Listening Post #19

by Ben Gladman

1. Spoon – Can I Sit Next to You

Spoon’s latest track opens with a characteristically funky guitar line, crunchy and syncopated. The drums behind it are simple but huge, accented by an echoing clap. Brett’s voice, as it so often does, finds the perfect balance between smooth and rough, breaking out into a growl at just the right moments – when his impassioned growling “ahh” is drowned in reverb, it kickstarts a sprawling string section unlike anything else in Spoon’s catalogue, and this is the highlight. It introduces a new element into the familiar (though still incredible) formula.

2. Dirty Projectors – Work Together

After a jazzy but understated piano introduction, this cut from the new album Dirty Projectors bursts into life. Propelled by a series of ever shifting but equally manic instruments, this song is a relentless and creative masterpiece. At times it’s the skittering drums, at others the pitch shifted backing vocals, or even just the repeated and hypnotic chant of “Work together”. Perhaps the most satisfying element of all is the claustrophobic bassline under the chorus, hard to pin down but incredibly effective.

3. King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard - Open Water

The newest King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard album hinges on an important rejection: for centuries, Western music has almost exclusively used 12 notes, and here the Australian psych-rock outfit search in between the semitones. It’s not quite as revolutionary or challenging as it sounds, however. Tracks like Open Water showcase an accessibility that you could be forgiven for dismissing; the melody, aside from a few interesting microtonal introductions, is catchy, and attached to a driving (blessedly traditional) rhythm section. Still, this track and the album as a whole introduce some interesting and rarely explored ideas, while expanding the repertoire of crazily wonderful solos and riffs in the catalogue of this bizarre band.

4. Thundercat – Friendzone

Hinging on a shimmering arpeggiated synthesiser and deep bass, this single from Thundercat’s latest album, Drunk, is three minutes of pure R&B bliss. Nothing it does feels particularly fresh, playing as it does almost exclusively on funk tropes such as slap bass and floor-filling drums. What it does, however, it does incredibly well. The track is perfectly produced, every instrument finding its place in the mix. Originality aside, try to listen to this without nodding along or tapping your feet. Impossible.

5. Ryan Adams - Shiver and Shake

Shiver and Shake is a simple song and no less effective for it. Built from sparse, heartbeat percussion and an unchanging four-chord acoustic pattern, this track takes a very subtle but powerful journey through heartache. Adams’ vocals at times are almost without melody, turning on the same note again and again, yet his delivery is raw, longing, and defiant. The various elements he introduces as the song progresses flesh out what could without them become boring: an angelic but slightly cold MIDI choir, the crunch of electric guitar chords and the clean ring of electric guitar melody that brings it to a close.