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The Post Millennial Top Five Albums of 2016

This year’s been rather crappy, no? People dying, authoritarian rising, all that jazz. Still, there were enough tunes throughout these 366 days that I could put up my yearly list. So, onwards with the Top 5 (would love to know your favorite albums from this year, btw).

Rihanna – Anti

The best way to describe Anti is that it’s Rihanna’s mirror, a subdued personal whisper with her best vocal work to date. There is the kind of Rihanna you expect from in “Work” and its ability to spill dancehall into the club. But this is a full-listen album. What starts with the electro-cool of “Consideration” ends with the intimacy in the ballad “Closer to You”. The ride between is Rihanna is her badass and vulnerable par excellence worth a good listen.

Anti is a departure to her normal work, that’s undeniable. There’s electro-R&B cuts like “Needed Me” and “Desperado” There’s also the ambition in putting a Tame Impala song on the album and melding it into superbly in “Same Ol’ Mistakes”.

Favorite Song: “Love on the Brain” pushes Rihanna’s voice to her full potential. The spirit of doo-wop and heartbreak conjure this constant shift between a vulnerable hush and despondent howl.

Flume – Skin

His debut was vibrant, the soundtrack of nighttime wonderland and the festival grounds rumbling with sonic glee. Skin brings Flume into another territory, a richer sound that uses the mix of garage, pop and hip-hop sensibilities, making a richer sound than can be expected from a dance album. It’s ethereal and glitchy at times (“Take A Chance”), and brusque and dreamlike in others (“Wall Fuck”).

He takes R&B-infused bass and uses it to make a glitched-out love song in “Say It”. A proof of that previously mentioned juxtaposition is in Kučka’s quiet by hypnotic voice mixed with Vince Staple’s verses in “Smoke & Retribution”.

Favorite Song: “Never Be Like You” is Flume’s attempt at an R&B jam mastered to its finest point. Kai’s voice moves between breathless and immediate, bringing her lyrics of forgiveness the right levels it needs.

 

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

So many hip-hop albums were already crowned AOTY by the time ATCQ released We Got It From Here… but it’s fashionably late release still went toe-to-toe with some of the biggest albums of the year. It’s tough to make a rap album with the bloated socially conscious rap scene that exists today. Q-Tip, Jarobi White and the late Phife Dawg were not held back by this and still made song after song that mirrored the topics of black America over Q-Tip’s signature beats.

And the beats are interesting. They’re modern but are still made from the DNA of the golden age of hip-hop. Does it make it dated? Perhaps, but compare the work on a song like “Melatonin”, which has a vibe similar to those from previous albums, to “Solid Wall of Sound,” which meshes Elton John and Jack White into this trippy space filled with pseudo-patois rhymes. There are so many songs that retain the spirit the group has had since its beginning but don’t sound like they’re phoning it in.

Favorite Song: “We The People…” is perfect “fuck your gentrification” hip-hop. I can sound a bit on-the-nose but that’s the way Tribe’s always been. Q-Tip and Phife trade verses laying out the problems people of color have are having at the moment, over a simple drum-and-bass ride, and it works so goddamn well.

Savages – Adore Life 

Never has an album talk about the vulnerability of love sound like it’ll kick you in the face. The London quartet laid bare what it means to love and live as a woman in this world but in a harsh, somber sound. They’re love songs set to the tune of the roses on fire.

Jehnny Beth’s pervasive goth-like haunting captures the dark romanticism, while Gemma Thompson’s and Ayse Hassan’s post-punk burn provide the engine for Adore Life‘s ominous voice. Fay Milton’s drum work brings the necessary urgency on songs like “Evil” and “Sad Person”.

Favorite Song: “The Answer” is love distilled in chaotic form. It starts with a seething riff and Beth’s wail of “If you don’t love me…” before unleashing a volley of violent drums and relentless lyrics on the inquisition of passion. Love is the answer, but the question is turbulent.

David Bowie – Blackstar

Danny Brown, whose album is on my honorable mentions, said something regarding Blackstar that we both share. He said how Bowie died to make the album it scared him. That wasn’t the case for me. I found it beautiful that David Bowie left the Earth on his terms, leaving one last statement and version of himself that we had never seen.

We’d seen the alien, the Berliner, the pop star, the modern reinventor, the elder statesman. On Blackstar we are in the private room with Bowie the Phantom Ascendant. You can hear that on the title track and in his voice throughout. There’s a particularly haunting part on the outro to “Dollar Days” where Bowie says “I’m dying to…” in repetition. In retrospect, it has a stronger meaning we should keep to our hearts.

Favorite Song: “Lazarus” was amazing for two reasons. First, of course, it’s the perfect swan song of a man comfortable with his coming end. Second, it actually makes jazz rock sound modern and relevant.

Honorable Mentions

Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall

A Tribe Called Red – We Are the Halluci Nation

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

 

 

 

No Two Brains

2016-09-18-14-47-12

I went to visit my cousin in Philadelphia a week ago. As a way to stimulate my little nephew we took him to the Franklin Institute. He was asleep for most of our time there,  to our amusement, which gave us more time to enjoy the exhibitions engaging to both children and adults.

Halfway through our tour, we made it to the exhibition pertaining to the brain and all its processes. I spent a lot of time in there, given my condition with seizures. I couldn’t help myself from spending quality time in there, like I have in other brain exhibits. I had to fill that need to see what’s inside me, or better yet what’s the part that’s defective.It’s the parietal lobe, to my best knowledge, that’s affected. It may be the temporal but I’m not sure, it’s been years since I’ve gone through the medical reports.

There was one particular spot of the exhibit that was caught my attention, so much so that it triggered my instincts quickly. It was a physical representation of the neural pathways of the brain, but in this lit-up trip of a display that was climbable. So naturally, I climbed in.

 

 

It was clearly meant for smaller frames, but I said “fuck it” and went through the ordeal. As I pass through, I recalled all the times I’d think of how those rogue sparks in my head would start my seizures. Would they look like the way I’m latching onto the net, its steel a representation of neurons?

I stood at the top for a few minutes, looking down and wondering at the irony of having a seizure within the maze – I didn’t, thankfully. When I came down, I had a sense of relief and understanding, in that while I know metaphysically I was just completely up my ass at that moment, I saw what it felt to be the defect. And I didn’t hate it for that one moment.

 

The Haiku Mixtape – Deconstructed (Part 2)

To continue my thought process of the first year of Haiku Mixtape (I’ve decided to continue the mixtape) here’s the next ten-plus one more.

Legend  of Chavo Guerrero – This is the first request haiku, from my good friend Rob. Now, I’m not a big Mountain Goats fan, but I do like wrestling and a challenge, so I used those two and created something from it. I like what I made, even if it might now be my strongest work.

Stack-O-Lee – The movie is mega-forgettable (I only watched it once) but man, what a version of the blues classic. Read the haiku, and while you do imagine Samuel L. Jackson crawling out a sludge with that guitar and playing that song. It works, doesn’t it?

Party And Bullshit – I posted this around my brother’s birthday, so this is a present of sorts. This is straight up a description of the parties he’d throw in the basement back in high school. No-nonsense Write What You Know on this one, my people.

Dimed Out – We begin the 2015 Top 5 songs haiku now (you can read the review here). I played with how I saw the album as a whole, the Titus Andronicus shows I’ve been to (hence the mosh pit reference) and our kindred Jersey attitude.

The Hills –  Fun fact: he just won two Guinness World Records! And the best part is that one gets the help from a song that is low-key about cocaine! This haiku, however, comes from the single that conveys the darkness in his mixtapes upgraded for a wider audience. I just listened to the song, and let it wash over me until it became my own words.

Lionsong – Bjork’s break-up song warrants a break-up haiku, I thought. The use of “cage” came for the chorus, from this idea that formed in my head of someone trying to come out of one.

Artangels – I remember when I was writing this one while listening to the song  and really enjoying the process, you know? It’s so saccharine but Grimes takes it to a place that’s not too tired, so it inspired me. The chorus uses French, so I went along with doing the same.

How Much A Dollar Cost – This haiku is a summation of the story Kendrick Lamar’s tells in this song. I know people are fans of the other ones, but there so many  powerful words in this one – it has this vibe of a gospel or parable. That was what I tried to convey here.

Run Away With Me – A nice switch from the previous haiku. Carly Rae Jepsen’s song was a mix of 80s nostalgia with her want to escape, hence why I used that word and “retro”.

Silent Shout – I’ve wanted to write this for a long time – It’s one of my favorite Winter Songs. There’s multiple versions of this, and even when I was in Photoshop mode, I wrote a new one on the spot that I felt described the song and how I feel when I hear it.

Interlude Haiku – David Bowie – This was sadly my first Interlude poem after Bowie died. I played with the fonts to show the man’s genius in changing styles. I put in two references (Earthling  and pale duke as a nod to the Thin White Duke), and in the background I placed an cropped part of his distinctive eyes as drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz.

 

 

Pull The Sheets

Early morning, pain
but it excites me,
recalls the ultra
violence, dancing
between the lanes
the night before  –

 

I pulled away from
you, the neon and
the diseased fun
all over my body.
God, this peep
show creeps into
a drugged slumber.

Pull the sheets
go, blindfold me
until the afternoon

 

[originally from my Tumblr]

No New Ideas But In Tearing Everything Apart

I’ve been reading a lot of new poetry from a lot of new sources lately. There is one pervasive thought that’s gone through my head, the more I read the stanzas, digest their stanzas, flow.

“Fuck, I lost so much feeling, haven’t I?”

I am really not trying to throw shade at any poet, I know people are bleeding the words they need out of their hearts and there is some pieces that are divine in quality. , I think to some extent I have lost that connection. I feel bloodless, and read things in such a detached, almost clinical mind.

So I’ve gone back to the beginning, and opened my ancient Word files filled with stuff from almost a decade-plus ago. A good amount of it is terrible, of course, but I can see that in those words created by misplaced teenage crushes and unnecessary angst there was a flavor of me that was more raw. I need that taste again.

That’s what I’m trying to reclaim at the moment. I’m taking back the old poems and dismantling them. This time around I’m working under two simple rules.

  1. Remove all vestiges/instances of love. I don’t think about it at the moment, I see no point in talking about something that isn’t a part of me.
  2. Try to keep to the rules of Imagism – clear concise portrayal of the image. Or to quote William Carlos Williams, “No ideas but in things”

The idea may not be new, nor some of the ideas. But something can grow from an object if it is taken apart are built into a new piece of art. At least, that’s what I hope.

 

Decomposition of the 5-7-5s: A Breakdown of Haiku Mixtape

I briefly mentioned my Haiku Mixtape project in September. It came from an old pastime I’d do when something I’d listen would spring concepts in my head. Haikus by traditon are pastoral, although modern poets are expanding the subject matter. One interesting example of this is the Times Haiku Tumblr blog that posts haikus taken from the New York Times.

Why I decided to go into the details of my mixtape, I have no idea – pobably for future reference. The blog’s background comes from a Detroit Times article, if I recall correctly. The fonts I use are all free, most from 1001 Free Fonts. As for the haikus, I have them saved in two locations: an Evernote note and a Word document file. The Evernote is for when I’m listening to something outside of home and need to jot it down somewhere with no internet access. The Word doc is the primary file where I play around with fonts before I paste them in the Photoshop files. I have a master Evernote page for mixtape images that serve as backgrounds.

Here’s the latest haiku:

I loosely used the first line in the song lyrics – the word “napalm” – and then based it from that. Then I based this image of a very angry punk. I went through about three edits before I decided on this one. I almost considered switching to another Iggy Pop song after I heard it at a bar on a memorable night. I may still consider writing a haiku from it so I won’t divulge the song title.

I also post the haikus in my deviantArt account just as an excuse to update to old thing – I haven’t in such a long time and since I’m making some semblance of new content I figured it made sense to. You’ll see a new one sometime tonight or tomorrow. Happy listening.

The Purity of Narcos and Narco Novelas

I started watching Narcos, the Netflix drama on the DEA’s war against Pablo Escobar. I’m more than halfway through and so far the show is very engaging and well-shot with a good cast (the voice-over work can be a bit much at times, however). Wagner Moura’s performance as Escobar captures a brooding mood that is very different from other portrayals of the Colombian drug titan than I’m used to seeing. However, there was something amiss as I continued watching. Sure, the translation was more than serviceable and the on-location shooting was pristine. But the total product wasn’t pure.

Regular American viewers have memories of Breaking Bad and The Wire as the destination for drug-heavy TV drama. That’s not always the case for Spanish-speaking viewers. From there comes the path of narco cinema and narco corridos, movies and music glorifying the drug trade. Narco cinema has its roots firmly in the B-movie aesthetic, with its shoddy film-making and even more suspect acting. But something intriguing happened when those themes crossed the border into TV. What came is an interesting hybrid that takes the format of telenovelas and the spirit of low-rent Mexican/Colombian drug movies. Instead of 15-20 some-odd episodes, you have shows past 60. All romantic arcs of forbidden love are replaced with plots of violence, treachery and the drug lord’s lust for power. These narco-novelas are international productions with huge fanbases both in both the Americas.

Narcos also has all of those ingredients, but why didn’t it appeal to me more than the narco-novela have? It’s a simple matter of creative authenticity. The best example comes from El Cartel de los Sapos, a narco-novela from a while back that set the tone for many others. Yes, the acting could be lacking at times, but the dialogue was so true to the character of the drug lords, the sicarios, and others that one can’t help but feel more engrossed in their actions. What made it standout was the source material that came from author/screenwriter Andres Lopez. He wrote the show based on his novel, inspired on his experience as a drug trafficker, and made the right adaptation to TV – something very similar to what David Simon did with his journalism experience and The Wire.

But the very truth of narco novelas isn’t that they are critically acclaimed. The shows tread a very fine line between schlock and gritty realism, most of the time veering to the former. It’s popcorn entertainment at its core, but the inherent feeling of a deeper reality, even when it digs into its telenovela roots, makes it better. And the quality is increasing – Escobar, el Patron del Mal, was a 2012 sprawling drug series entailing the life of the kingpin. Like Narcos, it was made on location, but this time it was created by Colombian television, not only adding to the authenticity but the controversy in glorifying the man. Telemundo’s hit show El Señor de los Cielos has stepped up its game every season – the fact it even has seasons shows its strength, most novelas are standalone stories – and constantly evolves from its barely-autobiographical story of a high-flying drug lord to the show’s conversion of real-life drug icons into fictionalized villains, all the way to the use of the 2014 mass kidnapping  of Mexican students as a plot point.

So while it is exciting that Netflix made its route for audience-addicting drug television, know this – there’s been other, more established paths bringing in a product that is superior in some ways, even when they get over-the-top. Enjoy its trashiness, because within it lies a truth you may not find in the classy veneer of the other.

The Post Millennial 2014 Top Five Albums

The gleaming and digesting is complete, and the ears are awash with all the cuts dropped. Overall the year hasn’t be an album-heavy year for me. Granted, the ones that made the cut are my favorite, yet I wonder how many will infect me and stick in my aural DNA for years to come. It has been more of an exploratory year filled with mixtapes and solo YouTube clips heard in the middle of the night. I have a Spotify playlist that I have developed a blog post, sitting in draft form, describing them. I’m going to expand it tomorrow and post it as well. Now, on to the albums.

Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

“212” was not the greatest of songs when it was dropped in 2011. In its proper place, however, it is the true banger people made it be a while back. Banks’ debut combines a variety of sounds – house beats, R&B, garage, Latin music – and melds it with her sing/rap combo, creating an extended party playlist best played on a sound system in the best clubs. Which is a far better home for her songs than anywhere else, and I don’t mean that in any denigrating manner. This is fun hip-hop the radio shouldn’t get in its filthy goddamn hands.

Favorite song: “Gimme A Chance” – Azealia goes hard over horns, turntables, then brings her Harlem on and belts out lyrics and rhymes in Spanish. Can’t say no to that.

Caribou – Our Love

What kind of emotion does Our Love achieve? It has a steady undercurrent of subtle happiness hidden beneath many of the songs in this album. Even when it picks up on songs like “Julia Brightly” it has this downtempo joy embedded under the faster BPM. The music drives you and cools you down at the same time, which is an interesting prospect to have for an electronic album to have.

Favorite Song: “Mars” – Snaith masterfully started that drum sample to start the song, serving as the backbone for the rest of a frenetic mix of repetition of other samples. What came out: a danceable, amazing semi-paranoid jam.

St. Vincent – “St. Vincent”

The breadth of Annie Clark’s work is quirky and enjoyable before the self-titled. They had pop sensibilities, but not enough to really grab a sizable amount of people. This album, however, changes that.   In a less-crappier world where the radio would allow at least decent music, a couple of the songs on this album would have been on the cycle. This really is the most accessible St. Vincent album as she comes at you, guitar riffs and all, and pulls you in.

Favorite Song: “Digital Witness” – Her normal singles are good guitar-infused jams, but this one has sonic maximalism  that comes from the brass and electronic sounds in the chorus.

EMA – The Future’s Void

What EMA does on this album is take the desolation found in cyberpunk and at make it into music. If you have heard her work in the past you have see her do similar things, but this time around it is refined, like a short film shot in 4K-quality, shot through a distorted fliter. Her zine/manifesto on the creation and basis of the album really goes into this, I highly suggest you read it. The next time you feel the internet is filling up your mind, your lungs, you bones, go and give this a listen for a purge.

Favorite Song – “Neuromancer” – An electronic tribe song taking down Instagram whores, reminding them Big Brother is not in your PC, your phone, and your tablet – he’s in you as well.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

On their debut album, Mike and El bounced a rap grenade off one another, waiting to pull the pin. Well, it was finally time to toss the motherfucker into the general population. RTJ2 is threatening, political, dirty as hell, but retains the humor of the previous album.  So many parts of the songs can’t help make the listener let out a devilish smile as Mike paints the picture of a prison riot or El reps his NY so hard it messes with his gait, or the uber-lewd romantic masterpiece that is “Love Again”. The duo give no fucks about your sacred cows, and it’s apparent here –  people are robbed and waterboarded, all to the soundtrack of El-P’s signature dystopia beats.

Favorite Song: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) (Feat. Zack De La Rocha)” – There are a lot of amazing guests on the album, but bringing De La Rocha out to grace us with 18 bars of fury with Miles Davis and Blade Runner references? Done.

Honorable Mentions

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

RATKING – So It Goes

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Banks – Goddess

Christian Löffler – Young Alaska

Phantogram– Voices

Can’t Let Them Catch The Midnight Writer

The first time I can remember writing alone was in third grade. It was well past my bedtime and I barely sat on the kitchen table enough to scribble down on one of those composition books with the scattered black-and-white patterns throughout the cover and back. I don’t quite remember what it was on – insects, perhaps – but I remember the time being past the 11 o’clock news and no one being in the room with me. The only reason my parents didn’t try to stop was because these were the days in which my mom went into work around six in the morning and my dad’s hours were completely fucked from all the residency he did at multiple hospitals.That was around 1995.

It’s 2002 and my sister is fast asleep. Years of staying up late writing or playing games have added up by then and the internet have mixed it all up and made me into a huge mess of insomnia and information addiction. The Compaq PC was the only computer my family had  at the time, and I was the one that was on in more than anyone else. When I wasn’t downloading music at the speed of Congress getting any work done, I pulled up document files while I talked to other friends with sleep problems – mostly girls – and wrote. I played music at very low volumes so that no one noticed I was awake, at least not until it was two or three in the morning. I pulled many all-nighters writing topic and country papers for Model UN (yes, I was that kind of nerd, and I’m not ashamed of it). My brother introduced me to energy drinks because of my nocturnal writing patterns, and I learned the concepts of deadlines and how to produce quality work. It just took the darkness.

More sleep disappeared in college, as I wrote my fiction/poetry out of boredom at night when I wasn’t working on lab papers during the day. There was less sunlight there, creating days with an illusion of perpetual twilight. And that was all I needed to keep the words flowing. I was pretty much a wreck at that point and well on my way to the major crash that would occur near the end. Every night has a dawn, and some are painful and blinding.

When I finished school and my brain finally decided it was time to go haywire, I had to give into a set sleep schedule. I had help from someone, but the more I slept the more I lost the night, and there went the dark and the silence and the click-clack of my fingers on something. The first rounds of medication didn’t help either – they dulled everything, from my physical hunger to my thoughts. I took a considerable amount of time to write again, and to no surprise it came back to me in the dark, when I was working a night job with a bunch of Mexican guys. During breaks I would take out a small notebook and jot down pieces of a story inspired by what I was doing.

As of this writing, it’s almost  6 AM and the sun is just making its way up. The sensation is the same as it was years ago, and I am spell-checking and fixing any grammatical errors on my sister’s paper after doing some of my own personal work. The rush of night writing, the liberation and isolation it allows me to have, is amazing, but there is a new thought that crosses my mind – will this always be the way it works?  I hoped I could find a way to do this with the sun but I never can. This thing, this path that gives me strength, it’s unhealthy and this will hurt eventually but I don’t see any other way to do this. I’ll just continue writing until the light comes, then find my way to sleep if the day allows it.