On Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ 25 years later

Released in July 1997, Radiohead’s third album coincided with the rise of fan boys on AOL chat rooms to marshal support for a suite of grunting and in places intentionally misshapen songs that delineated a dystopia few were seeing, pre-millennium tension notwithstanding. I lived in London that summer, and I’d hear “Paranoid Android” in taxisContinue reading “On Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ 25 years later”

I was just frontin’: The best Pharrell Williams productions

Re-listening to the Kelis and Ludacris tracks on my list, I thought, “Holy shit, the early 2000s sound as date stamped as Nick Rhodes’ Minimoog on ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’” So long as he confines the falsetto to brief punctuative bursts, Pharrell is a welcome presence on singles, an expert synthesist of Bad-era Michael JacksonContinue reading “I was just frontin’: The best Pharrell Williams productions”

Affectionately choosing the moment: Jorge Ben Jor

A member of the Brazilian generation that produced the febrile imaginings of Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania, Tom Ze, Milton Nascimento, and Caetano Veloso, the former Jorge Duílio Lima Menezes perfected a vigorously strummed bossa nova variant inflected with samba. Jor reigned as a first-class bandleader whose songs gallop toward destinations suggested by the melodies andContinue reading “Affectionately choosing the moment: Jorge Ben Jor”

Coping: The Weeknd and Earl the Sweatshirt

The Weeknd – Dawn FM When Abel Tesfaye lapses into his conception of an English accent on “Gasoline,” ignore the reflex to mock. Silly and ear-pricking, bad English accents have served as channels through which dance performers have absorbed the legacy of a generation of UK mopesters and miserabilists. The Human League’s Phil Oakey isContinue reading “Coping: The Weeknd and Earl the Sweatshirt”

Ronnie Spector — RIP

Blessed with a voice whose appetite — for love, religion, more love — never saw its vigor dimmed, the greatest of the early ’60s singers acquired the wisdom of an adult while keeping the ebullience of an adolescent. The Ronettes’ catalog remains astonishing: with the help of producer/scourge Phil Spector, Ronnie and her mates gaveContinue reading “Ronnie Spector — RIP”

November reading

“By my values,” he writes, “the thesis of this book is an American tragedy,” Jefferson Cowie writes in The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics . The forty-year period during which New Deal politics dominated American civil life, Cowie writes, happened under world-historic conditions whose consequences rattled leaders on theContinue reading “November reading”

Art’s in pop culture, in me: The best of Lady Gaga

Remember those turn-of-the decade articles about Lady Gaga as an artist of singular recombinant power? She was supposed to be that generation’s Madonna. I didn’t hear it — not in her uneven albums or increasingly blah singles, which sported hooks and a sense of themselves as events without establishing themselves as usurpers. Nevertheless, she ownedContinue reading “Art’s in pop culture, in me: The best of Lady Gaga”

R.E.M’s ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ twenty-five years later

I have no idea whether Michael Stipe reveres Joni Mitchell as much as Patti Smith. Maybe he doesn’t. Listening to New Adventures in Hi-Fi summons Hejira, Mitchell’s 1976 album about flight — what she called the refuge of the road. The wide-openness comes through in the arrangements. The percussive hardness of Mitchell’s guitar keeps theContinue reading “R.E.M’s ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ twenty-five years later”

I’m on a lonely road that leads to nowhere: The best songs about the weekend

“The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure,” Gang of Four wondered in 1979, echoing Theodor Adorno’s trenchant several decades earlier in “Free Time”. “The reason why people can actually do little with their free time is that the truncation of their imagination deprives them of the faculty which made the state of freedom pleasurableContinue reading “I’m on a lonely road that leads to nowhere: The best songs about the weekend”