Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Favorite Records Of The First Half of 2021

I have thought for the past few years that doing more regular music posts would be far more manageable, and potentially more useful, than doing a single year-end list. Of course, I don't really have the motivation to actually try to track down a position writing about music anywhere. I'm bad at it usually, and I'm not sure how much I value the current expectations of the form. (My ideal is the Forced Exposure style paragraph-long review, very much the opposite of the five-paragraph essay form that the internet's lust for content has made standard.) However, this time I've written up a baker's dozen of my favorite albums of the year so far, Bandcamp links when available.

Rosali - No Medium. The LP pressing of this sold out immediately and I truly regret not grabbing one. I had this idea I'd be able to find a physical copy in Philadelphia, as Rosali Middleman lives here, but so far no luck. If you see a copy in the wild grip it and get in touch please. This is why I'm listing it first! Anyway, this is so listenable. Backed up by the David Nance Group, who rock in this sort of Neil Young/Crazy Horse style of the chaotic choogle, with killer female vocals that are very pure and unaccented/unaffected. I've been playing last year's David Nance LP, Staunch Honey, a lot too, the swamp-rot vibe feels very weather-appropriate in our era where even the Pacific Northwest will be made sweltering climate change. I loved Trouble Anyway, the last Rosali record, a lot too, but this is real Summer BBQ jams. Feels like the reoccurring lyrical theme here is the plainspoken sexual desire of a woman pushing forty, real put-the-beer-bottle-to-your-forehead sorta stuff.

Palberta - Palberta5000. These ladies have a Philly connection too! Everyone knows that Palberta is a sick band these days. Except the Pitchfork review for this record was a real "Huh, I object to a lot of stuff being written here." Like, describing songs as acapella despite the presence of instruments. And crediting certain instrumentation as being particularly strong from certain members even though they switch instruments constantly and I have no idea how you'd be able to distinguish one person's playing from another. Anyway, rocking in the Minutemen/Deerhoof mode, tightening up their pop side to get that much closer to the Exile In Guyville sweetspot, but with killer vocal harmonies. The sort of record that you start playing and don't turn off because once a song starts and you recognize it you know it's a banger.

Azita - Glen Echo. Not sure I've ever super-dug into Azita Youssefi's body of work though the fact that she fronted Bride Of No-No backed up by the two radicals that later went on to do Metalux means a lot. I also think I maybe saw an Azita set opening for Shellac fifteen years ago but can't remember. Anyway. Lots of people will describe her solo music as sounding like Steely Dan, and while I increasingly am around people who will tell you that's a good thing it doesn't mean much to me but I am vaguely picking up a vibe from this where it's like... Are people responding to this vibe? But also there's this first Velvet Underground LP guitar tone, the vocals aren't godawful, there's nothing corny here. There's just this detached groove. Find this very easy to get into.

Fievel Is Glauque - God's Trashmen Sent To Right The Mess. Another one where I'm like "Is this what people like about Steely Dan" as they do something that feels like jazz or bossa nova but with very concise songs up in front of the weird chords/improvised actions. Led by Zach Phillips on keyboards, and while I also really liked the Perfect Angels tape (particularly the Chiffons cover, and that there's a song dedicated to Morgan Vogel, a friend of friends) and am super-psyched for Blanche Blanche Blanche's return, I gotta concede this is more "accessible" than the latter. All these projects are fronted by these vocalist/personalities that are radically appealing in their je ne sais quoi/fearlessness at presenting a charismatic personality but in a way that's unafraid to get dadaist/avant-garde in its lyrical strategies in an era where "lyrical persona" is so closely connected to "press release narrative" that there's no mystery left, what Marie Clément does here is so mature in comparison - the accent will have people pigeonholing it as yé-yé, but while that's inaccurate to what's happening musically, it suggests how being mildly aloof is totally baffling in an age of literalism.

Blanche Blanche Blanche - Seashells. Damn OK, thought I was just going to let the Fievel Is Glauque thing serve as my coverage of Zach's oeuvre but I'm so psyched for the return of Blanche Blanche Blanche, a longstanding favorite band, and I gotta get into what Sarah Smith is doing here, fronting a more pared-down musical backdrop with an even more casual set of provocations. Despicable Me, "can I fingerblast you," jeepers creepers y'all, you are truly free. The ad-libs alone feel like crashing a car into a Reddit server. "Blue" Gene Tyranny liked this band? Damn dog.

"Blue" Gene Tyranny - Degrees Of Freedom Found. This is a 6-CD box set that I'm only starting to dig into, I can tell you that discs two, five, and six are maybe the most accessible ones to start with. I loved Out Of The Blue and Trust In Rock, didn't really fuck with the solo piano Detours record I'd heard, the stuff I like here isn't really similar to either extreme, often juxtaposing synthesizer with other instruments. Some of the most immediately grabbing stuff feels like it's using SNES midi flute sound palettes with real piano accompaniment. I've barely dug in but I've found some rewards already, and if all of disc four, with its extended narrative, ends up clicking for me the way that side B of Out Of The Blue, "A Letter From Home," does than that'll be a hell of a thing.

Armand Hammer & The Alchemist - Haram. Texted friends like "Armand Hammer really out here eating people," this shit sounds so good. "Indian Summer" is the track where it all starts to really click, incredible verses, incredible production, by the time you get to the sorta singing on the last track I am pumping my fist like damn music is incredible.

L'Rain - Anguish. This just came out and I was unfamiliar with the artist beforehand. Often, music by black women is written about in a way that really centers a narrative of the artist's identity over what the music itself is doing - music writing does this because no one understands music theory, but people do understand a personal story. Stuff like this, that's totally fucking wild musically just has no context for it besides the same hyperbolic "this is important" language used to discuss artists that are far more popular and widely-known. So when I first heard of L'Rain, through a Tone Glow interview, I just read the interview being like "I have no idea what this person's music sounds like." Partly that's because Tone Glow usually covers "experimental" music that I don't particularly care for or find too minimal, and that's what I assume is the deal with most of the artists they interview whose music I haven't spent much time with, but I could tell that wouldn't be the case with this. Now that I've heard it, I'd describe this as R&B with a collage aesthetic, like Erykah Badu being produced by The Oliva Tremor Control, but I don't love that description and I'm just trying to get you to check it out, shit is wild.

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels - Tone Poem. I am trying to be on the lookout for Charles Lloyd records for cheap, feel like he's pretty undervalued due to how he was popular at the time, and didn't make free jazz records, but his classic bands are all sick as hell. Gabor Szabo's Dreams LP got a bump from the Youtube algorithm and Szabo played on some classic Lloyd LPs. This isn't on Bandcamp because it's released on Blue Note but you could check out this 2-CD set of live shows from 1965 with a killer band. The guitar connection sorta connects it to this band The Marvels, which features Bill Frisell. I loved the record they did a few years ago that had Lucinda Williams singing on half the songs. I almost compared Rosali to Lucinda Williams but it's not so much that their voices have things in common that I am like... I think the people who like this artist are getting a vibe that I am getting from this wholly other thing. That's a tangent, this one has a covers of Ornette Coleman tunes and no vocals.

Paulina Anna Strom - Angel Tears In Sunlight. RIP. Not sure how to talk about these electronic soundscapes,"fourth world," maybe? Gorgeous ambiences being evoked while always being too musical and full of life to be characterized as ambient. I loved the reissue RVNG did a few years ago too.

Humanbeast - Divine Redeemer. I really like these two and have seen them rip killer sets a bunch of times, haven't seem them perform in ages, this is a double LP, wildly ambitious, so sick. I was a little bit let down with the record they did for Load because all those songs would be more fucked up, noisy and aggressive live, so circumstances having prevented me from experiencing this material beforehand means just getting into these tunes now, which I believe are all like the edited-down versions of longer excursions.

Editrix - Tell Me I'm Bad. The avant-garde guitarist Wendy Eisenberg fronts what they call an indie rock band and goddamn you know I love it. More than the no wave band Birthing Hips, more than their solo folk project, I didn't hear the Tzadik LP with Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith but while it's quite possible I would've liked that a good amount but come on, I am always describing myself as "the biggest indie rocker at the noise show," I think that vibe comes through with this list, and this album, which is kinda like a heavier Deerhoof but again with lyrics that seem like they are mostly jokes (like "what's your sun what's your moon what's your rising" on a song called "Chillwave") feels like it's designed to snap the necks of anyone not all the way on its level, which might include me most days, but also is perfectly in line with how I'm feeling most days. Like I would snap my own neck for not being on the right level.

DIDA - Ingenuous Scenes. I've never played Katamari Damacy and am assuming this is what the music is like. Real video game world kinda thing. Brightly colored, very melodic, but also with such an emphasis on a sort of artificial environment and moving through it. I find it really engaging.

Friday, May 21, 2021

UFO Or Diamond

 As lockdown ends, and people potentially can return to a world of casual socializing, there remains a question of what there is to talk about. The ongoing catastrophe has impressed upon us a fatalistic worldview that no one wants to hear about at a party. The news offers its share of celebrity gossip and political flashpoints, but those present their own pitfalls. Thankfully, we have news of UFOs being acknowledged as real by authority figures considered legitimate. I have a spiel I am excited to go off on after two beers, but when one friend was like “I want to read that essay,” since she lives in a different city than I do, I decided to put it down for posterity because we might not find ourselves at the same BBQ in the months to come.

First off, while I reject the “mathematical probability” aspect of the simulation hypothesis*, I do think we have to consider the notion of life on other planets pretty much a given. However, there remains a question of what exactly we’re talking about when we talk about life: We get excited about the prospect of water within our solar system, or frozen bacteria. Even if we’re extrapolating beyond what’s known, we’ve gotta concede we’re mostly talking about slime molds, maybe jellyfish in some other “Goldilocks zone.” It’s very cool to imagine a planet where the most advanced form of life is just a squid, and this is a much better starting place than thinking of figures that cast humanoid silhouettes. 

I think about Jacob Berendes calling Earth “the music planet” a lot. Albert Ayler says “Music is the healing force of the universe,” it’s true, but the best theory as to the origin of music I’ve heard in terms of its place within evolution is it stems from the humming sounds mothers made to soothe their children. We’ve come a long way from there! But the development of harmony, syncopation, recording and manipulation of electronic systems seems a better measure of where we are and where we’ve come from as our culture developed than the development of tools of war.

Science-fiction narratives about aliens and their advanced technology emerging within the twentieth century spurred the development of our own technology, but that was funded by military budgets, coping with the threat of the cold war. Much of the materials harvesting in prior centuries came about due to colonialism. The results of these efforts are things that people like to act as proof that ours is an advanced civilization, but their original motivations are what I would cite as evidence that our species is self-destructive. The idea that another, more advanced, civilization would be interested in the building of flying saucers runs up against the fact that we’re imagining this metric point as somewhere past where we stand on the brink of armageddon. We need to address why we’re interested: All of this projected imaginative activity occurs in the shadow of our own anxiety about the end of our world, and this belief held by the techno-libertarians-cum-crypto-fascists among us that colonization of other worlds is preferable to conservation of the delicate balance which sustains us here on Earth. Not enough people listen to Sun Ra, not enough people are willing to consider that someone from outer space has something to teach us.

By beginning from a place where we’re imagining life on other planets as being primarily squids and turtles, we’re halfway to a place where we’re conceptualizing something more chill than where we reside when we think of other worlds. A lot of changes to the composition of our atmosphere would result in a different climate and culture. I’m pretty sure we would be less aggressive if there was more lithium in our groundwater.

At the same time, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of alien life being the cause of UFOs. My understanding of physics has it that the possibility of faster-than-light travel exists, were one able to fold time. I am interested in the possibility of some sort of organism with a different consciousness and different sensory organs could be able to do this were it to reach some kind of advanced point. There is technology that has nothing to do metal, armor, and weapons system. Language is a technology, just as photosynthesis is a way of life. I’m imagining something that looks a whole lot more like a pile of goo that’s just an evolved form of a slime mold than it does a shapeshifting reptilian that’s just an evolved form of 19th century antisemitic caricature. What I want to approach or talk about bumps up against notions of mushrooms being from space, traveling to earth via panspermia, and maybe McKenna’s “stoned ape” hypothesis gets folded in there too. Chatting about mycelium networks is cool, (experiments have been done where they reproduce a map of the Tokyo subway system), but so is just chatting about drug experiences (my one friend once pissed on the floor of a Barnes And Noble while on acid).

I’m also into this theory I saw once that the classic “grey alien” resembles a drawing of a creature summoned by Aleister Crowley in a ritual at the beginning of the twentieth century and that their cold unearthly manner is the result of them being souls that have not incarnated and experienced human existence. All this stuff is fun to think about! My point is we should never cede our imaginative horizons to what the military says is real, as they seek justifications for increased budgets for faster planes. I am not particularly well-read in science or even science fiction. I just think I’m smarter than the Blink-182 guy, and that’s largely by virtue of not liking pop-punk. If we’re throwing parties, and not inviting pop-punkers or libertarians, there’s a load of interesting conversations to be had.

*: There’s a whole other argument I drafted in my head about how we are subject to the will of a simulation that has nothing to do with true reality, it’s just called the stock market being viewed as indicative of the economy. This was meant to dovetail with an argument about the popularity of Rick And Morty with the Reddit-brained is due to how one doesn’t have to be smart to see through the world’s bullshit, and it remains an appealing fantasy that it can somehow be bypassed or circumvented. (The people who think they’re “better” than the show also get made fun of under this line of argument — it’s a well-made cartoon!) I think I was thinking about all of this when the WallStreetBets/Gamestop stock thing was happening, but I didn’t write anything down beyond texts with friends.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

2020 Music: I Barely Paid Attention

 Damn, it was a weird year. While last year I was working in a record store for half of it, and keeping note of everything I heard the whole way through, this year I was not doing that. I would listen to things on Bandcamp or Youtube maybe once if I was vaguely interested, and then immediately move on to forgetting all about it if it didn’t make an impression. Most music existed only inside the context of my bedroom, and that's not even a euphemism for fucking. Even more than usual, it was a very lonely, unsocial, unphysical year. I did go to a few shows before the COVID pandemic took over the world but very few. (They were almost all played by friends. Shout-out to Metalux, Daniel Higgs, Liz Durette, Max Eilbacher & Duncan Moore. You were all great.) The larger social context for music feels obliterated, and so does time itself, and maybe even the very idea of moods. So this would be a particularly unadventurous list. Most things I like I ended up buying on Bandcamp and you can see them in my collection there. I wrote all this down, thought it wasn't good enough to be a post, and just e-mailed it to friends. But then I was reminded that this was a tough year for musicians and their publicity machines and that maybe making this public could help. I'll include Bandcamp links as well when they're available. I'm also posting this before the last "Bandcamp Friday" of the year, the day, like a monthly holiday among the incredibly online weird music music fan, where Bandcamp waives their portion of the take to give more their money to artists, who in turn often dedicate their profits to charitable causes.

Here's what I would consider "the best," split into two brief lists, but unranked:

Luis Pestana - Rosa Pano
Nick Storring - My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell
Silvia Tarozzi - Mi specchio e rifletto
Soft Pink Truth - Shall We Go On Sinning So That The Grace May Increase?
ML Buch- Skinned
Microphones In 2020
Eartheater - Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin

These are all mellow, pretty, emotional, even if some of them are sort of abstract or whatever or might get called "experimental" while others are more straightforward. The ML Buch is a pop record in its use of MIDI instruments, autotune vocals but the space it occupies feels similar. Maybe that's the record of the year, for the particular place it occupies, where emotions are present but they're all through this digital filter that just creates aching loneliness? There's a song on there called "I'm a girl you can hold IRL." It's also something I felt might be bad at first. Microphones In 2020 with the accompanying Youtube video of Phil just looking through old photos is very cool and affecting.

Kate NV - Room For The Moon
Charli XCX - How I’m Feeling Now
US Girls - Heavy Light
Ohmme - Fantasize Your Ghost
Locate S,1 - Stay Away From Music
Lily Konigsberg - It’s Just Like All The Clouds
Magik Markers - 2020
Dustin Laurenzi - Behold

These are the more upbeat side of pop music, or guitar-based rock music, e.g. stuff you might not have fucked with. The Laurenzi record is jazz versions of Moondog songs but still very summery.

That’s it, I basically just had these two moods. Other jazz and folk stuff sort of slots into the first group, like Sally Anne Morgan’s Thread, or Christian Ronn & Aram Shelton’s Multiring. There's also Michele Mercure's Pictures Of Echoes, which is an archival release that's very strong. Honestly, there's probably more in this zone I liked and thought was good but was also able to treat like ambient music and therefore forget about. Check out the stuff in my Bandcamp collection that has the telltale Astral Spirits design if you know it to recognize it; they put out a lot of improv stuff that's sort of tough for me to deal with so what I end up getting is usually on the more listenable side of the spectrum. Another notable jazz thing I downloaded but didn’t purchase through Bandcamp would be the new Nels Cline Singers. Closest thing to another good pop record would be Profligate - Too Numb To Know.

Paid very little attention to rap, a few things I listened to once and liked but immediately forgot about though. (Boldy James/Sterling Toles and something Passion Of The Weiss wrote about/put out) That Armand Hammer record Shrines has a song that kicks off with the lyric “I’ve got ideals and dreams that don’t work in practice/I’ve got a time machine and it don’t go backwards” I thought about a lot. Could quote that for a bio on an online profile. I regret not seeing them play a show with Moor Mother pre-quar when I was broke as hell. But we're all regretting the shows we didn't go to, right? And yearning for there to be more we can go to in the future? I don't know, I guess even the level of enthusiasm for new music in evidence in this post makes me an outlier among people my age and older. Still, music remains the primary way in which I have met people and made friends throughout my life, I can't imagine giving up on it. Music itself remains an edifying miracle of life on Earth, even in a truly alienating and dispiriting time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Losing So Long

I keep on thinking that one of the reasons Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign failed is because the leftist argument he made, that even when he won, people would need to continue fighting and protesting in order to get the things we demand is just hugely unappealing to normal people not invested in politics. What’s funny is that, by default, this argument now needs to be made to all of Sanders’ supporters to convince them why they should vote for Joe Biden. The only thing that transfers from the Sanders campaign to Biden’s is the notion of bitter struggle for the world we want. I don’t think it’s hard to see why this is a losing message, although I do believe it is being made in good faith.

 This is the argument Noam Chomsky or any number of distinguished leftist intellectuals would make, and it can be reduced to "choosing the lesser evil," but it's meant to be pragmatic, and inherent in it is a skepticism of electoralism and voting altogether. I saw someone phrase it as "You're not choosing a leader when you vote, you're choosing an enemy," and this is a cogent and intelligent point. It also lacks any emotional appeal to people who aren't socialist organizers. It completely neglects the broad swath of Sanders voters - young people, Latinos, the working class, aging hippies, people with debt, people suffering from health problems, whoever - who are actively being crushed by the world as it is and either can not or simply don't want to devote their time to direct actions and door-knocking campaigns.

The Biden campaign promised to its supporters, namely corporate interests: "Vote for me and Trump won't be president anymore, and things will be normal!" This is a plain-spoken emotional appeal, to the people it's being spoken to, but it leaves out everyone with half of a brain who sees Trump's presidency as the logical conclusion to a right-wing bipartisan project of deregulation that's been going on for forty years. The problem with Sanders identifying as a Democratic Socialist isn't the baggage of the "socialist" label, it's the expectation it then creates that everyone who wants something better than that is prepared to struggle all their lives to get the things they want.

I expect there will be a huge number of people who either do not vote this year, or if they do, do not vote for either of the major parties' candidates for president. I suspect Joe Biden will subsequently lose, and Donald Trump will win a second term, but this is complicated by the fact that Trump probably intends to steal the election by a number of underhanded means. In general, predicting the future is a sucker's game. I can only tell you what people are prepared for, and they're prepared to blame Bernie Sanders for not getting his people in line. It will never be acknowledged that Joe Biden never, not once, displayed the slightest sign of empathy towards people less powerful than him, to promise something better, or even remotely appealing, to people other than the wealthy donors he's deferential to.

It was only after writing this entire post that the thought occurred to me that all of the Republicans speaking at the Democratic National Convention, to offer their endorsement to Joe Biden, might be a psy op, designed specifically to demoralize voters and lead to Trump's re-election, and that the Democratic party leadership, in their naivete, is taking them at their word. This sort of paranoid thought, that comes from a place of deep cynicism, is genuinely the only thing that makes me want to vote for Biden. It's inspired by what I know of the politics in countries that have suffered from coups and dictatorships. If we start thinking of the Republican party as genuinely fascist and authoritarian, and presume they are therefore interested in infiltrating their opposition to render it impotent, things coalesce into a simpler shape, and the point of electing Democrats is that, while they're completely compromised and ineffective due to right-wing infiltration, the right wing is at least somewhat hobbled, and some of their plans will not be carried out as quickly as intended.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

On Music And Being Alive

It surely happens every day, but it only comes up every three or four months. Someone projects their insecurities onto the world at large, aimed in particular at whoever makes them feel insecure. The postulation is made that people who like “weird music” are only pretending to like it, that there is something performative to the act of listening. This is done, it is said, for the sake of appearing “cool.”

In my experience, anyone whose taste in music currently seems “cool” has spent a good number of formative years looking like a dork, a time during which music was balm for their soul. If they seem cool now, it is only because they have moved past the point of caring, and so are able to behave in some manner unselfconsciously.

The people I’m describing might be, in my imagination, speaking from my own experience, white nerds now labeled “hipsters,” but it might be fair to apply the same transformative process to Black people, long-othered by the dominant American culture, now dancing freely and defining coolness more generally. The experience I’m describing can occur on an individual level or on a culture-wide one. To make someone else feel insecure as a result of one’s own confidence might be a part of the underlying intention, but it is still more the fault of the witness if they become upset. They are merely refusing to learn the proper lesson.

As far as anyone can figure, the origin of music, and it’s evolutionary purpose, comes from a child hearing its mother hum or sing and learning to become calm and reassured by her presence. Another way to put it is the Albert Ayler album title “Music is the healing force of the universe.” It is best to keep this in mind before considering someone else’s relationship to the music they favor as somehow an affront to you.

There’s an argument I associate with the Carl Wilson book “Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste” where the argument is made that the whole notion of musical taste is defined by people identifying with something, whether it be the monoculture or a subculture. I fundamentally disagree with this premise. My own opinion on the matter is far more esoteric, which is: There are just certain things that resonate with  an individual’s consciousness. Some music is more complex than other music, on a level of harmony or whatever. I don’t want to make it into a thing where certain music is “smarter” than other music, and you need to be “more intelligent” to get it. I do believe that is true on a certain level, but I also think notions of intelligence are highly subjective and variational, so to put it that simply would be to miss the point.

Your thought patterns have a rhythm. Cognition is different for each individual. There are also larger patterns undergirding everything: i.e., in order to articulate a thought into a single sentence, there are at first initial presentiments underlying it, that the act of drawing out puts into their form. I’m familiar with this from language, other artists are surely familiar with it from drawing, or the act of playing music, either individually or with another person. The hand starts to draw and its line articulates the space it describes. One melodic line suggests another and together something complex comes into being. After you say something, you realize on how many other levels it seems true, beyond the initial instinct that led you to say it. Harmonies are suggested in thought, in resonance: For instance, what I said earlier, when I was describing the experience of white nerds, I realized what I was saying might also apply on a broader level to an entirely othered culture. You say things and they resonate with someone else, they harmonize. Someone smarter than me could put the same things I’m saying into a better form. I remain an imperfect instrument, but that very imperfection informs both everything I say and possibly everything I love as well. This is my best guess for why taste is subjective, but it’s also my best guess for how music works, and when I say that I’m referring to music as this enormously powerful force.

I don’t play music. I’m incapable of doing so, at least at the level where I’m able to articulate my thoughts and harmonic concepts as clearly as I’m able to through writing. But I know from my own experience of writing that I can write a piece that years later I only vaguely recall but that I find compulsively readable, so drawn am I to its rhythms, which feel so natural, even if it’s a piece of fiction I strained over for months, unable to find the next sentence that would follow in the sequence from what I’d already written. Because while I’m saying “rhythm,” I don’t just mean the beat of it, the underlying tempo, but this sort of procession of melodic development, of harmonic build, that is a part of the excavation of the architecture of a particular self, which is not the self in isolation, but one connected, as if by tunnel, to the other people in the world who are in some way similar.

Some music is ritualistic, violent, as surely as some speech exists to enflame passions, stir up the fear in the lizard brain. Roger Ebert compared an Andrew Dice Clay concert film to a Nuremberg rally, I wonder what he would’ve made of a circle pit. I’m describing music like it’s a cathedral drawn in the air, or a spaceship, it can also be a bludgeon, or an ice pick. Those tools are needed sometimes.

I am analogizing music to consciousness but its relationship is more intimate than a mere metaphor. It’s a thing that fits inside of it and changes its shape at any given moment. As music once recorded becomes timeless, so too does consciousness seem to resist the container of linear time, stretching across in either direction, to provide the things we need to become what we do not yet know we’ll be.

Monday, June 01, 2020

America Riots While Baltimore Doesn't

So, over the past weekend, in response to the Minneapolis Police Department murdering George Floyd (a black man, known as Big Floyd to fans of DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click), and his death being caught on camera for all to see, and the delay in any action to arrest the officer responsible for murder, there have been a series of protests nationwide. In Minneapolis, these protests gave way to rioting and looting, a police station was burned down. Many of the protests in solidarity have also escalated into large-scale property destruction. I believe this was largely escalated by police showing up in riot gear but I'm also sure that after many people saw the actions in Minneapolis and considered them beautiful and inspiring, people were excited to set their own city's police cars on fire.

I have no interest in condemning looting or rioting; I definitely think it's cool on a certain level. But regardless of how cool I think something is, I remain skeptical of its efficacy as a political act, because I don't see this being the political revolution that ends policing through brute force. There's no real possibility of the protesters killing all the cops in the country. (To the best of my knowledge, no cops have been killed.)

I worry about the spread of COVID-19, and can certainly see there being a spike nationwide resulting from this. Everyone arrested and placed in a jail was presumably stripped of the facemasks which reduce contagion and protect one's identity from face-tracking software. That said, I'm proud of everyone who participated for not being cowed by this threat. While the right-wing "protestors" of previous weeks basically insisted that people be forced to go back to work in unsafe conditions to serve them in a capitalist society, these people performed an act of solidarity with one another to manifest a world of direct democracy not defined by financial transactions.

But more than I worry about the spread of Coronavirus, I worry about the spread of fascism. I worry about the white supremacist gangs who might take advantage of perceived chaos to come into cities they don't live and declare open season on black people. I say this referring to militia movements and the alt-right, but to a very real extent, this describes the police.

The police force is where the fascist tendencies in American life find an outlet. The reactionary and the repressive find employment there. The idea that being a police officer is a dangerous job means that the people who work it demand respect, and they then view any actual presence of danger or threat as disrespectful to them, justifying the violence that emerges from their hurt feelings. The rationale for their actions is premised on a Catch-22. They then gain an enormous amount of political clout stemming from their mafia-style codes designed to protect themselves, not from the criminal element, but the consequences of their own actions. Officers charged with police brutality are not fired, and when transferred to new departments, tend to make the places they are transferred to worse.

Agreed-upon ideas of common sense gun control laws run aground when confronted with the demographics of the police. There can't be laws preventing people charged with domestic violence from owning a gun because many police officers are domestic abusers. I can speculate about why the behavior patterns that lead men to beat their wives are to some degree conditioned by the cop mentality, but that quickly gets into a sort of chicken-egg situation. Similarly, I won't get into talking about why many police officers are racist. Suffice it to say that they just are.

One place where protests remained peaceful and did not escalate into riots is the city of Baltimore, where I no longer live. By all accounts, the protests they had were large. Baltimore had a riot a few years back. Some people insist on calling it an "uprising." I hate this sort of rhetoric for a handful of reasons, one of which is that there weren't much in the way of material gains that followed. Officers were charged with murder for the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. There's an argument to be made that the district attorney only did this as a political move, to advance the careers of herself and her husband, and their agendas are not particularly radical despite the posture such basic attempts at accountability suggest in their rarity.

There's also a pretty solid case to be made that things got worse in Baltimore afterwards. Crime certainly increased. Police were at least partially responsible for this: The DEA found a particularly corrupt faction of the BPD, the "Gun Trace Track Force," took advantage of the looting of a CVS to steal drugs and connect them with a dealer, putting them on the streets. The police were also were pretty hung up on tracking down the people involved in the property destruction, reviewing footage to track down those tangentially involved months after the case. And, again, the police got their feelings hurt, and that means that the many many police who are just not particularly smart or good at their jobs probably felt justified in doing even less, and treating the public with more contempt.

Obviously, some of these problems are particularly endemic to Baltimore, which is a city hollowed-out by neglect and distrust of its institutions in ways that a city like Minneapolis, largely considered a pretty nice place, isn't. I don't know what will happen to Minneapolis. I don't know what will happen to Philadelphia, the city I live in now, which participated in solidarity protests that escalated into rioting. Philly has a wild reputation it loves to cling to, but it nonetheless feels considerably safer than Baltimore does, and it possesses a much stronger infrastructure and a much wider tax base. (There are two major train lines! And trolley service! And there aren't water main breaks shutting down multiple city blocks several times a year! And there are way less vacant houses!)

But I'm worried that, in the wake of all this nationwide rioting, rather than legislators making changes in keeping with the implicit demands of the people doing the rioting, the reactionary and repressive impulse will instead do the opposite, and insist on increasing the funding for police, so they can have more weapons, and riot gear, and replace the vehicles that got torched with ones better at driving into a crowd. Or, if the powers that want to be want to avoid such obvious displays of militarization, they'll invest in higher-definition cameras and place them everywhere. Whether this will happen because of people electing Republicans or because the Democrats in office now decide on it, I don't know.

This is what's funny, or disgusting, about the incredibly condescending tendency on the part of politicians to look at a mass movement of protestors and to tell them to "Vote to make your voice heard." Many Republicans have been quick to point that these protests are happening in cities with Democratic mayors and majority-Democratic city councils (Minneapolis is 12 Dems and 1 Green), in states with Democratic governors. They point it out, partially, to fear-monger, and argue the need for "law and order" politicians and right-wing vigilantes to set it right. There are many reasons why cities lean Democratic: Black people live there, and the white people that live there are generally comfortable enough with the existence of black people to be willing to be their neighbors, so they're more liberal than elsewhere. (Or, alternately, it's living in close proximity to people you're demographically dissimilar to but still able to get along with OK that makes people less racist. Again, it's a chicken-egg thing.) But being "more liberal" doesn't necessarily mean there's any genuinely progressive will to, say, make corporations pay their share of taxes so the city's adequately funded, or have art education in public schools, or disallow cars from accessing streets so they can be strictly for bicycles or pedestrians, or make sure officers charged with police brutality get fired, or ensure settlements from citizens suing the police are paid by the officer, rather than have a massive part of the city's budget set aside for handling such lawsuits. To a certain extent, having a nominally liberal governing body probably blinkers its goals for what's possible: I think requiring police to live within the limits of the city where they work would impart a sense of community that would allow the police to be better equipped to do their jobs, as they would have a greater familiarity with what is normal and what's genuinely suspicious. But I bet if a city as nice as Minneapolis were to require police to live within city limits, the culture of the police and the culture of a progressive city would remain somewhat at odds, and many would probably end up concentrated within a single neighborhood, and maybe this would result in a Republican being on their city council. What's funny is that Republican would then have incentive to not change the law requiring police to live within the limits of the city of the work, and so one basic regulation of a politically powerful entity would come to find bipartisan support.

But perhaps I am now being too speculative. Let's go back to talking about rioters. I think it's safe to say they don't vote! And I think that's fine. Over the course of generations, they have lost all faith in the electoral process to represent them. If that's the case, that's not really their fault, but the fault of the elected officials. The people elected to serve do not think of themselves as being accountable to all the people who do not vote. But they are, and that's what a riot is. Rioters shouldn't be thought of as potential voters, but viewed instead as similar to how journalists are the 4th estate, a check on institutional power. While covering the riots, many journalists are being attacked by police, and shot by rubber bullets. This is awful, and transparently so. However, the same 1st Amendment that guarantees a free press guarantees the right to assembly as well, and protestors should not be shot either. Furthermore, the volunteers medics on hand taking care of journalists, protestors, and rioters getting hurt by police themselves then being shot by the police constitutes a war crime. None of this should be happening, but it is all essentially one thing. MLK said a riot is the language of the unheard. When it's spoken, it's a news story, and should be a scandal, with real political consequences.

It highlights an institutional failure, one a healthy press should've been covering in real time as it occurred beforehand. A progressive party in office should have lived up to its ideals and done the work to diminish the power of the police already. They should've delegated services to mental health personnel and social workers so the vulnerable have less interaction with people whose only solution is to beat up or arrest someone. They should've worked to make sure they didn't have military weaponry, they should've rooted out and fired all of the racists, everyone charged with police brutality, everyone on the take, everyone who beats their wife, and hopefully doing this would make it so there aren't riots! And if there are riots, and people then want to elect right-wing politicians, at least those new leaders aren't inheriting a fascist private army that operates according to mafia logic.

It's not my place as a white person to say what I think black people's demands are. I don't even think it's my place to insist the people protesting formulate a list of demands. What I am comfortable with, as a white person, is pointing to something that was said I think fairly casually, and saying, yes, that's an excellent point. There is a billboard at the corner of North and Charles Street in Baltimore that has been fairly contentious. For a while, after Freddie Gray's death, it read "Whoever died from a rough ride?" and at a later point "The whole damn system is guilty as hell." It has also, if I'm remembering this right, been a billboard for Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. I believe he had a campaign office on the corner too, the billboard sitting atop the building, but I also think no one ever actually went in there to work. It's unclear to me. It also became a billboard advertising Jack Young's Mayoral campaign, after he was made the interim mayor following Catherine Pugh's resignation following a corruption scandal.

Again, I don't live in Baltimore anymore, I live in Philadelphia. I lived in Baltimore for eleven years, and it feels like home to me in way that South Philly does not, although I live in hope that maybe if I were to live in West Philly, which really does resemble a nicer version of Baltimore in many ways, I might feel differently. Still, I find myself interested in and caring about local Baltimore news in ways I can't imagine doing for anywhere, because there's a level of corruption that becomes comedic. The Healthy Holly story that led to Catherine Pugh's downfall is really funny. The ubiquity of the Chad Focus billboards a few summers ago, and the later revelations of just what the deal was with that, was amazing. Jack Young being a huge dope, who when asked what he was going to do about crime in Baltimore became defensive and said "You're acting like I'm going around killing people," is really funny. But I'm digressing right when I should be getting to the point. Which is that the Jack Young billboard got defaced a few weeks before all this to read "Cancel rent and fuck the police." But the funny thing that came after that is a cover-up job where it was altered instead to read "Cancel hate and thank the police," which is such a hilarious miniature of meaningless sloganeering intended to cover up radical sentiment.

Because I think "Cancel rent and fuck the police" is great, it says it all. First off, fuck the police. Pretty straightforward, but not to be taken literally, despite the fact that the movie Bridesmaids, if memory serves, takes place in Minneapolis and is about a lady marrying a cop. We should stop treating the police with an insane level of deference, and we should defund them considerably. They will surely take this as a grand insult, but such basic reforms if implemented could potentially have grand and sweeping effects in the long run. It is in the best interest of not just the Democratic party, but the whole notion of democracy, to not let the police be too powerful.

Derek Chauvin, the man who strangled George Floyd to death, should absolutely be prosecuted. So should the police officer in Minneapolis who acted as an agent provocateur to burn down an Autozone and escalate the conflict with protesters. So too should police caught on videotape making hand gestures associated with white nationalism be investigated. Pretty much anyone who wants to be a police officer should be viewed with extreme suspicion before being given a badge, and the threat of losing one's baton and gun should be held over the head of anyone with a badge afterward.

I say this taking it as a given the police aren't going to be dissolved anytime soon. I know "abolish the police" is the radical position. And I will offer this compromise: We should act like that is the long-term goal of our project, as a society, is that we get to a point where we no longer act as though we believe the police are a necessity, and we dissolve the organization, and I wholeheartedly encourage any cities that think they could get by without police to give it a go. For my part I think it's kinda suspect for white people to claim a desire for abolition of police and prisons. My dad's interaction with the police has been getting tickets and threatened with jail time for driving drunk, and I have no desire to act like I don't think that should be a crime, or even have that be suspected as being my ulterior motive. My tone's become much more digressive and jokey than how I started off, because I've been working on this for hours and it's now 4 AM.

We still need to talk about canceling rent. I've been talking about the police as a fascist paramilitary organization that shouldn't really be held in high regard by polite society but the racial dimension that characterizes the conflict between the police and the urban communities where they work is the product of white supremacy. White supremacy is a complicated thing with a long history, but it's built, to a large extent in contemporary America, around property ownership. Specifically, the affluence afforded to white Americans by the post World War II G.I. Bill was not extended to black people, so they weren't able to build wealth in the same way. Yes, I know about slavery, and that the police grew out of patrols for runaway slaves. But I'm talking about a more recent moment where there was a brief instance of something approaching equality, and then the snatching of that away, that the development of basically the entire landscape of cities versus suburbs emerges from. Property value becomes inflated if a property is in a majority white neighborhood and decreases in a majority black neighborhood. This barrier exacerbates growth of wealth for white people, and this wealth can then be used to buy more property, largely considered a safe investment, especially since you can rent it out at a profit.

Implicit in acts of rioting, looting, and property damage is a response to property ownership. In all likelihood, the people most upset about these acts own property. Property is not worth more than a human life, the destruction of a shop window not tantamount to a life lost, or even an eye lost, shot out by a rubber bullet. The demand to cancel rent emerges out of the Coronavirus pandemic, when people are told to shelter in place, but the homeless, unable to afford the inflated rents a landlord would charge, remain at risk. Meanwhile, unemployment skyrockets, and more people become vulnerable. If the vulnerable do not lose their job outright, they are more likely to have retained a job that they actually have to to in person, while white people, particularly those affluent enough to own property, are more likely to have jobs they can safely telecommute to. Such economic pressures, alongside widespread unemployment are certainly contributing factors to why people are able to go out and riot feeling like they have nothing to lose. If cities governed by Democratic majorities want to quell civic unrest, "cancel rent and fuck the police" is the platform they should adopt in order to mobilize the masses that have lost faith in the political process to rally and offer their support in the future.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

What Happened by Joe Biden

I wrote a long piece from the perspective of a dementia-ridden Joe Biden regretting what went wrong in his campaign after he loses to Trump in November. Ideally it will circulate like a real thing, although it is far too lazily-researched and filled with jokes to constitute a hoax. Content warnings are necessary for all the stuff Joe Biden has done that are triggering to think about, you already know what they are.