Album of the Year
Everybody experiences ★ differently. Naturally, there is consensus to be found in the obvious places, where criticisms overlap in the adulation and recognition of particular aspects of the album. But David Bowie and his music made such a personal impression on each listener: his presence was so huge, so totemic, meaning so much to so many in different ways, that his final work – and how his death irrevocably factors into it – affects its audience with myriad permutations. As such, we can only approach ★ with our own individual perspectives. There is so often a general temptation to give an artist too much credit in thinking that they have specifically planned and engineered audience reactions from the start, but in truth, most are simply smart enough to know how much space to leave in their work. Bowie was such an artist, and ★ is no less forward-thinking than his other masterpieces.
I am writing this piece exactly a year on from the man’s death, and I can remember the strangely vertiginous reaction I felt when the news reached me. Losing Bowie seemed unthinkable, more so than any other cultural icon. Even when he wasn’t present at the forefront of culture (or present at all, such as the lengthy period of silence preceding The Next Day), he still felt like an unconquerable and indispensable part of the world we understood. We relied on him, even if we didn’t directly acknowledge it. From the announcement of his death, throughout the entirety of 2016, I struggled to get past it, and specifically, I couldn’t get past ★. There have been other albums whose circumstances of release have irrevocably altered how they are heard, and 2016 alone seemed to offer more than its fair share (You Want it Darker, Skeleton Tree, HOPELESSNESS). But ★ is singular in its effect.
Trying to fully grasp that Bowie knew he was dying during the album’s creation is a challenge. For one thing, the energy alone that this undertaking must have demanded is mind-boggling to consider, and beyond this there is the haunting matter of how Bowie approached his looming mortality and channeled it into his music. Self-aware references to his own state and outright farewells poke out of the album with each listen, and some of the additional coincidences of its lyrics are just too much to process (“where the fuck did Monday go?”, we all gasped along with ‘Girl Loves Me’ on the 11th January). It’s too significant to dismiss the fact that ★ faces down death, but in pursuing this intense artistic vision, Bowie sounded reinvigorated to a degree unheard since his 1970s zenith.
Recruiting Donny McCaslin and a team of boundary-trampling jazz musicians yielded dazzling collaborative results that would have blown minds even if the context of the album was of little note. The music of ★ is magisterial and adventurous: a restless and excited leap into bold territory that pays dividends for the attentive listener. The assembled group complement Bowie’s focus perfectly, nailing an intensity and kinetic force that is guided with precision by the steady hands of Tony Visconti. I get goosebumps at every bump and stab of ‘Lazarus’ alone: the tremble in Bowie’s voice as he cries “look up here, man / I’m in danger”, the slicing guitars that punctuate the verses. Most powerful of all is the dramatic, terrifying ascension of McCaslin’s saxophone, relentlessly building to a feverish apex before a dizzying tumble back to darkness. If we choose to understand ★ as an exploration of death, then ‘Lazarus’ is its gravest dispatch.
But in a beautiful subversion of conventional expectations, Bowie never once sounds maudlin or self-pitying. Even in staring down death, he exhibits that characteristic playfulness that ran through even his most avant-garde outings. The unsettling moods of ★ are counterbalanced with Bowie’s nose-thumbing glee and occasional lapses into pure whimsy. “I’m the Great, I am!” he brags delightfully during the title track, slipping a few wisecracks into the song’s mantra as he goes (“I’m not a gangster”, “I’m not a flam star”, “I’m not a porn star”). It alludes to the zest for life and music that powered ★, and by God, it makes for wonderful listening. Teaming up with old and new faces alike one more time was a clear source of excitement for Bowie, and his exaltation to work alongside such talents is palpable on the magnificent ‘’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’. (Apologies, but I have to break from pseudo-professionalism for a second. Fuck me, what a song this is.) The track is irrepressibly alive: Mark Guiliana’s pounding propulsion, the increasingly chaotic squalls of McCaslin’s sax, those gorgeous, brief twinkles of keys that give the verses a starry-eyed wonder. And then there are the lyrics: a jumble of weird, funny-dark imagery (“Black struck the kiss / She kept my cock”) before Bowie abandons words altogether and just screams in exhilaration.
The album’s moody centre is adventurous in a different fashion: the frantic, heavy groove of ‘Sue (In a Season of Crime)’ and the intoxicatingly sinister nonsense of ‘Girl Loves Me’ bear witness further to the passion Bowie poured into his last studio efforts, before ‘Dollar Days’ finally brings ★ to its stunningly emotional conclusion. ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is the perfect ending to an album, and to a life’s work. There will surely be more songs exhumed and released in the years to come (as ‘No Plan’ was only a few days ago), but ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is Bowie’s final farewell, curated by the man himself. A beautiful, tender and brilliant work of songwriting, it earns its beaming, unfussy sentimentality as Bowie throws everything into his vocal performance, his rallying partners giving ★ its final, triumphant push towards the stars. And then it – and Bowie – is gone.
For all that ★ is filled with life, its subject is death, and across the album, Bowie confronts it with various attitudes: with fear, with defiance, with humour. Above all, however, he meets it with the same spirit of adventure that was the constant throughout his career, whether the results were adored, panned, or shrugged off. It’s testament not just to Bowie’s artistry, but to his own strength and personality that his final work matches the vigour of his very finest albums. We all view it differently, and for me personally, ★ is more than a masterpiece, and occupies a wholly unique place in the canon of recorded music.
It may only have been a year since ★ was released, but I have no doubt that it will continue to resonate as powerfully through the coming decades as it does currently. No matter the milieu, in times of joy, strife, optimism, and need, I will always lean on the music and the mythos of David Bowie. The man himself may have left the mortal world, but we need never say goodbye to the eternal art he gifted it. In his life and works, wherever he went and whatever he did, Bowie was always our spaceman, our adventurer, our great explorer of sound, style, life and more. Our Blackstar.
“Ain’t that just like me?”
I was first made aware of Blur’s resumed activity in December 2008, courtesy of an issue of NME which had excitedly plastered a black-and-white shot of Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon together on its front cover. “BLUR REUNITED!” screamed the headline, as the five-year gulf since 2003’s itchy Think Tank concluded in an instant, and fans the world over rejoiced at the return of one of Britain’s most-adored bands.
However, things haven’t been quite that straightforward. That particular magazine’s publication date was December 13th, 2008. Flash-forward to the present day, and with minimal prior warning, Blur have unveiled their incoming eighth studio album, The Magic Whip, slated for release on April 27th. To allow for a sharper sense of the heft of that time lapse, as of today’s announcement, it has been six years, two months, and six days since that issue of NME heralded Blur’s reunion.
It’s not like they’ve been inactive in that interim. There have been multiple Hyde Park performances, rapturously-received world tours and headline slots, and a sprinkling of new singles along the way. And of course, the joy spread by the band’s return has been genuinely touching to behold. But personally, proceedings began to grate partway into the 2010s. What had begun as a graceful and joyous resurrection gradually sank into a tiresome, drawn-out tease. There are only so many epic “last-chance” shows a band can play before a once-titanic return begins to whiff of nostalgia value, rather than an electrifying new lease of life. What were originally promising rumours and interviews soon evaporated into silence, and replaced by announcements of new solo records from Albarn and Coxon. No concrete news of a full-blooded return, only another wave of tour dates with little in the way of innovation.
As a result, I’m pretty elated that the band has suddenly publicised the release of The Magic Whip after several months of silence (although I’m a little unsure of that title, especially since the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey is currently at the forefront of the public consciousness). It feels as if our patience has finally been rewarded, and because there have been no prior announcements about studio work or prospective releases, the surprise factor of this unveiling has allowed Blur to reclaim the raw sense of excitement which has been lacking during the past few years of activity.
This is perhaps because dramatic announcements are the name of the game this decade. Given that keen music fans are constantly bombasted with infinitesimal updates from a headspinning breadth of artists, it’s miraculously refreshing when an announcement arrives which packs in some genuine surprise value. I’m particularly pleased with how Blur handled the situation, when we could so easily have had a Chinese Democracy situation on our hands given the way things were going. What’s lovely is that – after years of increasingly weighted tour announcements – they’ve approached a proper album launch with stealth and precision.
It’s not quite the same for a band to casually announce the making of a record months before its details are even confirmed. A slow, steady drip-feed of up-to-the-minute news is all well and good, but there’s no matching the seismic clout of a sudden return. Of course, Radiohead began to utilise this tactic years ago, but for some reason it’s only within the past two years that this strategy has escalated to something more widespread. In my book, it was David Bowie’s The Next Day which truly signified the power of this method. We were suddenly blindsided by the re-emergence of a monumental icon, exploding back onto the scene with unparalleled mystique and the unthinkable: a new album of genuine greatness.
It’s these abrupt, blinking-in-disbelief unveilings which have brought a new vitality and spark of excitement to the industry. Naturally, there have been many ‘traditional’ build-ups which have led to magnificent payoffs in the past decade, but it’s only with surprise announcements of this magnitude that one realises just how fresh and giddy the musical world can be at its sharpened best. For better (Beyoncé) or worse (U2), it feels like mainstream artists have started to take note of this stealth tactic, and it’s these sudden deployments which get the heart really racing and the debates raging, much more so than steady snippets of minute details. In an age of information saturation and the desire for instant gratification, we are primed to appreciate genuine surprises again, and when they do arrive out of the blue, the exhilaration is hard to top.Look Further:
- Details of The Magic Whip:
My Spin on Masterworks: 6 of 25
In 1975, David Bowie’s skyrocketing star had reached its zenith, but the man himself was approaching physical and emotional overload. Nutritionally malnourished and reeling from a snowballing cocaine addiction, Bowie’s descent into the Thin White Duke persona of the Station to Station years was tearing apart both mind and body. While his projects continued to arouse acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, Bowie was transforming into the same vampiric presence he flaunted during live outings: a skeletal, paranoid figure gradually withdrawing into his own psyche. After completing his 1976 White Light tour, Bowie fled to deepest Europe in order to escape his demons, accompanied by Iggy Pop, Coco Schwab, and eventually, his creative personnel.
After several months of soaking up the vibrant nightlife of the German capital, the teams settled in Hansa to undertake recording duties for Iggy Pop’s seminal The Idiot, but it was only after relocating to France’s Château d’Hérouville that the bulk of Bowie’s eleventh album was cut. Amid bitter divorce proceedings, the trials of kicking his drug habit, and cutting himself off from the world in which he’d been made a star, Bowie tortuously began work on new material. Almost exactly a year after the release of Station to Station on RCA, Low arrived; an album teeming with ghosts, yet ghosts which had been wrangled into something truly transcendental.
Whereas Station to Station shimmered into view through a fog of coke powder, Low awakens with the sound of a shambling engine clanking to infernal life. The crazed, stuttering thunder of ‘Speed of Life’ immediately signals a new departure for Bowie, its bold and brazen atmosphere defying lyrics as it leads the march into 38 minutes of tormented, confused, but ultimately magical noise. As with its parent album, the sonic tone of ‘Speed of Life’ is unsettling yet intoxicating, immeasurably enriched by Tony Visconti’s fizzing production; the biggest talking point of which is the Eventide Harmoniser, which worked to pitch-shift Bowie’s caterwauling and gave Dennis Davis’ gated snare drum its signature bite. It was the pioneering of such techniques which established the groundwork for the 1980s to follow, with Brian Eno’s creative assistance inspiring Bowie himself to push the envelope even further on subsequent releases.
Much of the discourse surrounding Low is mired in the tired fact that it’s a record of two distinguished halves: the “song”-oriented Side A, and the ghostly ambience of Side B. While this may be the simplest means of defining how these eleven tracks are sequenced, their chronology is more interesting to pore over when one considers them in a single sitting. While the jagged squalls of ‘Speed of Life’ are a far cry from the ashen desolation of ‘Subterraneans’, Low somehow shifts from one extreme to the other with electrifying kineticism, sounding disjointed but never messy. It’s the sound of a musical mind collapsing and expanding simultaneously, synthesising everything from funk-rock to art-pop to choral ambience.
Shortly following the album’s release, Bowie summarised his thought process once he had settled in Europe. “It was like, ‘Isn’t it great being on your own? Let’s just pull down the blinds and fuck ’em all.’ Berlin has the strange ability to make you write only the important things. Anything else, you don’t mention – and in the end you produce Low.” The important things in this instance are confined to a mere five tracks, wherein Bowie articulates them into authentic language, and even these are fragmentary, cryptic. The remainder plays out in sound itself, where emotion bleeds through the icy synthesisers and walloping drum patterns like a heart threatening to burst through a ribcage.
Perhaps due to this more reserved aesthetic, on first listen, parts of Low sound skewed to the point of bewilderment, but this mood is one of despair veiled beneath the eccentricities of the experimentation. The jaunty ‘Sound and Vision’ is a paean to self-imposed exile, the sound of Bowie drawing those blinds and grappling with a crippling case of writer’s block. The awkward drama of ‘Be My Wife’ is stuffed with desperate, childlike pleas for companionship, and the stuttering ‘What in the World’ and ‘Breaking Glass’ both document attempts at human reconnection, through entirely disconnected means. Both find Bowie attempting to slur his way into coherent communication, but failing to grasp a humane mode of transmission. “I’m in the mood for your love!” he wails repeatedly in the former, staggering through a universe which he can seemingly no longer traverse with any semblance of charm or tact.
The opening and closing portents of Low are particularly telling. ‘Breaking Glass’ proffers an image of the Thin White Duke’s glacial conduct crumbling into psychotic mania. The snowblind sheen of Bowie’s mid-70s endeavours is shattered into a mosaic of breaking glass, spilled secrets, and dishevelled, burnt-out guitars which sting with all the ferocity of the simultaneous British punk explosion. And then, depending on how one chooses to decipher the warbles across ‘Warszawa’ and ‘Subterraneans’, the final lyric on the album arrives barely halfway through Low’s runtime: “sometimes you get so lonely”. It’s a perfect ellipsis on which to leave listeners dangling as Bowie takes off with the achingly fragile ‘A New Career in a New Town’, before the sheer majesty of ‘Warszawa’ descends to close off any chance of returning to poppier terrain. Here is real horror, real anguish, real history as channelled through Bowie’s awestruck vision of Cold War Europe: a landscape as ravaged and broken as the musician’s own body during the period.
There really is so much to dissect about Low, from its backstory to its critical reception, its influence on Bowie’s trajectory as well as the development of synth-pop as a whole. It’s wired, it’s humorous, it’s mind-bogglingly inventive and forward-thinking. But Low is also emblematic of a terrifying, isolated odyssey into the abyss. Bowie may have been well and truly fucked when making Station to Station, but it’s Low which plumbs far greater depths of desolation. In 2001, Bowie himself commented on the creative process in an interview with Uncut’s Rob Hughes and Stephen Dalton. “It was a dangerous period for me,” he admitted. “Overall, I get a sense of real optimism through the veils of despair from Low. I can hear myself struggling to get well.” True, escaping to Berlin did allow Bowie time to heal, but the word “struggle” is crucial here.
Low is an album of retreat: Bowie’s retreat from the cataclysmic pressure of Western expectations, his retreat from conventional methods of songwriting, and a retreat from the demons of his own making. It could almost be considered as a retreat from humanity itself, but beneath its icy exterior, this music burns with the heat of terribly vivid emotions, too powerful to be articulated through traditional means. Low served to be the final nail in the coffin of Ziggy Stardust – as perhaps reflected on its album sleeve, Bowie had left his past behind, and he wasn’t looking back.Low 1 – Speed of Life
2 – Breaking Glass
3 – What in the World
4 – Sound and Vision
5 – Always Crashing in the Same Car
6 – Be My Wife
7 – A New Career in a New Town
8 – Warszawa
9 – Art Decade
10 – Weeping Wall 11 – Subterraneans
Crikey, this blog is looking dusty.
I must apologise for not posting in such a long while, but my main reason is quite simple: having just come to the end of my second year at university, exams have been holding me prisoner in recent weeks. As such, I’ve had to put pursuits such as bloggery aside for a little while to focus on tending to my degree. However, now that the doors to summer are about to be blown down with full force, I can finally turn to reviewing and rambling once again. Huzzah!
So, to recommence proceedings a little easier, here are some capsule-sized reviews of seven albums, which I’ve had on the backburner for the past few months. I realise that some of these reviews may now seem a little irrelevant, but given my pedantic nature, I thought I should give them a fair airing before cutting them out of my will entirely.
There remain some albums of this year which I have heard but don’t yet feel quite ready to comment on, among them the most recent offerings by Phoenix, Local Natives, By The Rivers, Queens of the Stone Age and Laura Marling. I’ll hopefully be delivering some fresh-smelling full reviews for the latter two albums within the week, but for now, please enjoy perusing and debating my write-ups for the following seven LPs. The scores may be belated, but for the curious among you, here are my judgements.
David Bowie – The Next Day
I won’t pretend that I’m an authority on David Bowie and the 23 studio albums he released prior to The Next Day. However, while this doesn’t put me in a great position to judge his explosive return in comparison to the rest of his discography, hopefully it means I can consider it against the wider world of music with a little less baggage. And as an album in its own right (and not just as a hallowed comeback), The Next Day holds its own rather magnificently. Fiery, impassioned, and musically lean, it’s a thrilling and thoughtful listen; one that firmly proves that Bowie retains his gravitas as both a master storyteller, and a commentator of modern times.
From the swagger of the title track to the dread-laden march of Heat, The Next Day is by turns bitter, fun, energetic, furious, and emotionally sharp. Although it houses one or two minor slips across its duration, it largely gels as a consistent and cohesive listen. The skyscraping brilliance of The Stars (Are Out Tonight) swoops into Love Is Lost‘s chilling claustrophobia, and the charged drama of numbers such as You Feel So Lonely You Could Die mark The Next Day as a marvellous addition to anyone’s canon. It’s great to have Bowie back, and on this evidence, he’s still got plenty to offer.
“They can’t get enough of that doomsday song / They can’t get enough of it all.”
Bastille – Bad Blood
There’s nothing wrong with writing a good pop single, and Bastille have achieved pretty remarkable success in that field: Pompeii ate the airwaves upon its release, and Laura Palmer is doing the same right now. With their big hooks, big choruses, and fronted by the quavery tones of Dan Smith, the formula for radio success was pretty nicely set for such three-minute tasters. Sadly, when spread over 40 minutes, that formula wears very thin, very fast.
As Bad Blood continues, the style and sound of Bastille can’t help but sound increasingly more vapid, with each song wafting by in an all-too-familiar mesh of lo-fi synthesisers, flavourless piano lines and “oh-oh-oh” refrains. And unfortunately, that voice becomes very, very grating, especially on overblown ballads such as Oblivion and Overjoyed, both of which struggle to assert themselves as anything more than sop. It’s a shame, because there are earworms and a handful of lyrical nuggets to be found, such as on Icarus and Laura Palmer, both of which manage to inject proceedings with a dash of urgency and finesse. But on the whole, when packed into a single unit, the music of Bastille is too inoffensive to satisfy.
“And if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
To lay my cards down at the offset, Mosquito is the weakest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ discography so far. It lacks the raw power and continuity of their previous releases, and there is less of a stylistic through-line, which results in a slightly sporadic, unpredictable listening experience. This isn’t necessarily a weak point, but when some of the cuts on offer meander rather than soar, the parent album can’t help but feel as if it sags here and there.
On the flipside, as a bag of glam-punk pick-n-mix, it’s brimming with colour and character. Sacrilege is a stick of dynamite which blows Mosquito open with a holy bang; Under The Earth groans and grinds deliciously, and the closing couplet of Despair and Wedding Song ends the whole show on an achingly beautiful high. Mosquito isn’t mindblowing, but it carries with it a few treats which are well worth seeking out.
For my full Mosquito review, bounce on over to The Boar Music.
“Through the darkness and the light / Some sun has gotta rise.”
James Blake – Overgrown
James Blake‘s self-titled debut was one of the strongest albums of 2011: an exquisite collage of neo-soul, dubstep and experimental music, all coagulated into one sumptuously cohesive whole. Its follow-up, Overgrown, doesn’t find its creator moving away from that original’s template too drastically, but it does find a stronger sense of confidence and maturity at its disposal. It’s clear in Overgrown‘s title track: a painfully intimate comment on stardom’s dislocation from intimacy. Strings swell, the beats click along stoically, and Blake’s cracked (but impressively-expansive) vocal blossoms into a perfect encapsulation of loneliness.
Although the arresting potency of its opening salvo doesn’t quite last the entire length of the album, Overgrown should be commended for its tonal consistency. Blake’s focal moods are conveyed throughout the likes of Digital Lion‘s fog just as well as the more overtly dramatic cuts, such as the disquietingly off-kilter single Retrograde. Building to a finish which offers a strikingly barbed catharsis (“we’re going to the last, you and I”), Blake’s second album is a sonically enveloping experience, yet one which is never inaccessible.
“So if that is how it is / I don’t want to be a star / But a stone on the shore…”
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
We’re a long way away from the rainbow-coloured art-pop of The Soft Bulletin: The Flaming Lips‘ thirteenth studio album is a dark, disturbing listen, and not one for the faint of heart. Following the density of 2009’s Embryonic, The Terror represents a shift into even thicker, smoggier territory, with mechanical, dystopian textures now dominating the whole board. Sidestepping expectations following the upbeat single Sun Blows Up Today, the suite of songs which compose The Terror are unrelentingly bleak, with the fluidity of the album reflecting the depression, future fears and the twin paranoias of Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd.
Coyne’s voice never fully breaks through the saturation of distorted synthesisers and mangled effects, instead remaining subdued and heavy-lidded behind a harrowing wall of sound. As a manifestation of the album’s namesake, it’s a brave stylistic move, though this does make The Terror a tough record to stomach across 55 minutes. Indeed, such an intense, despondent design does become exhausting in the album’s latter half, when the fledgling hooks begin to blur dizzyingly, but for its refusal to compromise – as well as the clarity of its singular, twisted vision – it’s certainly a significant monument in the Lips’ career.
“Ugly and magnificent / Your selfish eye can’t see itself.”
Tribes – Wish To Scream
If you weren’t familiar with the backstory of Tribes before clamping their sophomore record over your ears, you’d be forgiven for not realising that the four-piece actually hail from Camden. Such is the big, brash stamp of Americana on Wish To Scream that they sound closer to the wide open plains of Route 66, rather than the boroughs of northwest London. In itself, this shouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, but the music itself now sounds so overproduced and ham-fisted, that any real mettle within Tribes‘ music has been lost in translation.
Some of their sounds remain pretty, but there’s little substance behind the surface sheen. Dancehall, Never Heard Of Graceland and Englishman On Sunset Boulevard are all-too-heavily loaded with lyrical bluster, and feature guitar parts which grunt rather than bite. It’s this lack of any real steel which is Wish To Scream‘s biggest flaw, and despite a few saving graces here and there (among them the rumbling How The Other Half Live and Wrapped Up In A Carpet‘s baggy thump), Wish To Scream flails where it wants to fly.
For my full Wish To Scream review, bean across to The Boar Music.
“Twisted and bent out of shape / We might need a change of direction.”
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
To get it over with quickly, the biggest qualm I have with Random Access Memories is that its pacing is a little sloppy. But if that’s the most prominent problem I can find with this album, then it speaks volumes about the quality of the music itself. Indeed, Daft Punk have delivered admirably with their great return to the fold of studio albums.
Led by the biggest Fuck-Off World-Eating Single of 2013 so far, Random Access Memories is an epic, sweeping journey through many musical realms. Old-school fans remain catered-to with Fragments Of Time and Doin’ It Right (which seamlessly incorporates the tones of Panda Bear), but there are delights from other genres in abundance, too. The album’s centrepiece, Touch, is an eight-minute passage of grandiose glory, seguing from otherworldly, rumbling beginnings into a Disneyish swell of choral vocals and Paul Williams‘ piano-bedecked laments on needing something more. (Also, any other children of the 1990s get Croc vibes from that jazzy interlude?) Such freewheeling joie-de-vivre seeps through damn near every song on offer here, and even though the record’s tempo fluctuates with each entry, the pervading atmosphere is one of a feelgood tonic for the ears and the hips.
Yes, it’s a splattery platter of genre-hopping, copious guest stars and only five of its tracks clock in at under five minutes. Kind of chaotic, then, but oh-so-much-fun. Embrace the lush production and unashamedly theatrical aesthetic: this is a record built on foundations of pure enjoyment. Here comes the summer…
“… and I said, ‘wait a second… I know the synthesiser – why don’t I use the synthesiser which is the sound of the future?'”