Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week’s entries come from: Bryan O’Donnell, Hawk Ripjaw, John Bernardy, Caemeron Crain, and Lindsay Stamhuis.
Bryan: Joe Keery, aka Steve Harrington from Stranger Things, can clearly do other things. He is (was?) part of Chicago-based psychedelic band Post Animal (whose 2018 album When I Think of You in a Castle is really excellent), playing guitar and providing backing vocals. But Keery is now branching out on his own and has released his solo debut, “Roddy”, as part of a new music project called Djo.
“Roddy” is on the mellower side of Post Animal, but still shares the psychedelic elements of his other band. The song meanders dreamily before evolving into a twisted, unexpected almost-nightmare sound. I’m enjoying this song quite a bit and look forward to what may come next from Djo. I haven’t heard anything about a full-length album, but I’m on the lookout. Between his strong musical contributions and his excellent work on Stranger Things, it is clear Keery is a pretty talented dude. Check this tune out!
Hawk: Icelandic band Sigur Ros has for over two decades, been focused on crafting beautiful and ethereal soundscapes. Two of their hallmarks, the use of bowed guitar and frontman Jonsi’s falsetto Icelandic vocals, define their music along with oftentimes incredible emotion—feeling both heavy and liberating at the same time.
They’re also marked by beautiful creativity: One of their albums, whose title is stylized as a pair of closed parentheses, is sung in a similar but different language to Icelandic called Hopelandic. It’s mechanically nonsense, but the purpose is for listeners to take their own interpretation and write it in the liner notes.
The creativity also comes in the band’s music videos and the directors they collaborate with to make them. ”Glosoli” features a group of children waking up, running off a cliff and suddenly taking flight. The video accompanying the first song from the untitled album centers on children getting ready to play outside, bundling up…and then donning gas masks and running out to an ashen apocalypse.
The video for “Ekki Mukk” (dir. Nick Abrahams) is my favorite, expanding the videos’ short-film sensibilities into something even more thoughtful. The video centers on a man (Aiden Gillen) walking through a field, quietly lamenting that he’s lost his way, and that every field looks the same. He comes across a snail, who asks him if he’d like guidance out of there. He places her on his shoulder, and she asks, “You’re not afraid, are you?” As the main hook of the song swells for the first time, the two walk through the field, their dialogue muted. He seems happier, and more peaceful.
Now the man is in a dark forest, and hears a sound. He asks why everything has to change, and says that he doesn’t want to be on his own again. He comes across a fox quietly growling. He looks closer and sees that the fox isn’t threatening; in fact, it has injured its leg. The snail encourages him to be brave, and the man proceeds to pick the fox up and carry it out of the woods. He finally sets the fox down at the foot of a tree, and the Snail tells him to sleep, and mentions that she may be gone when he wakes up.
What follows is a timelapse of the fox decaying as the man sleeps. When he finally wakes up, the snail says from afar, “Look around; you’ll find your own way home.” As the song closes, the snail moves towards a mate on a branch of a tree.
The emotional peaks and valleys of “Ekki Mukk” are quietly astonishing once the themes of depression, fear and hope start to collide. Indeed, Jonsi has stated that the intended feel of the song itself is one of “a slow-motion avalanche.” The story of a man getting lost and finding his way in a vast field has quite literal interpretations , but I think it goes deeper, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since Monday.
The snail surely symbolizes hope. The man’s journey is perhaps fear, or maybe grief or some other pain. The second half of the video is a bit more esoteric, and upon rewatch I’ve come to a couple of additional conclusions. I initially was heartbroken to see the snail leave and the fox begin to decay. But does the fox perhaps signify another piece of his journey: the fear he embraced and carried with him until it (literally) dissolved? I watched it in a couple of different emotional states, and at other times there was an undercurrent of hope instead of heaviness.
At ten minutes, “Ekki Mukk” is essentially its own little movie, with a definite character arc and emotional subtext that opens itself up for discussion (and has done so with several friends). Sigur Ros certainly are aware of the effect their music has on a creative as well as an emotional level (I’ve read about how their concerts have moved fans to tears and they end the concert by giving out hugs to everyone), and they’re one of my favorite examples of how different emotional states, experiences and walks of life can drastically change how a song is heard, seen and felt.
John: After covering Arrested Development episodes, The Hop-Ons Podcast recently started covering Twin Peaks. It’s nice having a Twin Peaks podcast coming out consistently on Sundays again. That time slot hasn’t been used consistently since the Sparkwood & 21 podcast in 2015. I missed that weekend feeling, and while no one’ll be as good as Sparkwood & 21, I suspect this podcasting team will be able to hang admirably when all’s said and done.
The hosts—Colin and Jon—aren’t steeped in the behind-the-scenes facts, ratings, etc., but I don’t dock points for hosts not being there as Twin Peaks initially happened. I’m just glad for their energy and willingness to dive into the material with an open mind. This podcast has a chance of being really solid as they dig in deeper. The podcast’s most recent episode covered Twin Peaks Season 1, Episode 4, “Rest In Pain.”
The usual ground was covered when going through the plot, but the hosts brought in a connection to the Bible’s New Testament, likened Laura’s funeral scene to Hamlet and the fight that breaks out near Ophelia. I’ve never heard that connection before, but with all the Shakespeare connections in Peaks I sure like it.
The hosts discussed the show’s focus on inanimate objects, Nadine’s impaired vision, and asked this fun question: “What are the chances, if Leland wasn’t watching Invitation to Love, that Madeleine had never shown up?”The hosts aren’t to “Coma” yet, but I bet when they do this pod will be rocking on all cylinders. Lots of potential here.
Lindsay: There is no shortage of sources for information about The Beatles. The most popular music group in history has had thousands of books, articles, documentaries—thousands upon thousands of words written or spoken—etc, all produced about them. And now nearly 60 years since they first came together onstage as The Beatles, especially in the post-Beatles Anthology years, it would seem as though nothing more needs to be said. But as younger fans take up the mantle of musicological scholarship about the Fab Four from the hands of the Baby Boomers who first knew and revered and wrote hagiographies about them, an interesting thing has begun to happen.
This is where Another Kind of Mind: A Fresh Look at The Beatles, a new Beatles podcast, steps in. Fronted by a group of passionate young women (somewhere around the Gen-X/Millennial age boundary) AKOM enters the ring determined to wade through the bullshit of Beatles discourse to try to get to the heart of some of the issues surrounding the fandom.
They’re only a month old, but so far they’ve tackled Ringo Starr’s musical style and contributions to the band, George Harrison’s involvement in “How Do You Sleep?”, John Lennon’s song-attack on Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono’s artistic output (both as a competent and interesting solo artist and as John‘s final creative partner), and the intense Lennon/McCartney relationship. Not bad for a brand-new podcast!
This last issue—the Lennon/McCartney dynamic—is the one that first attracted me and it’s the one I’m most impressed by, because the conversation between episode hosts Phoebe and Thalia challenges the established narratives in a way that I have rarely if ever heard in public.
John and Paul have often (correctly) been described as existing in a kind of marriage, but this explanation has suffered in the minds and writings of too many critics who (incorrectly) foist unwarranted issues onto the pair in order to explain the explosiveness that exists there. To these critics and the fans who buy into their ideas, John was the creative genius and Paul was the hopeless square; John was the explorer off to conquer the world and Paul was the homebody who held him back; John was the man and Paul was the woman (the feminization of Paul McCartney has a long and weird history in the area of Beatles scholarship, and it’s touched on here). The bottom line has always been that John was the boss and Paul was a lackey who got uppity and that’s why the band broke up back in April, 1970.
But nothing could be further from the truth, and John and Paul are both on the record as saying that their partnership was egalitarian and loving, even in the post-breakup bad years. How these phony narratives became entrenched is discussed at length in the episodes about Lennon/McCartney and Yoko Ono, and I walked away with a far greater and more nuanced appreciation of what was at the core a very powerful partnership.
At times Phoebe and Thalia do seem to go a bit harder on John (and Yoko) in order to correct the narrative more in Paul’s favour, but as a Paul girl myself I don’t mind—the guy basically invented indie and lo-fi, he’s the true avant-garde and counterculture Beatle, a masterful and innovative bass player and brilliant all around artist in his own right, Paul has never truly gotten his due credit, especially from the “serious” rock music community, and even from many of The Beatles fans. So it is incredibly gratifying to hear the record being set straight.
As the AKOM hosts say in one of their early episodes, it likely takes a younger fan without the baggage of the last 50+ years of memory and opinions to wade through the crap and readjust the focus a bit in analyzing The Beatles’ artistic legacy as we head into the third decade of the 21st century. That’s a welcome shift in this corner of the classic rock fandom.
Caemeron: It has been 13 years since Tool released their last album (10,000 Days), and while there have been murmurs, rumors, and cryptic quotes from band members for years suggesting that another album was coming “soon” it wasn’t until this week that I finally came to believe that it was a certain thing.
Sure, the band put up some things on social media a few months ago with the date August 30, 2019, and Maynard James Keenan seemed to confirm that this was about the new album in interviews, but that still only got me to believe that we’d probably finally be getting a new album on that date. Call me a skeptic, but having talked to other Tool fans I wasn’t alone. There have been those murmurs for so long, that it seemed like we were all saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Well, the announcement of an album title this week—Fear Inoculum—strikes me as “seeing it.” And the release date was confirmed at the same time. So we’re getting a new Tool album in less than a month, and I haven’t been so excited about anything since I learned that Twin Peaks was coming back.
The album will apparently be 80 minutes long, but only seven tracks. As someone who has pretty much always liked their long songs the best, going back at least to “Third Eye,” this just makes me even more excited.
Tool is my favorite band, and of course they have been around for a good 10,000 days now, so if I recommend them here I am not exactly recommending something new, or even something I just discovered myself. I have been a dedicated fan since the ’90s.
But I do wonder to what extent—given that there hasn’t been a new album in so long and so on—that younger people might not be familiar with their work. Particularly since it has also been unavailable on streaming services.
I only have anecdotal evidence here, from talking with people in their 20s and the like, but it does seem to me that there are great numbers of people who would enjoy Tool but simply haven’t been exposed to their music.
After all, the band is almost a genre unto itself: not quite metal, not quite prog rock…there’s not quite anything you can strictly compare them to. I’ve always mentally compared them a bit to Pink Floyd, but I don’t even know if that would make sense to a lot of people. Certainly the sounds of the two bands are radically different.
The good news is that along with the announcement of the album title this week, it was announced that all of Tool’s music will be made available on streaming services for the first time, starting yesterday (August 2, 2019). So my Tool channel on Pandora will finally actually play some Tool songs, and not just a bunch of A Perfect Circle (whom I also enjoy, for the record, along with Puscifer—I like Puscifer a lot).
So, if you’re not familiar with the band (or if you recall hearing “Sober” on the radio back in the day and that’s about it), go dig into their catalog and discover one of the most sophisticated groups out there that consistently manages to create emotional resonance at the same time.
Fall down that rabbit hole, and then grab Fear Inoculum at the end of the month.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!