The Awl

Facebook is blocked!

Syndicate content
Be Less Stupid
Updated: 51 min 46 sec ago

How About Some Arabesques?

Wed, 2017-10-11 12:15

Image: Twang Photography via Flickr

The last time I wrote about Claude Debussy, I encouraged you to just enjoy a nice suite. I stand by this, by the way. While there’s definitely inherent value in crying to Bruckner at a live concert you paid the price of a shirt for, I also think there’s equal value in a jaunty little tune. Remember the études? Remember how they made you feel? Let’s go back to that. This past week has been hard enough.

So not unlike Debussy’s Petite Suite, I invite you to listen to an equally lovely set of arabesques. Arabesques is a new vocabulary word for the column, and it’s kind of a tricky one too. Generally speaking, it means it’s a shorter song with origins in Arabic music, meant to summon an image of Arabic architecture. In actuality, uh????? It doesn’t do that at all? I’m not saying arabesques aren’t nice—they definitely are—but you’ll listen and you’ll hear something definitively Western about them. In fact, Debussy’s Deux Arabesques sound definitively something and that something is French. They’re lyrical poems, textured and peaceful. While I swear on my whole life that I’ll never write about Clair de lune, you can definitely see where this guy was going.

The first in the series is the Arabesque in E Major: a thoughtful and quiet piece. It’s intended for little moments of relaxation, the type of music you time your breathing with. It trickles along like a stream inside a botanical garden, if that makes sense to you. It’s constructed, no doubt, this wavering and wandering. But it still works. It inspires the same cloud gazing as a real babbling brook would with just a little bit more of a safety net.

The Arabesque in G Major, however, is just 100% where I’ve been at all week. I think I’ve listened to this piece of music about one hundred times. It’s so wildly playful and fun. Whereas the previous arabesque takes its time going nowhere in particular, this one gallops along… going nowhere in particular. Debussy explores a few different melodies within, never losing his sense of fun throughout. As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, I have such respect for solo piano pieces they are really doing the whole damn thing themselves. An orchestra exists to support each other in deeply complex pieces of work. The pianist is by themselves! It’s stressful! The weight of the (musical) world pressed firmly on your shoulders (or under your fingertips, whatever). But there’s also a joy that comes from the skill of piano—of knowing you can pull off the magic trick of the piece. That’s why when the main melody comes back at the 2:35 mark in the finale, I practically want to give this recording a standing ovation.

The weeks are getting shorter, but they feel about a hundred times longer. Take walks, read books, drink a glass of milk. (Sorry.) Go see The Florida Project. Enjoy these arabesques—or enjoy something—but there’s a comfort in putting a song on repeat and leaving it be.

You Can't Get Away With This Shit Anymore

Wed, 2017-10-11 10:21

Image: Ilya via Flickr

In the hours and days since The New Yorkeand the New York Times posted respective bombshell investigations of numerous allegations of sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein, there have been many subtweets and backroom, private-message conversations by and between women: Who is the Harvey in media? Who aren’t we talking about? It’s inevitable, right? The badly behaved media men are everywhere, it’s only a matter of time until their names are spoken in broad daylight. You’ve probably already heard their names whispered across Slack chat rooms.

The patriarchal structures we all live and work in, which is to say, just about everywhere, unless you happen to live in a shipping container the wilderness of New Zealand with Holly Hunter (in which case, send me your coordinates)—exhibit the same patterns over and over and over again. For every old, established, wildly successful “lion” like Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein, there are dozens if not hundreds of men whose names we don’t know who’ve made shocking and unwanted sexual advances. Indeed, what about these small-time motherfuckers? The ones who live in our neighborhoods and work in our newsrooms and date our friends? They may not make or break our careers with one phone call to a casting director, but they do damage all the same, with each awful encounter creating a tiny fissure in the grand facade of “the industry.”

There’s the prominent news editor known for sticking his tongue down your throat when his girlfriend isn’t looking. There’s the married guy who tells you over DM that his wife won’t fuck him anymore, and he’s thinking of leaving her. There’s the byline you meet at a publishing party, who gets handsier and handsier after each pint. I’m not saying that any of these situations are quite the same as one of the most fearsome producers in Hollywood presenting you, a twenty-three-year-old actress, with his Vienna sausage from inside a Peninsula Beverly Hills robe and then forcing you into sex acts, but they are of a kind.

That is because the compulsion that drove Weinstein to keep barking up the massage tree for thirty years, unfazed, and then, when called on his bullshit, say he’s sick and wants a second (????) chance (???????????) is the exact same kind of cognitive dissonance and manipulative bullshit on display by those repeat gropers, “sex addicts,” and non-consensual chokers who tweeted and posted links to the Weinstein allegations with what I assure you they believe is not mock horror (“Wow”, “Disgusting”, “Spine-chilling”).

What these men have in common is that they have repeatedly and regularly crossed the lines of propriety, whether intoxicated or not, without consequence. You know when you’re sixteen and first alone at the wheel of a car, and you wonder: what is it that keeps me going over the double yellow line? Once you swerve over and come back without a scratch: what’s going to keep you from trying again? It’s you, buddy. Only you. You should know that we know who you are, we know what you do, and it’s not gonna work anymore.

That’s because times have changed: media jobs no longer come with a clothing allowance, a black car, and the ability to sexually harass with impunity. The explosive Weinstein accusations have opened all kinds of floodgates, men and women everywhere are coming forward with their own stories. Every industry from food service to the art world to the field of Antarctic geology has its own Harvey Weinstein, and we’re not keeping quiet about it anymore. So let this serve not a vague threat but rather an explicit notice: the whisper networks have officially become shouting conference calls. Our truth is that your power is no longer as great as you think it is. It’s not over exactly, but everything is different now.

Martyn Heyne, "Carry"

Wed, 2017-10-11 09:12


Will today be better or worse than yesterday? I cannot say with certainty but let me just suggest that given everything we have learned so far about the way things work now it would not be unreasonable to suspect that things will indeed get worse. At this point I would simply settle for “shorter,” but I suppose even that is too much to ask for. Anyway, here’s music. Enjoy.

New York City, October 9, 2017

Tue, 2017-10-10 18:04

[No stars] Even with the air conditioner roaring, sometime in the night a pool of sweat formed under the t-shirt. Racing underclouds were the only thing interesting to look at in the darkened daylight, as one shower went away and eventually another showed up. The children, to their credit, refrained from going stir-crazy on the useless holiday morning. It was appalling to step out into the tropical autumn heat in a waterproof jacket, with an invisible drizzle blowing. Part of the front of a restaurant was opened, but the people were tucked safely deep inside. In the gray of evening, ripples began flickering on the puddles before the rain had strengthened enough to be felt.

A King Krule Primer

Tue, 2017-10-10 14:22

On October 13, British musician King Krule (born Archy Marshall) will release his third studio album, The Ooz. The title is apt for the singer’s post-genre style—he creates a mix of jazz, rock, hip-hop, and dub that feels like a product of the online era, yet simultaneously as ancient as a primordial stew. To catch up on his work thus far, here is a playlist of 13 tracks that summarize the unique talent of King Krule.

“Easy Easy”

Accompanied by propulsive eighth notes on a single guitar string, Marshall endures harassment by police, dissatisfaction with his job, and general urban malaise. All you want is to eat your pre-made supermarket sandwich in peace, until you notice it’s too old to be edible. You can’t even find the receipt amongst the detritus to raise a fuss. And why bother, that could be you on the other side of the counter, waiting to burst out “there’s no need to take that tone.” This song is British as hell: Marshall name drops Tesco, Bobbies, and concludes by paraphrasing Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, you just keep going.” The song wraps up with a ritardando, slowing from the shout of the chorus to the mumble of finishing up in a phone booth. Head down, mouth shut.

“Portrait in Black and Blue”

“Spastic gyrations in abbreviated bathing suits.” Marshall distills the compulsion of young lust to five words, then zooms into the perspective of someone caught in its throes. This track from his 2011 self-titled EP is a fumbling attempt at flirtation. The inverted guitar chords strut along the first verse, as the lyrics veer from a pick-up pun to sudden intimate disclosures. “I suit you, ’cause I could be you and I could show you true,” he sings then wonders why his subject keeps running away. Just as quickly, his heart is broken, and he claims he was only lusting after a lie. During this bitter chorus, the drums stomp in at last—the pounding is cavernous, like a heartbeat in an embarrassed face.

“Border Line”

One of King Krule’s most upbeat tracks begins with a sloppy slide down bass frets that introduces a sprightly guitar pattern. The rhythm section actually swings, and a wood block ticks, reverberating from deep in the mix. The narrator imagines his body sinking to the bottom of the sea, but it feels darkly ironic rather than hopelessly morose. Marshall’s thick accent chops his vowel sounds into a uniform powder that collaborator Earl Sweatshirt surely appreciates. “The soul is broken down, borderlines,” he sings. “To cause the tide, to enforce divide, this whole devotion has morphed in time.” It’s like he’s bragging about curing a stutter, even as the last bubbles of air leave his throat.

“Swell”

“Swell’s” straightforward electronic drums sound like the fitting room of a European fast fashion store. Rather than complement it with mall-ready synths, Marshall plays a simple, circular keyboard. He doubles his vocals at two distinct octaves. The high and low reach an uneasy middle point, like a cup of hot tea loaded with ice cubes. He repeats the title of the album like a mantra, relishing his discovery while the keys twinkle around him.

“Has This Hit?”

This is a good King Krule song that doubles as a perfect parody of a King Krule song. “Oh yeah, I know him, he’s the British Guy Who Yells.” The drums rumble in the distance, the splashy cymbals doubling in time like approaching storm clouds. The guitar and bass fidget anxiously, never quite settling into place. Marshall unleashes the ugliest edges of his voice—at the song’s climax, he bellows “I know when I look into the sky, there is no meaning.” The guy literally wrote a song called “Rock Bottom,” but this one truly sounds like the desperate end of something. Then, the clouds part, and a bright ray of a guitar lick shines through.

“The Sea Liner MK 1”

The ominous bass that opens this ANP2D track sounds like the overture to a video-game boss battle. The pixelated protagonist scrolls right until the screen stops following and a door shuts behind him, descending notes heralding a new foe that has yet to drop into view. The sleek drums come in and realign the bass notes to bridge each bar to the next, a rhythmic sleight-of-hand trick. Two minutes slip by before Marshall takes the mic. He raps in a deep monotone about the dead seed of a relationship. “She writes to me but does not come abroad, that’s why I guess she can’t be my broad,” he rhymes. “I love her but she’ll get bored.” He cuts himself off mid-verse with a scoff, like he’s just lost a life.

“Blue Train Lines”

Marshall appears as a guest on one track from the duo Mount Kimbie’s recent album, Love What Survives. His vocal performance alone makes it an essential part of his catalog. The lyrics compare a drug user’s veins to the titular train lines. The beat speeds like an accelerated heartbeat, the hi-hat propels it forward, but even as Marshall’s vocals soar upwards in pitch, the beat holds back, building and building. Marshall spits his words out seemingly without breathing. He deteriorates into an almost funky yelp just as a glorious synth bass appears. When the kick and snare start sprinting, it feels like the peak of something potent. “And yeah, I might have seen it all,” Marshall croons, like he’s too energized to remember all the shit he’s seen. Suddenly, it ends on a bass thump. The play button beckens, priming you for another hit.

“Dum Surfer”

The second single from The Ooz is the most straightforward rock song in the King Krule catalog. The aggressive power chords recall the garage rock from the new millennium, a scene past its prime before Marshall was old enough to drink. Marshall leans into the brattiness of taunts like, “Man, this band that’s playing, they’re playing fucking trash. Skunk and onion gravy, as my brain’s potato mash.” In the song’s video, Marshall rolls into a small club passively, lying face up on a hospital bed. His zombified skin matches five musicians standing onstage. As they begin to play, the singer sits up in bed, his long arms pulling a microphone to his face from out of the frame. When an honest-to-god guitar solo erupts, it rises on waves of AM radio saxophone. Marshall finishes the song posed on his knees, legs spread, guitar hoisted in the air. The bed rolls back from whence it came.

“Ammi Ammi”

In its mix of spoken-word samples, heady beats, and abstract keys, Frank Ocean’s Endless is one of the few albums that seems to draw inspiration directly from A New Place 2 Drown. It’s surprising to learn that a collaboration between two voices-of-a-generation never gelled. On “Ammi Ammi,” a woman’s sampled voice calmly explains Christian lessons to children. She’s cut short by a dubby drum and bass groove. Each kick drum stretches out the space in the bar, only to snap back into place on the snare, while the thick bass meanders up and down. Fellow Londoner musician and Marshall’s former schoolmate Jamie Isaac follows suit on the chorus, singing “We just smoke and the days roll by.” It’s a cross-continental stoner summit that feels like J Dilla on vacation in Brixton. It’s a far cry from the West Coast sunshine of Frank Ocean, but the track taps into the same spirit of druggy experimentation.

“Baby Blue”

This ballad shows Marshall at his most romantic. The composition was originally released in 2010 when the 16-year-old writer used the name Zoo Kid. The newer version sidesteps amateurish distractions like hissing sounds and an accelerating tempo. The spotlight rests entirely on the singer’s vulnerability as he croons “Girl, I could have been someone to you, would have painted the sky blue.” A character nicknamed Blue recurs throughout Marshall’s first album, and on their title track the relationship is laid plain. The gentle guitar part evokes a soloist playing up to last call at a smoky bar, perfect for sipping on reminiscence of a lost opportunity. There’s no sense of bitterness, only a hazy comfort.

“Czech One”

Marshall returned to his King Krule identity this August, four years after his debut album and two years after A New Place 2 Drown. The jazzy instrumentation and conversational vocals recall fellow deep-voiced weirdo Tom Waits. In a subdued tone, Marshall narrates a cheeky interrogation from a girl at a pub. “I’ve found a new place to mourn,” he explains. She asks who died. He demurs that “if there’s a dark uniform, I need a place to hide.” After two verses, a honky-tonk piano swings into a short bluesy run. It’s a mere prelude to a wailing saxophone, soloing over the vocal coda. The video shows the lanky redhead gazing up at a night sky from a city street. The camera zooms out to reveal Marshall seated in an airplane cabin, gazing at the same sky through a tiny window. He is everywhere and nowhere, perfect for a song rooted in one place but ambiguous about where that is.

“Neptune Estate”

Throughout his work, Marshall examines relationships at various stages of life and of satisfaction. On “Neptune Estate,” the narrator’s longing is stripped entirely bare. He knows what he had is over, but he’s not yet ready to let go, pride be damned. “Can’t you bear just one more night?” he asks, over and over. Of course one more night with someone who doesn’t love you anymore is hardly a consolation, but it might still be better than facing the first night without them. The piano and drums follow an incessant pattern, arcing up and back like Marshall’s hopes. “I wanna be with you, I wanna be used,” he murmurs, finally realizing the two are one and the same. When words are no longer sufficient, a group of saxophones rise up to take over the melody for a warm, brief moment. They sound like the last pulses of a heart monitor.

“Out Getting Ribs”

The song takes its title from a 1982 Jean-Michael Basquiat piece, scrawled in smudged pencil on a piece of paper, signed with the artist’s initials. This is the first King Krule song I ever heard, and I watched its video perplexed that such a brutal voice could emerge from such a fresh face. Despite the opening declaration that “hate runs through my blood,” the chiming guitar echoes Smiths six-string legend Johnny Marr as it builds and builds. After three verses, Marshall concludes, despite it all, “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing.” The song explodes into rapturous sixteenth-note strums for a precious few bars, then it concludes with slowing-down chords that resolve the melody. The catharsis is all too brief, but Marshall makes us savor what little we can find.

Colleen, "Winter Dawn"

Tue, 2017-10-10 08:51


For five-plus minutes this will put you in another world, and who wouldn’t want to be in another world given everything that’s going on right now? No one. Even the people who thought they wanted this world are all aware that any other world would be better at this point. Anyway, this song is terrific, and I can already tell there won’t be a whole lot of other terrific on offer to us for the duration of the day, so make sure to enjoy it while you can.