Listening to Leonard Cohen's posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, feels like driving to the edge of the earth.

Maybe to Montauk, or maybe to the end of the mind, reaching Wallace Stevens' palm tree with its fiery bird signifying the very edge of life, the point where this world meets the others.

Cohen made the songs on Thanks for the Dance (which was compiled and released by his son) while on the edge between death and life. It's as poetic and mystical as you would expect from the late bard, whose songbook includes "Hallelujah" and "Bird on the Wire," among others. In some ways, it's ugly—his voice is so low, almost painfully hoarse—but Cohen was never one to shy away from the ugly or the lost. Instead, he made his life out of sitting in the heart of those emotions, the things that most of us block out and fear.

Cohen was famously discontented. He was a perpetual seeker, relentlessly interrogating God and the world around him. What he found at the end of his searching was darkness, but Cohen was always the kind of artist who knew how to find the cracks in that darkness, the strains of light in the unanswerable questions.

As it turned out, there was an ending point to Cohen's seeking. On "Thanks for the Dance," we hear him finally releasing, throwing his hands up to the night. "So turn up the music, pour out the wine. Stop at the surface, a surface is fine," he says. "We don't need to go any deeper." It's a place of acceptance—acceptance that he would never reach the enlightenment or spiritual heights or even the happiness that eluded him.

Jewish Journal

In its darkness, the album is painful and gloriously beautiful at the same time. The magnificent "It's Torn" is simultaneously subdued and euphoric. "The lie in what's holy, the light in what's not," Cohen whispers; it could be an additional lyric to "Hallelujah." "The Goal" ascends even higher; Cohen's stony, subterranean mumblings are shrouded in Flamenco guitar, which flickers through like light through a stained glass window. The lyrics are cathartically hopeless, and listening to that song feels like throwing your arms up and dancing as the world explodes. Or maybe it sounds like singing at the end of your life, which, of course, Cohen was.

On "Puppet," his eyes look outwards, over the wars he witnessed during his life and the wars he saw coming in the distance. "Puppet me / puppet you," he sings. "Puppet German, puppet Jew." A choir enters. "Puppet presidents command / puppet troops to burn the land." At the edge of his life, Cohen saw the insubstantiality of the shadows on the walls. Because he had to write, he gave us something rare: a window into the world beyond those shadows. He spun the unseeable into something we can see, if only in the dark.

Listening to Thanks for the Dance feels like reading a holy, secret text; it's almost too strong to take in all at once, but that was Cohen's way. If there was one thing he did not do, even in death, it was suppress the unquenchable creative force within him, the light that kept burning in spite of everything.

Larry Kramer, AIDS activist and artist, passed away today at 84.

Kramer was known for his books Faggots and The American People, as well as climate-changing plays like The Normal Heart. His close friend and literary executor, William Schwalbe, told CNN that Kramer died of pneumonia."Larry made a huge contribution to our world as an activist but also as a writer," said Schwalbe, who had known Kramer for 57 years. "I believe that his plays and novels, from 'The Normal Heart' to 'The American People' will more than stand the test of time."

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MUSIC

Call It a Comeback: New Music From All Your Nostalgic Favorites

Check out six of this week's returns, reissues, and reunion album announcements.

Harmony Gerber, Getty Images

Among the steady stream of new music that's come out so far in (*Arcade Fire voice*) the month of May, this week brought returns, reissues, and comebacks from some sorely missed artists.

Take a look at six of this week's releases from musical vets who have either returned after spending time out of the public eye, or are simply reinventing their sound.

1. Phantom Planet - "Balisong"

The LA-based indie rock band popularized for writing The OC's theme song are back with a new single, "Balisong," inspired by lead singer Alex Greenwald's obsession with a butterfly knife. This is the "California" group's first new music since their excellent 2008 album, Raise the Dead, the follow-up to 2004's underrated self-titled. Phantom Planet has a new album in the works, but haven't announced an official release date yet. It's safe to say that "Balisong" is a promising preview of what is shaping up to be a tremendous reunion record.

2. Tool - "Descending" and "Invisible" (Not Officially Released)

Tool debuted their first new music in over a decade during their headlining set at Welcome To Rockville. The prog rockers played two new songs, "Descending' and "Invisible," from their upcoming new album. They also officially confirmed the release date for the anticipated new LP, which we now know is due out August 30th, but they haven't disclosed any other details.

3. Blink 182 - "Blame it On My Youth"

The San Diego pop-punk veterans (minus Tom DeLonge, who is trying to prove once and for all that Aliens DO exist as well as releasing new music with Angels & Airwaves) are back with a slightly different sound in a new song called "Blame it On My Youth." This is the first glimpse at their forthcoming album, which is supposed to sound "a lot more aggressive," according to what Mark said in an interview with NME. The three-piece –– made up of Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, and Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba –– are set to go on tour with Lil Wayne this summer.

4. Silversun Pickups - "Freakazoid"

Last month, Silversun Pickups shared the first single, "It Doesn't Matter Why," off of their upcoming album, Widow's Weeds, the follow-up to 2014's Better Nature. This week, the "Lazy Eye" musicians are sharing another glimpse of the album with a slow-burning new track called "Freakazoid." The band's new LP will be released June 7 via New Machine Recordings.


5. Michael Stipe - "Your Capricious Soul" and "Drive to the Ocean" (Not Officially Released)

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe previewed new material while opening for Patti Smith. During the performance, he played three new tracks –– "Your Capricious Soul," "Drive to the Ocean," and an untitled track.

6. Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno - "Like I Was A Spectator"

Brian Eno announced that he will be reissuing and expanding the album he made with Daniel Lanois and his brother Roger Eno, "Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks," for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo II moon landing. This will include 11 new tracks, which will comprise a new album entitled For All Mankind. They promoted the new release with the video for one of the new tracks called "Like I Was A Spectator," which features rare NASA footage. The remastered edition (including the new album) is out July 19th.


Sara is a music and culture writer.


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