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by Jacob Adams

30 Mar 2011


The experience of slipping into the grooves of a Radiohead record is uniquely sublime. Those who willingly surrender to the band’s strange, surreal beauty rarely find themselves unsatisfied. Thom Yorke and company have not only expressed the alleged alienation of a generation of young people in a technocratic era, but have managed to walk the thin tightrope straddling mainstream and independent musical cultures. The success of the single “Creep” (1992) and the later LP OK Computer (1997) transformed the Oxfordshire group from an underground secret into a college radio sensation. With Kid A (2000), the band’s music finally caught up with the severity of its message. Some fans were shocked when Radiohead replaced gentle piano progressions, crunchy lead lines, and acoustic drum patterns with laptop generated grooves, sinister synth sounds, and avant-garde jazz horn sections.

Since the release of OK Computer and Kid A near the turn of the century, Radiohead has vacillated between the guitar-driven classicism of the former and the electronic experimentalism of the latter. Amnesiac (2001) continued the experimental spirit of Kid A, but sacrificed the strong, soaring melodies of the former record for less accessible, abstract grooves. Hail to the Thief (2003) took a hybrid approach, combining the electric rhythms of the band’s more experimental work with more traditional rock songwriting techniques and instrumentation. With In Rainbows (2007), the band succeeded in making its most accessible work to date, a collection of energetic rock anthems and sublime ballads, all tied together with the most emotionally direct lyrics in the band’s body of work.

Prior to Radiohead’s digital release of The King of Limbs several weeks ago, the question on every fan’s mind was, “What kind of Radiohead record will this be?”  Would it represent the apotheosis of alternative rock like OK Computer?  Would it challenge purists as much as Kid A? Or, would it be a clear-headed, emotionally naked masterpiece like In Rainbows?  Given the album’s more traditional CD/vinyl release on March 28, these questions are worth revisiting. The simple answer, it seems, is “no”. The King of Limbs is none of the above, yet simultaneously all of the above.

by Evan Sawdey

29 Mar 2011


Ben + Vesper are unlike most married couples that you meet.

First off, this New Jersey duo are in their own two-piece band that is simply called, well, Ben + Vesper.  Sure, they make music together—and often sing in perfect harmony—but few couples could have amassed as diverse a musical background as they have, as their indie-pop songs tend to shift between styles often on the drop of a dime, incorporating backwoods banjo-picking, oboe-fueled interludes, or full-on girl-group backing vocals all without breaking a sweat.  These elements are never forced: they happen naturally, and although these deviations are often unexpected, they are surprising in the best way possible.

No wonder the band is signed to the eclectic folk label Sounds Familyre, worked with likes of Sufjan Stevens, and as of this past January, released its second full-length album, Honors.  Taking a break from touring, the band sat down to answer PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions, with Ben revealing that Xanadu made him cry, that Vesper was a midwife apprentice at one point, and how one of the members is currently working on “a robot that gives you quarters when you’re sad” . . .

by George de Stefano

28 Mar 2011


Pat Benatar told us back in the 1980s that love is a battlefield. But blues singers were sending that message long before the spandex-loving rocker from Long Island. Blues songs often are brutally candid about the power struggles in heterosexual relations. Violent imagery is hardly uncommon, with razors, knives, pistols, “Gatling guns” (see: Robert Johnson) and fists making recurring appearances (the minor subgenre of gay-themed blues, however, tended to be more ribald and good-humored). Bluesmen—the genre is of course male-dominated—often express mistrust of women, and sometimes misogyny as harsh as anything in rap.

Although it’s usually the man who’s the aggressor, sometimes the roles are reversed. Howlin’ Wolf recorded two of the starkest, scariest songs in the blues about “mean mistreater” women. The title of one says it all: “I Asked Her for Water (And She Brought Me Gasoline)”. In “Commit a Crime”, he tells us his woman “mixed my drinks with a can of Red Devil lye / Then you sit down watch me hopin’ that I might die”.

But in “Who’s Been Talkin’”, the Wolf is sorrowful, even regretful, over the behavior that caused his lover to leave him. She “caught the train, left me all alone”, he laments. He complains that “she’s doin’ me wrong”, and he wants to know who put the word out about his tomcatting (“Who’s been talkin’ / Everything that I do”). But he fesses up to his part in the drama: “I’m the causin’ of it all”.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

25 Mar 2011


Mendelsohn: Klinger, I had a hard time with this record. Three weeks of repeated listening and I’m still at a loss for words. Half of this album (the sleazy, rhythm-driven, stripped down funk half) is really, really fun to listen to. The other half plays like the sound track to a John Hughes movie, which considering that this album came out in 1987 might explain its immense popularity. That being said: I’m still confused by Prince.

Klinger:  Oh, Prince will confuse you, no question. He baffles his fans by defying expectations every step of the way. He’s perplexed his detractors by remaining a reasonably viable artist for over three decades. And he’s puzzled the general public with his odd choices in haberdashery and nomenclature.

I also don’t know where to begin talking about an album as messy and scattershot and occasionally brilliant as Sign o’ the Times. Over the course of repeated listenings, I was all set to declare that not only is this not the 26th Greatest Album of All Time, but this isn’t even the 26th greatest album by Prince. At other times, I was ready to defend this record tooth and nail.

And that’s what has confounded me the most. Prince has had bigger hits (Purple Rain) and made double albums that were more cohesive statements (1999). Why then, is this the one that critics seem the most drawn to?

by Sean Murphy

24 Mar 2011


Keith Relf.

Who? Exactly.

Quite possibly the best vocalist you’ve never heard of, you still have heard him if you are passingly familiar with rock music. Trust me. He was the voice of the Yardbirds.

Who?

Come on. You know, that semi-influential band that gave birth to the holy trinity of English guitarists. In order: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Any questions?

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