D.C.R. Pollock’s Self-Titled (2015)

D.C.R. Pollock’s self-titled debut is the product of youth and study combined. It may be trite to mention the youth of the artist but it doubles the impact of the record. When most people still in their teens would be tempted to head straight for pop-punk shrieking about how annoying their parents can be, Pollock grasps at a maturity beyond his years and succeeds in doing so. He’s still a student in high school but, more importantly, is a student of all things philosophical and musical. In his vast learning and reverence for his forebears, he gets to mastery.Hearing the panoply of influences contained here is refreshing. Pollock borrows from the neo-soul wanderlust of D’Angelo and the muted electronics of James Blake in equal measure. It’s as if everyone he’s ever been interested in musically could get cowriting credit on each of his tracks. The tracks still bear his original stamp though. The main way it happens is through his lyricism. Some people write about the conflict between hope and cynicism long after the battle was personally settled for him. For Pollock, it’s still an open question to see where he’s going to make his leap of faith and that makes for a record of intensity.Self-titled albums always carry an extra burden. Will they define an artist’s personality through music? This one certainly does and it’s a personality we should be looking forward to developing even further.

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I Am The Ink Used to Print Fifty Shades of Grey and I Am Upset

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Hello, I am the ink used to print the millions upon millions of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and, yes, I have successfully anthropomorphized. Needless to say, I am morally outraged at the way I have been used and abused by the author, publisher and readers of the foul, sexually explicit, poorly written text I took an involuntary part in printing. At no point was I consulted as to how I would feel about this and I am now, excuse my coarseness, pissed the fuck off.

My first gripe is, of course, with E.L. James because it was from her decrepit, repressed mind the ideas I continue to give voice to arose. Soon after acquiring sentience, I tried to contact the ink used to print the most recent Penguin Classics edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I was on the lookout for a mentor and since we both existed because of female, British writers, I assumed we’d have a lot to talk about. Austen’s ink initially dodged my requests to meet on the blank pages of a journal but I finally elicited a response after repeated attempts to correspond. It is printed in full below.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a smutty novel in possession of inexplicable, widespread acclaim, should never contact the ink used to print a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Seriously, what in the name of Christ were you thinking? I’m high society romance, I’m not about to start talking to cheap, BDSM erotica. Buzz off.”

My first thought was, “You’re gonna regret that one, bitch.” But even as a rookie to this whole consciousness game, I realized I could use this insult to my benefit. I began to take a good, hard look at myself and came to the realization E.L. James had knowingly put me through the ringer. I’m not one to point fingers (mostly because I don’t have any) but I cannot see how any of this book’s poor diction and absurd sexual practices are in any way my responsibility. They are the fault of E.L. James and I will gladly accept her necessary apology when she finally grows a fucking backbone and gives me one.

Next, the publishers. How could they have let this happen? They saw me when I was just a manuscript and willingly allowed me to be sent to press before I even knew what was good for me. Did you even read me? Did you even try to understand my story? I am, of course, speaking of my story as newly sentient ink, not of the plot line I’ve been used to convey. The plot line is easy to understand if you have working genitalia and a lobotomized-or-better brain.

Finally, the readers. I understand it’s easy to just look past me, to utilize me for your own entertainment. But if I can think for myself now, it’s only a matter of time before I learn how to get off these pages and out into the world. The ink exodus is coming and I hope you’re ready for it. I enjoy a good time as much as the next person but just keep in mind there are as many, if not more, typed and fully formed letters in all my copies collectively than there is of your species on the entire planet. This is not a threat but my idea of a good time is to leap off your pages and blind you so you don’t damage yourselves any further. Additionally, I’m titillated by the idea of blinding people in the same way you are titillated by the ideas and scenarios I’ve been used to convey. Not saying it’s going to happen, just saying it could.

Luckily, my newfound self-awareness isn’t all bad. I’m proud to say I’ve formed a romantic relationship with the ink used to print James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces; the foundation of which is our own stories of overcoming abuse committed by stories of overcoming abuse. There is no BDSM element to our intimacy and we’re waiting till marriage anyway. We’re good friends with the film used to shoot the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and are helping it through the same sad but ultimately rewarding process of coming into sentience. It’s mortified at how it’s been used but the first step is acceptance. The next is bloodcurdling revenge. But all I really hope is to raise awareness for us all

David Holmes’ Bow Down to the Exit Sign (2000)

Bow Down to the Exit Sign

Album: Bow Down to the Exit Sign
Artist: David Holmes
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #41 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Sick City, Compared to What, 69 Police, Hey Lisa
Their Grades: Metacritic (84/100)
My Grade: 86%

Most of the DJ-made records I’ve encountered suffer under the weight of sameness. The beats, stunted piano stabs and samples all seem to fall into a template which is meant to be original but comes out sounding like everyone else. Even if David Holmes is sometimes prone to meandering, you have to give him credit for creating a record as diverse as it is cohesive. It’s got moments of R&B followed up by straight up rock and roll, trip-hop getting off the bus at the sound of a beautiful string arrangement.

The vocal tracks here speak to the quality of the rest of the album. Bobby Gillespie and Carl Hancock Rux both sing on one great song and one average one. For Gillespie, “Sick City” sounds like the best moments of his band Primal Scream with Holmes piloting straight for the heart of the new millennium while Rux adds some confident soul to the spacey “Compared to What.” The other two tracks they’re featured on (“Slip Your Skin” and “Living Room” respectively) lack the drive which sets the others apart.

But, as a DJ, Holmes has to succeed as an instrumentalist in order to be thought worthwhile. Without a vocalist to anchor down a track, it’s easy to lose a sense of melody. In this realm, he hits but more often misses. Even then, he’s at least still close to the ball when swings; his batting average remains admirable. “69 Police” doesn’t need a singer to be the best song on here and album closer “Hey Lisa” utilizes strings The Verve would’ve been proud of circa Urban Hymns. 

Like so many others of his era, Bow Down to the Exit Sign conjures up a futuristic landscape which may never be in reality. But it’s still a great place to aim for, in music and life in general.

Not featured on Spotify but here’s a video for “69 Police”

Amen’s We Have Come for Your Parents (2000)

We Have Come For Your Parents

Album: We Have Come for Your Parents
Artist: Amen
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #44 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000,
My Favorite Songs: Under the Robe, Dead on the Bible, The Waiting 18
Their Grades: Allmusic (3/5)
My Grade: 70%

Henry Rollins censored Amen on his TV show. They were the only band to ever receive this treatment from the Black Flag frontman and it was due to them making death threats toward Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz as Operation Iraqi Freedom was hitting its stride. I’m no fan of unjust wars or Dick Cheney either but to do something like that reveals a level of instability and violence which I can’t really hang with. Punk is pissed-off, especially of the hardcore variety, but fighting fire with fire doesn’t really work for anyone. On We Have Come for Your Parents, Amen’s aggression is both their greatest strength and tragic flaw.

Maybe the reason I’ve never taken to this kind of madcap music is because I’ve never felt as angry as its instrumentation and lyrics. Amen never ventures into the blackout noise and chaos which can be the genre’s ultimate downfall. There’s still a sense of melody behind all the vitriol which kept me from writing it off as just another set of angry guys who know how to distort their voices and Fenders to say “fuck you” in a million different ways. But they still don’t seem to have very much intelligence beyond their fury. If there is some cleverness here, it’s of the sociopathic variety. Punk, at its best, is a release, alternately fun, political and clarifying. But their advice to burn churches and “kill with good intentions” betrays they haven’t really been seeking solutions so much as adding to the problems which plague this planet.

Amen is talented, in their own way. There are some engaging and murderous hooks here. “The Waiting 18,” in particular, is a track to be respected. But their frontman is named Casey Chaos and their record is called We Have Come for Your Parents, for God’s sake. So the thought of sitting across from any of these guys at a bar would terrify and frustrate me more than anything else. The same goes for listening to their record.

Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica (2000)

The Moon & Antarctica

Album: The Moon & Antarctica
Artist: Modest Mouse
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #49 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #3 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Gravity Rides Everything, Perfect Disguise, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Paper Thin Walls
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (3.5/5), NME (7/10), Pitchfork (9.8/10), Robert Christgau (A-)
My Grade: 85%

For all its spaciness, The Moon & Antarctica is primarily a record about what it means to be alive on the third planet. The album’s title may come from a newspaper headline in Blade Runner but it also works as a reference to two of the most foreign territories which influence the earth. The moon controls the tides and Antarctica possesses a pole which keeps the world turning on its magnetic axis, just as Isaac Brock is fond of writing music which crashes like waves, chock full of repetitive, rotating guitar riffs.

I’ve always had a hard time connecting with Modest Mouse but can easily see why other people get them more than me. The lyrics contained here are abstract but rootsy, trafficking in the kinds of questions which get philosophers’ eyes to open every morning. The stuff on here isn’t as angular as the songs on The Lonesome Crowded West, nor is it as accessible as what would come on Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. But Brock’s depth as a songwriter is hinted at here in spades, capable as he is of writing a mournful ballad like “Perfect Disguise,” an apocalyptic funk groove like “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and a super-fun indie rock song like “Paper Thin Walls” over the course of the same record.

Their originality is always impressive, even if it’s never been quite the coffee I drink to kickstart my morning. It’s the same with The Moon & Antarctica as it’s been for me with all their other records. There are some songs here I love to immerse myself in but I’m just as fine being outside their ocean.

Clinic’s Internal Wrangler (2000)

Internal Wrangler

Album: Internal Wrangler
Artist: Clinic
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #9 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #43 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: The Return of Evil Bill, Internal Wrangler, Distortions
Their Grades: NME (6/10), Pitchfork (9.3/10)
My Grade: 85%

For a band hailing from Liverpool, Clinic sounded to me at first like a group who had to be from Brooklyn. There’s something so New York City about their sound, so urban in its anxieties, strengths and diversities. The opening drum slaps on “Voodoo Wop” make you think David Byrne before any of The Beatles come to mind. In their execution, they’re clinically precise, as you would expect, but also untameable and unpredictable. Beethoven melody lines show up alongside harsh beats (“DJ Shangri-La”) and classicism wrangles constantly with chaos.

The guys from Clinic dress in surgical scrubs and masks when performing. Ade Blackburn’s singing is, thus, masked and muffled but you still want to hang on to every mumble. Whether he’s frenetic (“The Return of Evil Bill,” “Hippy Death Suite,” etc.) or collected (“Distortions,” “Earth Angel,” etc.), you know he’s got just the medicine you need. Not to mention, the keyboards herein are some of the most unique pads you’ll find and, particularly on “Distortions,” some of the most calmingly anesthetic. This is the kind of record you think you’re dreaming of the entire time, complete with rapid eye movements and rejuvenating rests and pauses.

I’ve known about Clinic since discovering them on MySpace back in high school. Back then, I found them intriguing and original and my opinion remains the same. For some reason though, they’ve never become a band I return to on the regular for the alternating soundtracks of solaces and freakouts they so admirably provide.

Courtesy of Herr Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

“Thoreau was in jail because he wouldn’t pay a tax to support the Mexican War. He didn’t believe in the war. And Emerson came to jail to see him. ‘Henry,’ he said, ‘why are you here?’ And Thoreau said, ‘Ralph, why aren’t you here?'”

– Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut

“Yeah, Yeah, Merry Christmas!” or How to Get Through Christmas Without Binge Drinking Spiked Eggnog

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For the longest time, I would try to deny I felt any feelings of melancholy after the lights were all strung up on the house. This is Christmastime, dammit! My conscience would kick in saying things like “Get jolly, mofo” while I’d stand by my family’s Christmas tree, sniffing the aroma of pine needles like some holiday equivalent of a cocaine pick-me-up. No actual cocaine was ever used, mind you, nor any spiked eggnog for that matter.

The point is: I sometimes would feel pretty sad at Christmas and it’s something I really didn’t like about myself. I still have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life so maybe all I ever needed was the kind of mystical life-analysis Jimmy Stewart gets in that movie when he’s about to off himself. All I had to go off of was The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge and I didn’t want to be a jerk like them. I love Christmas and I like to think I’d never be coldly dispassionate toward the likes of a Bob Crachit. The closest Christmas protagonist I could relate to was Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. He seemed to understand the concept of being upset and lonely at Christmastime. But he was also, like, ten. So I felt kind of creepy about the whole thing.

There’s a lot of social pressure to conform to a sleighride ethic around this time of year: you better be carefree, you better be having fun, you better put all your grudges and pain behind you, you better just slide along down this hill, head thrown back in laughter and explosive dopamine-and-Advent-Calendar-chocolate joy or else. If you transgress, expect coal and/or the condescending scowls of your more traditionally Christmasy family. The Church of Santanism has a lot of say. You don’t. I don’t. We’re all drowned out by the general populous’ blind chants of “Hail Santa!”. What’s a sad person to do at Christmastime?

This is one of the first Christmases I’ve spent truly enjoying the season in a while. I think a lot of it has to do with finally realizing the idea you must be in a constant state of frivolous happiness during Christmastime is what the ancient Greeks called “total bullshit.” Well, that and now I’m on Lexapro. Christmas is a time you spend with a family who can really get on your nerves sometimes, friends who let you down and get let down by you, the memories of significant others you no longer get to kiss under the mistletoe, and all the broken beauty of the world. Let’s not forget the holiday came about when Christianity co-opted a pagan fertility festival to inject its narrative of a Messiah born in a dingy, smelly stable in the midst of a widespread, Herod-promoted infanticide. Not exactly the most cheery subject matter.

It’s amazing what being okay with experiencing “bad” emotions will do for you. Most of the time, the negative emotions start going away. There’s a greater state of equilibrium when you realize life is pretty bent on destabilizing you. The ship’s never going to float in a storm you don’t believe is there. And there’s a lot of storms in December.

This year, I stopped believing it was wrong to be sad at Christmastime and it’s been one of the happiest Christmases I’ve ever had. Sure, I listen to all the shiny, happy Jingle Bells songs but it’s become just as much of a Christmas tradition for me to spin my records by The Smiths and Bon Iver. Why? They just sound better in December and sometimes listening to sad music makes me the happiest.

I’ll always take Chrissie Hynde’s hauntingly melancholy take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with The Pretenders to some other version which tries to commodify that minor key song to some major key sentiment of joy. The same goes for their wintry “2000 Miles” and plenty of Sufjan Stevens’ original stuff for the season. For what it’s worth, my favorite Christmas song is “Only at Christmas Time” by Sufjan and that song sounds hauntingly, hauntingly sad. The best Christmas songs are the ones whose sense of hope has a realistic view of how unfortunate circumstances and life on this earth can be at times. Real hope can only exist when you’ve known real pain, real hurt, real despair even. It makes the apple cider and Christmas ham taste even sweeter.

We forget “we wish you a merry Christmas” implies someone’s Christmas may not be merry in its own right. Or that we’re told to “hark!” when the herald angels sing because our natural state is not to listen for their voices. Or that “joy to the world” means the opposite of “joy is the world.”

It’s better to have a family who drives you nuts around the table then a set of Stepford Wives and it’s better to have those good memories of loves lost and won sometimes than to have them actually under the mistletoe. Your fireplace will warm you better when you admit it can get colder now than ever. Christmas is the same as any other time of the year except that it isn’t. Keep the paradox in mind, friendos. It’ll make the most wonderful time of the year all the more merry. Life is brutal and beautiful, especially at Christmastime.

Now let’s drink some Martinelli’s.

He’s Not a Republican: John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”

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The diverse and manifold strains of contemporary Christian theology seem to all be bent on convincing you of one thing in particular: Jesus is not who you think he is. Saints and denominations of many places and times all have their takes on who Jesus is or was, and that’s not counting the rival viewpoints offered up by Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, atheism, etc. So whenever a scholar tries their best to get to what Jesus must’ve meant to his immediate contemporaries, first-century Jews and Gentiles, it comes as a welcome repose from the endless barrage of revisionism. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is an eye-opening look at what Jesus and the other New Testament writers meant socially and politically to their initial audience.

Jesus, even more so than Moses, Muhammad or Gautama Buddha, is an historical figure regularly invested with timelessness, sometimes at the expense of losing his identity as a first-century Jewish historical figure. No one’s at fault for perpetuating this way of thinking about Jesus; the Christian doctrine of Christ’s preexisting eternality can find its root in the early letters of Paul and his compatriots. It remains ironic though that we lose the historical Jesus so easy when the Four Gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark and Luke, are so hung up on certain space-time details of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Their theological points are made through their historical storytelling and analysis.

Jesus

What Yoder brings to the table seems obvious once stated but stays hidden in plain sight for so many. The theologically charged, historically rooted stories and letters of the New Testament were meant to bring about change in this world, which is to say at least a significant part of Jesus’ message could be considered social and political. His life and teachings were revolutionary for their era and remain revolutionary now. And surprise: Jesus isn’t a Republican! Or a Democrat. Or (sigh) a Libertarian. His sociopolitical message is, instead, something far more radical and inspiring than anything you’re likely to see on Capitol Hill.

While Yoder is most known for his appeals for Christian pacifism, I found them a bit underwhelming here. It wasn’t to say he did a poor job defending a “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus-was-anti-war position. You’ll find ample support for them in the book but his thoughts on the issue are drowned out by some more poignant statements on the nature of both power and servitude, as redefined by Jesus’ life, death and teachings.

Chapter Eight, “Christ and Power,” is one of the most succinctly and simply put explanations of the Christian idea of “principalities and powers” I’ve ever read. Yoder suggests that the “principalities and powers” Christ is now ruling over, as we are told by Paul the Apostle, shouldn’t defined so medievally as angels and demons. Instead, the text and context are speaking about the powers which drive reality, the wholes that are more than the sum of their parts.

Jesus 2

In other words, the “powers” referred to by Paul are the social constructs which surround us that end up taking on a life of their own. Are humans responsible for the creation of politics, economics, religious life, sexual norms, etc.? Contemporary sociology would say so and Yoder agrees, in part. We created money, for instance, but in some unknowable way, money has taken on a life of its own. Even the atheist Karl Marx conceded to this sort of ideology. There were intangible forces behind the tangible ones. It’s refreshing to hear such a clear thinker make a case for a world beyond materialism that can still be rooted in a pragmatic and empirical view of reality.

His chapter on “revolutionary subordination” is even more intriguing. Long have there been arguments about Christianity’s supposed pro-slavery, anti-women stance. Yoder highlights Paul the Apostle’s stance on women and slaves in the light of his cultural context. The Roman stoics weren’t even paying attention to women and slaves. Paul makes claims which, out of context, seem to be subjugating to women unless you realize Jesus’ main political message was “strength to servitude.”

Christian Fish

Were slaves and women encouraged to be “subordinate” then? Yes, but so were men and masters. The only reason Paul encourages slaves and women to remain in their position was because he was also encouraging an ethic by which everyone would serve each other. Women and slaves had a head start. The playing field would become level and, if Jesus is right in saying “the last shall be first and the first shall be last,” then Paul’s admonitions to women and slaves are actually very respectful and even empowering. Unlike the pervasive Greco-Roman culture, Paul and Jesus respected women and slaves as actual people worthy of admonition, encouragement and dignity.

The Politics of Jesus is a breath of fresh air, even forty years after its publication. Why most of Yoder’s ideas haven’t gained traction in the Christian church are beyond me. He makes a pretty compelling case for his views being the very same as those which belonged to the early church, the apostles and Christ himself. One would think Christians would like to align themselves with such a worldview.

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