Liars, “Cred Woes”
It’s become slightly easier to predict what a new Liars album will sound like. I say “slightly” only in the sense that, after evolving from herky-jerky dance-punk to haunted drones to tense dark-wave across one of the most stylistically diverse bodies of work in modern art, the group’s sound is nevertheless united by a singularly warped, instantly recognizable musical voice. Now that voice has been reduced to just that of Angus Andrew, who soldiers on alone under the Liars name on the forthcoming TFCF (short for Theme From Crying Fountain) after the departure of co-founder Aaron Hemphill. Of course, Andrew literally is Liars’ voice—it’s his slightly pained gothic intonations and murky lyrics that drive the songs, after all—but new single “Cred Woes” exposes it in a new way. With just an arpeggiated synth loop, a door-slamming drum sample, and some minimal guitar pings (save for the moment when they briefly ape “My Sharona”), it creates an unusually sparse environment that suggests this Liars album will, once again, be something completely new. Still sounds like Liars, though.
Radiohead, “Man Of War”
Thanks to a handful of deluxe re-releases (or internet sharing, if we’re going way back and being honest about it), most of Radiohead’s non-album material has been easily accessible for a while, and after A Moon Shaped Pool, which included studio versions of several unreleased tracks, even the list of mythological songs the band had played a few times and never put to tape was beginning to dwindle. Of the ones still out in the ether, I was always most fascinated by the swirling, ominous tune known both as “Man Of War” and “Big Boots,” so when it was announced that a finished version would be released on the OK Computer 20th anniversary remaster, I freaked out. What you get on OKNOTOK is, as you’d expect, a much prettier, densely arranged version of the bootlegs fans have been passing around for years. As Thom Yorke sings about paranoia and cakes made of eyes, the spindly guitar lick and its gentle piano counterpart make way for brawny, fuzzed-out guitars and a dramatic orchestra accompaniment. It’s more of a James Bond theme than the band’s actual James Bond theme would turn out to be.
Ronald Jenkees, “Throwing Fire”
It’s an accepted rule of my life at this point that I only find new music in the most stereotypically dorky of ways: TV theme songs, podcasts, even video games. The latter is how I stumbled onto the work of YouTube-based electronic artist Ronald Jenkees, who lent a few of his fast-paced, fiercely flowing tracks to a rhythm game I love called Before The Echo (formerly Sequence). Jenkees’ work is a perfect fit for games, actually; although he’s not a chiptunes artist—his sound being generally more modern than Anamanaguchi-style beeps and bloops—his rising keyboard trills capture the bombast and high stakes of a great virtual boss fight. Jenkees trucks in epic bursts of emotion, pursuing melodies that would come off as cheesy if they were deployed with less conviction. His music—especially his 2009 album, Disorganized Fun—sounds like what you’d get if your favorite SNES soundtracks suddenly evolved into the modern age. There are few compliments I can think of that would be higher for me to give.
JAY-Z featuring Beanie Sigel & Scarface, “This Can’t Be Life”
Compelled by the ongoing pain in the ass of streaming-platform exclusivity as well as JAY-Z’s inimitable ability to combine his album releases with cellular telephone marketing, I have found myself, in the past week, a newly minted Tidal customer. It’s fine; the audio quality is probably better, and I can listen to any millennial JAY-Z album I want to now. Those pre-Blueprint records still sound damn good to these ears, and the posse-rich Dynasty record from 2000, in particular, is prime Roc-A-Fella-era glossy radio rap. Most notably: “This Can’t Be Life,” featuring a wailing old-soul head-nodder from Kanye West in his first collaboration with Jay. They lock in for that distinctive blend of melancholy and heart-sick nostalgia that Jay has since jettisoned completely, but here it’s still rich with possibility for the rapper. And because this was literally the year 2000, Beanie Sigel shows up for a burly-as-hell guest verse, all before Scarface booms a heartbreaking coda. Jay used to drop records like this every year!
Dan Bern, “Tiger Woods”
This weekend I spent over 16 hours in a car with four friends to and from a wedding in Nashville. Before we departed, we decided to create a massive, 400-song playlist that would ensure everyone’s tastes could be catered to on the long drive. Of course, when participating in such an endeavor, it’s common to throw a couple of curveballs into the mix, songs that will literally stop the conversation, only to themselves become the subject of later conversations. Such was the case with one of my song selections: Dan Bern’s “Tiger Woods.” Released before Y2K and produced by Ani DiFranco, “Tiger Woods” would be requested twice more on the road trip after its first play (and inspire a fervent sing-along that third and final rotation), which makes sense. The first time you hear it, you can’t quite make sense of it, and perhaps you’ll wrongly dismiss its testicular and cunnilingual subject matter as a Stephen Lynch-style comedy song. Then the second time you listen, you grasp Bern’s dry and dark wit, a wit that granted him the opportunity to pen several of the fictional songs in Walk Hard, including personal favorite “(Have You Heard the News) Dewey Cox Died.” By the time you hear it a third time, you can’t help but sing along, as you’ve committed the lyrics to memory, like some twisted nursery rhyme that you’ve seemingly always known.