Popdose Song Premiere: Immersion, “Microclimate”

Brighton-based duo Immersion, made up of Wire frontman Colin Newman & Minimal Compact’s Malka Spigel, will release their new album Sleepless on June 15th via ‘swim~’. Popdose is pleased to share this track with you (video below).  Sleepless is Immersion’s latest album, a suite of ten distinctive, unpredictable instrumentals that effortlessly encapsulate a range of emotions and energies.

Album opener “Microclimate” is a bright, optimistic composition with shades of Ulrich Schnauss (!) in its thoughtful, melodic flow.  Close your eyes, sit back, listen and let Immersion fully – yet politely – command your attention.

Sleepless will be released on Friday, June 15th, 2018

www.immersionhq.uk

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Sixty-Four

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Sixty Four

Will you still need them – will you still heed them after installment 64?  You’d better believe it.  Once again, Jon and Rob serve up no end of surprises while mixing genuinely funny conversation to help take away the bitter sting of harsh, daily reality.  The talk flows with ease as they discuss, among many topics, the NHL Stanley Cup semi-finals; the sheer insanity of what goes on in Washington; the end of several T.V. series; the new album from Wreckless Eric and the debut E.P. from Piramid Scheme; monopolies taking greater hold in communications/entertainment; the New York Mets unload the albatross that was Matt Harvey, plus “In Our Heads” and even more than that!

So come on in; sit right down and let Jon and Rob do the heavy lifting for a while.  You’ll feel a whole lot better afterwards.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Sixty Three


The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Soul Serenade: Denise LaSalle, “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”

When Koko Taylor died nine years ago, the title “Queen of the Blues” was bestowed on Denise LaSalle. Then LaSalle died in January of this year and the title has been vacated, at least for the time being.

LaSalle had the classic upbringing for a blues singer. She was born in Mississippi to a family of sharecroppers. She took the well-trod road north to Chicago when she was 13 and moved in with an older brother. Like many southern singers, LaSalle was influenced by both country and blues music. She began to make her name in R&B circles around the Windy City and in 1967 she signed with the legendary Chess Records label. “Love Reputation” was her first single for the label and while it was not a huge national hit, it did show some promise regionally.

Denise LaSalle

It was her third single, “Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” that had the magic. By the time it was released in 1971, LaSalle had moved on to the Detroit-based Westbound Records. The song, which was written LaSalle, was a huge hit for her, topping the R&B chart, reaching #13 on the pop chart, selling a million copies, and earning the singer a Gold Record. The record was co-produced by LaSalle and her then-husband Bill Jones.

The following year, LaSalle scored again with “Now Run and Tell That,” and “Man Sized Job” both of which were Top 5 R&B singles and made the pop chart as well. All of LaSalle’s early hits were recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records in Memphis. In 1975, LaSalle left Westbound for ABC Records where she scored another Top 10 R&B hit with “Love Me Right” in 1977. When ABC Records was sold in 1978, the new label, MCA, dropped LaSalle mostly because they didn’t know how to market black music.

Malaco Records came calling shortly thereafter and LaSalle began a long and successful career with the label. Over the course of more than 20 years with Malaco, LaSalle released 11 highly regarded albums for the label. Eventually, LaSalle moved on from Malaco and made two gospel albums for Ordena Records before returning to secular music with three albums for Ecko Records.

More than ten years after she left the label, LaSalle returned to Malaco in 2010 and released the album 24 Hour Woman. During this time LaSalle continued to perform and was a popular artist at blues festivals. She was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Denise LaSalle, the “Queen of the Blues,” died on January 8, 2018, at the age of 78.

Gender Nation X: Defending Rita Ora in the War on “Girls”

This week, pop star Rita Ora issued an apology for living her truth. That’s right, she’s not apologizing for using slurs, defaming or sexually assaulting someone, she apologized for having the nerve to sing a sweet pop song about one aspect of her life. This wouldn’t be news except for the fact some other people heard the song and were upset that it did not represent their exact life experiences or unique points of view. They expressed their opinions on twitter and these tweets became news.

There are several issues to unpack here. But first, let’s meet the players:

Rita Ora is a British singer of Albanian descent who has enjoyed a stack of hit singles on both sides of the pond. Her latest single, “Girls”, a collaboration with Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha; is a summer banger about consensual affection between two (or more) women. “‘Girls’ was written to represent my truth and is an accurate account of a very real and honest experience in my life,” Ora said in a written apology for writing a POP SONG.

Hayley Kiyoko is an aspiring singer and actress whose career has yet to reach the success of the “Girls” crew. Kiyoko is an out and proud lesbian which is beyond fabulous. Kiyoko had a problem with “Girls” and expressed her opinion on twitter, which she is completely entitled to do. She called the song “downright tone-deaf” for the way it “fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women.” Several others, including Kehlani, Shura and Katie Gavin quickly joined her chorus of outrage.

The Media is a desperate organism that thrives on driving clicks to advertisers – the way they achieve this is by creating clickbait – headlines so juicy one can’t help but click on the story – and, with any luck, the juicy banner ads that drape the content on all sides. The media invented terms like “the Internet is outraged” and “Twitter responded” to create news out of nothing. There are more than 300 million people in America – and yet, a “storm” of 10 to 30 outraged tweets is treated as hard data or even a credible trend.

The Internet is a series of tubes that allows everyone to have an opinion without a moderator, gatekeeper, or sense of decency.

Russian Trolls – as we’ve learned from the fallout of the election – Russian social media factories are hell-bent on pitting Americans against each other every way possible – politics, social issues, sports fandom, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender – you name it. This is a proven practice – and yet, the media still supports outraged twitter commentary as hard news because outrage = clicks = bucks. The Russians have nothing to do with this particular story…. Yet. Give em time to manufacture social media spins on it.

Before we go on, let’s give the song a spin…

Love it or hate it, you’re entitled to your opinion. That doesn’t mean this song is wrong, bad, or should cease to exist. Kiyoko’s point seems to be, a song sung from the loving perspective of being bisexual or bi-curious does not speak to her experience or worldview as a lesbian – that’s fine, but with that sentiment she’s apparently claiming that lesbians, and card holding queer singers alone, are entitled to the subject matter of affection and intimacy between females. This is essentially the L kicking the B out of the LGBTQ community.

Once again – Kiyoko, Kehlani, Shura and the others are fine to express their opinions – but as artists and advocates, perhaps “Girls” would have inspired any one of them to sing and share their own song – one about their perspective as a way to add to the conversation instead of silencing Ora’s voice. They all have the talent and resources to create the lesbian empowerment anthem they so wished “Girls” could have been. If the media is going to keep going after “Girls” for invalidating the lesbian experience, perhaps they should attack this one too…

Now, haters gonna hate – and many will try to stop me in my tracks and say that as a white male, I have no right to weigh in on this topic. And so, from here onward, I will prove my point by talking about the exact same issue from my perspective. Rita Ora isn’t the only person whose been told they aren’t living their truth correctly.

I am a gender nonconforming person; I identify as feminine but not female, “elsewhere” on the gender spectrum instead of “trans”. While I didn’t make the same life choices as fellow trans women, we share the same goals. We want to walk down the street, expressing ourselves as we see fit, without fear of ridicule, harassment, objectification, or verbal and physical assault. But, much like Kiyoko’s problems with Ora, many trans activists tell me I’m doing it wrong, and that my choices invalidate or threaten theirs.

As noted above, the LGBTQ community isn’t as tight knit as it sounds. And the T in LGBTQ, isn’t a unified group of people either. For starters, there are trans women and trans men. Both groups share the same hopes, fears and dangers, but let’s face it, society is much more accepting of tomboys than it is feminine men. A cis woman or trans male can walk down the street in pants much easier than a cis male or trans woman can in a skirt. I can’t speak to the dangers faced by trans men, so I won’t, you are welcome to Google it or ask an expert. Moving further into the trans female side of the pie – there are trans women who transition their bodies and/or wardrobes to align their appearance to their gender identity. There are also drag queens (men who dress as women for performance). There are men who like to wear women’s clothes, aka cross dressers (a term I loathe; “cross” is loaded word on its own). And even this group is splintered by men who find the practice gender confirming, and/or sexually arousing, and/or provocative (because that’s what some people are going for), and/or in line with practices within the BDSM community. I personally find traditionally women’s clothes to be gender confirming and more interesting creatively than traditionally male clothes. Facebook lists up to 50 other gender identities, so apologies to everyone who I’ve forgotten. And to anyone who believes some of the above listed identities belong in the Q column and not the T, please take a deep breath.

When Caitlin Jenner emerged into the spotlight in her confirmed gender, she took a lot of heat for doing it wrong. She was rich, and therefore couldn’t speak to the experiences of so many that can’t afford hormone treatment, feminization surgeries, personal stylists, or designer wardrobes. She was not a trans woman of color, nor did she have to perform sex work to survive. Jenner never asked to be “the voice of all trans women” and yet she was thrust into that role and knocked down from within the trans community at every turn. I don’t know Jenner personally, and we certainly differ on politics – but am forever grateful for the spotlight she shined onto every member of the community. It’s her job to tell her story. It’s our job to tell ours.

Jazz Jennings has children’s books and a great show on cable that tells her story – and yet, she gets heat from other trans teenagers who don’t come from loving and supporting homes. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! brought trans into the punk rock scene that is rife with toxic masculinity and homophobia – while she’s been widely embraced, she also doesn’t adorn herself in frilly dresses and soft makeup – is she doing trans wrong? In a similar controversy, RuPaul had to apologize for remarks he made about not opening his hit TV show, “Drag Race”, to trans women. You see, even tough DRAG (performance art) and TRANS (gender identity) are two totally different things, RuPaul, drag’s biggest celebrity, is being accused of doing drag wrong.

Returning to my story, when I was in the closet about my gender identity, my closet contained no feminine clothes. Online shopping wasn’t really a thing and I was terrified to shop in stores – for good reason. Even after coming out, I’ve been kicked out of name brand retail stores for holding up dresses to my body to guess if they’d fit – using a changing room was and still is out of the question at most stores. For years, I drove by a store that was for trans women. Finally, I got the courage to go in. To my surprise, I was asked to leave the moment I admitted I was not transitioning. The owner said, “take your fetish elsewhere.” Just last year, I asked the owner of a local lingerie store (via e-mail) if her associates could help me figure out my bra size. I promised to keep my shirt on. She refused, saying I was welcome to buy anything I wanted, but she would not allow any of her employees to touch me. While the store’s social media feed celebrates the Divine Feminine – I was not divine or feminine enough to buy her merchandise with confidence it would fit.

As you can see, a few vocal people believe I am doing trans wrong – just like Rita Ora is kissing girls wrong. Most media will only report what OTHER people are saying while offering no commentary on the topic, so dissenting voices like Kiyoko dominate the headlines. Cardi B has come to Ora’s defense by saying “I personally myself had experiences with other woman, shiieeeett with a lot of woman! I thought the song was a good song and I remember my experience.” Few others, including Yusuf Tamanna in The Independent, have come to her defense. Tamanna said, “It goes against the very idea of inclusivity for all to suggest you can only be a part of our community if you look and act a certain way. And if you don’t and still claim your queerness, then you have to prove it.” Today, the Chicago Tribune looked at both sides of the issue, noting how even Kiyoko once found inspiration in the another reviled bisexual anthem, “I Kissed a Girl”.

To claim there is something wrong with these songs is to claim there is something wrong with experimentation. The outrage from select gay and lesbian advocates seems to imply being gay is an all or nothing sport. If Katy Perry kissed a girl and “didn’t like it” or didn’t want to marry her, then she owes huge apologies for leading on that poor unnamed girl. Out there – right now – countless girls and women are entertaining thoughts about kissing other women and girls — and by all means, if the feeling is mutual, I hope they do. Perhaps, by hearing this song, they will feel a little less shame or fear in doing so. Boys too (with this song, or “Medicine” by Harry Styles).

As a young, closeted, gender confused teen in 1970s Cleveland – all I had to cling to were images of Bowie and Prince blurring gender lines on album sleeves. All the songs about coloring outside the lines were transphobic – such as “Lola” by The Kinks. Even my favorite movie, Heathers, kept me locked in the closet, “this is Sherwood, Ohio; if you’re not holding a brewski, you may as well be wearing a dress.” It wasn’t until the early 90’s when I heard the line, “Oh, in another world, yeah, he could wear a dress,” in “Welcome to the Cheap Seats” by The Wonder Stuff. It would be another decade before The Pierces song “Lights On” gave me hope a woman might someday find me desirable while dressed authentically, “Here’s my dress to try on baby / Let me be your man / I will call you pretty darlin’ / Tell me what I am”. These were no mere pop songs, they were life rafts that kept me company and gave me hope until Laura Jane Grace could sing boldly and confidently about her life journey – which mirrors, but isn’t equal to mine. And that’s OK.

The Republican Party and Right Wing in general have figured out a way to weaponize outrage to play the victim on most every social front, all while dismantling the basic human rights for not just the LGBTQ community, but every form of life that isn’t an old, rich, white man in a power suit. Instead of taking the bait — or lowering ourselves to their standards and tactics, wouldn’t it be better to appreciate, applaud and support each other’s life stories and points of view? If “Girls” can de-stigmatize the very concept of two girls kissing, then bi-curious, bisexual, lesbian and trans people can take inspiration to live and love a bit more freely.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to open the windows, let the sunshine in, and listen to “Girls”.

Defending Rita Ora in the War on ‘Girls’

This week, pop star Rita Ora issued an apology for living her truth. That’s right, she’s not apologizing for using slurs, defaming or sexually assaulting someone, she apologized for having the nerve to sing a sweet pop song about one aspect of her life. This wouldn’t be news except for the fact some other people heard the song and were upset that it did not represent their exact life experiences or unique points of view. They expressed their opinions on twitter and these tweets became news.

There are several issues to unpack here. But first, let’s meet the players:

Rita Ora is a British singer of Albanian descent who has enjoyed a stack of hit singles on both sides of the pond. Her latest single, “Girls”, a collaboration with Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha; is a summer banger about consensual affection between two (or more) women. “‘Girls’ was written to represent my truth and is an accurate account of a very real and honest experience in my life,” Ora said in a written apology for writing a POP SONG.

Hayley Kiyoko is an aspiring singer and actress whose career has yet to reach the success of the “Girls” crew. Kiyoko is an out and proud lesbian which is beyond fabulous. Kiyoko had a problem with “Girls” and expressed her opinion on twitter, which she is completely entitled to do. She called the song “downright tone-deaf” for the way it “fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women.” Several others, including Kehlani, Shura and Katie Gavin quickly joined her chorus of outrage.

The Media is a desperate organism that thrives on driving clicks to advertisers – the way they achieve this is by creating clickbait – headlines so juicy one can’t help but click on the story – and, with any luck, the juicy banner ads that drape the content on all sides. The media invented terms like “the Internet is outraged” and “Twitter responded” to create news out of nothing. There are more than 300 million people in America – and yet, a “storm” of 10 to 30 outraged tweets is treated as hard data or even a credible trend.

The Internet is a series of tubes that allows everyone to have an opinion without a moderator, gatekeeper, or sense of decency.

Russian Trolls – as we’ve learned from the fallout of the election – Russian social media factories are hell-bent on pitting Americans against each other every way possible – politics, social issues, sports fandom, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender – you name it. This is a proven practice – and yet, the media still supports outraged twitter commentary as hard news because outrage = clicks = bucks. The Russians have nothing to do with this particular story…. Yet. Give em time to manufacture social media spins on it.

Before we go on, let’s give the song a spin…

Love it or hate it, you’re entitled to your opinion. That doesn’t mean this song is wrong, bad, or should cease to exist. Kiyoko’s point seems to be, a song sung from the loving perspective of being bisexual or bi-curious does not speak to her experience or worldview as a lesbian – that’s fine, but with that sentiment she’s apparently claiming that lesbians, and card holding queer singers alone, are entitled to the subject matter of affection and intimacy between females. This is essentially the L kicking the B out of the LGBTQ community.

Once again – Kiyoko, Kehlani, Shura and the others are fine to express their opinions – but as artists and advocates, perhaps “Girls” would have inspired any one of them to sing and share their own song – one about their perspective as a way to add to the conversation instead of silencing Ora’s voice. They all have the talent and resources to create the lesbian empowerment anthem they so wished “Girls” could have been. If the media is going to keep going after “Girls” for invalidating the lesbian experience, perhaps they should attack this one too…

Now, haters gonna hate – and many will try to stop me in my tracks and say that as a white male, I have no right to weigh in on this topic. And so, from here onward, I will prove my point by talking about the exact same issue from my perspective. Rita Ora isn’t the only person whose been told they aren’t living their truth correctly.

I am a gender nonconforming person; I identify as feminine but not female, “elsewhere” on the gender spectrum instead of “trans”. While I didn’t make the same life choices as fellow trans women, we share the same goals. We want to walk down the street, expressing ourselves as we see fit, without fear of ridicule, harassment, objectification, or verbal and physical assault. But, much like Kiyoko’s problems with Ora, many trans activists tell me I’m doing it wrong, and that my choices invalidate or threaten theirs.

As noted above, the LGBTQ community isn’t as tight knit as it sounds. And the T in LGBTQ, isn’t a unified group of people either. For starters, there are trans women and trans men. Both groups share the same hopes, fears and dangers, but let’s face it, society is much more accepting of tomboys than it is feminine men. A cis woman or trans male can walk down the street in pants much easier than a cis male or trans woman can in a skirt. I can’t speak to the dangers faced by trans men, so I won’t, you are welcome to Google it or ask an expert. Moving further into the trans female side of the pie – there are trans women who transition their bodies and/or wardrobes to align their appearance to their gender identity. There are also drag queens (men who dress as women for performance). There are men who like to wear women’s clothes, aka cross dressers (a term I loathe; “cross” is loaded word on its own). And even this group is splintered by men who find the practice gender confirming, and/or sexually arousing, and/or provocative (because that’s what some people are going for), and/or in line with practices within the BDSM community. I personally find traditionally women’s clothes to be gender confirming and more interesting creatively than traditionally male clothes. Facebook lists up to 50 other gender identities, so apologies to everyone who I’ve forgotten. And to anyone who believes some of the above listed identities belong in the Q column and not the T, please take a deep breath.

When Caitlin Jenner emerged into the spotlight in her confirmed gender, she took a lot of heat for doing it wrong. She was rich, and therefore couldn’t speak to the experiences of so many that can’t afford hormone treatment, feminization surgeries, personal stylists, or designer wardrobes. She was not a trans woman of color, nor did she have to perform sex work to survive. Jenner never asked to be “the voice of all trans women” and yet she was thrust into that role and knocked down from within the trans community at every turn. I don’t know Jenner personally, and we certainly differ on politics – but am forever grateful for the spotlight she shined onto every member of the community. It’s her job to tell her story. It’s our job to tell ours.

Jazz Jennings has children’s books and a great show on cable that tells her story – and yet, she gets heat from other trans teenagers who don’t come from loving and supporting homes. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! brought trans into the punk rock scene that is rife with toxic masculinity and homophobia – while she’s been widely embraced, she also doesn’t adorn herself in frilly dresses and soft makeup – is she doing trans wrong? In a similar controversy, RuPaul had to apologize for remarks he made about not opening his hit TV show, “Drag Race”, to trans women. You see, even tough DRAG (performance art) and TRANS (gender identity) are two totally different things, RuPaul, drag’s biggest celebrity, is being accused of doing drag wrong.

Returning to my story, when I was in the closet about my gender identity, my closet contained no feminine clothes. Online shopping wasn’t really a thing and I was terrified to shop in stores – for good reason. Even after coming out, I’ve been kicked out of name brand retail stores for holding up dresses to my body to guess if they’d fit – using a changing room was and still is out of the question at most stores. For years, I drove by a store that was for trans women. Finally, I got the courage to go in. To my surprise, I was asked to leave the moment I admitted I was not transitioning. The owner said, “take your fetish elsewhere.” Just last year, I asked the owner of a local lingerie store (via e-mail) if her associates could help me figure out my bra size. I promised to keep my shirt on. She refused, saying I was welcome to buy anything I wanted, but she would not allow any of her employees to touch me. While the store’s social media feed celebrates the Divine Feminine – I was not divine or feminine enough to buy her merchandise with confidence it would fit.

As you can see, a few vocal people believe I am doing trans wrong – just like Rita Ora is kissing girls wrong. Most media will only report what OTHER people are saying while offering no commentary on the topic, so dissenting voices like Kiyoko dominate the headlines. Cardi B has come to Ora’s defense by saying “I personally myself had experiences with other woman, shiieeeett with a lot of woman! I thought the song was a good song and I remember my experience.” Few others, including Yusuf Tamanna in The Independent, have come to her defense. Tamanna said, “It goes against the very idea of inclusivity for all to suggest you can only be a part of our community if you look and act a certain way. And if you don’t and still claim your queerness, then you have to prove it.” Today, the Chicago Tribune looked at both sides of the issue, noting how even Kiyoko once found inspiration in the another reviled bisexual anthem, “I Kissed a Girl”.

To claim there is something wrong with these songs is to claim there is something wrong with experimentation. The outrage from select gay and lesbian advocates seems to imply being gay is an all or nothing sport. If Katy Perry kissed a girl and “didn’t like it” or didn’t want to marry her, then she owes huge apologies for leading on that poor unnamed girl. Out there – right now – countless girls and women are entertaining thoughts about kissing other women and girls — and by all means, if the feeling is mutual, I hope they do. Perhaps, by hearing this song, they will feel a little less shame or fear in doing so. Boys too (with this song, or “Medicine” by Harry Styles).

As a young, closeted, gender confused teen in 1970s Cleveland – all I had to cling to were images of Bowie and Prince blurring gender lines on album sleeves. All the songs about coloring outside the lines were transphobic – such as “Lola” by The Kinks. Even my favorite movie, Heathers, kept me locked in the closet, “this is Sherwood, Ohio; if you’re not holding a brewski, you may as well be wearing a dress.” It wasn’t until the early 90’s when I heard the line, “Oh, in another world, yeah, he could wear a dress,” in “Welcome to the Cheap Seats” by The Wonder Stuff. It would be another decade before The Pierces song “Lights On” gave me hope a woman might someday find me desirable while dressed authentically, “Here’s my dress to try on baby / Let me be your man / I will call you pretty darlin’ / Tell me what I am”. These were no mere pop songs, they were life rafts that kept me company and gave me hope until Laura Jane Grace could sing boldly and confidently about her life journey – which mirrors, but isn’t equal to mine. And that’s OK.

The Republican Party and Right Wing in general have figured out a way to weaponize outrage to play the victim on most every social front, all while dismantling the basic human rights for not just the LGBTQ community, but every form of life that isn’t an old, rich, white man in a power suit. Instead of taking the bait — or lowering ourselves to their standards and tactics, wouldn’t it be better to appreciate, applaud and support each other’s life stories and points of view? If “Girls” can de-stigmatize the very concept of two girls kissing, then bi-curious, bisexual, lesbian and trans people can take inspiration to live and love a bit more freely.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to open the windows, let the sunshine in, and listen to “Girls”.

What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?: Poe, “Haunted”

The music industry is cruel to … well, pretty much everyone. But it’s especially awful to women who make music-industry men drool.

Consider the hand-wrenching over Liz Phair on the 25th anniversary of Exile to Guyville. It’s a landmark album, we’re told, for various reasons of feminism, yada yada yada. It may very well be a landmark album, but if you read the music press of the day (on this stuff called “paper”), you remember the reaction of the mostly male critics. It was something along the lines of “Derrrrrrr … hot blonde girl said ‘blow job queen’ in that song.”

And when Liz Phair made her eponymous album with actual hit songs (Why Can’t I? and the soaring Extraordinary), what was the reaction then? “Bad, bad Liz. We only want to hear you sing about what you’re going to do to us in the bedroom. How dare you sacrifice your indie cred?!”

Liz, at least, kept making records. She snarled back at the music industry with the brilliantly caustic And He Slayed Her (not that subtle — say the name of Capitol exec Andy Slater out loud). And when I saw her playing at Aimee Mann’s Christmas show a couple of years ago, she was clearly having a blast.

Poe, on the other hand, went into record company limbo and never really emerged. Her discography remains stuck at two albums.

The first, Hello, had a few off-kilter pop-rock songs that got radio airplay — Trigger Happy Jack (Drive By a Go-Go), Angry Johnny and the titletrack. Yes, you remember the classic line: “Can’t talk to a psycho like a normal human being.”

But even on the titletrack, we get signs that the record company didn’t know what to do with her. Go to Spotify or other sources and dial up Hello, and you get a boring dance mix with a lazy drum machine and synths so atmospheric they just fade into the air. The version we got on MTV at that time, on the other hand, was a ferocious rock song.

That’s a real rock song. Even the cellist looks like she’s about to jump into a mosh pit.

Note the directing credit on that video — one Mark Danielewski, a novelist who happens to be Poe’s brother. And Poe’s second album, Haunted, was a full-fledged collaboration, intended as a companion piece to Danielewski’s book House of Leaves, which is a horror story … no, wait, a love story … no, wait, it’s a postmodernist satire of literary criticism! You’ll have to read the Wikipedia entry on that because most of the reviews they link have disappeared. Coincidence?

I have not read the book, which seems beyond my academic abilities. You really don’t need to read it to appreciate Poe’s songs. Just know that it’s out there.

And Haunted certainly has a bit of creepiness. The album opens with Exploration B, a bit of samples and scratchy vocals in the background, before proceeding into the title track. Throughout the album, even on playful tracks like Not a Virgin, we hear a few voices in the background, sounding like ghosts of little girls taunting soon-to-be victims in a horror film. Check out Control, the song after the title track, in which Poe asserts her agency with authority for about four and a half minutes and then devotes the last 90 seconds or so to unnerving sounds and samples.

Then there’s the elephant ghost in the room — Poe’s father, a film director for whom Haunted is something of a tribute. He passed away several years earlier, but he “appears” on this album in voice samples she found on cassettes in his belongings.

It’s fair to say Poe’s relationship with her parents is complicated. They divorced while she was in high school, and she moved to New York on her own, somehow finished up high school in Utah and then won a full scholarship to Princeton. The NY Daily News piece on the saga sums it up:

Her father’s monologues, as presented on the LP, paint him as a coldly detached intellectual. “He was such a wounded, paranoid individual,” Poe explains. “It prevented him from connecting in a fatherly way. And his visions were so dark and so unconnected to who I was as a person that he just lived in his own narcissistic bubble.

While the album sometimes has the uneasy quality of score-settling, Poe is hardly without sympathy. She knew that in order to quiet her father’s critical voice in her own head, she had to make peace with it. “I had to sift through the negative memories of him and the arguments that were never resolved in order to find the positive things I seldom was able to hear when he was alive. And there are those positive messages and sources of love in there.

So we have a lot of context in play here. This is the title track and first full-fledged song (after the brief Exploration B) of an album that syncs up with a horror/love story and comes to terms with a distant, departed father.

A couple of songs later, we get Walk the Walk, which starts with a funky nylon-string acoustic guitar riff and a street-tough recitation of some startling lyrics (performed at one time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame):

My mother spent ten years sitting by a window
Scared if she spoke, she would die of a heart attack
She listened as her dreams silently screamed
They drowned like little dolphins caught in a fishnet

Second verse is in parallel:

My Daddy spent ten years living on the outside, looking in
He thought that he would never get back, hey, get back
Watched his dream walk across a silver screen
And he was standing there when the theater went pitch black

Sounds dark. But it’s not. It’s a powerful assertion of self. She’s making peace with her father as she breaks through the oppression she feels from his cold parenting. The key line in this song: Dear world, I’m pleased to meet you.

The old Poe and her tarnished memories are dead. Long live the new Poe.

The title track shows us how difficult that was. While Walk the Walk, Not a Virgin and even the mildly sinister Hey Pretty qualify as fun listens for almost any mood, Haunted is more of a gut punch. Someone at Genius points out that the meaningless-sounding “ba da ba ba” in the intro is actually a reference to a frightening scene in House of Leaves. (There’s also a more direct reference — the name of the novel is in these lyrics.)

In the first verse, Poe is lost and seeking her bearings. The chorus varies a bit with each repetition, but the first statement is this:

And I’m haunted
By the lies that I have loathed
And actions I have hated
I’m haunted
By the lies that wove the web
Inside my haunted head

The second verse is more hopeful:

Please, I know it’s hard to believe
To see a perfect forest
Through so many splintered trees 

After an extended chorus that hints at regret with how she’s living her own life, we get regret over her departed father: I’ll always love you and I will always miss you.

Hopefully, you’re listening to the song and appreciating the power when she sings that over a powerful crescendo. And then, the knockout of the third verse …

Come here
No, I won’t say please
One more look at the ghost
Before I’m gonna make it leave
Come here
I’ve got the pieces here
Time to gather up the splinters
Build a casket for my tears

So on the whole, this song and this album are positive. It’s a much-needed purge of a lot of baggage. But it’s no phony-baloney bit of easy forgiveness you’ll find in the hands of a much more superficial songwriter. She had to deal with some serious shit. I realize it’s ironic that I’m recommending this song so highly when I’m the one who won’t watch This Is Us because it just seems so maudlin, but maybe I’d just rather deal with my demons through some power chords and melodic hooks instead of Mandy Moore crying or dying or divorcing or whatever happens to her in that show.

And, brilliantly, this album is all set to a wonderful mosaic of genres — some trip-hop, some alt-rock, maybe even some Broadway (some smart playwright is going to put Not a Virgin to good use in a musical one day).

Then after this artistic masterpiece in which Poe asserted control over her personal demons and showed her musical prowess, she entered the aforementioned record company limbo.

So life still sucks on some levels. But at least we have this work to enjoy, and we can only hope whatever Poe’s doing now, she’s still inspired by the same power that inspired her here.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go see Liz Phair this summer.

The Ted Zone: “Technology and Freedom”

In the common age of automation, where people might
Eventually work ten or twenty hours a week, man for
The first time will be forced to confront himself with
The true spiritual problems of living…

–Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Lunar Bay”

…As machinery develops with the accumulation of society’s science, of productive force generally, general social labour presents itself not in labour but in capital. In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him…the worker appears as superfluous to the extent that his action is not determined by [capital’s] requirements.

–Karl Marx, “The Fragment on Machines”

Sometimes, I really hate technology. Sometimes, I hate how intrusive it is. Sometimes, I hate how addicted I am to it. Sometimes, I hate that so much of our world is dependent on it. I hate how easily hackable databases can be. I hate that Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Uber, and a whole host of companies know me in ways that no government could. Yet, I’m unable to go full Sarah Connor and say: “Not today Skynet. Not today.” Why? Because even though I say I hate aspects of technology, I think I really love it, too. I’m still fascinated by how far innovations have come in a relatively short amount of time. Think about the last 30 years for a moment. Think about how fast technological innovations have progressed. In 1988, how thoroughly were computers, cell phones, and robotic technology integrated into our lives? Well, they were certainly there, but using them on a mass scale like today seemed fairly far-fetched because these devices were expensive for average consumers.

But business saw the potential to save money in the long run by investing in technology to boost profits through the simplification and automation of tasks that were done (sometimes rather inefficiently) by humans. Factories with robotic technology could quickly scale back the need to hire humans. Computers could simplify tasks and eliminate jobs in offices. Cell phones? Well, these portable devices meant communication wasn’t as limited as it was with landlines and answering machines. These trends accelerated as the technology got better and cheaper.

By the time the first iPhone hit the market in 2007, it ushered in a second gold rush in tech. Remember the mad scramble to develop killer apps vying for real estate on your iPhone home screen? The “app for that” craze combined with social media led to an “always on” culture where we were seduced with casino-like guile to be addicted to tech — while giving up a lot of our personal information so we could connect with others in the spirit of being “friends.”

Many of us now know the power of social media in terms of performers and an audience. For those dreaming of being stars, social media can feed that ego by providing a platform where one can post to their heart’s delight for that dopamine rush of affirmation.  And like the addicts we’ve become, we rush back for another hit many times a day (probably more than we’d like to know). I’m not immune to these addictions. I’m probably like most Internet users: always looking for stimuli. The type of stimuli depends on one’s mood.

In the post-2016 election years, it’s clear use of a certain kind of stimuli by foreign and domestic actors to shape opinion through the manufacturing and dissemination of propaganda was robust. Opinions can be easily shaped by appealing to people’s prejudices and tastes — which is why advertising works. We’ve bought into the taglines, the slogans, the faux folk wisdom of campaigns that get us to act on our impulses. We tend to believe opinion-makers because they are people we’ve come to trust to tell us what we want to hear. We support this or that politician because they cater to our political self-interest.

We buy smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, laptops, and even desktop computers because we’re told by the makers of these devices that we need these things. Having these devices will make our lives easier, more organized, and more fun because we just tell our devices what we want, and, for the most part, these devices deliver. We’re the Id, and the device is the Ego. Impulse and a realistic delivery method working together to satisfy our want for pleasure. When we are kept in a state of instant gratification via technology, it makes us less willing to come out of our cocoons. The silos are comforting because they reinforce our identities and make us less willing to see others who don’t share our views are nothing but hostile entities who wish to destroy the world we’ve constructed — or has been constructed for us. Yes, this dysfunctional, highly partisan and, at times, hostile culture was created by design. Tech isn’t entirely to blame, but they do share responsibility for accelerating it.

Well, now companies like Google — and to a lesser extent Facebook and Apple — want to change the more corrosive parts of the culture they’ve had a part in creating. Why? Because they fear regulation and media scrutiny —  so they are rolling out changes to fend off the power of governments and to appease the power of the press. This was evident at the recent Google I/O 2018 conference. Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to the stage at the Shoreline Amphitheater to tell a capacity crowd about how the innovations and improvements to Google products will make our lives better. None of this is new. Most of the big tech companies do these big “Ooooh…Aaaaah” presentations for rapt audiences and a fawning press corps. It’s the same dog and pony show we’ve been watching year after year after year.

Photo credit: Google

However…

This time, there’s a slight variation on a theme. The mucky-mucks at Google are now concerned about time. That is to say, how we spend our time with the products the company creates. Take, for example, the dashboard that will be part of the new Android update. Ever wonder how much time you spend checking your phone? How much time do you spend on the apps that live on your phone? Well, Google will tell you in the next major software update to your phone. Once implemented, you can also try and break your device addiction by using Google Shush — which is essentially a do not disturb feature. You can even program your device to give you a limit on time spent on apps. You see, Google cares about your time. They want you to have more of it away from technology that keeps us addicted — or enslaved.

Speaking of which: do you ever feel like a slave to email at work? Gmail will soon have a predictive/smart compose feature that will autofill your email messages as you type. Yeah, pretty soon most of your emails will be written by a computer, and you’ll have more time!

What about making calls. There’s a sizable group of people under 30 who have a real fear of making an actual telephone call. They would rather text instead of having a conversation with another human. Well, if Google Duplex becomes a thing, just make your Google assistant book dinner reservations, hair appointments, travel arrangements, or any other interactions that require calling someone on the dreaded phone. Now you have more time to do what you want, and less time to fret about having to punch a few numbers on your device, listen to a few rings, and then tense up when someone on the other end says, “Hello?”

And then there the news? Most of us have heard the term fake news, but do we really know when some news stories on your feed are just flat out propaganda designed to appeal to your prejudices? I’m sure we all like to think of ourselves as above average consumers who have a high degree of media literacy but do we? For many of us, the answer is no. How does Google address that? Through revamping Google News. Now you have three tabs that populate your newsfeed:  Headlines, Local, and For You. The page defaults to Headlines that Google controls. For some stories, they will offer readers a news story (with fact checking) from multiple news sites; sites that — in some corners — are derisively called MSM, or mainstream media. The idea here, of course, is to get us out of our silos and see big stories from multiple points of view.

Will all this work? Well, we didn’t get this current state of the world overnight. It will take time to unwind what’s been wrought. However, tech companies like Google aren’t really known for their consistency. They like creative destruction and innovations that may or may not work (How’s life these days Google Glass? Anyone still on G+?  How ‘bout Blogger?). So, yes, I’m skeptical about their motives. While watching all these improvements to Google products being talked about, it looks a lot like a massive PR campaign — a PR campaign that has shades of Bill Murray as Frank Cross in Scrooged screaming: “I care!” He’s saying the words, but we don’t believe him.

I included a quote from the great political philosopher Frankie Goes to Hollywood at the outset of this post because the lyric really does ask us how we’re going to live when the computers automate our work lives — leaving us with very little or nothing to do. Karl Marx (Richard Marx’s great-grandfather. I know. Fake news. But is it?) clearly understands that the science that goes into making the machines isn’t about making life easier for the working class — or even the middle class. It’s designed to serve (and make money for) those at the top. Everyone one else not in that club becomes unnecessary, unneeded, redundant, superfluous, unemployed.

Marx is pretty stark in an either/or way when it comes to these views. The gradations in class (and the need to keep a vibrant consumer class in the kind of capitalism tech thrives in) didn’t enter into his views on capitalism in the notes he compiled in 1857 under the heading Grundrisse (aka “Foundations”).

How could they? Capitalism was more about production. The consumer-oriented capitalism that makes us want iPhones, Pixels, Samsungs, FitBits, and all that other stuff was obviously not a thing in the mid-1800s, so it’s difficult to point to Marx as some kind of socialist Nostradamus predicting the future with an uncanny knack for accuracy when reading and quoting fragments like this.

However, he was prescient about who the science is meant to serve — which brings me back to my sometimes love/hate relationship with technology. I love the science, the engineering, the aesthetics of design, the ease of use that goes into these devices and services. The pace of innovations we’ve experienced is staggeringly fast as well. That speaks to the nature of human creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to create something of substance from an initial idea.

As someone who has cast his lot with humanists, I have great admiration for what we humans are able to create in art, science, politics, and all those foundations of what we call civilization. I also know that without capitalism, the pace of chance would probably be a lot slower — mostly because the incentives that appeal to human self-interest vis-a-vis innovation aren’t major parts of other paradigms. However, for me (and this circles back to that whole “Sometimes I hate technology” thing) there’s an American streak of personal freedom that feels it’s under siege as the matrix of tech makes longer and faster leaps toward a world where we will have to confront the true spiritual problems of living within the soul of the machine.

Album Review: Danielle Cormier, “Fire & Ice”

Another new, upcoming young voice, Danielle Cormier, 21, is a singer-songwriter who she credits her love for the arts from seeing her first Broadway show at five years old. She grew up in one of the golf capitals of the world (Pinehurst, North Carolina), to a family who owns the Pinehurst Track Restaurant, known for having one of the best blueberry pancakes in the world (ranked third by the Golf Channel)!  However, her first passion is for music, as diplayed on her first full-length album, Fire & Ice.  Produced by Adam Lester (Peter Frampton, Jill Andrews, Backstreet Boys, etc.),  Ms. Cormier says, “we clicked immediately and he understood my work so perfectly; he took my songs and turned them into something above and beyond I ever could have expected.” Recorded in May 2017 at The Pilot Lounge in Brentwood, Tennessee, the album features 10 original songs, 9 of which Cormier wrote herself.  The biggest surprise on this album? A cameo in “Can’t Quit You” by none other than guitar legend, Peter Frampton. “After recording the album, my producer, Adam, left to go on tour with Peter. One night, I got an email from him that Peter picked this song specifically and recorded a guitar solo after the bridge. I listened to it with my mom in my living room and I remember getting to the solo and my jaw just dropping. It’s an honor to have Peter Frampton on my album, especially as an up and coming artist.”  Quite an honor and a feat for someone just getting started; Mr. Frampton’s guitar finesse has always been marveled at and his presence helps give a powerful presence to the song (and subsequently, this album).

“Walking In The Dark”, the album’s opener is a good way to begin – starting by building up and becoming a full “pop” song, it’s catchy and her voice is just right for the song; “Can’t Quit You” has a quasi-country groove – a slower tempo but unquestionably radio-friendly (she has a knack for classic verse-chorus-verse structure) and Mr. Frampton’s guitar solo is on-the-one tasteful and pulls everything together perfectly.  “Fire And Ice” is one of those intense, anthemic pieces that begins with (and reverts to) acoustic guitars that explode into full band mode and works in dramatic fashion; “You’re The One” also has a “pop radio hit” feel – an almost ’70’s Laurel Canyon vibe as it’s executed with Ms. Cormier’s vocals being purposefully restrained, a laid-back tempo and is definitely one of this album’s highlights and “Three Wishes” closes the set with an acoustic shuffle; again, a country-style/texture and very warm.

A highly impressive first full album from Danielle Cormier, Fire & Ice is easy to imagine as one of those “summer albums”, even though it’s been out for a few months.  Doesn’t matter – the songs emit such an intimacy, you can’t help but feel comforted, regardless of the season.

RECOMMENDED

Fire & Ice is currently available

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