On Double Booked, his 2009 concept album for Blue Note records, pianist Robert Glasper played around with the idea of being torn between two venues-slash-identities: the dance club and the jazz hall. The first half of Booked found Glasper playing in a hard-swinging acoustic trio anchored by his fearsome piano chops. (That’s where he turned it loose on Monk’s “Think of One.”) And the second half of this double-album set was the debut of Glasper’s electric-fusion “Experiment” ensemble. (This is the band that frequently works with emcees like Snoop Dogg and Yasiin Bey, as well as R&B talents like Erykah Badu and Brandy.) The brief skits on Double Booked were meant to be excerpts from messages left on Glasper’s voicemail (ah, the 2000s!), evidence of different collaborators pulling an over-stretched keyboardist in one stylistic direction or another.But the not-so-well-kept secret is that this creative hustle is the way Glasper prefers to live his artistic life. He signaled his interest in blowing past archaic genre-divisions back in 2007, on his trio album In My Element — also known as the album where he created a medley from Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place.” Since then, he’s used his supposedly “jazz coded” acoustic trio to cover works by Kendrick Lamar (“I’m Dying of Thirst”), while also putting some extended, exploratory soloing into his “Experiment” ensemble (see that group’s performance of the Glasper original tune “Festival”). On the occasion of Glsaper’s latest release with the Experiment, we’ve collected some of his best compositions and performances, whether they draw inspiration from pop, rock, rap, jazz—or all of the above. Naturally, we’ve included his bravura guest-artist appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, too.
Subscribe to the Spotify playlist here.Just as the Flamers mixtape series from 2008 to 2010 made Meek Mill the toast of Philadelphia, the Dreamchasers series became the franchise that made him a national star. The first volume in 2011 celebrated Meek’s signing to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group and featured his breakthrough single “Ima Boss,” as well as the first of his narrative “Tony Story” tracks, demonstrating the MC’s commanding voice and his chemistry with Philly producer Jahlil Beats. 2012’s Dreamchasers 2 was so highly anticipated that its arrival crashed the servers of mixtape sites, and 2013’s third installment was a star-studded affair with multiple appearances from Nicki Minaj and French Montana. And 2016’s DC4 was a confident comeback after a year of beef and controversy.
Click here to add to Spotify playlist!For over two decades, R. Kelly has been brimming with ideas. In addition to the hundreds of original songs he’s penned, he often revisits his own singles, adding entirely new lyrics, beats, and melodies on remixes. Many of these, such as “Bump N’ Grind (Old School Mix)” and “Down Low (Nobody Has To Know) - Live To Regret It Mix,” became quiet-storm radio staples in their own right, while “Step In the Name of Love (Remix)” even eclipsed the original cut in popularity.In modern rap and R&B, remixes typically add guests to bring extra star power, like R. Kelly’s single version of “Did You Ever Think,” which features Nas. But even “Fiesta (Remix),” with verses from JAY Z and Boo and Gotti, features an update of a beat from the Trackmasters and a rewritten chorus. When writing original hooks for other artists, Kelly goes above and beyond, providing two distinct versions of Cassidy’s “Hotel” and Twista’s “So Sexy.”“Ignition (Remix)” is, of course, the most famous of all R. Kelly remixes, with a dancehall spin on the original track’s groove that almost abandons the song’s automobile-themed metaphor for a string of whimsical riffs. The original and the remix are meant to be heard together as one six-minute epic, as presented on 2003’s Chocolate Factory—and, in hindsight, 2001’s “Feelin’ On Yo Booty (Hypnosis Mix)” can be seen as a dry run for many of the melodic and rhythmic ideas heard on “Ignition (Remix).” Kelly’s revisions have spawned their own compilations—like 2005’s Remix City Volume 1—but our three-hour playlist brings together his remixes, their original tracks, and more. And with R.’s recent overhaul of the 1993 hit “Your Body’s Callin’,” it’s clear that he’ll always be willing to apply a fresh coat of paint to his masterpieces.
A wide-ranging combination of Latin folklore and Anglo alt-rock form the crux of Latin alternative music. As inventive players paved paths to niche subcultures that shifted further from mainstream pop, rock and Latin regionalism over the years, they also opened up an immense portal of global yet Latin-minded formations. Whether artists pulled from radio-friendly pop (e.g. Paulina Rubio, Mariah Carey) or their parents’ classic rock (e.g., Los Locos del Ritmo, Elvis), this bicultural/multicultural recipe inspired game-changers to create a like-minded identity, with plenty of attitude.From vintage-synth-loving Chileans like Javiera Mena, Gepe, or Alex Anwandter producing rosey-tinted indie-pop, to electro-folkloric producers in Argentina (Chancha Via Circuito), Colombia (Bomba Estéreo), Ecuador (Nicola Cruz), and Peru (Dengue Dengue Dengue) ushering in a new digital cumbia enigma, the ever-elastic art form is essentially without boundaries.So what does it mean for brown-eyed soul troubadours like Chicano Batman to grow up on low-rider funk and Motown-style oldies at an L.A. swap meet? Or Mexican charro-clad rockeros Mexrrissey finding kinship with melancholic Manchester pop icon Morrissey? Or even Cuban/Puerto Rican soulstress Xenia Rubinos displaying an affinity for ‘50s-era jazz chanteuses and open-mic MCs alike? From hip-hop to electronic to folk and urban, this Latin-rooted concoction continues to flourish and take unprecedented shapes throughout the Americas and Spain.By no means is this a comprehensive list of the scene’s countless configurations, but instead a starting point for newcomers to explore Latin alternative’s numerous stylistic configurations, and to familiarize themselves with the compelling works of Latinx artists of Latin America, the diaspora, and beyond. (Heads up: you won’t find any Shakiras, Romeo Santos, or J. Los here.)
When rock made its entry into Latin America many moons ago (notably around the time Elvis Presley debuted in the continent during the ‘50s), it spawned a bevy of “refried Elvises” or imitators replicating The King’s style but with Spanish lyrics. Most Latin American bands spent decades aping the rock aesthetic coming out of America and the U.K., until the ‘80s. An unprecedented approach to the style took shape and musicians began to finally embrace their roots, fusing anything from brass melodies to boleros to cumbias and sones—all against traditional rock instrumentation—thus acquiring their own musical identity. Groups like Argentinean dance-punk agitators Todos Tus Muertos, Spain’s New Wave provocateurs Radio Futura, and Mexican dark-wave cumbieros Caifanes are among the slew of innovators to unflinchingly mix regional styles with rock arrangements.
While the rock en español forefathers of the 1980s laid the groundwork for the south-of-the-border movement (Spain included), it took until the following decade for the scene to explode globally. Each project stood as its own original fusion: Mexico’s Maldita Vecindad, armed with a boisterous sax, adopted pachuco swagger; Chile’s Los Prisioneros made rebellious synth-punk; Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs created rowdy murga-driven ska; and Spain/France’s Manu Chao spreaded lover’s-rock bohemianism. The foundations, however, were similar: Each rebellious outfit delivered their own socio-political agenda while commanding the dance floor, or mosh pit.
As the scene reconfigured approaching the new millennium, acts who showed insatiable lasting power (like Café Tacvba, Babasónicos, Zoé) branched out of the then-tiresome rock en español category, and joined the new cohort of Latin alternative iconoclasts. Labels like Nacional Records, the forward-thinking U.S.-based Latin alternative imprint, helped to solidify this new movement. They housed luminary groups like Nortec Collective, a DJ/producer crew from Tijuana who mash-up norteñas and techno; the feisty Bomba Estéreo, who took electro-cumbias outside of Colombia; and French-Chilean rapper/poetess Ana Tijoux, who brought silky smooth rap verses that resonate across the diaspora. Others like ZZK Records—the Buenos Aires digital cumbia collective that began as an underground party—gathered electro-folk-minded DJ/producers like Chancha via Circuito, Frikstailers, and Lagartigeando. Santiago’s Quemasucabeza capitalized on the aforementioned rising electro-pop scene of Chile. And Monterrey, Mexico had its own alternative boom called la avanzada regia (a scene the channeled a similar spirit as Seattle’s grunge movement). It birthed the wild dance rock of Plastilina Mosh, Control Machete’s vicious rap-punk, and the electro-rock brilliance of Kinky.
With the Latin alternative ethos well established, the ever-elastic umbrella continues to mold, expand, and morph into further subgroups. This decade, spectators have witnessed the rise of the singer.songwriter—through Carla Morrison’s wounded confections, Ximena Sariñana’s heartbreaking jazz-pop, or Natalia Lafourcade’s rustic pop elegance. And while Latin trap, reggaetón, and all-things urban keep topping the mainstream charts, underground rap prodigies like Princess Nokia, cholo-goths Prayers, and R&B soulstress Kali Uchis formed a resistance to commercialism, adopting an unflinching mindset that’s on par with the Latin alternative philosophy. Cumbia-gothics (La MiniTK Del Miedo), indie-mambo prodigies (Orkesta Mendoza), Brooklyn baile funk (Zuzuka Poderosa), and unruly punk norteños (e.g. A Band of Bitches, Juan Cirerol)—the beauty of Latin alternative is that it will never be restricted to one beat or style.
Most people don’t really know what a conductor does, and that’s understandable—much of a conductor’s work takes place out of the spotlight. Contrary to the belief held by some that the conductor is a largely dispensable figure who shows up, waves his or her arms for a few hours, and then takes home a big paycheck, the conductor is often the hardest-working member of the orchestra. A great conductor trains for decades to become great, usually mastering at least one instrument at the highest level. Along the way, he or she achieves a thorough knowledge of music history, a mastery of music theory, and an encyclopedic knowledge of how instruments work.Indeed, the conductor has to know each instrument’s part better than its own player does, and must understand how each of those parts can be best actualized. The conductor spends months learning 100-plus page scores, sometimes even memorizing them, in advance of orchestra rehearsals, which occur in the weeks before a performance. While studying the score, the conductor uses their years of experience and knowledge to interpret its contents, drawing from academic literature as well as recorded music to make executive decisions about phrasing, tempo, dynamics, rhythm, temporality, balance, and countless other aspects. In this sense, every performance of a work is a unique interpretation, even if, on the surface, many sound the same. Once the conductor shows up on stage on the night of the concert, he or she has spent many hours rehearsing that night’s piece with the orchestra, who will be playing, for better or worse, the way the conductor has instructed them to.Conductors are also responsible for selecting the music their orchestra plays, and the ones on this list—compiled by the BBC’s classical-music.com site—have surely been indispensable to the unfolding of music history over the past century. Mahler, for example, may never have become popular in the United States if Leonard Bernstein hadn’t obsessed over his music in the 1960s, producing the first complete recorded cycle of the composer’s symphonies. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and John Eliot Gardiner are both well-known for their important contributions not only to recorded music, but to the scholarship, advancing philosophies of historical performance practice and often insisting that their ensembles use historically accurate instruments. These two conductors seek to deliver interpretations that come from tireless academic study of both the source material and the conventions of its time period. Pierre Boulez was an austere conductor whose interpretations of modern and postmodern music cut to the chase, favoring transparency and clarity over large romantic gestures; some called him cold, while others said he was second-to-none in putting the emphasis on the musical material instead of catering to the emotions of the audience. Point being: Conductors are often (but not always!) rich thinkers who make important decisions about how, when, where, and why we hear music.We should take this list as authoritative, since the BBC polled 100 of the most important living conductors to create it, from Vladimir Ashkenazy to Michael Tilson Thomas. Fans of classical music have argued for years over the qualities and failures of this or that performance or recording, often descending into semantic insanity; however, few would argue that anyone on this list isn’t great. Use this playlist as a jumping-off point to venture forth and decide for yourself: Do you prefer Kleiber’s Brahms 4, or Harnoncourt’s? Furtwängler’s Bruckner 8, or Boulez’s? For Mahler: Bernstein or Abbado? Ultimately everyone has their own opinion of which conductor is the greatest, but the experts have spoken, and these are their selections.
Over the past two years, there’s been such a remarkable abundance of great music by female artists in the overlapping territories of alt-country, roots, and Americana that it could fill this playlist many times over. From the folky, sepulchral sounds of Pieta Brown, to the Kitty Wells-style honky-tonk throwbacks of Rachel Brooke, to the raw and tender country blues of Adia Victoria (pictured), it’s a boom time all round.That said, trying to fit a disparate group of artists into a tidy category that’s based in part on their gender can’t help but feel unfairly reductive. Hell, it may even perpetuate the kind of backward sexual politics that persist in the worst of American country music and that many artists understandably buck against. Back in 2014, the duo Maddie & Tae scored a surprise smash with “Girl In A Country Song,” a bouncy piece of C&W pop that doubled as an unusually acerbic satire of the ways women are typically represented by Nashville. “We used to get a little respect,” goes the chorus. “Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck/ Keep our mouths shut and ride along/ And be the girl in a country song.” Three years later, with “bro-country” acts like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and Chase Rice doubling down on innuendo-laden tailgate-party anthems and yet more videos with models in bikinis, mainstream country needs that kind of skewering even more.Lest all this just serve as another reason for alt-country hipsters to feel smug about their superior tastes, even they ought to admit that there ain’t much gender parity when it comes to the artists who generally cross over from the No Depression crowd and gain wider renown and success. After all, there are many more female acts who’ve been just as willing as Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson to pursue a richer, more adventurous kind of artistry than Nashville generally tolerates. They too deserve to garner audiences beyond the flannel-clad roots-music devotees who already recognize the virtues of Rhiannon Giddens’ revamps of old-time spirituals, savor the gilded harmonies of The Trishas, or tremble at the sound of Tift Merritt’s warble.This bounty of talent ranges from newbies like Kacy & Clayton (a Canadian duo who’ve become protégés of Jeff Tweedy) and Molly Burch (an Austinite blessed with a voice whose chilly beauty evokes Patsy Cline and Karen Dalton at their most desolate) to Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer, sisters and alt-country vets who demonstrate their own dexterity by combining covers of Townes Van Zandt and Nirvana on their new album Not Dark Yet. These are the alt-country women you need to hear if you haven’t been so lucky already. Big-hatted bros best take heed.
There’s a tragic feeling of incompleteness to Sharon Jones’ career, and it’s best be summed up with the phrase "discovered too late and gone way too soon." The soul and funk vocalist’s story is a well-told one: a criminally overlooked session powerhouse—who clearly possessed the chops and sheer life-force to be a star when she first turned professional in the ’70s—finally achieves fame in her late-’40s only to have pancreatic cancer claim her life in 2016 at the age of 60. Fortunately for the world, the Grammy-nominated Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, made the most of her all-too-brief stardom, dropping seven stellar studio albums, including the posthumously released Soul of a Woman, recorded as the singer underwent debilitating chemotherapy treatments.What makes the group so unique is their ability to feel unapologetically old-school, yet without any residue of weepy nostalgia. Anchored not just by Jones’ attention-seizing voice, but the group’s agilely stabbing horns and preternaturally metronomic rhythm section as well, their music pops, sizzles, and jumps with a sweaty, determined modernism. (Especially relevant in this context is their funk-spiked reworking of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”) It’s a sound that has exerted a huge impact on 21st-century pop, pushing retro-soul into the mainstream while also making the Dap-Kings, as well as their sister outfit the Dap Kings Horn Section, in-demand session musicians in the same vein as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or the Wrecking Crew.Arguably the first artist to take notice was the late Amy Winehouse, who employed the Dap-Kings when crafting her own fusion of retro and contemporary R&B for 2006’s game-changing Back to Black. The album’s co-producer, Mark Ronson, then used the ensemble’s crack horn section on his massive retro-pop hit “Uptown Funk,” featuring dynamo singer Bruno Mars. More recently, the digitally minded Kesha used those soul-piercing horns on her crushing, feminist anthem “Woman,” from her emotional tour de force Rainbow.But not every session/appearance fits snugly between the poles of R&B and pop—there’s a slew of leftfield examples, too. On her self-titled full-length from 2014, avant-garde singer-songwriter St. Vincent leans heavily on the unswerving pulse of Dap-Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss (who also plays skins for the Dan Auerbach-led Arcs), while her collaborative effort with David Byrne, Love This Giant, weaves their horns into the duo’s art-rock pointillism. Other standouts include The Black Lips, whose garage-punk rave-up Underneath the Rainbow utilizes the services of baritone guitarist Thomas Brenneck and trumpeter David Guy, and country outlaw Sturgill Simpson, who worked with the the Dap-Kings horns on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and then brought them onstage for his 2017 Grammy performance.On top of featuring cuts from each of the artists already mentioned, our playlists dips into the Dap-Kings many related projects (including The Budos Band and Menahan Street Band), as well as veteran soul and funk singers Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, and Rickey Calloway who, like Jones, found a welcoming home on Daptone, easily retro-soul’s most important record label. Of course, the absence left by Jones’ death will forever be felt; she was, after all, a once-in a-generation talent. But it becomes all too clear when exploring this diverse array of songs that her vision and style will continue to echo throughout modern music for a long time to come.
Most people take the apocalypse as an article of faith, but what exactly the apocalypse entails is in the eye of the beholder. Will the universe dissolve and all matter cease to exist, or will the pillaging be more localized? Perhaps the sun will explode. Or, more specifically (and likely), the oceans might rise and drown large swaths of humanity Or maybe the opposite is true, and we’ll simply run out of water like in Mad Max? There are also health issues to consider. What if we develop a mutation that makes a certain portion of society both resistant to death and hungry for human flesh? This seems like a very popular (if scientifically) scenario. Or perhaps it’s a more mundane: maybe we’ll just stop producing babies. Or maybe we’ll slip into a computer-generated virtual reality simulation, with our robot overlords overseeing out inert sleeping bodies. Honestly, I don’t really know how it all will end, and I haven’t given it that much thought, to be honest. But I know someone who has: Bob Dylan. Over the course of his nearly 60 years career, Dylan has written very extensively about extinction events, though his take is always evolving. Initially, Dylan seem to look at the upside of the end of the world. “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” is at-times terrifying in its depiction of the dire aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, but it also left room for the emergence of a visionary poet who would serve as a sortof bohemian Moses to lead his people out of the wilderness (spoiler: the poet is Dylan). The track “When the Ship Comes In” sounds downright celebratory as it imagines a post-racial society, until you realize that this society exists in the ashes of traditional Western civilization. During the mid-‘60s, as Dylan forsook folk for fock n’ roll, the bard imagined the apocalypse as a weird mash-up of Cold War terror, religious zealotry, and pop culture schizophrenia. Tracks such as “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “Highway 61 Revisited” are gleeful, language-melting odes our impending dome. They imagined a society standing on the precipice of mass confusion. In the context of the chaos of the ‘60s social upheaval, these songs were considered prophetic.As the ‘60s wore on, his vision of the apocalypse grew at turns mournful (“All Along the Watchtower) and menacing (“Wheels on Fire”), but it was never far from his mind. In the time sense, he bends the apocalyptic to help further his own pet projects and theories. Doomsday provided great grist for the mill when Dylan was a fire-and-brimstone preached in the late-70s and early 80s. And, when Dylan released a string of brilliant mid-life-sad-sack records in the late 90s and early aughts, apocalyptic imagery helped illuminate the full range of his personal malaise.
Original photography by Tuyara Mordosova. Subscribe to the playlist here.The deceased LA artist Mike Kelly did something amazing in his art. Throughout much of his work, and most notably in his Memory Work Flats, a series two-dimensional sculptures that he created from 2001 up until his suicide in 2012, he grafted modern American bric-a-brac -- buttons, bottle caps, keys, coins, and pendants -- onto larger, wall-hung surfaces. As with the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, the overall effect of these is initially overwhelming and cacophonic -- the viewer struggles to find a focus -- but a rhythm inserts itself eventually, and the collection of junk (there’s no other way to describe it) gains a more ethereal, transcendent form. Kelly has taken objects that ostensibly have little relationship to one another -- that were built to decay in trash dumps and street corner cracks -- and transformed them into a cohesive modern American, high-art sacrament.
In their patchwork, low-hi-art approach, Deerhunter provide a sonic counterpart to Kelly’s artwork. Over the past two decades, the Atlanta band has stitched together elements of ambient, Krautrock, shoegaze, lo-fi electro, post-punk, warped rockabilly, and classic pop for a sound that is, at turns, explosive, defuse, ugly, and ethereal. The songs are full of sex, noise, drugs, screeching feedback, Russian porn stars, wheezing vocals, detuned guitars, and tiny deaths. It’s ugly until it isn’t -- when the dissonance coalesces into melody, and the characters emerge from their chemical cocoons to search for forgiveness, redemption, or, at the very least, empathy. Like Kelly, they tend to build their own iconography from the minutiae of suburbia’s spiritual dissolution, and it’s both revolting and beautiful.
Deerhunter was formed in 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia. It included Bradford Cox, Moses Archuleta, and others who are no longer in the band. The band’s first album, 2005’s Turn it Up Faggot, is more or less unlistenable for those not attuned to the more noisey end of the punk rock spectrum, but the band quickly pivoted, bringing on guitarist and longtime Cox friend Lockett Pundt, who would serve as the band’s other primary songwriter and provide a more trad-rock ballast to Cox’s experimental, kitchen-sink approach. The sophomore album, Cryptograms, was recorded over two days in late 2005, but it took nearly 14 months for their new label, the venerable indie Kranky, to release it. When fans finally heard Cryptograms, many were taken aback. The album was a fairly drastic departure; the jagged, lacerated guitar work of the original was replaced with atonal ambient textures, dadistic pop tunes, and nods towards a Southern Gothic strain of shoegaze. Traces of their earlier, noisy sound remained though, and the overall effect was that of a e listener fine-tuning the dial of a old radio knob, slowly bringing clarity and a bit of pop refinement (if not exactly polish) to the band’s lurking, free-range noise sensibilities. 2008’s Microcastle/ Weird Era saw the group continue to focus their aesthetic. There were actual songs, for one thing. The jangly “Agoraphobia” remains one of their most catchy and tender tracks. There’s a wisp of Sonic Youth’s no wave guitar fuzz, but largely the album is dedicated to taut, post-punk jams like “Nothing Ever Happened” or the great “Never Stops.” As you’ve probably been able to pick up, Deerhunter’s career has a certain arc, beginning with noise bedroom and blog jams of their early years to the learner, more traditionally structured indie rock of Microcastle. It’s not that their more recent work is without value -- 2013’s Monomania traffics in Krautrock and psych to bleary and occasionally beautiful results; while 2015’s jangling, Southern-fried Fading Frontier is the hangover from Monomania’s ridiculous affectations -- but 2010’s Halcyon Digest remains the group’s high-water mark. It’s an album were the band finally boiled down their disparate, oftentimes contradictory influences into a sound and emotional palette that felt uniquely theirs.The album title is a bit of a put on; in Cox’s telling -- it’s meant as a dig at the temptations of nostalgia -- but, otherwise, the album is emotionally and sonically accessible. The gorgeous “Helicopters,” with it’s chiming, elegiac melodies and plees for prayer, is probably the closest the group ever got to pure pop, while “Revival” is a swamy, garage blues burner.But the album’s centerpiece is “He Would Have Laughed.” That song manages to shift movements and melodies without seeming overly cluttered or fussy, and while the lyrics and Cox’s vocal performance is dark and tinged with death -- the track is a tribute to the recently deceased garage punk icon Jay Reatard -- the track is vulnerable and mournful; at one point, Cox muses that with “sweetness comes suffering.” There’s still a whiff of the anger, neurosis, repression, and self-destruction that swirling beneath the surface, but Cox is able to synthesize this into a voice that is tender, honest and revealing. The pain is still present, but it has transformed and taken the shape of art.
In 1992, Ebony asked Tina Turner what type of singer she was. "A serious singer," she replied—then added, "and a lasting singer." She was, of course, correct on both counts. Tinas voice is one of American musics most singular instruments: Formidable and rugged, it wrings soul out of heartbroken ballads and defiant anthems alike. These five vocal performances show off her incredible emotional and vocal ranges, and prove that her place in music isnt defined by genre or style as much as it is by her incredible resilience and work ethic. "The Best" (1989)Songwriters Mike Chapman and Holly Knight had written Tinas demanding 1984 hit "Better Be Good to Me," and five years later she plucked another one of their songs—the praise-stuffed "The Best," originally written for Welsh belter Bonnie Tyler—for her own personal songbook. Tina turned the song into a triumph, her effusive praise for a lover professed with such urgency and joy that it wound up turning into advocacy for her own status as "the best." "Whats Love Got to Do With It" (1984)When Tina began putting together Private Dancer—the 1984 album that would double as her return to pops upper echelons—the first song she received was an odd track by British songwriter Terry Britten. "I felt, Gosh, what a strange little song. Its not rock and roll," Tina told John Pidgeon in the BBC Books release Classic Albums. But meeting Britten changed her mind; after hearing her out, he switched up some chord changes and altered its key, and Tina felt comfortable enough to lend it her impassioned, soaring vocal. "It was unusual and different, but it was so different," Tina recalled in Classic Albums. "Thats why it was a hit, because there hasnt been anything out there like it since, either. It was one of those songs that you get maybe once a decade." Britten would go on to write other tracks—including the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome rallying cry "We Dont Need Another Hero" and the longing "Typical Male"—that let Tina get vocally loose. "River Deep – Mountain High" (1966)Tinas collaboration with then-white-hot producer Phil Spector was a meeting of two powerhouses, and the title track from 1966s River Deep – Mountain High, which Spector wrote with pop hitmakers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, shows how their seemingly clashing styles could come together in rousing fashion. “For the first time in my life, it wasn’t R&B," Tina told Kurt Loder in a 1984 Rolling Stone interview. "I finally had a chance to sing.” And sing she does: Her robust vocal slices through Spectors trademark Wall of Sound, making the lyrics proclamations of love sound like ironclad promises. "Nutbush City Limits" (1973)On November 26, 1939, Anna Mae Bullock was born in Nutbush, Tennessee. Three-plus decades later, Bullock, who had by then rechristened herself as Tina Turner, would commemorate the small cotton-producing hamlets "church house, gin house … school house, [and] outhouse" in this stomping slice of glam-funk, the last single she produced with her eventual ex Ike Turner. Tina throws herself into the description of the "quiet little old community, a one-horse town" fully, her stretched-out yowl contrasting with the insistent percussion and woozy analog synth in thrilling fashion. "Proud Mary" (1993)Ike and Tinas transformation of Creedence Clearwater Revivals 1969 riverboat chronicle turned it into one of Tinas signature songs, with its lazy-river rhythms eventually exploding into a horn-festooned rave-up and giving Tina a chance to reinvent rock in her own image. Versions of Tina doing "Proud Mary" abound, and theyre always worth listening to. The locomotive live version featured on the deluxe edition of The Rolling Stones 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! is particularly taut. But the version that appeared on 1993s soundtrack to the Angela Bassett-starring biopic Whats Love Got to Do With It has a special resonance: Tina recorded a new version of that track and other songs from the period when she was second-billed to her abusive ex-husband, and the spitfire vocal she offers up on "Mary" doubles as a celebration of the rebirth she began almost a decade prior.
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.