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.

Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly camekendrick-lamar-untitled-unmastered-surprise-new-album-compressed1-compressed
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.

DIIV: Is the Is Are

diiv

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.

Bloc Party: Hymns

a6d59e64-1

homepage_large.e64cf1bcBritish indie-rockers Bloc Party returned today with a brand new album called Hymns, although the lineup is very different from the Bloc Party most know from albums like Silent Alarm, A Weekend in the CityIntimacy, and their most recent tour in 2013. After a 2 and a half year long hiatus, during which both drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes left the band, the new Bloc Party sounds more like frontman Kele Okereke’s solo material than the “return to form” they were beginning to make on Four and The Nextwave Sessions EPHymnsmuch like Okereke’s solo material, veers toward the poppy, but, also much like the solo stuff, ends up sounding like angsty club music, and has lost all the edginess that made Bloc Party Bloc Party. The evangelical religious undertones on the new album do nothing for Okereke’s often-criticized songwriting and the vocals don’t make up for the simplicity (as with his solo material). But where Hymns ultimately fails is in the sense that its not really a Bloc Party album, and doesn’t signal their return, but rather, a continuation of Okereke’s solo project under the Bloc Party name.

Anderson .Paak: Malibu

Anderson-Paak

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly arguably opened a lot of doors for a number of experimental hip-hop albums. Some of the artists who worked on that album have gone on to release masterpieces of their own, such as Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington, with his three-hour experimental jazz album The Epic. Out of nowhere, it seems, comes Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, a soulful, jazzy, and beautifully breezy hip-hop record that at times sounds like Lamar’s TPAB, and at other times like something else entirely. Fusing hip-hop, jazz, rap, R&B, and soul, Malibu is a shining example of everything a hip-hop album can be in 2016.

It opens with “The Bird,” a jazzy, anderson-cover
head-bobbing intro that seems to channel D’Angelo’s soulful vocal style. “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” further shows off .Paak’s vocal chops, and culminates in a spinning electronic bridge with a rapped-over hook. Then, on “The Waters (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid),” .Paak really gets started. The spoken word transitions and jazzy interludes on this album give it another connection to TPAB: this is a concept album, in the only real sense of that term in that its an album that asks to be digested in one sitting, the tracks coming where they do for a reason. .Paak, much like Lamar, is playing with form.

The Season | Carry Me” exemplifies this playfulness, and even includes a shout-out to Lamar in the line “‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped / Before K.Dot had it locked.” .Paak even begins to sound like Lamar in places where he’s straight rapping, but has a remarkable vocal range (the kind that made Lamar himself so versatile) and changes his style on almost every song. “Am I Wrong (feat. SchoolBoy Q)” is an early stand-out, and a celebration, with funky horns and a catchy chorus. This is an album to throw on for your next party: you can groove to it on a first listen, and it demands attention even when there’s a lot else going on.

And there’s a lot going on on this album. The middle-section has everything it needs to slip into the background, in the best possible way, because unlike the incredibly dense middle-section of To Pimp A Butterfly, this is easy listening, and yet at the same time it sounds like an amalgamation of all the best alt-hip hop albums to come out in the last year, from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, to Miguel’s Wildheart, to Thundercat and Lamar. Of course, .Paak didn’t completely come out of nowhere: he was heavily featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton last year, as well as albums by The Game (featured here on “Room in Here“), and fellow California artist TOKiMONSTA.

.Paak is from Oxnard, not exactly straight outta Compton, but is another powerful voice that can speak to a particular kind of West Coast lifestyle. Malibu nods to the surf-skate culture .Paak grew up with; at the end of album highlight “Come Down,” the announcer-type spoken word outro says, “Before Vietnam, when boards were long and hair was short, the centre of the surfing world was a place called Malibu.” On “Come Down,” .Paak manages to sound both most like Lamar and most like himself: a King Kunta of sorts and a contentious player in the resurging world of West Coast hip hop.

Tame Impala: Currents

Tame Impala: Currents

A psychedelic trip into the mind of Kevin Parker

The latest album from Tame Impala, the recording project of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker—one of the most pre-eminent rock figures of today, comparable to the Arctic Monkeys two years ago with the release of AM—is nothing short of brilliant.

04192b63A transitional record in every sense, Currents finds Parker exploding under the weight of the pressure from 2013’s Lonerism into another universe altogether—one filled with snappy bass lines, vocal harmonies, and poppy hooks. In short, Parker has gone from an introvert to an extrovert—a guy in his room with a guitar to a glittery, shiny pop star. And it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Tame Impala burst onto the scene in 2010 with Innerspeaker and quickly became the modern kings of psychedelic rock. 2013’s Lonerism rocketed them into further crossover territory with massive hits “Feels Like I Only Go Backwards” and “Elephant.” Earlier this year, Parker appeared on three tracks on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special (ever heard of a little song called “Uptown Funk”?). But Currents might be Parker’s biggest statement to date.

It begins with “Let It Happen,” a nearly eight-minute-long rollicking track that draws some of its influences from Electronic Dance Music. What follows is a psychedelic—and yet so groovy you could imagine almost every single track on the radio—trip into the mind of a man much more interesting than the introvert in his room with a guitar: a man whose entire world has been catapulted into the stratosphere and who is trying to come to terms with it. “Yes I’m Changing” is a call to action: “There is a world out there it’s calling my name.” And he delivers. Tracks like “The Moment” and “The Less I Know The Better” show off Parker’s ear for crafting perfectly structured pop songs that are ready to be consumed by the masses, while the heartbreaking “Eventually” and introspective “’Cause I’m A Man” find Parker inescapably collapsing into himself.

The transitions are spot-on and some of the only moments Parker picks up his old friend the guitar on Currents, particularly on the minute-and-forty-nine-second-long “Disciples,” which is the most Tame Impala-sounding track on the whole album. Things get weird on “Past Life,” when Parker sheds his Lennon-esque falsetto for an electronically pitched-down spoken word section that is reminiscent of some of the antics of Canadian indie-rock goofball Mac DeMarco—the two have been spending some time together. The album ends strongly with “Reality in Motion,” “Love Paranoia,” and the hopeful “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”

Parker believes that life is a process of constant reinvention: “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit, they do,” he sings on “Yes I’m Changing.” With Currents, he takes everything that was central to the Tame Impala project and adapts it to the changes in his personal life, the expectation that has come with his burgeoning success, and the current changes to how we experience music—and blasts off into uncharted territory.

Jon Hopkins Releases Hauntingly Beautiful ‘Asleep Versions EP’

0d230047

Jon Hopkins, the UK producer behind 2013’s excellent Immunity, which has since seen remixes featuring Lulu James and Purity Ring, has now released another follow-up, the Asleep Versions EP, which includes contributions from King Creosote and Raphaelle Standelle. Recorded in Mosfellsbær, Iceland, Asleep Versions takes four of Immunity‘s highlights, “Immunity,” “Form By Firelight,” “Breathe This Air,” and “Open Eye Signal,” and reworks them in reverse order into a single 25-minute-long soundscape. The tracks are stripped down, beat-less frames of their Immunity counterparts, but take on a new life of their own from Hopkins’ original production, further pushing the boundaries of electronic music and aligning Hopkins with the likes of Röyksopp (whose final album, The Inevitable End also came out today) and Sigur Rós.

Watch the trailer, and listen to “Immunity” (with King Creosote) below: