A number of new albums have gone into my listening rotation over the last week:
- Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
- The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
- Big Grams (debut EP from Big Boi & Phantogram collar)
- Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels
- Arcade Fire – The Reflektor Tapes
- Drake – What a Time to Be Alive
- Emancipator – Seven Seas
The biggest surprise among these albums has been The Weeknd, which is what I would describe as dark R&B. It is dark in a similar way to Lana Del Rey, eschewing the glossy, over-produced sheen of mainstream music in this genre and replacing it with an underground electronic music crossover vibe. Most of the songs are about sex, drugs, and partying, tinged with bitterness and heartbreak. Sonically, the production is slick and is reminiscent of this collaboration between Usher and Diplo a few years ago. In 2015 it feels like R&B is headed in an entirely new direction.
One of the most anticipated recent album releases is Meow the Jewels, a remix album of songs from 2014’s Run the Jewels 2, one of the most critically-acclaimed rap albums of the last few years. The concept behind the remix album is to bring a collection of excellent producers (like Just Blaze and The Alchemist) together to remix the RTJ2 using cat sounds. Here’s one song from that album, accompanied by an off-the-wall music video:
- China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier – Not an article that was published recently, but one that remains highly relevant and was brought to my attention yesterday. Compares and contrasts censorship and surveillance in the Soviet Union during the Cold War with modern day China. The parallels may be less than you imagine, with China engineering a much more sophisticated and psychologically effective system.
- China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans – The ACLU published this article this week, describing the much talked-about upcoming credit system in China which goes far beyond measuring personal financial prudence. This kind of a system makes a lot of sense for China, but the relationship between that system and one that may eventually appear in the United States does not seem far fetched. Like China’s Golden Shield project which caused a lot of uproar, it’s conceivable that this system could be abandoned before it’s scheduled to be made mandatory in 2020.
- ISIS Makes Gains in Syria Territory Bombed By Russia – Between Russia taking a stand against opposition forces and refugees flooding Germany, Syria has suddenly become one of the most-discussed countries on earth.
- Taking the ‘Smart Drug’ Modafinil Made Me Love Work but Hate People – Interesting first-person perspective on modafinil, the mental performance-enhancing drug which has become increasingly popular over the last two years. I have a few friends who take this stuff on a regular basis.
New Apps & Tools
Pause: Stress Relief on iPhone
This week I was introduced to an app called Pause by a friend, developed by ustwo, the same design group that made MoodNotes. I haven’t used it extensively but the concept and principles behind the app are fascinating and it is worth checking out. For now it is exclusive to the iOS App Store and costs $1.99 which is a paltry amount for something this well made. In a word, I would describe the experience of using it as mesmerizing. Here’s a video describing Pause and describing the development process, along with a link to the app below:
Habitica: Gamified Habit Tracking
This is an updated and improved version of a web-based called called HabitRPG which has been around for a few years. In this latest iteration, it is vastly updated and adds a lot of new functionality along with a greatly improved user experience. It’s available on iPhone for free and it’s available at habitica.com for free as well.