The 20th century saw a verdant tapestry of sounds emerging from Brazil, presenting a rich variety of approaches to the essential rhythmic underpinnings in South American music that constantly evolved with the political landscape of the times. But of the many different styles and perspectives that Brazil has gifted us over the years, none are so enchanting, so tranquil, and so forlorn as the smooth sound of bossa nova music.Exemplified by its jazzy sense of repose and shuffling nylon-guitar picking, bossa nova was coined by João Gilberto in the mid-1950s when he wrote the amusingly slight “Bim-Bom,” a representation of the women he would see passing by the São Francisco river with loads of laundry balanced on their heads, the baskets swaying with their hips in a delightful rhythm. The genre would spawn a cross-cultural musical conversation, with local heroes like Antônio Carlos Jobim and Bola Sete mingling with American converts like Vince Guaraldi and Stan Getz, leading to an increased interest in the genre throughout the ‘60s that eventually culminated in Brazil’s psychedelia-fuelled Tropicália movement.Though those unfamiliar with bossa nova may relegate it to the forsaken category of lounge music, its sound is subtle and powerful, as demanding of its musicians as it is accommodating for the listener, evoking the tender beauty of nature in the same breath that it laments the simple pains and heartbreak of everyday life. It may have fallen by the wayside as Brazilian music continued to blossom into other exciting shapes and colors over the years, but the magic of bossa nova is that its calming spirit can resonate with anybody curious enough to gaze a little more closely into its winsome foliage.
In the 10 years since London’s enigmatic Burial released his boundary-breaking sophomore LP Untrue, the face of electronic music has changed dramatically. Not only have new arenas opened up for ambient-leaning producers to bring their experimental soundscapes into the spotlight, but the divisions between such typically at-home forms of listening and more club-oriented sounds have continued to blur. Though his releases seem to come less and less frequently, Burial’s thumbprint still courses through dance music today, whether in his haunting, intimate use of vocal samples, his brisk, tactile beats, or his free wandering into the kind of ethereal abstraction usually reserved for avant-garde composers.Part of what made Burial’s sound on Untrue so inspiring was his willingness to tackle original rhythms, without regard for what scenes he might be breaching. At turns reminiscent of house, garage, dubstep, and hardcore, Untrue is as bracingly pulsing as it is forlorn and relaxed, capturing the sounds of dance music at their most provocative, enveloping, romantic, and pain-ridden all at once. You can hear his influence in the dark nightclub ruminations of Dean Blunt, the grimy bass sculptures of Andy Stott, the ethereal beatmaking of Jamie xx, and even the minimal rhythms of latter-day Radiohead—all of whom have taken his blueprint for emotional, mysterious dance music and carried it valiantly forward into the future. Burial left an undeniable mark on music with Untrue, and with this playlist, we explore the many ways that his vision lives on today.
Few bands greeted the new millennium with as much pure pizzaz as The Go! Team did when they emerged out of Brighton in 2004. Fronted by mastermind Ian Parton and featuring a rotating cast of members (most notably Ninja, who delivers most of the group’s irresistibly upbeat raps), The Go! Team stood apart from many of their indie-rock peers with their eclectic, overflowing cauldron of influences and sounds, drawing on everything from English big beat to classic film scores to ‘90s college rock to left-field hip-hop. Approaching their craft with the diligence of crate-diggers, The Go! Team’s music channels all the relentless joy of an elementary-school playground, their sing-songy melodies and marching-band exuberance freely mashing together samples and styles until the resulting product feels as if it’s about to burst.Part of the magic of The Go! Team is how the band is able to stir all their scattered sources of inspiration together into something that feels effortlessly cohesive, their cheer-leading celebration rock sounding as though it were the kind of thing that just always existed in the sunny side of our imagination. But a peek into their influences unveils a wonderland of varying artists and styles, a plane where the Beastie Boys can shoot hoops with Ennio Morricone, and Deerhoof might get caught stealing Pokémon cards from The Prodigy. With their new album, Semicircle, arriving on January 19, we took the opportunity to assemble a roll call of The Go! Team’s many muses, charting the ways that the band has connected the dots between everyone from Happy Mondays to The 5th Dimension, and, in the process, forming a compendium of feel-good music for the ages. One, two, three, GO!!!!
Where oh where did all the dance-punk bands go? In the first decade of the new millennium, amid the countless other genres that looked back at older music through rosy glasses (chillwave, freak folk, neo-psychedelia), few dominated both the mainstream charts as well as the underground as heavily as dance-punk did. Though the sound’s essential properties came down to a fusion of punk and disco, its purveyors ranged from award-collecting pretty-boys (Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chefs) to aging hipsters carving out new territory (LCD Soundsystem, Le Tigre). Some groups leaned more heavily into their funk forebears (Electric Six, VHS Or Beta), while others embraced a pop-friendly mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation, shooting for the festival stages while riding a steady wave of blog buzz (Matt And Kim, Two Door Cinema Club).Though often fairly accessible (it is dance music after all), bands that practised the sound often thrived on an indie-schooled sense of cool, never straying too far from their rock roots as they attempted to bring guitar music into the 21st century. You can still hear the echoes of the sound in indie rock today, even if most of its original architects have been left by the wayside. But with dance-punk luminaries Franz Ferdinand returning in February with their fifth album, Always Ascending, we took the time to revisit some of the genre’s most definitive moments. Hit play, and bust out those MySpace moves.
One of the beauties of living in an era of hyper-technology is that it’s never been easier to dumpster dive through the musical annals of history for hidden treasure. But while anyone can go mining through YouTube for gold, it takes a special breed to wade through the mysterious waters of reissues. Hunting down long-lost artists and restoring their precious masters to life is a tricky business, but label Light In The Attic has led the reissue revolution with panache since setting up shop in Seattle in 2002.Perhaps the most interesting quality of Light In The Attic’s reissues is the spiritual kinship that so many of their artists share. LITA’s records have a folkish, proletariat quality to them, not only because so many of their releases fall under the Americana banner, but also in the way they expose the struggles of everyday artists who never truly caught the spotlight—or in some cases, purposely avoided it. Whether it’s in the fiery political incantations of The Last Poets, the indigenous songwriters populating the Native North America compilation, or the honky-tonk surrealism of Lee Hazlewood, Light In The Attic searches for humanity in the under-exposed and reveals the alternate histories of our musical traditions that have been happening all along, right under our noses.Though tackling a catalog as wide and diverse as theirs is an unruly challenge, this playlist highlights some of the wonderful music that Light In The Attic has brought to our attention over the years, and also illustrates the spirit that connects these forgotten visions. Take a listen, and remember that sometimes the greatest voices are those least heard.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
Staying a step ahead of the competition is always tricky business, but electronic music presents a particularly unique challenge. As a genre dependent on the advancements of technology, it markets itself as the sound of the future, yet as we continue to develop advanced machinery at an increasingly frantic pace, this music has a tendency to date itself more rapidly than other forms. What’s more quaint than listening to music that purports to be cutting edge long after our cultural standards have surpassed its once-lofty goals?Warp Records has never had an issue with releasing timeless music. Formed in Sheffield, England, in 1989, Warp has built one of the most imposing and consistently challenging catalogs, not just in electronic, but in all types of music. Although Warp does pride itself on exposing strange, exciting new sounds, the artists it fosters are equally concerned with creating work that stands on its own two legs, regardless of what instruments were used to produce it. It’s music built as much for the dance floor as for your living room, not to mention Warp’s various detours into schizo-rap, indie-prog, dance-tent EDM, and whatever the hell Gonjasufi is supposed to be. Most of all, Warp has gracefully avoided the trap of desperately chasing after bandwagons to hop on, choosing instead to take chances on radical voices from the underground and give them plenty of room to push their work to wild new extremes.Though electronic music is at the mercy of technology to some extent, the human imagination has no limits. Take a tour through Warp Records’ expansive legacy, and remember that the future is always now.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
It’s a sign of the accelerated times we’re living in that a subculture as specific to Chicago as footwork has already mutated into an unfurling landscape of electronic producers all over the world. The genre has come a long way from its dance-off roots and, with each passing year its hyperactive DIY ethos seems to evolve further and further, splintering into separate factions that each take a different approach to footwork’s simple and freeing framework.The footwork sound is one of those magical things that’s hard to put precisely into words, but whether it’s in the scattered bass pulses of RP Boo (pictured), the schizophrenic loop madness of Foodman, or the cascading drum samples of Jlin, you just know it when you hear it. So take a stroll through our collection of the various faces representing footwork today, and see just how many different ways there are to move.
We’ve all heard the grievances lobbed at Auto-Tune before; that it’s a stand-in for actual talent, that it strips away any humanity from a singer’s voice, that it just doesn’t sound good, etc. Towards the end of the ‘00s, the technology developed such a negative stigma that everybody from JAY Z to Death Cab for Cutie was taking public shots at it, fretting over the implication that a musician might be able to modify their voice in order to make better music. Call it a plea for authenticity, or perhaps just fear of a changing world, but when Auto-Tune began to dominate pop music, many treated it more like an epidemic than a novel sonic trend.Needless to say, many artists have embraced the vocal technology with aplomb, and over the past several years we’ve seen some incredible work done in the field of vocal manipulation that could not exist were it not for everyone’s favorite pitch-corrector. Like any great electronic software, the magic isn’t really in the tools but the hands that use them. And with Auto-Tune in particular, the possibilities are ripe for contorting and inflating the human voice to extraterrestrial levels, whether in the mainstream or in the underground.Respects must be paid to Kanye West, who were it not for his 2008 cybernetic reinvention statement 808s & Heartbreak or his 2010 masterpiece “Runaway” (the crowning vocal finale of which may be Auto-Tune’s finest moment), the sound certainly would not have taken root in the way that it has today. Whether it’s in the basement rap shenanigans of Lil Yachty and Sicko Mobb (whose digitized vocals soar with ecstatic, lovable amateurism), or in the dystopic, self-loathing warbles of Future, it often feels like Auto-Tune has become a tool for distorting and reinventing pop vocals rather than perfecting them, unveiling new depths in between the unnaturally shifting notes. Even breakout indie figures like Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver have gleefully taken to the tool, further blurring the lines of what kinds of music we commonly associate with the sound.Much of the original gripe with Auto-Tune had to do with the sense of synthetic plasticity associated with just having a computer smooth out all of your melodies for you. It’s a completely natural instinct to crave that tactile, irreplaceable feel that comes with music made wholly from scratch, to say nothing of our society’s general paranoia over encroaching technological dependency. But the goal of art should always be to speak honestly, using whatever means are necessary to achieve that goal. In an age where artificiality rules the day, where human nature has become so deeply intertwined with algorithmic machinery, is it possible that a technology designed to turn our imperfections into beautiful music could be one of the most real things we have at our disposal?
A modern-day punk label if there ever was one, Sacred Bones has been doing serious work since forming in Brooklyn in 2007, not only to unearth strange new sounds bubbling from the underground, but to reframe the very concept of what punk music is in the 21st century. They may adhere to a very rigid aesthetic framework (almost all their releases come with the full tracklist and recording details listed right there on the cover, along with their trademark ouroboros), but in terms of sound they couldn’t be a harder collective to pin down. Ghostly folk balladeers like Marissa Nadler and Amen Dunes take a seat next to ear-bleeding noise concoctions from Pharmakon and Pop. 1280, while rootsy indie rockers like The Men and Case Studies saddle up with mind-altering musical works from cult film directors like David Lynch and John Carpenter. It’s a strange scene—a sort of neo-goth coalescence of various genres and styles that come together in the name of worshiping the dark god of underground music.Even with such a far-reaching catalog of artists calling the label home, it’s not difficult to get into the zone with Sacred Bones’ distinct brand of homegrown black magic. Hit play to take our tour of the label’s greatest musical offerings, and see just how many different ways punk music can sound today.
Josh Homme may very well be one of the last true rock stars to break through to the mainstream without ever really selling out. From his early, sun-baked days as a member of sludge-metal outfit Kyuss to his current status as a Billboard 200 shredder who gets called on to write licks for Lady Gaga, Homme has truly carved out his own special niche in the music world. And make no mistake; he is the god of that niche.It’s easy to understand why Homme has been able to climb such heights with his filthy-yet-welcoming approach to rock. Homme is like a fine-tuning pop songsmith who just happens to be that leering guy at the corner of the bar who wouldn’t think twice about decking you right in front of everybody. His riffs may be gnarly, but they’re wound tight as a spring, and as tough as he might sound in his music, he never crosses over into the kind of aggro-metal territory that usually scares outsiders away. Homme sits at a unique intersection in music: He’s a genuine guitar hero who doesn’t need to tread along the outer extremes of heaviness in order to get a festival crowd banging their heads in excitement, but he’s never had to dumb his music down, either.Between Queens of the Stone Age and his various other musical projects, Homme has made an undeniable mark on modern music as one of the few rockers still finding success doing it completely his own way. Though he may have cleaned his sound up since his formative time in Kyuss, it’s only been in service of making it thrash even harder, and opening up the beauty of brutality to listeners who might not normally dip into such heavy waters. As a toast to Homme’s surprising, rewarding career in rock, we’ve put together a collection that embodies his unique, enduring ethos.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.