Music

Scabby Witches from Glasgow: Strawberry Switchblade

For some acts, even the title of "One Hit Wonder" is too extravagant an honor. For self-proclaimed "scabby witches from Glasgow", Strawberry Switchblade, OHW status can only be claimed in Europe and Japan -- in the US, they didn't even rate as a blip on the radar screen, unless you were a moody teenager who subscribed to Smash Hits and bought creepers and Communards 12" dance singles at import shops with names like the Berlin Wall.

To such a teenager, however, the heady mix was unbeatable: morose but danceable electronic pop about certifiable anxiety disorders and unrequited love, sung by the Scottish love children of Siouxsie Sioux and Frida Kahlo after an explosion at the squaredance costume factory. Rose MacDowell and Jill Bryson wore getups and hairstyles so massive, so elaborate, it was a wonder they could even stand up, much less strum guitars or shake maracas. They covered songs by the Velvet Underground and Dolly Parton! Their record label (Korova) was named after a reference from A Clockwork Orange! I couldn't have found a more perfect duo to worship if I had constructed it from whole cloth myself. My favorite subjects were depression, polka dots, dolls, strawberries, fishnet stockings and obscure British pop music. What were the odds of finding such a tailor-made treasure?

Strawberry Switchblade scored a #5 hit in England in 1985 with "Since Yesterday", but by 1986, collapsing under the weight of all those ribbons, silk flowers and pancake makeup, they were history. Their eponymous album remains one of my favorite of that decade, and one that bears surprisingly frequent listens today. So even if your adolescent fantasy wasn't to look like Blueberry Muffin working behind the MAC counter... give Strawberry Switchblade a try. I'll bet you dollars to donuts it was their version of "Jolene" and not Dolly's that first inspired Jack White to cover it.

"Since Yesterday"

"Jolene"

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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