Category Archives: The General Specific

[random] On 2014 So Far

It’s amazing how quickly time slips past us; I’ve posted on the blog literally ten times since the calendar turned to 2014. Considering that we’re already ninety-some days into the year, that’s not a great average.

But it’s been a great year to this point: I’m newly-engaged and learning to not call my fiancée “my girlfriend.” Old habits are truly hard to break. And with that engagement comes all kinds of busyness: scouting locations, deciding on what food 180 people will be allowed to eat, what we want to listen to throughout the reception, colors, flowers, ties, dresses, etc. There are myriad things available for which I never knew there could even be options.

Bringing things back to music, I’ve been spending 2014 looking backwards, in part because of the engagement, so I’ve been looking for specific types of songs – old soul in the vein of Freddie Scott’s “You (Got What I Need).” That’s led me down rabbit holes into a lot of Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley and into my live Van Morrison bootlegs and recently into Simon & Garfunkel. My time with new music has been limited, and I’m enjoying thumbing through old records at the shops for albums I never would have dreamed of previously, or discovering The Mad Lads, or needing to listen to all of Stevie Wonder’s output with fresh ears.

It’s been rewarding to tap back into this great wealth of music that so often goes unnoticed by the bleeding edge blogosphere to discover this vast expanse of new-to-me music. I mean, I’ve listened to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight” two dozen times this year. It’s likely that my most played list for 2014 won’t have much representation from the twelve months that preceded it.

And that process has been doing me so much good. I’m losing some of the jaded veneer that I’ve so snarkily cultivated when it comes to what I like. Music should be enjoyed, and dredging up all this great stuff from the past has enabled me to do exactly that again.

[Best of 2013] Andy’s Favorites: Chance the Rapper // Acid Rap

2013 seems to have been kind of a lost year for me. My listening habits took a turn for the worse as the rest of my life picked up speed (I went back to school, continued to work full-time, and then got a dog), so my favorite releases from these past 12 months will likely not mirror many other outlets, just my own ebb and flow of listening when I found the time, and in no discernible order. Let’s mix it up.

Chance the Rapper Acid Rap cover

Chancellor Bennett turned 20 years old this past April, and two weeks after his birthday the Chicago rapper released his mixtape Acid Rap to a public that was largely unsuspecting of just how good it would be, this writer included.

Acid Rap is filled with a verbal tic that lies just behind the vocals on the vast majority of the songs. It’s a yelp, one that serves to keep time in the songs in which it appears. I had the thought of trying to count the number of tics I heard throughout the mixtape’s running time since Chance is smart enough to make that number significant, and with the murder rate in Chicago in 2012 reaching 516, I thought there might be a correlation.

I realized I was pressing, however, and trying to make more out of things than needed to be. Acid Rap is at its core largely a tale of diversion, whether through cigarettes, sex, or drugs, and it is at its pinnacle on the “hidden” track “Paranoia” that’s tacked onto the end of the album’s second song. It’s heartbreaking to hear Bennett snarl that “down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot.”

Acid Rap isn’t about the cash, and it’s not about the women, or even really about the drugs, though those things do have their place. Told through a lens yellowed by cigarette smoke, Acid Rap is a stark look into a world that has been largely ignored by those who are outside of it, and it is delivered with enough aplomb to make those same individuals take long overdue notice.

[sports] Richie Incognito and Basic Humanity


I don’t have any other outlet for my musings when they aren’t about music, so this is going up here. It’s not the first shot over the bow of Grantland or anything – just some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for the past few days.

I have read with interest the ongoing saga of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, two players for the Miami Dolphins, first because it is incomprehensible to me that someone has the last name Incognito, and second (and more importantly) because I am always fascinated by discussions of race and how our national perspective on it rears its head when these things happen. Usually I just keep my mouth shut, because the last thing the world needs is another middle-class Caucasian male parroting on about race in the 21st Century. With this situation, however, I think there is more that needs to be worked out, at least in my own head.

If you’re unaware, Martin left the Dolphins rather abruptly last week. In the time since his departure from the team, it has been revealed that Martin, a rookie, was on the receiving end of Incognito’s particularly misguided, churlish form of hazing, which included the use of racially charged language, threats to Martin personally, and threats to Martin’s family. (Incognito, it should be said, is white, whereas Martin is not.)

Since that revelation, all manner of reporting chaff has been offered up in order to explain what transpired. Current and former teammates have given Incognito a pass for using the word that he did (you know the one), even going so far as to claim that he is an “honorary brother.” Others are dismissive of the entire incident, chalking it up to nothing more than rookie hazing, a longstanding tradition of any sports locker room, though it usually ends at making the rookies carry bags or dressing up in costume (at least in baseball). Still others are directing the blame on Martin himself, calling him soft, or feigning outrage that he went outside of the normal hierarchy of the locker room to voice his concerns.

None of those things seem important about the story. What is important, and what has been lost in the discussion, is that it does not matter what latitude Incognito had to say what he did, or whether it was permissible as mere rookie hazing, or whether it amounted to bullying. Instead, what does matter is how Martin himself felt about the situation, and his departure from the team because of it makes it abundantly clear that he did not count himself among those who think it was copacetic.

All the rest of the spin surrounding the story is, in light of that fact, rendered irrelevant. We spend our lifetimes learning to be mindful of other people’s beliefs and feelings when we speak; it is not always successful, even for those that are well-versed in it. But we do this as an acknowledgement that other people’s feelings are important, and when we hurt them – inadvertently or not – we need to make amends for that fact, even if we were joking, and even if everyone else around us was doing it as well. That Incognito was more unabashed in his offense makes it that much worse.

Exceptions are not made to this rule simply because an individual plays professional sports, can lift more weight than another other person, or because they have played for a certain team for a longer period of time. If anything, being older should make a person more aware of this. But for a group of men playing (or reporting on) a glorified version of an after-school game, these basic lessons about humanity seem to need to be retaught.

[rant] On the New Vinyl Single from Arcade Fire

Reflektor Single Artwork

Last night at 9PM, Arcade Fire released their new single, “Reflektor” on 12” vinyl to various record stores throughout the world. At only 8,500 copies, the single was destined to be something of a collector’s item, like any limited run vinyl from a popular band is bound to become.

I dutifully drove myself to the record store in the Rochester area that was supposed to receive copies of the single, arrived about 15 minutes before 9PM and asked the people at the registers if there were, in fact, Arcade Fire singles available there. After receiving an affirmative response, along with an apology that they couldn’t sell them prior to 9PM, I kicked around the store for a bit and then got myself (first) in line when the time came. (That was more a function of me looking at the stacks of 45s in the front of the store than it was my desperation for getting my hands on the new single before anyone else in town.)

Those who were in line all got their vinyl, and then, before anyone paid for it, we took a group picture for the label (apparently), looking stoked to have our hands on this limited run of wax. After that, we dutifully got back into line, and then, because I was the first who’d asked about the single, I received a t-shirt with the Reflektor artwork on it, as well as a bunch of pins, a poster, and a sticker as well, all for $10.79 including tax.

After paying, I walked out, having been a small part of something much larger. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare – the store was playing the single as we checked out – but there were no balloons or confetti or large cutouts of the band adorning the walkway into the store. It was all pretty understated – just a handful of people excited to have new material from Arcade Fire in their hands, and to have it in a format that only 8,499 people would have it.

And then, not 15 minutes after I got home – around 9:20 or so – I searched for “arcade fire reflector vinyl single” on Google, and found that two people already had the single for sale on eBay, one seller asking for $49.99 for the privilege of owning it. As of this morning, there are a dozen copies for sale.

Fuck that.

If you collect vinyl, you understand that it’s not really about getting your hands on everything limited you could possibly want, because that’s realistically (and monetarily) not going to happen. If a limited run of vinyl sells out before you get it, that sucks for you, but it’s great for the band. Chances are that you’ll be able to get the two songs for a couple of bucks on iTunes. Yeah, it sucks that you can’t set it on your turntable and spin it endlessly, but you do realize that it’s not the end of the world, right? Don’t you?

Please don’t go out and spend some exorbitant amount on two songs that were available for $10 to feed someone else’s greed. You don’t need it that badly. Hell, I’ll sell you my copy if you can prove to me that you need that single so much that you’re willing to shell out $50 just to have it. (Note: the only way to convince me is if you have a tattoo of each band member’s face on your body, or something equally idiotic.) Let’s collectively decide that, right here and now, we won’t support individuals who try to profit from your fandom. (Blog pal Rich reminds me that this also goes for ticket resellers.)

Now, I also understand that my inconsequential ranting isn’t going to bring about a sea change in people’s attitudes or how shitty people can be in general. But man, if you’re that seller in Pittsburgh that had that copy of the single up not 30 minutes after it was made available, please do me the favor of not ever setting foot in a record store again, because you clearly don’t understand what it is to love anything other than yourself. Stop taking advantage of the people who do.

[thoughts] After My Sixth Time Listening To Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’

kanye west yeezus cover

This piece doesn’t review Yeezus, per se. It assumes that you’ve already listened to the album and come to some conclusion on your own about its merits (or lack thereof). A couple of better efforts to get you thinking are available in The Needle Drop’s review, and We Listen For You’s Citizen Kanye piece.

There’s a dichotomy to Kanye West. It’s not difficult to decipher, but it’s crucial to understanding his current effort – or any of his albums, really. On one hand, West is blessed with an innate ability to create textured, forward-thinking music. Yeezus bears this out. 808’s and Heartbreak did the same. West is on a different plane than his contemporaries in any genre, not simply those in the rap game. Whether he’s flipping Nina Simone samples or putting Justin Vernon on his tracks, West has a musical direction that is wholly unique and largely visionary.

Along with that vision comes the fact that Kanye so desperately seems to want to be considered something more highbrow. He’s familiar with Hungarian rock and high couture and Basquiat, and he undoubtedly has access to the homes and people in the Hamptons that he so often derides in his songs. To his detriment, however, he mixes those references with such lowbrow pop culture (The Waterboy, for example, or his tabloid relationship with Kim Kardashian) that he ends up remaining an outsider in both worlds.

And it is there that Kanye West ultimately breaks down on Yeezus. He flirts with issues that should be discussed – innate racism, Chicago’s murder rate, the United States’ difficulties with race relations and their placement in a wider historical context – but he never explores them on more than a cursory level, merely acknowledging them as problems, but ultimately concerning himself more with the money he is making or the next woman that will be performing fellatio on him.

That dichotomy, however, is precisely what makes West so popular. For everyone who listens to what he has to say, there’s something uncomfortably familiar; personally, for as much as I can appreciate a Harmony Korine film, I still enjoy Judd Apatow movies. For as much as I appreciate Cy Twombly prints, I still laugh at dorm room beer posters. And though I might like to have a deeper grasp of race relations in the United States, it’s much easier to state that they are problems than it is to address them in any meaningful way.

In that sense, perhaps calling West out for his inability or unwillingness to bring about action on any number of fronts is disingenuous. West is simply an artist, beholden only to himself and the art he creates, and not required to make any effort to raise social consciousness about any issues. Expecting him to do more when the majority of us – myself included – have reduced our own action to simply liking the Facebook pages of causes we support, might be unfair. But for an artist that considers himself a god, and who likely has the means of one, it might not be.