Adam’s Culture Column 4/7
Read what's on the brain of Life Editor Adam Coil
April 8, 2022
On Sunday, Tyler, The Creator took home the grammy for Best Rap Album with his 2021 project, “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST”. With this victory, Tyler has now been awarded a Grammy for two consecutive projects — he won Best Rap Album in 2020 for his experimental breakthrough, “IGOR”.
In honor of this victory, the song of the week is “MASSA” off of “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST”. While it is not as popular as hit tracks “CORSO” or “WUSYANAME”, the song displays Tyler when he is at his best lyrically.
Introspective and honest, “MASSA” is all about being unapologetically yourself and the growing pains that coincide with self-discovery.
Tyler’s sound and style have evolved constantly over the years, but he has always remained himself — a characteristic that fans never take for granted. I think that this song is a great reminder of the importance of being yourself while navigating life in your own way.
Donald Glover recently returned to television when he released the third season of “Atlanta”, for which he is a writer, executive producer and actor. Episodes are released once a week, but just from taking a look at the three episodes that are out thus far, season three has a lot of promise.
“Atlanta” has always been deeply concerned with diving into contemporary social issues, but with the characters moving out of the locational norm of Atlanta, Glover’s critiques have changed aims.
The main targets that “Atlanta” seems to be pointed at are ignorant, white liberals, or what I believe conservatives might describe as “the ‘woke’ left”. The first episode follows the story of a white couple that routinely adopts black children. What originally appears to be simple, tone-deafness and microaggression from them quickly manifests into something sinister. I found myself gawking at the TV when I finally realized what was actually taking place before me.
It is difficult to say what exactly makes Glover such an effective social critic. He has a unique knack for defamiliarizing everything we see. It is subtle, but through the masterful acting and meticulously paced shots, something uncanny begins to form, which almost always consummates in a dramatic plot shift further down the road.
You get the sense that something is off from the very beginning, but you have to stick around to find out exactly what that is.
The show is also tremendous at concealing insightful remarks through humor. Lakeith Stanfield, who plays Darius Epps, is tremendous as the comedic relief. His character is typically laid back and ultra-chill, but that only makes his piercing remarks all the more impactful.
“Atlanta” is unparalleled when it comes to using brilliant critiques to shock its audience out of a lolled state of aesthetic enjoyment.
Someone who has caught my attention on Tik Tok and never let it go is Baron Ryan, who goes by the username “americanbaron”. A one-man show, Baron plays all of the parts in his skits.
He has amassed over two million followers on the app by making clever short films with near-professional quality. His videos are typically concerned with philosophy, love, paradoxes and the millennial experience.
One Tik Tok that I keep coming back to is called “hotel could-have-been”. It is surprisingly complex given the means at Baron’s disposal to upload these videos. One of my favorite lines of his comes from this video when he says, “that’s a good idea. More people should write love letters to themselves.” This line only gets better the more you think about it in the context of the entire video. It is sad, introspective and even a little bit funny, but it is plagued by the same issue that many of his videos suffer from, which is a rushed, almost cliche ending.
While the temporal limitations of americanbaron’s Tik Toks do, in many ways, hinder the impact of his videos objectively, I find that they make his content more charming altogether. There is something about those endings that come seemingly out of nowhere that make me want to watch them over and over again, and it makes me wonder what he could do if he was given a deal with a major studio to make his own feature-length film.
I listened to Duster’s new album while surrounded by heavy, gray clouds and forests of barren trees. As it turned out, this was a pretty perfect setting for a first listen-through of “Together”.
Duster is a group that began in San Jose in the late 90s that has slowly emerged from obscurity over recent years after being unearthed and praised in niche music communities. Its experimental sound, most notably on the debut project “Stratosphere”, is finally being celebrated thanks to Tik Tok.
However, with “Together”, it seems that Duster was aiming for a simplistic, personal project. As an audience, we are taken away from the constellations and ethereal atmospheres of earlier LPs and instead are given a glimpse into the raw emotions of estranged human life.
Duster’s music has always been depressing, but there is something especially sobering about this project. Each instrumental sinks you deeper and deeper into a pit of self-reflection and loathing. The lyrics — sparse as they may be — are all about faded memories and losing what is special in our lives. Even the cover art, which is a photograph of someone laying in bed — covers pulled over their head — with cigarettes and crackers on the nightstand, is forlorn. It seems that reasons to get out of bed in the morning are few and far between.
The difficulty of listening to an entire Duster album — or even just one song — is something that I believe is intentional and makes Duster one of the most unique artists today. You cannot simply play a random song off of a Duster album and expect to enjoy it. Instead, it requires a listening session with undivided attention, ideally from the beginning of the album to the closing track.
Obviously, this is pretty difficult and time-consuming. Even when the time is available, who wants to sit around and drown in that grief all of the time? Luckily, Duster has mastered the art of the album as an experience, which capitalizes on the novelty of the album to intensify the listen.
By surrendering yourself to the entire album, you unlock this unique opportunity for a cathartic experience in which you can simply enjoy art for art’s sake. “Together” is not an album that you will put on your “summer vibes” or “I love fall” playlist, but it is a wonderful piece of art that does something most art nowadays cannot — it can capture your entire attention and conjure startling emotions, fleeting as they may be.
Duster’s music, like most experimental noise groups, is only as good as you allow it to be. It takes a certain amount of determination and effort to enjoy the music. In many ways, you have to work with it and create meaning alongside it. As a listener, you have as much creative license with interpretation as the people who actually made the songs.
It’s pretty simple: throw on some headphones, close your eyes and let yourself invent something with the noise that is drowning out reality.
Over the weekend, I stumbled upon a book titled, “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” by James Finn Garner, which annoyed me as soon as I read it. However, when I saw that the book was published in 1994, my irritation slightly gave way to curiosity.
Typically, when I think of people talking about political correctness, I think about conservatives trying desperately to dunk on naïve progressives for being “soft”. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, I think about liberals whose only critical thinking skills are put towards whether or not something they read or watch could possibly be deemed as problematic.
The term political correctness goes back centuries, though it really has only gained a place in the public lexicon recently, and it is interesting to see how a word’s connotation can evolve over time, leaving the writer or orator of that word helpless against such shifts. As soon as we put our words into the public, we lose agency over them.
Even more interesting is how easy it is to allow the speaker behind the words, not the words themselves, to determine an initial reaction. I was looking at this book that was sitting on my dad’s bookshelf — expecting wholeheartedly to see another person trying to make a meta-commentary on how crazy the left is these days or how we cannot read classic children’s literature because of ignorant stereotypes — and I was completely oblivious to the fact that the book is really just a harmless joke.
I only read the first couple of stories, but you get the sense pretty quickly that any ideology behind the book is not meant to be taken too seriously — I don’t think the author even takes it seriously.
So often these days, we lack the time necessary to form strong opinions about what we see, and we are instead left with the choice of having nothing to say or basing our opinions on assumptions or the beliefs of those who we trust.
It is easy to judge a book by its cover, but the scary fact is that it is even easier to judge a book by its title.
At some point, it has to be okay to simply say, “I don’t know” or “I haven’t learned much about that yet.” There really is no such thing as common knowledge anymore — there is just way too much information out there, belonging to so many different communities, that one single person can never know as much as they would hope.
If you don’t believe me, just hang out with someone who talks all of the time for long enough and eventually they’ll dive into a topic you know nothing about.
It’s okay to pick up and read a book like “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories”, and it’s okay to leave it alone to collect dust, but it is problematic to take a glance at something and convince yourself that you have a perfunctory understanding of it without giving it the time or attention necessary.