2012 - %3, August

Outside Lands: Crusty Feet & Flamethrowers & Rock and Roll

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 6:06 AM EDT

At the pinnacle of Outside Lands crowdsurfing. Deanna Pan/Mother JonesAt the pinnacle of Outside Lands crowd-surfing. Courtesy of Ben CristOnce a year, the Outside Lands festival takes over San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and turns it into a music-lover's playground. This year, big-name acts like Jack White, Beck, and Neil Young graced its several stages, along with a roster of smaller, impeccably chosen indie up-and-comers. Here's our report on a weekend featuring, among other things, Metallica flamethrowers and Tame Impala's crusty feet.

DAY 1 — Friday, August 10

Sharon Van Etten
Sutro Stage, 1:15 p.m.

"This song is about moving to New York City for love," a shy-eyed Van Etten announced to the afternoon crowd who came out to hear her set. There was a brief, tense pause before she continued. "You can throw up now." What followed was "Give Out," one of the most pinpointedly achy, heartbreaky songs on her new record, Tramp. No one throws up, but more than a handful are mouthing all the words—an audience of rapt listeners eager to hear her inimitable voice mourn and swoon. But Van Etten isn't all vulnerability—one of the highlights of her set was the first song she ever wrote on an electric guitar, the standout single "Serpents." The raw thrash of distortion and Van Etten's sharp wail flaunt the songwriter's fiercer side. She should do it more often—the effect left me torn to pieces and wanting more. —Sydney Brownstone

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For Dignan Porch, Nothing Bad Means Something Good

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

Dignan Porch
Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen
Captured Tracks

What kind of band calls itself Dignan Porch? According to the British quintet's frontman, Joe Walsh, the name doesn't mean anything in particular—it's "just a combination of two words that at the time of creation seemed to capture the vibe of the band." From the optimistic title of this sophomore release, you might think the vibe would be some kind of sunny, upbeat pop, while the band describes its sound as "weird fuzzy pop songs"—a descriptor that may prompt some to raise an eyebrow. It's easy to use the trappings of the low-fi aesthetic to create a general sound without writing particularly well-crafted songs, and the rise of glo-fi and chillwave means that every indie-pop effort seems to have some kind of weirdly fuzzy sound

Thankfully, Dignan Porch uses the fuzz judiciously, blearing certain elements while letting others shine through in songs that are dense yet never cluttered. Similar components pop up time and again on this album—harmonious British-accented vocals filtered through various effects, ringing guitars, otherworldly sounds—and the tracks tend to follow a similar structure, starting simply and adding layer after layer till a complex song emerges.

Quick Reads: "Ascent of the A-Word: by Geoffrey Nunberg

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years

By Geoffrey Nunberg

PublicAffairs

It's hard to say what makes an asshole an asshole, but you know 'em when you see 'em—from Donald Trump to that guy in the SUV who refuses to use his freakin' turn signal. Here, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California-Berkeley briskly and entertainingly traces how a bit of World War II GI slang became an ubiquitous epithet and a moral category that's come to embody our polarized politics. Though he doesn't buy into simplistic notions of civility, Nunberg is concerned about the toxic side of assholism: When we declare someone an asshole, we're usually giving ourselves leave to act like one.

This review originally appeared in our September/October issue of Mother Jones.

US Female Olympians Have Won More Medal Points Than All But 4 Countries

| Sun Aug. 12, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Title IX fans should be feeling pretty darn good. This year, for the first time, the US team sent more women than men to the games: 268 women and 255 261 men. And the ladies carried the American team's medal tally: Thirty percent of female American athletes had medaled by Friday, compared to 15 percent of their male counterparts. In fact, if American women were their own country, they'd be fifth in the overall count of medals. Let's do the numbers:

Here's how US medalists stack up by sport (mouse over the bars for detailed numbers):

Fact is, the American women athletes have been bringing it for awhile. Thanks Title IX

(Note: Unlike the charts above, the medal count in this one includes each medal given to individual athletes for team events.)

And it's not just the home team gals who are leveling the playing field. Women's participation in the games has increased steadily since 1960, when women made up 11.4 percent of the total number of athletes. This year, 44 percent of Olympians are women. And, for the first time ever, every country has at least one female athlete in their delegation.

This Will Ferrell Movie Pisses Off the Koch Brothers

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 6:09 PM EDT
"The Campaign" (2012).

The Campaign
Warner Bros.
85 minutes

It's sophomoric in its satire and cheap in its sight gags, but at its core, the new Will Ferrell comedy is an earnest endorsement of campaign finance reform.

The Campaign stars Will Ferrell as North Carolina congressman Cam Brady, a Southern-fried Democratic lecher with "strong hair" who panders unceasingly to the "America, Jesus, freedom" crowd. (Ferrell's character was inspired by John Edwards, minus the snuggly class warfare and the...you know.) Brady is locked in a brutal reelection fight against Republican challenger Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an affable, Twinkie-slurping political novice. Huggins' campaign and super-PAC are funded by Wade and Glen Motch (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, respectively), environment-hating, human-rights-screwing billionaires working to buy the 2012 elections and turn Brady's district into a Chinese sweatshop. ("The Motch Brothers"... subtle, ain't it?)

"[In American elections], when you have the money, nothing is unpredictable," Glen Motch boasts to a Chinese coconspirator.

Review: "Sare Kon Kon" by Antibalas

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 4:50 PM EDT

TRACK 6

"Sare Kon Kon"

From Antibalas' Antibalas

DAPTONE

Liner notes: Breakneck rhythms, exuberant call-and-response vocals, and blistering sax riffs unleash party energy on the band's first album in five years.

Behind the music: The sprawling Antibalas collective once included Daptone Records cofounder Gabe Roth (who produces here). Some members were involved in the Tony Award-winning musical Fela!

Check it out if you like: Fela Kuti, Ocote Soul Sounds, and early Santana.

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Review: "Age" by Lianne La Havas

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 3:25 PM EDT

TRACK 7

"Age"

From Lianne La Havas' Is Your Love Big Enough?

NONESUCH

Liner notes: With her acoustic guitar, London-based La Havas sings of intergenerational romance, cooing, "Is it such a problem if he's old?/As long as he does whatever he's told?"

Behind the music: The daughter of Greek and Jamaican parents, La Havas has toured with Bon Iver and worked with fellow up-and-comers Christian Pinchbeck (Elephant), Paloma Faith, and Willy Mason.

Check it out if you like: Witty traditional songwriters like Jaymay, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Lowe.

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Fetus Snowglobe, Anyone?

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 2:43 PM EDT

A Japanese 3-D printing company offers expecting moms a replica of their fetus suspended in Lucite: 

I mean, words can't even describe the weirdness.

Rebels With a Cause: A Playlist for Your Pet Issues

| Mon Aug. 6, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Ted Nugent champions guns, freedom, and guns in his ode to the NRA.

Music and politics: A classic combination as reactive as baking soda and vinegar. But like a seventh grader's science fair project, the results are often unoriginal and underwhelming. And while Bono never met a humanitarian crisis he couldn't sweepingly lyricize, there remain too few U2 songs to donate to everyone's off-center activism.

So to satisfy your niche-gripe, we've dug up 10 songs that span the political pet-issue gamut. Hate meat? Love guns? Anti-vaccines? Pro-oil? Whatever it is you're for or against, we've got an anthem for your rallying cry.

1. Aaron Tippin, "Drill Here, Drill Now": If the price of fuel leaves you balking at the pump, country singer Aaron Tippin has a solution: Collude with Newt Gingrich's Big-Oil-pandering political operative and drill, baby, drill!

2. Third Eye Blind, "If There Ever Was A Time": Turns out, cashing in on the most infectious hook of the 1990s doesn’t nullify your 99% street cred. In this syrupy pop-rock jam, front man Stephan Jenkins extols the efforts of Occupy Wall Street, and proves he hasn't lost his knack for irresistible riffs.

3. Isaac Sloan, "We Want the Truth": The Wikileaks album debuted in June and Isaac Sloan, a small-time folk rocker from Utah, had the honor of penning this over-the-top, acoustic ode to the whistleblowing website's fearless leader, Julian Assange. 

4. Ted Nugent, "I Am the NRA": Uncle Ted’s favorite gun is the 10mm STI “Perfect 10” tactical pistol with a high-capacity, 19-round magazine. What’s yours? Get "cock locked and ready to rock" with this brazen, guns-a-blazin’ country-western anthem about freedom, liberty, and the NRA.

5. The Refusers, "First Do No Harm": The Seattle-based band the Refusers makes anti-vaccine music that "defies government propaganda," which is certainly one way of putting it. Celebrate freedom from vaccines and liberation from proven medical science with their foot-tappin' scare-tactics.

6. The Smiths, "Meat is Murder": Got beef with beef? Tell your carnivorous friends how you really feel about the succulent slab of sirloin oozing blood and death on their plates with Morrissey's PETA-approved ballad.

7. First Love, "Game On": As legend has it, Haley and Camille Harris, two homeschooled daughters of an Oklahoma pastor, wrote Rick Santorum this sweeter-than-pie, divinely-inspired campaign jingle in a matter of hours—and just in time for Super Tuesday. Regardless of your opinion on Santorum, First Love, as Mediaite notes, "deftly manages to rhyme 'again' with 'Ronald Reagan.'"

8. Aimee Allen, "Ron Paul Revolution": Rick Santorum wasn’t the only GOP fringe candidate to inspire an excessively optimistic campaign track during a primary season. Ron Paul's legion of followers have written enough songs, like this power-pop battle cry by Aimee Allen, to pump up the Texas congressman for at least a dozen more failed presidential bids.

9. Steve Taylor, "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good": '80s Christian rocker Steve Taylor got a lot of flack from mainstream gospel-music contemporaries for his satiric swings at religious hypocrites like sleazy TV evangelicals and Bob Jones University (for barring interracial dating among its students). In this quirky and cynical tune, Taylor takes aim at anti-abortion extremists who'd committ acts of terrorism for the pro-life cause; toward the end of the song, he rails that "the ends don't justify the means anytime." 

10. Rankin' Taxi, "You Can't See It, And You Can't Smell It Either": In response to the hemorrhaging crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, dancehall reggae artist Rankin’ Taxi, along with a slew of other angry anti-nuke musicians, has taken to the Interwebs to decry nuclear power and its radiactive footprint in this darkly mirthful beat.

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From Church to Rock: The Organ as Guitar Amp

| Mon Aug. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Ben Juday usually repairs electric organs, but these days, he's breaking them apart. The owner of Analog Outfitters in Illinois takes the guts out of old, unwanted organs and recycles them as guitar amps now sold by dealers across the country. 

About a year ago, he noticed that organs beyond repair were just getting chucked. "People burn them, regularly. Electronics and everything," he lamented. So he began tinkering with an abandoned organ, just to see that what he could do, and turned it into a pretty darn good sounding guitar amp. Soon, his recycled amps were being plugged into the instruments of touring musicians such as Kevin Post, the guitarist for country star Blake Shelton.

"It's like if you take a car, and you keep the body and transmission. Everything else you replace," he says about his process. The electronic equipment—including the vacuum tubes, metal wiring, and transformer—are the amp's functional backbone. Wood from the organ is also recut to make the body of the amp. "It's like a puzzle," he says, "It's like playing with Legos when you're kid."

Juday picked up his technical skills on the waysidein the middle of a geography PhD. A physics professor introduced him to vacuum tubes, the old school glass and metal tubes that used to control electric currents in everything from CRT screens to room-sized computers to, yes, electric organs. While vacuum tubes are pretty much obsolete now, their most important modern use is in high-end guitar amps. Amps made with semiconductors are cheaper and lighter, but their sound just doesn't have the color and richness of a tube amp. Juday still consults with his old mentor, whom he calls his "secret weapon." 

Resurrected technology is one part of the recycled amp's sentimental allure, but it's about the music too. A good number of the instruments that come Juday's way are Hammond B3 electric organs, which have a long tradition connecting music from gospel to Radiohead. (Listen for the B3 in Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees.") They were also once a popular household instrument before falling out of fashion and ending up abandoned on sidewalks. With these guitar amps, the organ's musical legacy ends up on stage rather than in the trash.

The organs Juday both repairs and deconstructs come with their own varied backstories. He recalls one that had formerly been used in a family carnival act and another in a family polka band. Chicago band Wilco went on an international tour with a refurbished organ from a 90-year-old woman. Connecting history to modern music is part of Analog Outfitters' appeal: vintage organs and old school vacuum tube technologythey're all getting a new voice.

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