Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fargo Season 2 as a Pan-Coen Fever Dream

Season two of FX's "Fargo" series premiered this week, and so far, I'm really enjoying its mix of dark, dry humor and affection for its setting and characters, musical excellence, and a new cinematographical boldness featuring lots of split-screen. And, as a fan of the Coen Brothers' filmography as a whole, I love seeing the little references and thematic echoes from their films with which show runner/writer Noah Hawley has seasoned his show.

I'm going to use this post to collect the references I've noticed. If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Whole Season:
  • The whole series, of course, borrows the title, Minnesota/Dakotas setting, genre (bad plans or a lack of plans blow up into desperate, bloody fiasco, while stoic cops chase down the perpetrators), and tone of the namesake 1996 movie.
  • Like that film, both seasons claim (facetiously) to be based on true stories, and include the same disclaimer regarding names having been changed.
  • Via Season One, the series has a plot element that suggests a shared narrative universe: the ice scraper and buried money suitcase from the film.
Episode 1: "Waiting For Dutch" (10/12/15)
Episode 2: "Before the Law" (10/19/15)
  • "Also, [Floyd Gerhardt], 'chinaman' is not the preferred nomenclature."
  • I swear there's a scene in a Coen movie where a dog happily eats human remains. Cannot recall.
  • The typewriter salesman's half of the conversation into the phone could have been taken word-for-word out of the mouth of Jerry Lundegaard in the movie.
  • It's early yet, but Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) seems to fit into a long tradition of powerful killer characters in the Coen's filmography. Frequently portrayed as an unstoppable evil force, they are sometimes, but not always, also quite talkative. See: Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona, Visser in Blood Simple (also: Lorne Malvo in the first season of the TV series).
  • Meat grinder : this episode :: wood chipper : the movie.
  • Across the street from the butcher shop in Luverne is a "Mike Zoss Pharmacy." A Mike Zoss Pharmacy also appears in No Country for Old Men, in the scene where Chigurh steals supplies to tend to his wounds. The Coens' production company is also named "Mike Zoss Productions," all are named after a real Twin Cities pharmacy where the brothers hung out as kids. 
  • Added 10/28 - Floyd is in good with "Carter B. and the Solkirk crew." Carter Burwell has long been the Coens' go-to composer, and he composed the score to the movie Fargo, which sometimes stylistically inspires, and is sometimes directly quoted, on this show.
  • Added 11/18 - Lou's conversation with Hank about their respective tours of duty, and the latter's belief that the Vietnam Vets "brought the war home," accounting for his perception of an increase in senseless violence, echoes Sheriff Bell's conversation with his Uncle Ellis in No Country for Old Men about the changing times and his feeling "over-matched."
  • Added 11/18 - the Japanese-language funk song "Yama Yama" in the opening credits is from a project called Yamasuki by French musician Daniel Vangarde (father of one half of Daft Punk). Another song from this project was used over the closing credits of the 2014 film "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter," a dramatization of the urban legend in which a Japanese office worker died in northern MN while she was trying to find the briefcase full of money from the movie Fargo.
Episode 4: "Fear and Trembling" (11/2/15)
  • Lou tells the Blumquists that they have no idea what's coming, again echoing Sheriff Bell from No Country, trying to warn Carla Jean of the danger she's in.
  • The end credits song is a cover of one that Ed (Holly Hunter) sings as a lullaby in Raising Arizona.
  • The framing of the doctor and the Solversons in their scene together is reminiscent of Coen scenes involving a meeting with an authority behind a desk, notably the funeral home in Lebowski and Rabbi Marshak in A Serious Man. The doctor also appears to share a taste in eyewear with Jeffrey Lebowski (the pillar of community, not The Dude) in that film.
  • That same Lebowski's haranguing of The Dude, telling him "Your revolution is over! ... The bums lost!" is put a bit more gently by Mike Milligan, talking about the 70s as the hangover of the 60s.
  • The framing of the hotel hallways are pure Barton Fink
  • Joe Bulo wonders whether The Gerhardt boys will, like the Dude, "abide"? (The Dodd does not abide!)
  • When Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers shoot Otto's nurse, there's a burst of down from her coat, like from Walt Gustafson's in Fargo.
Episode 5: "The Gift of the Magi" (11/9/15)
  • Bruce Campbell, who appears as Ronald Reagan, has been a repeat player in small-to-near-undetectable roles for the Coens (Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers).
  • Not sure if this version of Reagan's City on a Hill speech is word-for-word, but it reminded me of the contextual use of George HW Bush's "line in the sand" comments in Lebowski
  • Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man seeks to live as the titular phrase, including family, religion, and integrity in his definition. Mike Milligan seems to define "a serious person" to Simone Gerhardt as a person who gives him useful intelligence against her family's interests.
  • Dutch admits to Lou that the film from which he's drawing inspiration was merely "a boxing picture." Barton Fink is hired to write "a wrestling picture" (could be a pip!).
  • Jeff Tweedy of Wilco covers Jose Feliciano's "Let's Find Each Other Tonight," which Feliciano sang in Fargo. (See this MPR piece on the music of Season Two for some fun insights!)
Episode 6: "Rhinoceros" (11/16/15)
  • Lou: "
    I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone

    Read more at:
    I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone

    Read more at:
    I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone

    Read more at:
    I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone

    Read more at:
    I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone."
    Donnie: "Who was in pajamas, Walter?"
  • Lou seems to define A Serious Man in his conversation to Karl as being a man with serious intention to use his gun.
  • End credit music: a cover by Blitzen Trapper of "Man of Constant Sorrow," made famous by O Brother Where Art Thou?
Episode 7: "Did you do this? No, you did it!" (11/23/15)
  • Floyd talks about her father-in-law's generation of organized crime with its "tommy-gun bloodbaths."
  • If Ed Blomquist is a sleeper agent for KC, Hank will cut off his own toe.
  • Mike Milligan refers to Floyd as the materfamilias.
  • He also presages The Stranger from Lebowski: "Sometimes... there's a man."
  • The scene of Bear taking Symone into the woods is almost pure Miller's Crossing, from the circumstances, to the bare tree trunks, to the victim pleading desperately for their life (fellow Fargo fan Josh Carson notes that "You don't have to do this" was a line of Carla Jean's in No Country when Anton Chigurh comes to call, under very different emotional circumstances). [There really are not a lot of great Miller's Crossing clips on the web.] 
  • The Pearl Hotel's hallway remains very Finkian.
  • The episode really wants us to think that The Undertaker is this season's equivalent of Anton Chigurh, or Raising Arizona's Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. He's... not. Hanzee fills that role more successfully.
  •  Three covers of past Coen musical selections this episode: "Danny Boy" from Miller's Crossing, "O Death" from O Brother, Where Art Thou, and "Condition" from The Big Lebowski. Will we get through this season without a cover of "Please, Mr. Kennedy"?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Setting the bar low: Cops and Men


There's an argument I saw highlighted last night on Twitter, put forth by folks who would defend the cop who assaulted a petulant girl who wouldn't leave her seat at Spring Valley High School the other day. Chris Hayes of MSNBC had asked a simple question:

Among the responses was this nonsense:

Apart from the fact that for a large portion of the population, compliance won't always protect you, this kind of logic is, in its own way, tacitly contemptuous of cops. The idea that cops are, like bears, some kind of wild, dangerous force that you have to go out of your way not to provoke in any way, takes a dim view of the expected cognitive abilities and situational awareness of cops. Sadly, many cops, including this fellow, seem determined to live down to these societal expectations. Was she being disrespectful? Sure. Was she being stubborn? Absolutely. But that in no way justified this sudden escalation of violence.

It reminds me of an argument I've heard made, especially by the Christian right, with respect to sexual assault. The idea is that being flirtatious or dressing provocatively, but then saying that no, you don't want to have sex, is like presenting a dog with a steak and expecting it not to eat it. Again, a pretty low opinion of men, here, that they have the self-control of a dog. (Of course, dogs are pretty smart, and can learn, apparently unlike these men.)

I think we can, and should, expect better of our civilization.

A couple of stray notes at the end here:
1. Heartbreaking to read that a white friend and bandmate of Corey Jones, the drummer killed in FL by a plainclothes officer in the middle of the night on an I95 offramp, had been with Jones at his vehicle for some time prior to the killing. He'd tried to help with the car, and went home while Jones talked to roadside assistance.
2. Remember: the so-called Ferguson Effect is a myth. Very disappointing to hear the FBI director invoking it, despite the lack of evidence.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Six -NO! EIGHT!- Economical Uses of Hand Claps in Pop Music

Pop music artists can create entire rhythmic frameworks, or complicated breaks, around the first percussion instrument we learn to play: the hand clap (apologies if you're that one weird kid who could play the guiro before she could walk). Memorable examples abound. Your Beatles. Your Spoons. Your Dixie Cups. Your Roses Royce. But some musicians have the courage of their convictions, and know when enough is enough. They deploy only a small group of claps, let them say what they need to say, and then get out. Today I celebrate a few of these, presented in reverse order of efficiency.

Steve Miller Band - Take The Money And Run: 2x5 = 10 claps
Never been a big SMB fan, but this is fun, as their songs go. "Texas" rhymes with "facts is" rhymes with "taxes." I guess.

David Bowie - Space Oddity: 4x2 = 8 claps
Added 6/10/15, 4:00PM
I am embarrassed this one didn't occur to me, as Bowie is a favorite of mine, and this one should have been obvious. Thanks to Donovan S. for pointing out my omission. Anyway, the four pairs of claps adorn the grounded, acoustic-guitar-led opening lines of the two matching instrumental bridges. The second of each pair marks the lift-off into the spacier, air-and-fuzz electric segments that follow.

The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays: 4x2 = 8 claps
Added 6/10/15, 4:00PM
Don't know why this one popped into my head now, other than listening to Space Oddity put the clapclap [pause] clapclap pattern in my brain, and my brain retrieved this. Two pairs of claps end two instrumental intro sections, leading into the first two verses. Serves the same function as the Bowie claps, but in reverse.

Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth: 3x2 = 6 claps
This song has become linked in the public consciousness with Vietnam-era protest, and its lyrics pretty well capture the memory of the 1960s as it's been trapped in amber by popular culture. Only CCR's Fortunate Son can rival FWIW for its ability to effect a shorthand for "America + Vietnam + late 60s." (It is apt, therefore, that both appear in the Vietnam sequences of Forrest Gump, the most successful popular 1960s shorthand culture.) Three sets of two claps punctuate the lines of the last verse, which could be about any movement of disenfranchised people protesting authority.

Here's the punchline: For What It's Worth wasn't about Vietnam at all, but was written in response to riots in Los Angeles, themselves a reaction to new curfew laws aimed at reducing late-night traffic in the vicinity of Whiskey a-Go-Go. It's to Stephen Stills' credit that he wrote the lyrics in a general enough way that they captured a spirit that was associated with an entire half-decade.

The Rembrandts - I'll Be There For You: 4 claps
It gives me no joy to bring up this song that was, for the summer of 1995, inescapable. But the Rembrandts, one of whom was the husband of a Friends co-creator, dropped in one iconic quartet of hand claps at the end of the first lyric. That's right, drunk people at the karaoke joint: four, not five. You're thinking "Take the Money and Run."

I read a rumor that the song was offered first to They Might Be Giants and REM. Given that the Rembrandts' sound kind of comes across as a watered-down version of one of these bands', I guess I could hear that, except that both of those bands trade in lyrical irony, metaphor and imagery, and this song is as saccharine-sincere as they come.

Feist - I Feel It All: 3 claps
It took watching the video for me to nail down how many claps are in the last verse of this one. The joyfulness of this song, about taking control of your own emotional destiny, easily could have supported a full complement of regular hand claps. Remarkable restraint on Feist's part.

Bill Withers - Use Me: 3 claps
Withers' fuzzed-out, funky masterpiece features one of the all time great bass/keyboard lines, and exactly three individual hand claps in the last verse, punctuating the "baby"s. I always liked when the Robinson Caruso Organization would play this, for two reasons: it meant a short break for the horn section in the middle of a long set, and I got to listen to this song. If you were at one of these shows, I was the guy in the back of the room with a glass of ice water, clapping three times.

Elvis Costello - Welcome to the Working Week: 2 claps
Less than a minute and a half long, packing in three verses, a bridge, and two and a half choruses. Costello kicked off his debut album with the epitome of rock & roll efficiency. Costello gives us a single pair of claps in the middle of the outro, as if to say "job's done."

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pluto: not a planet, still exciting

I was ten years old when Voyager 2 reached Neptune. It was a really big deal for me at the time. It was so cool to me that this was a simple, clear example of a small piece of human knowledge and understanding being expanded. Science can explore very complex and arcane ideas, but it can also seem as simple as "we didn't really know what this thing looked like; we threw a camera at it from a few billion miles away, and now we do." That there were new, easy-to-understand discoveries in things like planetary astronomy and dinosaur paleontology while I was a kid, hooked me completely.

The best photo of Neptune, and its moon Triton, as of 1988... (JPL/NASA)
...and what Voyager 2 showed us in August, 1989. (NASA)
And so, I am very excited that this year, on my birthday, the New Horizons probe will reach Pluto. Unlike some in my generation and the preceding one, I don't care that Pluto's not a planet. It just isn't. Calling Pluto a planet means calling a bunch of other little things that aren't planets, planets (basically, we can have eight planets, or 16-20, but 9 doesn't work). But that doesn't make the New Horizons mission any less exciting. Pluto is still major enough to have been called a planet for decades. It's still the tenth most massive thing orbiting the sun. And I am really curious what the thing looks like.

NASA's keeping the hype going with these images that New Horizons sent us the other day, showing Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. When these were taken, NH was further from Pluto (~120M mi) than the Earth is from the sun (93M mi). And it's going to close that gap in 6 1/2 months.

Charon orbiting Pluto, last week.
(NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

About the best photos we had of Pluto prior to New Horizons.
Pluto, of course, is not the only game in town. Nor is it the next biggest thing in the solar system after the planets and the seven largest moons. That honor goes to Eris, another dwarf planet, discovered in 2005 and the impetus (not Iapetus) for the Pluto-reclassification arglebargle. It's bigger than Pluto, but, like Pluto, has a big elliptical orbit that crosses Neptune's (in fact, it's much larger and more askew).

Caused less violence but more grade-schooler sadness than the apple its namesake tossed at the Greek goddesses.
Pluto also isn't the only dwarf planet in the press this week. While New Horizons zips along, the Dawn probe approaches Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. It's the only dwarf planet in the belt, and — get this — it was discovered in 1801 and considered a planet for about 40 years, along with asteroid neighbors Vesta, Juno, and Pallas. Anyway, NASA released some new photos of Ceres that Dawn took on Wednesday, and while Ceres maybe doesn't capture my imagination like the more recent planetary reject, it is pretty cool. Between these missions and the Mars rovers, it's a pretty exciting time for planetary astronomy.

Ceres. Pluto's mother-in-law, if you're into mythology. Gotta feel bad for Juno that the asteroid that achieved hydrostatic equilibrium and therefore dwarf planet status was the one named after her little sister. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)
What will Dawn find on Ceres?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Car Talk Puzzler

I'm having a car problem that feels the same size and shape as a Car Talk question, but with no opportunities to ask Tom (RIP) and Ray, I've decided to bring it to the hive mind.

I have a 2005 Camry with standard equipment. I'm down to one key -- the others have gone missing over the years, though I suspect one is still in my house. I do not have keyless entry or those RFID chips in the keys that verify your key when you try to start the car. Just flat metal cut to a shape. About a year and a half ago, my key started to have some trouble unlocking the passenger door. A little hitch at first, then you'd really have to waggle it to get the lock to turn, then nothing. I thought it was something with the lock, that I should get it serviced. But when a service place told me it'd cost on the order of $90 to even diagnose, I decided I could live with unlocking from the driver's side only.

I came to recognize that the problem was not with the lock but with the key. Part of this was because while the key couldn't unlock the passenger door, it had the same problem in locking the driver side door. Incidentally, both of these tasks require you to turn the key counter clockwise. That doesn't make as much sense if it's a problem with the lock, but a metal key's sharp edges, and its peaks and valleys, abused over time by years of metal-on-metal friction (as well as occasional off-label use as an ad hoc box cutter), could get worn down and no longer align the tumblers properly. More recently, in the last couple of weeks, I started having problems unlocking the driver's door and the trunk. My positions of laziness and cheapness were no longer tenable.

You can't just copy a worn key without getting a worn copy. So I looked into getting a worn key fixed, and called the dealer. Walser Toyota, where I bought the thing nine years ago, told me that if it's a plain metal key, they can re-code a new key that would essentially restore its factory pointiness and sharpness. They'll do it, for about $5 a copy, if you show them your title and ID. (That price is only good for plain old mechanical keys. If it's a chipped key, it's $68 a copy, and more if you have a built-in remote entry fob. I miss keyless entry, but this is a pretty great feature of low-tech car security.)

So they made me some copies. Their long edges are all sharper than the original, which you'd expect since the cross-section of a blank key will always be nice and rectangular. I was surprised, though, that the teeth of the new keys seem just as rounded-off as the original. Anyway, here's what I've ended up with:
  • KEY 0 (or, if you prefer, KEY PRIME) - the last surviving original. Unlocks driver, locks passenger, unlocks trunk, starts car. Exterior lock performance is hinky, as described above.
  • KEY A - new copy. Locks & unlocks both doors and trunk, starts car. Turns the locks more easily than I think any key ever has. Locks the trunk so it can't be popped from inside the cabin, which I don't think I've ever tried. The King of Keys and Key of Kings.
  • KEY B - new copy. I think I got this one to unlock the driver door once. Does nothing else. Worse than the original.
  • KEY C - new copy. Worthless garbage. Might as well be for another car, for all it operates on this one.
To look at them, Keys A through C seem identical. After I discovered their surprisingly diverse ability levels, I went back to Walser. They were stymied, but wondered if it was a problem with the locks, and sprayed in some rust reducing agent to take a stab at it. They say if that doesn't do it (it didn't), I should come back sometime. But the locks obviously aren't the problem, right? If it were, one of the keys they made me would not have been the One Key to Rule Them All, and I'd be having problems with all of them, right?

So, dear people who might know more about cars than I do, what now? Was Walser giving me crappy copies of my old key, instead of grinding a new one to the factory code? If so, why is one so much better at its job? And what do I do now? Take it to a different Toyota dealer? Call a locksmith? In short, what the hell?

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