14 for 2014

Hello friends! I’m just stopping by to give you my 2014 wrap-up playlist. I’ve been working on this very hard, and I feel it’s finally acquired a certain elusive architecture, so here it is. There’s a lot of oddity on this one, as my life was filled with unusual and overwhelming events, so I feel that a jagged quality is in order for a yearly bottom line such as this. Please feel free to ask about the less common names on the playlist, I’d be happy to elucidate and impart some trivia, if I can. Cheers!

ZaRecords Mixtape 7: Colors

Time for another mixtape! I am joined again by my dear friend Mihaela, for a selection of songs inspired by or inspiring of various colors! We didn’t over-analyze and over-think this, we just went with what we liked and compromised as much as we felt comfortable with, so here’s our final selection of colors! Enjoy!

Thom Yorke – Mix featuring solo material, Radiohead and Liars remixes (2013)

I have to thank Dazed and Confused Magazine, or rather Dazed Digital, for today’s post, folks. I by no means wish to rip off their achievement at getting Thom Yorke to make a mix for them, to go along with the release of the Atoms for Peace album and an interview published in the February issue of the magazine; I just feel this sort of musical event needs to be spread around as much as possible.

This mix is one of the weirdest, most hypnotic gatherings of music I’ve heard in a long time. Thom Yorke is treading ethereal paths indeed lately, and it’s a real treat to see him cut loose like this and just do things entirely his own way – something he hasn’t done since 2006’s The Eraser. If this mix is any indication of what goes on inside Thom’s head, then it must be like a perpetual acid trip in there – patience mating with explosive wonderment, a sort of subdued, diaphanous narrative of few words and chilling depth, the constant shade of a body in motion being projected by smoky beams of clarity.

I haven’t been able to recognize a single familiar tune in this mix, so either it’s comprised of completely unreleased material, Thom performed some freakish macro-mutations on the songs, or I’ve become “a cloth-eared nincompoop”, to quote Mike Oldfield. Either way, the end result sounds to me like something almost completely novel – I say “almost” because, truth be told, it does remind me a bit of the work performed on the Split/Sides bootleg, along side Sigur Ros. But that was so long ago, and in such a different context, that the comparison doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, even though both mixes seem to be very focused on dancing. Or rather, in this case, on kinetic energy being discharged by an abstraction of the androgynous human body, given the ice cold, perfectly aseptic, lab grown feel of the music.

At first, there are tribal echoes, the fierce metallic litany of primitive rhythm rearranging time to suit movement, slowly dissolving into the digital – from feet stomping in the dust, to the involuntary twitch of the finger on the keyboard, lit by the diffused glow of the monitor, the journey really doesn’t take very long, but is constructed with breathtaking clarity. Thom Yorke shows and requires patience here, but the return is spectacular – and I say this without being generally known as a big fan of this type of music. There’s a gentleness here, a velvety quality which is simultaneously sickening and mesmerizing, like an unknown something, cold and soft, rubbing against your bare feet in the dark. Yes, that sounds terrifying, but who could look away, who could ignore such a thing? Whether the reaction is along the lines of “KILL IT WITH FIRE!” or some form of fascination, that’s up to the listener, but the initial contact remains just as startling and magnetic.

I highly recommend reading the interview on Dazed, although not necessarily while listening to this mix – the inevitable mundane nature of the conversation clashes with the profound oddity of the music. Either way, enjoy!

 

Radiohead – Live from The Basement (2008)

The only reason I haven’t written more about Radiohead since I started this blog is that I’m intimidated by the task, as I believe most would-be and even well-established critics should be. To add to that marble-hard knot in my throat when it comes to their records, their live performances are often even more striking, even more dazzling, in that ever-so-understated way of theirs. This is the full live show of the In Rainbows album, the one I’ve listened to the most out of their discography. Of that which is unspeakable, one must remain silent. Enjoy.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser (2006)

Yet another amazing album to come out in 2006… what can I say, fertile year I guess. Thom Yorke is definitely a singular phenomenon in mainstream music nowadays. I don’t think any other band receives the respect and unconditional trust that Radiohead enjoy from their audience. I’ve never heard so many people trying their best to like a new Radiohead album, as if it’s their challenge to rise up to the band’s expectations and not the other way around. I’ve gone through this with a couple of their albums – Amnesiac and King of Limbs, to be specific – and I still feel a bit guilty when I think to myself they’re not their best works in my opinion, as if the fault is with my perception for not being able to attune itself to their ideas. And I’m fine with that. I think it’s a good thing that a band has succeeded in projecting such vision. Thom Yorke’s solo is an interesting, odd little thing, mainly because I feel it isn’t as personal, as clear-cut from the Radiohead model (if there is such a thing) as you’d expect a solo album to be.

I suppose what Thom Yorke was trying to do is incorporate even more electronic music influences into some songs, more than the Radiohead of the time would allow. But that doesn’t change the basic strength, the formidable power his songwriting has in the first place. And since Radiohead have shown they’re not easily swayed by things such as commercial success, there’s no reason to assume there have been themes, ideas, subjects which Thom had to avoid somehow in his work with them. The same passion, inspiration, almost possession (in an ancient sense) drives this album, but with a slightly different surface, a moderately mutated form, relying a bit more on programmed beats and effects than on straightforward band instrumentation.

In the meanwhile, Radiohead seem to have incorporated these influences in their main outfit, especially on King of Limbs, so another solo Thom Yorke release on the same lines seems unlikely. But speculation isn’t why I’m writing this blog, so let me get back to “The Eraser”.

Thinking about this album reminds me of a very poetic definition of a bow – a stick which is nine tenths broken. There’s a tension in this music, an anticipation which are completely contagious. I’ve rarely experienced an album with such intensity, conveyed by such minimal means. There are no lush walls of sound on The Eraser. One can instantly identify every instrument used in any given song. This Spartan approach, this economy of means opens up the album to a mind blowing diversity of rhythm. Relying less on harmony leads to unparalleled rhythmic complexity, and I can’t describe to you the feeling I got when I saw Thom Yorke performing “The Clock” live on Jools Holland, backed by only his acoustic guitar. As if the album wasn’t impressive enough, to see the way this man’s mind perceives rhythm when even the aseptic programmed beats get left behind, the way he can sing in one measure and play his guitar in another, it’s absolutely breathtaking and sent shivers down my spine.

Unfortunately I sound like I’m impressed by how technically proficient Thom proves to be. It’s not about that – it’s about how completely natural it is for him, how far beyond the average songwriter’s level he seems to be operating on. I hear that soon enough we have to look forward to a joint release by Thom Yorke and Flea (from The Red Hot Chilly Peppers). About this release, I head Flea say that, probably because his stage antics, people think of him as a very zany, instinctual player, whereas listeners consider Thom Yorke to be quite cerebral and in total control. Flea states the actual situation is exactly opposite. Flea works with musical theory concepts, understands technical terms and relies on them to build his bass lines and songs. Thom… generates these things, they flow through him. And that makes it truly staggering – yes, the music sounds very controlled, very aseptic and spacious, the music gives the impression of an unbelievably calculated, sharp mind at work, giving birth to something only such a mind could spawn, and yet it’s a revealed fact that this is how Thom Yorke is, simply, not by education, not by discipline, hypothesis and experiment, but by grace.

And, after all, thinking about this album flows, how cohesive and expressive it is while remaining so very stripped down of all pomp and circumstance, how eloquent it is with such limited means, I doubt such a feat would’ve been possible by planning and logistics. This album feels like Athena, born whole, fully armored, from Zeus’ head. The music is cold and mighty, so much so I still feel it’s intimidating, even after all these years. “When you walk in a room everything disappears / When you walk in a room it’s a terrible mess / When you walk in a room I start to melt / When you walk in a room I follow you ‘round like a dog…” – these lyrics, sung the way they are sung, are some of the heart-wrenching, scary words I’ve ever heard, filled as they are with this kind of intensity and razor sharp honesty which Yorke’s voice is comprised of. There’s something grotesque here, in the staggering contrast between the robotized, mechanical sounds used to build the sounds and the voice’s overwhelming humanity, there’s a feeling this album conveys which I haven’t heard anywhere else, ever, and I think is unnamed yet.

If you haven’t listened to it yet, I urge you to give it a try. As I said, it might feel intimidating at first (it sure did for me, and still does), but opening oneself up to such a intensity, no matter how overwhelming it might seem, is an experience I can’t recommend enough.