Friday, December 25, 2009

Festive, Seasonal Duck Comics: "The Black Pearls of Tabu Yama"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

OH NO!!!


...oh, wait, it looks like all the people escaped in time, although Joe Lieberman, directly in the boulder's path, was reduced to a viscous red paste. Well, the town was destroyed, but towns can be repaired. The important thing is, nobody was hurt. In this Christmas Season, let's all be thankful for that.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bloggish recommendation

My favorite blog these days is Antagony & Ecstasy, a movie review blog written by a fella named Tim who is an absolutely maniacal film buff and who writes long, thoughtful reviews. For the past six weeks, leading up to the release of The Princess and the Frog, he's been doing a series of retrospective reviews of every animated Disney film (that's forty-five movies)--thousands of words each, with all kinds of historical context and technical detail. A staggering task, but he did not waver, and now it is triumphantly complete. It's a hell of a sight to see--it's truly epic, and reading through the whole thing from beginning to end really provides a sense of history. It's certainly made me quite keen to see some of the many Disney movies I missed. You should check it out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The worst goddamn students you have to deal with

No, not the drop-outs, the plagiarists, the ones who text during class, or the ones who throw their hands in the air like they just don't care because they don't: I'm talking about the high-rollers who are pretty good but maybe not quite as good as they think they are, and who impress upon you constantly their iron wills--they have a perfect GPA, they tell you, and they refuse to settle for anything less than an A. To be fair, I'm not sure they're even aware that they're engaged in a kind of bullying here, but the fact remains, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't: if you give them their precious A's, that they probably didn't quite earn, you feel like you're buckling under, but if you give them, say, the worst grade imaginable: An A...minus...MINUS!, you feel like you're being an incredibly petty bastard who just haaass the prove a point, no matter how insignificant it is. There's just no way to win.

I'd be willing to bet a substantial amount of money that this stratagem is at least part of the reason their GPAs are thusfar unblemished.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Andrew Schlafly: as strange as you would think.

On the Colbert Report tonight. He looks and talks like some sort of frog robot. That said, the interview, unfortunately, really sucked, I'm sorry to say. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to show how insane the man is--just ask "so, what are some of the examples of liberal bias in the King James Bible that you want to get rid of?" That's all you would have to do. But noooo--instead, let's get bogged down in pointless, stupid, jokey stuff about why Stephen can't be in the Bible. I have never seen his persona neuter the interview's potential in such a profound way. I don't know if Colbert didn't want to offend the man or what, but it's kind of maddening to see so much wasted potential.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Carrie Underwood

What's interesting about Carrie Underwood is that, even by American-Idol-winner Standards, she's an incredibly postmodern creature--Baudrillard's map with no territory beneath.

When I first heard "Before He Cheats" on the radio, I thought it was pretty awesomein its own way: forceful tune, nice and vengeful (especially appreciate the bitchiness of "his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive"), and the way that each explication of betrayal is preceded by "right now he's probably," creating some doubt as to whether this infidelity is really happening, or whether she's just a crazy person (I sort of think that might not be intentional, though--the video doesn't really support that interpretation).

So I like the song, but I also think it's kind of hilarious, because who does she think she's fooling? (okay, that's not really a fair question--who do her handlers think they're fooling, is more the point). I hope it's not overly condescending of me to say that Underwood menacingly walking in slow motion in sunglasses with a baseball bat is about as convincing as a little kid playing dress-up.

So the song's totally artificial--so what? But the bigger point is, she does all sorts of different songs with all sorts of different moods, and while there's no reason why a performer can't stretch like that, with Underwood, whether she's sounding vulnerable, wounded, playful, brassy, vengeful, whatever--there's always a palpable sense of calculation about her. "Okay, here's the one where she shows her feminist side. But don't worry, foax--here's the one where she gets anodynely religious!"

I have no reason to doubt that she is a perfectly amiable person, but there's really no way to tell, since in her music, she's never anything more than a blank slate. As a performer, there's just no there there. It's all surface. Occasionally the songs work in spite of this: in addition to the above, I can't help liking "Some Hearts;" I know it's nothing all that special, but there's a good chorus (even if "side" and "times" DO NOT RHYME, DAMMIT), and I like the wordplay of "some hearts get all the right breaks." "Last Name" is also good, and so is "Flat on the Floor"--but man alive, songs like "All-American Girl" and "The More Boys I Meet" make me long for the sweet embrace of death.

You can enjoy this stuff if you keep your distance, but the idea of The Children growing up with stuff this synthetic as their soundtrack strikes me as highly dubious.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's always a festive motherfucking Christmas at the National Review.


I've been listening to a lot of Ultravox lately--and by that I mean the Midge Ure version of Ultravox; I know there are some fans who refuse to listen to anything after John Foxx left the band and they became more poppy, but while I can sympathize (former Blur fan here)…well, what can I say? I like them a lot. I haven't listened to the last album, U-Vox, because everyone says it sucks and I kind of have the feeling they're right (it has its defenders on amazon, but you know what those people are like). However, the four prime Ure albums--Vienna, Rage in Eden, Quartet, and Lament--are quite something else.

I'm a big fan of eighties synthpop in general, but what I specifically like about Ultravox is that they have a very particular sonic and lyrical aesthetic that remains surprisingly consistent through all four albums. There aren't many bands this cohesive in that regard.

The theme is a kind of very stark, black-and-white European expressionism (embodied nicely in the Anton Corbijin photo that graces the cover of Vienna), preoccupied with loss and isolation brought on by technology and by the modern world in general. Some song titles: "Private Lives," "Passing Strangers," "We Stand Alone," "Stranger Within," "Your Name (has slipped my mind again)." It's sort of summed up by the "Vienna" b-side "Passionate Reply:"

Painting scenes from magazines
Sucking breath from nicotine
Standing tall against the crowd we sigh
Taking turns on telephones
Living lives in other homes
Listening for the passionate replies

Listening for it, longing for it, but it's clearly not coming. Even songs like "Reap the Wild Wind" and "We Came to Dance," which seem to at least be groping towards some kind of redemption, are still overwhelmed by melancholy. And "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" may be romantic in its own way, but the whole point is the painful transience of this romance, what with the end of the world coming and all.

The ultimate example, for me, is "Mr. X" (also, appropriately, available in German as "Herr X") in which the spoken-word narrator becomes obsessed with an old photograph of a stranger. The atmosphere of claustrophobic dread is palpable, and if all this talk sounds sort of banally emo-y to you, you have only to look here (also: elsewhere) to see a level of sophistication that no mopey kids in black eyeshadow could even begin to approach.

You may see this slackening a bit in the band's last pre-U-Vox single, the non-album "Love's Great Adventure" (which could be read as a specific repudiation of the general attitude), but until then, it remains pretty consistent.

All of this is rendered even more effective by the use of synths. There isn't anything about synthesizers that makes them inappropriate for a more warm, cheerful sound (see Men without Hats, eg), but they can also be used to strip away the sense of humanity that "real" instruments bring and create a very icy sound. Ultravox pursues this concept about as far as it'll go, and they're the band I'll point to when anyone asks "what's the point of synthesizers?"

In any case, I recommend all four of the aforementioned albums.