Bill Callahan Finds A Garden Escape From The Loud City

Amid the rumble of traffic, crowded streets, and general persistent din of big city life, it can be challenging to find a moment of calm in New York. So it seemed like a peculiar choice when the enigmatic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan said he was interested in playing in a community garden for a Field Recording video WNYC’s Soundcheck co-produced with NPR Music. You could easily envision Callahan’s plaintive music and deep, detached voice getting lost in that noisy clutter.

But in fact, the lush 6th & B Community Garden in the East Village was just the spot for Callahan’s intimate and eerily transfixing performance. Recording previously as Smog, and now simply under his own name, Callahan writes dark, frequently anguished songs inflected with a bleak sense of doom. And yet, there’s actually a surprisingly warm, pastoral quality to his words, and a comforting voice in his sly delivery.

Surrounded by a rich canopy of greenery, ornamented flower beds, and even a small pond full of turtles, Callahan quietly finger-picked “Small Plane,” a song from his new record Dream River (out Sept. 17). And while sounds from just outside the garden’s tall gates trickled in, all those distractions of the city just outside the gates melted away.

TV On The Radio’s Resurfaces With Another New Song, ‘Million Miles’

I’ve been a a fan and admirer of TV On The Radio since the one-two punch masterpieces, 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain. At the time, songs like “I Was A Lover” and “Province” were truly mind-boggling, resetting my expectation for what “indie rock” should and could sound like. Melding so many genres effortlessly, TV On The Radio has long been a band of great ambition and always sounded genuinely musically curious.

However, since those two albums I sorta tuned out a bit. I found Dear Science a disappointing, over-produced mess that lost the songs amid the fussy production. And I’m not sure I spent much time with 2011’s Nine Types Of Light — a record that suddenly took on far darker meaning with the loss of longtime member Gerard Smith, who died from lung cancer just after the release.

TV On The Radio has been relatively dormant since that last album, but now the Brooklyn-based band has begun to show signs of activity again, teasing out tidbits about its follow-up. There’s very little known at this point about what it’s called or when it’ll drop, we’re now starting to get something of a sense for what it could sound like. Some weeks back TV On The Radio previewed the song “Mercy,” an edgy basher full of buzzed-out guitars and strobing synths.

Today NPR Music and various public radio entities like WNYC’s Soundcheck (for whom I work) premiered a second taste with another new track, the subdued, yet beautifully soulful “Million Miles.”

Meanwhile, the song’s music video also debuted, as part of a series of six videos made by MySpace and Sitek’s Federal Prism label. This one is directed by Kyp Malone with Natalia Leite.

Compared to “Mercy,” or a lot of TV On The Radio’s back catalog for that matter, “Million Miles” is deceptively simple: With soaring falsetto and the chiming arpeggios of a Fender Rhodes keyboard, the song recalls the R&B jams on 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain, more than say, the aggressive live wire distortion and big beats of Dear Science.

And yet, as the chorus swells with Dave Sitek’s trademark dense thickets of sound, “Million Miles” proves undeniably cathartic as Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s powerful vocals sing “Don’t you let love break your heart / Give it all your power.”

Whether playing sneering, throat-slitting punk rockers or crafting cavernous experiments piled high with noise hugging the periphery — it’s amazing that after all these years TV On The Radio remains a group with such uncompromising artistic vision. This song is a gorgeous reminder of why I fell in love with the group in the first place. Can’t wait to hear more.

Anticipating Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ And Revisiting A Forgotten Pop Song

There are a few filmmakers out there that I’m always waiting and eager to see what they have next: Directors like Alfonso Cuaron, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Spike Jonze have earned a free ride with me from where I’ll follow them from project to project forever, even after movies I don’t always love.

So as an unapologetic mega-fan of Spike Jonze’s music video work and especially his films — and yes, even his last movie, Where The Wild Things Are — I’m impossibly excited to say outloud: Hey, new Spike Jonze film coming in November! Finally!

Her stars a Joaquin Phoenix, as an introverted sad-sack of a man, shut off from the world, with some clearly buried emotional damage to work through. Just based on the trailer, Phoenix looks peculiar and slightly off — sporting a morose blandness akin to Bryan Cranston’s early look as Walter White on Breaking Bad. But after his eccentric temper and strange mannerisms of The Master, it’s nice to Phoenix in a more restrained, tic-free performance. And for Jonze, Her comes off as a more grounded film — with real-world characters — than he’s done in awhile. That is, if a sentient artificial intelligence can be considered “grounded.”

The rest of the impossibly stacked cast includes Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Oliva Wilde, Chris Pratt, and the titular computerized A.I. voice of one Scarlett Johansson.

Sure, there are elements of this trailer could set off the ol’ “Twee-dar:” The high concept of a man being brought out of his shell by relating to, and possibly falling in love with an artificial woman (See: Lars and the Real Girl meets I, Robot?); the indie romance disguised as subtle sci fi; the indie rock-leaning music.

On that front, Arcade Fire will have new songs from its forthcoming record as part of the film’s soundtrack, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O reportedly wrote an original song as well — which you can hear a portion of “The Moon Song” at the 1:37 mark in the trailer.

But what really makes the trailer work for me musically is the inclusion of another Yeah Yeah Yeahs track, “Skeletons,” from the 2009 album It’s Blitz!.

It’s a song I had actually forgotten about from that record, but hearing it again now, I think it’s one of the best songs on that album, more so than my previous favorite, the buzzier dance pop single “Zero.” The song is still fizzy synth pop, but there’s a buzzing melancholy there that really fits the tone of the film. It’s nice to rediscover this older song and hear it in a new way.

So yeah, there’s enough to like here in the trailer to peak my interest, and I’m hoping that because it’s a filmmaker like Spike Jonze at the helm, those initial reservations will fade.

Hospital Ships Summons A Weird And Sinister Ritual

Hospital Ships' album, Destruction In Yr Soul, is out now. (Adam Smith/Courtesy of the artist)
Hospital Ships’ album, Destruction In Yr Soul, is out now. (Adam Smith/Courtesy of the artist)

In one of the opening shots in Hospital Ships’ new video, we see two people cutting up a dark purple fruit into tiny pieces and dropping it into a well full of darkened liquid. It appears to be an odd sacrifice, and it leads to something far weirder and unsettling.

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‘Space Oddity’… In Spaaaaace!

For the last five months, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has served as the commander of Expedition 35 aboard the International Space Station. And while in space, he’s made some fun and surprisingly educational videos: You may have seen him making a sandwich or wringing out water from a wet towel.

Hadfield’s latest video is perhaps his best yet: a music video of a stunning  cover version David Bowie’s 1969 classic and space tragedy “Space Oddity.” The video is gorgeously shot (hello lens flares!) and edited, and as you see Hadfield slowly floating and singing alone on the space station, it’s remarkably poignant.

Sigur Rós Getting Heavy With ‘Kveikur’

Sigur Ros' Kveikur is out now.
Sigur Ros’ Kveikur is out now.

It was only last year that Sigur Rós put out Valtari, a gorgeously dreamlike, yet sedate record. Typically with the ethereal and cinematic Icelandic band we can expect a gap of a few years between albums. But now we’re already getting a new record, Kveikur, and if the first track to surface, “Brennisteinn,” is any indication, the band is apparently moving in a more aggressive direction.

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Thom Yorke Shows Off His Dance Moves In Atoms For Peace’s ‘Ingenue’

Thom Yorke dancing in the new video for "Ingenue" from his side-project Atoms For Peace. (Youtube)
Thom Yorke dancing in the new video for “Ingenue” from his side-project Atoms For Peace. (Youtube)

I’m no expert when it comes to dance, be it watching or taking part. And yet for me, sometimes there’s nothing better than watching a straight-up dance video.

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Sacrilige’ A Satisfying Anthem, Complete With Gospel Choir

Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fourth album Mosquito is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fourth album Mosquito is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)

A few weeks back, Yeah Yeah Yeahs enticed us with a short teaser video that brought news of its long-awaited return with its fourth album Mosquito. While obviously welcome news for fans waiting for a new record, the video also hinted a musical evolution: The snippet had a gauzier pop feel, almost like a Beach House song, but refracted through frontwoman Karen O’s enigmatic point of view.

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David Fincher Directs Justin Timberlake’s Sleek ‘Suit & Tie’ Video

Justin Timberlake's new album, The 20/20 Experience, is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)
Justin Timberlake’s new album, The 20/20 Experience, is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)

Just in time for Valentine’s day, Justin Timberlake has given his fans a little gift in the form of a new video for “Suit & Tie” the new single from new album, The 20/20 Experience.

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Beck Transforms David Bowie With A 170-Piece Orchestra

Beck's soaring rendition of "Sound And Vision" includes full orchestra, a gospel choir, an Alphorn and even a yodeler. (Courtesy of the artist)
Beck’s soaring rendition of “Sound And Vision” includes full orchestra, a gospel choir, an Alphorn and even a yodeler. (Courtesy of the artist)

Beck Hansen certainly is no stranger to ambitious musical concepts — from his genre-defying albums and shapeshifting production work to his Record Club video series, video game music, and his recent Song Reader sheet music album. He’s also reportedly at work on his long-awaited first proper album since 2008’s Modern Guilt.

But now, he’s debuting something far grander: A nine-minute cover of David Bowie’s classic song “Sound and Vision” performed with 170 musicians and recorded with 360-degree microphones and camera equipment that lets viewers feel as though they’re actually there in person.

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