Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pinned Tweaks






















Thursday, May 18, 2017

R.I.P. Chris Cornell


Soundgarden, more than any other mainstream act from their time and place, were the full embodiment of the “Grunge” aesthetic.  Whereas their mainstream contemporaries veered closer to the melodic end of punk (Nirvana’s bastardizing of the Pixies/Husker Du aesthetics) or classic rock (Pearl Jam).  Much of this was due to Kim Thayil’s insane Sabbath-style riffage, mounted approximately at the apex of sludge metal, Jane’s-style hard rock with a tinge of psychedelia, and SST post-hardcore, but one can’t discredit Cornell whose soaring vocals could gravitate from low rumble demon to high squealed possession with the rapidity of a jet engine and the grace of a bird of prey.  Cornell’s voice was gravelly and lived-in, sure, but it also had the animalistic timbre of something lurking deep in those Washington evergreens.



Cornell, particularly pre-chopped with the long curly locks, was also the prime image of grunge.  He looked better when dirtied, unlike Kurt with his fluffy blonde hair, disheveled Eddie, gas-station ponytail creep Layne, or better-when-glammed-up Scott. Cornell oozed sex as if the worksmanlike personification of that patented Seattle flannel, which he never really wore.  He looked like a dark drifter.   Whereas the smug irony of Cobain and the impassioned liberalism of Vedder would become archetypes, Cornell remained a mystery. 

Soundgarden recorded for both Sub Pop and SST early in their career and they were one of the first groups to jump ship to a major label.  But while contemporaries from those scenes made this transition by broadening their sound (like Husker Du) or by competing directly against the market forces trying to lure them (like Sonic Youth), Soundgarden seemed at home in both worlds.  They put out two incredible big rock albums in Badmotofinger and Superunknown (both with unbelievably bad album art mind you) that never seemed to weather the same accusations of “sell out” that other bands at the time faced.  Maybe it was because they’d been the first to sell out, or maybe it was because those albums still hold up today even when many of their peers’ records don’t.   When you consider the glut of contemporary music from the early 90s – post-rock, jungle, IDM, rave, dreampop, house- that didn’t crossover but had a far greater impact on the current sonic landscape, it’s an even bigger feat. 

Soundgarden were massive enough to have Guns n’ Roses cover their dumbest song, but remained fairly indistinct as personalities, supporting and commenting on causes quietly or aesthetically rather than appearing on magazine covers with “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” t-shirts or scribbling “Pro-choice” on their arms during unplugged performances.  Soundgarden’s “angst”, if they had any, was less an anxiety of choice between collusion and independence than it was an anxiety over the impossibility of negotiating the two.  Indeed much of their best work (“Black Hole Sun”, “4th of July”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Mailman”, “Nothing to Say”,  “Blow Up the Outside World”) was emboldened by a scorched earth nihilism, far closer to metal’s Lovecraftian take on power as a quasi-mystical evil force than punk’s mindset that it was something which could be urgently seized and redistributed.   Cornell’s hopelessness is everywhere across these early records, so news of his suicide should not be such a shock, though it’s no less tragic.



In a sense, it was good timing that the band dissolved in 1996 following the release of their decent but lacking final album (until their 2012 reunion).  It’s unlikely they would have rode out OK Computer and the electronica explosion of the following year well.  Cornell was really only primed for the grunge era and that era alone.  The slip into party music- raves, ska and pop punk, boy and girl bands- must have mystified the surviving grunge stars, who didn’t feel the ground shift in any tectonic positive way.  If anything, the society that they wanted to drop out of strengthened and tightened.  It was mainstream music fans that left them behind, which seemed to only prove Cobain and his cynicism right. 


Cornell’s attempt at a compromise for compromised times, Audioslave, wound up being a total bore, a middling shadow of both Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine, his backing band’s old act. The only time Cornell did branch out in new sonic directions he spectacularly failed, on 2008’s Timbaland-assisted Scream solo record, which received brutal jeers from critics, fans, and fellow musicians alike.  His iffy solo work followed, but largely as a retread, a tourism in past glories. The spectacular decade-long run from 1986 to 1996 though remains a pivotal time capsule showing how seamless energy could flow from a provincial urban scene into the mainstream. I bought Superunknown from a record store in Seattle in ’94 on a trip with my family when I was 12.  It was maybe the 6th or 7th CD I ever bought and it’s perhaps the only one from that time I still spin.  It doesn’t sound like now.  It still sounds like then.  But you can tell why then wanted it now.  




Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stray Thoughts from the Sunshine State



Vacation was good, but Florida is a bit like a series of resort colonies for the diasporic wealthy plotted within swamps full of gators and low income families.  Facilitated just beyond the fantasy theme park islands are living reminders of why people choose fantasy over hard truth, Trumpian daymare spectacle the closest corollary to the Disney dream factory when you can’t afford a ticket. There was some heavy metaphorical resonance in the fact that our vacation was merrily held between a series of brush fires consuming the state, the result of a long climate-change-induced drought that had left the land barren and dead.   On our way to and fro Legoland were large stretches of land full of dead grass and emaciated cows, waiting for rain as the cars lined the highway sputtering out carbon emissions for the ultraviolet light to get stuck on.   The cow’s loss was our benefit, a lovely day out without a cloud in sight.  It was as if the delightful weather was being controlled by the entertainment complexes, themselves suffering from a post-Trump decline in international tourism.  The whole world is postproduction now, unable to distinguish between CGI and principal photography.  Conspiracies everywhere, a wide spout flooding the drought of hope. 

Hoping to find a shortcut back from our hotel room from the pool, my kids and I attempted a shortcut back to one of the 7 identikit tower buildings comprised of hotel rooms spread throughout the resort.  This was planned living for the temporarily temporally displaced, an architectural maintenance program for those on leave from their anxiety.  The shortcut lead through this massive conference center, whose layout seemed designed to impress the attendants of white collar seminars, retreats, and conventions by enunciating the height of the lobby’s roof a good 30 feet above anyone’s head.  With no one gathered at this time of day, it seemed like a giant amphitheater of empty space, an riposte to restraint, which my kids took as an invitation to fill the lobbies with as much noise and motion as possible.   Gathering there that day was a “Cayman Business Convention”.   Soon, we’d depart to Disney’s private island getaway, Castaway Cay, and the money from that convention would go to its island too, escaping and being shielded from largely the same things.   A staff member soon came along to let us know that there was no way through.  We had reached a border of some sort and so the tax shelter’s ambassador ushered us off so that capital could celebrate itself beyond the periphery of eyes never meant to wander beyond mythopoeic realms or artificial paradises.




On a cruise ship, your equilibrium can get fucked up on the first day.  You recognize the movement of the ship, the minor swaying and rocking, but the enormity of the boat helps normalize it.  You feel a bit like a dog in a car, attempting to reconcile the traction while retaining an elegant poise, only to fall on your ass from time to time. They call it sea legs, but it’s more of a sea mindset.  Your body signals to your mind that things are not the way they should be and your mind confronts these by resetting the levels.  Hypernormalization.  It never seems exactly right, but you learn to take it as background.  If it’s a big enough boat, the consciousness of the ship becomes a part of you. Its culture instructs your physiology.

Likewise throughout the cruise, Disney’s signature customer service is meant to transport you, to erase the seams of their labor, and to make this elaborate experiential endeavor seem effortless.  The ruse is so precise that it becomes almost impossible to spot the cracks, the quivering lip behind the smile, the hidden shadow of who the sea leaves behind.  As a passenger, you know that no human being is actually this happy to serve another human being, but there is almost a military-like discipline in those patented contractually-bound veneers.  

Out the deck windows at odd intervals you notice staff running drills, lining up behind lifeboats, wearing gas masks, gathered in groups of four to replace a light bulb.  Odd behavior you have no logical explanation for, but you accept in your state of serene, complacent arrest.  That’s for the suits in Washington to worry about.  Were the vessel to actually go down, it’s plausible that they’d finish the deserts and in-cruise 3D movie showings before you ever realized you needed to debark.  Nearer, my God to, Thee are we in this state of semi-hallucinatory departure.




Disconnected from my phone and major news media, it was unclear if the forest fires and North Korean provocations would engulf the land before we returned.  It was a strange, pleasantly unsettling comfort to hide within.  We were sailing off into an ocean of ignorance.  As we departed shore to set sail from the Bahamas, I told my son to say goodbye to Florida, goodbye to America.  “Goodbye Legoland!” he yelled to the shores.  A land governed by creations and virtualities, all the bricks fully visible, which we choose to believe in nonetheless.

The identity politics of Legoland are strange.  Legoland’s signature branded hue is yellow, but it’s hard not to see yellow as a stand-in for whiteness.  Yellow is the default skin-tone of the brick set, with nary a brown skinned figure or character to be found around the park.  We attended a sort of lame show that the kids enjoyed full of jetskiers and some dull stageplay about pirates.  The plot involved the host, who made no gesture to hide his flamboyant queerness, being madly in love with the admiral’s daughter.  The admiral’s daughter seemed to assume all the responsibilities of the explicitly male Admiral himself, but who was nevertheless defined not by a title of her own but rather by her relationship to her father, and the gay man in “love” with her.  The Admiral failed to make an appearance.  Every brick in its own place.

The gaudy Florida roadside was itself a much more interesting show, flaunting sights such as the occasional abandoned RV, vivid strip mall church sculptures that towered above their flat origins like regional Wicker Man offerings, a massive lot of brand new cars several hundred feet from any inroad in an otherwise vacant grass field, gators chilling and waiting to cross the highway, a Domino’s delivery car with a pro-life fetus outline bumper sticker, some kind of discarded military airplane shaded under overhanging flora warning of low flying aircraft ahead, and, at one point, a hawk flying across the road carrying a squirrel in its mouth.  Predators and prey everywhere.  It was proto-hunter-gatherer terrain, dressed for the pre-apocalypse, readymade for the unaired final season of the Walking Dead.  There are an abundance of pharmacies and walk-in clinics, likely serving out drug cocktails to both locals without health insurance and out-of-network travelers encountering climate and crowd-bred toxins alike.  The other strip mall stores have names that cater to efficiency and illiteracy, and read in block capital letters like Soviet relics; “MARKET”, “TOYS”,  “BURGERS” and, of course “DRUGS”.

When you’ve had writing coarse through your system, you’re inclined to be awed by the incomprehensible depth of the ocean and how small a cog you are on such a massive boat.   Positioned on the veranda, several drinks in, I found myself pondering in Melville poise that those who stare down at the waves closest to the boat are inclined to think about their mortality, while those who gaze at the horizon are looking beyond it to what’s left to explore in the life left living.  Both left me a bit dizzy and I nearly vomited.   One of the days we had a couples massage and they played soothing new age music while uncomfortably rubbing hot stones on my back, interrupted halfway through by the loud reverberating crashes of a basketball court they stuck on the floor above the spa.  “It me”, I thought.  Self-awareness thundering through any half-cocked attempt to escape that irritable self.  Maybe it was just dream logic taking over. The present moment is such a prima facie anxiety-riddled absurdity that it often feels like the unconscious is seeping in, an orange-hued id of denial and macro-projection directing the psychic energy of the species towards self-destruction.   A collective struggling to find sea legs, looking for a restful state of composure where one can be relaxed and disengaged enough to pass off the doom and nausea off as background noise. 


We could use a vacation, I thought, while the crew did drills for deploying the lifeboats below me. 





Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dark Times Digest








Saturday, April 22, 2017

The West Pinion



"Far from the Kafkaesque banality which so often characterizes the real life equivalent, the mundane business of technocratic governance is made to look exciting, intellectually stimulating, and, above all, honorable. The bureaucratic drudgery of both White House management and governance, from speechwriting, to press conference logistics, to policy creation, are front and center across all seven seasons. A typical episode script is chock full of dweebish phraseology — “farm subsidies”, “recess appointments”, “census bureau”, “congressional consultation” — usually uttered by swift-tongued, Ivy League-educated staffers darting purposefully through labyrinthine corridors during the infamous “walk-and-talk” sequences. By recreating the look and feel of political processes to the tee, while garnishing them with a romantic veneer, the show gifts the Beltway’s most spiritually-devoted adherents with a vision of how many would probably like to see themselves... 

Debuting during the twilight of the Clinton presidency and spanning much of Bush II’s, it predictably vacillated somewhat in response to events while remaining grounded in a general liberal ethos. Having writing credits for all but one episode in The West Wing’s first four seasons, Sorkin left in 2003, with Executive Producer John Wells characterizing the subsequent direction as more balanced and bipartisan. The Bartlet administration’s actual politics—just like those of the real Democratic Party and its base—therefore run the gamut from the stuff of Elizabeth Warren-esque populism to the neoliberal bilge you might expect to come from a Beltway think tank having its white papers greased by dollars from Goldman Sachs.


But promoting or endorsing any specific policy orientation is not the show’s true raison d’être. At the conclusion of its seven seasons it remains unclear if the Bartlet administration has succeeded at all in fundamentally altering the contours of American life. In fact, after two terms in the White House, Bartlet’s gang of hyper-educated, hyper-competent politicos do not seem to have any transformational policy achievements whatsoever. Even in their most unconstrained and idealized political fantasies, liberals manage to accomplish nothing."

- Luke Savage, marvellously on the legacy of the West Wing in Current Affairs


Anecdotally, in my Senior year of high school, I attended the Columbia Journalism conference, as I had done my Junior Year. This year, though, there was a special session being held where an episode of the West Wing would be screened and there would be a Q&A with the stars of the show. The show had only been on a season or two at this point, but its influence and impact were already well-established.

The entire trip took place during school hours, which allotted travel time to NYC and back to Poughkeepsie, NY. In addition, because of the high demand for the session, there was a long line to get in to the West Wing session. This meant that we had a choice between actually attending the conference- choosing three or four educational sections to help us hone our skills, or going to see the cast of a popular TV show about politics and nothing else. In hindsight, studying journalism over the West Wing may have been more appropriate for defending ourselves in the coming years, but maybe a more critical lens on things like The West Wing would have also been appropriate.

A question came up during the Q&A about how the show's star, Martin Sheen, was able to reconcile the show's incrementalist and respectability politics with his own. Sheen had been involved in direct street action and civil disobedience since the 60s. What wasn't clear was that at the time, Sheen and his show were being used to drive that exact divide, as neoliberals in the democratic party shoehorned the left into an inexorable trap, disengaged of enough energy to survive on its own and without the spine or willpower of actual representation within Congress outside of a small, marginalized group of progressives to make an impact on the popular imagination. Within a few years, Sheen would sign a petition opposing the invasion of Iraq, but those making tough decisions in the Jed Bartlett mold largely supported it and became actively complicit in what may be the biggest war crime of the 21st century. The left fought for attention by holding massive demonstrations and actives, but found itself accepting whatever allies it could muster after being completely deprived of political capital in Washington.

Savage hits the nail on the head when he defines the West Wing strategy used to shut down leftists like Sheen; by appealing to their levelheaded refinery rather than their passions. Everything was debate club, and if you sounded like the most educated compromiser, it didn't matter if what was being compromised was Iraqi children's' lives or government-backed subprime mortgages. The left could be seen as agitators, and no different than the hard right neocons, if one would only accept that the only legitimate option was a fetishized high road of elite maneuvering and deep listening to the concerns of their opposition (who themselves realized that these geeks would do whatever they wanted if they just pushed them in the locker enough).

"It’s a smugness born of the view that politics is less a terrain of clashing values and interests than a perpetual pitting of the clever against the ignorant and obtuse. The clever wield facts and reason, while the foolish cling to effortlessly-exposed fictions and the braying prejudices of provincial rubes. In emphasizing intelligence over ideology, what follows is a fetishization of “elevated discourse” regardless of its actual outcomes or conclusions. The greatest political victories involve semantically dismantling an opponent’s argument or exposing its hypocrisy, usually by way of some grand rhetorical gesture. Categories like left and right become less significant, provided that the competing interlocutors are deemed respectably smart and practice the designated etiquette. The Discourse becomes a category of its own, to be protected and nourished by Serious People conversing respectfully while shutting down the stupid with heavy-handed moral sanctimony." Savage goes on to say

Since DNC Clintonism stood for nothing other than "seriousness", it was easy to call the left, who actually stood for specific policies and ideologies, out on hypocrisy when it inevitably caved on one or two things (see the most recent fervor over Bernie Sanders supporting a democratic candidate who is only slightly more pro-life than Tim Kaine). For the reasonabilist, hypocrisy is the worst sin because it makes your arguments vulnerable to being OBLITERATED or DECIMATED by late night hosts, or worse, people like Trump. Trump found a huge loophole during his campaign that showed that what people most despised was not hypocrisy itself, but hypocrisy directed an other. It didn't matter that Trump was a hypocrite himself or that through most of his life he agreed with many of the same tenets as Clinton, he was able to lob arguments from the left at Clinton and have them stick because he was playing a game about power while the other side was playing politics, clearing the way for Clinton to resign with dignity while Trump could launch an ignoble reign.

If the left is vulnerable to hypocrisy by standing for something in the first place, pragmatism the most logical course, since pragmatism is by definition compromise. But if the pragmatists think idealism is just fantasy, for the weak and unserious, they're painfully unaware that for the people who need idealism to survive, West Wing-ism means next to nothing when it produces nothing of value to their own lives.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

RIP Mika Vainio



















RIP Bruce Langhorne



A folkie and session musician whose lone synth experiments on Peter Fonda's bizarre and somewhat beautiful Idaho Transfer score sound like proto-Boards of Canada pieces.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Supra-céleste- Moonbrowser



Moscow invasion

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Vibin'

Kailin- Fracture
Syd- Fin
Kingdom- Tears in the Club
Drake- More Life
Migos- Culture
Suda- Hives
Ida Dillan- Angelic Slang EP
Pye Corner Audio- The Spiral/The Darkest Wave
Sega Bodega- Ess B
Gorillaz feat Vince Staples- "Ascension"
Pharmakon- Contact
Missy Elliot feat Lamb- "I'm Better"