Candy Says – Not Kings

“Candy, will you dance with me?”

Candy Says is one of those bands that don’t have a biography on their website, but a manifesto. And before you give them that sceptic look, we have to admit it’s a good one. It starts with admitting that “We are not kings”, goes on to denounce obession with money, materialism, greed and dumbing down, and ends with the call to join Candy Says in their ‘failure’ (a failure to be conformist, that is). The whole thing can be found here. Contrasting with this manifesto, the band – on their website, they call themselves a collective, listing over 50 members – is not overly political in their music or lyrics. They are not telling you to stop listening to the government, or give away your money. They simply practice what they preach: “Making. If you create, I’m afraid you’re not ordinary anymore.”

So what about the music, then, if it’s an exponent of this collective rather than the musical version of their manifesto? It is good! Although the band name gives away an important source of inspiration, the link between Candy Says and The Velvet Underground is not too obvious. However, there are connections, especially lyrically. In their liner notes (this is pretty cool: the band released an app with liner notes to most of the songs, and there are alternative recordings as well!), Juju – singer – writes how ‘Hummingbird’ is a continuation of Lou Reed’s Candy persona, one that she (Juju) felt such a strong connection with that it become almost her sole reason to live. It’s a beautiful concept but what’s even more beautiful is that it is more of a feeling than a concept, actual love for a non-actual person that becomes actual through this story. This may be a fundamental difference; while The Velvet’s world is bleak, Candy’s world is lively and willing to live. The poetry is the same, but the context is different.

Another thought: while Candy Says is a collective, or a vision, Not Kings is personal, or a person. In the liner notes, Juju tells how she wrote a poem when she was pregnant; it was called ‘Dead On Arrival’.  The lyrics are, of course, about something entirely different, but I still feel that the anecdote illustrates my point. I am not saying there is a paradox here. In the end, every collective consists of individuals and that’s another way in which Not Kings is smart, complex, intimate and simple. In the liner notes, Juju writes that in the process of writing lyrics, she reaches her musical limit, and then she needs Ben to record the song with her (his piece on how to record bass drum in the rock way, the jazz way or the garage way, for ‘Understand the Night’, is very insightful). I am saying this is part of the beauty of Not Kings.

I have probably exaggerated what Not Kings is. In the end, it is an album containing 11 songs, some beautiful melodies, some haunting/lovely vocals and a variety of instruments and styles (‘Dreamers’, for example, starts out as a sweet/angry song, speaking instead of singing, but it’s chorus leans to electronic music and is catchy as hell). And that’s why you should listen to it (you should! you should! Buy the cassette!). In the end, it’s music by human beings about human beings.

-- Caspar Jacobs, July 5, 2014