Politics

Losing a War by Winning It

Politics in America is now dominated by extremism. Every issue is made out to be the difference between protecting the disadvantaged and normalizing fascism. Your actions get conflated to ten times what they actually were so that people can easily categorize you into one side or the other. I don’t believe many people have such extreme views, but some will accept their prescribed side while others will choose to avoid the conversation entirely. This dynamic results in America’s important values being pushed aside for political expediency or personal well-being. There’s no question we live in extraordinary times that demand action. We have a President who seems to dismiss the core values of America in favor of his own interests, but his most vocal opponents have been willing to do the same for their own ends. In light of this, the true political battle in the United States is revealed and it is not good versus evil but universal rights against tyrannical extremism.

During the campaign trail, I was more disturbed by Trump’s flagrant approach to protesters at his rallies than anything else. Specifically the incident where he asked his crowd to “knock the crap” out of protesters and that he’d “pay for the legal fees.” That moment disturbed me because it was the bridge from ordinary disagreement to violence against your opponents. It wasn’t enough insult your detractors, now they had to physically pay for it. That moment was a glimpse into Trump’s values (or lack thereof) and how far his supporters would go with him.

It was a clarifying moment for me, because regardless of whatever your specific views are on issues, silencing opponents is not only un-American, but normalizing that action pulls at the fragile toothpicks that support our free society. America’s commitment to free speech has allowed the war of ideas to be fought with appropriate tools: arguments, logic and shared experiences. If you can’t talk to your enemy and explain your differences, you’ll surely fight them instead. Our system can survive a few incompetent politicians, or a few years of incompetent leadership, but it cannot survive removing the mechanism meant to reveal that incompetence.

Yet here we are on the other side of a Trump presidency and his critics seemed to have shed their “when they go low, we go high” mantra in favor of violence. Whether that’s literally punching people in the face, lighting their hair on fire or rioting to prevent a pro-Trump speaker. These actions would be bad enough on their own but the reaction for many liberals is not to condemn violence or make excuses – they endorse it. They don’t see this as hypocritical because violence against “nazis” is always justified.

Most of the people willing to endorse violence come from the younger generation. You can find endless tweets from people supporting the recent riots. They are self-appointed experts on how to beat toxic ideologies despite never reading a history book in their life. It’s natural that younger people have more energy while the older generation shares their experience and wisdom for how best to channel that energy through productive means. But the current younger generation has delegitimized everyone but themselves. Boogiemen come in the form of the patriarchy or identity politics, cutting off all influencers who are not fellow travelers. The few remaining figures who could dispel these toxic views are fearful that upsetting their base will diminish their chance to stay in office. This is predicated on the concept that America’s political battle is between the left and right, but as any political science expert will tell you – the two directions eventually curl back toward each other if you go far enough. This weariness for replacing one extremist with another is why the country remains so staunchly divided.

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Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster. He’s created a domestic crisis with his sloppy immigration actions, he failed his promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall,” he’s forced most of the state department’s higher-ups to resign and his administration has been the cause of more riots in the past dozen days than most of the past dozen administrations. In the face of spectacular failure, there’s no reason democrats shouldn’t be careening toward high approval ratings, but that’s not what has happened. Instead they’ve placated this dangerous anti-American extremism in hopes it will serve their own ends.

During the North African campaign of World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allies Dwight Eisenhower oversaw a deal with Vichy France’s Francois Darlan. The armistice was in effect, an alliance between the free world and the fascist regime of Vichy France. Tactically, the deal served the allies. They had better standing in North Africa, key strategic resources and spent less vital manpower fighting the French. After all, Germany was the true enemy. But the deal was harshly criticized by Free France’s Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and several critics in America, including one Edward R. Murrow, who said:

“Are we fighting Nazis or sleeping with them? Why this play with traitors? Don’t we see that we could lose this war by winning it?”

What good is fighting a war against an ideology that has sunk the world into conflict if you’re willing to use those same ideologues for your own victory? Unlike that historic example, there is no literal war being fought on a battlefield. America is constantly in a war of ideas. Our country has stood the test of time because of its commitment to personal freedoms and choosing to fight the war of ideas before war between factions. America needs to revitalize a movement that adheres to the rights that made this country great if it hopes to survive the current wave of extremism.

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Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: December

A year ago I resolved to listen to one album a week for 52 weeks. Now we’re at the end of that goal and I’m glad to say I met it successfully. Here’s a quick wrap-up for what I listened to this month. I’ll write a retrospective piece on the whole thing in a few days.

The Microphones – The Glow, Pt. 2

I’m surprised how a few small differences in musical choices will decide if I hate something or love it. On paper, I probably shouldn’t have liked The Microphones. An acoustic-focused band with a vocalist who sounds barely inspired to be alive. But the album kicks off with a killer opening track so it got my attention. The mellow tone with an effective use of sound effects created an atmosphere that I liked. They kept it up for the first few tracks but sadly the album becomes irrelevant around track six (out of 20).

Heavily favoring one to two minute sample songs for the majority of the album, it takes a tragic turn when for some reason they decide to get into LOUD MUSIC! Songs like Samurai Sword or I Want TO Be Cold are balls to the wall trashing. The singer’s delicate vocals don’t transform with this change so you get really bizarre sound where an oppressively distorted bass and guitar trash your ear drums while a puny sounding lyric is muddled on top. There aren’t a lot of songs on the album that sound like this, which makes it even more bizarre that there are any at all.

When the album hits, it’s some good stuff. But the portion of good to bad isn’t very favorable.

3/5

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

I don’t like Donald Glover. Even if I get over my irrational hatred for him because I constantly confuse him with Danny Glover (including the first draft of this paragraph), I’ve never gotten into his style. I don’t think his stand-up is funny, I don’t think the shows he wrote for were any good (30 Rock, Community), I also did not like his foray into rap with Camp and Because the Internet.

But the praise for Awaken, My Love has been so hyperbolic, including claims that Glover is a modern day genius, I thought surely there must be something that I can enjoy. And there is.

This is a huge departure from Glover’s previous music projects. The sound of this album is closer to soul or funk then rap. As listenable as the whole thing is, it’s not quite there. The first track Me and Your Mama is an intense opener that peaks and valleys through all the exciting emotions you’d want to feel. It’s probably the best first impression I’ve had for an album this year, but it nose dives afterward. Two “spooky” tracks about zombies and the boogieman reset your expectations for what this album is supposed to be. Then other songs like Terrified, Riot and Stand Tall have all the right elements but don’t quite hit it. The last track especially feels like four drafts of the same song placed one after another rather than a cohesive idea.

As much as I’ll admit to listening to Me and Your Mama, Redbone and Baby Boy all day, this album could have easily been much better. Hopefully Glover’s dedication to the musical field means he’ll give it a second crack.

2/5

J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only

I’ll make a confession: I’ve never heard a J. Cole song in my life. Apparently I’m not alone in that due to his commitment to avoiding feature tracks. Unless you’re seeking out his music specifically, you’re not going to run into him.

Luckily, Cole’s musical style is approachable and right up my alley. Preferring laidback melodies and literal lyrics, he’s an easy artist to understand. Some rappers focus on clever word play or metaphors to get across their point, but Cole just says what he’s thinking. I ended up having some mixed feelings about the simplicity of his lyrics, sometimes they come across as corny. At the same time, it was easy to tell immediately what he was going for and I appreciated that.

4 Your Eyez Only is a personal album, packaged up as a letter to Cole’s daughter in the event he’s taken by the issues that face black males in America (incarceration or death). The framing of the album differentiates it from other artists who tackle the same subjects but might have a more view they feel compelled to push. Cole is talking about his own concerns with what faces him in his actual life. Whether that’s frustration over his friends and family demanding change without looking at what they can change in themselves or being persecuted as a drug dealer for living in a white neighborhood.

It’s a short album, with two lengthy songs dedicated to the same concept, so I found myself more disappointed that it ended so quickly rather than compelled to nitpick any of the songs. I probably could’ve done without Foldin Clothes or added a bit more to Neighbors, but in general it’s a solid album, if easily digestible.

4/5

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

Run the Jewels has been a joy to discover and see them explode in popularity over the past three years. I wasn’t a huge fan of RTJ2, but at least they tried some new things. Each of those albums have a distinct sound that differentiate them from each other.

RTJ3 is in an odd place between their second and first attempt. It’s obvious that the Killer Mike and El-P can work together and create some amazingly funny and catchy tracks, but the trend toward quality may finally be wavering.

My favorite tracks from the album touch on El-P’s quality production work mixed with Killer Mike’s lyrical dominance. Legend Has It, Call Tickertron and Oh Mama have the one-two punch of unique melodies and memorable lines. El-P somehow manages to say “Notice me, senpai” in a song without sounding like a total idiot.

I might still need some time to process this album, but for now it’s an average effort.

3/5

 

We’re done! Look for a retrospective on this whole process soon.

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Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: October – November

October through November was a time of transformation for me. I quit my job at The Malibu Times and got a position at DailyVoice.com in New Jersey. I drove from one coast to the other, which took roughly 40 hours of driving total. That allowed a lot of time to listen to music. Unfortunately the trip occurred from Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 so it took me a while to write this addition of 52 Weeks, 52 Albums. Here’s everything I covered:

Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

I listened to Bottomless Pit quite a bit when it was released earlier this year. At the time I hesitated to say anything about it because my opinion was pretty negative. Of course, that’s how I felt the first time I listened to The Money Store, which has gone on to become one of my favorite albums ever. Sometimes you need to give things time and let them sink in. Especially a band as experimental as Death Grips.

Now time has passed, but despite some appreciation for songs I originally disliked, my opinion is the same. I see the appeal for the barbaric mess of “Hot Head,” the aggressive flow in “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood” and the bizarre shifts in “Ring a Bell” but the fact remains that this album feels unfinished. I don’t hear a lot of novelty in these tracks. Their flaws stick out and it’s harder to find the good stuff. “Eh” is the same chorus repeated four times within three minutes meanwhile “Houdini” seems like a good part of a longer song. “Trash” ironically mirrors the mediocrity the songs it criticizes. Other songs are interesting at first but quickly lose appeal. I liked the loud opener with “Giving Bad People Good Ideas,” but I never want to listen to the sound of that song. “Spikes” made an awesome first impression with its killer hook, but oddly shares the fate of pop songs where you’re waiting for the chorus instead of enjoying the whole song.

I think “Warping” and “80808” are probably the best songs on the album. “Warping” captures the feeling of insanity that overcomes you while listen to a Death Grips album. The meandering dinosaur bass is unnerving and syncs very well with the irregular bass drum. “80808” has a nice groove and atmospheric sound which reminds me of “Double Helix.” I regularly revisited those two (along with “Bubbles Buried in This Jungle” and “BB Poison”) but on a whole I kept thinking “why not just listen to The Money Store?” Which I frequently did.

3/5

The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

I knew early in October that I would be traveling cross-country, so I tried to tackle some albums that were a mammoth’s length to get them out of the way. The first contender was 69 Love Songs, a two and a half hour album separated by three discs and made up entirely of one to three minute pop love songs.

I’ll cut to the chase: This album sucks. Stephin Merritt, the lead vocalist (and practically “the guy”) in Magnetic Fields said he was in a gay bar and realized he had a knack for music. His way of introducing himself on the scene would be to write 100 love songs, but decided 100 was way too many so he cut it down to 69. As it turns out, 69 is also too many.

The majority of this album is complete junk. On the off chance you find a song that’s kind of ok, it doesn’t last very long with the average song being under 2 and a half minutes. On the other hand, there are literally dozens of songs that overstay by about 90 seconds. One wonders why you’d make a commitment to 69 love songs when tracks like “How Fucking Romantic,” “Two Kinds of People” and “Punk Love,” are so low-effort they might as well not exist.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume there must be a solid nine-song album hidden away in the cacophony of melodramatic crap. The album peaks early and even the highest high isn’t worth the time it takes to discover it. If your morbid curiosity persist: I personally liked “I Don’t Believe In the Sun,” “Reno Dakota,” and “The Book of Love.” If any of those strikes your fancy than delve deeper into the album, but I doubt it.

1/5

Swans – The Great Annihilator

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Swans’ recent reemergence onto the music scene. Their last trio of albums (The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man) were praised for their immensely long operatic epics. I had some interest in that stuff but apparently Swans were already popular before their recent reemergence thanks to albums like The Great Annihilator.

I didn’t dislike the album but I’m truly puzzled by what people see in Swans. This album feels like the muddled down version of several other bands. There’s some metal/industrial influences but in general the album feels like a more satanic Joy Division. Of course Joy Division was novel in the 1970s and The Great Annihilator was released in 1995. So what’s the big deal?

The album has its eclectic moments. “Mother_Father” departs from the dreary tone with a punk-influenced drum beat and different singer. “Warm” is completely different from the rest of the album and practically sounds like the closing moments of a feel-good sports story. Finally “Out” is straight out of a smoky jazz bar. Everything in between commits to a dark gothic tone that may have been more worthwhile if they had committed to it. For example, “Killing For Company” starts off pretty oppressive and dystopian but quickly transitions into this weird organ-droning track that sounds like something a classic rock band would make if they were suicidal. There’s signs of truly great songs in “Telepathy,” “Where Does a Body End?” and “The Great Annihilator,” but the effect is muted. The album doesn’t pack a lot of punch (in fact the mixing is one of the quietest I’ve heard). Perhaps their live shows are different? You get a glimpse of what the Swans experience could be with their bonus live rendition of “I Am the Sun.” So maybe seeing them live is a whole new experience. But as it stands, this album is a disappointment waiting to be found.

2/5

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

The second of the mammoth albums I wanted to listen to. What better way to kill time then a three hour jazz album released in 2015?

I really can’t say anything significant about a jazz album. I like jazz music, but I don’t know what “bad jazz” sounds like. I lack the musical expertise. I didn’t really pay attention to this listen either. There were a lot of songs I flipped back to for my journey across the United States, but I don’t remember much about them. I used this album as something to play in the background while I thought about other things. For that purpose, it’s perfect.

3/5

Brand New – Deja Entendu

As you can see, the previous four albums were pretty big duds in my experience, so I wanted to fall back on something reliable. I really enjoyed the other Brand New album I listened to earlier this year, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, so it seemed like a safe choice. I wanted to go back to feeling something when I heard music, rather than indifferently letting the tracks run through.

Deja Entendu is not as dramatic as Brand New’s other work. This album is more poppy, with catchy hooks and a lighter tone. “I Will Play My Game beneath the Spin Light” is practically made for drunken singalongs and a few other songs fit that description. I ended up liking more songs on this album than Devil and God but in a similar way that I like a Fall Out Boy album– They’re fun to sing to and not much past that.

3/5

Into It. Over It. – Proper

I decided if I’m going to listen to post-punk pop music I might as well go hard with a bonafide emo album. Apparently Into It. Over It are part of an “emo resurgence” movement that’s going on right now. These new bands are returning to what made bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco so popular (oddly enough Panic! is part of this resurgence as well). Proper’s fast pacing and personal lyrics scratched the itch of emotion + punk influence that I was looking for.

Compared to other albums in the genre, Proper is harder to distinguish. I recall thinking on my first listen that the opening track seemed very long, only to discover I was five songs in and didn’t notice the track change. The songs blur together and it’s difficult to figure out what you’re listening to immediately, but with enough trained listens you can separate the good stuff from the bad. I ended up liking every track other than “Write It Right,” and “An Evening with Ramsey Beyer,” they’re especially generic in an album that’s already difficult to discern. If the rest of the album doesn’t do your fancy, give “The Frames That Used to Greet Me” a listen.

4/5

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Last year I listened to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and wasn’t a fan of it. A few months later I found myself listening to it on repeat. So perhaps I’m in that first judgmental stage when I say The Suburbs is largely uninteresting. I gave “Rococo” a few listens but otherwise this entire album is a big snooze.

1/5

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

This might be one of the few truly great albums I’ve listened to this year. I’ve learned more about my rap tastes through this experiment than anything else and they seem to culminate with A Tribe Called Quest’s brand new album.

The core trio have undeniable chemistry with each other and the guests they bring onto various tracks. “Solid Wall of Sound’s” second verse is a masterpiece. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes trade lines that interweave lyrically and aesthetically. Q-Tips high pitched clear lines contrasted with Rhymes’ deeper voice register with a Rastafarian flow. I can’t hear what they’re saying as I listen to the track but it’s a beautiful rhythm between these three artists who have a clear understanding of one another.

The whole album has a moment worth highlight every track. I personally liked the villainous laughing track that’s played over the opening verses on “The Space Program.” Q-Tip’s lyrics in “We The People…” are both politically conscious and clever. The piano sampling on “Lost Somebody” is an absolute killer. Anderson Paak’s (nearly solo) guest appearance on “Moving Backwards” is better than any song he made on his own. “Ego’s” creeping trumpet melody injects a playfulness into the second half of the album. Finally, “The Donald,” is not only a terrific tribute to Phife Dawg (who died in March 2016) but simply the best song on the album (also funnily enough has nothing to do with Donald Trump).

It’s a hell of an album that I look forward to binging.

5/5

Well there’s only one month and four albums left. What will the concluding choices be? What a mystery.

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Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: September

Can we ban months from ending in the middle of the week? You might say: “Arthur, September ended on a Friday and you were too lazy to put up your article. This is a terrible excuse.” To that I say… nothing. Because I didn’t put it up on Saturday or Sunday either. I waited until Monday evening. Whatever, here’s the music.

Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

Lamont “Big L” Coleman was an east-coast rapper who made his name on the scene by contributing to what’s now known as “horrorcore.” The genre is defined by hyperbolizing lyrics of violence and brutality. The lines between what lyrics were real and fantasy might not be so clear considering Big L was killed in a drive-by shooting where he was shot nine times in the face and chest.

Many of L’s lyrics describe varying degrees of violence which may have been horrifying to parents during the 1990s, but listening to them today it’s hard to take them seriously. L has a terrific, albeit morbid, sense of humor. His clever wordplay mixed with over-the-top brutality makes it easy to chuckle to a lot of his lines as long as you have a similar demented world view. For example, the track Danger Zone details L killing someone for threatening him:

“I jumped out the Lincoln, left him stinkin
Put his brains in the street
Now you can see what he was just thinkin”

Obviously seeing brain matter on a pavement doesn’t translate to a visual representation of what someone’s last thoughts were, but I’m imaging L killing a man and immediately coming up with that line on the spot. It’s comical to me. L’s songs are filled with these types of jokes. They’re not always morbid but they are mostly mean-spirited. Another song, All Black – which of course refers to forcing family members to dress in black for your funeral – contains the following lyric:

“If you want me to write you some raps G just ask me
Cause on the shelf is where your LP cold stood
Because it was no good, that shit ain’t even go wood”

“Go wood” of course referencing albums that go gold or platinum. In this case, someone offered a set of songs that were so bad they didn’t even make the fictional “wood” status. It’s funny stuff and more importantly ridiculous. All of the lyrics are so absurd that the brutality and violence is impossible to take seriously, even if at some moments it’s clear that some semblance of these stories were true for the real L’s life.

I appreciated my listen of Big L’s Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous because it made me realize just how much I appreciate cleverness and lyricism in rap. There isn’t a lot of technical trickery going on, but I didn’t really need it. He’s a straightforward rapper who focuses on the fundamentals and they’re very strong.

4/5

Blur – Parklife

As a huge Gorillaz fan, I thought I would like this album a lot more. For those who don’t know, Gorillaz is a project primarily helmed by Blur’s frontman, Damon Albarn. Parklife was released in 1994, well before the fairly famous Song 2 (aka “Woohoo”) came out which is what most people know Blur for. Other than those two factoids, I didn’t know what to expect from Blur. It could’ve been a heavy alternative rock band, a weird electronic-based rap hybrid, or something completely different.

It turns out Blur is mostly a catchy pop rock band from Britain, which I feel completely describes this album. There are tracks that I find intensely listenable in the moment, but I can’t get past the underlying Britishness. Tracks like London Loves, Bank Holiday, or Magic America make it hard to forget the regionality of the band. In fact, listening to the title track Parklife ought to qualify people for a visa to the Queen’s country. It’s a fine album for the duration that it’s on, but I really can’t stand to hear it ever again.

2/5

Boris – Pink

Following-up on the shoegaze interest I took with Have a Nice Life’s Deathconsciousness, I looked up other shoegaze-inspired albums that were popular in the music community and stumbled on Pink. Boris’ sound is a lot more noise-rock and heavy metal than the other shoegaze music I’ve heard so far. They’re a “play at full volume” type of band. It took a while to be in the mood for Pink. Despite its mellower introduction track, the entire album is a balls-to-the-wall rager. Listening to the entire album once through, it’d be easy to say that every song sounds exactly the same. In reality, the first few tracks are simply lackluster compared to the back half where Boris’ sound starts to distinguish itself.

Electric is a short and sweet assault of instruments that I found myself starting my morning commute with. From there it was easy to let the album play until the end. Pseudo Bread does a nice job layering the noise with vocals and is probably the most approachable song. Afterburner is a meandering track which I imagined the band figured out how the song was going to sound as they played it. Six, Three Times is another quality track and you get My Machine as a palette cleanser before the 18 minute Just Abandoned Myself which mostly consists of droning guitars going on for way too long.

I was actually so pleased with how the second half of the album turned out that I looked into the deluxe edition of Pink which was released earlier this year. The second disc available in that version provides some similar tracks, which I’d recommend, but it seems Boris as a band is at no loss of content. They have over two dozen albums and have not slowed down since releasing Pink a decade ago (or one dozen albums ago). It is worth noting that Pink is currently out of print, but they’re offering an MP3 download through bandcamp of all places.

4/5

The Internet – Ego Death

There’s three categories I place albums in: Albums you immediately like, albums you immediately dislike and albums you’re not sure about. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that almost all albums I immediately like end up having a short lifespan. This was the case for The Internet’s Ego Death. I’ve long hoped for the day that Tyler the Creator would drop his fake enjoyment of rap and just release the full-on soul/jazz/funk album like he knows he wants too. When I discovered The Internet (which is also under Odd Future) I thought I had discovered my holy relic. I dumped some 30+ listens into this album over a week. I was riding a high and I was convinced it was my new favorite.

Today I can say that the groovy bass lines, Syd’s vocals and the vibe of the album are still something I’d take over 50 percent of the other crap I’ve listened to this year. But the spell has broken. Now I just hear the repetition of each track, the simplicity, how long “Girl is and completely overstays its welcome. I constantly hit the skip button because I burn out on every song in 30 seconds but never find one to settle with. It’s sugary music that’s feel good but much like a bowl of candy, you probably don’t want to eat it for the rest of your life. I’ll throw it in a party mix and show it to my friends, but man did it get old fast.

3/5

TV On the Radio – Dear Science

I actually forgot I listened to this album and it was only two weeks ago. I think I heard that “DLZ” track from Breaking Bad and thought “man, the rest of that album must be bomb.” Well, I listened to it a dozen times and can’t tell you a single thing about it. So I guess not. Shout Me Out was ok, I think?

2/5

I did a tally of all the albums I’ve covered so far. With only three months left I’ve listened to 40 albums as of today. Which means I’m on track to completing with 54 albums done. Of course, I listened to a great deal many more but didn’t write about them in any way. I’m thinking about those Panda Bear, Modest Mouse and Mollusk albums that were so terrible I couldn’t get through them. Maybe I’ll throw them on at the end of the year just to make my number seem bigger. Every inch counts, right?

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Movies

REVIEW: It’s Dim for The Light Between Oceans

I still remember the first time I saw Blue Valentine. The romantic tragedy film directed by Derek Cianfrance that shows the final days of a doomed marriage intercut with the couple’s auspicious first few dates. That film made such an impression on me that I’ve felt indebted to Cianfrance. He clearly had a perspective on relationships that I valued. Even if the rest of his career was filled with duds, I felt I owed it to myself to give them all a fair chance just in case they had an inkling of his first film which I consider one of the best. So far Cianfrance has only made two other films– The Place Beyond the Pines in 2012 and now the newly released The Light Between Oceans and it appears a theme is emerging. All three films focus on families, doomed characters and specifically relationships that can’t be sustained. In an academic sense, I can dissect and understand why Cianfrance might have been drawn to The Light Between Oceans (originally a novel written in 2012) but it becomes immediately obvious that a lot was getting lost in translation. The film feels like a book adaptation where you have to hope the original text was written well, because it’s clear the plot wasn’t what drew readers’ interest. Which is to say The Light Between Oceans is a terrible movie. It’s so bad, I can’t remember the last time I hated a movie this much.

The Light Between Oceans is about a lighthouse keeper named Tom Sherbourne who returns from World War I to work in isolation on an island off the coast of Western Australia and think about his life. Before traveling to the island, Tom has dinner with the owners of the property who just so happen to have a daughter named Isabel who is beautifully single and annoyingly attracted to him. After a few months of doing the job, Tom returns to the mainland to accept a multi-year contract. While on the mainland he goes on a date with Isabel where they establish that the only persons allowed on the island are the lighthouse keeper and his family. So in order to progress their relationship and the plot they decide to get married immediately. Tom and Isabel begin living on the lighthouse island and try to start a family but Isabel has difficulty maintaining pregnancies which strains their relationship. This all comes to a head when a small boat washes ashore with a dead man and an infant child. The couple are conflicted with the choice of keeping the infant as their own or reporting it to the authorities.

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The most obvious issue of The Light Between Oceans is its glacier pacing made obvious by the fact that the summary paragraph you just read takes over an hour to unfold in the actual movie. Make no mistake, I didn’t skip over some details or leave out subplots that you’ll learn to appreciate when you see it for yourself. There’s really nothing going on. The film fills the time with its obsession for long fading transitions, stoic shots of landscapes and generally employs the rule of thumb “the less that’s going on, the more time spent on it.” Though even the scenes with some amount of drama or point go on for way too long. As the film unfolds it’s hard to pinpoint, because the entire thing is so dreadfully boring that any semblance of emotion feels like the pulse of a fading loved one, but in retrospect it’s all bland. Did they have to spend fifteen to twenty minutes to establish one piece of information? How much time was spent looking at landscapes? How long has this movie been going on for? When will it end? All of these questions filled my head constantly.

It’s almost possible to forget that you’re suffering through a tortuous creation exempt of the passage of time but at some point Rachel Weisz pops up on screen and you remember that her name was third in the opening credits. The hopelessness I experienced when I saw her character and realized the movie was nowhere close to being finished would fit right in with the gloomy melodrama that permeates The Light Between Oceans.

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It doesn’t help that the two main characters don’t carry the time very well while they’re filling the first half of the film. Tom is a taciturn, man of few words. This might make an excellent book character where there is descriptive language describing sceneries or internal thoughts on various issues, but in a film all we get is a lot of blank stares. Isabel is more expressive, trying to make up for Tom’s lacking emotions, but there’s not enough there to generate an interesting moment. This is yet another romantic film where you can’t list a single character trait of either character or even why they like each other. You can’t even characterize anything about their relationship. It merely exists as a means to tell some nonsensical story. Films about relationships are frequently dense with relatable experiences or jumping off points to discuss other tangential topics. This film is devoid of any of those. It spends its time setting up individual plot points to propel the story forward, but its destination isn’t a place anyone wants to go.

I’ve never had a crisis of wanting to take someone’s baby as my own, but if I did I can’t imagine I would act like any of the characters in The Light Between Oceans. Isabel’s desire for a baby of her own is perhaps the most understandable. The film dabbles in showing how Isabel justifies her actions and it might have been interesting to see how far she’d go with that, but the films goes full soap opera instead. Individual characters flip their views completely from one day to the next for no real reason. Parents of various years of attachment decide interchangeably that they absolutely must have a child or maybe they don’t need a child. It’s very dramatic, but none of the emotion sticks because you’re drowned in the idiocy of it all. It’s impossible to believe that anyone can discard their attachment for a child the way they would an ugly hat.

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To make matters worse, the film ends with a picturesque fairy tale ending with an accompanying montage that I would call insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. The entire film is an onslaught of high emotion and life-changing ramifications. Every single scene runs with undertones of bleakness and loss. If you could describe The Light Between Oceans in one word “sad,” “depressing,” or “miserable,” would do. Then the film recuts the very scenes that were dreadfully depressing the first time around, but slaps a shiny filter and happy music on them, as if the audience forgot what movie they just watch, pretending it was all a fun time.

It would be very easy to repeat sentence summaries of scenes that occur in The Light Between Oceans and reveal it as the most moronic film in recent memory. Its plotline is guided more by emotion than thought and its characters’ views are dictated by convenience rather than what they’d actually think. It’s a smoothie made with the emotional intelligence of daytime soap operas and the pacing of a Terrence Malick film. The film has no themes, no depth and no point. There are technically moments of this film that are not complete trash but to mention them would detract from the fact that this film is valueless.

1/5

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Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: August

My listening habits in August were like playing with a plate of mash potatoes without eating them. I dabbled with what was in front of me but never got enough to warrant a full impression. That might lead to a lot of albums for September or maybe I’ll never cover any of them. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood for a certain sound and I never found that groove for this month. So there’s only three albums this month. Here they are:

Have a Nice Life – Deathconsciousness

“Boney” is the word I settled on to describe this album. Its technical genre definition falls under shoegazing, ambient, post-rock, but I kept coming back to how almost every single sound feels like it’s reverberating off of bone walls. In a previous entry I talked about how The Mars Volta created an interesting album because you could listen to each song and pay attention to a specific instrument and hear what it was doing at different parts of the song. Deathconsciousness seems like the opposite approach, where focusing on individual tracks is not only impossible but antithetical to the concept of the album. Songs are treated like chemistry concoctions that are meant to be taken all at once. A song like The Big Gloom is easy to mark up as “noise,” since the vocals, guitar and even the drums are hard to make out individually, but the track taken as a whole accomplishes a mood that’s unique to the album.

Deathconsciousness is a dual album, the second part starts at “Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail,” which is where the album takes a notable shift toward a harder sound. The tracks on each song are more identifiable as opposed to the ambient pools of noise found in the first half, but the “boney” sound is consistent. The quality of the tracks is mostly consistent from the first half and second half. However like any dual album, it’d probably be better if you selected the best songs from either half and made one really good regular album. In this case: A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devour Connecticut, Bloodhail, The Big Gloom, Hunter, Telephony, Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail, Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000, and Earthmover. The final track is interesting because it’s the only track I can remember that has a cinematic moment that’s pulled off so well I thought to myself “this is so good, I hope the song never ends.” Followed by an outro that lasted so god damn long I had to acknowledge the song had gone on for too long. It is tough being an eleven minute song I guess.

4/5

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

This album came out earlier this year exclusively to either Apple Music or Tidal, either way I didn’t download it because I honestly feel if you’re going to lock your album behind a subscription service you deserve to have your album pirated. I have $10 dollars. I want to buy your product and keep it forever. You won’t let me. This isn’t a legality issue, this is a consumer issue. Anyway, it’s on Spotify now so that’s how I listened to it.

There was a three month period where I listened to Acid Rap on repeat. The sound of that album was something I had never heard before. It made an impression on me and has stuck since. Chance’s hasn’t made an album since and it’s clear that Coloring Book isn’t trying to be Acid Rap. Since 2013, it seemed like Chance was looking at feelings of nostalgia and how to inject them into songs without necessarily having a memory to anchor them to. He touched on this with The Social Experiment where he would perform the Arthur theme song for crowds and get a feel of the vibe of the crowd.

With all that in mind, the sound of Coloring Book makes complete sense. The album has been called “gospel rap,” for its laid back sound, ample jazz instrumentation and credentialed backing vocalists. Chance might not be instilling the psychological effect of nostalgia, but he has all the groundwork. These songs feel immediately familiar, like they’re part of your past. I associated them with relaxing in college townhouse rooms with my friends and listening to music talking about which artists we liked best. After a mere three or four listens the album feels like a classic.

That’s not to say that the album is so good it should be called a new classic, but the type of mood it sets feels like something you’ve been listening to for a while.
That said, there are traditional rap songs that stick out like sore thumbs. They’re dispersed at a rate that suggests Chance wanted to switch up the style every few tracks, which is to the detriment of the overall experience. It’s jarring to go from a personal song like Juke Jam to a loud party track like All Night back to the gospel-inspired song How Great. The majority of the album falls into the vision of a nostalgia-charged sound, which is why the outliers feel so out of place. In fact I got so hung up on those odd sounding songs I thought I didn’t like the album when in reality it’s a pretty solid effort. I need to give it some time before I decide how I can judge it, right now I feel like the tone of the album is great but a little manipulative.

4/5

Frank Ocean – Blonde

I’m not going to bury the lead: I think this album is disappointing. I’m a recent Ocean fan, considering I documented my discovery of Channel Orange just a month ago, but I could immediately see the appeal of Ocean’s artistry and why this album was so anticipated. Last month I noted how Channel Orange preferred scaled back production to focus on vocals and lyrics. It gave the album a pure essence. In a music industry that’s heavily criticized for auto-tune and effects that sedate the listening experience, Ocean’s approach was commendable. Blonde might have been trying to stick to that, but I think it goes too far.

Which is my way of saying this album is really boring. A minimalist beat was cool, but a lot of these tracks simply have no beat at all. Ivy, Solo, Skyline To, Self Control, White Ferrari, Seigfried, and Godspeed are beatless. I might sound like some musical conventionalist who’s reviewing an instrumental band and demanding that there’s vocals, but the choice doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. The songs that go the more traditional route are noticeably better. Nikes, Pink + White and Nights are the songs that reminded that I actually like Frank Ocean. Andre 3000 has a guest track with “Solo (Reprise),” which might give a window into what Ocean may have been going for. The song stands on its own thanks to a dramatic piano and aggressive performance from Andre, but I can’t imagine it would’ve worked if anyone else had tried to do the same.

The whole album doesn’t feel like four years of deep thinking and collaborating. It feels like a project that was thrown together in the past few months without much thought put into it. Most of all, it seems like fans have waited so long for this album they have a hard time admitting that it isn’t very good.

2/5

That’s all I got around to for August, but considering I’ve been ahead schedule for practically every month since I started this, I think I deserve to slow down a bit.

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