Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Ghosts of Tom's Diner

Here's an article that gets its geek on by exploring in extensive depth precisely what MP3 compression leaves behind. I poured over this like a scientist who'd been handed a time-travel manual from a disembodied arm extending from a glowing time portal. (Here's another version of it. Don't know why there are two.)

As the article mentions, that particular version of "Tom's Diner" (which is an artist-approved, overly-hot remix and not the original) is the primary song used to develop the MP3 file format because of its dynamic range, the abrupt transitions from sound to silence, and Suzanne Vega's complex voice - a classification I wouldn't have thought of had I not listened to her from that perspective. Singers whose vocal delivery is closer to speaking than singing are more complex by their very nature since they are further away from pure musical notes. So this is the perfect song to see what's left behind. Also, here's an article on the history of Tom's Diner, and how many times it's been sampled. Oh, and here's a brand-new one that popped up as I was finishing this.

The sound of what's left behind IS very ghost-like - static-laden, rumbling, with a snippet of a double-track voice looming out of the static. Yeah, it's kinda creepy. If there's a hell, this is what the piped in music sounds like.

Which got me to thinking. For years there's been grousing and debates over what MP3 compression does to the sound quality of a song. Personally, I've noticed that about 1 song out of 100 has some artifacting (burbling, echoing, ringing, phasing, etc.) or degradation of sound. One song in particular that I ripped long ago with an early generation of software - "Crash" by the Primatives off the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack (which is a different, hotter mix than the one on their albums) - resulted in the guitar intro getting jacked into ringing harmonies of itself, and I've always liked the effect. When I play the actual CD, I'm always slightly taken aback by the original sound of the recording as my aural memory expects it to sound like the MP3. I've ripped it again since and it always has come out perfect - so I've kept track of that one funky rip because I like it so much.

Other than that, the typical bad result is a little less bass and treble response; it's just not as bright or present as the source. This is only noticeable (to me) on a good system in a quiet room. In a car or in headphones (which I think are limited by the size of the mechanism that reproduces the sound - even in really good ones), I have yet to hear the difference between a CD and the MP3. Your mileage may vary.

Neil Young has been one of the more vocal grousers about the sound quality of MP3s and decided to do something about it. Thus, we have his where you can buy both high resolution (192.0kHz/24bit) FLAC music files (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and a Pono player that plays the FLAC files, which are translated through an Ayre Acoustics audio circuit that by all reports is totally bitchin'.

A music label can fuck up the (re)release of an old album so many ways. Leaving songs out from the original track list (which will never fail to be several fan's favorite). Substitute alternate versions of songs - Fleetwood Mac's Tusk was marred by this on every single subsequent release. Lose the original master tapes, as they have for so many; Joni Mitchell, Garbage, and ELO easily spring to mind. But, right up there is charging too damn much. The music industry is making the same mistakes it always has when rolling out something new: it's overpriced and you can't buy what you want. Quoth Bob Dylan: When will they ever learn?

One of the many reasons the music industry is in trouble is it charged too much for CDs for years, particularly after promising at the onset of CDs that prices would come down once the technology was "paid for." That day never came. So, people who would usually go to the record store to see what to buy this week started going online and downloading the one song they wanted. After a few years of trying Gestapo techniques to stop file sharing, Steve Jobs was the perfect asshole for the job of saving the biz from itself by offering legal digital downloads (so his new iPod could have some legal content), and insisting the prices be reasonable, so he got $1 singles and $10 albums.

Ponomusic finally opens up and most albums cost $20. The standard range is $24 for new/important albums to $13 for promotional albums. Perhaps, since it's "audiophile," the extra cost may be justified from the label's perspective (be warned however, the majority of the files are at the same kHz/bitrate as CDs). is worse, because each step up in resolution costs more; this album costs $25 at the best resolution.

Another question is do the songs sound that much better to justify the cost? I wanted to buy the song "Yeah Yeah" from Jackson Browne's latest album because it's a fantastic song, one of his best. (There's a few solid songs on the album, but "Yeah Yeah" is a classic.) Read somewhere that the high resolution (192.0kHz/24bit) version sounded heavenly - and the way it's arranged, I bet it is. So I went to buy that one song, even though I already have the album, and can't because they don't allow the purchase of singles. (Much profanity.)

Sad thing is, they could just OWN the market if the prices were competitive with the cost of an MP3 or iTunes MP4 version, and you could buy the songs you want. My daughter loved buying from the Apple store because she said it sounded better than an MP3. When she moved to a Droid and had to convert the songs to an MP3 to transfer, she was sorta bummed. (And it was a pain in the ass, because Apple requires you to convert each MP4 to and MP3 manually.) So my daughter would be a loyal client if she could download high-def FLACs of her music for the same price. Her whole generation would take to it like ducks to reasonably priced water. Guess, Pono (and HDTracks) will just be the BluRay of music.

I'll address the question of does the supposed better sound justify the cost a different way. As I was writing this, Donald Fagen's "Security Joan" popped up in my MP3 music queue, and oh my gosh, the walking bass line and the cymbal ride sound fantastic in my headphones. I bought the version that included a Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 high-resolution DVD of the album. Of course this MP3 doesn't sound like the DVD and it would be cool if it did.

But I've noticed something about those DVDs , because I have ones from Dave Matthews Band, the Foo Fighters, and The Flaming Lips: they're only interesting and a good listen if the music has a lot of space in it, sort of jazz-like. Thunder rock and even something as dynamically limited as a Tom Petty song (I loves myself some Tom Petty, so that's not a crack on his music) often gain nearly nothing from high-definition. The Foo Fighters DVD actually sounds worse than the CD of the same. It's such a wall of sound there's not of lot of discernible distinction in the overall sound, it just seems louder, and the sonic depth makes some of the songs overwhelming rather than pleasant. To give you an idea of what's that like, have you ever gone to see a hard rock band in a room that was too small for the volume they used? All you can really hear is vague changes in tone around the roar of the sound that neither your ears or brain were meant to process.

It occurs to me that the mixing on these high-res DVDs might be the issue. Sound engineers have worked forever on how to put a big sound into a smaller space, like a vinyl album (with the problem of too much bass throwing the needle) or a CD, with the limitations of the digital sample rates. Perhaps mixing to the expanded range is difficult to do, or maybe no one has managed to figure out how to do it well. It's not as if there isn't a lot of sonic info available on the Foo Fighters DVD, it just sounds like a big buzz.

Simply put, Joni Mitchell sounds great on a high-resolution recording; KISS not so much.

Until I can actually buy a hi-res FLAC, this assessment will have to do. I hope I have the opportunity sometime soon.

Finally, here's some trivia, ephemera, and doo-dads I've tripped upon:

The sound geek magazine Sound on Sound has several "how it was made" articles of classic albums, one of my favorite wastes of time. Dug this nugget out about ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down":
"Gradually, Jeff started getting into it, and, as there was a plan for ELO to start a concert tour in Australia, the song was originally titled 'Don't Bring Me Down, Bruce'. This was meant to be a joke, referring to how many Australian guys are called Bruce, but we couldn't leave it like that, so eventually we replaced it with 'Gruss', based on the Bavarian greeting Grüß Gott — 'greet God'. Gruss, not Bruce, is what you hear in the song immediately following the title line. A bit like Freddie Mercury joking around at the end of Queen's [1985 single] 'One Vision', singing 'fried chicken'."

Don't remember where this is from, but the Beatles' American concerts had the distinct odor or urine as part of the sensory sensation, as the hysterical girls would not only scream ceaselessly, they would wet themselves, too. According to the people who ran the venues, urine would run down the aisle in rivulets.

Rolling Stone has one of their listly articles on the best songwriters. It's pretty good, with not a lot head-scratchers.

Found this interview with the boss of 70s and 80s themesongs, Mike Post, who was the only other guy besides Henri Mancini who had theme songs that regularly became radio hits. In this 3 hour interview (with some highlights busted out for your impatient pleasure) I discovered that Post formed the 60s band "The First Edition" monkees-style, and was dubious about Kenny Rogers being in the group. He also produced and arranged the hit "Classical Gas." The orchestra break in the middle was his idea and he wrote it.

Here's the best thumbnail description of classical music composers I've come across:
"If the music was joyous: Mozart; if it was angry: Beethoven; regal: Hayden. If I heard an organ: Bach; a harpsichord: Corelli; a lone violin blazing up and down the scales: Vivaldi."
(The article it's from is rather harrowing. It's about a father's alcoholism and how the now-grown son relates it to an unfortunate childhood viewing of "The Exorcist". )

'Til next time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


My new job comes with the added feature of a longish commute. (Which after a decade of no commute has been one of the biggest adjustments. Driving in traffic has the same boredom/what-am-I-doing-with-my-life factor as waiting in a long line at the DMV, but it comes with the necessity that you have to pay attention at all times so you don't DIE, which makes it one of the most arduous things we have to face regularly. Only the stories of the horrible way that most retail/service jobs schedule employees these days have made me not feel so sorry for myself.)

After a week or two of trying music CDs and, dear Lord, broadcast radio (though that's how I found George Ezra's "Budapest"), I realized, as Stephen King has opined: "how many times can you listen to Deep Purple sing 'Highway Star'". So, I have turned to books on CD to pass the time.

My first choice was Life After Life: by Kate Atkinson, because I saw it on a lot of best-of lists last year.  At first I enjoyed the quaint British prose read by actress Fenella Woolgar, who excelled at the various accents. The Irish maid, for example, had more presence and spunk than any Kristen Stewart performance where she's dressed. 

The premise or plot (which kind of intermingle here) is the many iterations of reincarnation of Ursula Todd, a wealthy British gal born in February of 1910.  Each time she dies, she's reborn as Ursula and somehow has an inkling of taking a slightly different direction at the time of death in her last life. It's never explained how this occurs, what the underlying  mechanism of this is - though at one point Ursula mentions a perception she has of living many times, and some gentlemen gives a quick, tap-dancy overview of Buddhism and reincarnation.  So, it's like Groundhog's Day, but her journey starts each time from moment one rather than when Sonny and Cher's calliope-esque hit blares from the clock radio the next day.  But it's NOT like Harold Ramis' Buddhist opus as there is almost no intentional humor.  No, as with most literary novels, all is dank, sad, often violent, slightly smelly, the lighting is jaundiced, love (such as it is) is strange, and life is mostly pointless and hopeless.

Oh, and Judas Crispies, every fucking meal is fully described, including the quality of the ingredients.  Perhaps as Hemingway maintained one should always mention the weather as it is a universal experience, Atkinson must feel each layer of every sandwich must be described, as well as dessert and whether it went with the wine or not, because we've all been there.  You know when you notice a particular tic someone has, and from then on it drives you crazy every time they do it; eventually you focus only on that to exclusion of what they are saying so you are forced to ask them to repeat what they just said, only to have to endure the thing a few more times?  Eventually I was white-knuckling the steering wheel and grumbling like Lurch when cucumber sandwiches were mentioned. 

In the positive column, the descriptions of hunting for the living after a Nazi bombing run in London were gripping and vivid.  The face floating up out of the darkness of a basement in the light of a torch, bringing hope, only to then see the eyes are milky with death.  Or crawling through a destroyed and collapsing building and putting your hand on a pile of rags only to realize it's a baby, and then you notice the tiny hand.  Those were awesome and probably the only other reason, other than wanting to know how it all resolves, that I stayed with it. 

The darkness of the story really started affecting my mood, and I'd have to consciously shake it off before walking into work or home. I couldn't wait for for the story to be done.

Lesson learned: If you want a commute that's improved by books on CD, eschew dour literary novels.  "Everything sucks and then you die" is OK as a bumper sticker, but it's hell as a story experience. 

My next choice was Stephen King's latest, Revival.

Revival was much more enjoyable because King keeps things entertaining at the very least.  The story was fun in that you see a character develop from very good to sorta evil (which Kurt Vonnegut said to never do, but here it works).  Also, King does a very Harlan Ellison thing and presents an ending that on its face seems to indicate something it doesn't, and one character is completely fooled by that lie of omission.  Interesting.

Another interesting thing is this didn't feel like the whole thing was written by King.  Some passages certainly were, and the arc of the story was.  But there were obvious shifts in the use of language for some portions.  I've read a little bit of his wife, Tabitha (I've always thought that was the perfect name of the spouse of a major horror writer) and his son, Joe Hill (aka Owen King), and I'd swear that some portions read similar to their styles.  I wonder if this was a family project.  King fooled us once, ya know, with the Richard Bachman thing.

Now, you might be thinking, "Dude, you listened to it, you didn't read it, so that alone would make it hard to glean the style."  Well, if it would please the court, I submit that I started reading the book, and switched over to CD when it showed up on the shelf at the library one day (a nice surprise).  Even in print it didn't seem like King's style all the time. That said, he's proven he can write outside of his usual style; The Eyes of the Dragon, which he wrote for his daughter, was waaaaay outside of his typical wordification.  But it still had the feel and consistency of King, and you could still tell it was him if you looked under the bed, figuratively. Revival lurches around like a one-legged Zombie in style, and he even used the word "ejaculate" in the place of "said." Very un-King like. Just sayin'.

Just finished Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, read by Arthur Morey.

It wasn't a consideration of mine when I got the CDs, but Irving's fine prose lends itself well to reading aloud.  To me, his prose lifts off the page and just engulfs you; it's magical. Even though I had the fantastic experience of seeing him read a portion of A Son of the Circus in person, it still didn't occur to me that listening to one of his books would be so much fun.

Last Night in Twisted River contains a lot of biographical information from Irving's life, particularly his approach to writing.  (To wit: he starts with the last sentence and works backwards.)  The usual suspects are in abundance: the main character grows up to be a writer, a wonderful tragicomic death, no lovers or married couples stay together for long, wrestling, and of course bears.

There's a fun part where Kurt Vonnegut shows up as a character, and I'll be damned if it doesn't sound like him.  Outside of some kind advice about relationships, Vonnegut tangles with Danny, the main character, over Vonnegut's dislike of semicolons, which Danny uses so often he even puts one in a title.  That's a great little easter egg for readers of both authors. (To save you the trouble of researching it: yes, Irving was a student of Vonnegut's at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. "Everything that Mr Vonnegut says to Danny in this novel, he actually said to me. Word for word." - from this fun article)

There was one section / subplot I wondered about, as it seemed extraneous at the time, but as is often the case with Irving, it had a beautiful payoff later.  Also, upon reflection, those seeming side-trips always suffuse his stories with a richness that's often hard to find in pretend stories, and give the feel of a life lived.

What spurred this post, along with my first serious foray into books on CD, was my vast difference in feelings for and reactions to the characters in Atkinson's novel and the ones in Irving's (and King's to a lesser extent).  I believe this is a direct result of the compassion the author has for the characters. I felt very disconnected from the characters in Life After Life because it seemed like the author was; she didn't really seem to care about her characters.  Their fates and emotions were something for her to merely report rather than bring the experience alive for you. However, John Irving appears to care about his characters very much - even the bad guys. His clear, deep compassion for their lives and travails is infectious, to the point of bringing manly tears to my eyes a couple times. King is more objective about his characters, but he does convey a fatherly concern for all (or maybe the distant concern of an Uncle, as he does refer to himself as "Uncle Steve" in magazine articles).

Finally, something else I noticed is that both King's and Irving's books had a LOT in common with the novel the directly preceded these.  Both of King's follow the story of a guy who lives in the grips of addiction when young, overcomes it, and ends up living in a mountain town in his middle years, getting to enjoy a twilight romance before the events at the end.  Irvin's are about a son who ends up traveling throughout their childhood with one parent, in one case to find someone and the other to lose someone, and both end up becoming entertainers as adults.  I don't know if this really means anything, and I'm going to explicitly state it didn't feel like a retread in either case - it was just the deju vu-esque feeling of having been here before.

All told, Last Night in Twisted River has become my second favorite of all of Irving's fiction (Owen Meany will forever rule).  If you haven't experienced it yet, give it a try.  (And hang in there, it takes a bit to get going.)

Till next time. 

Oh, and I may not succeed, but I've set a goal to post at least once a week.  Here's hoping.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movies of 2014

So, this is one of those posts where I started with an entirely different premise and in the midst of building that premise I realized I was simply incorrect.

I was going to say this was a meh year for movies, and it kinda was. (Here Time tries to avoid that conclusion, included because it spurred this post.)
But in reviewing this abbreviated list of the top 100 movies by box office (complete list here), there was some darn good stuff this year - movies that will have legs, in that someone who didn't see them yet will at some point in the future.  I've highlighted the ones I've heard general consensus around their being good. Of those I've seen, I found something in most of them to like or love a little.

22 Jumpstreet was a pretty cool sequel, with one of the best closing title sequences ever.  Interstellar was on a grand scale and I enjoyed it, but like the Disney movie The Black Hole, the fact that it glossed over the fact you would simply be crushed if you entered a black hole scotched my complete enjoyment of it.  The "auto destruct sequence initiated" joke almost made up for that, though. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was moving and epic, though Spoiler Alert: it's the Lion King/Bambi plot yet again.  Gone Girl was a nearly perfect adaptation of that wonderful novel; see it if you  decide to see anything on the list. Boyhood was of course great.  Still looking forward to Birdman and Wild

TLD:  [correction - Wild is not about the same woman who was the subject of Alice to Ocean.  My bad.]
Haven't had one of these in a while! I consigned Wild to a DVD because I know the story too well as it was the subject of one of the first multimedia CDs ever, Alice to Ocean, and given out by Apple with new Macs back in the 90s, which I devoured. It was supposed to be the next big thing, and everyone did them for a bit, but then the web came along it all moved to a server not near you. I even found a nude picture of the woman as they had not bothered to clean up some of the scratch files.  Someone had painted a dress on her, which was the one used in the presentation, but they forgot to remove the source photo from a buried folder. I guess they felt it would be too controversial to use, which was sorta too bad because the woman explains that she was often nude when not around anyone else, which to me is an interesting part of the story.
 The centerpiece scene in "X-Men" where Quicksilver saves everyone by zipping around the room more or less outside of time and prevents the cops from airing them out.  The use of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" is inspired.  Spoiler Alert: Am I the only one to notice this had the exact same plot as J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot?

For some reason The LEGO Movie just didn't connect with me, which is odd because it's right in my wheelhouse, but I could barely force myself to finish it and only did because the younger daughter was watching it, too.  Her summary: "Kinda boring." 

My favorite of the year - Calvary - is not even on this list (though it's in the top 200), and I think it would have been widely embraced had it been given a larger release.  I suspect the reason it wasn't is twofold: 1) it's very Irish, which I bet some short-sighted Americans who determine distribution domestically thought might confound some, 2) it's a thoughtful exploration of belief and the sins and grace of the Roman Catholic Church. I've noticed a certain squeamishness in Hollywood about actual religion.  As proof I offer Noah and Exodus, both which deviated greatly from their biblical source material and did their best to remove or paganize God.  Sorta like starting out with a great story of a boxer, but hey let's change him to a skateboarder because that's what all the kids like, right? And none of us like boxing anyway. Kinda bloody. Ew. 

I watched Calvary with an atheist friend who particularly hates the Catholic Church and he was so livid after an hour, we had to stop watching. He ranted for about 20 minutes about how the church represents most of the evil done to mankind in the recent centuries.  I tried to make the case that his opinion was a bit of hyperbole, but he wasn't hearing it, so we moved on with some action flick with grim men and big explosions. 

I was glad we hadn't finished it together because it's one of the few movies ever that took me entirely by surprise and I actually shed some manly tears at the end.  (The other in memory being the scene in Terms of Endearment when the mom is saying goodbye to her sons and the little one tries to be brave - can't even watch that one now.)

On the strength of this movie, I looked for other movies by this team, and was freaking thrilled to discover this is the 2nd movie in a planned trilogy. I'm in the midst of the first one - The Guard - about an Irish detective (they call them "Guards") helping American Don Cheadle (!!!) sort out a mystery. So far it's as good. (Spoiler alert: if you've not seen these movies, don't do much research because the name of the trilogy gives a lot away.)

While researching stuff for this post, I found some intredasting trivia about This is the End - the end of the world movie with Seth Rogan and his Hollywood buddies playing "themselves":
- With its North American final gross of $101,470,202, This Is the End became the 33rd film of 2013 to pass the $100,000,000 milestone at the US box office, a record.
- A DVD copy was the last film rented by a Blockbuster Video in Hawaii before the video chain ceased rentals on November 9, 2013.
Oh, and I just looked over the Grammy winners - I haven't watched in years, but this year was the first year I found out after the fact they'd already occurred.  Of all the winners, I've heard only one of the albums (Jack White's Lazaretto) and one of the hits (the ubiquitous to those with kids "Happy"). Sad that the petulance of Kanye West is again the top story from the festivities; though Shirley Manson's open letter bitch-slap is a hoot.

Back to flicks for a sec, posted this, the Editor's Guild top 75 best edited films.  Usually most lists of best films ever include a lot of ones with historical significance that bore the everloving shite out of anyone who's not a film aficionado, with a couple spinach movies sprinkled in for fiber.  This one manages to have an interesting cross-section of movie history, and one that will I think have more footing with the younger set, probably because editing goes directly to the heart of a film's pace and presentation, which at point in time is crucial, given all the media kids these days consume.   Here's the expanded list with some fun backstories.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Finding Stephanie and fearing uncanny Lammily

After the passing of the late great Mr. Ebert, I was left with only Peter Travers of Rolling Stone as one of the film critics I can turn to for guidance on films when I'm looking for one to watch.  (FWIW, I've always used critics to talk me into watching/reading/listening to something, but almost never to talk me out of it.  Only when most of the critic planet is aligned against something as a terrible entertainment do I let them persuade me to change my mind, and even then in might be worth a visit to see if it's so bad it's good.)

But, glory be, I happily rediscovered where Stephanie Zacharek now writes this week (Village Voice), as she was one of the only other critics I like.  She used to write for Entertainment Weekly, which was snarky fun when it started out (I think they even invented the word "snakry" as I had not seen it before then), but became just another version of People or Us, so when she no longer worked for them, I only bothered to hunt them up for Stephen King's article, which he no longer writes.

It was like catching up with an old friend, especially since the series of articles I found (on were a running conversation between her and several other movie critics and aficionados.  And then I came across this (emphasis mine, though the whole quote is good):
And in answer to your question to me about Under the Skin, as to how the film’s having been directed by a man complicates my take on it: It doesn’t. Like all of us, I’d like to see more films directed by women, because widening the pool of voices will get us better movies overall. And I’m thrilled to be able to praise the work of Prince-Bythewood or Selma’s Ava DuVernay, because it’s terrific work. I’ll also note that women do look at things differently: Beyond the Lights’ director of photography is a woman, Tami Reiker, and I couldn’t help noticing something a little different about the way the movie’s sex scenes are shot and composed—chiefly that Reiker and Prince-Bythewood revel in the beauty of Mbatha-Raw’s and co-star Nate Parker’s bodies equally. There’s an exuberant sensual audacity to those scenes.

All that said: I can only look at movies with my eyes, and they glaze over when I see terms like “gender roles” and “female sexuality as a construct.” I find it so restrictive to look at movies through that lens. I know some people write their dissertations on these sorts of things or base their whole lives’ work on them, but it’s just not for me. I remain silent, sometimes conspicuously so, in most conversations about the need for “more women’s stories,” because I’m more interested in the gloriously wide spectrum of human experience, which of course women are a part of.

Also: Men are fascinating to me, chiefly because I’m not one. They are the extraordinary and often maddening Other. I do love it when movies illuminate an angle of “women’s experience”—whatever that is—in a fresh or vital way. But, God help me, I’m already damnably familiar with the experience of being a woman, whereas I’m nothing like J.M.W. Turner. (At least, I hope not.) And so to see him in Mike Leigh’s quietly sensational Mr. Turner waving away his impossibly cherubic baby granddaughter (only to succumb to her charms, in his grouchy way, a few minutes later), or to watch him add that one necessary daub of red to a painting that already seems perfect—I love that beyond words. As for Scarlett Johansson, I see her, to some degree I am her, I am a man looking at her: When I watch Under the Skin, the No. 1 movie on my top 10 list, I can do and be all of those things at once. For me, the greatest experience is to look at the screen and say not “That’s me,” but “That’s us.” It’s all I ask of movies—I guess it’s a lot!
I love this quiet, almost shy, rebuff of Identity Politics (henceforth acronymed as eIP, the little "e" standing for "evil").

eIP has been on my mind a lot lately because my eldest daughter is headed to college in the fall, and as I have feared for these many years, the curriculum is laced with it.  I've gone through it with her and highlighted them so she can avoid them (and it appears she can, none appear to be mandatory).  She, herself, is already allergic to the eIP concepts as I have worked to inoculate both her and her sister for years (as has their mother, who had her own nearly disastrous, GPA-crushing encounter with it in her college days). 

Alas, my favorite liberal rag,, is beginning to drink waaaay too much of the eIP koolaid, though "koolaid" is too sweet a term for the hydrochloric acid cocktail that is eIP.  I'm down to about one article a day that intrigues, and half the time it's some entertainment thing and not politics or society. Here, as example, are the titles of just two recent articles: 
1. The “Manspreading” scourge isn’t just for subways -- a screed about men taking up too much space in public transportation, which one wonders why it's one gender's fault.
2. “Listen when I talk to you!”: How white entitlement marred my trip to a Ferguson teach-in -- a screech-fest about how offended the author (an eIP PhD. who is black) was when a (white) man moved her bags off the seat next to her on the bus after she didn't see or hear him when he asked her to move them because she was on her iPod looking out the window, and her subsequent attempt to bitch him out went ignored, because he's a racist honky cis of course. (If you're not aware, "cis" is the eIP pejorative for someone who's heterosexual. And we can be reasonably sure the dude was not gay because the article wouldn't exist if he were.)

Now, I'm not entirely against modern criticism of actual bad behavior; I'm opposed only when it's based on the assumptions and bent reasoning of eIP rather than generally accepted principles of common courtesy. 

When I started reading the article "The Problem With Ed Sheeran And 'Nice Guys' Like Him", I thought it was a product of eIP, but after hanging with it, I realized it not only didn't come from an eIP perspective, I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with it.  Like the author, I went through a period as a young man where I thought I was a "nice guy" until I got to know myself a bit better and realized I am as much of a schmuck as anyone else (though in my case, I did not blame that self-misperception for any difficulties I had with dating, I (rightly) blamed just being a general clod in my dating techniques, and/or lack thereof).

So, I will keep up the good fight in my fight against eIP, rejoice in reading Ms. Zacharek, and do my best to prepare my daughters for the big, bad world.

Which reminds me, we had a fun Christmas moment.  My eldest asked for the new Lammily doll, as she collects dolls and believes (as I do) that the first editions at least will be collector's items in the future.  I knew that if I got a doll for her and not my nine-year-old, the young one would protest her grown sister getting a doll, but not her, so I got her one, too. 

When she opened it, my youngest looked at me with alarm and asked, "She's not going to come to life, is she?" because, as advertised, Lammily looks very real because she's shaped like a real girl. The goal of the doll is to make young girls feel comfortable with themselves, and her realistic appearance is the very thing that unnerved my daughter.  Much laughter.

She still hasn't played with it.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Très 2014

Hallo there.

Another year.  Been a momentous one for me, but enough about me already.

It appears to me to have been another lackluster year in movies and music, and I thought about consigning it to my age, but when I poll young folks, they agree.  Not much to crow about.  There was some great TV, at least.  (The Blacklist.  OMG.  I haven't been this rapt with a show since Twin Peaks.)

With music, we're probably finally experiencing the true fallout of the dissolution of distribution model for commercial music that's been around since roughly since the late 1920s, but really kicked in when rock and roll shook its pelvis into the mainstream.  The record companies did a great job of protecting their market by controlling the distribution medium until their attempt to keep control fell apart when MP3s became widely available.  (They were hoping for a slam-dunk squash like DAT, but DAT still had the limitation of needing to be carried from place to place rather than sharing the series of tubes filled with cats when they're not clogged with facebook or movies.)

I still think if they had avoided DRM (Digital Rights Management) things would have gone much better, because when people realized they couldn't move their music around the way they wanted (since the major advantage of MP3s was portability), and that most DRM schemes fundamentally changed the way their computer played media, they decided "free" (and stolen) was so much easier.  DRM-free MP3s came a little too late in the game, and most modern albums are full of filler due to the decade where the only game in town was a $17.95 CD with one, maybe two, good songs on it - a bad habit the companies got into, but can no longer sustain when you can cherry-pick the songs you want.  

So, an average of $3 retail sales for most new releases (assuming 2 cherry-picked songs) does not support the business model they had for nearly a century.   There are artists like Taylor Swift and the Foo Fighters who are doing their level best to release an entire album of good stuff, and mostly succeeding, but that's still the exception.  (Paul McCartney had predicted the music biz would devolve into nothing but the sales of singles someday, and it only took six decades for him to be right.  And that's a good thing, because we wouldn't have Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road - or Tommy or the The Wall - if he'd been right back then.)

I think the only way the music industry can crawl back to something close to what they used to have is two-fold:
  1. All albums, even new hot ones, are $5, tops.  $6 if you want them to send you a CD in addition to the MP3 download.  I see that with Neil Young's push to deliver high-fidelity digital files (, they're back to asking about $20 per album (on, too), even ones we have bought 5 times previously, like Rumours.  However, if they were to offer those at $5, that would do wonders.  Won't happen though.  I loves myself some audiophile-quality music, but the difference in quality is so small, it's not worth that premium price.  Just a fact, mang.
  2. Go back to radio formats where all genres are played at once.  That means along with the good rock and pop, there will be an occasional country song, a boy-band song, and (heaven forfend) a rap song.  But it would re-vitalize the market with cross-pollination, as it did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Imagine audiences hearing how good Brad Paisley is when played alongside Iggy Azalea or Ariana Grande.

Here's the stuff I thought was the best of 2014:

George Ezra's single "Budapest" has got me bashing the lever in my proverbial rat cage (which is in the form of streaming the YouTube vid over my Roku stick) to deliver the retro goodness of this buttery tune to my stereo whenever it's convenient.  I lerved first time I heard it (and I always have a "Kennedy Moment" when I hear a song I love immediately - I can recall the street I was on and what the Christmas lights looked like).  From the voice I imaged some dread-locked soul dude from one of those countries that not a one of us Americans could pick out on a map, so was shocked when it ended up being a British white dude with an office-appropriate doo.  I anticipate this album like I do a new Foo Fighters, Elvis Costello, Donald Fagen, Rickie Lee Jones, or Dwight Yoakam.  Can't hardly wait.  (And to thwack the music biz a bit more, this was released in the UK in June.  Why in the holy sideways hell did they wait for Jan of 2015 to release it in the US?  I could download a stolen copy right now.  Why would they purposely undermine the likely scant sales with such a brain-dead release schedule?  Are they aware the internet does make things truly, easily international?  The only thing I can think of is maybe they think the YouTube revenue will outdo the sales; in case you were unaware, YouTube pays the music companies a royalty for each play of a music vid.)

My other go-to single lately has been "Shit Shots Count" by the Drive-by Truckers, off their album English Oceans.  I like the album as a whole, but my first love is this lead-off song that belches out a stew of gut-bucket country rock with amusing lyrics (that ultimately don't make much sense) only to up the ante with a horn section coming in to drive the song home.  "Wow," I think every time as it fades out and have to pull my socks back on. 

The best album of the year, hands down, is Turn Blue by the Black Keys.  This is a true play-it-all-the-way-through experience.  Sometimes it sounds just like Pink Floyd, other times it sounds like Weezer, it waxes Beatles-esque, but all the while has a unique sound that is the Black Keys.  Wonderful stuff.  I get lost in it every time.  The only other albums as mesmerizing to me are Physical Graffiti by the Zep and Animals by the Floyd.  It's a wunnerful thing when a new album busts into my permanent top 20. 

Oh, by the way, Pink Floyd themselves (sans Waters) did the thing bands suffering from dead key members have been doing: pull some tapes out of the vault they all noodled on and finish some of the songs.  The result, The Endless River, is interesting.  It’s like a trip through soundscapes that recall past hits all kind of run together (like a river {snerk}), which is essentially what it is, since they used scraps from the ends of other known songs.  It’s not an earth-shattering Floyd album, but it feels good – audio comfort food if you will.

[Sigh.] Well, dammit anyway, the latest U2 album that caused so much tumult by automagically appearing on everyone's iTunes is one of their better albums, with that fact being obscured by it virtually coming with every box of Tide - to recycle the Wayne's World jab at Frampton Comes Alive. 

For those of you who are at a loss as to why anyone would give a flying star-spangled fuck about getting an album for free, it's essentially about the way iTunes behaves - which, as far as I’m concerned, is badly, and why I don't use it, even on a Mac.  iTunes tries to learn your listening habits so that it eventually foists songs, genres, and moods at you in what its algorithms have worked out by the listening frequency and personal song ratings that fit your general gestalt.  Well, for moody bastards like me, it's almost always an affront when iTunes tries to guess what I'm in the mood for.  And especially if your tastes run to speed metal, rap, screamo, hipster, country, or anything outside of basic anthem/dad rock, Bono's "Song for Someone" is the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. It's a wonderful song as far as I'm concerned, but if I was Mastodon's number one fan, I would probably wreck my F-150 trying to hit the "skip" button.  And it would throw off all the hard work I'd put in making iTunes predict my ultimate mix.  iTunes makes it very hard to completely delete songs, and even once they're deleted, they still stain the "favorites" algorithms forever.  Oh, and if you're a music Purist, bless your heart, it's even worse. 

I, however, was so tickled that Songs of Innocence was mine for a song {koff}, I could barely contain myself until I could burn a CD and slap it on the good deck at home.  (Now that I have my stereo back in my full control, it has again become my favorite means of listening to music, rather than a set of great headphones or in the car when I happen to be by myself.  My commute to my new job is a long one, so I've switched to books on CD for the car environ.) In my personal ranking, this is number three after Actung Baby and All That You Leave Behind.  "Every Breaking Wave" and "Song for Someone" both move me greatly.  I love the line in "Song": "You've got a face not spoiled by beauty."  It's like the perfect bookend to the Talking Head's "You've got a face with a view" from the song "Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)."  Throughout Bono is on a roll with lyrics, a lot of them reflecting on getting full of himself and then being brought down.  Final irony, if you will.

The other album I've been playing regularly is Stockholm by Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders for those of you who are all about that bass).  When artists have been pickin' and grinnin' as long as Chrissie, their "mature" albums are often full of wandering tunes that are essentially chord changes and navel gazing (since it's so much closer due to belly expansion), like Jackson Browne when he's not pissed off (he still writes primo political and protest songs when he gets down to it, check his latest release), or they hit full IDGAF mode and do songs they've always wanted to do, even if it directly conflicts with their previous output. (I suspect that Kurt Cobain was essentially going to put together what would amount to a late career Beatles album and along with a bad marriage, chronic stomach pain and addiction, that was just too much to bear for the purist at his tender age.)   For example, the first song could have been a Connie Francis song, and of course Chrissie with that voice bats it out of the stadium.  But by song 4, we've got Neil Young arc-welding the song together with his signature guitar sound.  It's a fun set all the way through.

Two albums that are still so new to me I haven't formed an official opinion are the new Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways and Spoon's They Want My Soul, both of which have my favorite albums covers for the year. 

They Want My Soul

Sonic Highways
I think "Soul" will be my computer wallpaper at some point in 2015.

Other albums I've enjoyed and can recommend parts of are Sheezus by the incomparable Lily Allen, Lazaretto by Jack White (his first solo offering that I've honestly liked and didn't feel the necessity to like because everyone keeps calling him a frickin genius), Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot! All Original, and Weird Al's Mandatory Fun, "Tacky" and "Word Crimes" being my newest on-forever-rotation favorites, though "Party in the CIA" and "Gump" will remain my top faves of his.  She's not my cup of tea, and this one I'll just admit it's because I'm an old fart, but Taylor Swift's 1989 is a solid set, and when my daughter plays it, I dig much of it, but I'll never play it on purpose.  (My daughter's back into country since pop songs for a while threw in an incongruous rap portion after the second verse on every single song, which put her off completely.  I think they've stopped, but mainstream pop radio was unbearable for those couple three years.)  

Ones I had high hopes for but have ended up in the Meh column are Tom Petty's Hypnotic Eye and Jason Mraz's Yes!  I mean, they're serviceable and I wouldn't change the station if any of the tunes came on the radio, but I'm not driven to pull them from the shelf and spin them.  Next time, guys.


On more than two "best movies of the year" lists, the critic has started out with something like "it's not as bad a year as many feel it was," which of course is not just whistling past the graveyard but drunkenly screaming a karaoke song as one staggers by.  This. Year. Sucked.  (Now I haven't seen Calvary since it got the George Ezra treatment (not for you, 'Murica), and Boyhood as it got the art house treatment, so it was NOT in a theatre near me, and I suspect those will be ones I'll really like.)

The only two I enjoyed (no looking at the time, mentally composing grocery lists, etc.) were Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl. 

Were I not jaded by having seen so many elements of Guardians of the Galaxy in previous movies, I would've ecstatically fan boy'd all over myself.  Still, what a great romp, and the Groot character was fun (Ents in Spaaaaace!). The music is, of course, right in my sweet spot; however, I was aghast at several reporters whose beat is supposed to be entertainment calling it 80s music. (It reminds of the entertainment reporter who began interviewing Samuel Jackson thinking he was Laurence Fishburne.  "Oh hail no!") Were I the editor, I would've had those bozos in my office to ask if they can perform a Google search to actually get the dates correct. [mild spoiler]The ending was yet again a retread of Independence Day and War of the Worlds - we defeat a seemingly unbeatable foe by infecting them from within and their ships crash into everything.  [end mild spoiler]  I did get a bang out of the fact that the big bad guy was The Pie Maker. 

Non-franchise movies that have star ships in them end one of two ways: 1) if they're attacking, they're brought down and there's a big crash, 2) if they're here to Klaatu our asses, it ends with a big space ship lifting off to swelling music whilst those still on the ground look up with moisty eyes.   Enough already. 
Gone Girl was splendid.  I'd read the book (more splendid), and was looking forward to Fincher's interpretation and thought the casting was ideal.  Rosamund Pike will face some typecasting because she embodies the role so well (and if she doesn't have a bf she may have trouble finding one, notwithstanding her considerable beauty), and Affleck was essentially typecast.  Doogie did his part perfectly, but we NPH fans always face some ennui when he doesn't get to chew some scenery.  (It's not a matter of if he'll get an Oscar someday, it's going to be what movie provides the vehicle.  Personally, I think his reaction in Harold and Kumar during a traffic stop when he begins tripping balls and sees himself on a unicorn should've at least gotten a best supporting actor nomination.)

If you've not seen Gone Girl, please avoid any articles that are anything other than a review.  The opinionators out there keep trying to make it about a commentary on marriage or smart girls or generally things it's not about at all.  Each and every one of these articles is an utter waste of your time and an embarrassment for the author - save both of you the angst.

After the movie ended, as we all stood up to cattle on out, the guy in front of us turned around, put his hands in his pockets, and said, nodding at his wife, "Welp, I guess I'll be leaving her here."  Much laughter.  Maybe too much from her…

Here are mini-reviews of the rest I've seen:

Meh.  The production value was amazing, but this trend of telling the bad guy's tale and turning them into the true secret hero is a tough one to pull off.   The musical (but definitely NOT the book) Wicked was/is fantastic and does pull it off, but its saving grace is that it's really the story of two people (thanks to a pushy Kristin Chenoweth who by sheer will enhanced the story of the good witch enough that she changed the overall intended plot) and that makes it all the richer. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past
A nice diversion, and we don't get so bogged down in every mutant's back story, for a change.  You just get the time to think, "oh this one does that." The centerpiece scene where the mutant Quicksilver saves everyone by zipping around the room pushing bullets out of lethal trajectory and arranges our foes punch themselves while listening to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" is worth the watch alone (though you can see it on youtube if you don't want to do the whole movie).  [spoiler] The overall plot is practically identical to J.J. Abram's reboot Star Trek though.[end spoiler]

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I remain amazed that they make such a straight-arrow, patriotic (in the historical sense, not the current fucked up partisan one) character compelling and true to himself.   It dragged a little to me, but mostly fun was had.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The original set of movies is still so recent these movies just seem like an exercise in greed and lack of creativity.  [spoiler] The only striking part is when Gwen Stacy bounces off the floor with a sound that probably took the sound designer much tweaking to get just right.  Visually, it's perfect, the way her damaged body hangs in the web.  Again, probs a trip to youtube will save you the time if you don't wanna commit to the couple hours.[end spoiler]

I had a blast at this flick as the emotional and dramatic tension are perfectly calibrated to keep you from breathing correctly and munching popcorn.  Though, after the fact, only the droll robots stick to one's memory.  The auto-destruct gag is one of the best ever.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
I saw a lot of fanboy pleas that this movie be considered a contender for the best movie Oscar and not just in the animated feature category, therefore I was skeptical going in, even though I really liked the first one, which remains a favorite of my 9 year old daughter.  I'll be damned if it wasn't a grand time; one of the few sequels as good as the first.  The side-story of the teenaged girl's unbridled lust for the hunksicle bad boy was a hoot, all of her lines golden. [spoiler]However, the plot was a retread of the Lion King and Bambi, so while still good, not that original in the end.[end spoiler]

Edge of Tomorrow
…Tune in next week when Tom respawns from being a clone in Oblivion, only to pay the Ramis estate royalties for lifting the plot of Groundhog Day, and having to manage a slightly bitchier Andie MacDowell; and what about Aunt Martha?…    Still, it was a fun popcorn movie.  Some of the deaths were as funny as those in Groundhog Day.  You wonder if Tom got approval of the specific crunch sound made by his body when crushed.

Vying for the most unneeded remake with Spiderman, the same story with different actors.  And it removed the element that lent the most pathos to the original: this Robocop can remember his past.  See the original in the Director's Cut (or not - the original edit is a touch peppier).

The Lego Movie
I see why a lot of folks liked this flick, but I was mostly bored by it.  So was my young one.  The twist at the end was cute, though. 

The only interesting thing about this movie was the personality they gave Godzilla.  It would've been a decent short movie, say as a short before the main feature like Pixar does.  Perhaps we'll get a fan edit that cuts it down to that little slice of perfection.

22 Jump Street
Jonah Hill is a freaking genius and Channing Tatum is underrated as an actor because he's so damn hot.  If you loved the first one, like I did, you'll like this one a lot.  Don't deprive yourself of the credit sequence at the end; it's a masterpiece unto itself.

Jersey Boys
They should've employed a director with a bit more snap in his step.  Eastwood makes nice, lean flicks, but this one needed more pizzazz and less exposition.  An appropriate pace would've made this movie a classic.  It's still OK, but you'll be glancing at your watch/cell phone between the songs.

Sex Tape
A great premise that dissolves into a series of chase comedy/romcom clichés.  As though you can get back something once it hits the internet.  Ask all the actresses whose nekkid pics were hacked this year about that reality.

One of three ScarJo movies in a row where she transcends current physical reality to become something beyond (the other two being Her and Under the Skin).  It's a mildly fun action flick once you get past the preposterous "uses more than 10% of the brain" and that a chemical concoction could cause physical transcendence.  Youngsters should visit the 80s flick Altered States for a much better exploration of this territory. 

Dumb and Dumber To
Nowhere as good as the original but still worth your time if it's a cheap rental.  Like the last one, it's a series of comic set pieces that don't really interconnect.   It still gleefully blows past the "that was sick and wrong" barrier a couple times, so at least there's that. 

I've grown tired of dystopias, so I might have to disqualify myself on that regard alone.   This is The Hunger Games, Wool, A Boy and His Dog, and/or Elysium on a train.  If you dig those, you'll dig this.  I was entertained during, but again, enough with the dystopias. 


As mentioned at the top of the post, (scripted) TV shows have the most entertainment value anymore.  Personally I'm into The Blacklist and my daughter got me into Supernatural. 

Supernatural has a grand sense of humor and the pop culture references have not been done better elsewhere.  Also, they go "meta" a couple times, (the main characters complaining about the "meta" episodes, going third-level meta), which are laugh riots.  The musical put on by their teenage girl fanbase* is a classic, as far as I'm concerned. (And personally, I like it that the creators of the show don't shy away from Judeo/Christian concepts, like the new "biblical" movies about Noah and Moses.  Judas on a Vespa.)
*Which is massive.  Ask any teenage girl if she knows what a '67 Chevy Impala is, and you'll see her eyes light up, and the names "Sam" and "Dean" will surely come up.

James Spader just owns The Blacklist with his backhanded "Here's where I would keep a fuck, if I gave one" stance.  And then the stories are all damn good.  I don't know where they found this stable of writers, but they'd better keep them in hay and apples. 

I'm too provincial to enjoy the salty sexuality of Orange is the New Black; I would squirm with free-floating embarrassment in the adjoining room as my (adult) daughter and her best friend binged on it during fall break.  I could never get the timing right to make a run through the kitchen for a soda without encountering a screen-full of lesbian sex.  Oy.  The bleakness of the rest of it completes my alienation from the show.

I have several other shows I'm waiting to hit Netflix or Hulu. Halt and Catch Fire looks like it will be good (and it has The Pie Maker!).  I officially cut the cord this year when I moved, and now get my movies and TV shows through Roku, the library, or a digital antenna. I've also found several full-length movies on Youtube, as well.  I can find better uses for that $1,450 a year that cable/dish companies charge for even the cheapest packages.  

Ain't this so true?  Statuses Netflix needs:

'Til next time!