Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Rise: 2018

Madhouse of Misplaced Effort: 2018 Words

Credit: Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection

Non-fiction remains my jam. Pretty sure I read Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s How We Get Free last year, but seeing how that list went to pot, I’ll start this year’s list with it. Mostly give it credit for shining a light on the Combahee River Collective, pluralism of thought, and having conversations with dope people. James Forman, Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own is like a deep dive after reading The New Jim Crow. And pretty infuriating when you realize that some spoiled rich kid thinks he has all the answers to solve mass incarceration.. and has convinced his dumb, racist father-in-law of this, too. Nico Walker’s Cherry is fiction, but feels like the drug-addled fever dream of our current American nightmare.

Two works can be found in LAPL's Art, Music, and Recreation room. Noriko Manabe's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music After Fukushima is fascinating, but also requires a lot of context I don't have. I'll have to do some other research before returning to this gem. The other is Julia Beverly's Sweet Jones: Pimp C's Trill Life Story. I don't have a good reason for missing this besides being caught slippin'. It is thoroughly researched, overwhelming in detail, and absolutely essential. The book is enough of a bible that it carried me past the midpoint of the year before I picked up an even heavier tome, Adrock and Mike D's Beastie Boys Book. I'm still working my way through this brick, but it is likely more because of the emotion. In both books, you know how it ends. So, the combined weight is a bit much for an year (and even a few days). To ease my mind, I'm taking my time.

One detour starts with Guwop (and Neil Martinez-Belkin)'s Autobiography of Gucci Mane, a heavy but scattered addition in the vein of Scarface's Diary of a Madman, and ends with Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo." Hurston's work went criminally unpublished until this year; it is a welcome and necessary addition to the limited body of narratives from enslaved individuals. The afterword is especially useful for its exploration of Hurston's mindset while researching this project, as well as the work's place in the context of other scholarship.

Not sure why I don’t read more poetry. Eve Ewing’s Electric Arches is an experience best had IRL; get the damn book. Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is as ridiculous as its title suggests… but so much better. Mitsuye Yamada’s Camp Notes and Other Writings deserves far more attention; grab a copy, and hold tight. I should also mention Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, considering Acevedo’s credentials as a slam champ, but her prose and storytelling is the winner here. A beautiful story that richly deserves its honor. Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing has all the rhythm and beat of music and poetry. It's a wondrous trick to realize at the end that it was in fact the power of her words.

Speaking of the National Book Awards, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend is engrossing. So much emotion and meta-thought packed into a slim novel.

Feminist short stories with a dark comic bite should always be in my reading list. This year’s entries: Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror and Patricia Highsmith’s Little Tales of Misogyny. Joan Aiken’s kid lit series, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, are so breezy, they deserve similar acclaim. The first volume of the series, featuring the unbeatable Bonnie and her grounded/neurotic cousin Sylvia, is the winner.

Always playing catch-up. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a load of fun, in spite of it being a fucked up story. I periodically return to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, so it took me a while to finally tuck into Black Skin, White Skin. Wish I had done so earlier. Apparently I am not the only one who heeded Duncan Jones' call to start a Bowie book club; I only received my (library) copy of Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor last week. Guess I'll tell you next year what I think. And I’m still working my way through Complete Works of Pat Parker and Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters.

I’m happy to be a teen librarian today, because fuck if I had to read the YA lit of yesteryear. Today’s diversity of writers, thoughts, stories, feelings better reflects what I experienced as a teen. While mainstream sci-fi and fantasy enjoy using the Middle East and North Africa as a shooting location and nothing more, Somaiyah Daud uses Moroccan poetry and history to inform her sci-fi fantasy, Mirage. Similarly, Nnedi Okarafor bridges the Nigerian-American experience with her Akata Witch series. Gabby Rivera's Juliet Takes a Breath takes a possibly silly conceit, like one lesbian Boricua’s summer in Portlandia, but instead writes an honest account of privilege, white maternalism, and one young woman’s journey to growth. Rachel Hartman’s Tess of the Road returns to the world of Seraphina, but vastly improves it by casting a critical, feminist eye on that world’s bullshit. The protagonist is fierce, hell-raising, and flawed-as-hell, which makes her journey so relatable. And Mary H. K. Choi’s Emergency Contact accurately captures the nuances of modern flirting that you forget she’s writing a YA novel. The genre only seems to be getting better.

Lots more manga in the house these days. Mostly for the kid, so we read Yotsuba&! and Delicious in Dungeon. Dr. Slump is perhaps the all-time winner. I can’t wait to pass on A Silent Voice; it’s one of the best stories about teen life I have ever read.

Kid Books
LEGO building books
Andrea Beaty Ada Twist, Scientist
Kui Ryoko ダンジョン飯
Azuma Kiyohiko よつばと! 
Natasha Allegri, Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake
Pendleton Ward Adventure Time, Volume 1
Toriyama Akira Dr. スランプ
Reina Telgemeier Ghosts, Smile, Sisters
Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF
Gabby Rivera America: The Life and Times of America Chavez
Davide Cali A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School

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Crazy and Asian, Still Not Rich: 2018 Sights

For the first time in many years, I don’t spend the majority of my day in front of a screen, so my visuals time has dipped. It’s for the best.

One weekend this summer when free time and availability converged and I saw Eighth Grade, Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting. Boots’ film bore the worst of this marathon, because it’s the film that deserves to be watched more than once. He needs to make more films, if only to streamline his ideas. Sorry is bursting at the seams with them.

Caught up on more anime, the best of which being 5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速5センチメートル) and Children Who Chase Lost Voices (星を追う子ども). Couldn’t read the manga quick enough, so I opted to watch One-Punch Man and Attack on Titan. Funny then to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse receive all the acclaim about its animation. So many bells and whistles, comparatively speaking.

Atlanta is the only television show worth thinking about. This is what I'll forever remember Childish Gambino for.

Silly, but fun kudos to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Death of Stalin, Train to Busan and Terrace House. Because, everyone needs kiwi bildungsroman tales, dark political satire, zombie thrillers, and gentle slices of life in their lives.

I’m obligated to mention Crazy Rich Asians. I love Constance Wu and wish her all the best. But this is a year that started w/ Isle of Dogs. So, I’ll pay attention when there is genuine structural change made to encourage diversity of thought, storytelling, casting, etc.

...until then, my 2018 APA vote goes to Ali Wong’s Hard Knock Wife. Because I relate more to a pregnant Californian APA who walks out to Wu-Tang.

Kid Flicks
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Mary Poppins Returns

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Self-Care: 2018 Sounds

I ended the year looking back on hip-hop’s past and was reminded that its kids are all right. Hip-hop remains both the backbone of pop and its source of constant inspiration. How does it not get played out? By not giving a fuck: “In rap music, a 20-year old doesn’t care about Public Enemy,” as Adrock observes. Which is why there remains a wide gamut of rap records that I love. The year ends with two major non-surprises, given the steady avalanche of hype (albeit at two very different levels) both received over the course of the year: the ‘debuts’ of 70th Street Carlos’ 777 and Bad Bunny’s X100pre. Both don’t quite live up to the expectations of their singles dominance, but are thoroughly fun and exciting in all the ways music should be.

Those two records capture the range of possibilities in today’s rap. There are wild, party records for the here and now, like City Girls’ Period and Sheck Wes’ Mudboy. There are insular, introspecTHCive records for tomorrow, like Earl’s Some Rap Songs and Denmark Vesey’s Sun Go Nova. There are records that feel like hip-hop records, but will likely show up on jazz year-end lists, like Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen is a Reptile and Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings. There are R&B artists that are proving how limiting the term is because they wear their hip-hop credentials openly, like H.E.R. opening I Used To Know Her: The Prelude EP w/ the Lauryn cover (not to mention the name of the damn EP) or Ella Mai using DJ Mustard on the good half of her self-titled record. There are seemingly endless re-ups from the Egyptian Lover archives, be they instrumental or otherwise. There are Conservative Rap Coalition stalwarts making banging boom bap, like “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain.” There are popular rappers openly clowning systems, like Vince Staples’ FM! There are once-popular rappers still openly mocking those systems, like Jean Grae (oh, and Quelle Chris)’s Everything's Fine. There are popular rappers making popular tunes paying homage to wrestlers that were not-so popular back in the day, h/t Offset and Metro Boomin’s “Ric Flair Drip.” There are guys who really shouldn’t be rapping, but can still make a video that will be dissected for years--and, yes, “This is America” is the only Childish Gambino song I’ll ever know.

And that doesn’t capture everything. There’s the half of the Black Panther soundtrack, which is ridiculously over-laden with hooks. There’s Pusha T’s “Adidon,” which is so trim it makes Daytona seem excessive. And that song was still on some IG drama, so it’s not even as hard as Push can go. Speaking of more IG-ready stuff, Beyonce hooked up the tuba arrangement on O.T. Genasis’ “Everybody Mad,” which wasn’t half bad. JPEGMAFIA's Veteran is better. Also it > Death Grips, FWIW. Tinashe’s Joyride is finally here and it lives up to its name. MIKE had, like, 4 fantastic records this year alone, but Black Soap was my favorite.

2018 is the year my friend Jason got married. He asked for a ‘low rider’ soundtrack. True Angelenxs embrace this aesthetic. Eastside soul is a hybrid of identities and styles. It is a soundtrack for first love, most recent break-ups, Sunday mornings, or a quiet smoke alone. The bottom line is it must play well in the ride. Which is why I love all the attention Cuco receives. Older jams like “Lo Que Siento” and “Lava Lamp” are great additions to the canon, but the Chiquito EP has the gem, “Sunnyside,” which captures the hazy quality of the sun, the damaged but welcome breeze, and the beauty of our homeborn. Hana Vu went to school on the other side of town, but her How Many Times Have You Driven By proves she still gets it. “Cool” is probably the first song to be titled such and actually live up to its name. Most of the record plays better during the dusk hours, but you get the idea.

Teenage kicks for my teenage job? Nah, this is just the part of me that remains connected to that time. And being a teen now would be pretty cool for the music alone. You’d get pop stars openly dropping acid to make the best album of their career. Or Rosalía using her thesis to make the concept album El mal querer about an abusive relationship from the 13th Century. And you’d have Hayley Kiyoko. My old man ears has problems with the blown-out synth sounds across Expectations, but, fuck, “What I Need” is so much fun. Not to say the heroes of my youth are content to sit on the bench. Cat Power freed herself of the fuckery of Matador and breezed through with her aptly-titled The Wanderer. Neko Case picked up some synths, but raged harder on Hell-On. Björk always gets points for keeping here and there, by hooking up with the supremely dope Serpentwithfeet to ‘remix’ (I think it’s called, a ‘cover’) “Blissing Me.”

So, in response to Adrock’s point, maybe there is a way to pay respect to the past without being so... literal? Ambrose Akinmusire continues to probe at the possibilities, which is what makes Origami Harvest another joy to appreciate. Park Jiha seemingly veers the opposite direction by openly embracing tradition, but the true purpose is all in the title: Communion. It’s an exchange. And it’s on equal footings. Stewart Lee is in many ways the archetype old crank, but he easily remains one of the most currently relevant comics, as his Content Provider proves.

Still, the most direct way to drag the past back to your pocketbook is through a proper reissue. Thank goodness for the release of Jlin's score for Wayne McGregor's Autobiography, because I can't attend every modern dance performance in England. Prince’s Vault continues to leak open, but Piano and a Microphone is a tease. F’real, where is the Purple equivalent of the Complete Cuban Jam Sessions? Granted, the backstory of this monster set from Panart is hard to beat, but considering all the lore around that fucking Vault… Anyway, the Cuban Jam Sessions far exceed the hype. It’s overwhelming and engrossing. And I’m still working my way through it. Kinda like the Beastie Boys book. Come to think of it, all my childhood heroes had major works re-discovered: Trane, Monk and Mingus. It’s not enough to tread familiar ground though. Enter Julius Eastman’s The Zurich Concert, a welcome find that brings us back to the idea of a musician, a piano and a mic -- this time for recording. The playing is discursive and probing, yet forceful and commanding. Damn, I just realized I started the year listening to Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning. What a time to be alive, maaaan.

Of course, 2018 is not all about the present. James from Broadcast shared a 2006 demo on Trish’s bday. While re-watching the “Nobody But Me” scene in Kill Bill, I got to thinking about Buffalo Daughter. Their last album Konjac-Tion, as it turns out, is hella funky. A conversation at Salt Box reminded me of Roxanne Shante’s “Brothers Ain’t Shit.” Thank goodness Janelle James is getting some shine. I didn’t even know she had an album out. Black and Mild is an understatement. Kim Deal wormholes lead to her 2008 seven-inches. Indo G’s “Remember Me Ballin’” reminded me that the album deserved some attention; much better than the other Angel Dust. There’s an Orange Juice box set, which, c’mon, that shouldn’t require any other qualification. I spent an afternoon looking for more Chris Iijima and came across the fiercely relevant What Now, People? compilations. I don’t remember how I found the Georgia Sea Island Songs comp, but I was thinking how if I ever go back to the Carolinas, it’ll be to learn more about Gullah and Geechee culture. I felt nostalgic and added Nate Dogg’s Ghetto Preacher to the morning commute. I need a clean version of Devin the Dude’s To Tha X-Treme, so that can also get added. No idea why I hadn’t checked out Tuxedomoon before. Glad I finally did. Bow Wow Wow’s first three albums are really dope. I saw My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, so I mushed those two in my ears to pursue Flying Saucer Attack’s Distance and Chorus. My dad and I used to listen to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz show on NPR. Alice Coltrane guested in 1981. I like Jon Brion, but didn’t know much about him. The Bats’ How Pop Can You Get? is ridiculously catchy. XIT’s Entrance also has big hooks, french horns, and all those baroque touches you’d find in late ‘60s/early ‘70s psych-rock records. In the year that Disney (inadvertently) co-signed Huey and the Fellowship, I still find inspiration in the Good Life’s finest stylers, particularly Ngafish. Kill Em All got the most spins this year.

Last and certainly least, a special nod to my dear friend, Louis, who released Katzkills. It’s so him. I mean, it should be: he put his fucking name in the title.

Oh, I also saw some good shows, too:

Project Blowed @ Catch One
Sister Mantos @ Los Globos
Adrock & Mike D @ Montalban
Scientists @ Zebulon
The The @ Ford Amphitheatre
Vijay Iyer & Teju Cole @ Ace
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith @ Hollywood Forever
Cat Power @ Burton Chace Park
My Bloody Valentine @ Shrine
St. Vincent @ Orpheum
Breeders @ Ace
Jawbreaker @ Palladium

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