COLUMNS

  • House of Mirrors

    IN THE FIRST OF TWO VIDEOS for her song “Transparent Soul,” Willow thrashes in a featureless white room flooded bluntly with light. The song’s lyrics are full of barbs launched at a disappointing “you,” but Willow is alone in this visual capsule. She sings into and kicks at the fish-eye lens set on the ground, then backs herself into a corner of the claustrophobic box, whose walls have suddenly sprouted security cameras. She aims one at the viewer, threatening us with a reciprocal gaze. 

    The low vantage and ultrawide-angle lens draw a clean line back to the ’90s, when director Hype Williams used

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  • Into the Groove

    These songs were the inspiration for my new album, Unbelievable Animals. I wanted to feel happy and energized, so I went back to music that I listened to as a kid, when the radio hits were somewhere between electronic and adult contemporary. Their sounds are groovy, space age, and clean, like the sixties via Y2K. A familiar chaos for our current moment.

    Madonna, “Candy Perfume Girl”

    The Chemical Brothers, “Hey Boy Hey Girl”

    Felix, “Tiger Stripes”

    Magda, “Naomi Campbell”

    New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle”

    Towa Tei, Kylie Minogue, and Haruomi Hosono, “GBI (German Bold Italic)”

    Janet Jackson, “So Much

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  • Other Voices, Other Rooms

    FOUR YEARS AGO, the composer Alvin Lucier, then 86, performed his best-known piece, I am sitting in a room (1969), at ISSUE Project Room in downtown Brooklyn. Sitting cross-legged in a folding chair and sporting a Black Lives Matter T-shirt under his rumpled khaki jacket, Lucier read into a microphone from a hardbound copy of the score as if it were a storybook:

    I am sitting in a room, the same one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any
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  • Hearing Voices

    FROM THE EARLY TO MID-1990s, the Brooklyn-based installation artist Kristin Oppenheim made hushed, hypnotic, almost impossibly minimal recordings, singing with herself, by herself. At the time, visitors to galleries in New York, Nice, or Milan might have stumbled upon them playing from a tape deck displayed on a plinth, or perhaps hidden from view. The first of these recordings she considered finished, 1992’s “Shake Me,” is a loop of roughly twenty-two seconds, repeated some twenty times, of Oppenheim softly warbling the title. Yet the track sounds massive, at least emotionally. With each

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  • For The In Between Days

    The first half of this year has felt quieter and more pensive, and perhaps a bit lonelier, than last year. Music has been keeping me company in a meaningful way. Here are some pieces I’ve felt myself gravitating toward as I let my mind go into that particular emotional space. I’m also working on a couple of larger recording projects that I’m really excited about—I’m feeding all of these influences into that state of being.

    Stevie Wonder, “Golden Lady”

    Yoko Ono, “Even When You’re Far Away”

    Catherine Christer Hennix, Mode nouvelles des modalités II

    Robbie Basho, “Cathedrals et fleur de lis

    Robert

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  • Forever Changes

    AROOJ AFTAB’S WORK TRANSFORMS the nearly millennium-old tradition of Hindustani classical music from which it emerges, a form whose tenets of improvisation, repetition, and rasa, or emotion, have inspired American composers such as John Cage, La Monte Young, and Terry Riley. Aftab responds to their musical borrowing by restituting what these white men excised from their arrangements—the feminine voice—and treating it as yet another instrument in her bright, layered compositions. The pentatonic melodies and mixed genres of the Black avant-garde vocalist and composer Julius Eastman’s shimmering 

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  • Astral Traveling

    PROMISES, a new collaboration between American free jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, British electronic musician and composer Floating Points (Sam Shepherd), and the London Symphony Orchestra, made me wish I was holding the sleeve of a 12" LP instead of squinting at a digital thumbnail. Even without the multiplex cover art by Julie Mehretu, there are only so many names you can squeeze onto one album cover before it threatens to buckle. I was not without trepidation when I first hit play: The easiest way to disappoint is to promise too much. Fortunately, Promises more than delivers.

    Though it’s the

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  • Taylor Made

    SPRING IS IN THE AIR, and with it the buzz of a new work by that most accomplished execrator of man-children, a musical artist who penetrates deep into the American psyche with ballads of love and loss: That’s right, Taylor Swift is dropping an album. Yes, there is that other icon with a record out, nostalgiste de la boue Lana del Rey, the voice that launched a thousand think pieces, but now is the time to give the author of “Dear John” the intellectual consideration she so richly deserves. It’s a love story—just say yes.

    Swift’s newest venture is to revisit an old one: a rerecording of her

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  • Pluck, House, and Float

    For this playlist, I decided to focus on the three fundamentals of music: Pluck, House, and Float.

    Pluck: A spiky attack followed by a slow decay. Nearly all that we understand as the character of any given sound happens in its first milliseconds. And the noises that stay with us keep reverberating long after they're no longer heard. Chiweshe's mbira, guitars of The Ex and A. Kostis, Colleen's viola da gamba, Sudan Archives' violin.

    House: Sweat stains the difference between repeatability and desire. Clubs resist abstraction: Every night is the only night. Octo Octa's blush, Ngly's mumble, Sofia

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  • Queer as Folk

    JULIEN BAKER’S MUSIC WRINGS OUT THE BODY. Her lyrics, sung over sparse, echoing instrumentation, as if she were alone in a cavernous room, frequently dwell on physical injury. The title track of her 2015 debut album, Sprained Ankle, casts her as a marathon runner limping toward the finish line. In “Televangelist,” from 2017’s Turn Out the Lights, she’s an “amputee for phantom touch / leaning on an invisible crutch.” “Hurt Less,” from the same album, has her “pitched through the windshield” in a car crash. Baker tangles these visions of wounding and woundedness with meditations on mental illness,

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  • Sasha Geffen

    Sasha Geffen is the author of Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary (University of Texas Press, 2020). Their writing also appears in Rolling Stone, The Nation, Pitchfork, NPR, and Elsewhere. They live in Colorado.

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    BACKXWASH, GOD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS LEAVE HIM OUT OF IT
    (Grimalkin)

    Montreal-based rapper and producer Ashanti Mutinta distills power from horror. Her latest LP, with its raw final-girl vocals and buzz-saw instrumentals, pins a laser focus on the stressors of living vulnerably in a world that’s hostile to its margins, dredging up fear while offering catharsis.

    2

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  • George Lewis

    Composer, musicologist, and computer-media artist George Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. His book A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) won an American Book Award, and he is coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016).

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    CHAAKAPESH (Roger Frappier and Justin Kingsley)

    This documentary follows the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Kent Nagano on a visit to Indigenous communities in northern Quebec to perform Cree Canadian writer Tomson Highway

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