On Sexual Predators and the Business of Shame

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Hello everyone. Before starting this article, which is going to be very serious, I’d just like to take a second to acknowledge that I recently hit 1000 views for 2017 on The Wooden Man, which has been a life goal I’ve been aspiring to for a while now. My aim was to reach that number before the end of the year, and I’ve hit it without even starting 2017’s Album of the Year, which is amazing. So thank you for reading, everyone.

1.) The Power of Celebrity

Now, as I’m sure anyone who has been following the news will have noticed, there have been several stories of high-profile sexual abuse, misconduct and harassment in mainstream media outlets and beyond over the past few weeks. First there was the Weinstein scandal, then the allegations against Kevin Spacey, who tried to deflect child abuse claims by coming out as bisexual.

Then there was Louis CK, and George Takei. And then, a week before me and my brother had tickets to see them live in the O2 Brixton, emo/rock band Brand New cancelled all upcoming shows following accusations of sexual misconduct against lead singer Jesse Lacey. Lacey admitted via a Facebook post he had manipulated women and cheated in the past, while ignoring (though clearly not denying) claims he solicited nude pictures from a fifteen year old girl.

That one was a particularly tough pill to swallow. Brand New were a band I, like many other people, was emotionally invested in. But listening to their music now makes me incredibly uncomfortable – lyrics that used to read as generalized relationship melodrama are now pretty plainly the confessions of an emotional abuser. Take these, from the anthemic ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’, which I’m sure thousands of teenagers have belted out in their bedrooms:

‘I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans / My tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent / Bring you back to the bar get you out of the cold / My sober straight face gets you out of your clothes … You laugh at every word trying hard to be cute / I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do’

Perhaps we were being wilfully ignorant. If I’m honest, I knew listening to ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’ that the song carried undertones of emotional if not sexual abuse, certainly a heavy dose of power and manipulation. But it’s easy to ignore when it comes from someone you admire, and that’s precisely the attitude that has enabled these men to do the things they have done, whether it was Lacey, Weinstein, Spacey, or anyone else.

The tidal wave of allegations that have been levelled against countless men in the last few weeks are a sign that sexual harassment and assault are far more widespread that many of us would dare admit, and are a chilling reminder of how celebrities can abuse the very real power we all collectively grant them.

 

2.) The Business of Shame

At the same time, the way these stories are being reported concerns me. I feel that the conversation surrounding these issues has shifted from a measured and very important discussion to a blind witch-hunt, and that respectable publications are sinking to tabloid tactics, throwing as many bodies as possible onto a funeral pyre of public shame while we all rub our hands with malicious joy.

Before I go any further, I want to share a screenshot I took from the frontpage of msn.com about two months ago, before any of the sexual misconduct stories broke. I was trying to log into Outlook and was stopped in my tracks by the page below, which struck me as hilarious and disgusting in equal measure:

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SLAMMED. Three of four top stories describe how different people are being SLAMMED, either for their appearance or their political views. Another two stories below describe people who are furious about things, while the rest are cheap attempts at provocation (Dec on holiday, the Grenfell lady). If it wasn’t already disgustingly apparent, shame and fury are the language of tabloid journalism.

But the wider media world is well versed in that language, too. In the days after the Jesse Lacey story broke, I checked the News section of music website Pitchfork regularly, and every single time I did I found a new story of sexual misconduct or harassment. That isn’t an exaggeration. Here are six separate stories in which people have been accused of sexual misconduct, and one in which Morrisey gets publicly shamed for defending Kevin Spacey:

https://pitchfork.com/news/russell-simmons-accused-of-sexually-assaulting-a-minor/

https://pitchfork.com/news/fyf-fest-founder-sean-carlson-accused-of-sexual-assault/

https://pitchfork.com/news/pinegrove-cancel-tour-after-accusation-of-sexual-coercion-against-frontman-evan-stephens-hall/

https://pitchfork.com/news/morrissey-defends-kevin-spacey-questions-accusers-motives/

https://pitchfork.com/news/backstreet-boys-nick-carter-accused-of-rape/

https://pitchfork.com/news/the-gaslamp-killer-sues-over-rape-allegations/

The story about Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter is about twenty minutes old as of my writing this – I checked in with Pitchfork once more before finishing this article and found yet another sexual misconduct story. Two of the above stories are regarding people I’ve never even heard of, but am presumably still supposed to be outraged about. And the last one is crucial, because it details an accusation of sexual misconduct which as of writing is unverified and currently being settled in court, but which led to The Gaslamp Killer being dropped from his label and event organizer.

Now, please don’t think for a second that I’m defending the actions, proven or alleged, of any of these men. Of course I am not. Any form of sexual misconduct, anything non-consensual in any way, is deplorable and disgusting. But many publications are walking a thin line at the moment, and a lot of unverified information is being thrown around just to add fuel to the fire of this story.

And here’s something else important to think about: the front page of msn.com is full of ads. Those ads are paid for by businesses that are literally cashing in on public outrage. Likewise, Pitchfork are making money every single time anyone clicks one of the links above, and the fact that all these stories have risen to the top of the front page suggests that many people are.

Public shame is a business, one which is very cleverly able to hide its dubious motives behind a veil of righteous indignation. Yes, it is a good thing that these stories come to light if they make people step back and realize the extent of sexual misconduct. But ask yourself – do you really think publications like Pitchfork, even the BBC, are primarily pushing these stories because of a social justice agenda? Or is it because scandal sells, and sexual misconduct is a huge views driver?

I think it is the latter, and I’d like to suggest people take a step back to think about WHY they are outraged, WHO they are really outraged at, and WHICH corporations are making money from that outrage.

PS please don’t publicly shame me for writing this

The Wooden Man

In Pursuit of Knowledge: Jonathan Blow’s The Witness

 

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“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves like locked doors or books written in a very foreign tongue” – Rainer Maria Rilke

 

About five hours in to Jonathan Blow’s mysterious & cerebral puzzle game The Witness, I had an epiphany. I was picking my way through an abandoned town, full of wild grass and running wires, when I stumbled across a shipping container. It was situated in the centre of a crumbling building, about twenty metres or so from the shoreline of the island upon which the game takes place. On the locked door of this shipping container was a maze, much like all the puzzles that make up The Witness, which was populated by colourful symbols I had never seen before.

I spent a couple of minutes playing around with the puzzle, but eventually decided to leave it and come back later, sure that The Witness would teach me these new pieces of logic when it wanted me to open the door. Sure enough, two or three hours later, I was wandering aimlessly through a swamp when I came across a series of panels which gradually explained (without a single word) how I could trace around yellow blocks to create shapes, and thus find the solution to the maze.

Armed with this new piece of information, I returned to the mysterious shipping container. I solved the tricky puzzle on its door with a fist-pump of triumph, and the door slowly creaked open with a satisfying electrical fizz. But what was inside? Ten pieces of gold? A new shield? A DLC discount?

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No. Inside the shipping container was, of course, nothing but another puzzle. But not just another puzzle – another lesson. The panel innocuously thrown on the floor of the container was a simplified form of yet another mysterious set of symbols I’d seen elsewhere, and by solving it I moved one small step closer to understanding the endless mysteries of the island.

It was at this moment that I realized the utter brilliance of The Witness. This is a game which rewards learning with lessons, a game that is about nothing but the pure pursuit of knowledge, and uses that knowledge alone to gate the player’s progress through its twenty-plus hour runtime. There are no powerups or extra abilities in The Witness. Every bit of progress you make is as a direct result of understanding the rules and logic of the island, and your only reward for this task is the pleasure derived in doing so.

A craftily hidden puzzle on one corner of the island might, upon solving, unlock something in your brain which sends you rushing to its complete opposite end, finally understanding what that weird pyramid-shaped symbol means. And having solved that, you might gain a clue as to what that purple hexagon-shaped thing you encountered three hours ago was trying to ask of you.

The Witness’ gently unfurling structure is truly organic, able to be approached from any angle and at any time. It actively encourages you to leave puzzles you don’t understand and go exploring – the entire town, in fact, which you’ll encounter as probably the third or fourth area of the game, cannot be completed until you understand the rules of all ten other areas, but you won’t know that until you’ve spent some time playing around there.

And what a sense of freedom there is in not knowing, especially in the puzzle genre, which has been in thrall to Portal’s linear test chambers for almost a decade now. Too many devs have borrowed these closed-off, pristine white stages as a means of lazily gating the player to the next puzzle, while making no effort to hide the designer’s hand. The Witness’ crowning achievement and prime innovation is the way it makes its whole world into one enormous interconnected puzzle, then simply sets you free to roam.

And it is such a joy to roam. The Witness’ island is a gorgeous microcosm of the Earth, ranging from arid desert to autumnal woodland and marshy swamps in a dense space that can be traversed within minutes. There are bunkers, castles, temples, shipwrecks, and more secrets than I could begin to count crammed into every inch of geography. Everything in The Witness has a purpose, and one of the great joys of playing it is having your brain slowly rewired to see that purpose everywhere.

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All of this conditioning and learning comes to a head in The Mountain, the game’s final area, which is so challenging it becomes as much about the desperation of unknowing as it is about the cerebral thrill of discovery and understanding. These last puzzles will force you to confront seeming impossibility in order to overcome it – an idea expressed with consummate elegance by an audiolog near the beginning of the area. For anyone who was tempted to commit the ultimate puzzle game sin at this stage and refer to a walkthrough, Blow imparts these words of wisdom:

“Therefore I thank you, my God – because you make it clear to me that there is no other way of approaching you except that which to all humans, even to the most learned philosophers, seems wholly inaccessible and impossible. For you have shown me that you cannot be seen elsewhere than where impossibility confronts and obstructs me…if, therefore, impossibility is a necessity in your sight, oh Lord, there is nothing your sight does not see” – Nicholas of Cusa, 1453

And sure enough, these brain-melting final puzzles become the most transcendent in the entire game, a gauntlet that push your acquired knowledge and wits to the absolute limit, but feel truly enlightening to solve. The game’s penultimate puzzle had me cutting out and drawing over multiple post-it notes to figure an answer, and when I finally solved it I felt such a flash of elation that I jumped out of my chair.

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There are very few games with the power to instil this emotion, but The Witness achieves it. Jonathan Blow has created a game that constantly forces the player to re-evaluate what they are capable of, to undertake sublimely daunting leaps of logic, and to luxuriate in the complete satisfaction of natural human curiosity. Only the most masterful game designers can teach without words, but Blow has complete trust in and respect for the player’s ability to learn, and it is this that sets his game apart.

Cerebral as philosophy, meticulous as science, but so wildly creative it could be nothing but a work of art – The Witness is the greatest puzzle game of them all, and perhaps the most intelligent video game I have ever played. It is the sort of game that seeps deeply into your psyche, and will have you mentally tracing circle mazes in satellite dishes, roundabouts and road signs. A game that you will not be able to stop thinking about, long after having put it down.

And as for that gorgeous, mysterious ending sequence? Well, whatever interpretation you take from it will be the right one. If there is one lesson The Witness teaches above all else, it is this: the pursuit of knowledge is, in the end, not about the answer, but about learning to ask the right questions.

The Fairy Fountain (some more poems)

Hello everyone, thought I’d pop in with just a quick update as I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks. I’m pleased to see the blog ticking along with a handful of views every day even when I don’t post anything, and am currently well on my way to the goal I set at the beginning of this year, which was to reach 1000 views for 2017 and grow from there.

It might not seem like a huge number, but its an important milestone for me. When I think of 1000 people all in a room, and then think that each of those 1000 people read something I posted here, it makes me happy. So thank you for reading, if you can see this.

I’ll be returning with my favourite albums of 2017 at the beginning of December, and am about to start revisiting favourites/filling in the blanks before creating my final list. I’ve listened to perhaps more music this year than ever before, and 2017’s Albums of the Year will reflect that. It’s going to be a top 50 rather than a top 20, running through the first thirty with a quick sentence or two and then moving into proper reviews in the top 20, as per usual.

Also upcoming is an article about Johnathan Blow’s magnificent and mysterious puzzle game The Witness, which released last year but I’ve only just got around to playing. And there’ll be a couple of other bits throughout November. So stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a couple more poems from my collection The Night and the Moth which I recently finished, and wanted to share 🙂

The first is about dreams, memory, and The Legend of Zelda. The second is a mirrored sonnet I wrote after going to the Tate Modern and seeing a bunch of Rothko paintings. And the third is about…sex, pretty much. Enjoy.

 

The Fairy Fountain

A wall of water is running down
To a marble turquoise pool.
A pilot star encircles
Sheets and sheets of memories
Stacked in rows like server farms
With tiny blue lights
All these tiny blue lights…

Remembering is a cloud save:
The corners get rubbed away
And leave the outline
Malleable like flesh or javascript.
When it waterfalls into life
It keeps me up at night.
It keeps me up for hours.

It cups the sift of selection
And everything we think is lost
Is only saved in suspension:
Passing on through each new century
Like the wisdom of the old Great Deku Tree
And breaking in a flood
That bursts the dam.

Like on the cusp of dreaming
When I can feel forgetting
Gauze and glowing…
Take me to the fairy fountain.
Quickly, quickly:
Before it pounces
Come in, and light the torches.

 

Seagram Murals

Rothko’s Seagram Murals were hanging,
Hind-legs coiled, in a dim mahogany
Corner of the Tate Modern,
Beckoning like a campfire.
My breath made red mist
At the door of that vermilion room,
Diffusing into the petrified cold of museum air con,
Adding layer upon layer to six sharp, thick frames.
But then, playing at their crooked games
With all the downy violence of a swan
A herd of children burst into the gloom
And monolithic thoughts are all dismissed.
– Should I be grateful when they come
To disturb my doom of purple?

 

While You Beat a Tambourine

I want to
Bathe in your fleshes melt
And suffocate in smoke
I am your bodies belt
The darkness is your cloak
And tiny fish are swimming
In pools among your feet
You crush them all while grinning
And splash inside their meat.

When honey lips surround you
They sip your midnight ink
When stars wrap rings around you
They sparkle mercury-pink
And all the slaves are raising
A temple inside touch
They set a fire blazing
But the fire burns too much.

The body needs its heat
But the hand recoils away
That bitterness turns sweet
When the night engulfs the day
And all our bones begin to mesh
Into one bony dream:
I bathe inside your flesh
While you beat a tambourine.

i write poems.

Yup. I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, and just yesterday I finished a big project that I’ve been working towards for about six months, and wanted to share. I’ve edited and collected all the best poems I’ve written (about 60 of them) into a collection titled The Night and the Moth which I’m going to attempt to shop around to some publishers. The collection is split into three chapters – The Night and the Moth, Secret Names and Waveforms – and comprises probably about six years of writing all together.

I’m well aware that poetry is pretty much a dead medium in 2017 and is mostly read by other poets, but I did this because it was important to me and because it brought me pleasure, solace and sometimes power in the process of creation. It would mean a lot to me if anyone else got some kind of pleasure from reading, so I’m posting a few selections here for people to read. Can post more in the future if people enjoy them 🙂

 

Being Ill is Comforting

Being ill is comforting
Like stillness after a bell.
Mind retires, murmuring
– Go tend to body’s shell.

Lost inside a game of chess
Against the evening air
You’ve all the time to convalesce
Into another’s care.

Sickness holds its honey sway
And empties out the port
Making space to put away
Ecologies of thought.

While wet beneath a sweat-stained sheet
Body’s ships are whispering
That there is pleasure in that heat
And being ill is comforting.

 

Ravens

Do ravens see
Eyes gleam blue?
Shrine a hipbone
Tomb it in with me:
Each curve to carve
Swooping through
A spear inside the tree.
I nest my own
And reap when sparrows starve
Harp the neck and hush:
When it sleeps
It sleeps in me.
When it speaks
Open throat to thrush
Claim and call my name
Nothing, nothing, nothing
But the sound and smell of rain
And when it
Comes down on the concrete
All the bony vermin scatter
Softly through the storm and sleet
Kissing a firecracker
Whipped up in a gripping mist
Slowly this tsunami
Everything in negative
And ravens all around me

 

Empathy

Empathy is a forked fox-quick that stalks
With padded paws                   down to pace upon
Thought and snout, stumbling
There upon truths:
A panoply of golden garbage cubes.
Empathy makes a hoard-tail flick and
Flash of red rubied
Eyes in darkness:
Hunger of a stomach rumbling.
Carcasses lead nose, lips and sweet smells
Outside the self                        down towards
Shelter, and a fox-fast savannah where the
Heaving ground swells.
And all across that desert of dry clay
A pantomine of paw tracks softly play.

 

Pear

Happiness is a pear
With a cold, inviting skin
If left too long in the air
It shrivels and grows thin.

But if you sip too soon
At a cup of unripe joy
Your mouth becomes immune
To the sweetness you destroy.

 

I Know the Reason

I know the reason why the heron
Sleeps inside its neck
And orange flowers camouflage
The cricket’s singing-speck

I know the reason why the river
Murmurs in the night
And shimmering birds make silhouettes
In beams of purple light

I know the freedom of the forests
Secret habitats
And hidden among their leaves I find
One hundred hanging bats

And I know the reason why the rain
Still falls on the silver sea
But to tell the reason why would stain
Elemental privacy.

 

A Feline Flame

There is a feline flame
That moves in me some nights
A fox upon the snow
Which feasts upon the sights
Of memory’s half-painted gallery.

There is a frozen stag
Which paws among the roots
Of gnarled and crooked trees
With gnarled and crooked fruits
For anything to salvage.

There is a quiet thought
That wrestles with the locks
My fox becomes a stag
My stag becomes a fox:
There are two kinds of love.

Why All Music Criticism is Shit (an ode to Lester Bangs)

(If you read this whole article, I love you. Mwah)

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A Legendary Critic

I’ve just finished reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of music criticism, scattered notes and other pieces of writing by Lester Bangs. For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, Lester Bangs was an American rock critic from Detroit who basically wrote the idea of punk rock into existence. He was an alcoholic, nihilistic, typewriter-trashing madman who was touting the Stooges and the Velvet Underground as a revolution in music while everyone else in the sixties was busy writing them off as too silly, too amateur, and too gay (they soon came around). Bangs was the kind of guy who saw through the bullshit mythology of rock music and could tear it down in an instant, but likewise was talented enough to write whole new mythologies that glorified noise, energy, and not giving a fuck about anything at all.

He was completely unique, and his writing style seems to me almost shocking in how it dares to approach music criticism with actual personality and, you know, a sense of humour. In retrospect it makes so much of today’s music writing look codified and predictable: too cool, and trying too hard. A typical Lester Bangs piece would begin as a straight out review or interview or whatever his poor editor had tried to wrangle him into. But it would quickly devolve into a digression from the tangent of a digression: ten pages in you’d find yourself reading an elaborate fantasy in which Bangs imagined himself eating Elvis Presley’s corpse and transforming himself into Elvis, then segwaying into a psychedelic essay on the power of celebrity, taking a detour through the history of jazz music from the perspective of Jack Kerouac, and then ending with a flourish by returning to the album in question: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty good. You should go buy it.”

Lester Bangs was not afraid to embarrass himself, which is just about everything he stood for in music, too. Sometimes his rants and detours go so far off the rails that its a wonder they were ever published (and a fairly extensive ‘unpublishable’ section in this book shows just how much wasnt). But this is what makes his writing style so electric and alive even forty odd years after the fact: nobody else could jump so carelessly from anecdote to fantasy to wild opinion with no care for structure or pacing. His whole life is like an unclosed parenthesis. And half the time Bangs seems so buzzed off his nuts on drugs and cheap wine that he probably couldn’t even remember the last page he wrote, let alone edit it for quality. He writes with pure, uncensored and unedited passion, the kind that makes you want to listen to every single record he reviews.

There are some absolute gems in this collection. Firstly there’s the review of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks where Bangs approaches the album with all the reverence of a Sacred Text shining into his life like a vision, ending by comparing the lyrics to the title track with a Fernando Garcia Lorca poem in a manner as casual as it is revelatory. Then there’s the review of the Stooges’ Fun House which grows into a ‘program for mass psychic liberation’ over the course of 22 incredible pages. There’s the hilarious story ‘John Coltrane Lives‘ in which Bangs recounts a particularly strung out acid trip where he stole a friend’s saxophone, then chased his terrified landlord around her apartment blaring out bum notes before being arrested by local police. There’s the brilliant Kratwerk interview where Bangs asks them about groupies and drugs, and they respond by explaining behavioural modification through technology and the morality of experimental music. And then there’s the lengthy piece where Bangs goes on tour with The Clash and reports on the British punk scene from the inside out, which is a fascinating historical and personal document.

In between these moments of brilliance there are inevitably some passages where Bangs’ unedited, rambling style gets the better of him. One in particular finds him reviewing some shitty TV-guide B-movie called Teenagers From Outer Space, devolving into a fifteen page rant about…something that is borderline incomprehensible. But that’s part of the appeal of Lester Bangs in the end: the sense of having no filter and absolutely no restraint. It’s both his superpower and his kryptonite.

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A Whirlwind Tour Through the World of Contemporary Music Journalism

Where else today can you find anything even close to this in the world of music journalism? If you asked me to, I couldn’t name a single critic working today with a style as unique, exciting or interesting as Lester Bangs. There’s Pitchfork, whose writing is actually of a pretty high quality but is hidden behind so much trendy agenda-pushing bullshit that half the time it’s not worth the effort. I mean lets be honest, a Best New Music isn’t really a distinction of quality as it is a distinction of popularity, one which lost all meaning when they started being handed out to Future and Young Thug and whoever else. And the Pitchfork news section is no more than a second-by-second update on Kanye West/Father John Misty’s respective Twitter accounts, with some social justice controversy thrown in for good measure.

Music magazines are basically all dead. Q is completely without personality and is just an echo chamber for a certain kind of old-school rock-ist circlejerking. NME is exactly the same except swap out classic rock for Britpop and just basically get Noel Gallagher’s opinion on fucking everything because he’s so naughty and cool. Fuck Noel Gallagher, fuck Damon Albarn and fuck every boring jangly Smithsy indie band that NME shoves down the throats of impressionable teenagers and hipsters who’ve never bothered to explore music further than the kinds of albums that appear on countdown TV shows of the Greatest 100 Albums of All Time where we all collectively bukkake on the corpse of John Lennon for an hour.

The only music magazine I can sometimes stand to read is Wire, which walks a delicate tightrope between being utterly pretentious and genuinely thought-provoking, usually while trying to convince me that an album of lo-fi sheep recordings is the best record of 2017. Once I was reading an issue of Wire, and the following actually real sentence appeared within an album review that was so perfectly pretentious and symbolic that I couldn’t stop laughing at it: ‘…But if you’ve come for the high conceptualism, you’ll stay for the beautifully rendered field recordings.’ I mean, that’s just perfect, isn’t it? You have to be so far up your own arse to write that sentence that it becomes strangely elegant in the end. But on the flipside, Wire have put me on to some incredible experimental artists like Richard Dawson and Julia Holter, who have made some of my favourite albums of recent years. So they’re not all bad.

Beyond the fleeting gales of print media there’s Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop, whose opinion I respect an awful lot. One thing Fantano is very good at that magazines like Wire completely miss, is explaining clearly and simply whether or not he thinks something is good. Choosing not to give an album a rating is fine, but if you make that decision, I think you have to be even clearer with qualitative judgments on a record. Some experimental music is just aimless wankery masquerading as intellectualism, and the critics job should be to sift out the shit. Fantano is as good as anyone as this, and has a sense of humour to boot. I think Youtube is probably the future of music journalism, just as it is the future of targeted advertising, music videos, dank memes and ASMR videos. Our generation are truly at the frontier of life.

 

TL;DR

You’ve already stopped reading this article, so it doesn’t matter what I write here. Just more proof that printed/written media is dying because nobody has any attention any more (myself included). Will it even be possible to have an individual style in the wordless future of criticism? Will everything just be reduced to snarky, 140-character opinions and clickbait? Should we all just make like Lester Bangs and shove valium up our butts and drink ourselves to death because nobody is even reading the 2000 word article we’ve just written ranting about obscure websites and magazines and books that nobody else even cares about?

No, no, no. The point of this (pointless) article is not by any means to glorify punk or nihilism or any of that leather-jacket Rock God machismo bullshit that accumulated throughout the 1960s and 70s. Rock music has been imploding further and further in on itself for about thirty years now, through post-punk to grunge to metal to today’s indie rock, which is so detached from its own sentience it might as well be a bearded brain in a jar.

The point of this article is simply to celebrate individuality and style and writing the way you think things OUGHT TO BE and not the way they currently are. To celebrate tearing down all forms of cultural mythology and idol worship before they inevitably build themselves back up again like silt collecting in a river bend. If Lester Bangs had lived past the age of thirty three, this is exactly what he would be preaching in 2017. He would be stripping trap rappers down to their underpants, declaring that Weird Al Yankovic was bigger than Katy Perry. It’s a tragedy that he never got to listen to Swans’ To Be Kind, or black metal, or Merzbow. But his writing and life should encourage everyone who encounters it to pursue passionately all the weird fucked up stuff they enjoy, just as he did. Ergo, this indulgent and impenetrable blog post that nobody cares about. Rest in peace, you brilliant piece of shit.

 

 

HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS TRAP RAPPER

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I am feeling generous today so I’ve decided to offer (for free, no less) some priceless wisdom to the few enlightened souls who read this blog. Today we’re going to learn HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS TRAP RAPPER in five easy steps.

  • Pick a name. All good rappers need an alias. Unfortunately if you want to become famous there are some restrictions on your nom de rap. You must be either a Lil X or a Yung Y, but can thankfully substitute literally any word in the dictionary for the second part of your name. For bonus points, throw in some weird capitalization or pointless punctuation to really set yourself apart. Some examples of good rising star trap rap monikers: Lil ssandWICH, Yung Gazebo, Lil $$$Oreo$$$, and Yung Receding Hairline. Don’t think about it too hard: the worse your name is, the more Youtube comments you’re sure to receive. And no measure of success is greater than this.

 

  • Pick a gimmick. Hip-hop listeners in 2017 have no patience, so you need a lowest common denominator gimmick to stick in people’s heads. Some recent examples: Lil Yachty has red hair, Lil Uzi Vert has red hair, xxxTENTACION has yellow hair and is depressed (YOU DONT UNDERSTAND ME, MOM), Lil Dickie is Jewish, Future drinks lean, Fetty Wap has one eye, and Gucci Mane goes to prison a lot. If you’re not imaginative enough to think of your own gimmick, just rip someone else’s. Die your hair blue, for fucks sake.

 

  • Make a breakout single. No album or mixtape is required –in fact no lyrical skills at all. All you need is to come up with the dumbest, most infectious hook you possibly can, throw some rolling snare hits underneath it, slap some shitty sub-bass and trap synths on top and BOOM. Instant iTunes number one. As for the verses – just mumble unintelligibly about hoes money and guns until the hook comes around again. No one’s really paying attention, anyway. For inspiration, give a listen to any of the following: Desiigner’s ‘Panda’, Rich Gang’s ‘Lifestyle’, Migos’ ‘Versace’, or Youtube celebrity (ew) Jake Paul’s recent masterpiece ‘It’s Everyday Bro’.

 

  • Spark bullshit controversy. Ok, now you’re kinda famous. Your song has some hits on Spotify, internet users are ironically spouting memes from your terrible music, and your gimmicky image is getting you noticed. But people won’t truly give a shit about you until you really annoy them, so the next step is to spark some clickbait controversy and spread your brand. Jump on a radio interview and do a deliberately terrible freestyle, say you think Soulja Boy is better than 2Pac, call someone famous a faggot on Twitter. All of the above will have your name trending on Worldstar and the front page of Youtube in no name. If you’re lucky, Pitchfork might even write a five page editorial on how you are the Next Big Thing.

 

  • Release an album. This is by far the least important of all five steps. If you have successfully pulled off stages 1 through 4 then you are already hood famous, but to start really pulling in the money you need a record. It doesn’t really matter if said record is the biggest piece of trash hip-hop ever shat out: as long as people remember your name and gimmick, the money will come rolling in. For proof of this theory, just give a listen to Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions or xxxTENTACION’s 17, which are both so terrible they compel me to jump off a bridge and yet are somehow popular. And that’s all you need.

 

Congratulations! That’s it – you’re now a famous trap rapper. Make sure to bask in the fifteen minutes of fame you have left before the whole trap phenomenon implodes under the internal gravity of bad memes and pantomime fuckbois. Yung woodenman signing off.

The Ten Best and Worst Comeback Albums of the 2010s

 

This past week I found myself listening to the new (and pretty disappointing) record from techno legends Porter Ricks, Anguilla Electrica – their first album in almost twenty years. It got me thinking a bit about the comeback record, that most elusive and unpredictable of albums.

It’s a universal rule that there are no average comeback albums. When a band or artist makes a return after a long absence, one of two things happen. Either they miserably fail to recapture their creative spark and do nothing but damage to their reputation, or they make a triumphant return and transport us back to the golden years.

In this article I’ll be taking a look at the five best and worst comeback albums of the decade so far, with an equal dosage of nostalgia, horror and surprise. Let’s begin.

 

#5 WORST / Porter Ricks – Anguilla Electrica

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I mentioned it at the top, but Porter Ricks’ Anguilla Electrica is one of the more disappointing records I’ve heard this year. The duo’s Biokinetics is one of my favourite electronic albums of all time: a pulsating ambient techno record full of gorgeous, tectonic grooves that sound, much like the album’s title, both organic and mechanical. But eighteen years since their last album, all the atmosphere and texture has been washed out to sea and what’s left are a collection of hollow, predictable techno tunes. Not recommended.

 

#5 BEST / Slowdive – Slowdive

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the most pleasant surprises for me this year was Slowdive’s self-titled record which released back in May, their first since 1995’s Pygmalion. It saw the band reinvigorated with a newfound energy, seeping into loud, psychedelic space-rock tunes like ‘Star Roving’ as well as ethereal drifters like ‘Go Get It’. The shoegaze sound has been thoroughly mined by lazy indie rock bands with plenty of loop pedals but little creativity throughout the last ten years, so it was great to hear one of the original masters return and remind us what made the sound so special in the first place.

 

#4 WORST / Ride – Weather Diaries

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By contrast, the 2017 comeback of Ride – another one of the shoegaze Big Three – is a huge flop. On this record Ride sound exactly like one of those lazy indie rock bands I mentioned above, lacking any of the force that made Nowhere and Going Blank Again great albums. Where were the squalls of oceanic guitar noise? The weightless, floating vocal harmonies? Weather Diaries was inoffensive, unimaginative and ultimately forgettable. Next. (side note: this album was so forgettable I actually thought it was self-titled until I went back and remembered it was called Weather Diaries. LOL)

 

#4 BEST / Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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We hadn’t heard from Godspeed for a decade before the band announced the surprise release of Allelujah! in 2012, and it did not disappoint. The record featured some of the heaviest moments we’d heard from the band yet, in particular the spiritual stomp of 20-minute epic ‘Mladic’. But the rousing marching-band anthems of ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ were just as affecting, contrasting gorgeous string arrangements with swelling guitar feedback. Allelujah! is a fantastic addition to the band’s discography, and one worth revisiting ahead of their newly announced record Luciferian Towers, set for release in September.

 

#3 WORST / Pixies – Head Carrier

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Pixies spoiled their perfect batting average with Head Carrier. Until this 2016 comeback album, the band had only released four records, all of which were classics that have held a huge influence over the last twenty years of rock music. But this one was a tough listen: the band, and in particular frontman Frank Black, had none of the ferocity that was so essential to records like Doolittle. Many of the songs on Head Carrier were forgettable indie rock strummers with sickly sweet hooks, and in the few spots where they tried to get loud, Black sounded like an irate pensioner who’d misplaced his false teeth. Sometimes it’s best to let a good thing live on in memory alone.

 

#3 BEST / Gas – Narkopop

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Another surprise release – the return of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project this year made me very happy indeed. The record was a fusion of sounds from throughout the man’s career, combining the smoky dub techno of Zauberberg with the mystical forestry of Pop. It was menacing, absorbing and sticky, sitting comfortably among my favourite records of 2017 so far. For my full review, head over here.

 

#2 WORST / Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin

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Cannibal Ox’ The Cold Vein is one of my favourite hip-hop albums of all time: a grimy sci-fi vision of a dystopian New York, full of labyrinthine rhymes and bionic beats from El-P, who has since found worldwide acclaim with Run the Jewels. It stood as Cannibal Ox’ only record until the 2015 release of Blade of the Ronin, which was so sub-par it made their debut look like a flash in the pan.

The flows were dull and the delivery monotone, the beats overproduced and with none of the creative sampling El-P brought to the table. Not the most terrible album of the decade, but this one lands at #2 on my list because of how disappointing it was to realize one of my all-time favourites had lost the creative spark after just one great album, and would never reach those heights again.

 

#2 BEST / My Bloody Valentine – mbv

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OK, I know there’s a lot of shoegaze on this list. But the fact is, all three of the big 90s shoegaze bands have made high-profile returns in the last few years, probably owing to how popular the genre has proven with the next generation of alternative guitar bands. But My Bloody Valentine were always the bearer of the shoegaze crown. Loveless is a monumental achievement of rock music, its panoramic sound design and innovative textures making it quite possibly the single most influential album of the last twenty years.

So mbv – the band’s 2013 comeback album, had a lot to live up to. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint, bringing a quieter, wispier and more melancholy spin on the band’s sound, all while bringing some new influences to the table. Songs like ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘If I Am’ were full of expansive warping guitar chords to match Bilinda Butcher’s sorrowful vocals, while the latter half of the album found the band experimenting with the sounds of drum ‘n’ bass to surprisingly strong effect, creating a cacophonous noise in the process. An excellent comeback.

 

#1 WORST / The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley

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Oh, god. I wish this album didn’t exist. Sadly, Uncanney Valley is all too real. The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I is, like many other albums I’ve mentioned above, one of my favourite albums of all time. It’s twisted, anxious, ecstatic, unpredictable, and disjointed in all the best ways. But Uncanney Valley, the band’s 2013 comeback, is a fucking trainwreck.

In place of the intricate guitar work and hectic drums, Uncanney Valley is loaded front to back with painfully flat butt-rock grooves, numbingly repetitive lead melodies and some very, very questionable vocals. Frontman Travis Morrison’s lyrics have always been highly confessional, but I didn’t realize until I heard this record just how close they were teetering on the edge of a Void of Cringe.

“You hit the space bar enough and cocaine comes out / I really like this computer / I’m like a fat man on drugs / Drowning in hugs / You know I love the lovin’”. What…the…fuck is this? And those are the very first lyrics of the album. What a way to set the tone. If you force yourself through the rest of the record, you’ll find even more nuggets of wince-inducing horror, and plenty of sappy, insipid songs with no structure or direction.

Perhaps the crown jewel turd, though, is the hilariously deluded album commentary which the band put up on Spotify. This extra feature, which I suppose was originally for the poor souls who paid for a deluxe edition, features the band members offering thoughts and explanations on each of the album’s songs. Of the sixth track, ‘Lookin’, Travis says: “I think it’s some of the best lyrics I’ve ever written…and it’s the [track] that when I look back I say ‘wow, I can’t believe we did that’”. You and me both, Travis, but not for the same reasons.

 

#1 BEST / A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

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If anyone was making a blueprint for the comeback album, they should look no further than A Tribe Called Quest’s latest and last record, which was my album of the year for 2016. On this album, the Tribe came out of nowhere and dropped one final jazz-rap gem that reminded us of everything that made the group so excellent, while updating their sound just enough to fit the landscape of modern-day hip-hop.

The rhymes were tighter than ever, the beats lush and spacious, the features impeccable, and the song topics as relevant and up-to-date as any comeback album I’ve ever heard. We got it from here found them taking on politics, Trump, racism, music, and their own immortal legacy with finesse and some head-spinning wordplay.

More than anything else, it sounded like they were having a great time doing it. It was evident throughout that the Tribe didn’t reunite for money, or for fame. They reunited for the love of doing it, and to show the music world they still had the fire to make one more great album. Then they bowed out with grace.

On the album’s second track, Phife Dawg asks the question: “who can come back years later, still hit the shot?” Not everyone can, though many have tried. Some artists just didn’t know when to stop, while other made more successful returns. But in the end, no-one came back quite like the Tribe.