Deadshirt Is Listening… Bringing you a rundown of our staff and guest contributors’ favorite new tracks released in the past week after they’ve had the weekend to blast them in their cars, in a club, alone in their rooms, etc.
Julian Ames is heeding the blind prophet to…
In 2013, after a ten year absence from music , David Bowie released The Next Day. That album was pretty straightforward: fourteen tracks that hit on several styles of music that he’d previously dabbled in. There were some catchy gems, it was a solid rock album—nothing too weird as far as Bowie is concerned. Now, instead of continuing on the safe path of another MOJO-bait rock album, it seems Bowie is taking a left turn into the experimental and exercising his soon-to-be 69-year-old creativity muscles.
“★” (or “Blackstar”) is Bowie’s newest single; it’s a ten minute song filled with strings, saxes, electronic beeps and boops, and harmonies inspired by Gregorian chants. When I heard the words “ten minute Bowie song” I was initially wary; in 2014, Bowie released the standalone single “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” which was an almost eight minute long sprawling jazz composition. It got a good critical response but wasn’t really for me personally, so I initially planned to stay away from this one too. Curiosity got the better of me, and once I listened to it I realized it wasn’t as formless as I feared it would be. It’s definitely weird, but not impenetrable for people who, like me, aren’t familiar with some of the music that inspired the song, like Scott Walker. There’s even a The Next Day-level pop song buried in there somewhere.
Lyrically, there are a lot of themes in “★” that Bowie has used in the past. There are references to pagan symbols and satanic rituals, as well as the inclusion of the savior complex that he has been putting in his music since “Space Oddity.” Speaking of which, the accompanying short film, which looks like something from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro, has images of women worshiping the bejeweled skull of a dead astronaut. Could that be Major Tom? Does that mean that “Blackstar” is part of the greater Major Tom storyline? Possibly. Probably.
“★” (Blackstar) is the first single from his upcoming album of the same name. It also serves as the theme music to the european crime drama The Last Panthers. ★ Blackstar the album will be released on January 8th, 2016, Bowie’s 69th birthday, and it’s set to have 7 tracks that run the gamut from “jazzy jams” to early krautrock-influenced songs. A “Bowie source” has said that ★ Blackstar is his “oddest” album to date, which seems like quite a feat until you consider that the tracklisting includes both “★” (Blackstar) and “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime).” I guess we’ll see if weird and “bonkers” translates to good music and record sales, but at the same time it’s truly inspiring to know that even at 69, Bowie is still challenging the minds of the music-listening world.
Joe Stando is so incredibly thankful for…
“Open Your Eyes”
School of Seven Bells
Back in 2009, I was a member of my college’s student entertainment programming board, which brought concerts, comedians, movies and the like to campus. We collaborated with other groups to plan larger scale events, and that year we were working with the student radio station on their music festival. The lineup was stacked, even after Regina Spektor dropped out to play as the musical guest on SNL; we had Mates of State, Black Moth Super Rainbow, and a little indie darling called School of Seven Bells. I’d become a big fan of School of Seven Bells thanks to a single on a sampler CD their label had put out. Knowing how excited I was, a friend of mine brought me outside after the show around the back of the theatre, where we smoked cigarettes with the band. Despite having smoked maybe one cigarette in my life and having to work really hard to hide how awful it was, I had a great time shooting the shit with the Deheza sisters and Secret Machines alum Benjamin Curtis. It was honestly the first time I was cognizant of the fact that celebrities don’t stop being human just because they get (kind of) famous, and that someone who played with Bono is still a regular guy who laughs at some venue volunteer’s jokes.
When Ben Curtis died in 2013 of lymphoma, it was also the first time I was really aware of a band I followed being “over.” I’ve never been an engaged music fan, per se; I tend towards Top 40 stuff and songs I like that I hear on film soundtracks or car commercials, with some added recs from my more cultured friends. But SVIIB was a band that I followed, even through lineup changes and shifts in sound. Selfish though it was, they were my band, one I followed and helped bring to campus and hung out with. It was a band who I had a story for, and whose members were actual people I met one time, instead of a more abstract or remote concept.
But then Alejandra Deheza announced a final, posthumous album, with tracks recorded by Curtis, and now we’ve finally seen that begin to come together, with “Open Your Eyes.” It’s exactly what I’d hoped for, and more than I could’ve imagined two years ago. It continues the synthy vibe that SVIIB had been leaning into on their second album, and builds on it in a way that’s innovative but also true to the core roots of the group. It’s an immersive, complex track, but also one that’s very uplifting. There’s no mourning here, or even much of an overt bittersweetness. There’s sometimes an issue of interpretation in posthumous works, in terms of production and sound. “Open Your Eyes” doesn’t rely on grief or false gravitas to mark out an identity. It’s the same quick/slow vocals, strong beats and repetitions it’s always been. There’s a comfort to it that I didn’t completely expect, but it’s the perfect last note for the band.
Mike Duquette is running up steps to…
“You’re a Creed”
Creed: Original Motion Picture Score
Deadshirt readers will still have to wait a week for my review of Creed, the new spinoff of the Rocky series starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed and Sylvester Stallone in his seventh outing as Rocky Balboa, the two-time heavyweight champion who trains him. But if the movie is as good as the score, it’ll be—pardon the pun—a knockout. The composer, Ludwig Göransson, is best known for the incidental music on Community, as well as production credits for Childish Gambino and HAIM. Creed, his seventh film score, is his biggest yet, and he strikes a really interesting balance of thematic material, blending lush, heroic orchestral sounds with hip-hop-flavored interludes, all anchored by a strong, five-note theme for the title character.
It’s “You’re a Creed” where everything expertly blends together with a not-so-secret ingredient: “Gonna Fly Now,” Bill Conti’s chart-topping, Oscar-nominated theme from the original Rocky series. Opening with those famous horns and sprinkling Creed’s five-note theme into a quote of the Rocky cue “Going the Distance,” “You’re a Creed” simmers for 90 seconds before exploding beautifully into a full rendition of Conti’s tearjerking theme, tying Rocky and Creed together in a way that makes me hopeful that the new film will capture the best parts of its 40-year-old forebear.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Two important points whizzed through my head before I hit play on Carly Rae Jepsen’s cover of “Last Christmas,” the immortal 1984 holiday hit by Wham! First, I have a weird predisposition against most covers that don’t stay in the same key as the original—I know it’s weird, I have no idea why I feel this way, but I do—and second, I hope the track, key or not, does my blinding love for Carly Rae Jepsen and “Last Christmas” justice. (I love “Last Christmas” so much I convinced a company to make this.)
Fortunately, Carly Rae’s “Last Christmas” delivered on all counts. CRJ’s sweet, playful voice and throwback production (punctuated by some of that cute, cheesy sax fans heard on E•MO•TION) makes this new version of the track a fun little Christmas gift nobody was expecting this holiday season. It won’t replace the Wham! version (how could it, really?), but it’s worth a listen as you deck your halls and wait under the mistletoe through the end of the year.