In Colour: Perfectly Walking the Trapeze Between Subtle Beauty and Infectious Dance

Club music should not be in your face all the time.   As I age, I am realizing how much the rave and EDM scene is targeted at the roaring youth, tripping and rolling into mad light shows and highlighter paint mobs.  I like raves as much as the next bro, but in order to truly appreciate dance music one must understand that dubstep is as much the product of Donna Summer as Taylor Swift is the product of Arlo Guthrie.  All music draws from tradition and history in some way, and The xx band member Jamie XX is set out to prove just that in his debut solo release, In Colour.

If you have been craving a sound and have not been able to find it since Daft Punk’s magnum opus Random Access Memories, look no further than In Colour.  As far as paying homage to the origins of modern dance music goes, Europeans just get it.  Yes, French house music is heavily influenced by Chicago’s dance movement, but many argue that the principle pioneer of American disco and dance is the famous Italian musician, Giorgio Moroder.  Of this I agree, but regardless of what nationality you are loyal to, music is a universal language, something that affects everyone equally.

Which is one of the album’s bright focal points.  Jamie XX’s British roots are the highlight, but two of the songs are dedicated to the Caribbean and its flourishing aura of positivity.  “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” features Jamaican artist Popcaan and “Obvs” showcases the power of steel drums, which is a Trinidad & Tobago instrument.  Jamie XX does not suffer from regional nearsightedness.

Comfort zones are still hard to escape, however, and there are two songs that feature The xx singer Romy.  That’s not to say that it was a disappointment to hear her on this album, but the other songs prove how much potential Jamie XX has as a solo artist.  “Loud Places” ends with Romy singing the lyrics “you’re in ecstasy without me / When you come down / I won’t be around,” and is a letdown given the album’s overall theme of triumph.  It would have better suited the cohesiveness of the release if it did not feel obligated to include an excuse why The xx might break up after In Colour is released to critical acclaim.

Ultimately that is the album’s only weak point, and it is not a damning one.  To blame someone for cautionary change would be a contradictory exercise and would rob Jamie XX of his humanity.  In Colour is an appropriate debut, one that does not take too much risk but packs enough in to declare an ambitious future.  A future that hopefully pushes dance music towards more advanced fare, one with piano arpeggios and beats established without the use of bass.  Opener “Gosh” is the perfect example of this because it is infectious, has an immaculate trajectory, and has the magical gift to initiate body movement–all without the overuse of bass.

It is impossible to decide whether to blast that on full volume or to listen to it with eyes closed at a moderate volume.   That exact beauteous balance on the trapeze high wire of dance music is not something easily achieved, and all 43 minutes of In Colour manages to instill that enlightened sense of a calm adrenaline rush.

Multifaceted acknowledgement of musical and cultural origins is one of the reasons why genres are able to sustain similarities while simultaneously achieving a state of fluid progressiveness.  This is not dance music moving backwards, but rather its ascent towards greater heights.  Jamie XX subtly yet exultantly proves that clubbing should gravitate towards finesse and move away from the abrasive migraine-inducing thumping that has become the norm.

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On the Eve of the World Cup: Praise the Women and May FIFA Burn

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts next Saturday, and it’s a tournament in which the United States has finished no less than third place since its founding in 1991.  Despite the fact that the US has a very high chance to win its third WC title this year, you’ll find that not many Americans will care.

Why is that?  Is it really just because of the sexist notion that women–not men–are playing and therefore it is more boring?  That’s a huge problem and a large part of why the average TV-watching-putty-brained American is not going to tune into the world’s biggest sporting event.  I suspect that another big reason is stubborn stupidity.  The US likes to scorn sports that it did not itself invent, especially those that England did.  Cricket, Soccer, Rugby, etc., all do not have a strong fan base here in the States.  Scorn might be too strong a word, however, because the development and playing of sports is much more a cultural phenomena than a political one.

To that end, I cannot condemn the US public of not liking the sport of soccer too much.  Baseball, basketball, and American football are all essential to US identity and culture, whether you accept it or not.  Soccer, on the other hand, does not have a rich history here.  That is the extent of my forgiveness.  If you’re a US soccer fan but don’t watch the women’s WC, you are a misogynistic hypocrite.

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Two days ago nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives were arrested on corruption, fraud and laundering charges.  The lawyers in charge of the investigation?  The US Justice Department.  With the help of the FBI and Swiss police US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was able to get the ball rolling on cleaning up the world’s most corrupt sports organization.

Before I continue, let me say that this is AWESOME and a REALLY BIG DEAL.  Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and there is a tremendous amount of money and labor involved.  The amount of dubious money and human rights violations floating around its governing body is horrific and masked behind glamorous entertainment.  I am thoroughly pleased that there is finally some sort of effort to weed out corruption.

That said, the only reason that a 24 year long investigation (same number of years that the women’s World Cup has been AROUND) is finally bearing some fruit is most likely because Russia and Qatar won the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting bids respectively with bribes and kickbacks.  Everyone and their aides at the 2022 WC hosting bids election thought that the US was going to win and when Qatar took it, the stunned looks on people’s faces said it all.  It was, as Nate Silver said, an inexplicable decision.

Qatar, with no soccer history and brutally hot summers, is ill equipped to host something as large as the WC.  To put their infrastructure into perspective, they have no stadiums ready and the city in which they are going to host the championship game doesn’t even exist yet.  Think of the labor, the manipulation, the time, the exhaustion, etc. that goes into building those kinds of things.

And THAT is the crux of the issue.  Ignore all the blurred lines and stream of conscious thoughts I’ve had leading up to this point, because we’ve arrived at the most important point:

FIFA corruption matters because FIFA’s actions keep killing people. There is a clear line connecting FIFA officials to the murders of whistle-blowers in South Africa, to the bulldozing of schools and poor neighborhoods (so tourists won’t have to see any unpleasantness), to widespread accusations of the misuse and theft of public funds, to the clearing out of Brazilian favelas, to the violent suppression of dissent by governments that weren’t phenomenally good at tolerating dissent in the first place. This is why you should care about FIFA corruption: not because it’s the equivalent of NCAA-type malfeasance (which is bad enough), but because it’s spreading human misery and death on an international scale.

Those words, which are written by Grantland’s Brian Phillips, are the only thing I can find in the coverage of the most recent scandal so far that recognizes the real problem.  The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that four thousand workers will die in the upcoming Qatari construction projects.  And for what, my entertainment?  Fuck that, how about the 2022 World Cup gets hosted in the United States where there won’t be human rights violations?

*Cough*  Like there are not human rights violations going on down my road right now.  And yes, I am bitter the US lost the bid to Qatar, but seriously, killing thousands of people to host a sporting event is the kind of thing that humanity needs to fix, or we risk apocalypse and becoming like the people Mad Max fights in George Miller’s franchise.


“I can’t believe this is live!  This is incredible.”

That was my dad’s reaction when I started watching Sports Center’s three plus hour long coverage of the FIFA elections this morning.  He drew attention to America’s apathy of soccer by being incredulous that it was getting so much air time while simultaneously reacting to the gravity of the situation.  Too bad the anchors and analysts never explicitly drew attention to FIFA’s human rights violations and only hinted at the desire to see FIFA president Sepp Blatter lose and the 2022 WC host election re-held.

While I was watching Blatter plea to the delegates to reelect him, I thought of humanity’s tendency to drift towards power, greed and corruption.  In the end, those are the inevitable venomous sins that universally poison our ability to govern efficiently and justly.  Blatter is a “bloated eel” who knows how to control the system, a system that doles out money and favors to those that add to his power.  I also saw him sweat a little, a testament to the recent scandal and the most contested election in well over a decade.  One can only hope that this wave of arrests leads to more whistleblowing and more revelations, because honestly, I don’t care if there’s another WC held in the US in my lifetime.  I just don’t want to hear about people dying so that the rich can get richer or that some fan can experience that fleeting sense of glory.  Victory does not have to be bloody.

Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don’t settle for them. — Mia Hamm

The Not at All Definitive Top 50 Songs of the Decade So Far

I won’t waste your time introducing this list.  Except for some disclaimers.  So I guess I will waste a little of your time.  I honestly believe that no list of this magnitude is complete without covering all the bases.  It would be be dishonest and pretentious to completely disregard country or “stoner music” simply because, so I tried my best to make this list as diverse as possible while simultaneously retaining 50 of my favorite songs of the decade.  I also am 100 percent serious when I tell people I listen to everything.  Will I gravitate towards certain styles and artists?  Of course.  But from Ke$ha to the London Symphony Orchestra, from Skrillex to Shadia Mansour, all the music I was exposed to was taken into consideration.


50 

Main Attrakionz “Perfect Skies”

In the film Zombieland, the main character Columbus adds the rule “enjoy the little things” to his list of survival guidelines.  Not only does this help him relieve stress in a post-apocalyptic world, but it also keeps him appreciative of living life.  “Perfect Skies” begins with the line “I just want to kick my feet up / stack some cheese and light my weed up with my niggas.”  While some people might view marijuana and money as sinful “little things” to enjoy, putting your legs up and reclining in a comfy chair in the company of friends is definitely universal.  Squadda B and Mondre Man–the duo that make up Main Attrakionz–work really hard and will continue to strive towards a higher goal by doing something that they love.  And on the way there, they’ll enjoy the little things:

“My heart’ll feel lucky, still striving with a blessing

But I’ll always want more, so I’ll never meet perfection

Collected all my colors, the canvas is white

Rep that shit in here, a Perfect Sky”


49 

Bombadil “A Question”

This technically isn’t a meet cute since it appears the two people involved know each other, but I challenge you to find a declaration of attraction in song form that is both more adorable and amusing than “A Question.”  Spoiler alert: you will not.


Super Bass (Official Single Cover)

48

Nicki Minaj “Super Bass”

Nicki Minaj’s claim to fame was to occupy a space that badly needs filling.  Other then Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” and Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” Nicki Minaj is the only female rapper to reach Billboard’s podium.  That said, Nicki Minaj is not afraid to flaunt the Pop Diva within her, and “Super Bass” is the perfect blend of both genres.


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47

Metric “Black Sheep”

Sometime during the first of a dozen viewings of the film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World I had one obsessive recurring thought: “They’ve hyped up this mysterious band that is fronted by our protagonist’s ex girlfriend SO MUCH that the song they play better not be a let down.”  When the time finally came to hear it, I was not disappointed.  Actress Brie Larson brings Metric’s song to life so well that it ends up fitting the plot and scene flawlessly.  “Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend / You crack the whip, shape shift and trick the past again,” are two lines that hold true to every you-said-this-at-one-point relationship spat and are so relevant to the film’s central themes that it’s hard not to place this song above the other two movie songs on this list.


46

Danish String Quartet Sønderho Bridal Trilogy, Pt. II

Normally these guys play Beethoven, but when they decided to play some traditional music from the place they call home, their true beauty was brought to light.


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45

Skrillex “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites”

In a Pitchfork interview Skrillex explained that DJ’ing was the least egotistical thing to do because when done right and to perfection you played what the audience wanted to hear.  He’s not choosing what to play, the crowd is.  It was this sort of attitude I tried my best to emulate when I worked Fourth Meal at Oberlin.  In the student manager position I could DJ and play music while people ate their food and socialized.  There is no better feeling in the world than when you string together a bunch of songs that ease the pressure of school and make people laugh and dance.  So when Sonny Moore’s project Skrillex took off, he didn’t feel too comfortable.  Dubstep has become such a phenomenon that artists like Taylor Swift have incorporated it into their songs.  Hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” would not exist without “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites.”  To this day Sonny Moore does not feel entirely at home being the center of the EDM landscape, but he takes comfort in knowing that he brings his fans joy.

I remember seeing the full Daft Punk pyramid show in 2007. I went alone, drove up in my Honda Fit, bought a ticket off a scalper for $150, got on the floor, and had the best time of my life. I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life. This is gonna sound really lame, but try to take it the right way: There have been a couple times where I’ve been so proud of what I’ve done live, like I feel like I’ve given someone the same kind of feeling I got at that Daft Punk show. And that feels so good.


44

Sufjan Stevens “Christmas Unicorn”

I’m just going to say it: this is the greatest non-classic Christmas song ever.  Sufjan Stevens sings about his complicated relationship with the holiday with such wit and gusto that not one second of this twelve minute exploration of bastardized tradition overstays its welcome.  It’s weird, because I just had a conversation about Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day and how they have been used to promote binge drinking and jewelry.  There’s something that can’t really be put into words, some sort of inkling or urge to experience holidays even when we are guilty or complicit in anxiously promoting grotesque consumerism.  Sufjan attempts to answer the question in one of the essays that accompany his Christmas set of EP’s:

In spite of my best judgment, in spite of public opinion, in spite of common decency, in spite of seasonal affective disorder, mental disease and Christmas fatigue, I’ve continued the musical tradition (ever onward forever amen), in pursuing all the inexplicable songs of the holidays, season after season (without rhyme or reason), relentlessly humming, strumming, finger-picking, ivory-tickling, finger-licking, soul-searching, fact-finding, corporate ladder-climbing, magic hatter rabbit hiding, rapping, slapping, super-sizing, miming, grinding, flexing, perplexing, plucking and strumming all the celestial strings of merriment with utmost Napoleonic fever. This tradition will not die.

What is it about Christmas music that continues to agitate my aging heartstrings? Is it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Or the boundless Potential Energy inherent in this bastard holiday so fitfully exploited, subverted, confounded, expounded, adopted and adapted with no regard for decency. Christ­mas is what you make of it, and its songs reflect mystery and magic as expertly as they clatter and clang with the most audacious and rambunctious intonations of irrever­ence. And all its silly-putty, slippery-slope, slap-dash menagerie of subject matter (be it Baby Jesus or Babes in Toyland) readily yields itself to the impudent whims of its contemporary benefactors, myself included.


43

The Range “Jamie”

When I was in Champaign, Illinois for the Pygmalion Festival last year, I recognized James Hinton sipping on a beer across the street.  I was eating dinner with my friend and we were all relaxing before the exciting night of music began.  I nervously went over to tell him how much I loved his music.  He was flattered and taken off guard, but it was awesome because we ended up talking about gang violence in Chicago and about a few specific songs.

I wouldn’t say that he was upset, but he was a little unsettled by the fact that I recognized him.  His project The Range isn’t at all enormous, and I left his company thinking about the rap sample in this song.  “The more people surround me the more lonely I feel,” the rapper laments.  One of the biggest challenges for artists is dealing with that potential fame.  Some friends turn to enemies and they become surrounded by a lot of superficial people who fluff and bluff to grab a piece of stardom.  Because the pool of candidates grows, however, the opportunity to develop deep and lasting friendships increases.  That’s why halfway through “Jamie” the key changes and we hear some optimistic notes of piano rise to the surface.  The transformation is powerful, the kind that sticks with you long after listening.


42

Eric Church “Springsteen”

Eric Church sings the name Springsteen almost as an afterthought at the end of the chorus, but to see it that way would be a grave mistake.  By uttering the name of The Boss, Church purposely triggers all associations with his music, and as a result makes us think of any memories and moments we have that involve “Born in the USA” and “I’m on Fire.”  The music we listen to shape and mold our experiences and in turn our character and persona.  Eric Church realizes this, and even though it’s a little bit of a cop-out to provoke our feelings about another musicians rather than his own, it is still genuine and from the heart.   We associate the music we listen to with memories, and whether you hate this genre of music or not, you can appreciate the sentiment that comes packaged with this song about nostalgic auditory triggers.


41

Soulja Boy & Ester Dean “Grammy”

DeAndre “Soulja Boy Tell’Em” Way is one of those people of whom I am always thinking, “wow, we’re the same age.”  At 24, Soulja Boy is somehow old enough to have lived an entire career arc.  He made millions on the songs he recorded in his room and practically personifies that cursed “live fast die young” internet celebrity status which he still stubbornly struggles to regain.  “I deserve a Grammy” is not a statement of arrogance but rather the defeated plea of someone who painfully acknowledges his wealth and best music is behind him.  I can’t help but think to myself how many countless others were robbed of rightful accolades based on race and class.


Will Star Wars Be a Tiny Baby Step in Black Film History?

Happy Star Wars Day everyone, and May the Fourth be with you!  Expectations for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens are already stratospherically high, but I’m going to set them even higher.  After all, I’ve been a devout Star Wars Fanatic all my life and I deserve this entitled moment to make some demands.

It’s really not that simple though.  This is a necessary step the film industry needs to make.  Hollywood is notoriously bad at casting people of color (POC) and whitewashing period dramas, the most egregious recent example being Exodus: Gods And Kings.  As far as anyone can tell from the two trailers and released information, it appears that John Boyega will be the lead protagonist.  In fact, the two main heroes might be a woman and a British-Nigerian, which is actually a very big deal.  Some figures help show how big this may be.  All information provided by Box Office Mojo.

Top Ten Grossing Films Ever Worldwide and (Domestic) With POC Cast in the Lead Role

45 – Independence Day (46)

89 – Hancock (113)

90 – Men In Black III (199)

97 – Life of Pi (412)

102 – Men In Black (88)

106 – I Am Legend (81)

175 – Men In Black II (170)

185 – Django Unchained (242)

221 – Slumdog Millionaire (314)

238 – Hitch (198)

Pause for a moment and reflect on Will Smith.  He is in 7 of the 10 movies on that list.  SEVEN!  He is also the only Black lead who has ever been in the top 100 grossing films all time worldwide or in the US.  But come on, Will Smith isn’t the only Black actor in this world.

Now, if John Boyega is indeed the lead, then all three films in the upcoming Star Wars trilogy will fall under the above category, and all will most likely crack the top ten.

Star Wars Franchise Worldwide, (Domestic), [US Adjusted For Inflation] Box Office Gross Spots

Phantom Menace – 17 (5) [17]

Attack of the Clones – 84 (43) [87]

Revenge of the Sith – 40 (22) [60]

A New Hope – 52 (6) [2]

Empire Strikes Back – 124 (61) [12]

Return of the Jedi – 151 (45) [15]

So casting John Boyega is a pretty big deal for Black box office numbers, but of course Star Wars is a franchise that can afford not to pamper to white, subconsciously racist audiences.   And the cast is still almost all white.  The highest grossing film where a majority of the cast is Black is Coming To America, which is absurd and culturally offensive.  The most successful and/or profitable Black films almost always portray people who are in submissive roles (12 Years a Slave) or solidify insensitive and absolutely messed up stereotypes (Big Momma’s House).  There are reasons why Selma did not receive Best Actor or Best Director nods, and those reasons are triumphant Black role and Black Woman director, respectively.


30A-STAR WARS TAB.2Stop the Dreariness and Focus on OH MY GOSH GUYS THERE’S GONNA BE ANOTHER STAR WARS FILM

First and foremost, let’s put away the pessimism.  George Lucas did not write the script and–okay hold on a sec.

GEORGE LUCAS DIDN’T WRITE THE SCRIPT THANK THE YUN’O

Nor is he directing.  So no trade disputes and no static, completely lifeless attempts to create political intrigue.  These reasons alone are enough cause for celebration.  The other reason for pessimism is that when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they announced they would do away with the current canon and expanded universe.  Therefore those of us who are sad we won’t see the alien race who’s gods name I just invoked, we’re going to have to deal.  I however, am really happy that those stories won’t get a movie adaptation, because my childhood imagination and memories of them will remain uncorrupted.

Nothing is ever going to match the original trilogy, and why waste breath bemoaning the prequels when you can look to the promising future of one of the best franchises in cinematic history?

May the Force Be With You,

Sincerely, Deej*

*Deej was an Ewok wind spirit that gave her life to teach the Ewoks the secret of music.