Review: The Blaze – Territory (EP)

But that is where the EP may falter for putting so many tracks in one basket: do these tracks hold up without their visual counterparts? Could “Juvenile” and “Spark & Ashes” be heightened by accompanying music videos? I would answer yes: in an age where the single track is worthless, set upon algorithms and passive consumption playlists (exercise), the emotional resonance of all music requires more, and perhaps the music video continues its role of expanding the thesis first introduced by the track; from dance into reflection.

The Blaze - EP
The Blaze – EP

It’s a wonder that the modern dance music producer even comes out with an album, let alone an EP containing over three tracks. The dance music market desires the hit single, and likely some substantive remixes of that same single. The single will then be transported into Spotify/Apple Music to be inserted into various modular and algorithmic playlists that could not care less that one track or the other exists within.

For better or worse, Territory ignores the pitfalls of throwing several tracks into one collection (Pitchfork/Resident Advisor can’t cover several EPs spread over months, but rather offer only one brief piece of coverage in April; quick discoverability of the “B-side” tracks when offering the standard two track EP with possible remixes to sweeten the bargain; simply having several identifier names for several EPs to better establish the producer’s “brand”) and throws in four full tracks and two “texture” tracks for the listener.

Track Breakdown:

“Prelude” (3.5/5) feels as if it could have opened for a bizzaro-The XX album. Pulsing synths, a tinkling piano; this is not the typical track to open for most dance music producers. This opener establishes that while The Blaze may not be “heady”, they are not simply banger producers.

“Territory” (4/5) is crystalline clear, with sparse instruments over a very familiar-sounding beat; it is the prototypical rave song for dudebros and molly’d up life-lovers. It’s austere yet celebratory; the extremes in tone turn what would have been a very stereotyped sound into something with surprising substance (for a dance song). Determination and a tempered happiness makes “Territory” definitive to the tone of The Blaze.

“Virile” (4/5) is how I first discovered The Blaze months ago. Admittedly, I was particularly interested in the album cover: a man embracing the face of another, as the latter takes in the smoke of what may be a cigarette or (revealed in the music video) a joint. Here one can discover an important aspect of The Blaze (or at least what they are trying to project): that the dudebro music produced is looking beyond the typical “straight, white” dudebro, but also the assholes of many other races, nationalities and sexualities. The building synths and once-again familiar dance beat of the track drives a pitched down voice that is found throughout the EP; the ambiguity of the voice pushes the visuals and overall thesis of The Blaze: there is more that straight, white dudebro raving.

“Interlude” (3/5) still feels as if it was taken out of the B-sides of The XX. I can almost hear Romy’s voice echoing over the piano and the synths.

“Juvenile” (3/5): beat feels weak, seeking that “driving” motion that producers might emulate in order to get their song in a Nike running playlist. But the vocals tend to make up for these issues; the simple line by the pitched down voice, as well as the repeated whimpers in the last half of the track produce a positive emotion that I appreciated after a rough beginning.

“Spark & Ashes” (3.5/5) was my least loved track for the first couple weeks of listening, but after a few listens, this approach to the “driving” beat was wholly complementary of the great vocals and sidechaining effects that occur throughout the track. The halfway point has a build-up that feels better each time I listen to it; the looped vocal combined with the organic-sounding percussive melody became again very The XX.

Conclusion

The Blaze has found differentiation in their dance music through their visual process. I personally discovered them through their album cover for Virile, and later became very interested in their official album cover for Territory. With these two images in a vacuum, there is something very modernist in their depictions of masculinity; a type without protestant shame, comfortable in one’s skin and comfortable with those around them. The images of Virile and Territory tell two different stories of this comfortability (the latter may be more exclusionary than the former), but it is a story worth telling, and worth modernizing.

The music videos expand on these images (the covers are taken straight out of the videos like a screenshot), with “Territory” expanding EDM beyond Western borders into Algeria, juxtaposing the pleasure of dance with Islamic images, familial relationships, and back alley antics. “Virile” is more personal, depicting the relationship between two friends. If masculinity is not being eradicated by feminism, then it is evolving beyond the dated presuppositions of the 20th century.

But that is where the EP may falter for putting so many tracks in one basket: do these tracks hold up without their visual counterparts? Could “Juvenile” and “Spark & Ashes” be heightened by accompanying music videos? I would answer yes: in an age where the single track is worthless, set upon algorithms and passive consumption playlists (exercise), the emotional resonance of all music requires more, and perhaps the music video continues its role of expanding the thesis first introduced by the track; from dance into reflection.

The Blaze - Virile (Single)
The Blaze – Virile (Single)
By Benjamin Loyseau
Jonathan (left) and Guillaume Alric (right), a.k.a. The Blaze – Photo by Benjamin Loyseau

The Shower

The American shower is to partake in an accepted pleasure.

Kalinga’s showers were predominantly bucket-based, common for middle-class households in an outside of major Filipino cities. The city’s tap water flowed through the kitchen sink, the toilet, and a faucet located at knee-height in the shower room. The faucet, just like one found outside on American suburban homes, would quickly fill the multi-gallon bucket with – at best – lukewarm water; at worst, and mostly occurring in the lofty mountain village of Lubo, one would receive the chilly stream sourced from underneath the residents’ homes and farms.

The Philippine air was cool: at night one only needed a long-sleeve shirt, and day a light t-shirt. The showers may have been less of a stress if the morning picked up in temperatures more quickly; instead, an entirely apathetic breeze passed by as I entered the shower room with my bucket and towel, mentally bracing myself for the jolt of cold as I start with the top of my head, my face (I lean forward so the water won’t drip down and cool anything else), then down to my shins, closer to my privates, but always second-guessing the need to pour the bucket on my chest and tummy, which would jumpstart the beating of my heart and inevitably reach my nethers.

The act of showering via this method is defined by the thoughts of showering; I am undistracted by stray thoughts, and in other words, wholly distracted by showering as a process. The objective was to get in and out with as little trauma as possible.

Contrast this with the more distracted, passive act of the American shower, or in my case, the apartment-based shower (no water utility fees) with seemingly unlimited hot water – let alone the limitless water itself. Knowledgeable of this abundance (I have grown for two decades with America’s unending stream of warm water), the act of showering is modified. I am not seeking the end, but it’s prolongement; it is common to hear one say that the shower is the “one place” for tranquility. I can only agree by evaluating its functions: the nakedness, the wetness, the transition from “dirty” to “clean”; the American shower is ordained by its society as good but private, encouraged but hidden.

The American shower is to partake in an accepted pleasure.

And in its pleasure is one of thought. As the most typical configuration of shower schedule is to follow the morning’s waking up process (somehow the wetness, warmth, cleanliness is considered a way to activate one’s productivity during the day), the processing of dreams, stray thoughts, and tasks to be accomplished is initiated by the shower. The comforts of the shower not only encourages the pleasure of comfort but also a period of light processing before heading out the door. It should not be surprising that the term “Shower Thoughts” has been coined in the past few years as surprising ideas that stem from the idleness of the shower; mental associations unencumbered by external necessities may be explored to their logical conclusions. A feeling of accomplishment in mulling over minute details may be achieved; mental pleasure follows in its wake.

While I enjoy the prospects of the American shower, I cannot so much entertain its side effects of environmental unsustainability; the bucket showers accomplish their goal of the clean body, without the pleasure but also without wasted gallons. So my exploration of the American shower is to figure out its qualities, benefits and determine if they can be isolated beyond the shower; is it the water, in all its liminal symbology that allows one to come up with such creative processing? If not, then is there a way to achieve the meditative benefits of the shower without the water? Is there a modified form of reflexivity, understanding, awareness that we can employ in order to achieve a sustainable self-reflection?

For such a small part of our day, the shower defines so much of our culture, from sensuality, to cleanliness, health, privacy, aspirations, dreams, and spirituality. But it would be an important feat to decouple its benefits from the act itself, and be able to do the same acts anywhere, in any climate.

The Wrong Other: Republicans and American Health Care

A juicy headline by Adrianne Jeffries for The Outline:

Republicans are here to disabuse you of the notion that elected representatives actually read bills.

Written in response to the recently approved revision of the American Health Care Act, this title comforts the (most likely left-leaning) reader in its snidery and irony. Citing only three individuals as having not read the bill (over two hundred voted for it), the first paragraphs extrapolates in order to construct the Big Other, i.e. Congressional Republicans. The last half describes how minuscule the amount of time it would take to read the bill.

The presentation can be summarized as thus:

Congressional Republicans will not spend even 76 minutes to ensure the health of their own constituents.

There are two important issues occurring within this summation, common in the pitfall of constructing a Big Other for a reader to react against.

  1. By conflating three Republican examples with Congressional Republicans, Jeffries has created an ungraspable entity (Other) that the reader cannot effectively act against.
  2. Constructing Congressional Republicans as the Big Other serves to distract against more important Others that have allowed for the revisions to even exist (congressional incontinence, mangled capitalist ideology, nature of the elected official).

Given these two issues, Adrianne Jeffries has made an article made for passive scoffing rather than inciting action or healthy outrage: one cannot act against “Congressional Republicans”; one can provide snickery to a large and undefinable Other, paralyzed the the sheer size of its ambiguity.

Yet one can act against the three individuals mentioned (John Shimkus, Tom Garrett, Chris Collins), making a difference one district at a time. By contacting these individual congresspeople, one is doing the basest form of activism: speaking one’s mind to one’s supposed representative in a peaceful and succinct manner.

Jeffries’ article has also paralyzed the reader into believing that the revisions to the health care bill as a product of there being a Congressional Republican. Never mind the twenty Republicans that opposed (did they read the bill?), or that there is even the hint of wanting to roll back what some deem to be a human right. There are ideological forces at play that will not be explored by describing 76 minutes as “three-and-a-half Seinfeld episodes”.

Jeffries’ “Big Other” is limp, nebulous, and one – if eliminated – would perpetuate itself in several other forms. Congressional Republicans are neither the sole nor primary issue of this health care bill revision. It extends into the voter base, the culture of D.C., the innate difficulties of singular leadership, and of a futile ideal that capitalism can ever become less corrupted than it is now. These should be the topics for inciting action, understanding, and hopefully much less passivity.

Bullet: Kong: Skull Island

Unique

Feels as if it was written by a non-American and then translated into English. Jilted dialogue, “Vietnam War” soldier archetypes, generally an apolitical “anti-war” message, Kong’s interaction is zany rather than forced “awe-inspiring”.

Bad

  • Quite archetypical, “been there done that” dialogue. It almost seems like a parody of the exact type of movie: “70s cuckoo scientist proven right by a discovery, but leading to the strife of the expeditionary crew – one of them snaps, causing a divide in goals for the group’s survival in the face of this discovery.”
  • Acting was distinctly not good, if not bad. Only John C. Reilly seemed to putting effort in the performance.
  • Micro-editing was really off, cutting at the wrong times. Felt very rushed and unrefined.
  • Characters seemed to be excessively, passively killed off. Kinda half-assed.

Good

  • The introduction set a good precedent for the rest of the film: it’s not Kong’s appearance that should impress people, but the creative action that occurs between Kong, the humans and the monsters it fights.
  • The fights weren’t particularly great, but some beats during (Jackson staring into Kong’s eyes as it destroyed soldiers, the initial “scientific bombing”, the fight with the squid) made up for what could have been a humorless, style-less depiction of a CGI monster beating up other CGI beings. There was a physicality.

Hubert Selby Jr.’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” Part One (Excerpted Reviews)

At the half-way mark and when fully finished, I want to make a few remarks on books I have been reading. When around fifty percent through, I want to tap into the interpretations and reviews of those before me, so I can see if my personal views are reflected within prior writings. When finished with the book I will make some brief statements on my thoughts and feelings about these books. The first book I will be working with in this series is the 1964 postmodern classic _[Last Exit to Brooklyn]_.

Last Exit to Brooklyn Book Cover
Last Exit to Brooklyn Book Cover

At the half-way mark and when fully finished, I want to make a few remarks on books I have been reading. When around fifty percent through, I want to tap into the interpretations and reviews of those before me, so I can see if my personal views are reflected within prior writings. When finished with the book I will make some brief statements on my thoughts and feelings about these books. The first book I will be working with in this series is the 1964 postmodern classic Last Exit to Brooklyn.

These days there are many collections of short stories that seek to create a hybrid of the novel and the story collection by focusing on a single character or location, or by trimming the narrative arc associated with novels through cutting up an underlying narrative into what might be called story-bits. Perhaps the earliest models of such a book would be Hamlin Garland’s Main-Traveled Roads or Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, but I have to say I would now judge Last Exit to Brooklyn to be the best example of this hybrid form I have read.

Dan Green for Quarterly Conversation

Sordid surroundings, no apostrophes, the thoughts of inferior people as imagined by their superior creator, odd paragraphing, no joy, sudden spates of capital letters, low diction and ugly rhythms, an oppressive sense of claustrophobia—all present and functioning vigorously.

George P. Elliott for Commentary Magazine

The novel’s famously idiosyncratic prose – a crudely punctuated, phonetic vernacular – is cut through with a surprising intermittent lyricism, making it clear that Selby has some sympathy for his characters.

Charlotte Newman for The Guardian

They are not even physically described in much detail — they are more like ghosts and shadows. It is their sin and immorality, rather than their corporeal beings, that seem to pervade the claustrophobic atmosphere, page after page after page.

Palash Ghosh for IB Times

When people are beaten up, they are not only kicked to a foaming, puking, bloody pulp, but the only reaction in evidence is someone’s gloating satisfaction.

Robert M. Adams for New York Books Review

But surprisingly, it feels life-affirming, as though that thing that makes them try is some basic life force that cannot be killed no matter how depraved an environment it lives in — the will to survive.

Mishna Wolff for NPR

Sex – interchangeable with violence, serves for ego-gratification. A process of catharsis. A route to asserting superiority on the most basic animal level.

Andrew Darlington for Eight Miles Higher

One feels in reading Last Exit to Brooklyn that Selby has artfully fitted style to character and situation, the unpretentious language being necessary for depicting the almost primal conditions in which the characters live. Eschewing conventional paragraphing, quoted dialogue, and most forms of punctuation, Selby’s style in Last Exit at its austere best even rises to the level of a kind of derelict poetry.

Dan Green for Quarterly Conversation

Last Exit To Brooklyn Notes
Last Exit To Brooklyn Notes

All Signs Point to Investing in U.S. Foreign Assistance

In other words, the _logos_ argument for foreign assistance is for the United States to gain and maintain soft power within beneficiary regions. For more better than worse, federal development organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are key for directly interfacing with the local citizens of a country, allowing the United States to build a goodwill from the bottom up in countries with historical tensions with liberal economics or Westernization.

Let’s start with a quote from Hilary Clarke, Kara Fox and Richard Greene for CNN:

The US is by far the biggest donor to humanitarian crises in terms of financial contributions. The country donated roughly $6.4 billion — or 29% of the $22.1 billion spent globally — for emergencies alone in 2016, a spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which oversees international emergency relief efforts, told CNN.

And then another by Andrew Natsios for The Atlantic:

… But using this rationale [that Europe have left their defense to the U.S.] to explain cuts in the U.S. aid budget makes no sense, because the Europeans, Japanese, and Canadians already contribute much more aid than the United States does. For example, in 2015, the United States ranked 20th out of about 30 donor governments when it came to foreign aid as a percentage of gross domestic product.

While both statements appear to contradict each other – how could the U.S. be the largest donor but ranked 20th? – the paradox is ultimately solved after viewing the OECD’s 2015 figures for Official Development Assistance (ODA):

From what we see, the United States’ ODA as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) is only .17%, behind Japan (.22%) and Canada (.28%). Small, right? But then on the right we find that the United States nearly doubles the combined amount spent by the U.K. and Germany.

We find that CNN and Natsios aren’t wrong. And in fact, they are working hand in hand on the argument for expanding foreign assistance programs. However, their rhetoric tends to vary: CNN seeks a pathos argument: there are more refugees in the world than ever and foreign assistance saves lives. Natsios finds the logos argument, which is can be well summarized by the double-speak of Prashanth Parameswaran of The Diplomat w/r/t Trump and Southeast Asia:

… it can preserve the U.S. role as a capable and willing Pacific power seeking to advance greater security, prosperity, and democracy in the Asia-Pacific while working with Southeast Asian states on common challenges in a way that advances U.S. interests but still preserves their autonomy and freedom of action.

In other words, the logos argument for foreign assistance is for the United States to gain and maintain soft power within beneficiary regions. For more better than worse, federal development organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are key for directly interfacing with the local citizens of a country, allowing the United States to build a goodwill from the bottom up in countries with historical tensions with liberal economics or Westernization.

Let Girls Learn was a crucial symbolic pillar of Obama’s foreign policy. With USAID as the smiling face of the United States, education programs contributed to teaching the youngest generations of Laos, Vietnam, etc. about the goodwill of the American people. These children will in time enter the high echelons of their governments and push their nation toward United States-friendly policies on trade and alliance-ship. Or so it should go.

While CNN’s humanitarian argument is enough to convert America’s bleeding hearts, the pragmatic argument for expanding the United States’ soft power in the Middle East and Asia are critical to attaining President Trump’s supposed ideal of “America First” foreign and domestic policies. These are the two key geopolitical regions that China, the other contender for economic and cultural dominance, is seeking to influence as it grows in need of natural and political capital. We can watch as China pushes cultural products into Saudi Arabia, and investing in Cambodia’s technological infrastructure, at the same time Cambodia is requesting forgiveness of loans from the United States. Holding cultural and economic power over another country is powerful, as China has expressed since Xi Jinping entered office.

In an era of globalized trade, “quid pro quo” has become necessary for building relationships as developing countries band together in hopes of political leverage during trade negotiations: being locked out of one country’s trade deals may mean being locked out of a whole cartel or trade alliance. Foreign assistance is required to have a direct, local interface between the United States and developing countries that have the potential to directly help or hinder the growth of America’s domestic economy.

Assistance/aid is also a very effective way of enacting cultural reproduction; many beneficiaries are willing to accept the strings of assistance, whether they are preplanned (Western) education programs for the success of their young or developing (Western) democratic policies for continued economic investments. Foreign assistance is investing twenty to thirty years in the future, in potentially disruptive nations and in their children, who will fundamentally build – destroy – the success of their benefactors.

Natsios’ use of percentage of GNI is important for the logos argument. It isn’t so much that cutting U.S. foreign assistance by thirty percent is the central issue – which was CNN has proposed – it’s that the United States’ investment in foreign assistance has been historically a pittance, only a quarter the amount it should actually be spending in order to maintain significance in global trade and political affairs. Not only are the cuts too much – it hasn’t been enough for decades. And this lack of investment is visible time and time again during revolutions, military conflicts, natural disasters, and the United States’ continually waning relevance in the eyes of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Four-On-The-Floor Doctrine

There is nothing more inoffensive than the state of the art of electronic dance music. The Adana Twins seem less made to move someone than to be incorporated into an example track on a future Korg iPad synth. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. etc. Don’t forget about the half-way build up to the sound of the beginning. Any movement to this music is an exercise in masochism: it is withholding, turning “fun” into a reward rather than as a dynamic element in the track. The music culture revolves around the DJ taking away rather than giving, like a God for the physical music consumer.

dancing guy and some music symbols wowweee
dancing guy and some music symbols wowweee

There is nothing more inoffensive than the state of the art of electronic dance music. The Adana Twins seem less made to move someone than to be incorporated into an example track on a future Korg iPad synth. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. Clap. Beat. etc. Don’t forget about the half-way build up to the sound of the beginning. Any movement to this music is an exercise in masochism: it is withholding, turning “fun” into a reward rather than as a dynamic element in the track. The music culture revolves around the DJ taking away rather than giving, like a God for the physical music consumer.

These points tend to characterize my want of dance music to fulfill some vague rule of instant gratification. Rather, I want to extend the asymmetrical power relation between producer and consumer outside the dance floor and on the laptop this uninspired music comes from. Attempting to leave responsibility to the producer to giveth and taketh has oppositely put more weight on the shoulders of the dancer to normalize this 130 BPM nothingness into something worth moving to. Here we find the virtuous cycle: mediocrity begets mediocrity in the guise of popular “quality”.

The normalization of second-rate dance music becomes toxic over time. Once accepted and explained away, these tracks and its authors are solidified as canonized producers of the “state of the art”. This would mean that 4Chan /mu/ graphics will become dedicated to these artists, and that music message boards will have to pay lip service to such people for a decade to come. The next generation of music consumers and dancers arrive in these vestigial discussions; they are taught that was the state of the art (SOTA), the stuff upon which we build our contemporary SOTA. And then the dance community builds the signifiers – signature sounds that harken back to a certain substandard artist. They are now a linguistic phenomenon.

And it is the seemingly necessary recognition of these signifiers that continue to perpetuate the four-on-the-floor (FOTF) doctrine. The components of dance music – just like the verb, adverb, adjective, and other components of language – are proprietary to its constructed history. Can one easily enjoy an unfamiliar language? Speedy recognition is thus the gateway to enjoyability. Innovative and new sound components are shoved to niche genres until the undiscerning dance consumer builds their language foundations to allow the inclusion of such units.

FOTF makes the statement: “My audiences want new through the familiar. My beneficiaries want innovation in regression.” A self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves unexplored the case of would-be musicians and dancers who, if enabled, could attract themselves to more irregular sounds and make produce/consume something unheard of. Why does it matter? What seems like an incisive question is answered by an optimism for the everlasting decree that “we can do better”. It’s not NECESSARY to discover innovative sounds and movements, but it surely is more agreeable than to comfortably accept that nothing should be done to forward dormant genres. In short, why not?

There is nothing concrete in this essay. To support my point, I will be writing a series on moving and making music that does more than accept the status quo.