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Archive for November, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998).

Suffice it to say, if it were not for this album I wouldn’t have read this piece by Blake.  I have been aware of it through the “doors of perception” quote that created the band name The Doors, but I never had any compelling reason to read it before.

Of course when I first listened to this, I had no idea that it was literally the entire work of Blake’s piece set to music.  And I had no idea that there would be so many diverse styles of music on the album.  I’m going to focus more on the music, as I’ll address the “lyrics” later. 

The first song starts out in a kind of synthy way–maybe early Depeche Mode.  But it quickly become more sinister, with a heavy guitar section and then a spoken word over industrial keyboards like early Nine Inch Nails.   Track two, simply called “Plate 3” is a mournful guitar solo which plays behind a woman reciting plate three.  Strangely enough, this plate is split in two parts where Blake references the bible and so Ulver end the spoken part in the middle but keep the ominous music going for the final two minutes of the track.  The next track picks up with “Plate 3, Following,” a slower piece with creepy echoey male vocals that echo the female lead.

“The Voice of the Devil, Plate Four” is a very delicate guitar part.  The female voice introduces the piece and the male voice recites the statements .  It;s the most easily understood of all the tracks (the vocals are crystal clear).  When the parts are done, the song turns in to a heavy metal guitar solo over some heavy chords. It’s a really great mix.  “Plates 5-6” is also a very clearly spoken/sung track.  Over a classical guitar with occasional heavy beats, the voice narrates (with amusing mispronunciations (there are many thoroughout the piece, but hey English isn’t their first language)).

“A Memorable Fancy (Plates 6-7)” is the first of five fancies.  This one has a very electronic feel (later period Nine Inch Nails).  This one even creates its own chorus by repeating “fires of hell” where the words do not belong.  “The Proverbs of Hell” is probably the most complex and multifarious musically.  It goes through many different musical and vocals styles.  The opening is barely audible while later parts are spoken clearly.  Other lines are hidden under a fog of noise.  Musically it’s very engaging, but it’s a shame to miss out on the poetry without a lyric sheet.

“Plate 11” also opens virtually inaudibly, with a crazy echo placed on the female vocals.  Half way through the voice become clearer and the music, which was quiet and mellow, picks up, but retains the simple melody it had.  “Intro” is an instrumental, an odd thing to include if they are following the book so specifically, as there is no intro.  It is simple, repeated waves of chords which grow louder for 3:30.   It ends with some maniacal drumming .  However, it is a nice breather as we head into “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13,” which opens with a very slow piano.  It turns into a largely drum-based song with a clear spoken word.  Until about half way through when the voice is heavily distorted until the end.

“Plate 14” is a percussion heavy electronic track with heavily distorted vocals (this is where “the doors of perception” bit comes from).  It leads to “A Memorable Fancy (Plate 15)” which opens with more low rumblings (like “Intro” above).  When the vocals come in, after 3 minutes, they are distant and tinny, but very clear.

Disc 1 (did I mention there were two discs) ends with “Plates 16-17.”   It opens with quiet music that slowly grows louder and more electronic.  The vocals are echoed and distorted and hard to understand.  The end of the track picks up the electronic beat for about a minute.

Disc two opens with the eleven minute “A Memorable Fancy (Plates 17-20)”.  It opens with a cool beat and a dark tone with vocals that are mostly understandable.   After a couple of minutes, the song settles into a late period Depeche Mode style–distorted guitars and vocals that sounds not unlike Dave Gahan’s.  By the end, it’s a pretty standard heavy metal chugging guitar (with a simple but interesting solo).

This is followed by another “Intro,” this time a rather pleasant guitar solo over picked guitars.   “Plates 21-22” is quite enjoyable as the vocals are clear and emphatic over a standard heavy metal song.  It feels like comfort food after all of the different styles of the disc.

“A Memorable Fancy Plates 22-24” has a great weird keyboard style (kind of Marilyn Manson).  The penultimate track is another “Intro.”  This one has some swirly minor-key guitars that sound  a bit like the guitar outro to Rush’s “Cygnus X-1.”   It goes through several iterations before ending in distorted waves that lead to “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27”.   There are three guest vocalists on this track: Ihsahn and Samoth from Emperor and Fenriz from Darkthrone.  The interesting thing about this is that Garm (the male vocalist on all the tracks) has so many different styles of singing/speaking throughout the album that it’s hard to even notice that there are guests.

It start as mainly electronic piece with heavily distorted vocals (Ihsahn sounds like he is being strangled).  In the second part, the vocals are clearer.  The drums gets louder (sounding like the Revolting Cocks, maybe).  By the third part (Fenriz) the song turns into a guitar solo and the style of recitation reminds me of Allen Ginsbregr’s Howl.  His section ends with a distorted voice chanting the final lines and then twenty minutes of silence (the track is listed as 25 minutes, but there’s only 5 minutes of song and then 30 seconds at the end).  The final “Chorus” of the book is pretty well inaudible.

Despite the complexity of the album and the hard to follow lyrics and all of that, the entre work is really something. It is powerful and complex and runs through so many wonderful pieces and movements.  I have no idea how to classify it as it has pieces of metal and electronica as well as classical.  Perhaps it’s safe to just call it a soundtrack.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this CD, but I barely scratch the surface of what could be said about it.  Check out this amazing review from Encyclopaedia Metallum who go into wonderful depth and a thorough comparison of the music to the text.

[READ: November 27, 2011] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 

The Blake piece is available online in several places, although I got my copy from the library.  Mine contained several critical essays which I looked at briefly but decides they simply weren’t all that compelling, especially since Blake’s work (aside from details that simple footnotes might hep to clear up) is pretty understandable. 

In total, Blake’s work is 27 plates long. Each plate is hand written (in a fancy script) and many have illustrations (also hand drawn and colored).  There are allusions to many different things and it helps to be familiar with the Bible and with Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell which is directly referenced several times.  Indeed, this work is clearly a response to that one; the opening states “and it is now thirty-three years since its advent” when Swedenborg’s book was published 33 years before Blake’s.

The gist of Blake’s piece is that God did not intend for man to separate the sensual and physical from the spiritual and mental.  It is basically a plea to hedonism, although not even seemingly to excess.  More like an “if it feels good, do it” attitude.  And he lays out these ideals pretty clearly in many of the passages.  True, there are many passages that are inscrutable (like the crazy opening–don’t be put off bu Rintrah), but when he gets to his main points, he is quite clear.  Blake attacks established religion but does not condemn God or endorse atheism.  So we get quotes like this:

“Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”  And shortly after: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”  Blake cites Paradise Lost as a history of the separation of these two ideas and concludes “that the Messiah [Reason] fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Metamorphosis EP (1999).

After Ulver’s first CD, they jumped around in genres (their second was a kind of folk CD and their third CD was more black metal–I have not heard either one).  Their 4th CD was the William Blake CD of crazed experimental music.  And then they released this EP.  And I can’t think of too many bands who keep their fans guessing as much as these guys do.  This EP is full on electronica.  Dark electronica, yes, but still, it’s all electronic.

There are four songs.  The first one, “Of Wolves and Vibrancy” is like  rocking dance song from the 90s (like The Prodigy).  The drums are quite intense.  While the second song, “Gnosis” is a slower, more ambient track. There are still loud drums, but the pace is slower and less manic. At around the 6 minutes mark vocals come in.  They sound like some of Metallica’s chanting voices on later albums.

Track three, “Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City)” is less than 4 minutes long.  It’ s another dark electronic soundtrack with more great drums. 

The final song, “Of Wolves and Withdrawal” is almost 9 minutes of very quiet noises that grow louder in pulses. It seems to be three sections of different pulsing sounds.  The first time I listened to it, the opening was so quiet that I thought it was just all silence so I fast forwarded through the whole thing.  But because the pulses are so mechanically timed it didn’t even register as noises while as fast forwarded.  I finally had to turn it up pretty loud before I heard all of it. 

I was tempted to say that going from that first Ulver album to this one is a massive change.  But it seems that every Ulver record is a whiplash of stylistic changes.  Nevertheless, this is about as far from black metal as you can get and still be dark and scary.

[READ: November 4, 2011] “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”

This is one of Díaz’s short stories that does not appear in Drown (it came out about two years after Drown).  It has been frequently anthologized, however, which makes it a pretty important story.

There’s a reason why I like to read author’s works in chronological order, and reading this story now confirms that for me.  The story, written in 1998, is the fictionalization of the essay, “Homecoming with Turtle” that I reviewed a few weeks ago (the one that I said pertained to Oscar Wao because of the turtle).  Well, there’s no turtle in this story, and there’s no dentists, but the rest of the story is pretty much the same as his nonfiction account.

After saying all of that though, what’s fun about reading this out of order is that since I know what the “truth” is about this situation, it’s fun to see what he has massaged into fiction.

So in this story, Yunior has been dating Magdalena for some time.  Magda is a good girl: wouldn’t sleep with him until they had been dating awhile, took him to church, introduced him to her parents, the whole bit.  And he really loves her.  The problem is that they only see each other once a week.

So, when a hot girl starts working at his office and she tells him that her man doesn’t treat her well and Yunior confides that the sex with Magda isn’t very good, well, things happen.  But they didn’t happen very often or for very long and Yunior tried to forget it.  Until the girl sent Magda a letter.  A very detailed letter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG AND THE INTERNATIONAL HARVESTERS-A Treasure [NY Archives 09] (2011).

Continuing with the randomly numbered Archive releases, Neil Young has released A Treasure, the sixth release (which is labelled #09) in the Performance Series.  This is with the Neil Young band called the International Harvesters.

I had never even heard of this iteration of a Neil Young band–they toured during 1984/5 for the Old Ways album.  This is an album that I barely knew but is one that Sarah loved, so this one is more for her than me.  The band is a very country band–fiddles and slide guitars and all that.  Neil’s even got a twang in his voice.  But even with that, (it’s not my music of choice), this album has a lot of great stuff on it (including five previously unreleased songs).

There are a number of real country songs on this disc–“Amber Jean” and “It Might Have Been” are straight-up country.  Although “Are You Ready for the Country” (which has some major country trappings like that fiddle solo) is actually a bit more of a countrified Neil Young song than a country song per se.  “Nothing is Perfect” is a kind of group sing along.  The kind of song that you might hear at the end of the night at a pub.

Despite this being the Old Ways tour, there are only two songs from that album here.  “Bound for Glory” is the song I knew best from this era.  And it is indeed a very country song (that steel pedal guitar!). “Back to the Country” is the other one, and it, too is a true country song.

“Let Your Fingers Do the Walking” and “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” are different takes on country songs.  The funny thing is that “Flying” (which was originally a Buffalo Springfield song) has a very Neil Young guitar progression built in, during the “I miss you” parts.  He does this very simple chord progression which he uses quite a lot in his songs.

“Motor City” is (another) song about cars.  He may have more songs about cars than Springsteen.  This one is all about his old cars and how “there’s too many Toyotas on the road.”  It’s super catchy, even as I listen to it in my Prius.  “Southern Pacific” is another song that gets a good honky tonk treatment.  It’s seven minutes long with lots of solo.  This is the kind of country-style music I prefer and this one is great with wonderful runs from the fiddles.  Both of these songs appeared on Neil’s Re*Ac*Tor album.

“Soul of a Woman” is more of a blues song, with some country inflections.  And the final song “Grey Riders” is a wonderful stomping track.   It has a great riff and the strings really complement the song.  After all of that country, this song has some awesome screaming guitars on it.  And if you like your Neil rocking, it is absolutely worth it for this song.

The newspaper article that’s included with the set refers to a show during this tour and, not to grouse about a record, but the show it describes sounds awesome–a few old Neil classics at the end of the set which really whetted my appetite for some of those other songs with this band.   But this seems to be a truncated version of that set list.  Nevertheless, as I said, this isn’t my favorite era of Neil’s music, but the band sounds really great.  And these songs shine very nicely.  It’s an enjoyable and unexpected addition to his archives.

[READ: October 20, 2011] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

I managed to get on the promotional mailing list for this book and so in addition to the free pencils (awesome!) and posters (3 in my son’s room), I also received an email update about the release almost daily.

I was a little less than 100% happy with the previous Wimpy book.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as the first couple.  But man, this one came roaring back on all cylinders and it is one of the best in the series.

Three things really work to make this one so great:

One:  the return to school and a host of new school-related problems.  Although it’s funnier for me since my son is in school now, the issues are general enough that anyone can really laugh about them.

Two: the return of Rowley.  I feel like he was sorely missed when he and Greg were fighting.  He’s not a great character on his own, but he rubs Greg the wrong way enough to bring out some great humor.

Three: The increasing power of Manny.  I don’t understand Manny at all, I don’t even know how old he is.  He’s like a really really tiny kid, which makes me think that he’s a baby.  And yet he is so smart and totally has the run of the family.  That has been obvious in the past with the tantrums he threw to get what he wanted, but now he is combining his evil genius with a sophisticated mind to really wreak havoc on the Heffley household (he changes passwords all over the house, for instance).

So this book is all about Christmas break and snow (hence the title).  I love that it starts with the Heffley version of Elf on a Shelf (but this one is even more creepy because it’s a homemade doll from Greg’s mom’s childhood). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC–Alpocalypse Bonus DVD (2011).

Included with the new “Weird Al” disc is a DVD of videos from the disc.  Only one of them is a video proper in that Al himself is in it.  The rest are animated.  Although of the animated ones, the one for “CNR” is, I believe, an “offical” video release (they were all official, but “CNR” was sort of a pre-album video).

All of the videos are of good quality and are well crafted with varying degrees of fidelity to the song.  The one bad thing about these animations is that Al’s own videos are usually so spot on, they are often funnier than the song itself.  So, having these, what I think of as tossed off animations–even though clearly a lot of work went into them–is a bit of a bummer.

Having said that, the video for “CNR” is great–cut-out animations of Charles Nelson Reilly doing outrageous things, like the song says.  “TMZ” was directed by Bill Plympton.  I like Plympton’s animations quite a lot and have for a long time.  And this one is pretty funny, although I find that his videos are often repetitive and don’t really hold up for a whole song.  “Skipper Dan” is a good Flash-type animation and it very effectively conveys emotions with such simple animations.  And the fidgety to adventureland is also really good.

The “Craigslist” video is the only one in which Al appears–dressed like Jim Morrison, of course.  The video has a great mid-70s feel with nonsensical cuts to Native Americans and westerns as well as swirly splotches and lights.  It’s not a “funny” video per se, except fo how accurately it apes the original style.   “Party in the CIA” is surprisingly violent (Al’s videos are often cartoonishly violent, but this one is pretty specific, of course with the animations it’s not so bad but it’s a lot more real than Al usually is).   “Ringtone” follows a few character storylines and looks good.

“Another Tattoo” is enjoyable because it cycles through a series of really funny (cartoon) tattoos.  Perhaps a series of regrettable tattoos would have been even funnier.  “If That Isn’t Love” to me undermines the song somewhat as it shows a less sincere declaration of love.  I think of the narrator of the song as clueless, but the video portrays him as devious.

“Whatever You Like” is creepy–there are a lot of real photos that are animated (the main woman’s mouth is utterly grotesque!).  Finally “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me” is majorly disappointing because all it is is the lyrics animated.  True the animation is clever, but really, it’s just the lyrics.  A lot could have been done with this video.  Opportunity wasted.

So, all in all, these videos aren’t amazing.  Certainly they pale in comparison to Al’s greatest videos. But there is certainly some amusement value.

[READ: November 15, 2011] Babymouse: Monster Mash

I missed this Halloween-themed book in time for the holiday, so I’ve saved it for the end of Thanksgiving.

The first thing you’ll note when you look at the book is that it is not black and pink!  For Halloween, the whole book is black and orange.  It’s a cute idea.

For Halloween, Babymouse wants to be a big scary monster (and she even has a cool, scary mask).  But Felicia Furrypaws point out that it’s a rule that girls must be pretty for Halloween.  Babymouse is appalled at this idea and decides to go ahead with her (very cool) scary costume ideas anyhow.

But when she lets it slip that her parents are letting her have a Halloween party and everybody wants to come, Babymouse is torn.  She’s excited that people want to come, but when Felicia insists on coming, and insists she dress like a princess…. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VAMPIRE WEEKEND: AUSTIN CITY LIMITS FESTIVAL 2010 (on Palladia TV 2011).

Like The Flaming Lips, Vampire Weekend only got two songs in this airing (this makes sense as they only had two albums out at the time).  The two songs were “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Oxford Comma” (Palladia faded out the “fuck” in “Oxford Comma” which always seems so subtle I don’t think I’ve ever heard it censored before). 

The band sounds great (something I’d wondered about as they seem like such a studio band–not that they use tricks or anything, but their music is so tight and sharp, it’s nice to know they can play it live, too).   Although their live show is not all that exciting visually and they seem kind of dwarfed on the giant stage. 

The real change comes from the vocals.  Not big changes, but the singer seems to having a little fun on “Cape Cod” but hitting some really high notes which are almost out of tune. 

It’s interesting that they chose to air two songs from their first album and none from their new album.  Regardless, theirs was a good set and I’d love to see more.

[READ: November 6, 2011] “Visions Shared”

A while back I read a few old articles that I got from JSTOR, the online archiving resource.  This month, I received some links to three new old articles that are available on JSTOR.  So, since it’s the holiday weekend, I thought it would be fun to mention them now.

I have been fascinated by synesthesia ever since I first heard of it a few years ago.  So when I saw that this article was not only about synesthesia, but was written from the point of view of an artist with it, I was really excited.  Sadly, while Steen may be a good artist (it is actually really hard to tell from the pictures in my print out–why are they black and white?) she is not a very compelling writer.

The most fascinating thing that I got out of this article was that by 2001, people were still not entirely sure of synesthesia and its effects on artists.  And that this is meant to be one of the first accounts from a synesthetic artist.  As such, she goes over a lot of basic groundwork and tries her best to explain exactly what is happening when she experiences these sensations.

The details are of course fascinating–she sees colors when she has certain experiences and acupuncture in particular seems to be a major source for her art.  In this respect I find her form of synesthesia less than satisfying because I am more interested in those who conflate words and sounds with colors, but beggars can’t be choosers.  Nevertheless, these acupuncture sessions have resulted in a number of art pieces.  In fact, she says she was painting these synesthetic colors long before she even knew she had synesthesia (her first painting, called “Orange Calipers” was actually synesthesia-inspired even though she didn’t “know” that at the time). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS: AUSTIN CITY LIMITS FESTIVAL 2010 (on Palladia TV 2011).

It must be tough to take a festival like Austin City Limits and truncate it into 2 hours.  It must also be tough to be a pretty much headling band like The Flaming Lips and to be playing in the middle of the day when your cool stage stuff is probably less impressive (but good for them for going all out!).

Some fun things to see during their set: the camera mounted on Wayne Coyne’s microphone (huge close-ups of his face); the guns that shoot streamers, Cliph the drummer makes the sample sound effects that you need to make during the songs, tons of back up dancers (who I believe are fans that won a contest or something), the amazing multi-instrumental skills of Steven Drozd.

This broadcast only showed two Lips songs (criminally underrepresented, but I understand).  They played “I Can be a Frog” which is a wonderful audience participation song even if it’s nowhere near their best song. 

And “She Don’t Use Jelly” which I understand as it was their hit and the crowd (and even the band) always seem into it, but that song is like twenty years old and they didn’t play any other bands’ old singles.   I won’t complain to hear that song, but there are just so many good ones to choose from that it seems silly to play that one.

[READ: November 6, 2011] “The Mermaid of Legend and Art”

A while back I read a few old articles that I got from JSTOR, the online archiving resource.  This month, I received some links to three new old articles that are available on JSTOR.  So, since it’s the holiday weekend, I thought it would be fun to mention them now.

I wrote the review of this article before I realized that I had only read part 3 of 3.  There were some clues (like the start mentioning “the first few lines of my opening chapter”), but since the link I was given went here, I assumed that the other chapters were not available (until I saw the tiny footnote that said this was continued from pg 172).

So, I’m including my original post at the bottom for history’s sake, but I’m going to write the revised review here.

I don’t quite understand why this article was broken up into three sections.  This is especially egregious because of the figures included in the articles.  They do not really correspond to the sections where they are written about.  So, for instance he mentions Figure 13 on the last page of the article when we are already up to Figure 36 (and Figure 13 is fifty-some pages away).  For most of the other figures, he always seems to be a few pages behind, as if they needed to put the pictures throughout the article rather than where they are mentioned–it was bad enough having it in three sections (in my print puts) but imagine having to flip back thirty some pages to see what the hell he’s talking about!  Of course, this was 1880, they had more free time.

So, anyhow, the beginning of this article talks about the history of the mermaid in folk tales and the Bible.  Evidently Brahma visited Menu (Aka Noah) in the guise of a fish–which is how he was able to build the ark.  There is also a lengthy discussion about the importance of fish in the Old Testament.  In addition to the whole IXTHUS thing, fish were a very useful form of currency.  So it is nor surprise that they used representations of fish and sea creatures in ancient Rome and Greece. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUSTIN CITY LIMITS FESTIVAL 2010 (on Palladia TV 2011).

Recently Palladia broadcast some highlights from the Austin City Limits Festival in 2010.  The bands they showed were Phish, The Flaming Lips, Vampire Weekend, Muse, LCD Soundsystem, Sonic Youth, Spoon and Slightly Stoopid.

There were so many good bands at this festival (why is Richard Thompson in such small print?) that I won’t really complain about the inclusion of Slightly Stoopid and LCD Soundsystem on this best of (but they could have included Band of Horses, Yeasayer, Broken Bells, Gogol Bordello (the list goes on!).  (I’d never heard of Slightly Stoopid and although I like LCD Soundsystem, live they were less than stellar).  Although I am glad they didn’t include the Eagles, thank you very much.

I’m trying to get actual set lists of these airings (they mentioned the song titles during the show but I didn’t write them down).

This was a 2-hour broadcast and it was really good.  If they re-air the episode, it’s worth watching.  The quality of the broadcast is excellent (even if the HD format does take up way too much space on a TiVo).

[READ: November 6, 2011] “Beer Cans: A Guide for the Archaeologist”

A while back I read a few old articles that I got from JSTOR, the online archiving resource.  This month, I received some links to three new old articles that are available on JSTOR.  So, since it’s the holiday weekend, I thought it would be fun to mention them now.

And to start of the holidays, I present you with this–a loving history of the beer can (for archaeologists).

This is a fairly fascinating look at the development of the beer can from 1935 to the present.  The selling point of the article is that archeologists could use beer cans to date the timeframe of an excavation.  I agree with this; however, since they only date back to 1935, I’m not entirely convinced of its long-term usefulness.

The problem with the article is that page two shows a chronological timeline.  This in itself is not a problem (although it is odd that it goes from present to 1935 instead of chronologically forward); the problem is that the article itself more or less sates exactly the same thing as the timeline.  For although this article is 20 pages long, there are tons of photos and very little in the way of text beyond what was in that (very thorough) time line.

Nevertheless, you can see the morphing of beer cans from ones that you had to pop open with a can opener to ones that finally had self opening cans.  See the switch from tin to aluminum, and even learn why the tops of cans are a little narrower than the sides (called a neck-in chime, it evidently saves a lot of money). (more…)

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