Sex and the Purple Guy

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For a generation of youth--queer and non-queer alike--Prince cleared the path to a different way of embodying gender and sexuality. I recited the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” at my wedding reception in 2006, to a room of largely puzzled fifty- and sixty-somethings.  When the news of Prince’s passing dropped this afternoon, a wave of horror ripped through my Media Studies class, and almost by instinct I stood before the students and spoke the Purple One’s classic words once again: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Electric word ‘life,’ it means forever and that’s a mighty long time but I’m here to tell you there’s something else… the afterworld… It … [Read more...]

OK Go and the Revival of Music Video Culture

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It was late on a Friday, and I was hanging out with my parents in Gastonia, NC.  They asked me I had seen the zero-gravity video on the plane. I had indeed seen reports of OK Go’s latest viral clip in my Facebook feed and other online news sources—having seen a few of their quite clever setpieces before I figured the new video would probably have a cool gimmick all its own, but I had not bothered to check it out (much as I heard roiling, boiling controversy about Bey and Kendrick the same week without actually seeing what caused all the ruckus). But it was kind of cool to sit with my mom and stepdad and see them enthused about new music—and more than that, to see an utterly daring, … [Read more...]

The Sound of Motor City: Ruin Porn, Popular Memory, and Protomartyr’s Vision of 21st Century Detroit

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For the past couple years, one of the most vital sounds in music today has come out of that ruined city of the middle west, Detroit.   “Before recorded time, in some suburban room, see the devil in his youth,” Protomartyr’s Joe Casey croons over a rapid postpunk beat. “He grew up pale and healthy with the blessings of his father.” Indeed, Detroit’s residents might recognize the suburban devil depicted in the opening song of band’s third album The Agent Intellect. “His privilege came before him, the promise of adoring, the devil in his youth.” Anyone familiar with the Motor City’s postwar history knows the critical place race has played in Detroit’s rise, fall, and current but perhaps not … [Read more...]

Callbacks, Memes, & Guilty Pleasures: The Rest of the Best 2015

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"All we can do is stand and leer at the distance of another year." As 2015 comes to a close, ToM's writers provide that last, merciful blast of best of's from historical callbacks to new discoveries of older things, we aim to bring you info about life you really don't need. Charles Lee Best historical callback: The hysteria around terrorism and reactionary violence against Muslim-Americans  evokes the tragic case of Japanese-American internment, the struggles of inclusive citizenship and the troublesome notion of the permanent alien. Favorite discovery: Hassle-free membership plans at the YMCA (take that fancy gyms).  And modular synths.  But not necessarily together. [Editor's note: I … [Read more...]

Outlanders, Young Fathers, & None Masters: Best Albums and TV Shows of 2015

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We live in an era when the music industry is long since "dead" (slain by Napster, and its remains desecrated by YouTube and Spotify), while TV is in crisis too: the broadcast networks have shed viewers for years, and now even the big cable companies realize they're in deep trouble, attacked on all sides by Hulu and Google Fiber. Yet for fans of music and TV, times have almost never been better -- at least in the sense of having a super-abundance of (often very good) options. Yes, for every Mad Men or Broad City there are ten Real Housewives of Plano, Texas and competitive nose-hair shows. (Though Schnozz Master was actually pretty good this year.) And your cousin has a web series that's … [Read more...]

A Look Back at A Brilliant Mistake

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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...]

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