Monthly Archives: September 2015

A few of my favorite things…

Over the next few days I’m going to post fifty of the albums that mean most to me. Notice my weasel words. I suppose this would count as my fifty favorite albums if I believed in carving things on stone tablets. Suffice to say that were I asked to list these albums they’d be in there.

50. Nona Hendryx – Nona

On subsequent albums the former Labelle singer got the Tina Turner treatment by her label: Keith Richards, Arthur Baker, that sort of thing. She got it right once on this 1983 eponymous album, and so did Material and every one else recording music in Lower Manhattan like a Go-Go and Valerie Simpson. For theoretical dance music, of which the early eighties coughed up plenty, Nona still works. Occasionally she stirred herself to record the real thing.

49. Miles Davis – Get Up With It

“He Loved Him Madly” is the centerpiece, a sidelong track whose use of space and terse punctuative horn and organ represents Miles’ most adventurous music because it’s the quietest. For his most frenetic piece until the collection called Dark Magus, there’s “Calypso Frelimo.” Clearing-the-head music comes no purer than the seven-minute organ carouselambra called “Rated X.”

48. Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222

Singer-songwriter albums don’t get more joyous than Gil’s. Ugliness isn’t the enemy – staidness is. Chanting and whooping like a second or third guitar, Gil doesn’t forget performing these literate songs maters as much as writing them.

47. Merle Haggard – Serving 120 Proof

Haggard recorded his most consistent longforms between the Carter and early Reagan administrations as middle age threatened him like lead poisoning (I like Big City but “My Favorite Memory” defines the fatuity of the softening hetero male). With Red Lane and a crack band providing modest accompaniment, “Red Bandana” and “I Can’t Get Away” use narrative and self-amused confession, respectively, to keep the blahs sat bay. Serving 190 Proof is the album I recommend to listeners new to Hag.

46. Utah Saints – Utah Saints

Arena techno: big beats, crowd noise, choruses sampled from Eurythmics, Simple Minds, and Kate Bush. Goofy and thrilling – the perfect gateway drug.

45. Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted

It Takes a Nation of Millions… and Fear of a Black Planet will rank as the Bomb Squad’s grandest productions, but it took Ice Cube’s debut for me to get Public Enemy. Cruder, disgusted by fags and bitches and anyone who impugns his manhood, Cube will forever sit uneasily in the pantheon. But so long as “Turn Off the Radio” and the title track clang, I don’t care. When Chuck D joins Cube on “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside),” the greatest rap act of 1990 joins N.W.A’s most talented for an East-West summit whose impact would dissipate in the coming decade.

‘Abortion can be the moral choice’

“All In” played choice bits from today’s House-Planned Parenthood hearings. Allen Drury’s Advice and Consent could not have presaged so lurid a set of exchanges:

Chaffetz, who took the gavel for this often politically contentious committee at the start of the new Congress in January, put up a chart that purported to show Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings going down over time as the number of its abortions spiked.

Richards appeared flummoxed, saying she didn’t know where those numbers came from.

“You’re going to deny?” Chaffetz incredulously replied.

Richards said she would deny those numbers because she’d never seen them.

With every exchange, Richards and Chaffetz raised their voices until both were practically yelling over each other.

Chaffetz told her he pulled them from her corporate reports. “Oh,” Richards said, appearing deflated.

Then staff behind Richards leaned over to whisper into her ear. She interrupted Chaffetz.

“Excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an antiabortion group,” she said. “So, I would check your source.”

It was Chaffetz’s turn to appear deflated. “Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that,” he said.
3. What was Planned Parenthood apologizing for?


CHAFFETZ: Your compensation in 2009 was $353,000. Is that correct?

RICHARDS: I don’t have the figures with me. But …

CHAFFETZ: It was. Congratulations. In 2013, your compensation went up some $240,000. Your compensation, we’re showing based on tax returns, is $590,000, correct?

RICHARDS: That’s not my annual compensation. I — actually, my annual compensation is $520,000 a year. I believe there was a program that the board sort of put together for a three-year — I’m happy — again, I think we have been extremely forthcoming with all of our documents.

I suppose I understand the hesitation to defend abortion on its own terms; it explains the halting answers about salaries and the emphases on mammograms. But I’ve argued repeatedly that American women not subpoenaed by Congress are forthright about why they end pregnancies. Besides fetal retardation and the danger to the mother, there’s economic reality: no government agency should compel a woman to carry a child that she can’t pay for. Her — our — first priority is to the living.

Searching for ayes from respected sources, I found one from, who else, Katha Pollit:

If having another child means the other kids don’t get the care and support they need, why is it automatically considered the right motherly thing to add to the family because a condom breaks? Isn’t your first responsibility to the kids you already have? I think if women can manage to have their kids when they are best able to care for them, while also fulfilling a few of their own hopes and dreams, they are doing pretty well.

Pollitt, I should remind readers, wrote well about the Kermit Gosnell’s Pennsylvania abbatoir in 2011; the right can’t Willie Horton her. Categorizing (hence dismissing) abortion as a “social issue” is only the most egregious offense.

‘Economic justice is not – and has never been – sufficient to ensure racial justice’

As usual, the senator from Massachusetts treated her audience like adults:

I have often spoken about how America built a great middle class. Coming out of the Great Depression, from the 1930s to the late 1970s, as GDP went up, wages went up for most Americans. But there’s a dark underbelly to that story. While median family income in America was growing – for both white and African-American families – African-American incomes were only a fraction of white incomes. In the mid-1950s, the median income for African-American families was just a little more than half the income of white families. And the problem went beyond just income. Look at housing: For most middle class families in America, buying a home is the number one way to build wealth. It’s a retirement plan-pay off the house and live on Social Security. An investment option-mortgage the house to start a business. It’s a way to help the kids get through college, a safety net if someone gets really sick, and, if all goes well and Grandma and Grandpa can hang on to the house until they die, it’s a way to give the next generation a boost-extra money to move the family up the ladder. For much of the 20th Century, that’s how it worked for generation after generation of white Americans – but not black Americans. Entire legal structures were created to prevent African Americans from building economic security through home ownership. Legally-enforced segregation. Restrictive deeds. Redlining. Land contracts. Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class, but systematic discrimination kept most African-American families from being part of it. State-sanctioned discrimination wasn’t limited to homeownership. The government enforced discrimination in public accommodations, discrimination in schools, discrimination in credit-it was a long and spiteful list. Economic justice is not – and has never been – sufficient to ensure racial justice.

Bernie, hope your writers are listening. Read her speech. This is how you tell a story.

My favorite thing: Sugar’s File Under: Easy Listening


When Bob Mould came out to readers of glossy music magazines, he couldn’t have known that it made no impact on his sales. File Under: Easy Listening, which had peaked in the top fifty before plummeting, was a dead letter. The alt-rock boom that helped sell more than a quarter million copies of Sugar’s Copper Blue had crested; 1995 was about Live, Better Than Ezra, and the Goo Goo Dolls. Given a choice between Mould pummeling instead of lulling me, I’ll take Copper Blue and the Beaster EP, both of which, I’m glad to say, my colleagues rank as highly as any Hüsker Dü record (“JC Auto” and “Feeling Better” remain best-ever compositions and performances). These days FU:El sounds, as Eric Harvey noted in the link, tired and grumpy; in 1994 I skipped “Panama City Motel,” “Granny Cool,” David Barbe’s catatonic “Company Man” whereas every song on Copper Blue left azure-orange trails to match its sleeve. But as my Stylus reappraisal of FU:EL I hope makes clear, no other devotee of punk guitar deserved it more than Mould.

File Under: Easy Listening

What shamed Bob Mould made him a hero. Like the rest of us he’s probably happy with the man he sees in the mirror: a ropily attractive fortysomething with a shaved head, openly homosexual, who records intermittently (and likely as not it’ll be an electronic record). Let’s go back a few years—when Mould was overweight, had hair like wilted lettuce, muted his sexuality, and released albums at a frenzied pace (and likely as not they were melodic hardcore records). His anonymity endeared him to us; it mitigated an ambition which pummeled colleagues and competition, with a guitar sound to match.

Sugar—the band he formed almost five years after Hüsker Dü could no longer contain two songwriters of equal talent and varying ambition—was in many ways the ideal situation for a man of Mould’s ego. No rival songwriters competing for album space (and, presumably, boys). An aural sheen as resplendent and impenetrable as chain mail. Bandmates who would do as told. For those of us watching the convulsions in 1992’s rock world Copper Blue represented a bold and—in retrospect—conservative manifesto. In ten dense songs of refulgent efficiency, Mould demonstrated how the professionalism implicitly disdained by Pavement could signify as an aesthetic triumph. No grand gestures or arch jokes here—Copper Blue’s metaphors and hooks are as proletariat as Mould’s serviceable voice. This is bootstrap rock, impatient with miserabilism, but with a candy apple gray core; it smells like post-teen spirit, a Nevermind with Pat Buchanan at the mic.

If you thought Mould was as funny as a smokestack, the title of Sugar’s second full-length release confirmed it. Give him credit for honesty. In the context of his loud-rock career, File Under: Easy Listening is both a repudiation and a statement of noisome predictability: I’ll make you fuckers hum; you’ll hum till you vomit (one listen to “Can’t Hurt You Anymore” will make you loath the sound of a beautiful hook). Eschewing the occasional keyboard flourishes of its predecessors, FU:EL’s arrangements (by sole producer Mould) echo the blam-blam-blam concision of Flip Your Wig, which is to say, sprawl is an urban legend. Really, this is Flip Your Wig with three variations on “Games” and “Makes No Sense At All” and no Grant Hart gumming up the works with angst and Beatles homages. Aerodynamic marvels like “Gift” (the closest thing to Copper Blue’s wind tunnel assault) and “Gee Angel,” are designed, no doubt, according to arcane algorithms vacuum-sealed in their creator’s central processor. “Arcane” because, for all Mould’s lucidity, I still haven’t figured out if “Granny Cool,” the malevolent dismissal of a certain Johnny-come-lately, pokes fun at erstwhile partner Hart or Mould himself, the renascent artist who could never resist reminding interviewers that Nirvana had approached him about producing Nevermind.

What an unexpected development—that Mould, who in Hüsker Dü tolerated the aptly named Spot’s production for so many years, would fetishize clarity, even when it’s at the service, as it plainly is on FU:EL, of a renewed interest in strafing his audience. While “What You Want It to Be” drills its rote chorus into one stubborn wall, the irony of bassist David Barbe’s “Company Man,” the album’s dreary concession to democracy, is lost on its author. But Mould’s love songs (frustratingly gender-neutral, of course) are as luminous as you expect the truth to be, and as muddled if you stare too closely. “Explode & Make Up” snaps like one of those Richard Thompson ballads in which the performer’s murderous intentions keep backfiring; it’s arguments, not reconciliation, that remind lovers that they matter. On “Your Favorite Thing” Mould, taking his quest for anonymity to its inevitable conclusion, wants a place on his lover’s bookshelf. Fat chance; blame the insistence of the guitar line and Malcolm Travis’ drumming. Maybe Mould understands dialectics after all.

A frequent companion to R.E.M.’s Monster in used CD bins, FU:EL found Mould in step with the vagaries of public taste for once; and since he’s as distracted as the proles who never bought Zen Arcade the first time around, he dissolved Sugar the following year. There he was, coming out at last in a lengthy SPIN interview remarkable for its dull candor. We understood perfectly even if the editors didn’

Don’t call them comebacks: New Order and Robert Forster

New Order – Music Complete

Boredom and a lifetime’s worth of acrimony having forced the departure of their most crucial member, the trio plus two unassuming additions record a better bunch of songs than anyone, including the trio, had a right to expect. The song lengths look daunting, but not if you take Bernard Sumner’s line “One day at a time, inch by inch” on the well-named “Singularity” as thesis and maxim. It’s as a post-breakup album that Music Complete makes most sense. Those two new members add crucial, understated contributions, and besides, the returning Gillian Gilbert’s three-note fill in “Singularity” and house keyboards powering the verses in “Tutti Frutti” suggests she’s the most crucial member after all (“Peter Hook partisans should note,” a friend wrote: “They made a much better album without Hooky than they could without Gillian”). So what if they sound like Todd Terje or the Juan Maclean? Does it matter if Chemical/spiritual Brother Tom Rowland’s idea of earning a co-writing credit is to add a sequencer yanked from The Bravery’s “An Honest Mistake”? Anyway, to record a Happy Mondays homage like “People on the High Line” in 2015 is less offensive than it would’ve been in 1993 (less irksome than Iggy Pop’s Vincent Price routine in “Stray Dog”). Aside from Rowland and a grateful Brandon Flowers on “Superheated,” Music Complete‘s productions are the band’s own. Call it a decent return in a career that has defined the word. Not a comeback though — I haven’t forgotten Waiting For the Sirens Call and Get Ready. They’ll get by without Hooky, who would have encouraged more second half snoozers like “Academic” and “The Game.”

Robert Forster – Songs to Play

“Don’t stare at the heavens/Looking for the movement of time” — he’s accepted a couple of things since the death of his musical partner almost a decade ago. On this model of reticent, well-turned folk, the former Go-Between still writes variants on the Velvet Underground’s “That’s The Story of My Life” and solo Lou Reed. Since 1988 Forster’s been writing songs at a level of acuity that Grant McLennan matched but didn’t surpass; he was the one who was the sucker for oo-oohs and arpeggios over candyland lyrics. But the biggest pleasure of their new millennium reunion was their gingerly re-acquaintance with band dynamics. By 2005’s Oceans Apart Forster and McLennan were Forster-McLennan again. Forter’s last album The Evangelist basked in this glow, a Go-Between album recorded by despondent but resolute survivors. Songs to Play means what it says: I’m Robert Forster, I’ll strum songs for my cult, see you in six years. But stick with this brief collection and details emerge, like the flamenco garnishes in “Songwriters on the Run” or the mariachi trumpet in “A Poet Walks.” As the titles imply, this album is as much about the pleasure of writing, of using talents to evoke beautiful things in the hope of making beautiful things. “Let Me Imagine You” breaks its indebtedness to “There She Goes Again” when Forster abandons the burnished talk-singing to sing the refrain. The keeper is “I Love Myself (And I Always Did),” which speaks for itself, a manifesto for the self-assured middle aged man, helped, as is the male heterosexual’s wont, by a woman. She’s Karin Baumler, responsible for the apposite violin parts in “Learn to Burn.”

Pope Francis: conscientious objection ‘is a right’


Pope Francis said things that would lead a reasonable man to conclude that he believes people like Kim Davis have a right to refuse discharging duties they consider immoral:

On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.

“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

Earlier this month a city official in the U.S. state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.

Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favor of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.

The last quote is the mark of a politician covering his ass, another variant on “Who am I to judge?”

‘Outright lying and plausible dissimulating continue to be the name of the game’

The CIA has written an exculpatory book regarding its role in torture called, you don’t say, Rebuttal. Philip Giraldi will have none of it:

One might well ask whether publishing an ostensibly serious book justifying torture could even happen anywhere but in the United States. The contributors are all retired now with generous pensions and lucrative second career positions in the National Security industry. But regrettably their legacy endures. Outright lying and plausible dissimulating continue to be the name of the game in Washington.

Over the last two years David Cole has drawn the architecture of the torture program before Washington’s inclination to move on covers details under silt. Nice to see these paragraphs in a superannuated journal like American Conservative though:

The seven men who contributed to the book (George Tenet, Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, John McLaughlin, Michael Morell, Jose Rodriguez, John Rizzo, and Philip Mudd) are, with the exception of Mudd, quite likely guilty of war crimes, so it is completely understandable that they would want to either set the record straight or redirect the narrative, depending on how one views their actions. They also plead their case without benefit of providing any actual evidence to support it, presumably because the exculpating details are either still classified or do not actually exist. Most readers would undoubtedly accept that torturing people as an interrogation technique sometimes produces information that would otherwise be withheld, but I searched in vain for a “ticking bomb” scenario where “enhanced” methods produced intelligence that actually prevented an imminent terrorist attack.

I also tried to find proof that the book’s contributors saved the claimed thousands of lives, but all I came up with were generic assurances based on “what if” terrorist plots, suggesting to the completely gullible that if the CIA had not been torturing terrible things might have happened somewhere and at some time. The rebuttal also did not address directly any of the scores of fully documented cases of incompetence and egregious brutality that are recorded in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Forget cultural amnesia. Hollywood is complicit too. It isn’t that Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t and didn’t purport to be a documentary: it’s that the CIA collaborated in its creation. Meanwhile Dick Cheney peddles this garbage.