Thursday, May 28, 2015

High Tides- "Sunware"

High Tides appears to be another side project of Black Moth Super Rainbow's Tobacco. Hot of the heels of reading this profile/history of Hipster Runoff's Carles at Motherboard,  this popped into my inbox. Maybe chillwave is gearing up for another Deadbeat Summer?

In that article, Carles notes that: “Chillwave music is still great… I still find my musical sensibilities going back towards the aural, pure vibes of chillwave. I will probably be like 'the old guy who thinks the Beatles r awesome' except with chillwave.”

I may be too. I still listen to a lot of this stuff often.

Oh, BTW, this came this week too, take it or leave it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


In an update to a previous post, Mark Harris at Grantland perfectly sums up the world-destructive violence that was waiting in the Age of Ultron when I eventually got around to seeing it:

"At the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the titular supervillain portrayed by 8 million CGI artists and the voice of James Spader launches an attack on a large part of an Eastern European country called Sokovia.1 Basically, he scissors a border around a big section of a Sokovian city and then lifts it into midair. Because he can, and also because of something about how the only way to save mankind is to destroy it, yada yada yada. It’s a messy business, because all of that city-scissoring is slightly imprecise. High-rise buildings tend to fall off the borders; there’s lots of dirt and crumbling and stuff tumbling either into the hole that’s left or onto the city around the hole. But this is Marvel, so the stakes are at once preposterously high (it’s the end of the world as we know it) and calculatedly low (you’ll feel fine). “Sokovia,” after all, isn’t real; the city isn’t real; the threat isn’t real. The Sokovian populace is basically a stand-in for “Worried-looking white extras in a country really far from the U.S. that probably isn’t even that much of an ally.” It’s only a movie — in fact, it’s a movie in which the characters all seem to have a general sense that it’s only a movie and that things will work out in movie terms. (Iron Man to himself: “Please be a secret door … Yay!”)
Anyway, they’re all OK. Really. In a couple of lines that sound rather hastily spackled-in, one or another of the Avengers pauses during all of this world-saving to mention that they’ve gotten just about everyone out of a building.3 So, lots of destruction, little death. It’s Teflon Apocalypse. Then, at the end, there’s a kind of efficient evacuation in which everyone who’s left on the floating-island part of the city intuitively races over to the same edge in order to get on the equivalent of four or five space buses. In a very meta nod to the long-prevailing need to protect delicate sensibilities, even a dog gets to jump onto the rescue convoy. If Age of Ultron were a plane-crash movie, it would offer a lot of mayhem interspersed with affable discussions and would climax with the orderly inflation of life vests and deployment of yellow slides."

I recall from my younger days reading G.I. Joe comics, identified now to be little more than pro-military propaganda to help recover from the malaise of 70s skepticism and institutional distrust, that the invention of far-away countries to concurrently terrorize and rescue was a common tactic in those forced narratives.  It allowed for the illusion of ill will (off-panel, off-screen) that was only as gruesome as your fantasies allowed, but securely allocated to a country whose imaginary borders were far from our own and whose unknown customs and cultures were exoticized enough to be dispensable anyway.  The stakes are high for Sovokia, but all that really accounts for is a bigger thank you owed to our Randian supermen.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron actually introduces fantasy lands like this twice, once in "Sokovia" and once in "Wakanda", a fictionalized African nation known in the comics as the home country of Black Panther*.  After being set off by Scarlet Witch's telepathy, the Hulk goes on a rampage, ravaging the streets of an urban center in Wakanda, throwing cars, busting holes in buildings, and running afoul of mostly black faces instead of the white ones we see in Sovokia.

The parallels between Ultron and the Hulk's rampages should be crystal clear.  Clearly, this seems  a narrative choice on Whedon's behalf, a chance to either contrast reaction or demonstrate the thin line separate madness of righteous zealotry, but in one of the most hypocritical moves of a superhero franchise thus far, it's none of those thing.  The Hulk is meant to be forgiven, since he is bestial and destructive by nature, while Ultron is scheming and deliberate.  While Ultron seems to be acting in an aggressively punitive, fatherly mode, punishing the world for its misdeeds, Hulk is in some snare of shellshock, wanting to be a do-gooder but unable to reconcile how awesome it feels to just smash shit up.  We're expected to condemn one- the fracturing logic of megalomania; and condone another- intrinsic violence bubbled up to its breaking point.**

But in the People's History of the Marvel Universe, would anyone in Wakanda or Sovokia know the difference?  Does intentionality play that vital a role to the collateral damage on the sidelines?  What winds up happening instead is a marginalization of African lives, which would already be quite a thing were African lives not already the most expendable of all lives in the current Western geopolitcal landscape.  The disappearance of their stories and their struggles, the off-panel/off-screen tragedies, is a daily occurrence.

A throwaway line suggests that no one will be fired, suspended, and charges won't be pressed, but to whom do the Avengers answer exactly?  The International Criminal Court?  S.H.I.E.L.D.'s internal auditors?  The Baltimore PD?  In the comics, Wakanda becomes independently wealthy thanks to its clever harnessing of resources, but in the film there's little evidence that the country is any more rich than its neighbors.  Best case scenario, the property damage alone would surely bankrupt the country.

And at this point in the film, this is only the second war crime that Hulk's Bruce Banner has committed.  Earlier, it's actually him and Iron Man/Tony Stark who, without oversight or authorization or so much as a second glance in the barely-regulated Stark labs, create Ultron, which is in every sense of the word a weapon of mass destruction.  Again, intentionality alone seems to get them off the hook, because despite the seemingly eviler wreckage that Ultron induces, Stark and Banner are never treated like the war criminals/terrorists they most certainly are.  Purest intentions don't count for shit for those laying in the body bags.

Of course, as the tone of the Grantland quote above suggests, this would a silly thing to argue, except that Age of Ultron precisely mirrors existing hegemony; a world were Africans are bystanders to our most destructive impulses, ignored to the mercy of tyrants, Ebola, HIV, famine, poverty, et al. while the security council nations take what they need; where war crimes perpetrated either intentionally or as a goof go unpunished; and where the death of 2000 people in a lucky strike terror attack by a gaggle of Saudi half-wits is still given more credence than the millions of war dead launched in its wake in a calculated global war on/of terror.

Look, you know how we've been trying to create a super advanced
robot AI to protect the world from aliens? Well, this technology
from those exact same aliens, used by the leader of those aliens to
nearly destroy us all, might be the key to stopping future aliens!
I'm going to load the computer stuff and see what happens.

What?! Are you seriously the dipshit that finds a random
USB key in your office parking lot and immediately
plugs it into your work computer?
OK, I ran not_a_virus.exe. Now let's go party.
A.I. Paul Bettany can finish this up.

The muse to Stark's Reaganite vision of creating an A.I. Star Wars defense shield in Ultron was a vision implanted in him by Scarlet Witch, not of a world where the Avengers had failed to protect the populace, but a neatly stacked altar of superhero corpses, the self-anointed elite crumbled under their own impotence.  A world without those to simultaneously protect us and destroy us.  Would that really be so bad?

*I'd always assumed Black Panther was a badass ode to the black nationalists of the 60s and 70s, but Wikipedia seems to signal that the name preceded it. I'd be curious to know if there was any intersection between the two in the comics.

**The inevitability and essentialism of the Hulk's aggression is particularly problematic given the recent antics of the superhero franchise's fanboy audience.  Since it has little to no effect on world diplomatic relationships or the rest of the Avengers, this behavior's main impact is on Black Widow, Banner's love interest.    Black Widow is tasked with "taming" Banner and, as well-publicized elsewhere, becomes more of a sexual prize than an autonomous character with her own desires and agency, let alone a superhero. Everything about their pairing has the air of an abusive relationship. "He's not so bad.  He has a temper.  Deep down, he's all fluff" she says at one point.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."- Fredrick Douglass

Nice Feelings- "Fresh"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Late to the Meme

Actually tweeted these when the Catholic Vote tweet went online.  Posted here for posterity. From Duran Duran's  "Wild Boys" song, which was to be the theme song to Russell Mulcahy's film adaptation of William S. Burroughs's novel of the same name, which is about a violent, sadistic homosexual gang trying to bring about the end of the world.  Amazing to think about that film.  Would they have had to tone it down or would Mulcahy have gone full throttle into it?

The Powerpoint Version

Just remembered a bit of counter-programming to the previous post from back in the early naughts. In the episode of Veronica Mars called "Drinking the Kool Aid", the titular teenage detective investigates an "09er" (a network of the elite 1%ers with rich parents) who disappears into a cult.  The scenario appears at first glance to be playing out like you would assume it might, with a naive teenager being brainwashed by an intrinsically evil organization with apocalyptic intentions.  However, the group winds up being a benevolent and idealistic lot, while it is the parents tracking down Casey (the 09er) (who stem from the executive class) who actually have malevolent intent. In fact while the cult allows its membership to come and go as they please without any pressure, the parents hire intelligence agents to counterprogram  Casey's newfound distaste for capitalism out of him. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fear of Cults

Next week will see the debut of Aquarius, an NBC TV series modeled after the Manson family murders of the late 1960s.  While one would hope for a more sympathetic and ambiguous reading along the lines of that same channel's absolutely brilliant Hannibal, previews and early reviews indicate different with the focus mainly on a hard-nosed cop played by David Duchovny, who doesn't understand the (ugh) "Flower Generation", and his more sympathetic, younger partner who apparently thinks the kids are alright.  Let's hope this is the sugar pill to make the rest go down smoother, but leave it at that.

Concurrently, this week  indie superstar director Todd Haynes announced he's developing a far more promising series about the far more benign Source Family cult, known mostly for their vegetarian food and psychedelic music.  Both of these series however underscore a trend I've been noticing in recent years.  Mainstream culture seems oddly hung up on the idea of cults, which, in the 21st century is peculiar and anachronistic.  It's not that cults don't exist anymore, but their prevalence, particularly those operating in the apocalyptic faith-based way they're portrayed in these mediums, is far less momentous than it has been in decades.

Cults became a huge issue in the late 60s and the early 70s as children began deviating from the belief systems of their parents and adopting new ideas in new formations.  Communes and collectives, both spiritual and not, came and went with varying degrees of success, but their arrival signaled an overall dissatisfaction with the old order.  Manson, of course, was the first huge cult scare, but cult ideology of singular charismatic leaders with specific edicts and codes of induction began infiltrating its way into mainstream ideology by way of support groups and self-help/self-actualization communities, such as EST (as seen on the Americans) or Esalen (as seen on the final episode of Mad Men).

Mind control was only a concern insofar as cults could be seen to be operating on behalf of Soviet state powers.  Still, there was huge trepidation about cults due to the more political-styled terrorist organizations that operated like cults (Symbionese Liberation Army, Baader Meinhof, Weather Underground, et. al.) and that anxiety was, in part, paid off in the form of the People's Temple wherein Jim Jones horrifically encouraged his followers to commit mass suicide.  In recording captured during the last few hours in the Jonestown compound, Jones considered this a symbolic act, a moment of collective despair at a world that refused to listen to the poor and disadvantaged.  Which surely would've been powerful and hard to dismiss, had they not poisoned the fucking children too.

With the rise of the reactionary Christian Coalition and the evangelical movement, paranoia about cults rose to a fever pitch in the 80s as dozens of unmitigated lawsuits destroyed the lives of caretakers as community members rose against what they feared to be satanic cult ritual abuse in suburban daycare centers.  Cults seemed to fade from fashion to the fringes in the years that followed, but the 90s saw a resurgence of truly destructive activity with high body counts from the likes of the Branch Davidians, Solar Temple, and Heaven's Gate cults.

In the twenty years since then, the main cult of any major concern has been the Westboro Baptist Church, a proto-trolling group whose antics are more obnoxious than frightening.  So why, at this late hour, have cults come surging back into the popular consciousness?  In the past few years, cults have become a significant force on Helix, The Following, True Detective, Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, The Blacklist, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt*.  And those are just the ones I either watch or have had some interaction with.   Film seems to have not broached the subject too much, which can likely be explained away by the fact that Hollywood is more monolithic and remake-based than it has been at any point in its history, but it's notable to point out the fantastic Martha Marcy May Marlene (about a woman who escapes a cult),  The Master (about a relationship between an L.Ron-like guru and a sociopath who wants to belong but refuses to be stabilized), The Sacrament (an Eli Roth story that's apparently a stylized take on Jonestown), and Red State (whose antagonists are very thinly veiled takes on Westboro).

So, what gives?  Why at the moment of disaster capitalism, endless police brutality, cyberbullying, flying killer robots, omniscient surveillance states, corporate control and austerity, et al., does now seem the moment to make cults a thing?  There hasn't been a real cult tragedy in some time and in many ways the idea of physical community and union for outsiders has dissipated as online locales like Reddit seem to foster every known subculture from the safety and comfort of one's own home.

Beyond Westboro, whose numbers are small and whose support is negligible, but whose publicity is aggressive, a couple theories.

1. Prevalence of Scientology in the media/entertainment community has begun to backlash (re: recent parodies of the religion and the popularity of the HBO doc Going Clear)

2. Railing against cults is a safe, somewhat inoffensive way to rail against faith-based belief systems in general.  The rising New Atheism and anti-theism texts must surely be more popular reading material in Television boardrooms, than say heartland America.

3. Children of the 90s whose first experiences of collective trauma involved Koresh or Heaven's Gate are now growing up and processing those experiences

4. More speculatively, and perhaps more contentiously, a society that bows to the alter of the individual and particularly the self is scared of a 60s style splintering into new factions that may threaten the established order.  Cults are in essence the new Romero-style Zombie, a communality of thought that threatens to extinguish great men from being the single inheritors of history.  Or alternately, cult shows are threatened by any new thoughts at all.  Anything that doesn't pluck from the existing dustbin of history is obscene.  The ways social media is allowing those with shared experience and shared thought to instantaneously unite and challenge one another, for good or ill, is substantially a threat to a system that relies on social control as it main doctrine.

What are your thoughts?  Are there any other writings on why so many cults have been popping up on TV screens?

*Though Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy, it actually very maturely and honestly deals with the ramifications of abuse.  So much so, it could be considered the first PTSD or post-rape culture comedy.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ventila- For Human Consumption

Muzak Sounds Better With You

Wendy Reid- "Gungles"

A borrowed memory

Here Comes Success

"Everyone loves the Horatio Alger version of life. What they don’t realize is that these transformations begin in shame, because poverty feels shameful. It shouldn’t, but everyone who’s experienced it confirms this. Sometimes people say, I didn’t know we were poor—Don Draper knows he’s poor, very much in the model of Iacocca or Walton, who came out of the Great Depression, out of really humble beginnings. Or like Conrad Hilton, on the show. These men don’t take no for an answer, they build these big businesses, these empires, but really it’s all based on failure, insecurity, and an identity modeled on some abstract ideal of white power. I’ve always said this is a show about becoming white. That’s the definition of success in America—becoming a WASP. A WASP male.

The driving question for the series is, Who are we? When we talk about “we,” who is that? In the pilot, Pete Campbell has this line, “Adding money and education doesn’t take the rude edge out of people.” Sophisticated anti-Semitism. I overheard that line when I was a schoolteacher. The person, of course, didn’t know they were in the presence of a Jew. I was a ghost. Certain male artists like to show that they’re feminists as a way to get girls. That’s always seemed pimpy to me. I sympathize with feminism the same way I identify with gay people and with people of color, because I know what it’s like to look over the side of the fence and then to climb over the fence and to feel like you don’t belong, or be reminded at the worst moment that you don’t belong.

Take Rachel Menken, the department-store heiress in the first season of Mad Men. She’s part of what I call the nose-job generation. She’s assimilated. She probably doesn’t observe the Sabbath or any of these other things that her parents did. That generation had a hard time because they were trying desperately to be buttoned-down and preppy and—this is my parent’s generation—white as could be. They were embarrassed by their parents. This is the story of America, this assimilation. Because guess what, this guy Don has the same problems. He’s hiding his identity, too. That’s why Rachel Menken understands Don, because they’re both trying desperately to be white American males."

-Matthew Weiner, The Paris Review Interview

HvEXAS Forever

Monday, May 18, 2015

Emotional Guidance

"TV now tells you what to feel.

It doesn't tell you what to think anymore. From EastEnders to reality format shows, you're on the emotional journey of people - and through the editing, it gently suggests to you what is the agreed form of feeling. "Hugs and Kisses", I call it.

I nicked that off Mark Ravenhill who wrote a very good piece which said that if you analyse television now it's a system of guidance - it tells you who is having the Bad Feelings and who is having the Good Feelings. And the person who is having the Bad Feelings is redeemed through a "hugs and kisses" moment at the end. It really is a system not of moral guidance, but of emotional guidance.

Morality has been replaced by feeling.

That's what all the disorders are about. They are a way of oppressing and measuring whether what you're feeling is the correct feeling. Intellect and morality are intimately related but feeling is now predominant."

-Adam Curtis

The above quote is not the source material from which Forcefeel derives (the moniker preceded the quote in question), but reading this and seeing Curtis's Century of the Self gave potency and legitimacy to some of the ideas I had which had inspired the name.  (I still have a dormant plan to erect an entire album from Reality TV swells and incidental dramatic links, the real stuff of the Forcefeel. It'll probably never happen, but it's nice to dream).

I couldn't help thinking back to The Century of the Self when watching last night's Mad Men series finale; the repositioning of the empathetic/communal hippie spirit of goodwill into a struggle of the self.  Man vs. nature/man vs. society transforming into personal growth/man vs. himself.  In a way, I think this was part of the crux of the show, the central existential tension offscreen (and the vast majority of its tensions were offscreen), the idea that something outside yourself could permit you to be anything but yourself and thus lose yourself in the process.  Don's somewhat nihilistic take in early seasons was that there was no real self, just fantasies and fictions created by men like himself to sell to rubes desperate to chew up the bait.  But in the end, left with nothing but himself, it became clear that it was just as possible that he did have a core self and that core self was just kind of a piece of shit.

To the show's credit, it never provided instructions on how to feel, though in a culture where guided self-reflection is normative this ambiguity is just as intrinisically dangerous as the alternative.  Certainly, the show can count among its fanbase those who idolize or idealize the time and the characters, something AMC's own marketing never tried to dissuade.  When one's feelings have been conditioned in every other capacity by ideology, you can then be allowed to roam free in the marketplace of ambiguity, secure in the knowledge that the filter of the self will reflect back only your own one-directional biases and direct you to purchase the correct rendition of the status quo (ie, never the most threatening one).

Michael Vallera- "Dream Lense"

Opal Tapes

Curatorial Aphex

Diamonds in the rough these, often buried between kinda dull tunes.  Is this one his BOC tune?

The Aphex everyone wants, but he rarely gives you

The zonkers weirdo who makes the other Aphexes so much more interesting

Son!ka & Gut Nose- "Untitled B"

The Future May Be Boring

"On the other hand, being quite serious, the future may be boring. It’s possible that my children and yours will live in an eventless world, and that the faculty of imagination will die, or express itself solely in the realm of psychopathology."

Queen Ono

"Recently, I sent a friend a YouTube link in an email and warned her, “Only watch this if you want to be angry!” It was a video by the comedian and podcaster Bill Burr, talking over a 1972 clip of John and Yoko performing with Chuck Berry on The Mike Douglas Show. Lennon and Berry are “killing it,” Burr declares, and Ono’s just “playing some stupid fucking drum, and even though she has no fucking talent whatsoever, he’s putting her in the fucking band just so she’ll shut the fuck up and stop nagging him!” This joke was not original enough to offend me, but I felt an anger rising when Burr panned back: “Dude, did you ever have, like, a buddy of yours and he’s dating some fucking psycho but he’s in love with her so you can’t fucking say anything? And you’re just sitting there waiting for the fucking lightning bolt to hit your friend in the head where he finally realizes that he’s dating a psycho cunt?”

I have always been drawn to the women who can arouse this kind of vitriol. The kind of hate that seems too big and billowing to be directed at just one woman, the kind that seems like a person or an entire society is vomiting out all its misogyny onto one convenient scapegoat. At some point — after successive Joan of Arc and Courtney Love phases — I started to see this position of feminine abjectness as a kind of superpower. A position from which a woman could offend far more deeply than a man.

When I watch that Mike Douglas performance now, I see something different from what Burr does — or from what I might have seen a decade ago. I see in Ono a locus of possibility. A portal leading toward an alternate universe in which I can freely admit sacrilegious things: that I feel uncomfortable falling at the feet of both Lennon or Berry because one of them beat his ex-wife and the other was once arrested for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines; that these two don’t sound all that great together; that there is something laughably tame about their performance, and by extension the entire supposedly revolutionary art form of rock and roll, if it can be so profoundly threatened by a woman playing a drum and making weird noises with her voice. I see a woman throwing blood"

- Lindsay Zoladz, Yoko Ono and the Myth That Needs to Die, Vulture

Ital- "Syndrome"

How a great techno track sounds

Truss- "Kymin Lea"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Slum Landlords of the Marvel Universe

A few years ago, I wrote about the habitual desire of Hollywood to destroy the world.  The article's focus was not solely on the disaster porn aspect of a country transfixed on images of the old world crumbling and being rescued by the guard that had failed to prevent its collapse, but also on the specific need to market new products to its audience at exactly these moments of mass destruction.

In this piece, I singled out Joss Whedon's The Avengers, that year's summer blockbuster that is still to date one of the highest grossing films of all-time, as indicative of the kind of film that punishes its universe severely for the follies of godlike protagonists without showing the ensuing repercussions of this catastrophic destruction.  I stand by most of my critiques in the article, but the dynamic has since shifted slightly in the Marvel universe.

I've no illusions that Whedon himself might have read the piece  (I'm almost certain he didn't), but the Marvel universe film and television projects that have launched in the wake of The Avengers have focused rather unexpectedly on coming to terms with the wreckage of that Avengers film.  This is particularly true of the first season of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D television show.  The show's main protagonist, Phil Coulson, was killed in The Avengers (he's the one they ultimately avenge), but is here resurrected somewhat mysteriously and haunted by the experience of his own death.  Elsewhere, the world is adjusting with equal parts terror and trepidation to the fact that there are now these things with superpowers roaming around with the capability of doing immense damage.  Twin agencies, each with some degree of institutional backing and malevolent intent, compete to be the ones to harness these weaponized humans.  The heroes of the story are seen roaming through wreckage for alien artifacts and other ephemera that may be alternately useful or harmful.  Scorched earth is implied and occasionally present, but overall life continues.  Unlike our real post-9/11 world, the entire apparatus of global defense does not seem to dominate daily motions, but operates largely in a clandestine matter behind the scenes.

Elswehere, in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has been visibly traumatized by the "Battle of New York", struggling to shake the unease of how his attempts to outmanuever his enemies' weapons capabilities only seems to result in arming them more intensely.  Here, trauma is personalized in the eyes of someone with great power and great responsibility.  Heaven is the head that wears the crown, et al., but not exactly a People's History of the Marvel Universe.

The new Netflix series Daredevil, though barely even tangential to the world of The Avengers examines the damage perhaps the furthest.  The series, developed by frequent Whedon collaborator Drew Goddard, takes place entirely in a ravaged Hell's Kitchen, NYC, a locale still in the process of rebuilding after the alien invasion in the Avengers.    Hell's Kitchen here has essentially been de-gentrified, with organized crime elements coming in to terrorize the already-distraught community.  At the center of the storyline is a wealthy businessman named Wilson Fisk who wants to buy up all the affected real estate, purge the poverty caste out, and rebuild the city using a seemingly unlimited amount of capital garnered through both legal and extralegal means.

The allusion here seems not to be to post-9/11, as The Avengers would suggest, but to post-Katrina New Orleans where politicians like Richard Baker were remarking that "Finally we cleaned up public housing in New Orleans.  We couldn't do it, but God did it.".  In many ways, Fisk takes the same approach as Baker, offering buyouts for new condo space and then setting fire to the buildings that the rabble won't leave like a slum landlord and wholesale developer rolled into one.  Daredevil also wisely implicates both the corporate and state authorities for their responsibility in leaving the damage unattended, instituting what in a post-2008 economy would be known as "recovery without recovery".

Daredevil is in many ways a very flawed and simplistic narrative.  It hits on income inequality and wealth disparity as one of its central tenets, but can only remark on these through glaring contrasts of absolute evil and morally-compromised good (Daredevil's Matt Murdock is a nearly-lapsed Catholic who still regularly consults his local priest).  Furthermore, its treatment of its female leads as well as its consistent use of torture as a valid information extracting tool make it, to use the cliched term, problematic at best.

To its merit though, it's only in the shot at the top of this page, which appears briefly as a former newspaper reporter is looking through his old stories, that Marvel ever even acknowledges that there was indeed mass loss of life in the alien invasion of the Avengers.   A notion that's been mummified into a picture frame, the word "final" central in the frame and the bottom scroll already moving past it to talk about "cleanup" rather than any psychic impact or immediate changes to the sociopolitical landscape.  Cleanup on Aisle 6.  Sweep this mess right under the rug and move on.  Though Daredevil's working class tenants of the ruins of Hell's Kitchen can't move on.  They still live here.

For a series in which trauma and atrocity are so often exploited for narrative gravitas, these stories still do have quite a knack for averting their eyes, perhaps distracted by their own spectacles.  I'm not asking for Marvel to issue its own "Treme", but for an era in which drooling fanboys demand A+ ratings from critics for a series of films that finally take comic books seriously, a 10% reduction in hand-to-hand combat scenes to focus on fallout could have a huge impact on the millions of people watching, who  also may be  reeling from their own participation in the shock doctrine.

** I have not yet seen Age of Ultron, so I can't comment on it yet. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lotic- "Surrender"

Try to Act Normal (Unsettled for Years Now)

"I take for granted that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is part of the basic process of coping with reality, just as actors need to act all the time to make up for some deficiency in their sense of themselves. Years ago, sitting at the café outside the American Express building in Athens, I watched the British actor Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa) cross the street in the lunchtime crowd, buy Time at a magazine kiosk, indulge in brief banter with the owner, sit down, order a drink, then get up and walk away—every moment of which, every gesture, was clearly acted, that is, stressed and exaggerated in a self-conscious way, although he obviously thought that no one was aware who he was, and he didn’t think that anyone was watching him. I take it that the same process works for the writer, except that the writer is assigning himself his own roles. I have a sense of certain gathering obsessions and roles, certain corners of the field where the next stage of the hunt will be carried on. I know that if I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream."

-J.G. Ballard, interview with the Paris Review, 1984

Dept. of Acknowledging "Yes, We're the Fucking Bad Guys"


"As The Intercept reports today, the NSA does have a program called Skynet. But unlike the autonomous, self-aware computerized defense system in Terminator that goes rogue and launches a nuclear attack that destroys most of humanity, this one is a surveillance program that uses phone metadata to track the location and call activities of suspected terrorists. A journalist for Al Jazeera reportedly became one of its targets after he was placed on a terrorist watch list...

Skynet uses phone location and call metadata from bulk phone call records to detect suspicious patterns in the physical movements of suspects and their communication habits, according to a 2012 government presentation The Intercept obtained from Edward Snowden...

The goal is to identify people who move around in a pattern similar to Al Qaeda couriers who are used to pass communication and intelligence between the group’s senior leaders. The program tracked Zaidan because his movements and interactions with Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders matched a suspicious pattern—which is, it turns out, very similar to the pattern of journalists meeting with sources.

We should note that the NSA has a second program that more closely resembles the Terminator‘s Skynet. This one is called MonsterMind, as revealed by Edward Snowden last year in an interview with WIRED and James Bamford. MonsterMind, like the film version of Skynet, is a defense surveillance system that would instantly and autonomously neutralize foreign cyberattacks against the US, and could be used to launch retaliatory strikes as well. Under this program algorithms would scour massive repositories of metadata and analyze it to differentiate normal network traffic from anomalous or malicious traffic. Armed with this knowledge, the NSA could instantly and autonomously identify, and block, a foreign threat."

-Kim Zetter, So the NASA Has An Actual Skynet Program, Wired

We Only Got the Disasters

"It was only as I sat on a panel with three older male [science fiction] writers, listening to them decry the loss of hope and wonder in modern science fiction, that I started to react...What happened to the wonder, they asked. What happened to the hope and promise for the human race?

It felt, to me, like mourning for a genre that had lost its way – and it was that, more than anything, that made me angry.

A moment of silence came. “Do you know my first memory of space travel?” I asked into that quiet. “Challenger.”

In contrast to their earlier stories, I talked of being four years old and watching on television as something went terribly wrong after liftoff. I hadn’t truly understood what I was seeing in that moment, only knew that my mother sat down very suddenly, very abruptly, on the coffee table.  My mother never let anyone sit on the coffee table.

I talked of spending days in my dorm room watching as crews searched fields for the wreckage and remains from the space shuttle Columbia.

Of NASA budget cuts. Of projects cancelled or failed.

“No one has walked on the moon in my lifetime,” I told them. “Yet you try to tell me that it’s my generation who has lost their wonder?  That it’s the young people of today who have let everything slip and fall into ruin? You don’t understand. You had the dream and the potential and the opportunities, and you messed it all up. You got hope and moon landings and that bright, glorious future. I got only the disasters."

- Karina Sumner-Smith

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The above, from the NME.  Apologies for this staggering work of impenetrable beauty not being "funny" enough for Dalton, but calling it out for not being "sensual" or "enigmatic".  Has any review ever been more off-base?  I must have listened to Succour over 50 times and not once has its sensuality or mystery not jumped out of the speakers like the weird faceless man jumped out of the darkness in this last week's episode of Louie.   First and last sentences of this seem pretty accurate though.  It does feel like time stretches when listening (a fantastic feat for such an immersive album- Ed.).  A dark, deserted vessel adrift on a waveless sea (unless you count, you know, those DEEPLY FUCKING HYPNOTIC BEATS as waves).  No wonder people violently hated Oasis.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Corporate Documentaries Still Suck

I watched Montage of Heck yesterday.  After all the hype, it was definitely a letdown.  It showed some promise in both the name- after an obscure cassette assembled by Cobain that has been on a number of bootlegs throughout the years- which promised experimental form and a deep musical dive- and the initial reviews from music critics (always the most reliable of sources, I know).  Ultimately though, the film comes off far too cohesive, with an all-too familiar and barely revelatory narrative.  The plot, chronological and complete with "innocent" before footage (Cobain was a cute kid though), is mostly  laid out in an expressionist manner through sound and image rather than the conventional use of talking heads, but the places it travels are a bit of a museum/mausoleum, letting objects speak for themselves, but offering little wisdom in the way of editorial.  Interview subjects do appear, but their role is limited, wasted even.  Novoselic and Love, for instance, would surely have great insight into specific ephemera or experience, but the film is painted in such broad brush strokes that it rarely surpasses a Google image search and a Wikipedia entry.

Of considerable absence, unsurprisingly, is musical context, specifically regarding the late 80's and early 90's punk and independent scene.  In fact, the film gives off the distinct impress that Nirvana operated mostly from a bubble, one that ballooned from a lone vantage and subsequently popped there, detached and alienated from all peers (except Guns N' Roses, whom Love and Cobain seemed to have a running distaste for).  No other key musical figures appear, despite Kurt's close friendships with the likes of pivotal figures like Kathleen Hanna, Thurston Moore, and Dylan Carlson of Earth (a fellow junkie who bought Cobain the shotgun he used to kill himself).

Cobain was certainly an interesting figure, and not just in the obsessive-compulsive/manic depressive/vaguely juvenile ways depicted on screen.  The film hints at how he felt perpetually like an outsider growing up and found solace and a muse in Seattle's underground scene, but there's little sense of the deeply political bent of this affiliation that manifested in both his art and public persona  (his staunch feminism, warm embrace of queer identity politics, seething disapproval of the corporate value system).  It doesn't give a sense of what being alienated and alone felt like before the age of the internet, what it meant to be accepted into a community like the Sub Pop/Kill Rock Stars set, and how those communities formed the only stratum of resistance against capitalism for young suburbanites during this timeframe.

What made this such an interesting period in musical history was that after what seemed like an eternity of yacht rock, party-hard misogynist metal, boomer nostalgia, and plastic pop, America actually embraced something that was very anti-establishment.  Not only did the nation embrace it;  Nirvana was the biggest band in the country, maybe even the world.   But unlike The Beatles, who came in with noveau haircuts and eased their fans in to more radical notions, Nirvana was a fully-formed ideology.  Despite this, their rise, in pure Deleuzian form, corresponded with a concurrent embrace and co-option of countercultural values.  In Montage of Heck, Cobain lets out a jibe against "EmptyVee", but his meteoric rise was actually entirely bestowed by these cultural guardians, who took a chance on "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and put into regular rotation apropos of very little else that was being shown on the channel at the time.

Cobain was keenly aware of his place within the machine and the way he was being sucked into the cool kids table, realigning the center to his own view.  The media still wanted him, but only on their terms, only as a rebellion they could sell and control.  He tried to pass it off as if it couldn't eat away at him, as would many that followed him, with ironic disaffection- posing on the cover of Rolling Stone with a T-Shirt reading, in McLarenesque poise, "Corporate Magazines Still Suck" and mocking Nirvana's press, fans, haters, et al.   But he was also keenly aware that he was now the next in a long line of hip gurus, the latest fashion.  This may not have eaten at him with the same vigor as the stomach pain and the heroin, but it did pose an impasse in the rock and roll narrative (it's probably no mistake that there hasn't been a significant rock movement since grunge/alternative overtook the airwaves in the early 90s).

The graphic designers helped make the case for him

His station turned Cobain into a new kind of celebrity one who posed a strategic threat to the peak power of late capitalism: the self-aware, reluctant star.  One for whom fame itself could be used weaponized against him.  The achievement of the American rock star ideal in every sense of the word who didn't want success and for whom its arrival didn't immediately convert him into an evangelist.  Instead, it just destroyed him.  This can be seen on down the annals through Kanye and his depressive hedonism.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dubbel Dutch- OAK Mixtape

This is really incredible stuff.  Wish there was a playlist for this. That's really the major reason I don't listen to many mixes/podcasts.  I like to know what the tracks are.  I feel it'd be easier to let it go in a club environment, but I don't do many of those these days.

Extinction Level Event


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Appeal to the Prurient Interest

"Let me put it this way: I think fantasy is a more powerful way of talking about real life. If you try to say something like it’s your fucking diary, who's gonna read that? You need exaggeration and fantasy in order for other people to feel comfortable in talking about your life, that's the way you try to connect with people. At least in terms of performing, the idea is not to drive people away. I want to share something. A lot of people kind of fall back on this defense like, "I don't care, I don't give a fuck." But I do care, I do give a fuck, that's why I'm here trying to share it with you. Given the context of Prurient, that is ultimately the motivation. The idea is to try to connect—even though it’s within a self-centered, masturbatory kind of world.

The whole thing is flawed, even the performance itself. From the time you go onstage, there's an expectation and a hierarchy between you and the audience. You're on the stage, but they still have the power to determine what they want to give you back. You can't choose... One of the challenges is trying to overcome all of the artificiality of presenting something in the public, whether it’s putting out a record or doing a show or even writing—any act of making something public. The challenge is to try to somehow make that feel real even though the entire mechanism is fake."

- Every Noise At Once: The Obsessive Art of Prurient's Dominic Fernow

The profile of Dominic Fernow (Prurient, Vatican Shadow, Hospital Productions) has raised significantly in the past decade or so.   He's by no means a household name, but for someone still so fundamentally linked with extreme music he does garner his fair share of attention.

Interviews with him and articles on his work tend to juxtapose his newer and older stuff by linking or embedding the above video, which I shot around 2003/2004 as part of a basement show with a few travelling noise acts and some local ones.  It was an intense and powerful performance, tapping into some frightening emotions.   An organization I was a part of regularly booked these types of acts to come to the Hudson Valley in New York in between stops to Boston and New York and though there were definitely artists of sincere pedigree (Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening Space was up the road in Kingston, NY), Prurient, though still young (but by no means a teenager as the Pitchfork article suggests), was already the superstar of this cohort.

Many did adhere to the "I don't give a fuck" type of attitude Fernow alludes to in the above quote and there was definitely a sticky gray area between the display of prerequisite misanthropy and utter nihilism of character.  Most were not, but some of these people could be downright unpleasant.  Whether it was tour crankiness, hipster dismissiveness, or just general disdain was often unclear, but the positioning of the music at the bleeding edge of polarity attracted a number of characters who wouldn't seem out of place in the Apocalypse Culture series.  I had little interaction with Fernow off-stage, but he always came off as shy and thoughtful rather than angry and brooding, not so much uneager to engage as slightly embarrassed at how much he already seemed to be sharing through his performance.  His art obviously took him to dark places, but he seemed to recognize those not as the places you reside, but rather the places you can't force out no matter how hard you try and, given this, you need to own up to before they own you.

Interesting sidebar- the house in this video, located at Six Mohonk Ave in New Paltz, NY was occupied by a gaggle of punk rock kids, most of whom were locals and did not attend the college right around the street, SUNY New Paltz. Many of the residents, already in punk/postpunk bands, became involved with noise itself thanks in part to the scene fostered by the organization I worked with (HvEXAS- a collective of which I was admittedly the lesser of the three partners). The house hosted tons of shows in the basement of Six Mohonk, many of which were extremely loud and probably permanently damaged my hearing to some degree.  Despite the decibel range, neighbors seemed fine with the performances and the house received few complaints.  It wasn't until a local paper covered one of the events that the  "venue" portion of the house was shut down by police for not filing the proper paperwork, despite the fact that I don't think admission was ever charged for any of the events at the house.

Then, a few weeks ago an article started circulating online in this circle, many of whom are still close. Apparently, the punk rock/noise house is now home to a none other than a frat from the University, the members of which are mortified to go into the basement because they're convinced it's haunted.  Talk about your culture clash.

To be fair, strange things did take place there...

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mango Ray- aethernet (2015, Remissive Records) Release

Mango Ray
(Remissive Records 030-2015)
RIYL: being stuck between the machinery and the ecstatic release. 

The information superhighway is clouded in tickertape dust and detritus.  They’re constantly tearing up the gravel, collapsing new buildings, moving deck chairs for the arrival of the net-unneutral Titanic.  The glow of the new is constant in parcel pieces, checkered through the shockwave/flash/java of packaging gloss.  Floating gamma adds, SEO toxins, RSS Feed the children.  

The millennials now crave gentle tampering.  Rest on a bed of soundwaves with the wiring exposed.  Music to transform the uncertainty of an institutional matrix too vast and complex to ever fully comprehend into the safety of childhood bewilderment.  The aethernet is one such sonic destination point.  Each track is both mechanical and fluid, the mercury flowing down its appendages into a rainbow pool below (or perhaps that’s just a visual hallucination resulting from the poison tongue put to the chemical mixture…mmm…mercury).  “Redistribution” twinkles and chugs alternately in asthmatic sighs that gasp out firecracker bursts.  Meanwhile “Itemize” is full of arbitrary vigor- imported violence juxtaposes cosmic radiance in editorial cuts that would make a superhero film dizzy and vomit (into rainbow pools of mercury, for hue is the cue to this mixture of unidentified sounds). 

“Ionic Gambit” extracts forlorn skeletons from dusty reels before they are rescued by triumphant wafts of nurturing synth, while “Grasshopper Lies Heavy” loops comforting patches of psychedelic digital tropics into a steady gait before dispersing them into destabilized zones.  These are songs that have been diced and arpeggiated into near unrecognition.  Tracks that don’t beg for a center, but instead continue to push further and further from one.   There’s two longform improvisational pieces (“Casinotone” and “Szyzygy”) at the core of the collection that dive deep into the scattered electronic sedimentsphere to ramasack the source code for salvage materials.  Returning to the surface, things look a bit different, covered in binary goo and algorithmic residue (“Midnight Haptic Kiss”, “Vaparson Wave”) but alarmingly more sedate and restorative. 

Tours of the aethernet are now being offered by Remissive Records, a bioimagineering firm that seeks to scramble only the proper brainwaves.  You may name your own price (such as zero) for a chance to probe this space further or simply observe the album as it streams through the fractured shared consciousness of your web browser.

Precarious and Meaningless Work

"This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it...

"Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

"If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value"

Adaptive Realism

It seems K-Punk has returned to us, briefly.  If anything, I can empathize with his mid-life depression, rooted in capitalist acquiescence (though I'm generation or so younger).

"I have spent the last year in a state of de-activation. I was thrown back into the privatised connectivity of the OedIpod, with its constant stream of low-level anxiety and compulsive micro-enjoyments. I couldn’t write, except in a mechanical way; what I produced seemed stillborn, stilted. My main mood altering drug of choice, music, didn’t work. I binged on box sets. I enjoyed time with my wife and son, but there was a fugitive quality to this enjoyment: my fingers always itched to reach for my smartphone. There was always something I should already have done that I hadn’t – the urgencies piling up, like a flashing red light constantly blinking in my peripheral vision, never letting me settle. Most of these urgencies were small things, they didn’t matter too much, but perhaps there would be some long-forgotten urgency was going to calamitously re-emerge, too late for me to do anything about it? I’ll just check …

"The coldly terrifying thing about this state of dejection was that it was not a completely paralysing depression – more a kind of exhausting drudgery. It felt liveable; indeed, it felt like I could – perhaps would – live the rest of my life in it. Perhaps I have expected too much from life. Now I would have to adjust to misery, like everyone else does. Others were much, much worse off than me. It wasn’t like I was to chip ice off the windscreen in the morning. I had been precarious for years – now I was in well-paid secure employment. Why couldn’t I just be happy? OK, so I had to do marketing promotions, complete ‘quality’ paperwork, amend module proposal forms six times – but it was hardly coal mining, was it?

"You see, you see:

I had become once again the compliant subject of capitalist realism.

“…isolated, cut off, surrounded by hostile space, you are suddenly without connections, without stability, with nothing to hold you upright or in place; a dizzying, sickening unreality takes possession of you; you are threatened by a complete loss of identity, a sense of utter fraudulence; you have no right to be here, now, inhabiting this body, dressed in this way; you are a nothing. ‘- Pain Now

"capitalist realism can be understood as a kind of dreamwork. In this dreamwork, briefly interrupted in 2008, the banking crisis is some repressed trauma which is known about but never confronted, a Real that the dreamer stays asleep to keep avoiding."- Communist Realism

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Spectre of the Voice in Dead Tech

I was listening to the above track by Kreem, alias of Belleville two Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, a few days ago and it struck me that the digital voice as keyboard instrument has had a curious life cycle.

When music like this first emerged (and I imagine the more prescient stuff predates it- thinking of The Art of Noise and Yello, which were thought of as the truly cutting edge at the time), the sound of a voice processed through digital synthesis must have sounded truly uncanny.  It was dabbling, almost mystically for those unfamiliar with digital synthesis, with something acoustic and morphing it into something mechanized. Not only that, but the source material had also historically been centrally attached to our idea of the essence of humanity.

"The Voice", still a predominant model of the existential essentialism intrinsic to identity, was perhaps a relic from when we were more of a sound culture than a visual culture.  But when more things were identifiable from sonic frequencies rather than visual stimuli, the only thing that could be trusted was one's own voice.  And here it was, not only being reproduced, but being actualized without any relation to the source whatsoever.  An artificial voice, too crude to be mistaken for a corporeal person, but undeniably human in tone and texture.

As time passed and keyboards with this basic function became affordable and widespread, the sound became less state-of-the-art and more commonplace, even cheesy.  It phased out for a while and then, around the last few years of the naughts, it reemerged in underground music in a big way.

To the newer generation, who grew up without these sounds as readily accessible motifs, this perversion of the voice once again sounded uncanny.  After passing through a long period of hi-fi where studio science could stretch the voice way beyond its capabilities, into the realm of the cyborgian while still retaining an "organic" feel (the prevalence of vocoders/autotunes being the most explicit examples), short vocal presets played instrumentally on keyboards sounded weird and unfathomable, more immediately expressive than anything you could do in Live or Reason.  The use of these sounds was also uncanny in that it was resurrecting a dead art; the sound had completely dropped from awareness on the cultural radar, only as a memory in forgotten hits and anecdotal futurism from days past. The technology itself was as much a spectre as the so-called ghost voice haunting the machine.  As such, both had serious potential to attack our fine-tuned point-click sensibilities.


"There is no rule that pop music has to work in a certain way. You might wonder what would have happened if Rihanna had imagined herself at risk, if she had shown herself being buried alive. What a powerful statement that would have been, to say that for all of her popularity and wealth, she’s no different than the young black men and women who are so often the targets of racialized, institutionalized violence.

That’s what Toni Morrison meant when she said in 1998 to Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, despite being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, that she still believed whites could betray her: “If the trucks pass and they have to make a choice, they’ll put me on that truck.” Pressed about those comments in a subsequent interview, she explained it again: “I meant that in the final analysis, that if they had to choose to be white or to be human, and I was the key, they might choose to be white. Being human is hard” 

First off, big up PopMatters for the new site design and Robert Loss's latest column and takedown of Rihanna's video is one very on-point celebratory induction into this new era.  Robert is too polite to refer to its empty gestures as the turgid cutesy blue state demagoguery of brand management, but does make some excellent statements on the way pastiche that purports to be political usually winds up negating any potential content in favor of its own stylistic choices.

(though you could write a master's thesis about the implications of how she sexualizes images of 9/11)

"In the final analysis, “American Oxygen” is not a political song except in the sense that every American song exists in a political culture. The song and the video come off as reactions that are either afraid to be explicitly political or simply can’t find the language, verbal or visual, to do so. The problem isn’t that “American Oxygen” fails as political art. It’s that we might consider it a success, when instead it’s a mere gesture.

If someone who desperately needs it finds inspiration in “American Oxygen”, good. As a white American male with a decent job, and thus someone far less likely to be choked by the police for illegally selling cigarettes, I should be able to recognize that even a gesture toward the suffering experienced by the oppressed can be a powerful recognition in their eyes. Sometimes gestures are the best any of us are going to get on any given day. But they’re not enough. They’re never enough. Recognition can amount to nothing more than condescension, and aspirational messages can obscure institutionalized racism and end up blaming the victim. What we need is real change."

It also doesn't help that the song kinda stinks.