I really enjoyed the Best Coast concert that was downloadable from NPR. I liked it enough for me to rethink my initial skepticism about this album. But I have to say that I fall into a minority in that I really don’t like this album all that much. In concert, the band is loud and raucous–the songs are poppy but they have a kind of growly edge and a punk veneer, and singer Bethany Cosentino has a sneer to her cutesy lyrics that gives them a nice edge.
But all of that is missing from the album. In fact, to me this album sounds like a long-lost relic of girl groups from the 60s. And, blasphemy as it may be, I just do not like girl groups from the 60s. I hate the tinny sound and I hate the “my life sucks without a boy” sentiment that most of those songs project. (I love a good love song, I hate an insecure love song). And, for the first few songs at least, this album conveys both of those things.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot I appreciate about this record. I like that it’s lo-fi. I like that it’s just the two of them making all this music. I even like many of the lyrics (the lyrics that Cosentino describes as “about weed and my cat and being lazy a lot”). I also like that the songs are super catchy and super short ( no songs are over 3 minutes and that most are only about 2 minutes long).
So even if I don’t love the record sonically, I can appreciate the simplicity and ease of singing along that the album presents. And there are a few songs on the disc that I do like. I especially like “When I’m with You” (the bonus song) for being a stupid pop song but somehow transcending the stupidity.
As for the lyrics. They are little more than teen girl diary entries, except when they turn into college girl diary entries (and then they turn funny rather than sad). From a lyrical standpoint I am much more in tune with “Goodbye” (“I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk. Everytime you leave the house, everything falls apart”) than with “Boyfriend” (“There’s nothing worse than sitting all alone at home. And waiting waiting waiting waiting by the phone. I hope that he’s at home. Waiting by his phone”).
I guess, overall, there’s just something about California pop music that I don’t like as much as my East Coast bands. [NYHC rules!].
[READ: September 14, 2011] The Emperor’s Code
Gordon Korman is back helming the series which is set in China. Now, I have seen pictures and movies of things in China, but the real scale of things has never come across to me until reading this book. Which is kind of sad for me, but it’s really cool for the book. I knew that the Great Wall of China was huge, but I never knew that it could stretch from Boston to San Diego with extra room at the end. I never appreciated the kind of training the Shaolin monks undergo (the description of the statue of Bodhidharma as being well over 750 steps up and taking over an hour to climb really sunk in for me just how big this place is!). In short, while I know that parts of the story disregard history, the historical parts are fascinating and informative!
Dan and Amy’s first stop is the Forbidden City, where they sign up for a tour. Dan sneaks out of the tour to enter an area where they think a clue is. Much like with Pee Wee Herman looking for the basement of the Alamo, Dan Cahill looks for the attic of the Forbidden City. And he finds it. And then he is caught by guards. But this little preview of Dan and Amy working separately doesn’t quite prepare us for the massive change in the series that Korman is preparing for us.
Dan and Amy start talking about what the clues means and the fact that they are Madrigals–are they (and their whole family line) really killers? This leads to much tension which ends with Amy wondering aloud if maybe their parents weren’t good people at all. Dan and Amy fight and Dan storms off. And through a series of scary events, he ends up in the clutches of Jonah Wizard (whom we have not seen for a long time).
And thus, for the bulk of the book, Dan is on his own. Amy, Nellie and Saladin work hard to try to find Dan and maybe even a Clue. Meanwhile, Dan is with Jonah, thinking that Jonah’s father is trying to contact Amy. Dan is still pretty angry so he doesn’t really care what Amy is up to (and he believes she is not trying to find him). But Amy is freaking out thinking of her 11-year-old brother in the most populous, hugest country all alone. But he’s not alone, he’s got Jonah Wizard, yo. And for much of the book, Dan lives the high life. He hangs out with Jonah, plays video games, lives a first class lifestyle and even gets to be backstage to see what it’s like to have tens of thousands of fans screaming at you.
Dan has basically given up on the Clues–he says he;s out of the hunt–and he may just wind up hanging with Jonah from now on. What could be better than that? So Jonah and Dan go to a Shaolin temple and watch some examples of wushin–Dan even gets to don a saffron robe and get flung by a master! That’s when we learn that the Shaolin monks are part of the Tomas Clan and that they are all trying to help the Wizards find the clues. They don’t think much of Jonah and his attitude, but he is the clan’s choice so they will help. But what of that Dan kid? Jonah tells them that Dan will be used as bait.
The clue turns out to be with the terracotta army. I was unfamiliar with the terracotta army; it is amazing! (I can’t get over how much this series has taught me). In a nutshell, the terracotta army is comprised of 6,000 unique life-sized statues. They were made some 2,000 years ago as bodyguards for the dead emperor Q’in. The detail on each one is remarkable. And the army includes horses, people and weapons. There’s a rumor that each statute encases an actual person!
While investigating the army, Dan is attacked. He gets to practice some wushin and Jonah has a change of heart–I guess being a superstar may be enough for one person to handle.
After this excitement, the Jonah Wizard Tour takes them to the Great Wall. And it is through a series of events that Amy and Nellie learn that Dan is with Jonah–the very person who tried to kill them with crocodiles in Venice. They’re happy he;s not dead, of course, but they’re not too happy about him being with Jonah. Despite them both being at the Great Wall, they have no luck finding each other (Boston to San Diego, don’t forget). But they are able to find a remarkable clue and a little explanation of feng shui (if only the book had a pronunciation guide).
The climax of the book takes them to Mount Everest where we see different clan members have already learned about Everest. And we see where different Cahill branch strengths can really make a difference. The scene on Everest os spectacular (again, bringing the mountain to life in way that other books haven’t). And although our heroes are safe, it ends with several Cahills fighting on the top of the top of the world.
This book was a wonderful addition to the series. The excitement (and danger) on Everest were amazing, but the despair and solitude felt by Dan (and Amy) were palpable. It contrasted nicely with the opulence of the Wizard clan, but also allowed for Dan to see the isolation that Jonah experiences–despite his fame, he is really quite alone. And also, he sees that Jonah’s father is also a talented musician, but he is utterly overlooked because he married into the bloodline and so isn’t really a “part” of the clan. There’s a surprising amount of emotion in this book. And it lends very well to the sense of exhaustion that this round-the-world hunt has had on Dan and Amy (and everyone else).
Oh, and just who was it that Nellie called which gave them executive authority to fly go where no one else was allowed to go. Who is this girl, really?
The end of the book actually gives Dan and Amy (and the readers) a chance to rest. They are all safe for now, resting in a cabin by the fire. Their trauma (and whatever happened to the remaining people on Everest) seems a long way away. The final words of the book talk about their next location: the pirates of the Caribbean!