First uploaded June 2, 2019
Last updated June 10, 2019
PICKS OF THE MONTH
May 2019 Picks of the Month
LYRICS-VIS-A-VIS-MUSIC-WISE, you could say that Vampire Weekend are carrying on the tradition popularized by The Pet Shop Boys in the '80s, wherein comfortable music about relationships may become upended by allusions to, say, the rent, or certain other psychological or social subjects of unease resting almost unnoticeably within springtime melodies of luxury and fun. Think Goo Goo Dolls, too. Or Kacey Musgraves' visceral country that you wrongfully thought can only be Republican.
In VW's new album, Father of the Bride, released this May, the band still explore love issues on the surface of things, but the tracks are here sprinkled further with lines that seem to say, "hey, it's not as if we're blind to what's going on around just because we sound much like a band quite into writing love songs. We've never actually been like that, if you noticed. After all, we're Jews." And so, here, the band's global news awareness erupt like pop-ups within this world music travelogue of a pop music album that refuses to be really out there even with risqué titles in songs like "Unbearably White," the politics in which can only happen if you can extract the allegory behind the words towards a potential joke on both alt-right racism and its enemy, and "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin," the politics of which can be slippery albeit already heart-stopping. So this is all subtle stuff, you see, and not The Clash songwriting.
So, just smile when at first you notice nothing political in the opening track, "Hold You Now," being a simple sad love song, and then later learn of VW's sampling for it of a passage from Hans Zimmer's score for the war film The Thin Red Line. See? And there are those other pop-ups here that would point to current nice stuff like dystopia, comfortable apathy, right (and left) populism, the uncertainty of things in the present, environmentalist worries, even philosophical doubts, that you can smell quite well if you open your ears (and lyrics-reading eyes). "Big Blue," particularly, actually questions religion. And "Harmony Hall" could actually be a satirically-titled piece referencing a current world of snakes protected by murderous thugs.
Now, it is "Flower Moon," of course, that stands out to us. Why?
First of all, when in the fantasy drama TV series Game of Thrones some of the major characters go into self-exile, it is to save their own skin from the abusive regime at King's Landing; perhaps also to ready themselves, advertently or not, for another possible day in the field of battle upon their return to their motherland. That is the logical and wise thing to do, after all, under any oppressive circumstance. The divination book I Ching advises so, in lines of wisdom concerning retreat and waiting it out for the right moment to show up one's face again. An almost similar book, The Art of War, would not hesitate to echo that simple wisdom (for the context of war or business) that we know everyone in his lucid, unemotional state supposedly already knows and remembers like one plus one. It is in such light that we approach "Flower Moon"—as a glorious combine of elements expressing a desire for self-exile or retreat (physical or otherwise) and a later return.
Now, a "flower moon" is ostensibly a sign of healing and hope. In VW's song, however, it is turned into a questionable sort of hope-carrier, at the borderline of possible success and perhaps more likely failure. The song's voice threatens "a year" of self-exile to escape this "cursed night." However, as a VW composition (featuring the presence of The Internet's Steve Lacy), you can't expect such lyrics to gather around ominous music that might sound like a GoT soundtrack track, can you? It has to sound light, the way any VW song just has to, here looking like the most festive of world music entries.
From a certain angle, this sort of combination would somehow make the self-exile narrative in the song sound drug lord-ish in its hiding. But, hold it right there. Don't forget that when we followed Arya Stark into Braavos (where she would through the seasons train in a Braavosi style and attitude with the sword), we were also given a sight of a city, however rough, populated with people. That in itself should tell you that exile is always a camera-friendly (not to mention audio recorder-friendly) vacation, where one may enjoy the surf music of Braavos with "Coca Cola and red wine" (color of blood, true, but also of vacation liquids), even when the stint, as a whole, is going to be a year-long painful training in a suspicious place where one may be under the watchful eyes of an unreliable flower moon.
HOLLY Herndon had this to say about "Frontier" in Stereogum: "I went to an international Sacred Harp Meetup in Berlin where I live, which was jointly led by Evelyn Saylor (an ensemble collaborator who helped to arrange 'Frontier' to more accurately reflect the tradition), and people gathered in a square to sing facing each other. When I stood in the middle the power of the voices brought me to tears. It was partly pure sonics and the beauty of the songs, but also the sight of witnessing people from all different backgrounds come together under such a simple and elegant premise. There were visitors from afar for whom the experience clearly had some deep religious significance. There were even more visitors clearly drawn to the event for other reasons, albeit the nature of the communion itself, or just to nerd out on the music. It felt like a rare union."
Read the lyrics of "Frontier" by Holly Herndon on Genius
Well, anyway, Herndon is often tagged as an experimental musician. But the thing is . . . we don't believe such a thing as "experimental" exists in displayed art or released or performed music. Experimental is what one has in one's lab before one decides to take it out and sell it to the world. The act of selling one's "experimental" art is already an announcement of the experiment's having ended, unless we treat all selling as experiments in themselves.
So, when "experimental music" artist Holly Herndon came out with her May album release titled Proto, we saw nothing experimental, and our reason could be explained via a take on that short, weird-sounding, churchy oeuvre in it titled "Frontier." You see, we heard what appeared as new sounds in this track, that's for sure. But these were upon ethno-musicological and political visions geographical as well as historical/current. Nothing of an imagined future here, as all of sci-fi's dystopia is now non-fi in the present. No time for experiments while facing a most urgent reality bite, see; there is only time to take a photograph, or paint a quick picture of what's going on now.
Of course "Frontier"'s expressive lyrics is still hidden in mutant distortion or sonic exaggeration. But they contain the ultimate in pessimism towards "the silvers" and their "path of love or of blood" still hopeful about every leap taken, or every push, within, that they can only sound depressingly familiar, . . . so that when "Frontier" bares itself as actually a mutant mother's, or a congregation of mothers', distorted song sung from an electronic church telling her/their son/s to run from what may be a neo-primitivist regime of greed and corruption that may be recruiting youth warriors in order to keep winning and all opposition to it keep losing, . . . we saw how this could not be a mere sonic experiment. Not ever. For absolutely there's no time for such now. For the dystopian sci-fi has now become non-fi. This is expression. Not experimentation.
the trailer for the comedy special
THE concept behind My Dad Wrote a Porno is brilliant as a display of an attitude in criticism, whether its subject is fictional or not (we mean, the subject of the criticism in it be real or not). The May 2019 HBO comedy special recreating the British podcast in front of a live audience at the Roundhouse Theatre in London looked at a supposed lost chapter of the podcast's bad-porn-literature-product object of ridicule. The chapter was examined almost word for word, in the same manner the hosts (including model Alice Levine) did in the podcast.
But it's not academic criticism!―you say. Hey: it's criticism that academics' career greed and leech-like corruption hiding behind pretentious inaccessibility, or any honest but serious-looking workshop, cannot equal in terms of both its mocking fun with the letters and clear forgiving affection towards the most laughable of authors.
the trailer for the two-part documentary
KUDOS to Antoine Fuqua for his HBO Sports documentary, What's My Name: Muhammad Ali, as a new close-up on the intelligent character of the late heavyweight great not only as a determined and then again heartbroken player in his career of ups and downs, but also as an observant critic of himself (critiquing both his faults and advantages), a clever and soft-spoken reviewer of racism (as he's only loud in his theatrics towards opponents on the ring), an above-average poet (well, okay, versifier or rapper), a sweet conservative in his taste for architecture and what may be considered a good neighborhood (going against popular Le Corbusier modernism's Stalinist and/or Fascist connotations and then most successful boxers' penchant for elitist luxury), and, finally, what would now be considered a liberal in one's attitude toward organic food and a healthy natural environment. We see him pouncing religious words to service his true and honest utopia as well as humility standing in contrast to America's (and much of the world's) neo-liberal, fascist, self-righteous, lying agenda. We also see him paying tribute to both black and white boxing champions.
Sure, some would cringe at the tree-chopping training and his coal oil lamps, but the smartness of his words face to face with the State, about what to say and what not to say, cannot be anything but top-notch even in high-politics terms. We haven't even talked about that true folksy charm embedded within his comic wit yet. And his charities, mind you, are for real and not coming from the tax-evading political and social conservative Right, as another boxer's out there might be considered as being. Finally, this film is about Parkinson's disease and boxing, boxing being that job where, in the midst of a criticism of the sport as a concussion-inviting one, Ali says: ". . . I know you're not concerned about two black fighters' brains being hurt that much, now. I know you're not that wrapped up over our brains. . . . (You) really worried about my brains, or anybody else's brain? . . . (Then what) kind of sport is this when a guy gets in a damn car in your country and go around a damn track and hit a pole and he burn up? Don't get on our little sport. We don't have nothin' over here no way but a job, and a few of us can't get nothin' unless we can box, and now you want to run that out."
Here is a film about a boxer as his own manager and as poet and streetwise intellectual who can pin his religion to his neighborhood's condition and aspirations, . . . as against, say, being about a boxer managed by shady people behind him and posing post-success as a charlatan singer, ill-informed preacher, or political leader rambling on about putting people in electric chairs or on a firing squad's wall in the name of the Lord or something hideously crappy like that.
a promotional video for Tim Hecker's new album, Anoyo
the album cover
Anoyo on Spotify
IF our #1 and #2 picks reference a couple of songs that sing of retreat and waiting it out for the sun to shine once more, then Canadian ambient and drone music artist Tim Hecker's new album, Anoyo, could be the apt backdrop for such self-exiles.
First of all, Hecker obviously understands that, in the end, all music is program music, at least in the way they would ultimately be consumed by all publics. So, why not exploit that reality instead of insist on its abstract alternative? Hecker attaches narratives, vague and otherwise, to his sonic sculptures. After the album Konoyo that explored a world of destruction where one is already planning to get out, in the present album he brings us to an alien world that looks back at that one that we left (Konoyo), supposedly seen here on the album cover presented as a square (conservative) planet with inhabitants carrying boxed-in thoughts, as the visual image may imply.
The album may run as a single 30-minute-plus composition (set your digital player to crossfade between songs or to allow gapless playback), as the six tracks' titles actually connect, the way the tracks in Konoyo did. Here the titles go thus: "That world," "Is but a simulated blur," "Step away from Konoyo," "Into the void," "Not alone," and "You never were."
One used to minimalist music can see the big difference between the tracks, the development or progression (involving gradations and musical-passage variations) within each that also extend into how the tracks distinguish themselves in the album as the six different "movements." But, ultimately, it's the narrative that Hecker attaches to his composition of sounds that allows him to manage those melodic sonic passages for a musical sort of story-telling with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Of course that narrative intent through music may be hard to do in our multicultural world of varying contexts. Thankfully, though, there are still universal truths, like the common understanding that we are never really alone in exile. For, wherever we go, there will always be sounds in new places, new sounds to keep us company, even as some of these may remind us of various ones from our respective pasts. As we fearfully explore the strange, novel landscape in the present that contain these sounds, past and new contexts shall interlace within each of us vis a vis them.
This cannot be a Barthesian over-reading of Hecker's work. Hecker has recorded in a church before, and in Konoyo and this album he employed a gagaku ensemble playing in a temple outside of Tokyo. You understand that gagaku is a Japanese form of classical music with Shinto religious connotations. And as for those other valuations that we would like to place on Hecker's present collection, one might be happy to know that Hecker actually used to work as a political analyst in Canada. And as for the read allusions towards violence and a kind of consequent religious retreat, we would cite Hecker's background as a McGill University student with a thesis on urban noise (in noise music) and as a lecturer there on sound studies, where it is likely he also covered the history of aurality in Western philosophy as well as sound, listening, and hearing as they relate to race, gender, and the activities of a colonial power.
Oh, by the way, we did mention an end. But the album's last track avoids fading out with a long fade, perhaps because that would make it look like one is leaving the spot where the music is in order to go somewhere else. Instead, the track boasts of a quick fade, as if to say that here is an ellipsis signaling that our story can maybe continue later, and therefore that no one has yet been deemed dismissed or in the process of leaving the place, even as the record has already abruptly ended.
IN Aussie band Amyl and the Sniffers' May-released third single, titled "Gacked on Anger," from their self-titled debut album, released in this same month, the band pedal their punk rock with Beastie Boys-like rhythm and rapping for the working class. Frontwoman Amy Taylor says the song is "roughly about being so angry that it feels like [you’re] gacked—gacked means like fucked on drugs—, high. The lyrics 'stressed on tick because I’m gacked on anger'—tick is a roundabout way of saying debt/loan, . . . the song lyrics are about money and class and my experiences with that, and the weird way my mind tries to wrap around the idea of having money/not having money/being in debt/getting paid or not paid as a musician. It’s also about the rat race/pleasure/shame/stress of money and the power that it has on day to day life, and the power of class to keep us too busy and too dumb to help other people, or make any kind of change in the 'system'. We keep on working really hard for peanuts. I’ve been lucky in comparison and I’m grateful but in reality shit’s pretty fucked sometimes, and there’s lots to be angry about." (Paste).
We get that. But let us rephrase all that by saying that what really makes this song a classic for us are those Chorus lines that go: "I'm stressed on tick, / I'm stressed about money / Because I'm gacked on anger." Anyway, that's the most postmodernist chorus take on socialist realist punk we've ever heard, where we would have to think about how being high on anger could stress somebody about a loan. Shouldn't it be the other way around? What is being high on anger, anyway? Is this all about being in a catharsis medium that ultimately wouldn't resolve any of our debt problems, or is it about the stupidity of being too angry to think about how to get back at the situation?
YOU won't always love Morrissey's position on things as a singer-songwriter, especially in his recent incarnation as a rightist on immigration, if the British tabloids quoted him rightly. You may raise your thumb to his British republicanism, but would you still take his side against the EU, for example? If you're a loyalist you'd say, well, he's not a politician that you need to either vote for or campaign against, he's a recording artist you only need to choose to buy the records of or not; meaning, it's really just the music and not much about the lyrics, anyway. But, c'mon, man, we all know that the singer-songwriter genre has always been about the lyrics, too, if not about the lyrics up there, higher than the music that doesn't have to be revolutionary anyway to get a huge fan base here.
So, bearing that in mind, what do we do with Morrissey's covers album that just came out this May, titled California Son, fresh from his supposed outbursts that had the progressives in the media confused? Well, we don't know about you, but we'd have to say that four of the songs that we love from the past here just got a new lease on life before they could be completely forgotten by time, thanks to the endorsement that just arrived from this currently-confusing English activist. In turn, you could say they upped Morrissey's image, too, vis a vis the issues highlighted by these very songs, keeping him very well inside the circle of left-of-center partisans for now.
We're talking about the following four compositions that we're including in our little picks-of-the-month list here:
"Don't Interrupt the Sorrow," written by Joni Mitchell in erudite '70s stream-of-consciousness fashion and included in her 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, is a song that doesn't have a chorus or what would pass for a clear refrain, but could be recalled as one of the smartest songs about women rising up to challenge male dominance and presence in all things. No, it's not a music standout from that era, but it certainly must have been one of the faves among feminists at the time. Precisely why you can't say Morrissey's picking this for inclusion in his covers album is really just about the music; after all, Morrissey's or anyone's cover of this song could hardly aim to sound better than Mitchell's original rendition of the piece. We all know that the music's not the point. That Morrissey's voice quotes the song at all at this time brings the song's context beyond purely feminism or musicality and on to clarifying poetic and political alliances.
Then there's Bob Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game" from 1964. Problematic, you might say, in that this song shows support for the American civil rights movement, and iterates―for our alt-right-mainstreaming Trump era―Medgar Evers' assassin as a symbol of white pawns in the lower echelons of society being made to fight it out with the fearful blacks over trumped-up fake news concocted by the truly racist business and intellectual elite out to construct a great white American society dystopia. Problematic for Morrissey's anti-immigration stance in his own country, we say, but at least it's clear on which side of the fence he stands on this as an American issue. Again, not one of Dylan's best or most memorable songs, groove and chorus-wise, albeit memorable historically for having been first sung by Dylan at one of those Greenwood, Mississippi rallies for voter registration and then for being one of the pieces he sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But that Morrissey would pick it at all for a present valuation states very clearly Morrissey's siding with the song's highlighting the blame on the Trumps of the world instead of on the average American alt-right-empathizing citizen for this very serious social, albeit to Morrissey a perhaps merely domestic, conflict.
Morrissey also includes in his covers album Buffy Sainte-Marie's 1969 piece, "Suffer the Little Children," a Marxist song about education's part in fostering support for the never-ending supply of workers for modern-age wage slavery, . . .
as well as Phil Ochs' equally socialist realist no-beating-around-the-bush "Days of Decision."
For now, the confused can say, "welcome back, Morrissey."
Deadwood: The Movie's official trailer
ON June 5, 2006, the producers of the HBO series Deadwood announced to confirm that the (pseudo-)historical western program would be cancelled as a series, and that in place of a fourth season there would be two two-hour films to close the series' story. Well, fans of the show would remember how the third season's final episode in August 2006 left them hanging ("Deadwood's final season ends with a frustrating lack of closure," wrote Rotten Tomatoes). Further left hanging, because the films never materialized. Fast-forward to July 2018. HBO announced that one Deadwood film, not two, had been green-lit for an October 2018 production launch. Well, . . . the movie did start filming in November. It premiered on May 31 this year.
It turns out that the much-awaited film had been set in 1889, about ten years after the end of season three. What gives?
Now, we recall Andrew Johnston's having written this in Time Out New York in December 2005, post-second season: "If history is written by the victors, Deadwood is all about giving the losers their due. In the first season, magnificent bastard Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) came off as a villain; this year, his inevitably doomed campaign to save the lawless town from annexation by the United States and exploitation by robber barons served as a brilliant allegory for the evolution of American capitalism."
In the film, Swearengen continues his presence as an antihero, in aid of the brave efforts of Marshal Seth Bullock, et al. against the murderous US senator, George Hearst, who continues his streak as the series' final main villain.
Please tell us if anyone of you has come across a notice of protest against the portrayal of Hearst as such a villain, even though creator, producer, and writer David Milch avers that he used actual diaries and newspapers from the 1870s as reference for the series' characters and events.
This year, Rotten Tomatoes writes of the film: "A triumphant coda to a beloved series, Deadwood: The Movie will satisfy fans longing for a little f---ing closure." Closure, there you go. But here's the thing. RogerEbert.com calls it "a rich 110 minutes of filmmaking that rewards fans without pandering to them." And what exactly was this not pandering to what the fans wanted? Perhaps that also refers to what the townsfolk of Deadwood, South Dakota wanted: to kill the murderous Deadwood Hearst on the street.
And therein is your allegory of how American capitalism has continued to triumph in favor of the Deadwood Hearsts of the world, after the marshals of civilization disallowed their ending up hanging upside down in gas stations in the manner of Mussolini. Then again, perhaps it's in cognizance of the fact that even when societies' mobs kill their errant leaders, such societies' respective histories will still repeat themselves, never really closing life's real series.
Read The New York Times' addition last May 29, to its "Overlooked No More" obituaries sub-section, of a better-late-than-never goodbye article on/for Emma Stebbins. Also the Overlooked page on/for producer Debra Hill (added May 22). [As of the uploading of this, our list's latest update, an Overlooked page on Alan Turing, the war and science-and-technology hero subject of the Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer The Imitation Game, had already been added on June 5)
KUDOS to The New York Times for adding important LGBTQ figures to its Overlooked obituaries sub-section, starting this May with that one on Emma Stebbins. Previous to the Stebbins article, The Times also ran a better-late-than-never article on producer Debra Hill (not an LGBTQ person).
Started in 2018 with a focus on women, Overlooked is "a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times." On our picks-of-the-month-of-May list's first update last June 6, a page on Alan Turing, the gay man whose 1936 paper on the principle of the modern computer is one big reason why there are art magazines online today, not to mention being one of the big reasons why art thief Adolf Hitler's World War II didn't last more than four years, had already been written and posted.
BUTCH Vig supposedly culled the name of his band Garbage from a constant hoping for things beautiful to come off of all those mixes and remixes of his (his garbage), beautiful things that he can then deem worth putting out there.
Read the lyrics of “Tough Love” by ALASKALASKA on Genius
English band ALASKALASKA's lead vocals by Lucinda Duarte-Holman does sound much like Shirley Manson's, and it is no surprise that there's a Garbage-sounding track in The Dots, the band's debut album released this May. That track, "Tough Love," is not representative of everything else in the album, considering this is a group that has immersed itself in all sorts of styles in jazz and pop and spread all that musical erudition in this debut collection.
So, the track is special because while there's already some kind of drunk rhythm and singing in "Bees" and in "Moon" and then a slow-EDM sort of exploration in "Arrows" before "Tough Love" comes, "Tough Love"'s pop danceability, which enters the picture quite noticeably, is something else. You can actually snap your fingers to its rhythm while you sway to its beat as you cook a meal! But, see, unlike Vig's hope for beauty in such song forms with a power pop melody and beat, "Tough Love" seemingly wants to offer an examination of another facet of itself, one quite inward-looking and postmodern, wherein its own weakness has been exposed (through ALASKALASKA's lyrics-cum-exposé) as . . . a not-so-obvious vehicle for apathy and for surrender to physical fun and conventions, especially so when sung to an unavoidably right-populist surround such as the one we inhabit today. La la la la, indeed, goes Duarte-Holman in her final parody, as women's rallies outside call for resignation and retribution.
the cover of Charly Bliss' sophomore album, Young Enough
the official album playlist on YouTube
SHOULD be the year's Best Summer Pop Rock Album in the Self-Comfort/-Encouragement and Overcoming Fear and Trauma category. 'Nuf said. To read the lyrics, click here.
Booksmart's official final trailer
COMEDY and laughter is sometimes/often a product of critical prejudice. Perhaps because criticism also produces such stuff as mockery, self-mockery (in the case of self-criticism, real or false), parody, satire, and so on, many of which are biased towards something.
But not all criticism is prejudice, that's for sure, there being both intelligent and ill-informed criticism, as well as humble and self-righteous criticism. There's actually such a thing as a criticism of prejudice (and of film genre conventions/clichés that carry prejudice).
Now, Booksmart is full of Will Ferrell-ish (executive producer) absurd―as well as blue―comedy passages, to tell you the truth, . . . with the difference that the script here was written by four female screenwriters and the film itself directed by that herself-booksmart Hollywood actress from a family of journalists who goes by the name of Olivia Wilde (after Oscar Wilde). That fact (of being a Will Ferrell-ish film by women) makes a lot of difference, actually, in the era of #MeToo and anti-women and anti-gay movements, because here even the funny, almost senseless exchanges between these graduating high school students (on their way to Yale or Stanford or Harvard) effectively begin to bare critiques on a lot of things going on in the US of A today, this as the film also traverses plot clichés in the senior-high coming-of-age film subgenre in order to deconstruct them.
By the way, in living up to its title, this smart movie about smart young people in not-so-smart situations also provides little lessons about living safely, and we get some significant ones from . . . drum roll . . . ironically enough (but it's really just art imitating life), the movie's serial killer character. That'll be the only spoiler I can give you. But doesn't that alone make this film a social satire of sorts, too, about our perception of people whom we dismiss as trustworthy just because of acts or words that appear to us as well-intentioned?
This film should be in a Yale syllabus, if only so that these big universities can reduce the number of social conservative real-life characters they probably yearly produce.
Big Thief's U.F.O.F. on Spotify
BIG Thief's new album's title, U.F.O.F., stands for "UFO friend," as frontwoman Adrianne Lenker's stand-in for the alien Other. This other Brooklyn, New York City-based band (Charly Bliss being the other one on this list) has yet again woven folk rock gems, this time from a recording studio in Washington state, for this, their third collection, released this early May.
Some of the songs here address a woman's name. The name Jodi is in the first track, she who's "so free" that saves the singer-narrator from being "barely" so, fulfilling (or not) a dream that has unfolded. The so-named nameless UFO friend in track 2 is that other dream who will "never return again," here also as Lenker's symbol for the impermanent and the fleeting present and presences in it. "Listening back to it makes me cry sometimes," says Lenker of track three, which addresses a currently struggling Caroline with the "wrinkled hands and ... silver hair / Leaving here soon and you know where." In track 4, "From," the singer addresses herself as a victim of a (possible gang) sexual assault and wonders if the baby "coming soon" will know "where she's come from." . . .
From a certain approach the album may be deemed noir and constantly scared. But these songs also embrace beauty in all its manifestations, both in the album's '70s-ish and contemporary folk and country sounds and arrangements as well as in every available word Imagist or otherwise, as the songs try to exploit both Big Thief's chosen music genre's riches as well as nature's ready metaphors for Lenker's deeply appreciative whispering insight and expression, a rarely-screaming angst. It makes the experience of listening to this record appear like it's our last week on Earth, and it's just the right time to say both thank you (and a quiet fuck you) now to family, friends, and lovers. And, also, as it says in "Open Desert," to the poison image of kissing the dream water "after all my teeth are gone, / after all the blood is drawn," with both "the white light of the waiting room / leaking through the crack in the door" and the future's open desert of freedom and constant escape glimpsed "through the mirror".
photo (from turntablelab.com) of the back cover of the vinyl edition of The National's May-released new album, I Am Easy to Find
The National's I Am Easy to Find on Spotify
WE'RE crazy about this album. Well, okay, we love this album, sure, but it's these three songs in it that you can say we're particularly c-razy about:
First, "Roman Holiday," . . . which sings about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe's being together as roommates, feeding on each other's pain to feel good about themselves and their togetherness, a fated mutual schadenfreude. In an interview in Pitchfork, Matt Berninger says: "A lot of the imagery in it is of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe when they were really young, just hanging out in their apartment: dressing up, taking pictures of each other, looking cool. It’s such a beautiful portrait of pals, such a romance." In turn, the song becomes the vehicle for our own "roman holiday" as listeners, our own schadenfreude, our epicaricatic lyric. The two successful artists' insecurities and/or struggles are here dramatized by the line, "There are police in the museum"―the meaning of which we can all infer, I suppose, from facts that we can perhaps find the time to sympathize with the emotions therein.
Read “Roman Holiday” by The National on Genius
Then there's "Oblivions," which could either be a salute to or a cynical take on the marriage vow. How many songs are there out there on this subject, and how good as this are they?
Finally, there's the nearly 7-minute "Not in Kansas," which could be read as a song about being out of the Koch Brothers' Kansas and wanting to go back there again to engage with one of the origins of the alt-right and Christian Right movements' strengthening. It's a joke, of course, but a really, really black joke, and that's what makes the song so rare and precious. It includes an excerpt from Thinking Fellers Local Union 282's "Noble Experiment," and although on the whole sounds a lot like a Leonard Cohen piece, it soon dissolves into a Protestant hymn of sorts in Verse 3, singing about doomsday, featuring the voices of Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, and Kate Stables. In verse 4 it seems to allegorize the largely-US-made Latin American condition and the consequent escape of its populace into the US-Mexican border. Then, finally, Gail, Lisa, and Kate return to refrain their part, but transforming their earlier doomsday message into something resembling deep ecology against anthropocentrism.
All Creatures Here Below's official trailer
"NATURALISM" is another one of those words that would often be bandied about in art-reviewing as an easily understandable carrier of aesthetic meaning, like in reviewing sentences that go like, "His art is naturalistic, giving us a vision of urban street life that is quite lifelike." Something like that.
Perhaps such use of the word may have the academic understanding of the term as used in the narrative arts, perhaps not. But, anyway, the academic use of the word as applied to narratives would recall such names as Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, Gerhart Hauptmann, Stephen Crane, Eugene O'Neill, William Faulkner, or later names like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose recurrent literary naturalistic visions could be linked, directly or indirectly, to the position of philosophical determinists. An offshoot of literary or dramatic realism, which involved itself with empirical facts, naturalism in literature, as well as in theater, went beyond, concerning itself with characters in the narrative as entities beyond the embrace of Romanticist or any later form of idealism. Thus, characters in naturalistic stories would be found fated to lead lives beyond their control, either due to genetic (hereditary) reasons or environmental systems that turned out to be the ones controlling them, even as these very characters would try so hard to have some factors within these environments (or environments in transit) within their sway.
Significantly, some of these aforementioned authors would attach this view of the character with the (conscious and unconscious) socialist struggles of individuals within a given human and/or natural environment.
Now, David Dastmalchian is an American actor who graduated from a theater school and received accolades for his early lead performances in a Tennessee Williams and a Sam Shepard play, both of which plays, you might say, had had a naturalistic bent. In 2014 Dastmalchian wrote the screenplay for Animals, directed by Collin Schiffli, which received notice at SXSW for, aside from Dastmalchian's acting, its naturalistic take on drug addiction. But the naturalism within drug addiction is almost obvious, except maybe to the reactionary who would only see a too simple-headed solution in having all addicts erased from the face of the earth in order for society to be rid of them. That might be the reason why Dastmalchian motivated himself to write another naturalistic screenplay after that, this time on a less obvious source of catastrophic consequences.
Like Animals, All Creatures Here Below―now streaming online―also stars Dastmalchian, partnering again with Schiffli at the directorial helm, and this time with actress Karen Gillan (herself a film artist whose acting and recent screenwriting and directorial debut have both received their own accolades). Like in Animals, Dastmalchian's acting here has also been well-received by critics.
So what's the takeaway from naturalist oeuvres? Oh, okay, let's be more specific. What's the takeaway in such a narrative as All Creatures Here Below? In this film's naturalistic case, the ultimate takeaway is that "dumbness" is not always a thing for comedy. Dumbness in members of our society, along with the choices that this dumbness entails, is a serious social malady that cannot find a solution in a simple-headed government's choice to ignore it or in overall society's view of it as a mere misfortune. This malady can actually have you as its next victim, and our entire human system cannot be said to have no responsibility in its growth among the planet's populace.
So, whatever dumbness does, you and I will have been responsible for its consequent acts. Then again, maybe not, if all we can see are the dumbness of others (then, we ourselves can be deemed victims of our own).
Niño Cubacub. Grey. 2019. Cement on canvas, painted bottles, cement, paint, and found objects. Variable dimensions.
WE don't know where young artist Niño Cubacub stands in the British debate between the remodernists and postmodernists, so we won't go there. Nor, if we're to be American about it, will we engage with a possible metamodernist value in his visual statements at that duo show that opened this May at Eskinita Gallery (we didn't bother to check if there was a catalog).
In an essay in the Winter 2002 edition of Contemporary Literature, Andre Furlani, analyzing the literary works of Guy Davenport (iterated in Guy Davenport: Postmodernism and After [Northwestern University Press, 2007]), defined metamodernism as an aesthetic that is "after yet by means of modernism ... a departure as well as a perpetuation." He saw the relationship between metamodernism and modernism as going "far beyond homage, toward a reengagement with modernist method in order to address subject matter well outside the range or interest of the modernists themselves."
We also don't know what sort of reengagement Cubacub is obsessed with in his art. But we're featuring this installation piece of his from the duo show, titled Grey, if only because we love a facet of it that seems to purely resume, or, okay, maybe extend, the Duchampian argument with the readymade.
Here, Cubacub carries the cement wall to a finished and white-painted gallery wall, as though calling back Duchamp's playing with the idea of the gallery as locus as well as with J. M. Whistler's then-revolutionary idea for an exhibition concerning white walls. Cubacub turns the cement wall into a painting (on canvas!), which in itself brings back the theses of the early abstractionists involving images on blank walls as well as the Rorschach test. You might even consider a parody (or celebration) in it of 1) the materiality of the paint in paintings, 2) the painter's and the mason's palette knives, and 3) the mason as a Rorschach wall painter.
But, like Duchamp, whose jaw-dropping action became more the subject, drowning most of his other statements, Cubacub focuses his title on the color of the wall and adds drama (or emotional value) to it qua color, trying to be a Kandinsky or even a surrealist. Like Duchamp, we say, because even with Fountain Duchamp was not simply pushing an argument regarding subject validation, or art's art-ness and art's art-ness in relation to locus (the gallery); we believe that he was, as well, commenting on the whiteness of walls and the galleries' and museums' marble sculptures and plinths and what they seemed to connote both socially, politically, and emotionally among individuals (including individuals urinating on a porcelain piece in a toilet). Fountain could be said to be Duchamp's middle finger towards Whistler's white elitism.
As if elevating the unfinished and unpainted grey cement wall as a painting for high art is not enough, Cubacub tries to heighten further (unto high art and elitist acceptance, as it were) the naked greyness of his "cement painting" with bottles painted in the colors beloved by houses in gated communities, bottles which he then placed in front of his cement piece, appearing like architectural columns or terrace railing posts. To push further this act or statement, he adds, on a plinth in front of this wall installation, objects from a representative house engineered for luxury (or a house pretentiously engineered for aspirations of luxury).
Ultimately, the HGTV-like statement one can cull from this piece would be this: any "eyesore" out there in the real world, anything at all, can be raised into something the elite can embrace like good wine. Simply call Art, now armed with the ironic positivity towards everything that Duchamp brought into it. Cubacub here seems to want us to either emulate that positivity or open our eyes to it and laugh.
The show in question runs at Eskinita Gallery, on the second floor of Makati Central Square, only until June 11. [d]
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