Various Artists: Desconstrução

On the eponymous opening track of his 1968 debut, small town Bahian boy Tom Zé sang of his adopted hometown São Paulo with ambivalence. “São São Paulo quanta dor/São São Paulo meu amor” went the chorus, alternating between pain and affection in describing the smokestacks and traffic jams of the sprawling megalopolis, its bustling populace of eight million described as “crowded loneliness.” While the most populous and industrious city in Brazil, culturally São Paulo has always stood in the shadow of Rio de Janeiro. It was known as samba’s grave.

But as the compilation Desconstrução proves, the musicians clustered around São Paulo’s current “samba sujo” (dirty samba) scene relish their hometown’s pallor. For those struck by the sound of Elza Soares’ A Mulher do Fim do Mundo from a few months ago, this twelve-track comp culled from the early days of the Goma Gringa Discos label is the next logical step in exploring modern Brazilian music. It features a similar cast of players and musicians from Soares’ album, including saxophonist/arranger Thiago França and Rodrigo Campos. And much like Soares’ late-period masterpiece, Descontrução places songs wild with fusion against contemplative and arresting moments of quiet. 

From Campos’ hushed and simmering noise ballad “Ribeirão” to the roiling acid-rock tinged conjured by trio Metá Metá on “Rainha Das Cabecas,” each act expertly navigates through these influences to produce an exhilarating array that escapes easy classification. Most acts rotate through a stable of players, be they Juçara Marçal, Kiko Dinucci, Marcelo Cabral, Romulo Fróes, Sérgio Machado, Campos, or França, which the press release states “are not a movement, [but] togetherness in motion, always linked from one project to the next.” Almost any selection here contains strands of native samba, post-punk’s rumble, Afrobeat’s driving rhythm, blats of avant-jazz that seem to dilate space, as well as flashbacks to ’60s Tropicália, itself a mutation of Brazilian pop music interacting with outside influences. 

But it’s one thing to just jump from influence to influence, and another to make each gestural leap and genre shift feline and graceful. Thiago França’s contributions might be the most deft of the set, “Space Charanga” bringing to mind the open-ended, exploratory jazz of Kamasi Washington or Charles Mingus’ own Cumbia & Jazz Fusion. It’s tight and lyrical, able to fly up into fiery spiritual jazz stratosphere while also staying firmly grounded in rhythm. Meanwhile “Na Multidão” is a quicksilver track that avoids drums entirely, drawing its pulse from filigrees of electric guitar and upright bass, punctuated with quick jabs of brass and droning woodwinds.

Serving as elder statesman for this clutch of musicians is Vicente Barreto, whose career—much like Soares—dates back to the early ’60s and also include many vicissitudes of fortune. Barreto collaborated with everyone from Vinicius de Moraes to Tom Zé on his 1978 album Correio Da Estação Do Brás. The guitars blare like sirens and grow increasingly anxious, but Barreto’s gravitas keeps the song from flying apart. The comp’s most gorgeous moment shows another side of Metá Metá. The trio’s hushed “Obatalá” brings to mind everything from early ’00s freak-folk to Gilberto Gil’s ethereal “Futurível.” With little more than a wordless whispered vocal and a plinking guitar figure that hovers over flutters of saxophone, they evoke an unspeakable beauty. Both guitar and horn teeter on the edge of extended-technique noise. But as their atonal din grows, the group strikes the perfect balance, conveying something sublime amid such noise, a bloom of color amid the gray. 

Jóhann Jóhannsson: Orphée

Orphée, the latest album by the Icelandic composer and filmmaker Jóhann Jóhannsson is billed as his first studio album in six years since the somber and excellent The Miners’ Hymns. But during that time Jóhannsson has released eight records—three of which were scores to major films (including Sicario & The Theory of Everything) and the rest music for smaller film projects, one of which Jóhannsson directed himself. But with even The Miners’ Hymns itself serving as a score to a film, the particular criteria for which Jóhannsson deems a record to be a “studio album” as opposed to a “film score” is somewhat unclear. What is clear is that after years of albums on 4AD and small post-classical labels such as Fat Cat’s 130701, in moving to Deutsche Grammophon—the oldest and most significant classical music label left standing—Jóhannsson wants Orphée to be seen as a work of music propped up by nothing but itself and its own deserved grandeur.

Loosely themed around Ovid’s version of the Orpheus myth, Orphée’s grandeur is made clear within seconds. Using only a few repeated parts of piano, violin, and some crackling sound treatments, opener “Flight from the City” takes off. It feels like film music in a way that most of Orphée does not; you could easily imagine it playing over credits, or an opening scene, or in a mid-film montage. But the palette, tone, and structure of Orphée vary greatly and much of it embraces a compositional approach akin to ’90s chamber experimentalists the Rachel’s and others in the post-classical mold on 130701 or Erased Tapes. “A Song for Europa” features more of those crackling sound treatments as well as a recurring spectral vocal sample, while the stately “A Deal With Chaos” or “The Radiant City” would be at home on the Rachel’s Music for Egon Schiele.

Apart from “Flight from the City,” the most unforgettable tracks on Orphée are where Jóhannsson adds more experimental textures, particularly in the penultimate diptych of “Good Morning, Midnight” and “Good Night, Day.” In a way, these two tracks play out the climax of the Orpheus myth: The former begins with dreamy slow-waltz strings and burbling sound effects that connote the gait of a person heading toward destiny unknown, before giving way to a close-mic’d solo piano piece that sounds like the ruminative thoughts of man by way of Satie-style impressionism. The latter, “Good Night, Day,” begins with repeated string warnings that plays as a realization of chased dreams lost, with a cello melody serving as an elegiac narrative counterpoint. On each, the blend of early 20th-century modalities and experimental recording approaches make them archetypal post-classical tracks.

Boldest of all is Orphée’s a capella closer “Orphic Hymn,” which features a breathtaking choral vocal performance by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices of text from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. Sung vocals are rarely found in Jóhannsson’s work, but the angelic arrangement makes you wish that he had found more opportunities to integrate vocals into the rest of the record. “Orphic Hymn” also brings Jóhannsson back full circle to British post-classical elder statesman Michael Nyman. The piece strongly recalls the longing of “Miserere” from The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, a great example of how Nyman’s scores work as independent music woven into a film rather than applied to the surface of scenes.

It’s exciting to hear the freedom of Jóhannsson’s compositions in autonomous music, and with Orphée he’s reasserted himself as not a just an elegiac film score guy. As good as his cinema work has been, the act of telling someone else’s story puts limits on both an artist’s freedom to work and the impact of how they might be received, and Jóhannsson likely isn’t looking to become known as “the Next Thomas Newman.” The voice he uses on Orphée says otherwise, and provides a clear blast attestation that Jóhannsson is among the brightest lights of any member of the loosely grouped post-classical genre.

M.I.A.: AIM

When revisiting the culture that informed her 2005 debut album Arular, Maya Arulpragasam painted the 2000s with a rose-colored tint. “We had way better fucking music. People were having way better sex. People were eating way better food. It’s like we had progression,” she told Rolling Stone last year. She concluded that in 2015, broadly speaking, art was boring and safe, due to the lack of “fireworks,” the repetition, and the disappearance of the “new.” It was a recalcitrant comment, sure, but also unsurprising coming from M.I.A. What felt unnatural was all this nostalgia. M.I.A. has always been an artist interested in constant reinvention—the past, it seemed to her, was nothing compared to the future. Her music, her art, her years of public confrontation were once prophetic.

But today it’s increasingly clear that many pieces of her creative legacy, from the caustic inhuman sheen of Maya to the bullet casings that litter “Paper Planes,” have either been plundered or misinterpreted. The fake patois of Drake’s “One Dance” blaring from car windows all around the world, the ubiquity of greasy synths and rattling gun-shot samples in dance music (see any of the artists in NON or Fade to Mind), and the globalization of American and European pop music all can trace a thread back to M.I.A.’s experiments, both failed and successful. Her evaluation of art in the present was another middle finger pointed at watchful eyes, and now, with the release of her fifth album, AIM, it’s become an unintended self-criticism of her own inability to light the fuse.

The lead-up to AIM was not without expected provocation. Before the album had a name there was a music video. It was searing and combative, an addictive piece of agitprop that once again aligned M.I.A. as one of our best political artists. The video for “Borders” depicted a dramatization of border crossing that was at once complicated, blunt, and grandly rendered. The song was empathetic about the global refugee crisis, (“We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them/This is North, South, East and Western”) yet it was also a polemic against media saturation and the endless panoply of issues both serious and inane (borders, politics, identities, privilege, being bae, breaking the internet) that made any action impossible. When she summons these topics through the course of the song, she cooly punctures them with a simple question, “What’s up with that?” Overall, it was the type of sobering political gesture that was much needed in the music discourse. Then the controversies started.

She was dropped as the headliner for London’s upcoming Afropunk Festival after clumsily targeting Black Lives Matter and the activist inclinations of musicians like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, asking if questions like “Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters?” would function into the dominant conversation in pop music. Then she got mad about MTV overlooking “Borders” for this year’s VMAs, accusing the media corporation of “racism, classism, sexism, elitism” and essentially policing what kind of voices were institutionally sanctioned. And naturally, she threatened to leak AIM (which she also threatened to do with her last album), and claimed that Interscope refused to clear samples for a Diplo-produced version of “Bird Song.” After the predictably rocky months of rollout, the 17 songs of AIM read as a disappointment, lacking bite and bounce, and presenting only glimmers of what once was.

For what went wrong, look no further than what might’ve been the big pop hit of the album, “Freedun,” a collaboration with smoldering One Direction malcontent Zayn Malik. The song was apparently written over Whatsapp, and it certainly contains all the half-baked charm of a group text thread. “I’m a swagger man/Rolling in my swagger van/From the People’s Republic Of Swaggerstan,” she begins, extremely inauspiciously. It’s the forgivable brick from someone with a history of lyrics that are at the very least provocative or allusive. But this specific brand of poor writing haunts the album. In “Bird Song,” her avian puns are grating: “I believe like R. Kelly, we can fly/But toucan fly together/Staying rich like an ostrich.” Her voice seems flatter, inelastic, and without her early inventiveness. 

At the same time, AIM isn’t saved by some world-beating or state-of-the-art production. Neither M.I.A. nor or her collaborators (including Skrillex and longtime producer Blaqstarr) come close to the vibrancy of her previous work. Take “Foreign Friend,” with its half-hearted drum beat, sleepy progression, and clunky construction. Its pallid form turns the song’s sharp narrative about cultural assimilation into a trying slog. This has never been a problem with her music before—even when it didn’t work, it was wild and freewheeling, intelligently and deftly compacting rhythms from around the world under a single flag.

But these songs are diffuse, thin on hooks, and often recycle through old warhorses of polyrhythmic percussion and splattered sampling. It’s telling that “Visa” samples her debut single “Galang” in its back half. It creates a bizarre effect, like listening to M.I.A. do karaoke over her own music. “Visa” also heavily references—almost eulogizes—her past work (“They call me Arular, trendsetter, making life feel better/Breaking order like a leader now follow”). It’s as if she is well aware of how newness has escaped her, as much she feels it has escaped the world at large. This recursive comment would work better if the album were explicitly framed as a referendum on her career up to this point: the boredom and frustration of the present as an endless reflection of the past. Instead, whatever grand vision AIM is hoping for becomes muddled. While the highlights offer glimmers of hope, like “Ali R U OK”—an incisive narrative about capitalism’s degradation of immigrant hustle—AIM is in desperate need of a clear identity or throughline. 

Diplo once said, “Albums now are a hit song and 11 other songs that are attached to it.” “Borders” will live on as one of many crown jewels in some future retrospective of M.I.A.’s music, but AIM is otherwise her dullest album. For all the accusations that she’s been blithe, unaware, or plain reckless with her messaging, there has never been a more crucial time for pop music that wrestles with globalization, transnational suffering, and the plight of immigrants. While she may never have been the most articulate and thoughtful messenger, in AIM, M.I.A. demonstrates her legacy as an artist eager to tackle issues that are volatile and antagonistic. But at this point her music is more potent in theory than execution.

Fan Attempts to Climb Kanye’s Flying Stage in Atlanta

Fan Attempts to Climb Kanye’s Flying Stage in Atlanta

During Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour, he’s been performing on a flying stage. During tonight’s show at Philips Arena in Atlanta, a fan attempted to climb up on the stage while Kanye performed “Power.” In the below footage (via Complex), you can see the person dangling from the side of the stage before ultimately falling back into the crowd.

Jackie Christie Almost Punches Angel Brinks | Basketball Wives LA

Angel Brinks finally arrives to her 5-year anniversary party, only to be confronted by an emotional Jackie, who almost ends up fighting Angel.

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Vox Clamantis: Arvo Pärt: The Deer’s Cry

Producer Manfred Eicher first heard the music of Arvo Pärt on the radio, while driving down the highway. The dramatic string writing and bell-like piano of Tabula Rasa made him pull over and think about expanding his offerings. Until then, Eicher’s ECM imprint had focused mostly on jazz. While his label’s discography included a few modern classical composers like Steve Reich, it didn’t feature a wide range of contemporary notated music. But after Eicher’s conversion on the Autobahn, ECM’s “New Series” was born. 

The first release from Eicher’s expanded classical lineup was a collection of Pärt’s instrumental works, issued in 1984. That album assumed a delicate profile during quieter passages and projected resonant lushness in its more grave sections. Those interpretations have never been bested, and Pärt has worked closely with ECM ever since. While Eicher’s airy production can occasionally tread close to a “new age” aesthetic, this has served Pärt well. After a youthful run that saw the composer mixing religious music with wild-eyed modernism, Pärt’s mature writing tends to employ a blend of centuries-old chant styles and contemplative, minimalist orchestration. 

This lower-key approach to experimentalism benefits from the clarity of Eicher’s mastering. In the early going of The Deer’s Cry , “the ECM sound” allows Pärt’s strangeness to hit with a paradoxical serenity. The opening moments of “Von Angesicht zu Angesicht”—a setting of the “through a glass, darkly” portion of 1 Corinthians—are pensive but also gorgeous, as string lines and a doleful clarinet wind around supple choral writing. During the soprano vocalist’s solo, however, a soft dissonance is held at the end of one line. What once seemed an attractive bauble now appears more unsettling (and in tune with its source text).

It’s these moves that keep Pärt’s attractive music from relaxing into any “easy listening” format. The desperate nature of his search for the beautiful is rarely far from view. The title track’s words attest to the presence of Christ on all sides of the singers. But the lamentation of Pärt’s harmonies is so extreme, it’s natural to wonder about our ease of access to the divine. Because he turned to Christianity during the Soviet era, Pärt suffered censure for his choice of devotional texts—and it’s difficult to miss the hard-won toughness that resides in his spiritual music. 

The Estonian vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis displays admirable command of the composer’s art. The pieces are mostly miniatures, drawn from multiple decades of Pärt’s output. Several have been recorded before. But the takes by Vox Clamantis always tease out something new. In the finale from Kanon Pokajanen, they offer a brighter sound than previously heard on ECM. And their renditions of more popular Pärt fare (such as “Da pacem Domine”) are dependably excellent. 

Fans of the composer may have heard as much as half of this program in other interpretations. Yet the performances and engineering here argue persuasively for new experiences of this music. The same way that Eicher’s first album of Pärt’s music offered a sampling of his instrumental pieces, The Deer’s Cry is a useful entry point to the composer’s vocal music. Its overall effect is not quite as potent as those of long-form compositions such as Miserere or Litany, but there are still plenty of moments that can stop you in your tracks.

Vox Clamantis: Arvo Pärt: The Deer’s Cry

Producer Manfred Eicher first heard the music of Arvo Pärt on the radio, while driving down the highway. The dramatic string writing and bell-like piano of Tabula Rasa made him pull over and think about expanding his offerings. Until then, Eicher’s ECM imprint had focused mostly on jazz. While his label’s discography included a few modern classical composers like Steve Reich, it didn’t feature a wide range of contemporary notated music. But after Eicher’s conversion on the Autobahn, ECM’s “New Series” was born. 

The first release from Eicher’s expanded classical lineup was a collection of Pärt’s instrumental works, issued in 1984. That album assumed a delicate profile during quieter passages and projected resonant lushness in its more grave sections. Those interpretations have never been bested, and Pärt has worked closely with ECM ever since. While Eicher’s airy production can occasionally tread close to a “new age” aesthetic, this has served Pärt well. After a youthful run that saw the composer mixing religious music with wild-eyed modernism, Pärt’s mature writing tends to employ a blend of centuries-old chant styles and contemplative, minimalist orchestration. 

This lower-key approach to experimentalism benefits from the clarity of Eicher’s mastering. In the early going of The Deer’s Cry , “the ECM sound” allows Pärt’s strangeness to hit with a paradoxical serenity. The opening moments of “Von Angesicht zu Angesicht”—a setting of the “through a glass, darkly” portion of 1 Corinthians—are pensive but also gorgeous, as string lines and a doleful clarinet wind around supple choral writing. During the soprano vocalist’s solo, however, a soft dissonance is held at the end of one line. What once seemed an attractive bauble now appears more unsettling (and in tune with its source text).

It’s these moves that keep Pärt’s attractive music from relaxing into any “easy listening” format. The desperate nature of his search for the beautiful is rarely far from view. The title track’s words attest to the presence of Christ on all sides of the singers. But the lamentation of Pärt’s harmonies is so extreme, it’s natural to wonder about our ease of access to the divine. Because he turned to Christianity during the Soviet era, Pärt suffered censure for his choice of devotional texts—and it’s difficult to miss the hard-won toughness that resides in his spiritual music. 

The Estonian vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis displays admirable command of the composer’s art. The pieces are mostly miniatures, drawn from multiple decades of Pärt’s output. Several have been recorded before. But the takes by Vox Clamantis always tease out something new. In the finale from Kanon Pokajanen, they offer a brighter sound than previously heard on ECM. And their renditions of more popular Pärt fare (such as “Da pacem Domine”) are dependably excellent. 

Fans of the composer may have heard as much as half of this program in other interpretations. Yet the performances and engineering here argue persuasively for new experiences of this music. The same way that Eicher’s first album of Pärt’s music offered a sampling of his instrumental pieces, The Deer’s Cry is a useful entry point to the composer’s vocal music. Its overall effect is not quite as potent as those of long-form compositions such as Miserere or Litany, but there are still plenty of moments that can stop you in your tracks.

Jack White: Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

Detroit is a city of extremes—of Fortune 500 wealth and epidemic poverty, of beautiful art-deco landmarks and ruins that are so apocalyptic, they’ve spawned a mini-tourism industry. Native son Jack White has likewise displayed a fondness for blinding contrasts, and the White Stripes’ candy-cane dress code was the least of it. Over the years, White has gamely pit bluesy authenticity against bullshit artistry; virtuosity against amateurism; punk credibility against Hollywood celebrity; small-business boosterism against Coca-Cola shilling. He’s a garage-rocker who’d rather chill on the front porch, a man who can write songs that fill football stadiums even though sports might just make him miserable.

Those paradoxical qualities have ultimately elevated White’s songbook above mere blues-rock revivalism. That tension is baked right into his music, where the scorching six-string pyrotechnics have routinely been hosed down by soothing sing-alongs. He’s an electric warrior and eccentric warbler, a Page and Plant in one perfect rock-star package. If he didn’t exist, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction committee would have to will him into existence.

However, a new collection wants you to think of White less as a self-mythologizing guitar god and more as a humble storyteller. Though its title may suggest a bounty of rough-draft demos, Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 is really a straightforward, chronological cherry-pick of the songs in White’s discography (peppered with alternate mixes) that don’t feature electric guitar as the primary instrument. It’s White without the red, a Starbucks-worthy sanitization of a scuzz-rock icon. But even though it lops off one side of White’s split personality, Acoustic Recordings still provides a vivid portrait of White’s evolution over the past 18 years; like a phantom limb, the absence of noise becomes a form of presence.

As the compilation reasserts, White has been writing on an acoustic since day one, however, the kinds of acoustic songs he writes have changed considerably over the years. On the first White Stripes album, “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” offered White a chance to exhale between garage-rock grunts, though this suggestive serenade was spiritually in tune with that record’s devil-music worship. But already on 2000’s De Stijl, White was using the acoustic format less as an unplugged antidote and more a foundation for experimentation. With the radiant “I’m Bound to Pack It Up,” he used modest Zeppelin III means to telegraph Houses of the Holy ambitions. And on White Blood Cells hits like “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends,” the Stripes’ acoustic side became as crucial to constructing their childlike fantasias as their block-rockin’ rave-ups.

Acoustic Recordings’ first disc—charting the backwoods path to the Stripes’ 2007 swan song Icky Thump—could essentially be replicated by any Stripes completist dragging album tracks into a playlist. (The lone prize find is the hushed Get Behind Me Satan outtake, “City Lights,” the rare acoustic White tune to showcase the sort of guitar wizardry he brings to his electric repertoire.) So it’s appropriate that the more revelatory second disc should kick off with the first official release of “Love Is the Truth,” the winsome 2006 Coca-Cola jingle that symbolically came out around the same time White finally ditched Detroit-scene politics to set up shop in Nashville, heralding his transformation into a multimedia mogul. (The move also coincided with the formation of his supergroup the Raconteurs, represented here by countrified alternate takes of “Top Yourself” and “Carolina Drama.”)

Once the timeline reaches White’s 2012 solo debut, Blunderbuss, the Acoustic Recordings concept practically becomes moot, as the 90/10 ratio of electric/acoustic songs that once governed White Stripes records had effectively reversed (perhaps because White was channeling his most aggressive impulses to the Dead Weather). If White’s early acoustic material conveyed a certain bedsit intimacy, the vibe here is more communal kitchen-party hootenanny. With a wide cast of Music City pros at his side, tracks like “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “On and On and On” key in on the homespun spirit of the Band, the Faces, and Exile-era Stones. At this point for White, stripping down means gussying up: with its barrelhouse piano, fiddles and gospelized backing vocals, the “acoustic mix” of the Lazaretto romp “Just One Drink” is essentially honky-tonk glam-rock.

In his journey from the Gold Dollar to the White House, the blues has remained foundational to White’s acoustic songwriting, though, these days, it’s less about the bare-bones style than an existential state of mind. His acoustic catalog used to be a space where he could reveal a more gentle, whimsical side. But in his sometimes fraught adjustment to A-list celebrity—with all the publicized fistfights, divorces, shit-talking, and lawsuits that have come with it—White’s conversational writing has, at times, turned more tense and terse. “I want love to/Change my friends to enemies/And show me how it’s all my fault,” he seethes on Blunderbuss’ Love Interruption” like a man scorned, and that wariness would become further entrenched on Lazaretto’s “Entitlement”: “Every time I’m doing what I want to, somebody comes and tells me it’s wrong/Whenever I’m doing just as I please, somebody cuts me down to me knees.”

More than just showcasing his tuneful side, Acoustic Recordings is a shrine to White’s self-sufficiency, in both the musical and ideological senses. After all, White has always been one to take matters into his own hands, whether he’s building guitars from some spare wire and wood, opening his own record press, or ensuring aliens have access to a turntable. And until he can get off this godforsaken planet and join his records in space, Acoustic Recordings stockpiles a great American songbook that can endure even after we’re all forced to live off the grid.

Jack White: Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

Detroit is a city of extremes—of Fortune 500 wealth and epidemic poverty, of beautiful art-deco landmarks and ruins that are so apocalyptic, they’ve spawned a mini-tourism industry. Native son Jack White has likewise displayed a fondness for blinding contrasts, and the White Stripes’ candy-cane dress code was the least of it. Over the years, White has gamely pit bluesy authenticity against bullshit artistry; virtuosity against amateurism; punk credibility against Hollywood celebrity; small-business boosterism against Coca-Cola shilling. He’s a garage-rocker who’d rather chill on the front porch, a man who can write songs that fill football stadiums even though sports might just make him miserable.

Those paradoxical qualities have ultimately elevated White’s songbook above mere blues-rock revivalism. That tension is baked right into his music, where the scorching six-string pyrotechnics have routinely been hosed down by soothing sing-alongs. He’s an electric warrior and eccentric warbler, a Page and Plant in one perfect rock-star package. If he didn’t exist, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction committee would have to will him into existence.

However, a new collection wants you to think of White less as a self-mythologizing guitar god and more as a humble storyteller. Though its title may suggest a bounty of rough-draft demos, Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 is really a straightforward, chronological cherry-pick of the songs in White’s discography (peppered with alternate mixes) that don’t feature electric guitar as the primary instrument. It’s White without the red, a Starbucks-worthy sanitization of a scuzz-rock icon. But even though it lops off one side of White’s split personality, Acoustic Recordings still provides a vivid portrait of White’s evolution over the past 18 years; like a phantom limb, the absence of noise becomes a form of presence.

As the compilation reasserts, White has been writing on an acoustic since day one, however, the kinds of acoustic songs he writes have changed considerably over the years. On the first White Stripes album, “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” offered White a chance to exhale between garage-rock grunts, though this suggestive serenade was spiritually in tune with that record’s devil-music worship. But already on 2000’s De Stijl, White was using the acoustic format less as an unplugged antidote and more a foundation for experimentation. With the radiant “I’m Bound to Pack It Up,” he used modest Zeppelin III means to telegraph Houses of the Holy ambitions. And on White Blood Cells hits like “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends,” the Stripes’ acoustic side became as crucial to constructing their childlike fantasias as their block-rockin’ rave-ups.

Acoustic Recordings’ first disc—charting the backwoods path to the Stripes’ 2007 swan song Icky Thump—could essentially be replicated by any Stripes completist dragging album tracks into a playlist. (The lone prize find is the hushed Get Behind Me Satan outtake, “City Lights,” the rare acoustic White tune to showcase the sort of guitar wizardry he brings to his electric repertoire.) So it’s appropriate that the more revelatory second disc should kick off with the first official release of “Love Is the Truth,” the winsome 2006 Coca-Cola jingle that symbolically came out around the same time White finally ditched Detroit-scene politics to set up shop in Nashville, heralding his transformation into a multimedia mogul. (The move also coincided with the formation of his supergroup the Raconteurs, represented here by countrified alternate takes of “Top Yourself” and “Carolina Drama.”)

Once the timeline reaches White’s 2012 solo debut, Blunderbuss, the Acoustic Recordings concept practically becomes moot, as the 90/10 ratio of electric/acoustic songs that once governed White Stripes records had effectively reversed (perhaps because White was channeling his most aggressive impulses to the Dead Weather). If White’s early acoustic material conveyed a certain bedsit intimacy, the vibe here is more communal kitchen-party hootenanny. With a wide cast of Music City pros at his side, tracks like “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “On and On and On” key in on the homespun spirit of the Band, the Faces, and Exile-era Stones. At this point for White, stripping down means gussying up: with its barrelhouse piano, fiddles and gospelized backing vocals, the “acoustic mix” of the Lazaretto romp “Just One Drink” is essentially honky-tonk glam-rock.

In his journey from the Gold Dollar to the White House, the blues has remained foundational to White’s acoustic songwriting, though, these days, it’s less about the bare-bones style than an existential state of mind. His acoustic catalog used to be a space where he could reveal a more gentle, whimsical side. But in his sometimes fraught adjustment to A-list celebrity—with all the publicized fistfights, divorces, shit-talking, and lawsuits that have come with it—White’s conversational writing has, at times, turned more tense and terse. “I want love to/Change my friends to enemies/And show me how it’s all my fault,” he seethes on Blunderbuss’ Love Interruption” like a man scorned, and that wariness would become further entrenched on Lazaretto’s “Entitlement”: “Every time I’m doing what I want to, somebody comes and tells me it’s wrong/Whenever I’m doing just as I please, somebody cuts me down to me knees.”

More than just showcasing his tuneful side, Acoustic Recordings is a shrine to White’s self-sufficiency, in both the musical and ideological senses. After all, White has always been one to take matters into his own hands, whether he’s building guitars from some spare wire and wood, opening his own record press, or ensuring aliens have access to a turntable. And until he can get off this godforsaken planet and join his records in space, Acoustic Recordings stockpiles a great American songbook that can endure even after we’re all forced to live off the grid.