Songs I Like #5: Saturday Looks Good to Me, “You Work All Weekend”

The windshield a sheet of luminous bugkill and dirt, my friend Andy and I crept in sunset-blinded traffic into Austin eleven years ago last month playing the record “You Work All Weekend” comes from, All Your Summer Songs, and talking about nostalgia.

You know, nostalgia, the feeling we feel we should feel. None of the revolving indie-pop recruits of Saturday Looks Good to Me, nor the band’s songwriter, sole consistent member, and worst singer, Fred Thomas, were alive in the summer of 1965, and they don’t exactly strike poses as if they were. But their lyrics are still saturated with nostalgia– for the dying cities of their Michigan home, for falling asleep in headphones, for sitting on the porch, for being 23 and in love– and their music sounds like 1965. This means guitar pop and Motown (speaking of Michigan) soul, all played with school-dance-y joy and given a busted, dubby production that sounds like it took a lot of cassette tapes to master. So the music seems to be looking backwards.

There’s nothing arch or Rushmore-y formal in this backwards orientation: there’s too much poverty and honest heartache in this record, the kind of 23 you spent smoking cheap cigarettes and working all weekend, in love or not. But the raggedy singers and washed-out, hissy sound signify affection and throw the prettiness of the whole thing into relief. These kids remember, even if they weren’t there.

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What Role Might White Non-Muslims Play since the Attack on ‘Charlie Hebdo’?

What role can white non-Muslims play in expressing solidarity with the values of social and political equity and open debate since the horrific and murderous attack on the satirists at Charlie Hebdo? Mainstream American commentators seem to have decided that Charlie‘s anti-Muslim cartoons, which had previously earned death threats for editors and cartoonists and a 2011 firebombing of their offices, themselves should be “welcomed and defended.” Plenty of folks are even counting as solidarity the dissemination of the cartoons and of further “blasphemous satire.”

I don’t agree. Most of the conversations I observe on this attack, among my community and in the press, are happening without mention of the extent to which Muslims’ rights of speech, worship (three more links), and free travel are being abrogated in the West. Nor do many commentators mention the role that post-WWI western colonial politics and US meddling has played in the rise of the brutal– and, in what I know of the history of Islam, quite new– form of Islamist fundamentalism apparently behind these attacks. To claim that the defense of blasphemous speech is the best role for supporters of liberal values in the West is, to my mind, to ignore the deep illiberality (or, one might call it, “oppression”) to which Muslims are subjected by Western state power, domestically and in the Middle East.

To respond to the attacks primarily by praising the cartoons is to ignore the extent to which these attacks will likely be used as justification for continued, or expandedstate surveillance in the West. As well as for, possibly, anonymous drone attacks, aid to “friendly” autocratic governments who say they’ll help us fight Al Qaeda and ISIS, and continued military incursions in the Middle East.

Why attack Charlie Hebdo to begin with? Middle East commentator Juan Cole notes that this horrifying attack seems to be a strategic attempt to “sharpen the contradictions” between French Muslims (most of whom are secular and not remotely interested in violent fundamentalism) and non-Muslims. The response to the attack has been near-universal outrage and horror and, unsurprisingly, a new surge of reactionary politics across Europe. This, Cole suggests, is the attackers’ goal. In the attackers’ chilling form of game theory, such a rise in general anti-Muslim sentiment among ethnic Europeans will aid in the creation of a “common political identity [among the tiny minority of violent Islamists and other French muslims] around grievance against discrimination.” Of those Muslims who will bear the brunt of increased discrimination and persecution, some tiny fraction might be radicalized into terror themselves. Cole goes on, “The only effective response to this manipulative strategy… is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.”

But this is not generally being talked about. Rather than reflecting on Western treatment of Muslims domestically or abroad, the center of debate I’ve seen in light of these killings has been, Is Islam itself intolerant? Those who claim that aspects of Islam itself may be to blame adopt an embattled tone, as if hordes of pious multicultural commentators were declaring the “criticism of any manifestation of Islam” off-limits. I believe that this is a straw-person argument. I’m not claiming that this question– whether the illiberality or violence of some minority of Muslims means Muslims somehow aren’t “fit” for liberal values– is by definition one asked in bad faith. But it becomes disingenuous when asked apart from historical and political contexts. To name a few: the US spent decades covertly arming and training fundamentalist Muslims to fight first and kill secular socialist pan-Arab nationalists, then Soviets. The US, in exchange for favorable oil deals with Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi royal family’s exportation of its particularly severe and repressive Wahhabism. Though they bear no obligation to do so, Muslims around the world have condemned ISIS and this attack specificallyAnti-Muslim prejudice is horribly and increasingly common in the West. And let’s not forget that, as journalist and former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald so bluntly puts it, “[T]he west has spent years bombing, invading and occupying Muslim countries and killing, torturing and lawlessly imprisoning innocent Muslims, and anti-Muslim speech has been a vital driver in sustaining support for those policies.”

In this context, the celebration of anti-Muslim satire no longer seems particularly liberal or heroic. The narrow terms of conversation on the Charlie Hebdo cartoons feeds just the sort of generalizations about Islam that will harden into further stereotypes on the part of non-Muslim Westerners.

This criticism (I feel silly even saying so) is not the same as seeking to silence or censor those who share the cartoons. In the same column I quoted above, Greenwald reflects on the distinction between defending and endorsing speech, then notes:

It’s the opposite of surprising to see large numbers of westerners celebrating anti-Muslim cartoons– not on free speech grounds but due to approval of the content. Defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

So, I return to my first question. What could be the next step, as a white non-Muslim who wants to promote social equity and political freedom? For my part, I believe naming and critiquing unjustifiable generalizations about Islam in my own communities, supporting the free speech and worship of Muslims in my own country, and organizing in resistance to the US role in empowering American-friendly autocracy in the Middle East, is more strategic for these values than republishing anti-Muslim cartoons, or high-fiving Charlie Hebdo for having done so particularly. Another thing I think is important, which I probably should have done at the top of this post rather than here near the end: admitting what I don’t know about the history and theology of Islam, which is plenty, and seeking out opportunities to educate myself on the faith and its history.

P.S. Thanks to my friends Gavin, Jon, and Sam, whose reflections, assertions, and questions on this topic on my Facebook wall spurred me to set my thoughts down here in this form.

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2014

A few of these folks (*’d) have wonderful work not available on Spotify. For everybody else, I made a 25-song playlist of album cuts and single songs I loved this year. I would talk to you for an hour about each song here. Hope you enjoy.

Albums: “they love you with the lights on”

NME C86 reissue. As bottomless, joyful, inconsistent, and generative as an old K Records cassette. Not on Spotify, though I found an alternate mix of a favorite from it (Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl”) and appended it to the playlist.

kelisThe Afghan Whigs, Do to the Beast. At 18, I got my wounded, hypertrophic masculinity and songs-as-music-criticism craft fix from Elvis Costello. Now, I’m done with Elvis Costello, and now, I love Greg Dulli’s alpha-wolf howls, his detailed arrangements, and his songs’ top-heavy tension. When the playing’s at its best, I hear Bruce Springsteen, Muscle Shoals, and the Jam. When I can understand Dulli, I get the sense that people with guns give no shits and that love remains bad news.

Black Belt Eagle Scout, Black Belt Eagle Scout. Katherine Paul’s solo set as Black Belt Eagle Scout was my very favorite from a great Unknown Music Festival this summer.

Ian William Craig, A Turn of Breath. Music to watch an angel rot to.

Donato Dozzy & Nuel, The Aquaplano Sessions. Not “Neel,” Dozzy’s partner in the summer-midnight-river perfection of Voices from the Lake, but “Nuel,” whose palette seems more cityish and who pulls the album apart into a sequence of sketches. These Sessions feel more like watching headlights cross your ceiling than like watching eelgrass stirring around your ankles.

Lori Goldston, Creekside: Cello Solo. Prayerful, brittle, fragmentary, imagistic, assertively scrapey.

Nicholas Krgovich, On Sunset. A 1980s LA album that feels meticulous but never thin or “just” retro. Krgovich is omnivorous and puts loving detail into every song; to create his effects, he works his voice hard, straining at the limits of his vocal instrument. A vibes album instead of a songs album.

jonlangford* Millie & Andrea, Drop the Vowels. Feeling post-industrialized, memory-addled, machine-eaten and after-midnight-y myself, I’ve wanted to love the music being made by dark techno/ambient folks like Raime, Andy Stott, Demdike Stare, Haxan Cloak, and Actress more than I have. The Caretaker’s wintery moods bore me after a few minutes (except on that ravishingly beautiful record). Tim Hecker’s synth-and-chamber explorations are too hellish for me to put on in any but specially nasty moods. But Drop the Vowels, a collab between Miles from Demdike Stare and Andy Stott, is the best movement-music I’ve ever heard come out of this scary aesthetic: it quavers, pulses, and squirms like a body, and still chatters, clangs, and moans like a decaying machine. My favorite song by these dudes, and their funnest, is last spring’s single-side 12″ promo-only track “Stage 2,” but the rest of this record, especially the dreadful “Temper Tantrum” and the title track, comes close. This is dance music.

New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers. “I like these guys’ music better than their songs,” Cait said once, when the ragged ardor of openers Okkervil River made the Pornographers seem fussy and buttoned-up by comparison. I agree: Brill Bruisers is the first record of theirs where the camaraderie and energy of each song win out for me over the craft and professionalism of the whole thing. Even the mic-swapping adds something to this: each of their singers show up everywhere. Its mix is blocky, oxygenless— I couldn’t imagine a worse record to listen to on vinyl— and just right for its joyful, loud, and indomitable songs. Put it on for these dark, rainy mornings we’ve got and you’ll feel much better.

Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty.

Sleater-Kinney, Start Together. The “importance” of this band has been so well-documented that I don’t want to say too much more. Like the Clash, they believed in rock ‘n roll, so much they wrestled it back and found a political form for its macho heroics and heedless energy. I loved the conviction and tight entanglement of their performances even though, after The Hot Rock, they adopted a political language that I connected with less than the personal language of the first records. Onstage, they never looked comfortable when they weren’t playing; when they were playing, I couldn’t imagine anything more powerful.

Songs: “I’m everywhere like gossip”

Basement Jaxx, “We Are Not Alone.”

E-40, “Yellow Gold” (feat. Droop-E and Work Dirty). I’m sure if I spend another week or two with 40’s monster Block Brochure trilogy I could spin off a dozen favorites that might compete, but this one is my shoo-in.

shabazz-palaces

FKA twigs, “Two Weeks.” Someone talk about this with me: We live in a sexualized-as-hell pop culture that nonetheless has almost no room for female sexual subjectivity. From straight porn to hits radio, our mainstream cultural era is one where sex is something that happens to women and that accessorizes male power. Which makes “Two Weeks”— hungry, pent-up, powerful and teeming— a rare monster of a song: a woman’s experience of sex and appetite that should terrify anyone used to, say, “Anaconda” or “Body Party.” “Feel your body closing, I can rip it open / Suck me up, I’m healing,” she sing-whispers as the song piles up, then: “Motherfucker, get your mouth open, you know you’re mine.” The need runs both ways.

Game Theory, “Date with an Angel.” More collegey 80’s pop reissued.

Ariana Grande, “Problem” (feat. Iggy Azalea). Triumphant like “Ladies First” was when I was ten years old with a Walkman.

How to Dress Well, “Precious Love.”

Kelis, “Jerk Ribs.”

Jon Langford & Skull Orchestra, “Sugar on Your Tongue.” A poem.

Lydia Loveless, “Really Wanna See You.” Her group rocks out in a way that feels bar-band-y and anonymous, but her vocals throw her heart all over me. This is my favorite on a record that’s emotionally wrecked, sexually frank, and spiritually inexhaustible.

* Miguel, “nwa” (feat Kurupt). The leadoff from a free surprise year-end EP right here.

The Moles, “Accidental Saint.” The first I’ve loved from this arch and classically-pop 80’s indie group whose work was reissued this year.

Ought, “Habit.”

Rae Sremmurd, “No Flex Zone.”

lydialovelessReal Estate, “Talking Backwards.” Their mellow loneliness, their bland-ass name, the tunes rolling by indistinguishable as hedgerows, the drinks-on-the-patio calm of the vocals: everything about Real Estate brings out my anti-suburban prejudice. But when I love one of their songs, I want to live there, begrudging it less the longer I stay.

Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” (feat. Zack de la Rocha).

* Joan Shelley, “Electric Ursa.” C.D. Wright-style folk, every weird little lyric more like a touch than an image.

* Shura, “Just Once.” Another song of a woman looking: vulnerable, hungry, her you sometimes the man she’s leaving behind, sometimes the anonymized man who’ll help her get lost. If you want to buy something by this shy-looking Londoner, good luck; all I found online was her Soundcloud.

Kate Tempest, “Marshall Law.” I haven’t been as riveted by a rap story song since “Shakey Dog.” Likewise incomplete– the first chapter of a novel-as-record I haven’t heard yet– and likewise overflowing with detail, Ghostface’s “tartar sauce on my S Dot kicks” chiming against Tempest’s “free bar, exhausting decorum, he drank till she was so absorbing.” Do yourself  a favor and listen to this one, just don’t tell me how the record ends.

Tinashe, “Bet” (feat. Devonte Hynes).

Jessie Ware, “Champagne Kisses.” The way she teases the listener out of getting the chorus one last time just kills me. This song soars.

Wild Cub, “Thunder Clatter.”

Jamie XX, “Girl.” The first song of this year I loved.

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E-40: Just a Little Ahead of Shakespeare

What makes a masterpiece? As outlets like Pitchfork have taken an increased interest in rap over the last decade, the big culture machine that used to be called “indie” has increased its influence over how non-“urban” (black and mostly working-class/working-poor) audiences have experienced rap. One of the best internal reflections and critiques on the role that classics-hunting tastemakers play in black popular music was, actually, published in Pitchfork a few years back, zeroing in on the cult of the “masterpiece.” Author Andrew Nosnitsky starts with the rapturous reception of Nas’s Illmatic (“an undeniable masterpiece, but… also a pretty narrow one”). He then examines how its self-consciously serious, introspective tone set a template that other rappers out to make “masterpieces” (i.e. big, era-summarizing albums that a major label will keep in print after singles, mixtapes, and one-offs have slipped into history) emulated.

I loved this article, and it interested me how tough it was find to find (a fate shared by many of Pitchfork’s other long features) behind the site’s main business: its daily grindout of reviews. These reviews, by the way, include the anointing of further classics, on exactly the lines that Nosnitsky identifies. Pitchfork’s lately given retroactive perfect-10’s to objet-d’art reissues of GZA’s Liquid Swords and Illmatic itself, giving the reviewers the chance to write rhapsodic (“The doors crumple open and the passengers vanish up half-lit stairwells into the Bridge. There is no Illmatic without the Bridge. Illmatic is the bridge”) odes to albums built for exactly that kind of Serious Appraisal.

I’m laughably poorly versed in rap and I don’t want to sound like I know enough to hazard an alternate history of the genre, but there are some rappers I love whose virtues have nothing to do with those of Liquid Swords and Illmatic— rappers whose voluble, good-times-y energy and omnivorous love of street sounds mean that their music will never get distilled into an Authoritative Statement, a statement that they’d likely be bored by anyway. Like E-40.

e40In the last two years, this 46-year-old rap forefather has dropped eight albums of material. His vocabulary is enormous (according to one survey, 5,270 unique words used in 35,000 lyrics– just a little ahead of Shakespeare), and his gift for slang is jawdropping. Remember learning that Shakespeare straight made up the words champion and discontent? Well, without E-40, the world wouldn’t have “fo shizzle,” “po-po” for police, “it’s all good” (!), “you feel me” (!!), “pop ya collar,” or “lettuce/scrilla/cheddar” as slang for money. (40 himself is modest in interviews, saying many of these terms came from his community in “San Yay” (the Bay Area), but damn, someone had to record them first.) 40 has a cheerful, elastic, bubbles-in-syrup voice and drops at least one amazing line a track. The production on his latest four or five records, the first I’ve been able to find my way into, is sometimes basic (“function music,” he calls it, flashy and fun when it’s not minimal and street-creepy), and his young guest MCs sometimes come off as too tough-kiddish for me to enjoy. But it’s the overall, overwhelming, cumulative experience of E-40’s music, the humanity and humor and unkillable spirit and obsessive detail in song after song, that I love best.

Here are a few tracks:

“I Don’t Work for Nobody” (from his double album with Too $hort):

“All I Need” (the giddy affirmative closeout to the first of his four independently-released Revenue Retrievin’ albums):

“That Candy Paint,” with Slim Thug and Bun B (speaking of detailing, here’s the chorus: “that candy paint, 84s, belts and buckles, chrome and grille / Leather seat, stich and tuck,TV screens and wooden wheels”):

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Songs I Like #4: Marshall Crenshaw, “She Can’t Dance”

I like to tell myself that if I was eighteen in 1982, I would have been a hardcore kid licking envelopes in Ian MacKaye’s mom’s house and buzzing my hair with my dad’s beard trimmer. But I think the odds are good I would have actually been a skinny-tie, Buddy Holly-Sam & Dave-Desmond Dekker-Brian Wilson mod sweating in his black coat and working out Rickenbacker guitar tones in my apartment.

If that had been my life, I would have probably killed Marshall Crenshaw out of jealousy. As it is, 30-year-old me now just gets to throw my whole body around with joy at his precise, tuneful 60s-ish guitar pop, and bother all my friends who probably already know “Someday, Someway” from New Wave Flashback radio. Crenshaw is, naturally, a nerd (dig his taste in covers: Arthur Alexander, Chris Knox) who is lucky enough to live out his dream, and “She Can’t Dance” is sheer giddy pleasure, nobody’s idea of formalism, with a middle four-then-six that satisfies me as much as any (see here how he brings out my inner nerd with how happy he makes me) small flourish in a pop song ever has: I think of Paul’s harmony on the verse of the Beatles’ “I’ll Get You” or those monster low horns that enter on the second verse of the Ronettes’ “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love.”

Marshall Crenshaw hit at a weird time in rock radio: disco was dead but MTV hadn’t brought the New Romantics to the US yet, and anything– even punkishly trad ooh-baby rock ‘n’ roll– felt possible. But Duran Duran showed up six months later, and Marshall Crenshaw was buried (just as, ten years after, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend was buried by Nevermind), leaving an alternative path in rock’s evolution largely unexplored. Till then… Livin’ only for the sound! Nerd up.

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Sexism and Racism in Game of Thrones

Disclaimer: This is a post about the HBO show Game of Thrones, not the George R.R. Martin novels on which the show is based. I haven’t read the novels, though I’ve had friends refer me to parts of the novels after talking about plot elements of the show. (I’d love for commenters to do likewise and point me to elements of the books– up to the middle of Storm!– pertinent to this conversation.)

Spoiler alert and plea: This post will ruin countless plot points from the first three seasons of the show. You’ve been warned. But I also beg you: If something heroically antisexist or relevant happens anywhere after the mid-point of Storm of Swords, please don’t give it away! Keep conversation on the show, please.

End of pleas and disclaimers.

tyrionSo: TV is not social-justice work. A show can illuminate, provoke, or mobilize audiences around an issue; it can challenge an audience’s or genre’s stereotypes; but it’s made to be entertaining and to make its owners money. Buy me a hot dog sometime and I will talk for two hours about how grateful I am that I watched The Wire, but having watched it doesn’t make me an organizer.

That being said, a TV show is part of a cultural conversation, and takes place in an environment contested by social forces larger than TV. Two lessons from social justice work come to mind as I try to untangle my feelings about GoT.

First: It’s possible to perpetuate oppressions even as you strive to challenge them. Game of Thrones is a world full of richly-portrayed, interesting, and morally complex women of all ages. Cersei Lannister (who shades from diabolical to trapped and miserable as the series goes along), Catelyn Stark (an older woman, the linchpin of her family) and her daughters Sansa and Arya, Brienne of Tarth (a tall, tough, physically intimidating woman!), and, of course, Daenerys Targaryen don’t spend the show as props for male ego, competing love interests, or caricatures. (Nor do GoT‘s writers condescend to them by sanctifying them as noble sufferers: rather than pity Arya, I’m frankly starting to get scared of what’s going on in her head.) The women of Game of Thrones are reflective agents struggling for independence in a sexist world. In other words, they are people, striving for fuller lives in an oppressive society.

salladhorBut Game of Thrones is also crammed full of tits. That is, the show’s producers go to incredible imaginative lengths to decorate scenes of male power with (often anonymous) naked women. The prostitutes of King’s Landing are shown as victims of male violence, but are also presented, as when Tyrion invites Podric to his first sexual experience, in scenes of pure objectified perfumey mystique. Any chance Daenerys can be shown naked (including scenes where, I’m told, she was just, you know, clothed in Martin’s novels), the producers take. Have her be bathing when a hunky barbarian bursts in to defect to her? Check. Have her then step nude moodily lit and gently dripping from the bath to say thanks? Check. One character, Ros, whom I’m told is a composite of a number of minor characters in the book, got the worst of this. She spent the maybe the majority of her scenes naked, including in a staged “educational” lesbian sex scene that was one of the most obnoxious and gratuitous things I’ve ever seen on TV, until being crucified and shot full of arrows by Prince/King Joffry. There are some intriguing theories explaining the preponderance of naked women in the show. I’ll leave you to evaluate their credibility.

catelyn-starkThe issue is related, I think, to the show’s vaunted realistic approach to its fantasy world: people curse, sweat, switch sides, and struggle for power, honor, lust, and shame in moral circumstances much more complex than in, say, Tolkein’s world or even Gene Wolfe’s. But this also means that GoT recognizes no courtly presumption of women’s honor or distance from the fray. Sexual violence is everywhere in this world; in that sense, there’s a resigned quality even to its imaginative ambition, a subtext of “this is just the way people are” that’s curious in a show so imaginative in other regards. (As my genius cousin the fantasy novelist said once in exasperation, wouldn’t it be a more imaginative feat to create a fantasy whose world centered on an active struggle against sexism or violence or whose conceit flipped our expectations of such on their heads? Then she told me to read Zoo City, which I got for my wife instead.) But the show blurs its own ethical position by actively exploiting the sexism we already have– setting us up to ogle female characters or non-characters— to “realistically” portray the sexism of Westeros. So: Game of Thrones can challenge some aspects of sexism while at the same time working hard to perpetuate others.

Second: If you as a person with power are striving to address an oppression, you should expect more criticism from members of the oppressed community, not less. 

Drogo-and-Daenerys-with-Dothraki-khal-drogo-30463554-1280-720I’m amazed, though I suppose I shouldn’t be, how vituperative the online responses have been to commentators of color who identify GoT‘s appalling racism. In its portrayal of the Dothraki in Season 1 (and, though it gets less screentime, in its thin characterization of the black pirate Salladhor Saan, eager to “fuck a blond queen” in Season 2), Game of Thrones hits every single ugly trope of white SF/fantasy’s conceptions of people of color. I’ll leave it to these two excellent posts linked to above to spell out a more detailed look at the show. Daenerys’s crowdsurf on the backs of the slaves she’s liberated at the end of Season 3 is the white-superhero-daydream cherry on top of a show whose interest in cultural complexity seems to end at the shores of Westeros. All I’d add is: please, please, please listen carefully when someone of color names racism, even if you’re not expecting to hear it, struggle to see it, or feel personally hurt. Listening carefully doesn’t mean wigging out, getting defensive, blaming the victim, or holding up your opinions over others’ actual lived experience of oppression. If your defense is “hey, they’re trying” (and, honestly, I don’t see GoT trying very hard on matters of race) then consider criticism to be candid feedback on how intentions don’t match effects.

Hey readers, any other recommendations for fantasy which addresses these issues in more complex or radical ways?

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Songs I Like #3: Bjork, “Heirloom”

“She’s figured out how to get by just on being cute,” my painfully cool friend Dion informed me that summer 13 years ago when Bjork’s Vespertine came out. “Not quite worth the wait,” sniffed Pitchfork. Like Patti Smith’s Dream of Life (dare I see the beginnings of a sexist double standard for home-and-family records?), Vespertine was called oversweet, overpretty. it marked the first time Bjork was identified with a schtick instead of a sound, as if the album’s distant chirring drums and choral suspensions were any less rich than the raspy cellos and oceaning pound of Homogenic, her previous.

But Vespertine remains the Bjork record I like best. It’s a home record, a sex record, a dream record: gathering ripe black lilies. Climbing a tree’s private branches. Waking up with your lover still inside you. Taking the sun in your mouth. Tilting your head to get an angle on the day. Repeating “I love him” eight times. Vespertine still smells like mildew for me, Nivea, coffee, oven-roasted vegetables and old carpets: the place in the north U District (the basement of a house packed with bitter, high-strung ultimate frisbee players) I shared with my college sweetie where we played Vespertine every day. I remember making love to this record, having pointless fights, hosting our parents in a tiny shouldn’t-have-been-there basement kitchen.

Vespertine‘s movement feels like my memory does: inward-and-down, not forward-and-up. There’s no epiphany like Post‘s “Isobel,” or screaming blowout like Homogenic‘s “Pluto,” only a slow descent toward unity. It sounds like I felt when I was deep in love. It also sounds like I feel now on days of, say, feeding ducks with my toddler, squeezing in a prayer in front of a candle, waking up early enough that I can write my dreams down. This song is my favorite, a dream (speaking of) I grasp without understanding.

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