2016

I must die. White death: I must die a white death. Every aspect of my power, privilege, spoken and unspoken, overtly or covertly claimed, wanted or unwanted, known or unknown, must end. But this power is embodied, and insofar as white privilege is embodiment, my white body must die. My white identity must die. I must die, a white death.

There is this visceral, disgusting feeling of safety that I have recognized since the election: I am safe. My friends may fight, and I may fight, my friends may protest and I may protest, but I will never have to push as much into the endeavors as nonwhite people. I have an out. The trapdoors of reality are so aligned to allow me to slip out when I am tired, when I cannot possibly protest any longer, when I cannot comprehend my friends’ fights, when i cannot comprehend the stakes of a gender-neutral society, when I cannot comprehend the stakes of racial equality, when i cannot phrase ideals of equity into acts of power that empower others without serving privilege through the backdoor. #blacklivesmatter taught me the significance of listening, that truly this is not my time to speak, that it is time for power to surrender, to become vulnerable, to reduce oneself, to quit designing methods to equality that encompass goals of privilege or employ institutions of power. This coming equity is not mine to design, and I owe #blacklivesmatter for that realization. It is time to listen. But even listening is not enough, I must die: I must die a white death, I must renounce white privilege and identity in a manner so thorough as to match the oppression that white bodies have cast upon nonwhite bodies for all eternity; the same can be said of my male body, which has cast violence upon nonmale bodies for all time. To this, I owe Moor Mother, who wrote the most timely album I heard in 2016, the most difficult album, the most political album, the most embodied album, the most genius. Death and the distended travails navigating time (both historical and ahistorical) are the major premises for Fetish Bones, the Don Giovanni Records debut full-length for Moor Mother. If it can be said that I cannot empathize with black Americans’ political experiences for reasons of privilege and power, Moor Mother attacks that embodiment of privilege and power with ferocious accuracy and languages of pain that are loud enough to cross that threshold.

Moor Mother sets the stage for Fetish Bones with “Creation Myth,” effectively weaving together the contemporary black political and protest battles with the whole of American history. Moor Mother uses the pretense of time travel through death and embodiment to build an eternal vision of black protest while simultaneously sabotaging any notions of linear time for explaining the development of American history. Time is distended, unbound: “time is a balancing act that encompasses all things suspended in illusions,” as Moor Mother says. Time becomes ideological, and once it is ideological Moor Mother can effortlessly travel through time to both compound and expand political visions, creating painful and brutal descriptions of physically mangled bodies, physical and ideological oppression, and death. Black victims of state violence and political violence are woven together by Moor Mother, giving contemporary listeners an immediate entry point into more distant and difficult historical events to embody and understand. Sandra Bland and Natasha Mkenna are two such figures to build Moor Mother’s time traveling indictment of white power, white identity, and state violence, and these figures haunt Moor Mother’s psyche (“Natasha Mkenna / I see you in my sleep”) and develop visions of political retribution or equity (“Sandra Bland returning from the dead with a hatchet”). It is impossible, from my perspective, to truly grapple with Moor Mother’s imagery — the artist is not speaking to me or for me (“and the guns and machetes out / and the white academics to write about”). But in the sense that I know that it is not the time for white males to define demands for equity, Moor Mother provides visions of political revolution that are solely foreign to my mind and therefore are crucial to grapple with — perhaps it is not even my place to have any role in an equitable society, I am the target of Sandra Bland returning from the dead with a hatchet, to be dismembered in order that equity may be achieved. For just as Moor Mother demonstrates the illusory nature of linear time in American politics, it is impossible for me to say that I am not culpable in efforts of enslavement, imprisonment, and racial violence — political time is embodied and through death seemingly distant eras are immediately connected through power struggles and ideological definitions.

Fetish Bones is an effective album not solely for Moor Mother’s brilliant writing, but also for its unclassifiable blend of noise, jazz, hip hop, and rap. It is a hardcore record in terms of the album’s rapidfire delivery — many songs are hardly two minutes long, which adds urgency to Moor Mother’s written words. This is not a message that can be delivered over a long time — our current political environment is defined by hundreds of years of practices, there is no sense in delivering the message over such an extended timeframe. By shredding illusory time, Moor Mother can compact generations of violence and pain into sharp snippets of noise, found sounds and field recordings, wailing guitars, distorted bass, droning, skronks, and unknown electronics and synthetics. What is so beautiful about the album is that for all the pain and confrontation evident in the lyrical delivery, Moor Mother weaves together an intricate set of short musical and nonmusical sequences to support the vocal delivery in both steady and unstable ways. There is this incredible feeling when one of the rogue circuits produces a fiery buzz (as on the first single, “Deadbeat Protest”), only to give way to more harmonious sets of hip hop (“KBGK” or “By The Light”) and triumphant blares of hard guitar washes (the kick-in on “Cabrini Green x Natasha Mkenna” is better than anything I’ve heard on a rock album in 2016). I’ve seen the term power electronics used to describe Moor Mother’s music, but I don’t think that’s quite right — there’s the radical vision of consciousness as in Alice Coltrane, there’s soulful vocal flow, and there’s a black political vision that cannot be delivered by most artists in the history of power electronics.

I have to be honest: there is a real sense where I don’t know what to add about Fetish Bones that Moor Mother fails to say within the album. I cannot add anything real to this album. But personally, this album is everything I needed to feel and did feel about 2016, expressed with more brilliance and embodiment than I could ever express. I am fucking disgusted by white politics and white privilege, the lazy ideals of equality, the ease with which we can step into our homes to take a breather while the true warriors of equity are constantly exposed. Moor Mother’s album has helped me understand the impossibility of this situation from both sides — from my embodied standpoint, I cannot ever truly help to deliver equity. I must kill my white identity through some means in order that the future of equity does not deliver the same systems of violence to oppressed populations. Power is around every corner and breathing through every pore of whiteness. So whiteness must die. If you don’t know what that means, there is a clear vision of black revolution presented by many artists, and in this sense there is a real continuum between someone like ONO (Spooks) and Moor Mother, and many others still. I cannot describe what an equitable future will look like, for it is not my future to describe: I cannot know what equity looks like; so, it is time to listen to black revolutionary political visions, one must take seriously the non-linear aspects of time, the power of death, and the centrality of embodiment to political power and battles for equity. Fetish Bones is such an accomplishment.

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While death is in the air, it occurs to me that the reactions to 2016 providing celebrity deaths as few other years have directly corresponds to the power development of consumer society after Word War II, the surge of a singular era of musical consumption through popular culture, and major labels as serious media participants. The idea that there cannot be another year like 2016 is faulty insofar as we will consistently experience the celebrity deaths from this singular, now-unattainable era. It is probably false that there could not be another Prince or David Bowie in creative senses — creative worship of major artists in this regard often punishes other lesser known artists with equally strong creative visions, or it simply upholds major distribution patterns. In future generations, there will be fewer major celebrity deaths to mourn simply because the aspect of celebrity has changed, as distributional patterns and mass consumption of pop culture has changed. This is not necessarily a value judgment, either — simply a brief reflection on why 2016 has caused so much pain for so many. We cannot go back to a world where there are David Bowies or Princes, and the political implications of this are thrilling: we must envision a world that has not yet existed, and understand that the world we inhabit will not resemble previous worlds in very important ways. How can we apply the lessons of 2016 in this regard?

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Rajai Davis homering off of Aroldis Chapman is easily Top Five baseball in experiences I’ve had. With the Championship on the line, a career 89 OPS+ (essentially, 11 percent below average) speedy outfielder slugged a game-tying home run off a 192 ERA+ (essentially, twice as good as an average pitcher) reliever.

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Favorite Listens:

Sapropelic Pycnic, A Love Supreme (No Index, 2016). Part of a whirlwind series of releases, pinnacle of experimental acoustic & synthetic jazz.

Pariuh, Passed Lives’ Excessive Future (Moniker, 2016). Don’t be fooled by the wild synthetic timbres and distortion, the songwriting here is top notch. Best rock effort of 2016.

Lykanthea, Migration (Self, 2014). I’ve been meaning to review this all year after picking up this tape following a phenomenal Sasvata performance at Elastic Arts. Migration is a seamless blend of ethereal synthetic ambiance and shortform pop construction. Have had this tape on repeat for much of the year.

Alice Coltrane, Universal Consciousness (ABC / Impulse!, 1971; Superior Viaduct / Universal, 2015). I’ll let Alice speak on this one.

Daniel Wyche, Our Severed Sleep (Eh?, 2016). Dark tonal manipulations and longform compositional / improvisational guitar / drum, visceral experimentation with amazing kick-ins.

Nick Millevoi Desertion Band (Live, Elastic Arts). Throw everything you love about Crazy Horse and compositional / improvisational experimental music into one succinct live group.

Nerftoss, Prospect Endless (O & E, 2016). May be the tape I played most in 2016.

Geneva Jacuzzi, Technophilia (Medical Records, 2016). Bad vibes dance/synth madness!

Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Hello New York (OSR Tapes, 2016). Unclassifiable brilliance.

Cloudland Canyon, An Arabesque (Medical Records, 2016). Really bizarre and surprising left turn by these psych mainstays.

Fabulous Diamonds, II (Siltbreeze, 2010). Rhythmic synth & drum repetition exercises, where have you been all my life?

Camera, Phantom of Liberty (Bureau B, 2016). Almost too perfect krautrock, as always.

James Brown, “The Funky Drummer” (King / Polydor, 1970) [How the hell did I live before hearing this song? How did it take me so long to hear it?]

Tangerine Dream, Cloud Majeure (Virgin, 1979). THAT GUILTY PLEASURE SWEET SPOT WHERE NEW AGE MEETS KRAUTROCK.

Tegan & Sara Live (Aragon Ballroom) — BRILLIANT stripped down synth / bass / drums line up. Easily Top Five performance / tour in their catalog / history.

Constantine, “Worshipping the Sun” b/w “Blue Iris Baby” (Self, 2015). Good grief if this is not the best blend of paisley, slowly waking psychedelia and Fresh & Onlys troubadour / guitar worship I’ve ever heard…