2015/01/22

Reproach

I want to be a better human being and do what I can make a better world. I imagine many if not most of us do. I have learned, but there is a lot more to learn, so I continue to learn. I learn in all kinds of ways. But by being scolded? Not so much.

For an old-ish, mostly able-bodied white woman, a descendent of settlers, I think I do pretty well at things like acknowledging my privilege and being aware of the effect of words. Being surrounded by social justice advocates and proponents definitely rubs off, and I appreciate it. As a thoughtful person who came through radical movements more than 30 years ago, I have done a lot of learning and relearning. Back then our mostly white, mostly male radicalism was impoverished and inadequate.

So I don't necessarily feel myself to be the target of much of what I read. But I read it anyway, because there's always something more to learn, a way of looking at things that is new and different, some insight. And of the things I read, I usually (not always, but that's a different post) agree with the presented ideas on principle. But too often I am put off by the method with which information is delivered. "Eight things you had better do unless you're a total dirtball." Really, who likes to be scolded? A child is scolded by its parents, by a teacher, by someone in authority. But I know I am not a child. Once I grew up, I hoped never to be scolded again.

You know who scolds? Not so much someone authoritative as someone who wants to impose their morality, ethics, or sensibilities on you. You're scolded because you transgress. You don't measure up to expectations. You're stupid or lazy or both. You mess up again and again, and the scolder is fed up with your inability or unwillingness to come into line with their moral code.

I don't need that. I checked. Teach me. I'm an eager learner, and I know how to shut up and listen. But don't be a scold, because very likely you will get the result opposite the one you want.

2015/01/13

A new trip down Sleater-Kinney Road

Bands reunite for all kinds of reasons. Often you know it's because there is money to be made, and since we all need to make at least some money, who can blame them—unless they crank out swill, which they won't for long. Sometimes it's because the band was the best thing the members had. Sometimes it's because they never actually broke up but just went on indefinite hiatus. Sometimes it's just because playing together is incredibly fun.

If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as to why they reunited, it's Sleater-Kinney. They've earned it. Over the course of seven albums and a few smaller releases, Sleater-Kinney established themselves as one of the Important Bands—bands we knew would always matter, bands other bands wish they were. Like the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Pixies, PJ Harvey. Like Nirvana.

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney's first album of new material in 10 years, kicks off with "Price Tag." It's not exactly an explosive beginning. The song is forceful but more full of bluster than power. Toward the end, it feels long. The lyrics aren't especially clever. "Fangless" starts more promising with a great intro beat from drummer Janet Weiss. This song reminds me of Corin Tucker's solo work, which is good but not nearly as distinctive as the best Sleater-Kinney. I do like Tucker's singing on this one, as I usually do. I often do not like Carrie Brownstein's singing, and this song is no exception. After two songs, this album is feeling too conventional.

"Surface Envy" catches my ear immediately. Great chorus! An enthusiastic thumb up for this one. "No Cities to Love" starts like it might be another strong one. It's catchy and has a good chorus, but it's not nearly as engaging as "Surface Envy." "A New Wave" feels like all the parts are there but somehow it doesn't create a great song. I do want to allow Sleater-Kinney room to be different. I wouldn't want them to reunite only to do what they had done already. The question is whether their current direction is great or not.

"No Anthems" gets me more excited. Glad we're back to Tucker singing. It's not just that she has a better voice than Brownstein. She also uses it better to express herself. This is kind of a deep cut, but it's a good one, and it has a strong chorus. "Gimme Love" is more of Tucker stretching in new directions, and I like what I hear.

"Bury Our Friends" got me moving right away. Points to Brownstein for this song! The bridge is a bit unimaginative, but does provide a texture change. "Hey Darling" makes me think of "A New Wave." Again, nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't thrill me. Maybe I'm not on board with all of this direction change. Or maybe this was just the throwaway ninth song that Kim Shattuck of the Muffs warns about.

"Face" ends the album in an interesting way. It starts slow and powerful, then picks up. I like this ending. I also noticed when this song started that it came up quickly on me, as in, "Oh, we're almost done already?" So even though I have some whines, the album does keep me engaged.

I want to listen to some reference material. I do not queue up Dig Me Out. We all know that's a classic, and I don't want to set the bar too high. Instead I listen to All Hands on the Bad One and The Hot Rock. I notice that both of the albums feel more urgent. They both grab me right away, especially All Hands. Killer chorus after killer chorus, great duets, great guitar interplay, and an undeniable edge.

If No Cities to Love feels less urgent, maybe that's to be expected. You can keep making music as long as you live, but you can't keep being young, at least not chronologically. As you get older, you have experiences, you change. Whatever else is going on in your life, you're no longer touring and living with each other for many months of a year.

I do not, however, think that it's inevitable for a band to make less urgent music. It depends on how urgent the band members feel. As someone for whom playing music is vital, I think all rock music should be urgent, that you should play it as though your life depended on it. That's what the best theatre is like. It thrills you and makes you shout "Brava!" I would love it if someone would make music as though it mattered, because to me, it fucking well does and always shall. Sleater-Kinney used to make music like that. I shouldn't be too hard on them if they're not now. I'm not sure that anyone can any longer.

(If you don't know...there is an actual Sleater-Kinney Road in (or near) Olympia, Washington. On it the band had a practice space. From it they took their name.)

2015/01/08

Quarantine

I am very fortunate. Even though I'm starting to feel the gradual deterioration of my body as it ages, for the most part I have been blessed with good health for most of my life.

Even the healthiest person can't avoid the occasional cold, however. I'm reasonably sure this is a cold. I don't have a fever. It did not have a sudden onset characteristic of influenza. But as seems to be the case these days, it doesn't feel like a "normal" cold, the kind with symptoms that match what's on the bottle of Benylin Formula. My nose is a bit stuffed, but not badly. I have a cough, not persistent, mostly but not always dry. My body feels generally bad overall, I'm having a hard time focusing, and I'm tired all the time. And then there's the way I really know that I'm sick: my appetite is off.

They don't make rhinoviruses like they used to. Literally. Viruses mutate all the time, and I have a feeling we're now dealing with a lot of variants of what used to be run-of-the-mill rhinovirus. Maybe it's a North American thing. The last time I had a "normal" cold, it was right after having returned from a week and a half in Europe.

I'm glad that nothing struck during my recent holiday time off. During New Year Week, Sweetie and I had a wonderful time in Portland (Oregon), full of friends, food, shopping, and lots of laughing. This cold hit on my first day back at work, and no, there is no link there. Just coincidence, but it's certainly inconvenient. I was okay for a few days, but today is a bad day. So maybe that means things will get better from here.

I started thinking about how even a brief illness can be socially isolating. Your condition is communicable, and you don't want anyone else to catch it. With no energy, you don't leave the house much if at all. You can't go to events you might want to go to. You can't see people. I stayed home from my choir sectional rehearsal last night, which was a loss both of practice time and of fun hanging out with others in my section. I'm not sure whether I should go to full choir rehearsal tonight. Much as I need to after two weeks off, there is little worse than sending a communicable disease, even a minor one, through a choir that is less than a month away from a performance.

My cold will end soon. So will my social isolation. I still have dinner plans with a friend tomorrow night because I bet by then I will feel better and hopefully not be contagious. In a few more days, I will be back to my normal healthy self.

For some, "normal" is nothing like what I have, and I was reminded of that shortly before I started to feel my own isolation. I know people who deal with chronic illness, people who can't socialize as much as they want, people who sometimes can't leave their houses. And that can be especially isolating. For an outgoing person like me, isolation would definitely make illness worse. But even for an introvert, too much isolation will have a negative impact.

Someone I know who lives with chronic illness shared a blog post the other day. Food for thought, especially since I am usually the healthy one.

2014/12/29

Surface tension

We all take up space. Our existence as physical beings requires that we do so. Most of the time, we are well separated physically from other human beings. And the right to security of person says that all physical contact (other than unavoidable crowd contact) must be mutually consensual. Did you know that each of us has a tiny gravitational field? All physical objects have one. We warp the space around us very, very slightly.

Physical space is not the only kind that we occupy. Each of us also has an ecological footprint—the renewable and nonrenewable resources that we consume, either personally or through shared infrastructure. No one is without an ecological footprint. The footprints of some are very small due to homelessness, insufficient food, and general inability to consume very many resources. Most of us who have enough money and a home probably consume more than we really need. And some consume vastly more than they need.

Sweetie and I do fairly well on resource consumption, not because we are more righteous but because reducing our ecological footprint is a priority for us. It bothers me that I have to put things like plastic that can't be recycled into landfill. I wish we had laws for all plastics to have a recycling number (based on the type of plastic), and for there to be as few 3s and 6s as possible (coffee lids are almost always 6). I wish we had laws for the use of goods in general, so that every product came with the means to dispose of it responsibly.

Social capital is a renewable resource, but it needs funding. And that means taxation. So voting for lower taxes or avoiding paying taxes depletes social capital in favour of individual capital. That means people take up individual space at the expense of social space, which is really just a variation on our theme.

Finally there is the space that really got me started on writing this--the space that each of us takes up by our presence. Not physical space (see above). More like psychic space. There are many ways to take up psychic space. Some take up more space because they feel free to speak up, while others take up less because they are shy about speaking. Extroverts tend to take up more space than introverts.

Privilege has a psychic footprint. And there are more kinds of privilege than we imagine. Those who lack privilege in one environment might well have it in another.

I think there will always be some people who take up more psychic space than others. We are not all alike. But it is a zero-sum game. If someone takes up more space, someone else takes up less. And since we all need psychic space, there can be detrimental effects on those with less space.

I have multiple privileges. I am also fairly extroverted. I know I tend to take up a lot of space. And to some extent, that's me. But I think I can still be me without impinging upon the space of others. That is what I would like. I don't always perceive the edges of the space of others right away, but I always look for them. I want to respect them and give them room. And maybe there will be a place where spaces meld and interact.

That's something I've found while working on this. When I allow others the space that I am often too quick to claim as my own, their space can expand nicely. And when there is less claiming of space, less pushing of space against space, the edges are softer. The spaces have a better chance of co-mingling. I don't know about anyone else, but I know that's good for me.

2014/12/19

Really really happy

Should have got even closer!
When I learned that the Muffs were touring in support of Whoop Dee Doo, their first album since Really Really Happy was released in 2004, I got very excited. During those years, the band would play occasional shows in California (where they are based) and at Maxwells in Hoboken, NJ, but never close enough for me to get to. With the new tour, of course I hoped they would make it to Vancouver. 'Twas not to be. But they were doing a show in Seattle. There are some bands for which I will take a day off, drive to Seattle, and stay overnight. The Muffs are one of those bands. I was not going to miss this chance.

Sweetie and I took off around 3. By the time we hit Seattle the evening rush hour(s) traffic had eased up a bit. We arrived at our hotel with just a little time to rest, get ready, and then head to dinner. The show was at the Crocodile in Belltown, so I had Google Mapped it and looked for little knife-and-fork symbols nearby. And it was thus that I found La Fontana Siciliana. What a find! A Sicilian restaurant with a beautiful courtyard (for summer dining) only half a block from the club. Our server Fabio took excellent care of us. The food and wine were superb. In fact, we demolished an entire bottle of wine with dinner, something we don't often do. But there would be no driving required.

We walked over to the club shortly after 9. The Suicide Notes from Portland had just started their set. The band consists of three female singers backed up by drums, bass, and guitar. Their Bandcamp site provides a pretty accurate description: like the Shangri-Las doing it with the Ramones in the back of a hearse. The singers sang together and sometimes traded lead vocals. The music was fun and energetic. We enjoyed their set very much.

No flash, moving band
The second band was the Tripwires from Ballard, a neighbourhood in the northwest of Seattle. Four not-so-young guys playing straight up rock with a flare of Americana. The set was quite listenable, but it didn't get us off like the Suicide Notes. Still, two decent opening bands is almost unheard of.

It didn't take long before the Muffs hit the stage. I have to admit that I didn't realize they would set up their own equipment, and that was pretty cool. After the setup, guitarist and singer Kim Shattuck came out in a black Wednesday Addams dress with over-the-knee stockings, while tall, thin bassist Ronnie wore a white pullover sweater with a bow tie, evoking local science guy Bill Nye. (Roy, being the drummer, gets to dress however he wants to.) The band ripped into their set of material from the new album and quite a lot of older material--older, I think, than the two albums and one compilation that I have. It didn't matter whether I was familiar with a song or not. I loved every minute of it!

Ronnie and a borrowed bass
This is what I call a rock and roll band. When they were playing, they were tight while looking like they were having fun. These are musicians who have been playing together for a long time--Kim and Ronnie since the beginning in 1991 and Roy since 1994. And between songs, there was often some fun chatter. Ronnie told how he was almost eaten by an escalator at SeaTac Airport when his shoelace got caught. Kim gave him no end of shit about this, but Ronnie came back with the best line: "At least I didn't get booted out of the Pixies." Zing! It was all in good fun.

This set was nothing if not fun. Toward the end, the bass amp—apparently belonging to the Tripwires bass player--cut out. In trying to get it repaired, Ronnie dropped his bass and broke one of the tuning pegs, which he promptly handed to an audience member. Then, while a tech and the Tripwires bass player were working on the amp, Kim played a song by herself, with a bit of help from Roy, while Ronnie went crowd surfing! After a few minutes, the amp was working again. Ronnie borrowed a bass from the Tripwires, with which he finished the set. They played for more than an hour, and then came back for a three-song encore! Really, it could not have been more satisfying. The sound at the Crocodile was very good. The crowd was enthusiastic.

I was tearing up even before we caught a cab back to our hotel, and I really was crying during the ride. I wasn't sad. I was emotionally overcome. Sure, there was some alcohol involved, but by that time I was mostly sober. It was mostly that I had finally seen one of my idols play. Kim Shattuck is a 51-year-old woman who has earned her slot of indie stardom by doing it her way. She did what I wish I had done and, even at 10 years older than Kim, still dream of doing.

2014/12/17

Quirky white girl music faves in 2014

I can't make a complete top-whatever list. I don't listen to enough music or a wide enough variety of music. And since I mostly buy music from emusic.com, I'm missing some things like St. Vincent and Mary Timony's new band Ex Hex. But I think that what I did listen to is good stuff, and since many of these won't be on anyone's best-of-2014 list, this is my public service.

The order of this list is somewhat fluid. It's a general picture of how I feel right now, and that might change a bit over time. But I bet that's the same for the people who create numbered lists. For me, what pushes an album toward the top is the impact it has on me, musical and emotional, both on first listening and over time. I can get intellectual and technical about music, but mostly I'm interested in how it makes me feel.

I saw some great live shows this year as well, including several of the bands below as well as La Luz, Louise Burns, and the Pack a.d. For me, it was a good year for music listening, although a bit skimpy on music playing (hoping for better in 2015).

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers


The New Pornographers came back after several years away with an album of driving, shiny, gorgeous songs. This is Carl Newman and Dan Bejar at their songwriting best. The title song kickoff explodes the way "Mass Romantic" did 14 years ago. Neko Case soars on "Champions of Red Wine." Just try to get "Dancehall Domine" out of your brain, even if you have no idea what it means. Really the only song that I'm not crazy about is "Spyder." I liked the album right off the bat, and I still love it. We saw the first night of the tour, no Neko, band playing some of these songs in public for the first time, and it was absolutely brilliant.

PINS - Girls Like Us


I heard about Manchester band PINS from John Freeman, who writes for British online music publication The Quietus. Their debut album was worth waiting for. This is one of those rare albums that feels like a whole. It's also remarkably assured for a debut album by a fairly new band. I find that they don't always develop melody as much as they might, and that vocalist Faith goes for her yelp a bit too often. Still, those are pretty minor complaints. And when I saw PINS live, before all of two dozen people (you're going to regret that, Vancouver), they blew me away with their combination of self-assurance and playfulness. Despite the lack of audience, they seemed to be having a great deal of fun being on stage, which was infectious. I want to hear and see more of this band. Now.

White Lung - Deep Fantasy


Deep Fantasy is a breakthrough album for White Lung. They have lost none of the ferocity while adding melody and subtlety. Mish finds new range in her voice. There is wonderful interplay between her singing and Kenny Williams's guitar playing, while Anne-Marie Vassiliou's powerful drumming propels everything relentlessly forward. "Face Down" is a killer song. As I listened to "Just For You" I realized how well recorded this album is (by Jesse Gander, with whom I have worked as well, so I know he's a genius at the console), something you don't often find in albums as loud and noisy as this one. When I saw them play a few weeks ago, with Hether Fortune from Wax Idols on bass (be still, my heart!), they put on a powerful, fiery show while clearly having a great time.

Dum Dum Girls - Too True


This is the album I've been waiting for since the He Gets Me High EP. After releases that sounded pretty but generic, Dee Dee Penny is letting her sound be distinctive once again and singing better than ever. "Cult of Love" is one of my favourite Dum Dum Girls songs ever with its contrast between minor key verse and explosive major key chorus. I only wish the song weren't so short! The single "Rimbaud Eyes" is very simple emo pop, and it's gorgeous. Dee Dee still writes too many one-line refrains that feel very repetitive, but overall I love this record.

The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi


I have loved the Raveonettes for years, and I always anticipate new releases from them. The last couple were fine but didn't bore into my brain the way Lust Lust Lust and In and Out of Control had. But Pe'ahi feels more like the Raveonettes I know and love while also surprising and delighting me. From the moody "Endless Sleeper" to the closing "Summer Ends," with its chorus of "Go fuck yourself, I don't believe you," this album feels new to me while still sounding like the Raveonettes.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn


I discovered the Vivian Girls only toward the end of their time as a band. They were totally my kind of thing. So naturally I wanted to know what each of the members was up to. Bassist Katy Goodman has done quite well, issuing three albums of post-punk girl group music as La Sera. I saw them do a short opening set (opening for King Tuff) at Fortune Sound club, and they were brilliant. And I love this album most of the three for it's excellent songwriting, singing, and playing. The only thing I could do with less of is the J. Macis guitar sound, but that's a minor quibble.

The Muffs - Whoop Dee Doo


You have to love that Muffs leader Kim Shattuck named this album, the band's first in over 10 years, after Charles (Black Francis) Thompson's comment when asked why the Pixies fired her as bassist. And I am so glad to have new, strong Muffs material! Shattuck has lost none of her ability to write great noisy pop songs. She can also still scream, but I wish she had dialled that back just a bit. Not only have I (and everyone) been waiting for this album; I have also wanted to see the Muffs perform, something that for many years they have mostly been doing only in California and occasionally on the East Coast. Heading to Seattle!

Alvvays - Alvvays


I'm glad I'm so late in writing this piece, because that allowed me to find Alvvays. More of the stuff I can't get enough of! Female vocal over off-centre reverb-soaked pop music.

Cold Beat - Over Me


Cold Beat is led by Hannah Lew, the bass player for Grass Widow. THey did a very good show at the Fox Cabaret opening for Frankie Rose, and I bought the CD there. I hear 1980s minimalism, dreamy vocals over driving beats, and maybe even a little of the Athens sound in the interplay between bass and guitar.

Ume - Monuments


I discovered Ume via She Shreds magazine, which is dedicated to female guitarists. The band hails from Austin, Texas, and is still regional as far as I know, but definitely should be more widely known. Lauren Lawson is the guitarist, vocalist, and leader. Lots of 1990s here, some shoegaze, and even acoustic. Sometimes it feels like Metric with more guitar and no synthesizer.

The Pixies - Indie Cindy


The Pixies are back? Much as I love them, I'm tempted to throw Charles's words back at him: "Whoop-Dee-Doo." OK, it's not that bad, but I like this mostly because it's new Pixies material, not because it's great Pixies material. Songs like "Blue Eyed Hexe" grab me, but much of the rest of the material sounds, well, uninspired? Or maybe just not inspired enough.

Mirah - Changing Light


This album makes me think of Feist's Metals for some reason. It's not as slick as that, but there's something about Mirah's voice and the tone of these songs that reminded me. I think this is indie pop that is enough off centre to be more indie than pop. Very good songs. Some spots are too quiet and mellow for me, but pretty.

Azar Swan - And Blow Us a Kiss


This is not really at the bottom of my list. I put it here only because it's so untypical for me—this year's Austra. Mish Way of White Lung gets the credit (again) for bringing an artist to my attention. And even though this is nothing like what I usually listen to, I find myself completely drawn in by this record and its sound. Imaginative, usually spare electronics with cool beats. Zohra Atash's voice haunts me! It actually took quite a bit of listening before I thought of Kate Bush, a comparison Atash is often stuck with. She is from Afghanistan, and I love hearing beat and sounds from her native land at various places in the songs.

2014/11/25

Return to sender

White nativism is incredibly ironic. Imagine being nativist in a country where your ancestors squatted on someone else's land, often slaughtering those someone elses in the process because they were in the way. It takes a special kind of ignorance, stupidity, or maybe sociopathology to come up with shit like that. Nativists think they're more native than actual native people!

And then those ancestors went and (a) bought human beings from sub-Saharan West Africa, (b) brought them here against their will, and (c) built an economy on their backs. And now you're pissed off because the descendents of slaves have the gall to want a normal life?

So yeah, right, back to Africa. Ha ha, good one. Back to Africa because African people who were brought here against their will have now overstayed their "welcome"? Back to Africa because if they're not slaves they're of no use to you? Back to Africa even though it's likely their ancestors have been in the country longer than your ancestors?

Seriously, morons. Back to Europe. Back to fucking Europe.