Whoever put together those Thom Yorke remix singles had a good ear. Maybe it was Thom, maybe it was longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, maybe it was some anonymous A&R person at XL. Whatever the case, each EP has its own sensibility and stands alone.
(I'm sure the whole set will eventually be released as one of those "remix collections" I always regard with a mild, queasy horror in stores; too much of my impressionable youth was spent listening to crappy industrial and techno remixes to ever fully trust the concept of a remix album. That's too bad, because in this case I think the 3 remix EPs add up to something more interesting than the album being remixed, even though trying to sequence them into a cohesive single-disc collection is going to be challenging.)
Anyway, the EP currently playing features a Four Tet remix of "Atoms for Peace" that contributes to the gradual erosion of my conviction that Four Tet is yet another crappy Kruder & Dorfmeister clone (previous hat tip to Four Tet: including Quickspace Supersport's "Superplus", the best song Stereolab never recorded, on Four Tet's DJ Kicks mix). It's loose-limbed and yearning, and has a considerably lighter tone than the original.
It's coupled with two separate remixes by Cristian Vogel, who can release a new Super_Collider album whenever he and Jamie Liddell feel like it, because Liddell has demonstrated to my satisfaction that his white-boy soul act is not nearly as fun without Vogel's eccentric, rubbery basslines backing him up, and the second Super_Collider album, while not nearly as fun as the first, is way better than no Super_Collider at all. The Vogel remixes here feature two entirely different takes on Yorke's "Black Swan", the former a pensive electronic haze, the latter being more beat-oriented and sketchy. I prefer the first, but the second has those rubbery basslines I love so much.
Q: How the fuck did I end up with five Akimbo records? How does "Dungeon Bastard" manage to live up to its monumentally ridiculous title? How can I take a hardcore band seriously if it's going to stick a 3-minute drum solo into the middle of the album? How can I not? How many loose, loud and loaded albums are these guys going to release before I get tired of them?
A: Dunno. By being super fucking catchy and loud. Because. I guess I can't. All of them.
When I heard Thom Yorke's solo work back to back with Radiohead's Hail to the Thief just now (thanks, iPod!), it really struck me how underrated Hail to the Thief is. Thom's voice is the main constant between the two ventures, and his singing has always been the most distinctive part of Radiohead's sound, but when I hear the full band come in behind him in "2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm)", it becomes self-evident how integral everyone is. There is very little about this album that is anything less than deft and assured. Its problem, as far as I can tell, is that it's too self-effacing and seamless, and given the explicit political context in which it was released, people (including me) were expecting something more balls-out (or political – for all the posturing, this is as inward-looking an album as Radiohead's ever made). Or maybe we were just expecting more of a decisive break after the diptych Kid A and Amnesiac. Either way, there's a lot going on here, most of it interesting.
On a tangent: it always seems to take me a couple years to get into each Radiohead record. First I think it's massively overrated, then I get sort of annoyed with how many avant garde moves Radiohead are stealing from lesser-known, more experimental bands, then I notice all the little details tucked into the corners, then I start waking up with bits of songs stuck in my head, then I find myself just flat-out enjoying the album from start to finish. I have no idea why they're so popular. They're one of the least user-friendly popular bands I've ever heard.
On a whim, I picked up the recent remix releases for Thom Yorke's The Eraser, never having heard the original album. It was mostly on the strength of the remixers, or rather on the strength of Surgeon and Burial's names. I'd already heard the Surgeon remix in one of his semi-legendary DJ sets, which actually works better on its own than in the mix (Thom's singing is too narrative to work in a set of the kind of micro-precise, 1-bar techno / dubstep / electro Surgeon prefers), so mostly I was wondering how the Burial mix turned out. And hey presto, it turns out to be a Burial song. And a Thom Yorke song. The two songs aren't completely immiscible, but there's less meshing than simple mixing. Nevertheless, I love it, because I love how Yorke imparts a contradictory sense of urgency and resignation to the vocals, and I've yet to hear Burial to do his thing in a way that's not almost oppressively lovely. He could very easily run out of gas with this schtick, but he hasn't yet.
Speaking of music with which I have an obsessive relationship, I find myself wondering what, exactly, happened to Wire between Pink Flag and 154. Wire's debut album is all tense, dry minimalism, bitten-off cynicism and single-serving songwriting. Their third album, released only two years later (and shortly before the initial attempt at the band imploded -- what came back is still one of my favorite bands, but a very different entity), is a cold maze of serpentine paths dead-ending into miasmic bogs. Very pretty miasmic bogs full of exotic plants and mallards, but there's definitely more chill than pop here. It's a masterful product of the studio.
Wire's one of those chameleonic bands that has been through so many phases that people have completely lost sight of how remarkable their constant reinvention has been. Pink Flag is recognizably a post-punk product, but next to 154, Magazine at their coldest sounds like a bunch of fuzzy bunnies, and at least Public Image's seminally dour Second Edition sounds human. I love 154 without reservation (there are very few albums I have listened to more over the course of my life), but it is a very forbidding monument. How did they develop into something so forbidding, austere and coherent so quickly?
I have most of the Severed Heads catalog loaded onto my iPod, and every so often I find myself wondering if, just maybe, I've listened to this stuff enough for one lifetime. But then a song like "Goodbye" (from Cuisine) comes on, and its combination of repetitive weirdness, electronic precision and unapologetic poppiness reminds me why I have all their stuff in the first place. That song's just so effortlessly beautiful, and there's more than a few handsful of songs just like it scattered throughout their output. Tom Ellard is a mostly unsung pop genius.
Listening to Unpersons reminds me of how much I miss the Jesus Lizard. Listening to Daughters often makes me feel the same way.
The newest Darkthrone, F.O.A.D. (no prize for guessing the acronym), sounds more like Darkthrone than ever before. It seems like they've finally found a way to combine their original, raw black metal sound with the devil-may-care (ha! ha!) punky thrash / thrashy punk of The Cult Is Alive or Sardonic Wrath. They're as tongue-in-cheek as ever, from the thudding midtempo musicology lecture that is "Canadian Metal" to the drily sarcastic potshots Fenris (the chief songwriter) takes at Nocturno Culto (the only other band member) in the liner notes. They absolutely have a formula, and they have it down cold, and they don't care if you don't like it. They're more likely to get on a plane and fly to your home town so they can piss on your lawn than they are to apologize for making music you don't like, or think isn't blackened enough, or whatever pointless, stupid complaints you feel like making. Ulver once tried to pull off this kind of truer than trve kvlt attitude and it came across as amusingly pseudo-intellectual bullshit (even though Nattens Madrigal is still a total kick in the pants); with Darkthrone there's only a faint whiff of meta hanging around, and by F.O.A.D. it's almost completely gone.
The Best of Tunnel Vision is basically Wiley spitting a whole lot of confrontational, charmless battle rhymes. Given that even Wiley thinks that MCing isn't his strong suit, I have to wonder who thought putting out a 46-track double CD compilation of London E3 road chat, freestyles and remixes was a good idea. I've made it through the whole thing twice and it's been a long haul each time. Mixtapes (grime, hip-hop, techno, what-have-you) work best if they are grounded in an immediate context (a radio show, a lazy afternoon at the studio with a bunch of MCs, some kind of conceptual hook). JME can crank out new mixtapes for Boy Better Know forever, as far as I'm concerned, and they'll all be engaging and fresh – even when he cranks out 45 minutes of halfassed funky house, at least it's all his and it isn't hard on the ears. But the condensed, dismembered, "best-of" approach on display here isn't working. Mostly it makes me want to listen to the backing tracks (including Various Production's excellent "Hater" and a whole buttload of Wiley's own, classic productions) on their own.
I find it remarkable that few (if any) reviews have highlighted the fact that PJ Harvey's newest album is basically a concept piece about abortion and desolation. Does nobody listen to the words anymore?
It's a beautiful and strange record, seeming like nothing so much as an album-length exploration of a single obscure piece of Harvey's very broad range. And its subject matter is both strong and not very veiled. It's a brave piece of work, and evidence that Harvey still hasn't stopped growing, as much as disappointments like Uh Huh Her might have indicated otherwise.