Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Album of the Year - 2014

Just about any year he releases an album, David Eugene Edwards puts himself in contention for the most interesting, inventive music of the year.  It's what he does -- there is no one like him, not even within the lilliputian subgenre of Gothic Americana, and certainly no one who flirts with the indie rock mainstream the way he does.

But this year was special.  Refactory Obdurate is some of his best work ever, and after a career like his, that's saying something.  It's his probably his heaviest and darkest album - we haven't heard guitars roar like this since Secret South, and both 'Salome' and 'Obdurate Obscura' are haunting even compared to his back catalog.  It's also his most hook-filled and accessible, probably.  These are some catchy tunes.  Terrifying, sure, but eminently hummable.  The rhythm section gives the songs a punch they lacked on his earlier albums, and Edward's voice has only grown in power of the years -- here he whispers, sings, and barks like Michael Jira.  Every track here is at least very, very good, from the straightforward 'My Good Shepherd'* to the atmospheric 'El-Bow' to the metal riffs of 'Hiss'.  And the best tracks - 'Salome,' 'Obdurate Obscura', 'Corsicana Clip' - are transcendent.

I should have perhaps posted this earlier, in advent, because to me this is advent music.  It's full of eschatological dread and hope, not unlike the words of Jesus himself.  If you can follow half of the biblical allusions - to martyrdom ('only one man stood up for Stephen'), the crucifixion ('if you release this man, you are no friend to caesar') - you can get an event better sense of the depth here.  This is a sinister, beautiful, sacred album. 

And so it beats out a lot of other great music from other great musicians (Swans, Agalloch, At the Gates, Pallbearer, and many more) to make it the best album of the year, in my estimation.

*(which would be a Christian radio hit in a just world, but alas, the sun shines on the talented and the talentless alike)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jack Aubrey Reviews Indie Rock Songs

"The Mariners Revenge Song" by the Demberists.
JA: I don't know who these decemberists are but they are no seamen.  Only a lubber would be caught up like that and eaten by a whale
JA: Anyway, Stephen, you know more about these reptiles than I. You can't live in the belly of a whale, much less murder a man for acting the scrub to your mother, can you?
SM: Jesus Mary and Joseph! They're not reptiles, Jack.
JA: They're cold and slimy. Surely that is a reptile, Stephen.
SM: -fumes-  -Plays a bit on his cello-
JA: (worried) Well you can't live inside a whale's stomach, can you, Stephen?
SM: -Sighs-  I should think not.  They are more like bags then caves, really.  So one could not murder any scrubs whilst inside of one.  And all the specimens that I am aware of have throats far too narrow to swallow a man whole.
JA:  There was the Jonah, though.  The first Jonah Cove, with the rum run of luck.  What about him?
SM: It stands to reason, then, that that was a miraculous whale, with a capacious gullet and a voluminous gut.
JA:  Well then, I suppose that settles it.  No seamen, and ignorant of whales as well.  Shall we play the Boccharini?

"Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident" by the Mountain Goats
JA: This...Darnielle fellow seems like a bit of a scrub, doesn't he?  I mean, if a woman should, well, you know, undo one's breeches a privy.  Well one should at least thank the lady for her kindness, and not write a song about it.
SM: You are the soul of gallantry, Jack.
JA: I don't see what's so diverting.  I just think that a gentlemen aughtn't tell the world of such things, let alone insult the lady by telling everyone he was thinking of another woman.  It is very badly done, Steven.  What's Marduk, anyway?
SM: The god of Babylon, I believe.
JA: Awfully odd thing to have embroidered on your chemise, ain't it?
SM: There is no accounting for the fashions of the young.
JA: Well, I'm still plenty young, and I don't understand it.
JA: Oh come now, Steven, don't say I'm old.  Any more than the dear Surprise herself!
SM: -mutters- in your current state you more resemble the horrible old leopard, down to the unsound knees
JA: Eh?  I didn't hear that.
SM: I said you are still in your prime.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Metal Monday Double Header

We have a double-header for today's metal Monday.

First up is the latest from A Pregnant Light, a one man metal/<something>core/indie band out of Grand Rapids, MI.  It's probably inevitable that a guy who describes his own music as 'Purple Metal' releases a single called "Purple Pain."  It's a testament to how good this is that I'm not disappointed that it's not a tremelo-picked and screamed tribute to Prince.

The songs here are nothing really new for 'Deathless Marantha', but when you have one of the most unique sounds in loud music today, that's not so bad.  It's more hook-heavy, emotionally raw and generally rocking material that mashes up metal rifts, hardcore-esque vocals and some lovely post-punk guitars.

Since today's theme is apparently emotionally gripping material from one-man bands the next song is from Dawnbringer.  Even their last album was pretty deeply felt; it is probably the most emotionally gripping concept album about murdering a Urizenesque solar deity.  But these songs from their latest are stripped down and powerful, like some alternate universe Jason Molina that still played heavy metal.  It's great stuff.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

May Her Memory be a Blessing, Part II

To follow up on my previous, I went to Mrs. Maschler's memorial service this morning. I heard from her former colleagues and students and her daughters. And everyone speaking worked together to paint a picture of her. She was a woman who was incredibly blunt, and also incredibly interested in everyone she talked to. When you talked to her, she really listened. And when she told you that you were wrong and told you why (quite forcefully!) she did so not because she delighted in putting you in your place, but because she really took what you had to say seriously. She took -you- seriously. And she would hold up your words to the same (merciless) scrutiny that she applied to Sts Augustine and Paul or Kant. You were in the same boat as they were. You were not just some kid, you and your words mattered to her.

And because you mattered to her, your life mattered to her, and she would worry over it. She always thought I was not living up to my intellectual potential, working the job I did. But she said that because she really did care about me. And so it was, apparently, with everyone she knew.

I value kindness a lot. Which might be funny or hypocritical coming from me, I don't know. And I generally take little stock in people that are blunt or abrupt because they are 'being honest'. But from her, telling you that you were -wrong- sir, that was a kindness. It was a mark of respect. I will never forget that.

May her memory be blessed.

And if I may be abstract, I think my experience with Chaininah is instructive.  All my life I was told I was smart and special and was awarded parts on the back for doing as well as could be expected for someone of my years.  Chaininah was a rare person who did not hold me to some kind of weighted 'pretty smart for a punk kid' standard, but held me to the same standard that she held the great minds of history.  And perhaps that's what we need more of in our teachers and our education -- an attempt to take students seriously, to ask them to really put their minds out there and hold themselves up to no less standard than finding the truth.

May Her Memory be a Blessing

A friend of mine (St John's tutor from way back whom I used to drive around town) died in August. I was never that close to her, and her death makes me sad in that general 'I will miss you' kind of way that I feel when non-close friends or non-immediate relatives die. Since my parents are still alive and all my closest friends are still with us, this is all I've known of death - missing people.
Mostly I suppose I wanted to share a bit about her. Chaninah Maschler was born in the Berlin in 1931 but grew up in the Netherlands. She was Jewish. The first thing I heard her say about the war was 'I didn't go outside much', then she had been hiding with a gentile family in Utrecht, that her brother had run messages for the resistance, and that she'd survived the hunger winter of 1944-1945.  I later learned that her Mother had survived Bergen-Belsen, and her brother had not.

She was a philosopher to the bone. Sharp like Wittgenstein or Pascal, not jovial like Hume. She was a Pierce scholar (and general fan of pragmatism) who studied at Princeton and had ended up at St John's because she was friends with a faculty member there, I think it was Eva Brann. Knew Rorty a bit, I am not sure how well. That's to say she had a mind like a trap, and I could only just keep up.
She married an artist and art dealer who (as far as I can tell) had never gone past high school, and as far as I can tell she was happy with him until he died a couple of years before I met her. She had two twin daughters.

I last saw her two months before she died, trying and failing to solve printer problems for her. My biggest regret is that I saw her less than I ought to have when she had cancer. My last memory of her was that she was much the same as ever, but weaker and more tired. I am glad I have that.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Note on the Police

With Ferguson going on, a lot of people have said a lot about the cops lately. About the militarization of the American Police and the need for journalists and ordinary citizens to monitor the actions of the police.

When this sort of thing comes up, it is customary for someone to point out that there are a lot of good cops out there (most cops are good, nearly all cops are good, only a few of the apples are bad). This may be true. But it is beside the point.

Our republic is not built on the idea of trusting the good intentions and good judgment of those with power. It is built on constraining those in power, constraining them with the law. We subject them to the law and we subject them to the scrutiny needed to make sure that they abide by the law. Or at least, that is what we must do if we're going to keep up this whole liberal democracy thing going.

If cops were angels, we would need no rights.