High-Futurist Cyborg Syrup

26 Jan

Tim Maly, of “cyborgs & architects” blog Quiet Babylon, has written a piece as part of the trans-web Food for Thinkers series; it’s title is “The Cyborg Ethics of Eating,” and it has some problems. (It’s not too long, so if you’re going to read this piece, I would absolutely recommend reading that one first.) Starting from the suffering of animals in contemporary, meat-eating food systems, he discusses Jeff McMahan’s idea that predators in nature are immoral and should all be killed, and he uses a quote from Thomas Jefferson that downplays the suffering of the enslaved as merely “transient” in order to suggest that causing suffering in plants may someday be seen as a moral wrong. He then reaches the conclusion that using technological replacements for the eating of food may eventually be required by ethics. This end point is not itself evil, at first glance, but in logical sequence used to reach it ignores the world as itself in favor of extreme abstractions, creating an absurd ethics which defends living beings so vigorously it finds life itself to be morally suspect, an ethical system which condemns those very processes that have lead life on Earth as we know it.

It is also a logical sequence with many flaws of reasoning.


It may be instructive to begin with slavery, which is introduced in quoting Thomas Jefferson’s letters, and compare it to the how animals and plants fare in the contemporary food system. Arguments against killing animals for food are millennia old, but modern factory farms are particularly unethical not because the animals raised in them ultimately die, to be consumed for food, but that the animals are born and live in miserable conditions. Animals on small farms and in the wild will similarly die, perhaps to be eaten for food, just as other members of each species have, since first they evolved. They will move around and eat food they have evolved to eat, instead of being restricted in their movement and force-fed inappropriate meals and antibiotics and growth hormones to compensate for their terribly unhealthy living conditions and to turn them into freakishly modified producers of certain biological goods to be consumed by humans. Similarly, while hard labour could be seen as alien to the basic human condition as a hunter-gatherer, slavery is particularly immoral, and not because those enslaved will work and then will die; most free(r) people also have to work for much of their lives, and all, so far, have died. The moral problem with slavery is that the people enslaved are horribly restricted in their lives, often in conditions far enough from the evolved physical and psychic tolerances and needs of the human organism as to cause great suffering.

Turning now to the idea of “plant suffering,” as supposedly evidenced by chemical distress signals. Animal suffering is not viewed as a moral wrong is not based on the screams of animals, or any other outward signs – otherwise, we might have to think of old, creaky houses as being in pain. Calling the chemical distress signals of plants “screaming” is extravagant and unfounded anthropomorphizing. Maly frames those signals as proof that “plants want to live, too,” but if action taken to sustain biological life is proof of suffering, then plague bacteria must also be considered worthy of ethical consideration, and some thought should be give to a future time when technology may give us both the ability and perhaps the responsibility to wipe out the world’s zooplankton, who have preyed on innocent, photosynthesizing phytoplankton in an aeons-long genocide of simply unimaginable magnitude.

No, in the ethical systems we can actually construct and follow, we are required to consider animal suffering as being to some extent morally comparable to human suffering because we have comparable nervous systems, and, as we know that our sensations, emotions and manifested self-awareness arise from the working of that nervous system, we must be open to the possibility that all of these phenomena are present, at some level of complexity, in animals. (Unless we are to escape to the deus ex machina of, well, a deus.) There is some comparison to be mada between Jefferson’s description of African Americans and the modern view held by many who would dismiss the ethical significance of animal suffering in factory farms. In both cases, the “sensations” of the suffering being are accepted as real but are denied significance on the grounds that they are not part of a larger, meaningful life of the mind. So while I would not, like PETA, suggest that there is an equivalence between human slavery and animal bondage, I would say that there is enough of an analogy to be drawn that I can imagine that at some point in the future, attempts to justify systems of animal exploitation for economic benefit (meat, after all, has never been cheaper) may be seen as offensive just as widely as today attempts to justify slavery are seen to be.

However it is difficult for me to imagine a world in which we could possibly induce that a wheat plant, or a field of wheat plants, has a subjectivity and experiences something that could be understood as suffering when harvested and consumed as food. That’s not to say that plants aren’t fascinatingly active and responsive living beings, but the empathic gap between plant and animal biological systems is simply overwhelming.

Even if this gap was eventually spanned, there is a reason McMahan’s brief dismissal of plant suffering can never be as offensive as Jefferson’s attempt to explain away suffering among enslaved African Americans: recognizing in other human beings the qualities of feeling, thinking and experiencing, is an extremely natural and human thing to do, and was done at Jefferson’s time and, I am willing to assume, at all times before him. Jefferson was rejecting a basic empathic position in order to justify an economic system designed to benefit a few at the expense of many; this is offensive. To empathize, really empathize, with a food crop, however, is a much more complicated mental operation, and with much less precedent. (It is clear that humans evolved to be able to see feelings in other humans, I know of no evidence that we evolved the the ability to see feeling in plants.) McMahan is justifying an economic system that benefits all animal life on the planet Earth at the expense of a very different category of life, it is much harder to take offense at this.

A note, also, on enlightened white males such as Jefferson. While I realize blogs are a place where authors can and should fully inhabit their subjectivity, Maly here is discussing hugely broad ethical issues, and so I think it may be permissible to chide him for universalizing a particular perspective, one that can be attributed to European males, but are not limited to them. Maly declares that

The course of human history is the long slow process of according a greater number of living things status as moral beings owed rights and protections. For the most part, we’ve worked out that women, people of different racial backgrounds, and non-landowners deserve dignity.

To which I have to say – what do you mean WE, white man? “A long slow process of according a greater number of living things status as beings owed rights and protections” might describe, in some loose way, what has been happening, off and on, among many European peoples since the fall of the Roman empire, although it couldn’t be accurately applied to the continent as a whole – the (re)conquest of Muslim Spain by Christian Europeans was a step backwards in this imagined process, and there have been plenty of even more catastrophic revokings of rights and protections in the centuries since, no matter what trend lines we try to draw behind them. Going beyond Europe, the process Maly speaks of might be applied, periodic backsliding forgiven and ignored, to most sedentary, agricultural, ownership-based societies around the world. Each society has made progress in different areas at different speeds, of course – Hindus may be far ahead of many others on the matter of bovine dignity, for example, but in many cases they remain woefully far behind when it comes to the dignity and rights of women. (I don’t mean to make any essentialist statements about the nature of Hindu religion(s), I’m simply saying that rural Hindu culture makes the subcontinent one of the worst places in the world to be born poor and female.)

However I won’t recognize this as a process that describes all of human history. The Arawaks who first met Columbus with open arms had no difficulty recognizing these complete strangers as fellow beings deserving of all the rights and protections they shared amongst themselves. It was the Europeans (who, when history is being drawn as a long slow process from better to worse, are generally considered to be farther along) who had great difficulty discerning that those that they had just met deserved dignity.

It is not only the logic of inevitable progress at work here, but also the logic of inevitable decline. McMahan and Maly both use the environmental damage already done by the human species as a justification for the ideas they present – animal species are going extinct at accelerated rates due to human activity, so why not just selectively eliminate predator species; civilization is increasingly terraforming the planet, so why envision any limit to radical restructurings of Earth’s ecosystem? It’s somewhat odd that, in justifying giving plants ethical consideration as individual organisms, Maly says that plants are “active vigorous participants in the ecosystem,” when he so completely ignores ecology in projecting his post-food cybernetic future. McMahan does the same – when herbivorous animal species no longer have predators, due to hunting, habitat destruction or importation to areas with fewer predators, the results can be so damaging to plant species, other herbivores and the balance of the ecosystem as a whole that people end up having to cull the herbivores, tasking humans with systematic klling that predators had once been doing, free of charge and free from guilt. Maly conceives of an eventual future in which human-cyborgs survive by “converting energy and nutrients directly into sustenance.” Yet the nutrients human bodies require, excepting minerals, are produced by plants; exactly where else should these nutrients come from? Many modern processed foods may appear to never have had anything to do with plant life, but even the most dazzlingly unnatural food products were reassembled from the carbon harvested from food crops, and generally a lot more environmental damage is done by turning food crops into abstracted future nutrients than would occur in the process of growing and consuming a crop. Perhaps organic material could be gathered from dead plants that had lived out their full life spans, but to take this for processing in nutrients for human consumption might simultaneously cause some detritivores to starve to death – also, by these standards, an ethical dilemna.


It should also be pointed out that our civilization is “terraforming” the planet (de-terraforming? terradeforming?) largely because of our energy consumption, and agriculture is a very effective solar energy collection technology. While today this is often combined with fossil fuel inputs, in the form of fertilizers and fuel for machinery and transportation, at a basic level, agriculture is a wonderful way to cover large swaths of land with self-constructing biological machines that collect solar energy and convert it into nutrients that can be directly and efficiently consumed by human beings. To replace such a low-impact energy technology would hardly seem to be doing the Earth a favor. The only scenario I can imagine in which post-food human beings cause less harm to other forms of life than do food-consuming human beings is one in which near-limitless electrical energy produced by fusion power is either used to process inert materials into consumable nutrients, or plugged directly into a newly battery-powered human body.

So, in a future where humans become alchemists with almost infinite sources of power, the idea of going beyond food could become practical, but until then it really remains outside the discussion. Being theoretically feasible, however, does not necessarily make it desirable. One of the principles of contemporary first-world ethical food consumption – eating locally – hopes not just to reduce fossil fuel use in the transportation of food and give economic support to small regional farmers, it also seeks to deepen consumers’ understanding of, and emotional connection to, the production of the food they eat and the ecological systems that make it possible. The provided ethical justification for turning human beings into post-food supermen is to protect both plants and animals from being killed and eaten by people. Yet if purchasing food from a supermarket instead of buying it from a farmer (or being a farmer) leads people to not take into consideration how the plants are grown and the animals live, if it is easier to buy a hamburger every day than to raise and slaughter animals to produce enough meat to eat a hamburger every day, how likely is it that human beings who have removed themselves from the food chain entirely will maintain a higher ethical concern for other life forms? Environmentally destructive practices are already facilitated by an ideology that considers our species to be separate and superior to nature and not dependent on its operations for survival. If that were to actually become true, I find it likely that an involved, stakeholding participant is likely to be more benign than an aloof god. The occupants of the halls of Olympus are rather notorious for their disregard of the rights and dignities of beings below them, and it wasn’t because they ate and drank, but that they didn’t truly require other life forms for survival.

Maly is always an interesting writer to follow, precisely because he allows his speculation and imagination to roam far from conventional present day ideas. Here, however, the ideas fall short both in the scrutiny of their practical basis and the consideration of their ultimate ethical ramifications; the end solution is in many ways more troubling than the original problem. I would offer two explanations for this. As many interesting insights as it produces, the cyborg discourse is born of a teleological view of history in which human enlightenment steadily expands the purview of ethics and technology inevitably solves all problems. The second reason has more to do with emotional motivation. Maly is right when he says that generally, we don’t like being confronted with the realities of how our food is produced, and that most consumers in industrial/post-industrial nations cope through “squeamishly avoidant ignorance.” I don’t know what Maly’s own dietary habits are; this article didn’t give me the impression that he is a practicing vegetarian, but he may well be. Even if he is, his plant-only diet would likely still be unsustainable and destructive in many ways, as my diet is, and the diets of most anyone reading this. Squeamishly avoidant ignorance is not available to Maly, and so he deals with the stresses of being a part of an ethically troubling food system in a different way. He shifts the focus from difficulties in the system as it actually exists, such as the suffering of animals living and dying in factory farms, to hyperbolic concerns with the “chemical screams” of plants, and answers them with presently impossible solutions, thereby excusing the humanity of today with following through with them. This allows us all to get back to speculation and new media, much more and fun and a good deal easier to face.

Topnotch Stuff As A General Rule: Some Music I Enjoyed In 2010

17 Dec

It’s that time of year again, when people vaguely remember enjoying winter weather, and I start in on an ill-conceived list of my favorite music of year, start agonizing about the music I didn’t hear often or early enough to include, get too stressed out about it and rush it to completion.

You know, the holidays!

I’ll be presenting my favorite 20 records, followed by ranked lists of records in various genre categories which make absolutely no sense but were the closest I could get to grouping albums that seemed somewhat worth comparing to each other.

So: Combining the futility of writing about music with the stupidity of ranking it?

LET’S DO THIS.

“Just remember if you become obsessed with something you stop making sense to other people”

Top 20

20. New Pornographers – Together [Matador]

– Pop Music Poppy Pop Award, Year Two Pop One Pop.

19. Vampire Weekend – Contra [XL]

– Albums like these are the closest thing we still have to Whit Stillman movies, really. The partial shift of emphasis from guitars to cheery little synths parallels the shift from guitar to synths seen in Congolese music as the 70s turned to the 80s, it also makes them sound more like They Might Be Giants. If you happen to be someone who’s still caught up on the “Ivy League kids appropriating African styles” thing, you need to do some more reading.

19. Shugo Tokumaru – Port Entropy [P-Vine]

– Shugo is an all powerful, iron-fisted despot who rules over the world of incredibly precious chamber pop. This is music for decorating acorn houses.

17. Maria y Jose – Espiritu Invisible & Kibose [Grabaciones Amor / Cocobass / Self-release]

– Bedoom-pop raptor house? Singer-songwriter tribal guarachero? Sensitive club bangers? Tijuana’s answer to El Guincho? Ruidoson? The only artist on this list to release an album for free on archive.org?

Answer: All of the above.

These two releases are available for free, entirely legally, here and here.

16. The Radio Dept. – Clinging To A Scheme [Labrador]

– If, in the next few weeks or months, Sweden extradites Julian Assange to the United States, this album will stand as the opposite of that, in every way. Everything great about Swedish indie-pop is summarized by Second track “Heaven’s On Fire,” which begins with Thurston Moore declaring “I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist system that is destroying youth culture,” epitomizes everything wonderful about Swedish indie-pop. I pondered using words to describe it, but it is already itself a perfect summary of what it represents.

15. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me [Drag City]

– It took me all year to realize I liked this album, as a work. I knew from the beginning that I liked many of the compositions, but it was simply too long to consider as an entity. Coming back to the album, which may as well be several, I realize that these songs have taken root deep within me, unattached to this release, or this year, eerily eternal. Joanna Newsom has turned herself into a river.

14. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest [4AD]

– Bradford Cox is the spiritual nexus of blog-pop. Whether chillwave, glo-fi, or beach-rock (witch house doesn’t count) they all bob in his wake, whether approach from the realm of guitar noise or carefully constructed bedroom pop, he is where their desires meet, and it is his vision of what is gorgeous in music that they aspire to replicate more than any other. Bradford Cox’s music, solo and in group, no longer concerns itself with much of anything besides that vision.

13. Future Islands – In Evening Air + Undressed [Thrill Jockey]

– The opening seconds sound more like Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (the Radiohead of the first half of the 1980’s) than nearly anything else I’ve heard recently, certainly more so than OMD’s own disappointingly Pretty In Pink style History of Modern. Future Islands have had the phrase “New Wave” thrown at them. The Undressed EP revealed that the band’s singer Sam Herring is actually just Matt Beringer of The National, bitten by a radioactive Tom Waits, but by day the band masks this identity with 80’s indented bass lines and synth-work. It’s a comfortably familiar but unique combination.

12. Maps & Atlases – Perch Patchwork [Barsuk Records]

These guys (a truly amazing live band) released a number of math-rock EP’s successfully balanced technicality and melodic appeal. Raise your hand if you can sing along to Ted Zancha. Releasing a full length, they have decided that they are an Afro-Math band, and have decided to come clean about their love of the Apples in Stereo. I couldn’t be happier.

11. El Guincho – Pop Negro [Young Turks]

A lot of 2010’s blog-hype music vaguely replicated the feeling of being at a beach: any beach or all beaches. El Guincho’s music creates the feeling of being on an island: any island or all islands (he is originally from the Canaries.) He captures the exuberance of island music, while avoiding its downsides, such as often being sloppily made in an overwhelming style with chintzy-sounding hardware and software. A nicely layered, woozily rapturously techno-humanism perfectly expressed by the Carl Sagan-quoting best music video of the year: http://vimeo.com/15274619

10. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot [Def Jam]

– I can guarantee that this would have been in a higher berth if it weren’t for the worthless band that dares call itself “Vonnegut” (RIP) and its bland, awful rap-rock crooning singer who always come in to ruin the otherwise great track “Follow Us.”

That’s besides the point, considering that this is probably the most vibrant and fun record ever made by a rapper 16 years after his first LP.

But I’m still angry.

9. Baths – Cerulean [anticon.]

– Kte…Fuck…Take Emeralds, the Radio Dept., hell, most of the records on this list, chop them up and put the bits into the centrifuges used by Flying Lotus’ nuclear program (he’s got one and he’s going to use it to sell fissile material to the Maldives) and after several months you have this: mutated, brightly glowing synth-croon-hop. Cerulean blue…cerulean blue…

8. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All [Yep Roc]

– Likely the most good-natured record on this list, and by the most good-natured person. Sustained, direct sincerity, done with humour and without being cloying, is an impressive accomplishment by itself. Filling well-written songs and perfectly-scaled accompaniment with it is another matter entirely.

7. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign [Bedroom Community]

– If Sam Amidon goes on to have a long recording career, he could be one of the great voices of recorded music, floating out in the Yorkosphere. Not only is it lovely to listen to, it reflects the nature of the music that Amidon makes. While Amidon is only 29, and looks younger than that, he gives off the impression of having spent decades eating rustic toast in a backwoods cabin when he sings the beginning of each line. Yet his voice always folds back into itself, pointing at something fragile and vulnerable. Amidon records traditional folk songs that immediately bespeak their age, performed in such a way as to have a direct emotional relevance, leaving no question of being merely an academic exercise. Like his voice, they sound young and old; questions of time and duration are further complicated when he pulls tricks like covering R. Kelly’s “Relief” (2007 saw Amidon recording a version of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”) Music travels back and forth across the historical point where folk music becomes pop music, falsifying the distinction between the two. Working with producer and Bedroom Community label head Valgeir Sigurðsson means ICELANDIC BONUS POINTS.

6. Kanye West – My Dark Twisted Fantasy [Def Jam]

– I’ll get straight to my thesis. My Dark Twisted Fantasy is the musical equivalent of a Charlie Kaufman film. Actually, it’s all Charlie Kaufman films wrapped up in one. Except perhaps for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, being an adaptation. (Also…I haven’t seen that one.) Charlie Kaufman writes films, often featuring characters that either seem to be based on him or NAMED AFTER HIM AND PLAYED BY NICHOLAS CAGE, that are about simple human foibles, exaggerated and then played out on increasing ridiculous and grandiose stages. The beats here resemble like the warehouse spaces that Philip Seymour Hoffman fills with the absurd, exacting theatrical replication of all the minutiae of his life, which is just what Kanye does with his soundscapes.

As an amusement, here’s a movie-by-movie look at other parallels:

a. Being John Malkovich: Man finds a tunnel to the fame he desires through a vent/Rockafella, an opportunity which he takes advantage to take his particular passions (puppetry/vocoders/e-mailing pictures of his penis) to a larger stage than anyone would expect they would receive or perhaps deserve. “Malkovich Malkovich” = “Kanye Being Kanye.”

b. Human Nature: Why should I bother, you haven’t seen it. Anyway, it’s about “civilized” people acting “uncivilized” and vice-versa, College Dropout Kanye is Rhys-Ifans upon first being trained by Tim Roth.

c. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

In which the protagonist travels back to things done by and done to him in failing romances, decides to do them all again.

d. Adaptation: A writer (Kaufman/West) creates a screenplay in which he is a struggling with his art (The Orchid Thief/808’s and Heartbreaks) casting a inexplicably huge star with a bizarre personality (Nicholas Cage/Kanye West) to play both a exaggerated version of himself and his rather different fictional twin brother (“Conscious” Kanye West / “Lady Gaga Tour” Kanye West.) The work ends with a sudden, violent change in genre (a thriller wherein Nicholas Cage dies in Nicholas Cage’s arms / a political album sampling Gil Scott-Heron) that brings the whole into question.

When approaching this album, one should look past whatever one feels about Mr. West as a cultural phenomenon or as a person and simply look at it as a work of art that features characters based on the writer(s) involved and their lives, as ugly and ridiculous as that can be. It’s an album full of men, chiefly Kanye but also Pusha T and Jay-Z, who sound sick of themselves and their interactions with other people. (There’s also Rick Ross, who condemns himself by merely existing, Nicki Minaj, who I’m not ready to talk about, and Rihanna, who may as well be a contractual obligation.) Like Kanye’s contradictions? The album is full of them. Hate Kanye? Kanye hates Kanye too, or at least he often hates “Kanye,” however much Kanye there may be in Kanye. The real point is that by presenting Kanye and Kanyesque characters and situations under a burning spotlight, the album describes and explores what is wrong with people like Kanye and the society in which he exists than does most art.

Besides, there aren’t going to be too many more albums that sell 496,000 copies in the United States in their first week of release and feature 9-minute centerpieces that start with the sound of Erik Satie in a mental institution, bring in a beat left over from the soundtrack to the first Matrix film, let Pusha T nastily self-depreciate over strings, and end with the album’s star slobbering into a vocoder in a bathtub for several minutes.

If there ARE going to be a lot more of those, pop sensations are going to be a hell of a lot of fun for a while, although I’m sure the Black Eyed Peas will find a way to ruin it.

Or, in one sentence: I’m not going to rewatch Synedoche, New York very often, but I’m damn glad it exists.

5. a. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]

b. Four Tet – There Is Love In You [Domino]

c. Caribou – Swim [Merge]

d. Luke Abbott – Holkham Drones [Border Community]

e. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner [Ghostly International / Notown]

Making 5 albums count as one item on the list? Lame? Yes, let’s move on, as I mostly want to use the opportunity to coin the name for a movement of sorts, one that has been compiling its style for several years now, but which really made its presence known with full lengths, and my main purpose in delineating it is to proffer obnoxious puns as genre labels. It could the name like Domestic House, Housestead or Dewstep, “Organic Techno” would be another one, but much less fun. It takes the “pastorality” found in the earlier careers of Four Tet and Caribou, along with the ever-present spectre of Boards of Canada, that particular feeling of the electromagnetic wound back and forth though carbon and silicon systems and fuses it with the experimental dance forms that effervesce out of London and Brighton.

This is the sound of the spirit of the project of rural broadband.

…I just want an excuse to say Dewstep and Domestic House a lot.

4. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring [Arts & Crafts]

– Nothing expresses quite how long a year can be as this album.

3. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma [Warp]

Okay, so Kanye West blew up the sound of pop today, splattering the walls with acrid candy paint in a single screaming singularity, Kanye being Kanye being Kanye being Malkovich. Getting the now exactly right is admirable, but here’s some future business that may never be caught up to. This is SERIOUS COMPUTER JAZZ, people. This is the pinnacle of all computer jazz made so far. Have you ever seen Flying Lotus smile? He’s seen through your soul, he met with the electronic mind in another dimension and probably had sex with it, he’s had a cup of yerba mate with God, and traded a rare 7” single. He’ll never tell you what God gave him in return.

But he thinks it’s quite funny.

2. Javelin – No Mas [Luaka Bop]

Is this a greater artistic accomplishment than all the records preceding it? Perhaps not, but it means more to me than any of them, and having that power also denotes accomplishment of a sort. In their meticulous re-appropriation of old sounds, Javelin achieves everything that chillwave would like to, but falls short of.

Javelin is joy.

1. Das Racist – Sit Down, Man / Shut Up, Dude [Greedhead / Mishka / Mad Decent]

2010. The year that the people of Reykjavik, Iceland, betrayed by international financial capitalism and members of the Icelandic government and banking sector, handed the office of the Mayor to Jón Gnarr, an former punk, stand-up comic and television personality who is married to Bjork’s best friend (because everyone in Iceland knows Bjork), and handed control of the city council to Gnarr’s Best Party, composed of friends with similar backgrounds. Gnarr and the Party had the single-greatest political advertisement of all time, and they ran on a platform that included items like free towels at all swimming pools, a polar bear at the zoo, and “Effective democracy” because “Democracy is pretty good, but an effective democracy is best (That’s why we want it.)” Funny, but frivolous and silly.

Except that upon closer examination, these planks have substance. Arctic ice melt has lead polar bears to swim to Iceland, and putting them in a zoo would be an alternative to shooting them, as had previously been done. Iceland’s geothermal activity is enough that some of their swimming pools could qualify as natural spas, but the official European definition of a spa requires that spas provide free towels. Free towels at swimming pools would make them spas, and boost tourism. This is, to reverse a phrase from Victor Vasquez, “all that stupid shit that’s actually smart.” A member of the Best Party once explained to a journalist that if the Best Party wasn’t the Best, it wouldn’t be called the Best Party.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Das Racist group was asked this question:

NYT: What separates you from other rappers?

Victor Vazquez: We’re the best rappers. Himanshu Suri: We are better at rapping than everyone else who raps.

Das Racist are the Best Party of rap. If they weren’t the best, they wouldn’t be called Das Racist. They entered the public consciousness with “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” a song first stupid, then hilarious, then stupid, again hilarious and ultimately bizarrely subversive, a trojan horse to ready your brain for the music they have released since They are the funniest artists currently active, but their humour is covering disillusionment and a biting critique of all the mediocrity, racism and stupidity they see around them. They want to make jokes, talk about smoking weed and do critical analysis at the same time, and this is what makes them both so much fun and so much more truly old-school than those “conscious” groups that repeat empty platitudes about reclaiming hip-hop culture over tired beats. Simply put, they rap about whatever they want to rap about, and they want to rap about a lot, and all of it is edifying in someway or another. Did I mention that every song is catchy to the point of corroding ones brains with months and months of repetition?

A post-modern Native Tongues crew, Das Racist is the perfect punchline to the joke of a “post-racial,” post-Bush America, and they are your new favorite rap group.

If they aren’t, maybe you don’t like rap music.

Or words.

Or music.

See a doctor.

Oh, and both were released as FREE MIXTAPES, and can still be found thusly, although they are currently retailing for a whopping 50 cents each on bandcamp. Sheesh, for reals.

Rock

1. The National – High Violet [4AD]

– To listen to the National’s music is to travel alone in the dark, to walk from coffee house to apartment to familiar show-space to family home, tracing routes between locations rich with memories, summoning all the regrets and reconsiderations that accompany such activities. The National hit their stride in writing these soundtracks half a decade ago, so by now they are quite good at it.

2. The Walkmen – Lisbon [Fat Possum]

– I assume the name is a shortened version of Drunken 3AM Parade Through The Streets of Lisbon Upon Visiting The City for the First Time

3. Wolf People – Tidings / Steeple [Jagjaguwar]

– Both of these albums take metal and proto-metal of the 70’s and very late 1960’s, dialing back the elements that would become metal, leaving bare the deliciously uncool folk elements that lay at it’s heart (oh yes, there are flutes here,) yet still finding time for guitar pyrotechnics. Tidings, by far the superior of the two LP’s, presents an exceedingly crisp and precise version of that style, bringing in the best of non-Eno 70’s production sounds and some tape music elements as well.

4. Tera Melos – Patagonian Rats [Sargent House]

5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor [XL / Meroc]

– A heartland rock garage punk take on British Sea Power’s brand of soaring guitar rock full of historical allusions. For those who would like the Hold Steady more if they were less literal, more ideological and regularly stretched out their songs to 7 minutes or more. This album is a whole lotta America.

6. Suckers – Wild Smile [French Kiss]

7. Fang Island – Fang Island [Sargent House]

– Chants and guitars, changs and guitars, chants and guitars, chants and guitars…and singing drummers?

8. Pomegranates – One of Us [Afternoon Records]

9. Spoon – Transference [Matador]

10. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

– Why are there so many Scottish bands that sound like this at the moment? Anyone know?

11. Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker [Modular]

12. Good Shoes – No Hope, No Future [Brille]

13. Dungen – Skit I Allt [Mexican Summer]

14. Wolf Parade – Expo 86 [Sub Pop]

– Cokemachineglow ruined the field of saying things about Wolf Parade.

15. Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern [Kill Rock Stars]

16. Cloud Control – Bliss Release [Ivy League / Liberation]

17. White Denim – Last Day of Summer [Self-release]

Generally Rock-Derived Pop

1. Field Music – Measure [Memphis Industries]

– Alas poor Measure, you were released in February and everyone forgot about you. Beatlesque and Wilson-like orchestrated 60’s pop/rock by way of early-aughts XTC and Super Furry Animals (Apple Venus, Rings Around the World, Phantom Power.) They’re going to sit inside a piano, and they’re going to listen to it grow.

2. French Quarter – It’s Not Just Kissing [Gilgongo Records / Life’s Blood]

– Takes Stephen Steinbrink’s delicate existenial acoustic songs more in the direction of the icy, sparse funk of The Whitest Boy Alive and the weightless alt-country of Souled American. Dance music for pink slips, break-ups and funerals.

3. Foals – Total Life Forever [Sub Pop / Warner]

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs [Merge]

– There are times that being entirely removed from a music can allow someone to see it more clearly – hence it took a friend’s mother to say that The Suburbs “sounds like ABBA on steroids,” and she is quite right. In the eponymous opening track, Win Butler sings about all the houses built in the 70s finally falling, and the ensuing album sounds as though the band is sifting through the rubble of the 1970’s musical architecture, building little a variety of different structures with what they find. The result owes as much or more to Tom Petty than David Byrne and Brian Eno, and is as much arena rock as it is chart-busting Swedish disco-pop. Half-Light II, in fact, sounds a bit like all four of those artists cutting a track in 1977 Berlin, where as Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is absolute ABBA.

WARNING: MELODRAMA. This being the Arcade Fire, I assume you were prepared for that.

5. Owen Pallett – Heartland

6. Mice Parade – What It Means To Be Left-Handed [FatCat Records]

– A boy and a girl sing along with acoustic afro-pop gestures, celtic-folk noodling, drizzled with Bossa Nova extract and served in a giant powl of post-rock guitars. If that sounds good to you, let’s hang out.

7. Junip – Fields [Mute]

– Do you like Jose Gonzalez? Do you like instruments that aren’t acoustic guitar? I have something to tell you about…

8. Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects [Shout! Factory]

– If you liked Beulah’s final album Yoko, you should like this album. If you don’t like Beulah as much as I do, you may not like this album as much as I do. (The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.) Think of it as The Suburbs with a more certain focus and a less grandiose scale. Science and a steady hand are what you need now.

9. Hiiragi Fukuda – My Turntable Is Slow [Sloow Tapes / Self-release]

Syrupy, loopy, lollygagging psych-folk goodness.

10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz [Asthmatic Kitty]

– Sufjan’s electronic output has never been quite good enough to stand on its own, and his other work can at times be simply too tame and pleasant, so, even though he may dip his hand into the same bag of tricks a few too many times here, it’s still refreshing to hear him blend the two strains of music into a somewhat cohesive whole. Furthermore, he sings himself commands in the third person, and then repeatedly insists that he’s “not fucking around,” when he clearly is. I enjoy that.

11. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Jojo Burger Tempest [Melodic]

– If the concept of “post-rock” had emerged in early-90’s Manchester…

12. Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill [4AD]

– As is tradition, each year has it’s own (non-Los Campesinos!) UK-based heart-on-sleeve, uber-direct guitar-pop album. Pete & the Pirates released Little Death in 2008, and last year We Were Promised Jetpacks belted their little hearts out. On a more acoustic tip is Beachcomber’s Windowsill, from Oxford’s Stornoway, who have a lot of nice songs about love and strolling through meadows or whatever. I don’t care too much…some candy is delicious. Everybody needs the song “Zorbing” in their life.

13. Clinic – Bubblegum [Domino]

– See O(h)rtlos

14. Efterklang – Magic Chairs [4AD]

– This is some symphonic-ass pop.

15. Clem Snide – The Meat of Life [429 Records]

– Eef Barzelay also sings about Sufjan Stevens.Just…just don’t listen to the last song. Rhymes like that should simply not be heard.

16. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo [Sub Pop]

17. Connan Mockasin – Faking Jazz Together [Phantasy]

– Or: Through the Looking Glass.

18. Paleo – A View of the Sky [Partisan Records]

19. Race Horses – Goodbye Falkenberg [Fantastic Plastic]

20. Jumbling Towers – The Kanetown City Rips [Self-release]

21. Villagers – Becoming a Jackal [Domino]

22. Gigi – Maintentant [Tomlab]

– IndieBrill.

23. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let It Sway [Polyvinyl]

24. Land of Talk – Cloak and Cipher [Saddle Creek]

25. Menomena – Mines [Barsuk]

26. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor [Frenchkiss]

27. Huw M – Os Mewn Swn [Self-release]

28. Here We Go Magic – Pigeons [Secretly Canadian]

29. These New Puritans – Hidden [Domino]

– While this superficially might not sound terribly difficult or strange, I consider it to be one of the oddest records on this list. It’s a sort of MIDI post-punk chamber grime. (Decipher THAT.) Militant, possibly meaningless chanting, bassoons, gun-shot beats, quoting the way M.I.A. says “Fire.” Then again, this is the band that asked us, over and over again “What’s your favorite number? What does it mean?” the last time they came around.

30. Shrag – Life! Death! Prizes! [Where It’s At Is Where You Are]

31. Who Knew – Bits and Pieces of A Major Spectacle [Devilduck Records / 101]

– So, this is just an Iceland band who sounds exactly like Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary era, for the most part. Still, good job!

Guitars: Garage Rock, Punk, Post-Punk, Surf Rock, Indie Rock, etc.

1. Women – Public Strain [Flemish Eye / Jagjaguwar]

2. Wild Nothing – Gemini [Captured Tracks]

3. Grass Widow – Past Time [Kill Rock Stars]

4. Play Guitar – Shields and Don’t Worry About Death [Noyes Records]

O(h)rtlos

5. Surf City – Kudos [Fire]

6. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding [Merge]

7. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks [Matador]

8. The Strange Boys – Be Brave [In The Red]

9. Tamaryn – The Waves [Mexican Summer]

10. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush to Relax [Goner Records]

11. The Limiñanas – The Limiñanas [Trouble in Mind]

12. Best Coast – Crazy For You [Mexican Summer]

13. The Art Museums – Rough Frame [Woodsist]

14. Aias – A La Piscina [Captured Tracks]

– Singin’ in Catalan!

14. Explode Into Colors – Quilts [Kill Rock Stars]

15. Vaselines – Sex with An X [Sub Pop]

16. Love Is All – Two Thousand & Ten Injuries [Polyvinyl]

17. Beach Fossils – Beach Fossils [Captured Tracks]

– 2010 Blog Rock Award for getting straight to the point.

Folk / Acoustic Pop

1. Jack Rose – Luck in the Valley [Thrill Jockey]

– Rose’s final work splits the difference between his older purview of Faheyesque Roma-raag-Americana and his recent forays into more standard Appalachian folk and Blues. Both jaunty and mystical, infinite and intimate. An artist who will be missed.

2. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt [Dead Oceans]

– Kristian Matsson, his voice the eerie Dylan double that it is, works in a genre based entirely around writing and performing Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” again and again. Turns out there are many fruitful way to do so, and the Wild Hunt is a noteworthy improvement on 2008’s already very good Shallow Graves. Even piano balled “Kids on the Run,” reveals some beauty under its overwrought exterior if listened to often enough.

3. Mimicking Birds [Glacial Pace]

– In forming Ugly Casanova, Isaac Brock described a man who would show up at early Modest Mouse shows and eventually left a notebook full songs that would become Sharpen Your Teeth. While that songwriter is most likely an invented character, Nate Lacy of Mimicking Birds is a real person who still seems to come directly from the same invented world of Ugly Casanova.

4. Ólöf Arnalds – Innundir Skinni [One Little Indian]

This is the music one listens to the night after you’ve finished decorating Shugo Tokumaru’s acorn. Everyone in Iceland knows Bjork.

5. Mountain Man – Made the Harbour [Partisan]

5. Cheyenne Marie Mize – Before Lately [Thirty Tigers]

6. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig [Nonesuch]

7. Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream [Suicide Squeeze]

8. Ô Paon – Courses [Self-release]

She’s Quebecois, and releases her albums on K Records, but I still can’t but help think about medieval French folk music, the somewhat mystical kind that can be droning or stark. There isn’t a hurdy-gurdy here as far as I could tell, but it would fit in. Earthy stuff.

9. Corpus Callosum – Corpus Callosum [Self-release]

10. Sea of Bees – Songs for the Ravens [Crossbill]

11. Pauline En La Playa – Fisica Del Equipaje [Siesta]

12. Harlan T. Bobo – Sucker [Goner Records]

13. Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World [Drag City]

14. Laura Gibson and Ethan Rose – Bridge Carols [Holocene Music]

15. Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring [Kill Rock Stars]

16. Micah P. Hinson – Micah P. Hinson and the ‘Pioneer Saboteurs’ [Full Time Hobby]

17. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go [Supply and Demand]

18. My Bubba & Mi – How it’s done in Italy [BeepBeep.nl]

19. Bronze Horse – Bronze Horse [Oakhill Records]

20. Nomen Novum – Go Primal [Self-release]

21. Peter Morén – I Sparen Av Taren [Morén Pop]

22. Phil Selway – Familial [Bella Union]

23. Kurt Weisman – Orange [Autumn Records]

24. Kath Bloom – Thin Thin Line [Caldo Verde Records]

Electrowashed Pop

1. Beach House – Teen Dream [Sub Pop]

2. Avey Tare – Down There [Paw Tracks]

3. Silje Nes – Opticks [FatCat]

4. Islaja – Keraaminen Paa [Fonal]

5. White Hinterland – Kairos [Dead Oceans]

6. Laetitia Sadier – The Trip [Drag City]

7. Lali Puna – Our Inventions [Morr Music]

8. Tunng – …And Then We Saw Land [Thrill Jockey]

– Every day I’m hustlin’ / Every day I’m hustlin’ / Every day I’m hustlin’

9. Fredrik – Trilogi [Kora]

– Tunng for night-time; what Under Byen should have turned into by now. It was a good year for Malmö.

10. How To Dress Well – Love Remains [Lefse]

11. Serafina Steer – Change is Good Change is Good [Static Caravan]

12. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Autumn, Again [Self-release]

13. Benoit Pioulard – Lasted [Kranky]

14. Glasser – Ring [True Panther]

15. Anni Rossi – Heavy Meadow [4AD]

16. Pop Winds – The Turquoise [Artbutus]

17. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire [Vagrant]

18. Eluvium – Similes [Temporary Residence]

Electro-Pop / Synth-Pop / Synth-Funk / Chillwave / Glo-fi

1. Hot Chip – One Life Stand [EMI / Parlophone]

2. Delorean – Subiza [True Panther]

3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening [DFA]

– Dance Yrself Clean is one of the three best LCD Soundsystem songs, with that huge, huge, hugely inevitable drop, and top-form drunken sing-along lyrics. It’s tough to lead with that, and the rest of the album never quite catches up, but as long as you don’t find James Murphy’s persona grating (I don’t have a problem with him) there’s little denying the man knows how to engineer some sweet-sounding nouveau punk-disco. Hey, I think “You Wanted a Hit” is somewhat clever!

4. Grimes – Halifaxa [Artbutus]

5. Matthew Dear – Black City [Ghostly International]

6. ceo – White Magic [Sincerely Yours]

7. Kisses – The Heart of the Nightlife [Self-release]

8. Darkstar – North [Hyperdub]

9. Toro y Moi – Causers of This [Carpark]

10. To My Boy – The Habitable Zone [Von Braun Records]

11. Airliner – None [Self-release]

12. Twin Shadow – Forget [Terrible Records]

13. Royksopp – Senior [MB3 Records]

14. Blackbird Blackbird – Summer Heart [Self-release]

15. Kele – The Boxer [Witchita]

16. Mark Van Hoen – Where Is The Truth [City Centre Offices]

17. Rudi Zygadlo – Great Western Layman [Planet Mu]

Hip-Hop / Rap

1. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach [EMI]

– What is there to say about Damon Albarn’s project? He puts De La Soul on the charts a decade after anyone could have expected that to happen, and then brings them together with my man Gruff Rhys. This album opens with Snoop Dogg, mostly because it can. Lou Reed drops in to be vaguely silly! Mos Def shows up, as he is wont to do for these sorts of parties. This is, after all, an album from the man who keeps Tony Allen on retainer just in case he has an idea for a whimsical side-project. This qualifies as a hip-hop album mainly because hip-hop is at this moment the best space in which to throw things at each other for the fun of it…and because you’re a hugely successful musician.

2. Sleigh Bells – Treats [Mom + Pop / NEET]

Rap noise-pop from people born in the the imagined 80’s American theorized by The Go! Team’s Thunder Lightning Strike.

3. Black Milk – Album of the Year [Decon]

4. Tobacco – Maniac Meat [anticon.]

– Face-melting is a phrase bandied about to describe anything deformatively (I’m MAKING it a word) loud; Tobacco shows that to be insufficiently specific. This is what a face melting really sounds like.

5. Def Sound – Def Sound IS Alive [Self-release]

6. Baloji – Kinshasha Succursale [Kraked]

7. Teebs – Ardour [Brainfeeder]

8. Spoek Mathambo – Mishini Wam [BBE]

9. Shad – TSOL [Black Box Recodings]

10. Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson [Stones Throw]

11. Black Sheep – From The Black Pool of Genius [Audible Treats / Bum Rush]

12. M.I.A. – MAYA [XL / Interscope]

– Well of course M.I.A. is full of shit…did reviewers not realize that when they were busy praising her first two albums? I hardly think that not being entirely fake was ever the point.

13. The Roots – How I Got Over [Def Jam]

– Conscious Yacht-hop from the most professional band around. They really know how to rock a fresh Joanna Newsom sample, I will give them that.

14. Uochi Toki – Cuore Amore Errore Disintegrazione [Koch]

– Difficulty, angry, avant, Italian.

15. Serengeti & Polyphonic – Bells and a Floating World [anticon.]

16. Gonjasufi – A Sufi and A Killer [Warp]

17. Shigeto – Full Circle [Ghostly International]

18. Kidz in the Hall – Land of Make Believe [Duck Down]

19. TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu [Art Union / Listen Up]

20. Suzi Analogue – NNXTAPE [Self-release]

Funk / Soul

1. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid [Bad Boy]

– I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy anything with a Georgie Fruit appearance this year.

2. Bonobo – Black Sands [Ninja Tune]

3. Teengirl Fantasy – 7AM [Merok / True Panther]

4. Velella Velella – Atlantis Massif [Self-release]

5. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – I Learned The Hard Way [Daptone]

6. Rafter – Animal Feelings [Asthmatic Kitty]

7. Aloe Blacc – Good Things [Stones Throw]

8. !!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It? [Warp]

9. CeeLo Green – The Lady Killer [Elektra / Asylum]

10. Ratatat – LP4 [XL]

Global / Globalist

1. Sun City Girls – Funeral Mariachi [Abduction]

– A posthumous release for the group and member Charles Gocher; they now and have always put any other application of the phrase “freak folk” to utter shame.

2. Rita Indiana Y Los Misterios – El Juidero [Premium Latin Music]

– Punk Merengue? Cumbiawave?

3. Clorofila – Collective Presents: Corridos Urbanos [Nacional]

– The Nortec sound that has been brewing in Tijuana and its surrounds for at least the last decade has a bit in common with cumbia digital or nueva cumbia found in Argentina and Mexico; a lot of dubby accordions and horns grafted to danceable rhythms and big drum sounds. The Nortec Collective’s sense of humour (“Naked Ladies”) is so far a lot better, and their songwriting chops can be quite impressive. I’m tempted to call it hella guap.

4. Omar Souleyman – Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria [Sublime Frequencies]

– Technically a compilation, but whenever Sublime Frequencies puts out Omar Souleyman tracks, it’s the first time they’ve been released in the United States, and the first time I’ve heard them. It didn’t catch me quite as strongly as the label’s two previous releases of his work, but he’s still the smooth mack-daddy king of crazy-ass Dabke styles.

5. Hayvanlar Alemi – Guarana Superpower [Sublime Frequencies]

– Anatolian surf-rock

6. Konono No. 1 – Asssume Crash Position [Crammed Discs]

7. Las Balkanieras – Las Balkanieras [Germaica]

– This album can get pretty goofy, but in a fun, early 90’s way. These three women have a Balkan-New Jack Swing-Dancehall style. M.I.A. recast as TLC or Salt-n-Pepa.

8. Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle [Columbia]

9. Burkina Electric – Paspanga [Cantaloupe Music]

Post-Rock / Post-Something / Slowcore / Kosmisch

1. PVT – Church With No Magic [Warp]

2. Nice Nice – Extra Wow [Warp]

3. The Books – The Way Out [Temporary Residence]

4. The Octopus Project – Hexadecagon [Peek-A-Boo Industries]

– The Octopus Project, they of electrical plug masks and theremins, haven’t exactly changed their formula since the early aughts. They’ve been releasing very listenable, reasonably complex, somewhat electronic, somewhat post-rock flavoured albums every few years in that time, and in the process, they’ve quietly snuck into serious Terry Riley territory, Ten-minute album centerpiece “Circling” sounds like it’s spelled, and it is gorgeous and massive. The band can now reach amazing volumes without ever having to raise its voice.

5. Julian Lynch – Mare [Olde English Spelling Bee]

6. Rhys Chatham – The Bern Project [Hinterzimmer]

– Along with Glenn Branca, the biggest figure in composing works for overwhelming numbers of guitars comes to visit his child, post-rock, smack it around a bit.

7. Stereolab – Not Music [Duophonic UHF]

8. Dosh – Tommy [anticon.]

9. Sam Prekop – Old Punch Card [Thrill Jockey]

10. Forest Swords – Dagger Paths [Olde English Spelling Bee]

11. Kyst – Cotton Touch [Gingerbread Records]

– Less post-rock, more rock-as-afterthought. Less singing with guitars, more singing to guitars.

12. Holy Fuck – Latin [Young TurksI]

13. Eris – Feast of the Appetites of Eris [Domino Sound]

– New Orleans brass group that sounds like a pack of wolves scouring Dark Ages Europe. RIYL Jeff Magnum’s Bulgarian field recordings, Orfeu Negro

14. Fond of Tigers – Continent & Western [Drip Audio]

– Fond of Tigers have managed to never be on the Arts & Crafts record label, but they play the kind of music that would be released on that label, likely as someone’s side project. Horns and strings, everything on a large scale, but in a way that says “everything going to be fine!” instead of “everything is falling down.”

15. Nels Cline Singers – Initiate [Cryptogramophone]

Electronic / Dance – Dubstep, Future Garage, House, Techno, etc.

1. Matthew Herbert – One Club [Accidental]

2. Shed – The Traveler [Ostgut Ton]

3. Jatoma – Jatoma [Kompakt[

4. Ikonika – Contact, Want, Love, Have [Hyperdub]

5. Efedmin – Chicago [Dial]

6. Superpitcher – Kilimanjaro [Kompakt]

7. Matt Shadetek – Flowers [Dutty Artz]

– Thoughtful and amped, thoughtful and amped, thoughtful and amped…and violent?

8. Oriol – Night & Day [Planet Mu]

9. Magda – From The Fallen Page [M_nus]

10. Copy – Hard Dream [Audio Dregs]

11. Chemical Brothers – Further [Astralwerks]

– The Brothers Chem do a retro-futuristic update that sounds like Neu punching French House in the head. Repeatedly! That’s when they’re not playing around in “oh yeah, we made a song with Noel Gallagher” mode, with mixed results.

12. Elektro Guzzi – Elektro Guzzi [Macro]

– Live band minimal techno means creepy trance jazz.

13. iTAL tEK – Midnight Colour [Planet Mu]

Shit Robot – From the Cradle to the Rave

– Remember when you thought that retro-futuristic Irish house records should have cool, leering anti-modern screeds from Ian Svenonious? That was a weird dream, wasn’t it? OR WAS IT

14. Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise [Rough Trade]

“Sonic House.” I still don’t know what that means. Noah Lennox floats around.

15. A Guy Called Gerald – Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions [Laboratory Instinct]

16. Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft [Kompakt]

17. Ceephax Acid Crew – United Acid Emirates [Planet Mu]

Space Disco – Yes, Separately.

1. Ichisan & Navoka – Yugo Tempo [Nang Records]

– Agitfunk?

2. diskJokke – En Fin Tid [Smalltown Supersound]

3. Acid Washed – Acid Washed [Record Makers]

4. Prins Thomas – Prins Thomas [Full Pupp]

Experimental Electronic / Home Listening / Glitch / Breakcore

1. Ous Mal – Noujuva halava [Preservation]

2. Silver Bullets – Citta Invisibili [Stunned]

3. Bramblings – Nudist Collection [Self-release]

4. Kemialliset Ystavat – Ullakkopalo

5. Igorrr – Nostril [Ad Noiseam]

O(h)rtlos

6. Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services – Black Mill Tapes, Vol. 1 [Self-release]

7. The Knife, Mt. Sims & Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In A Year [Mute]

8. Frank Bretschneider – EXP [Raster-Norton]

Ambient

1. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? [Editions Mego]

– Or: Music for Spaceports. An ambient album you can rock out to? A rock album you can fall asleep to?

2. Phonophani – Kreken [Rune Grammofon]

3. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal [Editions Mego]

4. Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself (+ Invisible World, Tidings, Amethyst Waves, Vacation Days) [Mostly Editions Mego]

5. Luis Nanook – Place [Flyrec]

6. Alva Noto – For 2 [Line]

7. Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek – Bird, Lake, Objects [Faitiche]

8. Kid606 – Songs About Fucking Steve Albini [Important]

Jazz & Classical

1. Zs – New Slaves [The Social Registry]

O(h)rtlos

2. Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit [Ninja Tune]

3. Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot [Stones Throw]

4. Originalljudet – Originalljudet [Kalligrammofon]

5. Mulatu Astatke – Mulatu Steps Ahead [Strut]

– For being a new Mulatu Astatke album, it’s not exceptional. For being an album, it is exceptional, because it’s newly recorded master from the king of Ethiopian funk, an icon from a great moment in musical history from a country with a fascinating musical culture.

6. Wim Mertens – Zee Versus Zed [Usura]

7. Supersilent – 10

– This is the sound of zero-point energy, the product of particles randomly phasing in and out of existence in a vacuum.

8. Brooklyn Rider – Dominant Curve [In A Circle]

Historical Disco Opera

1. David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love [Nonesuch]

Spoken-word-electronic-blues

1. Laurie Anderson – Homeland [Nonesuch]

2. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here [XL Recordings]

Compilations & Reissues

1. Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers [Crammed Discs]

– Sometimes I think record labels are stalking me. How else could Crammed Discs decide to release an compilation that features “indie” artists like Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Micachu, Deerhoof, Megafaun and others creating songs inspired by, remixing or sampling Congolese electrified-mbira trance music that has been released on Crammed, by Konono No. 1 and others of their ilk. That’s just an absurd fantasy tailored precisely to my musical tastes! COME ON!

2. Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna [Sublime Frequencies]

– Moroccan street festival music. If the cherubim guarding the Garden of Eden were accompanied flaming guitars in place of flaming swords, they would be used to play music like this.

3. Charanjit Singh – Ten Ragas to A Disco Beat [Combay Connection]

Simply put, you need to hear this album. Indian film composer orders some synthesizers and drum machines, programs some raga progressions, and ends up independently inventing acid house before the genre arises in Chicago. Again, keep in mind, this is raga acid house. Simply amazing.

4. Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 [Soundway]

5. Omar Khorshid – Guitar El Chark [Sublime Frequencies]

– Khorshid is a kick-ass Egyptian guitarist, but it’s also worth noting that his work also features some of the best sci-fi vintage synth lines around.

6. HEALTH – DISCO2 [City Slang / Lovepump United]

7. Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 1 [Stones Throw]

– While I obviously didn’t live in Europe in the Cold War, this is what I imagine being caught between the Soviet Union and the United States felt like.

8. Casiokids – Topp Stemning Pa Lokal Bar [Universal]

– A singles and remixes collection from Casiokids. Several of these songs have become some of my favorite electro-pop singles of all time: if you haven’t heard “Finn Bikkjen!” and “En Vil Hest,” you really, really need to.

9. Cumbia Beat Vol. 1 [Vampisoul]

10. Music from Saharan Cellphones, Volumes 1 and 2 [Mississippi Records]

– As much a report on a techno-anthropological phenomenon as a compilation, these are quite literally songs found in storage on cell phones in the arid desert regions of Western and Northwestern Africa, where cellular devices are often used for file sharing and storage more often than they are used for voice calls. Most of these tracks are from Niger and Mali, with some coming in from Morocco and the Ivory Coast. There’s a range in genre and quite a few interesting modern fusions, from the so-called “desert blues” with drum machine backing to Malian pop that seems to hold a distinct kuduro influence.

12. The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria [Soundway]

13. Excavated Shellac [Parlotone]

– Are you ready for 78 RPM?

14. Angola Soundtrack – Special Sounds From Luanda 1965-1978 [Analog Africa]

15. Saigon Rock & Roll: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974 [Sublime Frequencies]

– As the name suggests, these are all recordings in American-supported/occupied Saigon. Remnants of an unsustainable bubble…how many of these people were both alive and in Vietnam by the end of 1975?

16. Potomac Shivers – Oh Eight To Oh Ten [Self-release] http://www.mediafire.com/?de092ndbdm6de7w

– When seen live, they struck me as delightfully Beulah-like. These recordings are more in the vein of Bradford Cox’s looping lo-fi (LO-FI) bedroom pop, with Appalachain echos. Dope.

17. Nigeria Special vol. 2 Modern Highlife, Afro Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-76 [Soundway]

18. Jahtarian Dubbers, Vol. 2 [Jahtari]

– Largely European netlabel dedicated to modern digital dub. The soundtrack to the movie Tron, if Lee Perry played Jeff Bridges’ role. Or Tron 2, if Lee Perry played Jeff Bridges’ role. Insert The Scientist joke here.

19. Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa [Honest Jon’s]

– I guess the closest thing I can compare Shangaan Electro (also called Tonga Disco) to is the juke/footwork genre originating in Chicago. It’s usually up around 160 BPM, it’s a largely cheesily-produced, repetitive dance form, and while it can be somewhat abrasive, it’s frenetic insanity is alluring. I’m more sold on tsonga than footwork, though. It’s also been around for decades.

20. Ethnic Minority Music Of Northwest Xinjiang, China [Sublime Frequencies]

– The relentless, galloping strings of Central Asian music are here rendered in absoring patterns, recorded excellently. You might be wondering if I just like everything Sublime Frequencies puts out; the answer is yes.

21. P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble – Winter Winds [Now Again]

22. Luk Thung! The Roots of Thai Pop [Zundrangma]

Dara Puspita (1966-1968) [Sublime Frequencies]

– Remastered versions of songs from Sukarno-era Indonesia’s finest (probably) all-girl garage-rock group.

23. Mount Eerie – Song Islands Vol. 2 [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

– Looks, it’s Phil Elverum. Some of this has been released before. Some not. Some of it is okay. Some of it is excellent. Thanks, Anacortes?

24. Lagos Disco Inferno [Academy LP’s]

25. The Desperate Bicycles – Singles [Nonprofit]

– 70’s post-punk-pop. Mmmhmm.

EP’s / Singles (Does it make sense to separate these? Not really!)

Keepaway – Baby Style & Kompetitor

Dirty Projectors & Bjork – Mount Wittenberg Orca

– I hope that every Dirty Projector release from here on in has “Orca” in the title.

Breton – Sharing Notes & Counter Balance

The War On Drugs – Future Weather

Javelin & 2

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – All In Two Sixty Dancehalls

James Blake – CMYK / Klavierwerke / The Bells Sketch / Limit to Your Love

Twin Sister – Colour Your Life

Tanlines – Settings

Highlife – Best Bless

The Tallest Man on Earth – Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird

Sharon Van Etten – Epic

Edan – Echo Party

Mothlight – Chrysalis

Teki Latex – Answers / Dinosaurs With Guns

El Remolon – Pangeatico

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Sketches

Future Islands – Post Office Wave Chapel

Wizards – Spinning Flowers

Girls – Broken Dreams Club

Para One – Kiwi/Toadstool

Duck Sauce – Barbra Streisand

Dreams – Simple Steps

Black Books – An Introduction To…

Debruit – Spatio-Temporel & Heart Beats For Haiti

Dimlite – Prismic Tops & My Human Wears Acedia Shreds

Ayobaness EP

Tortoise – Why Waste Time?

The Clientele – Minotaur

Games – That We Can Play

Brothertiger – Vision Tunnels

Dozens – Dozens

Double Dagger – Masks

Kupa – Pairat EP

Panda Bear – Tomboy / Last Night At The Jetty

Bambounou – Animism

– He just listens to the drums, and nods his head.

GIRL UNIT – IRL

Hypno – Over the Top

Janka Nabay – Babu King

No Monster Club – Tropical Decibels Volume Two

British Sea Power – Zeus

Koala – Xibalba

Megafaun – Heretofore

Pepepiano – Babes

Headless Horseman – 5songs

DJ Zinc – Wile Out

The Suicide of Western Culture – The Suicide of Western Culture

Edu K – Flutesnoot

Harry Benson – Kudzu EP

SBTRKT – 2020

Wentworth Kersey – ((O))

The Samps – The Samps

Bert on Beats – Suomo

Padang Food Tigers – Born Music

unouomedude – Marsh

Malente & Dex – Habibi

James Pants – New Tropical

Squire of Gothos – Squire Bathing

Forro in the Dark – Perro Loco (Remixes)

Evenings – North Dorm

Claps – New Science

I Can Lock All My Doors

19 Nov

I’ve never watched the series Doctor Who. Tackling decades and decades of past production would be daunting, and I’ve read that the series possesses years’ worth of material which are simply goofy and meandering. Still, I found this essay, part of the September-long 50 Posts About Cyborgs series to be very thought-provoking.

In case you don’t care to read it yourself, here’s as quick a summary as I can make of it: in the Doctor Who mythology, the Daleks, silly-looking cyborgs who are perennially on the verge of conquering the universe, are the descendants of an extremely Nazi-like culture living on a planet embraced by a never-ending war which has proved so damaging to the environment and civilization that life has been reduced to small bands of scavenging soldiers and, hidden away in bunkers, lunatic commanders with grandiose conceptions of final victory. Their leading scientist, already disfigured by the radiation and toxic chemicals blanketing the planet, has a plan for both victory and the survival of the (master) race – genetically modified people will live inside and as a part of the Daleks, which will be mobile, armed bunkers for each individuals, who will go on to be psychotic, child-like robo-Nazis rampaging across the universe, driven completely insane by their permanent bunker mentality.

Well alright.

There is, actually, a reason for me to mention this. In traveling across the country, I passed through a number of areas run down urban and semi-urban areas where all the cars looked better maintained than the homes and stores, and none of the drivers appeared the least bit interested in stopping (I see you, Calumet City.) I found myself thinking that contemporary car culture has a lot of similarities to this bunker mentality. The driver, ensconced in the car, is avoiding an unpleasant environment, both ecologically degraded and post-industrially economically degraded. As in the case of the Daleks, the very tool that is used to avoid the outside world is helping to create the conditions being escaped. The ancestors of the Daleks create new weapons of war to protect themselves from what their previous weapons of war have done to their planet; a transportation network dependent on automobiles is not only a source of pollution, it can precludes having healthy, sustainable urban cores. The proto-Daleks consider themselves a master race; a certain amount of the attraction of cars can be attributed to the ability to separate one’s self from all those who can’t afford their own personal, mobile bunker. At the same time they concerned themselves with purity, the proto-Daleks had to become horrible mutants to in order to form the organic part of the cyborg Daleks. People on Earth, meanwhile, in the attempt to minimize contact with fellow commuters and fellow citizens, damage their health through the stress of traffic and the lack of exercise a car-bound lifestyle often leads to. The popularity of SUV’s, while having thankfully subsided somewhat, could still certainly be seen as a partial militarization of the mobile bunker.

Just a thought. I do not, as of yet, have anywhere further to go with the parallel.

In fact, perhaps I just wanted an excuse to link to Doctorin’ the Tardis, another entry in the KLF‘s late-80s and early-90s quest to turn the cold mechanistic process of hit-making toward bizarre ends.

All DSC Everything

4 Nov

This evening, I attended a presentation by the German-Swiss co-inventor and sometimes-namesake of the Dye-sensitized solar cells, which combine crystals of titanium dioxide (the most coment pigment in the world) and one of a number of dyes, absorb sunlight much in the same way chlorophyll does. While these cells are somewhat less efficient than silicon-based solar cells, they are difficult to damage, and should eventually be cheap enough to produce to compete with fossil fuels on a purely market basis.

Beyond that, they are translucent, extremely thin and flexible, and can therefore be integrated into nearly any surface or window. As the dyes can be of different colours and arranged in nearly any pattern, they can be used for aesthetic construction and electrical production simultaneously.

It seems to me the dye-sensitive cell, in the way it conforms to its human and environmental context, embodies everything that static architecture of the future should be, hopefully allowing an architecture that can increasingly provide its own infrastructure.

On top of all that, the first factory producing them on a commercial scale is located in Cardiff, Wales.

City With No Children

1 Oct

Here’s another entry in the Films About Fear series. The work in question is Children of Men, and as usual if you haven’t seen it and would like to do so with minimal preconceptions, please do skip over this piece. I present you instead with the challenge of fathoming Nicholas Cage’s eyes.

Children of Men, when released in 2006, was one of the best films made about the new millennium up to that point, although it was set two decades into the future. Today, in a world where the Neo-Nazi-descended Sweden Democrats win seats in parliament and SB1070 polls well in Arizona, one of the most important themes of the film is as relevant as ever: fear about minorities and fertility.

The film begins in the same manner as our last entry, 28 Days Later, (2002) with television news coverage. Instead of seeing footage of riots, we are told of  “Day 1000 of the Siege of Seattle” and the ratification of the Homeland Security Bill, which will keep Britain’s borders closed as they have been for eight years. The top story is the death of the world’s youngest person, and in this way we are introduced to the corollary of 28 Days Later’s “rage” virus: the complete inability of women to have children for the past 18 years. The two conditions – infertility vs. fast-acting conversion to a blood-thirsty zombie – would seem to be very different, but Britain in Children of Men is in many ways like that of the Britain dreamed by the Major in 28 Days Later – it sees itself as the last hope of humanity, where civilization will be preserved in a strict, militarist fashion. A propaganda video shown on a bus flashes footage of catastrophic violence around the world and declares that “THE WORLD HAS COLLAPSED – ONLY BRITAIN SOLDIERS ON.” It’s remarkable how easy it is as a viewer to accept this isolation as a fact. Shown just brief snippets of mayhem, one doesn’t initially question that Britain is the last bastion of civilization.  It must surely be even easier for those actually living in that situation to accept this, and to tacitly support a government that puts soldiers on the streets and rounds up immigrants in cages, to be sent to awful detention camps or killed. This is the sort of population that puts flowers at the makeshift memorial of a celebrity, walking on their way past immigrants having their possessions thrown out of windows. Think of how easy it is for an ex-alcoholic Mormon gold-monger to scare people into declaring that America is “the last bastion of hope.” Just as a passing jet aircraft in 28 Days Later reveals that the world does still continue on, Children of Men gives us reason to reject this panicked isolationism. It is an isolationism really no different than one at play today in Europe and the United States.

The two situations, fictional and real, work with the same logic, in the case of the film it is simply compressed in time and place. People in this world without children, this world that is therefore presumably without a future, have been thrown into chaos, and in the case of Britain they have decided to jealously guard what resources remain (and there are surely fewer – the streets are filled with dirty buses and auto-rickshaws, the countryside is polluted and gray)  by deporting as many immigrants as possible. Dividing people into immigrants and citizens, into those who have the right to stay and those who don’t, requires a concept of ethnic nationalism, which appeals to the idea of the nation as having an eternal essence. This sort of essence proves very alluring when the future is uncertain. At one point in the film a car radio is playing the station Radio Avalon, with a DJ announcing a song from “2003, that beautiful time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner.” In politics, people have turned to an essentialist interpretation of identity and citizenship; in the aesthetic realm, people are comforted by a radio station named after a mythical isle, home to immortal beings, that features in the Arthurian legends so important to the idea of an essential and ancient British identity. Feeling they have no future, the population looks towards a past without end.

This Britain of the future, without children but fearful of immigration, is ultimately similar to most of the richest parts of the world today, whether we call them “developed” or “Western.” The only members of the G-20 with birth rates which are at or above replenishment levels are Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey. Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and nearly all of Western and Eastern Europe are below the replenishment level; the United States remains slightly above the replenishment level, but would likely not be without immigration. While these falling birthrates are unlikely to plummet straight to zero, they will still eventually make it difficult to provide for a shrinking and aging population and maintain previous levels of economic output. To have a future anything like its present, the rich developed world needs immigrants from poorer countries with lower per capita GDP’s, but at the moment we see the popularity of xenophobic anti-immigrant politics Europe and North America, although fortunately nowhere are they popular enough to control the government.  The choice in today’s real present and the imagined future of Children of Men is the same, and it is between having an aging future or choosing to share resources with immigrants who do not fit into society’s conception of its identity, people who threaten to pollute the body politic. The analogous relationship is made complete when it is revealed that the first woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to become pregnant in the 18 years is an immigrant. To survive, society must accept foreign fertility.

The plot of the film is driven by conflict surrounding this pregnancy. A disillusioned activist, (Clive Owen) who once had a child, killed by flu, with the leader (Julianne Moore) of a pro-immigrant militant group, (“Fishes”)  is contacted by Moore and entrusted with getting the pregnant girl to a rendezvous with a boat sent by the Human Project, a group of scientists devoted to solving the problem of infertility.  Moore is assassinated by a more extreme wing of the Fishes, who believe that the government would pass the child off as the offspring of a naturalized Afro-Briton. They instead wish to use the girl and the baby as standards in an armed immigrant uprising (conveniently referred to as “The Uprising”) against the government. The attempt to meet the boat from the Human Project leads Owen and Ashitey to one of the large squalid quarantine camps immigrants and refugees are relegated to, based in the remains of the seaside resort town of Bexhill. They are pursued by the Fishes, who are trying to recapture Ashitey and begin The Uprising, which leads to a full military assault on Bexhill. We see the character of the uprising in a protest march, men and women of many different nationalities chant “Allahu Akbar,” some carrying green banners with Arabic script, some brandishing AK47’s. At the end of the march we see two French flags. The eruption of violent discontent has an Islamist face, but contains past struggles in its genetic makeup. The militant refugees of Children of Men may have different aims and methods than the Free French, Hamas, or the stormers of the Bastille, but they have many shared grievances.

Owen recovers Ashitey and her newborn from the Fishes, who are pinned down by the army in a residential tower. The Fishes’ leader, shooting from a corner, asks “How can it be peaceful when they take away your dignity?” When told that the child is a girl, he tearfully shares that he once had a sister. Here we may have the two most important concepts for understanding unrest in the modern world. Nothing causes more resistance in foreign occupations or civil conflicts than the deaths of civilians, the memories of sisters away. Economic conditions alone are not enough to explain the grievances of both alienated minorities and apprehensive majorities. Dignity requires a certain minimum level of material well-being, but that is not enough in the face of the indignity of inequality, the indignity of occupation, the indignity of segregation, the indignity of ethno-cultural chauvinism. Attempts to assuage youths burning cars in the suburbs of Paris or flirting with radical Islamism in Birmingham or confused white Americans incensed by outsourcing have to reach for dignity, not simply political involvement or a minimum income level. The idea of dignity held by, for example,  an Afghan man may not be shared by the average resident of the United States, or an Afghan woman, but there is little chance of peace anywhere if people cannot feel dignified, and an even smaller chance that dignity can be imposed by force.

As the film ends, Ashitey and an unconscious and quite possibly dead Owen sit in a rowboat as the Human Project ship Tomorrow emerges from the thick fog. The Human Project puts lie to the idea that Britain stands alone, and to the fear that there is no future. It represents not just the biological continuation of  humanity, but the preservation of humanism and rational, progressive problem-solving in the face of reactionary isolation or despair. The TomorrowHope and have this painted on the side. Of course, hope is a funny thing, and the administration of the Hope & Change candidate may escalate a war, claim the right to assassinate U.S. citizens without trial, and block that claim from legal challenge by declaring it a state secret. might as well be called

In an early conversation, Owen declares that “it was too late before the infertility thing happened.” At the end of the film, in the last few moments before he loses consciousness, Ashitey tells Owen that she has decided on a new name for her baby – Dylan, the same as Owen’s child.  Hopes cruelly dashed a generation before come around in a radically different new world. A new birth speaks not only of a future, but also an authentic past, the sort that is transmitted through the universal rituals of raising children, opposed to the mythical eternal past of Radio Avalon or Restoring Honor.

What ultimately complicates matters deeply is that the issue of sharing resources or guarding them jealously for use by a group chosen based on ethnic identity, of the rich either fearing the fertility of the poor or accepting it, is not limited to immigration. Even a nation that accepts accepting no one across its border shares an ecosphere with all other countries, and therefore must share a set of common resources with their residents. If all people are to strive for a higher material standard of living, whether through immigration or economic development at home, it is unlikely that the atmosphere could absorb the associated increases of fossil fuel consumption without climate changing in increasingly volatile and extreme ways. There might at the same time be scarcity of fresh water, minerals and fossil fuels and associated conflicts.

At the moment, much of the developed world is waiting for the Human Project, hoping that somewhere, a group of scientists and thinkers will come out from the mist and show us the way to tomorrow.

(There are many other aspects of Children of Men that could be discussed, in content and in form, but doing so would lead to a far more unfocused essay. It’s worth noting that it features what may be Michael Caine’s finest performance.)

EDIT: Foreign Policy just so happened to discuss the issue of aging populations and falling birth rates a few weeks after I wrote this post.

Magical Unthinking

20 Sep

Linsday Graham has gone ahead and made the incredibly irresponsible statement that the U.S. should take military action against Iran if they acquire a nuclear weapon, and that any statements from Iran that the country does not wish to produce such a weapon are simply “lies.” Explanation of why military action is unnecessary and how disastrous it could prove has been made by others, and my own knowledge is too limited to make a good contribution. There are still a few comments I’d like to make.

Graham, like many Iran hawks, was a staunch supporter of the invasion of Iraq, and as such should be seen as having little to no credibility on the issue. The particularly bold and unrealistic aspect of his particular vision is that he claims that not only could air and naval strikes remove the Iranian capacity to build a nuclear weapon, but that they could effect regime change there without the need for any ground forces. The prediction that regime change in Iraq would be a cake walk was far-fetched enough, but declaring that the government of a nation of over 70 million, still in possessions of one of the world’s largest militaries could be overthrown with missile strikes alone is either empty bluster or purely magical thinking. To have that view espoused by a member of government is both frightening andembarrassing.

Whispering Sweet Nothings To Power

13 Sep

Peter J. Boyer’s “Frat House For Jesus,” in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, opens on the C Street House, a congressional boarding house associated with a loose group sometimes called the “Fellowship,” which has hosted the District of Columbia’s National Prayer Breakfast for fifty-seven years. It discusses the controversies surrounding several of the congressmen who have lived at the house, as well as the history and global reach of the Fellowship and its affiliated prayer breakfasts. The lead figure in the article is Douglas Coe, long the animating force of the Fellowship and its mission of “interpersonal ministry to the powerful.” Rachel Maddow covered the Fellowship a few times this summer, and Jeff Sharlet has written books about it entitled “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy.”

I have no doubt that there are people who both consider themselves to be members of the Fellowship and hold frightening, radical fundamentalism views. However this fundamentalism does not appear to be a core part of the Fellowship. Its sinister character has another source.

Those who attend the prayer breakfasts and seek counsel with Coe are both Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Christians, fundamentalists and the secular-minded. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were more enthusiastic Breakfast-goers than was George W. Bush. Coe himself has a non-denominational outlook on faith that focuses less on punishment and dogma and more on prayer and the life of Jesus (however that is to be interpreted.)

In practice, this is a hollow proposition. The chief occupation of Fellowship devotees seems to be cheating on their wives; they of course all help each other get through these trials and (we are told) heal broken marriages. Afterward, they score political points banning marriage for consenting adults. They are, without specifics, told to emulate Jesus. They cut welfare benefits, enact discriminatory sentencing laws and block health care reform and unemployment benefits. It is suggested they pray for the world; they impose sanctions that kill a million people and order an invasion that kills a million more. This the do not on account of a Fellowship that tells them to, although some may have other faiths that do. The Fellowship’s role through all of this is to provide spiritual comfort without content. In telling these men and women that they should look to God and the teachings of Jesus, but not point out to them when they are in blatant contradiction of those teachings, the Fellowship uses theology to absolve of responsibility a small group of people who have an incredible amount of power to do evil or good. It is not “The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” rather it is the candy-flavored palliative administered to the revolving cast of characters in a corrupt system that could so dearly use a real course of ethical instruction.

(“Frat House For Jesus” also contains one hilarious description of a Congressional diet. Leading conservative Jim DeMint eats a daily breakfast of “tea, Oreos, and dried cranberries.”)