October 1st, 2014 1:47pm

The Clouds Were Grey And The Sun Was Bright

Tricky “I Had A Dream”

I feel bad for Tricky sometimes – so much of what he was doing two decades ago has been plundered by other artists, and writers rarely if ever give him credit for being so forward-thinking and influential. He really did himself in by becoming so prolific – that’s a surefire way to alienate casual listeners, especially when you have the bravery to fail and take a lot of weird risks. He keeps making new records, and the general response by my peers has been to do that thing where someone is knocking on your door and you stay totally silent until they give up and walk away. I have not been on board for a lot of what Tricky has done in the later stages of his career, but I do think he’s still good for a few strong songs per record. To some extent he’s spoiled his own reputation, but it’s just so aggravating that he can’t seem to get credit for the truly brilliant work he’s done in his career when an artist like FKA Twigs, who is nothing if not a flagrant Tricky tribute artist, is somehow seen as an innovator by people who don’t really know better. But this is true of Massive Attack and Aphex Twin too – so much of ‘90s electronic music has been recycled, and it’s almost always framed as FRESH and NEW by people with no frame of reference. Well, I guess now I know how all those original krautrock fans felt in the ‘90s.

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September 30th, 2014 12:39pm

I Just Never Want To Hear That Sound

Ex Hex “How You Got That Girl”

One thing that sets Mary Timony apart from a lot of other artists, particularly those of her generation, is that in over 20 years, she’s never once revisited the past. She’s never reunited Helium, she doesn’t play oldies in concert, she hasn’t stuck to any of her signature sounds. Every phase of her career is a particular idea with a specific set of musicians, and once it’s over, she scraps the songs and moves on. Her current band, Ex Hex, shares its name with one of her mid-00s solo albums, but that’s about as much as you’ll get from her in terms of looking backwards. The new band is a logical progression from where she was in Wild Flag – fun and energetic, with a distinct late ‘70s/early ‘80s new wave vibe. At first I thought this material was regressive, but I’ve come to feel like that’s part of the charm. Yes, she may be far away from the distinct genius of her guitar playing in Helium, but the simplicity of the arrangements in Ex Hex allow her to really focus on melody and hooks, and that pays off with a handful of some of the catchiest and most immediate songs of her career.

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September 29th, 2014 12:07pm

All Of My Madness

Thom Yorke “Guess Again!”

The funny thing about Thom Yorke is that he drifted away from rock music because he felt it was banal, but culture has shifted in a way that the electronic music he makes now feels surprisingly ordinary. Yorke’s third album outside of Radiohead, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is at times alarmingly dull. I don’t know what’s going on with Yorke himself, but the music on this record and the last Atoms for Peace album seems stagnant and complacent to me, as if he’s found this niche where he can concentrate on a cool vibe and not have to put a lot of work into songwriting. I can appreciate where he’s coming from in terms of instrumentation, and there are often cool ideas there, but his singing is on autopilot – there’s melodies, sure, but they feel very unformed and aimless. It’s often just a loose structure for him to make pretty or menacing Thom Yorke noises. “Guess Again!” deviates slightly from this. The melody isn’t quite up to the high standards of the majority of his body of work, but it is definitely there, and serves as a thread holding together elements in a track that might otherwise drift apart. I wouldn’t characterize a lot of the cuts on Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes as failures so much as experiments that don’t quite work because the songwriting isn’t there. No matter what Yorke does, he can’t stop being a guy who thrives on melody, harmony, and structure. When he tries to get too far away from those things, he only reveals his weaknesses. It’s very brave for him to constantly push himself out of his comfort zone, but it’s not always enjoyable to hear it.

Buy it from Thom Yorke.

September 25th, 2014 11:39am

New-Phase Gregorian Chants For Now People

Laetitia Sadier “Quantum Soup”

For a long time I had assumed that the instrumental side of Stereolab’s songwriting was dominated by Tim Gane, but Laetitia Sadier’s solo records indicate that she was either a lot more hands on with that sort of thing in that band, or she internalized their rhythms and aesthetics so much that she naturally writes that way when left to her own devices. This isn’t to say that you can’t tell the difference. Sadier’s music on her own are considerably more relaxed and less busy, and escape the airless, schematic quality of Gane’s work. “Quantum Soup,” the opening track on her new album Something Shines, sounds like a far looser version of late period Stereolab – the telltale sounds are there, but it seems to float on a breeze, and the trajectory of the composition is intuitive and jazzy.

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September 23rd, 2014 12:04pm

The First A Formal Music

Aphex Twin “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)”

Right around the time Syro was announced, a few fake “leaks” of the album started going around. I can’t remember what it actually was, but if you barely knew Aphex Twin, you wouldn’t really know the difference probably. It’s sort of insulting, really, the thought that an electronic record with no vocals would all basically be the same. When “Minipops 67” was released as a single, it was clear just how recognizable Aphex Twin really is – his catalog is varied, but there’s just particular tones and rhythms that are very him. Mark Richardson’s review of Syro pointed out that his approach to drum programming is every bit as distinctive as how John Bonham played the drums, and I think that’s very true. It’s an interesting thing to consider, too – a lot of what is recognizable about music played on traditional instruments is in the way the musician’s body interacts with the object. It’s a unique physicality and sensibility. With programming, I suppose, it’s more about recognizing the way someone’s mind works. That’s present in live instrumentation too, but it’s more the focus here. Even if you haven’t been lurking around Aphex Twin’s mind for some time, you immediately recognize where you are when you’re there.

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September 22nd, 2014 12:04pm

This Is For Nobody

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz “Take Me In Your Army”

Julian Casablancas’ new record barely sounds like what you’d expect of him – it’s deliberately odd and spacey, gleefully perverse, and sometimes he barely sounds like himself as he sings. It’s a genuinely surprising record from someone we’re used to sounding more or less the same every time. A lot of the musical extremes of Tyranny seem to be a reaction against this, and the way working with The Strokes must feel like a creative straitjacket: They’ve got such a distinct sound and specific brand that they can barely do anything outside the formula of Is This It that wouldn’t alienate their fans. This record feels like Casablancas trying to purge a decade’s worth of oddball ideas in one set of songs, and it’s sort of overwhelming, but in a good way. Not every song and experiment works, but when he and his new band click – like on the dreamy yet creepy “Let Me In Your Army” – it’s like he has a new lease on his career.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 19th, 2014 12:15pm

The Virtues Of Cruising

King Crimson @ Best Buy Theater 9/18/2014
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1 / Level Five / A Scarcity of Miracles / Hell Bells / Pictures of a City / The Letters / Sailor’s Tale / The ConstruKction of Light / Red / One More Red Nightmare / VROOOM / Coda: Marine 475 / Talking Drum / Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 / Starless // Hell Hounds of Krim / 21st Century Schizoid Man

King Crimson “One More Red Nightmare”

I went to this show entirely because I was curious to see what it would be like, and it was kinda fascinating. I’ve seen plenty of arty rock music in my day, but nothing so formal and academic in presentation. It didn’t have the dynamics of any show I’ve seen before, and in the parts where they weren’t being a heavy rock band, it could be hard to know exactly how to respond to the music.

In observing the band I have a few takeaways:

1) It is strange but wonderful to see Robert Fripp play his parts in person, even if he’s off to the back of the stage and seems more like a technician than, you know, one of the greatest and most inventive rock guitarists of all time. The moments when you could really get a sense of the physicality going into the part he was playing were pretty incredible to behold.

2) I have more patience for drum solos – or triple drum solos, as there are three drummers in the band – than I would have thought. Gavin Harrison, the alpha drummer, was particularly great in the solo section of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

3) I have absolutely no understanding of the Chapman Stick. Tony Levin played one on about half of the songs in the show, and especially when they’d put a close up of him playing on the screen, I’d just be confused by the physics of that instrument. It just looks like he’s doing random hand gestures and getting an absurd range of sounds out of it. It’s like Arthur C. Clarke’s rule that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

4) The songs from Red were amazing live, and definitely the parts I enjoyed the most. “One More Red Nightmare” is just an all-time great art metal song, and it’s funny how in a show full of unusual time signatures – I mean, in a SONG full of unusual time signatures – they still know how to make a 4/4 part sound really cool.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 18th, 2014 12:33pm

You Think I’m The Negative One

SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig “New Dorp New York”

Ezra Koenig’s lyrics here are brilliant – he’s evoking very specific images in New York City, and contrasting them so that middle class Staten Island blurs with big money Manhattan. He’s playing a little game with the listener, but he always is, to some extent. I think if there’s any point to be made here, it’s about the way native New Yorkers attach themselves to the GREATNESS of the city even if that’s not reflected at all in their lives, but the pride really becomes a big part of identity and makes life a little bit better. But really, I think above all else, Ezra is having fun with references, connections, and the simple pleasures of alliteration and assonance.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 16th, 2014 2:55am

You Were In My Dream Again

Caribou “Silver”

“Silver” is one of those songs where I have to assume the lyrics were written in some way as a response to the musical arrangement – everything in the song is moving in these slow, sad circles, so Dan Snaith sings about being heartbroken like it’s just being stuck in a painful loop. It’s all about memory as this inescapable thing that even poisons your dreams, and feeling further away from a person who is still somehow taking up all this space in your mind. It’s a gorgeous piece of music, but also one that just has this incredible melancholic undertow and a hazy feeling that reminds me a lot of being on prescription painkillers.

Buy it from iTunes.

September 15th, 2014 12:25pm

A Better Body Than Anyone Else Is A Full Option For Me

Hyuna “Red”

I’ve come to really love the K-Pop version of rap, which to me is both a more interesting version of the typical K-Pop aesthetic, and a bizarre reflection of American hip-hop. I love the way an artist like Hyuna can go out of her way to approximate the cadences and lyrical forms of American rap, but when it gets filtered through her voice and aesthetic, it all becomes something else entirely — far more colorful and electrified, and aggressive in a way that doesn’t feel violent or hostile. It’s more like this very extreme expression of the self that is cartoonish and superhuman. It’s taking something that’s always been in rap culture and making it more strange and abstract.

Buy it from Amazon.

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