Selected Albums

Last month I had the pleasure of viewing the documentary “Nothing Can Hurt Me.” It follows the Memphis band, Big Star, as they recorded their few seminal albums in the early 1970s. It was soft rock with an edge. They were just a group of guys who loved Led Zeppelin, but also shared a unique capability to capture the Americana sound of Tennessee. Essentially, they were a variation of the Eagles that could be loved by a bunch of late eighties Sonic Youth fans. Big Star is arguably the greatest band that no one has ever heard of. Each of their albums have been referred to as classics in the past forty years, but not when they first released them. Why? Because it wasn’t until the decade after that people started to pay attention. For the following two decades, Big Star would be cited as the inspiration for founding members of R.E.M, the Replacements and Wilco, and finally they would gain a major cult fanbase.

The point is this: music publications give the impression that they can sense the cultural significance of an album within days of its release. Some use terms like “instant classic” or “seminal” not long after they’ve had an opportunity to listen, trivializing the quality of the job experience. How can they use this language and still accurately survey the state of popular and alternative music? If common sense has anything to say about the matter, classics take time to be recognized. They aren’t always stand out from the very beginning.

Should we then wait a month before reviewing an album? A year? A decade? As disappointing as I find this, it’s impossible. It’s no longer a difficult task to produce one's own music, though it can be tedious at times. We live in a society completely saturated with media, and we need to discern what is worth listening to from what is simply wasting our time. That’s why for the rest of my time as Arts & Entertainment editor, I will no longer be writing what not to listen to. For that matter, I will no longer write about what you should listen to. I will simply be making suggestions. I’ll simply nudge you towards what you might like. Here are five albums from the past year that you should maybe check out, but only if you want to.

Malibu – Anderson .Paak

Anderson-Park-Malibu-Cover-Billboard-650x650Summer releases from Miguel and the Weeknd set the tone for a darker R&B. While these Top 40 artists are embracing the night, Anderson .Paak invokes the tones of a sunny day. He layers his D’Angelo-esque vocals on top of smooth synths and funky guitar and horn riffs, and he does so with the intensity of James Brown. I recommend the album and his live performances.

Primatives – Bayonne

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I waited for this album for a year. Seriously, a year ago Bayonne had one single on Spotify. When the album came out, I was very far from being disappointed, and the one-man band of Roger Sellers created a work that makes transient psychedelia very catchy. It’s calming. It's Animal Collective if they were produced by Phil Collins. This will be a name to look out for in the future, so get a head start and listen to his debut album. 

Art Angels – Grimes

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A lot of critics have been praising this album, noting that Grimes is finally settling into a sound that she can call hers. I hope this isn’t true. Don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite release that she has made to date. Its wild mix of synth-pop and experimental power pop rushes you through the mind of a true artist in our lifetime. With any luck we’ll just see her keep growing.

Cardinals – Pinegrove

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Americana driven emotional punk. It may very well be my favorite genre, and Pinegrove really scores big here. It really doesn’t take a special talent to imply a Ryan Adams like attitude to lyricism that attributes the qualities of contemporaries like Modern Baseball and Into It. Over It. However, it takes immense talent to draw the personal connection that I would have to a Ryan Adams album. This band has passion, and I can’t recommend a new band more than Pinegrove.

I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

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What can I say, it’s pure ear candy. No band today writes hooks catchier than the 1975 does, and they really should be celebrated for this talent. 

Cultural Film Fests

By Maddie Gombis  In accordance with North Park’s desire for students to engage the city as their classroom, Dr. Robert Hostetter offers a class during which he uses Chicago film festivals as a teaching tool. Throughout the summer, students have the opportunity to attend the Chicago International Film Series, work with Dr. Hostetter at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown, and discover the importance of film festivals and international film to our understanding of others.

As a communications class, the 10-week long hybrid program requires students to meet at the Chicago Cultural Center for class discussion. Dr. Hostetter asks that students attend festivals such as the Chicago International Film Series, the 14th African Diaspora Film Festival, the 22nd Black Harvest International Film Festival and the 13th Annual Screenings Program. On top of viewing at least ten films among these festivals, students will engage texts that will allow them to draw connections and understand the cultural significance of each film.

The 14th African Diaspora Film Festival, which takes place on June 12-18, presents a range of Black independent films from across the globe in an effort to provide viewers with a diverse mix of “foreign, independent, classic and urban films representing the global Black experience,” according to Facets.com.

The Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the 22nd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, which features Chicago premieres of films that tell the stories of African-American and African diasporic experiences. According to their website, they wish to show works that raise questions and touch on issues that relate to the global Black experience.

The festival that is central to the class is the Chicago International Film Festival Summer Screening Program. According to Timeout.com, this free weekly screening program exhibits a wide range on “international award winners spanning different styles and genres.”

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The primary goal of this class is to use Chicago as a “‘classroom’ to discover intercultural points of view, the interplay of gender, class and ethnicity, exile or diaspora experience, national cinemas, international co-productions, transnational cinema, and the cultural importance of film festivals,” Dr. Hostetter’s syllabus says. He wants students to explore and question the importance of film festivals in our culture and how they “develop intercultural awareness and understanding.”

Historically, Chicago has been a beacon of hope and "home" for immigrants finding a place in America, but by the same token, it has been a place of unrest as cultures clash and fail to make peace. Attending film festivals that show a wide variety of experiential accounts allows viewers—most notably North Park students—to begin engaging in a multicultural dialogue.

Most importantly, the prominence of film festivals that deal with the black, African and African-American experience is crucial to engaging and understanding a part of the city that most North Park students rarely dare to enter. The South Side gets a bad rap for its stereotypical gang violence, but it is such an integral part of Chicago's history as an immigrant-built city.

Not only does this Chicago Film Festival class work in tandem with the Chicago Intensive to truly make the city a classroom for North Parkers, but it also works to further the “intercultural” facet of North Park’s values. Whether or not students choose to be thoughtful about their intercultural experience, they will take away a multitude of stories from the myriad immigrants that built Chicago and have inhabited it since.

Media Guide for Israel and Palestine

By Katie Comfort  Through a variety of programs and organizations on campus, North Park has made outstanding efforts to educate about peaceful solutions to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Since my freshman year I have been an active member of the Middle Eastern Student Association, where I developed relationships with Palestinian students that inspired me to travel to the West Bank three times in the past three years.

After returning from my most recent trip in March, I began reconsidering how those of us who have experience in the conflict introduce people to Palestine and Israel. Usually we give lists of key dates in dry lectures with PowerPoint presentations, or we launch into long-winded stories in which we try to superimpose narrative with analysis, hoping that something we say sticks and that students will pursue further knowledge independently. However, true engagement requires a human connection. For this reason, I’ve compiled a brief list of some creative sources which have helped me stay the most connected to Palestine in hopes that books and movies might be a more comfortable entry point for those who are unfamiliar.

The Butterfly's Burden by Mamoud Darwish (2006): An internationally acclaimed poet, whose work dives into his own narrative of exile and return, Darwish explores themes of love, loss and identity. The Butterfly’s Burden, three collections of poetry translated by ip_buterflyPalestinian-American, Fady Joudah, is one of my favorites because the original Arabic is presented next to each poem and the poems were all written after Darwish, who initially fled during the Nakba in 1948, returned to Palestine in 1996. If you pick up a copy, be sure to read “Who am I, Without Exile,” “You’ll be Forgotten, As If You Never Were” and “Sonnet II.” And, should you ever find yourself in Ramallah, be sure to check out the small Mamoud Darwish Museum, which chronicles his life and work.

I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti (1997): For people who prefer a narrative approach rather than a poetic interpretation, this autobiographical work offers a good exploration of experiences of exile, return and the politics of those. One of the first things I learned about ip_ramallahPalestinians is that their very existence is tied to the politics of the situation. After living in Bethlehem this past summer, I was overwhelmed by how people’s narratives and histories commonly included land confiscation, exile, loss and fear. In Barghouti’s autobiography, he brings a poetic lyricism to his experiences of returning to his hometown for the first time in thirty years. He explores the complicated identity of someone who has lived in exile as a global refugee, and he discusses identity and home in a way that makes Palestinian displacement come alive for all readers. I Saw Ramallah succinctly covers the history of Palestine in a way that makes it clear how the dates we so often memorize are connected to actual human experience.

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A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Thierry Binisti (2011): While everything discussed above touches on realities of Palestinian life exclusively, there is a need to engage in the reality of Palestinians and Israelis together. The film A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is based on an internet pen-pal relationship between a student in Jerusalem, and a student in Gaza City. The way that their narratives are presented and broken down, does a good job to bring a human understanding to the innocent actors on both sides of this protracted conflict. Though the content of this movie has the potential to normalize the situation, I appreciated that it acknowledges the need for honesty, conflict and human connection between Israelis and Palestinians while also giving space for the narrative of each individual to be explored.

The Time that Remains by Elia Suleiman (2009): ip_timeremains

In this film, Suleiman creatively explores his own family’s narrative based off of diary entries from his father and letters from his mother. The film is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie in style and understated comedy while dealing with a conflict that we usually view as unwaveringly serious. The film, which has been recognized globally at film festivals for its creative approach and its use of absurdity appropriately captures the insanity of the everyday as it explores four periods in Suleiman’s family history.

The hope in providing these few sources is that we might start to think creatively about how to engage in learning. In academic settings, there is often a myth that we must be experts before we can speak up about what is going on. I have found that engaging in the creative work of those who have lived experiences removes this barrier, and allows us to connect in ways that turn engagement into a human experience instead of a purely academic one.

 

The Popular Awards

By Jacob Bretz America's most iconic music award show aired on Feb. 15 of this year. Through the course of the ceremony, dreams were realized or crushed, tears were shed, laughs were had—some really great music was recognized for the genius it is. But none of it mattered.

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To be sure, the Grammy Awards show is a prolific event in entertainment industry. Incredible exposure is promised to any musician even mentioned in passing during the televised event. Every acceptance speech seems a heartfelt thank you to the artist’s loved ones, support team, and the voting committee. Still, the Grammys flaws are impossible to ignore. As the "only peer-based music award,” they too often miss the mark of categorization, nomination and commendation. Also, there is a massive bias in terms of genre and popularity. While troubling, neither of these things really matter, because as a whole, giving awards to a pursuit as open-ended and artistic as music is not just ridiculous but totally regressive.

If the aim of the Grammys is to entertain, then it surely succeeds. Who could forget Taylor Swift and Stevie Nick’s performance of “Landslide” in 2010 or Gwyneth Paltrow and Cee-Lo Green’s rendition of “Forget You” with the starring cast of the Muppets? The Grammys is an awards show and the aim of an awards show, at least in part, is to entertain. That is not something the producers of the show could be faulted for. They are meant to be a celebration of music, both past and present. If the Grammys broadcast was simply the listing of all nominees and winners, not a single person in America would tune in. There needs to be excitement and pizzazz to hold viewers’ attention.

This entertainment, however, often seems empty. The Civil Wars riveting performance in the 2012 show was little more than a minute long, yet Rihanna and Coldplay were allotted 9 whole minutes to perform three songs that impacted the music scene far less than the seminal Civil Wars album. The film "A Place at the Table" not only cemented the Civil Wars’ place in the folk music scene, but also helped usher in an era of honest Americana that western music has not recovered from since. The performances chosen for the Grammys are based on neither merit nor talent, but on sheer popularity. Sure, there have been plenty of good performances at the Grammys over the years: the White Stripes, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, even Kendrick Lamar. None of these performers are chosen based on talent, but rather by popularity. However, this is not the glaring issue with the Grammys.

Beyond the issue of the performances of the Grammys, most of the nominations are flawed for a plethora of reasons. Often times, lesser known artists are slapped into the wrong categories and sometimes the best albums in a given category are left out of the application process altogether. In 1989, Metallica—perhaps the most iconic heavy metal group of all time—lost the first ever Grammy for a hard rock/heavy metal performance to Jethro Tull. Let me repeat that, a band whose main melodic instrument is a flute beat "And Justice for All." Even today, artists are consistently left out of their rightful categories. This year, Ghost won the Grammy for best metal performance. While Ghost conveys a particularly devilish attitude, their music barely holds any stylistic semblance to heavy metal. I won't even mention Elle King’s pop hit “Ex’s & Oh’s” nomination for Best Rock Song.

Besides the issues of categorization, the Grammys refuse to nominate plenty of worthy contestants to different categories. Where was the love this year for Vince Staples, Mick Jenkins, Lupe Fiasco, or A$AP Rocky in any hip-hop category? As for the Heavy Metal Performance Grammy, basically every important release was left out of the nominations—Cattle Decapitation’s “The Anthropocene Extinction,” High on Fire’s “Luminiferous,” and especially heavy metal pioneers Iron Maiden’s “The Book of Lost Souls.” It appears that not only do the various nomination committees not understand how to categorize artists properly, but they also fail to recognize significant performances within their respective genres.

It's easy to get caught up in the ineffectiveness of awards organization. Too often critics—myself included—struggle with the particularities of a certain awards show rather than criticizing the construct that is entertainment awards. If you would please then, look past the misrepresentation and under-representation. See the Grammys for what it truly is: bullshit.

If that seems too forward, let me paint this picture for you. The Grammys process starts with eight members of a specific genre’s screening committee meeting in a room. The only requirement for joining one of the committees is six or more credits on some sort of project within a specific genre. This can include performance, composition, engineering, arrangement, or even the writing of album liner notes—just about any job within the music industry qualifies.

So after this handful of so-called “experts” are rounded up, they sit in a room and are handed a stack of albums to pick through and categorize. After these albums are categorized, members of the voting committee may choose to vote in any five categories plus the big four—Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. There is no prerequisite for voting in specific nominations. Then, an even larger sample of the committee gets to vote on which of the nominees actually deserve the award.

So in the end, the winners are chosen by no more than a handful of people. The majority of these voters have little to no participation in the fields voted on. Does that not seem an inherently flawed system? This is why the Grammys should not be taken seriously, because the system does not allow for serious consideration of musicians.

Beyond concerns of structural issues, there persists the philosophical question of whether artistic pursuits should compete at all. Is it really the aim of the performances recognized at the Grammys to win? Does winning some symbolic award really add any merit to an artist’s work? Recognition is great, but competition, I am not so sure. Winning a Grammy does little to legitimize a work, it does nothing to add to its longevity. What happened to art for art’s sake? When an artist does win a Grammy that is good and fine, but when an artist fails to succeed, that may devalue a recording in the eyes of the public. Because of this, it is morally irresponsible to support art awards ceremonies.

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So sure, watch the Grammys, watch the Oscars, watch the Tonys, but know that these awards are skewed. Awards ceremonies are a farce and, worse than that, they are pointless.