Songs of the Week: Community 4 – A Compilation of Hobart Music

As my high school economics teacher used to say, of the things he’d see in the wee hours of the morning on his two-hour walk from downtown Ottawa to our suburban high school, “There’s a whole world out there I know nothing about.” I feel the exact same way when I discover a new music scene. Closer to home, I understand that Moncton has a particularly vibrant scene – I’ll have to pay closer attention to that.

But Hobart! I never would’ve guessed that the capital of Tasmania would have such a vibrant music scene (which says more about me than them). Anyway, Rough Skies Records is here to put me straight with Community 4 – A Compilation of Hobart Music, a consistently excellent collection of songs from Hobart-based bands, from the punk rock stylings of Powernap to the odd pop of Filthy Little Star, and much else besides. Including, of course, late-of-Hobart and ATR favourite Heart Beach, who naturally do not disappoint. 

How vibrant is Hobart’s music scene right now? Well, you have someone like EWAH (of EWAH & the Vision of Paradise, another standout on this compilation) who’s relocated from Melbourne. Not sure if she did it for the music, but it’s definitely not a step down.

Check it out, drop them a few pennies. Viva local music!

Listen/purchase: Community 4 – a compilation of Hobart music by Various Artists

Songs of the week: No Goods, Stray; Wet Lips, Can’t Take It Anymore

Sometimes you need some straight-ahead, punk-tinged rock and roll. This is one of those times. For your consideration, Victoria’s No Goods, and Melbourne’s Wet Lips.

Song of the week: mi’ens, Dewey Decibel System

Vancouver’s mi’ens gets math rock right. Their latest release, Challenger (whose cover is a not-exactly-tasteful rendering of the explosion of the shuttle of the same name), is simultaneously soothing, unsettling and menacing in its use of repetition and, as they put it, odd time signatures (I was pleasantly pleased to find that they use this as a bandcamp tag, which yields a lot of other listening options).

Dewey Decibel System (great song title) leans toward the soothing side of their sound, which is probably why it’s my favourite track and has already garnered repeated listens – the world being what it is these days I can only take so much anxiety from my music. That said, Challenger’s definitely wormed its way into my life soundtrack.

Randy Newman – A Few Words in Defense of Our Country (Official Video)

Election songs of the week, no. 4: Randy Newman, A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

In which I try to transform my dread over the upcoming election into something useful. Four of five.

I have no idea how I’m going to get through the day. I have to lecture on gender in International Relations (wonder who I’ll be focusing on?) from 3-5, and then it’s home to meet up with American friends to watch the outcome of the most consequential election of my lifetime (even as a non-American).

As I post this, I hopeful that Clinton will win. And I’m also hopeful that she can do some good. Certainly, her economic platform is justly lauded as the most progressive in American history. But when I think it through, I fear that the choice on offer is between The End, or The Beginning of The End. (To be clear, this is completely on the Republicans, not Clinton.) I’m not sure how the United States could recover and become again a positive force in the world with the election of an authoritarian like Trump. But even if Clinton wins, the intransigence I fear she’ll face from the Republicans (prove me wrong, Republicans. Prove. Me. Wrong. (Seriously, though. Please prove me wrong.)) will make governing almost impossible in the long run. Sooner or later, in her presidency or the next, something will have to give.

The main thing I’ve learned from the 2016 election is that the United States has yet to come to terms with the legacy of slavery and the white nationalism that has scarred the country so deeply from its inception. The 2016 election, at its heart, has been about whether the United States will be a white-supremacist or a multicultural country. Twice before – the US Civil War, and the 1960s Civil Rights movement – the battle over slavery and the rights of African-Americans tore the country apart. And now the United States is right back where they started, on the fault line. The only question is when the next Big One will strike.

Which brings us to Randy Newman’s musically gentle, alternately caustic and resigned
take on the Bush II administration. Those bad old days are now in the rearview, and Americans (and the world) have been fortunate to have had a president as poised and calm as Obama these past eight years. But the damage has been done, and continues to be done, to the United States and its ability to claim a leadership role in the world. Nothing lasts forever.

The end of an empire is messy at best

This empire’s ending, like all the rest

Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea

We’re adrift in the land of the brave, and the home of the free




Randy Newman – A Few Words in Defense of Our Country (Official Video)

Mark Mills – Colonial (Official Video)

Election Song of the Week #3: Mark Mills, Colonial

In which I try to process my dread over the upcoming election into something useful. Three of five.

It’s super-easy (and fun!) for us non-Americans to criticize the United States. There’s so much to criticize! The police brutality, the racism, the corruption, the ignorance of world affairs, huge portions in restaurants, the extreme income inequality – the list is endless. And in talking endlessly about US elections and the like we get to pretend that we’re engaging in smart political talk. Of course, we’re not really: We don’t live there, so our opinions not only don’t matter, but there’s also a cheapness to what we say. It’s easy to talk about how horrible Donald Trump is when you don’t live there. Our opinions cost us nothing. But imagine you’re having Thanksgiving Dinner with your Republican uncles who’ve voted Trump (the most unqualified candidate in US history). What do you do then? Like most of us, you probably a) don’t say anything in the interests of family peace; and b) maybe even try to rationalize their vote because Uncle Joe isn’t all bad.

For non-Americans, following US politics is entertainment. But because the content is political, we – and this is especially true of Canadians – fool ourselves into thinking we’re discussing politics, not talking entertainment. Unfortunately, we often spend so much time talking about American politics we don’t focus enough on Canadian politics, because that would be super-uncomfortable around the dinner table.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I love this song. Mark Mills has an 80s disco pop thing going on that always feels like it’s going to go off the rails, and it’s in service of a scathing critique of white privilege. (And the video is delightfully low-tech. Very punk rock.) And I’m listening to it, thinking, this is exactly what’s driving Trump’s deplorables. And of course it is.

But then we get to the kicker:

We are out of line,
Cause the laws are racist,
the laws are genderized,
And we are far from fine,
Cause Canada is guilty of genocide!

Yup, the song’s about Canada’s genocide against the country’s Indigenous peoples and our own problems with race and gender! Whoops! So there’s the lesson: The United States has a shitload of its own baggage to deal with, and these days they’re doing a spectacularly bad job of dealing with it, but we’re not not much better. We’re just smaller. And we tend to pay less attention to what’s going on at home, because the final season of America is on the teevee, and who wants to miss that?

Mark Mills – Colonial (Official Video)

Sonic Youth – Youth Against Fascism

Election song of the week #2: Sonic Youth, Youth Against Fascism

In which I try to process my dread over the upcoming election into something useful. Two of five.

This song was released in 1992, some 24 years ago. How fucked is it that a song attacking Nazis and fascism is more relevant in 2016 than it was when it was recorded? Back then, the target was the Bush I Administration, and while Bush (and Reagan, and Nixon, and the Republicans in general) have been engaging in coded race-bating and appeals to white supremacy for decades, it’s only now, in the Era of Trump, that it’s 100% unarguably clear that Republican politics have descended into uncoded, straight-up white nationalism/white supremacy. White supremacy’s gone mainstream, and Youth Against Fascism is no longer a call to deal with the racist remnant of America, but a battle call to deal head-on with the existential threat of American fascism in full bloom.

Anyway, it’s also notable because Ian MacKaye plays guitar on it – it was the first time he’d appeared on a major-label project. Dude sure can pick his moments, can’t he? It’s a fierce barely contained guitar assault that does sound like Sonic Youth jamming with Fugazi, as it should. A battle song for wartime.

Damn, I hope Hillary wins on Tuesday.

Sonic Youth – Youth Against Fascism

USA Long Distance

Election song of the week #1: Sons of Freedom, USA Long Distance 

In which I try to channel my dread over the upcoming election into something positive. First of five.

The world has a love-hate relationship with the United States, don’t we? Everyone blames the US for doing lots of shitty things – to be fair, more often than not, they deserve the blame (choose your wars of choice over the past century) – but the reality is that they’ve also been a formidable force for good in the world in the 70 or so years since the dawn of what will one day be known as the American Empire. You like human rights? Well, the US was the driving force behind the creation of the UN. The ocean’s shipping lanes don’t patrol themselves. And culture? Well, I’m steeped in rock and roll, the preeminent US art form. 

What I love about this great Sons of Freedom song is the way they capture the complexity of the United States’ messianic relationship with the world, for better and worse, based in both violence and hope:

The first time I saw her, she was a black marine 

Fighting for justice, a part of the team 

Handing out bibles and sharing a dream 

The first time I saw her, she was a black marine 

It’s all there, the best and worst of the United States – respect for other countries, promoting a (mostly positive) ideology, and the potential for racial harmony, with the US represented by the military. You don’t get to spread your view of the good life unless it’s backed by force. 

More problematic in 2016 is what the band conjures as the other side of the US image: The next time I saw her, she was a drag show queen Which I always took to be a signal of US decadence and moral decay, since it’s followed soon after by the line, “You should’ve seen her; there’s nothing obscener.” 

It didn’t register at the time, but of course there’s some problematic gender politics going on there, right? One of the marks of good art, though, is that it can stand multiple interpretations. And it certainly is true that much of what the world considers to be progressive in terms of individual rights, including related to sexuality, comes from Americans and America, even if it takes the actual government too much time to actually catch up, and even if some people in 2016 still haven’t gotten the memo. So, since I like Sons of Freedom and I’m feeling charitable, in my 2016 interpretation of the song, if the soldier represents strength, the drag queen is a positive representation of freedom. In my reinterpretation, “You should’ve seen her; there’s nothing obscener” becomes not a definitive comment about US decadence, but a comment on how sometimes others (including other Americans) see moral progress as a form of immorality and moral violation. Until they don’t (see: same-sex marriage). 

I’ve been thinking about the role of the United States a lot these days. If Donald Trump wins on Tuesday, there’s a good chance that the American century truly will be over, taking all the positive aspects of the United States – belief in individual human rights, acceptance of other cultures, promotion of democracy – with it. I think Hillary Clinton will win, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified of what will happen if she loses. And even if she wins, US politics are so dysfunctional that a Clinton presidency will only buy the US a bit of time to try to put the United States back on the tracks.   

Musically, this song, from 1991’s Gump, is a beast. The of late, great, Sons of Freedom’s rhythm section – bassist Don Binns and drummer Don Short – are unparalleled in terms of heaviness and ferocity, and USA Long Distance is no exception. It’s a small tragedy that they didn’t last longer than they did.

USA Long Distance

Political) Song of the Week, Childbirth, Nasty Grrls

Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, I’ve been transfixed by the US presidential election. To their credit, it looks like the United States is going do what the UK didn’t manage, namely, avoid giving in to ultra-right white racist nationalism. But, man, what a slog it’s been, and one of the most discouraging parts of the whole endeavour has been  the realization of exactly how much of the antipathy toward Hillary Clinton is driven by conscious and unconscious sexism. Many people I know say that they don’t like her because they don’t like her policies, but there’s hardly any difference between her and Obama, and they’re usually pretty willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, because they like him.

And of course she gets dinged because she’s “robotic,” or “not a natural campaigner.” But you can be sure that if she really let loose on the campaign trail, the same folks would start going on about how hysterical she sounds. (Also, you know what’s a more-positive adjective than robotic that describes exactly what’s going on for Clinton? Prepared. Does the world really need a Commander-in-Chief who’s all about indulging his improv skills?) That Hillary Clinton has managed to get this close to the presidency is a bit of a minor miracle, and a testament to her skill and, yes, temperament.

Anyway, after Donald Trump gifted us with “Such a NASTY woman” at the end of the third debate (though I prefer the more versatile “You’re the puppet!), most people’s minds immediately went to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” which makes sense. But my first musical thought was something more recent, Childbirth’s Nasty Grrl. For me, both this song and Clinton are the happy endgame of one of the more positive happenings in the 90s, the Riot Grrl movement. The next four years are doubtlessly going to be full of nasty, sexist, misogynistic attacks on Clinton and women in general, but I’m hopeful that the Clinton presidency will, in some small way, be the first Riot Grrl presidency, and that our kids (and the voting public) will increasingly see being a Nasty Grrl and a NASTY woman (in the Janet Jackson and Childbirth, not Trumpian, sense of the word) as the compliment it is. (Suicide Squeeze Records)