The Elephant 6-related group Nana Grizol have always been a thinking band. On their first few albums, 2008’s Love It Love It and 2010’s Ruth, the Theo Hilton-led indie band seemed mostly focused on personal issues, sometimes sounding like a jangly version of Bright Eyes in their early 2000s peak. If Hilton wasn’t pontificating on the complications of and the implications of living in the city, he was pondering how cherished relationships sometimes build and crumble so mysteriously. One of their most beloved songs, “Cynicism”, contains this lovely chin-scratcher: “…I never learned a lesson looking at my own reflection, but sometimes it seems useful. So I loosen my heartstrings in hopes of starting to find something useful.”
Hilton spits words like an impressionist splotched paint, for the feeling. 2017’s Ursa Minor saw Hilton pointing the camera out to the world and specifically to American culture. There are dissections of hetero-normative culture and diatribes against media bias. It was still as catchy as ever, but it had a little more weight. Nana Grizol’s new album South Somewhere Else, finds the band continuing to wrangle with this world. In these predominantly catchy songs, Hilton attempts to reckon with the racist past and present of the US South, where he grew up while looking to a future with a hopefully better version of himself.
“To imagine what’s to come. Not trapped by definition. A future version of yourself, choosing your intention,” is how Hilton commences Nana Grizol’s South Somewhere Else and there really could not be better opening lyrics for this album because within, Hilton is drawing stark lines in the sand. Yet he’s also reflecting on being on the wrong side of that line.
“Plantation Country” details the violence hidden behind the South’s disgusting habit of trying to re-vision plantations as some symbol of a simpler past. The reality is that the plantations represent the sick, twisted history of slavery in America, and they should be treated as such. Hilton knows he’s not innocent, though, and he says as much: “An order that confirms a license. A beauty that disguises violence. And oh, we were complicit in our soft insipid silence.” With a song like “Plantation Country” and many others on this album, Hilton is reckoning with history, but refusing to place himself as an outsider, because as a course of life, he is not. “It was assumed the South was a thing that you placed somewhere else,” he says on the title track. Assumed by whom, some might ask, and they would be right in doing so.
On “Jangle Manifesto”, Hilton angrily barks, “We were trained to see in borders, and learned a language to divide. I mean, it’s just following orders drawn on dreamed diametric sides.” There’s an acknowledgment of privilege here, and it can bring one back to the opening track, “Future Version” where Hilton urged the listener to imagine a future version of themselves, to choose their intentions. Hilton is talking to other white people here: Be honest about the past, imagine a better future, and act in the present.