Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Random Notes, January 2023

 The lord's year 2023 is barely a month in, and it's already running fast and loose:

+ When Pope John Paul II passed in 2005, I vividly recall the endearing, round-the-clock news coverage as speculation ran rampant about the next leader of the Catholic Church. When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the first papal leader to retire in centuries, passed just before New Year's, the news coverage seemed a tad more ambivalent. Perhaps it was because Benedict had been out of the public eye for awhile, a relatively short reign of eight years, but maybe because he wasn't the populist JP2 was. Benedict was a traditionalist (read: conservative) pope, and his death was mourned largely by more hidebound Catholics. 

+ No one really knows anything Rep. George Santos (R-NY) because George Santos is a pathological liar, but the GOP doesn't care because they need his vote in a razor-thin majority *and* Trump supporters clearly couldn't care less about character issues. Sadly, he's not going anywhere.

+ After two months on a long-term assignment, I'm back to your regular, run of the mill sub life. This was a familiar group of middle school students, but the aforementioned behavior issues (especially in my last class of the day) was starting to wear me down. The teacher I was covering opted to retire, and the new teacher is more discipline-driven than I am. On the last day of my assignment, I had to remind the kids that this wasn't goodbye, just see you later. In fact, I was back in the building covering an aide the following Tuesday, and it felt oddly refreshing. 

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Friday, December 30, 2022

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2022

 

2022 wasn't necessarily as deep as 2020 or 2021 were, but it arguably more versatile and eclectic. A number of artists returned from lenghty hiatuses (some COVID related, others not) while others maintained a steady pace. There was a fun mix of old stalwarts, artists in their prime, and promising debuts. 

In short, it seems like we're knee-deep in a particular era of popular music, but I can't pinpoint a name or dominant genre. (Then again, I don't think there's been an underwhelming year for music since 2013 or '14.) That also means a ridiculous, bountiful variety of interesting sounds. There doesn't seem to be a consensus best album from the critics, either. It's best to just ignore the arguments, take these suggestions, and plug in your headphones. 

BEST POP/ROCK ALBUMS

1. Renaissance, Beyonce. The first of a reported trilogy, Queen Bey's first proper solo album since Lemonade could have suffered from too many cooks. ("Alien Superstar" has 26 credited writers and producers. Not a typo.) Fortunately for the Beyhive and casual music fans alike, this is an effortably danceable album, both retro and looking forward, exquisitely arranged like a DJ mix.

2. Blue Rev, Alvvays. A Lazarus act if there ever was one, this Canadian collective weathered five years of stolen demos, personnel changes, *and* a flooded basement that ruined their gear to release their strongest work to date. They didn't alter their sound either, retaining their usual insistent, hooky rush with a slight glow-up. Old school shoegaze and 90s jangle-pop fans won't feel lost here.

3. And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Weyes Blood. In another artist's hands, this follow-up to 2019's lush Titanic Rising would've sank under the weight of its own self-seriousness. Both sequel and ambitious companion piece, Natalie Mering's steady, mellow, double-tracked vocals continue and build upon Titanic's gorgeous arrangements and intricate songwriting.

4. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar

5. Ants From Up There, Black Country, New Road

6. A Light for Attracting Attention, The Smile

7. Skinty Fia, Fontaines DC

8. Gemini Rights, Steve Lacy

9. Once Twice Melody, Beach House

10. Big Time, Angel Olsen

11. Pompeii, Cate Le Bon

12. Aethiopes, Billy Woods

13. WE, Arcade Fire

14. Preacher's Daughter, Ethel Cain

15. Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Denzel Curry

16. Caprisongs, FKA Twigs

17. Laurel Hell, Mitski

18. Fossora, Bjork

19. Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl

20. Ugly Season, Perfume Genius


BEST JAZZ ALBUMS

1. Ghost Song, Cécile McLorin Salvant. I dislike hyperbole almost as much I disdain repeating myself, but I'm reiterating this for emphasis: Cécile is the best vocalist in music right now. Not the best in jazz, not the top BIPOC singer, the best full stop. On this latest work her gift is her weapon, and we've never heard it so relentless or tormented. The sparse arrangement, led by guitarist Marvin Sewell, matches her energy as she throttles from love to loss, from life to death. Opening with a Kate Bush cover was ballsy, but she justifies it and then some. 

2. Trio: Ocean, Charles Lloyd

3. World Construct, Matthew Shipp Trio

4. Origin, Joey Alexander

5. The Lights Are Always On, Lynne Arriale Trio

Honorable Mention: Every Note Is True, Ethan Iverson.

Best Jazz Album of 2021 I Didn't Hear Until Early '22: Dear Love, Jazzmeia Horn & Her Noble Force


BEST SINGLES (in no order)

"Prester John," Animal Collective

"Eight Years Old With An iPhone," Joshua Epithet 

"Unnecessary Drama," Belle and Sebastian

"Paddle to the Stars," The Dip

"Bad Love," Dehd

"Love Brand New," Bob Moses

"Mistakes," Sharon Van Etten

"Angelica," Wet Leg

"Under Control," MJ Lenderman

"Perm Act," Osees


"Make a Picture," Andrew Bird

"Seventeen Going Under," Sam Fender

"Trash Mental," Sinaive

"New Body Rhumba," LCD Soundsystem

"Selfish Soul," Sudan Archives

"Billie Toppy," Men I Trust

"Get Inspired," Genesis Owusu

"Expert in a Dying Field," Beths

"Shotgun," Soccer Mommy

"Lullaby," Grace Ives


Best Lionel Richie Imitation: Bruce Springsteen's cover of "Nightshift"

Best Radiohead Side Project Named After Something Thom Yorke Never Does: The Smile


BEST VIDEOS

1. "We Cry Together," Kendrick Lamar feat. Taylour Paige. A rare pick that is Oscar-eligible, this clip is a too-honest take on toxic relationships and the horribly vicious fights (and apologies) that keep them going.

2. "Out of Time," The Weeknd. Karaoke, anyone?

3. "Shinigami Eyes," Grimes feat. Jennie. On a personal level, 2022 was a challenging year for Canada's freakiest polymath artist. It didn't deter her from this slick, technical marvel of a video, a robotic acid trip that grips your subconscious.

4. "Ur Mum," Wet Leg. As a former 20-year-old myself, I can assure you 20-year-old guys are annoying.

5. "Free," Florence + The Machine. An absolute bop about mental health, personified by a grounded Bill Nighy.

Honorable Mentions: "Purple Zone," Soft Cell & Pet Shop Boys; "What I Want," MUNA.

WORST MUSIC VIDEO: "From the D 2 the LBC," Eminem and Snoop Dogg. If you believe both rappers have delved into self-parody at this point, here's your Exhibit A. Four minutes of NFG infatuation, aged like milk, intended to promote Slim Shady's second (and mostly unnecessary) greatest hits disc.

Your thoughts?

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

My 18th Annual Thanks/No Thanks List

 As I do every year in the fourth week of November, I pause from the 24-hour news cycle and get introspective. Largely because its overlooked and there's no annoying music, I suppose Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Regardless, I'll try to keep this short and sweet. 

Thanks: I'm on another long-term sub assignment! My third in 13 months, and with the same group of students. I feel like behavior issues have increased, but I appreciate the steady work. I'm also grateful to be in a good district with some support. Beyond that, I'm thankful that our 45th president's sway in the GOP is on the decline. 

No Thanks: the lack of common sense gun control, inflation, lingering supply chain issues, and transmission repairs. You know, the usual crap.

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Monday, November 14, 2022

The 50.5% Solution

Any projection of GOP "red wave" in this year's midterms was exaggerated, or like many GOP claims, baseless. That's not denying that they made a ripple; both houses of Congress were a toss-up several days after the election, and it looks like the Republicans will take a narrow majority of House of Representatives.  On the other hand, the US Senate is secured for the Democrats... for now.

Speaking of narrow, the record number of races with margins under 1% is concerning, especially with some of the candidates that lost narrowly. A fair number of Republican candidates that received approximately 49% of the popular vote (or slightly less) ran on the Big Lie or received wholehearted endorsements from ex-President Trump. At least one losing candidate was actually at the failed Capital siege in January 2021. 

That's not to say this was a banner year for Democrats. If the GOP had its share of rotten eggs, the Dems are heavy on stale bread. A fair number of liberal candidates were elected because the Trump-backed Republicans were either inept or just unpalatable.  Age remains an issue; I've discussed Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden's age in the past, but 89-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was just elected to an eighth term. At least we have our first Gen-Z congressman. 

In the end, it all breaks down to the race that garnered the most media attention: the ugly U.S. Senate race between Rev. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia. Neither nabbed 50% of the vote (shades of 2020), and the difference between them was literally in the triple figures, so a run-off will be held in early December. Stacey Abrams is both the reason why a deep south state is suddenly purple and the state's sacrificial lamb, having lost twice to a former Secretary of State that conveniently altered election rules in his favor. Sadly, there's still a possibility the mealy-mouthed Walker can still beat Warnock. 

Next Week: my 18th annual thanks/no thanks list.

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Monday, November 7, 2022

Remember, Remember, The 8th of November

 Election Day is tomorrow. This is my ninth election cycle since I started this blog, and I feel like with each passing decision the stakes have risen. I've grown to resent how the first midterm of a president is an early moratorium on the sitting president; that has taken an uneasy turn, as a president as uniquely vulnerable as Joe Biden could be handcuffed by a GOP that has descended into pseudo-fascism and cult of personality. 

Misinformation has always had a home in American politics. Even before the internet, lies and slander were ingredients in the average candidate's word salad. Now we have dueling echo chambers, with the GOP's arguably being the loudest and more shrill of the two. The events of 1/6 should have been reckoning, a moment of crisis for Republicans at every level; instead, 1/6 "attendees" are running for office, and the majority of GOP candidates think the 2020 election was stolen without any proof. It's saddening and appalling, but the seeds of this were planted over a decade ago with the Tea Party. 

My message remains the same: vote. I beg of you, vote. Your decision in the booth makes an impact. Do your part as an American citizen, and afterwards if all else fails, hope for the best.

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Sunday, October 16, 2022

Random Notes, October 2022

 My latest mish-mosh of thoughts and opinions: 

+ The fallout of Dobbs v. Jackson was bound to make at least one anti-abortion candidate look like a hypocrite. There is substantial evidence that Herschel Walker, a football star turned political novice running for US Senator in Georgia, paid for an ex-girlfriend's pregnancy termination. In spite of the scandal, the notoriously inarticulate Walker is in a toss-up race with incumbent Dr. Raphael Warnock, because... it's Georgia. He's even playing the Christian card, even though Warnock is a prominent minister. Pro-lifers historically don't waver, but the campaign is well-funded enough to make one of the most incompetent campaigns in recent memory (hi Dr. Oz!) an ungainly deadlock.

+ Why are the senate and house both contested this close to the election, when the president's party historically loses ground in their first midterm? Two wedge issues: Democrats and progressives are motivated by Dobbs v. Jackson and women's health rights, while Republicans and conservatives are concerned about the economy. The Big Lie is a secondary factor, demonstrating that of the dueling echo chambers, the Republicans' reinforcement of ideals is the most airtight. The spectrum of liberal politics are setting their differences aside for a little while for the greater good, a GOP that is still tied to Trump and hijacked by jerks, rubes and wahoos.

+ As I write this, every team in the reconfigured National League playoffs with home field has been eliminated. The 5 and 6 seeds will face each other in the NLCS, two playoff spots that didn't exist as recently as 2011. If the pattern persists, a Phillies team that ran hot and cold all season will defy the odds and face either the Yankees, Guardians, or Astros in the World Series. I mention this because... I don't know if I like this or not. Several more deserving teams faltered at the worst possible time. It became the Friars or Phils almost by default. 

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