By Will Groff
Adeem the Artist's truth-telling is an antidote not only to country radio but also to our political discourse writ large.
“I’ve been learning our true history and I hate it,” Adeem the Artist declares early in White Trash Revelry, their stunning sophomore album. They refer here — on the scathing ‘Heritage of Arrogance’ — to the States’ national history, and the racist rot at its center. But across the album’s sprawling 11 tracks, Adeem also takes up personal, familial and romantic histories, intent not so much on changing the past as on learning from it.
White Trash Revelry arrives after last year’s Cast Iron Pansexual, the East Tennessee-based artist’s self-released debut. Inspired by enthusiastic responses to Cast Iron Pansexual, Adeem encouraged their followers to take part in a “Redneck Fundraiser”, ultimately raising $15,000 from donations as low as $1 to fund their sophomore effort.
On the resulting album, as on their debut, Adeem takes up issues of white working-class identity and sexual fluidity, often using material from their own life as their subject matter. This isn’t to say, however, that the songs are myopic. On White Trash Revelry, in particular, they often occupy the points-of-views of different characters, using compassion as a guiding principle.
Throughout, Adeem achieves the rare feat of neither idealizing the rural characters who populate their songs nor treating them with contempt. Take for example ‘Painkillers & Magic’, in which they sing without a shred of malice about one family member’s painful invoking of church-sponsored homophobia (“Hallelujah, ceaselessly”).
Then there’s the plaintive ‘Books & Records’, which centers on a couple whose dire financial situation has forced them to start selling off anything not of immediate need, including musical instruments passed down through generations. There is no bootstraps narrative or “poor, but rich in love,” spin here, just the true-to-life tale of two people who are doing the best they can.
In this way, Adeem’s truth-telling feels like an antidote not only to country radio but also to our political discourse writ large. The sardonic ‘Run this Town’ spares neither party in its sendup of the corruption of local politics. Likewise, the bluesy romp ‘Redneck, Unread Hicks’ (which features verses from fellow queer country artists Zach Russell and Jett Holden) is as critical of neoliberal classism as it is of queerphobic bigotry.
But it’s on ‘My America’, the album’s startling closing track, that Adeem’s depth of compassion is most evident. In the liner notes, Adeem reveals that the song — written from the perspective of an older man who has unwittingly been pulled to the far-right — was inspired by Aaron Lewis’ reactionary single, ‘Am I The Only One’. For Lewis, the tearing down of confederate statues is something to be bemoaned, while inevitable changes in the country’s social fabric amount to nothing less than “the threads of Old Glory com[ing] undone.”
Adeem, however, treats the subject matter with typical erudition and empathy, inhabiting the perspective not of a jingoistic zealot but of someone who is genuinely afraid for his family and the future of his country.
“Do the places I found meaning still mean anything at all? / Do the values I’ve upheld hold any value now?” they ask in the chorus, and it’s hard not to identify with the character, even if one has a sneaking suspicion these “values” are anathema to progressive ideals. It makes for a dazzling and discomfiting listen, an appropriate end to an album that repeatedly challenges its listener in the hopes that they will be better for it.
White Trash Revelry is out now via Four Quarters Records / Thirty Tigers. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below: