A Look Back at A Brilliant Mistake

tsunami a brilliant mistake

Recently, the great historians at Nursing Clio issued a Twitter query: what's on your feminist playlist? Along with many other Twitterstorians, the chatterers of ToM joined the debate with gusto. Ryan Reft gave a shout-out to Sleater-Kinney's punk rock classic Dig Me Out and PJ Harvey's seminal Rid of Me. Lauren MacIvor Thompson gave this writer a welcome blast from the past in citing Mary Chapin Carpenter's epic anthem of working-class self-empowerment, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," which I hadn't heard in years. I had a tough time picking my own. Patti Smith's raw, swaggering cover of "Gloria" seemed too obvious, but I couldn't resist putting it on the list. Ryan had already taken … [Read more...]

Swiftian Springsteen: Ryan Adams, Taylor Swift and 1989


Eight years ago, the avant-garde group/collective the Dirty Projectors released Rise Above, an album that bandleader David Longstreth described as a track-by-track “reimagining” of Black Flag’s 1981 Henry Rollins-era opus, Damaged. In its performance of Rise Above, Dirty Projectors’ almost resembled Black Flag: “serious, somewhat inhuman stuff, which is possibly why the band never smiles onstage: Longstreth, wide-eyed and focused, hair like wild grass ….” wrote Pitchfork’s Mike Powell. However, to say that the two scarcely sounded similar would be a massive understatement. For Powell, Damaged functioned more as a musical “anchor” for Longstreth’s “polyrhythmic arrangements.” In the end, the … [Read more...]

Walk with Me: Laibach Plays North Korea

laibach north korea

As summer comes to a close, two anniversaries—decades and miles apart—collide. The Slovenian industrial band/artists collective Laibach celebrates 35 years of professional provocation this year. Across the globe, Korea marks seven decades since liberation from Japanese occupation. On August 19th and 20th, Laibach performed in Korea to celebrate both events—but in Pyongyang, not Seoul surprisingly enough. The first rock band to perform in North Korea is a band that never had a Billboard hit or headlined stadium tours in the United States, as one might expect. For those unfamiliar with the band, Laibach came together in 1980 in what was then Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. They formed mere months … [Read more...]

Straight Outta Respectability Politics: The Wonder and Weirdness of NWA’s Biopic


For once, the bluster of a movie tagline is actually on-point. The trailer for Straight Outta Compton pegs it as “the movie of our time,” and it’s easy to forget one is watching a film and not the news as director F. Gary Gray unspools a panoply of poverty, racism, and police violence on the big screen. The names Trayvon, Mike, Renisha, and Eric are never far from the viewer’s mind as we see Dr. Dre and Eazy-E face down racist cops in late 1980s LA. This is coming from a viewer who hates biopics—music biopics in particular. Biopics tend to be like sports films and romantic comedies, where the film’s narrative is straightjacketed to a hackneyed sequence of successes and failures that … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee


Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Star Wars: The Han Solo of Wilco Albums?


The advantage of surprise can overcome a multitude of sins; poor planning, mediocre workmanship, sloppy execution, they can all be forgiven when one is presented with a gift of unexpectedness. Other times a pleasant surprise can be just that: pleasant, enjoyable, and well crafted. Though obviously not the world-altering shot in the dark that was Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 release, Wilco delivered an album that feels as natural as the hot summer breeze it floated in on but remains as memorable as that first music festival you attended in high school. For sure, some observers will scoff. Star Wars is the musical manna of a band in its twilight, they will suggest; the Grateful Dead for aging … [Read more...]

Ghostface Killah: A Critique of Patriarchal Masculinity


After watching the new documentary Amy, I’ve found myself revisiting the catalog of an artist whose creative work was cut tragically short. Sadly, there’s not a lot there beyond her two albums and a few odds and ends. Perhaps my favorite of her songs is actually the remix of “You Know I’m No Good” featuring Ghostface Killah. To Winehouse’s lyrics about the romantic travails of a bad girl who drinks Tanqueray and luxuriates in “Jamaica and Spain,” Ghostface adds a predictably testosterone-laden counterpoint. He’s the guy whose girl is telling him that he better watch out, because she’s no good. And he has something to say in return. What could have been a lot of macho posturing, though, … [Read more...]

1996: The Year R.E.M. and Pearl Jam Committed Suicide

e-bow the letter

The year was 1996—almost 20 years ago, kids—and the alternative revolution was in its dead-ender stage. Kurt Cobain was gone, the Smashing Pumpkins ruled with a cross-breed of Rush and Journey (before it was cool), and the ska and swing revivals were just around the corner. That year, two of the biggest bands of the early 1990s came out with albums that basically killed their careers: R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Pearl Jam’s No Code. Both albums met with mixed reviews from critics. Each earned an unenthusiastic 6 out of 10 rating from SPIN magazine, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi topped both best-of and worst-of lists for the year. Two bands who were at the height of fame—both of … [Read more...]

Musical Fugazi: Politics, Post Punk, and Reevaluating D.C.’s Most Famous Rock Band 25 Years Later


Last December, amidst one of D.C.’s colder and more snow-filled winters, a symbol of the city’s musical past appeared above one of its most travelled corridors. Over the I-495 Beltway on the CSX railroad bridge between Georgia and Connecticut Avenues, someone had spray painted six glorious uneven letters: “Fugazi.” The band had not played a note in over a decade yet here it stood a rough-hewn testament to their one-time presence. “I find it odd that someone painted ‘Fugazi’ on a railroad bridge in 2014,” wrote John Kelly in the Washington Post, “It’s like painting ‘Clapton is God’ on a London brick wall today. The moment has passed.”[1] To Kelly’s credit, he quickly pointed out that a … [Read more...]

Revolutionary Eruption: The Violent Sound of Magma and Musical Fusion in 1970s France

magma attahk album cover

What follows is an excerpt from Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities and Pop Music, 1958-1980, the new book by Indiana University Northwest professor (and ToM contributor) Jonathyne Briggs.  It examines the history of popular music in France between the arrival of rock and roll in 1958 and the collapse of the first wave of punk in 1980, as well as the connections between musical genres and concepts of community in French society. During this period, scholars have tended to view the social upheavals associated with postwar reconstruction as part of debates concerning national identity in French culture and politics, a tendency that developed from political figures’ and … [Read more...]


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