Father John Misty’s PURE COMEDY Is Just What I Needed

Father John Misty’s PURE COMEDY Is Just What I Needed

Negativity feels like it is at an all-time high right now. One has to assume that things may have been worse when, say, Europe faced the Black Plague or, you know, maybe, possibly, perhaps, in the pre-Civil War South. But everywhere we look, it seems like people think this is the worst it’s been.

I’m not immune to this; one look at Twitter, and I’m convinced everything is headed in the wrong direction. You could assume this is my own fault for following mostly liberal outlets, but the inability to see the forest for the trees is a bipartisan failing. Pessimism is for everyone, the great unifier.

Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman has a reputation in some circles for feeding off that negativity. When he broke out in 2012 with Fear Fun, he was riding a wave of goodwill from his four years as the drummer for Fleet Foxes. He garnered acclaim, but he also created skeptics. Tillman had adopted a cynical perspective toward pop culture and toward the world in general, limiting his fan base to the hipster world where counterculture is the culture. 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear rectified this to a certain extent, with its honest exploration of committed love, but Tillman still maintained a persona steeped in cultural ennui, continuing to alienate folk purists.

His new album, Pure Comedy, forces you to consider that maybe it’s not a persona and he really means it. That is, maybe the cynicism of Father John Misty is healthy rather than a façade, a means to satisfaction rather than the end of it.

I didn’t want to like Father John Misty. Cynicism is something I struggle with; I perpetually want to believe the best about people and the world despite the fact that I don’t. Listening to Father John Misty is like being forced to hear the thoughts that I try not to think.

But as my beliefs have strengthened in their conviction, listening to Tillman’s music is more rewarding if not less challenging. He’s always been funny and clever, but now I appreciate that rather than resent it. On “Total Entertainment Forever”, when he riffs on “bedding Taylor Swift / Every night inside the Oculus Rift”, I hear it as the self-aware joke it is rather than a caustic remark. When he goes on to say, “No gods to rule us / No drugs to soothe us / No myths to prove stuff / No love to confuse us,” I’m confronting the fact that I too believe this is where we are headed as a society. Before, I would have refused to acknowledge it.

This growing appreciation for Tillman’s mind comes even at the expense of my own. I’m a Christian, so there’s definitely some cognitive dissonance at work when I listen to two of my favorite songs on the album. On the title track, Tillman lets loose his most passionate vocal delivery lamenting and laughing about the selfishness of man, but he also declares,

Oh, their religions are the best
They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed
With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits

And on “When the God of Love There’ll Be Hell to Pay”, Tillman sings about the absurdity of a loving deity creating a world of suffering:

Oh, it’s just human, human nature
We’ve got these appetites to serve
You must not know the first thing about human beings
We’re the earth’s most soulful predators
Try something less ambitious next time you get bored

Maybe the real reason I’m so willing to embrace Father John Misty is because he’s created a style of music that I would want to make if I were at all musically talented. Tillman’s lyrical wit is what makes him such a singular artist, but there are definite touchstones for his music, somewhere back in the 1970s. There’s a little bit of Billy Joel’s voice when Tillman allows himself to really howl about a subject, but the closest analog might be Randy Newman. Newman knew his way around a chorus, but he’s also always had a penchant for wordy verses that somehow still manage to roll off the tongue.

The music is not my main draw to Pure Comedy though. Tillman’s philosophical perspective is so different from where mine is and yet so like the road I took to arrive at mine. I’m attracted to the experience of finding myself completely empathizing with Tillman’s cynicism but then having to remind myself, “Wait. I don’t believe that.”

This sequence used to repel me, which is only human: nobody has any perspective but their own, and it is hard work to try to understand anybody else’s, let alone accept it as valid. It helps that Tillman seems to be less above the rest of the human race on Pure Comedy than on past albums; his ire now appears to include himself and is all the sharper for it. And Pure Comedy isn’t pure cynicism. The perspective on which Tillman ends is that the only thing that makes this world worth it is each other. Surely he will forgive me some cynicism of my own, but that sounds like pure comedy.

The Fate of the Fast and the Furious Movies

The Fate of the Fast and the Furious Movies

Bigger is supposed to be better, and, on the surface, that appears to be true of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Each installment has a more ridiculous action set piece. Last movie, it was cars speeding through the window of one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to crash into the window of a neighboring one. This one has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson grabbing a torpedo with his bare hands and altering its course on top of a frozen lake.

There’s no shame from the filmmakers with these outlandish scenes. Nor should there be! The Fast and the Furious is basically a different kind of superhero franchise, in which the avengers are a diverse group of lower-class nobodies who overturned the system to achieve the American dream. This franchise has single-handedly replaced the bar for what action movies should be going forward, so why should the filmmakers adhere to arbitrary rules about what they can or cannot do? Why shouldn’t they construct a heist in which the main gambit is strapping a ten-ton safe to two Dodge Chargers and careening through Rio?

That scene of kinetic bliss is from 2011’s Fast Five, which might be the purest iteration yet of the Fast/Furious saga. It featured Johnson’s introduction and Vin Diesel’s Dom recovering from the apparent death of his long-time girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It was the first time the Family as we know it today was all together- Johnson’s Hobbs, Diesel’s Dom, Paul Walker’s Brian, Ludacris’s Tej, Tyrese’s Roman, Jordana Brewster’s Mia, Sung Kang’s Han, and Gal Gadot’s Gisele, minus Letty, of course, though her presence was very much felt. Five is where the series’ concept of Family truly solidified and became the fulcrum for every plot twist and car chase thereafter.

The Fate of the Furious (the eighth in the run that started with 2001’s relatively minor The Fast and the Furious) actually mirrors Fast & Furious 6, in which Letty returns with amnesia and is working against Dom’s crew. This time, however, cyber-terrorist Cypher (Charlize Theron) has turned Dom against his people. Pleas of “But family!” seem to mean nothing to him, and the Toretto crew has to team up with Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, introduced in Furious 7) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, the last movie’s villain) to track Dom down.

Cypher is an effectively cold-hearted villain with a terrible plan for Dom, and the estrangement between him and Letty is genuinely hard to watch. Furious 7 is the emotional peak of the saga, due to the perfect way the filmmakers handled honoring Paul Walker after his tragic death. This movie can’t compare to that, but what could?

Even so, it does seem like this franchise may be wearing out its emotional heft, after a trio of movies in which the “Family” trope became something almost real. In Fate, deaths in the Family lose some of their power. One member’s passing feels like a mere plot point, and Han’s death in Fast & Furious 6 becomes something of a loose end with the team embracing Shaw, who murdered Han as revenge for the Family putting his brother in a coma. Shaw’s induction into the team seems a little too easy and takes you out of the movie. However, it sounds like the filmmakers may address justice for Han later.

Nevertheless, director F. Gary Gray (The Italian JobStraight Outta Compton) has made The Fate of the Furious a thrill ride, and, even with my above questions, exploring the grief induced by Dom’s betrayal only strengthens the Family’s 8-movie history. The box office returns on this one have been lower than Furious 7’s, which produced a lot of hand-wringing by pundits about diminishing returns. There has also been a lot of hand-wringing from critics about a dip in quality. I saw one critic that I respect (and he’s not alone in this) saying Fate might even be the worst of the series, which is pretty much impossible when the series includes Tokyo Drift.

Even if this one is not quite as good as the last one, so what? It’s the eighth movie of a supposed ten in a franchise that has so far spanned eighteen years and will likely extend five more. The Fast and the Furious has already written cinematic history with its box office records, its diverse stars, and with the worldwide ardor it has received. If they want to make two more movies of controlled chaos that are utter garbage, more power to them. They’ve already changed the game. All I ask is that they stay true to this Family and that they blow my face off. For The Fate of the Furious, check and check.

Hurray for the Riff Raff Navigates a Story of Protest

Hurray for the Riff Raff Navigates a Story of Protest

Had Alynda Segarra released a perfectly innocuous album of folk music this year, critics still might have foisted the protest label on her. Segarra, who has been making music as Hurray for the Riff Raff since 2008, is of Puerto Rican descent. Any record she put out might have been mistaken for a referendum on the current climate for immigrants, even though Segarra is from the Bronx (and even though Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States…) and has made folk music firmly rooted in the New Orleans scene for her band’s entire existence. The color of her skin is now of political interest, whether or not she makes direct protest music.

With this year’s The Navigator, Hurray for the Riff Raff made something better than a protest album, something richer and deeper. We will always need songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Redemption Song”, albums like What’s Goin’ On and To Pimp a Butterfly, that address head-on the issues of the time. Directness is a virtue, but it has its limits. I’ve always been more partial to albums that tell a story and address issues through characters. Give me a Born in the U.S.A. or a “Fast Car”, works of pop art that paint pictures of the forgotten and beaten-down. These vivid lyrical images move me more than a lyrical jeremiad might.

The Navigator is a concept album about a Puerto Rican girl named Navita who seeks to escape her childhood hometown by enlisting the help of a witch. The witch’s influence eventually wears off, and Navita returns to her city and mourns the loss of her family’s culture. The album comes with liner notes mimicking a Playbill, and musical theatre’s influence can be felt all over the contours of The Navigator’s music. But as performative as this album is and as theatrical as the production sounds, it is hard to digest The Navigator as anything other than a reflection of Segarra’s real life.

On the first half of the album, in which Navita is attempting to escape her past, Segarra sounds like her old self, committed to the folk vibe she’s made her bones on until now. This could have been Act II of Hurray’s last album, 2014’s Small Town Heroes. Shades of Caribbean and Latin influences feel their way into the music, foreshadowing the album’s midway shift, but she’s largely focusing on the same Americana beats she’s trod over the last 9 years of her band’s existence, only with a new focus.

Segarra’s always had an eye on female empowerment (hear: “The Body Electric” off Small Town Heroes), and that’s no different here, though this time she’s exploring the theme through the power of story. “Living in the City” finds Navita shaking off chauvinism and the confines of growing up in a place a lot like New York. “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” explores Navita’s commitment to herself over the prospect of romance, knowing that one or the other will shape her life. They are powerful songs in and of themselves, but the through line of Segarra’s narrative imbues them with a shared catharsis, an empathy that a lot of girl power anthems sacrifice for a catchy hook.

The story turns around track 7, “Halfway There”, when Navita realizes the idea of escaping your past is a lie. By the next song, the fiery “Rican Beach”, Navita has returned home, and Segarra sings of the victims of white colonialism and the thievery therewith. It is a historical fact that every race has lost something to white people, and Navita is coming to terms with what her response to that should be. The song ends with a repeating mantra, “I’ll keep fighting to the end.”

The whole album is great, but the final five songs really clarify the album’s purpose for Segarra. “Fourteen Floors” has Navita return to where her childhood tenement used to be, and she finds a connection between the removal of her old home and what the system has taken away from her people. Segarra has been vocal about the folk music community’s failure to live up to their genre’s role as activists, remaining largely silent in the face of rising xenophobia. The first half of Navigator suggests Segarra feels complicit; the second half promises: no more.

The album’s climax, both narratively and musically, is the penultimate track, “Pa’lante”. That song title is important to the history of Puerto Ricans here on the mainland. It translates to “onward, forward.” It is a call to arms, a battle cry, but, one distinct to her culture. So much of the recent protests have been to call outside attention to long-standing injustices; “Pa’lante” is an encouragement to her people, a plea to “be something”, a prophecy meant to unite. As her will crescendos with the music, she cries, “From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante!”

It would be a struggle not to feel of one mind with Segarra on this song and, by association, on this album. The Navigator tells a story that equates life’s value with moving onward and forward, and not with how much anyone or anything is holding you back. There’s a temptation on the right side of the aisle (especially the alt-right side) to find complaints of victimhood in any mention of oppression or injustice. The Navigator is a fine argument that one of the greatest forms of strength is admitting victimhood and still choosing hope over despair.

Get Out Is More Than a Horror Movie

Get Out Is More Than a Horror Movie

Nothing about movies makes me happier than a movie upending mainstream norms to take the box office by storm. There are a lot of big studio movies that I enjoy, but something about seeing the system turned upside down gives me more joy than a well-tailored blockbuster. By all conventional wisdom, Get Out, the new horror movie from Jordan Peele, should not be a hit. It should not have made $162 million domestically. For context, the next highest grossing horror movie with a similar budget in recent years was 2016’s Don’t Breathe, and that made $89 million.

There are a lot of reasons why Get Out has been so successful, not the least of which is how relevant it its subject matter seems on the surface. Get Out follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) as she takes him home to meet her family. Rose is white, and Chris is black, but Rose thinks this is no big deal and hasn’t told her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keene). This bothers Chris, but he tries to play it cool. When they arrive, however, It’s pretty clear that something is different about Rose’s parents and the community they live in.

There will be spoilers later in this post, so if you don’t want anything spoiled, stop after this paragraph. But it’s not spoiling anything to say that the weirdness surrounding Rose’s family’s estate has everything to do with their whiteness and Chris’s blackness. At one point, Chris tells a friend on the phone about Rose’s parents and their friends, “They all act like they’ve never met a black person that hasn’t worked for them.”

This directness about the social experience of being a black man in a white world is refreshing and is surely one of the reasons why it has received such great word-of-mouth, and great word-of-mouth is surely the main reason it has been such a successful movie at the box office. It received great reviews (99% on Rotten Tomatoes, 84 on Metacritic), but critics can only have so much effect on audience turnout. Movies outside of established franchises need good reviews from the audiences themselves, and everyone who has turned out for Get Out has gone on to tell their friends that this wasn’t just a good movie, it was a movie they had to see.

And they have to see it, because it is such a unique movie-going experience. There have been plenty of good horror movies released lately, but few that deal so explicitly and effectively with social issues. Personally, I was tempted to be skeptical about how one of a kind Get Out truly was before I saw it. There’s not a shortage of socially conscious horror movies throughout movie history. Night of the Living Dead, the original zombie movie, and Candyman deal directly with race in sharp, striking ways. And two movies that director Jordan Peele cites as influences on Get Out, Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, tackle gender equality by exposing a special kind of dread that can only be described as sociological anxiety.

Get Out makes use of the same kind of suspense as those latter two movies, slowly ratcheting up Chris’s paranoia as the weird event tally racks up around him. It’s too soon to compare writer-director Jordan Peele to a director like Roman Polanski (the director of Rosemary’s) or to a writer like Ira Levin (the author of both stories from which those movies were adapted), but Get Out is a truly astounding achievement. Its box office success is a triumph, but it’s more impressive that Get Out is a great movie.

Peele is clearly walking a tightrope. There is a scene near the end in which a black man clearly takes pleasure in shooting a white woman. I was forced to confront my own prejudices in this and in other scenes- seeing a black man do something violent to a white woman invoked a weird discomfort in me, more discomfort than I likely would have had seeing the reverse. I have to face the fact that I have that prejudiced inclination. This movie is full of such challenges to the status quo (read: whiteness), and it wears them with quality.

Get Out is not about to solve any problems or heal any wounds; the only things that can do that are people themselves and time (and God, but that’s another conversation for another post). But seeing this movie may be the first time some white people understand even in the slightest that being black is scary. That in itself is a great argument for diversity in the movie industry. The perspective of a black man like Jordan Peele offers an opportunity for a studio like Blumhouse Productions to expand the spectrum of the stories it tells. That is the lesson I hope other studios take from Get Out‘s massive success.

As my friends and I walked out of our showing of Get Out, someone walking ahead of us said, “I can’t believe we paid money to see that.” They were white, which may be incidental, but probably isn’t. It is hard to confront that your very race predisposes you to certain prejudices that yield barbarity, especially when you grow up in a world that works hard to teach you that it’s the other races that are barbaric. Not every white person is going to commit the kind of atrocities committed in Get Out, but every white person needs to deal with the fact that whiteness is a direct factor in a lot of atrocities.

There have been shitty white people in lots of movies, though, both in front of and behind the camera. The genius of Get Out isn’t in the racial dichotomy at the heart of its thrills, though that juxtaposition is fascinating. The genius is in the universality of Get Out’s white villainy. These villains aren’t Ku Klux Klansmen- they voted for Obama, they probably give money to social justice causes, and they probably enjoy political correctness. It would be easy to resent Get Out for making whiteness the villain, even if Peele was more specifically targeting white liberalism. It is more challenging to confront Get Out‘s central theme, that liberal moralizing is worthless, even dangerous, without first humanizing.

The 2017 Academy Awards

The 2017 Academy Awards

I say to my wife almost every year (she probably doesn’t even notice I say it anymore) that the Oscars are my Super Bowl. I’m well aware that the actual show is usually kind of boring. But I’m nonetheless fascinated by what upsets will take place, what winners will say onstage, and who the last tribute will be in the In Memoriam montage. I find a lot of joy in the movies, and I appreciate the Oscars as a celebration of that.

This year, they feel like the Super Bowl in more ways than one. For one, they feel unnecessarily politicized. During the Super Bowl, I fell into the trap of rooting against the Patriots because of Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s ties to President Trump- as if there aren’t myriad other reasons to root against New England. That almost ruined my enjoyment of what ended up being the Pats’ historic comeback.

The Oscar layperson won’t think about this, but anyone following the pre-ceremony hype will have seen thinkpieces aplenty about the supposed La La Land vs. Moonlight rivalry. The two movies are being pitted together much like New England and Atlanta- white vs. black, Trump’s America vs. the Resistance, evil vs. good.

That’s stupid, and frustrating. Both are great movies. Both have zero to do with the politics of our time, at least directly. It would be a stretch to make an argument that either is attempting to participate in current polemics one way or the other.

Moonlight‘s very existence and the attention it is receiving is a political statement within the industry, but that’s about it. Moonlight‘s director, Barry Jenkins, has spoken about the La La Land backlash and clearly respects the art that Damien Chazelle and his team created. The movies exist apart from any faction or political ideology. They are both moving, complex, life-affirming works of art that deserve more than easy narratives.

Narratives aren’t necessarily bad, but in this case they are unnecessary. They make cultural events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl more accessible, and they often add stakes to the proceedings. But tomorrow, forget the political narrative, and just appreciate that whatever wins Best Picture this year will likely be worthy of the distinction.

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Best Picture

Arrival*
Fences*
Hacksaw Ridge*
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion*
Manchester by the Sea*
Moonlight

Will win: La La LandMoonlight or Hidden Figures could upset, but movies don’t get 14 Oscar nominations without winning. First time for everything though…

Should have been nominated: Zootopia. Animated movies never get enough respect, but Zootopia deserved a place in the sun.

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Best Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve*
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson*
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan*
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Will win: La La Land, Damien Chazelle. If the La La Land backlash has retained its full force, Jenkins could upset.

Should have been nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight. Again, animated movies don’t get their due. The degree of difficulty on a stop-motion movie like Kubo is so high, how is the industry not better about rewarding directors of such movies?

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Best Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge*
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic*
Denzel Washington, Fences*

Will win: Denzel Washington, Fences. Affleck’s sexual assault will linger in too many minds, and Denzel is too much of a force of nature. He’s given voters enough of an alternative to Affleck to ease their consciences.

Should have been nominated: Colin Farrell, The Lobster. It’s an awkwardly earnest and selfish character that anchors one of the year’s most overlooked movies.

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Best Actress in a Leading Role

Isabelle Huppert, Elle*
Ruth Negga, Loving*
Natalie Portman, Jackie*
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins*

Will win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Where there’s an easy way not to vote for La La Land, I think people who believe in the backlash will take it. Huppert is a legend, and many will think it is her last chance to win.

Should have been nominated: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch. Horror movie acting is probably supposed to be easy, but existential dread isn’t. She did both beautifully in 2016’s breakout horror film.

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea*
Dev Patel, Lion*
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals*

Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: Anton Yelchin, Green Room. This isn’t just a reaction to his tragic death. His performance in Green Room is visceral and a career best.

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences*
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion*
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea*

Will win: Viola Davis, Fences.

Should have been nominated: Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures or Moonlight, take your pick.

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Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Arrival*
Fences*
Hidden Figures
Lion*
Moonlight

Will win: Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: I dunno…Sully, I guess?

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Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea*
20th Century Women*

Will win: Manchester by the Sea.

Should have been nominated: Hail, Caesar!

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Best Cinematography

Arrival*
La La Land
Lion*
Moonlight
Silence*

Will win: La La Land.

Should have been nominated: The Witch.

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Best Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana*
My Life as a Zucchini*
The Red Turtle*
Zootopia

Will win: Zootopia.

Should have been nominated: Eh, nothing I saw.

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Best Documentary (Feature)

13th
Fire at Sea*
I Am Not Your Negro*
Life, Animated*
O.J.: Made in America*

Will win: O.J.: Made in America.

Should have been nominated: Under the Sun.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)*
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)*
The Salesman (Iran)*
Tanna (Australia)*
Toni Erdmann (Germany)*

Will win: The Salesman.

Should have been nominated: Microbe & Gasoline (France).

Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. and Tr…oh no, this is going to be about Trump, isn’t it?

Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. and Tr…oh no, this is going to be about Trump, isn’t it?

Someday, we are going to look back on 2016 and remember Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. as a great album for all its virtues and not for how it spoke to current events. We will listen to its frenetic rhythms and sweeping melodies, and we will relate to its expression of anxiety, free of any context. WORRY. will simply be a great rock record, a paragon of pop punk. Its biting sarcasm, its contagious choruses, its backdoor hipsterdom- these will be its talking points, and not about how it speaks to “Trump’s America”.

I’ve already written a post attempting to deconstruct that phrase and to redeem it, but my review of 2002’s 25th Hour must not have made much of a dent in the larger culture. Not sure why. But there are still respectable outlets posting “Trump’s America” pieces. The most recent (and most egregious) was an article on Indiewire (an otherwise fantastic website) about how the ice cream scene from Zootopia “anticipated Trump’s America”. The post itself is fine, an exploration of how the producers and animators worked on the nuances of the scene. But that headline…yeesh.

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Making everything about Trump has dumbed down every conversation worth having. Zootopia is a great movie, and I want to talk about all the ways in which it is great- the subtleties, the humor, the relationships. Zootopia isn’t great because it somehow predicted the way Trump affected our society. Zootopia is great because it reflected some truths about the world we already live in, regardless of Trump’s existence. The “Trump’s America” headlines remind me of the post-election Saturday Night Live sketch with Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock: the two black men sit in a room full of white people on election night, and the white people are freaking out. Chappelle and Rock, however, know that shit was already shitty- white people were just holding their noses. And now we’re convincing ourselves that Trump is the root of our problems rather than the fruit.

Ugh, why am I writing about Trump? All I want to do is talk about Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. and how great of a record it is. But then while I was doing research on Rosenstock, I came across several articles that inevitably linked his album to Trump. And I was inevitably frustrated. Granted, Rosenstock is explicit on WORRY. about current issues like police brutality (“To Be a Ghost…”) and gentrification (“I Did Something Weird Last Night”). But these were issues before Trump reared his ugly head, and they will likely continue to be issues after his retreat back to reality TV someday.

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Some of these articles were great, like a Noisey feature about Rosenstock taking his band across the border to play a record release party in a Mexican club. But the best were the pieces that eschewed any mention of Trump, like this Uproxx interview, which gets at why WORRY. will be remembered as a great album years down the road: it joins other punk records like Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor, Japandroids Celebration Rock, and Beach Slang’s The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us as a sincere expression of the anxiety and ennui of your 20s and 30s.

I understand that everything Trump does and says is massive news, but I can read about that on Politico. Just because something is important, that doesn’t mean it is the only important thing. I know it’s only natural to view art and culture through the lens of the dominant story of the time. But there are other things to talk about too. The next time someone starts a conversation with me about “Trump’s America”, I’m either going to scream or I’m going to say, “Have you heard Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY.? It’s the seminal punk album of our time,” and walk away.

If I Ran the 2017 Grammys

If I Ran the 2017 Grammys

I’ll always be the first to complain about the Grammy Awards, but the nominees for this year’s show…aren’t that bad? They do have Views up for Album of the Year, so they still suck.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated, with my choice for the best in that group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2016-September 30th, 2017 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. I can’t fix everything about the Grammys. So no Alicia Keys, but Adele’s 25 (from 2015, but released after October 1st, 2015) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. Drive-By Truckers and Terrace Martin made two of my favorite albums in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. However, Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber also released albums I loved, and they’re plausible options for Album of the Year. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, artists like Parker Millsap, Tedashii, and PUP getting nods over more popular acts in their respective categories.

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Relient K’s album could really fit into pop or rock, Angel Olsen and Mitski could easily be considered rock instead of alternative, NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot are unabashedly Christian bands that make rock music, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Justin Bieber belongs in the pop or R&B category, sorry.

5) Forget the 5-nominee limit! Sometimes the Grammys do this; a genre will have enough contenders that they’ll fit 6 nominees into one category because of a tie. I’ve often wondered why more award shows don’t open categories a bit more. If there are enough albums that truly deserve to be in the conversation, why not include them and draw more attention to more great music? Let’s have a little anarchy! Except in the 4 main categories, which will continue to have the rigid 5-nominee rule, because too much anarchy is a bad thing.

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Album of the Year

Real nominees: 25, Adele
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Views, Drake
Purpose, Justin Bieber
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Lemonade, Beyoncé
Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
Purpose, Justin Bieber
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

grammys03Last year I had 3 albums in common with the Recording Academy. This year I have 4, which is either encouraging or disheartening, I haven’t decided which. Personally, I’d give the award to Chance; Coloring Book is the most fun I’ve had with music for as long as I can remember. But after Beyoncé lost to Beck 2 years ago, and considering she’s never won this award (and the last artist of color to win it was 9 years ago and it was Herbie freaking Hancock), it’s hard to imagine this going to anyone but her. Adele is the other frontrunner, and though she has been an unstoppable force in the industry this decade, 25 wasn’t quite the runaway hit that 21 was. Sturgill Simpson could be the dark horse. He seems to be the old guard’s representative here, which I’m sure he would find ludicrous.

It’s fun to see Bieber’s album honored with this nomination, since I felt like I enjoyed this album more than a lot of people did, but maybe the Recording Academy is recognizing his year-long domination of the charts. The inclusion of Views here is probably a similar recognition of all the hit singles on the album, even though everything on that record that’s not a single is pretty much drivel. I’d prefer to recognize the best rock record of the year, Car Seat Headrest’s breakout Teens of Denial, which is both emblematic of where rock is right now as well as its deconstruction.

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Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Formation”, Beyoncé
“7 Years”, Lukas Graham
“Work (feat. Drake)”, Rihanna
“Stressed Out”, Twenty One Pilots

My nominees: “Formation”, Beyoncé
“No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)”, Chance the Rapper (nominated for Best Rap Song)
“Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream)”, Kanye West (nominated for Best Rap Song)
“Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)”, Rae Sremmurd
“Work (feat. Drake)”, Rihanna

Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 - RunwayI’ve got no problem with “Hello” in this category, I just thought its songwriting was its best asset, so I put it in the Song of the Year category. “Formation” and “Work” were world-beaters this year, so they totally belong. The inclusion of Lukas Graham and Twenty One Pilots is laughable and shows just why the Grammys are out of touch. They think Graham and Twenty One Pilots belong in the same category as Adele and Beyoncé, as if history won’t remember Twenty One Pilots as a less talented Maroon 5 and Graham as a less talented Shawn Mendes.

How did “Black Beatles” not make it on this list? It was the sleeper hit of the year, both virally and on the charts. And the fact that nothing from Coloring Book was singled out is preposterous, though maybe the Academy isn’t ready to embrace a mixtape. So I picked the mixtape’s best single, the joyous “No Problem”. But no song’s production or performance was as perfect as “Ultralight Beam”, which was an open door into hip-hop’s gospel nirvana.

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Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Formation”, Beyoncé
“Love Yourself”, Justin Bieber
“7 Years”, Lukas Graham
“I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, Mike Posner

My nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Fill in the Blank”, Car Seat Headrest
“Love Yourself”, Justin Bieber
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, Justin Timberlake (nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media)
“Vice”, Miranda Lambert (nominated for Best Country Song)

grammys07Lukas Graham is back in this category, and I’m still not sure why. Mike Posner makes his first appearance, and I’m not sure why. “Formation” is a great song, and deserving of all kinds of attention, but I think the steak-eaters of the Academy are probably going to stick with “Hello” for this one too. It would have been nice for a rock song or an Americana song to get a nod here, so why not “Fill in the Blank” or “Vice”? And how did the earworm of the year, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, get no recognition aside from a nomination related to its video? However, I’ve got a soft spot for Bieber’s “Love Yourself”, a mean, mean song that’s impossible to forget.

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Best New Artist

Real nominees: Anderson .Paak
The Chainsmokers
Chance the Rapper
Kelsea Ballerini
Maren Morris

My nominees: Anderson .Paak
Car Seat Headrest
LUH
Maren Morris
Margo Price

grammys09How nice to see Anderson .Paak and Maren Morris get some Academy love. They’re two artists that released two of the best albums in their respective genres. And they’re actually new! That’s nice in this category. Speaking of which, Chance the Rapper is not new. But he’ll probably win on star power alone. Clearly the Academy isn’t on the Car Seat Headrest train, but if they had been, they’d belong here for sure. God forbid the Chainsmokers win this, even if “Closer” was one of the top-charting songs of the year. We don’t need to encourage all the bad DJ duos in this world. A better option would have been LUH, a boyfriend-girlfriend duo that defy categorization. Not sure who Kelsea Ballerini is, but good for her. I would’ve thrown some love Margo Price’s way, since she was Americana’s other breakout artist.

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Best Alternative Album

Real nominees: 22, a Million, Bon Iver
Blackstar, David Bowie
The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey
Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop
A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead

My nominees: My Woman, Angel Olsen
22, a Million, Bon Iver
Blackstar, David Bowie
Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, LUH
Puberty 2, Mitski
A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
Light upon the Lake, Whitney

grammys11I think everyone knows Bowie is winning this category for his final album, if only because everyone is so sad that he’s gone. Blackstar is a great album, but Radiohead’s and Bon Iver’s albums are more impressive. PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop are probably in this race on reputation alone, since you’d hardly place their albums among their best. I can’t understand why the Grammys don’t use this category to celebrate up-and-coming artists like Angel Olsen or Mitski, instead of legacy acts not in need of the attention. LUH and Whitney are a couple of new acts that also deserve attention, though their nominations would have been a pipe dream.

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Best Americana/Country Album

Real nominees: Big Day in a Small Town, Brandy Clark
Ripcord, Keith Urban
Full Circle, Loretta Lynn
HERO, Maren Morris
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Big Day in a Small Town, Brandy Clark
American Band, Drive-By Truckers
HERO, Maren Morris
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price
The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap,
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

grammys13The Academy has gotten better and better about recognizing the best in country music. The fact that Sturgill Simpson is nominated for Album of the Year is not only awesome, but a sure sign that he will win this category. Maren Morris and Brandy Clark are deserving nominees. Loretta Lynn is a legend, but Full Circle is a covers album of songs she release years ago, so maybe the Academy could have spread the love a little bit? Drive-By Truckers have  never been nominated, AND they’re a legacy act- wake up, Grammys! Margo Price and Parker Millsap are newcomers worthy of some love for their strong efforts.

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Best Christian Album

Real nominees: Poets & Saints, All Sons & Daughters
American Prodigal, Crowder
Love Remains, Hillary Scott & the Scott Family
Youth Revival [Live], Hillsong Young & Free
Be One, Natalie Grant

My nominees: The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
American Prodigal, Crowder
Floodplain, Sara Groves

grammys15Yeesh. This wasn’t as bad a year for Christian music as my low number of nominees makes it seem. You could easily make the argument that NEEDTOBREATHE’s, Relient K’s, and Switchfoot’s albums belong here, but I’d argue those albums are less overtly Christian and fit more easily into other genres. Andrew Peterson has been a favorite for a while, and Crowder’s second solo album is just as satisfying as his first. But Sara Groves, who has somehow never even been nominated for a Grammy, released the strongest album in this group in both theme and quality. As far as the actual award? I have no faith that the Academy will actually listen to any of these albums, so let’s assume they give it to Hillary Scott by virtue of her membership in Lady Antebellum, which is a Grammy favorite for some reason.

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Best Pop Album

Real nominees: 25, Adele
Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
Confident, Demi Lovato
Purpose, Justin Bieber
This Is Acting, Sia

My nominees: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, The 1975
25, Adele
Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
Purpose, Justin Bieber
Made in the A.M., One Direction
Air for Free, Relient K

grammys17Not a lot of discrepancies between my nominees and the Academy’s. Can’t argue with the inclusion of Adele, Ariana Grande, or Justin Bieber, though I prefer Bieber’s album of faux-mature soul to Adele’s album of legitimately mature torch songs. Sia and Demi Lovato are fine, but where’s the love for One Direction, who keep churning out great big albums of unabashed boy band music? I wouldn’t expect the Academy to recognize Relient K in this category, though Air for Free is a return to pop-punk form for the classic pop punks. And I love the adolescent ambition of The 1975’s I like it…, which is long and naïve and wonderful.

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Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album

Real nominees: Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Ology, Gallant
We Are King, KING
ANTI, Rihanna

My nominees: Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Freetown Sound, Blood Orange
The Glory Album, Christon Gray
Blonde, Frank Ocean
Unbreakable, Janet Jackson
Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka
ANTI, Rihanna
A Seat at the Table, Solange
Velvet Portraits, Terrace Martin (nominated for Best R&B Album)

grammys19Last year’s most stacked category was Americana/Country, but R&B/Urban Contemporary is the clear frontrunner here. Auntie Yoncé will no doubt win here, and she should, but Rihanna and Anderson .Paak may have won in slightly lesser years. KING and Gallant are fine, but Solange deserved recognition here with an album that may be even better than her sister’s. Terrace Martin is nominated in a different category, which was a pleasant surprise, since his Velvet Portraits was one of the most underrated albums of the year. Strangely, Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable (which holds up to her peak) went largely unnoticed. Michael Kiwanuka and Blood Orange would have been more left-field choices, but both of their albums were protest masterpieces. And I’d like to give Christon Gray some love. A lot of Christian R&B is formal or confined to a gospel style, but Gray makes beautiful soul music that would fit in with much of trap soul, catching Christian R&B up to modern times.

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Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
And the Anonymous Nobody, De La Soul
Major Key, DJ Khaled
Views, Drake
The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
Blank Face LP, ScHoolboy Q

My nominees: Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
A Good Night in the Ghetto, Kamaiyah
The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
This Time Around, Tedashii
Jeffery, Young Thug

grammys21Somehow the Academy thinks Drake’s Views is worthy of recognition over Coloring Book, since they gave Drake the Album of the Year nod, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll win Best Rap Album. Any of my nominees are twice the album Views is. Tedashii’s EP, This Time Around, is a fourth of Views’s runtime, and is still twice the album Views is. Young Thug’s best release to date, Kamaiyah’s debut mixtape, and West’s mishmash of a record are all more worthy of recognition than Views. But the most worthy of them all, the sign o’ the times, the songs in the key of life, the thriller of the year, was Chance’s Coloring Book.

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Best Rock Album

Real nominees: California, Blink-182
Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cage the Elephant
Magma, Gojira
Death of a Bachelor, Panic! at the Disco
Weezer, Weezer

My nominees: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, Beach Slang
Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
H A R D L O V E, NEEDTOBREATHE
Cardinal, Pinegrove
The Dream Is Over, PUP
Where the Light Shines Through, Switchfoot

grammys23No wonder people think rock is dead. You could do worse in 2017 than a lineup of nominees that includes Blink-182, Cage the Elephant, Panic! at the Disco, and Weezer, but you could also not nominate a lineup that sounds like it’s from 10 years ago. And the inclusion of French heavy metal band Gojira is baffling, but at least it’s interesting. Let’s assume Weezer wins the actual award, since the album was a return to what Weezer does best: power pop hooks.

You can tell the Academy doesn’t listen to current rock music, because the year’s best rock band, Car Seat Headrest, didn’t make the cut. People who actually listen to rock music were talking about them all year, as well as breakout bands like Beach Slang, Pinegrove, and PUP. I included 2 of Christian rock’s stalwarts, NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot, because they continue to defy the odds and release great music years into their careers.