Self-loathing and existential dread are timeless fodder for punk, but it’s impressive when a band can make such well-worn themes feel fresh. NYU-bred punks Human People have done it on their new single “Black Flowers,” off their forthcoming debut album, Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears, due next Friday. The track follows recent singles “Jenny,” “California,” and “Radiator Water.”
Over disconcertingly upbeat drums and guitars, vocalist and guitarist Hayley Livingston jaggedly drawls a series of brutal queries (“Am I lying to myself and maybe everyone else?” “What’s the point of living when you’re always alone?” “What’s the point of living when you only get stoned?”) that promise unsettling answers. She paints a picture of someone depressive and self-destructive, getting high alone in their apartment and never far from breaking down, with little sympathy for themselves.
However, “Black Flowers” is a lackadaisical kind of breakdown, as catchy as it is eviscerating and never losing its slightly bored punk cool — as if the answers to Livingston’s questions are too obvious and inevitable for her to get all that worked up about them. This isn’t to say the song feels detached or jaded. The rawness of Livingston’s reflection is just slightly obscured by the song’s tongue-in-cheek tone, making it look easy to be this honest with yourself.
In just under two minutes, “Black Flowers” builds to a power-pop shred and a strain of desperation grows in Livingston’s voice as she expresses regret over her inability to have more faith in the world around her: “I want to believe in what’s happening.” It closes with a doozy: “I ruin everything/ That is in my way/ So don’t be in my way.”
Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears is out 9/21. Pre-order it here.