Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summertime Aural Affairs

You've no doubt heard me ramble on numerous times (on social networks, if not on this blog) about the perfect summer album of the year being The New Pornographers' fifth studio album, Together. This is their first undeniably A+ album, with every song a keeper, every song perfect for beach parties and endless sunsets, complete with four-part harmonies and riffs you will remember all summer long.

Still, there were more jewels offered up in mid-June, before a drought that precedes the August-September flurry of Arcade Fire, Strokes, Belle and Sebastian, REM, and Interpol (oh, and did we mention, New Pornographers' own Kathryn Calder with her first solo album? Watch out, Neko "I'm white trash and I will pummel your ass" Case!) To wit:

1. Laurie Anderson, ""Homeland" -- A remarkable, eerie work that takes off where "United States" left off. Yep, on beyond Sharkey or Strange Angels. It's imperative to get the full Fenway Bergamot experience by picking up the 12" vinyl single and "Pictures and Things", a companion to "Another Day in America." And if the CD/DVD pack seems pricey, it's worth it for the DVD in which Laurie explains how the harmonic violin works, and Lou Reed tells how he had to play dictatorial hubby-editor, to convince Laurie she couldn't use 106 tracks on an album, and that "Laurie can do anything except the practical You would not want her to be a tour director, or negotiate a contract." And Eyvind Kang plays violin, what more do you want? One of the year's best.

2. Devo, "Something For Everyone" -- OK, I admit I really wanted to hate this album after seeing the band on Letterman and Regis & Kelly. Of course I've always loved the Mothersbaugh/Casale crew, but in the late 80s and 1990s, they were getting pretty insufferable. If I never see another flowerpot.... Sure, in the new album they use all those idiotic catch-phrases like "Don't tase me, bro," but the end result is more than a 21st-century whip-it disco, though it will never be as scary as Devo's Booji Boy roots. Devo just wants us to consume and dance until the edifice falls, and that's OK for now.

3. Robert Pollard, "Moses on a Snail" - I won't go along with reviews calling this morose or inconsequential, but it is not a Pollard party album. Despite a couple upbeat songs, it is the Pollard version of a Michael Gira "Angels of Light" project - pensive, introspective, all that. OK with me, but if I could change one thing, I think the cover art is hideous, even if it's supposed to be ironic.

4. The Roots, "How I Got Over" -- It would be understandable to worry about Jimmy Fallon's house band going uber-commercial, but that's not what is going on here. They've adopted a chilled-out Gil Scott-Heron type of sound, except many of the songs are in a minor-seventh key, so they drift together as a continuing riff, with guest singers and rappers fading in and out, including such odd collaborators as Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, and John Legend. And of course, since it's The Roots, you know the lyrics are culturally-socially conscious, if a little down.

5. Elephant Micah, "Live at WNYC" -- Many thanks to Gavin Hobson for saying this was one folkie voice I had to hear, and WNYC for making this a free "Spinning on Air" download ( Hearing this guy is like hearing Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer for the first time - not because Joe Connell's/Elephant Micah's voice is like Dave's, not because the lyricism is similar, maybe because they're both transcendentalists, though Dave was a Buddhist transc., while Joe is more of a Thoreau/Emerson type. Songs about canoes on Indiana lakes are about as direct as anything gets these days. Really worth hearing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No Free Passes

I (too) often complain in this blog about the tendency by many to place individuals on pedestals, and grant them groundless coolness cachets on the basis of gender, ethnicity, past accomplishments in social realms, or general reputations of being past ascended masters. We have a chance to invent ourselves anew each day, and should strive to work for kindness, integrity, and worthiness in our daily interactions with other people. Snaring a free bathroom trip from the hall monitor tends to make the anointed lazy.

Now granted, this can get pretty difficult in figuring out how to weigh the integrity of artistic vision. I might grant that a misogynist wife-beater can crank out good prose, maybe that a transcendent vision even requires a but of antisocial behavior, but I'll be damned if Ezra Pound will ever make my pantheon of poets after all his years as a Nazi sympathizer. The personal is political, and personal faults do hamper integrity of (artistic/cultural/political) vision. Why is this so hard for some camp-followers to accept?

This came to mind in early June because of all the attempts I saw by some team players to excuse the inexcusable. Examples:

* Thankfully, few feminists today are ready to say that a woman winning a political race represents a victory merely because of her sex. It was good to see two former high-tech CEOs enter California congressional races, and I would have no problem seeing either Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina be declared Republicans with a message of fiscal responsibility. Where I have a problem is watching both women pander to the tea-party irrational conservative movement. Whitman was bad enough, spending her way to certain victory and making unsupportable statements on tax policies. But Fiorina has left the sane world behind, rejecting the reality of global warming and trying to sound like Glenn Beck's best friend. Is it any wonder some Hewlett-Packard board members wanted to remove someone this disturbed from HP management?

* Barack Obama has taken hits for everything from civil liberties to the BP oil spill, but few have noticed how much his recent actions with drones and Special Operations expansion, negate most of what he has said about zero nuclear weapons and a new National Security Strategy. Granted, his views on preventive war are not as extreme as Dick Cheney's, but as Ivan Eland pointed out at, what you say in public is not nearly as important as actions on the ground.

* I know I bore you all with my tirades as a confirmed Apple hater, but I tried to give design expertise its due when I got an iPhone as a birthday gift in late May. As I posted in Smartbook Blog, I loved the phone and its apps, but did not love my experience after the digitizer glass smashed only one week into ownership. I could forgive this not being covered under warranty, but I could not forgive the cult-like experience of entering an Apple Store, or the staff's refusal to admit that you can buy digitizers in the after-market. Apple simply is not a company that treats its customers (or partners) fairly.

So let's go through the ground rules one more time - be you a woman, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, disabled, LGBT, a politically-correct do-gooder or an artist with decades-long reputation, you are not entitled to a coolness quotient on the basis of identity or past actions. You must win the respect of your admirers anew every day, and those participating in bad behavior should be reported to the principal.