Oh No Ono’s “Swim” can now be found on iTunes in audio and video form. Their sophomore album, Eggs, is finally getting distributed all over the globe, being released in the U.S. by Friendly Fire and worldwide by the Leaf Label on January 26th.
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In 1989, I was lucky enough to discover Soundgarden two years before the grunge revolution. I read a rave about Louder Than Love in what was at that time my musical bible: Circus magazine. After a steady stream of Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth, I was floored at how heavy a band could be by playing so slow.
Two years later, I was somewhat disappointed by Badmotorfinger, partly because the sound wasn’t as raw as Louder Than Love, and partly because a lot of the kids at my high school were discovering a secret that I was in on two years before. By 1994, I was so steeped in playing “spot the sellout” that I couldn’t listen to their blockbuster Superunknown due to the incessant rotation of “Black Hole Sun”.
Years pass. People mature. And occasionally, you find yourself ready to pop in a CD that you may not have given much of a chance when it first came out. Sure, “Spoonman” still justifies the skip, but what floored me was the quality of the “deep tracks”, specifically the seven-minute closer “Like Suicide”.
If any song in Soundgarden’s arsenal showed how indispensible each member was, it was on this slow-burner of a closer. In the span of seven minutes, bassist Ben Sheppard starts the song with a bubbling bass line, leading into Kim Thayil’s warning siren-like guitar riff. Thayil and Sheppard keep the tension building while Chris Cornell goes from gentle croon, to rawk wail, to unleashed scream. Finally, as the entire thing explodes, drummer Matt Cameron closes the song with such ferocity, you’re half expecting to hear his snare crack. The entire effect is the musical equivalent of a dormant volcano slowly building before its Mt. St. Helens-like eruption.
On Superunkown, Soundgarden proudly wore their Led Zeppelin influence, and “Like Suicide” was the band’s “In My Time of Dying”. Comparing love to suicide is hardly original, and a year later Billy Corgan shouted Cornell’s lament almost verbatim on “Bodies”. But Cornell’s sentiments on “Like Suicide” were more sinister and thus more believable. When Cornell yells “I feel for you”, you’re not sure if that’s actually a good thing.
The lyrics also contained its share of cryptic foreshadowing. The most obvious one being the death of Kurt Cobain, who expressed his love of Louder Than Love in interviews. However, there are other most subtle instances. Nearly a half-decade before school shootings overtook the media spotlight, Cornell’s pained delivery of a line like “with an ounce of pain, I wield a ton of rage” can put a chill down a listener’s spine. And all this from a song that Cornell apparently wrote about a bird that fatally flew into a window in his house.
“Like Suicide” would have been a great capper for Soundgarden: It combined the pure aggressiveness of their earlier work with the refined skill the band demonstrated in the more Beatlesque songs on Superunknown. The song could also be on the shortlist for best song the band ever recorded. But the band opted for one more album, 1996’s Down the Upside, with mixed results. Still, many circles regard Superunkown as grunge’s last masterpiece. And like most masterpieces, the closing track pretty much determines whether it’s fit for that distinction or just merely a “great album”. Judged on “Like Suicide”, it was easy to figure out what category Superunknown would fall.
Every time I attempt to see the Boss, disaster strikes. In May, Bruce Springsteen and company rolled through town and, needless to say, I was looking forward to the show. But on the eve of the concert, upon returning home from a trip, I discovered that my apartment had been flooded, no thanks to a busted water pipe. Out of desperation, I asked my colleague Wilson McBee if he would attend and review the show in my place while I mopped. (He kindly obliged and did one better by writing a more thoughtful review than I ever could have.) Luck was on my side, however, because just six months later Springsteen and the E Street Band were back at the Verizon Center, somehow managing to sell out the 20,000 seat Verizon Center yet again.
British jazz/hip-hop fusioners the Herbaliser opened for De La Soul at a recent show in Paris and Grandcrew.com was on the scene to capture the proceedings at Paris’ Jazz à la Villette. The funky soulful beats are out in full force here. Check out more on the new stellar release Session 2, which got an 8 from PopMatters back in August.
A useful myth took definitive hold in the Reagan years about taxes: the government steals our income through taxes and helps the lazy poor with massive transfer payments. Liberals have never managed to effectively counter this nonsense, perhaps in part because they are bought off by actual massive subsidies of their own, which arguably come at the expense of the poor. (Dean Baker and James Galbraith each have good books on how this works.)
Home-owning subsidies are maybe the worst of these. Justin Fox linked to this Congressional Budget Office report about the government subsidies in housing, which estimates that (as Fox notes in his post’s headline) that only 20 percent of the federal housing aid goes to renters. The remaining 80 percent goes to homeowners, mostly in the form of mortgage-interest tax deductions. Another way of putting this is that America uses policy to create a rentier society, subsidizing landlords and creating property bubbles for their short-term benefit. And meanwhile, the report tell us, “The burden of housing’s costs is more pronounced among renters than among owners: In 2007, 45 percent of renters (compared with 30 percent of owners) paid more than 30 percent of their income for housing.”
The alibi for these subsidies to those who are already relatively privileged is that homeownership is an inherent good in its own right, a widely disputed claim. It is neither economically efficient, environmentally sustainable, nor the facilitator of more livable communities. (America’s fixation on single-family homes gives us anomie and exurbs.)
I wonder what renters like me can do about this. I have no interest in home owning, but feel like a chump for missing out on the gravy train. I’m like a middle-class person who insists on riding the bus instead of buying a car like society seems to be insisting I must. It grows tiresome to go against the grain of what society tells you someone in your class should do; to persist in it we probably need to link isolated individual behavior to an organized movement. Otherwise it seems like pyrrhic self-importance.