Monthly Archives: September 2014

Luke James and Lee Ann Womack

Luke James – Luke James

Hanging around the edges of the biz for years writing songs for Chris Brown and Bieber, Luke James learned what not to be. He feels deeply and wants listeners to know it. Eschewing the trad trappings of Anthony Hamilton and John Legend, he cushions his material with synthesized block chords and the spaces between notes often created by Noah “40” Shebib and Salaam Remi, often given pats on the butt by programmed sequencers and loops. Coolness makes no sense to him though. Hyperemotional, sometimes overwrought, James leans into a performance as if it were his last task on earth. “Can’t believe I felt for all your fake shit/Well, fuck you!” he sings over and over on “Exit Wounds,” implying that he’s no fake shit. If that’s so, then he should have shouted at Rick Ross a little louder; hearing the ‘Maybach Music’ tag announce itself on the otherwise fine “Options” is like an imminent heart attack victim feeling pain shoot up his left arm. Whenever creamy dance floor flirtations like “Exposé” pop up they’re a relief. On “Dancing in the Dark” he garnishes the programmed clatter with a falsetto of exquisite poise. James pulls off the rarest of coups: the interludes are good! The finger snaps, harmonica, and multitracked vocals cooing the hook on “TimeX”? Pursue this, Luke.

Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’

No standouts like Call Me Crazy‘s “The Bees” and “Solitary Thinkin‘,” just a solid album of impeccably played tunes about sin and salvation: the liquor that leads to the former and the love of a man that makes the latter possible. Womack has used the treacle-istic “I Hope You Dance” as the palimpsest for a career spent in redress and remodeling: since 2005’s There’s More Where That Came From, one of the decade’s most assured collections, she has sought responsive musicians and songwriters schooled in tradition enough to fuck with it. The closer she hues to bluegrass themes, the duller she sounds (the title track, “All His Saints”); when the material teases out the pathos in her crystalline, almost pinched alto, no one in country can top her. Lamenting the disappearance of her dad and his hardware store, the town and her prospects on “Send It on Down,” Womack sounds ravaged. But The Way I’m Livin‘s triumphs are two covers: Roger Miller’s “Tomorrow Night in Baltimore,” with sympathetic accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Mac McAnally; and “Out on the Weekend,” in which Womack inhabits the undiscovered corners of Neil Young’s 1972 genre exercise; it turns into another tale of solitary drinkin’, every night as desolate as the last. Thank husband Frank Lidell, who after helming Pistol Annies and Miranda Lambert can claim to understand this shit better than anyone in Nashvile. Scolds who long for the days of Loretta and George aren’t buying Womack’s records.

‘The evidence in those papers is very strong’

Five groups of researchers confirm what many suspected: Australia was aflame in 2013 thanks to emission-fueled climate warming. Because this is 2014 and there are stupid people, the New York Times had to dot its i’s this morning:

For several events in 2013, they were able to rule out such a link. Even though the overall global warming trend has been definitively linked to human emissions in scores of papers, the new reports show that the frequent impulse to attribute specific weather events to human activity is not always well grounded.

For instance, one research group found that the type of extreme rainfall that struck parts of Colorado last September had become less likely, not more likely, in the warming climate. Another group, analyzing the heavy rains and floods that struck parts of Central Europe in June 2013, found no evidence that these could be attributed to global warming, even though such claims were made at the time.

Myles R. Allen, a researcher at Oxford whose group conducted the study on the European rains, noted in an interview that the science of attributing specific events to human emissions was still contentious and difficult, so any answers given today must be regarded as provisional.

Charlie Crist: A Republican with ‘varying degrees of empathy’

If Jeb Lund’s story about the Rick Scott-Charlie Crist gubernatorial race consisted of links to stories about both these creatures, it would be valuable; but Lund also stitches a narrative showing how, rising sea levels aside, Florida is deeply fucked.

The fact is that Crist at best has the chance to impotently pursue an inert centrist policy amid an American Legislative Exchange Council paradise, where guns are plentiful, ground may be stood but government intervention goes all the way up the fallopians, more cars are welcome, the Everglades are bulldozed, the fight is still being taken to the gays, public transport is nonexistent, schools are profitable and results optional, prison is worth investing in, voting is discouraged, income tax is nil, and revenues outside a tiny corporate flat tax and property taxes rely on regressive service taxes, sales taxes, bed taxes and transactional fees…

…And maybe, to change all that, you get Charlie Crist, ex-Republican, who will run the state like a business, or maybe not bother to run it much at all, while nodding more telegenically at the Everglades, women, gay people and minorities. This is the kind of grand political spectrum Florida and the nation offers its citizens, and this is your future. You can have a Republican, or you can have someone who is basically a Republican with varying degrees of empathy.

Florida Democrats had Nan Rich as an option. Maybe Ezra Pound’s Cantos contain the answer to this riddle. Since 1976 the GOP has insisted on ideological purity from even its doddering satraps. Since 1976 the Democrats have insisted on fundraisers who peddle GOP talking points, of whom Charlie Crist represents the trend’s culmination. Crist is cynicism incarnate. And pollsters wonder why the race is a dead heat.

‘Muscular economic populism’ and its discontents

Rick Perlstein, interviewed while promoting The Invisible Bridge, on the rightward turn of the Democratic Party:

One of its roots was surprisingly enough the New Left’s turn away from New Deal politics and union politics. And it comes out of the extraordinary prosperity of the 1960s. It just doesn’t seem as important to have a Democratic party that’s kind of running interference and factory workers. Prosperity is so universal it seems like you could drop out of high school, burn down a building against the Vietnam War and end up with a job at GM the next day.

So you see in the class of politicians called the “Watergate babies” who are elected to Congress in 1974, this indifference to the New Deal tradition. Most strikingly in the case of Gary Hart, who says “we’re not a bunch of little Hubert Humphries,” and derides old-fashioned Democrats as Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats. He doesn’t think this New Deal tradition has anything to say to people in the 1970s.

The striking tragedy of that is this is right at the moment in which our current trend towards inequality and economic insecurity of the middle class is just beginning. When you need that muscular economic populism the most, you’re beginning to see the fashionable Democrats in full retreat from it. You see that certainly in the case of Jimmy Carter, who in many ways was a Southern conservative, who had contempt for the transactional nature of the New Deal tradition. Winning votes by building dams, creating jobs, and all the rest. It’s seen as an embarrassing relic of dirtier political times. It’s one of the paradoxes and ironies of these moment

Barack Obama, who began his national political freer claiming red and blue America didn’t exist, cornered himself with his determination to transcend differences between parties. Five years into a age when the GOP controlled every branch of government, these difference should’ve been starker. They weren’t and aren’t. The Democratic haven’t assembled a new coalition at the state level; they hope Hispanics, gays, and disaffected moderates show up during presidential cycles. But what the party offers isn’t any discernible leftism. By presenting itself as the party that begins in responsible, efficient smaller government – hell, any government at all – it reimagines the Democracy as Ford’s Republican party. Perlstein:

But he hasn’t learned the most important political lesson: in times of historic distrust of the previous political party, that you can create a transformational change in the electorate, as Roosevelt did by blaming it all on Hoover, and Reagan did by blaming it all on Carter. By writing a full stop to a political era.

These facts will hurt Andrew Sullivan.

Britney: ‘an infinitely recombitant instrument’

“Britney Spears” came to me as a heterosexual love object. At my college newspaper the male editors lusted after her early ’99 Rolling Stone cover, for which I loathed them.. She wasn’t a person — she was, to quote Billy Idol, flesh for fantasy. “…Baby One More Time” mattered less to me than “Believe” and “Genie in a Bottle” or, a few months later, “Waiting For Tonight.” Within a couple of years I could acknowledge it slammed harder than any teen pop released in ’99: Kristian Lundin, Jake Schulze, and Andreas Carlsson took copious notes writing and producing “Bye Bye Bye” for ‘N Sync exactly one year later. But as Tom Ewing implies in his excellent essay/retrospective Britney doesn’t accommodate herself to pop narratives: she’s never “matured,” never released Serious Music — “teenage feelings matter, even the dumb and disastrous ones,” he writes. On the contrary: with each release Spears has regarded her voice as an infinitely recombitant instrument best suited for conveying the simplest pleasures. Soccer chants, Eurocheese, EDM — she’ll do it at any price. Fools don’t understand this availability is exactly what makes her a pro. Offer her a song and she’ll contort herself in any shape you want.

But this is the Britney of Femme Fatale; and Blackout. Eight years earlier, “…Baby One More Time” hit #1 on the American and English charts. Then and now we asked questions about songwriting credits, auteurism, and authenticity. Tom again:

But the whole debate over who came up with what is also a red herring. Even if Britney had zero input into anything, it’s her name up there in lights – the whole enterprise depends on her. The idea that you can dig into the credits and origins of modern corporate pop to find secret lines of creativity and influence is a true one. But to imagine those stories are more important than the public ones can be a seductive fantasy of insider knowledge. Britney Spears, like every modern pop star, is the frontwoman of her own career: the story begins with her. It’s like politics, that other great bit of modern theatre: every candidate is the creature of a party machine. But the individual candidates – their strengths, foibles and priorities – matter. They are the story.

So if “manufactured” is unfair, what is the right metaphor for Britney’s relationship to the pop machine? Scanning the pop culture of the late 90s gives us a better possibility: mecha, the Japanese anime genre where beautiful, tragic youth fuse themselves to sublime, state of the art machines. Britney is not the machine’s puppet; she’s its pilot.

I’d rewrite that last sentence: Britney is the puppet, and she’s the pilot — the automatic pilot. What makes her so intermittently effective is her lack of ego, her willingness to become an endlessly protean signifier of pleasure.

Singles 9/26

Nickleback is in third place, OK? In this electoral season and after two weeks’ worth of news I’m ready to reward any effort at contemporary relevance (spare me the “dated” references chatter: music is dated the moment it’s released), and Nickleback’s generalizational overemoting tickled the right dialectical bellybutton. I dunno. Better this thing than Nick & Knight’s canny approximation of what an Adam Levine-Chris Brown comeback duet will sound like in 2029; or Justin Moore treating “Home Sweet Home” with more contempt than it deserves.

Click on links for full reviews.

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues (7)
Zola Jesus – Dangerous Days (6)
Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution (6)
Nick & Knight – One More Time (6)
Godsmack – 1000hp (6)
Hilary Duff – All About You (5)
Jasmine V ft. Kendrick Lamar – That’s Me Right There (4)
Merchandise – Enemy (4)
RaeLynn – God Made Girls (4)
You + Me – You and Me (3)
Twista ft. Tia London – It’s Yours (3)
Kindness ft. Kelela & Ade – World Restart (3)
Justin Moore ft. Vince Neil – Home Sweet Home (1)