Music

Massive Attack - "The Spoils" ft. Hope Sandoval (Singles Going Steady)

"The Spoils" classicist leanings prove that Massive Attack don't need to chase fads in order to create stirring and uniquely powerful music.

Tanner Smith: Two nocturnal 1990s icons team up for a spare, cinematic ballad that offers no surprises. "The Spoils" is immaculately constructed, featuring an understated, plaintive vocal performance from Hope Sandoval (who fronts the spectral Mazzy Star) and rich granular details that come from years of making records. The song's beautiful, string-laden chorus feels like a sad, distant, and dying callback to the group's incredible Blue Lines classic "Unfinished Sympathy". But where "Unfinished Sympathy" captured the ambiguous rush of love, "The Spoils" details its fall into the abyss. "The Spoils" classicist leanings prove that Massive Attack don't need to chase fads in order to create stirring and uniquely powerful music. [8/10]

Max Totsky: Massive Attack are one of those groups that, despite a decades worth of less than stellar material, are certainly due for a renaissance considering how ahead of their time their “trip hop” aesthetic was in their prime. If any big '90s act are truly adaptable to today’s spectrum of relevance, it might be Massive Attack. This year’s four-track Ritual Spirit EP marked their most exciting new direction since 1998, and they’ve follow that up with "The Spoils", a six-minute slow burner that tones down the grittier disposition of January’s comeback for something a lot more in line with their iconically dazzling single "Teardrop". However, unlike that classic, "The Spoils" is a lot more underwhelming, spending an excessive amount of time going absolutely nowhere and, when it’s finished, you don’t feel transported as much as you feel slightly bored. As pleasant as it is to gaze at orchestration this elegant, there needs to be a bit more direction and force in order to play to Massive Attack’s strengths. [9/10]

Andrew Paschal: Any Hope Sandoval feature is a welcome one in my book. This track replaces the creepy allure of previous collaboration “Paradise Circus” with a mournful, enveloping fog. The song eventually becomes a bit plodding and mostly concludes in the same place it began, but it’s elegantly done nonetheless. As for the video, watching Cate Blanchett first turned into a hollow mannequin and then gradually reduced into the simplest, barest outline of a human figure, all while staring vacantly and vulnerably ahead, is surprisingly devastating (or then again, maybe not so surprisingly). [7/10]

William Sutton: The Bristol-based trip hop pioneers continue to show why they foster such a fervent fanbase with new track "The Spoils". Featuring Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, the track perfectly suits her sense of darkness as her dreamy vocals are complemented by a typically minimalist but at the same time rich soundscape of strings, crackling synths and percussion. Like much of their previous output, Massive Attack ooze understated grandeur in their work and the video, which features Cate Blanchett, is equally enthralling in its simplicity as Blanchett's face is deconstructed until all that is left is a stone bust. [8/10]

Scott Zuppardo: The sultry siren croon of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval careens a sanctimoniously stringed Massive Attack, heavy on the 808 and the heart, a space-laden feast for the eyes and ears. [7/10]

Paul Carr: "The Spoils" is a heartbreakingly fragile song. Hope Sandoval’s vocals are suitably mournful yet tender. Coupled with the minimal beats, there is a real sense that the song could simply blow away at any moment. The stirring orchestration is reminiscent of Radiohead’s recent single "Day Dreaming" and elevates the track to new heights. Amazingly the song manages to sound forlorn and optimistic at the same time. It sounds unmistakably like Massive Attack without sounding like anything they’ve done before. Simply divine. [9/10]

Chris Ingalls: Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval pairs up with Massive Attack for the third time in the past several years, which has the potential to sound like a '90s-drenched nostalgia fest. But the atmosphere remains contemporary and forward-facing. Massive Attack's sonic washes are draped nicely by Sandoval's melancholic pipes and the whole collaboration feels warm and effortless. [7/10]

Adriane Pontecorvo: Massive Attack at their most formulaic, but with a formula this successful, that's not a bad thing. Intense melancholy, lush strings, and sparse handclaps are staples of the Massive Attack repertoire. It's Hope Sandoval's voice, as elusive as the lights and digital masks flickering across Cate Blanchett's face, that elevates this single. Sleek, dreamy, and ready to serve on the soundtrack of a particularly sexy TV drama, "The Spoils" may not be Massive Attack's most interesting track (or even their most interesting collaboration with Sandoval), but it showcases everything they do best. [7/10]

Chad Miller: Really nice string arrangement. Massive Attack chooses to bring in the lower end of the section at just the right times which adds a lot of character and emotion to the piece. I don't think the vocal melody and Sandoval's voice really fit the song though. They both give off more of a pop vibe compared to the orchestral music. [6/10]

SCORE: 7.56

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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