THE ABSENT

THE ABSENT
THE ABSENT - out now!

CRIPPLED HEARTS

CRIPPLED HEARTS
Out Now - For sale on Amazon and other onlne book sellers

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
Out Now

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers www.rajbooks.com

Monday, October 28, 2013

LOU REED RIP



Without Lou Reed, what would music be like?

Like every generation since 1967, I discovered The Velvet Underground.  I won’t say they changed my life because they didn’t.  I had already been “changed” by what musicians had come after and been influenced by The Velvet Underground.  What’s always impressed me about the VU was they started so many different sub genres – The first record with Nico was your standard new wave album with noisy pop punk explosions thrown in, WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT not only was punk rock it was the later 80’s early 90’s Sonic Youth feedback laden explosions.  The third album was quieter “indie” music of a type that’s still being put out regularly today. LOADED was middle of the road rock slightly left of the dial in what I knew growing up in the 80’s as the type of music played on college radio.

Lou Reed solo was a mixed bag.  He did make a number of great records including LEGENDARY HEARTS, BERLIN, STREET HASSLE but he also made records of such mawkish sentimentality and cornball music as to extinguish the distance between him and Billy Joel.  My favorite solo record was LEGENDARY HEARTS where I think he struck the best balance between that negative sentimentality and his hardened honesty, his powerful directness set to verse.

Lou Reed was the first musical artist to successfully combine the Beat mentality, the Beat style of verse, the Beat way of experiencing life as art.  Dylan predated him but Dylan’s surrealism cancels out his connection.  Worthwhile? Yes but not as immediately relatable.

Without Lou Reed, what would music be like? 




Thursday, October 24, 2013

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT JEREMY SCHAHILL'S DIRTY WARS



Normally I write about movies on my film blog http://www.rgdinmalaysia4film.blogspot.com/
but this film intersects a lot of subjects I have discussed in the past and DIRTY WARS is a documentary so I’ll discuss it here.

DIRTY WARS the good - Jeremy Scahill has done some admirable work most notably his book on Blackwater BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE MOST POWERFUL MERCENRAY ARMY.  He hits the all right points here on extrajudicial killing esp. the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command which has been given carte blanche authority in the ever widening global war on terror battlefield.  They are basically a death squad whether killing innocent Afghans (including pregnant women) or using drones that wipe out whole villages in Yemen.  His discussion of US kill lists and the case of Anwar Al Awlaki is pointed and thorough as is the case of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye thrown in jail in Yemen at President Obama’s behest for reporting on a drone strike on the village of Al Majalah that killed many women and children.

He also establishes that front and center in the implementation of this death squad policy is President Obama.  He is the driving force behind this type of violence done to other countries.  He is a war criminal and should be impeached and then tried for war crimes.

In particular, the last ten minutes of the movie deal with Somalia which is an ongoing human rights disaster caused by the USA.  In order to stop the Islamic group Al-Shabbab(which does have some ties to Al Quaeda) or anybody the US doesn’t like there from coming to power and creating some form of government uniting the country and creating a livable country for its people. The US is paying warlords (gangsters and criminals basically) to keep Somalia in a state of anarchy killing people, raping women, committing other disgusting crimes.  The recent terrorist attack in Kenya is a direct result of this policy.


In 2006 it came out that the US had been financing warlords in Somalia. These warlords created death squads that terrorized the country by killing or capturing anyone who supported Islamic movements. Some of those captured by the death squads were turned over to the US for money, where they were tortured
In response to the terrorism of the US-backed warlords, religious factions began to unite to fight off the warlords. The factions united under the name, The Union of Islamic Courts. The UIC ushered in a justice system as well as stability, which allowed the unrestricted delivery of aid to malnourished Somalis. By 2006 the UIC had united almost all of Somalia. The top UN official on Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, stated that the time of the UIC rule was the “golden era” and the only break from the steady stream of misery for Somalis. The UIC was the first semblance of a stable central government in 15 years.
A leaked diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks revealed that the US wouldn’t tolerate the UIC gaining control of Somalia. The Bush administration likely believed the UIC would be too independent from US influence and mistakenly saw the UIC as sheltering radical Islamists.
In 2006 the US backed Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia. It was a characteristic US proxy war with US troops on the ground, US intelligence informing strategy, and US air power providing support. The invasion turned into a brutal 2-year occupation, displacing hundreds of thousands and killing 16,000 civilians.
Rob Wise at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the Ethiopian occupation transformed al Shabaab from a very weak force in Somalia to “the most powerful and radical faction in the country”.

DIRTY WARS the bad – Well this article lays out all the points http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/07/dirty-wars-and-the-cinema-of-self-indulgence/
(although I think it goes too far….I’m not going to attack Scahill for appearing on camera too much….It is his film….He’s the one doing the investigating).

But the criticism the Counterpunch article gets right is the lack of historical reference.

The War on Terror, a euphemism for US imperialism and murder, is only different insofar as the technology and the use of US troops.  During the Cold War, the United States participated in genocidal mass killings in Vietnam, Guatemala, Indonesia, and many other third world nations.  US Special Forces sometimes did the killings but often it was specially trained locals (who received their education at that higher institute of horrors the College of the Americas).  Nowadays, due to upgrades in technology, not just drones but everything else, the locals are no longer needed.

So DIRTY WARS ends up being like a long 60 Minutes story.  Commendable for shining a light on US human rights violations but it could have been made better with a bit of history.   The US’s post cold war history is one of mass murder and extrajudicial killings (with tactics borrowed from the defeated Nazis) in the service of capitalistic exploitation whether facing real enemies or not.  The only evil empire left is America.

   


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CRIMSON/RED BY PREFAB SPROUT



I have written about Prefab Sprout and Paddy McAloon before http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2009/07/joys-of-listening-to-prefab-sprout.html

There is nothing really I can add to that except to incorporate my thoughts about the newest Prefab Sprout album CRIMSON/RED.

This is Paddy McAloon by himself.  He is a one man band at this point – His brother bassist Martin, chanteuse Wendy Smith, and various drummers having long since departed.

Songs like The Best Jewel Thief in the World, List of Impossible Things, Grief Built the Taj Mahal, and The Dreamer are impeccable – Lyrics filled with clever allusions and sparkling wordplay and music that combines Broadway immediacy with sudden melodic shifts.  As a singer, McAloon has not lost much.  His voice has always moved between different registers for great dramatic effect and he does it here.

There are songs on here that don’t particularly grab me.  McAloon is in his 50’s and is a partial recluse married and raising his children in the English countryside and has struggled with a few health problems.  He has not toured in years but that’s okay.  Many great artists put out wonderful music after they stop touring.  I don’t expect him to continue producing the edgier music of his earlier works.
  

It is nice that someone is still making music like this.  BTW came across a new genre expression I’d never heard before in Wikipedia Sophisti-Pop which as described as  “a sub-genre of pop that flourished in the UK between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, incorporating elements of soft rock, jazz, new wave, and soul. The genre made extensive use of electronic keyboards, synthesizers, and polished arrangements, particularly horn sections”. Sounds like a good description for Prefab Sprout as well as other bands I liked from era such as Danny Wilson and ABC.      


Monday, October 14, 2013

MUSIC ROUND-UP - OCTOBER 2013


BITTER RIVALS by Sleigh Bells

When you have a sound as unique and immediately memorable and catchy as Sleigh Bells, the trick becomes how to grow it adding touches here and there without totally alienating your fans.  Each Sleigh Bells record has been bigger and better than the last and BITTER RIVALS is their best yet.  They’ve taken their mix of cheerleader yells and softer squealing, amplified riffs, slamming door programmed drums and the ability to completely change the arrangements of a song in a split second without losing anything and added to it even sharper melodies.  Songs like 24, Young Legends, and Lovesick are a step forward to a more diverse sound.  Sleigh Bells has made the jump in my mind from great band with a cult following to great band that should have widespread appeal.  Hopefully, the general public will follow suit.  A superb record.


TOY by Toy

The easiest way to describe Toy’s debut album is a less heavy Slowdive with more synths and less attitude.  Shoegaze is the main influence but it has been diluted enough to be played on the radio - Nicely layered but not all noisy.  Songs like Lose My Way and Colors Running Out are decent if unremarkable.  I do look forward to what they do with their sound in the future.



NEW by Paul McCartney

How does one review a Paul McCartney album?  Well overall I don’t think NEW is as good as his last two records CHAOS AND CREATION IN THE BACKYARD and MEMORY’S ALMOST FULL but there are plenty of good songs and it does try a few new things most noticeably the amount of keyboards and electronics.  His voice has gotten steadily more whispery but that is understandable for a man in his 70’s.  My favorite songs on NEW – Queenie Eye, I Can Bet, Road/Scared



MOON TIDES by Pure Bathing Culture

What this duo do well is to combine an understated female vocalist (and that’s a welcome relief in the day and age of howlers, shriekers, and overemoters) who plays keyboards with a guitarist who puts one in mind of a quieter Johnny Marr.  The end result finds and works an unexpected space between Basia/ Rah Band samba rock and the softer songs of The Sundays.  Very pretty music.  A most promising record.  It would be nice to hear what they would sound like with a full band (especially a drummer as they use programmed percussion on this record).


Sunday, October 13, 2013

DON'T FORGET WHO YOU ARE BY MILES KANE


DON’T FORGET WHO YOU ARE, the second album by Miles Kane, is a time machine of sorts.  It brings to mind the 1960’s in its production, the 70’s in its energy, and the 90’s in its traditional rock revivalism and Kane’s voice which is like some Britpop amalgamation especially brining to mind John Power of Cast.

Kane came to fame through abortive band projects and his work with more famous artists.  The highlight of his career so far has been the album he made with Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys as The Last Shadow Puppets THE AGE OF UNDERSTATEMENT which used as its model Scott Walker and big grand orchestral late 60’s pop.

That was a great record but Kanes’s first album was a bit of a letdown – decent songs but no energy and uninteresting arrangements.

However his second album is a success because it dives headfirst into fast familiar music. DON’T FORGET WHO YOU ARE zings along at just over 30 minutes with loud, well produced short snappy songs the product of songwriting collaborations with Andy Partridge and Paul Weller among others.  The Partridge collaboration in particular bears fruit as the two best songs (What Condition Am I In? and Better Than That) are ones he co-wrote.

This is a record it is easy to laugh at so unabashedly and gloriously retro is it but it does not let up jamming every spare space with great melodies and playing.  The aural equivalent of finding yourself in an old comfortable environment completely immersed into the happy feelings it brings.

   

Saturday, October 12, 2013

HESITATION MARKS BY NINE INCH NAILS


HESITATION MARKS is Nine Inch Nails best album in awhile, really the best thing Trent Reznor has done since WITH TEETH.  TEETH and the three albums that preceded it –PRETTY HATE MACHINE, THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL, THE FRAGILE were the products of multiple years hard work coupled with Reznor’s addictions and other personal angst.  Being relatively clean and sober the last 7 plus years have found him producing a series of lighter less darker works with fewer memorable songs and much less complex music.  He also started the band How To Destroy Angels with his wife.  Their version of NIN world is even less believable than the last couple NIN albums although several of their singles are extremely catchy.

Which brings us to HESITATION MARKS.  Reznor might have reached a place in his life where is settled, clean, sober, happily married, with children but he can still produce a layered complicated work of music with the empty spaces filled in with darkness and the mechanization of pain.  MARKS may miss the angst of his earlier records.   As a vocalist he hardly if ever shouts anymore. The relaxed vibe that sunk his last few records is also present here but not so much.  However, what brings HESITATION back to NIN’s glory days is the music.  The thing about Trent Reznor is that he is a great melodist.  Even his hardest, noisiest, industrial songs have easily hummable melodies.  That has been missing for the most part in his recent music which had a casual, knocked off air to it.  However after three listens, I can tell you how the melodies of most of the songs on HESITATION go.

While it is true many of the songs on HESITATION have a slower groove and are less abrasive and have much less crashing chaos they still remind me of Reznor at his peak.  This record is in many ways a better compromise (better than his last few records).  The feel is there sometimes.  The chaos is not.

No real bad songs....My favorites are Everything, Running, Various Methods of Escape, While I’m Still Here     


Monday, October 7, 2013

A BOOK AND A LOVE AFFAIR BY HELEN BEVINGTON



Helen Bevington’s second volume of memoirs A BOOK AND A LOVE AFFAIR perhaps focuses more on the love affair part than the book part as it chronicles her meeting her future husband B when they are undergraduates in New York City and then documents their life together trying to make ends meet through the great depression as they both go to graduate school and are employed in academia.  They raise two children up to and through World War II.  The book also details trips they took abroad to Europe as well as a long cruise through Egypt via the Suez Canal and other places.

Unlike Bevington’s first volume of memoirs CHARLEY SMITH’S GIRL which I wrote about here http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2013/07/charley-smiths-girl-by-helen-bevington.html there is nothing remotely sad about these life events.  There is no great truth presented either.  At the end, Bevington seems to recover an interest in poetry and writing after her children are older and her husband and her in steady jobs for a period of time.

But Bevington knows how to do something very few memoirists do.  She can tell an interesting story about her life, some mundane aspect of it, without clouding that with judgment, with her own emotional response to the past.  Instead, the narrative remains free of that clutter and we can make our own opinions about what is going on.

Bevington also doesn’t overdo it with the courtships scenes with her future husband.  Too much cutesy would have ruined the story but instead she shows how their intellects build and meet one another and how that is a true love = physical love that is equally mental.

This is a simple book.  No great tragedies or life lessons just love entwined as part of a creative person’s journey through life and that is love not promiscuity excused by the artistic mentality.  I look forward to reading further volumes of Bevington’s life.