Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Album Review: Demon Days by Gorillaz

When the Gorillaz first hit MTV in 2001 it was a revelation. The music video, tinged with elements of anime and horror films, was dazzling and stylish. Damon Albarn's trippy Beck-like vocals was a perfectly bizzare compliment to the rump-moving super-annunciated rapping of Del the Funky Homosapien. Later I learned that the characters in the video weren't just a gimmick for a real-live band. They were the band. Blur front-man Damon Albarn did much of the music, along with various rappers and producers. But all the promotion, videos, and even tours would be solely about the quartet of strange musicians designed by comic book artist Jamie Hewlett (the creator of the comic series "Tank Girl"). The lead singer is a bedraggled Brit named 2-D who looks no more than two weeks out of rehab. The guitar player is Noodle, a diminuitive Japanese girl. The bass player is a sinister-looking bloke named Murdock. And the drummer is a gi-normous black gentleman named Russel. Each of their designs are savagely stylish and just beg to be plastered across dorm room walls.

The whole package had me completely sold. After listening to their self-titled first album however, I found myself disappointed. Only one other song had a rapper, and without that punch, the rest of the songs were a bit plodding and flat.

A few weeks ago, Apple started running a new Ipod commercial with a Gorillaz song from their new album, "Demon Days". I really dug it, so I checked out the whole album on Rhapsody. For the first two songs I was worried it would be more of the same. It sounded like Albarn just dicking around in the studio. The first full song, Last Living Souls had Albarn doing Bob Dylan-ish vocals over an Atari video-game-sounding drum beat. There was a Coldplay-ish interlude in the track that sounded promising. But the song soon went back to sounding rinky-dinky, and never had any rapping. The next track "Kids With Guns" had me getting really tired of Albarn's voice, just as did most of the previous album. But with the third track "O Green World" the album finally kicked into gear. It was this song where I finally heard the influence of the new producer Danger Mouse, who made waves a while back by mixing the Beatles' "White Album" with Jay-Z's "Black Album" to make his own "Grey Album". "O Green World" is a kick-ass collage of eclectic melodic and rhythmic lines underneath Albarn's interestingly distorted voice. Danger Mouse's sample-heavy style fit perfectly with the Gorillaz. And the album just got better from there. "Dirty Harry" started with a joyful mix of wah guitar, funk bass, Albarn's doubled-up voice, and a children's choir (believe me, it works). Then half-way through, rapper Bootie Brown crashed into the track elevating the song to cross-over greatness. The next song was the hit single "Feel Good, Inc." I watched the video for it online, and it was every bit as draw-dropping as their first video. The video alternates between a sweat drenched dance club and a pure blue sky traversed by a Miyazaki-style floating island. In this song, Albarn sounds particularly Beck-like and it totally works. And the maniacally laughing veteran rappers De La Soul added the same kind of jolt to the song that Del did to "Clint Eastwood". "El Manana" focused on Albarn's voice, but it didn't grow wearisome at all this time, because it had a break in it throughout the song that sounded really mournful and nice. "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead", as well as having an incredibly intriguing title, alternated between an aggressive wah guitar lick and a dreamy melody. This interplay really worked. At the end the instrumentals descended into chaotic guitar noise before smoothing out into a jazzy piano figure: pure headphone joy. "November Has Come" featured rapper MF Doom whose grimy sound was a neat change-up. "All Alone" gave the mic to rapper Roots Manuva. This track was fascinating because it was so rhythmically fluid. And it had an angelic vocal interlude by Martina Topley-Bird. "White Light" was fun little dance-punk ditty: not too much to it, though. Then out of nowhere, the Gorillaz achieve pure pop majesty with my favorite song on the album, "Dare". This song was like a cross between Abba and Prince, with all the infectiousness that implies. Albarn's falsettos, backup singer Rosie Wilson's silky voice, and Shaun Ryder's rapping made an oddly perfect blend that will hopefully tear up the charts when (as rumor has it) it will be released as a single in August. The last three tracks transitioned into each other like a mini- rock opera. It started with "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head", a creepy-cool fable told by Dennis Hopper, the king of creepy-cool. The sing-song "Don't Get Lost In Heaven" introduced a gospel choir, which really started belting in the final track "Demon Days".

In the album "Demon Days", Damon Albarn, Danger Mouse, and their collaborators have produced a masterpiece of myriad styles and sonic experimentation. The Gorillaz mix some of the best elements of hip-hop, funk, dance-pop, gospel, and folk-rock. And while other musicians seem to think the mere novelty of mixing styles is enough, the talents behind the Gorillaz have clearly treated the practice as an exercise in artistry.

For more Gorillaz goodness, check out the interview-made-in-heaven in this month's Wired with Neil Gaiman (yes, that Neil Gaiman) and Gorillaz creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett.

Daniel on the airwaves

Today I was broadcast on KQED Public Radio, which is heard by thousands of people in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, and all over the SF Bay Area.

For KQED's series called Perspectives, I read a two-minute piece I wrote about re-districting reform that was based on one of my previous blog posts.

You can listen to the entire piece in streaming audio in the KQED Perspectives Archive here.

Below is the transcript of what I read, which I think is an improvement on my original post:

In the last film of our governor's previous career, the only thing that could kill a terminator was another terminator. It now appears that the only thing that can solve the ills of direct democracy is direct democracy itself.

Propositions and recalls proliferate in our state because Californians don't trust the legislature to get things done. Here's why. Legislators decide where voting district lines are drawn. Naturally, they pick and choose populations they know will vote for their party. This is called gerrymandering. So what we end up with is a bunch of strictly Democratic or strictly Republican districts.

Since it’s a foregone conclusion which party is going to win each district, the real battle is in the primary, where politicians only have to appeal to the party base to win. They don't need to moderate their positions. This gives us a polarized legislature of left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans, which doesn’t accurately represent most Californians who are proudly centrist. It's no wonder the legislature can't get anything done. And it's no wonder Californians have to go through the flawed initiative process to accomplish anything. Think about the last regular election for governor. Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, could have easily defeated Gray Davis, but couldn't get past the right-wing Bill Simon in the primary. The moderate Schwarzenegger could only win because he skipped the primary entirely, through the recall.

Some of Schwarzenegger’s ideas are good and would have been tried already if we didn't have such a polarized government. But he's getting so much flak from the entrenched unions , that he’s getting nowhere.

So Californians who care about reform need to focus not on the symptoms of the problem, but the cause. We need to fix redistricting and kill gerrymandering. The governor’s upcoming initiative has retired judges, insulated from political pressures, drawing the district lines. If Schwarzenegger can accomplish this one reform, it will do more good for California’s future than any number of other reforms. In general, recalls, initiatives and other direct democracy measures lead to half-baked, policies. But through the recall-spawned Schwarzenegger and his re-districting initiative, direct democracy could actually eliminate the need for itself by establishing a functional government that is bi-partisan instead of bi-polar. Like the gift that keeps on giving, fixing re-districting would be the reform that keeps on reforming.

With a perspective, I’m Daniel Sanchez.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Brown for Supreme Court

The precedent of past decisions is not legally everything. If people can discuss the possibility of Roe V. Waid being overturned (as David Brooks did), then it's not unreasonable to consider a K.O. for Kelo. But we'll need a libertarian and originalist Supreme Court justice replacing the soon-to-retire Justice Rehnquist to do it: a justice like Janice Rogers Brown. Wouldn't she be great? Eric at Grumbles discussed her classic liberal credentials here, here, and here, as did Scott at Catallarchy there, there, and there. President Bush obviously thinks positively of her. And since she's not a fundamental religionist judge, she'd probably be palatable to the Democrats (heck, they already agreed not to filibuster her for her recent appointment). Maybe her firm presence and intellectualism would prevent other conservative justices from wobbling on individual rights, as Justice Kennedy did. The only potential problem would be if she is required to serve on the federal appeals court for a certain amount of time. This I do not know.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Both fan and foe of public broadcasting

Public broadcasting has been a bit of a quandry for me. As a free-market libertarian I chafe at the idea of socialized television and radio. Also, given that I find much of American leftist politics to be soft-headed and backwards, one might expect me to rail against my tax dollars supporting the alleged bias of public media. Indeed, there is much of public media I steer clear of. I've learned that on KQED radio in the San Francisco Bay area, the late nights and much of the weekend are when the lefties are allowed to let it all hang out. Despite that, I actually willingly spend much of my life listening to KQED. I really love listening to American Public Media's "Marketplace" and Public Radio International's "The World." I also find the main NPR news shows (Morning Edition, All Things Considered) to be quite balanced. If it leans any direction, it surely is left. But, on the whole, compared to much of private media, NPR is an exemplar of journalistic quality and balance.

So, as a free-marketeer I ask with such high quality why there can't be a market for such a product. The obvious answer is that there is a market. The bulk of the public broadcasting audience is quite well-heeled. This provides support in two ways that dwarf the government's contribution: donations and ads. Yes, as anyone who consumes public media knows, PBS and NPR are no longer ad-free. They don't call the "brought to you by" announcements ads, but really that's what they are. And because of the well-heeled audience, the advertisers ("sponsors" in public broadcasting parlance) are of the well-paying breed: large multi-national corporations. The talking point response to this argument is that what is really at risk are rural stations, which do depend on government money. But the type of people who consume public broadcasting in rural areas can probably afford to listen to that content on satellite radio anyway.

NPR, I love ya, so I'll donate of my own volition. But please stop forcing me to pay through my taxes.

Libertarianism on Wikipedia

Libertarianism is the featured article of the day on Wikipedia! I've read it before, and I highly recommend it. It's part of a collection articles listed on the left of the main article that usefully distinquish between different threads of libertarianism, like minarchism, anarcho-capitalism, paleo-libertarianism, and neo-libertarianism.

A city is not a person

After I thought the Kelo V. City of New London ruling couldn’t anger me more, I read this quote from Thomas J. Londregan, the lawyer for New London in the NY Times:

“I’m here to tell you that this case was never about the taking of property from one person and giving it to another,” Mr. Londregan said. “This case was not some type of land grab. This case was about the City of New London, its six square miles and its economic survival.”

A city is not a person! If a city does not economically survive, no widows will mourn. No soul will leave its body. If people have to move elsewhere for economic reasons, that’s life. If they have to move for political reasons, that’s theft.

Leftists have a tendency to moralize about abstract concepts as if they were human. Protectionists whine about the death of industries. Industries aren't people either. Time goes on, and economies change. Careers should change, too. Anthropologists promote preserving native culture, even if that means not correcting backwards economic or social practices keeping them in abject poverty. Record and preserve the memory of the culture for posterity: yes. But don't try to freeze a people in one point of their history for your own academic interests.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Home, seized home

In Zimbabwe right now, private land is being seized by the government for capricious reasons and homeowners are being forced to burn down their own houses.

And in America, the land of the free... well at least the second part isn't true.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the government can seize private property in order to hand it over to OTHER PRIVATE OWNERS for the sake of economic development. For decades, city governments have used "eminent domain" to clear the way for highways and other public uses. They've even been allowed to do so for the sake of eliminating "blight." Now they can do it if Wal-Mart wants to build a Sam's Club on those 4 acres you managed to save up for on a teacher's salary.

I cannot express how angry and sick this makes me feel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

You're a freak, and this is wrong

That's what Shepard Smith of Fox News shouted angrily while actually pounding on his desk after the Michael Jackson acquittal was announced.

It was not only childish, but revealing. The fact that Smith felt compelled to insert the petty insult, "You're a freak", into his rant indicated to me that part of his absolute certainty of Jackson's guilt was his revulsion at Jackson's appearance and manner. What really gets under Smith's skin is Jackson's culture, not his alleged crime.

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