Tag Archives: Reviews

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

Fear of Music

Thought I’d dedicate a post to the classic Talking Heads album Fear of Music. I did one of these long reviews for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot about six months ago and promised that I’d make it a regular feature. Turns out, not so much, hah. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start making it regular! Or, at the very least, fit in a new installment to the ‘series’.

Before I dive into Fear of Music, I’ll establish my history with Talking Heads. So after my senior year of high school, I headed to party central at Salt Lake City to attend the Nationals debate tournament. I’d been told that paradoxically, Nationals was the most chill and laid-back debate tournament that I’d ever attend, and surprisingly that truly was the case. All of us had unbelievable amounts of free time to spend exploring the amazing attractions of…Salt Lake City. Oh.

Well, I have fond memories of watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban four times in two days at a mall located a good 30 minutes walk away, just because I had nothing better to do. I’ve mentioned it before, but Ed talking us out of renting Segways is a great regret in my lifetime thus far. I also recall seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the hotel room, watching debate rounds in the absolutely surreal environs of the Mormon tabernacle, the ridiculous yet fascinating Mormon history museums, and many other things but we’re getting really off track here, aren’t we.

Somehow, a group of us ended up a record store in the mall, it was either Tower Records or Virgin Records or something, one of those big chains that we don’t have in my area. Anyways, they were having this sale where you could get three CDs out of a set selection for a total of $10 or something amazing like that. OMG SALE. So I ended up picking up Talking Heads – Talking Heads 77, Wilco – Summerteeth, and Built to Spill – Ancient Melodies of the Future. The latter was without a doubt the weakest record of the three, but I think it was the one I was most pleased about grabbing at the time. Man, my tastes in high school. What was I thinking. I passed up on Live at Leeds for that hipster-lite garbage.

Anyways, I didn’t particularly like Talking Heads 77 at the time. The production is so flat, I could listen through the record without getting hooked by any of the melodies, just because the production is so dull. I listened to it a number of times, because I really wanted to like it, but just couldn’t find the spark. It had some interesting melodies, but that was about it.

Fast-forward one year. The summer after my freshman year, I decided that I really wanted to get into film. So I subscribed to Netflix, just for the summer, and filled my queue with critical favorites and stone-cold classics. I made up for the short time by ripping everything onto my computer and sending back the discs the next day, ending up with dozens upon dozens of movies stashed on my hard drive. Netflix recommended Stop Making Sense to me, Berardinelli loved it too, and I could see some potential for Talking Heads to work themselves more into my life, so I zipped it to the top of the queue for investigation.

The attempt at becoming an overstuffed, pretentious, scholarly film critic didn’t quite work out, I guess I’m just not the type, but I did get to watch some incredible films, with Stop Making Sense being one of the best. It’s not just footage of the band playing live, it’s an actual film, and if you look at the details it’s one of the most immaculately-produced films that I know. Unless you confine your musical tastes solely to Baroque harpsichord music, Tuvan throat-singing, or some other extreme and hardcore niche, I don’t think there’s any way you could not enjoy Stop Making Sense, I practically guarantee that you will be converted into a Talking Heads appreciator, at the very least. I myself got turned into a fanatic, and have been working my way through the Talking Heads discography since then with great zeal.

I fortuitously began with their debut, so it made since to logically progress on to More Songs About Buildings and Food. The production immediately blew me away, but I felt like the songwriting was substantially weaker, which in my book is even more important (Shaw 389*). Over time, I’ve grown to love MSABaF (what a beautiful acronym!) but at the time I was a little disappointed, and delayed my advancement towards Fear of Music.

What a mistake. Fear of Music completely blew me away on the first listen, and by the time I’d gotten through the album four more times, it was completely apparent to me that this was one of the best albums I’d ever heard. Brilliantly written, produced, executed, and everything. Thematically too, the thing is brilliant, and Starostin’s review sums it up nicely:

This is clearly a concept album, and not only that – it’s a real concept album, which is very unusual, since most ‘concept albums’ are in fact pseudo-concept albums, whose main purpose is to leave the listener behind gaping at what the possible ‘concept’ could really be (think Sgt Pepper, eh?). The concept that lies behind all these songs is somewhat similar to the concept of Dark Side Of The Moon: fear and insecurity, madness and desperation at the sight of everything that’s actually mentioned in these songs: their titles speak for themselves – ‘Paper’, ‘Cities’, ‘Mind’, ‘Heaven’, ‘Animals’, ‘Air’, ‘Drugs’, ‘Electric Guitar’… Somebody at the Prindle site suggested that the key to understanding the record is its title: substitute ‘music’ from the title and put in most of these individual song titles, and you get exactly that same message that Mr Byrne wanted to communicate us. I really couldn’t agree more about that.

That sums up my thoughts on the album quite well. Byrne’s nervous energy used to just be a quirky character of the Heads, but here it’s harnessed to perfectly convey the dark paranoia and insanity of the album. The Prindle commenter’s analysis is spot-on, and thinking of each track as conveying the eponymous phobia makes the record that much more brilliant. Fear of Cities, Fear of Paper, Fear of Life During Wartime, it all fits perfectly. Well, except for Fear of I Zimbra perhaps. But even that song is reeling of madness, with its nonsensical verses and complex polyrhythms. And since we’re starting to talk about songs, let’s go track by track again:

  1. I Zimbra – The Opening Statement, and a great one, it really sets the tone for what’s to come. I thought this was an amazing track on the first few listens, but after a while you kinda figure out that it’s not too deep of a track. Really, it’s a bunch of people shouting nonsense words over some drums, there isn’t a whole lot of room for emotional complexity or subtlety there or anything. But it sure sounds cool as hell.
  2. Mind – that slinky guitar line in the opening gives me the creeps every time, and totally makes the song for me, along with the loud and distorted solo later on. The rest of the song isn’t particularly special for me, the chorus is sort of nice, but otherwise it sounds like something that could’ve fit on MSABaF (still a beautiful acronym).
  3. Paper – the guitars on this song are just…plain…ridiculous. This is the shortest song on the album, but it really packs a wallop. The interlocking guitar lines inject so much energy into this thing, I get these mental images of paper flying everywhere and office drones flying through office hallways like in those time-lapse videos, and there’s paper everywhere, and oh man, it’s just a nightmare! Completely, completely incredible song.
  4. Cities – the single repeated piano chord in the verse is what makes this song for me musically, it’s the lone source of clarity within the chaotic noise created by the staccato guitars and Byrne’s clipped delivery. Otherwise, the song seems a little overrated to me, though it’s still great. By the way, what’s up with the line, “Did I forget to mention, forget to mention Memphis? Home of Elvis, and the Ancient Greeks!” Am I totally mistaken on this, or was Memphis an ancient Egyptian city? I don’t recall the Greeks ever being involved with Memphis, Egypt, or at least as much as they were with Alexandria. I could be off base here, but that was just my thought. Historically accurate or not, it’s my favorite line in the song.
  5. Life During Wartime – I think ‘Cities’ is a little overrated, but I think ‘Life During Wartime’ is way more overrated. Nearly every review of this album mentions this song as the centerpiece of Fear of Music; it’s the brilliantly manic song that seems so spiffy and glam on the outside before further investigation reveals its dark thematic undercurrents. I don’t buy it. To me, it’s just a standard pop song that only stands out because of its sequencing within the album, after all the chaos of ‘Paper’ and ‘Cities’. I think that if this song had been put on a poppier, lightweight album such as Speaking in Tongues, nobody would really give it a whole lot of significant praise, because I think it’s just a decent song that’s especially well-framed by its context within Fear of Music. However, I do think it’s a necessary lightweight break to set the stage for…
  6. Memories Can’t Wait – …the song that defines this record for me. The first time I heard it, I sat stunned and just stared at the wall or something, I don’t even know what. The ominous walls of sound, the huge reverb on everything, it’s the darkest atmosphere you can find on the record. The final minute, with Byrne just wailing into the abyss, clutches at my soul every time, and to me it’s just one of the most affecting pieces of rock music.
  7. Air – you really need this break after all the emotional drama in ‘Memories Can’t Wait’. While you’re coming down though, you probably won’t notice how lightweight and innocent this song, but in a sort of forgettable way, unfortunately. For some reason, it sort of reminds me of Pixies, though I hate making huge comparative leaps like that because I know they won’t make sense to anyone else.
  8. Heaven – I kind of prefer the version of this on Stop Making Sense, maybe only because it was the first version I heard. But I don’t really like the piano on this album version, it adds an additional layer of complexity that I don’t feel this simple little song needs, and it drags down a lot of the drama and power that this song could have potentially had, were it kept sparse and simple.
  9. Animals – just plain bizarre and strange, but that’s part of its charm. The completely deranged closing is hilarious and brilliant.
  10. Electric Guitar – far and away my least favorite song on this album, and actually the only song here that I can’t say I like. Everything else, relatively weak or not within the rest of the album, is still great compared to the rest of the rock music wasteland. There’s too many strange noises, there’s not enough structure to help them make sense, the melody’s hook is too dull, and I just don’t like this song, really.
  11. Drugs – The slow, atmospheric closer. I really think this is a beautiful song, and possibly the album’s most underrated track (Starostin had the nerve to list it as his only disliked track, how is that even possible when ‘Electric Guitar’ is on this album?!). The award could also goto ‘Paper’, but in any case, this was the right way to close the album. A rousing crowd-pleaser would have clearly violated the moods built within Fear of Music, and nothing else could have worked other than this sort of contemplative, ambient stuff. It’s a beautiful closer to an incredible album.

And that’s Fear of Music. The album’s concept provides a cohesive framework to interpret each song, and the songs not only deliver on this concept, but stand on their own as well-constructed pieces as well. Musically as well as thematically, it’s gotta be one of the indisputable classics of the rock canon. I know that most people prefer Remain in Light, and I just don’t see it. Maybe I’ll touch on that later. Or, in a more likely scenario, not. To me anyways, Fear of Music is a towering achievement, and is one of the best albums in my collection. Generally I don’t like using ‘best’, I prefer to use ‘favorite’ since it implies personal preference instead of objective quality, but in this case it’s really both. Fear of Music is that good.

Some other things:

Sunday’s conference championship playoff games were the last football games I’ll get to watch until…September?! Sniff. Tear. More than anything, I’ll miss football during my time abroad. Okay, maybe not more than anything, but it’s up there. And it’s true, I’ll probably have to miss the Super Bowl. Because of the time zone differences, I’ll probably be in class or something, and it’s not like I could find a TV anyways, and even if I did, I doubt that any Australian stations would be showing American football. That’s three successive obstacles impeding my wishes to view the champion of the National Football League being crowned, but oh well. I’m not too excited for this matchup anyways. Or maybe I’m just not excited since I know I won’t be able to watch it. Chicken or the egg, you know. Speaking of which, isn’t the answer clearly the egg? Some chicken-ancestor-species laid an egg which contained a series of genetic mutations which caused the offspring to be Pure Chicken, rather than chicken-ancestor-species? Isn’t that how most species ultimately come about, evolutionarily? Somebody needs to refute me on this.

So the family jokingly went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner last night, as sort of a warmup for Australia. Ridiculous. I doubt they have Outback over there, but I wonder if they know about it. I also wondered whether there’s some novelty American restaurant out there, themed on cowboys, tumbleweeds, and ghost towns, but then I realized that, hah, we have those in America already, don’t we. So maybe Australia has those, and some self-mocking Australian restaurants. The novelty does go a bit overboard at Outback though, like how the restrooms are labeled Sheilas and Blokes? Wtf? On a random sidenote, I greatly appreciate restaurants that post the newspaper’s sports section in front of the urinal in the men’s restroom. I started thinking about what section of the newspaper would be in the women’s restroom, before I realized how impractical that would probably be. Or is it? Do they have this? I wouldn’t know, would I.

Also of note, I completely forgot that UNC and Clemson would be playing this evening, my last UNC game before I head abroad too! Fortunately, the game was playing on the big screen TV in Outback, causing the following conversation to occur over and over again:

Mom: I can’t believe my only child is going to Australia in a few days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Lawson just hit his free throws, it’s 69-51 Heels, 8:41 left in the half.
Dad: Good.

And that’s my family in a nutshell.

I really like this year’s UNC team. Normally, I’m a very atypical sports fanboy, in that I’m extremely critical of all my teams. I know them well enough to know their glaring weaknesses, and I absolutely pick them apart for it. I didn’t like the 2005 championship team at all: not enough team play, streaky outside shooters fading down the tournament stretch, no shotblockers or solid interior defense, and I could go on. I was stunned when they won the whole thing, and none of my college friends could understand that. In hindsight, okay, that team was amazing. Sean May and Raymond Felton were consistently reliable, something we really don’t have on this current team, and they had an incredible cast of supporting players to go along with them. But whatever, for some reason, I’m willing to look past this team’s faults. I know those weaknesses are there, and I know what they are, but I don’t care anymore, because I love the team’s tremendous upside potential and where it could take them. I’m going to miss March Madness more than any other sporting event while I’m abroad, so for my bracket I’m just going to pencil in UNC ftw and leave it at that, so I don’t get too emotionally invested in the thing.

And that’s it for me. I doubt I’ll be able to fit in another post before I head out, so the next time you hear from me, I’ll probably be deep in the Australian rainforest! That hasn’t sunk in for me yet, but I guess it will by then, just because hey, it’s reality. So I hope everyone enjoys the rest of your January, and I’ll post here eventually with info on how you can contact me. Warning: letters will probably be delivered by parrot. I can’t wait.

Oh, and one last thing. So the best time for birding is the very early morning, as the birds begin to wake up from their long night’s sleep. I don’t mind these early wake-up calls because I’m just a morning person, but as if I needed an extra incentive to head outside so early, the sunrises are quite beautiful sometimes. I got this photo of the sun rising over Shelley Lake on Tuesday morning. And we’ll leave things there, as a really really corny metaphor for my adventures to come.

Sunrise Over Shelley Lake

*Okay so I don’t really have a book, sue me. But I wish I did. Alas. Perhaps I’ll get started at some point.

Stepping Over the Edge

A lot of press has recently been given to the Zoological Society of London’s new initiative, EDGE of Existence, with the EDGE acronym standing for Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered. The group plans to raise awareness for species that are, as the title suggests, extremely unique and extremely rare, and therefore worthy of preservation. Researchers from the ZSL plan to implement research and conservation actions for these species by working alongside local scientists in each species’ range.

I think that’s a great plan, certainly much more assertive and practical than the usual fundraising group whose money sits in a safe in some small office somewhere, as the website gets updated with more photos of cute baby pandas. No conservation effort can really succeed without cooperation at the local level, which a lot of these kinds of groups seem to forget. I applaud the ZSL and the EDGE initiative for taking the time to realize this, hopefully they’ll be able to follow through with their proposals.

However, though the methodology seems correct, I have major issues with the focus of the group. On their page, they’ve listed their Top 100 Focus Species, along with some general info, and how intensive current conservation efforts are. The important thing to note is that all of these species are mammals. But why? Mammals are not any more evolutionarily distinct, endangered, or ecologically important as any other group of organisms, possibly even less so than others. The obvious answer is that mammals are cute and charismatic, and therefore will draw in a lot of money and attention.

In that sense, it’s practical, but I also think it’s sending the wrong message. What’s the purpose of saving endangered species? There’s a lot of aesthetic and moral reasons, but a lot of it also has to do with the potential ecological benefit of the species. Will an ecosystem be able to survive if this species is lost? If not, then it’s obviously in our interests to save it from extinction. Here, EDGE has decided to focus on unique and rare mammals, and as I alluded to earlier, I don’t think that’s a particularly important group to focus on.

For example, let’s look at Species #10, the Sumatran Rabbit. The thing hadn’t been seen since the 1930’s, and was presumed extinct until one was accidentally photographed in 1998. We still know almost nothing about the rabbit, only that it’s nocturnal and extremely shy, hence why it’s been so difficult to find.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’d be incredibly cool to save the Sumatran Rabbit. It looks pretty freaking awesome, and its behavior is probably quite fascinating. But I have to just say straight out that ecologically speaking, I really don’t think it’s an important species. It must be a rare species because it has extremely specialized habitat or dietary requirements which have been significantly altered in the past hundred years. If we lose the rabbit to extinction, what does the environment lose? A few plants may not get their seeds spread? A few predators may lose a handful of prey items? I feel like those are probably broad niches that will easily get taken up by a similar herbivore; I doubt that the Sumatran Rabbit was the sole prey item of some Indonesian hawk, for example. When a species is this rare and specialized, I really can’t see the whole thing unraveling upon its loss.

Of course, this is all conjecture. Nobody can really quantitatively state how Important a species is, and what the costs of extinction are. But saying that the Sumatran Rabbit is more worthy of preservation than something totally uncharismatic such as, say, mycorrizhae fungi would be a difficult argument to make. But hey, it’s a complicated subject, nobody really knows for sure what the importance of each species is. I’ll make some concessions then: like I said earlier, beginning with a focus on mammals is practical since it provides cute mascots to front the organization and draw in the public’s interest. Hopefully they’ll move on to other organismal groups from there. In addition, I suppose that some conservation is better than none, so I’d certainly support EDGE over no conservation support at all. Plus, they seem to have a sound plan. That being said, I would still argue that if funds are to be allocated for conservation, there are better causes to be found. The ecological usefulness of these unique and rare mammals is fairly questionable, whereas the usefulness of preserving entire habitats through an organization such as The Nature Conservancy seems much more useful to me personally. That’s just my opinion. So, props to EDGE for raising awareness on the issue and coming up with a sound gameplan, but I’d prefer to see a more ecologically sound list of target species before I throw all my support behind it.

By the way, up at the top of the post, that’s a Red Panda. I don’t usually think of things as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’, but omgosh, I love Red Pandas. They’re so cute!!!!!!!! Okay, you can kill me now.

Some other things that have caught my attention recently:

Gave a listen to the new Bloc Party album, A Weekend in the City. I hated it. Hated it. One of the worst albums I have ever heard, and that is not a joke. I was feeling generous and give it one star on my RYM page, just because I usually reserve the half-star rating for albums that are so terrible that they actually made me angry (i.e. Fiery Furnaces), and A Weekend in the City was not that offensive. It was just really, really inoffensive, and in the worst way possible.

Bloc Party were never my favorite band, but I didn’t dislike them either. Their debut EP along with the Silent Alarm LP were filled with some really fun moments. Their brand of dance-rock was rooted in some angsty gut emotion, rich territory left un-mined by the totally mindless party fun of !!! or The Rapture. A Weekend in the City is a major stylistic change for the group, but they go in the totally wrong direction. Now, the dance-rock is left in the dust and the emotional drama becomes the band’s primary calling card, and though the band bleeds sincerity, they just don’t have the musical or poetic lyricism to pull it off effectively. Leadoff single ‘I Still Remember’ sounds like the most derivative and uninspired aspects of The Killers, Coldplay, or U2, and is now completely indistinguishable from hundreds of other Brit-rock bands. It’s time to dig this band’s grave, they’ve had their time in the critical spotlight, but that’s pretty much over now. Goodbye Bloc Party, the music scene is a vicious one and has a short-term memory, you just didn’t have what it takes to gain any staying power. I hope you enjoyed your time here while you could.

I saw a really pitiful number of new movies this year, so I tried to make amends by seeing two excellent movies last week, Children of Men, and Old Joy.

Children of Men is the new effort from director Alfonso Cuaron, previously known for his work on Y Tu Mama Tambien and, uh, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, hah. Before we move on, I just wanted to state that Azkaban is far and away the best film in the series (though I haven’t taken the time to watch Goblet of Fire yet), and I don’t regret watching it four times in two days during that Nationals debate trip to Salt Lake City. Hah, okay, maybe I do regret it, but not as much as I regret skipping out on a Segway rental at that mall. Ed, wherever you are these days, curse you for talking us out of it. Though we were all bored out of our freaking skulls (I mean, it was Salt Lake City after all), that wasn’t a bad debate trip either, in hindsight.

Anyways, Children of Men takes place twenty years in the future, when the entire human race has suddenly become infertile for unknown reasons. The film isn’t too concerned with the question of ‘why’; a lot more of the focus lies on the ‘what if’ ramifications of such an event, and it’s pretty terrifying stuff. The world has fallen into chaos and anarchy, and the few remaining strongholds of civilization take increasingly desperate measures to control the population. I won’t say too much about the film, other than to state that it was consistently engrossing and brilliant, pretty much all the way through. Everything about the film worked: the writing, acting, production, pacing, and direction were all basically flawless, so all I can really say is that it was just an immaculately produced and substantive film, and I really couldn’t have asked for more. The only real chink in its armor was the ending, which everyone seems to be swarming around as its only weakness. I’m glad that it was left open-ended, but I’m very unhappy with the way Clive Owen’s character was dealt with, it seemed like such a cheap excuse for closure in that sense. But that’s a minor argument, for the most part the strengths of the film more than made up for any weaknesses, and Children of Men was the best film I saw in 2006.

While I was in Boston, I got a quick text message from Mr. Behrend asking if I was interested in seeing this film Old Joy at the Colony Theatre that night. I figured that I would probably be in no emotional shape to see a film at that time, and responded thusly. It was only later when I thought, wait, Old Joy? Why I have never heard of this movie before? Probably because Berardinelli hasn’t reviewed it, I realized, and since I agree with him on almost everything, and he hasn’t reviewed this, it can’t be good!

Then I did some quick research and realized that, wait, this might be the best movie ever. It got a lot of critical praise at Sundance, but more importantly, it stars Will Oldham, of all people? Yo La Tengo did the soundtrack? It has an 84 on Metacritic? The ingredients were in place for something special, so Mr. Behrend and I agreed to meet in a few days time to soak in the experience.

As I expected from the quick research on it, Old Joy is a very minimal and delibrately-paced film. Much of it is just composed of long shots of simple images: a sparrow perched on a branch, the lights of the city, trees zipping by the car window, clouds. All of this is used the frame the minimal story of two old friends going on a hike, and the ways the two have changed or stayed the same.

My main problem with Old Joy is that it’s subtle, but too obviously so. That probably doesn’t make any sense, so I’ll try and explain. Before and after their hike, one of the characters rides in his car listening to Air America Radio, and it’s really the only thing going on in the picture. It’s just long shots of a person driving, and the only sound is that of the political debate on the radio. That’s fine. The problem is that these radio dialogues are obviously connected with the primary themes of the film, and it’s not really made to be subtle. We’re supposed to notice. Every subtle detail in the film is supposed to carry Important Meanings, and I don’t have a problem with that, the problem is that the filmmakers make these Important Meanings obvious, and the images lose their subtlety, and start coming across as preachy and ham-fisted. The magic of the film is in its subtlety, yet paradoxically the filmmakers have chosen to magnify its images to the point where it’s no longer beautiful. Terrence Malick’s work is an example of subtlety just for the sake of the beauty of subtlety, and though there is a message to his work as well, he doesn’t force it upon the viewer.

I enjoyed Old Joy, there were some really beautiful and evocative moments, but it really wasn’t as Important as it probably perceives itself to be. I wouldn’t mind recommending it to people though, it really was quite a beautiful work. Plus, Will Oldham and Yo La Tengo still rock.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try and fit in a viewing of Pan’s Labyrinth sometime this week. It has a 98 on Metacritic?! That makes it the 4th highest-rated film…of all time. Yeah, I need to see this. Possible report to come later. But then I get into conversations like this:

11:24:12 AM Roger: i think i’m just going to suck it up and go see it at some early showing on a weekday, alone
11:24:35 AM Roger: pretty sure i would kill the person next to me in terror if i saw it with other people
11:28:17 AM Keith: two people i know went to go see it, and they pretty much told me they were holding each other in fear the whole time
11:28:23 AM Keith: and then were kind of depressed after

Hah, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. Well, better than just passively slouching in the seat and glancing at the watch, right? Any moving experience is better than none, right? I’m sure that I’ll come out of Pan’s Labyrinth completely shaken to the core, but glad that I’d seen it. I need that kind of gut check sometimes. Or, I’m just masochistic. Hah. The Australian Stinging Trees are calling to me…


Okay, and the last thing I want to note is that I’ve made some changes to the design of the site. For one, I’ve added ‘Currently Listening’ and ‘Currently Reading’ to the sidebar for no real reason, other than to just indulge my tastes. The bigger change is that I’m going to stop posting links in these posts. Funny, because that was the one condition I set for myself when I started posting about non-birding material on this blog: I was going to post links, in order to provide some inter-post consistency. But more importantly, I wanted to ground the blog and keep it from veering off into emo diary land. I don’t feel like either goal has been successful or was even been necessary to begin with, so away it goes, it was clumsy to deal with anyways. In its place, I’m posting links onto my del.icio.us page, with the most recent bookmarks conveniently appearing in the sidebar to the right. The advantage here is that links will be constantly updating, so now if you’re totally bored you don’t have to rely on my procrastination-induced and/or slow-life post delays in order to waste time on the internet. I also figure that this will take less time and effort for me, which could be important once I get to Australia and have less of both on hand. We’ll see how it works out.

One more week at home! It’s probably time for me to tie up a lot of loose ends here, expect me to be pretty busy. We’ll talk later. Though I’m sure I’ll post about the conference championship games tomorrow, and possibly about Pan’s Labyrinth, or other things, we’ll see. Man, it’s weird to close a blog post without links now, I guess I’ll just stop here? Stop.

Oh Sicks

We’re now around 2/3 of the way through the year twenty oh six (woah!), so it’s about time for me to reevaluate the year’s music releases. I thought about listing my favorite albums thus far, but decided that would be too elitist, so I’ve decided to list my least favorite albums thus far, which is possibly even more elitist. Personally, I believe that you learn more about a person’s tastes by hearing them describe what they hate, rather than what they love. Whether or not you’ll use this list to gain any psychological insights into my mind remains to be seen, and remains to be slightly creepy as well. But at least I hope you’ll find this list entertaining, enraging, or simply enchanting, like Disneyworld or something.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – Fear is On Our Side

Their self-titled debut EP had a really unique and addicting sound that I loved almost as much as their incredible band name. So I was really disappointed by their debut LP, which is filled entirely with boring alterna-rock rather than the hip indie rock I was expecting. Seems like they’ve been listening to a lot more Foo Fighters than Interpol lately. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the Foos were my favorite band in middle school (haha, more incriminating ammunition for all the playa hataz out there), it’s just that ILYBICD do the post-grunge thing extremely poorly, and they seem so earnest about it too. Truly disappointing.

Aceyalone – Magnificent City (accompanied by RJD2)

Basically what happens on this album is that RJD2 comes in with this ridiculously sick groove that I start bouncin’ to, but then this boring person decides to start talking for some reason, and I begin to fall asleep, only to be roused once more by another ill RJD2 beat. By the way, isn’t it fascinating how the words ‘sick’ and ‘ill’ have become synonyms in a second, entirely different sense from their original intended meanings? Are there any other examples of this in the English language? Absolutely fascinating. At least, more so than this “Aceyalone” punk. Stop talking, plz.

Built to Spill – You in Reverse

So Built to Spill, you guys were quite popular in the 90’s, riding on the success of three of the most critically acclaimed albums in all of indie rock. But you really haven’t changed since then. Ten years ago, this would get a PERFECT TEN BEST NEW MUSIC from the fledgling P4k, but the world has moved on in the past ten years, and nobody cares about this sound anymore. To have any sort of longevity, you’ve gotta learn to evolve, just look at Yo La Tengo, or Tom Waits, or David Bowie. Those guys have managed to stay relevant over careers spanning decades, leaving their poseurs in the proverbial dust, and sadly Built to Spill, you are now caught in said dust. It’s time for you to put out a DFA-produced dance-rock album. Actually, now that I think about it, that’d be pretty sick, or ill as you may or may not like it. Either definition of the words would work, really.

Danielson – Ships

You’ve got to be kidding me. How have hipsters bought into this junk? I just can’t take it seriously at all. The little chorus of kids slays me every time.

Beirut – Gulag Orkestar

Another album that the hipsters are going ballistics over, and I don’t understand it at all. So let me get this straight, this teenager plays trumpet over some poorly-written, but dramatically-performed songs, and it’s Album Of The Year? It’s the trumpet, isn’t it. Well, trumpet isn’t as cool as clarinet. If the superior instrument had been used instead, I’d probably like the album. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. So, the album gets killfiled.

Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics

I’ve been thinking over a Modern Classics review for The Soft Bulletin, and I can sum up my thoughts on it by basically stating that if you stripped away all the lush production, you get a poorly written and aimless album such as this one. Does anyone actually like this album? Anyone? My feeling is that this is the Flaming Lips at their essence; it’s the same album they’ve been making all along, but nobody’s noticed because of all of Fridmann and Drozd’s studio trix.

Grandaddy – Just Like the Fambly Cat

I’m not really sure what I used to see in these guys; at one point they were something like my fourth favorite band. Ever. In all of history. Absolutely unfathomable. This is such an embarrasing record, and a really poor way to ride into the sunset of retirement. Even the title and the cover art are bad. I try not to judge books by their covers, but sometimes those judgements are just absolutely correct. I stood up for Grandaddy when they released Sumday, in fact I still think that’s an underrated album, but there’s no way I’m standing up for this junk.

The Walkmen – A Hundred Miles Off

I’m having trouble thinking of another band experiencing such a catastrophic collapse in quality between albums. Interpol comes to mind, for one. But even Antics has a small handful of entertaining moments; this on the other hand, is just garbage through and through. After hearing songs like ‘The Rat’ or ‘No Christmas While I’m Talking’ coming through the speakers, ‘boring’ would probably be the last word I’d ever assign to this band. How wrong I was. What a disappointment. This is another album I’m having trouble finding any supporters for.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones

Okay, I guess here’s another shocking bomb coming after a brilliant album. I like ‘Gold Lion’ on this record, and that’s about it, really. I suppose the mindset of the YYY’s was that the success of ‘Maps’ indicated that they should focus on a softer and more melodic angle to their music. Really though, the only reason we liked ‘Maps’ was because that beautiful jagged mess of an album surrounded it and put it into context. I mean, ‘Maps’ does sort of stand up on its own somewhat, but there’s no way they could’ve penned another ten or twelve songs of Maps-like quality, and they should’ve realized that. I have to say that I’m just not interested in this band anymore, I doubt I’ll check out there next album. Sorry.

Band of Horses – Everything All the Time

Is this not the most boring album of all-time, ever? I really like the first track, but after that it’s a calculated mashup of The Shins and My Morning Jacket. The blandness is just fatal to me, knocks me right out, even better than a tranquilizer.

Well that was fun and depressing, wasn’t it. Feel free to flame me in the comments section, I’ll actually enjoy reading your perspectives on it, seriously. Just try to avoid the caps lock key, or the emo path.

Links, just for you, and No One Else: