Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thinking Critically About Race: A Lesson 4 White People Pt. 1

There's an advertisement out right now for Chase credit cards, which features a well-dressed, well-groomed black man filmed in glossy black and white. He's talking about what he's going to do with his rewards and he says, as he adjusts the lapel and seem of his coat, "I'm gonna take all my ladies out to a nice dinner." Now, seconds later, there is a shot where he is greeting his daughters, with an implied wife to follow. However, this is how deep racism goes in our country, because whoever wrote that ad had to have known that they were playing with the Black man as pimp stereotype the way it was set up and delivered. Now, an even deeper part of the problem lie in the fact that it is, on one hand, positive to have Black actors prominent in an advertisement to continue conditioning white people to their existence and supposed equality, but, on the other hand, why can we not put this man in a role that doesn't skid back and forth across the line of sickly implicit racism? The next ad in the series is a quaint, no-fuckin-worries-in-my-life White woman talking about getting her dog a doghouse. How come the Black man isn't in that ad??? A big part of what makes this really horrible is the fact that the creators of the ad rely on the fact that you, the viewer, won't necessarily think about this consciously, but that it will make your implicit, inherent racism more virulent and more acceptable. Thus, it will also make it less visible to the uncritical mind. Just chew on that shit for a while and think...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Breaking Up Should Be Easy As Hell!!

Closed an account at WaMu today and, like every time any regulah muthafucka closes a bank account, the fuckin' undereducated, but overly-confident financial assistant has to ask you, "And what are your reasons for leaving us?" First, no matter how nice they are, this makes me wanna punch them in the nose. Today, I just sharply told her that it was none of her business. But it all felt like I had just dumped a long-time girlfriend. What was I supposed to tell the bank employee? "Well, you don't give head nearly enough, you're kinda boring in the sack anyways, you don't listen to me when I talk, my record store allowance has dwindled and you never compliment me on my vintage HipHop style anymore!!!" Just feels so fuckin' contrived (like 95% of my actual relationships...hmmmm?!?!?). Then, get this, I had to explain the math to her...really??? You're fucking kidding me, you work in a bank and you have to verify the amount of change to give me? Good lord, I could pick a fuckin' Kindergarten kid who could do this job more proficiently. Is this why student loans are so gotdamn crazy outta control, because sorority/fraternity kids have to get a bullshit Econ. degree to fuck shit up at the bank for me??? Damn. Barack, my brotha, can you please put a big, Harvard-educated boot up the ass of all this bullshit mess we call a society? Please??!?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Record Review: Helios Caesura

What follows is the review of Caesura by Helios, which is up on The Silent Ballet (the site I write for). I'm posting this here in the hopes of getting more folks who know me, but not the site, to read this review of possibly my favorite album of 2008 and check out the site. It's a good resource for instrumental, experimental and electronic music styles if you'd like to broaden your knowledge base or horizons. Enjoy!

Word is going around town that this is one of the most colorful, vibrant Seattle Autumns in a half century. A proliferation of maples and other deciduous trees, coupled with a slow petering out of Summer, have created a truly polychromatic Autumn here. The time to sit under the blankets with a bowl of soup and a good record is quickly unfolding. And with the arrival of Keith Kennif’s newest release under his Helios appellation, we have the soundtrack to these ever-brisker days in Caesura.
There is something to be said for the timing of a release, because Caesura truly is the music of Autumn. The notes descend like orange-green maple leaves, falling gently back and forth on minimalist brushes of an invisible breeze—what I like to envision as the breath of the heavens making slow change. A change that is guarded from the observer’s naked eye underneath soft layers of fog, rain and the warm anticipation of snow around the corner of a cold, still, starlit night. A perfect example of this feeling would be the way the guitar slips quietly in the front door of “Fourteen Drawings.” Yet, through all this, there is also an emergent sense of a sun-soaked morning after dark for days on end. This modality of change can be seen in Kennif’s mastery of dynamics. With a careful, purposeful musical mind he quietly pushes different elements (i.e. drums, guitar) to your attention, while maintaining fluidity worthy of a great river. The elements he wants you to pay attention to ebb and flow like Autumnal shifts in color and light that are only noticeable over the passage of time.
While Caesura might be the music of Autumn, it is simultaneously the music of movement and the slowing of blurred surroundings until you can make out the details from afar. I sit here writing this with the feeling that I will glean additional emotional timbre and enjoyment from this album while riding my bike through one of these crystalline Fall days as it is swallowed by darkness. Even the progression of the album, from track to track, goes from light to dark with the more ponderous electric guitar line of “Mima” (just while I’m thinking about it, the acoustic guitar of that song has the same saccharine and sadness of Grouper’s newest album).
In keeping with the theme of slow, barely discernible change, I would like you to meditate on my next thought while you listen to the album. Kennif’s style as Helios hasn’t ambled far from Eingya or Unomia, but I can’t complain as it almost seems perfect in the space it occupies. Taking in the scope of all three records to inform where Caesura ends up, I think of a satellite with its predestined orbit that is still capable of new findings. To better illustrate my point, “Fourteen Drawings” is an emotional parallel or cousin to “Halving The Compass.” But this is not to say that Kennif is running out of ideas, rather perfecting closer studies of the emotional range he’d like to represent in his music. With “Fourteen Drawings” tears edge their way to the corners of my eyes like the first time I met my youngest niece; the song’s sense of viridity is pressing in its blunt honesty. “Glimpse” can also be seen as a parallel to the past. It is a marriage of the hopeful seeking of love from afar with the immediacy of an initial graze of hands that feel the urgency to touch, but the hesitancy of moving too fast. To me, this directly shares a tenor of fascination with many of the songs on Four Tet’s album Pause.
Nevertheless, Kennif has made some significant strides in his guitar playing, even though he’s still no Hendrix, and skills on a trap set. What further sets off his progress on the drums is the interplay between live drums and use of tiny, compressed (usually programmed) drum tracks. “Backlight” has a luscious heaviness to it with drums up-front and personal set to a backdrop of keyboard drones washing heavily away in the background. Then, to close it out, the programmed rhythm track is imitative of quick inhalations of reverse cymbals that pull the drums back into the dark. The heaviness of “Backlight” is evocative of a dream moving from uncontrollable to lucidity; the reassurance that not all is out of control. Closing out the transitions of the album, “Hollie” ends in a swirl of chimes ill-concerned with timing that engulf the cardiac rhythm of the drums.
So, what truly sets this album apart from his previous efforts is, firstly, his ability to perform much more in-depth studies of the emotional range he wants to portray, which I have already identified. Second, is his Escher-esque power to illustrate difference within pattern and similarity. Through the first 3 listens of Caesura, I felt that seeing some of the songs performed at Decibel Festival afforded me a more present, tactile feel to the album. However, I have to say that, now into the fifteenth listen, I feel a sense of familiarity directly coupled with a very foreign feel. The slow, Autumnal decay of sound and resonance into the negative space of silence and pause create a wonderful, paradoxical love for this album. This is a rare album, simply due to its majesty.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pass the Gat!

It's been a bit since I threw some morsels of my mind on the scrap floor for you, my minions, to scurry after and snatch up. A lot has been happening, as is the case in almost anybody's life. Some summational thoughts: The Red Sox got knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Rays, who, in turn, had their asses handed to them by the Philadelphia Phillies. This was a mildly satisfying postseason...but the Steve Harvey Show didn't make it any better. I did make a new Sox buddy out of watching these games, my man Mike (he comes down to the Pub and is a grad student). I finally moved into my new spot about 2 months ago, which is nice to not be in limbo anymore. Decibel Festival was absolutely amazing! Made new friends, hung out all weekend with old ones and listened to some sweet music. However, I learned that weekend that my mom has breast cancer, again. Since then, she's had her surgery and is recuperating nicely, but it is a stressful time for a family. So, in the style of life that patterns emerge and disappear all the time, I am back here at the Pub on a Sunday, working a double shift, enduring the slow half and listening to old school (read=quality) HipHop. I started out by pumpin' Brand Nubian's second album In God We Trust on the drive in and finished it out as I opened the bar. I still remeber the first time I heard this LP when the first song starts up with the Muslim call to prayer (it is, in fact, titled "Allah U Akbar"), I am transported back to my 19th year and a small house on Beacon Hill. I was hanging out with my friend Kendall and in between Front 242 albums, he put this album on. I also recall watching Malcolm X that day in a shady, smokey living room. I was trying to quit smoking that day, but the way Spike Lee had captured the smokey Jazz club scenes, I just broke down. Then, before I got any customers today, I played some tracks from Cypress Hill's third album and that shit is waaaaay better than I remember it. When it came out, I thought it was a steaming pile of crap, but in retrospect and through all the subsequent years of total trash being put out as "HipHop", I have come to see it as a better than average album. Now, I'm listening to Doomilation, which is a collection of different singles and b-sides MF Doom has done with varying producers and MC's. This Sunday's plunge into HipHop is brought to you solely by JakeOne's new album White Van Music. Check it, the shit is f'real.