December 23, 2010

Albums of 2010 part 2 (10-1)

10. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker (Modular)
It's nearly impossible for me to listen to Tame Impala without thinking of the Beatles and getting a bit nostalgic about classic rock. On Innerspeaker, there's no shortage of psychedelic jams; Zeppelin, Hendrix are all invoked here. And surely some of the credit for this big "classic" sound is due to Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann. Remember that supposed garage rock revival in the early 00s? Tame Impala's high octane riffs and melodic vocals wouldn't have sounded out of place during this retro revival, but their Aussie rivals (i.e., the Vines) would have fled for the hills.

"Solitude is Bliss"


9. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge)
This record provided part of the soundtrack for my relocation to Edmonton. It was especially appropriate for the drive through Calgary (shudder). The Suburbs isn't perfect, but it has the kind of emotional energy that only Arcade Fire can provide. Thematically, it's also the group's most sophisticated record; sure, the ideas are big and obvious (that's kind of a given in pop music), but the Arcade Fire handle them with delicacy and nuance. (Read my initial review.)

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"


8. Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me (Drag City)
With every release, Joanna Newsom becomes more surprising and less compromising. That being said, Have One on Me is more relaxed and refined than both Ys and The Milk-Eyed Mender. When the drums kick in on the effortless, swaggering "Soft as Chalk," for example, Newsom seems unsurpassable in her coolness. She steals a few octave jumps from Joni Mitchell, clumsily pounding the ivory like every great folk artist before her. By now, it seems inappropriate to even question her place among the finest of folk-singers.

"81"


7. Future Islands - In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)
Over the last six months Sam Herring has become one of my favourite vocalists. Channelling Frank Black, Carey Mercer, and Ian Curtis, Herring's ecstatic growl cuts against up-tempo beats and new wave ornaments. Amounting to nine tracks in under forty mintues,  In Evening Air is a punchy record, as affective as it is economical. (It also doesn't hurt that In Evening Air boasts some of the best album artwork of the year.) Musically, Herring & co. demonstrate plenty of range (from the angsty "Tin Man" to the hopeful, introspective "Swept Inside"), and the emotional drive that sustains this album (which rests heavily on Herring's vocal maneuvers and the chugging basslines) never feels forced or contrived.

"Tin Man"


6. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (4AD)
2008's Microcastle seemed like a big leap for Deerhunter (a leap that ended up being my favourite of the year); on Halcyon Digest, the band's feet are firmly planted. The ambient diversions and transitions have all but disappeared. Instead, we get a more diverse display of Deerhunter's best qualities. At times it's a pretty heavy record: mortality, aging, and transcendence are, as usual, heavily mined themes. Bradford Cox still seems preoccupied with obscure stories of religious affectation ("Revival" and "Helicopter"), while secondary songwriter Lockett Pundt aims for arena-rock with "Desire Lines." Cox & co. have yet to disappoint with their songwriting, but it's the stylistic moves and the instrumental additions (like the wicked saxophone solo on "Coronado") that make Halcyon Digest a great record.

"Desire Lines"


5. Beach House - Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Sometimes its a good thing that music puts you to sleep. On Teen Dream, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally practically pull open the covers and crawl into bed with you. When this album leaked early last spring, I made sure to keep it circulating through my stereo. Nearly every song could be a single and nearly every song could make for a great cover by a children's choir (please do yourself a favour and check out "Zebra," sung by the P22 Chorus). No record this year was as soft around the edges, as warm or as comforting. Teen dreams make for the best kind of nostalgia; Beach House present them with all of emotion and none of the regret.

"Norway"


4. The National - High Violet (4AD)
I like to imagine that The National's frontman Matt Beringer is the Don Draper of the indie rock world. It works on a few levels. Both dudes manage to embody a sadness that's not only believable, but attractive; they're both solitary figures with family problems (see, for example, the heart-wrenching "Lemonworld") and neither one is shy about his dependence on certain substances to make it through the day (and night). But the parallel breaks down just as easily. Beringer comes by his confessions honestly. Not only that, he's a sad dude you can actually relate to. I've given up wondering whether High Violet improves on 2007's Boxer, or even 2005's underrated Alligator. It may take less time to warm up to the National's new material than it used to be, but songs like "Anyone's Ghost," "Bloodbuzz Ohio," and the unbelievably epic "England," have serious staying power. And how can you not love I guy who confesses, "I was afraid I'd eat your brains"? I want to see this song ("Conversation 16") on The Walking Dead. I love albums that finish strong. High Violet ends as strongly as it begins. (Read my initial review.)

"England"


3. Menomena - Mines (Barsuk)
No one sounds quite like Menomena; but somehow Menomena manage to sound like almost everyone. Paradox! Well, it might be if I didn't have qualify it so much. But the point still stands. Menomena dwell in contradiction, and it appears they're quite suited for it. Brent Knopf's slight vocals appear pinned against massive walls of sound, while the rich baritones of Danny Seim and Justin Harris are just as often laid bare. If this is music for the end of the world, why do these guys insist fighting the forces of darkness with the weapon's of a bygone era? Why do they keep singing about religion when it's just as dead as everything else? Those familiar tropes keep popping up, and just as often, Menomena go for boldly sentimental choruses, with equal parts squealing guitar rawk and booming choral chant. With three brilliant multi-instrumentalist songwriters working together, Menomena's music is always more than the sum of its parts, and the songs on Mines move around so much you never know quite where you'll end up. (Read my initial review.)

"Lunchmeat"


2. Balmorhea - Constellations (Western Vinyl)
Thank God for this album. For most of the semester it was the only music I could study to. But classifying it as "study music" sells it short. Constellations is an achingly beautiful hybrid of southern folk and classical arrangements; imagine a cross between dust-bowl sounds of Gillian Welch and the careful precision of the French pianist, Debussy. It's the only instrumental album on my list, but the fourth album by this band from Austin, Texas seemed like a special discovery this past year and I'm grateful for the composure it offered during the long autumn months. There's nothing immediately jawdropping here; instead Balmorhea strive for slow-building understatement while staying true to their southern beginnings. Perhaps this strange fusion explains why these carefully arranged Constellations sound so warm and inviting.

"Bowspirit"


1. Women - Public Strain (Flemish Eye / Jagjaguwar)
Women had a mixed year. After releasing their second album to critical acclaim, the band made headlines for self-destructing on stage at show in Victoria, BC. I had tickets for their show in Edmonton the following weekend. I've never had to return tickets and I never expected that I'd have to do so because a band broke up the week before I was supposed to see them. By this point in November, I knew Public Strain was my favourite album of the  year. It may be odd to say for an album this noise-y, but this was my go-to album when I felt stressed out during the past semester. Like the snow storm featured on their album cover (totally surrounding its victims, making for poor visibility), Women smother their surf-guitar pop in dissonant feedback. That might have been too obvious, but I'd add that Women's musical blizzard is the kind of storm you take comfort in. At times Public Strain feels like the musical equivalent of wearing beer-goggles: disorienting, disconcerting, and kind of fun. Like the best experimental art-rockers (seriously, Sonic Youth, just quit and pass the torch to these guys; the same goes for No Age), Women make you work for those melodies; there's some digging to do here, but when you find that golden chord it feels new every time. I'm looking forward to their reunion tour. (Read my initial review.)

"Untogether"

December 22, 2010

Albums of 2010 part 1 (20-11)

Despite their orderly appearance, lists are never finished. There's always far too much to choose from, and timing is everything. Something could be on my computer since February and suddenly appear partway through November like some divine revelation. This year I have to make concessions to Vampire Weekend's Contra, Liars' Sisterworld, Sufjan Stevens' Age of Adz, as well as excellent albums by Shearwater, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Lower Dens, and Marnie Stern (to name a few): these records could have easily ended up on this list had I given them the time they deserved. What follows is a list of albums that I couldn't imagine going through my last twelve months without.

20. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
It seems appropriate here to begin with a bit of an apology. (Before this record dropped, Yeezy was making a lot of them, but now that MBDTF has already achieved "classic" status, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing a humble Ye any time soon.) How could I place this at the very bottom of my list, considering its mass appeal, its artistic sophistication, flawless production, etc? I've been blathering about it for the past week, making sure that "Monster" (and Nicki Minaj!) makes its rounds. If this was a list of songs, rather than albums, I'm sure it'd look quite different. Beginning with "Power," you're not likely to find a better three track sequence anywhere. So, Yeezy, while I must agree with most everyone else about the all-around awesomeness of your record (even your incredible list of collaborators seem aware that they're involved in a project bigger than their collective egos), I must also confess that I don't really know how to place it. Congratulations.

A word of warning: I've posted the most explicit song on the album. Headphones up!


19. Baths - Cerulean (Anticon)
On Cerulean, Will Wiesenfeld (aka Baths) switches easily between the sentimental ("Hall," for example) and bedroom-spun chill-wave ("Animal"), electronic and otherwise. In all cases the music is immediate and undeniable. Baths' occasionally freakish mix of vocal layers brings to mind the grating sounds of Passion Pit, but its Wiesenfeld's nack for sunny jams that makes Cerulean worthwhile.
 


18. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (Last Gang) 
To be honest, I don't much care for Crystal Castles. But after hearing "Empathy" and "Year of Silence" I was more or less hooked. More of a pop record than their first self-titled effort, Crystal Castles (II) offers plenty of accessible songs without sacrificing the group's signature style. Their Atari-inspired electronica still features harsh moments of screaming and distortion, but the warmth of songs like "Celestia" and "Baptism" showoff a group that's willing to adapt.



17. Villagers - Becoming a Jackal (Domino)
Irish folk troubadour Connor O'Brien (aka Villagers) was a finalist for this year's Mercury Prize. This being his debut, there's little doubt he'll have another go at the award. Becoming a Jackal is unpretentious and sincere, if at times a bit heavy-handed. Regardless of his weak spots, however, the guy is incredibly likeable. Then again, Becoming a Jackal finally works because O'Brien allows his material to take the lead. I think it's time for Bright Eyes to step aside: there's a new Connor in town. Snap!



16. These New Puritans - Hidden (Domino)
On their third album, These New Puritans blend together a mix of influences (and samples) from classical music, trip-hop, garage, etc. The result is music that feels confrontational to its very core. In the spirit of post-punk outfits like The Fall and The Wire, TNP put large emphasis on cut and paste electronic samples and angular rhythmic shifts. I like to think of most of these tracks as perverse Christmas carols.



15. Tara Jane O'Neil - A Ways Away (K Records)
A Ways Away is comprised of 36 minutes of introspective haze. How could it not be good? Even if you don't share my fondness for reverb, you won't be able to deny O'Neil's crystal clear vocals and her songwriting ability. Another quickly forgotten album from an incredibly gifted artist, A Ways Away came out early in the year and I was instantly absorbed by it. It's been impossible to shake ever since.



14. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Virgin)
Damon Albarn is a genius. This, dear reader, is not up for debate. So what if he hates Glee? Most reviews of this record don't even bother to mention Albarn's incredible work with Blur over the last two decades. With every release Gorillaz seem to up their game. "Stylo" was an interesting first single. I, for one, was expecting another "Feel Good Inc.," but instead we got an undanceable car chase sequence featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def. Among the many other guest spots on Plastic Beach (Snoop Dogg, Ruff Grys, De La Soul, to name a few), it was Lou Reed's bone-chilling contribution to "Some Kind of Nature" that I found most compelling. Creepy? Sure. Catchy? Always.



13. Warpaint - The Fool (Rough Trade)
I'm always happy when I discover a nineties throwback. Enter Warpaint. Even The Fool'spacing seems like it belongs to a bygone era. Stylistically, this was a near favourite of the year. The bass lines dance, the guitars rarely veer away from tremolo, and the vocal harmonies are delicately balanced. Shame about that hideous album cover.

 

12. Wild Nothing - Gemini (Captured Tracks)
It's hard to believe that Gemini is the product of one guy. Clearly a gifted songwriter, Jack Tatum mines the 80s for inspiration and finds it in the work of dreampop legends like Slowdive, the Cure, and the Cocteau Twins.  Heavy on the reverb, lazy with the vocals, Gemini allowed me to pretend that summer didn't end when the temperature dropped. "Summer Holiday," where were you when I needed you?



11. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (Kanine)
As the boys in Surfer Blood well know, on a ten song album, there's no room for filler, nor is there any reason to hold back. Along with the Morning Benders' Big Echo, this was one of the best (and most straightforward) indie rock records of the year. No flashy tricks; just power-pop with big hooks and radio-ready choruses that'll channel your inner teenager. Check out "Anchorage" (below); you'll know what I mean.

December 12, 2010

Milton and protestant toleration


















Currently, Of True Religion, John Milton's writing on toleration (trendy topic, don't you think?), is providing Miltonists with a good deal of critical energy and just as much cultural relevance. Hot on the heels of the so-called "Wars of Religion," Milton’s writing on toleration demonstrates how the Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura is fundamental to the early modern development of various heresies and sects, many of which claim to represent the true Christian religion. Indeed, by claiming that "Scripture is our only principle in religion," Milton must accommodate for the differences of interpretation that have resulted in a diversity of Christian sects. By privileging reading—that is, the honest pursuit of truth in God’s Word—over doctrine, Milton is able to draw a hard line between an active Protestant faith and what he configures as a passive, necessarily idolatrous Catholicism.

How, Milton asks, are we to combat popery, here in England? His answers are not surprising, but they are intriguing. First, “we must remove their idolatry, and all the furniture thereof, whether idols, or the mass wherein they adore their God under bread and wine: for the commandment forbids to adore, not only any graven image, but the likeness of any thing in heaven above, or in earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.” And if Catholics play the conscience card, “we have no warrant to regard conscience which is not grounded on Scripture.” In other words, conscience can only be legitimized by the reading of Scripture; that is, by the trial of interpretation. If tradition, or any other outside influence governs one’s conscience and orders one’s faith, Milton believes, one’s conscience is in error and one’s faith is idolatrous. Besides the removal of idols, Milton urges Protestants to combat popery by “duly and diligently” reading Scripture, by the “constant reading of Scripture” with others (“who agree in the main . . . though dissenting in some opinions”), and finally by “mending our lives.” 
   
As a recovering Anabaptist with Anglican inclinations, I can sympathize with certain moments of Milton’s iconoclasm and I can even endorse the sort of tolerance he briefly articulates by bringing up the disagreements that can arise from different communities of interpretation. However, I find Milton’s straw man of tradition not only troubling, but inexcusable, especially since he fails to acknowledge the fact that he himself is part of a tradition, albeit a rival one. How can Milton show such a deep love for the literary tradition, in which he reads and interprets literary texts—the classics, but also Chaucer, Spencer, etc.—and so easily dismiss the a tradition of orthodoxy that selected and produced the very Scriptures to which Protestant reformers believe they can simply and freely return? In the end, I suppose, I see Milton’s (and the Reformation’s) distinction between Scripture and Tradition as a false dichotomy.
   
It comes down to the way in which Milton defines heresy, and, indeed, Milton’s own heretical opinions seem to haunt this tract: “Heresy is the will and choice professedly against Scripture,” whereas “error is against the will, in misunderstanding the Scripture after all sincere endeavors to understand it rightly.” This distinction allows Milton to accommodate the fervent Protestants while at the same time distancing them from the inauthenticity of Catholic faith. Freedom and self-definition become the very fundamentals of faith, while the public and the social are denounced. Perhaps this turn inward is all that Milton can do to rescue what is left of Christianity from a process of secularization, at once tied to the Reformation, which appears to be at work in Enlightenment Europe. Milton admirably argues against truth as an institutional possession, but by closing it off from the Catholic tradition, Milton draws boundaries that appear to limit divine revelation. Purely internal notions of reading and interpretation that are irreconcilable with the tradition strike me as being vaguely satanic.

December 10, 2010

that special time of year

















I've always found the ridiculous, often vaguely offensive messages posted on Church reader boards a source of perverse delight. These days, on my way to school I pass by a United Church with a sign that offers the useless tautology, "God is born where God is born." Indeed! And "The meaning of Christmas is the meaning of Christmas."

December 2, 2010

atlas sound/sacred space

You can say what you want about Pitchfork, but they've got that whole "end of the year" thing down to a science and their off-shoot for music videos, Pitchfork TV, continues to showcase new ways for fans to approach their favourite artists. One of their best features, "Cemetery Gates," places musicians in the empty sanctuary of a gothic cathedral. For the well-behaved choir boys like Grizzly Bear and Jonsi it seems like a perfect fit, while bands like Of Montreal are forced to rethink their over the top stage presence. The video below finds Deerhunter's Bradford Cox performing material from Atlas Sound's 2009 release, Logos. One of the best songs on the album, "Attic Lights" sounds like it was meant to be played in this sort of context and it's all the better for it.

November 30, 2010

I never thought I'd say this, but I actually miss setting type.
(Click image to enlarge)
































image via Biblioklept

November 27, 2010

Milton, Derrida, and the site of hospitality

  















In his seminars on hospitality, Jacques Derrida sets out to distinguish conditional hospitality (which follows the ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian customs of hospitality toward to the stranger or foreigner as a legal obligation) from unconditional hospitality (which says “yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before identification, whether or not it has to do with . . . a human, animal, or divine creature,” (77)). Unconditional hospitality is transgressive, lawless, and absolutely heterogeneous to conditional hospitality; but it also depends on the limit of the law in order to break it. The scene of hospitality is therefore necessarily bound up with the religious and the emancipatory:
It is as if the stranger or foreigner held the keys. This is always the situation of the foreigner, in politics too, that of coming as a legislator to lay down the  law and liberate the people or the nation by coming from outside, by entering into the nation or the house, into the home that lets him enter after having appealed to him. . . . as if, then, the stranger could save the master and liberate the power of his host. (Derrida 123)
This post is an exercise for an upcoming paper: a preliminary attempt to explore Derrida's aporia of hospitality through the meeting of spirit and matter, divine guest and human host, in Milton's epic poem. Book V of Paradise Lost illustrates Milton’s attempt at an original, prelapsarian rule of hospitality, which inevitably involves the creation of domestic space. Adam and Eve are allowed to play host to Raphael. However, it is not humanity that first prepares for the arrival of a divine creature, but a gendered earth, who is depicted “Wantoned as in her prime, and played at will / Her virgin fancies, pouring forth more sweet, / Wild above rule or art; enormous bliss” (V.295-297). To call the earth “wanton” is to identify its essential excess, which is at once unnecessary (or gratuitous) and sexually suggestive: earth warms her “inmost womb” and it proves to be “more warmth than Adam needs” (V.302). Although female in type, the earth is constantly overstepping its domestic bounds. Perhaps this requires a rethinking of prelapsarian domesticity. In other words, the earth’s generous (potentially transgressive) hospitality prefigures, conditions Adam and Eve’s opening to the stranger from heaven. Indeed, says Adam, nature’s “fertile growth . . . instructs us not to spare” (V.319-320).

Roles are quickly established: this is one condition of hospitality. Adam is first host, while Eve is relegated to the food preparation. Adam’s directions to Eve are made in haste, for the occasion demands nothing less than their finest show of hospitality: “. . . go with speed, / And what thy stores contain, bring forth and pour / Abundance, fit to honor and receive / Our Heav’nly stranger” (V.313-316). As Derrida points out, in the act of hospitality, “Desire is waiting for what does not wait” (123). But the host’s desire also involves a certain expectation in which the host’s boundaries are breached: that “[c]rossing the threshold is entering and not only approaching or coming” and so the invited guest becomes the one who invites, “the guest becomes the host of the host” (123). Eve at once suggests that she and Adam are partly motivated by their own earthly pride. In their presentation of their home, Adam and Eve are suggesting to their superior guest that “. . . on Earth / God hath dispensed his bounties as in Heav’n” (V.329-330). In this way, their subjective importance to God lies hostage to the  potential validation of their heavenly visitor.

Milton’s description of Eve’s preparation emphasizes the place of labour in the domestic sphere. This scene of food preparation and composition is “a trope for poetry,” which orders and maintains the sensuous into rhyme and verse (333-336n). Meanwhile, Adam greets their guest, “bowing low” and praising Raphael, while attempting to articulate humanity’s giftedness, its favor in God’s eyes. That Adam and Eve “by sov’reign gift possess / This spacious ground” already puts them in receptive and submissive roles, thereby making their hospitality entirely conditional upon their status.

Raphael is a kind and hospitable guest; so hospitable in fact, that he condescends to eat earthly produce. But would Raphael have eaten earth’s harvest had Adam not invoked their mutual submission to God the father? By eating with them, Raphael fulfills the pretentious wishes of Adam and Eve. He admits, “God hath here / Varied his bounty so with new delights, / As may compare with Heaven” (V.430-433). But unlike humans, Raphael’s digestive process involves transubstantiation and secretes the food that is not absorbed by his spiritual body through his pores. Thus spiritual food differs from material food “in degree”; “. . .what God for you saw good,” says Raphael, “I refuse not, but convert, as you, to proper substance” (V.490-493). It is thus Raphael’s display of hospitality to the human pair which more closely resembles the unconditional hospitality of which Derrida speaks. Indeed, it allows for the story of Satan’s fall from heaven, it makes good on the human curiosity which later becomes transgressive, and temporarily disrupts the order of creation. Perhaps something similar takes place when Eve encounters and speaks (!) to the serpent.

Defourmantelle, Anne and Jacques Derrida. Of Hospitality. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

November 19, 2010

Delilah, PJ Harvey, and Samson Agonistes















Delilah, to be sure, has traditionally been considered a notorious woman; but as she tells us in John Milton's Samson Agonistes, “Fame if not double-faced is double-mouthed, / And with contrary blast proclaims most deeds” (971-2). Indeed, her name still appears now and again in popular music (many examples are terrible; see, most recently, "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T’s; as a music lover, it pains me to even bring this song up), where, she is associated with adultery, betrayal, and all-around immorality. She has become a loaded symbol, but she has also become a bit of a cliché.

Delilah’s currency popular culture isn't entirely disappointing. PJ Harvey’s 1992 debut Dry features a song called “Hair,” in which Harvey assumes the voice of Delilah. In "Hair," Delilah's initial fetish for Samson’s hair soon turns diabolical and domineering (at least in the eyes of the man): “Samson the strength that's in your arms / Oh to be your stunning bride / Samson your hair glistening like sun / Oh would that it were mine / Samson your hair that's in my hands / I'll keep it safe you're mine / He said, ‘Wait! Wait! Delilah my babe, / you lied in my face, / you cut off my hair, / you lied in my bed.’” Harvey’s main point of interest is in sexual politics: Delilah’s subversive cunning is the true source of power, while Samson’s divine potency is shown to be quite fragile. In the final lines, she dictates and redefines the terms of their relationship: “Samson you'll stay with your ’Lilah / I hold you in my hands your hairy strength. / My man, my man.” Delilah’s sexual satisfaction turns out to be her great weapon of domination; consequently, Samson has become her possession.


 

Milton’s poetic tragedy, Samson Agonistes, sets things up somewhat differently. Delilah emerges at the centre of this narrative, but we only meet her after the notorious betrayal has already taken place. Samson’s pathetic status as a blind prisoner makes her visit all the more troubling. In addition, Milton has twisted the story such that Delilah is not merely Samson’s mistress; rather she is his wife. Her actions are therefore even more dispicable. Recalling Satan’s epic movements in Paradise Lost, Delilah enters the poem described “Like a stately ship,” brave and richly “bedecked,” resembling the whore of Babylon (710-20). However, Delilah's infidelity has less to do with sex than it does with religion.

Delilah's final excuse for divulging Samson's secret rests on the contraints of her Philistine religion: she was “Adjured by all the bonds of civil duty / And of religion” (853-4). Again appeal to her own weakness, she asks, “what had I / To oppose against such powerful arguments” (861-2). This defense seems like it would have been especially relevant for readers in Milton’s time. One could easily see puritan Dissenters making the same excuse (that is, religious coercion) for their having participated in state-required Anglican worship: Delilah resigns herself to the fact that “to the public good / Private respects must yield” (867-8). Milton would, of course, reject such logic. Indeed, by his divinely inspired martyrdom, Samson eventually proves that “private respects” do not simply die away when they are outwardly repressed. 

Samson is guilty of having been “uxurious”: his over-love for Delilah, his wife, has resulted in his own subjection. With the sensuous rhetoric that ensues, it is not difficult to see how Samson was swayed to give up his secret. Though it may be “feigned remorse,” Delilah’s speech encourages our sympathy and Samson appears unreasonable. That is, until Delilah misogynistically reconfigures her own weakness as “incident to all our sex” and immediately suggests that Samson’s own error “show’dst me first the way” by mistakenly entrusting his secret to “woman’s frailty” (775-83). Furthermore, Delilah explains, “I saw thee mutable / Of fancy, feared lest one day thou wouldst leave me . . . No better way [to endear thee] I saw than by importuning / To learn thy secrets, get into my power / Thy key of strength and safety” (794-99). Here, it seems, PJ Harvey’s Delilah is not too far off Milton’s mark. Her reasoning resonates with Eve’s considerations just after eating the forbidden fruit: she is tempted toward sexual mastery over her partner by withholding a powerful secret.
   
Indeed, Delilah’s final words bring us back, once again, to her currency within contemporary popular culture, where she has become a symbol for subversive feminity, rather than a national hero:
  
    My name [. . .]
    To all posterity may stand defamed,
    With malediction mentioned, and the blot
    Of falsehood most unconjugal traduced.
    But in my country where I most desire,
    [. . .]I shall be named among the famousest
    Of women, sung at solemn festivals,
    Living and dead recorded, who to save
    Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose
    Above the faith of wedlock-bands [. . .] (975-986)

November 11, 2010

 

it's remembrance day; go read some hauerwas

Or just listen to him.

Does Remembrance Day treat war with enough ambivalence? The ritual of remembrance is ultimately a question of identity and collectivity. Is there a way of remembering war that doesn't participate in the the sort of political allegiance required by the nation state?

St. Augustine saw that war arose from disordered desires and ambitions but he understood that it could also be used, in some cases, to restrain evil and protect the innocent. Mass support for current war efforts, Christian or not, (formally) projects a similar view (though if any major military states actually followed St. Augustine's conditions for just war, our last century would have looked entirely different). For theologians like Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder, Christian pacifism is not just an abstract attitude about war; rather it entails the belief that God through Jesus Christ has inaugurated a history that frees all people from the assumption that there is no alternative to war.

For Hauerwas and Yoder, the debate between positions of pacifism and just war theology is a debate between differing assumptions about history and the performance of political allegiance.  The just war view of history demands that we must compromise ideals of peace because of our sinful condition, while the Christian pacifist believes that peace is not simply an ideal destined for compromise, but is rather a present alternative within the suffering body of Christ.

For many, war is the only way to preserve our common history and properly remember the sacrifices of our forefathers. To participate in warfare and to engage in certain styles of remembrance that validate the nation is to claim for ourselves the power to determine our meaning and choose our destiny. For Hauerwas, to protect ourselves against our enemies from a position of individual sovereignty is to protect a state-sanctioned version of history that is incompatible with the manifest weakness of God in the person of Christ.

November 5, 2010

Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (c. 1823), Henry Perronet Briggs

From The Fifth of November 
John Milton

[. . . ]

But still, Fame, you have deserved praise in our song for one good report, and there was never a rumor more truly honest. You are worthy of our song, and I shall never regret having commemorated you at such length in my verse. We English, who were plainly saved by your good offices, wandering goddess, render to you just thanks. God who tends the eternal fires in their motions, hurled down a thunderbolt and then, the earth still trembling, addressed you: "Are you silent, Fame? Is this band of impious Papists hidden from your sight, this crew that has conspired against me and my Britons, and this novel kind of murder been planned against King James?"

No more said he, but she responded at once to the Thunderer's commands, and, though swift of flight before, now she puts on creaking wings and covers her thin body with parti-coloured plumes. In her right hand she takes a sonorous Temesaean trumpet. Without delay, she beats the yielding air with her wings. And not content to outstrip the rushing clouds, she soon leaves behind her the winds and the horses of the sun. As usual she first spreads ambiguous rumours and vague rumors throughout the English towns, and then in a clear voice she makes public the plots and foul deeds of treason, unspeakably horrible; and she even names the authors of the crime. Nor does her garrulity conceal the places prepared for this ambush. Her news amazes young men, frightened girls and weak old men alike. People of all ages are suddenly struck to the heart by the sense of so great a disaster.

But meanwhile the heavenly father looked down from above with pity on his people, and thwarted the Papists' cruel attempt. They are seized and taken off to severe punishments. Sacred incense is burned and grateful honours paid to God. All the joyous crossroads smoke with genial fumes; the young people dance in crowds, for in all the year there is no day more celebrated than the fifth of November.

October 30, 2010

halloween is for suckers... and other treats


Last Halloween I posted a list of albums that celebrate the dark spirit of a holiday I don't much care for. It turned out to be a weirdly successful way of attracting hits. Apparently Massive Attack's Mezzanine has a lot of fans. I'm glad I could help.

I'm not a huge fan of Halloween, mostly for reasons having to do with my own laziness, but I can at least appreciate the spirit of a holiday that revels in the shadows. Perhaps if I still had my parents around to help me with my costume, Halloween parties wouldn't be prefaced by so much dread. I haven't had a decent costume in years. Perhaps this year will be different.

While I'm figuring out what to wear here's what I'll be listening to:

The Smiths - The Smiths
Since moving, it seems I've rediscovered this album and, while I've always held The Queen is Dead in highest regard, the Smith's debut keeps getting better each time I put it on. It may not have "Bigmouth Strikes Again" or "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" but The Smiths more than makes up for it. Instead we have the immature swagger of "This Charming Man," the narcissistic apathy of "Still Ill," and that infectious harmonica line in the erotic "Hand in Glove." Morrisey flaunts himself but its his awareness of audacity that his persona so compelling. It's the final song that gets me though. "Suffer Little Children," which is reportedly about Manchester's notorious Moors murders, is as haunting as anything in the Smiths' catalogue.

Future Islands - In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)
Imagine a frontman as charismatic and weird as the Pixies' Frank Black backed by a band as dark and industrial as Joy Division. Combine that with upbeat electro-pop and you have some idea of Future Islands' sound. Released this summer, In Evening Air is at once unsettling and danceable, crass and cryptic.



Warpaint - The Fool (Rough Trade)
Released this past week, Warpaint's debut rocks hard but delicately. Unfortunately it's already getting a slew of erroneously mediocre reviews. On The Fool layers of disenchanted vocals (to my mind, reminiscent of Cat Power) are set against a heavily grunge-inspired background. The result sounds like it could have been crafted in the early 90s, but I'm always happy to hear someone using tremolo guitar settings.

October 25, 2010

Cokemachineglow recently held a "contest" for amateur concert photographers. It was inspired by a series of angry/defensive user comments that responded a CMG writer's rant about how annoying and useless concert photographers are. Though I'm in full agreement with CMG's Clayton Purdom, I couldn't resist submitting one of my own photos. The concert in question was a special occasion. I was four feet away from Stephen Malkmus. How could I not snap a few pictures? And, funny enough, I actually won.

Here are a few more shots from the same show.



October 22, 2010

"Maintaining now the specters of Marx"

After a (long) month of reading Derrida, Specters of Marx emerges as an easy (but actually quite difficult) favourite. It may have something to do with the timeliness of my reading (Halloween is just around the corner), but much my admiration for this text comes form the way in which Derrida uses the opening scenes of Hamlet as entry point for his discussion of ghosts and specters. However, it is in the final chapter (after Derrida has discussed the heterogeneity of Marx's voice and has offered a ruthless critique of Francis Fukuyama), that Derrida stages his critique of Marx.

At a basic level Derrida reads Marx in the same way that Marx reads the German philosopher Max Stirner in The German Ideology: as haunted (and obsessed) by the ghosts of Hegelian-Christian idealism. In their preoccupation with specters, both Marx and Stirner follow what Derrida calls the “[s]pecular circle: one chases after in order to chase away, one pursues, sets off in pursuit of someone to make him flee, but one makes him flee, distances him, expulses him so as to go after him again and remain in pursuit” (175). Here, as Derrida notes, we can see that hospitality and exclusion belong to the same impulse: the specter of communism that Marx would welcome is bound up with the ghosts that Marx would like to exterminate.

In Capital, Marx sets out to conjure away the “representative consciousness of a subject." In his attempt to think otherwise than Plato, not to mention Hegel, Marx privileges that which “survives outside the head.” Stirner has set out to annihilate his “phantomatic projections” of Christian Europe but in so doing, Marx argues, Stirner merely replaces these phantasms with a second ghost of corporeality: the “egological body." Stirner has not touched upon the “actual relations” that constitute the “fatherland." For Marx the phantasm is a product of material conditions; Stirner fails because he believes such ghosts can be defeated on their own terms. But as Marx points out, the ghosts will only finally disappear when social and economic conditions are transformed. Derrida suggests that, in this ontological tradition, Marx is doing precisely what he diagnoses as a “quid pro quo” in Stirner (an exchanging of one thing—one self-presenced origin—for another).

Though disguised as a rhetorical maneuver, Derrida consistently deploys the familiar binary of “on the one hand . . . on the other hand” in this critique. He has done this elsewhere, but in the context of this critique, the figure of the hand at once suggests labour and use-value: an immediate relation between the human subject and its object. But the hand can also be an instrument of deception. In this way, Derrida endeavors to show that within Marx’s writing there is a “sleight of hand” at work, which occurs in the relationship between the “head” (Stirner) and the “hands” (Marx). Both, of course, are still connected to the body.  Derrida’s trope of the hands mirrors Marx’s trope of the head (in his critique of Stirner), thereby disrupting Marx’s privileging of praxis over thought as the means to a world without ghosts. But such a world is pure phantasm.

As Derrida demonstrates throughout Specters of Marx, haunting belongs to the structure of every hegemony. Therefore, "if he loves justice at least, the 'scholar' of the future, the 'intellectual' of tomorrow should learn it from the ghost. He should learn to live by learning how to make conversation withthe ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech . . . they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet" (221).

October 18, 2010

the university as solution

In a recent interview, Slavoj Zizek briefly describes the task of modern university:
What universities should do is not serve as experts to those in power who define the problems. We should redefine and question the problems themselves. Is this the right perception of the problem? Is this really the problem? We should ask much more fundamental questions.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what isn't happening at most Canadian universities, especially at the University of Alberta. An interview with U of A's president, Indira Samarasekera, in the September issue of the Walrus demonstrates again and again the way in which the Conservative government has based funding on the university's ability to fix the problems of the day and illustrates how the university is becoming more and more like an extension of the market.
U of A is Canada’s leading oil sands research and teaching centre. The method for the first commercially viable extraction process was invented here in the 1920s by Karl Clark, whose basic technology and engineering principles are still in use. The industry’s presence on campus today is most visible at the nine-storey Markin/CNRL Natural Resources Engineering Facility, with its state-of-the-art smart classrooms and specialized instructional and research labs; and at two institutes, the Centre for Oil Sands Innovation and the Oil Sands Tailing Research Facility, which house research chairs dedicated to bitumen and heavy oil development. Even the university’s interdisciplinary School of Energy and the Environment lists oil sands development as a primary field of research, followed by improved recovery, which is also about oil sands (alternative energy and energy and environment are listed as sixth and seventh, respectively). “As a publicly funded institution, we have a responsibility to enhance the public stewardship of important resources,” says Samarasekera. “Whether we like it or not, the world is still dependent on oil and gas, and until we get weaned off them we need them extracted with a much, much higher degree of environmental responsibility. I’m proud of our association with the environmental elements of oil sands work. That for us is a huge reputation booster.”

October 15, 2010

saxophones are finally cool again


















Although I regularly enjoy paging through Exclaim, Canada's monthly music rag, it's rare that I'll actually read anything in it. This month I had to make an exception and it paid off. The October issue features a substantial interview with Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. There are a number of particularly great moments and I can't resist posting a few of them here.

On the timeliness of his releases:
Every fall I want to put out a record because I like listening to records in the fall . . . I remember in high school and college, when records came out in the fall and I was really interested in checking them out. If someone in the band was having a baby or something [Halcyon Digest] would have been an Atlas Sound album, though I would have approached it a bit differently. The difference between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound has more to do with scheduling than anything else. There are songs that are just Atlas Sound songs and there are songs that are just Deerhunter songs, but Logos could have been a Deerhunter album. If I had to say this album was most like anything I'd say Weird Era Cont.
On the rising prominence of the saxophone in indie music:
I wanted that sax on there because I was listening to the Stones' Exile On Main Street reissue a lot . . . I began to see a pattern forming. Saxophones are becoming this thing. That's why we did it early. Next year everyone's gonna have a saxophone on their record because saxophones are just cool. This is gonna sound random and cutesy, but I've always had this fantasy of having a dog named Saxophone. Saxophone is one of my favourite words.
I can't help agreeing with Cox's point about the saxophone (all of TV on the Radio's albums are fine examples of this; and then, of course, there's Menomena), but I think it's growing popularity also has something to do with the fact that everyone's (finally!) re-embracing the early nineties. For me, this is a cause for celebration; indeed, it's not difficult to see why I'm such a fan of Deerhunter. The song Cox is referrencing (from Deerhunter's new album, Halcyon Digest), "Coronado," features a totally gratuitous sax solo that could have been lifted from just about any 90s sit-com (see below). Awesome.

 

October 12, 2010

the 2010 Massey Lectures


This past weekend the Globe & Mail offered its readers a preview of the 2010 Massey Lecture series. Giving the lectures this year is Douglas Coupland, the Canadian writer whose novels (Generation X, Microserfs, All Families are Psychotic, etc.) are full of pop culture trivia and (used to be full of) zeitgeist. Last year, Coupland authored a book on media prophet Marshall MacLuhan for Penguin's "Extraordinary Canadians" series. Before I graduated from high school and became an English major, Douglas Coupland was my favourite author. I even had some of the marginal slogans from Generation X ("nostalgia is a weapon," for example) made into stickers and proudly displayed them on my furniture. Our breakup was tough and I haven't had much success with him since. Coupland's lectures take the form of a short novel and are entitled Player One. What is to Become of Us? The series begins tonight in Vancouver.

internet wins

Last weekend's edition of the National Post featured an article by Dave Bidini that lists dominant cultural forms and their current successors: internet is the new tv; tv is the new cinema; cinema is the new literature; literature is the new theatre; theatre is the new poetry. Having just downloaded and viewed all five seasons of The Wire on my laptop (as well as various films), I can't resist qualifying Bidini's list. I realize that Bidini isn't only talking about forms of access; he's also describing popular reception in the midst of evolving cultural trends: i.e., the way people currently talk about and obsess over shows like Mad Men (not to mention the status of the actors, production value and all the careful cinematography) has reached a level that used to belong to the cinema; or, the reverence we once had for Great American Novelists has become a reverence for Great American Film Directors. But in my mind there's really no contest between television and cinema. In the end the internet wins at both. Now I just need to get my hands on a Kindle.

October 7, 2010

why study Milton?

For the very same reason that the school of New Criticism found his poetry so distasteful. As T. S. Eliot writes in his 1947 essay on Milton,
“. . . of no other poet is it so difficult to consider the poetry simply as poetry, without theological and political dispositions, conscious and unconscious, inherited or acquired, making unlawful entry.”

October 5, 2010

New Music: Women - Public Strain












Women's 2008 self-titled debut staged a battle between a discomforting wash of static/fuzz/feedback and the sort of pop gems most indie artists can only dream about. Women was a brilliant record, the kind that reaffirmed one's faith in indie rock and other outmoded genres. Here was a new paradigm, here was a model to follow; and it didn't hurt that it was produced by King Midas himself (aka Chad VanGaalen).

Women's sophomore album, Public Strain, carries a lot of the same momentum that made Women so successful. For one thing, Chad's back, and at this point I don't think Women's albums would be near as good without him at the helm. But the apparent conflict between noise and melody is much more understated on Public Strain; by consequence, the songs seem more organic and the result is a more cohesive album. Women remains great for those short punches of crystaline Beach Boys melodies set against the album's hostile background. Those beautiful moments still break through Public Strain (they're scattered through a song like "Eyesore," see below), but this time those moments remain an integral part of the album's chaos. I don't want to call it a better album, but I will say that Public Strain is winning me over more quickly than Women's debut. Perhaps what's so great about this album is that there is no "Black Rice" for everyone to hide behind. On Public Strain, Women feel more unforgiving, and I think they're better for it.

"Heat Distraction"


"Eyesore"

October 2, 2010

John Milton’s first (and most infamous) tract on divorce turns on the question of individual interpretation and its relation to the exegetical tradition. The two biblical passages that Milton takes up (the Mosaic allowance for divorce in Deuteronomy and Christ’s strict revision of this law in the Gospel of Matthew) appear quite straightforward, and yet Milton’s own traumatic experience of marriage propels him to stage a bold, new exegesis against the “canonical ignorance” that privileges the false “countenance” of custom.

In his essay "The Intelligible Flame," James Turner calls Milton's divorce tracts “authentically ugly” (both because of Milton’s selfish, idiosyncratic argument and Milton's unflattering rejection of sex as a degrading act of pollution), but they are at the very least compelling, if not for the earnestness of Milton’s individual agenda, then at least for the interesting approach Milton takes to Scripture and interpretation. First, Milton condemns literalist interpreters of Scripture and counts them among the “textuists” or Pharisees which Christ opposed. Such reductive approaches violate the “rule of charity” (Milton calls this “the interpretor and guide of our faith,” which resists “resting in the mere element of the text”), a source of liberty that Milton consistently invokes throughout.

What is worthwhile about Milton’s reading of Scripture -- however problematic it may be -- is that he recognizes how literalist interpretations fail to account for context. It does make a difference that Christ is talking to the Pharisees when he addresses the “tempting” question of divorce, and it certainly makes a difference in what may be one of the more striking (if not hilarious) moments of this tract: Milton smugly tells the literalists that, if his approach to interpretation does not persuade them, “let some one or other entreat him but to read on in the same 19 of Matth[ew], till he come to that place that says, ‘some make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’. . . And if then he please to make use of Origen’s knife he may well do well to be his own carver.” Milton makes this reference because Origen is said to have castrated himself in accordance with this passage from Matthew. If only Origen had been granted the liberal interpretor's "key of charity" he might have spared himself a whole world of pain.

September 26, 2010

christian (indie) music: a guide for the perplexed

Just so we're clear, I've always counted myself among the perplexed. Most articles from people like myself (who haven't actively sought out "Christian music" since they were a misguided youth) begin with a narrative or anecdote from personal experience. While I'm certainly not short on those, I'm not going to bother this time. Nor do I intend to give a you a genealogy of Christian rock, create a list of "indie" musicians who self-identify as Christians, sing the praises of Asthmatic Kitty, or discuss the strange (but fitting) history of some of Menomena's members. There are books and magazines that do that (although as far as I know they're still meant for hipsters of the Christian variety). I'm sure that at some point, perhaps in the near future, one of the many critics who grew up in the CCM cloister (apparently there are quite a few of us) will publish a detailed analysis of the Christian pop music phenomenon.

This is all just a roundabout way of introducing a recently published review of Starflyer 59's latest record by cokemachineglow's Chris Molnar. He offers some helpful advice to those of us who simply don't get why this bizarre subgenre should exist, and I think I agree with him.
In his review for 2008’s Dial M, Conrad asserted that “the best move this band can make isn’t stylistic but personal.” In other words, the negative effects of Christianity make Starflyer 59’s persistence within the Christian music industry immoral and inconsistent with their large, quality, and rarely religious body of work. I disagree: for me, as with Conrad, it was the impressive original roster of Tooth & Nail which helped make the bizarre nature of a Christian upbringing bearable. Those bands, including the Danielson Famile, Poor Old Lu, and eventually MewithoutYou, remain common points between me and anyone from a similar background. If I hadn’t heard Pedro the Lion’s Whole EP (1997)—released on Tooth & Nail—in the listening booth at Family Christian Stores, it would’ve taken me that much longer to emerge from the bubble, to grapple with the immateriality of the limits Christian music imposes on itself. Labels like Tooth & Nail seemed to once grapple in secret, hiding bands more ambiguously identified with Christian music behind a brand permissible to religious parents while introducing variety and perspective to music-hungry teenagers allowed precious little. They are, in other words, doing God’s work.
I suppose I was lucky. Much of the pressure to discover my music at the local Christian bookstore was self-generated: when I thought I'd covered the terrain and was still unable to locate an artist that I could honestly like, it was relatively easy to focus my energy on musicians that actually appealed to me. It's a shame I was never introduced to Starflyer 59 or Pedro the Lion. I might have lasted a bit longer.

September 23, 2010

Jacques Derrida’s “The University without Condition”


"Take your time but be quick about it, because you do not know what awaits you."

Let’s begin with a question of marginal importance: Why, in this address, does Derrida insist on mentioning that he's short on time and why is he afraid of “wasting” it? Late in his discussion, Derrida points out that the “clock sometimes represents the attribute of the humanist – the same clock that I am obliged to watch and that keeps a strict watch over the lay worker that I am here” (228). Time is a fictional construct ordered by hourly units, it is part of what maintains the structure of the university and the work that is done, both inside and outside the university. In other words, time operates as part of the architecture that defines and delimits the university. But what sort of work does such time permit?

The university that we have inherited (the university that engages us, the university in which we are engaged) operates within a framework based on Kantian ideals. For Derrida, the Humanities belong to Kant’s dream of a system of knowledge without work; as such, they appear to correspond to Kant’s pure concepts of the understanding in the Critique of Pure Reason (though here Derrida confines himself to the discussion of art and nature from the Critique of Pure Judgment). Kantian categories, which form the basis of knowledge, are purely constative: they “must prepare without prescribing: they would propose forms of knowledge that remain merely preliminary” (219). Kant’s Humanities are proposed to be scientific, neutral and universal. Even for the professor, whose work of professing is an activity, the Kantian university imagines a space free from the production of oeuvres. Derrida works to show how Kant’s privileging of the Humanities (his dream of sovereign knowledge) rests on basic, but no less generative, distinctions within the university, which constitute “the powerful juridical performatives that have given shape to the modern history of this humanity of man” (231). By taking Kant to task, Derrida reveals how Kant’s traditional conception undermines its own claims to interiority and sovereignty: Kant “withdraw[s] the faculty of philosophy from any outside power . . . and guarantees this faculty an unconditional freedom to say what is true and to conclude concerning the subject of truth” (219). Here, Derrida’s work is to reveal the horizon (which is both a limit and opening) of the Humanities.

At the same time, the Western tradition divides the activity of work from its concept of the “world.” Derrida’s decision to use the French “mondialisation” (instead of globalization) keeps our focus on this “notion of world that is charged with a great deal of semantic history, notably a Christian history” (224). In other words, mondialisation is a product of the Humanities, an attempt to think its outside through a lateral, universalizing process. Can we understand the sovereignty of Kant’s Humanities as a way to think our way out of death, perhaps as a further expression of interiority? Does Derrida’s rhetorical anxiety, mentioned at the beginning of this response, reflect the impending arrival of death?

September 21, 2010

a tale of two stephens

Stephen Colbert: "Who's you musical hero? Some who's been an inspiration to you..."
Stephen Malkmus: "...Reagan."



In other music news, Montreal's Karkwa won this year's Polaris Prize for their beautiful, understated album Les Chemins De Verre.

September 12, 2010

New Music: Deerhunter


Below, you'll find two tracks from Deerhunter's forthcoming LP, Halcyon Digest, out September 28th on 4AD. The word "halycon" refers to an idyllic period that's long past, a time of peace and happiness forever out of reach. Both songs stay true to this theme, but they do so via religious tropes. Deerhunter seems strangley at home in this sort of territory. Even with this kind of potential for easy irony (which is what becomes of most guitar-based indie music), they manage to create a beautiful but ambiguous synthesis between form and content. Whether or not these tropes are used in earnest, something profound gets across. And it probably has something to do with way Bradford Cox's introspective, androgynous vocals complement and blend into his band's enchanting walls of sound. As Microcastle proved for me over and over again, the music of Deerhunter is best thought of as a liminal experience.

The first is the official video for the band's second single, "Helicopter." In this song Cox laments his "cage," waits in vain for escape, and begins flirting with prayer. The saccharine harpsichord tthat opens the song provides a nice foil for the lush feedback of the chorus, and makes Cox's persona seem as tortured as ever.


Their first single, "Revival," (featured below) is a psych rock throwback sees Cox narrating a fairly straightforward religious conversion: "I'm saved, I'm saved / And oh, would you believe it? / On the third day / I felt his presence near me." The song allows for a comfortable beginning, but but before long it threatens "freedom," "lonliness," and "darkness always." Kierkegaard anyone?

September 9, 2010

a soundtrack for the summer


I'd be lying if I said I had a great summer. There were certainly some great moments, but my departure from Winnipeg cast a large shadow over much of it. So, here I am in a new city with a new vocation and a familiar climate. I'm still working my way through some difficult transitions, but what I've been dreading most is now behind me. And the stage has been set for a whole new kind of anxiety.

Here, in typically cryptic fashion, is my summer narrated through seven noteworthy tracks that I've been listening to over past few months. The list could have been much longer, but you know how it goes.

1. The theme song for every cool guy who struts his stuff on a street where nobody notices:
Panda Bear - Slow Motion, from Tomboy 7" (Paw Tracks)

2. When you're so chill that the intense heat is the least of your worries, and the beach remains nothing more than a refreshing idea:
Gorillaz - Rhinestone Eyes, from Plastic Beach (EMI)

3. For the inevitable return to suburbia and all the strange feelings (nostalgia, self-consciousness, anxiety, and isolation) that follow:
Arcade Fire - Rococco, from The Suburbs (Merge)

4. A lackadaisical, nostalgic embrace of that which is out of your control:
Wild Nothing - Chinatown, from Gemini (Captured Tracks)

5. More of the same via surf-rock; this time with a pseudo-romantic twist :
Best Coast - Boyfriend, from Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)

6. Here, finally, is some motivation; that boost you thought you needed is really an invitation to get over yourself:
The Roots - Right On (ft. Joanna Newsom, STS), from How I Got Over (Mercury)

7. Through the confusion, the false stops and starts, and all the static of interfering frequencies, something emerges -- not quite what you expected but the beauty is there if you let yourself see it:
Baths - Hall, from Cerulean (Anticon)