The month’s best pop updates, tour whispers, electro remixes, must-view performances, and everything in between…
Racking up danceable firepower jams, maintaining a veil of ageless cool, keeping a finger on the mystery pulse: These things are valuable.
For enthusiasts, a personal soundtrack is a life force rivaling extreme sports or extended bubble baths. Everyday minutia performed to swirly synths or buzzy riffs feels sort of cinematic, a little foggy and backlit in floofy fluorescent pinks and electric blues. Even melancholy pouts can suddenly shift toward the pumped-up need to mirror that feeling and just make something new//do something cool.
Here, a month of fresh possibilities delivered in the form of musically focused news you can use:
“I’m calling it indie-emo-bedroom-rock-that-no-one-asked-for,” says Alyse Vellturo of the genre her pronoun album i’ll show you stronger and generally lowercase attitude capture. In Amy Charles’s piece “Are Women The Future Of Guitar Music?” Vellturo speaks to Fender’s research showing that half of beginner players are female, even though she doesn’t always see much proof. “I have girls come up after the concert saying: ‘That’s so cool. I haven’t really seen a girl on stage playing guitar’.” She Shreds magazine compares the study to the moment when it struck big auto that women drove cars as much as men. Hot on its tail, Pitchfork’s report that 50% of festival attendees are women even though just 19% of lineups include female musicians means that artists like Alien Boy’s Sonia Weber, Dude York’s Claire England, and Let’s Eat Grandma’s Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth will be more likely to get the credit they’re due in 2022, when the industry is allegedly committing to full gender parity. So yeah, they’re the future and the present. It’s happening right now. It’s all around us.
“The brighter and lighter yang to part 2’s darker yin” is how part 1 of TR/ST’s double album The Destroyer is described. It’s another experimental project from Robert Alfons, who’s spent nearly a decade making the kind of darkwave industrial sounds you’d imagine drifting steamily out of a glowing basement. Guided by mood swings and a gut instinct to let his voice veer toward the ethereal for the first volume’s tracks like “Control Me,” Alfons says to expect the second to be “much more tender.”
At the height of first grade I lovingly drafted 2-D spiral curls and finished a cerulean marker perfecting one off-the-shoulder sweater for my critically-acclaimed Hero Portrait, which included the short-but-sweet caption “Whitney Houston is my hero because every time I hear her songs she makes me feel happy.” How should a proudfan feel about the news of her upcoming hologram tour? The late superstar’s estate, led by her sister-in-law, recently acquired musical rights and announced that Houston will join artists like Tupac (whose on-stage avatar started the movement in 2012) as a posthumous performer. Some make an impressive case that it’s a step into the future. Some get caught up in the details of the not-so-3-D technology. What does a direct relative have to offer? Whitney’s notoriously candid cousin Dionne Warwick didn’t mince words. “I don’t know what it is. I think it’s stupid, but whatever it is, that’s what it is.”
“This is an eminently danceable record that also encourages its audience to think, an attribute the band aren’t given enough credit for which they desperately deserve,” is how Terrorbird breaks into Yeasayer’s Erotic Reruns, the band’s fifth LP set to release on June 7 that’s already bringing members Chris Keating, Anand Wilder, and Ira Wolf Tuton into coolio conversations as singles like “Let Me Listen In On You” and “Fluttering In The Floodlights” steadily drop like pennies from heaven in advance of the big reveal. Plus, their summer tour will make stops at tight venues like Austin’s multilevel Mohawk lounge on July 4 and NYC’s just-renovated Webster Hall theater (yes, the same location that 86’d me a decade ago but forgot when I strolled in for MGMT last week) on July 13 for a chance to catch the trio, and all of their artistic visions, live in action.
Even those who consider themselves enthusiastic “festival goers” are exhausted by the overload of large-scale lineups.But for earth angels, it’s more of an environmental issue. If Poland’s original 90s rave scene was “questioning the futuristic cybernetic dimension” of the movement, three decades of ever-expanding global party culture have brought on another thought wave. Like what does the pile of solo cups lazily, hazily tossed away look like when just one day of live music hosts around 100,000 people? In Dazed’s “A New Party Paradigm: How to Throw An Eco-Rave,” Michelle Lhooq lauds Thailand’s Wonderfruit team for bringing logic into the madness by banning single-use plastic, growing bamboo year-round as a renewable building material for sets, and offering beverage discounts on refillable containers cleverly sold as merch.
They can agree that “Alone” by Heart was 1987.Mariah’s “We Belong Together” was surely 2005. But for 1982 — was it the one-hit-synthy-wonder “Chariots of Fire?” There’s something charming about how these throwback lists of the top songs of the summer by your birthyear (even Good Housekeeping is weighing in?!) show conflicting hot hot hits. Oh, oh — and according to the 1982 calendar of seasons and this poor-loading page of reigning number ones, it very well could have been Human League or Chicago sharing the glory.
A neon-lit dancefloor, some “delightfully buoyant bop,” and a few slow twirls in a nylon tracksuit are all that the three dudes from Say Yes Dog relied on for their “Lies” video, and it works.
“There were so few people there that you just talked to them,” Peter Hook remembers of the Sex Pistols show in 1976 that marked the night Joy Division was formed. In Jon Savage’s new book This searing light, the sun and everything else: Joy Division: The Oral History, nev-before-heard interviews from Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner layer into a chronological account of their four years spent with Ian Curtis before morphing into New Order. Curtis’s ideas still made it into to their post-punk, new wave, electro visions. “’Ceremony’ was written by Joy Division, and unfortunately Ian never got the chance to properly record it,” says Hook. “So we had to decipher the lyrics from a practice cassette, and we recorded it as New Order.” Discussing his memoir Record Play Pause, drummer Stephen Morris admits the shift was a “struggle to begin with,” but a trip to the U.S. of A. made their second act possible. “Going to America really helped the early beginnings of the band because that’s where New Order came from – it came from dance music over there, even though we didn’t know it at the time,” says Morris. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, the fact that we actually managed to do it.”
“I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton is about a mentor, not a romance. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” nods at a vampire affair. The Psychedelic Furs single “Pretty in Pink” was a “metaphor for being naked.” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is referencing Kurt Cobain’s scented deodorant. Like the thrill of finally learning the real lyrics, Idolator’s piece on famously misconstrued songs puts their meanings on record.
Annie Lennox’s exhibition at MASS Moca “Now I Let You Go…” is a treasure place of memorabilia and lifelong personal collections that come with their own soundtrack. Lepidoptera, the artist’s self-released piano EP, plays in the background of the installation. Lennox describes the 34-minute compilation as a “small ambient greetings postcard.” Her hope for whoever hears it? That they’ll be “calmed and soothed, in a world that’s becoming exponentially more hectic and bombarded by sonic overload.”
Underneath an enormous stained-glass ceiling, next to an open MacBook, within The Art Institute of Chicago, Stephen Malkmus’s perfectly lazy dance moves are just the right speed for exactly what’s happening.When the audience claps after his first song, he shrugs out an ego-free “whatever” gesture that brings a little laugh. “I wanted it to be sonically pre-Internet,” Malkmus says of the “sloppy DIY sequencing” on his album Groove Denied. “The influences are kinda 1981 post-punk — actually quite British.” His absence of marketing — or even crowdsourcing — makes sense on stage. “It only takes a couple of people to say something positive about what you’re doing for you to immediately believe it,” he tells the BBC. “But this stuff not so much, I’m just kind of surprising myself thinking like, “I like this, I think.” And when pressed about Pavement reunion possibilities after his solo tour, Malkmus’s “anything’s possible” response is lo-fi-friendly. “If people are really psyched about it, I’d be psyched about it too. So we’ll see.”