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Wednesday, Mar 30, 2011
The King of Limbs, while on the surface slighter than some of Radiohead's previous efforts, is still a vital, relevant addition to the group’s canon because of -- not despite -- its understated quality.

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.


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Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011
The only female member of the Dears takes a moment pre-tour to discuss the history of the band, its new material, and motherhood.

Natalia Yanchak is not just some woman in a band. She joined the Dears back in their beginning stages as the keyboard player, but also as an organizer and visionary. Her vocals add a sweetness to the strong, warm baritone of frontman Murray Lightburn along with a raison d’être for the romantic yearnings that are a hallmark of so many of their songs. They are now married with a young daughter, and the band is as strong as ever. The new release, Degeneration Street, was performed start to finish in a few live gigs last fall, and the group onstage looked like it was having a blast. Before heading out on tour again, Yanchak chatted over the phone from her home in Montreal to update PopMatters.


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When exactly did you join the band and tell me about those early days with the Dears?


I joined the band officially in 1997 or 1998. I had met Murray [Lightburn] at a bar—I was DJing at a local haunt in Montreal, the infamous Biftek, which [is] overrun by students now although it was back then also. That’s what they call a steak in French, biftek, but it’s not a restaurant so I don’t know why it’s called that. Murray had come in and he sat at the bar and for some reason he just poured his heart out to me. It wasn’t like it was love at first sight, I was kind of like “Oh, poor guy”. We had some mutual friends who introduced me to the Dears and to Murray so I went to see them play a show at this hole-in-wall kind of place called the Barfly. They were looking for a keyboard player but after I saw them I was totally skeptical. I was like, “It’s going to be terrible.” But it was amazing—I thought it was great.


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Thursday, Feb 24, 2011
PopMatters chats with Rolf Klausener about the Acorn's superb and concise new record, No Ghost.

With their latest LP, No Ghost, Canadian folk-poppers the Acorn have done a strange thing: scaling down and de-glorifying their craft (after the immaculate Glory Hope Mountain from 2008), making it seem like a wonderful progression towards a woodsy, utopian breed of rock. There is an awful lot of joy in the record, as if time spent recording it in the wilderness—they retreated to an isolated cabin to piece the tunes together—was as freeing an experience as it should be, and the heaviness of Glory Hope Mountain had been lifted. Rolf Klausener was on hand to curtly and efficiently answer a few questions about No Ghost and shed a little light on its gestation.


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No Ghost—first things first, it’s not a concept album. In fact, there aren’t really any large themes drawing it together as such. Did you want to move away from the scale of Glory Hope Mountain?


In short, yes. The process of writing and recording No Ghost had little planning being it other than the location. Writing GHM was an all-encompassing affair which, creatively, dominated the better part of two years. For better or worse, we wanted No Ghost to be a lot less premeditated and commit to whatever came out of the cottage sessions.


Tagged as: the acorn
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Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011
VV Brown's energetic performances at last year's SXSW were the talk of the festival. She talks to PopMatters about her many ambitions.

England’s VV Brown came out of the South by Southwest Music Festival smokin’ hot. Between her showcase performance at the Latitude 30 Club, several party appearances that included Perez Hilton’s One Night in Austin and Spinner.com’s Pop-Up at the Gas Pipe, and her gig on KGSR radio’s breakfast program, the word was out. Brown was last year’s SXSW most likely to succeed, following in the tradition of females songstresses of the past such as Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones, and Nellie McKay.


Whether Brown will flame out like Winehouse, soar to superstardom like Jones, or remain a beloved cult artist like McKay remains to be seen. One thing for certain is Brown’s driving ambition. Brown sat down with PopMatters at SXSW and discussed her plans to conquer the world.


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How different is it playing festivals with artists different than you are versus your own tours?


I love it when I am with artists different than me. I stumbled upon a new band yesterday that I fell in love with called the Octopus Project. And I think it’s just so fun to mingle with other musicians. They challenge you and inspire you as an artist, and it’s a great feeling. It’s really boring when you hang around people that are similar to you or doing the same things as you because you don’t grow. And as an artist, I really want to grow so festivals like this are a platform for discovery for me as an artist.


Tagged as: vv brown
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Wednesday, Jan 12, 2011
by Rob McCallum
As Zola Jesus, musician Nika Roza Danilova has come off as a mysterious figure, thanks in part to her music's dark, brooding sound. In a conversation with PopMatters, she reveals that the distinction between Zola Jesus and Niki Roza is not an easy one to make.

Veiled. Mysterious. Masked. Call Nika Roza Danilova what you will. As Zola Jesus, she has certainly been a shrouded figure since her first release on Sacred Bones Records last year. Carving out a unique space—much in the vein of a young Kate Bush or Björk—to sit in since she shot to the forefront of the blogosphere last year, it’s hard to believe the operatically trained 21-year-old from Wisconsin is such a new figure in the music scene, as she presents a sound with a maturity way beyond her years.


There was an undeniable lack of expectancy for the transition she made from the solitary lo-fi of last year’s The Spoils to the all-enrapturing ethereal pop on this year’s Stridulum EP. It is a transition that seems to signal her ascendancy into the art-pop hall of fame as – backed by her new band – she embarks on a tour later this year with the Swedish songstress of insomnia, Fever Ray. Popmatters finds out more.


Zola Jesus is a stage name. Are you getting into a character when you record/perform your music?
No, that would be dishonest. Zola Jesus is too personal for that.


Do you still write/record all the music alone?
Yes.


Tagged as: zola jesus
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