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/

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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.

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: 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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

UKIP are not the voice of Brexit Britain however much they want to be

One of the biggest fallacies in Brexit Britain comes from UKIP. They seem to reason that the UK voted in favour of what UKIP has as their vision of the United Kingdom. They seem to think that despite only having 12.6% of the popular vote in 2015, that the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union was a resounding acceptance of UKIP beliefs and mantras. Unfortunately for UKIP, as Labour holding onto Stoke-on-Trent central proves, the Brexit vote was not out of support for the likes of Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall but out of dismay with the status quo. Much more of a protest vote against the current way of governing than a movement towards what UKIP want.

Britain voting to leave the EU has left what was essentially a single issue party, the clue is in the name here, looking and sounding a little bit lost. With the populist Nigel Farage an ever looming presence, any other leader struggles to emerge from his shadow in part because he seems reluctant to let them. Enter Paul Nuttall, a man who has tried every trick in the book to appeal to the masses, and tried to claim every lie regardless of how audacious and dark it may be. Reaching the lows of lying about losing close friends in the Hillsborough disaster was probably not too much of a jump for a man who was content in lying to the masses about the perks of Brexit.

With Stoke, Nuttall out his neck on the line as party leader in order to try and win a first seat for UKIP. Ultimately he failed, despite running a hideous campaign in which he tried to ride on the coat tails of the Brexit result. Claiming that a Corbyn lead Labour would try to keep us in the EU was a ridiculous accusation, not least because Corbyn has been ineffective in battling the May lead Brexit and seems happy to leave the EU himself. But more importantly this proved one thing, that Brexit is not as important to the British people as UKIP would have wanted to, and hoped, to believe.

The issue with a single issue party is that people know you have one primary concern and belief and the others are somehow interconnected but not as important. With UKIP this means that independence from the EU was the main concern and the implications this had on economics and immigration were secondary but needless to say would be beneficial in the eyes of UKIP. However, once the party name is achieved then what? Nationalism and appealing to patriotism is all well and good, but UKIP will be forever associated with UK independence but never seen as the reason for it.

With this in mind it looks likely we will see the relative demise of UKIP. Their role is done, they have won the argument they wanted to win and now are the manifestation of the Trump supporter in the UK. They could still mobilise, they could look to capitalise on Brexit and set themselves apart from Labour and the Tories. They could hoover up the support of the disenfranchised Labour supporter who is fed up of Corbyn and has a nationalistic streak. However, this is not what they are doing, instead they are claiming a victory that was won by people outside of their party as their own and claiming to be the voice of Brexit Britain in doing so. They never were and they never will be.

Brexit may mean Brexit, but Brexit doesn’t mean May’s Brexit

It has been a week where what the public actually voted for in the EU referendum was finally, albeit slightly, revealed through Theresa May’s 12 point Brexit plan. Finally, we have some level of understanding of what a ‘Red, White and Blue Brexit’ signifies. These twelve points, which I will not discuss in detail here as it is not the purpose of my writing, are the backbone of what May hopes to achieve through her enacting of article 50 and the leaving of the European Union. But in summary, it makes Britain defy all laws of economics and sociology and become a centre of free trade.

However, what caught my eye was that, in spite of her pathetic attempts to stop it, May has agreed to let parliament vote on this issue. Democratically elected representatives will actually get a say on what constitutes such issues such as national sovereignty and will be allowed to debate the Brexit strategy. Despite the wishes of at least 48% of the nation there will be, and probably should not be, a repeal of the plebiscite that pushed the UK into Brexit, but a debate in parliament has the benefit of vetting the leaving plan and strategy. It allows parliament to check that this strategy does work in the UK’s favour, to the best of its ability.

With this in mind, what strikes me as odd is the complete nonchalance shown by Jeremy Corbyn by enacting the party whip in making sure his MPs vote in favour of the Article 50 trigger. By saying this Corbyn is essentially saying that what the Conservative government wants to happen in regards to Brexit will happen. Corbyn is making his MPs neglect their own constituents, the members of his party who mainly voted in favour of Remain and those people who may not oppose Brexit as an idea, but reject Theresa May’s vision of Brexit.

But to me, this is synonymous of the problems that embody Corbyn as the leader of the opposition. In the wake of Brexit, the Conservative party was in disarray, the Prime Minister had to step down and there was chaos. As much as the coup within the Labour Party did not help (and no it was not just the work of ‘Blairites’ and ‘Red Tories’ there are legitimate reasons from socialists such as myself why they had lost faith in Corbyn) absolutely no effort was made to try and make political gains from the self-destruction of the Conservatives, instead Labour self-destructed too and has not rebuilt at all in the same way the Conservatives have managed to. Corbyn cemented himself as the leader, but he has done little to actually oppose.

The media are partly to blame, as always, it is hard for Corbyn to get good press when he levels himself as someone who opposes the press. But press is not the issue, as we inhabit the world in which people are increasingly accessing news that only agrees with their opinion, not once have I seen Corbyn actually pressure the Government. Brexit would be a perfect time to state what he would do differently, how a Labour Government would handle Brexit. To oppose Article 50 in the commons, not because he wants to vote against the people, but to show the people that he does not agree with May’s Brexit. That he wants a Brexit that works for the people, rather than letting Phillip Hammond speculate that Britain may become a tax haven for the wealthy.

If Corbyn so drastically wants a rebrand to a more populist image, a man of the people for the people, then he should start listening to the people because at the moment people are rejecting him. If he wants to ‘respect the decision of the British People’ then he should also start respecting the opinion polls of the British people that put him behind Theresa May. That show a growing Liberal Democrat party whose leader is actually making and pushing the point of opposing Brexit.

There is cause for hope, as much as the dreaded rise of the far right is occurring through candidates such as Trump and Le Pen, the success of Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic primaries and Benoit Hamon recently surging in the polls in France shows that maybe it is dramatic change that people want rather than Fascism and Right Wing intolerance. Corbyn surged to Labour Party leadership because of these reasons. But unlike the aforementioned candidates, Corbyn has not been able to get his message out to outside of his own party. The issue is not so much what he stands for, but getting his message across.

Opposing Article 50 being triggered would show his leadership skills. It would send a message the Media could not ignore and one that would appeal to about 48% of the nation. In a world that is looking for alternatives, it is time that Labour, and by extension Corbyn, show the UK that Brexit can mean Brexit, but it does not mean May’s Brexit.