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Archive for October, 2013

witmis3SOUNDTRACK: TOULOUSE LAUTREC-“Yesman” (2013).

heroesToulouse Lautrec are an alternative rock band from Romania.  Once again, I would not have ever heard of them had I not looked fora song about Lautrec (since he is mentioned in this section of the reading).

Toulouse Lautrec have two albums out, Heroes and their new one Extraordinar. They sing in both Romanian and English and this song (which is the first thing that came up on my search) is entirely in English.

It starts out with some very cool guitar riffs (very math rock–I actually considered it might be an instrumental).  Even the bass is doing something interesting behind the guitars.  Then about 50 seconds in the vocals begin.  And the singer has an almost American twang to him.

The chorus is a simple one, with ooh hoo hoo hoos.  But the real fun is at the end of each verse–the I say no I Say no and I say yes I say yes.

I listened to this song a few times and really liked it a lot.  It’s simple but solid alt-rock.  Then I found their website and watched a few more of their videos.  I really like the sound that they get–kind of buzzy guitars but otherwise very clean.

Check out the video for Yesman

and their site (which is in Romanian, but Google Translate will help you navigate)

[READ: October 20, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 61-120

This book is proving to be far less daunting and far more loose and fun than I anticipated.  As you can see by my “read” date, I finished this almost two weeks ahead of time.  In part it’s easy because unless I am gravely mistaken, there’s nothing really to “remember” about the story.  There are details and I think they are ponderable, but there’s nothing that seems to really impact the story. It’s more a series of ideas.

It’s really quite an audacious piece of writing.

Wittgenstein gets his first mention on page 61

“Once Bertrand Russell took his pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein to watch Alfred North Whitehead row, at Cambridge.  Wittgenstein became very angry with Bertrand Russell for having wasted his day” [61].

There are some meaty existential issues brought up like

“Surely one cannot type a sentence saying that one is not thinking about something without thinking about he very thing that one says one in not thinking about” [63]. (more…)

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harper juneSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-A Picture of Nectar (1992).

nectarA Picture of Nectar plays with expectations of Phish somewhat (as many as could be formed after two albums).  This album has sixteen songs, with half of them at 3 minutes or less.  These include the pretty jazz instrumental “Eliza,”  “Poor Heart” which is a slide guitar filled short country-ish romp, “Manteca” thirty seconds of nonsense.  “Magila” is a jazz instrumental which has solos by both piano and guitar.  “The Landlady” is another instrumental, but one that is a rocking guitar workout. “Faht” is a pretty, simple guitar piece with birds playing in the background

After somewhat anemic recordings, A Picture of Nectar feels a lot more full.  “Llama” bursts out of the gate sounding very complete with all of the instruments at the same power and breadth.  “Cavern” has a pretty ridiculous drum sound—very big and echoey and the pace is a little slower than is typical live, but it sounds very good. “Stash” clocks in at 7 minutes and it sounds very similar to the albums (although there are a still a bunch of silly voices like the one who says “Please don’t do that.”  “Guelah Papyrus” (no idea what that name is about) sounds fine here—very much like the live versions, full and fun.

“Glide” features the “glad glad glad” chorus in multipart harmony that makes this song seem like a barbershop number and sounds wonderful.  The longest song on the album is perennial favorite “Tweezer.”  The song is very much like the live versions except that the middle section has a crazy noisy breakdown which is a little disconcerting.  The solo then moves into a typical jam for Phish which really shows what they would do with this song live.  “The Mango Song” is a fun piano based jaunty number that highlights the band’s harmonies.  It sounds really good too.  “Chalk Dust Torture” sounds different because the voice is very different.  It sounds like Trey through a processor of some sort, or possibly somebody else singing.

The album ends with “Tweezer Reprise” because the song is so good it needs a proper ending.  This is another successful album from Phish.

[READ: September 20, 2013] “East Texas Lumber”

I wasn’t sure I would like this story about an unsuccessful guy in East Texas.  But I really did.

The narrator is Brian, a guy who has not been very successful since he got out of school.  He’s trying to save up to be a locksmith, but in the meantime he’s working at East Texas lumber.  And he’s thankful to divine providence for sending a tornado which helped him get the job.

A tornado ripped through their town and because of all of the rebuilding, the lumber store needed extra help, and that’s where Brian came in.  Even though on his first day he crushed some drywall and put a nail in his foot, they kept him on.  He was paired with Jimmy, a goof who had been working there for a long time.  Jimmy liked to smoke pot and go to parties, but he was the only one willing to partner up with potential liability Brian.

On this day their boss has given them a cushy job.  Deliver two loads of shingles to two different locations.  This was easy work—a lot of driving and no lumber to stack.  And it should get them back around 4, which is just enough time to goof off for the last hour, and get to The Hangout by 5 PM. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Lawn Boy (1990).

220px-Lawn_Boy_coverFor what I consider a guitar dominated band (Trey Anastasio is certainly the frontman), the early Phish albums have a lot of piano dominated tracks.  It’s not the guitar is absent but the piano is mixed quite loudly which gives these songs a slightly different emphasis than when they are played live.

Also was with many songs on Junta, “Reba” feels slower than the live versions.  It also has some funny backing vocals (a common occurrence with these early songs).  “My Sweet One” is a lot more honky tonk than the live versions, which often feel almost barbershoppy.  In “Split Open and Melt,” the vocals are done in a very funny mumbly way (with weird background vocals).  There’s also horns (crazy horns) and female vocals –giving it  vaguely R&B feel.

“The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” (for origins of the phrase, check out this) is a live favorite that’s a fun and funky guitar solo (with a retro feel) and in this version there is much laughing and carrying on in the background).  “Bathtub Gin” opens with the crazy seemingly out of tune piano that they do live (although not as much).  There’s more funny voices on the chorus and crazy sound effects throughout.  Earlier Phish were a lot sillier than later Phish.

“Run Like an Antelope” also has crazy sound effects and it’s funny how I forget that the song is almost entirely introductory guitar solo wailing.  It’s not until 8 minutes that we get to the “rye rye rocco” section and the actual “run run run” part.   In this studio version, the “set your gear ship for the heart of your soul” section is spoken so quietly.  And the song is not quite ten minutes long.  “Lawn Boy” sounds clean and jazzy in ways that it doesn’t live.  And “Bouncing Round the Room” sounds a lot like the live version.  It’s a little slower, with a few more details thrown in.

Overall, Lawn Boy is a great early Phish album, with every song being a success.

[READ: October 3, 2013] “Life as a Terrorist”

William Vollmann was a suspect in the Unabomber case.  All because a “concerned citizen” alerted the FBI about his fiction.

This sounds utterly crazy, but it is true.

Vollmann has written about all kinds of things, both fiction and non-fiction.  For his non-fiction, he has traveled extensively, to Afghanistan and other places where terrorists reside.  So when he was detained upon reentering the United States from Yemen, he didn’t think too much of it.  But when he was detained a second time, years later–for seven hours and treated like a criminal–well, that got him mad.  And he used the Freedom of Information Act to see what the FBI had on him.

This is a sobering look at how the justice system in its zealotry to protect us can actually do far more harm than good, at least to innocent individuals. Vollmann uses this as the basis of his essay which looks at the omnipresent Unamericans: those who would attack without provocation and intimidate the weak. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Junta (1989).

juntaI’ve been listening to a lot of live Phish as of late and thought it would be interesting to see if there was truth to the adage that Phish is great live but not so great in the studio.  So here is their first official album.  It was released as a double album, and when it was reissued on CD some bonus material was added.  Incidentally, I just found out that the album if pronounced “juhnta” and not “hoonta” because of the engineer they worked with.

The album starts with “Fee” which is a fun song (the lyrics are wonderfully weird) and they don’t play it all that much so it’s a treat to listen to.  I enjoy the way the verses sound compressed and distant but the choruses are nice and full.  There’s also some funny and interesting sound effects (some of which accentuate the action) throughout the song. This sound effects and noises processing has been with Phish from the beginning and they kept it up through many of their earlier, less mature albums. “You Enjoy Myself” is a live favorite so it’s fun to hear it in this version.  As with a lot of their earlier records, this song sounds a little stiff, especially if you’ve heard the wild live versions. It’s not bad at all, indeed, it has a perfectionist quality to it—the time changes are perfect, the solos are flawless.  Indeed, it’s quite an achievement (and in this more polished version it sounds more like Yes than their live versions ever did).  Interestingly when we finally get to the lyrical section (about 5 minutes in) it’s quite a bit slower than they play live.

“Esther” sounds much more theatrical here.  The music is gorgeous and there are lots of effects and backing vocals which bring a bit more menace to the song than the live version possesses. This also had a very prog rock sensibility to it.  “Golgi Apparatus” has a lot more in the way of backing vocals than the live version.  And “Foam” has some changes: the bass is especially loud and funky and yet the pace is so much slower than I’m used to.  The odd thing is the kind of stiff way that the lead vocals enunciate everything.  And the deep voice (Mike?) is quite amusing at the end of the song.  “Dinner and a Movie” is a fun and silly song and this version is especially enjoyable because of the backing voices and chatter and laughter which illustrate the dinner (and presumably the movie).

“Divided Sky” has a beautiful melody and it’s nice to hear it played so pretty and simply here.  But again the remarkable thing is how much slower the song is here.  “David Bowie” also sounds great (there’s all kinds of weird sounds effects in the background of the (very long) soloing section—I have no idea why or what they might be).  The solo sounds like it was maybe done in one take as there’s a couple spots where it’s not “right,” (whether flubs or intentional is hard to say) but it still sounds terrific.  In fact a number of tracks have some little flubs which makes it seem like they either didn’t mind or tried for a more live feel.

“Fluffhead” sounds solid and like the live versions.  What I never realized until I actually paid attention is that the bulk of the music (the extended jam session) is called “Fluff’s Travels.”  “Flulfhead is only 3 and a half minutes, while “Fluff’s Travels” is over 11 minutes (it opens with the beginning of the guitar solo–the catchy riff that starts the lengthy jam).  “Contact” is a delightfully silly song about tires and cars that I’ve always enjoyed and find myself singing often because the melody is so simple.

What’s funny is that the end of “Contact” kind of bleeds into “Union Federal” which is listed as a live song (and clocks in at over 25 minutes long).  This “Union Federal” is an improvisational jam (or an Oh Kee Pah Ceremony—where the guys would get together with instruments (and other things) and jam for a time.  This song is weird with many layers—and is rather typical of one of Phish’s weirder jazz –flavored improv sections (meaning that there is a lot of dissonance and noise).  It’s quite jarring especially after all of the melodies and prettiness of the album proper.  And I can see a lot of people not being happy about its inclusion.  “Sanity” on the other hand is a fun song.  In the intro, they keep claiming the song is by Jimmy Buffett. They are clearly very silly in this setting, especially at the end of the song.  The final track is a live version of “Icculus” the song which is pretty much all buildup.  In the intro they quote U2 “This is red rocks, this is the edge.”  But the “joke” of this version is that Trey keeps postponing the name of the person who wrote the name of the Helping Friendly Book–stalling in any way he can.  As the song gets louder and louder and more absurd, the guys are even more frenetic.  It takes over 3 and a half minutes to get to the proper lyrics of the song.   And then the song itself is about 15 seconds.  Absurd nonsense.  But very amusing.

So this is quite a solid debut album, and the amount of songs that they still play live shows how fond everyone is of it.

[READ: October 2, 2013]  “Wrong Answer”

I didn’t hate Algebra.  I rather like solving puzzles so I enjoyed solving for x.  Algebra II I recall being more daunting and less fun with lots of formulae to memorize.  And, unlike everything promised, I have never used any of it in my adult life (geometry and angles, sure, but not logarithms).  According to this article the new United States CORE curriculum (which I know my son is dealing with already in 3rd grade) says that high school graduates must have Algebra II.

The reasons for this intensification in the studying of math are many (starting around the time of Ronald Reagan) but the current push comes from Arne Duncane, the U.S. secretary of education.  He believes that “algebra is a key, maybe the key to success in college.  Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn degree as those who didn’t.”  Whether or not that is true, those of us who earned a degree in nonmathematical  subjects certainly were not aided by this class.  But Nicholson Baker explains that the reason this might be true is that for most colleges, Algebra II is a prerequisite.  Ergo: if you don’t take Algebra II you can’t get into college because colleges require Algebra II.  That, for those who may not have taken logic–a far more useful course than Algebra II in daily life–is called a tautological fallacy.  [Indeed, I maintain that all high school students should have to take a course in logic because they would then be able to see through all of the builshit that politicians spill and claim to be logic.  Like the current (as I type this) government shutdown in which Republicans are claiming they didn’t want to shut down the government when they in fact signed papers saying they were going to shut down the government).]

The real problem with Duncan’s postulate that everyone should take Algebra II (“airplane mechanics do complex measurements and work with proportions and ratios…X-ray technicians calculate time exposures to capture the cleanest possible image.  Most factory workers need to understand Algebra II or even some trigonometry to operate complex manufacturing electronic equipment”) is that even if that were true (I don’t have any idea of it is or not), most people do not do those kinds of jobs.  And even if they did know higher math, they would still be salesmen, graphic artists, librarians, preschool teachers, custodians and many many other jobs that in no way require math. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 18, 2013] Barenaked Ladies

20131018_214137Sarah and I saw BNL this summer with our friend Megan, and the show was great.  That marked the fourth or fifth time that I’d seen them.  When we found out that they were coming through again (to the close to us and cool Bethlehem Sands) we thought it might be fun to see them again.  Especially with our friends Matt and Marisa who like them but had never seen them.  So we met up and had a very fun time.  We ate at Emeril’s Burgers and More.  The burger was good (although it took an incredibly long time for it to arrive).  The strange thing about the burger was that it was very crispy on the outside (which was good) but rather and odd shade of  pink on the inside (which may have been the lighting, but it was certainly pinker than usual for medium), but it was not juicy/bloody—how is something pink but not juicy?  It was weird.  But still rather tasty.

But back to the show.  Our seats were in Row 20, which was much better than our seats this summer. The pictures here are mine taken with my phone—they’re blurrier than I’d like, but not terrible.

And this show was a ton of fun and full of surprises.  They started with “Limits” an unexpected song from their new album.  And then they jumped into “Never is Enough” a surprise old song.  Ed always does an introductory rap (which no one ever includes in the setlists online for some reason).  This one, while not as good as the PNC Bank Center one was enjoyable.  Ed explained that he ran a half marathon that day on the Sands grounds.  Well, actually he ran a block but did cross the finish line (the band played along with Da Don’t Run Run).  It was very funny.  “Pinch Me” is the new crowd favorite.  Whereas they used to throw Mac and Cheese during $1,000,000, now they throw underwear.  And much hilarity ensues. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 18, 2013] Whitehorse

whitehorseliveWhitehorse opened for Barenaked Ladies at the Bethlehem Sands (our new favorite slightly larger venue–even if the acoustics aren’t great, the seating is good and the prices reasonable–we were in the 20th row for this set, which was really perfect).

I had never heard of Whitehorse, so when I saw that they were opening for Barenaked Ladies, I wanted to see what they were all about.  I found a concert from Mountain Stage which was enjoyable but which I felt pigeonholed the band as a kind of country folk duo.  They weren’t exactly what I imagined when I thought of an opening band for BNL.  I actually wondered if BNL’s show would be more mellow in general, too.

Well, Whitehorse absolutely blew me away on stage.

They opened as I expected, with Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland (who were solo performers and recently got married) playing guitars and singing into one microphone (that last part I didn’t expect).  They sounded great together.  And the song (“No Glamour in the Hammer”) was very nice—mellow folk with a hint of country.  And then things got really interesting.  They each moved to a different microphone.  McClelland switched to a bass, Doucet switched to an electric guitar.  And then they started playing some percussion—Doucet played a bass drum with his foot while playing the guitar.  Then he picked up some random percussion objects—small drums, maracas, even pots and pans—and hit them a few times.  And that’s when I realized they were looping the percussion and building the rest of the song from that.  McClelland played some keyboard and, at one point, she began singing into a distorted microphone to create some cool vocals which she also looped.  A video camera closeup revealed that the “microphone” was actually an old-fashioned telephone.  The first song went on for a pretty long time, building and growing and expanding  And by the end of the song the crowd was hooked.

What was completely evident was just how much fun they were having.  Both of them were smiling all the way through the set, in between singing of course.  They looked at each other and shared moments, thanked us and BNL and told good stories to lead up to the songs.  (more…)

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merminSOUNDTRACK: THE AMOEBA PEOPLE Kickstarter Campaign (2013).

amoebaIf you don’t know Kickstarter, it is a site for creative types to raise money for projects.  On the whole, the site seems to work, although of course there have been failures as well.  For a detailed look into Kickstarter, check out this Fast Company article, the crux of which says that artists’ projects like films and CDs seem to work quite well, whereas more technologically sophisticated projects seem to be prone to glitches.  I have funded three projects on Kickstarter–I have not seen results from them yet, because none of them are due before the end of the year.  Thus I can’t guarantee the success of any of them (most of my pledges were quite small).

All of this is a caveat that while I am endorsing this campaign, please don’t take my word for its awesomeness or its reliability or anything like that–if you don’t think it’s a good idea I won’t try to persuade you otherwise.  But if it seems like a worthwhile investment (and they don’t charge you unless the whole thing is funded), then I’m happy to point this out.  And, the nice thing is that unlike some campaigns, in this case the “gift” you get for pledging is a CD, something they already have, so there’s no issue with the items not being made.

So what the hell is it?  To quote the campaign:

We are creating the greatest MUSICAL SCIENCE PROGRAM ever produced on Earth. We are asking for your help to fund PHASE ONE.

We are trying to raise $4,000 dollars to help us shoot a 10-minute “sizzle reel” which we will use to pitch our TV show idea to humanoid programming executives.

We have already recorded the music, enlisted the help of musical thespians to fill all the roles, built a massive computer console for the set and now all we need is some human currency to shoot and edit it. We are calling this first step toward television PHASE ONE.

Our series will have a strong emphasis on geology and the earth sciences as well as cosmology, biology, and the stories behind some of the greatest scientific discoveries in human history.

The premise: The Amoeba People, musical ambassadors from the planet Crouton, have been sent to Earth to investigate the source of radio signals sent from that planet. Their mission: to gather scientific data about Earth and its inhabitants and to transmit that data back to Crouton in the form of über-awesome and highly danceable songs.

Not heard of The Amoeba People?  Well, that’s hardly surprising.  They are a children’s music band from California, whose song “Cosmology, Your Futon and You” is wonderfully smart and funny.  I’m a fan of their stuff and I’m excited at whatever this sizzle reel might result in.  So check out their campaign, and if it sounds appealing, chip in.  And if it sucks, I apologize, but they should apologize more.

<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/997214944/the-amoeba-people-phase-one/widget/video.html&#8221; frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”>

[READ: October 10, 2013] Mermin: Book One

I brought this book home for the kids and wound up enjoying it quite a lot myself. It was only after reading it that I realized it was from the awesome Oni Pres.

The story starts with a squat green amphibian-looking creature waking up on the beach.  Some humans find him and start wondering what he is . But before he can answer them he is excited to feel that he is on dry land!  The excitement is short-lived because the kids really need to know what he is.  We learn that he is named Mermin.  He seems friendly enough so the kids start playing with him.  But when he punches the beachball it goes rocketing up into space.  Which the kids think is awesome.

Shortly after, when one of the kids goes in for a swim, a shark chases after him.  Mermin sees this and comes to the rescue, kicking the shark in the snout. Before swimming away the shark talks to Mermin—he knows who he is–and says that the whole village is looking for him. (more…)

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