If you were caught up in the acid-trip instrumentation of Courting’s cheekily titled debut album, Guitar Music, unmindful of Sean Murphy-O’Neill’s charged lyrics, it would seem that he and his bandmates were running around London, partying, falling in love, having the time of their lives. But even their funniest songs have a dark underbelly, and on closer listen, Guitar Music is occupied with far thornier subjects: the BDSM power structure of paypigs, bodily autonomy as it relates to beauty standards and adulthood, and the way changing cityscapes can create tour routes for poverty porn.
Guitar Music was originally made as a “rock” album before producer James Dring helped rip it to shreds and put it back together. Album opener “Cosplay/Twin Cities” is the sound of a band who is annoyed at publications who label them a guitar band. It’s Courting’s abrasive and deceptive prelude: A lush melody and romantic strings are consumed by an earth-shattering bass, sinister glitches, and censor beeps. The SOPHIE-inspired track immediately reveals that Courting aren’t afraid to pull the rug out beneath the listener. The cumulative effect makes these songs feel like tatters of unearthed time capsules that got mixed up in the same burial ground.
Since their 2019 debut single “Not Yr Man,” a satirical screed about masculinity norms, Courting have evolved beyond tight-fisted romps in the style of Parquet Courts or IDLES. There’s still plenty of pop culture shoutouts and nods to modern mundanity delivered in a deadpan voice, but at their best they feel less like provocations and more like world-building details—observations of a messy world contextualized with messy anxieties about growing up. “Famous” references luxury trends associated with self-care and upward mobility: “All of my friends are getting work done,” Murphy-O’Neill notes. “Fillers, facials, personal trainers/Calvin Klein collaborators/The American dream.” After imagining a now-scattered group of friends flying home to hang out and watch sports like the good ole days, Murphy-O’Neill cries, “Why’s everybody getting older?” Serrated guitars, short-circuiting background vocals, and Murphy-O’Neill’s searing tone create a sense of distrust and disgust while working through tumultuous changes.
The album’s longest song is a strange, alarming ode to falling in love with a robot influencer, inspired by content creator enigma Lil Miquela and Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. “Uncanny Valley Forever” begins as the album’s quietest track, with an eerie sweetness reminiscent of a Smashing Pumpkins ballad. Garbled high-pitched speech staggers into softly plucked electric guitar, then Murphy-O’Neill begins to sing gently about the future’s infinite possibilities. He sounds like he’s in love, but something isn’t adding up: “Every day she makes me laugh and I make her dinner/Although she can’t eat.” Soon, reality sets in and the division between humanity and technology appears like an exposed wire; it becomes unclear who’s the robot in this relationship as the song simpers from a guitar jam into a nearly indecipherable fried vocal outro. From head-scratching to head-banging, Courting transform observations from our bizarre reality into vivid storytelling and ambitious song structure, all in an effort to push pop further into the future.