Baker's Dozen: Cousin Stizz, Styles P, and the Whole Big Thief Thing

Baker's Dozen: Cousin Stizz, Styles P, and the Whole Big Thief Thing
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Baker's Dozen is a weekly thing for paid subscribers where I share music and some thoughts around it. All revenue is currently being donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds, we've raised over $1300 so far.

Ada Lea, "my love 4 u is real"

I shared Ada Lea's "The Party" a while back, a great song from a record that overall didn't grab me too much. Last year's one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden was a huge improvement by my measure, largely due to just having stronger songwriting. This song is good evidence of how she really lets a song unfold into something that's quite different from where it started.

Shortly, "Locker Buddies"

I really loved the Petal album from a few years back, but I had a friend who very readily dismissed it as overly earnest open-mic material, which made the critical ground I stood on feel a little unsteady ‎‎‎‎if I'm being real. I imagine she wouldn't like this song either, but I think there is something about the direct, heart-on-sleeve approach on display here that I often connect with even when it's not decidedly "cool" or self-styled in its aesthetic presentation.

Big Thief, "The Only Place"

Longtime followers of the newsletter and/or my Twitter feed know that I've been agnostic about Big Thief's capital-g Greatness since U.F.O.F. became the one non-pop record music critics all decided to dedicate their lives to loving back in 2019. ‎I maintain they peaked in terms of sheer intimate power with Capacity, which had several songs that absolutely floored me; Two Hands sounded like the better record than U.F.O.F. to me, and Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (did I get it right?) is certainly impressive in its breadth but, in terms of the amount of Crucial Tunes it possesses, a bit lacking in its double-album stature (the Beach House record does a much better job of this). But there are also those moments that underline why this band has an entire generation of media-industry gadflies and "I don't listen to much new music anymore but I love this band" listeners under their spell, and this is one of them—certainly reminiscent of the more spellbinding cuts on the last Adrienne Lenker solo record (or, at least, the one that wasn't just a bunch of wind chimes), as well as those heartstopping songs on Capacity (especially "Mary").

Longtime readers will also know that, at this point, every Baker's Dozen blurb is one big paragraph regardless of length. I'm breaking into a new graph here to very consciously separate the art from the artist—which, in situations of controversy involving artists, some people seem to absolutely froth at the mouth over demanding while trying to defend their faves. My thoughts on Big Thief's initial decision to play Israel a second time are already well-documented, and while I think it's good that they apologized, some questionable elements regarding the situation remain.

There's the initial decision to re-use a statement from 2019 when announcing the original plans, as well as this account from a Muslim journalist alleging that Adrienne Lenker profiled him as Palestinian during an interview with him, and that she allegedly had the interview killed afterwards through the band's PR team. That particular anecdote blows any cover of professed naïvete regarding any of this on the band's end, and if true also suggests something more intrinsically discriminatory when it comes to their own beliefs.

It's unlikely that any sort of real resolution will be reached regarding these loose threads, and it's also interesting to anticipate what "listening and learning" will look like from a band of their stature. But I'm more disappointed at my colleagues in the music writing business for largely remaining silent on all of this, whether it be out of wrestling with their own complicated fandom feelings or for fear of industry backlash as a result.

Most of the "backlash" I witnessed regarding their initial decision to play Israel came from a lot of fellow terminally online cranks (and I use that phrasing with the utmost affection, as it takes one to know one and we are truly all in this together). But very few established music writers seemed interested in voicing any sort of opinion beyond (and I did see this actually happen) fav'ing music industry people's tweets about "people online talking about things they don't fully understand." (Maybe I just have a bunch of music writers muted at this point. That is certainly possible too!)

When it comes to the relative silence, I'm surprised and I'm not. Over the last several years, Eve Barlow—a once-prominent culture writer who largely worked in the music field—has been essentially deplatformed throughout the industry due to her very public Zionist statements, and after years—decades!—of people losing their jobs for supporting the end of genocidal violence against Palestinians, I personally saw the deplatforming as a sign of progress. (As this now-deleted-but-preserved-through-reblogging piece about Girls suggests, it's also a deplatforming that probably could've and should've happened much earlier than when it did.)

Of course, cutting people out of social and professional circles is light work for people who work in media, a professional class that largely views what they do and how they do it as a continuation of the social strata established in high school and college. But when it comes to taking real, codified stances on issues like, say, one of the biggest bands in indie announcing they don't agree with BDS, non-independent music journalism seems to wither from the opportunity.

There wasn't a single news story or attempted reportage about Omar Sakr's alleged experience with the band, which all but accuses Adrienne Lenker of racism. More broadly, imagine the potential for impact if, say, Pitchfork—which has very capably taken stances on other sociopolitical issues surrounding popular music in the recent past—had published an Editor's Note or Op-Ed of any length condemning the decision-making of a band that will quite likely end up in the very visible upper register of their year-end list.

If I was in charge of a place like Pitchfork, that's what I probably would've tried to do—and, to be quite candid, I think the impulse to do so, which anyone could guess that I possess through first contact with my overall perspective, is a substantial reason why no one has ever voluntarily put me in charge of anything on that scale. (The two instances in my career where I found myself running a publication were both essentially matters of happenstance, the kind of "Whoops, here's a big important job, I guess!" scenario that only white men seem to experience.)

As a business, non-independent music writing is simply too intertwined with the music industry to risk burning the already-crumbling bridges of access required to maintain front-facing relevance, and as the world's failings continue to be more obvious and there continues to be more things to criticize as a whole, that apprehensiveness to take such risks only becomes more impossible to ignore.

Pizzaboy, "Just Stop It"

Whew! Where were we? Oh yeah, The Bunker, always good for body-moving bass workouts like this. In the summer of 2020 we had a birthday party for my wife in the park, and at one point I went with a few of my male friends to pick up pizzas from a nearby spot; as we walked back into the park, several women started running towards us yelling, "Pizza boys! Pizza boy‎s!" The three of us felt hilariously panicked at this catcalling, I guess that's how women feel every day without the "hilariously" part, huh.

Cousin Stizz, "Perfect" [ft. City Girls]

Still need to listen to the latest one but Trying To Find My Next Thrill is a solid rap record, great variety of beats and Stizz sounds great on everything. Despite the City Girls feature there's no JT here, she was still in jail at the time (hence Caresha's "Free JT" callout). "Cheat on your bitch, I'm worth it" is basically the City Girls mantra at this point, I have to stan.

Missy Elliott, "DripDemeanor" [ft. Sum1]

I feel like no one even wants to talk about how much of a bummer it was that Iconology kind of sucked. All these ‎‎years wanting Missy, one of the 21st century's true pop futurists, to come back! And we got...Iconology. Glad she's doing well again at least.

Naedr, "Gehenna"

The only screamo entry in this week's installment! I like these guys' black metal-ish burn, obviously it's a chocolate-and-peanut butter combination when it comes to this sound.

‎Le Volume Courbe, "Mind Contorted"

Here's someone whose work I'm not hugely familiar with despite having toured with Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine, and collaborating with Noel Gallagher and such. This song kind of sounds like the Vaselines to me.

Raye Zaragoza, "Ghosts of Houston Street"

Woman in Color was released in October 2020, so I have to imagine this song was probably in the can long before the pandemic hit—but, lyrically, it nails the strange melancholia of seeing things disappear in NYC that I'd been used to existing for a while. Obviously, things are always disappearing in NYC, but there was a year or so where it felt more accelerated, more awful, more eerie. Hard to hear this and not think of that.

GHLOW, "Sleep"

Of course‎‎‎ they're Swedish—the sound is cut from that same Raveonettes lineage, only dirtied up a bit and more sinister and bloghouse-y. Fifteen years ago bands like this had mountains of buzz and were seemingly everywhere in the music press, now they just exist.

Ociya, "Star Scaping"

Impossible not to hear this tune without thinking of Aly-Us' house classic "Follow Me," you have to wonder whether the reference is intentional.

Tidiane Thiam, "Dannibe"

I never have much of a context or language for solo guitar stuff beyond knowing what I like, and I do like this song, so.

Dark Lo and Havoc, "Extreme Measures" [ft. Styles P]

Just posting this makes me feel like I'm in my 40s. Hey, Styles P was in the news recently! For getting in the way of the ‎‎‎cops arresting a woman in front of his juice bar! Fuck the cops, long live Styles P.

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Jamie Larson