January 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This line, said to me at the end of my unexpectedly harrowing night, stuck with me as I walked back to my apartment after midnight, the streets emptied of protestors and police alike. The struggles of the Egyptian people then appeared to me more difficult than a line in the sand between the state and the people, more complicated, and more ominous as the week unfalteringly continued towards Friday, when demonstrators are calling for a million to participate in Cairo alone.
A different image was in my head as I headed back to Talaat Harb, a center near Midan Tahrir where I and my friends Ben and David had heard a protest had formed. Earlier in the day, running down Ramses Street from police near the Lawyer’s Syndicate, a man stopped me along a wall. He told me to take a picture and pointed.
January 27, 2011 § 2 Comments
On the 25th, I sought to document the basic atmospheres and events by grounding it all in my perspective, as I didn’t feel confident or comfortable to say anything but what I was perceiving, what I was feeling, what I was thinking. How can I, an American with the kind of privilege that extends to here and gives me the ability to walk through the protests (most of the time) without a target on my back, talk about what is going on for the Egyptians, in their heads? Yesterday provided me with a different opportunity, which I will write about in my next post, but here I want to recap what I encountered yesterday afternoon, where protests were smaller, more tightly restricted, and eventually more violently dispersed.
During the afternoon, from about 3PM to 6PM, I walked with Ben and JP through the main protest areas: the law and press syndicates, Ramses Street, and behind the Hilton Hotel on the Cornish. Each one had its own tensions and its own feels, and for the most part I felt similar to how I had the day before: unable to gain access to the prevailing mentalities.
January 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
Slowly stepping into some nascent form of adulthood taught me that growing up is less about becoming something new as much as it is about reconciling with what you already are, first. Like learning about physics before you start building a house. I could list the flaws and idiosyncrasies that are yet being tacked on to this list, but one stands out in the relief of yesterday’s protests in Egypt – namely, my tendency for extremes.
I walked out of my apartment in downtown Cairo, three blocks from the center of the city and the eventual center of the protests, around 2PM yesterday with a small group of fellow Americans. To degrees, they shared my opinion: the day would resemble what we had read was the history of Egyptian protests, a contingent of 400-500 activists cordoned by more police than protestors, eventually fizzling into a wash of unmet expectations and frustrated plans. We weren’t alone: even Egyptians we talked to claimed nothing truly would happen.
January 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I recently reviewed Les Comores by Reines d’Angleterre for the music blog Cookshop. You can read my review at the link above, but I suggest browsing the site: it’s a great mixture of styles and genres, especially in the consistently under-appreciated more post-modern and abstract genres. Really well done site, and I’m pretty excited to have written for it.
Another site I want to point out is ECHOBOOMER, which is an online magazine featuring reviews, essays, and other art all created and posted by a group of young adults who have some great ideas to share. ECHOBOOMER is just starting out, so it’s a good time to following along.
January 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The ten albums I most enjoyed from the last year. Ok, fine… Eleven.
10. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt. 2 (Return of the Ankh)
It doesn’t take much for me to become pretty effusive about Erykah Badu. I think that she is something of the female Bob Dylan, a musician that has embraced a cultural genre of music and has expanded it, has bettered it, and all the while has consistently reinvented herself with each album. New Amerykah Pt. 1 is one of the most creative albums I own, and each return to it impresses upon me the absolute auteurship of Badu. New Amerykah Pt. 1 is more personal, more musically unified, and less risk-taking than Part 1, but is also a masterwork in the genre. Badu’s voice is of course the centerpiece, and what can you say about it? It’s like trying to pin down Dylan’s lyrics in a sentence, and like Dylan’s lyrics, the voice is working at so many different levels. Each sample and riff is counterpointed perfectly with it, another instrument and yet not simply an instrument but the direct extension of a Personality behind it. Simply perfect neo-soul.
Listen to Window Seat
9. The Phantom Band – The Wants
How do more people not listen to The Phantom Band? Take The National and make them Scottish, add an elliptical kind of krautrock, and change the suburban angst to a surreal kind of apocalyptic angst, and you’ve got The Phantom Band. Lead singer Rick Anthony has an adept switch of registers, but for the most part he sticks to a low, forceful brogue. The band is restrained and polished, getting every piece right, but mainly waiting around for the right moment to tear the songs open. A lot of these songs are longer than 5 minutes and for good reason: the band rotates around a riff and basic sequence until it becomes almost hypnotic, until you almost don’t realize the growing intensity and claustrophobia being built up around you.
Listen to Mr. Natural
January 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
After more than a month away, I am finally returning to my attempt at a novel. I am certain that my time away will be a double-edged sword: for all that I might have clarified, I fear that I will leave behind some of the threads I started as well. I guess this is pretty normal in the first draft of anything, but it’s still quite odd watching it happen.
In any case, Chapter 5 of Part 2 is up which is my first chapter centering on Lynn.
January 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
Today on Huffington Post, writer Anis Shivani continued his annoying screed of insular self-worship with a ridiculous article claiming New Rules For Writers, most of which boil down to If you are a writer you need to be as horribly argumentative and self-important as I am. Every so often someone descends from on high and tells us all How To Be Writers – though oftentimes it’s someone who has, like, written things, and has a little more ground to be listened to – and often the most basic point is missed: there is no Way. In fact, I’d go for the literal interpretation of that sentence also: there is no way possible to become a writer. Which is awesome, because then you don’t have to worry about “Becoming A Writer,” and you can just focus on writing.
One of the things Shivani critiques strongly is the MFA system, for the usual silly reasons. Sure, an MFA program runs the risk of creating students of a specific aesthetic, but that and any other risk are far outweighed by two major benefits: 1) a funded few years of writing (non-negotiable for me), and 2) a community of other artists and writers of varying skills and aesthetics.
The second point is what I am briefly focusing on, the community of artists. I have always really appreciated being connected to other writers, musicians, etc: their work and thinking has continually changed and shaped my own for the better. Shivani may believe that artists must work in isolation, but I believe that those artists are missing out on living, breathing art that can teach us within community.
All of this is an introduction to a new semi-regular feature that will occur on the blog, which I have cheesily named Words’-Worth. Words’-Worth posts will feature a poem about a photograph from a friend, giving me a chance to indulge in ekphrastic art and to post photos from others on my blog. One of the regular contributors will be Ms. Sara Larson, who is starting her own project documenting her learning and experimenting with photography. And if you are reading and would like to send a photograph, feel free as well.
Hopefully the first of these will be up this week, as well as more work designed to connect the random reader of my blog to other amateur artists. There’s a lot of great dreams in the world, and a lot of great people trying to sculpt them into something.
January 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The first third of my favorite albums of the year featured a lot of artists I already loved releasing consistently great material (you can find #30-21 here). In the following ten, the majority (all but two) are artists I had never heard before this year.
20. Dylan LeBlanc – Paupers Field
I was pretty unenthused to listen to this album. 20-year old Americana singer-songwriter from the South… it’s the bio of a thousand cookie-cutter, boring musicians. I am not exaggerating, however, when I say the absolute first line hooked me. The slide guitar swoops into album opener Low, and then Dylan’s is-that-really-a-20-year-old’s-voice murmurs out a clearly visioned line that sets the scene in the natural world, with trees and whispering winds, and that’s it, game over. The album is incredibly mature, it’s quiet and crafted, never veers towards the pastiche sentimentality I hear in Ray Lamontagne and keeps itself squarely Americana, burnishing its credentials in the backing vocals sung by the always incredible Emmylou Harris. Basically, one can sum up LeBlanc by saying he is a restrained Ryan Adams without the rockers or the failure to self-edit. No barnstormers on this album, but plenty of rainy day music to listen to outside.
Listen to If Time Were For Wasting
19. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
I’ve written now four or five different introduction sentences to Dessa, which seems right. She is an artist without classification: singer? rapper? writer? spoken word poet? It’s all there in Badly Broken Code, new release from the incredible Doomtree collective in Minneapolis (a collective that is making some wonderfully creative hiphop right now). Dessa has a book of essays and poems out as well, and you can see the literary quality of her work throughout the album – her first full-length release. She combines her visual storytelling with a distinctive and addictive rapping style and provides her own hooks through her thin and emotive through-its-flaws voice. I think “authentic” sums up Dessa: she has everything out there, every emotion and thought in its honesty, and yet it never becomes maudlin or emo. Every now and then, critics like to talk about the ‘future of hip-hop,’ but Dessa – along with Janelle Monáe below – are creating this future (does it surprise anyone that hip-hop is moving forward when women are getting more squarely involved in it?).
Listen to Dixon’s Girl
January 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Play my iTunes on random long enough and eventually there’s a song that just isn’t a song, just isn’t music. Or is but doesn’t sound… pleasing. Whether it’s noise or musique concrète, free jazz or lo-fi rock, absurd mash-ups or sounds of dolphins, it certainly isn’t what one expects after pushing the play button.
I’ve heard more than one criticism of my tastes after hearing some of the more harsh music I enjoy – that I am contrarian or pretentious, that I like something just for the sake of liking it, that I want to like obscure music and music that one won’t intuitively “get” for appearance reasons (but really, the last time I liked something for appearance sake was when I pretended to like Led Zeppelin: in my heart, I just really don’t get them).
So what draws me and many others to undeniably weird music? I have been thinking about that a lot over the last few months because I have found myself returning again and again to albums that are just ridiculous in the overarching sense of popular music (meaning music that is recorded and sold and purchased, not the genre of Pop) and the mix below will highlight this. For me, I realized that it is the basic fact of its oddness that first draws me to this music.
January 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
Conversation with friends yesterday eventually meandered through territory I’ve tried hashing out before to negligible results – namely the difference between the kind of criticism we most often read in newspapers and magazines and online and is collected by Rotten Tomatoes, and the kind of criticism that might actually be more worthwhile to attempt.
The thought is something like this: a movie critic watches a movie and basically tries to say whether it is worth seeing or not, and provide the merits for or against it. Many critics give a numerically relative value to the films as well – 3 stars, 15 gold coins, 10 sleighs named Rosebud – and the emphasis is on placing the film in an aesthetic context wherein we can see what counts to the reviewer as Good Art and what counts as Bad Art. It is, basically, an exercise in taste-making: if you have as good of taste as I do, you should see X over Y. Z film is a masterpiece because of etc etc (as a tangent, I am almost completely convinced that movies and the movie industry today are incompatible with Art, but I am assuming they are not here. More on that in a different post).
I don’t think this model works, especially now that we have the awful awful aggregator known as Rotten Tomatoes, a site that pretends there is some sort of objectivity in Good Films and if the film is actually good, then all of these reviewers will agree: 100%. The farcical nature of such a site has created a movie culture that is almost angry when others disagree: you can read the comments on Rotten Tomatoes about any Armond White review to see this in action. In the music world, the clout of a website like Pitchfork.com (and, of course, its audience) has made it similarly a kind of taste-making machine.