Ranking Drive-By Truckers albums

Between 2010 and 2015 they released three perfectly okay albums that did nothing for me. But goddamn were they good in the early Bush years. Get this: I’ve never seen’em live. Continue reading

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“Why am I surrounded by racists?”

He’s not a racist, he just keeps popping up in places where race grifters and white supremacists gather. Continue reading

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Strange stirrings

I don’t read Josh Marshall much these days because of his histrionic tendencies and his way of signing off posts with the equivalent of a hastily scrawled, “I don’t know, we’ll see.” But I agree with his conclusion of how the Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations won’t shake the Senate GOP at all:

The chance of letting that opportunity slip through their fingers is unthinkable.

The White House and Senate Republicans are likely thinking that regardless of the credibility of the claim or what they think of it, Kavanaugh absolutely positively has to be confirmed. Because it’s not just about Kavanaugh. If he’s not confirmed it opens up the possibility that they won’t get the chance to replace Justice Kennedy and secure the fifth vote on the Court at all. Given that the Garland seat was stolen, should Democrats reclaim the chamber, I don’t think they should approve any nominee from President Trump. That’s unlikely. But Democrats won’t give the President the opportunity to nominate a maximalist right wing judge the way Republicans are now. That’s a big difference.

Ever since Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion for Roe v. Wade, giving the New Right the means by which to command a dormant voting bloc (i.e. evangelicals), modern conservatism has spent millions creating political action committees and weirdly named Pinterest groups; modern conservatism’s reason for existing has been to deliver a Supreme Court majority sufficient enough to send abortion back to states where it is legal, condemning millions of poor women to coat hanger procedures because they lack the wherewithal to travel while conservative wives themselves pay for clandestine abortions. Despite Jeff Flake’s protestations and Susan Collins’ finely calibrated mewlings of ambiguity, I can’t imagine more than forty years of effort yielding, not when gutting the Fourteenth Amendment

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Ranking Funkadelic albums

1. Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974)

How do I argue that “Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him” is not homophobic, but, rather, uses the language of homophobia to praise an outsider? George Clinton liked those. Soupy and inexorable, Standing on the Verge of Getting It On can play for hours in a car, especially with “I’ll Stay” wanking in the background.

2. Funkadelic (1970)

I prefer George Clinton’s men at their chonkyiest, and for me they never surpassed the fetid forward motion of their debut. If they’d never released anything but “I Bet You” we would remember them as strange voices from a distant star that Earth was unfortunate enough to never orbit.

3. Maggot Brain (1971)

The march at a good pal’s wedding? “Can You Get to That.” Fit George Clinton in any context and he triumphs. The title track is what every fan says it is. “Super Stupid” is not better than Sabbath.

4. The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981)

Hard to find until the new millennium’s batch of reissues, Funkadelic’s last album for almost fifteen years had to settle for being a single disc after the label balked at Clinton’s ambition. The label was probably right. Anyway, “Oh, I” shakes its ass at Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster,” “Icka Prick” creates its own disgusting multiverse, and in “Funk Gets Stronger” Sly Stone delivers his most awake performance since the Ford era (his best, period, after the Ford era, depending on what you think of his Jesse Johnson collaboration). Koan: “You can walk a mile in my shoes/But you can’t dance a step in my feet.”

5. Let’s Take it to the Stage (1975)

When I want to get off my ass and jam.

6. Uncle Jam Wants You (1979)

Home of “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” sampled by De La Soul. To demonstrate that a disco backlash had begun, consider this: it peaked at #76 while topping the black and disco chart. I find Uncle Jam a giddier album than the zealously lauded One Nation Under a Groove; even the tunelets (“Holly Wants to Go to California”) impress.

7. Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow (1970)

“Funky Dollar Bill” is the easy entry. Dig into the rest of this double album for material like “Friday Night, August 14th,” boasting Eddie Hazel’s most frenzied playing. When the singers proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is within!” on the title track, I don’t believe a word. Secular at the cost of quotidian coherence, George Clinton believes, to quote a later descendant, that the world moves on a woman’s hips. This album is the valentine.

8. One Nation Under a Groove (1978)

Besides the defensive “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” and titanic title groove, the greatest approximation of Fela’s ebb-and-flow in American popular music, I don’t get the acclaim for this one. They did better before and right after.

9. Music For Your Mother (1993)

A 45 rpm single collection so total that I imagine its nineties purchasers had no need of the studio album. Inspirational Koan: “If you don’t like the effect, don’t produce the cause.”

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Singles 9/14

Doja Cat sounds like a delightful person, so it’s no surprise she does better when singing and rapping about farmyard animals in the week’s most memorable track. In one of those serendipitous moments in which The Singles Jukebox specializes, “Mooo!” rubs up against Cardi B and Kehlani’s “Ring” and its homoerotic undertones.

Click on links for full reviews.

Doja Cat – Mooo! (8)
Cardi B ft. Kehlani – Ring (7)
Old Dominion – Hotel Key (6)
Lele Pons – Celoso (6)
Tessa Violet – Crush (4)
Jess Glynne – All I Am (4)
Calvin Harris & Sam Smith – Promises (4)
Regi ft. Jake Reese – Ellie (3)
Train ft. Cam & Travie McCoy – Call Me Sir (2)
Isaac Gracie – Running On Empty (2)

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Ranking ABBA albums

Still regarded as a novelty act whose singles refract two decades of pop trends, thus rendering their albums, I suppose, irrelevant, ABBA nevertheless recorded several indelible ones, massive in every territory except America. For sure “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “Fernando” matter more as autonomous cross-cultural entities than Arrival and The Visitors do.

Below is my attempt to catch up to our Eurasian confrères. My 2017 tracks list.

1. Arrival (1976)

However the L.A. Mafia conceived of adulthood, not one among the clients they serviced — not Linda Ronstadt, nor Jackson Browne — approached “Knowing Me, Knowing You” in musical smarts. A masterpiece of resignation and self-deceit, this top fifteen American hit made its chart company look like slush. Every time Anders Glenmark or Janne Schaffe fingers the post-chorus guitar solo I hear how Benny and Bjorn found a correlative for quizas. My favorite moment, though, is Benny and Bjorn’s crosstalk as the women bellow that chorus; they can’t understand each other because they’ve moved on, free to sell their stories to other lovers. The rest of ABBA’s American breakthrough, often dismissed as singles-plus-filler, finds new ways to sell meritocracy. “Tiger” unleashes Frida and Agnetha’s terrifying vibratos (if they’re not tigers then they’re fearsome hummingbirds), “Money, Money, Money” presaged Pet Shop Boys and Bad Boy Records; “When I Kissed the Teacher,” quoting Thunderclap Newman, makes the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” look like locker room crap, especially when the drumming and Frida’s wailing undermine the teacher’s increasingly ridiculous shows of authority. As for “Dancing Queen” — well. The late John McCain called it one of his ten favorite songs. What more you need, DC press corps? A magnificent album, up with any punk album released during this fecund period.

2. ABBA: The Album (1977)

I swear Donald Fagen studied the menacing synth chords with which “The Name of the Game” and reproduced them on his solo debut The Nightfly five years later. No one has copied or better “Take a Chance on Me”; the entrance of the two-note synth hook evokes a worshipful posture much like sniffing Jude Thaddeus’ sandals. Capturing the quartet at the peak of their powers, The Album begins with the six-minute “Eagle,” on which Agnetha and Frida, thanks to a crap bird conceit and Janne Schaffe’s pointillist guitar, announce ABBA’s plans of world conquest. “One Man, One Woman” is another Drabble-worthy glimpse into domestic hell: a wife at the breakfast table confronting a husband’s indifference.

3. The Visitors (1981)

A divorce album as bleak as George Jones’ The Grand Tour or Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, ABBA’s final album finds the quartet assessing a life where money, money, money isn’t quite enough to stop the important things from “Slipping Through [Your] Fingers.” On “One of Us” Frida and Agnetha’s chorus harmonies must have terrified Benny and Bjorn. Arranging the barely suppressed hysteria with a skill eluding every pop group at the peak of the New Romantic era, the men set “When All is Said and Done” to the pulse of a sequencer no less otherworldly than Frida. The title track reminds me of Roxy Music’s own title song for 1979’s Manifesto.

4. More ABBA Gold (1994)

Because you need “I Am the City” (Heaven 17, meet your match), “Summer Night City” (no disco ever came on this addled), “Angel Eyes” (fuck Roxy Music), and the non-American hits in a convenient setting. About “I Do, I Do, I Do,” Scott Woods once praised for being the midpoint between Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime” and Hurricane Smith’s “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?”

5. Super Trouper (1980)

“The year’s most frightening and disturbing album,” Marcello Carlin wrote in a re-appraisal. Here’s where I have to remind readers that I — we — are not “reading into” ABBA. The tens of millions of consumers who turned ABBA into a conglomerate knew exactly what they were buying; don’t insult them. “What a sad song,” Mom said about “Chiquitita” years ago (I hate “Chiquitita”). Few songs released at the dawn of the eighties capture the sense of assumptions dissolving, of good times ending, of partying for its own sake — a danse macabre — than “Lay All Your Love on Me.” And “The Winner Takes It All,” the last of only four — four! — American top tens is a masterpiece of ravaged elegance, an Ophuls film as pop song.

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‘This is why women don’t come forward’

Strange stirrings in the Senate about the Brett Kavanaugh. Although the odds are he still joins serial harasser Clarence Thomas with the other Supremes, a new accusation of sexual misconduct would suspend hearings if we lived in a two-party system where one party was less obsessed with nominating justices who want to (a) return abortion “to the state level” (b) return abortion to the realm of the rich and well-connected, many of whom are Republican and live in states set to declare abortion illegal.

Anyway, Dahlia Lithwick is not optimistic:

The real tragedy is that we do not need this woman’s story to understand who the current Supreme Court nominee is. Because here is what we do know about Judge Kavanaugh: We know that he clerked for and had a yearslong close relationship with a serial abuser of women and claims he knew nothing about it. He claims he doesn’t recall being on a hypersexualized and misogynistic email list and claims he didn’t bother to search to determine whether he was. He claims that when the serial abuser of women for whom he clerked was revealed to be a serial abuser of women, he believed the victims and yet called the abuser, because he was worried about the abuser’s mental health. Worrying more about the accused judge than the accusers one claims to believe is the system protecting the system. This is why women don’t come forward.

The loathsome Orrin Hatch, twenty-seven years later, still sits on the Judiciary Committee — what a delight! What Dianne Feinstein gained by holding on to the initial letter for a couple of months I’m not sure — timing and surprise?

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Screenings #38

Confining himself to reconstructed transcripts, Robert Bresson takes his approach to its furthest point in The Trial of Joan of Arc. At just over an hour long, it avoids tedium but it does get buggy. Eschewing frills requires an approach more ascetic than the most self-abnegating monk. But does Bresson cheat? During the martyrdom sequence the soundtrack captures tolling bells and a flying dove before the camera lingers on the stake. Evoking the numinous requires self-conscious poetry after all. In Transcendental Style future writer-director Paul Schrader, himself given to capable Bresson homages, writes:

Bresson’s protagonists, like the country priest, cannot find metaphors capable of expressing their agony. They are condemned to estrangement: nothing on earth will placate their inner passion, because their passion does not come from earth. Therefore they do not respond to their environment, but instead to that sense of the Other which seems much more immediate.

By the time Joan breaks her concentration by kissing a makeshift cross it doesn’t feel as if she’s condescending to her inquisitors, and I was tearing up.

Support the Girls (Bujalski, 2018) 6/10
The Wife (Runge, 2018) 3/10
Nico, 1988 (Nicchiarelli, 2018) 7/10
BlacKkKlansman (Lee, 2018) 5/10
The Third Murder (Kore-eda, 2018) 6/10
Love, Cecil (Vreeland, 2018) 7/10
Eighth Grade (Burnham, 2018) 7/10
Lean On Pete (Haigh, 2018) 6/10
Tully (Reitman, 2018) 7/10
After the Storm (Kore-eda, 2017) 8/10
Our Little Sister (Kore-eda, 2016) 7/10
* Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017) 8/10
Chi-Raq (Lee, 2015) 6/10
4 Little Girls (Lee, 1997) 8/10
* Close-Up (Kiarostami, 1990) 7/10
* The Glass Shield (Burnett, 1994) 7/10
Sharkey’s Machine (Reynolds, 1981) 6/10
* Two English Girls (Truffaut, 1974) 6/10
The Trial of Joan of Arc (Bresson, 1962) 7/10
* Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958) 9/10
The Song of Bernadette (King, 1944) 4/10
Toni (Renoir, 1935) 8/10

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Ranking The Smiths and Morrissey

Before he made his racism blatant in “Bengali in Platforms” and solidified it in the last two decades of public statements, Stephen Patrick Morrissey changed the course of rock and roll by waving gladioli on British public television. What this portended for Cuban American youth living in the southern tip of Florida my regular readers can only speculate. Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce provided melody and chords, rhythmic tug, and ballast, respectively. Continue reading

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All work, little play: ‘Support the Girls’

In the organic foods era, the so-called family chicken wing spot with girls in Daisy Dukes is the equivalent of a moderate Republican. Lisa (Regina Hall), general manager of the subtly named Double Whammies, understands. Yet she does her job with enthusiasm, reciting the company patter with enough skill to fool around, like a favorite poem, with the emphases. Support the Girls is one of the few American film about a black woman hanging on by her teeth to a lower level management position. Although the last act substitutes the energy of a game cast for inspiration, Andrew Bujalski’s comedy is a good time. Continue reading

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Ranking Creedence Clearwater Revival

They came out of the sky or whatever, rock’s first counter-revolution to go multi-platinum: this is what Things Should’ve Sounded Like in the early Nixon era. Yet like The Band and John Wesley Harding-era Dylan, John and brother Tom Fogerty, drummer Doug Clifford, and bassist Stu Cook  followed their own rhythms and outsold them by a factor of five.  Continue reading

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The last good men

The entire GOP is a sewer. No good ones. Vote them out.

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