PM Pick

Karl Blau

It's hard for any concert event to be totally compelling on a Monday when it's nearing midnight, but Karl Blau, a songwriter loosely associated with the scene around K records and Phil Elvrum (he also has an album-a-month subscription service called Kelp), managed to do it, despite the inherent obstacle of his own songs' somnolent gentleness, putting on a riveting performance for nine or ten people in the basement of a place called The Cake Shop on the Lower East Side. He has a fine voice and is competent on guitar and bass, but what made his show so excellent was his expertise with this little digital looping box/pitch-shifter device that he had a separate microphone connected to. He would build up the songs organically, first looping a human-beatbox drum pattern, then layering some backing vocals and harmonizing with himself, sometimes laying down a bassline or a rhythm guitar figure or sometimes staying a cappella, and then breaking into the verses of his songs, which tend to celebrate natural phenomena like the ocean and the stars. It was fascinating to have the song's construction be an integral part of the song itself, how the process and the product merged, a formal approach that seemed to especiallly suit his lyrical themes of natural harmony and eternal recurrances. His solos were not feats of dexterity on his guitars but were instead well strategized and orchestrated loop layers that built to impressive levels of complexity and intensity without ever seeming utterly random. He was as masterful with the whole one-man-band approach as anyone I've ever seen try it; it was very reminiscent of James McNew's performances as Dump (which are, in my experience, more interesting than Yo La Tengo shows). And even when Blau did "an art piece" of loop samples of things like the buzz from the amp and improvised hummed melodies, it didn't seem indulgent but genuinely exploratory -- all while demonstrating his faultless instincts for what will sound interesting, and what sounds will work with each other melodically and rhythmically. And he seemed without pretension too, which usually appeals to me, even if it's just an illusion.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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