“Brazil” (Esquivel)

Concrete/ambient tour of the city street, and of the many bar bands which each play a variant of the self-tropicalization standard, “Brazil.” This is, then, Esquivel’s take on the figure of the flâneur, or walker in the city. Baudelaire, for example: “His passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd.” Esquivel charts the stakes of this desire to fuse into community and registers its necessarily violence in the club fight which erupts at the end of the track. Which doesn’t have to amount to the retrograde Benajamian position on the crowd or the mob: “Brazil,” it’s clear, is each time different (musically multiple and variegated, “within” itself).


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“So Bored” (Wavves)

“Bored” is enunciated like the end of each couplet in Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians’ “Balloon Man.” Much like the latter, the trax centers on staging an example. (Unlike Hitchcock, it’s not concerned with identity production and explosion.) Alternating between first and third person limited, we witness the staging of ennui. Malformed embodiment: “skin like dirt” that’s both “sun kissed” and “burnt.” Neither actively pursuing nor straying far from whiteness. Overdriven instruments and vocals sound primarily in the midrange. Shared nostalgia for dissatisfaction, reanimating the realization that “life’s a chore.”


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“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” (Mickey Newbury)

The “hippie cowboy” strikes where it hurts. While the Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s later version is more well known, the original’s commitment to both sitar at the beginning and tape manipulation at the end signal that the stakes are a bit different. Any altered state here is premised on a warped negligence; your “mind” should be elsewhere and soaring. Just make sure to check in once in a while: lubricate social relations, follow “sign[s],” and “unwind” as others are wont to do. Testify to the intensity of experience. Make sure that your mind is “broke[n]. And always be packing a spare “you,” since it’s the best you can do on a daily basis (given the legal limits). Be here now and then.


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“Unfinished” (Can)

The orchestra tunes up, getting ready for Schubert, perhaps. But it’s not an unfinished symphony because it did not have a finish in mind (indeed, a version with the first section moved to last place would be very kosmiche, and hence more conventional). A thrummed guitar line rises and snakes amid faerie dustings; avant percussion and faux concretemusic emerge and merge; the keyboard whomps; and finally harps (?/!) begin to glide upward. Fin. But no: this (in)congruity of sections remains at loose ends.


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“Chorus of Exiled Palestinians” (Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon/The London Opera Chorus)

John Adams begins The Death of Klinghoffer with this massive, swirling chorus, followed by the “Chorus of Exiled Jews.” Between centuries of Jewish diaspora, and the Palestinian diaspora, inaugurated by Israel in 1948 (when “Israel laid all to waste”), one implicitly is asked to confront, right from the beginning, the undecidable. Or, perhaps, to find a ground for reconciliation in the large fact of shared, non-repairable dispossession and loss. Deciding anything, from here on, can only take place with reference to this incalculable, embedded relation.


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“Rocket 88” (Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats)

Astrofuturism, as described by De Witt Douglas Kilgore, is a 1950s configuration that manifests American destiny in the intellectual space between a dying colonialism and the utopian promise of a raceless future. It is fundamentally a White discourse. Afrofuturism also takes root in the 50s (the key founding figure is almost always Sun Ra) and explores the (outer) space between a certain afrocentrism and its total ironization (Underground Resistance, for instance). It is fundamentally an African American discourse. Recorded in 1951, “Rocket 88” is both astrofuturist and afrofuturist in orientation. It emphasizes the derangement of the senses, motion, speed, and an open space for “cruisin’” as preconditions for achieving escape velocity (“joy”). It further figures the “futuramic” Olds car/rocket as a techno-prosthesis, and the backing track sounds the soul of the machine (think of Brenston’s horn as the car horn, and the blown-out guitar distortion as the V8 engine). Old jalopies make funny “noise,” the singer insists, but this. . . . this is a flat out racket.


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“Rings of Gold” (Dottie West and Don Gibson)

The band of gold is a promise of fidelity—it signifies “forever,” or for at least as long as the golden ring remains. Gold is an image of permanence, but, after betrayal, neither party to the marriage can see anything but “rust” in place of jewelry and the “plans we’ve made just yesterday, sands of time have chipped away.” Like mighty Ozymandias, “now they’ve crumbed into dust.” So, “knowing there’s no hope for us,” what do we do from here? Well, Dottie and Don are still in harmony, and they sound as though torn between mourning and toe-tapping. Colin Escott calls this trax “playful,” and that’s definitely the dominant mood. There are three electric guitarists (including Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed) having a ball here, and Grady Martin’s solo is a model of mockery, laughing at the lover’s predicament and imitating their lament. The doctrine “nothing lasts forever,” therefore, may kill the metaphysics of romance, but the party is just beginning.


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“Rocket” (Smashing Pumpkins)

Limitlessness denied. Similar to ideas from both Nikolas Rose and Jean-Luc Nancy, freedom, which comes with the free disposal of rights, is presupposed by both a State and psy- discipline; the result for singer: he “couldn’t stay free.” The human body becomes a projectile, hurling into celestial emptiness (instead of into another) to be rid of “those voices in my head.” Ingesting love and consuming hate becomes the necessary fuel to attain escape velocity. The catch: “no more lies” assumes that once future being emerges, the true, sovereign subject will materialize. The irony not fully realized—here or there.


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“Isotope” (Joe Henderson)

The variation in (atomic) number has a certain gravity and weight—of neutral or non-charges merely taking up (mental) space—which weighs heavily on the (social) scientific; it’s not totally a matter of numbers or whether majority/minority status should be instrumental but, rather, an opportunity to recalibrate and voice anew how the standard element is merely more common in particular localities. Tenor attempts a few strategies to test out spacing and position of minority embodiment: interjecting sixteenth-notes in eighth-note runs, overblowing during faster runs, and swinging without melody; and even though Tyner’s piano swings strongly, it also hesitates near its solo’s end with a three-note spike, injecting discomfort. Ending with doubled piano/tenor restatement of head—in more melodic terms—chemistry, in the form of the ceaseless experimentation without expectation, survives by de-anticipating gradualist structural development.


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