I Love Myself and I’m Still a G

When Kendrick Lamar dropped “I”  last month, I didn’t even believe it was him.  It’s a far cry from the dark, hard-hitting lyrics he dropped on his instant classic  Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City.  But the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me.  Now I find myself doodling the images from the powerful lyric video and singing the chorus to myself almost every time someone says “I” with that particular hooded, Kendrick inflection. If anyone expected him to deliver Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, part 2, they were sorely mistaken.

Kendrick is one of the greatest rappers in the game right now and for him to take a chance and drop a feel-good jam with a singsongy hook for his first single in over two years takes balls. It’s not a classic radio-friendly single.  It’s too poppy for hip hop radio; too dark for Top 40 and has too many rhythm changes for indie or rap stations. But Kendrick has made a career off street buzz and mixtape fervour.  He never needed radio before and he doesn’t  need it now.

With its Isley Brothers sample and poppy beat, “I”  brings some much-needed levity and optimism to a genre that needs an injection of something socially and politically relevant especially in the heated racially divided climate of the U.S.

I love the chorus.  I imagine this is the mantra that Kayne and Kendrick say to themselves daily.

I love myself
But it can do what it want whenever it wants and I don’t mind
I love myself
He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide
I love myself
One day at the time, sun gon’ shine

Although it’s kind of tongue and cheek; it doesn’t need to be.  If you don’t love yourself no one else will.  If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will.  Hip hop is all about boastfulness.  Sometimes it’s meant literally and sometimes it’s not.  Do I think Kendrick loves himself, yes.  I remember reading a quote from him where he said “Nobody takes what I do as seriously as me.” He knows he has a gift and it’s his mission to share that gift with as many people as he can.

So Kendrick has decided to put on a clinic. His fans got a glimpse of the hardships he faced growing up in Compton in Good Kid and Section.80.  Now he’s ready to share his takeaways from that experience with the people.  He loves himself and in doing so on such a public platform with millions of fans listening to his every word; he’s teaching you to love yourself too.

Give my story to the children and the lesson they can read
And the glory to the feeling of the only unseen
Seen enough, make a motherfucker scream, “I love myself!” 

Despite it’s cheerful chorus, Kendrick remains brutally honest about his own struggles.

I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent
Duckin’ every other blessin’, l can never see the message
I can never take the lead, I can never bob and weave. 

I can’t wait to see what Kendrick drops next.  Although his much-anticipated next CD has been postponed at least three times so far, I think his fans, myself included are willing to wait for him to be happy with the final product.

Until then, I guess we can just, love ourselves.

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I Love You Like Crazy But Only for a Minute

Rainy nights and a full belly leaves little else to do but reminisce about long forgotten crushes.  I crush a lot.  I had some hard-core crushes that defined my life back in the day.  Ones that kept me awake at night; made me feel restless and invisible.  But there are other crushes.

Fleeting crushes sting you unexpectedly.

Like when you’re looking for the toothpaste aisle at the drug store and end up spending 15 minutes staring at this tattooed Zeus ponder which water pick to buy and the next thing you know he has a new water pick and you have new toothpaste and life is still the same except your heart is racing a little faster; your throat is a bit parched and you’re overcome with the desire to buy a water pick.

Or when a bartender tells you bad jokes and shows off his dorky Cocktail moves while you fidget and fumble around uncomfortably waiting for a former work friend to show up at a bar that seems too cool for you and your post-workout sweats.  But he makes you feel like you belong right there and you’re the most interesting person in the whole place.

There’s nothing stronger than that feeling in that moment.  And that moment feels like it could last forever and everything else could fade away.  But it doesn’t.  The moment ends often as quickly as it began. You go back to your toothpaste; your friend arrives and life resumes as previously scheduled.

Karen O’s Crush Songs is a short, sentimental CD filled with low-fi whispers of love unrequited; lust unfulfilled and romance unrealized in a hazy, unfinished dream-like musical landscape.

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Rapt is the first single off Crush Songs which Karen O said she wrote “When she was 27 and crushed a lot. I didn’t know if I would ever love again.”  What I like a lot about this CD is its cohesiveness.  Today’s musical landscape pushes an emphasis on singles but Crush songs, which was released on Julian Casablancas’s label Cult Records, plays more like a confessional art project, still in its infancy than the much-anticipated debut solo record from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ front woman.

The lyrics are unexpected, at times sounding embarrassingly like bad high school poetry but if anyone can whisper cringe-inducing lyrics and really mean them while still maintaining her rock goddess status it’s Karen O.

Do I really need
Another habit like you?
I really need
Do you need me too?
I believe it’s gonna leave me blue

Rapt is littered with the musings of a hapless dreamer determined to find love no matter how mismatched or fleeting.

Let me go on the
Show, I can cough
I can choke
On this kind of smoke. 

You never know when someone will catch your attention.  For me it’s usually his unique shoes; or his exceptionally kind rapport with animals or he is unknowingly overly into the music in his headphones.  I become enthralled.  I’ll continue to mind my own business but somehow my eyes will develop a will of their own. Then my mind goes too.  I give him a name and a personality and a job.  Sometimes I go so far as to imagine our first meeting; our first date; our first I love yous through to our worst fights.

 But then just as quickly as all that imagined love and lust and heartbreak fills my overly-active imagination, it disappears.  It flies in strong and overpowering and all-encompassing and then it dissipates into nothing leaving little more than a passing recollection of “Oh he seemed cute.”

Off went the switch
Love is soft
Love’s a fucking bitch. 

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T Swift Slays Cover of Vance Joy’s “Riptide”

There’s not much I love more than a good cover and the Live Lounge at BBC Radio is the best place to hear the best covers by the best artists.  My all-time favourite is still the Stereophonics cover of Sinead O’Conor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, which still makes me tear up every time it comes up on my iTunes shuffle.

So I was pretty excited when I heard Taylor Swift, the Queen of Girl-fessional Music, was going to hit the Live Lounge on her promotional tour.  I wast sure what she was going to cover but I was pleasantly surprised to hear she picked Vance Joy’s Riptide.  Not only will Joy’s original get a well-deserved boost in sales and recognition, but Taylor once again will enjoy a chorus of head nods from cooler-than-thou music heads who must once again, begrudgingly admit that she slays basically every song she touches.

Riptide is a song I’ve heard probably a few dozen times; I’ve probably sang along to the lyrics a few times as well.  But it wasn’t until I heard this sweet, emotionally-charged cover that I really listened to the lyrics.

There’s something about the clear and open way Taylor interprets the song that really made me stop and listen whole-heartedly to what the song is about. I can see why she chose to cover it; it’s basically the guy’s version of “You Belong With Me,” but with added indie cred.

I like it a lot and can’t wait to hear what her new CD 1989 sounds like when it comes out next Tuesday.

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HBD Mr. Cohen and Thank you

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Today the incomparable Leonard Cohen celebrates his 80th birthday.  He is without a doubt one of the most prolific artists of our time with over 10 studio albums, 15 books of poetry and novels as well as countless tribute albums and numerous photography exhibits under his belt.

I learned about Leonard Cohen first through his poetry.  A Thousand Kisses Deep, Marita, Please Find Me I’m almost 30, and Beneath my Hands are my current favourites and in my opinion some of the most beautiful words ever strung together.

I’m not an aficionado of all his work.  In fact, I have to admit I didn’t really get into his music until about 2-3 years ago.  I obviously knew his big hits: Suzanne and I’m your Man, Bird on a Wire and of course, Hallelujah.  But it wasn’t until his 2012 album Old Ideas came out that I developed a deep-seeded appreciation for his gift and his ability to bring out emotions that I didn’t realize were inside of me.

 

It’s hard to pick a favourite song from Old Ideas as they are all so raw and melancholy.  It feels like I will hurt the other songs feelings when I admit which ones speak to me the most! The whole album makes me think of my elderly parents, their ailing health, their regrets and unfulfilled hopes and dreams.    The last five years of dealing with my parents’ health problems has brought these issues to the forefront of my mind.  The song, Coming Healing, makes me think about my dad. Before I was born, he was a vibrant, talkative man with friends, and plans and opinions and stories of adventures and mischief and love.  Today, it’s hard to believe that man ever existed.  He’s a ghost of the man he was: quiet, slow, taciturn; waiting out the days with little comfort besides the daily routines of a life based on the ebbs and flows of his deteriorating health.  Some days are better than others of course.  Some days I catch a glimpse of the man he must have been back in the day when he was gallivanting around London with his crew wearing skinny ties and tight pants.  But of course, those days don’t stay with you as much as the bad days.

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

I carry a lot of regret and what ifs in my heart. I know my dad does too.  You are born alone and you die alone.  When your body starts to betray you and your mind plays tricks on you  and you are alone with nothing but fading memories how can you not wish for some eternal healing in the depth of your darkest thoughts?

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

I’m not a religious person and neither is my dad.  That’s more my mom’s racket.  To me, Heaven and Hell are constructs created by man to ease the fear of death and help keep people in line while they are alive.  To me, it seems a bit conceited to think you know what happens when you die.  How could we?  Why do we need to?  The goal of life is to live and love.  If you can help people during your time on the planet then that’s the icing on the cake.

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

Whether you believe in God, heaven or hell, spiritualism or consider yourself an atheist, I think the idea of penance is something that touches everyone.  Good and evil, right and wrong, left and right: there is a balance in life.  This song captures that duality in a subtle and heart-breaking way.  This verse makes me think about disappointment.  It’s terrible for both the disappointed and the disappointer.  Knowing that you let someone down in a real, meaningful way is hard to overcome.  It’s easier to forgive someone else than it is to forgive yourself.

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

For a long time, I felt paralyzed by my parents’ regrets and guilt and unfulfilled hopes and the all-consuming nature of their worsening ailments.  I still feel like that sometimes.  Then I try to remind myself of the catharsis that comes with facing your regrets; addressing your shortcomings, failures and missed opportunities.  There is a healing.  That healing will let you off the hook; it will forgive your perceived sins; it will make the amends you feel in your heart and it will share the love and light you have hidden away in the darkest recesses of your mind.

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We’re gonna chase the demons out of town, Singing when you feel alone

Ten years ago today, the Stars released Set Yourself on Fireand life as I knew it changed forever.

I had recently moved back to the West Coast after spending a year living in the Interior, and had no plans.  I suffered from horrifically vivid night terrors.  I was grumpy and gross and disconnected from everything I had once held so dear.  I was in limbo: unsure of what I was doing; where I was going; who I was.

 

I wanted to disappear.  Fast-forward  or rewind life to a time when I was a part of something at school, or work or in a relationship.  It was a terribly, dark and depressing time.

I spent a lot of time in my childhood bedroom next to my old Beavis and Butthead poster, reading my old diaries and  listening to the Stars.  Their music is so visual that I couldn’t help but get transported to another time, another place, another life.  First love bullshit, emotional tirades, juvenile fights and the recklessness of youth seen through the hazy alcohol-induced lens of regret, over-thinking things, and knowing better.  That’s what Set Yourself on Fire reminds me of.

What I love most about the Stars is their lyrics.  Each song is a story, a memory or a vision depending on how you’re feeling when you hear it.

Your Ex-Lover is Dead, is one of my favourite Stars songs ever.  Growing up in a small town, I know all too well how hard it is to escape your past.  You are destined to run into your ex-boyfriend, old friends, family friends or former co-workers anywhere you go.   That fear can be paralyzing.  But over the years, I’ve developed a thick, impenetrable bubble that is hard to crack unless you basically hit me over the head and say “We slept together!”  See, I don’t wear my glasses so even if I do run into someone, I don’t know it unless we are five feet away from each other.  I always think about how many people I’ve put off blindly walking by them without a second glance, a knowing smile or a nod.  It always makes me think of this lyric:

Captured a taxi despite all the rain
We drove in silence across Pont Champlain
And all of the time you thought I was sad
I was trying to remember your name…

I’ve always wished that once you ended a relationship the other person would just fall off the earth.  It’s not that I hate everyone I don’t see anymore.  It’s just that the curiosity of what they are doing, how they are living, how and if they think about me can become all-consuming. It’s pathetic, I know, but I care too much.  Spending too much time thinking about who could be thinking about you is ridiculous and over-indulgent.  But sometimes a song or a piece of clothing or a face in a crowd can feel like deja vu and the next thing you know, you’re half remembering and half daydreaming about something that happened or could happen.

I chose to feel it and you couldn’t choose
I’ll write you a postcard
I’ll send you the news
From a house down the road from real love.

The Stars are one of the most skilled bands out there.  They put out a lot of records and tour often.  Amy Millan’s voice is so soft but strong.  Her voice is delicate and honest and fierce while Torquil Campbell’s voice is heartwrenching and sad.  The instrumentation  and melodies are always sweepingly lush and original.  But it’s their lyrics that always stick in my head.

This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin
Tried to reach deep but you couldn’t get in. 

Hindsight is always 20/20.  It’s easy to pinpoint what what wrong in a relationship once you are outside of it.  But when you’re in the eye of the hurricane, every move feels topsy turvy.

 All our ex-lovers are dead, really.  We’re not the same people we were in our previous relationships and neither are our previous partners.  It’s not particularly sad.  It’s not happy, of course, but it just is what it is.

I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to say.  

If you don’t have Set Yourself on Fire, I wholeheartedly recommend you get it and In Our Bedroom After the War which are two of my favourite albums of all time and definitely in the top 10 CDs I would take with me if I was stranded on a desert island.

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Worship like a Dog at the Shrine of Your Lies

I can not get enough of this song.  It’s kind of old, from 2013, but they started playing on the radio in my home town this summer and I was instantly mesmerized.  The singer, is Hozier, an Irish blues singer whose debut studio release comes out later this month.

You know how sometimes you can hear a song a hundred times before you really register what they are talking about or what the song means to you?  That was not the case when I heard this song.  The minute I heard the lyric:

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

I was mesmerized.  It is one of the most beautifully and painfully accurate descriptions of that all-encompassing, needy, obsessive love that can make you feel like you’re walking in God’s deified light and jonesing for another lethal fix right before you come down from your high simultaneously.

Relationships are all about balance. I struggle for equal footing in everything I do: at work, with friends, with family, with my partner.  Heaven forbid you’re too needy.  Forget about it if you come off to aloof.  There’s something so refreshing about just admitting it.  “I thought about you all day and checked my Snapchats every 10 minutes waiting for a message.”   Or conversely,  “I spent the whole day reading Lena Dunham articles and pinning SJP shoes  that I forgot to text you back until I got home.”  It’s way more sexy to be honest even if it’s fleeting.  Today you’re my giggle at the funeral but tomorrow you could be the deadweight of 20 years of broken promises.  That kind of ebb and flow can be manic but it’s also beautiful and passionate and free.  That’s what I love about this song. It’s needy and obsessive but it’s also sexy and so, so pretty.

My church offers no absolution
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you. 

Hozier’s voice is so haunting and the beat in this song is so hypnotic. It feels like a drug: starting slow under your skin and then growing until it overtakes every part of your body and mind.

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen

When I first heard this song I thought it was about sex: great, mind-altering, makes you see God, makes you forget everything else in the world- sex.

But the video turns that all on it’s head.  It takes a very sexual and anthemic song and uses its power to provoke a discussion about something much more political and socially aware – the persecution of Gays in Russia.

This video makes me cry.  I don’t know much about what all that gay cleansing was really like in Russia before the Olympics, and to be totally honest, I don’t want to know the details.  I know it’s horrible.  I know it’s real.  I read the statistics.  I know I want them to stop.  But the details are just too depressing and horrific to comprehend.

I know what it is to be judged. I’m brown. I’m a woman.  But to be judged and then persecuted for following your heart, for loving someone? I don’t get it. I can’t get it.  To me,  it’s so backwards and foreign and sad.  For someone to hide a part of themselves or worse still, kill themselves because they are scared to share who they love? That’s one of the most common tragedies in our world today.

No masters or kings
When the ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin

Someone once asked me what was the difference between a gay person choosing to be straight and a couple having an arranged marriage.  I remember his face so clearly when he asked me that.  His face was so smug like he was going to finally trap be in some sort of gay rights loophole that he had just discovered. I’ll admit it, I’d never really thought about it.  In fact, I was kind of annoyed that he assumed I was some sort of savant on arranged marriages just because my parents had one.  I’m sure lots of people have different opinions on this but here’s mine in a nutshell.  A gay person who lives life as a straight person isn’t choosing to be straight.  He is hiding a part of himself most likely because he is afraid of what will happen if he is honest about who he is.  An arranged marriage is, ideally, mutually beneficially for the husband and the wife and their respective families and something that they have grown up understanding will be a part of their lives.

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it.  

If you like Hozier, be sure to check out his Tiny Desk Concert on NPR and his London Sessions on Spotify.

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The Other F-word: Feminism in Pop Culture

 

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Is it weird to feel bad for feminism? It has been getting a bad rap in pop culture these days which makes me a bit worried about the future. While young stars like Shailene Woodley and Lana Del Ray have publicly declined accepting the capital-F Feminist label for their original, lauded and uniquely feminine work, stars like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift are trying their best to re-educate the public on what is it to be a modern-day feminist and it has nothing to do with bra-burning, guy-bashing or lacking sexuality or femininity.

Being a feminist is not a uniquely female experience. In fact, I see more and more men coming forward as feminists, as more men are growing up raised by single-mothers and seeing first-hand in their formative years the inequalities that woman can often face.  At its root, feminism is about equality. Equal wages for equal work is a pretty simplistic concept but in 2014, women still earn on average 20 per cent less than men in similar positions across the board.  I feel like that is a very boring and exhaustive conversation that inevitably ends up devolving into some archaic argument about how women’s biological clocks interfere with their ability to get ahead in the corporate world or how since girls are raised to be sugar and spice and everything nice while boys are encouraged to ask for  and do what they want; they inevitably have an easier time climbing the corporate ladder since they are not encumbered by worrying about what others might want or being perceived as polite.

To me, the more interesting conversation is about sexuality and feminism.  Can you still be sexy and be a feminist? Where does femininity fit into this chasm?  I don’t really know the answers.  But I like the questions.

There is no bigger advertisement for feminism right now than Queen Bey. She is sexy.  She is in control. She is feminine.  She is on top.  She is girl power. Whenever she does anything, of course it’s calculated and meticulously well-thought out but that’s why people listen.  I had no idea who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi was before I heard Flawless, but I sure do now, in fact I can recite lines from her TED Talk on command.  She wants us to think about feminism and femininity and sexuality: so let’s do it.  That’s a scary thing to do for many people.  When do you feel the most feminine or sexual? Just how deeply are your feelings about femininity and sexuality rooted in patriarchy?  I feel feminine when I wear a pretty dress and heels but not so much when I’m wearing pants.  Will that every change?  Probably not. Even though some shirts guys wear look like dresses and some pants girls wear look like dresses?

And what about sexuality? Are you the bad-ass bitch or the pure princess? The angel or the whore?  Women, like men, are much more complicated than that.

If Beyonce wants us to think about feminism, Nicki Minaj wants us to think about sex, specifically sex with her.  I have been oddly hypnotized by the Anacoda video.  Obviously, I think it’s great to have different body images out there for women and men of all shapes and sizes to appreciate and identify with.  It’s awesome that she’s sampling Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back.  Everyone needs to know and appreciate that song.  I also love that she spits that line about not skipping meals:

He can tell I ain’t missing no meals
Come through and fuck him in my automobile. 

I mean the song is dope as fuck.  She’s powerful and she’s hot and she knows what she wants which is great.  But if I’m being honest, it kind of gives me agita – which is a Yiddish word that means general anxiety and agitation that can’t be fully expressed or articulated.  Which is kind of perfect because this video makes me feel like a prudish Jewish grandma. I wish I was cool enough to be so down with all the dance moves and imagery in this video but I’m not. I seriously have had at least five conversations this week speculating where and when girls dance with their asses touching in da club.  I started wondering and worrying about what the preteens in my hip hop dance class would think of this video.

Obviously the video is sexual, and rightly so because the song is about sex.  But is it sexy? I thought it was tongue-in-cheek and cartoonish at first.  I mean Nicki is nothing if not flamboyant.   But the more I talked to people and read the reactions on Twitter the more I realized that Nicki Minaj had tapped into some kind of extremely overt counter-culture sexuality where little is left to the imagination. It’s like her ass and her vagina are her lures and she’s showing what they can do throughout the video but never relinquishing control to anyone.  She’s teasing you with her assets.  It’s very powerful imagery.  But is it sexy? I’m not sure. If I say no does that automatically mean my views on sexuality are clouded by patriarchy?  Is she is too confident to be sexy?

You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful. 

My gut reaction to this video is so perplexing.  I like it and I don’t.  It feels both powerful and degrading somehow.  Would the song be as big a hit if she was spitting her sexually-charged lyrics wearing long pants and a hoodie, Da Brat style?   Sadly, I don’t think so.

But the more I watch it the more and more I feel like an old  stick in the mud.  And the more I realize that the Pussy Cat Dolls pole dancing classes my friends and I took a few years back were like the lukewarm tea equivalent to Nicki Minaj’s scorching, extra hot quadruple shot americano version.

All and all, I’m glad the video is out there along with the other thought-provoking songs, imagery and articles about feminism in the modern world.  If nothing else, it has people thinking about feminism, sexuality and femininity and how they can all co-exist within each of us in the modern world.

 

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