When the Heart Knows that It’s Home: The Joy Formidable and “Y Garreg Ateb”

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Formed in North Wales, based in London, The Joy Formidable have been making music since the release of their first single, “Austere,” in 2008.  Since then, three albums, three EPs, and an assortment of singles and remixes have been produced.  In one respect, The Joy Formidable evoke a mythic landscape of medieval Arthurian romance, but without the vanity of the hero’s journey.  Unlike the Elizabethan minstrel folk rock of Jethro Tull, The Joy Formidable forge the sonic scope of Rush with the lyrical grandeur of King Crimson into a rare element that could only flourish on Welsh soil.  More to the point, the songs that Rhydian Davies (bass and keyboards) and Ritzy Bryan (guitar and lead vocals) write—accompanied by Matthew Thomas (drums and percussions)—belie a more ordinary but no less evocative world of human relationships.  In the latter respect, The Joy Formidable are very much a rock n roll band, singing about the affairs of the heart, complete with epic riffs that make your spirit feel like a hitherto unknown place—a valley, a glade, a lake, a meadow—has been revealed through the chords that Bryan is playing.

When I saw The Joy Formidable perform for the first time, it was on Saturday, October 29, 2016 at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.  They were opening for another band, which was inconsequential to me.  I had been waiting years to see this trio perform live, so I was there for only one thing.  I was not disappointed.  The set opened with “The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade,” from their first album The Big Roar (2011), which was also the source of the show’s finale, “Whirring.”  In-between was a selection from their second album Wolf’s Law (2013) and their recent release Hitch (2016).  However, at about the midway point, the band played “Y Garreg Ateb,” which was part of a monthly singles series that The Joy Formidable released during 2014, featuring songs sung in the Welsh language.  When Bryan introduced the song, she said it was about a place one goes to, a sacred space, in order to contemplate.

While it is tempting to characterize the Welsh songs as examples of musical nationalism or musical sovereignty—it’s easy to forget, particularly when one lives in America, that Wales is a colonized nation—the touching quality of the song feels more like an ode to the land as a source of dreams and solace than a rebellion against the English.  I say “feels” for the simple reason that, not being a Welsh speaker, I have no idea what the lyrics say.  Yet, as someone who comes from an Indigenous culture, the song brings to mind the harmony that one can only experience when they are reconnecting, through song, with a place, a land, where one truly belongs.  With this in mind, if “Y Garreg Ateb” is an example of anything, it is of how singing in a different language—Welsh, instead of English—completely alters one’s sense of being.  While the song is still recognizably The Joy Formidable, at the same time it conjures an utterly different side to the band.  It is the difference between going out into the world, where strangers and the unknown reside, and returning home, where family and friends live, the ones who know your true face.  Below is a video I recorded at the show.  Please enjoy:

Video and photo credit: David Martínez

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Indigenous Peoples Day 2016

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While holidays may seem trite and ineffective at promoting the values they represent—Does Christmas generate Christian values?—they nonetheless retain the capacity of drawing peoples’ attention away from the status quo of everyday life.  In fact, in the case of efforts at establishing new holidays, the public struggle for recognition may create a maelstrom of controversy and debate.  One need only think back to when Martin Luther King Jr Day was considered a subversive, un-American idea.

While Indigenous Peoples Day may not be instigating the kind of passionate reactions that MLK Day once inspired, its message is no less profound—the abolishment of Columbus Day and the heinous crime of colonization that it symbolizes.  In its place is a recognition that America is Indian Land and that America’s First Peoples are still here, complete with a celebration of our survival, our communities, and cultures.

Although it will take an Act of Congress to make Indigenous Peoples Day a federal holiday, like MLK Day or Thanksgiving, the idea behind this Day is an idea whose time has come.  As of October 10, 2016, the following cities have adopted IPD in place of Columbus Day: Berkeley (CA), Denver (CO), Minneapolis (MN), Seattle (WA), Red Wing (MN), Grand Rapids (MN), Traverse (MI), Newstead (NY), Akron (NY), St Paul (MN), Olympia (WA), Lewiston (NY), Anadarko (OK), Anchorage (AK), Portland (OR), Carborro (NC), Albuquerque (NM), San Francisco (CA), Belfast (ME), Durango (CO), Asheville (NC), Eugene (OR), Cambridge (MA), Bainbridge Island (WA), Santa Fe (NM), Yakima (WA), and Phoenix (AZ).

Below are two short videos that I recorded this past Friday, October 7 at Arizona State University, Tempe Campus, which was celebrating its inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day:

The Girl On the Fourth Floor: Hideo Nakata’s ‘Dark Water’

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Appearing four years after his 1998 J-Horror masterpiece Ringu, Hideo Nakata returned in 2002 with Dark Water, another story about a forlorn girl who refuses to be forgotten. More specifically, Dark Water is about “Yoshimi Matsubara” (Hitomi Kuroki) and her six-year-old daughter “Ikuko Matsubara” (Rio Kanno) who have moved into an unnamed desolate apartment building, which is spacious but poorly managed. Yoshimi and Ikuko have wound up here as a consequence of Yoshimi’s divorce from “Kunio Hamada” (Fumio Kohinata). Because Yoshimi is struggling to make ends meet and provide for her daughter to the satisfaction of the legal system settling her case, the now single mother is constantly in fear of losing her only child.

What Yoshimi realizes only slowly and much to her horror is that it is not only her ex-husband who wants to take Ikuko from her. Seemingly friendless and alone, except for an auntie, “Kayo” (Chisako Hara), who is willingly to babysit her grand-niece, Yoshimi is forced to deal with the horror that dwells in the apartment above on her own. As it turns out, both Yoshimi and another young girl, “Mitsuko Kawai” (Mirei Oguchi), were both abandoned as children, whose paths now seem to be crossing, as evident by a wilted flyer near Ikuko’s kindergarten, which pleads for help at finding Mitsuko, who was last seen on July, 19, 1999. More ominously, a leak has sprung on the apartment’s ceiling, turning from a stain to a steady drip, which remains in disrepair until the room is drenched.

As the problem with the leaky ceiling begins to grow, so too does the lives of Yoshimi, Ikuko, and Mitsuko begin to collide more intensely. Eventually, Yoshimi realizes what she has to do to protect Ikuko from harm, which entails finding a way of purging the memories of her own abandonment and Mitsuko’s. Similar to “Sadako” in Ringu, Mitsuko is a tormented ghost, wandering the places where she once lived, looking for retribution for what was done to her. As such, the source of Dark Water’s sense of horror is the primal fear of desertion that inhabits every human psyche. However, whereas for most people such fear may only manifest itself as a nightmare, in the case of Yoshimi her nightmare is becoming reality.

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“Gleaming and Empty”: The Refulgent Darkness of Deafheaven

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Imagine heaven. Now, imagine heaven bereft of God and His Angels. Now, imagine a heaven that cannot hear your prayers. Imagine Deafheaven. There’s something ineffably serene about the pure nothingness of a heaven uncreated and infinitely emptied of deities, dogma, and the suffocating clichés of biblical tradition. Such is the universe evoked in the music of Deafheaven, a San Francisco-based black metal band that recently released New Bermuda (2015), a much-anticipated follow-up to their seminal 2013 debut Sunbather. I caught them live for the first time at the Crescent Ballroom, which is located in downtown Phoenix, AZ, on Wednesday, November 18. While I enjoyed the entire set, I was especially anxious to see them perform their 2014 single “From the Kettle Onto the Coil.” This, more than any of their other compositions, symbolizes the sublime vistas of energy, light, and sound, which are bound together by the blackness—and emptiness—of space.

 As I tiptoed off the plane of existence,

And drifted listlessly through the velvet blackness of oblivion,

I am what I always was,

Gleaming and empty.

Seeing Deafheaven live was truly a transforming experience. Whereas for many metal bands, their references to the darkness are often comic—rendering “Satan” or “the Devil” like a mischievous child—in the case of Deafheaven, I really felt that they believed in the world that they so effectively sing about, which is even more evident in their live performance. I hope you enjoy watching this video as much as I did making it.

 

 

She Fought the Law!: Youthful Lessons Straight from the Street

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Image Source: Cops, Fox Network

The very first time that I saw anyone get in trouble with the police, I was about ten years old. My dad and I were standing on our driveway, shooting the breeze, when we suddenly heard tires screech, followed by a loud crash. “What the hell?” my dad said, straining to see through the bushes blocking his view. At first, we had no idea what happened, until from out of nowhere we saw our neighbor Denise running toward us.

“Hey, Denise!” my dad called out. “Are you alright?” Denise ignored my dad’s question, neither looking at him nor slowing down to talk.  Instead, she headed straight to the house next door to ours, where she disappeared, slamming the front door behind her.

“I wonder what’s with her?” my dad wondered aloud.

“Beats me,” I said. “Let’s see if we can see what happened.”

We walked to the corner of our street, where we could see a half-block away a large station wagon that had slammed into a telephone pole.

“That’s Julie’s car,” my dad said without a shred of doubt.

“Oh, yeah,” I responded, as I slowly recognized the now mangled Country Squire. Julie was Denise’s housemate. They were both students at the local university and were sharing rent on a tiny two-bedroom house.

“Man, that car is wrecked!” my dad said with that been-there-done-that air of authority he had when talking about hard-luck things like this. Out of the twilight we heard a siren peeling down the road. Moments later a patrol car arrived, stopping behind the abandoned station wagon. At which point, neighbors started gathering to gawk at the commotion. My dad and I stayed at the corner. I wanted to take a closer look, but my dad said “no.” “Aw, man!”

As we watched the policeman examine the damage, my dad decided he’d better go next door to talk with Denise. He knocked on the door several times before Denise finally appeared with her German shepherd. Lily recognized my dad and started hopping up and down, sniffing at him. But Denise held her tightly by the collar. I watched them talk for a couple of minutes before my dad joined me again.

“She’s been drinking,” my dad told me. “That’s why she ran. I told her she should go over there, otherwise the cops are gonna go after Julie, but she’s too scared.”

Just then a car drove up. It was Julie. As she got out of her friend’s Ford Mustang she had a perplexed look on her face. She’d arrived from the opposite end of our street, so she was unaware that her station wagon was sitting smashed up against a telephone pole a mere fifty yards away.

“Hey, Julie!” my dad called as he went over to tell her what was going on. It had grown considerably darker by now, yet I could tell from Julie’s body language that she was alarmed and anxious. When my dad finished his account of what happened to Denise, Julie began walking briskly to her car, where it was surrounded by neighbors and now two police cars.

I think Denise must have been peeking through the curtains because, not long after Julie walked away to see her vehicle, she went hurrying to catch up with her friend.

My dad and I continued to stay clear as both Julie and Denise spoke with the police. Eventually, I saw one of the policemen put cuffs on Denise and place her in the back of his patrol car. Meanwhile, Julie kept talking with the other policeman. The more she talked the more animated she became. I could see the policeman gesturing at her like he was being stern about something. Julie, even from a distance, was clearly agitated.

“Don’t argue with the cop, Julie! Don’t argue with the cop!” my dad said, obviously knowing what was about to happen. The cop then grabbed Julie by the arms, swung her around and slammed her on top of the hood of his car, cuffing her. The neighbors milling about at the scene simply stood and stared as Julie was arrested and placed in the other patrol car.

“I knew that was going to happen,” my dad said matter-of-factly.

I don’t think I really understood what was going on. Since we watched from afar, Julie and Denise’s arrest seemed unreal as it transpired under the brightness of the streetlamp. I watched intently but silently as the two patrol cars drove away, leaving the crowd behind to disperse as the excitement quickly dissipated. My dad and I were back inside our house when a tow truck noisily impounded Julie’s forlorn and demolished station wagon.

Although I don’t recall what became of Julie and Denise, other than the fact that they were at some point replaced by another pair of college students in the house next door, I do remember their arrest vividly. It stands out, not only because it was the first time I’d seen such a thing with my own eyes, but also because they were both college students, not to mention middle class and white. However, it wasn’t their whiteness that made their arrest remarkable to me, it was their status as college students. In fact, I remember thinking, “How can you go to college and wind up in jail like that?” Obviously, I had a lot to learn.

Cruising to Salvation: Lowrider Art in the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

[photo credit: David Martínez]

Luis Tapia’s Altar (1992) epitomizes the Chicano/mestizo/Hispanic experience in the so-called New World, as seen from the vantage point of New Mexican lowrider culture. Created during the quincentennial celebration of Columbus’s ill-fated “discovery” of America, which was replete with the genocidal conquest of Indigenous homelands and the intermarriage of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Tapia’s altar pays homage to cruising, desert landscapes, and the protection of the saints. Ultimately, it evokes a festive yet dolorous world, in which the settling of the western [sic?] hemisphere has given way to an eternal drive down a desolate highway, on the wrong side of the road, still miles away from the nearest town.

The Daimonion Whose Name Is ‘Technology’

I had never been in a plane before and I will probably never go up again. I felt foolish sitting in the sky with hands folded; the man beside me was reading a newspaper, apparently oblivious of the clouds that brushed the window-panes. We were probably making a hundred miles an hour, but since we passed nothing but clouds I had the impression of not moving. In short, it was unrelievedly dull and pointless. I was sorry that I had not booked passage on the good ship Acropolis which was to touch at Crete shortly. Man is made to walk the earth and sail the seas; the conquest of the air is reserved for a later stage of his evolution, when he will have sprouted real wings and assumed the form of the angel which he is in essence. Mechanical devices have nothing to do with man’s real nature–they are merely traps which Death has baited for him.

Once upon a time humans knew the names of the powerful spirits that inhabited the natural world around them, and treated them with great circumspection through prayer and ceremony. Modern humans have largely either forgotten these names or relegated them to the pages of folklore and fantasy. They, or rather I should say we, have replaced prayer with theory, and ceremony with consumption. Consequently, the powers that have dwelled deep in the earth since the beginning of time have become mere playthings for people who care more about money and status than with peace and stability. How many wars must we fight, civilizations leveled, or lands poisoned before we are finally satisfied that we have enough wealth and security?Image