Music is why we do this. It is ever the faithful companion on our journey… and boy, are we thankful for the company. Through the apogees, valleys, and everywhere in between, our world rarely feels complete without this aural accompaniment, that of which we are seemingly always in relentless pursuit.
Novel or otherwise, music is our air, our water; our spirit and our blood. It reminds us of the past, anchors us in the present, and affords us the headspace to dream of a better future. Music flows with natural simplicity, mathematical complexity, human subtlety, and everything and anything in between. Music is not different than life, and the pursuit of happiness through music is the pursuit of happiness itself. So in that pursuit, what music has been flowing through The Music Den?
This week—or rather, this whole month— I’ve been completely enamored by the new A Light For Attracting Attention LP by The Smile, Lizzy McAlpine’s newest record five seconds flat (as well as her first album Give Me a Minute), and Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory.
The first is the debut of the only Radiohead side-project I can say genuinely outdoes Radiohead at times. I could write an entire full-length review of their debut A Light For Attracting Attention, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll leave a few important nuggets: It’s more clear than ever that the dyad of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are the beating heart that drives Radiohead to be the greatest modern rock band. The songs on this record cohere beautifully, while somehow jumping between sincerely occupying wholly diverse types of momentum one after another, from a gentle jazzy lilt, to a dizzying descent into madness, to an exhausted (yet urgent) call to awakening, to an incendiary British punk stomp firmly planting its “f**k you” flag where you sleep at night. You'll Never Work In Television Again is of my favorite tracks on the record, one that I feel sonically embodies the feeling of release and joyous freedom that Thom and Jonny likely feel from being able to attack a new project after 30 years of being in Radiohead.
Despite the prior accolades levied towards Yorke and Greenwood, I think the stars of this record are actually Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s consummate engineer of the last 30 or so years, and the new drummer, Tom Skinner. The former imparts a comfortable warmth that cozies the listener to the whole of the record while not downplaying its richness of texture or intensity of conviction. The latter frankly makes the whole record dance like some he’s an enraged puppet master hellbent on moving so quickly and deftly that no one can take his toys away from him.
Lizzy McAlpine is a new discovery for me, and her new record five seconds flat was so good I’ve been annoying everyone I know to listen to it, because it’s upsetting as hell that she’s not getting the recognition she deserves. If there’s one thing on this list I think you should listen to, it is this record. It is my album of the year so far, not because it’s especially lyrically deep or high-concept, but because the songs themselves are excellent (likely seminal with enough hindsight) contributions to the wider “singer/songwriter” genre, the performances are pitch perfect and emotionally resonant, the arrangements guide you through the core ideas at play so efficiently you don’t notice how calculated it all is, and the mix... sheesh. The mix is frankly way better than it has any right to be. It passes the “audiophile quality” test with flying colors, while also being something everyone can like. If you only have time for one track, erase me (feat. Jacob Collier) is my favorite pop song this year.
Her previous record Give Me a Minute, while not being quite as polished or mature, is full to the brim of the same voice, perspective, and writing prowess that makes the later record so interesting and lovely to live with. The second half of the second song Nothing/Sad n Stuff has one of the most satisfying melodies I've heard this year, and it's on such a tranquil and soft background that it's hard to square the fact that she's singing about deep unrest and anguish.
Attack on Memory is an older record, one I actually forgot about until a recent conversation with a friend. This is one of the best recorded and mixed punk albums ever; likely one of the only punk albums that passes the “audiophile quality test” while not compromising on the anger, potency, and vigor of a real punk record. It marches, sprints, lumbers towards its message of apathy, dejection, and misery in a way that is both relatable but also hyper-engaging. Listen to Separation to know what I mean. It is impossible, in my opinion, not to find something utterly explosive and magnetic about this record, and I feel like such an idiot for forgetting about it for so long.
All the serious listening this past month has been with my HD800 or LCD-X, paired with my Bryston BHA-1 and Dangerous Music Source. I find these pairings to be perfectly capable of doing what I want, which is to be intimate, impactful, and/or inviting with whatever I throw at it. I’m endlessly thankful my time has been adorned with such richness and comfort in listening to all of this, and I’m equally thankful I have the gear to make it so enjoyable and rewarding every time I use it.
I did not check out any brand-new music this week, instead opting for the comfort of my library. The group Gabriels is something special. They give us a timeless presentation with stunning vocals from Jacob Lusk. Power, precision, and emotion hit you like a brick wall from the opening track of Bloodline, titled Innocence. That power carries on through the track, Blame. The jazzy overtones help keep you elevated while the track dives lyrically deep into the complex maze of addiction. Stranger walks the tightrope that is relationships, while Jacob Lusk performs daring vocal feats. I appreciated how delicate and intricate they were in parallel with the message. The closing track, Bloodline, shows the power of the group to transport you. I can feel its place in time along with the weight of the struggles. This album easily has a place in my all-time favorites.
I wanted to stay smooth after the Gabriels Bloodline album reached its final song, so I let Roon radio take over. It summoned Charles Mingus, and oh my. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat has one of the silkiest vibes. It is more chilling with friends who play instruments, than something that was written and arranged. It oozes technical skill and polish despite that laid back feel. I remember this track being the one to sell me on the Sennheiser HD 800 S when I was on the fence a while back. It has been high in rotation ever since.
I also want to give a quick shout to a Bon Iver song that I like, but it pains me. 715 - CR∑∑KS is a glitchy, auto-tuned track that carries a deceivingly heavy message. At first listen, you let the dissonance pull you along, then another pass to decipher the lyrics. It makes them hit that much harder.
The thing that gets in the way for me is the 32Kbps MP3-like ringing effect. It brings back too many memories of the poorly ripped music days. Maybe that’s the root of the subtle nostalgia I get from the track. I looked around for some alternate versions just in case it was Roon having a fit. I knew that was not going to be the case, but it did uncover an amazing vocal-focus rendition by Cristin Milioti (yes, the actress!) I highly recommend checking it out.
My listening this week was mostly Sennheiser HD 800 S + Eddie Current Studio B + Emission Labs 300B tubes. This combo really maximizes the stage of the 800 S, and gives the body needed to support the massive vocals and string weight of something like Gabriels.
Listener is on the money in his intro. My world is incomplete without music. As an introvert, I internalize everything. Everything has a soundtrack. I often remix songs in my head. It could be a track I hear in passing, or repetitive ice cream truck jingles… All is fair game as backing track to life.
Listening sessions are important to me for getting through the week. A song I hear could trigger an idea that impacts the rest of my life. Think about your remixes this week and let us know what you come up with when you join us next in The Music Den.