Sunday, November 29, 2015

REVIEW: Ak’Chamel, The Giver of Illness – The Man Who Drank God

I love this band lots, and this new release was no exception.  Review written for Heathen Harvest, and gingerly edited by the very decent Sage Weatherford.

"I find myself lost in a surreal fog of antique strangeness, lo-fi ritual, and occult chaos-magic, so far outside of the fickle trends of the now that it transcends anachronism and becomes something almost otherworldly."

Ak’Chamel, The Giver of Illness – The Man Who Drank God

Monday, November 23, 2015

ESSAY: The New Guide to Swearing

The New Guide to Swearing 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I fucking love swearing.  Fucking love it. All those weird nincompoops who argue that swearing somehow “limits your vocabulary” are clearly deranged: what limits your vocabulary, quite literally, is the refusal to use a certain set of words.  Because, you see, vocabulary is all about the size of the range of words you can use.  Duh - this stuff isn’t rocket surgery.  Swearing not only expands your vocabulary, but it allows endless permutationary creativity, while simultaneously enabling cathartic release – when you smash your toe with a hammer and let fly with “shit-sucking uncle of a dickfart’s mother!”, you not only express yourself creatively, but release some of your pain into the ether.

But is all swearing equal?  I’ve decided to analyse the psychological connotations of various forms of swearing, because 1) I like to question stuff, and 2) I’ve started to feel uncomfortable lately about some of the implications certain swearwords have.  So – let’s get to it, motherfuckers.

Obviously blasphemy’s fine.  As far as I’m concerned, all religions are such obvious nonsense that this barely even rates a mention.  I mean, Jesus fucking Christ, even if god wasn’t a fictional delusion this stuff would be suss.  Any sort of all-powerful being that cares about humyns using its name “in vain” (ie, for anything other than grovelling worship) is clearly such an insecure fuckwad that it deserves nothing but scorn.  And please, anyone who claims to be a god of love and mercy, who then invents a place of eternal torture in which to endlessly torment his enemies, is probably bullshitting you about the love and mercy bit.  (Seriously, I could go on about this stuff for ages – best to let it go for now.)  So, yes, as far as I’m concerned, blaspheme away to your heart’s content.  

Biologically, our own faeces is meant to be unpleasant; with its foul odour and health repercussions, we have evolved to generally regard our waste as suspect, and to steer clear of it whenever possible.  This seems a fair enough call.  So “that was shit” seems totally appropriate to me.  Perhaps some of the variants might be borderline acceptable (“suck shit”, “fucking shit”) as far as the imagery goes, but nothing that threatens society with its underlying psychological implications.  (Obviously coprophages aren’t going to agree with me here, but they can suck shit.  See what I did there?  Ohohohoho.)

These seem fine to me.  Of course, when these words are used as simple descriptive words, they’re fine: “I love your cunt”, “you have a superb-looking dick”, “I have an itchy arsehole”.  But are there any problems when we use them metaphorically?  I don’t think so.  Saying “they were being total dicks”, or “turned out he was a massive cunt”, or “she is an absolute arsehole”, is suggesting that the people referred to aren’t whole synergistically-sound entities, but are in fact simply one big isolated organ.  It is as demeaning and insulting as suggesting that they are one giant thumb, or reducing them to a single enormous eyeball – it is denying their holistic organismhood.  Which is fine.  If you mean “this person has ruined my day, I am greatly aggravated by their actions”, referring to them as one unrealistically oversized body part does the trick nicely.  However, I do recommend not using any of these as direct insults: in general, I think steering clear of any sort of personal name-calling is always a good idea.  But if you’re unable to do so, then I don’t see why “you’re a cunt” would be any more offensive than “you’re an idiot”.  Either would be just as horrible to receive, person to person, I feel.  However, as a term used for the purposes of expressing anger or frustration about another’s actions in a descriptive sense, I have no problem with the “isolated body parts” technique.  (In fact, I’ve heard these terms used with much fondness – “this cunt is me best mate” – so again, context is ultimate when weighing offensiveness.)

Just silly.  In this long age of separated parents and test-tube babies and adoption and surrogates and megacomplicated familial relationships, the idea that one’s parents’ bond should be sanctioned under one particular religious circumstance is laughably out-dated.  Not sure how I feel about the word “bastard” used as an insult, though: I mean, the concept behind the idea that having unmarried parents is insult-worthy at all is the offensive thing here, much more so than the actual word itself.  But really, I almost feel like “bastard” isn’t even used as an insult any more: I think it’s one of those words that is so out of touch with current reality that it’s moved right out of its old semantic place and into a new one altogether.  It’s a word that, nowadays, often actually means something more akin to “whatsit” or “thingo”, isn’t it?  I think it’s probably okay to use, in certain circumstances, but I doubt I’ll be using it myself.  Like “cad” or “bounder”, it’s a bit too quaint to enable the cathartic utility of proper swearing.

Always seems gendered; even when used to describe a man, it is full of connotations that this femaleness is partly what’s so undesirable.  Don’t like it, have never used it.  I don’t like gendered words in general, and especially insulting gendered words, and this one really seems tied into misogyny.  Unpleasant, unnecessary.  Strike it from the list.

We don’t even consider this one a swear word, but I’m pretty sure it is.  I don’t think anyone really thinks it refers to sucking lemons or eggs (who the fuck sucks eggs anyway?).  Regardless, I don’t like this one, because the assumption behind the phrase is that “sucking” is a bad thing.  Now, I can’t speak on everyone’s behalf, but personally speaking, every single one of my experiences of the “sucking” phenomenon have ranged from positive to very positive.  If we’re to assume that the phrase refers to the act of fellatio, then it’s something that I actually have a great fondness for.  The last thing that I want to be thinking, as my man-shaft is being orally pleasured, is that my partner is having a bad time.  I want my sexual congress to be mutually appealing to all parties concerned.  So I’m kinda feeling like I’m not going to be using the phrase “that sucked” any more, even though it slips so easily off the tongue.  (Same goes for “cocksucker”, for exactly the same reasons.)  So instead, I’m making the full phrase “sucks dogballs”: that is, I’m not going to say “that sucked” ever again, unless it’s accompanied by the “dogballs” suffix.  I mean, “that party totally sucked massive hairy dogballs” expresses the exact right sentiment, albeit a little more colourfully than the old version would’ve.  So now I can continue using the phrase which so easily springs to mind, but I can do so in a way that doesn’t further psychologically tarnish the fine act of humyn-to-humyn fellatio.  (Of course, those of the animal-rooting community will feel offended by my deliberate continuation of the negative connotations of bestiality, but, well, you can’t please everyone.  And, to be totally honest, tiptoeing around the feelings of the bestiality community is not super high on my list of priorities.)

“That’s fucked”.  Means, “that’s awful/terrible/really really sucks dogballs”.  Which, like the “sucks” one above, is a terrible thing.  Because when something is bad, it’s just “bad”; when it’s “fucked”, it’s really hit the bottom of the experience barrel.  The idea that having sex is meant to be not only unpleasant, but actually really really awful, is a pretty repugnant attitude.  It seems to tie into rape-culture, the abuse of women (hystorically-speaking, I don’t think much research would be required to suggest that it has been traditionally mostly women who are “fucked”) – in general, just a really nasty, yucky, awful association to make.  Especially used as a threat – “you’re fucked” – it’s just the most unpleasant rapey utterance possible (although Mike Tyson’s memorable threat – “I’ll fuck you til you love me” – does seem to put the icing on the rape-cake).  Sex should be positive.  Sex should be something you look forward to, not something to be dreaded.  This shit can’t be good, psychologically-speaking, this constant slandering of what should be a really quite pleasant activity.  I mean, the more we collectively associate the act of “fucking” with badness, even punishment, the more, collectively, we are strengthening rape-culture.  No?  So I think this particular use of the word “fucked” has to go.  I don’t think I can use that without modification.  (For a while, I have tried saying “arsefucked by baboons” instead of just “fucked” (it’s still a bit unpleasant, but in a way that doesn’t legitimise rape-culture), but it just doesn’t flow like the original.  A work in progress.)

Generally okay, I think.  When used for emphasis, the word “fucking” works fine, without necessarily bringing up any connotations of rape culture or demeaning sex.  More often than not, a good “fucking” slipped into a sentence is surreal at worst: “pick up the fucking phone!”, “fucking hot today, eh?”, “it was fucking enormous” – all of these are kinda weird taken literally, but not offensive.

“I don’t give a fuck” – seems fine, it can basically be read as “this doesn’t move me enough, certainly not to actual intercourse”, or words to that effect.  “I couldn’t be fucked” – similar vibe, “I was unmotivated, my arousal levels were low”.  So far so good.  

“Fucked up” – hmm, my first feelings are that it’s kinda similar to the “sex is bad” psychology above, especially if used in the sense of “we fucked him up good”.  So that one has to go.  But in the sense of “man, that was some acid, I was so fucked up”, it could be that the inability to function correctly the speaker is referring to is analogous to the feeling of exhaustion after a really good shag – a pleasant sort of tiredness, floaty but weak-kneed – and so in that way, can even be used quite positively.  I’ll try some more: “That last bong really fucked me up”, “Those shoes are fucked up!”, “Your hair is fucked up” – don’t know about you, but it just doesn’t really feel as rapey to me as the “fucked” entry earlier.  

Moving on: “the fucker won’t pick up his phone!”, “that fucking piece of shit”, “the fucker stole my distortion pedals!” – seems to have the same connotation of “intercourse is bad”, only from the point of view of a perpetrator.  Do I want to live in a culture where the idea of being a “fucker” – someone engaging in the active physical process of intimacy – is a bad thing?  Or do I want to live in a culture that sees sex as fun, natural, and appealing?  I think this one probably has to go as well.  Perhaps we want to substitute that with “raper”?  After all, no-one likes a raper.  The act of rape is pretty much universally seen as poor form.  If you’re trying to express displeasure with someone’s actions, and need an evocative slur to express your anger, saying “that raper stole my distortion pedals!” would seem to tick those boxes, without tainting the whole of sex.  To reiterate: not all sex is bad, not all fucking should be condemned, so we’ll have to let this variant go.  It’ll be hard, but I think we can do this, for the good of our language, and the cultural uberpsyche that goes along with it.

“Motherfucker” – again, seems fine.  Nothing wrong with having sex with mothers.  I do it all the time.  In fact, I think this word is actually good for the world, taking motherhood from its weird saintly sexless pedestal of unreality, and plonking it down in the real world.  Mothers don’t stop being whole women just because they have babies.  Mothers have desires.  Mothers have sexual needs.  Mothers need a good fucking now and then.  Let’s keep this one.  But it shouldn’t be an insult – it should probably be reserved for emphasis.  So “it was motherfucking awesome” would be ideal; “you’re dead, motherfucker” not so good.  As with everything, context is important.  (It has since been pointed out to me that the word “motherfucker” is perhaps meant to be insulting through its connotations of incest, a possibility which I had not actually considered.  What do I think of this?  Hmmm.  Well, first of all, I think that incest is perhaps overly stigmatised – as long as power isn’t being abused, and the act is consensual, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with incest: indeed, in many cultures, cousin-fucking (within officially-sanctioned marriage, etc) is perfectly normal.  I’m pretty sure there’s some cousin-fucking going on in the British Royal Family, isn’t there?  So, as far as I can tell, a “motherfucker”, even when taken as an incestual reference, is probably okay: the power is with the fucker, presumably, who in this case is the child of the aforementioned mother, so this doesn’t appear to be forced or awkward or a power imbalance; and, as long as everyone is happy and having a good time and is considering the long-term emotional effects, well, I’m not sure we can be too hard on them.  So, even using this incesty interpretation, as far as I’m concerned, “motherfucker” can stay.)  

There are obviously more variants of fuck to cover, but I think we get the gist, and can deal with any further cases ourselves in our own time.

Okay, fine, just this one more.  Now this one could be problematic.  I’ve read various sources, and heard various actual living people, claim that this is insulting to retarded folk.  I don’t agree.  If I said “this shit’s retarded”, then this is obviously offensive to retarded people.  There is a real thing called “retarded”, and you’re plainly using the real word “retarded” to mean “not very good”.  This is inarguable, I think.  Same with “spastic” or “gay” or any other actual real description of actual real people – it’s just not on.  It’s like if people were using the word “Blackwell” to mean short, fat, and full of self-doubting procrastination.  It might be true, but it would also be very hurtful.   So I think I have no truck with epithets of this nature in the New Swearing Guide.  But “fucktard”?  I can’t help but love this word.  And thing is, there is no-one on this planet that is actually “fucktarded”.  This word applies to no living soul.  There is no-one’s actual feelings who can be legitimately hurt by the use of this word, because none of us, none, are actually clinically and objectively “fucktarded”.  It’s a made up word, it’s delightful, and I have to keep using it.  So in it goes.

Yeah, nah, can’t use this one.  Actually never ever have, and never ever will.  It just doesn’t even make sense that this is considered a swear-word: calling someone a “slut” is like calling someone a “fire-fighter” or a “pilot”.  It’s a business description. “You small business operator!” Doesn’t make any sense.  And the way people seem to use it, it comes with an icky double-standard gendered bullshit thingie that I just don’t have time for – it’s a term almost exclusively reserved for use on women, and nearly always used to make judgments about the clothing/lifestyle/promiscuity/etc of said women, which is just no-one else’s fucking business.  It just doesn’t seem fair or nice or culturally-desirable.  Out it goes. 

Why would anyone say that anyway?  Seriously?  Dickheads.  (Unless they’re singing along to Busta Rhymes, in which case it’s kinda mandatory.  As in, there’s literally no way to sing along to the Bus-a-bus without saying “nigger” pretty much every verse, in some cases nearly every line.  But as long as it’s kept within the context of home-style karaoke, I’m pretty sure it’s okay.)  Same goes for any other racial slur – “ching chong”, “boong”, “sheepfucker” – as insults, they suck total dogballs.  Not because of the words themselves, but because insulting someone because of something they had no choice over (disability, gender, weight, race, the levels of melatonin, etc) is just stupid.  When it’s not used as an insult, well, if the recipient is cool with it, then I’m cool with it too.  It’s basically a respect thing, and, as with everything in life, seems to me to be context-dependent. 

So, yeah, hope this has helped.  Obviously this isn’t exhaustive, and I’ve left out combinations of words (“dickhead”, “fuckwad”, “arsehat” etc) because I kinda feel they most likely fall under one of the other guidelines already explored above.  But please, do let me know if any of your favourites are missing, or if I’ve totally misunderstood something – there’s nothing I like better than a good hardcore nerd-out about words.  That shit’s the shit.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

REVIEW: Dead Man’s Hill Vs. The Earth King – Cycling Between Sun and Moon

A review for the probably-interesting-to-some-people-but-kinda-drawn-out-and-boring-for-me black-metal-meets-throat-singing-meets-industrial-atmospherics project, "Dead Man’s Hill Vs. The Earth King", and their album "Cycling Between Sun and Moon".   Review written for Heathen Harvest, and perhaps slightly over-edited by the invisible-but-ubiquitous Sage Weatherford.

"Even when Piette stops his wannabe-Tuvan vocalising, the music doesn’t do much for me.  Cycling Between Sun and Moon simply sounds generic. The riffs aren’t innovative and the entire album feels like I’ve heard it a thousand times before—better, more interestingly—and the only thing that makes the album at all different (the throat-singing) actually makes it more annoying."

REVIEW: Antique Crumbling Framework – Triumph of Death

A review for the strange meeting of cold synths and gutteral death, "Triumph of Death" by the Melbourne two-piece "Antique Crumbling Framework".  Review written for Heathen Harvest, and mildly edited by the ever-present Sage Weatherford.

"What do you get if you mix John Carpenter-style cheesy ’80’s synth sounds with the most guttural pitch-shifted death metal vocals imaginable?  You get Antique Crumbling Framework."

Antique Crumbling Framework – Triumph of Death

REVIEW: Public Speaking – Build Another Boat

A review for the technically-excellent and subjectively-uninteresting release by "Public Speaking", "Build Another Boat".  It's probably very very good, really.  It's just not my cup of tea.  Written for Heathen Harvest, and edited maybe a little too much by Sage Weatherford.

"I’m sure there are lots of people out there who would enjoy this sort of thing.  I am also sure that there are many more people out there who would enjoy these strange poppy beats and “I’m so depressed” emo vocal stylings than there are people who like the kinds of things that I like ... I really didn’t get into Build Another Boat at all."

Public Speaking – Build Another Boat