I’ve written a lot about a trend in music lately, that finds musicians writing songs about this feeling that all is not well in their nation. You can hear it in PJ Harvey’s disillusionment with Britain littered throughout “Let England Shake” (2011), a record about a fallen England, the devastation of war, and the ravages of violent times, all told with an elegiac nostalgia, through images of World War I battles, apocalyptic visions, and countrysides where the only thing that flowers is death. It’s audible in the Bill Callahan track, “America!” (2011) — a severe missive, sarcastically proclaiming a desire to travel to the “golden” and “grand America” and watch David Letterman on television. It’s a track pointed directly at mythical America, greed and willful ignorance. It’s an undercurrent in Radiohead’s 2011 album “The King of Limbs” (a title with obvious war imagery), that ends with the apocalyptic visions of “Separator” and the menace of “Morning Mr. Magpie”. You can hear it in Joseph Arthur’s 2012 single “Travel as Equals”, where he sings in prophetic verse about how to survive in a world of division and chaos: “In the dark of graveyard chatter / In the light of freedom’s call / In the heat of any matter / We travel as equals or not at all / Bloom disgust, class divide / I saw it written on the wall / The only way we can survive, we travel as equals or not at all.” It’s also in Bruce Springsteen’s newest single, “We Take Care of Our Own”, a song that only thinly veils a feeling of disappointment with the U.S. — through optimistic keyboard, steady drums, and upbeat guitar. It’s a track that equates the road map of the United States (i.e. New Orleans to Chicago) with the sinews of the body, connecting tissue that’s just one part of a whole that makes everything work. Throughout most of the song, Springsteen isn’t hiding much, there’s not much metaphor-as-veneer here. There’s a simplistic prettiness to sing-song pop verses that practically beg for people to show mercy for those without means, and for a country to get off its collective ass: “We take care of our own / Wherever this flag’s flown” and “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” The beauty of all of this music is it taps into something very real — the notion that war-mongering, greed, and the inauthentic have become systemic — but we all hold a part in fighting against it. All the above artists make that point in their differing ways, and all do it without preachy grandiosity. They’ve made meaningful art, through poetics, melody, and sometimes the dissonance required to give words an edge. It’s a wonderful time to be listening to music. — David D. Robbins Jr.