Singles 10/31

Lots of winners this week: Sleater Kinney’s assured return, Mick Jenkins’ dense hip-hop, and Flying Lotus’ swirling and equally dense backing track for a worthwhile Kendrick Lamar performance, and, my favorite, Tamar Braxton. Although SK ranked first in number of listens, Braxton is catching up, another example of the female R&B songs that has made this a banner year, forcing a kinship between Future and Aaliyah.

I’m still sorting through the Javiera Mena album – carefully, for she’s the best reviewed artist in Singles Jukebox history. No one is looking more fondly back at Mark Liggett and
Chris Barbosa
, or understands how to be a ghost in the machine, but Mena flirts with colorlessness too; she should’ve released this powerhouse instead.

RIP Gwen.

Click on links for full reviews.

Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends (7)
Tamar Braxton ft. Future – Let Me Know (7)
Mick Jenkins – Jazz (7)
My Brightest Diamond – Pressure (7)
Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – Never Catch Me (6)
Javiera Mena – Otra Era (6)
Dulce María – O Lo Haces Tú O Lo Hago Yo (6)
Dean Brody – Mountain Man (6)
Röyksopp – Skulls (5)
TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot (4)
Jamie T – Zombie (3)
Ina Wroldsen – Aliens (Her Er Jeg) (3)
Gwen Stefani – Baby Don’t Lie (2)

‘My husband used pink lip gloss, like, daily’

By all means let us congratulate the progress made in the United States and Europe, but in many parts of the world the situation remains as bad for homosexuals. Worse even. A wife in India had her husband charged with crimes against nature, thanks to a reinstated law:

The account of the woman — both her name and her husband’s have been withheld by officials — has drawn widespread attention, in part because she describes the pain and isolation of finding herself in an arranged marriage that failed from its earliest days.“My husband used pink lip gloss, like, daily,” she told a radio interviewer. “And mannerisms were so feminine!”

At one point, suspecting that the problem was impotence, she suggested that her husband get medical tests done, but he refused; his parents were hostile when she raised the issue.

“I was suffering, thinking that my life was ruined,” reads a section of the criminal report. “I got to know unknown men were coming when I was not there.”

After capturing him in a sexual encounter on videotape, she brought the evidence to a local police station, telling the police, “My husband is a homosexual performing acts against nature. Take legal action against my homosexual husband,” according to police documents.

I pasted the most hilarious parts, but it isn’t. This man faces years in prison and hard labor because he caviled to the pressures of marriage. Meanwhile in Uganda men and women can face life for the suspicion of being gay.

‘The polls weren’t even like this in 2000’

Well, November should be fun: Floidians face the prospect of an election that’s close to call, according to The Miami Herald

The results rest within each poll’s margin of error, meaning the race is essentially a tie — regardless of the poll. Every other major survey shows that. And it looks like it will stay a squeaker through Election Day, Nov. 4.

“This race is closer than we thought George Bush vs. Al Gore was before the 2000 elections,” SEA pollster Tom Eldon said, referring to the 537-vote margin that made Bush president after 37 days of disputed results, court challenges and ballot reviews.

So Tuesday is going to be a long night?

“You’re potentially talking about a long month,” Eldon said.

“Basically, no one is liked very much”

Galway Kinnell – RIP

When poetry commanded a modicum of popular conversation in the years between Robert Frost and Robert Lowell’s deaths, Galway Kinnell wrote his best work. The loose limb of the prose line characterized his poetry. Beside James Merrill, Anthony Hecht, early Jorie Graham, and Amy Clampitt, to name a few of my favorites, it lacked tension and personality. But he wrote three poems I treasure: “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World,” one of the few modern poems blessed and unburdened by the description Whitman-esque; the spare, chilling “Wait,” which I once posted; and the great poem of his autumnal years “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone.” An excerpt:

When one has lived a long time alone,
sour, misanthropic, one fits to one’s defiance
the satanic boast—It is better to reign
in hell than to submit on earth

and forgets one’s kind, as does the snake,
who has stopped trying to escape and moves
at ease across one’s body, slumping into its contours,
adopting its temperature, and abandons hope
of the sweetness of friendship or love
—before long can barely remember what they are—
and covets the stillness in organic matter,
in a self-dissolution one may not know how to halt,
when one has lived a long time alone.

Approaching my forties, I know the title, I taste the lines “and forgets one’s kind, as does the snake,/who has stopped trying to escape and moves/at ease across one’s body.” In my twenties it was a fiction I had to learn to inhabit; now it’s a prophecy on the verge of fulfillment.

More matter, less art: Listen Up Philip

I have to shake the suspicion that earnest young men — always men — will stream Listen Up Philip and think it nails the writing life. The idea frightens me. Alex Ross Perry’s movie about a serious fellow (Jason Schwartzman) brooding about his success on the eve of publication of his second novel begins as a predictable but brisk joke at Philip’s expense. Then, as Perry cedes time to a mentor named Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) and his moldy pensées about lich-ra-choor, the line between parody and sincerity blurs to insignificance, and so does the movie.

Philip is wound up. The New York Times, his publicist confides in a quavering voice, will pan the book. His girlfriend of three years Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) complains, with reason, that he doesn’t give a shit about her photography career. Already he needs a break. Hooking up with Zimmerman helps. A thinly drawn pastiche of Philip Roth, down to the disgust for public expectations and bubble-lettered fonts on his novels (his most notorious is called Audit), Zimmerman suggests Philip stay in his pad in the country. Eventually Zimmerman even gets him an adjunct job at the local private college, much to Ashley’s chagrin. He wants the separation too: “”I hope this will be good for us, but especially for me,” he tells her. Schwartzman’s commitment to hitting one note in a performance dovetails with how Perry’s written Philip; every time he gets a fatuous line he knocks it out. “I’m not successful,” he corrects a student. “I’m notable.” To the lover he breaks up with at the beginning of the movie: “You don’t support me, so you don’t get this gift from me.” When he’s back in the city: “I don’t want you to contextualize my sadness.” But he’s still Jason Schwartzman, doomed to pronounce “fuck” as if he were a seven-year-old on the monkey bars. Better is “Mad Men”‘s Moss, to whom Perry surrenders a portion of the film in which she can, as they used to say, find herself as a photographer and private dancer.

Besotted with handheld cameras and privileged moments in quivering closeups, Listen Up Philip takes its knowledge about novels from Woody Allen instead of novels. Eric Bogosian’s florid voice-over script is of the Allen he-walked-in-the-room-and-sat-down school of inserting-every-comma. Perry, like many of us, has watched Husbands and Wives a lot. Explaining his decision to move to the country, Philip packs his books while the camera zips from him to Ashley as she hurls therapy-speak patter like “You’re looking out for your own self-interest.” It could be a reprise of Gabe (Allen) and Judy Roth’s (Mia Farrow) practiced, weary contempt for each other. Many of us love Husbands and Wives despite its devotion to psychobabble and, more crippling, its belief that men must choose between stability and the fleeting pleasures of extramarital affairs, as if if this were a real choice. Allen went one better in Deconstructing Harry: should a writer be a shit for the sake of his art? Another false binary. Philip Roth is a great novelist and may or may not have led the life of a libertine, but the latter did not produce the former; people who don’t write make this mistake. At least Deconstructing Harry abjures realism to make Allen’s novelist an oil stain with human characteristics; Listen Up Philip doesn’t go far enough. A scene in which the novelists invite young women to Ike’s house plays like middling early seventies Cassavetes; if the actors aren’t improvising they look like it, and what they come up with just sits there.

Listen Up Philip should be malicious instead of merely bitchy. For unadulterated savagery, nothing beats Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater, the story of an egotist with a frightening pathology. Perry’s movie, though, shows familiar stereotypes that amused thirty years ago. Hearing Philip’s prose in letters, I don’t know if Philip is parodying a talentless cretin, if Perry thinks Philip is Bellow, Mailer, Roth, or if Philip is a talentless cretin who thinks he’s Bellow, Mailer, and Roth, i.e. Jonathan Franzen. Pryce gets the worst I’m-a-writer script since Frank Langella survived Starting Out in the Evening in 2007. To survive the following lines qualifies him for the Nobel Peace Prize, not the National Book Award: “Even looking at the girls here bring a cascade of emotions”; “The answer is at once arrogant and correct”; “The innate ineffability” of human emotion. A late-minute development involving a female professor of thwarted ambition goes nowhere; Perry directs her to act like a tootsie. The last, didactic shot shows Philip on a cold Manhattan sidewalk, walking against the current of pedestrians; it endorses Philip’s determination to go his own way or is an epitaph for a stubborn bastard. Take your pick. Maybe it’s both.

‘Why would a disproportionate number of Asian-Americans risk breaking the law to vote twice?’

Driving is a privilege. Supreme Court decisions have determined that voting is a right. Therefore, the burden rests with the government to deny this right. We’re lucky in Florida. When I voted last weekend, the employe at the station asked for my ID. The guy next to me said he forgot his ID. The employee, not adjusting a beat of her rhythm, handed him a clipboard. He had to file a provisional ballot and prove before a deadline that he was who he claimed to be. But he still voted.

The GOP couldn’t win the presidential election in 2012. Now it wants to half a midterm one. Remember ORCA? Now it’s got Crosscheck, a program that scans registrations for double voters. Sounds fair. But according to an investigation by Al Jazeera Crosscheck has produced millions of mismatches: wrong suffixes, titles, and middle names:

Al Jazeera America visited these and several other potential double voters. John Paul Williams of Alexandria insists he has never used the alias “John R. Williams.” “I’ve never lived in Georgia,” he says.

Jo Cox, wife of suspected double voter Robert Glen Cox of Virginia, says she has a solid alibi for him. Cox “is 85 years old and handicapped. He wasn’t in Georgia. Never voted there,” she says. He has also never used the middle name “Dewey.”

Twenty-three percent of the names — nearly 1.6 million of them — lack matching middle names. “Jr.” and “Sr.” are ignored, potentially disenfranchising two generations in the same family. And, notably, of those who may have voted twice in the 2012 presidential election, 27 percent were listed as “inactive” voters, meaning that almost 1.9 million may not even have voted once in that race, according to Crosscheck’s own records.

Minority names are overrepresented on Crosscheck. Figures. There’s this fact: “A sixth of all Asian-Americans share just 30 surnames and 50 percent of minorities share common last names, versus 30 percent of whites.” No prosecutions for these alleged charlatans. Of course not — prosecution is not the plan. Intimidation is. A voter suspected of fraud and found on Crosscheck must sign an affidavit. An eighty-five-year-old black woman in a northeastern Georgia town may not be able to prove who she is.

As Jamelle Bouie concludes:

Which is why it’s hard to take pro-ID arguments—like Rich Lowry’s—in good faith. Liberal and Democratic claims of voter suppression aren’t just about voter identification, they’re about the package of policies and techniques that burden voters and shrink the electorate in the process. Indeed, it’s worse than this. Voter ID advocates insist that their reasonable moves are intended to protect the integrity of the process and the sanctity of the vote, but the reality is that their policies have created confusion and chaos for hundreds of thousands of voters. Put another way, there’s not a serious Republican effort to expand the electorate and bring new people into the process. But there is a major one to do the opposite

Tati: “People inhabit public spaces even when they behave privately”

Jonathan Rosenbaum on Jacques Tati’s mastery of sound and color:

Tati’s sense of sound and image design always encompasses a certain distance from his subjects that implies observation rather than confrontation—an invitation for us to playfully map out our own itineraries. In PlayTime’s hour-long restaurant sequence, the most complex and sublime achievement of his mise-en-scène, the improvised paths of our own gaze even become part of the jubilant dancing. Close-ups (whether visual or aural) are absent, and this obviously has some relevance to the limited appearances of private spaces in his films. (The only partial exception is when characters are seen in their cars in Trafic, but as Abbas Kiarostami has often shown in his own films, such people inhabit public spaces even when they behave privately.) The coexistence of long shots and public spaces helps to determine the principles behind Tati’s compositions, which often interrelate left and right and/or up and down, and use sound and/or color as partial guides to how to identify and playfully navigate those interrelations.

Rewatching Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love a few nights ago, I saw this principle: a fifteen-minute cab ride in which Akiko (Rin Takanashi), self-contained in her sullenness, asks the driver to circle the square where her grandmother says she was going to wait (fruitlessly, it turns out). Each orbit, with glimpses of neon signs and the blare of traffic, intensifies the spot Aikiko’s in: she’s torn between yielding to her instinct to meet her beloved grandmother — the woman’s affection is clear from her solicitous tone and bottomless patience — and continuing on her trip to meet a potential john. Like the woman in the William Carlos Williams poem so aggrieved that she wants to sink into the flowers, she wants to sink into the city din.

To Londoners blessed with the 4K high definition screening of Playtime in November, I salute you.

Out of the woods and onto the dance floor: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift – 1989

To tag this as a pop move sells the concept short, misses what she’s been up to since 2009, and characterizes “pop” as an immoveable, homogenous force; Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj occupy the same chart but not the same musical space. Britney could not have sung “Style.” Ariana would not have sung “New Romantics.” No, this album is big beat without much EDM, and that’s the disorienting thing, so conditioned have I been the last half decade to its synthesized buzz saws—you know, the ones she herself used on Red’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” But other than an eh-eh here in the extra track “Wonderland” and an ah-ah there in “I Know Places,” 1989 positions itself as a fictional recreation, a half-realized but thought-through reimagining of the year when Fine Young Cannibals, “Like a Prayer,” and “The Look” topped the charts, sure, but also Bad English, “Hangin’ Tough,” and “I’ll Be There For You.” Hell, the high multitracked harmonies evoke Voices of the Beehive or something. Because Taylor Swift was herself born in 1989, the album also works as a declaration, matched beat for beat, climax for climax.

So let’s get down to first principles. “Shake It Off” remains a menace, the infatuated “Out of the Woods” bespeaks self-infatuation, and “Welcome to New York” could be “Hello, Dubuque” for all it says about the adrenalin of moving to a loft in the city without worrying about rent control (Pet Shop Boys’ 1985 “Two Divided By Zero” could have shown her how to set enotecas and Tribeca to a disco beat). “This Love,” the only track she wrote herself, is the soggiest thing she’s ever included on one of her albums. Regarding songs as compositions whose parts can be built and polished and attached in unexpected places, Max Martin and Shellback help Swift write good prechoruses and great middle eights—and oof those drops. The strummed rhythm hook on “Style” is heaven on earth, but the song gets shading when she follows the bit about her knowing the boyfriend’s going out with other girls with the line, “I’ve been there too a few times.” “Blank Space” begins with soul sonic force synths out of Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” but segues into a finger-wagging acoustic-anchored admission of caprice and recklessness. That’s what distinguishes Swift from her contemporaries: they envisage the route to maturity as the accumulation of compromises and mistakes out of which something called adulthood emerges; she on the other hand assumes that holding fast to a natural ebullience with the expectation that she’ll fuck up is worth it so long as she’s teaching bad boys how to be good. Adults act like kids. Especially in a move to the big city. Especially in their twenties.

Add “All You Had To Do Was Stay” (best hook), “Clean” (best lyrics), and “How You Get the Girl” (best lesson), and the results are an album with fewer keepers but more ambition. Swift is still learning to write songs for the cool sounds she’s hearing in her head. As the anticipated million-plus in sales bestir her confidence, though, she may hop to another experiment. But after weeks of resisting “Shake It Off” and “Out of the Woods” I’ve realized I’m the problem—one of those stick-in-the-muds impatient for another Speak Now. That Swift—so well-named!—is gone. What she gains in rhythmic and harmonic force she’s lost in precision. Quips replace narrative. For those of us beguiled by her melodies need to remember, like I said, first principles. 1989 is the album she needed to record. With the next due during another election cycle, I can’t wait to hear what soundtrack she’ll compose to accompany the Clinton malaise. We had a few great beats in 1992, after all.

Working class conflicts: Angaleena Presley and Nadine Hubbs

See now this is how you interview an artist. Nadine Hubbs, author of Rednecks, Queers & Country Music, and Angaleena Presley answer questions about class, money, the South, and women. A conversation about American Middle Class’ title track led to observations about how few of us surpass our parents’ expectations.

Hubbs: What Angaleena shows in that song, I think, is a father and a daughter who are both called out in the chorus as being members of the American middle class. (“I got my education at a school they could afford/ The scholarships went to the rich and the grants went to the poor/ So I stood behind a little downtown bar/ spending money, books and gas/ to be a certified member of the work-too-much/ American middle class.”) He worked in the coal mines, she went to college — albeit in a hardscrabble way — working really hard to put herself through college and, implicitly, going to whatever college she could afford. He would’ve been born into the working class; she came of age in a time when she was called middle class. And we see how they’re both struggling, even though she now has a college degree and got out of the coal mines. The shift of the term is almost illustrated in the narrative of that song.

Presley: I agree with that. And in the chorus of the song, it’s like, “Tear this poor house down/ when you know how to build it back.” The message my parents always gave to me was, “Go out and get better than what we have.” But in reality, what happens is you go out and you get exactly what they have. You’re just the next generation.

I’m pissed that in my review last week I didn’t cite “Better Off Red,” whose chorus would’ve gotten Presley burned in effigy in 2002. The Appalachian overtones of Presley’s songs embolden the anger; what looks like socialism in 2014 ignited Willian Jennings Bryan’s career in 1896.

‘You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies’

Edward Snowden, whom Charles Pierce calls the International Man of Luggage, talks to The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen. Too lengthy to excerpt, it covers the iPhone 6’s encryption measures (done after the tech companies learned what the National Security Agency expected them to turn over), the definition of patriotism, the mixed success of Occupy Wall Street, and how Germans have offered beds for Snowden to sleep in; but the bit below seems key. Send it to friends and relatives who on Thanksgiving will insist They Have Nothing to Hide:

We only have the rights that we protect. It doesn’t matter what we say or think we have. It’s not enough to believe in something; it matters what we actually defend. So when we think in the context of the last decade’s infringements upon personal liberty and the last year’s revelations, it’s not about surveillance. It’s about liberty. When people say, “I have nothing to hide,” what they’re saying is, “My rights don’t matter.” Because you don’t need to justify your rights as a citizen—that inverts the model of responsibility. The government must justify its intrusion into your rights. If you stop defending your rights by saying, “I don’t need them in this context” or “I can’t understand this,” they are no longer rights. You have ceded the concept of your own rights. You’ve converted them into something you get as a revocable privilege from the government, something that can be abrogated at its convenience. And that has diminished the measure of liberty within a society.

Also: the point of civil disobedience is disobedience.

‘We Danes accept that a burger is expensive’

Americans who have their hearts set on working for the Burger King Corporation should emigrate. In Denmark, the average fast food employee earns the equivalent of twenty dollars. Socialism!

In Denmark, fast-food workers are guaranteed benefits their American counterparts could only dream of. Under the industry’s collective agreement, there are five weeks’ paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave and a pension plan. Workers must be paid overtime for working after 6 p.m. and on Sundays.

Unlike most American fast-food workers, the Danes often get their work schedules four weeks in advance, and employees cannot be sent home early without pay just because business slows.

Actually, with the exception of the protracted vacation period these are conditions that American workers expected in the fifties and sixties as their due.

Meanwhile:

As a shift manager at a Burger King in Tampa, Fla., Anthony Moore earns $9 an hour, typically working 35 hours a week and taking home around $300 weekly.

“It’s very inadequate,” said Mr. Moore, 26, who supervises 10 workers. His rent is $600 a month, and he often falls behind on his lighting and water bills. A single father, he receives $164 a month in food stamps for his daughters, 5 and 2.

“Sometimes I ask, ‘Do I buy food or do I buy them clothes?’  ” Mr. Moore said. “If I made $20 an hour, I could actually live, instead of dreaming about living.”

Free enterprise for the poor, socialism for the rich, as Gore Vidal pointed out decades ago. To make any progress in the States requires first accepting the truth that indulgences are cheap because their manufacturers treat employees as commodities, then realizing that it needn’t be this way – what William Holden in Network sententiously called simple human decency. As a sane Dane points out, “We Danes accept that a burger is expensive, but we also know that working conditions and wages are decent when we eat that burger.”

Lord of collusion

Promising!

Human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, who interviewed a wide range of intelligence and administration officials for his upcoming book, “Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy,” told The Intercept that the White House and the CIA are hoping a Republican Senate will, in their words, “put an end to this nonsense.”

Stalling for time until after the midterm elections and the start of a Republican-majority session is the “battle plan,” Horton said. “I can tell you that Brennan has told people in the CIA that that’s his prescription for doing it.”

Republicans are widely expected to win control of the Senate Nov. 4.

Victoria Bassetti, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, wrote this week that the administration is playing “stall ball” and that Senate staffers expect Republicans would “spike release of the report” should they take over the chamber.

The late and missed Walter Karp wrote a book called Indispensable Enemies about forty years ago in which this kind of hold’em-and-fold’em collusion happens often in Washington. It works because everyone can deny it, little to no proof exists, and, hey, they hate each other on Martha Radditz’s Sunday morning panel, right?