Archive for December, 2010

another religion rant

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 by darryl zero

I was raised by two weird parents. I know everybody says that, but it’s true–my parents were and continue to be two weird-ass people. Dad was always the most overtly strange–severely bipolar, chaotically neurotic, and fundamentally anti-social, despite projecting a public identity of being even-tempered, focused, and charming as hell. It’s the last thing that confuses the hell out of people when I describe my dad–he is, in fact, incredibly charming and charismatic when he finally gets out of the house. However, the only place he desires to be when not at work is at home, which is where I’m used to seeing him. In the dozen-or-so times I’ve been in Dad’s presence since I graduated from high school, I’ve almost always seen him either at work or at my mom’s house. Speaking of Mom, I’d wager she’s actually the weirder of my parents. Publicly, she’s calm, charismatic, if a bit uncomfortable socially; privately, she’s the exact same way, right down to the social discomfort. Unlike most people I know, who are actually able to interact with their parents on some kind of social level, my parents and I still have this weird disconnect–for instance, I can never talk about my romantic relationships with my mom, and I rarely can get ahold of my dad. I know a lot of what has to do with them stems from control; Mom always has to feel like she has it, and Dad never feels like he does. Most fascinatingly, both seem most comfortable within two contexts: around children, and in church.

I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing the latter location is the only real environment in which my parents can comfortable interacting with adults. Consequently, I spent much of the earlier portion of my life (age 0-18) in churches when not in schools. I suppose I could have spared you all this needless examination-of-parental-neuroses preface simply by explaining I was raised to be religious, but that would be both rhetorically imprecise and ignoring the psychosocial significance of it all.

I’ll spare you the detailed history of my relationship with “god” or its myriad iterations (largely because I’m pretty sure I’ve done so before in some bloggy context), and skip to where I am now. It astounds me, in an age when we as humans have demystified so much of our existence to the point at which we now define it according to how many of the so-called “laws of nature” we can defy, that any culture or civilization can treat religion as the doctrine by which we ought to live our lives.

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating the abolition of religion. Nor, for that matter, am I suggesting I believe there is no higher power, nor do I think there ought not to be standards and boundaries placed on what we as humans do amongst ourselves. What I am doing, however, is pointing out the fact that, in an age in which almost anything can be questioned and tested, at a time in which humanity has grown past the stage at which there is any insurmountable mystery surrounding the practical nature of our existence, the idea that we structure our civilization according to the one thing we have yet to fully grasp as a species is as illogical as it is counterproductive.

In short: while I understand why religion exists, why the fuck should it matter?

Don’t take this as a treatise upholding science-based atheism, either; as I may or may not have made clear in other forums, I define religion according to the fourth Merriam-Webster definition: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” Science supremacists, you’re wrapped up in this, too–in short, I don’t care if your prophet is Darwin, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Hawking, or Hubbard–if you believe in something beyond what your own eyes, ears, and nerves can perceive, you’re religious, and you should come to grips with that lest you start spouting some stupid dogma around me when I’m in a bad enough mood to fuck with you, because your fucking beliefs don’t matter to me, nor should they matter to anyone.

I bring all of this up because of a bumper sticker I saw as I parked in front of my house after coming home from the gym. Two, actually–the first read “Abortion Is Not Health Care;” the second, “Fight Terrorism–Sponsor A Missionary.” The first sticker made me laugh–it’s the kind of pocket-sloganeering that only the thoroughly myopic can draw any logical moral standpoint out of, akin to saying “Windsurfing Is Not The Ocean”–but the second sticker legitimately pissed me off. It never fails to leave me speechless when people cling to their belief that religious conversion is, in any way, a peaceful act, as if there is anything remotely beneficial about altering people’s ideological paradigms in favor of one whose differences are solely superficial. Changing people’s minds is difficult enough; changing people’s beliefs is downright vicious, because you’re treading in and on people’s histories, both familiar and cultural, in the hope that they’ll stop being like themselves and start being a little more like you. I’ve never considered missionary work to be especially noble for this reason; there’s nothing respectable about doing good for your fellow human in the hope that you’ll somehow change their spiritual code to something that vaguely resembles yours. If you need to be on a mission from God in order to do something good for someone else, rather than, say, vote for governmental policies that prevent people from winding up needing that assistance in the first place, you’re as selfish and shortsighted as you would be if you didn’t do anything in the first place. As for the terrorism thing–look, there’s absolutely no conclusive evidence suggesting missionary work prevents acts of terrorism. There’s plenty of empirical evidence suggesting missionary work is an act of terrorism, but white people tend to get touchy when I mention that, so I’ll leave it for another day.

Which brings me to my final point: that Eurocentric societies have taken the notion of a homogeneous society and run with it to a dangerous degree. I’ll never say that humankind has never held a fear of the different or unknown–one need look no further than massive ethnic cleansing in sub-Saharan African nations for evidence of the universality of intolerance–but, when it comes to the desire for global domination, white people have always taken the cake. Say what you will about colored-skinned folks, but they’ve generally kept to their own area; white folks are notorious for thinking their way is the right way for the entire fucking world. Even the Islamofascists the Capitalist West currently fights are, for the most part, keeping their aggression limited to parts of the world they themselves inhabit, partially because they don’t have the capacity to mount large-scale attacks elsewhere (mercifully) and partially because the main reason they’re so pissed-off is because they’re sick of the West trying to convert everyone on the planet to their way of thinking. Hell, even when the West is directly attacked, the point is not to overthrow entire governments or destroy entire cultures–it’s merely to point out that maybe, just maybe, the belief perpetuated by White Europeans and White Americans that everybody should want to be a diligent free-market capitalist Christian isn’t one that works for them. Of course, the logic of using one religious fundamentalism to fight another brings me back to the point that maybe, just maybe, uniting large groups of people under religious dogma isn’t the most efficacious way to go.

Again, I’m not trying to piss on (or off) anybody, nor am I saying that people shouldn’t be religious; I’m all for people trying to make sense of that which they can’t figure out just by looking around them. I’m an educator in practice and a student at heart; I love knowledge, I love ideas, I love exchange and, by now, you should know I really love discourse. It’s just this time of year, in this place in the world, that religion really gets my goat; the fact of a culture clinging to the idea of some days must be holier than others, when really every fucking day we get to wake up and eat, and drink, and breathe, and fuck should be treated as a holy day, is part of the reason why we as humans are so fucked-up.

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Darryl Zero’s top albums of 2010

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 14, 2010 by darryl zero

Darryl Zero’s Top Albums of 2010

[Edited to include the Thou album, which I meant to include but for some reason forgot.]

If I thought last year was weak for albums, 2010 was even worse. It seems the music industry has finally pushed its way toward the completely single-driven business model. Not that I’m especially bothered by this–there are still good albums out there, for sure, and the singles that are coming out (or simply existing–I’ll have my “top songs of the year” list done hopefully by the first of the year) are damn fine. Still, there’s something about engaging in an entire album, letting an artist or group take you someplace and not let go until they say you’re done. This was certainly the case with the albums on this list (especially number 1–but I’ll get to that later).

I really, really wish I had the time, energy, and budget to do a comprehensive listening of every album that came out over the year. (A pocket universe would probably help in that task, too, now that I think of it.) For the past two years, now, it seems I keep finding things that completely blow my mind that I would gladly have put on the list had I discovered them in the eligible year. In 2009, that album was Helms Alee’s Night Terror; this year, it’s Liturgy’s Renihilation. I actually did an even better job this year of combing as many different review sites and record stores as possible, but we’ll see what happens next year.

Honorable Mention:

John Vanderslice, Green Grow The Rushes EP

The Extra Lens, Undercard

Maserati, Pyramid Of The Sun

Thou, Summit

11) Kayo Dot, Coyote

I worried about this album on first listen, mostly owing to the lack of guitars, convinced that frontman Toby Driver had finally gone off the deep end and went completely Classical. While such a thing works for, say, Tyondai Braxton (I’m almost to the point at which I’m glad he left Battles, although I’m still uneasy), it doesn’t always work for everybody. I like heady music as much as the next person, even within non-rock paradigms (see #9), but sometimes it’s just a little too much to digest in one sitting–and, I’m sorry, sometimes it’s okay to make music that appeals more to the heart than the mind. Fortunately, while Coyote starts slow, the build makes sense. Driver placing his voice and lyrics further to the front helps; the album features some of his best lyrics ever. The album’s overall sound continues the band’s trend of releasing albums which sound as if they should be on Tzadik Records on labels other than Tzadik (this one was for Hydra Head)–heavy on reeds and with a bass guitar sound more reminiscent of Bill Laswell than Joe Preston, with organs, strings, and woodwinds galore. There’s really no way I can continue to describe the album without making it out to sound like a chaotic, jumbled mess–believe me when I say that’s hardly the case. It’s just…complex. Very complex, especially when compared to #10.

10) Trash Talk, Eyes & Nines

Trash Talk, on the other hand, is about as jumbled and chaotic as any band can sound on record. I’ve heard more than a few different subgenre labels placed on the band–grindcore, doom metal, hardcore punk–and they’re all accurate. Eyes & Nines doesn’t sound as good as its predecessor (2008’s self-titled blitzkrieg), largely owing to the absence of Steve Albini, but this seventeen-minute blunt object makes up for its tonal deficiencies with the sheer unpredictability of its arrangements. “Explode,” the album’s ostensible single, probably has the tightest, closest-to-listener-friendly sound, two and a half minutes of hardcore punk rock. It’s easy to get caught up in the band’s sonic assault (abrasive as ever, although producer Joby J. Ford does a decent enough job of cleaning up some of the frequencies, albeit at the expense of the “live in front of you”-type sound the band flourishes in), but their lyrics, when audible, are surprisingly sharp and literate (corroborated by the band’s website). While it remains to be seen if the band can sustain a “full length” over twenty minutes, the ten songs on Eyes & Nines are more than up to snuff.

9) Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society

Spalding’s been treated as an upright bass prodigy since virtually the moment she picked up the instrument, but her recording career has echoed her academic one: technically-proficient, but prone to fits of self-indulgence which, while far from killing her prior efforts (2006’s Junjo and 2008’s Esperanza), still made them a bit difficult to digest as a whole. Not so with this year’s offering, which still manages to sidestep jazz clichés and blur genres just a tad while still being as unique and energetic as the tiny, afro-sporting star of the show. Spalding’s reputation may be as a master of her stringed instrument, but what truly separates her from other musicians is her voice, flexible and acrobatic–album highlight “Really Very Small,” featuring Spalding scat-singing over a hyperactive bassline, best demonstrates this–and her ability as a bandleader is astonishing given her young age (she’s 26).

8) Nice Nice, Extra Wow

At some point in time after 2002, Nice Nice got signed to Warp (who has two more albums on this countdown, full disclosure). Before that, they were a two-person noise act, “post-rock” for lack of a more clever term, not as chaotic as Lightning Bolt but certainly not as listener-friendly as, say, (!) Godspeed (!) You (!) Black (!) Emperor (!) or some other such indie darling. After 2006’s blitzkrieg of releases (four EP’s named for the seasons and a collaborative LP with Cex), the band was quiet for nearly four damn years. Suddenly, they reappeared, with their tightest, most electronic-sounding album ever (and their first proper “solo” full-length in eight years). The tautness is hardly shocking, as the band has been together since 1999, but the use of technology (or the appearance thereof), while not a curveball, still stands out as a big difference in the band’s sound–less “Temporary Residence” (the band’s former label) and more “Warp.”

7) Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma

If 2009 was the year Metal finally got off its lazy ass and realized it had the greatest potential of all genres in the rock idiom, then 2010 was the year downtempo electronic music and hip-hop finally made peace with their jazz and rock forebears (see #4, #2). Flying Lotus is one of those hipster wunderkinden that magazines can’t wait to cream their pants over (didja know he’s related to Coltrane? didja know he’s remixed everyone alive?), only the adoration is completely worth it. Cosmogramma is a psychedelic extravaganza of sensory mind-fuckery–think Portishead’s Third with less vocals, or The Avalanches with less regard for pop sensibilities, or DJ Shadow with a jazz royalty pedigree. The first third of this album passes by at an alarmingly fast pace considering how slow the songs really are; by the time Thom Yorke shows up in the middle of “…And The World Laughs With You,” you’re buying what FlyLo is selling, and then some, and you still have more than half the album to go. And that’s when it really starts messing with your brain; “Satelllliiiiiteee” rides a demonically smooth bassline throughout its entirely-too-brief two minutes, while “Recoiled” goes from free-jazz freakout to bhangra boogie without batting an eyelash. Positioning himself as the west coast’s answer to Prefuse 73’s myriad-alias soundbending, Flying Lotus blew up in a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig way in 2k10, and rightfully so.

6) Kylesa, Spiral Shadow

“Keep moving, don’t look back.” The refrain from album highlight “Don’t Look Back” describes Kylesa’s sound perfectly. The twin-guitar, twin-drum, twin-vocal configuration of Kylesa would seem claustrophobic if the band didn’t craft such expansive vocal harmonies and tight instrumental arrangements. Seemingly in its millionth iteration, Kylesa takes the “swamp metal” motifs present in albums by contemporaries like Baroness and Mastodon and refine them even more. Vocalists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants don’t mess with their formula too much: he bellows, she sings, the resulting combination sounding like something between Matt Talbott’s moody crooning in Hum and Ben Verellen’s monstrous roar in Harkonen and Helms Alee (the latter of which arguably being Kylesa’s closest analogue, at least circa this recording). Doomy without being too stoner, Psychedelic without being too proggy, and heavy without being too alienating, Spiral Shadow is one of those metal albums that is made more “metal” by virtue of its various efforts not to be–one listen to the Pink Floyd-esque strains of the title track hammers that home.

5) Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern

Recent online dust-ups aside, Marnie Stern really is the anti-Best Coast: up to this point, most of her albums consisted more of impersonal, off-putting, challenging collections of riffs rather than actual songs. In contrast to Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino’s almost deliberately accessible jangle-pop, Stern was almost entirely, challengingly abstract, as if every song were a tacit “understand THIS!” to her listeners. The arrangements on her self-titled release this year are no less challenging, but their use here is different. In a day and age in which a Black man is president, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Marnie Stern, virtuosic indie upstart, has written a pop-rock album. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things, but the heart-wrenching vocal melodies of “For Ash” and “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” are some of the most accessible material (and, apparently, the most personal) Stern has yet produced. This is not to say that Stern has toned down her guitar heroics; “Gimme” and the aforementioned “For Ash” feature her trademark tap-happy shredding. Still, the entire album smacks as if Stern is challenging her listeners yet again, this time to listen to the “real” her.

4) Gonjasufi, A Sufi And A Killer

“Duet,” smack in the middle of Gonjasufi’s Warp Records debut, is everything you need to know about the musical alter-ego of the man born Sumach Ecks: slow, gritty, sensual, funky, and stoned out of his fucking mind. A Sufi And A Killer (Produced by Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, and Mainframe) is twenty songs of unrelenting, hypnotic neo-soul viewed through trip-hop, hip hop and funk glasses. Ecks’s scraping voice wades unafraid through the production din, elevating the music from mere soundtrack to a blazed-out booty call to spiritual journey. “Advice” and “Duet,” the most straightforward cuts here, attach to mindfucks like “She Gone” and “Kowboyz&Indians” and turn WTF? moments into points of convergence. In short: shit doesn’t make any goddamn sense, except it does, and it’s beautiful, and you need to be listening to it. Now.

3) Torche, Songs For Singles EP

The Florida now-trio wisely chooses not to fix what isn’t broken with this EP. Steve Brooks’ husky voice and not-quite-nonsense lyrics still float around and over the band’s pummeling arrangements which, in turn, race through most of the eight tracks with sub-three minute rockers that fall just short of being “metal” but are too heavy to be thought of as anything else. Drummer Rick Smith steals the show for most of the album, particularly on his Animal-meets-Dave-Grohl turn on album centerpiece “Arrowhead.” That, combined with Brooks’ underrated guitar work and bassist Jonathan Nunez’s spot-on production giving the entire album a larger-than-three-piece sound, makes Songs For Singles the perfect appetizer for a full-length main course which damn well better be on it’s way.

2) Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here

Forty years after his first full-length (and sixteen years after his next most recent one), Gil Scott-Heron popped up in early January with “Me and the Devil,” a trip-hop take on the Robert Johnson classic. A month later, I’m New Here hit stores. On paper, the Richard Russell-produced affair seems like a disastrous undertaking: long-tenured soul artist with a history of drug problems? Only twenty-eight minutes long? Structured around three cover songs, including the title track, originally written by, of all people, Smog? Yet the album is not only the most hauntingly beautiful Scott-Heron has ever released, but it’s cohesive in way that makes its brief running time an asset (it begs to be listened from start to finish). The aforementioned Smog song gets reverential treatment from Scott-Heron, with added resonance given the artist’s pedigree. Not to say the album’s original compositions are filler; “New York Is Killing Me,” at 4:29 the longest song, packs decades of pain and confusion into a handful of verses.

1) Grinderman, Grinderman 2

I liked the first Grinderman release enough to put it on my top albums list back in 2008 because it was the kind of album I’d missed hearing since The Birthday Party broke up: disorientingly dirty, yet deeply satisfying. Like a sexual encounter, really, an uncomfortable one which left you unsure as to whether or not you actually liked it. There is no such ambiguity with Grinderman 2,whose songs clearly make it a hate-fuck of an album if ever there was one–dirty (“Worm Tamer”), angry (ass-kicking opener “Mickey Mouse & The Goodbye Man”), painful (“When My Baby Comes”), and resigned (“Palaces of Montezuma”) all at once, all to the point at which you need to come back for more, even though you just might hate it as much as you love it. Nick Cave and company take everything that made the first Grinderman album so arresting, crank it up to ten, and assault your senses–all the while not giving a fuck; guitars clang, drums pound like meth’ed-out death marches, and Warren Ellis’ usual slew of instruments make shitloads of noises so batshit insane you can’t tell which one he’s playing. And I’m hard-pressed to find a single as catchy as “Heathen Child,” the first one from this album, whose video features a demonic cheerleader, a nubile lass in a bathtub, a Black Buddha, three AK-47’s, Cave dressed as Shiva and what looks like Ellis’ butt. It’s unstructured chaos, it’s raw-er power than Raw Power, it’s a rape fantasy magically (and horrifically) turned into a rape reality, and it’s easily the antidote to all the soulless, gutless, ball-less synth-heavy bullshit people are shitting all over indie rock these days. How a 52-year-old man can take his midlife crisis and turn it into the most vital music in years is a miracle best left unexplained, but I think this album might have been the best sex I’ve had in years. And I feel dirty.

nihilism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 2, 2010 by darryl zero

Looking at job postings for the billionth time in the past few months, updating my résumé for what feels like the two billionth time, surveying a list of things I could probably do just well doing for a little while before the malaise sets in again and I get the urge to leave, frustrated with the fact that I’m not teaching or getting a degree that will allow me access to anything other than these dead-end non-careers like the ones that caused my father to slowly, deliberately and angrily turn into the same kind of caricature of a human being I once swore I’d never become, the realization that I’ve allowed myself to fail to do anything functional toward realizing my dreams for yet another year sank in.

It’s hard to examine my patterns of behavior and not see the same result as inevitable.  If this is my prime, if this is the best I can get out of life, if I’m going to be finding myself doing the exact same goddamn thing next year, wishing I’d taken some time out of my schedule of working too much for too little, praying to a god I don’t believe in for some lucky break, only to get it and have it serve me in absolutely no way, thanking that same nonexistent thing for the minute bits of gratification I get for my work, usually through the approval or devotion of people whose affection or appreciation I don’t deserve…then what else is there?

I used to think that looking at my father constituted the worst possible future for me; now, all I need to do is look in the mirror, my tired eyes and permanently-wrinkled brow from my endlessly pensive frown, and the sobering realization that I am neither special, nor extraordinary, and what little I have left in the way of vitality or usefulness I am wasting by picking up the scraps left behind by people who are willing to take what they want from life, leaving me to inconsequentially pick away at keyboards like any of these fucking rants are in any way therapeutic.

I’m spiraling, I have been for a while, but that spiral is picking up speed, and the only way I know I will feel better is if I let the anger out, and the only accepted way I know to let the anger out is by tapping out these stupid, useless screeds, because they don’t let Black men be angry anymore unless it’s through cooning odes to the acceptance of the very system that makes everybody, Black, white or whatever, into slaves.

I need release.  I need to escape.  I need to burn as hot and hard as I feel I am capable of doing, and I need the space to do it, because I really don’t care if other people are hurt, but the likelihood of my being left alone depends on them feeling “safe.”

I don’t want to feel this way anymore.