Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ten Best Albums of 2007

When your country is supporting death squads in Indonesia and a brutal Ethiopian government that forces civilians into war, it can be quite therapeutic to crank up the tunes and forget about the world for a bit. I am in love with music. I have been since a child. Unfortunately, unlike my supremely talented contemporary gospel singing mother, I am much more comfortable listening to music than making it. The following are my picks for the top ten albums of 2007. I only chose from albums that I own, so I am positive I am missing out on quite a bit of great music. Please, let me know of that brilliant album you can't stop listening to! (Click on the band name to hear some music.)

10. Papercuts- Can't Go Back

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pop music! What makes Can't Go Back so special is that it is a somewhat somber pop record that isn't at all boring. If I remember correctly, they are slated to begin touring with another wonderfully moody band, Beach House. Definitely worth a listen.

9. The Fiery Furnaces- Widow City

I own every album by the Fiery Furnaces (even the dude's pretty crappy solo work). After their first album they got compared to the White Stripes. They don't anymore. Perfect music for a long drive, I get lost in the complex narratives mixed with the unconventional tempo and melody changes. What really makes the Fiery Furnaces more than a band too ambitious for their own good is their uncanny ability to write catchy songs. Widow City isn't their best effort to date (that would be Blueberry Boat) nor is it their worst (I can't imagine anyone likes Rehearsing My Choir). I'll take a middle of the road release from The Fiery Furnaces any day.

8. Fionn Regan- The End of History

I don't know much about this guy other than The End of History is a wonderful album and he's from Ireland (the album was released there in 2006, but didn't reach the states until this year). I remember hearing about how he was supposed to take the U.S. by storm, but it didn't really happen. This is the album I thought Damien Rice would release.

7. Bjork- Volta

Bjork is one of my favorite artists. I have been a big fan since early high school and she is on my "I would pay over one hundred dollars to see a performance" list. While in early interviews she talked of the album being "accessible," lucky for us that meant Bjork singing lines from an old Russian poem with the vocally stunning Antony Hegarty. Add some blistering horns, some punctuating drum beats, a couple bizarre videos, and you have another superb effort by one of the most innovative artists in recent history.

6. M.I.A.- Kala

This album will no doubt be on many "best of" lists. Super-producer Timbaland was reported to be producing the album (he is the man behind many Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake songs) and that kind of had me worried (although he did a good job on a few songs with Bjork). I thought she might ditch her politics for mainstream success (MTV refused to play a video for a song on her last album because of the lyrics "like PLO I don't surrendo"). I needn't have worried. To make a long story short, she couldn't get into the states so she went across the world finding beats with an unknown producer and made one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade. Oh, and she stayed political. She still doesn't get much MTV play.

5. PJ Harvey- White Chalk

Some people were turned off by Polly Jean putting down her guitar. I think this is her best album since To Bring You My Love. Somehow she sounds both completely vulnerable and 100% in control at the same time. She sings about hitting someone with a hammer, smashing in their teeth, "red tongue twitching" only then to repeatedly sing "Oh God I miss you." Wonderful stuff.

4. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible

I can't think of another band that has more fun performing than the Arcade Fire. I am also hard pressed to think of another band that has lived up to all the expectations of such immense international hype. Not only does Neon Bible capture the same intensity that Funeral did, it at times surpasses it. Plus, they hang out with Springsteen.

3. The National- Boxer

From the opening lines of Fake Empire, I was hooked on this album. They are a smart rock band (which explains why they aren't played on many modern rock stations). With Boxer, they came close to outdoing one of my favorite albums of all time, Alligator, which is no easy task. Racing Like a Pro gives me chills.

2. Radiohead- In Rainbows

What else can be said about Radiohead? Stunning lyrics, music and never selling out- what more could you ask for? Someday, several years from now, I will enjoy explaining to a new generation of Radiohead fans how important the music is. They are my Beatles.

1. Animal Collective/Panda Bear- Strawberry Jam/Person Pitch

Wow. I grouped these two albums together because while Person Pitch is Panda Bear's solo album, Strawberry Jam seems to showcase Avey Tare (that's not to say the other members don't contribute, but you know what I mean). One would think that someday there would come a point when most everything that could be done musically, would be done. Animal Collective is proving we aren't anywhere near that point. Right now, they are making the best music on the planet. The question is: is the planet ready for the Animal Collective? Conan O'Brien seemed a bit freaked out.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The unreported destruction of Somalia

The following was sent to the local "alternative" newspaper. Despite the sizable Somali population in the Fargo-Moorhead area, there has been little to no coverage of the U.S. backed destruction of Somalia. I am aware that only loony bastards write "letters to the editor," but I am kind of a loony bastard, so it works out.

According to the United Nations, the situation in Somalia is the worst humanitarian crisis in all of Africa. In the last two weeks 100,000 people have fled Mogadishu, the capital of the country. It is estimated that 1.5 million Somalis are now in need of immediate assistance. Despite all this, coverage of the situation has been absent from nearly all national, and local, news outlets.

One can’t help but think that the United States’ involvement in the catastrophe is one reason why the media has been so silent on the issue. The US fervently backed the Ethiopian invasion, the installment of the unpopular warlord-led Transitional Federal Government and the attempted break up the Islamic Courts Union. Since January of this year, the United States has launched several air strikes in Somalia targeting individuals deemed “terrorists” (state-sponsored assassinations are illegal under international law). Ethiopia, caught in an Iraq-like situation of its own, has been accused of randomly shooting civilians, looting Somali shops, raping Somali women and various other abuses during the occupation. They have stated they are "defending themselves" in Somalia and intend to leave when a “stable” government is in place (stable, of course, means the U.S./Ethiopian proxy Transitional Federal Government).

The Islamic Courts Union had brought stability to a region that has seen nothing but war since the fall of Siad Barre in the early nineties. They were a broad coalition of Islamic groups that had gained the support of many people sick of being attacked and robbed by local militias and warlords. The ICU, who at best had limited influence outside Mogadishu before the invasion, now appears to include anyone who decided to fight against the imperial conquest, regardless of their beliefs. This labeling no doubt helps sell the occupation as a part of the larger so-called "war on terrorism." The possibility of Somalis, who aren’t known for extremism, to actually work with the ICU and hammer out a government backed by the people is all but lost. Now, directly due to the occupation, we are seeing a radicalization of the population, leading to roadside and suicide bombings.

This is another example of post-colonial Western intervention in Africa, causing nothing but death and destruction. Put into the context of the so-called “war on terror,” our meddling in Somalia is counterproductive. It is simply creating more “terrorists.” It also begs the question: Is terrorism always abominable, or is it somehow acceptable if it is done by Western powers, namely the United States of America?

UPDATE: Kris Petersen has more from Gaza.

UPDATE AGAIN: This piece was picked up by the Somaliland Times.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fargo-Moorhead premiere of "No Volveran!"

I don't know how many local readers I get, but if you are in the F-M area, you should check this out. I would very much like to meet up with some like-minded locals. The following is from the Hands off Venezuela Campaign.

F-M Premiere of "No Volveran!" A new film on the Venezuelan Revolution

What: A public meeting of the F-M Hands Off Venezuela Campaign

When: Tuesday, October 2 at 6:30 pm

Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo-Moorhead (community room)
121 9th Street South Fargo, ND 58103

The Hands Off Venezuela Campaign is proud to announce a new film on the Venezuelan Revolution. Filmed during an international delegation to Venezuela during last year's historic Presidential elections, the film makers take us on a journey through the fervor of those days in December 2006, traveling deep into the shanty towns (barrios), and to several factories under workers' control, to find out why there is a movement to overthrow capitalism, what Socialism of the 21st Century is, and how it is changing people's lives.

Also covering alternative community run media like CatiaTV, and Radio Negro Primero, and the social projects called misiones, the film helps explain why Venezuela has become a symbol of liberation for those in struggle around the world. With fantastic footage of the elections, demonstrations and the people and streets of Caracas, the revolution is brought to our screens in a rich tapestry of action and interview that gives us real insight into the process taking place, and the challenges that lie ahead. A must see!

Copies of the film will be available for purchase after the screening. Donations to the HOV Campaign are also appreciated (donations are tax-deductible).

John Peterson, National Secretary of the U.S. HOV campaign, and co-organizer and participant in last year's Presidential election delegation to Venezuela, will introduce the film and facilitate the discussion. Peterson is a former resident of Fargo, where the U.S. HOV campaign, now present in dozens of cities nationally, was initially founded. He now lives in St. Paul, MN where he has been involved in anti-war, immigrant rights, and Latin America solidarity.

For more information visit

Please distribute widely.

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For more information, please contact Jane Peterson at: 701-799-7126 or write