“007 (Shanty Town)” (Desmond Dekker)

As David Katz’ work often reminds, Jamaican music is born in relationality: to U.S. boogie and R and B in particular. For ground-zero ska, it’s simply a matter of a different accent on the 2 and 4. The figures which populate ska and rock steady songs, therefore, should be no surprise. The lyrics here specify the appearance of Jamaican James Bonds (he already had visited the island in Dr. No, and would do so again and again) and Frank Sinatras. On one level, it’s a typically moral rude boys track: in the end, the police rise with a vengeance and the cheap imitation outlaws  “a weep an’ a wail.” On other level, Dekker implies that 007 represents a license to kill in a specialized sense: the right to produce and determine the third world. Truly, the anxiety of influence.


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“Definition” (Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star)

Kweli is in the middle of “e-Kweli-ty”; likewise, equality is constituted between points (in relation) and not at them (as the nodes of an economy). Being “without a history” within the “industry” is embraced because we’re always “live from somewhere.” The complication arises when the promise of an afterlife is offered as motivation for becoming a “visionary.” “Vocab” bombing’s victory of substitution.


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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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“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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“ISDN” (Console and Hanayo)

Back in the day, an ISDN connection was surely cause for joy, especially with increased download speeds. But it’s also a problem of being open toward the world (despite firewalls, worms, viruses, and the like). Strict numerological data interpretation, describing possible outcomes of wired relationships, argues that the kiss consists of a secret which recapitulates the sorrow of more traditional, courtship-based relations: a rationality of parsed-out character possibilities. One possible way to avoid iteration is to recognize that the incommensurable happens and is a condition of a still manifest world despite hyper-connectedness (and transparency). Such would be the doubled woman/computer vocals, where electronic speech’s clipped approximations still fail at approximating tonality. This poverty (of articulation) allows for a temporalization of openness and a warning: the divinity of a faster, sharing community supposes (through a calculus) pre- established harmony.


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“You I’ll Be Following” (Love)

If this trax concerns “real” human beings, then it’s a story about the singer’s shift from chasing drug dealers all over the globe to a new place where another person has replaced drugs in his affection. But Arthur Lee’s vocal emphasis on “I” and “you” makes one wonder whether the deeper topic is strictly pronominal. Émile Benveniste, in “Relationships of Persons in the Verb” (1946) teaches us that first, second and third persons are born together and in hierarchical, force relations: “‘I’ is always transcendent with respect to ‘you’,” for instance, and both “I” and “you” lord it over the third person (or what Benveniste pointedly calls “the non-person”). So what does it mean to suggest that, at some time in the future, “You I’ll be following”? It would be too much to ask Lee to figure out a way to alter the entire structure of language. But at least this trax suggests an extended holiday from primacy.


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