4/27/2012 2:36:30 PM
!WAR: ! Women Art
Available soon on ZeitgeistFilms
wandering through an art gallery, ignoring the art and instead tallying the
number of female artists on display. It may seem strange, but that’s exactly
what a group of women did in the late 1960s. Their findings—that women had been
almost completely excluded from the gallery system—were not entirely surprising.
group formed a coalition, Women Artists in Revolution, and the feminist art
movement was born. For the next 40 years, artist Lynn Hershman Leeson recorded
snippets of it, documenting art by women and interviewing any female artists,
curators and art historians she could find. Leeson accumulated over twelve
thousand minutes of video and archived nearly one thousand still images. !WAR is the condensed version of this
documentary’s main strength lies in putting feminist artwork into context. “You
have to ask yourself why it was necessary for [feminist artists] to do this in
the first place,” says Leeson. Through archival footage and interviews, !WAR illustrates just how difficult it
was for women (who have since become the foundation for feminist art practice)
to get into galleries, much less art history books.
an undergraduate at Harvard
University [in the early
1980s],” says art historian Amelia Jones, “I don’t think there was a single
woman artist whose work was discussed in any one of my classes.” Thankfully,
things have changed. !WAR shows how women exposed and subverted the
system that decides what artwork gets recognized and remembered. In revealing this, the documentary becomes more engaging than any textbook chapter on the
who lived this movement will enjoy !WAR,
but those that didn’t are the ones who most need to watch it. We need to see
life breathed back into feminism, see its passion and creative problem-solving
made contagious. We need to be reminded that feminism was once cool and, though gains have been made,
the fight for equality is not over.
4/27/2012 9:15:49 AM
Formula 1 racing, like all
sports, is not supposed to be about politics. F1 is really about everything
else—speed, strategy, innovation. It’s about everything going wrong all at
once, and it’s about a thousand pieces coming together at the best possible
moment. In this equation, politics doesn’t make sense. It’s maybe for this
reason that when politics does enter sports, it seems to turn that world on its
head—especially the bit about things coming together.
That’s certainly what
happened at the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday. Admittedly, I’m a big F1
fan, and there was a lot to talk about from the weekend’s race. Sebastian
Vettel won with typical style, keeping former champion Lewis Hamilton and
teammate Mark Webber at a distance, and marking his first win of the year. But
the real story was Team Lotus: after a two-year hiatus, Kimi Räikkönen achieved
his first podium of the season after vaulting nine positions from qualifying. Meanwhile,
his young teammate, Romain Grosjean, fended off Lewis Hamilton in the closing
laps to gain his own spot on the podium.
In most parts of the world, hearing that much was
easy—especially in Canada or England where F1 is more popular, and the coverage
far superior. But the real story yesterday wasn’t on the remote desert track.
It was in the north, in Manama
where ongoing protests overshadowed the weekend’s festivities. On Friday,
reports The Guardian, during the
first of three planned “Days of Rage,” riot police shot and killed Salah Abbas
Habib, a 37-year-old protester. The night before the race on Sunday, riot
city and village streets, enforcing an unofficial curfew. Well aware of the
country’s violent crackdown, F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg said
the race should probably be canceled. Stopping short of expressing regret,
Mark Webber told reporters there was no reason to celebrate
after finishing fourth on Sunday.
Last year, things were very different—at least in Sakhir. Amid intensifying
demonstrations inspired by the wider Arab Spring, Crown Prince Sheikh
Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa requested
that his country’s GP be suspended, says BBC. Activists and human rights groups praised the decision, though
F1 didn’t formally cancel the even until some months later. But this year,
without a formal request from Manama—aside
from protesters calling for a boycott—the race went on as planned. For many,
the incident mirrored the 1985 South African Grand Prix, a controversial event
that defied an international boycott and divestment movement against South
African apartheid. Unlike Bahrain,
that race was more about future champions, as Nigel Mansell defended pole
position against Alain Prost and the legendary Ayrton Senna, all of whom went
on to win multiple world titles over the next ten years.
as with Bahrain,
and team members’ reservations about apartheid didn’t stop the larger F1
apparatus from going ahead with the race. The teams that did formally pull out
that year—France’s Ligier and Renault in particular—did so mainly in line with
their home country’s official boycott against the apartheid regime.
an old pattern. For athletes, acting on political principle usually carries a
heavy penalty. In contrast to say, film stars—whose political ideals and
actions are all but a career asset—the situation is a little more complicated
for athletes. This was certainly true for Tommie Smith and John Carlos—the
Olympic medalists whose podium Black Power salute in 1968 brought international
attention to the black American struggle. As The Guardian points out, it didn’t take long for the International
Olympic Committee to suspend
both runners from the U.S. team. The LA
Times compared the action to a Nazi salute. People booed.
same was true for Muhammad Ali, who was famously banned from boxing after
refusing to support U.S.
actions in Vietnam.
In fact, the only time when an athlete’s politics doesn’t carry this kind of
risk is when the politics are outside their control. The symbolic victories Joe
Louis and Jesse Owens won over (Nazi) German opponents illustrate this
contradiction. No one could deny the cultural importance of Joe Louis’
triumph over Max Schemling in 1936—the event won accolades from Langston
Hughes and Franklin Roosevelt, among others—but there was no talk of
suspension. Critically, in both cases, neither athlete made an individual
statement against injustice. Rather, their actions were important because of
what they represented, almost independent of the athletes’ personal ideals.
this is certainly true today, though with some isolated exceptions. In
particular, pro basketball stands out as more welcoming of political messages
than other sports. Both the Miami
Heat and the Phoenix
Suns recently used their mass media presence to bring attention to larger
social issues. But by and large, sports’ entertainment value trumps its politics,
and its social and philosophical dimensions are usually hidden.
more recently, John Carlos blames a
rising influence of money for making political questions less a part of pro
sports. In the 1960s, athletes were quicker to see larger issues play out,
rather than focusing on career and contractual obligations. “That’s the
difference between Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan,” he told The Guardian. That would certainly be
true of Formula 1. The Washington
Examiner points out that Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, owns
50 percent of McLaren Racing, a leading F1 team. But that may only be part of the problem. Writing for Huffington,
David Hobbs condemns
the tendency to see sports as somehow removed from larger social issues and
obligations. And that’s true of races in Bahrain,
for that matter, he says.
the same time, the idea that pro sports are insulated from larger political
forces is very much a Western one. Other parts of the world in fact seem to
have the opposite problem, where social issues are inescapable—athletes being
no exception. While Bahrain
boasts no hometown Formula 1 drivers, Al
Jazeera reports that more
than 150 athletes, coaches and officials were arrested during Arab Spring
protests last year. Two were national footballers, brothers Mohammed and Alaa
Hubail, who were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and now live
in exile. For them, an arena free of political dimensions may be somewhat
Image by Emily Faulk, licensed under Creative Commons.
Fanatic, PBS, Huffington,
4/26/2012 5:23:31 PM
Available now on Anti- (April 17, 2012)
Listening to Yann Tiersen’s Skyline
feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. Perhaps you haven’t heard from
this pal in a decade (the Amelie soundtrack), or maybe it’s only been a
couple of years (Dust Lane). Either way, like a childhood companion
you’ve run into on the street, you’ll find Tiersen aged but recognizable. And
though you might have to get reacquainted, chances are you’ll enjoy doing it.
At first, Tiersen allows us to hear the side of him
that we expect. “Another Shore” opens with a toy piano melody seemingly pulled
from the past. That lasts for about three seconds, and then Tiersen begins to layer
on percussion and guitar. Within the first minute, he has constructed a
dynamic, instrumental rock track, cresendos retreating into softer, timid
moments only to build up again.
But Tiersen has done more than find a new formula. On
Skyline, experimentation abounds as he
draws from a range of influences (think Air and The Books swapping
stories with My Bloody Valentine and Do Make Say Think).
“I’m Gonna Live Anyhow,” “Monuments,” and “The Gutter” are filled with layers
of idiosyncratic sounds, alternately quirky and beautiful. That combination is
well-trod territory for Tiersen, even as his choice of genre continues to
On the whole, Skyline feels expansive and agreeably surreal. The notable
exception is “Exit 25 Block 50,” with screams, hoots, and howls that seem an
apt accompaniment to a small-town haunted house. These sounds eventually morph
into something more tolerable, almost pleasant. Whether the listener will make
it there is uncertain. Still, tracks like “Hesitation Wound,” “The Trial,” and
“Vanishing Point” confirm that Tiersenhas found a balance between grit
and transcendence. There is distortion, there is melody, there is aching and
If Dust Lane was Tiersen’s foray into the depths, Skyline is his emergence, changed but triumphant. It is a
transformation that can’t be described as good, bad, or even stunningly
original. But it is authentic.
4/25/2012 9:41:57 AM
Available now on ESL Music (April 17, 2012)
There’s a hotel in Palm Springs,
California, where the stars of mid-twentieth century
to escape fame. Poolside, they relaxed in the sun, put cocktails on their tabs,
listened to the latest breed of jazz. Still in operation, the getaway has
perfected the art of retro-modern. Today, the young, hip, and rich sit in
chairs designed by Eames and Saarinen, listening to an endless supply of
remixed lounge. This summer, they will be listening to Congo Sanchez’s Volume 1.
But here’s the secret: Sanchez sounds just as good in a lawn
chair by a kiddie pool. As with other albums from Eighteenth Street Lounge
(home to Thievery Corporation and Ursula 1000), the music of Congo Sanchez
surrounds its listener without necessarily drawing attention to itself. Sanchez
claims a blend of Afro Latin dub, but that’s more of a garnish on
ambient-electronic tracks like “Democrazy” and “Ghost Dance.” Cuban influence
is more distilled in the rhythms of “Oleada Calor,” while the horn section of “T.E.T.O.
(strut)” is clearly inspired by Afrobeat. All of this blends together in a
seamless, worldly carnation of jazz.
What we have here is practically a soundtrack for running
through the sprinkler and grilling burgers. It’s as relaxing with a lemonade as
it is with a gin and tonic. It is made of familiar ingredients, and yet you’ve
never heard it this way. The percussion energizes, the bass line grooves, the
synthy melodies and echos offer relaxation. My only complaint is that, at four
tracks adding up to just over 17 minutes, it ends too quickly.
4/18/2012 12:20:22 PM
"Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus" (2012)
Documentary directed by Holly Mosher
Available now on DVD
In "Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus,"
Holly Mosher’s new documentary about the microcredit loan pioneer Muhammad Yunus,
Mosher uses a clever method to tell her story. She follows an idealistic young
Grameen employee, Sumon, as he opens a new bank branch in a flood-ravaged region
near the Indian border. There we are introduced to several borrowers: Melancho,
a petite young woman with an impish smile who becomes the local Grameen
chairwoman; Aroti, a tall, charismatic go-getter whose Grameen connections help
her land a spot as the only woman on the village council; Surjobano, an elderly
widow shunned by her family for begging; and Shahnaj, whose son's recent death
is quickly overshadowed by her existential
While Mosher makes no pretense toward objectivity - her film is a tribute rather than a critique - she does not manipulate with
tricky editing. One is struck by the simplicity of her technique, which
possesses a quiet beauty that mirrors her subject's lives. As villagers bathe
livestock in picturesque rural scenes, children back-flip off oxen into a pond,
women congregate in the village square to discuss their loans, they appear
happy. Compared with the complexities of life in the developed world, their
basic existences almost seem appealing. Gradually, however, their brutal
realities become clear, especially the stifled lives of the
Mosher's advocacy of Yunus, in fact, has as much to do
with his empowerment of women as his attempts to alleviate poverty. Her film
focuses on women because Yunus does: they compose 97 percent of Grameen
borrowers. Why such a large percentage? Yunus says that women spend the microcredit loans
more wisely than men do. This has thrust them - most of them Muslim - into
leadership roles within the family and the community. While empowering them, it
has also created religious rifts, and Yunus has faced death threats and been
accused of "destroying Islam."
The struggle between religion and women's
rights is embodied by Aroti. The most successful borrower in the film, Aroti is extremely pious. Mosher appears to connect her strong work ethic to her piety.
She is filmed reciting scripture and saying things like, "God doesn't like lazy
people." As the only woman on the village council, however, Aroti complains that
her views are routinely disregarded. She denounces the restrictions placed upon women, and speaks about the importance of changing societal norms. "Women
were behind a curtain and slowly we are advancing," she says, flashing the proud
smile of someone who’s helped pull that curtain back.
Stories like Aroti's are
moving, and Mosher convinces us that Yunus’s ideas can accomplish wonders. By
taking a "worm's eye" view of microcredit loans, Mosher engages us in the needs of
the poor in a way that taking a broader view could not. Microcredit has been
abused by loan sharks (200 Indian farmers were thought to have committed suicide
because of high-interest microloans), attacked as a phony panacea, and Yunus
has been denigrated by his own prime minister. But "Bonsai People" leaves us
believing that if practiced according to Yunus's strictures, its ancillary
benefits alone - empowering women, strengthening community bonds, providing
education - make it worthy of high praise.
At the end of her film, Mosher returns to
Bangladesh a year later. With one exception, every
borrower's life has improved. Shahnaj finally replaced her straw roof with tin,
and her daughter received a Grameen scholarship. Surjobano, the former beggar,
has been successful repaying her loans and saved money to repair her walls.
Melancho, who used her first loan to buy a cow, says that her family is no
longer hungry. Aroti, already a landlord, erected a modern new house that
contains indoor plumbing. "My husband sees me in a new light," she says, as he
sits beaming by her side. "My family loves me very much."
4/17/2012 9:13:42 AM
Cynic's New Year
Available now on Kill Rock Stars (April 17, 2012)
The dark-clouded, rainy temperament of the Pacific
Northwest seems an incubator of sorts for artists and musicians
inspired by its quiet and enchanting personality. Justin Ringle, originally
from Idaho, has called Portland home since 2004, where his subdued,
calm nature is reflected back by the natural surroundings. For the past six
years, Ringle has recorded his experiences and musings through the sonically
ornate and lyrically haunting project Horse Feathers.
In early 2011, Ringle recruited the talents of producer Skyler
Norwood (Blind Pilot, Talkdemonic) to record and help arrange a new batch
of songs that would eventually become Cynic’s New Year, out now on Kill Rock Stars. Nathan Crockett, longtime collaborator of Ringle, joins on
violin, with a host of other musicians playing everything from French horn and
bells to banjo and upright bass. On their latest effort, Horse Feathers
maintains the stark contrast between their uplifting arrangements and dark,
poetic lyrics that have become a trademark of their sound.
Ringle’s overarching sentiment, concerned with the changing of seasons and
hardships commonly bestowed upon young people, is neatly wrapped in the
single “Fit Against the Country.” Backed by pulsing strings and acoustic guitar
à la early Neil Young, Ringle pleasantly creaks, “Every night we all go
to a house we will never own/ Every night we are tired, we’ve been worked to
the bone...It’s a hard country we made.” A riffing banjo and a handful of
voices join the chorus for the working man’s plight by song’s end.
Where Horse Feathers falls short in originality (“Pacific Bray” sounds as if
Sam Beam from Iron & Wine lost the track when he turned in The Shepherd’s Dog for
production) they thrive in producing a space where uneasy, contemplative
lyrics exist among floral musical arrangements. Speaking of this element,
Ringle explains, “I think the contrast is really just about trying to express
some grey area emotionally...something real for me.” “Nearly Old Friends” is a
prime example of this recurring juxtaposition. Over a backing track built for
inspiring springtime drives along the coast, Ringle urgently warns, “Something
wicked is bound to this way come,” suggesting that no perfect moment comes without
impending doom. If the end really is nigh, as some believe, be sure to revel in
the tragic beauty of Cynic’s New Year before the winter solstice. Here's the video for the album's first single, "Where I'll Be:"
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.
4/11/2012 2:46:18 PM
Boys & Girls
Available now on Rough Trade (April 10, 2012)
Their sound is as old as rock ’n’ roll,
but the Alabama Shakes just might be the next big thing.
Alt they aren’t. Instead, the Shakes do it the
old-fashioned way. Their sound is part Motown, part Stax Records, even part
Janis Joplin. And add in a little garage rock attitude. All of which makes them
The band has come out of nowhere to break big.
In no time at all, they were named “New Band of the Year” by Paste
Magazine, appeared on NPR Music’s list of favorite new artists, and
premiered on Conan. And once you give them a listen, you’ll
Boys & Girls is the Shakes’ debut, a down-and-dirty mélange of Southern rock, Memphis soul, juke joint
blues, and swamp pop—all delivered with a tough punkish vibe. Guitarman Heath
Fogg has studied his Booker T & the MGs records. He’s got the riffs and the
classic sweet to highlight perfectly the rock-solid R&B groove set by
bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson.
But it’s vocalist Brittany Howard that
astonishes. She unleashes songs with a soulfulness that brings up dangerous
comparisons with Janis and Aretha. On the band’s standout single, “Hold On,”
she moves from a throaty growl to wailing release. “You Ain’t Alone” is a
slow-burning torch song while “I Found You” is classic gospel-tinged rock ’n’
roll as only the South can produce.
All of which may earn the Alabama
Shakes a label as “alt alt”—an alternative to alternative music. Whatever, Boys
& Girls is a welcome return to classic R&B, with all the passion
and fire, sound and fury of the greats.
4/11/2012 11:24:43 AM
For most of us, music offers an escape from everyday troubles. We don’t often stop to think that music is subject to the same concerns: making money, finding a place to thrive, and staying true to itself within a rigid, often ruthless, industry. Some music prefers to avoid such mayhem. It parties on the fringes, sending an occasional dispatch for our edification. This primer on Cuban music and a socialist approach to the art of sound is one such report.
For New American Media, Greg Landau and interviewer Jacob Simas explore themes in contemporary Cuban music, illuminating a dynamic art that is at once traditional and experimental, a forum for both critique and celebration. Landau and Simas offer insights into trends in Cuban music while nonchalantly, almost inadvertently, exposing the effects of capitalist ideology on the music industry. If you can, listen to the audio version of the interview, which has examples of the music.
Source: New American Media.
; licensed under Creative Commons.
4/10/2012 5:17:28 PM
Available now on Sub Pop
Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, both of Fleet Foxes and
Crystal Skulls, along with brothers Ian and Peter Murray, debut as Poor Moon
with a mesmerizing offering of folky tunes fit for cloudy, slow-moving mornings
when a cup of tea beckons to rub off the haze of sleep. Wargo, the group’s sole
songwriter, combines the gentle folk elements of his more well known musical
endeavor with the electric, upbeat pop of Crystal Skulls, creating something
new. The Seattle-based band released the five song EP, Illusion, on
March 27 via their hometown label Sub Pop.
On “Illusion,” the title track, Wargo weaves his vocals over a stark background
of lightly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and waves of reverb organ swirls.
“It’s not fair/ Can I be as unaware as I seem/ Laying there like I don’t know
how to prepare to be seen,” Wargo coos in self reflection. After several years
of touring, traversing the obscure landscape of sudden fame and success, some
soul-searching about who you are and where you want to be seems necessary.
Wargo arrives at a simple, yet difficult to follow, mantra for going forward -
“I want to learn to rely on what I first decide/ When the moment comes before
it passes me by.”
“People in Her Mind,” the first single from Illusion, tells the story of
a lonely girl living in the past, calling out the names of people she used to
know. The band contrasts this sorry imagery with the jovial instrumentation of
distorted guitar riffs and a dancing xylophone. In a similar vein, “Once
Before” finds Poor Moon unabashedly playing simple rock and roll, albeit a bit
darker and more mysterious. Wargo makes solid use of his vocal range,
occasionally showing off his smooth falsetto in choruses of harmonizing oohs,
that might continue humming in your head long after the music stops.
Poor Moon returns to their folkier side on the final track, “Widow,” with
inventive vocal melodies blowing over a field of soothing guitar plucks. Coming
in at around 15 minutes, the EP should be just enough to tide you over until
the release of their first full-length album due out later this year. While
comparisons to Fleet Foxes will be made, as is only obvious and natural, Illusion
stands on its own as a shining example of the modern folk-rock wave of the past
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.
4/10/2012 4:56:08 PM
Back at the Quonset Hut
Available now on Ramseur Records (Feb. 28, 2012)
If there was ever a doubt it was possible to put a youthful,
energetic spin on classics without being disrespectful, Chuck Mead has buried
it on Back at the Quonset Hut.
Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys rip through a dozen country
and rockabilly standards on Back At the Quonset Hut, infusing each with a
simmering vitality that drips off the disc while simultaneously wearing their
reverence for the tunes proudly on their sleeves. A tribute to Bradley Film and
Recording Studios, better known as The Quonset Hut, Mead recorded the paean to
a legendary studio in one November 2010 weekend. He brought along former BR5-49
band mate Chris Scruggs and studio legends such as piano man Hargus “Pig” Robbins
to help out.
While country luminaries like Bobby Bare join Mead for duets
such as Carl Smith’s “Hey Joe,” the real stars here are the songs and the
country giants that made them standards. Aiming for the highs of Roy Acuff
(Wabash Cannonball), Hank Williams (Settin’ the Woods on Fire) and Tammy
Wynette/Johnny Paycheck (Apartment
#9) can be a fool’s errand, but Mead proves once
again he’s nobody’s fool. Giving each tune his energetic vocal treatment, they
are faithful renditions of songs he very sincerely loves. Yet this is no mere
mimicry. Mead works effortlessly with his fellow studio mates and rips through
each tune in his own way as though he’s been playing them for years. In many
cases, he has.
has been a country town for decades - thanks in no small part to the greats who
recorded at the Quonset Hut - but many a fine rockabilly cat also prowled
through town. Mead tips his hat to two of the finest, Gene Vincent and Carl
Perkins with toe-tappin’ versions of “Be Bop A Lula” and “Cat Clothes”
respectively. But the real star of the quonset show is honky tonk standard
“Sittin’ and Thinkin,’” made famous by Charlie Rich. Mead and pedal steel
guitarist Carco Clave wring every possible drop of heartbreak and desperation
out of the tune, like the narrator might on another one of his destructive
binges. Like so many country songs attest, love can hurt, but when you love the
music as much as Mead clearly does, you just can’t quit.
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