The term special interest has been used more or less as a derisive phrase in my experience. Growing up in a more or less liberal household, I would usually hear it applied to the lobbying efforts of large energy companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers. Interest groups who don’t need government assistance but who have the clout to bend the ears of sympathetic politicians and get their manicured little phalanges into public coffers. Conversely, I would hear Republicans on the nightly news using the phrase to deride the pleas for assistance from the poor and less fortunate amongst us, or “reparations” if the target of their scorn their happened to be black. It brought me to the conclusion that anyone who needs anything from society could have their needs dismissed by labeling them as extra-ordinary, as a “special interest.” However, the tactic only ever seemed to work in order to deny assistance to those in actual need. The energy lobby, drug makers, and others do not have the same problems getting handouts from Ol’ Uncle Sam as someone who is insecure housing might.
The perverse imbalance of who asks and who receives, who deserves and who is unworthy, is a dichotomy that the New Orleans-based band Special Interest leans into their music. On their second LP The Passion Of, the Special Interest envelops the perception of youth as being frivolous and endorphin seeking, with the reality that financial capital and real estate developers have conspired to render many of them effectively homeless on the track “All Tomorrow’s Carry.” As neighborhoods are gentrified and urban areas “renewed” as secure investments, the top concern for many young people today is finding a safe, affordable place to live. For those who do manage to be housed, there is always the looming threat that rising rents or unscrupulous landlords will eventually force them out. Singer Alli Logout speaks to these anxieties over a desaturated, mechanistic beat when she cries out in a coldly fatalistic moan, “Are we going out tonight / A kick snare and a driving beat / I watch the city crumble / Arise from the rubble / Another tawdry condo / And a high rise suite.” The track ominously conflates the sentiment of most dance and pop songs- a desire to go out a party, with the harsh reality of being evicted. Resistance to this order that prioritizes the interests of property owners over the basic human needs of others can be met with harsh rebukes from the state, a reality of ready violence hinted at with the following line, “But would you bat an eye / Waiting for war machines to pass you by.”
“All Tomorrow’s Carry” is merely one example of the way in which Special Interest illuminates the brutalizing experience of modern living on The Passion Of. Through appropriately melancholic no wave skimming structures, Wax Trax hex beats, and an urgent wrangling of gutter-level glamour, vocalist Logout, guitarist Maria Elena, bassist Nathan Cassiani, and electro-tech interrogator Ruth Mascelli, have devised a sound and coordinated a catalog that speaks to the reality of ringing dignity from a world engineered to rob you of it. It’s hard not to feel like your conscience hasn’t been penetrated (along with your eardrums) on the mockingly sour slurry of Teenage Jesus Jerking guitars and maladjusted art house grooves of “Homogenized Milk,” whose lyrics again speak to the slow genocide of evictions and displacement in urban settings, or the Birthday Party thrown in the Damoclesian shade of societal ruin for a Bauhaus half-life on the closing track “With Love.”
Despite the general seriousness of the Special Interest’s preferred subject matter, the band manages to successfully interlay some relief spaces within their compositions in the form of humor. “Disco III” is a wild, post-punk, dance-blender with a John Waters-esque chorus that consists almost entirely of the words “Sodomy” and “LSD” shouted with maximalist abandon. This certainly feels fitting for an album whose cover appears to enshrine a butthole made of black leather. The Passion of also has some surprisingly placid moments, like the Eno-esque galactic-tunnel “Passion.” This tranquility is not long-lived though, as it is quickly shattered by the lysergic, Residents ruffled, New York Dolls-rotted isolation rock of the following track “Head.”
There are few bands who are willing and able to capture the real sense of disquiet and material insecurity that permeates modern living the ways Special Interest has on The Passion Of. An album like this one may not be able to rescue you from the living hell you presently occupy, but it will at least assure you that you do not suffer there alone. This kind of solidarity may not sound like much, but it could still be a glimmer of hope in the dark, a spark that becomes something more.