SHERMAN | Animals as Metaphors and a ‘Cruelty-Free’ Guggenheim

If, for the past couple of weeks, you’ve been following either the art world’s murmurings or the Most Popular Petition category on change.org, you would be well aware of the Guggenheim’s recent Animal Rights-related quagmire, a tiff with PETA advocates which resulted, on Sept. 25, in the removal of three pieces from its fall blockbuster exhibition. Whether or not you’ve been keeping close tabs on both, you likely missed the fact that the show in question, Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World, opened to the public this past Friday, Oct. 6. What reviews it has received have been, for the most part, somewhere between tepid and enthusiastically restrained (or else just petty), colored by and large by the Guggenheim’s milquetoast reaction and concession to those accusing it of complicity in animal rights violations. The 70 artist, 140 work-strong exhibition, which was supposed to be a milestone for U.S. reception and awareness of contemporary art from Chinese artists (Holland Cotter, in his review for the New York Times, calls it a show capable of reminding us that the country of 1.4 billion has given the world more than Ai Weiwei), has, it seems, been too profoundly marred by the museum’s willingness to nix some art at a cry of “Wolf!” This cry began in the form of a change.org petition — written by Stephanie Lewis, directed at the Guggenheim’s curators, administrators and corporate sponsors and subsequently backed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — which garnered nearly 800,000 signatures.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

What’s Wrong with the Theory of (D+)Evolution: Esperanza Spalding at the State Theatre

Esperanza Spalding sees something different in her music than I do. Out of Emily’s D+Evolution — her most recent album whose namesake tour brought her to the State Theatre this past Sunday — I personally got not only the best album I’ve heard this year, but one of the most halting pop-jazz records I’ve ever heard, period: that rare/vital kind of stuff that manages to wrap music at its most complex and daunting in a package that’s not just digestible, but alluring and outright dazzling, too. If we can take her Sunday performance as any indication, though, Spalding’s own take on the sounds she makes must be pretty far removed from mine. After (or maybe because of) releasing a hifalutin album like Emily’s that’s been getting laurels heaped on it like wood on a fire, it’s little wonder that Spalding seems to be suffering from that age old plight of the popular musician: taking herself way too fucking seriously. Under the guise of a prophet or a sage or a savior or something else like that, Spalding turned what could’ve been a showcase of her downright excellent music into an overwrought mish-mosh of histrionics, bad ideas, philosophizing and pretension.

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Fumbling With History: American Spoila

American Spolia gashes itself out into space like an inverse wound. It spans an unbent and unwavering 140 feet across Libe Slope’s midsection, resting, at its highest, westernmost point, several feet above my head. At each end it terminates bluntly and abruptly. Its thin metal beams are sparse and rudimentary, almost purely utilitarian. Numbering about a dozen, they support, as if extollingly, an imbricated miscellany of wooden panels, each one of its own faded hue.

COURTESY OF JOY VOID

TEST SPIN: Katie Dey — Flood Network

Who the fuck is Katie Dey stealing from? I’m scratching my head and listening to Flood Network over and over and over again, but I just can’t figure it out. At first glance it seems like there’s no way an album so steeped in internet culture, electronic beats and that post-ironic brand of savvy melancholia which has come to define bedroom maestros the world over could possibly have sprung into itself sounding so brashly little like anything else in the world. But — excepting Dey’s first EP, asdfasdf — it does. It’s an album to itself, and a remarkable, confusing, comforting, vulnerable, terrifying, difficult one at that.

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Spinning Singles: PWR BTTM, NAO

“New Hampshire” — PWR BTTM 

PWR BTTM is a pretty unilateral band. A great and unashamedly unilateral band, but one-sided all the same. Frankly, there are only so many types of sounds a guitar-drum rock duo can concoct, and it’s not like PWR BTTM, even at their best, have been bounding through any boundaries, sonically. Ugly Cherries was remarkable more for what it was (a thrashing, vulnerable paean to queerness and what it can mean in all its iterations) than for how it sounded (pwr chords and pwr vocals that both, in turn, skidded from blared to whimpered with the click of a distortion pedal). As I heard it, their last album’s noises were auxiliary, secondary to and supporting the inescapable choruses, bleeding confessionals and brash, almost gaudy humor that stood at the top of the soundpile.

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Spinning Singles: Mitski, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alicia Keys, Steve Gunn

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“Happy” — Mitski

“Happy came to visit me, he brought cookies on the way.” Mitski softly spills out the words in a ghostly, vibrating mumble, over a quick, blasting automatic weapon-esque drum machine pulse on her single “Happy” — the second pre-released track from her forthcoming, sophomore sum, Puberty 2. The track is a beautiful mystery: a queer, sad, riddle of a song. The track recounts the memory of a visit from Happiness (who goes by male pronouns) who laid her down, told her it would all be okay, then vanishes while she’s in the bathroom, leaving a mess and reminders of the visit in his wake for the singer to clean up. In the song’s three brief verses, Mitski crystallizes the intoxication of happiness — the everythingness of small moments, the sun-filled room, cookies and tea with a lover — and the violent hangover of the come-down, the desperation to get it back. However, the most haunting emotion on the track, is Mitski’s apathy about the whole affair: that she is not heartbroken, screaming or crying: just a little bit sad, as she quietly cleans up the debris: “And I turned around to see/All the cookie wrappers/And the empty cups of tea/Well I signed and mumbled to myself/Again I have to clean.”

As it turns out, ambivalence about heartbreak is much sadder than heartbreak by itself.

COURTESY OF JOYFUL NOISE

Spinning Singles: Beyoncé, Yoni & Geti, Brian Eno

Yoni & Geti — “Wassup (Uh Huh)”
Every indie geek whose taste has ever skewed eclectic and depressive should consider it a true-blue blessing that Yoni Wolf (WHY?, Clouddead) and David Cohn aka Serengeti transformed their friendship into musical collaboration. True, Serengeti’s 2011 Family & Friends saw Wolf take the production reigns, and his influence could be heard on Serengeti tracks like “Goddamnit” that channel his kitsch-as-loneliness approach. A nagging feeling, however, remained that Serengeti and Wolf still hadn’t truly pushed their collaboration into exciting territory that maximized each wordsmith’s staggering potential. The time has come. The duo has a match-matchy name (Yoni & Geti), an album title (Testarossa) and a release date (May 6).

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Talking with Electronic Musician Beau Mahadev ’18

On the surface, it might appear that Beau Mahadev ’18 spends their time wearing two pretty different hats: that of an engineering student on the one hand, and that of an active member of Ithaca’s sprawling DIY scene on the other. On the former front, Beau studies computer science here at Cornell; on the latter, they’ve immersed themself in the music of Ithaca on multiple levels. As an active volunteer for Ithaca Underground, as the Vice President of Fanclub Collective and as a burgeoning local musician and performer in their own right, Beau has carved out what might seem like a respectable side project apart from their engineering studies. But Beau doesn’t use guitars, drums, keyboards or anything else most people would associate with traditional instrumentation; Beau uses the tools of their trade. Crafting experimental noise music with synths, circuits and gadgets galore, Beau is part of a larger Ithaca community — itself a subset of an international experimental movement stretching back to at least Varese’s work of the 1920s — of noise-makers and barrier-breakers.

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TEST SPIN: Sonny Smith — Sees All Knows All

Everybody’s a loner bum. All of our ten dollar jackets have bead-black cigarette burns on the sleeves, and we all know how to strum a chord or two on somebody else’s pawn shop guitar. Our hair scraggles in matted insect homes down past our shoulders, and our crumbled asphalt stubble trickles day by sunscorched day into flowing deluges of little follicular lives emanating from dirtstained smiling faces. We’ve all got a thin, spine-worn volume of Bukowski’s poetry shoved haphazard into the ripping back pocket of our wrong-sized jeans. We all know how to write, and we like doing it, too.

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Speak For Themselves: An Interview with _____

Five underscores and no letters seems like a questionable name for a band; everything has to be called something, right? Not according to Brad Nathanson ’17 and Carsten Thue-Bludworth ’17, the two members of _____. Their band name doesn’t have any pronunciation; you’re not meant to say it. And while on the surface this might seem like a gimmick, they have the music to back it up. Their recorded output is limited so far to one promising EP, The Linden Sessions, which jolts and tumbles with a compositional vivacity and surety of form indicative of a band much deeper into its career than _____.