Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Dont Like This Yes I Do

There are two concerts from this decade that I went into with low expectations and came out with a different perspective. You see, I have a bad habit of easily dismissing things after hearing one or two songs and labeling things as something that it isn't.

Item #1 - Matt & Kim @Mohawks
I thought this was a little too cutesy and upbeat for my tastes upon hearing them. Live, however, I got two intoxicated individuals thoroughly enjoying themselves and entertaining me, as well as the crowd, in the process. This cranky guy is not easily entertained, so kudos to you Matt & Kim.

Item #2 - Crystal Castles @La Zona Rosa
Turn that damn video game off and give that girl some ritalin! Crystal Castles was a chaotic show with a punk element to it which is an easy way to win me over. I was thoroughly mesmerized by their performance and it made me an instant fan. Alice Glass is quite a dynamic lead singer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Two Faces of Terrorism

On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was mistakenly shot down by the U.S. Navy warship Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers onboard. Vice President, George H.W. Bush, declared that the downing of the commercial airliner had been a wartime incident and that the crew of the Vincennes had acted appropriately to the situation at the time. He refused to apologize for the incident despite the fact that the Vincennes was unlawfully in Iranian territorial waters. When they returned to the U.S., the crew of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons and the United States has yet, some 20 years later, to issue an apology or to admit wrongdoing.

Five months later, on December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers onboard as well as 11 people on the ground. Most of the passengers were Americans. The accused Libyan bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was released from a Scottish prison on Thursday despite outrage by victims' families and the U.S. government. President Obama condemned the hero's welcome he received in Libya as "highly objectionable." Al Megrahi has continuously denied involvement in the bombing and, despite my lack of evidence, I still honestly believe that Iran, not Al Megrahi or Libya, was responsible for this attack in retaliation for the Iran Air Flight 655 tragedy. The United States certainly wasn't going to hold Iran accountable for bringing down an airliner after refusing to be held accountable for bringing down one of theirs. To do so would be highly hypocritical. In order to appease the Pan Am victims' families, however, someone had to be brought to justice and Libya was the perfect scapegoat. In 1986, a bombing raid ordered by President Reagan on Libya killed the 15-month-old adopted daughter of Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, thus giving him a reason to want to strike back at the United States.

Between the two air disasters, over 500 innocent lives were needlessly lost. And while terrorism is certainly to blame for the crash of Pan Am 103, the United States' arrogant lack of diplomacy in regards to Iran Flight 655 should certainly bear it's own responsiblity for the Pan Am tragedy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tiny Masters of Today

The marketing of pop culture aimed at kids and teenagers is such an influential and, often times, mind-numbing behemoth that, at best, you hope they shun it by picking up a book or a musical instrument. In Austin, there is the Girls Rock Camp where girls ages 10-18 can learn about the music business, music history, songwriting, etc. At this most critical age, it should be encouraged and it has a lot to do with why I'm a fan of a band called Tiny Masters of Today. The band consists of siblings Ada(13) and Ivan(15) and while it's very tempting to say "not bad for their age," their music is actually quite catchy. Pitchfork, however, saw it far differently. This is what reviewer, Matthew Perpetua, had to say about their latest album released this year called Skeletons:

They are impressive only in comparison to a) other kids their age who have not somehow been encouraged to become a full-time touring band by hipster stage parents, and b) their least-inspired adult contemporaries. At their best, the Tiny Masters provide self-conscious kiddy variations on vaguely arty strains of punk and alt-rock, but there is very little practical use for this music besides causing adults to go, "awww, cute!" The lyrics are predictably banal and laughable, the vocals are uniformly flat and insecure. The melodies are not bad, but they are simplistic and mostly have the irritating cadences of playground chants and jingles. (Truly, much of the album sounds like a series of homemade Mountain Dew ads.)

This work may be "pretty good for their age," but that's about it. It does not matter how old the authors may be-- this is very shallow, unengaging music, and it is hard to imagine anyone truly caring about any of these songs.

And it's hard for me to imagine how this review is worth anyone taking seriously. The beauty of this album is that it is kids being kids making music that appeals to them produced on garageband, no less - not by slick producers. How DIY is that? Put down the self-righteous pen, pitchfork, and let them be kids.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Many in the Western world would associate the term "terrorist" with someone of Arab descent. And rarely would we say that a "terrorist" is simply engaging in self-defense. Besides, self-defense is what "civilized" people engage in, right? When the World Trade Center buildings were attacked on 9/11, nobody in their right mind would deny that the United States had the right to defend itself. And, yet, the Israeli government continues, as it has for decades now, the illegal demolition of houses belonging to innocent Palestinian families for no other reason than to make room for more Israeli settlers. And when the Palestinians, who don't have a military to defend themselves, conduct suicide bombings, we label them as senseless, savage murderers. And the United States, who has the power to stop Israel's gross misconduct, sits idly by as it happens. Why? Because one group has a strong financial lobbying presence in our government while the other one doesn't.

But that was all supposed to change once we cleared the White House of "old, white guys." But it's not about youth or race or different experiences you may bring to the table. It's about power and holding on to that power. And while Barak Obama talks a good game, he exhibits the same spineless caution towards Israel's reckless behavior as his predecessors did because he knows that it is political suicide to do otherwise. So much for hope.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Behavior Paradox

“For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people's behavior.”
-anonymous quote

The brain is the most complex and misunderstood organ in the body. Even to those who study it, the brain, much like the universe, is still a mystery. Yet, there is no shortage of self-help books; Dr. Phil's; and various other armchair psychoanalysts who feel that they can either philosophically fix the behavior of someone or, at least, condemn it in the name of "morality" or "personal responsibility" which all leads back to the brain - that organ of soft nervous tissue that is housed inside our skulls.

The brain is full of chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, that determine our personality. As much as we'd love to think that we are "the master of our fate and the captain of our soul," we're really not. There are too many of these neurotransmitters for me to list, so I will touch on a few of the more important ones:

seratonin - one of the chemicals which regulates moods and feelings of well-being. Because seratonin has the power to make us unhappy, we have antidepressants which targets seratonin.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid(GABA) - directly influences your personality and ability to handle stress.

dopamine - affects movement, cognition, pleasure, and motivation. Low levels of dopamine are often associated with those with addictive personalities.

oxytocin - associated with the ability to maintain healthy, interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.

I have my own personal shortcomings with happiness, stress, relationships, and addictions. It is the genetic cross that I, as well as many others, have to bear. I did not create these shortcomings and, therefore, am not responsible for them, nor do I blame anyone and by no means is it an attempt to sidestep accountability. We all must be held accountable for our actions. However, neither words of "wisdom" nor the lashings of guilt will fix a brain chemistry that people are born with. If you have a happy disposition, consider yourself lucky. You didn't create it. We are all the masters and captains of nothing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Autistic Breakthrough

When you see someone with autism who is unable to speak; seems disconnected from the world; and engages in repetitive behavior, it's easy to believe that the "lights aren't on" inside their heads. I don't know a whole lot about autism and I admit that I'm very guilty of buying into those stereotypes myself. That's why Carly Fleischmann's story is so important and groundbreaking.

Carly Fleischmann is a severely autistic 14-year-old who can't speak and was thus deemed "mentally deficient" until she was taught, through intensive training, to use a computer. She now types out her inner most feelings while breaking down the stereotypes of autism that have been the norm for years. When asked in a recent interview, "what was one of the hardest things you've ever had to do?" She replied:
I think I would have to say controlling my behaviors
It might not seem like I am at times
but I try very hard to act appropriately
It is so tough to do and people think it is easy because they don’t know what
is going on in my body
They only know how easy it is for them
Even doctors have told me that I am being silly but they don’t get it
If I could stop it I would
But it is not like turning a switch off it does not work that way
I know what is right and wrong but its like I have a fight with my brain over

I've always stressed to people who throw out random opinions about things they have never experienced, to try and put themselves in another person's shoes or, at least, try to educate yourself about a certain subject before making a judgement. And, yet, here I am being schooled and humbled by a 14-year-old with autism. As Carly says, "I think people get a lot of their information from so-called experts but if a horse is sick, you don’t ask a fish what’s wrong with the horse. You go right to the horse’s mouth." A fool in a child's shadow, I stand corrected.

Carly's amazing story will be aired tonight on ABC's 20/20 at 10pm EST/9pm CST.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes R.I.P.

Maybe it's because I'm not of this generation that I make this proclamation, but the two best comedy writer/directors of the past thirty years are Harold Ramis and John Hughes. I'm sorry, but Judd Apatow is nowhere close to the legacy that these two legends have carved out. Hughes, who died today at the age of 59, wrote and directed Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off between the years of 1984 and 1986. He also wrote Pretty In Pink as well as the Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase with the exclusion of the Las Vegas one. I know it's cliche to say, but they just don't make 'em like they used to.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Toto, I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea on Tuesday to seek the release of two U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and he was successful. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, however, criticized Clinton's trip saying that "the symbolism of a former president going to meet with Kim Jong Il I think is something that benefits Kim Jong Il a lot more than the United States, and it only encourages others to do the same thing."

Recently, three American tourists were arrested for straying into Iranian territory while hiking in northern Iraq which led Bolton to claim that Iran will surely follow the North Korean formula. "You can bet that in Tehran they watched this little performance in North Korea and are no doubt calculating how they might use it to their advantage," Bolton said.

My personal criticism is not with Clinton's visit, but with the fact that we had to expend this much diplomatic effort on two reckless journalists who should know better than to go snooping around anywhere close to that hellhole known as North Korea. And as far as those tourists who accidentally wandered off into Iran while hiking in Iraq? hiking in Iraq??? And one of them just happened to be a journalist. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I have a certain affinity for global music with crossover appeal(i.e., M.I.A., Gogol Bordello) which would seem like a good reason to get on board with a South African band that goes by the name BLK JKS(don't ask me how to pronounce that). They sound more like an experimental American band than they do a South African band however, but the music is solid nonetheless. Their debut full-length album After Robots will be released on September 8 and if it's anything like the four songs I've heard from them so far, it should be good. But, please, spare me the "if you like TV on the Radio, you'll love BLK JKS." I assure you that the comparisons are going to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Favorite Albums Of This Decade, Etc.

As this decade winds down, it's time to ponder what albums meant the most to me over these past ten years. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite albums from the 2000's:

When Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In was released in 2000, I told everyone around that this album would be the Nevermind of this decade. No sooner than the words left my mouth, they broke up. Luckily for me, however, Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez would go on to form the Mars Volta and create what is still my favorite album of this decade...

I was expecting At the Drive-In when this came out, so it took a little while for my mind to completely wrap itself around The Mars Volta's De-Loused In The Comatorium, but it is a masterpiece. Add to the fact that their 2003 tour in support of this album is still the best concert I have ever seen and you will understand why I think history will be kind to the Bixler/Rodriquez formula during this time period.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Fever To Tell established lead singer, Karen O, as the Deborah Harry of her generation. "Maps" may well be the best song of this decade, but it's one of the more sentimental songs in what is an otherwise fast and furious 37 minutes of an album punctuated by the fantastic guitar playing of Nick Zinner.

If the Flaming Lips set out to prove that 1999's The Soft Bulletin was no fluke, they succeeded with their 2002 classic Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. The Lips have a knack for writing beautiful songs that revolve around death.

The first ten songs I heard from this album was "Rehab" and I hated it. I couldn't get away from it so I ignored the album. When I first heard it in it's entirety, however, I fell in love with it. No matter how much the tabloids skew your perspective of Winehouse, twenty years from now, I assure you that Back To Black will be considered a classic.

The trio known as Sleater-Kinney turned up the guitars on what would be their final and best album in a twelve-year career. This is truly one of the best bands ever who, in my honest opinion, have never put out a bad record.

I'm guessing that if you're a Beck fan, Sea Change is not your favorite in his discography. "Good times" Beck becomes sad, introspective Beck in a completely believable way. This album really caught me off guard and I still love it.

If there was ever an album from this decade that I anticipated the most, it's this one. I waited outside of Waterloo Records on Arular's release date before the doors were even open to get my hands on it. With Arular, I proclaimed M.I.A. the "artist of the decade" fully realizing that she could destroy it with a crappy follow-up...

...and all she did was up the ante. As much as I try to convince myself that Kala and Arular are equally great, it's really getting difficult to deny Kala as the better album.

I've seen this band live twice and they always blow me away and yet I have read some of the most awful reviews of their live shows. I'm not quite sure how The Walkmen's Bows + Arrows will be viewed over time, but this angst-ridden album from a seemingly jilted lover never gets old to me.

Cat Power = one of the best songwriters of this generation. Period. And You Are Free is a masterpiece.

I hate auto-tune. Wait, no I don't. Whatever this guy does with his voice throughout this album - trust me - it works. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Dandelion Gum is a crazy, psychedelic classic.

Bradford Cox is the David Lynch of music. Whereas Lynch creates a 1950s-esque look to his movies with dark undertones, Cox does the same with his music and his solo project, Atlas Sound, is the personification of that. Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is his best work in what is turning out to be a prolific career.

This is how music sounds in my dreams - distant and echo-y. I accidentally stumbled across Nite Jewel as the opening act for Deerhunter at Emo's and I can't stop listening to her hazy, electronic sound on her completely underrated My CD EP.

Best Country Albums
Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn
That Lonesome Song - Jamey Johnson
The Good Life - Justin Townes Earle

Best Rap Albums
YoYoYoYoYo - Spankrock
Feed From Me! - Black Nasty
Shapeshifters - Invincible

My Favorite Band Of This Decade - Liars

The Most Underrated Album Of This Decade