PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

Capitalism crushes souls. Words become meaningless. We attach words like “hope” or “deliverance” to projects or centers that were supposed to serve our forgotten communities. Instead they become empty husks symbolic of the empty promises of the American Dream.

Not since Vietnam has the American psyche been so fragile. Wages have stagnated since the 1970’s, faith in our public institutions is at a historic low and the American center has collapsed and given rise to a proto-fascist. PJ Harvey returns after a 5 year absence to turn her gaze towards the people who were left behind by free trade agreements, deregulation and disastrous foreign interventions.

Let England Shake is a phenomenal anti-war album that doubles as a swan song to the end of the European dominance over the global stage. On Hope Six Demolition Project Harvey still sings about war but instead of focusing her gaze on the immediate death and destruction it brings, she turns her attention towards the consequences of war. The poor, famished kid of Kabul asking for a dollar in “Dollar, Dollar.” The “sun-bleached photographs” of the disappeared Albanians during the Kosovo War. They are the forgotten victims of our foreign adventures, the ones who have to suffer through our recklessness. Harvey is here to remind us that our actions have consequences and that the West often seems to not really give a fuck.

Hope Six takes setting in locations different and vast from one another. Washington, D.C, Kabul, Kosovo. Each spanning three different continents but all mired in poverty. Be it the through desertion (Washington D.C.), decades worth of foreign intervention (Kabul) or the devastation of ethnic violence and sectarianism (Kosovo) all three locations are connected by the poverty that distinguishes all three communities. “River Anacostia,” the highlight of the album, is a gospel hymn named after the polluted river south of Washington, D.C. The chorus is a direct allusion to a black spiritual. African-Americans escaping a brutal slave regime in the South would often use rivers to navigate themselves to free soil. It’s a sharp contrast that Harvey paints, a contrast of blighted people whose only recourse for freedom is now poisoned. This is the abject, debilitating poverty that not even the greatest empire on Earth has been able to escape.

Harvey lays the criticisms thick. While Let England Shake was marked by a distinct sadness, Hope Six is instead angry and detached. Harvey is shocked by the indifference from the world surrounding her. How can there be so much progress, yet our world remain not far off from the violent conditions from the first World War. Great advances in medicine, technology and even society, yet there remains a permanent underclass that remains powerless to the plunder of rich oligarchs. Historic low points in violence, yet a brutal ethnic cleansing took place in Europe as recently as two decades ago. This is what separates Let England Shake and Hope Six Demolition Project. It is the immediacy of our now contrasted with the hindsight of our then. For Harvey, humans have not really progressed much from the first World War.

Let England Shake is one of the best albums of our past 16 years. It was centered around a clear anti-war message supported by the imagery and themes of the first World War, specifically, the Battle of Gallipoli. The music was largely built around traditional British folk songs. It was nostalgia for the old glory of the British Empire, for a time when Europe was largely isolated from its devastating colonial and racist foreign policies. The first World War marked the death of the innocence of Europe. Gone were the days when war was fought with honor and chivalry. Now present were the days of shell shock, mustard gas and Pyrrhic marches into “No Man’s Land.” Hope Six Demolition Project had really big shoes to fill, but that doesn’t mean that it fails at what it sets out to do. Songs such as “Chain of Keys” or “Near the Memorial to Vietnam and Lincoln” are dull songs with repeating uninteresting rhythms, but there’s some very powerful moments. “Community of Hope,” the aforementioned “River Anacostia” and “Dollar, Dollar,” “The Orange Monkey” and “The Wheel” are all very strong highlights that sometimes flirts with the brilliance of Let England Shake.

Harvey doesn’t need to make a grand significant statement about the poverty that she saw while on her travels. She is a famous rock musician. For all intents and purposes, she is in a protective bubble and Harvey knows it. She doesn’t need to be the sanctimonious rock star paying lip service to the plight of the poor. There’s already one Bono too many. What the poor need isn’t the pity of another rock star, what they need is someone to get shit out for everyone else to see.

7 Jewish Artists to Listen to for Passover

Friday commences the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year: Passover. Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It last’s for seven days.

According to the Jewish tradition Judaism is passed down from the Mother, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Judaism can be considered a religion, an ethnicity, and a culture.

Despite my Mother’s standing as a Jewish woman, I do not identify myself Jewish when it comes to religion, well, I don’t identify with any religion. However according to my Ashkenazi ancestry, I am ethnically Jewish, and considering I spent a majority of my childhood eating bagels with lox and latkes, I have been introduced to Jewish culture as well.

In honor of Passover, here are seven Jewish musicians to get all Jews and non-Jews alike in the mood for the holiday.

Day 1: Regina Spektor

Spektor immigrated to New York City from Moscow when she was nine years old. Her family left the Soviet Union for religious purposes and were admitted into the U.S. with the help of assistance from the American Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. 

Her music is heavily influenced by religion, but nowadays, her relationship with faith is a bit more ambiguous.

I’m always thinking about faith and spirituality and tradition and religion and how those things fit together or don’t fit together… Does religion do good or does it harm? …obviously it does both. I don’t exactly know how I feel about it.” 

Day 2: The Ramones

Joey Ramone’s birth name was Jeffrey Hyman, he was born in Forest Hills, Queens. A predominantly Jewish neighborhood that also bred fellow Jews Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, but we’ll get to them later.

Tommy Ramone was also Jewish. Born Thomas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary. A Jew, he was the son of Holocaust survivors who hid in friends’ homes to elude the Nazis. When he was four, his family moved to the U.S. and settled in, you guessed it – Forest Hills, Queens.

In the book The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk Paperback, author Steven Lee Beeber focuses on punk’s beginnings in New York City that show punk was the most Jewish of rock movements, in both makeup and attitudes.

Day 3: Drake

Aubrey Drake Graham aka Drake is probably the most famous black Jew since Lenny Kravitz.

The biracial Canadian rapper grew up with his mother in a primarily Jewish neighborhood in Toronto after his parent’s divorce. He had a bar mitzvah  at the age of 13, and still practices Jewish traditions.

Nobody understood what it was like to be black and Jewish… being different from everyone else just made me a lot stronger.

Day 4: Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel met when in Forest Hills, Queens when they were starring in the school play together at the age of nine. It was Alice and Wonderland. Garfunkel played the Cheshire Cat, while Simon played the White Rabbit, and it was their debut performance.

Lyrically the duo never touched on anything too religious. Simon’s more recent work have exhibited an increase in spiritual content. But in terms of any sort of belief system, it’s inconsistent.

Day 5: Haim

Haim (Hebrew for “life”) is a Los Angeles rock band comprising of sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana.

They grew up celebrating Jewish holidays and listening to their grandmother’s Ofra Haza cassettes. Their parents are musicians (including their Israeli born father) and they started a family band with the girls from a young age. The girl’s eventually went off on their own and the rest is history.

Before deciding on Haim, they considered calling themselves The Bagel Bitches.

Day 6: The Beastie Boys

It may seem unlikely but Judaism and rap have gone hand in hand since at least 1983.

Adam Horowitz (Adrock), Michael Diamond (Mike D), and the late Adam Yauch (MCA) were all members of the pioneering rap group The Beastie Boys. And they were all nice Jewish boys hailing from Brooklyn, New York.

Now adays, it seems like a particularly special time for the Chosen People in rap since their groundbreaking entrance onto the scene. We now have fellow Jewish rappers Mac Miller, Necro, Matisyahu, Kreayshawn, Hoodie Allen, and Action Bronson. Thanks to The Beastie Boys leading the way.

Day 7: Lou Reed

Lou Reed was once asked if he was Jewish, his response: “Of course, aren’t all the best people?” He was also known to make the occasional anti-Semitic remark, and once told Journalist Lester Bangs that he didn’t know any Jews.

Lou Reed invented punk rock with the Velvet Underground. He even made noise rock a thing unintentionally with Metal Machine Music. He was forward thinking and pushed boundaries. His incredible songwriting and storytelling within his music are his legacy as a talented songwriter.

On religion he once said: “My God is rock ’n’ roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life,” and “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.

 

Baby, You’re a Star

Today died the greatest musician who has ever touched a guitar. The world will be a little less today. A tremendous soul has been lifted from our earth. With that soul goes the greatest person to lay fingers on a guitar, a man whom Dave Grohl once said was a better drummer than him and one of the most liberated individuals who have ever lived.

If there’s one phrase that sums up Prince is that he did not give a single fuck. He did what he wanted and he did it audaciously. He wrote songs about receiving oral sex, did not include a bass line on “When Doves Cry,” wanted to star in a film without never having acted before and he got into ugly, vicious fights with his music label. The man frequently made public appearances in the 90’s with the word “slave” scrawled on his cheek, a reference to his long fight with his major label, Warner Bros. Prince made this into an album cover and it has become the object of my fascination for a couple of years now.

What made Prince a lot more than simply a cheap shock artist was how much his audacity paid off. Very few people took as bold steps as Prince did. The results were often magical, fascinating and beautiful. Purple Rain is the greatest album the 80’s ever produced. One of my favorite four album runs of all time is Dirty MindControversy1999, and Purple Rain. 1987’s Sign o’ the Times is one of the best double albums ever recorded, if not the best. The 1980’s belonged to Prince in an era that was crowded by the highest selling album and musician of all time. He was able to make a song called “Batdance” go platinum.

Today Prince did what was unimaginable. He proved to be mortal. Friedrich Nietzsche famously said that “God is dead.” Today God died.

Cover Songs Arguably Better Than the Original

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

12.“Rubber Ring” by Girl in a Coma (The Smiths cover)

Girl in a Coma are heavily influenced by 1980’s English rock legends The Smiths, yet they do not sound anything like them. The female rock trio from San Antonio have a distinct sound, lead singer Nina Diaz’s powerful voice matched with the punkier instrumental work is anything but comatose.

In 2011’s Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths compilation album was released.

Girl in a Coma covered the obscure Smiths B-side “Rubber Ring”. The song itself is about how even in the darkest depths, music can pull you through and give you hope and courage. It is one of the most underrated songs in The Smiths catalog. Girl in a Coma presented the tune with the romantic intensity the original deserved.

11. “Grammy” by Purity Ring (Soulja Boy cover)

In 2007 we were blessed with the debut of Soulja Boy. He was just a teenager from Chicago when his gargantuan single “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” came out. It was inescapable. He has since had a modest music career and still releases music, none of which has had the same success has his first big hit.

Cue to Purity Ring – an electronic pop duo from Canada. The idea of another indie artist giving the internet a “quirky” version of a rap song has become a parody of itself at this point. Purity Ring’s rendition of “Grammy” destroys that stereotype.

Singer Megan James brings a vulnerable passion in her voice when asking “What do you want from me/Because I’ve given you everything?” in the songs inescapable hook. The synth pop rhythm and ambient luminescence exhibit Purity Ring’s sheer invention.

10.”Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez (The Knife Cover)

Maybe I’m just a sucker for an acoustic guitar every now and then.

“Heartbeats” was the first single released from Swedish electronic duo The Knife’s sophomore album Deep Cuts. Singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez recorded a version of the song for his debut album Veneer, and it took off.

Gonzalez’s rendition has been included in “best of” lists from publications such as Pitchfork Media, NME, and Rolling Stone. It can be heard on the soundtrack of various  television shows, films and advertisements. It is transcendent.

The reason why this is on my list, and not Iron and Wine’s famous cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” is because in that case, the original is better. When it comes to “Heartbeats” Gonzalez’s re-imagination of the track makes you feel infinite.

9. “Valerie” by  Amy Winehouse (The Zutons cover)

This is the rare occasion when listeners are more familiar with the cover version opposed to the original. Most people probably are not aware that this ditty is not a Winehouse original. In fact, “Valerie” was written by an indie rock act from Liverpool.

Amy Winehouse was special. There is no other way to describe it. Her unique voice, timeless style, and indisputable talent remain unparalleled. “Valerie” is just another demonstration of the brilliant artist that left us too early.

8.”The Killing Moon” by Nouvelle Vague (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)

Nouvelle Vague is a French cover band, their name translates to “new wave” it refers to the French New Wave cinema movement of the 1960’s. So, let’s say they have a very specific aesthetic with their music.

In Nouvelle Vague’s interpretation of Echo & the Bunnymen’s 1980’s hit “The Killing Moon,” they took an enigmatic alt anthem and rearranged it into a bossa nova styled number guaranteed to replay itself in your head.

7.”All Along the Watchtower” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Bob Dylan cover)

Bob Dylan released “All Along the Watchtower” in 1967, a mere six months after it’s original release, The Jimi Hendrix Experience covered it and the song soon took a life of it’s own.

The original arrangement was standard Dylan fare for the time: acoustic guitar, harmonica, and of course, some poetic lyrical content. Hendrix took the song to another level with his composition of prolonged guitar solo’s and soulful vocals that transformed the song’s entire demeanor.

“All Along the Watchtower” is the song that Dylan has performed live the most over his career, and he still uses Hendrix’s rendition as his inspiration.

5.”Sea of Love” by Cat Power (Phil Phillips cover)

The song was originally recorded in 1949 by Phil Phillips at Mercury Records. Phillips Motown-esque performance is lovely and tender. It is.

In the year 2000 Chan Marshall, under the moniker Cat Power released The Covers Record, “Sea of Love” is the concluding track. Marshall has had a turbulent life. Her struggles with substance abuse and depression have led to erratic live performances and tour cancellations.

The somber disposition in Marshall’s version of “Sea of Love” captures the melancholy she felt at the time, and those of us who have felt the same can overwhelmingly relate when listening to this.

4. “Mr. Grieves” by TV on the Radio (The Pixies cover)

When a musician rearranges a song to the point where it is unrecognizable from the original it is either praised or condemned.

TV on the Radio took fast paced “Mr. Grieves” from The Pixies classic Doolittle and made an A cappella version out of it. Reminiscent of a street corner serenade, it’s has all the oooh’s, aaah’s, handclaps and snaps of a classic doo-wop song. The spirituality and soul embodies something the original doesn’t match.

3. “Ceremony” by New Order (Joy Division cover)

“Ceremony” was one of the last tracks written and composed by Ian Curtis of Joy Division before his tragic suicide in 1980. There are only three recorded Curtis versions of this song in existence. Including a studio session that was recorded four days before his death.

The remaining members of Joy Division became New Order and re-recorded the track and released it as their first single, with guitarist Bernard Sumner taking on the vocals.

I know I am stretching the rules a bit, but, this IS a cover. It’s a song that is not only a noteworthy tribute to Curtis, but a song that defined an entire decade.

2.”I Know it’s Over” by Jeff Buckley (The Smiths cover)

An iconic band like the Smiths has to be hard to cover – diehard fans revere the originals so much, it’s challenging to push past expectations and do something different without being too over the line.

“I Know it’s Over” holds up to be of their most universally beloved songs. Covering a song that is considered untouchable by many is a difficult task, the late Jeff Buckley exceeded all expectations when he did a stripped down version of a song that was already naked in the first place. 

Buckley had one of the greatest voices of the last century. He is better known for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” off his 1994 album Grace – which deserves all the recognition and praise it receives.

Buckley is capable of projecting an eerily beautiful sorrow that would leave Morrissey himself speechless.

1. “Everyday” – Rogue Wave (Buddy Holly cover)

In 2005 a bunch of indie rock bands were asked to cover classic songs of the 1950’s & 1960’s to use as part of a video game soundtrack for Stubbs the Zombie. The soundtrack includes Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and The Wakmen. Overall, it is a fantastic compilation record.

Rogue Wave went above and beyond with their rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”. It’s hard to touch the classics, Holly’s original 1957 tune is catchy and uncomplicated. It’s an American standard.

Rogue Wave reinvented the track as modern day folk ballad that results with an overwhelmingly powerful essence.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

I wanted to trash this album. The first time I listened to it, I texted my girlfriend my feelings about the album. My feelings, at the time, can be summed up with two words: “bad” and “drab.”

It’s fair to say that Human Performance can be “drab.” It has 13 tracks. It’s also very fair to say that there’s some, and I’m quoting my text message here, “preeeeettty bad” tracks. I was salivating at the opportunity to trash the living shit out of this album. It was going to be a gratifying experience. So I kept listening to it. Over and over and over.

And over the course of my repeated listens, I grew to like Human Performance. I had a similar about-face with Animal Collective’s Painting With. I trashed the album on Twitter the first listen, but it was secretly infectious. I played it immediately again afterwards and two days later I found myself listening to Animal Collective’s discography. It’s been a curious and pleasing phenomena.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Human Performance. Even the dreadful “I Was Just Here” has a final 18 second stretch where the dull and meandering guitar riff the song is centered on turns into a frantic punk song that’s glad it’s over. For every boring or bad moment you get two excellent and fun bits like the final bridge on “Paraphrased” or a song like “Steady on My Mind.”

“Steady on My Mind” would fit in quite nicely in The Velvet Underground’s quiet self-titled. It has a low tambourine-led beat and a lonely guitar riffing in the forefront. Andrew Savage, the vocalist of the band, channels his best Lou Reed and deadpans the lyrics. It’s a great song and one of the highlights of Human Performance.

The Velvet Underground connections don’t just stop there. Right after “Steady on My Mind” comes “One Man, No City.” “One Man, No City” has a final 3 minute jam entirely reminiscent of a Velvet Underground & Nico-era VU song. There’s the driving, steady “motorik” drumming. As the rhythm section gets lost in the background, the guitars nicely interpolate with one another. Even one of the guitars sounds awfully a lot like the trademark viola played by John Cale. It’s the final freak-out from “European Son.”

The song variety on Human Performance is one of its strengths. The album can vary from short, less than 2-minute song to a 6-minute long jam song. There’s plenty of genre variety. We get Velvet Underground inspired jam songs or fast, pummeling punk. Vastly different styles with a common root: rock’n’roll.

This is my introduction to Parquet Courts. Human Performance required a bit of effort from me. It has been a rewarding effort with plentiful of fruits. Can it blend in as background noise? Sure, but for every lull there’s a lot of fun to rinse out. It’s a fun record for rock aficionados to check out. I recommend this album.