Friday, May 17, 2013

A coupla reviews...

originally published in The Current, Etc.

I need to talk about how I feel...

about Thom Yorke. I know a lot of people have used an onslaught of professional, musical, and philosophical words to describe Yorke, such as:

utterly excruciating”,
 and “the most over-analyzed rock band in the world” (in reference to Radiohead here) and these are just the words written on

The descriptors above are all well and good but you see, I want to talk about how I feeeeeeel when I listen to Yorke. 

He, alongside some other musicians (including another oft-worshipped soul, Flea) that most certainly (and written about ad nauseum, as well) cowed to his expertise and allowed his spasmodic movements and reclusive man-with-a-laptop work-style take over, just put out an album under the name Atoms For Peace called AMOK. The good people over at NPR Music say the lyrics are too simple, citing examples such as “Guess that’s it. I’ve made my bed, I’ll lie in it.” Pitchfork (again, they’re pretty much my music review gurus) says, “over the entirety of AMOK, you get the overwhelming sense that, this time, his sheets are tucked in too tight.” 

But you see, the thing is, I feeeeel like I need to listen to “Default” over and over and over until the cyclical-click rhythms are imbedded in my bone marrow. And I really feeeeel like I need to dance like a lurching wraith through the downtown streets of Joplin at 2am, ephemeral, yet unnerving like the sound of the song itself. The thing that Thom usually makes me feel is resonant-dissonance. His magical placid wisp of a voice (often criticized for this very wispiness) is so often (in Radiohead, in his solo work, in this Atoms for Peace album) layered over unsettling electronic noise organized into potent rhythms...and I feel like this particular combination of madness calms my jangled nerves into a jelly of flatlined ambience.

“For all the rhythmic chicanery at play, AMOK feels strangely static and contained, giving a perpetual sense of jogging in place. “ again says Stuart Berman from Pitchfork,  complaining that the album seems to build and build and then go nowhere. But...but, I like it, this static. This album is a particular brand of intoxicating white noise like Brian Eno’s ambient albums. You listen as you’re writing, working, doing the dishes and then suddenly you realize the music has unexpectedly become a part of you. You begin to listen more closely as the pulse infiltrates your sleeping brainwaves. Thom whispers in your ear (“push plaaaaaay”) at the most random moments in your day again and again until AMOK’s play counts have surpassed two digits into three and you’re lost down the rabbit hole. 

There aren’t many artists that have the quality of quietly sucking you into their subdural existence. When you live below the beat with Robert Smith, Grimes, and Thom Yorke, you no longer live in reality. And I feeeel like I can stay here beneath the soil for a bit longer, so press “repeat” because I haven’t heard AMOK three times yet today. 

Thank you, Atoms for Peace.

The Knife // Shaking the Habitual (2013)

The Knife’s (Swedish electronic duo) new album delivers on its title. This album questions how you feel about gender (a lyric on “Full of Fire”: “let’s talk about gender baby, let’s talk about you and me”), attention (most of the 13 tracks are at least 9 minutes long and some of them sound like you have headphones on while walking down a street and your Spotify app has disconnected from the LTE--yes, this happened to me. I was confused, then intrigued), and genre. As you’re trying to pinpoint where this album fits into electronic music, it suddenly dawns...this is EVERY kind of electronic music. Ambient (“Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized”), industrial (“Full of Fire”), noise (“A Cherry On Top”), tribal (“Without You My Life Would Be Boring”), witch house (“Wrap Your Arms Around Me”), Krautrock (“Networking”), club dance (“Stay Out of Here”), etc. I could go on, but I’ve already named over half the tracks.

This album, as Zoladz (I have a music critic crush on this fabulous female over at Pitchfork) states in her review, “has ‘inaccessible’ etched into every fibre of its DNA”. She’s right: it is inaccessible, but the reasons to attempt to access it anyway are overpowering. Chances are, you haven’t heard anything like this album, even if you’ve heard The Knife before. The first track hearkens to a remnant of their past work, enough to draw you into warm familiarity before they rip your soul out in track 2 and rebuild it piece by piece throughout the rest of the 98 minute album. If you want to go on a journey with your music, this is the album to put on...over a two day period. As Zoladz also mentions, the album demands different parts of your attention at different times. There are meditative breaks within the industrial soul-shattering core of the album. In other words, you’ll have plenty of breathing room as the Knife-vice slowly, deliciously, tightens down on everything you ever knew. Once you’re able to finish the album, finally (and I still haven’t, so I’m only guessing the outcome), you will emerge a changed genderless being, and this is really what we all need to do anyway, yes? Allow yourself to be terrified by “Shaking the Habitual”. It’ll be good for you. 

You can find “Shaking the Habitual” on Spotify.