Teargas Rock at Black Iris. I figured they’d do some Young Pioneers songs, so that wasn’t a surprise. What WAS shocking was when they went into “Nine Years Later” by Born Against. Yeah, seriously.
Alarms & Controls at Black Iris. These guys were so mathy, it sounded like they wrote their songs with a graphing calculator. As promised, this pic looks like shit.
Positive No at Black Iris (2/2). They dimmed the lights significantly right after I took this, which means all my other pictures for the rest of the night will look like shit. (“How is that any different from the other pictures you post, Andrew?” I know, I know, leave me alone.)
Positive No at Black Iris (1/2). First time seeing these guys live, which was long overdue. A totally worthy successor to Tracy’s old band (Dahlia Seed), who I loved.
It’s the 20th anniversary of THE HOLY BIBLE by Manic Street Preachers.
I’ve written about it before, though perhaps never as much as I should have. This won’t be that post. I haven’t the time. If you have it, my RUE BRITANNIA has a lot in there. For at least five years, it was my standard go-to answer to the (always impossible, always meaningless, always too meaningfully loaded) question “what’s your favourite album ever?”
It was an easy answer, but also a true one. It was a life changer.
It’s on all the usual streaming places if you haven’t ever listened. You should, though don’t expect to be in a good mood after it. Anorexia, Fascism, Concentration Camps, Mutilation, everything black. I was probably sold on it from the second I opened the middle page of the Melody Maker to find the advert for it, which solely consisted off all the lyrics from the album, printed to entirely fill the space, with a thumbnail of the cover in the bottom right. I’m a sucker for that sort of confidence and statement even now, and four times as much then.
(If you want to see it, it’s here.)
It’s an album that led me to the black hole at the heart of the world, and taught me how to live there. It was both useful and essential. It’s difficult to imagine a world without it. It’s difficult to imagine a me about it.
I discovered this album through the 10th anniversary double-disc reissue, and thankfully soon realized that (unlike most other situations like this) the US mix is much better than the UK mix. Once I figured that out, I played it like crazy.
Red Hare - Horace
When I contemplate the fact that the combination of vocalist Shawn Brown and guitarist Jason Farrell continues to bring forth such amazing examples of raging, powerful hardcore as this, over 25 years after the two first played together in Swiz, and nearly 20 years after they reunited in the short-lived Sweetbelly Freakdown, it absolutely knocks me out. Nobody should be this brilliant for this long. And yet the last thing I am inclined to do is complain. Fuck, man, give me MORE.
Much as I love having pink nails, I decided to go for a new color this time. Purple, in case instagram distorts it. (PS I used a filter on this post, which I hardly ever do, so I really mean “distorts it more than I’ve already distorted it”)
Ariana Grande - Break Your Heart Right Back (feat. Childish Gambino)
So you guys know if you were paying attention last year that I was really into the first Ariana Grande album. I’ve definitely been following what’s going on with the press cycle around her new album, My Everything (side note: doesn’t it seem a bit quick in our modern music landscape for her to have a new album out a year after her debut? Is Ariana taking the less-traveled Rihanna route? I hope so…), and I’ve had some feelings about the three advance singles that have come out so far. But today a friend of mine asked me for an honest opinion on the new album as a whole, and I realized that even though I downloaded it a week ago, I hadn’t played it through yet! Guess I’m slipping…
Anyway, so I listened to the whole thing for the first time this morning and my feelings are almost entirely positive. Where I found Yours Truly to be a grower with strong replay potential, the impact of My Everything has been more immediate. As much as I have been frustrated by the ubiquity of featured artists on Ariana’s singles (a trend that is worse than ever on this new album, with 8 of 15 tracks on the deluxe edition having features), I pretty much love every song on My Everything. The 7 tracks (well, 6 tracks and a minute-long intro…) on which she’s left to sing by herself are excellent, of course, but “Break Your Heart Right Back” was the song that jumped out at me on first listen as the mixtape pick from this one.
On Yours Truly, a lot of the songs had a 90s R&B feel that reminded me and a lot of other people of Mariah Carey. They also mixed in a 50s doo-wop feel that was simultaneously a 90s R&B touchstone in that it made me think of Boyz II Men’s similar love for that bygone era. So was Ariana going for a New Jack Swing feel? I’m not entirely sure, but if she was, she’s moved on from it on My Everything. “Break Your Heart Right Back” makes me think more of the late 90s Bad Boy crossover moment, probably because it uses some of the same "I’m Coming Out" samples that were all over "Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems." But they’re used in a different way, and have a different effect, at least to my ears.
"Break Your Heart Right Back" is typical of My Everything in that it integrates a modern synth-pop/EDM-inflected sound into Ariana’s fundamental R&B template, bringing the whole thing into the 21st century (and at times, as on "Break Free," getting downright futuristic). There’s a lot of big-room reverb on all of these tracks, which always makes me think “epic” even if that isn’t quite the right term in the dictionary-defined sense of the word. The way “Break Your Heart Right Back” is at first constructed around a bassline and drumbeat that seem to be hanging in the air in the middle of an auditorium-sized space that Ariana proceeds to fill with her voice is a good example of what I’m talking about here. The way the verses fill up towards the end with a much more expansive backing track does suck the air out of the arrangement briefly, but this is what gives the transition to the chorus such a powerful punch.
The vocals are the only instrument that sticks around through the transition, and when everything else drops out, that’s when the “I’m Coming Out” samples show up. But they’re only vocals and guitar, and with no beat behind them, the effect is completely different than the one “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” achieved—though equally indelible. It’s spectral, spooky, with Ariana’s voice floating in space, backed by nothing more than samples from an old disco song. However, her vocal line is so full of warmth—as her vocals invariably are—that she overcomes any tendency of the arrangement to make this whole thing sound dark. It’s celebratory, just as that Biggie song was, and when the horns bring in the reverbed-out bassline from the beginning of the song, the combination of all these seemingly-unrelated elements in the midst of a huge production space is pure bliss.
Or at least that’s where I’m at after one listen. Further updates as events warrant.
P.S. The less said about the Childish Gambino feature, the better. Too many goddamn features.