Liner notes: "Welcome to what you knew," murmurs Curt Kirkwood on this charming country-punk shuffle, which feels like a homecoming with family and friends.
Behind the music: Now in their fourth decade, the Arizona-bred desert rockers were favorites of Kurt Cobain, who recruited Curt and Cris Kirkwood to back him on three Meat Puppets songs for Nirvana's MTV Unplugged.
Check it out if you like: Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr., Giant Sand, and other close-to-the-earth dudes.
"You know, you're about as annoying as a condom filled with fire ants. How's that for a fucking metaphor?" Ohio congressman and gubernatorial candidate Roger Furlong snaps at his aide.
"It's a simile, sir," the sheepish, twentysomething male aide replies.
"Shut your mouth, you fat girl," the congressman rejoins, as he fiddles with his smartphone while lumbering out of the vice president's office.
If you tuned in to any of Season 1, this exchange from the new season should sound thankfully familiar. Season 2 of Armando Iannucci's political satire Veep (premiering Sunday, April 14 at 10 p.m. EDT on HBO) is all the things that made the first eight episodes so worthwhile: It's a roaringly funny, mean-spirited burlesque that plays out like a good episode of The West Wing—if The West Wing were a slur-filled, punk-rock fantasy.
The passionately petty Selina Meyer (played by a pitch-perfect Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is still the American VP who can't get any love from the press or administration, and can't get any face time with POTUS. "I'm about to enter a national ass-kicking competition, with no legs... and a massive ass," Selina remarks. Her staff (played by the series regular Matt Walsh, Sufe Bradshaw, Reid Scott, Anna Chlumsky, and Arrested Development alum Tony Hale) help her pencil-push an agenda while clumsily pursuing their own professional self-interest. Veep has a fairly simple vision of American government: All of them (middle-age senators, cynical data crunchers, aloof operatives) are douchey incompetents—vain, power-hungry, self-loathing, foul-mouthed, back-stabbing, and perpetually upset. In this sense, Veep nails down the tone of Washington in the same way that Scrubs painted an honest portrait of medical professionals: It's an exaggerated, ridiculous depiction that veers on hitting too close to home.
Liner notes: Oozing hipster disdain, Kurt Vile celebrates "living life to the lowest power/Feeling bad in the best way a man can," punctuating his alienation with spiky guitar and ironic whoops of joy on this darkly funny ballad.
Behind the music: An ex-member of the War on Drugs, Philly native Vile had to delay the album when his second child arrived early.
Check it out if you like: Savvy noisemakers like Lou Reed and Ty Segall.
A night at the opera, President Ilves (left) and Paul Krugman.
There is a new European musical production, sung and performed in soaring operatic style, that tells the true story of the June internet war between Paul Krugman, the noted Keynesian economist, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia. The first shot rang out when Krugman published a blog post titled "Estonian Rhapsody" criticizing the Baltic state's austerity measures. Later that day, Ilves, a national figurehead who commands no real executive power, retaliated by opening up a salvo of indignant and sometimes vulgar tweets, decrying Krugman as ignorant, "smug, overbearing & patronizing."
Naturally, someone would have to see this and think of it as musical-theater gold: "I couldn't avoid the tweets," Scott Diel, an Estonia-based American writer and lyricist for the show, tells me. "They just sort of recommended themselves."
This is not the Onion. It's the true story behind an original production that debuted Sunday night to a packed house at the historic House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads in Tallinn, Estonia, as part of the Estonian Music Days festival. A subsequent performance is in the works for the Estonia business conference Pärnu Konverentsid in the fall, and for a performance by Sinfonietta Riga in Latvia on October 18. The piece, titled Nostra Culpa, which means "our fault" in Latin (the expression was used in one of Ilves' angry and sarcastic tweets), isn't satirical, does not stake out a partisan position, and is not particularly critical of either Krugman or Ilves.
For a lot of young liberals just coming of age, the 1980s were tinted by a certain malaise owning to the lingering cultural backdrop of Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, as if you didn't already know, has died at the age of 87. Our consolation prize, of course, was that all that angst inspired a lot of great, often angry, and sometimes even danceable music (see just below) that became the soundtrack for my generation and came to define the era almost as much as the pols we put in charge. (Well, I didn't put 'em in charge: In 1984, the first election in which I was eligible to vote, I cast for Mondale, who got walloped by the incumbent Reagan.) Thatcher and Reagan alike were ideal targets for musicians, from folk to punk to reggae. I pulled out these seven notables. Why not 10? Hey, I'm no conformist!
1. The English Beat, "Stand Down Margaret": From the flipside of I Just Can't Stop It, the Beat's first record, which I listened to pretty much constantly in high school. I still have it on vinyl, suckers! Here's a live rendition. Wow, those clothes! I'd, like, totally forgotten.
2. Crass, "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead)?" — This isn't actually a video at all. The English anarcho-punk band Crass, as its fans well know, was way too anti-commercial for any of that corporate BS. But you could always depend on them for strident protest music. Because we were kids, after all, and youth is strident. This song was Crass' response to the Falklands invasion.
3. Frank Turner, "Thatcher Fucked the Kids": Okay, this isn't from the 1980s at all. Frank Turner only pretty recently passed 30 (Don't Trust Him!). No, he's totally great, so there. Here's a short profile, if you're interested. This older (2008) tune is pretty self explanatory.
4. Linton Kwesi Johnson, "It Dread Inna Inglan": On his debut LP, Dread Beat an' Blood, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who usually sets his rhyming creations to dub tracks, pressed a track of himself speaking by megaphone at a rally for George Lindo. Lindo was a black man in his 20s who was framed by police in Bradford, England, for a robbery. He was later freed and received compensation for his ordeal, according to the Guardian, which profiled Johnson. Listen to the original track here. In addition to Dread Beat an' Blood, I'd recommended Johnson's albums Bass Culture and Forces of Victory—also key parts of my high school soundtrack.
5. Pete Wylie, "The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died": So I actually never heard this one way back when, or at least I don't remember it. But you know a lot of people are going to hear it today. Here's a live supergroup version. The sound quality is pretty godawful, but you'll get the general idea:
6. The Clash, London Calling: Okay, I'll go out on a limb and say much of the Clash's later career was in some ways a response to Thatcher's England—much in the same way that X came to define 1980s Los Angeles (for me at least). London Calling came out the same year Thatcher came to power. In the clip below, frontman Joe Strummer screws up the title track's opening lyrics. (Clearly Thatcher's doing.)
7. Billy Bragg, "Thatcherites": The inimitable Billy Bragg was never one to step back from a fight. He has this knack for crafting clever protest songs that manage to be in-your-face, yet at the same time are genuinely pleasurable to listen to. That's rare. Here, Bragg takes on Thatcher's followers, speaking to them directly: "You privatize away what is ours, what is ours / You privatize away what is ours / You privatize away and then you make us pay / Yeah, we'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words/ We'll take it back some day, mark my words." Again, this is just audio, so don't expect anything exciting to happen.
By the way, if you know of any songs celebrating Margaret Thatcher, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. (For some reason, when people write songs about conservative heroes, they end up being stuff like Item 3 in this post.)
The Black Angels' Alex Maas at the Prophet, a Dallas bar.
The Black Angels Indigo Meadow
Blue Horizon Ventures
I was first introduced to The Black Angels back in 2007 as I wandered dusty Tennessee fields at the Bonnaroo music festival. As it happened, they were covering Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and I found myself drawn in. The Austin, Texas, four-piece has come a long way since then, releasing three studio albums and winning fans for their modern interpretations of '60s-era psych rock.
It is impossible not to think of Pink Floyd or The Doors while listening to the new album, Indigo Meadow, which came out last week. The fuzzy, wobbling guitar and pounding bass immediately evoke a psychedelic-rock museum, revisiting the spacey riffs unearthed by Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd on Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and the acid-fueled organ of The Doors first album.
Liner notes: The spooky Oakland quartet unleashes a perfect storm of brooding guitar pop, smothering everything in delicious echo.
Behind the music: Wax Idols' debut was basically a solo effort by Hether Fortune (a.k.a. Heather Fedewa), who assembled a band for this mesmerizing album. She's also worked with Hunx and His Punx, Blasted Canyons, and Bare Wires.
Check it out if you like: Moody noisemakers from Love and Rockets to Lush to early Dum Dum Girls.
I was first introduced to Dawes on a stretch of deserted highway in 2010, following the band's first release, North Hills. It was a fitting introduction. My production team and I were struggling to film a grueling cross-country video series, but we lost our motivation somewhere in Mississippi. Our cinematographer thankfully plugged his iPod into the van stereo and launched the opening track, "That Western Skyline." It was soft, simple, and became a prescription for our myopia.
The NBA career of Hall of Famer Phil Jackson spanned six decades: He played 12 years and snagged two league titles for the New York Knicks before winning 11 more championships as the coach of stars like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal. But during all of his time in the league, he said in a Huffington Post Liveinterview earlier this week, he's "never run into" gay professional basketball players.
Maybe Jackson's Zen-ness got in the way of the 67-year-old's memory and common sense, so let's help him out:
In 2011, fellow Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said, "Every player has played with gay guys. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin' idiot." So there's that.
John Amaechi, who came out in 2007 after he'd retired (and who's mentioned by Kurt Rambis in the above clip), played five seasons in the league in the 1990s and early aughts. He played in 12 games against Jackson's teams during his career.
More generally, the time when athletes and coaches can deny that there are gay players in pro locker rooms seems to be coming to end. Earlier today, Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker whose gay-marriage advocacy was criticized by a Maryland state legislator (who in turn was famously blasted by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe on Deadspin), told the Baltimore Sun today that "up to four" NFL players were considering coming out simultaneously sometime in the not-too-distant future:
"I think it will happen sooner than you think," Ayanbadejo said. "We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.
"Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It's cool. It's exciting. We're in talks with a few guys who are considering it. The NFL and organizations are already being proactive and open if a player does it and if something negative happens. We'll see what happens."
The two most-recent big-name athletes to come out of the closet were both soccer players: Robbie Rogers, who played for the US national soccer team, made his announcement in February, while women's star Megan Rapinoe came out before last year's Olympics. And while no NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball player has ever come out of the closet while still playing, that looks like it will change sooner than later. So if the Zen Master ends up taking a job in an NBA front office, maybe he'll finally run into an openly gay NBA player.