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41 albums I (Greg) enjoyed listening to this year

Monday, December 16, 2013

Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Ásgeir Trausti - Dýrð í dauðaþögn
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Cage the Elephant - Melophobia
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Daughter – If You Leave
Dawes – Stories Don’t End
Delorean – Apar
Fitz & the Tantrums – More Than Just a Dream
Haim – Days Are gone
Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
James Blake - Overgrown
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle
Lily & Madeleine - Lily & Madeleine
Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
Lorde – Pure Heroine
Lucius - Wildewoman
Maps - Vicissitude
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Poliça - Shulamith
Samaris - Samaris
Sigur Ros - Kveikur
Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion
The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find a Way
The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still
The Knife – Shake the Habitual
The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the Weekend
Vok - Tension
Volcano Choir - Repave

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Female Narratives in the Music Industry by Avery Johnson

Thursday, December 05, 2013

What is it that women must do to get their fifteen minutes of fame in the music industry? Although some are able to find loopholes, many of them find that they are successful when they follow the advice of the men who are in power over them. Based on what has gained media attention in the past, women must present themselves in a way that exploits their sexuality and appeals to men. In music, a singer is told that these types of performances will help her break away from outdated values and gain a wider adult audience, but that is not what happens. When the musicians are exploited in this way, they are not gaining the respect of audiences for being free with their bodies or taking risks, but exposing themselves to objectification and playing into destructive narratives.

Many female artists have been led to believe that their behavior is freeing them, all while they have been caught in the trap of the men who are telling them this. Their liberation looks more like bondage. It is not that women should live in fear of exposing their ankles or go back to Victorian ideals, but the behaviors that they have been conditioned to perform go against what they have named as a purpose. As a result, the behavior that is the new norm has created a binding narrative that forces women to play into the distorted ideals in place. They do not gain respect, but become pawns that play into false expectations.

The most current example of this playing out is Miley Cyrus and her recent performance at the VMAs. She has gained media attention for her behavior, but at what expense? Not only has she alienated younger audiences, but she has become a part of the narratives that she grew up exposed to. She was shown that exploiting herself in this way is what she needs to do in order to be successful in popular music. Because she was raised in a family that was immersed in the music industry, she has been conditioned to act this way. She is not the first, but only the most recent in a long history. We only have to look back at Britney Spears and Katy Perry to find the legacy that Miley has been indoctrinated into.

One singer who has gained popularity in a different way is Taylor Swift. She became popular at the same time as Miley Cyrus, but chose to present herself as the good girl. She does not behave in a way that is similar to Miley, but maintains a young audience by attaching herself to a narrative that is unlike the other, but still limiting and demeaning. Taylor has a little more control of her image because she writes her own songs, but she has a role to play. The script that Miley has picked up is only part of the dichotomy that women in music are forced to chose between. Each lies on different extremes, but they are both roles that prove to be restricting because they have to stay within the boundaries that have been put in place. Like Miley, Taylor has made choices about how she wants to present herself, though they are different.

Though both of these women chose different paths, they were trained in similar ways. They became popular about the same time in an institution known for the code that it creates for those involved. They choose people young to be a part of the music industry, but because they are young when they begin, they are more easily conditioned to fit certain roles. Once Disney is finished with them, the regular press takes over. They watch and wait expectantly for the young artists to come of age and then begin to interpret their behaviors as rebellion. Some, like Taylor Swift, choose to stick to what they were originally taught and do not break away from their image, but others have expected the reactions of the press for so long that they play along for the exposure. Miley had seen what had happened to other former Disney-made musicians, so she knew what could happen when she emerged from that world. There was a script ready and waiting for her when she turned eighteen. The press encourages these behaviors in young musicians for the sake of a spectacle that they love to hate.

One question that arises in this conversation about the roles of women in music is how Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” comes into recent events. Although Miley has received criticism for her performance at the VMAs, Robin Thicke has come away from it relatively unscathed. What we forget is that he was on stage with her and that he was a participant; we only focus on the part that Miley played in the performance. The fact that he wrote the song and that he was performing the song with her is often overlooked. If we pay attention, we can see that she is copying some of the tactics that he used in his music video. The foam finger that she used on stage was also a prop in the music video, and she acted like the nude, voiceless women from the music video who danced next to the fully clothed male singer, but she changed it by taking part of Robin’s role. Rather than remaining voiceless, she sang some of his lines to him. The same words that he said earlier somehow became worse when she said them. All of this is without even bringing the implications of song itself into consideration.

The lyrics come across blatantly as a situation of rape in many instances. Has anybody asked which lines are being blurred? And how about T.I.’s rap in the song that assumes she wants her ### smacked and hair pulled? In one of the lines, he says, “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ### in two.” This, as well as calling her an animal, is demeaning. It is not clear why Robin thinks that being with a “square” who treats her with respect is a bad thing either. What this presents us with is a double standard within the industry and culture of music. The press has completely overlooked his participation while blaming Miley for what happened. They chose to focus on Miley, who was acting out the lyrics, rather than Robin who wrote them and acted them out with her. While Robin Thicke gets away with making women disposable sexual objects, Miley Cyrus gets criticized for playing along.

These are only a few examples of the double standards and female objectification that feminists have been trying to eradicate for so long that still lingers within our culture. These women have been exposed to an industry that tells them to act in a certain way, and it is up to them to decide how to respond. They can either do what the men in power tell them to in order to get attention from audiences, or they can try to go against the grain, running the risk of moving into obscurity. Unfortunately, the roles that are placed on these women will not change until men like Robin Thicke and those in power change.

Meanwhile, we criticize those who have been conditioned to perform these behaviors and continue to pay more attention to those who act in certain ways. This reinforces what they have been told and perpetuates the cycle that connects success in music to performance techniques. What we are forced to acknowledge in these situations is that despite feminist movements, we still do not know how to present female musicians.

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Review: Play! A Video Game Symphony by Jacqueline Ristola

Monday, April 22, 2013

As I approached the DeVos Performance Hall January 29th, I noted my drastic lack of formal attire. With my jeans, tennis shoes, and backpack, it wasn’t clear I was about to attend a symphonic concert. But to my relief, I wasn’t the only one, for this concert was no ordinary Grand Rapids Symphony concert. The concert was Play! A Video Game Symphony, and gamers from children to adults came to listen to their favorite gaming themes.

The whole concert experience felt more democratic in nature; there was no assumed dress code for the event, though some chose to wear gaming T-shirts to show their pride. Gamers cheered loudly for their favorite games, starting the concert with continuous, uproarious cheering through the first piece, various Super Mario Bros. themes. Eventually the audience bridled their their enthusiasm at appropriate moments to listen, but their participation illustrates the communication between both parties, the performers and the audience. With the symphony’s increase in live performances to film, this indicates the symphony’s attempts at both broadening the scope of their audience and perforating the line between high culture and low (pop) culture.

Aiding in this democratization was Andy Brick, encouraging the audience to be vocal about their love for this music. Not only was he the conductor for the evening, a video game music composer and conductor of the Play! Symphony tour from 2006-2010. He took time to introduce each piece and the game the music was attached to, and illustrated the sense of pride and celebration of the gaming artform. It’s hard not to get elated when the conductor himself sang along to the Dragonborn theme from Skyrim.

The music itself was thrilling, bring a full scope of textures and a richness to the music that. Having a full orchestra only amplified the mood and atmosphere of the pieces, especially the creepy tones to the Castlevania and Metroid themes. The video game footage playing on three large screens above the orchestra (which also cut to live footage of Brick and performers throughout as well) also helped set the mood and illustrated the artistry of both the music and game. The Legend of Zelda piece might have had the best combination of music and visuals. Beginning with the opening Zelda theme and beautiful images across the open plains of Hyrule, the experience was transcendent.

I suspect the Symphony will keep expanding the standard classical limits and integrate the popular arts into their performances. If their work is anything like Play!, breaking the high/low culture barrier will prove fruitful indeed.

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Sigur Ros: Live in Detroit by Jacqueline Ristola

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Driving down to Detroit, anticipation for the Sigur Rós concert was quelled by assigned readings and reflection. Remnants of a lecture lingered in my mind concerning the decline of the city, robbed of its vitality with the decline of industry in the nation. But within the city, a gilded stage remains, The Fox Theater, the destination of my friends and I for our eventful night.

There are many acts that are radically different seeing live than listening via an album. My Brightest Diamond’s set last year comes to mind; full of masks, theatricality, and raw talent, Shara Worden elevates her music to beautiful performance art. The same might be said for Sigur Rós. With the elegant theater stage set with an opaque screen separating the performers from the audience, the concert began. Projections of light and images illuminated the screen, eventually culminating with a large shadow of a man lit to mythic proportions. That man would be Jónsi, wailing on his guitar with a violin bow, blasting sound to fill the room. At the apex of their second song in, the veil dramatically dropped, and the concert really began.

With a large encompassing screen in the back and small lights on the stage, Sigur Rós combines visuals and music as effectively as I’ve ever seen in a large show, often connecting the two in terms of creates a cohesive atmospheric effect. The visuals always supported and added to the narrative effect of each song. Whether it be the slow plan up of revealing to be a mountain, a colored wave of light mirroring the surface of water, or the actual music video to the track itself, the production values illustrated themselves as more than just eye candy, but inherent to the performance itself.

The music was grand in every sense of the word; epic in scope and breadth, nuanced and mixed for clarity and precision, and performed to fill the auditorium to the brim with luscious sound. One highlight of the night included the performance of “Brennisteinn,” a heavier, metal-inflected track off their new album coming out this June. Another was a drifting vocal solo by Jonsi to finish a song, hitting a high note for over a minute with an almost beguiling sense of grace and serenity. With a mix of old favorites and newer tracks, one length encore was enough to make concert attendees fully satisfied.

Needless to say, my friends and I left the theater elated. One mentioned it was the best concert he’d ever been to, while another mentioned it exceeded his already high expectations. Driving back, the night ended with the remark that every human being should see a Sigur Rós song performed live. Leaving the lusciously decorated Fox Theater into the disparate Detroit cold, I lamentably, yet heartily agreed.

Greg’s best of film: 2012

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
The Sessions
Take this Waltz
Monsier Lahzar
Django Unchained
The Intouchables
The Hobbit
Silver Linings Playbook
Moonrise Kingdom
Cloud Atlas
Ruby Sparks
Rust and Bone
Les Miserables
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Safety Not Guaranteed
Chasing Ice
Beast of the Southern Wild
The Master
The Cabin in the Woods

The Hunger Games
The Dark Knight Rises
Magic Mike
Anna Karenina
This is 40 (FYI: This is not a comedy, really)
Seeking a Friend at the End of the World
To Rome with Love
The Avengers
Wreck-It Ralph

Killing Them Softly

Yet to see:
Searching for Sugar Man
The Deep Blue Sea
This is Not a Film
A Simple Life
The Innkeepers
Kill List
People Like Us
Killer Joe
The Kid with the Bike
Hyde Park on Hudson