Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 2010 Okapi Sampler

Hello?  Is this thing still on?

After over five years of constructing this online scrapbook, back in March, I got a bit sidetracked.  Nothing bad.  Thankfully, quite the opposite.  I just got really busy with new projects and a new life here in Atlanta.  At the same time, American culture and politics have kept spiraling to new vulgar lows, and I've made a purposeful effort to back away from it all.  I don't want to know how violently ignorant the masses are anymore.  Not to say that I don't still check in with Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, but I have detached myself from a lot of it.  

So, that said, I think a the 2010 Okapi Sampler is a good way to check-in here at the Lair, if only for a quick hello.  

Back in 2007, I imagined that "in a few years, we'll look back on 2007 as a resurrection of forward-thinking and sophisticated, but fun, music."  Now, three years later, and heading into 2011, I stand by my prediction - with a little more context.  2010 was another good year for the underground that 2007 launched.  Some of the most important tracks of this year, were created by artists who've been bubbling under for a few years now, but there's a notable feeling of tension between escapism and melancholy in most of the tracks that I've picked as the best of the year.  This is an era of conflicting feelings and opposing dreams, and I think a lot of the best songs of the year address the times well.

So, here are the top tracks of 2010*

1.  Helicopter - Deerhunter - This Atlanta band has received a lot of indie buzz, and deservedly so.  While most young people are content with lyrics that never venture beyond the level of a foul-mounted sixth-grader, Deerhunter are constructing songs like this one that tear the thinking heart apart in their tragic gorgeousness.  Helicopter is, from the liner notes, inspired by the true story of a Russian boy, Dima, who left his home at age 14 with a dream to become a fashion designer - only to end up being sexually expolited, raped, sold, and eventually he disappeared (by one account, thrown out of a helicopter over the remote northern Russian forests). Not an easy tale to hear, but an important work of art nonetheless.

2.  Tightrope - Janelle Monae (featuring Big Boi) - The ATL has a lot going on musically - just look at Deerhunter and Janelle Monae.  What could they possibly have in common, besides a common hometown?  Authenticity.  Janelle Monae might be written off as a female James Brown impersonator - but you from the minute this track takes off that there is a rare sincerity in her voice, in her energy, and in her vision.  I can't take my eyes off of her, and play after play, I still cannot get enough of the raw funk of this jam.

3.  Everything is New - Antony and the Johnsons - Antony Hegarty can do nothing less than magical.  His voice, his arrangements - everything about his work gives the listener a deeper understanding of hope and pain and love.  And, often in twenty words or less.

4.  Stick to My Side - Pantha du Prince (featuring Panda) - House music has been a central inspiration in my life for more than twenty years now, so it's not lightly that I declare Pantha du Prince is my favorite house producer of recent years.  No one has done a better job of stepping into, gathering, and sharing that space in the human condition where longing and joy and solitude and hope all co-exist.  Vocals by Panda, from Animal Collective, just make this journey even more beautiful.

5.  Ready to Start - Arcade Fire - Normally, I steer away from rock critic darlings.  I hated The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, and I don't get the ultra-fascination with Radiohead. But, Arcade Fire is just really fucking good.  There's a sincere understanding of John Hughes' '80s, without a hint of artificial "retro-ness."  These verses and lyrics will be held on to for dear life by this generation of outsiders, for many years to come.

6.  Any Which Way - Scissor Sisters - With the constant media attention on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the same-sex marriage "controversy," and Log Cabin Republicans - the Scissor Sisters reminded us that the gays can still be, well, fun.  I had the opportunity to catch them in concert in August, and man, what a show!  Sure, this track is like a big musical rainbow flag, but sometimes it's good to embrace your inner rainbow.

7.  Limit to Your Love - James Blake - The power of the Blues has always resided in minimalistic brilliance.  This track is Blues for a new era, with each aching  minimal note placed precisely to create maximum impact.  With hints of Matthew Dear, late '90s Moby, and possibly even Burial, I can't wait to hear more from this 22 year old.

8.  Since We Last Met - NDF - There's something about this track that takes me back to the basics of late '80s Adonis house.  It's not particularly ground-breaking, but there's a realness that's irresistible.  And, of course, I give it a 10 for danceability.


9.  Little People - Matthew Dear - Back in 2007, Matthew Dear was one of the artists that got me excited about music again.  This year, his Black City album kept it going.  It's a little less accessible than some of Matthew's earlier works, but that just means it takes a little more exploration through his slightly twisted musical mind.

10. One Life Stand - Hot Chip - A little '80s, a pinch of rave, and a healthy serving of right now, Hot Chip keeps producing catchy synth-pop anthems, and I just keep falling in love with each and every one of them.  This title track, and much of their most recent album, seems a little more mature than previous forays, and I'm starting to get the feeling that they may be around for a little while.

There you have it - my completely biased, totally subjective, top 10 of the year.  Other honorable mentions include "Heartbeat" by Nneka, "Say My Name" by Holy Ghost!, "Reckless" by Azari & Ill, "The Light" by Forest Swords, "Telephone" by Lady Gaga and Beyonce, "Night Air" by Jamie Woon, and "Coma Cat" by Tensnake

Sunday, March 21, 2010

All That's Old Is New Again

We're almost to the political finish line.  It looks like we will, after a hundred years of debate, finally, take a step towards real health care reform.  It's been a spectacularly ugly journey over the past year, but we're almost there.  Now, of course, it's not the reform that I was hoping for...but it's a step in the right direction. 

And, because we are so close, the far-right has become so desperate that they're now completely incapable of hiding the true heart and soul of their "movement."  Yesterday, while Democrats were scambling for votes to ensure that Americans have more access to affordable health care, the Tea Baggers gathered by the tens outside the Capitol to show their fury.  They spent the early part of the day chanting "Kill the Bill" and "Stop the Spending!"  But, as the day wore on, the hate in their hearts became impossible to hide. 

They carried signs with slogans reading "Vote No, I Don't Want to be a Government Slave," and signs with two black hands, that conveyed "Keep Your Black Hands Off My Health Care!"  As Rep. Andre Carson and Rep. John Lewis, two African-American Congressmen, walked past the crowd and into the Capitol, the crowd's chant turned to "Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!"  A protestor actually spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (who is also African-American) as he walked towards the Capitol building.  Yes, all that's old is new again. 

At one point, the crowd stormed the Longworth office building, looking for targets to unleash their righteous anger.  At one point, Rep. Barney Frank, who is openly gay, rounded the corner and was met by a protestor who yelled, "Barney, you faggot!"   The crowd laughed boisterously. All that's old is new again.   

At an anti-reform protest just a few days earlier, "patriotic" Tea Baggers showed their undying love for America by verbally abusing an old man with Parkinson's.  It's hard to watch, like footage of the early Civil Rights movement was hard to watch for fair-minded, good-hearted people.  But, unfortunately, all that's old is new again. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Global Peace Index

The Institute for Economics and Peace has released the 2009 Global Peach Index, which ranks nations in terms of peace and national harmony based on internal and external conflict and the presence of, or lack of, structures and institutions that help create and maintain peace.  According to the 2009 overview...

"The index is composed of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from respected sources, which combine internal and external factors ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights. These indicators were selected by an international panel of experts including academics and leaders of peace institutions."  

If only we, the people, cared about winning this competition as badly as we care about "our team" winning the Super Bowl each year.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Score One For The Planet

The Hummer was created under contract for the U.S. Military, as vehicle of war.  During the 90s, the Hummer became available for the gas-guzzling, atmosphere wrecking, road-hogging pleasure of all overpaid, undereducated, insecure, civilian dumbfucks across the nation. The combined effect of displaying one's socio-economic status while simultaneously displaying a complete disregard for the environment made the Hummer a hot seller - until a disproportionately large number of Hummer owners lost all of their money in the real estate collapse. 

Today, it was announced that the Hummer brand has finally gone out of business.  Score one for the planet.  And score one for people who aren't jerks.  

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcome to Hotlanta, Y'all!

This was definitely not in the brochure...but no complaints.  It was a stunningly beautiful morning. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How's That Worked Out For You?

For those that haven't heard it before, this is what a Progressive Democrat sounds like....

Congressman Alan Grayson, from Florida's 8th District in Orlando, is one of the very few in Washington who actually has the guts to say what so many of us are thinking.  He's in a tight race for his seat in November, and can use our support.  Please consider volunteering, or contributing to his campaign at Alan Grayson for Congress. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Compassionate Conservatism in Action

The images of the massive devastation and loss of life from the earthquake in Haiti are simply heartbreaking. I cannot imagine the fear and trauma and sadness that is flowing through the streets between the rubble. How will the people of Haiti recover from this?

I lived in Miami for 16 years. I worked with many Haitian people, and lived not far from the neighborhood of Little Haiti. From my Haitian friends, I had the privilege of learning a little about Haitian culture - its stories and traditions. I learned to speak and understand very basic Haitian Kreyol, and I came to understand how so many Haitians center their lives around their faith in God.  My Tony took part in a hunger strike to bring attention to the detention of Haitian refugees.

Many Haitians hold very tightly to their faith in God, through the Catholic Church and traditional Vodou practices which survived the Middle Passage from Africa. Because I know how religious so many Haitians are, one of the deepest parts of the sadness that I feel is knowing that so many of them must think that God hates them. Year after year, the tiny nation is ravaged by hurricanes and tropical storms. Haiti, once one of the richest countries in the world, was stripped of its valuable resources by the colonial powers, and then stripped of its trees by desperate poverty. And now, one of the most powerful earthquakes of the past century hit 10 miles from the capitol. For people of faith, it really must feel that they have been forsaken by their Creator.

And now, before they've even had time to start digging through the rubble...these poorest of the poor...are being attacked by some of America's most vile right wing leaders.  The 700 Club's CEO and main profiteering prophet, Pat Robertson, had the fucking nerve to actually blame the Haitian people for the tragedy of this natural disaster.

Good ole' boy Pat said, on air, that the earthquake might actually be a "blessing in disguise."  He then went on to blame the earthquake on a "pact with the Devil" that he says was made by the slave rebels who fought Napoleon and won freedom for the islands slave inhabitants.  

Not long after the Christian Broadcasting Network aired Pat's digusting comments, Rush Limbugh was on the airwaves using this "opportunity" to attack President Obama for pledging immediate action and aid from the United States.  In the minds of Rush and his followers, we've already given too much money to those people.

So, while the poorest people on the planet dig through collapsed buildings in search of their babies, and wander the streets dazed by trauma and looking for water, these obscenely rich, arrogant, soulless motherfucking merchants of the ignorance of the American right wing sit on their pampered asses surrounded by wealth and privilege and luxury - and they still can't help but to take shots at the world's most vulnerable people and those who want to help them. This is the new American right wing.  Fucking worthless creatures.

Please donate to the Red Cross, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, or UNICEF.

And, please call or write to your cable company and ask them to drop the Christian Broadcasting Network which is just a front for Pat Robertson's hateful corporate empire (just so you know, Comcast is apparently giving a "small courtesy credit" on the bills of people who have written in to complain).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Atlanta Chronicled

I haven't had much time to hang around the Lair lately, as I've been busy exploring and photographing my new city over at Atlanta Chronicled.  Go ahead...take a look.  You know you want to.