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Premier: Comanche Peak's Epic '2018'

John Anderson, the composer who releases music under the moniker Comanche Peak, undertook a monumental project at the beginning of 2018. He set out to release a song every day of the last year, paired with visuals, on his Instagram account. The result, 2018, arriving today at all streaming platforms, is a leviathan of a debut record. Over 180 minutes spanning 220-plus tracks, Anderson manipulates synths and soundscapes, creating a cinematic piece that is at once playful and emotionally vibrant.

Anderson’s music is informed by his wanderlust. Having lived in as disparate of places as Alaska to Fiji, India to West Texas, Anderson channels the mythos of these places into acute 70s SciFi-indebted songs. Now living in Los Angeles, Anderson’s day to day may have changed, trading jungle for concrete, but his mindset has remained grounded in the fantastic, the mysterious and the wonder he’s uncovered in all walks of life.

Check out the first song of his epic album, fittingly called “January 1st”, below and stream all of 2018 wherever you listen to music.

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Revisiting Summer Darling, All Records Now Streaming + 10 Essential Songs

Heather and Ben, co-founders of Chain Letter Collective, started their time in the LA Scene as members of the band Summer Darling. The band has long been absent from streaming services, but as of January 11th, 2019, all of Summer Darling’s recorded output is available to stream. All proceeds from the releases will be donated to MUSICares, a charity that assists musicians struggling with addiction.

To help the new listener, we’ve shared a brief history of the band, a classic video for the song “The Author,” directed by Josh Locy, and a 10 Essential Summer Darling Songs Playlist. We hope you enjoy your exploration of the band!

A Brief History of Summer Darling

In the fall of 2010, Summer Darling was having a moment. That July saw the release of their self-titled 2nd LP on local label Origami Vinyl and a well-attended residency at Spaceland, Los Angeles’ tastemaking rock club. They followed the residency with a North American tour opening for Ok Go, culminating in a show at the Nokia Theater (now Club Novo). It felt like Summer Darling was poised for a big breakthrough, yet little over a year later, the band was all but over.  

 To understand the demise of a band like Summer Darling, it’s worth examining where they came from. The band was formed by Ben Heywood, Heather Bray and Dan Rossiter in 2002. They released the EP What’s Done Is Done and played shows in and around Los Angeles before embarking on the first of many West Coast tours. A San Francisco based label Last Stand took notice, and signed them to a modest contract. The money wasn’t much but it allowed the trio to record an album with Frank Lenz, Richard Swift and Elijah Thomson. The result, 2004’s I Know You, I Never Knew You made a small splash in LA’s indie rock scene. The band expanded to a four-piece, with Rossiter moving from drums to guitar, and continued to play up and down the West Coast.

 Last Stand didn’t survive long, however. The label folded shortly after the release of I Know You, forcing Summer Darling to slow down. In 2005, Ben and Heather got married. The band spent 2006 and 2007 bouncing from studio to studio, stringing money together where they could, recording bits and pieces of what would become two EPs, 2008’s Health of Others and 2009’s Good Feeling. It was a time of constant transition, as the band went through three drummers and two labels before landing with Origami Vinyl. Previous drummer, Todd Spitzer, moved back from Portland, allowing Summer Darling’s most well-known line-up to record their second LP with producer Sean Foye.

 At the time, it felt like the turmoil of constant member turnover and no clear direction was over. 2010’s Summer Darling was the confident statement of a band that had persevered through 8 years of insecurity, under-attended shows and few resources. Their workman-like approach to touring, often driving 8 to 10 hours to play to five people in a basement for nothing more than a floor to crash on and a case of beer, earned them a reputation as grinders. Their relentless DIY approach paid off in the live show. Dan and Ben’s interlocking guitar parts combined with the bombastic rhythm section of Todd and Heather to create a dizzying cacophony, over which Ben and Heather sang about broken relationships, substance abuse and critical examinations of the Pentecostal Church in which both Ben and Heather had been raised.

 They were rewarded with better shows, and for the first time, a small but fervent fan base. It wasn’t enough. At the outset of 2011, Todd announced he was leaving the band to pursue a simpler life in the countryside of Pennsylvania. It was understandable; he’d been through a divorce and everyone was tired of being flat broke all the time. Dan, Ben and Heather soldiered on, however, acquiring the talents of Mike Horick on drums and touring throughout 2011.

The wheels finally came off in 2012, due primarily to a confluence of circumstances in Ben’s life. Having struggled with addiction and clinical depression for years, the overdose death of a close friend and ex-bandmate fueled his complete emotional collapse. By the time Summer Darling played a sold-out 10th anniversary show in September, Ben was despondent and suicidal. His relationships with his band members had deteriorated and his marriage to Heather was in limbo. Though no one knew it at the time, it would be Summer Darling’s final show.

 In 2013, at the encouragement of Heather, Ben sought treatment. Heather was also instrumental in getting the band back in the same room so that they could record their final album, most of which had been written by the time the group had unofficially disbanded. During a Christmastime blizzard, Ben, Heather, Dan and producers Sean Foye and Robert Cheek went to a cabin in Mammoth, CA and recorded Abandoner. A unflinching look at suicide and hopelessness, Abandoner never saw a wide release, yet remains an intriguing artifact as an album by a band about breaking up, while it was breaking up.

 Summer Darling’s legacy is slight. They never were a popular band by any metric.  Yet their records remain relevant testaments to the power of emotionally honest songwriting and forward-thinking arrangements. Too angular to be pop music but too pop-minded to be math rock, Summer Darling exists in rock and roll purgatory, a no-man’s-land where bands that don’t sound like anyone else and never broke through the national consciousness remain forever lost. With the reissue of their records, perhaps now a few more people will find them.

 Summer Darling in 10 Songs

  1. My Reminder (from Summer Darling)

  2. Hello Liars (from Abandoner)

  3. Dressed Up For Funerals (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)

  4. Son (from Summer Darling)

  5. Outer Dark (from Abandoner)

  6. The Author (from Summer Darling)

  7. Ride This Wave of Good Feelings (from 3 EPs)

  8. Blazing Fire (from 3 EPs)

  9. Liberty St (from Abandoner)

  10. Math Is Everywhere (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)

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dIMBER Shares Body Positive "Sons and Daughters" Video

There’s a lot of depressing shit in the media currently. What discourages me further is the media we consume is specifically curated to be as rage-inducing and divisive as possible, because that’s what drives clicks (read: advertising). So with this in mind, it’s a breath of fresh air to share the new dimber video. Directed by Elizabeth Weinberg, the official video for “Sons & Daughters” juxtaposes lyrics that criticize the patriarchal police state with a badass body-positive dance party. Take three minutes and enjoy!

Here’s what dimber’s CJ Miller has to say about the video:

"And with a developing strength perhaps we can create a shift towards equal opportunity and access for every human. With no discrimination based upon ethnicity, sexuality, physicality or gender... a dismantling of any oppression based on our innate qualities. And a dismantling of restrictive gender roles. Where girls must be soft and demure. Where boys are punished for crying and expressing vulnerability. Where girls play house. And boys play with guns. 

Sons and Daughters is an outcry against those roles and systems. The ways we feel isolated from each other, even in a densely populated city. It also relates to my experience as a trans girl in navigating gender roles and a world which would see me dead or bound and gagged in pink satin. Maybe the kids will do better."

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Election 2018: Everything Is Shit and We’re Hurtling Towards Death Edition

Welcome back to Chain Letter’s California election opinion series! You could spend a few hours on Ballotpedia.org OR you could have us do the work for you!

We’ll be examining the Senate Race, House Race for district 28, CA Governor’s Race, and the very exciting propositions.

A quick disclaimer about me, as I feel it important to know the inherent biases of the person writing any opinion-based article:

I’ve been called a cynical left-wing atheist commie. While these statements aren’t exactly true, it is 100 percent true I’ve been called these things. Often.

 

Senate Race

Let’s start with a coin toss: Diane Feinstein v Kevin de Leon. Both candidates are staunch liberals. The argument against Feinstein is one of status quo—she’s been a senator for California since 1992. De Leon represents a sea change of new blood desiring to shake up the US Senate. It’s a valid argument, but one that may disproportionately reflect a desire for “change.” Yes, Feinstein has been rewarded for her long run in the Senate, but her record reflects someone who has the gumption to stand for progressive beliefs. Is she a little too cozy with the Washington establishment, corporate lobbyists, and general political tom-fuckery? Sure. You’re welcome to hold that against her. De Leon is a local boy from East LA and also stands for progressive ideologies, with an emphasis on immigration reform. De Leon’s detractors paint him as overly-ambitious, with a nepotism streak.

This is a touch choice. Feinstein is a career politician; ergo she is flawed. But de Leon is no stranger to politics, either. Furthermore, is there enough we know about de Leon that would suggest a wild change in policy effectiveness?  I’m not sure. This is one choice for which I don’t have a solid recommendation yet. If I come across anything in the next couple of weeks I’ll be sure to update the post.

Vote: UNDECIDED

Heather’s opinion: she is a ranking member on the Judiciary Committee (subcommittees: Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security). She is also on the Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Rules and Administration, and the Senate Committee on Appropriations (subcommittees: Energy and Water (Vice Chairman). Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Defense. Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Interior, Environmental and Related Agencies.)

——So…a BAD ass hard working woman!!!! vote: Feinstein

 

House Race

I live in the California’s 28th district. My representative to the US House of Representatives is Adam Schiff. Schiff gained national recognition as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and for his vehement criticism of Donald Trump. He will be re-elected with or without this blog’s endorsement, but for fun let’s look into the guy the Republicans got running against Schiff.

Known colloquially as Mr. Seafood, Johnny Nalbandian grew up in Hollywood, according to his website bio. He’s basically a wealthy old businessman who states plainly that his main qualification to represent us in the House is his success in business. He’s pro-Trump and Trump’s agenda. I’m sure there’s so much more to learn, but running on a platform that applauds the current administration in California’s 28th district guarantees an L for Mr. Seafood.

Vote: SCHIFF

 

Governor’s Race

If you’ve at all been paying attention to California politics the last decade, you probably recognize Gavin Newsom, the honey-tongued made-for-television Ex-Mayor of San Francisco who’s seeking the California Governorship as a Democrat. If you’re a progressive, this is your guy. He says all the right shit, is super interested in California adopting a Medical-for-all approach to health care, wants to end child poverty, decrease income inequality, and make the state eventually run on 100% renewable energy. You get the picture. Conservatives hate him. Dems love him. (Side note: As we move into a future of more extreme partisan politics, I predict a transition  towards stronger state’s rights as people push for the right to live in communities that reflect their values. Newsom is an example of where we’re headed. States like Hawaii and California will get more and more liberal, while states like Alabama and Mississippi will elect harder-line conservatives.)

However, liberal buyer beware. Newsom’s a lady’s man with a few scandals on his record, including an affair with a staffer while he was mayor. I’ve also heard from multiple sources about his years scamming on young hostesses at different upscale SF restaurants. In the age of #metoo, this is especially troubling. It seems progressives aren’t immune from having to support a candidate whose background may not be as saintly as we’d like.

Luckily the Republicans aren’t running a centrist. Republican candidate John Cox would be such a backwards choice for California, it makes Newsom’s smarmy boss vibe a little bit easier to stomach. This wealthy venture capitalist has been aching for public office for some time, having run previously for the U.S. Senate and House.  He believes that the state’s gas tax is a main contributing reason to why California’s adjusted poverty rate is so high. Hmm. My guess is he hasn’t tried renting a home on minimum wage, like, ever. He’s critical of a single payer health care system, which Newsom supports. He blames California’s environmental regulations for the high cost of home ownership and the rising homeless population.

With Cox, it’s basically the same shit we’ve heard from the right over and over. He’ll get a bump from short-sighted Prop 6 supporters (more on that in a bit) but in reality John Cox is the embodiment of the wealthy white patriarchy.

Vote: NEWSOM

 

The Propositions

 

Prop 1: Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond

Who’s supporting: Democratically-controlled California State Legislature who proposed the ballot measure, Gov. Brown who signed it into law.

Who’s against: Not a whole lot. Some scattered fiscally-minded conservatives.

Where the money’s coming from: Mark Zuckerberg’s nonprofit, as well as realtors, developers, and construction trade groups.

As many advertisements as you’ve probably seen for Prop 10—“the rent is too damn high!”—Prop 1 is the real ballot measure looking to help tackle the housing crisis in California. By selling bonds, the state is looking to fund initiatives that would generate $1 billion for the CalVet Home Loan Program, which offers loans to veterans for the purchase of homes, farms, units in cooperative developments, and mobile homes, $1.5 billion for the Multifamily Housing Program (MHP), which offers loans for the construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of rental housing for persons with incomes of 60 percent or below of the area median income, and another 1.5 billion split into a variety of programs that support low income and moderate income home buyers, grants for infrastructure that supports high-density affordable housing, and, of course, tax breaks for developers who develop next to public transportation.

Will this cost the state money? Yes. 170 million a year is the estimate. And, yes, it’s also true that money alone won’t solve California’s housing crisis. However, public investment is how change begins. Think of it as putting some skin in the game. Personally, I’m fucking tired of traveling around LA on the bus and seeing such opulence kitty-corner to the destitute and marginalized. We have enough resources to help solve this problem, now we just need the conviction to follow through. Prop 1 is hopefully the next step in solving this.

Vote: YES

 

Prop 2: Authorizes Bonds to Fund Existing Housing Program for Individuals With Mental Illness

Who’s supporting: California State Legislature, mental health workers, police unions, Habitat for Humanity, Socially conscious alliances.

Who’s against: National Alliance of Mental Illness, Contra Costa County.

Where the money’s coming from: The people lobbying for prop 1 are also supporting prop 2. The two initiatives go hand in hand.

This proposition is clerical in nature. The California State Legislature wants to use revenue generated by a previous proposition (prop 63 in 2004 that levied a 1% tax on millionaires to be spent on mental health services) to now include housing costs for veterans in need of mental health services. Because the original tax was levied as result of a voter-approved ballot measure, the change to include veterans requires a new vote.

Detractors worry that the funds that were supposed to help homeless people struggling with mental illness will now be diverted to helping veterans, ultimately lining the pockets of developers and bureaucrats. This argument ignores the fact that a large portion of the homeless population struggling with mental illness are also veterans.

To me, this proposition aims to include and support veterans and others struggling with homelessness. As someone who really wants to see homelessness end, but is generally powerless to help outside of volunteer work or giving five bucks where and when I can, these two propositions give me the opportunity to contribute.

Vote: YES

 

Prop 3: Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative

Who’s supporting: Sen. Feinstein, various CA State representatives, Johnny Cox, shit tons of conservation groups, unions, agricultural lobbyist groups,

Who’s against: Democratic Rep. Anthony Rendon, Sierra Club

Where the money’s coming from: PACs funded by agricultural and environmental interests. And fucking Ducks Unlimited, everyone’s favorite aquatic fowl preservation group. They ponied up big time.

This proposition is the classic “pay-to-play” ballot initiative, meaning the groups supporting prop 3 stand to receive a large portion of the funds the proposition generates. The first thing that tickled my bullshit detector is that so many business interests were supporting a proposition that would raise funds to “go toward conservancies and state parks to restore and protect watershed lands and nonprofits and local agencies for river parkways.” I also noted that Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox is supporting this measure. What further threw me for a loop is that the ballot does seek to prioritize revitalization in marginalized communities. So where was the truth? I read closer, but I didn’t see a whole lot of specifics on how this money would be allocated to these communities or what they were even going to do with it.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of progressive journalistic criticism of Prop 3. No one’s saying that California’s water situation is solved. But the criticism I read about the prop rings true, especially this quote from a Los Angeles Times editorial: “when money is flowing and water isn’t, it’s easy to be seduced into spending on the wrong water projects at the wrong time and for the wrong benefits and beneficiaries. Proposition 3 would lead us into exactly that kind of trap.” Personally, I don’t like businesses asking me for a subsidy. To worship free market capitalism then look to the public for capital is nothing more than socialism for the rich.

Vote: NO

 

Prop 4: Children’s Hospital Bond Initiative

Who’s supporting: PAC entitled Yes 4 Children’s Hospitals, California Teachers Association

Who’s against: No official opposition, however there are a variety of industry watchdogs that have contributed arguments against Prop 4.

Where the money’s coming from: If you guessed “The Industry that will be receiving the money, i.e. Children’s Hospitals”… ding.

Who doesn’t want to give money to help sick kids? No one! Which is why we did it in 2004 and 2008. The contrarian in me can’t help but notice how deeply unpopular it must be to oppose a proposition like this. But fuck it. Let’s se if I can argue against helping sick kids.

Attempt 1: If this were such a necessary bond measure, why didn’t the California State Legislature propose it? Instead, the initiative was paid for by the hospitals themselves.

Attempt 2: The fact that we do not have a public health care option yet are simultaneously asked to help fund hospitals feels contradictory to me.  Either let’s make the whole fucking thing public or stay private and stop asking the public for money. Every time the taxpayers pick up the tab we get further away from Medical for all.

Did I win anyone over? Probably not. I’m not even sure I’m convinced. In fairness, the hospitals (8 private non-profits and a few University of California hospitals) could use the money. They’re basically asking each California resident for a $40 donation to help them better meet demand.

I also don’t have kids, so take that for what it’s worth.

Vote: NO (Who am I kidding? I’ll probably vote yes)

 

Prop 5: Property Tax Initiative

Who’s supporting: Real Estate Agents and Seniors

Who’s against:  People with families, teachers, most liberal publications

Where the money’s coming from: Both sides have formed PACs to fuel their opinions, but the initiative was originally funded by a group of real estate agents.

Prop 5 proposes to tackle the housing crisis in a different way: by lowering property taxes on seniors and the disabled. Sounds nice in theory. The problem is that the cut in property taxes is basically a two-pronged fuck you to everyone else in the state. This is especially true for working class families, for whom Prop 5 would subtract revenue from a public education system that’s already struggling and would not provide any additional help for this demographic to buy homes of their own. Hard pass.

Vote: NO

 

Prop 6: Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative

Who’s supporting: Republican State Assembly members, conservative PACs, John Cox

Who’s against: Gov. Brown, Democrats, Construction Trade Councils, Labor Unions, supposedly the majority of California voters in 2017 (I’ll explain)

Where the money’s coming from: conservative PACs

Prop 6 is for all intents and purposes a brilliant political move by California Republicans to get their conservative base out to vote this November. By dangling the shiniest of conservative carrots in front of them: a juicy tax cut, the hope is tons of Republican voters likely to sit the midterms out will show up.

In 2017, voters in CA approved Prop 69, tying a recent gas tax increase to infrastructure spending. The bill guarantees 52 billion dollars will be spent on transportation related infrastructure creation and repair over the next 10 years. Prop 6 would repeal this, because…shrug emoji? Oh, because taxes are bad and we as Californians are fucking pissed about the extra $0.12 a gallon we’re currently paying—and have been paying without anyone really noticing for a while, I might add.

This Prop is actually designed to galvanize the Republican base in hopes that by bringing them out to the polls, the seats up for grabs in the US House of Representatives will stay red. Clever move. But this is a really, really bad idea for everyday Californians, regardless of your politics. Have you driven on our roads lately? They’re shit. Ditching 52 billion dollars in revenue in favor of saving a dollar or two every time you fill up your car is an extremely near-sighted way to live. Prop 6 is bullshit.

Vote: NO

 

Prop 7: Permanent Daylight Savings Time If Federal Law Allows

Who’s supporting: Rational People

Who’s against: Grumps, Farmers in 1914

Where the money’s coming from: Who cares? Time changes are lame and unnecessary.

Prop 7 exists because, in order to eventually enact permanent DST (if Federal Law allows), we must first repeal Prop 12 of 1949. There are a variety of arguments for and against having permanent daylight savings time. The pros are things like a reduction in health risks, and the general annoyance of feeling weird and off for a week following the change. The cons are things like children having to go outside in the dark. But what about the farmers?

In case you haven’t noticed, we moved away from being an agrarian economy. The vast majority of farming is now commercial in nature, meaning large-scale, technologically-advanced. The vision of poor Famer Frank alone in the dark picking turnips is an antiquated myth. Arizona and Hawaii already operate on permanent DST.  Let’s set ourselves up for being able to get rid of time changes in the future.

Vote: YES

 

Prop 8: Limits In Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative

Who’s supporting: A PAC formed by a medical labor union and the California Dialysis Council

Who’s against: California Medical Association, DeVita, and Fresenius Medical Care

Where the money’s coming from: Unions for, Corporate medical companies against

The reason I know no one under the age of 55 watches baseball anymore is how many Prop 8 commercials I’ve seen during this year’s MLB playoffs. First, let’s plainly state what a “yes” vote would mean: it would require dialysis clinics to issue refunds to patients or patients' payers for revenue above 115 percent of the costs of direct patient care and healthcare improvements. It would also prohibit dialysis clinics from discriminating or refusing service based on a patient’s payer, be it private insurance or Medical or Medicaid. The effect of the Prop would most likely encourage dialysis clinics to invest more money into worker’s wages and medical upgrades by penalizing profit hordeing.

Prop 8 is the latest development in a decades long fight between a powerful medical labor union SEIU-UHW and the state’s two largest dialysis businesses, DeVita and Fresenius Medical Care. It’s a power move to get the businesses to hire more employees from this specific union. But it could have dangerous side effects, like actually hampering care of the very patients this Prop purports to protect.

This one is difficult for me, as generally I support labor unions and have no love for medical corporations. But to use people’s lives as bargaining chips seems reckless. Most editorials I read on the proposition say this is a quandary better left to legislative bodies.  I don’t know if that’s true, but universally, most people with more knowledge than me on this subject are recommending a “No” vote.

Vote: NO (sometimes you gotta go with the experts)

Prop 10: Local Rent Control Initiative

Who’s supporting: Yes on 10 PAC, the Coalition for Affordable Housing, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Democratic Party

Who’s against: California Apartment Association, California Rental Housing Association and developers, California Republican Party, Both gubernatorial candidates

Where the money’s coming from: Mostly dark money from developers who are opposing 10, but the ballot measure arrived via the State Legislature.

The fourth and final ballot initiative tackling California’s housing crisis, Prop 10 would empower local government to enact rent control on any type of rental housing, essentially ending the Costa-Hawkins Rental Act. The Costa-Hawkins Rental Act put certain limitations on rent control, such as banning rent control on condominiums and townhomes. It’s interesting to note that neither gubernatorial candidate (Newsom nor Cox) supports a full repeal of Costa-Hawkins.

Proponents of 10 say rent control is an immediate boon to renters while CA residents wait for more affordable housing to be built. Many consider it a social justice project to protect the housing of the most marginalized communities. But the opposition to 10 includes organizations like the NAACP and the United Latinos Vote, muddying the waters. Prop 10 will also likely effect homeowners, as single family dwellings would be eligible for rent control.

Opinion is generally split on Prop 10. Many people are worried that this bill gives local government too much power, and could disincentivize development of new housing in California. I’m calling bullshit on this argument. There’s plenty of money to be made on developing housing in California. Furthermore, as someone who enjoys rent control, it would be hypocritical to not support rent control opportunities for more people.

Vote: YES (although this one is not as straightforward as the ads make it seem)

Prop 11: Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative

Who’s supporting: American Medical Response

Who’s against: California Teacher’s Association, State Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez

Where the money’s coming from: Californias for Emergency Preparedness has poured over $20 million (!) into supporting Prop 11. There is no money opposing.

Prop 11 exists because of a 2016 California Supreme Court decision that employer-required on-call breaks violated state labor law. Basically, the court ruled that if you’re on break, then you can’t be made to work, even in the event of an emergency. The unintended consequence of this ruling was that it requires EMT and other 9-1-1 emergency respondents to take breaks, during which they are unpaid and unreachable. This seems bizarre to me. Their job is to literally be on call in case of emergency. They should be paid during their breaks and should remain on call.

Vote: YES

 

Prop 12: Farm Animal Confinement Initiative

Who’s supporting: Humane Society, some animal rights groups

Who’s against: Pork and Egg producers, PETA, other animal rights groups

Where the money’s coming from: Mostly a Human Society fueled PAC

Prop 12 aims to ban the sale of meat and eggs from livestock and hens kept in inhumane conditions by mandating the minimum size of their confinement. It is an update to a previous proposition (Prop 2 of 2008) that did not specify how big the square footage of the confinements needed to be. It will also compel egg producers to house egg-laying hens in cage-free housing systems by 2022. This sounds nice in theory. However, most animal rights activists are calling this a plot of collusion between the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers that would keep hens in “horrific multi-level ‘cage-free’ factory systems” because the guidelines of “cage-free” in this bill are based on an outdated standard.

Opponents also feel like the Humane Society misled voters with the 2008’s Prop 2, saying if they’d followed through on the promises of the previous proposition, California would already be cage-free. Supporters applaud the new Prop’s strict guidelines to ensure better treatment of farm animals.

It sure is strange to see PETA on the same side as organizations that kill animals for meat. I couldn’t quite figure out why that would be, so I went to PETA’s site for clarification and found a nuanced and compelling argument against Prop 12. PETA argues that Prop 12 sends consumers the misleading message that the egg production system is changing, when in reality the initiative does not require a change until 2022, and even then, it is an incremental one. They also brought up the point that the market is already pushing egg producers and meat companies towards more humane treatment of hens and livestock, as organic, cage-free, vegetarian-feed products grow in popularity.

There’s a certain zealotry that I’m skeptical of, a dogmatic sense of moral certitude that worries me when it comes to organizations like PETA. However, in this case, it’s hard to argue that the non-profit organization most aligned with the ethical treatment of animals (it’s literally in their name) would be against a ballot initiative that helped animals. For that reason, I will take their recommendation on Prop 12.

VOTE: NO

Lastly, no, I didn’t skip one. Prop 9 was removed from the ballot by the California Supreme Court. The ill-fated initiative would have divided California into three separate states. It’s basically the brainchild of Tim Draper, a venture capitalist who wants to keep more of his money. Tim, hot tip: just move. Probably cheaper than spending millions of dollars to get this initiative on the ballot.

This concludes or 2018 CA election coverage. Thanks for reading. We got until 2040 before this whole thing goes belly up, so until then, let’s do our best to make this a world in which we want to live.

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Straya: The Chain Letter Interview

Straya (left to right): Mark, Sanjeev, Toby,  & Cody //  photo by Isabel Fajardo

Straya (left to right): Mark, Sanjeev, Toby,  & Cody // photo by Isabel Fajardo

Straya came our way through a recommendation by He Whose Ox Is Gored drummer John O'Connell. I was hungover in his kitchen after a late night in Seattle. 58 people were dead from a shooting in Vegas the night before and we woke up to the news that Tom Petty had also passed. John squeezed oranges and fixed me a drink and we listened to Straya's Sobereyed in its entirety.  I was struck by how limitless the music was, how grand the scope. Turns out, I'm not alone, as rave reviews continue to pile up for the Minneapolis post-metal band's second LP. I had a chance to correspond with them recently about various sentient topics. Read the interview below and go see Straya on March 29th at Mortimer's in Mpls. Or, if you're like me and live elsewhere, check out this rad live video of my favorite track from Sobereyed, entitled simply "K."

 

Filmed by Sam Silverness for Natural Media

 

Taken as a whole, ‘Sobereyed’ is a colossal piece of music. I’m curious how a band goes about writing a record like this. What can you tell me about how ‘Sobereyed’ came to be?

Cody (guitar/vocalss): Sobereyed took a long time to come together (e.g. “Timid” dates back to 2015), and the writing was more conceptual than anything we’d done previously. There wasn’t a ton of “jamming” to figure out these songs. Ideas — either constructed parts or just concepts — usually originated with one person, then were brought to the whole band. There was a lot more talking before diving into playing than there was just feeling out parts, etc. Even before all the core pieces of the album were finished, we wrote out a sort of sonic path we wanted the album to follow. The major dynamic contrasts and flow were very critical to the album.

Toby (drums/keys): Like Cody said, I think we tried to be very aware that we were writing a record, not just songs. Four of the songs were more or less written independently (Timid, Acoustic Song, Leach, and K.) and I think those were the pillars we structured everything else around. But even before we were completely done writing those songs, we were talking and thinking about song order, album flow, etc. We agreed on loose ideas of what we thought the record was still missing, and then brought in concepts that we individually had on how to fill those spaces.

Is the record a concept record? It’s obvious to me, with both the Faulkner and Kafka references, that there’s something literary behind it.

Mark (guitar/keys): Sobereyed is not a concept album in the lineage of 70’s prog where there is a focused thematic narrative throughout (e.g., Pink Floyd’s Animals or Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans)—and it certainly is not a Bowie-esque concept album with characters and a sense of physical space being constructed (e.g., Outside or Ziggy Stardust). I understand the sentiment behind the question, though, as a feeling of “literariness” seems to be a large factor in how people define the concept of a concept album.

A distinction that feels relevant to me is that many concept albums have a transparent artifice and organization to them: “I am going to write all of these songs about different types of people that I feel negatively about, and I’ll represent them symbolically as different types of animals like Orwell did . . .” Sobereyed is much more diffuse than this, with lyrical themes simply being derived from the art we had been engaging with at the time and how it made us feel about the world. Luckily, all four of us have some overlapping sentiments that we wanted to share, so we built an aural/textural/harmonic narrative to give it structure. It’s important to me to not create art that forces others to engage with it in one particular way, so I’m not sure if I/we could ever write a “traditional” concept album.

As for the Faulkner reference in the title, that was half aleatoric; I chose texts that I felt fit the mood of the beginning of the record, then mined them for passages that called to mind descriptions the album cover. There is no direct (intended) correlation between the themes of that text and the themes of any of the lyrics—but it is a text that I like to have existing in a network with Sobereyed. Kafka is much more directly linked to the thematic content of the track “K.” Aside from the direct reading of “Vor dem Gesetz,” the lyrics are essentially my impressions/meditations after rereading two of his novels.

Tell me a bit about the Minneapolis scene today.

Cody: I’m not sure what to say about it, at this moment. There’s not a singular sound of the scene; it’s a lot of little niches. Fortunately, Straya gets to play on all kinds of different bills, thanks to nice friends who make a wide variety of music. If you know where to look, you can see some great and strange music most nights of the week. For example, tonight I’m excited to go to a free show at a bowling alley to watch Sanjeev’s screamo band play with an experimental noise group.

Overall, it bums me out a bit to consider the scene as a whole: Two of the best venues for underground bands — the Triple Rock and the Reverie — have closed in the past year. It doesn’t really feel like there’s a “home” venue anymore. The main music press here consistently brings up the same types of radio-friendly, highly groomed pop acts. One company owns many of the popular venues and books most of the bigger shows, effectively monopolizing the parts of the scene that aren’t explicitly DIY. So, I tend to stick to going to shows my friends put on. And the more time I spend here, the more great musicians I meet.

You grew up with the internet. Every musical nugget has been available to you. How does one think about music with that advantage? How does one discover a major influence? For example, in my formative years, I found out about bands from reading zines, or word of mouth, or going to shows and seeing the opening bands, and, to a minor extent, the radio. I’d imagine it’s different now?

Toby: I don’t know about the others, but for better or for worse the main effect has been that I often now think of music in terms of time. Everything is always available for me to listen to, and if there’s any particular niche or genre I want to explore there are literally hundreds of lists that could guide me. It kind of becomes a matter of what’s “worth it” at a given time or what’s the “right thing” to spend my time listening to, which is really confusing and disheartening. On the bright side, this glut of music also means that I usually give up on trying and just listen to what my friends recommend, which is always great and very rewarding. I think I end up attaching to the records my friends love a lot more than to records I know I “should” check out, etc.

Sanjeev (bass/vocals): I have always discovered new music primarily through friend recommendations so things haven’t really changed much for me. Maybe that’s because music has always been a social and not purely personal experience for me. The particular access routes have changed (I mostly stream now) but how I find the music in the first place is basically the same.  

Mark: Digital files of music being easily and often freely available was integral to my development as a musician, especially as a child. In November 2016, we lost our most important digital cultural institution, the private torrent tracker What.CD. (Yes, I’ve heard the argument that file sharing is making artists lose money—but US copyright laws are insane and a massive barrier to creativity. I am not advocating for breaking copyright law here.) Everything was so meticulously cataloged on their website (much more so than the library that I work at), and you could always find that strange demo from your favorite artist that isn’t available anywhere. Having that kind of access didn’t make me voraciously dig into everything that I could, though; it mostly led me to finding very specific artists/records that felt perfect and investing a lot of time into interacting with them. My path to locating those works was usually through reading articles on Wikipedia, searching through similar artists on Last.fm, and finding strange playlists. As I’ve grown older, though, recommendations from friends (who are now also older with more developed taste) have become increasingly important.

Cody: Most music that has been really impactful for me has come from other people’s recommendations. I’ve definitely found artists I like through things like clicking around on Bandcamp tags or waiting for a streaming algorithm to feed me a song it thinks i’ll like. And I recognize that our band has grown up with an endless supply of digital music available to us. I’m glad we’ve lived in a time that allows us to hear art from all over the world, and that music is usually accessible for free to anyone with an internet connection. But like Sanjeev, music is often a highly social/communal thing to me. I love to share music and have it shared with me.

Tell me a bit of the band members’ interests outside of Straya.

Toby: Currently I’m super into trying figure out how to work Ableton.

Sanjeev: I spent a lot of time organizing with the Fight for 15 here, and I’m starting to get back into organizing with local socialist organizations. I am in two other bands in Minneapolis, and I’ve also started strength training. (Editor's note: Sanjeev's other bands are Tulip and Sleep Debt. Both have yet to release music, but are playing locally in Mpls.)

Mark: I spend most of my time lately on Wikipedia or reading Samuel Delany. Physical activity is really important to me too; I make most of my important decisions on a bicycle or a long walk. And I think that everyone could stand to watch more animated films/TV shows.

Cody: I work as a journalist, so most of my energy outside of music goes into consuming/trying to understand the news and the topics I cover(climate change/environmental issues). I like to bike whenever I can, too.

As a label, we’re interested in challenging certain aspects of capitalism and social conservatism. However, we’re reaching a stalemate between ideological standpoints in this country. If we’re to make progress, the arts are more important than ever. Often it’s movies, music, and writing that changes culture. Where does Straya fit in to this polemic?

Cody: Our music isn’t overtly political, as you’d find with even a cursory read of our lyrics. To me, this album is more of a means for meditation and release, which has grown more important even over the course of making it.

Sanjeev: I remember waking up after the election to a gray and foreboding sky. I could barely drag myself out of bed. When I mustered up the energy to make some breakfast before work, my eggs and bread turned to ashes in my mouth. I felt powerless, afraid, and alone. In this condition, people are physically incapable of struggling for a better world for themselves, and for all of us. The political drive of my music is to combat these dispiriting processes through acknowledgement, connection, and resonance.

Beneath the atomizing forces of neoliberal capitalism under which we all struggle today, music has so much radical potential. People working together and connecting can help re-establish the communal bonds that have been severed under the indoctrination of the “bootstraps” myth. I want to acknowledge the mundane isolating terror that most people wake up to every day but also communicate that this isn’t the only truth there is. (This is most clearly seen in “Leach.”) By re-discovering the social nature of humanity and working together, we can start to erode the foundations of the structure under which we all toil. Music, and art in general, has the power to shatter the narrow expectations of what is possible and allow us to imagine a radically just and equitable world.

Talk about the last thing that inspired you. It can be anything.

Sanjeev: The West Virginia teacher’s strike. Solidarity!

Mark: Hearing a friend talk about a collection of short stories that I lent them—or watching Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev for the first time!

Cody: A random call from my friend Adam, and Ryuichi Sakamoto's “async.”

Straya's Sobereyed continues to rule this writer's musical world. They've got a host of dates up at their bandcamp page plus are working on a potential tour of the West Coast this August.

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