In honor of the Superbowl, I’m going to talk about commercials. A particular series from the Discover It Card has been appearing on the boob tube for over a year now, with the slogan, “We treat you like you’d treat you.” I’m sure many of you readers have seen them. I’ve probably seen them about ten thousand times watching hockey games.

They advertise late-payment forgiveness and credit monitoring services, claiming the Golden Rule¹ for their trademarked slogan. Seems mighty magnanimous, doesn’t it? But Beelzebub is in the background….

These services are probably not all that helpful, contrary to some opinions.  For late-payment forgiveness, they grant you a one-time fee cancelation. Then it costs $35 for every other late payment. They also won’t hike up your interest rate for this one-time slip-up. Every time after that, they’re just like any other credit card, apparently, only more so. So you’re still pretty likely to go into debt and repay the principal amount several times over in interest alone.

With the FICO credit score service, you have the added comfort of a once-a-month gander at you credit score. These services, too, require a good credit score to begin with—676 / 800. So if you suffered from a foreclosure in the recent economic malaise, or if you couldn’t find a job that paid enough for you to keep up with your student loans, you are S.O.L.

Discover claims this service is meant to help you “avoid surprises” with your credit score. If we made accounting a compulsory class for every high school student—you know, teach them math that is useful and applicable to daily life, unlike algebra—then few would really be surprised when their credit score took a nose-dive. Maybe they wouldn’t have the trouble to begin with, because they’d be educated enough to see through the bullshit.

And it seems to me that all of this is meant to lull people into a false sense of financial security. They say, “Hey, we’re just like you! You can trust us.” And how do we know they’re just like us? Well, the person in the call center always looks like the caller.

But beyond that, you have to look in the background to see how they’ve transmogrified the second person pronoun, “you,” into the third person, “it.” The people offering you their immaterial labor also have a whole lot of stuff that’s just like yours: Coffee cups, polished rocks, sports preferences, sartorial proclivities, little yellow toy bulldozers (Seriously?—how old are they—five?), and so on.

The underlying message: You are what you buy.

(Obey. Consume. Reproduce. Repeat.)

So here I’d like to counter with a quote from Oscar Wilde, from his essay, “The Soul of Man under Socialism” (1895), in which he makes a key inference from the same source as the Golden Rule:

The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is.

Well said, Oscar, as always.

So let me be clear: Credit card companies are not your friends.

In other commercial news, this just in… Did Bob Dylan really just sell out for Chrysler? Bob, I thought you were only ever going to sell out for lingerie! I’m all for Detroit, but Chrysler really frosts my nuts. They’re owned by Italians, anyway, and don’t give a shit about the American worker any more than Toyota does.

1. The Silver Rule comes from Confucius, who sez, “Don’t impose upon anybody what you wouldn’t impose upon yourself.” The negative of Jesus’ Golden Rule, perhaps the credit card companies could, you know, actually follow that advice instead of paying no heed to it whatsofuckingever.

This album came to me via “free trade,” which is a more apt usage of the term than its common one; that is, I didn’t pay for it—and in lieu of any money spent on my part, I suppose I got this on the condition that I review it.

A regular review, though, will not do.

Had this record come to me in a commercial context, I’d prattle on about the band’s dramatic history and try to impress with esoteric comparisons. Then I’d judge the album’s worth, and you’d know whether you were supposed to like it, right?—but just because some reviewer in nut-hugging jeans (dis)likes a record really shouldn’t matter so much, should it? After all, it’s just one person’s view. Record reviews shouldn’t be another form of sound suppression under the guise of art. That’s why record reviews come out the day of or before a record is in consumer hands.

This review, therefore, should fall within the intellectual bounds of the Commons, requiring a different treatment—one that doesn’t commoditize a cultural creation. I aim to place it in a broader context of the current struggle for human rights throughout the world, and to give a close listen to a sound that denies the auto-tuner, the focus group, and the youth group—the capitalist molds. Upon reflection, the band’s lyrics anticipate the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring, while simultaneously sending “smoke signals” toward a present, awash in the chaos that gave rise to these protests. Belonging to neither state nor market—but to the commons, itself—this music bucks the age-old collusion between the former two, which seems to be the common burr under the 99%’s saddles. With Common goals in mind, then, this review will proceed with a final question on whether this album is Rhizomatic, as Deleuze and Guatarri have coined the term.

Michael Hardt “On the Right to the Common”

In addition to the song, “Smoke Signals,” their funkiest song to date, this so-called review will focus primarily on three songs—to wit:

  1. Sound Depression
  2. Test the Champ – The Hardest Game
  3. Street vs. State – Global Tribal – reconstruction

Before I get going, here’s a brief comment on the music:

If I were reviewing this album in one sentence, I’d say, “Listening to The Rebel Soul Sound System is like listening to a roots-reggae parade going by, with each song, riff, or sample mingling with last’s sonic space.” One sentence can never do justice to a Dingees album, because of the many genres and sub-genres represented: The usual reggae, dub, ska, punk, and hardcore are present, but new influences of Afro-pop, jazz, funk, and dubstep also join this parade, making this the most daring and expansive Dingees album to date. Pegleg attempts more variety vocally than before, and while he sounds less precise, he also sounds more human, vulnerable, and real. Thankfully, another blogger, Will Hodge, has put together a thorough review of the music, and I encourage you to read it. To compensate for this lack of the musical analysis, music links to influences appear between paragraphs. Additional videos will buttress your understanding of the ideas supporting this album. Enjoy these brief interludes at your leisure; hopefully, they will help you pick up what I’m laying down.

The Specials “A Message for You, Rudy”

 “Sound Depression” begins the album with a crisp reggae groove beneath an ethereal chant, heavy in reverb and heralding the chaos as if from an urban street: “Sound suppression rules our air today. / Sound oppression rules our airwaves.” It dared me to review this album differently, encapsulating the band’s struggles dealing with a Christian music market that co-opts its own into feigning joy when they ought to mourn the state of things. So the Dingees entreat us, “Tell me: Who is going to govern the state of disarray?” The phrase “state of disarray” has a double meaning: For one, a scene of chaos, but “state” here also refers to a kind of disarray brought about by states, especially toward those that have little in the way of a functioning government. In the U.S., we see a vast, complicated state, swayed by bailed-out bankers and warmongers leading us into battle against abstractions (e.g. terror). The state itself still demands uniformity, but that force in its senility cannot prevent disorder—in fact, it tends to breed it.

David Graeber on Occupy Movement / Police Repression

There where the structures of society ostensibly seek to add order, the clampdown displaces it. It has been pointed that, when states commit violence, it is the norm—the ambient noise of our existence; but when citizens revolt against that violence, it “breaks out,” implying a violent restraint is necessary to contain it. The Dingees are no strangers to this paradox as exemplified in “Chaos Control” (Armageddon Massive 1998).

A taste of this displaced chaos comes during “The Hardest Game” (part two on track two), when band member, Jeff Holmes, reminds us that,

We forget, kids die—

And in a heart of darkness, everybody’s still crying.

We move on, we move on, we move on.

Carry on, carry on, carry on.

Well the planes can’t land, but the bullet are still flying.

Mother, you can open your arms wide, but your baby’s still dying.

It’s the hardest game.

So carry on from Kinshasa to a refugee land,

And go to Rwanda, where you make your final stay.

Carry on, carry on, carry on.

“Rwanda” by Rancid (Self-titled, 2000).

If you’re living under a rock, you may not know that Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is the most dangerous place to be a woman, a child, or a pygmy. We can access this information. We shouldn’t need the Dingees to sing about it, although it doesn’t hurt. In the lyrics above, Holmes implies a willful forgetting: We don’t forget so much as we ignore these human rights catastrophes, or pretend we can spend our way out of them. We’re too wrapped up in our own first-world problems to deal with the depression that would stem from facing third-world problems. But the Dingees want to take you there, word-playing again: The repetitious “carry on” sounds indistinguishable from “carrion,” which takes the listener to the plight of the refugee, ever in danger of starvation, disease, and death—a vicious sentence that vultures punctuate. And taking us there is the principal problem. It’s all well and good to know about injustice from the web in an abstract way; it’s another to confront it in a sensory way. As cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek, has darkly joked, “It’s one thing to hear about your wife screwing around on you; it’s quite another to walk in on her in the middle of the act.” Likewise, the Dingees are trying to get us to “walk in” on these crimes with all their powers of expression. They succeed.

Slavoj Žižek – Occupy Wall Street and Modern Anti-Capitalism

If Joseph Conrad implicates the “heart of darkness” as the Congo, itself, driving the civilization out of a civilized man (and I’m not sure he does), then the Dingees definitely turn this around. The capital-imperial West drives the civilization out of these places. In the DRC, mining companies find it easier to pay off a few thugs than to give everybody a living wage—which would be incredibly small there. The Dingees get labeled as “anti-establishment,” but this implies they would be against any structure of governance—and I don’t think that’s categorically true. Small scale tribal governance is still an establishment. They’re seeking a new kind of government where the people aren’t misrepresented to the ruling class. After all, in Kinshasa, there is a government, but only nominally. Most would characterize the nation as anarchic, but it is technically a democratic republic just like the U.S.A. There are 24-trillion dollars worth of minerals beneath the D.R.C., but the country can’t seem to rise up on the heap of these resources. Western politicos often style this the “resource curse,” as if the U.S. were stable because of the utter dearth of our resources. Which is of course ridiculous: We have plenty of resources and wealth in our people. But so does the D.R.C. What keeps the U.S. on top is its military, which seems to have a gland problem these days. Nothing has changed from the old days of empire, just the names of things. The stream of tribute issuing from the Congo, either in the form of interest to the World Bank or as the cheap minerals for laptops and smart phones, flows as freely as the blood of their people.

Fela Kuti “Coffin for Head of State”

As a debtor nation, the so-called “anarchist” Congo is beholden to Western free trade agreements (AGOA)—agreements that pretend the U.S. ascended to industrial hegemony via free trade and global cooperation, when it really did so through tariffs and imperialism. A more apt name for the economic structure of the D.R.C., however, is capitalist without the pesky socialist burdens, like Medicare or Social Security. For the majority of citizens in the Congo, their only recourse is to seek the humanitarian shelter of refugee camps, which are often just as dangerous as their homeland. And those very refugee camps add to the debt burden their host countries already bear. The feedback cycle of this problem is not the stuff of Top-40 songs, but the Dingees will proclaim it, at least. We need to dignify these proclamations.

Lee Scratch Perry “Fisherman Dub”

Taking their message to the streets then, the medley, “Street vs. State – Global Tribal – reconstruction,” cuts to the central nerve of this album. The “Street vs. State” section is a dub containing a number of sound clips from protests, while the bassist gets to have a little fun on his fret board. Then the street samples cut, and a motherly voice shouts with urgency, “Don’t listen to what they’re saying. Watch what they do!” Well said, whoever you are.¹ Her admonition introduces the horn riffs of “Global Tribal,” a profound plea for global unity. Pegleg addresses future observers, who will view us as barbarians in a dark age. And rightly so, because all the religious and political problems that seem so important now will become insignificant compared with the crises to come. Pegleg asks, “To the future, is there anybody out there?” reminding us that there may, in fact, not be anyone in the future at all, never mind enlightened historians, chuckling at our stupidity. “While we could be global of one tribe / When we could be one people globally,” we instead erect barriers, establish clubs, and claim that the guest list at heaven’s party contains a string of blandly consistent names. These clubs—those from the Judeo-Christo-Muslim matrix, but also a host of variegated peoples who don’t like each other—do not capture the fullness of the love that Christ himself proclaimed—a love that has “no east nor west, no Jew nor Gentile, no slave nor free.”

Michael Hardt on The Politics of Love and Evil

Such love has been the study of the thinkers linked in this article. They refer to it as “political” love or agape (ah-gah-PAY), a Greek word meaning “unconditional love,” which the apostle Paul used extensively in his epistles to illustrate how Christ’s love ought to break down barriers between people. This sort of love occupies the Dingees more than, say, erotic love. In “reconstruction,” Pegleg references the breaking down of a famous wall, entreating us to,

Roll with me, baby

We’re gonna dance to the Junglist

The furious deejay, drum and bass music

Run now, my people.

We’re gonna watch all walls dem fall,

When we hit that frequency

They played that day down in Jericho.

It was a breakbeat, a breakbeat

a reconstruction.

Marcia Aitken (feat. Trinity) “I’m Still in Love”

According to the Bible, the march around Jericho did literally break down its city walls. Now, if you paid attention in Sunday school, you may know that it also kicked off one of the earliest recorded and God-ordained genocides in human history—barrier creation pushed to its logical conclusion. Pegleg, though, re-appropriates the image. That destroying “frequency” might activate us to break down barriers, but the purpose has turned from exclusivity to inclusivity, from violence to peace—a reconstruction of the very notion of destruction. On the Dingees previous album, Pegleg sings, “We don’t want destruction, but we know it comes before creation” (“World’s Last Night” The Crucial Conspiracy). The thought here is very much the same: We have to destroy these structures that keep us arbitrarily separated. Nuclear fallout does not respect borders. Neither does climate change. So why should we? And yet we are stuck in that place Gramsci wrote about, where “The old is dying and the new cannot be born.” But we could break out of this interregnum. We could be “one people globally.” We have the technology and the capacity within ourselves to do so. Soon we will have to be one—or else go extinct, vanishing into the vast universe like smoke in the sky.

Manu Chao “Bongo Bong”

The Dingees remain hopeful, though, and so should you. The song, “Smoke Signals,” is a prayer of petition to God. The music itself communicates as much as the words, so I encourage you to simply listen to it—but the last words of the song are directed toward the Big Man (and she is black): “Be with us always, even until the end of the age, / for these are troubled times.” But just before that, he states what ought to be obvious, “Give me room and I’ll fire up the sun / There’s enough warmth there for everyone to catch a reflection.” Simple wisdom like this should at once humble us and give us great hope. As far as conflicted emotions go, that’s not a bad place to be. Indeed, the Dingees espouse a kind of Christianity that honors singularities—or differences that refuse to stop being different, if you will. That’s comforting too. It may not get them another Christian record deal (or any other, for that matter), but it puts them on the right side of the struggle.

Toots and the Maytals “Reggae Got Soul”

In conclusion, I should point out the prophetic nature of this whole album. Pegleg says that he wrote most of the material right after The Crucial Conspiracy, which was right about the time the U.S. was ramping up its war on terror. Indeed, protest movements had been hard at work at the time, but recent revelations have shown that people like the Dingees aren’t just a bunch of dope-smoking, unrealistic hippies. They predicted these problems but in a way that was as much a narrative of the times then as of now. They understand a great deal more about these disastrous systems than the vulture capitalists of our day, who think the world will keep turning regardless of what we do to it. To illustrate this, you can image-search maps that are supposedly going to be used in the future for oil freighters once the polar ice caps have melted. I suppose in a literal sense, the VCs are quite right: The world will keep turning, but our presence or absence on its surface hardly amounts to a pretext for it to stop.

As mentioned earlier, I wanted to submit the question to you readers as to whether The Rebel Soul Sound System is Rhizomatic. If you’re acquainted with the concept, perhaps you can help me with it. I think it is, but I’m not a specialist in this area of thought (although my landscaping experience has left me well acquainted with the botanical rhizome—myrtle, pachysandra, et al.) The whole album has no privileged entry point, there’s not really a clear delineation of where one song stops and another begins, and it re-appropriates images and influences throughout. There’s a great deal more to talk about than just rhizomes, too, so do host comments on whatever you see fit. This is a new kind of a review—one that is never complete, yet does justice to the intellectual foundations of a cultural creation. That, it seems to me, is what a good review ought to do. 

1. I’ve since been told that this motherly voice belongs to Dr. Helen Caldicott, an anti-nuke hero.

Some of my best friends and I were camping last month, and as we were traipsing through the woods in sub-zero temperatures, we stumbled upon a curious phenomenon about Disney and their non-traditional approach to families. That discussion wound up being a great conversation-starter for my students, so feel free to make the same observations to your own classrooms or friends. To start it, pose this question:

How many animated Disney movies can you name in which the protagonist is part of a traditional, nuclear family—that is, having  a mother and father who are still married and both still alive?

It’s harder to come up with them than you think. We began to rule them out, one-by-one. (I’ve largely avoided sequels and made-for-TV movies, as I consider these apocryphal.)

  • Snow White only has a mother, and she’s a real witch who wants to kill her. Her father is no longer among the living, and he’s probably better off for it.
  • Pinocchio, while only a puppet, has only a father, Geppetto.
  • In Fantasia, Mickey has no family at all, traditional or otherwise.
  • Dumbo’s only got a ma, poor little guy. Same with Bambi. Presumably, some males knocked their mothers up, but they’re not around.
  • Cinderella’s old man passed away, and her real mom before that, leaving her with a step mom, who is a real bitch.
  • As far as we know, Alice from Alice in Wonderland only has a mother, who is absent for most of the film.
  • Peter Pan’s parents are long gone and his family is a bunch of other orphans; Wendy, John, and Michael have two parents, but they’re not around. Tigerlily has only a father.
  • Lady and the Tramp do start a family, but they are not part of one—at least not one of the same species—until the end.
  • Aurora from Sleeping Beauty is part of a traditional family, rent asunder by Maleficent. She has little contact with them.
  • In 101 Dalmatians, Roger and his wife don’t seem to want to have a child, but instead adopt a shit-ton of puppies to go with their Dalmatians. Talk about a non-traditional family.
  • In The Sword and the Stone, Arthur has only his uncle and cousin for support, heartless lazy bastards that they are.
  • Mowgli from The Jungle Book is an orphan raised by wolves and mentored by a bear and a black panther. About as non-traditional as one can get.
  • The Aristrocats only have a mom for most of the movie—the tomcat presumably getting together with her in the end.
  • Robin Hood has no family beyond his non-traditional and man-tastic merry men; the little rabbit guy, though, who is sort of a younger double for Robin Hood, has only a mother raising him and his many siblings.
  • The girl from The Rescuers is an orphan, who does find parents in the end. Cody from The Rescuers Down Under only has a mom as far as we know.
  • The Fox and the Hound has no real families, although the fox does fall for another fox. It’s about unlikely friendships, though.
  • Olivia Flaversham from The Great Mouse Detective only has a father.
  • Oliver and company are all a bunch of strays.
  • The Little Mermaid only has a mer-dad, poor unfortunate soul; and Belle from Beauty and the Beast only has a father to care for her in her unbearably provincial life.
  • Aladdin is a street rat, and Princess Jasmine only has the Sultan for her father.
  • Simba from The Lion King has both a father and a mother at the start of the film, but shortly into it (spoiler alert!), Mufasa is stampeded into the earth.
  • In A Goofy Movie, the goof troop consists of only Goofy and his son, Max.
  • Pocahontas only has Powhattan for a dad.
  • Esmerelda and Quasimodo—a gypsy and freak—have no families.
  • Andy Davis from Toy Story only has a mom. His next-door nemesis, Sid, also is fatherless.
  • Hercules “technically” has a father, but he’s Zeus—and Zeus isn’t exactly a model father for child-support. And the movie makes his mother the goddess, Hera, which is totally wrong. Zeus always ignored Hera sexually. Hercules real mother was Alcmene, a mortal. I don’t know why Disney made this change, because it sucks all the drama out of Hercules’ plight—that is, if he’s fully divine, there’s no way he can actually die. Duh. Anyway, criteria not met.
  • Mulan actually has a mother and father, who stay married and alive throughout the whole movie. Traditional family number 1!
  • Flick from A Bug’s Life has no known family. The Princess and Dot have a queen for a mother, but no father. Flick’s family mainly consists of a bunch of other bugs from other species.
  • Tarzan, like Mowgli, is raised by animals in the jungle. Jane, though, only has a father.
  • Pacha from The Emperor’s New Groove is a family man, married with kids. Traditional family number 2!
  • Monsters Inc. has no real family in it. The girl presumably has one, but we never see them.
  • In Lilo & Stitch, Lilo is raised by her sister, and they adopt a space alien.
  • The beginning of Finding Nemo shows a barracuda eating Nemo’s mom.
  • Brother Bear is about three brothers, who have no mother or father.
  • The Incredibles meet the criteria, even if they don’t get along very well: Traditional family number 3!
  • Cars and WALL-E are about machines, so they’re out. 

That sums up all the ones I have seen. My students inform me that recent films, Brave, Tangled, and Frozen all meet the criteria, and I believe them—they don’t lie about things as important to them as Disney animated features. Which give us three more traditional families in total. All of them, moreover, come after 1998. It is as though the writers at Disney realized what they were doing, and said, “Shit! We haven’t included a traditional family in one of our animated features since never! And now we’ve got these conservative assholes giving us guff about our gay-day, claiming we’re anti-family. We’ve got to do something to save our image!” etc.

Did I write this to prove Disney is anti-family? No, of course not. They’re neither pro- nor anti-family; they’re pro-money. And it is a reasonable enough plot device to make your protagonists pitiable somehow,—we relate better to protagonists who don’t have everything going their way all the time—and what better way to do it than to put them in the disadvantaged state of not having a traditional family to help them out? It’s reasonable enough, that is, up to a point. I think sixty years of animated films is probably a bit too long to use this tired trick over and over again.

Looking more closely at the family make-up, though, reveals something far more depressing—though not a bit surprising: We see many father-son relationships, father-daughter relationships, and mother-son relationships. They all include at least one penis. Very few mother-daughter relationships turn up in these movies, and, when they do, they are dysfunctional as hell and unrealistic to boot.

And why would that be? you ask. Pretty obvious, isn’t it? Most all the writers for Disney have had penises, and they can realistically conceive of only father-son, mother-son, and father-daughter relationships, because they’ve experienced those relationships in reality. Only in recent years has Disney tried to be more egalitarian on this front, which I guess is admirable—but then again, I don’t believe in praising people for doing something they ought to already do.

Recently, I heard a news program on the radio posing the question, “What are we going to do with all the silver Sacajawea dollars?” Nobody’s using them, apparently, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When was the last time you used one?

The problem, I am told, is that people don’t use coinage over 25 cents or that paper money is easier to use. That answer, though, just begs another “why.” I know why, but it doesn’t have anything to do with paper vs. metal.

Hardly anything you can buy costs a dollar or less. A twenty oz. pop is typically $1.50, and a candy bar is a dollar now, the bigger ones more. And forget about the days when a gallon of gas cost less. Countless items used to be priced at a dollar or less, but are now more. Why congress didn’t realize this in 2007 when they minted a couple billions of these coins, I can only guess. I mean, it’s kind of a cool coin and all, but…seriously? Are we still minting these things and losing money? How can you lose money while making money? That’s a paradox a robot can’t even solve!

But I have an answer to the problem of what to do with them all. Make the silver dollar Sacajawea coins worth $2.00

Time to accept the monetary reality we’ve created for ourselves—and time to accept that the almighty dollar, to quote Devin the Dude, “ain’t what it useta be,” and that “hobos useta aks ya for a dollar, now the mothaf—-s aks ya for three” (Waiting to Inhale, 2007). Of course, you’d still have the paper dollars, but now, you’d have a perfect use for all those coins. The Sacajawea coin program could actually prove useful, instead of a boondoggle.

Maybe my economist friends will say, but wait! You can’t just do that! That’s currency manipulation. Maybe I can’t, but I know They can, and They often accuse the Chinese of doing this. But we’re warned that when none of these coins have been circulating, and then, suddenly, they become part of the money we all use, it’ll cause inflation. True enough, but why not take an equivalent value of paper dollars out of circulation. Men will have plenty of reasons to keep that change jingling in their pockets (to the inexplicable annoyance of their wives), and less cash giving them reasons to go to the chiropractor. Problem solved.

(Okay, it probably isn’t that simple.)

It’s been ten years since this album’s quiet release. I picked it out of a bargain bin at a Christian bookstore for six dollars. I was sixteen, yet within the first five seconds, I could tell this album was a nightmare to market for Tooth and Nail Records, whose bread was (is…?) mostly buttered by the youth of evangelical America. In those first five seconds, I heard a can of spray paint shaken and sprayed—aural evidence of vandalism.

Suffice it to say, it was the last album the Dingees (g pronounced like a j) released on Tooth & Nail—although they had two previous on BEC, another branch of the same company—and judging from the lyrics, things didn’t end well. And, while I don’t have any insider information, I can reasonably guess at generalities to say that the Dingees, a ska-punk band, were dropped for—heaven forfend!—behaving like punks.

The genre “ska-punk” is a generality at best. They dabbled in a bit of everything, from straight-up reggae, to dub, to hardcore, to rock ‘n roll, in addition to ska and punk. Indeed, HM Magazine wrote that they were but “a fading memory” of third wave ska. But let’s not argue over semantics. Let’s get down to brass tacks about why they were dropped. The Dingees were dropped for at least one, but perhaps up to all four, of the following reasons:

  1. Anti-record company / not profitable
  2. Not Christian enough
  3. Paranoid about the government
  4. Ska was on the way out, anyway

From track one, this band tries to walk the line between speaking their minds and cloaking their intent in possibly Christian, yet possibly subversive, positions (at least, to neo-con America) both spiritual and political. If only the reviewers could understand the lyrics—lyrics which, according to Dan Bell, didn’t come with the promo CD. Which is a bummer, because the lyrics are one of this album’s strengths. My copy has something else that the promo CD didn’t have: a hidden track. Bell declared that there were no hidden tracks, but there most definitely is one, not at the very end of the album—as is customary—rather, in the middle. More on that in a moment. Without the lyrics, Bell was at a severe disadvantage and couldn’t give this album the shrift it deserved.

This absence wasn’t an accident. The album cover looks like Soviet propaganda, and that wasn’t an accident either. The title reads “Work! for the Crucial Conspiracy,” and at first glance, one might imagine that the band had a free-market-friendly stance on politics. The marketers tried to sneaky-Pete this album into conservative homes, hoping the conservative father would nod his head in approval and never think about the album again, his dividends being more pressing.

But ’tis a ruse. This album has a liberal, pro-proletariat stance all the way. Let’s just examine a few tracks and their lyrics.

“Moving Underground” plainly announces their subterranean plans, and could possibly tell their story with T&N, although that is speculation about clandestine events. It could have been some other label. Nevertheless, the Dingees washed onto California beaches in 1998 in a swell of ska-punk bands, only to be washed back out to sea in a riptide of corporate paroxysms as mentioned. Most ska bands are now working like every other schmuck. And so with the Dingees. In 2001, the Dingees went underground and most people forgot about them, but they’ve been together ever since. The song “Moving Underground” may tell their story.

They came on up and take their place in my face
There talkin big and they got so much to say
They say ‘I’m really digging on that sound that you play.
Whattya say lets take it to another level today?
How’d ya like to be on the radio, Magazine, and movie and the TV show?
I’m a go getter got to get up and go. Meet me uptown this time tomorrow.’

So then we wonder should we do this thing.
We go on down to hear them promising
We’ll be living like the kings on all the money we’ll bring
Your every whim that you want, catered to every need
‘We could move ya out of the underground.
There’s just one thing it’s about your sound.
Even though we love it, it’s a little run down.
Let’s meet ya in the middle, let’s move ya uptown.’

So that tore it, they explain:

And that’s the last we never saw of them.
Domino keeps falling like a chain reaction.
You cannot beat em. If you think of joining,
Come back the back door is open.
We will be here in the underground, etc.

And that is the last we never saw of the Dingees until last year’s ambitious Rebel Soul Sound System.

On “Moving Underground,” there is a hidden track, as I indicated. It is a hardcore track, and I believe it is a middle finger raised to this record company, whoever it is.

CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE YOUTH

You try to shake me to the ground Jah strike fire and burn!
You think I haven’t been around?
Jah strike fire and burn!
Don’t let the deal be.
Jah will bury you!

It’s a big conspiracy. They hate youth and they hate me!

Dems fightin’ words, and I love it (and I’m a pacifist!). The balls, man.

But from another point of view, imagine the A&R guy who has gotta drop these guys. How does he market this stuff? He knows reggae and dub ain’t too many signifiers away from signifyin’ ganj’ to his market. What’s more, the Dingees weren’t too horn heavy, and they weren’t saturating their guitar tone with the requisite amount of distortion—and that’s what he’s paying them to do. In the end, he’s gotta be like, alright, fuck it, ska’s dead anyway. Let’s cut our losses and sell it for six bucks. I’m surprised T&N actually released it, frankly. Contracts, I guess…

Another red flag for this album comes during “Latchkey Kids,” when Pegleg sings, “I’m full of fire, never better never been higher.” Not necessarily a drug reference, but again, think of who this is marketed to and what it must sound like to mom who went to that reggae-fest in her twenties. They also call God Jah, and they didn’t have the same mission that  their Christian ska contemporaries had, such as the Ws, whose doctrinal stance in “The Devil is Bad” is palpable to the average two-year-old. Or consider the O.C. Supertones mission: “The Supertones’ main message is Christ and Him crucified. We want to help people understand certain doctrinal truths.” The Supertones, for the record, also wanted to “get dumb like Beavis.”

The Dingees seem less concerned about doctrinal truths than actual truths about the world and the people running it. They also sing for and about real people, living and suffering both at home and abroad. In “Dear Sister, Dear Brother,” the singer encourages us that “For every hardship, there’s a reason, but you’re not seein’ so you’re not believin’,” the line referencing Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas. “World’s Last Night” is my favorite track, being both apocalyptic and hopeful at once, as they sing, “We don’t want the end. We want the beginning. We don’t want destruction, but we know it comes before a new creation.” The Dingees weren’t obviously Christian, but the message remains. Nevertheless, the Christian music market wants obvious songs that repeat the name Jesus to leave no doubts about the singer’s ecumenical leanings.

The Dingees seem to take a stance against witchcraft and voodoo from a seemingly Christian standpoint. But it may be more complicated than that. In my teens, I remember liking “We Rot the Voodoo” for its eerie dub and spooky Theremin, but I thought it was about actual voodoo. As I creep closer to thirty, however, I’m inclined to think it really pertains to trickle-down economics, ever-maligned by liberals as “Voodoo economics.” It’s not particularly evident from the lyrics, which could also concern real voodoo—and there again, voodoo is not even a hop, let alone a skip or a jump, from Rastafarianism, another kiss of death for Christian music marketing. But since the track comes right after a song called “Ronnie Raygun,” it’s reasonable to assume that Reaganomics is what they’re really rotting. (I don’t know if they really even believe in voodoo. They are Christian, after all, and not Rastas, only one member being of the African American persuasion.) If one understands “rotting the Voodoo” as opposing the principals of trickle-down economics, it takes on a quasi-liberation theological bent, basing their ideals for organizing society as the earliest Christians, who shared everything, and considered the rich rich, not “job creators.” Jumping from Reagan’s economics to foreign policy, “Ronnie Raygun” deals directly with clandestine CIA ops conducted under his presidency, subjects ranging from Star Wars missile defense to extraordinary rendition (doublespeak for outsourced torture) and mind control.

They don’t call me this for nothing.
Clueless to the fact I know something.
Clueless are the masses.
They’re better off staying paranoid.
They don’t know how true this really is
Pull my string, but no, I’m not talking
The polygraph I guarantee won’t be on the record

Ronnie raygun Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run

My brain is frozen numb from debriefing
Ignore the transmissions I was receiving
Does SDI have lasers beaming saucers in the sky?
Black budget unmarked helicopters
Chase me home and drop me off there
They call me in the middle of the night and
Tell me to return

Clearance majestic
Erase my existence
Alleged intimidation
Hypnosis mind control

SDI stands for Strategic Defense Initiative, the strategic initiator being Reagan. This all must have sounded like a bunch of nonsense to parents, since the song has hardcore vocals. But the message is quite clear in print—that is, if military boilerplate can be considered clear. Moreover, the conspiracy-obsessed skankers also are “outta mind with modern age,” as they declare in the first track, “Spraypaint (We Won’t Carry Over).” They shout,

We won’t carry over. We are the new. We move it on.
I’m outta mind with modern age, ultraviolent syndrome
Beware mad scientists are stealing chromosomes.
Experimental aircraft chemtrails across the sky.
Rain disease down on suburbia, burning lungs stinging eyes
Microcellular breakdown ’cause the cancer couldn’t wait
Early morning at the clinic methadone helps shake the shakes
For another ninety days, mother daughter alanon
Electroshock on blacktop, blown away oblivion.
US Army and the Navy, hovercraft on beachhead.
Anti-tank gun missile, meshing blood and bone and lead.
Past and present combined stress, psychadelic Vietnam.
Paratrooper won’t elaborate about the burning bombs of napalm.
Rust and blood and telecaster helicopter spotlight
Seven-forty-seven shot straight out the sky
National security global emergency
Civilizations unraveled seams
Bionic build titanium broken bones and x-rays
Couple cans of neon spraypaint, half a dozen razorblades
Propaganda posters clinchin’ tight around my brain
No synapse can make connection. No idea can cause change.

The aforementioned reviewer claimed the album would lift people spiritually, and I believe certain tracks do, but this is about as pessimistic—not to mention antagonistic—a view on US foreign policy as any of Fat Mike’s or Mick Jones’. The Dingees released this before, but in the year of, 9-11, and the ensuing ten years have shown this album incredibly relevant. Rather than being informed strictly by the X-Files, which the band openly declares an affinity for, Pegleg’s rants seem informed by academics, such as Dr. Chalmers Johnson, a former Cold-warrior and CIA consultant, turned in his old age a soothsayer of US imperial collapse.

They were relevant then, as now. Americans may be kept in the dark, as “Ronnie Raygun” would have it, but the light burns brightly for those in countries the U.S. occupies—and so for the Dingees. I wonder how this album would have fared had it been released after Wikileaks’ revelations.

The band announced their most recent release would be free online. This decision, I believe, was more influenced by Christian musician Keith Green than to Radiohead, for Pegleg had read No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. Keith Green advocated giving away music—especially music based on the Gospel—for free. He also had a rather literal view of Jesus’ commandment to sell all of one’s possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, a radical verse that rarely gets underlined in evangelical Bibles.”Dear Sister, Dear Brother” reminds us that

Man, fellowman is not your enemy
The world strikes out on us universally
And do no gasp at death of celebrity
Ours is not a life of futility
Do not stand ahead of each other
Dear sister, dear brother

and “World’s Last Night” directly quotes the Bible, paraphrasing Romans 8:38,

Neither death nor life nor angels, no height of heaven, no depth of hell, and no created thing, now or soon to come, can steal away [the love of God]

This album departed crucially (get it?) from their first couple albums. To look at it, it seems like a concept album, the album artwork featuring the band standing in conspiracy theorist darkroom, UFO pictures on bulletin boards, etc. The idea, from the record company, I think, was that we weren’t supposed to take all that conspiracy theory stuff seriously. But the band really did, and it shows. I dunno if they believe in aliens, either. They make no reference to them in their songs.

Critics marked the Dingees out for fans of Operation Ivy, Rancid, the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers–and all those bands white guys like, but there is plenty of Jamaican evidence all over this album. They could very well have drawn comparisons to Lee “Scratch” Perry or Desmond Dekker as much as any of those punk bands. More on their sound in part 2, a review of The Rebel Soul Sound System.

A few years back I heard this song called Valentine’s Day In Juarez. The chorus of the song peaked my interest, so I downloaded the song. It goes like,

They got the cocaine, oxycontin, mushrooms, marijuana,

Vodka, plastic pop off (or Popov?), twist one up

It’s a catchy tune, but I didn’t explore the message behind it. I thought it was just a song about partying in a border town. And so it quickly fell into the rest of my music collection like a raindrop in a river.

Then I read Charles Bowden’s Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, and I revisited the song, illuminated by Bowden’s work. I can only describe this book as a sort of “marriage of Gonzo and Hell,” because Alice Leora Briggs illustrated in wood-etchings the dissolution of order there, in a style reminiscent of William Blake or Peter Bruegel the Elder. In fact, the images are quite disturbing, which makes them effective.

The word Gonzo seems appropriate, though I’m not clear on what it is, exactly—for Bowden participates to some degree in what he covers. His book details his experience, not so much the cold facts of the war. He doesn’t edit things but leaves the tape rolling. He’s deeply opposed to it yet unable to imagine the situation there getting better. He’s also a brave son of a bitch, considering all the recent murders of reporters.

Back to the Ike Reilly Assassination—He opens his song, singing,

Yesterday I smoked, today I don’t (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Yesterday  I swallowed, today I choke (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Yesterday I dreamed, today I hoped (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Yesterday I sunk, today I float (yeah, yeah, yeah)

These words seemed a bit banal to me at first. But Bowden’s account illuminated a few things: First, the Juarez Cartel, as well as the others along the border, kill most of their victims quietly, in a suburban condo, by strangulation. Perhaps after some torture. The cartels call it carne asada, which in plain English means “grilled meat.”

The character of his song is in Juarez—or maybe just across the border—and he was looking to party, specifically for some drugs (Cocaine, Oxycontin, etc.). So he hooked up with some shady characters and for the drugs, he has to “carry roses across the bridge / to gain favor with the Suicide Girls.”

I don’t know who the Suicide Girls are, and I’ve Googled it, and, well, it turns up porn sites, so…?—But let us imagine for the sake of argument that the Suicide Girls are a gang of women, working with the cartels much like the Zetas, and have dominion over their little fiefs within the greater kingdom of the Mexican drug cartels.

Carrying roses across the bridge refers to a “mule,” I think—that is, someone who smuggles drugs across the bridge for the cartels—and some mules make money, but more disappear. Likewise for the character of the song: He sinks one day, floats the next. He’s been strangled and dumped in the river, floating down the Rio Grande. Which makes this song every bit as dark as Bowden’s stories of missing people: “Where he goes isn’t always clear / Places we both know have been closed for years.” Bowden keeps talking about the disappearing people. Most are never found, save for in a dusty folder within a DEA file cabinet.

My friend called the scene in Mexican a “soft war,” which I suppose is a reasonable nomenclature—except it’s still a war, despite the fact that it’s neither a cold nor hot one. It’s a unique case of drug cartels outstripping the Mexican government’s resources and ability to contain them. Instead of curtailing the growing violence, the government participates. The police perform the executions. The higher-ups look the other way on both sides of the border.

“But here is where we stop and turn off the answering machine and go back to the history that comforts us, the faith of our fathers,” Bowden says.

Where, then, do these cartels find all this money to keep on keeping on? You have to look no further than your  own neighborhood. And while our government guilt-trips kids so they will avoid drugs, it knowingly supports, or tacitly approves of, the violence that is funded by drugs.

Such is the state of things, and it’s only getting worse.

On a side note

Since we never see Thomas Pynchon, there are always people trying to guess who he really is. Here’s my best guess so far: He is Charles Bowden.

Their voices are both similar, old and bass-y. Cf. this interview with Bowden with this video ad for Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which he apparently narrated. Maybe it’s just the subject matter that makes the connection for me. Even the pictures kind of match up: Pynchon vs. Bowden.

I know it’s crazy. But the name Bowden is similar to Bodine, who is a recurring character in every (I think, anyway, haven’t read em all yet) Pynchon novel. He’s either Pig Bodine (V) or Seaman Bodine (Gravity’s Rainbow), and there’s also a Bodine in both Mason & Dixon and Against the Day.

So would it be so crazy to think Pynchon works pseudonymously through Charles Bowden?—that, when Pynchon isn’t writing sprawling novels, he is an active journalist.

I’m probably wrong, but there are worse people to suggest, right? I can’t image either one would be offended at the guess, because they are both fantastic writers.

Rick Berman (not the dick who runs Star Trek, but the lobbyist) for The Daily Caller explores the semantic choices of the high-fructose corn syrup lobby, which has sought to change public perception of their sweetener. The lobby has petitioned the F.D.A. to allow their sweetener to be called “corn sugar” as opposed to “high-fructose corn syrup.” Berman considers this name an improvement, since the amount of fructose (what makes sugar sweet) is roughly the same as in refined cane and beet sugar. In addition, listing it in plain English as “sugar” clearly tells consumers what they are consuming. He notes the common view that anything sounding too industrial or scientific tends to scare people. He also explores the semantics of advertising and their word choices, concluding, “Americans want to know what is in their food, not which squares on the Periodic Table it occupies.”

***

In recent years, many have demonized high-fructose corn syrup. Sugar itself, in one form or another, has been a key scapegoat for America’s obesity debacle for even longer. The connotations attending to each product have shifted. In the 1980s, soft drink corporations replaced cane sugar with corn sweetener. They did so mainly because of high import tariffs and other government supports for the U.S. sugar industry (Yes, your tax-dollars support that foul miasma wafting over campus from Bay City’s sugar refinery.), which drove the price of imported sugarcane to artificially high prices. Domestic corn syrup, as a result, became the cheaper, domestic alternative.

Economics aside, the switch made advertising sense too. When the switch came, many—especially children—did not know what high-fructose corn syrup was nor cared to find out, because it is a mouthful to say and looks arcane enough to ignore. It made good marketing sense, then, to replace the word “sugar” with a word that looked like gobbledygook, because it replaced a word commonly associated with obesity with a word that had no negative connotation in the minds of consumers.

Twenty-five years later, the connotations have reversed. Enough talking heads and celebrity chefs have lambasted high-fructose corn syrup such that the word “sugar” seems healthier by comparison. The products have not changed, but the lobby intends to change its perceived health benefits. People associate sugar with greater health benefits—or at least, greater than those of high-fructose corn syrup—which, as Berman points out, was coined such because it had a greater amount of fructose than regular corn syrup, and not because it had more fructose than table sugar. While Berman maintains this switch of terms to be beneficial, “corn sugar” being a more to the point and accurate name, there is always an economic reason for these changes. This is an effort to change their product’s image, and like water, advertising tends to seek the lowest level. If one is stupid enough to believe high fructose corn syrup is bad because it sounds scientific, s(he) will be stupid enough to think cane sugar will be better for them. Only in advertising can the truth still seem like a lie.

Switching the names signals a greater trend. If the ingredient’s name reads as if scientists coined it, it must be bad, whereas, if it is natural, it must be okay. Still these assumptions break down under scrutiny. For instance, compare the processed xanthan gum with natural hemlock. Humans process kelp to make xanthan gum, yet it remains innocuous, but natural hemlock is a deadly poison. American Spirit cigarettes claim they are all natural, but they will kill just the same as cigarettes with additives. So too have words like “preservatives” and “partially hydrogenated soybean oil” become insidious, mainly because the name—often Latinate—implies, or lists outright, a scientific process. In the past, advertisers have listed these processes to distract the consumer from the basic contents of their food, even though chemically speaking, a preservative is just a salt and partially hydrogenated soybean oil is simply a fat. However, if the label lists the main ingredients as “salt” and “fat,” those products would be harder to sell.

If advertisers could convince the world that the sky is purple, they would surely try. It is disheartening that many in America gather a great amount of “truth” from advertising. Consider the Tiger Woods scandal. Why was it so scandalous? Charlie Sheen had just stabbed his girlfriend, but the media gave it scant attention in their scramble to uncover Woods’ many sins. Since Woods became pro, companies have pitched him as a mentor, a good citizen and a paradigm of racial progress. Years later when the scandal broke, the American public felt let down, somehow. Tiger Woods no longer commanded such admiration. Charlie Sheen had no such image to shatter, and in fact, he had the opposite reputation as a bad-boy with a record; so naturally, nobody was entranced with the scandal of his serious crime. They expected it.

The truth about Woods is obvious in hindsight. He plays golf constantly, and when he does not, companies use him incessantly to sell cars, golf balls, and clothing lines. All real evidence would suggest that he is too busy to devote adequate time to his family. Still many were deceived, because advertising has stamped this mentor image—and by extension, the image of a good father and husband—so indelibly into their minds. This deception not only illustrates the power of advertising to make one needy, but also its power to shape a person’s image. When that image shatters, however, we should not be so surprised.

Now, sugar has a good image—or at least not as bad. Even though the scientists at the American Dietetic and the American Medical Associations agree that cane sugar and corn sweetener are essentially the same, advertising still maintains a myth through the connotations of language. For a little while, the American public may believe corn sugar will help them with their obesity. However, whether a name seems natural or unnatural rarely denotes whether a product is processed or safe. Milk is regarded as natural, except for pasteurizing and homogenizing. Moreover, if you have smelled that sickly-sweet scent drifting from the Bay City sugar refinery, you might have guessed sugar cubes don’t grow in grandma’s garden.

Kovy, I know you’re busy trying to score the longest and most lucrative NHL contract in history. $102 million over the next 17 years sounds like a nice paycheck. But sit down and let me relate to you an analogy. If you’re having trouble understanding it, have your agent step in to help.

Once upon a time, I owned just one cigarette lighter and I’d often lose it. In an attempt to stop this never ending search through my pockets and the nooks and crannies of my car, I decided to buy eight lighters. The logic, at the time, seemed water-tight, infallible. After all, if I lost one, I’d have seven others to fall back on, and I’d have time to find the one I lost eventually.

What I didn’t realize is just how fucking wrong I was. I soon lost all eight of those lighters, and, within a comparable amount of time, I was in the same lighter-less position as before.

Now, what does all this have to do with you? Well. Your contract, sir. It is very large, but don’t be fooled. Your agent has a lot to do with that. His commission on your contract grows with that contract, so his advice will only always be to get as much as you can.

Let me submit to you the logic of the great American writer and thinker, Mr. Mark Twain, as told through the slave, Jim, in chapter 14 of Huckleberry Finn:

Blame de point! I reck’n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de real pint is down furder—it’s down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat’s got on’y one or two chillen; is dat man gwyne be wasteful o’ chillen? No, he ain’t; he can’t ‘ford it. He knows how to value ‘em. But you take a man dat’s got ’bout five million chillen runnin’ round de house, en it’s diffunt. He as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey’s plenty mo’. A chile er two, mo’ er less, warn’t no consekens to Sollermun, dad fetch him!”

Now Kovy, you tend to value more what you have little of, and less what you have a lot of. So do you think it matters much if you receive $80 million instead of $102? Either way, it’s a fortune compared to what your rural comrades make in your homeland. And either way, you can still lose it pretty quick. In fact, you’re more likely to lose a lot of it quick, because more or less, what’s a million here or a million there?

Just look at Theo Fleury, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov—nice company to be in, eh Kovy?—they all made millions, but also squandered millions. Why do you think Fedorov is suing people and trying to sell his mansions? Alcohol, drugs, gambling, women, and frauds—these can become costly in a hurry, so mind who you keep company with. Especially in New Jersey.

If you are going to spend that fortune frivolously, spend it on charities and such. That way if you fail to pay, they’re a lot less likely to come over to your house and break your legs.

I forgot to leave the recycling out last Friday. People around here often—and by people, I mean my neighbor and I—slip into a mental fog of it’s 6 am and I don’t want to drag my company of small plastic bins out to the road and set them up like Stonehenge around my trash can. Usually I’m to blame.  This time, however, in the words of Humphrey Bogart, “I was misinformed.”

The previous evening, I had wheeled my trash bin to the curb just as my neighbor was, and we had the same look on our face: “Is it tomorrow? Naw…. but is it?” We put these thoughts to words and decided it couldn’t possibly be tomorrow.

We’d been fooled before. We left our bins out on the wrong day, and it happened on the most blustery one in recent memory, so together we had to chase around empty milk jugs clear down the block. We could have avoided this with the Internet, but there was some satisfaction in talking to my neighbor instead of Googling it. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?—neighborly mimesis. Just as when one person claps in an audience and everybody starts doing it, one person has the sense to check the date and put theirs out for the rest of us. But I think everyone on our block was confused, because no one had theirs out yet. Such was our concern.

But we were wrong.

So today, I’ve got recyclables scattered pell-mell across my garage until I decide to make the trip there myself or (more likely) wait it out.

Within the next month, though, the City’s recyclers are going to drop off an apt-sized 96-gallon bin at the foot of my driveway. It is supposedly going to have wheels.

Now, it would have been a nice gesture if they had delivered these bins at the same time they dialed back their pickup-frequency to just once a month. Even when I don’t forget, I’m still trying to find novel ways to store my recyclables.

My old 14-gallon bin, way back when they came once a week, used to be sufficient. I still had to crunch things to make room, but it seemed less of a chore. There was also a lot less stuff they would take and each container had to be stripped before they would accept it.

It has been a bit of a travesty that our recycling bins are seven times smaller than our trash bins. With all the alt-energy investment here, this upgrade is not only the right thing to do, it’s the shrewd thing to do. It may be a long-due and obvious idea, but still a good one. Not that I feel entitled. I could make the effort to drive it across town and drop it off, myself. Still, it’s nice when recycling gets easier, for who wants to feel guilty because they don’t zip the paper off aluminum cans?

Anyway, this Memorial Day, for a change of pace, take some time to remember those who are paid to keep Creation, instead of those who were (and are) paid to trample it.

As I was redacting and compiling my Hundred Handers playlist, I rediscovered Joy Electric. I don’t know what exactly I thought of this band at first. Something like Boy George on helium singing over a Nintendo. It was weird. But I was twelve, so my shock-threshold ran kind of low. I found the album at a—wait for it—Christian Bookstore (in the alternative CCM section, of course).

So hey you younguns in nuthuggers, leaking autotuned disco from your headphones—spit out your pacifiers and get a load of Ronnie Martin’s Joy Electric. And get ready to get tweaked.

Birds Will Sing Forever

Back in the mid-nineties, nobody I knew knew what the fuck Joy Electric was or why they were so unabashedly Christian and, simultaneously, sort of gay (in both connotations of the word—but not the “stupid” sense). I don’t really think Martin is gay, but anyway, I don’t think they’ve ever sold a lot. Back then, to the CCM market, they were just a little too, you know, out there….

Today, Joy Electric fits right in there with the loosely defined genre, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music—yes, you’re a moron if you like anything else), along with a host of electro-disco jockeys and glitch-geeks with carpal tunnel from something other than (or in addition to) porn. Only, Joy Electric use Moog synthesizers instead of computers—a badge that is unassailably badass to most audiophiles.

Oh yeah. Joy Electric don’t like it when reviewers insinuate or say outright that they use computers. Not long ago, that was a problem for artists like Joy Electric, because somehow, if you used a computer instead of an instrument, reviewers thought you were faking it. Funny how things have changed. You hear Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, Kanye West, and you realize that computers are just so banal, so not a problem. Those artists would have faced the same struggle Joy Electric faced if they dropped on the scene fifteen years ago. And for that, they should check out Ronnie Martin’s Joy Electric; for it is foundational to IDM in much the same way Raymond Scott is to Joy Electric. And I think it’s a reasonable bet that if you thumbed through Dan Snaith’s or Richard D. James’ Ipod, you’d find an LP or two by Joy Electric.

Side note: Though I’m not a fan of the A & R ilk, props to Brandon Ebel of the Tooth and Nail records for signing Joy Electric. When everyone was gobbling up pop punk and rap rock during their post-grunge hangovers, he had the stones to go with these guys. Why? Because they really are great. Better than Xanax.

Viva la Vida (yes, a Coldplay cover)

Big and bold, Joy Electric, you deserve your moment in the sun.

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