Years ago, the Radiohead train pulled into my station and I didn’t get on. I scoffed as the train went by. The truth is that Radiohead has never done much for me, and the wild praise they reap has done them no favors with this listener. When critics push “OK Computer” (1997) on me, I push back.
That being said, I know there’s some genius in Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s beguiling frontman. After all, he wrote “Fake Plastic Trees,” one of alternative nation’s finest anthems. His solo debut, “The Eraser,” (2006) found him exploring glitchy, homespun beats and socially conscious lyrics. “Atoms For Peace” is the sixth song on that album, and also the name of Yorke’s new supergroup starring, among others, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s superstar producer and “sixth member.”
Having a full band works in Yorke’s favor. In almost every way, “AMOK” is superior to “The Eraser.” The songs are looser, more organic and less indebted to Yorke’s laptop. It makes sense that “AMOK” was born from jam sessions with Atoms for Peace’s members contributing to the songs in their own styles. Surprisingly, remarkably, “AMOK”’s MVP is Flea. I thought he couldn’t redeem himself after “Hey Oh, Listen What I Say Oh.” Shows what I know. He abandons his usual slap bass technique in favor of clear, driving bass lines. On “AMOK” single and highlight, “Judge Jury and Executioner,” it’s his repeating lick that keeps the song moving forward, building toward fury, tense as wire.
For years, Yorke’s worn his love for electronic music on his sleeve. In 2011 he cut his teeth as a DJ, dropping Aphex Twin, Zomby and Flying Lotus into his buzzed-about sets. He’s clearly influenced by dance music’s repetition, and on “AMOK”’s best song, the opener “Before Your Very Eyes…,” he channels “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,”(1981) the landmark collaboration album between David Byrne and Brian Eno. The ominous mood of “AMOK” isn’t much different from that of dubstep’s greatest document, Burial’s “Untrue” (2007).
What’s missing from “AMOK” is diversity and melody. Atoms for Peace have built an album out of variations on one theme. It seems that Yorke doesn’t want to be melodic. He uses his trademark falsetto as an instrument for texture. He drifts in and out and on top of the music, offering little in the way of tunefulness. Atoms for Peace can be catchy, but as a vocalist, Yorke rarely is. “Dropped” is proof of that.
Yorke’s a talented lyricist — or so say his hordes of fans — but since I can’t latch onto his melodies, I don’t care about what he has to say. The album’s nadir is its closer and title track, the monotonous “Amok.” The whole band seems lost, and Yorke couches his obtuse lyrics in an aimless vocal performance. He’d be well-served in revisiting “Fake Plastic Trees.”
Still, there’s enough here for me to keep coming back. “Ingenue” is a solid track rendered even solider by its music video. The chorus on “Default” reminds me of, of all things, Wendy Carlos’ “A Clockwork Orange” soundtrack. “Reverse Running” is pure fun. Time will tell whether Atoms for Peace become a headline or footnote in Thom Yorke’s storied career. For decades, Radiohead’s loomed over his every move. I wonder if he sometimes wishes it weren’t so. And I wonder how often listeners finish “AMOK” and immediately reach for “Kid A” (2000), because that’s what I’m about to do. The Radiohead train’s pulling into my station. Here I go, wish me luck!
Over 200 people took to the streets on Saturday, February 16 in Chicago to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline extension. The rally was arranged by the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition in solidarity with their fellow environmental activists in Washington D.C. who were protesting on the National Mall that same day. Environmentalists want President Obama to reject the extension of the multi-billion dollar project that would transport petroleum from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas, significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and gravely affecting the Ogallala Aquifer in its path in Nebraska.
Students, environmentalists, educators, community organizers, and urban agriculturalists all gathered at Grant Park and marched their way to the Federal Plaza calling on Obama to reject the pipeline. According to a recent study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Canada’s oil sands emit about 5 percent to 15 percent more carbon dioxide than average crude oil.
Students from the Environmental Action group and the Humanitarian Club at SAIC attended this rally in addition to other students from schools such as Columbia College, University of Chicago, and Loyola University.
Francesca Dana, a student at SAIC, and chair of the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), believes that the best way to stop climate change is through petitioning big decisions like the Keystone pipeline in addition to being more environmentally conscious in our daily lives by “gardening, recycling and being aware of our waste.”
Dana also talked about the current national divestment campaign calling for the administrations of different schools and large institutions to remove endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry “holding the belief that the fossil fuel industry is the primary cause of climate disaster” and that it is immoral to profit from climate disasters. “We will talk about this issue and bring it to the conversation [at SAIC], our cities and around the country, that this is the actual cause of the problem and that we can actually make a difference to stop it,” Dana added.
Jacob Goble, another student at SAIC and member of the CYCC voiced his concerns about the pipeline as someone who would be directly affected from it said. “I’m from southern Illinois which is very close to where one of the major refineries is, so it is real for me,” he said. Victoria Thurmond, also at SAIC and member of the CYCC and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization added that “this needs to stop now or else it will be ‘game over for the planet,’ as they say.”
Cassandra West an adjunct lecturer at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University attended the rally. She spoke to F Newsmagazine of the importance of finding new economic models for energy that will respect what the Earth offers us. The best way to stop climate change, West explained, is by putting pressure on our elected officials and to think of “the choices we make and how we spend our money on products that may use chemicals and fossil fuels.”
Chicago-based artist and SAIC alum (BFA 1971, MFA 1978) Diane Simpson is currently having her 19th solo show at Corbett vs. Dempsey. Inspired by clothing’s structural details, she has created sculptures that, like magic, evoke fashion, architecture, furniture, pottery and abstract painting simultaneously. Her drawings, also on view, reveal the secret of this magic: like an architect or a designer, she draws on graph paper, with precise indications of the angles and measurements, that she then uses as blueprints for sculptural constructions. They also give glimpses into how familiar mundane forms like a cuff, a vest, and a hanger are deconstructed on paper and then reconstructed into sculptures by Simpson’s own hands and visions.
Already since the 1970s she has been creating with such an artistry of her own that hovers between the worlds of two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. She is a serious craftswoman, a quality difficult to find in the current art world. After Minimalism and the rise of conceptualism in the 1960s, contemporary art does not seem to give much significance to handicraft, a method associated with tradition and domesticity. Simpson’s sculptures, so intimately crafted as they are, never stop appearing fresh, vital, modern and radical as they subtly move across (and so address) diverse aesthetics and visual art languages including fashion, architecture, figuration and abstraction.
January 12, 2013: Terry Adkins, dressed in a priestly, black, dashiki-like garment, accented with a pink tapestry stole and an ornamented silver chain around his neck presided over the opening of his show of selected works at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art. In this garb, Adkins gave off the air of an artist-priest, his manner calm and gracious. For Adkins, this is no costume. His sartorial presentation very much reflects the type of art he makes: art that strives to revive forgotten or under-represented aspects of cultural heroes’ lives — serious topics, approached with reverence. Focusing on figures such as blues icon Bessie Smith, rock-legend Jimi Hendrix, militant abolitionist John Brown, and sociologist / historian / philosopher W.E.B. Dubois, these cultural icons / warriors have significance to him personally, to African-American culture and American culture as a whole. Adkins aims for truth through the vocabularies of the assemblage and multimedia presentation. His work excels in the sculptural form where he transforms already beautiful industrial objects into sculptures imbued with his messages of historical recovery and what he would argue is the anagogic.
The panel discussion, held in conjunction with the opening of “Recital” is where Adkins presented the word anagogic to describe an aspect of his work, for which he always aims. As an important digression, the panel itself was remarkable owing to the impressive assembly of curators and artists on hand to celebrate and critique Adkins’s work: Naomi Beckwith of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Hamza Walker of the Renaissance Society, artists Dawoud Bey and Theaster Gates, Tang Museum director Ian Berry, and Northwestern art history professor Huey Copeland. The anagogic refers to a way of reading the spiritual or mystical in a work and requires one to look beyond the surface and materiality of objects.
One key to understanding the idea of the anagogic in Adkins’s work is that he tries not to materialize ideas, but to immaterialize the objects in the ideas. As an example, Adkins spoke about his musical practice. When playing, he said that his aim is to make the music real, to create a material presence with the sound. His performances can be ritual–like and the idea of conjuring presence through sound, if not explicit, can certainly be inferred in the performance context. And conversely, in his sculptural work he attempts to make the individual objects in his assemblages disappear and work together to form a new, powerful sign with anagogic potential addressing the subjects’ narratives on which he is focusing. A lofty aim to be sure, and many times Adkins hits his mark.
Sometimes, though, Adkins does not quite reach the anagogic as in one work from the “Black Beethoven” series. Skillfully executed, “Synapse” is a video work in which Adkins slowly transforms a portrait of Beethoven between a familiar, brooding, Euro-white representation to an Afro-black appearance of the same demeanor. Here, he is playing on the little known likelihood of Beethoven’s Moorish ancestry. However this seems trivial in the face of the larger cultural legacy: the insidious nature of the distribution of hegemonic cultural information (western classical music) over mediated networks (like through the media and education) forming complex power dynamics between those who hold power and those who do not. It is Adkins’s fascination with these small bits of information that sometimes can have too much influence on the outcome of a work. This is where I think a bit of critical confrontation is warranted, when he reaches a pedagogical moment and lets the work rest there.
Though, even when I find an Akdins piece leaving me wanting more (which is rare), for someone else who is not as familiar with the specific histories of the subjects he chooses, Adkins work is revelatory. One of the most successful pieces in this exhibit, “Darkwater Record,” consists of a stack of five vintage tape decks with a bust of Mao perched atop. The tape machines are all simultaneously playing excerpts of a W.E.B. Dubois speech titled, “Socialism and the American Negro.” There are no speakers attached — an interesting conceptual turn suggesting the silencing of this part of Dubois’s legacy. Also effective is the choice of tape machines with all-analog meters. Needles bouncing, the work reaches for the anagogic via the unheard traces of the voice on the tape.
Another piece I feel reaches the level of the anagogic is “Divine Mute.” The title seems to play with the trope of the seer who is blind, one who has vision, and in this case, perhaps one who hears divine commands but cannot speak. The work is a very large metal disk that protrudes out from the wall and is shaped somewhat like a mute for a brass instrument. Does this mute serve to silence the histories of the righteous? And who is the God who uses the mute or is being silenced? Adkins’s work is most successful when this kind of mystery is present.
Now thru 3/24/13
Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art
@ Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Performance at Block with Lone Wolf Recital Corps on March 1: