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child abuse

December 30th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Harold Budd: Luxa (1996)

Shortly before Brooke and I left town for our respective families we had a two-day “Holi-date.” On the first night after a lovely dinner we boarded some shuttle buses downtown and headed to Zilker Park, where we joined hundreds of child-bursting families for the annual “Trail of Lights.” It’s like the Trail of Tears, only instead of dying Indians there are plywood cut-outs of cartoon characters and 200,000 Christmas lights (and these are Christmas lights, as there is absolutely no attempt to shout-out to our Jewish friends). It was obscene and an ob-scene, a scene “of” or “off,” an “obscene offscene,” if you will.

After touring the trail a small boy—I figure around the age of five—approached us as we exited a glowing tunnel with a disco ball at the end. He handed me what looked like monopoly money. “How cool,” I thought, as I looked and saw a coy Santa on the front of my $50,000 bill! (you can click the image for a bigger version). Brooke cynically said it was probably a Chick Comic deal, but I was hoping it was something cheerful.

Alas, later I learned that the play money was not designed to cheer me up. Instead, it told me Santa’s “naughty” list was about all the boys and girls that were going to hell because they did not read the bible literally:

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice . . . he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice! If Santa used the Ten Commandments for his standard, how would you do? Let’s find out . . . [.] Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? (No matter the value.) Ever used God’s name in vain? Ever looked with lust? Jesus said, “Whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her had committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Holy Jimmy Carter, Batman! This play money says that when I imagine licking the erect nipple of that lady who I saw at grocery store just a half-hour ago I’m getting coal in my stocking . . . or hot coal in my pants . . . for eternity! The money continues:

If you are guilty of these things that makes you a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. Many people don’t know that God will use the Ten Commandments to judge the world. Forget about Santa . . . how will you do on Judgment Day? If you are found guilty, that means an eternity in Hell . . . 2,000 years ago, God sent Jesus to the earth to pay for your sins. When Jesus died on the cross, He took the punishment that you deserve for breaking His Law (the Ten Commandments). God’s wrath came down on Jesus instead of you. . . . Remember, if you try to get to Heaven on your own, you must keep every Commandment in thought, word, and deed. . . . Place your faith in Jesus Christ alone and God will grand you eternal life. Read your bible daily and obey what you read.

Well, golly, you know what sort of “naughty” things I could do if I read my bible daily and obeyed what I read? “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, . . . and slay every man his brother, . . . companion, . . . neighbor” (Exodus 32:27). I won’t go there today (here’s someone who did, though). What I will say is that this kind of thing represents one side or the constitutive limit of the “obscene supplement,” to carp a Zizek phrase, of the holiday season.

In The Plague of Fantasies Zizek references the band Laibach (a personal favorite) and the novel and filmic version of Dune to question how a staging the phantasmic support of harmful stuff, like Proto-Fascism, can be subversive. In their ironic displays of Fascistic power, for example, Laibach stage the “obscene supplement” of Fascism.

Zizek argues that those who criticized Laibach for their form of “resistance” did so because it was obvious the band members enjoyed the staging. Zizek responds that the critics missed the point, for enjoyment is what enables Laibach to stage and make visible the inconsistencies and contradictions of Fascism in the first place. Or to put this in more contemporary terms: when legions of Marilyn Manson fans were giving the “German Greeting” during the deeply parodic Anti-Christ Superstar tour they were definitely motivated by enjoyment. What is characteristic of supplement is that it is presumably secondary to something “natural” (e.g., writing, birth-control, and so on)—that it either enhances or perverts–but, it turns out, supplementarity is absolutely necessary to complete or experience “the natural” or “the norm” (whether it is to realize fascism or its defeat, or fully experience sexual fulfillmet with another person because you masturbate without them). To offer up critique Laibach must similarly enjoy the phantasmic support of Fascism to stage it in the first place. In both matters of critique and ideological blindness, enjoyment always has an “obscene” underbelly.

It is in this respect that we can read the Santa dollar bill as both the staging of resistance as well as a form of child abuse—an obscene supplementarity. On the one hand, the child who is distributing the “money” enjoys the fact that the beneficiaries (at least initially) seem to enjoy getting it; the child participates in and enjoys commercial ideology of Christmas. What makes feelings of love, cheer, and wonder possible are all the sponsors who pay for the lights as a means of indirect promotion. At least from the fundamentalist perspective, the fake money is an enjoyable way to stage a critique of Christmas as a commercial holiday that drowns out the true “reason of the season,” laying bare the contradictions at its core. Of course, the child probably is not enjoying it in the way I’m suggesting (his parents, however, are).

On the other hand, however, the bill represents a form fundamentalist violence that underwrites Christmas kitsch: holiday ideology is designed to down out and temporarily cover-over political and ideological differences in the joyful harmony of childhood wonder (er . . . and lust for presents); betwinkled kitsch gives all the ugliness of human evil a green-hue (transforming it into the Grench). These many lights, for example, are supposed to blind us to religious righteouenss, however temporarily (even when they are erected by the righteous, for isn’t the plastic manger scene in the suburban front lawn precisely that, a non-righteous kitschy righteousness?). Now, holiday critics like the fundamentalists are right to point out that this green hue is really from money, but they fail to note it is the red hue of violence too (“Feeeeed tha wooooorld . . . let them know it’s Christmas time . . . .”). And as the phantasmic support of fundamentalist critique: what does obscene enjoyment do to a five year old when you tell her that she is going to Hell unless she lets Jesus ‘into her heart’?” One only wonders about the joyful scene prior to distribution, when the devout explain to their children what the Santa money says: “we’re saving souls, son.” One only wonders about the confusion of children exiting the exhibit and experiencing this rhetoric for the first time: “What does this say, mommy?”

“Don’t worry about it Suzy. It says you’ve been a good girl this year. Just wait to see what Santa will bring you tomorrow!”

I was raised an evengelical Baptist with Pentecostal leanings, so I get this obscene pleasure. I remember when was six years old a “Youth Minister” tried to explain to us what Hell was like: “Have you ever burned your finger on a stove,” he asked us. Universally all of us had. “Well, imagine that pain all over your body, but not just for a few minutes, but forever and ever and ever. That’s what it feels like when you die and have not been saved.”

Some days ago my mother called me a Scrooge for expressing disappointment that a holiday display didn’t have a shout-out to Jews. It reminded me of what an editor said about Nikki’s article on Christmas kitsch when he regretfully took it to press: pointing out the obscene underside of the holiday contradicted his “vision of humanity.” I didn’t bother telling mumsie about what the editor said, or the Santa money I was gifted, or the hellish memory that resurfaced thinking about the age of the boy who gave it to me.

Ah, the nostalgia: Merry Christmas/Go to Hell!

2006, year of the hand-claps, or, the annual obligatory music review best of post, part two

December 28th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Skinny Puppy: The Greater Wrong of the Right (2004)

A’ight, I shall continue and conclude my twenty best albums of 2006 list (you can find the first ten here). I can guarantee every album I’ve recommended will not disappoint if you like music like I do. You probably don’t, but, you know, if you were me you’d like this stuff.

The Knife: Silent Shout: Well, I had this album in 2005 since it was leaked way, way early but I’ll give it a nod ’cause it’s my kind o’ thing. Swedes with synthesizers and interesting femme vocals (reminds me of Bjork without the scratchy throat on the top end), sometimes sounds like Asian pop, dancey but also moody with subtle glitchiness for percussion. “Marble House” is great torcher with female/male duo (is that Jay Jay Johanson?). Filter sweeps and synth washes and slow builds, dance beats and groove, reminds me of FPU, but with vocals. Best of all, no voice goes without a treatment!

Ladytron: Witching Hour: Ladytron’s third effort strikes out beyond the cold, two-tone background amble of electroclash into less synth-heavy, warmer songcraft (although the drum machine is never abandoned). Like a number of electronic acts this year, Ladytron’s latest features a number of less dance-floor friendly songs in favor of more focused story-telling. As in the previous albums, the machinic female vocal predominates, however, there is more of an attempt here to stray into polytonal delivery. Some songs amount to little more than extended grooves with the occasional break-beat and change up (“Beauty 2”), but a sense of melancholy weaves throughout the entire album. Guitar is featured conspicuously on a number of tracks, signaling the move toward a warmer, less paranoid-android sound (e.g., “Whitelightgenerator” sounds like some analog Swedish pop bad). The stand-out track here is “Destroy Everything You Touch,” an upbeat, rollicking dance track with a hard slap-clash beat and biting lyrics about a very bad King Midas character (no doubt a great anti-love song, which is why it found its way to my Philophobia 2006 mix this year).

The Legendary Pink Dots: Your Children Placate You From Premature Graves: It’s hard to believe this is the 20th anniversary album for LPD, a psychedelic-goth-ambient-folk-drone-pop outfit from London (now the Netherlands), because it sounds so much like stuff they were putting out a decade ago (about the time I interviewed Ka-spel for college radio). Ka-spel’s voice and lyrics are consistently Syd Barrett-esque, his voice at once a sweet comfort and then, well, creepy as all get out (the opening track begins with a snide “Jesus loves the children” and builds, repetitively, as Ka-Spel’s voice is progressively manipulated/mutilated to an electronic murmur). Your Children features mostly organic, percussion-and-base driven songs that are mostly low-key ruminations on spiritual themes, many starting out as discernable and coherent songs and gradually turning into a kind of jam-band psychedelic porridge. Niels Van Hoornblower’s sax gets a lot of time on this particular album (recalling the earlier 1992/3 pairing Shadow Weaver and Malachi), as does the acoustic guitar. This is an intoxicating, late-night record for contemplative moods. Gentle and “middle-of-the-road” for LPD, sans the usual songs about tragic beauty and the evils of abortion—except for the title, of course. My favorite track is “Bad Hair,” which features a slow-building, repetitive guitar strum and electronic bloop for seven minutes as Ka-Spel whisper-sings “will you stand next to me, will you cast nets for me . . . will you accept me?”

Marconi Union:Distance: This is by far my most played album of the year. Given my taste for Harold Budd and all things minimal and ambient, when I heard this I almost melted (indeed, it is the ambient sound of melting Josh, or at least Josh writing or studying or reading in the bath tub). Soft guitar strums cascade over gentle, unobtrusive percussive loops as whirrs of glitch and static and synth sweeps build and relax, all in a minor key or melancholic dronish sort of way. Next to the Delays, this is my second favorite album of the year. Contemplative and moody and electronic but somehow also authentic. On the All Saints label, of course.

The Rapture: Pieces of the People We Love: Disco-punk with more handclaps and cowbell than the last album, which is definitely a great thing! Pieces is the roller-skating album of 2006! Lead singer sounds like a young Robert Smith beat upside the head by James Brown. I’ve been a fan of the Rapture since they started out as a fuzzy punk outfit and listened to them morph into the money-making party-music machine. Old time fans have deserted them, but I, for one, find the disco-bug they got in their butt quite fun! Almost every track is dance-floor groove-juice, and the lyrics are pretty standard (“C’mon give it to me,” and so on), but the bass is sooooooo dirty. We likes the dirty bass! Stand out track: “Get Myself Into It,” a disco drum beat with sax fills and bass very high up in the mix. Just a fun, disco, punk groove thing. Pieces is this year’s Hot Fuss (but better, cause this gang don’t do the self-important thing).

Ratatat: Classics: Hand claps! I say: 2006 was the year of hand claps in pop music! Righteous! Ratatat has some hand-clapping in some of their songs. But what they ain’t got is vocals. Instead, they play guitars. They play guitars like percussion instruments. They play guitars like voices. And they play guitars in harmony—they do lil’ guitar duets. It’s like dualing banjos, only they ain’t dueling and they ain’t banjos. Ratatat mix guitars and lo-fi electronic to produce melodic groves of non-dueling guitar solos, and sometimes with fake cat roars. This album is righteous, somewhere between 70s cheese and pomo-electro-beats. I don’t know how else to describe it.

She Wants Revenge: [Self-titled]: Well, I always feel dirty when I recommend an album that you can buy at Target (that is, that I bought at Target for $6.99), but She Wants Revenge has all right ingredients to make it a VH-1 People’s Choice award winner. This band’s fantastic retro-80s sound is perfectly timed for my demographic: thirty-somethings are now the target of Targets and prime-time programming. Every track features the leads tortured, 80s moan to bass-heavy mixes of songs that sound like they were written in 1988. “Sister” is a great example of the album as a whole: the song opens with a repetitive guitar strum reminiscent of Joy Division, and the tortured voice of the vocalist begins telling a story of a devout woman who took him home to make love as “the angels are watching.” “You can hurt me/do whatever you like” the chorus repeats, a consistent lyrical theme throughout the album: sadism is fun!. Well, this album is naughty. And it’s a ton of fun!

Spank Rock: Yoyoyoyoyo: She Want’s Revenge may be naughty, but they’re nothing compared to the “ass tapping” ambition of Spank Rock! Well, the lyrical themes are par for the hip-hop course, as this band first got noticed for their single “Backyard Betty” which repeats “Ass and boobs, ass and boobs, I’d tap the ho, tap the ho!” This album, however, is not quite hip-hop and not quite electro, but a combination of the two. Originally from Philly, Spank Rock have a distinctive electronic sound that relies on old school rap beats that are re-processed and transformed into deep electronic baselines; it’s definitely party music and dance-floor friendly, but different in that many of the vocals are self-samples layered on top of one another and re-re-repeated and re-wound. I swear the same cat roar sampled by Ratatat is sampled here in “Touch Me”—maybe they should do an album together (and yes! “Touch Me” has processed hand-claps too!).

Stuart Staples: Leaving Songs: Stuart Staples has such a unique voice, deep but not yet Cohen, a little Willard Grant Conspiracy but not as misanthropic in sentiment or mood . I’m sure the comparisons to Cohen are out there because his back-ups sometimes sound like “the Angels,” but the flavor is altogether different—perhaps a bit more optimistic. Hammond organ beds foreground a slow, acoustic guitar build to brass horn fills, chimes, and xylophone on the lead track, “Goodbye to Old Friends,” which echoes in a strange way, the academic life: “it’s not that I don’t love you/or am tired of your ways/if I could only take you with me/if I could only ease this pain.” Those of you in long distance relationships know what I mean. This is a great road trip album or late night drinking album. You’ll either love his voice or hate it, but, fans of Cohen will probably dig it. It’s a marvelously crafted album (and it comes paired with a repress of his first album—not as good, but still good).

White Rose Movement: Kick: Heavy, dirty baselines and repetitive guitar strumming, and the occasional hand-clap percussive, mark the White Rose Movement as party to that 80s retro-thing. What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s and this album hits all the right buttons. But whereas we might describe She Wants Revenge as the U.S. hetero 80s retro, this is the British faggy retro: Skinny sexy lead singer with a snotty British accent singing “I wanna get straight/I wanna put you through/cos in a darkened room/you orchestrate your moves/Whipcrack/Girls in the back.” Do you know what it means? I don’t either, but it sounds naughty! I’ll forego describing how good this album is and just provide you a link to the video for this stand-out track; please do take note of the hand claps (and here’s a game: what side does the yellow-pants hottie dress on?).

Thom Yorke: The Eraser: Given the last few Radiohead albums, the direction Yorke takes on his solo effort is not surprising: looped samples and synthetic beats provide the backdrop for slurrily pronounced lyrical moaning. The title-track is redolent of the whole: two sampled piano chords repeat until an electronic beat sets in, and then York begins his sloppy singing. By the time he’s at the chorus, there are ghostly moans that echo in waves. As the song continues, new elements pile into the song, such as random electronic bloops and bleeps, and the faint sound of strings. The entire album is mostly structured similar, low-key and mostly percusso-glitchy. It’s a beautiful album that represents how influential Yorke (and his friends, not to mention Bjork) have been in stretching the boundary of what counts as “pop.” Had this album appeared five years ago, many folks would have been baffled. We know how to listen to it now . . . thanks Thom.

And finally, an innovation for the best-of post! Here are TWO OF THE MOST HYPED AND OVERRATED ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:

The Hold-Steady: Boys and Girls in America: I listened to it twice, and this must be a good live act, because the album, to quote Lita Ford, “ain’t no big thang.” Every lyric is about tortured manhood, doing drugs and getting wasted, which is good for, well, exorcizing your metrosexual, doing drugs, and getting wasted, but what about the rest of the week? Sing-talk style lyrics that veer into cheesy territory, power chords aplenty, but . . . bleh. I don’t get it.

The Killers: Sam’s Town: Overdone Meatloaf from a Flower that would be Bruce Springsteen or Bono. Such shite, really. “When You Were Young?” Yeah, he looked like Jesus: what the fuck does that mean?. If you’re going to be a songwriter, your songs either have to make delicious nonsense (e.g. early R.E.M.) or poetic sense, or something. This album is just so arrogant, but not in a good way (e.g., first Strokes album). Hot Fuss was such a fun party album, snotty, you know, a groove thing, but on heavy rotation during my road trips. Now we have pretensions to grandeur . . . but Joshua Tree this album ain’t. It’s ultimately forgettable gestures to stadium rock and ballads and, barring a few tracks, will not leave any tracks in your conscience in a year’s time. Enjoyable but still mediocre.

2006, year of the hand-claps, or, the annual obligatory music review best of post, part one

December 27th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Meat Beat Manifesto: Satyricon (1992)

Since the RoseChron debuted over four years ago, I’ve been sharing my spinning habits for the year, although I suppose I should be sharing my “digi-habits” or something, as I only listen to disks in the car these days. As an aside: I don’t know if my range of my enjoyment has expanded, or if there’s simply a lot more good stuff out there (I have a top 20 this year instead of top 10). Because it’s the holiday season I won’t think too hard on it, but there is an argument to be made here about the Digital Revolution and musical distribution: in a time when Myspace publicity can introduce your sound to hundreds of thousands, it seems cheaper to circulate and manufacture musical output these days. Now that the major labels have bought out many of the indies—or at least bankroll half of them (SubPop, for example, is 49% Warner Brothers)—there’s a lot of invisible muscle-push-power for the alternative and unusual stuff—so much so that folks like Chan Marshall are ending up on end-caps at Target and into grandmum’s stocking. Worse (oh horror of horrors), since I’ve started downloading tracks to sample stuff, I find myself giving more mainstream acts a chance . . . I must admit I really do like the latest My Chemical Romance like 15 year olds everywhere. Since I’ve been reading Virilio again, let’s call my recently recognized mainstream tastes the consequence of “The Distribution Bomb.” Is the music industry’s answer to pirating and ease of distribution the expansion of distribution? It seems like it (or if not that, at least Ben Folds behaves like it is).

Well, before I start waxing media eco-nomy/ology I better get on with it. So, with just a little further ado, I give you DJ Joshie Juice’s top twenty albums of the year. The criteria for top-ness were (a) “hmm. What do I find myself listening to . . . a lot?” and (b) “what’s a very good album despite the fact I may not have listened to it a ton?” Heck, this is just a reflection of habit, so probably there was only one criterion: frequency of indulgence. Here goes, in no particular order—except that my favorite album of 2006 is The Delay’s You See Colours, and my runner-up is the Marconi Union’s [Distance]:

AFI: Decemberunderground: The follow up to Sing the Sorrow is no where near as goth-friendly (nor as good), but this dark-clad punk pop still knows where to go in the chorus (and besides, my copy had the Davey portrait on the inside—hawt!). The experiments with electronica work pretty well, and the riffs are tasty. The worst aspect of the album is the grumbly-Norweigan-black-metalhead-voice Davey goes into in fits of faux-demonic possession (GWWAARRRRR!)—it just sounds silly. Even so, this is a fun and angsty album with lots of sing-a-long, comic-book goth-love lyrics.

The Black Keys: Chulahoma: Smokehouse Brown (a.k.a. Rogie Rog) gifted me a copy of this six song homage to my favorite blues artist, Junior Kimbrough, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop. One week is usually not long enough for me to make a judgment, but, I predict this is one the the year’s top-twenty for me: wow, it’s like Junior “all cleaned up.” The technical proficiency is really noticeable, and although the music haunts (like Junior is with them), it’s still very different. For one, all the songs average around four minutes, when Kimbrough’s “real” tunes (that is, the one’s he did for Fat Possum) often veered into seven minute, “Stairway to Heaven” territory. For another, you can understand the lyrics; what I always liked about Kimbrough’s voice is that you had no clue what he was griping about (well, unless the title was “Keep Your Hands Off Her”). This is the Blue Mississippi Hypnotic, no shit. Amazing. I don’t think I would have put that self-congratulatory answering machine message from “Junior’s Widow” on there as the concluding track, though; guys, it’s good–you don’t need the dead man’s woman to tell us.

Lindsey Buckingham: Under the Skin: That I like this album is an admission that I adore Fleetwood Mack (Tusk is just one of the most brilliant pop albums ever). Depending on how you like him, this is either Buckingham’s best solo album or his worst (they’re all good, though). Most songs on Under are understated for Buckingham, who can rock out if he wants to, and he usually does. But these songs are mostly lulabyes, ballads, and choral pieces. All feature his melodic, rapid-fire multi-string playing (some 12 string stuff at times), but the guitars are acoustic, and there is a lot of multi-track vocal play. This is a sweet and dream-like album (except the first track, “Not Too Late,” which is kind of a bummer), and the singing reminds me of the way Alan Parsons treats up his vocals for his radio friendly tunes. Nothing on this album is really radio friendly, mind you, since Buckingham’s lyrics are just too melancholy or mystical. The song “Castaway Dreams” is awful, but the rest of the album is nice for late nights, studying, or dinner with a friend.

Cat Power: The Greatest: Definitely (in my opinion) Marshall’s greatest, and damn, this album is so goodly soulful. Apparently she traveled to Memphis and hooked up with a bunch of Al Green’s session mates (and maybe the soul of Steve Cropper), and every song, consequently, has this gliding rumble at the bottom, the analog phatness buoying her piteous voice and plaintive piano. The lyrics are always choice–sad, angry, hopeful—but this album, more than others, is upbeat. Sentiments from songs like “Hate” aside—“do you believe she said that?”—Marshall’s in a happy place (and she’s not hiding). The only thing this album needs, perhaps, is percussive handclaps on a few tracks.

The Delays: You See Colours This second dose of choir-boy cock-less pop begins with Greg Gilbert’s high pitched, plaintive “to the bitter end, I have fought-ten love/now this cavalry is coming hoooooooommmmeeeeeee,” which is followed by a repetitive sweep of synth until the drums hammer in and, BANG: it’s full-blow pop-till-you-puke for over an hour. This is my favorite album of 2006, a pomo Frankie Valley and his Four Seasons (one of whom is Gilbert’s brother) that is also one part The La’s and one part Cocteau Twins. “This Town’s Religion,” for example, is a brilliant track with rumbling goth baselines, postpunk guitar work, a synth fill every now and again, a dance beat, and lyrics that reflect my current attitude about Snellville, Georgia having just returned (“I don’t get it, I just don’t get it”). There are also some delicious pop love songs without a hint of cynicism (“Hideaway”), but the darker side of love does close the whole set: “I warn you honey, I love you.” This album is soooooo good. The best of the bunch.

The Dresden Dolls: Yes, Virginia: Brilliantly written, pro-queer, pro-feminist, anti-Bush “songs that tell a story” about botched sex change operations and forlorn amputees from these Bostonian Cabaret Queens. It’s Tim Burton’s best idea in sound, but with a hot chick who has tattooed eyebrows. Each song features Amanda’s plodding piano-playing (dramatic, oh, oh, so hammered) and the jazzy drums of her mate . Most songs are upbeat and feature Palmer’s expressive singing with Brian Viglione’s aggressive drumming and occasional harmonies. The stand-out track here is “Backstabber,” apparently about a not-so- nice person, because the chorus is so soaring and arrives after a frustrating build: “backstabber! hope grabber!
greedy little fit haver!/god, I feel for you, fool…/shit lover! off brusher!/jaded bitter joy crusher!/
failure has made you so cruel!” Fun! I’ve met some folks like that.

Brian Eno: Another Day on Earth: Eno is a genius, and consequently, a lot of folks love to love and love to hate his music, but I’m a born again Enoian, so I guess I love him. I came to him via Roxy Music and Bowie’s Low, then on various ambient compilations, but only within the last four years have I been educating myself on his past studio-album catalog. This recent offering is so creative, alternately strange and familiar, with those melodic flights that give you goose bumps and a punctuation with the glitch-percussive that has become so standard in pop electronica these days. The vocoder treatment on “And Then So Clear” is fucking brilliant (my favorite track), and the album is a nice balance of the more slow and relaxing ambient we love this guy for and more upbeat, good-with-the-world William Orbit movie soundtrack-style tracks.

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere: There is no need to tell you what this album is like (or to post its image), because it’s already a mass media darling and has been promoted to death. It’s massively good, despite the hype, especially if you like your soul un-crunked. “Crazy” has been played too much, but I must admit it is for good reason: Cee-Lo has found his steady platform. One only wishes this was a double album.

Gregor Samsa: 55:12: The Kafka-inspired, low-build dirgeness of this gently floating, hour-long album brings to mind the work of Sigur Ros and Spiritualized in a “chopped and screwed” mood. Male and female vocals accompany guitar/piano/fiddle washes of intensifying drone, but thankfully, without coming to the now clichéd, slab-o-sound Mogwai moneyshots that your garden variety instrumentalists are so fond of (with apologies to Austin’s Explosions in the Sky). Hushed and reserved, Gregor Samsa’s latest ambles along without ever jarring the listener into some sort recognition of their grandness or talent—and that’s a good thing! There is a kind of humble modesty to this low key music, even when they must make a break (as the un-jarring but noticeable change-up in the second track, “Even Numbers”). Fans of Mogwai, Godspeed, et al. will prolly enjoy this, as would folks who are fond of the more contemplative music of 4AD. Like the later work of Talk Talk and Mark Hollis’ solo album, silence is an instrument here, so earphones/pods are better for catching all the subtleties.

Hot Chip: The Warning: The title track of this album is reason enough for owning it: “This is a warning, I’ll spell it out for you . . . Hot Chip will break your legs/snap off your head . . . .” The lyrics are sung low-key, in a hushed chorus of whiney male voices, seriously and without a whiff of cynicism, to a series of bleeps and a glitch-percussive rhythm. This is delightful, low-key, smart electronica album without dance-floor aspirations–or at least most of the tracks don’t seem hellbent to get there. Every song features unexpected turns, breaks, and neatly mashed-up samples at first listen. The first time I heard the album I was like, oh, that’s cool. But after the second listen it digs into your brain and, before you know it, you’re cutting vegetables and singing to yourself, “excuse me sir . . . Hot Chip will break your legs . . . .”

A’ight, that’s all for now. You can find reviews of the remaining ten here!

December 25th, 2006 by slewfoot

love’s official sanction

December 24th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: The Birthday Massacre: Violet

[hangs up phone]: “Oh, she just had the baby yesterday and there’s drama already.”

The holiday is definitely underway with unhappiness, thankfully most directly among the extendeds, although it does impact the unholy trinity via the maternal news vehicle at its center.

Really, the holiday is pleasantly relaxing but for babies and tongues.

Fragment of the morning walk with maternal news vehicle: beautiful, glorious day with the smell of burning backyard leaves and the sight of deflated Blow-Up Santas and Snowpeople in every other yard. Some gleeful preteen got his Christmas pocket-knife early.

That gleeful pubescent hellbent on merry mischief represents the inevitable threat of Disneyfication: if you enforce happiness and corral it to one place and one day, you’re tempting an eruption of bummedness, you’re risking bursting that boil of red and green excess. I think Paul Virilio is pretty darn right when he argues “if you build it, not only will people come, but they will help you to create the accidental catastrophe of It too.” The invention of the blow up Snowpeople staked to the obnoxiously green Southern front lawn was simultaneously the birth of pocket knife vandalism against inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments.

I mean really, Snowpeople in 70 degree weather?

What should we expect with all these tidings of comfort and joy? Your Uncle Earle is something like the opening sequence of Lynch’s Blue Velvet: lurking just beneath the surface is a gas cloud just waiting to erupt at the dinner table, and precisely at the moment grandmother is thanking God for the bounty and asking him to bless the boys overseas.

After I post this, I am going to go watch My Girl, starring Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky, with my parents. We’re going to have blackberry cobbler, and probably suffer a few cheerful hums of “White Christmas” by my father. This is possible for me because I really do love my parents and can sometimes endure what Kundera called “the second tear” for them. Oh, and also because Anna Chulmsky starred in Blood Car this year: “In the near future, gas prices are at an astronomical high. One man is determined to find an alternate fuel source. That alternate fuel source turns out to be blood…HUMAN BLOOD.”

Blood: love’s official sanction . . . and fuel.

Oh, and Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. That’s what we celebrate here, the real reason for the season . . . and if you don’t agree I’ll go out back and get a stick and beat your goddamn ass. To wax Shaunessy: You can take Josh out of a Christmas, but you cain’t . . . .

grandfather greets, holiday style

December 23rd, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Boingo: Boingo (1994)

“Wooooweee! Looka-choo. You’re gonna be big like your papa.”

“May-be, may-be.”

“How much you weigh Josh?”

“I hover around 190, I guess. I’d like to drop down to what I weighed before I quit smoking, but, it’s hard.”

“You need to lose about twen-five pounds or so. You know I used ta weigh about 250 pounds. ‘Called me the ‘Round Man.”

“You look too thin, papa.”

“’bout 140. Last summer I was down to 175. Can’t keep my pants up. Where’s your girlfriend—no, where’s your wife? What’s wrong with you? You should have been long married by now.”

“I’ve decided I prefer boys.”

“No shit you ain’t. [stands up] There ain’t n’er been a Gunn like that, and there ain’t gonna be. I’ll go out back a get a stick and beat your goddamn ass!”

two wongs, or, hyperstunting the obvious

December 22nd, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Editors: The Back Room (2005)

I have safely arrived at my holiday destination somewhere in Hotlanta from what proved to be quite a pleasant plane ride: after discovering I was seated next to a demanding two year old and his “spare the rod”-style mother, a gentleman standing in the aisle kept banging my head with his fancy, overstuffed leather purse. It turns out that he was trying give up his first class seat so that he might sit with his beloved in the stale yet freshly vacuumed “coach.” I overlooked his abuse of my forehead and possible brain injury and reluctantly volunteered, moved to the very first seat just beyond the foreboding “go no further, RUBE”-style curtains, where upon was treated to always piping, fresh coffee, fresh fruit, moist towelettes and the foot room of five Hobbits!

Even better, just before boarding I caught an extended interview clip of Donald Trump. Apparently just the day prior Rosie O’Donnell—perhaps in an effort to cover-up or over her racist flap—ranted about The Donald’s newfound moral authority. Whence such self-proclaimed authority? Because, I learned, Miss USA was busted for underage drinking and “partying” with Miss Teen USA. I also learned that Miss Nevada had drunken pictures circulating the Internet featuring hot, hetro-faux-lesbo tongue-kissing action (which just goes to show you these pageants are uber-repressive apparatuses, right!?!? Here’s the whole gallery in case you need to see “acting-out” documented).

What has this to do with the Donald? Well, he owns the Miss USA franchise and his Miss USA people wanted to de-crown Miss USA for partying, snorting blow, and humping outside of wedlock. Instead, The Donald held a press conference to announce that Tara Conner deserved a second chance, that she was going to drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and that we can all learn from her mistake(s). This apparently incensed O’Donnell, who fired off on The View that the woman was just partying, it’s not a big deal (I agree with Rosie). She then flipped her hair to resemble The Donald’s bad toupee, and questioned: who was he to hold a conference premised on his moral authority? (We can embellish to help Rosie out a bit: moral authority is a metonymic slide from economic autonomy, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox-logic and an important clue to this intriguing media ruckus!) Rosie said that the Donald was an adulterer and a scammer, and that he filed for bankruptcy three times. Today, as my jaw dropped, they aired this clip in the George Bush Houston International airport.

Like most things excessive, initially I thought the Donald’s remarks were legit and I was entertained. I also thought calling Rosie “ugly” and “fat” was a little over the top, and reasoned that the working class (signaled by “truck driver”) would probably be pissed at The Donald. Then I got to thinking as I was on the plane that the remarks were in fact misogynistic. Then I got to wondering why he didn’t say something homophobic (since he went ahead and insulted women, obesity, and the working class). Both of them, however, went after each other in terms of economic success: Rosie accused The Donald of being anything but a self-made “Man”; the Donald expressed joy at Rosie’s magazine and television show failures. The bottom line of the melee is, in fact, the bottom line as a source of moral authority.

What is curious to me is that Rosie left her critique implicit. If you go back to the clip, one of the co-hosts (to Rosie’s left) remarks “I think it’s brilliant,” trying to get Rosie to say what is implied: The Donald’s press conference was a publicity stunt. O’Donnell is trying to call him out on the tactic, but why does she go for the joke at the risk of blunting the critique? Of course, The Donald answers in his counter-blast: The View hired O’Donnell to boost sagging ratings, and she has been deliberately “running at the mouth” (and it’s working). Is it no surprise that the viewership of Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, and Miss Universe was down last year, that Trump needed to do something to garner some mo’ eyeballs? The Donald taking on an smart, emasculating woman is precisely what he needed. The man is Greed Incarnate, Greed on a Stick; you can see every moral and aesthetic judgement he makes about Rosie as dollar signs flicker in his beady lil’ orbs.

This is Baudrillard’s hyperreal on a stick, folks. Although I’m not so sure O’Donnell really knew how well this was going to work out (for her), The Donald seized the moment premised on that superficial homology between finance capital and representation, and I mean “superficial” only in the sense that it’s turtles all the way down.

still awake

December 20th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: DJ Joshie Juice: Holiday 2006

My alarm is set for 3:30 a.m. for a flight that departs Austin at 6:00 a.m.; I had a lovely meal with Brooke; I took a sleeping pill . . . and here I sit. I am an anxious traveler. I am not ready to die (ok, and I’m not quite ready for familial cheer . . . ).

As I was searching the office for a piece of paper to fold into a square to use as a coaster, I was amused by a former self. I had taken some notes during some sort of guest lecture in green pen. I’m not quite sure whose lecture it was (ok, I am, but I’m not going to tell in public). Here is my note:

Oh effing GOD! This shit just bores the fuck out of me. So the question is: would you rather have (a) interesting stuff that you’re not sure you follow to the letter, or (b) easy to follow stuff that you can master but is FUCKING BORING.

Hmm. Adolescence, like pubic hair, is never too far below.

joshcast: 2006 holiday edition

December 17th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: dj yeshu: holiday 2006

Despite major Murphy’s Law issues with my computer(s)—of which I will spare you the terrible details—here’s this year’s Yule Jam, real subdued-style as a joshcast (use your favorite download manager to capture the stream). The tracklisting is as follows:

(1) harold budd: the candied room; (2) mogwai: christmas song; (3) low: little drummer boy; (4) gregor samsa: silent night’ (5) american analog set: desert eagle [all i want for christmas mix]; (6) aimee mann: white christmas; (7) cue: new year, part 3; (8) josh rouse: christmas with jesus; (9) jeff buckley: new year’s prayer; (10) sarah mclachlan: i’ll be home for Christmas/Happy Xmas (War is Over); (11) deegan dewitt & the sparrows: christmas light; (12) trembling blue stars: christmas and train trips (13) louvin brothers: shut in at Christmas

Now, if you’re a perfectionist, I’ve also uploaded the CD cover and back, replete with track-listing and lovely winter art.

Happy Holi-daze Y’all.

annual ugh

December 13th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: And Also the Trees: Green is the Sea (1993)

I feel somewhat relieved but still more than a little annoyed after receiving a letter from my chair yesterday. The letter was a response from the “Budget Council,” the Star Chamber of full professors in my department, which is charged with (a) approving all major decisions made in the department (e.g., rubber stamping hires recommended by committees) and (b) reviewing the performance of junior and associate professors. The letter indicated that the previous letter of review sent to me in October was “in error.” So what happened?

My annual review letter this year was somewhat of a shock. To paraphrase, the punch line was something like, “although the BC applauds your research efforts, we note that this year was not as strong as last. In particular, invited publications do not count toward tenure,” and on and on it went about the necessity of external funding, publishing single-authored essays in top tiered journals, and so on. This is my second annual review letter, but the first was two months after I arrived, so it didn’t say much. I had been warned by colleagues the annual review letter was somewhat of a bummer, because legally they had to cover the department’s bum in the event I went postal or psycho or just turned into petrified wood. Nevertheless, the letter shocked me because it said my work the last academic year was substandard. I went to the chair and asked for some clarification, and was told that “technically” my year was not as strong as my last because I published a book then.

Now, I stewed on this for weeks. I spoke to a number of colleagues and different places, and they said they received similar letters (indeed, one friend of mine had a series of abusive ones). But still, I’m a sensitive boy and I need to be stroked every now and again. I published four things last year, two of which were indeed invited. One of those invited things won an award. The other two things were either first- or single-authored essays in top-tier, peer reviewed journals. It is true that all but one of these essays were composed before I arrived here, but, even so: I had a pretty darn good year. In fact, as I told my chair informally, I cannot do better—period.

While Mirko was in town visiting I shared the letter with him. He said, “well, you’re going to write a response, aren’t you?” I had been thinking about it, but I worried that there might be political implications and so on. Yet, there are possible legal ramifications and stories about Uberproductive Professor not getting tenure here are a dime a dozen. So I eventually decided to write a formal response to be included in my file. The response was brief. I basically said that I disagreed with the BC’s assessment of my performance, and that if they expected more than 2, top-tier, peer reviewed essays “on average” per year, then I needed that stated for me, in writing. It was short and polite (I thought), but would provide a paper trail. And besides, I felt a whole lot better.

The letter I received yesterday was an apology and quite contrite. It basically admitted that the BC was too hasty in its review and said upon further review I was doing a great job. What a relief! I thought I was going crazy or something, and I worried that my seniors were just too demanding. My worries about possible backfire and so on were unfounded. I should not be afeared to address my senior colleagues; I know that they want us juniors to succeed, and I know they are good people. I think too many juniors are afraid to disagree with their senior colleagues on these sorts of things. I mean, I recognize some departments are way more political and there are consequences to disagreement, so I won’t say this is the course for everyone. Regardless, this incident and its resolution makes me feel a whole lot better about my department (and myself). Lots.

Ok, so: why am I still a bit annoyed? Because the letter of apology proceeded toward a “teaching moment,” suggesting an alternative way to present myself on the annual review form (the directions of which I followed precisely). They suggested that instead of listing the “invited” publications first, I should list the peer review publications first. Nevermind that the invited publications were listed first because my publications were listed in alphabetical order, which is what the form and common sense seems to suggest. Nevermind that peer reviewed appears in boldface next to the publications that were peer reviewed. Believe it or not, I did realize my file would be reviewed quickly, which is why I put peer reviewed in boldface in the first place! Sheesh. I know, I know, the admission and apology are enough and I should not be annoyed.

Sorry, folks, I know this is just grousing, so let me see if I can make this sharing a professional contribution somehow: I suppose the moral of the story is that when one gets a review that does not reflect one’s own summation of her performance, write a response! Of course, you don’t want the letter to seem defensive, and so you should only list the facts. Such as letter may impact your tenure case and merit pay decisions. Paper trails are important!