Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How do we make it matter?

I've been really disgusted by the revelations of the Torture Report, but resisting the idea of simply sharing selections from the large number of pieces I've seen about it, many of them excerpting damning chunks. There's too many. This quote, from an anonymous reader at Andrew Sullivan's blog, gets as close to a summation of my feelings as anything I've seen:
"I wish I had some insightful analysis that I could offer, but all I thought as I read of these atrocities was, 'It won’t matter. It won’t matter. It won’t matter.'

The report won’t even cause a ripple in this country’s view of torture. If anything, it’s liable to strengthen the position that any and everything is justified, because look at what they did and continue to do to us. To feel outraged, you must view the torture in a vacuum, free of its associations with September 11. And I guarantee you that will NEVER happen. The apologists won’t let it happen, and certainly those who conducted and authorized it will never let it happen.

Add to that the political view that it was released by Democrats in their waning days of Senate power, on the day the Republicans had hoped to grab headlines by humiliating Gruber in front of Congress, and there you have it. The report is at once groundbreaking and astounding – and completely irrelevant if not outright damaging to its own intents and purposes.

I have a feeling we’re about to see, over the next few days (if the story even lasts that long, which in itself is telling), just how far we’ve fallen from our lofty heights. Osama bin Laden must be smiling from his watery grave."
Between this and the continued revelation of police execution with impunity (no matter how little a citizen-killing cop's version of things is undermined by recorded evidence, or how unnecessary pulling the trigger can seem) the news is that we as a society have empowered those who have sworn to protect us to do all manner of callous, inhumane, heinous things to that end. To the point where the actions taken really do damage whatever claims to moral high ground we hope to have, or the constituent community relationships within our borders.

How do we make this stuff matter? How do we make this report matter, or these deaths (which is NOT just any one guy) matter?

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Annotated Beukemix, 2014

I want to try something new this year. Instead of writing up one great big post with notes on each of the songs that grabbed me anew this year, I'm going to serialize it, with one new chunk of the post each workday (and probably the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving). This way I can write in coffee-break-sized chunks instead of blocking off lunchtimes.

Liner notes!

1. Heart of Gold - Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band
I'm not a big Neil Young guy, but when I heard the opening riff of this great soul cover, I knew exactly what song it was going to be. I first put Charles Bradley on my radar a couple years ago, and I look forward to hearing more. His version feels much more "lived in" and painful than Neil Young's ever did to me (I should note that I don't actually dislike Neil Young). (HS)
'I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to "Heart of Gold." I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I'd say, "Shit, that's me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me."' - Bob Dylan
2. Step - Vampire Weekend
Melissa and I heard this one while waiting in a long line of cars at the MSP Humphrey Terminal last December. This was the first time Vampire Weekend had really grabbed me. I love how dense the lyrics are in this song, and now that I'm digging into it, I find that it's full of sideways references to other bands, songs, etc. For someone who geeks out on hyperlink songs like "American Pie," this is catnip. One theory, which I like, is that the "girls" referenced in the song are musical tastes. Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my [music]. That titular line, and the melody of the chorus, are taken from a Souls of Mischief song called "Step To My Girl," which is also good. Maybe that's why Melissa dug the song when we first heard it -- it's got underground Oakland hip-hop in its DNA.

3. Asleep at the Wheel - Band of Skulls
Heavy, riffy, hard blues rock from an English trio. Not a lot going on under the hood, but I don't really pay much attention to lyrics anyway. The reviews I've read like to compare it to later White Stripes or, as Allmusic puts it, Muse playing a Black Keys song (or vice versa). But I'm reminded more of Sabbath.

4. Savion Glover - P.O.S.
P.O.S. spits the anxieties of the late Bush era into a restless and efficient track from Doomtree's 2007 album. Great hook, great wordplay and lyrical pivots. I also love the metaphor of the last line and the title as regards the architects of the Global War On Terror (GWOT, TM) and the invasion of Iraq. (TC)

5. Chain My Name - POLIÇA
A track I really liked the sound of from local synthpop outfit POLIÇA. Looking at the lyrics just now, it reads like it's about a crumbling marriage. I just enjoyed that it sounded like 16-bit video game music. (TC)

6. Far From Any Road - The Handsome Family
I didn't think the finale really stuck the landing, but True Detective's deep sense of dread really stuck with me, and I found myself more affected after watching any given episode of the HBO miniseries than anything I'd seen in a long time. The opening credits music by the Handsome Family contributes greatly to the foreboding (helped further by the haunting visuals -- I don't know why, but I found the oil industry landscapes to be some of the visually creepiest things in the show). I know I'm not the only one who thought the opening verse referenced "the poisoned Creole soul," in reference to the story's Louisiana setting, but it's "the poison creosote," in keeping with the desert imagery of the rest of the lyrics. I wonder if the second season, set in California, will keep the song. (Bonus: check out the opening from this season of Key & Peele.) (HS)

7. Turn-of-the-Century Recycling Blues - And The Professors
I just found out yesterday that the singer & songwriter here is Adam Levy, formerly of the Honeydogs, who joined us for Show X back in January and with whom I had a good chat about his love of film composer John Barry. I've sent him some questions about this song, so I might have more to say soon, but for now: My first reaction to this song was just how pleasant and sunny the arrangement was. But then the competing undercurrents of good-old-days nostalgia and the ugliness that lurks throughout history shone through in the lyrics. Very Randy Newmanesque, in both music & lyrics. It's almost like a far more musically interesting, less on-the-nose We Didn't Start the Fire for the 60 years preceding that song's time span. It brought to mind things like Ragtime and Bioshock Infinite and the idea that the happy times that the winners of history remember fondly have some blood stains on them. (TC)

8. Hey, Girl - Sonny Knight & The Lakers
Just... damn. I want to learn the horn part. I love the overall sense of propulsion, and the way the downward horn figure continues for several more notes than expected going into the bridge, and the drum break that seems to be a hat tip to the Amen Brother break, and Sonny's enthusiastic talking bit, and the shout-outs to the soloists, and that the trumpet player bobbles the first couple notes coming out of the bridge, and all of it. (HS, TC)

9. GMF - John Grant
First heard this on The Current. The radio version's chorus refers to "The Greatest Living Person". Something about the syllabic scan of that line suggested to me the song was edited. When I heard the title was GMF, I knew I was right. I love songs where the protagonist is the jerk (the antihero trope is far less played out in music than it is in prestige TV dramas). Paired with lush production, I'm sold.

10. Busy Earnin' - Jungle
High-energy music that makes me happy. The dancing in the video is terrific, too. (HS, HC)

11. Water Fountain - Tune-Yards
One of the things I enjoy about Merrill Garbus' songs is that she generally seems like she's having a blast, even if, as in this case, the lyrics seem to be referencing world issues of starvation and water access. There's something wickedly subversive of couching issues that heavy in music that starts out sounding like a double dutch chant and ends up at one point with a freakout that would be at home on the Katamari Damacy soundtrack. (HC)

12. Pushin' Against A Stone - Valerie June
Joe Bozic alerted me to this song's existence last spring, and I really dug it. It's by far the most r&b/rock-oriented song on June's album with the same title, which displays pretty diverse musical interests and influences. When she came to town for Wits with Kumail Nanjiani in June, she played more country-oriented stuff, which is less my bag but better showcased her voice. She also helped Kumail and Mike and the rest of the crew explain how to buy a donkey (you can totally hear me laughing in this video).

13. Childhood's End - Pink Floyd
Imagine with me: you come to love an insanely popular band late, in early adulthood. Then, one day, you realize that within the range of their albums you consider your favorites, they released a half-instrumental soundtrack album you've never bothered to check out before. And, upon listening, it fits much of the character of the early end of that range of albums you love. That happened to me. My favorite Pink Floyd is that which includes Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Rick Wright all as significant creative contributors. You need Gilmour's spaciness and Waters' deep, bitter sense of the world to be in balance, and you need both Wright's consummate musicality and Gilmour's guitar solos. I do, anyway.

14. Mission Statement - Weird Al Yankovic
As a nerd who was a kid any time later than 1980, I am predisposed to have enjoyed Weird Al at some time in my life. I've always admired his attention to detail in parody, even if I think his lyrics lean more towards silly than incisive humor (incidentally, this is why I've usually found that his polka medleys of pop hits have tended to age best among his songs). But this track is a rare Weird Al song (in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash, particularly "Carry On" and "Suite Judy Blue Eyes") that I'd actually call satirical.

15. Joke About Jamaica - The Hold Steady
I didn't love Craig Finn's voice when I first heard The Hold Steady, but his style forces attention on the lyrics (rare for me). Each HS song is an empathetic work of short fiction, a character study presented with the sounds of the world's best bar band. The protagonist here is a woman facing the fading of her youth, and looking back on the years that she was hot shit on the scene. The song is also full (including the title) of references to Zeppelin songs, which certainly got my attention. (TC, sort of)

16. Restless Leg - Har Mar Superstar
I've written before that the first time I heard this song I thought it was a Robinson Caruso Organization track that if somehow missed. I hope James Rone takes this as a compliment, but the songwriting and instrumentation sounds so much like that project. Even the keyboard sounds like Andy Crowley often did in the RCO. The song is bouncy and fun. No horns, but nobody's perfect. (TC, sort of)

17. Lazy Wonderland - Broken Bells
"Holding on for Life" was my favorite new song of 2013, so it was going to be hard for the rest of After the Disco to live up to that promise. It was hard, but this beautiful, dark song about love and — madness, I guess? — was another high point. Even though it's from a minor key to a major (instead of major-to-major*), the chord resolution at the end can't but remind me of the end of "With a Little Help From My Friends" (and Oasis' "She's Electric," which stole the same ending).

18. There Is - The Dells
I spent some time this year trying to fill in the gaps of the long-running Beukema Brothers Oldies Download Project. In the process of researching the old Time/Life "Rock & Roll Era" tapes our parents had, I came across this great track. I have no idea if I ever heard it back when KOOL 108 was an oldies station, but it's a terrific sound that reminds me of the things I love about the Four Tops. (HS)

19. Let Me Down Easy - Paolo Nutini
Here's another one Joe Bozic hipped me to, from Scottish R&B singer Nutini. Even though it's built around a sample of American Bettye LaVette, there's something unmistakable about the sound that marks it as being a UK production. Something about the particular way the organ is used, or the trip-hoppiness of the beat. I'm probably making this up. Anyway, it's a smooth little soul song. (HS)

20. New Dorp, New York - SBTRKT ft. Ezra Koenig
I was first struck by, and liked, the deep and somewhat dark weirdness of this track featuring lyrics and vocals by Vampire Weekend frontman Koenig. Turns out the title refers to a neighborhood in Staten Island. And of course the "Empire" and "Rock" in the chorus are buildings as well as metaphors. Though it now feels less inscrutable, I don't pretend to get the extent of the seeming socioeconomic implications of the song's lyrics. But it does remain pleasantly dark, and weird, and toe-tapping.

21. Bad Dream (The Theme) - Nick Thorburn
I'm pleased that this short tune happens to have timed out to be posted on a Thursday, which for the past 12 weeks has been the release days for each new episode of Serial. For that time, this music has been the bookends for Sarah Koenig's exploration of Hae Min Lee's murder and Adnan Syed's conviction. Appropriately, it suggests curiosity with a backdrop of menace, playing these tones against each other. And for the last couple of months, I've been walking around with the "dink dink dink dink" stuck in my head.

22. Hey Jude - Wilson Pickett
Every Thanksgiving, The Current programs a "time machine weekend," where each hour features music from a single year, with the years shuffled throughout the weekend. I wish they did this every weekend. Anyway, this year I heard this great cover of the Beatles, featuring Duane Allman on guitar. (HS)

And that's it! See you next year.

Key and final score:
HS - horn section - 7 - a rare year without a majority
TC - Twin Cities artists - 4 + 1 x 1/2 = 5
HC - hand claps - 1 - poor showing

*Major Major Major Major

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gentlemen, I Have Reason To Believe One Of Us Is The Thing!



Joe Bozic, Nels Lennes, and I have written and produced a show for the 2014 Twin Cities Horror Festival: "Gentlemen, I Have Reason To Believe One Of Us Is The Thing." What follows, in lieu of a printed program, is a set of credits and production notes for the show.

Gorilla Sandwich Productions presents
Gentlemen! I Have Reason to Believe One of Us is The Thing!
  • which is a 2014 parlor farce directed by Joe Bozic, written by Fred Beukema, Joe Bozic and Nels Lennes,
  • based on a 2012 remark by Troy Zimmerman,
  • based on the 1982 motion picture The Thing by John Carpenter, written by Bill Lancaster,
  • remaking the 1951 motion picture The Thing From Another World by Christian Nyby but allegedly secretly by Howard Hawks, written by Charles Lederer,
  • based on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell, Jr.
SETTING
A parlor in an estate near Sheringham, Norfolk, UK, during a snowstorm in the Winter of 1910.

CAST
Nels Lennes as Ernest Shackleton, an explorer
Jake Scott as Nikola Tesla, an engineer
Jen Scott as Marie Curie, a physicist
Joe Bozic as Wilbur Wright, an aviation pioneer
Dan Jaquette as Orville Wright, a bicycle shop co-owner
Fred Beukema as Grigori Rasputin, a mystic
Dan Hetzel as Buffalo Bill Cody, a showman
Sam Baker Harris as Annie Oakley, a sharpshooter
Levi Weinhagen as Harry Houdini, an escapist
David Beukema as Daniel Pamberchot, a butler

 

MUSIC CREDITS
Morricone, Ennio: Selections from the original motion picture score of The Thing (1982)
Bartók, Béla: Concerto for Orchestra, I. Introduzione. Andante non troppo – Allegro vivace (1943)
Stravinsky, Igor: The Firebird Ballet Suite for Orchestra, 8. The Infernal Dance of King Kashchei (1945)

SOUND EFFECTS CREDITS
Certain sound effects are provided by a Creative Commons - Attribution license by http://www.freesfx.co.uk, or dedicated to the public domain by users of http://www.freesound.org/. All other pre-recorded sound effects are provided by paid license.

PRODUCTION NOTES
  • "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." - H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu
  • Great thanks to Troy Zimmerman, who initially identified "The Thing" as one of the great whodunits, which got this whole show started.
  • Special thanks for Andy Kraft for his help with the creature effects. 
  • Thanks to Ellen Jaquette for script supervising as we came down to the wire!
  • Some of the books we read while we wrote this show include, of course, the original novella "Who Goes There," by John W. Campbell, Jr., which was the basis for the 1951 Nyby and especially the 1982 Carpenter film. We also read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, which provided a great sense of the times. And we enjoyed the ambiance of The Romance of polar exploration: interesting descriptions of Arctic and Antarctic adventure from the earliest time to the voyage of the Discovery (190?) by G. Firth Scott.
  • The 2011 prequel to the 1982 film is ok, but has no reason to exist.
  • The 1951 movie is also ok, but overrated.  I dunno. It loses most of the tension of secret identity that made the novella great.
  • We know Curie was actually Polish.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Annotated Beukemix, 2013

Liner notes!

1. While You Wait for the Others - Grizzly Bear ft. Michael McDonald
Already put the original version on my 2009 mix, but one morning the Current's morning show played this one as an example of something the band should do more of to garner Grammy voter goodwill. It took me most of the song to believe it wasn't a prank. It's not. It is, however, amazing.

2. Nobody Can - Deltron 3030 ft. Aaron Bruno
I feel lucky in a dumb way that I got into Deltron so late; I only had to wait 8 years for another album, instead of 13. The songs on the new album are great (unlike on the debut, the skits are terrible), and this is a great example. I want to dive into the extensive making-of material on YouTube to see if it's got some info about Del's particular sci-fi background. Thanks to Lacey, I got to see them live in October, which was a lot of fun. Dan the Automator definitely strikes me as the extrovert of the collaboration.

3. Pelican - The Maccabees
The video seems pretty dumb. Recommend listening in a background browser tab.

4. I Got You (At the End of the Century) - Wilco
This is a new re-recording (seemingly unavailable for linking) of the song for the "This is Forty" soundtrack. I will tolerate bluegrass in my rock if it's Wilco.

5. Little Numbers - BOY
There's something quaint about a song that uses knowledge of a telephone number to symbolize the excitement of a new relationship. I mean, the last time I was in one, I memorized Melissa's number pronto, even though I did already have a cell phone and it was somewhat unnecessary. Who knows what the kids are doing today with their hula hoops and fax machines. Get off my lawn. Anyway, it's a nice song that I thought was Feist the first time I heard it.

6. Animals - Muse
I really haven't made the effort with Muse, though I love Knights of Cydonia. This track suggests I really should. It's got a 5/4 time signature, a guitar in David Gilmour mode, and even shares its name with Pink Floyd's underrated masterpiece album. Pure Fredbait.

7. Thrift Shop - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz Look, the hook is terrific and the song is a lot of fun. Based on their SNL performance, I'm pretty convinced that Ryan Lewis is actually Ryan Howard from The Office. [I don't buy the argument that Macklemore is somehow making fun of dressing in thrift store clothes. Based on the rest of the album, if there's one thing he's not lacking, it's sincerity; I think he's genuinely celebrating thrifty cultivation of a unique personal style. The idea that the song is somehow at the expense of those who cannot afford not to shop at thift shops suggests that thrift shops are only intended to be for poor people.]

8. She Cries Your Name - Beth Orton
Missed this one back in its day, and when I heard it this summer the song's half-decade of origin was apparent: only the mid-90s produced alt-rock singer songwriters with acoustic guitar, upright bass, a hip-hoppish drumbeat and electronic piano flourishes. If she were male and ended every sentence with a superfluous "-ah," I'd think it was a lost Soul Coughing cut.

9. Spectrum - Florence + The Machine
Downloaded this song back to back with the Beth Orton, and when I listened to them on a drive one evening, the transition between sort of faded into nothingness, like they were two adjacent movements of a larger work. Apart, I like both songs. Together, I love them. Also: I like to think Orton was referring to Florence crying your name, and now Florence is suggesting you return the favor.

10. Shuggie - Foxygen
A somewhat silly little suite of a pop song, with an odd keyboard break in the middle that somehow reminds me of Toe Jam and Earl.

11. The Bear and the Maiden Fair - The Hold Steady
Watching Game of Thrones, it feels like there are only two songs in all of Westeros. The show introduced "The Rains of Castamere" in the second season, and explained it in detail midway through the third, so that once it became important to the plot, you'd know to be alarmed that you were hearing it. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" carries less baggage; it's the "Piano Man" or "Sweet Caroline" of the fictional world, the song everybody sings together when they get drunk. The Hold Steady were a great choice to flesh it out, and they make it sound like a Hold Steady song, especially with the talking bit in the bridge. On the show this recording is introduced at one of the more hilariously brutal cut-to-blacks I've seen on TV.

12. Oh! You Pretty Things - David Bowie
Max got super into Bowie's "Changes" this year (other song obsessions: "C is for Cookie," Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," "Folsom Prison Blues"), so I spent a lot of time listening to Hunky Dory. Always liked this song, but it hooked me anew under increased scrutiny. The video link is a nice live version from the BBC in '72 that I'm pretty sure is Bowie doing karaoke to the instrumental track from the album.

13. Singers and the Endless Song - Iron & Wine
If I'd known Iron & Wine sometimes got beyond the folky songwriter business and messed around with obscure metaphor, deep bass lines, organ, and horn sections, I'd have been paying attention way sooner.

14. Prisoner - Har Mar Superstar ft. Fabrizio Moretti
Damn. I want the Robinson Caruso Organization to still exist so we can play this song. First time I heard it, I wondered if James Rone had secretly taken the project to the big time without the rest of us. Incidentally, apparently Fabrizio Moretti is the drummer from The Strokes.

15. Crazy - Petula Clark
This one comes from my brother, who I thank for bringing it to my attention. Yes, this is 80-year-old Petula Clark, of "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep in the Subway" fame, kicking ass on Gnarls Barkley's 2006 summer jam. Between that version, the Spaghetti Western score it samples, and this cover, the song has now been on my mix three times.

16. Black - Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi ft. Norah Jones
I liked the song when it closed out the 4th season of Breaking Bad, and finally got the album it came from for my birthday. As much as the orchestration is part of my appreciation of the song and the Spaghetti Western style, this simple version with just Luppi, Jones and Danger Mouse in a room is very cool as well.

17. Royals - Lorde
Seems like more and more the tastes of the Top 40 are overlapping with those of The Current's programmers. I jotted this song down during a morning commute a couple months before it was suddenly ubiquitous on the web and hit #1 (bookended by Miley Cyrus, a strong counterexample to the trend). Having now seen some live recordings of Lorde, I find her mannerisms while she sings really distracting. But that doesn't detract from how catchy and atmospheric this song is.

18. Givin' 'Em What They Love - Janelle Monáe ft. Prince
Had "Q.U.E.E.N." in the mix until I finally got "Electric Lady" this fall, and this song kicked my butt. I love Monáe's sci-fi world building, and the new album made me want to dig more into The Archandroid, which I liked well enough, and her first EP, which I haven't heard. Here are a couple of good pieces about her: one two. That second, from Alyssa Rosenberg, highlights one of my favorite things about Monáe - her sci-fi world building. I really, really want an RPG from Todd Howard's Bethesda team (Fallout 3, Skyrim) set in Janelle Monáe's Metropolis.

19. Bus Passes and Happy Meals - Lizzo
Lizzo is based in Minneapolis though she hails from Detroit via Houston. She cites Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot as major inspirations, and this track (no link available) shows that latter influence plainly. This sounds in some ways like a lost Elliot track, with Cliff Rhymes doing his best Timbaland impression early on (though adding more vocally than I think Timbaland ever did). Anyway, it's great, and I look forward to hearing more.

20. Holding On for Life - Broken Bells
My favorite song of the year. Between Deltron, Janelle Monáe and this video, it's a great year for sci-fi in music. But even before I saw this video, I was imagining the establishing shots of 2019 Los Angeles from Blade Runner when I heard the smooth instrumental bridge. The chorus sounds like a Bee Gees song -- I mean that here as a compliment. [For those keeping score at home, this makes three songs with Danger Mouse writing credits this year.]

21. Shelter Song - Temples
Sounds like a good late period British Invasion song, until the last two notes of the guitar hook. Those last two notes! This song is all about those last two notes.

I had an unusual number of songs that just missed the cut this year. They include:
Mama Told Me - Kelly Rowland ft. Big Boi;
Pay the Price - Deltron 3030;
1x1x1 - Cloud Cult; Congratulation - MGMT;
Clint Eastwood - Trey Anastasio;
(You Will) Set the World on Fire - David Bowie;
Tusk - Fleetwood Mac;
Sacrilege - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs;
Sad Nile - The Whitefield Brothers;
Skeletons - Stevie Wonder;
The Rains of Castamere - The National;
Q.U.E.E.N. - Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu (one of my favorite videos of the year);
Genius - Inara George;
Sleeping Ute - Grizzly Bear;
Line of Fire - Junip;
That's It! - The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (thanks, Joe Bozic, for this one); and
Antiphon - Midlake, which was bumped off by Temples at the last minute.

This was the tenth Beukemix I've done in this year-retrospective format, and I always enjoy sharing songs that caught my ear. If you have any songs you think I might like based on all these self-indulgent posts, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Annotated Beukemix 2012, belatedly

Here are liner notes for this last year's mix! Better late than never, I suppose, and I gotta get this out of the way as I finish up the 2013 mix.


1. Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day - Stevie Wonder
A Wonder song I was unfamiliar with, instantly liked. This song fits into a genre that was new in 2012: songs I'd love to have been able to play as part of the Robinson Caruso Organization. The RCO played its last gig at our trobonist's wedding in March, but every now and then I hear a song that would be right in our wheelhouse in terms of style and instrumentation.

2. Heartaches And Pain - Charles Bradley
Another song I want to play the trumpet part for. Like Sharon Jones, Bradley is one of the throwback R&B singers who's still knocking out amazing late 60s/early 70s style songs decades later.

3. Nightcall - Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Ridiculous and fantastic 80s soundtrack throwback from the opening credits of "Drive," following by far the best scene in that film, the tense robbery getaway drive through a downtown LA evening.

4. Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye ft. Kimbra
I know, ok. But despite being run into the ground by top 40 radio, this is a really-well crafted pop song, and a rare example of an unreliable narrator in current pop music: listen to Kimbra's response in the back half, and it becomes apparent that Gotye's protagonist is full of shit. Also, xylophone.

5. DoYaThing - Gorillaz ft. Andre3000 & James Murphy
You got Outkast in my Gorillaz. Something about the wordless lines in James Murphy's choruses reminds me of the song Jabba the Hutt's band plays (Lapti Nek) in the original version of Return of the Jedi.

6. Truth - Alexander The only pop song I know of with a bass clarinet solo. FYI, Alexander [Ebert] is the lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This was featured at the end of "Box Cutter," the 4th season premiere of Breaking Bad.

7. To Love Somebody - Nina Simone
Heard this in "I Love You, Philip Morris," the decent Jim Carrey / Ewan McGregor vehicle. Much better than the original.

8. The Police & The Private - Metric
I'd heard a bit of Metric before Ta-Nehisi Coates' enthusiasm really spurred me to pay more attention when he linked to an interesting live version of this one on his blog. The restless cymbal and noodling keyboard lick throughout sold me on the band.

9. The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen
First heard it in the opening scene of "Donnie Darko" years ago. Noticed it with more enthusiasm during my seemingly annual Rock Band 3 kick. The opening guitar line and echoing piano figures creep me out in a good way.

10. Surgeon - St. Vincent
Liked this song on the radio, though my first impression was that it was another song swiping the melody of "You Only Live Twice." St. Vincent's AV Club interview about the song was interesting: the titular line comes from Marilyn Monroe's diary, which referred to acting teacher (/Hyman Roth) Lee Strasberg as the "best, finest surgeon to come cut me open."

11. Night & Day - Hot Chip
A goofily menacing dance pop tune with a goofily menacing dance pop video, the style of which reminds me somehow of The Handmaid's Tale. You know, without all the forced birth.

12. Stop the Press - Brother Ali
I had the privilege of improvising scenes to go with Brother Ali's stories in Show X last year. Around the same time, I heard this on the radio during one of Max's lunch times (Max enjoyed dancing to it). It's an autobiographical rhyme about the previous few years of Ali's life, and the crap that's gone down while his career blew up.

13. Till the End of the Day - The Kinks
I read someone recently saying that although they love every Kinks song they know, they wouldn't consider the Kinks a favorite band. Let's let the Kinks into our hearts, people. Wes Anderson's been doing too much of the Kinks-loving heavy lifting.

14. For Tomorrow - Blur
Damon Albarn makes another appearance with a song brought to my attention by an AV Club piece about "Songs we want to live inside." Claire Zulkey picked this one for its romantic optimism in a cold, gray world.

15. Crystal Blue Persuasion - Tommy James & The Shondells
That Vince Gilligan and his Breaking Bad crew managed to hold off on using this on-the-nose musical cue until their last mid-season-finale is a pretty impressive show of restraint. The montage they used it in was great, but also made me notice the song's greatness. I tend to lump the Shondells with The Association and The Turtles as popular 60s bands who I don't think get enough credit for their musical excellence.

16. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later - Ben Folds Five
Having been mixed on the last few Ben Folds solo albums, I was happy that the band's return sounded like it could have come out 2 years after 1999's "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner," instead of 13.

17. The Horror - RJD2
Someone (Huge Theater tech Josh Kuehn, I think) included this in the pre-show music for "Creature Feature," the improved monster movie, which was in its 9th year in 2012. Apt. Lot of creepy songs on this year's mix. In my mind the guys in the white masks at the end of the video are a bunch of off-season Edgar Allen Poe toasters.

18. Weep Themselves to Sleep - Jack White
My favorite song off of White's first solo album.

19. Tell Me A Tale - Michael Kiwanuka
I love it when songs play with time signature, and this one keeps a steady 4/4 beat throughout, but the emphasis in the verses sounds like a compound 3/8-5/8 signature. So I'll call this the Brahms' 4th Symphony of 2010s soul songs.

20. Americanarama - Hollerado
Kid in the Hall Dave Foley did a "Theft of the Dial" segment on the Current in November, with lots of interesting tidbits: Foley realized he needed to get divorced when he heard the Barenaked Ladies' song "Break Your Heart," and Aimee Mann's Oscar-nominated "Save Me" was written about him. But this song, the video of which stars Foley as a take on American Apparel's sleazebag founder Dov Charney, is way more fun.


Coming soon to this space: 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before the decade is out

It's a bad workman blames his tools, but I want to go on record: the commonly-available contemporary pumpkin carving tools are worthless pieces of crap.

Go to Walgreens or Target or some such, and you'll find kits like these from Pumpkin Masters (right). They typically come with a pulp scraper, a plastic "drill", and one or two serrated carving knives. These have slightly more cutting power than a sheet of tin foil.

I may not be a structural engineer,* but common sense suggests a 1/4" x 1/16" x 2 1/2" steel blade will buckle under the compressive load required to puncture the shell of a pumpkin. This theory is borne out by lab tests:


Ah, you say, that's why they give you the "drill"! You push that in, and make that hole the starting point for the knife to saw from. If that is true, the drill needs work, too. Mine bent and yielded at the handle the first time I stabbed the shell. And even just sawing without poking, the knife continued to deform unless I held it by the blade to shorten its unbraced length.

My pet theory is that Pumpkin Masters know that if people are able to reuse their pumpkin knives year after year, they're out of business. So they sell $4 kits that, other than the scoop (I have three now), cannot possibly survive more than a couple of pumpkins. Somehow they've cornered the retail market, and have a captive clientele.

Ridiculously, they also offer a power saw. When you load the batteries into the handle, it really emphasizes the flimsiness of the blade. When you flip the switch, the metal feebly flutters at the end of the grip. I believe mine crumpled like tinsel under atmospheric pressure as soon as I took it out of the package.


Dammit, it's the year 2013, and this is America. How have we not nailed this? We had a terrific pumpkin cutter in the late 80s. Why have we regressed?

(I miss these things. These were great. My family had two, but they went missing years back.)

These are extraordinary times, and we face an extraordinary challenge. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in pumpkin carving achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth!


* I am.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Toddler Video Clearinghouse

I've finally uploaded a bunch of videos of Max from my phone to YouTube. Here they all are, for those among you who are interested in videos of Max being funny. Be forewarned that a couple of these are for serious Max fans only, as not a lot happens. I don't know why I'm apologizing. Enjoy.

1. Max and the Ho-Di-Ho Hat (previously posted on Facebook)

2. Max plays in the snow

3. Maisy makes a goal

4. Swinging with Nana Debbie

5. Advice for 9-month-old cousin Lily

6. Here's an old one I found on my computer, from the Summer of '11, when Max was about 7 months old.