Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Dead To Me


Dead To Me
African Elephants
LP/CD
Fat Wreck

Dead To Me is back—and lacking in so many ways. For starters, singer and founding member Jack Dalrymple is notably (and very painfully) absent. Secondly, the pensive, captivating approach to ingenious song writing that so permeated its first two albums, Cuban Ballerina and Little Brother, has been completely scrapped in favor of a bland and unimaginative attempt to mature musically. Thirdly, the members of Dead To Me were great at being Dead To Me, but when they distance themselves from their previous efforts in a vein attempt to rip off the Clash, they inevitably sound like a bad Clash rip off. And that’s a shame, because Dead To Me was by far the best new political punk rock band of the 00s.

It’s tough to know where to begin explaining the dullness of this record. It starts with the mediocre reggae/dub tune “X,” a deliberate attempt to exhume the musical imagination of Joe Strummer. The second song—and high point of the disc if there is one—is “Modern Muse,” a catchy pop-punk tune that almost nods to the group’s inspired past. After that, however, it’s one forgettable number after the next. The worst crime of the album has to be “California Sun,” a ditty that nearly caricatures a bad Sublime tune and begins with the line, “Last night I got so high, I finally forgot your name.” This is Dead To Me? What happened to lyrics like, “I’ve got no reaction / Every action’s true” and “Cathode rays to entertain the good wage slaves”? (sigh) Hopefully African Elephants will forever be known as the “Bring Jack Back” album, and the next recording will demonstrate an actual process of musical growth and development instead of one so undoubtedly forced.


(And just for the record, I feel horrible about giving this band a bad review. Not only did I drive from Denver to Fort Collins to see them, but I was truly glad I did. They played good old fashioned political punk with heart and they had a great sense of humor about themselves. And they were the coolest, most laid back people on the face of the earth. I really love these guys. Really. I listen to their first two records daily, as I've done for the past several months. That's why I take this album so personally. It was a letdown on so many levels...)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

As I Had Tried to Explain Multiple Times to Eileen

By nate stone.

Scenario One:
As I had tried to explain multiple times to Eileen, my ex-girlfriend, I have never been one for conversation. Having been born with the rudimentary brain stem of a komodo dragon, I was prone to violent fits of rage and urinating in corners to mark territory. Our typical conversations were generally something like this:

EILEEN: How was your day today?
ME: Rarrgh. Mmmph.
EILEEN: Every day it’s “rarrgh mmmph” with you. Is it that painful to talk to me?
ME: BLLARCH! Rrrmphrgh. [soft, crisp sound of my chewing the laquered pine of the end table]
EILEEN: Well, if that’s how you feel about it. Why is it so hard to open up to me? Is it some sort of macho-dominance thing?
ME: Grgglmpfsh.
EILEEN: It’s like I don’t know you anymore.
ME: I think we should see other people.

Luckily for me, Eileen was usually distracted by a large puddle of fresh urine in the middle of her fresh laundry or slowly creeping darkly up the side of a new pair of thigh-high alligator skin boots before the fight became serious. This is how our relationship lasted for a year and a half: she would become angry at my guttural exclamations or my tendency to sweat profusely while sunning on top of her silk delicates, and then forget about it while spending the next hour desperately trying to avoid piss-stains on the top of her Scandinavian-designed modernist kitchen table. Now that was love.

Scenario Two:

As I had tried to explain multiple times to Eileen, my ex-girlfriend, I have never been one for conversation. Having developed Tourette’s Syndrome and a rare form of narcolepsy triggered by Scandinavian furniture, I was prone to spouting horrifying streams of obscenities and then falling into REM sleep at the sight of an Ikea catalog. Our typical conversations were generally something like this:

EILEEN: How was your day today?
ME: Fuckshit. Bitch cock ramsucker.
EILEEN: Every day it’s “Fuckshit bitch cock ramsucker” with you. Is it that painful to talk to me?
ME: TIT LICKER! Groin-pull bastard fuck!
EILEEN: Well, if that’s how you feel about it. Why is it so hard to open up to me? Is it some sort of macho-dominance thing?
ME: Suckshitcocksucker.
EILEEN: It’s like I don’t know you anymore.
ME: I think we should see other people.

Luckily for me, Eileen was an obsessed devotee of Scandinavian furniture, and it was usually a only a matter of seconds before I would spot the spare, clean lines of some new coffee table she had just brought into the apartment and instantaneously fall into a deep sleep before the fight became serious. This is how our relationship lasted for a year and a half: she would become angry at my casual obscene references to her mother’s anatomy during some high-profile work party, and then forget about it while riding in the ambulance with me after I had split my skull open after falling, unconscious, on the modernist corner of a Vërgënsøøten bookshelf. Now that was love.

Scenario Three:
As I had tried to explain multiple times to Eileen, my ex-girlfriend, I have never been one for conversation. Having been born without vocal cords, or, for that matter, a functional intestinal tract, I was typically silent and/or in the midst of tremendous stomach pain. Our typical conversations were generally something like this:

EILEEN: How was your day today?
ME: -
EILEEN: Every day it’s “I was born with vocal cords, or, for that matter, a functional intestinal tract” with you. Is it that painful to talk to me?
ME: -
EILEEN: Well, if that’s how you feel about it. Why is it so hard to open up to me? Is it some sort of macho-dominance thing?
ME: -
EILEEN: It’s like I don’t know you anymore.
ME: [Writing on dry-erase board hung around my neck] I think we should see other people.

Luckily for me, Eileen was usually distracted by my bowels exploding like Mount Vesuvius across her Scandinavian-designed corner set which functioned as both wet-bar and bidet before the fight became serious. This is how our relationship lasted for a year and a half: she would become angry at my bowels leaking their half-digested contents across her Spartan, modernist black-and-chrome house, and then become even angrier when I wouldn’t talk to her about it. Now that was love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: The Inactivists



Love Songs & Other Songs About Love

Have you ever wondered what would happen if They Might Be Giants started a high-energy funkish bar-rock outfit? They might just release an album entitled Love Songs & Other Songs About Love and call themselves The Inactivists. Just like the Giants, this Denver five-piece sings jocular songs about randomness. Unlike the Giants, The Inactivists embellish their words with a danceable, lively soundtrack that features an assortment of instruments—everything from accordion and theremin to ukulele and saxophone. Tracks like the folk/country “Song for Gary Glitter,” the disturbingly funky “Why (Aren’t You (In Love (With Me)))?” and the hilariously entitled reggae send-up “Lock Jah” demonstrate the band’s proclivity to write musically precise scores with absurdly witty lyrics. But make no mistake, even in the groups wackiest moments, it takes its unseriousness* very seriously. Like most of its contemporaries in the weirdo-core scene, The Inactivists are much more fun live. Regardless, Love Songs manages to be both manic and tranquil, catchy and atonal, and full of love and hate. It’s a folk-funk-rock journey into the psyche of five musically-endowed, neurotic nerds.

Other Highlights: the lovely jingle “The Last Song,” the even lovelier bonus track “Bonus Track,” and the insanely catchy honky-tonk ditty “Take Me Back”

*Might not be a word

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not All Your Enemies are Nazis

(Originally appeared in Lubricated Magazine)
By Brian Polk

It seems that in these dark days of political discourse, you’re either on my side or you’re a horrible person; and there is absolutely no middle ground. From animal rights activists to pro-lifers, from uneducated Fox News-watchers to indignant anarcho-punks, it really doesn’t matter what your political spectrum happens to be. Any way you slice it, your enemies are very, very bad people. And since atrocities like the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, and Stalin’s Great Purge have long been forgotten, ignored, or rewritten as “not as bad as they seem,” the terrible scoundrels that disagree with you have to be in cahoots with a group of bad people that will never be forgotten: The Nazis.

But listen: Not everyone who conflicts with your rigid ideology is a Nazi. Sure it’s tempting, shocking even, to associate your philosophical opposites to the far-right German political group that seized power in the 1930s, sent millions to die in the death camps, and killed millions more on the battlefields of WW2—a war that they were more than happy to provoke when they invaded Poland. And yes, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of overly-emotional, hyperbolic-spewing talk show hosts that have a vested interest in ignoring the truth and fanning the flames of hatred by actively promoting salivating finger pointing. But come on, there has to be a better way. Is it really impossible to quell our emotions and ground our opinions in rationality? What ever happened to intellectual debate anyway?

These days, you can’t sit down to a discussion and reflect on the facts in a coherent, balanced manner. It’s terrible that this type of civility is nonexistent. And if you don’t agree with that, you might as well worship Hitler, you fascist, authoritarian, power-mongering heartless dastard. Why don’t you just kill millions of people? Because that’s what creeps like you are apt to do, isn’t it? YOU’RE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY!!!

Ahem. You’ll have to excuse the outburst; I get very emotional about these things.

Digressions aside, below are just a few groups of people that just don’t know how to debate rationally. They rely on emotionally-charged, mouth-foaming accusations that take facts out of context and shun the greater truth. They aim at the heart and forget about the mind. And worst of all, they equate all dissenters to Nazis—who ironically, attempted to eliminate all dissenters. Weird, huh?

Pro-lifers: Obama = Nazi

According to a haphazardly cropped photograph on the Conservative Christian News website, President Barack Obama is just like Hitler because Obama loves “killing unborn babies.” Of course abortion procedures and the act of killing Jews go hand-in-hand, right? Not according to Hitler, who actually banned abortion in Nazi Germany. But we’re not going for facts here, are we? We’re trying to shock people into blindly hating an African-American president that Hitler would have detested for his darker-than-Aryan skin pigmentation. But I suppose I’m splitting hairs.

Left Wingers: Bush = Nazi
(Type, “Bush = Hitler” into Google and you’ll have a lot to choose from)

So I’m no fan of Bush either, but he didn’t send millions of Jews and other non-desirables to die in concentration camps. And he didn’t invade Poland; he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. (It’s totally different…) Besides, at least one of the worst presidents in the history of the U.S. slightly redeemed himself by significantly expanding aid to Africa and appointing minorities into his cabinet. Hitler definitely didn’t do either of those things.


PETA: Meat Eaters = Nazis


In 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a “Holocaust On Your Plate” ad campaign that linked meat eaters to Hitler and company. While I agree with PETA that factory farming has absolutely no redeeming qualities and cannot be defended based on its treatment of workers, animals, and the environment, this campaign is a misguided attempt to shock and appall. When you use tactics like this, it totally degrades the purity of the message because you just can’t bully people into agreement by insulting them. Frenzied finger pointing will never get you very far in the culture wars. (If it did, I would be pro-life by now. And obviously, I’m not. Even after bearing witness to huge billboards featuring dismembered fetuses, I am still, and will always be, pro-choice.)

Ward Churchill: Americans who died in 9/11 = Little Eichmanns
(Again, type “Little Eichmanns” into Google and be amazed at the choices)

Ward Churchill didn’t invent the phrase “Little Eichmann,” but he sure popularized it with his essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” The people in the twin towers, claimed Churchill, weren’t innocent because they played an integral part, however small, in the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians caused by U.S. sanctions. His premise is that Adolph Eichmann and good German civilians—who may not have actively participate in mass killings—didn’t raise a finger to prevent their fellow citizens from being slaughtered by Nazis in their own backyards, and therefore, are culprits in the crimes. He casually ignores the fact that U.S. citizens are a bit different. The latter remained largely and quite deliberately in the dark about destructive policies being wrought around the globe in their names. Had the media inundated American television sets with dying children the way they did during the Vietnam War, I’d like to think people would have a different reaction. “Blissfully unassuming folks,” would have been a better phrase than “Little Eichmanns.” But of course, Churchill definitely wasn't going for anything near a rational approach to the events of 9/11. Come to think of it, when the towers came down, no one offered close to a coherent explanation (except for the usually satirical The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38286).

Peter Gibbons: Bosses = Nazis

“You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear,” says Peter Gibbons, in the movie Office Space. He was referring to the obnoxious uniform his girlfriend, Joanna, had to wear at her job. The quote perfectly illustrates how far we’re willing to go to discredit our ideological opposites—or, in this case, the folks who casually inconvenience our daily routines. Aside from bosses, I’ve heard the term “Nazi” applied to principals, toll booth operators, police officers, concert promoters, right wing talk show hosts, left wing talk show hosts, communists, socialists, anarchists, capitalists, libertarians, centrists, white folks, black folks, Hispanics, gays, straights, vegans, ranchers, bloggers, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, jocks, nerds, dictators, freely elected leaders, rednecks, liberals, conservatives, and pretty much anyone and everyone who has a pulse.

Even though I strongly recommend against it, you can say it about anyone:

“A lot of the Nazis woke up early in the morning. You have to be at work at 7 a.m. What, pray tell, does that make you?”

“Nazis had birthdays. You have a birthday, you damned Nazi!”

“Hitler got his haircut. You cut your hair every few weeks. Nazi.”

“The Nazis ate food, lived in houses, and wore clothes. Since you do all these things, you must be quite fond of national socialism.”

It's easy. Too easy in fact. It's intellectual indolence. George Orwell once said of fascism, "All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword." I would say the same thing about the word “Nazi.”