There’s no denying Courtney Barnett has a way with a well-turned phrase. Whether she’s recounting an anaphylactic anxiety attack in matter-of-fact detail or delivering mundane observations directly from her hilarious, almost exasperated point-of-view, Barnett’s half-sung, half-spoken lyrics fly by at such a rapid clip that while you’re still chuckling (or cringing) at the previous line, you’ve missed two more gems and have to rewind to further decode.
There isn’t a more gorgeously unsettling score this year than Mica Levi’s hair-raising soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 film, Under The Skin. Based on the Michel Faber novel of the same name, the film follows an alien in the guise of Scarlett Johansson — a cipher and seductive predator who travels Scotland enticing men into a darkened building-turned-inky black void.
One would think that after years of constant touring, a hiatus between albums would be a welcome respite to decompress from music — or at least allow time to catch up on a little TV. For Yukon Blonde frontman Jeffrey Innes, it meant getting back to work, writing songs intended for a new collaborative project. But when his friends ended up being busy on the road, the Vancouver songwriter instead recorded the songs himself under a new moniker, High Ends.
Electric Youth first won over scores of fans with “A Real Hero” — a collaboration with French musician David Grellier (a.k.a. College) — which was prominently featured twice in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Ryan Gosling-starring 2011 film Drive.
Some bands have a few songs so immediately fun they can change the air in the room. Nude Beach must have at least 20 of ‘em — each built to win over anyone in the crowd, no matter their tastes. Looking for scruffy punk bangers or spirit-lifting jangling melodies? Hoping for a few triumphantly ripping glam rock solos? What about some good old Heartland AM radio pop or souped-up muscle car rockers made for open-window drives? On its sprawling and satisfying 18-song double album, 77, the Brooklyn trio’s members — singer and guitarist Chuck Betz, bassist Jimmy Shelton, and drummer Ryan Naideau — have got you more than covered.
Yesterday, songwriter Sharon Van Etten tweeted a link to a YouTube video, saying “Make sure to watch before tomorrow.”
Peter Morén — the singer and guitarist of Peter Bjorn & John fame — says that with his last two solo releases he found a new freedom in writing and singing entirely in his native Swedish for the first time. Morén’s songs on 2010’s I spåren av tåren and 2012’s Pyramiden, explored new influences like soul, New Wave, and even Brazilian rhythms, while retaining many of PB&J’s core calling cards — namely, the infectious pop hooks and his familiar Lennon-esque voice. But lyrically, he was able to tackle more Swedish-leaning politics and cultural references that he couldn’t do as easily in English.
Amid the rumble of traffic, crowded streets, and general persistent din of big city life, it can be challenging to find a moment of calm in New York. So it seemed like a peculiar choice when the enigmatic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan said he was interested in playing in a community garden for a Field Recording video WNYC’s Soundcheck co-produced with NPR Music. You could easily envision Callahan’s plaintive music and deep, detached voice getting lost in that noisy clutter.
But in fact, the lush 6th & B Community Garden in the East Village was just the spot for Callahan’s intimate and eerily transfixing performance. Recording previously as Smog, and now simply under his own name, Callahan writes dark, frequently anguished songs inflected with a bleak sense of doom. And yet, there’s actually a surprisingly warm, pastoral quality to his words, and a comforting voice in his sly delivery.
Surrounded by a rich canopy of greenery, ornamented flower beds, and even a small pond full of turtles, Callahan quietly finger-picked “Small Plane,” a song from his new record Dream River (out Sept. 17). And while sounds from just outside the garden’s tall gates trickled in, all those distractions of the city just outside the gates melted away.
I’ve been a a fan and admirer of TV On The Radio since the one-two punch masterpieces, 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain. At the time, songs like “I Was A Lover” and “Province” were truly mind-boggling, resetting my expectation for what “indie rock” should and could sound like. Melding so many genres effortlessly, TV On The Radio has long been a band of great ambition and always sounded genuinely musically curious.
However, since those two albums I sorta tuned out a bit. I found Dear Science a disappointing, over-produced mess that lost the songs amid the fussy production. And I’m not sure I spent much time with 2011’s Nine Types Of Light — a record that suddenly took on far darker meaning with the loss of longtime member Gerard Smith, who died from lung cancer just after the release.
TV On The Radio has been relatively dormant since that last album, but now the Brooklyn-based band has begun to show signs of activity again, teasing out tidbits about its follow-up. There’s very little known at this point about what it’s called or when it’ll drop, we’re now starting to get something of a sense for what it could sound like. Some weeks back TV On The Radio previewed the song “Mercy,” an edgy basher full of buzzed-out guitars and strobing synths.
Meanwhile, the song’s music video also debuted, as part of a series of six videos made by MySpace and Sitek’s Federal Prism label. This one is directed by Kyp Malone with Natalia Leite.
Compared to “Mercy,” or a lot of TV On The Radio’s back catalog for that matter, “Million Miles” is deceptively simple: With soaring falsetto and the chiming arpeggios of a Fender Rhodes keyboard, the song recalls the R&B jams on 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain, more than say, the aggressive live wire distortion and big beats of Dear Science.
And yet, as the chorus swells with Dave Sitek’s trademark dense thickets of sound, “Million Miles” proves undeniably cathartic as Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s powerful vocals sing “Don’t you let love break your heart / Give it all your power.”
Whether playing sneering, throat-slitting punk rockers or crafting cavernous experiments piled high with noise hugging the periphery — it’s amazing that after all these years TV On The Radio remains a group with such uncompromising artistic vision. This song is a gorgeous reminder of why I fell in love with the group in the first place. Can’t wait to hear more.
There are a few filmmakers out there that I’m always waiting and eager to see what they have next: Directors like Alfonso Cuaron, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Spike Jonze have earned a free ride with me from where I’ll follow them from project to project forever, even after movies I don’t always love.
So as an unapologetic mega-fan of Spike Jonze’s music video work and especially his films — and yes, even his last movie, Where The Wild Things Are — I’m impossibly excited to say outloud: Hey, new Spike Jonze film coming in November! Finally!
Her stars a Joaquin Phoenix, as an introverted sad-sack of a man, shut off from the world, with some clearly buried emotional damage to work through. Just based on the trailer, Phoenix looks peculiar and slightly off — sporting a morose blandness akin to Bryan Cranston’s early look as Walter White on Breaking Bad. But after his eccentric temper and strange mannerisms of The Master, it’s nice to Phoenix in a more restrained, tic-free performance. And for Jonze, Her comes off as a more grounded film — with real-world characters — than he’s done in awhile. That is, if a sentient artificial intelligence can be considered “grounded.”
The rest of the impossibly stacked cast includes Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Oliva Wilde, Chris Pratt, and the titular computerized A.I. voice of one Scarlett Johansson.
Sure, there are elements of this trailer could set off the ol’ “Twee-dar:” The high concept of a man being brought out of his shell by relating to, and possibly falling in love with an artificial woman (See: Lars and the Real Girl meets I, Robot?); the indie romance disguised as subtle sci fi; the indie rock-leaning music.
On that front, Arcade Fire will have new songs from its forthcoming record as part of the film’s soundtrack, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O reportedly wrote an original song as well — which you can hear a portion of “The Moon Song” at the 1:37 mark in the trailer.
But what really makes the trailer work for me musically is the inclusion of another Yeah Yeah Yeahs track, “Skeletons,” from the 2009 album It’s Blitz!.
It’s a song I had actually forgotten about from that record, but hearing it again now, I think it’s one of the best songs on that album, more so than my previous favorite, the buzzier dance pop single “Zero.” The song is still fizzy synth pop, but there’s a buzzing melancholy there that really fits the tone of the film. It’s nice to rediscover this older song and hear it in a new way.
So yeah, there’s enough to like here in the trailer to peak my interest, and I’m hoping that because it’s a filmmaker like Spike Jonze at the helm, those initial reservations will fade.