“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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“dt 3.1415926535897952384” (Pimmon)

Computer macro introduces the electronic into the analog. Pi, to be representable, must always be rounded (off); same goes for “music” in general: sound always bound by technology’s inevitable failures in producing verisimilitude. Clicks become the ends of the diameter—touching the skipping, incomplete arcs of ringing noise at the supposed circle’s edge; identity, always incomplete, can only hope to touch its own laborious borders.  The digital is pitiless, but it’s still a system.

 

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“Til the Last Shot’s Fired” (Trace Adkins)

While Adkins’ micro-display of the Confederate flag and his narration as a Confederate soldier certainly resides over the edge of credulity, his call to “say a prayer for peace” centers the conversation. Though George W. Bush expressly focused on anti-poverty religious and community organizations in his first Executive Order, he also forcefully argued for the relative autonomy of faith-based financial assistance. And this trax’s association with the Wounded Warrior Project, in some way, hinges on a faith in the power of cost-shifting from government apportionment to people directly funding each other’s care. (Recurring donations that are tax-deductible if the amount is large enough!) More directly, this is institutionalized and structured prayer that takes place within a war economy. But Adkins isn’t singing about survivors or “warriors;” his primary narrators are corpses who have died grisly battlefield deaths. From the grave, they yearn for rest (“Let us lay down our guns”) despite war’s relentless forward march (“But we can’t come home til/The last shot’s fired”). Peace founded upon a corpse, and the price of doing (nation) business. Also: a monument to living.

 

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“Behemoth” (Tad)

As with any bloodsport, ideas concerning representation and authenticity are both solidified and dislodged. Tad’s ascendance came with the attendant Sub Pop marketing, firming up the label’s reputation while playing up an image of the band, as Kim Thayil contends, that deviates too far from their “smart[ness].” This radio-unfriendly trax insists, however, on the “strange new sound” that emerges from such forms of violence. Rather than “stay[ing] to hear” what’s been produced for “no reason,” those subject to the “behemoth” of institutionalized sound—or the vice-like “leather straps” cinching the cranium—will ideally live to see it “fall down.” This isn’t an undressing and it’s certainly not a recovery narrative. Occasional fuzz bass, solid-state distortion, and tightly controlled distortion erupt from within. Anticipating the birth of grunge, we witness its birth and evisceration. The necessary joy of quixotic, preemptive sonic battles.

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“Black with N.V. (No Vision)” (Black Sheep)

From the second wave of the Native Tongues posse, Black Sheep’s critique of structural racism exceeds “conscious rap’s” occasional investment in a christian notion of “talent.” (The contrast between this standard of value and the brutal irony of “native” should be maximized here for refreshing reading.) First verse’s address to white people key: it’s not about retribution but redistribution of “opportunity.” Otherwise: it’s N.W.A.-time, what with all this labor on being “without pay.” As the less threatening option, being in “touch” with the superordinate group is the ground for reason. An early articulation of a “get yours” approach, but there’s an avoidance of petit-bourgeois aspirations; opportunity is: “a life for me/and generations to come within tranquility.” For a disposition in repose.

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“I Don’t Like” (Chief Keef)

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama declared that a “defining project of our generation is to restore [the] promise” of “the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead” despite the “accident of [your] birth.” With the introduction of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, however, we’re encouraged to think structurally, from increased pre-school (“public savings” and a return on investment!) to “fair discipline practices” in schools and criminal court systems. Lest we think he’s appealing to crusty Baby Boomers in the former and white liberals/wonks in the latter, keep in mind that young men of color are a “drag on State and Federal budgets” that should be salvaged in order to “unlock their full potential.” (But as Michelle Obama points out, if her parents “did everything right,” their children would just “have a chance.” Slim odds, slimmer hopes.) Enter Chief Keef, avatar of Chicago lawlessness. There’s a whiff of racial discipline all around. Reviewers called his album everything from “irresponsible, unforgiving, and often infectious” to a representation of African American culture. How can young black and brown men account for themselves given these odds? Here, the trax flounders: snitches, whiners, pregnant women, wanna-be drug kingpins are all objects of derision. Then again, it’s also about cuckolding you. A monetization of the outlaw—both ways. Isn’t this what the whole conversation is about?

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“Unlimited Capacity for Love” (Grace Jones)

After the loving community—an insomnia-induced incarnation desiring a prenuptial agreement for inclusion—hits the “floor,” singer wonders how one can “add another to love” without inheriting “classic” community’s exclusions. Lacerating kick drum and staccato descending bass figure point the way, repeatedly; it’s the rest/pause which can admit the rest of us (without worrying about dividends). In the reverse: apart from “hope” and “without pressured expense,” one should only fret about how to expend love without short-changing.

 

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“Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (James Brown)

Overall strategy to document (and eventually attack) the hitch/delay: the “one” is muted (surrounded by two bass notes), main bass line hobbles before the “four,” and community is waiting for the “comer[s].” “Don’t wave your hand” if you’ve “been plugged in” to the white hierarchy; revolution through active unplugging—“Don’t let ’em do it”—to avoid distractions. Free-form guitar solo and main, picked riff (no hammer-ons) lay down the formula: attack the smooth, middle-class aspirations with stiff uppercuts. The fifteen-rounder doesn’t have to last a lifetime, but you better commit to going the distance.

 

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“To Beat or Not to Beat” (The Horace Silver Quintet)

It’s difficult to see the relation between the Arthur episode (season 4, episode 7b) of the same name and the trax, what with the cartoon’s focus on the dangers of performative versatility and the general busybody-ness of friends. Same with Hamlet, in which the division or break between states is considered, contextually, inevitable. In both texts, an awareness of the law–of gravity in the former or of law’s tardiness in the latter–leads one down these analogous paths. Silver’s treatment isn’t enamored of subjection, and we’re asked to focus on the force of the beat. Spatially located and loosely arranged, this is a formal hard bop tune. (Unlike his “Song for My Father“–whose bassline was wisely lifted by Steely Dan for “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number“–this trax eschews boogie and avoids romantic notions of place.) Unfaithful to the citation, too, is the piano solo; ascending and falling twice, it meanders at high and low registers, ending further down the scale than where it began. Be(at): one is never and always emplaced, (actively) occupying and occupied.

 

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“River Deep-Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)

Moving past the stock, insipid metaphors (I’m a puppy, you’re my rag doll, etc.), the attraction of the track long premised on inability to hear its coherent architectural foundation (its abyssal bottom, provided by Spector). Recently, and within “pop,” perhaps only W.C. Hart’s Circulatory System tracks function this way, with the 4 or 8 tracks compressed and recompressed to the point of invalidating depth perception (telescoping out and out again, a la House of Leaves). Relation to the other as endless, and without ground.

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