Posts Tagged ‘music’

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Tonight We Improvise”

August 8, 2017

At this point, this willingness to let songs do the heavy lifting is an endemic problem for television. Westworld, Legion, Stranger Things, you name it: They can all take advantage of labels and artists who no longer have record sales to fall back on and must capitalize on any and all other available revenue streams by licensing pretty much any song they choose. I just want them to choose wisely.

I closed my review of Ozark’s fourth episode for Decider by ranting and raving about its lamely unimaginative use of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from Casino, but the rest of the episode was surprisingly good.

Nine Inch Nails: Add Violence [EP]

July 26, 2017

The EP’s final track is both the strongest and strangest. “The Background World” appears to be a slinky electronic groove that might conclude a big-budget Hollywood thriller, serving the same function as Moby’s “Extreme Ways” in the Bourne movies, or Reznor and Ross’ cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” with their frequent collaborator (and Reznor’s wife) Mariqueen Maandig in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Yet the lyrics are bluntly bereft of sequel-ready optimism: “There is no moving past/There is no better place/There is no future point in time/We will not get away.” Reznor’s detractors tend to mock this sort of sentiment, but in the year of our Lord 2017, who’s laughing now?

The song’s formal moments are even more intimidating. It repeats the same awkwardly edited instrumental snippet—a brief empty hiccup separating each iteration—over fifty times. Seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds of the song’s eleven minute, forty-four-second runtime are eaten up as the segment plays out over and over, each new version a degraded facsimile of the last, until only static remains of the original riff and rhythm. Like an image run through a Xerox machine until it’s no longer recognizable, this makes Reznor’s Hesitation Marks–era worry that he’s just “a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a” legitimate entity real and audible. Its audaciousness would make David Lynch himself proud. As Reznor promises additional work to come in the near future, it gives his listeners reason to hope, no matter how hopeless he himself becomes.

I reviewed the new Nine Inch Nails record for Pitchfork. Proud to be covering this band for this site in this way.

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie – “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie”

June 14, 2017

A good chorus can put a whole lot of questions to bed—about a song, about a band, about a reason to get up in the morning, you name it. Fleetwood Mac, whose catalog is so festooned with world-bestriding hits that they can do a best-of reunion tour and leave “Sara” and “Hold Me” off the setlist, know this better than just about any other band. Their colossal pop collaborations kept them together through years of intense interpersonal turmoil and full decades of cordial détente. Like, in the grand scheme of things, is it really that big a deal if you left your bass-player husband for the light guy if the result is “You Make Loving Fun”?

Which brings us to the curious case of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, a Fleetwood Mac album in all but name—and the conspicuous absence of the third member of the band’s songwriting trinity. Ending what seemed like a permanent departure from the band, keyboardist and vocalist McVie returned to the fold in 2014 for a massive tour. After it wrapped, she and guitarist/vocalist/production whiz Buckingham headed back to the studio together for the first time in well over a decade, with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie joining them. As for Stevie Nicks, well: “What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.”

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie feels like a retort to Nicks’ statement. For McVie, the return to the band has been creatively invigorating as well as financially lucrative (Nicks herself gets that, facetiously describing McVie’s only other alternative to heading back to the studio: “‘Now I’m just gonna go back to London and sit in my castle for two years?’ She wanted to keep working”); Buckingham’s a born striver who kills time between tours by adding guitar texture to Nine Inch Nails records. Going on the road and making money is “what we do”? The pair’s collaboration feels like a “speak for yourself” in album form. To paraphrase a Rumours classic, they’ll make recording fun!

I reviewed the new album by bonafide pop-rock geniuses Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie for Pitchfork. It’s definitely fun, just not fundamental.

‘Dreaming the Beatles’ Author Rob Sheffield on the Fab Four’s Unstoppable Pop

May 17, 2017

I wonder if that longevity has something to do with another key element of the book — that The Beatles were “a pop group” and “a rock band,” and you talk about them as both.

Sheffield: The fact that they play in both of those leagues is one of the really weird things about them. There’s something utopian about the way they float over that distinction. Their original concept of “rock and roll,” which is what they called it when they were just starting out — it’s amazing how expansive it was. They were really into playing blues, R&B, country, American rockabilly, corny cheesy show tunes, upscale New York professional-songcraft stuff like Goffin and King, girl-group stuff.

It was controversial, even at the time when they were playing in Liverpool. Paul has this funny story in his book about how the other Liverpool bands thought The Beatles were good at playing blues covers, and that it was lame that they wanted to play pop stuff. Mick Jagger was saying, “We were blues purists. We like pop stuff, but we would never do it onstage.” But [Motörhead singer and bassist] Lemmy talked about seeing The Beatles at the Cavern Club, and he was like, “That’s the most ferocious live band I’ve ever seen.” The idea of a 16-year-old Lemmy going to the Cavern for the lunchtime show, and all these office girls who are there with their hair in rollers, dancing around their handbags.

It’s funny that the definitions of rock and pop became more exclusive and narrow-minded since then. The Beatles were beyond that from the beginning. Their conception of rock and roll was so wide-ranging and so imaginative that there was something revolutionary about it. They would try playing anything new: Motown, Carl Perkins, The Music Man, all on the same record or in the same set. They were very self-consciously provocative about that. Even [girl groups like] the Marvelettes or the Shirelles or the Chiffons. [The Beatles] liked singing in that girl-group style of vocals together. Like, no, The Rolling Stones did not do that.

It’s my great pleasure to make my MTV News debut by interviewing Rob Sheffield about his tremendous new book Dreaming the Beatles, the best thing about the band I’ve ever read. It sidesteps the canonicity argument completely and talks about how the Beatles’ presence in pop culture didn’t just end with their amazing eight-year run, but continued to grow and change and get even bigger among different groups of kids and musicians every decade since. Absolutely stellar work, and I’m so glad I got to pick Rob’s brain about it.

‘Twin Peaks’: Your A to Z Guide

May 17, 2017

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

A: Angelo Badalamenti
“Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.”
That music – as indispensable to to the series as Dale Cooper or donuts and coffee – is the work of Lynch’s longtime musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, whose suite of lush leitmotifs made the show sound like a world all its own. Twin Peaks without the composer’s sumptuous synths is like Psycho without Bernard Herrman’s screeching strings, or Jaws without John Williams’s menacing “dun-DUN-dun-DUNs.” This clip of the composer explaining how he and Lynch came up with “Laura Palmer’s Theme” shows how much heart and soul he poured into every note.

B: Bob
Lynch was filming a scene for the pilot in which the late Laura Palmer’s mother sits bolt upright and screams. Then he noticed a face in the mirror behind her – the same face he himself saw when its owner, an actor turned set dresser named Frank Silva, crouched behind Laura’s bed to dodge the camera for a different shot. From this sinister coincidence was born Bob, the demonic rapist and murder from the otherworldly Black Lodge who began the series by killing Laura Palmer and ended it by possessing Agent Dale Cooper. Thanks to his malevolent presence, no show has ever been scarier.

I wrote about the many-faceted magic of Twin Peaks, from Angelo Badalamenti to Grace Zabriskie, for Rolling Stone.

Slowdive: Slowdive

May 8, 2017

Nature metaphors come so readily to mind when listening to shoegaze—clouds, stars, skies, storms, oceans, whirlwinds, maelstroms—that it’s easy to believe that, like the weather it evokes, it just sort of happens. Invest in the right guitar pedals, put the right breathy spin on your vocals, and bam—instant Loveless, or close enough to fool a stoned and heartsick teenager. It’s as easy as walking out your front door and letting the spring air greet you.

For some bands that may well be all there is to it. But song by song, moment by moment, sometimes even note by note, Slowdive do it better. There’s nothing elaborate in the bassline for “Slomo,” the opening track of their first album in 22 years, given the thick bed of guitars it bounces on. Just seven notes, the sixth of which leaps unexpectedly up an octave instead of continuing the bassline’s descent. Or at the end of “Slomo,” when Rachel Goswell’s voice pulls off a similar trick, first when she takes over lead vocals from Neil Halstead, then when she starts singing them at the very top of her register. At the end of “Go Get It,” Halstead sings two different lyrics laid on top of one another simultaneously, like his conversation with Goswell is over and now he’s talking to himself.

In a genre beloved for its comfortable reliability, all it takes are these small but striking detours to remind us that this glorious noise is the work of human hands and the skill that move them. If there’s a story to Slowdive—the band’s return to active recording together after decades of slowly mounting critical and audience acclaim—beyond the human-interest angle of the return itself, the swerves in the songcraft tell it: This is an album as thoughtful as it is beautiful.

I reviewed Slowdive’s self-titled comeback album for Pitchfork, which awarded the record Best New Music.

Goldfrapp: Silver Eye

March 30, 2017

It takes Alison Goldfrapp more than a full verse into Silver Eye’s leadoff track “Anymore” before she utters a single word with more than one syllable: “You’re what I want. You’re what I need. Give me your love. Make me a freak.” Reductive? Considering her and collaborator Will Gregory—whose past lyrics would gussy up their earthy emotions and desires in hazy surrealism like, “Wolf lady sucks my brain” and, “Now take me dancing at the disco where you buy your Winnebago”—you might be tempted to think so. Prior to “Anymore,” Goldfrapp hid their most verbally explicit expression of lust (“Put your dirty angel face between my legs and knicker lace”) in an elaborate fantasy about a tryst with a traveling carny titled, appropriately enough, “Twist.”

But the direct approach suits this new album, the group’s first since 2013’s Tales of Us. Ever since the pair swapped the John Barry ambience of their debut album Felt Mountain for the electro-glam of its successor Black Cherry, they’ve staked their identity on being able to assume new identities at will. Wanna double down on that sexy “Spirit in the Sky” shimmer? There’s Supernature. Wanna go pastoral? Check out Seventh Tree. Wanna trade Gary Numan and Marc Bolan for the Pointer Sisters and circa-“Jump” Van Halen? Head for Head First. By contrast, Silver Eye is a synthesis—a combination of all the things the group has done well. “Become the one you know you are,” commands a key track, and they’re teaching by example. Who needs many syllables to express something so fundamental?

I reviewed Goldfrapp’s new album Silver Eye for Pitchfork.

Nine Inch Nails: ‘The Fragile (2017 Definitive Edition)’ / ‘The Fragile: Deviations 1’

January 11, 2017

The Fragile arrived a stylistic turning point, emerging at the point where the “alternative” sobriquet fell out of fashion and “indie” achieved dominance. Today, though, reservations about the lyrics’ outré confessionality and the music’s jam-packed, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink gigantism seem positively quaint. (Don’t care for titanically hyper-produced albums stuffed with uncomfortably intimate and self-mythologizing lyrics about your emotional world falling apart? Tell it to Lemonade.) The Fragile may lack the tightness of Nine Inch Nails’ other highlights: the concise fury of Broken, the inexorable depressive logic of The Downward Spiral, the late-career professionalism of Hesitation Marks. But it takes the emotional distress that gives it its title and transmutes it into something colossal, defiant, and resilient. Listen to it at your strongest or your weakest (and I’ve certainly done both) and it will offer you a sonic signature commensurate with the power of what you feel inside.

I reviewed Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, one of my favorite albums of all time, plus its recent instrumental revamp The Fragile: Deviations 1, for Pitchfork.

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Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” [Rewind Festival, 17 August 2013]

December 31, 2016

Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” is the hit in question—a deceptively buoyant poison-pen letter to the musicians who helped make Harley a star. Its verses highlight the star’s melodramatic self-pity (“you’ve broken every code and pulled the Rebel to the floor”), his dismissal of his ex-comrade’s motives as a tedious lust for filthy lucre (“for only metal—what a bore”), his insistence that they’re the ones who wronged him and not the other way around (“it’s from yourself you have to hide”), and his moral and aesthetic superiority (“you’ve taken everything from my belief in Mother Earth…I know what faith is and what it’s worth”).

But the chorus. The chorus! As if fulfilling the promise of the song’s upward-scaling opening guitar filigree and the till-then ironic “ba ba ba”s and “oooh la la la”s, Harley interrupts his exoriations of his former friends by saying “Come up and see me, make me smile / Or do what you want, running wild.” A reference to the Mae West quote he’d drop when his ex-bandmates would ring the buzzer of his upper-floor apartment for a visit, the titular lines run counter to all the other ones—a fantasy of rapprochement, forgiveness, friendship, a return to the carefree days gone by. It’s a fascinating dynamic for a pop song: a chorus that exists in diametric opposition to every verse. A chorus rendered impossible by every single other part of the song.

I wrote about a live performance of “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel for the music tumblr One Week One Band’s year-end special on songs of hope.

 

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2016

December 20, 2016

Vinyl: “Wild Safari” by Barrabás
“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” Richie Finestra bellows at his record-label employees. “Made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass! That’s what I want!” Vinyl showrunner Terence Winter had similar goals, but virtually none of the musical elements of his period drama clicked. This despite the imprimatur of co-creators Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who know a thing or two about making magic with music, and supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, whose previous collaborations with Winter and Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street were all killer, no filler.

There was one grand and glorious exception, and it had nothing to do with Jagger swagger. Rather, it was the result of an unlikely alliance between demoted A&R doofus Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) and his mail-room buddy Jorge (Christian Navarro). When the latter takes Clark to an underground dance club, they enter in slow motion to the ecstatic sounds of the 1972 proto-disco song “Wild Safari” by Barrabás. The killer clothes, the fabulous dancing, the beatific smiles on the faces of beautiful people, the irresistible rhythm, the rapturous “WHOA-OH-OH” of the chorus, the sense that an entire world of incredible music has existed right under his nose — you can feel it all hit Clark right in the serotonin receptors, and damn if it doesn’t hit you, too. Perhaps my favorite two minutes of TV this year, this sequence demonstrates the life-affirming power and pleasure of music.

I wrote about major musical moments in The Americans, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Horace and Pete, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and (yes) Vinyl in my list of 2016′s 10 Best Musical TV Moments for Vulture.

You won’t fool the children of the revolution

November 25, 2016

(“Raw Power” comes on in the car)

Me: This is a band called Iggy & the Stooges. The lead singer’s name is Iggy Pop, and he did all kinds of crazy things. He smeared himself in peanut butter, he’d break bottles and cut himself up, he covered himself in honey and sprinkled glitter on himself, he’d even just walk right on top of the audience.

My 5 1/2 year old: They could get a concussion! Did he wear anything crazy too?

Me: He was really muscular, and he’d come out in no shirt and, like, very tight silver pants.

My 5 1/2 year old: That’s crazy! Were you there, Daddy?

Me: Was I there? No. This was in the early ’70s, so…like, 45 years ago, almost. Before I was born.

My 5 1/2 year old: Then how do you know about it? How do you know all about these things if you weren’t there?

Me: Because it was very famous, and people wrote all about it. You can read books that tell you all about different bands from a long time ago.

My 5 1/2 year old: Tell me EVERY STORY about EVERY CRAZY THING anyone did in EVERY BAND, PLEASE!

“Westworld,” and When TV Uses Pop Music to Do Its Emotional Heavy Lifting

November 7, 2016

Maeve’s walk through the Westworld theme park’s behind-the-scenes house of horrors is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the instant in which one of Westworld’s unfortunate, unwitting robots receives undeniable, unforgettable confirmation that their life is a lie. It’s a crushing concept all on its own, and the guided-tour-of-hell structure of the scene adds to the pathos. By rights it should stand alone as one of the series’ most powerful moments.

And yet, Westworld’s treatment of it falls flat. Like park technicians fiddling with a host’s intelligence or empathy on their control panels, the show’s filmmakers artificially increase the sequence’s tear-jerking levels by soundtracking it with a chamber-music version of the closing track on one of the most acclaimed albums of all time: “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” the achingly sad conclusion of Radiohead’s electronic-music breakthrough Kid A. It’s not the first time the hyperactively overscored series has relied on the band, having previously gone to the Radiohead well with their suburban-ennui anthem “No Surprises.” Hell, it’s not the first time it did so in this episode, which opens with a similarly heavy-handed accompaniment by a player-piano version of the band’s ode to falseness, “Fake Plastic Trees.” But it is the show’s most egregious example yet of using a song with preexisting cultural clout to do its emotional work — a syndrome we’re seeing, or hearing, with increasing frequency as Peak TV prestige dramas attempt to cut through the clutter and grab viewers, or listeners, by the heartstrings.

Rather than let the power of the scene emerge on its own, Westworld leans on a preexisting work of art to doing the heavy lifting for it. It’s a cheat, a shortcut to resonance. That particular work of art has far more cultural purchase, impact, and history than a first-season TV show. Even if you don’t rate Radiohead, substitute the gut-wrenching classic-album closer of your choice — “Purple Rain” or “Little Earthquakes” or, to cite an artist Westworld’s already employed to dubious effect in that over-the-top orgy scene last week, “Hurt”— and you’ll get the point.

Over at Vulture, I went long on how shows like Westworld, Stranger Things, and even The Americans have used preexisting pop music as a cheat code to score emotional points they haven’t earned. I also talked about shows that have done pop music cues right, from The Sopranos and The Wire to Lost to Halt and Catch Fire and The People v. O.J. Simpson. It’s basically a prose version of what Chris Ott and I talked about on his Shallow Rewards podcast a few weeks ago. I quite liked writing this piece and I hope you enjoy it.

Shallow Rewards – The Song Remains the Shame: Mr. Robot and Stranger Things

September 26, 2016

I was delighted to become (I think) the first ever recurring guest on Shallow Rewards, the enormously insightful podcast from music criticism’s adulte terrible Chris Ott, to discuss the use of standout pop songs on the soundtracks of prestige television shows. We focus on Mr. Robot and Stranger Things (so watch out for spoilers) but touch on Halt and Catch Fire, The Sopranos, and The Wonder Years, with plenty of digressions into film soundtracks and film in general (Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese, SLC Punk, Under the Skin) as well. Chris is one of my favorite critics of any kind and it’s a pleasure talking to him. I hope you enjoy the results!

Shallow Rewards: Not Yr 90s with Sean T. Collins

July 21, 2016

I appeared on my favorite music podcast (and my favorite podcast period), Chris Ott’s Shallow Rewards, to discuss how the critical narrative of the 1990s has distorted the reality of how the era’s music, “alternative” and otherwise, functioned, flourished, and failed. There are substantial digressions about the overall state of arts criticism and journalism in there, too. Nobody does a better job than Chris of editing a podcast for maximum impact — honestly, it’s not even close. Moreover his work has been a huge inspiration and influence for me, and it was an honor to be a guest. Please listen!

Download part one

Download part two

Words and Guitars tonight

May 19, 2016

I’ll be reading Hottest Chick in the Game, me and Andrew White’s comic about Drake and friends, at the HiFi Bar in NYC at 8pm tonight as part of Zachary Lipez & Michael Tedder’s Words and Guitars reading series. A whole bunch of other luminaries will be reading too, so heed the words of the man himself and come thru!

The HiFi Bar is located at 169 Avenue A between East 10th & 11th in Manhattan. I hope to see you there!

The 10 Best Underworld Songs

March 18, 2016

9. “Always Loved a Film” (from Barking, 2010)

From “lager lager lager” to “crazy crazy crazy” to “you bring light in,” repetition has always figured prominently in singer Karl Hyde’s lyrics. But it’s never done so more revealingly than in “Always Loved A Film,” a standout track from their last studio album, 2010’s Barking. The words that get the most play here? “The rhythm” and “Heaven,” two concepts that for Underworld are largely synonymous. The track itself is one of the most conventional verse/chorus/verse affairs in their discography (they get reflexively tagged by critics for their traditional rock-songwriting style way more often than they actually write traditional rock songs), with guest producers Mark Knight and D. Ramirez adding a crunchy texture that befits the song’s structural solidity. Like “Two Months Off,” it’s a love song that uses the imagery of light radiating outward in a sleight-of-hand substitution for the intense emotion being directed inward. This time, though, the celestial metaphor is brought down from the sky to the earth by anchoring it to the memory of walking down a hot summer street: “The rhythm of keys swinging in your hand, the rhythm of light coming out of your fingers.” When the chorus hits, it’s a million miles from the elusive and inscrutable lyrics Hyde usually indulges in, hitting as hard and direct as anything on pop radio at the time — “Heeeeaven, heavennnnnnn — can you feel iiiiit?” could have been a Lady Gaga lyric. The highlight, though, may be the acoustic-guitar-accompanied bridge, which adds an element of uncertainty — “I don’t know if I love you more than the way you used to love me” — a la George Harrison’s “You’re asking me will our love grow / I don’t know, I don’t know” from “Something.” Both songs trust love to be big enough to accommodate doubt, bright enough to risk some shadow.

In honor of Underworld’s terrific new record Barbara Barbara, we face a shining futureI named The 10 Best Underworld Songs for my Stereogum debut.

Music Time: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future

March 15, 2016

Let’s talk about love—with Underworld, you kind of have to. Though still best known for shouting “lager, lager, lager” in their epochal 1996 hit “Born Slippy.NUXX,” the long-running dance duo, consisting of singer-lyricist-multi-instrumentalist Karl Hyde and producer Rick Smith, have quietly but persistently placed matters of the heart at the center of their best songs. Their breakthrough single “Cowgirl” pledged “I wanna give you everything,” robotically chanting the final word like a mantra for emphasis. “Jumbo,” the buoyant highlight of 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, took a (literally) sweeter approach, with singer Karl Hyde purring “I need sugar” when “I get thoughts about you.” And despite the involvement of a series of guest producers whose work never quite gelled, UW’s last studio album Barking was held together by a chain of out-and-out love songs, from its singles “Scribble” to its tremulous closing ballad “Louisiana” (“When you touch me, planets in sweet collision”). Regardless of their reputation for turning late-night urban-hedonism anthems into festival-filling crowdpleasers, Underworld remain romantics at heart.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future—perhaps because Smith and Hyde’s own creative romance needed rekindling.

Today I made my Pitchfork debut by reviewing Underworld’s excellent new album Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “He in Racist Fire”

March 15, 2016

Five episodes into Vinyl’s initial spin and one thing is clear: This show hates Jethro Tull.

Remember a few episodes ago, when Richie Finestra got so incensed by the “Aqualung” impresarios’ flute-laden prog rock that he yanked the record off the turntable and smashed it over his knee? This week, merely presenting our antihero and his A&R right-hand man Julie with a group of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ian Anderson renaissance-faire goobers was enough to get the Ivy League tryhard Clark (“I graduated from fucking Yale!”) demoted to sandwich gofer. Look, we believe Metallica should have won that Grammy 27 years ago too, but after the second season of Fargo used “Locomotive Breath” to score an amazing gang-war montage, this should all be water under the bridge. You’re really gonna listen to “Cross-Eyed Mary” and argue that these dudes were everything wrong with Seventies rock & roll, while Loggins & Messina walk free? Fight the real enemy, folks.

I reviewed this week’s Vinyl and defended Jethro Tull for Rolling Stone.

Goodbye, Bowie Loves Beyoncé

March 12, 2015

I started bowielovesbeyonce, my first tumblr, in February 2009. I always said that if the two of them ever took a picture together, I’d happily retire the tumblr, my work done. Tonight, searching for header image for the site’s mobile layout, I discovered that they’d taken two pictures together — at the Met Gala a year ago, and on the cover of Vanity Fair fourteen years ago, eight years before I even started this thing. I’m stunned and chagrined that I missed these photos for all this time, but still, I’m so happy to see Bowie and Beyoncé together. I love them both; they mean so much to me.

I’m going to go ahead and keep that promise to myself. It’s a shock to the system, coming coincidentally just one day after I decided to stop using twitter except for very minimal professional upkeep — I’ll have so much free time in my day (and free space on my dash) that I won’t even know what to do with. But this was the plan all along, and I want to see it through. And who knows: If David can come back after a decade of silence, anything is possible.

All thanks to David Bowie and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, my very favorite pop stars of all time. You have given me a better life.

“The Americans” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Walter Taffet”

March 12, 2015

Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours is a crystalline collection of immaculately produced pop-rock that has sold in the neighborhood of 40 million copies. That’s approximately 8 million copies per each of the five members of the band whose romantic partnership ended during the album’s recording. Given that there were only five people in Fleetwood Mac, including a pair of couples, that’s one hellacious track record. Count ‘em: Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his longtime partner Stevie Nicks, two of the band’s three main songwriters, broke up acrimoniously. The third songwriter, Christine McVie, left her husband, bassist John McVie — for the group’s lighting director. Finally, drummer Mick Fleetwood got a divorce from his wife Jenny Boyd. (PS: Boyd had conducted a lengthy affair with the band’s ex-guitarist Bob Weston; Fleetwood would go on to have a secret relationship with Nicks, which ended when he broke up the marriage of Nicks’s best friend by having an affair with her. BuzzFeed’s Matthew Perpetua has the best summary of the turmoil if you’re searching for a scorecard.) Lindsay, Stevie, and Christine all chronicled their changing fortunes with savage honesty and/or dizzying romanticism in the songs that formed the album. And in the only instance of the entire group collaborating as songwriters, all five band members co-wrote the record’s centerpiece, classic rock’s most vicious anthem of romantic recrimination: As they all fell apart, “The Chain” quite literally kept them together.

It’s well worth thinking about Fleetwood Mac in the context of The Americans. In a sense, the two are inseparable, and not just becauseMatthew Rhys is Lindsey Buckingham’s spitting image: The show’s pilot began with an eight-minute espionage sequence set to an extended remix of“Tusk,” Buckingham’s bizarro paean to sexual paranoia. And tonight’s climactic use of “The Chain” will, yes, keep them together as well. But the songs are on the soundtrack for a reason. Long before Mick’s opening stomp emerged from your speakers tonight, this was a show obsessed with the ways in which couples in varying degrees of estrangement could nevertheless come together to achieve something greater than they ever could individually. “Walter Taffet,” this week’s episode, contained enough examples to make the Mac’s Behind the Music blush.

I reviewed Fleetwood Mac tonight’s episode of The Americans for the New York Observer.