Sing of electric sheep
Poppet processes her aversion to modern life through orchestrated electropop.
What truly makes America great?
It was a question posed by Molly Raney’s friend after some dark political conversations last fall. Raney, better known onstage as Poppet, couldn’t spell an answer then, much less a patriotic one.
And who could blame her? She felt fearful and disillusioned about the election’s possibilities. About political polarization and resurging racism. About DIY artists like herself being pushed out as she observed the response to the Oakland warehouse fire in December, where she lost two friends.
Her addiction to Facebook didn’t help. News feeds angered her, particularly those needlessly burning headlines, sharpened like pitchforks.
Though technology dissuades her, Raney relies on it as the engine of her music. In recordings, Poppet’s baroque timbre of digital harpsichords and self-layered choral symphonies throb to the pulse of an electronic backbeat, the songs devised mostly through computer programs. Her tandem of woman and machine shines onstage, with a workshop of loop pedals, synth keys, cables and gadgetry forging a grand choir through a single body and voice.
“I couldn’t be the artist that I am today without the programs and equipment that I use,” Raney said. “But at the same time, technology is preying on our basic human instincts. It sucks us in and makes us so dependent on it.”
These conflicts inspired the themes of “Disenchantment Affects,” a 28-date protest tour in the U.S. and Canada. Raney said the tour critiques millennial apathy, technology and U.S. politics, but she also wants to rediscover what it means to be born and raised in the country.
“I think one of the most damaging things is that we all have this negativity surrounding our identity as Americans,” Raney said. “It’s not helping us get out of this apathetic structure that we’ve built for ourselves.”
Raney challenges that apathy through her music: The song “Plastic Tricycle,” on her launch album The Blue Sky is Always Blue, imagines pirates and monsters invading her dreams. Raney’s voice dilates in tenderly infantile ways to a toy music box of electronic bells and chirps.
Her second release, Desolation Lovesongs, shows a growing bout between lighthearted simplicity and darker, more complex arrangements anchored in reality, including the cinematic dirge of opera-orchestra in her cover of “All is Loneliness,” and her lyrical reflection of love in “Married to the Backyard”: “It’s the 21st century. Love is worthless.”
Raney’s music, no matter how sinisterly themed, hasn’t abandoned whimsical imagination, though she feared that spirit would die off.
“But over time I’ve learned that Poppet’s just evolving,” Raney said. “There’s no death, it’s just changing.”
Now on tour, the object of her enchantment is her generation’s indifference. On February 8, she’ll play downtown for the monthlong Art Street exhibition, performing with Los Angeles-based indie-pop group T.V. Girl, which joined her on tour.
“I hope [the performance] changes people’s perspectives,” Raney said. “I can’t be certain. It feels like I’m making the smallest difference in people’s lives, even just by opening their minds to a certain type of expression.”