Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best of 2011: China Mieville "Kraken"

Let's see... Cthulu, cults, conspiracies, the apocalypse... what's not to love?  With this novel, it feels like Mieville decided to set aside his usual opaque style for something resembling a more populist style.  This is an enormous amount of fun.

Best of 2011: Simon Reynolds "Retromania"

There's no doubt that this is the best book on music criticism released in 2011.  It has generated a flurry of internet discussion, & the discussion now seems to be spilling over from the world of music to more widespread cultural critique.

In a nutshell, Reynolds argues that popular music has become addicted to rehashing its own history.  This is preventing development of any really new movements.  In the process, he takes us back to the 60s & works his way forwards chronicling various retro fads & movements.

It's not often that I find music criticism to be so intellectually provocative.  Of course, most music criticism doesn't touch on concepts like "radical atemporality" or "hauntology".  There's a lot here to process, & I feel like I'm still chewing on these ideas, months after finishing the book.

A few quick takes:

  • The concept of "progress" is a huge assumption that he is making.  My initial thought is that it is a modern capitalist framing of music.  Traditional music doesn't have the same priviledged status for anything inherently new.  In the modern (post WWII) era, it seems that "new" is priviledged simply because that allows for more goods to be sold.
  • In the last 20 years, we have not seen a large social or cultural change that functions as a driving force.  Earlier historical periods were marked with a variety of these, that drove changes in music.  (For example, in the post WWII era large numbers of Southerners migrated to Northern industrial cities.  Traditional music responded by electrifying instruments in order to be heard in the crowded Northern bars.)
  • Current (post millenium) political & social situations seem to favor reactionary behavior.  As the War On Terror continues on, seemingly endlessly, & global economies stagnate, people seem more interested in the equivalent of comfort food.  They want to feel comfortable & safe.  In this case that means they turn to music of their childhood, or some other time perceived as simpler.

No Depression AOY Poll Ballot

Here's my ballot for this year's No Depression poll:

Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest
Chris Thile & Michael  Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open
Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
South Carolina Broadcasters – A Thousand Miles Away From Home
Jim Lauderdale – Reason & Rhyme
Zoe Muth – Starlight Hotel
Jesse Lege, Joel Savoy & The Cajun Country Revival – The Right Combination
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – The Holy Coming of the Storm
Meg Baird – Seasons on Earth
William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best of 2011: Marvel Essentials

OK, so I'm a little late to the party.  I finally got around to checking out this series in 2011.  In short, they're budget reprints of old comics.  The downside is that the paper is cheap newsprint (like how I remember the comics being printed back in the day), & the art is black & white only.  The upside is that you get 500 + pages of comics for about $17. 

Like the comics originally, the quality here varies widely.  But for the better runs of comics, it's a great deal -- the Avenger's "Celestial Madonna" storyline, the X-Men's "Dark Phoenix" or "God Loves Man Kills". 

"A Carol Christmas" (2003)

Why did I watch this?  Optimistically, I was hoping for a "so bad it's good" experience like "Santa Buddies".  First, there's the gender switch trope which is a pretty solid signifier of low quality.  Second, the cast:  Tori Spelling  & William Shatner get top billing.  I didn't even know about Gary Coleman!

I have to say that my modest hopes were dashed.  This was easily the worst version of "A Christmas Carol" that I've seen.  The acting was even worse than I expected.  I'd never actually seen Tori Spelling, but she was actually below my (low) expectations.  It was interesting to see someone get outacted by Gary Coleman.  That's really not something that you see every day.

There were also a couple of changes to the actual story that did have some impact.  Scrooge (Spelling/Carol) was manipulated into her Scrooginess by her aunt (Marley).  If Scrooge is deprived of agency, then the ultimate redemption of Scrooge is not as powerful.  Scrooge's brother-in-law doesn't dislike her (there's normally tension between the family members, as everyone else talks down Scrooge, but the nephew sticks up for him).

Santa Buddies (2009)

Sometimes things become so bad that they go around the scale & become good again.  That's the case with this movie.  Don't let the fact that there are some recognizable names (Christopher Lloyd, Tom Bosley, Tim Conway, George Wendt) fool you. 

This movie is firing on all cylinders:  a convoluted Christmas mythology, a nonsensical plot, bad CGI.  Oh yeah -- there's even a musical number!

What continually amazes me is that every scene is a disaster!  You would think that somehow, there would be at least one scene that is just flat (I'm not even holding out hope for a good scene).  But no!  Each & every scene is laughably terrible!

It's rapidly on it's way to becoming a perennial holiday favorite in our household.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Best of 2011: John Statz "Jackson Hole"

This is a great song.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to find a video that was really the same as the album version.  I think that the sweetened harmonies etc really add a lot to the track.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Hornsby Hypothesis

Nick Hornby's High Fidelity  is a snapshot of Generation X in the early 1990s.  The characters filter the world through media choices --  a person's worth can be determined by their preferences in music/film/TV/etc.  Simply put, affiliation = identity.  We are not our actions, our morality, or any other ineffable quality.  We simply are what we like.

Recently I read the Popless series at the AV Club.  A reviewer decided to forgo new music for a year, while only listening to his existing music collection.  Then he discussed his reaction to the music that he already owned.  I was struck by the insight that this game into the identity of the writer.  Over time his likes, dislikes, memories, etc... formed a picture of the writer.

With this in mind, I decided to start my own exploration of my musical past.  I will be randomly listening to music that I have accumulated, & evaluating it.  Hopefully over time, it will become an interesting insight into my own world.  This project can be followed at Dr Burgoo's Cabinet of Curiosities.