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    From Claire Rousay, Field Recordings for a Modern World

    With her new album, the emo ambient musician has learned to embrace everyday pleasures.One spring evening, the San Antonio-based experimental musician Claire Rousay was in the driver’s seat of her parked car, smoking cigarettes and sipping a well-concealed beverage, when she picked up the Zoom H5 field recorder that is never far from her reach. “I track my whole day every day,” Rousay says. “If I’m home, I’ll have a pair of stereo microphones in my living room, and a field recorder in my bedroom. I’ll probably have 18 hours of field recordings … I basically record my whole life.”She turns these found sounds into musique concrète that locates grains of emotion in the mundane — a car door slamming, a lighter igniting, the plink of an Apple keyboard mid-text. What a songwriter might convey in poetry, Rousay evokes with raw audio. You could call it sound art, but it’s viscerally vulnerable. More appropriately to Rousay — who declines to confirm her exact age but identifies as “a millennial sun, zoomer rising” — her work has been tagged as “emo ambient.”Last fall, Rousay released the 20-minute composition “It Was Always Worth It,” for which she spun the contents of real love letters she’d received over a six-year relationship through a robotic text-to-voice program. In a year widely lacking in new, intimate conversations of the unguarded 3 a.m. caliber, it was a heartbreaking revelation. In a world of endless distraction, Rousay’s is an art of paying attention. Her immersive new album, “A Softer Focus,” is her first to draw in melody and harmony (“the pleasure of making music,” as it’s been called), and though she’s posted 22 releases to Bandcamp since 2019, it feels like an arrival.In her art as in her life, Rousay seems intent on breaking through the perceived super-seriousness that her work might portend. She calls karaoke “an intimate soul endeavor” (her go-tos are Taking Back Sunday and Lil Peep) and lights up when discussing, with equal reverence, the composer Pauline Oliveros’s book “Deep Listening” (2005) or her longtime favorite band, Bright Eyes. “Being a real person is what I care about most,” Rousay says. “Being present and open.” Evidence of this abiding commitment to honesty can be found in last spring’s “Im Not a Bad Person But …,” another text-to-voice piece that ends on a bold admission: “I think Avril Lavigne’s album ‘Let Go’ is better than Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps.’”Building on her unconventional style, Rousay produced “A Softer Focus” as an equal collaboration with the San Antonio artist Dani Toral. The pair met in middle school there — after Toral had relocated from Mexico City, and Rousay from Canada — but were soon in constant motion, with various tours and residencies, until the pandemic forced them to stay put. In addition to the floral cover art, Toral made a video, took photos, designed a T-shirt, named the record and several songs and created 30 ceramic whistles to accompany the release. The common thread, Toral said, is a “glowy” sense of comfort. The whistles, inspired by Mexican folk art and a 2006 book about the history of ceramic instruments called “From Mud to Music,” were an especially fitting addition. “I love clay because it holds a lot of memory,” Toral says. “It holds every touch that you put into it.”Rousay’s pieces function similarly, and for “A Softer Focus” she even recorded Toral in her backyard ceramics studio sculpting one of the whistles, playing it and reflecting on the process — putting their conversation into the music. On the album, that snatch of dialogue also finds Rousay and Toral contemplating the stresses of Instagram for visual artists — the anxiety of being expected to post not just your work but your life. “It was us smoking joints and talking,” Rousay says, “and I think the recording is like six joints deep.” It’s a detail that speaks to the whole project’s ethos of presence and growth: Toral had never made digital art before and, as Rousay puts it, “I had never really made a listenable record. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of being in the zone. We were learning together.”Rousay records the minutiae of her life to magnify the joy of simple moments.Liz MoskowitzThe artist Dani Toral made ceramic whistles, inspired by Mexican folk art, to accompany Rousay’s new album.Liz MoskowitzROUSAY GREW UP in a strict evangelical Christian household in Winnipeg, Manitoba — secular music was forbidden — and was 10 when her family moved to San Antonio. She drummed during church services before untethering herself from Christianity and searching for meaning around her instead. After dropping out of high school at 15, she toured with an indie rock band and, after discovering jazz, turned to free improvisation. She traveled as a solo percussionist, doing 200 gigs in 2017 alone.The awe-inspiring swarm of “A Softer Focus” can feel like an amalgam of this all. On the highlight track “Peak Chroma” — named by Toral to evoke “the highest saturation of a color” — Rousay adds a pitch-shifted vocal line about listening to “the newest Blackbear song,” a reference to the Florida emo rapper and Justin Bieber co-writer Matthew Tyler Musto. It’s a conscious nod to a realm of contemporary pop that Rousay finds “infinitely more experimental” than many artists would allow. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” she says. “Experimental music is so limited as it is. There are so many fake rules that the whole thing is not really that experimental anymore. What can I do to change that?”It was around the time that she embraced emo ambient as a descriptor that she decided to stop avoiding her unique confluence of interests. “I couldn’t do it anymore, just being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I really love Stockhausen’ — are you kidding me?” she jokes. “I don’t know how you can go through life being so selective about parts of your personality.” Ultimately, though — and in another nod to Oliveros — Rousay says her greatest influences are likely in the sounds of her own environment.“Sitting on the back porch, listening to the sounds of my backyard — that’s what should matter,” Rousay says. “But if I listen to Fall Out Boy every Friday night after 11 p.m. when I’m blackout drunk, that’s the way it is. Some people have the cicadas in their backyard. And some people have Fall Out Boy.”Rousay has both. And this duality of an almost meditative stillness and earnest emotion runs through “A Softer Focus,” as well as “It Was Always Worth It.” “I know things have been rough lately,” a dispassionate automated voice announces on the latter, “but I want to remind you that I love you, and I’m working hard to be with you. You’ve got a great heart. You are so loved. Even if you weren’t, all you’d have to remember is to love yourself above everything else. That’s the most important love you can experience.”I ask Rousay when she began to feel that self-love was the most important kind. She says it was two years ago, when she came out as trans. “I have a really strenuous relationship with my immediate family,” she says. But she speaks with conviction about where she does find contentment: “Enjoying simple pleasures is a huge part of my work,” she continues. “I love lying in my backyard and having a picnic with me, myself and I. It’s so fun to make a cute meal for yourself and get the sun on your face. I don’t understand why that’s always left out of things.” Capturing the delicate rustle of these small moments is Rousay’s way of magnifying the inherent joy in them.Recently, Rousay took a walk along the San Antonio River with her dog, Banana. She had brought her recording gear — headphones, a couple of mics — and at some point, she and Banana sat down for a drink of water. In the audio, there’s the sound of the river, the jingle of Banana’s collar, birdsong and the hum of traffic in the distance. There are also traces of Rousay texting, sniffling, taking deep breaths. “I’m crying because I’m so invested in that moment,” she says. “To have a dog that loves me, to be able-bodied and walking in a park when the weather’s perfect, to own a field-recording device that I was too poor to own for a while … ”“There were so many points in my life where I would not have been satisfied by simple pleasures,” Rousay says. “But sitting with headphones on, listening to what the microphone’s picking up — that’s the closest to any kind of internal peace I’ve ever experienced. Even if I’m recording essentially nothing. Because I’m in the moment. When you slow down and actually think about what’s happening — it’s beautiful.” More

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    Billie Eilish’s Portrait of Power Abuse, and 11 More New Songs

    Hear tracks by Willow featuring Travis Barker, girl in red, DJ Khaled featuring Cardi B, and others.Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at theplaylist@nytimes.com and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.Billie Eilish, ‘Your Power’Cozy, pristine, Laurel Canyon-style acoustic guitars accompany Billie Eilish as she whisper-sings “Try not to abuse your power.” Then she proceeds to sketch a creepy, controlling, exploitative and possibly illegal relationship. The quietly damning accusations pile up: “You said she thought she was your age/How dare you?” Meanwhile, in the video that she directed, an anaconda slowly tightens around her. JON PARELESWillow featuring Travis Barker, ‘Transparentsoul’The return of Willow — daughter of Will and Jada — is brisk, breezy pop-punk throbbing with a very particular sort of famous-child agonizing. She lashes out at deceptive former friends (and maybe some current ones, too) who “smile in my face then put your cig out on my back.” JON CARAMANICAgirl in red, ‘Serotonin’Whatever slams, girl in red — the Norwegian songwriter Marie Ulven — can use it. In “Serotonin,” from her new album “If I Could Make It Go Quiet,” she sings about trying to stabilize her wildly whipsawing, self-destructive emotions with therapy and medications: “Can’t hide from the corners of my mind/I’m terrified of what’s inside,” she announces. The music veers from punk-pop guitars to EDM crescendos and bass drops, from distorted rapping to ringing choruses, only to crumble as it ends. PARELESDJ Khaled featuring Cardi B, ‘Big Paper’It is perhaps the strongest testament to the A&R savvy of DJ Khaled that on an album filled with glossy cameos from Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby, and contemplative elder moments from Nas and Jay-Z, he opts to include the endlessly charismatic and exceedingly famous Cardi B on “Big Paper,” a song that sounds like she’s rapping on an old D.I.T.C. beat. It’s relentless, sharp-tongued and slick: “House with the palm trees for all the times I was shaded.” CARAMANICAQ, ‘If You Care’The power of “If You Care” isn’t in the conventional come-on of lyrics like “If you care you’ll come a little closer.” It’s in the persistent rhythmic displacement, top to bottom: the way beat, bass line, vocals and rhythm guitar each suggest a different downbeat, enforcing disorientation from the bottom up. They only align when the vocals turn to rapping at the end; it had to finish somewhere. PARELESPriscilla Block, ‘Sad Girls Do Sad Things’If you didn’t know better, you’d think the young country singer Priscilla Block was perennially gloomy, the sum of one bad decision after the next. That’s the mood on her impressive debut EP, which is sturdy, shamelessly pop-minded and full of songs about regret like “Sad Girls Do Sad Things”:Don’t get me wrong, I love a beer on a FridayBut lately I’ve been at the bar more than my placeAnother round of shutting it downTwo-for-ones ’til too far goneBlock has a crisp and expressive voice, and she telegraphs anguish well. But this EP skips over the rowdy cheer and randy winks of her breakthrough single, “Thick Thighs.” Which is to say, there’s more to Block’s story than heartbreak. CARAMANICABrye, ‘I’d Rather Be Alone’The teenage pop songwriter and producer Brye Sebring lilts through the wreckage of an overlong relationship in “I’d Rather Be Alone.” Everything is crisp: her diction, her rhymes and the pinging syncopations of an arrangement that builds from single keyboard tones through percussion and handclaps to teasing back-and-forth harmonies. “I doubt you’ll even bother listening to this song,” she notes, one more good reason to break free. PARELESHalf Waif, ‘Swimmer’The drama never stops building in “Swimmer,” from the coming album “Mythopoetics” by Half Waif: the electronics-driven songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett. It’s a song about everlasting love — “they can’t take this away from me,” she vows — that evolves from an anxious rhythmic pulse to a chordal anthem, all larger than life. PARELESChristian McBride, ‘Brouhaha’The eminent bassist Christian McBride has just released “The Q Sessions,” a three-song collection that he recorded in high-definition for Qobuz, an audiophile streaming platform. The EP features three top-flight improvising musicians who, like McBride, tend to play their instruments in hi-def already: the saxophonist Marcus Strickland, the guitarist Mike Stern and the drummer Eric Harland. The group chases McBride’s syncopated bass line through the ever-shifting funk of “Brouhaha,” which he clearly wrote with Stern — and his roots on the frisky 1980s fusion scene — in mind. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLOJen Shyu and Jade Tongue, ‘Living’s a Gift — Part 2: Everything for Granted’The singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu draws on jazz, Asian music and much more. Her new album, “Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses,” reflects on loss, memory and perseverance. It opens with “Living’s a Gift,” a suite of songs using lyrics written by middle schoolers during the pandemic: “We’ve lost our minds, lost our time to shine.” The music is ingenious and resilient; leading her jazzy quintet, Jade Tongue, Shyu multitracks her voice into a frisky, intricately contrapuntal choir, folding together angular phrases as neatly as origami. PARELESBurial, ‘Space Cadet’The elusive English electronic producer Burial has re-emerged yet again, splitting a four-track EP, “Shock Power of Love,” with the producer Blackdown. “Space Cadet” hints at post-pandemic optimism — a brisk club beat, arpeggiators pumping out major chords, voices urging “take me higher” — but Burial shrouds it all in static and echoey murk, letting the beat collapse repeatedly, until the track falls back into emptiness. PARELESSofía Rei, ‘La Otra’As she prepared to make her forthcoming album, “Umbral,” Sofía Rei embarked upon a trek through Chile’s mountainous Elqui Province. She brought a charango and two backpacks full of recording gear; on the trip, she recorded herself playing and singing, as well as the babbling sounds of the natural world around her. The album begins with “La Otra,” out Friday as a single, on which Rei sets a poem by the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral to music. Flutes flutter over ricocheting synth bass, a stop-and-start beat and strummed charango, as Rei’s overdubbed voice harmonizes with itself in fierce exclamations, lapping at the sky like a flame. RUSSONELLO More

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    Britney Spears Asks to Address Court Overseeing Her Conservatorship

    A lawyer for the singer told the judge presiding in her case that Spears was seeking to speak to the court on an “expedited basis.”Britney Spears has something to say.After years of relative silence regarding the court-approved conservatorship that has controlled much of her life since 2008, a lawyer for the pop singer requested on Tuesday that Spears be allowed to speak at a hearing soon.“The conservatee has requested that I seek from the court a status hearing at which she can address the court directly,” Samuel D. Ingham III, the court-appointed lawyer who represents Spears in her conservatorship, asked the judge overseeing the case. He proposed that the hearing be scheduled on an “expedited basis,” preferably within 30 days.The judge, Brenda Penny, agreed, and she set the hearing regarding the status of the conservatorship for June 23. An additional hearing in the case was scheduled for July.The request on behalf of Spears came during a remote virtual meeting in the case that mostly amounted to housekeeping between lawyers. But the possibility that the typically shrouded pop star would address the court represented a shift for Spears, who has rarely commented on the case for more than a decade.It would mark the first time Spears has done so in court since seeking substantial changes to the conservatorship, including the removal of her father, Jamie Spears, from what had been a leading role in the arrangement.For years, fans and observers have questioned why the singer was in a conservatorship, sometimes known as a guardianship, at all, with some arguing that she was being held against her will or taken advantage of. Conservatorships are typically reserved for the very ill, old or infirm, but Spears continued to perform and bring in millions of dollars.Conversation around Spears’s situation — fueled in part by the fans calling themselves the #FreeBritney movement — picked up earlier this year following the release of “Framing Britney Spears,” a TV documentary by The New York Times.Spears has been in a conservatorship for 13 years, following a prolonged public breakdown that required multiple hospitalizations. Her exact medical diagnosis is not known.Outside of the courtroom, Spears has referred only obliquely to her legal situation, assuring fans concerned about her well-being that she was “totally fine.”“I’m extremely happy, I have a beautiful home, beautiful children,” Spears said on Instagram this month. “I’m taking a break right now because I’m enjoying myself.”Things have been more contentious in court filings, where Ingham has said that Spears was “strongly opposed” to her father returning as her personal conservator.Jamie Spears currently serves as a co-conservator of his daughter’s estate, helping to oversee her finances alongside Bessemer Trust, a corporate fiduciary. Previously, Jamie had also served as Britney’s personal conservator, helping to arrange her medical and mental health care, security and more. He stepped down from that role in September 2019, citing health problems.The singer had requested that Jodi Montgomery, a licensed professional conservator, remain in the role that she has held temporarily since 2019. Ingham has said that Spears was “afraid of her father,” and would not perform if he remained in charge.Spears’s mother, Lynne, has also raised questions regarding $890,000 in legal fees for Jamie Spears, which her lawyers have called “procedurally improper” and “utterly excessive.” (Lawyers for Jamie Spears responded: “She has not been involved in her daughter’s conservatorship until very recently, and she is now raising objections to fees related to matters that she has no knowledge of.”)Vivian Lee Thoreen, a lawyer for Jamie Spears, has said that the singer’s father “diligently and professionally carried out his duties,” and that his daughter’s safety was his top priority.Jamie Spears “would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship,” Thoreen said in March.“Whether or not there is an end to the conservatorship really depends on Britney,” she added. “If she wants to end her conservatorship, she can file a petition to end it.”Louis Keene and Samantha Stark contributed reporting. More

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    ‘Slime Language 2,’ by Young Thug and Friends, Reaches No. 1

    The compilation featuring the Atlanta rapper and various artists from his Young Stoner Life label bested Taylor Swift for the top spot on Billboard’s album chart.Mixtape, playlist or compilation album — what’s the difference?These days, on streaming services, not much. But whatever you call it, “Slime Language 2,” the new project from the Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s Young Stoner Life label, is No. 1 on the album chart.“Slime Language 2” topped the latest edition of the Billboard 200 with the equivalent of 113,000 sales in the United States, according to MRC Data, Billboard’s tracking arm. That total was largely dependent on streams — 143 million of them — while sales of the full album topped out at 6,000 copies.Credited to Young Thug and various artists — many from under Thug’s YSL umbrella — “Slime Language 2” features 23 songs from a mix-and-match collection of Atlanta rappers like Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Keed, Lil Duke and Unfoonk, plus less local guests like Drake, Big Sean and Lil Uzi Vert. (A week after the album’s release, a deluxe version of the album added eight more tracks for a total of 31.)First-week streams for “Slime Language 2” — the sequel to a compilation released in 2018 — matched Taylor Swift’s total the week before, for her rerecorded version of “Fearless,” which also hit No. 1 with the year’s biggest numbers to date. This week, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” fell to No. 2 with 57,000 in equivalent sales, down 80 percent.The rest of the Top 5 includes the semi-sidelined country singer Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album” at No. 3; “Justice” by Justin Bieber, at No. 4; and, in its chart debut, “Heart” by Eric Church, at No. 5. More

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    Les McKeown, Lead Singer of the Bay City Rollers, Dies at 65

    Known for their catchy pop songs and their distinctive tartan outfits, the Rollers attracted a fanatical teenage following after Mr. McKeown joined in 1973.Les McKeown, the lead singer in the classic lineup of the Bay City Rollers, the Scottish pop group that enjoyed phenomenal worldwide success in the 1970s, died on Tuesday. He was 65.His family announced the death in a statement on social media. The statement said he died at his home, but did not say where that was or specify the cause.The Rollers — who were said to have gotten their name when they threw a dart at a map and it landed on Bay City, Mich. — were formed in the late 1960s but began attracting a fanatical teenage following only after Mr. McKeown joined in 1973, replacing the original lead singer, Nobby Clark.Known for their catchy, upbeat songs (many of them American oldies) and their distinctive tartan outfits, the Rollers sold more than 100 million records and were promoted as the biggest thing since the Beatles. Sid Bernstein, the American promoter who presented the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, brought the Rollers to the United States in 1976.But they were never critical favorites, and they proved far less versatile and more musically limited than the Beatles. Their string of hits ended in 1978, the year Mr. McKeown left the band.The Bay City Rollers began their assault on the British charts in 1974 with “Remember (Sha-La-La-La).” Other hits, like “Shang-a-Lang,” “Bye Bye Baby” and “Give a Little Love,” soon followed.They had success far beyond Britain. It took them a little longer to crack the American market, but their first American hit, “Saturday Night,” reached No. 1 in late 1975. They went on to have five more Top 40 hits in the U.S. and appeared frequently on American television; they even briefly had their own Saturday-morning TV show.After Mr. McKeown’s departure to pursue a solo career, the Bay City Rollers shortened their name to the Rollers and continued performing and recording, but with little success. Various versions of the band, with and without Mr. McKeown, have done occasional reunion tours since then; three members of the classic lineup, Mr. McKeown, Stuart Wood and Alan Longmuir, reunited briefly in 2015. Mr. Longmuir died in 2018.A band billed as “Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers” had announced a post-pandemic British tour beginning in July.Leslie Richard McKeown was born in Edinburgh on Nov. 12, 1955, to Irish parents, Francis and Florence (Close) McKeown. He is survived by his wife, Keiko, and their son, Jubei.The Associated Press contributed reporting. More

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    Shock G, Frontman for Hip-Hop Group Digital Underground, Dies at 57

    The group had a string of hits in the 1990s, including “The Humpty Dance,” and helped introduce a little-known rapper named Tupac Shakur.Gregory Edward Jacobs, known as Shock G, the frontman for the influential hip-hop group Digital Underground, was found dead on Thursday at a hotel in Tampa, Fla. He was 57.His death was confirmed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which did not provide a cause .Digital Underground had a string of hits in the early 1990s and introduced its audience to a little-known rapper named Tupac Shakur. The group’s name sounded like “a band of outlaws from a cyberpunk novel,” with a sound that “straddles the line between reality and fantasy, between silliness and social commentary,” The New York Times wrote in 1991. “Digital Underground is where Parliament left off,” Shock G said at the time, referring to the groundbreaking George Clinton band.Shock G had been shuttling from his home in Tampa to Northern California in 1987 when the group made a self-released single, “Underwater Rimes.” That helped get the attention of Tommy Boy Records, which released Digital Underground’s first album, “Sex Packets.” It sold a million copies and featured the hit single “The Humpty Dance.”The album stood out for melding funk and jazz riffs on top of catchy drumbeats. And with Shock G’s lanky frame and toothy grin, the group had a visual aesthetic ripe for the dawn of the music video generation. Shock G, who produced music in addition to rapping, was known for spinning different personas, depending on his surroundings. In the video for “The Humpty Dance,” Shock G took on the persona of Humpty Hump, the title character, donning a pair of dark-rimmed glasses with an obviously fake nose, a fur hat and tie. “I’m sick wit dis, straight gangsta mack / But sometimes I get ridiculous,” he raps on the song. “I’ll eat up all your crackers and your licorice / Hey yo fat girl, come here — are ya ticklish?” Part of the hook for the song: “Do the Humpty Hump, come on and do the Humpty Hump.”Shock G can be seen in a similar outfit, both goofy and suave, in the video for the group’s song, “Doowutchyalike,” where he encouraged listeners to let loose and enjoy themselves as a saxophone gently riffs over the beat.Shock G’s most lasting impact on hip-hop and music may have come when the group released the hit “Same Song,” which was Mr. Shakur’s “first vocal appearance on a song,” according to Genius.com. Shock G, who appears first on the song, once again cast himself as the good-time host. “I came for the party to get naughty, get my rocks on / Eat popcorn, watch you move your body to the pop song.”When it was Mr. Shakur’s turn, he quickly unleashed a thoughtful verse about the dangers of success: “Get some fame, people change.”Mr. Shakur had auditioned for Shock G and was hired to be a member of the group’s road crew. He eventually performed and recorded with Digital Underground, appearing on the group’s “This Is an EP Release” (Tommy Boy), and “Sons of the P” (Tommy Boy), which was nominated for a Grammy Award.In 1991, Mr. Shakur started a solo recording career with the album “2Pacalypse Now” (Interscope), which sold half a million copies. It included two modest hits, “Trapped” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” a song about an unwed teenage mother’s plight. Before the album was released, he also started a career as a movie actor, playing the violent, unpredictable Bishop in the Ernest Dickerson film “Juice.”By 1993, Mr. Shakur was a rising star. Shock G and another Digital Underground member, Money B, appeared on Mr. Shakur’s album, helping create his first major hit, “I Get Around,” a poolside anthem with scantily clad women and a laid-back beat. But now, it was Shock G, sporting an Afro and oversized purple T-shirt, with the message: “Now you can tell from my everyday fits I ain’t rich / So cease and desist with them tricks / I’m just another Black man caught up in the mix / Tryna make a dollar out of 15 cents.”Shock G’s musical instincts were forged by a childhood spent moving around the country. His mother worked as a television producer and his father worked as an executive in computer management. After the couple divorced, “I spent my biggest chunk of time in Tampa but I also lived in New York, Philly and California,” Shock G had told The Times. “I have always been into music and played in bands starting when I was 10 or 11.”His grandmother, Gloria Ali, was a pianist and cabaret singer in Harlem in the 1950s. She taught him how to play “Round Midnight” on the piano. Then, as hip-hop began to gain traction in New York in the late 1970s, Shock G, who was living there at the time, recalled, “All of my friends and I sold our instruments to buy mixers and turntables.”Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.Shock G saw music as expansive, inclusive and experimental. “Funk can be rock, funk can be jazz and funk can be soul,” he told The Times. “Most people have a checklist of what makes a good pop song: it has to be three minutes long, it must have a repeatable chorus and it must have a catchy hook. That’s what makes music stale. We say ‘Do what feels good.’ If you like it for three minutes, then you’ll love it for 30.”Christina Morales More

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    She’s Marianne Faithfull, Damn It. And She’s (Thankfully) Still Here.

    The British musician has had several brushes with death in her 74 years. But Covid-19 and its long-haul symptoms didn’t derail her latest project: a spoken-word tribute to the Romantic poets.Several times in her 74 years of life, Marianne Faithfull has boomeranged from the brink of death.First there was the summer of 1969, when she overdosed on Tuinal sleeping pills in the Sydney hotel room she was sharing with her then-boyfriend, Mick Jagger; as she slipped under, she had a long conversation with his recently deceased bandmate, Brian Jones, who had drowned in a swimming pool about a week prior. At the end of their spirited talk, Jones beckoned her to hop off a cliff and join him in the beyond. Faithfull declined, and woke up from a six-day coma.That was before she became addicted to heroin in the early 1970s: “At that point I entered one of the outer levels of hell,” she writes in her 1994 autobiography “Faithfull.” It took more than a decade to finally get clean. Since then she’s survived breast cancer, hepatitis C and an infection resulting from a broken hip. But, as Faithfull told me on the phone from her London home one afternoon in February, her recent bout with Covid-19 and its lingering long-term aftereffects has been the hardest battle she’s fought in her entire life.“You don’t want to get this, darling,” she said. “Really.”She said it, of course, in That Voice, coated with ash but flickering with lively defiance underneath. As it’s matured — cracked and ripened like a well-journeyed face — Faithfull’s voice has come to possess a transfixing magic. It’s a voice that sounds like it has come back from somewhere, and found a way to collapse present and past. She can find the Weimar Berlin decadence in Dylan, or breathe William Blake’s macabre into a Metallica song.Right before she contracted the virus in March 2020, Faithfull was working on an album she’d dreamed of making for more than half a century: “She Walks in Beauty,” due April 30, a spoken-word tribute to the Romantic poets, who had first inflamed her imagination as a teenager. In the mid-1960s, the demands of Faithfull’s burgeoning pop career pulled her out of her beloved Mrs. Simpson’s English literature course, “but I went on reading the books,” Faithfull said. And through the ups and downs of her life, those poems stayed with her like well-worn talismans: “If you’ve ever read ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘The Lady of Shalott’ — you’re not going to forget it, are you?”Faithfull had recorded recitations of seven Romantic poems, from Byron (“She Walks in Beauty”), Shelley (“Ozymandias”) and Keats (“Ode to a Nightingale”). After she was hospitalized with Covid-19 and fell into a coma, her manager sent the recordings to Faithfull’s friend and frequent collaborator Warren Ellis, to see if he would compose music to accompany them. Neither was sure Faithfull would live to hear the finished product.Ellis was told, “‘It’s not looking good,’” he recalled, on a video call from his Paris home. “‘This might be it.’”But — ever the Lady Lazarus — Faithfull pulled through. Only once she began to recover did her son, Nicholas, tell her what they’d written on the chart at the foot of her bed: “Palliative care only.”“They thought I was going to croak!” Faithfull said, likely for not the first time in her life.“But,” she added with a wizened chuckle, “I didn’t.”Faithfull said she wanted to attend Oxford and immerse herself in literature. But she was discovered by the music manager Andrew Loog Oldham instead.John Pratt/Hulton Archive, via Getty ImagesMARIANNE’S FATHER, Glynn Faithfull — yes, that improbably perfect surname is real — was a British spy in World War II, and the son of a sexologist who invented something called “the Frigidity Machine.” Her mother, just as improbably, was the Austrian Baroness Eva von Sacher-Masoch — the great-niece of the man who wrote the sensationally scandalous novella “Venus in Furs” and from whose name we are blessed with the word masochism. Put all those things together and you get their only child, born a year after the end of the war.Her parents split when she was 6, and at 7, her mother sent her to boarding school at a Reading convent. (“Glynn begged her not to,” she writes in “Faithfull.” “I remember him saying, ‘This will give her a problem with sex for the rest of her life.’”) When she visited her father, who was living and teaching in a commune, she got a glimpse of the polar opposite end of the spectrum. At 18, she married the artist John Dunbar and gave birth to Nicholas shortly after.“I wanted to go to Oxford and read English literature, philosophy, and comparative religion. That was my plan,” she said. “Anyway, it didn’t happen. I went to a party and got discovered by bloody old Andrew Loog Oldham.”Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ first manager, hadn’t heard Faithfull sing a note; he just took a long look at her and decided this striking young blonde was destined to be a pop star. He had Mick Jagger and Keith Richards write a song for her, the melancholy ballad “As Tears Go By.” It was, in her words, “a commercial fantasy” that pushed “all the right buttons.”Which is to say she didn’t take this accidental pop career of hers that seriously, not at first. On her debut tour, she always seemed to have her nose buried in a book, “poring over my reading list for English literature as if I were going back to school.”But that wasn’t happening. In swinging, psychedelic London, Faithfull was a beautiful girl suddenly in the eye of a cultural hurricane. She met everybody. She left her husband and child behind, dabbling in everything the men did without apology. She and Richards dropped acid and went looking for the Holy Grail. She wrote in her autobiography that Bob Dylan tried to seduce her by playing her his latest album, “Bringing It All Back Home,” and explaining in detail what each track meant. (It didn’t work. “I just found him so … daunting,” she wrote. “As if some god had come down from Olympus and started to come onto me.”)Jagger had more luck, and for a few seemingly glamorous years they were a generational It Couple. But there were tensions from the start, and Faithfull wasn’t sure she was cut out for the wifely muse role that, even in such bohemian circles, she was expected to play. Then there was the Redlands drug bust.Tipped off by a sanctimonious British tabloid in February 1967, the police raided Richards’s Sussex home during a small party, and found a modest amount of drugs. Faithfull had just taken a bath when the cops arrived, and the only clothes she brought were dirty, so without thinking too much about it she flung a rug over herself.Jagger and Richards’s subsequent drug trial is now generally seen as a pivot in mainstream acceptance of certain countercultural behaviors. But Faithfull bore the brunt of the backlash. One headline blared in all caps: Naked Girl at Stones Party. “I was slandered as the wanton woman in the fur rug,” Faithfull wrote, “while Mick was the noble rock star on trial.” It certainly wouldn’t be the last rage-inducing double standard she’d endure. “If you’ve ever read ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘The Lady of Shallot’ — you’re not going to forget it, are you?” Faithfull said.Danny Kasirye for The New York TimesA FEW YEARS ago, over a Christmas dinner, Faithfull gave Ellis’s teenage children a long, anecdote-filled talk about why they should stay away from drugs. She spoke about the infamy at Redlands as though it was something they would be familiar with.“My kids had no idea what she was talking about,” Ellis said. “But when I drove her home, my son just looked at me and goes, ‘[Expletive], she’s awesome.’”Ellis — who Faithfull affectionately described to me as “a sexy old thing” — conducted his interview from a low-lit, brick-walled room that looked like it may or may not be a dungeon. This is where he was holed up for long hours last spring, listening to the voice of his dear friend, who may or may not have been dying, read him Romantic poetry.He said he found the poems “so incredibly beautiful and uplifting, a total balm for all this turmoil and sadness that was going on in the world.” This was new: When he read them as a schoolboy in Melbourne, Ellis had found the Romantics mostly “impenetrable.” But listening to a masterful interpreter like Faithfull intone them, he said, “suddenly they felt ageless. They felt freed of the page. Because of this authority and absolute belief in them. She believes what she’s reading.”In composing the tracks, Ellis wanted to shy away from the expected “lutes and harpsichords” approach. Instead he studied some of the records he thought most successfully blended spoken-word and music, like Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here,” Sir John Betjeman’s “Late-Flowering Love” and Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Lulu.” Like Faithfull’s fiery readings, Ellis’s meditative compositions — featuring contributions from Nick Cave and Brian Eno — accentuate the poets’ enduring modernity. (The Romantics might not have yet lived to see rock ’n’ roll, but they certainly knew a thing or two about sex and drugs.)Before Ellis was finished, he got the news that Faithfull had woken up from her coma, left the hospital — and, in time, recorded four more poems. “She survived Covid, came out, and recorded ‘Lady of Shallot,’” Ellis said shaking his head, referring to the 12-minute Tennyson epic. “She’s just the best, Marianne.”The remarkable — and even fittingly spooky — thing about the record is that you cannot tell which poems Faithfull recorded before or after her brush with death. Perhaps only Faithfull herself can hear the difference. “I was quite fragile, but I didn’t start to do it until I was better,” she said. “And I liked it very much, because I sound more vulnerable — which is kind of nice, for the Romantics.”Faithfull has fashioned sticking around into a prolonged show of defiance — a radical act, for a woman. She did not come into her own musically until her mid-30s, with the release of her punky, scorched-earth 1979 masterpiece “Broken English.” In the subsequent decades, her artistry has only deepened, and she has gradually, grudgingly earned her respect (“I’m not just seen as a chick and a sexy piece anymore — though I should think not, I’m 74!”). Her anger about the industry and the media subsided a great deal in the time between her 1994 and 2007 memoirs. What happened?“Just time, you know. From everything I know about life in general — which is probably not much — is that you have to get over those things, or they eat you up,” she said. “And I’m not going to let that happen. So I let it go. I don’t hold resentment anymore about the press.” She laughed, genially. “But of course I don’t let them near me, really!”She has a lighter attitude, but Faithfull has not made it out of her latest battle without some lingering scars. She lost her dear friend and collaborator Hal Willner to the virus. And after initially feeling better, a few months ago she started feeling worse. She has since been experiencing the stubborn symptoms of long-haul Covid, which for her include fatigue, memory fog and lung problems.She has been working diligently on her breathing; a close friend comes by weekly with a guitar to lead her in singing practice — her own version of the opera therapy that has shown promising results in long Covid patients. She’s been spending quality time with her son and grandson, reading (Miles Davis’s autobiography, among other things), and counting the days until she can once again go to the movies, the opera, the ballet. When she first got out of the hospital — après Covid, as she likes to call it — it seemed like Faithfull may never sing again. Now, she is looking forward to writing new songs, and envisioning what a return to the stage might look like.“I’m focusing on getting better, really better — and I’m beginning to,” she said. “I’ll certainly never be able to work as hard as I was, and long tours are not going to be possible. But I do hope to do maybe five shows. Not very long — 40 minutes perhaps.” Still, she admitted, “It’s a long way away.”Ellis said, “If anyone can do it, it’s Marianne, because she just doesn’t give up. She constantly surprises you.”Sometimes she even surprises herself. Earlier in our conversation, Faithfull had let me know, in her admirably no-nonsense way, that she hadn’t called me up to chat for fun, but because she had an album to promote. But she ultimately admitted to finding it vivifying to talk about her life, her art, her past and future. “It’s good for me to remember who I really am, not just an old sick person,” she said.“Of course,” I replied. “You’re Marianne Faithfull, damn it!”She mulled it over for a long moment. “It’s true, I am.” Then, with an unexpected surge of strength, like a hammer’s blow, she added, “Damn it.” More

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    Half a Century Later, John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ Still Hits Hard

    A new boxed set tracking the making of Lennon’s first post-Beatles solo album reveals the construction of primal songs, and the clarity of his vision.It was raw. Yet it was meticulously thought through.“Plastic Ono Band,” released in December 1970, was John Lennon’s first solo album after the breakup of the Beatles earlier that year. It was a far cry from the tuneful reassurance of Paul McCartney’s one-man-studio-band album “McCartney” and the polished abundance of George Harrison’s triple album, “All Things Must Pass,” both of which were also released that year. In both music and lyrics, “Plastic Ono Band” was a stark statement of pain, separation, vulnerability and self-reclamation after the whirlwind that had been Lennon’s life as a Beatle. Half a century later, the album retains its power.Now it has been remixed, massively expanded, anatomized and annotated as “Plastic Ono Band: The Ultimate Collection”: six CDs, two Blu-ray audio discs and a hardcover book, delving into the music with a recording engineer’s attention to details. The compilation was produced by Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow and a producer (with Lennon and Phil Spector) of the original album, and Simon Hilton; there are other configurations for less obsessive fans.The boxed set revisits the album and the Plastic Ono Band singles that preceded it — “Give Peace a Chance,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” — by unearthing demos, alternate takes, raw mixes, studio jams and even individual vocal and instrumental tracks. A disc of “Evolution Mixes” turns each song into a making-of montage, from demo through studio chatter and stray ideas to a glimpse of the finished version. The revelation of “The Ultimate Collection” is that for all the unbridled emotion in the songs, Lennon was still a deliberate craftsman. And even as his work grappled with trauma, he had some fun.The music of “Plastic Ono Band,” on its surface, repudiated the elaborate productions of the late Beatles. Instead, the tracks relied on bare-bones, three-man arrangements: Lennon on piano or guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr on drums, rarely even using all the tracks of an eight-track tape. The sound can be deliberately lo-fi, particularly when he cranks up the electric-guitar distortion on “Well Well Well” and “I Found Out.”Yoko Ono was a producer of the original album, with Lennon and Phil Spector.Richard DiLello/ Yoko Ono LennonThe lyrics, and Lennon’s fully exposed voice, reflected the insights and catharsis of the primal scream therapy Lennon had begun (but never completed) with the practice’s leading exponent, Arthur Janov. “He responded very well because he had an enormous amount of pain,” Janov comments in the album’s book. “It was terrible and also good because it just drove him and made him what he was — incredibly insightful, very close to his feelings and driven by his feelings.”Lennon’s songs made large topics deeply personal: family, faith, class, fame, drugs, love, fear. “Mother,” which opens the album, starts with a heartsick declaration — “Mother, you had me/But I never had you” — and ends with a crescendo of desolation, with Lennon repeatedly imploring, “Mama don’t go!/Daddy come home!” in a voice that rasps, howls and breaks. (The boxed set includes the a cappella vocal track; it’s harrowing.)In “Working Class Hero,” Lennon sympathizes with drab, numb lives and wrestles with his own status, heroic or not, while in “Look at Me,” he pleads, “Who am I supposed to be?” In “Isolation,” he sings about feeling trapped and attacked, “afraid of everyone.” And in “God,” joined by Billy Preston’s gospel-piano flourishes, he renounces heroes, politicians, gurus and religions, a list that culminates in “I don’t believe in Beatles.” After a pause to let that sink in, Lennon sings, quietly and firmly, “I just believe in me/Yoko and me.” Then the album’s postscript, under a minute long, revisits a lingering childhood wound with a child’s diction: “My Mummy’s Dead.” (That song, recorded on cassette, had its own artifice; it was sped up in the studio, and filtered to sound like a vintage radio.)Remixes can’t help being anachronistic, and “The Ultimate Mixes” won’t please everyone who has long cherished the original album. The virtue of the latest mixes is that they somehow create new space and transparency around Lennon’s voice, bringing out the grain and passion of his performances. Stereo placements get shifted, sometimes for better — the guitar and drums sound even meaner in “Well Well Well” — and sometimes not, as Lennon’s double-tracked vocals on “Isolation” are pulled widely apart. The new mixes also regularly boost the lower register, at times elevating Voormann’s bass parts as if they were intended as counterpoint instead of a solid, unassuming harmonic foundation.The discs of additional material present Lennon as a musician at work with a clear sense of what he’s after. The demos reveal that most of the songs were substantially complete in their early stages, despite small changes to come. The demo of “Mother” was played on guitar rather than piano, but the drama of its final pleas was already built in. The demo of “God,” another song that moved from guitar to piano, doesn’t yet mention “Yoko and me.” And the solo demos of “Cold Turkey” and an early fragment of “Well Well Well” sound more like vintage rural blues than the electric band versions would.The music of “Plastic Ono Band,” on its surface, repudiated the elaborate productions of the late Beatles.Yoko Ono LennonFrom the demos, Lennon’s expertise and determination take over. The “Evolution” montages show him consulting and heeding Ono’s advice from the control room; the outtakes show him toning up arrangements, placing piano chords for maximum warmth and impact in “Isolation” and “Remember,” deciding whether to use his fingers or a pick in “Working Class Hero.” (The final choice, using a pick, gives the guitar its tolling gravity.)For the singles released before the album, Lennon treated Plastic Ono Band as a name for whatever group he wanted to assemble. “Give Peace a Chance” gathered the bystanders at a 1969 Bed-In, a weeklong antiwar happening-protest in Montreal, including the poet Allen Ginsberg and the singing comedian Tommy Smothers; when the basic live recording sounded too thin, a choir was added in the studio. “Cold Turkey” — which ends with Lennon’s increasingly agonized vocals — sounds spontaneous but went through 26 takes, with Lennon and Eric Clapton flinging barbed, feverish electric guitar lines back and forth.“Instant Karma! (We All Shine On),” a single that leapt out of radio speakers in 1970, was both Lennon at his purest — it was recorded in a single day — and Lennon at his most professional. “I don’t believe in Buddha,” he sang in “God,” but the idea of karma — consequences — clearly appealed to him. As the multiple versions in the boxed set show, the basic shape of the song was complete from its demo, but Spector — an expert on microphone placement, piling on overdubbed instruments, reverberation and effects — gave it an explosive impact, in multiple iterations. The means were technical; the result was heartfelt.For all the concentration on his own new songs, Lennon also had a way to blow off steam, find a focus and consolidate his band: playing the oldies, as one disc in the set reveals. Between takes of his new, bruised songs, he hopped back to what was, even as far back as 1970, vintage rock ’n’ roll: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley. It was a common language, a shared joke, a way to regroup, some comic relief. Then they went back to the hard stuff.After all of the boxed set’s traversals of Lennon’s album sessions, there’s an Easter egg tucked into the Blu-ray audio discs. It’s the jam sessions, recorded on Oct. 10, 1970, with Lennon, Voormann and Starr, that Ono would edit down to most of her own “Plastic Ono Band” album, which was released the same day as Lennon’s. (Ono’s finished album isn’t included in the boxed set; it was most recently rereleased in 2016.)The unedited Ono tracks are long and usually nonstop: 21 minutes of “Why Not,” 16 minutes of “Touch Me.” The stalwart rhythm section takes up a vamp — bluesy, rocky, droning — and Lennon tops it with slide guitar, swooping and jabbing and quivering. Then Ono joins in to unleash a thoroughly astonishing array of vocal sounds — shrieks, mews, moans, whoops, ululations, yowls, glottals, keening long lines, baby cries, witchy cackles — with Lennon’s guitar hovering nearby, mingling with her and egging her on. “Paper Shoes,” with assorted echoes and reverb layered atop vocals and instruments, becomes utterly dizzying. In 1970, the music’s closest kin would have been the burgeoning krautrock of Can in Germany, who — like Ono and the Plastic Ono Band — were merging psychedelic improvisation with mantric Minimalism, simultaneously focused and deranged.The sections of the jams that Ono excerpted to fit on an LP in 1970 were usually the most tense, jarring, abstract stretches — which is to say she chose well. But the full-length tracks testify to the Plastic Ono Band’s stamina and closeness, especially to how attentively Lennon and Ono were listening to each other. Teasing, goading, exploring and intertwining, their wordless interactions are intimate primal screams. More