“De-Dollarization” and the China-Russia Bank Deal: The Beginning of the End of the Dollar?

 

The Fateful Triangle: Russia, Ukraine and the Jews

 

The xx: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

 

 

 

It’s easy to think of The xx as a fashionable band: Its members have a sleek all-in-black look, its typography and cover art is coolly and distinctively styled, and the group itself has been showered with validation, including Britain’s 2010 Mercury Prize. But beneath all that tightly controlled image-making lays music that’s raw and vulnerable; shy, worried tentativeness is wired into a sound that shimmers powerfully, but remains as fragile and delicate as a soap bubble.

The xx’s second album, Coexist, came out last fall, and it plays like a series of tensely lovely interludes, each building to a climax that never arrives. Plopped in front of Bob Boilen’s desk and asked to play a few songs from the record, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim have reason to look slightly ill-at-ease: The setting and band configuration robs them of cover. No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel; no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.

What comes out of their performance is not just beauty, but humanity — the sense that, in all of The xx’s songs, all the calm chilliness in the world can’t quite contain an exposed heart.

Set List
• “Angels”
• “Sunset”

Credits
Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor: Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Becky Lettenberger, Claire O’Neill, Maggie Starbard

PREMIERE: Hear Gemma Ray’s Seismic Shake Baby Shake

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Enjoy a red velvet curtain swish of pop noir from Essex-born, Berlin-based drama queen.

A red velvet curtain swish of pop noir, Shake Baby Shake pairs a seismic metaphor for a tumultuous love affair with slow-building melodic drama.

“Take me to the centre of the mouth of Mount Vesuvius / The centre of the universe,” she swoons, beginning a stream of mischievous volcanic imagery of elemental thrust and shaking ocean floor.

An Essex girl transposed to Berlin, Ray’s lovely voice and the song’s coiling melody sound deceptively light and fragile but soon grow into more elaborate patterns; prettily complex, like bird footprints on sand. No wonder the esteemed likes of Alan Vega and Howe Gelb were persuaded to contribute to her new album.

 

 

 

Governors Ball 2014 – NYC

 

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1. Rain nearly spoiled last year’s Governors Ball, a muddy weekend ultimately redeemed by a closing set by Kanye West. This year’s acts didn’t have to battle Mother Nature for attendees’ attention: Festival-goers were treated to three days of beautiful sun and loud music, featuring headlining sets from Outkast, the Strokes and Jack White. Here are the 30 best things that caught our eyes and ears, featuring everything from hip-hop buddy comedies and nostalgia-triggering rock bands to cuddly R&B and Madonna-approved EDM. By Cady Drell, Claire Lobenfeld and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
 

2.  On a bill packed with riveting performers, Phoenix were an undisputed standout. Frontman Thomas Mars was a reckless force of nature for 90 straight minutes, bounding up to the front of the stage and bouncing around like he fronted a punk band rather than an oft-contemplative French alt-pop group. The massive crowd went particularly wild for tracks off the band’s 2009 smash Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and the band generated a frenzy by closing the night with three of its tracks: “Armistice,” “1901” and “Rome.” In the middle of these, Mars jumped off the stage, crawled over the railing and proceeded to capably surf the crowd for an impressive distance. It was a little terrifying, but mostly it was badass. C.D.

3. The crowd that choose to see Damon Albarn instead of Outkast made the difficult choice to forego a duo of hip-hop royals  but only for about 20 minutes. At one point in between tracks, Albarn joked that he was attempting to “conjure” Maseo – the De La Soul member whose iconic laugh can be heard at the beginning of Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.,” and when the recorded laugh cued, the former Blur frontman was joined onstage by De La Soul’s Trugoy and Posdnuos. After ending the set with Blur’s “All Your Life,” Albarn encored with Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood,” joined by Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa filling in Del the Funky Homosapien’s verse. C.D.

4. Over a decade after the release of Is This It, the Strokes are still as New York as Zabar’s and the Empire State Building. But before Governor’s Ball, it remained to be seen whether they still had the same chops after going three years without playing live together. Though a show at the small-capacity Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, at the end of May served as a warm-up, this performance felt like both a reunion and a homecoming. After opening with “Barely Legal,” the band played a hit-packed set – complete with audience participation – that included “Razorblade,” “12:51” and “Someday.” They closed with the perennially cool “Last Nite,” and encored with B-side “New York City Cops.” Julian Casablancas’ vocals radiated emotional intensity, even when it kind of looked like he’d forgotten some of the words. Judging by how much the crowd was screaming along, New York is mostly just glad to have them back. C.D.
 

5. The Strokes’ performance on the Governor’s Ball mainstage was packed to the gills, but there was still a sizable group of people who did not give a nan about these New Yorkers: Childish Gambino fans. For many rap critics, Gambino is considered a somewhat baffling outlier, a sort of backpacky, not-great hip-hop project of a man whose dayjob is a comedian, but for his fans, he is on par with God and Neil deGrasse Tyson, worth seeing regardless of his unfortunate timeslot. They are young, they are wild, they are carefree, they are Childish Gambino’s gigantic fanbase. They are our future. J.E.S.
 

6. Are they together or aren’t they? We’re just going to bank on the fact that New York audiences will likely never again get to see reunited Outkast in our hometown, particularly on the Governor’s Ball scale, but oh, was it a glorious send-off. They opened with “Bombs Over Baghdad” opened with it! and did not let up for a good hour and a half, impeccably running through hits from every album and seeming extremely happy to do it. The duo traded single tracks from Speakerboxx/The Love Below and seemed to be aware they were weeding out the true fans when Three Stacks dropped “Hey Ya” halfway through the set, with Janelle Monáe appearing onstage as a backup dancer.
 

Some people left after that pop sing-along, but more stayed, and when Killer Mike came out for Big Boi’s perennial club banger “Kryptonite,” everyone still on the island lost their minds. Not a hit went unturned: “Elevators (Me & You),” “Player’s Ball,” “ATLiens,” “Ms. Jackson,” “Hootie Hoo,” etc, with a surprise appearance by forever-underrated R&B giant Sleepy Brown, who sang the “Way You Move” hook in silk pajamas. Andre 3000 reminded us of the 1995 Source Awards incident in which they were booed for not being from New York, back when regionalism still mattered, but to this crowd of New Yorkers going bananas and rapping back every bar, it was clear Atlanta is always welcome at the table. They ended on the brilliant “Int’l Players Anthem” and “The Whole World,” an epic outro and that felt like a giant hug. Bye, Outkast. Come back again some time. J.E.S.

 

7.  The problem with introducing new material at a festival is that a band can never be entirely sure how many of their die-hard fans – the ones that actually care to preview this stuff  are in the crowd. Just a few days after announcing that their first album in four years, They Want My Soul, will be released on August 5th, Spoon figured out how to please everyone: In the middle of a hits-packed set that included career-spanning tracks like “Don’t You Evah” and “The Way We Get By,” Britt Daniel and Co. slipped the chugging, slightly psychedelic, undeniably catchy “Rainy Taxi” into the mix, then they went right back into the hits, playing “Turn My Camera On” as if they were wrapping a bow around the whole set. C.D.

 
8.  “I don’t wanna say we’re icons,” El-P said in the middle of Run the Jewels’ Friday afternoon set, but he and Killer Mike represent something deeper than a buzzworthy rap duo: They’re the guys who have stuck with what they love forever, located their artistic soulmates and attracted more attention than ever before.

 

But that’s last year’s story. The two were already bursting with collaborative chemistry when they started touring as Run the Jewels, and a year later, that machine is well oiled and unflappable. These days, they not only rap more intently and with higher energy, they goof off more, high-fiving during the “high-five!” ad-lib and Riverdancing during “36” Chain.” The performance included one new track, likely their upcoming song for the Adult Swim Summer Singles Program (El announced that it was not from Run the Jewels 2), and the tune was proof the their potency increases the more they work together. Let’s hope there’s more than just a sequel. C.L.

 

9.   Janelle is known for her blistering live sets: Her band is tight, her backup singers can wail, and she has a swaggering groove that guides the whole vibrant ship. Singles like “Electric Lady” and “Tightrope” turned the Gov Ball into the kind of party that makes you wonder why she isn’t selling out stadiums like Bruno Mars, particularly because her music is wholly her own. But even when she took the energy level down to perform the Pixies-inflected love song “Primetime” (without Miguel), there was an unshaken buoyancy throughout the crowd. “This is a song for lovers,” she said as the band began. “And if you don’t have a lover, I’ll be your lover.” It was one of the only appropriate times at the festival to nuzzle your mate or, with Monáe’s olive branch to the lonely, to feel some kind of love. Even the broiest of bros were swaying their hips as she belted the words. C.L.
 

10. Best Madonna-Filled Dance Party: Disclosure. Why? Because Madonna was actually there. After hitting up their DJ set at Williamsburg dance club Output the night before, the Queen of Pop visited Randall’s Island to watch the brothers Lawrence perform their live show, leading many to believe that a collaboration might be in the works. It would make sense, as the group worked with Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, for the “F For You” remix that they used to open their set.

 

It’s interesting seeing Disclosure become so huge in the States – the bros in the crowd singing along with Aluna Francis when she appeared for “White Noise” were a strange sight indeed – but at gigs like this they probably win over some new fans by playing their tracks live with rototoms, electric drums and bass guitar, demystifying dance music for people who aren’t that into dance music. (Or for people who think house is just nerds on laptops.) Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re two attractive young men with good ears for pop hooks. J.E.S.

 

11.  The morning after Outkast’s set, Nashville rockers Diarrhea Planet got the day off to a frenzied  and disgustingly named – start. The foursome played tracks off of 2013’s very good I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams with the intensity of a punk show, and ended with eloquent fan-favorite “Ghost With a Boner.” Toward the end of the song, however, the band shifted into a killer version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” It’s worth noting that D.P. did the same thing at Alabama’s Hangout Fest in May, where Outkast were also headlining, but no word yet on which headliner they’ll cover at Bonnaroo, where Outkast will not be performing. Fingers-crossed that they take a whack at an Elton John ballad. C.D.

 
12.  jenny Lewis is known for her killer thrift store finds and well-put-together looks, but she may have topped herself this time: For her Friday daytime slot the singer-songwriter donned a white pantsuit that seemed to be custom-painted with gradient rainbows and stars from shoulder-to-waist, with starry pink boots and blue cat-eye sunglasses to match. The look signified her every dreamy intent, driven home when she took to the keyboards to play “Head Under Water,” the first song from her new solo record. It was a sweet pop hook with a longing pre-chorus: “There’s a little magic, everybody has it,” she sang. “There’s a little bit of fight left in me, yeah.” Couldn’t see her eyes, but no doubt they were twinkling. J.E.S.

 
13.  After opening with a particularly heady take on the White Stripes track “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” that turned into Lazaretto single “High Ball Stepper” mid-way through, White’s headlining set dove into long stretches where snarling guitar solos nearly entered jam session territory and Lillie Mae Rische mesmerized with her violin and mandolin accompaniment. A twangy “Hotel Yorba” incited so much excited jumping that the ground shook, and “We’re Going to Be Friends,” performed as a duet with Rische, had most of the audience singing along in perfect unison, with White acting as encouraging bandleader. The setlist itself wasn’t a huge departure from that of his last tour, yet its execution post-Lazaretto represents a new high-water mark – bluesier, friendlier and more experimental, all at the same time. C.D.

 
14. Placing the Strokes and Interpol in second-tier headlining positions provided a firm reminder that about 15 years ago, New York was still a beacon of rock & roll innovation. Julian Casablancas wearing a Hawaiian shirt on Saturday night was a stark reminder that those days are over, but Paul Banks rocking a black suit at Sunday’s Interpol set made it feel like they never left. A Vampire Weekend-anticipating crowd had thinned out the audience for Interpol’s encore, but even in an ocean of tired festival-goers, their 2002 cut “PDA” still felt brand new. C.L.

 
15.  The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince are reliably cool no matter what they’re doing, but on Sunday afternoon the duo outdid themselves, keeping chatter to a minimum – kind of their M.O., lest they ruin the mystique – and playing in the middle of the stage, flanked by two sets of percussionists who, when not hitting their single respective drums, held their sticks in an “X” shape above their heads. It looked ominous, which is probably what they were going for. C.D.

 
16. Vampire Weekend checked every box on the “Good Headliner” form and played a varied, occasionally exciting and consistently strong set on Sunday. Playing to their hometown fans like they knew them well, they even laughed when two girls jumped up onstage and started dancing during the encore of “One (Blake’s Got a New Face),” with frontman Ezra Koenig telling a security guard in pursuit that it was alright. They played flawlessly, if a little predictably, and ended with the upbeat fan-favorite “Walcott,” what Koenig described as a “goodbye song.” Then everyone sprinted away so as not to wait in line for the ferry, because that thing took hours. C.D.

 
17.  Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has never been shy about her love of pop music. Her breakout full-length, Visions, was beaming with off-kilter, skittering production pre-dating the alt-pop she has helped make popular. With hula-hoopers and mimes on stage, Boucher delivered three new cuts: “David,” “Sleepwalking” and “Go,” a track she and fellow Canadian producer Blood Diamonds crafted together for Rihanna. All three suggested that the singer is ready to embrace a more mainstream sound, but “Go,” like “We Can’t Stop” before it, sounded exactly like what it is: A Rihanna reject. While clearly not the point, it was bizarre proof that Rih’s perfectionism is often underestimated: Her attitude and seeming frivolity must make people believe that she hasn’t cared to re-up on the fucks she supposedly ran out of so many years ago. Grimes provided, at best, dancehall pantomime that wasn’t sharp-tongued enough for the bad gyal.
 

18.  It’s not just because he plays from the inside of a spaceship: Skrillex really does not get enough credit for being the nuanced, open-eared music fan that he is. Of course the former emo screamer coats everything in hefty globs of his addictive wobble, but he pays respect to the origins of dubstep in ways that many of its big-name creators have abandoned, playing a mix of dub, dancehall, jungle and UK garage  wait, was that a snippet of Jeff Mills’ “Changes of Life”? Blink and you’ll miss his references, which also include Miami bass, trap, R&B, his own extreme bangers and, improbably, happy hardcore. Skrillex is one of music’s finest polyglots, and he gets better with every set. Anyone who still denies it is, quite simply, missing out. J.E.S.

 

19.  Axwell and Ingrosso, formerly of Swedish House Mafia, opened their flashily visual set with a new song that let fans know their exact intent. An ethereal voice from the speakers proclaimed: “This time we can’t go home, it’s a new beginning.” A 3D puff of smoke pulsed behind the Stockholm-bred producers, and in came the style of glossy, strobe-ready thump that has made them world-famous: progressive house music with a slight pop bent, but throbby enough to vibe out to.

 

That first song was titled, as you might have guessed, “This Time We Can’t Go Home,” but they also brought a whole host of new tracks from their forthcoming album, including the excellently titled “We Come, We Rave, We Love,” “Musique Doing Doing” and “Sun Is Shining and So Are You,” interspersed with older Swedish House Mafia tracks (and Steve Angello’s “Payback,” no beef!). They also gave us a taste of “Hold Us Down” and “On My Way” from the new album, which means that Gov Ball festivalgoers probably got to hear a good quarter of their forthcoming release – one of the perks to being truly about that #ravelife and staying out late on a Sunday. J.E.S.