Thursday, August 28, 2014

Band Review: 40 Lohh

40 Lohh is the stage name of Chris Gibson, who is currently based in Kennesaw, Georgia, though he originally hails from Manchester, New Hampshire. He has several videos available for listening on Youtube.

His emphasis seems to be on hooks, but while listening a lot of the music seemed like it would work better as background, like he might do well scoring commercials or television.

There was an interesting mix of sources sampled, including jingles ("I'm Lovin It"), theme songs ("Everybody Hates Chris"), and contemporary songs ("Break Even").

I thought there might be a connection between how well I liked the original and how well I liked the 40 Lohh version, because I enjoyed his version of "Somebody That I Used To Know", and the Gotye version annoys me to no end. However, I am not particularly fond of Tom Jones' "She's A Lady", and I still found the remix jarring.

My favorite track was "Madness", which may be completely original, or just pulling from material that is unfamiliar to me. It is haunting, and builds intensity nicely.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So tired

This is going up late. There has been a cold making its way through the household, and it appears to be my turn.

Even before that, knowing what I wanted to blog about did not feel great, because it feels so repetitive. I say the same things all the time.

It is true that this blog is for me. It helps me work out my thoughts, and keep them organized, and there is a certain amount of discipline involved in posting daily. All of that has worth to me, and I know I don't really have a wide audience, so I shouldn't be expecting to change the world anyway. I guess it just feels self-evident to me that there are changes needed, and that they don't happen is discouraging. I don't need to have a wide audience; the information is out there.

Clearly it must be time to do something lighter, like review comics again, but I do think I need to spend a few posts on The Act of Killing, and I am still going to try to make today's point again. I believe yesterday I promised a grand unified theory of things that annoy me.

There is a common thread between defending hip hop and hating respectability politics on Monday, and believing that there is potential in everyone, and that everyone has something to say on Tuesday, and even writing about how you need to not lose your feelings of love for people on Sunday. It is so common to make these divisions. We are gifted people and you are not. These are hard-working people and these are lazy people. Those are ignorant liberals but we know the truth. It's such a load of crap.

I can believe that their are instinctive elements in it, but there is a lot of conditioning in it too, and somehow the other group always ends up being less valuable in some way.

I believe that when some people hold on so tightly to prejudice and privilege, part of it is knowing that while they are not at the top, they are still above someone, and that feels like enough. I may not understand that mindset enough to really argue it. I do want to go back to this quote from Marriage For Moderns that I used in a different post:

"If a woman can find adequate self-expression through a career rather than through marriage, well and good. Many young women, however, overlook the fact that there are numerous careers that do not furnish any medium or offer any opportunity for self-expression. Besides they do not realize that only the minority of women, as the minority of men, have anything particularly worthwhile to express."

That attitude infuriates me. I know that when people start talking about limitless human potential it tends to be in a cult setting. Maybe that's just because so many people are selling something. That is probably a part of why I don't feel like I can do any ad-linking on my blog; I don't want to get corrupted.

However, if there is a tendency for there to be profit motivations behind most messages, that's worth looking at too. Because maybe black males get a self-esteem boost for not being black females, and maybe Asian-Americans get a boost from not being African Americans, and maybe poor white males get to look down on all of them, but no one is getting the boost that corporations get from having candidates who will do what they want because they keep getting voted in by people who are voting against their best interests. No one racial group is getting the benefits that gun manufactures are getting, or pharmaceutical companies, or Fox News.

Normally my argument against these kind of things is just that it's wrong. The hierarchy that we have in place causes so much pain and suffering, and then hearing people who are fine with it because they have bought into these divisions is sickening. That should be enough, but apparently it's not. So, it's probably worth pointing out that it is also financially stupid. Living standards go down, health goes down, free time and family time go down, everyone gets brought down together except for the very top.

Someone on Twitter had made a point about how the GOP got us to this current state of polarization, because there are things bearing fruit now that were planted in the Nixon administration. The next logical question was what the liberal strategy was, and I don't think there is one. If you care about people, it feels like that is basic human decency, and it should be self-evident, that some things are wrong and must be stopped. Well, no, there's no evidence that it works that way.

And I know that all of the things that I normally write about self-care, and gratitude and relationships, are true. I haven't really given up on humanity yet. You will know when I do because there will be no more band reviews and songs of the day and travel blogs, because there will be no point. I'm not there yet. But I am kind of discouraged, and only part of it is the cold.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing and talent

Yesterday I wrote about getting defensive about Hip Hop on August 21st. On August 22nd I got defensive about writing. They go together in a way that I will probably bring together in a grand unified theory of things that annoy me tomorrow.

It started simply enough with Charles Bivona, poet and writing professor, tweeting about how writing isn't born, but is taught and developed. He pointed to the main common denominator between various great writers was great suffering. As they came to terms with that, perhaps trying to find words for their feelings was the path that led them to being great writers.

It sounded reasonable enough, but it drew a lot of fire. Initially the discussion was simply reminding me of something I had already written about, where there is this kind of snobbery about writing that nothing I have seen bears out.

(That post covers a lot, and is lengthy, so I will link to it at the bottom.)

Let me go back to reviewing music for a moment. My biggest complaint is usually a lack of depth. They play their instruments well, and they are enthusiastic, so there is nothing wrong with it, but there is also nothing new. The bands that do have a unique voice, and can say different things in different ways, are the ones that truly stay with me.

Sometimes I feel like a band is young, and they will get more interesting just doing what they are doing. With others it feels like maybe they need to take six months off to dig wells in Africa or help at an orphanage in Central America -- just something to give them a bigger view of the world. And there are others that I sense will never grow; they are content the way they are. Who they are comes out in their songs. This is even more true for writers.

There is room for a lot of disagreement on who is a great writer. There are writers who write well, but whom I do not enjoy, often because of how much they seem to hate people. I won't begrudge those who do love them. I have my own.

One nice piece of symmetry was that Bivona referred to neuroscience and later that day my new Psychology Today (October 2014) had an interesting Q&A with Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist who has come out with a new style guide, The Sense of Style, because one important part of writing is understanding how your reader thinks. (Another article brought together Leo Tolstoy and Mischel's marshmallow test, so that was kind of fun as well.)

A good sense of empathy might be helpful for writing, in that without studying the cognitive processes you could still have a sense of your reader. Depth and experience helps. Certainly a good vocabulary helps, but it can also hinder as some writers end up with a prose that is too dense to be effective. I do remember learning that if a writer is making a few different mistakes, correcting one tends to resolve the others as well, because it changes how they think. That sounds like writing is something that can be taught.

It really did seem like for some people who cling to a belief in innate writing talent it was because they needed to feel gifted and special. I don't have a lot of patience with that in general, but what really angers me is that it might hold someone else back.

Writing, as part of communication, is one of the most important skills we can have. To be able to tell your story, so that all stories get told, is vital. We have enough of a problem as society getting people to even consider the possibility that something outside their experience can be true; we should at least make sure that we aren't doing anything to block evidence.

Writing is not just how we learn to understand each other, but how we learn to understand our selves. Sometimes I know that the writing I am doing is to figure something out, but it has helped so many times when it was not even deliberate. People need that, and they will become better for developing it, if they aren't discouraged.

I joke that I have no fast twitch muscle fibers. It is true that you can be genetically more likely to do well at sports, and that my genetics do not seem to lead that way. However, if in grade school, when we were running laps, someone had talked to us about proper form, and building up lung capacity, that would have been good to learn then instead of now. If someone had explained how to use legs on the rope climb, maybe I could have done it. I have to go through a lot of work now on reconnecting with my body because it seemed to be a hopeless case at a very early age, and no one told me any differently.

The teenagers I talk to now are so quick to give up. They don't think that they can draw or write or learn an instrument. I do think the constantly connected instantly updated culture is a part of that, but it is vital for their happiness that they do learn to try more than once, and concentrate, and persist. Therefore, someone who will tell them that innate talent is a necessity for any kind of success has just made an already difficult situation worse.

And they get an easy out, because if the beginner does persist, and gets really good at it, then they can always just assume that person must have had innate talent.

But maybe, really what you have is a person developing their humanity, looking inward and reaching outward, because writing can do that.

Don't discourage that.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reconsidering Hip Hop

In case this brings any new visitors to the blog, I'm going to give a little background. I write about two music reviews a week (Thursday and Friday). Shortly after getting on Twitter, a lot of bands started following me. This is a common practice as bands try to get new listeners and build up a fan base.

I had been doing some writing about music anyway, and the reviews seemed like a natural extension of that. I have since reviewed 168 bands, with about 70 more on deck, so I don't anticipate stopping any time soon.

I hate giving bad reviews. By the time I write about a band we have been following each other for a few months, and I have often developed an affection for them. I won't give false praise, but I try and focus on what listening to the band is like, and who might like them, and be balanced in what I say. I think that is why the bands usually don't seem to hate me after a lukewarm write-up, but I still stress over it. Because of this, I cringe a little every time I get followed by someone hip hop. I usually don't like it.

I had thoughts about that, because I would think, okay, it's just not my thing; I can still listen objectively. That sounded reasonable, except then I would listen to De La Soul after not listening to them for a while, or "Rapper's Delight", and they would be so good. (I'm 42; of course I'm old school.) When the music is well done I do like it.

This weekend I found myself defending hip hop, and I read someone else defending it, and it kind of came together.

Shaun King was tweeting about hip hop on August 21st. It is not the most important thing he has tweeted about recently, but he was writing about how church music didn't fill all of the needs, and how anger needed to be expressed, and it made sense.

My defense happened because someone re-tweeted Lecrae:

I had never heard of Lecrae before, but the quote about how what's in your songs means you can't demand social justice is pure respectability politics and it is a lie. It is a lie that makes people who are already getting a raw deal have to jump through hoops, when in fact the reason they are getting oppressed is because it benefits other people.

Let me be really clear, much of my bad reaction to hip hop comes because of the misogyny and the profanity. It does offend me. There is room for improvement. It is also often speaking truth. If it is an ugly truth, that is not merely the responsibility of the speaker.

The thing that suddenly came through for me (and a completely different Twitter thread, that we will get to tomorrow, helped) is that I realized part of the beauty of hip hop is its accessibility.

The rock bands who start seeking followers have found other people to play with. Occasionally there is one person with just an acoustic guitar or a keyboard, but they have still learned to play those instruments.

For hip hop, it may just be someone with a phone, or with a computer program. Yes, that means some of them probably haven't tried as hard as they could, but there is still an outlet available, even if they can't find any like-minded people, even if there is not a way to obtain instruments and lessons, there is something.

I believe in the importance of creativity and self-expression. It has to start somewhere. I have not given proper respect to hip hop as a starting point. I will try and listen better now.

Related posts:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Band Review: Rivers Monroe

I have been listening to Rivers Monroe on Spotify this week, and because of that Spotify suggested I should try listening to Sleeping With Sirens. I guess that could work, but they remind me more of Boys Like Girls, with the combination of pop hooks and some country undertones, where it would seem like they could do well as crossover artists.

(Actually, "Summer Starts Tonight" did make me think a little of The Academy Is, so maybe that's the middle ground.)

The self-titled album, Rivers Monroe, is longer than most, with fourteen tracks and 51 minutes. The songs are very earnest and sincere, but also kind of run together. Probably the next step for the band, who are successfully building a fan base, would be establishing a more distinctive voice. Right now everything is pleasant, but it feels like there could be more. I live the guitars, but it feels like with what they are doing the songs should have more bite.

My favorite song was probably "Girls in the Front Row" for the intro, but there is a video for the first track, "Moments", and I recommend checking that out. It gives a good sense of the band, and if you like it you will like them and should listen to the rest of the album.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Band Review: GutterLIFE

This has been a good week to be listening to GutterLIFE. An alternative punk band from Long Island, their songs reflect a distrust of government and an anger that seems more relevant than ever these past few weeks.

The title track on their EP Violent Dischord is probably the most traditionally punk, short and aggressive. Other songs are longer, and it is alternative, with influences hardcore and otherwise, but there is a throughline of working in sound clips on the continuing theme. At first it can distract from the music, but then it becomes part of the music. Those who appreciate the Occupy movements and Anonymous would probably appreciate this.

GutterLife does not have their own Youtube channel at this time, but videos for "Like Cattle" and "R.F.I.D." are available on the channel for their label, We Are Triumphant:

Music can be purchased through iTunes and Amazon, or heard via BandCamp and Spotify.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cliven Bundy himself

I know many of the people who had been calling Cliven Bundy a hero tried to back down from that certain comments. I had thought I was going to write about those eventually, because when I was writing about Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban, it all seemed to relate. After all, Sterling has had racist business practices for a long time, but it was saying something overt that got him in trouble, because then it couldn't be ignored.

I imagine that Cliven Bundy has probably been a racist for quite a while, and that a lot of the people who had to back away from him kind of believe the same things, but they don't really say it, or think in those exact terms. They use code words like "urban" or "culture of work", and because those words don't specify race they think they are okay.

There is a lot to be said about how we fool ourselves or why we are happy to ignore things that happen as long as no one accurately states it, but I'm not going there yet. It does all connect though, which is worth keeping in mind.

Here is what Bundy said.

"They didn't have nothing to do ... they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

His statements were based on seeing African American in a public housing project, and it was specifically seeing old people and children hanging out on a porch. He then talked about how hard-working Mexicans were and what good families they have, so you could know that he is not racist.

I think when someone says something that is stupid and ugly the tendency is to dismiss it out of hand. Some people knew Bundy was scum all along, and some people were embarrassed by the association and fled.

That leaves unacknowledged racism intact. It leaves logical fallacies intact. It keeps it okay to have ugly thoughts okay, as long as you don't speak them. That is how the systemic problems stay in place.

One thing I appreciate about knowing the context of that quote is that he was looking at older people and children and complaining about them not working. I don't know the specific ages, but are we then talking about seeing the retired and the young hanging out while the other adults are off at work? Because that's not a racial thing; that's normal.

Of course, under slavery it wouldn't be normal, because then there is no retirement age, and since there isn't schooling childhood play time is abbreviated, but the objection in this case would not be to them not working, it would be to them not having to work all the time. Surely Bundy is not saying that black people have to work more than other people, right?

Well, maybe he is. After all, without slavery they are getting abortions, going to jail, and not having a family life. Of course, with all those abortions there shouldn't be all of those children hanging around not working, or even any young men to go to jail after a while, and is it possible that the old people and the young people that he saw were related? Like maybe those are grandparents and grandchildren, and then after work the parents will be there and they will all eat dinner together? I'm no anthropologist, but if you see children, that sounds like there could be families.

I am going to go ahead and leave more freedom under slavery, and not having anything to do without learning how to pick cotton alone, because I think those statements are stupid in a pretty self-explanatory manner, and I think there's something more important here in Bundy's defense of Mexicans.

It does seem in this case to be specifically people from Mexico, in this case, and specifically undocumented workers because they "come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders, but they're here, and they're people...Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."

There is this still this false belief that people who get assistance are not working and paying taxes. Many SNAP recipients are employed. Many of them are employed at Wal-Mart, and many of those employees are getting housing subsidies too. There are homeless people who have jobs.

You can't rule out any of these people paying taxes. They may not be paying a huge amount, but assuming a lower income, whatever they do pay they are feeling. However, a nice family that is taking deductions for mortgage interest and property tax, children along with childcare or education deductions, and maybe some charitable donations (like tithing) pays a lot less in taxes than you might think.

Then of course, there is the grazing rights issue. I feel like the cattle and timber companies that use BLM land are getting away with a lot, compared to the usage fees, but Bundy didn't want to pay that. He didn't want to stop using it either, where someone else could pay the fees and get the benefits.

So honestly, my very first thought when he made his racist comments is that of course he would be pro-slavery. He does not believe in paying to use land; why would he believe in paying for labor?

There was more to it of course, and Rachel Maddow did a brilliant exposition on that, which you can watch:

There is a lot that is interesting there, but someone who wants to be cheap with his operating expenses for his own profit being supportive of illegal immigrants is really not surprising at all. Sure, he says they are people, and good people because they work hard and have families, but I suspect what he really loves is their lack of power.

Illegal immigrants will work long, hard hours in horrible conditions. You do have to pay them, but not very much. If they start causing trouble, it is easy to get them arrested or deported. They are easy to abuse. I think that's the way Bundy wants his black people.

We are still seeing that it is far too easy to abuse African-Americans, and we are seeing great efforts to keep that in place, that people are ignoring with double-speak and code words and urging the protesters to avoid violence when it is the cops who are bringing it. We need to look at these things clearly, not just jump away from the ugly and uncomfortable only when it is in the open.

Related posts: