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BEING THERE: Cherry Glazerr @ First Unitarian

February 15th, 2019

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Photo by ALEX PATERSON-JAMES

The narrow collection of artists in my playlists that I have relied upon to get me through the last few months has grown so stale and tired that I almost want to walk in headphone-less silence on my way to work every morning. Almost. But then I remembered my sister’s mention to me last month of a band she told me “was weird as fuck, but your kind of thing.” The group in question was Cherry Glazerr. So after seeing the name pop up on the web after the band’s release of their third studio album Stuffed & Ready two weeks ago, I dove into their discography, immediately falling in love with their simultaneously synthy and sludgy version of post-punk-grunge-pop-metal-rock.

Last night, walking solo through Philly with trashily torn fishnets and eyes shrouded in deep black eyeliner, I found my way back to the familiar basement of First Unitarian on Valentine’s Day to witness this hybrid rock power of frontwoman Clementine Creevy in person. Following an unbelievably excellent set from the drum machine-based minimalism of opening act Sneaks, Creevy and her two other bandmates took the stage, along with a big inflatable pair of cherries standing tall at the center back. Still on a high from the prior set, the crowd broke into dancing with the first notes of Cherry Glazerr’s opening song, “Ohio,” screaming along by the end with the repetition of the words “Just take me away.”

Set up behind the band was a blank white canvas onto which a projector displayed videos of rotating cherries, endlessly outstretched guitar necks, vibrating constellations, walls of fire, streaks of blood, and the kinds of creepy inhuman figures that appear in Cherry Glazerr’s music video for “Daddi.” Looking out from under the hood of a black sweatshirt, Creevy smiled wickedly over the room, propelling fans into the inevitable mosh pit with a setlist that included Stuffed & Ready’s “That’s Not My Real Life,” “Wasted Nun,” and “Stupid Fish,” each bringing an unwieldy Black Sabbath-esque guitar solo from Creevy.
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CINEMA: Sim City

February 15th, 2019

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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (directed by Robert Rodriguez, 122 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC If you got into Anime in the 90’s, you were undoubtedly indoctrinated with Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel, the bleak cyberpunk love story cribbed in equal parts from Blade Runner and The Terminator. Hollywood’s take on this animated classic hits the big screen this week thanks to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), who took on the project that has been in gestation under James Cameron (The Terminator/Avatar) for almost two decades, who also penned the script. Alita takes the larger than life worlds Cameron is known for, and populates them with the charming rogues gallery you’ve come to expect from the Mexican filmmaker. It’s an odd mix for sure, but one that has Rodriguez turning out his best film since Sin City.

Battle Angel takes place in a distant post-apocalyptic future known as “After The Fall” where all that’s left of civilization is Zalem, the last of the floating cities, and Iron City, the factory city/dumping ground beneath it. One day while scavenging through the trash of Zalem, Dr. Ido (a cyberdoctor played by Christoph Waltz) finds the still living “Core” of a young cyborg girl with amnesia. Once he places her in a new body, Alita (Rosa Salazar) finds herself in an unfamiliar city and time where she falls for local Motorball mechanic Hugo (Keean Johnson) whose dream is to one day make it to Zalem. As Alita begins to piece together her past, we discover that nothing around her is quite as it seems in Iron City or up in Zalem.
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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Dear Mr. President…

February 15th, 2019

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY I know that you’ve been variously described as The Artist of the Deal, The Great Deal Maker, and Master of the Deal. High praise indeed! Except that it’s all horseshit! Face it, Mr. Fraudster, you can’t–and NEVER could–deal your way out of a paper bag–or into a poker hand bluff–if your bankrupt, bullying, welshing, dodging, LIFE depended on it. For Christ’s sake, even your claimed authorship of that so-called “deal” book has been branded as COUNTERFEIT! So, where was all that purported EXTRAORDINARY “deal making” skill of yours whenSMUSsomething as crucial as national security (your dreamed-up description) was on the line?! Where the hell was all that LEGENDARY “leadership” talent when it really counted?! Where did all that PHENOMENAL “management” expertise go when it was so gravely needed?! Why was all that self-described deal making “expertise” so obviously MISSING IN ACTION when so many people’s livelihoods totally depended upon it? Well, in a nutshell (which in this case is probably as apropos as one can get), the answer lies somewhere between Kate Spade and Smithfield. In other words, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Just like EVERYTHING ELSE in your spoiled brat, mediocre intelligence, Wharton-in-daddy’s-and-your-own-mind, 100% inheritance-/Russia-/Saudi Arabia-enabled EXISTENCE, that whole “deal maker” thing was nothing more than a faked-up, forged-to-infinity, 721 Fifth Avenue Fortune Teller’s FAIRYTALE!

Oh, and lest I later forget, I do so hope that whenever you’re enjoying yourself at one of your plush private clubs in one the few pristine patches of America’s “once great” outdoors you DON’T intend to pollute, far, far from the grime and contamination permeating the lives of so many of the great “unwashed” rest of us, you’ll find the kind of unspoiled lush greenery, sparkling pure water and crisp fresh air that define and delineate your famously demanding nihilistic standards, as you and your administration so earnestly pursue the asphyxiation and poisoning of every REMAINING American citizen who’s still holding out hope for a resurgence of the TRULY “once great” Obama-era clean air and potable water standards!

And certainly I would be remiss if I failed to make mention of that huge sacrifice you made by choosing to hole up in the White House (fortunately, Melania was able to hoof it down to the family hovel in West Palm) in order to fully feign how deceptively set you were on maintaining a pretentious mock-up of presidential shutdown deprivation equal to or exceeding the ACTUAL calamity you had unnecessarily thrust upon MILLIONS of Americans who sure as hell didn’t deserve it, all because those callous, two-faced, double-dealing, Mexicans decided not to honor that Trumped-up pledge of theirs to pay for that wall! But don’t go beating yourself up unnecessarily, Mister Fibster. The soup kitchens tasked with warding off the hunger pangs of all those unduly punished you’ve so asininely claimed were sympathetic to your Fox News kowtow are rumored to have taken healthy, calorie-reducing, Whopper preparation cues from your White House epicurean crew!
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BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: Boyfriends

February 14th, 2019

Broken Social Scene have a new EP out tomorrow called Let’s Try The After, Vol 1. One of the EP’s most awesome songs — a classic BSS tune called “Boyfriends” — is out today care of an all-gif video by @WhatGIFs. And yes, we definitely put this out for Valentine’s Day, because in many ways, that’s also what the song is about. In addition to this wildly fantastic video, the band has also created a little site where you can send all your loved ones valentines, sharing all the lovers’ spit in the world. Let’s Try The After – Vol 1 marks the band’s first new music since their critically acclaimed 5th studio album, 2017’s Hug of Thunder, which saw the collective exploring new ground while maintaining the dynamics that have made Broken Social Scene one of the most beloved indie bands of the last fifteen years.

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WORTH REPEATING: Benedict Burr

February 14th, 2019

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Aaron Burr” by A. DEGRAFF

JUST SECURITY: In July 2016, when Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening” to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, several Republican leaders directly and indirectly criticized him. […] By that point, however, not only did Burr know that the intelligence community had attributed the DNC hack to Russia, but the U.S. intelligence agencies even knew in summer 2015 the specific unit and agents within Russia’s intelligence services who performed the hacking. Among other specific data, Dutch intelligence agencies had for months reportedly accessed security cameras in the hackers’ Moscow offices and handed that information over to their American counterparts.

As the U.S. presidential campaign headed into the general elections, the U.S. intelligence community gained a more comprehensive view of the Kremlin’s actions and intentions. Increasingly concerned by what they saw, senior U.S. intelligence officials updated the small group of congressional leaders.

From Aug. 11 to Sept. 6, 2016, the C.I.A. organized “a series of urgent, individual briefings for [the] eight top members of Congress.” The C.I.A. informed Burr and the others that the U.S. intelligence community had discovered the Kremlin was working to help elect Trump and that “unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians.”

With this information in hand, Burr decided not only to join the Trump campaign and tie his political fate to Trump. Burr also took the now difficult-to-explain step of publicly repudiating suggestions that the Russians were acting in support of Trump. In an Oct. 3, 2016 interview, Burr said, “I have yet to see anything that would lead me to believe” Russia was interfering to benefit Trump. It was also a notable exception to Burr’s reputation for avoiding speaking with the press. MORE
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BEING THERE: Sharon Van Etten @ Union Transfer

February 8th, 2019

SHARON_VAN-ETTEN_BY_ALEX_PATERSON-JONES
Photo by ALEX PATERSON-JONES

Recently, I’ve felt haunted. Maybe it’s the Benadryl dreams, or my deepening fascination with astrology, or my long-overdue first reading of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, but the ghosts of my past, and even of my present, have started to creep into my subconscious. And while these kind of prolonged meditations on the phantoms of the past can help bring to light the parts of ourselves we often prefer to keep in the dark, the benefits of these reveries can grow toxic when left unchecked. There is a power in learning to simply let go, and that kind of power is the driving force behind the new music of Sharon Van Etten.

Emerging tall from darkness into flashing red stage lights, wearing a dark gray pantsuit and her signature shaggy hair, Van Etten welcomed the sold-out crowd at Union Transfer last night with outstretched arms, in a manner slightly evocative of Patti Smith. Surrounding this open demeanor however, was the dark, undulating thunder of the synthesizers behind her – a sound that appears on almost every track of Van Etten’s wildly popular and mildly divisive new record, Remind Me Tomorrow. Formerly associated with the folk singer-songwriter genre, Van Etten took a left turn with her style after a five-year break from her music, over the course of which she explored acting, pursued a degree in psychology, found a new partner, and became a mother.

But while these events and explorations certainly fed into the creation of Remind Me Tomorrow, Van Etten spends a great deal of the record confronting her past, specifically in songs like “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid,” both of which wonder about the evanescence of youthful freedom, and whether it’s always just a naive dream. It’s these songs that are the grittiest, and the ones that had Van Etten wailing wide-eyed into the microphone and fist-pumping to the pounding drums and screeching synths last night. Deeply cutting lyrics have always been a highlight of Van Etten’s work, but now those same reckonings are echoed with a scratchy distortion partially inspired by her collaboration with John Congleton, the producer of acts like fellow synth-rocker St. Vincent.
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CINEMA: Black Mirror

February 8th, 2019

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“Hey man, I don’t mind bein’ a vampire and all that shit, but a man has got to see his face!”– Scream Blacula, Scream (1973)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC As a lifelong horror fan, I was humbled by Horror Noire, the dense and informative documentary on the Black Horror film genre, based on the book with the same title by Robin R. Means Coleman. This homegrown project, written and produced in Philadelphia by Stage 3 Productions is masterclass in horror that every genre fan needs to take. While I like to consider myself a fan of black horror in particular, having seen most of the films featured in the doc, it became quickly apparent that I had missed a few things due to my perspective as a white male. Watching Horror Noire in a packed Philly screening it was hard to believe it has taken this long for this story to be told. But Jordan Peele’s Oscar win has shown that these films are not just award worthy, but can resonate with any audience.

The doc starts out examining D.W. Griffith’s infamous 1915 creepshow pageant of white supremacy,  Birth of a Nation, which definitely checks most of the boxes of the horror genre despite not being widely considered such. It then winds its way through the decades discussing various films and their impact, Blacula, Sugar Hill, Ganja and Hess wrapping up with the impending release of Jordan Peele’s US. The first thing that you notice is the film’s break with the standard talking head interview style you’ve come to expect from streaming docs. Instead, black filmmakers, actors, film scholars and writers are often paired off in a theater setting while they deliver an oral history of the genre drawing on their respective personal experiences. This gives an organic nature to this discussion that makes the audience feel like you’re eavesdropping on an conversation rather than the standard documentary data dump. It’s that candid nature and the chemistry between subjects that immediately pulls you in as such horror heavyweights as Ernest Dickerson, Keith David, Tony Todd, Ken Foree, William Crain and Jordan Peelw, give you a deep dive into how black horror has evolved over the years.

Horror Noire is an impressive accomplishment, that does more than just discuss representation in horror. The film’s academic approach to its subject matter, born of a true love of the genre, will have you looking at these films, their casts, tropes and buried subtext with a fresh perspective. The film thankfully skips all the small talk and setup going right to the meat of the discussion, and doesn’t hold anything back. My only real complaint, if you could call it that is I was left wanting more, since there was a film or two I think didn’t make the final cut or I wanted to hear what a particular person thought about a film. I honestly can’t recommend this film enough! Horror Noire is streaming for free on SHUDDER starting today as a part of Black History Month which is also Women In Horror Month. You can get the rest of February FREE on Shudder with this code: wihmx.

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ANDREW BIRD: Sisyphus

February 6th, 2019


 
“Sisyphus” is taken from his recently announced forthcoming album, My Finest Work Yet, due March 22 on Loma Vista. Preorder the album here. Of the Matthew Daniel Siskin-directed video [see above] Bird explains, “We shot this video after a storm system moved through Los Angeles and there was a strange mist wisping through the mountains. I had an acute panic attack as I was standing on the edge of a thousand-foot precipice wearing this giant head mounted on a baseball helmet. The more extreme shots were handled by my stunt double, pro-climber Sterling Taylor.” He furthers, “I wanted the whistle melody to be this glorious wind in your hair rock n roll moment like a scene from Easy Rider thus the Dennis Hopper wig. The idea was to have a whole spin class on a flatbed truck, but I think this captures that sense of futility.” My Finest Work Yet was recorded live to tape at Barefoot Studios in Los Angeles, CA. Produced by Paul Butler, Bird and band went for that Rudy Van Gelder jazz room sound where the instruments bleed in to all the mics in just the right way. Piano plays a strong role on these songs and most of the melodies are tinged with a gospel-jazz-60s soul feel while the lyrics are direct and risk-taking, cutting to the quick of what’s happening in our world.

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The Only Response To SOTU 19 That Matters

February 6th, 2019

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WASHINGTON POST: An 11-year-old boy who says he’s been bullied because of his last name — Trump — will be one of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s guests at the State of the Union on Tuesday, the White House announced. Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Del., who is not related to the president, drew headlines last year after his parents went public to share stories of the abuse they said he had suffered because of his last name. MORE

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INCOMING: Zen Arcadia

February 5th, 2019

 

NEW DAY RISING

Bob Mould has survived the rise and fall of Husker Du in the 80s, Sugar going supernova in the 90s, a premature retirement in the late 90s, a detour into DJ culture during the twilight of the alt-rock gods in the early aughts and a wilderness period in the late aughts. And now, at 53, he is simply making the best music of his career. MAGNET goes to Portlandia to find out how that is even possible.

By Jonathan Valania

One day last month, Bob Mould walked into Portland Music Company, a beloved purveyor of amps, axes and snare drums that serves as armory for the Portlandian indie-rock wars. With his balding dome shaved down to stubble and white Gorton’s fisherman beard, his mouth a crooked scribble, Bob sort of looks like Charlie Brown as a middle-aged man. For reasons not immediately clear, Bob disregards the vast array of musical gear on display and peruses the MUSICIAN WANTED ads tacked to the wall. There’s the usual sad, desperate, Sharpie’d pleas of go-nowhere bands trolling for fresh souls to lure into their drain-circling miasma of FAIL.

ADVERTISING LOOKS AND CHOPS A MUST!

NO BIG HAIR!

CAREER! CAREER! CAREER!

Pathetic. Bob’s eyes begin to glaze over but as he turns to walk away, one ad catches his attention.

BAND SEEKS BASSIST INTO HUSKER DU & PETER, PAUL & MARY

That’s weird, he thinks, those are the exact words of the want ad that Kim Deal responded to when she joined The Pixies 1986. Intrigued, he reaches for one of the tear-away tabs with a phone number and the name CHARLES written on it. Suddenly Jason Narducy, who has been Bob’s touring bassist since 2005, and his biggest fan since the day he heard Workbook, appears out of nowhere and angrily rips down the sign, crumbles it up and storms off, like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown at the last minute. Startled, Bob’s face lights up with alarm and then dims to that defeated, deflated Charlie Brown look that betrays years of subsisting on on a daily diet of disappointment and quiet desperation. You can see it in his eyes: he feels foolish and unsettled and maybe even a little hurt. If I didn’t know that Narducy was married with children, I’d think it was a lover’s spat. It’s an odd, unflattering moment, uncomfortable to watch, and someone as intensely private as Bob must surely regret that it happened in front of a visiting journalist.  Fortunately, it never really happened.

CUT!

The camera stops filming and everyone on the film crew breaks out in laughter. Nailed it. Next.

The film crew is shooting a video for “I Don’t Know You Anymore”, the uber-catchy earworm of a single from Beauty And Ruin, Bob Mould’s 14th post-Husker Du album and easily his most vital and vibrant work since Copper Blue, maybe since Flip Your Wig. The premise of the video takes some explaining but it’s written by Jon Wurster — who’s been Bob’s drummer for the last six years, in between tours with Mountain Goats and the reactivated Superchunk — so it’s worth the trouble. Because if Wurster is not the the greatest drummers of the indie- rock era, and he could well be, he is certainly the funniest. So let’s break it down: Bob Mould runs into The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy at a Portland rehearsal studio. Meloy plays a slightly more Faustian version of himself and, with thinly-veiled ulterior motives, sets about convincing him that 7-inch singles are a relic of the past. Kids don’t line up to buy records these days, he says, they line up to buy smart phones. If you want to sell music these days, you have to convince people that it will make their lives better. From this exchange Bob gets the bright idea to convince ‘the kids’ that a 7-inch is, despite appearances to the contrary, actually some new, amazing and life-altering form of technology (which, if you think about it, is actually true if you take the word ‘new’ out of that description). Bob assembles the rest of the band for a kooky powerpoint presentation on how to pull off this hoax-cum-marketing-scheme. By the next scene the band has morphed into the marketing equivalent of the A-Team, outfitted with ridiculous matching blue shirts, bricked smartphone pendants hanging around their necks and staple guns, which were, once upon a time, the glue that literally held together the original social media: punk rock flyering. Hilarity ensues.

Now we’re in a gay bar called Crush, and a drag queen with huge Ann Margaret eyelashes and Betty Page bangs is rubbing Bob’s bald head like he’s Buddha. Bob blushes and then he fans himself. It’s getting hot in herre.

CUT!

The camera stops filming and everyone on the film crew breaks out in laughter. Nailed it. Next.

These are glory days for Bob Mould, valedictorian of the indie rock class of 1984; glowering godfather of alt-rock circa 1992; dark lord of the molten dirge circa 1998; shirtless dancing bear spinning the wheels of steel for the Blow-Off, his hugely successful gay-friendly DJ parties, circa 2002; celebrated warts-n-all memoirist circa 2011; and acknowledged American Master of punk-as-fuck-three-chords-and-the-truth tunesmithery circa now. If it looks like things are finally breaking his way, that was never guaranteed. It could have just as easily gone the other way. In October he turns 54. In rock n’ roll years, that’s 108. At this age you’ve either become a living legend or you’re just old and in the way. You’ve either become a classic or just another neglected wreck rusting in the back yard of the music biz. Perhaps mid-to-late aughts, when Mould released and toured a string of middling albums, a case could have been made that he was trending towards the latter. But in the wake of a high-profile autobiography, See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody and a like-titled tribute concert, “See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould,” curated by Dave Grohl and featuring the likes of Britt Daniel from Spoon, Craig Finn and Tad Kubler from the Hold Steady, and No Age performing his songs at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, not to mention a pair of instant-classic late-career albums for Merge, Bob Mould has raised the curtain on third act that may well trump everything that came before.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Girlpool What Chaos Is Imaginary

February 4th, 2019

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What Chaos Is Imaginary is Girlpool’s third LP, and finds duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad shedding past selves like an old skin. The work revolves around gradual personal growth, the pain of becoming someone else and trying to abandon the echo of who you once were. This is the first album the band has released since Tucker’s transition, and the drop of their voice into a lower tenor has changed the core of the songs. Before, their voices blended in gentle harmonies, but now there is sharp division. On previous works, everything was shared, a constant collaboration. Now there are separately composed Tividad songs and Tucker songs, the two trading off on lead vocals, passing the mic back and forth. Each demonstrates their own distinct writing style, taking ownership over their experiences as individuals– friends toughing the world alone, and then coming home to talk about it.

The sound of What Chaos is Imaginary is softer than what we’re used to hearing from Girlpool, whose sound has been constantly evolving ever since 2017’s Powerplant. Edges have softened, attitudes checked, fists unclenched. The new tracks lean towards acoustic, incorporating more dream pop elements, a departure from their traditionally harsh, grunge rock sound. In an interview with Document Journal, Tucker explained, “It is a transitional-sounding album, because I am so over rock music. I love it and it has formed everything in me, I grew up on it. I’m just not interested in making it anymore right now… There are things on this album, like the synth and like the strings, that are just almost ethereal, that step outside of this vanilla shit.”

On the title track, Tividad’s delicate soprano weaves silken melodies over delicate strings and synths. The lyrics feel dark and disembodied: “Got your meds and your sky/You plant the moon in someone’s eyes/I loved him and his violence for the pretty view/Rehearsed a strange reality/What chaos is imaginary.” On “All Blacked Out,” Tucker’s voice decreases to a shiver-inducing whisper, painting lived-in images. Lines like, “Afternoon slowing down, grass sticking to the inside of your legs” and “Sitting on bricks in Philadelphia” resonates in their warm familiarity. Themes of place surface, capturing the atmospheres cities the duo lived while writing– New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. There isn’t one single, defining element to this album. Each song crafts its own version of reality, margins fringed with what could be memory or daydream. It arose from the whirling chaos of change, a transformation both imagined and true. — MARIAH HALL

 

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BEING THERE: The 2019 Philadelphia Auto Show

February 3rd, 2019

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At the 2019 Philadelphia Auto Show, there were many different types of cars that can get you from point A to point B. These cars boasted a range of gee-whiz capabilities, and there were a lot of new cars that employ two different sources of fuel: gasoline and electricity. This year, there were more brands that offered EV’s (Electric powered Vehicles). Chevrolet and Nissan pioneered the first mass produced electric cars, but this year there were electric cars in the Mercedes, BMW, and Audi lines, and Ford had a wider range of EV versions of their most popular models like the Fusion and the Focus. In the Philadelphia market, there is a great demand for crossover vehicles. Thus, the show featured many cars that served multiple purposes such as the Toyota Highlander, which is both an SUV and a station wagon. These crossover vehicles are wildly popular among millennialis️️‍. Even some of the high end luxury manufacturers have included crossovers in their line up, including Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, and even Rolls Royce with their Cullinan SUV. Another interesting part of the car show was the area where they kept the Mercedes Benz and Lexuses. These vehicles were in the area where the train shed used to be in Reading terminal station. I did not have any particular interest in the Lexus section, but the Mercedes Benz S500 was very comfortable and I was able to fit in the backseat with extra space despite my height of six foot four. Overall, I thought he Auto Show, which runs through February 10th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center was a terrific experience for all ages and suitable for everyone. The crowd was very diverse. Finally, make sure to bring a water bottle next year as walking around can make one incredibly weary.–FRANCIS J. PURCELL IV
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RETROSPECTIVE: Earl Sweatshirt, The Understated Young Poet Laureate Of The Mumble Generation

February 1st, 2019

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Illustration by @KingJediah via Instagram

BY SEAN HECK In 2011, Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All were at the zenith of their fame. By then, the group of boisterous young rappers, producers, crooners, skaters, fashion designers and hype men had collectively released 12 mixtapes, with a few members showcasing a large array of distinct influences, personalities, and sounds. The group’s ringleader, Tyler the Creator, seemed to get his kicks from simultaneously worrying and intriguing white Americans with repulsive, predatory lyrics about rape, murder and mutilation juxtaposed with murky, jazzy, and at times quirkily beautiful piano and synth driven self-produced instrumentals. Singer Frank Ocean, who would later go on to become the group’s most commercially successful artist, had established himself as a promising creator of sticky, earworm pop and emo-soul EarlcoverR&B ballads (e.g. “Swim Good” and “Novacane”). Of particular interest, however, was one Earl Sweatshirt, born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile. The mysterious young rhymesayer had a debut mixtape under his belt that established him as a witty, whipsmart young lyricist with a densely-layered and double-entendre-ridden verbal prowess. He was the ignition key to Odd Future’s blast into internet superstardom. He was the new Jay-Z! He was the new Nas! He was the new Slim Shady reincarnate!

And he was…missing.

That’s right. The most sought-after and linguistically-gifted spitter of the collective was cut off from the outside world and didn’t even know about Odd Future’s newfound fame during the group’s peak. Why? Well, his mother had sent him to an all boys’ reform school in Samoa, presumably because she heard Earl, Earl Sweatshirt’s lyrically grim, borderline horrorcore debut mixtape (which features a song called “epaR”, or “rape” simply spelled backwards), and/or had seen some of the efficaciously ridiculous and provocative content on the OFWGKTA Youtube channel. No one knows the exact terms of Earl’s maternal exile. Either way, his fans were revolutionary in their demands for his return; they demonized his mother for daring to enact parental guidance over her son (who was a minor, by the way), they started the #FREEEARL social media campaign, and they built up expectations of his “comeback album” that far exceeded those of Dr. Dre’s never-to-exist Detox. Droves of fans eagerly flocked to their preferred streaming services when they were finally graced with Earl Sweatshirt’s long-awaited debut album, and they were met with…Doris.

The disappointed ellipsis above is not intended to suggest that Doris is unsatisfactory in any way, but rather to recreate the stark and bitter truth that was cast upon some of Earl’s more enthusiastic and icon-obsessed fans: that Earl Sweatshirt would never be the next Nas—the next Eminem—the next Jay-Z—and he was never trying to be.1200x630bb

It seems that his enforced MIA status during the height of Odd Future’s fame was, in a way, the best thing ever to happen to Earl Sweatshirt. His mental health and substance abuse issues remain a serious point of concern to be sure, but at least he has stayed out of trouble enough to maintain his impressive ability to calmly articulate his struggles to true fans, new and old, willing to decipher his tightly-packed and, at times, decidedly esoteric bars. Quoth Earl: “I’m a surviving child star.” This is indeed an apt and optimistic sentiment, but given the fates of some of Earl’s contemporaries, it is also a sobering reminder of the tempestuous path of the typical young Internet-age rapper. Earl has evaded much of the turbulence that has eclipsed the careers of many a modern young hip-hop artist; others have not been so lucky. For example, 6ix9ine’s short, underwhelming career has been plagued by numerous unrelenting legal issues, from racketeering charges to suspected involvement in a child’s sexual performance. Tay-K, at just 18 years old, is facing time for capital murder. XXXTentacion was facing serious legal consequences for the alleged grisly abuse of his girlfriend before he was gunned down in front of a motorcycle shop at the tender age of 20. Mac Miller and Lil Peep both died during prosperous times in their careers from Fentanyl overdoses, aged only 26 and 21, respectively. It isn’t too far-fetched to speculate that Earl Sweatshirt’s absence from the limelight during a time in which he would have prospered most but was ill-equipped to handle it, may have saved his life.

And so we had 2013’s Doris. Far from the grand and triumphant return fans and critics alike were expecting, the then 19-year-old’s debut album was nevertheless a marvel. It’s a complicated, honest, and shockingly introspective realization of the next-level material hinted at in Earl’s pre-exile work. The record is rife with nutty instrumental detours and anti-pop, sample-heavy beats laden with insular lyrics shedding light onto Earl’s maternally-imposed exile and its consequences, the complications of his return to stardom, and the effect his father’s general lack of presence had on him. Earl maintains and even sharpens the ability that he displayed on Earl to pour out dizzying, filled-to-capacity bars, but here he uses his wordplay as a vehicle for honest self-exploration instead of gross-out imagery and juvenile violence. 71h3Pu1WXnL._SL1500_Rather than a comeback album, Doris feels like the creation of a road-weary young man, wise and experienced beyond his years both in terms of industry presence as well as general life experience.

Earl’s second full-length studio album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt is even more understated than Doris but far more antisocial. As opposed to his debut’s near 45-minute run time, the sophomore LP clocks in at just under 30 minutes. Whereas Doris features high-profile guests on almost every track (such as fellow Odd Future members, RZA, and Mac Miller), I Don’t Like Shit finds Earl delivering on a promise made in the album’s final track, “Wool”: “On my momma I been limiting my features.” With the exception of “Wool”, every track is produced by Earl under the pseudonym “randomblackdude.” The only high profile feature on the album is Vince Staples’s opening verse on the aforementioned “Wool.”

Elsewhere, Earl speaks on his addiction, panic attacks, breaking up with a significant other, and the death of his grandmother with such unadorned and bitter honesty that one can’t help but to listen to him as he lists his grievances. As with its predecessor, I Don’t Like Shit… was instantly hailed by critics, but Earl Sweatshirt maintained his refusal to capitalize on the hype that surrounded him at the dawn of the decade. Rather, he was coming into his own as a daring lyricist and an honest articulator of his damage: addiction, isolation, death, heartbreak and mental illness. It seemed as if his journey inward would only continue as he searched for salvation through his art.

And then…silence.

Until the very end of 2018, Earl Sweatshirt was relatively silent. Absent any new releases since I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, fans did not know what to expect. Other than solemn words about the death of friend and fellow artist Mac Miller via Twitter this September and a cancellation of tours due to anxiety and depression this past summer, there was radio silence from Earl Sweatshirt, and the hip-hop climate had changed a lot since his last release in 2015.

That silence lasted until the November 2018 release of  “Nowhere2Go,” Earl’s first single in three years, followed closely by the release of his third studio album, Some Rap Songs. If I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside presented Earl Sweatshirt spending a little too much me time alone in his home, then this new release can be seen as tantamount to the now 24-year-old rapper barricading himself off in a shack earl-sweatshirt-some-rap-songsin the middle of nowhere and throwing away the key. Its generic title is an apt reflection of how little Earl now cares about selling himself to an audience. He is so subdued in this under-25-minute release that one might not grasp how significantly Earl is baring his soul on its 15 iTunes-preview-length tracks. The album’s production is sample-heavy, loopy, lo-fi, and choppy and the instrumentation strikes a perfect balance: sometimes soothing and silky smooth, sometimes loud, dissonant, and full of hard left turns and jarring audio clips.

Earl’s delivery, at once deadpan and dense, may be hard to digest for new listeners at first. Vocally, he is raspier and more subdued in his delivery than he has ever been, invariably sounding like he chain-smoked two packs of Newports and two grams of loud before he got on the mic. However, he is also at his most reflective and his most poignant, rapping about familiar struggles such as addiction, mental illness, family and loss (his father, the late poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, passed away mere months before the album’s release), seemingly in real time. Most of the tracks here are vignettes that give the listener a voyeuristic look into the bruised psyche of not just a creatively exhausted artist, but rather a vulnerable human being struggling with many things at once. The closing instrumental track ends the album on sonic high note with a woozy cover of Hugh Masekela’s “Riot”. The cheerful cover’s upbeat guitar riffs, anthemic percussion, and jubilant trumpets make it feel like a realization in Earl that, despite his issues, he is going to be okay.

The spotlight has chased Earl Sweatshirt in some form or another throughout the entirety of his career and, as is showcased by the ethos and the tone of his three major label releases, he has been doing his level best to avoid it. Whereas many of today’s Internet-famous rappers feel the need to do anything they can to remain in the conversation, Earl Sweatshirt garners attention precisely by not demanding it. He invites the listener into his personal life in a manner that suggests that he does not really care whether he/she looks or not. Earl does not want to please obsessive fans. He does not want to be memed into stardom. He does not want to live fast and die young like many of his contemporaries. Rather, he aims to encapsulate the human experience in daring pursuits of sonic innovation. His mission is to bear his soul regarding issues of loss, loneliness, addiction, and spiritual struggle, chiseling at these issues with loquacious lyrical finesse in order to evolve into a more stable, healthy, and self-aware person. It is clear to see that he is well on his way and, in an age of colorful rappers that are more spectacle than substance, he is the unassuming, plainly dressed poet that we need.

EARL SWEATSHIRT PERFORMS @ THEATER OF LIVING ARTS MARCH 29TH

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