[Editor’s Note: The following article is not a collection of reviews but rather a general reflection on some of the things Dan read, listened to, and watched in the last few days. Since they are not reviews, they should not be treated as such. I, unlike Dan, believe that some of them should be separated, expanded, and then published as reviews. But I am merely his editor. If you want to read more of Dan’s reviews, go to the Past Work menu tab. In the upcoming weeks Dan will be reviewing S. Carey’s new album, “Hundred Acres,” for BU News Service; Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday for this blog; The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls for Blogging for Books; and Love by Hanne Orstavik for his Arts Criticism class. The reviews of the Rorschach biography and Love will be posted on this blog in March. Dan expressed interest in wanting to publish more of these “weekly consumption” articles but then I reminded him of his packed class schedule. He dropped the following article on my desk and ran out of my office screaming something about existence being pain.]
This week I took a break from writing my solipsistic attacks on pop music and spent some time catching up on my back log. Yes, even workaholics like me have backlogs.
Two albums that I wish I had time to write full reviews of but still want to talk about are “Black Panther: The Album” by Kendrick Lamar and TDE and Senses Fail’s new album, “If There is Light, It Will Find You.” Since I also watched “Black Panther” this weekend and want to talk about it in conjunction with the album and the score, so I’ll start off with Senses Fail.
Senses Fail has been producing some weird and depressing stuff recently. They have always been more lyrically talented than other 2000’s pop punk/pop metal/post-hardcore bands such as A Day to Remember and Falling In Reverse. After releasing two melodic hardcore albums (“Renancer” in 2013 and “Pull the Thorns From Your Heart” in 2015), Buddy Nielsen and his friends released “In Your Absence,” an EP is comprised of three songs about his wife dying of MS and two acoustic covers. I thought it was a great EP full of justified emotion and some excellent reworkings/covers of two of their best songs, “Lost and Found” and “Family Tradition”
One reviewer did call the album ‘hard to love” which then spawned Buddy to respond saying “Wrote these songs about my wife dying from MS and in all honesty it doesn’t matter what people think because they are for her.”
Buddy’s emotions about his wife dying have also consumed “If There is Light, It Will Find You.” I can feel for the constant sadness Buddy feels but I do think he needs to come to terms with it and write about something else.
His screaming/dirty vocals has lost its mojo and often sounds like a dog choking and barking at the same time. Instead of the appropriate acoustic laments, the songs about death are given a pop punk makeover. These songs would have worked better if they had been given a hardcore tinge like “Ghost” by Counterparts.
It’s hard to write poppy songs about death (this is probably a product of our popular music trying to make us carpe that fucking diem and not worry about anything other than the (Less than Spectacular) Now. Pop music is a mixed bag of myopic, reactionary anthems and cash grabs…but that is not what I am here to talk about). Though we are treated to a well-placed satirical political song (“Gold Jacket, Green Jacket”) in which Buddy’s genuine fears and concerns about the state of the world are responded by a chorus that is the mantra of American conservatism:
“So take a pill to make you smile
And go buy shit you don’t need
Cause don’t you know that Jesus Christ loves America?
That’s why we’re always winning
And don’t forget to lock your door
And board up the window panes
Cause you got to defend yourself
From anyone who doesn’t think the same.”
The repeated mantras of ignorance makes the song into an anthem similar to “Vipers” by Highly Suspect.
I think the album fits well in the Senses Fail canon. In every Senses Fail album there is a reminder that no matter how much toxic sludge surrounds you the second you look at your phone in the morning, there is a reason for carrying on I look forward to seeing Senses Fail in concert (for the 3rd time) in a few weeks.
“Black Panther” is a great movie that is also a superhero movie. I am glad that Marvel finally realized that they can’t just make highlight reels of fight scenes with sparse cliched dialogue in between. “Thor” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” are two attempts at having an even story and action mix because of the former saves the action for the end of the movie and does nothing to build suspense, and the latter is too cheeky and gives you this feeling of abstraction from the characters.
“Black Panther” is less focused on pure action scenes. It concentrates more on letting the actors establish themselves through dialogue. Not until a few days after watching it, did I realize that the story is basically the Lion King which itself is basically Hamlet, which itself is…and so on and so on.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is not just the comic relief to play off the seriousness of her brother, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Shuri’s character, which is brimming with natural humor and also mechanical genius, is a much needed middle finger to the years of the ditsy blonde side character (think Deedee from Dexter’s Laboratory).
I thought Boseman’s calm acting felt in the moment a little lacking but when I thought a few days later about it, the level headedness fits his character well. Michael B. Jordan is the relatable bad guy we needed. Unlike the terrorists we are used to (usually “Islamic” dudes with long beards, pale Russians with bad haircuts, or European/American money obsessed opportunists), Killmonger’s intentions are clear. You may even agree with him. Killmonger is a mix of Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and every Fox News Host’s worst nightmare: a smart (MIT EDUCATED), well-spoken black male. I’m waiting for paranoid bunker dwellers at Fox News to take KillMonger’s college education and turn it into an anti-Affirmative Action rant.
Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Winston Duke all gave great performances. I would go on about the movie but I am A) not a film critic B) not interested in writing full reviews for this article and C) trying to move onto what I actually wanted to write about: the music.
It should be noted that there are two “Black Panther” soundtracks. One is a concept album by Kendrick Lamar and the lovely folks at TDE and other an orchestrated film score by Ludwig Goransson (Yes, Childish Gambino’s Ludwig). The score was boring and repetitive. I believe this was intentional because it allowed you to hear the characters speak. But during the battle scenes when there isn’t too much dialogue other than grunting and shouting of battle plans, you wish the score would capture the intensity of the action.
The soundtrack by Kendrick and TDE is phenomenal but does have a huge problem: Kendrick Lamar’s pop up samples. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is the worst thing about the album. There I said it! I know it’s blasphemous to say anything bad about Kendrick nowadays but it needed to be said. The samples of his schizo voice get thrown into amazing songs that didn’t need them.
The opening track, “Black Panther,” is a perfect inner conflict song. It’s piano opening calms you down and it’s second part that can only be described as beautifully angry, reminds you of what happens when you repress your feelings. “All the Stars,” “X,” “Pray for Me,” and “The Ways” all had a star on the track (SZA, 2Chainz, The Weeknd, and Khalid, respectively). Khalid and SZA fell flat and sounded like they don’t care about the songs. “X” was a half-assed attempt at a party song. The Weeknd reminds us in “Pray for Me” that he has given up on experimenting after his selling his soul with “Starboy.”
The remaining songs on the album (and also Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd’s verse on “The Ways” was better than Khalid’s. (Side Note: I worked a Rae Sremmurd concert before. I’ll get around to telling that shit show—they literally threw toilet paper at the crowd—of a story some day.)
I listen to the “Black Panther” soundtrack before I watched the movie and pictured in my mind where the director was going to place some of the songs. Unlike the Han Zimmer’s soundtrack of “Blade Runner 2049” , some of the songs on the soundtrack were hard to place. I remember thinking, The first song is obviously the opener, but where does the Weeknd go? What about that song with the three words? Instead of confusing me, I thought I was getting ready for a surprise. But just like every new beer I have ever tried, I was thoroughly disappointed. The sound track is barely used and when it is it is given at the volume of a car radio passing by.
Let’s move onto literature. I finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. That book takes a long time to read. I usually can read a 450 page book in about three days. White Teeth took me about two weeks. But it was an enjoyable two weeks because Smith’s prose slows you down and keeps you hooked. Her sentence structure is a mix of conversational storytelling and aphoristic philosophic pokes at her creations and their world.
While the ending is a bit rushed, the other 95% of the book is an addicting documentary following the lives of two eccentric but relatable families, their kids, and their adventures surviving in England in the last quarter of the 20th century.
I did pick up Smith’s latest essay collection, Feel Free (and also Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. Halliday’s interview with the New York Times Book Review Podcast almost dissuaded me from buying it but a reread of Alice Gregory’s review for the New York Times Book Review convinced me after all). I am also trying to interview Zadie Smith for BU News Service but may just settle for meeting her at Brookline Booksmith on Monday.
The other book I read this week was Love by Hanne Ørstravik. I am reviewing it for my Arts Criticism class so I won’t go into depth about it now. I enjoyed the cold and declarative writing style. It is almost the polar opposite of White Teeth. While Smith exhaustively tells us everything about her characters, Orstavik keeps us at a distance from understanding Vibeke and Jon.
What matters from Orstavik is action and narrative. The past doesn’t exist in Love because the whole novel is rooted in the present, the terrifying Now. The past only exists in the form of some chilling, self-centered lessons on Life given by Vibeke to Jon, and the neuroses of Jon shown through his obsessions with torture and his paranoid fear of blinking.
Love is worth all $17 but may cost you more in therapy sessions because it will awake some demons from your childhood. Love and the acoustic cover of “Family Tradition” from “In Your Absence” relate together well. Buddy’s past of alcoholism and parental abuse and Jon’s past (and present) of parental neglect and apathy are two stories that prove the validity of Philip Larkin’s famous stanza:
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
(I could quote directly from the book and from the lyrics but my retelling wouldn’t be able to capture the common essence that the song and the book embody. Somethings are just a bit too subjective to relate.)
As a quick concluding side note: I did see Of Mice and Men, Cane Hill, and blessthefall at Paradise Rock Club on Friday. I didn’t write any notes down about it while I was there and treated it as a break from writing so I don’t feel it would be fair to you guys (the readers, all three of you) and the bands to offer a judgment. Also I missed two (I think) of the opening acts.
I will say Of Mice and Men’s new album “Defy” is worth checking out. It makes up for whatever the hell Cold World was by returning us the land of good ole, family unfriendly metal-core; and treating us to a worthy cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money.” I think Aaron Pauley’s screaming is more mature than Austin Carlie’s. For a perfect example of this compare “YDG” from their first album with “Still YDG’n” from “Defy.”
I think that sums up my week of consumption. If you want to know more about what I think about one of the things I talked about this week, send me a message via the Contact menu tab thingy.
And always remember that Art is the one thing that is keeping most people sane nowadays. So make sure you pay those artists (and their critics…please?)