First uploaded January 18, 2019
Updated January 24, 2019
PICKS OF THE MONTH
January 2019 Picks of the Month
Charico Miranda Cruz, Organized Chaos, 2018, 19" x 13", inkjet on luster archival paper
Charico Miranda Cruz's Organized Chaos, seen at the photographer's ongoing All The Lonely People show at Altro Mondo Gallery at The Picasso Boutique, is a simple (or otherwise hyperbolic) demonstration of how lateral forms in an urban section of a city, lateral forms that are a cross between rococo and Art Deco, when captured by high-contrast monochrome photography composed in the classicist mode can turn what would otherwise be a perfect picture for Wikipedia's article on visual pollution into just the right picture of "organized chaos." Should photographs like this provide inspiration to mayors of our cities for turning what is so much democratic disorder into organized harmony, without sacrificing the very democracy that is the content of every populated city's safe charm? We say it should.
Charico Miranda Cruz, Midnight Vice, 2018, 19" x 13", inkjet on luster archival paper
Another interesting Cruz piece in the same aforementioned show is Midnight Vice, a would-be conversation piece depicting what appears to be a newsstand—probably located in Isa, Kagoshima—displaying a collection of magazines, books, comic books, cigarettes, and possible adult material, all of which are referred to by the piece's title as objects of a vice at the time of midnight. Where is the vice? Is Cruz, tongue in cheek, referring to reading as an adorable "vice," or is he referencing a latent comic book or otherwise soft porn addiction? Are the cigarettes the vice? And is the figure with the hood, possibly the newsstand's attendant, supposed to evoke hiding, albeit he may just be hiding from the cold? Or has hawking alone in the night already become a kind of unhealthy vice? And for a National Geographic-ish value, the piece would also be amusing to Filipinos due to the presence of the word "isa," which appears in the photograph's near background; "isa" means "one" in Tagalog, here working significantly for the image of the lone reader or attendant in the foreground of the newsstand scene, mysteriously sitting with his back towards the viewer, presumably pursuing the vice that we can go on debating about.
The show runs until January 27.
Diving off from its slogan "The best a man can get" to serve as springboard for a 2019 ad, Gillette, the expensive shaving brand, soon found itself making a splash with a commercial video ad it released this month in the United States, involving a man's narration ruminating about himself as man, just as men do while shaving in front of a mirror, and his place in society in this time of the #MeToo movement.
American social conservatives, both the male and female kind, quickly touted the ad as sexist in a reverse way, supposedly in being too judgmental about masculinity, specifically towards the universal "boys will be boys" belief of sporty Americans not shy to collect concussions and sniff gunpowder lead to feed their IQs. We think that that kind of weak-headed negative reaction totally misses the point. The ad's point is precisely to nudge men to strongly contemplate further—as they could while shaving in front of mirrors, witnessing how handsome they've become this morning—the tenuousness of their role as boys constantly needing affirmation, from an insecure self and a much-needed approving peer, of what may be a not-so-clear-to-themselves identity.
"The best men can be" is the brand's new proposal, picturing adult men ceasing to think only about themselves for once, suddenly protective of women, the bullied, the minority, and so on, coming off of their selfish boy selves at play to become responsible individuals with mothers and sisters and wives and minority friends they've come to realize they need to protect (from a toxic-masculinity world one may find hard to complain about). Which is, remarkably, way far from being an offensive route or role to take, really, . . . unless you've always had this raptophilic urge to rape the world you think God owes you, an urge you've proudly been used to calling your culture, carrying that culture around like a patriot's badge until the day you find yourself in a prison bath hall being ass-raped by inmates with blades aimed at your throat.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings in Channel 4's film Brexit: The Uncivil War, released January 7 on Channel 4 (UK) and January 19 on HBO.
First aired on the British broadcaster Channel 4 on January 7 and on HBO on January 19, Brexit: The Uncivil War is a 92-minute satire on the character of the characters behind the Brexit referendum success, principally Dominic Cummings' and those of the laughable losers Nigel Farage and Arron Banks of UKIP. It's a tragicomedy befitting its subject; but it is not allowed to reach the black comedy level of 2017's The Death of Stalin, which is probably just wise considering the Brexit theme's still ongoing seriousness. The film is also not an attempt at creating a mockumentary, thus no mention of either the buzz about Brexit as a beneficiary of Russian funds or moral support (as hinted by last year's Active Measures docu film) or of Cummings' having lived in Russia for three years (during Putin's rise to, but before the former KGB agent's assuming, the presidency) before returning to Britain to launch the 1999 No Vote campaign against the UK's plan to join the Eurozone—that "coincidence" of a long stay in Russia could have had the stigma of a mere rumor had the film included it. No, the film is not so much about the morality or ideologies behind Brexit, nor about the personal experiences of people eager to battle oncoming migration and so on and so forth, as it is about the science of campaign strategizing and the new technologies applied to it since 2016 as advanced by AggregateIQ (and by Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica who were under the employ of UKIP's paralleling independent Leave campaign). If there's a moral lesson being peddled by the film, it would be that one in regards to strategies' sole concern with the "right positioning" unmindful of possible social effects. As marketing gurus would tell you, a positioning found is not necessarily a positioning correct. Ultimately, the film hits as suspect the idea of any physical change as a correct first step to real change, because either dishonest or simply unsure of how any such physical change can render the dream of real change achievable, especially when the real change spoken of remains vague or grossly undefined within the mere emotion and divisive excitement for . . . just about any "change."
Much electronic music today is dedicated to partying, which can be fun, especially when it gets multi-ethnic and non-tribal on YouTube, but likewise celebratory towards technology, progress, and an oncoming future of sound and light effects. Some of these, though, remain dedicated to the province of creating sonic backgrounds for modern, post-modern, or futurist (even space) architecture, interior architecture, landscape photographs, or videos.
American band Deerhunter's music is not electronic music in the sense that EDM and trance and house are, though one can argue that all music is electronic nowadays, even folk and country music tweaked by producers to sound better for a folk or country version of Spector's Wall. Deerhunter's is good ol' indie rock, although old-school electronic keyboards consistently float in and out to kowtow to psychedelic pop tradition. It's experimental rock, too, yes, and garage sometimes, but ultimately art rock when you consider the band's songs' overall direction in their albums. And it is in these artsy directions that the band's simple sound can become totally futuristic, as futuristic as any in the electronic sound market.
And so, in their eighth studio album released on January 18, titled Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, Deerhunter's indie rock created exactly that, an atmosphere more futuristic than any EDM or house music out there, thanks to the album's songs' collective lyrics painting a dystopian future (or developing present) depicting collapsed and gradually decaying civilizations with a dying populace.
But perhaps because focused on small areas one at a time, because narrative from the singer's/narrator's POV, and sung in the indie rock convention, each song in the album sounds warm, communal. Nostalgic and defeatist as an enslaved handmaid's tale, too, true, but faith-tied to a future beyond, as may be inevitable in such bleak landscapes.
"This is how you turn pop into art," wrote NME in its praise. But Loud and Quiet said the best thing about the 37-minute collection, concerning its position in the present roster of recent releases at the record store, when it called this "plethora of intelligently crafted societal takes . . . not here to prescribe you a message; they're asking you a question, and giving you a choice." Indeed, the songs' "fatalistic vision of the future and national decay" (Pitchfork), with their "mix of delicacy and anger" (AllMusic), gains an overall attitude through the album title that consequently asks four things: What is the point of surviving? How long would this pain last? What gain would a force have in prolonging human agonies? Are prolonged agonies supposed to awaken in us our capacities to hope?
As perhaps established by the opening song "Death in Midsummer," you can say that the album's POV is working-class. But the environmental horror is not made exclusive to that class, as when a line in "What Happens to People?" refers to "the rust in your castle," which could mean it literally. Sure, that last song is dedicated to the elderly that still needs to be protected, but ostensibly, perhaps, also a picture of propertied elderlies: "Old lady, let me into your rotting house" and "old man, oil your engine." The old people referred to here could even be ancient wealthy civilizations that have all gone down. Another song, "Futurism," gives this advice to one with a figurative or literal cage: "Your cage is what you make it if you decorate it." The sense of universality we acquire as we hop from song to song makes the album classless as well as global instead of merely filial and regional, as most indie rock sadly often end up as. In fact, "Détournement" addresses, as if from a failing radio broadcast, Japan "and the vultures circling" there, comforts Spain about "some form of art left", calls out to "the many lines drawn across America", etc., for an international gathering around a nostalgic program about an "eternal return".
But the album is not an exercise in sci-fi. Much of the future made up here is rooted in the present, like that one painted by "No One's Sleeping," about the violence (so said songwriter Bradford Cox) that "has taken hold" of Britain with the Brexit-related assassination of British MP Jo Cox. Another, "Plains," even quotes the past, namely James Dean's role in Giant. But instead of reclaiming the film's theme of class and race superiority/inferiority complexes and consequent rivalries/enmity, the song appropriates Giant's imagery, transforming its context into something about not remaining with fossil fuels and the greed (and one-upmanship contexts, too, yes) involved therein. Even the final song, "Nocturne," presumably combining both despair and hope in the concept of refuge-seeking migration, seems to refer to the ongoing rightist governments' obsession with borders and walls to keep refugees out.
A lot of American country songs would mimic the clopping rhythm of horses' hooves; well, here's a hip hop song that tries to mimic the noise a couple of eagles would make blasting off from branches (with leaves that would necessarily fall) and flying onwards to hunt.
Malibu Ken's "Churro"? True story.
With Tobacco's production providing the mocking dance melodies in the background as Aesop Rock pounces on long verses for his kind of sardonic musings, "Churro" stands out to us as the song to go back to for repeated listens in the duo's eponymous debut album launched last January 18. But, see, this isn't your usual song with an intro. From the previous track this one jumps right into the verse about the bald eagle's inspiring beauty that could qualify it as an alternative Holy Spirit symbol, then its population's collapse caused by the DDT pesticide sprayings in the 1950s, and then its number's recovery in the 1980s due to "drastic conservation efforts and the diligence of fish / And wildlife scientists, we've actualized impressive data." In the same verse Rock would point to a pair that nested in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("200 years of absence broken by a brazen pair")—this discovery, mind you, prompted the Audubon Society of Western PA to install a webcam for the public to go awww with.
But then the verse closes with a poke at "you" who "could be sitting in your office feelin' testy / Spilling coffee on a spreadsheet / Thinking 'Jesus Christ, my life is dismal' / Two seconds later you could stare into a portal / That reminds you there is more / Than what your awful nine-to-five permits you." The following chorus describes this portal as a life epiphany involving either of the following: "a giant fuckin' eagle" (which is what the song might prefer), "Maybe Mona Lisa cheesin' from the easel" (art), or "Maybe sunbeams leakin' through a keyhole" (the capacity to notice the mundane but pretty views of life on this planet). Nice, right?
Yep. Until verse 2 arrives, talking about the eagle being not that nice. It alludes to what happened one April 26, 2016, when the webcam made local headlines, when one of the eagles brought a pet cat to feed the couple's eaglets with. Mind you, this occurrence prompted the PA game commission to release a statement about the sight, explaining that the eagles bring all sorts of dead animals to their nest, while encouraging people to keep their pets indoors. The statement further explains, as if to a bunch of stupid earthlings, how the wild is wild, and how even pet cats eat songbirds (just as humans kill cattle).
So, in Malibu Ken's verse 2, Rock raps: "People think nature is a rainbow or a newborn / Or an ocean or a puppy which denies the gory steak and mashers . . . / We overlook the fact that, wow, sometimes a cat'll eat a bird, / Sometimes a bird'll eat a cat like it's a fuckin' churro." And "if some dude was sad because his cat had run away / And thought 'Maybe I'll load these eagles up to feel connected' / Then got to watch his little Fluffy torn to pieces by the very nature / He had sought to ease him through his deep depression," we can now dive into the chorus again with a new insight:
Life is not an Instagram experience decorated by either a giant fuckin' eagle of the fighter-plane-manufacturing proud Republican kind, or by a Mona Lisa cheesin' from the easel, or by sunbeams leakin' through a keyhole, . . . it's also a journey full of hip hop reality bites! Don't go asking about life from a conservative with a terrace garden or wall full of leaves, go ask about it more from a conservationist with a forest! "Or I don't know," is how Rock would punctuate each of those chorus views, for a shrugging ellipsis to further the discussion.
How many times must a man try to walk down (a coal mine, for instance) before you would call him human? In other words, how many times must we repeat this before it gets tired? Or how many times must the cannonballs fly towards a people standing on an oil-rich land before these are forever deemed obsolete?
How many times can a man turn his head on a fact and pretend that he doesn't see?
How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky behind the smog? Or how many ears must he have before he can hear the victims of environmental injustice cry? Yes, . . . and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have already died?
The answer, our friends, is in the things we consume, . . . how they're produced, . . . and how we continue to consume them after having come to know which ones among them are now being produced right.
Not that we begrudge Juliana Hatfield her songwriting's withdrawing into her self's weirdness once more in her new album, Weird, but it's comforting to know that she's not about to lose her knack for superb protest-song writing that she displayed in the 2017 anti-Trump collection, Pussycat.
In "Everything's For Sale," she makes her music sound like one of those American '50s rock and roll ad jingles as she enumerates the many temptations out there that could make purchase at your soul through someone's corrupting influence, including "very white teeth" and "pretty babies". The chorus comes right after the first four verse lines, where it gets you to climb down descending chords, returning only once after eleven more verse lines. Then it's a bunch of verse lines from there that ignore any tempting return of the chorus, as if to follow the drama rule that tells us to turn in examples instead of a sermon. But as if to get things back to the album's devotion to self-confinement, these last examples close with a picture of seclusion inside a room with decals, or a wallpaper, of leaves (or within a literal outdoor wall covered by expensive real ivy ones).
Meanwhile, in "Paid to Lie," Hatfield extends the argument of "Everything's" by directing its lyrics directly at a subject liar, addressing that subject not with screams at his/her ears (the way metalcore or punk rock would) but with torturous whispers, gently spewing the conscience truth behind all that lying. If you feel shortchanged, just remember that this is not meant to satisfy the anger of the liar-hater; it's meant to make the liar cry. [d]
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