Sounds of Soil

Everything begins and ends with soil. It’s kind of like, as soil scientist Andrew Kurtz calls it, “the skin of the earth” – and with no skin, you would completely fall apart. You would also get too hot or too cold way too easily. Needless to say, it would be an extremely unpleasant experience.
Unfortunately, because of conventional farming techniques, erosion, groundwater pumping and a plethora of other human activities, soil is in danger. Like most organisms, the soil can’t speak up for itself when it’s being walked all over–in every sense of the phrase.

The following musicians, however, took a break from the more commonly found songs about love and heartbreak to voice the ails of modern day soil from their human perspectives. After all, there’s no love and heartbreak without the foundation of some living soil. 

The hotter the temperature, the hotter the soil; the drier the soil, the drier the vegetation; the drier the vegetation, the easier and faster it burns. Before you know it, entire hillsides become perfect kindling for wildfires that used to be more manageable in a cooler climate. 

In Kero Kero Bonito’s song titled “When the Fires Come,” a community is described as having to leave everything behind because of fires sweeping over the land:

As a pillar of smoke reaches over to strangle the land

We desert all we have as fast as we can for the valleys

While the title suggests that this song takes place in the future, the picture Kero Kero Bonito provides is not a prophecy of the distant 3000s, but a current reality for people and animals living in areas that burn easily and quickly, and more frequently than ever before, due to global warming. 

In her song “XS,” Rina Sawayama warns of the cost of wealth and living in unsustainable excess, which calls for the extraction of nonrenewable resources from beneath the–you guessed it–soil: 

Flex, when all that’s left is immaterial

And the price we paid is unbelievable

Taking place in a future that faces the consequences of environmental exhaustion, material things –the things that are sought after in the first place, like fancy cars, fashionable clothing, and lavish property – are sacrificed as the result of some catastrophic event, not unlike the unruly wildfires of Kero Kero Bonito’s lyrical landscape. 

Soil holds everything together, and most things in the environment are like that. The extinction of one crucial species causes everything to fall out of whack – all the way down the ladder to the final rung that is the soil on which we all depend. So comes this timely apology from “Pink Convertible” by MARINA:

Sorry to the flowers and the trees

And the fish poisoned in the seven seas

The private jet looks cool on the ‘Gram

Forty pairs of Nikes, you’re the man

Echoing the same gotta-have-it mentality that Rina Sawayama sings of in “XS,” MARINA weighs the cost of opulent means of travel and fast fashion against what sounds like total soil degradation–a world in which no flowers or trees can grow. Acidic or degraded soil enters the water, so that even fish aren’t safe under the cover of the ocean. 

Poppy’s own take on the future, “Time is Up,” is narrated from the perspective of a robot–one that can survive without all the things soil provides: 

I don’t need air to breathe when you kill the bees

And every riverbed is dry as a bone

While Poppy doesn’t explicitly say how we end up “[killing] the bees,” it’s very possible that it had something to do with soil health, considering that everything that bees depend on comes out of the soil. Whether it was direct habitat destruction, harmful pesticides or otherwise, it all inevitably leads back to some aspect of soil.

These four artists vocalize environmentalism in ominous, futuristic, and surprisingly upbeat-sounding songs. They give a voice to the all-encompassing soil, which, though it is very much alive, can’t get to the studio.

Sarah Cheyet writes for .WAV’s Content Team. They wrote the article. Abbott Swanson is on .WAV’s Art Team. They made the graphic.