Monday, December 29, 2008

Ten Best Albums of 2008

Like last year, I decided to list my top albums of the year. Also like last year, I only chose from albums I own, so I'm no doubt missing some great music. (Please, feel free to make recommendations!)


10. Coldplay- Viva la Vida

Coldplay sells a lot of records. After X&Y I wondered if they decided they had a good thing going and should be content making hummable bland music (the kind U2 makes now). Viva la Vida proved me wrong, at least for now. Death and all his friends, also the alternate title of the album, is one of the best songs of the year.


9. Sun Kil Moon- April

Every time I listen to Sun Kil Moon I tell myself I'm going to get hold of everything Mark Kozelek has done and spend a weekend listening to it. I haven't yet, but I will. April isn't as accessible as Ghosts of the Great Highway, but if you put in the effort you will be rewarded with a beautiful album. (I recommend checking out the lyrics as well.)


8. Erykah Badu- New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

With production from Madlib, among others, New Amerykah is easily Badu's best work to date. But that isn't to say production is the sole reason for the wonderful album. Badu's intellect and refusal to fit nicely into the "neo-soul" category is a breathe of fresh air in a smoggy formulaic radio-friendly world. This is the best hip-hop album of the year. (Check out this remix of The Healer.)


7. TV on the Radio- Dear Science

I'm not sure if art-funk is a genre, but if so, Dear Science is the album of which to judge others by. I saw TOTR in Fargo when they were touring in support of Return to Cookie Mountain and they quickly became one of my favorite bands. As with Sun Kil Moon, the lyrics should be handy when listening to this album.


6. Tricky- West Knowles Boy

I'm happy to see Tricky back in form. He has been one of my favorite artists since the mid-nineties but I, like many, was disappointed with his last few releases. West Knowles Boy is a genuine comeback, but it didn't get much press in the US. That's really too bad as this album is his best in nearly a decade. (This is a standout track.)


5. Vampire Weekend- Vampire Weekend

If I were to change anything about Vampire Weekend, it would be the order of the songs. Instead of Mansard Roof first, I'd go with Oxford Comma. Then the album would have the best opening line since Modest Mouse's The Moon and Antarctica. It is what it is- fun pop music that isn't going to change your life. There's nothing wrong with that.


4. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

Listening to Bon Iver reminds me of driving through snow drifts on a gravel road. There isn't any logical reason that should be a positive memory, but it is. There is something hopelessly romantic about Midwest winters and that something oozes from this album.


3. Portishead- Third

2008 was good for what was called "trip-hop." It took me several listens, but Third has become my favorite Portishead album. Listen to this at least ten times before you decide whether or not you like it. The whole album works this way. If it clicks for you, you'll know what I mean.


2. Fleet Foxes- Fleet Foxes

From gospel to rock, you can hear what music has influenced the Fleet Foxes. What makes them so special, and I pretty much flipped a coin on whether or not this album should be number one, is they often sound better than their influences. I am excited for what these dudes will come up with as their careers progress. Check this out and tell me it isn't as good as anything you hear on your local classic rock station.


1. The Walkmen- You and Me

Perhaps it is because I've seen this band go from good to great, but I loved this album on first listen and it simply hasn't gotten old. It has the expected piercing vocals and guitars, but also has a quiet side. It is personal. It ends up feeling like a letter from a best friend. After a few listens it became obvious my favorite track on the album is the most basic one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Flower power

This past weekend I attended an immigrant rights coalition meeting. It was my first meeting, but friends have been there since it formed in 2006. Its formation was a direct result of the working class movement of immigrants, primarily Latinos, in the Twin Cities area. From what I could tell, the people at the meeting were a mixture of democratic party activists and socialists (although it was hard to tell the difference with some folks).

The reason I bring this up is to examine an exercise we did at the beginning of the meeting. The moderator, in all seriousness, had us draw a flower. Our flower needed at least four large petals, with a smaller petal drawn inside the outline of the larger one. We were then to label each petal. One should be race, one gender, one whether or not English is our mother tongue, and one marking our social class (which wasn't talked about much, if at all). If you are white, male, and speak English, then you were to fill in the outer layer of your flower petals. This means you are an "exploiter" in these areas. If you are female, non-white, and learned a language besides English when you were young, then you were to fill in the inner layer of the petals. You are "exploited." This was taken extremely seriously, with the moderator at one time asking people to stop laughing and think hard about their exploitation situation. I did the exercise, and besides recognizing the general silliness of it, didn't give it much thought until our first break when I talked with a friend.

We both agreed the flower didn't do much other than offer many members a chance to self-flagellate and momentarily ease some feelings of liberal white guilt (doing the project reminded me of reading Tim Wise's recent nonsensical babbling). Of course it is true being a male, white, English speaker gives you an advantage in our society. But what wasn't represented in the flower example was the ability of class, at least when social power is concerned, to largely trump our society's sexist, racist and xenophobic nature. If we objectively concern ourselves with power and exploitation, then this needs to be recognized. In this flawed exercise, a white homeless man would be more of an exploiter than a Latina CEO of a fortune 500 company.

This is worth mentioning if only to reinforce the fact that the main power in our society, just as throughout much of modern history, lies in who controls the surplus value created by labor power. No doubt the struggles against sexism, xenophobia, racism, etc., are extremely important; but they are mainly symptoms of a disease, not the disease itself. Liberal ideologies, and policies, tend to want to put a bandage on a gunshot wound. This is all good and well, I certainly support working for better policies even within the confines of our current society, but it is crucial to understand even if we stop the bleeding with a good bandage, we've still got a bullet rotting away in our body.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Life teaches."

News of the worker occupation in Chicago has spread across the web quite quickly and odds are readers of this blog already know the story. I think, however, it is important to point out this sort of action is most likely not ideological. I doubt too many workers at this factory are reading a whole lot of Marxist, Anarchist, or any other "radical" literature. Just like Marx and Engels didn't create the idea of a workers state, and Lenin didn't create Soviets (councils); theorists didn't tell these workers they should occupy their factory. It was their objective situation, i.e. the failure of capitalism, and their own ingenuity. The same goes for the worldwide factory occupation movement.

My point isn't to make this relatively small action in Chicago into something it isn't. My point also isn't to knock theorists and those with the knowledge and talent to play a leadership role in our struggle. My point is simply this: never underestimate the ability of the working class. A revolution is possible, even in the United States.