I’ve liked Moneen’s discs; they played an interesting mix of grungey noisey rock and incredibly poppy emo. And their song titles were really long and often funny (“The Frightening Reality Of The Fact That We Will All Have To Grow Up And Settle Down One Day,” “There Are A Million Reasons For Why This May Not Work… And Just One Good One For Why It Will”).
The first sign that The World I Want to Leave Behind is different is that their song titles are all really short. The longest one is the title of the album–which is the shortest song: a 2 minute quiet intro that features some noisy guitars at the end. The rest are 1-3 words long. Now, perhaps you can’t judge a band by that; however, their music, like thier song titles, has eschewed complexity and embraced pop. (“Believe,” “Waterfalls,” “Lighters”).
Okay Moneen always had this component to it. So it’s not like suddenly the band is all pop. Take “Are We Really Happy with Who We are Right Now?” from the album of the same name . The song is all emo vocals (including harmonies) but the music is punky and noisy. It’s also got a lot of dissonance. Similarly, “The Start to this May be the End to Another” (from their debut), opens with really blasting noise and then turns into a heavy emo track with loud and quiet sections. They are certainly poppy, but there’s at least nods to noise.
This album removes all of that noise and chaos and settles into to some tried and true emo. If you hate emo, you will hate this album. There’s virtually no dissonance on the disc at all.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. The second song, “Hold That Sound” opens with some noiy aggressive guitars (and interesting noisy effects) and “The Long Count” has some noisy heavy opening chords which propel through the track. But unlike earlier records, the noise gets pushed to the background pretty quickly. “The Monument” also shows some remnants of heaviness–there’s even screaming vocals at one point.
And yet, the aforementioned “Wateralls” and “Lighters” sound like Guster-lite (and I like Guster quit a bit).
The final song, “The Glasshouse” does rock pretty hard (although the harmonies are all still there and the emo certainly seeps in by the end with a piano break and the final 2 minutes being all gang vocals).
Okay so in fairnes to the band, they haven’t smoothed off all the rough edged, but the polished bits are really polished now. The thing is, I kind of like emo, so despite my tone, I don’t really dislike this record. I’m always diasppointed when a band moves more commerical, especially if they cut off their more interesting bits, but Moneen make good emo (if you allow that such a thing exists). I don’t like all emo bands, but there’s still enough interesting stuff here to keep me coming back to it. In fact, for all of its poppiness, “Believe” is a really fantastically catchy alt rock song which should be in heavy rotation somewhere, if it’s not already.
[READ: February 13, 2011] A Place So Foreign and 8 More
When I saw that Cory Doctorow had a book of short stories out, I was intrigued. I’ve enjoyed two of his books quite a bit, so what could he do with short fiction?
This is some of his earliest work and I found it a mixed bag.
The first story “Craphound” was great (and the origin of his website name). It concerns going to flea markets and buying all kinds of crap. When you do it a lot, you become a craphound. But when you take a fellow craphound’s crap of choice for yourself, you break the unwritten rule. That’s all well and good. But in this story one of the craphounds is an alien, like from another planet. And what he trades for his crap is pretty wild. But why would he break the unwritten rule? The story is a fun look at what happens when extra-terrestrials are a part of your life.
“A Place So Foreign” was my absolute favorite story in the book, and one of my favorite short stories in quite some time. I’m happy to say that I read it last, so it totally ended the book on a high note. Despite the cover picture with an “alien” hand holding a suitcase, the story has nothing to do with that at all.
Rather, the story is a composite of what Doctorow does best: set a compelling but fairly standard family crisis into a world of absolute science fiction (in which the science fiction is certainly important but is not the “point” of the story). Huh?
James is a young boy living in 1885 in Utah. He is smart and has spent a couple of years in “France” with his family. When he returns to Utah, he is clearly far ahead of the rest of his class. His new teacher, Mr Adelson (who curses and smokes in front of him), takes him aside and treats him like an adult. He explains that he himself has done some travelling, and when he returned home, everything was different but he was treated the like he’d never left. He couldn’t wait to get going again.
In the meantime, James’ father died a few years ago, and his mother is being courted by Mr Johnstone, the bastard who bought his father’s store. His old friends know all about this and it’s driving him crazy. But Mr Johnstone, who he hates, is the only one who he can talk to about “France.”
A compelling enough story right? Then throw in this: “France” is not France, but the year 1975. James’ father found or created (he’s an inventor, but it’s never really explained) a portal that lets you travel from 1885 to 1975. I’ve no idea why Doctorow chose 1975 as “the future” since it was written in 2000, but it makes for some amusing set ups.
1975 is clearly a different future than our past because there are jetpacks (jetpacks!) and robutlers and all kinds of things that we know didn’t happen in 1975. There’s even an awesome subplot in which Jules Verne has written War of the Worlds and many other stories.
I couldn’t stop reading this story and the more things he threw in, the more intrigued I became. It’s a fantastic piece of fiction.
“All Day Sucker” is a clever story in which a man is able to outsmart his smartassed robot companion. The story was a little slow, but the ending is worth it.
“To Market, To Market, The Rebranding of Billy Bailey” was a lot of fun. Doctorow writes in the intro that he is mixed about branding but that this story wasn’t entirely a way to trash it. Nevertheless, it’s a great look at high school and the alliances that kids make. In this case, the alliances are with corporations. It’s very clever, and much more than a simple mockery of brand name culture.
“Return to Pleasure Island” is another Disney story (technically–the intro says he wrote it while on the Pinocchio ride–although it never states that the story takes place there). This one is really bizarre. In the intro Doctorow asks: “What the hell did Stromboli want to turn Pinocchio and Lampwick into donkeys for anyway? (99).
So, this story is about aliens (presumably wooden boys?) living among humans (who are called “soft ones”). There are three aliens: a smart one, a strong one and a mixture of the two. George is the main character; he works at the cotton candy stand. And his real job is to turn kids into donkeys (hyperactive kids get free cotton candy and we see their ears start to grow pretty quickly). Of course, the story is more about how he interacts with his family and the guy who has hired them, but the whole thing is an unsettling picture and quite sad. But as I say, very bizarre.
“Shadow of the Mothaship” is a story that I really didn’t like. In fact, I disliked it so much I considered that I might not want to read the rest of the book because the next two stories were set in the same “world” (a first for him, he says). The problem, such as it is, is that the world is barely explained. There are entities, called bugouts, who have taken over earth and who seem to have removed people to their home planet. And, after three stories that’s all I know about them.
This is something that I’ve come to expect from Doctorow: he creates a new world, but he doesn’t provide any exposition for what’s happening. In Down and Out, it was fine, because it wasn’t a whole new world, just a future version, and I can play catch up. In this world, there were many things that were new and odd and which it took too long to explain, especially in a short story.
Aside from the aliens, “Shadow” is actually a dramatic story about a family that is falling apart. The main character is super angry at his father, but his father also happens to be the last hope for humanity when the bugout’s “mothaship” comes calling. I was so distracted by the alien aspects of the story and trying to figure out just what was going on, that both aspects of the story lacked any real resonance for me.
“Home Again, Home Again” was the second story that was set in this world. And I actually found it more helpful for learning a bit more about the world itself. Not a ton more, mind you, but a little. (According to the colophon, this story was actually written first. I think if it appeared first in the book it would have saved me some grief). This story is somewhat convoluted, but only because there’s a few different things afoot.
The main thrust of the story is that Chet is living in a bat-house (what they call the crazy house). He speaks to a robot counsellor who tries to encourage him to find a job that he will enjoy. And over the course of the story, he finds himself actually trusting the robot.
But there’s another major part of the story which was captivating and very cool. There’s another guy in the bathouse who believes that he is Nicola Tesla. Or rather, that he has been channeling Tesla’s spirit since he was 8 years old. And sure the guy is nuts, but his 125th floor of the bathouse is carved out into many many floors into which he has built a gigantic aquarium complete with coral reefs. “Tesla” takes Chet under his wing and teaches him the beauty of self-electrocution (not dangerous when done correctly). Chet finds this to be soothing during the trying times.
The bugouts appear in the is story as well, but I really don’t see what purpose they serve here aside from causing a general sense of dread. And I guess maybe that’s my problem with the whole bugout thing: these are great short stories (some more sci-fi than others, obviously) without the ill-defined bugouts.
That’s especially true of the third story, “The Super Man and the Bugout.” The intro to the story explains that Doctorow wanted to write about The Super Man the way he was initially conceived by Siegel and Shuster, Jews from Toronto. And so, in this story The Super Man is really Hershie Abromowicz, a nebbish from the Gaza Strip in Toronto. He has an ovebearing mother (who makes brisket!) and has trouble paying his rent.
When the new government convenes he also finds that he is no longer aValuable Asset, so his pension checks may not be forthcoming as easily, especially if he doesn’t give up his Social Security Number–and his secret identity!
The bugouts intervene in the story. Doctorow uses them as a kind of deus ex machina, and suggests that he couldn’t really think of an other entity that could challenge The Super Man. But I feel like the story would have been better without the whole bugout thing. The story is played for laughs somewhat but there is a real existential crisis at the end.
Regarding the bugouts, what little that we know about them actually works well in this story because the story is really about The Super Man and how he deals with this crisis. Not knowing anything about the enemy is fine, we just need to know that they are an enemy.
“Ownze0ed” is another great story. This one has two parts as well. In the first, Murray is a coder in Silicon Valley. His coworker and best friend Liam died recently and it has really sent Murray into a tailspin. His coding suffers and his bosses notice it. But rather than firing him, which at this point he’s rather hoping will happen, they horizontally move him to a new position writing technical manuals.
It’s a different kind of work and he excels at it. He’s also learning an awful lot about “Honorable” a coding system that makes it impossible to play unauthorized copies of things. [This story was written after Doctorow joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation–which is very much opposed to entrenched copyrights–and is really cutting edge (then) about ways of controlling media.] The story uses some nerd and hacker speak (like the title) and of course, the word 0wned(with a zero) is used throughout–it is believed to be instrumental in the Nerdc0re genre (man, the zero doesn’t really stand out as a zero in this font).
Things get really interesting when Liam hops in the front seat of Murray’s Prius and tells him that he was only mostly dead. Turns out that he was taken by the feds and given a new virus that would effectively give him control over his entre body: autonomic aspects, as well as metabolism, heartrate and so many other things. He totally 0wns his body. He transfers this virus to Murray (against his wishes) and we see exactly how the virus works, and what the guys intend to do with it.
The story kind of turns into a run of the mill government vs hackers story, which is fine, because that aspect takes up only a small portion of the story (and really how else could it end?). But rather, there’s a lot of thoughtful writing about freedom and technology–and it’s not preachy or obnoxious.
It’s a great story to end the collection with.
And, yes, it makes me want to read his other books, too!