The Best Music of 2014

Here are the best records I heard from the past twelve months.

damalibra_clawMy favorite record of the year is Dama/Libra’s Claw (Northern Spy). Joel RL Phelps (whose GALA was my favorite album of last year) lends his voice and lyrics to Stuart Dahlquist’s elegiac drones. The gorgeous result sounds like the two have been collaborating for decades. “Stravinsky” and “Thine” suggest a natural merger of their individual strengths to create soundscapes as deep as oceans. Much of Claw is built upon droning organs, making the break into steel drums midway through “Been to the Water” all the more effective.

Dama/Libra’s brief tour this autumn proved that the remote collaboration (Phelps and Dahlquist traded tracks back and forth between their home bases in Seattle and Vancouver) translated wonderfully to a live setting with an expanded band. Wake, shine, always, rise: here’s hoping the collaboration results in more music in the coming years. Hear “Only Medicine” or buy Claw from Northern Spy’s website.

davidkilgour_endtimes_900pxThe Heavy Eights, End Times Undone (Merge)
The first record to hint that there is going to be a Kiwi flavor to this list (as is often the case with me). End Times Undone is exhibit A for why I’ve had a soft spot for music from New Zealand. As he’s done since starting the Clean more than thirty years ago, David Kilgour leads his quartet in making beautifully, slippery, chiming music. Whether he’s in the Clean, the Great Unwashed, the Heavy Eights or guesting on one of Robert Scott’s projects, his melodic sensibilities are always welcome. See a couple of videos from End Times Undone at Merge’s website.

wussy_atticaWussy, Attica! (Shake It)
The best record Chuck Cleaver’s made since the Ass Ponys’ brilliant 2001 album Lohio, Attica! brings some of the grand country sounds and melancholy imagery of late-period Ass Ponys to the dual vocal approach of Wussy. The other touchstone I hear is fellow midwestern roots-rockers the Mary Janes in some of the epic arrangements and the timbre of Lisa Walker’s voice. Gorgeous. Preview or purchase Attica! from Wussy’s Bandcamp page.

thegary_farewellfoolishobjectsThe Gary, Farewell Foolish Objects (Sick Room)
This Texas trio made my list last year with the pummeling Remains. Farewell Foolish Objects is a recognizable continuation of that approach (including following having one track with a cello on the earlier album with one track featuring violin here), but is also a more melancholy, moody set of songs. This is the best music out of Texas I’ve heard this decade, in any genre. Preview or purchase Farewell Foolish Objects from the Gary’s Bandcamp page.

paulkelly_merrisoulPaul Kelly Presents, The Merri Soul Sessions (Pledge Music AUS)
Paul Kelly has been among my favorite songwriters for about a quarter century; 1989’s So Much Water So Close to Home saw him giving in to the inevitable Raymond Carver comparisons with his astonishing economy and attention to narrative detail. On this record, Kelly goes for a Brill Building approach, writing and producing a handful of 60s-soul-themed singles for a handful of Australian singers, first released as a series of singles, then as an album. He sings lead on one as well, with the result being his best-sounding album this century. Preview a couple tracks from the album from Pledge Music’s website.

Gotobeds_poorpeopleThe Gotobeds, Poor People Are Revolting (12XU)
The term “pop-rock” gets thrown around a lot, but rarely does it fit the sound of a band as much as it does with the Gotobeds. I dare you to listen to this snarky, taut, high-energy album once and not come away humming one of its songs. Fun; preview or purchase downloads of Poor People Are Revolting from the Gotobeds’ Bandcamp page.

mftkdMotherfucker, Tae Kwon Do EP (self-released)
Like the Gotobeds, there’s not a second or note wasted on Tae Kwon Do.  This rocks harder. Taut, hooky hard rock from an Athens, Georgia trio of women who waste no time. Two minutes and change of heavy riffing, then they’re out. Repeat the formula a few times, and the EP ends with you wanting more. I want to see a 20-minute set from them as I bet they are excellent live. The EP is available from Motherfucker’s Bandcamp page.

fakelimbs_powerpatricianFake Limbs, The Power of Patrician Upbringing (BLVD)
Fake Limbs are, I can confirm, excellent live, as I saw them before the release of their debut Man Feelings and then again this year promoting their second album. The crushing onslaught of this Chicago quartet continues on its second album. Fans of the Jesus Lizard will appreciate this, and everyone should appreciate frontman Stephen Sowley (who is one of the few humans to make David Yow seem shy by comparison). Preview or purchase the album at Fake Limbs’ Bandcamp page.

thumbscrewThumbscrew, Thumbscrew (Cuneform)
This NYC instrumental trio featuring guitarist Mary Halvorsen, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek alternate between improve and composed music that falls somewhere between free jazz and 70s prog. You can preview the album via the track “Cheap Knock Off” on the band’s Bandcamp page, and also check out the three members’ various projects via the JazzRightNow website (written by my friend and colleague Cisco Bradley).

chills_bbcsessionsThe Chills, BBC Sessions (Fire)
So…that inclination I have for the rock of New Zealand means I am the target demographic to lap up this issue of recordings made by the Chills at the peak of their powers c. 1985-88 in the BBC’s studios. Yes, I’ve heard and memorized these songs since well before this century started, but I’ve heard few of these tracks. A terrific document as we wait for the followup to 2004’s excellent Stand By ep. Listen to the wonderful version of “Rolling Moon” or purchase the album at Fire’s website.

amandaxamnesiaAmanda X, amnesia (Siltbreeze)
My Kiwiphilia may also explain the presence of this album here, even though it was made in Philadelphia and not Aotearoa. Amanda X is not The Magick Heads, but fans of that band may enjoy the harmonies and delicious guitar tones. Decide for yourself; amnesia is available to preview or buy at Amanda X’s Bandcamp page.

 

A few of these records may also be found at a new resource: Jon Solomon’s Comedy Minus One records began the “PRF Distro” shop this year to feature some of the impressive musicians affiliated with the Electrical Audio discussion forum. Should some of the titles I listed above appeal to you, see if there’s more music you’d like to hear from the link.

Tenure-Track Interdisciplinary Environmental Positions at Two Schools

Two of my erstwhile academic departments have tenure-track positions available. I can vouch for both places having great colleagues. They are distinctly different campuses (one in Chicago’s South Loop, the other in the northernmost part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), but both are excellent places to research and teach environmental social sciences.

Before I moved to Pratt in 2012, I helped found the Sustainability Studies program at Roosevelt University in Chicago. RU is looking for a sustainability scholar with a social science background (sustainability, urban planning, environmental studies, or a related field in the social sciences). The deadline for applying is January 5, 2015. You can see full details about the position at the link; here is an extended description of the job:

Roosevelt University is seeking an Assistant Professor of Sustainability Studies for a tenure-track position beginning 15 August 2015. Applicants should have the ability to teach multiple courses in the Sustainability Studies (SUST) undergraduate curriculum as well as general education, honors, and/or special topic courses related to their areas of expertise. Teaching load is six courses per year. Courses are offered at Roosevelt’s Chicago campus as well as online.

Duties: (1) Teaching courses within the SUST major as well as one or two courses per year in an appropriate academic department within the College of Arts and Sciences. (2) Assisting with SUST program development through curriculum enhancement and assessment, service learning project development, community outreach, and online social media writing. (3) Maintaining an active scholarly research program within one’s primary academic discipline(s) and/or the emerging field of sustainability studies. (4) Advising undergraduate students. (5) Performing departmental, college, university, and professional service.

My first job out of grad school was a one-year position in Michigan Technological University’s Department of Social Sciences. Although there’s been natural turnover in the department since I left over ten years ago, it continues to attract some of the best scholars in STS, environmental history, and industrial archaeology. The campus is located in Houghton, a short drive from the northernmost point in the Upper Peninsula. It is an excellent location for cross-country skiing, hiking (including on nearby Isle Royale), and wildlife sighting. In our third month at Michigan Tech, Jen and I saw a black bear cross the road in front of us. (The bear was not in Houghton, but on the road to Marquette. Wildlife in town is considerably less intimidating. You should, however, be prepared for snow.)

Michigan Tech is searching for an assistant professor “specializing in environmental justice, industrial communities/deindustrialization, health, food systems, or gender.” Click the link for the full job description. Review of applications begins January 15, 2015.

Clicking through the links will give prospective candidates an idea of the people, courses, and projects of these two programs. I encourage qualified people to apply.

Pratt Sustainability Registration Options for Spring 2015

Pratt_DeKalbThe Spring 2015 offering of SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit has filled to capacity, but other options remain for Pratt students interested in taking sustainability-related coursework from the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies. (There are also options in other departments; discuss them with your academic advisor.)

I am leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, which remains open for registration.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

In addition, Assistant Professor Jennifer Telesca (Pratt’s newest Sustainability faculty member) has two new special topics courses of interest.  The first is SS 490-15 Environmental Justice, offered Thursdays from 2-4:50pm. While aspects of EJ are covered in SUST 201, SUST 401, and SUST 405, this seminar gives students the opportunity to have in-depth discussions of equity issues relating to the environment.

Jen Telesca is also teaching two sections of The Human-Animal Relationship. SS 490-21 is offered Tuesdays from 2-4:50pm and SS 490-22 is offered Wednesdays from 9:30am-12:30pm.

Eric Godoy is teaching PHIL 356-01 Environmental Ethics Mondays from 5-7:50pm. In addition to being an elective for the minor, PHIL 356 discussions relate closely to themes of each of the courses described above.

There are no prerequisites for any of these courses. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Pratt Spring 2015 Course Registration Update

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

An update on the two Sustainability courses I am teaching next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit has filled to capacity, but I am also leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, which remains open for registration.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Pratt Spring 2015 Course Registration Update

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

An update on the two Sustainability courses I am teaching next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

One of these courses focuses on how we power the processes that allow us to create and distribute goods, as well as transport ourselves and enjoy the conveniences of modern life.  We will discuss global climate change, nuclear power, and fracking (among other topics) in SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit.  As of this morning, eight seats are still available in the seminar.

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit
Modern society relies on burning fossil fuel for energy, with serious economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Learn the history of how we came to rely on unsustainable energy sources and ways In which our future use of energy may be made mode sustainable.

Spring 2015: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

I am also leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, which remains open for registration.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Register for Spring 2015 Sustainability Courses at Pratt

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

I am offering two Sustainability courses next semester.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each may count to satisfy credits in the Sustainability Studies minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them.  All Pratt undergraduates are eligible and encouraged to enroll.

One of these courses focuses on how we power the processes that allow us to create and distribute goods, as well as transport ourselves and enjoy the conveniences of modern life.  If you are concerned about global climate change, nuclear power, or tracking, consider registering in SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit.  The seminar examines the ways industrial society has harnessed energy, what the consequences of our past and present energy uses are, and how we might develop more sustainable practices involving energy.  Here’s a quick summary:

SUST 401-01 Power, Pollution, and Profit
Modern society relies on burning fossil fuel for energy, with serious economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Learn the history of how we came to rely on unsustainable energy sources and ways In which our future use of energy may be made mode sustainable.

Spring 2015: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

In addition to that seminar, I am leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching SUST 201 The Sustainable Core.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, is the required core course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Spring 2015: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about these courses (or about the Sustainability Studies minor), please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Discussing Industrialized Waterways at the Society for the History of Technology Conference This Week

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911.  Chicago Daily News.

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911. Chicago Daily News.

The Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) meeting is in Dearborn, Michigan this week. The Envirotech Special Interest Group (SIG) always has a presence at SHOT, and as part of it, I will present a talk about the use of environmental history to develop sustainability studies education at 2pm Friday. Although this talk is right after lunch, it will probably include the image of a man standing atop slaughterhouse waste on Chicago’s Bubbly Creek. Audience members are advised to eat Coney Island hot dogs for lunch at their peril. Here’s the panel information.

Technology Natures Communication (Friday, 2-3:30pm)

Carl Zimring (Pratt Institute): Is the Polluted Past Prologue to a Sustainable Future? Uses of the Environmental History of Waterways as Pedagogy for Sustainability Education

Ann N. Greene (University of Pennsylvania): Engineering the Erie: The Technopolitics of Water in 19th Century America

Michael Winslow (University of Iowa): The Culture of Turfgrass: Golf Tourism, Progressive Agriculture, and Technologies of Landscape in North Carolina, 1895–1935