A review of A Tribe Called Quest’s endlessly inventive new (and sadly, final) album. This comes from Pitchfork, written by kris ex, and dated Nov. 17th, 2016…
A Tribe Called Quest’s sixth (and final) album was a rumor for 18 years. It’s here, and against many odds, it reinvigorates the group’s discography without resting on nostalgia.
Since their 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, A Tribe Called Quest have been forward-thinking, presenting their albums as full-length meditations on sound and society. They didn’t break new ground as much as they dug deeper into the lands beneath their feet, turning stones and cultivating fertile soil, unearthing the past and tending the roots, with album-length suites centered around loose conceits—the light diary of Instinctive Travels, the aural dive into drums, bass, and downbeats of 1991’s The Low End Theory, the pan-African flight of 1993’s Midnight Marauders, the dysfunction of hip-hop’s materialism on 1996’s Beats, Rhymes and Life, and the yearning sadness of 1998’s The Love Movement. The latter strived to serve as a healing elixir and balm for what was, up until recently, the swan song for one of the greatest acts that hip-hop has ever produced.
Alluded to constantly via rumors and unfounded hopes, a forthcoming Tribe album seemed like wishful thinking for years. Despite the assurances of legendary music executives, fans could not be blamed for being cynical. The group had splintered fabulously, as documented in Michael Rapaport’s unflinching 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. Moreover, the death of member Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor earlier this year, seemed to ensure that any future efforts would be full of excavated throwaways and repurposed vocals from other projects made fresh via studio magic. Yet, We Got It from Here exists, their sixth (and final) album, and it’s full of unblemished offerings that were recorded at Q-Tip’s home studio following their performance on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show one year ago. And, against many odds, it’s an album that reinvigorates the group’s enviable discography without resting on the nostalgia of past accomplishment.
The album’s first number, “The Space Program,” is quintessential Tribe—it has that sooty bottom heavy warmness, the uncluttered arrangements and bright instrumentation, and it sounds like a piece of 2016 instead of a fragment of 1994. For the first time in their career, the entire group appears to be at their peak, exuding a well-earned effortlessness. Even if Ali Shaheed Muhammad is listed nowhere on the credits, the act’s three MC’s—the abstract Q-Tip, the ruffneck Phife, and the often M.I.A. Jarobi—are on point all the time, picking up each other’s couplets and passing microphones like hot potatoes. On “The Space Program,” Jarobi rhymes “We takin’ off to Mars, got the space vessels overflowin’/What, you think they want us there? All us niggas not goin’,” before Q-Tip nimbly takes over with “Reputation ain’t glowin’, reparations ain’t flowin’/If you find yourself stuck in a creek, you better start rowin’.” The song plays with a sci-fi framing—“There ain’t no space program for niggas/Yo, you stuck here, nigga”—yet it’s not about an imaginary future, but right now. “Imagine if this shit was really talkin’ about space, dude,” Q-Tip raps, unveiling the entire song as a metaphor for gentrification, perhaps even forecasting the showdown over the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. And just that quickly, you realize that Tribe—poetical, allegorical, direct, and forever pushing forward from the present—are back as if they never left.
The timeliness of this album can’t be understated, nor could it have been predicted. On “We the People…,” Q-Tip breaks out into a mini-song as hook: “All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go/And all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways/So all you bad folk, you must go.” It follows in the pathways of Jamila Woods’ HEAVN and Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table as an album that expresses the deeply painful and deep-seated racist attitudes of current America without rancor. That the hook echoes President-elect Donald Trump’s most famous and reductionist campaign views works in ways that it would not had Hillary Clinton garnered enough electoral college votes to win the election. (For comparison, the video for Ty Dolla Sign and Future’s “Campaign,” released the day before the election, seemed to bank on a Clinton victory in its jubilation, but now feels tone deaf.) Ironically, Tribe may have also been seeing a Clinton victory; Q-Tip references a female president on “The Space Program.”
A decade and a half ago, while working on his (erroneously shelved, then belatedly released) sophomore album Kamaal the Abstract, Q-Tip was asked about grown men making hip-hop music—he had, after all, just entered his thirties and was still playing at what is largely a young person’s game. He countered that hip-hop was not solely a youth genre; that the media and commercial forces had made it so; that the top MC of the moment—Jay-Z—was in his thirties; that the best art comes not from the exuberance of youth, but the mastery of form. We got it from Here proves that he was right.
Q-Tip has long been quietly regarded as one of hip-hop’s most thoughtful and inventive producers, and this album is full of accomplished flourishes. On the lascivious “Enough!!,” the vocals of Ms Jck (of undersung alt-R&B progenitors J*Davey) are treated like source material, woven into the musical bed. There are layered, echoing, melodic sonic manipulations and restrained uses of Jack White and Elton John on “Solid Wall of Sound.” On the introspective and confessional “Ego,” White (again) is used sparingly and smartly for subdued electric guitar touches. We got it from Here is not the music of a producer showing off, but of one knowing what to do and when to do it. There is a bevy of guests on this record, but they all serve the project like instruments that come in and out without attempting to take over with solo turns.
When “Dis Generation” uses a sample of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie,” one can see a labyrinth of in-jokes and conceptual easter eggs that extends to the rhymes: Phife prefers cabs to Uber; Jarobi is wizened, smoking on “impeccable grass” and waiting for New York to approve medical marijuana; and Busta Rhymes—who appears multiple times and sounds more at home with his Native Tongues brethren than he ever has with the extended Cash Money bling set or even on his The Abstract and the Dragon mixtape with Q-Tip—is “Bruce Lee-in’ niggas while you niggas UFC.” For his part, Q-Tip shouts out Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole as “gatekeepers of flow/They are extensions of instinctual soul.” It’s what ATCQ has always been—self-referential without being self-serving, part of the pack but moving at their own pace, and able to lightly and relatedly convey observations that would be heavy and pedantic from just about anyone else.
It can’t be said enough how simply good this record sounds and feels. Everyone here shows themselves to be a better rapper than they have ever been before, but that still doesn’t capture the ease and exuberance of it all, how Q-Tip curls flows and words on “The Donald,” how Jarobi surprises with packed strings of rhyme at each turn, how Phife and Busta Rhymes dip effortlessly in and out of Caribbean patois and Black American slanguage. (And that’s not even taking into account Consequence’s inventive word marriages on “Mobius” and “Whateva Will Be,” Kendrick Lamar’s energetic angst on “Conrad Tokyo,” or Andre 3000’s and Tip’s playful tag team on “Kids…”) The music is decidedly analog, a refutation of polished sheen and maximal perfection; it’s an extension and culmination of ATCQ’s jazz-influenced low-end theory. But that doesn’t capture the bounces, grooves, sexual moans, random bleeps, stuttering drums that float throughout—like every classic Tribe album, it defies simple descriptions.
Many of the songs here hearken back to off-kilter and underexposed gems of days past (see: Tribe’s “One Two Shit” with Busta Rhymes and De La Soul’s ATCQ-featuring “Sh.Fe. MC’s” from days past for musical antecedents) without feeling like retreads, the free-wheeling whimsy and experimentation of the past having been replaced a grounded irony and proficiency. So much has stayed the same and yet so much has changed.
There’s no overriding story that easily presents itself—no vocal guide a la Midnight Marauders, no driving ethos served on platter like the Low End Theory; the title itself, which lends to an interpretation of this as a project of hubris demanding homage, is never explicitly explained. Even Phife’s death is given due reverence, but isn’t treated as a central theme. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is all just beats, rhymes, and life. Nothing about this feels like a legacy cash-in; it feels like a legit A Tribe Called Quest album. We should be the ones thanking them.
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A review of Common’s new politically-charged album, which came out last month. This review comes from Ed “STATS” Houghton (Pitchfork), dated Nov. 4th, 2016.
This is Common’s best album in years…
Common’s dissonant, politically-charged new album Black America Again finds him angry and off-balance — which feels like it’s exactly where he should be.
At 11 albums strong, Common’s career has passed through so many stages that he’s got a trail of shed skins, including two or three different rappers (and half a rock star) along the way. So when his later-period albums, from 2014’s tough and sorrowful Nobody’s Smiling to this week’s striking Black America Again, are called a return to form for the Chicago-bred MC, it may be important to clarify which form he’s returning to, and establish some signposts for hearing an album as momentous as this one is.
Back in 2014, Common’s frequent collaborator Questlove called for a revival of protest music in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner. Scarcely two years on, ugly racial rhetoric has characterized a seemingly endless campaign season, outrage over extrajudicial police killings has taken on a sort of sick rhythm, and it’s actually hard to remember a world where there was a shortage of protest music. D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Solange’s A Seat at the Table, among others, have upended expectations and reinvigorated and expanded the category frames (hip-hop, soul or simply black music) placed around them.
This is important context for listening to Black America Again, partly because great albums from the Okayplayer/Soulquarian family seem to come in waves—and there is a strong case to be made that Black America Again is to Black Messiah what Like Water for Chocolate was to the 2000-era classics Voodoo and Things Fall Apart. Some of the big-room soul flourishes (courtesy of John Legend and BJ the Chicago Kid) trend toward the thematically safer sound that characterized Com’s Oscar winning Selma song; a touch expected—corny, even—if still emotionally stirring. But overall Karriem Riggins’ gritty, moody production provides Com with his most eclectic (and apt) sonic backing since Kanye’s production on Be. It may also be the angriest—and not coincidentally, sharpest lyrically—we’ve seen Com since his Ice Cube dis “Bitch in Yoo”—warmed-over beefs with Drake notwithstanding.
Yet there is clearly more to Black America Again than just ripped-from-the-headlines timeliness. After all, in a season when #BlackLivesMatter is at the front of the public consciousness, pretty much every artist who shows up to the BET Awards (and a bunch who didn’t) has adopted the appropriate signifiers of Woke-ness—right down to erstwhile Rubber Band Man T.I.—without necessarily touching artistic greatness. It is, in fact, the way the current mood dovetails with Common’s personal story arc that gives it its power. After prophetically calling on America to “Impeach [Bush] and elect Obama” on Jadakiss’ 2004 “Why” remix, Com has arguably spent the Obama years seeking a worthy opponent for his battle skills—and failing to locate one. The bloodshed and racial tension of 2015-16 have finally focused his considerable firepower. It also doesn’t hurt that it was helmed by the brilliant Karriem Riggins, the Detroit-based drummer who has been a staple of Common’s live band for years—and who has truly stepped into his own with his production work here.
Riggins works firmly in the post-metric genre-verse first explored by J Dilla, but he is one of the few beatmakers who can truly hang with the master. His sonically grungy, emotionally and rhythmically complex arrangements push Com’s flow into an off-balance, never-quite-slipping dance that will be familiar to longtime fans as Com’s zone. From the moment he stepped on the scene in the early ’90s, Com has been a sharp battle rapper, noted for laying down bars in solid combinations of gut-punches like a prize fighter, yet capable of a sort of tipsy whimsy when he allows himself to be loose.
This is exactly the side of Common that Riggins’ compositions bring out of him, and for the first 10 tracks or so, the album flows along flawlessly. Frenetic drum patterns rush ahead of the beat even as noodle-y electric jazz textures and screwed vocal samples pull backward at different speeds, interrogating the meter of “straight” time in ways that recall Dilla’s drunken drums. Bilal’s vocals add another layer of virtuosic dissonance to several tracks while Common’s Yoda-like constructions (“As dirty as the water in Flint the system is”) create internal rhyme schemes and tripping-into-the-next bar rhyme schemes in counterpoint with the off-kilter beats.
The chemistry is so right, in fact, it’s enough to make you re-evaluate Com’s career arc, at least since 2000. For many fans his artistic growth peaked in the Soulquarian era, then spun out on Electric Circus where he maybe got a bit too loose. In this reading of Common’s story arc, recent outings (2011’s The Dreamer/The Believer; 2014’s Nobody’s Smiling) are less comeback triumphs than back-to-basics bootcamps, or the solid road-game victories he needed before he regained the confidence to stretch out and loosen up a little again.
The single and title track “Black America Again” is a brilliant case in point; huge piano chords overpower a drum break that is EQ’ed into such crispy upper reaches of the treble range that it threatens to disappear, an inversion of all conventional pop or hip-hop logic. Even Stevie Wonder’s relentlessly melodious voice is chopped and phrased in unexpected ways and Com’s delivery channels the spoken-word of his idols the Last Poets in a way that stands alongside his very best verses: “You know, you know we from a family of fighters/Fought in your wars and our wars/You put a nigga in Star Wars/Maybe you need two/And then maybe then we’ll believe you.”
Momentum falters a bit on “The Day Women Took Over” a well-meaning narrative that posits woman-power as the solution to all problems but reduces them to embodiments of abstract virtues, rather than identities or agents of their own desires, reminiscent of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. But Common finds his footing again with “Little Chicago Boy” (the requisite variation on “Pop’s Rap”) and “Letter to the Free,” which serves as a sort of closing argument. If it ends the album on a more sedate note, the choice feels deliberate, reminding us that in his most inspiring moments, Common is swinging at the Big Questions of our time, and that even his loose improvisations are still part of a larger project.
It’s very much worth unpacking that project, since it both dovetails with and cuts against the grain of modern Black activist thought. Common has in fact taken heat for suggesting in interviews that Black people should respond to racism by “extending my hand in love.” Even as he gives voice to his hurt and anger and eloquently runs down the undeniable crimes committed against Black Americans, he seems to be asking again throughout the album’s lyrics what freedom could even look like in this America—and time and again he suggests that freedom itself is an act of improvisation, of imagination, that begins now: “We write our own story.”
It’s in the context of these bigger ideas that Com lands some of his biggest gut-punches of all time, while rapping in his simpler, prize fighter mode: “No consolation prize for the dehumanized/For America to rise/It’s a matter of Black lives/And we gon’ free them so we can free us…”—bringing home again the sheer magnitude of the forces he’s been dancing with all along.
Edwin “STATS” Houghton
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A review of The Stones’ excellent new blues album, from The Guardian. Written by Alexis Petridis, dated Nov. 24th, 2016…
More Alive Than They’ve Sounded for Years
Mick Jagger’s voice and harmonica drive an album of blues covers that returns the Stones to their roots.
Last week, a US journalist interviewing the Rolling Stones offered up a 21st-century spin on the old ‘Can white men sing the blues?’ argument. Wasn’t the Stones’ early repertoire, heavy on the songs of Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters et al, just an example of cultural appropriation, he asked? You might charitably describe Keith Richards’ response as a little confused. At one juncture, he appeared to suggest that the blues was actually “quite Jewish,” but the bulk of the answer consisted of Richards insisting that he was, in fact, black: “Ask any of the brothers.”
Tireless on your behalf, I’ve researched this thoroughly and can exclusively reveal that he isn’t. But equally, the charge of cultural appropriation feels deeply unfair. The biggest band of the British blues boom were always among the loudest cheerleaders for the real deal. They never pulled the grim Led Zeppelin trick of claiming they’d written songs they’d clearly swiped from old blues artists, never missed an opportunity to take BB King on tour or to try to educate their audience about the artists they were paying homage to. “I think it’s about time you shut up and we had Howlin’ Wolf on stage,” suggested Brian Jones to the presenter of U.S. TV show Shindig! in 1965, after the Stones had agreed to appear only if the show also booked Wolf and Son House, a ballsy move in a country where the Voting Rights Act hadn’t yet been passed.
The issue is being raised again because, for the first time in their career, the Rolling Stones have elected to release an album consisting entirely of blues covers. A skeptical voice might suggest it finally confirms what their last album, 2005’s lacklustre A Bigger Bang strongly hinted at: that, as songwriters at least, the Jagger/Richards partnership is out of juice. A less cynical observer’s first thought might be to wonder why they didn’t do something like this sooner: the opening cover of Buddy Johnson’s “I’m Just Your Fool” comes barreling out of the speakers, sounding more raw and vibrant than the Stones have done in years.
Their second thought might be that Blue & Lonesome sounds surprisingly like Mick Jagger’s show, which rather goes against the commonly held belief that Keith Richards is the band’s R&B heart and Jagger is a fashion-conscious dilettante who’d have the Stones recording tropical house with Kungs and Seeb if he thought it would make them seem relevant. You can see how that notion came about, but while there are fantastic contributions from Richards and Ronnie Wood – the grumbling twin guitars of “Little Rain”; the taut interplay that powers “Hate to See You Go”; and, especially, the woozy, chaotic backdrop they conjure on a version of Lightning Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues” – it’s Jagger’s voice and harmonica that really drive Blue & Lonesome. At his least inspired, Jagger can sound like a man who isn’t singing so much as rearranging a well-worn series of mannerisms and tics, but here his vocals are extremely powerful and genuinely affecting, as if he’s digging deep within himself to find the emotions to fit the material. You expect him to be able to summon up the kind of swaggering lubriciousness requisite for “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” originally recorded by Little Johnny Taylor, which he does; more surprising is how authentically wracked he sounds on “All Your Love,” “Hate to See You Go” and the Memphis Slim-penned title track. There’s a really striking moment on the last one where he sings the line “Baby please come on home to me,” drawing out the word “please” into a chilling, agonised, vulnerable howl.
Moreover, you wonder if Jagger’s fashion-conscious dilettantism might account for the album’s sound: Blue & Lonesome feels very much a record piloted by someone who’s heard the White Stripes or the Black Keys, or the raw blues releases on which Mississippi label Fat Possum’s reputation was founded. The sound is appealingly visceral and live: the guitars are spiky and slashing, the drums punch hard, everything – including Jagger’s voice – is coated with a thin, crisp layer of distortion, as if the band are playing at such volume and with such force that the microphones can’t quite take it.
The obvious point of comparison would be the recordings the Stones made in the brief period between their rise to fame and the full flowering of Jagger and Richards’ songwriting. But if at least one track, a version of Willie Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You,” might have slotted neatly onto 5 x 5 or The Rolling Stones No. 2, for the most part Blue & Lonesome doesn’t really feel or sound much like the stuff the Stones made half a century ago. They wouldn’t have thanked you for saying it, but back then, their skill lay in a perhaps unwitting ability to transform gnarled rhythm and blues into thrilling teen-friendly pop: listen to Muddy Waters’ original version of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” next to their 1964 version and you hear a very grownup, slow-burning record, made by a man already in middle age, converted into something urgent and wired, the soundtrack to an overexcited fumble in the back of a Ford Anglia.
Now in their 70s, men who by anyone’s standards have lived a bit, they frequently seem to tap into something deeper about the music: they really inhabit its sense of hard-won experience. The last thing you hear on the album, after a version of Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” crashes to a halt, is Mick Jagger asking uncertainly “was that OK?” He sounds like a man who’s still slightly awed by this music in its original form; who knows he’s still paying homage to artists he can never entirely grasp, whatever Keith Richards thinks. But the answer to his question is an unqualified yes: it’s more than OK, which is not something you can say about many Stones albums over the last 30 years.
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This article from Rolling Stone (#1274) in the Nov. 17, 2016 issue written by Andy Greene…
After an epic tour, the singer fell into poor health. But he dug deep and came up with a powerful new album.
Leonard Cohen has rarely been seen in public since he wrapped up his Grand Tour at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, on December 21st, 2013, with a joyous encore of the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me.” That five-year, 387-date global odyssey – where he played for well over three hours a night – was a massive musical (and financial) success. But not long after, Cohen began to suffer serious physical problems. “Among many other things, he had multiple fractures of the spine,” says his son Adam. “He has a lot of hard miles on him.”
The 82-year-old singer-songwriter now lives on the second floor of a house he shares with his daughter Lorca in the Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Lorca is raising a five-year-old daughter whose father is Rufus Wainwright.) In Cohen’s words, he’s “confined to barracks” due to severe mobility issues, but he was determined not to let that stop him from recording his new LP, You Want It Darker. He began work on the album about a year and a half ago, but he had to stop when producer Patrick Leonard (who worked with Cohen on his last two albums) suffered what Adam Cohen describes as “very serious personal problems.” Cohen then invited Adam, a singer-songwriter in his own right, to come in and complete the project. “It’s increasingly rare for children to be so useful to their parents,” says Adam. “To be in such intimate circumstances for such a lengthy period of time with my father was filled with sweetness for me.”
Adam turned Cohen’s house into a makeshift recording studio, placing an old Neumann U 87 microphone on the dining room table and filling the living room with computers, outboard gear and speakers. He also brought in an orthopedic medical chair for his father. “It’s designed to accommodate someone spending many, many hours on it,” says Adam. “You can sleep in it, eat in it and practically stand in it.” A laptop ran ProTools – Leonard merely had to sing. “Occasionally, in bouts of joy, he would even, through his pain, stand up in front of the speakers, and we’d repeat a song over and over like teenagers,” Adam adds. “Sometimes medical marijuana intervened and played a role.” The vocal tracking became a form of therapy for Leonard. “At times I was very worried about his health, and the only thing that buoyed his spirits was the work itself,” says Adam. “And given the incredible and acute discomfort he was suffering from in his largely immobilized state, [creating this album] was a great distraction.”
In typical Cohen fashion, he obsessed over every lyric of the nine songs, most of which were written in the past few years (though “Treaty,” featuring the lyric “I don’t care who takes this bloody hill/I’m angry and I’m tired all the time,” dates back a decade). Some of the songs were dictated into his phone; others he jotted down on a notepad he keeps in the breast pocket of his jacket. “It comes, kind of, by dribbles and drops,” he said at a recent L.A. press event. “Some people are graced with a flow. Some people are graced with something less than a flow. I’m one of those.”
Although Cohen was never able to make it to the recording studio, where a team of about a dozen musicians, including organist Neil Larsen, guitarist Bill Bottrell and bassist Michael Chaves, worked on the material, he was still very much in command of the sessions. “I spoke to him at length, got his instructions before every session,” says Adam. “Then I faithfully tried to serve what I understood his vision to be in the studio. He also had final say and veto power. If you listen to this record versus the other recent ones, it’s a little bit more sparse and acoustic.”
Today, Cohen is in slightly better health than he was during the making of You Want It Darker. But any sort of tour in support of the album, or even a single live appearance, is highly unlikely. “He’s meticulous and requires a lot of rehearsing,” says Adam. “It’s just not in the cards.” But there are at least three songs that didn’t make the album, and they may provide a beginning for the next one. “They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act,” says Adam. “If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his career, perhaps at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.”
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This review of the new LC album comes from The Guardian, Oct. 20, 2016 and written by Alex Petridis…
Still Changing, Still Full of Life
Despite all the recent talk about Leonard Cohen’s mortality, his wonderful new album suggests an artist determined to keep moving forward.
Last week, Leonard Cohen felt obliged to announce that reports of his death – or at least his imminent death – had been exaggerated. “I said I was ready to die recently,” he told the audience at a listening party in Los Angeles for his 14th studio album. “And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatisation. I intend to live forever.”
The original quote about being ready to die arrived in a remarkable New Yorker profile, and came as a shock to anyone whose image of Cohen was frozen in the moment he left the stage of Auckland’s Vector Arena in December 2013, at what may yet prove to be his final live performance: an exceptionally handsome and dapper gentleman who appeared to be wearing both his 79 years and the rigours of a tour that had lasted since 2008 extraordinarily well, who still carried something of the air of the “boudoir poet,” as his former lover Joni Mitchell once described him. It was an image that 2014’s Popular Problems did little to counter-act – it was as acclaimed an album as he has ever released, further buoyed by interviews in which Cohen talked of honing its songs over hundreds of gigs – but here he was, two years on, apparently so frail that he was “confined to barracks” and using phrases such as “when I was healthy.” No wonder that, earlier this year, he had told his dying former partner and muse Marianne Ihlen: “I think I will follow you very soon.”
But equally, you can see why Cohen is keen to deflect the interpretation that You Want It Darker is intended as some kind of musical last will and testament. It arrives packed with songs you could interpret as reflective farewells – from “Leaving the Table” to “Steer Your Way” – and with references to mortality and faith. The first sound you hear is a choir from the Montreal synagogue in which Cohen’s family worshipped, and the last is Cohen apparently addressing Jesus with a certain irrevocability: “It’s over now, the water and the wine… I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”
But, as his biographer Sylvie Simmons recently pointed out, it was ever thus: reflective farewells are very much his stock in trade, and you would be hard pushed to find another songwriter whose work displays such “an awareness of the imminent defeat,” as Simmons put it. He was musing on posterity in the 1980s in “Tower of Song,” albeit concluding it was nothing to worry about. His most famous song, “Hallelujah,” is stuffed with precisely the kind of biblical imagery and conflicted, ambiguous attitude to spirituality and religion that suffuses You Want It Darker, and Cohen wrote that in his late 40s. Moreover, “Hallelujah” took him five years to write, which makes it one of his more speedily composed numbers: “Treaty,” the song those lines about the water and the wine come from, has apparently been ongoing for the best part of 20 years, which certainly casts a slightly different light on its sense of finality.
Still, you could never describe You Want It Darker as merely more of the same. As striking as the sense that its themes are of a piece with the rest of Cohen’s oeuvre is the sense of an artist willing to move forward. Even leaving aside the fairly mind-boggling fact that someone has commissioned a dance remix of the title track, a menacing critique of religion – if it’s hard to imagine Cohen is a devoted fan of Paul Kalkbrenner, the Berlin-based techno producer responsible, it’s harder still to imagine that anything gets released without the old boy’s agreement – there are moments when You Want It Darker gently pushes Cohen’s sound to places it hasn’t really gone before.
He was once content to let his songs into the world backed by the kind of synthesisers and drum machines that Stock, Aitken and Waterman would have eschewed as a bit too Woolworths for their own good, as if the words were the only thing that really mattered to him. But You Want It Darker frequently frames his songs in orchestral arrangements of varying degrees of sumptuousness: from the discreet haze of strings that hovers behind the tremolo-heavy guitars and pedal steel of “Leaving the Table” to the intricate repetitions of “Steer Your Way” – like a countrified take on minimalist classical music – to the high drama of the concluding reprise of “Treaty.” The latter, in particular, sounds markedly different from anything Cohen has done before; moreover, the contrast between the orchestral grandeur and his parched vocal really works.
Meanwhile, the lyrics are as fascinating and conflicted as ever. The title track flips from anger to resigned acceptance and back again, its fluctuations decorated with beautiful lines: “I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame.” God fades in and out of view throughout the album, sometimes there, sometimes a figment of the imagination. Elsewhere, Cohen’s view of a presumably octogenarian decline in sexual desire seems largely to be one of relief, not unlike the late George Melly’s line about it feeling “like being unchained from a lunatic” – In “Leaving the Table,” he declares “the wretched beast has been tamed” – but it’s tempered by wrenching evocations of lost love: “They ought to give my heart a medal for letting go of you” or “If the road leads back to you, must I forget the things I knew?”
Throughout, he sounds wise and honest, and – despite the occasional lyrical protestations of weariness – full of life. Last week in LA, Cohen talked about making two more albums, about following the musical path sketched out on the album’s finale, “String Reprise/Treaty.” It’s hard not to hope it works out that way – the man behind You Want It Darker does not seem like someone running short on inspiration – but if circumstances dictate otherwise, there are worse ways to bow out than this.
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Written Sept. 24th, 2016…
It infuriates me how Hillary Clinton and her supporters are pissed at, and trying to shame and bully, millennials for not supporting her. As if they owe her a vote. Millennials are only the latest group to be shamed and bullied for their refusal to line up behind Clinton. “Bernie or Bust” voters have also been shamed, as well as Jill Stein supporters. Why don’t they go after the millions of Americans who won’t vote at all in this election, if they want to be mad at someone?
What do people not get that nobody has to vote for anyone they don’t want to vote for? You can’t make them like you. You can’t make them vote for you. Even if you think they hate you for invalid reasons, the fact remains – they have a right to hate you if they choose. Just like we can’t force someone to fall in love with us, no matter how much we might hope. I can’t make anyone like me or trust me if they don’t. People can hate me for this article if they want, and that is their right. If they respond to this and tell me I am completely wrong, that is also their prerogative.
I wish millions of liberals had voted for Bernie instead of Hillary. But if they chose not to, then that was their right. I wish every single Bernie supporter would now vote for Jill Stein, as I think she would have just as much chance of winning as if Bernie would have had. But again, I can’t force anyone to vote for her. And to say that you must vote for one candidate, so that the other candidate doesn’t win, is a ridiculous argument to make. Who are you to tell me that I must vote for someone I don’t want, like, or trust, just because their opponent may or may not be worse? I’m sure some people will miss the point of this article completely and comment, “If Trump wins, let it be on your head.” So be it.
If millions of people hate you, it can’t all be just some huge misunderstanding. When more than half the country doesn’t trust Clinton, there’s a good reason. You know that old saying, “Where there’s smoke… there’s fire.” It can’t just be blamed on a “vast right wing conspiracy.” Especially when you see Republican after Republican lining up to support her now. Don’t think for a second that it’s only because they simply don’t want Trump. They are lining up behind her because her war hawk views are perfectly in line with their own.
I love how, when you say you are going to vote your conscience, people actually get mad at that… and accuse you of being the “selfish” one because it’s gonna be your fault if Trump wins. They tell you that you have to put away your convictions and beliefs, and get in line behind Clinton, and that if you don’t, you are voting out of “white privilege” and/or “heterosexual privilege.” First off, not only do I not have to put my convictions aside, but I refuse to do so. I am notgoing to sacrifice my lifelong principles just to make sure Trump doesn’t become President. Secondly, there are more and more people of color and/or homosexual persuasion who are turning away from Clinton everyday, so to hell with your shaming tactics. Most minorities have long realized that the Clintons not only were not on their side, but they did irreparable damage to them with their racist and anti-gay policies. She will most certainly return to supporting the horrendous TPP (which Trump strongly opposes), and she is already ramping up the anti-Russia, pro-war rhetoric that may very well lead to another Cold War and possibly World War III. But I’m supposed to be so much more terrified of a racist, cartoon villain buffoon like Trump, who almost has no chance of actually winning anyhow, because of the fact that the corporate powers that actually run this country want Clinton to win. And they will make sure she wins – at any cost.
I vote my conscience. Always have, always will. If everybody did, we wouldn’t get stuck in these horrible situations where we are being told to constantly vote the “lesser of 2 evils.” The lesser of 2 evils is no better than the greater of 2 evils. Evil is evil. Period.
To hell with the lesser evil, many of us will be voting the greater good. And if Clinton supporters and anti-Trump supporters don’t like that, then that is their problem, not ours.
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A review of the brand new, long-awaited album by rap legends, De La Soul. Courtesy of musicOMH, written by Bekki Bemrose, Aug. 26, 2016…
It’s staggering to think that De La Soul’s first album 3 Feet High and Rising came out 27 years ago. Despite the huge success of that record, and its subsequent influence on a whole host of artists, the trio never really recaptured its commercial heights. Much of their loss of momentum following that record was due to the rise of Gangsta Rap, which was distinctly at odds with the positive message and artistry that De La Soul put forth with their music alongside contemporaries like A Tribe Called Quest.
Hip Hop has taken many twists and turns since 1989 when their debut was released, not least where we are at now with behemoth acts like Kayne West and Jay-Z dominating not just the genre, but much of popular music. And it seems a shame that groups like De La Soul are lost in their shadow, for as much as their music may not have seemed as edgy as NWA or Public Enemy or indeed newer artists, they were perhaps braver in those positive messages and innovative use of samples and jazz beats. And the Anonymous Nobody is the perfect record to remind you why they are still very much relevant and why they should be cherished.
On their Kickstarter funded ninth record they have opted for a host of collaborators. Calling in a bunch of high profile names can be the sign of a lack of ideas or confidence in a project, but this is far from the case here. Lead single “Pain,” featuring Snoop Dogg, is a perfect example of a band at the height of their powers. Its understatedly funky rhythms and Snoop’s trademark laid-back, smooth delivery hit the mark.
Other guest slot highlights include the Estelle featuring “Memory of…” which includes one of the album’s many memorable melodies, and in contrast to much of modern hip hop’s output it isn’t as flashy, which adds to its charm. The Little Dragon guest slot on “Drawn” perfectly melds their talents with De La Soul’s in a very natural way. The album was apparently born of many jam sessions, and on tracks like this one that is apparent, as it feels a very organic confluence.
Damon Albarn also shows up to repay the favour of their Grammy Award winning turn on Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” “Here in After” is a gem of a track that benefits from interesting use of beats and rhythms, a shining guitar line and it also has one of the record’s most beguiling melodies. Added to which the chorus’s refrain of “we’re still here now” is touching and celebratory paean to the band. Albarn adds some loose vocals in between the trio’s rhymes that make for a lovely addition.
Much like the Little Dragon featuring track, “Snoopies” allows its collaborator’s personality to shine through. David Byrne is instantly recognisable, not just from the sound of his voice, but also through the familiar rhythms he tends to sing in. It’s a generosity on De La Soul’s part that they don’t dictate, but rather allow for the respective talents of their guests to shine.
It’s not just the guest featuring tracks that shine though, as De La Soul also fly solo for many of the record’s high points. “Royalty Capes” has some wonderfully jazzy touches, and “CBGBs” is a fun guitar-driven interlude. “Trainwreck” rings out a cow bell and has some of the trio’s best rhyme deliveries, along with an addictive bass line. “Exodus (Outro)” is the deal clincher though. A sparse, yet ultimately, incredibly moving song where De La Soul lay claim to the band that they are. As they rap, “People think we are linked with the solving/with the problem that’s revolving around music today/but its not true we just do it our way cuz we’re not you/we embraced you like brothers” they both lay claim to their individuality whilst remaining open to the music of others.
And the Anonymous Nobody is a more than worthy edition to their legacy, proving how relevant this treasure of a band is. “We are the present, past and still the future/bound by friendship fuelled and inspired by what’s at stake,” they say. It’s great to hear De La Soul on such tirelessly positive form.
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Taken from Entertainment Weekly comes this review by Owen Gleiberman of the documentary about Godard and Truffaut, Two in the Wave. Dated May 27, 2010…
Godard and Truffaut: Their spiky, complex friendship is its own great story.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut were the Lennon and McCartney of the French New Wave. Godard, the detached, acerbic one, was eggheaded and vinegary, a playfully acidic intellectual bomb-thrower who, as time wore on, acquired a streak of bitter accusatory leftism. (He became the postmodern Marxist Debbie Downer of cinephilia.) Truffaut, in dramatic contrast, was presentable and bittersweet and more or less harmonious, oriented by nature toward the establishment (though in the beginning, he tossed bombs at it, too), with a latent penchant for bourgeois sentimental craftsmanship that was enchanting at its best, but could also turn cloying.
That little description is, of course, incredibly simplistic, in the same way that Lennon/McCartney contrasts always are. (Paul, we all know well, could rock just as hard as John, and Lennon had a vast sentimental side too.) Nevertheless, it would probably be nitpicking to dispute the essential truth of it. Truffaut and Godard, from their social backgrounds (lower-class French vs. wealthy Swiss) to their looks and vibes and fashion choices (robust, cautiously tailored domestic lothario vs. bespectacled, balding, unshaven eagle-eyed lothario) to the reigning spirit of their films, always had a basic temperamental yin-and-yang that defined the French New Wave. In Two in the Wave, a tart new documentary that just opened in New York, their relationship, as both friends and artists, is as rangy and alive, as present-tense fascinating, as the meatiest celebrity gossip. (I wish I could say that the movie was coming to a theater near you, but coming to a Netflix queue isn’t such a bad option for it.) An elegant and revealing scrapbook of a movie, Two in the Wave shows you how these two spiky, driven figures changed the face of cinema not just by tearing up the old rules but by making up new ones more or less on the spot. It’s a heady dose of New Wave nostalgia that really does feel new.
The movie contains no talking-head interviews, which is sort of a loss, but it does feature amazing footage of Truffaut and Godard at work and at play. The two started out as film critics who, from their perch at the center of the 1950s Paris cinema demimonde, could be as caustic as Simon Cowell. They were out to tear down official French film culture, and they did, though from the start, Truffaut had a gift for cultivating that same establishment. He maneuvered his brilliant and haunting first feature, The 400 Blows, into the 1959 Cannes Film Festival only a year after he’d been banned from it. The movie was a sensation, and Godard, coming around the bend with his revolutionary youth-cult crime caper Breathless – forget the jump cuts, it was a story told entirely in irony, a razory jump-cut splice through the very idea of emotion – enjoyed a similar blast of overnight celebrity. The two fed off each other, cross-pollinating ideas and finance schemes, even as the glow of success from those early films wore off.
Much of this material has been covered before, but Emmanuel Laurent, the director of Two in the Wave, does an incisive job of capturing exactly how Truffaut and Godard’s movies fit into the landscape of their time, before the directors (and the films) had ossified into legend. The central event in the history of the New Wave, apart from the original one-two punch of The 400 Blows andBreathless, was the May 1968 protest/riot/uprising in France that boomer lefties still get misty-eyed about. It was a national earthquake that shut down the Cannes Film Festival (sacrebleu!), and there’s a startling piece of footage from Cannes in which Godard, shaky and full of an anger he hasn’t figured out what to do with yet, accuses all the best young filmmakers – Polanski, “François” (who’s sitting right next to him), even himself – of making irrelevant films that ignore the concerns of “workers and students.”
This was the point at which Godard and Truffaut began to split apart like a married couple who’d been hiding their differences; they were just like John and Paul after the Beatles broke up. It all came to a head in 1973, when Godard, after walking out in disgust in the middle of Day for Night, Truffaut’s love poem to the conventional cinema, accused Truffaut of making a movie that was a “lie,” and Truffaut replied with a 20-page letter in which he nailed Godard – accurately, in my view – for being the incredible radical-chic hypocrite he had become, a man who believed everyone to be “equal” in theory only. (I actually like some of Godard’s films from this agit-prop period, like the 1972 Tout Va Bien, but the notion that any of them would appeal for one second to “workers” is an almost psychotic folly.) The two never saw each other again. Their greatest films live on, though. And in Two in the Wave, so does the romantically fraught, art-is-life mythology of a time in the 20th century when changing movies seemed like changing the world.
So are you a Truffaut person or a Godard person? And what are your favorite films of each of theirs? Here are mine: The 400 Blows and The Story of Adele H. (Truffaut) and Contempt and One Plus One (Godard).
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Written July 27, 2016…
When this whole insane election started over a year ago, it was basically expected that it would end with Hillary Clinton going up against Jeb Bush in the general election, as they were the two overwhelming establishment favorites to win. Nobody ever expected Donald Trump, and, especially Bernie Sanders, to do as well as they did. It was expected that this would be an election a lot like many past elections.
Of course, we all know that Jeb’s run for the presidency fizzled pretty quickly, despite all the money that was raised for his campaign. The Republican Party finally abandoned him and moved on to candidates like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, who also fizzled out. They had no choice but to get behind Donald Trump, since he won the nomination fair and square.
Now let’s imagine this alternate-universe scenario: Despite Jeb struggling, the Republican Party wants him to win so badly that Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the RNC, do everything they can to rig and cheat the primaries to ensure that Jeb “beats” Trump, and becomes the fraudulent nominee of the Party, against the will of the majority of Republican voters. Imagine also that Fox News does everything it can to give the illusion that Jeb is doing much better than he actually is, and they barely mention the election fraud, if at all. They also barely mention Trump, despite him getting huge crowds at his rallies, while Jeb is struggling to fill up high school gymnasiums. Then let’s throw into the mix WikiLeaks releasing tens of thousands of emails proving that McConnell, the RNC and Fox News, conspired with Jeb to keep Trump from having any possible chance of beating him. There is also thousands of pieces of documented proof that show blatant election fraud taking place in state after state.
Now, let’s think about what the responses would be from the Left. What do you think the liberal media (and Rachel Maddow, expecially) would be saying? How do you think the President would respond? What would be the reaction of the entire Democratic Party? What would Hillary Clinton and all of her supporters be saying in response to the blatant rigging and cheating?
It’s 110% guaranteed that MSNBC and CNN would be covering it 24/7 on all their news programs. The President and the entire Democratic Party would be rightly condemning the Republicans for being un-democratic and being a corrupt, cheating party that must be stopped at all costs. Hillary Clinton and her supporters would certainly be calling it out and demanding that McConnell and everyone involved be brought up on charges of election fraud. We would be told over and over how horrible the Republicans are, and how little they care about democracy and fair elections. They would demand that Jeb Bush be disqualified from contention, and the Democrats would talk about how much better they are than those evil Republicans.
If this really happened, they would be justified in making all of those statements.
Now let’s look at the actual reality, shall we? It’s Hillary Clinton, the DNC and the liberal media, who have conspired to keep Bernie Sanders from winning an election that he clearly should have won. There has been almost no talk about it on MSNBC or CNN. Rachel Maddow has barely mentioned it over the months, if at all. The President has said nothing on the subject. The only one who seems to acknowledge it is Donald Trump and Fox News. But there are websites and, of course, the WikiLeaks emails that prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this Democratic election was nothing more than a fraudulent coup, worthy of countries whose governments we look down on as being illegitimate and un-democratic.
We are constantly hearing about how the Republican Party is always trying to keep people from voting, yet the Clinton camp did everything they could to keep voter turnout low, knowing it would benefit her and keep a good majority of Bernie’s supporters from voting. It was a totally Republican-esque way of rigging the election in her favor. And it worked.
So now that Hillary Clinton was fraudulently installed as the Democratic nominee yesterday, progressive liberals will be bullied mercilessly. from now until November, with the argument that we “have” to vote for Clinton and the Democrats in order to save us from the hell that surely awaits our nation if a racist buffoon like Trump and the Republicans make it into office. Talk of election fraud is not to be allowed. No discussion of voting for the Green Party is to be tolerated. The argument that Bernie clearly would have won the general election is to be dismissed out of hand, despite his much better numbers in the polls against Trump. The only thing that matters is a phony showing of “unity” and pretending that democracy actually means something. We are told that Trump will destroy democracy forever and cause the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Frankly, I fear Clinton much more than I fear Trump, due to her doing all the horrible things that he only talks about doing.
But my question is: If the Democrats save us from the Republicans, who will save us from the Democrats?
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Written July 2, 2016…
I seriously think Hillary Clinton is going down.
Once she meets with the FBI today, they will recommend indictments. If they don’t, they will have to explain why they are not recommending them, which will still cause serious problems for her… and for their own credibility. You don’t have a year-long FBI investigation, if it’s all for nothing.
She is under 2 investigations. One for the private email server and one for the Clinton Foundation… but, of course, they are tied together. From what we know, the FBI already has tons of shit on her that could seriously send her off to jail. She broke many very serious laws (including the Espionage Act). Anybody who doesn’t think so, is simply not paying attention, or just (wrongly) dismisses this as just another Republican attack on her. This has nothing to do with the Republicans though. This is the FBI. And you also had the top CIA intelligence in this country writing to Pres. Obama and saying that she broke espionage laws and put the entire country at risk, and also displayed “gross negligence”… and should be in jail for those crimes. They said if it was anybody else, they would have already been put in jail.
Then on top of all that, supposedly Russia got a hold of her emails (because of them going out with no encryption through an unprotected email server, and getting hacked by “Guccifer”). If they threaten to release these emails, it will clearly show that she did, in fact, put the entire country at risk because of her desire to use a private email server (that nobody gave her permission to use, despite her claims to the contrary). If they release them, there is no way our government could protect her, nor should they. They could also used these emails to blackmail us. It certainly gives them leverage and puts us in a weakened position.
Several FBI agents have threatened (for months) to walk off the job and go public with this information if she is not indicted. That would also cause a Watergate-style mess. And you will have leaks everywhere that our government would be unable to stop.
Hillary will have to plead the Fifth on everything she is asked, because any actual yes or no answer could result in her getting caught in a lie. Lying to the FBI, alone, would cause her to end up in handcuffs. At least anybody else in this country would end up in jail if they lied.
The biggest recent news is that Attorney General Loretta Lynch has stated that she will go along with whatever the FBI recommends, which means she will not try to protect Clinton. There will be too many FBI leaks that nobody will be able to protect her if the shit hits the fan. This has gotten out of their control. Thank God.
So I seriously can’t see how she can possibly survive this. Even if she wasn’t indicted, but people all around her were, that would cause her major problems, to the point where she might not have any choice but to drop out of the race. There will be too much fallout and collateral damage for her to survive. Just like Richard Nixon (who was already President) couldn’t survive the fallout of Watergate.
Being that she is under 2 FBI investigations, she should not have ever been in this race in the first place. Imagine if Bernie Sanders was under those investigations… or anyone else for that matter. Do you think they would have been allowed to run, or would they have been raked over the coals for being selfish enough to put their own political ambitions above the good of the country? Do you think Obama could have ever won the presidency if he had been under these types of investigations? Of course not. They would have crucified him. And rightly so, if that was the case.
Imagine trying to get a job anywhere in this country if you are under FBI investigation. What do you think your chances would be? Zero. Zilch. Not a chance in a hell. So why should this woman even be under consideration for the most powerful job in the world?? A woman who used her own private email server (exclusively) and put our country at risk by sending out top secret government emails unprotected. That’s the person you want to protect you???
The Clintons might have a lot of power in this country, but even they are not more powerful than the FBI. Every despot finally meets their match. I think she has finally met hers. She’s going down.
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