TIME Music

Ryan Adams Goes Punk on 1984

Ryan Adams 1984
Ryan Adams, 1984

Adams dwells on love, fear and creatures of the night on this speedy release

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Call me crazy, but my favorite latter-day Elvis Costello album is Momofuku. Recorded on a whim with whatever collaborators he had access to at the time (including a perfectly utilized Jenny Lewis), it’s easy to disregard. Then again, to do so would mean missing out on The Imposter at his most urgent and energized. Costello put a strict limit on how much time he spent on the record, which naturally gave the whole thing a sense of stakes. Momofuku was the sound of a man trying — and succeeding — to beat the clock.

I don’t know if Ryan Adams put similar restrictions on himself with 1984. Probably not, as it’s being filed under his own “PAX-AM Singles Series” rather than being marketed as a proper album. But, let’s pretend he did. Let’s pretend he locked himself in the studio, rose every day to the sounds of Minor Threat’s Complete Discography, and went to work on a tribute to the halcyon days of storied punk labels like Dischord and SST. Let’s pretend he had to get it all done over one weekend in August, prompting him to call the opening track of yearning slop-pop “When the Summer Ends.” Most importantly, let’s pretend the whole thing turned out great, because — surprise, surprise — it did.

Punk purists be forewarned: 1984 isn’t any more punk or hardcore — I’m using these terms traditionally regarding sound, not modernly regarding mindset — than Orion was metal. This is Adams’ version of the genres, much closer to early Replacements than Jawbox or Fugazi. Like Paul Westerberg, he can’t shake his uncanny ability to pull a hook out of his ass every time he reaches up there for another song, even when most of them are under 90 seconds. The gift of catch is just in his blood, from the gleefully out-of-tune guitar intro of “Wolves” to the paranoid chorus of “Rats in the Wall.” “Rats in the wall/ I can hear ‘em crawl,” he repeats over nervous G-B-A chords. As both titles point out, 1984′s preoccupations seem to be love, fear and creatures of the night. And thanks to its brief runtime, none of these themes grow boring.

While the bone-headed words are a far cry from the socially charged lyrics of most of the bands Adams is citing as influences, they also possess his forefathers’ go-for-broke spirit of a kid — or, in this case, a youthful 39-year-old man — jumping up and down on his bed with a broomstick guitar, shouting along to his favorite song. Adams has never lost touch with his adolescent spirit, and punk — not alt country — just might be the perfect medium for this sensibility.

Essential Tracks: “When the Summer Ends,” “Rats in the Wall” and “Wolves”

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Review: FKA twigs Makes a Beautiful and Devastating Debut on LP1

FKA twigs
FKA twigs, LP1 Young Turks Recordings

The singer proves she's one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

To live is to want. The process of doing so doesn’t get any easier with the knowledge of this facet of human nature. It’s one of those things that can never be succinctly and completely explained. Not through religion, science, common sense. Nothing. What’s more, coming to grips with desire and all of its complications gradually becomes difficult: There’s a profound difference between wanting after-school Twizzlers and, later in life, human connection — physical, romantic, and everything in between. To desire is to struggle, and great art comes not through explanation, but expression.

FKA twigs, once known as a go-to video dancer (Jessie J, Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue), has made that transition to one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B. If she was testing experimental limits with her first two EPs, LP1 finds her eccentricities and emotional rawness fully realized. Her recorded persona now feels closer to her onstage persona. Watch a video of her. Take note of the fluidity of her body movement and the confidence radiating from her as she performs. The album’s layered production varies from lush to lucid, but it all bends to twigs’ whim. While a number of her contemporaries poeticize the desire to feel free in wanting, twigs’ constantly warped vocals mark her as a flawed omnipresence. She’s free as she juxtaposes lustful indulgence (the likes that reveal the whites of eyes in orgasmic joy) and the constant attention to the unavoidable doom of experiencing loss. LP1 is beautiful and devastating in equal measure, and it’s all foreshadowed by the album-opening “Preface.” She quotes a line from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem, “I Find no Peace”: “I love another, and thus I hate myself.” A chorus of voices repeats the line, part meditative, part mournful resignation.

A majority of LP1 focuses on those beauties and tragedies of desire. What makes it a thoroughly compelling listen is its kaleidoscopic focus on the feeling’s multiple dimensions. “Lights On,” a song less about f-cking with the lights on than a commiseration of physical vulnerabilities, finds twigs twirling in an emptiness softly touched by a xylophone-like riff. It then transforms into something entirely different: a sonic carnival carried by a smoky bass line and a slightly superfluous but adventurous eastern bridge. “Two Weeks” is pretty blunt in its intentions: “I know it hurts/ You know I’d quench that thirst.” The single came accompanied with a video that portrays twigs as a goddess. Although it’s worth a viewing, you don’t need it to grasp the extent of her sexual autonomy. The natural range of twigs’ voice isn’t necessarily a wow factor, but there’s a certain mysticism in its softness that makes it convincing. That’s true whether she’s lusting (album closer “Kicks”), merely peeking at sexuality with a childlike curiosity (“Hours”), or recalling her biography (“Video Girl”).

“Video Girl” is a comedown from easy highlight “Pendulum,” which appears at the middle of the tracklist. Emotional depth is spread evenly throughout LP1, but “Pendulum” feels particularly singular; twigs’ charm and allure is more potent, as the soaring hook takes the listener to ethereal realms. Tropical staccato guitar and orchestral sounds intensify without becoming overly maudlin. This is not to elate, but to crush: “So lonely trying to be yours/ What a forsaken cause/ So lonely trying to be yours/ When you’re looking for so much more.” Throughout, twigs’ character is never a victim in the search for connection. The addition of the second line in the chorus implies a sort of masochism, but at the same time, there’s a deep sense of loss. Separating reason and human nature isn’t that simple.

LP1 isn’t anything revolutionary; it’s a frankly expressed project focused on the dualism between love and lust, reality and fantasy. “Give Up” is the most euphoric and optimistic of the 10 tracks. Over aquatic production and colorful synths, twigs coos about the possibility of a relationship that could persevere. We don’t get a payoff. We just get twigs resolving to touch herself in her lover’s absence on “Kicks.” And then silence.

Essential Tracks: “Two Weeks,” “Pendulum,” and “Kicks”

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REVIEW: The Raveonettes Tackle Childhood Trauma on Pe’ahi

The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes The Raveonettes

The band's subject matter remains as grisly as ever, but it's tough to hear the pain through the noise

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The Raveonettes begin their seventh studio album with the same beat that opened The Doors’ first. The first lyrics that follow are “I have sand in my shoes and death on my mind.” If that’s not enough to situate you, the Danish duo (who now reside in Los Angeles) helpfully named the record after the north shore of Maui. Pe’ahi is a Pacific album through and through, and it doesn’t stop reveling in buzzed-out West Coast noir until it wraps things up with a tune called “Summer Ends,” in case you had any lingering hopes that anything gold could stay.

Dropped onto the world Beyoncé-style (or maybe it’s Wolfmother-style) the same day as its announcement, Pe’ahi marks a change in dynamics for a band that had more or less settled into a continuous stream of static. For their last three albums, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo worked a reliable assembly line of scuzzy dream pop songs bunched together under faux vintage, black-and-white album covers. Now, they present their latest with an aquamarine splash, even though the subject matter remains as grisly as ever.

Early on, Pe’ahi features one of the Raveonettes’ strongest moments of contrast to date. “Sisters” cuts from blissful walls of noise to clean harp strums while cruising a vintage West Coast hip-hop beat. It’s the first time I can remember the band playing around with silence instead of trying to cram as much noise into one place as possible. But aside from a brief foray into bells on “When Night Is Almost Done,” it’s really the only instance of experiment among the album’s offerings. Everything else wears the same thick coat of fuzz they’ve been messing with for more than a decade, the same digital decay that now ostensibly obscures some of the band’s most deeply personal lyrics.

Rather than noir for noir’s sake, Pe’ahi arrives packed with the more personal fruits of the grieving process. Wagner lost his father to alcoholism last December, and much of the album grapples with both his death and the trauma he inflicted while he was alive. On “Kill!,” Wagner sings bluntly about the time he, at age 10, walked in on his dad committing adultery with a stranger. It paints a scene you might expect from a Xiu Xiu album, as industrial noise flickers and tortured samples loop. “What if you fell to a hell below?” Wagner asks his father’s ghost on “A Hell Below.” “Would it hurt the same way you hurt me?” It’s a sweet-sounding song from a bitter place, but without context, it melts easily into the Raveonettes’ back catalog.

If we’re to believe the commentary tracks the band dropped on Spotify, Wagner uses the record to grapple with the question of how anyone can escape the shadow of their parents. How can you grow to be better than the trauma that shaped you? It’s a worthy question, but it’s not one that Pe’ahi shines much light on. “When you left, you destroyed my life,” growls Wagner on “Summer Ends”, but he could be talking about an ex-lover as easily as he could be singing about his dad. He delivers everything with such a flat nonchalance, backed by Foo’s gentle harmonies, that it’s tough to feel his pain through the noise.

The Raveonettes still come off shy, almost numb, sequestered in their own bubble of effects and casual irony. Despite its ambitions, Pe’ahi ripples through without much fanfare, another breeze fallen short of a storm.

Essential Tracks: “Sisters”

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REVIEW: Beck Makes a Bold Move on Song Reader

Song Reader
Song Reader Capitol

A covers album featuring Jack White and Norah Jones doesn't use Beck's iconic status as a crutch

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The six years of Beck’s career between Modern Guilt and Morning Phase would make for an amazing “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”-type essay. Besides putting out a few singles and playing the occasional festival, he recovered from a spinal injury, covered entire albums with Record Club, contributed original music for films and produced releases by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stephen Malkmus. But the most significant project of this era has to be Song Reader, the “album” of sheet music he released in 2012.

The concept was a fairly simple one that Beck had been kicking around for over a decade. Rather than recording the songs himself, he wanted to create something that other musicians could interpret, perform and share. Some critics questioned how many fans could actually read music and simply shrugged it off as another Flaming Lips-style album release. It only made sense, though, that an official recording would be the next step.

Song Reader isn’t a Beck album, though, not really. Even though he wrote all of the songs himself and oversaw production, hardly any of them sound like what you might consider to be “Beck songs.” Sure, there are occasional oddball lyrics about “the corduroy boy in the killjoy shirt” or “fixing the spelling on a suicide note,” but Song Reader is built to stand on its own without using its creator’s iconic status as a crutch. It’s a bold move that most established artists aren’t willing to make, but it works.

But leaving that much of the initiative to almost two dozen different artists leads to an obvious issue. Song Reader can be inconsistent and a bit difficult to listen to straight through, which is why it’s helpful to split it in half. The first 10 tracks are all fairly simple and straightforward, with most of the artists sticking to what they do best. Whether it’s Tweedy keeping things mellow or Juanes flitting through his Spanish-language cover of “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” the arrangements are pretty faithful to the performers’ own work. Jack White (who has to be kicking himself for not coming up with this idea first) does a great job of tapping into his inner Hank Williams for “I’m Down,” but it can’t top Norah Jones’ carefree “Just Noise,” the liveliest track on the album’s first half. It comes just in time to prevent things from getting too drowsy.

Beck’s lone contribution as a performer is on the dreamy “Heaven’s Ladder,” which owes so much to The Beatles that John Lennon and Paul McCartney probably deserve a writing credit. While it isn’t quite as soul-baring as anything on Morning Phase, it’s exciting to see Beck actually enjoying himself again and revisiting the psychedelic roots he explored on Modern Guilt. After Laura Marling’s painfully sweet “Sorry,” though, it’s time for things to get weird.

Of course, you can’t get much weirder than the dramatic, perpetually oversexed Jarvis Cocker, who kicks off the album’s bizarre second half with a slithery cover of “Eyes That Say ‘I Love You.’” Other highlights include New York Dolls frontman David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) snarling “Rough on Rats” like a campy Tom Waits, while Jack Black hams it up on “We All Wear Cloaks,” taking the song deep into show tune territory. His appearance may seem unlikely, but Black’s showmanship and over-the-top vocals make it a unique and interesting part of the project.

But not everyone is interested in branching out, which is the album’s main shortcoming. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Tweedy or fun. sounding like themselves, but it feels like a missed opportunity to try something different. The unfortunate low point is Loudon Wainwright III’s dull rendition of “Do We? We Do,” which doesn’t even sound half as inspired as the amateur covers on YouTube. Of course, that’s the great thing about Song Reader. Think you can do these songs better? Go ahead. That’s the point.

Essential Tracks: “Just Noise” performed by Norah Jones, “We All Wear Cloaks” performed by Jack Black, and “Heaven’s Ladder” performed by Beck.

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REVIEW: Common Speaks to Chicago on New Album Nobody’s Smiling

Def Jam

The rapper continues to act as the voice of his city

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Chicago is rap’s cultural hub in 2014. The city is the home of the genre’s biggest megastar (Kanye), a sage-like voice of reason (Common), and it is abuzz with young upstarts making their presence felt in a plethora of unique ways. Regardless of the method of self-expression you consult, whether it’s the brash, raucous street garble of Keef or the stringy, often cautious stream-of-consciousness of Chance, there is always a larger, sociopolitical elephant in the room. Wherever Chicago and rap are concerned, the subtext permeating every hanging word is unmistakable: Violence plagues its inhabitants. Common has taken it upon himself to address it, being no stranger to the cause. His 10th studio album, Nobody’s Smiling, operates with Chicago’s astronomically high crime rate at its epicenter, and Common once again stands as the leading proponent for change, delivering wordplay lined with context — but this time his supporting cast plays just as important a role in crafting his chilling epic.

It’s fitting that the prominent voices opening Common’s dark opus bridge three different gaps of heavy Chicago soundspace. “The Neighborhood” is a bleak introduction to one of America’s most dangerous cities told by figures from its past, present, and future. Curtis Mayfield’s piercing pitch soundtracked a blacksploitation film while he pushed social consciousness at the height of the civil rights era. A sample of his “Other Side of Town” lays the foundation. Lil Herb embodies the gritty and aggressive new voice of the metropolis; a standout from the homegrown drill subgenre, Herb thoroughly documents the city’s widespread bloodshed first-hand, like the lead in a crime drama. He is deft enough to express what it’s like to exist in Chicago’s cyclical gang culture in real time.

Common is the link between the two, a “conscious” rapper that has spent over half his life peddling gems about the perils of urban life over looped soul. He has recounted civic regression in three different decades now, but this time it’s far more direct; this is a plea to Chicago itself, the “concrete matrix” as he calls it. The backbone that brings the generations together is fellow Chicagoan No I.D., who mentored Kanye and produced Common’s first three LPs. They link again on Nobody’s Smiling after collaborating in full on Common’s previous effort, the underappreciated The Dreamer/The Believer, and together they create a tale of inner city turmoil with Common’s personal narrative as a backstory. Nobody’s Smiling is a testament to how deep-rooted urban struggle is.

Nobody’s Smiling is most profound at its most melancholy. It’s draped in an ominous, gray cloud of sonic energy, an overcast atmosphere that seemingly exemplifies Chicago at its bleakest. There isn’t a hopeful tone; the LP is about Chicago as it is, not as it could be. On the title track, a brooding, sinister cut, Common spits, “I’m from Chicago, nobody’s smiling/ Niggas wylin on Stony Island/ Where the chief and the president come from/ Pop out, pop pills, pop guns.” Geographically speaking, he raps like he’s standing on every street corner in the city, reporting live from the scene like an eyewitness news team. Nobody’s Smiling works as sharp commentary because it balances Common’s perception with secondary insight from others heavily influenced by gang violence.

Common makes a point of shifting the focus onto the young surveyors of urban violence, both in Chicago and abroad, to help tell the tale. He does so not with the intent of making the message more palatable for younger audiences, but with the sole purpose of showcasing the savagery with renewed perspective. Vince Staples, perhaps the most levelheaded street rapper not named Freddie Gibbs, fuels Common’s narrative with self-aware vitriol on “Kingdom”, spewing with great disdain for the street lifestyle forced upon him. But there’s also an innate understanding of its necessity and its consequences. “Sweet Lord Jesus, tell the polices to let a nigga breathe/ My sinning father see, got a shipment by the seas/ See my niggas tryna eat, eat whatever’s on your plate/ Save some for me/ The worst things in life come sitting six feet,” he raps, and it’s clear he views brutality as his only means of survival. Common could never accurately communicate that on his own. On “The Neighborhood”, Herb nearly gets emotional rapping about perpetually being in close proximity with death: “I’ve been out there three days, and I got shot at three times/ Felt like every bullet hit me when they flew out each nine/ I be happy when I wake up and I have a free mind.” It’s a stunning look into the mind of a teenager surrounded by violence. Whether it’s Dreezy or James Fauntleroy, every act brings a layer of context and an added dimension to the portrait of inner city life.

The lead narrator of Nobody’s Smiling is still Common, despite so many voices in the periphery, but its unsung champion is No I.D. The producer, who is also the Executive A&R for Def Jam Recordings, litters the signees of his ARTium imprint throughout the project (Elijah Blake, Jhene Aiko, and Snoh Aalegra), and his impact is felt in each moment. “No Fear” sounds just like the sonic effigy of a concrete jungle, and Common matches its energy with raps on the primal instincts instilled in street dwellers. The closer, “Rewind That”, a song about turning back the clock and uniting with producers from Common’s past (particularly the late J Dilla), is the only record that doesn’t fit the central theme, but its expert chop of Eleanore Mills’ “Telegram” and its honest storytelling make it a standout. “Diamonds” feels out of place sonically, but it’s the closest thing the album has to an anthem. The “Hypnotize”-sampling “Speak My Piece” rings and tremors like an earthquake shaking a metal structure, and Common releases one of his more fluid flows. “My time, the streets is watching like a Rollie/ Do it for the hometown and the homies,” he raps, and his devotion is apparent.

The whole album was created in response to Chicago’s violence epidemic; together, Common and No I.D. create a formidable PSA that addresses the social issues without beating the listener over the head with them. Nobody’s Smiling is a well-rounded discourse on gang violence and inner city plight in Chicago that translates to almost every urban city in America. It is a triumph for conscious rap in a city that could use more self-awareness. Common continues to act as the voice of his city, further opening the dialogue on the problems that scourge it. Nobody’s Smiling is a warning. Hopefully, it wont be a eulogy.

Essential Tracks: “The Neighborhood” (feat. Lil Herb), “Speak My Piece”, and “Kingdom” (feat. Vince Staples)

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REVIEW: The Fun in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s New Album, Mandatory Fun

Mandatory Fun

How does Weird Al's new album stack up against classics like 'Bad Hair Day'?

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Having already looked at the very best of the “Weird Al” catalog, Consequence of Sound’s Matt Melis and Ben Kaye recently sat down with staff writer Henry Hauser to chat about the Weird one’s new record, Mandatory Fun.

Matt Melis (MM): For more than 30 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic albums have provided a nerdy, zany, irreverent excuse to throw a party. But the fascist, propaganda-inspired cover art, promotional “transmissions,” and title of Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, convey a far more uncompromising message: Join the party, or else! Yes, Big Brother Al is watching you, us, and apparently Lorde and Iggy Azalea, and hell hath no fury like a goose-stepping, polka-loving dictator who doesn’t get his state-mandated yuks. So, Henry and Ben, at the risk of life-threatening reprisal if you answer in the negative, did you have fun listening to Dear Leader’s latest album?

Henry Hauser (HH): While it’s no Bad Hair Day, I still found myself chuckling and snort-laughing throughout Al’s latest. Sure, Mandatory Fun is cheap, juvenile, and often downright grating, but damn if it isn’t good for a couple of laughs.

From Mr. Yankovic’s impassioned ode to the supremacy of aluminum over inferior forms of food preservation (“Foil”) to his biting satire of LA celebrity worship (“Lame Claim to Fame”) and adroit portrayal of creepy corporate evangelism (“Mission Statement”, a style parody reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), Al brings his A-game. He’s clearly got impeccable rhyming chops, spinning off lines like “Fungal rot, bacterial formation/ Microbes, enzymes, mold, and oxidation” on “Foil”, a delicious parody of “Royals” that could easily have made the cut on 1993’s The Food Album. Al even ventures back into the realm of meta-parody with polka medley “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!”, mocking almost 40% the Top 40 in just over four minutes.

But there’s also something slightly disturbing about the album. On more than one occasion, I actually forgot that I was listening to parodies. The prevalence of Auto-Tune, paper-thin lyrics, and re-re-re-recycled vocal melodies in pop music all blur the distinction between Al’s lampoons and the chart-topping drench that which “NOW…we call music.” Pop stars are scorching “Weird Al”’s terrain; at this rate, he’ll be parodying his own parodies.

Ben Kaye (BK): Did I have fun listening? Of course I did; it’s a “Weird Al” album! How could you not enjoy a record that includes a polka mash-up of pop smashes? That’s actually what makes critically listening to an Al album such a challenge: There’s really nothing to judge it against besides past efforts. So, I suppose the real question is how this new collection of parodies stacks up against those works, and from that perspective, it’s definitely a success. Mandatory Fun sits comfortably amongst the best of Al’s post-Bad Hair Day releases, and I do think that’s the benchmark at this point. Directly comparing the modern stuff to the material you heard as a kid isn’t fair to the newer works; they’re never going to have that nostalgia attached to them, and they’re not “time capsules” for at least five years.

But that’s looking at the big picture before tackling the individual parodies, so let me backtrack some. There’s a lot to make you smile here; the lethargic pace of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” is perfect for “Inactive”, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” is as wonderfully titled as the tracklist is selected, and even “Tacky” (parodying Pharrell’s “Happy”) has its moments. The first half of “Foil” is great, and that bridge you mentioned, Henry, was the first time I audibly laughed. However, I keep wishing he’d stuck with the food humor instead of the weird switch to Illuminati jokes so it really could’ve been on The Food Album. Things like that make me struggle to find the parody that’s going to sweep the nation, though if there’s one song that could go viral, I’d point to “Word Crimes”. Maybe it’s the writer/English teacher in me, but I think this is the shining moment of the album. Part of that is definitely Pharrell, because even as a parody, “Blurred Lines” is catchy as hell. Still, Al’s lyrics are as sharp as ever here, and lines like “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/Or your name is Prince” have kept me chuckling through multiple listens. And I’m so with him on homophones; I’ve been reading too many things lately that mix up “further” and “farther.”

MM: I’m not nearly as impressed by the new parodies. As Henry suggested, maybe the quality of the source material is problematic. Like Al once told Eminem in a fake AL TV interview, “Give me a break. I could only change the words. I couldn’t change the music, too.” Al’s just doing what he always does: parodying whatever we’ve hoisted atop a pop culture pedestal. How could he not try and tackle Lorde or Pharrell? But, there’s that fine line in parodies between funny and merely figuring out how to make something fit. Really, who’s going to get many laughs out of “Handy” apart from that nonexistent cross-section of Bob Vila and Iggy Azalea fans? Same goes for “Tacky”’s faux pas cataloging. Clever, sure. Funny? Not really.

“Word Crimes” absolutely tops the parodies. It’s a brilliant reminder that grammar and spelling still count in Al’s book, and, yes, Ben, love that Prince line, a subtle dig at the great purple one who has shot down Al’s parody requests for years. And how ambitious (and unexpected) was “Mission Statement”? It’s a George Carlin skit on the dilution of language set to CSN harmonies. The song sounds amazing, but I guess I’m wondering how often I’m going to want to hear all those corporate buzz words strung together. (I’m going to have “synergyyyyy…” in three-part harmony stuck in my head for a long while.) I guarantee this song becomes a widespread boardroom favorite at some point, though.

But let’s hear a little bit more about the non-parody cuts here. And what about the eight videos in eight days, which Al began releasing the day before the record’s release. Speculation? Any song you’re dying to see a video for?

BK: To clarify, I’m not 100% thrilled with the parodies either. “Tacky” only has moments, and I agree that “Handy” is weak, perhaps his weakest opening track since “Living with a Hernia”. Matt, you’re right that he has to play the hand the Top 40 deals, but he could’ve concocted a better topic there.

As for the non-parody stuff, “Sports Song” and “Jackson Park Express” are quintessential Al tracks. The former sounds ripped from Al TV, and the latter is another great execution of his rambling nonsense tales. I just love that he sticks to these tropes that, let’s face it, have never been what made him famous. I can just imagine summer camp kids turning “Sports Song” into a team cheer during color war. (If you know, you know.) But besides those two, “Lame Claim to Fame”, “My Own Eyes”, and “First World Problems” all rely too heavily on listicle-style humor for me. I know this is nothing new for Al, but the jokes don’t hit home as often with this trio of tracks. And I wanted to love “First World Problems” because the topic is so #IRL, but I just don’t feel it as much as “JPE”, which, to be fair, also goes the listing route, though at least there’s some level of storytelling.

I think it’s safe to guess that “Handy”, “Foil”, “Tacky”, and “Word Crimes” will all end up with videos, if for no other reason than the popularity of the original songs. I can’t wait for “Word Crimes”, obviously, and think the right clip could really give that some legs on the ‘Net. Some guy did a sort of brilliant Flash video for “Albuquerque” years ago, and I’d love to see something similar and official for “Jackson Park Express”. Is that too much wishful thinking, Henry?

HH: I’d be pretty interested to see how the video for “Mission Statement” turns out. Apparently, the song was inspired by all the executive meetings that Al’s endured over the course of his 30-plus-year career. Plus, the dogmatic feel of those corporate retreats jives really well with the album’s faux-fascist title and cover art. And, as we all know, synergy is a great way for Mr. Y to “advance [his] market share vis à vis a proven methodology.”

MM: Is the marching band-led “Sports Song” Al’s first sports-related song ever? As a recovering sports junkie, sober now for about five years, I couldn’t appreciate it more. It’s an instant classic from that opening line: “Your sports team is vastly inferior/ That simple fact is plainly obvious to see/ We’re going to kick your collective posterior.” Every college team needs to adopt this as its fight song immediately. Of course, this would lead to multiple homicides every weekend during football season.

On the nine-minute Cat Stevens strummer “Jackson Park Express”, Al relates one of the great love stories of our time. Granted, it takes place on a bus, the girl is totally oblivious, and the entire relationship consists of Al’s reading into a series of incidental, non-verbal gestures (e.g., “Then she let out a long sigh, which I took to mean/ Oh, Mama/ ‘What is that deodorant you’re wearing?/ It’s intoxicating!'”) Alas, no love can last forever, or in Al’s case, not even a bus ride. It’s nine minutes that never drags, draws numerous laughs, and showcases Al’s knack for delightful absurdity, spot-on style parodies, and even the type of subtle, observational wordplay you’d more likely find in a Flight of the Conchords song.

These moments render the title Mandatory Fun totally unnecessary. And I’m not just saying that because the eyes on this album cover seem to be following me across the room.

Essential Tracks: “Word Crimes”, “Jackson Park Express”, and “Foil”

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REVIEW: World Peace Is None of Your Business Is Definitively Morrissey


There's no room for vagueness when you're only releasing two or three albums a decade

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Right on cue, as Morrissey releases his 10th solo album, the world’s attention moves to conflict in the Middle East. As I’m typing, the latest update is that Israeli forces are dropping leaflets in northern Gaza, warning Palestinian residents to move away from Hamas sites to avoid military strikes. The death toll of the attacks so far is approaching 170, which includes too many kids. As it turns out, the title track on World Peace Is None of Your Business — an ironic take on the value of democracy — opens the album, but it’s a deceptive start because it’s by far the most political song here. Also present are “Staircase at the University”, which satirizes academic expectations, and “I’m Not a Man”, which handcuffs popular notions of masculinity. Together, these three songs span the continuum of the Manchester native’s wisdom and accompanying snark. Those ingredients are key for tabulating his legacy with both The Smiths and as a solo artist, and also make sure this is definitively a Morrissey album.

From the beginning, many perceived Morrissey (and, to a lesser extent, his songwriting partner, Johnny Marr) as arrogant, which ultimately comes down to The Smiths’ artistic sureness throughout their incredibly productive four-year existence. They knew what they wanted, and soon enough, meaningful art was expected from them. World Peace Is None of Your Business, recorded in France with help from producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, Young the Giant, My Morning Jacket), has purpose, too. Musically, there are callbacks to Smiths and Morrissey solo albums going back more than 20 years, be it the sashaying pop of “Kiss Me a Lot” or the more ornate “Staircase at the University”. But there are also glimmers of a more refined taste; it’s one of the most European albums Morrissey has made, with ingredients like flamenco guitar, trumpet, and accordion. Meanwhile, based on this album alone, the age-old question of whether he’s an optimist despite all his dread should be answered in the negative. Thankfully, his ideas are still clear, written as they are under the assumption that there’s no room for vagueness when you’re only releasing two or three albums a decade.

Right away, “World Peace Is None of Your Business” is directed at you, the potential voter. Morrissey, who was clowning Margaret Thatcher as soon as he had an adequate stage, laments the stagnation of political unrest (i.e., what’s improving in nations that need the most monitoring?) while pretending it’s no big deal if we don’t know where our tax money is going. The message is agreeable, of course, and the titular refrain is one of the strongest on the album. The next op-ed, the eight-minute “I’m Not a Man”, which follows the two-chords-at-a-time fuzzbox stomp of “Neal Cassady Drops Dead”, is easily the biggest drag here. For that reason, it simply comes too early on the album. But while “I’m Not a Man” relies on simple stereotypes to makes its point (“T-bone steak/ Wolf down/ Cancer of the prostate,” goes the vegetarian), at least Morrissey knew exactly what he wanted to say. That’s the album in a nutshell: He’s been doing this songwriting thing long enough to know how to carry out his vision, at least once a central structure or passage presents itself. In the case of World Peace, it sounds like a lot of those initial sparks — the chord progressions, the hooks, etc. — illuminated the process even more than usual.

“Istanbul”, which details a difficult father-son relationship, is one of the only spots on the album where the blasting electric guitars don’t sound clunky; Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias’s riffs are strong enough to drive the entire song. Accordingly, the remainder of the medium-rocking thing, which includes another successful hook, runs smooth. The sweeping “Staircase at the University” — which follows a young lady who studies hard for months only to come up short, GPA-wise, to the disappointment of her fam and friends — has a breeziness in direct conflict with the absurdist bloodshed: “Staircase at the university/ She threw herself down and her head split three ways.” (What’s more, something about the song, possibly the clapping rhythms, suggests Moz has a decent electropop record in him.) The album’s penultimate track, “Mountjoy”, is an acoustic-oriented getaway, its strums melting into one another and brushing beautifully against the arching, deliberate vocal.

Of course, Morrissey’s voice (that ageless wonder, always so fragile yet so under control) is the one guaranteed success here. Predictably, it’s the riskiest choices that pay the fewest dividends. “I’m Not a Man” is a slow-goer with uneven pacing and guitar work that hangs in the air, whereas it should match the snare’s pop. “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” has those macho guitar chords, which practically contradict the premise of “I’m Not a Man”. Finally, the closer, “Oboe Concerto”, is too loosely connected with its seemingly improvised instrumentation and digital zips, zaps, and drips, all of which distract from the song’s foundation, its basic shape. Fortunately, the album on the whole has enough of Morrissey’s strengths — the ones he established with Marr and co., first causing NME journos to wet their trousers 30 years ago — to be a mostly serviceable Morrissey album. More importantly, it’s destined for enough success that he probably won’t regret his delayed retirement.

Essential Tracks: “Istanbul”, “Staircase at the University”, and “Mountjoy”

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REVIEW: Mr. Dream’s Final Album Contains Career Highlight

Mr. Dream

The album is the perfect cap to the trio's run

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Apparently, someone once wrote that Brooklyn noise punk outfit Mr. Dream sounded like the “cassette you found in the used car you just bought,” and they took it as more of an aspirational message than a dig. Adam Moerder, Matt Morello, and Nick Sylvester started by scraping together noise and post-punk touchstones into their own scrap metal sculptures. 2011’s Trash Hit leaned heavily on the likes of Pixies and Jesus Lizard, while 2012’s Fatherland brought some dance-ready grooves reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand. So, yeah, a cassette left underneath a seat in a Ford Escort made sense from the start. But the fact that the trio released their new LP, Ultimate in Luxury, as an announcement of the band’s finale reinforces that used feeling. They’re now entirely stuck in an unreachable moment rather than just reaching back for one.

The album opens on the screech-rumble intro of “Making Muscles”, Moerder’s vocals cooly taunting, “You’re not sharp yet, you’re round” as the guitars sting away. But there’s something of futility, too, when he repeats the line “making muscles in the mirror again.” The band is clearly conscious of every moment of showing strength, even when it comes off unhinged. “Fringy Slider” immediately follows, the bonking bass and cymbal shimmy coming together in a laser-guided head nodder.

The Pixies echoes recur on the propulsive “Cheap Heat”, a highlight of the album and of the band’s career. While Moerder frequently falls into a nearly monotone post-punk smirk, here he shows a greater range, low melodic moans in the bridge, falsetto in the hook, shouts as the song burns its last fuel. After cataloging futile gestures (there’s talk about cardboard flags and being silenced by hands shoved in mouths), Moerder offers a solution: “I’ll gnash teeth and I’ll get mad for you,” he shrugs, after the “Alec Eiffel” guitars have slithered their way into the tune. That sort of catharsis is the key to what Mr. Dream and their influences bring to the table; even if he’s being sarcastic on “Cheap Heat” — which, judging from the title, is certainly a possibility — the headlong rush into the mosh pit the song demands is a precious commodity. It’s just too bad that they won’t be around to play this one live to see it happen.

After a strong start, the album starts to lose steam, especially in terms of that cathartic rush. The palm-muted scraping of “Work Faster” offers interesting texture, and Moerder swoons around like a drugged David Byrne, but the track never latches on. Later, “Watched It Wrong” arches expertly, but its insistence that “they’d rather see sex scenes” and “they’d rather see houses” ring kind of hollow, a vague accusation lobbed at a vague target. When the lyrics don’t have the same aggressive bite, Morello and Sylvester’s rhythms need more force, or else the whole thing gnaws gently. Luckily, the first half of Ultimate in Luxury tears in with enough force that its flagging second half can get away with a nibble.

Though it wouldn’t appear that Mr. Dream started out with the idea that this release would be posthumous, “Bloodmobile” works as a swan song. “Anyone can drive the bloodmobile/ It’s so easy, just grab the wheel,” Moerder intones over mournful guitar, adding lines about strange facial constructions (“no mouth, just tongue”), patricide, and empty status symbols, all as chilly mutilation waves and spectral, falsetto backing harmonies coast by. Maybe they found a Surfer Rosa tape stuck in the bloodmobile before they picked it up, and now they’re leaving Ultimate in Luxury in there for the next set of kids to listen through. In that way, the left-behind Ultimate in Luxury, soon to be available on cassette, is the perfect cap to the trio’s run.

Essential Tracks: “Making Muscles”, “Cheap Heat”

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The Complete Glastonbury Festival Post Mortem: 30 Top Moments

Festival Goers Enjoy Glastonbury 2014
Festival goers at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival on June 29, 2014 in Glastonbury, England. Matt Cardy—Getty Images

From least surprising to least prepared for the weather, a full look at the famous festival, which took place June 25–29

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Tony Hardy (TH): The first rule of Glastonbury is that only you can create your own snapshot. Your experience could be totally different to the next person and the next and so forth. Whatever kind of music you are into, you’ll find it here. You can party like it’s 1999, 1970 or any year you want to choose. Or chill, take your time, breath in, bliss out.

Scott C. Moore (SM): Get there early, though. The scale of this mother of all festivals is nearly incomprehensible, so arriving on Wednesday or Thursday will help to accomplish the impossible task of taking it all in. While many of the main stages will still be under construction, food vendors and bars across the site are fully operational and everyone in attendance is in a celebratory mood. Don’t see any big names scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday? Don’t worry about it. Allow the feel of the place to lead you, and you won’t be disappointed.

TH: The size and scale of the festival site is still daunting but once you get over the sight that greets you as you gaze across the valley, it starts to fit into place. Glastonbury is arranged like a series of small, interconnected villages each with a stage or more.

SM: You can find yourself in the center of the market area listening to Irish folk music emanating from a quaint gazebo. Or you could drift over to a field in the English countryside for a throbbing underground night club in Block 9. It’s great.

TH: The signs that point the way are now taking on an antique quality, but they work. And despite a few necessary updates, the otherwise marvelous pocket guide produced by The Guardian does its job. I’m still trying to get over the absence of Robyn Hitchcock and the Spirit of ’71 stage and don’t want to be reminded where it was used to stand every time I open the map. And where, oh where is William’s Green!

SM: My advice? Walk around the site, yes, the whole site. You didn’t come to Glastonbury to get shit faced in front of your tent (if you did, you’ve overpaid for the privilege), so explore the grounds and figure out what it’s going to take to get from the Pyramid to West Holts when you need to rush between two can’t miss shows later in the weekend.

TH: Good advice, Scott. As you know, this year marked the festival’s 44th year, and host Michael Eavis has already announced he’ll be stepping down when it turns 50, handing both reins to daughter, Emily. He will leave a huge legacy. Why? Because more than any other music festival, Glastonbury is a cultural extravaganza the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.

What’s more, the organization is amazing, and the festival’s a tribute to everyone who works there, whatever role they have. From guides to guards, each staff member handles whatever weather and humans can collectively throw at them with grace and humor. (Let’s be sure not to forget the two tragedies that took place over the weekend.)

Though, I do have one grouse, festival goers: take your stuff home. I did. All of it, muddy or not. After all, the by-line of Glastonbury is “Love the farm – leave no trace,” but thousands don’t. Clearly.

SM: Two ubiquitous campaigns on Worthy Farm are “Leave No Trace” and “Don’t Pee on the Land”. I’m not sure what is was like before those campaigns started, but there are dudes pissing EVERYWHERE and there is garbage all over the place. Volunteers do a remarkable job of keeping up with the garbage but they aren’t getting a ton of help from the attendees.

TH: Whatever else hasn’t already been written about Glastonbury is possibly best left unsaid. Instead, enjoy our 30 favorite moments of the weekend and maybe push yourself to go next year. It ain’t easy, but what ever is?

The Breakfast of Champions: Jonny Greenwood and the London Sinfonietta

Friday, West Holts – 11:10 a.m.

Before noon on the West Holts stage on Friday, Jonny Greenwood opened on solo guitar and layered recorded loops to create a rich, sonic atmosphere. After 15 minutes of intricate strumming, the ever humble Radiohead star sheepishly thanked the crowd before leaving the stage. Greenwood was quickly replaced by the London Sinfonietta delivering Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians”. The piece dips and swells from quiet reflection to frenetic intensity, allowing a showcase for each instrument. It evokes the contemplation of humankind’s continuous struggle to understand the meaning of our existence and place in the universe. Just kidding. I have no idea what it means, but it was absolutely fucking beautiful and a perfect start to the day. –Scott C. Moore

The War on Blondie: Blondie/The War on Drugs

Friday, Other Stage – 12:15 p.m.; Pyramid Stage – 12:30 p.m.

A guiding principle of Glastonbury is that at any time during the day, there are at least two bands you really want to see at the same time. Without access to the inter-stage area, which turns the miry walk between the two main stages into a comparatively short hop, the following would not be possible. Thanks to an early surprise set by Kaiser Chiefs, Blondie opened to a huge crowd with a supercharged rendition of “One Way or Another”. (Just to correct the girl to my right: no, this wasn’t a One Direction cover). Age may have taken some edge off Debbie Harry’s formidable pipes but the trio of opening songs were predictably slick, fast, and dynamic, as gaunt guitarist Chris Stein matched Harry for silver-grey chic.

Meanwhile, over on the Pyramid stage, Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs worked through some sound issues, specifically an uncomfortable bass boom that spasmodically dulled their ringing guitars. Regardless, Adam Granduciel’s six-piece entertained a gathering throng to some classic guitar rock, chiefly culled from their recent Top Rated album, Lost in the Dream. The atmospheric, drawn-out “Under the Pressure” and emotional bruiser “Red Eyes” especially hit the spot with 2011 breakthrough song “Come to the City” providing a pinnacle closer. All through the set, Granduciel’s Dylanish drawl worked through heartache yet the music always lifted spirits. The war was won. –Tony Hardy

Artist Least Prepared (For the Weather): Deltron 3030

Friday, West Holts – 2:30 p.m.

The Deltron 3030 ensemble included a horn section, backup singers, strings, a live rhythm section, a conductor/hype man, and DJ Kid Koala working three turntables and a host of electronic gadgets. Whether a testament to Del the Funky Homosapien’s delivery, the excellent West Holts sound, or both, the show was delightfully devoid of “the muddle” that plagues so much live hip-hop. Deltron 3030 dropped mind-bending rhymes backed by soaring orchestral arrangements for a genre-defying performance that had the crowd bouncing. Throw in a guest appearance from Jamie Cullum and closing the set with Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood”, and it can’t get much better. Oh, and Del called out Mars Volta’s bass player for picking up a pair of wellies onsite while he just had to deal with his shoes being all fucked up. I guess nobody told him. –Scott C. Moore

Accessorizing with Mud: Summer Camp

Friday, William’s Green Stage – 3:00 p.m.

If you’re going to turn up amid a sea of mud in a brilliant white trouser suit, then playing an indoor stage seems a wise move. Summer Camp’s brand of breezy, intelligent dance music meant the youthful audience packing the William’s Green stage was far too occupied with having a good time to practice mud-slinging, and so their outfits stayed pristine throughout. (Mind you, I was tempted briefly to target the girl with the feathered headdress obscuring my view.) Husband and wife Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, respectively, impressed with as much confidence on stage as they did with their fashion sense. And despite that booming bass once again, the two came out on top, specifically with a singalong of “Ghost Train” and a raucous closer in “Two Chords”, the latter ending in a barrage of feedback, rather than mud, of course. –Tony Hardy

Ready to Give Up The Day Job: Andrew Maxwell Morris

Friday, Bimble Inn – 4:00 p.m.

The path towards The Bimble Inn provides a welcome pint of real ale or cider and invariably a goodly selection of acoustic-based live music. It’s a kind of pagan heaven, decked out with knotted drapes and fairy-lighted foliage, and even camp beds for the weary festival goer. Andrew Maxwell Morris is something of a regular at the festival, though he’s usually on his own with a guitar. On Friday, he was flanked by an adroit four-piece band and two backing singers, who offered much more than simply eye candy. Criminal lawyer by day, Morris held a relaxed, if not fully captive, afternoon audience with Americana-drenched songs off his new album, Well Tread Roads, and some older favorites. An earnest, flowing “In a Heartache”, Knopfler-quality soloing from the lead guitarist on “Low Light”, and a storming “January Rain” were just three stand-outs. Given the crowd he nabbed, it might be high time to close the briefcase and go for the bigger stages. –Tony Hardy

A Dose of Midday Sunshine: HAIM

Friday, The Other Stage – 4:25 p.m.

The Haim sisters bragged about bringing some California sunshine to Glastonbury, and the ominous clouds held off just long enough to not make liars of them. A pair of covers displayed a range from sensitive (“XO” by former festival headliner Beyoncé) to bona fide rock ‘n’ roll chops (Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”). The delivery of their own work was crisp and emphatic and punctuated with personal stories and gratuitous “fucks.” The icing on the cake came when Este told the crowd she’d bet a stage tech 100 quid that Glastonbury knew how to shake their asses. Clearly the tech never had a chance, and the sisters owned the crowd from then on. –Scott C. Moore

Going Down a Storm: Jimi Goodwin

Friday, The Park – 5:00 p.m.

Nature wasn’t very kind to Doves’ frontman Jimi Goodwin on Friday evening. As his quartet played through “Panic Tree”, the singer announced that an electrical storm was on its way and the power was being cut as a precaution; though, not before he feigned an electric shock from his mic. He was in quite a mischievous mood, clicking with his band and warming up the crowd with a melodic rendition of “Didsbury Girl”, further amplified by his tight, wiry bass. For awhile, they ignored the gathering clouds and distant lightning forks, which creeped in during a therapeutic cut of “Oh! Whiskey”. Three songs later, the storm finally took over and I imagine the nearby Bimble Inn did some extra trade, as people took shelter, perhaps even joined by the band for a few pints. –Tony Hardy

Best Natural Phenomenon: Double Rainbow Over the Site

Friday, Left Field Area (But Probably Everywhere) — Approx. 6:20 p.m.

I highly recommend checking out the double rainbow that looks like it’s growing out of the cabaret tent, should the opportunity arise. Ever again. –Scott C. Moore

#NESK (Not Entirely Safe for Kids): Lily Allen

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 6:30 p.m.

The Lily Allen show attracted what seemed like every kid on the grounds at Glastonbury. Kids along the front barricade. Kids on shoulders everywhere. Kids kicking me in the heels of my rain boots because I stood in front of them to see the show. It occurred to me that maybe the parents who brought them were only familiar with her radio-friendly work.

The dance-pop diva appeared onstage in a flowing gown and pink polka-dotted, 8-inch platform heels. While initially pretty tame, eventually Allen shed the bottom half of her gown, was joined onstage by twerking backup dancers in high-waisted short shorts, and engaged in stage banter that ranged from her camel toe to calling a corrupt British politician a cunt. In other words, she was awesome. An unapologetic badass, not softened by motherhood, who only managed to chase off a few parents with kids in tow.

The show featured massive sing-alongs to old favorites and enthusiastic receptions for her Sheezus cuts. A chorus of boos erupted when she informed the crowd her set would be shortened by the rain delay, and she cheerfully reassured them that they had an amazing evening to look forward to with Elbow and Arcade Fire still to come. –Scott C. Moore

Another Sunset With My Sad Captains: Elbow

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 8:00 p.m.

Once the storm had passed, the late evening sun bled through and the Pyramid stage hosted an act that Glastonbury had taken to their hearts. Majoring on tracks from its 2014 album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elbow was the perfect choice to accompany the sun’s descent below the horizon of this marvelous amphitheatre. Older fans might decry the lack of attention to their early catalogue, but there was no doubting the flow and grace of the latest songs, linked by Guy Garvey’s genial uncle of a personality: “Look at you all beautiful in the evening sun, your gorgeous creatures.”

Elbow simply captured the mood and moment, peaking with the beautiful eulogy of “My Sad Captains” and building audience interaction through “Lippy Kids” to the inevitable singalong closer of “One Day Like This”. It was a time for pride and passion and an amicable way to forget that England were out of the World Cup. Yet there was glory in this hour on Somerset, as we all sang: “Throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year would see me right.” Who could argue. –Tony Hardy

The Masked Man on Fire: Arcade Fire

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 10:00 p.m.

Friday could have arguably ended with Elbow, but this is Glastonbury, and so the festivities carried on with Montreal’s finest, Arcade Fire. Pyrotechnics accompanied the ascent of a mirrored colossus during opener “Reflektor”, indicating that this was going to be the sort of ‘true event’ spectacle worth bragging about online and in the very far future. Theatricality has always been the band’s forte, and they arrived with due aplomb. Win Butler wore his Lone Ranger eye makeup and his wife Régine Chassagne dazzled in sequins. Yet, bravado aside, Arcade Fire seemed genuinely humbled to be there.

Butler has come far since sporting a pudding-basin haircut in the early years, and it was great to hear the Fire reprising a classic like “Keep the Car Running” or deftly revamping songs from its back catalogue, such as “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)”, to fit its current rhythmic oeuvre. Because of this, there was a particularly smooth transition between numbers. The members kept the chatter at a minimum, focusing instead on keeping the adrenaline pumping. By night’s end, they closed up shop with a brilliantly reworked “Wake Up”, a proud closing statement and moment that further underlined the band’s status as a major league player. –Tony Hardy

Best Way to End Your Show: Angel Haze

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 1:15 p.m.

Detroit rapper Angel Haze’s set boasted hard-hitting hip-hop as well as a sensitive cover of John Newman’s “Love Me Again”. It also included the best way for a young artist to create crowd frenzy. Haze jumped down from the towering Pyramid stage to perform her last two songs while doing determined loops through the crowd. There are plenty of intimate stages at Glastonbury, but the Pyramid is not one of them, so kudos to Angel Haze for bringing the show to the fans. –Scott C. Moore

Baritone of the Weekend: Midlake

Saturday, Other Stage – 1:40 p.m.

From the opening verse of “Young Bride”, Midlake frontman Eric Pulido was in excellent form, comfortably offering the best vocal performance all weekend. He has a commanding though gentle presence, a rich baritone that arches over the lush instrumental patterns laid down by the band and complimented by fine harmonies. And despite losing leader Tim Smith in 2012, Midlake has gone from strength to endurance. “We Gathered In Spring” and a stripped down, emotional cover of The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” were among the highlights, while the always-delightful “Head Home” sent an enchanted and curious crowd onwards, many of whom had probably heard the Texans for the first time. –Tony Hardy

Betting on a Future Headliner: Kodaline

Saturday, Other Stage – 4:30 p.m.

After their triumphant Glastonbury debut on the John Peel stage last year, Irish four-piece Kodaline returned to the much bigger Other stage for a prime Saturday afternoon slot. Sunglasses opposed the strong sunlight and there was an audible sigh when lead singer Steve Garrigan later took them off. Good looks go hand-in-hand with strong hooks, apparently, and detractors who place the outfit as an Anthems-R-Us band who listen to too much U2 and Coldplay seemingly miss the point. “One Day”, “Way Back When”, and their much-anticipated closer “All I Want” host genuine sentiments and shared experiences forged by life-on-the-road camaraderie — they’re also just killer tunes. Towards the end, a huge downpour brought out macs and brollies, but the vast crowd stayed for the duration and sang their hearts out. Kodaline will be back, not necessarily next year, but they’ll be back… as headliners, too. –Tony Hardy

Pretending to Smoke Is Pretty Lame, But Can I Get Another Cigarette?: Lana Del Rey

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 4:00 p.m.

Lana Del Rey’s set was plagued by technical difficulties and the banality of her performance style. She started late, seemingly due to a malfunctioning video screen that may have never been fully sorted out at any point during the show. She made a huge production of getting a cigarette from a side stage tech twice that she proceeded to light, hold for a minute or two, and never smoke. Admittedly, I wasn’t a Lana Del Rey fan before the show, but she didn’t do a single thing on the world’s largest stage to win me over. My own prejudices aside, there was no shortage of “We love you Lana!!!”s or young girls singing along. It’s possible she’s not ready or right for a venue this size. Her show seems more suited to a dark club or theater venue, but maybe the real issue is that I’m not a 15-year-old, at heart or otherwise. –Scott C. Moore

The Show You Wish Was A Reunion Instead: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Robert Plant took to the Pyramid stage in the early evening on Saturday amidst a few early pleas from the crowd to “play ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” While Stairway was obviously absent, they delivered a Zeppelin-heavy set that featured enough new material to spare the exquisite musicians Plant has assembled the feeling they’ve joined a Led Zep cover band. It would be wonderful to say the tunes have the same, old feel, but with bassist Justin Adams’ teenage son doing a spirited dance on stage and grade school girl guitar techs, the whole affair seems just a bit more family-friendly than the days of old. The show is still an incredible showcase of timeless classics and musical virtuosity, even if it’s not the reunion everyone wants to see. If they come to your town, or within say 50 miles of it, buy a ticket. Legends are hard to come by. –Scott C. Moore

Rumbling, Bumbling, Stumbling: Jack White

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 7:30 p.m.

Apparently, Jack White’s beef with the press knows no borders, as he denied photographers the customary 10-minute window at the beginning of his Pyramid stage set. White sauntered out on stage drinking directly from a bottle of Veuve Clicquot yellow label champagne and launched into a feisty jam before settling into “Icky Thump”. It’s pretty clear White is no longer content with the standard versions of The White Stripes catalog, and each tune pulled from it had a fresh edge if not an outright extended jam. The resulting outcome was that Lazaretto selections had a tighter feel but were less familiar for a crowd that White occasionally had to coax with shouted questions. Being a consummate showman, he closed out with two White Stripes favorites in “Ball and a Biscuit” and perennial set closer “Seven Nation Army”. The latter eventually devolved into a sonic battle with his drummer, and, just for good measure, it took on a physical element when White stumbled through the entire drum kit. Maybe he should lay off the champagne until after the show. –Scott C. Moore

Play the Hits, Man: Pixies

Saturday, Other Stage – 9:00 p.m.

Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ first album in 23 years, didn’t win over any critics or fans, but there’s little denying the Bostonites’ iconic back catalogue. As such, Frank Black & New Co. stuck chiefly to the hits, limiting Indie to three appropriate tracks. Now, much has been made about the loss of original bassist Kim Deal, the brief tenure of another Kim (Shattuck), and further replacement, Paz Lenchantin. But at Glastonbury, the massive crowd of fans could have cared less, and with good reason. Paz was as enchanting as her surname. Joey Santiago’s soloing in “Vamos” and drummer David Lovering’s consistent work (and good humour when asked to sing an interminable chorus) also stood out. I appreciated hearing “Here Comes Your Man”, too. As for main man, Frank Black, he may eschew crowd banter but the voice, the aggression, and attack are all still there in spades. Pixies have had their ups and downs, but this set really felt like they’re back up there and aiming even higher. –Tony Hardy

Controversy Addressed. Do You Have Any Further Questions?: Metallica

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 9:45 p.m.

In direct response to the controversy surrounding their invitation to the festival, Metallica opened their set with a video homage to the noble gentleman’s pursuit of fox hunting. In a seeming attempt to point out a parallel between the freedoms enjoyed by British sportsmen of the past and alleged activities that generated an entire Facebook petition to prevent the band from performing, the video had crowds wondering if the band could be THAT irreverent. And then bears with shotguns blasted the noblemen from their horses and revealed themselves to be the band members in costume. Irreverence grossly underestimated. Metallica proved to festival goers they earned their spot on the Pyramid stage by laying down a fiercely intense set of well-known classics interspersed with more recent work. Much as Jay Z threw off controversy in 2011 and delivered a performance to remember, all those who attended the Metallica show will have it ringing around their heads (and maybe ears) for years to come. –Scott C. Moore

Best Unrelenting Use of Graphics: MGMT

Saturday, John Peel Stage – 10:45 p.m.

Anyone who had their fill of Metallica, and didn’t fancy Bryan Ferry (!), could have done worse than stray down to John Peel to catch MGMT’s closing set. As usual, the stage was rammed, but there was some benefit to standing outside the tent, even if that area was pretty full, too. From there, festivalgoers had a perfect vantage point of the incessant back projections that gave a whole new meaning to the word unrelenting. Those who watched the entire carnival of creatures, flowers, and kaleidoscopic shapes might still be in for surgery. Musically, messrs Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser focused on tracks off last year’s self-titled third studio album, and 2010’s maligned Congratulations. Of course, “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” went over well. –Tony Hardy

Let’s Hear It For Emerging Talent: M+A

Sunday, West Holts Stage – 11:45 a.m.

The annual Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition gives UK-based unsigned artists the chance to win a spot on a main stage. Eight acts made it through to the live finals in April and winners, London-based Italians M+A, were rewarded with the opening Sunday morning slot on the West Holts stage which majors on dance acts. (Some of the other finalists, including Gibson Bull, Hero-Fisher, and Izzy Bizu, also found their way onto other stages.) Predictably, M+A drew a small initial crowd, but eventually won passersby over with their brand of percussive electro-pop, tempting a few early birds into throwing a few shapes down. Where they go from here is up to fate, but they’re working off some strong tunes, notably “Down the West Side” and “When”. –Tony Hardy

A Green Affair: Eyes for Gertrude

Saturday, Mandala Stage – 1:00 p.m.

While Glastonbury’s main stages run like clockwork – the occasional act of God permitting – the same cannot be said of its smaller stages in the Green Futures field. Times are wonky and signs are missing, but that’s part of the area’s laid-back, friendly charm, the likes of which occasionally manage to draw festivalgoers in. A brief walk from West Holts across to Green Futures saw me stray across the delightful string-driven Beaubowbelles and amazing hippy throwbacks Love Revolution. In between, I stopped by to listen to Eyes For Gertrude, who were one of my Emerging Talent picks. The duo’s voices sync beautifully; the first all-warm country tones, the second offering English purity. Taking sounds from the routines of daily life and reaching for higher ground with determination, EFG offers quirky, observational songs, illuminated by delicious vocal flourishes — definitely the start of a green affair. –Tony Hardy

Voice You Least Expect to Come from the Person Actually Onstage: Sam Smith

Sunday, The Other Stage – 4:00 p.m.

Sam Smith’s international star is rising, but his show on Sunday at the Other Stage proved beyond a doubt that his home country fans already know what they’ve got. In a set featuring work from his debut album, a brief interlude of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know”, and a lounged-up full cover of fellow Brits Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know”, Smith stormed the stage. Everyone in the crowd participated in the massive sing-along. Everyone. Little kids in the front row, old men in bandanas, and a bro in a banana suit. No one was spared, no one. –Scott C. Moore

Anyone Seen Dolly?: Dolly Parton

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 4:40 p.m.

We weren’t really prepared for Dolly Parton’s Glastonbury conquest. A 100,000 strong crowd duly lapped up Parton’s homilies and whimsy, madly singing along when it came to “Jolene”, “Islands in the Stream”, and “9 to 5”. Coming on like a rhinestone cowgirl, the lady performed with gusto, sang sweetly and toted various instruments for brief cameos. At times, the performance felt like a part of a strange, alien variety show, which further demonstrates Glastonbury’s diversity. In a surprise twist, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora joined in near the end to embellish a gospel treatment of “Lay Your Hands on Me”. Follow that, Ed Sheeran (and he did). –Tony Hardy

Small Man, Big Sound: Ed Sheeran

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 6:00 p.m.

Ed Sheeran took to the Pyramid stage as a one-man explosion of sound. Looping his own rhythm section and using his guitar as a percussion instrument, it’s amazing so much noise can come from one tiny man with an acoustic guitar and some effects peddles. Sheeran busted out infectious dance-worthy beats and somber ballads with equal dexterity, all the while encouraging creative crowd participation. Be it a sea of fans hoisted on shoulders, waving of loose clothing, or singing the chorus to his closing song long after he left the stage, another kid-heavy crowd was happy to indulge Sheeran’s requests. –Scott C. Moore

Set You’re Most Likely to See at Their Next Performance: The Black Keys

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 7:45 p.m.

The Black Keys started as a power duo and have expanded and contracted over the years. The current incarnation employs a bass player and someone to run the electronic wizardry, introduced primarily over the last two albums, in addition to Auerbach and Carney. It’s hard to tell if it’s the plethora of side projects or the difficulty of maintaining a primarily two-person creative team, but some of the raw emotion present in The Black Keys’ past live performances seems to be missing. There are still moments of absolute brilliance, with tracks like Turn Blues “Fever” holding their own against old favourites. –Scott C. Moore

Agreeable Alt-Rock Heroes: Family of the Year

Sunday, William’s Green – 8:00 p.m.

William’s Green is named in honor of Michael Eavis’ grandfather and the adjacent stage is fast becoming a shrine to indie rock. With a massive bar and plenty of outdoor seating, it was the perfect place to relax after a hectic schedule, especially to the sounds of Family of the Year. The Los Angeles quintet had to wait until Sunday evening to unleash its warm and friendly brand of melodic alt-rock, and despite a PA that really didn’t need to be turned up too high, the band’s brisk set proved rather joyous. Tunes off 2012’s Loma Vista sounded as fresh as ever and were warmly received by a small crowd that grew as the nine-song set progressed. The show was not without its dynamics — especially when strobes accentuated the punchy “Living on Love” — but the strength of the songs lies in the communal storytelling. Visions of a folksier Fleetwood Mac and Beach Boys come to mind, but their closing song “Hero” is a classic of its own accord. –Tony Hardy

Stop Milking The Applause: Kasabian

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 9:45 p.m.

There were certainly some who questioned Kasabian’s stature as Glastonbury headliners. They clearly did not include the vast majority of another mega-sized crowd who celebrated the Midlanders’ Pyramid appearance with mass hollering, an impressive collection of flags and even flares. The band set the tone with a delayed entrance timed to a countdown clock, milking the audience for all its worth. Eventually, they strolled out and frontman Tom Meighan, dressed ironically in a white tux, oozed with bravado and attitude, even if a few of his lines felt drawn from the Liam Gallagher school of charm. (Mind you, I loved his brash pronouncement, “This is why you came,” as he introduced “Underdog”.) The crowd’s equally voluble response to a set spanning Kasabian’s 10 years in rock marked it as something of a triumph in the face of naysayers. Meighan proved to be the ringmaster, orchestrating crowd choruses and urging bodies up on the shoulders of many while his band mates provided plentiful sonic ammunition. –Tony Hardy

Least Surprising Dance Explosion (w/ Guests): Disclosure

Sunday, West Holts – 10:00 p.m.

After overflowing stages in the US at Coachella and Bonnaroo, Disclosure’s return to Worthy Farm was bound to be a super massive dance party to close out the main stages on Glastonbury’s final night. At 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, after five days of competitive consumption, a fair bit of the crowd looks a little worse for wear. However, a steady infusion of groove-heavy beats and hypnotizing rhythms from the brothers pumped an infusion of life into the weary crowd. Stacked with guest performances from Ed McFarlane, Eliza Doolittle, and Aluna George, the set had already delivered an epic performance, but the crowd sensed something was missing. Given Sam Smith’s earlier appearance on The Other Stage, where he mentioned the Disclosure show, it was a given he’d show up eventually; and he did not disappoint. Closing with “Latch”, the young crooner’s soulful performance transformed the group of exhausted travellers into a single, super-conscious being. –Scott C. Moore

Winner of the ‘We Don’t Need to Ask If You’re Having a Good Time’ Award: London Grammar

Sunday, John Peel Stage – 10:15 p.m.

Unlike Kasabian, London Grammar was only just hitting the road when the UK trio secured a small stage spot at Glastonbury 2013. To headline the John Peel stage as the final act on Sunday night just a year later was a big ask and singer Hannah Reid told the BBC two hours ahead of the show she was terrified by the prospect. As it turned out, there was no need to feel unworthy and maybe just seeing the size of the crowd as the band took the stage conversely was enough to steady nerves. Yes, people had actually turned up.

Dressed down in sweatshirt and jeans, Reid just played herself, letting her smoky vocals and timely excursions into the higher register do the business against the chilled backdrop of guitar, keys, drums, and a string section. The music did the talking as a rapt audience made for an unusually tranquil atmosphere compared to the usual festival bustle. Finally, the crowd joined in fervently for flagship song “Strong” while 2013 debut single “Metal and Dust” provided a flawless closer. A different kind of triumph to Kasabian, but a triumph nonetheless. –Tony Hardy

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Total Control’s Post-Punk Typical System Anything but Typical

Total Control
Iron Lung Records

The Australia-based bandmates create mosh-worthy headbangers

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The idea of a “systematic fuck” implies a pleasurable sort of chaos, manipulated here and there by someone or something, perhaps melodically, with purpose and carelessness. The fourth track on Total Control’s Typical System bears that name, the title offering a description of the way in which the entirety flows in and out of jarringly different tracks via a variety of sounds plucked heavily from a post-punk palette.

Australia-based bandmates Mikey Young, Dan Stewart, Al Montfort, Zephyr Pavey, and James Vinciguerra interweave (alternating almost exactly one-for-one) synth-driven, cool-voiced, dance-ready tracks with guitar-driven, mosh-potential headbangers. The steady rhythm of opener “Glass”, when contrasted with the cacophony of following track “Expensive Dog”, highlights this phenomenon, and places Total Control in a world of post-punk redefinition, where the band creates their own balance of elements within a genre by spitting them out one at a time, changing the game just as you start to find it familiar.

This lack of familiarity makes Typical System a systematic fuck; the five-piece isn’t interested in comfort, but rather an intensity created directly by that push-pull exchange, their strangely humorous song titles, and primitive, warlike lyrics. The track which seems to aim for something closest to “comfortable,” however, is “Flesh War”; its repetitive melody, wheezing synths, and reused chorus allow for easier access than the high-energy, hyper-concentrated “Systematic Fuck”, though the two do have their subtle interchange. On “Flesh War”, Stewart mentions “rust upon your face on the breaking of the day” and a repeated, empathetic “your back would break”. These lines go well with “no one wants to play” on “Systematic Fuck”, an obvious insinuation of “fun” in an otherwise purposefully “fucked” soundscape.

“Liberal Party” moves into “funny” territory, however, a relatively groovy tune that features Stewart monotonously voicing “you were your worst.” While pointedly on that track, politics play a more fluid role in the band’s mood and message, whether it’s the obviousness of “Liberal Party” or the sharper “Two Less Jacks”, in which Stewart yells “I surrender” countless times. Regardless, thoughts on materiality and labor (also more humanly referenced in “The Ferryman” and “Hunter”) are present in Total Control’s “typical system,” the band’s way of almost humorously oversimplifying their unique collection of sounds in an otherwise complicated, or systematic, fuck.

Closer “Safety Net” features a highly intelligible repeated chorus, which goes: “This, this has always been a safety net/ You don’t need a safety net.” The track itself is Typical System’s literal safety net; it’s such an easily digestible track, perfect for your “typical” indie rock, post-punk album — but Total Control are obviously not interested in “typical.”

Essential Tracks: “Glass”, “Flesh War”, and “Safety Net”

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