NEWS ROUNDUP: Venues, Videos, New Releases & More

Venues, Videos, New Releases & More

By Jasmine Williams

RIP Webster Hall, hello Arc!

New York City – well, to be specific, Long Island City – is getting a new venue next year. The Arc will have a capacity of about 2,000 and is set to open early next year. Former Webster Hall COO, Rich Pawelczyk, has just joined the venture.

Childish Gambino Teams Up with Rashida Jones

Maybe Childish Gambino will help the #MeToo movement cross over from Hollywood to music? His real-life actor persona, Donald Glover, just lent his voice to an “anti-harassment” video directed by Rashida Jones. The short animated film covers the topic of appropriate behavior in the workplace.

A Grammy Update

In an effort to address the lack of diversity and female nominees at last year’s Grammys, The Recording Academy has announced that they will expand some of the major categories. There will now be eight instead of five nominees for record of the year, album of the year, song of the year, and best new artist.

Protection for Songwriters

The Senate Judiciary Committee just voted in favor of The Music Modernization act, a bill that aims to establish a licensing system that would be controlled by songwriters and publishers and paid for by digital services like Spotify.

Joe Jackson

Michael Jackson’s father and longtime manager, Joe Jackson, died yesterday at the age of 89.

The New New

Three heavy hitters from very different genres dropped new releases today. Only a year after the last Gorillaz album, Damon Albarn is back with a new one. The Now Now follows last spring’s release of Humanz. Some of the beauty of Gorillaz has always been held in the band’s animated appearance – cartoon facades allow for new collaborators to become characters on each album. In contrast, The Now Now allows Albarn to play the many parts himself. His sixth Gorillaz album features fewer collaborations than his usual offerings – some might even consider it to be more of a solo session. Longtime fans will hear lyrics that reference melancholy days on tour and draw comparisons to 2010’s The Fall, which was also released in a short span after a collab-heavy star-studded drop Plastic Beach.

In contrast to Albarn’s lightening up of collaborators, Florence Welch grabbed a couple of A-list partners for the brand new Florence + The Machine album, High As Hope. As executive producer for the album (her first time in the position), Welch tapped Kamasi Washington, Sampha, and Jamie XX for contributions. For Hope, Welch dials down her bombastic vocals for tracks that delve into the personal, including her battles with alcohol addiction. Of the album she reportedly told an LA crowd, “It’s just I’m less drunk, and there is less glitter.”

Drake’s new 25-track double album, Scorpion, is out today. It features collaborations with big names, including Jay-Z and Michael Jackson.

The album touches on his very publicized feud with Pusha-T; in a bit of self deprecation, it even goes so far as to reference Pusha’s insults in the editor notes for Apple Music. Some of Drake’s new tracks have the internet ablaze with lyrics that seem to confirm the existence of the Canadian rapper’s son with Sophie Brussaux.

VIDEO REVIEW + OP-ED: “The Apple” and “Everyday Robots”


The video for ”Everyday Robots,” off Blur frontman Damon Albarn‘s forthcoming solo debut, is as minimalist and hypnotizing as the song itself. The imagery’s progression shows the slow creation of a digitalized portrait of Albarn—first a skull forms, with a gold front tooth, mouth and eyes take shape out of what looks like red putty, abstract tubes turn to neck muscles that stretch over the skull’s face. Once completed, the Alburn turns grey and two more identical copies appear, bouncing back and forth along the parameters of a white backdrop, like images floating across a computer screensaver. The video’s design is richly detailed and extremely fun to watch, thanks to creative designer Aitor Throop, but comes off a little clinical—and overstated—given the music it’s matched to.

We are everyday robots on our phones,” Albarn sings, over a looping stanza of clock-like electronic rhythms and violin trills. The lyrics cast long shadows over a society of alone people, working always towards greater isolation and more total immersion in virtual reality. It’s an unspecial gimmick. Who hasn’t griped about technology dependence? The song, like a piece of Danish furniture, is gorgeous but manicured to hell. Albarn’s voice has always had an impassive transparency to it that helped him sing sentimental lines without overloading on theatricality, but with material so streamlined and dispassionate, the vocals are frigid.

I’m trying to imagine this song pinned against a more obvious kind of music video, something more recognizable as a story line—cold, gray cities, maybe, cars on a highway, Albarn standing still as a blurred crowd rushes by. It probably wouldn’t be as good as the video is in its current form. The details, like the ridges along the skull’s bone and the sporadic, and how machine-ishly the head swivels, offering each of its angles to best advantage, are stunning. The perspective from inside a computer, though—when lopped on top of the subject matter of the song and the pulsing electronic beats—are too much. Especially so when, at the end, the rhythm moves from basso continuo-status up to the foreground of the music, recalling a heart monitor machine, with all of its connotations of melodrama. It’s just so damn serious.

Pop songs that wrap a moral into themselves always walk a tricky line. Of course the music has a history of social involvement. Protest music, jazz, reggae, and soul all arguably emerged in response to a need for music to enact social reorganization. Popular music harnesses large groups of people into an action because of its singalongability, so it’s interesting that both “Everyday Robots” and our next video, “The Apple (For Alan Turing)” repeat melodies and lyrical phrases. Vagueness works well in pop, too: lyrics are short, bendable, mishearable; key shifts can be interpreted according to mood, and what the music means is often linked to a memory or association unique to the person listening to the music. Conversely, when something is so fixedly about what it’s about as “Everyday Robots” is about technological development in society, the scope of the song feels rigid and loses much of its power to surprise us, to be free-flowingly beautiful rather than just, as “Everyday Robots” is, pretty.

If “Everyday Robots” has too much distance from its subject to be compelling, the opposite may be true of Fiction’s “The Apple (For Alan Turing),” which would, I think, gain a lot of precious ambiguity by simply removing the parenthetical. “The Apple” is a retelling of UK mathematician and very early (1950s!) programmer and code-writer, who chose chemical castration over jail time when he was convicted of gross indecency for his homosexuality. In a nod to the Snow White fairy tale, which he loved, Turing killed himself a few years later with a couple of bites of an apple that he’d shot full of cyanide. “Everyday Robots” trends futuristic; this song takes us back, and the video is a black-and-white, home video-like representation of the day of a man’s life. The man—Turing, evidently, because we see him writing equations on a blackboard—goes running through a field, pours wine, has a conversation with a chain-smoking, nervous-looking younger man, and turns to hold eye contact with the camera when the lyric “The code was really nothing much and I just took a bite” comes along. The video is preceded by a full reproduction of a note written by Turing after he learned that he was going to be taken to court.

This video takes us into the details of Turing’s life with as much fidelity as the song itself does, and pound for pound, that’s a lot. It’s fairly common for indie bands to make songs or whole albums that dwell on one historical person, or in a general past era—Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over The Sea was reportedly believed to be inspired by the life of Anne Frank, and Jus Post Bellum recently released Oh July, which followed the lives of a working class married couple living during the Civil War—but Fiction’s track, especially taken alongside the video, leaves little to the imagination. Had they not named Alan Turing in the title, though, the lyrics would be more provocative than biographical. Some lines, like “They’ve been making my mind up, they’ve been turning my body into something it’s not” come across lushly, with the vocal line making its ascent to the highest point in the piece and then cascading downwards on the word “not.” Out of context, they’re intriguing. I would much prefer to have to do some of my own digging to link the song to Alan Turing, rather than see it stated. After all, Neutral Milk Hotel never confirmed that their album really was about Anne Frank. In pop music, the payoff of cultivating mystery is pretty remarkable: ambiguities in songs fade into questions that cult fans can compare evidence over for decades.

The last cut on Fiction’s 2013 debut album, “The Apple”’s subject matter holds relevance today, too. Turing received a posthumous Royal Pardon  only this Christmas. But though a reminder of Turing’s story is certainly appropriate in a year of equal rights setbacks and breakthroughs in almost the same measure, the song reads mostly like a love story to Turing’s specific case. The individual admiration on this track is very compelling—though the video is a little lackluster—and I’d forgive the vocal lines here almost anything. Softened with a shimmering, lightly electronic backdrop, Mike Barrett and James Howard’s vocal harmonies emerge with a beautiful delicacy, and a real sense that love is propelling the song.