Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool

1035x1035-radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640Radiohead’s first new album since 2011’s The King of Limbs is both dazzling and extraordinary. It’s been a long time coming. Back in October of last year people started speculating that a new Radiohead album was in the works when the band created a new company, Dawn Chorus LLP, something they had done before independently releasing both In Rainbows and The King of Limbs. In February, they established a second company, Dawnnchoruss Ltd., which suggested to fans that the new album was imminent. And then finally, on May 8 (Mother’s Day), after a short rollout with two singles released in the previous week, they gave us A Moon Shaped Pool.

A Moon Shaped Pool is quite different from the Radiohead albums we’ve become accustomed to since the early 2000’s—post-Kid A. In many ways it’s a return to the earlier stuff, and particularly the Kid A sessions, which produced both Kid A and the following year’s Amnesiac. For one, this album is bookended by two songs that have been floating around and teased by the band for over a decade: the unsettling and politically timely “Burn the Witch,” and the heartbreaking “True Love Waits,” which first appeared on 2001’s I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. “Identikit” is another rarity that the band have been playing live for a number of years, and is a definite stand-out. However, there are lots of great new songs here as well that fit seamlessly together with the older stuff.

This album all but abandons the drum machines and electronic music that Thom Yorke was beginning to gravitate towards on Hail to the ThiefIn Rainbows, and, most notably, The King of Limbs, as well as his solo albums The Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and his Atoms for Peace project with Flea, which released their debut album, Amok, in 2013. Instead, it’s a return to the earlier, more guitar-based music of the Kid A sessions and the even earlier albums that made Radiohead the biggest band to emerge out of the 90s. In December 2015, Thom Yorke played an acoustic concert for Pathway to Paris, a climate change benefit held at Le Trianon, at which he showcased the new direction with acoustic performances of “Desert Island Disk” and “Silent Spring” from the new album, perhaps its most powerful new song, which has since been renamed “The Numbers.”

The performances at Le Trianon also showed us a more political Yorke, and one who has perhaps finally found his cause: climate change. The father and musician got emotional talking about his son asking him about global warming and what he feels is his responsibility to the planet and to future generations. “Silent Spring,” which appears as “The Numbers” on A Moon Shaped Pool, is a kind of folk-protest song in the vein of Patti Smith, taking the line “People have the power” and giving it a new significance for the modern crises facing us in 2016. The orchestral arrangements on the album version give it an even greater power, as the strings grow in intensity alongside the track’s most inspiring call-to-action lines. “The numbers don’t decide / Your system is a lie” sings Yorke in a moment of clarity, a rallying cry against the lobbyists and special interest groups that currently control the political system.

A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps Radiohead’s most ambitious album to date, coalescing songs that have been floating in the ether for more than a decade with new and politically-informed material. What’s striking about it is the way it harnesses the old and the new to create something that’s both timely and socially conscious as well as deeply personal and intimate; reviewers have already speculated that the inclusion of “True Love Waits” as the album’s conclusion is a result of Yorke’s recent divorce, and that he’s laying it all bare for us here—although in typical Radiohead-fashion it’s through a cryptic reference in a 15-year-old song. However, A Moon Shaped Pool is noticeably darker than Yorke’s most recent solo work, a fact Nigel Godrich was alluding to when he suggested that part of his soul lives in it as a result of his father’s recent passing.

It’s a difficult album to listen to at times—both emotionally raw and deeply complex. There are vocal parts played backwards, massive orchestras and choirs, and hidden references for fans that know the back catalogue inside out. But as always, it’s worth the time getting to know, as an increasingly rare release from what remains the most exciting band in the world. On A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead remind us of how they got there, and lend their uniquely political voice to a challenging and uncertain time, and the result is both unsettling and deeply cathartic.

Revisit “Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., and the Politicization of Popular Music,” which features Thom Yorke, here.

Kaytranada: 99.9%

999Summer has officially arrived. In the past week, some of the biggest artists in the world released new music: Beyonce, then Drake, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, James Blake… and relative newcomer Kaytranada. Kaytranada is a name you should get to know fast. A frequent Major Lazer collaborator and astonishingly well-established producer, 99.9% is Kaytranada’s debut LP. A jazzy, electronic tour de force, Kaytranada and his onslaught of special guests combine for a trippy album that is perfect for summer patios and the sun-soaked hip-hop playlists of bars and clubs.

Ready for some more name dropping? Kaytranada’s first album features Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, The Internet’s Syd, Little Dragon, BADBADNOTGOOD, AlunaGeorge, Goldlink, Karriem Riggins, River Tiber, Phonte, Shay Lia, and Graig David. That’s right. This thing is stacked. And yet Kaytranada himself stays at the absolute forefront, blending his instrumental tracks with guest features in a way that really draws attention to the production. And Kaytranada’s production is fire: a varied mix of club, hip-hop, and electronic production with elements of jazz and soul and the occasional world sample.

…And funk. This album is incredibly funky and so so fresh. Check out “Lite Spots” coming in at track 13 for a little taste of Kaytranada’s musical sensibilities when it comes to sampling and production. This shit is almost better than Jamie xx (but what is that sample??). Kaytranada arrives on the scene sounding like he was made to make beats for people; as though he should be producing albums for rappers like Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, and Goldlink, all of which he’s brought in here. “Glowed Up” is .Paak’s best feature to date, and he’s done a lot of them, from Snakehips to Domo Genesis.

Vic Mensa’s feature on “Drive Me Crazy” is similarly some of his best work to date, as he only has a handful of singles out, the most notable being “U Mad (feat. Kanye West) and “Down On My Luck.” Goldlink and AlunaGeorge similarly shine on “Together,” and River Tiber and Karriem Riggins sound phenomenal on “Bus Ride,” probably the album’s jazziest and most experimental instrumental track. “Weight Off (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD)” is another fantastic jazzy interlude (and a rare but pleasant appearance of real instruments on an electronic album).

99.9% is a goldmine. This is just a taste of what Kaytranada’s got to offer here, from tracks like “One Too Many (feat. Phonte),” “You’re The One (feat. Syd),” Leave Me Alone (feat. Shay Lia),” and “Bullets” (feat. Little Dragon).” The features on this album showcase some of the best emerging and established artists in the hip-hop and electronic music communities. Kaytranada’s debut is a force to be reckoned with, and you should soon expect to hear these songs in hipster bars and clothing stores. This week’s barrage of new music has provided a perfect start to the summer, and Kaytranada is poised to rise up like the sun.

The Range: Potential

The-Range-Potential-hi-resJames Hinton’s second album as The Range is a concept fully realized; a stunning amalgamation of masterful production with vocals by unknown artists from the deepest corners of YouTube. And while an album about undiscovered YouTube stars called Potential might seem corny to some, Hinton captures the current cultural moment—with its wealth of burgeoning musical talent and seemingly arbitrary nature of success in the music industry—perfectly, weaving together stories that speak to the difficulty of “making it” as a musician and the potential that we all have for greatness.

“Regular” introduces this tension between struggle and success underlying the album. “Right now / I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it,” the speaker repeats a capella, as the production builds in the background. “I’ll just decide to move on to something bigger and better,” he says as the bass drops off behind him. It’s easy to forget that all the vocals on this album have been taken from YouTube videos, and weren’t recorded in a studio on top of production that was already there; rather, Hinton built tracks around the vocals, blending any unwanted background noise into the texture of his production.

And the textures he weaves together here are gorgeous. Multi-layered synths and pads create a bigger, brighter, and more polished sound than 2013’s Nonfiction. Nonfiction was one of the best electronic albums of that year, voted as such by critics and individual listeners alike. But Potential is James Hinton’s biggest statement to date. “Copper Wire” is the embodiment of this bigger, more sparkling sound. It comes in with a huge synth line, and the lyrics “All I’m trying to do from a young age / trying to get paid / But we’re all grown up / And everything’s changed.” You can picture the kid in the video, barely 9 years old, when he sings “09 was emotional / It’s a memory / I wish that everything was the same / talking like we can make it rain on a sunny day.” It clearly stuck with Hinton too, as he puts him front and center here.

Florida” was the first single released from the album, featuring a teenage girl’s YouTube Ariana Grande cover, but you wouldn’t know that from the finished product. Hinton uses her flawless, studio-quality sounding vocals as the hook on top of a tropical beat complete with steel drums and ear-shattering UK-style bass. I predict it won’t be long before Hinton finds himself playing shows with the likes of Jamie xx and other like-minded producers like Mount Kimbie and King Krule. Other highlights from the album include “Five Four,” the second single previously released alongside a touching and well-crafted music video that solidifies the album’s strong concept visually.

The second half of the album is just as good as the first, and track 8, “Skeptical,” is a clear highlight. Hinton’s affinity with East London rappers in particular is accentuated here, although the range of rappers and vocalists he draws upon span many different backgrounds, cultures, and generations. Potential’s defining message is clear and writ large: everyone has enormous potential, and learning about the stories and struggles of others only makes our own potential for greatness that much bigger. IDM, electronic, whatever you want to call it: Hinton’s conceptual vision on Potential has the power to shake up the genre—and change the way future stars get made.

Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.

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out a little less than a year ago, on March 15, 2015. The impact it’s had on black music over the past year is incredible. It arguably helped to bring jazz music back into the mainstream, and created success for jazz musicians like Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Thundercat. Even an album like Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution wouldn’t be able to achieve the kind of success (both critical and commercial) that it can now, arguably, without TPAB. It only makes sense that a year on, Lamar should release what is essentially the To Pimp A Butterfly demos: untitled, unfinished and unmastered–the raw b-sides and outtakes that didn’t quite make the album.

It begins with a sexual spoken word intro over some light jazz before Lamar steps in. From the outset, “Untitled 1” establishes untitled unmastered. as an extension of TPAB; the backing track sounds familiar, and Kendrick’s rapping style matches that of the album. “Untitled 2” quickly rose to the top of the charts, and there’s a reason: it’s easily the most bass-heavy track on the album, and in some ways more so than anything on To Pimp A Butterfly. On it, Lamar swaps styles effortlessly, imbuing it with a sense of political commentary in the line “World is going crazy / Where did we go wrong?” while maintaining his terrific sense of pacing and the dialectic between the political and the personal Lamar.

“Untitled 3” is a major standout. Here, Lamar only gets more political, but through a philosophical lens, in which he imagines the definition of success through racialized groups of people. “The asian” sees success as coming from within, and worries about Lamar’s health; “The indian” understands power as being in the land (“Longevity’s in the dirt”), and tells Lamar to invest; “The black man” is motivated by sex (“A piece of pussy / That’s what the black man said I needed to push me”) and talks about living in the jungle and “playing in the peach;” “The white man” wants to make money off him (“Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99”) and causes him to “put a price on [his] talent.”

“I hit the bank and withdraw,” Lamar repeats as the track reaches its climax. “Put myself in the rocket ship and I shot for the stars,” he says, referring now to his personal success. On the song’s outro, Lamar validates “the black man’s” desire for sex as a basic need for reproduction: “Tell em we don’t die / We multiply,” and affirms the survival of the species. Running underneath the surface is a commentary on black extinction, both culturally and ethnically, as blacks are being shot everyday, but are also struggling to hold onto their culture, as black music is appropriated and taken over by the dominant culture.

On tracks 4 and 5 he extends these themes, and eventually treats them humorously in the outro to “Untitled 7.” “Untitled 5” is soulful and smooth, and sounds the most finished of all the songs on the album, bringing up the question of why he didn’t include it on TPAB.  Track 8 is from his most recent performance at the Grammys, and is fleshed out here, offering a catchy and compelling conclusion. Perhaps the best thing about this project, though, is what it does to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. When Kendrick Lamar can drop a brilliant 8-track album of TPAB demos out of nowhere, it makes TLOP, a forever-streaming Tidal exclusive, and its creator, the abominable West, irrelevant. Lamar has proven again and again that he’s Top Dawg of the rap world, and with untitled unmastered. he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Animal Collective: Painting With

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homepage_large.ff0d57c1Animal Collective’s first album since 2012’s Centipede Hz, Painting With, reflects the changes that have happened to the band over the past four years. They all live in different parts of the world, and have been individually recording and releasing their own music separately for some time now. Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), for example, now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, and recently released the excellent Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper last year, which made Freshly Squeezed’s list of the 20 Best Albums of 2015. In 2013, Avey Tare and his band Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks released Enter the Slasher House in a similar vein, although Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was undoubtedly the better record.

On Painting With, they’ve come together again to create a characteristically artsy record that challenges musical conventions so much that it can often feel like a high-brow art assault. However, there are some stand-outs that are equally catchy and appealing. The opening track and pre-album single “FloriDada” is bright and sunny, evoking both the Sunshine State and the Dada art movement in its blocky, broken style. “Lying in the Grass” is equally bizarre and catchy, tipping its head to bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra while retaining Animal Collective’s brave and varied use of electronics.

There’s not a whole lot else here to grab onto, though. By the time you get to “Bagels in Kiev” the album has become almost unlistenable, and single “Golden Gal” doesn’t do enough to redeem it at the end. Perhaps Animal Collective have simply gone too far with Painting With, and the result is too bizarre to be successful. However, it is still clear that they are masters of electronic beeps and boops, while remaining one of the most consistently experimental indie-rock bands of the past decade. On Painting With, the accessible songwriting of their best work on Merriweather Post Pavillion just isn’t quite there.

Kanye West: The Life of Pablo

homepage_large.1192269bSometimes we have to separate the artist from the art they create. This is not an unfamiliar concept in music. Think Michael Jackson, or even David Bowie, who was thought by many to be a Nazi supporter for a number of years, and people still liked his music. Kanye’s The Life of Pablo is objectively a good album, and its breadth of features give it an immediate place in pop culture, but it’s not practical, or even that well thought through. Kanye has said that there are no longer even plans to release the album physically; rather, it will only be available through Jay-Z’s (awful) streaming service Tidal, forever streaming, a somewhat fitting place for an album on which none of the tracks have the replay value needed to become mainstream radio hits. There are, nonetheless, a few standouts. “Famous” is probably the most radio-friendly song on the album, sampling Sister Nancy’s classic “Bam Bam,” though it’s ironic that its also the track that most obviously perpetuates misogyny in the music industry, and it doesn’t give itself much of a chance with the opening lyric “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous.” The Life of Pablo works better as a concept album of sorts. Is the title an allusion to the Cubist painter Pablo Picasso? Or to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar?

Kanye has often referred to TLOP as a “gospel album,” and he certainly sets that up with the opening track “Ultralight Beam,” which prominently features Chance the Rapper. The Yeezus himself, however, doesn’t appear until the following “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” when he breaks the track’s gospel intro with the awkward lyric “Now if I fuck this model / And she just bleached her asshole / And I get bleach on my T-shirt / I’mma feel like an asshole.” By the time we get to “Pt. 2” there is little left of the gospel theme TLOP sets out with, and Kanye has fully returned to his position of autotune singer and backseat producer. The sheer number of people involved in this album makes it worth the listen, as Kanye used a think tank approach to get a number of people in a room together to create each song.

However, it causes the album to feel somewhat idiosyncratic, and it doesn’t hang together well as a whole. This is perhaps in part because Kanye kept changing it up until the very last minute, adding 5 tracks after “Wolves” that don’t seem to fit in at all. The inclusion of “No More Parties in LA (featuring Kendrick Lamar)” is a saving move, as it’s easily the best hip hop song on the record. “Silver Surfer Intermission,” which directly follows “Wolves” is a call from Max B, the “wavy” rapper who was a major talking point of Kanye and Wiz Khalifa’s Twitter beef back when the album was briefly called Waves. The song “Waves,” which appears in the middle of the album, is itself extremely forgettable.

The day before the album came out, pharmaceutical bad boy Martin Shkreli tried to buy exclusive rights to it for $15,000,000 and then apparently made the transaction through BitCoin but later took to Twitter to express his outrage when the album came out and he didn’t know where his 15 million dollars had gone. One possible explanation for the Tidal exclusive and lack of a physical release is that Kanye actually made the deal with Shkreli (he is in debt $53 million, after all), and that Shkreli’s offer didn’t explicitly stop Kanye from being able to stream the album. It’s also recently been reported that Kanye asked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion dollars to support various unspecified projects, but Zuckerberg’s camp has since responded and advised him against making such requests over Twitter.

At one point on “Feedback,” Ye raps “Name one genius that ain’t crazy.” It’s a fair assessment of the “Kanye” Kanye recognizes in himself on “Freestyle 4.” And he still thinks he’s Yeezus as well, as is evident on “Low Lights,” in which it’s purposefully made ambiguous whether the female speaker is talking about Kanye or God. While Kanye’s extreme braggadocio and penchant for saying things that make him sound like an asshole cause many people to either love him or hate him, it is undeniable that he has created some of the most challenging music of the past decade, particularly in terms of production styles, and The Life of Pablo is no exception. Will it stand the test of time as an exclusive to a streaming site that not many people are going to be motivated to buy a monthly subscription to? We’ll have to wait and see.

DIIV: Is the Is Are

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urlDIIV released the follow-up to 2012’s excellent Oshin today, Is the Is Are, a spanning, double album that fleshes out the sound they developed on Oshin. Since then, Zachary Cole Smith started dating Sky Ferreira, and the two of them were arrested on drug charges in 2013, Smith being found in possession of “42 decks” of heroin. Ferreira appears on “Blue Boredom” on Is the Is Are, a drug-addled track, but then again, isn’t that what every DIIV song sounds like really (and Ferreira herself)? Drugged-out music has the ability to be very relaxing sometimes, as is the case with Is the Is Are, a shoegazy, blissed-out kind of indie rock in the vein of Mac DeMarco and Real Estate. And there are some great tracks here. The pre-album singles included “Under the Sun,” “Mire (Grant’s Song),” “Bent (Roi’s Song),” and “Dopamine,” but what about the middle-of-album tracks “Yr Not Far” and “Take Your Time,” which come right before title track “Is the Is Are”? The whole album is sonically enveloping, made up of lush guitar sounds and affected vocals, and DIIVes into every corner of the soaring sound they’ve carved out for themselves.

The lyrics, however, can be sparse. On “Mire,” Smith sings, “I was blind and now I see / You made a believer out of me” over and over again as the song’s guitar melody becomes more and more unhinged, echoing the lyrics in the following line, “I was so high / now I feel low, and the way the track seems to deconstruct itself in its final minutes, almost droning itself out until the guitar turns into primal warblings and the vocals become so washed out that we’re not even sure if its Smith singing anymore; it could be Ferreira, the other half of his drugged-out trips and the only person who can bring him back down to earth. It’s an impression we’re left with on much of the album, the feeling that we’re sort of in limbo, confused and high and not really sure how to get where we’re going.