Books

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

This is not so much a prescription for how the meth problem might be remedied as a lament for the slow death of rural America.


Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Length: 272 pages
Author: Nick Reding
Price: $25.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2009-06
Amazon

Toward the end of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town Nick Reding concedes that the book might seem less relevant today than even a few years ago. After all, the manufacturing and sale of methamphetamine derived from over-the-counter cold medicines -- popularly known as “crystal meth” -- is hardly the subject of widespread and, Reding argues at times nearly hysterical, media coverage that it was in the late '90s and early '00s.

Further, in 2006 Congress passed the Combat Meth Act intended to restrict individuals’ ability to buy in large quantities cold medicines and other products used in the production of meth, signaling, according to legislators and officials in the Drug Enforcement Administration, firm determination to severely curtail the making, trafficking, and use of the drug. This apparent victory over meth -- this seeming triumph in at least one theater of the United States’ ongoing war on drugs -- is however just that, Reding suggests, an apparent victory. Reding ends his study of the effects of meth production, distribution, and abuse in the small farming town of Oelwein, Iowa with the grim suggestion that meth is still, and will continue to be, a serious problem whatever claims to the contrary government and law-enforcement officials might make.

This is so because meth production and use are deeply interwoven with economic and political trends that are stripping rural America of its historic significance and purpose. Quite simply, rural America and the small farm agricultural economy that characterized so much of it no longer matter much anymore. As Reding writes in his prologue: “If ever there was a chance to see the place of the small American town in the era of the global economy, the meth epidemic is it”. In other words, in the account that Methland presents meth is not so much what is devastating rural communities as the “symptom” of a devastation that has already been wrought by “Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Agriculture, and modern Mexican drug-trafficking business”.

At the same time, the popular prejudice that meth abuse is a problem caused by trailer-dwelling hillbillies and redneck bandits prevents Americans from taking a hard look at its national and international causes -- among them corporate lobbying that restricts any real limitations on the sale of cold medicine, government support of agri-business corporations whose products and practices are driving the family farm out of existence, and the indifference that allowed international drug cartels to establish the widespread presence of meth in the United States.

Reding’s diagnosis of the historical circumstances that have allowed meth to flourish is generally convincing but the real significance of Methland lies in its examination of how meth has affected the lives of the residents of Oelwein -- both those who use and produce the drug and those who seek to eradicate it. As to the first group, without passing over the physical and psychological horrors that meth use can and more often than does visit upon those who use it, Reding takes very seriously the reasons that individuals might consume, produce, or distribute the drug. Those reasons vary, and certainly greed and unscrupulous ambition play their part. But perhaps foremost is a sense of hopelessness and futility born of limited economic opportunity as farming and manufacturing become less and less viable means to make a living. This sense is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

As to Reding’s other cast of characters -- the police officers and attorneys and doctors who have seen their communities immeasurably damaged by the influx of meth -- they are fighting a good fight, but one that they almost certainly will not win. Indeed, Methland is not so much a prescription for how the meth problem might be remedied as a lament for the slow death of rural America, a death whose causes are more complex than Americans are willing to acknowledge, just as they are unwilling to acknowledge the many complicities and betrayals -- however so large or small, individual or national -- that have lead to the dire fate of places like Oelwein.

If these places refuse to go gentle into obsolescence, if instead they present a sad and terrible pageant of human suffering and cruelty as they both struggle for a little more life and collude in their own destruction, we should ask, as Reding does with compassion and thoughtfulness, how much we can really blame them?

6

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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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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