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Image Criteria: 1. Visual Rhetoric Excellence (album cover) 2. Classical fashion/personification resonance (how close can you get to making your art resemble a coke can or a 1940s overcoat in Brooklyn) 3.  The marathon song (special points if past 9 minutes) 4. Are you young or new? (b/c for some reason the best music was more divided on these parameters). 5.  You had a Macklemore haircut (which will look stupid by May)  6.  It sounds good in Dan’s treble-fest speakers (not the Rodeo this time…that damn CRV has better speakers, but Dan turns up the treble setting to +6)  7. Auras of black and white? (I don’t know, ask Ansel Adams about it) 8.  Paste vs. Pitchfork factor (how much either overlap or omission an album had from both publications) 9. Overall, did I like it?

Top 10 Albums of the Year with visual analysis:

1. Quiet Light | Roadkill Ghost Choir Quiet Light Graphic

2. Random Access Memories | Daft PunkRandom Access Graphic 3. Days are Gone | Haim

Days are Gone 4. Modern Vampires of the City | Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires 5. The Civil Wars | The Civil Wars Civil Wars

6. Reflektor | Arcade Fire

Reflektor

7. Overgrown | James Blake

Overgrown

8. Trouble Will Find Me | The National

TroubleFindMe

9. Anxiety | Autre Ne Veut

Anxiety*all photos from @anthonysamaniego

10. The 20/20 Experience | Justin Timberlake

20-20

*Honorable Mention* Ghost on Ghost | Iron & Wine Cupid Deluxe | Blood Orange Wondrous Bughouse | Youth Lagoon Muchacho | Phosphorescent Paracosm | Washed Out

ESSAY

I wouldn’t necessarily call 2013 a seminal year in music history, but there was some very good art produced in spurts and bubbles.  Since I have quieter tastes (as I’ve been reminded on quite a few online music forums) I guess I’m not as qualified to comment on some of the louder genres (metal/death-metal/precious metals/hard-rock but almost metal/steel drum reggae), but the other musical spheres are mine on which to prey.  A couple of adjectives that come to mind for 2013 are “patient” and “classic.”  My number one album of the year, Quiet Light (really an EP), is a dusty, banjo-plucking, dark folk album with about as much prairie merit as the ubiquitous oil-drilling units bumping up and down along the interstate.  Like those midwestern fleas constantly at the helm of production, Roadkill Ghost Choir produces  a steady, foot-stomping opus backed by swelling horns and hazy, reverb guitar.  The product is a delay of time…a return to rural Americana (they are from rural Florida after all) where geography determined culture and time was measured from the true travel of the sun and seasons.  Other works, like the Civil Wars’ Self Titled, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, and The National’s Trouble Will Find Me are re-workings of great American themes: road trips, civilian strife, and depression in the modern age.  I don’t think it’s an accident that these three albums artwork is almost all greyscale sans Autre’s wooden frame (that actually has Edvard Munch’s The Scream embedded in it on earlier versions), reflecting not only the modern transition of American folk music but also the stern and segmented allocations of its arguable qualities.  These albums are equally terrifying, limited, and vague-all tangential qualities for normal American folk.  The more poppy albums of the year, JT’s 20/20 Experience, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and Haim’s Days are Gone are further artistic commentaries on American images or historically loaded pop generalizations.  Daft Punk uses jazz-infused, early 90s dance-club vibes loaded onto disco beats to basically create a genre that netted grandmothers to budding adolescents into a woven mesh of hip-hop, Euro-synth burlap.  Although this album isn’t necessarily an American exploration, it still uses African-American pop influences dubbed over machine-washed synth, maybe augmenting traditional hip-hop with a modern element.  JT’s 20/20 is a more austere play on the cliche of big bands of the earlier 20th century. He transforms himself into a 21st century band leader of a supporting cast aptly named the Tennessee Kids which has more than a few historically (and by extension, racially) loaded assumptions about making “swing” music for the live masses.  JT narrowly avoids making a caricature of himself by being so damn good at his job and by fulfilling the born-again image of Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman with nearly effortless zeal.  Haim’s Days are Gone is the only album that offers the feminized take on the shift of American folk/pop.  As sisters, Haim is able to create the image of the “girl next door” motif hinged to American hipsterism (perhaps the true intersection of folk and modernity in our culture) that is also more than capable of creating sweeping pop music.  Their proximity to adolescence makes their music strangely spritely but also a terrific mess, reflected by their aversion to mass media glamour via tangled hair, disdain of Lululemon casual flair, and love of team sports (see video for “Don’t Save Me”).  The implications of their image for coming-of-age American girls is only thinly veiled, however, since they offer a full rejection of traditional female roles in favor of a life that may be more blue collar, sweaty, and grounded in independence.  By extension, these qualities make Haim almost overt flag-bearers for the American “folk woman” more shaped by frontier ideology than urban opulence.  Perhaps as we enter into another decade where the term “America” gets scrutinized to death in postmodern scalping, 2013 offers a brief return to traditional American mores.  It’s no secret that traditional folk music is dead in the mass media, but small extensions, even thematic ones, can’t help reveal the fact that deep inside our own modernity are questions of background that challenge what American art is becoming.  Musically, this transition is faster than other genres but also more circular.  If the last century could be shaped by a periodic function, 2013 stands as a return to the midline…whether we are rising or falling depends on what’s next.

Into Conrad’s Heart of Darkness////Musings on character and perception

HofD1

Having just finished Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for perhaps the second time of my life (the first was in high school I believe), I am now free to find what is profound in whatever pronounces itself at the moment.  And what is profound is Kurtz, his character, his sentience of his surroundings, movements, and barbarity.  So much can be said, of course, about this novel’s “social implications”:  the overt racism, imperial arrogance, etc.  But this novel isn’t really about all of these CliffsNotes sidebar themes (high schoolers stop reading upon peril to your AP test).  This book is mainly about one man, his mystery, his profound effect, profound death, and phantom nature.  Kurtz starts as a ghost and ends as perhaps the most terrifying specter in modern literature.  As Marlow wrestles with the end product of his Congo trance, we all sit upon the deck of his ship in the Thames contemplating not the nature of the Occident to marginalize and belittle, but of how we can meet Kurtz and somehow escape intact.  And it hit me that Kurtz is perhaps some sort of mortal deity, a mixture of Jesus and the God of the Old Testament zapping whole cultures out of righteous indignation.  In this light, Kurtz’s ivory moves far beyond personal accumulation of wealth and turns into gleaming souls:  a hoarding of pain and sorrow, a reaping of lifetimes of hope in the struggling, sputtering wilderness.  And like Jesus, we are attracted to Kurtz, to the “voice,” that screams out “horror, horror,” in gasping breaths, knowing that in the terrible freeness of nature, in the limits of the social spectrum, we all know the truth of life: there is a feeble line between horror and beauty and we must internalize both to make sense of the other.

a quick tour of modern Appalachia //// Ron Rash’s Burning Bright

Ron Rash’s recent collection of short stories is really just a pathway into a regional author’s writing process.  As a precursor to this year’s almost novelette The Cove, Burning Bright serves as a the palette of color with which Rash has permeated the southern Blue Ridge.  Although Rash has never been exceptionally light-hearted, this collection seems downright soul-crushing, focusing on death and grief and loss perhaps more-so than any novel in his repertoire.  The best story in my opinion is “Into the Gorge,” where Jesse, the recessive local, returns to  his family’s old plot of land, now gobbled up into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to dig up ginseng.  As this man both tries to pocket some extra cash and commune with his ancestor’s geography and haunting legends, he butts up against the modern world in a tragically hopeless manner.  In the end, Jesse is doomed to repeat the past of his ancestors, although the parameters of their existence are unparalleled   Other stories, such as “The Ascent” or even the prelude “Hard Times” are driven by the intersections of how youth in Appalachia navigates through poverty, drugs, and absentee parenting.  Of course it would be easy to draw these children out as allegories in and of themselves, which Rash may be doing, but the intimacy and dream-like diction of the narrative suggests that Rash may be indeed “Benjamin-buttoning” us all as he ages into new material.  Overall, this succinct and laconic collection, although disastrous and forlorn, is a brilliant set of tragedies that reflects the troubled transition of the Blue Ridge into a privately sequestered opulent playground.

PHENOMENAL-9.3

Chisholm Music Awards ///// 2012

2012 //////

a movement into strong feminine shoe-gazing, post-hippie freak folk, and emotionally damaged hip-hop / Also, trending back to what is American / spit in the face of hipster cynicism / But no dominant narrative here, however, because unlike in previous years, 2012 was 12 months of genre reshuffling and overlap / still, it was all raw / Chan Marshall of Cat Power spoke of the depths of the power of home, so much a cliché in our post-post modernness / Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes made us rethink the structure of folk in our American consciousness, challenging notions of prayer and solitude, all while introducing us to our “Mayla” / Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi granulized street life in a manner that made it tangibly familiar and emotionally parallel / there was even room for The Killers to fire up some strong 21st century rock ballads / But enough of all the categorizing and adjectives-great music still lies in the unquantifiable, and  perhaps this year it is evident that what is good is good just because it is what it is…

Criteria //////// in visual rhetoric

Chisholm Music Awards Criteria 2012

The List //////// reviews as haikus

1. Purity Ring / Shrines 9.4

earthen, salty, landscape-driven / in a sphere of magma emotion and dubstep / undulatingly honest

2. Father John Misty / Fear Fun 9.2 

strangely American / subdued distortion of modern freak folk / piously fathomed

3. Lana Del Rey / Born to Die 9.1

visually mesmerizing / piece of the American pie with a cigarette / voluptuously carnal

4. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes / Here 8.8

campfire-silence / whirling telephone poles on a road trip / swaying, chanting-sunrise

5. WZRD / WZRD 8.8

pulsing hybrid / sweaty rounding of recovery / a man who stands

6. Cat Power / Sun 8.7

unlaced and spread out / speaking of voluminous experience at every corner / history-heavy

7. Hot Chip / In Our Heads 8.5

playfully lost / a hall of mirrors masquerade / relational boon

8. Kendrick Lamar / good kid, m.a.a.d city 8.4

Parisian arrogance / but Benedictine repentance acts as grounding / god vs.(or on) street

9. Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin  / Beast of the South Wild Soundtrack 8.4

child’s winding toy / imagination breathed ring of fire, water, dirt / ever flicker and descending

10. Grimes / Visions 8.3

peppy and terrifying / jovial mistress of 80s synth retribution / turquoise hoodies and blood

11. The Killers / Battle Born 8.3

white stallions / lightning and Freddie Mercury’s mustache / Arizona dust and liquor

12. alt-J / An Awesome Wave 8.1 (best album artwork 2012)

triangle philosophy / indulgent in repeating patterns / algae green

13. The Avett Brothers / The Carpenter 8.1

agrarian winter stove / tweed and wool with a sharpened axe / ice melody

14. The XX / Coexist 8.0 (2012 album artwork #2)

man and woman / remonstrance between couples at morning coffee / layered, coloring book

15. Santigold / Master of my Make-Believe 8.0

mythically Amazonian / gender melding and cogently razor-sharp / elephant tusk and Porsche

16. Exitmusic / Passage 7.9

summer sparklers / a solid night with a beer and a pen/ piano rip and heart pixelation

Frigid History / Robert Ruby’s Unknown Shore / 83 | 100

 

ImageThe polar universes are often and inexpressibly vague and mythological. Perhaps that’s why for such a number of years they held such heightened scrutiny for would-be explorers scraping across Earth’s final frontiers. What is strange, however, is Ruby’s account of two parallel arctic explorations three centuries apart make the arctic seem more desirous than the New World (southern edition) in the High Renaissance or industrializing America much later. Martin Frobisher and Charles Francis Hall serve the book-ends of Ruby’s narrative, who are quite expertly shown as different men first and different explorers last. Both are in searches for something, which Ruby thankfully shows us is really themselves. Frobisher, under the weight of reaching a passage to Cathay and then loading the coffers of Renaissance England with alchemic “black ore” is really a man sprawling in the turmoil of playing second fiddle. Hall, on the other hand, seeks the arctic not for wealth but for recognition, not of personal exploits, but of playing hero to a group of men already blown to dust by the arctic frost. One wonders if Hall had found Franklin’s men if he would have truly enjoyed their revelation to the modern world. Ruby makes him certainly romantic enough to try.

Image

As the polar regions receive more and more attention in the upcoming years for their destruction instead of their frontier merit, books like Ruby’s are key to remembering that the arctic is more than a melting smeer on the coattails of global warming. Indeed, places like Frobisher’s Bay and Baffin Island need to be rediscovered for not only their natural beauty but human intersection. Thus, in a way, Ruby writes an environmental history that though steeping in Occidental superiorities seeks to undermine the concept that man has never truly inhabited one of the coldest places on earth. Truly, the Inuit are the heroes of this narrative, which is easy to feel as one by one they drop to death as soon as they butt up against European or American households. On a more speculative note, Ruby inadvertently, or maybe a little overtly, tells us that to each section of the earth is a set of men, and that set is limited. It’s nice at the end of the day to still believe that nature can win. Ruby makes us believe for a couple hundred of pages that this is still true.