Thursday, October 26, 2006

I think I got this link from Slate: a fascinating article on the iPod shuffle mode.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A meme borrowed from the inestimable David Schwartz at Mumble Herder:

So, here's how it works:

  1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
  2. Put it on shuffle
  3. Press play
  4. For every question, type the song that's playing
  5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
  6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool . . .
  • Opening Credits: "Chatterboxes" - Deerhoof. A jittery song without a rhythm section, basically a pretty melody over percussive guitars. The lyrics are about passing stories through generations, and I like this as a good opening credit song. To wit: "Set sail, seaworthy vessel/Fill your holds with the sound/Of daughters and sons/Wagging their tongues."
  • Waking Up: "Dr. Schwitters Snippet" - Faust. An optimistic, Moog-driven, 49-second snippet from The Faust Tapes ending with a theremin and the beginning of an explosion. Sounds like a hell of a day.
  • First Day At School: "Lisbon" - Six Organs of Admittance. Wow, this is pensive stuff. This track is solo acoustic guitar, in the style of Robbie Basho or John Fahey, all minor-key moody mood music. I guess the first day at school is a sad one. This track calls for a half-speed montage. Now!
  • Falling In Love: "Always" - Tom Verlaine. Kinda rockin' post-Television Verlaine track that sounds like many kinda rockin' post-Television Verlaine tracks. I have no idea what he's singing about, but "think it over" is repeated in the chorus. Killer guitar lead.
  • Fight Song: "I Love You So Much It Hurts" - Ray Charles. Hey, is my iPod off by a song? Maybe I'm just a lover, not a fighter.
  • Breaking Up: "I Summon You" - Spoon. Damn, I take it back. This is a perfect break-up song. Consider: "Where are you tonight?/And how'd we get here?/It's too late to break it off/I need a release/the signal's a cough/but that don't get me off/I summon you to appear, my love/Got the weight of the world/I summon you here, my love."
  • Prom: "Elevate Me Later" - Pavement. Built on a fantastic riff, this is a kiss-off to, well, somebody. I know every word to this song -- in fact, it's nigh unto irresistable to sing along -- but I have no idea what it's about. "Those who sleep with electric guitars/range-rovin' with the cinema stars/well, I wouldn't want to shake their hand/because they're in such a high protein land." Yeah, you tell 'em, Stephen.
  • Life is Good: "Der Vaum" - Faust. OK, more Krautrock from The Faust Tapes. This has a jaunty little melody, with lots of dramatic pauses, but it also has two heavily-reverbed competing vocal lines that appear to mix German and English. All I know is that something is "breaking my head." I guess that's good.
  • Mental Breakdown: "Holy Train Wrecks" - The Weird Weeds. Remember when I went to see Jandek and made a bad joke about one of the drummers being in Jandek's death-cult youth group? That guy was Nick Hennies. This is his band, and they're freakin' great. Another sign of alignment between the current assignment and my iPod, because this song is strange and beautiful enough to cause the fragile to experience hallucinations.
  • Driving: "Needing Someone" - Gene Clark. Alright, a bit of 60s folk-rock for driving. I'm guessing that the movie would just appropriate some of the groovier motorcycle scenes from Easy Rider for this.
  • Flashback: "Dog" - Sly and the Family Stone. Maybe this part of the movie is an extended Walter Mitty segment where I imagine life as a late 60s hippie hepcat. Maybe I could be a hoofer hoping to break into a supergroovy production of Hair. Or did that come later? I have no idea. 'Cause I'm not young, but I was born years after this song came out.
  • Getting Back Together: "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" - Brian Wilson. Ha! OK, then. No, wait! Ha! Cue the fireman's helmets! This is going to turn out well.
  • Wedding: "Yellow" - Okkervil River. Wow, a sad song about people who love each other but break up, anyway. That's harsh, iPod. There's some beautiful moments in this song, I have to say: "Our paths and our futures are hidden in mists that are stretching out over impossible distances/totally obscured/And I really do think that there's probably more good than anger or selfishness, sickness, or sadness would ever completely allow us to have in this life/I think I'm sure/But that doesn't mean it's bad." This seems better for the next category, so maybe I fell asleep through one song.
  • Paying the Dues: "Victory Garden" - The Red Krayola. Oh, I love this song. I was familiar with the Galaxie 500 cover first, but the original is just great. It's a bit more 60s psychedelia instead of the late-80s psychedelia of the G500, but man, this is great stuff. Less than two minutes long, too.
  • The Night Before The War: "The Sweet Sounds of Summer" - The Shangri-Las. Yeah! I'd rather hear teenage symphonies to god before holy hell rains down on me.
  • Final Battle: "We've Been Had" - The Walkmen. I have a Walkmen song on my iPod? Really? I'm stunned.
  • Moment of Triumph: "A Song About Walls" - The Geraldine Fibbers. A rather upbeat song, but the lyrics, all fractured fairy-tales, are most decidedly NOT upbeat. A girl junky (with a "needle in her eye," yikes!) hurls her addiction through the walls. Well, that's ok, I guess, but there's a lot of darkness about boyfriends and sex with dealers and stuff like that. The noise-to-melody ratio is about 1:1, and that's freakin' awesome.
  • Death Scene: "Le Grande Illusion" - Television Personalities. Niiiiiiiiiiice. I'm going out to the sound of a forlorn teen implicitly comparing his secret love to one of Renoir's greatest films. How are you going out?
  • Funeral Song: "NightEndDay" - Pelican. Superbombastic funeral, ja! Jesus, I hope they're setting my death-boat on fire, releasing a flock of endangered birds into the wild, razing and salting the land, and sending my body over Victoria Falls to justify using this music. Even then, it may not be enough. This song's over 10 minutes long, so they should probably intercut some scenes of rampaging marauders setting villagers on fire to keep people into it.
  • End Credits: "Now That I Know" - Devendra Banhart. Well, this song seems to say, "Thanks for watching this downer of a biopic. Hope you don't slit your wrists much on the way home!" Lovely stuff, but sad, sad, sad.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dear Rob Thomas:

I love the hell out of Veronica Mars. It's usually a witty, provocative, complex, and a thoroughly satisfying entertainment, even taking the occasionally misstep into account. However, your use of the Stanford Prison Experiment for this week's episode was poorly conceived and ultimately disrespectful to a lesson that should be more important to Americans now than at any point in the last 230-odd years.

Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of adapting the SPE to a tv show, preferably one dark enough to carry the lesson forward. VM certainly has that darkness, but here, as with your ill-conceived episode from last season that inverted the point of 12 Angry Men by switching the protagonist from a defender to a prosecutor (sheesh), you have undercut the point that I believe you were trying to make. In the wake of Abu Ghraib and the current Administration's cowardly, casual gutting of the Geneva Conventions, people need to remember exactly how easy it is to blur the line between regular joe and heartless torturer or faceless torturee.

True, you had your professor, played by the man who voices Homer Simpson, state this in no uncertain terms. But then you removed the professor from the experiment, whereas in the real SPE, the professor lost himself in his role. You had the only psycho "guard" be a guy who started an ass and then finished one. You had the only prisoner who lost control of himself be weak from the start and weak at the finish (although your casting here was also superb, so make Samm Levine a regular, for the sake of all that's good and holy). You also allowed the prisoners to retain their names and to undertake some fairly minor hardships, given the horrors of the original SPE, let alone the horrific dehumanizing and inhumane methods currently employed in officially sanctioned U.S. torture centers (excuse, I'm throwing up in my mouth a little right now) around the world. What's even more unforgiveable is that you justified allowing your "guards" to torture your "prisoners" by asserting that a bomb would go off in 48 hours. Most - if not all - of the people being held and tortured in the name of this misguided War on Terror (I always marvel at the stupidity of that name) do not have any such knowledge. Even if they did, they are being held and tortured for years, not days, long past when any knowledge they may have once had would have been useful.

Anyway, I think you did not mean to suggest that the darkest corners of humanity are like some college creep being mean to others. I think you meant the inverse: that almost anyone could become the epitome of evil if permitted or encouraged by an institution to do so. But your execution was lazy, sir, and this issue is far too serious to be treated so casually. Please try harder in the future. I have faith in you and in the other creators of this show.

In the meantime, I assume from the show's hilarious references to Battlestar Galactica that you are a fan. Please consider gravity with which that show is treating the subject of torture. Again: don't take lightly that which dehumanizes us all.

Your faithful servant,
etc. etc.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Random iPoddage:

  1. Slayer - "Altar of Sacrifice". I've been on a bit of a metal binge lately. This is from Reign in Blood, which is, in my limited understanding, one of the first metal albums that verged on free jazz.
  2. The Beach Boys - "Here Today". This is the diametric opposite of Slayer. From Pet Sounds, one of the greatest albums, period.
  3. Kleenex/LiLiPut - "Nice". Catchy pop-punk from the women who made Sleater-Kinney possible.
  4. Boris - "Akuma No Uta". See what I mean about a metal binge? This is from the album of the same name with the odd allusion to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter cover. It's a great song, with a good combination of sludge to speed.
  5. Os Mutantes - "Panis Et Circenses". From Swiss punk to Japanese metal to Brazilian psychedelia. We're going all around the world! On a yellow balloon! While the timber wolves gnaw on the freaky lava lamp of your mind!
  6. The Mekons - "32 Weeks". An early single from the Mekons' primitive-art-collective days on the Fast Product compilation. One chord, a lower-class Brit guy hollering a Marxist critique of the British class system, and a backbeat.
  7. Chris Brokaw - "Tournament". A mellow instrumental from Red Cities, this is Brokaw (of Come, Consonant, and another band starting with "C") at his noodliest.
  8. Richard Thompson Band - "Sibella". This is a live version of the song from the mostly unnecessary Semi-Detached Mock Tudor official bootleg. I say "unnecessary" because most of these songs are uncomfortably close to the studio versions, but I say "mostly" because it's Richard Fucking Thompson and the guy's an interesting performer even when half-assing it.
  9. Calexico - "Vinegaroon". Hey, it's another noodly mellow instrumental that sounds like it came from a great movie.
  10. Cardinal - "Dream Figure". Remember when I wrote about Eric Matthews in the last post? No? Well, I did. And this is his original composition for Cardinal. All the other songs were by Richard Davies and arranged by Matthews. On this one, Davies provides some rockin' guitar and odd whispery back-and-forth backing vocals. The song sounds like rockin' Eric Matthews songs sound, with a sing-songy verse followed by long, stretched out notes on the chorus. If you love 'em (like I do), that's alright.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I bought new albums the other day! But I haven't listened to them all yet, at least not enough to have a fully formed opinion.

I got Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, which is either their best album yet or will eventually tie with I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and Painful for the coveted top spot. What's great about it is that it sounds unmistakeably like Yo La Tengo in all their myriad permutations, but it also sounds older and wiser than previous albums, as if they've taken the skronk-folk-pop of the past and synthesized it with their recent jazz inclinations and Love-like whispery-dreampop. It's strong stuff, and after 3-4 listens, I love it wholeheartedly. Here's the album cover.

Eric Matthews - Foundation Sounds.

I love this guy's work. Back in the early 90s, Matthews first played bass in a Sebadoh offshoot called Belt Buckle, which transformed into the chamber-pop band Cardinal for their Toy Bell EP. When the Sebadoh guy, Bob Fay, dropped out of Cardinal, the only two members left were Matthews and a brilliant Aussie named Richard Davies, who had been in the psych-punk band The Moles (both of the Moles albums [Instinct and Untune The Sky, re-released as On the Street] are fucking brilliant and you should stop reading this and go buy them now. Back? OK, let's continue...). Cardinal's sole album (re-released last year with bonus tracks) was just perfect, a mish-mash of psychedelia, arch rock, folk, and simulated chamber-pop strings, like if Syd Barrett, David Bowie, and Nick Drake had all been the same person. Matthews and Davies didn't get along well, though, and that one album was it. Davies put out 3 great solo albums in the late 90s and subsequently (and horrifically) appears to have retired. Matthews put out 2 brilliant solo albums in the late 90s and also vanished for 8 years. Last year, he released the EP Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit, which was sweet and beautiful, although a bit light. It reminded me of Paul Westerburg's Grandpaboy project, on which Westerburg did his best post-Replacements work, but which was also a trifling, disposable thing. Just not a bad one, if you follow me.

So this is his new album, Foundation Sounds. I've only listened to it once or twice, but it lacks some of the spark of his earlier works. There's also at least one track that has a less-than-subtle message proselytizing about his Christianity. Songs of faith work well, I think, when treated as personal statements of subjective truth, like "Amazing Grace" or Richard and Linda Thompson's "A Heart Needs A Home." The same does not hold, though, for songs that treat your beliefs as objective truth, and Matthews definitely steps over the line there. I need to listen to the album more, I think, but it's problematic when the only song that's really stuck out for me is one that I find offputting.

I also bought the Decemberists' The Crane Wife and Mastodon's Blood Mountain, but have given neither of them enough attention to write about yet. I know that Joe Gross mentioned over drinks a couple of weeks back that he's having an issue with the mastering of Blood Mountain, which he thought over-compressed, but I'm not sure that my ear is sophisticated enough to hear overcompression on a metal album. When I think of overcompression, the example that leaps to mind is the Go-Betweens' Oceans Apart, where the clean guitar tones and vocals go fuzzy in every song because of studio-generated volume and depth issues. With a metal band like Mastodon, the fuzz is so prevalent that I just can't distinguish guitar distortion from studio distortion.

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