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The Shoe - I'm Okay

The Shoe – I’m Okay

I don’t normally make a fuss over music videos (the only one that comes to mind is that Xiu Xiu video from a few years ago). And I was going to leave Stereogum to do the heavy lifting on the premiere of the “Dead Rabbit Hopes” video by The Shoe (you might remember the song from an older post), but ultimately, I decided to dedicate a fair bit of space to it anyway. My reason is two-fold: 1) we’ve been fans of The Shoe for a long time, and I’m not going to shut up about them just because someone else is willing to talk about it now; and, more importantly 2) it confronts much the same issue addressed in that Xiu Xiu video, but from a completely different angle.

First The Shoe (and, yes, I promise to do everything I can to avoid the all too tempting Xiu Xiu/Shoe puns). I’m not going to say a whole lot about the song itself since we already covered the premiere back in November. At the time, I said that “Dead Rabbit Hopes” felt indicative of a new direction for the band, not so much stylistically (it shares many characteristics with the band’s earlier work), but there is an intentionality about it now that was not as prevalent earlier on when The Shoe were more focused on improvisation. And I stand by that. This is music with a purpose. The video for “Dead Rabbit Hopes” lends credence to that argument.

Stereogum’s post debuting the video earlier this month came with an NSFW warning. Fair enough. The vast majority of the video features lead singer Jena Malone in a stylized state of edenic nudity. The key here, however, is that word “edenic”. In Jena’s own, recently oft-quoted words:

“I wanted to talk about a woman’s beauty and sexuality in a way that felt very different from our highly manipulated and sexualized world. I actually wanted to desexualize my own naked body while upholding its own perfect eternal grace. I didn’t want it to be about lingerie or booty shorts. I wanted it to be about the work of art that you are born with.”

And in that sense, I think “Dead Rabbit Hopes” is a success. You don’t need me to preach to you about the ubiquity of hyper-sexualized popular culture. If you’ve ever turned on a television or perused a magazine stand in most parts of Europe or North America, you’ve seen it for yourself. But the video is self-possessed and in control. It’s easy to look at a video like “Dead Rabbit Hopes” with the same kind of aesthetic eye one would classical nudes hanging in an art gallery. And the public reaction seems to reflect that. The overwhelming majority of comments (the ones I’ve seen, anyway) have been positive.

Which brings me back to that Xiu Xiu video. My original post was instigated when, shortly after its premiere, YouTube removed the video for “Dear God I Hate Myself” for a terms of use violation. And, while I managed to find the video hosted on another website, that version too has since disappeared. Of course, since the internet is magic, a few more versions have popped up and I’ve embedded one below because I think now is a good time to revisit it. But it is also important that you read the next paragraph before you watch.

YouTube was quick to ban “Dear God I Hate Myself”. For three agonizing minutes, band member Angela Seo forces herself to vomit multiple times while frontman Jamie Stewart stands, mostly out of shot, dancing and munching on a chocolate bar. The pain and disgust in her eyes is very real. It is relentless. Four years later, and this is still one of the most difficult videos I’ve ever had to watch.

The grounds for the video’s removal were only later described as “shocking and disgusting content”. The extant comment threads from the Stereogum premiere post are nearly devoid of positive reactions. Many reduce the video to pretentious art school shock tactics. Others insist that the video is an elaborate hazing ritual devised by Jamie Stewart to torture the new girl. To their credit, Xiu Xiu were quick to respond to the criticism. In a blog post (the link for which now appears to be dead) Angela Seo explains “I grew up around a lot of people who were bulimic…perhaps because bulimia was the most visible, prevalent, and even normalized form of self-destruction at a very impressionable age, I will always think of it as a major form of self-hatred”. And yet, despite her insistence that “the video was my idea. Jamie didn’t exploit me or coerce me or anything like that”, audiences continued to see only coercion.

What I find troubling about it, however, is not the video. Yes, it is difficult, even painful to watch. But, what bothers me to this day—perhaps even more in the past few weeks than it has the last few years—is the swiftness of our collective condemnation of a valid and valuable artistic and philosophical statement. And now, in light of the most recent offering from The Shoe, I am hoping that we might be better prepared to reconsider Xiu Xiu.

The question we have to consider is not a simple one and will, in all likelihood, require us to confront certain questions about ourselves in the process. Why is one video more offensive than the other? In both videos, women have taken it upon themselves—uncoerced—to address issues pertaining to body image by portraying themselves on film in a manner of their choosing. But it is in our reactions to the two that we stand to learn the most about the issue in question and where we stand in relation to a solution.

With “Dead Rabbit Hopes”, The Shoe aim to address the issue of body image in a positive light, to emphasize the importance of prizing the individual body as a work of art. (I would be inclined to extend the metaphor to encapsulate the whole of the person—body and mind, joy and suffering, etc.—but that is a philosophical and aesthetic argument no one wants to hear from me.) There is no discounting the degree of vulnerability inherent in most forms of public nudity, film or otherwise. And presented in a purely aesthetic, almost funereal manner more reminiscent of Vera Kholodnaya’s  final performance than Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, it is an important point well made.

Vera Kholodnaya, silent film star, February 1919

Vera Kholodnaya, Ukrainian film star, February 1919

But the ironically harsh reality that we, as an audience, have to accept is that Jena Malone is still a beautiful woman. And I don’t say that to discount the band or their message, both of which I fully support. The only person whose sincerity I am calling into question here is myself. We can shout our support at the tops of our voices, but how can I know I believe it—and I want to believe it—until I’ve been challenged by someone or something that isn’t so easy to look at.

And Xiu Xiu’s video for “Dear God I Hate Myself” is not easy to look at. Four years on, and it is still difficult for me to watch without averting my eyes at several key points during those three long minutes. All throughout this post I have been asking, albeit rhetorically, why this is the more offensive of the two videos. It is easy enough to identify what it is that people find offensive—in American culture, vomiting, as a rule, is considered a largely private affair. But then, so is nudity, and yet we have little difficulty extolling the virtues of a woman who is so comfortable in her own skin that she will take her clothes off in public (film is, after all, a public medium).

Where Xiu Xiu differs is in the suffering of it’s protagonist, suffering which is then transmitted to the viewer through an unflinchingly tight shot. For her part, Angela Seo is the first to admit that her participation in the video was voluntary. It is when we factor in the element of the will that the video oversteps the bounds of the believable (or at least what we conceive as believable). Though her pain may well be real, her willing participation is an aberration in a society that actively prioritizes its own comfort (physical, emotional, ethical, or otherwise). It is the gastrointestinal equivalent of self-mutilation. She reasons, “perhaps some people don’t understand that one can voluntarily choose to hurt themselves physically. Maybe some think it’s just so stupid and dumb that one had to have been forced to do it?” Of course it is grotesque and disturbing—the fact that we see it that way is a boon to our humanity—but writing it off as a shock tactic and sweeping it aside helps no one.

Yes, it is an act of violence against oneself. There’s a reason Seo, in her post about the video, called it an obvious act of self hatred. But censoring it, pretending the video never happened, solves nothing. The central action is still real, still a problem. It’s clear the band have no intention of condoning or supporting the act. But to the same end, there is no reason for them to use the video to explicitly condemn such behavior, at least not in so many words. It’s a participatory critique. There is no need for them to say “this is a horrible thing” because we, the audience, are perfectly capable of seeing that for ourselves.

And we should be glad that we are shocked by this. Our revulsion is a sign of life from our ever-dwindling sense of humanity. No, the ability to watch someone vomit without flinching is not a badge of honor or a mark of sophistication. No one is saying that, at least I hope not. When we watch Angela Seo willfully inflict pain on herself, we are forced to confront the reality that there are people, most of them young women, who do the same to themselves daily. But they do not do so in service to a greater good or even in the name of art, but in the pursuit of a false ideal—sacrificing themselves to a golden idol of fictional perfection.

Our disgust is a benchmark of our humanity. Xiu Xiu have been good enough to remind us of that. Rather than simply add their voices to a lock-step cacophony of condemnation, they have aroused in us pity and sympathy. We should not be able to watch a video like “Dear God I Hate Myself” and maintain our myth of self-superiority. Our visceral reaction is not to the images portrayed, but to seeing our own collective brokenness laid bare. It’s uncomfortable, of course it is, but more importantly, it is a starting point.

If we are ever to view our bodies as works of art “in [their] own perfect eternal grace” as The Shoe have urged us to do with “Dead Rabbit Hopes”, we must first identify and embrace the part of each of us that already feels that way.

The Shoe’s LP I’m Okay will be released by Community Music on 3 June 2014. Xiu Xiu’s LP Dear God I Hate Myself has been out for a long time. It is on Kill Rock Stars.

Lesley Flanigan at The Fuse Factory’s Frequency Friday

Lesley Flanigan performing in Columbus as part of the Fuse Factory's Frequency Fridays series (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Lesley Flanigan performing in Columbus as part of the Fuse Factory’s Frequency Fridays series (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Wild Goose Creative, at the bottom of Summit St. in Columbus, is a far cry from Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, the last place I saw Lesley Flanigan perform. About 400 miles and God only knows how many seats separate the two venues. One, the picture of intimacy, the other the epitome of the Big Stage, with a stage so big it could swallow the former whole—many times over. Friday’s show, part of the Fuse Factory‘s Frequency Fridays series, was of the former variety.

It cannot be easy presenting an electronic music series in a city where DIY and garage bands dominate landscape and synthetic dubstep is the most readily available electronic music. And yet, Columbus isn’t without it’s electro-acoustic bright spots, Brian Harnetty, Masterer of Appalachian field recordings (and favored collaborator of Will Oldham) being among the most obvious examples. Within that community, Fuse Factory plays an important role in bringing national acts to Columbus as well as spotlighting local talent, like Tone Elevator, who opened the show Friday.

Peter and Jessica at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Peter and Jessica at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

A small setting, like Wild Goose—with two dozen folding chairs set only a few feet from the performers—leaves little to the imagination. That immediacy, the intimacy, far from being a hindrance to the music, breathes new life into the listening experience. While the sight of a dubstep DJ propped in his perch pumping phat beatz into the club can truly be one of the most mind-numbing sights in all of music, even a slight cable malfunction early on in the Tone Elevator set injects a bit of dramatic tension into the music’s emergence from nearly-white noise while Tenori-On lights blink white from a tabletop corner. In the hands of Peter and Jessica Speer, incidental sounds like the chirping of birds and presidential speeches take on the form of intentional music.

Sound is a visceral thing. In purely physical terms, it is a disturbance, a disruption. The entire history of music is little more than the story of man’s effort to harness and control those disturbances. In an earlier Skype interview with Lesley Flanigan, we discussed in purely abstract terms the physicality of sound and ideas like sound sculpting. But at a distance of eight feet, abstract terms become a physical reality.

Lesley Flanigan at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Lesley Flanigan at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Less a “glimpse of the artist at work” and more an entering into the work, the relationship between recording and live experience is more akin to the difference between visiting the Rothko Chapel website and entering the Rothko Chapel—one is interesting on an abstract intellectual level, the other is a conflation of small and broad strokes into a confrontation with one’s own mortality.

I won’t go so far as to say “I saw God Friday night”—I would hate to saddle any artist with such immense responsibility, and besides, it would be a lie—but I saw many other things. A twist of the wrist and sudden scrape of microphone against speaker cone. The near-violent trembling of a small piezo confronted with the presence of its own sonic reflection. In short (to borrow and adapt a phrase from EJ Koh*), I saw the Thingness of Sound.

And that is the importance of a series like Frequency Fridays. In a world super-saturated with passive listening experiences, artists like Lesley Flanigan are taking incidental noises and even minor annoyances like electronic feedback—the sounds of everyday life that so many of us go out of our way to drown out of our lives with our earbuds and iPods—and molding them into new forms, giving the intangible a physical presence.

Fuse Factory have an annual Frequency Friday crowd-funding drive (to pay artist fees and expenses, the usual). There is one week remaining in the current drive. If you’d like to donate, there’s an indiegogo page here.

*We’ll get to EJ Koh soon, hopefully next week.

New Music from Columbus, OH – Lydia Loveless

With a vocal prowess and songwriting chops that belie her young age, Lydia Loveless is already a seasoned veteran. In some ways like a harder edged contemporary iteration of Stiff Records ingenue, and fellow Ohio native, Rachel Sweet, her music is equally fit for a Nashville honky-tonk or Columbus, Ohio’s D.I.Y. dives. All I know is, I never fully understood the term “country punk” until I spent a few hours with a Lydia Loveless record.

TsuShiMaMiRe (つしまみれ) – Mamire + “Speedy Wonder” video

mamiremamireSo it took me a while to get on top of this one, but from what I gather, Japanese art punk trio TsuShiMaMiRe released what I take to be a “best of” collection – Mamire – last week (though, given the usual limitations of Google Translate and the fact that my Japanese is limited to a few dozen kanji, I could be wrong about all of this), touching on much of the band’s 15 years together.

Within the one new track included on Mamire – “Speedy Wonder” – verses fall somewhere on the spectrum between late 1960s Midwestern garage and “Fell In Love With A Girl” era White Stripes while the chorus flirts seductively with what can only be described as punk rock monody, all of which is tied together with a whole-tone (nearly palindromic) under-chorus. Put it all together, especially with the video, and the package feels a little like a Coathangers track (who, by the way, will have a new record out next month). (Don’t for one second think I mean to imply anything by that. After all, TsuShiMaMiRe have been wielding these skills for ages. This comparison is intended for educational purposes only.)

Wow, lots of parentheses up there. Anyway, here’s the video. And one last link to the website. Also Facebook.

New music from Columbus: Nick Tolford and Company

With a sound that recalls the rock and soul of the early ’60s built on a solid foundation of ’50s R&B, a Nick Tolford & Company show feels more like a party with a few hundred of your closest friends than a rock ‘n’ roll show (which is just how a rock ‘n’ roll show should feel). “Every Day” comes from the band’s second LP, Just a Kiss, released in January.

NC25 – New Album, New Tour from Nickel Creek

File Under: BEST NEWS EVER

It’s been nearly seven years since Nickel Creek embarked on their Farewell For Now tour — eight and a half years since the release of their last (and, I think, perfect) album, Why Should The Fire Die? — and I don’t think I am the only one who had just about given up hope of ever hearing anything else from our favorite progressive bluegrass trio. But it seems, for once, an indefinite hiatus has proved to be just that, a hiatus.

Monday afternoon, in the matter of a few tweets and a Facebook post, Nickel Creek released the first track, “Destination” [below], off a promised new album and announced that they would be getting the band back together, beginning with a pair of shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, where the band played their last shows in 2007. Presale for the first batch of concert dates begins on Tuesday. Check the website for dates.

I realize this post has been rather matter-of-fact and somewhat out of character for me. Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. It’s not every day your favorite band gets back together.

Cosmos – Fitness Forever and the next to last days of disco

Fitness Forever - Cosmos

Fitness Forever – Cosmos

“Disco will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts.” So begins Matt Keeslar’s final speech in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco. While the death of their club and the dawn of the Eighties spelled the beginning of the end for the Doomed Bourgeois In Love, disco’s fate, it seems, was far from sealed. Enter Fitness Forever with their second album for Elefant Records, Cosmos.

After their first album left frontman Carlos Valderrama empty, as he describes it, the band were left with ample room for stylistic exploration. In time it seems, the band took to mining a vast depository of ’70s music for inspiration. The result is an album that has more than one foot (let’s say one and a half feet) firmly planted in the disco era. But John Travolta, this is not. Cosmos, while a disco record in spirit, is more stylized in practice, marked as much (or more) by the metered cool of bossa nova as the licentious revelry of Studio 54.

While Cosmos is an album very much at home in the musical landscape, it’s not the sort of record to settle down in one place for very long. While numbers like “Disco Quiz” and the title track may be the most reminiscent of the last days of disco (well, I say “reminiscent,” but then, I’m not really chronologically qualified to reminisce about such things), tracks like “L’amore Annegato” play it closer to the ghost of Getz/Gilberto that haunts the whole of Cosmos. One would even be forgiven for comparing songs like “Hotel Flamingo” or “Le Intenzione Del Re” to latter-day Belle & Sebastian.

At its heart, Cosmos is driven by a loving embrace of an amalgam of influences: lush instrumental textures straight from late ’70s radio, shuffling rhythms and intricate jazz progressions, and bossa nova inflection. It’s enough to send Ted Boynton awkwardly cavorting his way across the dancefloors of Barcelona in pursuit of plain-looking girls.

At the end of that speech from The Last Days of Disco, Matt Keeslar’s character Josh declares, “Disco was too great and too much fun to be gone forever. It’s got to come back someday.” Whether that’s a part of his impassioned speech that Josh “actually believes” is irrelevant, because, if Fitness Forever’s latest is anything to go by, that day is here.

More info about Cosmos on Elefant Records

New track – “Dead Rabbit Hopes” by The Shoe

The Shoe

Late last week, Jena Malone sent out (via Tumblr and Twitter) a link to a new song by The Shoe (her band with co-collaborator and improvisor Lem Jay Ignacio). The song, “Dead Rabbit Hopes” is a first look at the band’s new EP, coming out in late spring. And, upon listening, it seems to represent a pretty significant development for the band.

We’ve been following The Shoe for years. The Shoe has never been a celebrity vanity project (though you wouldn’t know that from the lazy print review I read in a magazine five years ago). The Shoe is a violon d’Ingres. The Shoe is a band. A band that had, up until now, always seemed to be built around the principles of portability and improvisation. (Perhaps you remember the song they sent us for Christmas a few years ago?) But “Dead Rabbit Hopes”, if it is any indication of what’s to come, is the work of a band taking a more measured approach. The result is still lo-fi, the lyrics still tinted with a touch of the surreal, but this is the work of a band who put their blood, sweat, and tears into their music (which, to be fair, is exactly what the tweet says). As opposed to their earlier EP, this is more reminiscent of Rose Dougall‘s earliest recordings post-Pipettes, or that first Parlours song I fell in love with all those years ago.

The new EP, apparently self-titled, will be released in the spring. No word yet on the format, or whether it will be released through Jena’s own label, There Was An Old Woman, which has handled almost everything up until now (The Bloodstains once had a 7-inch on another label), but I’ll be sure to find out as soon as I can.

RIP Zoobombs and a call to bands from the rest of the world

(c) 2012, Eric Robertson

Zoobombs at Ace of Cups, 2012

About a month ago, I read a blog post from one of my favorite bands. Well, to be honest, I read an awkwardly worded Google translation of a post from the Zoobombs website. If I understood it right, the band have decided, after roughly two decades, to put an end to the Zoobombs legacy. With the departure of two key band members, the remaining Zoobombs have decided that it is best to bring this chapter to a close and to begin anew.

I think I agree with them.

It’s never fun to say goodbye to your favorite bands, especially the ones you never had a chance to see in person. But in most cases, it is inevitable, we all know that. (Thankfully, I finally did get to see Zoobombs — about a year ago, here in Columbus — after missing their apparently phenomenal set at Canadian Music Week in 2011. And while the local turnout was, honestly, pathetic, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.) We want to wish all of those Zoobombs the best of luck with their future projects. I have all the confidence in the world that they will be every bit as good as the epic garage-psych freakouts that made Zoobombs’ shows the stuff of legend.

All of which brings me to a second point. This is something I don’t often do, but I am issuing what, in the academic world might be called “A Call for Submissions”. Of course, we’ve always encouraged all bands to send us their music, and we get dozens of submissions every week. But those submissions, not surprisingly, skew toward Europe and North America. And while that leaves us with plenty of good material to work with, I also know the world is a big place and there’s much more out there and I don’t want this blog to remain US/Euro-centric if it doesn’t have to.

I know there’s a burgeoning punk/DIY scene in China (I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about Hedgehog here before) and I know there’s more to Korean music than K-Pop and “Gangnam Style” (remember all my gushing about Vidulgi OoyoO?) and of course I’ve just done a whole thing about Japanese psychedelia. And, for that matter, Tuareg and African blues bands have been experiencing a surge in popularity here in Columbus recently. The point is, I know you all are out there, and I would love to hear from you.

There are a few Korean and Chinese blogs and YouTube channels I catch up with when I can, but it’s difficult to even do that more than once every few months. So, please, email us at the.indie.handbook@gmail.com. We’re dying to expand our horizons.

P.S. Don’t worry about any language barrier. As long as I can hear the music, that is all I need. Google Translate and I will do the best we can with the rest. BUT, when you email, please at least try to include words like “band”, “music”, or “press release” in English in the subject line, just in case they get sent to the spam folder. That way, I will know to rescue them. God only knows how many submissions and press releases I have lost because they were written in an alphabet or character set I do not understand.

We can’t wait to hear from you. (Europe, North America, we still love hearing from you. Keep up the good work. South America, Australia, Oceania, we hear from you on occasion, but we wouldn’t mind hearing more.)

Reason #86 Why we Love Amazing Radio


circular disc with gray border containing the text: played on amazingradio

Who says video killed the radio star anyway? We think radio is just as vibrant as ever, especially thanks to all the fantastic stations available on internet radio stations. In fact, you can now hear Possimiste’s Wanderer featured on Simon Raymonde’s Iceland special from November 4 on Amazing Radio. Take a look here and enjoy not just Possimiste but a whole playlist of other great artists including One Little Indian, Lay Low, Dead Skeletons and more. But if you really only want to listen to Possimiste, then you might like to know that it plays right around the 1:02:00 mark. Except, don’t do that, because there really is a lot of good stuff on that program.

So a huge thank you to the great Simon Raymonde for supporting one of our favorite artists. An artist we believe in so much that we released the record. How’s that for a vote of confidence? Which reminds me, we still have some copies of the Possimiste record left. You can buy one here.

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