2012 - %3, October

30-Second Reviews: Taylor Swift, The Coup, Angel Haze, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

There are way more new music releases each month than we have spare brain cells around here. Thirty-second Reviews is our way of remedying that and acknowledging some of the stuff we didn't manage to review more formally. These reviews, which we'll post pretty much when we feel like it, will be specially formatted in "blurb." Let's begin with that teen-pop idol who (indirectly) caused President Obama to call Kanye a "jackass."

Marcin Wichary/Wikimedia Commons

Taylor Swift, Red
Release date: October 22, 2012

As benign as she may appear on Papa John's pizza boxes, some folks have named Taylor Swift pop culture's number one enemy against progressive social values. And yes, her whole pouty virginal shtick, the passive aggressive Kanye West drama at the VMAs, and her insistence on singing about boy crushes from the viewpoint of the helplessly googly-eyed is enough to justifiably raise the hackles on anyone who embraces the term "sex positivity." But hear me out: Once you get past the fact that her bread-and-butter is the Twilight franchise demographic, Red feels like it was sung by someone with more self respect than that wimp on the bleachers trying to get some dude to break up with his girlfriend in 2008. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is the album's refreshingly decisive single, which gives me hope that perhaps T-Swift might put out a record one day that will inspire adolescent girls to stop giving so many shits about what teenage boys think of them. It's a long shot, I know. Until then, has anyone else noticed that Taylor Swift's recent fashion choices (and love of horseback riding) bear an uncanny resemblance to Ann Romney's?


The Coup, Sorry to Bother You
Release date: October 30, 2012

Regardless of personal politics, "protest music" in the 21st century can often trigger my gag reflex. Perhaps it was the oversaturation of bad guitar playing heard during Occupy proceedings, or seeing Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello refer to himself over and over again in the third person as the "Nightwatchman." But Oakland's Boots Riley, Pam the Funkstress, and the Marxist hip-hop collab The Coup avoid the self-aggrandizing—instead, they opt for a brand of lefty political confrontation that's imaginative, funny, and very, very danceable. Sorry to Bother You is another funky Coup triumph of deft, charged flow—their first since 2006. Riley and company are also probably the only ones out there who can work in a lyric like, "Economics is a symphony of hunger and theft," without sounding like pedantic jerks or soapbox preachers.

Angel Haze, "Cleaning Out My Closet" 
Release date: October 25, 2012

Last week, a rising, 21-year-old rapper who goes by the name Angel Haze did something staggeringly brave. She released a song called "Cleaning Out My Closet" off her six-track Classick mixtape, which detailed a childhood of sexual abuse in blustering, unflinching verse. I don't know if rap's decades-old legacy as a medium rife with misogyny can be undone in 4 minutes and 30 seconds, but who knows? This track and its artist could end up being game changers. Let Haze show you why. (Be warned: This is not an easy listen.)

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Release date: October 1, 2012

In other "political" music news, cryptic Canadian post-rock tribe Godspeed You! Black Emperor recently released its first full-length record since 2002, and it came with a set of explicit policy positions on the jacket: "Fuck le Plan Nord. Fuck la loi 78." Here, GYBE was referring to Quebec's controversial $80 billion plan to develop its mineral and timber resources, as well as a law to restrict the province's pot-banging student protests against tuition hikes. "Music should be about things are not OK, or else shouldn't exist at all," the band told UK paper the Guardian. After a decade that's weathered all manner of manicured drone and apathetic chillwave spinoffs in the band's absence, this simmering, gritty latest is a welcome return. Now go read about why Godspeed You! thinks the "rock-biz" is like watching "millionaires piss on cherubs."

Photo credits: From top: Marcin Wichary/Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy The Coup/Facebook; Courtesy Angel Haze/Facebook; Courtesy Constellation Records.

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

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"Ho Hey," It's The Lumineers

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
On the right, The Lumineers' Jeremiah Fraites.

The scene preceeding The Lumineers' early afternoon set at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was just about as competitive as that portrayed in local news coverage of shoppers streaming into Walmart on Black Friday. Attendants barked at twenty-somethings ducking ropes in pursuit of a view, the grass section in front of the stage held about one fan per square foot, and the aisle up through the middle of the meadow transformed into a slow-moving mosh pit. It wasn't even 3 p.m. I slinked through the crowd and miraculously landed an edge of someone's tarp.

Jeremiah Fraites, the Denver-based folk band's drummer, remembers the afternoon in much the same way: "When we actually took the stage, every single vantage point, every spot where a human being could be, there was one—surrounding us." The entire Eucalyptus-shaded hill behind the stage was covered with humanity, as were the bushes flanking the sides of the small outdoor arena. I spotted two shirtless dudes draped over tree branches, ready to soak it in. "It made us feel pretty damn good about that being our first time at Hardly Strictly," Fraites told me a few days after the performance. 

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: 'Cloud Atlas' & 'Happy Endings'

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 5:36 PM EDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

Listen here:

Pass the Cheetos, Kal-El: Superman Becomes a Blogger

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 4:35 PM EDT

A confesson: I'm basically a Superman stan, since I was a child, and when I started working as a journalist, I'd joke to people that as a kid I had always wanted to be Superman, but now that I was grown up I wanted to be more like Clark Kent. 

As someone who came to professional journalism through blogging, I was excited to see that DC Comics, as part of its reboot of the DC universe, is recasting Clark Kent as a disillusioned reporter who quits the Daily Planet to become a blogger after becoming disgusted with a corporate takeover of the Metropolis Daily Planet. DC has increasingly incorporated elements of print journalism's decline into its products (in the animated feature Justice League: Doom, Superman literally tries to talk an aging laid off reporter out of throwing himself off the roof of the Daily Planet), but I didn't expect DC to take the story this far. According to a USA Today interview with writer Scott Lobdell, Superman leaves to start "the next Huffington Post or Drudge Report."

"I don't think he's going to be filling out an application anywhere," the writer says. "He is more likely to start the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report than he is to go find someone else to get assignments or draw a paycheck from."

Drudge and Huffington Post are actually very different entities. The former is today a right-wing aggregator whose primary objective is shaping the coverage of national news outlets, while the latter aggregates but also runs an extensive news-gathering operation whose reporters regularly scoop their more august rivals. There was a time when mainstream media referred to blogs derisively. But now that the medium is professionalized most understand that blogging is form, not content, and that good reporting is good reporting whether it's done by a website or by a nightly news broadcast. The "upstart" veneer to news blogging is largely gone—it's now something professional writers are simply expected to know how to do.

How well Superman's writers understand that will determine the longevity and effectiveness of this latest change. For it to be something more than a timestamped gimmick, Clark Kent's motivations for being a reporter have to stay essentially the same: Journalism in the public interest is just another way that Superman tries to save the world. 

Book Review: Sri Lankan Civil War Refracted in "Island of a Thousand Mirrors"

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 6:08 AM EDT
Nayomi Munaweera

It was only one of the many headlines on foreign conflict that file rushed, largely unobserved, through the American news machine: "Sri Lanka frees Tamil Tiger leader," the Daily News announced last week, by way of Agence-France Presse. The last leader of the Tamil Tigers, the separatist group that fought a brutal civil war with the Sri Lankan military in suicide bombings, civilian mutilations, and child soldiers for more than three decades, was to be released without charges.

But where bone-dry agency reports fail, fiction can work to fill in some of the emotional blanks. From this particular war, one marked by 100,000 deaths and countless broken lives in atrocities committed by both sides, first-time author Nayomi Munaweera has published a lush family saga in a Queen's English lilt, told largely from the perspective of a Sinhalese woman who emigrates as a child, mid-conflict, to Los Angeles, and returns to Sri Lanka as an adult.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors reads quickly, though it's unsparing. With the same, rich strokes she uses to evoke exquisiteness in preparation of coconut sambola, Munaweera, who was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Nigeria, describes rape, massacre, and all matters of wartime evisceration in pulsing, sensory detail. In one breath, it's as much a swift inhale of trauma as it is a romantic epic, embracing both pain and nostalgia from earlier times. In the style of García Márquez or Allende, the story traces love lines from 19th century generations—then surfaces in the recent past, when the narrator goes back to Sri Lanka only to encounter new tragedy.

But there's another critical aspect of the novel that saves it, perhaps, from a narrow take on sprawling devastation. Munaweera doesn't just stick to the story of one Sinhalese family—she also writes from the mind and body of a Tamil woman who, after being brutally raped, joins the ranks of the Tamil Tigers. While the transition could be received as abrupt, it's also a welcome narrative in a story that refuses to sum up, or limit impact felt to one side.

Still, it might be the parts of the novel that deal with trauma indirectly that leave the largest impression. I return to one moment when the narrator, driving to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, describes the car moving through a migrating cloud of "a million suicidal butterflies:"

"In the front seat, La holds her head in her hands. Shiva kneads her knee. She says, 'Why are they doing this?' in a thick strangled voice. And we can only shake our heads, struck dumb by the massacre."

In this way, Munaweera's fiction succeeds in flushing life into the numbers—the hundreds of thousands living in diaspora, as well as hundreds dead in suicide bombings—that have come into refracted light.

Titus Andronicus Gets Down to "Local Business"

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

Titus Andronicus
Local Business
XL Recordings

The New Jersey-based indie punk band Titus Andronicus has never shied away from big themes: It's named after a Shakespearean tragedy, after all, and its last LP, The Monitor, was a Civil War concept album complete with period sound bites. In light of their tendencies towards the grandiose, then, the band's third full-length, Local Business, is a surprisingly straightforward affair, an album of punk-ish rock without all the bombast—or at least, without any more bombast than you might expect from any young Jersey rockers, which is to say still quite a bit. 

With "Ecce Homo," the album's first song, Titus would seem, if anything, to be upping the ante from the Civil War as metaphor to crucifixion—especially given its opening lines: "Okay I think by now we've established / Everything is inherently worthless / And there's nothing in the universe / With any kind of objective purpose." But the song's hopefully earnest guitar is congruent with the stark lyrics, and it works simultaneously as a send-up of self-serious, Nietzsche-quoting, angst-ridden punks and a reification of the same—it's both self-aware and earnest, and it's all the better for it. 

Likewise, on the rollicking, hipster-baiting "Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter," singer Patrick Stickles yelps about himself and the "other relevant dudes" with an air that can best be described as facetious—which makes it a bit jarring when the tone suddenly takes a turn for the serious with "My Eating Disorder," a wrenching song about Stickles' struggles with what he's described as "selective eating."

But despite the potential for plodding earnestness and occasional forays into glibness, the song packs a punch, especially when it gets to the heavy, portentous riffs that kick in around the five-minute mark, and the intensely repetitive refrain—"spit it out/spit it out." Stickles is howling by the time he's done, which makes for a good segue into the next song, "Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)," which consists of two minutes of Stickles screaming "I'm going insane" over furious guitars. "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With the Flood of Detritus" opens with the narrator watching a motorist die on the road and describing the road rage of the drivers stuck in the resulting traffic; an early chorus rousingly declares "built to last/built to last," but by the end of the song, the refrain has changed to "thrown away/thrown away." 

For all its bleak content, Local Business is a remarkably peppy album, and at times even a light-hearted one. "Food Fight!" is a rambunctiously silly tune in the great punk tradition of fucking around; the lyrics never get more complex than the titular words, but harmonica and guitar solos round the track out. "Tried to Quit Smoking," on the other hand, meanders through emotionally fraught terrain for six minutes before riffing off into bluesy territory for another four. That interplay between short bursts and long epics, basic chords and intricate solos, simple beats and complex melodies, repetitive phrases and clever witticisms, brash broadsides and angsty deep-dives makes for an album that's much deeper than it initially seems. It reflects the band's genuine appreciation for both punk and classic rock, a heritage equal parts the Boss and the Ramones. Titus Andronicus may have downsized the scope of its conceptual framework, but it's still giving its all to the fight. 

Click here to read our past interview with Patrick Stickles—and here to browse all of our music coverage.

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"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: American Horror, "Don't Trust the Bitch," and Tyler Perry

| Fri Oct. 19, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

  • The new season of American Horror Story, which revolves around a trash-talking, torture-happy nun who wears red lingerie. Also, in the first scene of season 2, Maroon 5's lead singer and Channing Tatum's wife have sex in an abandoned insane asylum, and then get attacked by an ogre, so there's that. (Alyssa has a write-up of the first two episodes here.)
  • The second season of the ABC sitcom Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, which premieres on Tuesday, October 23.
  • Alex Cross, a serial killer movie starring Tyler Perry as a homicide detective. It gets a wide release on Friday, October 19.

Listen here:

At the Forefront of America's Health Care Battle: "The Waiting Room"

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 3:40 PM EDT
Highland Hospital nurse Cynthia Jackson.

To understand the stakes of America's health care debate, you don't need a trip to the Supreme Court—you could visit the emergency room of a public hospital instead. In the 24 hours chronicled by The Waiting Room, 241 patients pass through the ER. Some are young, others are old, a few are bleeding, many are chronically ill—nearly all of them are uninsured.

Emmy-award winning filmmaker Pete Nicks' fly-on-the-wall documentary never mentions Obamacare or any other policy topic, but the stories he tells are a powerful indictment of a broken health care system. The film is set at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. Nicks has been wanting to make a documentary at Highland ever since he was fresh out of Berkeley j-school, around the same time his wife took a job as a speech pathologist at Highland. He had spent months on a storytelling project with patients in the hospital's waiting room before filming this documentary. 

Nicks sat down with us in San Francisco, where the film will premiere this Friday. Click here for a list of where The Waiting Room will be screened. 

Mother Jones: It struck me in the film that saving lives isn't necessarily about these heroics in the surgery room; it's about helping patients navigate this huge bureaucracy. You have scenes where an administrator is telling a young man how to pay for surgery and a doctor trying to figure whether the drug addict he's discharging has safe place to go—

Pete Nicks International Film CircuitPete Nicks International Film CircuitPN: Yeah, it's more than a health care film. It's about a community that for generations has dealt with societal issues. People say that safety net hospitals are where social experiments go to die. You see a lot of homelessness, mental illness, unemployment—it's the manifestation of a lot of our social challenges. Health is just one piece of that.

MJ: You shot this documentary over five months but when you watch it, it comes across as one day in the hospital. Why did you decide to do that? 

PN: The story of Highland is the waiting room fills up, the staff tries to clear it, and the next morning it fills right up again. We thought it was important to give the audience that sense of a relentless tide. For doctors it's like shoveling sand against the tide. The film doesn't have a main character, but there is an antagonist, and that antagonist is the system. It's a system that’s left an entire community under-resourced and patients flooding the waiting rooms seeking primary care.

MJ: Highland is known for its trauma unit and treating many gunshot victims, but you don't focus on that.

How to Deal With Internet Trolls: Cole Stryker, Defender of Anonymity

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 6:08 AM EDT

Last week, Gawker exposed the identity of Violentacrez, a.k.a. Michael Brutsch, a notorious Reddit troll with a penchant for posting sexualized images of underage girls, and moderator or creator of numerous racist, pornographic, and generally disturbing subreddit groups—including one dedicated to the sharing of furtive photos of unsuspecting women in public. Brutsch has since been fired from his job, and many of his online defenders are outraged that the exposé broke a cardinal rule of Reddit: It "doxed" a site user, revealing his personal information. This camp sees doxing as an attack on the structure of Reddit itself, a community that thrives on the freedom of anonymity.

In his latest book, Hacking the Future: Privacy, Identity and Anonymity on the Web, author Cole Stryker explores many facets of Web anonymity, including the malicious exploits of trolls. Strykerwho took on the hacker group Anonymous in his last bookargues that anonymity is fundamental to a free society and dedicates his book to the "often anonymous geniuses—the phreaks, geeks, hackers, crackers and punks," whom he credits with making the Internet "the potent tool for individual freedom and self expression it has become." But should his defense of anonymity still apply to those who post creepshots of unsuspecting women and underage girls?

"American Horror Story: Asylum": A Torturing, Lingerie-Clad Nun, and Other Seasonal Joys

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 8:22 PM EDT

American Horror Story: Asylum opens with a scene in which the lead singer of Maroon 5 and Channing Tatum's wife break into a derelict insane asylum, and start having ridiculous honeymoon sex. During a spout of fellatio, the frontman of Maroon 5 is suddenly attacked by ogre, sending an arterial mist all over his bride's face.

Channing Tatum's wife screams accordingly.