Listened Review: The National’s Matt Berninger Goes Solo On ‘Serpentine Prison’ from Stereogum

If Serpentine Prison emphasizes Berninger’s weaknesses, it also resoundingly reminds us of his strengths. Because I was obsessed with Radiohead long before I was obsessed with the National, I’m compelled to compare this album with Thom Yorke’s solo discography, which also nudged a frontman’s uncut essence into darker, less accessible corners. Those heavily invested in the dude’s main band will find a lot to like but will also come to value his bandmates all the more. Casual fans of the National may be bored by Berninger leaning into the band’s slow, downcast side without providing the usual catharsis to balance it out, and skeptics will surely dismiss the album as par for the course. I’m not about to harangue those people about giving Serpentine Prison a chance; I’d rather exhort them to revisit Trouble Will Find Me and see if they aren’t blown away. But if recent history is any indication, new layers of beauty may emerge over the years, and somewhere down the line I might end up evangelizing for Serpentine Prison too.

It is interesting to consider this album alongside The National’s work. I liked Berninger’s point about ‘splinters’ in his interview with Andrew Ford that come back together.
Listened SIGN, by Autechre from Autechre

11 track album

I have always struggled to find the words to describe Autechre. The usual discussion of form and structure never seems to apply. In Tom Breihan’s review of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, he talks about ‘submitting’ to the music. I think of Autechre in the same way. What stands out about this album are subtleties.

Marginalia

Phil Freeman in Stereogum:

SIGN sounds like they’ve reached the end of this particular journey — they’ve traveled as far out as they can and are now coming back, to rejoin humanity

Philip Sherburne in Pitchfork:

SIGN is surprisingly direct: lean, intermittently sedate, frequently quite pretty.

Andy Beta on Bandcamp:

Paring back the beats to let their melting ice cap melodic sensibilities take center stage, the effect feels desolate and elegiac at once.

Listened The Ascension, by Sufjan Stevens from Sufjan Stevens

All songs performed, recorded, engineered, arranged, mixed and produced by Sufjan Stevens, with additional contributions (*) recorded and engineered by James McAlister and Casey Foubert at their respective home studios. Contributions by Emil Nikolaisen were recorded at Malabar in Oslo, Norway, engineered by himself. Mastered by TW Walsh. All original album art, layout, design and typography by Sufjan Stevens. © 2020 AKR PO Box 1282, Lander, WY 82520 USA

Sufjan Stevens’ The Ascension feels like it takes a step back to drag the listener in. There are many pop elements within all the synths and beats, however the mix is always held back. Rather than sad bangers, this rage-bangers. In the hustle bustle of lockdown life and political upheaval, the album provides something of a meditation to stop and reconsider. As Grant Sharples suggests, although it may not be the optimistic answer we may be craving for at the moment, it certain captures the current air of contemplation.

Though it’s still an incredible album, The Ascension better suits the cynicism of 2020. It feels banal to say that, but The Ascension isn’t exactly the optimistic salve that people may be looking for in 2020. Fans can find solace in this colossal work, sharing Stevens’ valid sentiment that, simply put, everything sucks right now.

Sam Sodomsky touches on the meditative aspects of the album, comparing it to a big IMAX experience:

The whole thing works best when you approach it like a big-budget IMAX movie set in space with a great leading actor: Don’t get too hung up on the plot—just tilt back your head and watch him float.

Kitty Empire touches on the personal and collective pain at the heart of Stevens’ album:

The Ascension’s maximalist reckoning finds his horror at national affairs mirroring his own inner turbulence.

Hannah Mylrea talks about Stevens’ intent to address an America he could no longer ignore:

Recognising that he “could no longer dismiss ‘America’ as angry and glib”, he instead felt inspired to create a whole record that examined the world he was living in, questioning it when it felt wrong and “exterminating all bullshit“.

Jon Pareles explains that the album is more metaphysical than biographical.

“The Ascension” leaps to an opposite extreme: synthetic and outsized rather than intimately acoustic, metaphysical instead of biographical.

Zan Rowe also interviewed Stevens which touches on faith, social media, and caring less as he grows older.

Place in-between Pan American and Thom Yorke.

Listened Djesse Vol. 3 from Wikipedia

Jazz record part of the series Djesse by Jacob Collier

There are some albums that stick straight-away, while others take a bit more time. I have spent the last few months appreciating Jacob Collier’s sonic world. His tendency to mash-up so many different ideas can be something of an affront. (Is that what makes it a ‘jazz’ record?) However, I feel this is sometimes intentional, as was explained in his Switched on Pop interview. When it clicks though there is a certain joy and exuberance that cannot be escaped.

Place between Jamie Lidell and Peter Gabriel

Listened Batflowers from Wikipedia

Batflowers is the third studio album to be released by Australian singer-songwriter Megan Washington.

Washington’s new album feels like another example of what the current context makes possible. Where Charli XCX used what was available to capture the moment, Megan Washington uses the opportunity to release an album that she did not realise she could release. Like Thelma Plum, Washington scrapped a previous attempt unsatisfied.

Place between Bat for Lashes and DIANA.

Marginalia

Washington embraces fun and fear, and a world tour from an Adelaide studio

Andrew Ford talks with Megan Washington about her new album.

Listened Imploding the Mirage from Wikipedia

Imploding the Mirage is the sixth studio album by American rock band the Killers. It was released on August 21, 2020, by Island Records in the United States and internationally by EMI. Guitar parts are covered by Killers bassist Mark Stoermer, producer Jonathan Rado, and a variety of guest musicians including Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) and Adam Granduciel (The War on Drugs).

I think that Mark Beaumont captures the The Killers’ Imploding the Mirage best.

Even the songs about growing old and dying have the beatific optimism of a Covid rave … If ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ was an arm around a trembling shoulder, ‘Imploding The Mirage’ is a raised fist to the future.

I also liked Virginia Trioli’s point about blowing reality away, at least for a moment:

I’ve been hanging on to this one for a bit: the post-arena rock of The Killers is exactly what I reckon we need right now — anthems, synthesisers, gloriously bombastic vocals.

The Las Vegas act has decided to bestow their magic right in the middle of all this, and a week or so ago they released their new album Imploding the Mirage. It has the power and the passion to blow reality away, at least for a while.

Place between Bruce Springsteen and Arcade Fire

Listened a post from
A lot of reviewers have canned this album for being shallow and lacking complexity. However, I think Nick Harris captures it best:

The album proves to be a glacial melt of shimmering beauty, asking for attention and rewarding it with a kind of zen.

I enjoyed the sonic landscape created by this album.

Place between Twin Shadow and The Church

Listened 7G by A. G. Cook from Bandcamp

7-disc, 49-track album


A. G. Drums, A. G. Guitar, A. G. Supersaw, A. G. Piano, A. G. Nord, A. G. Spoken Word, A. G. Extreme Vocals


A.G. Cook’s album asks many questions without a care for the answers. The album is structured around seven themes, but these constraints seemed designed to allow for a focus on creativity. Chal Ravens captures the this strangeness, explaining that:

Some of the best bits are more like volatile lab experiments to be handled with rubber gloves: “Waldhammer,” for instance, captures what happens when you pour a test tube of Beethoven into a bubbling vat of white noise, while the digital mirage of “Note Velocity” sounds like an encounter between Steve Reich and the impossible genre of black MIDI. A cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1968 psych-pop single “Crimson and Clover” pits guitars against supersaws in a Weezer vs. Scooter deathmatch; no one survives.

What constitutes an ‘album’ is up for grabs in streaming culture. As James Rettig summarises:

7G is hard to take it all in at once. I forced myself to listen to it straight through the first time. Since then, I’ve been skipping around, throwing it on shuffle. A straightforward listen is definitely a little exhausting. Taking it disc by disc is probably a better approach. It’s easier to turn yourself over to whatever mood Cook is trying to create. I can’t imagine Cook much cares how you listen to 7G. Despite its initial impenetrability, 7G isn’t precious and it’s not particularly intimidating. Instead, it’s flippant and often very fun.

Place between Aphex Twin’s Drukqs and Severed Heads Illustrated Family Doctor soundtrack

Listened 2020 studio album by Taylor Swift from Wikipedia

Folklore (stylized in all lowercase) is the eighth studio album by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, released on July 24, 2020, through Republic Records. A surprise album announced without pre-release promotional campaigns, Folklore was written and recorded while in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Musically, the album marks a departure from the upbeat pop sound of Swift’s preceding studio albums to stripped-down tunes driven by piano and guitar, with production from Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Swift herself. Categorized as an indie folk, alternative rock, electro-folk, and chamber pop record, Folklore portrays what Swift called “a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness” rising out of her imagination. It manifests vivid storytelling from largely third-person narratives that detail heartbreak and retrospection.

Folklore is a surprise in so many ways. Not what I expected from Taylor Swift. Not actually what I expected from Aaron Dessner. What I find most interesting is that it feels like something of a departure for all parties. For me this continues with some of the sounds explored with The National’s I am Easy to Find, while it also captures some of Antonoff’s nuances.

More Lana Del Rey and less Carly Rae Jepsen.

Marginalia

Lyndsey McKenna

Folklore applies Swift’s signature lyrical style — richly and carefully detailed, rife with knowing callbacks — to a new palette informed by Dessner’s work. Skittering instrumentation proves a match for Swift’s use of speak-song cadence; meditative piano and horns offer a cinematic soundscape for explorations of character that move beyond autobiography.(source)

Beth Garrabrant

“Folklore” isn’t a folk record—it feels mostly genre-less, though it drifts toward gauzy, atmospheric pop—nor is it particularly autobiographical. Instead, Swift is interested in the idea of storytelling—of folklore, writ large—as a kind of sense-making process, a real and useful chance to order the world. How do we find meaning in the absurd or banal things that happen to us? Which narratives float us, which hobble us, and which are we totally free to reconstruct?(source)

Tom Breihan

With folklore, Swift has made a self-consciously minor transitional album, a grand readjustment. She’s nailed it. Swift, it turns out, is one of the few great pop chameleons to come along in recent years. She was great at gleaming Walmart country. She was great at bright-plastic global-domination ultra-pop. She was a bit less great at quasi-trap club music, but she made do. And now she’s great at lightly challenging soft-thrum dinner party music.(source)

Spencer Kornhaber

With its woodsy black-and-white art, not to mention its title, Folklore advertises itself as an expected pop-star maneuver: the “back to basics” or “stripped down” revelation. But the album’s more complex than that, and does not conjure the image of Swift slumped over a guitar for an acoustic set. With the producers Aaron Dessner (of the indie band The National) and Jack Antonoff (the rock singer turned pop-star whisperer), she swims through intricate classical and folk instrumentation largely organized by the gridded logic of electronic music. Melancholy singers of ’90s rock radio such as Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan seem to guide Swift’s choices, as do contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde. The overall effect is eerie, gutting, and nostalgic. If Folklore is not apt for summer fun, it is apt for a year in which rambunctious cheer and mass sing-alongs have few venues in which to thrive.(source)

Taylor Swift has stated that,

My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world.

 

Listened ‘Gaslighter’: The Chicks After The Fire from NPR

The trio’s interplay is supplemented throughout by keyboard effects and sometimes busy arrangements courtesy of Antonoff, enlisted, evidently, to ensure pop currency — the Chicks play arenas, don’t forget, and clearly have no interest in becoming strictly a nostalgia act. The fit doesn’t feel forced, though neither does it seem completely natural. As a kind of artistic “little brother,” Antonoff preserves the trio’s integrity, building concentrically outward from their soul connection.

I was intrigued by inclusion of Jack Antonoff with this album. It reminds me of a statement he once made:

I want to work with people because they think that they are geniuses, not because I want make the albums that they have already made

Listened Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ Sets A High Bar For The Quarantine Album from Stereogum

To get away from all those people is both a blessing and a curse, especially when the reasons for that distance are so complicated. On How I’m Feeling Now, Charli learns what it feels like to be alone. A night out with your friends can still be mind-altering fun, but it doesn’t need to be the driving force of your life. There are bigger things out there, like love and believing in yourself and making some of the best damn music of your life, alone. For an album made in a month entirely in quarantine, that’s a remarkable achievement.

I think it is interesting to compare The Weeknd’s After Hours and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia with Charli XCX’s latest album as a response to our current condition. Spencer Kornhaber sums this up best suggesting:

Here is one example of how pop might adapt to social distancing: with more participation, with more transparency, and with obsessive descriptions of monotony replacing obsessive descriptions of partying.

Listened
Although there are moments, Earth is not another Radiohead album. In some respects, it feels like what Radiohead could have been in an alternate universe. The album starts with a feel and then works from there. Although there are hooks and grooves, these aspects provide a sense of the familiar to journey from. As Chris DeVille suggests:

This album bleeps and surges and thumps and whirrs, all while congealing into something quite immediate and accessible. It’s a straightforward pop-rock collection in essence, a sonic exploration in practice.

In this respect there are similarities with Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush.

Place between Elbow and Depeche Mode.

Reviews

Stream EOB’s Debut Album Earth

Chris DeVille reviews the album for Stereogum.

Interviews

Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien Talks About His New Album, ‘Earth’

Ed O’Brien talks about the origins of the album camped out in a rural town in Brazil, his association with Flood via their children’s school and the change involved in taking control of the process.

The Music Show Podcast

Andrew Ford speaks with Ed O’Brien about the affordances and opportunities that come with being in Radiohead. He also suggests that the challenge is always being respectful to the art and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Listened TISM reveal surprise live album, their first release since 2010 from Beat Magazine

The 1988 show in question came just before TISM released their debut album, Great Truckin’ Songs of the Renaissance, the first of six studio albums from the band. It features some of their most-loved hits, such as ‘Saturday Night Palsy’, ‘The Mystery of the Artist Explained’ and ‘Defecate on my Face’, while also featuring a host of B-sides and the unreleased song, ‘Opium is the Religion of the Masses’.

I am not sure if the rumours are true that TISM released this live album after having to cancel a reunion tour due to the coronavirus?
Listened Thundercat: It Is What It Is from Pitchfork

Three years after his 2017 opus Drunk, Stephen Bruner returns with more fleet-fingered jams and abstracted musings, this time a little more unpolished.

I really love when I come upon an artist that then sends me down a back-catalogue rabbit hole. I came upon It Is What It Is via NPR New Music podcast. Michel Martin unpacks the album further in an uplifting interview with Stephen Bruner exploring the acceptance of the reality that we live in.

I watched a video published by Pitchfork in which Bruner explains that the bass plays the roll somewhere between the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic.

I am not sure if I just do not listen properly, however I appreciate this music a lot more after listening to Bruner unpack the process and perform. On Tiny Desk Concert:

With Mac Miller:

On Jimmy Kimmel


Place between Tame Impala and Squarepusher

Listened Stuck At Home? Dua Lipa Will Bring The Dance Club To Your Living Room. from Stereogum

Future Nostalgia is basically the platonic ideal of a big-budget pop album: catchy songs, powerhouse vocals, sparkling production, no barrier to entry. Someday, when people are getting together to dance again, these songs will destroy. Until then, they can give you some semblance of that feeling at home. Press play, get off your couch, and sweat out your worries and cares. Indulge in a different kind of future nostalgia than Lipa probably intended, imagining a distant someday when the good old days are back again.

I was intrigued to hear this album after after listening to Switched on Pop podcast breakdown of Don’t Start Now.

Place between Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen

Listened Sixteen Oceans, by Four Tet from Four Tet

16 track album

I love this album, but I wonder if I would love anything by Kieran Hebden, especially a long play.

Reviews

Stereogum Premature Evaluation

Sixteen Oceans does not feel catastrophic — it feels serene and meditative. Gone is the static and the glitchy, unexpected samples that characterized Four Tet’s early output. Only its lead single “Baby” — featuring vocal samples from electropop superstar Ellie Goulding — recalls the club-ready bangers of his house-indebted albums: 2010’s There Is Love In You, 2012’s Pink, and 2013’s Beautiful Rewind. Even then, there’s a full minute-long pause in the middle of the track featuring little more than trickling water, crashing waves, and again, birds. When Goulding’s voice returns and the beat drops back in to finish out the track, the focus has irrevocably shifted toward those languid, contemplative tones previously residing in the background. Sixteen Oceans is more akin to Hebden’s 2017 album New Energy, in that it finds breathing space in moments with little-to-no tempo, interstitial ambient pieces, and bouts of warm sentimentality — compare, for instance, New Energy track “Daughter” and Oceans closer “Mama Teaches Sanskrit” — but this newest LP is magnitudes more pristine, a steady tide coming in to smooth sand into glass.

Listened Roger Eno And Brian Eno – Mixing Colours from Discogs

Label: Deutsche Grammophon – 483 7772 • Format: 2x, Vinyl LP, Album • Country: Europe • Genre: Electronic • Style: Ambient, Modern Classical

In an interview with Bob Boilen, Roger and Brian Eno discuss the collaborative process of creating their new album, with Roger the musician and Brian the artist. Colin Walker suggest that:

The best way I can describe the album is part neo-classical, part soundscape, part lullaby

In explaining the album and art in general, they explain that the purpose is to present alternatives, other worlds to be in. Brian Eno adds to this suggesting a desire for strange and familiar sensations. This correlates with something that Ezra Koenig suggests too.

Place between Prop and Aphex Twin

Listened Premature Evaluation: The Weeknd ‘After Hours’ from Stereogum

I had fun at that Diesel party. I’m having fun listening to After Hours, too. It’s a good album. It also sounds like the end of something. God only knows how the world will look in a month or two. We might not hear anything like this ever again.

I have been enjoying this album for the feel, more than the message. As Tom Breihan captures in his review:

Still, the moods explored on After Hours — anxiety, anhedonia, depression — are perfectly suited for the moment, if you can get beyond the actual situations that Tesfaye depicts in his songs. The album sounds incredible. Musically, After Hours exists within the same dark, flickering synthy post-soul territory that has always been the Weeknd’s home. But Tesfaye and his collaborators continue to find new spaces to explore within that edifice. “Too Late” plunges into the polished jitters of early-’00s UK garage. “Hardest To Live” adapts glimmering Max Martin melodies to fit the rushing pulse of car-commercial drum-‘n’-bass. A suite of songs in the middle of the album is pure coke-dusted mid-’80s yuppie club-pop, right down to the saxophone outro on “In Your Eyes.” In its kaleidoscopic, meditative majesty, the title track sounds like a blockbuster-budget Chromatics.

I am intrigued by Breihan’s point about indulgence and whether this will be the ‘end of something’:

After Hours is a sad rich guy complaining that a girl doesn’t love him anymore, pledging that he’s going to keep fucking random people and snorting random drugs until he doesn’t feel so bad. A couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have blinked at that. Today, as an entire world stares down a long and confusing struggle, I have a hard time summoning any empathy for the shit that Abel Tesfaye is talking about.

I guess time will tell. IN the mean time I am going to dive into the work of Oneohtrix Point Never.

Place between The Midnight and Twin Shadown