“I am an activist”.
That’s how Brooklyn-based underground alt-pop artist Kiirstin Marilyn introduced herself. So, naturally, with U.S. politics at the top of the news, this is a good time to hear what she has to say through her songs.
Kiirstin has appeared on The Listening Post a few times, so her work may be familiar to FOTN regulars. It’s good to know that some musicians are still using their art to convey a message that is about more than the pain of lost love. Not that lost love isn’t worth writing about, but with so many things going on around us that seem… well… wrong, creative protest has to have its place too.
At first listening, her new EP Ghosts could be just another electro-pop offering. The vocals are sweet and tuneful, the arrangements energetic and the production tight. But it’s way too demanding to be background music or something to dance along to. This is a collection of songs that tap you on the shoulder. Think you might drift away? Check your texts? Tweet? Not while this music is playing, you won’t. It wants all of you and it accepts nothing less than your full attention.
It’s the voice that does it. Kiirstin may deliver a sweet vocal, but there is an urgency to her delivery too. An “I’m-singing-this-because-it-matters”. A “listen-up”. A “get-with-it”. Her activism occupies her tone and campaigns through her phrasing. This is a songbird for social justice.
Opening gently with track Headlines, Kiirstin could be singing a standard love song “I could use your love tonight”, except she is clearly not in love with what she reads, singing “I thought I needed you to show me the truth… I need you to get a little angry!”
Let’s get personal. Second track Long Time Coming is payback time. Quirky and honest, it says what we have all felt at one time or another, when someone who hurt us gets what’s coming to them. “I’m sorry…that I’m not sorry”. Karma should be so sweet!
Taking the mood down, track three Please Don’t Kiss Me promises a ballad, but not for long. “I don’t wanna break your heart, I just wanna start a revolution”. Don’t let love get in the way of progress, but enjoy a classy piece of music that builds, drops, fades and teases, while absorbing the message. Kiirstin uses her New York surroundings as a backdrop to the video for Please Don’t Kiss Me, now released as a single.
The song questions whether “forbidden love” is not just an oxymoron when all we need to change the world is to have love, tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness of one another. Right now, love and tolerance seem to be a rare commodity in political rhetoric on both sides of the pond, so this is a timely message to be sending out and one which we are pleased to share.
All good stories are eternal. The video is reminiscent of the story of Romeo and Juliet, but it’s sad to see the forbidden love of inter-racial relationships depicted in 2016 as it was nearly 60 years ago when West Side Story premiered on Broadway. We, humans, are slow learners. Be in no doubt, this is an artist who aims to “…change the world”. The inclusion of a protest speech at 1m34s keeps it real and sets the video apart from a simple visual interpretation of the audio by blurring the line between art and life. The story gives a glimpse of many faces of intolerance and, in a twist to the tale, reveals how protest itself can create prejudice.
For a song called The Struggle, track four is surprisingly smooth and self-assured “I live and die for what is right… I refuse to be part of this any more”. Don’t mess with Kiirstin. This edgy vocal, overlaying angst-infused electro, yields no prospect of surrender.
Offering a marching soundscape, title track Ghosts is music that demands a film to tell its story in cinemascope. At the very least a full-on alien apocalypse, set in a dystopian universe. War of the Worlds, eat your heart out! Is that Jennifer Lawrence’s agent on the phone?
Out of Control changes the mood perfectly, to close the EP with an addictively upbeat rhythm. If alt-reggae is a thing, this is it. Chirpy and cheeky it may be, but challenging too. The story, also told in a video which extends the music into a short film format, imagines Donald Trump as president and music on the street outlawed.
Kiirstin came up with the concept in the wake of the overwhelming number of incidents of police brutality and negligence that have come to light in the past few years because of technology and social media. Kiirstin says:
“The song itself is about very serious subject matter concerning the precarious state of our precious planet, but the music is energetic and fun”.
Delivering six stand-out tracks, Ghosts is more of a mini-album than an EP. While activism trickles through its tunes, this is no folk collection to be sung with sandals and beards. Kiirstin Marilyn redefines protest for the millennial generation, combining message and melody to entertain, uplift and provoke.
Like your music live? Check out her tour dates here