "lady of the shadow", emblematic of all the women who remain marginalized under patriarchy. The track features an instrumental exchange between a piano and Wurlitzer electric piano bridging the expanse between classical and modernity. This is the aural representation of the durability of gender oppression and women's marginalization. Setién ends the track with the lyrics "another kind of revolution" thereby situating the recognition of women as a radical political act.

Androcentrism resurfaces in "Old Jamie". Here, Setién focuses on women's identity construction as defined by the patriarchy. When identities are established by a society centering masculinity, it is especially problematic for women to define themselves. The character Old Jamie embodies patriarchal privilege. He is "a man, oh! He was a curious man / He came by one night, and he showed me everything I am…for I'm sure, Old Jamie knows you too!" Setién brings awareness to women's inability to see themselves outside of prescriptive patriarchal norms since they wait "For Old Jamie to come by / And tell me what I need to do." Setién sounds an alarm for individuals, especially women, to define and construct their own identities while revolting against a gender double bind.

The onus placed on women's adherence to gender expectations is illustrated in "Far From the Madding Crowd". Setién sees gender conventions as circumscriptions reinforced by men: "Never with her own imagination / Could she possibly have dreamt of such an enemy / Never when he challenged her perception / Could she possibly have guessed there was such misery." However, gender norms are fracturable then agency is centralized when she sings "She lost herself in things only she could see." The title for this track is borrowed from Thomas Hardy's pastoral novel depicting the lives of a young shepherd, Gabriel Oak, and heroine Bathsheba Everdene. Prioritizing her independence, Bathsheba spurns Gabriel by refusing his marriage proposals. Eventually adhering to social class conventions, she marries the abusive Sergeant Francis Troy. Hardy's novel is an apt subtext for Another Kind of Revolution.

As "Far From the Madding Crowd" fades out, Setién's vocals are barely discernible but clear enough to hear, "her own imagination / Kept her imagining / But then came reality / And pulled her from her head." By situating independence in the imaginary, easily erased by reality, Setién engenders an incredulous depiction of adamantine gender norms. However, her apathy is not the track's focus. Rather, her repudiation is only uttered as the music diminishes. In doing so, she rejects gender role congruity but acquiesces to its existence. All the more reason to enliven Another Kind of Revolution's call for rejecting gender convention.

Another Kind of Revolution is confident and auspicious. "Sail Down the River", for example, encapsulates the simple message to trust oneself especially during periods of doubt and emotional upheaval. Setién exhibits a quasi-spiritual and optimistic belief in destiny when she sings, "Things are unsure / They move around / Let yourself be carried / To where you are bound." A women's ability to negotiate gender expectations reemerges in "We See You Shining for a While". Setién acknowledges empowerment's dissonance and women's fallibility when "You see yourself in every face other than your own / Draw the picture tell the story to our words unknown / We see you shining for a while / And then you leave us where we are." Unequivocally, Setién summons a clarion call to all women: empowerment is not absolute or perfect. Instead, the ability to "tell the story to our words" can build but also falter. However, the belief in oneself to "shine for a while" is as unbreakable as it is fundamental.

On her debut album, Setién masterfully creates a musical space to cultivate social progress. Another Kind of Revolution is a stirring signal to defy gender conventions while lauding and magnifying women's identities and contributions.

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