FLUX

articles about pop culture

The Beatles – Revolver

File:Revolver.jpg

 

With their previous album, 1965’s Rubber Soul, the Beatles had made a huge stride forward artistically. This creative maturation continued on their following LP, Revolver.

Released in August 1966 (less than six months after Rubber Soul) Revolver saw the Beatles expand upon their use of the studio to produce new sounds. New music technology made it possible for the band to experiment even more than they had on Rubber Soul; tape loops in particular were used to great effect.

The Beatles were afforded a great deal more creative liberty in the studio by the fact that they had enough commercial support to quit performing live. This meant they were innovative in using studio technology to create new sounds and styles for pop music. The studio and editing tools were just as  much a part to their songwriting now as their instruments.

This can be found most clearly on Revolver in songs like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – an attempt by the Beatles’ to recreate an audio version of an acid trip. The song features tape loops being played backward and at high speed, while John Lennon’s distorted voice quotes the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

LSD was a major part of the writing sessions of Revolver. Just as marijauna had influenced the slow pace and mellow tone of Rubber Soul, LSD informed Revolver. Whereas Rubber Soul was languid folk rock, Revolver is faster, featuring prominent electric guitars, unorthodox sound effects and a wider range of instruments, including string arrangements. These aspects of Revolver would form the foundation for a new genre that would go on to be called psychedelic rock.

The album would spawn a legion of imitators over the next few years, and elements of it would influence a number of other genres: the abrasive quality of the political song ‘Taxman’ would be adopted by the punk rock genre in the 1970s, for example.

The sound itself wasn’t the only striking feature of the album. The lyrics had also grown in complexity. Rubber Soul had seen the Beatles beginning to explore more mature themes, like heartache and introspection. Revolver finds each band member now exploring their own particular worldview.

‘Love You To’, inspired by Eastern music, examines ideas influenced by Buddhism. ‘For No One’ is a tale about a failed relationship.  But ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is perhaps the oddest.

The song ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was inspired by the score to Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. The song features a stabbing string section throughout, and recounts the story of an old woman dying alone, and the priest who is the sole attendant of her funeral. It’s an exploration of depression and loneliness, a commentary on life in post-war Britain, and perhaps the darkest pop song that had ever been written at that time (let alone one that had become a global hit.)

This is even more striking considering that two years previously, the Beatles’ music had largely been concerned with teenage relationships. They were one of the most popular bands in the world, but their main audience was teenagers, and teenage girls in particular. They were the original boy band, in many ways. Their popularity was increased by their sense of humour and the lack of seriousness with which they treated interviews and public appearances, which was highly unusual for pop musicians at that time. They were not, however, praised for their lyrical content. For example, this leap in songwriting is evident when you compare verses from older Beatles songs like 1962’s ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘Eleanor Rigby’.

Love Me do (1962):

“Love, love me do

You know I love you

I’ll always be true

So please

Love me do”

Eleanor Rigby (1966):

“Eleanor Rigby died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved”

 

This a major leap. In the space of four years, the Beatles had gone from being one of the most commercially successful pop bands of their time to one of the most respected artists in their medium.

Even visually, Revolver was ahead of its peers. While the majority of album releases at the time featured covers with simple photos of the band, Revolver features a trippy image designed by Beatles collaborator and friend, Klaus Voorman. It would go on to greatly influence the way album covers have been designed since.

Revolver was also instrumental in bringing world music to popular attention. It influenced the evolution of rock music and opened the doorways for other artists to expand the genre. Even today, the essence of Revolver remains in the work of acts like Coldplay, Radiohead and Vampire Weekend.

Political critiques, recreations of psychedelic experiences, parables about depression, perspectives on Eastern philosophy. These are an odd mix of ideas for a pop album, even today.

Revolver is now ranked third on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All time, mainly because of the enormous influence it had over pop music, and how it made much more diversity of genres in the rock and pop world possible. It is also praised for its ground-breaking use of studio artifice, which is today the norm in the music industry.

It was maybe the Beatles’ largest creative leap forward, but it was by no means the last. There are five Beatles albums that consistently appear in critics ‘greatest albums’ lists and at the tops of public polls. The next of them would come a year later.

It features a song about a girl named Lucy, and something about diamonds. You may have heard of it.

 

The Beatles – ‘Rubber Soul’

It’s October 1965.

The Beatles have just released Help!, their sixth album to peak at number one on the Billboard charts. They’ve just finished a successful – and grueling – North American tour. But this success had not been without its tolls.

Of those early months of 1965, Lennon would later say, “I was depressed and crying out for help.” The other Beatles had also grown weary of touring and live performance, so much so that they decided to stop performing live altogether.

This was almost three years after the start of Beatlemania,  and the four boys from Liverpool had traveled the world, become wealthy, been mobbed by crowds, received death threats, met celebrities and heads of state. They were also dealing with the realities of relationships (Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia Powell was shaky, McCartney and Jane Asher would soon split). Lennon was also struggling with the pressures fatherhood, and his relationship to his young son Julian was no less strained than the one with his wife.

All of these things would coalesce into Rubber Soul, the band’s seventh album. Recorded in October, the album marked a dramatic shift in the way the Beatles made music. It was the first time the band exercised complete creative control of the recording. No longer limited by having to perform the songs live, they found themselves experimenting with new sounds: the sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’, baroque harpsichord on ‘In My Life’, fuzz bass on ‘Think for Yourself’.

Up until this point, the Beatles’ work largely consisted of love songs about teenage relationships, generally in the style of rock ‘n roll acts like the Everly Brothers and Robert Johnson. By late 1965, the Beatles had little interest in this subject matter.

As a result, the lyrics of Rubber Soul were more introspective and adult. Songs like ‘I’m Looking Through You’ and ‘Girl’ detail complex and often negative portrayals of romantic relationships. ‘Run For Your Life’ is concerned with abusive relationships. ‘In My Life’ is a meditation on nostalgia and reverie. ‘Nowhere Man’ is equal parts self-portrait and self-criticism.

Despite these radical changes from the Beatles’ earlier sound, the album still made it to number one. It was well-reviewed, and its acclaim has only grown in the last fifty years: it won the 1966 Song of the Year Grammy, and would later rank fifth on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Albums list. Rob Scheffield, a writer for that magazine, would say of Rubber Soul: “we’re living in the future this album invented.”

Rubber Soul’s idea of an album as a cohesive work rather than a few singles and filler would be adopted by most leading musicians of the Sixties. As Bob Dylan said of the Beatles: “I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.” 

It would be some time before Rubber Soul was recognized as the first masterpiece of the rock era, but it was already stirring up some competition. The Beach Boys would attempt to top Rubber Soul with their 1966 album Pet Sounds. That same year, the Beatles would respond to Pet Sounds with an album of their own.

This was 1965, after all, and the Beatles were just getting started.

Billie Eilish – ‘Ocean Eyes (Astronomyy Edit)’

 

 

The term ‘EDM’ is too broad to really refer to anything anymore, and this is a great thing.

It’s a sign of the eclecticism of electronic music these days. Genres are cross-pollinating like never before, spawning things like folk trap, abstract hip hop, aquacore, and the list goes on.

No better example of genres coming together is Astronomyy’s remix of Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish.

Don’t get me wrong; the original’s good too. Eilish’s vocals feel like ice crystals: so close to breaking apart, but never quite doing so. The themes of love and loss feel understated and elegant – and somehow even sadder for it. But Astronomyy’s edit takes what was good about the song – heartfelt lyrics, pristine vocals, dreamlike melody – and turns it into something closer to an incantation.

The line ‘You really know how to make me cry’ becomes almost primordial. The echoes feel angelic. The trap-inspired drum hits buoy Eilish’s voice, making it seem even more urgent, more spooky than before.

The song’s effectively a tutorial in the power of subtle production. The aquatic sound effects (bubbling water, Eilish’s vocals seeming to fade under an ebbing tide) are perfection.

This is most noticeable in the song’s ending. The chorus of ‘Your ocean eyes…’ fades into the sounds of shifting water. It sounds like Eilish is vanishing to the bottom of the sea. But it also feels like EDM shifting into new realms of possibility.

 

Stephen King – ‘Joyland’

I have a weird relationship with Stephen King books.

They’re kind of more than books to me these days, since I’ve read so many of them. When I was 15, his memoir On Writing blew me away. At 16, Carrie destroyed and rebuilt my ideas about genre fiction. At 20, Bag of Bones made me sleep with the bathroom light on.

There’s a specific pleasure in a good Stephen King book (although not all of them are good; I’m looking at you Maximum Overdrive). He’s an interesting writer in that, when he gets it right, you barely notice his prose. You just get swallowed up into the story.

But that isn’t too say he’s just a storyteller. His books – even the ones about haunted cars or vampires attacking small towns – tend to have an emotional grace. He touches upon serious themes: dealing with loss (Pet Sematary), morality versus the rule of law (The Green Mile), the power of hope (The Shawshank Redemption). He handles these ideas with depth and conviction. You get the sense that he really believes in what he’s saying.

Which is why it’s becoming harder for me to love Stephen King books the way I used to. There’s just such a high standard to compare them to every time I crack one open.

This month, though, I took a look at one of his newer ones, Joyland. Although published under a crime fiction imprint, the novel is classic King: an eerie setting, a mystery involving a murdered girl, a young man dealing with his first heartbreak.

It’s not as epic as the The Stand or as nail-biting as Cujo, but the story hit home for me. It reminded me of what it felt like to read King for the first time. It’s a charming book, and sweet, and a little scary. In other words, a master of his craft at work.

But more importantly, it reminded of what I like most about King’s work: you can tell just how much the dude loves writing. He’s said in the past that he needs it to function, that his art is a support system for his life, rather than the other way around.

And that, I think, remains his biggest strength.

Track Review: Proleter – ‘April Showers’

 

 

In French, proleter means proletarian, a person from the lower classes. Interesting then that French hip hop producer Proleter adopted it as his stage name: when he’s not crafting deliciously swinging beats, he makes a living at a factory.

Proleter specializes in abstract hip hop, fusing interesting soundscapes with hip hop structures. His beats incorporate a range of sounds – from jazz to swing to reggae. This sonic curiousity was borne out of his frustration with rock music, which he’d been playing before trying his hand at hip hop.

This particular track embodies the best of his style: a quirky retro sample and a thumping hip hop bassline. It sounds like something Timbaland could have produced – had he been alive in 1920s Paris.

Echoes of Proleter’s influences show up all over the song: the rich bass of DJ Premier, the crate-digging of DJ Shadow, the genre-mashing of Danger Mouse. Yet the track still feels fresh and vital.

In other words, April Showers is a treat; I can’t help but smile when I hear it. It’s an oddity, sure, but if interesting mash ups are your thing, give it a listen. You won’t regret it.

New Music: Drake – ‘One Dance’ and ‘Pop Style’

Brace yourselves for the 6.

Ahead of the alleged release of Drake’s long-awaited ‘Views from the 6’ this Friday, two new tracks have dropped.

Pop Style features a guest verse from Kanye West and (bizarrely) two lines from Jay Z. The ghostly beat is the earwormiest of Drake’s since Know Yourself. Likewise, One Dance is also more nocturnal and experimental than previous Drake efforts.

The hype surrounding Drake’s next LP is palpable. After the acclaim of the sort-of-mixtape If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, a lot of fans hope that Views may be Drake’s magnum opus. Then again, a lot of good albums have been done a disservice by too much hype.

Time will tell. Until then, we have these tracks to get us through the wait.

Listen to them here.

 

New Music: Kanye West – ‘Saint Pablo’

Only a few weeks after the release of The Life of Pablo, a new Kanye West track has hit the web.

It’s called ‘Saint Pablo’, and features a nocturnal hook from Sampha. It continues the TLOP trend of minimal boom bap, with a marching drum loop and spooky synths. In it, West addresses a number of issues from the last few weeks: his personal debt, the mass piracy of his new album, his erratic behaviour both online and off. He also references the opening track of his first album, The College Dropout, compares himself to Einstein and refers (inexplicably) to “the Jews” (it is a Kanye West song, after all).

With the very of-the-moment lyrics and unfinished feel, it’s too soon to say whether this is just a throwaway track or a song from West’s next album, currently titled Turbo Grafx 16 (after his childhood gaming console).

You can listen to it here.

Track Review: Stephen – ‘Sincerely’

 

 

Indie electronica is pulsing with upbeat music. Youtube channels like La Belle Mixtape overflow with sunny-eyed vocalists and uptempo instrumentals. However, 24 year old artist Stephen has made a name in this scene with his own brand of gloomier, more introspective music.

Stephen’s previous single ‘Crossfire’ was a meditation on the divides in our culture. It featured a mix of acoustic guitar, a mean electric breakdown and socially conscious lyrics. An unlikely gem.

Now his latest offering ‘Sincerely’ continues this trend of genre-bending and introspection. This time, Stephen turns his eye to the ills of 21st century society, the hook making a toast to the few out there who love us sincerely. Spooky voices shift around Stephen’s solitary voice while his guitar propels the song forward; it’s as sombre as something the Haxan Cloak might put out, as bouncy as a Kygo remix.

In other words, the dude proves once again that he’s one to watch.

Track Review: Oh Be Clever – ‘River’

 

 

Indie-electronic duo Oh Be Clever have been making eclectic avant-pop for a while now, but ‘River’ might be their most gripping track yet.

The Utah natives have had a busy few years. They’ve gone from playing bars to tours of Arizona, California and Texas; even performing at SXSW. ‘River’ reflects this growth, and the influence of new acts they’ve come into contact with.

It’s a sombre song – singer Brittney Shields sounds like she’s evoking spells over an instrumental that is at once booming and nocturnal.

It shows the range of their abilities without feeling forced – calling back to their high school band days, while at the same time being committed to their most recent electronic work. It’s yet another reminder that they’re a duo to watch.

And what they got have planned for the coming year? In Shields’ own words: “Oh Be Clever’s goal has always been to be GLOBAL.”

 

 

Track Review: Kanye West – ‘FML’

Kanye West’s newest album The Life of Pablo is a bizarre, manic, fragmented musical document with a lot of moments both inspired and disappointing. I haven’t come close to formalizing my thoughts on the album as a whole, but one track in particular stands out for me.

‘FML’ is the bleakest song on the album (and this album has some pretty dark moments). It features Kanye rapping about what sounds like a manic episode. He makes reference to the anti-depressant Lexapro and and rattles off a laundry list of woes and concerns. Shadowy synthesizers warp around his voice, with only vague snares here and there to remind you that it is, in fact, a hip hop song.

It sounds like something off 808s and Heartbreak, but it replaces that album’s self-pity with self-loathing. It’s possibly the darkest corner of Kanye’s mind he’s let us glimpse yet.

A rending hook from the Weeknd helps bring the song’s themes of self-destruction home – indeed, the Weeknd might be pop music’s favourite self-immolator of the moment.

The song’s outro, though, is where it gets really interesting. A distorted sample of Section 25’s sombre ‘Hit’ implores the listener to “see through the veil” while Kanye’s voice freefalls around it. It’s twisted rock, something that would be completely at home on Kid A. And possibly the weirdest sample on a Kanye record, which is saying something.

Ultimately, it reminds us of one of the dichotomies that makes Kanye so interesting: the dude’s got a lot of enemies, but none is so venomous as Yeezus himself.