Brain Massage: The Radio Dept. and Fan Videos

The Radio Dept. are Swedish band who make perfect soundtracks for riding trains into stations at dusk, wandering around a beautiful city far from home, or just flipping through old photo albums and wondering where the years have gone.

When I come around to my unit on Sweden and the pop music industry in GEOG 371: Exploring Europe, narrowing down the bands I want to sample in my lectures is nearly impossible. Choosing one artist to represent a country,  language, or nation is always daunting, but for Sweden, I need to content with a nearly overwhelming volume. Stockholm and her smaller urban counterparts have been consistently grinding out both chart-topping hits and beloved indie pop gems for as long as I can remember. I remember seeing Refused destroy their instruments in the octagon back in 1998, which blew my teenage mind. In college, I sold some friends on Randy by simply naming off their song titles. Although I was reading Rolling Stone and devouring MTV news documentaries as often as they would air them at the time, I somehow missed that Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and many others owed their platinum success to Max Martin and the late Denniz Pop. Over the years, I would fill in these gaps in my knowledge while keeping tabs on the hottest Swedish artists diligently packaged and sold by indie labels. From what I remember of late 2006, it was impossible to go out anywhere in the DC area without hearing Peter, Bjorn, and John at some point.

In late 2010, I discovered Lund’s The Radio Dept. and wondered why it had taken me so long. Songs like “The Worst Taste in Music” and “Pulling our Weight” were exactly what my brain-soul Venn diagram needed at that time in my life. I included their music on my podcast (I believe they concluded an episode where I interviewed Harry Shearer, making for an odd but good juxtaposition), and sent their songs to anyone who would listen. I got one chance to see them at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel in Northeast DC on February 1, 2011. I was just out of touch enough with indie music trends to sleep on getting tickets; the show sold out fast. Fortunately, I found a face-value ticket on Craig’s List. The show was pretty good. No fireworks, no “duuuuuuuuuude you have to see this band before you die” sentiments, but pretty good. They took longer to come back for an encore (a ten minute wait for the demure and sweet “1995“) than any band I’d ever seen. I suspected that their blogger-bred reputation of being somewhat elusive and cranky was well-earned.

Recently, my friend in Long Beach sent me photos of The Radio Dept. playing a gig in Los Angeles, and I then spent the better part of the week catching up on the group. I was sizing up their music videos on YouTube for possible use introducing my Sweden lecture in a few weeks, and I discovered (or was at least reminded that) they have relatively few for a band of their renown. Again, this may have to do with their introverted, pointedly non-corporate approach to making and releasing music (see: their long gaps between albums).

In the course of this search, I found a handful of fan videos set to Radio Dept. songs. Fan videos, in a similar vein to fanzines, are publications created outside the artist’s purview. They use a particular song as a soundtrack to accompany film footage, and the Radio Dept. make exquisite music for this. Their dream-pop aesthetic, especially their more instrumental songs, creates a beautiful bed for equally dreamy footage.

There isn’t a heavy academic underpinning to this entry; I just wanted to revive my habit of spreading The Radio Dept’s musical love. I can see myself making something this an assignment in a future class, incorporating production, music, and geography. If I had a computer that could better handle video editing, I would start making these all the time, to procrastinate, inevitably.

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New Book Review Published in OHR

413hv1znvbl-_sx332_bo1204203200_I just received word that my review of Playing with Tigers: A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties, George Gmelch’s memoirs of his stint in pro baseball, is now published in the Oral History Review. My blurb will be available in the new I was fortunate to nab this book for review while at the Oral History Association meeting in Minneapolis. While not giving too much away (though my review alludes to plenty), the most fun I had while reading the book came from remembering so many assorted ballplayers’ names that hadn’t crossed my mind since I was a kid. I mention this in the review, but details had to be cut for time, space, and relevance.

Two of these were Gar Finnvold and Dana Kiecker, both of whom were pitchers in the Boston Red Sox organization in the early 1990s. One of my early baseball memories was watching Finnvold pitch a 7-0 complete game shutout for the AA New Britain Red Sox. Because of the internet, I can definitively say this was in 1992, and with a little more digging, I could probably find a date, too. Anyway, he finally got the big call-up in 1994, and never notched a Win despite losing four games before being injured in time for the Players’ Strike to end the season. He spent two more years with Pawtucket before either being released or calling it quits. Today, he sells real estate in Florida. As for Kiecker, I don’t have many specific in-game memories. I did, however, own his Fleer ’91 card and I always thought he had a funny, apt name for a pitcher. I vaguely remember watching a Red Sox game sometime in 1992 and hearing the announcers talking about how Kiecker was working some job for UPS that required him to wear a suit. I was confused because I was young and I didn’t know how the world (and pro baseball, as a strange microcosm thereof) worked. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find this retrospective piece the Boston Globe wrote about him in 2004. He’s doing fine.

Unlike many of the players mentioned in Playing with Tigers (including Gmelch himself), Finnvold and Kiecker had their respective moments in the sun. So many young men passed through the professional baseball underworld without making so much as a blip on the organization’s radar. In some cases that Gmelch had to work through in order to write this book, players don’t even have accessible extant records of their careers at all.

What I’m trying to say is: if you grew up watching baseball, then you will love this book. The academic and research-related reasons I enjoyed it are in my review, which you can access via the link here.

A Quick Thought on the Berlin Wall and the Distortion of Human Memory

This summer, I realized that I had spent more time living away from Washington, DC than I spent actually living there (6 years). It gave me a minor existential crisis. It was hardly the type of existential crisis that led me to lease an expensive car on credit or go on some barefoot walkabout in the Smokies, but some minute form of reckoning nonetheless.

This afternoon, I found out (thanks to my colleague Mimi, again) that the Berlin Wall has now officially been gone for as long as it stood (28 years). I’ve never even been to Berlin, and learning this fact nearly shut down my brain for a minute. I can only imagine that this should give the world an existential crisis. Can we, as Westerners, conceive of a planet without the footprint left by the iron curtain, and in microcosm, that wall?

I found it strange how quickly my span of formative years in DC came to mind when I discovered this milestone for Berlin that, unlike my personal coming-of-age, most people actually care about. But, the personal is political. Envisioning the type of person I would be had I not taken a chance to moved to Washington in 2005 is impossible, as is trying to imagine the current physical or mental state of Germany, Europe, and political geography in general if the DDR had pursued some alternate course of action in 1961. Both epiphanies are similarly remarkable, too, because of the tricks that our minds play on us – time is both an abstraction and a distortion. To me, the six years I spent in DC felt insurmountably longer than the six years I’ve spent between Long Beach and Knoxville. I have many theories as to why, some personal and others easy enough to ascertain for anyone who has taken Psychology 101.

To Berlin natives (many of whom have been depositing genuinely fascinating replies on this twitter thread), those 28 years must have felt like a solid eternity.  For a whole generation, life was always and would always be like this. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear an East German genuinely shocked at how relatively fast these past 28 years have passed. Either way, this makes me feel even worse for never having made it to Berlin, especially when I was a young professional in DC who occasionally had enough time and money scraped together in order to make that happen.

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Four preserved panels from the Berlin Wall set up for a public exhibition in North Jakarta. (via the Jakarta Post).

Paul Pomerantz in the Alps, Sometime in the Mid-1940s

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My grandfather, Paul Pomerantz, would have been 100 years old today. He passed away in early 2010, just shy of his 92nd birthday. My grandmother found this picture a few years ago. It stars him in his Army uniform and trench coat, some middle-aged Alpine man in what appears to be lederhosen, and the Alps rising in the background. I’m assuming this was sometime in 1943 or 1944, which would put Paul in his mid-twenties. To the best of my knowledge, he served at the rank of Lieutenant.

I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask him about this picture when he was still around. Does he remember the name of his friend in the lederhosen? Did he have a dog tethered to him, sitting outside the frame? Where exactly was this – Austria? Northern Italy? Southeastern France? Switzerland? At what point in the war was he even in the Alps? I don’t recall hearing a vignette like this mixed in with his war stories. I need to re-listen to what I did record a few years before he passed away. For now, though, take this as a tribute to a hell of a guy on the centennial of his birth.

On the outside chance that this post does somehow find the eyes of anyone who knows something that I don’t about that picture, please get in touch with me. Falls man kennen mehr Informationen über das Bild (besonders mit dem Mann, der steht Rechts im Bild, oder der Standort des Bildes), bitte rufen Sie mich an, oder schicken Sie ein Nachricht bei Email/Sozialen Medien. [Thanks to Mimi Thomas for the translation.]

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NEW ARTICLE OUT. ‘Tout Faux’: Parisian landscape and hardcore punk, 1983–87

20441983Happy 2018! I’m excited to announce I’ve just published a new article in the UK journal Punk and Post-Punk. Read the abstract, order it, or find citation info here. It overviews the geographic history of Paris hardcore, focusing on the three or four years of the mid-1980s when the underground style first attempted circulation in the Ile-de-France region. I based this off of a range of accounts I gathered during my fieldwork in France in 2015 and through follow-up correspondence since then.

As far as I know, this story has never been told formally before,  and I’m grateful for this opportunity to give progenitors like Heimat-Los and Kromozom 4 their rightful place in the greater global post-punk timeline. Hopefully somebody who was there at the time can take the baton and publish a more authoritative and comprehensive history of that era someday. In the meantime, there is plenty of great material archived and linked via Euthanasie Records.

Thank you to Russ Bestley and all of his colleagues at this fantastic journal. You can look into the index of Punk & Post-Punk back issues and learn how to submit on the Intellect Ltd. page here.

Exploring Europe: Fall 2017 Mixtape

1208426974_fNow that we’re finally wrapping that big fancy bow around the Fall 2017 semester and placing it under the tree, I’m glad to sit down and put this list together. I would like to do this for every semester I teach The Geography of Europe, Exploring Europe, or however my current department may name a course over-viewing European geography.

I could easily re-use many of these songs and videos to show off their respective countries and nations, but I’ll try to challenge myself and repeat as few of them as possible (Track 1 notwithstanding, for reasons you may understand).

  1. Der Tourist (feat. Friedrich Leichtenstein) – “Supergeil” VIDEO
    I already wrote extensively about this song’s viral, every-man-has-his-price adaptation for Edeka Supermarkets, but here is the original work. Since I don’t speak German or know much about Der Tourist, I can’t tell if it’s tongue-in-cheek level is quite as high as it’s advert counterpart, but it’s still quite catchy and Friedrich is a charisma machine.
  2. Can – “Vitamin C” VIDEO
    Jaki Leibezeit and Holger Czukay both passed away this year, which made this snippet of Can playing what may be my favorite song of theirs especially timely. I believe I read a blurb on Pitchfork once that called this “the funkiest thing to ever come out of Europe.” I don’t know about that, but you’d be hard pressed to find a catchier bass line than certain ones that Czukay spent decades churning out. True genius. Wait until I make the students sit through “Cool in the Pool” this Spring!
  3. Blind Cinema – “Objetos Ennegrecidos” VIDEO
    The worst thunderstorm that hit campus this fall (during daylight, at least) passed by around 10:30 – 11:30 am on a Tuesday or Thursday in early September. During that span, I had to run over 100 yards between buildings with no raincoat or umbrella to get from my prior class to this one in time. As I took off my shoes and dried off my socks, I put this song on for the half-soaked class to absorb, and lo and behold this may be my new favorite rainy-day music. Catalán jazz for the people.
  4. Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha” VIDEO
    Twenty years ago, SPIN magazine named When I was Born for the 7th Time their #1 album of the year, which played well with impressionable teenage me. The longtime collaboration between Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres had finally broken through in the states, which in retrospect was kind of surprising, even on the heels of Britpop madness (more on that in five tracks). To me, Cornershop were (and still are) one of the most quintessentially British bands of their era: multicultural, dance-worthy, and reeeaaaaally into drugs. As great as “Good Shit” and their cover of “Norwegian Wood” were (bonus points to the latter for being in Punjabi and infuriating future ‘Leave’ voters), “Brimful of Asha” was always my favorite track on this album. The video edit takes out Singh’s punjabi spiel that opens the album version, but otherwise it’s a classic video. Also,  I said it in class and I’ll write it here: the Norman Cook remix that ravaged the charts? Like 99% of remixes, garbage.
  5. Refused – “New Noise” VIDEO
    I’m losing track on which number cycle of love/backlash Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come is on currently, but I loved the record when I was 15, and I still love it today. This is hardly the best song from that record, but it was the closest thing they had to a “hit,” and through use on shows like Friday Night Lights, it probably still pays some of their bills. One of  my students remembered them fondly as ‘that band playing in the octagon.’   I mentioned that Refused originated in Umeå, which opened up a brief discussion about the prodigious output of metal from Northern Sweden and created a good talking point to revisit later (five tracks down).
  6. LiLiPUT – “Hitchhiking” VIDEO
    Like the crossroads that Switzerland occupies atop its Alpine perch between Italy, Germany, France, and Austria, it also sits in a weird position in pop music history. During the post-punk era, Kleenex/LiLiPUT (their recorded output, repackaged retrospectively, permanently straddles the two names) seemed to be everyone’s favorite Swiss band, kind of how their fellow countrymen Coroner would become within the metal universe a decade later. At any rate, this is my favorite song from the Kleenex/LiLiPUT catalog, and the video here is culled from a 1960’s Italian ‘shockumentary’ La Donna Nel Mondo.
  7. Bérurier Noir – “Vivre Libre ou Mourir” VIDEO
    The day after the French election this year, I posted a video on social media of Bérurier Noir playing “La Jeunesse Emmerde le Front National” in honor of the time-honored tradition the French have of pushing back against far-right intolerance. A friend from Paris commented with cautious optimism, saying that they’re happy that Le Pen lost, but that Macron is still an asshole. Then, he signed off with “PORCHERIE!” – a reference to the BN song that critically calls France a pigsty.  Anyway, BN is the punkest band ever to emerge from France and maybe the punkest band of all time, vying for that arbitrary title with The Bananas (Sacramento) and Chumbawamba (UK). Few bands of their stature have garnered such universal respect from French punks (at least, the ones I connected with for my fieldwork in 2015), and “Live Free or Die” may be one of the catchiest political punk songs ever written – and with a click track, at that!
  8. Yr Anhrefn – “Rhedeg i Paris” VIDEO
    I wanted to a music video that showed off Welsh language and culture, so I searched my memory banks for a Super Furry Animals track from their all-Welsh record, but instead came up with this. I had never heard of Yr Anhrefn, but the song is incredibly catchy and even features footage of the band playing in the Basque Country, thanking the crowd (in Basque) after wrapping their set. According to the translation offered by a Google User on the video, the title translates to “Running to Paris,” and the lyrics are about the desire to get out of Wales and see the world, but being unable to resist being drawn back to your homeland. It’s pretty powerful and somewhat universal stuff.
  9. Blur – “Coffee & TV” VIDEO
    Of all of these artists, Blur probably have the deepest catalog through which I could dig to find a video to start off my Britpop lecture. I just couldn’t resist using this one, because it may be the best music video ever made. It didn’t break in America quite as profoundly as “Song 2” had in 1997, but it was good enough for a follow-up semi-hit in the states, in spite of Graham Coxon’s dour vocals and melancholy subject matter. If you have a chance, check out the No Distance Left to Run documentary for an intimate look at a brutal time in the band’s history. Then, go out and buy everything the band ever released.
  10. Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” VIDEO
    Like Blur’s catalog, Sweden’s selection of indie pop videos is ostensibly a bottomless pit. I had a great time presenting a unit on Sweden’s pop music industry, drawing heavily from my friend Ola Johannsen’s work on ‘The Swedish Music Miracle.’ Other than Sondre Lerche (who is Norwegian), I can’t think of a more charming chanson singer that isn’t French or Belgian.
  11. Chisu – “Kohtalon Oma” VIDEO
    I discovered Chisu thanks to a special series that One Week // One Band ran a couple years ago called ‘Stop Making Sense,’ where contributors submitted an essay about a song in a language they didn’t understand. One writer included this painfully catchy jam from Finland, which hooked me in with not only a language I’d never heard in a pop song before, but also a captivating video. From what I can tell, Chisu is like Finland’s answer to Katy Perry or Carly Rae Jepsen: harmless pop songstresses carrying more of their respective country’s national identity than they seem to acknowledge.
  12. Pinkshinyultrablast – “Umi” VIDEO
    Shoegaze and dream pop are genres that are very easy to create but very challenging to do well. Pinkshinyultrablast, the lone Russian group featured here, have managed to become the forerunners of Eastern European noise pop. I remember when their first EP appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2009; I think I found it on a Brazilian shoegazing blog that kept on getting shut down. Anyway, from what I’ve read, the band has had a rotating cast of members, led by singer Lyubov, who like so many artistically inclined Russians, lives in L.A. now.
  13. Frustration – “Assassination” VIDEO
    For a city I do love, I spend a lot of time discussing the dark underbelly of Paris in my coursework. This video is a fantastic, noirish slice of life where everyone’s a killer. Because I’m not French, I have difficulty explaining just what position Frustration occupies within Parisian culture (see Track 7). What I can tell you is that they are a hard ticket to get whenever they play a mid-size hometown show. Their drummer, Mark Adolf, runs the successful punk record shop and label Born Bad, a concern responsible for some of the most irresistible compilations of French underground music ever pressed.
  14. Los Nikis – “El Imperio Contraataca” VIDEO
    Until I saw their video for this song, which I think first broadcast in 1986, Los Nikis seemed like one of the many Spanish Ramones-worshippers on whom I had missed the boat. I saw that they opened for Airbag’s 15th anniversary gig in Madrid (more on that, two tracks down), but I haven’t really sat down and watched their set, which was very courteously included as a bonus feature on a DVD I had to go to Madrid to get. Now, I’m paying more attention and beginning the slow burn of obtaining all of Los Nikis’ releases, because this song simply kicks ass. Reflective of my focus lecture on Spain’s identity crisis, they even laugh at their country’s colonial mythology in the video. How perfect.
  15. Radio Futura – “Enamorado de la Moda Juvenil” VIDEO
    I saw a poorly transferred version of a video this group shot for this song sometime at the beginning of the 1980’s, then promptly forgot the band’s name. One day a few months ago, I spent nearly an hour trying to find the song, even messaging a friend in Spain who loves power-pop. Eventually, this ultra-catchy single found its way back to my brain via YouTube auto-play suggestions. So, I guess it’s not a completely bad thing. Anyway, as far as I can tell, there were a few Radio Futura bands (or, one core group with a couple of dramatic lineup and sound alterations over the course of the 1980s). This era, in which they appeared to be Spain’s answer to Blondie, The Knack, The Jags, and other skinny tie/skinnier microphone groups of the time. I can’t stop thinking of Alex Winter in character as Bill Preston, Esq. whenever I see that blonde vocalist here.
  16. Airbag – “Trailer” VIDEO
    From what I remember, I discovered Airbag off an Italian pop-punk blog called Ramone to the Bone sometime during my DC days and was hooked immediately. They’re an Andalucian trio who record catchy songs about science fiction, comic books, record collecting, and heartbreak. They’ve been a band for two decades and, despite a growing international fan base, they’ve only recorded a small handful of songs in English. From what I’m told, they’re the only group in Southern Spain playing music in this style. That’s surprising,that they haven’t spawned legions of imitators after being around and keeping their music quintessentially Spanish for so long. It’s not their fault it isn’t 1994 anymore.
  17. Stereolab – “Lo Boob Oscillator” VIDEO
    What could be more European than a British band with a French singer (singing in French) while trying to sound German? I’ll leave it at that.
  18. Manic Street Preachers – “A Design for Life”
    I understand that “Hen Wlad Fy Naudau” probably isn’t going anywhere, but I can’t imagine a better unofficial national anthem (for any country) than this song would be for Wales^. Not only did the Manics elevate Wales in the international pop music discourse at the end of the 1980’s, but they did it by essentially weaponizing art.  One of the most challenging books I read this past year was Simon Price’s tome Everything about the band, written at the end of their 90s supremacy. It may be the longest book I’ve read in some time, because not enough can be written about all that this band meant to their fans and to British pop music. Around that time, the group recorded their triumphant show at the Manchester NYNEX arena, and the video of them closing their set with this signature song made a perfect coda for the class on our last day. It makes you want to go and conquer the world, really, and isn’t that the message every professor wants to leave his students with? No? That’s fair.


^ Though I realize we can’t do much about “The Star Spangled Banner,” I do believe that “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians would be a much better, and more fitting, national anthem for the United States. Without giving too much away, I’m looking forward to premiering my ‘National Anthem’ project in GEOG/AMST 423: American Popular Culture this Spring…

I’ll see about putting a Spotify playlist together. First, I have to get on Spotify.

GeoSym 2018 Call for Papers!

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I’m very excited to pass along the Call for Papers for the third installment of this great little conference. I’m biased because I was the chair for the second installment in 2016, but this time around it’s in great hands with my good friends and colleagues Savannah Collins-Key, Emma Walcott-Wilson, and others from the GeoGrads. Savannah was an outstanding co-chair in 2016, too; I’ve gone on record before about all the work she did organizing the paper sessions and basically ensuring that I didn’t burn the whole thing down.

Also, this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, is one of the biggest authorities on climate and landscape in the Southeast. His name has been getting bigger on a near-monthly basis in the meteorology and Weather Channel world, so you really don’t want to miss the chance to see him speak in this smaller-scale setting.

At any rate, it’s free to submit and participate (a rarity among any kind of academic conference), and you have the rest of December to get your papers ready. Paper deadline is January 1st, 2018, and the Poster deadline is January 15th. More information can be found at the departmental website here or on the Facebook Page here.