Thursday, November 29, 2018

BiteMarks/Meatwound/Permanent Makeup
Saturday, November 17th 2018
The Bends, St. Petersburg FL

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Permanent Makeup

When Paul of Leadfoot Promotions announced his first gig earlier this year at Fubar (soon-to-be-RIP, what the fuck?), starring BiteMarks, Meatwound, Horsewhip and Low Season, I got the feeling there wouldn’t be any ironic renditions of Nailing Descartes to the Wall.  Clearly I wasn’t the only one who found Paul’s penchant for putting on flesh-centric acts funny (even Low Season has a song about fishing and cursing the red tide), because in a delicious continuation of the joke we are tonight treated to the seitanic stylings of travelling gluten-salesman Uncle Mince, and his World Famous Seitan.  In my bonus cup review of Horsewhip at Fubar (what the ACTUAL FUCK?) a few weeks ago, I made the throwaway comment that I was such a hungry vegan I could eat a seitan-assembled horse.  I say we all chip in to help Mince make that happen and we wheel that sucker down to the local Food Not Bombs chapter in Williams Park.
Permanent Makeup

“I'm into the version of punk that destroys barriers to entry and screams poetry of inclusion, pushes sonic envelopes and makes space to crush mainstream values based on competition and hatred,” so declared Permanent Makeup bass-voice Chris recently on the Fedbook, basically endorsing giving away plant protein to homeless folks.  Well shit, dude. Way to make my task of trying to describe your ever interesting aesthetic and sound easier and/or more redundant.  It’s from the Shred Shed to the Shred Submarine Base for the post-whathaveyou band, where last night Chris and drummer Susan hosted Kentucky femme grungers noncompliant and the pisspunk locals of Piss Ghost.  Permanent Makeup are an act that show you can push exciting sonic envelopes without relying purely on Sonic the Hedgehog speed, and that it’s okay to be funny in your art, so long as you aren’t lazy (just listen to some of guitarist James’s live vocal deliveries).  Since quality art comes with acknowledgement of The Real Shit, the band here take a brief time out to mourn the fact that Florida is now once more in the hands of a shit governor. So to speak again of Sonic, and his wild hair, bollocks to a blue wave, how about no wave!  With satisfying weird interludes scattered all over!  What we need is a Permanent Shakeup. Chris is looking to start booking gigs for touring musicians soon under the name Trend Decay.  Always such cool names for stuff.

Industrial farming critics Meatwound from across the way in Tampa are fronted by “master race traitor” Dan, who was at one time a member of 90s grindcorers Combatwoundedveteran (as was Jeff Howe of Horsewhip actually).  Tonight he is wearing a Def Jam t-shirt. If you lot were hoping to do a Beastie Boys style transition from extreme rock music to rap you might be overplaying the warm up period of your career, guys.  This is pulverising, heavy shit, although I will happily say that if you’re of the timid disposition their live presence is more obviously tuneful and less scary than when played through tinny laptop speakers (even with The Bends still having their Halloween decorations floating around this late in the month).  


When compared to his speaking voice, Dan’s unnatural growl helps make Meatwound feel like a plodding giant that generally minds its own business, but if you should be so foolish as to fuck with it, you will be beaten senseless.  Their recent releases are spread over a meaty slew of labels, such as Dead Tank Records from Jacksonville (who also released/distributed the latest stuff by Horsewhip and Permanent Makeup, actually), and Magic Bullet Records, whose incredible gonzo bio for the band really captures what it’s like trying to survive in this orange-splattered, polluted shitmachine of a region.  This horrific impression of so-called civilisation is presumably what led Meatwound to give last year’s full length the title of Largo.

BiteMarks (Pictured: Submarine Getting Shredded)

The writhing, violent body of dissatisfaction lurking beneath the thin veneer of civilisation is one of the things that continues to make classic hardcore punk performances so appealing, decades after the genre’s heyday.  Enter BiteMarks from Gainesville.  With just enough experimental flourishes to make things interesting they feature Matt from Assholeparade (spaces between words were not cool in your mid-90s band name, okay?) on bass, and impressively rapid drumming from yet another talented James.  Who needs a Minor Threat reunion? (I’ll tell you who needs it: fucking nobody.)  Then there’s frontwoman Dita, hugging the walls here when she’s not leaving BiteMarks in them, and reminding somewhat of St. Pete’s own Lauren Elizabeth, flying around all over the place and into the crowd as if to ask them what they think they are doing just standing there (see here for a previous exposure to Elizabeth, along with Uncle Mince and Permanent Makeup).


There’s also something in her confident, room dominating energy of a Shirley Manson, if she had grown up in Floridurgh instead of Edinburgh.  I recently learned that Manson once took a piss in the middle of a Spin photoshoot (to return to the topic of femme grunge piss punks), but the magazine, worried for their squeamish and presumably penis-owning advertisers, edited it out.  Dita allegedly had a similar moment here amidst the flashes of Matt Valler magic, which a more cynical punter than me might think was a reason for the bands’ blindingly short fifteen minute set rather than their dedication to hardcore brevity.  I am extremely satisfied but not at the same time. I want MORE, like the insatiable vegan that I am. Where’s that fake mac and cheese peddler?

Twelve more minutes of glory can be found on BiteMarks’ recent album Sucia, available on single sided pink vinyl with a silk screened b-side.  Get it from Belladona Records.  It features some hilarious fake music history nerdery in the liner notes, written by friend Mike Taylor.

A huge thank you to Matt Valler Photography for going in on this collaborative review with me!  You can see the rest of the photos for this gig in these albums.  These are cool as hell, right?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Tampa Bay Rebellion

Why we need a non-violent direct action movement against climate change, right here, right now
Image by Leslie Minnis
If the constant hurricanes and wildfires didn’t get your attention, the scientific bombshell should have.  In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C.  The panel is a UN body of thousands of scientists that analyses all the latest scientific papers to draw conclusions.  They found that in order to have a decent chance of avoiding the runaway climate change found above 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, we must aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 (based on 2010 levels), and then reach zero emissions by the middle of this century.

These numbers, and the scale of challenge they represent, horrified many people.  But I haven’t seen much reporting on what it means for specific countries. The United States emits higher levels of greenhouse gases per person than most nations, so the cuts must necessarily be even deeper.  I invite more statistical minds to improve on them, but according to my rough calculations based on population size and global emissions share (neither of which has changed drastically since 2010), in order to do its fair part the United States must cut emissions by around 85% in the next twelve years.

The IPCC’s recommendations are buttressed by calls for a global 20% cut in material consumption levels, dropping coal use by around two thirds, oil in half, and natural gas by a third, all by 2030.  Again, all of these targets will need to be higher in wealthy, high consumption countries.  Look at the figures and ask yourself if the IPCC, scientists with an inclination to say nothing they can’t prove, are appealing for anything other than the bare minimum of what they think might be necessary.  We need to aim higher than these goals to have a chance of at least meeting them.

It is on the basis of all this that on October 31st, over one thousand people in the United Kingdom launched a giant campaign of non-violent direct action in Parliament Square.  Under the name Extinction Rebellion, they are demanding that the government declare a state of emergency over climate breakdown, enact legally binding “wartime mobilisation” policies to get the country to net zero emissions by 2025, and for the building of citizen’s assemblies to oversee the transition.  Roadblocks and actions have continued throughout November with the involvement of thousands more.  The May government is accused, among other infractions, of overriding democracy by ramming through unpopular fracking and airport expansion measures.

An International Declaration of Rebellion invites people of other nations to join them leading up to a coordinated action day on April 19th.  The same week as the Parliament Square event, thousands of people in western Germany protested and blocked a coal train to try and stop the further expansion of a lignite mine into a 12,000-year-old forest.  On December 2nd there will be a launch event for Extinction Rebellion US in Washington D.C.  Groups are preparing under the banner in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and many other countries and cities.  The call for international rebellion is building on fertile ground.

There are numerous reasons why you may not have heard about these protests, the most obvious being the drama of the midterm elections.  We should care about who is put in office. The Trump administration’s assault on the environment is representative of an increasingly desperate fossil fuel industry.  But when it comes to climate change, we haven’t the luxury of obsessing over it, as the click-dependent media that helped to put him in power would have us do. If our movements are strong, worthy politicians will seek to follow them.  Largely independent of Trump, plans are in the dirty pipeline to expand two major sources of greenhouse gases in Tampa Bay, and they have so far been met with almost no opposition. Nothing makes the people destroying our environment happier than silence.

Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach is the only coal burning plant located around Tampa Bay, and is one of the largest in the state.  Operator Tampa Electric (TECO) sent out a customer letter in May of this year detailing their hopes for modernisation.  The plan is to retire one antiquated coal-and-gas-fired unit and convert another to a modern natural gas unit (two primarily coal-fired units would remain in use).  It sounds like progress. This conversion however is gambling on the long-term continuation of the American fracking boom and all of its associated problems (fracked wells now provide two thirds of U.S. natural gas production).  The Trump government has spent the last two years trying to remove rules that oblige oil and gas companies to at least try to plug methane leaks, rather than letting it vent into the atmosphere, and those attempts can be expected to continue.  Because methane is some 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, fracked gas is arguably just as bad for the climate as coal, if not worse.  This proposal is not progress at all.

If we believe fracking is unsuitable for Florida, it’s hard to see why we should financially support it happening in other places.  Tampa Electric says the project, if implemented, will cost $1 billion, take ten years to finish, and should be expected to last thirty-five or forty.  These numbers should set alarm bells off in the heads of all climate activists considering the small window of time we have left.  Are we going to let them expend all this money and effort to make a one-time conversion that will make no discernable difference to electricity emissions?

The company has made much of its investments in solar, including one project at Big Bend itself, which they brag is the biggest in Tampa Bay.  The array produces 23 megawatts (MW) of electricity, or approximately 1.35% of the amount currently produced at the fossil power station.  Other projects are expected to bring their total solar to 600 MW, or 7% of their total generation, by 2023.  But sunny Florida ranks a sad 8th in total solar generation nationwide, with California producing over ten times our capacity and powering 17% of their grid.  TECO has the means to expand these solar plans rapidly rather than give a money stream to the fracking industry, and that’s where the majority of the $1 billion budget should be going (aside from the decommissioning costs of the coal units).

This investment is even worse when you consider that natural gas, whether fracked or not, is now in direct competition with renewables to replace coal, and TECO’s current funding of solar amounts to a mere $50 million.  In the decade leading up to 2016 their profits almost doubled to $250 million.  CEO Nancy Tower earned $1.5 million last year, while CEO of parent company Emera, Robert Bennett, earned almost $2.2 million.  All that matters in judging a proposal in terms of climate change is whether it lines up with the goals of the IPCC report, not whatever positive framing a company might use to present it to the public.  Construction is expected to begin in June 2019.

When it comes to the various failures of the big green NGOs in this country, nothing stands out like their disregarding of the climate change impacts of aviation.  Going on a flight is the most damaging climate choice that an individual can make. A fully-booked return trip from London to New York produces around 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per person (with the average American carbon footprint being about 19 tonnes a year).  Planes use vast amounts of kerosene over vast distances, with a global warming effect that is, according to the IPCC, around 2.7 times higher than the carbon emissions they produce (due partially to the height at which planes operate).  While aviation currently accounts for about 5% of global warming, it is also the fastest growing sector, at a time when other industries are at the very least under pressure to shrink their emissions.  The 20,000 planes in the air today are projected, under a business as usual scenario, to number 50,000 by as soon as 2040.  The EU predicts that if this exception continues to be made for aviation its share of global CO2 output could be 22% by 2050.

The ballooning of the sector hugely outstrips all slight improvements in fuel efficiency, as most of the significant gains on this front have already been made.  Alternative fuels (like hydrogen) and tech designs (like solar planes) remain little more than public relations stunts.  Even if such routes were feasible, planes are expensive, so airlines keep them in service for decades, and are not likely to retire them early and build new ones without massive political pressure.  Until a pathetic voluntary offset deal was struck in 2016, aviation was routinely ignored by national and international climate treaties because governments didn’t want to admit a simple fact: the only way to get a large cut in airline emissions is a large cut in the number of flights.  Despite American driving habits, flying already makes up 12% of all transport emissions nationally (it’s not clear how or if this number includes international flights).

With this information in mind, it’s possible that what is slated to happen at Tampa International Airport is even worse than what is happening at Big Bend.  The publicly owned airport has already spent a billion dollars on part one of a three phase plan, and intends to spend another billion.  It involves turning the airport into what some have called a “mini-city,” complete with offices, retailers, hotels, restaurants, and a giant car rental centre, with phase two expected to begin in late 2019.  More alarmingly, the final phase of the project is designed to expand capacity from the 19.6 million passengers of 2017, to accommodate 34 million in the coming years as demand grows.  This is classic expansionist spin: by building the extra gates and capacity, the airport is helping to stoke the increase in demand.

"It’s critical that we keep this airport up to date and support this kind of growth for the next twenty to thirty years," Hillsborough County Aviation Authority chair Robert Watkins said in February.  I’m sure it will seem like a wonderful investment when Tampa is hit by a seventeen foot storm surge that puts the runways underwater.  In a world where oil consumption must be cut in half within twelve years, is it logical or fair to allow an airport to almost double its emissions?  Or should all that effort perhaps go into alternative modes of travel? If you’re currently objecting that our economy is highly dependent on flights from tourists, seasonal visitors and retirees, you are correct, and should be very angry at businesspeople and politicians who for decades have argued that this is a sustainable model.  Luckily, CEO Joe Lopano (projected compensation for this year: $625,000, one of the highest paid airport CEOs in the country) has another plan, which is to have Tampa International achieve carbon neutral status.  There's just one problem: it only includes emissions from planes when they’re within the perimeter of the friggin’ airport.

Given the almost complete lack of dissenting voices against these projects from either the press or local environmentalists (with the quiet exception of Sierra Club), direct action that causes disruption and draws attention is the only tactic that is going to drag them into public consciousness in anything like the speed that is necessary.  These actions would be demanding and potentially dangerous. Last summer five workers were burned to death at Big Bend whilst trying to clean underneath an active boiler.  Airports are terrifying places to contemplate breaking the law.  But climate activists managed interventions against runway expansions at Heathrow International and other UK airports in the years immediately following the attacks on the London Underground, and the introduction of the “liquids as bombs” terrorism approach that annoys fliers to this day.  The U.S., with its paranoid and highly armed security apparatus, offers more challenges. But like all the others, we must overcome or subvert them.

The Extinction Rebellion protests are aimed primarily at political targets in capital cities.  Aside from the issue of geographic barriers that we face from way down here, actions against actual emission points are still important, and can supplement and build momentum for the general idea of the non-violent uprising (and we can of course find worthy structural targets closer to home should we so choose).  If we don’t oppose these plans that go full throttle in the wrong direction, and oppose them hard, they will make a mockery of any commitments our region makes -- in the present or future -- to 100% renewable energy. Climate change work that focuses on what we build at the expense of what we close down is missing the fundamental point.

Individuals can only choose honestly for themselves, but we must be brutally honest about what is a reason for holding back and what is an excuse.  As a childless, partially youthful white male, I have certain advantages when it comes to confrontational protest. But I'm also a green card holder in an age where even green card holders and American citizens are not safe from deportation, and it seems as if almost anything can happen.  I'm still more afraid of climate change than I am of the government. The chances are good that you also have room to maneuver in assisting with such actions.  As ever, we need supporters, such as legal experts, child care givers, drivers, writers, medics and mental health experts, cooks, artists and funders.  That means we need you.

This is a call to all the good people who support local businesses, care about plastic and straw pollution, voted to ban offshore oil drilling and expand transit spending in Hillsborough, decry the red tide and go on climate change demonstrations.  Now or never is the time for commitment and sacrifice. In my article on the Rise Up Climate march in St. Petersburg in September, I raised questions about whether it was worth our finite efforts to force a transition in a part of the world that is incredibly vulnerable to already locked-in climate change.  I still think that is an important discussion. But whether we remain here or not, there is now no doubt that we have a responsibility to suffocate major sources of greenhouse gas emissions on our doorsteps. If we fail to see any developments on this front, if the community appears to have insufficient will to survive, it will only become worthy of abandonment in another sense.  Tampa Bay is heading for extinction. The architects of that extinction are banking on our indifference. Are you ready to rebel?

The Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay planning page can be found here.  The first meeting will be in the next few weeks.  James Lamont can be contacted at jamesalexanderlamont[at] His website is Radical Beat.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Antarctigo Vespucci
Love in the Time of E-Mail
Polyvinyl/Big Scary Monsters, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Slackaholic Jeff Rosenstock is back with yet another album, inspiringly justifying his generally dishevelled look.  This time it’s Love in the Time of E-Mail, a collaboration with Fake Problems singer Chris Farren, under the awkward Antarctigo Vespucci name.  Apparently it’s a bad joke based on Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian guy who first presented evidence that the Americas were not in fact East Asia, and probably expected to remain a lot more famous for it.  Imagining themselves as the know-it-alls of Antarctica, Rosenstock and Farren have made a wintery power pop album (their second together) that looks for warmth and fun in the snow. Following the eye-blinking, post-election emergence vibe of January’s POST-, this time Jeff is bundling up again, and having the audacity to think he might actually make it through the coming dark months unscathed.

I know nothing about Chris Farren and Florida’s Fake Problems beyond what I’ve researched for this review.  But his position as the primary singer for Antarctigo Vespucci gives you an idea of the kind of sheen that’s covering this project.  He’s similar in turn to pop-rockers like Nate Ruess of The Format/fun., A.C. Newman of The New Pornographers, and Chris Conley of Saves The Day (with just slightly more positive results than this A&E review of their latest album 9).  Farren’s voice is much better suited to this style, with Rosenstock’s singing appeal being more that of the off-kilter unconventional.  The keyboards, xylophone, guitars and other twinkles suggest cold imagery at a safe distance, and are underscored with just enough punk and distortion to make it all feel grounded.  Maybe this holiday season you’ll spend some quality time with the people you care about, nobody will fall out, and you’ll feel some of life’s fleeting romance. After months of delaying this piece to research the evils of a company that puts a happy face over unfathomable malice, it sounds fantastically positive, despite featuring some forlorn love lyrics.  You’ll want to sing along immediately despite not having a clue what the words are.

Alongside all this twee goodness, the technological cynicism Rosenstock displayed on POST- and WORRY is still here, from the album title (with E-Mail replacing Cholera) on down: Breathless on DVD, White Noise, Voicemail.  I see the appeals of these as subject matter.  For all my primitivist bluster, I am willing without question to use tech available when I was a teenager, and still slowly adopt new practices at my own pace (getting my first smartphone in 2017, lowering my bourgeois standards to review streams and join the Apathy & Exhaustion WhatsApp group, etc).  That DVDs and voicemails might be considered old and quaint shows you how fast norms continue to move, without any real time to consider the consequences. Dinosaur corporations might still gather customer email addresses with a fury, but kids no longer even make phone calls, don’t buy discs of plastic, don’t make email addresses except to please potential employers.

I’m proud to be a countervailing force to the official narrative of progress.  It’s not full-on luddism (although their direct action was pretty great). It’s not about thinking these things are all bad or the previous was always good.  Rosenstock wouldn’t be churning out recorded music with modern production value every five minutes if he was being dogmatic about it. He also wouldn’t have pioneered the idea of a free download label (Quote/Unquote Records).  My love life has been shaped overwhelmingly by internet communication, bringing me to this place where the thought of a white holiday season is about as realistic as Google not harvesting all our data so they can invest the money in some hairbrained startup.  It’s just about challenging a viewpoint of technological faith that considers itself both the solution to all problems and inevitable -- which is often dangerous, or at least boring. Sure, life for most is getting shittier in ways both instinctive and empirical, but look at the latest sleek home surveillance device, that you can now get free with a Spotify account!

Here’s another example of why this critical thinking and clinging to old norms remains well justified.  Just as I did my initial listen to this album I got an email (ahem) from the progressive website The Baffler (one of the wonders of our paradise being the inability to do one thing at a time).  Its subject was The Revolution Will Not Be Emailed, and an enclosed article informed us that ten percent of all Gmail responses are now being sent by Smart Reply, those automated suggested sentences you may have seen under your messages (“Got it, thanks!”).  What a fucking stupid state of affairs. Things are so out of control that even the relatively recent notion of the internet-based relationship might be destined to become a subject of nostalgia (and thus, a future Jeff Rosenstock song).  Good luck trying to build a romantic connection with anything other than a goddamn fembot fax machine with that particular innovation. We’re drowning in so much digital trash that we can’t even be fucked to write the things!

In my POST- review I made the request that if Rosenstock was going to continue moving away from punk influences into the arms of the Pitchfork Festival crowd, he should do it without falling entirely into the post-emo indie blueprint of The Promise Ring and Jets To Brazil.  Well, on Love in the Time of E-Mail he has very much gone a different way, much to my enjoyment.  It’s still likely to get the approval of alternative trendsetters though, with a sugar pop sensibility that has every potential to truly crossover.  In the video for Freakin’ U Out (a fuzzy response to the old Samiam album) you can sense the duo’s desire for acceptance and relevance and also their unease with the idea.  Jeff (complete with some bloody prison-packed foil balloons) is late for their fake history museum piece titled 100 years of Antarctigo Vespucci.  Nobody shows up except an elderly woman who doesn’t even like their music, but she helps them realise that as long as they have their friendship, and even one person likes what they’ve put together, things can’t be that bad.

When not providing melodic joy, the likes of Voicemail, So Vivid!, E-mail and Lifelike remind me of last year’s Cities in Search of a Heart, the scratchy, melancholic release by The Movielife (happy first anniversary to my first assignment for Apathy & Exhaustion).  These tracks, mostly coming at the very beginning and end of the record, are like segues from the harsh reality of life, acknowledging the listeners’ general feelings before inviting them to safely have fun in the intervening 28 minutes.  Voicemail starts the album with the clack of analogue equipment, distorted notes and an overall vibe reminiscent of sample masters Boards of Canada and the nostalgia microgenre of hauntology.  The opening line is “I broadcasted your face onto my TV screen,” because everything except your loved ones is on there. Lo and behold, the third and final record by Fake Problems was apparently called Real Ghosts Caught on Tape.  Final track E-Mail ends with bird tweets rather than social media ones, the artists heading back out into the thawed wilderness.

I’m often the sort of writer who doesn’t so much sit down at the proverbial typewriter and open a vein as hammer my head into the keys in frustration, but in trying to do this review I feel some of the same anxiety as I did when writing about Jeff’s previous offering.  At the time of that one I put it down to my having only just gotten back into writing criticism on a regular basis, but I now suspect that it's because Rosenstock’s music has a quality to it which is hard to explain. And that is the sort of thing that terrifies us glorified opinion hawkers.  It also, thankfully, makes for interesting listening, and explains why the “official alternative” press has taken an interest in him. It’s in the dreamy goosebumps chorus of So Vivid!, the pummelling harmonies of Not Yours, and the cascading melodies of The Price Is Right Theme Song.  Antarctigo Vespucci is at once relatable and evokes a magical musical ability.  It’s most likely, of course, that as with most artists, Rosenstock has simply honed his craft over many years (I can’t say I thought much of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, for example), and with his prolific output, that’s a lot of honing.  Which is inspiringly human. As Jeff would doubtless agree, the idea of genius is mostly bollocks. Just keep at it. It’ll feel this good in the end.

You can hear Love in the Time of E-Mail at bandcamp.

It’s available in the U.S. from Polyvinyl in various formats, including 180-gram black vinyl with red starburst colouring.  The label also has a selection of merch including a suitably analogue “I love to email” desk set.  In Europe, Big Scary Monsters Records has 200 exclusive copies of the album in black with light pink splatter.