Eighteen years ago, four of us were huddled together in a stuffy flat in St. James Town. We had just picked our collective jaws off the floor after listening to Kid A for the first time. After the opening bars of “Everything In Its Right Place,” it was clear this was an album that begged to be listened to again. So we did. Well this is different, was my first thought. Where are the guitars? was my next. Much discussion followed, very little of which do I actually remember—there was a lot of weed smoked in that apartment. I wasn’t convinced that I liked this new sound, but I knew I had to.
Fans, critics and casual listeners are a fickle lot. We’re hard to please. And I think artists are the same. We bemoan lazy songwriting and celebrate a hard left—only if it’s done right. Kid A introduced a new direction, but in doing so it torched the past; I’ve always viewed that record as Radiohead’s middle finger to the radio single. Was that their intention? I don’t think they care one way or another, this was simply the record they wanted to make. It’s that kind of confidence that I love and hate about musicians. Because sometimes I just want to hear “My Iron Lung” instead being challenged by flickering vocals and drum loops.
I tell this story because I had a similar experience listening to the new Leon Bridges. “Good Thing” sets fire to his old sound and out of its ashes arises a record that’s much more Prince or The Weeknd than Sam Cooke. Just as Radiohead traded guitars for sequencers, Leon traded 60s soul for club jams. Even his voice is different: falsetto replacing his velvety, smooth croon. I knew I wanted to like it, so I listening to it a lot. I asked myself, what motivated him to change so early in his career? The best response I have is some records feel like they are flag posts, marking the end of an era and leading you to the next.
There’s something refreshing about listening to a song from an artist that isn’t trying too hard. “City Looks Pretty” by Courtney Barnett is a no-nonsense, toe-tapping number that’s catchy as hell.
It’s a good day when Chromatics releases new music. “Black Walls” hits all the right notes: breathy vocals, just enough 80s synth and a driving tempo you can’t deny.
Band Name of Year: Low Cut Connie. Trashy music from a trashy band. I feel hungover just typing their name here.
Beach House is one those bands that can do no wrong. “7” is everything you’d expect from them, but nothing more.
I’ll admit it: I never got into Pavement. But the new Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks is excellent. “Middle American” is a perfect summer song with a chorus that burns slow and lazy like long shadows on the park grass.
Thanks for reading and happy listening.