Author: Matthew Barlow

Dark Times, Music and Self-Care

We live in dark times globally.  White supremacy is on the rise in ways not seen since the 1930s.  The environment is dying.  Democratic Turkey is looking increasingly dictatorial.  Before Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France, we feared the rise of the Marine Le Pen there.  The far right is on the rise in Germany.  The American president is cozying up to murderous dictators and picking fights with erstwhile allies.  There are days where Handmaid’s Tale looks like non-fiction.  And Brexit.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the music I find myself listening to speaks to these darks and troubled times.  The messages vary from Mudhoney’s loud fuck you! to all of this to messages of keeping on keeping on to self-care. At an academic conference last year, I had a long talk with a friend about how we survive this, where it seems everyday the news brings another outrage.  We talked about the need to drop out of it all now and then, to recuperate, to recalibrate.  But I have found that’s not enough.  I need more to maintain my equilibrium from day-to-day. Last week, I was driving home from work, listening to two of the albums in heavy rotation in my world, Idles’ Joy As An Act of Resistance and Dilly Dally’s Heaven.  About the only think these two bands have in common is they like loud guitars.  But in the loud...

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Paul McCartney — Egypt Station

Paul McCartney Egypt Station Capitol Here is something I never thought I would say: I really like Paul McCartney’s new album.  I grew up on the Beatles, my mom, my dad, and my stepfather were all fans, but of different eras.  My dad was a fan of the Rubber Soul era, my stepfather of The White Album era, and my mother preferred the poppy early Beatles.  Not surprisingly, Paul was her favourite.  John was about the only thing my dad and stepdad would’ve ever agreed on (they only met once, thank God).  So the Beatles are so deeply burrowed into me, I think they’re in my DNA.  I am also a John guy.  But Paul also wrote some of the sillier songs I loved so much as a kid and still do today (‘Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da,’ for example).  But John never had a great solo album.  Paul did, with Linda McCartney, with RAM from 1971.  But George had the best solo album, All Things Must Pass, also from 1971. Anyway.  Since then, McCartney has fallen into the rabbit hole of cheese and schmaltz, I would argue.  And then, suddenly, Egypt Station.  He’s focused and determined here, his familiar voice like an old friend.  He even busts out the old leather lungs of the 1960s a few times.  I’m amazed he can still do it.  But it’s his song-writing that stands out here.  The entire...

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Mudhoney — Digital Garbage

Mudhoney Digital Garbage SubPop Earlier this year, Mudhoney celebrated their 30th anniversary, commemorated with the live album, LIE (Live in Europe).  It’s kind of mind-boggling to think they’ve been doing this that long.  And even more impressive is that even now, 30 years on, as the band members are pushing 60, they sound as essential, and pissed off, as they ever have.  There was a long wait between their 2008 album, The Lucky Ones, and their 2013 comeback, Vanishing Point.  Something interesting happened in that break.  They re-discovered their snarl.  But 2008, I found Mudhoney to be getting tired, frontman Mark Arm even sounded bored at times.  But no more. Arm is a fascinating frontman, of the Iggy Pop school of frontmen (minus the self-harm and utter looniness of Sir Iggy), but oozing charisma and self-loathing, able to spin on a snear on stage, and a pretty vicious rhythm guitarist (Steve Turner plays most of the leads).  And on Digital Garbage, he sounds pissed off and vicious.  His target is the white supremacist, Christian right (or what some call the alt.right), and the idiocy of our lives filtered through social media.  The first track, ‘Nerve Attack,’ openly mocks white supremacists, survivalists, and gun nuts.  ‘Kill Yourself Live’ talks about the pressures and stupidity of social media.  And, ‘Hey, Neanderfuck,’ well, I suppose you can figure out what’s going on there. And then there’s the...

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Idles — Joy as an Act of Resistance

Idles Joy As An Act of Resistance Partisan For my money, the best band in the world right now is Idles.  A collection of working-class louts from Bristol in the UK, they make essential, vicious post-punk noise.  Their 2017 début, the appropriately named Brutalism, was a kick in the head.  Over 13 vicious tracks, frontman Joe Talbot deconstructed classism, nationalism, wilful ignorance and toxic masculinity.  Talbot’s co-opting of Margaret Atwood in the midst of the track ‘Mother’ was both surprising and welcome: Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape It starts in our books and behind our school gates Men are scared women will laugh in their face Whereas women are scared it’s their lives men will take. Live, they are devastating: Joy picks up where Brutalism left off.  It’s not quite as heavy and vicious as its predecessor, but it is equally essential listening. Tablot remains fixated on what ails the world, including xenophobia and nationalism, racism, and, as ever, toxic masculinity.  One thing I appreciate about Idles is that they speak to violent masculinity in our culture through a particularly vicious art form, and yet, they are not the violent ones.  And despite the heavy lyrical content, Idles are not preachy.  Part of this is due to the music.  The duelling guitars of Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan provide the brutalism of the music, over the bouncing bass and drums of...

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The Peelers: Cúnla

I have always had a rather complicated relationship with Irish music.  I both love it (I am listening to it right now, ‘The Fields of Athenry,’ to be precise), and I get ultimately frustrated with it.  There is a reason I gravitated towards the Pogues when I was a young man, and when I picked up a guitar to play, I punked it up.  Having said that, there are some traditional Irish songs I can listen to over and over and over again once more.  ‘Cúnla’ is just such a song, I have loved this song since I was...

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