Friday, February 19, 2016

Pazz and Jop 2015

10.  Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA) - "Stanley" should've been a single. 

9. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni) - And nothing less. 

8. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) - A great fortysomething album. Ten anthems about wanting no anthems, no new wave, no cities. Just some good friends, decent weather, and a job to weather The New Gilded Age.

7. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) - The former Das Racist rapper's first non-mixtape sounds disjointed at first. "Flag Shopping" and "Patriot Act" evoke the terror of post-9/11 racism so indelibly that you wonder why the entire album isn't devoted to the theme. But the love songs and virtuosic boasts restore the humanity denied in "Flag Shopping" and "Patriot Act" with everything feeding into an indelible evocation of one gloriously confused soul. All that's missing is a flat-out monster hit and "Pop Song (Games)" is so transcendently stoopid that he should have no problem sneaking up on himself to record one next time out.

6. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop) - No surprise I first encountered (and fell in love with) this Australian avant gardener on NPR for this is the class of NPR rock - well-made and never too hard/formally exciting. She's a helluva rhymer and drops specifics like a seasoned country pro. She does stream of consciousness as well as a young you-know-who. And she's always cognizant of how economics impinge on our every relationship, especially when she's trying to hit on a gal in a public swimming pool: "It's a curse, my lack of athleticism/Sunk like a stone like a first owner's home loan."

5. Future: DS2 (Epic/Free Bandz) - Right, he serves the base. But everyone wants to know if he serves the superstructure as well. (Answer: Of course he does. But how?)

4. Tame Impala: Currents (Interscope) - They need to lay off their Synergy albums and start inhaling some Tantra because a masterpiece like "Let It Happen" deserves to shift on for fifteen or twenty minutes.

3. Le1f: Riot Boi (XL/Terrible) - Finally, Khalif Diouf finds the right unfocus. This is avant-rap as Swatch watch and its phantasmagoria promises years of cataloging.

2. Makaya McCraven: In The Moment (International Anthem) - I don't know from jazz. But these remixed and rendered live recordings rock out at a Tortoise pace, beatier and more repetitive than America's classical music ever gets.  

1. Odwalla88: Earth Flirt (Ooga Booga) - Vinyl only, one side only. 11 songs in 14 minutes, the worst the last at over 3 minutes. Two arty Baltimore gals create skeletal tracks with cut-up poetry, looped vocals, and occasional scuzz guitar. Think Sonic Youth or Big Stick with most of the space carved out. The deadpan voices, looped and not, are at turns haunting and fun. Subjects include lipgloss, purses, blush, how to wire wrap a stone, Holly Hobby, Jack Skelly, and not wanting to do your hair today. The future.

10. Fleur East: "Sax" (Syco) - Not as chorusless as Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" but close enough to make pop radio sound a bit fresher for four minutes. In compensation, we get three middle eights (or is one actually a pre-chorus?). And check out this X-Factor graduate's debut album Love, Sax and Flashbacks which is often too eager to please but has the distinction of featuring not a single ballad.

9. Sakanaction: "Shin Takarajima" (Victor) - I'm at a loss to determine why I've gone absolutely gaga for this alt.rock theme song (translation: "New Treasure Island") to a film adaptation of a manga series called Bakuman. With a vaguely proggish sensationalism, it seems to be in love with its own brilliance as the guitar solo riffs off the koto-like hook and a delayed ending conveys the feeling of not wanting the song to end. The amazing video (which is unavailable on Youtube in the States but try here) parodies an old sketch show and will convince you that you'll never attain such heights of coolness.
8. Taylor Swift: "Style" (Big Machine/Republic) - I admit that it took the Superfruit/Pentatonix boys for me to hear the majesty of the chorus through the neon noir production. But once there, it became clear that this was her most assured and mature work yet with the auteur getting as horny as the listener. Special thanks to whatever machine allowed her to sing the "take me home" section so powerfully

7. Keith Ape featuring A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfoundead and Waka Flocka Flame: "It G Ma Remix" (Hi-Lite) - A Korean/American collaboration/miracle that would sit at #2 today for the way it pulls off that spare-yet-busy trick. Even slower and more irritating than the Future album but way more fun with all sorts of clanking sound effects and recessed hollers to keep you dumbfounded. If you can resist shouting out hook of the year "Orca ninjas go Rambo!" 400 times a day, you are a stronger soul than me. 

6. Travi$ Scott: "Antidote" (Grand Hustle/Epic) - The Houston rapper suffocates himself willingly in weed clouds as several different messages in a bottle wash up on shore in lazy surf. Each verse has its own unique identity (with the second a masterpiece of changing same) and would throw everything off balance were it not for a luded-out Lee Fields sample holding it all together. A track with no windows but many doors.

5. Macy Rodman: "Lazy Girl" (self-released) - Wow! Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) has it own soundtrack now! Rodman is a transgender woman who documents a trans reality with high humor - avoiding the work that goes into getting ready for the public sphere in the hopes you're not misgendered (or worse). She certainly didn't avoid work on this track which gets busy in dance, dream, and exhausted rap modes.

4. Odwalla 88: "What The" (Vague Reference) - And Věra Chytilová's Daisies has a new soundtrack! Their greatest hit. Check it out here.

3. Years & Years: "Shine" (Polydor/Interscope) - Stuart Murdoch's twee-as-fuck film version of God Help the Girl was so winning, so mouth-foamingly irresistible that the principals were bound to do something remarkable on their own. But lead art dork Olly Alexander is savvy enough to know there's no longevity in twee. So he hires Greg Kurstin, formerly of Geggy Tah and currently enjoying the spoils of his co-credit on Adele's "Hello," to doctor up this song for his new wavey dance outfit and aims right for the top of the charts (almost got there too as it stalled at number two in the UK). The result is a pop formalist's delight - wordless hooks as mnemonic devices, soul amped in the second pre-chorus, a middle eight which cuts the second chorus in half. Worth every gotdang point.

2. Naomi Elizabeth: “The Topic is Ass” (self-released) - Where once the bird was the word, now the topic is ass. Ms. Elizabeth does something of the impossible here - she rejuvenates swear words in an era of overuse by accessing a child's misuse of them ("What’s the ass that runs the country?/The President of Ass!") and comes up with a nonsense classic in the process. And what music would score this project most appropriately? Why, an electroclash update of "Baby Wants to Ride," of course!

1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz: “Downtown” (Macklemore LLC) - This musical-number-cum-pop-smash could have reached Michael Jackson levels of universality if Mack & Lewis hadn't made think piece fodder out of race and privilege and sexuality. So go ahead and resist it. The rest of us will stretch out our arms in an orgy of community formation along with secret weapon Eric Nally - a nicer but even dorkier version of that dude wielding nunchucks in Ghost World with the rare capacity to be hilarious and beautiful at the same time. He's my favorite person in the universe while the song's playing. Video of the year too, duh. 

1. Odwalla88: Earth Flirt (Ooga Booga)
2. Makaya McCraven: In The Moment (International Anthem)
3. Le1f: Riot Boi (XL/Terrible)
4. Tame Impala: Currents (Interscope)
5. Future: DS2 (Epic/Free Bandz)
6. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop)
7. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
8. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
9. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni)
10. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA)

1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz: “Downtown” (Macklemore LLC)  
2. Naomi Elizabeth: “The Topic is Ass” (self-released)
3. Years + Years: "Shine" (Polydor/Interscope)
4. Odwalla 88: "What The" (Vague Reference)
5. Macy Rodman: "Lazy Girl" (self-released)
6. Travi$ Scott: "Antidote" (Grand Hustle/Epic)
7. Keith Ape featuring A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfoundead and Waka Flocka Flame: "It G Ma Remix" (Hi-Lite) 
8. Taylor Swift: "Style" (Big Machine/Republic)
9. Sakanaction: "Shin Takarajima" (Victor)
10. Fleur East: "Sax" (Syco)

I forgot:
Svantana: "Working as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar" (self-released)
Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams: "WTF (Where They From)" (Goldmind/Atlantic)
Lil Mama: "Sausage" (WorldStarHipHop) 
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Janet Jackson: Unbreakable (Rhythm Nation/BMG) 


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Should We Say

Click here for Jia Tolentino's "What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?" about the 15-year-old "child groupie" Maddox whom Bowie de-virginized 43 years ago. Maddox declines to call it rape and Tolentino brilliantly traces the historical disconnect that has some minds sprinting towards nomenclature.

"There’s a sense right now of a watershed: because of new language, newly open channels, and new consensus on what constitutes abuse, once-beloved men are being exposed on what feels like a weekly basis for having taken sexual advantage of less powerful women." But Tolentino is opposed to the idea "that it’s a critical dodge to even bring up the fact that we’re talking about the 1970s" and then quotes a Facebook post of Rebecca Solnit's on how the mores of that decade really were different:

"The dregs of the sexual revolution were what remained, and it was really sort of a counterrevolution (guys arguing that since sex was beautiful and everyone should have lots everything goes and they could go at anyone; young women and girls with no way to say no and no one to help them stay out of harmful dudes’ way). The culture was sort of snickeringly approving of the pursuit of underage girls (and the illegal argument doesn’t carry that much weight; smoking pot is also illegal; it’s about the immorality of power imbalance and rape culture). It was completely normalized. Like child marriage in some times and places. Which doesn’t make it okay, but means that, unlike a man engaged in the pursuit of a minor today, there was virtually no discourse about why this might be wrong. It’s also the context for what’s widely regarded as the anti-sex feminism of the 1980s: those women were finally formulating a post-sexual-revolution ideology of sex as another arena of power and power as liable to be abused; we owe them so much."

She quotes Solnit further (this time from her collection The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness) about this sea change in mores, a shift one can feel in contemporaneous pop music, e.g., The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes":

"For San Francisco in particular and for California generally, 1978 was a notably terrible year, the year in which the fiddler had to be paid for all the tunes to which the counterculture had danced. The sexual revolution had deteriorated into a sort of free-market free-trade ideology in which all should have access to sex and none should deny access."

And Tolentino's pungent conclusion:

"The persistence of that reality—that we learn to have sex not in a utopia but within and around whatever norms we are presented with—is why it matters that things were different in the ’70s. It is possible to say that there don’t ever need to be any other Lori Maddoxes without saying that there never were. It is possible for me to read all the rape stories in my inbox and still know with certainty that something enormous is different—and, that acknowledging that is the only way to credit the second-wave women who forced that change with rhetorical fervor that girls now would find insane. It’s because of them that we have both the words to identify power and, now, the freedom to do so more ambivalently. It’s their stringency that spared me from having to know how I would have played it if I’d grown up at a time when there was no vocabulary to separate a party girl from a body for the taking, when grown men said fair game at the age of 13.

It is Maddox who interests me, in the end, not Bowie. But if there’s an argument for labeling Bowie a rapist that gets me, it’s how much I owe to the inflexible spirit that calls for it. Look, what a miracle; we are talking about this, when out of all the interviews Bowie gave in his life, he seems to never have been asked on the record about Maddox or any of the other “baby groupies,” or to have said a thing about Wanda Nichols after the case was dismissed."

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Amazing piece on the prosperity gospel

Click here for a gorgeously written piece called "Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me" by Kate Bowler, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. It concerns how a cancer diagnosis dovetails with her research on the prosperity gospel. Some choice lines:

"Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith."

"One of the prosperity gospel’s greatest triumphs is its popularization of the term “blessed.”...Blessed is a loaded term because it blurs the distinction between two very different categories: gift and reward. It can be a term of pure gratitude. “Thank you, God. I could not have secured this for myself.” But it can also imply that it was deserved. “Thank you, me. For being the kind of person who gets it right.” It is a perfect word for an American society that says it believes the American dream is based on hard work, not luck...This is America, where there are no setbacks, just setups. Tragedies are simply tests of character."

"The prosperity gospel holds to this illusion of control until the very end. If a believer gets sick and dies, shame compounds the grief. Those who are loved and lost are just that — those who have lost the test of faith...There is no graceful death, no ars moriendi, in the prosperity gospel. There are only jarring disappointments after fevered attempts to deny its inevitability.

The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go."

"But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard."

"This is surely an American God, and as I am so far from home, I cannot escape him." 

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978)

Interiors is full of corny, English 101 symbolism and characters who talk endlessly about not wanting to talk. Middlebrow doesn't get much more middle than this.

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