Guante & Big Cats: ROGUELIKE (plus revisiting the War Balloons album)

Why does this apocalypse feel so familiar?

New song, our first in five years! Get it wherever you listen to music (spotify, apple music, etc.), or right here:

Official Blurb: In 2018, Minneapolis-based duo Guante & Big Cats released War Balloons, an album of anthemic, explicitly political, sci-fi-tinged indie Hip Hop. To mark the five-year anniversary of that project (and its reintroduction to streaming services after being missing for a time), they’re releasing an “extended version” featuring a brand new track, Roguelike.

My Own Notes: The new song is part of a re-released version of our 2018 album, War Balloons. It’s available NOW. Nothing else on that project has changed; the reason for the re-release is just some technical stuff on the back end, and the new song is free, so if you already bought the album, you don’t have to buy it again. And if you missed it five years ago (aka a million years ago), here’s an opportunity to catch it. Like a lot of artists, I tend to dislike everything I did that’s older than a month or so, but I’m still pretty proud of this one. It features some of my best songwriting, and Big Cats is always brilliant. Some extended thoughts on the new song below.

Quick, somewhat related note: If you’re reading this post today (Saturday, June 17, 2023), come see me perform at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival tonight in Minneapolis. It won’t be a G&BC set, but I’ll be sharing poems and songs over See More Perspective’s live production. 6-7pm on the Cities 97 stage.

an album cover: purple jellyfish float in a dark sky over a nondescript horizon. The text reads "guante & big cats: war balloons (extended)"
a square featuring the text "roguelike: guante & big cats" plus an image of a person at the end of a dark tunnel.

ROGUELIKE: Some Background

If you know my work, you may have noticed that I write about the end of the world a lot. From poems like Love in the Time of Undeath (the one that Fred Again sampled on Kyle), to my most recent book, Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, But Enough, to the whole War Balloons album, it’s a conceptual anchor for me, an idea that helps give the stuff I really want to write about a kind of foundation. I’m obviously not the only one, and there are a wealth of think-pieces and academic essays out there on why apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic art is so popular.

Beyond that: in 2022, I read archaeologist Chris Begley‘s book The Next Apocalypse, after hearing him on Kelly Hayes‘ “Movement Memos” podcast. In his words:

In this book, I show how understanding the collapse of civilizations can help us prepare for a troubled future. Pandemic, climate change, or war: our era is rife with the indicators of doomsday. In movies, books, and more, our imaginations run wild with visions of dreadful, abandoned cities and returning to the land in a desperate attempt at survival. In “The Next Apocalypse,” I argue that we completely misunderstand how disaster works… it was communities, not lone heroes, who survived past apocalypses—and who will survive the next.

One of the reasons I make art in the first place is that I love the idea of challenging dominant narratives with counter-narratives. Aside from being important, it’s just fun. And this is such a cool example of that process: the dominant narrative about “who survives the end of the world” is one of hoarding resources, retreating to bunkers, never trusting anyone, and just being tougher and more cutthroat than everyone else. And the counter-narrative, the one actually supported by history, is the complete opposite: we survive when we work together, when we can put our fear, our egos, and our greed aside and collaborate.

Writer Margaret Killjoy put it like this: Supply lines are more important than stockpiles or reserves.

One more quote that helped inform the song: bell hooks said: The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.

All of this just feels like really important stuff to grapple with in this specific historical moment. Aside from this song, I also have a poem coming out soon that covers a lot of the same ground. I’ll share that here as soon as I can.

But What Does the Title Mean?

A roguelike is a kind of video game where every time you “die,” you start over at the very beginning. These kinds of games can be brutal, but the idea is that each time you respawn, you’re a little more prepared for the next run. Maybe you learned something about the world, or gained a new skill, or found an item you can use to get a little further next time.

That felt like a great conceptual framework for a song like this. Because the end of the world isn’t a one-time thing; it’s happening all the time. So what are we learning? How are we preparing for the next run? Here are the lyrics:

Roguelike (Lyrics)

I sold my soul to the wolf god, knowing that the end was coming
And I would need strength and cunning to survive
So alive: liquid moonlight slides over blood on my fur
alpha musculature, limitless,
mouth full of nightmares, bayonets on my fingertips
No fear, no friends, no family, no witnesses
My mission is survival over rivals and competitors: the apex predator
The king of the wasteland, solitary sovereign
My subjects: whatever flesh I press my claws in
Yeah, the first few months of the apocalypse were everything I wanted
But now I wonder where it all went
These humans are so weak; I haven’t seen one for weeks
But I smell ‘em and my stomach speaks
As I learned how to hunt, they learned how to hide
I killed so many, but they survived and I died

Respawn and remember
The chorus always returns
Why does this apocalypse feel so familiar?
How many deaths ‘til I learn?
my way back, my way home

The second time I faced the end of the world, I sold my soul to the tortoise god
And built a bunker in the mountains
With years of canned food, ammunition and supplies
After one month, choked on some jerky and died
The third time I faced the end of the world
I sold my soul to the spider god and preyed on lone travelers
Until one “lone” traveler’s family found me
I burned with my own web wrapped around me
fourth time I faced the end of the world
I sold my soul to the bear god and just tried to hibernate through it
It worked; I made it further than the other runs
But never stopped to wonder: further toward what?
The fifth time I faced the end of the world
I sold my soul to the snake god: eyes bottomless
wore a nice suit, spoke with a lotta confidence on his podcast
He said, men needed to be dominant,
and just take what we want and then forget the consequences
Just be cynical, the stoic, the mythical, the rugged individual
Unlike those immigrants, trans people and criminals
You’ll be one real man, under god, indivisible

…I listened, I bought all of his supplements
put every attribute point I had into toughness
Learned other people were dead weight
so I was all alone when the end came
And all alone there’s no escape

Respawn and remember
The chorus always returns
Why does this apocalypse feel so familiar?
How many deaths ‘til we learn?
our way back, our way home

The next time I face the end of the world
I won’t sell my soul; I’ll give it freely away
To everyone I love, I will give thanks
‘Cause it was never individual strength that dictates
who makes it, it took humility and patience to learn:
No apocalypse is final or first
a new one every minute, we learn
from who survived, we learn from those who didn’t
we learn to live with limits, and we learn how to hear
The music of a world as it’s breakin’
The question was never whether this is the end or not
It’s what kind of end will we make it?
I never learned much, but with help, I learned how to hear
The music of a world as it’s breakin’
The question was never whether this is the end or not
It’s what kind of end will we make it?