Essay: New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies

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  1. Age of Consent
  2. We All Stand
  3. The Village
  4. 586
  5. Your Silent Face
  6. Ultraviolence
  7. Ecstasy
  8. Leave Me Alone

From the ashes of Joy Division, there rose a New Order. In the early 1980s, the remaining members of the former band (Sumner, Morris and Hook) decided to coalesce once again following the suicide of their old vocalist, Ian Curtis, while adding the talents of keyboard and guitarist Gillian Gilbert to their line-up. The resulting sound they chose was a move away from the gothic aesthetic of their Joy Division days and towards a post-punk influenced fusion of electronic and dance music, with huge popular appeal. The synthy sound of their 1983 single “Blue Monday” was a great contemporary success, and became the most sold 12″ single ever recorded. Power, Corruption & Lies was released the same year, and featured the same dance infused synthpop sound that proved so popular on “Blue Monday”.

The most striking feature of the record is its cover image, crafted by prolific graphic designer Peter Saville. It features a reproduction of Henri Fantin-Latour’s painting “A Basket of Roses”, with a colour code in the top right hand corner meant to represent the name of the band and title of the album. What makes this image so memorable and effective is its simplicity. Saville said the flowers “suggested the means by which power, corruption and lies infiltrate our lives. They’re seductive.” The image can also be interpreted as a tribute of sorts to the late Curtis, who has remained a great influence on New Order’s musical direction up until this point, where the band respectfully began to move away from under his shadow to forge their own identity.

A bold move was the decision to not include “Blue Monday” on the record, despite its immense popularity. I think that showed a kind of quiet confidence in the quality of their music, since they felt like they didn’t need to rely on the recognition that including the single would bring. Instead, Power contains a tight-knit group of refined tracks with no obvious low points across the whole 40 minute record. “586” delivers a thrilling break from a minute long abstract instrumental which rapidly evolves into one of the album’s most powerful and catchy hooks, while “Age of Consent” offers a bright, upbeat introduction. However, there is a darker undertone to the music, which set New Order apart from its contemporaries at the time. There are constant allusions and hints to hidden meaning throughout in the murkier sections of synth instrumentation, and the plucked electric guitars lend a darker tone to some tracks.

This is Power, Corruption and Lies in action. The catchiness of the music is seductive, much like the subject of the front cover, and yet there is something darker at play under the surface while you, as the listener, are slowly immersed in it.

New Music: Kendrick Lamar, Young Ejecta, Queens of the Stone Age, Arcade Fire

Kendrick Lamar – “DNA. (Alternative Video)”

An alternative take of Lamar’s powerful track “DNA.” was featured at the Warriors’ recent victory. The short 30 second clip can be heard at the start of this video.


Young Ejecta – “Build a Fire”

Listen to Young Ejecta’s latest single here, “Build a Fire” – a glittery yet emotional electropop ballad masterminded by Joel Ford’s 80s inspired electronic production.


Queens of the Stone Age – “The Way You Used to Do”

Queens of the Stone Age how now shared details on their upcoming record Villains, out on August 25th. They have shared the tracklist, as well as this new single, which can be heard above.


Arcade Fire – “Creature Comfort”

Arcade Fire have shared their second single from Everything Now, their upcoming album. They have opted for a more electronic influenced sound on this album, a big difference from their indie rock roots.

New Music: The War on Drugs, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Jason Isbell

The War on Drugs – “Holding On”

The accompanying video for the War on Drugs’ earlier single has been released, with a summery, feelgood tone that perfectly reflects that of the music itself.


The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – “When I Dance With You”

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have returned with the second single from their upcoming record called The Echo of Pleasure, due to be released on September 1. This single follows “Anymore“, which was released last month.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “White Man’s World”

Southern rock auteur Jason Isbell is now streaming his latest album, The Nashville Soundrecorded with his backing band the 400 Unit. He has also released this heavily politicised single, “White Man’s World”, to accompany it.

Review: Sufjan Stevens, et al – Planetarium

 

Capture★★★★☆

Gustav Holst, in his Planets suite, perfectly captured a sense of grand power and majesty which reflected the scale of an entire solar system in his composition. On Planetarium, the result of a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister. This is the modern-day equivalent of Holst’s opus, trading the bombast of a full orchestra for a more electro-ambient production. Some might argue that this option is a budget-friendly way of creating the atmosphere of the planets, as most ambient music is ethereal by nature, and skimps on the raw musical talent of orchestral instrumentation.

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Sufjan Stevens performing at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.

However, Planetarium isn’t simply standard fare; there are some new ideas under the surface here, from the glitched elements on the song “Jupiter” to represent the chaos of its never-ending storm in its famous ‘red spot’ to the plucking, bouncy electronic beats to give the impression of something on a celestial scale gradually taking shape. however, some ideas don’t work out for the best. “This was such an epic endeavour because the universe is constantly expanding.” says Sufjan Stevens. On Planetarium, he delivers his usual soft and delicate performance, weaving his vocals in and out of the brass instrumentation throughout the album, but on some tracks his voice is electronically distorted for no discernible reason, which almost seems like sacrilege given the fact that his singing is so pure that no alterations need to be made to it in the first place. It doesn’t ruin the album, but there’s enough of this distortion to grate on me.

With this small issue of personal taste aside, there is a lot of enjoyment to be found in Planetarium. It offers a fresh, modern sound for a concept that has been done to death, and reinforces the supernatural tendency for anything that Stevens touches to turn to gold.

Favourite track: Jupiter

Least favourite track: Saturn

New Music: Toro y Moi, OPN & Iggy Pop, Earthling

Toro y Moi – “Girl Like You”

Chazwick Bradley Bundick, better known as Toro y Moi, has been working hard again on the 80’s synths for this new video for “Girl Like You”, taken off of his 2017 album Boo Boo.


Oneohtrix Point Never – The Pure and the Damned (feat. Iggy Pop)

Oneohtrix Point Never has shared this moody collaboration with Iggy Pop, which is meant to be used on the score for the crime film Good Timestarring Robert Pattinson.


Earthling – “Howl”

Earthling‘s style of music is nebulous, never seeming to fit in one concrete genre for long. One moment, there’s strong doom vibes which then progress into almost math-rock sounding licks, and as the song builds into a chorus this is replaced with classic speed metal tropes. Nonetheless, this genre-hopping is managed very well on this new track – “Howl”.

Essay: Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

“There is no sense in being interested in an ill person/Or unwell a society if one cannot believe their readiness/And the capacity for proper recovery”

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  1. “Metronomic Underground” – 7:54
  2. “Cybele’s Reverie” – 4:42
  3. “Percolator” – 3:47
  4. “Les Yper-Sound” – 4:05
  5. “Spark Plug” – 2:29
  6. “OLV 26” – 5:42
  7. “The Noise of Carpet” – 3:05
  8. “Tomorrow Is Already Here” – 4:56
  9. “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” – 4:37
  10. “Monstre sacre” – 3:44
  11. “Motoroller Scalatron” – 3:48
  12. “Slow Fast Hazel” – 3:53
  13. “Anonymous Collective” – 4:32

Stereolab are a musical anomaly. They are more of an amalgamation of different genre, never united under one banner for long. One moment, they are a Krautrock band, another, they make a hip hop track and the next, they revert back to Velvet Underground -style funk. It’s a formula that can very easily end up as a directionless mess, and has no business working as well as it does on Stereolab’s 1996 album Emperor Tomato Ketchup. What holds the smorgasbord of ideas together is some first-class production, assisted by Tortoise’s John McEntire. The somewhat unique production style allowed incredibly textured, multilayered sounds among an array of different channels (including vocal harmonies, strings and electronica), resulting in a crystal clear-sound where no detail is lost.

At the head of the project are the seductive vocals of Lætitia Sadier, who sings in both English and her native French and really helps to give the band a recognisable identity. At the beginning of the 1990s, Stereolab were beginning to move away from rock and experiment more with pop-centric sounds, while still incorporating their lost list of diverse stylistic influences. Emperor Tomato Ketchup was a critical success on release, and was the band’s best shot at breaking into the mainstream. Sadly, they were to remain an underground sensation for a long time, although the album did see a lot of airplay on campus radio stations. Today, they are deservedly more recognised in the music world.

Sadier, and by extension Stereolab themselves, have always written songs with famously politically and philosophically charged lyrics.

“Basically, I want to change the world. I want to make people think about how they live every day, shake them a bit.” – Lætitia Sadier

1994’s single “Ping Pong” created quite a buzz for its political lyrics, which some critics believed espoused a Marxist belief system. On Ketchup, these ideas still come into play, but less prominently. The lyrics written in French wouldn’t translate as they were originally intended, so I’ll talk about those in English. On the track “Tomorrow Is Already Here”, Sadier laments about the corruption and lust for power in the political institution, which she sees had noble beginnings in serving its people: “Originally this set up was to serve society/Now the roles have been reversed that want society/To serve the institutions.” Some cuts go down a far more poetic and philosophical route, like on “The Noise of Carpet”, where she discusses ideas such as “fashionable cynicism” in an unknown character who seems to have become disillusioned with the world at the same time as battling some sort of mental illness. The character is built up as having a defeatist outlook on life. with the narrator presumably acting as someone who knows the character closely, as they encourage the pessimist to have a more positive attitude: “This world will give you anything/As long as you will want to.”

In many ways, Stereolab were pioneers, yet simultaneously breathing new life into forgotten or stale genres and making them contemporary again. And they were at the top of their game doing so.

New Music: Björk, Japanese Breakfast, Diplo, Shabazz Palaces, Hater

Björk – “notget”

Talented musician and wardrobe oddity Björk has just come through with an equally eccentric music video for “notget,” from her 2015 album Vulnicura, which intimately explored the end of her relationship with then-boyfriend Matthew Barney, and the subsequent healing process that came after. It’s good to know that she’s still active in the music world.


Diplo, Rich Chigga, Young Thug & Rich the Kid – “Bankroll”

A star-studded collaboration in the trap rap world was shared today in the form of Diplo, Rich Chigga, Young Thug and Rich the Kid’s shot at banger of the year: “Bankroll.” An interesting story about this track is that it was originally meant to feature Justin Beiber, but according to Thomas Wesley Pentz, he had to do away with that version of the single. “Other artists made Soundcloud take down the Justin Beiber version because they had exclusives with him.” A response to this was to replace Bieber with trap legend Rich Chigga, and make the original version free for download.


Japanese Breakfast – “Boyish”

“Boyish”, from New-York based Korean artist Japanese Breakfast‘s forthcoming LP entitled Soft Sounds From Another Planet, is a lush and tranquil science-fiction ballad that really took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed it. You can pre-order the new album here.


Shabazz Palaces – “Julian’s Dream (ode to a bad) [feat. The Shogun Shot]”

Prolific experimental hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces have shared the second single from their next releases. They ambitiously plan to release two albums simultaneously: They are Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines & Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star. You can listen to the first single, “Since C.A.Y.A.” here.


Hater – “Coming Down”

This is a new bonus track from the Japanese-only release of Swedish indie pop group Hater’s latest LP You Tried.