It’s clear that we are on the verge of some kind of a philosophical revolution. While only a few years ago the promise of technology seemed to be limitless, a pervading sense of cynicism has overshadowed much of what that promise seemed to entail. To complicate things even further, although anyone can nitpick the symptoms of this mess, pinpointing exactly the source of it seems impossible: Does it stem from the misgivings of the Baby Boomers or the toxicity of social media and “call out” culture? Are gender inequalities to blame or could it be the consequences of postmodern thinking that are at fault?
Considering the presence of this vicious circle when trying to reach any kind of certainty, it makes sense that although the pursuit of philosophy was once perceived as a waste of time that threatened the restless pragmatism of the West, a growing sense of spiritual unease has led to a change of heart: If the highs of material excess and entertainment have done little to make us happy, where else is there to turn but within?
In light of this revolution, philosophical thinking has evolved from being a peripheral subject reserved for stoners and verbose academics into a mainstream concern. Just as philosophers became iconic in post-WWII France for their heated debates at coffee shops, the most listened-to podcasts today include celebrities who question the “meaning of life” or who interview the leading intellectuals of the world. Though debates about Free Will and Determinism were once relegated to the most obscure corners of universities, philosophers now freely discuss these topics to a rabid fan-base, selling out arenas like rock stars.
An unassuming consequence of the current paradigm has been the content of emerging indie pop artist and Toronto native, Seth Nyquist (AKA “MorMor”). Whether or not Nyquist will blow up to mainstream success is difficult to predict at this point considering the uniqueness of his craft. His sound may be described as something like “existentialist dream pop,” as he sprawls angst-ridden lyrics over a hazy ambiance, creating a vibe which seems to defy the conventions of any one genre. What does remain certain, however, is Nyquist’s talent as a storyteller. When reflecting on the underlying themes of his biggest hit and most striking song so far, “Heaven’s Only Wishful,” Nyquist was adamant about showing a side of Toronto that he felt was notably absent from the representations of other artists.
Though listening to a Drake album may lead you to believe that Toronto is some kind of glamorous multicultural utopia, Nyquist speaks to the darker side of the city: the lonely nights wandering by dilapidated houses in the cold, the dichotomous sight of the homeless lying on sidewalks among slick business-types unconsciously rushing to work on their iphones, the cacophonous sounds of the city’s ceaseless building of plastic-looking condos. But beyond these particulars, Nyquist recreates the mood that accompanies experiencing them and the kind of helplessness that comes with being too aware of your bleak surroundings.
This continues to be the case on his latest EP, Some Place Else. Touching on the inspiration for the EP, Nyquist didn’t shy away from the headspace he was in while creating it: “I wrote these songs during a time where I couldn’t shake my demons. I was forced to confront what I had been masking in smiles and metaphors. It was a long winter.” Stripped back of any fluff or filler, the 22-minute EP serves as a brief glimpse into the abyss of the quietly anxious mind and the struggle of having to figure out how to navigate through that kind of murky territory.
Throughout Some Place Else Nyquist floats from one thought to another, prioritizing the expression of his inward tension over any kind of analysis of it. The EP addresses the escapism of wishing you could just drop your emotional baggage and practical obligations to be anywhere but where you are now, the desperation of seeking closure in times of uncertainty, and the despair of wanting the day to end before it even begins. Nyquist symbolizes the weight of these pressures as a cloudy day where the sun is nowhere to be found:
Looking outside, I’m scared to die
The sky won’t hold light, it leaves me blind
How can I find the sun?
Looking outside, oh, what’s the use?
The sky won’t hold light, it leaves me too
How can I find the sun?
When listening to this kind of music, there’s often an urge to criticize it as unnecessarily sad and void of any kind of affirming message. While we’re certainly vulnerable to crappy days and messy external realities, are things really that bad to merit such a dramatic response? And even if they are, why not just look past it and focus on having a more optimistic outlook? But just as the Existentialists somehow managed to accomplish in their work, there is something ironically comforting about stepping into Nyquist’s gloomy headspace once you get past the initial discomfort. The reason why this is the case isn’t necessarily easy to pinpoint, but it really just might be the relief of knowing that the hardships you faced which you thought were particular to your own life are actually more commonplace than you think.
Although it’s still too early to tell if the approaching philosophical revolution will be a cultural tectonic shift or just a superficial blip in history, it is clear that transcending the limitations of the status quo will require an emotional honesty that has yet to be widely accepted.