Here is something that, when I describe it, might turn you off: This song is composed almost entirely of sounds that came from a cello. It seems aesthetically useless–like a Spencer Gifts catalog or an a cappella group–but the truth is that Oliver Coates has much more style and grace than most conservatory-trained musicians trying to be clever. Coates is a member of the London Contemporary Orchestra, he has worked with Actress, Massive Attack and DOOM, is a frequent collaborator with Jonny Greenwood, and was featured all over Radiohead’s latest album A Moon Shaped Pool. His bona fides are well documented. It’s just a relief to hear and therefore believe modern compositions don’t have to lean on Philip Glass or Steve Reich as touch points. Jungle, bassline, ‘80s pirate radio, and Autechre can all be part of the melding of classical instruments and modern technology.
Coates takes the framework of a UK garage beat and ornaments it with his fretless cello mimicking a bass, a hi-hat borne of a compressed and heavily EQ’d thwack of his horsehair bow against steel strings, and an orchestral sting that sounds like sun suddenly shooting up to the apex of the sky. The historically versatile voice of the cello feels stripped form its home playing Bach suites at banquets, but in a way that utilizes the instrument more than ever. Above all its many moving parts exists the whole of this song, elegant and hypnotic, an effortlessly contemporary pop song made by a 400-year-old instrument.—Jeremy Larson
ANOHNI — “Hopelessness”
In 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued this forecast: “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally” and according to the World Bank, the average temperature on earth will raise 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 years, and even if we immediately halted all emission of carbon dioxide right now (which is obviously impossible because it would initiate a global political collapse based on the emergence and dependence on carbon-based capitalism and its roots in every power grid across every first-world country, and even if austerity measures were introduced it’s easy to look at the recent paroxysms in Europe as evidence that a stymieing of economies would have massive economic ramifications, much less a contraction of economic growth, which is the only thing that would actually curb carbon emissions), 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming is already baked into our future. The collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone (which is happening and will continue to happen) will eventually raise sea levels as much as 20 feet. A nauseating doom now underscores what used to be common boilerplate conversations about the weather and tweets like [Rob Thomas voice] Man, it’s a hot one.
It does all feel a bit hopeless. In my worse days when I think I’m surrounded by gaggles of Chicken Littles, I still feel there’s no real tangible way to fix the future. A constant dread hovers inches above my head and a gnarly laugh-cry seems to be the only honest expression of my feelings (to get a sense of this, imagine the exact intonation of “We got London on da Track” only if it was recorded in the fetal position). ANOHNI’S album Hopelessness is among many things about that fear, that smallness, the feeling of being virulent on this earth, all refracted through her identity. When everything seems too constricting, I think about the phrase she sings on this song, “How did I become a virus,” as a mantra to think smaller, not let the large scale ecocide of the earth overwhelm me, and maybe just decide to rinse out the takeout container of Pad Thai and put it in the dang recycling. She told me she uses the phrase “rigorous honesty”, which is something more forgiving than self-interrogation, more elegiac than accountability. It’s doubtful that another song this year will move me like this one.—Jeremy Larson