Political Party Membership as an Identity

Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself on ideas and philosophies and current events that I had views on, but only passing understanding of. I have been guilty of opinionizing without truly understanding what I am talking about, I have had strong ideas on events and social programmes without really doing much research. I was, and in many respects still am, guilty of reading a headline and not the article. In this time, I have found that my views on certain things have solidified. I believe even more venomously that the Conservative Party are a behemoth of intolerance, xenophobia and stroking the flames of these issues for personal gain. I am even more convinced that Brexit had some sort of foreign influence. (Why the media were happy to accept Farage saying that he forgot why he went to visit the Ecuadorian embassy on the morning of Brexit I will never know.) 

However, there are issues that I have less understanding of by reading into them more. The Arab-Israeli conflict I had always taken as something that was primarily the fault of Israel and that movements such as the BDS were a wholly good thing. But after reading about and around this subject it seems so much more complicated than leftist rhetoric would have had me believe. This is not an article on this issue for the reason that I personally do not feel like I have a stance on this conflict. In spite of reading thousands of pages on the past and present debates around Israel and Palestine I cannot for the life of me figure where I stand on the issue. But this is an article on reassessing and re-evaluating. At looking at my own views and the parties that I feel reflect them. 

The rise of identity politics is something that has been extrapolated through social media. Increasingly there seems to be a tribalism, an unequivocal need to align yourself with issues and ideals as part of your identity or self. The idea of being unsure or confused is assimilated with passivity, with the idea that in not outwardly or vocally opposing something that you are in favour of the opposite. I don’t know where I stand on many issues, my personal perceived complexity of the sex/gender debate is one that I have particular issue with, but in not opposing certain points of view I can be accused of facilitating or even believing points of view which I find confusing, if not something I completely object to. This need to categorise wholeheartedly on a side of a debate has resulted in a politics that is increasingly extreme. Brexit gave the country a polarised question and created a polarised society. There is no space in the debate for any form of middle ground, it is as simple as ‘In’ or ‘Out’ with extremities in these camps, but even the most moderate and consensual on both sides are still opposites, they still both want opposite things with similar consequences. 

Anecdotal though it may be, I went to an event with Owen Jones immediately after the antisemitism row first appeared in mainstream media. (Read Deborah Lipstadt’s Antisemitism for an explanation about the differences in spellings and their meanings of antisemitism, absolutely fascinating.) Members of the party, some of whom I recognised, used the Q+A session to air grievances about their feelings that this was yet more smearing of Corbyn and was the work of ‘the Jewish Lobby’ who were scared of a Corbyn government. Although this in itself is antisemitic it was harrowing for these issues to all be seen as conspiracies against the leadership rather than legitimate concerns. I quote Lipstadt again in her view that Corbyn is not necessarily an antisemite himself but does enable these issues within his party. Links with Hamas and appearances in media that has outwardly both hardcore and softcore denied the Holocaust may not have much of a resonance with those who sympathise to the Palestinian cause. But to those Jews who are both Jewish in their identity and critical of Palestine, Corbyn comes across not as an ally but someone who is allying with radical extremists who call for the destruction of the Jewish race. Although Corbyn himself may be merely anti-Zionist or critical of the Israeli government the same cannot be said for the originator of the BDS movement who in their guidelines calls for the dissolving of the Jewish race or leaders of Hamas who are not only critical of Israel but have a long and complex history of their own attacks on civilians. 

No-one I ever talk to about Labour would try and convince me that they are a perfect party, just that they are just better than the Tories and that we should be pushing them because it will be better for almost everyone. I have no doubt that is the case, however tis self-righteousness comes with its own issues. In the current Labour party, in spite of the actual worst government that the UK has ever seen, there is still an uphill battle against almost everyone. The party seems to find opposition within the media, its own moderates and people who have previously been in support of the party. But half of the issue here is the inability, or at least unwillingness, to critique the left’s own radicals. The cult like following by some aspects of the party is almost Mao like, with people seemingly believing that Corbyn is the only path to socialism and that any attempt to oust him is an attempt to oust Socialism. Issues with his inability to lead, his divisive nature within his own party are similarly dismissed as smears. Obviously, this is all anecdotal as giving hard evidence would involve delving into the toxic twitter conversations that take place on a daily basis. But through my experiences I have seen that to some Corbyn is beyond critique and that any concerns or criticisms are seen as attacks on the concept of socialism itself. This is not to say that there are not those who harness this to try and rebuild Labour as the Blairite party it once was and return it to the centre. But dismissing all criticism as Blairite or Red Tory is both dangerous and counterproductive. 

The point I am trying to make I guess is that polarisation of politics is coming from both sides. I maintain that there are truly evil people and regimes in place at the moment that need protesting and rallying against. Trump is doing is utmost to split and divide the world like never before, creating a level of partisanship that I have never seen in my lifetime. But the fact that these evils are so evil does not make use that oppose them some sort of benevolent good. The UK Labour party has issues that are rooted in its own inability to self-reflect. There is a tendency for campaigns to lose their meaning, for an anti-austerity campaign to simultaneously become one that is linked with the BDS movement, campaigns against other foreign governments and a multitude of other issues. The idea of solidarity is one that Labour embraces as part of its identity. However, the issue with this is that it offers such a complete view of what the party stands for that it can be alienating to those on the fringes of the party who would like to get involved more, like me. I believe in certain aspects of the party and most of the core principles, but there are a lot of things about the party that worry me but are on the fringes yet embraced by the leadership. 

Of course, I will still vote Labour, I think my local MP is exceptional and that in a FPTP system they are the only logical and reasonable choice. I still will campaign against a party that has caused deaths through its cuts to services and continues to follow a financial plan that is devastating almost every aspect of society. However, I do so less for the current state of the Labour party and instead against the Conservative party. Labour is more like the party that I wish it had been for years, but the toxicity and disturbing history that has come along with its current leadership is something which makes my support waver. 

The tribalism that has plagued the country since Brexit is creating further divisions and debates with seemingly no end. Many will argue that I am projecting, that the tribalism I am arguing is because I personally am seeing vocal minorities. But with a media that puts emphasis on vocal minorities constantly, on both sides of the spectrum I must add, it increases the argument of totalised society. In Labour I feel the increasing need that if you are not left enough you are not welcome. The attempt to dilute Tom Watson’s role as Deputy Leader by instating a second deputy leader was argued as a way of increasing diversity as the new leader would be female. Projecting I may be, but the current efforts of changes to selection policies and such make me worry that this shift to the left is continuous and without end. That this tribalism is being enforced by both sides, that you are either with the party wholeheartedly, or against it completely and a voice that needs to go. Hatred of politicians such as David Miliband may be based on fears of a return to a Blairite government, but they are ultimately allying against Conservative governments and voices worth enabling. They may be critical but the ability to be self-critical is crucial to a healthy and working democracy. Tribalism from all sides of the political spectrum is what is the biggest threat to democracy as a whole. In order for the left to thrive, we need to be able to criticise ourselves and look at what is working and what isn’t within our own beliefs and structures. We need not criticise and demonise because someone is not left enough and feel they are a threat. Rather than ideological purity and fringe issues with incredibly complex histories we should be uniting, rather than accusing those who criticise as undermining. Because just being for or against something is worthless without understanding why you are but also why others might not be. Sometimes it is better to just try and understand why there is opposition without projecting your own easy answer.

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Life Update/ Thoughts on my last year

So depression really sucks. I find for me it comes in waves. That I get triggered by little things. That inane and useless things stay on my mind way longer than they should do and I get obsessive and pathetic about things. Try as I might I have been unable to get on with my life, and feelings of loneliness persist. 

I am blessed in so much as that I have some really good friends. I have a loving and supportive family. But over the last, almost three years now somehow, I have really tried to be independent. I found myself relying too much on my relationships and partners and feeling like I was becoming a burden. I feel awful as I am at a point where the loneliness is affecting me, but I don’t feel like I am ready for another relationship yet as I don’t want to become dependent on any potential partner, as that would be unfair on me and them. 

My mental health has always been an issue, and I still find myself feeling very low, although I am feeling less anxious than I used to, although certain situations still set me off. 

The worst thing about myself however is that I get triggered pathetically easily. I can be walking down a road and I see someone with ginger hair. It is genuinely as simple as that, and as 1% of the UK population are ginger that is being triggered quite a bit. But it’s not just that, certain music, places and things or even turns of phrase can affect me. It’s super annoying and grating. Maybe I obsess because I haven’t moved on, but I really don’t know how to move on in a healthy and productive way. 

I’m currently trying to do my degree and I am really worried about moving back up to London in just over a week. I have done this a few times before and I feel really distant. I guess this time I don’t really feel like I am leaving much behind. In the past I have felt I am leaving my friends but I haven’t seen them that much recently, as we grow older and our lives become more distant from one another. We still make the time to see one another but most of my time feels spent either by myself or in coffee shops. 

I know I am more than capable of doing my degree. I’m quite smart, I am in a better state than I was a few years ago. 

I’ve only broken down and tried to contact my ex once this year (That’s not too bad for me but really it should be 0 and I think doing it even once is fucking pathetic.) I’m getting slightly better, writing this is sort of a type of therapy. I really just want to be open and candid about how I feel rather than just letting myself get upset and not really exploring these feelings. 

My goals for the new year are to finally move on. It is difficult because I am so insecure and feel so low, but I sort of have to. I want to stop sleeping on a fold up bed on my mums’ floor. I want to stop feeling so sad every time I walk around London. I want to feel better about myself and like I can actually achieve something. I want to have an idea that I have a future, that it is a positive one, and that my best days aren’t just behind me, as I feel they are right now. 

Happy 2019.

Thoughts On XXXtentacions Death

XXXtentacion was a complicated man. On one hand, he was an artist that was captivating enough to get a recommendation from Kendrick Lamar on his Twitter feed and accumulate millions on streams on streaming services. But the other more private side of X, as his fans called him, was that of an abuser, a young man who both physically and mentally tortured a woman to the extent of her needing surgery to regain vision in her left eye.

A debate rages about bad people making good art. How the disturbing private lives of some of the arts most revered figures means that their art needs to be re-evaluated. Roman Polanski directed Rosemary’s Baby, a horror film that arguably defined parts of the genre, however, he also drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. Outside of film, comedian Louis CK was accused of prolifically using his position of power to sexually assault and harass women. These are but a minnow of the known and unknown artists that have made art that has inspired and is idolised by millions, that have also acted in ways that I would personally argue are morally bankrupt. Although the severity of the crime may differ, Polanski’s crimes many would argue are worse than CK’s, the re-evaluation of the work still occurs by both media and individual alike. Ultimately this re-evaluation results in a question of support, that being ‘Can I still support this artist and appreciate this art in light of what I know now.’

So many of XXXtentacion’s fans will be unaware of the severity of the allegations against him. His music was not for me personally; however, I know that he had his fans. This fanbase is not primarily through naivety to his actions, however, I would argue that sentiment exists at least in part, but through some people being able to both separate music and musician and embrace the actions of XXXtentacion as part of his flaws. The reaction to XXXtentacion in wake of his death was polarising with some actively celebrating his death and others mourning a life arguably lost too young. Tributes flooded in from all corners of the media-sphere however, one reaction stood out to me. Musician Jidenna drew a parallel between XXX and Malcolm X, claiming had Malcolm died at 20 ‘he would have died an abuser, a thief, an addict, and a narrow-minded depressed & violent criminal.’ Jidenna’s argument of believing in ‘change for the young’ is an interesting one, not mourning XXXtentacion for what he was but what he could have been. What he could have been as a person not as a musician.

The idea of change for the young contrasts greatly with what seems like a change for the older in one of the global superstars of our time. Kanye West’s quote of ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black People’ at a live telethon was one of the defining pop culture moments of the Bush presidency. Always outspoken, West had accused Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina of being racially biased and bought an issue on the fringes of debate into the mainstream. Almost two Decades later West is wearing a hat in support of a President who has recently imprisoned children in cages and encouraged racism in the United States to his advantage. West also claimed that ‘Slavery was a choice.’ Personally, this is where the question of support came into play again. Although more based on West’s beliefs than his actions my support for West waned, a man who I had once seen as someone with opinions I respected and could be justified was now spewing Trumpist rhetoric. Controversy is Kanye’s brand, Taylor Swift at the VMA’s, The All-Day performance at the Brits, but despite these actions not necessarily being agreeable they were not actively dangerous to the youth that he undoubtedly influences, unlike telling them ‘slavery was a choice.’

Outside of my opinion, publications such as Pitchfork denounced Kanye for his comments. Their review of his newest album ‘Ye’ dealt with the change that had been seen in West, with the reviewer Meghan Garvey ending the review lamenting for the ‘the kid from Chicago who wanted to be the biggest rapper in the world, who now lives in an empty-looking concrete mansion in Calabasas, who has stopped trying.’ A comment just not on his music but the laziness with which Kanye now tries to publicise and cause controversy for controversy’s sake. Commentators declared West ‘cancelled’ and his newest releases were not met with same universal praise they usually were. Kanye is a prime example of someone who is difficult to separate from his art. His albums are personal and are drenched in his persona and controversies, like the bars on ‘Famous’ about Taylor Swift. Kanye has such devout fans due to his personality and how he invites fans to buy into not just his music but him as a person.

It is this personal, almost celebrity like aspect that leads to how art is interpreted in wake of revelations about their creators. Polanski is not a celebrity in the way that West is. Polanski’s work does not invite us into the life of Polanski in the same way that Kanye’s albums invite us into the life of Kanye. We feel like we get to know Kanye personally and glimpse into his world, so when he says something that is difficult to understand and feels against the character we feel we know it has more of a personal effect. It is here that the work is harder to still appreciate. Rosemary’s Baby is a product from Polanski but not of him whereas My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy is a product both of and from Kanye.

To refuse to judge XXXtentacion based on his crimes would be unfair on those that he abused. To celebrate the life of a man who threatened his lover’s life daily would be unfair to those he abused. To parrot Jidenna and mourn XXXtentacion for the loss of what he could become feels better, but by this logic, anyone young enough is someone that we should mourn. With XXXtentacion his music gave us an insight into a troubled young man, a product of and from him. His fans could sympathise with him to an extent as his actions were in line with both the abusive and abused sad man he was on his records. This is not to say that his fans were advocating his abusive behaviour, just that it was excusable to them.

The attempt of this article has never been to apologise for the actions of XXXtentacion. I have however tried to understand why he still maintained support, why his death was so impactful to so many, to the extent where he beat the one-day Spotify streaming record and why it can be argued that a blind eye was turned to the abusive and abhorrent actions of this young man. XXXtentacion’s support was a product of his art, a dark and introspective take on Rap that appealed to many. Support did not wane not just due to ignorance of his actions, but due to his actions reflecting the music he made and to some that being excusable. The success of XXXtentacion is down to both a willingness to embrace an incredibly flawed individual because of their music. However, the extent of these flaws makes it impossible for me to mourn him for who he was and what he achieved.

Maybe XXXtentacion could have been great, but instead of mourning for the death of one already famous artist who had done little to change even in the wake of success I will mourn for all of the other young, primarily black, victims of circumstance that could have gone on to achieve so much were it not for the societal ills that poverty and neglect enhance and create. The death of XXXtentacion should be a wake-up call, to help the abused, to stop the cycle of abuse that exists and not to glorify or sympathise with the abusers but get them the help they need younger. XXXtentacion was killed in a shooting, another victim of both gun crime and the area he grew up in. Understanding XXXtentacion’s success is one thing, learning from his death is another.

I have included, for the sake of record, a link to an article on the reported abuse of XXXtentacion. 

https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/xxxtentacions-reported-victim-details-grim-pattern-of-abuse-in-testimony/

The Grammys yet again prove that sexism is deeper than just the gender of the winner

The winners of last nights Grammys were, as always, the safe pedestrian picks. The headline travesty was Bruno Mars winning Album of the Year against a contingent of albums that are way more culturally and musically relevant than ‘24k Magic.’ Lorde’s exquisite ‘Melodrama’ and Kendrick Lamar’s politically charged and ‘Not-as-good-as-To-Pimp-A-Butterfly-but-still-a-good-album-piece’ of ‘DAMN.’ were specifically robbed. But the key point to take away from these awards is, despite Lady Gaga shouting out the ‘Times Up’ movement and giving Kesha a stage for her genuinely moving performance of ‘Praying’ in the performances, the award-giving proved yet again the intrinsic sexism alive in the music industry today.

At first glance, this may seem like a fallacy when questioning sexism within the Grammys. In the last decade, 6 of the 10 Album of The Year winners have been won by a female solo act or a band with female members. The significance is not with the winners but with the nature of the albums that won. In 2017 Adele beat Beyonce to Album of the Year, a decision so ludicrous that Adele used her acceptance speech to apologise to Beyonce. This decision is symbolic of the nature of sexism within the music industry, that being if you are a female artist you must adhere to a male-written narrative of what a female musician should be.

Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ is reflective of women’s issues. The visual album that accompanied Lemonade made clear the internal struggles that drive the narrative of the album; dealing with cheating, possessiveness, loss and ultimately embracing forgiveness. Although these may not necessarily be healthy, they reflect the truth. In many ways, Lemonade is an album for the empowerment of women, one which towers above to the songbook of love ballads that Adele released in ‘25’. ‘25’ lacks in any sort of clear message and is merely a showcase for Adele’s powerhouse vocals.

This is not to say that the Grammys should be awarded purely on message. When it comes to Adele’s win I am certain that anti-feminist agenda was not the sole reason for Beyonce’s loss.  The ever-eternal spectre of racism surely played a part, as well as Adele’s commercial marketability. However, the feminist angle of Lemonade would have surely played a part in its loss due to its inability to appeal to a jury of elderly white males. An album of grieving ex-lovers is bound to appeal to the male fantasy more than a woman preaching female empowerment and wielding her own power.

Leaving aside Album of the Year, 2018’s Grammys had other signs that sexism plays a part in the awarding of honours.  SZA, the most nominated female in 2018 did not win one of her 5 nominations for CTRL, despite critical acclaim. SZA struggled with the same issue Beyonce did the year previous. Her album did not fit the male-driven narrative. An album of dealing with being the ‘Side-Chick’ and dealing with self-esteem issues was not going to appeal to male academy in the same way the sexiness of ‘Versace on the Floor’ would. As always, the issues of minority women are too much for the Grammys to handle.

The other major sign of sexism was Ed Sheeran winning Best Pop Solo Performance for ‘Shape of You.’ ‘Shape of You’ is not usually a song that would outrage me. Although about the objectification of body shape and being an incredibly creepy song with no musical redemption, ‘Shape of You’ beating out the previously mentioned ‘Praying’ by Kesha was a sign that only marketability matters, even in the face of sexism, regardless of race.

The years of court battles between Kesha and Dr. Luke regarding her claims of sexual assault are addressed emotionally and beautifully in an incredible vocal performance by Kesha. In awarding this performance the Grammys, and music industry had a real chance to back women’s rights. A win for Kesha would have been a massive step in accepting the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ movements, however, marketability won over both artistic ability and political statement. The unfortunate truth is the power of music is snubbed in favour of marketability and safe options.

Maybe I am expecting too much of the Grammys. The awards have been plagued by allegations of racism (Macklemore beating Kendrick Lamar for Good Kid. MAAD City) and putting marketability over any sort of artistic nuance for years. Artists such as Kanye West and Frank Ocean have even gone as far as to boycott the ceremonies. But whilst the Grammys still hold weight to both artists and the public alike more should be done to award both males and females of all cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. Awarding the general misogyny of ‘Shape of You’ in a year where massive movement was made by women in standing up against sexual assault will be looked back on unfavorably. But for now, it is better to ignore the winners of the Grammys and focus on the movements of the artists themselves. Kesha and Kendrick both pulled out politically charged performances which gave hope despite the awards themselves, it is this hope that creates the hope that one-day artistry will prevail over sexism, racism, and discrimination.

Live Review: Mount Eerie

Before going to see Mount Eerie, the current name of the recording project of Phil Elverum, play songs from ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ live I would have recommended the album to almost anyone. I would have called it my ‘Album of the Year’ in that pandering way people do, trying to say that one album can possibly be the ‘best.’ After seeing these songs played live and watching the man who wrote them perform them I cannot say either of these things. In fact, I’m not sure if this is an album that is meant to be listened to.

The setting was, in a first for me, a church. I waited outside on the steps of St. John’s on Bethnal Green, alone, under a concrete crucifix. A church seemed like a strange place for a gig. Usually, it is a bar, a pub or somewhere else where there is usually live music and not congregations and knitted pew seats. In retrospect, and with the benefit of hindsight, it was a perfect place for this particular event, as I would hasten to call it a gig after experiencing it. Churches, and any place of worship, command respect, you can be an atheist or another religion, but a church has a deep and spiritual meaning to somebody. From the words in the songs played by Phil, I don’t think he is religious, but I think there was a spiritual significance to him playing in a church. Just not one I can put my finger on.

Waiting for the doors to open I was excited. As I have previously mentioned on this blog I found ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ to be an incredibly moving piece of work, and the thought of seeing these songs played live was something I was interested in seeing. As the doors opened and I shuffled through to the right of me was Elverum himself selling his merchandise and albums. Someone asks him if he wants a drink and he says he will have a red berry tea. I asked him if he had any copies of ‘The Glow pt.2’ but he didn’t so settle on a copy of ‘Mount Eerie.’ He didn’t have any change for my £20 so I told him not to worry.

I sit down in a church pew. There is a long wait as the rest of the crowd make their way in, buy their albums and, inexplicably given the venue and the tone of the evening, buy their beer and wine. The wait is almost an hour but eventually, the lights darken, and Phil walks directly down the aisle. He places down his tea, picks up his guitar and launches into ‘Real Death’ a song that starts with the line ‘Death is Real.’

It was only throughout this performance that I realised how real death could be, looking at the man who had written songs that had touched me so much struggle to make it through singing them. I realised that these songs aren’t meant for me, they are for Phil, they are for his own personal healing process. Any attempt I make at finding personal meaning in these songs is moot. This is a man mourning a loss that hopefully, I will never have to face. A man who is dealing with a reality he could never have seen coming. A man trying to make as much sense of a senseless world as he can.

The experience is mesmerising but not necessarily enjoyable. Watching Phil pour out his heart, sing with nothing but unrefined and pure emotion is possibly the most moving experience I have ever had. But it feels like I shouldn’t be there. Phil put it best as before he played his last song he thanked the audience for coming to ‘whatever this is’ and stated that he wouldn’t be playing these songs again as hopefully there would be a future with different, less heavy material coming from him.

The new material he did play seemed to be an extension, and in many ways, a reaction, to ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ new songs dealt with the continuation of his mourning of Genevieve, with a particularly haunting thematic verse about fragments of bone. What stuck with me the most, however, was the song about being flown to a desert festival to play these songs. It struck me the absurdity of what was happening, that this art that had touched people had taken on a life of its own. People enjoyed and respected the album and the songs but the whole scenario was strange. Part of me felt voyeuristic, that I was bathing in the misery of another human being for even listening to ‘A Crow Looked at Me.’ I felt awful for being there expecting Phil to sing these songs and for expecting some sort of feeling from another person’s grief. But it was an experience I will never forget and in some ways inspiring. It is inspirational that someone can carry on to any extent after the events that became Phil occurred. Fighting through songs so raw, emotional and autobiographical that it must be difficult reliving these memories on a stage with an audience looking at you.

As Phil played the last song he walked back down the aisle and sat at the merch booth. The lights went up and people started to leave. As I left I nudged him on the shoulder and thanked him. I’m not sure if this was appropriate or what I was meant to do but I felt the need to thank him for doing what he just did. For giving a room full of people what they had expected and thought they wanted, even though it was evidently difficult for him to do so. He thanked me back, I can speculate as to why, but for whatever reason he did, I don’t feel like he needed to.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ will be put on the end of year lists. It will be ranked against other albums and placed accordingly because that is what the public wants and will expect. When I first listened to this album I gave it a rating in my head, but in all honesty, that rating is meaningless. Anything I could write about the album is meaningless. Watching Phil play, hearing these songs played live, it was apparent that the meaning this album has is Phil’s and Phil’s alone. His musings on life, finding meaning in life and such are interesting and insightful, but this album and these songs are meant for him. I hope that in the future Phil can come out with songs that he can play with more ease. I hope he has the future that he wants and deserves.

Album Review: Arcade Fire – Everything Now

What is the musical direction you take when your previous albums are all critically acclaimed classics? Most bands would not go in a direction where the lead single plays like a combination of ABBA and Rusted Root’s ‘Send Me on My Way.’ Then again, most bands wouldn’t create a fictional company that are intent on trying to maximise the band’s marketing potential after signing a 360-degree contract. This surreal backdrop to Arcade Fire’s fifth studio album ‘Everything Now’ has resulted in an insane, yet enjoyable, album roll out campaign, mixing the bands new singles with fake news articles and everything else in between.

But regardless of the information overload presented by the Everything Now Corporation, what matters the most is the new songs. The lead single Everything Now is pretty indicative of the direction the band have taken, they have fully embraced the dance vibes that they flirted with on Reflektor. Everything Now seems destined to be a set list staple, combining a magnificent pygmy flute (sampled from Francis Bebey’s ‘The Coffee Cola Song) with a sing along chorus which seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of the self-described ‘Millennial Whoop’ from ‘Wake Up.’ It does not quite reach the emotional peaks of Wake Up, but it is a solid single.

Three other singles also debuted before the album release, Creature Comfort, Signs of Life and Electric Blue. Creature Comfort is a deceptively and deliciously dark piece of death disco. With lyrics alluding to suicide and the band’s own ability to dwell on death and make depressing music. The song is a gem and amongst the best the band have made in their last couple of albums. Signs of Life doesn’t quite live up to the previous singles, but is pretty groovy and a decent song, but nothing special. Electric Blue is excellent, showboating Regine Chassagne’s vocals to the highest note they can possibly reach. The song plays like the 80’s disco that forms the backbone of the album, but with the falsetto vocals of Regine pushing the song to another level. It is moody and one of the highlights of the album.

Infinite Content/Infinite_Content is an interesting idea, two songs which use the same repetitive lyrics about being ‘Infinitely content’ with infinite content. This is the most direct example of one of the overarching themes of Everything Now, tackling with living in the information age. The idea of accessibility and availability of everything are consistently questioned throughout the album, asking the questions about consumerism that the band asked in the promotional campaign. In an age in which technological advances mean that almost anything and anyone is accessible from anywhere the band hit on a cultural nerve about technological progress that is often ignored.

Ultimately the rest of the album can be split into two parts, before the Infinite Content/Infinite_Content duo and after. The two non-singles before that stopgap, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Chemistry’ are pretty good, Chemistry sounding like the most disco inspired 60’s rock song put to record and Peter Pan being an interesting take on morality. I predict neither of these songs will be future tour staples for the band, but much like ‘Joan of Arc’ on Reflektor, these are solid album tracks that work well. The same can be said of Good God Damn, a moody and downbeat song which seems to allude to the Mormon upbringing of Win and Will Butler and has the existential themes that are common in Arcade Fire’s music.

The closing straight of Everything Now is where it flourishes. ‘Put Your Money on Me’ sounds directly out the Depeche Mode playbook however has the signature Arcade Fire touches that make it their version of Synth-pop. It is yet another atmospheric and lyrically dark song, but with playful synth lines. It is excellent and the purest embrace of the synthesiser that Arcade Fire have produced.

However, by far the best song on the album, ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ is the perfect penultimate song. A beautifully emotional song (That I am unafraid to admit made me cry the first time I heard it). I feel like any description I write cannot do this song justice. It is absolutely fantastic.

In the end, Everything Now will have its detractors. People will argue that it is too ‘Pop’, that Arcade Fire shouldn’t do Disco and go back to their Funeral, Neon Bible or The Suburbs sound. Like any good band, Arcade Fire continue to innovate their sound, they push the boundaries of what their fans expect and what they think they want. Everything Now is by no means a perfect album, it can get slightly repetitive at points and some songs are not ones that I can see myself playing outside of the context of the album. But it has something to say, it has a concept behind it, it is a band having fun and playing the music they want to play.

A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie: Thoughts and Feelings

I have wanted to write about music for a while but I know literally nothing about music theory. It makes it quite difficult when writing, I can’t talk about the technicalities of music because to me music has always been about the effect it has upon me. To me the best albums and music have a profound effect on me that I can’t necessarily articulate. They make me feel emotions and take me to the place the artist was when writing them, and that is hard to put into words.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ by Mount Eerie is a peculiar case. I cannot think of another album that has ever made me feel as strongly as this one has. I cannot relate to the death of a spouse; I have never been put into that horrific situation. For Phil Elverum his wife, Genevieve, died from cancer. This loss is the sole story of ‘A Crow Looked at Me’, a beautiful and haunting ode to love, and a diary of longing and loneliness.

I feel insensitive being able to relate to this album. I have never felt the extreme loss that Phil has, but I have lost. I have felt longing for something or someone that no longer exists. I have had to deal with, however on a much more insignificant scale, not being able to be with people I love. In many ways, this album being deeply personal makes it more relatable. I do not have the same stories Phil has, but I have stories of things that I miss. I can relate to him when he talks about thinking people want him to stop talking about Genevieve, as I can relate to my thoughts about people wishing I would shut up about the things and people I miss.

When looking at others thoughts on this album I have found many to say that it was an uncomfortable listen. I do not doubt this for one moment. It is certainly not an album that can be put on for background listening. It demands, and deserves, full unrivalled attention. There is not really any light that shines through this album, it is not hopeful, it is just a man trying to deal with something that fractured his world and outlook on life and nature. However, I have not found it, as some claim it to be, exploitive of Phil. There is a level of cathartic relief from sharing how you feel. I believe Phil wanted this out in the world. He wanted people to see the effect that this had on him. More than anything however I believe he wanted the world to know how much he loves Genevieve.

There is however, one solitary ray of light in this dark record and that is love. Although it is the tale of a relationship that perished too soon there is so much love and emotion devoted to Genevieve throughout the runtime of this record. The album, although about his struggle with loss, shows the absolute love and devotion that Phil had for Genevieve. One can only assume that the feeling was mutual. The love between them is what illuminates this record. It makes the loss so much more difficult to accept, but it is also what makes this album exist in the first place.

Ultimately ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is probably not for everyone. As beautiful as it is it is very dark and is not an uplifting listen. It is also musically sparse, there is not much instrumentation on this and even then, it is used sparingly. However, as an experience, it is one that has had an impact since I first listened to it. It is one that in many ways confuses me. Part of me hopes I will never feel the strength of emotion that Phil describes throughout this album. The other part of me hopes that one day I can meet someone that I love as much as Phil loves Genevieve, that although it may hurt to lose them, that love having been worthwhile.

 

Albums I Liked This Year (2018)

I meant to write a mid-year one of these, but in all honesty I kind of forgot and now it is the end of the year. As far as my tastes are concerned 2018 has been fantastic for music, some of my favourite artists have returned with fantastic albums and I have discovered some new great ones too. I think numbering a list like this is completely pointless, I am comparing incredibly diverse albums and depending on how I am feeling any of these could be my favourite one day and not even make the list the next. A few years ago, when I was thinking about blogging my work, I did some arbitrary awards thing which I am going to revive because it allows me to explain why each album is great at what it is setting out to do.

Best Album at explaining pretty much every emotion I have under the sun

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

I fucking love Kacey. There is a cutting honesty to her lyrics that is refreshing and needed, especially in the current socio-political climate. Golden Hour marks a departure of sorts in that the lyricism is a lot less intricate and witty. However, what this album loses in wit it makes up for in emotional punch. Rainbow is the best at this, working as a beautiful ode to being yourself and accepting yourself for who you are, even when you don’t personally feel this way. Space Cowboy is one of the best break up songs of the year, ‘Night Shift’ just beats it in my opinion, dealing with the slow but painful realisation that a relationship just isn’t working for you partner and that, for their sake, it needs to end. But there is a joyousness to this album as well. The Disco Country (Is that even a thing?) of ‘High Horse’ is absolutely fantastic and the ode to her mother on ‘Mother’ is a beautiful take on the circularity of time.

Best Album at juggling being both a great political work and also a super fun and funky album

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

I genuinely believe that Janelle Monae is one of the best artists of this generation. Every album and track she has ever released has been consistently great, and in some cases absolutely exceptional. The two lead singles from this album, ‘Django Jane’ and ‘Make Me Feel’ are only a taster of the versatility of this album. The Madonna-esque spoken word parts on ‘Screwed’, the sexiness of the hook on ‘Take a Byte’ this album is nothing if not varied. However, for me at least, the crown jewel of this album is ‘Americans’, Monae’s cutting yet loving ode to her country. By reclaiming her own patriotism and what she believes it to be an ‘American’ Monae destroys the toxic ‘patriotism’ of Trump and his ilk.

Best Album at making me feel like I am asleep even though I am awake but in a good way

Hatchie – Sugar and Spice

I really love this project. Hatchie’s blend of dream pop feels almost acoustic at points and yet sonically I feel like I am in some beautiful hazy dream. Lyrically it’s catchy and calming with an innocence to the lyricism. I don’t really know what to write about this one, I’ve listened to it so many times. I guess it is just comforting.

Best Album at making me want to dance erratically like someone who can’t dance:

Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People

This album is fucking odd. It feels like someone is taking the piss but at the same time making some of the most joyous pop music I have heard in a while. A continuous theme to most of my picks this year is a sense of irony and nothing conveys that better than ‘COOL Party’ an ode to and from the atypical ‘Cool Kids.’ This is an album which is fun before anything else, and in a year of yet more political and social despair sometimes it is nice to just listen to something like this and have fun.

Best Album from someone who I really was not expecting to make a genuinely fantastic album but actually made a genuinely fantastic album:

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

I would never have thought that Ariana Grande would make one of my favourite albums of the year but here we are. ‘no tears left to cry’ is undoubtedly one of the songs of the year, ‘the light is coming’ is a surprisingly experimental track for a mainstream pop album. But these are just the singles, the ‘blazed’ is a fantastic pseudo opener and the almost annoying braggadocios of ‘successful’ is frustratingly catchy. If Grande’s upcoming EP builds on this and ‘thank u, next’ then will it even be a surprise if it is fantastic?

Best Album from last year that I only heard this year:

Alex Cameron – Forced Witness

This might end up being one of my favourite albums of the decade. Forced Witness is probably the album that I have listened to the most this year and I am still unsure if it is sincere or not. Cameron’s snide and sniping take on toxic masculinity works as he takes on the role of the most disgusting, and yet common, traits of modern masculinity. There is a bleak and dark humour to this record that not many can make work, and yet when it all feels like it might be getting too much Roy Malloy plays a bit of sax.

Best Album at having a completely devastating opener and being relatively depressing for the whole album but being raw and beautiful.

Lucy Dacus – Historian

I’ll admit it, the majority of my love for this album comes from the opener ‘Night Shift.’ When I first heard this song it broke me, it is the best break up song I think I have ever heard. Dacus paints a devastating picture of avoidance and pain that is relatable and yet haunting. The rest of the album is great, the build on ‘The Shell’ to a soaring crescendo is a highlight and the album does tail off at the end, but the high points of this album are so impressive that It is one of my favourites of the year.

Best album that I picked up on a whim on Record Store Day because I thought it was something else and it ended up being a strange industrial album with sex sounds.

Colour Ciimaxxx – Colour Climaxxx  

So, I thought this was going to be 70’s porn music which to me is that stereotypical funky stuff that is usually pretty good. Having a whole album of it would have been good for instrumental background music. Instead what I got was an industrial tinged piece of insanity that actually uses sounds from pornography. There is something incredibly interesting about it, there are sounds from bestiality which are unsettling. It’s not something I listen too often, but it is a cool curio.

Best Album that is jazz and doesn’t feel like I have to put aside most of a day to listen to.

Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile

Kamasi Washington released an album this year and as much as I love all of his works it feels like I have to dedicate time to listen to them, and as such I don’t come back to them too often. Sons of Kemet on the other hand have made an album which is something I can listen to in smaller bursts. This feels like a Jazz album for Brexit Britain. Not only in the lyrics on the stand out first track ‘My Queen is Ada Eastman’ but through the urban laced jazz that is so beautifully constructed by Sons of Kemet.

Best Album of being the clichéd crying on the dancefloor

Robyn – Honey

It has taken me almost an entire other decade to realise it, but ‘Dancing on my Own’ is probably the best pop song since the turn of the millennium. There is nothing out there that is as catchy, moody and devastating as this one song. The return of Robyn on Honey shows that she can still create incredible pop. ‘Missing U’ is a brilliant return to what Robyn does best, depressing pop music about how much you miss someone. Typecasting Robyn as a depressing pop songstress would be unfair. ‘Ever Again’ is a much happier song that declares ‘I’m only going to sing about love ever again.’

Best Album from the Best Film of the year

Cast of Mamma Mia 2 – Mamma Mia 2

Mamma Mia 2 is the best film ever made. I cried, I laughed, I sang. It has Piers Brosnan singing SOS in a depressed reprise. It is a masterpiece. The soundtrack is also fantastic. An eccentric mix of people who can sing and can’t sing Mamma Mia 2 is exactly what I want from an album. I want the people singing to be having a great time. I want it to be as camp as anything. I basically want this.

Best Album I listened to once

Mount Eerie – Now Only

I’m not going to write much about this one. It’s spectacular but it takes me to mental places I don’t really want to go to. One of the best of the year, but more as a piece of art than something to listen to.

Honourable Awards

(Albums that I loved but didn’t want to write about)

Best Album about sucking dick

CupcakKe – Ephorize

Best Album that is great but isn’t as good as her last one so I’m not really sure why critics are going mental for it in a way they weren’t about the last one

Mitski – Be the Cowboy

Best Album from someone with a trash stage name

Soccer Mommy – Clean

Best Album which is incredible seeing as how young they are

Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

Best Album from someone who I loved as a feature artist and their debut is even better

Kali Uchis – Isolation

Best Album to come from that Kanye Wyoming thing

Pusha T – Daytona  

Best Album that came out near the start of the year so I almost forgot about it

US Girls – In A Poem Untitled

Final Thoughts

This time next year I will probably be sitting here and thinking, if I had listened to that ‘Low’ or ‘Julia Holter’ album a bit more I would have loved to write about it. But that is the nature of modern music, there is so much out there and so much good stuff. The albums I’ve listed here aren’t comprehensive of what I have listened to this year, otherwise there would be a lot of the Twin Peaks soundtrack and Disco/Funk/Soul stuff. But it is an idea of what new music I listened to this year, what I loved and what really stuck with me. There is so much good music these days that this list will probably be defunct within a month. But ultimately 2018 was super good and I got to see Janelle live again which is pretty much all that matters.

Are we on the brink of a dystopian future?

It seems almost too obvious to compare the current global climate to any dystopian fiction. 1984, the most famous example of dystopia, gave us the phrase ‘Doublespeak’ which is essentially dismissing unfavourable reporting as ‘Fake News’ but put a little more eloquently. But the recent TV adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood shows that maybe we should be taking the warnings of dystopian fiction a little more seriously, however impossible the futures they show may seem.

At first, Atwood’s novel may seem completely implausible. The book relies on a fertility crisis and a destruction of the democratic process in the united states, through force, that are beyond comprehension in a country that is supposedly the epitome of democracy and capitalism, The USA. Having a state that has regressed to the extreme side of the Puritan values that the USA was built upon seems impossible, especially when the whole point of the second amendment is to enable the population to revolt against such tyranny and threats to democracy. With the USA seeing itself in the last century as harbingers of democracy, the idea that tyranny could manufacture itself in ‘The Land of the Free’ is shocking.

The current state of the USA is primarily one of division. Trump, a president who feeds both off and into this division, who for the purpose of winning the presidency cloaked himself in the veil of the Republican Party. The way that the Republican Party operate is to argue that the USA is constantly under attack from a morally corrupt, liberal group. They argue that the Democratic party want to erode values that their supporter base holds dear, fundamentally these are values based on Christianity. Broadly, Republicans are against abortion and adhere to the morals of ‘The Christian Right’ embracing a more fundamentalist branch of Christianity than the increasingly moderate flavour that is embraced by more liberal Christians.

‘The Sons of Jacob’ in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ come to power under the guise of religion. The doctrine that they embrace is based upon passages from the Bible, directly using the text for their interpretation. The parallels I am trying to draw are obvious, that Trump’s regime could get away with anything and still have the support of ‘The Christian Right’ as long as it could be biblically justified, which seeing as the bible is an ancient book full of contradictory statements and vague passages, is surprisingly easy. If the government wanted to completely outlaw eating shellfish, then they could as they are directly forbidden in the bible.

But this is not just a dismissal of religion, primarily the major world religions try and encourage people to be well rounded and respectful. It is, however, a warning of the dangers of religion as a tool. The fact that a multiple divorcee and man who has broken so many values in the years before his radicalisation to a despot can be so warmly embraced by a community claiming Christian values is disturbing. It indicates that those who claim to be in the religious right do not really care about the ‘religious’ aspect and care more about their own beliefs, ones that have a tenuous footing in religion.

I suspect the reason why ‘The Religious Right’ foolheartedly follow the Republican Party is due to the two-party system in the USA. With no viable alternative to Trump, then backing the candidate and party which adheres to the values of the right is their only option, as hypocritical as it may seem.

Feeding into the bipartisan model of US Politics is the key to understanding how a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ like reality could take foot in the USA. Tradition states that it was Philip of Macedonia who coined the term ‘Divide and Rule’, a term that has meanings both literal and interpretive but the idea of ideologically dividing a population in order to consolidate your rule is one straight out of the fascist’s handbook. The divisions that Trump is creating are causing a winning mentality, he even uses the word, in which his supporters feel like they are the winners and his opponents are the losers, regardless of the actual consequences for themselves. It even results in some members of his supporter base calling for fascism and supporting Trump in his attempts to clamour more power as it is the opposite of what his opponents want.

Offred, the protagonist from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is essentially a birthing tool. She is systematically raped in the name of religion and it is justified by ‘The Sons of Jacob’ through religious text. In the current USA, there is no need for the justification through text, all that is needed is the word of Trump that is parroted by Fox News and not challenged by the majority of the Republican Party. Fascism could take hold, not through religious justification, but through people embracing their liberties being taken away. Serena Joy, in the TV series, helps write the legislation that takes away her own rights. She does this in the view that what she is doing is right, because she perceives the status quo as doing as wrong, rather than a reality somewhere in the middle.

Divisions in the political landscape are nothing new. The Democrats and Republicans have always had massive differences in political belief. But divisions being embraced by a president are relatively new. Usually, a president looks to unite a country, but with Trump’s victim mentality and embracing of far-right rhetoric and morals on an unprecedented scale in the modern United States, he is making no attempts to unify, and with his track record on women and race that would be impossible under his leadership anyway. His very election was symptomatic of a division, but he has further added a wedge to that very division.

The chances of Handmaids ever existing in the USA are minimal the idea of women’s rights being eroded under the guise of religion and fascism, however, is not. The guise of religion and a bipartisan political system which encourages winners and losers and mindless following of media and figureheads is a dangerous combination. It is a pessimistic view, that people would rather have the belief that they are winning over their own civil liberties, but Trump’s election proved that some people will willingly turn a blind eye if it helps soothe their neuroses. It is a scary thought that fascism could plant itself in democratic countries, but not one without reason.

Album Review: Nick Knowles – Every Kinda People

You would be forgiven for thinking that Taylor Swift’s ‘reputation’ was the biggest album to release on the 10th of November. Sure, her face may be plastered on the side of UPS trucks and there may have been a lot more media coverage, but all of this pales in comparison to the tour de force of an album that is DIY SOS Superstar Nick Knowles ‘Every Kinda People.’

Cynics may call this an uninspired cash grab, an attempt of building off of the success of Bradley Walsh’s album last year but, obviously, they would be wrong. Nick, or Knowlsey as he will be referred to from this point forward, had previously signed a record deal but decided to turn it down in order to focus on his television presenting. In many ways it is unfortunate that his musical talent has laid dormant for all these years, however I believe that is a small price to pay for TV such as ‘Nick Knowles Original Features.’

This obviously a project oozing with passion, featuring no original songs but instead a collection of Knowlsey’s favourite tracks to which Knowlsey adds his own unique spin. The highlight is Knowlsey’s version of the Barry White classic ‘You’re The First, My Last, My Everything.’ Knowlsey’s raw voice makes sure every word is meant and, as the listener, you can’t help but feel Knowlsey really feels this way about you personally. This is the version of this song that Barry White wishes he had written, not relying on backing singers and harmonies. It is an emotional, haunting experience.

Knowlsey is not contempt with having just one future classic on his hands. Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ is one of my personal favourite songs of all time, a gorgeous yet cold track that stirs up every emotion in my body, whilst using the backdrop of the festive season to reflect the loneliness and depression that can be felt. Knowlsey breathes fresh life into this sombre song using his trademark growl to give his own, somehow more poignant, take on one of Joni’s best songs.

His take on ‘Your Body Is A Wonderland’ could be taken for having a double meaning, with the line ‘I’ll use my hands’ possibly referring to his most known role of handyman on DIY SOS. But Knowlsey uses his hands with great effect all throughout this album with them playing Guitar. Knowlsey plays with ease making the guitar an extension of his persona, warm, caring and loving.

Adele had made ‘Make You Feel My Love’ her own song. However, Knowlsey obviously has intentions of challenging for her crown with his own version adding formidable competition to both her and the original composer Bob Dylan. Much like every song on this album, Knowlsey makes you feel the emotions that the lyrics imply.

Ultimately ‘Every Kinda People’ is a modern masterpiece. A truly passionate and daring listen that showcases the beauty of Knowlsey’s guitar playing and voice. It is a shame that this will ultimately be compared to the lesser efforts of the likes of Martine McCutcheon, Bradley Walsh and Jason Manford. Knowlsey is an superb singer and guitarist and ‘Every Kinda People’ is hopefully just the beginning of the musical career of this modern day renaissance man.

 

Apologising for how much I have dismissed Jeremy Corbyn

I will be the first to admit that were it not for a snap General Election being called I would not be apologising. However, in these uncertain and constantly changing times it is only fair that when my mind changes I admit to it and apologise.

I am not apologising for what I consider to be bad leadership. I am still uncertain of Corbyn’s credibility as a Prime Minister. But what I do apologise for is buying into the media narrative of him being a bad leader. Rather than focusing on the faults in the leadership of the opposition I bought into their own scapegoat of his leadership failing’s rather than May’s. It has become apparent through Theresa May’s refusal to debate you on television that neither of the party leaders are classically brilliant leaders. A leader should be willing and ready to debate at any opportunity. They should not have to selectively filter the questions they are asked at their own press events. Corbyn has not done either of these things, unlike the incumbent Prime Minister and, to me at least, that shows better leadership than we are led to believe we currently have.

I must also commend Corbyn and the Labour Party for the policy decisions which you and your party have put forth. For the first time in my living memory the public are being a given a real choice. It is not a choice between austerity and austerity-lite but a truly different alternative. There is nationalising the railways and royal mail, policies that the public are heavily in favour when polled purely on standalone issues. The Labour manifesto sets out real and tangible ways of saving the NHS and the failing school system. As an aside I must add that I find it comical that so many people who hold the NHS dear are the ones that oppose the principles of socialism on which it was based. Corbyn’s policies may be socialistic and in an incredibly right wing political climate may be too much for the public to stomach after years of increasingly right wing government, but the whole idea that there is a credible and real alternative makes me more excited to vote than I have been before in my adult life time.

I am cautiously optimistic about this election. I am not expecting a win, but any shift of the Overton Window would be a step in the right direction. Part of me would be happy to see the Tories win this election, to watch them struggle with the mess that they have created of Brexit. To watch as the people who have turned to the Tories in the wake of Brexit realise that they have nothing in common with the party other than a commitment to reducing immigration realise they have voted to destroy the NHS and schooling they hold dear. (I do have to point out here that immigration targets by the Tories have never been met.) However, I realise that this election is important to win as five more years of Tory rule could ultimately destroy the NHS as we know it

Although you have the option of voting you do not have to use this. I say this as if you believe both leaders to be equally bad and are not inspired to vote for either or do not feel involved in politics enough to the point of being able to decide then why do so. Ultimately if you are unsure but voting based on the strong and stable mantra without looking at policies or anything else that matters then you could be voting for something that you don’t believe in, that has just been spun in a way to make you agreeable to it. Elections are crucial and people should vote, but if you don’t know what you are voting for then you could be a turkey voting for Christmas.