Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The first of my coworkers just left the office with the words, "See you next year!"

I'm kinda surprised it took until 2:30pm for this to happen.
TNR's &c. has more fascinating electoral analysis today, under the eye-catching title "How Dean Wins While Getting Obliterated in the South." Here is some smart stuff:

When analysts look at George W. Bush's
yawning advantage in the South, the reason
they tend to conclude that Democrats are
screwed come November 2004 is not that
Democrats need many Southern states to win
the election (or even any, with the possible
exception of Florida). It's that Democrats need
to at least put up enough of a fight to make
Bush spend time and money there--the thinking
being that otherwise he'll be able to take these
states for granted and park himself and his
$200 million in Florida and the Midwestern swing
states from August straight through to November.
But what they ignore is that a Democrat--
particularly one who excites culturally liberal blue-
state voters will enjoy a similar advantage:
Because the blue states have by and large gotten
bluer since 2004, a Democrat will more or less be
able to take many of these states for granted,
similarly parking himself and his $100 million (at
least if his name rhymes with Boward Bean)--not
to mention the couple-hundred million dollars
liberal 527s are going to spend on his behalf--in the
Midwest and Florida and go blow for blow with Bush.
My thumbs hurt from playing The Simpsons Road Rage.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Boy, you want to talk about lists, here they all are, from many publications, on many subjects.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

New reviews up on the Alive web site of the Tupac Resurrection sndtrk & Ice Cube's latest project, Westside Connection. Still no top-ten lists, though...maybe next week!

I am in Illinois having a nice Xmas, eating chocolate things & reading books & showing people episodes of Space Ghost from the DVD Laura got me. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The new Alive doesn't have the Top Ten lists; that must be coming in next week's issue. My review of Slipstream is up, though. I liked them okay, but I thought they were a little quaint. Here, I'm going to quote myself:

Slipstream's problem is the problem with a
lot of garagey psychedelic groups: There's
something missing from the repertoire of a
band that can jam forever on Pink Floyd's
back-catalog but don’t seem to have heard
On the Corner or Maggot Brain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Spent a couple hours last night watching the just-released DVDs of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which I received as an early Christmas present from my lovely girlfriend. The Onion AV Club described it this way:

The elements that conventional talk shows
try desperately to avoid--awkward silences,
anxious exchanges, dead time, weird vibes,
hostility between the host and his guests--
make up Space Ghost's basic building blocks.
Year-end list mania! This morning has the usual excellent, intriguing lists from the Onion AV Club (I favor Andy Battaglia's & Nathan Rabin's, but they're all good), and a grab-bag of more and less interesting selections by Pitchfork (enough with the album-cover lists already!), the first of their three-day end-of-year-list extravangza.
Say it ain't so, Jack White.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Here's a fantastic memoir piece by George Saunders in the New Yorker. Wow, what a great piece this is.
Hey, flat cornfields are rural beauty, not "lonely and desolate"!
From yesterday's NYT, Kelefa Sanneh's great article on Dizzee Rascal, the pioneering British rapper who doesn't sound like American rappers.
It remains to be seen whether the capture of Saddam will reduce attacks on American forces, but we can certainly hope that it will. It is certainly good news. From the lead article in this morning's Slate:

The violence...is likely to intensify in the coming
days or weeks; the insurgents will be under
great pressure to reassert their own presence.
The American response to this escalation could
determine the degree to which the optimistic
scenario unfolds. If U.S. commanders step up Iron
Hammer--bombing buildings and razor-fencing
villages--they may alienate more and more Iraqis
and, in fact, inspire an anti-occupation movement
that swells in strength by explicitly having no
alignment with Saddam. If the commanders keep
their counterattacks more precise and discriminate--
relying more on ground troops and intelligence,
while also continuing to help with civilian projects
(now is the time to pour in money)--they might truly
build on whatever momentum or legitimacy is sparked
by the taking of Saddam.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Review of a CD I didn't like very much by Lyrical, a rapper from Cleveland, in the new Alive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Former KGB head Vladimir Putin further consolidated his power in Russia this week, winning a two-thirds parliamentary majority for his United Russia party (or "non-party," in the words of this Moscow Times editorial, one with no "program to speak of, aside from its slavish devotion to a president"), leading to not-unrealistic speculation that sometime in the next few years he'll abolish term limits on himself and continue Russia's backslide into authoritarianism.

In July Putin's ex-KGB siloviki had Russia's richest businessman thrown into jail after Khordorkovsky started funding opposition parties and didn't deny that he might someday run for president. The businessman in question is a guy named Khordorkovsky, a crook himself, one of the infamous oligarchs who continue to starve the Russian people with their Kenneth-Lay-by-way-of-Tony-Soprano ethics. There's no good guy in the scenario--the Russian public hates the oligarchs, and Khordorkovsky's jailing actually scored political points for Putin--but put mildly, Putin's methods don't bode well. Meanwhile, human rights abuses in Chechnya are ongoing, throughout Russia there's no such thing as free expression, and there is virtually no check on Putin's executive power.

Slate's Kim Iskyan has had a couple of good articles on this subject; here is the most essential on the subject.
The Onion AV Club has its annual "Least Essential Albums" feature up this week, and it is hilarious as always. Categories include "Least Essential Album by a Pro Wrestler" and the ever-popular "Least Essential Album with 'Essential' in the Title" (which this year goes to "The Essential Stabbing Westward").

Monday, December 08, 2003

Here's a good find: the featured short story on McSweeney's today is a fragmenty thing by Charles Baxter called "Seven Failures by Lunchtime."

And a little oral history of the new one-billion-page William Vollmann book here.
Oh, yes, and one other thing happened this weekend: my hard drive may or may not have crashed. Today after work I will attempt to rescue it by reinstalling Windows & doing all the shit you do when it seems like you're having hard drive troubles... Computers are like cars...if my computer were a car, it would be one I got used and have since added many thousands of miles to. We'll see what happens. Everything important is backed up.
Eventful weekend! Saw Soul Position, ate jambalaya, wrote a CD review, watched the great first three hours of Angels in America and unexpectedly hosted a friend last night. I haven't been blogging much lately, but perhaps things'll pick up.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Check out my interview with Soul Position, which is the cover story of this week's Alive. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. See also my review of the new CD from Biz Markie.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Let's take some standard boilerplate on hip-hop & imagine it had been written about guitar-based rock music: "Contrary to death metal's endless blabbing about Satan-worshipping, Coldplay's love songs are a refreshing change-of-pace." Or, "While mainstream rockers keep rehashing the same old love songs, the Strokes' stand out by..."

See the problem here? These are meaningless statements--they're either apple/orange comparisons or they make a straw man out of unnamed "mainstream" artists.

Yet literally hundreds of journalists routinely write about independent hip-hop the way this unnamed journalist did: "Boston's Akrobatik is part of new breed of hip-hop emcees positioned as polar opposites to mainstream rap's braggadocio and endless blabbing about the bling-bling."

To hold a C-grade underground emcee like Akrobatik as superior to all of mainstream rap boggles the mind, first of all. But besides never-to-be-discounted journalistic laziness, I think the reason statements like this pervade writing on hip-hop is that a lot of rock critics still can't quite bring themselves to treat it as a real art form. If rappers are praised, it is as an exception to the rule, which is that rap is shallow, materialistic, facelessly generic pop music.

This week, the same anonymous journalist (okay, it was my editor, but don't tell him I used him as an unfavorable example) lamented that, according to Amazon.com, customers who purchased Outkast's great new 2xCD also bought Ludacris's Chicken 'n' Beer. (Never mind that the connection is totally natural, as Ludacris has a great guest spot on Speakerboxxx.) Writes my editor, this "show[s] that fans of this album are also putting their bling-bling towards sub-par albums relishing in just that."

So let's take Ludacris as an example. On his latest single, "Stand Up," he raps: "My diamonds are reckless/ feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace." Yes, this couplet does refer to expensive jewelry. But can anyone take this line as anything other than a comical exaggeration? Rap is about status, and one of rap's favorite tropes is the gaudy nouveau-riche lifestyles of successful artists. To miss the comic elements of these stories and their cariacatured artificiality is to misunderstand everything about them. Sure, Ludacris (along with many others) raps about money/guns/hoes, but only inasmuch as they puff up his own cartoonish image and provide fodder for funny similes like the above. Treating comic-book stars like Ludacris as if their writing were sober realism is what we might call the O'Reilly Fallacy.

Obviously, there's plenty of tired mainstream schtick and plenty of facelessly generic, gangsta-sheened emcees (Fabolous, let's say). Few are as clever as Ludacris, and even too much Ludacris can be too much. But rap music deserves to be attacked by people who have made some effort to get to know its genres and conventions, not by lazy journalists using boilerplate language to attack a rap straw man: doing so only gives credence to Bill O'Reilly's idea of what rap music is.

In other words, is Coldplay really a refreshing alternative to death metal? Or are they just two different genres, with different sets of rules governing what makes for a good record?
Smart Politics. Dean attacks Bush from the right on defense. Here's a column by Josh Marshall from a couple of weeks ago; it doesn't mention Dean by name but includes this prescription:

The Democrats can play defense and
complain that the president is questioning
their patriotism, or they can take the
offense and show that he has failed by
the very standards he sets for himself.

A Democrat who can do the latter will
be a formidable challenger.

Now Dean is doing precisely this, saying that the president has "made us weaker," that he lacks the "backbone to stand up to the Saudis," etc. Here's a piece in Slate with some good quotations that strays from the subject.

Monday, December 01, 2003

As promised, here's my review of The Black Album.
I had a good, busy weekend of eating turkey both baked and fried and finishing up a piece on Soul Position that is going to be the cover story of this week's Alive.

Here are a couple of good Kelefa Sanneh pieces, a Jay-Z review (it's a few days old, so look quick before it becomes pay-to-read) and something on Missy Elliott. If the Alive ever posts its Thanksgiving day issue, I'll link to my own Jay-Z review.