Back in 2008, when they released their third album Dear Science, the world was justifiably TV On The Radio’s to take. The album was a bold statement as to the waters in which rock music should tread—sonically and politically bold—and it was also enormously fun. I saw TV On The Radio for the first time not long after, and the show was a heady carnival of funk and philosophy. They were staking a claim, unintentionally or no, to be the greatest band in the world. Continue reading Battles, a band with a capital ‘B’
A mixtape for winter’s end, spring’s stirring, and the reïmagination of rock. Continue reading Frühlings Erwachen
The narrative seems straightforward enough. Band releases low-key follow-up to a strident, populist career-best. One of the band passes, tragically, nine days after the album’s launch. Three years later, the band regroups with a contemplative effort dedicated to their lost friend. Continue reading Sow seeds, reap harvest
“Put an ocean and a river between everything, yourself and home.” Sometimes, Matt Berninger seems to advise in The National’s “England”, you have to get a little distance between you and the things, and people, dear to you. Paul Haggis’s “Crash” was a clunky metaphor for how Los Angelenos are only brought together by traumatic collisions. Before germ theory found currency, people thought the origin of epidemics lay in ‘bad air’, or, miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter. Continue reading Miasma
Some songs unknowingly link to numerous trends in music. From “Pull Up The Roots” we get James Murphy’s cowbell frenzy, the slinky bass of Quincy Jones’s productions for Michael Jackson, and the strangled, hothouse sax* that marks early TV On The Radio. There is a punkish energy to the song that also looks back to Talking Heads’ CBGB days, as well as prophetically forward to the rise of evangelical churches, with their rousing call-and-response chants. And, if you listen closely, the subtly finger-picked guitar-work around the three-minute mark became a mantra for The Durutti Column and, later, “The French Open” by Foals.
I wrote a bit about this album here; this song is an under-appreciated gem near its end, which ushers in the simple masterpiece “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
* The saxophone is actually a treated guitar part. I guess they learnt more than a few production tricks from Brian Eno.
Taken from Speaking In Tongues (Sire Records, 1983).
This is one of my all-time YouTube all-stars: TV On The Radio, who once brought experimental noise rock to the indie kids, playing “Love Dog”, live on French TV. The moment at 4:05 when the late Gerard Smith beams in this unearthly, haunting synth patch is just unreal.
“And I heard of that Japanese girl, who jumped into the volcano—
Was she trying to make it back,
Back into the womb of the world?”—Beck, “Volcano”
- Pink Floyd — One of These Days
- Shy Child — Disconnected
- Yo La Tengo — Saturday
- Blur — The Universal
- Kanye West — Who Will Survive in America
- TV On The Radio — Love Dog
- Spoon — Out Go The Lights
- Cut Copy — Strangers In The Wind
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Midnight Man
- J Dilla — Last Donut of the Night
- Pulp — Sunrise
Yesterday, one of art rock’s most humble players passed away. Gerard Smith, who contributed bass and keyboards to three TV On The Radio albums, and toured with them from 2004 to 2010, fought a hard battle with lung cancer, which he appeared to be winning, but in the end he was overcome.
Smith was the last member to join the TV On The Radio family, and was discovered by frontman Tunde Adebimpe on the subways of New York City, where he busked. Unlike the average troubadour, Smith excelled in the studio too, and once said he was happiest when seated, tapping away at electronics. Indeed, on stage, he lurked in the background, playing a bass guitar rested in his lap when he was not fiddling with the keyboards that always surrounded him.
On the three albums to which he contributed—2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain, 2008’s Dear Science, and this year’s Nine Types Of Light—Smith’s presence was always felt rather than seen. An occasional rumble of bass; a twinkling piano figure: the sounds that completed the band’s tapestry of noise.
His most vital appearance must surely be his playing of the electric sitar on “Wash The Day Away”, which closed the band’s magnum opus, Return To Cookie Mountain. The song features rising flutes, raging percussion, and a mass of harmonising vocals, but everything is built upon Smith’s droning sitar, the only instrument which lasts the distance. As the song collapses in on itself amidst white noise and a shower of electronic rainfall, the echoing sitar finally expires.
I wish there had been a similarly exultant end to the Gerard Smith story—but the world has a way of being cruellest to those who have done it the least harm.
Just checking in on you guys to prove I’m still alive etc. This post is going to be voluminous and far-reaching, and may be considered a portrait of the artist as a young man, aged twenty, approaching graduation.
The Kendal four-piece will release their third album, Smother, on 9th May; in anticipation of it, they have made available the meditative “Albatross”.
The new (OK, pushing the definition somewhat) song is silky and wafts in on a cloud of ambient keys, before a steely guitar melody takes over, underpinned by dubstep-sourced wobble bass. Unusually, given what we’ve heard from Wild Beasts in the past, the vocals in the verses are done in complete harmony, with Tom Fleming’s velvety croon no longer acting merely as a counterpoint to Hayden Thorpe’s arch falsetto.
It appears that Smother is going to be noticeably more informed by electronic textures, and the evidence presented on “Albatross” points to such a direction being taken. This is wild-eyed, ambitious art rock, crafted by people who now live in Dalston and listen to Ohneohtrix Point Never.♦
TV On The Radio
I thought the standout track on Dear Science was “Love Dog”; however, I didn’t anticipate the Brooklynite quintet to follow it by decamping to LA and making an album of homogenous, lovestruck, R&B-tinged rock.
“Will Do” was an early taster, and one that had me hooked in. Yes, it was more plaintive and unadorned than the kind of sonic warfare TV On The Radio (TVOTR) usually trade in, but it was lush in all the right places, and I thought it boded well for the album it preceded, Nine Types of Light. Now that the album has been released, I’m more ambivalent. To say it doesn’t break new ground is an understatement—this is predominantly tepid summery stuff, to listen to while tending to the barbecue (or, to use a word I’ve recently become attached to, “cookout”), and it certainly isn’t going to inspire a revolution.
But, this being the product of Sitek, Malone, Adebimpe and co., that’s not to say it’s bereft of merit. In fact, every melody is serviceable and the production brings a new level of glossiness to the band’s output. But it lacks the sparkle of faded grandeur that bled into their best work in the past. Dave Sitek no longer sounds like he’s using his guitar to carry out nuclear fusion; the two vocalists, normally so unhinged, now give off the appearance of having their legs up beside the fire, cup of cocoa to one side.
I’m sure this was the intention–and I’m hopeful that Nine Types of Light will bring TVOTR to a new audience–but it’s troubling that they sound like they’re on autopilot. I read that the gestation of this album was tortured, with Tunde (Adebimpe) and Kyp (Malone) literally despising their new surroundings (Rodeo Drive, next door to Sitek’s new home/studio). It’s strange that from such beginnings has sprung not an apotheosis, but a work of stagnancy. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sitek said he needed the opportunity of making a solo album, Maximum Balloon, to flush the pop music out of his system, so he could go back and make the next TVOTR in the usual style. On this evidence, he didn’t try hard enough.
Prognosis: Adebimpe has leveraged his rom-com credentials to persuade the rest of the band into compliance. Prescription: a world tour characterised by indifference, which will bully the band back into their noisemaking ways, and away from middle-age ennui. TVOTR have always operated in harmony with prevailing global currents. Return To Cookie Mountain, their magnum opus, reflected the chaos and discord of America at war. Last time round, the optimism of Obamania and a rebirth crept in, giving Dear Science a dance-or-die attitude. But the last couple of years have been pretty rough for the world, in the context of which the ho-hum vibe on Nine Types of Light is bewildering.♦
The eponymous debut from this St. Albans dance-punk band really was a feel good hit of the summer (2009). “Live Those Days Tonight” is the opening track of their sophomore LP, Pala, and it plants the trio firmly on the dancefloor.
A heady concoction of tropical percussion and euphoric synths, “Live Those Days Tonight” begs comparison with the standalone single “Kiss Of Life”, the video for which was actually filmed on a beach in Ibiza. It’s sweaty and writhing, and has at least two masterfully executed drops, one of which features exactly the kind of spastic arpeggiated synth line I previously marvelled at on “Ex Lover”, which closed out their debut album.
The band have said Pala sounds, at times, like ‘N Sync or Backstreet Boys. Without having heard the entire thing, I can’t be sure how much their comments veer towards the ironic. But from all that I’ve read, we can expect this new album to revel in the glories of summer and festival-life, and maybe downplay the more shoegazey aspects of the previous album (which I liked very much). But it’s no bad thing in the evolution of a young band, to flirt with popstar-dom, especially since they’ve clearly got the chops for it.♦
Of course it would be remiss to post something on the blog without mentioning that LCD Soundsystem has retired, as of 2nd April. Like all good fanboys, I was glued to my computer screen for the duration of their farewell concert, aptly dubbed “The Long Goodbye”, which was being live-streamed on Pitchfork at the ungodly hour of 2AM, GMT. And it was long (four hours). And it was epic. And it was worth the fatigue I had to sleep off in the week that followed.
In short, it was a fitting tribute to a man, a band, a scene, and a city.
I’m going to write about this some more in a separate post…♦
Time to start a new feature. My starred tracks in Spotify are a rum bunch. There’s a mixture of deep cuts from newer albums, my all-time faves, and some older stuff that I need regular exposure to. It is this final category I reckon I could do more to blog about, and, handily, two such songs also have a link to LCD Soundsystem, so why not start with them?
I’m Not In Love — 10cc
James Murphy’s band came on to this 1975 classic every night of their final week of insanity (four three-hour gigs at Terminal 5, followed by the seemingly endless set at Madison Square Garden), before they sauntered into “Dance Yrself Clean”.
“I’m Not In Love” is a romantic’s nightmare, with a narrator who spends six minutes denying he’s in love, all the while tacitly admitting very much the opposite. Behind such lyrical confusion lies an arrangement dazzling in construction and beautiful to behold. Godley and Creme went to extravagant lengths to create a lush virtual choir, recording multiple overdubs of each note, then mixing them down into individual endless loops which could be summoned at will from the mixing desk, just by sliding up and down the faders of particular tracks. Painstaking but ingenious. The effect is both ethereal and mournful, with these vocal chords gliding through the mix like transient mists out on the moors.
Seabird — Alessi Brothers
Back in the autumn of last year, LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip embarked on a joint-headlining tour of the UK, which concluded with a show at the Manchester Apollo. I was privileged to catch the pair at Alexandra Palace, but it was only on the final date of the tour that they pulled off the inevitable, with James Murphy teaming up with Hot Chip for a one-off performance of the Alessi Brothers’ obscure 1977 cut, “Seabird”.
A curious choice, doubtless, but their crooning rendition inspired me to check out the original recording which, surprisingly, has aged rather well. With its primitive drum machine backing and a gorgeous chord progression played on Rhodes piano, “Seabird” is a lost soft rock gem, but one which could easily have featured in the charts circa 1995, as some kind of novelty hit. Check out the ephemeral harmony in the chorus! Propelled by a jaunty melody which lingers in the mind long after the refrain dies away, “Seabird” deserves a listen.♦