This week was shot out of a cannon. I was out of town, spending the weekend in Chicago, visiting the aquarium and accidentally joining a political protest, but I returned to great news.
Radiohead was suddenly back and doing interesting things. I had new vinyl from Can and Andy Stott. Beyoncé was still riding high on the crest of a mighty art-pop wave, and her album was still lodged in my car stereo. Then, after the worst storm of the year, the sun came out to play.
Let’s get into it.
Radiohead, back with a vengeance?
The week began with a new song from Radiohead, blending heady strings and a quietly anthemic melody, laid over a striking stop-motion video that nodded toward childhood cartoons and persecution nightmares. It was the proverbial breath of fresh air that the band needed, a public rejuvenation that piqued my interest for the first time in years. I wrote about Burn The Witch and the band’s place in modern music a few days ago.
The new album was supposed to be coming next month. I could wait. I was okay with that. Then suddenly the band drops Daydreaming on youtube and we see the tagline: “Taken from the new album released digitally on 8th May 2016 at 7pm BST.” That’s just two days from now. It’s audacious and exciting, the kind of way that big bands need to act to capture the flighty attention of the internet these days.
It’s also an incredible song. What at first appears like a standard piano ballad quietly morphs into the kind of mindbender Radiohead excelled at in the heady opening days of this century. Think warped love tunes like Pyramid Song, where the well-known sounds of a classic instrument are slowly embellished and blurred with subtle studio effects. It feels like looking at an old familiar photo through warped glass.
The video comes from Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the greatest living film directors. It follows a disheveled Thom Yorke as he drifts through environments mundane and fantastical, from laundromats to arctic mountaintops. Doors open portals to new rooms, new vistas, eventually cascading in hypnotic repetition. This tangible psychedelia echoes the subtle weirdness of the song itself. I’m reminded of the dreamlike sense of time passing that Anderson conveyed throughout his best film, The Master. I’ve already watched three times.
For the first time in over a decade, I’m seriously hyped for a new Radiohead album.
NV – Binasu
I’ve said it before, but Orange Milk is one of the most exciting music labels out there right now. They’ve published some of my favorite albums of the past few years, from Giant Claw, Nico Niquo, and more, so I’m always on the lookout for what’s next. This week, my eyes fell upon the cover of NV’s Binasu and I knew I needed to listen right away.
NV is Russian artist Kate Shilonosova, but she sounds here like a distinctly 80s-era Japanese synth pop goddess. This charming set of electronic tunes shuffles a curvy line through candy colored crystalline synth tones and midi-fired hand percussion. The bright and bubbly hooks, breathy vocals, and shimmering production appears deceptively simple at first. After a few spins, I was peeling apart the upper layers, peering vertically into the constructions, getting a sense of this album as a sort of cartoon embodiment of dance itself.
I’m not a fan of Grimes, but I’ll admit that this music hits some of the same ethereal weird-pop beats that have made her a rising star. The vocals alone give NV something more to grasp onto, something more relatable, than many Orange Milk artists. This means that it’s probably much more approachable than, say, Giant Claw’s micro-sampling maelstroms. But approachable does not mean simplistic; far from it, this is one of the most overtly composed and controlled albums from the label yet.
The title track is a perfect encapsulation of her appeal. Binasu fizzes to life with chiptune synth pockets and wandering squiggles from a Super Nintendo daydream, before her crystal clear vocals enter the fray, soaring above the crunchiness of the production in a high contrast ballet jump. Throughout the album, chirpy pianos, brittle percussion, and buoyant laser melodies are intercut with shards of noise, space-age sound effects, and most of all, her surreal vocal turns. The entire package is crafted with ambitious coherency, lending itself to a deeply satisfying full-album experience. It’s one of the most refreshing, repeatable albums I’ve heard all year.
Although the cassettes have sold out, you can purchase Binasu via the Bandcamp page.
This is a movie that I wanted so badly to love. When I first heard about it, almost every check-box in my geeky heart was ticked off: beloved director Gillermo Del Toro? Check. Giant robots fighting giant monsters? Check. A neon-drenched future aesthetic? Check. A tone that suggested that it might be more fun than the glut of grimdark, self-serious blockbusters of the past decade? Check!
When it finally arrived, I merely liked it. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was timing, or maybe the movie just wasn’t that good. Still, I remembered it fondly enough to give it another try this week. I’m so thankful I did.
It turns out that Pacific Rim really is the fun, funny, giant-robot-packed science fiction extravaganza that I wanted it to be in the first place. In a world where even superhero movies have become self-loathing disasters, this futuristic throwback shines a bright pink light at the heart of its silly premise and comes out grinning like a maniac.
The robot-on-kaiju fights are a riot of fireworks and tangible violence, shot with an eye for the big picture elegance of monstrous movement. The hammy dialogue and character drama floats right out of a space opera anime. The cliché-ridden story hums with an infectious sense of fun that sets my default cynicism on the back burner. All it takes is full surrender to the dreamy nonsense. This isn’t a “check your brain at the door for enjoyment” situation; far from it. This movie helps connect my guileless inner child to my adult sense of wonderment with brilliant aesthetics and a hearty sense of unselfconscious joy. The fact that it’s also the best giant robot sci-fi film ever made just means that I’ll be showing it to friends for years to come.