I apologize for being farther behind in examining new releases this month than I usually am (and I always am). I did have some good reasons. I am one of those people who can read with fine concentration while I have, say, a Last Exit record cranked up to 6 or 7. However, my recently completed journey through the second book in Marlon James’ frightening, mind-boggling, and revolutionary fantasy/horror/unclassifiable trilogy, Moon Witch Spider Kingcould not have been completed with anything other than Bill Evans or Morton Feldman as background, and even those might have been distracting. (Please note: the journey through these books is definitely worthwhile, and one hell of a lot safer than the characters’ journeys.) In addition, rereading Will Friedwald’s assessments of Shirley Horn’s ouevre sent me on another journey to pretty much plumb its depths. Horn’s best work is gorgeously hypnotic, and she did not record much that wasn’t good, so I am talking many hours spent. (Where to start, the uninitiated might ask? The very early Embers and Ashes, which knocked Miles Davis out and confirmed for him that slow tempos and floating space were indeed great ideas, and 1992’s Here’s To Life. Resonance Records’ recently issued Live at the Four Queens is a knockout, with the lagniappe of brilliant notes that will send you further. Ok…I’m getting distracted again.) Plus, I took a little vacation, and both my wife and I are home, so I can’t just listen to anything anytime (I often feel headphones are rude when you have company). Most ironically, the new record that debuted highest on the chart below was maybe my biggest distraction: a scintillating five-disc box of jazz duets that I kept returning to rather than sampling other new stuff–that’s high praise for a new box set, coming from someone who feels he has to “keep up.” Wadada Leo Smith’s The Emerald Duets, on TUM Records (City Hall Records stateside), features the octogenarian trumpet master going head to head–disc-long (the shortest piece runs 36:39)–with four equally masterful drummers: Pheeroan akLaff (67, the baby of the project), Andrew Cyrille (82), Han Bennink (80), and Jack DeJohnette (79). akLaff you may know from his fiery work with Sonny Sharrock; Cyrille’s played with damned near everybody in jazz, specifically including Cecil Taylor and David Murray; DeJohnette, who occupies the last two discs, most will know from his backing of Miles (notably on Bitches Brew); and Bennink is the clown-prince of European improvisatory drumming, best heard on his many recordings with Instant Composers Pool but another musician who has definitely been around (as a young man he even backed Dolphy). On a project like this, there’s no place to hide when there’s only two of you, and if you’re going to play a 74-minute and 58-second piece (Smith and akLaff’s “Litanies, Prayers, and Meditations”), you best keep it lively and shift a few gears. I’m happy to say that this set rewards close attention. If you’ve not heard Smith, he is a responsive player of deep feeling and many moves–he might remind the first-time listener of Miles himself–and he famously can tell a story with his horn. Of course, you can tell jazz drummers apart (it would seem, perhaps, harder to do in duet settings), and these men are indeed stylists. I enjoy each disc, but my favorite, perhaps because it is the most playful (not a mood one frequently associates with Smith) is the Bennink duet, aptly titled “Mysterious Sonic Fields.” Han is a trickster; Smith’s far too wizened to get tricked, and there’s some of the tension. The least interesting discs were those with DeJohnette, maybe because of fatigue (I need to listen to them out of order) but also because of DeJohnette’s switches to piano and Fender Rhodes on disc five, which I consider a distraction, rather than a change of pace. But even it, when you lean forward to listen to these sages listening to each other (these are no dialogues of the deaf), conjures fascination, and the whole set gives one hope for growing older, wiser, and better. I haven’t been encountering that hope all that much lately. My only real beef, and it’s silly, is that Smith didn’t hold onto his previously-released duet piece with the late engine-room wizard (not fair: he was a scientist) Milford Graves, which came out in another TUM box set, Sacred Ceremonies. Speaking of TUM box sets, they are very impressively appointed, with terrific cover art and insightful notes.
I also have been occupied with Smith’s other (yes, other) box set, the seven-disc String Quartets Nos. 1-12, recorded mostly by the Red Koral Quartet, with Smith, who composed the pieces, appearing only briefly on two of then. I do not have the expertise to properly evaluate these compositions–I’m only four-deep into them–but I can say that I’ve had a bit of trouble finding a way into them. Smith’s composing style for the quartet (three violinists and a cellist) not only allows for improvisation but also takes an approach that deliberately eschews development for expression. I hear many moments of tenderness disrupted by dissonant string-strikes and was briefly delighted by some rollercoaster-like passages–but that’s as good as I can do, and it ain’t good enough. Perhaps I’ll report back in August after I’ve absorbed the entire box.
I wrote the above instead of my usual odds-and-sods list of observations because The Emerald Duets is truly a masterful set of performances by five jazz elders who need to get the proper respect while they’re living. This ain’t a rehearsal, and another such performance ain’t guaranteed.
This year, I had the opportunity to design and teach a gen ed class in Stephens College’s arts array. Considering Stephens is a women’s college (it does have a conservatory program that enrolls a few men), and considering my inclinations, it should be no surprise that the class I designed I chose to call “Groundbreaking Women in U. S. Music: A History in 150 Albums.” Why just United States music? It’s a semester class, folks! How 150 albums?? Have you heard of streaming? It beats buying a bunch of books (though they did read them for this class), and, believe it or not, we at least touched on more than that many. Their homework was usually a Spotify playlist–we discussed the Joe Rogan affair, but the class unanimously decided to stick with that platform–crammed with important albums from a chronological time period, some I insisted they listen to in their entirety, others I advised them to sample.
I spent the first three days taking them on a speedy trip from the advent of pop music on record–
–to the rise of the 12″ long-playing album (here’s a sample), then we began the real journey. My plan was to get from the early 1950s to 2000, then assign them two projects that would leave it up to them to explore 2001 to the present (see some of the results–the greatest hits–below). Due to my cramming each class so full (plus some unexpected occurrences that called me away from home and forced me to teach virtually) (plus my insistence on screening four films: Anita O’Day–The Life of a Jazz Singer, What Happened, Miss Simone?, 20 Feet from Stardom, and Poly Styrene—I Am a Cliche–no regrets on the choices), we only made it to about 1995, though we often talked about albums later than that, especially current ones. I was also fortunate enough to lasso in two terrific guest speakers, groundbreaking country music journalist Alanna Nash (a 1972 graduate of Stephens, which I actually learned after I’d thought to ask her) and the lead singer and songwriter of the band The Paranoid Style, an inspiring music journalist herself, Elizabeth Nelson. The students responded to them much more enthusiastically than to me, and I hope they’ll make a return visit if the class continues, as I’ve been informed it should next spring. As far as work was concerned, aside from listening to and annotating playlists for discussion, they took a couple tests (which including listening identification, the sections of which most students excelled on), provided discussion board commentary on the films and speakers, read and critiqued a music tome from a list I provided, and, for their final exam, wrote an in-class essay arguing for a woman and an album of hers post-2000 that were groundbreaking. Again, nice examples of both of those essays (free from my edits) are provided below. The class provided a three-hour credit in Stephens’ arts array and was open to all students–most of them were freshmen, but I had a few from the other three classes.
Our focuses were, first, defining what groundbreaking in this context means, then taking off on the roads provided by those definitions: making fresh innovations to pre-existing practices (sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally), busting through artistic, social, cultural, and economic roadblocks, acting as conduits for new (and old) currents in women’s and artists’ lives, and inventing new stuff (or seeming to) out of thin air–well, nothing’s invented out of thin air. I am very likely forgetting some side-roads onto which we detoured, because we did do that, or it wouldn’t be a class of mine.
Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the first run. As I said, I crammed the burrito too full and we couldn’t finish it; also, due to Covid restrictions at the beginning of the semester, we ended up in a cavernous space (an auditorium) that hindered our ability to get to know each other better and establish the kind of class chemistry I like; I wanted to feature a live performance by a local singer-songwriter who could have nicely represented and spoken to the world of women and music in Columbia, but I could not swing that (there’s always a next time, and I have a different performer in mind); I was frequently distracted and not always at my organizational best; and–an inevitable fault–I simply left out some essential figures for no good reason other than faulty memory and not bearing down on pre-class research (like just looking at my own stacks! How did I leave out DINAH WASHINGTON?). However, the results of the students’ tests, their in-class inquiries and arguments, their enthusiasm on discussion boards, and the generally high quality of their essays testify to me that the class worked–and, to at least some extent, in spite of me.
Here are some excellent examples of the essays. I am primarily a composition teacher, but in this class I only offered writing suggestions on an intermittent basis (the assignment sheets, on the other hand, were chock-full of those), didn’t require peer edits, and didn’t read, mark, and return drafts for revision like I would in my comp classes. What you’re reading is their untouched work; I feel no insecurity in showcasing it that way! (Plus, I’ll never forget the fellow teacher during my public school years who personally revised her students’ writing assignments before they were brought in for department double-blind assessment–that’s a lot of dang work to create an illusion!)
Please note: These writers have all granted me permission to publish their work on my blog. I have chosen to keep their identities anonymous; however, if, for professional reasons, you would like to know who they are, please contact me through this blog and I will contact them to attain consent. Also, regarding theft of the following writing, each essay has been data-based as protection against plagiarism.
BEST OF THE BOOK CRITIQUES:
Binary Absence: How Queer Music Exposed Societal Delusion (The writer’s a freshman; her final exam essay leads off the next section!)
The majority of gender is perception. People want to be perceived as the gender they see themselves. It is a conscious effort of transness to be seen in a satisfactory way and speak their preferred dialect in a world where gender is the most surfaced language. In the past couple hundred years, the patriarchy has managed to intertwine gender into everything favorably to it, and deemed everything outside its strict parameters as queer. The word “queer” is a powerful reconstruction of a word historically used to snicker at us. Previously and currently, a word synonymous with strange, queer is now a common description used personally by individuals in the LGBTQ+. Not only is this fabulous, but it is also beautifully descriptive and inclusive in its use. Queerness is an encompassment of the shared emotional rollercoaster that is being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. In Glitter Up the Dark by Sasha Geffen, the presence of deviant identities like Prince, Klaus Nomi, David Bowie, Ma Rainey, and countless others are fiercely confirmed and tell a consolidated musical story of how queerness has come into power.
This text by Sasha Geffen dives into the specifics of queer music history. It details dozens of artists’ stories in order of genre; consistently proving the relevance genre has had in queer acceptance and reactions. Not only does Sasha talk about artists who self-identified as queer, but artists who left a queer impact despite their personal sexual orientation. The first mention of this type of impact was The Beatles, and it touched on their unconventional femininity that pivoted the public gaze from brawny, masculine men. This discussion tumbles into future displays of boy bands and the homoerotic nature that is often included. Arguably the real meat and potatoes is the talk of queer artists and the public’s relationship to them and their identity. The trailblazing done by early gay, genderqueer, and trans artists left a mark for their successors of the future in ways that were carefully articulated by the author of this book. Each queer story builds upon another to make a rainbow big enough to be seen by those who do not yet see. It’s always been freeing to see people mix and blend gender to their own expression. Prince was my first example of this as a kid. My favorite song of his, I Would Die 4 U, opens with the lyric “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I’m something that you can not understand” which spoke to me in great depths because of an extremely gendered ideology that never seemed worth following or protecting. It truly is something that most people cannot understand, mostly due to a fault that is not their own. Nearly every act, item, and color are associated with a supposed boyishness or girlishness, which is a hard cycle to break from when it engulfs everyday life. I’ve noticed that genderqueer people find freedom in more than just their gender. They seem to have a more complete understanding of the universal experience and things that make all of us similar and unique. They live life with a philosophy that it is a profound but finite experience that should be indulged. There is a rawness to their approach that relates to more people than anticipated considering their commercial success. Of course, with all these beautiful things that come with a queer way of being, there also comes a sea of misfortune and failure by the outside world. These same people that are filled to the brim with art and creativity are ostracized at any sign of eccentricity or “queerness;” apart from those who understand. The author of this book speaks from the point of view of someone who understands, and for that reason, they speak knowingly of the intricacies in queer life and music.
It can be really scary to reject a system that has implemented itself into things as simple as the fit of pants and a haircut, yet artists display such seemingly fearless acts of societal defiance. This book goes into the details of the artist’s personal identity and experience as well as the state of the world and its reaction. Because this book deals with so many artists, there are connections to be made between the art and its repercussions through time. Not only does queer music inter-connect, but queer artists can be found in just about every other area of history.
Toward the end of the book, Geffen delves into the age of the internet in its own chapter. Queer artists were at the forefront of the new-age technology because of their already forward-thinking perspectives- their desperate yearning for progression. It is no secret that the queer internet footprint is not slight, so the intertwining roles of queer people in the internet and music are particularly fascinating. Following this chapter is an epilogue in which Sasha explains bits of their own relationship with the book’s contents. They describe that relationship as being not necessarily hopeful, but “grateful for the optimism: the belief of transness as transformative within the body and outside it”. This compelling connection between the individual transition and the transformation of public perception is what fulfilled the purpose of the epilogue. It explains how this music is tapped into an intellectual transcendent wisdom that consistently sends waves into the public and awakens people to the idea of an absence of binary. Queer artists unfailingly make reference to the possibility of free-living despite the boundaries binary structures impose. “A happy ending is what we have to be hopeful for. If there is a meteor that is going to destroy the earth, at least there’s the most beautiful sunset the world has ever seen right before it crushes us. maybe my album is that sunset” says Yves Tumor, a genderqueer artist Sasha references in the epilogue. This is a charming illustration of the optimism in queer freedom that abjects the patriarchal agenda that cis men have been building for centuries. Similar to Tumor’s take on the subject, Geffen does a fantastic job at following queer history in an organized and thorough way.
Prince’s expression of gender and sexuality has been a personal fascination since early childhood. My dad, despite his conservative views, actually raised me on numerous of the artists mentioned in this book. Out of these, Prince is undoubtedly the queer artist that has most influenced my becoming. His androgynous yelps and falsetto got me just as excited as Michael Jackson’s voice, of whom I’ve always been a big fan. Even better than his voice, though, was his presentation. Seeing his music videos as an elementary student was an awakening to a whole other level of beauty that would only grow in importance. Everything about him was fabulous: his fashion, unapologetic demeanor, feminine elegance, mystery, and explosive talent just to name a few. His songs followed me to be included in queer experiences of my own. Now in my journey of gender queerness, he remains an affirming reference to my potential.
This book is for music fans who are either queer or interested in learning about groundbreaking artists, most of which happen to be queer. The itinerary of names in this piece had me seriously flabbergasted. These are artists that any non-queer person would know and love. I would say my experience as a queer person reading this elevated my perception of the artists’ impact considering the repercussions their actions have had on my current reality. Throughout my reading I was just in awe of queerness, seeing it in everything, understanding it in a deeper collective sense. It really is a facet of the creative, intellectual, eccentric way of being that is so commonly seen in artists. It has caused me to look at the queer people in my daily life as if they too are stars. There is clear solidarity in the universal queer experience that solidifies queerness with greatness in the language of art.
Blowing Up The Binary
(This writer is a junior whom I also was fortunate to teach when she was a freshman; she chose the same book as the above writer, which is a true testament to an excellent book, the author of which I hope to bring in as a guest speaker next round.)
A stage stands in darkness awaiting its performer as the audience grows more anxious with anticipation. Suddenly lights burst to life and a figure comes into view. They aren’t necessarily man or woman, feminine or masculine, one or the other. Rather they are everything. They are androgyne and they are here to Glitter Up the Dark. From Ma Rainey (early 1900s) to Lady Gaga (early 2000s) the world of music has always been a place to explore gender and sexuality through fashion, makeup, and music. And while the full title of the book is Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, writer Saha Geffen says themself the binary “has always limped along in pieces, easily cracked by a brief foray into the historical record” (Geffen 1). So how do they write an entire book based on breaking the binary if they don’t believe in it in the first place? It’s all about perception. Geffen is “illuminating common strategies as they pertain to music’s unique potential for defection from the status quo” (Geffen 10).
Starting off strong, Geffen recounts the influence that blues and Black singers had on upcoming artists at the turn of the century. Black women especially slid “barely coded lyrics” (Geffen 3) into their songs. For example, Geffen uses Ma Rainey’s song “Sissy Blues” as the bridge to talk about how Rainey and Bessie Smith “exposed the stereotypes and explored the contradictions of [Queer] relationships” (Geffen 3). This segways into the main questions Geffen prepares to investigate throughout their book; “Why is music so inherently Queer?” (Geffen 8). Does it have to do with the way we experience music? Or rather the fact that music itself is “inherently a sensual exchange” (Geffen 9). In whatever way it is framed, the heart of the matter is music is a space where audiences and artists alike can let go and traverse the multitude of ways to express themselves.
An example that comes to mind – that is still not fully convincing – is how The Beatles were “the first boy band to break the gender mold” (Geffen 13). Looking at the Beatles with a modern eye makes it hard to visualize how they can be a part of ‘breaking the binary.’ But once viewed through the lens of time, the band takes shape as “something more complex than an empty sexual template” (Geffen 15). Geffen argues that The Beatles’ manager – a gay man named Brian Epstein – is the reason for curating the aesthetic of the band. This is one of the most fascinating parts of the first half of the book and where Geffen’s knowledge is on full display. While the other parts of the novel are interesting – Prince, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, LaBelle, and countless others – their gender expression / presentation isn’t subtle. By looking at one picture of Prince or David Bowie or even Iggy Pop it’s easy to identify the Queer influences, but with The Beatles, it’s a whole different story. And yes, The Beatles have been talked about to death and they are cis, straight, white men, but the intrigue comes from the not knowing and not apparently obvious aspects.
Another gripe about the first half of the book is that Geffen focuses primarily on male / masculine artists. While there are women sprinkled in, it is not until the second half that they delve deeper into these artists. Primarily Maxine Feldman and the lesbian voice. From the first time, Feldman and the song “Angry Atthis” are mentioned it captures attention. Geffen uses the Stonewall riots to connect the thread of Feldman’s song leaving the reader wondering how the two connect (Geffen 174). Women’s Music was born from this sound and era of music. Starting with “Angry Atthis,” listeners can hear the explicitly lesbian lyrics – a far deviation from Ma Rainey’s “barely coded lyrics” – accompanied by the rough vocals from Feldman. The song takes on the frustrations of lesbians from every generation and reveals them in a slam poetry- style recording. Where the song lacks backup vocals or arrangements, it makes up for in the tone, grit, and shock value. The song isn’t flowery in any way. But that is where it succeeds. By choosing not to have a flashy or loud background, Feldman forces listeners to focus on the lyrics, to truly feel what Feldman feels. “Angry Atthis” is exactly what its name implies: angry.
Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary definitely threw glitter on the stage. Geffen is an adept writer and music scholar, but is their book breaking any ground? There is no correct answer here. To readers well versed in Queer history / Queer music history, it might just be retelling them everything they knew, but to the casual reader, this all could be new and revolutionary to them. So who can actually make a case for either side? That, of course, is not a question to be answered now, but a question that did need answering was “Why is music so inherently Queer?” Again, there isn’t a concrete answer for this. But it’s apparent that music is an art form that welcomes expression and new ideas. Other art – particularly film – takes years, or even decades to catch up with popular culture while music spearheads the movement along with fashion. Glitter Up the Dark is deeply fascinating for countless reasons. Geffen appeals to niche audiences while still making sure casual audiences understand what they are trying to say. The music theory isn’t too daunting to figure out and the analysis helps where quotes fail. In all Geffen produced a book that is the start of the investigation of gender in music.
“You put them on a pedestal, but now, you recognise them as flawed people, and as individuals”: A book analysis on Fangirls by Hannah Ewens
(This is a freshman all the way from Alberta, Canada! Last semester, all of my students read Hannah’s terrific book and tapped her wisdom when she Zoomed in to our classroom.)
Hannah Ewens wrote Fangirls all about fans and their experiences and stories. Ewens shared some of her own stories and thoughts on certain artists and situations, ranging from My Chemical Romance to Elvis Presley. The word Fan means something very different to everyone, something learned after reading Fangirls. Heartbreak, depression, obsession, and love are all things felt by fans; as crazed as that might sound it is more correct than would be imagined. There is a lot more to being a fan than just liking an artist’s music; there is a deep connection among other things. Fans are not crazy, just connected.
Ewens writes in the prologue “I’ve often thought the people around the spectacle as curious as the spectacle itself – and as worthy of proper investigation” (12). She felt that fans were worth learning more about, so she then wanted to know why they did what they did. Fangirls have a history and “Just telling the good side of things didn’t make the “cut”” (Ewens 17). The role of a fangirl entailed more than just making an artist sound and look good, it included calling them out when they do something that is not liked by the general public. In order to make the so-called cut of being a fangirl, fans have to tell the good and bad side of what is going on with an artist. Fans hold so much power that they are “just as important as the artists they love” (Ewens 21). The presence they hold on all platforms, whether it be social media or public, has become so strong that sometimes they become equally or more important than the artists themselves. They do, however, come with their fair share of stereotypical fan behavior. They are seen by others as psychotic, obsessed, and emotional. The way fans are perceived varies depending on where in the world they are from and which artist or group they are a fan of. For these fans, their love for an artist and their music is an escape from reality and a temporary “cure” for their mental health: “There are two ways to deal with mental illness or difficult life circumstances: to engage or to distract. Neither, she says, is correct or inherently good, but both are necessary for ideal mental health” (Ewens 69). No matter which of these two ways a fan chooses to deal with their mental health, the music itself and the lyrics within it is what helps these individuals overcome their internal battles. A great example of this is My Chemical Romance and the way they use their music to help their fans overcome mental health challenge’s. Ewens feels that “(t)he meaning was there – pain and drama – when I couldn’t verbalise anything. I thought to myself: anytime you need to come back here, you can” (68). Even as the author of this piece Hannah Ewens writes about how their music helped her get through pain of her own. What is seen on the outside is not what defines a fangirl, it is what is seen inside and out: everything that they are.
How Ewens goes about the normalcy of artists that does not seem to be realized by those in and outside the fangirl’s realm is interesting. She reminds that readers that “(t)his frailty serves as a reminder that these people that fans love so much are human beings, who get ill, hurt, are in pain, cry, and eventually will die just like the rest of us” (Ewens 91). In reference to the title of this paper, artists are raised to such a high standard by their fans that once they are noticed as individuals that make mistakes and feel, just like everyone else, it seems as though they are shocked. The fact that artists really are just normal, flawed individuals often gets overshadowed over by their fame and “power.” Although this seems like simple knowledge that artists are real people, it is often not recognized by fans, and Ewens addresses this so delicately that it really gets the point across.
Out of the numerous artists talked about in the book, Lady Gaga stuck out the most. The topic of mental health and Gaga’s experience with it was extremely interesting to read about. Through looking further into her music, I was able to gain new insights into what she went through and what the meaning behind some of her lyrics are. In her song “911” from the Chromatica album that was released in 2020, the lyrics “My biggest enemy is me/Ever since day one” gave so much insight in so little words. From the start Gaga struggled with her own thoughts and feelings of herself, the internal fight many struggle to overcome. Despite what she has been through, she chooses to share these thoughts and experiences through her music. She uses her music to communicate with those that relate to her and have been through the same trauma in knowing that they are not alone. Another song on this album called “Replay” talks about confusion with trauma triggers and how to deal with them. She sings, “The scars on my mind are on replay”; although she brings this sensitive topic into music, she inspires others to have hope using an upbeat track behind these painful lyrics. A personal insight that I gained was the trauma and immense pain that Lady Gaga went through and the fact that she wanted to use her own trauma and music to help others get through their own mental illnesses.
Ewens wrote this book to give others insights into why fans act the way they did and why they do the things they do. She aimed to give a deeper meaning behind what a fan is and show that they are more than what meets the eye. This was successfully achieved through Fangirls. Fans feel depression, heartbreak, obsession, and love, all through their favorite artists. This is not meant to seem nutty, but rather to show that fans are more than just their love for music. They are not crazy; they just share a deeper connection with artists than others. Fangirls is the perfect read for anyone that struggles with mental health, loves music, or wants to know more about fan behavior. A recommendation for potential readers is to go into this book with an open mind and be willing to learn more about fans and their connection with artists rather than just listening to the stereotypes.
Girls Go Groupies: I’m With the Band Critique
(This writer, also a freshman, was one of the most incisive and daring of class discussion leaders, and often seemed to be mind-melding with me by introducing important questions before I could blab them out. Better from her than from me!)
It is without a doubt that the 1960s and the 1970s were monumental for music. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is the tagline for the raging music world in these decades. Glammed out men singing to stadiums full of screaming young girls known as “groupies.” 1960s – 70s groupies bring a specific image to mind; bra throwing, sweaty, doting, obsessive, nymphomaniac fangirls who would do anything and everything for the man of their dreams. Pamela Des Barres, a famous groupie for bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, shows that there is more to a groupie than what meets the eye. In her book, aptly titled “I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie”, Pamela looks back on her life and adventures in the music world through her connection to these idols. Pamela crafts a beautiful playlist of influential songs while showing the nitty gritty reality of the music world, the turbulent sixties, and the musicians the world was head over heels with.
Pamela Des Barres was born and raised in California. In the sixties, California was full of hustling and bustling hippies and musicians, spreading their free love and cheap records. During high school, Pam started listening to The Beatles. Beatlemania was well a part of Pamela’s teen life, writing in her journal how she would love to thank Paul McCartney for his beautiful music with fellatio, and passing Beatle love stories with her Beatle friends. This is just the beginning of her desire to give her love to musicians. While many of her friends stopped following musicians after the Beatles, Paul was just her first. Nicholas Saint Nicholas, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Waylon Jennings, Chris Hillman, Noel Redding, Michael Des Barres are among the list of musicians and celebrities she dated or have been with, and the list goes on. Throughout her journeys, she notes the struggle of being with musical sensations, how they treated her and others. The over the top, fervent, passionate musical numbers led to a lot of the musicians having similar fervent, passionate emotions. She struggles with, as she puts it, “often get[ting] crushes on the wrong people” (Des Barres 21). She indulged in the life of a young music fanatic, right in the middle of the music scene, getting caught up in the good music and the drugs that came along with it. Pamela gives the insight of a woman with a free spirit and free flowing sexuality; a woman who lived a full life by the age of 22 and is open with her mistakes by “liv[ing] my life smack dab in the moment, a place where there is no room for such a pallid thing as regret” (Des Barres 13). In her novel, it becomes apparent that she has lived a unconventional lifestyle that goes against what one is “supposed to do”, with no regret.
Pamela writes in a very cohesive style. She tells her tales of being a groupie through the lens of her love stories. She weaves in her life story in such an effortless way, tied in with her emotional state and journal entries, that get you to know the person behind the groupie. She’s not just one of Jimmy Page’s ex girlfriends, she’s a creative individual. She’s open and vulnerable, aware and youthful, and lives with no regrets but still is able to critique herself. She can laugh at her teen self being emotionally destroyed by a boy, while still validating her past feelings. For instance, after being grounded by her mom and told she couldn’t be alone with a boy again, Pamela ran to her room and had “ a historical piece of typical teen torment” (Des Barres 22). Pamela brings you along her life journey effortlessly, focusing on how influential music was for her.
While Pamela was influential and an avid listener of many musicians, she also was a part of a small women’s music group called the GTO’s. The group stood officially for “Girls Together Only” but as Pamela writes “we adored the idea and expanded on it, deciding that the O could stand for anything we wanted it to: Outrageously, Overtly, Outlandishly, Openly, Organically” (Des Barres 91). They were a small band of groupies run by Frank Zappa. The GTOs only released one album Permanent Damage, before the group slowly fell apart. The album was experimental and had instrumentals and backup done by celebrities, like actor Rodney Bingenheimer. Their music is reminiscent of girl groups of the past; the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, the Shirelles, all with a funky, campy, rock twist.
Pamela Des Barres to this day is a groundbreaking woman. She was a part of all the controversial parts of the sixties and seventies: free love, experimental music, female independence, and the overall challenging of “norms.” She continually redefines what society thinks of a groupie. Through her writing, you can tell that the groupies are sometimes the musicians’ only place for solace. These men trusted and loved Pamela in their own ways. Pamela loved them back. She had a deep insight on how unforgiving the life of a traveling musician was from a firsthand account. She rejected modern monogamy and the nuclear family, and allowed herself to be herself. She constantly searched for meaning and understanding of the world, showcasing how deep and intellectual she really was. She continues to live a groovy lifestyle to this day, sticking to her morals and ideals. She finishes her book by saying:
All those high ideals I had as a flower child, the Bob Dylan lyrics imprinted on my soul, the freefreefree feeling of spinning in the sunlight at the Human-Be-In, the United oneness sitting cross legged on the Sunset Strip, the spiritual torture I put myself through in Kentucky, have made me what I am today: one happy chick. Every morning I wake up and say “Yay!” (Des Barres 298).
Queen of Noise Book Report
(Another freshman who, while needing some technical polish, wrote and spoke with one of the most distinctive voices in class, and whose intellect was unsurpassed among her peers.)
The Runaways had so many hit songs, there not a one-hit-wonder but the band didn’t last long in the spotlight. Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell is a book that, as the title suggests, shares the events leading up to the band splitting up and going their own ways. The author writes about childhood experiences and what happened between 1975 and 1979 to lead the band to said splitting but allows the reader to think for themselves when it come to the true cause.
McDonnell doesn’t write about the band’s experiences in chronological order, but rather tries to recount the events following the band’s fallout but stops with back stories of where each member came from or where they got their motives from. For example, Kim Fowley, the Runaways’ producer, has a history in a broken home. His mother and father – divorced, B-list actors — had no time for him without proper cause such as using him as what he can be quoted saying, a “cock-block” (47). Another example is Joan Jett wanting to learn more boyish things, at the time this includes playing the electric guitar and playing rock and roll like they did because “Holding a solid piece of wood at crotch level while running your hands up and down its neck wasn’t proper, ladylike, feminine, ‘good’” (20). Following these childhood moments, the author talks about issues the band had while they were still active, or them carrying on making songs or doing concerts. One thing for sure is that the author lets the reader read the history so they can at least try to understand where the members of the Runaways came from and why they made their decisions or did certain actions. Perhaps that is why the book is so groundbreaking, not just for the fact that these young teenagers were making sensual music like men, but for the fact that this author, Evelyn McDonnell, writes covering all the sides, not just one. There is not just one single monster or negative force that made the band fall but many such as drugs, fighting, lies, and the lack of supervision of these women who weren’t trained or ready to survive and work as adults.
Normally, biography is in chronological order, but the author didn’t do this. As stated previously, this is still an interesting concept the author does and is effective. It allows the reader to come to their own conclusion on what the real problem is and yet the author still gets her point across on what she thinks is the problem. However, as the reader you must pay extra close attention when things move from the past to the present or else the book becomes difficult to read. While there are sub-headings in each chapter it still hard to read at times. The author uses a variety of sources for support like Kathleen Hannah, lead singer of Bikini Kills, and quotes from Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway by Cherie Ann Currie, a former member of The Runaways. All these sources are effective because having people with personal experiences and people who just know the members’ personalities shows readers an inside look at the band’s history. For example, a lot of people accuse Kim Fowley, manager of the Runaways, of sexually abusing all of them but the author quoted a friend of the band as saying that he doesn’t think Fowley could be possible of raping those girls. However, Fowley is quoted later as saying, “I’m a horrible human being with a heart of gold, or a piece of shit in a bag of diamonds” (46). He was also known to call himself a pimp of the Runaways but denied any sexual allegations he was accused of. This contrast works so well in McDonnell’s convincing the reader of her main argument of having no one direct reason of why the Runaways spilt or the controversy around it.
The Runaways have four albums and one live album for the whole time they were a band from 1975 to 1979. Joan Jett and Sandy West wrote most of their own songs and normally about their personal history, like in “Born to Be Bad” the song lyrics state, “I called my mother from Hollywood the other day / and I said, ‘Mom, I just called to tell ya I joined a rock and roll band / And, uh, I won’t be coming home no more’ / You know what she did? / She started crying and weeping and whimpering like all mothers do. / She woke up my father and told him about it and he said / ‘there ain’t a damn thing we can do, that’s the way she is’” (Runaways). These lyrics could be a reference to Joan Jett catching the last bus to California in the middle of the night to start a band with Sandy West and the other members. However, this is just speculative, the book stated that they did write their songs from personal experience but never gave an example of this but this is the strongest example of this due to the fact that the book goes into detail about Joan Jett past.
In conclusion, Evelyn McDonnell wrote Queens of Noise to showcase the true stories of the Runaways and show that it wasn’t just one single cause that made them fall apart, but multiple like drugs, sex, and lack of supervision. The ideal reader for McDonnell’s book is someone who enjoys learning more about women empowerment, 70s era in the sunset strip area, and mental health/trauma from this time as well but most anyone will enjoy this due to the author letting the reader come to these conclusions stated previously but overall, this is a book about a couple of broken teenage kids trying to live the dream that seemed so impossible to achieve at the time due to their gender which sometimes is still a struggle today.
BEST OF THE IN-CLASS FINAL EXAM 2000-2022 CASE-MAKERS
(Students had two hours to brainstorm and knock these out.)
Dolls With Expensive Taste
(Reminder: this student led off the above section, too.)
A lot of my media consumption is keeping up with drag queens and watching drag shows. With the art of drag comes fabulous music that holds the power to set the tone, evoke emotion, and get people dancing. The performances are filled with an array of pop, rock, hip-hop, techno, etc. that is often meant to get the audience excited and dancing. In 2014 absolute pop sensation hit the market: none other than Broke with Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks. This dance pop, hip-hop album exudes boldness, self-assurance, and the spirit of movement that has broke ground in the homes of queers, dolls, and bimbos around the world. I mean this literally for Azealia staunchly channels my ravenous upstairs neighbor energy. This has been my go-to party music since middle school and will remain essential to my peers and I forever.
Unsurprisingly, the music in drag is consumed widely by the queer community, so Azealia became a staple in queer people’s lives and the American club scene. When the debut album came out in 2014, the queer edm scene was the first to get its hands on it. I heard “212” for the first time in middle school because of people dancing and vogueing to it on Instagram and Vine. This album is the kind that you can not stop yourself from moving to. Infectious beats permeate uninterruptedly through the entire album. She switches between busy effects and isolated beats, letting her voice and beat be simultaneous as a motif. She is extremely talented at maintaining a style throughout her discography with each song having effects and melodies that make them distinct. Despite her consistency, she is experimental by nature, and she just sort of happens to pump out glamorous, campy dance pop.
Azealia was born and raised by a physically and emotionally abusive mother in Harlem, New York. She was the youngest child and opted to live with one of her two older siblings by the age of 14. Her forced independence is made clear in her music by her defensive and offensive. Like many other female rappers, she had to hold her own and make ends meet from a very young age. She always knew she had a love for performance, so she danced at a strip joint for fast cash and starred in musicals for fun. She displays her skillful theatrics in the way emotion pours from her voice, but in a way that likely no one would ever hear in theater. Technically, she is a talented and wide-ranged singer but her self-expression comes through in slurred, dragged out, sing-songy melodies. My personal favorite is when she swings into a low whiney voice keenly heard in “Luxury”. The synth, bass, and her rolling vocals create the perfect concoction for me to feel like the most glamorous person to exist. My other favorites from the album include “212”, “Miss Camaraderie”, “Desperado”, and “Yung Repunxel”. Her vocabulary shares a distinctness likened to that of Nicki Minaj and Meghan Thee Stallion because of their rap flow incorporating how they speak in everyday life. She sometimes has these juvenile plug-ins that describe and work perfectly with her unfiltered takes and otherwise hood-esque vocabulary. In “212”, for example, she belittles a man saying, “Wit your doo-doo crew son – Fuck are you into, huh”. She has surely brought descriptive lyricism into a new light: one of unhinged play and certitude. A motif of hers is her use of the word cunt, which is super draggy whether she realizes it or not. My favorite use of this is in her song “Count Contessa” (2019) and it is as follows: “One, two, I styles the besta until I’m kunt perfecta”. Her lyrics revolve around her boundless confident persona and she is constantly declaring her mark, allowing the listener to channel the same energy.
It is ironic because her relationship with the queer community is not a pretty one. She is known for her controversial tweets and transphobic comments. This is perhaps the most fascinating dynamic between an artist and their audience I have ever seen. Her concerts are FILLED with queer people, drag queens, bimbos, and myself, yet she continuous to pump out timeless queer classics without seeming to be conscious about it. I have yet to meet a queer person who hasn’t heard of her or one of her songs. I could see her becoming somewhat of a success likened to Lady Gaga, in terms of music gay and young people have in their dance playlists. It may be clear that my thoughts on this album tie my recent reading of Glitter Up the Dark by Sasha Geffen, but Sasha’s mentioning of the major queer icons that are not queer definitely had me thinking about Azealia and this album. A group that comes to mind is t.A.T.u, a Russian girl duo that released the 2002 hit, “All the Things She Said”, which remains a queer staple despite the queer-baiting and homophobic remarks made by one of the band members in 2003.
People still listen to their song because it means something to them and invokes emotion that feels good for them to indulge. Like t.A.T.u, Azealia provides a feeling that is fresh and raw for listeners. People identify with her aggression and find enthusiasm in her confidence. Something I will forever be invested in is uniqueness, which can be particularly difficult to find in pop. It is easy to get lost in the regurgitation of particular chord progressions and overused lyrics and themes. This is something that rapper and singer, Azealia Banks, visibly has no struggle with. She is one of those artists that you can just sense is disconnected to any expectations, opinions, or judgement by the public. She has an unhinged way of existing that certainly does not sit well with everyone. There are people who are rightfully uncomfortable with her anti-queer stances and choose to not consume her art, but the majority of people have given this album too much of a purpose to be overlooked by the artist’s affairs. A whole community has essentially branded Azealia as a gay icon and her music as anthems for all our coked-out dance offs. Comprehensively, the album is undeniably unique and prompts irresistible movement and joy with a voice that is like no one else.
Penelope Scott: Screaming into the Void
(This student, too, is a repeat from above; she’s the second-displayed writer in this section, as well.)
Let’s go back to March 2020. Remember the uncertainty, the uneasiness of the future. Students being forced out of their dorms, “essential workers” thrown into the dangerous environment that the world has become, and the frustrations of everyone’s lives being turned upside down. In those early days of the pandemic the younger generation – mainly Gen Z – sought out distraction in the form of TikTok. Funny mindless videos, short storytimes, or even helpful hints took over the internet and brought a sense of community during a time the world was so disconnected. The other side of TikTok were the videos about current issues, news reports, or satirical shorts to help make light of a dark time. Penelope Scott or @worsethanithot on TikTok caught attention for her singing a version of what would later become “Sweet Hibiscus Tea.” She captioned the video saying “a tune by, for, and about people having to leave.” Scott’s music cuts straight to the bone with her satirical lyrics while her honey-sweet voice mends the wound. Scott is a product of her generation and the world around her making her the perfect voice of Gen Z.
From the early age of eight, Scott was learning, listening, and developing her musical style. Although it wasn’t until early 2020 that she released music, Junkyard and The Junkyard 2 featured hits such as “Sweet Hibiscus Tea” and “American Healthcare.” The latter being rereleased in Scott’s debut album Public Void. Public Void while short – only consisting of seven songs – is packed full of glitz, gore, and contrasting gentle melodies. The style of Scott’s music isn’t an easy one to define. She has said herself she’s “been waiting for anyone to come up with an accurate description” (Chelosky) of her sound. From indie-folk to hyperpop, Scott’s style has been heavily discussed and debated about. But pinpointing a specific genre defeats the purpose of Scott’s ever-evolving music. She bases her music and sound on the trends of the world, so how could it ever take on one style?
Let’s look at some of the most popular songs from her debut album. Starting the album off with “Cigarette Ahegao,” the sound is reminiscent of an old video game soundtrack. The chiptune – or 8-bit music – is a beloved style of Scott, but then it develops into slow melodies and scratchy guitar riffs. The mix of ‘trashy’ lyrics such as “Get thin on smoke and coffee/ Get fat on pie and biscuits/ God bless this perfect shitstorm.” comments on an idyllic ‘mean girl’ that is romanticized on the internet. And the internet is where Scott picks up a lot of her ideas for songs. She incorporated meme culture with scathing commentary to make her songs feel like they need to be analyzed.
For example, “Lotta True Crime” is a song about the current true-crime phenomenon. Scott has said that for this song she put on a “very high, feminine affect” to emulate these women who have become obsessed with true crime. There have been many theories as to why this has become a phenomenon ranging from demystifying serial killers and making them not as glorified to educating women on how to defend themselves against these killers. Whatever the reason, Scott flips the narrative by singing “Well she’ll fuckin’ kill you, she wins every fight/ She’s gonna rock your shit by the end of the night.” She then continues on to the actual serial killers in question. Scott becomes spiteful in her tone while she sings “But Ted Bundy was just never that fuckin’ bright/ He was just sorta charismatic and white, alright?/ And he was so fuckin’ sure he had the right.” Essentially she is berating the system that is supposed to protect people from these killers. If he wasn’t white then he wouldn’t have gone under the radar for so long and committed as many murders as he did.
In her short time as an artist, Penelope Scott has proven her knowledge not only for music production but for her self-awareness. She captures emotions of an entire generation and puts them into catchy, stuck-in-your-head-for-days tunes. Some might ask how this is achieving anything or how her music is making any kind of difference. While sometimes music is just something to listen to and enjoy, other times it is about representation. Being able to see and hear thoughts expressed by people who are just beginning to find their voice changes their outlook on the world forever. Scott’s music isn’t for everyone. It’s harsh, gritty, and sometimes hard to listen to, but it is talking about problems more than a breakup or a lost love. Scott pours her heart and soul into these songs and it’s often frustrating to listen to, but “sometimes when things are really upsetting it’s nice to scream into the void.”
A Unique Thinking Individual Strongly Matters: Cupcakke’s Groundbreaking Album
(This student wrote the critique of I’m With the Band in the section above.)
Elizabeth Eden Harris; a native to Chicago, raised by a single mother, a seven year old in a homeless shelter. This woman became the controversial pop hit known as Cupcakke. Cupcakke started in music in 2012 and gained popularity in 2016 for her “hyper” sexual song “Deepthroat.” Throughout her career, she’s made advocacy and awareness her main goal through hyper pop rap.
Cupcakke has released six albums since her start in 2012, but didn’t make a splash until the infamous song “Deepthroat.” This song became controversial over its detailed lyrics of a woman enjoying giving fellatio and having intercourse. Critics tore her music apart, calling Elizabeth vulgar and disgusting. She responded to the criticism with more music. Her newest album, Eden, was released three years after her first album. Six albums in three years with a variety of heavy hitting topics is intense and dedicated work. The creation of Eden shows Cupcakke breaking ground. Every song she’s released has been harshly criticized, unlike her male counterparts who consistently rap about sex but are largely ignored, like Future with his song “P Power.”
Throughout this album she is open with many difficult topics. In “Petsmart”, she disses the critics and the negativity surrounding her career. She states “I don’t know, can I breathe or not?” in the song showcasing the extreme criticism surrounding her career. In the song “Garfield” she sings “He say what’s better than this dick? Let me know know know. I looked him dead in the eye, said Wendy’s Four for Four.” This song is about having sex, and in it she slides in her ironic humor. Cupcakke is using stereotypes and flipping them on their head. She’s an openly sexual woman who talks about being dissatisfied during intercourse and being a millionaire who would rather eat at a fast food restaurant. In “Cereal and Water”, she talks about societal issues. In the second verse she raps:
Don’t be a puppet, don’t be corrupted Don’t be a motherfuckin’ outcast I don’t say shit ’cause words get switched Like was it cash cow or cow cash? Ones worried ’bout doin’ numbers Is the main numbers I’ma dial last Same man say he don’t fear shit Be scared to wipe the shit from his child ass
Cupcakke, in just eight lines. brings up capitalization, the effect of social media, and negligence. Her most influential song on this album is “A.U.T.I.S.M” which stands for “A Unique Thinking Individual Strongly Matters.” In this song, Cupcakke talks about the mistreatment and misunderstanding surrounding people with autism. Throughout all of these lyrics, she is bringing awareness to important topics that aren’t generally brought up, and advocates for the marginalized communities she supports.
Eden is a monumental album for Cupcakke. She has been open with her mental health struggles as a plus size black woman in music. She took a break from music and came back just as strong and influential. She wanted to be truthful about her life and her struggle. Her personal life directly influences her music, giving an authenticity that washes over you as you listen.
Billie Eilish: The World’s Pop/Rock Queen
(A fine submission by one of our two seniors!)
As someone with her lyrics tattooed on my skin, I think I’m more than qualified to talk about how influential, iconic, and groundbreaking Billie Eilish is. 18 year old Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell released her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in co-production with her brother Finneas Baird O’Connell on March 29th, 2019. On the album, she candidly covers topics like love, sexuality, toxic relationships, etc. And through the public eye, she is always her most authentic, most true self. She confidently writes about topics that most artists might stray away from, even more so in her second album, Happier Than Ever (2021).
Eilish first started gaining traction with her SoundCloud release of Ocean Eyes in 2015 when she was just 14 years old. Her and her brother, Finneas, wrote and recorded the track in his bedroom at their California family home. The song grew in popularity when artists like Blackbear and Astronomyy remixed it and added their own flare. Eilish then quickly started collaborating with other big artists, like Vince Staples and Khalid on her debut EP Don’t Smile At Me. She even shifted to creating songs for hit TV shows and movies like 13 Reasons Why and Roma. In 2020, she became the youngest artist ever to record a track for the infamous James Bond franchise, at just 19 years old.
Billie and Finneas have always been a team. They grew up in an utterly supportive household with their parents, surrounded by music. Her music documentary “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry” (2021) helps shed light on her creative writing process at her home studio. They don’t need all of the fancy bells and whistles that may come with a huge studio. Eilish just needs the comfort of her bed, her notebook, and her brother and BOOM, out comes a hit album. The team also uses unconventional tactics to achieve some of the sounds that make the music so unique and catchy. For example, the bass Bad Guy was so powerful, it started “clipping” while they produced it (audio tech lingo for too much information in a file, or “too loud”). They played into that effect, and continued layering to give the listener that addictive bass riff. Music aside, Eilish also directs her own music videos. In her documentary she talks about how she made short videos as a child, and her passion for editing specifically. The Bury A Friend music video came out on January 30th, 2019 and I remember exactly where I was. I sat at my desk in Pillsbury Hall on Stephens’ campus and watched it for the first time. Then proceeded to spend the rest of my night with it on repeat. It was like no music video I had ever seen, so experimental and even scary at times. Definitely a core memory.
One of the coolest things about Eilish being so involved in the music video production process is that she does her own stunts. Just to name a few, in When The Party’s Over, that’s not a CGI waterfall of black tears, that’s really Billie Eilish with two disguised tubes running through her hair and the sides of her face pumping out black goo directly through her eyes. How about in You Should See Me In A Crown? Yes, those are really real spiders crawling all over her clothes and out of her mouth. Talk about badass.
Regardless of her 39 music-related awards and catchy songs, Billie Eilish is groundbreaking because she is one of the most real artists out there. She’s not apologetic about who she is either. She’s developing as an artist as she gets older, now singing about different topics like body image and public perception, but always themes that are close to home. She’s still the same artist she was in 2015 with her first release. She’s always been frank with her fans and the public eye, whether it be about her mental health or her political views. Eilish uses her platform to spread awareness to topics that are dear to her, and that need more recognition. And that is why she is the most groundbreaking artist from the year 2000 and forward.
Taylor Swift and the Impact of 1989
(Here’s a sophomore who started quietly, whose enthusiasm and confidence gradually grew, and by midterm was one of the main engines of the class.)
“Say you’ll remember me, standin’ in a nice dress, starin’ at the sunset babe. Red lips and rosie cheeks, say you’ll see me again, even if it’s just in your wildest dreams…”
That statement there already gives you the perfect image of who Taylor Swift is, but how you still have much to uncover from the inside. Swift is one of the greatest female artists of her time, from being country, to country-pop, pop, and even “indie”, it seems she can do it all. Her lyrics are always meaningful and helps tell a story that might just relate close to home. Swift has made sure not to listen to the critics when it came down to: her song writing, what she wore, and even her political views. When it came down to her music not even “belonging” to her anymore, she said f-it and re-recorded all her albums to make them hers again. 1989 was a ground breaking album because it was her final move away from country and she made amazing hits and music videos as well.
First off, 1989 is not Taylor Swifts first album. 1989 is her 5th studio album in which she did have many other successful albums preceding and post 1989. However, I feel that 1989 has made the most impactful of them all for its time. 1989 came out in 2014, a few years after Red, and this put the music industry in quite a shock that Swift was officially out of the genre of “country”. They knew it was coming, they didn’t want it to come, but Swift knew she wanted to expand and go towards something she loved the sound of. This album gave a new insight into Swifts life and how passionate she still is with her song writing. Even with her father being apart of the business, Swift still takes most of the credit with her beautiful vocals and lyrics that transform the listener into another place. I would say not many people can pull of the transition of country music to pop and sound different, but in a good way. Swift has the ability to transition gracefully into another genre and provide a better take on her music.
“Welcome to New York” is the first song on this album that is a great-upbeat song to listen to that has different perspectives embedded. She uses amazing descriptive metaphors like “kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats.” I don’t think many people would use that to describe the diverse people around you that aren’t afraid to be there in the moment. There even is the possible “backlash” she might get from a conservative crowd when she says “and you can want who you want, boys and boys and girls and girls” to which she vocalizes her support for the LGBTQIA+ with this snippet. Fun fact: this song was even featured in the movie “The Secret Life of Pets” at the very beginning of the film! Another song off the album that is worthy to analyze is “Style”. That song also contributes to her view again of her, “…red lip, classic, thing that you like”. It makes sense she brings up her red lipstick look with it also being featured on the cover of 1989. This song highlights a couple that keeps going back-and-forth to each other but she can’t resist being together. When Swift sings this song, she almost sounds seductive, which I felt was a new type of singing for her in this album. She’s able to describe every single thing that the person “sees” in the song and makes you picture it. The rest of the album is AMAZING but I wanted to touch on those more since the lyrics are too beautiful to forget.
Now it is time for music videos. Who could forget any of her iconic music videos pertaining to 1989? Let’s first start off with “Bad Blood” that won her best music video. I will admit, I was shocked that “Blank Space” wasn’t for best music video until I rewatched it again. Amazing women were featured in this music video with explosions and futuristic vibes, which you would not expect Swift to have as a music video theme but was able to pull it off with this song. Normal people would probably associate this song to an ex, but in the music video it shows off badass women fighting! It’s a very eyecatching and interesting video. The next video that I mentioned is “Blank Space”. Swift did AMAZING on this satire music video of how the press likes to portray her as a crazy woman that dates too many people. How it first leads you to a peaceful, nice looking Taylor to a crazy, deranged, car damaging Taylor can tickle your fancy. Even though she still has some other great music videos, I had to choose “Shake It Off” as the last one to touch on. Just like “Bad Blood”, Taylor took a whole other perceptive on this music video. She had multiple different looks and areas where she could do some sort of dancing. She included diverse people throughout the song that seemed to enjoyed it as much as her. I know conservatives had to be fuming with the twerking ladies that she crawls under! The music video catches your eye and makes you want to see what else she has in store while you tap your foot to the beat.
To conclude, 1989 was a ground breaking album of Taylor Swift’s because it was her final move away from country. This album released amazing hits and music videos, as well as earning her multiple grammies. She has always been apart of the song process and writes to her hearts content. No wonder she got Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year because of how strong the entire album is, from start to finish. Swift is an icon that many people look up to and I feel 1989 made a huge impact for numerous people from the lyrics and music videos. Even with many people not liking her writing about her past relationships, you can tell she has been deeply hurt or loved in some ways that people can relate to. The “fans” who only liked Swift when she was a country singer are truly missing out on the change in times that Swift is able to accommodate to. 1989 is the perfect album to sit down and listen to, but be advised, I would wait until 1989 (Taylor’s Version) comes out so you can fully support her.
Mothica’sBlue Hour: Addiction, Trauma, and a Journey to Sobriety and Healing
(As with the junior whose work you’ve read twice, I was privileged to also teach this freshman in a previous class–my usual assignment is freshman composition, which I teach with a pop music emphasis. She is one of the most thoughtful and precise writers I’ve ever taught, and she takes risks.)
“Said I’m fine but we both know I’m faking/ I’m not feeling numb/ I’m just feeling everything at once.”
Depression is something 1 in 3 U.S residents report facing. The quote above is from Mothica’s track “everything at once” on her album Blue Hour and is one of many hard- hitting and lyrically gorgeous tracks on the album that follows the artist’s journey to sobriety and healing. Mothica is completely self-produced with no record label, manager, or publicists. This separates her from many artists of the day and gives her full artistic license. Despite the financial challenges this presents, Mothica is thriving with a loyal and proud fanbase. The material of her music is groundbreaking and brutally honest as she lays herself out with brutal vulnerability to her fans. Few artists can be as authentically real, vulnerable, and relatable to their fans, though the practice is growing more popular in recent years, Mothica has been a trailblazer and an advocate for mental health awareness, sexual assault survivors, and the conversation around addiction. She’s touched her fans with her own story, gave them hope, worked as an inspiration, and kept many alive in their darkest moments.
Mothica was born McKenzie Ellis on March 12, 1995, in Oklahoma City, where she would spend much of her childhood. She struggled with her mental health from a very early age and found that the topic was not one that was well received by those immediately around her. As a result, she turned to online communities for support and found a much more supportive and understanding community. This fostered in her a love for creating digital art, which she would later pursue with a scholarship in visual web programming at Pratt Institute. When she was thirteen, she was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor. This led to a spiraling downfall in her mental health, and she began drinking and self-harming to cope. The next two years of her life were not easy and led to her attempting suicide in January of 2011 at the age of fifteen. She spent the months following her attempt in physical therapy relearning the use of her legs. It wasn’t an immediate turnaround, she still struggled with addiction and severe depression, but she began to get the help she needed and worked towards healing. In 2013 she moved to Brooklyn for school. It was there that her first song was released on SoundCloud. “Starchild” had over 100,000 listens in 24 hours and led her to release her first EP, Mythic, in 2015 at the age of twenty. Her next release wouldn’t happen for five years and came in the form of “VICES”, a single that preceded her debut album, Blue Hour. “VICES”, a track about her relationship with addiction, “If it’s not drugs, it’s drinks/ If it’s not drinks, it’s things/ If it’s not things, it’s people”, and struggling to leave behind her various unhealthy coping mechanism and vices. The track was an instant hit and surpassed Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” on iTunes’ music charts. Blue Hour would follow the single’s release quickly on August 27, 2020, to resounding support from her preexisting fans as well as new. The album is a thematic autobiographical retelling of her struggles with addiction, trauma, and her fight for sobriety and marked the start of her successful independent career.
Blue Hour is, as previously mentioned, a themed album that follows the theme of dusk versus daylight, moody blue lighting intermixed with bright, hopeful moments. For Mothica it was a therapeutic exploration of her trauma and her fight with addiction. For her fans, it provides an example of success and strength and gives them hope that maybe they, too, could one day heal from their own hurts. In addition to “VICES”, the song “Blackout” is about her fight to stay sober. The track personifies the addiction and gives it the feeling of being in a toxic relationship with a lover. The video, her most ambitious to date at its release, was fan-funded and she worked closely with her fans on the theme of the video. It resulted in a campy, 50s-esque video where she is tempted over and over by a blue demon with a flask. “NOW”, the first track on the album, is a slow, electronic tune that goes hard on the bass riffs and is softened and made vulnerable by its strategic placement of piano. The lyrics tell the story of Mothica as she put up walls and hid from true vulnerability, warning off anyone who tries to get to close “Don’t get too close to me/You won’t like what you see”.
In keeping with her theme, “Hands Off” and the title track “Blue Hour” are as self- examining and raw as the rest, but these tracks take on a much slower, gentler tone, “Blue Hour” in particular. The first looks at the reality of wanting to love and be loved but having trauma and issues that keep getting in the way. “Blue Hour” is a stripped-down track with references to being “Forever fifteen/Oklahoma City/You wouldn’t believe all the trouble I’ve seen”. This is a direct reference to her suicide attempt and how she felt stuck in time afterward and is further examined in her EP “forever fifteen” which is more about her assault than her recovery from addiction. Finally, “everything at once” is a critical commentary on what it’s really like to live with severe depression, “I can’t cry, I’m too anxious/Said I’m fine, we both know I’m faking/I’m not feeling numb, I’m just feeling everything at once/blame it on the chemistry.” The track is delivered with minimalistic drums and guitar riffs and feels very stripped down without missing a beat. Blue Hour is a critical look at Mothica’s own story and the subjects of addiction, depression, and assault, all of which tend to get a bad rep or are viewed as taboo in today’s society. It’s important that individuals like Mothica exist and are brave enough to tell their stories so that we all feel a little less alone in our own invisible battles.
Mothica has changed and saved lives by being as vulnerable, outspoken, and honest about her story as she has been. Her work is on par with the likes of Linkin Park and MCR in relation to touching or relating to her fans. Her second album, Nocturnal, is currently in the works. As it is in its earlier stages, not much is known yet. Based on the singles she’s recently released, “Sensitive” and “Casualty”, that will be on the album, it is going to be taking on a much more aggressive, rock sound. As for her preexisting work, Blue Hour has helped those that have been made to feel like the dregs of society simply for having trauma or addiction, or even just baggage, to feel a little less alone, a little less hopeless in their fight to be happy. Her “forever fifteen” EP opened up a conversation about abuse and CSA and the correlation to suicide and depression with a beautiful, heart-wrenching video starring the images and brief flashes of text from her fans that have sent her their own stories. The image of her standing before a wall made up of thousands of images is a truly impactful one that stays with the viewer. Mothica has changed so many lives and she’s only released one complete album. She’s headed for big things, and the longer she releases music and advocates for survivors, the more lives she’s going to save.
Not too bad, eh? These are the youth I immediately think of when I hear folks say, “If these are our young people, we’re in big trouble.” Au contraire.
Thank you, Christian, for Bob Vylan at the last minute. I needed that.
Ricky Ford? Who’s Ricky Ford? Well, I knew him best through his stellar tenor on Ran Blake’s The Short Life of Barbara Monk and Abdullah Ibrahim’s Water from an Ancient Well, both modern jazz classics. I remember trying some of his solo albums and thinking he was kind of like an Ellingtonian without Ellington. BUT…35-40 years later his new album sounds like something we will sadly never get again: a new Sonny Rollins album. That’s high praise, and he’s not that inventive, but you’ll hear what I mean: power, confidence and wisdom of tone, steaming momentum, ideas extended lyrically and imaginatively.
Wet Leg the album not as good as Wet Leg the singles machine, but still FUN. And I (and probably you) need that. One of my students liked their sense of camp, and I get that. I have film students in class, too, and they’re curious about those Wighters’ taste.
I am already feeling I’ve underrated percussionist Ches Smith’s new album Interpret It Well. It’s one of those rare albums that establish a mood and flow and sustains it from beginning to end. The whole is much more powerful than the sum of its parts, and the playing is stimulatingly precise and responsive.
I’m as atheist as can be (I neither have, recognize nor pursue a theology), but it’s been a good couple of years for new black gospel records in the traditional vein. Thanks, Hardin, for pushing Pastor Champion on me, and thanks, Bible & Tire / Fat Possum, for just sticking to that old mission. It’s liberation music, at heart, and I’m ’bout it.
When I heard the Mekons and Freakwater were doing a set of acoustic mining songs, I asked myself, “Do I really need that?” Mekons being involved, I had to dip a toe (or a lobe) in; I just prefer Mekons with DRUMS. Actually, the album’s rousing, moving, and not necessarily about mining, and I recommend it.
Is there such as thing as discorrhea? Sometimes I think about that when I think about Jinx Lennon (I’m not sure how many people think that much about Jinx Lennon, but he’s worth it). Maybe it’d be better to really hone and weed before he lets another one go. The thing is, though, Pet Rent rocks harder than any of the last few, and it’s hard to think of any artist who’s so alive and receptive in his immediate environment than Lennon. I’m currently reading Henry Miller’s Black Spring, and “Horseshit!” has popped up a few times in the first twenty pages as ol’ Hank instructs us on immediacy of living, but maybe Jinx achieves that. Maybe.
Speaking of horseshit, I’ve been alive and listening to records long enough to smell it, but, dammit, SAULT has my detector on the blink. And by blink I mean my detector blinks off and on. I am keenly aware their “mystery” is part of the attraction (or marketing); on the other hand, when I’m really leaning forward and undistracted, they seem to be so much of these times and their struggles, endless tragedies, and fleeting glow that I buy what they’re offering. And AIR? It’s a test. An early morning game of art-critical Texas Hold ‘Em.
As he always seems to be, Sun Ra makes new appearances on this update: first, represented more than ably by the soon-to-be-98 (you are reading that correctly) Arkestra glue-guy Marshall Allen on Tyler Mitchell’s outstanding Dancing Shadows, then on a Seventies archival dig working close to one his many homes (Egypt) with the talented Salah Ragab. Both recordings are outstanding.
I always make at least one Record Store Day purchase. I hate crowds, so I usually hit eBay first thing the next morning, but this year the proprietor of Dig It! Record Barn / Records to Go in Carterville (or is it Duenweg?), Missouri, established a tiny call line for people who could not make it–I’m about 250 miles away. If you answer the phone when there’s a lull in traffic through the stacks, you might get a chance; I was completing a three-mile stroll when the phone buzzed and I became the proud owner of Albert Ayler’s Revelations—The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings on Elemental Records. I’ve heard the original recordings, which were not complete and didn’t sound that swell, but had never owned them. This heavy item arrives Thursday, so truth be told, I have not listened to it yet. But I’ve got a hand in another Texas Hold ‘Em game….
It has been a stressful month for me. I’ve been in the process of caring for my mom, who lives 227 miles away and whose health issues have resulted in her needing 24-7 attention, while trying to do my three part-time jobs competently (one of them is teaching a class called “Groundbreaking Women in U. S. Music: A History in 150 Albums”–I hope one day to tell you how it’s gone), one of which will not allow me to work virtually. Beyond that class, music’s definitely taken a back seat. I have a hard time being with Mom and having headphones in; it seems rude, even though she doesn’t need me every second, or minute, or hour necessarily. When I’m on the road, I’ve been NEEDING older stuff that I know can deliver succor and strength immediately. Also, I’ve been working on an unfamiliar computer, so it’s slowed me down. But, enough. Here’s what I’ve got. New additions to the list, as always, are bolded. Truly, nothing new really bedazzled me this month–except Rosalia. And ensemble 0. And…
75 Dollar Bill: Social Music at Troost, Volume 3–Other People’s Music (Black Editions Group) Rosalia: MOTOMAMI(Columbia) Tanya Tagaq: Tongues (Six Shooter) Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (Merge) Gonora Sounds: Hard Times Never Kill (The Vital Record) Amber Mark: Three Dimensions Deep (PMR / Interscope) Javon Jackson & Nikki Giovanni: The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (Solid Jackson) Etran de L’Air: Agadez (Sahel Sounds) Morgan Wade: Reckless (Deluxe) (Ladylike) Lady Wray: Piece of Me (Big Crown) Mark Lomax II: Prismatic Refractions, Volume I (self-released) Anna von Hausswoolff: Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival (Southern Lord) Various Artists: Lespri Ka—New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe (Time Capsule Sounds) ensemble 0: Music Nuvulosa(Sub Rosa) Joy Guidry: Radical Acceptance (Whited Supulchre) Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa (Headz/Matador) OGJB: Ode to O (TUM) (Note: Band name – O = Oliver Lake, G = Graham Haynes, J = Joe Fonda, B = Barry Altschul / Title – O = Ornette) Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and Enrico Rava: Two Blues for Cecil (TUM) Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio: The Bottom (Cuneiform) Priscilla Block: Welcome to the Block Party (Nercury Nashville/InDent) Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer (DeeWee) Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (Blue Note) Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! (Tan Cressida / Warner) Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (4AD) Charli XCX: Crash(Atlantic) Fulu Miziki: Ngbaka (EP) (Moshi Moshi) Nilufer Yanya: Painless (ATO) Black Country, New Roads: Ants from Up There (Ninja Tune) Hurray for The Riff Raff: Life on Earth (Nonesuch) Rokia Koné and Jacknife Lee: Bamanan (Real World) Marta Sanchez: SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum) (Whirlwind) Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (Firehouse) Earthgang: Ghetto Gods (Dreamville/Interscope) Junglepussy: jp5000 (EP) (self-released) Kahil El’Zabar Quartet: A Time for Healing (Spiritmuse) Pete Malinverni: On the Town—Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts) Chief Keef: 4Nem (Glo Gang / RBC) The Weeknd: Dawn FM (XO / Republic) Space Afrika: Honest Labour (Dais) Natsuki Tamura: Summer Tree (Libra)
Archival Digs: Cecil Taylor: The Complete Legendary Live Return Concert at the Town Hall (Oblivion) Albert Ayler: La Cave Live 1966 (Ezz-Thetics) Neil Young: Carnegie Hall 1970 (Reprise) Various Artists: Summer of Soul (Legacy) Lavender Country: Blackberry Rose and Other Songs & Sorrows (Don Giovanni) Son House: Forever on My Mind (Easy Eye Sound Hermeto Pascoal: Planetário da Gávea (Far Out) Hermeto Pascoal: Hermeto
Sorry I’m late; life is interfering. Not for the first time has a family (or other loved one’s) health crisis interrupted my much less important obsession with documenting my favorite records of the past days, weeks, months, and years–and with me, it seems, when it rains, it’s like a cow pissin’ off a cliff onto a flat rock. I’m truly multiply occupied (I am also teaching a brand-new class on groundbreaking women in this country’s music that is requiring regular and very exciting hard work), so I am behind in some ways. But I just turned 60, I feel like I’m 35 in a sea of stress, so it must be real love…and the music.
What I’m really waiting for are the new albums by Wet Leg (can the whole album be that good?) and Rosalia (the flamenco touches seem to be wafting away, but on the evidence of the singles, she remains a force). The former’s out soon; the latter will require enduring a multi-month tease.
I often check things out on a whim. Joy Guidry’s new album’s cover and title had me thinking a very interesting rap album–but it’s improvisational jazz, and good stuff at that.
Superchunk’s never been one of my top faves, but their classic What a Time to Be Alive dragged me kicking and screaming into a state of deep admiration and a practice of repeat plays. Their new record is almost a companion piece, but from a completely different and powerful emotional direction–I just listened to it for the first time today and, in the state I’m in, it killed me.
One of the world’s greatest rock and roll deejays, Whitney Shroyer, a longtime friend and advisor, implored me to sample Lady Wray, whom I’d not heard of (it happens–a lot). Though I like its predecessor a little better, from a singing, songwriting, and production standpoint, Piece of Me is a solid pleasure.
Did I tell ya to read Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth and check out her new album Tongues? Yes, I did. I was fucking serious. They go together, and they deliver.
It’s not every late winter that you can buy two classic creations by a known wizard reissued from those too-halycon-from-a-preservationist-perspective Seventies. This is one of them. They also call him Hermeto.
High on the “appreciation” scale but wavering on the “diggit” scale: the new offerings by Big Thief and Black Country, New Roads.
Lavender Country is a gay and politically smart-ass country outfit dating back to 1972. Their album in the archival digs category is only three years old, but it might as well have come out today. It is NOT simply a novelty; it’s well-played, wittily sung and written, and will cattle-prod you out of the corner of your ear.
I feel like I’m experiencing an explosion of sharp country music women coming from tantalizingly marginally differentiated viewpoints (JUST IN TIME FOR MY NEW CLASS). Priscilla Block’s the latest, and I’ll let you discover the viewpoint.
Gonora Sounds’ Hard Times Never Kill is a beautiful-sounding album from Zimbabwe.
I wish I had heard Adeem the Artist‘s Cast-Iron Pansexual (like about 20 other 2021 albums) when it came out. Great songs, one of which made me tear up, and he wished me a happy birthday on Twitter!
(Hidden track)(Whispered to avoid having things thrown at me, but…) I’ll say it: Spoon’s never really done it for me. I’ve learned never say never–but my first listen was at 5:15 this morning and it livelied me up. Could have been the Death Wish coffee pods my brother left at my mom’s house, though.
One thing I do like about striving to root out excellent albums in the first month of a new year is the search forces me out of my comfort zones. True: I’m seldom uncomfortable in any particular musical zone if I can dig deep enough to find the right stuff; I’m hesitant about anything too bourgeois, to be frank, but even such artifacts can provide thrills. I’ve also been aided by having found myself on a few jazz labels’ mailing lists, so some items below aren’t yet out (soon, soon), but I’ve sampled them enough to get a kick out of ’em. Will any of these stick to the list? That’s always the question when it comes to the early months–last January I opened with a couple of classical albums by artists just disruptive enough for me to be attracted to their work, and one made it (big time) and the other faded (though I still like it). But I guarantee those top three will still be riding high.
Odds and ends:
*Tagaq’s album is a companion to her very unique and blazing memoir, Split Tooth. Read that.
*I was previously unfamiliar with Mark’s work. Pitchfork dug it and the album cover gave me Miguel vibes. I really enjoyed it end to end, and there’s something that tears slightly in her voice at just the right times that engage me in her singing and songs even more deeply.
*Since Greg Tate passed, I’ve revisited a bit of his writing, but I’ve also been alerted to pieces I didn’t know about–particularly about master poet Nikki Giovanni’s recordings. Tate’s writing always costs me money because he turns me on to music and books about which I know nothing or little; I am confident, had he lived to hear it, he would have loved saxophonist Jackson’s gospel album with Giovanni. I’m an atheist and I’ve already played it thrive. Coming soon.
*I ONLY tried to the von Hausswoolff because the album cover looked like Gustave Dore’s work. THEN I find myself unable to turn it off.
*I was totally uninformed about old directions in music from Guadeloupe. Based on the new directions, I probably better change that condition.
*Pete Malinverni might not seem my (or your) jam, but I’ll be damned if the West Side Story remake didn’t bubble my blood for Bernstein, and Malinverni’s foray below injected itself right into my satisfaction of that desire.
*Valid questions both: Do I really need another live Ayler record? Do I really need another live Neil record? Yes and yes. Ayler’s set was played before a Cleveland audience, and perhaps it inspires him to take several unexpected turns in musical variation, space, and tone–at least to my ear, and I’m an Aylerian. Neil’s acoustic at Carnegie, but it’s the surprise inclusions in the set list as well as stellar performances that have me contemplating a vinyl purchase (if that’s even possible). OK, on with it…
*The 75 Dollar Bill is easily my favorite album of the year. I forgot all about it somehow because I had not added it to my reference folder–probably because I was distracted by playing it over and over. It’s a covers album. Y’know, the usual suspects: Ono, Partch, Oliveros, Neg-Fi, Ron Padgett. Plus some outsiders like Dylan, Toussaint, and the MC5. They do ’em up.
New (and Upcoming) Releases That I’ve Heard And Really Like (Kinda in order, especially the first three):
Yes, I know it’s 2022, and this list is dedicated to the top spins of 2021. But it feels to me as if 2020 started on March 15 of that actual year (The Ides, you know) and has declared the turning of the last two annums invalid. Until I feel differently, I’m gonna keep believing it, though, like Joe Tex’s man in that Viet Nam foxhole, I believe we’re gonna make it.
If you follow this blog, you know the good records mount and mount until there seems to be no sane scaling of them. For your pleasure and convenience, I’ve topped them off to a mere 50 like I’m lookin’ for coal and to hell with the slag (the still-pleasurable slag). This time, my rubric is simple: How likely, really, am I to listen to these albums several times more while I continue trying, in my futile battle against the dustbin of time to save every flower, to keep up with the mounds of fresh sounds? You can always access the previous months’ lists for those a cast a cold eye upon, though December’s getting shafted in that regard. Also, I’ve voted in a couple of year-end polls and, as usual, I make no promises (to anyone who really cares) that these results will match up with those. One never drops the same needle on the same record twice.
The archival digs I’ve trimmed to 25. I know I had that massive, well-appointed, and long-overdue Marian Anderson box at #1 last month, and now it’s not on the list at all–I guess that was a) pretentious; b) the happy historian in me; and c) overambitious.
Goodbye, Greg Tate. Why’d you have to go? I hope there is enough of your uncollected passionate criticism to fill another bucket of buttermilk with (gad)flies. It’s hard to imagine not being able to keep reading your newest insights for the rest of my life. And one thing I really appreciate looking back on your work I’ve read (most of it) is how seldom you were an asshole…if ever. Your style seemed to exclude that as a choice.
R. A. P. Ferreira (formerly known as Milo) is having one helluva year. If as a rap aficionado you’re insistent on the freshest, most ticklish, and slammingest beats, move along. But if you dig word-slinging and surprising associations, you best get hip.
Bible and Tire Company’s Sacred Soul of South Carolina is the perfect gospel pairing with Musicmakers Foundation’s contemporary rural blues comp Hanging Tree Guitars (from 2020). Strictly speaking, if you have one and love it, you must do right and get the other. And the “soul” in the title is no exaggeration.
You may be tired of historical theory stirred into your toons. I am not. Keep pouring, luvs. If you’re like me and enjoy critical beatdowns, Mexstep, The Brkn Record, and the irrepressible Irreversible Entanglements each have the musical cocktail for you. And yes, the music is piquant to listen to if you’re not about the science. It does help, though.
South Memphis’ Lukah is one of the most stentorian MCs I’ve heard in a good long while, plus he has two strong records out this year. The new one (bolded, below) is the pick; its politics, flow, and sense of place are astounding, and his sexual philosophy seems to have advanced.
Best news is likely in the archaeological section. This may be a strange list upon which to find Marian Anderson, but, truly, as Duke opined, there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad, and the woman brilliantly blazed a trail. That’s a 15-disc box with both historic and important unreleased recordings, plus brilliant photos and notes, but, um…less than $80*? Also, Bobo Jenkins was a rocking, charming, and eccentric DIY blues guitarist whose career stretched from the ’50s into the late ’70s; if that sounds like your meat and taters, it’s on Third Man and it might have been RSD only, but…c’mon–if you want it, you can track it down. And as far as historical monuments in the rowdier aspects of the modern musical life of Brother Europe go, you can’t beat Corbett vs. Dempsey’s look at the formative days of the masterful and mischievous Instant Composers Pool and Guerilla Records’ top-notch and long-overdue reissue of The Plastic People of the Universe’s truly revolutionary original bootleg.
Next month, I’m gonna get tough with this list, shave it down, get serious about their listenability and durability, and and arrange it into categories of A, A-, B+, and B–since we all have loved grades so much our whole lives. I know you cannot wait. And, yes, I’m very serious about that Wild Up record.
I recently managed to talk former Vice UK music maven and FANGIRLS author Hannah Ewens into Zooming once again with my students at Stephens College to chat about her book (their required reading for my freshman comp/pop music class) and other related bits. She was smart, warm, funny, and curious about my students, as usual. A few days after her visit, in a glum mood, I happened upon her IG and noticed she was vaunting a group called For Those I Love (it’s also the name of the group’s album), which she’d just seen. Only it ain’t a group, it’s an Irishman named David Balfe, and his album captures a desperation for solace, connection, and dancefloor expiation I (and probably you) know all too well. Hadn’t heard of him, played the slab, instantly cheered up.
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is the bassist for Norwegian jazz powerhouse The Thing. Dude just waxed an album, (Exit) Knarr, that features an instrumental texture, rhythmic variation, and conceptual focus that–to my amateur ear–tops anything his group’s ever released (and I love ’em). I liked it so much after three listens that I was willing to pay a hefty shipping cost for the vinyl. Never underestimate a Scandi jazzer–never.
Chuck Eddy has long been one of the best (and most open) music writers on the planet. He, too, offers monthly recommendations of interesting new musical offerings, and his latest featured a bit o’ metal, courtesy of lead Crystal Viper Marta Gabriel, Monster Magnet, and Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre . Metal is usually not my jam, especially modern metal (the worst excuse for singing I have ever heard, quite often), but the records Chuck anointed with a nice score all three a) are “cover albums” of throwback metal; b) mostly shine light on VERY obscure older songs (Joecephus’ album, a Nazareth tribute, is the exception); c) head-bang balls-out in a trad manner; and d) are a blast. I may be overrating them on this list–as is my wont when I put a list up right after I’ve heard something enjoyable–but maybe I’m not. Time will tell, but my wife Nicole loved all three, too, and I have my Marta Gabriel poster on my office wall.
I’ve probably listed 10 albums over the past five years that my students had to force on me because I made the gas face in class when they mentioned the artists involved. One of this year’s candidates is Willow Smith. The student who verbally twisted my arm is probably the best writer, thinker, and talker I’ve ever taught, and she understood my balking but reminded me that anyone can make a stunning record. I tried Willow’s lately I FEEL EVERYTHINGand I must admit it is…powerful and dynamic. Thanks, Jadyn.
Thurst. I really enjoyed the first album, liked then forgot the second, and find myself amusedly intrigued by the conceptual thrust (not a typo) of the songs here. The structures and instrumental attack don’t demonstrate much variety, but the songs tickle me in a snide and sloppy way, so I’m going with it.
The excavation of transitional-period ’65 Trane playing A Love Supreme live with PharoahSanders and an expanded quartet had me on tenterhooks for months. I have a refined taste for racket, so reports of the classic suite being somewhat defiled bothered me not a whit; I’d also heard the fidelity was not the best, but these days I often wonder if the young writers who report this have ever heard ’60s-’70s vinyl bootlegs. Alas, though, while I value it, it’s not quite the mind-blower most others have reported. The performance wasn’t planned, and you can definitely hear that; Pharoah ain’t quite full Pharoah yet–his tenor “warbling” works much better on Live at the Village Vanguard Again; Trane’s too level in the mix, to my ear, and Elvin seems to be the one you’re really hearing most of the time (could be much worse, but it’s not a drummer date). Historically, it’s major, but as an absorbing, potentially compelling repeat-listen work, not so much.
bktherula: DEFINITELY one to watch! And, of course, hear. Sound, rhythm, words–a pretty complete package, and becoming ever more impressive.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids: not sure why these Neechie MCs aren’t being more frequently lifted among us music nerds, because they’ve hardly stepped wrong up to and including their new record. Third Nations-representing with accuracy, humor, passion, wildness (kids everywhere are nuts), reverence for the past–whaddya want? Well, maybe the beats aren’t all that varied, maybe there aren’t enough hooks, but I suspect they’re operating on the cheap, and I advise you just lean into the words and the delivery.
JPEG Mafia and Pink Siifu have made their most accessible albums. That probably sucks for many; I personally welcome it, and honestly think the move better justifies their respective reps.