Weekly Roundup #4
When I heard Radiohead was going to open a library, I basically thought exactly the same thing Alan tweeted here. Can you imagine a physical Radiohead-library with books, programs, workshops and reading sections? That would be amazing: like a Roald Dahl book come to life. It helps that Thom Yorke is probably the perfect proxy Willy Wonka-figure:
“He kept making quick jerky little movements with his head, cocking it this way and that, and taking everything in with those bright twinkling eyes. He was like a squirrel in the quickness of his movements, like a quick clever old squirrel from the park.”
Speaking of Radiohead, people were fussin’ a lot about Jazz Monroe’s Guardian article ranking the 40 Greatest Radiohead songs. Many were let down by a lack of Let Down (my favorite Radiohead song next to ‘Dollars and Cents’), but you gotta tip your hat to Jazz for including ‘Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box’, one of those delish obscurities a lot of Radiohead purists seem to hate.
I don’t think about Radiohead as often as most music heads because I feel the band is ubiquitous anyway, and I have no real business adding to The Discourse. But when I do my mind always veers to the more overlooked tracks. I’ve always been a sucker for Bangers + Mash, because it’s one of the few Radiohead songs where it sounds as if Radiohead hasn’t thought things through. It’s a fun obtuse little jam that just rocks, yet still shows the band’s default state of making even ‘rock-oriented’ stuff sound cool.
I remember watching them play Bangers + Mash live, with Thom Yorke playing the drums, and it was the goofiest thing ever. Yorke had to wear goggles to protect that sensitive eye of his (‘Safety first”), and suddenly it felt more like a DEVO performance. Radiohead has so often been described as this transcendental visionary band, it was a delight to see them hang loose a bit. Anyway, that’s it for my Bangers + Mash Appreciation campaign.
This week has been through the roof with announcements and new music. Best Kept Secret and Rewire announced their brilliant line-ups. Halsey became the latest pop star to harangue Pitchfork on a mildly positive review. I dunno, I remember being elated getting a 6.5 for my school exams, because it meant I passed. Maybe Halsey, JPEGMAFIA and Lizzo should look at it that way as well. It’s not like it has any repercussions on getting headline slots and fashion shoots. And who knows, Halsey’s album might get revised in 2040 as 9.9 masterpiece. In this era where the hot takes get all the spoils, there’s a warped sense of ‘good taste’ anyway, and it usually translates to which artists can muster the most PR power.
- The Ummah Chroma at Het Nieuwe Instituut
Echoing Sevdaliza’s admonishment against media framing on her Instagram account (she has deleted the post, unfortunately), most of the really visionary artistic developments happen outside of the industry line of sight. I briefly addressed The Ummah Chroma’s activities at Het Nieuwe Instituut during IFFR in my previous entry, but having immersed a full two days in their multi-disciplinary firmament, this subject elicits more elaborate ruminations.
On Friday I watched the Transcendental Rhythms film program at KINO and I found myself weeping non-stop by how powerful it was. It has occurred to me that this generation of jazz musicians wield a power that was still out of reach during the golden age: the power of multimedia (well you could argue Sun Ra was already living in this era). Forging image and sound to incite and decypher deeper conversations, spiritual connections beyond the rigid audience-maker dynamic. Or, to capture it in a single word: it’s a ritual.
In order to hypothesize a new reality for free black children, The Ummah Chroma made an installation at The Nieuwe Instituut that resets your brain in a positive way, nullifying preconceived notions of how we as a species interact on a daily basis. Which is , of course, the whole point of an installation anyway. Upon entering, you were asked to remove your shoes and cleanse your hands in a sink of water. The space was filled with pebbles — which made walking slightly uncomfortable — trees decorated with bottles, a large table with candles, lavender and pieces of paper for people to draw on. Oh right, there was a huge monolith stationed in the middle of the space, immediately inciting visions of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It all served a purpose in altering your senses.
In short intervals various members of The Ummah Chroma rejoiced in prayer and meditation, immediately influencing the entirety of the room. At some point, I found myself drawing a face (the left half obscured by the edge of the paper) with my subconsciousness at the steering wheel (of course it ended up becoming my own face), and to my left I noticed this kid drawing a more sinister right half of the face that looked way cooler. It was hilarious. We smiled at each other and held the two halves together so that it looked like Batman villain Two-Face. “Can I keep yours?”, he asked. Of course, I gave him my half.
That little interaction pretty much summed up the whole experience for me: we all possess the means to enrich each other on such a more profound level, and often all it takes is changing the scenery from the nondescript ones we’ve become so accustomed to. It kind of makes you wonder that the way we’re communicating now might ultimately be flawed and the whole reason humankind has made such a mess of this planet. What if we could open ourselves up to a higher form of communication? If you look at all the petty squabbles among Democrats even in the face of Trump getting another term, it really begs the question.
Furthermore, please check out The Ummah Chroma’s many activities at The Nieuwe Instituut during IFFR. I highly recommend paying an extended visit.
2. Twenty Of Twenty-Twenty Week 4
As said before, 2020 is now officially in full swing. This week has been absolutely overstuffed with amazing new music.
On her gripping track ‘Tongues Of Wild Boar’ Hilary Woods has abandoned the stark urban minimalism of Colt for more Dyonisian vibes. For her upcoming LP Birthmarks, she has joined forces with Lasse Marhaug, a Norwegian noisenik who specializes in nauseating frequencies. Top combo.
Haley Fohr has returned with her Jackie Lynn project, and the seedy ‘Casino Queen’ sounds like a somnambulistic take on an eighties new romantics tune. Jackie is also coming to WORM backed by the mighty Bitchin Baja’s… the last time she played there with Circuit des Yeux she put me into a stasis that lasted a good thirty minutes.
Nap Eyes have returned with a crackpot video for Mark Zuckerberg, and for the first time I get the sense Nigel Chapman and his pals can actually transcend into Big Headliner status, because they sound, well, bigger. Granted it’s been an upward swing from meek agnostics to free radicals from album to album (maybe pin it on all that tai chi Nigel has been practicing?). Don’t disqualify the lyrical idiosyncrasies either, that hasn’t stopped The National (it’s poetic that The National producer Jonathan Low lent his talents to Snapshot of a Beginner). Anyway, I’m amped to see Nap Eyes come back to Rotterdam, with Naive Set opening up for them again no less!
I’m going to blame Perfume Genius and Lifafa’s Jaago (I’m still blasting that motherfucker every week by the way) for my recent love of starry-eyed dancefloor romanticism. Scott Hardware seamlessly fits into that vibe with his disco-laced single ‘Joy’. It’s absolutely stunning, this track. Hearing this, I’m like cupid swerving across mirror-ball celestial bodies, shooting arrows into all the unlucky shmucks of the universe. Even Xenomorphs need a little love, right? Moreover, Scott Hardware’s upcoming record Engel, out April 3rd on Telephone Explosion Records, is something to look forward to.
My favorite album of the year so far is out: Watch This Liquid Pour Itself by Okay Kaya brings an abundance of familiar moods in strange, unexplored configurations. It’s a little too easy to compare her work to fellow pop impressionists Julia Holter and Jenny Hval… because Okay Kaya is non-conformist in her own unique way. Her zone is unique: there are more outwardly theatrical elements that stop just short of lampooning. A song like Zero Interaction Ramen Bar (gosh all the song titles on this record are gold aren’t they) really captures this familiar fatigue of shutting yourself down in a drunken stupor, where every strain of thought just melts into a neural soup. And you know what? It’s a beautiful song that illustrates that first-thought-is-often-the-best-thought mentality brilliantly.
It really helped that I myself was pretty much spent when I heard this album for the first time. I was finishing a whole bottle of wine after sending about 200 e-mails in three days. And eyebrow-raiser of a lyric like Sometimes, I rub my ghost dick until I can almost see it over a nimble pop groove is just the spark you need to get on a bender instead of Netflixing yourself to sleep. In terms of lyricism, the album reminds me somewhat of Yeezus in the way it brings these R-Rated zingers into play.
But this album is just undeniably pretty at times too. The Norwegian sung Helsevesen evokes that one scene in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? with the Sirens, and secretly I wanted to be turned into a frog myself. STILL, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the lyrics didn’t exactly double down on the sheer prettiness of it all. Nope.
In the low countries, we too have songwriters that deftly blend the macabre with the moving. Take Moon Moon Moon, who released another brilliant Journal Song about a video game called Playing Paper Mario With My Mom (he did another one on Animal Crossing). Neighbours Burning Neighbours released their brand new single ‘Softly’, which probably won’t put to rest all the Sonic Youth comparisons (even though none of the band members listen to Sonic Youth). Those who have seen the band in the flesh can attest that their sound is far more dynamic, experimental and eclectic. Indeed, the most powerful spell cards are not yet visible on the table. An emphatic ‘To be continued…’
In the hands of some bands, familiarity is a good thing though. The great Elliott Smith is no more, but that singular magic he conveyed deserves to be relayed towards other bands. Happyness are Happily picking up that tab with ‘Vegetable’. It made my choice for Weekly Ween all the easier as well. ‘Baby Bitch’ was a proto-Elliott Smith-pastiche, in retrospect, before Elliott Smith even released his first solo record.
Enjoy the rest of the playlist below. See you all Next Week!