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Win Tickets To See Tricky @ Underground Arts

October 25th, 2016


Despite the ebb and flow of his career since emerging from the Bristol England trip-hop scene of the late ’90s, Tricky has remained a street sor­cer­er ad­ept at the art of black ma­gic real­ism, cutting his bliss with a sprinkle of men­ace and al­chem­ic­al elec­tron­ica, his powers undiminished by the passing decades. His voo­doo still draws its spell­bind­ing power from the lan­guid col­li­sions of rhythm and in­cant­a­tion, and the chi­mer­ic­al at­mo­spher­ics he con­jures. Not sur­pris­ingly, he smokes enough pot to de­for­est Hum­boldt County. You will have a chance to catch the wizard in an intimate setting when he performs at Underground Arts tomorrow night. We have a pair of tickets to give away to some lucky Phawker reader. To qualify to win, you must do the following: A) Friend us on Facebook B) follow us on Twitter C) send an email to PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM telling us you have done so, or already do, along with your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Put the magic words PRE-MILLENNIAL TENSION in the subject line. Good luck and godspeed!


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Q&A: Robert Been Of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

October 25th, 2016


JAMIE DAVISBY JAMES M. DAVIS We had a chance to talk with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bassist/vocalist Robert Been ahead of BRMC’s upcoming show Death From Above 1979 at the Fillmore on Nov. 7. BRMC was formed in the late 90’s when guitarist Peter Hayes, fresh off being fired from Brian Jonestown Massacre (as documented in Dig!) joined forces with Robert Been [pictured, above right], son of The Call frontman Michael Been. They unleashed a formidable aural assault with their first album B.R.M.C., following muscular/mystical 70’s acts like Zeppelin, while also drawing surreptitiously from the well of more contemporary groups like Oasis or The Verve. Since then they’ve been waving the banner of Rock and Roll as the less well-tempered acts from that time have fallen into the dust. Recently they have been featured in T. Bone Burnett’s True Detective soundtrack alongside stately Americana songwriters like Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. Although BRMC’s last few albums have not been as well received as their first few, as a live act they still have a lot of gas in the tank. Hail, hail rock n’ roll.

PHAWKER: When Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was first coming up in the early 2000s there was a lot of rock music. Rock music was really happening in a way that it doesn’t seem like it is now. Do you have any insight to why that time had so much good rock music?

ROBERT BEEN: Well, at the time it did not really feel like it was the most popular thing. In that moment it felt like it was kind of the pushback against [the dominant culture]. This kind of feeling that there’s no voice or no feeling. Just kind of being sad that there’s no song that’s connecting with me or my friends or anyone that I knew. And it felt like [we were] just a small ship in a big storm. Not just our band but anything that was kind of like that. And now it feels the same but you just kind of realize that even though we thought we had it bad back then we didn’t have it as bad as it is now. So it’s just the perspective of ‘who knew it could even get worse?’

PHAWKER: Yeah but for a while there, I mean, it was good. . .

ROBERT BEEN: Yeah, I remember talking to some folk like magazine editors some people like that who were almost trying to kind of. . . market it as that, kind of feeding on the idea of something on the horizon. And that was where a lot of it came from, and it kind of fed itself, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And a lot of the time I think that’s the way things happen. With any scene there’s a lot of hype that always goes around with it of people believing in it, but when you get right down to it there’s only one or two things in it of any significance and they’re not even making it on the commercial radar much. It’s when people believe it that kind of makes it what it is. The kind of other side of the coin that is what people want is hope, some kind of spirit everyone can kind of get a little drunk on. That’s rock and roll, that’s why it has this kind of sort of mystery around it because it certainly isn’t selling records, ’cause if it is then it’s Coldplay or U2 or whatever and no one wants anything to do with that. It’s a promise of something to at least wanna hope for.

PHAWKER: And do you think part of that hope is that an authentic act or an authentic voice can cut through the noise?

ROBERT BEEN: Yeah, I mean, I think any time you look at like a leader or a martyr, you know, a political person you’re kind of hoping one person can kind of bring forward something, that can kind focus everything down to a single focus or a single punch. But it’s usually a last desperate act of a desperate man, [laughs] or a desperate band. But, I don’t, that’s kind of more you guys’ world to figure all that stuff out. And then the band or the musicians are kind of the face of those things. You can only do what you do and hopefully not get swallowed up by the enormity of what it could mean if you got it right.

PHAWKER: Has that been a struggle to retain that kind of desperate man making a desperate act thing because of your success and career?

ROBERT BEEN: Well. . . yes and no. We’ve had it a lot easier than a lot of bands. A lot of people I know now are kind of still trying to get things going. A lot of great bands, and a lot of great people. But it kind of takes more than great music now. Which is really fucking depressing. But to catch that spirit and to catch that energy of whatever that is I think that’s what people are really hungry for, especially now that people can make music in their bedroom and whatnot, and you’re just kind of inundated with things. Were all a little more aware now more than ever that it’s about a little more than just making another album. These days everyone has a thousand records on their hard drive that they’ve downloaded that are good that they’re maybe going to listen to. I’m probably waxing too philosophical right now. What was maybe the more to the point question?

PHAWKER: Well I guess I was asking about artistic value versus what the label or promotion wants. The side where you do have to sell records.

ROBERT BEEN: Yeah, I was really glad I didn’t know about any of this shit when we started, dumb luck you know for the first couple records.  We dodged some bullets. We got to put out some good music and do it our way they way we wanted, produced it ourselves. We didn’t have to cash it at every corner. You know before we panicked or before we were in a place where we had to sell off the farm to survive.  And I think that’s a noble thing, I love to see bands when they can it makes me really disappointed when they don’t have to when they have tons of money and they just do it anyway, that shit pisses me off. But the ones kind of fighting for that spirit, who can, it’s a fight worth starting.

PHAWKER: Do you wanna plug any bands in particular?

ROBERT BEEN: There’s a band, uh, called The Vacant Lots, kind of a two piece, Suicide kind of vibe, but they’re doing a lot more than just that on their record they’re working on now. They’re giving me kind of some hope. Fat White Family, really fucking like, like nobody else. . . those are the kind of things I think, I feel like definitely helps to get out of bed in the morning. The few things you have that help you go “fuck it what’s one more day.” Another round!

PHAWKER: You’re dad was Robert Been the leader of the New Wave band The Call who had a bit of stardom in the early days of MTV. What was the best piece of advice he ever gave you about being in a rock n’ roll band?

ROBERT BEEN: I guess more than anything it was getting to grow up from the first memory of him screaming, running around the house bitching about the record company, giving everything to this thing he loved doing, and it was music, and I just grew up with that just being a normal job the same way you grow up with your dad being a plumber or a lawyer or a doctor. So I got to grow up with the notion of a career in music being a reality as opposed to what a lot of people get growing up, where maybe you should cash out fast because it’s gonna come and go and it’s gonna be about one or two records so just drink your hardest and fuck around your hardest and make music your hardest and burn yourself out. That’s what I see a lot of people kind of use music as and I was lucky that I kind of got to see that you can use it for more than that just one moment. And it’s hard, and it’s horrible. It’s a life of really fuckin a lot of disappointments but as long as it’s something you love, and I fell in love with it. I was like OK, I’m on board for the horror.

PHAWKER: OK, well one last question here: if your house was burning down and you could only save one record from the flames, what would it be?

ROBERT BEEN: Oh Jeez. [long pause] It would have to be London Calling. It’s the first record I have any memory of as like a little little kid. My Dad played it all the time and it’s literally one of the first things my brain remembers is just seeing that cover and staring at it. And then forever later realizing it was a copy of the Elvis cover. It just. . . something about that. I mean musically of course it’s a perfect record but just mostly because of its being my first memory. So it’s like a baby’s toy. [laughs] I would grab my baby toy and head out.


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BEING THERE: The Garden In North Philly

October 25th, 2016



Wyatt and Fletcher Shears are The Garden, and they like their Chipotle. This of course I learned from walking around Temple University’s campus on Saturday with my friend Natalie, and running into them just a few hours before their headlining gig in North Philly. We asked to hang out with them, and they said sure. Fletcher was very kind, and made small talk with us whilst we were lowkey stoned as hell and utterly perplexed by the situation unfolding before us. We decided to play it cool by abruptly leaving the restaurant mid-conversation, unable to properly analyze whether we were being casual fans hanging with the band, or a pair of complete weirdos uncomfortably following them around as they tried to just get their Chipotle fix in peace.

Fast-forward to the gig. “You here for The Garden?” Why yes. Natalie and I are led into a slightly cramped alley by my friend Sydney, who seems to know the guys throwing the show as she motions us through a gated door. A sizeable amount of kids are lined up in the alley, and up towards the entrance of the house (which was a last-minute venue switch from the now apparently defunct Goldilocks Gallery.) Once inside, we scoot up to the front of the venue, where the first band of the evening High Pop is setting up amongst various beautiful green ferns resting in bright orange Wawa milk crates, and more luscious greenery hanging from the ceiling.

High Pop and Heyrocco were solid openers. Nothing out of the ordinary, just some cool dudes in rocks bands. Their casual sounds built up a strong suspense for the incredibly strange and revved up performances yet to come. So Pitted took the stage next, a band who I have been extremely into as of late. The lead singer Nathan walked up to the mic wearing Neo-esque sunglasses, and the drummer Liam had a microphone/antenna device strapped to his forehead that helped him resemble a robot-anglerfish crossbreed. The guitarist, Janine (who I have a crush on) plugged her electric guitar into a bass amp and began strumming heavy, muffled chords, filling the room with a sense of looming terror. The room was a projector of sparkly blue lights and pink strobe away from complete darkness, complementing their creepy, noise-filled grunge. Hurdling through a set that unfortunately lasted no more than 20 minutes, the Washington-based trio managed to play out “feed me”, “woe” and “cat scratch”, in addition to some unreleased material. Although the set flew by, these guys are creepy as hell, and damn good at what they do.

The Garden jumped down from the single flight of stairs that were inside of the large atrium and began their hour of mischief. The duo, twins Fletcher and Wyatt Shears, are one kooky ass duo. Their quirky yet sick sound is manufactured simply by drums, bass and a slew of effects. As they began spewing lyrics to songs like “Call This Number Now” and “HAHA”, the over-capacity crowd of rambunctious teens came barreling into the performance space, knocking into Wyatt as myself and my friends were cleanly knocked into the corner of the room. The wild and sweaty affair flew by, with more goodies like “Vexation” and “All Smiles Over Here” being cranked out to the tune of Wyatt’s tone-heavy bass. After talking to the bands and splashing cold water over our overheated faces in the sink of the house, we bid adieu into the cold dark streets of North Philly, with the distinct sense of eeriness that the bands gave off following us all the way home. – DYLAN LONG

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THE CALL: The Walls Came Down

October 25th, 2016

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Michael Been, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and founding member of the Northern California modern rock band the Call, which broke out with the 1983 MTV hit “The Walls Came Down,” has died. He was 60. Been (pronounced Bean) died Thursday after suffering a heart attack at the Pukkelpop festival in Hasselt, Belgium, where he had been serving as a sound engineer for his son Robert’s band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. His death was announced in a statement from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s publicist, Juliana Plotkin. […] Been and the Call had famous fans in both the rock world — Peter Gabriel once labeled the band the “future of American music” — as well as in the realm of movies — director Martin Scorsese cast Been as the apostle John in his 1988 film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Then Al Gore chose the band’s 1989 anthem “Let the Day Begin” as a theme song for his 2000 presidential campaign, closing the Democratic National Convention at Staples Center with the rousing, optimistic celebration of working-class citizens.

“Here’s to the babies in the brand new world,

“Here’s to the beauty of the stars,

“Here’s to the travelers on the open road,

“Here’s to dreamers in the bars … ”

Although the band wasn’t consulted in advance about the selection — Been found out when he returned home late to find congratulatory messages on his answering machine. He was philosophical about it. “It might be one of those things where you just have to donate it to the country,” Been said at the time. MORE

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How The Media Exterminates Real Political Reform

October 24th, 2016



HARPERS: Think of all the grand ideas that flicker in the background of the Sanders-denouncing stories I have just recounted. There is the admiration for consensus, the worship of pragmatism and bipartisanship, the contempt for populist outcry, the repeated equating of dissent with partisan disloyalty. And think of the specific policy pratfalls: the cheers for TARP, the jeers aimed at bank regulation, the dismissal of single-payer health care as a preposterous dream.This stuff is not mysterious. We can easily identify the political orientation behind it from one of the very first pages of the Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to the Ideologies. This is common Seaboard Centrism, its markings of complacency and smugness as distinctive as ever, its habitat the familiar Beltway precincts of comfort and exclusivity. Whether you encounter it during a recession or a bull market, its call is the same: it reassures us that the experts who head up our system of government have everything well under control.

It is, of course, an ideology of the professional class, of sound-minded East Coast strivers, fresh out of Princeton or Harvard, eagerly quoting as “authorities” their peers in the other professions, whether economists at MIT or analysts at Credit Suisse or political scientists at Brookings. Above all, this is an insider’s ideology; a way of thinking that comes from a place of economic security and takes a view of the common people that is distinctly patrician. vNow, here’s the mystery. As a group, journalists aren’t economically secure. The boom years of journalistic professionalization are long over. Newspapers are museum pieces every bit as much as Bernie Sanders’s New Deal policies. The newsroom layoffs never end: in 2014 alone, 3,800 full-time editorial personnel got the axe, and the bloodletting continues, with Gannett announcing in September a plan to cut more than 200 staffers from its New Jersey papers. Book-review editors are so rare a specimen that they may disappear completely, unless somebody starts breeding them in captivity. The same thing goes for the journalists who once covered police departments and city government. At some papers, opinion columnists are expected to have day jobs elsewhere, and copy editors have largely gone the way of the great auk.

In other words, no group knows the story of the dying middle class more intimately than journalists. So why do the people at the very top of this profession identify themselves with the smug, the satisfied, the powerful? Why would a person working in a moribund industry compose a paean to the Wall Street bailouts? […] Maybe it’s something about journalism itself. This is a field, after all, that has embraced the forces that are killing it to an almost pathological degree. No institution has a greater appetite for trendy internet thinkers than journalism schools. We are all desperately convincing ourselves that we need to become entrepreneurs, or to get ourselves attuned to the digital future—the future, that is, as it is described for us hardheaded journalists by a cast of transparent bullshit artists. When the TV comedian John Oliver recently did a riff on the tragic decline of newspaper journalism, just about the only group in America that didn’t like it was—that’s right, the Newspaper Association of America, which didn’t think we should be nostalgic about the days when its members were successful. Truly, we are like buffalo nuzzling the rifles of our hunters. MORE

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CONTEST: Win Tix To See Aussie Psych-Rockers Pond At Underground Arts Tomorrow Night!

October 24th, 2016



Pond — the circa now Australian psych-pranksters whose memberships Veng Diagrams with Tame Impala, NOT the early 90s Portlandian Sub Pop grunge-titan-shoulda-beens, although there is some haircut similarities — raises more questions than it ever answers. Chief among those questions is not ‘Are these guys high?’ instead it’s ‘How goddamn high are these people?’ ‘Is that even safe?’ ‘Should we tell someone?’ and lastly, ‘What about all the chromosonal damage?’ The answer to these questions in order of appearance: Higher than an entire Phish concert parking lotful of nitrous balloon huffers, fuck no, don’t bother everyone already knows, and the myth that LSD causes chromosome damage was long ago debunked — the fact is EVERYTHING CAUSES CHROMOSOME DAMAGE. So, in the immortal words of the philosopher-king known as Nike, just do it. In fact, we’re gonna help. We have a pair of tickets to see Pond and the wonderfully named Machete Western at Underground Arts tomorrow night. To qualify to win you must do the following: A) Friend us on Facebook B) follow us on Twitter C) send an email to PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM telling us you have done so, or already do, along with your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Put the magic words BEARD, WIVES, DENIM in the subject line. Good luck and godspeed!


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Q&A: Talking Big Star Third W/ REM’s Mike Mills

October 21st, 2016



meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE It has been said that the genre of power pop—white man-boys with cherry gui­tars re­in­vig­or­at­ing the har­mon­ic con­ver­gence of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Byrds with the hormonal rush of youth—is the re­venge of the nerds. Big Star pretty much in­ven­ted the form, which ex­plains the wor­ship­ful al­tars erec­ted to the band in the bed­rooms of lonely, dis­en­fran­chised melody-makers from Los Angeles to Lon­don, and all points in between. Though they nev­er came close to fame or for­tune in their time, the band con­tin­ue to hold a sac­red place in the cos­mo­logy of pure pop, a glit­ter­ing con­stel­la­tion that re­mains in­vis­ible to the na­ked main­stream eye.

Big Star was the sound of four Mem­ph­is boys caught in the vor­tex of a time warp, re­in­ter­pret­ing the jangling, three-minute Britpop odes to love, youth, and the loss of both that framed their form­at­ive years, the mid-60s. Just one prob­lem: It was the early 70s. They were out of fash­ion and out of time. With­in the band, this dis­con­nect with the pop mar­ket­place would lead to bit­ter dis­il­lu­sion­ment, self-de­struc­tion, and death. But that same damning ob­scur­ity would nur­ture their myth­o­logy and be­come Big Star’s greatest ally, a form­al­de­hyde that would pre­serve the band’s three full-length al­bums — No. 1 Re­cord, Ra­dio City, and Sis­ter Lov­ers/Third — as per­fect spe­ci­mens of clas­sic gui­tar pop. That Big Star’s re­cor­ded leg­acy would go on to in­spire count­less indie sensations is one of pop his­tory’s cruelest iron­ies—every­one from R.E.M. to The Re­placements to Elli­ott Smith would come to see Big Star as the great miss­ing link between the 60s and the 70s and bey­ond.

There is a dreamy, pre-Raphael­ite aura that sur­rounds the le­gend of Big Star. Like the doomed, tender-aged beau­ties in Jef­frey Eu­gen­ides’ nov­el big-star-complete-third-ov-192The Vir­gin Sui­cides, the band’s tra­gic ca­reer would un­ravel in the au­tum­nal Sunday af­ter­noon sun­light of the early 1970s. The band’s sound and vis­ion hinged on the con­trast­ing sens­ib­il­it­ies of song­writers Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. In the gos­pel of Big Star, Bell was the sac­ri­fi­cial lamb—fra­gile, doe-eyed, and marked for an early death. After the first two Big Star albums were DOA, Bell quit the band he started. After a failed attempt at a solo career, he succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse, further exacerbated by Bell’s lifelong struggle with depression and his inability to reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian faith, culminating in a fatal car accident in 1978.

Chilton was the prod­ig­al son, re­turn­ing to Mem­ph­is after trav­el­ing the world, hav­ing tasted the bac­chanali­an pleas­ures of teen star­dom with the Box Tops in the 1960s. Where Bell was pre­cious and na­ive, Chilton was nervy and sar­don­ic, but the band’s steady down­ward spir­al would set him on the dark path of per­son­al dis­in­teg­ra­tion—booze, pills, vi­ol­ence, and at­temp­ted sui­cide—documented with harrowing lucidity on Big Star’s final album, which, depending on who you ask, was either called Sister Lovers or Third. The album’s shattered sonics and desolate beauty were deemed—by the best ears of major label A&R at the time—as too weird and depressing to release. The album collected dust in the vaults for four years. In 1978, a semi-legit version of the album culled from select tracks briefly surfaced, but it would not be until 1992, some 19 years after its completion, that Third/Sister Lovers was given a proper, high-profile release.

In the wake of Third/Sister Lovers stillborn birth, Chilton would re­in­vent him­self as an iras­cible icon­o­clast, seminal new wave/punk progenitor, and semi-iron­ic in­ter­pret­er of ob­scure soul, R&B, and Itali­an rock ‘n’ roll. He died in 2010, but history will remember him as one of the unwitting founding fathers of the Alternative Nation—his alt-rock sainthood immortalized by The Replacements’ “Alex Chilton”—that rose up in the 80s and 90s, and a direct inspiration for the waves of celebrated indie weirdness that rippled through the dawn of the 21st Century. A new three-disc, 69-track box set called Third Complete collects and curates all the extant recordings—rough sketch demos, alternate takes, unreleased tracks and multiple mixes—from Big Star’s last gasp. It is an embarrassment of riches for the long-suffering faithful and a yellowing road map through the madness and majesty of Third/Sister Lovers for adventurous newbies. Here’s hoping some kid finds it and changes music again.

At the time of his death, Chilton was in the process of mounting a live revival of Third/Sister Lovers set to debut at SXSW. In tribute to Chilton, founding Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, The dBs’ Chris Stamey, Let’s Active’s Mitch Easter, and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills performed Third/Sister Lovers beginning to end in a series of concerts in New York, London, Sydney, Seattle, and Los Angeles. On the eve of the release of Third Complete, we got the R.E.M. bassist/songwriter on the horn to talk about the legend and the legacy of Big Star’s lost masterpiece.

NOISEY: How did you first come to Third/Sister Lovers?

rem_mills_youngMIKE MILLS: I was familiar with the first two [Big Star albums] before I really paid attention to the third one, and when I did I’m not even sure what iteration of it it was. When I first heard it there was no official release, it was whatever people had cobbled together; it had some of the songs, but not all of the songs. Some of them I loved and some of them I didn’t. I think about this record, some of the songs take a few repeated listenings to truly see what’s going on, and to get the full impact of it, or at least it did for me. I came to it really gradually as I managed to hear all the different versions that came out over those years in the early 80s.

NOISEY: Did R.E.M. feel a certain kinship with Big Star given that both bands were comprised of white, southern bohemian types with artistic ambitions that weren’t always met with commercial acceptance?

MIKE MILLS: I don’t think the home towns had anything to do with it really. I don’t remember thinking about that. It was just that clearly, they came from the same musical place as we did, especially Peter [Buck, R.E.M. guitarist] and I, because the songwriting is just so strong, and the guitar playing so amazing, all the instrumentation was really amazing. So the fact that you could be that good at your instruments, and write songs that good, and sing that well, was just sort of exactly what we wanted to do.

NOISEY: What are the key tracks on the record for you?

MIKE MILLS: “Jesus Christ” has always stuck with me. I recorded a version of that for an R.E.M. Christmas single. “O, Dana” has always stuck with me. They’re so oddly fragmented, some of these songs, it’s just the most amazing thing. Those are the ones that got me first.

NOISEY: What about the big, bleak set pieces like “Big Black Car” or “Kangaroo”?

MIKE MILLS: Those took me a couple of times. “Holocaust,” you know, those ones, they’re so harrowing, my natural, sunny disposition was kind of shocked by those and it took me a little while to let my guard down and actually explore those, but they’re among the most moving.​ MORE

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October 21st, 2016

Teaser track from the new Flaming Lips album OCZY MLODY on January 13th, 2017. They play The Fillmore on March 4th.

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

October 21st, 2016



FRESH AIR: Now 82, Cohen has a new album, You Want It Darker, with songs that wrestle with mortality, question God and long for transcendence. Originally broadcast May 22, 2006.

PREVIOUSLY: Leonard Cohen Is Ready To Die

PREVIOUSLY: The first sound Leonard Cohen makes on his new album is a nanosecond’s rush lc_youwantitdarker_coverartof labored air. It’s not a wheeze, exactly, or a hiccup. But it’s not a singer’s note, either. The singing (such as it is) soon follows, and the 82-year-old’s somber tone signals that matters of grave import are about to be discussed. He’s making an inquiry into the peculiar strain of creeping soul distress, both personal and universal, that he’s been diagnosing since at least 1992’s The Future. We lack the precise terminology for this condition, because the dimmer switch doesn’t go that low. To Cohen, the particular darkness that defines his 14th studio album is nearly inescapable, and found everywhere. It’s in the sad futility behind the image “a million candles burning for the love that never came.” And it’s in the ambivalent confession, “I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame / I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim.” It’s a thick blanket of grim. And then, after verses soaked in sentimental old-man rue and seemingly personal details, Cohen pivots to a curious “we” for the chorus: “You want it darker … we kill the flame.” MORE

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SONIC YOUTH: Youth Against Fascism

October 20th, 2016

I still believe Anita Hill.

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

October 20th, 2016



NEW YORK TIMES: “Black Mirror” is hands down the most relevant program of our time, if for no other reason than how often it can make you wonder if we’re all living in an episode of it. This prescient and mordantly funny science-fiction anthology is smart enough to be just barely ahead of its time. It doesn’t imagine interstellar civilizations or postapocalyptic scenarios. Instead, it depicts variations on a near future transformed by information technology — our world, just a little worse.

In one episode from an earlier season, characters carry an implant that records their every experience — a kind of cranial Google Glass that ends up torturing a man who learns his wife has cheated on him. Another imagines a society in which citizens can block people who displease them, rendering them as mute blobs of static — a whole-body version of Facebook unfriending. In still another, a foul-mouthed cartoon TV star runs a political campaign that begins as a lark and spirals out of control — abetted by a jaded public and cynical media — into vicious demagogy. (No further comment.)

Twentieth-century science fiction was a product of 20th-century science, a period of physical advances and inventions when humans split the atom and traveled to the moon. “Black Mirror,” created for British television by Charlie Brooker, is a product of the 21st century and its digital, virtual breakthroughs. It speaks to a culture of people who live virtual second lives on social platforms, in which Silicon Valley tycoons seriously entertain the idea that our world is actually a “Matrix”-like simulation.

So it’s concerned not with body snatchers but with the internet hive mind; not nuclear winter but artificial intelligence; not the complications of time travel but the implications of being able to offload human consciousness onto devices. Its view of technology is not cold and robotic but deeply emotional, because — as with our smartphones — we’ve made the machines extensions of our bodies and souls. What’s more remarkable, the show has made its statement with a mere handful of installments: two three-episode seasons in 2011 and 2013 and a Christmas special in 2014.

Last year Netflix acquired the series, and in true American and Netflixian fashion, the new version is bigger in every way. Its first six episodes, which appear on Friday, nearly double the show’s oeuvre in one data dump. Pace yourself, though: This is very much the same disorienting, relentless series, touching on techno-cultural themes — hacking, social-media mobs, drones, the narcotic allure of nostalgia — in stories that are both dreamily speculative and of-the-moment. As before, there’s no theme music, no narrator to escort you into its clean dystopias. (Each episode imagines a different alternative reality, but they share a minimalist high-design aesthetic — what your nightmares would look like if they were art-directed by Apple’s Jonathan Ive.) “Black Mirror” buzzes onto your screen like a malware attack, dropping you in media res and leaving you, blinking, to figure out the rules. You don’t watch an episode so much as get abducted into it. MORE

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MODERN TIMES: Tales Of Accelerated Culture

October 19th, 2016

Motion Blur from a Tokyo Monorail


BY CONOR J. HARRINGTON If you were to ask someone who was born in the sixties or seventies “what has changed most since you were younger?” a now standard response would be “the speed/pace of the day,” but what do they really mean? Have things slowed down, or sped up? People born during that period have grown up through the sci-fi esque technological revolution. They’ve gone from cell phones the size and weight of a brick and televisions with four channels to virtual reality and self driving cars right around the corner. All of our cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and apple watches keep us constantly tapped in, always easily reached and always seconds away from information or entertainment. I believe being constantly plugged in like this has rewired us. We’ve become pampered, no longer needing to grind out our pleasures in non-virtual activity, always able to pull out a phone, flip the channel, or turn on the xbox. What this comes down to is the convenience of speed. This quick, cheap way of experiencing happiness, getting the dopamine flowing, has made its mark on the ways we, as Americans, want our pleasures.

Some of the main forms of receiving pleasure/entertainment in American culture, such as food, sports, news, and television/film, have been altered by our new, ingrained impatience. Major League Baseball, the sport that used to be not only in name, but truly, “America’s Pastime,” has formed an entire committee that’s only goal is to “make the games shorter, and improve the overall pace of games.” Some of these changes are as minute as just telling the umpire you’d like to walk a batter instead of throwing four balls, while others are as drastic as changing the strike zone to make the game more hitter-friendly. The necessity of these changes are coming about from what seems to be a “decreased attention span” in the fans of the sport who are less and less entertained with games that often last over three hours.

Then there’s the streaming giant in the room, Netflix. No longer does anyone need to wait week in, week out for more episodes of their favorite television show, they now have entire series at their fingertips. Another way to recognize the success of the succinct is to look at Buzzfeed. The average Buzzfeed article is written at a 4th grade level and has an average length of 155 words. That means their articles are very easily understood and consumed within a few minutes. While Buzzfeed does often do very good longform journalism as well, 65% of their “viral” articles are a listicle. On the topic of journalism, look at how 24-hour news has affected how long a story lasts on a level of national consciousness. We are so constantly bombarded with big stories, political he said she said, mass shooting here, riot there, that they merely float in front of us on our screens and then fade away from our minds as the next day, and the new stories, roll around.

All of these examples of sped-up enjoyment aside, our technology has had immediate, quantifiable effects on us. In a study performed by Microsoft in 2015, they found that the average attention span has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000, when we all started staring at screens all the time, to eight seconds. While that doesn’t sound huge, it is a drop off of an entire third of our attention span. Another study, probably directly correlated to Microsoft’s, done in 2012 by Pearson found that more than four out of ten teachers claimed their children failed to read for pleasure by the age of eleven. On the flip side, the Microsoft study also found that our technology use has made us better multi-taskers, and increased the amount of information we can take in in small bursts, akin to the pace of modern advertising and branding which constantly surrounds us and bombards us.
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INCOMING: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. II

October 19th, 2016



WIRED: The first sneak-peak at next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is here, and though this teaser is barely a minute and a half long, that’s more than enough time to give you a Groot awakening this morning. As Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” ooga-shockas in the background, we see Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) mid-flight, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) mid-fight, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) mid-strut, and later, we get to witness Star-Lord and Dax (Dave Bautista) have brutal-truth heart-to-heart. (“You just need to find a woman who is pathetic, like you,” Dax advises him.) But the real star of Guardians isn’t glimpsed until the very end, when Rocket turns around reveals that he’s carrying none other than a wee-sized Groot on his shoulder. Vol. 2 doesn’t open until May 5, but feel free to shout “Baby Groot, there it is!” as often as you’d like between now and then. MORE

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