Music

Radiohead - "Man of War" (Singles Going Steady)

Previously unreleased "Man of War" is quintessential Radiohead: melancholy, unsettling, and full of high drama.

Kevin Korber: I can understand why Radiohead left this off of OK Computer when it came out; while it shares the album’s sense of techno-paranoia, it’s far closer to a straightforward rock song than Radiohead probably would’ve liked. The song also has a dramatic ebb and flow that fits right in with the “saviors of rock” tag slapped onto the band in 1997. Despite this, “Man of War” is still excellent; it’s the sort of straightforward rock song that only Radiohead could pull off convincingly. Moreover, it has a decidedly organic element to its arrangement and to Thom Yorke’s vocal performance, as if it were the hint of a beating heart inside the computer. [8/10]

Adriane Pontecorvo: Previously unreleased "Man of War" is quintessential Radiohead: melancholy, unsettling, and full of high drama. Thom Yorke could sing the greatest hits of Lawrence Welk and still sound raw, but naturally, "Man of War" is much more haunting than that, a dynamic work full of effective contrasts -- soft and mournful keys, electric guitars that will set your hair on end; nearly naked voice, rich and poignant strings -- that give a short song tremendous scope. The video, simple and distressing, adds another thrilling shot of adrenaline to the track. So far, the previously unreleased OK Computer-era tracks have been a perfect blast of the best 1990s sounds; here’s hoping there’s a vault of heretofore unheard Radiohead tracks out there somewhere, and that there are more of these to come. [9/10]

Mike Schiller: Between this and "I Promise", it's clear that there was some quality material left behind from the OK Computer sessions. That said, what "Man of War" also has in common with "I Promise" is that it actually sounds like it might have fit in on The Bends more seamlessly than OK Computer. "Man of War" is a little bit like a mellower "My Iron Lung", a slow-burn that gets pleasingly big and loud and epic -- exactly the sort of thing that Radiohead absolutely mastered 20 years ago -- with the faintest hint of "Karma Police" sound effects at the end. For a band whose entire M.O. is to relentlessly look forward, it's a bit of a (beautiful, fascinating) retread. The video, for its part, offers similar conflicting emotions: while it successfully elicits the paranoia it is so obviously striving for, it's a close second place to Massive Attack's "Angel" in the hyperspecific genre of "music videos that are song-length metaphor-laden chase scenes featuring a mob of antagonists who come out of nowhere." [8/10]

Paul Carr: “Man of War” occupies the space where The Bends ends and OK Computer begins. Musically, Radiohead were yet to figure out how to deconstruct their sound and subvert the expectations of a rock band. The chiming, graceful guitar notes signal the more understated approach on OK Computer whereas the dizzying crescendo of strings, drums and distorted guitar sound like the rock band who made The Bends, albeit with their sights set on something profoundly more ambitious. All told, “Man of War” doesn’t sound like a song suitable for either album and offers a fascinating insight into a band in transition. It’s also phenomenal. [9/10]

Spyros Stasis: Recorded during the OK Computer sessions, “Man of War” remained unreleased until today. In terms of tone, it is the embodiment of that era for Radiohead, somewhere between The Bends and their third full-length album. Its distinct clean guitar sound, the heavier riffs and Yorke's sweet and haunting performance accompany perfectly the track's video protagonist as he is plagued by his own fears. “Man of War” is essentially a time capsule, a new way of rediscovering the magic of OK Computer, even though it is not as strong as the final tracklist of the album. [8/10]

Ian Rushbury: Just when you think the band were going to spiral inside themselves in a blur of atonality, they whip out "Man of War". It's even got hooklines and The Bends era dynamics. There's typically a lot going on here, but it's so well written, you hardly notice as one section dovetails neatly into another. Whoever arranged the strings deserves an extra days pay, too. [9/10]

Tristan Kneschke: OK Computer turns 20 this year. Radiohead fans are celebrating with several unreleased tracks and a slew of b-sides, a gift from the band called OKNotOK. In the “Man of War” video, which recalls the unsettling “Rabbit in Your Headlights", Radiohead once again takes a simple concept with bare production and creates an utterly engrossing watch. A pair of cameras track a paranoid man during day and night, seamlessly cutting between the two times -- no small editing feat. Are the times of day meant to convey the man’s disintegrating mental state? That the decades-old song is given a modern music video deliciously displaces it in time, only adding to the claustrophobic panic that runs through much of the band’s work. [7/10]

Chris Ingalls: One of the three previously unreleased tracks that have surfaced via OKNOTOK, the 20th anniversary deluxe reissue of OK Computer, "Man of War" seems neatly placed right in between the guitar-heavy Britpop of The Bends and the more brooding, experimental follow-up. It wouldn't sound out of place on either album and provides a nice sense of where the band's head was in the mid-'90s: embracing standard song structure while aching to soar above it. [8/10]

Chris Thiessen: You know it's the peak-era of a band when even their unreleased material has the ability to affect emotions as much as this song and the previously released "I Promise" do. This track continues on the eerie paranoia of OK Computer and feels just as timeless as the tracks that created the 20-year old masterpiece. Colin Read's music video is nearly perfect as well with its disorienting night/day nonlinearity that only accelerates the unsettledness of the song. [9/10]

SCORE: 8.33

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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