How To Be Alone: Musicians Confront Solitude

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Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell is out this week.

In his formal, disarmingly humble way, Sufjan Stevens accomplishes something remarkable in the first notes of his new album, Carrie & Lowell. After a Bach-like interlude plucked on a ukulele, Stevens opens this confessional meditation on mourning and reconciliation with a characteristic whisper. “Spirit of my silence, I can hear you,” he sings, going straight up a major scale as if this were a morning matin in some folk mass-obsessed abbey. “But I’m afraid to be near you, and I don’t know where to begin.” It’s logical to assume that the spirit he invokes is that of Carrie, the mentally ill mother who abandoned him as a child and died, still mostly a mystery, in 2012. It’s she, along with the second husband she also abandoned, who gives the album its title. But reviewers have been picking up on that first line for a different reason. It’s a challenge Stevens poses to himself, to make space for a presence that continually gets lost in the human shuffle. This idiosyncratically Christian artist might call that presence God, but he could also call it beauty, or inspiration, or vastness, or solitude, or even nothing — all the names for the unnameable that artists and holy people have conjured over the years.

It’s never been easy, in the modern world, to sit with the unnameable. The extremes people embrace in order to simply be united with, and humbled by, creation are the subject of a huge body of literature stretching from ancient texts to today’s self-help e-books, and of visual art and theater ranging from Hitsuzendo calligraphy to Meredith Monk’s performance art. Music is a paradox within this pursuit: It fills the empty space of solitude even as it stimulates a desire for it. (The first promotional push for Carrie & Lowell came in the form of “silent listening parties” where people sat “alone” together in record stores and galleries worldwide, absorbing the music on headphones.) And it serves as a vehicle for narratives, but it always pulls against those stories, sometimes even noisily overwhelming them. “I think it’s who we are as human beings, storytelling,” Stevens told an interviewer in 2006. “People love to talk about themselves and about their lives and about their day, and everything has a narrative interest to it. That said, I think music is a supernatural kind of abstract form that transcends all of that.”

For a writer like Stevens, who usually stresses patterns and mythologies within his work, the turn toward autobiography is risky. It opens the door to fetishization, something Stevens already has to deal with because of his good looks and invitingly gentle performance style. In the era of pop music, many artists people mention as embodying solitude have very noisy personal narratives indeed — they are troubled figures like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, both possible suicides, or ones who consciously cultivated singular paths parallel to their natural communities, like Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. (Cohen, famous for his devotion to Zen, is a star of the essayist Pico Iyer’s recent TED-sponsored book on secular solitude, The Art of Stillness — the prime example of a meditative life that can still make room for major concert tours, Courvoisier and the occasional “beautiful young companion.” Iyer writes of hearing Cohen’s croaky late masterpiece, Old Ideas, in a Starbuck’s in downtown Los Angeles, and ponders, “Cohen seemed to be bringing us bulletins from somewhere more rooted than the CNN newsroom, and to be talking to us, as the best friends do, without varnish or evasion or design.” To be open to his plain words, though, it helps to know that Cohen’s been perfecting it for half a century. His biography is a key to understanding his messages, but it’s also something of a distraction.

Younger artists who take solitude or silence as a theme do so knowing how difficult it is to even approach such matters without immediately negating their core meaning. What’s unusual about Carrie & Lowell is the way it wrestles with biography while also holding it at a distance, as Stevens has in all its work. He’s said that the album is “not my art project; it’s my life,” a statement that sounds like half a modest admission and half an excuse. But it’s not true — Carrie & Lowell is as carefully designed and formally ambitious as were much grander-seeming endeavors like the electronics-based Age of Adz or his short-lived but very fruitful (he only did two, great, albums) Fifty States project. Its minimalist arrangements, created not alone in fact but in partnership with his longtime friend and collaborator Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, invoke not folk music so much as the sources that signal introspection for many listeners: hymns and plainsong; Brian Eno‘s ambient soundtracks; the yeshiva school solemnity of early Simon & Garfunkel. (And, yes, Elliott Smith, who like Stevens was a formalist more obsessed with tone than with narrative.) In his lyrics, Stevens pursues two main themes: how grief distorts memory, turning it into shards of insight mingled with fiction; and how mourning becomes its own strange pilgrimage, often leading people into self-abnegating pursuits like sexual excess and self-harm as, crushed by guilt and terrified by loss, they pursue dangerous supposed distractions that are really necessary encounters with the void.

Songs like “Beloved of John” and “All Of Me Wants All of You,” intentionally or not, recall the holy perversity of works by Baudelaire or Jean Genet, or even James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, in which erotic encounters are a kind of cleansing by fire. In “The Only Thing,” Stevens recounts himself as saved from suicide through moments of grace conveyed within the shape of the stars or a water stain in a hotel room bathtub. But it is his clasp of the razor, of the car wheel almost taking him off the road, that allows for redemption. Negating piety, admitting perversion, Stevens opens himself up to the salvation of emptiness: “Blind faith, God’s grace, nothing else to impart.”

Tracing the confusion and the enlightenment that mourning and isolation invite, Stevens joins a handful of other artists returning solitude to the center of the musical conversation this year. It’s a difficult subject to approach honestly in 2015, not only because being alone often feels impossible within contemporary society’s wireless matrix, but because the experience is so often commodified, reduced to the price tag on a yoga mat or the itemized bill for a faux-monastic spa retreat. Yet the best albums of this season consider both the costs of isolation and the value of pursuing it.

HOOD POLITICS

 

 

For a writer like Stevens, who usually stresses patterns and mythologies within his work, the turn toward autobiography is risky. It opens the door to fetishization, something Stevens already has to deal with because of his good looks and invitingly gentle performance style. In the era of pop music, many artists people mention as embodying solitude have very noisy personal narratives indeed — they are troubled figures like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, both possible suicides, or ones who consciously cultivated singular paths parallel to their natural communities, like Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. (Cohen, famous for his devotion to Zen, is a star of the essayist Pico Iyer’s recent TED-sponsored book on secular solitude, The Art of Stillness — the prime example of a meditative life that can still make room for major concert tours, Courvoisier and the occasional “beautiful young companion.” Iyer writes of hearing Cohen’s croaky late masterpiece, Old Ideas, in a Starbuck’s in downtown Los Angeles, and ponders, “Cohen seemed to be bringing us bulletins from somewhere more rooted than the CNN newsroom, and to be talking to us, as the best friends do, without varnish or evasion or design.” To be open to his plain words, though, it helps to know that Cohen’s been perfecting it for half a century. His biography is a key to understanding his messages, but it’s also something of a distraction.

Younger artists who take solitude or silence as a theme do so knowing how difficult it is to even approach such matters without immediately negating their core meaning. What’s unusual about Carrie & Lowell is the way it wrestles with biography while also holding it at a distance, as Stevens has in all its work. He’s said that the album is “not my art project; it’s my life,” a statement that sounds like half a modest admission and half an excuse. But it’s not true — Carrie & Lowell is as carefully designed and formally ambitious as were much grander-seeming endeavors like the electronics-based Age of Adz or his short-lived but very fruitful (he only did two, great, albums) Fifty States project. Its minimalist arrangements, created not alone in fact but in partnership with his longtime friend and collaborator Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, invoke not folk music so much as the sources that signal introspection for many listeners: hymns and plainsong; Brian Eno’s ambient soundtracks; the yeshiva school solemnity of early Simon & Garfunkel. (And, yes, Elliott Smith, who like Stevens was a formalist more obsessed with tone than with narrative.) In his lyrics, Stevens pursues two main themes: how grief distorts memory, turning it into shards of insight mingled with fiction; and how mourning becomes its own strange pilgrimage, often leading people into self-abnegating pursuits like sexual excess and self-harm as, crushed by guilt and terrified by loss, they pursue dangerous supposed distractions that are really necessary encounters with the void.

Songs like “Beloved of John” and “All Of Me Wants All of You,” intentionally or not, recall the holy perversity of works by Baudelaire or Jean Genet, or even James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, in which erotic encounters are a kind of cleansing by fire. In “The Only Thing,” Stevens recounts himself as saved from suicide through moments of grace conveyed within the shape of the stars or a water stain in a hotel room bathtub. But it is his clasp of the razor, of the car wheel almost taking him off the road, that allows for redemption. Negating piety, admitting perversion, Stevens opens himself up to the salvation of emptiness: “Blind faith, God’s grace, nothing else to impart.”

Tracing the confusion and the enlightenment that mourning and isolation invite, Stevens joins a handful of other artists returning solitude to the center of the musical conversation this year. It’s a difficult subject to approach honestly in 2015, not only because being alone often feels impossible within contemporary society’s wireless matrix, but because the experience is so often commodified, reduced to the price tag on a yoga mat or the itemized bill for a faux-monastic spa retreat. Yet the best albums of this season consider both the costs of isolation and the value of pursuing it.

Kendrick Lamar’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly would at first seem to be the opposite of Stevens’s compact and delicate work. Yet as many of those praising the album have noted, Lamar’s first effort post-serious fame is deeply informed by a sense of alienation. “There are dozens of collaborators on To Pimp a Butterfly, but there is only one author,” Sean Fennessy noted in Grantland. “Round and round he goes, a continuous loop of alone.” Oliver Wang’s All Things Considered review concluded with an image of Lamar as always hovering both above and below the Black America his music thickly evokes in sounds and images, even though he remains a part of it — he’s a kind of ghost of inequality and hope, past, present and future. More specifically, Lamar has been compared to the triumvirate of African-American writers at the center of mid- 20th-century American literature, all influenced by European existentialist philosophy: Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. As those writers did in their novels, Lamar creates a main character on To Pimp A Butterfly who is both alienated by racism and consciously endeavoring to stand apart, more in dialogue with myth and history than with those who would bait and degrade him in daily life. In songs like “For Sale?” and the Sufjan Stevens-sampling “Hood Politics,” Lamar finds both strength and great personal cost in his quest to absorb and reflect the process through which African-American men are both made and ruined by capitalist America. If on Carrie & Lowell Stevens separates himself, in grief, to ultimately undergo a spiritual transformation, on Butterfly Lamar does the same thing in anger, in order to become more effective as a political force.

Lamar, who like Stevens is a Christian, views the spiritual aspect of his quest as an ongoing encounter with the ancestors who uplift and challenge him. He speaks to many non-corporeal beings throughout the album, which begins with an image of him alone, masturbating to thoughts of a lost first love and concludes with a long dialogue between Lamar and his long-dead role model Tupac Shakur, ingeniously constructed using old interview material. He absorbs the identity of television’s most famous slave in “King Kunta” and, in several songs, fights off a female devil figure he calls Lucy (as Anwen Crawford astutely suggests in The New Yorker, Lamar’s inspiring embrace of his African patrimony on Butterfly is matched by a nascent fear of the tempting feminine.) The two most intimate songs on the album are inner monologues (or, since Lamar embraces the existentialist idea of a fragmented self, conversations): the life-affirming “i” and the dark-night rumination “u.” And on an album whose funk connections flow as deep as the sea, several key moments feature only the human voice. These punctuating semi-silences make the point that, while music is the great sustainer of African-American culture and spiritual health, stepping away from it can also sometimes be rejuvenating in itself: a way of making space to better grasp the harsh realities that music helps people survive.

For all of its swagger and motion, To Pimp a Butterfly counters a notable lack of portrayals of African-American male interior lives in our culture. bell hooks has noted that most such depictions encourage the idea that “real [black] men are all body and no mind.” She recalled dealing with a white male illustrator’s draft images for one of her books: “I noticed that many of the images were of black boys in motion, running, jumping, playing; I requested images of black boys being still, enjoying solitude, reading.” Kendrick Lamar is a physically dexterous rapper, but he really stands out as a man whose thoughts fly faster than his feet, especially in spaces where he can be alone. Even the sometimes excruciating conflict he endures within the scenes he crafts feels like a tonic, because like his imagined mentor Shakur, he demands solitude as a fundamental right, a way of recognizing his own divinely sparked humanity.
 
 
To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lama Greatest Hits [Full Album] new 2015


 
 

Laura Marling – False Hope (Short Movie Sessions)

 
 

For the British folk-now-rock musician Laura Marling, solitude is also a right to be claimed, but she wants to feel it in motion. Her seventh album, Short Movie, is in the vein of women wanderers’ manifestoes like Cheryl Strayed’s wilderness adventure Wild, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira (to which it’s being continually compared) and Chrissie Hynde’s first album with the Pretenders. Musically, it’s a band album, unlike many of Marling’s more acoustic earlier efforts; story-wise, it takes the 25-year-old expatriate from lover to lover and weird scene to weird scene as she travels in an America full of signposts she must mark as her own and roadblocks — most of them human, and male — she must negotiate.

“Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be? Alone?” she sings in the first line of the steadily frantic single “False Hope,” cutting the sentence into subject-verb and predicate, as if to answer her own question: There is no being unless you can stand apart. In another song, “Walk Alone,” Marling worries that her desire for a new lover has robbed her of the ability to even take a step without him; in a third, “How Can I,” she asks that man (or maybe it’s another) to “keep your love around me so I can’t be alone.” There’s a Lamar-style internal argument going on in these lyrics: Marling craves interdependency, but also chafes against it, knowing that the old story of the mastered young woman continually threatens to envelop her. The music is furiously paced, centered around Marling’s fleet, aggressive guitar picking, which keeps her band in frenetic pursuit. It sounds like she is birthing herself, and she is often enraged by the process — not only by the cluelessness of the men with whom she wants to stay, but who can’t handle her whole being, but with herself by being so scattered, so scared, so full of herself but still uncertain about where that self begins and ends.

Like Stevens, Marling favors imagery culled from myths and other esoteric sources. Like Lamar, she is aware that her most personal struggles reflect inequities that go well beyond her time and place. She imagines herself as a daughter of the Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff in one song, and as a “horse with no name,” whom no warrior can ride, in another. Her metaphors invoke a long history of feminist imaginings. In the gorgeously sad love song, “Howl,” she reminds listeners that women’s solitude has often served to protect others over whom they stand watch: “The long tears of women are silent,” she sings, so they won’t wake those who sleep.”

Marling longs to walk and wake alone, but also dreads doing so, because in solitude, all of one’s foibles of become clear, even as a path toward a less habit-ridden way of being beckons. “Loving you is complicated,” Lamar says to his own ego in “u,” lovingly clinging to the weaknesses that intermingle with his ambition and his integrity. The social world, for all of its fundamental gifts — love, empathy, the lessons arguing provides — obscures the whole self, allowing each of us to mute what is harder to absorb about ourselves in a din of habit and distraction. When an artist breaks through that din, which seems to grow ever louder, she reflects solitude’s crisis: the challenge of being, unmasked.

“I wanted to be quiet in a nonquiet situation,” the composer John Cage wrote in 1948, while he was still formulating a solution that would eventually lead to his famous innovation of writing music with no notes at all. In 1949, the most famous monk of the last century — Thomas Merton — lamented that even cloistered religious people had become too conscious of what their renunciations might do, keeping silence as a form of payback for all the clatter in the world, instead of accessing the real self that was no self, that couldn’t show off by fasting or rising at midnight to sing. In 1961, as part of a dialogue with the Zen master D.T. Suzuki, Merton found it necessary to remind the era’s many spiritual seekers that Paradise, if not Heaven, was a place on earth that could only be achieved by ceasing the constant reactivity that had become the human condition, “the emptiness and purity of heart which had belonged to Adam and Eve in Eden,” where they sought “paradise within themselves, or rather above and beyond themselves.” This was the same goal the secular pilgrim Cheryl Strayed sought when she walked 1100 miles alone up the Pacific Crest Trail in 1994. She found liberation from self while lost above the treeline, shouting into silence she ultimately couldn’t affect, realizing, was she wrote in her memoir, “Everything but me seemed utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”

If Stevens, in his devotion to beauty and to craft, ultimately retains his monklike demeanor (please read Fenton Johnson’s essay in the current issue of Harper’s for more on how such practices thrive in the secular world) and Lamar stands out as a politicized existentialist, Marling joins writers like Strayed in adding to the literature of women’s liberation through solitude. Wandering the Pacific Coast Trail where she became a temporary hermit, survivalist and explorer — all roles that, for centuries, were primarily associated with men — Strayed realizes at one point in her journey that true solitude has changed her very definition of aloneness. She recognizes it as a form of connection, not privacy; as a way of inhabiting her real self by seeing how permeable are its boundaries. “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was,” she writes. “Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.” This is the ultimate goal of genuine solitude, and the subject of the music inspired by it: to reveal how human beings are ever a part of what flows through and around them, even apart from it.

Bjork’s ‘Vulnicura’: An Inquiry Into Melodrama

Bjork


Bjork.
Courtesy of Sacks and Co.

What the Icelandic art star Bjork has accomplished at the intersection of pop and the avant-garde cannot be summed up in one detail, but one thing to focus on is the way she sings the word “emotional.” Climbing it like one of the cliffs she often evokes in her pastoral lyrics, she lets it open up like a vista on its central, circulatory “o.” The word becomes a Valkyrie’s cry, a statement of purpose both sacred and humanly thrilling.

Recalling the way she deployed it in her landmark 1997 hit “Joga,” Bjork wails “emotional” in the very first chorus on Vulnicura, the “heartbreak album” she has just released, which offers a needed model for heart-baring (and bearing) in this cool, fiber-optic age. On “Stonemilker,” Bjork pairs the word with “respect” — she demands it from a lover who’s switched the “off” button on their connection. Strings and beats swirl together, supporting her, the language of conventional romance combining with strangely intimate electronics that remind the listener of medical monitoring machines — or of heartbeats, even stomach rumbles, themselves.

Marked in the liner notes as the preface to the love-lost story Vulnicura tells, “Stonemilker” establishes the balance Bjork characteristically seeks: between sentiment and science, an immersion in feeling and its familiar social markers and an analytical take on just those things. Vulnicura brashly reveals the most intimate and sometimes embarrassing expressions of pain a lover makes when abandoned. But in its elegant, slow unfolding, it also creates a space to observe those outbursts and recoveries. This album is an inquiry into melodrama, and if its songs demand that the listener get uncomfortably close to the viscera of that romantic experience, they do so the better to expose how humans move through pain and finally justify leaving it behind.

Melodrama is a feminine form, the designated space where domestic and erotic stories can turn grandly operatic. We associate it with bodice-ripper novels and Technicolor movies in which beauties wear their anguish openly, without shame; overwrought stories, maybe, but ones that have always filled in the gaps between relentlessly macho tales of crime, politics and war. In recent years, women artists and some empathetic men have reclaimed melodrama in ways that make it both more introspective and more clearly critical of the gender divisions that required its existence in the first place. The film collaborations of Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton’s extraordinary performance in I Am Love; Lydia Davis’s novel The End of the Story and Jenny Offill’s more recent Dept. of Speculation: these are the works that form a frame around Vulnicura, reminding us that this is not just a raw reflection of Bjork’s breakup with her fellow fabulist Matthew Barney, but an intellectually ambitious intervention into melodrama itself.

In Bjork’s hands, melodrama becomes an avenue of self-reflection. Her co-producer Arca proves an ideal partner; having previously shown his sensitivity toward highly idiosyncratic vocalists working with Kanye West and FKA Twigs, he merges his own slyly organic, determinedly fluid sound with the one she’s perfected using guts and intellect, and it’s a beautifully easy collaboration. The Venezuelan-born Alejandro Ghersi, who is 24, grew up on Bjork’s work, and his own albums connect hip-hop to experimental electronica in ways that mirror the pioneering efforts that made her a star. Arca honors Bjork’s excavation of her past and her almost obsessive examination of the state in which her and Barney’s breakup left her. Vulnicura abounds with references to her previous songs, showing how the psychic unraveling heartache causes is tied up in memory, and how one way ex-lovers recover is by reclaiming their individual pasts. It surveys and carefully accesses the range of emotions abandonment inspires — “define her abyss, show it respect” she sings on the slippery “Quicksand” — but boldly moves on, outlining a plan for healing. The album’s mostly gentle pace and sonic spaciousness — unlike her previous work, Biophilia, this one never feels busy — demand attentiveness.

“Black Lake,” Vulnicura’s centerpiece, unfolds like an aria — the designated space within classical music where a woman can reveal how men have betrayed her, both intimately and within society. Because this is Bjork, however, instead of employing coloratura cries, she shares her tragedy in calm but mounting phrases that reflect both folk balladry and torch songs. In spare couplets gradually pushed forward by Arca’s biological beats, she reveals first her own pain, then the way her lover created it through betrayal, which Bjork defines as a hollowing of the heart. Bjork’s Icelandic accent becomes stronger as she moves toward the story; reclaiming her native tongue, she returns to herself. But she also knows part of herself has burned away; the last image in this blend of the natural and the mechanical is of her becoming “a glowing, shining rocket,” returning to the atmosphere of herself. “I burn off layer by layer,” she confesses as the strings cool the mood, pooling mourning around her.

Ten minutes long, “Black Lake” both clarifies the story told on Vulnicura and serves as a statement of purpose. Bjork has said that she hopes these songs provide insight into how heartbreak affects the body: “the wound and the healing of the wound.” Allaying any doubts about this injury’s gender, the album cover depicts Bjork as a futuristic, flower-like creature with an open chest that resembles a detail from a Judy Chicago plate. For Bjork (who has an adult son and a young daughter) heart and the womb are inseparable, and one thing that makes Vulnicura distinctive is her attention to how broken romance reverberates beyond the couple. The quiet but ferocious “Family,” co-produced by electronica’s 27-year-old horror master The Haxan Cloak, begins with a summoning tympani-style beat as Bjork, vengeful as a mother’s ghost, cries out about “the death of my family.” By song’s end, she has turned toward her daughter, determined to build a bridge beyond the split earth. Her own overdubbed voice forms that bridge, intertwining with the violins she often employs as harmonic partners. “There is a swarm of sound around our heads,” she sings: it’s sound that she herself generates, as women in melodrama often do, speaking truths that both expose and begin to reassemble what has been broken.

If Vulnicura has a flaw, it’s in the way the lyrics sometimes read on the page. Melodrama risks extreme feeling, and that means embracing florid phrases. In “Atom Dance,” the dizzying duet with frequent collaborator Antony Hegarty that signals the damaged lover’s return to wholeness through compassion, she declares, “I am finetuning my soul to the universal wavelength” — this is the hippie side of Bjork that makes it hard for some cynics to take her seriously. But the weblike arrangement that Arca and Bjork create, which the singers make richer by merging their voices in self-dissolving harmony, proves her point. This music sounds like the abandonment of ego — not conventional melodrama’s self-sacrifice, but something more spiritual and sublime. It is Bjork’s way out, and back into, human feeling.

In the end, Vulnicura plays out its tragedy and pushes beyond its boundaries. “Quicksand” spins beyond the album’s frame on a drum and bass beat and the staccato push of a wordless female voice. “Our mother’s philosophy, it feels like quicksand,” Bjork snappily intones. She reflects upon the isolation of the abandoned woman and opts for something different for herself and her daughter: she turns the solitary “she is broken” of femininity’s history into a loving “we,” an invocation of the animist universalism she’s espoused in songs ranging from “Isobel” to “Pagan Poetry” to the entire Biophilia project. “When we’re broken we are whole,” she sings, at home in the swirl. She calls for hope, not just for herself, but also for “my continuity, and my daughter’s, and her daughter’s, and her daughter’s.” The track abruptly cuts off, suggesting that this reclamation of the feminine heart is unfinished business. But that hope resonates. This sad story extends beyond itself, opening into something new.

Parquet Courts – What Color is Blood @Pickathon 2014 Woods Stage

 

Watch the band play “What Color Is Blood” on a stage made of trees at Oregon’s Pickathon festival.

 

 

 

January 20, 2015 – The Brooklyn-via-Texas band Parquet Courts released two albums in 2014: Sunbathing Animal in June and Content Nausea (under the name Parkay Quarts) in the fall. In a performance last summer at the Pickathon Music Festival, the band introduces one of its new songs, “What Color Is Blood.” With an insistent beat and a bit of head-shaking craziness, the group plays to an intensely appreciative crowd at the Woods Stage.

Each month, opbmusic and NPR Music present another video recorded at the Woods Stage at Pickathon, each hand-picked by opbmusic to showcase some of last summer’s highlights. The next premiere will run on Feb. 17.

 

 

 

 

What’s Known About The Suspects In The Paris Shooting

Breaking News From NPR

French authorities are on the hunt today for two brothers: Said and Chérif Kouachi, 34 and 32. Police say those two men are the main suspects in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris that left 12 people dead.

Here’s a roundup of what is known about the two men:

— NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston says counterterrorism officials she has talked to have been careful not to link the two men to particular terrorist groups.

— Chérif was known to authorities prior to Wednesday’s attack, because he was convicted on terrorism charges in 2008. He served 18 months for helping to funnel fighters from France to Iraq.

Since Western powers began a war against the Islamic State, governments have expressed worries about their citizens traveling to Syria, becoming radicalized and then carrying out attacks at home.

Dina says authorities aren’t sure yet what happened to Kouachi after his arrest in 2008. It’s unclear whether he has ever traveled to Syria and it’s unclear whether he has developed any links to terrorist groups — including the Islamic State — since 2008.

— Judging by the shot patterns left on a police cruiser yesterday, what is clear is that the two gunmen were very comfortable using high-powered weapons. It’s likely, Dina says, that they received some military training. The question is where.

— Quoting French media, The New York Times paints this early portrait of Cherif:

“Libération, a French newspaper, described Chérif Kouachi as an orphan whose parents were Algerian immigrants. It said he was raised in foster care in Rennes, in western France, and trained as a fitness instructor before moving to Paris, where he lived with his brother Said in the home of a convert to Islam. He held menial jobs, working at times as a pizza delivery man, shop assistant and fishmonger.

“He was first arrested in 2005 in connection with a case centered on Farid Benyettou, a 26-year-old janitor-turned-preacher who gave sermons calling for jihad in Iraq and justifying suicide bombings. Among Mr. Benyettou’s would-be recruits was Chérif Kouachi, then 22, who was detained as he prepared to leave for Syria, the first leg of a trip he hoped would take him to Iraq.”

Bloomberg reports that Chérif was arrested in 2010 for “suspected involvement in plotting the escape of one of the masterminds of bombings and terrorist attacks in 1995 that killed eight people and injured more than 200, according to police reports.”

Citing Le Monde, Bloomberg adds that prosecutors decided to drop the case after holding Chérif for about four months.

— Agence France-Presse and other news agencies reported that authorities found Said’s identification card in the getaway car.

Update at 1:46 p.m. ET. What We Know About Said:

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Interior Minister, said during a press conference that Said Kouachi did not have a criminal record.

Young shooting suspect no Islamist: schoolmates

 

 

He said Said was unemployed and had emerged on the fringes of the investigations.

Update at 9:59 p.m. ET. The Third Suspect:

As we’ve reported, another suspect, identified by French media as 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, turned himself in to police overnight.

The AFP just moved a video talking to his schoolmates, who said Hamyd was no Islamist. One of them told the wire service that Hamyd was at school at the time of the attack and so could not have been in Paris.

Society hangs in unsecured equilibrium after Paris Attack

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According to NPR, French authorities are still on the hunt for two brothers suspected in an attack against the headquarters of a satirical magazine in Paris that left 12 people dead.

NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports that the French capital is on its highest alert level, and 800 soldiers and riot police have been called on to guard the city. Schoolchildren, Eleanor said, are being kept inside for recess.

To add to the tension, there was a shooting on Paris’ southern edge that killed a police officer and wounded a street sweeper. Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s Interior Minister, said those shootings had not been linked to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Overnight, one of the three suspects, identified by French media as 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, was reported to have turned himself in.

Overnight, one of the three suspects, identified by French media as 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, was reported to have turned himself in.

Cazeneuve said nine people had been detained in connection to the attack. The two chief suspects, named as Said and Chérif Kouachi, 34 and 32, remain at large‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment GrowJAN. 7, 2015

The precautionary measures are on top of those already in place since Dec. 20, when Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were killed in their patrol car by a lone gunman targeting officers. They were disseminated two days after two other officers were shot and wounded in the Bronx.

For more than two weeks, the department has increased security at precinct houses and ordered a suspension of solo foot patrols.

William J. Bratton, the police commissioner, said earlier on Wednesday that there was no “direct threat” to New York related to the attacks in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam in the past.

The internal memo drew attention to the victims of the Paris attacks. “Among the dead were two police officers, one of whom was assigned to guard the office after it had been threatened and firebombed by terrorists,” the memo began, before urging vigilance.

“Pay attention to your surroundings, not your cellphone,” it read.

Local officials say mosques were targeted across the country late Wednesday and early today. There were no reports of injuries, and it’s unclear if they are linked to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But Cazeneuve said the country would not tolerate any attacks on places of worship.

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We’ll move quickly to correct the record and we’ll only point to the best information we have at the time.

Update at 3:15 p.m. ET. Eiffel Tower Goes Dark

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Update at 7:19 a.m. ET. Not Linking Suspects To Terrorist Groups:

Counterterrorism officials have been careful not to link the two main suspects to terrorist groups, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston tells our Newscast Unit.

One of the men, Chérif Kouachi, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2008. He served 18 months for helping to funnel fighters from France to Iraq.

What’s unclear, said Dina, is what happened to Kouachi after that. It’s unclear whether he has ever traveled to Syria and it’s unclear whether he has developed links to terrorist groups — including the Islamic State — since 2008.

Judging by the shot patterns left on a police cruiser yesterday, what is clear is that the two suspects were very comfortable using high-powered weapons. It’s likely, Dina said, that they received some military training. The question is where.

Update at 6:44 a.m. ET. Roads Shut Down:

NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports that police have shut down all roads in and out of Paris.

Foxygen – Full Performance (Live on KEXP) – Favorite Sessions

Foxygen - Favorite sessions

Foxygen – Favorite sessions

 

KEXP Presents: Foxygen

 

 

 

August 18, 2014 • It had been almost a year to the day since Sam France of fell off a stage, canceling the band’s 2013 tour just as it was getting started. But now he and songwriting partner Jonathan Rado are back with a glittery, glammy vengeance. On the day of their live session at KEXP, the two announced the follow-up to their epic We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic with the even-more-epic 24-song, four-suite double LP …And Star Power.

We hadn’t yet heard a bit of the new album, but when France and Rado brought the full nine-member group into our tiny studio, we couldn’t help but swoon over their sultry astral melodies. They perform “How Can You Really” here.

Set List
  • “How Can You Really”

 

Is Charli XCX A Pop Star?

Charli XCX. - Courtesy of the artist

Charli XCX. – Courtesy of the artist

 

Though British singer Charli XCX was discovered at raves when she was in her mid-teens singing , most music followers first learned about her around 2011 or 2012 when she was older but still not in her 20s. Not just a tangle of big black hair and Tumblr-ready, ’90s-indebted style, she already had a tender voice and a mature pop songwriting sensibility. She may have been an emissary of the U.K.’s electronic underground, but mainstream fame seemed like a definite possibility. As more of her own material dripped out, she also benefitted from the slow-growth massiveness of a song she wrote and is featured on. In 2013 she released her debut album True Romance, a strong but underrated project that didn’t quite gain her the audience some had hoped or expected for her.

Thankfully, Charli XCX’s opportunities have not shriveled up. She sings the chorus on “Fancy” by Iggy Azaela, which is showing signs of being 2014’s song of the summer. Her own cut “Boom Clap” is a single from the soundtrack to this year’s big teen romance weeper The Fault in Our Stars and even got a video treatment featuring clips from the movie and Charli vamping around Amsterdam.

Still, it’s unclear how interested Charli XCX is in mega-stardom and what compromises she’s willing to make to get there. To discuss Charli’s journey so far and her place in the pop landscape, Ducker spoke with , a former staff member of Stereogum and Complex.

 

 

When did you first become aware of Charli XCX?

Maybe the end of 2011? I saw a song of hers, I can’t remember which, on a blog. I like pop music, so I was interested in her because she was kind of perverting it, but I wasn’t that blown away. Then she put out “Nuclear Seasons” and I was totally blown away by it. I still think it’s her best song.

What do you mean by “perverting it”?

“Perverting it” probably isn’t what I mean, but taking it somewhere a little bit darker, like Siouxsie Sioux and Katy Perry have a baby vibes.

What’s interesting is that Charli XCX — at least in the version of her starting around 2011 — seems to always have had an interest in pop music, even if at first we weren’t seeing her in the usual pop contexts.

I totally agree with you. What she is doing is in line with this pervasive trend in “indie” (for lack of a better distinction) where a genre outside the realm of rock becomes reformatted and “made weird” until the weirdness becomes acceptable. It happened with R&B, it’s happened with pop music via Charli and Grimes and Sky Ferreira. I think all of them are admittedly invested in pop music, but their instincts skew a little bit left of the center.

How exactly is Charli making pop weird? And what’s the evidence that her form of “weirdness” is now acceptable?

There has been a slow march toward weirdness across the board in pop over the past few years, particularly in terms of costuming. But even when Lady Gaga was wearing a meat dress, her music was hardly boundary-pushing, at least sonically speaking. Charli’s aesthetics lean more toward both goth and rave club cultures. Her hair and moon boots are the perfect look for old NYC establishment Limelight — which is, sadly, now a mall — and their goth night Batcave. “Nuclear Seasons” is like if was writing for Dead Can Dance. Her rave credentials are all over her bio — and the boots belong there, too — but there aren’t many pop stars going so far as to . She is genuinely alternative, but what makes that acceptable in 2014 is easy access to alternative culture. You don’t have to hunt anymore. Everything is laid out on Tumblr for you and anywhere else you might look for influence is mining from Tumblr, too.

Pop ambition or appreciation isn’t new in “indie” artists (though Charli signed to Atlantic in the U.K. in her mid-teens, and her first U.S. label IAMSOUND licensed her tracks from them), still, it’s surprising when the pop artists who lean to the weirder side actually find mainstream acceptance.

I don’t want to pretend to be an expert on how the music scene in the UK works, but I know she was performing at raves when she was very young and I think her way of writing is more acceptable there and is considerably more mainstream than it is here. The ways she’s become more mainstream are interesting, though. And it’s not necessarily a meteoric rise. She wrote a huge song, she is on the hook of a different huge song and she has a song on a soundtrack that favors indie artists.

That’s kind of my question: How big is she in the mainstream, really? To people who have been following her career, it’s kind of surprising that she’s on this year’s potential song of the summer and that she has a single on The Fault of Our Stars soundtrack, but how much name recognition does she actually have in mass culture?

I am curious about that, too. I would imagine she’s still in the “Who The Hell Is Charli XCX?” club a la and “.” I haven’t seen The Fault in Our Stars because I try to stay away from things that want to emotionally manipulate me, but depending on the placement “Boom Clap” has in the movie, that’s what I think could send her over the edge. I wonder how faceless she is or is not because of “Fancy.”

On a street level, do you hear about or from teenagers who are obsessed with Charli XCX, or at least are into her? Have you gone to any recent performances of hers?

The last time I saw her perform was at an industry event, so I don’t think that counts. And I don’t spend that much time around teenagers. I do know that there is an army of teen girls on Twitter who are obsessed with Charli, and all together, but I can’t tell if that’s an indie thing or not. Kitty makes me lean toward indie, Sky makes me lean towards not.

Let’s go macro and talk about why it looks like Charli XCX could make it super big. As we’ve said, there are plenty of young artists who are interested in pop but have not-so-mainstream sensibilities. Why has Charli broken through to the extent that she already has?

Well, “Fancy” is constructed perfectly — Iggy’s lyrics are easy, it sounds like a song, the hook makes people feel good when they sing it and because there is so much push behind Iggy right now, it gets Charli placement on things . Having written “I Love It” also gives her “street” cred.

Were you surprised True Romance didn’t bring her more mainstream success?

I was.

Why do you think it didn’t connect on the level that it could have?

I guess it just wasn’t the right time. She was sandwiched in between a massive Taylor Swift album, the reinvention of Miley Cyrus (though both Charli and Miley have this “Tumblr” aesthetic [please forgive me for saying that], Hannah Montana fans were definitely ready to grow up with her), as well as a new Katy Perry album. All the while, the songs that were getting the most burn over that summer had a totally different sound. ,” so it’s hard to be an esoteric pop star and breakout when women with huge fan bases are bringing something new and everyone wants to hear Marvin Gaye-cribbed tunes that are wedding-primed.

Now it takes a lot longer for new artists to solidify a hit, and we have the summer to see what happens with “Boom Clap.” It could potentially re-write the success of True Romance.

It’s an interesting situation where “Boom Clap” wouldn’t have gotten the positioning it has if True Romance weren’t so good and she might not have given it to the soundtrack had True Romance been more of a success.

I agree. And if True Romance had completely crossed her over, she might not have been asked to be on that soundtrack, period; although, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that was the case. Movie soundtracks are not the events that they used to be, so is littered with pop artists who have some mainstream notoriety, but still haven’t achieved a higher level of success, save Ed Sheeran, I suppose.

You talked about how crowded last summer was, but Lorde still broke through. Similar hair, too. What’s different about her storyline/trajectory/relationship to her fans?

One day we’ll learn that the vocal melody on “” was actually an Illuminati-constructed earworm that brainwashed even rap radio into playing it, despite how incongruous it is to certain rap aspiration tropes. Jokes aside, the alternative that Charli offers is production-based, whereas Lorde rebukes pop as a whole. She sings about not wanting to be told to put her hands in the air on “Team,” but Charli is still ready to be a part of the party. It’s not just Lorde’s songwriting that is catchy, it also appeals to people who have animosity toward pop materialism, be it for things or for partying.

 

 

Have you noticed that the two big songs that Charli XCX is featured on, and is probably best known for, are her pushing this “young, wild and free” idea, while all of her own songs are usually really romantic and lovesick?

Maybe it’s just sonically, but even when Charli is lovesick, she bleeds youth and freedom to me. Even when she’s singing romantic overtures, she seems so cool while she’s doing it. You don’t look to Charli for that heartbreak empowerment right after you’re dumped. She helps you once you’ve gotten your bearings. And with “Fancy,” I think she’s, at least somewhat, graduated to being able to flex like that.

I imagine that the perception of Charli XCX to those who first heard of her through Iggy Azalea is akin to hearing Ke$ha for the first time on ” before “” was released a half year later. I’m not familiar with Ke$ha’s musical background, aside from her having a songwriting deal. I don’t know what would have happened if Ke$ha’s first single had been pine-y, but we all know the “young, wild and free” schtick worked for her. Charli gets to keep doing things her way post-“Fancy” because even her lovesick anthems are free-spirited.

So you don’t think the romanticism is what’s holding her back, when the biggest songs by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Kesha are about living in the moment and kind of obliterating yourself in the pursuit of fun?

The bigger song on Bangerz is a huge romance bummer.

Pop is a B-U-M-M-E-R!