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Staff Picks: October 15, 2020

Staff Picks: Daniel

David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019)

This week we’ve had so many killer records coming in to the store that I haven’t been doing much listening outside of new releases, so for this staff pick I’ll go with a book. The Uninhabitable Earth is a book about climate change, and its basic argument is that things are much, much worse than anyone has acknowledged, and we’re not heading in the right direction if we want things to get any better. The book is a tough read. Besides having to swallow the bitter pill that is Wallace-Wells’s thesis, the writing style is dry, focusing on statistics and logical arguments without many of the anecdotes or illustrations that science writers use to pull in lay readers. I noticed readers complaining about that in the book’s reviews, but part of Wallace-Wells’s argument is that the genre conventions of science writing (alongside pressure on scientists not to be “alarmist”) have made the threats surrounding climate change seem much less dire than they are.

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned from this book is how much greenhouse gas emissions and other contributing factors for climate change have been increasing over the past few decades. We’ve been hearing about global warming and climate change for so long that you figure we must be making some progress on the issue, but in fact things are getting worse, with global emissions rising sharply since the 80s. The natural world differs greatly from when I was a child, with changed weather patterns and a sharp decline in biodiversity, all due to human beings’ actions. While we think of climate change as happening on an imperceptibly slow timescale, these are changes I can observe over the course of my own life. Unfortunately, the changes are coming faster and faster with each passing year.

Even if emissions stayed where they are, climate change will seriously impact human beings’ quality of life as its effects pile up, but at this point emissions staying where they are is a pipe dream. The question isn’t whether emissions will continue to rise, but how quickly, and Wallace-Wells outlines the consequences of what different levels of action will look like in the coming decades. It seems like there is little hope that much of the world won’t be uninhabitable by the year 2100, and while that’s longer than I expect to live (I was born in 1979), our generation’s children and grandchildren will, according to Wallace-Wells, live in a world that is far different and much, much harsher than ours. Vast stretches of the earth will be literally uninhabitable (i.e. you won’t be able to go outside for more than a few minutes at a time), which will cause a cascade of negative effects including (but not limited to) climate refugee crises, food shortages, civil unrest, war, and economic collapse. Anything short of drastic action in the very near future will produce similar results by the year 2050, a year when I’m hoping I’ll still be alive. Unfortunately, drastic action is not looking likely, and I worry that in my old age the earth will be a miserable, unforgiving place.

This book came out in 2019, and it’s interesting to think about it considering everything human beings have gone through with the COVID pandemic. One thing this disease has helped me to see is that no one is steering humanity’s ship. In the US, at least, either no one is willing or no one can change the momentum that is pushing us toward disaster. In fact, many people seem philosophically opposed to doing good things for humanity, confident that their own privilege, wealth, or intelligence will shield them from whatever horrors are on the way. As bad as COVID is, climate change is even more challenging because it is a global problem that would require an aggressive, globally coordinated solution. If we are to solve that problem it will require a total rethink of how human beings organize and imagine themselves, and right now I don’t see who has the vision or the resources to make that happen. I can only hope that COVID serves as a warm-up that gets us heading in the right direction so we can confront the even more serious crisis lurking just beyond it.

Staff Picks: Jeff

What’s up Sorry Staters?

I feel certain that, generally speaking, most people who are into punk rock have an affinity for at least the first few Ramones albums. What I think is less common is those people out there who love the Ramones records from the mid-to-late 80s. I don’t know if I would consider myself a late-era Ramones apologist per se, but I do find good moments on just about every Ramones record. The album that I have a particular soft spot for and that took me a while to finally physically get my hands on is their 1986 album Animal Boy. Alright… so now that we’re talking about this record, let’s get the criticism out of the way: The album opens with the pseudo-hard rock epic “Somebody Put Something In My Drink”. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge this song is very strange and pretty fucking corny. Between that and the third track “Love Kills”, which Dee Dee takes the lead vocal on, I will concede that there are tracks that I’m not a huge fan of. It is interesting to hear the bubblegum pop sensibilities that we all love about the Ramones transmitted through the lens of the mid-1980s. Songs like “Crummy Stuff” or the ballad “She Belongs To Me” could easily have been on early Ramones records… but if the Ramones are like a nice house built in the 70s, then Animal Boy is a version of the house that was vacated and condemned with some dated renovations. BUT, sandwiched between the era-appropriate gated reverb on the drums and some cringey songwriting choices are some really great Ramones songs.

One of the cool things about this record is that underneath the production, we can hear the Ramones clearly being influenced by 80s hardcore. Songs like “Eat That Rat” and the title track “Animal Boy” are just total rippers! Even by Ramones standards, these songs are super-fast in tempo, which is maybe due in part to the drumming contributions of Richie Ramone. Harder tracks like “Freak of Nature” are also totally killer, even if it is a bit slower. Even with the ragers on the album, I gotta say I still love the poppier songs. Even before some asshole brought the supposed “AOR” vibe to my intention, I always did really love “Something To Believe In.” Some people will probably say it’s cheesy, but I actually think it’s a very genuine and beautiful song. Nice one, Dee Dee. That said, it was years before I saw the music video where they have the backdrop of the “We Are The World”-esque “Ramones Aid” that comes across like an infomercial? I admit, it is totally cheesy. I do get the impression that they were making fun of those types of organizations though. Then again, I would also love it if the sentiment of the music video was totally sincere and the Ramones were actually making an effort to raise money, because their “sincerity” is hilarious. But finally, the moment I’ve been waiting to get to: how great is “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down” (aka Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)? Haters gon’ hate, but I swear this is one of my favorite Ramones songs.

Here’s the video for “Something to Believe In”. Can someone please tell me that they’re joking?

Thanks for reading,

Staff Picks: Dominic

Hi everybody. It’s week 42 of the sci-fi year that is 2020. How are you all holding up? We’re still here at SSR trying to keep sane and sling records and personally I’m listening to as much music as I can to try and drown out the noise pollution that is life right now. This past week I have been on a bit of a reggae kick and have had one record on regular turntable rotation.

Last week in the newsletter I talked about being a kid in the 1970’s and visiting America and New York City and it made me remember what a great decade the seventies were to have been growing up in for so many reasons. The main one was all the music that was being created during that period. It could definitely be argued that the seventies were the golden era for reggae music. You had superstar figures such as Bob Marley topping the charts, producers Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and King Tubby at their creative peaks and as a kid watching Top Of The Pops, you could see Althea & Donna singing Uptown Top Ranking and go to the local record store and get a copy of Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves single, another huge hit. Perhaps I was spoiled by living in Britain where the love of Jamaican music was something that went back to the Windrush days when immigrating West Indians exposed the local youth to their music. The mods and original skins embraced ska, rocksteady and reggae music immediately and this continued through the seventies with the punks. It was a Punky Reggae Party after all. As a youth buying records during this time we had companies like Trojan keeping us supplied with collection after collection of great tunes and you could buy these at the local Woolworths even. During the 1980’s whenever I made trips to London to go shopping and see bands I would sometimes get to visit the great Peckings reggae record shop that had the hottest new slabs direct from Jamaica and had been doing it since the early 1960’s before anyone else. Anyway, the point being, that reggae music for most music fans of a certain age is a part of our DNA. It definitely is for me.

A highlight of my times working on cruise ships sailing the Caribbean in the 1990’s were my visits to Jamaica where I got to pay my respects to Bob Marley at his resting place high in the hills and to visit his house on Hope Road in Kingston where that day we met Ziggy Marley who was there recording. Great memories, two among many that I racked up during that time.
I could pick one of many hundreds of classic reggae albums to steer you towards but I’ll stick to one for this week. Let’s talk about George Faith and his album To Be A Lover. It came out in 1977 (that year again) on Island/Mango Records internationally and Black Swan in Jamaica and was produced at the Black Ark Studios by Lee Perry. Born Earl George Lawrence, Faith was given the name Faith as a stage name by producer Perry. The two had been working together at the Black Ark, Perry’s own studio, for a number of months, recording several covers of American soul and pop hits that were popular at the time with the Jamaican audience. Faith’s version of To Be A Lover, the William Bell hit proved to be a hit when released. The disco 45 12” version is an awesome ten minutes long. A second single, I’ve Got A Groove was issued based on the success of the first release and a third, In The Midnight Hour, the Wilson Picket classic followed. Eventually those three tracks plus five more were compiled for the album called Super Eight in Jamaica and To Be A Lover elsewhere. For anyone familiar with this classic period of Lee Perry productions through his work with The Heptones and The Congos, you should expect more of the same with this record, plenty of echo and reverb and that trademark swampy sound. Most of the musicians who played on those records are on this one and backing vocals are provided by members of The Meditations and The Mighty Diamonds.

I’m a big fan of Lee “Scratch” Perry. His productions from his Black Ark period are among the best in reggae music. Instantly recognizable. His solo work over the years under his Upsetter title and his own name are the cornerstones of the genre. I remember watching a documentary about him made in the 1990’s I think with Jools Holland as host and there is a moment when Holland asks Perry why he has an old toaster up on his wall. The reply was classic, “That is because I am a toaster and not a boaster.” With the legacy he has behind him, he has every right to boast.

Do yourselves a favor and look this one up.

Here’s a link to the extended version of the To Be A Lover 12” single to whet your appetite.
That’s my lot for this week. Be safe, love each other, play records and thanks for reading.

Staff Picks: Usman

So far, I have only written about records or tapes that I actually have. For this Staff Pick that is not the case. Just feeling nostalgic I guess... I first got into punk in middle school. I'd heard Offspring in elementary school and did enjoy it quite a bit at the time but I don't count that shit. If you know me, or for some stupid reason have been following my Staff Pick since I started working here, you will know The Casualties was the first "punk" band I'd ever heard. I remember the first time I heard For The Punx, my middle school friend brought it over on a burned CD. Back then we always hung out in groups of at least 8, sometimes up to 12 of us. We had a crew, we walked fucking everywhere. We skated (didn't do drugs yet, haha) and we vandalized property indiscriminately. Anyway, my friend put that shit in the CD player and I lost my fucking mind. I had never heard anything like it before. We "circled pitted" in my room. The Casualties are a weird topic. I had abandoned them before I left middle school, before I had heard any of the stuff about the (original) vocalist being a rapist. I remember On The Frontline came out, and I was "too cool" for the The Casualties by that point haha. But, I had taken in so many bands by reading their jackets and t-shirts, mostly old classic UK82 bands but some current ones, like Antidote!

I had heard Antidote (Netherlands) long before I heard the US band. The US band is cool, except they have that one song "Foreign Job-Lot" and I'm not sure what the fuck that's about... so if you do, know please inform me. I hope it is satire. I had Antidote painted on my jacket through most of high school, all cos of this demo tape right here. I did buy some of their later LPs to give a try but I'm not sure if I even have 'em anymore... "Street punk" was how I got into punk/hardcore but it's not a sound that really stuck with me. To me, this Antidote tape arguably doesn't really qualify as street punk... Maybe I completely wrong. I would agree that their 2000's material is without a doubt two-fingers in the air street-fucking-punk. But this tape just goes so hard, it seems hard to compare it to other street punk bands. There are definitely some songs that rely heavy on the melodies, but most all the songs are played with this raw intensity. To me, it comes off as raging punk/HC played in an anthemic fashion.

Haha, maybe I really am just in denial about still liking street punk as I get older. I have plenty of friends that are "older" punks (I am 30). They aren't bitter, jaded, or bigoted assholes like some of those who I've encountered.. "You ask me where I was in 1977. You ask me what I did in 1982. But this is fucking '97, now we're the punks and where the fuck are you? You tell me I can't be a punk cos I was only born in 1975. But look at you, a pathetic drunk, you're not the one who keeps punk alive. Old punk, sad punk, old punk, dead punk. Lost old punx telling stories, they think the past had it all. Well we are fucking today's punks. Still they want the past to rule us all. I don't say I'm a punk reviver, I don't claim I invented it all. But look at it from a different angle - Where will you be 20 years from now???" That was the lyrics to Dead Punx, the first song on the tape. I love the lyrics so much, to each song. I still know them all by heart. Some of my other favorites are Drinking in the Sun and Dogstory. I included a link from the good ol' punk lyrics website, scroll to the bottom of the page to find all the lyrics to the songs on this tape. Reading along as you rage is integral. So, Jeff just walked into the store with me blasting this shit. He agrees with my sentiment about the raw intensity but says the way the riffs are played sounds definitely like street punk...


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