The power of music in difficult times

A personal review of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool

In times of change and fear, listening to music can be a cathartic experience, as it offers an escape from reality. Music can also reflect the moods and events that occurred during its creation. Last year, Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool which, for me personally, was the most impactful album of 2016. I repeatedly go back to the album to lament and escape the events that are happening in the world today. The album not only relates to my own anxieties, but captures overall feelings of anxiety, apathy, hope and lost love through lyrics and instrumentation.

Radiohead continues to evolve and change their sound instead of rehashing their past albums such as OK Computer or Kid A. The band’s sound reflects their age and the ways they have evolved. The album opens with the track “Burn the Witch,” a legendary unrecorded song known amongst ardent Radiohead fans. The song consists of violent violin plucking, a drum machine and a bass guitar, which together create a hectic, yet structured sound. Lead singer Thom Yorke sings “This is a low flying panic attack,” evoking anxiety about a metaphorical witch-hunt. “Burn the Witch,” both the song and music video, make an allusion to the 1973 version of the movie, The Wicker Man.   It tells the story of a detective going to investigate a disappearance on an island where they have sacrificial rituals. These rituals make reference to the “burn the witch” chorus, which refers to a “witch-hunt.” The song conveys an unwilling coercion, with its main hooks, “Burn the witch, we know where you live” and “Abandon all reason.” The song’s lyrics and sound, touches on the idea of political movements dividing people into “common people” and “metropolitan elite.”

The emotionally impactful track “Glass Eyes” is beautifully orchestrated, with gentle piano playing. The lyrics paint an image of a depressing grey world, where Yorke sings in a subtly depressing tone: “Hey it’s me I just got off the train, a frightening place, the faces are concrete grey and I’m wondering, should I turn ‘round? Buy another ticket? Panic is coming on strong.” In the song, Yorke sings about wandering off down a mountain path, not caring where he goes, just as long as he escapes this panic attack. I relate to these lyrics personally, as moving to Montreal for university was hard because of all the social anxiety I experienced. Last year, my anxiety flared up—walking down the street brought on a sense of panic, my heart rate would rise and I had to lower my gaze to avoid eye contact. Sometimes, I needed to be alone, to forget about the panic that was brought on by large public spaces. The song captured my anxiety, to the point where I cried on my bed the very first time I heard it. “Glass Eyes” is one of the only songs that has ever made me cry. This track uses a combination of an orchestra and Yorke’s somber, aged voice to illustrate a beautifully depressing image of a panic attack.

In the song “Present Tense,” Yorke describes a scene of a world crumbling around him, as he sings about dancing and clinging on to the things he knows and loves. “Present Tense” has sounds influenced by Latin music, and the song is constantly changing. A choir comes in halfway through the song as the drums kick in, and the vocal melody is constantly evolving, delivering an emotional punch and meditative state of reflection.

As Yorke sings “As my world comes crashing down, I’m dancing, freaking out, deaf, dumb and blind,” I feel he uses dancing as a way to save himself from distress. I love the image of dancing while the world is ending, not having the ability to do anything, content with the fact that the world is coming to an end. The song ends with the loving line, “In you, I’m lost.” “Present Tense” gives a hopeful message of love and catharsis. It reminds me of when I saw Radiohead at Osheaga this past summer. I’ll never forget the sense of community at Osheaga—camping out to see Radiohead for 12 hours at the main stage, dehydrated, with my legs feeling numb. The most memorable moment was when the whole crowd started singing “Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself,” the outro to “Karma Police.” Thom Yorke even extended the song, playing guitar while the crowd continued singing. “True Love Waits” is another mythical, unrecorded song on the album which dates back to the The Bends era (circa 1995).

The song on bootlegs — the unofficial recording that got released, (which only had Yorke playing acoustic guitar) was a hopeful, youthful song about unrequited love. However, more than 20 years later, the song is transformed with a minimalist sound. Yorke’s voice sounds strained and evokes a sense of sadness, accompanied with simple-sounding piano sounds. The sappy lines, like “and true love lives on lollipops and crisps,” seem more like desperate attempts to cling to an innocent time.

Now, Radiohead has transformed an old song’s seemingly outdated and naive lyrics into a truly depressing song. “True Love Waits” is an emotional gut punch, with lines like “I’m not living, I’m just killing time,” and the somber closing line: “Just don’t leave, don’t leave.” This song encapsulates how I feel about the year 2016. It was a shit year for many of us, but I’m glad we have music that reflected the essence of that year in a supporting way.

Radiohead and many other artists came out with albums in 2016 that were fun, exciting and relevant to today—they didn’t ignore the problems we are facing, didn’t just wish for everything to be okay. Instead, they faced them by making incredible music. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool is not a political album—it never mentions specifics—yet manages to capture the emotions we continue to face, with wicked instrumentation and abstract lyrics.


Rising from the ashes of 2016

As the confetti fell and the alcohol flowed on New Year’s Eve, many were celebrating the end of a tumultuous year marred by celebrity deaths, terror attacks and a shocking presidential campaign.

Many of us are still in shock, but we must begin to move forward, place our faith in 2017 and hope this year spurs change and prosperity. We must also look to the things we can control, namely things happening on our campus.

So this editorial is taking an unorthodox approach, voicing some changes our newspaper wants to see around campus.

1)   No more shady student politics

In 2016, we saw the Concordia Student Union (CSU) go through some turbulent times, especially when their finance coordinator resigned under allegations of transphobic and queerphobic behaviour. It’s frustrating because we—the students—supported ACT Together and voted them into the CSU, only to find out we were supporting a nefarious individual. Moving forward, we need to ensure student politicians are properly vetted and that we are asking the right questions. We cannot afford to elect another individual—or political party for that matter—with toxic skeletons in their closets.

2)   Classes focusing on indigenous issues

Concordia offers a wide variety of courses, but oftentimes it can be hard to find a course that focuses mainly on indigenous issues. Although there are a handful of courses offered by the history department and there is a department of First Peoples Studies, we want to see more. The university needs to integrate more courses and hire more First Nations professors who can synthesize their thoughts and experiences in lectures.

3)   Transparency from the administration

Do you all remember the drama regarding international students and how the university tried to increase their tuition? It seems like the university tried to pull a fast one on us, but we—the students—are savvy and were able to campaign and put pressure to block the vote from going through. All we ask is for the administration to be upfront and honest with us, so we don’t get blindsided and have to write angry op-eds. We want to see more of a dialogue between the upper echelons of the bureaucracy and the students—after all, we are all key players in this symbiotic relationship.

4)   Divestment from fossil fuels

The Concordian has previously reported the university holds investments in the fossil fuel energy sector. Bram Freedman, president of the Concordia Foundation, told the Montreal Gazette in 2014 the university has an endowment—a pool of investments—worth around $130 million, but would not say how much money is invested in the fossil fuel sector. According to Divest Concordia, however, the university invests roughly $11 to 12 million in fossil fuels and related industries. For years, students have been advocating for the university to wash its hands of this toxic tar and invest in environmentally-friendly sectors. We understand it’s hard to liquidate all holdings of fossil fuel investments, but we also understand the plight of the students, for it’s hard to grapple the fact that our institution is directly involved in a polluting energy sector. We think there should be an open dialogue between the administration and the students who push for divestment so we can create a university we are all proud of, not one that has its hands in the tar sands.


The best albums of 2016

An influential year in music with the release of many great records

With many hit albums released in 2016, here is my list of the must-listen-to records from this year.

David Bowie – Blackstar

The year started with the loss of music legend, David Bowie. Blackstar  is a deeply personal look at death and only becomes more powerful with the passing of the singer himself. Bowie brings us right to the edge and forces us to peer into the abyss with this album. It is his most beautifully morose work to date. The blend of experimental jazz alongside his classic elastic voice and pop sensibility reminds us why he is one of the most iconic pop stars of all time. His knack for ballads isn’t lost either, with “Dollar Days” providing a beautifully nihilist view on life. Every song latches onto the soul, as the lingering strings and horns glide through the album. David Bowie transcends death, and Blackstar is the most haunting album of the year.



Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

The Canadian poet sadly passed away earlier this month, but like Bowie, he left us with a reminder of his greatness. His 14th full-length LP may be his most somber project yet. A deep, church choral background accompanies him on the title track. The unmistakable sound of Cohen’s grisly voice sends shivers down spines whenever he sings. Much like Blackstar, You Want It Darker marks the end of a legend’s journey. The rich and tight production serve as the perfect backdrop for Cohen and his uncanny ability to tell beautiful, concise stories. With each song, Cohen accepts his fate and inherently resigns himself to death. The description of the album on iTunes says it best: “At 35, he sounded like an old man—at 82, he sounds eternal.”


The Darcys – Centerfold

Retro 80s pop and funk mixed with a sense of cool swagger is rarely heard, not only from Canadian groups, but from any group. This project is such a dramatic departure from The Darcys’ usual heavy, tone-focused albums. It features suave instrumentals from Jason Couse and Wes Marskell, combined with old-school funk guitar and electronic-oriented production. These melodies bring us straight to the beaches of Miami at spring break. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than an album that’s just plain old fun. The groovy, retro guitar licks, laid back drum lines and Couse’s silky voice provides us with a neon-laced dance pop record that holds nothing back.



Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Kanye out-dueling Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties In L.A.” is reason enough for The Life of Pablo to appear on this list. However, there are many other reasons to love this project. Kanye’s classic egotistical and insecure persona shines, but is also accompanied by a new sense of accomplishment. On his previous records, Kanye seemed troubled and burdened by fame. On The Life of Pablo, he seems to have finally begun to enjoy himself a little, and as a result, we get the best production and beats to ever grace a Kanye West album. His lyricism hasn’t taken a hit either. “No More Parties In L.A.” and “30 Hours” showcase his rhyming prowess. Multiple listens to The Life of Pablo only make it better, with new details emerging every time.


Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots

I’m from Calgary, so I had to put at least one country album on this list. Florida Georgia Line has been at the forefront of the “bro country” movement. With Dig Your Roots, they tone down that frat boy mentality and deliver their most intimate material yet— all of this while still putting out some fun, light and classic tunes like “Life Is A Honeymoon” and “Summerland.” Musically, this album is not terribly original—it doesn’t need to be. Its familiarity is part of the charm, kind of like visiting your old favourite hangout spots. This is the kind of sunny country music that makes you want to kick back, shotgun some beers and tailgate with friends. No country album this year made me want to get up and dance more than Dig Your Roots.


Gord Downie – Secret Path

For those who don’t know, Gord Downie is the lead singer of one of the most respected rock bands of all time, The Tragically Hip. Secret Path is an obvious passion project for the terminally ill songwriter. Downie tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who died while escaping from a residential school 50 years ago. “This is Canada’s story,” Downie has told us in multiple interviews as well as on his website and in the foreword of the graphic novel that accompanies it. It is a dark corner of our past we rarely acknowledge, but is essential to our identities. The singer brings it all to life with haunting acoustic guitar riffs and ghostly vocals overlapped with subtle piano riffs. It brings Wenjack’s suffering out from the basement of Canadian history and into the spotlight. Pounding, unrelenting drums propel each song forward into the next, making the album a journey. The top-notch production is something to be expected at this point from Downie. With Downie, however, it is never just about the chords and beats. The story is what makes the album one of Canada’s most quintessential albums in years.


Blair Witch: A return to the Black Hills Forest

While not fully living up to the original, Blair Witch still has frights and fights

Hidden under the title of The Woods during production, Blair Witch is the latest sequel to The Blair Witch Project (1999), a film that is considered one of the pioneers of found-footage horror. While this new instalment is a significant upgrade from the catastrophe that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), viewers should still not be expecting a classic this time around.

Fans of the original should be advised to leave their expectations for another Blair Witch at home, as this instalment feels like a fan fiction that somehow managed to become a feature film. The filmmakers did make the effort to continue the found-footage tradition and even staged the film in its original location. However, the shaky camera style quickly becomes distracting and the woods somehow feel smaller than in the original film.

The story is painfully straightforward. James, the brother of Heather (who disappeared in the original), finds newly discovered footage on YouTube that he thinks features his sister. This opens up the possibility that she could still be alive. He decides to round up his three closest friends to go investigate, reluctantly bringing along the two people who found the footage for guidance. What follows is the typical, predictable filler of character conflict that leads to the group splitting up for no good reason, a flurry of jump scares and some mediocre deaths, which all lead up to the abandoned, decrepit house from the original.

Blair Witch manages nothing new, despite having an acre of potential. photo: Chris Helcermanas-Benge/© Lionsgate

There are many fatal flaws that plague the film, the biggest being that there is never a sense that these characters have any kind of chance of making it out alive. It resembles a one-sided fight between a wolf and six blind lambs. Moreover, rather building up any kind of substantial suspense, Blair Witch is just a basic monster movie shot exactly like Cloverfield (2008). The monster in this movie being an amalgamation of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Slender Man, and a self-aware forest. Worst of all, there really is not much of a point to the film. It fails to build on the original, all the while being predictable just like every other horror movie made in the last 10 years.

However, for all of Blair Witch’s faults, it must be said that the third act inside the house is well worth the price of admission. This is where the film finally jumps into top gear. It is the kind of scary that will keep most viewers frozen in their seats. There really isn’t a logical reason for the characters to go into the house, but the movie needs to go inside more than its characters do. While the ending is not something that will stick with many people, the sequence is a genuinely fun time. If I were to compare the film to anything, it would be to a rollercoaster ride. There is a lot of time spent waiting for something to happen, then a few bumps to get your attention, and finally a sudden rush that slows down right before you’re let off.

Those who are looking for something new should stay away, but anyone who enjoys a fright should check it out.

Stars: 2.5

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