Lovin’ a 45: I Choose Vinyl Over Soundcloud for No Really Good Reason (November 6th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

VOTE! Intelligently! Doesn’t matter if the weather is bad or the lines are long or you have to interact with other humans–just do it.

OK, now that that’s over with, have you ever dreamed of having your own jukebox? I do, all the time. I am fortunate enough to have everything in life that I really need (as long as music and books keep comin’), and I for damn sure don’t need a jukebox. But I have a small but powerful collection of 45s that are just dyin’ to get inside a machine, and I still buy the little boogers, really, because I think that I am bound to one day own a working model. Guests will be able to play songs gratis (just like they do at Milton’s Cocktails in Fulton, Missouri!), and I’ll set it up right next to my free beer-vending machine!

I had planned ahead for a musical buffer to arrive for the midterm elections, and just in time the postman delivered. From 12XU Records came a sampling from the newest project from Niangua (MO)-born rock and roller John Schooley, Rocket 808. I’ve been following Schooley’s work for over twenty years, from his time in Columbia, MO’s long-lost and -missed Revelators to his raving One Man Band 45s (on Goner) and albums (on Voodoo Rhythm) to his defiant albums with The Hard Feelings to his exciting team-ups with master harp-blower Walter Daniels on Dead Mall Blues. I’m committed to his records ’cause he’s committed to making good ones, and the new 7″ (album coming soon) is no exception. If I told you he deliberately set out to meld instro guitar-hero twang-‘n’-tremble with nerve-rattling Suicide-inspired mechanical percussion, then realized that idea’s potential straight out of the gate, would you believe me? Yeah, I encourage you to question authority, too, so here:

On the flip, Schooley is the latest to hop on “Mystery Train” for a ride, and while it doesn’t provide as unique a rush as “Digital Billboards,” it does wail–as does the artist, trading Presley’s whoop for a hanging-from-a-railcar scream.

I will keep you posted on that album, folks.

 

Also stuffed in the mailbox was a package of singles straight from the New Orleans streets–specifically, from the mysterious mostly-vinyl-only Sinking City record label. I do not know much about the folks behind Sinking City, and they (rather refreshingly) do not issue releases in torrents. I will say that since my first purchase, a 12″ re-release of Ricky B’s absolutely essential, absolutely addictive, absolutely yellable “Shake For Ya Hood,” I’ve bought almost everything the label’s released with great satisfaction. They’ve marched into my home as if they owned it (and they do)–they are Louisiana-stamped. Stooges Brass Band’s Street Music, maybe the best brass band record of the decade. 79rs Gang’s Fire on the Bayou, a Mardi Gras Indians record stripped down to the basics like Run-DMC did their attack (also, it teams 7th and 9th Ward Indians). A classic 45 RPM-set reissue of the first commercially-recorded Mardi Gras Indian chants, fired by legendary guitarist and NOLA griot Danny Barker. This year’s haunting Blood Moon, by Michot’s Melody Makers, easily a best-of-2018 candidate and too powerful to be called a Lost Bayou Ramblers spin-off.

Their newest gem, released in tandem with Urban Unrest Records, is simply titled “The SCR Hip Hop 45 Series.” Three new, very street, very historically aware, very catchy singles by the likes of Blackbird & Seprock, Paco Troxclair, and and Ze11a, with guest appearances by Anderson Paak and (no surprise) Mannie Fresh–plus (enough of an inducement to buy it right here) the great “Shake For Ya Hood” itself. Subject matter? Customary for (and lovable about) a NOLA hip hop offering, a neighborhood call-out; the ins and out of not being in one’s right mind; duffy-ness; nostalgia for ladies coloring their hair with “all flavors” of Kool-Aid; a boast that one’s “honey will get her nut / like Cheerios”; and observations of the dangerous life. I’ve already played all four of them four times since I opened the package last night at 5:30 pm, so my enthusiasm is not just jerked from my knee. You try ’em:

Only quibble: Sinking City should have thrown in a 5th single, by NOLA MC Charm Taylor, a woman whose handle is both perfectly fitting and subtly ironic. You can buy her newest tracks for a buck (as well as her reissued 2015 album) on Bandcamp, or sample her here:

 

 

Tierra Whack / Sophie: Socratic Seminar College Girls Gone Critically Wild (October 11th, 2018, Stephens College, Columbia, MO)

The assignment:

Assignment

The on-site guidelines (with some context for the reader):

I’ve been leading these discussions and choosing the records, but a student asked if they could pick, and–why the hell not? The moderators in this case are the ones who chose the respective albums. A gender-bending anti-capitalist charter school advocate from St. Louis chose the Sophie album (which, in preparing myself for the activity, I’ve come to really like!) and a rural SW Missouri kid with a hearing disability who’s also the first college student in her family chose Ms. Whack. I will not participate verbally; I’m documenting the discussion, and their scores will be based on participation (they can gain some points simply by being attentive) and preparation (I’ve required annotated notes on their listening, reading, and viewing experience). This is a stepping stone to their writing reviews of their own, which Austin is also going to assist with.

Here’s the assignment:

Tips for Today’s Discussion of Tierra Whack’s Whack World

…and Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides:

Moderators (Emmalee and Emil):
Initiate, guide, and enhance the discussion—in other words, make your participation about inspiring conversation, involving as many folks as possible, and keeping it on track. You should mostly ask questions, not make statements.

General Participants:
• Have your notes out and mentally prepare for how you would like to enter the conversation, and use your notes to support your comments.
• Self-monitor: realize everyone needs to participate, so be specific and concise. Think twice about entering more than once.
• No hand-raising: wait for space and enter it with politeness.
• Do not interrupt speakers—but, again, speakers? Self-monitor.
• You are welcome to ask other speakers to clarify their opinions; moderators are expected to do this, but it is not exclusively their job. By the same token, you may invite students who seem to be struggling to get involved to enter.
This conversation is about exploring how best to review these albums, since that is your next task. Keep your commentary confined to what you’d write about these albums if you were required to.

My notes on the proceedings:

Re: Tierra Whack:

“…she’s pretty brave because she avoids rap stereotypes for women–she’s odd and that’s GOOD…”

“…if were white, this’d be more popular…”

“…the silliness provides a neat contrast, or subtlety, or something for her serious thoughts…”

“…how does the short format impact her hopes for sales…?

“I found the abruptness, or lack of transitions, to be hard to deal with first listen, but the videos smoothed those out…”

“there is a sadness undercurrent she doesn’t need a piano to communicate…”

“She’s so inventive musically and visually–you really need to watch the videos too–but she’s so fast it’s hard to process!”

“She’s a female Chance the Rapper…”

“Do you think she defies genre…?”

Re: Sophie:

The moderator surprised me and went around the room asking each fellow student to offer an adjective to describe Sophie, which she listed on the board as a menu for her Socratic. At first, I was annoyed with her asserting that much authority over the rest of the group (she is a strong personality, and I’d asked her to temper that a bit for this activity), but she then receded back to her seat and the menu worked great!

“Is discomfort in reacting to an art a band thing…?”

“I didn’t know she was trans…! (?)”

“I love this album but it disturbs me… the music doesn’t fit into a genre, but she doesn’t, either…!”

“How do you…or CAN you…evaluate the album separate from the times…”

“I was listening to this in the car by myself, and just had to turn it off and ask myself, ‘Is everything ok?’…”

“I was shook!”

“Now that I know she’s trans I LOVE THIS ALBUM!”

“She’s basically saying ‘Fuck you, I can change myself anyway I want to….”

“…it sounds like, with her music, she’s making the audience feel what it feels like to BE trans in public in this country…shook, yeah, but also beautiful and multi-dimensional.”

 

My last comment was, “Well, from now on I am just going to assign you material and have you teach each other–I do not appear all that necessary, and Socrates would agree!” Kind of joking—but kind of not.

Rockin’ Records–Check These Folks’ Rock Records!: A Weeded-Out, Rearranged, Expanded Top 120 for 2018 (and Not Just Rock) (October 3, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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I’ve updated my sprawling list of very strong records released in 2018 with some really sharp new releases from September (see the above slideshow for most of those–plus I’ve bolded them below), plus I’ve trimmed some items that just weren’t hanging through further listening. Highlights?

A new record by the Aussie band Tropical Fuck Storm that may assist you with your stored rage and despair.

JLin’s terrific follow-up to the amazing dance record Black Origami, a bit of a soundtrack entitled Autobiography.

A stunning exhibition of lyrical flow and shining intelligence, riding atop a sparkling stream of beats, by the Chicago rapper Noname: Room 25 (approved by my students, who are no dummies).

The latest entry by the Nigerian-American MC Fat Tony, representing for Houston, TX, as well, 10,000 Hours, which stands with Room 25 as a bit of a shot across the crowded hip-hop bow. Mother Wit, in full effect, in both cases.

A haunting, raging, energized Cajun-rock slab from south Louisiana, courtesy of Lost Bayou Rambler fiddler Louis Michot’s Melody Makers side project: it’s called Blood Moon, and it’s storming up my chart.

A desolate, beautiful release by an old soul-music vet who’s never been associated with that first adjective and has a complicated relationship with the second: Swamp Dogg’s Love, Loss, and AutoTune. It’s a joke–and it’s not.

…and the second record from an exciting, smart band from Brisbane (just kids–including one with a Go-Between pedigree), The Goon Sax. It’s called We’re Not Talking:

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  3. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  4. Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace
  5. JLin: Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)
  6. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  7. Noname: Room 25
  8. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  9. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  10. Michot’s Melody Makers: Blood Moon
  11. Pusha T: Daytona
  12. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  13. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  14. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  15. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  16. The Internet: Hive Mind
  17. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  18. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  19. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  20. JD Allen: Love Stone
  21. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  22. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  23. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  24. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  25. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  26. Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours
  27. Swamp Dogg: Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune
  28. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  29. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  30. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  31. The Necks: Body
  32. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  33. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  34. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  35. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  36. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  37. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  38. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  39. The Goon Sax: We’re Not Talking
  40. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  41. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  42. Knife Knights: 1 Time Mirage
  43. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  44. Young Mothers: Morose
  45. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  46. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  47. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  48. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  49. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  50. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  51. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  52. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  53. Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed
  54. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  55. Bombino: Deran
  56. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  57. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  58. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  59. Maria Muldaur: Don’t You Feel My Leg—The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blu Lu Barker
  60. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  61. The Thing: Again
  62. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  63. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  64. Nas: Nasir
  65. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  66. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  67. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  68. Makaya McCraven: Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)
  69. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  70. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  71. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  72. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  73. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  74. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  75. The Beths: The Future Hates Me
  76. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  77. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  78. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  79. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  80. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  81. Kiefer: happysad
  82. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  83. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  84. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  85. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  86. Shopping: The Official Body
  87. Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid
  88. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  89. Shame: Songs of Praise
  90. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  91. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  92. Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018
  93. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  94. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  95. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  96. L.E.S. Douze: The Stoned 1
  97. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  98. Tal National: Tantabara
  99. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  100. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  101. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  102. Tirzah: Devotion
  103. The Chills: Snowbound
  104. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  105. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  106. Old Man Saxon: The Pursuit
  107. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  108. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  109. Lonnie Holley: MITH
  110. Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Plays Bluegrass
  111. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  112. Migos: Culture II
  113. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  114. The Carters: Everything is Love
  115. Sleep: The Sciences
  116. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  117. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  118. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  119. Nicki Minaj: Queen
  120. Chad Popper: A Popper People

OLD MUSIC NICELY OR NEWLY PACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Prince: A Piano and a Microphone
  6. Various Artists: Listen All Around–The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  7. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  8. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  9. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms
  10. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  11. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  12. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  13. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  14. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  15. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. Various Artists: Two Niles to Sing a Melody—The Violins & Synths of Sudan

Wash My Face / In Ice-Cold Water (September 18-24, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Thursday was my freshman comp/pop music class’ second stab at a kind of data-based Socratic seminar. Last time, as documented here, the youth mostly took Mitski to task–if a tad unfairly, without the preferable amount of supporting evidence–but, in retrospect, I can understand their chagrin. On the pop music spectrum, from the vantage point of young fans, this seems more a time for authenticity and sincerity (for all the traps built into those terms) than ambition and pretension (and I’m not really using those terms pejoratively)–thus the majority of my class having raised their eyebrows at Mistki’s work. I still admire it, as do a handful of women on my roster.

Our discussion of Blood Orange’s Negro Swan seemed to bear this out. The minute I finished blabbing about intro shit (otherwise known as “set induction”), hands shot up in the air: “Can I talk first?” “I’ve got something to say about this one!” “Ooooooh, this is my album?” As I scanned the room, I could see that almost every one of them had taken voluminous notes, and as I called on folks to talk, it was obvious that both the album’s music and content had energized them. Music: “It’s a new kind of r&b for these times–music evolves in its society and this album seems to  show that!” “It’s new but it’s old–it’s funky, but it’s also chill, and it’s soul music but it has the r&b thing.” “It has a depressive vibe that I just love–it’s how I’m feeling!” (Think about that one.) “This album’s just got a great flow–” (most of them thought the opposite of Be the Cowboy, though I don’t think musical flow was its point) “–that I could really get into!” “The music made me feel so good I couldn’t concentrate on the lyrics–”

On that last exaltation, I responded. “So, is the music so seductive that it obscures its content? And is that a mark of success or failure?”

Much furrowing of brows. I had to ask it, because I’d experienced it myself. I even told ’em, “Someone [I think it was Zappa…or his boy Varese?] once said that pure pleasure was counterrevolutionary!” So then the boosters became more specific: “No, the spoken parts, the ones by Janet Mock, that’s the content, so it’s so much a big deal that you don’t notice the lyrics.” Most of the students in that camp also made it very clear that they identified with Mock’s commentary, especially when she addresses the idea of building a chosen family, finding a space among others to be yourself and cease performing, and doing as much stuff as you can (as opposed to doing little). I have to admit: I dug that stuff, too. Others pointed to the way the videos dramatized the songs, though they still didn’t quote many actual lyrics.

Finally, a student posited the following: “I found that the spoken stuff distracted me from the music, which I thought was the thing. It kept me from having some continuity thinking about the music, then, after I reflected, it occurred to me that without the spoken stuff, the music isn’t really all that powerful–it isn’t really that dynamic.” Woah. This idea was seized upon; we even came to the conclusion that inserting “spoken stuff” by important humans might well have become a trend (think Solange, Beyonce, SZA), and hit the end of the hour puzzling over if it were a trend, why was it one, and was it a good one?

This ritual is working. The point has been to get them used to talking about music specifically, force them to examine artistic problems, and start them thinking about transferring the discussion to their writing. They have an expository essay on deck (they have to choose from among 10 expository modes the one that best enables them to say what they want about a pet musical concern), with an actual record review in the hole. We’re already past where we were with these issues last year, and on top of that, the students seem less reluctant to criticize model writings I’ve given them: they’ve already pointed out music writing trends such as hive mind, precious little constructive criticism, and celebrity hypnosis.

Also, I’ve turned the artist choice over to students: Tierra Whack’s Whack World is next up, followed by Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides. I’m having fun–can you tell? (One thing is, they’re working harder than I am–an objective classroom teachers should always be shooting for.)

On fronts with lower stakes, I simply hunkered down and enjoyed some old records. One was Ray Charles’ Sweet and Sour Tears, an ABC label concept album of sorts (it’s songs about tears!) packed with all the devices that can make this Charles period a challenge for listeners with high aesthetic standards: soupy choral arrangements, blasting brass, and material of very erratic quality. When I was younger, I assumed that these “offenses” had been forced on Ray by the company, but once I learned the music was exactly as the man wanted it, I was forced to re-evaluate them. I’m not adding anything that new to the debate, but with surprising frequency Charles engages in soulful call-and-response with the choirs (who are decisively not the Raelettes), devises arrangements that push that brass to KICK, and invests crap songs with vocal guts, often of a rascally nature, and that resonant gospel-tinged piano, which is mixed up higher than one has come to expect with the ABC output. The reissue of Sweet and Sour Tears includes Atlantic “tear-songs” as bonus tracks, but honestly I don’t hear them sounding any better than the official album. If you’ve somehow skipped this one, give it a spin.

I also took an old standby out to the truck; it’s now on its third repetition, and I’ve probably played it 200 times since I saw the band live. It’s on the long-gone Joaquin Records (named after the great steel guitarist Joaquin Murphy), it’s by a bunch of crazy Canucks called Ray Condo and The Richochets, and it’s called Swing, Brother, Swing. The record just hits my sweet spot with serious juice: call it what you want–Western swing, rockabilly, hillbilly boogie, jazz, blues, rock and roll, hardcore honky tonk–the band just loves all that stuff and mixes it into a stunning elixir. If that isn’t enough to tempt you, they were crate-diggers at least as good as Lux and Ivy, and–as much as I love those two–without the schtick. Billie Holiday, Rudy Toombs, Lew Williams, Hank Penny, Carl Perkins, and–especially, on the above song–Glenn Barber come in for revved-up treatment here, and the next two records they released before Condo’s untimely death were almost as surprising. The band was hot, sharp, and tightly loose (if that makes sense), Condo’s goosed-up “regular guy” vocals, in the grand tradition of Western swing, are sly and engaged, and the man plays the kind of saxophone fans of Don Markham (of Hag’s Strangers) will appreciate. Just great stuff that I can yell myself hoarse to just driving around the block.

 

And what about the new Prince album?

Let me quote Nicole: “He’s doodling. That’s a genius doodling.” She’d just asked me if she’d heard him sing the word “omelets”–and yes, he does. But that quote is a compliment–you’re hearing a master musician and songwriter in the midst of his process, rolling out some stuff he’s been thinking about for awhile, some bits he thinks (rightly) might have some potential, some O.P.s that he digs the most that he plays around with. Latter case in point (listen for the omelet line):

Also, I should point out that he works a piano, he stomps a bit, and he didn’t just save those eye-popping vocal dynamics for official recording sessions. We’re happy we bought it.

 

 

 

Holiday (September 11-17, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am on a Billie Holiday tear. John Szwed’s revelatory book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth is the culprit. Szwed’s intent–to strip away calcified notions about the great singer, examine the concrete artifacts (musical, literary, historical), close-listen to her art and rebuild a fuller, more complex and authentic picture of her–is pretty largely realized (though Szwed admits to mysteries that are unlikely to be successfully parsed), and the book’s clearly and passionately written as well. Among the many surprises is Szwed’s “rehabilitation” of Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday’s memoir written with (some say by) William Dufty; of course, I’m about to crack it today after years of turning my nose up at it due to its professed disconnection from truth. Also, I loaded the CD changer with multiple Holiday disks, primarily my favorites from Columbia’s Essential series and the argument-starter Lady in Satin.

Listening to Holiday for hours on end Friday, I thought back to an experience I once had in the classroom. We were reading a text that featured a lynching, and I thought my students might be stimulated to interesting thoughts and feelings by Holiday’s studio version of “Strange Fruit.” These were 10th graders who had not previously succeeded in English, and they’d self-segregated themselves when choosing seats on the first day; the class was roughly 50% white kids and kids of color. For my part, I was utterly convinced the Holiday was not only the greatest jazz singer of all-time, but impossible to dislike; I was equally convinced the subject matter would be powerful to both “halves” of the population.

I played the track on a clunky portable CD player I’d checked out from the media center, but the sound was pretty good. “Strange Fruit,” in the unlikely case you haven’t heard it, does not exactly produce exuberant moods in the listener. It creeps out of the speakers and its horror unfolds funereally—Holiday doesn’t enter until relatively late, and this delay had the students looking quizzically at each other: “Did dude play the right track?” Also, pre-WWII jazz was not and is not high schoolers’ music of choice; I sensed a stiffening in the ranks. But then Billie took over, and the students’ turned their eyes to the song’s lyrics, which I’d copied for them. I was hypnotized by the precision of her delivery as it was applied to the subject matter–and of course, since I was still a green idiot, I assumed they were, too.

I paused a couple of beats after the song ended, then launched a very broad query: “So, what did you think of her singing?”

“SHE’S THE WORST SINGER I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!!!”

The answer, yelled angrily by one of my quietest students, a young lady named Toni, froze me in my pedagogical tracks. I am sure my eyes bugged, and that my jaw slackened. I had been punched in the face, and I’d been leaning into the punch to begin with. Sadly, I was also expecting that, since she was a woman of color, she had to like Holiday’s singing. (I’ve evolved.)

I was so stunned that I have little recollection of my response. I ‘d become reasonably reliable in dignifying students’ responses (that now sounds to me like a condescending enterprise), so I’m sure I tried to figure out, or have her help me figure out, what she meant, but she was adamant, much snickering abounded, and the next thing I clearly remember is getting (desperately) to the actual lesson. But later, at home, I sniffed to Nicole, “The kid thought Billie Holiday was the worst singer she’d ever heard–can you believe that?”

So what’s the point? Well, Szwed’s sharp analysis of Holiday’s hard-to-pinpoint style makes clear that Holiday was not always easy on the ear: her delivery was frequently sharp, raspy, crying. Her timing was consistently eye- and ear-popping, but that’s a subtler thing to hear unless perhaps you’re a musician yourself. It occurred to me that, actually, young Toni was in fact listening intelligently and had no need of her response being dignified. From a reasonable perspective, her assessment had an anchor in fact–well, not that she was a horrible singer, but that, in the context of what Toni had listened to, the worst she’d heard. 28 years later is not a satisfactory response time for recognizing a teaching mistake–but better extremely late than never. Sorry, Toni! (We’re Facebook friends.)

Tony's

Friday nights, Nicole and I often head out to Tony’s Pizza Palace, a family-owned pizza joint we’ve been patronizing for most of our nearly 30 years together. We always sit in the booth that abuts the window with a bullet or pellet hole in it (look closely at the above photo and you can spot it). We always order a cold pitcher of Bud, two small Greek salads, and a Tony’s Special (green pepper and sausage). We always get a little caught up with the server, and check in with the head honcho, a charming young man named Daniel whom I taught the same year as Toni, featured above. Then we grab an additional libation, go back home, sprawl out on the couch, and meditate upon three of four specially selected tracks. It’s relaxing, stimulating, fun, and the perfect transition into the weekend. True to form, we followed our ritual last Friday, and selected the following three tracks, the first two of which we’ve worn out in the past, the third indicating I still couldn’t get Szwed and Lady Day off my mind.

To evoke our beloved NOLA, and to electrify our ears, minds and bodies:

To revisit a romantic favorite from our days of penury:

To engage with pure desolation–but also with an alert artistic mind at the end of its rope:

 

During the weekend, I chose to explore the work of a young Chicago MC one of my current students had begged me to check out. Perhaps still feeling guilty from my earlier revelation, my conscience was the driver, but this young lady, from Oklahoma City by way of Salt Lake City, was, like Toni, right (only less problematically). I loved her recommendation so much I bought some of the artist’s work. She goes by the handle of Noname, and she’s something–smart, mischievous, funny, and skilled. I’ll go out an a limb and say she’s gonna be a star. Thanks for the tip, Juniper!

The new one (soon to appear way up on my annual list):

The previous one:

 

Coming attractions: I’ve assigned my comp class the following listening, reading and viewing for our next semi-Socratic (you’ll recall my reportage on our Mitski’s Be the Cowboy lesson last post). Feel free to engage if you need some homework!

How Dev Hynes Became a Miracle Worker for R.&B., Pop, and Everything Else You Can Imagine (Lizzy Goodman, New York Times Magazine)

Premature Evaluation: Blood Orange, ‘Negro Swan’  (Briana Younger, Stereogum)

Blood Orange builds a refuge for black stories on the exquisite Negro Swan (Judnick Mayard, The Onion AV Club)

 

 

 

My Favorite Records from 2018, Two-Thirds the Way Outta Here (plus a middling report on and issuance from my sluggish writing mojo) (September 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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My goal for blogging every day about my listening adventures has been blown to smithereens. We went on a long trip this summer, I was (happily, at least) jolted out of my daily rhythm, when we returned I began assaulting myself with the same old aggravating questions (why are you doing this? for whom? does the world need another music blog? you do realize you ain’t got beans to say, right)–and lo and behold, we’re in September and I haven’t posted for over a week–just three-four times in the last month.

 

It’s not like I haven’t been listening to music:

I indulged myself and bought some physical music from the great Chicago-by-way-of-Gary electronic visionary JLin, in anticipation of her new album, Autobiography, due near the end of this month. I am normally not a big fan of so-called EDM but lordy, her sounds just hypnotize me. She’s a young master of tone, rhythmic disruption, and ugly beauty. And you can dance to her. Far as the physical media goes? I just wanted to give her more money to make music with…

Hardee

As a longtime devoted fan of the multi-reed magic of James Carter, I’ve long wondered about the Texas tenor John Hardee, whose composition “Lunatic” Carter covered back when he was a wunderkind. I managed to snag the above comp, which I’d never seen before, after trying to track down a source for Fresh Sounds releases; if you still buy CDs for some reason, I recommend it to you, as it specializes in reissues that might not even be streaming, if you can imagine that. Unsurprisingly, when you lay an ear to Hardee’s playing, you can hear what attracted Carter to it: it’s confidently lubricious, cool, controlled and randy all at the same time.

McPhee

Speaking of saxophone, I love unabashedly such jazz records that explore black spiritual music (David Murray’s Spirituals and Archie Shepp’s Goin’ Home spring immediately to mind). I am an atheist, but I freely admit I get power, hope, and motivation from the best of these works. I’ve perhaps overdocumented on this blog that I think very highly of the free (but sometimes deceptively not) Poughkeepsie hornman and sensei Joe McPhee, a man whose catalog is impossible to touch the bottom of without a couple of oxygen tanks. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that McPhee released his own gospel record, nor was I surprised that it is ravishingly soulful without any compromising of the man’s improvisational principles. Whether he’s on reeds or brass–he speaks very clearly. Guess what? No YouTube. Also, I had to resort to SoulSeek. Just sayin’.

 

Welp, that’s it for recent listening I’m currently compelled to showcase. At least I’ve been keeping track of the albums from this calendar year that I am enjoying. We’re 67% of the way through this year, and I am going to need these releases to support me up to, through, and past the midterm elections–what records are you leaning on right now? Below are 130 LPs (we can still call them that, because they still play long) the teacher in me’d give a B+ or better. The Top 40, in bold, I’ve played over and over and tend to just get better to my earhole and soul, though a couple of recent releases (like The Necks, Mitski. and Blood Orange) I’m really just wagering that I’ll play over and over. In fact, I’m teaching (in a manner of speaking) Mitski tomorrow in my pop music/freshman comp class.

Note: I may be behind on reissues; I don’t rightly know.

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  5. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  6. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  7. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  8. JD Allen: Love Stone
  9. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  10. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  11. The Internet: Hive Mind
  12. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  13. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  14. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  15. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  16. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  17. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  18. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  19. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  20. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  21. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  22. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  23. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  24. The Necks: Body
  25. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  26. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  27. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  28. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  29. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  30. Pusha T: Daytona
  31. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  32. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  33. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  34. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  35. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  36. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  37. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  38. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  39. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  40. Ivo Perlman and Matthew Shipp: Oneness
  41. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  42. The Thing: Again
  43. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  44. Bombino: Deran
  45. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  46. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  47. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  48. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  49. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  50. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  51. Nas: Nasir
  52. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  53. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  54. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  55. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  56. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  57. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  58. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  59. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  60. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  61. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  62. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  63. Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
  64. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
  65. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  66. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  67. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  68. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  69. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  70. Kiefer: happysad
  71. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  72. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  73. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  74. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  75. Shopping: The Official Body
  76. Young Mothers: Morose
  77. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  78. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  79. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  80. Shame: Songs of Praise
  81. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 2
  82. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  83. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  84. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  85. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  86. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  87. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  88. Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
  89. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  90. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  91. Deaf Wish: Lithium Zion
  92. Jay Rock: Redemption
  93. MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
  94. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  95. Tal National: Tantabara
  96. Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
  97. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  98. Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
  99. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  100. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  101. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  102. Tirzah: Devotion
  103. Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
  104. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  105. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  106. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  107. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  108. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  109. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  110. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  111. Hermit and the Recluse: Orpheus vs. The Sirens
  112. Migos: Culture II
  113. 03 Greedo: God Level
  114. Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
  115. Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  116. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  117. The Carters: Everything is Love
  118. The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  119. Superorganism: Superorganism
  120. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  121. Sleep: The Sciences
  122. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  123. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
  124. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  125. Ammar 808: Maghreb United
  126. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  127. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  128. Nicki Minaj: Queen
  129. Chad Popper: A Popper People
  130. Fantastic Negrito: Please Don’t Be Dead

OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  6. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  7. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  8. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  9. Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
  10. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  11. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  12. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  13. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  14. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  15. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau

Catch as Catch Can (August 20-26, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Hot ‘lanta

This show, besides being engrossing, entertaining, enlightening, and (sorry, no “e” word) challenging, can’t be beat for music. I know you likely know this already, but at least I have finally arrived at the club. It was exerting its influence a week ago, then this week sent this supposed aficionado diving deeper into Florida man Little Beaver’s repertoire, heading to the outskirts of Curtis Mayfield’s just-post-accident work, and seeking to explain Death Grips to my spouse (and convert us both, as I still sit on the fence).

Driven! Driven Driven Driven! To School!

I began teaching last week, and even though it’s a mere five miles round-trip to campus and back, across a week I close-listen to a considerable amount of music. I have referred to the old ’93 Ford Splash as “The Lab” on this blog before; it’s where I really, really study a piece of music, because when I’m in the house I’m extremely likely to be buried in a book or grading or planning or doing a bit of house-husbandry. This week’s “Lab” highlights were as follows:

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook–Look, there’s never been a jazz violinist as dynamic as the late Billy Bang. Parker’s the leader, Hamid Drake’s the drummer, and they are farrrrrr from slouches. But, particularly with the very, very present recording on this Thirsty Ear release, Bang illustrates why the world misses him sorely by ranging across country hoe-down, deep blues, Middle Eastern conjure, mischievous dissonance, and uncategorizable invention. Check it:

John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings–I’ll be honest. I’d only ever programmed around the song selection here to get to the iconic stuff before I just let it play mid-week, and was taught by the master not to do that kind of shit no more. I’d always assumed “Down Child” was just a Hookerian knock-off of the great Sonny Boy Williamson track, which I adore. Um, wrong.

Elvis Costello: Get Happy!–I don’t listen to EC much these days, but I hear he’s ill, and I like to keep such artists in my heart, at least for awhile. He was very important to me at 17: I liked words a lot, he liked words a lot, and could sling them; my heart was underfoot more than occasionally, and he’d identified this thing called “emotional facism.” In short, I was not alone. Critically, this album usually gets ranked pretty low compared to its three predecessors, but you know the deal with critics. I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas when it came out, and it spoke to me like (rather, unlike) a college advisor. This one was mysterious to me then, though, and thus I loved it; now it is plain as day to me, and thus I love it (plus somewhere in the distance he hears The Possum, a mental malady we share):

Oh, yeah, school: here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs my students shared, our first day in class, as songs everyone should listen to.

Death

A couple of friends have stepped on a rainbow of late, and at the end of the week a truly magnificent former student, still much in the bloom of youth, was snatched suddenly by an aneurysm (my sources say).  I know it’s irrational, but the fact that he doesn’t get to be here doing good things and treating humans well while others get to be publicly (and apparently unstoppably) egregious on an hourly basis just twists my fucking knickers. Then things got a bit dark. Then I reached for something–a couple things–old, strong, and loud to hold off the gloom.

Hint to those of you mourning: it works. For awhile. But that might be all the time your mind and heart need.

Hot ‘Lanta Stays Hot

By week’s end, I was still being sent on excavational errands by the got-dang show. I’d worked my way through Little Beaver’s catalog, then my eMusic download subscription came up (sorry, that site sucks and I’m about done with it) and, as usual lately, I was having trouble finding something to buy. Then this–very much carrying on the work of Little Richard and Pat Todd–appeared under the “You might also like…” banner:

I did like. Buoyant.

The Pool

The pool was the first place where music became a regularly active force in my life. I’d shared an essay draft Thursday with my new Stephens students (who, by the way, are awesome and full of music love and ideas for learning) about how my town pool jukebox revolutionized my mind while it was babysitting me:

Phillip Overeem

English 107

Personal Essay (Draft)

August 22, 2018

The Pool

            The city pool was my babysitter when I was a pre-teen. I learned to swim early, I loved the sun, I loved those high boards that the 21st century deems unsafe, and, I admit, I loved chasing girls around. More than anything, though, I loved the jukebox. At that time—the early 1970s—I didn’t own a turntable, and hadn’t become aware of the radio, so a trip to the pool meant a dive into the American Top 40 as well as the deep end. I could neither sing nor dance, but I had ears, and, living in a small town, I heard something spinning off the juke’s 45 RPM records that sounded more alive than anything in my house, neighborhood, or school. Something more alive, and very different.

The only trouble was, the liveliness and difference wasn’t present in every song—not by a long shot. One had to wait for it, or rather, keep one’s ears pricked for it, since one was usually screaming, doing back flips, illegally running, or trying to set personal breath-holding records, especially when one was 12. Generally, what one would tend to hear was something like this (the reader will have to imagine instrumentation and rhythm as “vivid” as these lyrics, likely scribbled in three minutes by Bread’s David Gates):

Baby I’m-a want you
Baby I’m-a need you
You’re the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without
your lovin’ and affection
Givin’ me direction. 

Or might one prefer this gem of deep thought by the band Lobo?

Baby, I’d love you to want me
The way that I want you
The way that it should be
Baby, you’d love me to want you
The way that I want to
If you’d only let it be.

Well, one might. In fact, at my city pool, many did, so many that, in my sleep, I was hearing those grade-school-love-notes-set-to-sappy-music on a loop. However, I could endure 10 straight plays of either of those songs if the 11th song went a little something like this, fromDonald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan (reader, try to put a sing-song melody under these words):

We hear you’re leaving, that’s okay
I thought our little wild time had just begun
I guess you kind of scared yourself, you turn and run
But if you have a change of heart
Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home.

Wait a minute? What’s this “little wild time”? How do you “scare yourself”? Why the heck is it so important that Rikki not lose that dang number? And why does the singer sing it in sinister fashion? I could think for hours about that and not get bored—or get to the bottom of the song. The vocabulary wasn’t Shakespearean, but the situation was a bit complex, especially for a sixth grader. The song was interesting. It was one of several on the box that taught me that life is interesting, and that curiosity about it was fun. I wasn’t exactly getting that in school.

            Don’t get me wrong, though. The attraction wasn’t just about the lyrics. Sometimes my ears could easily wade through 20 songs’ worth of Velveeta cheese to catch just a snippet of a record with pretty ho-hum lyrics that were simply sung like the performer had just won the lottery. Take one of my favorites, “Then Came You,” by the Spinners, featuring an amazing guest appearance by Dionne Warwick: a bouncing piano intro leads into Ms. Warwick jubilantly singing the praises of her beloved, going so far as to admit that “every time I’m near ya / I get that urge to feel ya”—yes, I did find those lyrics interesting. But when she hits the chorus, aided and abetted by the Spinners’ great lead singer Philippe Wynne, her voice, and the song, take off like a 747: “I never knew love before / Then came you”—nothin’ fancy, but delivered in a way that I could feel in my fingers and my toes. I could play it endlessly, or at least until I ran out of dimes, and I had to stop what I was doing, because at the end of the song Warwick and Wynne transform themselves from 747s into twin rockets of rhythmic improvisation. This went beyond interest; this was difference. Nothing—not music, not anything—had gotten to my fingers and toes before. I’d never heard singers just take off and invent, instead of just singing the same chorus lines the same way until the needle lifted. And the texture, the flexibility, the depth, the grit, the yearning in these voices? I’d never heard it anywhere.

            I’d never heard it anywhere, in any form, because I attended an all-white elementary and swam at the city municipal pool, on the west side of town. I didn’t know it yet, but the difference only existed because I had been separated from some particular fellow human beings.

NOTE: I am not finished with my draft—I deliberately left it incomplete for discussion purposes. I’m quite interested in your input, plus I wanted to help stimulate some ideas of your own.

Lo and behold if I didn’t find myself at the local public pool today, slumming, reading Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe, and…well, goddam it, they don’t have jukeboxes anymore, and the satellite fare was uninspiring, so I put the earbuds in and got knocked out by a current next big thing–actually, I don’t think she’s next, and think she’s here. Anyway, now I have a conclusion for my essay!

Here’s what I shared on a FB music group. I’m just gonna plagiarize myself, and we’ll see if the hot take stands up to time’s slot-mouth and squint:

I warmed up to Mitski last year via a KEXP show. I am really liking the new ‘un. I’m picking up a Joni throb-n-trill in her singing, but also her erotics in some of the singing. Also, along with the shifting personae, the musical dynamics are subtle and make a big difference to my concentration. I’m assigning a listening session for my students.

Last ‘Lanta

Did you know there’s an official Spotify playlist for all the stuff that’s been featured on Atlanta‘s soundtrack so far? You probably did, I did not, I passed it on to Nicole, and she’s listened to it at school all week. In case you are slow on the zeitgeist uptake like me, here’s the link, podnahs: