Friday, January 27, 2017


I didn't vote for Trump. I called fascist early in his campaign. I did graduate work on Italian Fascism, the Sonderweg, the lead-up to the Nazis, and the historiography of the Holocaust. I know a fucking fascist when I see one. I was a little shocked by how many people were ok with his shenanigans, but then again the groundwork had been laid by the Republican Party and rightwing media for decades.
I'm disappointed that the powers of be have done so little to directly address Trump and what a batshit crazy wannabe dictator he is, but then people will rarely stand up for the politically unpowerful when it means sacrificing their own power. Which is how you end up with things like the Catholic Church's child molestation scandals or Jerry Sandusky.

I've been more politically active in the past few months than ever before in my life. I still feel largely impotent. I called and emailed Paul Ryan to ask him to preserve the Affordable Care Act, but I dont' think he actually gives a shit. The people in his shitty district want him to repeal it, his funders want him to repeal it, so it will get repealed.

The reaction to Trump has been telling. The Dems have been using it to ask me for money (something they do three times a day anyways, to be fair). Every nonprofit I remotely support has been emailing me for money. Shops I like have been using protest as a way to sell hats or albums or natural fabrics. We are trying to spend our way out of this, turn it into an opportunity to drive up sales. I know it is for a good cause (and I was happy to give money to help lobby against Trump's appointees), but it is still a little gross. Like, THIS is our idea?

I've been vocally skeptical about protest marches for a while, but I was impressed by the Woman's March, and I think similar marches could do some actual good. I just hope they don't devolve into the same pool of far-left groups shutting down highways or smashing burger kings or camping out to like protest capitalism or whatever. I've been disappointed at how unfocused the Black Lives Matter movement has been. Instead of trying to seek actionable, achievable outcomes, it has become, in my opinion, too broad and too unrealistic. It's really hard to see a path from the movement to any sort of actual change. And don't get me started that they have an internationally focused charity as their fiscal sponsor because they want to end racism globally. I think they had a tough hill to climb from the get-go because they are a)black and b)going against the police, which is tough politically and tends to bring out the asshole anarchists, which isn't the image you want the American people to see. My experience with those protests, though, was that they were more expressions of anger without any policy follow through or realistic policy objectives. In oakland they were demanding the Oakland Police be disbanded, as if THAT was ever going to happen.

Again, focused, achievable, actionable. That's the key, I think. Stuff that people can actually do, like try to shut down Betsy Davos' nomination, or block Trump's crazier executive order, or win swing districts, or (longer term, bigger lift) support redistricting efforts. In the end, a lot of this is going to come down to voter outreach and registration and making it easier for young people and brown people to vote. Easy to say, hard to do. Especially when you are dealing with an uneducated populace (I'm speaking Americans generally) and really complicated, boring issues like environmental regulatory policy etc. that no one understands but that has a huge impact. We also can't afford to get cynical. Hardest of all, we somehow need to not throw people under the bus while at the same time tamping down the "but what about me!!!!!" impulse that is so destructively american. It's this weird thing I try to tell myself and teach my daughter - you are important and your needs matter, but you also one of seven billion people on this planet, so you are not the only person in the world who matters. It's not all about you, which is a frustrating thing to hear when you've been ignored your whole life, but yeah. It's not.

Also, this can't just be about Democrats taking back control of congress and the white house. This has to be about the Republican party moving to a more moderate/less batshit crazy place. They are doing incredibly well at the same time they are totally fucking crazy. So there's that.

Mostly, I just want to find a balance between fighting the good fight and not being consumed by the abuser in chief. I wake up at 2am freaking out about how shitty things are. That's not good.

This week has taught me that things you spent decades building can be destroyed in a moment, and that there are way more people opposed to the Trump presidency than for it.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside

So, it has been three months since I posted here. The main reason for the hiatus is boring and has to do with age - I've fucked up my arm and shoulder from being on the computer so much, and so I am trying to minimize how much time I spend on a computer when I am not at work.

Also, the last half of 2016 was so full of heavy shit that writing about music seemed like the least important thing I could be doing.

Maybe I'll keep this up, maybe not. I do want to write more in 2017, but I also want to spend more time with my daughter, exercise more, meditate more, and limit screen time so we'll see how that all pans out - many of those are mutually exclusive.

My final thought on 2016 and the year ahead is this: sometimes life kicks you in the fucking teeth. Everything is impermanent, change is the only constant, bad things happen, everything you love and hold dear to you will be taken away from you at some point, so enjoy the time you have with the people you love and when shit goes haywire, which it always will, try to be strong enough to get back up.

That's all.

Best Rap Albums of 2016

(originally posted at rapreviews)

2016 offered many reminders of how hard and unfair life can be, and how quickly things can fall apart. In a year when internet trolls took over national governments, overt racism and anti-semitism become politically acceptable, and civilians in Syria were publicly bombed to death while the rest of the world stood by, music helped me connect with the rest of the world in a powerful way. I’m disappointed and fearful of how the internet has divided and radicalized people instead of bringing them together, of how it has created echo-chambers that reflect back the reality we want to believe in rather than how things actually are. The one outlier in all this is music. Music has remained an honest voice in the wilderness, reflecting back people’s actual experiences rather than outrage porn, regurgitated talking points, and blatant misinformation. It is is especially true of hip-hop, which has long given voice to the disenfranchised and marginalized. Whether it was  the street poetry from a gifted craftsman like Ka, or YG trying to figure out how reconcile his gangsta persona with being a grown up, or Vic Mensa calling out police brutality, or Danny Brown wrestling with addiction and depression, 2016 offered many opportunities to listen to people who don’t normally get a voice in the world.

Here are ten albums I liked the best from this year, in order:

10. Kate Tempest, “Let Them Eat Chaos” An album about trying to connect in post-Brexit London and the things we do to distract ourselves.

9. Aesop Rock, “The Impossible Kid” Aesop’s most personal album yet, and one of his best.

8. ScHoolboy Q, “Blank Face” I can’t really defend this on an intellectual level, but this ish bangs.

7. Ka, “Honor Killed the Samurai” One of the most skilled and exacting MCs in the game makes another great album.

6. Danny Brown, “Atrocity Exhibition” A druggy party album about the downside of being a druggy party rapper.

5. Frank Ocean, “Blonde” “It’s hell on earth and the city’s on fire/In hell in hell there’s heaven.”

4. YG, “Still Brazy” An unapologetic gangsta rap album.

3. A Tribe Called Quest, “We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service” I had no reason to hope that another Tribe album would be released, and even less hope that it would be this good. R.I.P. Phife Dawg.

2. Anderson.Paak, “Malibu” He’s a rapper! He’s a singer! He’s a drummer! He’s like a less annoying Bruno Mars!

1. Solange, “A Seat at the Table” This is a fierce, beautiful album, and the album I listened to the most this year.

Disappointments of the year:
De La Soul, “and the anonymous Nobody…” This isn’t a bad album, but as a lifelong De La Soul fan (and backer of their Kickstarter), it wasn’t the comeback album I wanted. I found it to be a little lifeless and I had a hard time with the casual misogyny. Why are a bunch of men in their 40s rapping about sexy bitches and trainwrecks?

Atmosphere, “Fishing Blues,” I love Atmosphere’s brand of confessional story rap, but they have become almost a self-parody at this point. Slug can still unleash when he wants to, but too much of “Fishing Blues” is territory that Atmosphere has tread to death.

Kanye West, “Life of Pablo” I sincerely hope Kanye gets the help he so clearly needs, and I do not want to pile on the circus that surrounds him, but I do not understand what people see in his work. At this point he could release an album of himself burping the alphabet and Pitchfork would give it a 9.4.

Chance the Rapper, “Coloring Book.” I loved “Acid Rap,” but I couldn’t handle this album. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I lost my ability to put up with Chance mumbling in a baby voice. Maybe it’s because I live with a three-year-old.  

Favorite non rap albums of 2016

Angel Olsen, My Woman  - A beautiful, haunting album.

Darkthrone, Arctic Thunder - Sometimes, you just need to rock. This is like Motorhead mixed with a little Maiden and Priest with a dash of crusty punk.

Lotus Thief, Gramarye - A beautiful, haunting album.

P.J. Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project

Vektor, Terminal Redux - Insanely fast and ambitious scifi thrash.

Mary Lattimore, At the Dam

Against Me! Shape Shift with Me. I’m pretty ignorant about trans issues, and a lot of what I know comes from Against Me!

Inquisition, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith - Satanism is right up there with fundamentalist Christianity or conservative Islam in terms of religious ideologies that I have huge issues with. And yet I put up with Inquisition’s cosmic satanism because they are so interesting musically. The singer croaks like a robot frog about jibber-jabber while creating walls of noise on his guitar while the drummer bangs away like a madman. The cover art doesn’t do this music justice.

Hammers of Misfortune, Dead Revolution - proggy metal about San Francisco being decimated by wealth.

Subrose, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages - Heavy doom from Salt Lake City.

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows

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