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There’s a moment in Trevor Nunn’s 2018 spy drama Red Joan in which dashing communist Leo and politically teetering student Joan stand on a rooftop overlooking Cambridge. Facing the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse, Leo asks her, “If this whole world was going to be destroyed, what would you save?” That exact question—what you would hold onto, if you even could—undergirds Nothing’s Ever Fine, the second album from Oceanator songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Elise Okusami. Throughout the record, she settles on simple but potent answers: memories of aimless teenage Saturday nights, Cherry Coke, summer rain, waterfalls, the view from the van window. Similar to The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman on this year’s How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars, Okusami’s artistry is less enraptured than it is ambivalent when confronted with nature’s beauty. She doesn’t just want to lie in the warm summer rain, she wants her body to dissipate within it.
One thing Nothing’s Ever Fine does not do, despite the fatalism of its title, is give into despair. It’s a big, loud, scuzzy record. It has real heft. Okusami loves big finishes, finger-punishing solos, and anthemic choruses. She goes on instrumental diversions—album opener “Morning” serves as a breathless overture, and she revisits its riff on “Post-Meridian”—and narrative ones. Okusami first envisioned Nothing’s Ever Fine as a short film, and now her characters show up in the Pixies-ish “Solar Flares,” striking out into the wilderness to find unscorched shelter as the grid fails and the phone lines crumble.
Elsewhere, she prods at her own distinctly modern psychosis. For Okusami, the apocalypse is happening as much to the coral reefs as it is happening inside our heads, something Adam Curtis would likely agree with. On “Bad Brain Daze,” she’s relatively good-natured about modern malaise, trotting Jeff Rosenstock out for a joyful sax solo. On “Stuck,” however, she thrashes beneath its psychic weight before pulling everything down with her in a furious clash of cymbals and bass sludge.
Nothing’s Ever Fine ricochets between exasperation and exhilaration. Personal turmoil and global catastrophe are given equal weight, as reasonable a proportion as any in a hyper-atomized and thus hyper-individualistic culture. The audacity of hope, the twinge of nostalgia, and the randomness of the universe—“Anything can happen/ Don’t need a reason why”—bounce against an anger and despair that feels necessarily misdirected or insufficient no matter where she points it. It’s loud and messy out there, and it’s loud and messy inside Nothing’s Ever Fine. It’s the end of everything. And similar to another one of contemporary rock’s great pessimists, it has Okusami convinced that the end has no end.