Shock & Awe(ful)

So... Death Grips' latest album NO LOVE DEEP WEB is out. I haven't heard more than a couple of the group's older songs and they didn't seem too bad and yeah Zach Hill is in there being awesome as usual but this isn't a review because frankly I haven't listened to the thing. And it's going to stay that way in the future.

If you already know what's under that black square on the .jpg above this, you can probably guess why.

CJ's previous essay "No Homo" touched upon an important point--no one really has control over what offends them or where the line is until they find something that makes them truly uncomfortable. It doesn't have to be a logically consistent thing, it's all rooted in emotion and cultural taboos and other bullshit that don't really make much sense to me most of the time because I am ridiculously hard to offend. Hell, I like things that most would find distasteful in the process of consuming a lot of strange media, and nudity--artistic or otherwise--doesn't even make me blink.

What's objectionable--or not even objectionable per se, just lame--is how these guys are so desperate to wring a visceral reaction out of people that they'd resort to the common pastime of drunken frat dipshits texting pictures of their junk at 2:00 AM. It's not creative, or even all that provocative. It's just fucking lazy.

It's the kind of stunt that's sub-Odd Future or even sub-Insane Clown Posse. And yet the professional music journosphere being full of pretentious cockwads "in on the joke" will heap praise on an album cover featuring a boner with sharpie all over it precisely because it's not from musical bottom feeders in Hot Topic gear trying to rustle the jimmies of suburban housewives, but from a fairly interesting alt-hip hop group that recently signed to Epic and has been getting some good press of late. This kind of shit is beneath them but it will move records, no question, and their riposte to Epic and the ensuing faux-controversy is also such obvious bait that I'd be surprised if there isn't a hooked worm attached. A quote from P.T. Barnum would go here if that wasn't belaboring the point.

Yeah, the irony is thick here. Wasting my time lambasting an a puerile album cover, telling you why it shouldn't deserve the attention that I am already granting it, that it already wants. Played me good, they did. Time may be one thing, but sorry Death Grips. You won't be getting my respect or my money.

Suck my dick.


Swans- The Seer

August 28, 2012; Young God

It's not often that I feel compelled to write a review for a recent album that initially flew under my radar on release--after an album been in circulation a couple of months or more, most of the initial rush and novelty of writing about the contents of said record tapers off. In the rare times I'm spurred to write about music these days it either has to be something relatively hot off the presses or a lost oddity I feel the need to drum up as Something You Need To Hear Now. Everything else rapidly loses its luster.

Not The Seer. This is not one of those records you listen to a couple times and then feel compelled to spit out a load of typical music critic hyperbole for. Most releases that clock in at a daunting two hours or so have that effect, and doubly so when it's from an act that's been making music longer than some of its newer fans have been alive.

When Michael Gira at the tender age of 56 announced that he was bringing Swans back from the dead in 2010 with the emphatic disclaimer “THIS IS NOT A REUNION. It’s not some dumb-ass nostalgia act. It is not repeating the past," I immediately got very excited but also a little hesitant considering Jarboe would not be on a Swans record for the first time since Cop/Young God was released waaaay back in '84. Having regretfully little exposure to both the last few Swans albums or Gira's career in Angels of Light wasn't much help either.

That was okay because My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (Jesus that's a long title I am not typing that out again) was largely a clean break. It didn't sound like the churning black sludge of their infamous '80s period that gave breath to the careers of myriad lesser acts--my favorite Swans era, incidentally. It didn't sound like the more melodic Goth-inflected records after that or the more streamlined psych-rock of The Great Annihilator. It wasn't a continuation of Angels of Light's dark folk direction either. It contained elements of all but was decidedly none of them. And it was great yet at 44 minutes, strangely unfulfilling. Not in the usual late-career mediocrity sort of way but I was seriously worried that this short burst of new Swans material would be a last gasp of creativity before Gira got bored and decided to fold it again.

Two years later and we get a double LP. Well played.

The Seer is just as big a break from the slightly more song-oriented My Father... as My Father... was from previous Swans albums. It's got all the darkness, minimalism, and dissonance of the '80s material but the focus is outward, more expansive and spiritual. Barked declarations of self-hating depravity are abandoned and Gira intones shamanic mantras like Nick Cave on peyote (that is far more positive than it sounds). The industrial vibe is also long gone--the credits reveal a kitchen sink of instruments ranging from lap steel to bassoon but, refreshingly these days, not a single obvious keyboard in sight.

The songs often stretch for post rock-like lengths."The Seer," "Piece of the Sky," and closer "The Apostate" at 32:14, 19:10 and 23:01 respectively are frigging epochs containing naturalistic expanses of organic ambience, guitar vamps, bursts of noise, tribal seances, and even a sardonic ballad midway through "Piece of the Sky" where an otherwise self-consciously grimdark line like "As the sun fucks the dawn" takes on a wry wit coming from Gira's wizened croon.

The shorter pieces are no less memorable. "The Seer Returns" has Jarboe returning for a truly spellbinding performance with an oddly catchy, bluesy shuffle despite its eerie apocalyptic aura. Taking up the WTF Cameo Spot from Devandra Banhart on My Father...'s "You Fucking People Make Me Sick," Karen O shows up with a surprisingly sweet and gentle vocal turn on "Song for a Warrior." Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low add their chanted vocals to the madness dance of "Lunacy," rivaled only by "The Daughter Brings the Water" for sheer skin-crawling effectiveness.

And then there's "Avatar," which simply defies description other than to say it effortlessly achieves the kind of effect that late-period Tool seems to be striving for minus any sense of that band's goofy pretension, or maybe a more subdued Neurosis. The teacher returns to school the young'uns, and it's easily the centerpiece of the record.

I've dropped all 120 minutes of The Seer twenty times since it came out and every time I hear something new. If that's not a hallmark for Album of the Year material, I dunno what is. Yet what would be a fitting epitaph to the careers of many long running, less creative bands is but one more marker here. Gira says it will not be the last of New Swans.

Fuck yes.



Some Thoughts on Metal, Distribution and Culture

One of the things I've noticed about my music listening habits is that I don't listen to very much metal at all anymore, and scantly any from this current decade-I doubt that I have more than 5 albums from the last 2 years in my entire collection. Considering how rapacious I used to be about listening to as much metal as I possibly could from all its myriad scenes and subgenres, that's saying quite a bit. I think there might be a couple of reasons for this, and both of them are  directly related to cost and competition. 

First of all, I simply don't have as much money as I used to. I recently moved to Brooklyn (hence the dearth of updates) and I'm living on my own without a steady cache of money I can go to to purchase new albums for the first time in my life(which is not to say that I mooched off my parents, but having a job while living at home leaves one with a fair amount of disposable income). For those of you asking "why should that be any obstacle?" you should know that my stance on free downloading is that I only find it permissible when the artist has given their explicit permission or the release has been out of print/will remain out of print for a considerable length of time. Also, it may sound strange to hear for those of you not familiar with both areas, but there isn't a record store anywhere in New York that I've been able to find that has both the breadth of selection and price range that Amoeba, my go-to record store back in California, used to have. The result is that even when I do manage to make it into one I usually can't find any metal, or if I can it's of the Converge/Isis/Agalloch variety, and more often than not at full retail price. Not that there's anything wrong with so-called "thinking-man's metal," as I count albums from all of the above bands as some of my very favorites, but by God a man needs his meat and potatoes every once and a while and I'll be damned if I've seen nary an Immolation or even a Megadeth CD the entire time I've been here.

The second reason is closely tied to the first, and that is that, as stated, I don't have very much money anymore, and other genres of music-namely hip-hop and electronic-are particularly tuned to the interests of budget-minded, college-age students these days, with some fantastic new mixtape being released every week and a slew of MP3s coming out every single day. They're both genres that, by nature, foster a sense that music should be not only readily available to, but creatable by, the average man and so to some degree it makes sense that they would be able to so easily eclipse their contemporaries in terms of available, cost-effective music. 

That stated, it's not so much that I don't have the time for metal anymore as much as the resources. I'd certainly be devoting as much time to it as I do to hip-hop and electronic music if metal had some sort of equivalent to the mixtape or the gratis single, but for whatever reason-maybe due to the effort needed to create it, maybe due to its status as an already niche, generally unpopular genre of music-metal doesn't lend itself as easily to being cheap and easily attainable as the previously mentioned other genres. Sites like MetalSucks and Decibel will occasionally offer a free album stream but good Lord, I don't want to listen to metal while sitting in front of my computer. I listen to it when I'm walking around, exercising, bringing things to bear in the dead of night. Even the greatest metal album isn't going to inspire what it should while wafting out of my laptop speakers at 128kbps. 

It may seem unfair to ask a genre, particularly one that needs as much support from its fans as it does to thrive, to essentially give me something for nothing, but as a ravenous consumer of music of all different genres, metal's relative lack of availability in the 2010s has or more or less knocked my attention away from it. The sad truth is that today's listener needs music placed in front of them in a way that much of the metal industry and creative community has been unwilling or unable to do. Maybe it's a situation that has more to do with my individual listening habits than any kind of seriously widespread problem, but for someone with as wide a palate as mine, more and more I find my appetite being sated elsewhere. I believe that metal has the ability to not only keep up with but elevate music culture from an artistic position; whether it'll be able to do so from a distribution position remains dubious and, to my mind, worrying.



Baroness- Yellow & Green

July 17, 2012; Relapse

If there's anything that'll seriously rankle metal elitists, it's any suggestion that one of their favorite bands is getting bored with having to be pigeonholed as metal. Blame the wave of extreme (and not unjustified) butthurt following Metallica's descent into Bob Rock-produced commercially viable hard rock--for a long time after that sordid episode, metal bands were largely scared shitless of showing any inclination of going soft, even as they tried to quietly incorporate more melody and depth into their sonic formula. However as a new wave of fanbase have discovered (or rediscovered) metal--a combination of mature adults who came back to the primal thrills of the genre after leaving it sometime after their adolescence, and younger hipsters who namecheck shoegaze-glazed black metal and sludgy riff throwbacks in the same paragraph as prime-era Sabbath and Motorhead--and have largely shoved the old loud/fast/heavy-at-all-times "authenticity" requirement to the wayside, a lot of bands have loosened up and started experimenting a bit more or branched out under different monikers to explore this outlet.

This is largely a good thing, but the outcomes are predictably uneven. Sometimes the results are great, sometimes outright terrible, but more often than not they are simply lukewarm. Opeth's recent retro-prog direction comes to mind. So do Baroness' Athens, GA peers Mastodon.  

Now I realize that our blog named Crack the Skye as one of the best albums of the 2000's, and I'm not here to argue with that judgment. But for me it marks the point where one of my favorite bands started jumping cartilaginous fish, and they were already seriously testing my goodwill with some of Blood Mountain's proggy digressions and goofy lyrics. I didn't like Crack the Skye at all, and I disliked 2011's The Hunter with its milquetoast-yet-trying-hard-to-be-quirky Adult Swim metal angle even more. Perhaps the reason for this was that they had lost their prior gifts in the process of leaving their tech/sludge roots behind, or they had just defined their niche so well that trying to branch out was bound to gut their sonic impact in some way. Whatever. Wasn't feeling it.

So when there was talk in interviews with lead guitarist/vocalist John Baizley of expanding Baroness' Southern-fried hybrid of classic Thin Lizzy-esque metal with a twist of sludge and punk into new territory, I was getting pretty suspicious that the band might lose it and that the special sauce that made both Red Album and Blue Record two of the best guitar-centric albums in the past few years was not going to be in evidence. AND on top of that it was going to be a double album, a classic sign of either supreme self-indulgence or throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks (often both).

I needn't have worried.

Yes, at 75 minutes and two discs, Yellow & Green is a bit lengthy at first go. And nothing here has quite the intensity of "Isak" or the instant earworm quality of half of Blue Record. But if this somehow qualifies as a disappointment (and yes there's already been a fair amount of backlash), then I can't fucking wait to hear what a failure from this band would sound like because Yellow & Green lands easily in best of the year turf. Period. Full stop.

If you liked Blue Record you'll feel right at home with Yellow, as it's a pretty organic progression of that album's excellent embrace of melody and hooks with meaty riffs and the best twin-guitar attack you'll hear today. Yet there's plenty of new tricks here, showcased to winning form with the best song on the release, "Eula"--a sweeping near-ballad that exudes the kind of murky grandeur that Mastodon used to excel in and features a bracing vocal performance from Baizley, who has tamed his midrange bellow into a fiercely emotive, sometimes multi-tracked instrument this time around. Then you have "March to the Sea," a quasi-rewrite of my favorite jam from Blue "The Sweetest Curse," this time backed with what sounds like cello (!)--a kickass combination. "Cocainium" starts with some dreamy keyboard-driven ambience and stretches out with ghostly vocals and a driving pulse courtesy of underrated drummer Allen Blickle. "Take My Bones Away" is the obvious single, both massively catchy and extremely dynamic it makes for a strong point of entry.

I'll bet the heavily instrumental and almost-jammy second half Green will inspire a lot of heated arguments over where this band is headed and whether it'll be any good, but you can lay that bitching to rest for the time being because if there's anyone out there that can make this kind of material more compelling right now, I've yet to hear them. "Green Theme" and "Stretchmarker" are staggeringly beautiful journeys that would render any attempt at words extraneous, leading into introspective anthems "Board Up the House" and "The Line Between" respectively which both fill that role admirably. From there Green does lose a bit of momentum but "Collapse" and "Psalms Alive" with their strains of psychedelia throw a welcome curveball, and the short yet melancholic and powerful "Foolsong" has the best lyrics on the album from a band that doesn't get nearly enough attention for penning some great ones, even outside the admittedly low bar set in metal.

Unlike many other transitional albums from metal bands moving out of their former element, there's nothing that Baroness does on Yellow & Green that sounds tentative or half-assed in any way. It sounds like the music they've always wanted to play, without betraying their previous works in the least. If this is the album that launches them into the realm of household name, it couldn't have been a better one.

Forget Mastodon--these are the Georgians you need to keep tabs on.



Movie Monday! #4: Making-This-Quick-Because-I'm-Packing-For-New-York Edition

I'm moving to Brooklyn and don't really have the time to write a bunch of movie reviews right now because I'm packing. Please enjoy the severely underrated kung-fu gem and Wu-Tang Clan inspiration Eight Diagram Pole Fighter in its entirety, in lieu of my musings this week. The kills at the end are some of the best in movie history.




Madvillain - Accordion

After a few stoned nights trying to freestyle with friends it occurs to me that Doom is showing off here. As he crafts a vague picture of the king of gangsters his rhyme scheme slips in and out of wild complexity in a way that only the most virtuosic could do with any style, and it's presented such a laid back ease as if he saying "this ain't even shit for me, I write this in my sleep." He starts by rhyming "ticks faster" with "sick blaster" leaning back on a half rhyme, mid line "Dick Dasterdly" (a 1960's cartoon reference) and right onto "sick laughter" and "mix master" before finally handing off to another sound. From there it's "E cold" to "be old" rhymed with "three fold" to another mid line half rhyme "he sold scrolls" straight into "behold" and then "story told". At this point he puts in third mid line rhyme "glory gold" but the end of the line starts the next sound, as if the "be old" rhyme was tagging off in boxing match. He meanders in off beat rhymes, twisting them around like they're toys, even pulling self-indulgent winks like rhyming "Freudian" with "accordion" while dropping his act and slipping into playful couplets. It reminds me of old painters needing to craft a masterful self portrait to show their skills for entry into a guild. But Doom needs no such acceptance because he's well aware that he's in a league all his own.

Belle and Sebastian - Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying

The first stanza was always a counter to arguments that this band was just empty sentimentality, when they are, in fact, harsh bitterness cloaked in sardonic catchiness. This song spews tails about the young scottish hipsters, how they seem so alive and happy and good looking and how the world is going to hit the like a fucking truck. "Think of it this way you could either be successful or be us". A take on the young beautiful/doomed theme, sure, but you start to get the sense that he doesn't even think him and his peers are all that beautiful, that he hates everyone, that his catchiness and good looks, that his smile is purely to mock you.

Evian Christ - Fuck It None of Y'all Rap

Taking hip-hop out of context and making it feel lost, alone. Floating in an empty space of loneliness and letting it flail. But of course, still with a heavy hitting beat pounding on your head, perfect for the car stereos late at night, to creep out the hoodlums roaming the streets of your neighborhood. They should know better.

Drive Like Jehu - Here Come The Rome Plows

Sometimes, as young kids in america, we forget how angry we should be. Especially now, as everything is telling us to be complacent, to not mosh as concerts because it's vulgar and our friends will get kicked and annoyed, when every raging liberal we know is more concerned with the nomenclature for various sexual identities than they are concerned with actually helping curb the oppression. We forget that people are being killed and crushed economically. We forget that our forests are being leveled and our concert venues are being raided by police. We forget that we are no longer allowed to sleep in the woods when we want to, to sit on our sidewalks or go to our public parks past 11. We forget that it takes the first one hundred hours of work at our minimum wage jobs just to pay rent on our tiny sublets, and we don't get sick days. And even at that we are the lucky ones, so many have it so much worse. That we just live our lives everyday with this knowledge. We forget that we are angry, angry, angry, angry, raging.

Burial - Kindred

Today there were thunderstorms in new york city and we live mixed them with this track.



Disposable Music

A few years ago me and my younger sister were crashing on the couch of a Harvard Graduate student in Cambridge. Though he was a remarkably accommodating host, he didn't have much time to show us around this unfamiliar as most of his time was committed to research and writing papers. I remember reclining in his living room reading some Wilde stories I had found on his shelf and hearing a stream of shuffled indie pop/folk/etc flow out of his room where he hunched over his desk. It was delightful. I had recently discovered the sugary joys of the New Pornographers and Apples in Stereo, not to mention a still constant flow of deeply effecting bands like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and The Shins, and found myself sitting there thinking, Damn, this stuff is amazing. There is so much wonderful indie pop in the world, I could just listen to it all the time, forget everything else. Look at how interesting and tuneful all of these sounds coming out of his stereo are. I listened closer. Occasionally I'd recognize something, So Says I and Young Folks, and more often I knew enough to place a band without having really listened to them before, Devotchka, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but most of the time they were the kind of unimportant but delightful bands that swarmed the scene at the time.

And through this closer listening I realized that most of the music coming out of his speakers was not that good. Most of it was derivative and catchy in an uninteresting way. Each song would use an instrument in a way I hadn't previously heard, sure, but had none of the power and depth of the great songs of the genre. There would be no, say, "Seeing Other People" or "I Woke Up Today". These songs were great, and the mix was superb, but they were disposable.

One blizzard and three days later I get back to New York and sit down to make a tape of indie pop songs that would be as amazing to listen too as the MA student's, but with only incredible songs. Only songs with the catchiness and the orchestrative playfulness but also containing incredible depth and power. Only the "I Am Warm + Powerful"s and "Death By Misadventure"s of the world. And I realized that I couldn't do it.  All told I had maybe ten or fifteen albums of indie pop that I loved wholeheartedly and to make this flow of music I would need so much more than that. And that perhaps the brilliance of the Cambridge mix outshone the dullness of each of its tracks individually. It created an emotion and continuity that couldn't be gained by a list of unique and striking songs. Perhaps the whole was greater than its parts.

This was the first time I ever understood the benefit of disposable music, worth in a scene that goes beyond worth in individual bands. This is perhaps a particularly internet age phenomena as previously mixes took hours to make, not to mention the expense of buying so many records in order to create this wash of music. Now with internet streaming and shuffle it's a natural way of hearing this. And it opens up worlds.

The ambient music scene is buzzing (/pun) like it never has previously, if there even ever was an ambient scene before. And though I doubt I could point you to many individuals that have blown my mind (besides, perhaps, Sean McCann and Noveller ) a quick stroll though bandcamp or youtube will show you few stand outs but and incredible wave of music that could bring wonder and definition to every summer afternoon. The same holds uniquely true for the worlds of dubbed out bass music and instrumental hip hop beats and free mix tapes, and certainly of the streams of violent garage bands and surf rockers and synth-pop textureists swarming the Brooklyn scene today.

It goes almost exactly against the Post-Punk ideal of forward forward forward and, at the end of the day, you probably won't be finding things that change your life. But with everything going on in the United States underground music oceans these days I've found brilliance in the whole what I couldn't find in its parts.


Oh no Animal Collective oh my God what have you done

Jesus Christ in heaven this is some impossibly horrible album art. Good God I can't even believe a human being created this and put it on the cover of something. I can sort of believe that Animal Collective would approve it since they seem like the kind of people who would be like "this is horrible which is why I like it," but that doesn't excuse whoever made this thing. Nothing can excuse that person. That person poured acid in a child's eyes, from a beaker, so you know that they didn't just trip while holding a box of acid. You know it wasn't an accident, that which caused that little girl's tortured shrieks. They wanted that child's eyes to melt and seep down her chubby little cheeks in puddles of searing ocular fluid and they should go to jail.

I guess that's the long and short of it, is that whoever drew this should go to jail. Maybe not for a very long time, maybe even just a low-security prison. I'm not even saying this should be taken off the stands because your right as an American is to make any stupid and horrible thing you want to as long as it doesn't cause any direct harm to a person. Although even that is debatable because I might have to kill myself after acknowledging that this is an image that could belong on a CD cover. Is that murder? It should be considered murder. Forget what I said before, I'm going to kill myself and the person who made this is responsible and they should be put on death row. Lethal injection. You made the cover for Centipede Hz and you need to die for it. It is the only correct action available to us, in this world that was previously painted in shades of grey. No longer. Centipede Hz is wrong and its creator should be punished under a just society.

I can't even get over this a little bit. Do you ever look at Something Awful's Photoshop Phriday? This is what a Goon would make if the subject was, like, "Deakin is insanely cranky about being left off of Merriweather Post Pavilion and takes his awful revenge." Did Deakin do this? That would make sense, he always seemed like he might do something like this. I mean, I think we all knew this was a possibility, that an indie group would come up with sleeve art that would make even the most egregious Pog blush with discomfort, the same way the men who worked on the Manhattan Project were aware of what an atom bomb would do to a human body, but nobody...nobody could have prepared themselves for this. This is what it must be like to have your arm torn off on a roller coaster. Deep in the back of your mind you always knew that there was the vaguest chance that it could happen, but the pain is as sudden as it is unbearable and in an instant all probabilities disintegrate and reform as moaning ghosts to weave the fabric of horror that your life has turned into and "vaguest chance" becomes "inescapable nightmare." The cover of Centipede Hz is an inescapable nightmare, is the point I'm trying to get across.

You know how sometimes you'll be talking to someone at work that you thought was an alright guy, and then he says something like "I think reverse-racism is the real problem in America today" and you just suddenly want him to lose his job? Not even that so much but to take his job from him, somehow? I want Animal Collective's careers after seeing this album art. I want their children to go hungry, I want the heads of their fathers hung low in shame. I want a formal apology: "We, the men of Animal Collective, apologize for making you look at this for even a second. We had the power to make sure not a lot of people looked at this and we did the opposite by making you look at it, and we can never undo the damage caused by that decision, but we can offer our most sincere condolences for the mental trauma that acknowledging the reality of the cover of Centipede Hz has undoubtedly caused you."

In conclusion, this is the worst image imaginable and I am a worse person for having looked at it, as are you all. Fuck you, Animal Collective. Fuck you for what you have turned us into.


(when not humorously overblowing the mental consequences of terrible album art, I also write the webcomic Boys and Girls in America)


Movie Monday #3: All Prometheus Edition (SPOILERS)


2012; Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba; directed by Ridley Scott

So the numbers are in and not a whole hell of a lot of you took too kindly to Prometheus, relatively speaking. #2 two weekends in a row isn't the kind of success rate that a major blockbuster wants, certainly not one tied to one of the most beloved science fiction films in history. It's a difficult thing for me to parse out, personally, since I thought it was the most important sci-fi movie to come out this decade, but I think it might have a lot to do with expectations. That's not exactly a novel observation where this movie is concerned, but let me explain.

I went to Prometheus with my brother and his assessment of it was that it was fair-to-middling. His reasoning behind this mostly concerned some lazy scripting errors: How the crew of the Prometheus doesn't check the camera feed to see what might have happened to two of their crewmates still stuck down in the ruins, how those same crewmates seem to conveniently forget that they have a map with them that they can use to get out of the ruins, how...well, this Penny Arcade comic does the best job of explaining this one. And so on and so forth. All valid complaints, all notable gaffes that in some way detract from the movie. And with almost any other film, I would have agreed with him that such bungling would make for significant marks against the movie.

Where I think Prometheus skews away from most other sci-fi films in this regard is that it has much, much more going on underneath the surface, to the point that most of the philosophy that one would refer to as being subtextual can probably just go ahead and be referred to as textual. There's already been so much discussed about the themes of childbirth and parricide, how the movie exists as a kind of metaphor for filial aggression. I want to talk about something else.

I want to talk about predators.

There is, to my mind, one message of the movie that comes through even ahead of the stuff about killing your parents and killing your children. Near the end of the film, David quips "Sometimes in order to create, you must first destroy." I think the point of the movie is something a little bit different: We create in order to destroy. Every character in the movie exists to die, or to become an agent of death. The crew of the Prometheus arrives seeking answers, only to awaken long-sleeping weapons of mass destruction. Was this the intention of the Engineers, the purpose outlined for humanity shown on the cave paintings at the beginning of the movie? We don't know; the creature attempts to kill David and the rest of the crew before shambling off to deliver his cache of horror to Earth.

Answers are, at every turn, denied. What did the paintings mean? What were the Aliens created to do, specifically? Was the planet really a military institution, or something even more significant? How did the one Engineer manage to survive when the rest of his colleagues were killed? Why was man made in the first place?

"Why do you hate us so much?"


"Hate" is, of course, not entirely accurate. They have to kill the humans because killing is what you do to things you create. You raise animals to feed upon them. You make bombs to detonate them. You drive a car until you don't, and then you turn it into scrap. They made us and now it's time for us to go away, because that's the kind of decision you get to make when you build something. And it's worth noting that the rule works for the humans too: Elizabeth gives birth to a monster and she, ultimately, gets to use the monster to her own ends, much how despite all his resentment and attempts at sabotage, David is still, by movie's end, a thing to be used. It's a film with about the bleakest mindset I've seen in a major film in years: It posits that man, regardless of their ambitions, is not free from the driving principle of the universe, which is that one lives only and specifically to die.

People went into Prometheus expecting a sci-fi horror movie and instead they got a philosophical treatise about the cosmic, unstoppable death march that is the human experience. You went in being told that you should look to the left while everything of note was going on to the right. Divorced from its hype and marketing, Prometheus may come to be regarded as a truly important movie and, possibly, among the most vital of Ridley Scott's handful of masterpieces. Some movies will be honest with you; very few will tell you to be honest with yourself.

One final note.

Right before the credits, we see the emergence of what is presumably the first Alien to exist. My mom and brother wrote that final scene off as being something the studio stuck in to concretely tie the movie to the Alien franchise. That's probably what it was in practical terms, but I saw it as something more. I don't think it was an accident that we are introduced to the cosmos' greatest killer directly after Elizabeth narrates "My name is Elizabeth, and I'm still searching." We are not only being shown what she has left behind; we are being shown what her travels will always, eventually, lead her to.

Death will come for you until it doesn't have to anymore, and it will get better at what it does until it doesn't have to anymore. All paths, all journeys, lead to the maw of an ultimate predator, one that is without empathy and, most tellingly, without sight. For death, like justice, is blind.


(Besides thinking about movies a lot of people didn't particularly enjoy, CJ also writes the webcomic Boys and Girls in America)



No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


Here's a picture of a person.

This guy is dead. He played guitar really well, he irrevocably changed the course of popular music from now 'til doomsday, he was a prolific lover and by all accounts a really sweet guy, and forty two years ago he took too many pills and drank too much wine and died. He's not on earth anymore and he's never going to be here again, because that's what it means to be dead. It means you're not alive anymore and you can't be alive anymore.

Here's a picture of another person.

This guy is dead. He sang in a way that inspired a lot of vocalists that came after him, he defined a lot of the poetic attributes that have come to be associated with psychedelia, he was sort of a strange fellow that never really seemed comfortable even as he reached the peak of his success, and forty one years ago something happened that nobody is quite sure of, and he died. He can't breathe anymore and he can't walk anymore and he certainly can't sing anymore. That's what happens when life leaves your body.

We, and by we I mean people, have a big problem with letting things go, and we also have a big problem with assigning dollar worth to intangibles. Technology has developed in such a way that the music industry has been able to create a new avenue of exploiting both of these flaws, by computer engineering a method of putting a gas tank in a corpse and throwing Christmas lights on top of it for purposes of a stage performance. You couldn't have asked Philip K. Dick himself to paint a bleaker, more cynical future of the entertainment industry.

A man approaches you and says that if you give him some money, he'll let you see your dead father again. If you talk to him he won't talk back to you, you can't touch him, but the thing that you're looking at will move like him and sound like him and if you're lucky, for a minute, you might feel like you're spending a moment with the man who raised you. You're not-he's dead and he can't come back-but this thing may lead you to imbibe a moment of connection because, on the surface, it's similar to something you're familiar with and something that means a lot to you.

A man approaches you and says that if you give him some money, he'll let you see your favorite performer. There will be no lungs in his form to sing from and if you throw something at him it will pass through the image that your eyes have trained you to register as a human body, but the thing you're looking at will move like him and sound like him and if you're lucky, for a minute, you might feel like you're in the presence of the artist who has most inspired you. You're not-he's dead and he can't come back-but this thing you're looking at may lead you to imbibe a moment of awe because, on the surface, it's similar to something you're familiar with and something that means a lot to you.

A thing, by any conceivable standard, is not a person. Jimi Hendrix can go on stage and play the guitar and preform for you. A hologram of Jimi Hendrix may be able to present a reasonably convincing facsimile of such but it is at best an afterglow of a person who has not been alive for almost half of a century and at worst a mockery of one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. And it is a mockery because buying a ticket to see a hologram of Jimi Hendrix is a signal that you care about what he represented more than what he was, that the idea of him is more important than who he was as a human being. And it makes you forget that he was a person at all, that the sounds heard on Are You Experienced? or Band of Gypsies did not spring fully-formed from a mystical sonic womb but were composed and created and preformed by men like you and me, with fingers and throats and minds to guide them. And that's exactly what they want; the companies can sell you the music but they can't sell you the man himself. Or at least, they didn't used to be able to.

This is happening. We didn't really know it was happening when they produced a synthetic Tupac Shakur and paraded him through the desert; some of us were able to fool ourselves into believing that it would be a vulgar one-time stunt with no hope for marketable longevity. But what we have told the record companies, in overwhelming numbers, is that a person's visage matters more than their material, as long as it is a man that we have some fond connection towards. We have said that the content of an action matters so much less than the representation of such. We have told them that we are fine with memories of things that never happened, and that nostalgia is as good or better than the experience that inspired it in the first place.

We have embraced the dreams, and forsaken the dreamers.



El-P- Cancer for Cure

May 22, 2012; Fat Possum Records

"I should have stayed asleep, waking up can get you killed"

... so a lot has happened since El Producto's last album, 2007's mighty opus I'll Sleep When You're Dead. A new President in the White House. The war in Iraq coming to an end (more or less). A financial crash and worldwide recession that still has everyone in a slump four years later. Bin Laden's death.  And Def Jux going on hiatus in 2010, just as a new and promising wave of hip-hop stumbled onto the scene.

Five years later, though, and most of the ol' bullshit is still hanging over our heads--Orwellian doublespeak, drone strikes on TV, TSA strip searches, domestic wiretapping, a failing war, a country split in two squabbling over the same political garbage while the same fat wallets get ever fatter.

Welcome to the New Normal, that 24/7 fog of overstimulated paranoia, creeping poverty and angry helplessness. And one Jaime Meline is very, very pissed off about it.

 "Kids sing along, this is all we have left bitch, sing a song"

That's not to say Cancer for Cure represents a retread for him. If anything can be said about El-P it's that he's one of the most forward-looking producer/MC's in the genre, and this album is the culmination of nearly twenty years behind the boards and the mic. The usual roster of Def Jux regulars--Aesop Rock, Cage, Mr. Lif, Vast Aire, et al--are out, but the replacements more than hold their own. Killer Mike, still rolling hard after his breakout success from this year's R.A.P. Music, drops in on "Tougher Colder Killer" alongside Despot. The bangin' centerpiece "Oh Hail No" has both a ground level, rhythm-in-your-bones verse from Mr. Motherfuckin' eXquire and a thoroughly ill blast of coked up imagery from Danny Brown that will have many heads rushing out to pick up last year's XXX (if they haven't already). Nick Diamonds provides a sublime, hazily crooned hook on late album highlight "Stay Down."

El-P's been keeping up. Worlds away from his halting and occasionally disjointed flow on first solo Fantastic Damage, the triple-time of "Request Denied" will leave jaw-shaped holes in the floor. However he hasn't traded an ounce of lyrical venom, and there are an elliptical flurry of bitter and incisive punchlines that will leave everyone within earshot puckering. From the overcaffinated Tropic Thunder-referencing (among other things) lead single "The Full Retard" to the sick interrobang of "Sign Here," El's dark worldview never wavers but has picked up extra layers of sarcasm and humor on the way through a miserable half-decade.

"To the mother of my enemy, I just killed your son"

But as usual, El-P's greatest asset are his beats, jammed full of dissonant piano hits, grimy loops, bent synths and droning klaxons, an aesthetic that still hasn't gotten stale--and these are some of the best he's ever dropped.

Residing somewhere between the stutter-step cyberpunk bangers of Fantastic Damage and the iron galaxy sprawl and industrialized funk of his last album, taking the best aspects of both and ramping up the aggression, Cancer for Cure's backdrop forms a perfectly grimy synthesis with the razor tongue screeds--abstract and exotic enough to retain the spaced vibe of old, but organic textures like the wounded animal horn skronks of "Stay Down" and the crashing jazzy percussion behind "Drones Over BKLYN"'s verses keep things primal and raw.

"You cannot throw me in the briar patch, bitch, that's where I live" 

Cancer for Cure's greatest moment arrives in the form of eight minute closer "$4 Vic/ FTL (Me & You)"--a rant styled similarly to I'll Sleep When You're Dead's "Poisenville/No Wins," El dedicates the album to fallen Def Jux labelmate Camu Tao (from lung cancer in 2008) and then proceeds to tear through that beat like raw steak and fucking dismantle all of society's dross with a hard focus worth more than a dozen lesser MC's. It's a triumph, one of the greatest things I've heard in a long time.

No one does this better right now on the bleeding edge of hip-hop, and if this album has disappointed anyone, they aren't listening hard enough.

"And I can no longer contain what's under my disguise, I've always had the cancer for the cure, that's what the fuck am I"

Pump this shit like they do in the future.


Movie Monday! #2

The Long Good Friday

1980; Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson, Bryan Marshall, Eddie Constantine; directed by John Mackenzie 

This is an interesting one in that it's one of those seemingly pretty rare films that's a very good movie just by virtue of being a very good movie. You know what I mean? Like, the story is engaging, the script is well written, the characters are interesting, the performances are top notch, it's well shot...just basic things that you need from a story-driven film to be able to consider it good. Ambition is always desired, but sometimes you need a movie like this, one that doesn't technically do anything special except to execute the story it's telling to the best of its ability, to remind you that sometimes nothing necessarily needs to be "pulled off" in order for a film to be worth watching or memorable.

One Touch of Venus

1948; Robert Walker, Ava Gardener, Dick Haymes, Olga San Juan, Eve Arden, Tom Conway; directed by William A. Seiter

An avatar of the goddess Aphrodite is kissed on the lips and falls madly in love with a man who is, if not mentally retarded, indistinguishable from such for about 70% of his time on-screen. It's the kind of movie nobody would have any degree of tolerance for if made in 2012, but because it came out in the '40s you have a protagonist whose job is to straighten curtains at a mall (???) and a villain with a tiny mustache who rolls his rs. It sucks by any measurable standard except the standard of "I want to watch something with songs and don't have a lot of time or thought to invest" and the standard of "Ava Gardener in a toga," so what I'm saying is, maybe watch this movie? Probably don't? Elia Kazan's name popped up somewhere in the credits, which I found incredibly unsettling for reasons I'm not able to put my finger on.

Sin Nombre

2009; Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejia; directed by Cary Fukunaga

I seem to be the only person who had this problem with it, but there's a moment in the last third that was so preposterously stupid and unbelievable as to completely destroy practically any dramatic payoff, which sucks, because oh my God was there a lot of drama to account for. It doesn't "wreck" the movie by any means, because so much of it-the "uno, dos, tres" sequence, Smiley's first kill, the confrontation on the train that any other movie would have used as the denouement-is impossible to ruin. It's absolutely worth watching, but it's also one of those movies that's fantastic right up until it isn't, and it's the kind of flawed gem that sometimes makes you appreciate a movie like The Long Good Friday even more, because there's almost nothing worse in art than having to compromise your enjoyment of something that should have, by all rights, completely blown you away.

Sawdust and Tinsel

1953; Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ake Gronberg, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek; directed by Ingmar Bergman

This movie has a reputation as being more worth watching as an important film in Bergman's growth as a director than on its own merits as a film, which is a damn shame considering it's every bit as vital and disarming as his later films. Much like Bergman's other movies, it's about selfishness and failure, but brought to more of a public eye-these characters are career fools, but that doesn't save them, it certainly doesn't redeem any of them. It's hard to write about Bergman's films if you don't have any kind of film schooling because so much of why these movies are as amazing as they are has to do with technique, but so much of what registers is pure gut impact, and either way I have a hard time putting the appeal of these films into words, except to say that you will be cut down to size, beautifully, and completely. This, I guarantee.

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman

1969; Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chen Lui; directed by Chang Cheh

Possibly the greatest action movie ever made? There are very, very few who get everything this right-the violence, the pacing, the motivation and the payoff. Kill Bill, Death Race 2000 and Die Hard are the only ones springing to mind and none of them come close to carrying the level of venom this film stores in its fangs. I've never seen a movie that was ostensibly about giving the viewer a good time at the movies so heartbroken at the stratospheric bodycount that is achieved by the end. Evil is defeated, but it's pretty hard to claim that anyone comes out the other side not defeated. It's a movie that understands what happens when you've killed everyone there is to kill, and what happens is nothing at all, because reaching your goal carries with it the implication that the means change the significance of the end. One could almost see this as an anti-Vietnam tale if one were so inclined, but the world has never had any shortage of sons cutting their throats for the sake of their fathers. As good or better than any canonical classic that game out of the decade.

Higher Ground

2011; Vera Farmiga, Molly Hawkey, Dagmara Dominczyk, Joshua Leonard; directed by Vera Farmiga

This movie tries to pull an interesting trick-it tries to portray Evangelical Christians as actual human beings as opposed to loutish caricatures, and for a good part of the movie it pulls it off.  The problem is that it seems to be nearly impossible to approach this corner of society without at least a drop of condescension, so you get parts where people just stop behaving like people right in the middle of what are for the most part extremely human portrayals of people who aren't...normal, exactly, but who have patterns and hopes and fears just like anyone else you know. It breaks you out of the moment even more in that way, because that isn't an intentional choice to portray these people as a bunch of clowns, that's a slip-no director wants you to lessen your understanding of the cast in movies like this. It's at least good that somebody tried.

Kirikou and the Sorceress 

1998; Theodore Sibusiso Sibeko, Antoinette Kellerman, Fezele Mpeka; directed by Michael Ocelot

Wild stuff-a lot of this is like Rene Laloux for children. Slightly dumb in the way that a lot of children's movies are, where the screenwriters sometimes forget they're writing for kids and not morons, there's more than enough compelling imagery to make up for it, with bedazzling, dreamy West African art aesthetics coupled with a "proud to be hand-drawn" ethos that almost dares you to say it's a bad thing that this is clearly a bunch of sequenced sheets of paper. I don't think I've ever seen a kid's movie that has an origin story that's clearly a metaphor for both rape and colonialism, and I'm not sure if it's something that should even be in many kid's movies, but here it works. As a rule, nothing with nudity this unappealing tends to be a bad thing.



Movie Monday! #1

Eyes Wide Shut

1999; Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack; directed by Stanley Kubrick

The sets are great, Tom Cruise has a couple of charming scenes with a prostitute and her roommate, and one segment (the one pictured above) does a pretty compelling imitation of a Federico Fellini movie. Before you get too excited over that soon-to-be-backhanded praise: Nicole Kidman's performance is laughable, the script is nowhere approaching competent ("I need a costume at 2 A.M.? Good thing one of my patients happens to own a fucking costume store, that's the most convenient thing that's ever happened to me") and the moral is both fatalistic and apologetic, which is about the most noxious combination attributes a denouement can have. Some people don't have any trouble masturbating to this movie. If that doesn't describe you, and if you've seen a European movie from the 1960s, you'll sit down hungry and leave the same.

Take Shelter

2011; Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon; directed by Jeff Nichols

The next time you're talking to one of those dipwads who tries to work Yasujio Ozu into every conversation and complains that no movies "of substance" are being made any more, take a DVD copy of this movie and put it in their mouth. They won't be able to breathe, and they'll die, and you won't have to listen to them speak ever again, about movies, or anything. There's a distinct possibility that the ending cheapens a lot of the tragedy and emotional progress you thought was being made over the course of the film, but I've come up with an interpretation where that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, and besides, the important part of all this is that you killed that guy from the first sentence. He's dead. He can't judge us anymore.

The Wages of Fear

1953; Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli; directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Clouzot and screenwriter Georges Arnaud took a big chance by making their protagonists such hateable sacks of garbage, and while that sometimes means that you don't care very much about what happens to them, it also puts them in situations that "good guys" wouldn't be in, in the crosshairs of oversight and betrayal. The first half hour is very slow going and the last ten minutes are predictable enough to drain the tension out of a would-be shocking finale. But you're not watching it for those forty minutes, you're watching it for vicious terrain, explosives, grimaces, the loneliness of the long-distance truckers. You'll get all those things. You won't get anything more, but it's a good meal if you like the taste. This movie invented Sam Peckinpah.


1971; Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider; directed by Alan J. Pakula

Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels is an immensely likable character, which is why you'll feel a little bad for wanting the movie's serial killer to either shit or get off the pot, because this is the kind of movie where you feel every minute trudge by. The lack of urgency is unforgivable, and Donald Sutherland has all the charisma of cold oatmeal, which might have been intentional, but that doesn't make him any less unbelievable as a romantic lead. There are some interesting conversations to be had about the way Fonda manages to be sexy without giving cause to leer, and if you're still invested in Bree by the last half hour you'll find the climactic sequence to be as gripping and breathless an example of filmmaking as you've ever seen. But someone should have told Pakula that there's a thin line between methodical and drowsy and that if this film were a person, it would've had its driver's license revoked.


2010; Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, a bunch of other people who should've known better; directed by James Gunn

Unfunny, mean-spirited and smug. Over the course of 96 minutes, one joke, out of many, provides a laugh. This movie has an endless number of horrible aspects that are worthy of scorn,  and to mention and discuss everything about it that sucks-the eyebrow-raising number of gay jokes, the plot threads that lead absolutely nowhere, the desperate, pleading physical comedy- would be a massive, unwieldy use of mental energy, so I'll just say that if it's possible for a movie to be worse than Crash, than this is the one. This is the one that pulled it off. I'll have to spend some real time considering what "bad" actually means after seeing Super. James Gunn is going to be limbo champion for a long time to come.


2010; James Franco, Aaron Tveit, John Hamm, David Strathairn; directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

The first half of the movie is used to find its footing-this first while is when Franco's narration can get tiring, and the animation sequences are a little too on-the-nose for their own good. But you've got 75 minutes to spare, the acting is phenomenal, and the story is vital enough on its own merits that one gets the impression that this subject matter would be borderline impossible to bungle. Some things need to be seen, not due to quality or to cultural significance-this movie has both things, but they are wholly tertiary to the drive, which is that there's a reason you can't get some people to shut up about some things, because some things are worth not shutting up about.

Le Cercle Rouge

1970; Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte; directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

You know how earlier I mentioned that fine line between methodical and drowsy filmmaking? Melville didn't always see that line, but when he did he gave us movies like Le Cercle Rouge, and movies like Le Cercle Rouge are the reason his nuts will never go unattended. Characters of substance that are easily definable, daring heists, luscious cool, savory mustaches...this is what noir, neo or otherwise, is all about. This is the genre boiled down to its barest components-ugly men in bad suits doing awful things for money-and stretched out to the point of extravagance, so that even the parts you fall asleep during feel like they deserve an honorary cigarette. Miles Davis didn't do the soundtrack, but this movie is the visual that accompanies every Miles Davis album.



"No Homo" Epilogue: Action Bronson is a Cockwad of Ungainly Proportions

This is a pretty straightforward story:  Queens rapper and much touted next-big-thing Action Bronson was caught being a complete shithead to a drunk transgendered woman a couple of days ago, and when he posted a gloating picture of the occurrence on Instagram the Go Fuck Yourself was so overwhelming that he was forced to delete his account. Like all big stupid babies who decide to NOT TAKE IT ANYMORE in as ineffectual a manner as possible, he took his pissy tirade to Twitter, alternating between insulting his followers for being so sensitive and inquiring as to the status and location of his post-naptime juice box.

This is pretty much always the way it goes: it's always the loudest, most "outrageous" speakers who are the first to shit when you tell them to quit being such an asshole. It's a pussified, PC society until suddenly you're the one getting picked on, and then before you know it the Whaaaaaaaaambulance is barreling down the boulevard, racing to the aid of a man whose feelings you hurt by pointing out what an absolute dick he was acting like. Can't anyone see that the people who stand up against bullies are the real bullies here?!?

If anyone thought the things I brought up in that essay weren't still a problem in this day and age? They're still a big fucking problem in this day and age. He'll doubtless have learned nothing from the whole thing and it's unlikely to do any damage to his career, but a few more people have seen the true colors of a fresh critical darling who could previously do no wrong, and maybe a few more people will really start to think about how fucked the rap community's stance towards LGBTQ people is.



No Homo

"Faggot soundmen, they be sabotagin' shit!"-Method Man, "What the Blood Clot"

The other day I was reading a review of a documentary called Bully; the film as a whole seems to present the issue of bullying and psychological victimization with a striking level of clarity, but one scene in particular stood out in that regard. One of the kids that the film follows is bullied so frequently, and by so many people, that he starts mistaking physical abuse for regular joshing and playing around. His mother tells him not to hang out with people who beat him up, and his reply is heartbreaking: “What friends does that leave me with?”

I think there’s a similar sentiment present in wider media, in that there are certain messages that are so ubiquitous that we think it’s impossible to cut them out of our cultural diet, lest we miss out on pretty much everything we want to watch or listen to or read. We don’t let Sergio Leone’s fixation with female degradation interfere with our awe at those incredible shots he manages to get, we don’t let H.P. Lovecraft’s horrific racial views distract us from his once-in-a-lifetime expressiveness of imagination, and if you listen to hip-hop, you tend to brush aside the ever-prevalent, near-deafening homophobia that infests the genre in order to better focus on the lyricism and production.

"These faggots hit like teddy bears."-EL-P, "Delorean"

This is something I have been doing, and am doing, and will probably continue to do, much to my own distaste. The reason I do it is because I don’t want to stop listening to things I like, and I like hip-hop, even though so much of it will at least reference in passing beating up gay people or emasculating an opponent by questioning his sexuality. And I do mean so much of it, because it’s everywhere. It’s inescapable. From thugs like Ghostface Killah to freakshows like Danny Brown to nerdy “nice guy” rappers like XV, it seems like pretty much everyone has to get their shots in. And sometimes I have to question my principles when I listen to this stuff, which sucks, because aside from the rare not-just-unoffensive-but-actively-socially-positive group like BBU, there are pretty much no alternatives.

People tend to have kind of an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to issues like this in hip-hop. As in, you either accept the whole package as presented or reject it entirely. Whenever you try to discuss the ethical problems with the genre it's thrown in your face that you either don’t know what you’re talking about (“it’s all pimps and hos and crack and murder, what happened to the Rolling Stones, why don’t comics cost a nickel, etc. etc.”) or, if you do have legitimate concerns to raise, you’re told it’s not your place to bring them up since you’re not part of the culture. I think that’s kind of a bullshit response, though, since I’m not a part of skinhead culture either, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be appalled by the existence of things like Stormfront.

"Ayo, I'm quick to lick the mag twice/And cold take a fag's life."-Big L, "8 iz Enuff"

Obviously, very few hip-hop acts are quite so militant in their hatred or dismissal of LGBTQ culture. That doesn’t mean it’s not a completely shitty aspect of the genre, or that it’s in any way excusable. If rap’s opponents can’t use the “poor and ignorant” card to dismiss the music, that means that, in turn, its advocates can’t use it as a defense. When I’m listening to Action Bronson, and I stumble on a lyric like “I’m a man motherfucker, you’re half a fag,” it not only takes me out of the song, it fills me with disgust. It makes me instinctively push the skip button on my iPod. There's no rationalization I can come up with that will deaden the feeling that that absolutely revolting lyric gives me in my core, and frankly I don't think you should be able to contextualize away the chilling significance of lines like that.  Does it say something about me that I didn’t have that same gut reaction to the songs on the very same tape that mention beating up hookers? Probably, yeah, it does.

The thing is, at the end of the day, you can’t really control what you are and are not comfortable with in the media you consume.  I can’t outline the exact reasons why some kinds of violent lyrics bother me and others don’t, except to say that as someone who identifies as bisexual, those sentiments can't help but instill in me the impression that I am not welcome as part of the listening audience. More importantly, though, it gives me the impression that these men do not believe that we share the same common ground as human beings. 

That’s a weird thing to say, coming from a white suburban twentysomething (how many umpteenth million times have you read that qualifier when reading a blog post about hip-hop?) so I’ll give an example.

"You're on the side of faggots and cock blockers/I'm on the side of bad-ass kids and the top-notchers." Tyler, The Creator, "Nightmare"

One of my favorite albums of the past few years has been XV’s Zero Heroes. It wasn’t a concept album per se, but a lot of it dealt with how XV grew up in a small town, without a father and with few friends, and became dependent on comics and music to help make it through the most difficult times in his life. That describes my adolescence to a tee, and it was revelatory to hear someone rap about things I could relate to on such a personal basis-escaping into the variety of personas that music could afford you, feeling your jaw drop when you meet a pretty girl who’s into the same weird stuff as you...99.9% of that album is an honest, utterly relatable story that’s near impossible to find in any other kind of music. It’s the sort of personal, confessional storytelling that hip-hop does as well or better than any other kind of art there is.

And then there is one, almost unnoticeable line near the end of the last song on the album where XV says he’s “iller than a nigga on the DL.” For those not familiar with the term, “on the DL” usually means “in secret,” but it also refers to gay black men who haven’t come out of the closet. In context, there really aren’t a whole lot of things that line can mean: XV, mere feet from the finish line, made a “gay people have AIDS” reference. And so now I've got this notion hovering around in my head that this dude, who I’ve been listening to, who I’ve been relating to, who I’ve been bonding with in that way that can only be facilitated by great music, probably thinks my sexual orientation means I've got AIDS (because hey, bi basically means gay and I'm just too scared to commit to the label, right?). And that illusion of personable friendliness that had been built up over the course of fifty some-odd minutes reveals itself to me as just that: an illusion.

And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of having to treat the music I listen to like it’s a fucking minefield, sick of everyone making excuses for this hideous specter that no one can seem to exorcise, sick of having to steel myself when I listen to a song with a phenomenal beat and great lyrics, bracing for that horrific slur casually slid in like a razorblade in a scoop of ice cream. How do I reconcile what I like with who I am? What are the options here? Where’s my out? Do I tell them to stop? Do I just quit listening to things I love?

"Call me homophobic but you know it and I know it/You're filthy and funny to the utmost exponent."-A Tribe Called Quest feat. Brand Nubian, "Georgie Porgie"

“What friends does that leave me with?”



The Shins' "Nothing At All" and Nihilism

We've long jokingly refereed to this as the nihilist song. I've got this ideal inside of me, but it's nothing at all. It's almost too funny, too straightforward, an upbeat song saying Hey Guys! There's Nothing At All! I've argued with friends about it, them saying that its about personal dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement. But somehow in the context of the shin's work (first three albums, at least) it looked to me as James slapping a nice melody to conceal that he really truly believed what he was saying. And in the five years of me thinking they'd never release a thing again, that they'd break up (they kinda did), it was the perfect post script to their career. The dropped last song on their last album, now only included as a bonus, as if to say "in case you didn't get it in the coded verse of the rest of our career, here it is for you, spelt out". "You want to put your trust in some solid thing? Yeah, it's a drug to us all". The record store clerk handed me a 7" record, for free, with it on the A and split needles alt take on the B, and as far as I can tell this particular combination isn't supposed to exist, I don't know why I have it.

Of course, this is not the first time the Shins have endorsed nihilism, or perhaps it's a brand of existentialism. The belief that there is no governing force to the universe, no spiritual ties that bind, and no meaning to life. That there is no fate, no god, no deeper reason to live, and perhaps even no love or happiness. In fact, the first seeds of this emptiness manifested on the opposite end of their discography, the first song on their first album. Caring is Creepy deals heavily in existential angst, images of walking naked in snow and feeling nothing, and hiding the fact you're dead again. Even the title shows this depressed detachment, as if to say "I don't care. Caring is creepy."

This trend is active throughout Oh Inverted World, the Shins' most cryptic album, notably on Know Your Onion's tale of teenage misanthropy. "When every other part of life seemed locked behind shutters, we knew the worthless dregs we've always been". However, it took until the straightforward, poppy Chutes Too Narrow came out for it to really take off. It's been said that the album is made up one third of love songs, one third of break up songs, and one third of despaired philosophy. Saint Simon and Fighting in the Sack even seem to specifically deal with the meaninglessness of life and the falseness of religion. Fighting's second verse states "Most ideals turn to dust, there are few in which we all can trust. Haven't you noticed I've been shedding all of mine?" He suggests that the whole idea of meaning is just because we humans know that our fate is to die and vanish, and we intentionally believe something else so we won't have to deal with that. "The cruel uneventful state of apathy releases me. I value them but I won't cry every time one's wiped out".

However, there are love songs, which would perhaps suggest that he shifts more towards existentialism that nihilism (in a nutshell, that he believes the universe gives us no meaning, but we can give ourselves some). Though there is Gone For Good, about breaking off an engagement after finding "a fatal flaw in the logic of love", there is the incredible Those To Come to counter it. In it our man wakes up to a beautiful girl making tea in her underwear and through her sees the entire cycle of life in the universe, and seems ok with it. There are few things I've ever been able to identify with as much as this song. I am in love with this girl I've never met through James Mercer's eyes. He is amazed to see her "still prone to care", a dramatic contrast to the original title of Gone For Good: A Call To Apathy.

Snapped back from the relatively clear lyrics on Chutes, the third album drowns itself in symbolism and references, a dense thick shell to crack, and certainly the hardest to tell exactly what James is trying to say. So I can only tell you what I've got. Certainly Australia deals with a whole score of themes of meaninglessness, from it's opening lines questioning the depth of human's purpose on earth to the "selfless fool who'd hoped he'd save us all" holding you down. He talks about the dodo's and the android's conundrum, perhaps meaning the emptiness of wings without flight or living without true life. He wants to cry, but nothing happens anytime he tries. Phantom Limb begs us to "follow the lines and wonder why there's no connection".

Turn On Me deals out one of the most potent anti-love lines, and certainly the one that has had the most violent repercussions throughout my life, from the fifteen year-old who first heard it down to now. "Do affections fade away? Or do adults just learn to play the most ridiculous repulsing games?" There's a handful of other lyrics sprinkled throughout the album that could be on the same strand, but they could also mean dozens of other things so I try not to speculate more than I have already.

Of course this all leads up to A Comet Appears, where, far from the concluding song on their previous album, he looks into his heart and sees a numbness growing. "Every post you can hitch your faith on is a pie in the sky, chock full of lies, a tool we devise to make sinking stones fly."

And if you have the bonus track you're then suddenly hit with "I've got this ideal inside of me that we're nothing at all." "I'm just a shell as empty as can be. Yeah, I've got nothing at all." and the ending chant, upbeat, of

"There's noting at all

there's nothing at all

there's nothing at all

there's nothing at all"



Dirty Knobs- Ghost Geometry

May 1, 2012; Zac Bentz, Xero Music

Just a quick review to get us back on track.

We are big Zac Bentz/Dirty Knobs fans here at SB, and after the eight-hour sonic odyssey/mindfuck that was last year's Field Recordings from The Edge of Hell, I was definitely looking forward to some more epic dark ambient in that vein.

Along comes Ghost Geometry and despite being trimmed down to half the runtime of its amazing predecessor, it was well worth the wait and arguably even more cohesive and better.

It's hard to review something like this. Guess it basically boils down to... how do you feel about music truly bereft of plebeian reference points like melody, tempo, rhythm; of supermassive, slowly escalating drones and soundscapes that conjure imagery of huge spinning constructs in the outest reaches of space, endless reaches collapsing on themselves and reforming and collapsing again; each time different and strangely affecting yet empty and terrifying as the sustained notes and frequencies build inside your chest and stretch on to infinity; and after thirty, forty minutes, slightly ebb out only to expand ever further?

Either way stop standing on the fence. Click that link, put that dollar down, kill all the lights, crank the volume to window-rattling level, close your eyes and prepare for an extended voyage into the void.

You all want this experience; you just don't know it yet.




So I think we're about ready to start this site back up again, with some rearranging. Please bare with us as we try to lift this from a poorly taped together blog into a legitimate website for music aficionados. We founded Styrofoam Boots three years ago to try to find a view on music criticism that was lacking on the internet. Most online publications either veered towards a professional style, feigning objectivity and impersonal descriptions, something that does not exist when talking honestly about music. Or worse, some of them began to focus almost entirely on the social commentary they believed the music to be pushing, loosing all sight of emotion or personal philosophy. On the other side are most blogs and other online outlets, where people tend to disregard their responsibility to their audience, and instead get self-absorbed, spewing half formed and thrown away opinions. So we hope to land in between, people who feel the music very very much on an extremely personal level, but still hope to get across exactly why that's so, always taking risks with our taste without ignoring the simple things that just get to you. We hope to be like the friend that comes up to you and shouts "you have to hear this", and plays you something brilliant.

My name is Stuart, I am on the verge of being twenty one years old, I live in New York City, and my live has been defined by music. If you have any questions or anything you want to say to us, please leave a comment bellow, we'd love to hear from you.

So without more delay, let me introduce our singles column, Tracking, bringing your attention to any random solitary tracks that have been pulling on our ears and heartstring recently.

Trim - Confidence Boost (Harmonimix Remix)

It's odd that this song is quite as powerful as it is, dealing a swagger that's unlike anything you've heard before. It's not really the forward-pushing dynamic brute force of metal, not the aggression and confidence found in most hip hop, the kind of shouted violence of punk music, nor the wild push of most club music. What it has is something far more static, self-confidant force to it, singular and calm, but no less swagger than you could find anywhere else. I've started to use it as distinct evidence that experimental techniques can create a drop more destructive than the normal and that experimental hip-hop is not just a deconstructionists dream, but a suddenly-exploding field with nearly infinite possibilities.

Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger

I suppose it's mostly surprising for the Dirty Projectors to be doing something you want them to do. The band has built their legacy by willfully denying convention, taking the melody at a sudden turn just when you want it to break, holding things just painfully too long. And while that pattern busting ability is incredible, here they prove their worth when they stick to building a song. There's something here I've never found anywhere else, like an old noir tune cut out from time, with rising voices providing an affecting alternative to synths or guitar. I love almost everything this band has done, both for pure aesthetic reasons and also for the slight academic joys they send down my music nerd spine, but I'm never actually connected with one emotionally, and here I'm putting the song on repeat, all in.

Radiohead - Lotus Flower (Jacques Greene Remix)

Like the Dirty Projectors' standard work, here Jacques Greene plays a little bit with your mind as well as the undefined part of your brain that connects with music. Which is to say, you fall into a state of anticipation listening to this, the synths holding you in a kind of stasis, looking forward, waiting. And yet, unlike most ambient leaning dance music, somehow this anticipation is wholly pleasurable, I can even taste faint euphoria seeping in the back of my mind. I could wait forever.

Jacques Greene - Another Girl

Another Girl, however, is something else entirely. When you take a hard look at the independent-leaning dance scenes in London and LA right now something terrible becomes apparent. Though the music is brilliant and beautiful and forward thinking, you probably can't dance to it. Or at least your girlfriend's buddies won't want to, and it's not gonna start any parties. Another Girl might, though, finding itself at the only true post-dubstep banger aside from Hyph Mngo. Somehow it's able to fulfill almost everything dance music is intended for in an ideal universe. It can get you hyped for going out and it can also serve as the lovely comedown at the end of the night. It can start people shouting on the dance floor and waving their arms in the air, but it also feels delicate and kind on headphones.

DJ Elmore - Whea Yo Ghost At, Whea Yo Dead

Footwork hits like more fun noise music to me, churning away of the aggressive knots that build up in my misanthropic head. It's generally acknowledged to be the coolest and most boundary pushing thing going on today, yet even the critics seems to have trouble listening to it and people tell me to turn it off pretty damn quickly when it starts. I don't care. The most aggressive battle raps never got to the temples of my head like this, and even the ambient tracks (this one is the first cut off of Planet Mu's amazing compilation Bangs & Works Vol. 1) sound like nothing you've ever heard before. Just good luck learning the dance.

Drake featuring Lil Wayne - HYFR

Shlohmo dropped this during a dj set last week and I can't even tell you how much my brian swirled when the flow went to double time. Drake may be doing something incredible here, virtuosic, crafting lyrics about dissatisfactions with ex's and accidentally slipping I love you into drunken phone conversations with an absolutely weatherproof style. Mainstream hip-hop never gave signs of being able to produce something this awesome and heartfelt, and I am continuously aghast as the all of the lyrics slowly embed themselves into my memory. Hell Yeah Fucking Right.