Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roadtrip music

As anyone who has moved halfway across this huge country can attest to, moving is a massive undertaking. Music is crucial for anyone looking to stave off the insanity that comes with the tedium--packing, loading, driving, unloading, unpacking, getting the utilities set up, waiting for the cable and/or internet people, and all the other things that make working people want to yank their own hair out at the root when the pick up and relocate.

In other words, when you're stuck in a seemingly never-ending doldrum of unrewarding tasks, one needs something to remind him or her that this isn't the end-all/be-all of human existence. Think of it the same way as when you need to listen to your favorite songs when you get home after a day at your alienating, soul-crushing job. The difference is when you're moving, you're essentially in that same, uninspiring place 24/7.

So, here are the songs I've been sticking my ears into for the past two weeks to take the edge off. Some pretty strong stuff indeed.

1. Ani DiFranco - Imperfectly
Classic Ani! Call me a purist, but I think her early material is the most confessional, outraged, intensely personal and uncompromisingly human. The guitar work veers between the soothingly melodic and chaotically despterate, and the lyrics describe the world just as she sees it, but never lose sight of how beautiful it can be at the same time.

2. The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon
"I'm Boots Riley, it's a pleasure to meet you / Never let their punk-ass ever defeat you." When your life's possessions have been driven halfway across the country, yet you're the one doing all the loading and driving, and you're still handed a bill for $800, this is a line that you need to hear! Boots is out in Denver right now at the DNC protests. Hope he and the rest are rocking it '68 style!

3. Miles Davis - Miles Davis Live
Recorded live in the south of France three years before his death, this is far-out Miles--and I mean far... out! Wicked experimentalism is the theme of this recording. It keeps you guessing and your mouth agape when you hear what he's doing. There are parts on this record when it sounds like a children's song, parts that sound like a 13-year-old around with a Moog synth, but somehow Miles' brilliance gives it all a logic.

4. The Clash - London Calling
Of course! What can possilby be said about this album that isn't a cliche? The indisputable pinnacle of the synthesis between radical politics and rock 'n' roll. A recording that takes on new layers every time it's listened to. Lately I've been interested in Strummer's fascinations with Spain as illustrated in his homage to the left-wing militias in "Spanish Bombs."

5. The Jayhawks - Forever the Green Grass
As a fan of "alternative country," it's taken me way too long to discover the Jayhawks (much thanks to Shantel for getting me into them). Personally, I think records like this are what the fathers of country had in mind when they thought of what the genre would be like in present decades--not Carrie Underwood, not Toby Keith, not Brooks and Dunne and their over the top shallowness. The Jayhawks and others like them represent real, honest, down home, working-people's country music. And as for road-music--perfect!


Monday, August 25, 2008

The Return

Rebel Frequencies is now officially a Chicago based website!

Posts will be starting again; more articles, more commentary, and... well... more!

Stay tuned and stay free.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Will return late August

Rebel Frequencies will be on a quick break during the transition to Chicago.

Readers are encouraged to keep contributing to the comments section in the meantime.

Much is upcoming when RF returns: an article dissecting the rotten politics of the Jonas Brothers (since the original post on them seems to have provoked a great deal of discussion), an interview with Son of Nun, and a series of articles on the affect of the red-letter-year 1968 on music. So keep checking back!

Rebel Frequencies will return, at the latest, on August 30th.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Why we don't need the industry... especially Disney!

One of the perks of running a blog--even one like Rebel Frequencies that strives to be more than a non-stop rant--is that the writer has an opportunity to vent in a healthy manner.

In that spirit, I would like to express how profoundly sick I am of seeing the Jonas Brothers everywhere.

Here is example number one of a musical act (note that I am refraining from calling them "artists") that would not exist were it not for the music industry. They are nothing more than creations of Disney (who after making up the term "tween" are now determined to corner the market).

If not for the ever-present industry, then we wouldn't have to see the brothers' images pasted up everywhere, we wouldn't have to put up with their massacre version of "Hello, Good-bye" in Target commercials, and we wouldn't have to put up with rhetoric about how "wholesome" they are (you know, with their Evangelical beliefs, promise rings, and abstinence from drugs and alcohol).

The immortal Bill Hicks had the perfect words for "wholesome" acts like this when talking about the New Kids on the Block:

"'Oh, come on Bill. Don't pick on the New Kids. They're so good and wholesome and they're such a good image for the children.' Fuck that. Since when is mediocrity and banality a good image for your children? I want my kids listening to people who fucking rocked! I don't care if they died in puddles of their own vomit; I want my kids listening to someone who plays from his fucking heart!"

Alas, acts like this don't need heart. They have a more important social role. Make no mistake, it's not just that the Jonas Brothers are marketed relentlessly and at the same time "happen" to be pabulum. Entertainment of this character has a very specific ideological agenda behind it: to reinforce an impossible level of "morality" to dull the pain of reality. The crumbling economy, the decline in living standards for young people, the fact that any one of us might be sent to die in a meaningless war--Disney chooses not to deal with all this (they are, after all, at least indirectly responsible for it), instead insulting our intelligence with cliched versions of "good Christian values" wrapped up in a shiny package.

Reality has always been an after-thought for Disney--remember, they also refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11)--and as for true, honest, gritty music that actually reflects that reality? Forget it.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Elitist hipsters? It can't be!

Much respect to the folks at Pitchfork, but despite consistently excellent music coverage, their own brand of elitism and snarkiness can get downright annoying.

Case in point: today's posting haranguing Rage Against the Machine for playing a show in the Twin Cities at the same time as the Republican National Convention.

After blaming Rage for the violence at last week's Lollapalooza (as opposed to the drunken, entitled frat-boys who are normally the culprits in such situations), P-fork contributor Dave Maher seems determined to preemptively blame the group for any violence that may come while the RNC is in town:

"So here's what we've got: a 'revolutionary' band whose most recent show at a mostly peaceful music festival incited the crowd to violence, causing many injuries to concertgoers in the process, playing a show in the same city and at the same time as a huge event celebrating the political party most opposed to that band's message. (Not to mention the fact that the last time Rage played a party convention, things didn't go so well.)"

Maher then ends with the incredibly condescending line: "Sounds like a great idea, guys! You couldn't just hand out copies of some socialist newspaper outside the RNC?"

Perhaps for obvious reasons, I take personal offense to that. Seriously.

Here is the reason why many are turned off by Pitchfork. Their coverage, though thorough, too often takes easy pot-shots at anyone standing up for something decent. Most of P-fork's readership is almost definitely to the left, against the war, find sexism and racism to be profoundly uncool, and probably think their own living standards should be improved.

And yet they see no contradiction in sniping against one of the best politically-minded acts of our age. Rage's decision to play in the Twin Cities while butting up against the RNC is of course a direct act of protest against everything the Republican Party stands for. They don't just see this as a great way to stir things up, they see it as their job to pick dates like this. Pitchfork, a site that views itself as being "alternative," is in a position to ask questions, delve into the group's reasoning, and examine the all-too-often ignored intersection between music and politics.

But who needs facts when you've got quick and easy labels? Who needs analysis when you've got scapegoating? And who needs journalistic integrity when you've got sarcasm? In moments like these, there really isn't that much separating this "alternative" site from establishment music journalism.

Maybe this is why hipsters get such a bad rap.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We the Fire Next Time!

In the five years since the release of his searing debut Blood and Fire, Baltimore-based MC Son of Nun has gone from playing small fundraisers and local open mic nights to sharing stages with the likes of Wayne Kramer, the Coup and Tom Morello. His profile has developed over a time of increasing hunger for political music acts; artists who don't just entertain, but say something profound about the world around them.

On his long-awaited followup The Art of Struggle, released August 6th, he manages to do both extremely well. A committed socialist and revolutionary, SON admits that the album is "a reflection of the time that I've spent working with different movements. The Art of Struggle is a political album that encompasses my perspective on a lot of different issues: from immigrant rights to the death penalty to the way that children are impacted most by issues like debt on the African continent... and also pride for the rebels that are in my heritage..."

This is far from being "just another political album," though. It is layered, intricate, often subtle, defiant and a lot of fun to listen to. SON's skills as a rapper and lyricist are substantial, and unlike many artists willing to sloganeer into a mic and call it "political," SON simply allows his firebrand radicalism to infect every rhyme, note and beat.

That's evident on songs like "My City," where he seamlessly weaves together the stories of an inner-city kid pressured into joining the army and the Iraqi insurgent he's sent to kill. Lines like "my high-school never had many computers / but they always had plenty military recruiters" are the kind of "oh, snap" moments that fill this album, where SON isn't so much speaking truth to those in power as schooling power itself.

DJ Mentos' beats add real power to these moments. Whereas Blood and Fire's beats showcased SON's own affinity for drum 'n' bass, The Art of Struggle employs Spanish guitar, string sections, even woodwind samples for a more organic sound, adding a visceral intensity to SON's already stellar story-telling and wordplay.

Tracks like "Speak On It" are driven by thick, menacing undertones. As the lyrics draw parallels between struggles taking place half a world from each other--from New Orleans to Oaxaca to Beirut--there's a clear sense on this track that resistance is far from an isolated phenomenon, and always has the potential to become a full-fledged global explosion.

It's here that Son of Nun's skills as both an activist and lyricist collide. While describing his process for writing "Speak On It," he asked says he asked himself, "how can I open up these issues and in some way try and put them up against each other in one piece... and try and do it in a way so you can't get around the way that this same administration, this same system, is responsible for all of them?"

At its core, this is a track with a simple message: where there is oppression, there will be resistance. And really, this could also be said about the album itself. "The Fire Next Time" is the pinnacle of this theme, taking a confident, almost threatening beat and putting it under SON's recounting of Black resistance through history, ending with the possibility of soldiers in Iraq today.

"You can call Bectel on your Nextel
And tell 'em that their pipeline's about to catch hell
If they think I'm gonna die for them they ain't well
I'm the fire next time and I'm at their doorbell!"

These are much more than images and stories; they're invitations to rebellion. During the song's hook, SON encourages the listener to join in with a call and response: "when I say 'fire,' y'all say 'next time' / We the fire... We the fire..."

If the listener can stop themselves from actually shouting back, I recommend they check their pulse.

This sums up The Art of Struggle: the idea that a fundamentally different planet isn't only possible, but necessary, and that instead of waiting for some Moses to create it out of thin air, it's ordinary people who have the only power to create it. Radical? Of course. But at a time like ours, when a growing people are searching for some alternative to the status quo, it's also very much needed.

*To check out tracks from 'The Art of Struggle,' or to order a copy, go to www.sonofnun.net.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In other words, they censored me

For the past several days, I have been unable to post to Rebel Frequencies. This is because Google decided that RF closely resembled a spam blog.

The result? I had to verify the integrity of RF, which meant putting in an investigation request, which took several days, and during which I was prevented from posting anything on the site.

The frustrating thing is that it's rather hard to confuse RF with a spam blog. I am far from being a conspiracy theorist, but it strikes me as funny that this temporary shut-down came less than a week after I posted regarding the Maryland Police Spying.