Thursday, June 21, 2012

Music Review: Linkin Park - Living Things

What exactly constitutes going back to one's roots? While Linkin Park have made promises of such in the lead-up to Living Things, their fifth studio album and third with Rick Rubin in the production booth, they've also insisted that nu-metal isn't what they're getting at in the claims of retro-view. So that begs the question - if they're going back, where exactly are they going?
If the faux-revolution of A Thousand Suns can be accepted as a concept album, which is arguable,Living Things is the band's return to form, according to themselves. In actuality, it's just the next step in the evolutionary process. The tricks are familiar - the gigantic screaming choruses, the monoliths of sound and digital washes, Mike Shinoda's wack-ass rapping. Yet guitars play a far more minor role than ever before on an album that begins as a disappointing run through old formulas but in the end offers a spark of hope to the cynical.
The album opens like a promo track for the Electric Daisy Carnival, an electronic haze of anticipation for the bass drop that never arrives in "Lost in The Echo". Instead, Shinoda's Seuss-ish rhyme patterns lead the charge of a rap verse that frames the emotives of Chester Bennington's heartache chorus about broken promises and, naturally, words getting lost in the echo. We are not finding ourselves exhilarated as the same tone of a dozen Linkin Park radio hits rolls on through. You've heard this song a thousand times already, even if you haven't. 
"In My Remains" pushes the patience further still with big radio ambition that only gently tweaks the recipe. Shinoda sings the repeated line "Like an army falling one by one," a well-practiced kata of melodrama that's as predictable as it is dated. The campy electro-poppiness belies the house MC's angry flow in lead single "Burn It Down," but that's a sonic misstep among few on such a slick album. Rubin brings his Midas touch to the knobs, and the result is powerfully polished, just as he did with its predecessor. 
When the ragepimping millionaires shift gears and focus on the futility of a doomed relationship - or the inadequate manner in which the offending female bid adieu - the question arises: what is any of this really about in the universe of Linkin Park? Five albums in, is there really still no resolution to the lyrical struggles we've heard since their outset? Has there truly been no evolution of theme and struggle beyond the ebb and flow of instrumentation and production trends? 
When "Victimized" hits, the question takes on a new poignance. The band is doing themselves no favors as wildly successful industry veterans building arena anthems around endlessly repeating hooks like "Victimized! Victimized! Never again! Victimized!" There's an abundance of arena-ready choruses peppered through the album - it wouldn't be a Linkin Park album without them - but this one stands out as particularly cringeable. 
For many, it's perfectly fine that the same colors are used again and again, and even celebrated when an artist prefaces new material by saying they're going back to the old material. We all need familiarity, and find it our own ways. But for others, Linkin Park has come to represent a modern emoting effigy for the bro culture, uninspired music for children of dysfunctionality looking for a justification soundtrack or at least empathy for the pain and incessant fury of mediocre suburbia they can't seem to shake. These tens of millions of moved units aren't all owned by muted-rage Pfizer babies and the products of turbulent homes, but seriously - sixteen years down the line and we still aren't over the bitterness of love's betrayal. We still can't let the wrongdoing subside. We still need to cultivate and amplify anger for the sake of anger. 
If anything, the success of a band like Linkin Park is a testament to the discord of soul within our modern society. Women in 2012 are embracing and exploring self-betterment through an explosion of educated expression, yoga and beyond. There's an amplification of natural support for empowered, skilled and furiously passionate female artists such as Florence & The Machine and Grace Potter, while the masculinity of modern man continues to ride the troglodyte train. The rage rock movement continues to thrive, aimed at nothing but showing the world how loud it can scream "Fuck the world!" We still marginalize enlightenment and compassion, hipsterfying or hippiefying anything that shows a little heart. We've simply found a way to call someone a faggot without actually saying the word. And when Chester screams, occasionally it seems he's directly referencing this dissonance. And therein lies the hope for Linkin Park.
What begins as a bleak thematic rehash of an album begins to grow potential as an experimental mood works into the frame. The band fucks with the formula a bit on the digi-mecha grinding of "Lies Greed Misery," which owes more to M.I.A. and Santigold than daddy issues, and the Bjork-tinkling tenderness of "Roads Untraveled" deserves its due as a poetic offering of support for a "seat here alongside me". 
Even "I'll Be Gone" gives a shot at alteration, but the chorus pulls up the screamy blanket and tucks into the color-by-numbers too soon. There's a hypnotic gravity to the track that's hard to deny, however, just as the rasta blitz on "Until It Breaks" works damn well... as long as you can dismiss the lazy Bennington spot and don't hold the Coldplay Hallmark moment around two and a half minutes in against them. It's guitarist Brad Delson's step into vocal contributions, and aside from the contrast to the rest of the song it's a brief but respectable effort.
"Tinfoil" and "Powerless," meanwhile were clearly divided for the sake of the latter's radio accessibility, as it serves a fitting FM epilogue to "My December." The electro-thrust dynamics that sell so well will undoubtedly catapult this into every third song the radio spits out this Summer.
In my review of Linkin Park's last album A Thousand Suns, I called the music "anger for fashion’s sake," and "an uprising based on marketability, gluttonously self-indulgent and commercially ambitious." Through the first few songs of Living Things, it appeared as if we were doomed to the same tired and shamelessly exploitive architecture, but through the album's progression there's a teetering sense of growth. Undoubtedly, Rick Rubin is on a quest of his own, itching to recapture some of that early Beastie grit-swagger. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does, to the band's benefit. 
We're hoping not to look back on this era with the same shame we feel when reflecting on the hybridization of rap and metal in the decade past. Hopefully the balance of legitimacy brought by artists like Trent Reznor, Radiohead or even Muse and Sleigh Bells will offset the cartoonish accidental mockery of the concept by the likes of Korn and, previously, Linkin Park. But Living Things shows potential for Shinoda, Bennington and crew to move beyond the pomposity of faux revolution and relationship rage. If they can just believe it themselves, this might really go somewhere. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I love doing MUNs?

Do you love talking about current events and politics? Do you want to meet some very interesting people? Do you dream of being a totalitarian dictator and imposing your extremist ways upon the planet? If you answered "yes!" to all of the above, then Model United Nations is the thing for you. Here are ten reasons you should take part:
1. The people you meet. Model UN conferences are attended by some of the most interesting and entertaining people you will ever meet. On my adventures, I've met an anti-capitalist fruitarian, an anarchist, the Mayor of Hague and a Delegate of Czechoslovakia (European Union) who was fond of telling everyone, "You look very nice today." If you want to make some memorable friends, then Model UN is for you.

As Vice Chairperson, Joint Crisis Committee, NLSMUN

2. The things you learn. I know, it sounds a bit lame, but it's actually really cool. Not only do you get to hear speeches from inspirational people (like the Mayor of Hague), you also get to watch awesome YouTube videos. Did you know that the new (not-official-at-all) Israeli-Palestine anthem is about eating pigs? Oh, and Ali G is close friends with Boutros Boutros-Ghali (the sixth Secretary-General of the UN)? And that Andorra is not a third world country? It’s awesome stuff, really. All silliness aside, you'll learn some fascinating things about our world.
3. Fun and games. Attendees of the Model UN conference find the most amazing ways to entertain themselves. Whether it’s grooving out to the Congo drums, debating the merits of Communism over ice cream, or even creating lame pick-up lines (“What are your country’s immigration laws like? 'Cuz I’d really like to gain entrance to you."), there's never a dull moment. Oh, and note-passing during the debate sessions is the most awesomest part of the sessions.
4. You get to (fictionally) control a country for a day. Have you ever dreamed of running your own country? Of course you have! At Model UN, you can make your dream a reality. If you want to suspend human rights, embargo China, or invade Switzerland, you CAN! (well, fictionally). YOU choose what your country does, and the power you hold is AMAZING. I’ve seen Russia revert back to Communism, only to have the rest of their debate chamber (including the USA) follow suit. I’ve seen Ireland declare war on the UK. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy the power—and because it’s fictional, you can let it go to your head.

Like a Boss

5. The Food. Model United Nations conferences are known for their epic food. Sure, you may gain a pound or so, but it’s totally worth it. They completely over-feed you, but you sure need it. Pizza, sandwiches, lollipops, French fries, soda; trust me, you will never go hungry.
6. One Word: Extremism. If you get an out there country, you're lucky; it'd be pretty hard to explain why France has decided to revert to a totalitarian dictatorship. I represented Sudan once and declared a jihad, and I've seen tons of examples of extremism take place: Eritrea once suspended “Human Rights” in favor of “Men’s Rights,” Lebanon once declared nuclear war on the UK and USA, and The Holy See (aka the Vatican) once suspended Catholicism! Extremism has got to be one of the best parts of Model UN—when you're experimenting with extremist views, you can’t help but have a blast.

Being Hitler

7. Facebook friends. I’m sure nearly everyone out there wishes they had a few more Facebook friends—admit it: it makes you feel special. When you go to Model UN, you'll gain so many friends you won’t know what to do. Random people you meet in passing will add you; in fact, even people you didn't meet will add you! Expect a flood of friend requests and a lingering I’m-so-awesome feeling.
8. Confidence boost. When you first enter a debate chamber and listen to the delegates go, you can’t help but freak out. My first time, I was a wreck: I had sweaty palms, butterflies in my stomach, and a racing pulse. It was insanely nerve-wracking for me to put my hand up to speak, and standing in front of thirty critical, intelligent fellow delegates can be very daunting (especially when they pick your argument apart at the seams). But it's also a hell of a rush. Getting up to talk is like getting hit in a game of paintball; with every hit—or, in this case, with every speech you give—it hurts less and you become less afraid, and before you know it,  you're no longer nervous at all! By the end of the conference, your insecurities will have disappeared, and you will feel freaking amazing.
9. Memories. Even after months have passed,  you'll look back at your conference experience and smile. The friends you made, the laughs you shared, and the pick-up line that made you grin like an idiot are things you will always remember and treasure. The Model UN conference creates memories that last a lifetime, and when it’s over, you'll wish you could do it all again.
10. Socials and Extracurricular. Okay, so this isn’t my favorite reason, but it has to be in here. If the other reasons haven’t hooked you already, this should. Guys love hot chics roaming in skirts and we all know that chics are all for Men in suits, right?! Well, an MUN is all this and more. There are socials and clubbing night where you get the best opportunities to try out all your lines and have a real shot at someone hot!  A lot of you out there are thinking about college applications, and everybody knows that colleges love extracurricular activities. Sure, grades count, but they want well-rounded people with interesting life experiences. If nothing else, your participation in Model UNs will highlight how involved and talented you are to your college of choice. And that's a benefit you can't afford to pass up!
Any other Model UNers out there? Got any favorite memories to share?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bloom Like A Flower


Have you ever wondered how a bud blooms into a flower, spreading beauty, joy and fragrance around it? Have you realized that it blooms on its own, with the power within? You cannot force open a bud and make it bloom. We too are like buds ready to flower, but lack in power within to bloom and spread beauty and fragrance and glory. Like buds, no outsider can open us from within and bring the best in us. We have to realize on our own and shape ourselves better and better. Every one of us enjoyed childhood. Parents judge their children as the best, and are always protective of them. This acts as an obstacle when we grow up. This creates a false perception within us that what we do is always right. We pretty well know that our perceptions are not based on facts, truth, reason and logic. Still we cling to wrong actions based on falsehoods, away from reason, away from logic, away from truth. Like children, we continue to believe that we are the best. We continue to be buds rather than bloomed flowers. The only thing you have to do to bloom like a flower is to base your actions on truth, reason, logic, compassion, love and sympathy. What is the use of dying like a bud that never flowers? Let us bloom into flowers in full glory before we wilt and disappear. Let us shed the child like qualities in us and develop qualities that will last beyond our death. Let us shed our shortcomings, faults, mistakes, falsehoods and false perceptions, like we shed a dirty cloth. With all these things in us we are living like drainage dirt in a glass bottle, beautifully covered with a cloth, and perfumed with the best scent. We ourselves know the dirt in us. We have to remove the dirt and clean. No amount of dressing will help. Then only we will bloom like beautiful flowers. Let us do these things: Perceptions based on ignorance, falsehoods, and lies are your first enemy within. Throw that enemy out. Base your actions on truth, knowledge and right perceptions. Hate the word “hate”. Never hate others. This hate within you like a pest inside a bud, never allows you to bloom like a flower. Separate faultfinding from you forever. Never find fault with others for your miseries. Mostly the reason for your misery lies within you. Your wrong actions and deeds based on wrong perceptions, away from truth, reason and logic. Rely on truth, reason and logic. Don’t compare your self with others and feel sad and bad. God never gives any body everything. He gives different gifts to all. Instead of lamenting on the happiness of others, bring out the special gifts God has given to you. For this you have to rediscover your self and realize at what you have the best abilities and skills.

Develop them. Don’t live to eat. Eat to live instead. Realize that you are pure within. All the insults and abuses that others hurl at you will not harm your spirit. They can at best harm your body only which too withers like a flower. Your spirit survives forever till it merges into the Lord. Realize that like a flower, you too have a time span of life. Once life goes out of you, you are like dead wood and nothing more. So don’t accumulate things and wealth beyond your needs. What ever is surplus distribute it to the less privileged so that you will receive the blessings of the Lord. Nothing comes with you after your death. It is only the spirit that flies out of you without any attachments. But you will be remembered for your good deeds even after you are long dead. Your fragrance will be enjoyed even by so many next generations if you live a life worthy of emulation and example. Help others as much as you can as a beautiful flower never bars those who see it and enjoy it. Spread your goodness as a flower spreads its fragrance to those who seek it. Recognize and accept the good in others. Never hesitate to acknowledge the good deeds of others. Stop behaving like a child. You passed that age. Don’t feel sad if others fail to recognize the good things you are doing. You are not doing good things for recognition. You are doing good things because they are good things. Never hurt others. It will boom rang on you only. Think less about others. Think more about you. Think of good actions and deeds that remain to be done by you. List them always and update them. Be kind and compassionate to others, including human beings, plants, trees, animals and all living and non-living things that too are the creation of the Lord, just like you. NEVER EVER POSTPONE DOING GOOD THINGS. NEVER EVER THINK OF FUTURE. TAKE CARE OF PRESENT. FUTURE TAKES CARE OF ITSELF. YOU CANNOT MAKE FUTURE. YOU CAN MAKE PRESENT HAPPEN. Throw the greed out of you like you throw stinking garbage. Follow these and rediscover your self. Stop living and dying like a bud that never blooms. Live life a bud that bloomed in all its beauty and glory. .