Friday, February 05, 2016


I haven't written in a while, so here we go.

I have a love/hate relationship with black metal. On one end, it can be great, on another end it can be super annoying and politically reprehensible.

I can't speak to the politics of Swedish group Murg, but they make the kind of black metal that represents what the genre can do.

The tremelo-picking allows for a fuller sound. It splits the difference between punk distortion, metal precision, and shoegaze guitar washes. The rhythm of the song precedes in quarter notes (one, two, three, four), but all the guitars and drums are in sixteenths (one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-three-e-and-a-four-ee-and-a, which gives it an intensity and sense of propulsion. They are doing four beats for every beat of the song.

It's harsh while still maintaining a sense of melody, and all that noise and blast beats means that the melody that does appear is slightly hidden amidst all the chaos. This gives it more power, paradoxically. The vocals also managed to not be too annoying - more growl-ey than screech-ey. (If I could sing, I'd love to take a stab at recording some of these extreme metal songs with sung vocals - I could see a more post punk vocal take working really well with a lot of this. The screeched vocals often seem to be deliberately alienating, and don't always work in service to the song.)

This is a great album, and one I can't stop listening to.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Best Rap Albums of 2015

Originally posted on RapReviews

My ability to listen to, much less write about, hip-hop was severely diminished in 2015. Work and family left with almost no time to myself. I stopped watching TV and playing video games, and didn’t listen to much besides jazz and the Frozen soundtrack (which I now know by heart, thanks to my daughter’s insistence on hearing in 5 times a day).

Having no time to listen to music actually made me appreciate the music I listened to even more. It has become a  lifeline to a world outside of my office and house. On the rare occasions when I had the house to myself, I’d blast “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which is the album I listened to the most this year. I’d play “Ego Death” while I was hanging out with my family, hoping my daughter didn’t pick up on the swear words. I’d sneak in “Imani, Vol. 1” until my daughter requested we listen to REAL music, like Dora the Explorer.

I completely gave up trying to keep up with what was new and hot, so there is a lot on here that was probably great that I didn’t even listen to. The only albums intentionally left off were ones by Drake and Future, who I have never built up a tolerance for, and Dr. Dre’s “Compton.” There are some good songs on “Compton,” but for the most part it felt to me like a half-assed exercise in nostalgia, and I wasn’t feeling it.

So here are my favorite albums of 2015

Honorable Mention:
Lizzo, “Big Grrrl Small World,”

Freddie Gibbs, “Shadow of A Doubt”

Pusha T, “King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude”

These all came out too late in the year for me to spend enough time with them to call them my favorite.

Favorite albums of 2015:

10. A$AP Rocky, “At.Long.Last.A$AP”

9. Cavanaugh, “Time and Materials”

8. Earl Sweatshirt, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”

7. Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD, “Sour Soul”

6. Oddisee, “The Good Fight”

5. Blackalicious, “Imani, Vol. 1”

4. Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”

3. The Internet, “Ego Death”

2. Vince Staples, “Summertime ‘06”

1. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp A Butterfly”
I realize that TPAB is at the top of every single critic’s best-of list. As much as I don’t want to go along with trends, there was no other album that spoke to me as much as this one in 2015, and no other album that I listened to half as much. It’s dense musically, lyrically, conceptually. Kendrick is dealing with reconciling his religious and spiritual beliefs with his fame and with the state of the world and his community. He’s referencing jazz, African music, electronic music, funk and rock and creating an amazing sonic journey. I’ve listened to “King Kunta” several times a week since March, and the video for “Alright’ is one of the best videos I’ve seen in years. He’s making art that matters, but that also moves your ass and speaks to people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on Rape

A few high profile rapes have me thinking about how we deal with rape.

For one, pornstar James Deen was accused of rape via Twitter by his ex-girlfriend, porn actress Stoya. Several other porn actresses came out to share stories of being raped or almost raped by Deen, including on a set. 

Some people came out with the defense that since Stoya is a porn actress, she can’t be raped. I think this is common in rape investigations - look into how promiscuous the woman is, as if her enjoying sex means that she can’t be raped. Saying someone who has sex for a living can’t be raped is like saying a boxer can’t be assaulted. There are set parameters in which a porn actor has sex. Consenting to be filmed fucking doesn’t mean you are consenting to all sex in the future. Ugh.

So there’s that. 

Then a guy in the UK got off on a rape charge by claiming he fell onto a sleeping (clothed) 18-year-old he took home from a nightclub and penetrated her. Which is physically impossible. And not a thing that happens. There are reasons why a man might be found innocent of rape, but when a woman accuses a man of rape, and there is evidence of his semen in her, and he admits to penetrating her, then which is more likely? That he raped her, or that he fell and the physically impossible happened? The fact that the jury wouldn’t believe the most likely situation and instead bought this cockamamie story is indicative of how desperate people are to not believe rape victims. 

Then there is the Jackie Fox case - she claims she was raped by their manager, in public, and none of her bandmates did anything to help her. Her bandmates, which includes Joan Jett, deny that it happened or that they knew about it. It is not hard to believe that the manager of the Runaways would rape them - I assumed he was at least psychologically abusing them. It’s a little more disconcerting that the other bandmates aren’t corroborating the story - is it because it was 40 years ago and they shut it out of their heads? or is Jackie’s memory of it flawed?  

Finally, I’ve been listening to Levianthan’s “Scar Sighted,” and read about how Jef Whitehead, who is Leviathan, was accused of raping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend. With a tattoo gun.He only ended up being convicted of assault, which he claims is bullshit, but all the metal blogs (and pitchfork) act like it is nbd and he probably didn’t do it because he elliptically denies it and didn’t get convicted. Black metal being black metal, even being a convicted neo nazi murderer isn’t enough to tarnish your image, so I guess raping a woman with a tattoo needle is small potatoes. Which is fucked, if you ask me. Just like it is fucked that R Kelly gets a pass for serially raping underage girls because he is rich enough and powerful enough to buy them off and they are poor and powerless enough to be coerced into silence. 

I'm embarrassed to admit I've been wary of assuming that a woman is always telling the truth when she accuses someone of rape. Maybe it is a psychological thing that we straight men feel like we’ve all done something kind of iffy, and wouldn’t want to be called out for it. Or maybe we all fear being railroaded with no way to protest our innocence. Women don’t lie about rape often, but it happens. I mean, people lie about having cancer. And there have been some high profile examples of false accusations. The Duke Lacrosse team, for one. Conor Oberst being accused of rape in the comments of a blog post. But even in the case of the virginia university student who apparently made up a story about being gang-raped at a frat, SOMETHING terrible happened to her, and there were multiple other stories of rapes on campus that the university has hushed up that were more quotidian and not salacious enough for the Rolling Stone reporter to pursue. Let me repeat that: there were a lot of other cases of rapes that got swept under the carpet that were too boring for the reporter to pursue, because rape is such a commonplace thing.

And not wanting to railroad people is a noble impulse, but then why are we railroading so many rape survivors into not being believed? Being falsely accused of making up a rape accusation is just as bad as being falsely accused of rape, if not worse. And while some small subset of people lie about being raped, the vast majority of rapists lie about being rapists. How many people have you heard admit they were rapists? Or to take another tack, how many people do you know that were falsely accused of rape? None, right? Or max, one, and it is most likely one of the five cases we all have heard of. Now how many women do you know who have been raped? Every single one of us knows several women who have been raped. I know of four, and that is just women who would talk about it with me, a guy. I'm sure there are many many others who don't want to discuss it with their guy friend. 

We often ask why women waited so long to come forward with their accusations. And then when they step forward with their accusations, we scrutinize their every move and motive, we disbelieve them, and if they take it to trial, their rapist gets off on the most bullshit of pretexts.

Bill Cosby hired 700 lawyers to defend himself from his rape allegations. 700.

So for the new year I’m switching my setting from being skeptical about a rape accusations until I get better evidence the woman is telling the truth to assuming the woman is telling the truth until I get better evidence that I should be skeptical. I am going to try to take to task those people I encounter in my life who are accused of rape, even if it is uncomfortable and means going agains the status quo and making a stink. We do so much harm in the name of not creating a stink sometimes. And I am going to try to be a better ally to rape survivors. That’s my new year’s resolution. Also known as stop being a dick.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Favorite Metal Albums of 2015

I listened to a lot of metal this year, so much that I can actually make a top ten list of my favorite albums.

One thing I’ll admit - most of this is “hipster metal.” Very little of it is about satan, or just old fashioned workmanlike black metal. There’s no death metal or power metal. As with all my listening tastes, I tend to like stuff that pushes boundaries, that takes genres in different directions. I’m not dissing the meat-and-potatoes metal that a lot of people love, it’s just not what excites me. I also have little interest in music that is trying really hard to be EVIL, because that’s not my scene.

This is also a list of albums I actually listened to and loved, not ones I merely thought were worthy of praise.

So here they are in alphabetical order:

Windhand: Grief's Infernal Flower. I enjoyed moments of their 2013 album Soma, but it was a little too muddy and formless. They've tightened up here and cleaned up the sound. So heavy, so good.

Vhol: Deeper Than the Sky. This is like Motorhead meets 80s Metallica meets I don't even know. It's great. It sounds amazing, it is heavy, precise, energetic, and fun.

Vanum: S/T. Melodic black metal that combines just the right amount of melody and noise.

Panopticon, Autumn Eternal. Epic, yearning, and powerful.

Myrkur: M. Folky Scandanavian black metal with female vocals.

Liturgy: The Ark Work. A hot mess, but an amazing hot mess. Black metal meets avant garde classical meets electronica meets southern hip-hop. Also amazing live.

Elder, Lore. Groovy prog metal.

Deafheaven: New Bermuda. Emo-ass black metal about the pain of normalcy, friends dying of overdoses, and moving to the suburbs.

Bosse-de-Nage: All Fours. Loud, melodic mix of black metal and post-hardcore.

Bell Witch: Four Phantoms. Heavy, slow, and beautiful.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

All That Jazz

One thing I am grateful for in 2015 is that I discovered contemporary jazz. Kamasi Washington got me realizing that there is indeed great jazz music out there.

I also bought a copy of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, and while I don't know if I like the album, I love the audacity of it. I was wondering why there weren't more albums in that vein, and then I came across some of Rob Mazurek's work. He's a cornetist who has worked with the Sao Paolo Underground, and also does a bunch of stuff with other groups. Last year he released Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost. It is four songs of trippy, sprawling, psychedelic jazz that is a tribute to his mother's passing. It's heavy and really interesting.

This year, he released the double album Galactic Parables Vol. 1. It is in the vein of Sun Ra, two discs of intergalactic jazz. His music is often kind of abrasive, but it is really interesting. It pushes boundaries and goes for something big. I'm a fan.

Life Is Shit

It has been a month. Terrorists attacks and assorted other bullshit. Goddamn.

Some day the world brings you down, you know.

In more upbeat news, I read the Dhammapada recently, and two quotes really stuck out:

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule."

"Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth."

Life has always been shitty and hard. People have always had the capacity to be violent, shitty fuckwads. Our grandparents put up with shit we wouldn't believe. Their grandparents put up with stuff they wouldn't have believed. A hundred years ago women couldn't vote. 150 years ago blacks were slaves. It gets better, and we need to keep fighting to make it better, but it is never going to be perfect. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

And Now For Some Good News....

I tend to rant about the left and identity politics here, so I wanted to not rant about the left and identity politics. A couple pretty good things happened in the past week on that front.

Berkeley High students walked out after a racist message was found on a school computer. Maybe you are thinking, "hey, it was just a troll, what's the big deal, and who are they protesting against?" The message went beyond mere trolling, bordering on terrorism, and the students were a), finding a productive outlet for their hurt and outrage, b), letting the community know that the hatred and racism in the message did not have a place in their community and c, getting an excuse to leave school early. Nice work, Berkeley High students!

The President of the University of Missouri stepped down after criticism by students and the football team about how he had dealt with racist incidents on campus.

Slate has a timeline here:

and some thoughts about how this could reverberate here:

It's heartening to see people, and especially young people taking a stand and standing up against racism. So there.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Steven Universe, or when progressives attack!

There was a case recently where someone who did fan art for Stephen Universe (which I guess is a cartoon, and I guess fan art is a thing? Who knew?) was harassed/bullied so much by people that she threatened suicide. What’s interesting about this is that the bullying was all done by around issues of identity politics. The artist was getting crap for being fat-shaming, or transphobic, or culturally appropriating asians, or white-washing. You can see examples in this article:

Here’s the thing - this was most likely a group of young people harassing another young person, and shouldn’t be taken as representative of how identity groups or social justice movements feel or behave writ large. But it does point to a road that progressives can go down if they aren’t careful. In fact, a lot of it is deriguer Tumblr-level social justice badgering. Tumblr being to progressive commenters what YouTube is to conservative ones.

I was skeptical of political correctness when I was in college in the 90s for some of the same reasons I am skeptical of it now. That doesn’t mean I am skeptical of minorities and marginalized groups deserving equal rights, respect, and a bigger voice in society. But the way it is often expressed, especially among college students and young people is often troubling to me, in a couple ways.

1. It becomes dogmatic, lazy thinking. It’s always worrying when you realize people are just parroting talking points they’ve heard someone else say. It can become dangerous when people adopt dogma that has come from someone else without fully understanding it, or perverting it in the process. This happens with religious dogma all the time (hence the people in the U.S. who are pro-gun and anti-poor are Conservative Christians, who follow a religious figure that explicitly ordered his followers to help the poor and forbid them from killing). 

2. It becomes about shaming other people and proving your righteousness by attacking others. This was how I experienced the PC movement in the 90s, for the large part. It was middle class white kids shaming other middle class white kids for using the wrong term to describe people, or for being impure in some other way. 

3. It very often is more cannibalistic and inward focused than focusing on actual racism and oppression. Related to number 2, when you spend most of your time attacking people for using the wrong term to describe a group, or for not sticking to the script, it’s hard to see how that moves the movement forward. There has been an obsession with language among progressive circles and in identity politics for the past thirty years, and it is hard to see what progress this has brought. It seems like we’d be better off doing less policing of language.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. In short, don’t be a dick to other people, and don’t wield your enlightenment and righteousness like a weapon. 

I Went to A Show: The Sword at Slims w/Kadaver and Them Witches

I've been to two shows in 2015, both metal shows. For comparison, in the 39 years of my life that preceded 2015, I went to 0 metal shows.

I'm not familiar with either The Sword, Germany's Kadaver, or the UK's Them Witches. I am familiar with Black Sabbath, however, and friends were going to it seemed like something to do. All three bands play some variation of psychedelic stoner metal: downtuned guitar, midtempo beats, and lots and lots of hair.

I'll make a confession - I was sick and tired and maybe a little drunk, so I don't totally remember the show 100%. It was mostly  a swirl of hair and guitars and hair and pounding drums. All three bands were enjoyable, but essentially playing different takes on the same song.

I got home at two am after a two-hour BART trek. Woke up at 6am feeling rough, slept til 8, and then was running around Northern California with my wife and kids all day. Parenting is not conducive to staying out until 2am carousing.

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