What’s On My Playlist? #2

With the fall semester in full swing, there’s no better time to find some fresh music to keep you on your feet. Here are some songs that I’ve been listening to so far:

“how do you sleep” by LCD Soundsystem

For a nine minute track, “how do you sleep” passes by at an incredibly fast rate, but that’s to the credit of the track. It starts quiet and gloomy, dissonant strings creeping in the background beside Murphy’s vocals, with plucky synths bubbling at the surface as drums rattle ever-onward. Before you know it, the bass synth comes crashing in, and if that doesn’t win you the dance beat certainly will.

 

“Trampoline” by Kero Kero Bonito

With a large amount of music last year reflecting on more somber topics (often in beautiful fashion), it can be surprisingly refreshing to listen to a song about something as simple as jumping on a Trampoline. That’s what exactly what Kero Kero Bonito does on “Trampoline”, mixing together punchy synths with a snappy percussion and bubble gum vocals. The end product is a song that is endlessly addicting and a touch ethereal, which is appropriate given the music video.

 

“Cary Me Back” by Mild High Club

Alex Brettin’s project gets compared to Mac Demarco a lot, and that’s fair given the fact he toured with the guy, as Benjamin Scheim notes in his review of the album Skiptracing on Pitchfork. “Carry Me Back”, however, manages to successfully utilize Brettin’s influence as a stepping stone, blending the breezy feel and vocal style of Mac Demarco with a syrupy mix so drenched in reverb it would make Beach House proud.

 

“Fastlane” by King Geedorah

Growing up I was a diehard fan of the Godzilla films and their wonderfully corny dubbing, so I was immediately fond of MF Doom’s turn as King Geedorah on the album Take Me To Your Leader. “Fastlane” in particular captures some of my favorite aspects of the album: bits of sampled audio (including from the film Invasion of the Astro Monster)  mix with epic grooves and a relentless momentum to create a work both timeless and time-hallowed.

 

“Is This Music?” by Teenage Fanclub

To an extent, Teenage Fanclub’s album Bandwagonesque has lost some of its appeal since its initial release, but that is largely due to how influential the album is: everyone from Liam Gallagher to Kurt Cobain sung the band’s praises, and their sound was mimicked throughout the 90s. While some of the novelty has worn off, “Is This Music” still shines; it’s a roaring, instrumental track built upon the foundation of layers of distorted guitar, mustering enough energy and power to part the clouds and pick you off your feet.

 

“Going Somewhere” by Jessy Lanza

I didn’t listen to Jessy Lanza’s album Oh No, released last May, in full until this summer, but it may be one of my favorite releases of 2016. With a deft use of stereo and a dry mix, Lanza creates an all-encompassing soundscape of synth-pop that rings right in the ears. These qualities shine best on “Going Somewhere”, where Lanza delivers breathy vocals over a rattling percussion and synth that build up to a tasteful crescendo.

Album Review – “american dream” by LCD Soundsystem

With Arcade Fire’s attempt to capture the dance floor meeting a divisive audience this summer, it seems only right James Murphy and co. would resurrect LCD Soundsystem from the dead to remind us why they’re king. Unlike Arcade Fire, who only began to experiment with disco in full on their previous album Reflektor (which Murphy helped produce), disco has been part of LCD’s lifeblood since its inception, mixed in a potent cocktail with Murphy’s New Age influences.

But with seven years having passed since LCD’s last album, This Is Happening, you can’t blame someone for wondering if the band can still walk the walk. Rest assured, LCD’s latest release, american dream, is another step forward for the band; it may not be their most confident step forward, but contrary to Murphy’s singing on “how do you sleep”, there are no six steps back to be found on this album.

Even when LCD is taking a step forward, however, Murphy can’t help but look back. In fact, rather than back away from his influences, he doubles down on them in american dream; you’d be forgiven for thinking Robert Fripp had taken over the guitar on the track “change yr mind”, and “other voices” sounds like a discarded track from Talking Head’s Remain in Light. While these accentuated influences are a welcome addition to LCD’s sound, in the case of “other voices” and “change yr mind”, they risk overpowering the band’s own character.

While it would be a stretch to call the two tracks derivative, it’s hard not to see them as the weaker efforts on the album when LCD exceeds in the implementation of Murphy’s influences almost everywhere else. The penultimate track “emotional haircut” is the band’s best utilization of his punk influences to date, building up a raucous finale almost unmatched by any of the band’s previous work, and “call the police”, while maybe one of the best odes to David Bowie ever written (with its oblique reference to the artist’s stay in Berlin), stands on its own as a soaring anthem. “We don’t waste time with love,” Murphy bellows on the chorus, “It’s just death from above.” It’s the kind of gloomy chorus only LCD could make catchy.

When Murphy isn’t overtly looking to the past for inspiration, he pushes the band forward with some of their best music. Sitting in the middle of american dream‘s tracklisting, “how do you sleep” encapsulates LCD’s ability to do more with less. The song lurches forward, seemingly holding back the weight of its own momentum, and when the dance beat finally kicks in, it’s bliss. Equally intoxicating is “tonite”, although its hook, a wet-sounding bass, loses its immediate appeal by the end of the track.

Between tracks like “tonite” and “other voices”, there’s a considerable breadth of music on american dream (which shouldn’t be surprising given that Murphy had about seven years to write the musical ideas that inevitably came to his head). This breadth both bolsters and weakens the album. While it may not have the flow of Sound of Silver’s tracklisting, american dream rewards for demonstrating a band pushing its limits.

Pushing limits makes it hard to land on one’s feet steadily, but LCD Soundsystem, without a doubt, is back on the dance floor, taking one step forward, and two looks back at the sounds that inspire them.

 

Album Review: “OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017” by Radiohead

 

If you didn’t grow up in the 90’s, there’s a chance you didn’t hear OK Computer when it first came out. However, it is unlikely that you haven’t heard a few songs from the album. Whether it’s popping up in television shows like Person of Interest or making it into the Library of Congress, OK Computer seems to be the album people can’t stop listening to.

Twenty years since the album’s release, Radiohead’s reissue of Ok Computer, titled OKNOTOK, gives us an opportunity to see (or remember) what the fuss is all about. More than that, OKNOTOK offers a tantalizing glimpse into a band at the precipice; where the album’s mix of rock and electronics stands as tall as ever, the B-sides help complete a picture of the band at the height of their soul searching, just before their dive into the eclectic with Kid A. That is not to say OK Computer holds the quality of soul-searching exclusively. Arguably, every album released by Radiohead displays an amount of introspection (look no further than their latest release A Moon Shaped Pool).

More than any of their other albums, however, OK Computer’s soul-searching highlights a duality of character, specifically the band’s pop and experimental sensibilities. In the hands of any other band, such duality could spell doom, but whether it’s the hectic clash of conventional and electronic instrumentation on the outro to “Paranoid Android” or the layered textures on the haunting “Climbing up the Walls”, Radiohead manage to turn duality into the album’s strongest quality, readily incorporating experimentation into an alternative sound.

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“Airbag” captures this spirit the best, its rolling drum and bass lines cut up into DJ-Shadow like samples. “Electioneering”, on the other hand, incorporates this type of experimentation the least; it’s a fun if not more standard song for the band, and at the very least, serves as an important placeholder and pallet cleanser between less traditional tracks (including the chilling interlude “Fitter Happier”). The collection of B-sides included on OKNOTOK contains a number of more traditional tracks akin to “Electioneering”, but it also contains several more out-there tracks, putting a focus on Radiohead’s quest to define themselves and their sound.

The most impressive thing about these B-sides is how many of them exceed in quality; “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)” may be one of the best rock songs the band never put to a studio album, while “Meeting in the Aisle” is one of their grooviest tracks, as well one of their few instrumentals. Among these B-sides are also three tracks never released before, including “Lift”, a soaring track and one of the closest the band has released to a radio-friendly anthem from this era of their music.

Put all together alongside the original album, however, it’s apparent why these B-sides did not make it onto OK Computer; there isn’t enough space for a song like “Polyethylene” between “Paranoid Android” and “Electioneering”, and “Meeting in the Aisle” and “Lift” do not fit the overall mood of the album. Other B-sides like “Melatonin” sound more like motifs, incomplete when compared to other tracks off the album.

Listeners may find something to enjoy in each of these B-sides (as well as the collection as a whole, with its subtle remastering), but most of all one comes away from OKNOTOK with an appreciation for how well put together OK Computer still sounds today. Whether it’s the album’s deft incorporation of experimentation into an alternative sound or Thom Yorke’s prophesying of yuppies networking, OK Computer stands as tall as it did twenty years ago, and OKNOTOK is the perfect way to revisit the iconic classic.