Saturday, December 20, 2008

(Spoilers everywhichway)

I'm glad I finally had the sense to play Fallout. It only struck me recently that it's been three years since I bought the Fallout 1 & 2 bundle, and thus three years since my initial trip in the wasteland. My initial impressions were that the game was very successful in terms of atmosphere - I remember feeling as disoriented as the Vault Dweller, with the vast expense of the desert (and those Radscorpions) being a bit too much for me. Stuck with the belief that it was too hard, it took three years for me to get around to sitting down to play the whoe thing. I'm so glad I did! It's a difficult game by today's standards, but it isn't as bad as I remembered. One thing that strikes me is how unforgiving it is compared to modern RPGs - you've got to plan a bit before important events, and simple gun blitzes don't work. I liked this quite a bit: it was a good break from "sanitized" RPGs, which includes the BioWare school. Fond as I am of them, I must admit that they let you get through them without too much heartache. I wouldn't choose one over the other, but like I said, it was nice to know that the "other" way of doing things is just as enjoyable.

On the subject of difficulty, it has been pointed out that auto-levelling systems (which I believe are used in Oblivion) really take away a lot of the thrill of gameplay. The sense of fear at ultra tough enemies, and the sense of achievement when they are finally beaten. For me, it was those psychotic Deathclaws; why did the Gun Runners not want to help destroy them again?! The argument for auto-levelling might be that it makes games easier, but the cost is very high. It isn't as though the entire map need be filled with impossibly hard foes: even a few danger zones can add a lot to the overall atmosphere.

A better review than this suggested that the game is a true example of role playing. You can certainly see why. Any game where the end boss needn't actually be fought, and whom can be convinced to end his own life, has to count among the finest examples of choice permeating right through the game. As with any great game before its time, the choices that Fallout presented are only now making their way into modern RPGs. As usual, they are now touted as being great new innovations, opening new doors...

A classic game, definitely. Though you might tire of me calling something "one of the best", I can't help it: Fallout truly deserves its reputation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Musical retrospective 2008

Traditions are traditions, and I've always been fairly dutiful in following them through. But I have to admit that part of me is a little embarassed with this retrospective, for fear of how it holds up to scrutiny in the future. One of the small things I've learnt through blogging is that insight is pretty much always callow in some regard. Which would be fine, but it can be embarassing when one thinks "Well, this time around I'll be sober and thoughtful", as I often do. Not that that's going to stop me writing anyway, of course...

Anyhow, this year I want to make it brief, even though volume wise I probably heard and thought about music much more than in recent memory. (Things have been going well in my attempt to stop my ridiculous under-listening habits of yore.) When reflecting over the year, I can think of three artists that define it for me, and all three seem to have a devoted underground following, but next to no "mainstream" recognition, which I use to include the roughly-agreed-upon canon of alternative rock music. I speak of John Prine, Sparks, and Ween. As coincidences go, it turns out that I have only three albums from each of them, but they are of more than sufficient quality for them to have worked their way into my personal list of greats. I've found their music gripping pretty much the whole way through, which happens rarely.

I think John Prine amazed me the most, because he is a stunning talent in a field I thought I knew quite well (the broad umbrella of singer-songwriter). The genre is known for its occasional excesses and overambition, yet Prine, by seemingly working within its most modest of settings, manages to create some of the most endearing music I've heard to date. (In any genre, might I add; while I dislike high praise in general, I really can't deny that I've felt this for nearly a year now.) What I find interesting about Prine's music is that the lyrics never fall into the trap of equating good songwriting with good poetry. Needless to say, they remain resonant nonetheless; all delivered with simple melodies, very hummable, but never frivolous. Songwriting wasn't meant to live on the page (not exclusively, anyway) - though it sounds trite, it is meant to be sung, to project words and give them meaning with melody and cadence. Several times, lines from songs resonate not just because they are a clever turn of phrase, but because they are accompanied by something memorable in the music - be it the melody, or even just the delivery. Prine's songs are masterful examples of these. I'd like to describe the music as "honest", although I'm not sure I can explain what that really means. I suspect that it's just a way to say that the music has Quality. Not something that you can actively achieve in music, but it seems that for his first three albums, Prine had this completely nailed down. It begins with the debut, of course - what an album! More high praise - to date, it's easily one of the most "mature" debuts I've heard. Wisdom is one part of it, but like I discussed with the lyrics above, it's also a matter of knowing what one's strengths are, and sticking to that. Like a couple of other great albums, it begins in the most gentle and welcoming way possible ("Illegal Smile"), rather than trying to floor you immediately with greatness. The greatness in this case is simply the endless stream of classic songs, with lines that resonate far longer than you might imagine the first time around. My final praise - it is one of those albums I wish I could hear again for the first time. (I've turned into one of those sycophantic reviewers, haven't I?!)

Of the three, maybe Sparks are the ones whose lack of success is the most puzzling. Prine we can sort of excuse because he was so without ostentation in a time that seemed to demand it (glam rock, etc.). And Ween, well they came out in the 90s, and, er, of course, their first song was called "You ****ed Up". But the success of Roxy Music and Queen suggests that the world was more than ready for Sparks. (Incidentally, I found it frustrating reading reviews of Kimono that accused them of being Roxy rip-offs.) Three years is a long time in music, agreed, but I don't quite see what changed from '71 to '73. Regardless, they seem immediately like one of those bands that can't possibly make a bad album (I've read that that's not true, but I hope my meaning is clear). The voice is the first element that grabs interest - while Kimono and Woofer are still fine showcases of it, it's the debut where it most powerful. My initial listens of Sparks were downright baffling; here was this remarkable voice, and it was put to the test in the craziest of songs. And the lyrics, far some being obscure and unsettling, which would fit in fairly naturally with the song structures, are consistently hilarious. Who can compete with Sparks for humour? TMBG, who I believe cite the band as being a big inspiration? Randy Newman, perhaps; but even he probably didn't have it in him to write "Here Comes Bob" (that song, man...seriously!). But the last ingredient is that the songs are simply melodic, which is one thing that prevents Sparks from being another difficult or unrewarding experimental band that is hard to get into. Indeed, while I disliked Kimono initially, I found myself unable to deny the very strong and consistent set of melodies that Ron writes with seeming ease. When all these things are combined consistently, it makes for some rather endearing music. You can't just shelve it as quirky, experimental, or listenable. It is all those things, plus enjoyable - can you ask for more?

I very recently expressed pure admiration for Ween, and I find myself often feeling like I should write more words of praise for Dean & Gene. I think part of the reason is that, of all decades, they started in the '90s - trends and times were not on their side, but talent sure was. It seems to me that there have been a number of "retro" groups since (and possibly before), although few display Ween's command of both breadth and depth. (My limited understanding is that most retro groups focus on '60s psychedelia or pop.) There is the backstory that GodWeenSatan consisted of selections from hundreds (thousands?) of hours' worth of tapes that they had recorded through their teens. It makes me wish I had the opportunity to spend hours on end putting the thoughts in my head on tape - would such rigorous practice create a songwriter out of me yet?! It clearly paid off for Ween, and I feel that they'll probably end up being one of my favourites from the '90s. Like Sparks, the one thing you can't deny is Ween are melodic, ridiculously so - without this crucial fact, their homages (or parodies, if you like - though I think that's extremely unfair) would not be worth very much. Indeed, I'd wager that this is essentially what will convert most people to the group, once the initial shock wears off. Can it really be the case that a duo that seems to embody the worst type of frat humour is capable of writing better 'tunes that hordes of more earnest competition? I think the surprising answer is yes.

(All this praise, but I must still admit - I'm still a bit scared of The Pod and its brothers.)

Aside from the holy trinity of '08, I think that Warren Zevon impressed me the most. When I purchased his debut, I really paid it very little mind, and was prepared for a pleasant distraction. Which is indeed what I first found, and how I shelved the album after a few listens. But something made me go back to it, and I became convinced that people who wrote good things about Zevon weren't just buying into the image - the classic artist troubled with personal demons, in this case alcohol the major one, who creates art from strife - he really does have something meaningful to convey. He seems to have a nice balance of the serious and the sweet -his ballads are really quite wonderful, and unabashedly set in the classic style of the love song. They also seem to be littered with great lines ("Time out of mind", which, knowing Dylan, probably inspired that famous album). (Also, if it helps, did you know he was tutored by Stravinsky?)

And finally - let me write very briefly about them classical tunes, which I surprisingly managed to stay interested in the year through. At the start of the year, Pyotr Ilyich's Piano Concerto No. 1 gave me hope in two things: that the genre clearly had something grand to convey, and that there was a chance that I would end up appreciating at least a bit of it. I spent the year searching for something similar, that I would immediately respond to. In hindsight, that's probably a bit too impulsive; and heck, that doesn't even work with popular song, so there's no reason to assume . But, all that being said, there were two other pieces that I liked more and more with each listen: Schubert's Unfinished, and Holst's The Planets. The former, what can I say, immediately gripping and a piece I cannot imagine even a complete neophyte not liking. And the latter, well - if my foray into the classical world only ends up introducing me to this, I'll have little cause for complaint. I dislike the overuse of words like transcendent, because it ought to be reserved for pieces like this.

And what of the year ahead? Hmm. Funkadelic, Zappa, and Drake? And you know, I might get around to finally hearing some indie classics that I've constantly denigrated without listening to them (I defend this most of the time - I only do this if there are sufficient warning signs). Most of all, I hope I can continue revising my stance on various issues related to music (such as my revelation about the place of lyrics this year), in hopes of becoming a more discerning listener.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For as long as I can remember, I've been seeking out a supposedly great book on the Riemann Hypothesis: John Derbyshire's Prime Obsession. Reviews from various sources have me all but convinced that it is the book on the topic, something that isn't afraid to go into details about the towering problem of our time. A few days ago, I had the most unexpected revelation relating to the book. The author, it turns out, isn't just another pleasant fellow who likes his maths and science. No, it turns out that Derbyshire has very..."conservative" views on social issues; race and immigration, for example. Suffice to say, they gave me a most unexpected jolt. Now, I don't mean to judge Derbyshire; although I won't pretend like I wasn't shocked at finding out these things, he is certainly entitled to believe whatever he wants. But why I found it hard to come to terms to with the information is a really naive preconception on my part: that people with similar passions as me might not share my world view, and might even actively reject it! Conflating intellectual interests and societal/world views is much more erroneous than I initially thought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When she sat beside me, a gentle waft of moth balls filled the air. After the initial surprise wore off, I wondered whether my search was officially over.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

1) Ween, "The Argus". Every time I start to question the worth of the wondrous duo, I revisit or discover one of their songs and have to admit that at the very least they are ridiculously talented, and that when they feel like it, they can come up songs worthy of a place in their idols' catalogues. At the risk of setting myself up for future embarassement, I'll posit that this song is perfect.

2) Warren Zevon, "Desperadoes Under The Eaves". Featuring the finest quatrain of the album, and possibly the finest melody too - but somehow it still isn't the best song (not without a tie, anyway)!

3) John Prine, "The Late John Garfield Blues". It reminds me of early Dylan - I don't quite understand it, but lines oddly resonate in a way that convinces me that he's upto something.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Apparently the last Dirt Cheap CDs store in Sydney closed down last week, which despite my geographic isolation from the scene is cause for some reflection. While I was surprised, I can't say that this came out of the blue, as funnily enough my departure from the city seemed to coincide with a few signs that the store was not doing so well. Something about the newsletters they sent out suggested trouble, not to mention the steady increase in prices to around $17 a CD - still "cheap", but a far cry from the wonderful $10 heyday. But I didn't realize that it was bad enough for the store to close down.

Honestly, my visits during the last year weren't as frequent as the period following my initial discovery, but I did keep alive the tradition of a visit every holiday. I will not forget the opportunities it offered for "experimentation" - of those that succeeded, I can recall Paul Simon and, my lord, Ram (!!!). Along with its cousin RockBottom (which disappeared a couple of years ago, I think), it has constituted a not-inconsequential portion of my CD collection. I can't help but associate it with the wonderful period of building my collection from scratch, where it seemed that the possibilities were limitless, and that there was scope to be taught a lot of important things through music. Nowadays, the horizon still seems never-ending, but the sense of excitement has settled a little. I think I've grown more reflective and critical over the years, which is a good thing, but I also find that I'm rarely surprised with music. Excited, definitely, but the thrill of the early days, where buying a CD was a big event that required careful selection, has subsided. Whatever road my musical tastes travel nowadays, I owe a lot to the young & free days now past.

At least JB seems as strong as ever; I was slightly worried during a recent visit to see a larger number of import CDs, but I am assured that its range of $10 buys is as good as ever. And I hope the independents manage to stay alive - I will be distraught if something like Mojo goes under! I suppose DC was quite a "commercial" store, but I will miss the feeling of it nonetheless. At the very least, it still has an online presence. Not the same as browsing through the store for Smiths and Cure albums, but at least it's a reminder of better times.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Surprisingly, it's rare that I'm really exposed to the fact that my philosophies and principles are so egregiously out of place in what constitutes normal society. I tend to treat them as idiosyncracies for the most part, and indeed I've become so used to them that I've grown convinced that even if they aren't common, they're at least valid. But when I try explaining any of these things to a polite enquirer, to whom they sound exotic and foreign, I just end up blathering due to the perceived frivolty of the whole thing, and uncomfortably try to switch topics; indeed, at these moments I'm more than open to the possibility of the frivolty being much more than "perceived"!

I have to admit that valuable as my particular slant on most things is to me, there are moments where I question their validity, and wonder whether they are a consequence of inordinate time spent thinking about these matters: time better spent, and I think this is the root of it, actually doing something. Yes, even I sometimes envy the world outside me.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A favourite observation of mine, one which I'm convinced has deeper implications than I realize, is that life is continuous, that time knows naught but how to move forward. This principle is seen at work in another favourite of mine, the revelation. Information exists, somewhere in the universe, perhaps only in the mind of a single person, and yet in only a second it can be splayed across the entire cosmos, visible to all who care to look! And once it's out there, of course, one cannot retract it, and lives are necessarily changed by truths that have always been, but which the mind has only now become conscious of.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My mind sometimes plays tricks on me when I struggle to make out a face in the horizon. There can be a split-second where I'm convinced it's someone whose physical presence is impossible, but before I have the opportunity to rationalize this, the emotional connection is made. An unusual manifestation of missing certain interactions, one which I've experiened a few too many times this month.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Today's Lesson

I realize now that I can't really force myself into people's lives. As much as I want to be a part of them, if circumstances demand that it is not to be, then I ought not try as hard as I sometimes do. Essentially, I cannot try to forcibly convince people that my presence will be beneficial to them, no matter how true I think that is! Beyond trying to project the best part of me, there's not much more I can do. Why? To answer, a line from a favourite Neil Young song: "I can't tell them how to feel".

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beautiful Keats quote:

“ ‘If I should die,’ said I to myself, ‘I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.’ ”
I never realized that making a promise could be so heart-rending. In my case, it's the sense that the time is so far away, the horizon seemingly endlessly looming around me. I...don't want to say I think my promises will be untrue. But it's painful to think their context will be lacking further down the path. In particular, it's unsettling, yet sobering, to finally realize that yes, the world does not revolve around me, and that ties do not stay strong just because I want them to. Bah, change, what good is any of it!?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I wrote about "rock poetry" a few years ago, with no success - not even I understand just what my position was at the time. I'd like to make a quick observation on the matter now that some time has passed. My stance now is strongly inspired by Christgau's: namely, that the function of lyrics is rather different than that of a poem, as the latter is meant to be read, the former to be sung. Good lyrics can often seem unusually flat when quoted, the words themselves sans musical context somehow seeming not as bright as when heard. Their general inability to translate strongly to the pure page shouldn't be taken as a negative pronouncement on the form, I think: it's just that lyrics (obviously) rely on their medium to convey emotion, and so comparisons to classical poetry are unfair. I understand what people mean when they call gifted songwriters "poets" - the meaning of the word has somewhat shifted I suppose - but taking it too literally can lead to confusion and crises of confidence (I speak from experience!). It's a different form, and has different methods of making you feel something. So, assessing the worth of a songwriter is necessarily more complex than simply comparing his writing to that of poets past - for there are few who could rise to such a challenge.

As always, this view is subject to change as well, but the issue was bothering me for a while now. I never knew mimicking Christgau was such an easy option!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nowadays, I tell myself that I don't care too much about objectivity in album reviews and all that; much more important things to worry about, no doubt about it. But still. One of the problems that comes with assessing an album is knowing when to stop the needle, as it were, and confidently say that you understand it. Christgau says it's his gift to know when that point is, and that's something to be really admired. I find it's very easy to think you've understood an album (or an artist) only to be proved wrong several years down the line. I can think of several albums which I've already judged in my head, but where there is a nagging feeling that there's something unfinished, that there's the possibility that there is more to be unearthed. What prevents me from repeated listenings at that point? Time, most obviously, and the fact that it's usually with albums that I find merely adequate; the probability of being rewarded in the endeavor of listening again thus appears rather slim. For the moment, then, I'll just have to assume that for every one misjudged album, there are two whose essence I get with time.
It's occurred to me that this latest fad of mine might be better placed in a separate blog, or, you know, in my head where it belongs. My direct violation of this sensible advice is the simple fact that, unlike many of my posts, this is fun. For me, that is, and isn't that what this blog is all about?

1) John Prine, "Please Don't Bury Me". Just some old-fashioned fun, certainly. But lightweight, never! I like the fact that he was able to ignore the inane "new Dylan" tag and write songs like this. Ironically, it's by being true to his own vision that a Dylan comparison is most warranted.

2) Sparks, "Big Bands". I could choose pretty much anything from the debut album, really. What's more, the core elements of my description would remain very much the same - intelligent lyrics, amazing voice, and crazy song structure! Here, the fact that it occurred to them to write a song on the subject should be enough to earn congratulations: one can easily relate to it in spirit, doubly so when Russell gives it such a delicate vocal treatment. What I especially like is that, contrary to many other bands with a bold musical vision, there is some sort of logic behind all the music; "experimental" and "ground-breaking" can still be charming.

3) The Beatles, "And I Love Her". Might want to check this band out - they sure can pen a good tune.

4) Warren Zevon, "The French Inhaler". Years ago, I remember one reviewer of Zevon's self-titled album advising the rest of us in the art of seduction: just put this song on and draw close. I can guess the particular couplet he was thinking of, and indeed it's a beaut. Whether it's a good idea to coo to your interest that their face looks like something Death brought along, though, is another matter. Reliable sources (his son, no less) tell us that this song is to be imagined as a conversation between Zevon and his wife, and so it's inevitable that some of it is a little impenetrable. But the pieces I do get are all worthwhile.

5) Nick Cave, "Mercy". There was a period of around a year where I was actually a little scared to put on Tender Prey again, because I'd convinced myself that great as it was, it was akin to the soundtrack of the apocalypse. It's not as grim as all that, but taking this track and the one that follows it, I can see why a younger me could get affected in such a way. The atmosphere is brutally evocative - the delivery of "I told her to get down on her knees", for example. And the wry rumination on death is still eminently quotable. I don't find myself in the mood for it all that much (thankfully!) but when the mind is a particular shade of gray, there is nothing like it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A bit of (intended) effluvia, for a change: long ago, I talked about an inadvertent switch to IE that made me wonder whether it was just tabs that made me drift away from ol' Firefox. Probably, but now I've found a reason to make the gradual move back - and it turns out I was rather prescient, because v3 was the magic number with its introduction of the "smart" address bar. A small improvement in the grand scheme, but I've found it rather indispensable with familiarity. Kudos to the developers for the idea.

Late night, maudlin street

Given choices and late nights, the best I can do is invariably the classic "Why must I choose in the first place?"; what's remarkable is that the thought seems very potent when created, but the next day it seems awful close to a cop-out. And if that seems familiar, then really it's because things are not that much is different from the days of thunder & fire. What, I wonder, does all this choice mean anyway? I can't comprehend how wildly divergent they all are, but still you wonder if any of them can be blatantly wrong. After all, there are always little mysteries on offer wherever you go, and unraveling them is about as satisfying as it gets for me. All this thinking, all these years, and still answers do not present themselves - is it even commendable that I'm still asking these questions?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Caroline and I

Variations on a theme by Forster/McLennan.

"Caroline and I
Born in the very same year
Alive at a similar time
It gave me something small
That I could feel"

I actually thought I lost you for a second there. Of course, looking at you again after all these years, you really aren't all that different, and so it's easy to chide me for being melodramatic again. But that isn't the you I'm talking about: I mean the person hopelessly entwined with the days that time and circumstance took away from me. The memories go strong still, but I can't live with them alone; I need something tangible, I need something to confirm to me that the time did in fact exist.

Only now did it strike me that perhaps the last scrap in our romance is the very room I sit in now. I don't think you ever visited, nor for that matter is there any physical suggestion of you anywhere here. Open my desks and you will see no love letter or trinket to remind me of you; there are but mounds of papers and the assorted paraphernalia that make up my daily life. But the marvel is that, given all these changes, the past is invoked easily enough. It just takes certain days, where the view from my window shows more than the beautiful blue sky: and what it suggests is that time has not passed at all - a day, a year, a century, none of it has any meaning. The room is either safely excluded from all time, or the very intersection of all of it; whatever it is, having seen all that is and will be, you will always remain somewhere within it.

And yes, before you ask, it also resurrects the day I'd rather not remember. I remember thinking it was as if all time around me had stopped; aside from the words I heard you speaking, perfect in their clarity yet simultaneously nonsensical in what they were implying, I cannot remember how the rest of the world revolved. Yet even now I can be reminded of the instant with perfect strength, and my strongest feeling is simply gratitude that it is allowed to live on. We never will regress to our former selves - for good reason, might I add - but the moments that shaped us will live forever.

I suppose that one tries to write about past loves in order to try to forget them. Forgetting would be welcome, as it would free my mind and heart. But as I get towards the end of this little piece, I cannot help but feel that the real goal of all this writing is to make the past immortal. I know my powers well enough to sense this is beyond me, but I am glad I need no longer to wonder about the permanence of those times. Should the questions come back to me, I need only look out my window, to the sky that forged us and broke us apart, to know the answer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An amusing game you might like to try out - try to find all Beatles songs that begin with their chorus (preferably without listening to all their albums again, lest you have a whole day to spare). I haven't tried this on many other artists, as the Beatles belong to a very select group of bands whose entire catalogue I can nearly recall at will; consequently, its novelty may be severely lacking. But the genesis of this game was an analysis of...well, I can't give the name of the song, for that would spoil the game ;) Let's say an analysis of "an early song" of theirs, which thought that beginning with the chorus was pretty bold for its time.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Not terribly long ago, I might have treated the following as an aphorism: pretending to know all the answers isn't as bad as pretending to know all the questions. And the latter applied to me in spectacular fashion in the days of thunder and fire, so much so that it is genuinely hard to read anything I expressed at that time. The attempts to appear intellectual and philosophical strike me as incredibly hollow; victims of an old affliction of mine, which is being stricken with the image of something and not caring particularly for anything below its surface.

I've expressed earlier the desire to somehow talk all this over with the unfortunate victims of my treatment back then. But the time seems trapped in itself, a bad dream. I suspect that trying to revisit it will not conjure up dramatic images at all, but rather end up seeming rather bland and dreary. Is that an even worse fate?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Macca has made earned several mentions here over the years, and as is often my wont, I thought it interesting to track down the ones referring to Band on the Run. Seems I once thought the title track was the best, then "Let Me Roll It". Now, at the height of my powers, I imagine that the "final" verdict is that the best one is really the colossus that ends the whole thing, "1985". I'm not sure how many times one can change one's mind about such a thing, but that is the state of play as it stands.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

So, I'm sometimes wrong. When you mostly live in your head, estimates about personality and character are quite easily off target. I still go a lot by initial judgments, and take my instinctive feelings about people to mean far too much than I ought to. He only needed to make a few simple lines for me to realize that he was far more complex than I had thought; and though I don't like to admit it, it's likely he's far more developed than I'll ever be. This realization isn't comforting at all, and I don't think that making it earns me anything. But I would like to acknowledge my wrong this one time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Contrary to my initial estimates, it seem like there is a not-insignificant portion of lads my age who, like me, seem to wonder what it is that awaits us out there in the years to come. But that isn't really a cause for celebration. I wonder, are things really as bad as they feel on nights like these? I cannot imagine the generation before us facing this sort of existential turmoil. I think being spoilt for choice plays some role in all of this. It is a topic of perpetual interest to consider what exactly is going to become of all of us who wonder about where we're headed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There are two questions that naturally arise when first understanding that Ween aren't a joke, and that Ween are good. First, isn't it a shame that such talent should be "wasted" on such a postmodern experiment? And second, is this the complete end of popular song?

The first question is to do with the fact that Ween have more musical and melodic talent than many of their peers: so much so that you think they could've made it big if they wanted to. I ask myself then whether it's a waste that they be deconstructing popular song to such an extent, devouring every manner of style without revealing anything about themselves. One can imagine many "earnest" rockers who come with noble goals and messages, but who, one must admit, do not seem to have mastered the act of songwriting like the Ween brothers. Wouldn't it be better if their talents were transferred to such an artist? What would we lose, really?

I'd say no, it wouldn't be better were their talents transferred, and they do have something to tell us after all. I'll admit I still feel it's a bit funny that such talent be possessed by lads who really don't fit the stereotype of "good musicians". I mean, look at their early song titles and you might place them as the juvenile college kids they're so not (well, they can be juvenile, but there is much more to them than just a pair of jokers). I wouldn't blame you, because the only reason it even entered my mind to consider them was the great GS's reviews. But we have to make peace with their strange dispositions, I think. As their later work demonstrates, they do care about the music. They don't write parodies as much as tributes, or even better, songs that are directly inspired by some older music which happens to be great. And, given their innate gifts, which turn out be pretty darn good themselves. I don't think we can ask more of the band than having love for what they do, and the styles they explore.

So even if these are good songs based on classic styles, what good is that? To answer what I see as the "worth" of the band, I have to look at the second question. This question is rather silly, but simply put asks whether we can reconcile the fact that we have a group that can write songs that hark back to the golden days, and yet so deliberately eschew honesty. Does this mean that we've greatly overestimated the place that "emotion", or belief in the music has? I think the answer has to be: certainly a little, but all is not lost. Again, the straight-faced later material demonstrates that there is some love for the oldies, which we can interpolate as transferring onto the songwriting process. But yes, it is true that by deconstructing popular song, they have revealed (to me, at least) that "honesty", if not completely imicable, can be facsimilied well enough. This is actually very interesting to think about, and purely on this basis alone I think we can see the "deeper" value in what they do. On more than one occasion I have been forced to ask myself what exactly I like about particular styles, because Ween confront me with what they see as its essential elements. Is a pretty melody and a set of..."plausibly heartfelt" lyrics really it for a good broken-hearted tune (I'm thinking of "It's Gonna Be Alright" here)? I don't have an answer to most of these questions, but I firmly believe that the reason Ween are able to pull this sort of thing off is that their understanding is combined with a care for the style and subject. This might be a fancy way of me trying to convince myself that "no, they're really serious after all", but it's nice that you have the opportunity to think so much about the music. Even if it isn't always in the same way one thinks about more traditional groups, there is a lot of pondering to be done on their songs, so all that considered - they're not bad on the stimulation front.

I'll admit that all of this merely says that Ween don't spell the end of popular song for me, and that after my initial concerns, I'm rather ok with their philosophy and inclinations now. I'd be lying, however, if I said I can completely submit to it, to the level where such deconstructionist-music can become a favourite. Yet I suppose one has to start somewhere. In Ween's case, getting past the awful "parody band" tag is (still, unfortunately) a good place to begin.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The most caustic, but funniest, thing anyone has said to me in a while.

"Well, that's what I think - I hope there are no mistakes"
"Haha, you hope there are no mistakes? Your life is a mistake!"
I've mostly conquered the more nihilistic part of me, but that doesn't mean it's non-existent. The self-deprecation that most people come to know me by isn't a put-on for the most part, but probably closer to an outlet that decides to merge with my funny side. It's an attempt, I assume, to provide some amusement while simultaneously giving me catharsis; something for everyone! I've grown used to it as a stream in the background, and I don't take it all that seriously. Except on some off colour days, where it just seems like I've gotten up on the wrong side of the planet. Every fear and fallacy lodged in my head decides to spring out at this rare opportunity, and proceeds to make the day an obstacle that stands in the way of me lying in bed, sighing deeply, and hoping that the next is brighter. It invariably is, mind you; but there are times when I wonder where, and why, I'm going.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This is a little too close on the heels of the previous one, but as I was about to scrap the idea, it occured to me that there is a common thread here. These are all songs I was irritated with the first time around!

1) Ween, "Polka Dot Tail". After the dreamy title track from The Mollusk, I really wasn't in a mood to hear a slow, ambling piece with nonsense lyrics. I was quite surprised then when I started recalling this at odd moments, a sign that it was doing something right. I think the hallmark of quality here at the two solos, which, like quite a few of the tracks on The Mollusk, are wise. They don't give particular meaning to the words that surround it, but they manage to strip them of incongruity. You cannot hear this and take seriously any remarks that they are just a parody band.

2) Mamas And Papas, "I Call Your Name". The generic-blues piano progression at the beginning irritated straight away; I wanted harmonies, especially since this is after "Got A Feelin'". It took an old friend's recommendation for me to try it again, and as it happens, I saw the magic that somehow just passed me by the first few times. This is some tight stuff, and the flow is effortless. It is very interesting to hear Lennon's rawer original after this, as it demonstrates that it is a genuine reinterpretation, rather than mere dressing up with the M&P's pretty voices. I imagine that this is what Christgau refers to when he talks of the M&Ps having recorded one of the greatest Beatles covers ever.

3) Nick Cave, "Lyre Of Orpheus". Let's see if I can end these lists with Cave every time. With "Hiding All Away", I changed my mind about it midway through the song, but with "Orpheus", it was only a few weeks ago. It was certainly brave of Cave to write something like this: slow, lots of repetition, and most of all really "dangerous" rhymes (such as the well being very deep, very deep being the well, etc.). It indicates an immense amount of confidence in his songwriting, certainly, and on that level alone it is satisfying for me. But with time, it does start to resonate; though I haven't yet put it in the context of the whole album, I have started to feel that elements I thought were simply overcooked are in fact rather cleverly done. An educational piece of songwriting is the best way I can put it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I saw her again, was not a body that I recognized.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I don't enjoy being stuck with company that make me feel superior about myself. Drunken revelry is not for me, I'm afraid. It isn't the uninhibited nature of what follows that disappoints, but rather the displays of what the group considers to be funny and appropriate for the situation; juvenile, which I'm often ready for, but crass in a manner that just makes me cringe. I usually take to pondering weighty matters to shy away from the awkwardness that I feel: it's not far from there to start feeling high and mighty about onesself. But such feelings are far overshadowed by the ineffectuality, the sadness of the whole thing. Consequently, the night's proceedings inevitably end up as a blog post which does even less for the confidence.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I had a rare experience of shared listening recently, which is something that has never really come up in the past. This has been not only due to taste mismatches, but also due to personal preference. It was interesting to observe how different things are when it isn't just me carefully listening and "considering" on headphones. The songs seem different somehow, and no longer the personal items that exist only in my head. It is proof, I suppose, of their existence!

It also allowed for acts that seem plucked from movies - "Tell me if you like this...". When such spur of the moment recommendations are met by a receptive audience, what bliss! I attribute it to the joy in seeing fantasy coming to life.
I'm not really as well versed with the early Beatles records as I ought to be. As a result, two new discoveries I have made about "influences" that seem apparent to me (both Lennon tunes, incidentally):

1) The descending melody on "You Can't Do That" sounded so utterly familiar when I heard it recently, and it struck me that what it was reminding me of was none other than..."Light My Fire"! To think that I offhandly remarked once that I wasn't all that upset about the Doors borrowing from the Kinks for "Hello I Love You", but that a similar discovery for their signature tune would be far more serious...

2) The guitar on "I Call Your Name" seems to have been transformed to the bassline for Paul Simon's "Kodachrome"!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Three songs I've been thinking about of late that seem to demand some acknowledgment from me.

1) TMBG, "Lucky Ball & Chain". I always liked this one, right from the beginning. Only recently did I come to the conclusion that I probably like it the most among the other tracks on Flood. Christgau says they have more charm and wit than they let on at first, and this is a good example. I was initially not a fan of the "Confidentially..." verses, but what're you gonna do? The guys are what they are. Importantly, I'm not really distracted by them when the really powerful lines take their turn (and there are definitely a couple here).

2) John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream". No point putting any of the better known numbers from the debut, which I probably hum to myself more. This one has...quality, man. Whimsical, I suppose, but it takes some skill to take such a simple (and naturally appealing) life philosophy and turn it into something that really makes sense, rather than something naive and out of reach.

3) Nick Cave, "The Ship Song". This feels ooold, because I've heard it for so many years, but only recently have I come to truly appreciate it. And it turns out that many people place it as the highlight of The Good Son, which I can understand. Like the above song, it's simple, really, but to make it truly resonant requires a master's hand. It's easy for me to see why I once thought it slightly cheesy, but nowadays it seems dead serious to me. The imagery isn't particularly embellished because it doesn't need to be!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ok. It's ok. She is definitely gone. I read it again, and it's so clear to me. I imagined most of it, so now there are no more excuses to be made. Perhaps at one point things could've gone differently, but I think we just met at the wrong time. Please, try to get on with it now. And if you really need to, feel free to imagine whatever you wish with those last words she spoke to you, that no one else can confirm or deny.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

There has been too much going on upstairs of late, and as it usually happens, I'm not coping with it all that well. Quite aside from the "normal" strain of university, thoughts and dreams, plucked from oh-Lord-I-don't-know-where, swirl about uncontrolled and invade far too many waking moments (I've long forsaken the night, you see). I'd like to tell it all to, um, stop, but it has been rather unsympathetic.
Why is it that these pithy introductions always end up disparaging the painfully direct writings that follow the bar? I don't know if I mean to distance myself from things that I fear are more true of me than I'd like to admit. Anyhow, no exceptions here. But I'll save the rejection of the writing, because I think it does that quite by itself.

Those fools gathered by the beaches, they'll stop you and tell you they know pain. Stuff all that; sit down by me, brother, and I'll let you know exactly what it's all about.

The continuity of experience and emotion can be devastating. I always look to art to give me some answers, but as much as I believe in its transcendence, sometimes it cannot escape its temporality. Oftentimes when I need it the most, such as now. Alas, the full force of its reality simply cannot come into its own.

So it goes once more this time. Memories, moments, laments, and lines, they all haunt me from years and years ago. It is never enough to simply best them once, because they seem all too eager to return as often as you like. One clearly needs to get to the root of the problem, but I don't quite see how to do that in this case. Without blowing up an entire universe, that is: it would take some nous for it to be otherwise!

There is little worse than making the right choice, but regretting it anyway. I won't pretend that I haven't felt like it might have been wrong at times, but as I sit here and try to keep from laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, it seems pretty clear to me what the right of the matter is. I'd love to tell the players involved of all the hurt I've felt over the years, but I made another choice too, and that one, I am afraid, was wrong. Perhaps, if I had spoken earlier, without worrying where it would have led, things might have been different.

The most harrowing of all lines from Cloudstreet are Fish's words to Rose, talking of being in that wide vibrating space, beyond all time, where lies all that is and will be. I sense this sort of detachment in myself, but don't know what exactly it means. Why does everything feel so passive? I am truly starting to feel older, and it deeply troubles me that I seem to exist in a different plane, outside of all time, like Fish. I picture all around me moving on to whatever it is lies ahead in their lives, and I sit here, the pathetic figure who looks only to past glories and those brief moments where there was the possibility of escaping this all. It all seems to be gone now. I sit alone with these memories, and the people in them forget as they live their lives. Why can't I do anything about this...

I look upon these darling moments, and think it such a shame that they should all be to waste. Would that things could be different. Yet this world of ours cannot revolve around a will, no matter how earnest the person behind it, nor the tears he may shed wishing it otherwise. I hope you do not take that for bitterness, because I would like to think it is my only display of wisdom in the entire matter.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It wasn't entirely apparent to me at the time, but I think the trouble I had with Henry's Dream translates to a few other songwriters as well: Morrissey is the first that comes to mind. The trouble is that, sometimes, I wonder whether I've completely misunderstood their stance and statement, and if I'm just completely imagining the virtues that I claim to see in them. This is because the general reputations of songwriters like Nick Cave and Morrissey are wildly different to what I think of them.

With Cave, I really don't associate him with his Birthday Party days all that much, and neither for that matter most of his '80s solo material. Definitely not as much as I used to, at any rate. It's primarily his '90s catalogue by which I place him, and of course The Good Son by which I judge everything. But sometimes I think about it, and...The Good Son? For Nick Cave? The supposed prince of darkness, heir to Jim Morrison and all that, and I think his masterwork is bookmarked by a Brazilian hymn and "Lucy"!?! Am I crazy!?! While I've come across people who like the more strained albums, like Your Funeral, the safest bet for someone's choice of quintessential Cave is Tender Prey, I think. But while I still like the album (after all, it contains most people's choice of the quintessential Cave song), I still sense something special in The Good Son.

Similar deal with Morrissey. I hardly think of him as a depressing, maudlin songwriter, but instead as a very emotional one whose capacity for wit makes hints of sadness seem to be positive acceptance. I guess I associate him with "Cemetry Gates" say instead of "How Soon Is Now?" (wow, never thought that day would come!). In fact, I get positively uncomfortable when I sense him going too much to the other side. Part of it is probably because it makes me worried whether this is in fact the real him, and I've been imagining a different songwriter all these years.

It could just be that people are lazy to categorize songwriters, mind you, which wouldn't surprise me at all. But given how ready I am to forsake all sense of restraint when it comes to an above average songwriter, I do worry whether I've been getting it all wrong.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I briefly flirted with virtual machines when trying to run games, as I reported earlier, but with only partially successful results. When it came to somewhat more serious issues, such as code development for Linux, though, things fared much better. In fact, my Ubuntu VM seems to work nearly flawlessly, and it does make me wonder how I lived without it. No more fiddling with annoying Cygwin quirks while trying to get things to work! And, it must be said, you get the nice GUI interface that Linux posers like me can't live without*. Yes, performance can sometimes take a noticeable hit, especially (and obviously) on already intensive software like Eclipse, but that would only be a problem were it my primary work environment. As it stands, I'm liking it, and hoping to find other nice uses for VMs.

* Let me add, though, that I grew up in a world of Red Hat 3, and even went through the ordeal of installing said OS. So don't put me down as a newbie just yet...!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

So many times, the mere suggestion of a new musical artist has sparked an immense defensive surge in me. I'll politely nod when told of his/her merits that in theory I ought to respond to, but in private I try to determine who I already know who's likely to be better than this as-of-yet unknown artist. I'm not sure if that's my way of telling myself that I possess some sort of deep musical knowledge, because that is just criminally wrong.

Friday, February 15, 2008

He had to slink away from the board as the instructor, rather indifferently, pointed out that it was pretty much all wrong. He just made a deferential smile and walked back to his seat, but not before something in the whole scene really got to me. I don't really know why his face, with its mildly embarassed expression, left such a strong impression. It was more than pathos, I am fairly sure. It conjured up a history of a life, so beautiful and simple, and suggested so much innocence and naivety that I felt it validated some of my intangible theories about existence and meaning.

Naturally, I cannot explain what these notions are, precisely, but my intuition tells me they are important. I am grateful to have moments like this that suggest something a careless eye might not see. While my impressions of them may be obviously rooted in an impossible world of fantasy, I assure you their resonance is very much real.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

One of the pecularities of this blog is the fact that I've chosen to be so reserved, all the while proudly displaying my name for all to see in the address. In my defense, it was created in the early days, when I didn't really have any plans as to where it was going to lead. But in the name of partial anonymity, I'd be well-advised to choose a more cryptic address that doesn't blurt out my secret identity. As such, I think I'll move to soon*. I don't know how the domain change works, but I'd imagine this address wouldn't be capable of a redirect all that easily. So take this to be an early warning!

* Of course, I'll probably change the title five more times, but this one has stuck for a while now.

Move completed! All it took was a nervous couple of seconds where I relinquished my oldie domain name, and then switched the blog addresses. And I was right, there is no explicit redirect, but I've kept the old domain intact for nostalgia's sake, even if all it contains is a relocation message.
The extended lounge chair has proved to be a place which encourages the telling of some fantastic tales. And yet, I always sit rather aloof on the unusually tall chair, literally towering over these people, and each time wonder whether I've really lived a life at all. I can't say I'm unduly perturbed over not having any interesting yarns of my own to share, but it makes for uncomfortable moments when amongst any half-normal company.
Not even I know what this means anymore (I'm not being flippant).

The first taste of true choice, and all it implies, left a strange sensation. These fantastic tales of freedom and why it's something we should all be striving for as early as possible seem rather naive. Being sheltered isn't that bad, really. Connecting with reality isn't necessarily as good as it sounds - it depends on whose reality we're talking about.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I oughtn't post, really, but I may as well make the reason a tenuous topic. Where, I ask myself a lot these days, is all this time going to come for the things that matter? I've done the unthinkable, by my standards, and started to question some of the routines I've crafted so carefully over the years. Structure is so comforting, but I wonder if it is starting to do me harm. I don't have any serious complaints about what has gone so far, but I don't look forward to what now seems a very plausible future, wherein the only memories are of the two sets of walls I'm already far too familiar with. But as soon as I get halfway through any scheme, the stern pedagogue in my head counters, telling me that this is what it's supposed to be like. There's a grain of truth in that too, no doubt, but really, the brief taste of reality on nights like this fill me with a certainty that the true journey is what matters - and it must always be accomodated.