Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





Review of the Vampire Film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

14 09 2014

It is Only Lovers Left Alive - Posterone of the most striking films I have ever seen. Vampires Eve and Adam re-unite after a few decades, and the younger sister, Ava, tries to shatter their dreams by acting like a no-good Angelena. The premise is bizarre, yet fascinating.

Eve and Adam text about Adam’s depression, and she, the ever-sprightly one, decides to travel from her base in Tangier to his place in Detroit, where she attempts to soothe him. Everything is weird—she is texting her lover on an iPhone via her Moroccan boudoir, which is decorated in embroidered fabrics and is probably suffused with various exotic scents. Gold, blue, and white are the main colours. He is consumed in a mess of guitars and violins in a decaying Detroit mansion.

Eve and Adam are humane vampires who acquire blood by bribing hospital staff and local friends to quench their thirst. They have no desire to feed on humans unless necessary. Much like modern-day human vegans refuse to consume animal products unless necessary. Until Eve’s younger sister, Ava, arrives and starts acting like a total douche-bag. "only lovers left alive"She drinks Adam’s musical assistant to death, and Eve and Adam have to dispose of his corpse in a vat of acid somewhere in an abandoned building in Detroit.

After kicking Ava out on her own, Eve and Adam decide to return to Eve’s favourite place—Tangier. Unfortunately, Tangier is infected with contaminated blood. Even Eve’s reliable source of blood—Marlowe—lies dying of contaminated blood. Eve delicately lays her hand on the head of his human care-taker. It is actually a quite moving scene.

The last scene is amazing. Since Marlowe and his special source of blood are gone, Eve and Adam are forced to walk the streets ofOnly Lovers Left Alive - Last Scene Tangier, seeking a source of blood. They are starving. Eve in particular catches the scent of blood. It is a couple making out. She convinces Adam to turn them. He acquiesces. The look in their glassy eyes is disturbing.

Only Lovers Left Alive is amazing not only because it is so cryptic and peaceful, but also because it forces the viewer to re-imagine the vampire as a creature with human emotions. After all, humans are just cattle in the eyes of the vampire.

 





Three Intimate Yet Groovy Dance Tunes

31 07 2014

A lot of people describe dance music as ‘soulless’. I completely disagree. I think this is an idea concocted by people who are more familiar with rave music from the late ’90s than the legacy of funk, soul, disco, techno, and synthpop which has informed pop music since the mid-’70s. Dance music is just popular music with a danceable beat, melody, catchy hook, and lyrics important enough that you keep singing them inside your head.

Some dance songs prove superior to others because they have lyrics which reveal the intimate reflections of their writers. At the same time, the musical accompaniment, whether guitar, synthesiser, or drum, holds up the background and forces people to move. In this situation, dance and emotion are the same. The inner person becomes dance.

The most emotional and soulful dance song, for me, is ‘Hideaway’, by the British synthpop band Erasure. They manage to create a luxurious texture of sounds and melody while conveying a very important message:

Obviously, the song is about coming out as gay. This was actually revolutionary for its time—the song is from the Circus album, which was released in 1987—and singer Andy Bell is one of the first lead singers of a major pop group to come out as gay. I actually personally commend him for writing this song, because it is so important. And yet it is fun, catchy, and danceable! Who’d have thought??

The next song is by somebody everybody knows, but I don’t want to ruin the experience by mentioning the artist’s name, so I will just say that I find it infectious, groovy, and emotionally revealing:

Everybody constantly criticises Madonna, but this song proves two things: her stature as the queen of inventive dance-pop and her ability to reflect on her youth. It is actually really interesting to groove to a song that reveals the inner feelings of Madonna. It is fun, catchy, sing-song, and danceable, but it also reveals her torn memories about her mother (who died when she was only five years old) and her father, who didn’t offer everything she sought. And so she fought for what she has today.

There is one more song I want to add to the list of songs I categorise as intimately danceable. You might think it unusual, but if you know my ear, you’ll know what I mean. It is ‘Sara’, by Fleetwood Mac:

I’m not exactly sure what she’s saying, but the cool, quavering voice of Stevie Nicks has always haunted me. The song makes me want to sway to and fro and coo and echo everything Stevie is saying, as though it flutters within me. And at the same time, it is not a slow song. It is upbeat. It is a song that makes you want to move while feeling what she says.

I don’t care whether it’s Madonna, Erasure, or Fleetwood Mac. A good dance groove with a good melody and good lyrics makes the best song. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a huge name or not–the point is that dance music can conjure up unexpected emotions. Dance music can be surprisingly soul-satisfying.

 

 

 

 





Men Are from Earth, Women Are from Earth

28 03 2014

John Gray Women Venus Men MarsRemember the whole ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ craze that swept the ’90s? Some people still believe in it. I consider it the bilgewater of popular myth. I view it as part of a larger machine in which right-wing conspiracy theorists enshrine old-fashioned ideas about gender difference through pop-culture vehicles like John Gray and Leonard Sax. Even the paranormal radio programme CoasttoCoastAM invites John Gray as a regular guest, but not people who disagree with him.

The notion that male and female brains are fundamentally different has been challenged by neuroscientist Gina Rippon, of Aston University in Birmingham, England. Rippon does not claim that male and female brains are the same—she claims that they are different because of environmental influences. In other words, she suggests, everything children learn, and everything they absorb from their youngest years, informs their concepts of gender. Isn’t that a pioneering concept? Cordelia Fine echoes the same ideas in her acclaimed book Delusions of GenderHowever, there are armchair theorists in every family who want to slap down anybody who rocks the uncomfortably comfortable boat.

At the core of Rippon’s argument is the concept of brain plasticity. She points out studies which show that the brains of London taxi-cab drivers changed after they acquired knowledge of the streets and landmarks of London. After an extended period of time, the cab drivers had created new neural networks to meet the demands of the environment. The point is that the brain is not just a ready-made piece of meat, but a tool to meet the needs of the user. Just as a Gina Rippon Brain Male Female Gender Sex Differencetaxi-cab driver moulds her brain to fit the streets of London, a young boy moulds his brain to suit the needs of an exacting stepfather. That stepfather might try to shut down dolls in a boy, or he might try to shut down cars in a girl.

It is important to note that criticisms of the gender binary do not preclude the fact of transgender identity. Just as any cisgender person identifies with one or another gender, so does a transgender person. Gender is a spectrum, and transgender people can claim any space a cisgender person does along this spectrum (or wagon-wheel/Venn diagram, as I like to think of it).

The point is that it is wrong to assign roles on the basis of gender identity. I understand that in sports we assign roles to traditionally feminine or masculine physiques–like football–but that is an exception. And besides, even then, don’t ‘women’ have a better sense of balance and a better track record of completing long-distance treks? So why do we judge ‘male’ abilities better than ‘female’ ones? All of that aside, we need to form a better standard for treating people on the basis of their gender. Because the fake idea of equality, that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus–without allowing women what men have–constitutes an insult to everybody’s intelligence.





More Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

1 03 2014

I’ve already given eight reasons why homophobia makes no sense, but I am continuously discovering more reasons, as you can tell by the title of this blog entry.Morgan Freeman Homophobia

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently vetoed (for largely economic reasons) a bill passed by the Arizona legislature to allow business owners to discriminate against people on the basis of religious belief. Senate Bill 1062 would have allowed business owners to deny service to members of the LGBT community on the basis of personal religious faith. (The pro-business Brewer was pushed to her decision largely by corporations threatening to leave Arizona if the bill was passed.)

The bill also could have allowed business owners to deny service to Muslims, pagans, very many women, and others who do not subscribe to the religious doctrines of the business owner. If a business owner passed by a restaurant booth and overheard a conversation by a Muslim woman saying she was seeking or had sought an abortion, the bill, if passed, would have given that business owner the right to deny that woman service (if the business owner could prove their religious conviction in accordance with the re-written law).Stephen Fry Homosexuality Love

This whole fiasco drew opponents to homosexuality out of the woodwork, and they populated social media in force. They hemmed and hawed against religious restrictions, while LGBT advocates hemmed and hawed about equal protection (which is also a constitutional right in the United States).

So, with that in mind, I am going to focus here on the attitudes of people I have encountered in social media who supported the bill because it would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT people. I am going to expose their fallacies and destroy them one-by-one. I cannot connect a single argument with a single person, but I can say I encountered these arguments commonly (and you have probably encountered them, too).

1) ‘Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table?’

Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table? Oh, wait, you are talking about LGBT people, and I am talking about straight people. Why do you think that gay people flaunt their sexuality at a restaurant table any more than straight Audre Lordepeople? Is it just the fact that you know they’re LGBT? As opposed to straight? How is there a difference? I am confused.

2) ‘What’s next? Allowing swingers and people in BD/SM gear to enter my establishment and demand to be served?’

Wait, what? So you equate LGBT people with swinging and BD/SM more than you do straight people? That’s silly, since straight people probably have just as much interest in BD/SM as LGBT people. If you shun LGBT people because of their scary sexual experimentations, why don’t you shun straight people as much for the same reason? It doesn’t make sense.

3) ‘You can’t compare LGBT rights with black rights.’

This is a false dilemma. You are saying that LGBT Lesbian Charactersrights do not compare with black rights because LGBT people choose to be who they are, while black people do not. First, how do you know that LGBT people choose to be who they are? Give me the evidence. Second, even if they did choose to be who they are, natural does not equal right, and unnatural does not equal wrong. Third, it is wrong to say that LGBT rights and black rights are entirely separate just because LGBT identities are based on sexuality, and not skin colour. No, LGBT and black rights are similar because both LGBT and black people have experienced institutional and/or systemic discrimination based on their status. Obviously their experiences overlap. Ask Audre Lorde.

4) ‘Gays and atheists and what-not will discriminate against me!’

No, they won’t! What they want is a compromise. The gay-theists will take wedding photos of you, because state law says they should, and you will take wedding photos of gay-theists, because state law says you should. Doesn’t it all work out to a magical equilibrium?

5) ‘Religion trumps everybody else’s rights’Gay Love

No, it doesn’t. True religious freedom means the right to exercise your religion in peace and harmony while also respecting the freedoms of others. It does not mean steamrolling over their freedoms; it does not mean controlling every aspect of their lives; and it is not a free pass to do whatever you want on the grounds of personal faith. Religious freedom ends when it seeks dominion over the basic freedoms of others.

So that is my response to attitudes about the recent decision in Arizona. I know I will not reach the heart of truly devout Christians who believe what they believe, but I hope something like this will make a dent in the beliefs of people who are on the fence. If you truly believe that God made Adam and Eve to procreate, you have to ask yourself why there are post-menopausal women who have sex, women who have had hysterectomies but have sex, sterile women who have sex, and women who simply choose not to have children but have sex. How is that any different from a gay person having sex? Obviously it is about love and devotion toward another human being. How is that wrong?





Valentine’s Day and Stupid Sexist Jokes

15 02 2014

Conan O'BrienLet me make this clear right away: I love Conan O’Brien. He is the funniest late-night television show host I have ever watched. He is refreshingly, self-deprecatingly wacky and off-the-wall. It is fun to watch Irish gingers make fun of themselves, too. Most late-night hosts don’t do that—Conan is uncannily British in his farcical humour, which is probably why he’s so popular in so many countries outside the United States. But he doesn’t write his own monologues—he works behind the scenes with writers and then delivers the final product on stage. He is not entirely at fault for the jokes he delivers in his monologues.

While I normally slap my knee uproariously over Conan’s crazy introductory monologues, I’ve been a little bit peeved lately at the show’s jokes about Valentine’s Day because of their retrogressive direction. One of the jokes was about how McDonald’s has offered discounts to 05 - Needle You - Vintage ValentineValentine’s Day couples, and how all the tables will be filled only by one person—presumably a man who was abandoned by his female lover for taking her to such an awful place for the most important date in her calendar. Another joke was about how Valentine’s Day bla bla bla men don’t care bla bla bla women love it bla bla bla therefore punchline about how men don’t care about Valentine’s Day, and just want to get their dicks sucked as payment.

OK. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, and I totally appreciate the overall vibe of the Conan show and other commercial outlets for St Valentine’s Day, but the whole ‘man pays woman with chocolates for sex’ thing is  just kind of annoying because it reinforces several very unfair things that many of us automatically assume about the ritual of love and romance. And it shouldn’t be this way; it should be about romantic love and devotion between consenting partners.

First, there is the assumption that men don’t care about Valentine’s Day as much as women do. Really? What kind of evidence do you have to support this assumption? I’m curious to know. The typical narrative is that the man gives the woman flowers and chocolates in exchange for sex. This suggests that men don’t care as much as women do about romantic love, for that is what Valentine’s Day is all about. It is an incredibly special day in which couples celebrate their love for one another. If you don’t believe the man cares as much Batgirlabout romantic love as the woman does, doesn’t this deserve explaining? Why do you think the man shouldn’t care as much? Men feel romantic desires too, don’t they?

Second, there is the assumption that women don’t care as much about sex as men do on Valentine’s Day. Again, really? Give me hardcore reasons for your assumption. We all know the drill: the man gives the woman chocolates and flowers as an expression of his love and devotion (like some brain-dead, sex-crazed zombie), and the woman rewards him by performing fellatio on him. Or more. This whole scenario suggests that sex is a form of payment to a man by a woman. No. If St Valentine’s Day means anything, it is that couples merge consensually in perfect, harmonic sexual love. There is perfectly good reason to believe that Valentine’s Day should be as sexually pleasing for the woman as for the man. It isn’t her fault that you don’t know where the clitoris is. Maybe that’s why she asked for chocolates.

My intent is not to ruin your joy—there is nothing more precious than true love—but it is to shatter the myth that St Valentine’s Day is an excuse to make a profit off some ill-conceived battle of the sexes. It is not the case that men have to earn sex by giving women flowers and chocolates, and it is not the case that women have to earn love by denying their own sexuality and gratifying a mate. It is far more egalitarian than that. Both women and men acknowledge that they both experience love and lust, and want to share it with one another. How fucking complicated is that? It sounds like a fun time to me!

And with that, I leave you with ‘Welcome to my VD’, by my favourite comedienne, Deven Green:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2746119/welcome_to_vd_comedy_parody_by_deven_green/





9 Reasons Why Anti-Ally Attitudes Make No Sense

30 01 2014

Macklemore GrammysI am tired of members of the LGBT community griping about how people who support them shouldn’t support them. It makes no sense. It is embarrassing to much of the LGBT community, and it makes them look like spoiled ingrates.

Macklemore recently performed at the 56th Grammy Awards alongside Mary Lambert (an open lesbian), Queen Latifah, and Madonna. He performed a song you would think all the gays would be grateful for: ‘Same Love’. Well, apparently that wasn’t good enough.

Some gays were up-in-arms over his performance. I can’t even begin to enumerate the asinine reasons why.

Let’s start with this superb piece by Arielle Scarcella:

Um, how can you refute any of these points? Please tell me how.

These are the types of arguments I encountered subsequent to Macklemore’s performance:

1) Straights cannot understand what it’s like to be gay.

Exactly! That is why Macklemore’s statement is so important. He doesn’t know. And yet he is still supportive, because he knows it’s Macklemore Grammys IIwrong. He shows empathy. Isn’t it a good thing when a non-member shows empathy for a member of a group? Or are you just divisive?

2) I didn’t ask for help.

He didn’t give it because you asked. He gave it out of magnanimity because young people needed it. Nobody is forcing your hand to accept his help. You can take it or leave it. Are you really going to take him to task for such a noble gesture? What is really annoying is that you suggest he’s forcing you to appreciate him. That is just disingenuous.

3) Privilege isn’t a shield.

He isn’t creating privilege as a shield! He is challenging his own privilege, and those of other straight men, by rapping about it! Do you really think he’s leveraging his fame to defend himself against criticism? Of what? Defending you? Now you’re just starting to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

4) He’s white56th GRAMMY Awards - Show

And? I understand some black people might not identify with his music, but surely we cannot ignore the black people who do identify with it, or invalidate the content of his argument on the basis of his race alone.

5) He’s a man

So, what? He is trying to dismantle gender roles based on sexual orientation. Isn’t that one of the most gender-subversive things a man (or anybody) can do? He is unusual among men for that reason, and that does deserve appreciation.

6) He’s exploitative.

How? He has leveraged his fame to advocate for gay rights. How is that exploitative? It can only be beneficial to the gay rights movement. He could donate to a gay charity, but that wouldn’t have the same visible impact. The mainstreaming of gay rights does require some commercialisation. It really  isn’t a big deal.

7) You have to look at the context.

What context? These are Macklemore’s lyrics. What else are you looking for? A swastika? We are being challenged on so many sides, and occasionally a beam of supportive light shines in through a grand lunette window. It is a ray of hope, and it is from a privileged person. That is our context. How can it hurt, then, to accept the help of an ally??

Madonna8) He can’t speak for us queer people.

He can’t? What would you rather he do? Stand on the sidelines and let Pat Robertson take over? Or outright oppose you like Pat Robertson? That is just ridiculous. No, you don’t have to know exactly what it’s like to be queer in order to support queer rights, and, yes, the majority can speak for the minority–out of basic human empathy, compassion, and solid ethical reasoning.

9) I’m just going to couch the terms of my argument in newfangled rhetoric.

This is perhaps the most intellectually disingenuous and disrespectful attitude I have encountered. I don’t know if it is rooted in some queer radical movement or what, but it has no business in honest dialectic. Underprivileged. What does that mean? That you can get away with saying anything you want, regardless of the illogic of your argument, just because you happen to belong to a so-called ‘underprivileged’ group? Because it doesn’t. You still need to abide by the laws of reason and open, honest debate. The fact that you may be less privileged than a member of another group does not automatically make your argument valid. It is just as likely that you are leveraging your own status as ‘underprivileged’ to bitch about people who are actually trying to help you. Which makes no sense.Macklemore Grammys IV

It is perfectly possible for underprivileged people to begin to assume the position of the privileged by taking their current position for granted (French Revolution).

The point is this: yes, LGBT people are underprivileged. However, being underprivileged does not protect you from being a total, complete asshole. The fact is we do need allies, and we start to look like real shitheads when we refuse to acknowledge our allies’ hard work to redress the crimes of the past. As Arielle Scarcella says in her video above, allies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Personally, I am shit-holy grateful as an effeminate gay man. I will be damned if I don’t show my allies the gratitude they deserve. If you don’t like that, so be it—but keep in mind, we are not so privileged as you may think.

Oh, and during the Grammy Awards ceremony, Queen Latifah herself performed a mass wedding ceremony for both gay and straight couples, so what the fuck are you motherfuckers complaining about? Hm?








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