On the Classical's Survival of the Softest, Berkeley singer-producer Juliet Gordon sings as if she's sharpening a blade. The dark, experimental pop record speaks from the point of view of a "soft" person who's had enough of being submissive, malleable, and meek: In other words, she's finally snapped. "Why’s it selfish to try to survive?," she asks on the high-drama opening track, "Theme for a Gorgon." The song, with its swelling synths and thundering snares, builds suspense at the slow pace of menacing footsteps echoing down a concrete hallway.
The reference to the gorgon, the snake-haired creature from Greek mythology, speaks to Gordon's embracing the archetype of a female monster throughout the album, turning the tables on oppressive and obnoxious men. On "Why Don't You Make Me Smile," she flips the stereotypical street harasser's pick-up line. "Why don’t you make me smile? / I learn nothing but patience here / From your incessant diatribes," she taunts, mustering the faux-sincere tone of a woman who's nodded politely to mansplainers one too many times.
But Gordon's lyrics aren't just righteous anger. In fact, her fictionalized persona throughout the album is more of a misunderstood anti-hero who reveals both her vulnerabilities ("Uh Oh") and morbid fantasies ("My Death"). (It should come as no surprise that Gordon has a background in acting.) The album taps into a similar feeling of a breaking point that catalyzed the #MeToo movement, and the diabolical, unhinged personas Gordon inhabits can feel cathartic for anyone who's felt stunned or helpless in the face of sexist microagressions.
Gordon's production on Survival of the Softest evokes trip-hop forebears like Massive Attack, as well as contemporary revivalists like FKA Twigs. The light, airy "Uh Oh," with its hand-claps and euphoric piano melody, is the album's emotional high point, but even there, Gordon tempers its floaty feeling with a twinge of melancholy.
Survival of the Softest is the Classical's final release, as Gordon and her collaborator Britt Ciampa disbanded earlier in the year. (Ciampa is not credited on this album.) While it's unfortunate the project has been put to rest, this last effort proves Gordon to be one of the East Bay's most creative songwriters. She recently joined indie outfit Golden Drugs as a vocalist, but let's hope she emerges with another solo project soon.
We'll be posting our top 10 local albums of 2017 every day through Dec. 22. Check back here to see which other albums made our list.