Fiona-Apple-The-Idler-Wheel-400x300by jill ettinger

in a much dissected prophecy, the mayan long-count calendar ended last week. and despite the many predictions that it meant an inevitable apocalypse, we seemed to have survived. for now, anyway… and for good reason, as this year’s top album releases deserve a little time to be savored before the earth implodes.

fiona apple takes the top spot with her first offering in more than 7 years. she’s had quite an epic year, much like many of us, from releasing this spectacular record to run-ins with the law and canceling her tour to care for her dying dog. signs of the times, indeed.

what stuck out most for me in all these picks is the way in which sounds overlap, and genres bend at the slightest touch. it’s something for us to consider: there’s much to be had in melting and co-mingling music, art, culture, beliefs. if music is any indicator of what lies ahead for us, particularly as we now move past the last great apocalyptic prophecy of our time, we’re indeed heading towards uncharted territories. but make no mistake, they are wonderful places worthy of visiting.

-jse

1. fiona applethe idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do

it’s been too long to believe since fiona apple first wowed us with her debut tidal, when she was just 19. much has changed since then, including the lapse between this and her last album (an agonizing 7 years). apple is definitely not shadowboxing any longer—she hits us right in the face with idler wheel, stretching and weaving song around story, lyric around life, in shamanic, mysterious ways that only ms. apple can. from the album’s brutal opening (“every single night”) all the way through to the playful end (“hot knife”), she does what she’s always done best: tells us incredible stories we don’t ever want to end. it’s as stellar an album as she’s ever put forth, and while 7 years was worth the wait, here’s to hoping there’s a lot more where idler wheel came from, fast.

2. jack whiteblunderbuss

jack white can do what no other songwriter alive today can—he writes songs we already know. not in the rip-off fashion, mind you. on the contrary: mr. white is the king of instant classics. he rocks, he rolls, he blueses us into place with style, much like one of his idols, bob dylan, except (dad, forgive me), white’s quicker to the punch. he’s less veiled and sinister than mr. dylan. his heart is on his sleeve, still leaving plenty of room for his geetar. he’s anthemic through and through and his first solo foray, blunderbuss is an essential reminder of why in the world we give a shit about art and music in the first place.

3. die antwoordten$ion

satire is one of our greatest human traits, and in just two records, die antwoord has established themselves as the premier masters of mockery—pointing that finger at our own shameful ways. that alone is worthy of recognition, but the south african duo of yolandi visser and watkin tudor jones, aka ninja (trio when you count dj hi-tek and quartet when you add in dj vuilgeboost) take it to a whole other level—one they’ve labeled as “zef.” to understand the band completely is to experience their revolting and provocative video accompaniments to their unmistakable beat-heavy rap-rave sounds. their’s is a message that’s fit for all senses. only their second studio effort, ten$ion stands up on its own even if you miss their addictively offensive videos. “i fink you freeky”, “fatty boom boom” and “fok julie naaiers” are top-rate classics sure to boggle and inspire far into a very strange future.

4. alt-jan awesome wave

it’s always a gamble to gush over a debut album. so many have come out of the gates with a great start only to stumble before the finish. we can’t know what the future holds for british indie rock quartet alt-j, but we shouldn’t fault them for being so damn brilliant on their first attempt (“breezeblocks”, “matilda”, “bloodflood”). lush, eerie and spacious, an awesome wave lives up to its name and then some–“a brilliant wave” might be a more fitting title.

5. grizzly bearshields

in 2009 i said that grizzly bear could simply not top that year’s release: veckatimist. the band hit a stride with its lo-fi pink floyd-esque floatiness that was too perfect to top. or so i thought. enter shields, the band’s fourth offering. it picks up where veckatimist left off: soft yet potent, instantly embedding each song into deep, special places we normally don’t have access to.

6. elie gouldinghalycon

british pop songstress, ellie goulding, burst onto the scene with 2010′s lights. her sophomore effort, halcyon shows her rapid evolution, intertwining spacious lyrics with skrillex-influenced beats and rhythms that highlight goulding’s unique voice. the title track, along with “figure 8″, “don’t say a word” and “anything could happen” are excellent examples of ms. goulding’s brilliant range and willingness to play. she’s the biggest surprise appearance on this list for me, and it’s a most pleasant one at that.

7. niki and the dove instinct

if the motels and fleetwood mac had a lovechild, it would sound something like niki and the dove. the swedish indietronica band are surely delighting hipsters and retro ’80′s lovers alike with their debut, instinct. vocalist malin dahlström sounds like a mashup between stevie nicks and martha davis, but she uses her talent more like kate bush might (on never forever). “drummer” is poppy and unpredictable in all the right places. “dj, ease my mind” is destined for dance floors as is most of the rest of the album.

8. two fingersstunt rhythms

fresh off his second outing with the isam live stage tour that includes a futuristic mobile video stage set up, amon tobin is back with his homage to hip hop on stunt rhythms, under the moniker two fingers. vocal accompaniment from ladi pharroh, peedi crack, chinko da great and brefontaine on disc two serve up context for the double disc’s bass and beat heaviness. while not his most experimental effort, like all things tobin, stunt rhythms is begging for dark dance floors and nights that never end.

9. four tetpink

kieran hebden is four tet—there are no other members to the outfit—but don’t let that confuse you. in fact, it’s probably a wise move on hebden’s part to seemingly give credit away to other musicians, even if they’re invisible. he’s a master at weaving electronic music and builds it to dangerously delicious levels on pink. hebden’s stunning 2010 release, there is love in you, still warrants heavy rotation, and so does pink. hebden does what any electronic music fan wants (“ocoras”)—he makes you feel like your smack up in the middle of the sweatiest, grimiest dance floor even if you’re standing in line at the bank. pink liberates (“peace for earth”, “128 harps”) and never asks for anything in return.

10. el-pcancer for cure

el-p (jaime meline) has a history. let’s call it label drama. but as far as white rappers go, it’s par for the course, right? let’s focus on the present moment though, and el-p’s fourth studio release: cancer for cure. admittedly, i was not familiar with his work until this, but no matter. it’s clear he’s reinventing himself, no reasons needed. the story opens with metaphoric force (“request denied”), and keeps getting fiercer (“drones over brooklyn”, “tougher, colder”). the beats are so good you’ll want to call them highbrow, but they’ll eventually break you down so much that you won’t care about much else.

keep in touch with jill on twitter @jillettinger

great graphic on the dangers of sitting. and yes, i’m standing while typing this…

Sitting is Killing You

by jill ettinger

the first concert i went to was peter, paul and mary. i was with my parents and my sister and was distracted by a clunky cast healing my broken left arm. after the performance, the band all signed my cast. i barely remember much else from the night except for my mother suggesting i save the autographed cast when the doctors finally freed me from it, but apparently sawing those plaster prisons off leaves little worth saving besides dust and 6-weeks of arm-sweat stank.

more concerts brought more memorable events: in my early teenage years my best friend and i would spray paint a barely-legible-when-you-were-right-up-close-to-it sign for the 80’s hair metal band ratt that we’d try to hold up during the show with no success. another friend and i tried to pay off security to let us back stage at a tesla concert, but they only kept our money. in 10th grade, while breaking punishment for some terrible thing i certainly was wrongly grounded for doing, i snuck out to a “monsters of rock” concert and fainted while metallica was on stage. my boyfriend squeezed water-soaked concert t-shirts on my over-heated head and i woke up on someone’s blanket and picked up right where i’d left off. in my late teens in the parking lot of a grateful dead show at an outdoor amphitheater, a mob started tearing down a fence barrier. i watched and waited and then leapt over the crowd like i had superpowers as they finally tore the fence down and rushed in toward the stage. there are many more unspeakable, unladylike and illegal things i did at dozens of performances. concerts are all about the thrill, and sometimes, music alone is not enough.

i’m reflecting on all this now because bob dylan’s 70th birthday is fast approaching later this month. the rolling stone magazine cover sitting on my coffee table features a picture of a young, iconic dylan in honor of his milestone celebration. a star-studded panel of judges selected his “70 best songs”, although it’s hard to imagine that even with exacting precision anyone is capable of fully establishing criteria worthy enough of culling that list.

like many people my age, i grew up listening to dylan—and more often listening to my father explain to me why it is i must listen to dylan in the first place: he broke barriers, he was a rebel, dared to make “real” music, wore his heart on his sleeve and wasn’t ever afraid to speak his mind through a voice that many would be embarrassed to share, yet he managed to do it with equally embarrassing hair styles.

i don’t remember the first time i saw dylan perform, or even the last. but one concert in particular, with any luck, will live in my memories until they too are just blowin’ in the wind. the year was some time in the early-mid 90s. dylan was playing at an outdoor venue in pittsburgh, where i grew up. my dad, brother, sister and i were all there shuffling around in the back, looking for better seats. it was summer so it was still light out, but the sun was beginning to glow just off to the side of the stage.

the 80s and 90s had been a weird(er) time for dylan’s career. with albums like oh mercy and under the red sky, he’d fallen into a synthesizer-infused light rock genre difficult to categorize. bands like nirvana were changing music much like dylan himself had some 30 years earlier, and there was no internet to save a career drifting closer to has-been land. it appeared like dylan was finally facing irrelevance. for some artists, this would be a scary fate—fodder for a “celebrity apprentice” appearance to boost popularity, but dylan seemed unfazed and so did his die-hard fans. for the devoted, like my dad, every album offered true gems, and any tour stop in our town was like a visit from the pope.

at some point during the concert, my family and i noticed women not in the band up on stage dancing.  then more. and more. all of a sudden, there were dozens of women all up there dancing with dylan! and then i felt it—the fierce penetrating stare of six eyes upon me all saying the same thing. a few words were exchanged, wishes of luck as i scurried off on what seemed like a pilgrimage down past the side of the amphitheater towards the stage. i came around the side, next to huge speakers perched on the stage. one leg. second leg…woah. i found myself on the outside of the speakers and to get to center stage, i still needed to shimmy around them like i was trapped outside on a 50th floor hotel room window ledge.

a rush of excitement came over me as i finally stepped my foot around the side of the giant pulsing speaker. i’m also quite certain i was extremely stoned at this moment too. (a good daughter of a dylan fanatic would be disgraced otherwise.) and there he was, five or so feet from me, singing, playing guitar and sweating as the summer sun and stage lights beat down on his head.

many of the women had already been moved off of the stage and the security guys were working their way in my direction too. so i went to the place i thought would be safest, and put my arm on dylan’s left shoulder while he played guitar. he looked right at me with his greenish eyes for what must have been at least a million years or ten seconds before i felt the tug of security on my shirt. dylan broke our gaze and i was helped off the stage. i began to make my way back towards my ecstatic family as dylan was belting out in a peculiar, unrecognizable melody those unmistakable lyrics, “because something is happening here/but you don’t know what it is/do you, mister jones?”

hopefully my dad had many reasons to be proud of me prior to this moment, but they seemed to pale in comparison. i knew it wasn’t really me standing up there with my arm on bob, staring into his eyes—it was my dad. and as much as i was my father’s daughter, there was no escaping the fact that i was also most certainly dylan’s child.

keep in touch with jill on twitter @jillettinger

by jill ettinger


it’s always stressful to put together a top ten album list. i obsess. i bite my nails as i listen to song after song, album after album, as if those who don’t make the cut are sentenced to death by watching american idol reruns clockwork orange style. every artist is so unique and different—how do you compare electronic to folk anyway? yet somehow i manage to blindfold myself, take deep breaths, put the albums on shuffle and wait for that feeling to emerge, as it always does, making the list appear all on its own. (or, thanks itunes “most played” function!)

this year’s best albums can be summed up in one word: eerie. joanna newsom’s peculiar, incredible strangeness; warpaint’s vapor-like voices; the haunting vocals and arrangements on four tet’s there is love in you; the cryptic beats of bonobo’s black sands; the ghostly sounds on wovenhand’s the threshingfloor; the supernatural strings of the ngoni;  groovy anonymous soulful organ music of the 70’s;  nick cave and mike patton doing what they do best: freaking everyone out; and the exhaustingly beautiful and chilling sounds of anathema.

there are many albums i love that did not make this list, like the 2 cd release of otis redding live on the sunset strip, les savy fav’s root for ruin, robert plant’s band of joy, bruce springsteen’s the promise, and band of horses infinite arms. while they were all on consistent heavy rotation, it was these ten i kept coming back to again and again for something deeper than words.

if these albums are any indicator of what’s going on with the rest of the world, despite the scary and unknown stuff that permeates, there is an endless chasm of beauty and wonder just waiting for us all to dive into and explore.

 

1. joanna newsom have one on me

joanna newsom is evolving. fast. put her under a microscope and i bet scientists would discover some new genes or super DNA or something never before seen.  the 3 cd set, have one on me, is better song after better song of some of the best music ever made. note to new parents: yes it’s a really good idea to move to the woods, let your children wander in the forest by themselves on 3-day vision quests and teach them to play harp.

 

 

 

2. warpaint the fool

the debut from LA’s warpaint sounds almost as if someone discovered an underground city of super music geniuses living under hollywood’s walk of stars. warpaint sounds like cat power and bat for lashes had lou reed’s love children who they only let listen to radiohead and pj harvey records while spinning around and around like barefoot sufis on a bed of rose petals. the fool is absolutely addictive and prescient.

 

 

 

3. four tet there is love in you

four tet tapped into something bold with there is love in you. if “angel echoes” doesn’t gut you every time you listen to it, please see a doctor. the album progresses like a dream that twinkles and sparkles. if these songs were animals, they would all be unicorns. but not the cartoony fantasy unicorns; the real ones.

 

 

 

4. bonobo black sands

“kiara” is that song that you swear you wrote once when you were high on something. it exists in all of us. bonobo keeps proving his preeminence as one of the world’s best dj’s with black sands. “el toro” is an instant classic and vocal assists from andreya triana take the record to lush levels. yes, bonobo, we’d like more of you, please, please, please.

 

 

 

 

5. wovenhand the threshingfloor

whatever these folks have tapped into is  h e a v y. a threshing floor is where grain used to be loosened after harvest. loosening up is a certain by-product of this album. you can’t help but try to hold yourself together  after hearing tracks like “truth” and “raise her hands.” if devendra banhart covered joy division’s closer, it would probably sound a lot like the threshingfloor. it’s a time-traveling soundclash of super goodness and so much going on, you need to listen to it repeatedly for full effect.

 

 

 

6. bassekou kouyate and ngoni ba i speak fula

the kouyates have been playing the ngoni–a precursor to the banjo–for hundreds and hundreds of years. they played for kings. they rebuilt and redesigned the instrument and it’s all been perfectly distilled through bassekou. the only thing more impressive than the record is seeing him and his band perform live. it’ll leave you speechless.

 

 

7. grinderman grinderman 2

what is there to say about nick cave that hasn’t already been said? he’s a badass floating on clouds of coolness. he could build an atom bomb by accident, eat glass without bleeding, speak the language of squirrels and tie shoelaces with his toes. he is probably god. alongside fellow strangeman, warren ellis, grinderman’s second release is a little bit scary and awkward in that exciting way, and a whole lot brilliant. think of it as the closest to tongue-kissing a great white shark as you’ll probably ever want to get.

 

 

8. various artists: next stop soweto volume 2: soul, funk and organ grooves from the townships 1969-1976

thank god for music historians. back in the late 60’s and early 70’s,  a bunch of incredible funk-soul-rad-as-hell music from south africa was recorded on 45’s and b-sides. compilers duncan brooker and francis gooding spent years putting these collections together and the result is a slice of history you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. next stop soweto delivers a simply hypnotic, elegant and ridiculously good for your hips collection. it’s like time-traveling without all the mess.

 

 

9. mike patton mondo cane

an artist not afraid to try new things is the very best kind of artist there is. front man of the beloved 90’s grunge era’s faith no more, mike patton is the king of quirky and weird with projects like mr. bungle, peeping tom and tomahawk. he takes on his love for italian music in the gorgeous and strange way that only patton can on mondo cane. love him or hate him, he’s doing stuff you know you want to try but are too scared to attempt.

 

 

10. anathema we’re here because we’re here

a friend dared me to listen to this record all the way through and not put it in my top ten. i tried, but in the end, there’s no denying these guys. metal has achieved a perfection unimaginable.  if your heart can stand the gut-wrenching gorgeousness anathema deliver in every second of we’re here because we’re here without bursting into a million pieces, you’re a lot stronger than me. congratulations.

by jill ettinger

“funny, the things you have the hardest time parting with are the things you need the least.” — bob dylan

gopal krishnan is coca-cola’s global director of marketing innovations. his hindi tainted queen’s english rolls off of his tongue like a smooth mango lassi. krishnan is explaining the changes underway at the largest non-alcoholic beverage manufacturer in the world. coca-cola is in los angeles at the opportunity green conference focused on sustainability to discuss their efforts in recycling, converting trucks to bio diesel, water conservation and integrating non-petroleum plastic via their new “plantbottle,” a cane sugar pet hybrid.

by 2020, coca-cola’s goal is to be off of petroleum bottles 100% and into their plantbottle. more than 2.5 billion plantbottles are already in circulation, which may seem like quite a lot, but that’s out of more than 3,300 beverage brands owned or invested in by coca-cola in more than 200 countries, and according to cocacola.com, more than 1.3 billion servings sold every day.

coca-cola is also actively investing in recycling plants, says krishnan, citing that “leaving it up to city governments is just not working.”  they are currently the world’s largest recycler and claim to collect 35% of the bottles they put out. this is an arresting number when multiple sources, including everpure, coca-cola’s own water filtration supplier, cites that over 60 million bottles a day—more than 80% of all plastic bottles—end up in incinerators or landfills instead of at recycling plants. recycling is big business for coca-cola, and with an 85% growth potential, it’s no surprise they’re pushing the single serve bottles in every market.

what’s incredibly evident, if not downright chilling, is just how smart coca-cola is. among countless ways they’re dominating markets, they’ve realized there’s really only one product ever worth selling, one that never goes out of fashion: you. their biggest moneymaker is consumer confidence and nowhere is this buoyancy more prominent than in the booming sustainability movement.

read the rest of the article on realitysandwich.com

photo: ivan walsh

by jill ettinger

more than 500 million eggs have been recalled in the last week. countless cases of salmonella poisoning have been linked to these eggs coming out of just five massively packed factories owned by wright county egg in iowa—a sight undoubtedly so disturbing that it would make hitler look like willy wonka.

the condition most factory farm chickens live in is worse than any other factory-farmed animal. while chicken meat is often viewed as a healthier alternative to red meat or pork, nothing could be further from the truth. that is, unless you like your meat and your eggs loaded up with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and feces—yes, lots and lots of feces.

hens naturally produce eggs—no males required—unlike cows or goats or sheep or giraffes, who, just like all mammals, will only produce milk when the female is at least 100% pregnant. keeping an animal pregnant so that she’s producing milk for your nonfat mocha latte is a lot more difficult than it sounds; but encouraging a hen to lay more eggs than she will naturally, is an even more challenging conundrum.

in their tiny home-is-worse-than-death-cage that they endure for their short and miserable lives, chickens live stacked on top of each other. their beaks are seared off without anesthetics so that they won’t poke each others eyes out. spreading a wing–let alone two–is kind of like you dreaming about winning the lottery and moving to a white sandy beach in the south pacific. the farmers don’t care about the stress they put on the animals. all they care about is if they can squeeze another 12-pack of eggs out of an intelligent, curious and friendly bird who would much prefer a life clucking and dust bathing and caring for her young than the hellish nightmare considered criminal when done to humans.

read the full article here.

in aimee bender’s novel, the particular sadness of lemon cake, rose edelstein has a curious relationship with food. she can taste emotions. it’s an overwhelming nuisance. rose knows when her mother is feeling lost after a bite of her pie; when the local cookie baker is in a rush, rose can taste it; a friend’s turkey sandwich was made with so much love that rose feels grateful and jealous with each bite. rose finds cool respite in metallically sterile, machine-squeezed foods. globbing up her meals with factory ketchup, doritos and pringles, the lifeless ersatz void cleanses her palate from the bitter taste of human souls.

that food carries an emotional flavor is not fiction to filmmaker jeremy seifert. director of the multi-ward-winning documentary, dive!, seifert takes a look into the 96 billion pound pile of food being sent to landfills every year in america.

seifert’s relationship with food was not unusual. he bought it, ate it, and what he didn’t finish or forgot in the back of the refrigerator was tossed out for garbage trucks to haul off to that mysterious place where discards disappear. he wasn’t aloof about the world’s problems, but like most of us, he just didn’t really know how big of an issue an overripe banana was.

while friends were visiting seifert several years ago, they returned to his home one evening with large bags full of food. they spread the contents out all over his kitchen floor, snatching up what looked to be—and was—perfectly edible, but something was abnormal about this trip to the market. they had been to a trader joe’s in los angeles, but it was well after midnight and the store closed at ten. this food came from the store’s dumpsters.

seifert is bright. there is a soft humbleness to him—the kind you hope a politician would have without faking. a husband and father of three, generosity and sweetness oozes out of him, but with a patient, protective alertness you’d expect in a good father or big brother. he is not pretentious. he is not arrogant. he’s the nice guy who looks like he’d ride a skateboard to work wearing a backpack full of home made treats for everyone in the office, just ’cause. this type of kindness towards others, i imagine, is what might have made that night staring at a kitchen floor full of trash a life-changing moment for seifert—a realization that there was enough food there otherwise destined for a landfill to feed a lot of people, a lot of hungry people.

read the entire article here

by jill ettinger

my understanding of yoga is that no matter how much i resist, it works. what that means, exactly, i’m  not quite sure, and i’m ok with that. all i need to know is that my before and after states are drastically altered. even in those moments where nothing could be less appealing than dragging myself to the studio, i am always lighter and relieved of something after a class. i feel different physically of course, and i feel even more shifts elsewhere inside where calmness seems to gain momentum with each and every visit to downward dog. it feels as if it’s a cumulative effect–no matter how long it’s been since my last practice–i am always further along towards somewhere after every class.

this process has been at the forefront of my thoughts lately as i’ve been teaching two groups of second graders at the moffet elementary school in inglewood’s low income neighborhood. (in 2007, the average los angeles household income was $58,647. in inglewood it was $40,110) last week, i saw two stray big pit bulls meandering around the neighborhood—one went right up onto school property while children were there! across the street from the school, there are numerous cars up on bricks that look like they haven’t worked in ages, bike parts and lots of trash in the streets. every day when i arrive at the school, i compete for a parking spot with the local ice cream truck who sets up just feet away from the man with the bags of cotton candy in a rainbow of pinks and blues.

but, whatever. i grew up dirt poor my whole life, addicted to cheetos and those ice cream cookie sandwiches with the chocolate chips around the edges. my mom got food stamps. we didn’t have a car. i still shop at thrift stores and feel more comfortable living in diverse neighborhoods than some of the places i’ve seen where people live in los angeles. and i appreciate yoga. it’s even possible that my harsh upbringing made the idea of yoga more accessible: a place that’s perfect no matter where i’m at or what i’m doing. please don’t confuse this with an escape, i’m not running away, if anything, running closer towards the truth of who i am and where i came from. i don’t feel like yoga has helped me to transcend or be in a position to judge how others live their lives. it just seems to illuminate my reality which is of course, absolutely subjective and possibly even irrelevant. but i digress….

our yoga practice space is in the cafeteria, which is also the auditorium. it’s loud and bright and distracting in every possible way. every day, the kids come in like sugar-coated freight trains lumbering onto their mats in fits of giggles, squeaks, shouts and gossips. i am the only one in the class not fluent in spanish. eventually, we come to sit somewhat tall and quiet and sip in deep breaths as if we’re filling a glass of water—the bottom fills up first, then the middle, and then the very top of our lungs before we let it rush out in moans and sighs. the kids like this a lot, even if they don’t quite understand it. i’m not sure i do either.

i begin each class with a question or two: who practiced yoga since our last class? anyone want to share anything at all? the answers are varied and non-sequitor, and that’s precisely my goal. one student used breath to “calm down” after a fight with her mother. another said they practiced the poses with their sister. alejandro got a haircut (a mohawk!) over the weekend. javier had a birthday party. the check-in helps me to know where they are at and what are they thinking and feeling right now. unlike teaching adults who choose to take a class, these kids have little control over their choices. i’ve come to understand that it’s why they are so rambunctious and kind of crazy. it’s theirs. they decide to do that within the parameters of their otherwise controlled lives. so we use this need for expression and we make monkey sounds and bear sounds and believe it or not, butterfly sounds (imagine the wings of a butterfly amplified through loudspeakers that make everything sound a bit like mickey mouse). we are all of these things and not one of them at the same time. it’s exciting and silly and it feels right to be loud and then quiet and then loud again.

we roll out our necks. i ask everyone to close their eyes as i do, but i return from darkness to see forty wide eyes staring back at me. well, maybe thirty-eight, jennifer will no doubt teach yoga herself one day. we begin to move through some poses. we salute the sun and the warriors we all are, we balance like trees and eagles and seek stillness as mountains. talking mountains. giggling mountains, but mountains, nonetheless.

on a number of occasions i’ve had to ask students to leave their candy with their backpacks. it’s dangerous, i tell them, but i know we have two different definitions of what that warning means. two of the children are severely overweight. one of them certainly weighs more than me yet stands only to my chest. it actually surprises me that more of the children aren’t that heavy as i can hear the ice cream truck music in the distance.

i wonder a lot, probably too much, about these children. what’s it like at home? how did gabriella get that huge cut on her face? why won’t christopher sit still for even one second? is this behavior normal for children? have i really not been one for so long that i can’t remember?

the teachers don’t seem to mind, or care. they are present during every class, but sit stoic, glued to their iphones, grateful for the reprieve my 45 minutes gives them. how much different might the classes be if the teacher actually participated with us? did my teachers ignore me this way?

though we’ve only had twelve classes together, the students remember poses we’ve tried once. they demand them. they go into them without my instruction. they ooh and aah at their friends’ attempts. i too marvel at the way an eight-year-old body can just fall into mandukasana (frog pose). we ribbitt and look for flies.

the three-week yoga course was designed to help these students with their upcoming state tests. lennox schools have some of the lowest scores in california. in an illogical irony, the schools that test better receive more state funds. those who don’t perform well are essentially punished. or rather, the children who are already challenged are now compromised even more if they fail to comprehend the tests they have not necessarily been properly assisted with understanding in the first place. the yoga program is a test program, designed to help the students remember ways to calm down, focus and perform better on their tests. the most unlikely scenario that’s fantastic to imagine: a classroom full of students on test day who begin to “om” and breathe deeply as they try to recall the name of our last president.

yoga has transformed and continues to alter my relationship to all things, most notably to myself, in ways i can’t always understand. i’ve been a certified teacher for almost ten years. i’ve read the bhagavad gita and the yoga sutras and committed myself to commit myself to this exploration–to better understand and feel that place within me that seems to never change. to be that person who sits in a room full of second graders and thinks “i understand what you’re going through, guys,” even though, to them, i am just “miss jill.” someone that might as well be one hundred years old, and from a planet where everyone is born as an adult. the nearly thirty years since i was in second grade is indeed a distance immeasurable.

our last class was yesterday. i received dozens of hugs and questions and bittersweet goodbyes. at times i felt really sad. i wondered how long i will think about these children and how long they will think about me. will they ever give yoga another thought? will they remember what we practiced together? will this actually help their test scores? i want to say that yoga works whether we want it to or not. sort of like a medicine. but maybe that’s just been my experience. maybe yoga only works for me because i’ve wanted it to, or i was destined for it to. i just don’t know. but i do know that yoga keeps reminding me that everything is perfect as it is, even when it seems like it’s not. and for these kids, i hope that’s true too.

photo by jill ettinger

by jill ettinger

i scream, you scream, we all scream for healthy, raw, vegan, gourmet, non-dairy nice cream? yes, of course we do. admit it, you’ve finished a ben & jerry’s pint in one sitting as if your life depended on it. your behind has been sending you hate mail as summer is getting dangerously close (like the space between your upper thighs). not to mention the ongoing denial — even after food inc was nominated for an oscar! —about cruel treatment inflicted on factory farm cows for their creamy-meant-for-baby-cows-and-not-haagen dazs-foodstuffs. still, pro-dairy sentiment looms large in america as evident in the recent dairy board “mootopia” milk commercials boasting lustrous hair and strong, white teeth. what about the acne, lactose intolerance and love handles rampant in our over-creamed country? it’s udderly untasty.

come on, it’s 2010 already. ever hear of evolution?

mollie engelhart has. she is the founder and ceo of nice cream, a raw vegan ice cream shop in studio city. a vegan since conception who grew up on a farm, nice cream, was a natural choice for engelhart. her father is the founder of café gratitude, the incredibly popular san francisco vegan and raw food restaurant chain soon opening their first los angeles location.

while new york city already boasts two vegan ice cream shops, los angeles has the country’s first raw vegan ice cream shop, possibly the only one in the world. raw ice cream uses coconut or cashews and almonds for the base instead of dairy milk. nuts are naturally creamy in texture (commercially available almond milk is a popular alternative to dairy, soy and rice) and take on the added flavors well. raw ingredients (unheated above 104 degrees) maintain their nutritional value and important enzymes that make the products actually kind of good for you. really.

nice cream flavors include some very clever inventions and some are old standards, but all are incredibly tasty: beet, ginger & grapefruit, chai, basil ginger, honey vanilla, peanut butter, mocha and of course, chocolate (also available in soft serve) to name a few.

engelhart had the idea for nice cream seven years ago while she was working as a poet frequently appearing on hbo as part of russell simmon’s def poetry jam. but her work left little time to pursue much else until two years ago when engelhart started formulating her flavors and planning production for nice cream.

considering herself an environmentalist first and vegan second, engelhart is committed to supporting and producing locally grown and sustainably sourced ingredients. “we’re growing two thousand pounds of produce a year on ¼ acre of land at our home in granada hills,” says engelhart, ” i won’t water anything i can’t eat.” her produce appears in flavors like mint chocolate chip and upcoming flavors using her loquats and kumquats. “we have about twenty-five formulas, but only sixteen fit in the case at a time,” says engelhart, her eyes swirling with possibility.

nice cream opened the door officially on may 10th, and already are serving over one hundred customers per day. and there’s a good bit of controversy too. vegans shun all products sourced from animals—including honey. commercial beehives have been known to mistreat and kill large numbers of the hive and hardcore vegans believe no one has a right to the honey except for the bees themselves. engelhart offers another possibility, “every 3rd bite you take is pollinated by a bee, and that’s for the average american diet. what about the vegan who only eats plants? it’s probably higher.” she’s got a point. without bees, much of our food would not exist. we’ve been seeing alarming drops in the bee population that could lead to worldwide food shortages on levels we’ve never experienced. nice cream’s honey comes from hives managed by engelhart’s father-in-law, so she is well aware of the source and treatment of her sweetener. for vegans, she offers flavors sweetened with agave, a plant that’s also causing a lot of controversy. recent articles have cited agave as having the same effect on the body as high fructose corn syrup. long promoted as a low-glycemic alternative safe for diabetics, the debate going on about agave is causing a stir.

one thing not in dispute: nice cream tastes delicious. whether you’re raw, vegan, lactose intolerant or eat everything, nice cream’s flavors satisfy. “i just want it to be fun, especially for kids to have that experience of ice cream where nothing is missing,” says engelhart. well, she’s got it mostly right. there is one thing definitely missing from her products though, and that’s guilt.
nicecream is located just off the 101 at 3701 cahuenga blvd in los angeles.

by jill ettinger

every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – t.s. eliot

the national’s new album, high violet, sounds predictably a lot like their previous albums, except, slightly newer and freshed out. similar to coldplay, the national embodies something achingly beautiful, slightly infectious and yet severely tiresome at the same time. this is not the normal problem fans have with bands when some songs or albums are really, really good and some are really, really bad. (examples: the rolling stones “doo doo doo doo doo (heartbreaker)” is cussing brilliant. “silver train” is not. both are on the album goat’s head soup. u2’s the joshua tree is a perfect album. everything they recorded after it is not even close.)

what’s so interesting about the national is that the same songs are really great and really annoying at the same time. take the album’s third track, “anyone’s ghost,” the part when matt berninger sings “i had a hole in the middle” is eerie and pretty and awesome. when he gets to the chorus of “i didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost,” and there’s some hand-clapping sound going on, it suddenly sounds silly and showy. this can be said about virtually every song on the album except, maybe “little faith” which is entirely bad and whiny as is “england,” except that at times it sounds a lot like 1985 one-hit-wonders, the dream academy, which is actually a pretty good thing. “terrible love” opens the album with tales of spiders and that’s rarely ever boring yet there are unmemorable moments even though it’s the strongest track besides “lemonworld” (which makes sense because that is track number seven). “afraid of everyone” has some great drumming, and the backing “ah-ahs” are quite interesting, but yet the song is still only ok until the last thirty seconds. “bloodbuzz ohio” is almost exactly like “fake empire” off of their critically acclaimed last LP, boxer, but not nearly as good or important sounding.

the relationship fans have with the national will naturally become more problematic as they release more albums to more critical acclaim. the process will be a painful one. the national is a band everyone’s supposed to like because they are the accessible, logical climax of post-punk-brooklyn-hipster-indie-rock that will eventually go mainstream making hipsters no longer hip. in all likelihood, twenty years from now, the national will be known mostly as the band jay-z’s son sampled.

this sort of destiny was also true for 80’s epitome of glam rock, poison. what was born out of led zeppelin and black sabbath’s long hair and wailing moans was condensed twenty years later in “hair-metal.” (it’s kind of like buying an encapsulated green tea “extract” because science is convinced they’ve isolated the polyphenols critical to improving your health rather than recognizing that the experience in sipping the cup of tea is possibly even more healthful than the actual ingredients.)

the route from point A (late 1960’s-late 1970’s psychedelic rockers zeppelin, floyd, even the early scorpions albums) to point Z (late 1980’s pop rock to late 1990’s glammers: poison, warrant, whitesnake and even the late years of motley crue) had a veritable transition through points B-Y in bands such as iron maiden, judas priest, and of course, kiss, all who turned up the volume on rock and gave it a modern embrace (largely defined by long hair, leather and lots and lots of girl fans), while retaining the intrinsic roots of the genre.

by the time poison and the ilk came along, the metamorphosis had come to its natural end. the caterpillar became a butterfly—with fully painted twisted sisters—and died. the genre decayed and from its ash was reborn into new and interesting sounds—as music never really stops—but the trajectory did inevitably hit the wall somewhere around 1988 with the release of poison’s open up and say ahh!

here is the paradox: the national is good because they’re really not all that good or interesting or new or different, and the fact that they are not good is good because it means good things are capable of coming out of otherwise un-good music. and this is good, because we need to feel comfortably safe with music that we want to believe is edgy, rough and raw, but maybe, actually, really isn’t. for example, the comparison the national’s lead singer, matt berninger, often gets to ian curtis of joy division is not only a stretch, but nowhere near analogous. sure, they’re both baritones. so is my dog.

curtis committed suicide shortly before the first joy division u.s. tour was to begin, which many believed would have guaranteed their commercial success (and significantly altered american music). curtis, who struggled with severe epilepsy and a failing marriage, wrote courageous, pitch black lyrics. in many regards, joy division was, and still is, a band that redefined music. the national is a band merely defining it.

while bret michaels of poison may not be a baritone, he has more in common with matt berninger (aside from their initials being the exact opposite) than berninger has with curtis. on poison’s magnum opus, “every rose has its thorn” michaels sings: though it’s been a while now i can still feel so much pain, like a knife that cuts you the wound heals but the scar, that scar remains.

compare this to “sorrow” from the national’s high violet: look, it’s only my half of heart alone, on the water. cover me in rag and bones, sympathy. cause i don’t wanna get over you. i don’t wanna get over you.

both songs predictably recount the tribulations of breaking up, but allude to the recovery. michaels sees the lingering scar, but acknowledges the wound is healing. berninger’s half-remaining heart doesn’t want to get over you, but we know he will, unlike curtis’s morose grieving on joy division’s most popular song, “love will tear us apart.” curtis makes no attempts to imply there is a healing, he rather grimly wallows in the abysmal reality: you cry out in your sleep, all my failings exposed. and there’s a taste in my mouth, as desperation takes hold. just that something so good, just can’t function no more. but love, love will tear us apart again. love, love will tear us apart again.

curtis describes a cycle of unending suffering where michaels and berninger, however grudgingly, move on.

fast-forward to now, and michaels has become the poster boy for “metal,” though he was really never in a metal band. it’s evident now that poison’s sound is pop country more than it was ever metal or rock. it just took us twenty years to acknowledge this. the national will too be reflected back on as something other than what they–and their fans–think they are now. they’ll sell out every show on their current tour and artists more famous than them will continue to cite them as an influence because high violet is not an awful album. it is illogically perfect. but so is everything.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,548 other followers