Get Out

Get Out

Get Out (2017)

Universal Pictures

Director: Jordan Peele

Main Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener

Basically a suspense/thriller/horror film with a small amount of soft sci-fi that draws plot elements from three prior films: Seconds (1966), Being John Malkovich (1999), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).  It’s good — one of the alternate endings is a bit better than the theatrical ending — but it’s not in the same league as the older films it resembles.

Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time

It's Monk's Time

Thelonious MonkIt’s Monk’s Time Columbia CS 8984 (1964)

Monk’s years on the Columbia label were mostly marked by restatements of his earlier innovations.  His prime years were mostly behind him.  It’s Monk’s Time might be my second favorite of his Columbia studio albums, after Monk’s Dream, both of which are edged out by the awesome posthumous archival live recording Live at the It Club (especially the “complete” two-disc version).  The band is in good form — Charlie Rouse has a great boisterous, stuttering solo on “Brake’s Sake” — and Monk himself is playing well — much more strongly than on his last album Criss-Cross, and with a number of thoughtful, unaccompanied segments.  This is the mature Monk, and he sounds right at home in that role.  The album is half semi-obscure Monk originals (all previously recorded) and half standards.  It makes for a good mix.  This is strangely one of the lesser-known Monk albums on Columbia, but it is actually one of his better ones on the label.

Richard Seymour – The Real Winston Churchill

Link to an article by Richard Seymour:

“The Real Winston Churchill”


Bonus links: Winston Churchill With Mohawk and “Victory Day: Western Narrative of World War II ‘Falsifies History'” and “A View from Livadia Palace” and “A People’s History of Churchillian Madness” and “That Time Churchill Wanted to Start World War III, Before World War II was Even Over”

Мария Юдина [Maria Yudina] – Historical Russian Archives: Maria Yudina Edition

Historical Russian Archives: Maria Yudina Edition

Мария Юдина [Maria Yudina]Historical Russian Archives: Maria Yudina Edition Brilliant Classics 8909 (2009)

Maria Yudina was arguably the most highly regarded Soviet pianist.  There are tons of great anecdotes about her.  One of the most famous is that, as a devoted christian in the militantly atheistic Soviet Union, she wrote to Josef Stalin to say she would pray for him!  Her religious beliefs did hinder her musical career, though it was actually normal for people to criticize Stalin and her music was not a political threat to him; hence, she was spared from the great purges.  David King‘s book Red Star Over Russia details another anecdote in which he was attempting to return to the West from a research trip to the Soviet Union and was stopped at the border where photographic film he carried was discovered.  Exporting exposed film was, at that time, something subject to extreme scrutiny.  He was referred to a more senior interrogator, and he told her was researching Yudina.  The official immediately said that Yudina was her favorite musician, and ordered the border guards to let King pass, film and all, because he was researching Yudina.  Yet another notable episode, also described in King’s book, is that during the Siege of Leningrad, “the 900 Days” during which the Axis military, as part of Operation Barbarossa (the largest military offensive in human history), blockaded the city.  Isolated by the siege, and supplied only by a dangerous ice road, underwater pipeline, and occasional, dangerous flights, civilian deaths were astonishing.  Tanya Savicheva’s diary, which recorded how each of her family members starved and froze to death one by one around her, is kind of the “Diary of Anne Frank” of the siege.  Yudina was flown into Leningrad during the siege, in order to perform music so as to boost morale.  This speaks to what she meant to listeners; it was important that she be flown in (taking up space on the plane that could have been used for more supplies).  She of course suffered the same deprivations as the local inhabitants while in the besieged city.

Yudina’s playing was highly emotive and conveyed a sense of strength.  She never played to exhibit finesse for its own sake.  What is most remarkable was her versatility and her unique interpretations.  One way to describe her is as a gregarious and strong-willed counterpart to Glenn Gould.  The anecdotes recounted above each convey something about Yudina that shines right through her recordings.  She performed music by a wide variety of composers, including some notably modern compositions.  She was even in contact with Darmstadt school composers like Boulez and Stockhausen.  Recordings of her music are, unfortunately, somewhat hard to find in the West even after the overthrow of the USSR.  But this collection, for a time (it is out of print now), chipped away at that problem.

This box set encompasses many composers.  Listeners will likely favor some composers over others.  I happen to like disc 8 with Hindemith, Honegger, Shaporin, Martinů and Jolivet the best (all pieces, unsurprisingly, recorded during the Khrushchev Thaw), as well as the first disc of Bach.  There is also an intriguing disc of Prokofiev and Debussy pieces, in which the Prokofiev is played in the atmospheric, hazy style of Debussy and the Debussy is played with sharp, harsh modernist flourishes.  And all this is to fail to mention the wonderful Taneyev disc.  My least favorite here is probably the second disc of Haydn, Mozart and Mussorgsky.  She performs with string players on numerous tracks, and they are uniformly strong, often playing with a scrappy, weary tone.

It is difficult to summarize this collection, because it is so varied.  But that is really its strength.  It also is music that reveals itself more and more with repeated listening.  I previously had obtained a collection of Toscanini recordings (once it was budget priced), because a favorite high school teacher of mine used to play us Toscanini videos as part of his “culture for clods” series, and also because a stuffy old Euro-classical encyclopedia I once bought at a used book sale listed Toscanini as the “reference recording” for just about every major composition.  While much of it is good, it lacks the range and memorable performances of this Yudina collection.  Though that is partly a personal preference.  Yudina was much more of a modernist than Toscanini.  If this collection has a significant fault it is that it lacks detailed information about the the format and date of prior release for the included recordings — something that is difficult to ascertain without reading Russian — although recording dates and personnel is listed for everything.

Anton Jäger – The Myth of “Populism”

Link to an article by Anton Jäger:

“The Myth of ‘Populism'”


Bonus links: “Understanding Populism” and “Against the Populist Temptation” and In Defense of Lost Causes

Bonus Quote: “Populism is ultimately sustained by the frustrated exasperation of ordinary people, by the cry ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve just had enough of it! It cannot go on! It must stop!'” First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

MF DOOM – Operation: Doomsday.

Operation: Doomsday

MF DOOMOperation: Doomsday. Fondle ’em FE-86-CD (1999)

MF DOOM (born Daniel Dumile) is an English born rapper who got his start in the music business under the name Zev Love X in the hip-hop group KMD.  But his brother and bandmate Subroc was killed in a car accident and — at the same time — the band was dropped by its label.  KMD disbanded.  After working open-mics and the like, Dumile re-emerged as a solo act under the MF DOOM name.  His solo debut album was Operation: Doomsday.

His type of hip-hop zigged while commercial hip-hop zagged.  Some call this “backpack rap”, in reference to its appeal to music nerds listening with headphones on trains and buses (while wearing a backpack) — not the sort of music intended for dancefloor play “in da club”.  It was a resolutely indie/underground phenomenon initially, but eventually rose to prominence through the likes of Kanye West.  MF DOOM achieved great success himself years later with his collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy.

The samples used on the album draw heavily from late 70s jazz fusion and smooth R&B, through 80s smooth jazz.  There is also extensive use of superhero cartoon samples.  The MF DOOM character is based on the “Dr. Doom” character from Marvel comics, and there are many samples related to that character woven through the album in a series of skits.  The musical sources for the samples represented — mostly — passé stuff among the audiences listening to hip-hop at the time.  Though the superhero cartoon references were semi-established via the Wu-Tang Clan, particularly Ghostface Killah‘s persistent use of samples related to Mavel’s Iron Man character in his solo recordings around the same time.  DOOM’s rapping tends toward long, dense verses delivered with a kind of lackadaisical drawl.  In concert, he later took to wearing a metal mask based on a prop from the movie Gladiator (2000), released the year after Operation: Doomsday.  He had already performed in more improvised masks leading up to the release of his debut album.

A useful reference point, from outside hip-hop, is Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.  Both draw from the music of their youth, especially the leftovers of media of the past that have lost most of the symbolic representation of cultural sophistication they once carried.  But the similarities largely end there.  While Pink uses a reverent/irreverent approach, MF DOOM instead builds a kind of protective cocoon of wounded cynicism.  He hides behind a mask and pseudonym, drawing from childhood cartoons/comics to construct a supervillain character.  As many have noted, this might be seen as a self-defense mechanism after Dumile’s personal traumas of the early/mid-1990s.  It also tends to close off and protect its innocence from corrosive outside forces of the adult world.  The invocation of a supervillain character rather than a superhero one is a slight twist.  But it is still a variation on the sort of worldview the writer Jean Genet expressed in Journal du voleur [The Thief’s Journal]: “Repudiating the virtues of your world, criminals hopelessly agree to organize a forbidden universe. They agree to live in it. The air there is nauseating: they can breathe it.”  Of course, at its extreme, this is a similar strategy to one that “hoarders” use in response to personal trauma. 

Harmony Korine‘s film Mister Lonely (2008) is more or less an attempt to analyze precisely the same thinking that drives Operation: Doomsday.  In that film, the main characters are celebrity impersonators who are unable or unwilling to live under their own identities, instead forming a commune.  Eventually, after circumstances cause the commune to fall apart, the protagonist sheds his costume and assumed identity and lives as himself.  There is something to the notion that the pressures of modern society to be an individual (and “personal brand”) are too great, especially for the most vulnerable and the traumatized.  But, still, there is a problem with the lack of a strategy to ever step out from behind an assumed identity.  There is never any hint of how that might happen on Operation: Doomsday.  This music seems to stop at presenting a defense mechanism.

At a time when hip-hop’s growing commercial dominance was causing the music to stagnate somewhat, Operation: Doomsday. came out of left field.  For instance, OutKast was considered by many hip-hop heads to represent something new and different, even as that group was (in the late 1990s at least) offering only a slight variation on the glorification of the same money-obsessed, misogynistic “playa” personas that were still commercially dominant.  MF DOOM, on the other hand, suggested there was a whole lot more possible, much further afield from the mainstream.  Sure, groups like Hieroglyphics already had a small following along these lines, but it was after Operation: Doomsday. found surprising success (even if only coincidentally) that momentum carried forward with the Anticon collective, the Project Blowed collective, Antipop Consortium, Kanye, and more.

And it probably has helped MF DOOM’s commercial success that Hollywood became absolutely fixated on making one big-budget superhero movie after another after Operation: Doomsday. was released — a trend that took off more or less immediately after the release of this album.  While certainly there is no direct connection between MF DOOM’s appropriation of comic book characters (or Ghostface’s, etc.) and Hollywood’s economic priorities, they both fit together in the same social context of neoliberal hyper-individualism.

When this album came out my roommate at the time was very into it, though I was more ambivalent.  I probably like it more now than back then, though I think DOOM did better later.  It does have its drawbacks, namely a few songs that overstay their welcome with gimmicks stretched out too long.  From a production and beats standpoint, Take Me to Your Leader (under another pseudonym King Geedorah) is better.  From a lyrics and straight rapping standpoint, Vaudeville Villain (under yet another pseduonym Viktor Vaughn) is better.  Overall, even the later effort under the MF DOOM name Mm..Food is a bit better.  Though this solo debut is still strong.

The album has been reissued numerous times.  One deluxe edition comes in a collectible lunchbox, complete with trading cards and a bonus disc with 12″ and instrumental versions of various songs.  Another reissue includes the bonus disc but omits the non-musical extras like the lunchbox.  The bonus disc is fine, but hardly essential.  Reissues have replaced the original cover artwork (by Lord Scotch 79th) due to unspecified licensing issues.  The lunchbox reissue instead uses artwork (by Jason Jagel) that vaguely resembles the original, but the other bonus disc reissue has cover artwork (also by Jason Jagel) that parodies Paul Robeson‘s Songs of Free Men.