Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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Monday, September 28, 2009

It looks like communism outside.

As prolific a writer as I am, I figured I'd put some more of my recent articles up.

'Resistance' is Futile

The current state of rock music may be exemplified in one lonely album this year. The Resistance is Muse’s fifth studio album, released on September 14, 2009. Front man Matt Bellamy is the driving force behind this latest effort, accompanied as always by his trusty rhythm section: Chris Wolstenholme on bass and Dominic Howard playing drums.

The album serves as an aggressive follow-up to Black Holes and Revelations, which despite being an album that fans tend to rally around, was met with mostly tepid reviews. I suspect The Resistance may meet a similar fate. The hardcore fan base Muse has amassed over time will remain loyal, while critics scoff and wonder what the big deal is. Though Muse’s bag of tricks hasn’t seemed to change much, this album is certainly a departure from their hard rock roots. With hypnotizing beats and thunderous guitar riffs, all over a thick, ceremonious layer of synth, Bellamy’s falsetto carries the album to weird, oftentimes genre bending territory.

Beginning with Uprising, a spiteful little number which seems to be more of a call to arms than an opening track, the album establishes a playfully dark tone. The album’s title track, The Resistance The tired comparisons to Queen are all too relevant here, especially with United States of Eurasia. This song starts off beguilingly somber, lulling listeners into a melancholy stupor, after which a series of crescendos mark the ensuing chaos. Upon first listening, I actually thought this song had to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek joke. Guiding Light proves to be one of Muse’s more sappy ballads; however, it provides an impressive melodic display while still maintaining a mysterious yet unreserved ambience. Unnatural Selection will undoubtedly be a fan favorite with its ominous guitar hooks and spitefully crafted lyrics. provides a concise opening statement of sorts, while still maintaining Muse’s alluring charm.

Something must be said of the operatic I Belong to You (Mon Coeur S'Ouvre A Ta Voix). With a middle section sung entirely in French, and a peculiar bass clarinet solo on top of that, the song has a certain merit, despite being borderline silly. One of the more unusual numbers on the album, I Belong to You seems to serve as a dreary transition for what follows.

Perhaps most remarkable of all is the 13 minute symphony which concludes the album. Dubbed Exogenesis: Symphony, this section is separated into three parts: Overture, Cross-Pollination, and Redemption, respectively. Though the symphony is a strong display of Bellamy’s ability to arrange music, it seems rather anticlimactic after the barrage of metallic bubblegum pop and trite Orwellian doublethink.

Bellamy’s lyrics have been bizarre at times; however, they’re always peppered with fairly straight forward cries of rebellion. It seems that in those regards evolution is not particularly high on the creative priority list. The album is saturated with Orwellian themes throughout.
Not a big surprise coming from Bellamy, a man whose interest in conspiracy theories has been apparent from day one. With all the towering grandeur Muse can muster, The Resistance has an ambitious scope—perhaps overly ambitious. This may be the very thing that Muse fans admire about the album. With the mundane pressures of everyday life, Muse’s epic grandiosity aptly serves as a utopian escape. Ultimately though, The Resistance offers an idealist sound in a post idealist world. It jealously vies for attention like a screaming child with nothing new to say. While impressive, and at times, even brilliant, The Resistance spreads itself a bit too thin in the long run. Still though, in this time of never ending war and seemingly hopeless economic squalor, the thesis of this album will resonate over time: love is our resistance.

Top 5 Music Meltdowns

Kanye gives two thumbs up for being a D-bag

With the recent media debacle over Kanye's rant at the VMA's, we at the Inferno feel it's especially poignant now to discuss some of the more notorious meltdowns throughout the history of modern music. As surprising as it may seem, the notoriety West has achieved is not uncommon in the music world. Oftentimes hilarious, and sometimes tear-jerkingly tragic, many musicians have an unusually keen knack for creating controversy. Let's discuss:

#5) Radio, Radio

On December 17, 1977, Elvis Costello was invited to play at Saturday Night Live (way back when it was still good). Costello wanted to play the number "Radio, Radio" from his new album, but the record executives wanted him to play an already established hit ("Less Than Zero"). In a move straight out of the punk rock playbook, Costello stopped playing Less Than Zero after a few seconds, famously saying, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here." He went on to play Radio, Radio instead. Costello wasn't invited back to SNL again until 12 years later.

#4) James Brown Drunk

Yes, it's exactly like it sounds. The Godfather of Soul himself, singer of inspired hits such as "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," James Brown was accused of assaulting his wife with a lead pipe and shooting a gun at her car. A clearly inebriated Brown appeared in a television interview shortly after. When asked about the incident, Brown simply spouted out lyrics from various songs of his, artfully avoiding questions regarding the problems with his (soon to be ex) wife. Brown repeatedly reminded the interviewer, "This is a man's world."

#3) The State of Florida v. James Morrison

Jim Morrison had a theatrical personality to say the least. Once at a Doors concert in 1969, he attempted to incite a riot. Though the effort was unsuccessful, Morrison was later brought up on indecent exposure and obscene language charges. Allegedly, Morrison revealed himself to the crowd and simulated a sex act. Morrison in an interview, an unusually articulate Morrison said, "What we were testing down there is the issue of artistic freedom of expression, and it's a significant issue." Morrison was indeed found guilty, though he remained free on a $50,000 bond, pending an appeal. Sadly, Morrison died before the appeal was heard.

#2) Michael Jackson

Enough said (RIP, Michael).

#1) Bigger than Jesus

On March 4, 1966, John Lennon famously said in an interview, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity...We're more popular than Jesus now." It certainly struck a chord with religious fanatics, including terrorist organizations like the KKK. Though Lennon eventually apologized for how it was interpreted, many conservative groups went as far as staging public burnings of Beatles records. Only someone with the larger-than-life ethos of Lennon could have maintained such a prolific career after saying such a thing, and that's why he's number one in my book.

John Lennon, not a D-bag

Sunday, September 27, 2009

new articles!

For my 1 current follower, sorry I haven't posted here lately. Mainly it's because my superb writing skills are needed else where at the moment (vis-a-vis The Chicago Flame and Newcity Magazine, not to toot my own horn). Anyway, I figured it wouldn't hurt to put some of my pieces on here, especially since some of the less tame content was lovingly cut:

Residential Harmony: An absurdist's guide to getting along with his roommates (Director's Cut)

With the greater part of the fall semester set before us in a hopeless, seemingly infinite abyss, it should come as no surprise that academic pursuits may fall by the wayside to other, more trivial concerns : “Who ate my yogurt parfait?!” “Your parrot won’t stop calling me a freshman!” “You’re on my side of the apartment!” “Where’s the blender! I need to make an appletini.” These are the various and unsettling cries that plague my apartment at all hours of the night, much to my distaste. Conflicts between roommates are more common than one would think; in fact, they seem to be the norm rather than the exception. There are, however, many ways to create a more harmonious living environment.

It’s important to establish certain boundaries. On the matter, ISU correspondent Matt Rapp said, “Borrowing some paper: okay. Borrowing a toothbrush: not okay.” But even more important than establishing boundaries is being able to manipulate them. Short on food? Your roommate’s bag of Fritos looks enticing. Stealing food from your roommate may be a moral qualm for some of you, but to others it is simply a matter of survival. I am reminded of something Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “All warfare is based on deception.” Rest assured, we are all at war, my friends—the war of life, that is.

While deception may be appropriate in certain extenuating circumstances, honesty is usually the best policy. This is great news for communications majors, because this one time when their education will actually come in handy. An open line of communication is key here. Your roommates aren’t psychic (and if they are, get out now). College is a time when young people are just starting to really find their voice. Let yours be heard. Feel free to speak up when something is bothering you. Just a side note: if you suspect your roommate to be an illegal alien, do not hesitate to call la migra.

Are you worried that your roommate isn’t be warming up to you? Don’t be afraid to base a friendship off of mutual hatred. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” If you both hate the Cubs, work with that. Fill the awkward silences by making fun of that weird guy who always stands by the escalators passing out flyers. Let him be your scapegoat. If you both share a collective disdain towards the dormers across the hall, make ridiculing them be the center piece of your conversation. Friendships based on hatred are oftentimes the most enriching of all.

I’ve heard tell of roommates writing agreements down on paper. Personally, I don’t like leaving a paper trail, but like the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, life without social contracts is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” I actually prefer this to the dull alternative, but a roommate contract might be a good idea if you are living in the chaotic state of nature known as a dorm. When things go a rye (and they inevitably will), a contract between roommates provides a system of accountability. If you are confused, look to the Constitution for guidance. I recommend Article 3, Section3.

Consider a few general rules for you and your roommates to live by, and put them in the agreement. Sadly, this will never hold up in court, but at least you’ll have something to point to when your roommate decides to give up taking showers for lent. And because rules don’t enforce themselves, I suggest adding a few provisions pertaining to punishment. Did your roommate forget to take out the trash? Be creative. Take a cue from the middle ages and make him stand on a platform in the middle of the quad with a sign reading “LIAR” on his chest. Pass out tomatoes for people to throw at him. This is just one small step in the ongoing journey towards residential harmony.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nickel and Dimed

On (Not) Getting By in America

Most people in the United States have, at some point in their lives, worked a low paying, dead-end job. Many have been able to move beyond such inequitably low positions, but most of us have at least had a taste. As such, I think we can all identify with Barbara Ehrenreich’s plight as she delves head first into the meager and depressing world that the affluent have come to look at from a distance with naive curiosity. This word poverty we use to refer to the ragged huddled masses is, to billions around the world, a stark reality. Over the course of Ehrenreich’s undercover study, she worked six different low wage jobs, each one with its own set of difficulties, both physical and emotional.

As Ehrenreich ventures off, she enters an entirely new world. And it is one in which the term ‘unskilled labor’ is an alarmingly fallacious phrase—for only someone with very skillful hands can manage to balance the distressing tasks of finding and keeping a low wage job (maybe even two at a time), whilst being able to pay rent and food costs, thus securing a decent living establishment. Ehrenreich notes the various, and often unseen difficulties that come into play here. For one, she notes that many of the workers she meets in her experiment have disabling medical problems. And of course, despite the world renowned affluence of the United States, our government does not provide affordable health care. Another factor that astounds the author is how people manage to take care of children on such inadequate wages, especially when Ehrenreich herself is barely able to survive under these conditions.

At first, the prospect of going out and roughing it for a few months seems like an engaging, albeit mildly frightening novelty; however, Ehrenreich quickly realizes that is not entirely the case. First, in dealing with more practical matters, the author quickly understands the true value of time and money. She notes in one of the final chapters that when it comes to property, the poor simply cannot compete with the wealthy. Thus, they are doomed to toil away for next to nothing, whist paying exorbitantly high rent costs. In an attempt to understand the plight of the tragically destitute, Ehrenreich herself seems to fall into the same self-perpetuating habits. For one, because rent is so high in many places, she is deduced to living in hotels that charge by the week because she is not able to afford deposits and such.

While, at times, Ehrenreich’s experiment seems like a mere chronicling of superficial complaints, her insights on the matter of corporate dehumanization are both sobering and thought provoking. I found it particularly enraging that she was forced to submit to a drug test for a particular job, even when, as the author explains, it’s economically unviable for companies to make their workers do that. And that’s really just one of the examples of the various ways companies infringe on the poor’s civil liberties. Ehrenreich dually notes that these types of jobs are not only draining on one’s time and energy, they are also a parasitic entity, making one’s own identity virtually irrelevant. The poor become obscured and voiceless in an overwhelming sea of corporate oppression.

Although written in more prosperous times, Nickel and Dimed is a hauntingly poignant reality check in 2009. With inflation rising, and the value of the dollar steadily lowering, it seems that things are only going to get worse. When the United States government’s response to an oncoming recession is bail outs for bloated, economically unsustainable businesses, it’s abundantly clear that the various luxuries of the rich outweigh the needs of the poor. Ehrenreich emphasizes the sad fact that most employers will do nearly anything to keep from raising wages, even when such a measure is obviously called for. “There seems to be a vicious cycle at work here,” Ehrenreich writes, “making ours not just an economy, but a culture of extreme inequality.”