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Press Play At Home: Omar Apollo Lays Down Emotional Version Of "Useless"

For the latest episode of Press Play At Home, DIY soul wunderkind Omar Apollo gets vulnerable and taps the upper reaches of his falsetto

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2021 - 01:58 am

For the latest episode of GRAMMY.com's Press Play At Home series, Latinx singer/songwriter Omar Apollo performs a pared-back version of "Useless," a cut from his renowned 2020 album, Apolonio. Apollo, Michael Gordon, Oscar Santander and Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. wrote the track. In the video, Santander strums along on acoustic guitar, driving home this spare, vulnerable performance.

Press Play At Home: I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME Social Distance From Toxicity In "Leave Me Alone"

Wilco in 2004
Wilco performing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2004

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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Wilco's 'A Ghost Is Born' Turns 20: A Track-By-Track Retrospective

Wilco's 2004 classic 'A Ghost is Born' has accrued a dark reputation — for reasons deserved and undeserved. A more complete picture emerges when surveying the tracklisting, with insight from drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 02:25 pm

"That always confused me, when they were like, 'This is the most experimental album ever!'" says Mikael Jorgensen, Wilco's keyboardist of two decades, with a chuckle. "I mean, what's your reference point here? Have you not listened to Whitehouse, or any music that's reviewed in The Wire?"

Jorgensen's talking about 2004's A Ghost is Born — Wilco's jagged, spectral follow-up to their masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and his first album as part of the group. (For the attendant tour, guitarists Pat Sansone and Nels Cline would join, and cement their lineup that remains to this day.)

Indeed, critics and fans have always discussed A Ghost is Born with hushed tones — characterizing it as the experimental peak of the ex-"alt country" outfit. Some of its dark reputation is deserved, albeit tiresome to recapitulate: frontman Jeff Tweedy was at the nadir of his opiate addiction — a rough patch that he survived, and has discussed publicly, repeatedly, at length.

Plus, certain moments on A Ghost is Born undoubtedly represent their avant-garde apogee. It's the only Wilco album with Tweedy as the lead guitarist, which alone makes it singular; Cline is a masterful player, but Tweedy's skronky, untechnical, Lennon-meets-Shakey attack was captivating in its own way.

Tweedy is arguably responsible for A Ghost is Born's most extreme moments. He was famously painting pictures of his panic attacks and migraines — the former in the guitar crescendo of "At Least That's What You Said," the latter in the atonal, 12-minute coda of "Less Than You Think."

In short, A Ghost is Born is considerably out there. But to solely paint it with that broad brush would do it a disservice: the album also features some of Wilco's gentlest, prettiest material — as well as mellow gems like "Hummingbird," a skipping stone of a piano-led pop song.

A Ghost is Born was met with critical acclaim upon release on June 22, 2004, and even won Wilco their only GRAMMY to date — for Best Alternative Music Album. (At press time, they've been nominated for seven.) To ring in its 20th anniversary, here's a track-by-track breakdown of the album.

"At Least That's What You Said"

When you consider the enveloping, sound-effects-laden Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it's still bracing to hear A Ghost is Born stir to life like a sleeping beast — just a little bit of electric guitar and piano rumbling around.

Eventually, Tweedy's near-silent, mumbled confessional erupts into a twisted, serrated, sparks-emitting Tweedy solo. (Seriously: we celebrate his songwriting, his wit, his authorial voice, and so much more: give the man his flowers as an electric guitarist.)

Read more: Jeff Tweedy & Cheryl Pawelski Sit Down For "Up Close & Personal" Chat: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Writing One Song & More

"Hell is Chrome"

"'Hell is Chrome' — that was really powerful in the studio, to record that," drummer Glenn Kotche tells GRAMMY.com. (A Ghost is Born was his second album with Wilco; he had joined for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)

That power was the quiet kind: "Hell is Chrome" is an eerie, spare, piano-led lament; each twist of Tweedy's tenor is goosebumps-inducing. And, accordingly, that howling first note of his guitar solo hits like a blast of a freezing draft.

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is another recording where I feel like you can hear my condition pretty clearly," Tweedy wrote in his 2018 memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back).

As he explains, the mother of all migraines was squeezing his skull; they had to strip the composition to basics just so he could get through it. "This allowed me to just recite the lyrics and punctuate them with guitar skronks and scribbles to get through the song," he recalled, "without having to concentrate past my headache too much."

A spiky motorik jam reminiscent of Can or Neu!, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is Wilco's first great extended guitar workout — which, with the arrival of Nels Cline, would gather good company.

"Muzzle of Bees"

The hushed "Muzzle of Bees" tumbles forth so naturally, so patiently, that you wouldn't know it was one of the hardest to record.

"That was a tough nut to crack, for reasons that are still unclear," Jorgensen says with a laugh. "We did take after take, and version after version, and it kept changing, and the arrangement kept moving."

Whatever extra effort was required paid off: "Muzzle of Bees" is enchanting — with images of a random-painted highway, and treebanks playing catch with the sun. And the instrumentation sounds lush yet hardly there at all — like a treebranch scraping your window.

"Hummingbird"

Critics love to compare "Hummingbird" to the works of Randy Newman, which isn't that far off — a character study shot through traditionalist pop.

The vivid details — "a fixed bayonet through the great Southwest," "the deep chrome canyons of the loudest Manhattans" will take you away, but it's the elegaic chorus that resonates most: "Remember to remember me/ Standing still in your past/ Floating fast like a hummingbird." And with that, a sweet, aching fiddle solo brings it home.

Read More: Jeff Tweedy's Blurred Emotions: Wilco’s Leader On Cruel Country & Songwriting As Discovery

"Handshake Drugs"

Few songs capture aimless, urban wandering like "Handshake Drugs," a choogling, circuitous highlight; it feels like two parallel and inverted arrows, facing forward and backward.

Lyrically, Tweedy shows his mastery of conversational, sneakly profound, ouroboros-like bars: "It's OK for you to say what you want from me/ I believe that's the only way for me to be/ Exactly what you want me to be." A cracked Midwestern-ness that typifies Wilco. 

"Wishful Thinking"

One of the out-and-out prettiest songs on the album, "Wishful Thinking" should get more love in the Ghost discourse.

"Fill up your mind with all it can know/ Don't forget that your body will let it all go," a devastated-sounding Tweedy sings in the verse. And the chorus simmers down to a heartbeat-like pulse: "Open your arms as far as they will go/ We take off your dress."

"Company in My Back"

A little more lightweight than other Ghost songs — but variety and dynamics are what make the extreme moments pop. The meaning of "Company in My Back" is elusive, but that earworm of an arpeggio, along with Kotche's sparkling hammered dulcimer, make it fit the album like a glove.

"I've always had a particular fondness for 'Company in My Back,'" Jorgensen says, before directing readers to the half-speed, instrumental outtake: "That was just such a wonderful, hot, mysterious universe of sound." 

"I'm A Wheel"

Wilco get a battery in their back for "I'm a Wheel," a snotty blast of post-punk that points to gonzo future rockers like "Random Name Generator." Come for Tweedy rhyming "nein" with "nine," stay for "I invented a sister/ Populated with knives." With all he was going through, it's good to hear him having fun.

Read more: 28 Essential Songs By Wilco

"Theologians"

Tweedy returns to the instrumental palette of "Hummingbird" to ponder matters of the soul. Before concluding "Illiterati lumen fidei/ God is with us every day/ That illiterate light/ Is with us every night."

When "Theologians" blasts off, it feels like the thesis of the album: "No one's ever gonna take my life from me/ I lay it down/ A ghost is born/ A ghost is born/ A ghost of the born."

"I thought I was going to die," Tweedy wrote in his memoir. "I mean that in all seriousness… Every song we recorded seemed likely to be my last. Every note felt final." Yet "Theologians" pulses with life — and resolve.

"Less Than You Think"

Most talk about "Less Than You Think" naturally zeroes in on that alien, mechanical drone, which subsumes most of its runtime.

"Even I don't want to listen to it every time I play through the album," Tweedy once said. "But the times I do calm myself down and pay attention to it, I think it's valuable and moving and cathartic. I wouldn't have put it on the record if I didn't think it was great."

Partly why it hits so hard is that the preceding music is so magnificent — a devastated, naked ballad with Kotche's hammered dulcimer sparkling overhead.

"I wanted to make an album about identity, and within that is the idea of a higher power, the idea of randomness, and that anything can happen, and that we can't control it," Tweedy said in the same interview. Which is exactly what "Less Than You Think" communicates. 

"The Late Greats"

Wilco being Wilco, A Ghost is Born doesn't crumple into a heap: it finds a ray of hopeful light. The tumbling rocker "The Late Greats" turns over rock history to examine the underside:

"The best band will never get signed/ The K-Settes starring Butcher's Blind," Tweedy sings. "They never even played a show/ You can't hear 'em on the radio." And, as he concludes before the triumphal little finale: "The best song will never get sung/ The best laugh never leaves your lungs."

Looking back, "It's kind of hard to quantify," Jorgensen says. "Is it a rock record? Yeah. Is it a folk-rock record? Yeah, I guess. Is it an experimental album? There's certainly a component of that. It is all these things, but not one thing.

"So, I guess I identify with that part of it," he concludes. "It's a constellation." Indeed, across A Ghost is Born, there's a star for everyone: for its 20th anniversary, dust off the album, lie awake, and count them.

Songbook: A Guide To Wilco's Discography, From Alt-Country To Boundary-Shattering Experiments

Siiickbrain
Siiickbrain

Photo: Courtesy of Siiickbrain

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ReImagined: Watch Siiickbrain Deliver A Grungy Cover Of Nirvana’s GRAMMY-Nominated Single, “All Apologies”

Alternative newcomer Siiickbrain offers her take on Nirvana’s “All Apologies,” a track about shamelessly looking beyond societal norms.

GRAMMYs/Apr 30, 2024 - 05:40 pm

Over two decades ago, Kurt Cobain famously declared his unapologetic stance — from supporting gay rights to his skepticism about reality — in Nirvana's 1993 GRAMMY-nominated single "All Apologies."

Cobain probed in the opening verse, "What else should I be?/ All apologies," Cobain questioned in the opening verse. "What else could I say?/ Everyone is gay/ What else could I write/ I don't have the right."

In this episode of ReImagined, alternative newcomer Siiickbrain delivers her rendition of the In Utero track, channeling the '90s aesthetic with a vintage camera. Like Cobain, Siiickbrain uses her songwriting to confront and address her mental health.

"[My struggles with mental health] made me want to speak on it within my music, and it kind of gave me a foundation for what I'm doing," Siiickbrain said in an interview with Kerrang! "It gave me a purpose to write about certain things and bring awareness to how common these feelings are."

On March 29, Siiickbrain released "when i fall," featuring Shiloh Dynasty and No Love For The Middle Child, which she describes to Alternative Press as based on "true events that were written and performed as [No Love For The Middle Child and I] were recovering from the challenges of a relationship while simultaneously creating music together." 

Press play on the video above to hear Siiickbrain's cover of Nirvana's "All Apologies," and remember to check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of ReImagined.

Behind The Scenes With Nirvana Photog Charles Peterson

Abby Sage performs at home
Abby Sage

Photo: Courtesy of Abby Sage

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Press Play: Watch Abby Sage Feed Her “Hunger” In This Acoustic Performance Of Her Single

Rising indie star Abby Sage performs “Hunger,” an unapologetic track about sexual liberation from her debut album, ‘The Rot.’

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 03:56 pm

With "Hunger," rising indie star Abby Sage takes autonomy of her body. It’s a story of shameless self-discovery as she submits to her natural desires while simultaneously breaking down the toxic ideas she learned about sex in her adolescence.

"Feed my hunger/ No shame, I'm just a beginner," she croons in the chorus. "It's my own wonder/ Don't press, I'm just a beginner."

In this episode of Press Play, watch Sage deliver an acoustic performance of the single from her debut album, The Rot, which she released on March 1. According to a statement, the project is largely about "the decomposition and reconstruction of everything I was taught," including sex, anxiety, and more.

Sage said "Hunger" is "the most important song to me on the album" adding, "I wish I heard a song like this when I was first exploring my sexuality and my sexual journey, and for that reason, I hope it reaches people."

This May, Sage will embark on an international tour that begins in Los Angeles and concludes in London, with support from gglum, spiderblush, and Jayla Kai.

Watch the video above to hear Abby Sage's empowering performance of "Hunger," and remember to check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Press Play.

Watch Genia Narrate The Pain Of Heartbreak In This Raw Performance Of "Dear Life" | Press Play

Photo of Skepta performing at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England. Skepta is wearing dark black sunglasses, a black shirt, and a vest made of bullets.
Skepta performs a headline set at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

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10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Peso Pluma, Lana Del Rey, Doja Cat, Tyler, The Creator, J Balvin and a reunited No Doubt may be some of the biggest draws at Coachella 2024, but the beloved festival will host a multitude of must-see artists whose names appear in smaller text.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Ah, springtime. For the average person, that means sunshine, flora in bloom, perhaps a figurative fresh start in the new year. But for music festival fans, it signals another season starter: Coachella.

An estimated 125,000 people will flock to the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California for the first weekend (April 12-14) of the 23rd Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. While the first weekend is already sold out, tickets are still available for the second weekend (April 19-21).

Coachella's headliners have been busy: Both Lana Del Rey (headlining Friday) and Doja Cat (slated to close out Sunday) just wrapped extensive tours at the end of 2023 and, while Saturday closer Tyler, the Creator's only other 2024 festival date is at Lollapalooza, he did stage a large-scale appearance in 2023 at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in Los Angeles. Still, it stands to reason that there are scores of fans who missed out on those tour stops, and Coachella would be an ideal chance to catch them in a particularly special setting. 

There's also the potential to see a slew of surprise guests (a long-standing Chella tradition) and much-hyped reunions. Coachella 2024 attendees will likely flock to see a reunited No Doubt and Sublime, the latter with a Nowell back at the helm (Bradley’s son, Jakob).

Then there’s the economic logic behind opting to see those bigger acts at a festival: for a price not much more than what you’d pay for an arena ticket, you get the bonus of catching dozens of other incredible artists while you’re at it. The diversity and quality of music throughout even the lower tiers of the Coachella lineup is staggering, so overall the price for a pass is quite the steal. Read on for the inside scoop on 10 of this year’s most exciting undercard performances.

Read More: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More

Cimafunk

Cuban artist Cimafunk has been relatively quiet since releasing a third studio album, El Alimento, in 2021. But the success of that record — which garnered his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards — appears to have propelled him to new career heights. He will be the first Cuban-born artist to perform at the festival, kicking off a string of worldwide shows that begin with his appearance at Coachella on April 12 and 19. 

Read more: At Getting Funky In Havana, Young Musicians Feel The Power Of Cross-Cultural Connection

Cimafunk’s sole release since his last album was the December 2023 single “Te tango en salsa,” which expands upon his self-designated brand of Afro Cuban Funk with accents of disco and grooves filled with New Orleans-style horns. Though the track hasn’t been publicly connected to any upcoming EP or album, one might presume that his impending run of concerts is a precursor to a complete body of new music. Perhaps Coachella will function as a testing ground, and considering the inclusion on El Ailmento of prominent artists George Clinton, CeeLo Green and Lupe Fiasco, who knows what other surprises might be in store at the desert festival known for delighting audiences with plenty of guest features.

L’Imperatrice

Through the years following their inception in 2012, French pop band L’Imperatrice have played primarily in Europe and surrounding regions, so it’s no small feat that they’re poised to make their second appearance at Coachella in two years. They first played the fest in 2022, a makeup show for Coachella's 2020 COVID-19 cancellation. 

Their slots on April 12 and 19, stops on their just-launched Double Trouble Tour, follow the 2018 release of debut full-length Matahari and performances at prominent festivals like Austin City Limits and Outside Lands. Self-produced sophomore album Pulsar arrives on June 7, and its infectiously groovy and sensual debut single “Me Da Iqual” promises a Coachella set sure to incite emotional release among the masses — ideally during one of the fest’s famed golden hours to match the music’s euphoric vibes. 

Skepta

Regarded as one of the most influential rappers in the UK grime scene, Skepta is set to commence his latest return to stateside stages with appearances at Coachella on both Fridays, which marks his second time at the festival after lauded dual appearances in 2017. 

Following a semi-secret DJ set at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March, these shows will preview a run of summer dates in the UK and Europe and the release of upcoming sixth solo album Knife and Fork

With that record’s release date still in question but imminent, it’s a good bet that he’ll introduce new material to build upon the January drop of lead single "Gas Me Up (Diligent)," which adopts a flow and melodic structure more akin to popular American rap. To that end, Skepta’s previous collaborations with U.S. rappers like Drake, Ye and members of ASAP Mob could lead to a loaded lineup of guests during his Coachella set. It has the potential to be a huge moment, though his reputation for high-energy and rowdy gigs are reasons enough to prioritize his performance. 

Read More: UK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death?

Mandy, Indiana

English-French noise rock upstarts Mandy, Indiana make music that isn’t necessarily easy to digest. Minimalist and chaotic compositions, primarily from their widely celebrated 2023 debut album I’ve Seen a Way, resonate as tunes tailor-made for technically minded music nerds. Still, danceable moments emerge among the sonic helter-skelter, which combines experimental elements of industrial, classic house music and samples aplenty (think Death Grips with more palatable melodies and exclusively French lyrics). 

So far, the dynamic four-piece hasn’t played much on this side of the pond — their debut shows at Coachella arrive on the heels of a handful of U.S. appearances in 2023 that included the SXSW Music Festival. Which means Mandy, Indiana’s sets on April 13 and 20 will mark relatively rare (and therefore must-see) chances to embrace their overtly wonderful weirdness in the desert among the more prominent pop-leaning artists on the roster.

The Last Dinner Party

If you’re not yet keen on British indie rock band the Last Dinner Party, it’s time to get with the program. With only one album under their belt, Prelude to Ecstasy (released Feb. 2) — which echoes various influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kate Bush and ABBA —the quintet has already earned multiple awards and accolades, including topping the UK Album Chart. To boot, they opened for the Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park two years prior to putting out their record.

The band’s performances are reportedly jaw-dropping, further evidenced by the complete sell-out of their current U.S. tour. That jaunt wraps with their April 20 appearance at Coachella (they also play during the first weekend on April 13), so, unless you want to pay ridiculous resale prices for one of their club shows, this is a prime chance to see them live with the added benefit of catching many more amazing acts while you’re there.

Young Fathers

Young Fathers are often categorized under the umbrella of hip-hop, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole them that way. True, one can pinpoint elements of a spitting, old-school style — especially on debut album Dead (winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014.. However, their sound spans the landscape of many genres, often weaving in threads of electronic, industrial, and trip-hop. It should be telling that they’ve collaborated multiple times with Massive Attack.

The music clearly resonates with a substantial audience. They’ve reached prime positions on the UK Album charts, their fourth and latest album Heavy Heavy (released Feb. 3, 2023) won them their third Scottish Album of the Year Award, and this year marks their second invitation to Coachella (catch them on Sundays: April 13 and 20). With a full year gone since putting out new songs, there’s no telling if they’ll serve up anything fresh. Regardless, fans of heavy-hitting experimental music, assuredly energizing at any time of day or night, should prioritize seeing their set.

Oneohtrix Point Never

It’s a wonder that Oneohtrix Point Never has never played Coachellal until now given his string of consistent releases since emerging in the early 2000s (with never more than three years between albums) and Coachella’s penchant for historically championing experimental electronic artists. Following the Feb. 29 release of his latest EP “Oneohtrix Point Never - Ambients,” he debuts in the desert on April 13, with his second weekend encore on April 20. 

The Massachusetts-bred beatmaker’s music swings from sparse to compositionally complex. It's not geared toward a typical EDM dance party, but always cinematic and hypnotizing, creating a space where listeners can truly lose themselves in the sonics. Given his style, it’s safe to assume he’ll occupy an evening time slot, so if you’re the type who prefers something a little more raw to the mainstream big-timers topping the bill, Oneohtrix Point Never might be just the ticket.

Mdou Moctar

If there’s one artist on this year’s Coachella lineup that will truly thrive in a desert setting, it’s Mdou Moctar. The Niger-based musician plays rock music steeped in the style of Tuareg, guitar-based blues-rock fusion that originates in the Sahara region. However, Moctar’s music decidedly transcends the traditional sound, often reverberating as sublimely psychedelic.

His performances in Indio on April 14 and 21 precede the release of his sixth album Funeral For Justice (arriving May 3). Based on the two singles made available from that record so far (title track “Funeral for Justice” and “Imouhar”), the people of Coachella are in for a true desert trip.

Atarashii Gakko!

When Japanese “girl group” Atarashii Gakko! make their Coachella debut on April 14 and 21, anticipate the unexpected. The four singers’ have a stated goal of “redefining what it means to be a girl group.” They’re technically categorized as J-Pop, but among the many catchy choruses, their music also incorporates shades of speed metal, trap beats and alt-rap à la Rage Against the Machine, all of which you can hear on their latest album ICHIJIKIKOKU.

What you can certainly expect is an outrageously high-energy show chock-full of nonstop, self-designed choreography performed in colorful sailor-fuku uniforms (essentially sailor suits worn by Japanese students in the ‘70s and ‘80s … think Sailor Moon but intentionally less provocative). If you need an adrenaline boost on the final day of the fest, look no further than Atarashii Gakko!.

Olivia Dean

Dear America, it’s time to give a proper welcome to an artist destined for stardom:  Olivia Dean. With only a handful of U.S. shows in the bank, the 25-year-old British neo-soul singer’s debut at Coachella on April 14 — arguably her biggest U.S. gig yet — will serve as the most well-deserved of receptions. 

Sure, her nominations for the 2023 Mercury Prize (for debut album Messy) and 2024 Brit Awards (Best Pop Act, British Artist of the Year and Best New Artist) should merit attention enough for those who don’t know her. But even a few moments of listening to key album tracks “Dive” and “The Hardest Part” (don’t sleep on the alternate version featuring Leon Bridges) are the real deal-sealers. The richness of Dean’s recorded vocals are absolutely arresting, evocative of and equal to top-tier divas who preceded her. It’s thrilling just thinking about the impact she’ll make at Coachella — do yourself a favor if you have the chance and go witness it firsthand. 

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