Turn those goddamn cell phones off! No, not on vibrate – they need to be completely turned off! Why? Because you’ve just entered The National Radio Quiet Zone – a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia. All WiFi, cellphones, and radio frequencies are banned in this area. No, it’s not because the citizens are Amish or part of some conservative religious cult: this is the locale of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory; a telescope facility that tracks such things as the Big Bang and the origin of the universe; sans radio-signal-interference. (Though currently closed due to the government shutdown.)
But much like the movie Footloose, if Kevin Bacon lived in this town he’d have to sneak over the county line to check his email; a regular patrol truck drives the city streets to enforce the no radio quiet policy. If you do visit the town, be sure to bring a handful of quarters for the phone booth.
As I sit in a Lincoln Center Starbucks nauseous from the fact that I’m about to sit down with Claire Denis and haven’t been this nervous in quite a while, it’s been a welcome delight that this morning’s soundtrack has been getting better by the minute. First off, NPR is now streaming the new album Virgins from brilliant experimental electronic composer of fantastically haunting soundscapes Tim Hecker. And as expected, it sinks into your skin and freezes your veins, transporting you in a decaying ballroom filled with winter light and the ghost of horrific silences—or something.
And to top it off, there really aren’t many things that excite me more than reading the words “unreleased Burial track” on a grey Monday morning, so I was thrilled to hear that Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, DJed on Britain’s Rinse FM this weekend and played a never heard before collaboration between he and the enigmatic smoke-fueled perfection that is Burial. There’s no title or information about when it was recored, but you should do yourself a favor and take a listen below. Enjoy.
Damn. I love FOUND magazine. If not familiar: FOUND is a salute to the everyday poetry in all of us. (But in a good way.) The premise of the publication is a collection of found love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, receipts, doodles– anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life. Out of context, these snapshots of everyday life read like a Charles Mingus jazz composition; we’re left to figure out the spaces in between – thus both the humor and the sadness.
The genisis of FOUND began in Logan Square, Chicago when co-creator Davy Rothbart found a note mistakenly left on his windshield – meant for a guy named Mario. The note read:
"Mario, I fucking hate you. You said you had to work then why is your car HERE at HER place? You’re a fucking LIAR and I fucking hate you. Amber. P.S. Text me later."
Davy made an appearance last night at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn (damn fine bookstore) as part of FOUND Magazine’s Unfinished Business Tour, celebrating the paperback release of his acclaimed book "My Heart is an Idiot." As you may know, Davy is a regular on NPR’s This American Life – and has a friendly, powerhouse, storytelling prowess that rivals such contemporaries as Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris.
I went down to powerHouse Arena, with camera in tow, ready to snap photos of the event – like event photos have never been snapped before. That was until I realized I forgot to charge my camera battery. (Back to photo-taking junior high for me.) Fortunately, I had an audio to give you – oh beloved BlackBook reader – an audible taste. Enjoy a taste of FOUND:
LA rockers Haim are in the UK right now, which means a stop at BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge to cover a current chart hit. The sister trio delivered a guitar-heavy remake of Miley Cyrus’ "Wrecking Ball," which will surely satisfy anyone who’s embarrassed to listen to the original. While Haim aren’t quite as ubiquitous as Miley getting friendly with a sledgehammer, they’re still on a roll. Debut album Days Are Gone has been a long time coming, but it’s finally out September 30 on Columbia. The whole record is currently available for preview on NPR.
This may be the week of Yeezus and the summer of Daft Punk (or maybe Robin Thicke), but maybe it should be the summer of Mavis. Mavis Staples, of the legendary Staple Singers, has been making music for nearly 70 years, and can still make a truly golden album. Her new album, One True Vine, is available for full streaming now, and its relaxed pacing, warmth and beauty will draw you in slowly, until you’re in love.
As with 2010’s You Are Not Alone, Staples works closely with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produced the thing and wrote three songs for the album (his son, Spencer, also plays on the record), but Staples remains the record’s real star. Whether she’s layering new tones on to a version of Low’s “Holy Ghost” or celebrating herself and her beauty on “I Like The Things About Me,” there’s a peacefulness and bliss about the album that will linger with you after listening, like a lazy Sunday where you fall asleep and wake up with a smile on your face. Listen to the whole thing over at NPR Music, or check out the single “I Like The Things About Me” and the tremendous cover of “Can You Get to That” below.
Los Angeles DJ duo Tyler Blake and Michael David, better known as Classixx, have been remixing their way into the hearts of the masses with their delightful takes on popular tracks like Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” and Gossip’s “Move in the Right Direction.” Now, with a guest star-packed debut album, Hanging Gardens, they’re stepping out on their own, and the results are similarly joyful. Synthy single “Holding On” is an instant arms-up dance-floor classic, but any of these songs would be just as perfect for a summer drive, perhaps down the 101, on your way to somewhere more exciting.
Perhaps NPR’s Otis Hart puts it best: the album “feels vibrant and vintage, unmistakably young and unnaturally nostalgic, all at the same time.” There are bits and pieces of tracks that would feel comfortable in the ‘70s and ‘80s, other that feel like long-lost drinking buddies of DFA or Hot Chip, but none of it feels stale or like a tacky homage. Hanging Gardens is, if you’ll pardon the use of a slogan, an easy, breezy, beautiful album for the summer around the corner. Listen to singles “Holding On” and “All You’re Waiting For” below, or stream the whole damn thing over at NPR before the album’s fully release next Tuesday.
Dense but weightless harmonies, burbling electronics and the sense that your soul is getting massaged—and that’s just “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, an Introduction),” the first track of Muchacho, from Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck, an indie folk maestro who got his start in the deep south. Lucky for you, NPR is streaming the whole arrestingly pretty album today.
For my money, though, it’s the second track, “Song for Zula,” that perfectly synthesizes Houck’s down-home and bedroom-laptop moods for six of the best minutes he’s ever recorded. And as moving as they are, those Appalachian strings will relax if not plain melt you. Just don’t let the knowledge that they used this in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy sour you on it!
Stockholm, Sweden’s Shout Out Louds, like many groups of that region, have steadily released the kind of catchy, whip-smart, retro-pop tunes that will get you a loyal following and sleeper success status in the States. Now, with Optica, they could be poised to jump off the American Apparel playlist and into the public eye.
Case in point: NPR is streaming it, and once some upper-middle-class people who were conscious in the 1980s get a load of this, they won’t be able to go jogging without it—imagine the soundtrack to Donnie Darko filtered through a rainbow.
As if that weren’t good enough, “Blue Ice” sounds kind of like a Springsteen ballad? And “Walking In Your Footsteps” has the jauntiest flute line you’ll hear all week. See you later, I have to be in some kind of montage now.
Trent Reznor and his fellow group of grim geniuses, How to Destroy Angels, have premiered their new video for "How Long" over at NPR this morning, and as expected, it’s a dark and mirthless visualization of their sonic musings. The collective—wife and singer Mariqueen Maandig, designer Rob Sheridan, composer Atticus Ross, and Reznor—will put out their latest, much-anticipated album Welcome Oblivion in just a few weeks.
The dark, dystopian video for the single was created by London-based visual arts collective Shynola. Although HTDA haven’t said too much on the nature of the video, Shynola says—in a joint email—that they "had a great conversation where the band articulated their ideas about modern identity, the effect of technology on culture and our inability to connect with others. We’re fascinated by anthropology and coincidentally we had been toying with ideas for a feature film about a post-technology civilization, in which humans have reverted to primitive behavior. Sometimes things just fit together."
See the artwork for vinyl version of the album below—which will contain two bonus tracks—while other forms will all have different covers. Check out the video and get your tickets for Coachella fast—this spring will mark their first live debut.