Saturday, February 6, 2016

Song of the Day: "Formation"

Beyoncé released a surprise single the day before her half-time performance, with Coldplay, at the Super Game. Because one can't mention Beyoncé without reasonable concern that Kanye West will interrupt I am reminded about the greatest public service K Man has done with the world.

This has been on my mind because the flaccid JEB?! campaign brought in JEB?!'s mommy to fix things--apparently between the options of incompetent and unlikable JEB?! opted for the latter. On the topic of Hurricane Katrina, Mrs. Bush had the warmth and empathy to say this:
Almost everyone I've talked to says, 'We're going to move to Houston.' What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
 And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them. 
"We've allowed decades of neglect and an epically mismanaged disaster relief effort to destroy the lives of these people, but maybe they like living at the Super 8 by the beltway and IAH better on account of their poors and the government is paying the bill. They get air conditioning and cable TV this way" she seemed to say. Of course this same woman, the wife of a man who sent troops to war in Iraq and the mother of another man who sent troops to war in Iraq also had some lovely things to say about the brave men and women who died overseas and their returns home (spoiler alert: it didn't include the term "thank them for their sacrifice").

So I rather enjoy this celebration by Beyoncé of who she is and where she came from. And I hope, in some small way, it aggravates the Bush family. Just because.

Song: "Formation"
Artist: Beyoncé

2015 Singles: #40 through #31

#40 "Spent Missing" by Froyo Ma/Charlotte Day Wilson
And every time I close my eyes
I'm fixed on what's ahead 
Awesome band name, sweet vocals that bring to mind early Meshell Ndegeocello. It's perfect for the chill room. If such a thing still exists. (Maybe they have apps or drones for that now.)

#39 "Sound and Color" by Alabama Shakes
Ain't life just down the street
Sound and color
Alabama Shakes debuted with a critically acclaimed album that did nothing for more. Their sophomore outing is a different story altogether.

#38 "Please" by Rod Stewart
It's cold outside and I can't tell you to go
All the roads are frozen and I'm begging you not to drive home

I don't know if I'm more surprised or satisfied to find Rod Stewart among my year's favorites.

#37 "High Time" by Kacey Musgraves
It's high time to slow my roll
Let the grass just grow and lean way back
A writer opined that Kacey makes children's music for grown-ups. Her songs have a simplicity and clarity that you might not get out of a Drake song about drunk dialing his ex (although I love both kinds of songs).

#36 "Earned It" by The Weeknd
You know our love would be tragic
So you don't pay it, don't pay it no mind
The Weeknd (Abęl Makkonen Tesfaye) holds the awkward distinction of being the only person of color nominated at this years Academy Awards (not counting like sound guys and such). I thought for sure it would be Wiz Kalifa.

#35 "Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven" by Kid Cudi
Some people bore me, so f**king boring
But I’m all smiles, I’m all smiles
I love the sly contempt Cudi has for pretty much everyone with this song.

#34 "Happy Days" by Squeeze
We're gonna take a break by the rolling sea
The perfect Summer, just you and me
Squeeze, sounding great... pure pop bliss.

#33 "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor
I never learned to cook
But I can write a hook
Sing along with me
What's perfect about Meghan Trainor is that she isn't pretending to be anything more than fantastic pop music with a twinge of self esteem.

#32 "Who Can You Trust" by Ivy Levan
Into this web you will crawl
Ever ignoring, every warning cause you,
There's no shortage of attempts to recreate the magic of Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" (and to a lesser extent her "Diamonds Are Forever"). The last person to come close, if I recall, was k.d. lang with "Surrender" from the closing credits of Tomorrow Never Dies. Ivy Levan sings the shit out of this song from the end credits to the Spy, an homage to Bond via "girl power" and one of my favorite movies of the year. 

#31 "Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind" by Rhiannon
And I've often wondered why your leaving's been so long delayed
It's all become so complicated, maybe you feel so obligated
Giddens is classically trained as an opera singer and she sings country, blues and old-time music as part of Carolina Chocolate Drops. Her first solo album is solid as this early Dolly Parton tune demonstrates. 

2015 Singles: #50 through #41

#50 "Hot Scary Summer" by Villagers
We got good at pretending
And then pretending got us good
Villagers have released consistently strong albums since their debut, Becoming a Jackal in 2010. I've really enjoyed their albums but never quite picked up on Conor O'Brien's repressed homosexuality (and yet Randy Travis, Ricky Martin and Kenny Chesney all went ding loud and clear).

I'm glad I shushed Eric when we saw them open for Weller. They put on a damn fine show (both acts).

#49 "See You Again" by Wiz Kalifa/Charlie Puth
It's been a long day without you my friend
And I'll tell you all about it when I see you again
I thought this song had a lock on the Oscar: a poignant tribute to Paul Walker and a tacit sign of respect for a franchise that has earned nearly $4 billion at the box office... so far. 

#48 "Ring of Keys" by the cast of Fun Home
Your swagger and your bearing
And the just right clothes you're wearing
Not a traditional single, but the amazing performance at the Tony Awards (easily the best since Idina Menzel tore up "Defying Gravity" [Joel Grey introduced both performances--maybe he IS a wizard]) established it was one of the best songs of the year. For anyone who grew up feeling they were broken and alone, this song honors that time by celebrating the time a young lesbian's gaydar kicked in and she fell in love with a ring of keys and the delivery woman whose side they dangled from.

#47 "What Do You Mean?" by Justin Bieber
You wanna make a point but you keep preaching
You had me from the start, won't let this end
The presence of Justin Bieber had pretty much zero bearing on my interest in this song. For reals. I went looking for a collaboration he did with Skrillex and Diplo--"Where Are Ü Now"--which received some acclaim on "best of" lists for 2015. This song is way better than that one.

#46 "The Blade" by Ashley Monroe
'Cause you caught by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade
2015 gave us some great country and Americana albums. Ashley Monroe's The Blade is one of the best of these.

#45 "Clearest Blue" by CHVRCHES
You, were the perfect star
But it's not enough, it's not enough
It was 2 short years ago when I wrote that CHVRCHES, ranked at #3 on my best of 2013 (posted as a best of 2014 in a reverse of the thing that you do with your personal checks), seemed the most likely of that year's releases to feel faddish in a short time. They return so respectably that I wonder if it's specifically to defy me. Probably. I'm influential that way.

#44 "Drag Me Down" by One Direction
I got a river for a soul
And baby you're a boat
It is a bit weird that Justin Bieber and One Direction never one appeared on any of my music lists and now BAM!, they're both here. What's up with that? The average number of "baby" per song is really big this year.

#43 "I Really Like You" by Carly Rae Jepsen
Late night watching television
But how we get in this position?
Carly Rae Jepsen's E-Mo-Tion is a celebration of big dopey pop music as an art form. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

#42 "How Deep is Your Love" by Calvin Harris/Disciples
Let me in on all your secrets
No inhibition, no sin
The quasi-late 90s "every remix" nature of this is a huge part of its appeal for me. It's a song that wouldn't be out of place played at any random gay bar, anywhere in the world (aside from a small number of serious country bars).

#41 "Enter Sylvia Plath" by Belle & Sebastian
Subtle is the art required
To draw the evil from this lonely pyre
A Eurodisco song about Sylvia Plath: nothing at all "so very" about that.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Song of the Day: "Take You There"

It's Tricky!
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time

And he's collaborating with Massive Attack again, which is massive a big deal.

Song: "Take You There"
Artist: Massive Attack/Tricky/3-D

Black History Month: Black Panther

The Black Panther: he's black, not that you can tell
It was inevitable that Black History Month would include subjects that are black.  To avoid that would be racist. And we all know from your repeated assertions like "I'm not a racist" that you are not a racist.

Fun fact: "I'm not a racist" is what all racists say at some point.

The Black Panther, aka T'Challa (pronounced Shar-day), is the first black superhero and the inspiration for the Black Panther Party. (DISCLOSURE: He is not the inspiration for the Black Panther Party)

I know him from Marvel comics but I don't really remember how I know him from Marvel comics. He had a run in with the Fantastic Four but he wasn't in the group. Was he a Defender? Was he an Avenger? Was he a Minder of His Own Business?

I know he's from Wakanda and I know he's angry (what with him being black and being created in the 60s by white dudes). I remember vibranium.  I know vibranium vs. adamantium is a thing.

But what about mithril?! JK, I'm not a nerd

Anyway the angry Black angry Panther, with all his Lion King music, coming soon to a theater near you. Well, not really near you, but like 8 to 15 miles away, in a part of town you think of as sketchy, where the high schools with good football and basketball teams are. The angry schools.

No relation to the Pink Panther.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month: Lewis Black

He's a Grammy winner and has been nominated for both an Emmy and a Teen Choice Award (Choice Movie Hissy Fit: Inside Out). I have no recollection of him in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd nor Hannah and Her Sisters (maybe if he took his shirt off).

I like him but his shtick runs a little thin. Ooooh, a middle aged white guy who's perturbed. Wait, that's me too. But I'm always hilarious. That's the difference... anyway, here he is.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Quote of the Year, 2015

"Are you fucking serious?"--Sandra Bland, July 10, 2015
Saint Sandra
For a long time, when the subject of institutional racism came up, I would side with "the man": the white people in charge (disclaimer: I am 99.7% Northern and Western European lineage, so that makes sense--they are my peeps). Of course Rodney King was beaten, he fled police and reinforcements were called in... that's what happens. Sure they may have been overzealous in all their kicking of the subdued guy but that happens to white guys too (error 404: actual example not found).

When Trayvon Martin was shot for walking while black (there were extenuating circumstances, a hoodie) and his killer not prosecuted it was more about a technicality specific to the Florida law than about a system that sides with the whites. So what if Marissa Alexander, a black woman attacked by her abusive ex-husband, who used the same Stand Your Ground law as justification for firing a warning shot near his head (no one was injured), was sentenced to 20 years in prison while George Zimmerman, the white dude who killed Martin even after a 911 operator told him not to shoot, walked without any charges. There is a perfectly, um, yeah... weird right?

Michael Brown (allegedly) stole cigarettes.

Eric Garner was selling illegal cigarettes.

Samuel DuBose was (allegedly) missing the his front license plate... the front one! That's the most important one after the back one! It reached critical mass for me at some point early in 2015.

On vacation with my dad in May we talked about Pittsburgh Cleveland Baltimore. All those thugs, protesting (but really looting). Where were the black fathers? The motorcycle gang shootout in Waco never evoked the term "thugs" or questions about parenting. Where were their black fathers?

But the minute I heard Sandra Bland's voice, the exasperation and resignation, the frankness and defiance, I felt a kinship. Every word from her mouth could have come from me.

I have no idea what happened in the days leading up to her death. I mean, after the cowardly officer went out of his way to harass Sandra. I make no judgments about people who take their own lives (not those who do that after killing a bunch of folks, just those who do it to exit their situation) so if she chose to take her own life, respect. But there are far too many questionable circumstances to accept the official word. If there's any lesson in all of this it's that the official word is self-serving and perpetuates systematic racism.

Sandra's death is my awakening to systematic racism, bias of many types, really. I grieve for her. Seriously. Aside from race and, to a lesser extent gender, I am Sandra Bland.

Here's a song about Sandra from Blood Orange.

He Didn't Really Sell This One

"I eat nails before I have breakfast"-- Jebra "Jeb!" Bush, November 3, 2015
While I don't truly know Jeb's life, I am going out on a limb and saying I don't think that's true. Literally or metaphorically.

Song of the Day: "Get Better"

It's just some numbers tangled up in your sums
You could work it out with your fingers
Dear Frank Turner, please get out of my brain. Thanks.

Song: "Get Better"
Artist: Frank Turner

Black History Month: Frank Black

Born Charles Nelson Michael Murray Olive Kittridge Fredrick Thompson IV, he goes by the name Frank Black, alias Black Francis, alias Negro Franca, alias Frank Noir, alias Schwarz Frank, alias 黒率直, alias черный откровенным, alias Melissa Rivers: his musical existence is perfect and perfectly frustrating for me as a Libra. Where some musicians would happily release music to which I am largely indifferent, Black has decided to release songs I either love love love or want to kill with a rusty hunting knife then douse in gasoline and set afire.

I'm sure that if (or when) we ever meet we will be the best of friends. Then the worst of enemies. Then the best of friends again only we'll fall out of touch with each other a few months later because that's what people do.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Black History Month: "Black Hole Sun"

"Black Hole Sun" was written by Chris Cornell in 15 minutes. He expected the rest of the band to hate it. They didn't, in part due to the speaker used to play it to them.

It became, not only the biggest song on Superunknown, but one of the biggest songs of 1994 and the band's most critically acclaimed work. The band won a Grammy, a VMA and a Clio for the song and its video--that's 3 of the band's 4 awards.

And because it was the 90s there were some unfortunate covers. Here's Steve & Edyie.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Song of the Day: "In the Name of You"

Elton John: he released a Billboard Hot 100 Single (or its chart equivalent) every year from 1971 to 2000. In 1997 he released the biggest selling single of all time: "Something About the Way You Look Tonight".

I really dig the song, but biggest selling of all time? That seems a bit much. And it would be if it weren't for the other A-side of this double A-side.

Musically it sounds like some old school Elton, something my mom would have played around the house 40 years ago. But not his voice. He's keeping that reined in. He's keeping it in the baritone range that he's been relegated to for a while. But here that range seems to be shrinking. It doesn't detract from the new music, but it makes me wonder how he handles his older classics in concert.

Song: "In the Name if You"
Artist: Elton John

Stuff to Save

He's My Bush

Watching old Colberts while editing a report. Here's my Congressman since 1997.

Don't understand this post's title? It's from this.