Other Ten Percent 1/13/14

Jan 13 2015

Hey guys. I kinda keep waiting for the groundswell of support that will FORCE ME to come back to doing daily updates to OTP but I also get why there, you know, isn’t one. Over the course of 4 years of really regular updates I probably wrote somewhere around a million words for OTP which puts actually keeping up with the blog the equivalent of reading Infinite Jest AND Atlas Shrugged with about that same level of ideological coherence.

Point is you guys probably fell behind on this project that was originally designed to save you time. That makes sense. You have busy lives. I do miss when it was about saving people time though so for a while at least I’m just going to do OTP posts that remind me of that original goal. Or not. Who the hell knows with me and this blog anymore. Point is what I want to do today at least is stuff that’ll help you out if you want to get caught up on a topic fast.

Perhaps, for instance, you’re interested in comics as a medium but have no idea where to get started. My suggestion would be NOT SUPERHEROES. I want to be Batman as much as the next nerd but depending on the author superhero comics can be a real crapshoot and even the best of them are often just kinda sad power fantasies. So instead I would suggest independent comics mostly by Image. And hey what do you know for the next week they’re running a Humble Bundle of their stuff where 18 bucks gets you EVERY COMIC IN EFFING EXISTENCE.

Okay, not really but seriously there’s so much stuff here. Pretty much every comic I’ve advocated for to anybody in the last two years or so is on here so you can just buy it and won’t have to deal with me telling you to read comics for at least another year or two. If you know me you know that’s already an INCREDIBLE deal but lets look at some specifics.

You get The Wicked + The Divine. A comic so good I actually wrote an OTP post about it last year after I quit OTP. A comic so good it basically predicted the following year of pop music. A comic so good you literally cannot make me shut up about it and believe me Jane has tried really really hard.

You get a sampler issue of East of West, Jonathan Hickman’s alternate history biblical apocalypse sci-fi western, which, don’t you want to see how that works?

You get 18 issues of Saga by Brian K. Vaughn which is insane and lovely and his return to comics after going off to write Lost and shit.

You get 54 issues of The Walking Dead which is enough for you to smugly explain the differences between the comic and the TV show to friends at parties.

You get two separate Matt Fraction series and a bunch of stuff I haven’t even read yet but I’ve heard great things about like God Hates Astronauts. Who doesn’t want to read something called God Hates Astronauts?

Also some of what you pay even goes to charity so you get to feel good about yourself for doing it. So, you know, go do it. Because they’re only offering it for another week.

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Other Ten Percent 12/16/14

Dec 16 2014

We argue about pop music having integrity in the moral sense but I think we need to be more concerned with their integrity in the structural sense of the word. When Grimes came out with Go earlier this year her fan-base attacked her lack of integrity in making what was essentially a pop song and, while their authenticity argument was total bullshit, in a structural sense they were right. Grimes’ persona could not contain her previous body of work and Go at the same time. One had to be abandoned and she chose to ditch pop-star Grimes in favor of the Indie Darling audience she already had.

It seems like we should be past those kind of choices. Madonna pretty much demolished any need for a cohesive artist narrative in pop around the time I was born. Madonna is vast, Madonna contains multitudes. Nobody gives a shit if the Madonna of her new album and the Madonna of her last album are mutually exclusive.

But in the land of female pop-stars this year has constantly demanded they prove the structural integrity of their personas. Everybody had to make a definitive statement of WHO THEY WERE and then they had to back that up. I mean even Beyonce had to stand in front of a 20 foot high FEMINIST sign and stare critics down like the goddamn angel of death to get people to accept her bit.

If there’s any great failing in Broke With Expensive Taste, Azealia Bank’s long (long long long) awaited debut album it’s that you leave with no cohesive picture of who Banks is as an artist. The thing’s about a third good but nobody can decide which third it is (except Chasing Time which is just objectively a great pop song). The thing isn’t just sonically all over the place though. It’s four different statement albums all smushed together seemingly at random. It sounds like Azealia Banks tried out a bunch of different personas, couldn’t make up her mind, and then shoved them all at the audience saying “fuck it, you decide.” And now that I’ve written that out I’m pretty much 100% sure that’s exactly what happened. And in 2014 you can put out a shitty album but you sure as hell can’t put out an unclear one.

Look at FKA Twigs. I’d argue the hit to miss ratio of her debut is way lower than Broke With Expensive Taste. But its hard to imagine a better statement of purpose than the Two Weeks video and so she’s the critical darling.

Nicki Minaj knows how to work this problem. She spent the year releasing alternating singles that seemed beamed in directly from “real rap” Nicki Minaj and “sell-out pop star” Nicki Minaj just to fuck with everybody’s head about which one we’d get this time. Then, of course, this week she reveals the whole thing was a long con to blow up that dichotomy and releases a real bummer of a break up album. “Screw your narratives of me,” The Pinkprint says “you don’t know me.” That secured her place as music’s greatest troll but it didn’t quite make her the winner of the pop-star integrity olympics.

No, this is the metric where Taylor Swift exits the year triumphant. She managed to take direct, public control of her persona and in doing so she steered it in an exciting new direction without raising too much of a ruckus.

When she first released Shake it Off I thought it was a brutal miscalculation on Swifty’s part. Taylor Swift can’t have an “I don’t give a fuck” anthem. Giving too much of a fuck is the entire Taylor Swift brand! But I, like Kanye West and so many country music superstars before me, had underestimated Swifty. Because then came the video for Blank Space and I finally got the bit.

(The video for Shake it Off remains awful though. Not just because it’s vaguely racist but because it tries to paint Swifty as too good to sell herself with sex like other, lesser, popstars…and then sells her with sex anyway.)

Shake it Off was Taylor Swift trying to talk herself into not caring because she’d finally noticed that how much she cared was a problem. 1989 turned out to be an album of Taylor Swift trying to come to grips with the Taylor Swift persona and trying every trick in the book to fix the problems with it. It makes sense that having finally embraced that she’s just as much of a try-hard as Kanye West she would make her own My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Okay, that gives 1989 a bit too much credit. It’s not Taylor Swift’s perfect album. The fundamental craft is always there but every joke about how “Welcome to New York” sounds like a New York anthem written by a tourist is totally accurate. Plus the back half has a 3 song stretch where the lyrics sound like Swifty just heard about metaphors and was really excited to try them out.

But the basic narrative arc (protagonist becomes disgusted with themselves, seeks escape through every imaginable avenue, learns there must be a reckoning and embraces their failings) is exactly the same. And in performing that narrative Blank Space is a masterstroke.

It actually outdoes Kanye because it manages to make Swifty’s failings palatable for public consumption. Kanye’s dark side is only ever going to be the price of admission for getting the rest of Kanye West. Crazy ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift however isn’t the downside anymore, it’s the dream. Come for the blonde pop star, stay for her going batshit insane. And people are lining up to take that deal. How does she manage this trick?

First of all, let us acknowledge that the video is amazing. Taylor Swift inexplicably trying to beat up a tree is the only animated gif the internet needs anymore even if I’m going to offer a bunch more because she also dresses like a flapper and stabs a heart shaped cake. Also she stands on a horse for no reason. Also she wins the Academy Award in the newly created category of Best Crazy Eyes. Also she commits to destroying the hood of a dude’s car with a golf club with more passion than I’ve mustered up for anything in my entire life.

Swifty builds the perfect life with a J. Crew model boyfriend in a Better Holmes and Gardens mansion and then systematically destroys it all with such glee I’m continually amazed there are people who didn’t get the joke. It’s amazing how far you can get with me just by being self-aware.

But that’s just what gets her in the door. The song itself does all the heavy lifting for her persona because it’s laying all the cards on the table. For years Taylor Swift’s private life of constant messy breakups was in conflict with her public persona of hopeless romanticism. But Blank Space, as this idea channel video argues, is Swifty taking control of that dichotomy through authorship. Now there’s no conflict, there’s just an acknowledgment that both are true. “Taylor Swift WILL dump you and it will be a hellishly messy breakup” isn’t just what people think of her anymore, it’s now The Taylor Swift Guarantee. It’s the natural consequence of what a romantic she is. Swifty figured out she can just tell her audience that directly without threatening her position as a sex symbol because, no matter how batshit she goes, at the end of the day you’d still have dated Taylor Fucking Swift. And having the confidence to look her audience right in the eyes and dare them to not take that deal is what the pop star victorious looks like in 2014.

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Other Ten Percent 12/9/14

Dec 09 2014

It’s been a shit year for music, right? Like I’ve been locked in a room down here in LA trying to write words in an order where they actually make sense and seem good for most of the year but I’ve still kept my eye on the internet enough to say that the musical output of 2014 has been…subpar.

That’s not to say that nobody’s put out any good work. There have been some real standouts. Taylor Swift put out an album so finely crafted it totally turned me around on her and honestly earned itself a whole other 800 word essay from me down the line somewhere. (short version- Swifty is the Tracy Flick of pop music and God bless her and her terrible, terrible understanding of what romance is.)

But If I wanted to make an Other Ten Percent Top 10 albums list for the year I honestly think I’d run out of albums I listened to for more than a day somewhere around 8. Is that true? I was just bullshiting let me write this out real quick.

Run The Jewels 2, TuNe-YaRdS, Swifty, St. Vincent, Isaiah Rashaad, Jenny Lewis, Caribou, Royksopp & Robyn,

Yep. I’m sure I’m subconsciously forgetting something just to be EXACTLY right but honestly that last one wasn’t even a full album so lets just call it even.

When Rolling Stone declared the new U2 album of the year even after everybody angrily deleted it off of their phones every music reviewer on earth lost their goddamn minds about what a dumb pick it was and, sure, Songs of Innocence is a dad-jams pick par excellence. But if I was in Rolling Stone’s place I’m not sure I’d have had a better Rolling Stone approved option at the ready.

The last plausible contender for “biggest rock band in the world” put out an album and it was…fine. It’s a U2 record about a decade after that prospect was exciting to anybody but U2 fans but it is undeniably a record of competently produced music that lasts about an hour and has guitars and Bono singing on it.

I know, high praise, but if you’re looking for Album of the Year that at least has some historical weight to it. Bono’s smirking sunglass wearing version of gravitas is at least gravitas of some form and that trumps whatever forgettable Indie Rock warbeldry The Gen X-ers at your favorite music publication decided to describe as “Transcendent” before dropping Run The Jewels into the #2 spot. (Oh, by the way, Run The Jewels 2 was the Best Album of the Year. We’ll circle back around to that in a minute.)

I wrote at the start of summer that the summer jam shortlist seemed like it was waiting for a winner that never arrived (thus allowing the continued career of Iggy Azalea) and that feeling ended up permeating the whole year in music. Everybody seemed to be awaiting some other “next big thing” and that gave even the best albums the feeling of an opening act for a headliner that never bothered to show.

Both Grimes and Kendrick took shots at pushing things forward but in both cases the singles were so divisive they decided to go back to the drawing board for a bit. Other than that we got a lot of albums that were largely enjoyable extensions of bodies of work that are bordering on the predictable with two notable exceptions.

The first is Swifty, who was so on point synthesizing the last few years of pop that she managed to write that better version of Video Games that Lana Del Rey has been looking for for three years and then tossed it off on the back half of her album. Swifty’s lyrics are still cringe-inducing at least once a song which disqualifies it from album of the year consideration but 1989 is such a triumph of pop music as pure craft it earns special recognition.

The second exception is Run the Jewels 2.

Before I sound too disappointed that RTJ2 is taking the top spot let me take a moment to make it clear that it’s an absolutely phenomenal album. Easily the best work Killer Mike or El-P have done in a run of fantastic rap albums from the two of them over the last few years. It’s the only album this year that manages to grapple intelligently with the widespread institutional disfunction that’s come to define this year and sound fucking cool doing it.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is another one of those largely arbitrary distinctions I love so very very much: while Run The Jewels 2 sounds like the Best Album of 2014 it doesn’t sound like an Album of the Year.

The Album of the Year has a sense of incumbency about it or at least inevitability. It was already the album of the year before somebody called it that. It already knew. It feels IMPORTANT in all caps and you can see it being marked down next to that year in the grand procession of history. “Ah, yes” they will say in a thousand years “1997 was a very good year. The album for THAT year was…”

Some years have a lot of Albums of the Year to pick from. I’d say last year had at least 4 plausible contenders with Yeezus (the rap answer), Modern Vampires of the City (the correct answer), Daft Punk (the summer jams answer) and Haim (the impeccably crafted answer). Also I guess there was a Drake album but I continue to find his popularity inexplicable. In other years there’s just one clear answer. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy kinda blew away all possible contenders that year for instance.

But 2014 is the first year I’ve ever seen where NOTHING has that feeling about it. Nothing demanded to be called the best. Run the Jewels 2 demands a lot of things. It demands your attention. It demands you stop ignoring institutional racism and all the other fucked up things about our world. It demands you give them the fucking jewels. But it doesn’t demand to be album of the year.

I mean the two of them have pretty much admitted Run The Jewels is just a passion project so they can keep fucking around making music together and the album sounds like it in the best possible way. It’s an album that’s utterly uninterested in being album of the year. It’s just two guys trying to make a damn good rap album who fully expected some other album to come along as the critical darling that gets the award. But that other album never showed up, and even when they’re fucking around Killer Mike and El-P don’t fuck around so RTJ2 is popping up in top fives all over the goddamn place.

2014 still feels like a strange void in the history of popular music. A pause before some huge shift I can still just make out the edges of, (Or that I’m just making up entirely) But that’s not on Run the Jewels, they’re just two guys that put out an amazing fucking album in an otherwise off year.

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Other Ten Percent 7/11/14

Jul 11 2014

Hello, sorry I disappeared for this week. I’ve been writing a lot of fiction and trying to figure out how to write this at the same time without it sapping all my energy for fiction. Let’s try talking about TV for a while and see if that works.

So Nikki and I have been rewatching Lost and I’d highly recommend you guys all do the same if you’ve got a hole in your Netflix schedule. Not because it’s a ton better or worse than I remember it being. It’s still a deeply flawed show that was frequently capable of being one of the best things on TV. It’s just a very different show 10 years later.

For starters you can see its mark on everything now. Not just in the way that every network is trying to make “the next Lost” by buying whatever pilot includes enough weird quasi-mystical bullshit to sustain a fanbase but in the way that creators now fundamentally make TV shows differently because of Lost.

Lost didn’t invent sprawling casts deep mythologies or jumping around in time within episodes but it become a huge enough hit that it created a very clear mark of delineation. Before Lost shows deployed those ideas infrequently and carefully in order to not scare away their fan base. After Lost shows think of them as standard aspects of TV storytelling you can deploy whenever and expect the audience to keep up.

In fact Lost’s use of those ideas is starting to look a little bit dated and hesitant. Sure it’ll spend a whole episode abandoning the main cast to tell the story of some other group or person’s time on the island but it seems to rush through those stories, scared the audience will think its a waste of their time in a way that sorta makes that a self-fulfilling prophesy. In 2005 spending a whole episode just showing what happened to a second group of survivors from the plane crash seemed revolutionary. Rewatching it with Nikki last night my reaction was “Jesus, nobody’s getting any time to develop here. Why didn’t they make this a two or three episode arc?”

It’s also just a much more stylish show than I remembered it being. The flashbacks really allowed the show to jump around stylistically in a way that on first viewing seemed like a writer’s dream but on a rewatch I now recognize as a production designer’s nightmare. I’m not sure how much the designers on that show got paid but it was not enough. They do some damn fine work. Sun/Jin episodes are frequently kinda dull on a plot level but they’re like the show decides to drop you into a little Wong Kar Wai episode every now and again, beautifully elaborate wallpaper and all.

And that pilot. Jesus do the production values on that pilot still hold up. In the middle of season two we’re already getting to the point where the show’s “random bullshit happens” ambitions outstrip its “random bullshit happens” budget with the crash of the tail end of the plane but God damn the shots of that plane breaking apart are still as harrowing as they ever were.

It’s also weird how much of the chronology of this show I had totally wrong in my head. The french woman shows up and starts rambling about “the others” in like the 5th episode but Hurley’s backstory is really late in the first season. That means we’ve already sat through three interminable hours of Kate’s mysterious past of being a dangerous bad girl who’s never dangerous or bad enough that you have to stop finding her sexually attractive before the numbers show up.

That reminds me, oh man, some of the characters. For a show that’s finale refrain was “this was always a show about the characters judge us on that” a lot of these characters suck. Obviously a lot of this stuff still works or there’d just be no show. Charlie is still charming and adorable. Locke and by extension Terry O’Quinn still pretty much make the show they’re so great. Saiyd holds up surprisingly well when they give him something to do besides act as a lightning rod for IMPORTANT! POST 9/11! ISSUES! which starts happening basically right away as the show realizes it actually has almost nothing valuable to say about terrorism/torture/national security. But the show’s core triangle of Jack/Kate/Sawyer…

Nikki fundamentally hates all of them and I can’t blame her. I keep trying to turn her around on Sawyer who’s at least a fun guy when he’s a jerk but then whenever I try and make that point the show dives back into how sad and angry he is on the inside and I just want to play a Papa Roach song over his sad face.

On a first watch I thought of Kate and Sawyer as interesting characters the show eventually lost the thread on. Instead their kinda boring characters from the word go propped up by how little we know about them. Their performances and everything said about them implied hidden depths that were supposed to be revealed later and the actual reveal was that the emperor had no clothes. In the end they were just cliched criminals with hearts of gold and boring backstories. I remember being super mad when Kate and Sawyer finally made out the first time. On this run through they seem made for each other.

And Jack. Jesus Christ, Jack. If, with the end of Breaking Bad, we’ve reached the end of the age of the anti-hero then can Don Draper signing off next year be the end of the age of televised daddy issues? It doesn’t help that Christian Shepard is just a big old collection of inconsistent character actions in flashbacks demanded by the plot. Screaming at his son to not try to save everyone one minute and crying in a bar about how fantastically better than him his son is the next so that Jack can go on stupid Hero’s quest riffs about his role as leader. (But then don’t all fathers seem that way to their sons?…LOST) It also doesn’t help that Lost actually named the main character’s dad Christian Shepard. Presumably it was their second pick after Jesus McCarpenter was rejected as not obvious enough.

If it sounds like I’m just constantly ragging on this show I’m not. Freed of its responsibility as the BIGGEST GENRE SHOW ON TELEVISION Lost’s many flaws become kinda charming. We’ve entered into the period of the second season where Lost will finally progress the plot forward to like, Shannon getting shot by somebody from the tail section of the plane, and then they spend 3 episodes on flashbacks to let you know all about the guy who loaded the dryer wrong so that Saiyd was only wearing his second favorite shirt when Shannon was shot instead of actually showing the fallout of the event.

At the time I could not stand this and its what eventually led to me giving up on the show in the third season (before catching back up in the final season in time for the finale because) but this time I find it weirdly adorable. It’s like watching a three year old refuse to eat his vegetables when you’re not actually responsible for feeding them. They’re still being dumb but it’s adorable and kinda hilarious when it’s not your problem.

Same with Kate’s backstory and the dragged out reveal of what’s in the hatch and Boone’s entire existence. Freed of all the expectations placed on it Lost’s kind of a dumb show sometimes and you’re allowed to actually enjoy it in all its inconsistent glory.

I’m still probably skipping the one that gives the backstory of all Jack’s tattoos though.

 

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Other Ten Percent 7/4/14

Jul 04 2014

Alright guys! Holiday! Time to celebrate our favorite anniversary. That’s right today is the day that Ulrich of Augsburg was canonized as a saint! Wait, shit, that’s not the important one is it? Are we all celebrating the time the Thebans defeated the Spartans?

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Other Ten Percent 7/2/14

Jul 02 2014

Hello, I am feeling less bummed but no less strapped for topics. I think it’s that I’m actually writing fiction at a pretty healthy clip so most of my good ideas are kinda being funneled into that and by the end of the day I’m kind of operating on a “so, trees are weird” level of insight. Though, to be fair, as once again confirmed by Dinosaur Comics today, trees are actually pretty weird. Anyway, I think we’re going M/W/F for a while so I have stuff to talk about when I write these up. We’ll see if that makes me more or less productive on the off days and then go from there. Continue Reading »

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Other Ten Percent 7/1/14

Jun 30 2014

Hey guys. Today was sure a fucking bummer wasn’t it? I mean community’s coming back and yay I guess but like the morning was just a huge bummer and the day never really recovered. Follow me to the next paragraph where I have a very small amount of something resembling content.

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Other Ten Percent 6/27/14

Jun 27 2014

Hello everybody! It is Friday! What are you going to do with your weekend? I am going to go see Robyn, and Royksopp, and, apparently, lasers at the Hollywood Bowl. Does my weekend win? I think probably it does. Hey, let’s say other things about music.

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Other Ten Percent 6/26/14

Jun 26 2014

Welp, yesterday I experimented with waiting until after I’ve done everything else to write Other Ten Percent and then at the end of the day I totally forgot to write Other Ten Percent so, experiment result: that was a bad experiment. Don’t do that. Anyway here’s the thursday post still relatively early in the day.

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Other Ten Percent 6/25/14

Jun 25 2014

Well we’ve finally hit the day where I don’t actually have any topic stored up to be discussing and didn’t really come up with one during the day. Goodbye. Wait, shit, I still have to write something don’t I? Oh hey wait I think I just figured out something. What is it? You’ll have to follow me after the cut that you don’t see in the e-mail so…you’ll have to follow me to the next paragraph.

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