[Ramp Local; 2018]
In that time when your network feels mechanized — your responses were programmed before you could write them for yourself; synapses are firing, reactions are delivered, you are never consulted — you’re becoming machine. But as though they are presenting an old koan, they utter on “Lover,” “I can be eaten too,” repeating it to be clear. It’s a useful reminder, perhaps because the carnal is so rare, a thing not just of meat, but of mistakes and dirt and sharing too.
For at least the past month, Log On For The Free Chance To Log On For Free was one of just a few albums on my iPhone. So when I started my Hyundai, which I do frequently, “A Path” auto-played and was therefore the first thing I heard at the start of any drive. This happened several times a day. Like clockwork I heard it: a few clicks, a candid strum, piano like a bell. The elements of the recording are loose, but they were presented to me in a mechanical pattern that embedded itself as a part my life. The tolling of “A Path” became a strange, incidental, passive ritual that I performed and received. Direct repetition, I had thought, was inhuman, futurist, and brutal, an aesthetic of post-industrial mechanization: it clutters, it’s productive or, I thought, at least generative.
But in some climates, repetitions demarcate, not as an anchor, but as a tic, a reset (“Clear history/ Refresh,” goes the coda of “Held Up Fairly”). Repetitions can make space, clear the platform. This is what JOBS do brilliantly: the repeat, return, reshape, recur, and resolve all in one gesture. They resist identification and toy with their signaling, giving us something both between and within worlds. They seem to be a band without a center (of control, of impetus, of attention), a group that is hard to grasp. They depart from genre constraints and relax at the infinite palette before them, this making them unlike others who drop genre but fall victim to non-fruitful wandering, cartoon-ish pastiche, or simply novel effect. But JOBS succeed because this formlessness is at the core of their larger fascinations: the human, the inhuman, the post-human, the social, the artificial, and the plastic (or malleable).
Log On is permeated by mantras about these themes. They are spoken, sung, screamed, chuckled through, and slipped in. It is with repetition that they gain weight. It is insisted upon that we are “malleable capsules that move.” We can “clear history,” and we can “refresh.” We are “infinitely adaptable,” and we “deteriorate beautifully.” Ultimately, we “make dirt.” But until then, we move about, we change, and we make change.
Francis Ponge, poet and thinker of things, said “Fire classifies.” Essentially, fire chooses what it will eat up, and it chooses what it won’t. Fire is still fire, no matter what it consumes: a constant. He continues, “it maneuvers at times like an amoeba then like a giraffe.” This amoebic motion and the greater actions of the amoeba, I think, is a good illustration of our social bodies. We move, we interact, we alter, we absorb, we morph, we join, and we inflict. But where fire burns, we shape. Additionally, we, unlike fire, are not a constant.
Our infinite adaptability (as JOBS has it on “A Path”) is a special trait. Take the orange: Ponge writes, “Like the sponge, the orange wishes to regain its shape after it has endured expression. But where the sponge always succeeds, the orange never does: its cells have burst, its tissues have been torn.” We take it for granted, but were we not adaptable, we would suffer a similar fate. Of course, constant adaptation has its toll. Catherine Malabou showed this in her book What Should We Do With Our Brain? Writing of the post-industrial workplace, she states, “the absence of centrality and hierarchy evoked above, the absence of clear and localized conflict, and the necessity of being mobile and adaptable constitute new factors of anxiety, new psychosomatic symptoms, new causes of severe neurasthenia.” These demands exhaust us, but JOBS can divide, re-form, morph, and twist without losing structure. They spring into form and regain shape, occasionally allowing this anxiety and this panic seep through, if only to maintain equilibrium.
As an elastic unit, a collective, JOBS give us the band as a social organ in which content and form both follow this commitment of an adaptive, decentralized process. For JOBS, sociality is the thing of life. The social space is where the living happens (which isn’t to say that without social life nothing happens; again, in the end, we “make dirt”). But it’s particularly worth belting, as though in awe or in fear of another’s wonders, that this other “brings colors and she/ She brings new land.” This is heavy lifting and thoughtful sharing. Especially when, elsewhere, another’s capacity for exchange is met with a mournfully delivered remark: “zhe is without gifs to share.” Both the asocial and the commodification of the social are bound up in this great sadness where neither change nor exchange can exist.
So, if Log On is remarkable as a piece of music, it is because it’s a functional thesis of what all great bands have been and can be: a model of human social forms; a study in exchange and power distribution; a safe space to practice collective autonomy, to undergo change and howl at a false threat just to practice screaming.
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