Monday, April 18, 2016

Turns People Into Clay, Radiation Minds Decay

So I've been looking for an apartment lately. Not with much seriousness, as I'm not exactly well-employed enough to merit finally moving out, but I'm trying to keep my eye on the field and see what's available for what price. To that end, I picked up one of those rental guide magazines they give away for free at the grocery store. Naturally, most of them turned out to be amenity-laden high-end properties that I will not likely afford anytime soon. Even so, one of them stood out to me. Can you spot the reason?

Note: I've removed their contact info being that this is not a commercial blog, it's just for my own fun. It shouldn't be hard to Google them if you're really interested in living there. Except Cranberry is kinda lame, to be honest.

So didja find it yet?


Hint: look under the amenities section.

Yep, you read that right. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

I Felt The Pressure In A TV Way

I have what I consider to be a major quirk. I have this irritating craving to hear the ending of every story I run across on television. And I don't like it.

Eat your heart out, Ned's Atomic Dustbin

Here's why: most of what I bumble into, on the sliding scale of depressing to clever, tends to sit on the depressing side (e.g. Law & Order SVU, the various CSIs, Blue Bloods and NCIS are interesting but occasionally go there) and I just can't take much of that without it affecting me. It's really best if I avoid it altogether. It's like vodka in a plastic bottle. You know there's nothing good there, it's not going to leave you feeling any better; but, y'know, it sure is an EXPERIENCE. Yeah. (Spoiler Alert: it's not gluten free either.)

Somehow I've noticed that television is a bigger culprit than movies. Something about the neat one-hour format is both somewhat predictable and simply too neat and tidy for me. Movies (if not edited for time, content and formatted to fit your TV) tend to leave such things more flexible. It might be due to this fact that the scraps of the Jason Bourne movies I've seen seem comparatively more interesting despite only seeing bits on WGN here and there. With a TV show, I can tell if Grissom or Gibbs or 21st-Century-Holmes-And-Watson-Played-By-The-Always-Attractive-Lucy-Liu really have the suspect cornered by looking at the clock. Movie? Fuck me, I lose track of time when I don't have commercials at regular intervals. And that's a good thing.

I wonder if the fact that there's more freedom to choose precisely what you want to watch when selecting a movie over plopping down for a TV episode that's effectively been selected for you makes any difference in how I feel about it. (I mean, for years we've all been told - yes, you too - abut what junk TV beams into our homes, and I tend to agree in general. The cadmium age of reality television pretty much codified that for me.) And that's actually another thing: I get tired of murder for after dinner every night. Murder in a movie doesn't bother me near so much. A good murder mystery movie - like one of my personal favorites, the 1974 Murder On The Orient Express - is a complete experience, something to set aside a serious chunk of time to enjoy, experience, and savor. What use is a meal without SOMETHING to chew on? There's always a loose thread, something that just gnaws at you. And sometimes that thread turns out to be a descending whip - a plot twist that breaks everything you thought you knew to be reliable and solid. Hitchcock knew. Every movie of his has something to make you want to see the next scene. Commercial breaks utterly spoil the flow of a theatrical movie; TV shows are made with them in mind. They are in effect pre-spoiled for your convenience (I love this turn of phrase. Sorry if I overuse it in real life).* I've always felt that having to work around commercials somehow makes the work compromised; kills the flow, forces shortcuts, makes it easy to slouch into routines defined by those very breaks and just become the dreaded phone-in that everyone loses interest in.

I think another thing that contributes is the need for closure. Since the beginning of time, humans have yearned to have their questions answered. How many people went off to war, or to find work, or whatever, and simply disappeared from the lives of their families, never to return? Not even with the grim uncertainty of being recorded as missing in action? No grave, not so much as a sliver of evidence they were there besides fallible memory? Sure, that may not have been the same relationship as it is today; but even so, any emotional connection would lead one to wonder just what happened. If a TV show can get just one hook into your reserve of emotional interest, of course it's going to drive you to find out. If a writer and an actor and a production team can distill an emotional connection with a face on a TV screen to a strength addictive enough that just ten seconds of NTSB-delivered presence can drag you in front of the screen by the feels and keep you there; there's obviously something inside you that's been prepared, over the course of human history, to respond, to follow along. It's a part of you, if you're not a sociopath (y'know, like the villains-of-the-weeks on Criminal Minds, especially).

Another thing is that with SO MUCH screen time devoted to finding the murderer within an hour(ish); you know, you just know that somewhere along the line, plots are going to be reused. Maybe not by the same shows, or even on the same network, but eventually, some writer is going to stumble on a used idea. A good writer should be able to use it in a unique way, or at least put their own unique stamp on it; but some core element is going to turn out to be suspiciously similar to one previously aired. At least South Park once pointed out that The Simpsons already did it all. Which, ironically, was kind of original, actually.

I think if less time were devoted to murder and ugly street crime (something many of us tune in to fiction for an escape from [and not counting alleged 'reality' TV, either, which is pretty ugly too]) I'd be more inclined to tune in; I actually miss Letterman, Leno, and Ferguson, for one thing (who'd a'thunk?). Sitcoms don't usually do much for me; Britcoms are preferable, actually. Original and interesting stand-up comedy may have died with Mitch Hedberg, unfortunately. And British sketch comedy is far better than what passes for the American variety these days - even old British sketch comedy. Canadian isn't too shabby, though. At least even Lost managed to contain enough of an element of mystery to keep people talking about it. Game Of Thrones? The Shanarra series now on (really?) MTV? I'll just take the original novels, thanks.

I know I've written some bite-size diatribes against television before; but that was typically in offense against some specific piece of televised waste. Not this time. I'm finally declaring to the world that I am officially done with broadcast and cable television. I just can't fucking tolerate it anymore. Paul Graham recently wrote that anything you find yourself saying that life is too short to contain, you should fucking jettison (paraphrased).

TV, consider yourself by-and-large jettisoned from my life. It was already too short for you once I stopped watching Shining Time Station and Walker, Texas Ranger. Politely fuck off.

* I should clarify that my dislike of commercials is not part of some diatribe against consumerism; rather it's because I find them personally irritating. Imagine if your TV suddenly got zits one day. I'm certainly no anti-capitalist; I just exult in the fact that the Information Age makes it possible to seek out the products one wants with far more... interactive interaction. Or maybe with more agency on the part of the customer. Something like that.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My City Had Been Pulled Down, Reduced To Parking Spaces

So you all know about the story behind the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled debut, right?


Well, then I guess I'll tell you!

So, when it came time to pick the cover art for the group's self-titled debut, they hadn't yet finalized the name of the band. So they decided to get a jump on the art, and found a vacant house in West Hollywood outside of which a sofa had been left behind. So they plopped down for a seat to get the photo - Nash, Stills, and Crosby, from left to right.

As the album neared its release date, the group settled on 'Crosby, Stills & Nash' as the band's moniker; but realized that they were lined up backwards in the photo as a result! So they went back to retake the photograph, but when they arrived at the address, only a pile of lumber remained.

Also, I didn't know that Dallas Taylor, CS&N's drummer, wasn't there for the photograph, but was pasted in the back door window afterwards. Found that out at the CS&N (maybe Y, maybe not) website. I've always found the story an amusing piece of rock trivia.

But it's funny how history can repeat itself.

In 2004, The Black Keys used a vacant tire plant in their hometown of Akron as a studio to record their third album, Rubber Factory. The disc was enough of a success to break on to the Billboard album charts after release and increased their fanbase by an order of magnitude.

Seven years later, Pat and Dan were celebrating ten years of rocking together after some tough times; the smash-rock album El Camino debuted as a result in 2011, with the art reflecting their hometown and beginnings as a band. Thus the album itself featured the Chrysler and Ford vans they toured in very early on; and the singles had scenes from around Akron. The most curious of these was the single for 'Lonely Boy', which featured a bulldozer on a vacant lot, with rubble piled in the background.

Turns out that the band wanted a photo of the factory where Rubber Factory had been recorded, but it had been torn down not long before they arrived! Dan quipped in an interview in 2011 that "We keep stumbling into these profound artistic expressions. That's how we roll, though." Also, I was under the impression that the factory had appeared on the Rubber Factory sleeve, but I'm not sure what building it is, mainly because none appear to be suitable candidates. If someone could clear that little mystery up for me, I'd be grateful.

The Fireball We Rode Was Moving, But Now We Got A New Machine

Last weekend, at the Greenberg's Train Show in Monroeville, I picked up a new locomotive. It's an O scale, 3-rail prewar-appearance Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific-type in brass, made by Williams. I won't say how much I picked it up for, but it's easily half of what it was sold for.

You see, it's an older model made in either the late '80s or early '90s, before O gauge trains began to receive high-quality electronic sound and digital control systems. It's not the most minutely detailed model either; but it's to scale, dimensionally accurate, and just plain looks good! Other operators might not be inclined to look too close (or assume it's messed up just by looking at the low price) as a result, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. 

I've recently put together a video of some trains running on my grandfather's layout; and the last group of clips features this newest addition to the roster.

Now to find one with the postwar appearance!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It Took Me Years To Write, Will You Take A Look?

This is my all-time greatest reading list. If it's here, I recommend it.

The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, in that order and on occasional repeat - J. R. R. Tolkien

The Harry Potter series - J. K. Rowling

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo novels - Stieg Larsson

Patton: Ordeal And Triumph - Ladislas Farago

Two Treatises Of Civil Government - John Locke (important stuff)

The Fatal Conceit - Friedrich Hayek (more important stuff)

The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown

Any Terry Pratchett Discworld novel featuring the City Watch: Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Feet Of Clay, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, and Thud!

Robert Lynn Asprin's Myth Adventures series

Mossflower - Brian Jacques (the best of the Redwall series, IMHO)

The first four novels of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (I don't recall reading beyond that)

V For Vendetta - Alan Moore and David Lloyd (if you don't mind a graphic novel [i.e. comics])

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (ditto [same])

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Forget The Invitations, Floral Arrangements And Breadmakers

Last year, Toronto indie rockers Alvvays made their debut in a fantastic way with this self-titled effort. Thanks to the World Cafe on WYEP, I was introduced to this quintet of retro-jangly pop-rockers; vocalist/guitarist Molly Rankin, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, guitarist Alec O'Hanley, bassist Brian Murphy, and drummer Phil MacIsaac. So how do they stack up? 

What I Liked:
Y'know, I keep writing these gushing reviews. One of these days, I really should listen to something that sucks. I mean, dang but if Alvvays' sound doesn't sound perfectly assembled! Molly's lead guitar and vocals mesh perfectly with Kerri's ivorys and Alec's rhythm guitar; Brian and Phil hold them together simply and subtly, but still solidly. I can't think of a moment where anything sounds out of place and I daresay the aesthetic is one of the best crafted I've ever heard - it's very, very jangly and late-60's pop sounding, like the sound of a bubblegum group that's grown up and matured after a decade or two. And those moods! It's such a delightfully plaintive record from start to finish (a little more on that later) and it's a wonderful sort of cathartic melancholy. Even songs meant to be happy-sounding have just that latent twinge of sadness, like a knowledge that it's all temporary. I don't know how to say it any better. And thanks to creative space management in the stereo mix, it's a pretty fun album for headphones. And those lyrics! Molly's vocals, largely unassisted, are so wistful and yes, plaintive (I love this word for this album), that I can't find a better metaphor for it all than (and I quote [myself]) 'beautiful heartbreak'. 'Adult Diversion' has that stalkerish spookiness; 'Archie, Marry Me' is the most wonderful heartache I've ever heard on vinyl; 'Ones Who Love You' and 'Red Planet' is superbly unrequited; 'Next Of Kin' is the poppiest I've ever heard tragedy sound; 'Party Police' is the sort of thing that closing time at the bar was made for; 'The Agency Group' is so delightfully mournful; 'Dives' is slight but memorable; 'Atop A Cake' is almost the anti-'Archie...' but has such a very similar emotional resonance that it's like they're two sides of the same coin. And one thing that really makes this album so interesting is the transitions between certain songs; it's almost like they went into the studio and did it in one take, largely without any break in sound. It's a nice reminder of the continuity of the disc. 
Best Songs: All of them?

What I Didn't Like:
My only serious complaint is that 'Red Planet' seems underproduced. It's just missing something, like the hook is underdeveloped or something. I dunno. Especially for the last track of the album. It's a go-out on a whimper rather than a bang. Even so, I can't think of another song on the album that could take that penultimate spot without leaving a hole in its current spot. Maybe one more track would have done it. 

An Observation: 
In this case, a literal one. 

Molly Rankin, you're adorable.
I made sure to see Alvvays at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival last year on WYEP Day. I came away very impressed with them live; and is it just me, or is lead singer Molly Rankin a delightful little blonde Canadian elf? Seriously, she's cool. 

And a wonderful time was had by all. 
And a wonderful time was had b-hey! That's MY line!

...actually, I do have one observation I'd like to make, something that I don't quite understand. When Alvvays came to WYEP to do a Live & Direct session, Molly explained 'Archie, Marry Me' as being "pro-young-love but not pro-marriage", which doesn't make sense to me. Primarily because there's nothing in the song that seems to indicate such a thing. I swear, that statement threatens to subvert the song. 

In Conclusion:
Although I disagree with NME's assertion that it's a soundtrack for a summer romance, I am in love with the perfect sound and mood of this band! It's such a fantasically jangly and melancholy record that I can't help but be sucked right in, never to return to the world of the non-Alvvays. Please listen to this and understand why I am so obsessed with this band!

I am no stranger to modern unironic rock demigods The Black Keys, but their latest release, Turn Blue, was a little, well, stranger than I expected. Did guitarist Dan Auerbach, drummer Patrick Carney, and some other dudes brought in for the session keep to their arena-rockin' new sound from El Camino? Not... really. I'll explain. 

What I Liked:
This album is a vivid departure from the boys' usual blues-rock sound. Turn Blue reminds me a LOT of Pink Floyd between Syd Barrett's departure and Dark Side Of The Moon. They've gone very spooky here. This is smoky 70's nightclub music with a fearsomely enveloping dark side. My personal favorite has become the soaring, near-psychedelic 'Bullet In The Brain'. I think it's the finest example of this record's strengths. A killer riff with the soaring psych guitar line, a surprise shift into a faster-paced tack than the intro predicts, and a tense (almost suspenseful) bass. The songwriting is great, and the super dark mood is largely unavoidable all over the record. 'Weight Of Love', 'Turn Blue', and '10 Lovers' all have a great slow, Motown-soul sound; while 'Fever' is surprisingly danceable with its frantic riff, and so is 'It's Up To You Now' with its boogie beat. The multi-paced, piano-driven (also some organ - on the solo, especially) 'In Our Prime' is great melancholy, as well. The only real anomaly is the closing 'Gotta Get Away', which has a power blues-rock riff pulled straight from the Akron boys' last record, El Camino; the track is easily one of the most fun in the Keys' discography, being so Midwest-roadtrip sunny. It's a real shift in gears for the capstone of the whole experience. 
Best Songs: 'Bullet In The Brain', but you already knew that; 'Fever', 'Turn Blue', 'Gotta Get Away', and as a real dark horse I'd say 'In Our Prime'. 

What I Didn't Like:
I dunno, despite how great this album is, a few tracks just aren't unique enough to be completely memorable to me. In particular, I have trouble remembering 'In Time', 'Year In Review', and 'Waiting On Words' if they're not playing. The caveat being that they're good songs, but they just don't have the same kind of hook or energy that 'Bullet In The Brain' or 'Fever' do. And as far as energy goes, it tends to be the more energetic (or powerful, e.g. 'Weight Of Love' or 'Turn Blue') songs that are the more memorable.

In Conclusion:
In my opinion, Dan and Pat haven't made any serious missteps yet (aside from letting Brothers drag on a bit; but that's just hipster me showing my alleged pop bias) and I say that Turn Blue comes as a full success. It's a great change of style, and yet as surprising as it was when it came out, it makes so much sense after repeated listens. A must listen!

Let's go back to 1973, and spin an album regarded a classic. Deep Purple's immediate followup to the epic Machine Head was the gold-selling album Who Do We Think We Are!, which made it to number 15 on the US charts and featured the hit single 'Woman From Tokyo'. This album was also the last to feature the 'Mk. 2' lineup; with Ian Gillian on vocals, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice. I mean, at this point, we've all heard 'Woman From Tokyo', being one of the band's signature songs, but how does the full disc stack up?

What I Liked:
I recall that the Eastern Roman empress Theodora once said that "The purple makes the noblest shroud.". Well, replace shroud with album, noblest with epic, and The with Deep, and you've definitely got a good idea of what's great about WDWTWA! as much as any of Deep Purple's classic albums. This is the band at a real musical peak! It's mainly a showcase for the talents of Blackmore and Lord - guitar and keyboard drive this album in equal measure, and both musicians show off their capabilities in classic form. The crowning achievement here is 'Woman From Tokyo', no two ways about it. A big rock anthem for the ages, the track might be the greatest display of what made Deep Purple a true rock tour de force.The meaty riff, the teasing build of the intro, the spacey bridge, and even the wordplay-filled allusions to Japan - how could this not be a huge hit? 'Super Trooper's phased vocals make it pretty cool, and the driving 'Smooth Dancer' is pretty fun too. 'Rat Bat Blue' has a super fun boogie-feeling riff; surely it must have been as fun to play as it is to listen! It's actually pretty danceable, too! A fantastic deep cut from the Purple's discography, even if the solo gets a bit crazy. And 'Our Lady' is an epic cut, awesomely bombastic (which is how I always thought an album should end) and with some neat keyboard work from Jonny Boy. 

What I Didn't Like:
Remember when I complained about 'Eat The Rich' by British Lions? I feel the same way about 'Mary Long', except it's got the major star power and it just doesn't help! It's actually wearisome to listen to. Musical tirades are still tirades. Bonus points for some clever and witty turns of phrase, but they're not enough to save it. 'Place In Line' starts off kinda metallic-sludgy; it does nothing for me until the big change - which is pretty peppy blues-rock in comparison! If it were the other way around, or if the metal sludge beginning had been dropped or played like the second part, it might be different. 

An Observation: 
A bonus is to be found on gatefold editions; the newspaper clippings of reports about the band and some of their shows actually makes for an interesting read! One is simply the headline '[Deep] Purple Devastate Edinburgh'. 'Nuff said. Also, for some reason, my copy has the track (mis?)spelled 'Woman From Tokayo' on the sleeve. Huh?

In Conclusion:
May I never be separated from Deep Purple. Despite being the penultimate album of what is arguably their creative pinnacle, Who Do We Think We Are shows no sign of the changes that were to come; I can only imagine that they came as a surprise to the fans. If they had stuck to this sound, and not changed the lineup, maybe rock history might be different. But even so, this is a great album despite a few minor blights, and one I'm glad to have in my collection.