When Lorde dropped onto the scene with 2013’s Pure Heroine, she was a strange, dark, enigmatic force. A 16 year old from New Zealand, her signature sound of slow drums and deep beats shook up the music charts (her competition: Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers—even the “Harlem Shake” made it onto the charts). “Royals” signaled an exciting direction for chartable music, one not predicated only on exuberant silliness but that made space for something a little darker, a little deeper, a little quasi-gothy. She was a weirdo before Jughead made the claim, with effortless cool. The heavy, slow beat-and-clap of “Royals” and “Team” became a real thing. It’s not for nothing that literal David Bowie called her sound “the future of music”—and of course, he was right.
With her follow-up album Melodrama, Lorde built on her previous sound and reputation for idiosyncrasy. In a recent article detailing just why Lorde’s music seems so different from contemporary pop music, Time got into the actual structure of her biggest hits, which employ the difficultly-named “mixolydian mode”. As someone who doesn’t understand music theory, this doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, but it essentially means she’s adopting a scale historically used in blues and rock unexpectedly in pop music. Pop is incredibly formulaic (that’s not necessarily a bad thing—it’s a successful genre for a reason), but we love Lorde precisely for bucking that formula and still making it work. Think of the song “Green Light”, which shifts to a surprise chord at the pre-chorus (“But I hear sounds in my mind…”), a shift that doesn’t make sense in pop theory but one that gives the song its unsettling power. She is always tightly in control of her sound, sure-footed in her formula-breaking. Melodrama was not as commercially successful as Pure Heroine, but Lorde’s artistic influence carries on in current chart toppers like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. It’s very hard, for example, to hear the swelling bridge of “drivers license”, with its layered voices and slow claps, and not think of Lorde.
Coltrane was a true virtuoso. Unlike Mozart, though, he wasn’t born a musical genius. Instead, he practised, practised, practised. On the bus during road trips, he would shadow exercise his fingering on the sax for hours on endlessly. Endlessly curious, his musical career changed jazz and popular music’s trajectory like no other artist—encompassing Be Bop/Hard Bop, Blues, Pop, Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, and Ballads. What sets Coltrane apart from his contemporaries and modern artists for me is that his musical voice helps smooth my worries, has eased my pain over some of my most wretched heartaches, has helped me discover patience within myself, and continues so effortlessly to permeate my cerebral and spiritual faculties like no one else. Not everyone can say that their favourite artist named a song after them either (wink wink). I’ve been listening to a lot of Coltrane while I work from home—indeed, as I write this—to encourage a flow that sweeps me into an effortless effort. Coltrane has such a massive discography from his tragically shortened life that I thought I’d highlight some of my favourites to get you started. All albums here are hyperlinked (click on the pictures) to their Hoopla links. The album above, from the superb 2017 documentary, is a great general introduction to the breath of his work. What follows are some of my favourites.
What to do when you’re cooped up inside? Across the globe, our regular routines have been completely decimated. For a lot us, that might mean the simple fact of moving your body around or stimulating your mind is happening at a drastically reduced rate. I’m sure we’re all desperate to latch onto something to keep us sane. Blessedly, we live in a time of ample streaming, and with a simple few clicks we can get a book or a movie or a TV show up and running within a matter of seconds. Truly, I would like to apologize to technology for anything bad I may have said about it in the past. So yes, we can get all the sit-on-the-couch content our hearts desire, but what about something to get you moving? Personally, what’s keeping me from going stir-crazy is music. Is there a better feeling than finding a song that vibes with your very soul, or makes you want to jump around in your bedroom, or maybe even inspires you artistically? Luckily, Hoopla gives you access to all sorts of music to stream on your computer or a mobile device—and all you need is your library card. And bonus: the per-month checkout limit has been raised from 5 titles to 10! All the better to get your groove on.
I have been listening to a few albums on repeat this quarantine season (sorry, neighbours!). First on the list: the masked cowboy, Orville Peck. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re welcome. I always forget that I actually really like country music, because most of it is just so….ugh. But when a country song slaps, it slaps (I’m still waiting on Beyoncé to make a country album ever since she put out “Daddy Lessons”). Peck’s version of country is a far cry from whatever passes as a hit in Nashville these days—in fact, it’s practically a genre reset. A callback to when country wasn’t just about trucks and beer (or, if you’re a woman, killing your husband) but was instead the refuge of outsiders: outlaws, rebels, misfits, wayward souls. It was Johnny Cash singing to prisoners, and Willie Nelson championing marijuana in the red states. Peck, then, is a return to form, and his version of “outsider” is being an openly gay crooner with a heightened, Dolly Parton-esque camp aesthetic and a voice that could melt butter. His music has all the twang and warble of old country, but is softened by influences like new wave synth and dreamy shoegaze. Think of The Smiths sung by Elvis, with lyrics by Lana Del Rey, and you’re halfway to Peck. Never seen without his cowboy hat and mask, he’s the sort of enigmatic figure that inspires immediate and intense devotion—I know, because I’m living it.