January 2, 2007

2007 Open Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:44 PM

A new year calls for a new divination from the iPod oracle. Last year's reading predicted the encouraging outcome of The Futureheads' "Decent Days And Nights", which is a reasonably accurate description of 2006 (and the rest of the lyrics arguably apply, but they're pretty vague).

Of course, I meant to do this on New Year's Day as I did last year, but didn't get to it until now. Nevertheless, it's worth doing it three days late to see what's in store for the remaining 362 days. As usual, the key is here.

  1. The Covering: Feist, "One Evening"
  2. The Crossing: Lindstrøm, "There's A Drink In My Bedroom And I Need A Hot Lady"
  3. The Crown: Zero 7, "Warm Sound"
  4. The Root: Spiritualized, "Stay With Me"
  5. The Past: I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, "According To Plan"
  6. The Future: The Hold Steady, "Crucifixion Cruise"
  7. The Questioner: Sufjan Stevens, "The Seer's Tower"
  8. The House: Zero 7, "In Time"
  9. The Inside: Ladytron, "Seventeen"
  10. The Outcome: Islands, "Rough Gem"

The Crossing is funny, but makes me wonder if my iPod is not being synced properly. The Outcome, in addition to being the best song on the list, starts out talking about worker exploitation in diamond mines, so I'm going to assume this is a prediction that I will take a postdoc job by the end of the year.

December 11, 2006

Chasing Butterflies [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:29 PM

The 2006 CD is ready! Distribution will begin this week in the Bay Area and continue through my holiday travels. I'll post the list of songs sometime this week. Meanwhile, we continue with our regularly scheduled reviews:

Deja Vu: This is a thriller with a touch of sci-fi, as Denzel Washington plays a detective investigating a terrorist attack with the help of a secret government time machine. It's not terribly profound, and one should not think too hard about the consistency of the time-travel logic, but it's a reasonably fun ride with plenty of explosions and shootouts and car chases. Rating: 3/5

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Ballad of the Broken Seas: Isobel Campbell, formerly of Belle & Sebastian, is not the person I'd look to for a great Americana record, seeing as she's Scottish. Nevertheless, that is what she's produced here in collaboration with grunge veteran Mark Lanegan. Campbell provides a soft and ghostly voice which is nicely complemented by Lanegan's deep growl. But both are nearly upstaged by the acoustic instrumentation, which is beautiful. Most of the tracks were written by Campbell; highlights are "Black Mountain", "Deus Ibi Est" (despite the bad pronunciation of the Latin lyrics), and "Honey Child What Can I Do?" which was my runner-up for the Best Romantic Song of 2006. My favorite song, however, is the dark "Revolver" which was written by Lanegan. There's also a cover of "Ramblin' Man" which is a bit cheesy, and is only saved by Campbell's whispered vocals. Several of these tracks are available on MySpace, and two of them are downloadable. (The version of "Revolver" here is different from the one on the album, however.) Rating: 4/5

December 6, 2006

Gazebo. Arcane Gazebo. [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

I meant to post this, like, a week ago. This may be the first December where my posting frequency goes up when I go on vacation. Anyway, I'm going to overuse the 4 rating again in this set of reviews.

Happy Feet: There is no truth whatsoever to the vicious rumor that I saw Happy Feet.

Casino Royale: By now, unless you've been living under a rock, you will have heard reports that this new start for the Bond franchise is really good. And I agree—not just a great Bond movie, but a great spy movie in general. It's gritty and a big step away from the excesses of the Pierce Brosnan films. Casino Royale is a sort of Bond origin-story, which begins with his earning the 007 rank, and shows how he developed into the character we're familiar with. Daniel Craig does a great job playing this unpolished Bond—later we were debating in lab the merits of the various Bond actors, and were only arguing over the #3 slot after an easy consensus on Connery and Craig as the two best. (The sentence "I like Timothy Dalton" was uttered without being intended as a Buffy reference.) Anyway, this is the best Bond film in years. My only complaint is that it is a bit too long, at nearly two and a half hours, but for most of this time it's pretty gripping. Rating: 4/5

Arrested Development - Season Three: On the other hand, my only complaint about this is that it's too short, because Fox canceled the show halfway through the season. This prompts the writers to step up the self-referential humor another notch, with embedded pleas to viewers and other networks to save the series, as well as digs at their competition (Desperate Housewives). Once again there are a few revelations that are foreshadowed in ways that make a second viewing rewarding. Although the second season is the show's peak, it ends on a very strong note. Rating: 4/5

The Decemberists: The Crane Wife: This could be the Decemberists' best album, at least the equal of Picaresque and maybe a little better. Although it doesn't have standout tracks on the level of "The Mariner's Revenge Song", it's much more coherent and has a more professional sound (maybe the result of their move to a major label). There are a couple of epic tracks: "The Island", which has some really excellent sections during its 12 minute extent, and "The Crane Wife 1 & 2", which is fairly good all the way through. I find that I prefer some of the shorter tracks, though: "O Valencia!" is especially good, as well as the final track "Sons and Daughters" which is a little brighter than the others. A stream of the former track, along with "Summersong", is available on their website. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread, Television

November 21, 2006

Pass the Hatchet [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:46 PM

My brain seems to have gone on vacation already, but I want to move the purity balls down the page. So here's another open thread. Tomorrow I'll be flying to Dallas for the holiday weekend, although historically that's an inauspicious day for visiting that particular city.

Borat: I went into this movie having read various reviews that all called it a brilliant satire on the dark side of American culture. Funny, yes; brilliant satire: not so much. He managed to get some frat boys to say some obnoxious things, and some Deep South types to make some homophobic remarks, but this does not seem like a difficult task. Even his interviews with political figures weren't really that political, just Borat acting bizarre. The movie consists of some disposable plot-related scenes interspersed with footage of Borat walking up to unsuspecting bystanders and generally being a jackass until he wears out their tolerance. Often this is pretty funny, but sometimes he's just being an asshole and you feel bad for his victims. Rating: 3/5

Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid Of You, And I Will Beat Your Ass: Despite the belligerent title, this is a pretty calm and peaceful album. I've been catching up on Yo La Tengo's earlier work through my '90s music project this year—they're now my fifth most-played band, partly because I really like them and partly because there's so much to listen to. This one is a good addition to the catalog, a long, meandering record with a variety of styles and a warm and comfortable feel. It opens with "Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" which runs for about ten minutes with few lyrics and mostly variations on a single theme, but is still interesting all the way through. This is followed by the upbeat, sunny, three-minute pop song "Beanbag Chair", which is one of my favorite tracks. (Both of those can be freely downloaded at the band's website.) My favorite song here is the beautifully assembled "Black Flowers". Rating: 3.5/5

...and if you're new to Yo La Tengo, the compilation Prisoners of Love is a good place to start. I picked it up for some tracks that were previously only on singles, and found the selection to be very good.

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

November 12, 2006

Belated Reviews [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:57 PM

Here's an attempt to take a chunk out of my review backlog, and post an open thread for the first time in a while. I've been seriously neglecting the blog lately, as part of a larger pattern of neglecting most of my personal projects in favor of general indolence. I have ambitions of getting back to posting regularly, but it will depend somewhat on inspiration, and the holidays usually disrupt posting anyway.

Lots of high ratings here, partly because I'm prioritizing items I've really liked recently.

The Prestige: A movie notable for casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, and for including the back of Josh's head in the trailer (reports that he appears in the film itself are unconfirmed). The plot itself is centered around two feuding stage magicians in Victorian England who make escalating attacks on each other both within and outside their respective shows. The film opens with Borden (Christian Bale) awaiting a death sentence for the murder of Angier (Hugh Jackman), and the bulk of the story is told in (sometimes nested) flashback. The movie is intricate and clever, but it also telegraphs its secrets so that the alert viewer will figure them out before the final reveal. Still, the ending was well-done even if it wasn't a surprise, and the film as a whole is nicely coherent and thematically dense. Rating: 4/5

Arrested Development - Season Two: Everything I said about the first season applies, only more so: it's even funnier and more cleverly written this time around. The show takes its mastery of the running joke to a new level, and its self-referential humor gets even denser. This show builds up jokes the way a dramatic series builds up the plot, so that it just gets funnier as the season progresses. Rating: 4.5/5

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria: I don't know how Tri-Ace does it but I find every one of their games extremely addictive. (Except for the original Star Ocean, and Radiata Stories, neither of which I've played.) This game is no exception and devoured approximately 100 hours of my free time over a relatively short span of weeks. It's a worthy successor to the brilliant Valkyrie Profile, maintaining the unique feel of the original while adding its own twists on the gameplay. The combat system in particular is much more sophisticated, and makes for very engaging battles. The side-scrolling dungeon exploration mode remains, but with a teleportation mechanic that allows for more complex (and sometimes maddening) puzzles. What it lacks compared to the original is mostly aesthetic: I found the music and art to be mostly inferior (although there are some expections); the beautiful 2D backdrops of Valkyrie Profile have been replaced by more realistic 3D settings (although, true to the profile concept, movement is still restricted to 2D). In certain locations, however, the graphics are truly spectacular and surpass any setting of the original. Overall, my aesthetic complaints are minor, and this is one of the best games I've played in a while. Rating: 4.5/5

Tad Williams: War of the Flowers: A rare standalone novel from Tad Williams, this one starts in familiar territory—present-day San Francisco—and then transports its slacker protagonist into the world of Faerie. Williams has imagined Faerie as having experienced societal and technological changes parallel to those in the human world; consequently his fairyland is an urbanized, deforested place in the midst of environmental and political crisis. An allegorical reading of the setting is straightforward; more interesting is the personal progress of the hero as learns how he fits in to this world. I found the prose a bit cumbersome, and the pace lags at times, but when it picks up it's quite good, and the plot takes some nice unexpected twists. Rating: 3.5/5

The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America: Although it's no secret that I like this album, my review of it is overdue. It's excellent, just a notch below last year's Separation Sunday (which was my pick for album of the year). This album is less like a story than its predecessor, with Craig Finn actually singing instead of just talking most of the time, and the songs relating individual vignettes rather than a single overarching narrative. The album starts out very strong with "Stuck Between Stations"; this and the next two songs are among the best on the record, along with "You Can Make Him Like You" and a surprise acoustic turn on "Citrus". ("Chips Ahoy!", which follows the first track, can be downloaded here.) The slower ballad "First Night" fell a bit flat, however, and I'm not wild about "Chillout Tent". Even with these weak moments, though, the Hold Steady have once again recorded one of the best albums of the year. Rating: 4.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Games, Movies, Music, Open Thread, Television

October 17, 2006

Between Stations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:16 PM

Hmm, maybe I should have bought tickets to see one of Yo La Tengo's shows this week as well, they've got three consecutive nights at the Fillmore. But that would give me no time to devote to Valkyrie Profile. Tonight I'll see the Hold Steady, almost exactly a year after the last time I saw them.

TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain: This album has been widely hailed as a breakthrough record for TV on the Radio, a substantial leap over their previous work. Basically, I agree with all of that, so I can outsource my review to the various glowing pieces that have appeared in music publications. The opening track, "I Was A Lover" is a bit weak, but is followed by "Hours" which is the first of a number of awesome songs. My other favorites are "A Method", "Dirtywhirl", and especially "Wolf Like Me" on which David Bowie makes an appearance (listen here). One of the best CDs of the year. Their live show is also spectacular; they were my favorite act from Coachella this year. Rating: 4.5/5

Live: Ladytron with CSS at the Fillmore: CSS is a band I'd heard of but not actually heard before last night. They are from Brazil and are nearly an all-girl group, with a 1:5 male/female ratio. The music was competent dance rock with a synth and usually three guitars (sometimes two guitars and two basses). Their singer was very bouncy and jumped into the crowd several times, quite the opposite of Ladytron's reserved demeanor. What I could make out of the lyrics sounded pretty amusing, as if Art Brut songs were rendered in broken English.

Ladytron started out with "High Rise", a perfect opening song but performed somewhat anemically. They didn't sound warmed up until they played "Evil" a couple songs later, but from there they were able to keep the energy level pretty high. When I saw them at Coachella the band members maintained an air of aloofness, but here they were a bit more relaxed and interactive, Helen Marnie even dancing around the stage during her singing parts. The bands I've seen at the Fillmore are always overwhelmed by the history and prestige of the venue, and Ladytron were clearly not immune to this.

The setlist was fairly straightforward, most of Witching Hour plus older singles. The only thing really out of left field was a cover of "Send Me A Postcard" by Shocking Blue, a perky song that one wouldn't ordinarily associate with Ladytron, but they did include the original on their compilation CD Softcore Jukebox. "Soft Power" was a highlight: the band had a collection of lights on stage which might have been primarily intended for this song, red arc lights and warm yellow bulbs suggestive of candlelight. The combination of the eerie lighting and the strength of the musical performance really brought out the witching hour aspect of the song, making it feel like an incantation drawing out magical energies. "Beauty*2" came close to this effect as well. They saved "Destroy Everything You Touch" for the very end and pulled out all the stops for a spectacular ending to a strong show. Rating: 4/5

Ladytron setlist below the fold:

Continue reading "Between Stations [Open Thread]"
Permalink | Tags: Concerts, Music, Open Thread

October 10, 2006

Unplanned Absences [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:48 PM

Remember when I used to update my blog? You may be wondering if I have been detained by the Bush administration, but in fact I have been distracted by things like science and Valkyrie Profile 2. However, I have once again been getting calls for an open thread, and I'd better start reviewing CDs if I'm going to get through my backlog before the end of the year. Also, I've been playing some video games lately:

Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Xenosaga series was originally meant to run six episodes, but this was overambitious and the sequence was truncated here. This meant that some threads had to be wrapped up hurriedly, and the plot picks up after skipping an entire episode's worth of developments. Fortunately the database from Episode I has reappeared and so the player can at least read about what happened; likewise, one character's backstory is presented mostly in database text where it might previously had been slated to occupy most of an episode. The main storyline is left to play out at double speed (by the standards of this saga, but perhaps normal speed for another console RPG).

As the spiritual successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga labors under certain expectations, especially in its last chapter. Both draw heavily from Gnosticism in their themes, and lay out the plot in a style appropriate to a mystery cult, where the player is in the dark about the true nature of the universe until it is made plain in a series of final revelations. Part of the genius of Xenogears was the way it drew together the threads of Christianity, Gnosticism, and Nietzsche—it was one of the most literate console RPGs ever—into a coherent plotline. (Especially appealing to my philosophical sensibilities was the way it ultimately deferred to a kind of scientific materialism.) Unfortunately, Xenosaga doesn't reach these heights, and in making the competing philosophies more explicit, it loses the coherence in the story. The major revelations near the end thus fall into two categories: the kind that the observant player figured out two episodes ago, and the kind that don't actually help the story make any more sense.

This is probably a consequence of the shortened scope of the project and the departure from Monolith Soft of major contributors to the narrative aspects of the game. It's a disappointment for those of us who came to the series in part because of the strength of it's predecessor's storyline. At a smaller scale things generally work better&dmash;several of the set pieces are very well executed, in particular the chilling weapons test scene that occurs early in the game.

But in some sense all these things are secondary considerations: this isn't a movie, it's a video game, and the actual gameplay is a lot of fun. The battle mechanics depart from the previous episodes somewhat (moving in the direction of Final Fantasy X) but maintain the same crystalline turn-based feel, with good strategic depth but less frustration. Meanwhile the mech battles now resemble a streamlined version of the Xenogears system, as big an improvement over the second episode's approach as that episode was over the first in this department. The dungeons are visually spectacular, satisfyingly intricate, and generally a joy to explore. The biggest disappointment was the lack of any bonus dungeons like the ones in the previous episode. On the strength of the gameplay I'm giving this a high rating even if the conclusion to the story wasn't to my satisfaction (and even if it's not the best dungeon crawler to come out in the last two months—it's hard to compete with tri-Ace in that department). Rating: 4/5

Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped: I assume the venerable noise-rock band needs no introduction. One doesn't generally have high expectations for 25-year-old bands, but they've put out a decent album here that's more accessible than much of their catalog. Their trademark fuzz, distortion, and atonal singing is certainly present but it's put into the service of some catchy tunes, especially "Incinerate" and "Rats". They might be well past their peak but they can still write some good songs. A stream of "Incinerate" seems to be available at Geffen Records. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Games, Music, Open Thread

September 28, 2006

Pirates Protest Procrastinated Post [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:36 PM

Pirates demanded a new open thread, so I will comply to avoid walking the plank. I have a bunch of CDs to review, but haven't figured out what to say about them. Here's the first one in the queue:

Ratatat: Classics: Ratatat is a band based on the notion that it would be awesome to make songs blending hip-hop beats, techno synth, and arena-rock guitar. Classics is a broader and more layered take on this concept than their self-titled debut album, and finds mixed success. Some of the more intricate songs, like "Lex", hold together well, but others seem to meander while passing by potentially great moments. One of the great things about their previous record was the way songs would focus on a single brilliant riff and spend three minutes examining it, turning it upside down and inside out. There's less of that here as they reach for a more complex sound. "Wildcat" and "Tropicana" can both be played at MySpace; both are decent with the latter being slightly better. The best song title on the CD is "Tacobel Canon", and the track itself is appropriately Baroque-sounding. Rating: 3/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Pirates

September 19, 2006

Hoist the Jolly Roger! [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:40 AM

Arrr, mateys! It be Talk Like A Pirate Day once again! Of the holidays celebrated here at Arrrcane Gazebo, few be more highly anticipated.

Though my lists of the year's best music won't appear until December, it is now time to announce the winner of the coveted Arrrcane Gazebo Pirate Song of the Year. And the winner is...

Pretty Girls Make Graves, "Selling the Wind"

I buy these winds
to venge my children and their ghosts
I stole their ships
and every castle from their coasts
Need no advice
nor approval from the queen
I live my life
forever hellcat of the seas

Last year's (unannounced) winner was, of course, The Decemberists' "The Mariner's Revenge Song".

Here be a comment thread fer ye scurvy dogs t' parley with each other.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Pirates

August 31, 2006

Uniformly good [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:43 PM

In which I review something from almost every media category (but I should read more books) and give them all the same rating. Maybe I should go to increments of 0.1 instead of 0.5, so I can make finer distinctions: I would rate Asobi Seksu's Citrus (reviewed last week) slightly higher than The Knife's Silent Shout (in this post) for example.

The Descent: A heartwarming British film in which six women forge strong bonds of friendship during a spelunking expedition. At least, that's what it looks like until monsters show up and start eating them. Hell yes. I mean, we've all been stuck in boring dramas where we wish it would turn into a monster movie and kill off the most annoying characters, and this movie actually does it. Except that it's not boring at all; one thing this film excels at is ratcheting up the tension well before the monsters show up, with a series of plausible but legitimately scary or shocking events leading up to the gory climax. The cave where most of the movie takes place is itself a source of much of this tension, filmed in a way that conveys the claustrophobia and disorientation of the spelunkers. The descent referred to in the title isn't just the literal descent into the cave but also the descent into madness of one of the characters, and this is paralleled in the increasing chaos and confusion as the caving party disintegrates. Overall, a very well-done horror movie. Rating: 4/5

Arrested Development - Season One: I kept hearing that this show was excellent, but didn't really know much about it. Josh was happy to educate me, and we fairly rapidly went through the first season's worth of episodes. The show is best watched in bursts of several 22-minute episodes at a time; it is very self-referential and excels at recurring jokes. Arrested Development centers around the Bluth family, most of whom have freeloaded off the wealthy patriarch George Sr., until (in the first episode) he is arrested for massive fraud. Most of the episodes have Michael Bluth, as the voice of responsibility and moderation, trying to rein in his flakier relatives. It's the quality of the writing that makes the show stand out; the dialogue is very funny on several levels, and a narrative voiceover (by Ron Howard) is used to create an ironic interplay between an omniscient observer and the very self-unaware characters. Rating: 4/5

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The portable Castlevania games have been improving incrementally since Circle of the Moon on the GBA, and Dawn of Sorrow is the latest iteration, a refinement of (and direct sequel to) Aria of Sorrow. As with its predecessors it is a side-scrolling dungeon crawl, and preserves Aria's mechanic of earning new abilities from defeated monsters. There are a few token uses of the DS's touch screen (admittedly, finishing off boss monsters by drawing a magic seal is especially satisfying) but otherwise the gameplay will be familiar to veterans of the series. This installment does an especially good job with an interesting dungeon layout, smooth control, and challenging but not frustrating difficulty. The free-fall boss battle is particularly inspired. Rating: 4/5

The Knife: Silent Shout: The Knife, mentioned in yesterday's post, has a new album out this year. Different in mood from "Heartbeats", it's a dark and ghostly record, perhaps another candidate for a Call of Cthulhu game soundtrack. Indeed, Josh and I listened to this in the car before and after seeing The Descent, and it was creepily appropriate to a claustrophobic horror movie. This one strikes a stronger emotional resonance than the similar atmosphere of Liars' Drum's Not Dead, and is also more danceable. Listen to "Like A Pen" and "Silent Shout" at their MySpace page; in further recent-post-synergy, the latter track appears to be a free download for Facebook members this week. Rating: 4/5

Live: Zero 7 with Jose Gonzalez at the Fillmore: Sure, I panned their latest album, but their earlier work is really good and I love going to the Fillmore. (I am ignoring Jessica's suggestion that I post an entry titled "I Went to Zero 7 with Three Hot Girls", but this might also have had something to do with it.) Jose Gonzalez's opening set was a mellow and competent performance on acoustic guitar; afterwards he did vocals for Zero 7 along with Sia Furler. (The band proper is just two British guys on synths, but here they had a backing band and the two vocalists. The lack of their other singers meant certain songs couldn't be played; "In the Waiting Line", which appeared on the Garden State soundtrack, was particularly missed.) Naturally much of the set was devoted to songs from The Garden, but there was a good fraction of older stuff as well so I can't complain too much. Sia seemed pretty drunk (or otherwise chemically enhanced) and her vocals were much more slurred than in the recordings, which detracted a bit. Fortunately they played a number of instrumental pieces, which tend to be my favorites out of Zero 7's catalog. It would have been nice to hear "Speed Dial No. 2", though. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Concerts, Games, Movies, Music, Open Thread, Television

August 23, 2006

Reptiles on an Aircraft [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:18 PM

It has come to my attention that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ladytron, and the Hold Steady are all playing San Francisco within days of each other in October. I will go to at least two of the three shows, and maybe all of them... (Architecture in Helsinki, opening for CYHSY, is actually the main draw for that show as far as I'm concerned.)

Snakes on a Plane: This movie delivers everything it promises: the reptiles, the aircraft, Samuel L. Jackson in glorious campy form. I saw it in Berkeley on opening night (not at midnight, however) with a pretty enthusiastic audience. As has been pointed out in comments, this is the proper way to see the movie. The film is well aware of its own ridiculousness and delights in providing implausible but gruesome snake attacks, overblown dialogue, and nods to the standard cliches of horror movies. All good for an evening of fun, but with little lasting value. As Samuel L. Jackson famously said, "It's not Gone with the Wind. It's not On the Waterfront. It's Snakes on a Plane!" Rating: 3.5/5

Asobi Seksu: Citrus: As I indicated last week, I've been enjoying this album of sweet-sounding noise pop. It's a bit of My Bloody Valentine, a bit of Yo La Tengo, and a bit of J-pop (the lead singer is a Japanese woman and the lyrics shift between Japanese and English). The whole album is solid and pleasant to listen to, but three tracks in particular stand out: "New Years" [download here], "Goodbye", and "Mizu Asobi". That last one is very catchy and always gets stuck in my head when I'm done listening to the CD. Now I just need to send the lyrics to Josh so he can tell me what she's saying. In addition to the link above they are on MySpace here. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

August 17, 2006

Snakes and Wolves [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:13 PM

Ah, finally some good new music. Let me recommend Asobi Seksu's album Citrus in advance of my full review, which will probably appear next week along with Snakes on a Plane. In other media news, I need to clear my schedule for the imminent release of Xenosaga Episode III.

Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming: Sunset Rubdown is the side project of Wolf Parade's frontman, and the voice is instantly recognizable, as well as some other instrumental similarities. The sound is more varied: a few tracks could pass as Wolf Parade songs, but most are a bit quirkier and less dense. True to its title, the record as a whole feels like a dreamscape, making slow and smooth transitions between different moods. There's an overall thread of sadness running through the songs but each one has a slightly different take on it. It's not really a CD you'll rock out to, but it's interesting enough that I keep coming back to it. The opening song, "Stadiums and Shrines II", is especially good and is conveniently available as a free download at the band's website. Wolf Parade fans especially should check this out. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

August 7, 2006

Climate Control [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:24 PM

Since I tagged archived posts for the past year, I've put the category listing in the sidebar under the monthly archives. I may tweak the formatting some. I'd also like to tag posts further back in the archive—at least as far as the beginning of 2005—but it may not happen immediately.

I guess it's been a while since I posted an open thread, partly due to not having much to review lately and partly due to pure negligence. I need to listen to some new CDs so that I can get back to my usual schedule of posting reviews. (The new Sunset Rubdown album is good on first listen; I'll probably review it next week.)

An Inconvenient Truth: I finally got around to seeing Berkeley's most popular date movie, in which Al Gore delivers a Powerpoint talk on global warming. I'm not someone who needs convincing at this point, but I was curious to see what he had to say. Maybe it's just that I've seen too many scientific Powerpoint talks, but I thought it was rather disorganized—it seemed to jump around between different topics without a clear direction. The film is interspersed with vignettes from Gore's life, to explain why he's taken up this particular issue; I thought these were mostly just distracting, but for a popular audience maybe it helps humanize the issue. Visually the film is sometimes very compelling (especially the section showing various major cities flooding as the sea level rises—there's a GMaps app where you can try this yourself) but sometimes a little too twee (the polar bear, the frog). Gore is optimistic that global warming can be solved through what seemed like relatively minor improvements in energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Maybe this kind of ending is necessary to convince people the problem can be solved at all, but I'm much more pessimistic. Rating: 2.5/5

Metroid Prime: Hunters: I'm catching up on all those DS games now that I can play them. Unlike the Gamecube predecessors in the Metroid Prime series, this installment is focused much more on deathmatch than exploration. In the single-player mode the various maps are often clearly just the deathmatch levels stitched together, and the layout is more straightforward than is typical for a Metroid game. Combat is faster and more dynamic than in earlier Prime games as well. There's a steep learning curve for the stylus/d-pad control scheme, but once I got used to it I was suprised at how well I could move and aim. The game's biggest flaw is the bosses: a game this combat-oriented should have appropriately interesting boss fights, but instead of coming up with eight different enemies it keeps repeating the same two with slightly different capabilities. Apart from this, the single-player game is pretty solid. Now I just need to round up some opponents for the multiplayer. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Games, Movies, Open Thread, Science, Website

July 18, 2006

Fixing the internets [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:16 PM

I'm going back through the archives and fixing internal links and images, as well as tagging old posts. This is proving to be a time-consuming process, but the category pages will gradually fill up. I also need to fix the archive templates so that they display the tags on each post, and set up the list of tags on the sidebar. Meanwhile, Google Reader continues to ignore me.

Zero 7: The Garden: I'm willing to defend Zero 7 against charges that they play glorified elevator music. Their previous album, When It Falls, may have been mellow and calming but was filled with interesting emotional undertones. Unfortunately, their new release doesn't measure up: while I'm not ready to consign them to the elevator yet, these songs really are fairly boring. Generally I warm up to new music over time, but this is one of those CDs that I find myself liking less every time I listen to it. The tracks that aren't merely forgettable are actually annoying. You can listen to samples at their website or a few full tracks at their MySpace page; "Seeing Things" is better than most, but skip "Pageant of the Bizarre". Or, just listen to the older tracks: "Somersault" from When It Falls is recommended. Rating: 2/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Website

July 12, 2006

Avast, scurvy dogs! [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:02 AM

I guess some comments are being posted anonymously even when the name is filled in? I've tweaked the template but I'm not sure if this solved the problem; I'm keeping an eye on it. Meanwhile, this blog now has a LiveJournal feed here.

It seems like it's been a slow period for new music lately (hence no music review this week), but the new TV on the Radio album is coming out soon. There's been a ridiculous amount of buzz about this album, but they were awesome enough at Coachella that the hype might be accurate.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: I put on my eyepatch and bandana Friday night and headed out for some good piratey escapism. Unfortunately about the first hour and a half of this movie were insufficiently interesting and I found my mind wandering back to the real world. Doubly unfortunately, as a result of the unfreezing process the guy directly behind me had no inner monologue and was having trouble controlling the volume of his voice, so we were regaled with an endless series of "UH-OH!" and "OH NO!" and laughter at inappropriate moments. What I really wanted to do was turn around and say "Arr, matey, still yer tongue or I'll cut it out and feed it to th' sharks" but somehow I restrained myself. Um, anyway, the extended action sequence at the end of the movie acheived an acceptable level of swashbucklery, so I wasn't entirely dissatisfied. And of course Johnny Depp is awesome. But the first movie was better. Rating: 3/5

Jonathan Lethem: Gun, With Occasional Music: (Thanks to Jolene for recommending this.) After seeing Brick I was ready for more noir in unusual settings, and this book delivered with a detective story in a near-future dystopian Oakland. The fun thing about a book set in the East Bay is that many of the locations are familiar, so when the protagonist visits the El Cerrito hills or 59th and Telegraph I can visualize it exactly. Except with Uplifted "evolved" animals walking around. Also, it is illegal to ask questions without a license, hence P.I. is "private inquisitor", and the government encourages the use of designer drugs to keep the population docile. The setting is obviously not intended to be a realistic possible future, but rather to instill a sense of confusion and alienation in the reader while fitting in with noir conventions. A very nice touch was that late in the narrative, a twist occurs which puts the detective in the same position as the reader with respect to the oddities of the future society. Any good noir story should have the narrator employ colorful and witty language, and Lethem is very good at this; I kept turning the pages looking for the next clever line as much as for the next plot twist. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Movies, Open Thread, Website

July 4, 2006

Highlights [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:48 PM

I saw the last two minutes of the Italy-Germany game, which turned out to be a very efficient use of my time.

In other news, the network outages plaguing this site may be easily fixable, but the database crashes are probably due to hardware limitations, and so I'm finally preparing to move the site to an external host. I'm aiming to have the new site up by Saturday, but these things always take longer than one expects. In the meantime, I'll still be posting at the usual address (assuming the server stays up).

Superman Returns: Bryan Singer continues his streak of solid superhero movies; while this one was not as good as Singer's excellent X-men installments, it's nevertheless a worthy successor to the Richard Donner Superman (which is heavily referenced). The film wisely ignores the third and fourth Superman movies (even if Superman III was underrated), and picks up after Superman II. Kal-El returns to Earth after a five-year interstellar hiatus, and tries to get back into the superhero business, while Lex Luthor pursues another large-scale real estate scheme. Kevin Spacey has fun as Luthor, who seems to be a bit of a crackpot. The movie does run a bit long at the end, spending too much time on the denouement, but until then the pacing is pretty good. I recommend watching the Donner version first and then trying to catch all the references. Also, look for product placement by Virgin Galactic. Rating: 3.5/5

The Futureheads: News and Tributes: I was a little disappointed by the new Futureheads record. While it's not a bad album, I didn't feel that there were any standout tracks like "Decent Days and Nights" or their cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" on the debut. The band also seems to have slowed down a bit, and (except for the aptly titled "Return of the Berserker") the record doesn't have the manic energy of its predecessor. It's not all bad News, though: I liked the tension underlying "Burnt"; "Back to the Sea" has an appealing chorus; and "Favours for Favours" is especially well-done. Rating: 3/5

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

June 27, 2006

Emigration [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:32 PM

This completes my backlog of books to review, so now I need to read some more. Fortunately, there are a number of intriguing suggestions left from the summer reading thread...

Cory Doctorow: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: I read Cory Doctorow pretty regularly on Boing Boing, but I hadn't tried his fiction before. This one looked appealingly surreal, with a protagonist whose parents are a mountain and a washing machine, so I picked it up. The plot is straightforward: Alan is trying to fit into society despite his bizarre origins, but is being stalked by his murderous, undead brother. This provides the motivation for a study of weirdness and dealing with outsider status that forms the larger theme of the book. (I have much more to say on this topic but I intend to put it in a separate post.) There are also a couple of subplots, one of them being a charming love story, and the other being an unnecessary geek-out involving free wi-fi in Toronto, during which the characters frequently seem to be talking in Cory Doctorow's Boing Boing voice. The main story was very entertaining, however, and led to some further thoughts which I'll hopefully get around to posting. I'll also mention that the book is available for free download in a variety of formats at Cory Doctorow's website. (I bought a physical copy, because like Alan I enjoy having actual books on my shelf.) Rating: 3.5/5

Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out Of This Country: This CD makes me want to dance. It's not remotely dance rock in the sense of, say, Ladytron—in fact it's indie pop from Glasgow, and that other Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian is a much more apt comparison—but I could definitely practice some of my recently-learned ballroom steps to a few of these songs. The cleverly-named "Tears for Affairs" is suitable for cha-cha, and "The False Contender" is a waltz. The album as a whole has a fun, light feel; although there are no truly spectacular tracks that beg to be put on repeat, it's a nice CD to play all the way through, and you'll be left with a calm feeling afterwards. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

June 20, 2006

Strongly recommended [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:25 PM

I spent the weekend with a mild cold, which still persists. The worst part isn't the physical symptoms, but the sense that my brain is fogged up, which led to an interesting series of careless mistakes in the lab yesterday. (Fortunately I didn't break anything.) On the other hand, my illness gave me a good excuse to spend the weekend with my new video game purchase.

New Super Mario Bros.: It's really good to have a new side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. game. Of course, the 3D installments Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are both outstanding games, but the 2D platformers have their own character that is revived in this DS edition. This was the game that sold me on the DS and so far it has not been a disappointment; it's a worthy addition to the series. Previous games managed either solid level design with some attendant repetitiveness (Super Mario World), or quirkiness but with an uneven feel (Super Mario Bros. 3). This game manages to find a happy medium in which the levels are distinctive but well-balanced. One aspect imported from the Super Mario 64-style is an appeal to my obsessive completist instinct: I haven't been able to leave a world without collecting all the star coins and opening secret exits. Fortunately these tasks are challenging enough to be interesting but not so much as to be frustrating. I'm now halfway through World 7 and some of the star coins are pretty deviously placed; it remains to be seen how much longer I make it before I give up on completeness and make a run for the end of the game. Rating: 4.5/5

Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood: I mentioned this book in an earlier entry, but I want to give it a proper review. One of the things I like about Murakami is his extensive use of surrealism, but this book was different in that there was no surrealism at all; in fact it is the most straightforward and accessible of all of his writings. Despite the lack of this distinctive element I enjoyed it as a beautifully written and resonant love story. Murakami's protagonists are typically introverts, but Toru Watanabe particularly so, and much of the book concerns his sense of isolation and his search for connection to others. So it's not hard to see why I identified with this character, although to a lesser extent I saw parts of myself in each of the characters. (In fact, it's tempting to say "If you want to understand me, read this book," but Toru and the others are also different from me in various respects, so it might just confuse the issue.) This book also made me realize how unfamiliar I am with The Beatles: the song that's referenced in the title was central (so naturally I went and listened to it) and many of their other songs are mentioned as well. It'll be a few years before I get to '60s music in my ongoing survey, but maybe I should remedy my ignorance sooner than that. Rating: 4/5

Islands: Return to the Sea: I was skeptical of this band with their insular-themed name and lyrics and calypso-tinged music, but this turns out to be one of the best albums so far this year. In fact the calypso elements combine with guitars (and strings and horns) to create terrific pop songs that are sometimes light-hearted and sometimes epic. The best songs come at the beginning: "Swans (Life after Death)", "Humans", and "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby" are all top-notch. and "Rough Gem" comes in just behind the first three in quality. After an instrumental track there's a slight departure in style with "Where There's A Will There's A Whalebone", which adds a dash of hip-hop with mixed results. "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" is beautiful, and "Volcanoes" is fun; the last couple of tracks after this aren't as exciting, but only because what came before was so good. This is a great album for these warm summer days; buy it and take it to the beach. Rating: 4.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Games, Music, Open Thread

June 14, 2006

Incarnations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:01 PM

First: Today's Dinosaur Comics strip is excellent.

I have several books to review but I'll do one per week to spread them out a bit.

John Burdett: Bangkok 8: I don't read a lot of mystery novels, so I'm trying to remember what led me to pick this one up. I think it was an Amazon recommendation. The novel is set in Bangkok's 8th precinct and revolves around a U.S. Marine who is killed by snakes that were planted in his car. (Snakes In A Car!) Ultimately I found the mystery aspect less compelling than the novel as a cultural study; the city of Bangkok is a rich and interesting setting, and the protagonist, a devout Buddhist working in a thoroughly corrupt police force, was a nice twist on the usual detective hero. This was a detective who saw everything in terms of Buddhist mysticism, detecting the past incarnations of the souls he encountered, and for much of the novel it's an open question whether he really has some supernatural insight or if this is just the way he sees the world. In the end this question is settled somewhat more definitively than some of the central plot points. Rating: 3.5/5

Ellen Allien & Apparat: Orchestra of Bubbles: This is some very good German techno, taut and ominous, evocative of alien landscapes or city lights viewed from far off. It's a fairly coherent album, good for playing all the way through late at night. "Metric" is one of the standout tracks. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Comics, Music, Open Thread

June 4, 2006

A noise in his head [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:23 AM

I'm off to Cabo San Lucas today, so here's an open thread. I'll be back Friday, but I expect to have some form of internet access at the hotel so I may check in here. My poolside reading list: Sheri S. Tepper, Grass (80% complete); Jon Burdett, Bangkok 8 (50% complete); Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood; Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. (I will also note that the bookstore I went to yesterday was very good at not having specific titles recommended in the summer reading thread, despite having other books by the same authors.) Double music review this week due to the absence of one last week.

Snow Patrol: Eyes Open: I was disappointed in this album on first listen—it's not as good as their previous full-length Final Straw, and doesn't have any track as good as "Run" or "Chocolate". But after hearing it a few more times I realized that it's still pretty good. Most of the songs are clean-sounding, heartfelt anthems, more in the style of "Run" than "Tiny Little Fractures". Occasionally this gets boring ("You Could Be Happy") but most of the time it works. "Set The Fire To The Third Bar" is one that worked better than most. Rating: 3.5/5

Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll: As I noted when I saw them at Coachella, this is a very funny band. Somewhere between the Hold Steady and Monty Python, the band features excellent rock instrumentation beneath lyrics half-sung and half-spoken with goofy sincerity by Eddie Argos. The opening track, "Formed a Band", declares, "Look at us! We formed a band!" and announces their intention to appear on Top of the Pops; this latter becomes something of a recurring theme. I can identify with the character in "My Little Brother" who has "just discovered rock and roll", and in "Good Weekend" the singer's glee at having a new girlfriend is infectious. ("I've seen her naked—twice!") It's tough to pick a favorite track here, but I might go with "18,000 Lira" which describes a group of inept bank robbers preparing for a heist. I'd heard the album was good when it was only available as an import, but I held off for the U.S. version which included three new tracks: among them, "Really Bad Weekend" is one of the best songs on the record. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread, Travel

May 23, 2006

Interlude [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:53 PM

I'm back from Pasadena, and will be in Berkeley for three whole days before making a quick trip to North Carolina (for a wedding). In the midst of trying to take useful data during this period I'll see about ensuring that this page does not completely empty out, starting with this standard open thread.

The Duke Spirit: Cuts Across The Land: The first of two Coachella-motivated CD purchases. (The second, Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock & Roll, will be reviewed here in a couple weeks.) The title track of this album, a terrific garage rock song with powerful vocals, is what got me interested in this band originally and I was hoping to find more like it on the album. The good news is that there are several: "Love Is An Unfamiliar Name", "Fades The Sun", and "Lion Rip" are highlights. This band is very good at strong, driving rock songs, but when they try to slow things down it doesn't work as well and yields the weaker tracks on the album. During the peak songs, though, this album comes close to what I was hoping for (but didn't find) with the latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs release. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Travel

May 14, 2006

More Noir [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:12 PM

Keep the book recommendations coming! I'm tempted to follow Kevin Drum (and several other bloggers) and read all the Hugo nominees. (I've already got two down.) Even better would be to get ahead of the curve and read one of next year's Hugo nominees, but that's a little harder to figure out. Meanwhile, all of the noir recommendations are especially timely given the movie I ended up seeing Friday night:

Brick: A detective noir film, complete with complicated plots, beautiful and mysterious women, and an investigator with a troubled past who gets beaten up a lot. The characters all talk and act like they're in a 1950's noir flick. There's a gimmick here, however, which is that the film is set at a high school with students as the principal characters. This could have come off as ridiculous, but the film does an excellent job with this juxtaposition, sometimes making it completely believable and seamless, and other times playing the contrast for laughs. Much like the best episodes of Buffy, the high school is used as a rich source of archetypes, and the noir setting works as a metaphor for the usual struggles of adolescence. All that aside, I love a good detective story, and the movie delivers in that department as well. Rating: 4/5

Calexico: Garden Ruin: I first encountered Calexico through their collaboration with Iron & Wine last year. In fact, their sound is something like Iron & Wine transplanted to the southwestern states. (I'm guessing the name of the band is a blend of "California" and "Mexico".) Calexico's latest album is a solid addition to their catalog, moving between a variety of styles—some songs sound more country, some have a more Mexican sound, and the last track "All Systems Red" has more of a straight rock sound. The album doesn't quite reach the heights of In the Reins, but it's a good listen. "Roka" wouldn't be out of place on a Robert Rodriguez soundtrack. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Movies, Music, Open Thread

May 8, 2006

The Part Where I Always Get Killed [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:09 PM

I wasn't going to buy a Nintendo DS, but the New Super Mario Bros. is making me seriously rethink that. Meanwhile, in music:

The Boy Least Likely To: The Best Party Ever: This is twee pop in a highly purified form, so sugary I suspect I'm getting cavities just by listening to it. There's a song called "Sleeping With A Gun Under My Pillow" and yet it sounds like something that could appear on Sesame Street. I do enjoy a certain amount of tweeness (see: Architecture in Helsinki) but this record is pushing the limits. On the other hand, the aforementioned "Sleeping With A Gun" is the only song that's actively annoying, and there are several really good tracks: "I See Spiders When I Close My Eyes" and "Hugging My Grudge" are both extremely likeable, and "I'm Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star" is fantastic. This latter song wins philosophical points for including the line, "I never would've got here if I'd followed my heart." Usually one is encouraged to follow one's heart, but for some of us these intuitions are really bad (especially when coupled with shyness) and can lead to a pretty dull existence. A much better strategy, as per the song, is to find some more adventurous and dynamic person to use as a guide until better intuitions develop. So let me thank those people to whose stars I've hitched my apple wagon over the years. As for the CD, it's very cutesy but generally enjoyable. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Games, Music, Open Thread

May 3, 2006

Still Recovering [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:08 PM

Late for obvious reasons. I think I am done with Coachella posts for the moment, but fellow party members Mason and Lemming have also blogged about it.

Built To Spill: You In Reverse: Built To Spill are pretty big in indie-rock, but I mostly know them through their (excellent) 1997 album Perfect From Now On. Their newest effort sounds somewhat different, sped-up and less epic. The propensity for long guitar solos remains, however. There's nothing wrong with this new style, and it works spectacularly well on the album's best track, "Conventional Wisdom". However, while the rest of the CD is a good listen it doesn't quite reach the heights of their earlier work. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

April 24, 2006

Spin echo [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:17 PM

I'll be going to Coachella this weekend, and I will definitely be blogging about it afterwards. I may try to do some liveblogging by phone barring technical problems.

Robert Charles Wilson: Spin: Next time Zifnab recommends a book I'm just going to clear my weekend schedule. This novel was nearly impossible to put down and I devoured it in two sittings over the last two days, mainly at the cost of sleep. The central premise is very compelling: an unknown entity enshrouds the Earth in a bubble that alters the flow of time inside, so that for every year that passes on Earth a hundred million years elapse outside. The efforts of human scientists to understand and work around this, and the reaction of society to the event and the threat of the expanding sun, were what kept me turning the pages. Unlike the last sci-fi novel I read, this one had thought through the science a little more carefully, and most of the issues that came to mind related to slowing down time on the Earth were addressed in the book. (I suspect there are some problems related to general relativity with the way the Spin worked, but I've not studied GR.) I also felt that the author had an astute political eye; depictions of societal development under the Spin were entirely plausible.

On the other hand, I didn't like the characters very much. I'm not sure they were meant to be likable—one of the recurring themes is the psychological stress imposed on the generation growing up under the Spin, and the Spin itself makes a good metaphor for the emotional difficulties of the protagonist. But the fact that I found him annoying meant that I didn't care very much about the more personal storylines, and preferred to read about the large-scale effects of the Spin and the central mysteries of the book. Fortunately, there was plenty of interest to be found there.

The book has some comments to make on sustainability, and even though the ending seems optimistic, it was only optimistic in the context of the fictional universe, whereas back in the real world we're still pretty much fucked when the planet runs out of resources. It's sobering to come away from the novel and realize that we may really be facing the end of the world in a few decades, albeit via resource exhaustion or global warming rather than an expanding sun. Rating: 4/5

Pretty Girls Make Graves: Élan Vital: Like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PGMG have calmed down a bit, but in this case it has led to their best album yet. Their tone has moved from angry to confident, while mostly preserving the dark elements of the music. I was unimpressed by "The Nocturnal House", which was released early and appears as the opening track, but it is followed by four excellent songs. "Pyrite Pedestal" is my favorite of this set and of the album, but labor anthem "Parade" is nearly as good. The second half of the disc (after an interlude) is not quite as strong as the first, but is notable for "Pictures of a Night Scene" and "Selling the Wind", the latter featuring an accordion and sufficiently piratey lyrics to be added to my Sept. 19 playlist. I feel like there's a bit of a fall-off in quality for the final two songs, but the initial quality level is very high indeed. Rating: 4.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

April 18, 2006

Quantification [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:58 PM

I've added the movies I've seen since January 1 to my Listal page. This didn't take long, since there are only four. (They've all been reviewed here, the latest one in this post.) I've also been keeping the music list updated. I'll fill in the other three categories at some point, but it's not a high priority item. I see that the ratings are now visible, but inexplicably scaled by a factor of two. I'm reserving the five-star rating for items that are extremely close to perfect; a few items in a given year should attain a 4.5 rating. 2.5 indicates neutrality. Hmm, maybe I should post these with the reviews on the blog. I'll try that this week.

Thank You For Smoking: An amusing movie that looks into the mind of a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, who seems to undertake the defense of cigarette manufacturers as much for the challenge as for the paycheck. As the movie progresses he puts his talents for debate and persuasion to myriad uses, and trains his son in the arts of oratory. Meanwhile, William H. Macy does a terrific job (as usual) playing a Vermont senator pushing anti-tobacco legislation. Sam Elliott has a small role as the original Marlboro Man. Also, Katie Holmes is hot. The movie is pretty funny throughout and, refreshingly, doesn't moralize. There are a couple strikes against it: the use of voice-over was excessive, and the eloquence of the younger Naylor was extremely hard to believe. But overall it was a fun movie. Rating: 3.5/5

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones: Karen O, the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, seems a lot calmer on this record. That's unfortunate, because the best part of Fever To Tell was the intensity and versatility of her vocals, and that's not nearly as prevalent on the latest release. As consolation, Nick Zinner's guitar takes a larger role, and it's pretty good. However, the album doesn't have nearly the punch that Fever To Tell did. I like "Gold Lion" and "Cheated Hearts", but "Dudley" is sort of annoying. It's my opinion that the band should wait until Karen O has more angst in her life before recording the next album. Rating: 3/5.

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

April 10, 2006

Brought to you by the letter L [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:33 AM

In order to clear out my music backlog, here are three CD reviews. The Ladytron CD actually doesn't come out until tomorrow. (In the age of the internets it is trivial to find leaked tracks pre-release, but I have this one legitimately, having picked it up at Popscene's release party on Thursday.)

Ladytron: Extended Play: This disc collects five remixes of tracks from Witching Hour, along with three new songs that appeared as b-sides on the U.K. singles. The remixed tracks are "High Rise", "Weekend", "Sugar", "Destroy Everything You Touch", and "Last One Standing". Most of these are interesting takes on the source material but lack the punch of the versions on Witching Hour. I could definitely dance to these mixes of "High Rise" and "Sugar", though. On the other hand, "Destroy Everyhing You Touch (Catholic Version)" is a minimalist approach with the melody being provided by an organ(!). Of the new tracks, "Tender Talons" is a quite good instrumental piece, "Nothing To Hide" isn't bad, but "Citadel" sounds like a filler track. Overall this will mostly be of interest to the dedicated Ladytron fan, but I definitely recommend "Tender Talons" if you're shopping for single tracks.

(There's also a DVD in this package, with videos for "Sugar" and "Destroy Everything You Touch", and a concert video. But I haven't watched it.)

Liars: Drum's Not Dead: I have found the soundtrack for my next Call of Cthulhu game. There's a kind of primitive and occult feel to this music, with its booming drums and haunting chants. One definitely feels an ambience that's appropriate for dark rituals under a full moon. On the other hand, while it really does a good job of constructing this atmosphere, it's a bit inaccessible and I don't really feel connected to it. Maybe I should try playing it louder, and at midnight.

Lilys: Everything Wrong Is Imaginary: This album gets bonus points right away for the title and for using Maoist propaganda as the cover art. The actual music is also very good, with a noise-pop sound that reminds me a bit of Yo La Tengo mood-wise. I've actually been really into noise pop lately so this album is well-timed. The first few songs are fairly easygoing, but it turns sinister on "Where The Night Goes" with terrific results. The following track, "The Night Sun Over San Juan", is vaguely annoying to me for some reason I can't pin down, but it's the only point where the album stumbles. The title track on the CD is probably my favorite, an instrumental piece that winds up the tension and then lets it spring out in an upbeat melody. The album then finishes up on a slightly melancholy note, with the final track "Scott Free" being another highlight. Overall, one of the strongest albums I've heard so far this year.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

April 4, 2006

Snakes on a CD [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:39 PM

I'm starting to develop a backlog of new music to review... maybe I'll do a double-feature next week.

Mogwai: Mr Beast: A decent Mogwai album that is overshadowed by one awesome track: "Glasgow Mega-Snake". If you like that track, you will also like... well, Pelican's album from last year (The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw). But the rest of Mr Beast doesn't quite measure up to this standard of huge crushing post-rock. There are a few other above-average songs: notably "Folk Death 95", and the last track, "We're No Here". The rest of the record is standard Mogwai fare, but nothing spectacular. I'll still try to see them at Coachella, though.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

March 27, 2006

Scary vs. gross [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:20 AM

It's spring break, but I don't have any vacation plans. I do have some travel lined up later on this spring: I bought my tickets for Coachella so I'll be seeing some of you there next month.

The Hills Have Eyes: This movie was so bad I'm just going to leave V for Vendetta on the sidebar. Normally I like horror flicks, but this one seemed unclear on the concept. Specifically, the film confuses "scary" with "gross", and so we get a lot of gore and ugly mutants but not a lot of suspense. Instead of being frightening the experience was merely unpleasant, and it wasn't even the most disgusting thing I'd seen all week (David Bowie's eyeball hanging out of its socket being the clear winner there). The protagonists are dumb even by horror movie standards—Roger Ebert writes pretty much his entire review on how dumb they are—and some of them are sufficiently annoying that I was rooting for the mutants within ten minutes or so. Some critics have suggested that the movie is an allegory for the Iraq war. Such a film would have been much more interesting; in reality the movie drags out a few political stereotypes but doesn't sign on to an agenda or pursue anything as sophisticated as an allegory.

Charles Stross:Iron Sunrise: Here's the problem with "hard sci-fi": sometimes the author knows just enough physics to get it wrong. For example: this novel's faster-than-light communication scheme involving EPR-style entangled qubits. Now, I'm one of the few readers of this book who actually has a pair of entangled1 qubits in his2 basement. But any competent physicist should know that information can't be transferred this way—you just get correlated random numbers. (You can make a one-time pad this way for quantum cryptography, and indeed this has been done.)

All this shows is that I'm a big nerd. Once I stopping thinking very hard about the physics in the book, it turned into a fun pulp novel, with spies, assassins, conspiracies, and Nazi villains (or near enough). Once the plot really got going I was hooked, and it was an excellent way to pass the time while I was stuck in the airport last weekend. One non-science complaint I had was that the plot twists were all telegraphed in advance, so there weren't any big surprises. However, the characters were well-written and just reading about their interactions was fun.

1It's actually debatable whether they are entangled (I suspect they are) but they are definitely coupled. More on this in an upcoming post.
2Actually, UC Berkeley's basement.

Arab Strap: The Last Romance: I felt like I am not nearly bitter enough to appreciate this album properly. And this is supposed to be one of Arab Strap's more uplifting records! Well, the tone does get happier as the CD plays, culminating in the nearly-triumphant "There Is No Ending". (The US version of the album has two bonus tracks, but that one is clearly the end of the album.) Overall this is a decent album with a few excellent tracks: the first song and the aforementioned last song; another one I like is "Don't Ask Me To Dance". For the most part I like the darker music, which probably means I should check out their other records which are supposed to be along the same lines. (This purchase finally prompted me to find out that the Belle & Sebastian album The Boy With The Arab Strap was named after this band, and not the other way around.)

Permalink | Tags: Books, Movies, Music, Open Thread, Physics, Quantum Information

March 20, 2006

Long Form [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:24 PM

My trip back from Baltimore took about 12 hours longer than it should have, but I eventually made it back. Despite attempts to catch up on sleep I still feel like I'm recovering—it was a busy week.

V for Vendetta: This is a powerful movie that mostly does a good job blending action/suspense with a political message. The setting is a near-future Britain which has slid into fascism after the deterioration of Iraq and some high-casualty terrorist attacks. (Meanwhile the United States has fallen into anarchy and civil war.) The plot centers around the masked-and-caped V, who pursues a personal vendetta against certain government officials, while working on a larger plot to overthrow the entire government in the spirit of Guy Fawkes. It wouldn't be correct to say that V is the hero of the movie—he's morally ambiguous at best and commits at least one act I found horrifying. However, the government he's fighting against is so much worse that he sometimes seems good by comparison.

The movie can be didactic at times, and the message is delivered in a heavy-handed way. However, I think the time for subtlety is past: the government we have right now is detaining citizens without trial, torturing innocent people, and asserting unlimited executive power. It's refreshing to see a movie that stands up and says straight out that we, as a citizenry, should not tolerate these things. I certainly don't think we need to blow up any buildings, and Guy Fawkes is the wrong model for this sort of thing, but the basic notion that the people have a right to replace an unacceptable government translates well to the ballot box.

As for the film qua action movie, it's generally well done. There is a thread of paranoid tension running throughout that works well to keep up the suspense—this is one of the ways that the politics reinforce the action. A sequence early-on in which V takes over the state-run television studio is especially good, and the climactic fight scene at the end is the sort of thing the Wachowskis excel at. There are a couple of points where the exposition/recapping becomes excessive and the suspense wanes, but it picks up again afterwards.

Anyway, I liked it. (Remember when I wrote short capsule reviews in the open threads?)

David Goodstein: Out of Gas: This book is Goodstein's effort to explain the interrelated problems of peak oil and climate change to a non-technical audience, and in doing so he explains the physics of energy and the historical development thereof. He sets forth a mostly pessimistic picture, anticipating oil supply problems in the very near future and associated social turmoil. Unfortunately I think he too quickly brushes off the economic arguments about alternative energies becoming more cost-effective as the costs of fossil fuels increase. I don't think this solves the problem but it should make the situation better than he expects. (One of the frustrating things about reading peak oil commentary is that physicists are frequently naive about economics, and economists naive about physics.) His treatment of the basic physics issues surrounding energy production is very good, however, and I would recommend it to a non-technical audience for that reason.

In the end, I am still not sure just how worried I should be about peak oil, but the answer is clearly non-zero.

Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not: This is the hot band over in Britain right now, and musical Anglophiles will find their sound pleasing. Imagine the drunken swagger of the Libertines with the guitar sound of Franz Ferdinand, and you have a good approximation. This CD hasn't quite achieved the heavy rotation of certain other recent British additions to my collection, but it's still pretty good. The major single seems to be "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" but several others are equally good, like "Fake Tales of San Francisco".

Permalink | Tags: Books, Caltech, Energy, Movies, Music, Open Thread, Physics, Science

March 7, 2006

Preparations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:47 PM

The March Meeting is next week, so I'm currently getting my talk ready. I'll be in Baltimore all week, with at least one day in DC. If I have time I'll put together a post to go up concurrently with my talk explaining some of the results therein; otherwise I'll do it after I get back. The next open thread will be posted either very early or very late.

Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll: This is fun electronic/dance music, reminiscent of Daft Punk. It's been out in Europe for quite a while now and I first heard "Drop The Pressure" (one of the better tracks) on that Snow Patrol mix CD that came out last year. (That CD actually yielded four or five new finds that I really liked.) There's a kind of iconoclastic glee in the title track, whose lyrics consist of commands to destroy various classic rock artists. But at the same time it's all in good fun. Another one I like is "Zenophile", which pulls in an acoustic guitar for a nice effect.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Travel

February 27, 2006

A different take on quantum cuteness [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:32 PM

First, a follow-up link to the quantum interrogation post: Sean at Cosmic Variance explains the experiment in layman's terms. I'm guessing he wrote this post immediately after reading Cute Overload.

Anyway, it's now time to review the album I've been playing incessantly the last three weeks. No, not Loveless, the other one.

Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit: I am hardly an unbiased source on this band, so when I say that the album is awesome you will probably not be surprised. At least I can say how it stands in relation to the other B&S records, which is what I spent the first ten or so plays trying to figure out. In general it has a somewhat different sound from their previous work. There's still the sunny mood that ran through most of Dear Catastrophe Waitress (in fact the word "sun" appears in two of the song titles), but without the orchestral feel that characterized the earlier LP's production. From a production perspective, it sounds fairly novel for this band. I'm not sure how I would descibe this new sound, but it's quite appealing and a good match for the themes of the album.

It feels very cohesive compared to Waitress (in which they seemed to be experimenting with various styles on the different tracks)—these songs flow into each other very smoothly, and when "Act of the Apostle II" picks up the theme from its predecessor halfway through, it feels completely natural despite the fact that the first "Act of the Apostle" played ten tracks earlier. This is not to say that there's no variety; "Dress Up In You", which sounds like an old-school B&S song, is sandwiched between "The Blues Are Still Blue" and "Sukie In The Graveyard", both of which are far peppier than is typical for this band.

On just about every Belle & Sebastian CD I've bought, there's been one song that I've fallen in love with and played to excess. Joining "Your Cover's Blown", "If She Wants Me", "String Bean Jean", and "Like Dylan in the Movies" is "The Blues Are Still Blue" from this record. I'm not sure what it is about this particular song (maybe the cowbell) but I can't get enough of it. Other highlights are "Funny Little Frog", "Another Sunny Day", and "Sukie in the Graveyard".

The iTunes version of this album offers two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential. "Meat and Potatoes" sounds as if it was written for the Dr. Demento show, and "I Took A Long Hard Look" is forgettable. (Apparently these are also on the "Funny Little Frog" single.) Anyway, this only applies if you bought the CD but were considering getting the extra tracks; spend your $0.99 on "Your Cover's Blown" (from the Books EP) instead.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Physics, Quantum Information, Science

February 19, 2006

Chasers [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:59 PM

When I got home Friday evening, I reflected on the fact that my weekend would be, apart from going running and a few stops in lab, completely empty of any scheduled activities. In the past seven days I had gone to three concerts, a D&D game, a ballroom dance class, and had had several late nights, in lab and otherwise, so naturally I was pretty exhausted. I felt like spending the weekend being introverted and geeky, and I realized this was a perfect opportunity to do something that's been on my to-do list for a long time:

Half-Life 2: Yes, I finally sat down and fired up this game that's been on my hard drive for over a year. A review is sort of superfluous at this point, as anyone who's interested has already played it. Nevertheless, I can say that so far the game has definitely been worth my while. It starts off with a chase scene, running from the agents of an Orwellian police state first on foot and then over water on a kind of personal hovercraft. This is executed very well; in many FPS games one just plods through the early levels carefully clearing every room, but here the player is forced to choose his battles. The sense of being chased is very immersive—I had dreams last night about being chased, although the context was somewhat different—and the moments of running for cover under a hail of gunfire feel very cinematic. It's also quite satisfying when weaponry is added to your vehicle and you can finally duel with the attack helicopter that's been hunting you.

Following the initial chase scenes, the game switches gears into a zombie horror scenario that feels like an homage to Resident Evil. (Although Resident Evil lacked the joy of throwing around buzzsaw blades with a gravity gun.) By the end of this level I was swinging my shotgun around in paranoid twitches like Dick Cheney at a quail hunt. That's about where I am at the moment, but I'll post a follow-up review once I've completed the rest of the game.

The Plastic Constellations: Crusades: This is a bit heavier than what I normally listen to, but that's not a bad thing. Apparently this band is currently touring with The Hold Steady, which is an appropriate match—the Constellations have more of a post-punk sound than The Hold Steady, but the intensity level is similar. While I liked their sound, I found the quality of the CD a bit uneven; some tracks are really good but others didn't do much for me. "Ghost In The House" is one of the better ones.

Permalink | Tags: Games, Music, Open Thread

February 13, 2006

Misleading notation [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:58 PM

I guess there are Olympics going on now? One of my fellow physicists was asking me where to watch them online; via Lifehacker, the answer is nbcolympics.com.

While on the subject of sports, I see via Boing Boing a helpful guide for quail hunters. And as usual, the Daily Show has the final word on this topic. (Unless Fafblog decides to weigh in.)

In music news, I woke up in the middle of today's 290K seminar to see what appeared to be guitar tab notation on the blackboard under the heading "Stripes White". But it turned out the speaker was talking about stripes in the 2D Hubbard model, rather than discussing the guitar part of a White Stripes song. Anyway, I have an album to review:

Cat Power: The Greatest: The title of this album must have annoyed Matador's marketing department, who have gone to some lengths in the packaging to assure the prospective buyer that this is indeed a new LP rather than a greatest hits collection. I liked her previous record, You Are Free, but it was fairly minimalist, so the richer and brighter textures of this one are a nice change. There's nothing quite as entrancing as "Werewolf" (which has become one of my mix CD standbys) but overall I like it better than her earlier works. Apparently she enlisted the help of some legendary soul musicians for this one, but since I'm not terribly knowledgable about soul the significance of this was lost on me. The song "Hate" sounds like her style from You Are Free, while referencing a Nirvana song and classic Engrish specimen; "Could We" is more representative of this album.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Politics, Sports

February 5, 2006

Back to the Future [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:53 PM

I have a couple more posts in the queue but I probably won't get to them tonight. In the meantime, a music review:

The Raveonettes: Pretty in Black: The Raveonettes really want to be a '50s band. They're named after a Buddy Holly song, and when modern covers of '50s classics were needed for the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack, the Raveonettes already had "My Boyfriend's Back" on this album. (That's what inspired me to check it out in the first place.) The album is quite pleasant, although nowhere spectacular, and tends towards doo-wop or country-tinged songs, albeit with somewhat less wholesome lyrics than would be found in authentic oldies. "Somewhere in Texas" is better than it should be, and "Sleepwalking" is also very good once you get past the intro.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

January 29, 2006

When there is nothing left to burn [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:26 PM

This was quite a relaxing weekend, but as a consequence nothing got accomplished. At least I will post the open thread on time!

Stars: Set Yourself On Fire: Back in the middle of last year I heard one of these songs on internet radio, and made a note to check out the whole album. However, I didn't actually get around to this until a couple of weeks ago, which means I now have an update to make to one of my previous posts:

Favorite Albums of 2005 (Revised)

5. Architecture in Helsinki, In Case We Die
4. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire
3. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
2. Ladytron, Witching Hour
1. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

Stars are a Canadian band, with substantial overlap with Broken Social Scene, doing a boy/girl vocal thing reminiscent of the Delgados, only with more synth and violins. The result is spectacularly good. Beginning with the excellent opener "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", the first nine songs tell spare but evocative stories of relationships beginning and ending. "One More Night" and "Sleep Tonight" are especially good, and "The First Five Times" has been in my head all day. And if the album ended here it would already be a great record, but instead they follow up with three protest songs: the angry "He Lied About Death", the mournful "Celebration Guns" (which is my new favorite anti-war song) and the optimistic "Soft Revolution". And finally they cap it off with "Calendar Girl", a song about mortality and loneliness that manages to be hopeful and, like all the previous songs, beautiful. Definitely recommended.

Fortuitously, Stars are playing the Fillmore in about two weeks (on the 10th), so I will be reporting on their live show shortly after that.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

January 22, 2006

Don't look back [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:46 PM

With my first weekend at home since mid-December (I was otherwise in lab or out of town), I was faced with a monumental cleanup task. I'm pleased to say that I got ten, maybe fifteen percent of it done. Sure would be nice if I had floor tiles. But at least I got my rug back (it needed to be cleaned after the flood). That rug really tied the room together.

Belle & Sebastian: If You're Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican: I mentioned in the Essential 90's Albums post that the studio version of this is my current favorite album from that decade. It was only after I posted that that I went on iTunes and picked up this live version. (I don't normally buy from iTunes but that's the only place to get this particular recording.) This show was a charity concert (I think as part of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival?) in which Belle & Sebastian played through every track on their second album, in order. Supposedly this was meant to supplant the original studio album, which was not a high-quality recording. It's hard to imagine how a live performance could be suitable for this, but now that I've heard it I can understand. Most of the songs come through with more power and more polish, and it's nice to hear them in the hands of a more matured band. (Also, the sounds of children in the background of the title track on the studio version always annoyed me.) Some of the tracks I was less fond of in the original receive a serious boost: "Stars of Track and Field" and "Me and the Major" in particular; meanwhile most of my favorites sound awesome. "Like Dylan in the Movies" comes out the best here, followed closely by "Judy and the Dream of Horses". On the other hand, "The Fox in the Snow" really should sound thin and forlorn the way it does in the studio version, and doesn't quite have the same effect here. But apart from that it's a terrific take on this material, and I'd recommend it regardless of whether you've heard the studio version.

On a related note, Belle & Sebastian will be touring in the U.S. starting in February, and the New Pornographers will be opening for them. If you've ever clicked on my Last.fm profile you may have noticed that these are my two most-played bands, so needless to say I already have my ticket. Tickets went on sale for west coast venues this weekend; here's the tour information.

Permalink | Tags: Concerts, Music, Open Thread

January 16, 2006

Undead Music [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:22 PM

My first week back in lab convinced me that I needed more vacation, so I took off to Los Angeles for the long weekend. (Hence the lack of blogging.) I'll be back in Berkeley tomorrow.

Stubbs the Zombie OST: I still haven't played the game Stubbs the Zombie, but I bought the soundtrack after hearing that they had commissioned a bunch of indie and alt-rock bands to cover 50's pop songs—the ones you might find on the soundtracks to Stand By Me or Back to the Future. Some of these stay pretty close to the original: Ben Kweller's "Lollipop" that opens the album, or Death Cab for Cutie's take on "Earth Angel". Cake presents "Strangers in the Night" with just a hint of uncertainty, as if the singer doesn't quite believe what he's saying, and the Raveonettes attach sinister overtones to one of the singers in "My Boyfriend's Back", while maintaining total sincerity in the other voice, for an interesting effect. (That track is from their album Pretty in Black, which is now on my list to investigate.) A few of the tracks stray a little further: "Shakin' All Over" in the hands of Rose Hill Drive becomes a hard rock song, but unfortunately not in an interesting way. The Flaming Lips' "If I Only Had a Brain" is amusing but hard to describe here. My favorite, though, is what Rogue Wave has done with "Everyday", modernizing the song without losing its style. The album as a whole is sort of a novelty—I don't see myself putting more than a couple tracks in regular rotation—but it's pretty interesting all the same.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

January 10, 2006

Cliffhangers [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:36 PM

I must have been on vacation, because I have a bunch of media to review:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Despite my initial skepticism, my curiosity got the better of me and I went to see this. Outcome: the Christian allegory stuff is pretty mild and not nearly as off-putting as, say, talking animals. The movie is a pretty good adaptation of the source material, but it's no Lord of the Rings. Most of the characters were lacking in depth and the plot felt barely-connected at times. (I think these were also features of the book? But it's been a while.) Also, the pacing was a bit off—the movie takes too much time to get the characters into Narnia and then has to make up a lot of ground. Finally, it was appropriate that Peter obviously had no idea how to use his sword (and did anyone else hear the Zelda "you got the item" music in their heads when Peter gets his sword and shield, or was that just me?), but it made the climactic duel between him and the White Witch reminiscent of nothing so much as Xander vs. Harmony in The Initiative.

Guitar Hero: I'm sure I look ridiculous wailing away on that guitar controller, but the game is fun. It didn't really feel much like playing an actual guitar until I tried it on Hard difficulty, but at that point it was quite enjoyable (but, indeed difficult). The game wins bonus points for having volume settings that default to the maximum value of 11.

George R. R. Martin: A Feast for Crows: If you've started the series, you've no doubt read this latest installment already. If you haven't started it, then, DON'T. At least, not yet—wait until the final book comes out. A Feast for Crows is very good, but it seems to have been written on the principle that A Storm of Swords contained too few cliffhangers. If you do read it, remember that there's an appendix in the back with all the family trees, followed by a preview chapter of the next volume, so the book will actually end when it looks like there are still seventy pages left. This is maddening, because at that point you will be very eager to know what happens next.

And that's when you find the author's note explaining that the next book will be about the characters that didn't appear in this volume, which means... the cliffhangers in A Feast for Crows won't be resolved until two books later.

So spare yourself the pain and don't read this until you can pick up (at least) the next two volumes immediately afterward.

(Also: this put the child monarchs of Narnia in a whole different context...)

The Constantines: Tournament of Hearts: These guys did a decent job opening for the Hold Steady, so I went looking for their latest album. It proved difficult to find, but I happened upon a advance review copy in the used CD section of a Berkeley record store that will remain unnamed, since I probably shouldn't be announcing that they are selling CDs marked "not for resale". So, the album: it's a good listen, solid distortion-y indie rock (as was the live performance) but there are no real standout tracks. "Lizaveta" is a good example.

Also, don't miss the ongoing "Essential 90's Albums" thread below, which has broken the comment record. (I feel like there should be bells ringing and a shower of confetti when this happens.)

Permalink | Tags: Books, Games, Movies, Music, Open Thread

January 1, 2006

2006 Open Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:03 AM

I wonder if my apartment flooded again. I'll find out tomorrow when I return to Berkeley.

I'm going to take inspiration from Mason and do an iPod reading to divine my future for the next year. The key is here (fortunately Dynamics of Cats keeps linking to it so I always know where to find it).

So I can expect that this year, I will be presented with a brand new problem—a problem without any clues. If I know the clues, it's easy to get through. If you work it out, tell me what you find.
Permalink | Tags: Friday Random 10, Music, Open Thread

December 15, 2005

Wakefulness [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:01 PM

Finally got a full night's sleep last night. First I couldn't sleep because of the fever, then the cough kept me awake, and after those cleared up I passed a critical point in Woken Furies and stayed awake reading for several nights (since the only time I have to read is when I'd otherwise be sleeping).

Richard K. Morgan: Woken Furies: Morgan redeems himself for Market Forces with this worthy entry into the Takeshi Kovacs canon. I would rate this as better than Broken Angels and not quite as good as Altered Carbon, but still very, very good. It's set on Kovacs' home planet of Harlan's World, thereby explaining a lot of cryptic references in earlier books, and is structured as a suspense novel rather than Altered Carbon's detective story or Broken Angels' treasure hunt; most of the plot revolves around Kovacs mounting a rescue mission for a comrade imprisoned by the government, while avoiding various factions that are trying to hunt him down. Meanwhile a number of characters show up that have been alluded to in previous novels, including some significant figures from Kovacs' past. (Can I spoil something if it's in the prologue? I'll restrain myself.)

One of my (few) complaints about Broken Angels is that it didn't do much with the series' central digitized-consciousness premise, in comparison to Altered Carbon. Fortunately Furies comes back to this and derives some entertaining new conflicts from it. I was especially impressed by the cliche-breaking, Whedonesque way one of these conflicts was resolved; the ending on a whole was excellent, and one of the nice elements of this series is that the books always end in a way that suggests that exciting developments are ahead for the next one.

Gogol Bordello: Gypsy Punks: Ukrainian gypsy punk music sounds like a great idea, but is better in concept than in execution. The gypsy instruments were interesting to listen to at first, but once the novelty wears off I found there wasn't much substance underneath. Plus the singer got irritating after a while. A couple tracks are above average, "60 Revolutions" being one of them.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

December 7, 2005

Sing along, you know the words [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:42 PM

This is brilliant: Now That's What I Call Blogging! Some of these have been heard on occasion around here...

My body may be rebelling against my intent to make it run 26 miles this weekend. I can only assume this is why I seem to be contracting a cold at this precise moment. Anyway, I'll be traveling this weekend since the race is in Dallas. Then I go back to Berkeley for about ten days and then back to Dallas again, followed by Connecticut. Maybe I should throw in a visit to Pasadena?

Spoon: Gimme Fiction: I kept hearing "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" on internet radio, and liked it better each time, so I finally bought the album. Pretty straightforward and well-executed indie rock; "They Never Got You" is another excellent track. I hear their older stuff is good too, so I should look into that. (The clerk at Amoeba recommended Kill the Moonlight.)

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Music, Open Thread, Travel

December 1, 2005

In lieu of actual blogging [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:22 PM

I haven't played Stubbs the Zombie, but I may have to buy the soundtrack, since it consists of indie bands covering classic 50's songs.

Meanwhile, the qubits are keeping me busy and I got my March Meeting abstract in. The submitted abstract implies a substantial to-do list between now and March. Funny, that wasn't in the original draft...

I should review a CD or something, but there are circuits demanding to be fixed at them moment and it's been a bit of a dry spell in terms of music releases lately anyway. Anyone else find any good music lately? Books, movies? When I next carve out some free time I should look into some of these things. (I did start the Kovacs novel!)

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

November 21, 2005

Demon monks. Shoulda gone to Vegas. [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:02 PM

Tomorrow I am leaving for my Thanksgiving vacation—but I will be dodging the traditional extended-family-and-turkey version in favor of losing money at blackjack. Yes! I'm headed out to a spiritual retreat in Las Vegas. Blogging may or may not occur, so here's another open thread in case I get distracted by the lights.

Recommendations for what to do/see are welcome!

Permalink | Tags: Open Thread, Travel

November 17, 2005

Villainy [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:48 PM

The open thread can be delayed no longer! Also, if you work in Birge Hall and were running electronic equipment yesterday evening that you turned off at 1 am, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better: This is a great album that happened to come out the same day as Ladytron's Witching Hour, so I didn't listen to it as much as I otherwise would have. It's very much along the lines of Franz Ferdinand's debut album, although there's a subtle difference in the sound that I can't quite put my finger on, but makes me like the new one even more. There are a couple of motifs that keep appearing in the songs: a bunch of them are about breaking up, and a bunch of others are about, well, being evil. Not that this is a depressing CD, it's more of a revelling-in-darkness CD. This is exemplified by the first track, "The Fallen", which has a "Sympathy for the Devil" thing going in the lyrics. Later on you've got "I'm Evil and a Heathen" and "I'm Your Villain" so they clearly had the dark side on their minds. Of course, villainy has always made for good rock and this album is no exception.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

November 8, 2005

The California Love and Puppies Act [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:37 PM

Reaction of the poll worker when I turned in my card: "That was fast!" I didn't really know how to respond to that. I did at least take time to read the names of the propositions to make sure I wasn't accidentally voting against some previously-unknown initiative that was slipped in between 74 and 75 and guaranteed love and puppies for all, or something.

Ask Darth how I voted!

And now, a music review:

The Rosebuds: Birds Make Good Neighbors: Here's another album I've really enjoyed lately; I'm always up for some good indie-pop. These songs manage to be fun while covering some dark and angsty topics. The first track is called "Hold Hands & Fight" which is a pretty good hint of the themes of the album. My favorite song here is "Leaves Do Fall": the lyrics are very evocative and the music is perfectly matched to the mood of the song. They have some more tracks for download at their website, apparently full songs and not just samples.

In other news, according to Amazon A Feast for Crows is shipping. I had meant to have finished Woken Furies by now so I wouldn't have to decide which to read first... Dammit.

Permalink | Tags: California, Election 2005, Music, Open Thread, Politics

November 3, 2005

Rampage [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:46 PM

I held off posting the open thread because the Halloween thread seemed to be filling that role. (Not because I was distracted playing Katamari Damacy. No.) My media selections this week are strongly correlated with Mason's.

Mirrormask: This movie has already generated some contentious discussion in comments, so I feel like I'm a bit late to the party. I basically agree with Mason's take, that Gaiman is aiming for a fantasy in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, in which plot is secondary to exploring a different world that follows its own logic. The visual execution of this was quite good, but I felt that Gaiman wasn't really at the top of his game in terms of finding clever twists on one's usual assumptions. Nevertheless it was mostly successful, and there are some great moments (like the encounter with the Sphinx).

We Love Katamari: After hearing about Katamari Damacy and its successor for months, I finally got a chance to play. Now I'm hooked. The game mechanics are pretty simple: the player rolls around a small ball (the katamari) that's sticky so everything smaller than the ball gets picked up. You start out picking up small items like thumbtacks and pencils, and as these things get stuck to the ball it gets larger and you can graduate to books and fruit and small animals, until the ball gets a little bigger, and so on until you're rolling around an enormous wad of stuff picking up houses and trees and giant squid. There's a real turning point once the ball gets big enough to pick up people, and the citizens who were previously walking around obliviously suddenly start running away when the ball approaches. At that point there's a feeling of rampaging through the city like a proper Japanese monster.

Vitalic: OK Cowboy: Wow, this is some brilliant and strange electronica. The album opens with some sort of electro-polka and closes with two and a half minutes of fanfares played only on drums; the tracks in between are slightly more conventional but definitely awesome. Recently I bought new speakers and a substantial subwoofer; this was one of the first albums I played on the new system and it was as if I was hearing it for the first time: the bass is really supposed to be penetrating, so adjust your set appropriately. It's a bit tough to choose a representative track from this disc, but try "Repair Machines".

Permalink | Tags: Games, Movies, Music, Open Thread

October 26, 2005

Bewitched [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:39 PM

Should I just move the open threads to Wednesday officially? Or would that cause me to start posting them on Friday?

I failed to post a report on the Iron & Wine/Calexico show, but it was excellent. I do still intend to post a bunch of music reviews, but I continue to be surprisingly busy and/or distracted. Meanwhile, here's one I've been eager to review, and since Halloween is upon us the title is especially appropriate.

Ladytron: Witching Hour: It might seem strange for a dance rock/electronica band like Ladytron to use the folk-magicy title Witching Hour, but then you hear the music and it becomes clear: you can really feel in these songs a sense of mystery and otherworldliness, the sort that arises from the energy of a nighttime urban landscape. (I'm convinced that Ladytron is the perfect soundtrack to Takeshi Kovacs novels.) This album takes everything I loved about Light & Magic and makes it darker and more intense, resulting in an amazing record that I've been playing over and over again, at the expense of many other good CDs that have come out recently. The first three tracks—"High Rise", "Destroy Everything You Touch", and "International Dateline"—are all especially good, and set up an immersive atmosphere for the subsequent songs. In fact these three are so good that it's tempting just to start the CD over when "International Dateline" ends, except then I'd never get to "The Last One Standing", which is not only an awesome song but a shot of determination when I'm ready to give up on some difficult task. If I have one complaint about this album, it's that the lyrics can be a bit dumb. ("Weekend" is pretty much inexcusable in this regard.) But in this sort of music, the lyrics don't really matter—it's all about the sound.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread

October 19, 2005

Intermission [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:43 PM

I saw The Hold Steady last night! It was a great show, although somehow they got away without playing "How a Resurrection Really Feels". The actual Craig Finn took some getting used to, as he looked like some nerdy accountant who stumbled up on stage after a few drinks too many, but he ended up being pretty entertaining. Due to his arrhythmic singing style he was able to change up and improvise the lyrics in interesting ways, and he had elaborate hand gestures to go along with all the songs. At one point during "Charlemagne in Sweatpants" he delivered a long monologue on baseball while the band looped in the background. The Constantines also played at this show, decent indie-rock, and the opening band was Tim Fite, who was a musical personification of WTF.

And tonight I am seeing Iron & Wine and Calexico. Speaking of which,

Iron & Wine/Calexico: In the Reins:I don't know what Calexico sounds like by itself, but when combined with Iron & Wine's Americana/folk sound the result is a really excellent EP. The sound here is more varied than on Iron & Wine's previous releases: the opening track has a southwestern feel, and then there's a country-ish prison ballad, and then "History of Lovers" which is more like a pop song. The only downside is that there are only seven tracks. More, please!

Permalink | Tags: Concerts, Music, Open Thread

October 11, 2005

The backlog gets longer [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:17 PM

I've joined a team for a relay race this coming weekend. This would not be especially noteworthy except that the race is 199 miles long, starting in Calistoga and finishing in Santa Cruz. So this will doubtless be quite the adventure and I'll probably do some liveblogging from my phone.

Meanwhile, did I mention that I have a backlog of music to review? I went to the record store on Friday and came out with five albums, bringing the total to 13 I need to review. Here's one of them, and maybe I'll do the rest in batches of four or five.

Clor: Clor: This band has kind of a synth-heavy Brit rock sound. It's another one of those albums that sounds good at the time but later I can't remember what it sounded like. For a while every time one of the tracks came up on my iPod I'd be like, "What is this? Oh yeah, Clor." Or maybe I've just picked up so much new music lately that I'm unable to keep track of it all. Anyway, "Love + Pain" is a nice track.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Running

October 3, 2005

Everyone's talking about it [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:08 PM

Apparently the new Richard K. Morgan novel came out when I wasn't looking, and Franz Ferdinand's new album comes out tomorrow. So I've got some shopping to do. Maybe I'll be able to find that Wolf Parade album this time.

Serenity: The blogosphere is swamped with commentary on this movie, so I'll just say that it's really good. My brother came up to Berkeley to see it with me (I introduced him to the works of Joss Whedon, so it seemed appropriate), and we spent the rest of the weekend quoting it to each other. I think Jayne may now be my favorite character.

While on the subject of film: anyone seen Mirrormask yet?

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Not an instruction but the name of the band, and of their debut album. There's been a ridiculous amount of buzz about this band from indie rock critics, even when this album was only available from shady internet filesharing services. I always worry that my computer will contract some awful spyware infection from such services, so I waited until the CD was released. On first listen my reaction was a resounding "Huh?" It's not bad, but I haven't yet figured out what all the hype was about. (My first reactions don't correlate well with my eventual opinion of a given band—I had a similar reaction to the Arcade Fire, but after a few more listens Funeral became one of my favorite albums.) Anyway, there are some songs I really like on here, like "Details of the War", but I feel a bit like I'm missing something.

I still have a long backlog of music to review, so there's probably a big music post in the future. I considered doing this as an audio post where I could play songs interspersed with my commentary, or as a series of podcasts, but I'm not sure I have the time to do that properly.

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

September 27, 2005

Harmonica Solo [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:29 PM

Looks like another busy week for me; I may not get the chance to post roadtrip pictures until the weekend (or later). ("Busy" in this instance entails things like seeing The New Pornographers in concert and going to the opening of Serenity.)

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 1: My brother got me watching these while on the road. This is of course Cartoon Network's show detailing the exploits of former superhero Birdman, who has become a lawyer representing various other Hanna-Barbera characters. One episode has the Scooby-Doo gang fighting marijuana charges, while another has Fred Flintstone as a Mafia don, complete with a Bedrock-style parody of the Sopranos opening. The episodes are consistently hilarious, not just from the parodic aspects but from absurdist twists and lightning-fast sight gags. As an added bonus, The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert does some of the voices.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Howl: I had a number of reasons to be skeptical of this album: I thought their previous effort, Take Them On, On Their Own, was mediocre; I kept seeing mixed reviews of Howl; and of course for them to call the album Howl is a bit pretentious. But, it's actually really good! It's a total departure from their previous sound (which was rock in the manner of Jesus and Mary Chain) to an acoustic blend of folk, blues, and gospel styles. Yes, the lyrics are mostly (in the words of one reviewer) "prison and Jesus", and yes, one song features a harmonica solo. But it's all really well-done, and the new sound suits the band much better than their old one. "Ain't No Easy Way" alone is probably worth the price of the album.

Howl's album cover is designed to look like an old LP cover (complete with a meaningless "Side 1/Side 2" division). Unfortunately, this artwork is marred by a big ugly copyright notice informing the buyer that, when inserted into a Windows machine, the CD would only be playable by the accursed Windows Media Player. I discovered this only after I had paid for the CD and was quite annoyed until I put it in my computer and learned that I had inadvertently defeated the copy-protection by having CD Autoplay turned off. Then it was just kind of funny.

I have a backlog of music to review so maybe I'll do another music post later in the week.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Television

September 19, 2005

Talk Like a Pirate Day [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:16 AM

Be talkin' amongst yerselves, me hearties. We be raisin' anchor fer our voyage, yo ho!

leaving on tlapd

Permalink | Tags: Open Thread, Photos, Pirates, Travel

September 12, 2005

Voyage Westward [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:25 PM

Open thread on Monday? Madness!

Next week my brother and I are driving from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he will be taking up residence. (The westward migration of my social network continues!) We leave on Talk Like A Pirate Day, no doubt with many an "Arr!" and "Avast!" to confuse the gas station attendants in roadside Texas towns. I intend to photoblog the interesting sun belt attractions (if any).

Hopefully the power will be back on by the time we get to L.A.

Get Him Eat Him: Geography Cones: Somehow I feel guilty about listening to music by an indie band whose frontman is a writer for Pitchfork, as if this is a fatal indulgence in hipsterism that will condemn me to a special level of hell reserved for pretentious music geeks. On the other hand, Get Him Eat Him is a great name for a rock band, bringing to my mind an image of some ravenous, ferocious animal being sicced on someone. Which is more or less what this band sounds like at its best, when the frantic guitars sound like they're racing each other to some meaty prize. The lyrics occasionally veer into the kind of showy obscurity that make a fraction of Pitchfork's reviews unreadable, but also have moments of brilliance. ("You're so pretty you could destroy the city" somehow seems right even though, thinking about it, it doesn't really make any sense. I guess Helen of Troy was so pretty that she did indeed destroy the city, maybe there's a Homeric interpretation to that song.) My favorite track is probably "Not Not Nervous" unless it's "Mumble Mumble", there's lots of good stuff here.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Pirates, Travel

September 8, 2005

High Phase Shifts [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:29 PM

My severe tardiness with this week's open thread has already led to one threadjacking. In the spare minutes I've had available for blogging this week there's always been a higher-priority post on my mind. Anyway, here it is, almost in time for next week's open thread.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Freakonomics: My main complaint about this was: too short. Levitt takes the reader through several very interesting economic studies, with a focus on incentives and correlation vs. causation. There wasn't an overall theme, but a nice variety of topics ranging from detection of cheating among schoolteachers administering standardized tests, to the economics of crack dealing, to Levitt's controversial finding that the Roe v. Wade verdict led to a drop in crime 20 years later, to the influence of one's given name on future prosperity. The book was a quick and easy read, written at a very non-technical level (it was amusing at times when they try to explain something like regression analysis).

I'm now reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, at Phi's recommendation.

The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema: It's hard to listen to this without comparing it to their previous LP Electric Version, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. I discovered The New Pornographers and Electric Version while suffering from a series of foul and dark moods, and the music was a pure shot of happiness that immediately lifted my spirits. With that kind of personal significance it's hard to imagine that Twin Cinema can compete, and instead it takes a different direction and stakes out its own territory.

Cinema has a sound like a more refined version of the band's debut album Mass Romantic, and trades the constant exuberance of Electric Version for a wider and more contemplative emotional range. The better tracks on this one are longer and almost anthemic rather than three-minute triumphant bursts: "The Bleeding Heart Show" was the first track on the album that really made me sit up and listen, and the amazing closer "Stacked Crooked" completely erases any doubts I might have had about this record. The only downside is that this band always manages somehow to write one song that annoys the hell out of me for reasons unknown and mysterious, and in this case it's "These Are The Fables". But aside from that, this is a really great CD.

I'm seeing them live later this month, so you'll undoubtedly be hearing about that as well.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

August 31, 2005

Backgrounds [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:20 PM

Another late open thread, it seems I've been spending my blogging energy on other topics. Generally I was pretty wiped out on Monday and early Tuesday following a busy weekend, but I seem to have recovered. It looks like I'm about to have another busy weekend, but at least this one will be spread out over three days.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Surprisingly, this movie was really very funny. It initially sounded like this would be another formula comedy in which the characters find themselves in increasingly wacky situations, and hilarity is supposed to ensue. This is indeed the structure of the movie, but most of the humor actually derives from the interactions between the characters, who are very well written and acted. The movie is surprisingly sympathetic and realistic in its depictions of shyness, which is only one of several factors contributing to the main character's romantic difficulties. One of the central jokes is that the male supporting characters are just as dysfunctional in their relationships, even if they have more sexual success, and the mockery is hence pretty egalitarian. The major flaw in this movie comes from the sappier elements, which become more and more prominent towards the end, leading to a finale that played according to genre conventions—but the genre was romantic comedy, when I thought I was watching a sex farce. Maybe that was to attract a broader audience, I don't know.

The Life and Times: Suburban Hymns: I get kind of a late 90's alt-rock feel from this album. Lots of distortion and incomprehensible vocals. This is the kind of album that works well in the background, the tracks blend together and individual songs don't call much attention to themselves. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but makes it a bit frustrating to review when I've owned the CD for two weeks and still can't tell the songs apart. Selecting somewhat randomly, I'm uploading "Coat of Arms".

I need to get my hands on this track-by-track remix of Bloc Party's debut album Silent Alarm. Check out that list of contributors...

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

August 23, 2005

Parallels and Patterns [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:47 PM

Man, actual science blogging is fun but difficult. There may be more of it in the future, since people seem to like it. If I'm lucky, I'll get some crackpots to populate the comment threads for extra entertainment!

Meanwhile, I have no intention of neglecting the cultural aspect of this blog. Although the open threads seem to be migrating to Tuesdays...

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: This is Rowling's most anti-statist book yet. The wizard arm of the government continues its slide into fascism, as it covers up intelligence failures, suppresses dissent, employs the press as a propaganda arm, scapegoats minorities and political opponents, dismisses expert teachers at Hogwarts and replaces them with ideology-based curricula of no practical value, ignores real threats while pursuing a completely imaginary terrorist plot, and tortures suspects for information. Wait a minute, this sounds familiar.

Harry continued to be a dick throughout the book, but it turned out Voldemort has good reason just to try to kill him off rather than turn him to the dark side. He still might turn evil without Voldemort's help, but I'm not holding out much hope for this. At least we'll be spared the passage in which Harry gets up off the operating table in his new magical suit of armor and shouts, "NOOOOOOO!"

I'm going to import the sixth book from Britain, as I've read the British editions of the previous five, but while I wait for it to show up I am reading Freakonomics, which is terrific so far. It's a much easier read than I expected and the findings described are tremendously interesting. I'll post a full review once I finish.

Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic: I first encountered Four Tet on that Snow Patrol mix CD that came out earlier this year. I'd heard them classified as "folktronica" but this (their latest album) doesn't sound very folky. (Pretty much my only point of comparison on this is the Caribou album I reviewed recently, which does sound like what I would expect folktronica to sound like.) Regardless of the proper classification, it's a fun CD with an experimental feel. I like "And Then Patterns".

Some of you may be interested to know that Bruce Springsteen is using a Four Tet song as his walk-out music on his Devils & Dust tour.

In other music news, The New Pornographers' new album (Twin Cinema) is out today. I went to lunch near the record store so I could pick it up right away. I'm still getting used to the fact that it sounds different from Electric Version, but it's good nonetheless. I'll review this in a week or two after I've had a chance to meditate on it.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

August 16, 2005

On the March [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:38 PM

I have a lot of energy lately! Fortunately I've been able to keep myself busy.

The Aristocrats: This is a very funny and relentlessly obscene documentary on the infamous dirty joke. I laughed until it hurt. It's not for the squeamish, as the various comedians will violate (and I do mean violate) every taboo subject they can think of. If you can stand it, though it's well worth it. Highlights: George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Cartman.

Pelican: The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw: Long crashing epic songs that sound like they should be the soundtrack for an army of orcs on the march, driven by hard-rock electric guitar riffs (but acoustic guitar is used as well to great effect). Well, there aren't actually vocals (despite the album's title!), so I guess "songs" isn't the right term. Terrific instrumental rock, though. I'm uploading one of the shorter tracks to save bandwidth: "Sirius"

Permalink | Tags: Movies, Music, Open Thread

August 9, 2005

Advantages of Sleeplessness [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:13 PM

Insomnia is striking this week, inexplicably, but at least it's giving me a chance to catch up on my reading.

Richard K. Morgan: Market Forces: [Follow-up] Basically I remained unimpressed by this book. The plot did pick up near the end, but the writing was very plain throughout compared to Morgan's other works. The characters continued to baffle me, and entire thematic elements disappeared unexpectedly. Throughout the book I kept thinking of Chekhov's dictum, which Morgan follows very well when it comes to physical objects (e.g. the baseball bat) but fails to apply to more abstract elements. Anyway, I think a talented director could make a spectacular anime series out of this, but the novel was a bit disappointing.

Now I have finally started the fifth Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix) and it seems that Harry has become a nasty, moody adolescent with a case of PTSD and some serious self-absorption. Which makes perfect sense given his past experiences. Now if Voldemort doesn't at least make an attempt to turn this guy to the dark side, he should just turn in his supervillain badge. (I confess that my dream is a seventh book in which Harry turns evil and is the primary villain. But this seems unlikely.)

The Lucksmiths: Warmer Corners: This is a pretty solid indie-pop album that reminds me of Belle & Sebastian and (especially with the jangly guitars) Teenage Fanclub. The standout track is "Sunlight in a Jar".

Permalink | Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

August 1, 2005

Retro Style [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:39 PM

The poll is still garnering votes (I think it stays open for a week) so I won't change the picture in the sidebar just yet. In the meantime, here's a music review and an open thread.

The Go! Team: Thunder Lightning Strike: I have no idea what this is, but it's great. Like someone made a kickass rock band based around the soundtracks to cheesy 70's action movies. This is good music for getting psyched up for some difficult task. Try "Bottle Rocket"; it's all like that.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread