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Life December 27, 2019

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, Uncategorized.
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Yeah, I still feel like I’d like to keep this going, but a year and a half ago my wife Laura had surgery, then had chemo, then had surgery, then was told to start doing bucket list stuff, and then she died, so I haven’t been in the mood.

It is happening again… May 21, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, TV.
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Less than half an hour to go, and I have no coffee, no cherry pie, no donuts. But I’m otherwise prepared. I’ve watched most of Twin Peaks and I’ve read some books on Twin Peaks. I watched Mulholland Drive again in case the Silencio rumours are true. I’ve read Mark Frost’s Secret History. I’ve also read David Lynch’s comments about not having watched the original show again, and not having read Frost’s book, so I don’t know if doing that even matters.

I didn’t watch Twin Peaks when it originally aired. I had my first real job, my first real girlfriend, my best friend from years before and miles away had moved to town, I was going out several nights a week. I saw a few minutes of one episode and figured I was coming in too late to make sense of it so I might as well not bother. I bought Julee Cruise’s Floating Into the Night, though, having heard a song on the radio and loving it.

In 1995 the new cable channel Bravo started airing daily repeats, and that’s when I got into the show. (I’d broken up with the girlfriend and the best friend had been transferred out of town, so I had plenty of free time again.) Waiting through the weekend for the next episode on Monday was an unbearable hardship. Just as well I didn’t watch it the first time around, with the long waits. I bought Fire Walk With Me and the pilot movie with the European ending on VHS. I bought Blue Velvet on VHS and loved it, too — it’s not directly connected, but it feels like it could be. I tracked down a couple of the books. I watched the show again a few times, bought soundtracks, a few issues of Wrapped in Plastic magazine when I found them, bought more books, upgraded to DVD, etc.

And I never expected the show to come back.

I got into Star Trek when it was off the air, and it came back. Same with Doctor Who. But Twin Peaks isn’t the same kind of thing and bringing it back in a way fans would recognize and respect as the real thing seemed like too much of a long shot to even consider.

And now here it is. Thirteen minutes away.

I have no idea what to expect. FWWM was significantly different from the TV series; so is Frost’s Secret History. But they’re both back with a lot of the original cast so I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.

Wish I had some cherry pie, though.


Back up to 80% on Netgalley! August 10, 2016

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I’ve had a lot of enjoyable free reads through Netgalley that I’ve blogged and posted about hither and yon, and discovered some good books for my actual work library, too, so I feel guilty if I slip below the 80% reviewed level for the books I request and receive. The last review bumped me back up over the line. So, here are my badges thus far.

80%2016 NetGalley ChallengeFrequently Auto-Approved

Reviews Published2015 Challenge ParticipantProfessional Reader

Netgalley does a good service for writers and publishers, not just reviewers. I know I’ve brought books to the attention of people who might not have come across them otherwise. Probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve occasionally gone and bought other books from the same author or publisher after reviewing something.

Just in case you were wondering why I namecheck Netgalley so often around here…

Edited to add: 100 Book Reviews

Wish I had time for some binge rereads September 13, 2015

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I have hundreds of unread books, lots of unwatched DVDs, and a ridiculous backlog of Big Finish audios, so I don’t reread much. But every so often I think wistfully about some rereading binges I’d love to undertake.

James Ellroy. I’ve gone off his stuff a bit as he seems to have become something of a self-parody, but I still remember the joy of discovering his books in the 1990s. And his latest book is the first of his second LA Quartet. So I would love to reread the first LA Quartet and the related novel Clandestine. The Black Dahlia was the first of his books that I read and it blew me away. Noir, hardboiled, epic, it didn’t so much recreate a time and place as drag you into an almost hallucinatory world.

Mervyn Peake. It’s been a long time since I read the Gormenghast trilogy and I’m curious about the fourth book published a few years back from his notes. It’s not fantasy, exactly, but it’s not in this world, either. A Dickensian group of characters in an ancient castle the size of a city. Not a great deal of action but great prose, strange people, and lots of atmosphere.

Jack O’Connell. A mystery bookstore owner once handed me a copy of O’Connell’s second novel Wireless and said I didn’t like this but you might. He was right. I’d like to reread the Quinsigamond series of loosely connected novels. They’re set in a fictional northeastern US city, and the first, Box Nine, is a relatively straightforward mystery movel. Each successive book shifts a bit further away from conventional mystery and the world as we know it, though it never really becomes fantasy or science fiction. Wireless and The Skin Palace in particular I’d like to revisit.

Gene Wolfe. The Book of the New Sun. A bit of Dickens again and Peake in a strange, far future tale that’s as much about the prose style as the story. It’s not something you can read in bits and pieces during commutes and whatnot; you have to get into the prose style, and you may need a dictionary, but it’s an experience like few others.

Cornell Woolrich. Everything. Well, maybe the Black novels first (Rendezvous in Black, Black Alibi, etc), then the short stories, then the other novels. Woolrich wrote emotionally overwrought noir. What happens in his books is sometimes arbitrary, sometimes unlikely; it’s fate — doom — ruining the lives of often innocent, ordinary people. Some of the stories have happy endings, because he was something of a romantic. His work often wars between love and loneliness, overwhelming passion or crushing despair. They are frequently over the top if you think about them, but when you read them, you’re riding the emotional rush and suspense too much to worry about realism. A lot of his work has been adapted for film, radio, and TV, but it doesn’t always capture the feel very well.

And then there’s some David Goodis and Thorne Smith and Jim Thompson I’d like to reread, too… Lots of white guys, true, mostly American, mostly dead, mostly straight, but I’m not sure how significant that is. One or two at least are religious, a couple at least are conservative, so it’s not about what I can relate to.

And now… a random diversion March 24, 2015

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A few online hangouts I’ve frequented over the years have a thread for people to post a series of random musical selections chosen by itunes or some other music player on shuffle. I’ve always loved Winamp but running it on Windows 8 has been less than optimal. So, with 8.1 and a bit of compatibility troubleshooting, I’m on my second version of winamp today. And I’m going to play the random music game because it’s fun and because there are almost 50,000 songs to choose from and it’s always interesting to see if any patterns or oddities arise.

  1. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”
  2. Blue Daisy, “Rick Ross”
  3. Wire, “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel”
  4. Cocteau Twins, “Pepper-Tree”
  5. Nosaj Thing, “Fog (Jamie xx Remix)”
  6. Nile, “I Whisper in the Ear of the Dead”
  7. Ella Fitzgerald, “Blue Moon”
  8. The Trysting Tree, “Chapter 3: A Middle Class Tragedy”
  9. Mekons, “Country”
  10. Brian Eno, “Aragon”

Hmm… nothing too obscure there. Sometimes stuff comes up that I just don’t remember at all. More importantly, this version of Winamp didn’t crash.

Recycled content about Jian Ghomeshi November 2, 2014

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This is a slight expansion of something I emailed to a friend who was inclined to support Ghomeshi, back on Tuesday.

I don’t believe Ghomeshi’s facebook post. It’s too obviously engineered to result in the right reaction from his fans, right down to lines like “We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year.” That’s not cute or self-deprecating, it’s spin. That sentence is designed to do a series of things: get the soccer moms to relate, get the artsy hipsters to relate, link to something prestigious to remind you this isn’t some thug rapper.

“We joked” starts off by setting the stuff to come in a context of warmth, intimacy, shared understanding, and humour. There’s nothing scary, it’s all about sweet togetherness.

The rest of the sentence frames the situation as, first, being a milder version of something from a hugely popular book trilogy, which gets the more vanilla/mainstream audience on board by tying in to something popular and reassuring the reader that it wasn’t really rough or violent or anything, because it was a mild form. Then it throws in a Canlit reference for the artsier hipster end of the audience, making the link that he’s one of them and they are hip and cool about modern sexual mores and so they are comfortable with what he says he’s doing because otherwise they would be uncool intolerant squares like people from the 1950s. It mentions the Giller Prize, another prestigious thing he’s associated with, and what kind of nice literarily connected guy would be a violent thug?

There are a lot of other spin/framing moments throughout his little essay. It does not read as sincere or real to me.

Even just this phrase: “a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year.” Who talks like that? It’s offputting to some people when people know too many details and recite them, so he doesn’t mention the story or book title to avoid the full monty of namedropping, but he does mention the author, that it won a Giller (what a coincidence — that’s the prize he hosts), and that it came out last year. He’s pitching to the highbrow and the hipster, who will get that little insider bonding buzz because they know the title of the book, while minimizing the chances of annoying the middlebrow and unhip.

I admit that hearing that the CBC had actually fired him made me think there had to be something bad going on, and I’ve never been a Q listener, much less a Moxy Fruvous fan, so I may have approached his facebook post with a less neutral perspective than some. But it was his own words — or Navigator’s — that convinced me that Ghomeshi’s statement was not the whole story, and that things would turn out to be much worse.

There’s information and there’s organization February 1, 2014

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I’ve got a lot of mp3s. For one thing, I have a lot of CDs, and I rip those; more importantly, I’ve been an eMusic member for over a decade, and it’s possible that I’ve hit the 2000 albums mark there (legal, of course). Not to mention Bandcamp, Bleep, Boomkat, iTunes, Silver Mountain, DGMLive,and many other sources of fine musical audio.

Since 1999 I’ve been backing up mp3s on CDR data disks and, more recently, DVD-Rs. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet listing band name, album title, the date the CD/DVD was burned (they’re labeled by date and stored in chronological order) and by sequential number if I burned a few the same day, and in some cases with a meta tag so I can filter for all jazz, reggae, or dubstep, or all albums connected to bands like Joy Division or Wire (solo albums, offshoots, side projects, etc). And that’s helpful.

But what really helped was getting a good new PC a few years back with a much bigger hard drive than I’d had before. Now it made sense to keep more stuff permanently on the hard drive, and I started organizing a number of folders by genre or artist. I bought a portable terabyte drive and backed it up. If I decided I wanted to create a mix CD or playlist of the singles by all the Joy Division/New Order side projects (Electronic, Revenge, The Other Two, Monaco, Freebass, Bad Lieutenant, Peter Hook and the Light, Gillian and Stephen), all the stuff I had by them was neatly organized in the JDNO folder, so it wouldn’t take long.

Then the PC died, Well, I still had the external, and I have a laptop. But the laptop doesn’t have as much space, so it didn’t make sense to mirror the structure back on here. Well, guess what? The external drive died. I’d bought a second one and had backed up some stuff to it, but I’d been thinking of using one for some things and the other for other things.

Now, here’s the thing. Because of the CD and DVD backups, I haven’t lost any of the music. But I lost the organization, and recreating the structure is proving to be annoyingly time-consuming. I’m not going to do cloud storage for two reasons: there’s too damn much stuff, and I’d use up too much of my monthly Internet use uploading it all. It would take forever. So I’m just slowly dumping files off CDRs on to the second external drive, and I’m going to organize the hell out of that stuff (right down to editing ID3 tags), and I’m going to get a couple more external drives and copy it all on them, and I’ll make new DVDR archives of organized folders.

A librarian should have some proper disaster recovery plans, even at home.

io9 on tie-ins January 20, 2014

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I hate the commenting interface on io9, so here I am.

Katharine Trendacosta wrote a post called Why Expanded Universes Are Important. I agree with the basic idea, but not all the details. Trendacosta looks at a handful of reasons why tie-ins are good things.

The Expanded Universe as a Gateway to Science Fiction Reading. It works for some people, but I’ve encountered too many people who read tie-ins and find “real” SF uninteresting, and SF fans who sneer at tie-ins. Personally, I got into them more or less simultaneously, for different reasons.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Fandom. Sure, to an extent. But I was a dedicated tie-in reader for a long time in isolation. The Internet was a more important route to fandom for me.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Writers and Writing. Well, blogging, maybe. I’ve never been a fanfic writer. Closest I came was working on an interactive Star Trek story in Apple Basic on my old Apple ][+ many years ago. It wad fun, mapping out paths, giving a hypothetical player some choices that led in different directions… but I hit the 128k barrier way too early in the story and couldn’t figure out how to get each strand of the story to continue properly on the next program. Fun while it lasted, though. (Post-TMP Enterprise encounters a huge derelict starship that turns out to be a Preserver vessel. Didn’t plot it much beyond that that I can recall.)

Conclusion and a Look at Star Wars’ EU. In which Trendacosta basically says I love the Star Wars expanded universe and it was CANON! Well, actually, no. Despite the people with full-time jobs sorting out EU continuity, despite the levels of canonicity, George Lucas clearly said that there was his stuff and then there was all that other stuff he didn’t pay much attention to. In other words: NOT CANON. (And the correct response is Says you, and who cares?)

Here’s what makes tie-in fiction important and necessary and sometimes so damn good. When you see a filmed version of a beloved literary work, chances are, even if you like it you’re well aware of how much is missing — the interior lives of the characters, the background information that was dropped because the movie would run too long, scenes dropped because they just wouldn’t work in a visual medium. Play that in reverse. A good tie-in novel takes a visual world and expands it into an ocean of words that can bring us into characters’ interior lives as the show never could; they can show us all the little things that don’t make sense in a fast-paced movie or TV episode; they can be crazy big epic beyond a budget’s ability to realize. Try to imagine Doctor Who doing something like Alien Bodies or Star Trek doing something like Destiny (or How Much for Just the Planet, for that matter). It wouldn’t work as well on screen.

In short, tie-ins make a fictional universe bigger, deeper, and better. That’s why they matter. Says me, anyway.

Shared universes, tie-ins, crossovers, swords, sorcery December 22, 2013

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Star Trek and Doctor Who are the big multimedia fictional universes for me these days, but one of the first to demonstrate to me how this kind of thing could work would have been the world of Robert E. Howard’s characters. I first encountered Howard back in 1978 when I picked up a used copy of The Hour of the Dragon at the base library paperback exchange.

The Hour of the Dragon was the first of three Conan books edited by Karl Edward Wagner and published by Berkley books back in the 1970s. As Wagner was at pains to point out in his introductions, these books were the real, unadulterated Conan as written by Robert E. Howard, not a bunch of pastiches and posthumous collaborations like the twelve-volume series of Conan books from another publisher (originally Lancer in the 1960s, but Ace in the 1970s — and Sphere in the UK).

Well, I really enjoyed The Hour of the Dragon, and sure enough I went looking for the other two Berkley editions, but I think my second Conan book was Conan the Freebooter, in the Sphere edition. (The fun of being Canadian — we often got both UK and US editions of books, but that could get confusing when the editions were different or, as in this case, the numbering of series books was different. Collecting Moorcock’s Elric books was especially entertaining in that regard, if by entertaining one means frustrating, and one does.)

So I looked around for any Conan-related stuff. Two different series of books, one by Howard only, one more epic series incorporating revisions of Howard stories about other characters to make them Conan stories along with totally new Conan adventures, primarily the work of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. And the Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. And Savage Sword of Conan, the black and white comic magazine. I also managed to discover Marvel’s Kull and Red Sonja comics just before they were cancelled. Bantam published collections of Howard’s Solomon Kane and Kull stories. Then Ace published two new Conan novels by Andrew J Offutt just before de Camp and Carter started editing a new series of six Conan books from Bantam (including, ironically, a Conan novel by Karl Edward Wagner), and Grosset & Dunlap or Ace did six mass market paperbacks reprinting the early Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. Then came the novelization of the first Conan movie (I was unimpressed) to end Bantam’s run and the first Robert Jordan Conan novel from a new publisher, Tor. Cormac Mac Art six novel series. Red Sonja six novel series (I think I only got the first two). More Marvel comics, including King Conan and more attempts at Kull and Red Sonja.

And all of this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when there were precious few original Star Trek novels.

It wasn’t all one coherent universe the way Star Trek or Doctor Who would (mostly) be. Howard’s characters existed in different eras, Kull millennia before Conan, Conan millennia before Bran Mak Morn or Cormac Mac Art, and them centuries before Solomon Kane — but Howard was willing to cross over between them, even having Kull meet Bran Mak Morn. And the later writers who expanded the Hyborian universe were even more eager to introduce crossover elements. The villain of the first Conan movie was actually Kull’s nemesis.

One of the coolest things was Michael Moorcock allowing Marvel to use his character Elric in a couple of early issues of the Conan comic. That might have been my introduction to Elric, and if I thought Howard and his successors liked making connections between his characters and series, just imagine how much I got into the whole Eternal Champion thing.

I dropped out in the late 1980s. I’d lost interest in the comics, and the Tor Conan novels by Jordan et al were just too formulaic, with little of the variety of Howard’s stories. But I’ve come back, a bit, thanks to the Dark Horse Conan comics and the Del Rey REH collections.It doesn’t — and can’t — hit me now the way it did when I was 15, but there’s still something there in Howard’s writing and characters. Haven’t bothered with the new Red Sonja comics, though — that chainmail bikini is just too damn silly.

More than 140 characters or a like icon December 21, 2013

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I used to blog a lot, despite not having an audience. That wasn’t really the point a lot of the time. Sometimes it was about throwing something out to see if someone had a shared interest, sometimes (as with livejournal) it was more social. But livejournal isn’t what it used to be. A lot of the old familar faces have moved on to other platforms.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, my life has changed. I started on wordpress when I was laid off from a job I’d had for just shy of 20 years, and I needed something to do online besides applying for jobs. So I blogged about music here. Back then the tradeoff was between having plenty of time to blog and being too depressed to want to, but I made an effort. And then I got a job and didn’t need the outlet so much and didn’t have the time.

And now I’ve been working again for four years and suddenly I miss blogging. I rarely tweet, I facebook a bit (but don’t find it conducive to and kind of in-depth discussion, I want to write longer messages and, frankly, not really worry whether I’m flooding anyone’s feed. If you want to follow, follow; if you stumble across a post that interests you, cool, say something.

I’ll try to find the time to restart the Trek books website, too. The Star Trek: The Fall novels have been pretty damn enjoyable so far, so maybe I can get excited about Star Trek again…

This isn’t just a music blog any more, though no doubt I’ll go on about music occasionally. Oh, and I’ll try to make this and LJ mutual mirrors. No need to follow both.

And speaking of record stores… April 3, 2010

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Various artists: Steppas’ Delight 2

I was in Toronto a month ago. I used to love going to the big record stores in Toronto — the Sam’s and A&A on Yonge, originally, and then the Tower Records down the street — because Ottawa didn’t really have anything that could compare for sheer size and selection. Well, Sam’s, A&A, and Tower are all gone, and the last major chain standing, HMV, has a big store where Sam’s used to be.

So I went into HMV, and it had a lot of stuff, but not much of what I was looking for. (I was hoping to find, among other things, Dubstep Allstars Volume 7, but settled for the second Steppas Delight compilation.)

Anyway, getting to the point at last: there was a security guard at the entrance. It seemed ironic — record stores are going out of business because some people are stealing music from the comfort of their own homes, and people are still shoplifting physical CDs?

Another record store gone March 14, 2010

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Various artists: Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments, purchased at Sounds Unlikely in June, 2007

I don’t know how long ago it happened, but Sounds Unlikely, an Ottawa record/CD store that opened in 2007 following the closing of the somewhat similarly oriented and much missed Organised Sound, went out of business.

I went there fairly often for a while, not least because they were the only store I knew of where I might reasonably expect to find some dubstep albums. I figured I’d be spending a lot of time and money there.

And then I lost my job.

In the seven or eight months between my first visit to Sounds Unlikely and my last day at Telesat, I bought 14 albums there. In the two years since losing my job, only 10 albums. And I was surprised to see that the last thing I bought there, I got last July, because I know I’ve been there a few times since then — but I also know that I went a few times eager to buy something and found precious little that was new in the store. There were staff changes, and less of the kind of stuff I was interested in was showing up — the last dubstep CDs I bought there, I bought in August of 2008 — but there didn’t seem to be much else that was new. And I rarely saw other customers or the friendly, chatty staff who used to be there, and the myspace updates about new stock and in-store events stopped coming a long time ago, too.

I sometimes blame myself for buying mp3s from eMusic and CDs from online retailers, because we still need record stores for finding the things we didn’t know we needed. A record store’s sound system may introduce you to some of your favourite albums; a knowledgeable employee may let you know that if you like this, you should try that. Plus, hell, it’s good to get out of the house sometimes. But I can only do so much.

(Laura said you only bought two dozen CDs there in just over two years? In addition to all the other CDs you got everywhere else? Most people don’t buy that many CDs, period. And didn’t even when people did buy CDs.)

So, farewell to Sounds Unlikely, and thanks for letting me buy CDs by Cyrus (Random Trio), Ulrich Schnauss, Githead, Burial, Boxcutter, Pinch, Disrupt, These New Puritans, Grievous Angel, Wire, Dusk and Blackdown, and Cadence Weapon, and a lot of compilations, my final purchase being the Soul Jazz Records double CD Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture.

In memory of Sounds Unlikely, End Hits, Organised Sound, Record Runner,  Spinables, Records on Wheels, Shake Records, and all the other places we’ve lost over the years. And good luck to Compact Music, Birdman Sound, CD Warehouse, and the rest that are still going. If I can get more financially secure, I’ll do my bit to make sure you are…

Listening September 23, 2009

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Telepathe: Dance Mother

Telepathe: Dance Mother

At the eMusic bulletin board, one regular user announced that he was leaving, not because of the changes at eMusic, but because he has too much music he never listens to, and eMusic’s subscription model just makes that problem worse. I’m not going to quit eMusic any time soon, I hope, but I can see his point.

I’ve downloaded two albums and an EP from eMusic today (Telepathe and TV on the Radio). I’m halfway through listening to one album, haven’t listened to the others yet, and if I give into the strong temptation to go have some coffee and something to eat, I may get caught up in doing something else and not get around to the other stuff I downloaded. And then I may forget about it.

I downloaded the new Maximo Park and Julian Plenti albums a few days ago. I don’t think I’ve listened to either one all the way through yet. I know I listened to the new Lavay Smith all the way through once or twice. The new Sally Shapiro, two or three times. The new Robin Guthrie and the xx, half a dozen or a dozen times, probably. Robert Hampson — a few minutes of it. Andrew Liles — most of it, once, though I liked it a lot.

As great as it is to be able to access so much music so quickly and easily and relatively inexpensively, as great as it is to hear about an interesting new band or genre and be able to hear some of it right away, it’s breadth at the expense of depth. Downloads from eMusic don’t come with liner notes or lyric sheets. That old experience of opening a record or CD and putting it on the stereo, then settling back with the sleeve/jewel box/whatever to read through while listening to the music, doesn’t happen so often. Now it’s more about downloading something while doing something else on the PC, listening to it for a little while until there’s something else to do, and maybe getting back to it. I do sometimes listen to something while googling for reviews and articles about it, but my interaction with the music and the material I’m reading is more active, less immersive.

I like getting to know an album, getting to the point where as one song ends I’m hearing the beginning of the next before it actually starts playing, having songs pop up in my mind at times when I’m not listening to music. Not that long ago I came across a reference to a guitar solo in a particular David Bowie song. How did that solo go again? I basically played the whole song in my head, from memory — oh, yeah, that solo! But that song is on an album I bought when I only had a few dozen records, and it’s one I still love, so I’ve heard it a lot of times. I can’t do that with anything from the last several years. (The downside to that familiarity is that sometimes the music has made such well-worn grooves in my memory that the album plays through and never really grabs my attention; it’s over before I notice it. That’s why I sometimes like using shuffle, or listening to alternate versions of old favourites (live, Peel sessions, demos, etc) — I actually hear everything again.)

I guess that’s part of the point of this blog that no one reads: it’s about reminding me to listen closely to music, to think about it, to value it.

The Beatles: Rock Band (2009) September 12, 2009

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The Beatles: Rock Band

The Beatles: Rock Band

My wife Laura decided to buy this game the other day, and we’ve played a fair bit of it. Looking at it as an example of musical video games, it feels a lot easier to play on medium difficulty than the other Rock Band and Guitar Hero games we’ve played, and the main storyline doesn’t take a heck of a long time to get through. We suspect that this is because a lot of people who’ve never played one of these games before are going to pick this one up for the Beatles angle, and no one wants the newbies to give up frustrated. Visually it’s very striking, and there’s a good selection of songs.

As for the Beatlesness of it… we don’t have a lot of Beatles stuff in this house, because for a very long time I soaked up the Beatles from so many different directions (cartoons, radio, friends’ albums, etc). that it just didn’t seem necessary to actually own any of it. If anything, I wanted to avoid the Beatles. But hearing them in the game, having to pay more attention to the songs, almost makes me want to go out and buy some CDs. Some of the old familiar songs sound fresh and fun, and some that weren’t quite as familiar, the ones I’d heard but couldn’t instantly place from reading the titles — e.g., “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “If I Needed Someone” — sound almost revelatory. Having listened to so much other music over the years, I can hear connections to other bands and other songs I might not have made before. Which is not to say there aren’t some duds. A lot of the late Beatles songs played in the last level or two of the game sound like self-indulgent jams rather than well-crafted songs. I don’t think I’ll ever develop any kind of appreciation for “I’ve Got a Feeling,” for example. In fact, most of the songs from the last level, the Rooftop Concert, left me thinking the Beatles should have broken up a bit earlier.

Overall, it’s a fun introduction to the music of the Beatles combined with a simplified and streamlined look at their career. I’d kind of like to see the game get opened up a little to include some solo material by the various ex-Beatles, but I really doubt that will happen.

Canada Day listening July 2, 2009

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mapleleafSo, yesterday was Canada Day. And, as usual, I listened to some Canadian music. This time around:

Vancougar: Canadian Tuxedo

Metric: Live It Out

Cadence Weapon: Breaking Kayfabe

Nadja: When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV

Caribou: Andorra

One of the first times I thought about music in terms of where it was from was probably when we got the K-Tel compilation album Canadian Mint back in the early ’70s. There were some big hits and a few names that, looking at the track listing now, bring back no memories at all, from that album or anywhere else.

It kind of became important when I got into punk and new wave. It was cool and exciting that bands like D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks were not only Canadian bands making vital new music, they were doing it on small Canadian labels. Hell, some of my friends in high school did the same thing (the Malibu Kens, some of whom went on to become Jr Gone Wild).

And in my show-going days, I preferred going to clubs to see bands, which often meant local or Canadian indie bands, though I saw a few on campus at university, too. Bands I’ve seen that other Canadian indie fans might recognize would include Teenage Head, Blue Peter, Skinny Puppy, Grapes of Wrath, Moev, the 39 Steps, Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, D.O.A., the Asexuals, SNFU, Lava Hay, Rose Chronicles, Sarah McLachlan, Jale, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, the Real McKenzies, etc.

And I still love Canadian music. The albums mentioned above are all recent. Canadian content controversies aside, in a country of 30 million people, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of worthwhile musicians and bands.

20 albums that shaped my life February 26, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Life in general, Music.
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Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (Canadian LP cover)

Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (Canadian LP cover)

Inspired by Kevin and Allyn and Geoff:

List the first favorite albums that come to your mind. This is NOT a list of music you feel is of critical importance or value. By noting the ones that come to mind first, you should get a picture of the music that shaped your life in your formative years.

I know I’m going to forget things and want to change things, but here goes. This is in roughly the order I encountered these albums.

1. Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue. One of the first proper albums I ever got, and the first by a band that I was fairly obsessed by for a year or two, getting several more of their albums.It was probably the combination of catchy pop, prog, rock and roll, and the occasional synth that intrigued me.

2. Kate Bush: The Kick Inside. It was a while before I got the album, and not just the 45 of “Wuthering Heights,” but it was the beginning of a lifelong love for the distinctive and groundbreaking music of Kate Bush. It can beautiful, or weird, or both at the same time. There was nothing else like it at the time, and by the end of 1979 this and the next album, very different though it may be, helped set the course for my taste in music.

3. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. I didn’t like the Sex Pistols when I first heard them, being too fond of the over-the-top production of artists like ELO, Queen, and Alan Parsons Project to like anything this raw and harsh. It took the more smoothed-off edges of new wave to lead me into the less compromising punk sound. Once it clicked, I realized it was nothing more or less than rock and roll in its purest form. My favourite punk rock is generally the first wave of late ’70s UK punk, but there are still bands doing fresh new takes on the sound. They’re just not the ones you’ve heard of.

4. David Bowie: Stage. My first Bowie LP. Sort of a stepping stone from the vaguely proggy rock I liked to the stranger end of new wave, this was a concert album from the time of Bowie’s Heroes album. From Station to Station through Scary Monsters is my fave run of Bowie albums, though there’s plenty of great stuff before and after that era. This was probably one of my first Eno-related experiences, too.

5. Gary Numan and Tubeway Army: Replicas. Mixing punk/new wave with synthesizers, alienation, and the science fiction of JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick, Numan created an album that was influential in its own right but also brought to my attention the band he happily admitted was his top influence, Ultravox. Ultravox and its founder, John Foxx, have since eclipsed my interest in Numan to a considerable extent, but this is still a fine album and I might have taken longer to discover Ultravox without it.

6. Brian Eno: Music for Films. Heard it playing in a record store: sparse, eerie instrumental electronic music a million miles away from the usual, more florid electronic music of the time. Plus he got bonus points for working with Roxy Music, David Bowie, Devo, etc etc. I’ve got lots of his albums, love most of them, but this is still my fave.

7. Wire: 154. Former punk band demonstrating just how far this whole new wave/postpunk thing could go. A masterpiece by a great band I’ve already blathered about here.

8. Joy Division: Closer. The first album, Unknown Pleasures, didn’t click with me when I first heard it. This did (and then so did Unknown Pleasures). And from this came New Order and so much more.

9. Killing Joke: Killing Joke. Bought this after reading about them in Creem: too punk for metal fans, too metal for punk fans, but using synthesizers too and ending up in the Billboard disco charts? They’re still around and still confounding expectations, after influencing everyone from Metallica to Ministry to Nine Inch Nails. This album showed a different way to incorporate synths: instead of weird noises, or imitating other instruments, or just layering pretty chords on top of everything, this album had abrasive synth sounds that were as aggressive sounding as the guitars.

10. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Juju. Siouxsie practically invented goth but didn’t let it become a straitjacket. Pounding tribal drums, swirling guitars, melodic basslines, and Siouxsie’s voice… another postpunk classic.

11. Cocteau Twins: Head Over Heels. My first exposure to the 4AD sound dreamy and ethereal but also loud and banging. One of the forerunners to the shoegazer scene.

12. Husker Du: New Day Rising. Punk seemed to have been abandoned by the major labels and headed itself into a dead end of faster harder louder dumber. Husker Du was fast, hard, loud, and smart, and weren’t afraid to slow things down occasionally or use acoustic guitars and piano.

13. The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow. Like REM, another fave, the Smiths were jangly guitar-based rock with melodies to die for, lyrics to ponder, and a frontman who was very much not the usual rock singer.

14. Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy. The Beach Boys playing through a slow motion car crash of guitar feedback, this was a renewal of punk and another of the foundations of shoegazer. Noise = pop.

15. Jr Gone Wild: Less Art, More Pop. Friends of mine release their first LP, a mix of punk, ’60s, country, and other influences, especially Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and possibly Elvis Costello. A friend of mine once heard the critics’ darlings Uncle Tupelo, who are credited with kicking off the No Depression/alt.country scene, and said they were just Jr with all the fun sucked out. He wasn’t entirely wrong, though Uncle Tupelo probably never heard Jr.  think their next two albums are arguably better in many respects, but this is the first time friends of mine put out an actual album. I had a single, a compilation LP with a couple of songs, and a couple of tapes of stuff by some of the guys who later became Jr, but an album… especially one I actually liked… that’s a big deal.

16. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless. The pinnacle of shoegazer, layer upon layer of distorted guitar sound and distant vocals, sounding nothing like rock music as that term is generally understood. There were a lot of great bands in that scene (Ride, Lush, Slowdive, etc), but this is the most important and influential album from that scene. And I love it.

17. Various artists: Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes. Ice-T helped compile this collection of funk and soul songs from blaxploitation movies, which helped reignite my interest in those styles. And not just in the context of blaxploitation.

18. Culture: Two Sevens Clash. This is a roots reggae album from the late 1970s that was reportedly a favourite on the UK punk scene (I read about it in a couple of books on punk). The punk clubs didn’t have enough punk albums to play, so DJ Don Letts introduced the punk scene to reggae — a more hardcore version of the sound than Bob Marley’s. This is heavy on the rasta stuff, but also accessible and catchy, and helped get me more into reggae.

19. Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights. New but drawing on the likes of Joy Division and other postpunk and pre-grunge alternative bands as influences, this helped revive interesting guitar rock for the 21st century. See also Editors, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.

20. Burial: Burial. Boxcutter’s Oneiric was the first dubstep album I heard, if memory serves, but this one sealed the deal. It may have evolved out of UK scenes I wasn’t familiar with (2-step, garage), but I could hear elements of ambient and dub making something unique, like a soundtrack for a low budget third world Blade Runner. It’s strange, atmospheric, and oddly affecting.

1979: from ELO to the Sex Pistols February 6, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, Music.
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Out of the Blue

Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue

Boy howdy, it’s another recycled and revised entry from an old blog of mine!

In 1979, I still loved the Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue LP, which I’d had for a year or so, and thought the new one, Discovery, was where it all went wrong. After all, Out of the Blue had a string of hits like “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and “Mr. Blue Sky.” Discovery had simplistic pop rock stomper “Don’t Bring Me Down” and disco tune “Shine a Little Love.”

But listening to Out of the Blue again for the first time in years was… interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard some of the sides of this double LP since maybe the early 1980s. The roots of Discovery (that Bee Gees disco sound) are very much present here. I’m still finding some wonderful album tracks like “Summer and Lightning,” and I still really like “Turn to Stone”, but there’s a lot of dreadful filler, too. Come to think of it, dreadful filler is much too kind a categorization for “The Jungle”, to take the most egregious example.

I realize now that the ELO LP I’ve never really stopped listening to is New World Record, the one that preceded Out of the Blue and generated the hit singles “Do Ya”, “Livin’ Thing”, and “Telephone Line.” Keeping it down to a single LP no doubt helped curbed the excess that swamps Out of the Blue. There’s also more rock guitar on a few tracks, especially “Do Ya”, that’s all but gone on the much more pop-oriented Out of the Blue. Discovery, on the other hand, I didn’t connect with at the time and haven’t reconnected with since.

The reason I didn’t connect with Discovery is that it came out in 1979. I was discovering Kate Bush, Blondie, the Police, and then actual punk music. My taste in music really changed during the last few months of the year, because by the time I got the records I’d asked for for Christmas, they weren’t what I was interested in any more. Two albums by Canadian prog rockers FM, two albums by the Alan Parsons Project, two earlier albums by ELO, Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside. Actually, I played the hell out of most of those records, and never lost my affection for Kate Bush, but around Christmas I was already buying albums by the Sex Pistols, Devo, Gary Numan, and Kraftwerk. (It’s funny, I felt like I was late getting into the Sex Pistols, who’d already broken up by then, but the album was only two years old.) Prog was on the way out, punk, new wave, and electronic music were my new focus. Next Christmas I got a couple more Kate Bush albums plus two punk albums by the Clash, one by postpunk legends Magazine, and one by new wave power poppers Bram Tchaikovsky.

There’s something about the music I discovered after that change in musical consciousness: a lot of the music from before feels fossilized in time. The music from afterwards, even when it’s more than 25 years old now, like the Sex Pistols, still feels fresh and current. I think it’s because much more of the music I like from the last 25 years has been in some kind of dialogue with the ideals of the punk/new wave explosion, whether the music sounds like it or not. It’s not that that music begins in the late 1970s with punk; on the contrary, it has significant roots in the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, David Bowie, Roxy Music… but 1979 is my own moment of transition.