Monday, 28 October 2013

Alternative Music: Appreciations, Critique, Reviews, and Miscellaneous Comments

This is where I will be putting brief comments and reviews of music and music videos from the alternative music genres that I listen to. I will update this section of my blog henceforth.

Sharon Van Etten
I hadn't heard any of her music before 2013. Sharon Van Etten writes consistently strong songs, both musically and lyrically. She has an unusually broad vocal range and a distinctive and engaging vocal style. Cat Power is one obvious influence. All of which sounds dry, boring, and not very informative. For what it is worth I think she is one of the very best female singer song writers in the world today. 

Lou Reed
So many great songs and lyrics from the recently departed and sadly missed Lou Reed, but one of my favourite lines, that I repeatedly quote to my students, essentially says that "you'll never create anything if you're frightened of being called a fool" (from Reed and Cale, Songs for Drella).

Lady Lamb The Beekeeper
An album I've been listening to a lot lately is by Lady Lamb The Beekeeper and is called 'Ripely Pine'. Lady Lamb (Aly Spaltro) doesn't have a unique and instantly recognisable vocal style like Bjork, Cat Power, Sharon Van Etten, or PJ Harvey, although she sings with passion and power. Her real strength is the quality of her song writing which is, for one so young, amazing. Most songs on the album range from 5 to 7 minutes in length and each takes you on an interesting and thought provoking lyrical and musical journey that is full of surprising twists, turns and apparent dead ends that suddenly open up into clearings with lush melodies. Five stars.

One of the joys of life is discovering new musical artists that you haven't heard before. Given how male dominated the corporate music industry is, and how entrenched gender inequality is within advanced capitalist societies, it's wonderful that there are so many great emerging female singer song writers doing amazing things.

Post script. I really love her song 'Bird Ballons'. It is more like an extended composition, a song cycle than a single song, in which she expresses anger and tenderness at different points. It has made me aware of how transgressive it is for a female song writer to express anger musically, whereas we take it forgranted that this is acceptable and normal for male musical artists, including when they express anger towards women. There is plenty of scope for feminist critique of popular musical culture in this regard (suggestions for references welcome).

Okkervil River- No Key, No Plan
This song is from an outfit from Austin, Texas. I've really liked everyone I've meet from that particular city, so apart from it's being the alleged 'live music capital of the US', it's a city I'm looking forward to visiting some day. By the way, one of my all time favourite socialist tee-shirts reads: 'Texas Socialist'. V. cool.

Pavement, 'Here'. Opening lyrics read: 'I was dressed for success, and success it never comes. And I'm the only one who laughs at your jokes when they are so bad, and your jokes are always bad. But they are not as bad as this.' 

Fly My Pretties
One of the things that I love most about living on these storm swept islands surrounded by lots of water, is the quality of the alternative music that is created and performed here. 

The Brunettes
This is a NZ band that I've been kinda prejudiced against on the grounds that their music is just way too contrived and consciously clever, but when I listened to this song and watched the quirky video that goes with it, I realised I needed to be a bit more open-minded.  

For other New Zealand alternative music videos go to:

For alternative music videos from the rest of the world go to: 208-democracy-video-screenings.html

And for some slightly older stuff that I liked a lot in 2011:

Friday, 20 September 2013

Democracy Past, Present, Future: Another World Is Possible. Public Lecture - University of Otago, Division of Humanities

I will be giving a public lecture on this topic.
7-8pm Thursday October 3rd, 2013.
Burns 1 in the Arts 1/Burns Building (on Albany Street), University of Otago.

The lecture theatre is booked from 7-8.30pm so that those who want to stay on for question time can do so. This will be followed by an informal book launch with music, discussion and drinks in the Divisional Tearoom, 1.W.9 - up the stairs from Burns 1 on the first floor of the Burns Building.

Here is a brief description of the focus of the lecture.
In the 21st century there are sound reasons to consider democracy’s past as part of the struggle for a more democratic future. Governments are managing the global financial crisis and ensuing prolonged recession – universally recognised as constituting the most severe crisis of the world capitalist economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s– in the interests of the rich and powerful. So-called liberal democratic governments are clearly disproportionately influenced by business and increasingly using the kind of domestic surveillance and spying normally associated with authoritarian states. The global economic crisis is unfolding in the context of a deepening environmental crisis, most notably involving unsustainable patterns of non-renewal resource use and climate change.

This suggests that we need to explore the possibility of an alternative to a world of crisis, environmental devastation, inequality, poverty, and war. Yet the world’s rulers, the corporate media, and the majority of political theorists assume, and actively promote the assumption, that the only viable model of democracy to have emerged thus far in history is liberal representative democracy. In my book – The History of Democracy – I show that this assumption is highly disputable and that the history of democracy is more complex, varied and inspiring than liberal depictions of democracy suggest, with Athenian, liberal and socialist forms of democracy being worthy of recognition and consideration. The history of democracy suggests that another more democratic, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable world is by no means inevitable, but that it is a realistic possibility because, among other things, it will be built on the foundations of what has come before.

This lecture is based on The History of Democracy, originally published by Pluto Press in 2013, with translated editions due to appear in China, Germany and Turkey. It is described by David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, as a “stunning and panoramic book”, which “sheds light on the theory and practice of democracy across the ages”.  According to reviewers, The History of Democracy provides: "an excellent exploration of the history of democracy and the struggle to extend it" (Socialist Review (UK)); “an excellent text for anyone seeking to understand a socialist perspective on democracy, historically rooted, and then read on further” (London Socialist Historians Group); an “ambitious project of cutting-edge relevance for the Arab region and the world” (Jordan Times).


Big thanks to all those made it to my public lecture. To Philip Nel for providing a typically warm and generous introduction, to Robert Patman and the rest of the Politics Department at the University of Otago for supporting it, to the International Socialist Organisation for helping with the advertising and running the bar. Some people said really nice things about my lecture and my book afterwards. This means a lot to me- it's what keeps you going as a lefty intellectual when so much of the time you have to deal with hostility and derision in the academy.

Around 100 people turned up and listened very politely to my hour-long lecture. I wasn’t happy with my performance. I tried to squeeze too much material into it. The pacing was far from perfect- too much waffle in the Introduction, too rushed towards the end. Because I was so tired from working a succession of nights on preparing a slick PowerPoint file (bad idea) I really struggled to maintain concentration and when I departed from my notes I struggled to be articulate, fluent and coherent. My responses to questions could have been better. It wasn’t a disaster, but my performance could have been a lot better.

More positively the point of the lecture wasn’t self-promotion. In part it was to promote the book, but mainly the idea was to draw together people from across the left in Dunedin, as well as students and members of the public interested in the topic. It was undoubtedly a success in this regard. The questions, contributions and discussion afterwards were really interesting. So once again thanks to all who made it. And thanks to Sharon Van Etten, PJ Harvey, Shapeshifter and Broken Social Scene for providing the soundtrack.

I've put the PowerPoint slides for the lecture as jpg files below.