A few guarantees come when any new track by Ignacio Peña lands on your desk. You know that the music is going to be big, ornate and intricate—the melody infectious, usually to the point of euphoria. And the lyrics will be deep and meaningful, often tackling deep political thoughts and exploring many of the dark corners and unseen energies that have shaped the world we find ourselves in today. I’m happy to say this is true with his new and anthemic song, 2020 (Helter Skelter).
As the primary lyrical reference for the song is right there in the title, it seems the perfect place to start. The Vincent Bugliosi book Helter Skelter is an overview of the trial of Charles Manson, of which the author was the lead prosecutor, and it, in part, discusses Manson’s beliefs of a race war that would lead to civil unrest and the ushering in of a new type of society. The book title is, in turn, taken from one of many slogans scrawled at the scene of his followers most famous crime, a reference to the Beatles song of the same name and, by then, an underground code word for the potential war.
Having read the book in 1987 as a high school student, this song, released initially in 2020, hence the title, sees the artist musing over just how much of Manson’s ideologies have come true or at least gained traction since his infamous acts. And you can make a good argument, as Peña does here, that the world we find ourselves in is one of racially driven unrest, entrenched political ideas, a battle between liberal attitudes and conservative control, between freedom and diktat, a struggle of class, colour and creed. Is this world too far away from what Manson saw being ushered in?
And if the lyrics are typically deep and meaningful, as you might expect if you have heard Peña’s previous releases, then the music is also in keeping with his musical modus operandi. Drums beat out a staccato tattoo, and the bass drops depth charge runs, creating a solid platform for the twin attacks of guitar and vocals to push the message home. And even if you don’t dig too deep into the lyrical content, as always, musically, you still have a big and bold, exciting and ornate, poignant and powerful piece of music.
That’s the great thing about Ignacio Peña’s music. You can revel in the music, have fun with it, punch the air, dance along, and generally have a good time to its deft and dexterous sounds. But, if you want to look a bit deeper, there is always much more to be found here than might first meet the ear. It might not give you many answers, it’s not trying to, but it makes you ask all the right questions, which, arguably, is a much more important and empowering process.