Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Go to the store and buy this album

I know I've been slipping. I know there hasn't been too much I've put up here lately that's worth reading, downloading, or discussing with your peers. But it's time for PSA. Go to the store and buy the new M.O.P. album today. This shit came out last week and to date has only sold 2,100 copies.

Combat Jack wrote a piece the other day on his blog about how we all need to go to the store and buy this album. His description of M.O.P:s:

"M.O.P. is ugly Hip Hop. Grimey St. Marks Ave., Brownsville, piss scented broke down elevators, chicks with bullet scars and the scent of Kush permeating the last car of the 3 Train to New Lots. Cocaine smoked in the Newport rap. Head nod, scruntch face muzik. Strap up, load the car, them dudes across the way owe me money music."

But wait, let's compare M.O.P to other artists sharing the same release date:

"...And “Foundation”, their most recent LP is one of their best ever.In their first week, “Foundation” sold 2,100 copies. Kid Cudi, “Man On The Moon”? 100k + copies. No shots to Cudi, that “Day and Nite” and “Make Her Say” is fires, but have you heard the album? Eli Porter raps better. And I’m being nice. This is what we wanna do Hop Hop? This is where we wanna go? We really ready to shit on and trade in pure, unadulterated dope Hip Hop for happy go lucky sing song nonsensical fantasy raps? If we is, please let me off this bus right fucking now, I’ll walk to my stop. I’m done. No mas."

So there you have it. I can't really talk about how important it is to preserve the type of hip hop M.O.P. gives us. They throwback to an era where rap music wasn't auto-tuned fashion music with a screwed Biggie hook. But I think Combat Jack gets the point across a lot better than I ever could.

It's safe to say M.O.P. is as real as it gets. No one ever will put Lil' Fame or Billy Danze in top five mc status, but their music is timeless, and by timeless, I mean a throwback to 97, which will always be a timeless era. In a lot of ways, these dudes are the AC/DC of rap music. They do what they do, and they aren't changing for the times. They are gonna shout their lyrics as loud as they can, track after track, getting you buck, they aren't ever gonna experient and try and change their shit up, just like AC/DC will never throw a sax solo or tour with a fucking keyboard player. Fuck that, they keep it hard. (pause)

Also, it's worth pointing out M.O.P doesn't play. They are just as hardbody in real life as their music suggests. (pause) Oh you don't believe me? Check this clip out of M.O.P. strolling the streets of Brownsville, with a baseball bat in tow, looking for folk bootlegging their album.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Bands From Milwaukee#1: Decibully

Whoa, what do you know, these guys are playing in New York tonight. After three years of not touring, one baby, and two marriages, it was decided to start touring again. Pay special attention to the drummer, a Canadian, who in the immortal words of the immortal Jessica Hoffman is "the glue that holds that band together." Just don't give him cheese and crackers.

Best New Website Ever Alert:


Basically, it's about people who are bad at the internet. And the bad internet they create.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Review of Books

If you read five sentences, that will probably be three more than the editor does.

To the editor:

In Howard French’s “Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo” it doesn’t take long for his book review to turn into an all out attack on Rwandan President Paul Kagame, his policies, and the historical record.
At least he doesn’t waste any time, and by the second paragraph, firmly asserts the “main force driving this conflict(in Eastern Congo)” is Rwanda, and its “largely Tutsi Army.” Rwanda always stated its military presence is necessary on its western border with DRC in order to deal with genocidal Hutu militias living in Eastern Congo. French minimizes this argument writing “the extent of the Hutu threat to Rwanda is much debated…” and it only gets worse from there.
He chooses to ignore the legitimate threat of genocidal militias living a stone’s throw across the border from Western Rwanda, arguing Rwanda has its eyes on Congo’s valuable natural resources and is willing to wage war to plunder them. To be fair, Eastern Congo is lined with natural resources, far more than densely populated Rwanda could ever dream to possess. Yet, at the same time, Rwanda, a country slightly larger than Macedonia, exports enough food to feed nearly all of Eastern Congo, an area French himself called the size of Pennsylvania.
And while it is one thing for French to argue Kagame aims to plunder the DRC for Rwanda’s economic advancement, it’s quite another to entirely dismiss the threat of Hutu militias. French repeatedly downplays their threat, at one point even writing the “threat the Hutu group poses to Rwanda's own security is "vastly exaggerated," noting that its fighters "are no match" for Rwandan and Rwanda-backed forces…a sophisticated military arsenal, consisting of armored personnel carriers, tanks, and helicopters."
There’s no arguing that. It’s true that a bunch of genocidal guerillas in loosely formed militias hiding in the jungles of Eastern DRC would prove no match for the Rwandan military, but it’s not the Rwandan military these forces target. Instead of attacking one of Africa’s most highly trained armies, these militias cowardly target civilian populations right across the border. But to hear French tell it, Kagame’s troops on the border are there to engage these miltias and prevent them from toppeling his government.
The truth is, groups such as the FDLR pose a clear and present threat to both Rwanda and her citizens, especially those living on the Congolese border. It is necessary for Rwanda to maintain a strong presence in the region to protect its citizens. Having interviewed members of these militias, their philosophies are simple and can be summarized in two major points: 1) kill Tutsis and 2) overthrow the Rwandan government. And this isn’t a secret, this is there manifesto. These groups were pushed into the Congo when Kagame put down the genocide, and their hatred has not difussed over the years.
French therefore thinks Kagame should simply ignore these groups with a desire to overthrow his government and slaughter his civlians because they “are no match” for his army. Do we live in a world where the only threats deemed serious enough are the ones that can be backed up with force immediately? Just because Kagame’s enemies in Congo do not possess the same military might as Rwanda, should Kagame give them time to amass the weapons they need before engaging them? This is lunacy, one sided, and offensive.
And French doesn’t stop at minimizing these Hutu militias’ threats, he argues Kagame is the real perpetrator of the violence. He goes back to 1994 and has problems with the way Kagame put down the genocide, perhaps French doesn’t like the fact he pushed militias out of Rwanda into the Congo, perhaps French would have preferred Kagame to slaughter them on Rwandan soil.
French rightly disapproves of Kagame’s reluctance to try Tutsi civilians that murdered Hutus on genocide charges, and repeatedly cites incidents of mass murder of Hutus at the hands of Kagame’s troops. And while Tutsi genocide charges have been slow in Rwanda, Kagame has shown little tolerance for anyone in his own army acting out in a similar fashion. His army has strict guidelines of conduct, and those who have committed violence against innocent Hutus have been punished. What Kagame hasn’t done is broadcast this to the world. He made the mistake of assuming the world would assume he would be fair and just, unfourtantly for him, this is Africa, and even a fairly elected leader who in just 15 years has created a country from war-ravaged ashes must be overseen by international bodies.
And Kagame disagrees. Naturally, he has a distaste for the U.N. which did nothing, not little, but nothing to stop the genocide in 1994. And now they want to tell him how to run his country. He believes Africans are talented enough, and smart enough to rule their own nations. Furthermore, he has proven he can. To suggest he needs help is to still live with a colonial mentality at best, and racist at worst.
Additionally, French’s claims of Kagame’s violence at times seem overblown at times. He cites an incident in 1995 in which Tutsi troops lined up 150,000 Hutu refugees and opened fire. It doesn’t take a great deal of math to determine this statistic highly unlikely. A year earlier, the world turned it’s back and allowed the genocide to claim the lives of nearly one million people, and now a year later, with the world watching, with the shame of our indifference to the plight of Rwanda, it would have been next to impossible for Kagame’s military to slaughter 150,000 people. It would have been noticed to say the least.
Finally, French’s historical detour into the Burundi genocide of 1972 is not just out of place, it is offensive. French briefly highlights the tragic events of 1972 when Hutu uprisings led the Tutsi army to respond with mass slaughter resulting in a death toll between 150,000 to 300,000 thousand, depending on which side’s statistic you choose to believe. Countless more fled Burundi, many into neighboring Rwanda where over the years they developed their own brand of Hutu extremism.
And while this is a necessary chapter in understanding the complex and strained historical relationship between the different ethnic groups in the region, French stops just short of using this as an excuse for the Hutu Power movement and the genocide it produced.
He makes a special note to write how most view the Rwanda genocide as a “morality play” where Hutus were the bad guy killers and the Tutsis were the victims. He argues this simplistic version of the genocide needs to be rethought. And while the morality play may be a bit simplistic, there is a difference between understanding the genocide in the scope of history, and simply rewriting history itself.
The world watched and did nothing to stop black people from slaughtering black people in 1994. Since then, with nearly six million lives claimed in the Congo, the world isn’t even watching. We’ve stopped paying attention. And the few that are choose to waste their time attacking Rwanda, the most stable country in the region, rewriting her history, and painting it’s leader as a violent warlord. Rwanda is a solution, a key to stability in the region. Let’s not waste our time attacking the solution.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Still Acting the Fool

...President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a fiery anti-Israeli speech in honor of the annual Jerusalem Day ceremonies, calling the Holocaust “a lie,” among his harshest statements on the topic, and impugning the West again for its criticisms of Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election.

The rest and a slide show here.

What an asshole. Imagine if Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech and said, "oh yeah, the Nakba, never happened. I don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Is stealing an election and causing the largest unrest your country has seen in three decades not enough for one man? When will this guy just shut up and let and let grown ups do their jobs?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Choices of Life



Friday, September 4, 2009

Steely Dan Countdown to Gayness #4: Black Cow

19 years old, what did I know of Steely Dan? Sure I knew some songs. Actually I knew a few, a lot of these songs I knew I didnt' even know were Steely Dan songs. But fuck, Steely Dan? Hell no, that's some Audi driving, suburb living, 3 kid having, sushi eating, CPA having yuppy shit. And I don't get down like that. What am I soft? (pause) I got this new Blackstarr cd my discman. You don't know it? It's great, these two dudes from New York, one you might know from Soundbombing Two. Yeah, the Rawkus joint.

That was me. Then one day, while working for the summer on this movie Harball, I was walking down Maxwell Street, back when it was Maxwell Street, before UIC came in and destroyed 80 years of history, and some store was blasting, just blasting "Be Thankfull for What You've Got." I had never heard it before in my life and walked into the store to buy it, and everything else whoever recorded it also recorded. The guy didn't have it. What he did sell me though was a mix he made for five dollars with that song on it, and it was the greatest goddamn thing I've ever bought in my life.

What's important though is the first song, track one, side one, was Black Cow by Steely Dan. Yeah that's right. Everything else was some old soul shit you've never heard of, never will, and wouldn't know about it even if I explained it to you. And with all that, he still put Black Cow on the his tape. Damn.

Steely Dan Countdown to Gayness #3: Chain Lightning

One of the greatest. With Katy Lied, Fagen and Becker fully made the move to studio musicians. In many ways Katy Lied is a more polished version of Pretzel Logic, a lot of the same ideas, just with more time, shine, gloss, and money thrown into the mix. Such perfectionists, Becker and Fagen refused to listen to the final version of the album, claiming something went wrong in the mastering process and ruined the sound. They even included an apology to the listeners on the back of the album.

Who cares. Take this track, Chain Lightning. It's only three minutes long, but it packs a lot of song into those three minutes. Two verses, no chorus, a great, lazy guitar solo, all punctuated by the electric piano which then vamps off on it's own at the very end leaving you begging for more. It's a study in economy. It gives everything you need even though you want it to keep on going.

Lyrically, there's a lot of debate over this joint. Apparently, on an earlier version of the song, between the verses, Fagen whispers, "thirty years later," and this convinced a lot of people on the Internet the song is about fascism. General idea is they need to be part of the brotherhood, blah blah blah, and thirty years later they go back to where they heard their fallen leader speak. So there's that, the other theory is the song is about plain old heroin addiction.

In general, all Steely Dan songs have two interpretations, something lofty that doesn't really make too much sense and is equivalent to when your high school English teacher told you that Bigger Thomas cut the woman's head off in Native Son because to cut someones head off is to decapitate them and the word decapitate is kinda like "no to capitalism" and Wright was a big communist so when he cuts off her head he's actually committing a a pro-Communist act. And then you think, or he cut her head off because he cut her head off. After all, he was a an unstable guy with viloent tendencies in terrible circumstances in a racist Chicago and had just killed this poor liberal woman and had to dispose of her body and she wouldn't fit in the furnace, which is kinda like the other meaning behind most of Steely Dan's songs, b) drug addiction.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Film Review: Inglourious Basterds

1. The opening scene is one of the better, Hitchcockian moments of suspense. Tension filled, smart, and smartly paced. It ranks among Tarantino's best moments. Too bad I read the whole damn thing in Vanity Fair three months ago thus ruining the suspense, the tension filled moments, and it's smart pacing. Still, a great scene.

2. Sam Levine's line to the Nazi's when they are about to be killed was a welcome treat. Granted, one of my biggest faults with the film was not enough Sam Levine, but that's one of my biggest faults with life in general. One time, many years ago, I met a man who claimed to know Sam Levine and even produced his phone number as proof. I called him and left him a message on his voicemail extolling the comedic merits of a joke* he made in episode three of Freeks and Geeks. He myspaced me and said, "hey, thanks for being a good fan and appreciating the slight comedic undertones of that joke as well as the easier to spot on the surface humor." Same Levine, what a guy. Don't' just put him in a movie for one joke. As Smokey Robinson famously said, "a taste of honey is worse than none at all." Pause.

3. The scene in the bar with the cut to the guy in the back of the bar who also wants to know about the British guy's odd German accent is one of the greatest scenes I can recall seeing in many years. Fantastic.

All this being said, when it comes to movies about Jews running around the woods killing Nazis, Defiance is still best in genre, if not of all time.

*The joke:
While Lindsay decides to have keg party while her parents are out of town, the geeks decide to replace the keg with one containing non-alcoholic beer. While Bill and Sam move the keg, Sam Levine aka Neil Schieber is sent in to distract Lindsay, who is very busy preparing for the party. Neil walks up to her in the kitchen, tries to help her open up a bag of chips, and then asks her what music she plans on playing later at the party.
"I don't know, Foghat, Zeppelin, maybe a little Sabbath."
His reply, "Friday night, an excellent night for a little Sabbath."
And there's a bunch of physical comic business that follows this joke to really drive it home.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Steely Dan Countdown to Gayness #2: The Boston Rag

After using the phrase sonic perfection one too many times yesterday, I thought I'd go back, back a bit to when sonic perfection was ignored, or rather, not as important as a guitar rock oriented song. Countdown to Ecstasy was probably their most rock bandy type album. Easily played on the road, lots of guitar solos, no horns, backup vocals, etc.

There's a good deal of debate concerning what this song is actually about, I've read detailed arguments placing The Boston Rag as a classic example of an anti-war song. I've also read an impassioned piece claiming this song is a a send up of a culture of anti-war songs, and a send up of the counterculture, basically arguing people would rather get high than do what they need to do to help end the war. Kinda like Pete Townsends' summary of Woodstock being nothing more than kids getting high in the mud because they want to get high in the mud and kicking Abby Hoffman off the stage. I've also heard the song is a portrait of the former editor of a Boston newspaper, a cautionary tale to not let babies out of their cribs, a tribute to the Colonial Flag, and so on.

At the end of the day, it's best to take the song for what it's worth, the story of an epic bender being told to you by someone on an epic bender. Donald Fagen said about the song "the best thing about the Boston Rag is that it's set in New York." I think this gives credence to my theory.

Two major things to listen for:
1) The guitar solo, not the best Steely Dan guitar work by a long shot. But there is something about it that gets me every time.
2) At the end of the song when they are all yelling to bring back the Boston rag, Fagen yells out, "you gotta bring it on home." If yesterday's entry spoke of their "coolest" moment, I would defiantly label this moment their most rock n roll.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Steely Dan: A Countdown to Gayness #1

This friday night I will be seeing Steely Dan at the Chicago Theater. A gorgeous venue with unheralded acoustic might, a building constructed with sonic perfection in mind, what better place to see a band who shunned touring a long time ago to devote their careers to achieving nothing less than absolute sonic perfection. Hey, Steely Dan=Sonic perfection.

Steely Dan has been playing four shows in select cities, each night a new album cover to to cover. Aja, The Royal Scam, and Gaucho. The final night is a night of requests, and they've been diving in deep, polishing off some dusty ones and playing some deep cuts with their trademark sonic perfection.

I've decided to shun the album shows. Aja would be dope, but too much of a greatest hits, Gaucho, a dream come true, but I don't need to hear side two of that album, and Royal Scam, sometimes it makes me a little nauseous. That being said, I'd kill to hear The Fez, Time Out of Mind off side tow of Guacho, and a roaring version of Deacon Blues could do me some good. No homo.

Each day before the show, I'd like to talk a little bit about this band, this Steely Dan, why I love them so much, why I don't care what people say about me anymore, and I'd like to highlight a track or two.

So without further ado, here is a short history of Steely Dan.

Met at Bard College. They bonded of a mutual love of jazz, sarcasm, and general assholeishness and a mutual disdain of hippy shit. Formed a band, a rock band with guitar players and a drummer and you know, a band. They made two albums. Can't By a Thrill was their first. Classic. They moved to LA and cut Countdown to Ecstasy. Another classic, and their most rock album to date. They disbanded the band, became a duo, and from here on out, hired session men to come in and play.
By the time they got to Aja, they rarely even played on their own songs. Rather, they hired the best session players, the most technically skilled guys out there to come in and play the music they had constructed in their own heads, but were without the prowess to play themselves. After that came Gaucho, then a twenty year hiatus and a few new albums, which aren't that bad.

Today I will discuss out loud and to whomever may listen the merits of Haitian Divorce.

There's a lot to discuss with this song. The main thing that constantly stands out and impresses me every time is the cinematic quality of the images. Once you can get past the sarcasm, there's a great story being told in this song, and it's the details, the production design that really makes the scenes pop out at you.

So boy meets girl, they fall in love, love fades, she goes to Haiti, doesn't like her all inclusive, goes to the ghetto, meets a local and carrys on with him, comes back to America, finds love with her husband again, has a baby, but the baby is born with kinky hair and so now she gets divorced.

The good parts:
1) the description of the end of the relationship "soon everyone knew the thing was dead." I love this. We don't hear why, and it's not important. And we don't hear that they think it's dead, rather everyone else does, and if everyone else thinks their relationship is over, it's over. And as evidence, "he shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night." We don't need to hear any reasons why, he doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste, she wants to move to Nyack, he wants to focus more on his job etc... it's not important. We are immediately transported into the bowels of their marriage by being shown an emotion. And we can relate to this emotion because we can relate to shouting and biting and fearing everyone else thinks our relationship is dead more so than we can relate to whatever specific examples Steely Dan were to give us as to why their relationship is ending.

2. The way Fagen sings the line, "she feels alright, she get it one tonight" and his yeah half whispered after that is dare I say, almost as cool as Steely Dan could ever get?

3. The idea of the nice hotel not being enough, she gets the driver to take her where the music play.

4. Charlie sitting in a greasy chair with lotion and kinky hair. This image is perfect. And to end this scene, she smiles at him, and the smile says it all. "Now we dolly back, now we fade to black." Always been a proponent for camera directions in song lyrics. But it ends this moment perfectly. We don't need to have it all spelled out for us. she looks at him and smiles, he looks back, dolly, fade to black. It says it all.

5. The guitar solo is actually played by two people, Dean Parks played the notes and Walter Becker altered them on the talk box.

6. The cover art to the song's album, "The Royal Scam" was described by Donald Fagen in 1999 as being "the most hideous album cover of the seventies, bar none (excepting perhaps Can't Buy A Thrill)." Yes, this is Steely Dan at their most bitter and cynical.

In short, this is the best song about a marriage ending because the wife has sex with a Haitian dude.

Back from Costa Rica

But being without my computer and no way to put my photos up, my stories of the trip will have to wait. But don't worry, there are more things to talk about such as my mayor being the best dude ever, Favre being the worst, and a new series to be unleashed the week before any Steely Dan concert titled "A Countdown to Gayness."