Friday, February 13, 2015

Robot Minds Of Robot Slaves Lead Them To Atomic Rage

Well, that's cute. Another dream to report. This was over a week ago.

I was in a warehouse somewhere, and for some reason I was handling items removed from nuclear reactors (no apparent protective gear either).

There were two pairs of items. The first was a pair of dense metal plates, about the shape and size of an eight inch long chunk of yardstick. They were black with a red stripe, and I thought they were out of a German reactor.

The other two were plastic shells, black with blue highlights, shaped somewhat like a Tamagotchi (holy shit, remember those?), but about the size of the palm of my hand. There were magnetic tape reels inside, like you'd find in a cassette tape. One was damaged and the tape was trailing out. These seemed to come from a British reactor.

Why the shapes, and what purpose these... items had is lost on me. Equally strange is the association of the shape, color and apparent national affiliation of each pair. It's been a heck of a couple of weeks for dreaming.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

Seen along PA 380.

I think your Second Most Valuable Resource just got a big jump in his self-esteem. 

Who wants to bet that, after this winter in Pennsylvania, Most Valuable Resource took off for Old San Juan, and right now is sitting on the beach drinking a mojito and smoking an Island Tiger? (I leave whether they're surrounded by bikini-clad supermodels or musclebound bros jammed into Speedos up to your imagination. I do not presume to judge.)

That mojito sounds pretty good right about now. How much were those plane tickets again, Ray?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thrown Down To The Wolves, Made Feral For Nothing

I enjoyed Jack White's first solo album, Blunderbuss; so I wanted to see what he'd done for his sophomore effort. And I hate to say it, but Jack's vinyl nerdiness has gotten the better of him. It made listening a little problematic. In addition, this album seems to be all over the place sonically. Details? Keep reading.

What I Liked:
Jack White will always be able to rock. Anything on here that's rock, or at least half rock, is worth the time to pay attention. He's not too shabby at country either, as it turns out. He's got a rock-hard attitude that runs though the hard songs, and the countrified portion is classic country, thank heaven - with all the good things about it present. Meaty riffs, hooks, and even some fair melodies are all over this album. Calling the record 'Lazaretto' (and the title track too) was a very appropriate move; the record often feels like the introspective writings of a man released from long solitude. I guess White's had some time to think about what he wanted to say on this disc (I support this approach. It's worked!). I'll be honest, I was ambivalent about this at the first few listens, but I think after coming back to it, I get it. Best tracks: definitely rockers 'Would You Fight For My Love?' and 'Lazaretto', 'Alone In My Home' and 'Just One Drink' for the country-rock sound, and surprise instrumental 'High Ball Stepper'.

What I Didn't Like:
White goes all over for this record - a bluesy stomp in slot one, followed by a a wild post-rocker and a country-rocker, heavy on the country. It feels a little incohesive, but it's not quite so bad. A little readjustment of the tracklist might have helped. Oddly, 'The Black Bat Licorice' seems to have borrowed parts of the riff and hook from 'Alone In My Home'. Not helped by the fact that they're right next to each other on the disc.

An Observation:
I actually have to get technical for a moment here and explain why White's vinyl geekiness made this tricky to listen to. I've had problems getting the first side to play. Firstly, the first side plays from the center spiraling outward; and secondly, according to some reports, there are hidden tracks under the disc's labels. I haven't listened to them yet, as I'm wary of peeling the labels off. However, it looks like the lead-in grooves for the regular first side and the hidden track are fighting each other. I only got the thing to start playing by dropping the needle almost right on the beginning of the first track. Some other gimmicks that appear on the record didn't impress me either (locked groove sounds at the runouts and the pair of lead-ins - one acoustic, one electric - for 'Just One Drink').

In Conclusion:
Hmmm. While I like White's solo work, it was kinda rough trying to listen to the vinyl copy with all of the gimmicks. Seriously, they got a bit in the way. Pick it up, but stick with digital if you don't feel up to the challenge of listening or have a turntable with an automatic tonearm.

I've been looking for this album for a while now! The disc that gave 'Making Plans For Nigel' to us at the shed, I've wanted to check the whole thing out for quite a while now. On a recent trip to Jerry's, I happened across it in the alternative section's new arrivals. I think I even said 'yoink' out loud when I grabbed it.

What I Liked:
'Making Plans For Nigel'. 'nuff said. A brilliant, if subtle send-up of parental expectations for a child's future, it's a truly classic track. Bassist Colin Moulding knows how to write hooky and melodic, engaging pop, and most of the first side is testament to this fact. From the nostalgically upbeat 'Life Begins At The Hop', to the subtlety of 'Nigel' and 'Ten Feet Tall', and the hard-then-softness of 'That Is The Way', he's got a distinctly refined style that I find irresistible. I'd guess that a little more of the 'smart' in XTC's 'smart pop' formula is due to Moulding. Meanwhile, the rest of the disc is a showcase for guitarist/keyboardist Andy Partridge, whose songs have a bit more of a poppy bounce or drive to them, with a little New Wave-ish mania; some feel like caricatures ('When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty', 'Outside World'), occasionally a sinister undertone creeps in ('Millions', 'Complicated Game'), and a little bombast isn't unwelcome here and there (especially on 'Roads Girdle The Globe' with its choral backing). This is one energetic record as a result. If it isn't purely upbeat, it's interesting enough to keep you listening for one more track. It's more guitar-driven than I'd been led to believe (which is pleasant), thanks to Partridge and other guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory. Best tracks: without hesitation, 'Making Plans For Nigel'. Honestly, I can't say there's a truly BAD song on the album - with one exception.

What I Didn't Like:
Okay, I can't not say it: 'Helicopter' is a terrible song. For a band known for 'smart pop', they seemed to have played a nice long game of Hot Potato with the Idiot Ball while working on the track. It's too goofy, annoyingly bouncy, and doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the album. Other songs on the disc that sound similar, e.g. 'Outside World', have more of a message or meaning, and are somewhat more carefully crafted. 'Helicopter' is so over-the-top that it borders on self-parody. The overall bounciness of the record might annoy some; but it's generally upbeat enough to be redeeming.

An Observation:
My copy is an American pressing, with 'Life Begins At The Hop' substituted for 'Day In Day Out'. Also, the first pressing in the UK included a bonus 7" with the songs 'Chain Of Command' and 'Limelight'. The CD pressing from 2001 includes all fifteen songs. It might be a wise move to supplement the LP with this disc. EDIT: The digital version available on Amazon does in fact include all three as well. 

In Conclusion:
A classic album. It's an unusual sound, and it's definitely not the rock I tend to seek out, but it is engaging and more complex than pop-rock from the late 70's is expected to be. It's a keeper.

Normally, I blog about stuff I've enjoyed or at least have rationalized the hell out of my enjoyment; but I finally feel the need to talk about something I can't finish. It's terrible. Dave's Music Mine put this one on the curb, and for good reason. I should've trusted their judgement. It's the 12" single of 'The Men All Pause' from 80's girl band Klymaxx and oh, does it fail. It's stereotypically 80's and not in that charmingly hipster-endearing nostalgic way, either. It's almost abrasive. But the real trip-up for me was the monologue where the lead singer says she wants someone to hit her... Done! Done. That's all I need to hear. Under normal circumstances I'm all about girl-rock but this is as far from normal circumstances as you can get. If you see this, it should make a pretty good Frisbee.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

When I Look In My Window, So Many Different People To Be

Yes, the lettering on the building reads 'Serious Windows'. This is no joke. As it were. 
I've been driving through Parks Township for years and never knew this company was there. And I thought my employer was joyless and stern!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Jingle, The Rumble And The Roar

As a longtime railfan and model railroader, I'm inclined to notice trains-not just where they're normally found, on the railroad itself; but also in popular culture. I mean, I went and saw Unstoppable (and pointed out all the technical mistakes) and managed to enjoy it.

But I also take in the cultural, less railroad-centric depictions of trains and rail travel, and one of the more mind-boggling trends I've noticed is that the cultural icon for trains, for rail travel and transportation is the steam locomotive. 

The problem is that I, as a railfan, know that this idea is horribly out-of-date. Steam traction hasn't been used by a Class 1 railroad in the USA since 1960, and by Britain since 1968. Other parts of the world may have varied (China used mainline steam until the late 2000s, but some Chinese industries and tertiary lines still operate steam locomotives to some extent) but the public's eye hasn't turned away from the hulking, hissing, steam-belching machine that ruled the rails from the first time that machines were created to power transportation. I've primarily collected examples from my hometown of Pittsburgh, but surely others exist elsewhere. The following ad that appeared for a while on East Carson St. is a prime example. 

The Love Train is apparently a 2-8-2 Mikado-type. Therefore, love is freight?
The impetus for this discussion was actually the music video for Scottish-American singer Sheena Easton's hit '9 to 5 (Morning Train)'; the song came out in 1981, thirteen years after British Railways laid its last steam locomotives to rest. 

There is a certain nostalgic appeal to the portrayal of railways in the video that justifies the use of steam; the views of the signalboxes, the traditional architecture of the station, and other elements of rail infrastructure point to a 1950's-era setting, when steam traction would be appropriate. Even in the 1980's, British Rail's infrastructure was still using elderly - albeit time-tested - facilities and equipment for a surprising portion of their daily operations, modern though their motive power and rolling stock would be. Wikipedia relates that the video was indeed shot at the Bluebell Railway, the first heritage railway in the UK to open for the preservation of vintage railway equipment. Similarly, American country musician Josh Turner found himself at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum for the video accompanying his hit 'Long Black Train', in 2003. Tennessee Valley 2-8-0 number 610 played the role as the titular train. 

But trains and music have a long history; quite a long list of traditional, folk, and country songs from the previous two centuries revolve around trains. In the time before the automobile and the airplane, it was the fastest and most efficient mode of transport. Country music certainly did its share of idolizing the steam locomotive, but that's not where we're going with this. What the meat of this essay will be is the headscratchers, the out-of-place iconography, the non-rail-centric subject - like our above ad.

Here's one: this logo used by the Paul Simon Job Corps Center of Chicago.

The Job Corps program doesn't seem to have a railroad curriculum, so this one is kind of a mystery. 

The Starlite Lounge in Blawnox, PA has this mural on their wall, depicting Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 6325 in its Ohio Central guise, as a 'Hoboken Line' train. One would think trains of New York City would first call to mind the subway. 

Perhaps an equally valid question would be why refer to a 'Hoboken Line' in a Pittsburgh suburb.

Here's the logo of a restaurant at the Snowshoe Ski Resort in West Virginia that we almost dined at during our trip to the Cass Scenic Railroad. It's called 'The Junction'. 

This is not so unjustified an example, actually; as the locomotive in the logo is a Shay. These were geared locomotives built for rough terrain that a typical reciprocating locomotive would have had trouble with. The nearby Cass Scenic is one of a very few heritage railroads operating these unique locomotives. The Junction was a little bit pricey for us, so we ended up eating at another place we liked better two nights in a row. 

This billboard advertising a child care center appeared on East Carson St. near the Waterfront mall. 

This one is somewhat appropriate, since the train depicted is a toy. 

And these are just the few I've seen recently. There must be others out there. If you find one that fits, send me a picture. If I get enough, I may have to post a sequel.