Monday, November 16, 2009

New blog -

Hi all,

Blogspot has served me well but I've decided to move over to WordPress. From now on, you can read my insightful articles and silly thoughts at



You may have noticed some cosmetic changes that I've made to Noter. I was getting tired of the old look and thought it'd look nice with a change. But I'm still trying to work out some kinks. 

Feel free to leave comments and suggestions. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Totally dental

My mom and I made a curious discovery about half an hour ago on the corner of 30th St. and University Ave. in North Park: three-dozen heavy boxes containing hundreds of plaster molds of peoples' teeth.

The boxes were the discarded records of Western Dental, located just a few steps away at 2948 University Ave. Along with the dental molds were several binders containing detailed patient records--names, birth dates, social security numbers, and all. 

As we stood there examining the dental molds, a pickup truck pulled up and three guys started hauling the boxes into the cargo bed. 

Feel free to put aside some boxes for yourselves, one of them told us. 

"Where are you taking this stuff?" I asked.

"Dump," he replied. 

Quite a few questions linger: What were all these molds and records doing sitting on the street? Why take it away so late at night? And is it all really headed for the dump? 

But one thing is certain: I won't be getting my next checkup at Western Dental.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tent City II: Imagining San Diego County with Sheriff Jay in charge

This article was published in this week's issue of San Diego CityBeat:

At Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Tent City,” inmates sleep in Army tents, wear pink underwear, eat 15-cent meals and join chain gangs to pick up trash in Arizona’s desert heat. 

For Jay La Suer, a former state Assembly member from East County who wants to be San Diego County’s next sheriff, the notorious Arizona lawman known alternately as “Sheriff Joe” and “America’s Toughest Sheriff” has been an ally and a mentor. In fact, as part of his own tough-on-crime platform, La Suer has vowed to build a tent jail that’s just as unforgiving. 

“I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t,” he told reporters during a press conference before a fundraiser at Marina Village Conference Center last Friday, where Arpaio headlined with a jocular, 25-minute speech. “We’re going to save taxpayers money. We’re going to incarcerate people at a cheaper cost, which is going to make you safer.”

La Suer, 69, a conservative gun-rights advocate and immigration hardliner who imagines himself as “Sheriff Jay,” is easily the race’s most divisive candidate. Depending on whom was asked at the event—the 200 donors dining on meat and potatoes in the woodsy hall or the four-dozen mostly Latino protestors chanting “Racist sheriff, racist friends, this injustice has to end!” just beyond the parking lot—Sheriff Arpaio’s endorsement is a blessing or a curse. 

La Suer faces stiff competition from the incumbent, Sheriff Bill Gore, a former FBI agent who has the support of much of San Diego’s political establishment, political analysts say. But he will have better chances if he manages to expand his conservative East County base and beats Gore’s main contender, Jim Duffy, a 28-year police veteran toting the endorsement of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, in the June 2010 primary.

So, what would San Diego look like if Sheriff Jay were to take command of the Sheriff’s Department and emulate Sheriff Joe? We fed Sheriff Joe’s record in Arizona into our virtual crystal ball and took a peek:

A new Tent City

To save taxpayers money and relieve prison overcrowding, Sheriff Jay follows the Arpaio model and pitches a tent city in Otay Mesa. 

Maricopa County paid $1 million to house 500 inmates in Arpaio’s first tent prison, while it costs $80 million to house 5,000 inmates at San Diego’s jail Downtown, La Suer noted at a debate in September, according to East County Magazine. A state-of-the-art stun fence and hydraulic watchtowers bring up the price tag, but housing inmates in canvas tents saves the county as much as $65 million. 

To make the 5,000 inmates in San Diego’s jails regret what they did—even those who are just awaiting trial dates and therefore presumed innocent—Sheriff Jay bans coffee, candy, pornography and transistor radios. But inmates are given the opportunity to compete for McDonald’s and pizza in a grueling reality contest called “Solitary Survivor,” a spin-off of Sheriff Joe’s “Inmate Idle.”

What Sheriff Jay doesn’t realize is that Sheriff Joe has been the subject of more than 2,000 federal lawsuits alleging poor prison conditions, prisoner abuse and wrongful deaths, costing taxpayers $41.3 million in liability claims and insurance costs, according to a 2008 study by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank based in Phoenix. 

As the years pass, Sheriff Jay is swamped with federal lawsuits alleging poor prison conditions and wrongful deaths, which siphon off the money the tent city saved.

Immigration sweeps

Denouncing San Diego as a “sanctuary county” for undocumented immigrants, Sheriff Jay joins 287(g), a federal program (Sheriff Joe is an enthusiastic participant) that allows local police forces to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. 

Jay initially vows to adhere to the program’s regulations by focusing on major crimes, like human trafficking and drug smuggling. But, instead, he enforces immigration the Arpaio way and launches a series of indiscriminate sweeps that target people who, as observers note, “drive while brown.” 

The effort leads to a few hundred arrests but fails to close down any drug cartels or smuggling operations—as was the case in Maricopa County between 2007 and 2008, when the sweeps brought on a $1.3 million deficit in one three-month period, led to 200 arrests of suspected illegal immigrants and nabbed zero human-trafficking bosses or drug kingpins, according to the Goldwater Institute report. 

The San Diego Minutemen applaud the sweeps and fill the ranks of Jay’s volunteer posse (a citizen-semi-deputization program modeled on Sheriff Joe’s), but police complain that Jay has overstepped jurisdictional bounds, county officials blast him in the national media and civil-rights leaders and Latinos stage mass protests. As they did in Maricopa County, the sweeps lead to a Justice Department investigation into allegations of racial profiling and a class-action lawsuit filed against Jay, the Sheriff’s Department and San Diego County. 

The Obama administration refuses to reinstate 287(g) for San Diego County. But Jay is just as defiant as Arpaio was when Obama reined in his 287(g) powers and promises to keep sweeping. 

More crime, less efficiency

As Sheriff Jay gains international attention, San Diego County sees a dramatic increase in crime as deputies struggle to investigate cases—just as Maricopa County experienced between 2004 and 2007, when the rate of reported violent crimes increased by 69 percent, homicides alone grew by 166 percent, the arrest rate plummeted, thousands of felony warrants went unserved and deputies responded sluggishly to 911 calls, according to the Goldwater report.

To attack the massive problem of unserved warrants, Jay stars in “Book’d,” a reality show based on Sheriff Joe’s “Smile… You’re Under Arrest!” that compels fugitives to participate in elaborate pranks leading to their arrest. 

Unimpressed, The New York Times editorial board votes Sheriff Jay “America’s Second Worst Sheriff,” after Sheriff Joe.

Delusions of grandeur

Seeing enemies everywhere he turns, Sheriff Jay suspects that somebody is out to kill him. Eventually, he comes to believe that CityBeat columnist Edwin Decker has teamed up with the Arellano-Felix cartel to hatch a bizarre assassination plot. 

As Sheriff Joe did to the Phoenix New Times when he was having similar delusions, Jay issues a subpoena to CityBeat, demanding documents related to the reporting, editing and writing of all articles about him, along with e-mails, IP addresses and other sensitive information about the alt-weekly’s readers. When CityBeat responds with an editorial criticizing the subpoena as a “blatant violation of our Constitutional rights,” CityBeat editor David Rolland is arrested.

The FBI investigates whether Sheriff Jay used his powers to intimidate and harass his critics, as it’s now doing with Sheriff Joe.

Adding to Sheriff Jay’s legal troubles, Sheriff Joe sues him for intellectual property theft.  

Photo: Sheriff Jay (left) and Sheriff Joe, by David Rolland

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friendship Park just got friendlier

Well, not exactly.

The Border Patrol has built a "public access area" allowing entrance to a portion of the no man's land that runs against the border fence at Friendship Park, the bi-national hang out spot that stands against the border in Border Field State Park. 

But activists are lamenting the fact that the new public zone blocks off human access to people on the other side of the fence. Visitors need a government-issued I.D. to enter (effectively keeping out undocumented immigrants), limits occupancy to 25, and bars "physical contact with individuals in Mexico." 

"Friendship Park is a place characterized at its root by human contact, human touch," John Fanestil, a member of a local coalition called the Friends of Friendship Park (of which my mom is a member), told me over e-mail. "Friends don't greet friends from a distance of six feet across two fences." 

In years past, people in the United States used to meet people in Mexico at the park to hang out, talk, and even hand tacos between the fence. But in January, the Department of Homeland Security blocked off public access to the fence, creating the 150-foot wide no man's land as part of an effort to construct 700 miles of triple-tiered barriers stretching the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The Friends of Friendship Park have been lobbying for months to restore public access to the border fence, meeting with the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. All the while, they've sought to remain connected to their friends across the border in creative ways--for instance, via long-distance conversations in sign language. [I gave a Border Patrol agent some questions about the new site, but he hasn't returned my calls.]

With the new zone, the Friends will no doubt find new ways to keep in contact with their pals across the border. 

On Monday, the Friends are going to hold a candlelight vigil at noon to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Directions: Take Hwy 5 South, exit Dairy Mart Rd, turn right (west) and follow the winding road to the entrance of Border Field State Park. You will be allowed to drive in to reach Friendship Park. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Job hunt scam

I found the job posting on craigslist, of course. From my e-mail.

fromjohn duke
toPeter Holslin
dateSun, Nov 1, 2009 at 8:03 AM
subjectRE: Administrative Assistant application

The Hiring Desk of the company has reviewed your resume and we believe you have the required qualifications. This is a work from home data entry job and you will get paid weekly doing data entry inputting (alpha and numeric data) into excel database,work is sent via email and you will be working M-F.
Earn $28 per hour
Do you have a yahoo messenger on your computer. To proceed with this Data Entry Clerk job position you must undergo an online interview via yahoo messenger.
I want you to setup a yahoo messenger (IM) Mrs Becky Wiliams and Instant Message this ID ( asap for the interview so you can get considered for the position

fromPeter Holslin
tojohn duke
dateSun, Nov 1, 2009 at 10:16 AM
subjectRe: Administrative Assistant application

Hello John,

Thank you for your consideration. I have contacted Mrs. Williams for the interview but so far she hasn't replied to my IM, but I will keep at it.

There is some information I would like to know about your company. What is the company called and what does it do? Does it have offices in San Diego? Do you have a website?



fromjohn duke
toPeter Holslin
dateThu, Nov 5, 2009 at 5:08 AM
subjectRE: Administrative Assistant application

The Hiring Desk of the company has reviewed your resume and we believe you have the required qualifications. This is a work from home data entry job and you will get paid weekly doing data entry inputting (alpha and numeric data) into excel database,work is sent via email and you will be working M-F.
Earn $28 per hour
Do you have a yahoo messenger on your computer. To proceed with this Data Entry Clerk job position you must undergo an online interview via yahoo messenger.
I want you to setup a yahoo messenger (IM) Mrs Jenifer Daches and Instant Message this ID ( asap for the interview so you can get considered for the position

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rupa & The April Fishes take in the good, bad and ugly of the border

This article was published by San Diego News Network yesterday

Rupa & The April Fishes do what they can to bridge boundaries — political, geographical and musical.

Take for example an April concert at Friendship Park south of Imperial Beach: Half the band performed in the United States while the other half played in Mexico, standing on the other side of a rusted border fence that runs into the ocean.

And consider “Este Mundo,” their latest album: As songwriter Rupa sings alternately in French, Spanish and English, the band swerves seamlessly from heady Indian raga into festive Jewish klezmer into romantic French chanson, sometimes in the same song.

The problem is that boundaries can be hard to surmount, a point that became glaringly clear when the band toured the U.S.-Mexico border region last April. At a hostel for migrants in Tijuana, Rupa met a man who had smashed his ankle and barely survived his journey across the border. And near El Centro, they explored a cemetery filled with over 500 unmarked graves — all of them migrants who had perished during their sojourns across the unforgiving desert lying between Tijuana and San Diego.

“Este Mundo” is dedicated to the thousands of migrants who passed away while trying to cross the border. But the album is anything but grave. In fact, it’s rather carnival-esque, driven by upbeat rhythms, bright melodies and tender lyrics. Even the sadder moments are full of gusto: Over the wacky boom-chuck and off-beat accordion pumps of “Por La Frontera,” Rupa asks in Spanish, “How can a line be worth more than a life?”

Rupa, a 34-year-old physician who tends to sick patients in a San Francisco hospital when she is not on tour, wants her music to consider both hope and tragedy. After all, she points out, the lovely shores of the Pacific Coast are less than an hour’s drive west of the rugged canyons of East County’s backcountry.

“That kind of contrast is the truth of life—it’s not all joyful, and it’s not all miserable. It’s not all struggle, it’s not all celebration. But there seem to be equal parts of these things,” she said. “I feel like honest art, for me, is something that can try to hold those poles in the same word, in the same gesture, in the same song.”

In part, the April Fishes are an expression of Rupa’s own complex identity. Her parents are from India; she grew up in Southern California, and she has also spent time in Southern France.

“I consider myself a citizen of the world,” she said. “I’ve been living in several different cultures and I wanted to give a musical voice to that experience.”

But the band’s sound — a synthesis of Balkan-styled accordion passages, languorous draws on the cello, heavy trumpet lines, jumpy upright-bass solos, Latin-tinged rhythms, and Rupa’s laid-back acoustic guitar strums — isn’t exactly serious. Feeling more light-hearted than Manu Chao, it’s actually a lot of fun.

That’s not to say that the songwriting process has always come easily. For two years, the band struggled with “Soy Payaso,” a downright schizophrenic song that begins with a dark flute passage and languid pops of tabla, segues into a madcap Jewish wedding tune with swirls of accordion and chants of “Hey!” and finally moves into the kind of upbeat French swing that belongs in a smoky cabaret.

“It took years to be able to play that song well, so that it felt that the styles were seamlessly blending together out of the same mouth, not like five different people talking at the same time,” Rupa said. “It takes living and breathing and sweating and loving each other, being kind to each other, learning about each other, spending time together and talking about music and working on music.”

Eventually, it came together. “Now, we’ve got it in our hands and we can play with it,” she said. “Every time we play it, I think, ‘Oh my god, is the audience gonna go with us?’ And every time we play it, it’s a total ride.”

Touring along the U.S.-Mexico border was an intense experience all its own. Recently, the band finished an hour’s worth of music telling the stories of the people they interviewed between shows, who had faced danger and hardship on journeys across the border, or who had plans to.

Whether it’s the good or the bad, though, the band has been eager to soak it all in.

“There’s a real hunger and curiosity — everyone exhibits a complete life curiosity, like almost at all time,” Rupa said of her bandmates. “This whole thing is just one giant experiment and God knows where it’s gonna go and what the next step is, but it’s been quite a ride.”

Peter Holslin writes about music for SDNN.

Event info
Who: Rupa & The April Fishes
When: 9 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 4
Where: The Loft (UCSD)
Tickets: $5-$12

Event info
Who: Rupa & The April Fishes
When: 9 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5
Where: El Lugar del Nopal, Tijuana

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hateful religious zealots provide for a teachable moment

Aside from its glossy signs (“GOD HATES FAGS,” “THANK GOD FOR 9/11”) and its sickeningly callous tactics (its parishioners have protested at the funerals of AIDS victims and soldiers who died in Iraq), Westboro Baptist Church is perhaps most famous for prompting creative counter-demonstrations.

Ten years ago, filmmaker Michael Moore and a team of gay friends chased around the church’s founder, Rev. Fred Phelps, in a giant pink bus dubbed the “Sodomobile.” Last March, a group of frat boys at the University of Chicago danced to such queer classics as Donna Summer’s “I’m Coming Out” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” during a WBC protest.

And on Friday afternoon, a boisterous crowd of gay-rights activists, open-minded church-goers and high-school students from across the city met half a dozen WBC protestors picketing outside the San Diego High School Educational Complex with signs bearing slogans like “LOVE IS ALL U NEED,” “GOD IS LOVE” and “GOD LOVES FAGS.”

When it comes to hatred, Westboro Baptist Church has it in spades—the organization is anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-military and probably anti- some other things that observers haven’t yet noticed. The group is so hateful, in fact, that even some of the country’s most intolerant evangelicals have distanced themselves from it: The late Jerry Falwell, well-known for his homophobic remarks, once called Phelps a “first-class nut.”

But that hasn’t dissuaded Phelps and his followers, many of whom are either related to Phelps by blood or through marriage. In fact, this has only encouraged them to focus their ire on rival evangelicals as well: They once condemned Billy Graham as a “Hell-bound false prophet,” and they protested at Falwell’s funeral in 2007.

The Phelps clan has essentially made a business out of their work. Some members, including Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper—who showed up at Friday’s protest in sunglasses and a “” tank top—are trained lawyers who work for the family’s law firm, Phelps-Chartered. They are known to sue aggressive counter-protestors and municipalities that fail to provide for their safety.

On the other hand, these veteran media hounds are able to escape accusations of committing hate speech by putting their hatred into God’s mouth. “We’re not judging anybody. God is,” said Jonah Phelps-Roper, a 12-year-old Westboro member carrying a red-white-and-blue colored sign saying, “ANTICHRIST OBAMA IS DOOMED.”

The Westboro members showed up at the corner of Russ and Park boulevards today—one of the first in a series of planned protests at high schools, Jewish centers and churches this weekend—just after 2 p.m., a few minutes before school let out. Posted kitty-corner to the school and often blocked by a throng of cars, their presence was barely registered by many of the students who began pouring out of the campus down Park Blvd. Of course, it helped that crowds of demonstrators espousing universal love filled every other street corner, drowning out the Westboro protests with chanting and drumming on pots and pans.

But it was still a media bonanza over at the Westboro corner. As the police tried to maintain order, photographers snapped pictures, cameras rolled and the Phelps disciples spewed their hyperbolic gospel in interviews. “Homosexuality is an abomination,” Shirley Phelps-Roper told a TV news reporter. “These children have been taught that God is a big, fat, stinking liar—that it is, in fact, OK to be gay. He says you’re going to Hell if you do that. They’ve been taught, ‘No, God is a liar.’”

At lunch earlier that day, many students were dismissive of the group. Westboro could hardly claim to have any fans at San Diego High School, which has its fair share of students who are queer-friendly, or have Roman-Catholic parents or relatives in the military, or all of the above. Lupe Brito, a junior at the School of Media, Visual and Performing Arts, one of the high school’s six “small schools,” had only one thing to say to the Westboro clan: “Get a life.”

But many students had been briefed about the protest in class, and members of the Gay Straight Alliance made their presence known when the protestors came—commandeering the school’s marquee at the corner of Park and Russ and covering it with a giant, hand-painted GSA sign. “They’re just invading our school,” said Jo Gookin, 17, president of the GSA. “This is a place of learning. It shouldn’t be brought here.”

All the same, some teachers considered the event a perfect “teachable moment”—a debate over the boundaries of free speech flaring up just outside the school’s gates. “I think that the students had a very good reaction to hearing about it. A lot of students were just really supportive of tolerance and equality,” said Kara Potter, a math teacher with purple hair who was standing with the equality crowd. “It brought up a good point for discussion.”

And what was the lesson for ninth grader David Jones? “Let people be who they are. Let them be free to express themselves,” he said. “Who am I to judge you? We’re all humans here.”

Photo: Shirley Phelps-Roper standing on the American flag and waving her signs. By Kelly Davis

Monday, October 5, 2009

“I Refuse To Lose!” - Comrade Fatso and Chabvondoka's Poetic Revolution

This article was published in the October 2009 issue of The Brooklyn Rail. Photo by Benjamin Herson.

by Peter Holslin

Over thirty years have passed since Dambudzo Marechera wrote The House of Hunger, his landmark 1978 novella about the brutal relationships and decayed ideologies of colonial Rhodesia, the southern African nation now known as Zimbabwe. But hunger remains a common theme in Zimbabwean poetry and music, manifesting itself as both a metaphorical yearning for freedom from corruption and oppression, and as something quite literal: a desperate need for food.

Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, after a vicious liberation war, and the country became a model of economic prosperity in Africa. But true democratic freedoms have never been achieved under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe, a guerrilla leader turned dictator. And it feels as though the slam poet Comrade Fatso is continuing from where Marechera left off when he begins his own House of Hunger, an album of pointed rhymes and fresh grooves that’s being reissued online by Nomadic Wax, with the wanting words, “My belly wakes me again.”

Set during Operation Murambatsvina (or “Drive Out the Filth”)—a 2005 nationwide campaign in which soldiers and police demolished tens of thousands of houses and vending stands that the government deemed “illegal”—that opening track, “Bread & Roses,” captures both types of hunger. Fatso takes on the persona of a street vendor who watches as a policeman smashes her vegetables. “Here come the forces of good/ Those who wage war on food,” he says in his steady cadence.

I thought ours was the land of the fruits
Now crushed by these blind boots
Saying my food is dirty
No, my food is dignity
It sends my children to school, you see

“Comrade Fatso” is the performance name of Samm Farai Monro, a lean 29-year-old with long dreadlocks and a dry wit, who eats with his fingers and rhymes in a patois of English and Shona (the language of most Zimbabweans). The son of white community organizers born in Zimbabwe, he resists being sucked into the bitter identity politics that have haunted Zimbabwean activism over the past decade. “You have to deal with issues regarding color, but that’s not what’s at the core of our crisis,” he told me in a phone interview.

What does lie at its core, as he makes clear in House of Hunger, is a system of institutionalized patronage and state-sponsored violence that sustains the immense wealth of a minority of political elites and punishes those of the country’s 12 million people who want to build something better.

Monro is an avowed activist and experienced grassroots organizer—when he isn’t touring with his band, he’s working for Magamba!, a youth activism network that hosts a monthly spoken-word event and does outreach in economically disadvantaged townships. But House of Hunger is only political, at least with regard to government, in the sense that it was banned from state-controlled TV and radio broadcasts when it was first released in Zimbabwe in March 2008. At its core, the album is about personal relationships—and the unbreakable love, crushing poverty, dark humor, and shocking acts of violence that bind them.

Fatso’s verses often ooze anger and ache with pain. But the yearning vocal phrases of singers Chiwoniso Maraire and Nyengeterai Zembe, and the supple guitar, lustrous marimba, and mbira (an iron-pronged instrument played with the thumbs), and dynamic beats of Fatso’s band, Chabvondoka, inject the songs with positive energy. And even Fatso’s most mournful verses are followed with words full of hope and vision. “Here, those with hope and head / Are beaten, battered, left for dead,” he intones in the title track, over a slow groove with a somber guitar phrase and meditative mbira passage. After he dissects the House—“brick upon brick” of corruption, the “cement” of apathy, the kitchen where “chefs cook up feasts of famine”—he concludes, “It’s time to build a house for all / And it all starts if we stand tall.”

House of Hunger is similar to the driving mbira-style guitar songs of the legendary Thomas Mapfumo, who sang in support of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle during the war. But today, Fatso and other radical performance poets engage in non-violent battle with toyi-toyi, a leg-kicking revolutionary dance invented during the liberation war, which anti-apartheid activists later adopted in South Africa. At shows, the poets are energized when their audiences toyi-toyi. “It’s just a beautiful state to be in,” Leslie Tongai Makawa, a fellow slam poet who helps run Magamba!, told me in April in Washington, D.C., before playing a concert as part of an East Coast tour with Fatso and Chabvondoka. “You’re saying, ‘I refuse to lose!’”

The concert, performed in a large room of a church-owned building, was held on the 29th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence. After Chabvondoka launched into a sweltering jam at the end of their set, Fatso broke into a passionate toyi-toyi. Dozens of Africans and Americans in the packed audience spontaneously rose from their seats to boogie. The feeling of joy was as palpable as the smell of Zimbabwean food—cornmeal, beef, and collard greens—wafting in from the lobby: a deep hunger satiated, at least for that night.

Last playlist

Last week was devoted to lasts--last chance to eat Ray's greasy pizza, Vanessa's addictive pork dumplings, Panade's perfect muffins, and Africa Kine's awesome Senegalese food; to hang out and goof off and take in New York's frenetic energy. I've eaten delicious farewell dinners and I've received heartfelt goodbyes. Tomorrow evening, after five wonderful years of living in New York City, I will be back in my hometown of San Diego, California.

One of my best friends just told me to make a playlist for the plane ride. I thought I couldn't handle that. But once we said goodbye and I hung up, it occurred to me that that's exactly the kind of thing I should do. So here it is, my last playlist in NYC. When I put it on as the plane begins to take off (rules be damned!), it should make for an invigorating and possibly tearful listen:

1. "Rumors" - Cheb Khaled & Cheba Zahouania (Together)
2. "San Jose Fight Song" - Ten In The Swear Jar (Accordion Solo!)
3. "Choufi" - Abderrahmane Djalti (Choufi)
4. "Vinon So Minsou" - Ouinsou Corneille & Black Santiagos (African Scream Contest)
5. "K-Force" - The Vision (Waveform Transmission Vol. 2)
6. "Techno Dread" - 2562 (Aerial)
7. "A Little Lost" - Arthur Russell (The World Of Arthur Russell)
8. "I Don't Play The Drumz" - Ten In The Swear Jar (Accordion Solo!)
9. "Conspirer" - Luciano (Tribute To The Sun)
10. "Bread & Roses" - Comrade Fatso & Chabvondoka feat. Chiwoniso (House Of Hunger)
11. "Teerera" - Max Wild feat. Oliver Mtukudzi (Teerera single)
12. "Segue Bezikh" - Unknown Artist (Choubi Choubi [Folk & Pop Sounds from Iraq])
13. "Leh Jani" - Omar Souleyman (Highway To Hassake [Folk & Pop Sounds of Syria])
14. "Waldiha" - Cheb Tarik (Algerian Raï)
15. "Right?Star!" - Martyn (Great Lengths)
16. "Brand New Day" - Dizzee Rascal (Boy In Da Corner)
17. "Fly" - Two Eyes Meet Redux (Pop Songs On Illusions And Tragedies)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kimi Djabaté, Karam (Cumbancha; 2009)

This review was posted to today:

Kimi Djabaté
(Cumbancha; 2009)
Rating: 70%

Kimi Djabaté, a griot from the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, was literally born to play music. Hailing from Tabato, a village famous for its griots—hereditary bards charged with telling the oral history of their tribe—he first learned to play the balafón, a resonant African xylophone, when he was three years old. From there, he learned to play kora (an African harp), various traditional percussion instruments, and guitar. But being a talented musician in a poor musical family had its drawbacks: he was often forced to sing and dance for money.

Djabaté has lived in Portugal since 1994, which led to another set of struggles. This personal history resonates through his second solo album, Karam, in unexpected ways. Its fifteen tracks are guided as much by layers of percussion and glossy stringed instruments as Djabaté’s longing lyrics, giving an otherwise uplifting set of songs a somber quality. “Mulo-nhaneta / Mulo-torrota-je,” Djabaté sings in the title track, in his native language of Mandingo. As bright strands of kora (African harp) and acoustic guitar float over an upbeat rhythm, these lyrics offer a sobering reminder: they roughly mean, “People suffer so much / It’s a tiring experience.”

Following the griot tradition, many of Djabaté’s songs pay tribute to important people—his mother (“Ná”), a strong woman named Fatumata (“Fatu”), a man who has lost his wife (“Dabô”). Using the tribute song as a framework for discussing society, he highlights the inequality that many contemporary Africans face, critiquing male chauvinism, misogyny, economic inequality, and ethnic prejudice. But the music is often simultaneously sad and beautiful: over the sublimely slow beat and wandering balafón of “Mogolu,” a chorus intones, “Yo mogolu mancaynhan”—“How come some have so much and others have nothing?” In that way, Karam is anything but hopeless. Indeed, more than once, Djabaté tells the listener, “Dance!”—and tracks like “Mussolu” and “Manla,” with their invigorating Latin-style grooves, are perfect for doing just that.

The slow, elongated woodwind refrain of “Kodé” exemplifies the suffering that Africa has experienced over the years: the strident anthem of African independence fifty years ago has evolved into a funereal dirge. In recent months, Guinea-Bissau itself has endured shocking political instability. With Karam, Djabaté highlights the kinds of prejudice that have contributed to this suffering. But his music feels like a kind of salve, glowing with optimism over words aching with sadness.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Various Artists, Shadow Music of Thailand (Sublime Frequencies; 2009)

This review was posted on Friday:

Various Artists

Shadow Music of Thailand
(Sublime Frequencies; 2009)

Rating: 70%

Sublime Frequencies releases aren’t particularly thorough or edifying—with their cut-and-paste cover designs and scattershot liner notes, often they’re as makeshift as the woefully ignored or long-forgotten strains of global music they present. Of course, this is partly what makes these releases so remarkable and alluring. The dogs that some men are, sometimes all a record might need is a picture of two pretty Thai women in tiny dresses on the cover—as is the case with the 2007 comp Thai Pop Spectacular—and it’s sold. Then again, there are also serious music geeks who would simply be wooed by an intriguing title like Shadow Music of Thailand.

This compilation, which was released as a limited edition LP last year, isn’t nearly as party hardy as the label’s other recent releases (Omar Souleyman’s Dabke 2020 and Group Doueh’s Treeg Salaam), but it’s just as distinct. The comp’s seventeen tracks, many of them clocking in at under three minutes, document a uniquely Thai style of garage rock from the ’60s known as “shadow music,” named after the UK’s sly instrumental band the Shadows. In a way, the “shadow music” here is comparable to popular songs by Ethiopian artists like Tilahun Gessesse, who incorporated the pentatonic scale and traditional melodies into Afro-funk. Only in this case, Thailand’s regal folk melodies are employed to make something slower and headier, more akin to surf-rock.

The musicianship feels amateurish throughout, and the comp features more than a few janky guitar solos, but there is a worldliness and flexibility to these songs that make some of them infectious. The Son of P.M., one of several bands put together by the prominent singer and composer Payong Mukda, makes a psychedelic Latin-style groove in “Plaeng Yiepoun,” its lithe organ melody leading Latin-inflected rhythm guitar and gleaming xylophone chords. In “Pone Tala Pone (Indian),” a reverb-drenched guitar phrase melds with vaguely Eastern drumming and melismatic vocals, making for something strange and heady. In “Lao Kratob Mai,” Johnny Guitar creates an indigenous feel with a meditatively plodding beat, an ornamental xylophone melody and warm organ fills, but the band mixes things up by tossing in a grizzled and psychedelic guitar solo.

Sublime Frequencies got plenty of attention earlier this year when they hosted a UK and European tour that put Souleyman and Group Doueh in the same bill—making an irresistible and otherwise unlikely combination of gritty Syrian dabke and hypnotic guitar music from the Sahara Desert. But the label’s strongest point has always been its releases of splendid and obscure music from Southeast Asia. In that respect, Shadow Music of Thailand certainly gives the Khmer Rocks label’s Cambodian Rocks series a run for it’s money.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Track Review: "Putcha Handz Up"

CLP f/ Rayzaflo :: "Putcha Handz Up"
From BASSS Brains (Brd Basss Germany; 2009)

Germans make stunning graffiti, but their hip-hop doesn’t have the best reputation. Unimpressed with the country’s heavy-handed gangsta rap, the production duo CLP—Chris de Luca and Phon.o—has teamed up instead with American and South African MCs more familiar with funky grooves. In “Putcha Handz Up,” rhymes are contributed by a stylish teenage MC from Jackson, Mississippi. And it’s no surprise that somebody who describes herself on Myspace as “HUMAN CRACK N THA FLESH” can make this track ooze with crunked aggression.

The point of putting your hands up isn’t necessarily clear. Where Cypress Hill’s “Throw Your Hands In The Air” conveyed a certain conviviality with its laid-back groove, and Danzel’s “Put Your Hands Up in the Air” exudes hype with its pulsating synths and mindless repetition, “Putcha Handz Up” makes a severe demand: “Getcha mothafuckin’ hands up.” Confronted with a slamming beat, a leering sample of what sounds like a plucked string, and Rayzaflo’s rapid-fire rhymes, you might wonder what’s coming to you if you don’t put those hands up. A Courvoisier bottle to the face, maybe?


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Best Business Names in America

As an employee at a stationery and toy company, it is my job to get in touch with a limitless array of American businesses: gift shops, toy stores, pharmacies, hospital shops, wineries, camps, Audubon societies, car washes, general stores, specialty stores, boutiques, etc. Needless to say, in my work I come across a lot of different business names, some of them so unique and fantastic that they are worth publishing here for posterity. For everyone's enjoyment and inspiration, here is list No. 5, compiling the best of what I've come across most recently:

Heavenly Outhouse

Enchanted Closet

Wearable Vegetables

Uncommon Scents

Pull Yourself Together

Bed Bath n’ Bonz Inc.

Chubby Cherub

Bohemian Angel

The Flying Mule

The Flying Carp

Wacky Rabbit

Upstart Crow

Paper Tyger

Happy Owl, Too!!!

The Mugger

Tough Luck Cowboy

Jealous Gardener

Sugar Daddy’s

Real Baby

Bayou Baby

Hipster Kids

Author Squad LLC

The Booklegger

Valiant for Truth Bookstore

A Great Good Place for Books

A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books

Wild Card

Plum Crazy


Chez Weenie

Wooden Heart


Avant Garden

Smile Herb Shop

Beastly Bites

You-Nique Bow-Tique

Marsha's Vineyard

Wallpaper History Society

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moritz Von Oswald Trio, "Vertical Ascent" (Honest Jon's Records; 2009)

For some the little orange and white rocket on the cover of Vertical Ascent might conjure a cinematic set of images: a suspenseful countdown, engines roaring to life, lift-off, the gradual climb, and finally disappearance into space. But don’t be mislead; there is nothing so straightforward, predictable, or bombastic here. In fact, the album’s most linear feature—the track titles, which move from one numbered “Pattern” to the next—belie the wonderfully prismatic shifts of glimmering percussion and impressionist electronics within.

A sublime paradox like this is just what one would expect from a collaboration headed by Moritz Von Oswald, who is celebrated for his contributions to the groundbreaking and otherworldly minimal techno outfit Basic Channel, among other things. Oswald has found natural partners in Max Loderbauer, from the ambient electronica group Sun Electric, and Sasu Ripatti, the versatile Finnish electronic composer who goes by many aliases. All of them are intimate with the ethereal realms of electronic music, and they are all classically trained (Oswald and Ripatti in percussion, Loderbauer in piano), but they are also just as capable of producing sultry, dance-oriented grooves. On Vertical Ascent, using hand-made metal percussion, Rhodes, and electronics, the trio has concocted four long improvisational tracks that are as heady and layered as So Percussion’s take on Steve Reich’s Drumming, but as fresh and cool as a Neapolitan.

Sounding at once organic and unreal, Vertical Ascent is full of beautiful contradictions. The crude, steady clap of “Pattern 1” at first sounds completely random as it rubs against brisk swirls of hi-hat, but gradually the two lock together to maintain a driving rhythm that mutates and glistens. The slow bass pulse of “Pattern 2” leaves breathing space for echoes of tinny percussion, lingering bells, and subtle strands of keys, making for a feverishly meditative twelve minutes. “Pattern 3” has an exhilarating but bizarre feel, its lush Rhodes chords and jarring waves of electronics driven by ricochets of mutant steel drums that pan from ear to ear. The heavy beat and dub bass of “Pattern 4” is a refreshing return to more conventional minimal techno fare, but eventually the steady groove is overtaken with quaking electronics—proverbial locusts descending on the cornfield of common practice, or just some mischievous fun?

It’s a testament to Basic Channel’s influence that hardly a day goes by without mention of the duo somewhere in the electronic music universe. Some might take the title of this album to be a preposterous suggestion that Oswald is looking to reach even greater heights in an electroacoustic realm. But it seems more likely that this trio has humbler intentions: showing little interest in wowing the listener with an impressive climax, they explore all the splendor of the journey itself.


Rating: 79%

This review was published yesterday on

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Roman naval battle... in Queens?

And every so often, the emperor would put on a piece of prime-time edutainment that rivaled anything the History Channel has ever produced: a nautical bloodbath called a naumachia, which pitted armies of prisoners in boats against each other in reenactments of historic naval battles. “It was kind of the ‘bread and circus,’” explains Duke Riley, an artist-in-residence at the Queens Museum Of Art. “But it always seemed to occur right around a point in time when society was about to fall apart.”

With America beset by two wars overseas and economic recession at home, Riley figured it was time to revive the debauchery of the Roman age. On Thursday, August 13, he will host a modern-day naumachia in a big reflecting pool near the Unisphere (the imposing globe sculpture) in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The spectacle will include lots of model ships and role-playing combatants waging war "with baguette swords and watermelon cannon balls."

Brawny and spread with tattoos, Riley is something of a renegade. He was arrested two years ago for taking on the Queen Mary 2 cruise liner in a single-seater Revolutionary War submarine that he built out of plywood and fiberglass. It was a profound reversal, as he saw it, of the British Siege on Long Island in 1776.

And then there's the fact that the props for his naumachia—the stands, the gladiators’ outfits, the boats themselves—have been built entirely out of refuse.

Using tons of reeds harvested from local beaches, chunks of Styrofoam pulled from the Flushing River, and junk salvaged from an abandoned ice-skating rink attached to the Queens Museum, Riley and a team of volunteers have built an impressive fleet of vessels that will be ceremoniously destroyed. Among them are a Peruvian catamaran, a gun-metal-grey battleship, replicas of the Staten Island Ferry and the Queen Mary 2 (“I had unfinished business,” Riley says), and a 30-foot-long Egyptian vessel with the fearsome head of a pointy-beaked bird affixed to the bow.

Over the past few months, Riley has been using the ice-skating rink as a construction space, all the while tearing the place apart and scouring for materials. A recent visit revealed a haphazard mess of useful materials, including broken palates, plastic bottles, fashion magazines, confetti, and the torn-up bottom half of a plush toy. Ceiling tiles have been painted to resemble the regal archways of the Roman Colosseum. Plastic hard hats have been affixed with colorful broom heads to make combat helmets. Bruised melons are rotting in preparation for their use as cannonballs and smashed heads.

During Roman times, prisoners set to engage in naumachia knew what they were in for, greeting the emperor with a resounding cry that Riley swiped for his spectacle's title: “Those who are about to die salute you!” But a big question hangs over the heads of this week’s combatants, consisting of teams representing different museums in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. No real blood will be spilled, Riley insists, but he is vague about how exactly things will play out. “I have some idea of what’s going to happen, but not entirely,” he says.

The naumachia is on Thursday at 6 p.m. The event starts at the museum, then goes to live music at the Unisphere, and then proceeds to the reflecting pool for the battle. Dress code: Toga.

You can take a trolley from the Willets Point-Shea Stadium 7-train stop to the museum.

This article was published today on A.V. Club New York. Photos by Kitty Joe Sainte-Marie.

N-Type, Rinse: 09 (Rinse Records; 2009)

Rating: 75%

Don’t be put off by the preponderance of iTunes as a DJ tool these days—DJing is, and has always been, an art form in and of itself. To say nothing of the prowess of mix masters like Jeff Mills, the relatively simple process of combining the right tracks to produce wonder and invigoration in a listener is a special kind of magic. Derrick May, one of Detroit’s first techno producers, explained it best when he said of the practice: “I learned the philosophy of how to make records speak to each other. How to make records sing to each other. How to make them talk to each other. How to make music out of music.” This is the guiding philosophy of the electronic music industry, and it explains why people buy FabricLive and Dubstep Allstars mixes when they can just as well download free Resident Advisor and Rinse FM podcasts. Also, it explains why Rinse’s new mix by N-Type isn’t a mere greatest-hits-of-the-moment comp, but a satisfying release of its own kind.

N-Type, a tall and bald DJ and producer who seems to take his name from a semiconductor employed in what’s called the doping process (how vaguely clever!), occupies a prominent position in the global dubstep community. Living near the London offices of the vaunted Rinse FM radio station, he stuffs his weekly programs with tracks from top producers like Kromestar, Coki, Skream, and Benga, along with loads of new material on those coveted pieces of disposable vinyl called dubplates. With credentials that are already impressive, Rinse 09 is a strong addition to N-Type’s already-strong CV—if dubstep pioneers were the type to have CVs. (Kode9, a faculty member at the University of East London, certainly is.) N-Type shows a predilection for dubstep’s dark, propulsive roots on this mix, but he also shows an enthusiasm for juicier and more bizarre elements that are emerging as dubstep grows internationally and becomes increasingly harder to nail down.

Rinse: 09 opens rather portentously, with a sample of a man giving a lesson on the likes of the “Badman” (which include “the best clothes,” “the best cars,” and “the best music”), his voice soon giving way to vapors of wobbly subsonic bass. From there, it’s all gastrointestinal bass rumblings, snapper-jaw snares, and dub-tinged synths from the likes of the Others, Benga, and Skream, along with more funky selections from LD. N-Type deftly mixes in some exceptional, varied elements: the steamy quasi-tribal beat of “King of Kong”; the feverish electronics and pulsating nuclear meltdown alarm of “Rhythm”; the tense jungle inflections of “Burning Up.” But the unrelenting grooves are what carry this mix from start to finish. To put it May’s way: these 34 tracks toast each other. They bump and grind with each other. They pogo together. Never letting up, Rinse: 09 makes one giant banger out of dozens of bangers.

For fans of Burial’s transcendent vibes, Rinse 09‘s sleek toughness might bring to mind the distasteful image of bros in North Face jackets and baseball caps surreptitiously puffing a blunt in a darkened club. But let’s just say that if these tracks were being mixed live, adherents to the heavy grooves of Dub Police would have good cause to demand at least one crowd-pleasing rewind.

This review was published today on

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Time for Uncle Sam to Let Go of Iraq's Bike Seat?

Check out this curiously-worded memo by Col. Timothy R. Reese, the chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, MND-B, which has the offhandedly urgent title, "It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home."

Among the strange, domestic-themed idioms:

"Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."

Iraq is not a country with a history of treating even its welcomed guests well."

"The [Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces] will tolerate us as long as they can suckle at Uncle Sam’s bounteous mammary glands."

"The [2008 Security Agreement] outlines a series of gradual steps towards military withdrawal, analogous to a father teaching his kid to ride a bike without training wheels. ... We now have an Iraqi government that has gained its balance and thinks it knows how to ride the bike in the race. And in fact they probably do know how to ride, at least well enough for the road they are on against their current competitors. Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground."

To paraphrase Uncle Reese: We should put the cookie jar away because the Iraqi government wants to bake brownies. Iraq pour itself a glass of milk. And even though, in spite of
Maliki's efforts to swab it all up with his old college tee-shirt, the government commits milk spills that cost the country enormous amounts of milk money; even though the den is a total mess, the garden is overgrown, and the kids are still fighting over the T.V. remote that is Kirkuk; even though the Sunnis aren't doing their homework, and Sunni hall monitors aren't getting the respect they deserve from those lazy asshole prefects and hall monitors who aren't inviting us to their parties; and even though bullies still roam the halls brandishing AK-47s and setting off bombs, the fact is that our cookies are overcooked, and we're crowding the kitchen terribly.

Therefore, we should declare our intentions to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by August 2010," Reese writes. Or, to put it another way: It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home!

I'm sure America's anti-war activists are wringing their hands over this one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nurse With Wound, "The Surveillance Lounge" (Dirter; 2009)

Steven Stapleton, who for thirty years has been recording under the moniker Nurse With Wound, is to music what David Lynch is to film: an ambitious experimentalist inspired by the brash antics of Dada and the trippy vibes of Krautrock, whose releases win glowing reviews (“Genius, pure unadultarated genius”) as well as biting critiques (“And no one seems to give a shit”). In some of his more recent releases, like Lynch, Stapleton has dredged the wretched from the mundane—in the Shipwreck Radio series, he and collaborator Colin Potter reworked field recordings from the fishing village of Svolvær, Norway into sonic flotsam; in last year’s Huffin’ Rag Blues, he highlighted the wasted dirtiness of Martin Denny-style exotica. But in The Surveillance Lounge, Stapleton, along with longtime collaborator Andrew Liles and a team of vocalists (including David Tibet, leader of the mystical folk outfit Current 93), dredge the wretched from outright squalor. Nothing if not a monument to panic-inducing terror, Nurse With Wound’s latest full-length gives us some idea of how it would feel to have one’s soul annihilated in the Black Lodge, the demonic lounge hall of Twin Peaks.

Creepy is a great word to describe some of the more memorable selections of Stapleton’s 122 collaborations, albums and singles, and it is an especially appropriate descriptor here. Based on a commission for a live soundtrack of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film Der Brennende Acker—which delves into such heavy themes as greed, devotion, and death—the album’s four extended tracks are full of ghoulish drones, jarring transitions, and some of the most unsettling vocals (an unpredictable mix of jabbering, croaking, and clipped yelling) ever recorded. The mood reaches a fever pitch with the cracked-out horse race monologue of “The Golden Age Of Telekinesis,” driven by hypnotic percussion and accented with a child’s screams and bursts of high-frequency feedback. In terms of uncompromising hideousness, The Surveillance Lounge rivals the famously obtuse “game pieces” of John Zorn’s Cobra (2002) and the hilariously offensive Top 40 medleys of the Residents’ The Third Reich ‘n Roll (1976).

But many listeners will no doubt have lost their nerve (to say nothing of their patience) long before they reach the grating musique concrète freakout at the five-minute mark of “Yon Assassin Is My Equal,” and that would likely be the cut-off point for most everyone else. Frankly, even a Bastard Noise fan is bound to be at least a little disturbed by this one. I can scarcely imagine the right moment for anyone in any situation to sit through The Surveillance Lounge. If it had been released in the years when American troops were subjecting detainees to hours of tunes played at ear-splitting volumes, though, it would have probably have gotten a lot of play at Guantánamo Bay.


This review was published today on

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Micachu again?!

From the Facebook notes page of Sean Elder:

A fast, fun music game to play, to learn more about your friends' musical tastes, or, um, what they've been hiding on their iPods. My list is below. It only takes a few minutes!

Once you've been tagged... (1) Turn on your iPod, MP3 player or iTunes. (2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode. (3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up--song title and artist--NO editing/cheating, please. (4) Choose 25 (or so) people to be tagged [edit... or DON'T. You go right ahead and choose however many people you wish]. It is generally considered to be in good taste to tag the person who tagged you.

If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about your musical tastes, or at least a random sampling thereof.

(To do this, go to "NOTES" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, enter your 15 Shuffle Songs, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click Publish, the little blue box at the bottom of your screen).

Sean's list:

Good Luck Charm -- Kinks (BBC Sessions)
I Can't Get My Head Around It -- Aimee Mann (The Forgotten Arm)
Children of the Hydra's Teeth -- And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Our Dead (Madonna)
Julie On My Mind -- Prince Buster (FABulous Greatest Hits)
Wheel Stands -- The Super Stocks (Monster Summer Hits)
Job of Journeywork -- The Chieftains (The Best of the Chieftains)
Save the Country -- Laura Nyro (Stoned Soul Picnic)
Murder He Says -- Tori Amos (Mona Lisa Smile Soundtrack)
Hate & War -- The Clash (Clash on Broadway)
Right to Love You -- Paul Gryten and Myrtle Jones (Chess Blues 1954-60)
Wonderboy -- Kinks (Ultimate Collection)
Baba Ghanooj -- Cavedogs (Joyrides for Shut-Ins)
Medley: Lu/Flim-Flam Man -- Laura Nyro (Spread Your Wings and Fly)
I Can See for Miles -- Lord Sitar (Mojo: The Who Covered)
Track 14 -- Henry Mancini (Touch of Evil)

Sean, I will give you my list and raise you a comment for each track. (My only warning is that my iTunes on my laptop is oversaturated with certain things and lots of music has sadly been banished to external HD exile due to space concerns--I should get that figured out.) Here goes:

"B-Boys Beware," Two Sisters (Fly Girls compilation). Comment: Hell yeah.

"Odé, Sábio Babá Alayê (Agueré E Ijexá)," Afoxé Filhos Oyá Alaxé (pretty sure this is a live recording but not sure). Comment: Mesmerizing rhythms and convivial call-and-response vocals. I'll say it again, hell yeah.

"Train For A Brain," Micachu (Filthy Friends - Mix Tape Vol. 1). Comment: A fellow music critic once described Micachu & The Shapes as dance music as interpreted by Pokemon characters. I probably haven't remembered that comparison exactly right, but at any rate I think it's more or less an apt comparison, and I think it's a good thing.

"Pelas Ruas Que Andei (Ao Vivo)," Alceu Valença (Pelas Ruas Que Andei). Comment: More music from northeast Brazil. I had a friend drop a motherload of the stuff onto my computer a few months back. This is more like gospel compared to the last track; gospel with with wacky keyboards.

"Pamuromo," by Chiwoniso (Rebel Woman). Comment: Marvelous singer/songwriter/mbira player from Zimbabwe. She's so cool that I think I have become cooler simply because I had dinner with her after watching her record in a studio session once.

"Treehouse," Arthur Russell (World of Echo). Comment: Another heeeeeell yeah. Sean, thanks for the track list chain, my list is just getting better and better!

"Aus," Fennesz (Hotel Paral.lel). Comment: The funny thing is that the shuffle is not only making great choices, but linking tracks that fit great next to each other. Chi's rich voice moves to Arthur's rich echo-drenched cello-and-voice moves to Fennesz's rich miasma of electronics moves to...

"Tshitua Fuila Mbuloba," Kasai Allstars (In the 7th Moon, the Cheif Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic). Comment: ...a pan-tribal Congolese spiritual with multi-part harmonies, not to mention the best album title ever!

"Divisions Of Joy," J*Davey (The Beauty In Distortion). Comment: Slightly weird R&B pop with processed beats, just begging for an Auto-tune vocalist. This album always comes on when I have shuffle on; I don't know how this got on my computer because I don't usually listen to this kind of music, though I'm fairly certain it came from the same place as all that Brazilian music and my friend Jon plays keyboards on it.

"Lick Ur," Micachu (Filthy Friends - Mix Tape Vol. 1). Comment: This mix has 33 tracks and a lot of them have a bizarre London grime vibe--the distinctly British side of Michachu's Pokemon dance coin, I suppose.

"Nafrouha l'youme," Abderrahmane Djalti (Choufi). Comment: Layers of live and processed percussion and very fake sounding keyboard horns and strings achieve such great heights of sentimentality with such a low budget.

"North Six (Live)," Gang Gang Dance (Hillulah). Comment: 12 minutes of GGD back when they were a quasi-tribal stoner jam project. What is that I hear, a megaphone alarm run through a sampler?

"Dona De 7 Colinas," Alceu Valença (Marco Zero Ao Vivo). Comment: More Brazilian music; "Love Boat" suddenly comes to mind.

"Bee-Ree-Bee-Kym-Bee," Machito & His Afro-Cubans (Mambo Mucho Mambo - The Complete Columbia Masters). Comment: Afro-Cuban exotica reminiscent of Martin Denny, but way more bombastic. Not exactly my cup of tea (or should I say not exactly my Cuba Libre?)

"Rocked Shocked," Micachu (Filthy Friends - Mix Tape Volume 1). Comment: Micachu again?! Come on, shuffle, you can do better than that!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

City of water: Places to go watch ripples and fish

Water is marvelous to behold, if not always to touch, in our urban environment. Glittering condos and hulking factories clog up much of the waterfront, while imposing gates obstruct access to shorelines in some of our riverside parks. But on Saturday, July 18, people will take boats of all kinds to Governors Island for City Of Water Day—a festival with fishing workshops, bird-watching tours, and a parade of illustrious vessels—to celebrate the resource that courses between the boroughs and splashes up against all sorts of rustic refuges. Here are some waterside destinations for free activities, whether on City Of Water Day or not. Continue reading on Decider...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Renminbi, "Surface" EP (Self-released; 2009)

Worldly elements are hot in New York City. Among the examples: David Longstreth’s guitar style is often compared to King Sunny Adé’s; Vampire Weekend draws a parallel between a popular Congolese dance and WASPs having sex in “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”; and members of Gang Gang Dance have been known to favor London grime, Iranian pop star Googoosh, pygmy music, and God knows what else. With highlife-style guitars, reggaeton beats, and vague references to tribal music all the rage, Brooklyn’s Renminbi (the name of China’s currency) almost comes across as a nostalgic throwback to the classic indie rock sounds of Northwest bands like Unwound and Sleater-Kinney. But nobody is copying anybody on Surface: its raw power glimmers with a uniquely passionate touch.

Recorded live by the esteemed Sonic Youth engineer Don Fleming, this EP (which can be downloaded for free at follows the lyrical course of a doomed relationship. SMV’s simple synth lines leave much to be desired, but they work as a subdued counterpoint to Lisa Liu’s incredible guitar phrasing—shiny riffs that ascend, descend and twist around to express a range of emotions. The slicing licks of “Portland” are mad with a sort of uneasy happiness, while the stabs in “Toulouse” at points resemble big, silvery teardrops. In “Set-Up”—when the relationship reaches a breaking point—SMV’s buzzing bass and dreamy synth and guest drummer Jenny Johnson’s cymbal-smashing, snare-rapping beat are the most distinct elements, matching the delirious fury of Liu’s guitar and vocals. In “Then We Came To The End,” Liu’s slow chopping-motion chord progression perfectly evokes the theme of the song, which is belted out by the band like a Facebook update: “Everything falls away.” Indeed, there is hardly a sweet moment in these twenty minutes.

What Renminbi lacks in Afro-beat loop pedal experiments it more than makes up for in rich textures and sheer power. Considering that the bashing on Surface already has its subtleties, it will be especially intriguing to hear what this promising band produces when there is a happier topic at hand.

Published this week on

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, R.I.P.

The world is remembering Michael Jackson.

At work yesterday, my coworkers put on some of their favorite tunes of his, among them "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" and the Free Willy theme song, "Will You Be There." When I was a little kid, one of my favorite videos was the "Smooth Criminal" section of Moonwalker.

While at work, I received an email from a Congolese man I met at the Dubai International Airport last year. "Bonjour !j'ai tres mal appris la nouvelle du deces de Michael Jackson. et comment la nation Americaine concoit cette perte brutale?" he wrote. "je presente les condoleances les plus attristes au peuple Americain."

After work, I headed to the Harlem Meer and checked out a pole at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center to go fishing. Heading back to the train, I bought a bottle of water at a bodega. While waiting in line, a Latino man talking to the clerk turned to me. "Man, what do you think about Michael Jackson dying?" he asked. "He was the best performer ever."

The NY Times has reported that Michael was on medication, but it will take weeks before the cause of death can be determined. The police have opened a criminal investigation and are questioning Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray.

I went to the local bodega today. "Bad" was playing on the radio. Back home, I heard Michael's intense, unmistakable voice coming from my Chinese neighbor's apartment.

We miss you, Michael.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Various Artists, "Legends Of Benin" (Analog Africa; 2009)

Over the past year, Samy Ben Redjeb’s Analog Africa label has released three excellent compilations of irresistible hits of the ’70s by musicians from the small African nations of Togo and Benin: African Scream Contest, a collection of innovative, genre-bending dance tunes; The Vodoun Effect, a sampling obscure recordings by the renowned voodoo-funk band Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou; and now, Legends Of Benin, which compiles Cavacha, Agbadja, and Afro-beat hits by four “golden age”-era composers, Antoine Dougbé, Honoré Avolonto, Gnonnas Pedro, and El Rego. It’s difficult to say which compilation is best, but of all three Legends Of Benin features some of the deepest grooves.

Like the other two releases, Legends Of Benin is a pretty package, with extensive, forty-page liner notes detailing composer bios and the story behind the project. Back in 2005, Redjeb was hoping to create a similar series for Zimbabwean Chimurenga music, but he was forced to leave Zimbabwe in the midst of a terrible political crackdown; eventually, Benin caught his eye when he noticed in some records a curious divergence from a vinyl pressing technique common to West African highlife LPs from the ’70s. It would have been interesting to hear some of the more obscure songs from that era that were written in support of the guerrillas who fought in Zimbabwe’s liberation war, but Redjeb certainly wasn’t settling for less when he decided to plumb a treasure trove of rare records to produce these current releases. Legends Of Benin in particular offers a sampling of hits by artists who have been virtually unheard of outside Africa for far too long.

The skilled musicians on Legends Of Benin play incredibly diverse music with feeling, but while some of these fourteen tracks are downright sweltering, others are cool and even somewhat haunting. The propulsive bass line and warm accordion refrain of El Rego et Ses Commandos’ “Feeling You Got” has the gruff R&B feel of Captain Beefheart circa Safe as Milk (1967). Antoine Dougbé’s “Honton Soukpo Gnon,” which hinges on a lilting guitar-and-organ hook, evokes mid-tempo reggae. On the other hand, the horn-accented crescendo groove of Dougbé’s “Honton Soukpo Gnon,” driven by the Cavacha rhythm popularized in the Congo (similar to a reggaeton beat), resembles the soukous style of classic Congolese bands like Franco & le TPOK Jazz and Zaiko Langa Langa. Funky Afro-beat shows up in the jittery drums, lithe guitars and driving horns of Honoré Avolonto’s “Na Mi Do Gbé Hué Nu,” as well as in the intermingling guitar lines and cosmic synthesizer solo of Honoré Avolonto & Orchestre Poly-Rythmo’s “Tin Lin Non.” Latin influences show through in the cool vocals and laid-back guitar of Gnonnas Pedro & his Dadjes Band’s “La Musica En Vérité.” The average yovo wouldn’t hear it, but this famous salsero is perhaps more commonly known for incorporating the traditional Agbadja rhythm into popular tunes like “Dadje Von O Von Non.”

The main reason it takes over thirty years for many talented artists from Africa to gain due recognition in the United States and Europe is because, unfortunately, too few people over here license artists’ songs while they’re still alive. But one can’t fault Redjeb for his efforts: Legends Of Benin is still a worthy collection and a great resource for both the public library and the local club’s Afro-beat night.