If theres anything more intimate than baring your soul with a lyric, its inviting the world into your record collection. Over the years, Thom Yorke has granted us both, giving us a peek into the psyche of one of modern rocks most celebrated and enigmatic figures. There may be entire websites dedicated to decoding his words, but when it comes to the music that makes Yorke tick, we can go directly to the source. The Radiohead frontman has never been shy about revealing his influences. Since OK Computer and especially Kid A, hes been turning alt-rock diehards into IDM geeks, jazz freaks, and underground hip-hop heads.But to truly comprehend how his musical mind is wired, theres nothing quite like seeing how he can put together a playlist or, better yet, DJ a party. Over the past decade, it seems Yorke has found just as much thrill in promoting other peoples music as his own, from assembling iTunes playlists to playing top-secret DJ shows to publishing Radioheads "Office Charts," an extensive collection of mixes featured on the bands deadairspace blog. Here, we dig up a few of his notable works as both music curator and DJ to tap into some of his creative—and physical—energy.THOM YORKE’S 2007 iTUNES PLAYLIST
Six months after the release of his stark electronic solo debut, The Eraser—and in the midst of recording Radioheads lightest, most romantic, work, In Rainbows—Yorke took to iTunes to present his favorite songs at the moment (i.e., January 2007). As a playlist maker, Yorke is admittedly a bit all over the place. But when you piece it all together now, his collection certainly works as a sort of deconstructed primer for his then-new solo effort and future works with Radiohead and Atoms For Peace. The addition of Bat For Lashes enchanted, ethereal pop points all the way to the sweeping ballads of A Moon Shaped Pool, while the ominous piano and rolling snare beats of The Dears "No Hope Before Destruction" portend In Rainbows funereal closer "Videotape" (even though, in the accompanying liner notes, Yorke admits he doesnt know much else by them).These grand, dramatic pieces get cut up by the sort of dark, glitchy grooves Yorke has increasingly embraced: Hes a sucker for Madvillains rhymes and Quasimotos loose, vintage production; he loves the "lizard bass sound" of Boxcutter; and is hypnotized by the maddening, menacing post-rave loops of UK producer Surgeon, an artist he discovered after OK Computer. And while the sleazy bass of Spank Rock is a bit of an outlier here, the inclusion of Liars—who Yorke would eventually remix—seems just right, especially when he accurately describes "Drum Gets a Glimpse" as "more terror from the subconscious."GLASTONBURY SECRET FUSELAGE DJ SET (2011)
Fast forward four years and Thom could be found hitting the decks alongside producer pal Nigel Godrich in a "crashed aeroplane fuselage" adjacent to the 2011 Glastonbury Festival. The story goes that the duo played a killer four-hour set, but Yorke would later only reveal 17 of the songs played on deadairspace. This was one of a handful of surprise DJ events that year, including a couple at Los Angeles Low End Theory with Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus (a union that gave rise to perhaps the greatest GIF ever). This would all happen following the release of Radioheads somewhat divisive eighth album, The King of Limbs, which was dominated by loops, samples, and broken-up beats of Yorkes creation. It also came with the great unveiling of Thom the modern dancer. With those beats and dancing moves in place, his rising role as DJ seemed a natural move.These tracks make for a pretty pumping party, one seemingly co-signed by Diplo, who, along with his label Mad Decent, is represented here in various forms (with Blaqstarr, Major Lazer, and Boy 8-Bit). The set is also punctuated by moody British electro (Nathan Fake), a UK jungle classic ("Original Nuttah"), and Public Enemys hard-hitting politics ("Night of the Living Baseheads"). The mix pounds—aggressively and unrelentingly—more so than any Yorke creation ever has, and we certainly wouldve loved an invitation. (Note: Track 2 in Yorke’s 17-song sampler, Felix da Housecats "Madame Hollywood," is not available on Spotify.) LIVE FROM A MOON SHAPED POOL/RADIOHEAD OFFICE CHARTS (2016)
Five years on and with a brand-new album ready for show, Yorke would accompany the release of 2016s A Moon Shaped Pool with a six-hour compilation of tracks that had been featured on their blog under the innocuous title of Radiohead Office Charts. If you were looking to dissect Thom Yorkes brain, this is probably a good place to start your examination. Or if you simply want to discover some seriously awesome experimentalists—from Nigeria (BLO) to India (Charanjit Singh) to Syria (Omar Souleyman) to Germany (Christoph De Babalon)—to go alongside classical concertos (Bach), New Orleans jazz (Sidney Bechet), and Yorkes go-to faves (Modeselektor, Madvillain), this is your one-stop shop.Despite a jumble of sounds that span genres, nations, and generations, this collection feels expertly curated. The vibe is overall cerebral yet chill—exactly what youd expect from the guy who just helped spearhead one of the years most haunting records. In fact, any track from A Moon Shaped Pool would fit right in. Actually, any Radiohead or Yorke track period would make perfect sense here, as a fascinating distillation of his existence as both major music geek and major music innovator.Want more playlists and articles like this delivered directly to you? Sign up for our e-mail here, follow us on Facebook, or go directly to the source and subscribe to our Spotify account.
We may have reached a sort of peak America on August 20, 2016. After a fit of false starts and head fakes, Ocean revealed his masterpiece, Blonde, an album that, in many ways, embodied a greater idea of what America could be: inclusive and diverse, both culturally and aesthetically; adventurous and transparent, embracing experimentations in search of an emotional honesty; and, not least importantly, fun, and filled with an overarching optimism.Things may have gone downhill since then, but we still have Frank, and he’s been particularly productive in 2017, releasing a slew of more pop-oriented singles, and, maybe just as importantly, curating his own radio show, blonded, on Apple Music. Ocean has never been particularly forthcoming in interviews—on the few occasions he’s done them—but his taste in music offers a rare and deep glimpse into his creative processes and inspirations.For many, Ocean’s music is singular, and his talent and sound seem to have emerged from a vacuum, but there are specific antecedents to each component of his music. Like many music masterminds—from Prince to Radiohead—he’s interested in genre pastiche, extracting and recontextualizing broad and seemingly disparate forms of music. Listening to these broadcasts is like watching a master chef at work in their kitchen.We’ve combined and organized selections that Frank picked for blonded, as well as previous lists he’s provided over the years and the music that he’s sampled, dividing the playlists largely along genre lines in order to provide a key for how Frank thinks about music. The main playlist here represents a megamix of all the tracks featured in the segmented playlists below. (You can access the original blonded podcast by visiting Apple Music, or subscribing to our Spotify channel, where we’re collected them as Spotify playlists.)FRANK’S AMBIENT/ELECTRONIC/GLITCH ITCH
Frank Ocean’s video performance piece Endless was a teaser “album” of sorts, released just one day before Blonde. With the visuals’ stark, high-contrast lighting, and the tracks’ broken soundscapes and fractured melodies, it was an immersive and frequently confounding experience. There were certainly songs there—the Isley Brothers/Aaliyah cover “(At Your Best) You Are Love” remains one of the most haunting tracks Ocean has released—but for the most part, the piece was focused on generating a skeletal, unsettling, and haunting atmosphere. This vibe was carried over to the creeping sounds of Blonde tracks “Seigfried” and “Futura Free.”This focus on textures over tunes is the common denominator for most of the tracks on this playlist. A beautiful, gentle piano melody emerges from the skittering beats of Aphex Twin’s “Flim.” Todd Rundgren’s 1970 proto-ambient work “There Are No Words,” meanwhile, moves like fog—eerie, otherworldly, and all-encompassing. Rundgren’s other contribution to this playlist, his 1973 track “Flamingo”—sampled on Ocean’s track “Solo”—is comparatively less whispy, with chirping birth noises fluttering around a circular synth figure. It’s no surprise to see Arca here; the Venezuelan queer performance artist and Kanye/Björk producer has been mining the same space between operatic melodrama and jarring ambient noise as Ocean did on Endless and the last half of Blonde. The tracks here do occasionally gain momentum —with French maverick Sébastien Tellier’s reflective 3 a.m. anthem “La ritournelle” in particular—but, for the most part, the music here serves as a pensive, ambient mood board.Further Listening:Decoding Endless: Frank’s Wild YearsThe Best Ambient TechnoThe 50 Best Ambient Albums of All TimeAphex Twin’s Field DaySUNDAY-MORNING HEARTBREAK AND SOFT R&B JAMS
There’s a warmth and intimacy to many of Frank Ocean’s best tracks—think of the delicate dance of “Pink + White” from Blonde, or Channel Orange tracks like “Bad Religion,” the bouncy “Monks,” or the titantic “Thinkin’ About You.” The Rhodes-driven tracks reference, of course, the classic R&B of Stevie Wonder, but they also point towards another, more modern and gentle strand of R&B that descended from neo-soul forebearers such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Esperanza Spalding (who Frank included on inaugural edition of blonded radio) is a great example of this, skirting the borders of jazz, funk, and soul and paying homage to each, but carving out a singular aesthetic that’s both modern and timeless.The best tracks here are those that negotiate traditional genre boundaries with a gentle grace. Yussef Kamaal’s “Yo Chavez” interweaves vibe-laced ‘70s jazz fusion with a shuffling broken beat over airy textures that points towards the looser, groovier parts of Channel Orange. The classic boom-bap funk fuzz of the OutKast/Erykah Badu collaboration “Humble Mumble,” or the loose, euphoric glow of Kehlani’s “Undercover,” also reflects the warmth of Ocean’s “Pink + White,” while Darando’s raggedy falsetto on the forgotten ‘70s classic “Didn’t I” (originally included on installment five of blonded radio) is endlessly fragile and haunting. These are deeply intimate love songs, but most of these capture a love interrupted, deferred, or forgotten—a confessional focus that Ocean has returned to time and time again throughout his career.This is perfect Sunday morning listening, but it’s pretty damn good for any day (or time) you want to push play.Further Listening:Raphael Saadiq Behind the ScenesWhy SZA’s CTRL Is the R&B Album of the SummerUnpacked: Solange’s A Seat at the TableFRANK’S RAP TRAX
In many ways, Frank Ocean is less invested in rap music than his R&B peers. When he listed out his favorite tracks for the Blonde magazine last year, hip-hop was absent save for an OutKast and, um, DRAM track. And while Ocean has provided guest turns on a number of tracks—and he actually raps on Earl Sweatshirt’s lazy, SoCal anthem “Sunday”—he’s not nearly as promiscuous as other singers, and, as frequently as not, he tilts the gravity of the track so that they become Frank Ocean songs. (Kanye, wisely realizing this, stripped his contribution from the end of The Life of Pablo’s “Wolves” and made it its own track, the appropriately entitled “Frank’s Track.”)Still, Frank is deeply invested in the genre, both through his Odd Future lineage and in rap’s culture, sound, and attitude. The hip-hop tracks that he’s included on blonded radio (episodes #4 and #6 focus on the genre) and beyond tend to be chart-driven singles, and remind us that Ocean is ultimately a pop artist. The hypnotic “Tunnel Vision” from Kodak Black has this year’s best use of the flute (and, really, that’s saying a lot) and matches the loopy, hall-of-mirrors vibe of many Ocean tracks. And while Frank famously called out the Grammys for giving Album of the Year to Taylor Swift over Kendrick—"hands down one of the most 'faulty’ TV moments I've seen"—that’s not the only thing linking Lamar and Ocean. Both endlessly distort and manipulate their voices: Kendrick changes registers, effects, and pitch with nearly every verse, while Ocean—on tracks like “Nikes”—uses vocal mutations to add both texture and narrative drama to his tracks. It wasn’t surprising that he included “LUST.” on installment #4 of blonded.But, more than any aesthetic linkage, these guys are his friends (A$AP Rocky), his collaborators (Future), and his idols (OutKast), and this playlist acknowledges those influences and associations.Further Listening:Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., UnpackedFrank Ocean’s Best Guest SpotsSongs That Prove the Flute Was Always Hip-Hop’s Secret WeaponFRANK’S INDIE ROCK FIXATION
“Indie rock” is a bit of a misnomer. It always has been. It’s more of a philosophical approach or psychographic than it is an aesthetic designation, but, however you look at it, Frank Ocean has long been a rabid fan of this spectrum of music. The surf-rock guitar line that anchors “Ivy” wouldn’t have felt out of place on any number of ‘60s-revivalist rock records from the past decade, while the clamour and noise of “Pretty Sweet” sound a lot like the psych/lo-fi groups that populated the ’90s rock landscape (though, granted, the two-step/garage drum line at the end turns it into a Frank Ocean track), while the bouncy melodies and sullen vocal counterpoints owe more than a little to The Smiths.There’s been a long-standing tradition of indie-rock critics trying to project their own music onto R&B and hip-hop musicians, and that’s not what we’re trying to do here—but it’s also undeniable that Frank has focused a lot on this type of music (particularly on the fifth edition of blonded radio). Some of the selections here are exactly the songs you’d expect from someone who spends his summers headlining festivals—MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”—but others convey a deeper investment. Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” reflects Ocean’s own penchant for creating long-form, mise-en-scene narratives over noisy, clattering backdrops, even if Alan Vega’s tale of a down-and-out factory worker killing his family is a little more macabre than anything on Frank’s albums. The shimmering, ephemeral “Wild Thing Runs Free” from Baltimore noise-punk group Teen Suicide resembles the rambling interludes that dot Frank’s own albums. And it’s not surprising to see (Sandy) Alex G show up on the second edition of blonded—after all, he did contribute guitar work to both Endless and Blonde—and his track “Mis” is imbued with a certain shambolic majesty.We don’t want Frank to abandon custom luxury cars and glitter for stick-and-poke tattoos and dive bars, but this is a great, revealing, and fairly unexpected playlist.Further Listening:Ambient Dream Folk & Beyond Dreamy Noise Sounds: The Best of Kranky RecordsFierce and Fuzzy: The Lo-Fi Revolution
One of the ugliest figures in rap is obsessed with some of the prettiest music. But we should expect nothing less from Tyler, the Creator, a self-described “walking paradox” whose music has been obscured by his public persona ever since he disrupted rap with his Odd Future crew in 2008. You could be forgiven for writing him off entirely after reading his notoriously homophobic Tweets. He’s since walked back most of that language, and has perhaps even come out as gay—or at least inhabits a gay character on his 2017 album Scum Fuck Flower Boy.As a rapper and producer, he’s been open about his influences since day one, and theyre all over the place: Pharrell’s sweet falsettos and uneasy chord progressions; the alien pop and library music of Broadcast; late ‘80s R&B (not a lot of that on Spotify, sadly); the harsh provocation and technical wizardry of Eminem; the stagey, orchestral hip-hop of Jon Brion-era Kanye West. He’s particularly into deep album cuts and soulful music with cinematic aspects.There is still nobody quite like him, even outside music, with his brightly colored fashion line and Neverland-esque penchant for throwing carnivals. And while his music has developed a capacity for gentleness over the years, he’s still a man who will shout vulgarities, if only to drive people away so he can sit at the piano alone with his jazz chords.At any rate, the most interesting paradox of Tyler, the Creator is that while he always seemed bent on fame for himself and Odd Future, he never “dumbed down for dollars” a la JAY-Z—or seemed to ever consider watering down his art in any way.
A$AP Mob has been having a productive summer. A$AP Twelvyy released his debut album 12, and A$AP Ferg dropped his Still Striving mixtape. The group’s sophomore studio album, Cozy Tapes Vol. 2: Too Cozy, is scheduled to be released on August 25.Although the collective is still going strong, they’ve been through a lot since they first rose to prominence earlier this decade. A$AP Yams, co-founder, music business guru, and de facto leader of the group, passed away in 2015. A$AP Rocky, the Mob’s biggest star, hasn’t released a new album since that year. As is the case with any popular group, their momentum has begun to slow.In 2012 and 2013, when the buzz behind A$AP Mob was just beginning to peak, Complex ran a series of features highlighting various members’ favorite albums. A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg both listed their top 25 albums, with A$AP Yams listing his top 42.This playlist consists of songs from the A$AP Mob members’ respective lists of albums, which vary widely in genre and sound. A$AP Rocky, whose choices account for the first 23 tracks on this playlist, lists rock groups like Nirvana, Colplay, Cold War Kids, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jimi Hendrix among his favorites alongside rap legends like Rakim and Big Pun. A$AP Ferg likes Selena. A$AP Yams liked Stillmatic more than Illmatic. A$AP Rocky specifically mentioned he didn’t like College Dropout, only Late Registration. A$AP Ferg liked both, plus 808s and Heartbreak and Kid Cudi.Despite the differences, there are commonalities. Everyone in the A$AP Mob loves Cam’ron and Dipset, which is unsurprising considering both hail from Harlem and brought global attention to their New York neighborhood by utilizing the group format. All three also list DMX among their favorites. A$AP Rocky said he listened to DMX to remind him of home when he had to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as a child.The A$AP Mob members reference the styles that influenced their sound, citing New York classics from the era in which they grew up as well as the Texan sounds of UGK and Scarface that A$AP Rocky notoriously incorporated into his music. Most of the songs on the playlist are recognizable singles or classic tracks, to underscore the fact that the group’s members have been inspired by music everyone likes. They’ve already produced work of their own that should stand the test of time, and hopefully their new music continues in that tradition.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were already anachronisms when they met as jazz-obsessed teenagers in the late ‘60s and began to write the droll, harmonically complex songs that made Steely Dan one of the greatest and most unique bands of the ‘70s. So it’s not surprising that the duo who worked tirelessly to get the best performances out of skilled session players never had much interest in hip-hop and the art of sampling. They even made it difficult to clear samples; they negotiated for the entire songwriting credit and publishing for the Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz hit “Déjà Vu (Uptown Baby)” and only allowed a “Kid Charlemagne” sample on Kanye West’s “Champion” after West sent the duo a passionate handwritten letter. But even Steely Dan’s stingy attitude towards sample clearances hasn’t stopped dozens of artists from doing the necessary paperwork to obtain use of the band’s gloriously recorded jazz-rock grooves (though De La Soul may not have, which could be why one of the most famous Steely Dan samples, the “Peg” loop on “Eye Know,” isn’t available on streaming services). But while the Dan’s tightly syncopated grooves and densely detailed arrangements clearly attract crate-digging producers the most, Donald Fagen’s voice figures into a surprising number of samples, boasting “Yes, I’m gonna be a star” on Amiri’s “Star” or chanting “They don’t give a fuck about anybody else” on one of Super Furry Animals’ biggest UK chart hits. The Steely Dan songs that have been sampled by multiple artists offer a case study in how many options the band’s rich arrangements offer to beatmakers. Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz went for the obvious but irresistible opening bars of “Black Cow,” while MF Doom zeroed in on a lovely keyboard flourish that happens just once in the song’s bridge. And where Audio Bullys looped the hypnotic guitar lick from “Midnite Cruiser,” legendary Atlanta production team Organized Noize played the riff at three different speeds to create a whole new chord progression for Sleepy Brown’s solo track “Dress Up.” Becker, sadly, passed away on September 3, 2017. But his music lives on—and continues to find new audiences—through the many hip-hop, rock, and R&B tracks collected here.
The history of indie/alt-rock is essentially one of serial reassessments and revivals—whether its of unsung trailblazers or previously dismissed pop stars. Through the late 80s and early 90s, the influence of the Velvet Underground was all pervasive; by decades end, everyone was into Can and Neu. At the turn of the new millennium, the ghost of Ian Curtis haunted the landscape. A few years later, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon underwent the transition from dad-rock deities to indie godheads. Now, it seems everythings coming up McDonald.Tom Petty never really had such a moment—but then, he didnt really have to. More than a specific sound, Petty represented an elusive ideal: He was the model that generations of raucous rockers —be it Dave Grohl or Death From Above 1979—have turned to whenever they wanted to chill out without losing their cool. And maybe the reason why his widespread influence never fortified into a dominant trend is that his acolytes have had so many Pettys from so many eras to choose from.Theres the power-poptimist of "American Girl," which yielded the hopscotch backbeat and needlepoint jangle of The Strokes "Last Nite" and the anthemic, open-sunroof ardor of Japandroids "Evils Sway." Theres the streetwise soul-man of "The Waiting," whose warm glow is exquisitely recreated by Chicago garage combo Twin Peaks on "Cold Lips." Theres the asphalt-rippin rocker of "Runnin Down the Dream," which New York outfit The Men roughed up into the caustic roots-punk barn-burner "Without a Face." Theres the synth-smoothed surrealist of "Dont Come Around Here No More," which provides the pulsating, slow-dissolve backdrop for Phosphorescents "Song For Zula." Theres the luminous acoustic balladeer of Full Moon Fever, which opened up a rural route for urbane indie rockers like Pavement and Liz Phair to travel down. There was his busmans holiday with Traveling Wilburys, whose easy-going honky-pop echoes through the shimmering strums of Dan Auerbachs "Shine on Me." And theres the weed-dazed folkie of "You Dont Know How It Feels," which finds a spiritual sequel of sorts in Wilcos "Passenger Side" (a song that Petty couldve very well have written after rolling that other joint).Tom Petty was like oxygen—always there, all around us, if imperceptibly so. And its nigh impossible to comprehend a world without him. But while his songs will be heard on classic-rock radio and covered by new-country acts for eternity, the artists on this playlist have, over the past two decades, burrowed the seeds of his influence at a more subterranean level, where they continue to flourish. There may be more popular tunes that have overtly—or subconsciously—copped Pettys melodies, but these songs more eagerly carry his spirit into the great wide open.
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!!!!
Since 1999, Carpark Records has been at the forefront of indie rock’s 21st-century evolution, releasing foundational early records from the likes of Beach House, Toro y Moi, Cloud Nothings, Dan Deacon, Speedy Ortiz, and many more. But this month, the label is looking back, by shining a light on two forgotten contenders in the early-’90s Chicago scene: Wendyfix and Remy (pictured above), both of whom featured Hyman himself on drums. With reissues of Wendyfix’s We Have the Cracks and Remy’s self-titled EP hitting stores this week, we asked Hyman to create a playlist that charts his transformation from aspiring 1990s indie rocker to founder of one of the most vanguard record labels of the 21st-century. I’ve been asked to chronicle my music listening habits from the early ’90s to the founding of Carpark in the late ’90s. I feel like I had three eras of music listening during this time.
In the fall of 1991, I moved to Chicago to go to college at Northwestern University. I was super-stoked to start DJing at their college-radio station, WNUR. The first week I got there, my friend Jon Solomon (who was also in wendyfix with me) told me we should get tickets to this Nirvana show. I’d never heard of them. But our radio station was playing the first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a lot.
It was the first show I went to at college and, to this day, is still the craziest. It was at the Metro. Good thing we bought our tickets a week or so in advance, because there was a line all the way down Clark Street to Addison of people wanting to get in. There were so many people crammed in there that, when people were jumping, my body was literally lifted off the ground with them. I had to go to the back towards the end because I felt like there was not enough air to breathe. The show was a couple weeks before Nevermind came out. Soon after, our college-radio music director pulled the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” CD single from our library because it was getting too popular.
I was also a big Anglophile at the time and would pick up a copy of the NME or Melody Maker just about every week from our student book store. There was a pretty interesting feature about an artist called Aphex Twin that fall. I decided I wanted to hear what it sounded like. I went to Reckless and Dr. Wax but no one had it. Finally, I had to take the El all the way down to Lincoln Park to visit the Tower Records at Clark and Fullerton. They had the biggest “import” section in town then. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was mine!
Towards the end of my freshman year, I remember reading a really interesting feature review in the NME about a new band called Stereolab. I still remember buying their debut full-length, Peng, at Reckless on Broadway right before I went home for the summer.
In my freshman year, I was keen to get involved as much as I could with independent music. I interned at Touch and Go Records most of that school year. By the time I took the El down to Sheridan and transferred to a bus that went down Irving Park past Western, it took almost an hour and a half to get there from Evanston. The office at that time was in an old industrial space, I believe. Dave Yow (The Jesus Lizard) and Britt Walford (Slint) seemed to be doing a lot of carpentry work there. I remember those dudes being really funny. One of the perks of interning was that I got free music. One day I was given an advance promo “cassette” of Polvo’s Cor-Crane Secret. It was a clear cassette with no paper art in a plastic case. Still have it somewhere….
In my sophomore year, I started playing drums in a band with my friends Jon Solomon and Ted Pauly from WNUR. We were named Wendyfix after a local high-school tennis star. Jon was away most of my junior year, so we brought on Brian McGrath to take his place. There weren’t too many indie bands in Chicago doing the quiet/loud moody guitar thing then. I recently decided to digitally release all the tracks we ever recorded. “Ridge” was always one of my favorites.
In my junior year, I started playing drums in another band with more WNUR friends, Peter Schaefer and Matt Walters. Remy was more on the Pavement/Polvo/Archers of Loaf tip. “Coco Pebbles” was one of the few jams we recorded before I graduated and moved away.Here are some other tunes that played a big part in my collegiate life:Unrest, “Cherry Cream On”Spacemen 3, “Come Down Softly to My Soul” *Slint, “Washer”Faust, The Faust Tapes *Bedhead, “Bedside Table”The Incredible String Band, “You Get Brighter”Seefeel, “Imperial”Big Flame, “Every Conversation” *Boredoms, “Hey Bore Hey” ** = not available on Spotify
I graduated college in 1995 and moved to New York. One of the things I ended up doing there was working as the indie music buyer for Kim’s West, which was a record store/video rental place at Bleeker and West 10th street in the West Village.I wouldn’t have had this job had Other Music not opened that same year. I started at Kim’s West working as a video-rental person. But the music buyers at Kim’s Underground (also on Bleeker) opened Other Music and suddenly Kim’s Underground was in need of music buyers. So the music folks at Kim’s West went over to Kim’s Underground to get things organized. And I ended up filling in the indie-music buyer spot at Kim’s West.I listened to a bunch of dub, French ye-ye, drum ‘n’ bass, MPB, ’60s/’70s easy listening, and IDM during this time.I moved back to Chicago for a year from 1996 to 1997. I worked briefly at Reckless Records and spent a lot of time at Dusty Groove. After Chicago, I went to Glasgow, Scotland for a 12-month graduat- school program for Popular Music Studies.I slowly stopped listening to indie rock around this time. I thought it was a dying genre. All the new music I was consuming was slowly transitioning over to digital and electronic music. I had burnt out on indie rock.Prince Far I, “Plant Up”Autechre, “Clipper”Maurizio, “M07A”Alec Empire, “Bang Your Head”Caetano Veloso, “Tropicalia”The Congos, “Fisherman”France Gall, “Mes Premieres Varies Vacances” *Marcos Valle, “Mentira”Plug, “Drum ‘n’ Bass for Papa” *Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends, “Love So Fine” *Rotary Connection, “If I sing My Song” *µ-Ziq, “Brace Yourself Jason* = not available on Spotify
I moved back to NYC at the end of 1998 and ended up working at my friend Rich’s record store Etherea in the East Village. All us record clerks there were pretty tight. Dance-music culture was our thing. Indie rock seemed passé. We had a weekly DJ/electronic music night and spent a lot of time listening to 12 inches at dance-music shop Temple Records a block away on Avenue B.Here’s some tunes I spun a lot during this era:Dopplereffekt, “Speak ‘n’ Spell” *Aril Brikha, “Groove la Chord”Giorgio Moroder, “From Here to Eternity”Eddy Grant, “Time Warp” *Frankie Knuckles, “Baby Wants to Ride”GAS, “Eins” *Jorge Ben, “Hermes Trimegisto Escreveu”Isan, “Clipper”Casino Versus Japan, “It’s Very Sunny”Lime, ”Angel Eyes”Moodymann, “Misled”Pepe Bradock, “The Charter” *Sparks, “Beat the Clock”Thomas Bangalter, “Turbo” *Throbbing Gristle, “Hot on the Heels of Love”Tones on Tail, “Lions”Tuxedomoon, “No Tears”Closer Musik, “One Two Three (No Gravity)”I was mostly buying techno, house, and electro 12 inches at this time. I was DJing a lot. Our night, Invisible Cities, put me in touch with a lot of the electronic artists that initially released music with us. Carpark was born! That means the end of this playlist. How Carpark moved away from exclusively electronic is a playlist for another time.* = not available on Spotify
Before & After Radioheads OK Computer
Its a pop cultural truism that OK Computer is in the upper echelons of the modern rock canon, so it makes sense that the venerable Charles Aaron would plunge into Radioheads masterpiece in The New York Times. According to Aaron, this is the "Sound of Rock Being Deprogrammed" and he dives into each track to prove just that by tracing the songs source material ("the before") and its reverberating effects ("the after"). While there have been plenty of pieces dissecting the inner workings of Radioheads monumental third album, few have put their analyses to playlist form.
In the article, Aaron elaborates on his picks, using his own discerning ear alongside Radioheads own stated influences (Miles Davis, Ennio Morricone, The Beach Boys) and other critics constant comparisons (Wilco, Muse, Coldplay). He links Jonny Greenwoods Mellotron on tracks like "Exit Music (for a Film)" to Genesis "Aisle of Plenty," Phil Selways blurred breakbeats on "Airbag" to DJ Shadows "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt," and the computer speak of "Fitter Happier" to Stephen Hawkings "A Brief History of Time." His "afters" tend to be even more straightforward, as he connects Coldplays tear-jerking "Fix You" to "Let Down," Grizzly Bears woozy "Knife" with "No Surprises," and the Selway drum sampling of Lloyd Banks "Cold Corner 2 (Eyes Wide)" to "Climbing Up the Walls."
His selections are mostly based in sound rather than cultural context, so even without knowing the reasons for his picks, the playlist flows fairly seamlessly. That said, there are a few jarring transitions, from the maddening rock opus "Paranoid Android" to Queens sillier multi-part beast "Bohemian Rhapsody," or from the doomy "Fitter Happier" to Daft Punks heart-pumping "Harder Better Faster Stronger." But overall, this works as a solid aural document of rock at some of its most daring and cerebral yet emotionally moving moments. And if you dont buy that, just take a listen to the moody, slinky stretch of "Karma Police," "Sexy Sadie," and TV on the Radios "Staring at the Sun" and try to convince us otherwise.
When Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter—two denizens of Germany’s musical underground—founded Kraftwerk in 1970, nobody could have imagined the impact they would have. But all these decades later, few corners of popular music are untouched by their influence. The sounds they crafted in the ’70s and ’80s with Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür resonated worldwide, influencing post-punk, synth-pop, New Wave, hip-hop, techno, and more.
Kraftwerk were among the first to use electronics as a tool for fashioning pop music. Even though their first few albums employed electronics in a more experimental way, they broke through internationally in 1974 with “Autobahn,” their mechanically paced hooks and android image positioning them as the Beach Boys of the robot revolution, pointing toward an entirely fresh musical future.
Before the ’70s were over, disciple David Bowie had released the Florian homage “V-2 Schneider” and incorporated Kraftwerk’s influence in his legendary “Berlin trilogy” of albums, and Gary Numan had channeled the band’s inspiration into the first flowering of synth-pop, which would continue to bear Kraftwerk’s mark in the ’80s.
From there, Kraftwerk’s electronic innovations went on to profoundly affect hip-hop and electro, starting with Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and continuing through countless samples. This fed into the band’s influence on Detroit techno (and subsequently the international IDM scene). By the 2000s, the band’s influence was doubling back on itself via the ’80s-retro electroclash movement.
Today the majority of pop and hip-hop is created with electronics, and even artists who have never heard a note of Kraftwerk in their lives owe some of their existence to them, whether they realize it or not. Schneider left the band in 2008 and Hütter continued to lead a new lineup in occasional tours, but when Schneider passed away on April 30, 2020, at the age of 73, even though he was no longer working with the band, it marked an epoch’s end. Gathered in the accompanying playlist is a tiny percentage of the countless artists indebted to Kraftwerk’s fearless vision.
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.