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.

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Thanksgiving 2017

I can’t remember any time in my life when this wasn’t my favorite week of the whole year. Coming soon, I’ll be posting my GEOG 371 mix tape, end of semester retrospectives, and perhaps some best-of-2017 lists. But for now, I’m grateful to take a day or two for myself to slow things down to a crawl (or, laugh until I can’t breathe hanging out with my cousins).

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, wherever you are.

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Courses I’ll Be Teaching: Spring 2018

It’s November, meaning that for the undergrads, it’s registration time! Nothing quite like making students plot out their next round of classes right at the moment when they are at wits’ end with their current round. Fortunately, I’ve been enjoying my four classes this semester, and from my mid-semester evaluations and individual conversations, so have most of my students. This is fortunate, because I happen to be teaching four more courses in the Spring.

Whether or not I’ve had the pleasure of having you in one of my classes this semester, last Fall, or in my 101 sections in 2014-2015, take a look at these options for the Spring.

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(classicwines.com)

GEOG 101 – World Regional Geography

This will be my fifth time teaching this introductory course (fourth time at the University of Tennessee). It takes a humanities-oriented look at the globe and how we are all increasingly connected, taking time out to focus on all of the major World Regions. The list of case studies I use here is too long to write out here and consistently increasing, but today I discussed the geographic birth of the American Indian Movement and my colleague Emma did a guest-lecture about the Westward expansion of the US within our National Park system.


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That’s not me, but my friend Eric Dawson from the East TN History Center speaking to my GEOG 320 class last fall.

GEOG 320 – Cultural Geography: Core Concepts

This course overviews the building blocks for approaching and understanding the very broad concept of Cultural Geography. It includes lessons about the perpetually-growing subject of ‘sense of place,’ gender, the battle of space v. place, as well as case studies in film geography, music, sports, and possibly anything else that ‘makes’ culture. This will be my third time teaching this course, and I always look forward to building on it.


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Somewhere outside Segovia, Spain

GEOG 371 – Exploring Europe

One of my favorite quotes by Eddie Izzard was a throwaway line in Dress to Kill (1998): “I grew up in Europe – where the history comes from!” This class unpacks that phrase by taking a critical look at the geographic processes that have made Europe into Earth’s ostensible mission control center for the past 500 years despite being a rattling agglomeration of devolving nation-states all grappling for some semblance of identity. We look at the heavy-hitters as well as the bench players of the continent, complete with a hand-picked soundtrack from all over the map.


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GEOG 423 – American Popular Culture

This course will examine the relationship between the cultural geography of the United States and the amazing breadth of art, icons, and legends that have sprung from her soil. I’m not prepared to deliver a full syllabus just yet, but some of the topics we may have on tap include literature, popular music, television, Music Television, sports, food/drink, death, Vaudeville, and architecture. This course will be cross-listed with AMST 423 (American Studies), so I’m looking forward to meeting some folks from that department who may not have taken a Geography class yet.

“The Lowest of the Low” Thoughts on ‘Trainspotting’ and Scottishness

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I’m currently working with a class on the Geography of Europe, focusing primarily on the self-proclaimed continent since 1945, the year author Ian Baruma famously touted as ‘Year Zero‘ in that part of the globe. Interesting enough, the United Kingdom, having been one of the decisive victors in WWII, have shied away from any real leadership role (at least, within Europe) since then. The Brits have always had a knack for getting in spats (on whatever scale) with their neighbors, often overshadowing Great Britain’s internal spats. In 2005, I had a conversation with my Londoner friend Dominic about what social and political life over there was like, as I had yet to visit.

“The Scottish don’t particularly like us,” he said, “but we really just don’t care.”

Considering how I had only lived, at this point in my life, well above the Mason-Dixon line, I likened this to a strange Antebellum-philia many American Southerners (and elsewhere, in whatever cases) feel, coupled with antagonism toward the North and allegedly analogous federal government. Of course, to compare the American Civil War with a Millennium of shifting feudal allegiances and stirring political stew in Northern Europe would be disingenuous. I would be interested in seeing the existing parallels drawn out, though.

At any rate, our work in the European Geography course inspired me to revisit one of my favorite movies of all time “Trainspotting.” For the uninitiated, WATCH IT. (Sorry… let me try this again:) For the uninitiated, it’s a screen adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel about a pack of junkies and their sociopathic mates trying to maintain in late-1980s Edinburgh. The dialogue is fantastic, Danny Boyle’s inventive film-making never fails to impress, and we get to see Ewan MacGregor (whose career it kick-started) deliver one of the most iconic speeches on the grim realities of Scottishness that the sunny 80’s pop of Altered Images and Orange Juice did not dig up. (NSFW)

It also has one of my favorite endings, replete with gritty morals about drug use. I am not going to include too many spoilers here, but for your own good, if you have not seen it yet, do NOT watch it while eating.

Here’s the part about music as conduit of “scottishness.” While ‘Trainspotting’ may be one of the great European films of the 1990’s due to excellent acting, writing, and directing, what really set this film apart culturally was the soundtrack. Madchester and Britpop had already leaked across the Atlantic by the time of the Soundtrack’s release (most presciently, randomly enough, in the forms of EMF’s song “Unbelievable” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” respectively), but this soundtrack was what crystallized the aesthetic that had developed over British popular music over the previous twenty years. It even included a couple of 70’s gems by American artists that nonetheless fit into the film perfectly (the scene where Renton overdoses to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” gets more harrowing upon every viewing). 

I wish I had more time to write and research about this, but for now, the album (which user ‘Hayley Mills’ has uploaded) should make a great soundtrack for this Monday afternoon. In case anybody is wondering, New Order’s “Temptation” remains my favorite song used in the film, though there are so many classics here.

Tune in later this week for a massive post about Eastern Tennessee and Country Music with special guest Shane Rhyne.