Category Archives: Reviews

The Future of Voucher Specimens

Kannan, R. 2007. New bird descriptions without proper voucher specimens: reflections after the Bugun Liocichla case. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 104: 12-18.

This story begins with the discovery of the Bugun Liocichla, a spectacular but possibly rare bird discovered recently in India. The formal description of the bird stirred up a lot of controvery, as no type specimen was sent to a museum or examination, as is the formal procedure. Rather, the authors decided to take photographs and feather samples, as they believed that the species was too rare to allow for the taking of an individual. This raises some important questions about the current state of museum specimens, and whether they remain relevant in biology today, and if traditional practices are conservationally unadvised. Continue reading


Rain Dogs

A few months ago I saw Knocked Up, and it was pretty good, but the reason I’m bringing it up now is because recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Tom Waits, and I just now remembered a scene in the movie where one of the stoners is wearing a Rain Dogs t-shirt, and I was probably the only person in the theater who noticed that, and laughed. Along those same lines, the album’s Wikipedia article tells me that one of the guitarists in Panic! at the Disco has Rain Dogs lyrics tattooed on his wrists. What?

Maybe it’s the indie elitist in me protecting hallowed artistic principles from being exposed to the unsophisticated bourgeois, because that could lead to ruin! Joking aside, despite all the bizarre attributes of Mr. Waits and his music, I think that I always realized that at its core, his music is really quite simple. His songs are pretty much all folk or blues melodies, but he mangles them with his trainwreck of a voice, the noisy avant-garde jazz instrumentation, and the sometimes disturbing lyrics. At its core, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the uneducated masses having the ability to enjoy Rain Dogs, because it’s really no different in structure from what everyone’s heard before. Starostin noted this before, but Rain Dogs is a great album that can appeal to the common consumer with its traditional structures and melodies, but thrill the experimental connoisseur with its exhilarating voicings and backdrops, and finding that collision of accessibility and experimentation is really at the core of every music fan’s lifelong search. Continue reading

Coming Around on Animal Collective

Photo by feinsteinphotos

The hipster adoration of the band Animal Collective used to completely mystify me. What was so extraordinary about ten minute songs full of moaning and the occasional tribal drums? At least, that was the impression I got during my background listening of Feels, the one song I heard off Sung Tongs, and the completely uninformative and bizarre Pitchfork review for Here Comes the Indian, which undoubtedly goes into the annals of worst reviews ever.

But I’ve been coming around on them recently. It all started with the new Panda Bear album Person Pitch (PB is a member of AC, for those who weren’t aware). The album seems to be the frontrunner for Hipinion’s album of the year, and a few of my trusted friends and colleagues gave the album high praise too, so a few weeks ago I decided to revisit it. My first listen, in the wake of Pitchfork’s laudatory Best New Music labeling, was not a good listen, as I never got past the first track ‘Comfy in Nautica’. Continue reading

Well I Walked Out Onto the Jetty

After yesterday’s success with the Snail Kite, I had high hopes for the morning’s birding at Huntington Beach State Park, possibly my favorite birding location in the world. Both the quantity as well as the quality of birds that can be found at Huntington Beach are incredible, and I’ve never had a bad visit.

Which I suppose means that it was about time for one, and that’s just about what happened. This morning’s visit was a bit of a disappointment. I only got one life bird, a Wilson’s Plover on the beach at the south end of the jetty rockpile. That’s a great bird, one I’ve been seeking for a while, but usually I pick up many more new birds than that. Perhaps I’m just exhausting the park’s possibilities or something. It’s just that the last time I visited, I picked up Least Bittern, Piping Plover, and Common Ground-Dove, three absolutely fantastic birds that only Huntington Beach could have offered me, and today was just a disappointment in comparison.

Still though, a bad day at Huntington Beach is still better than the vast majority of birding walks I go on. The same beach where I found the Wilson’s Plover was also home to Ruddy Turnstones in breeding plumage, American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmers, a feeding Osprey, and a Least Tern nesting colony. The causeway was filled with Semipalmated Sandpipers, a few Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilts, and various herons and egrets flying around, as well as a few American Alligators to make things even more exciting.

And that was just about it. Sandpiper Pond was completely silent. I couldn’t rustle up any Painted Buntings anywhere in the park. The only birds on the walk to the jetty were Sanderlings. I really shouldn’t be disappointed, as it really was a great day by my usual standards, but I guess I’ve just come to expect more from Huntington Beach. Regardless, I will be back for sure.

This whole trip was made possible by ten hours total of solo driving, but that driving was made possible by the fact that I put together an mp3 cd to keep me sane on the road. In all, I fit seven albums onto one disc, and I really got to know those albums pretty well, if I didn’t already.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
I’m beginning to believe that I actually like this album more than any of the proper Beatles albums. Isn’t that amazing? I’m not even a huge fan of George’s output with the Beatles; Here Comes The Sun is probably his only composition that would make my best-of mix. Yet somehow, he was capable of crafting a double album that is completely unmatched in terms of consistent quality over its length. Starostin complained about the Apple Jam on the final third, but I actually really dig that stuff, it makes for great driving music. I guess Starostin just doesn’t know anything about driving now would he lol. Guy needs to update his site bigtime, by the way. But really, the only possible complaint I can think of it is that Phil Spector’s production is actually the real winner here, and lifts some relatively mediocre Harrison tunes into the transcendent realm. I sometimes start thinking that the album should be credited to both Harrison and Spector instead of just Harrison, as I think Spector’s production plays a completely crucial role in crafting the sound of this album, more so than the production on the vast majority of albums out there. Nevertheless, who cares about details like that, the end result is that this is one of the best albums ever. Period.

The Silver Jews – American Water
I didn’t like this album much on first listen. Random Rules is of course a near-perfect song, and the thunderous Smith and Jones Forever coupled with the fireworks of Night Society combines for one of the best opening salvos I’ve heard on an album, but after that I really wasn’t a fan of anything in the sequence. But now this record is growing on me more and more, and now I’m a huge fan of quite a bit of the thing. If I still have one complaint, it’s this: too much Malkmus. I know, if you’ve known me since high school, you’d know that the statement I just made would amount to heresy in my high school mind, but really it’s just the truth. His songwriting and singing contributions are just embarrassing next to Berman’s, and almost upset the mood of the record. Some of his guitar work is nice enough, but I think the Jews would be better off without him somehow.

Wilco – Being There
I think I’ve discussed this one enough already. See two posts previous.

Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
I still don’t know what to make of this. At times, I think it’s their best work since their masterpiece I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, and it’s a brilliant way to get out of the corner they’d been painting themselves into. But there’s also times where I actually think it’s their poorest effort since, well, their debut Ride the Tiger. But I can’t really put my finger on why that is. Something about this album sounds…forced. Or fake. Like the band isn’t having fun anymore, and is just going through the motions of ‘being eclectic’. They pick a few styles to tackle, write a formulaic song-by-the-numbers in that style, and move on, instead of incorporating that style into their own unique world. Sometimes, it just really doesn’t sound like an inspired album to me. But then of course, I hear the guitars on Pass the Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind and I’m all like, forget that, this album frickin rules. I’m completely undecided as to which viewpoint I best hold.

The Beatles – Let it Be
Garbage. Outside of two or three songs, I completely dislike this album, especially in comparison with the rest of their untouchable catalog. Seriously, I think I even prefer Please Please Me. It’s good that this isn’t really a proper Beatles album, because it’s abundantly clear that the thing is unfinished. With a little more time spent on it, I can see Let it Be becoming a sort of concise, poor man’s White Album. But as the abandoned project that it really is, I can’t take this album seriously as a true Beatles album.

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Brilliant. It’s amazing what this guy can do with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and his voice obv. I don’t understand why it’s taken me so long to get out of my indie rock cave and discover all this classic stuff, because it is so, so glorious.

The Court & Spark – Witch Season
Not enough people have heard this album. It deserves more. Great, great album. There is some really beautiful stuff on more that needs to be heard by more people. I can’t understand why their followup Hearts sucked so hard, when an album like this can express so much sensitivity and musicality. If you haven’t heard this album, please fix that, it really is a lost gem.

And there we go.

Being There

Being There used to be my least favorite Wilco album. That award has now been unceremoniously taken by the coma-inducing Sky Blue Sky, but more importantly, I revisited Being There while in Australia, and suddenly discovered that all of a sudden, it may have actually become my favorite Wilco album.

I think the trouble the first time around was that my discovery of Summerteeth placed certain unrealistic expectations on the album, as well as biases on what Wilco were ‘supposed to sound like’. The songwriting on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was too weak, and despite its strong points A Ghost is Born had a tendency to wander, and so the focused and concise pop of Summerteeth totally blew me away when I first got to it. For some reason then, I expected Being There to be much of the same, and my initial listens to the standard ‘hits’ off the record (i.e. Say You Miss Me, Far Far Away, etc) only confirmed this.

And of course, I got something really different. Stuff like Outtasite (Outta Mind) was reminiscent of the driving pop of Summerteeth, only far less developed, and that was disappointing. Meanwhile, the rest of the record wasn’t concise power pop, and so it got ignored. Which is tragic, really.

Nearly every song oozes of a confidence that was lacking in parts of AM, and they use that newfound confidence to explore a wide palette of sounds and styles, nearly every one of which works fantastically. Traditionally, I like to critique albums based on their overall cohesiveness and consistency rather than on the basis of individual songs, but when discussing Being There, you absolutely cannot help but talk about the qualities of each and every song, just because of the sheer diversity that’s present, and in the end all you’re left with is one of the greatest slices of Americana produced in the 90’s.

  1. Misunderstood – The whole ‘NOTHING! NOTHING!’ section is what everyone digs into, and maybe the rest of the song is weaker by comparison. But it’s a great, great peak, and I dig the tortured guitars at the end, really compliments the screaming quite well. You can’t knock on this one.
  2. Far, Far Away – Heartbreakingly beautiful. The quiet harmonica lines that hide behind the guitars…gorgeous. Perfect song.
  3. Monday – This is definitely the most Uncle Tupelo that Tweedy would go on this record, and it frickin rocks. The brass is such a perfect production touch, and really this whole record is immaculately produced.
  4. Outtasite (Outta Mind) – was a favorite on first listen, probably because of the massive riff and the catchy hooks in the verse, but I like this song less and less every time I listen to it. It still sounds like an something that they could of tossed off onto tape in about 10 minutes later on during the Summerteeth sessions.
  5. Forget the Flowers – Just a little too simple for me, but it’s a clever melody.
  6. Red-eyed and Blue – It’s all about the underwater reverb-drenched piano, this is the most atmospheric that Wilco would get until A Ghost is Born, even. Very good song.
  7. I Got You (At the End of the Century) – Mindless fun, but man it is so marvelous. Listen to those vocal harmonies! You absolutely can’t help but smile when you hear this song.
  8. What’s the World Got in Store – In my opinion, this is the underappreciated gem of Being There. From a simple introduction, the song builds and builds, with more instruments entering the mix, and finally we hit that final chorus. The vocal harmonies are even more crucial here, and the last thirty seconds or so are possibly the most sublime moment on the album for me.
  9. Hotel Arizona – Wilco has never done anything like this, but I think it’s one of their best songs. A really intriguing and mysterious melody suddenly gets burst open by sunny and catchy falsetto backups, yet by the end of the song all that optimism collapses and we get the most of Tweedy’s angst and distortion until we hit At Least That’s What You Said eight years later.
  10. Say You Miss Me – Typical and predictable pop structure, but this is another perfect song.
  11. Sunken Treasure – If you sit down and analyze each part of this song, it seems wholly unremarkable, but taken as a whole, I think the consensus is that this is one of, if not the best song on the album. The delivery of the chorus (I am so out of tune…with you…) is pretty heartbreaking.
  12. Someday Soon – Similar to Forget the Flowers, it’s just a simple clever melody, but the song itself isn’t great shakes.
  13. Outta Mind (Outta Sight) – I like this version more than the rock Outtasite on disc 1; I think it’s the really nifty swing rhythms that come up unexpectedly.
  14. Someone Else’s Song – Not all that interesting to me personally, and where the album begins to drop off.
  15. Kingpin – A live fan favorite that doesn’t work as well on record.
  16. (Was I) In Your Dreams – Charming country/honky-tonk number that doesn’t do much for me.
  17. Why Would You Wanna Live – My least favorite song on here. The intentional pairing of the sunny harmonies with the bleak lyrics just doesn’t sit well.
  18. The Lonely 1 – The lone bright spot in the final half of Disc 2. The lyrics are silly, but seriously, who cares? A nice, peaceful, beautiful way to bring Being There to a close.
  19. Dreamer in My Dreams – A shambling and drunken romp, kinda fun, but definitely a throwaway.

Though Wilco would explore their pop leanings next on Summerteeth, I never realized how much this album could also foretell the angst and the atmospherics of A Ghost is Born, while also reaching back for the alt-country of AM and Uncle Tupelo. In that sense then, it’s almost the Quintessential Wilco album, neatly summarizing all of the band’s directions, save for perhaps the shortwave radio and blasts of noise on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or the sheer boringness of the unfortunate Sky Blue Sky. Both of those, though, are minor points, and that’s why it’s become apparent to me that Being There actually represents Wilco with their most archetypical sound, simultaneously diverse interests, and ultimately, their most quality songwriting.

Score: 10.7/12

The Big Twitch

Just finished reading The Big Twitch, by Sean Dooley. Mr. Dooley is a comedy writer for TV shows by day, and a fanatical birder…also by day. I think he just sleeps by night, like most people.

Anyways, The Big Twitch is the story of how Sean Dooley spent one year trying to break the record for most birds seen in Australia in one year, an event creatively known in the birding community as a Big Year. But more than break the record, Mr. Dooley wanted to completely smash the record by reaching the previously untouchable level of 700 species in one year. The previous record was 634 or something. It was an ambitious goal, but Mr. Dooley felt that he had a reasonable chance of accomplishing his goal.

He does a pretty good job of keeping both birders and non-birders interested in his story, mixing in his tales of chasing down rare birds with his absurd adventures on the road. Another major theme of the book is his terrible luck at finding a steady girlfriend, as a fanatical birder, and how this Big Year attempt probably won’t help things any. Not only do the chapter headings give an update on how many species he’s seen thus far, but also how many girlfriends he’s gone through, a number which pretty much stays at zero all the way through the book. Ah, life as a birder, that’s the life I love.

Halfway through, it sorta became apparent that he’d break the record. Why else would he write the book? So then I started to wonder: is this a storybook ending where he gets a girl too? And that’s when I realized: oh no. This is like a romantic comedy! I’ve been tricked! Those scoundrels! I was lured in with the promise of rare birds, and got suckered into reading a romantic comedy! Kinda reminds me of a movie that came out many years back, I think it was called Forget Paris? It starred Billy Crystal as an NBA referee, and all I noticed during the previews was footage of guys like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley draining jumpshots and making fun of Billy Crystal’s hair, and I almost went to see it until my dad rescued me from the abyss by mentioning that it was actually a romantic comedy, probably advertised as a sports movie to sucker boyfriends and husbands into seeing it with their giddy girlfriends and wives.

Fortunately though, Dooley gets one satisfaction but not the other: he gets the record, but on his first date of the next year, the girl, “with eyes like a Rainbow Pitta’s wings…” thinks he’s crazy and doesn’t follow up with a second date. Sorry Dooley old buddy, that does sorta suck for you, but c’mon, you got to see a Red-capped Flowerpecker! Doesn’t that make it totally worthwhile?! Sad thing is, some would argue that yes, yes that’s totally worth it. Hah.

The unromantic fanaticism of these guys really is quite amazing. Dooley is tortured by the constant struggle of how one can possibly nurture a relationship when an Eyrean Grasswren has just showed up six hours away. But there’s no way he can compromise and bring the two together either; you just can’t drag a girlfriend into a ten-mile hike through odious swamps just to see a small brown bird to add to the year’s list.

That’s the tension that makes the book work so well, the push-and-pull between the birding world and the normal world. The other two Big Year accounts I’ve read (Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman, a great book, and Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher, historically important but not as good of a read) probably appeal only to birders; by the end they start reading like a laundry list of birds seen or missed. By contrast, The Big Twitch is a very accessible read that a non-birder could certainly appreciate, and a birder would also approve of. Well done Dooley, best of luck with the birds and the chicks, mate.

Edit: Just noticed something really weird. In the cover photo above, both birds are Red-browed Finches. On the copy I borrowed, the guy is holding what I think is a Rose Robin, and peering off to the right is a Regent Honeyeater or something, I haven’t checked the guide to ID either of them. I wonder if different copies have different birds on the cover? That’d be pretty cool.


So now I’ve moved on to Don DeLillo’s Underworld. The New York Times surveyed a vast array of American literature critics to compile a list of the Best American Novels of the past 25 years, and Underworld clocked in impressively at Number Two, just behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m a hundred pages in, and I’ve already been taken to the verge of tears. What was the reason, you might ask? Of course: sports. Baseball. The account of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World. The joyous players, the ecstatic fans, a city rising together, that kind of stuff just kills me every time. Great book so far. But back to sports: as much as I love those sorts of miraculous moments in sports, I absolutely cannot stand sports movies. Actually, I can’t think of a single one that I actually enjoy. As a kid, I really loved Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield, but I’m way past that point now. Well, in hindsight, those movies were sort of ridiculous, and would probably be entertaining for camp value. Can somebody arrange a viewing? But in general, I don’t like sport movies, because you know what’s going to happen. It’s the unpredictable and unscriptable stuff in the real world that gets to me. Remember the Music City Miracle? Holy cow, I’m tearing up just thinking about that thing. Sports are so great. Tar Heels, don’t let me down.


np: The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. These are among the most awkward lyrics I’ve ever heard, they’re just laughably horrendous. The music though, woah. The hook in the chorus is incredible. I start air-guitaring and screaming along to it, but then the lyrics I’m singing just crack me up and I burst out laughing. How frustrating is that. This song could’ve been Song of All-Time, but silly Billy Corgan had to slap on angsty goth-poetry that doesn’t even make any sense. The opening line: “The world is a vampire…” and you’re already down for the count, pounding the floor in laughter. Endless lols. I wish I could listen to this song with alternate, better lyrics. Oh man, what if Dan Bejar wrote the lyrics for ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. Best song ever, or, best song of all-time? Tough question.

Also, I saw that the new Rosebuds albums leaked, haha. Listened to the first song, and was really disappointed it. Shucks, what happened to these guys? They were Raleigh’s great shining hope for indie rock salvation, and after the brilliance of The Rosebuds Make Out, they just haven’t gone anywhere. There were a handful of nice songs on the Unwind EP and Birds Make Good Neighbors, but it doesn’t look like this new one’s going anywhere. In general, 2007 has been a bit of a disappointment, though clearly I’m missing out on a lot by being abroad with very little internet. Can people give some 2007 recommendations, including stuff I’ve already heard but may need to revisit? Much appreciation.


More Australia photos:

A little baby Stinging Tree!!! Adorable.

Whiting’s Fragment, which is the world’s smallest fragment of type 5b ‘Mabi’ forest left in the entire world. My partner and I did some surveys of frog populations in this fragment, and believe it or not, both of us actually got lost in there. It’s some of the densest forest I’ve ever encountered, and blindly hacking through it at night didn’t help. Somehow, we managed to get hopelessly lost.

Whale Rock, at Granite Gorge.

Green ants. That’s the queen in the center. They’re actually edible, and delicious: they have a sharp citrus taste. Unreal.

Getting Through the Former World


Largely because of its long geographic isolation, Australia has a lot of unique, endemic species, and some of the particularly charismatic ones have become symbols of Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, Cassowaries, the world knows about all of them, and you’ll find them in all the major zoos (except the Cassowary, which is very difficult to keep in captivity). Some of those charismatic species I’ve already seen, but many I haven’t.

Kangaroos – The Red Kangaroo is the really large one that everyone’s seen in zoos. I haven’t seen that one, it largely lives in the desert interior, so maybe I’ll see them at Alice Springs after the program. But I have seen its smaller cousin, the Grey Kangaroo. I’ve also seen a lot of the other large marsupials, including Agile Wallabies and Mareeba Rock Wallabies, which live in the drier regions. The only one I regularly see in the rainforest is the Red-legged Pademelon, which is cinnamon colored, with brighter rufous-red legs. The cool thing is, they look exactly like kangaroos shrunk down in the dryer, they’re the size of our cottontail rabbits back home, proportioned like kangaroos! During the day it’s really hard to get a good look at them though, they’re extremely skittish, and will hop away long before you know they’re there. But during the night they’re very active and they’re everywhere, you just need to bring a spotlight out into the dark. The other cool ‘kangaroo’ I’ve seen is the Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, probably the most well-known denizen of the Atherton Tablelands where I’m studying.

Cassowary – pwned

Koala – I have no chance of seeing this in the wild, I’m not going to the right parts of the country. So the only experience I’ll have with these is that scarring experience in Kuranda.

Wombats, Echidnas, other assorted marsupials – probably not likely, but honestly I haven’t done the research to find out.

Emu – on our two trips into the appropriate sorts of habitat, no luck. This may be difficult until I get to Alice Springs, and even then it’s not a lock. I’m crossing my fingers.

Platypus – On the evening of the first of March, we went to a local farmer’s property to learn about rainforest restoration. As a bonus afterwards, we stopped by an overlook on the Barron River to look for platypus. They’re really tough to spot. Two individuals popped their heads above the water for a breath, and were gone a second later. So all I saw was the bill. The things are a lot smaller than you probably think too. But at least I can say that I’ve seen platypus in the wild now.


Instead of heading to the pub to celebrate my 21st birthday last night, I watched the film Werckmeister Harmoniak (Werckmeister Harmonies). On paper, it’s about a small Hungarian town, torn apart by a mysterious circus that features a giant dead whale. That makes it sound almost like a comedy, but that’s the furthest you could get from the truth. Werckmeister Harmoniak is slow, tragic, moving. It’s also one of those pretentious art films that looks really beautiful, but whose main point sails over your head. I don’t have a clue what Bela Tarr, or the original novel’s writer, was trying to say. My guesses on the theme range from the Soviet occupation, the false optimism of capitalism, revolution in general, or the dark side of human nature. I really don’t know. I doubt I ever will, even if I watch the film ten more times.

Despite that intellectual confusion, Werckmeister Harmoniak is possibly the most beautiful film I have ever watched, in terms of cinematography. In the Mood for Love doesn’t even hold a candle to Werckmeister Harmoniak, something I didn’t believe was even possible. Shot in black-and-white, every image slowly soaks into the consciousness, and stays there. I could turn off the subtitles, mute the sound, and Werckmeister Harmoniak would still be a powerful film. If you want to see a really beautiful movie, watch this.

Deep Underground

I’m finally on the verge of finishing John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, a tome which has taken me nearly a month to get through. It’s a collection of five books about American geology, and American geologists. But this is not a geology textbook; I doubt I’ve learned all that much about rocks that I didn’t already know. This is a collection of thoughts, stories, anecdotes, ideas about geology, and the people who study geology. Over the past few months, John McPhee has grown to possibly become my favorite author, fiction or non, and as his supposed masterwork, I had to get to Annals at some point.

Book One, entitled Basin and Range, deals with the series of mountains and valleys found in Utah and Nevada known as the eponymous Basin and Range, and follows Princeton geologist Kenneth Deffeyes through the rock. It started off fairly slow; I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the Basin and Range geology itself. What really got to me was the history of geology, as presented by McPhee, as the book began to wind down. Those portions of the book were among the best writings I’ve ever seen out of him. Unlike the typical McPhee book, which I always feel start off brilliantly but then run out of steam, Basin and Range built to a magnificent conclusion, and is one of the most striking works in McPhee’s catalog. Highly recommended.

Book Two, entitled In Suspect Terrain, follows geologist Anita Harris, and concerns itself with the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and how they came to be. I’ll be honest: this book was boring, slow, and way too long. And that’s all I really have to say. It was by far the worst McPhee book that I’ve ever read, and the only one I really haven’t enjoyed in any sort of capacity. Terribly disappointing.

Book Three, entitled Rising from the Plains, works itself around Wyoming with David S. Love, preeminent Rocky Mountain geologist. I was surprised at how linear the narrative was at times. I generally know McPhee as someone who jumps all over the map, delicately threading a narrative through that you don’t even begin to notice until the end, and that’s the brilliance of his work. In here, a lot of the book follows Love’s biography chronologically, and I’m surprised at how competent of a storyteller McPhee can be. I love his writing for the small details he notes, the absurd humor he discovers in them, and the subtle ways they are tied to the big picture, so it was interesting for me to watch him try his hand at working only with the big picture. I think he largely succeeded. His painting of the landscape around Jackson Hole was especially evocative. This is not representative of McPhee’s usual style, but it’s still a very good read that I’d certainly recommend.

Book Four, entitled Assembling California, follows Eldridge Moores around California, Macedonia, and Cyprus, in a quest to understand how California’s rocks could become so radically different from the rest of the country’s. Like Basin and Range, this one started off quite slow, as a whole lot of rocks and rocky structures were described. That’s the whole point of Annals I guess, to describe rocks, but those were probably my least favorite parts. The conclusion to Assembling California, however, was spectacular, as McPhee described tales from the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. I have never seen McPhee write so dramatically, and he pulled it off really well.

So now I’m starting on the final book, entitled Crossing the Craton. It’s very short, and from what I hear its only purpose is to settle things down after the fireworks of Assembling California. So effectively, I am finally finished with Annals of the Former World. Hurrah. McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his work on this book. In my mind, he undoubtedly deserves a Pulitzer, but maybe not for this book. In general, he spends too much time talking about rocks, when his strength is with people.

Surprisingly, I’ve found one other McPhee reader here, who’s read many of the same books of his that I have. She strongly recommended Encounters with the Archdruid as her favorite, so that will likely be next on my list of McPhee. In the meantime, once I finish Crossing the Craton, I’m moving on to The Big Twitch, the autobiography of a fanatical Australian birder. That shouldn’t take long, so warming up in the bullpen I’ve got Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which should be a good one.

From Tallahassee to the Dark Hillsides

For the first few months of its existence, this site served only as a log of my bird sightings in and around Swarthmore, remnants of which still survive in the address and the archives. This past summer, I made a decision to experiment with opening up the blog, to incorporate more of my thoughts, ideas, and occurrences. My only fear was that this would turn into an emo diary, a scenario which I wanted to avoid at all costs.

I’m not bringing this up because I’m about to go into emo mode; I might indirectly, but that’s not why I brought the history in. I wanted to mention that history because the very first non-bird-related post I ever made on this thing was a first-impression review of the Mountain Goats album Get Lonely.

At the time, I simply wrote that it sounded very different from a typical Goats album, but that I might get used to that new sound, and grow on the album. That never happened. Darnielle mentioned to a Pitchfork staffer that the only people who could fully understand the album were people who had gone through ugly divorces, or rough breakups from other very serious relationships, as those are the lyrical and musical themes which the album addresses. Thankfully I’ve never found myself in any of those kinds of situations, and subsequently the album never did anything for me. I think Pat summed it up well in his WSRN review: Get Lonely is an album that can be appreciated, but it’s difficult to enjoy, and actually, you’re probably not even supposed to enjoy it. I thought that was spot-on.

But now that I’m trying to get through my own breakup (though thankfully it was an amazingly clean one) this album is getting to me hard. I know people who listen only to happy and melodic music because they always want to feel joyful, and people who listen only to chill music because they always want to feel relaxed. I’ve never been the type to do that, I try and find music which matches the mood I’m in, to complement it and make it that much more powerful. So it means a lot to me when I say that Get Lonely is hitting me harder than any other album has at one point in time. Every song on the album, up to and including ‘Woke Up New’, is wrenching my heart apart on every listen, that’s all I can say. To me, right now, at this moment in life, Get Lonely is a perfect statement of how I’m feeling and how my days are going.

I did mention, however, that it’s only true up to ‘Woke Up New’. None of the remaining three songs do anything for me. I have a few theories on why that’s the case. First, ‘Woke Up New’ is unquestionably the emotional climax of the album, and the rest is the come-down that inherently comes off less dramatically. Second, ‘If You See Light’ is unquestionably the worst song on the album, and kills off any potential emotional impact that the remaining songs could have. Or last, Darnielle has sequenced the album chronologically/autobiographically, and the last few songs don’t make sense only because I haven’t reached that part of the recovery process.

In reality, it’s probably a combination of all three factors. I will note that the final song, ‘In Corolla’, sounds like it has to be the conclusion to the recovery, when Darnielle has finally gotten over his breakup, and life is back to normal. Connected to that point, it’s also the song most similar to the traditional Mountain Goats oeuvre and style. But right now, I can’t relate to it at all. Maybe in a few months, I’ll listen to it a few times, move on, and close the book on Get Lonely. But for an album intended for those poor souls coming from dark places, ‘In Corolla’ seems like an awfully out-of-place closer that’s sickening when placed next to ‘Moon Over Goldsboro’ or ‘Maybe Sprout Wings’; it’s not even optimistic enough to serve as some sort of goal or light at the end of the tunnel, it just feels wrong. ‘Cobra Tattoo’ may have been a better closer for the record. Small quibbles aside, Get Lonely is hitting me hard right now, and it’s changed my perception of what Darnielle is capable of as a songwriter.

Back to Australia

A lot of my photos are now uploaded, so I’m going to post them here in a series of short sets. Eventually I’ll get caught up with the present day, and try and post photos continuously from there. The Atherton Internet Cafe was significantly faster this past Friday than it was before for some reason, hence the successful photo uploading. Let’s hope that new speed sticks around.

Paterson Creek, which runs through the property.

Waterfall on Paterson Creek. There aren’t any land trails to this spot, so the only way to get here is by wading upstream a fairly good distance. Even further upstream there’s a few more waterfalls, but none of them are quite as photogenic.

Dan standing among the roots of the Cathedral Fig, whose canopy was posted earlier.

The Kangaroo Cafe in Malanda. Obviously that’s not a real Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo up top, it’s just a sculpture.

Leeches attached: ~85
Leeches that have feasted upon my blood: 4