U2’s Joshua Tree Tour: On Fatherhood and Politics

While my father was driving the family to Monocacy Battlefield for a hike, a young me sat with a CD player.  It had a U2 greatest hits disc in it, and I was holding it precariously in the air so that it would not skip whenever the Toyota 2000 Sienna hit a bump in the road.

Flashback to 3rd grade me, and picture my dad.  He is cooking eggs and pancakes and putting out the cereal options and brewing coffee.  I’m laying peacefully in bed, dreaming.  I am awoken by a guitar, then a bass, and from then and there, the streets have no name.  Bono voices my thoughts….”I wanna run, I want to hide! I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”

Joshua Tree is one of a handful of records that my dad would play (read: blast!) to wake up the house, to announce the start of the day.  It is a record that is directly responsible for my love of music.  Joshua Tree shaped me and influenced me as a musician, as a music critic, and as a person.


U2 gets a lot of shit these days, from myself included.  They are a band that achieved global stardom and universal acclaim but never sought to reinvent themselves.  Bono, as well intentioned as he may be, is always too explicit and almost always is too painfully corny, his political bombast and generic platitudes too disingenuous.  In his worst moment as an artist he even force-fed us an abysmal album because he knew no one really wanted to listen.  Nonetheless, I remember Joshua Tree fondly and cannot deny its effect on my life.

So the present day me never had the intention to see U2 live, but when they announced they were going to do a Joshua Tree Tour and perform the whole album in its entirety, I immediately signed up for the early ticket access.  I admit I saw it as an opportunity to buy my dad a birthday present, but the thought of experiencing something that affected me so positively in my childhood and giving back and doing that with him was a dream come true.

And it was.  My dad danced and vibed the whole concert with a glint in his eyes that illuminated his pure joy.  After the show he said it was incredible, and that he was at a loss for words (which for him is quite something).  He processed it and ultimately said it was a concert that was simultaneously intellectually stimulating and wildly entertaining, but he did add that at times Bono’s asides were too much.  My father’s analysis is at the core of why those who hate U2 really hate U2.  But at least they are finally accepting their destiny: Joshua Tree is undeniably their magnum opus, and they did the right thing capitalizing on their anniversary tour.  Nonetheless, Bono saw it as an opportunity to grate us with his platitudes.

Before they took the stage, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, and Jamie xx were played, a sad and all-too obvious attempt to seem hip and cool.  Meanwhile, Civil War, slave, and Native American obituaries, speeches, and poems were being scrolled down on the big screen.  There were times during the show when Bono would say “from the left, to the right, we find common ground to achieve higher ground,” and other political things that reminded us too much of the present day.  He thanked America for being an asylum for the Irish (white immigrants) and came razor thin close at times to saying “Fuck Trump,” but instead went back to the United States’ (relatively) open immigration policies.  Luckily, the musical breaks wiped everything clean and were mini moments of incandescent ecstasy.

Going into the show I knew the politics were going to be heavy-handed, but afterwards I did not expect it to make so much sense.  I thought my increased cynicism with age and my absolute dread of reading the news every day would cause me to loathe U2 for tainting my pure moment of nostalgic bonding with my father.  Instead, I found myself thinking of Paul Simon; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Sting, Tracy Chapman, Cat Stevens, and Chile’s very own Inti-Illimani.  They are musicians who are very explicitly political in their art, and my father filled the house every morning with any and all of them.  It was as if he were saying: “okay guys, let’s get up and change the world for the better.”  Whether it was a conscious decision or not, my father brilliantly delivered that lesson in such a gorgeous and implicit fashion that it will never, ever be forgotten. And I will love him forever for it.

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Lorde, You are not a Liability. You are a Powerful Woman

I really wanted to hate Lorde when she released her debut album.  I was a senior in college and her suburban teenage malaise was not compatible with where I was at in my life.  But lo and behold, her music was inescapable, I heard her croon at parties and her influence hit me regardless of what I wanted.  I thought: here is a white teenage girl complaining about the minutia of her privilege.  How I wanted to hate her, therefore Lorde sucks.

Wanted.  I automatically despised Lorde and the fact that every girl at every party sang along emotionally to all of her lyrics.  Deep down I knew I was judging her for what she looked like: a white, teenaged woman.  The ingrained sexism that I try to dismantle within me everyday triumphed, and I was both pride and prejudice simultaneously.

Deep down I saw how empowered all these women were, and what I was experiencing was disempowerment.  I was on the outside looking in.  Jealous.  I was left out of a circle of women who were singing at the top of their lungs, and as a male identifying person, that is a rare occurrence.

Whatever the thematic and conceptual differences between Lorde’s two albums, the ultimate takeaway from her sophomore effort Melodrama, is that her music is about the emotional difficulty of being a young woman in the world.  “Not easy” at its most understated, fucking impossible at its most real.  “In my head I do everything right,” she sings, but it does not matter if it is in her head or in actuality, some man is going to come around and dismantle all that is seemingly right.  “I am a liability,” she laments on not one, but two songs on Melodrama.

“You’re not what you thought you were……..a liability….”

An enormous part of Lorde’s appeal comes from her maturity.  At 17 years of age she was singing about high school like someone in their late 20’s, early 30’s looking back with wisdom and painful catharsis.  Every time I listen to Pure Heroine, I wish it had come out when I was in high school because it would have staved off so much angst and stereotypical bullshit.  Melodrama doubles down on that, except now she is an adult.  At 19 when the bulk of it was written and at 20 now, she is much wiser than I ever was at that age.  At the very least her art is, and it doesn’t matter if I listen to her music with the lens of a millennial working two jobs and in enormous debt, it speaks volumes to the human experience.

That experience may still be a white privileged one, and that should be noted.  Not often does an artist expose so much and create so much discourse by the age of 19.  Lorde’s music enlightens in such a way that is healthy for progress and empowering to girls everywhere all the while managing not to sound contrite.  I may be older than Lorde by six years, but wisdom isn’t acquired through age, but through experiences.

The most beautiful thing about art is that it is open to interpretation, but it also helps to understand the space and frame of mind the artist was in when they created.  In her interview with the New York Times,  Lorde insisted that Melodrama is not a break up album, but rather “it’s a record about being alone.  The good parts, the bad parts.”

For someone young and fresh out of a long term relationship, “being alone” is essentially the same thing as a break up.  But Lorde is not your normal young person fresh out of a break up.  She knows that one must come to terms with ones self when alone and embrace that identity.  The good and the bad.  Once you learn to love all of that about yourself, then you can move on to better things.  Lorde ghosted for a year, and the pop world is better off because of it.  Melodrama suggests loving is better than not loving at all, and that reflecting on life encourages amelioration.

“But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power
I’ll find a way to be without you, babe”

Get Pumped with Babymetal’s KARATE Music Video

One year ago today BABYMETAL dropped the inspirational music video for their lead single off of their sophomore album, and it proved to be a seminal moment for the band.  At the time they released “KARATE” they were still dealing  from the rough bout of heavy criticism and controversy surrounding them.  As if being teens was not enough, they were suffering from metal-heads who despised the idea of J-pop bastardizing their precious music.

They also received large amounts of praise for their genre-blending debut, and despite the resentment they endured from bitter misogynists and not-so-subtle xenophobes, they did just that: endured and moved forward.  The theme of the “KARATE” music video is clear and clichéd, but that is exactly why they have a global fan base capable of filling up stadium-sized venues.

The best part is surely the bridge because it hammers home the central point as well as changes the song enough to give chills.  You can just hear the triumph over the patriarchy and oppressive structures that hold these three young Asian women down.  They fall down, but together they get up and destroy their obstacles.  It is corny, powerful stuff, but it is okay to enjoy the corny and powerful.  Let yourself feel those emotions.

GET PUMPED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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DJ’s 2016 Music Awards Plus The Top 10 Tracks of the Year

Earlier this month I published my top 10 albums of the year, and now it is time for a lighter take on the year’s music.


Most “Wait….WTF Am I looking at?!?!?!” Album Cover

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Pixies – Head Carrier

And I’m not sure if I want to figure out what is on this hideous and unfortunate album cover.


Most Allegorical and Emblematic Album Cover (TIE)

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Solange – A Seat at the Table

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2016 condensed into two phenomenal album covers.  I’ll leave you to interpret the art for yourself, but I find them incredibly allegorical and symbolic.


Most Artistically Stunning Album Cover

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Deftones – Gore


Most “Despite Everything Turning to Complete Shit Before Our Eyes Let’s Just Party And Have Fun!!!!!” Album Covers (Slideshow, because, the more the merrier the party)

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Making a 2016 party playlist would be fun, but that would take a long time.  This is just a collage of fun 2016 album covers that to me say, “fuck it, let’s throw a party with our friends and feel good, even if it is only for a short while.”


Most Heartbreaking and Emotional Music Video

PUP – “Sleep in the Heat”

Most Artistically Stunning Music Video

Jamie XX – “Gosh”

If you own a pet or pets then the PUP video might be too difficult to watch, but I guarantee it is beautiful.  The Jamie XX video is gorgeous on a whole other level.  It is one of most engrossing, mesmerizing music videos I have ever seen, and its replay value is incredible.  That one is a must watch, and if you’re curious about how it was made, check out this interview.


Most Listened to Songs on My iPod from 2016

10 – “Sober” – Blink-182 – 79x

9 – “Copper Wire” – The Range – 80x

8 – “Delete Me” – Posture and the Grizzly – 80x

7 – “Fever Queen” – Nothing – 80x

6 – “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski – 85x

5 – “50/50” – For Everest – 92x

4 – “Lazarus” – David Bowie – 95x

3 – “Karate” – BABYMETAL – 113x

2 – “Mandy” – Posture and the Grizzly – 132x

1 – “No” – Nicolas Jaar – 136x


Most Overrated Album

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I’ve been a huge fan of Drake for his whole career, and I have always wondered when he was going to come down to earth.  After releasing 2011’s best album Take Care, I was pleased that he was able to put out two really solid records.  A lot of people I know still love Views, but as a whole it is his worst album, one that feels bloated and uncharacteristically insincere.


DJ’s Summer “On Repeat” Album 

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Infectious and full of beach-like vibes, Roosevelt’s self-titled was on repeat for me this summer.


Best Opening Track

“Fill in the Blank” – Car Seat Headrest

My criteria for best opening track is simple.  Find the best first song that sets the tone on a really good album.  “Fill in the Blank,” does this more than adequately and the lyrics, to me, are appropriate and masterfully poetic given the way 2016 went.


Best Closing Track

“Close to You” – Rihanna

My criteria for best closing track is also simple.  Find the best last song that brings closure to a really good album.  The song needs to allow for reflection and is often times more serene than the songs that preceded it.


The Top 10 Tracks of 2016

 

10“2 Phones” – Kevin Gates

9 – “White Ferrari” – Frank Ocean

8“Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix) (feat. Trina)” – Run The Jewels

7“50/50” – For Everest

6“Karate” – Babymetal

5“Radiate” – John Morrison

4 – “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski

3“No” – Nicolas Jaar

2“Lazarus” – David Bowie

1“Cranes in the Sky” – Solange

The Top 10 Albums of 2016

2016 sucked.  Worst year of my lifetime by far, but at least it was a sublime time for new music.  I present to you my picks for the ten best albums dropped in 2016.


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10 – Arbina – Noura Mint Seymali

As a griot, Noura Mint Seymali is part of a family that includes ten generations of bards.  So rich is that history that had she been alive a century or two ago, she would have  followed warriors into battle to encourage them on and later recount their feats and noura-mint-seymalidemises.  She would have eased their troubles with the magical power of musical oratory prose and poetry.  But with her masterful skill of the ardin and hypnotizing and fascinating vocals, she still gets to do that.

The only “world” music album on this list (sigh, I wish more people expanded their horizons) it nonetheless benefits from record label clout.  For every foreign album that makes waves elsewhere there are dozens that are systemically ignored.  Noura Mint Seymali is a Mauritanian artist who is gaining traction in the world music scene, and is a refreshing inclusion in the under appreciated sphere of Arabic art.


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9 – The Uncanny Valley – PERTURBATOR

The biggest television phenomenon of the year came from a sublime 80’s throwback Netflix original, Stranger Things.  You may have heard of it.  For whatever reason, retro 80’s music never comes close to touching the visual media that benefits so wonderfully from its throwback concept.  This is tragic, because there is a vast trove of such music to be found below the mainstream.  And no album does a better job in capturing this retro-synth sound than PERTURBATOR’s The Uncanny Valley.  If this column were my top 10 favorite albums of the year, this album would be number 1.

Out of all the albums that fall under the category of ” retro-80s-synthwave,” this is by far the most realized, cohesive effort.  PERTURBATOR’s work has flirted with breaking through to a larger audience before (popular indie video game Hotline Miami), but maxresdefaultThe Uncanny Valley is the project that deserves to pivot the spotlight entirely.  Unfortunately, that will most likely never happen, and the Stranger Things soundtrack will remain in the spotlight, if only because of its accompanying visual medium.

That is truly a shame.  The album’s title refers to the idea that human replicas (in this context it is androids, but the aesthetic philosophical theory also includes, corpses, zombies, prosthetics, etc) that are similar to but do not completely resemble humans are eery and illicit feelings of revulsion and disgust.  Most of this album is definitely creepy.

3c57dc22904683-5631a31b855c5It is ripe with minor notes and chord progressions that provoke discomfort.  As intense as The Uncanny Valley is, however, there is a wonderful moment on the album’s closing eponymous track in which the eeriness fades, and there is a brief moment of relative quiet.  As a listener, one relaxes, and almost breathes a sigh of relief when the relentlessness has abated.  Instead of shocking the listener by returning to an intense synth ridden high beat-per-minute rhythm, PERTURBATOR ends the album like a classical composer such as Beethoven or Mozart would end one of their symphonies, in majestic and completely satisfying fashion.


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8 – Malibu – Anderson .Paak

By leaps and bounds the happiest and most optimistic album on this list, Malibu was at times this year completely intolerable and unlistenable.  I rarely ever sought out this album or wanted to listen to it, just because I was not in the mood.  The warm and conversational music did not mesh well with my curt and pessimistic outlook on the year.  In short, it was not enough of an escape.

The moments in which I heard the soulful, passionate, and celebratory voice of Anderson’s  fantasy were, however, no less than wonderful: a massive reunion of friends at my alma mater, road-tripping during the summer, grilling with roommates, that kind of thing.

Frank Ocean said “When you’re happy you enjoy the music, but when you’re sad you 720x405-paakunderstand the lyrics.”  Quite the insightful phrase, it does not ring more true on this list than within the context of Malibu.  The music itself is uplifting, but take a moment and listen to the lyrics and you will realize that there is suffering and hardship in them.  Album standout and candidate for opening track of the year “The Bird,” is a perfect example of how staying positive in tumultuous times can be enduring.

I’m repping for the longest cycle,
My uncles had to pay the cost,
My sister used to sing to Whitney,
My mama caught the gambling bug,
We came up in a lonely castle,
My papa was behind them bars,
We never had to want for nothing,
Said all we ever need is love,


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7 – Run The Jewels 3 – Run The Jewels

There used to be a time in which music that was as abrasive as the content on Run The Jewels’ (here on in known as RTJ) albums would cause me to have a pretty negative reaction.  Alas, I lost my innocence and sometimes I fully embrace my fiery anger and increasingly pessimistic side and tell my haters and folx I disagree with to “run naked backwards through a field of dicks.”

As bleak and horrifically rude that is, my music taste has definitely evolved in an incredibly healthy way, and I am grateful for that.  It has been sprinkled with a healthy amount of cynicism, and I remain steadfast in my choice to name RTJ2 the single best album of 2014. Every single RTJ album is the truth, and the truth is brutally harsh.  As far as Killer Mike and El-P are concerned, they will take the world’s bitter truths and use them like sandpaper on a festering wound.

Beware of horses
I mean a horse is a horse of course, but who rides is important
Sitting high with a uniform, barking orders, demanding order
And I’m scared that I talk too much about what I think’s going on
I got a way with this, they might drag me away for this
Put me in a cage for this, I might pay for this
I just say what I want like I’m made for this
But I’m just afraid some days I might be wrong
Maybe that’s why me and Mike get along
Hey, not from the same part of town, but we both hear the same sound coming

Can’t contain the disdain for y’all demons
You talk clean and bomb hospitals
So I speak with the foulest mouth possible
And I drink like a Vulcan losing all faith in the logical
I will not be confused for docile
I’m free, motherfuckers, I’m hostile

RTJ’s music is not just hostile, but also enlightening and socially conscious.  They may have “become famous for flamin’ you fucks and maimin’ their way through the brush,” but if you take a few minutes to watch interviews of Killer Mike and El-P, one can tell that the duo who make up one of the most vitriolic rap groups today are gentle giants who create music as an outlet–a method to stay sane in an increasingly turbulent and infuriating world.

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6 – Blond Frank Ocean

These bitches want Nikes

They looking for a check

Tell ’em it ain’t likely

The first three lines of Frank Ocean’s through-the-roof anticipated sophomore album are a doozy. As a runner who only ever raced competitively in Nike spikes and as somebody who was seriously interested in Steve Prefontaine and his Coach’s revolutionary shoe technology, the opening track stood out.  Frank decides to open his highly awaited album talking about materialistic wants and capitalist privilege.  The same track ends with the lines, “I may be younger, but I look after you.  We’re not in love, but I make love to you.  When you’re not here I’ll save some for you.  I’m not him but I’ll mean something to you.”    Frank Ocean is back, and his lusciously rich and soothing voice is here to remind you that life is complex and not always black and white.

Compared to his visionary Channel Orange, this album is the quieter of the two.  It is more understated, and that works against him at times.  While the album is a tad off with its pacing and a bit rambling, it is still a work of genius.  Had it been another year, another planet, it would be number 1.  That is true for a lot of albums, even those excluded from crawford-frank-ocean-and-the-cure-913this list (my number 11 Solange’s A Seat At The Table, I am looking at you).  While Blonde is a more subtle, less spectacular album than the one that came before it, it is symbolic of an artist who is four years older.  He has changed, he has matured, he has decided who he is and who he will be in this moment.  The weight of the world may be looming over him, but no matter, tortoises move at their own speed and are intelligent because of it.  Frank Ocean put out an album that contains a savvy prescience eras ahead of its time.  Knowledge is a precious thing, and while it is sometimes beneficial and sagacious to hand knowledge down cryptically, sometimes its better just to give it to us straight.

You cut your hair but you used to live a blinded life
Wish I was there, wish we had grown up on the same advice
And our time was right


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5 – Rheia – Oathbreaker

Metal is another genre that up until five years ago I did not care for.  I listened to loud music like Metallica and AFI, but that was the closest I got to black, goth or doom metal.  Even then, bands like Oathbreaker are frowned upon by metal heads because they are too progressive and melodic.  Like pioneers Deafheaven, Oathbreaker’s music will transition seamlessly from scream0-type severity to beauteous serene and atmospheric header-oathbreakerinstrumentation.  The arguments between camps unravel like so: “Why sully such a darkly beautiful thing?” the metal heads cry.  “You call that beautiful?  How dare you sully such an (actual) gorgeous thing!” the post-rock inclined Explosions in the Sky sympathizers cry.

The Belgian outfit from East Flanders are by no accident former label mates of Deafheaven, and their music is at times painfully full of sorrow and at others raging with pent up fury.  Vocalist Caro Tanghe, delivering lyrics in English, manages to sound earnest, vulnerable, and caustically acidic all at once.  People who so casually dismiss bands like Oathbreaker just because they scream are fallaciously ignoring an honest longing and are stubbornly refusing to be sympathetic.  There is a reason why shoe gaze infused metal music is receiving so much acclaim these days, and it stems from the ability to deconstruct musical genres.  Removing separate parts from metal, rock, shoe gaze, folk, etc in a broken fashion is reckless and ill-advised.  In normal hands that would be the case.  Good thing Oathbreaker organized those broken puzzle pieces and reassembled them to create and expand on something brilliant and new.

I listened to this album a lot this year, most repeatedly and ardently after the election.  One of the predominant themes of Rheia is the idea that collective trauma is bearable through the act of processing it together and with akin feelings.  One finds comfort and strength through shared experience.  Rheia is an album ripe with pain and suffering, with dark lyrics, but it implores you to feel your feelings and work together with those who would be with you no matter the hardship.   Work towards something better, together.

Hand out your troubles, give me your pain
I’ll plant them next to the thorns in my veins
Tie your limbs to my crippled life
Hang on, I’ll carry you around


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4 – I Am Satan – Posture and the Grizzly

I listened to quite a bit of punk rock this year.  Okay, backup–I embodied gluttony itself and engorged myself with angst-ridden, ear-hemorraging, feedback-filled, trepidatious and self-loathing rock music.  In a year in which Blink-182 released their first album in four years and supplanted Drake to top the Billboard #1 album chart, I suppose this is okay.

Out of all the sublime punk rock albums to be released this year, I discovered Posture and the Grizzly by happenstance.  They are very much an indie outfit who mostly perform in 12196110_783786711731080_6431529482874586977_nDIY spaces, such as basements of apartments rented out to struggling 20-something year olds.  Their label, Broken World Media, is amazing, and I went to see sister band For Everest perform a house show in a basement in North Philadelphia (the ceiling was so low I had to bend my 6’2″ frame diagonally).  There I spoke with the drummer, who is also in Posture and the Grizzly, I sensed that all of my questions about the music made him weary.  I cannot blame him, my critic-like attitude and seemingly interrogative music fanatic attitude was probably the last thing he wanted to deal with at a punk rock house party.

Somewhere, somehow, we all fall in

And you’re bleeding out from all the stupid fucking shit

That everyone has to deal with

It’s a lesson learned in life

The New Yorker also happened to mention the band and how uncannily similar their lead singer, Jordan Chmielowski, sounds like Tom DeLonge, the former vocalist and guitarist of renowned afore mentioned pop-punk group Blink-182.  Both do indeed dramatically and violently emphasize vowels when they sing, and while such crooning may come across as whiny and not actual singing, there is an alleviating aspect to the vocalist’s nasally approach.  The lyrics and their delivery are like an anti-venom.  Or more precisely, Posture and the Grizzly’s I Am Satan sucks poison from wounds.  If you visualize the process, its a revolting image and not exactly a precise procedure, but it is life saving.


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3 – Lemonade – Beyoncé

If you had asked me about Beyoncé a year ago today, I would have been beyond vocal in my praise for her self-titled (at the time) magnum opus.  Hell, my inaugural post on this blog was a review of that album on its one year anniversary.  Well, I am a passing white dude who is again put in his place by a tremendously powerful woman of color.  Beyoncé proved me wrong when I thought her best work was behind her.  And then some.

I am still very skeptical about Lemonade.  It seems too voyeuristic to be genuine, too perfectly dramatic to be authentic.  Ultimately, my thoughts mean nothing.  This album’s successes speak for themselves, and the acclaim reaches a magnitude that is so immense that my opinion is inconsequential.  Furthermore, the story itself is entertainment gold.  This year I went through a tumultuous and devastating breakup, and whenever I listened to Lemonade, I could not help but draw comparisons.  After dating the same person for almost four years, it was hard not to listen to most music within that context.  The breaking and complete dismantling of a relationship is devastating.  Thanks to Beyoncé, I am reminded that it is how you handle the aftermath that sets the stage for what is to come.

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2 – Blackstar – David Bowie

Where the fuck did Monday go?

David Bowie released his final studio album on Friday, January 8.  On Sunday, January 10, he died.  “Where the fuck did Monday go?” was the line that made me cry when I first heard this album to completion on Monday, January 11.  For Bowie, that Monday never happened.

But it did.  That bleak Monday was a catalyst, and unbeknownst to the world, David Bowie set the tone for a tumultuous, death-ridden year.  Even if one did not personally and directly deal with death in 2016, one read or heard about it constantly.  Bowie, Prince, George Michael,  Richard Adams, John Glenn, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patty Duke, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Cohen, Harper Lee, Ashraf Pahlavi, Muhammed Ali, Nancy Reagan, Elie Wiesel, Juan Gabriel, Arnold Palmer, Miruts Yifter, Carrie Fisher…

Carrie Fisher, the woman who singlehandedly laid the groundwork for my feminist doctrine, died of heart attack complications.  The following day her mother, Debbie Reynolds and Singing in the Rain star died.  How on earth must Billie Lourde–Fisher’s daughter and Ms. Reynolds’ granddaughter–feel?

Seeing more and feeling less

I learned more about myself this year than ever before, which I suppose makes sense as I am one year older, and one year wiser.  Anybody who has read The Giver, however, knows this is not always a good thing, and sometimes knowing more is too much to handle, and as a defense mechanism one draws within oneself.  Silence, nothingness, absence of emotion…sometimes that is better than feeling anything at all.

David Bowie knew that, and when he was diagnosed with cancer and came to terms with his own mortality, I am sure he wanted to feel nothing.  Dealing with death is traumatic, but Bowie turned to his ultimate form of therapy–music.  Like the greatest classical composer of all time, Bowie composed his own requiem and in the process transformed his passing into a therapeutic and enduring work of art, one that will forever remind us that death too can be beautiful.

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1 – Sirens – Nicolas Jaar

My cousin Lucas was riding his bike home from the dentist in Santiago, Chile.  He was hit by a truck, thrown onto the sidewalk, and died of massive thoracic trauma.  He was 23.  He had just graduated law school.  He was everyone’s favorite cousin, because he was the kindest person you could possibly meet and got along with everyone.  My sister and Mami flew down to be there for everyone, while I spent the following four days mourning with the rest of my stateside family.  I thought about changing the tickets for my planned February trip, but elected not to.  I will celebrate Lucas’ life with everyone then.

Nicolas Jaar is–like myself–Chilean-American, and I cannot emphasize enough the profound impact his music has on me personally.  It is not just the similar cultural background, Nico’s second studio album, Sirens, is emotionally devastating, transcendently cathartic, and majestically complex.

That was how I described this album before Lucas died.  Now nothing I say or do will convey the depth of feeling and describe my now absolute and essential relationship with Sirens.

I found my broken bones by the side of the road

I found my broken home by the side of the road

I found my broken lens by the side of the road

I found my broken friends on the side of the road

Those lyrics (taken from track 6, “Three Sides of Nazareth”) are now especially tough to stomach and are one of the most literal and explicit examples of how my feelings towards nicolas-jaar-150615-616x4401this album has shifted.  The biggest changes are mostly implicit and allegorical, however, and the best art in the world provokes intense emotions without being crassly unambiguous.  Nicolas Jaar’s sophomore album–while subtly yet immensely political–is deliciously ambiguous and can be interpreted in many ways.  Nico is a DJ who is widely praised for his prodigious skill and knack for making layered and amazingly complex music, but this time he has outdone himself.  Some may find it boring, others too pretentious and artsy, but Sirens is a masterful and stunning work of brilliance.

Music can be cathartic, and my favorite way to deal with tragedy and anxiety is to listen to music that makes me feel my emotions and reflect on their meaning.  This year, no album did a better job in helping me cope with horrific and incomprehensible tragedy.  No album made me appreciate my life and loved ones more.  No album did a better job in forcing me to confront my fears.  No album so eloquently reminded me to learn from past mistakes, nor was any other album so powerfully alleviating.  No other album was so empathetic, so bleak, so tender, so political, so personal, so innocent, so perspicacious, so soothing, so unforgiving, so complex, so gentle.  Sirens is all of those things and more, simultaneously.  As overwhelming as that sounds, it never is.  It is omniscient, loving, and never forgotten.

1910259_1089064783098_3952_n

Does Denial Trump Reality?

I woke up at 4am the morning after election day, an empty bottle of gin in my hand.  I was the spitting image of King Tut’s mummified corpse, Boromir’s funeral canoe, James Bond tied to the table in Goldfinger.  My senses blurred as I took stock of my surroundings, and as I began to remember why I was not in my bed, my ears began to monopolize my brain.  They told me, “HEY DANIEL THE TELEVISION’S STILL ON LOOK AT IT.”  So I looked at the tv, and there it was: CNN’s projection that Donald Trump was President Elect of the United States of America.

I turned the TV off and promptly proceeded to pass back out on the futon.

Three hours later my alarm went off.  It was a grey, rainy day.  I took the trash out. I took the recycling out.  I thought that I should change my clothes.  I should definitely brush my teeth.  I should do that.  Yup, don’t forget that.  I began to walk to work.  I did not eat, I did not brush my teeth, and I did not change my clothes.

I pass an elementary school, parents are visibly trying to hold it together.  Kids look up at them, confused and concerned.  Teachers try, but they cannot alter the mood.  The children are not fools and they know the cause, but they do not understand.  They whisper among themselves worriedly.  Only in hindsight and reflection do I recognize this, for at the time I am numb.  I saw, but I did not register until much later.  I walked by like a somnolent zombie.

I don’t know how I did it.  I worked a small office shift that morning, walked home, microwaved some ramen, laid motionless in bed for 5 hours, then returned to work for an eight hour managerial shift at the coop where I work in West Philly.  That entire day was miserable.  Those that walked into the coop to buy food were the same way.  Some were visibly crying, others looked as if they had been for hours and could weep no longer.  Heads hung low, eye contact was rare, and the sick air of defeat suffocated everything.


In that first week I did not process much of anything.  For the first time in my life there were days in which I could not bring myself to get out of bed.  After that first week, however, I began to find solace in the company of those around me.  Collectively we were all suffering the same trauma and being depressed together was strangely comforting in a kind of awful bittersweet way.

I understand that the neighborhood I live in is a liberal bubble.  It is easier to go to work and know that 99 percent of the people I interact with did not vote for a volatile racist and sexual assaulter.  As time went on and I allowed myself to process what had happened, I looked back to the three Trump voters I had meaningful interactions with.

The first person was in a bar.  I had been watching soccer with a buddy and now that the game was over, the channel shifted to CNN and therefore campaign news.  Two Black men to my left started getting into an argument over who was going to win the presidency and after half eavesdropping on their conversation I was horrified to hear that one of them was going to vote for Trump simply because his opponent was a woman.

The second person I know voted for him simply because he is conservative.  She was raised in a conservative household and believes that immigration rates should be decreased, that tax cuts should be given to those who have “succeeded in achieving the American dream,” and that healthcare should not be mandated.  I tried dropping the Socratic method on this person and asked her various questions.  Do you understand the meaning of irony?  Do you realize that you’re forcing women to have a child, and yet you do not want the mother to be able to care for the baby, get maternal leave with pay–heaven forbid that child be born Muslim!  This same person said rap music is Black people music.  Yup.

Finally, the third person was a Black mother of three.  I encountered her on my walk home from work.  I was wearing a Bernie button on my jacket and we were stopped at a corner, waiting for the light to change.  The baby in her stroller was staring at me and holy crap were they cute.  I flashed the kid a smile and I told the mother that her children were incredibly adorable.  She thanked me, and then she nonchalantly called me out on my button.  “This neighborhood needs to stop getting freaky,”  she told me.  “Too many freaky people and I don’t like this change and that’s why I am voting for Trump.”  Gentrification aside–and I could very well be wrong–I suspect she was referring to the high percentage of gender non-conforming folx who live here.  The conversation left me feeling like I needed to vomit.


The last time I visited my parents, they had more than one Hillary sign in the front lawn, but they were genuinely scared that Trump would win.  No way, I reassured them.  America is not that stupid, ignorant, or backwards.

Denial.

I think back to the three Trump voters I came across in my personal experience.  Here was a Black man, a white woman, and a Black woman voting for Trump because of (in order) sexism, racism, and fear of gender nonconformity.  I assumed that the vast majority of all three demographics would be Trump opposers because he’s a known racist, sexual assaulter, and xenophobe.  A high percentage of African Americans and women are definitely going to vote against Trump, I told myself.

Denial.

I studied history in college with a focus on American history, and one of the last classes I took was called Violence in Early America.  We looked at religious acts of violence (the New England witch trials), xenophobic acts of violence (all atrocities on Native Americans), and domestic assault, just to name a few.  After several three hour seminar discussions, the class of seven people cautiously came to the conclusion that violence on a global scale was trending downward, and that very slowly humanity as a whole was becoming more tolerant.

Denial.

In that same class we debated the old adage “history repeats itself.”  I myself have always been very skeptical about the saying.  As Trump began to take over the election, however, I thought about King Richard III, who’s rise to power was oddly similar to Trump’s.  I thought about Hitler and how he seized the opportunity to mold and magnify fear.  The Holocaust is fresh history though, and there is no way a similar sociopath will be elected, I told myself.

Denial.

A recount or radical change to the electoral college will occur and we shall avoid this disaster.

Denial.

His cabinet appointments will not be that bad.

Denial.

Facts still mean something.

Denial.

Denial.

Denial.


My Chilean Mami wants to move back to Chile, and I understand why.  The events of the past month have been nauseating and have increased my anxiety exponentially.  At least I am a United States citizen, so my emotions pale in comparison with hers.  But this is what Black folx, immigrants, and women must feel like all the time.

Friends and family know me to a pretty positive person, but it has been difficult to stay positive lately.  I do know that I have learned to appreciate the little things more since election day, and I find comfort in the statistics that Hillary won the popular vote and that people are using this defeat to become more active.  I just hope we do not become complacent, because rebellions are built on hope.  Keep protesting, fight for what is right, and keep the world from descending too far into fascist chaos.  Clichés keep coming up because they continue to ring true, so remind yourself that at least clichés are normal. This debacle is not. Our racist xenophobe of a President-Elect is not normal.  Never forget that.

Do not let antics get in the way of real policy.  Sift through the bullshit and we will all get through this.  Together.

Denial?

Let us hope not.

 

A Post Election Cathartic Playlist

For those who know me, they know the crucial role music plays in my life.  It is my everything.  So naturally, I have turned to music during this disastrous time.  I offer up this playlist in the hopes that it guides you through your feelings and helps process this week’s events.  There are songs in genres that you may not enjoy or ever listen to, but I suggest you give it a listen regardless.  It will help.

Nicolas Jaar and the Powerful Complexities of Cultural Heritage

“You don’t look Chilean”

I have received that response from a lot of people when I say that I am Chilean-American, and I used to feel discomfort at such statements.  So much so that when people asked me where I grew up and where I am from, I would repress the Chile part of my answer and simply reply with “Frederick, Maryland.”  This is only half true, and a wholly unhealthy and poisonous answer.

While my response protected me short term from any inconvenient societal stigmas, I was slowly sinking into a depression by intentionally shutting away part of myself.  I slowly began to realize that I felt so disparaged by “you don’t look Chilean” because it is essentially policing my identity as well as an ignorant assumption that all Chileans are dark-skinned and people of color.

The last time I was in Chile, Nicolas Jaar released his debut album Space is Only Noise.  I was only ephemerally aware of it: I knew it was critically acclaimed and I knew it was made by a Chilean-American.  I listened to it twice, and dismissed it as too down-tempo, weird, and therefore boring and not worth my time.  Like my response to the conversation starter “where are you from?” I was in denial that Nicolas Jaar’s music was exactly what I needed to hear and accept as a part of me.

It was not until this time last year that it dawned on me that I had not been back to Chile in nearly five years.  Not by accident, I revisited Space is Only Noise, and fell in love.  It soothed my heartache for Chile, but only temporarily.  It acted as a balm, no more than a brief respite from the pain.

Time went on, and I slipped further into my crisis of identity.  Graduating college and trying to be an adult proved to be as difficult as everyone said it would be.  To exacerbate matters, this past summer was hell.  I suffered through a nasty breakup, barely socialized, and sank into the biggest rut of my life.  One that was so deep and confusing that I did not know what to do.  It took time and many conversations with friends and family to diagnose the root of the problem: It has been almost six years since I have returned.


I was eagerly awaiting Nicolas Jaar’s new album when my parents told me that they were flying out to Chile for two weeks.  Coincidently, the day they flew down was the same day that the album was released and the first time that I heard it.  As a result, the yearning I feel intensified exponentially.  Here I am, listening to a new Nico Jaar record while simultaneously looking at pictures on social media of my family in places that I long to visit so much that it causes me physical pain.

After the first few listens, I knew that this was a singular album, one that occupies a unique space in the music world.  I did not, however, think that the album would devastate me so much emotionally.  Analyzing every single one of those emotions, however, is exactly what makes Nico Jaar a preeminent DJ of his generation.

The artist and the music–they create a subtle yet expansive space where life is examined in a wholly provocative way.  They/it evokes sadness.  They/it evokes happiness.  They/it creates a safe space.  Nico the artist and the music itself….they create a vital lesson in duality.

While Space is Only Noise did a sublime job in emphatically filling a room with the powerful theme of duality, Sirens took that feeling and maximized it exponentially.  Standout “No” is the perfect example, and it is his best song to date.

Señor Alfredo Jaar – “Pongamos un poco de música y bailamos?
Para hacer la película más entretenida?”
Niño Nico – “Ya.”

 

Un día
De ventana abierta
Mi vecino vino a verme
Estaba lleno de desilusión
Me miró en los ojos
Y me dijo:

Ya dijimos No
Pero el Si está en todo
Lo de adentro y de afuera
Lo de lejos y de cerca
Lo que todos hemos visto
Y lo que ni siquiera dicen
Ya dijimos No!

Y fue ese día
Que yo me ví
A mi mismo
En veinte años

Y nada cambia
No nada cambia
Y nada cambia
No nada cambia
Por estos lados

No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
A pasar

Ya dijimos No
Pero el Si está en todo
Lo de adentro y de afuera
Lo de lejos y de cerca
Lo que todos hemos visto
Y lo que ni siquiera dicen
Ya dijimos No!
Pero el Si está en todo
Todo lo que hay

No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
A pasar

 

Señor Alfredo Jaar – “Quédate contra el muro.
Ponte contra el muro.
Anda para allá y cuenta otro.
El que a ti te guste, cuenta un cuento lindo.”

Niño Nico – “Había una vez un pajarito que estaba volando.
Y ahí, había un señor con una pistola muy grande e hizo así”

“Ya dijimos No, pero el Si esta en todo,” translates to “we already said no, but yes is in everything.”  When I first heard “No,” I trembled with deep chills running down my spine.  I could not for the life of me pinpoint the origin of such a feeling, but I continued to listen to Sirens in an effort to acknowledge and understand my emotions.  Repeat listen after repeat listen worked, but it was “No” that released the river.  After decades of repressing the Chilean in me–“ya dijimos no”–I could no longer ignore my Hispanic heritage (“pero el si esta en todo”).

One of my final papers in college was about non-violent protests during the devastating Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.  His brutal regime ended in a seemingly simple yes or no plebiscite on October 5, 1988.  For that paper I learned about members of my family who fled into exile or had been tortured as prisoners under that regime.  Not only is that “yes or no” vote floating through my mind when I hear Nico singing “No,” but I cannot help but think of my own unwillingness to fully accept que yo soy Chileno weon!

I still am not able to answer the “where are you from” question with complete conviction or with full Chileno pride, but like Nico Jaar’s music and the artist himself, I know that I can learn from my cultural duality and embrace myself.  Even though Nico’s music does not explicitly use traditional or culturally typical Chilean music, he is a musician that deftly blends old and new in such a way that is not directly in your face.  He masterfully proves through his art that the  importance of historical and cultural influence on the experience of today is mighty.  It may be subtle, but in the end it is so immensely evocative that it cannot be ignored.

Well, I Guess This is Growing Up: Blink 182’s Pop-Punk Revival

It was 1997, and Blink-182 were a group of absurdly crass upstarts who managed to write the rock song of the summer,”Dammit.”  The song’s themes of maturity and growing up caused it to become a classic single, and it remains legendary within the punk community.  Written by bassist Mark Hoppus, it tells the story of a breakup and the difficulty of seeing the former partner moving on and entering a relationship with someone else.  It ignited the beginning of an era, and in the late 90’s and early 00’s no pop-punk band could supplant Blink-182 because no one could write songs that were both immature yet inconceivably wise.

And you’ve been there for too long

To face this on your own

Well, I guess this is growing up

“Dammit” exemplifies Blink’s seemingly contradictory style of immature wisdom, and it has proved to be poignantly prescient in the past few years.  Mark Hoppus, guitarist Tom DeLonge, and drummer Travis Barker seemed to be inseparable friends, but Tom caused turmoil when he left the band to pursue his UFO obsession.

The subsequent fallout has been messy, and nostalgic 90’s babies who remember the band fondly have had to watch helplessly as one of their idolized childhood bands splinters and separates.   Unsurprisingly, fractured relationships is a central theme of Californina, their first album in six years.  Released last week, the album is the band’s first without Tom and their first with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba.  So for those of you who want to hear more of Tom’s nasally singing reminiscent of his famous “Where are you / and I’m so sorry” from “I Miss You,” you will not find it here.

Instead, Matt Skiba’s voice adds something that comes curiously close to solemn sentimentality, which was always rare from Blink’s past six studio albums.  Yes, Blink has always been capable of writing heartbreaking tunes (about suicide – “Adam’s Song”, or about divorce – “Stay Together for the Kids”) but they always returned to their pop-punk juvenile ways.  Skiba only sings in small doses, mostly ceding the floor to founder and band leader Hoppus, but when Skiba is called upon to do the vocals it makes for a pleasant change.

The change is so noticeable and the breakup lyrics so ripe with double meaning alluding to Tom’s departure that California is practically a concept album.  On the opener, “Cynical,” Hoppus laments,

 

There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up
You said everything you’ll ever say
There’s a moment of panic when I hear the phone ring
Anxiety’s calling in my head

Is it back again?
Are you back again?

Receiving endless phone calls from his band manager or Tom himself about the state of Blink-182 must have been tormenting, and knowing a long lasting relationship was spiraling towards its doom?  Heart-breaking.  “Cynical” clocks in just under two minutes, but it leaves enough time for Skiba–from Tom’s point of view, perhaps–to respond to Hoppus’ cynicism, “What’s the point of saying sorry now? / Lost my voice fighting my way out.”

A lot of the album continues in this manner, but even in Tom’s absence, California sounds exactly like another Blink-182 album.  Which is as it should be.  On “Bored to Death,” the spacey drum intro and snappy guitar riff immediately signal that Blink-182 has returned.  Mark Hoppus would not even need to sing a note to make that evidently clear.

While Blink-182 has always been Hoppus’ brainchild, without the return of drummer Travis Barker this new album would have been a failure.  His unique style and relentless work ethic has sustained the band’s success and has proved necessary to maintaining their trademark sound.  His unique expressionless calm while performing combined with his absurdly fast drum rhythms continue to balance out his colleague’s volatile immaturity in such a way that holds the band together.  On “No Future,” he backs a potentially boring first verse with a drum pattern so interesting that it steals the show.  After listening to the album a couple dozen times I still unintentionally ignore the lyrics and am held hostage by Barker’s talent.

Despite the success of the throwback sound, Blink-182 are trapped in their melancholy nostalgia and angst a little too long.  Perhaps that comes with getting older, but California is much too long and it would have better suited their style if they had made something more concise.  Even though the 16 song album is only 43 minutes long, a lot of the songs accomplish their goal at their halfway point.

They also fall for a few clichéd traps, such as the tiresome pandering to “kings of the weekend” who have “no self control,” but even then their explanation of why they included it on the record (at first “Kings of the Weekend” was not at all close to the final cut) makes sense in almost an endearing kind of way.  And the song very nearly redeems itself with the line “Friday nights always saved my life / from the worst of times we ever had / thank God for punk rock bands.”  Later, on the de facto closer “California,” they sing about the depressing aspects of suburbia in a wholly unoriginal way, which is unfortunate because the song had the potential to join their podium of ballads.

Nonetheless, Blink-182 have once again made a good album, and after being around for a quarter-century, that is saying something.  They capture well the spirit of middle-aged malaise surrounding relationships and purpose, one that is entirely familiar and unchanged from their youth–for better or for worse.  It should also be noted that California dethroned Drake’s Views from the Billboard top albums chart.  It is Blink-182’s first number one album in over fifteen years, which is pretty incredible.

Twice during the album Hoppus pays tribute to the band’s infectious adolescent energy.  “Built this Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” are seventeen and thirty seconds long, respectively, and the only lyrics on either of them are “woo woo / I wanna see some naked dudes / that’s why I built this pool,” and “There’s something about you / that I can’t quite put my finger in.”  Those only interested in the band’s golden age might frown upon California, but they will smile at these little quips and heed their message within the album’s larger narrative.  It is a familiar one, after all:  Well, I guess this is growing up?  Fuck you I’ll still hold on to my childish ways for as long as I can.  It sucks and the inevitability is suffocating, but you never have to grow up too much.

A tank of gas is a treasure to me

I know now nothing is free                      – “Carousel”  1994

 

My friends say I should act my age

What’s my age again?

What’s my age again?                               – “What’s My Age Again” 1999

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Julianna Barwick’s Pure Will

Will

noun
noun: will; plural noun: wills
1.  the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
“she has an iron will”

synonyms: determination, willpower, strength of character, resolution, resolve, resoluteness, single-mindedness, purposefulness, drive, commitment, dedication, doggedness, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power
“the will to succeed”

It is almost impossible to read about Julianna Barwick without learning about her biggest influence as a musician.  She grew up on a farm in Louisiana, and it was there that she would venture into her back pasture, climb into the hollow spaces of a massive tree, and sing.  Her voice would reverberate and echo through the different chambers, and as she crawled though the holes and laid in its branches, the tree nurtured her desire to make soothing musical masterpieces.  She calls the tree, “the magic place.”

She also spent a lot of time in church singing in a choir, and it shows.  By looping her own voice on top of itself and layering them over notes of piano and strings, she paints a very pastoral mood.  “Envelop,” the opening track from her major label debut, is a very good example of her style.  It begins with just her voice, which she then records and loops over and over again, slowly magnifying it with simple piano, violin and cello riffs.

Given how stunningly magnificent her first proper album was, Barwick’s sophomore effort was highly anticipated, and resulted in another fantastic project, Nepenthe.  The video of standout “Forever,” gives me chills every time I watch it.  It shows Barwick recording the song in an abandoned swimming pool (which has been transformed into a recording studio) with an all-girls Icelandic choir.  You can see the joy on their faces as they make something awesome.

Admittedly I was not excited when her third album was announced in March.  Barwick’s formula is predictable and I perceived it to be stagnant and without much room for growth.  But when Will was released on May 6, I was proved astoundingly wrong.  It is her best album to date.

Her first and second albums were 44 and 42 minutes respectively, and while her music is gorgeous, its simple nature can grow boring in that time.  Will does not have that fault, and it is the perfect length for Barwick to succinctly display her craft. In 39 minutes she packs a more emotional punch than most other musicians can in twice that time using lyrics.

For example, “Nebula,” the first released single off the album, is perhaps the most stark, somber tune that Barwick has ever written.  Fittingly, the music video is very dark and haunting, and not necessarily a comfortable watch.  What is truly beautiful about it, however, is every time she sings the lights come on.  Voice as light is a sweet yet fleeting notion, because the darkness returns to envelop Barwick as she is forced to release the note and draw breath.

“Nebula” sticks out on Will a little like a sore thumb–it is bizarrely out of character.  Among the synonyms for “will” is single-mindedness, the only relatively negative idea surrounding the word.  Barwick knows that her style can at times be dull, repetitive and unbecoming of most moods, but her dedication to her art is largely positive.  While she may be stubbornly making music that can be perceived as monotonous, the end result is a testament to her willpower and strength.

The following 31 minutes after “Nebula” are symbolic of this, most especially the final song, “See, Know.”  The album closer plays like a victory lap, like a resounding emergence of light.  Even though Barwick’s voice takes a backseat, the driving synths and percussion give the song a triumphant nature.  It is the first Julianna Barwick song to include drums and cymbals, which contributes greatly to this feeling of accomplishment.

In order to understand the magnitude of this album, it is helpful to remember the magic place.  The tree must be very old and wise, and did not grow in haste.  Julianna Barwick did not arrive at this point quickly either, and her slow, deliberate growth as an artist has become a tribute to her childhood refuge.  On Will, she shows how powerful her commitment truly is, and by the end of it she is basking in the glory of achieving her goal.  And just like the magic place, she is not done growing.