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

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.
A parlor in an estate near Sheringham, Norfolk, UK, during a snowstorm in the Winter of 1910.

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


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)

Certain sound effects are provided by a Creative Commons - Attribution license by, or dedicated to the public domain by users of All other pre-recorded sound effects are provided by paid license.

  • "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.