I won’t attempt to explain the financial crisis here, but I will answer a few questions that have frequently been asked of me. Q: Why haven’t you been blogging about the recent events in the financial sector (or anything else, for that matter)?
A: One reason is that I don’t have a lot of insight to add over what others are already saying. On top of that, since I work in proprietary trading I’m not at liberty to talk publicly about the aspects that affect me the most. As for blogging on other topics, I’m spending a lot of time at the office, and posting to the blog from firm systems is (I believe) frowned upon in the same way that using personal e-mail accounts is. Q: Do you still have a job?
A: Yes. Q: What’s it like starting out in the finance industry right now?
A: Sort of like you got the last ticket on a luxury cruise, and the cruise ship was the RMS Titanic. Or you moved to Tokyo just in time for a Godzilla attack.
And now, some questions that have not been asked of me but to which I have answers: Q: What’s happened to the Lehman Brothers building since they went bankrupt?
A: Since it’s on the edge of Times Square, it has a big TV screen on the front that used to show attractive video of various landscapes. When Barclay’s took over the building, it didn’t change for a few days, and then turned into a still Barclay’s logo on a hideous blue background–BSOD blue. They later figured out how to animate the logo, but it’s still that awful blue and the entire block glows with the color at night. Q: Is there a blog collecting those dumb trading floor pictures you complained about a while back?
A: Yes: Sad Guys on Trading Floors. Q: Can you give me financial advice?
A: I think my employer would frown upon this. Q: I work in the financial services industry. What is a good song to play at the office this week?
A: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” Q: Is there a bright side to all this?
A: Barack Obama is now the overwhelming favorite in the presidential election. Q: So why haven’t you been blogging about politics?
A: The political news cycle moves so fast that by the time I get home from work my commentary is redundant. Q: What about the music blogging?
A: I’ve just been lame. I did catch a couple shows at Austin City Limits a couple weeks ago (Spiritualized, and Iron & Wine). And I’ve been listening to the new TV on the Radio album, which is excellent. Q: Should you put a disclaimer on a post like this?
A: It should go without saying, but the opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. I should just put that on the sidebar.
I’d like to introduce a new metric for rating movies in which a comedy film is evaluated based on the number of Belle & Sebastian songs on the soundtrack. As applied to movies I’ve seen recently:
Juno: 2 stars
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: 1 star
Be Kind, Rewind: 0 stars
This metric gets the correct ordering for this selection, but quickly breaks down when one realizes that Storytelling should then be the best film of all time.
Anyway, I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall today, and found that it exceeded expectations in several categories, not just Belle & Sebastian songs but also general hilarity, Jason Bateman cameos, and (regrettably) full frontal male nudity. If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy before you know the entire plot, but this isn’t what drives the humor so much as the interplay between the four principal characters. I place this one in the second tier of Judd Apatow productions: on par with Superbad, not quite as good as 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up.
Reading the Wikipedia entry for Marshallwriter and star Jason Segel, I see that he will be writing and directing the next Muppets movie. I’m looking forward to this as long as it doesn’t involve him appearing naked again.
I know lots of people who like them, but I never really got into the Magnetic Fields. However, taking a noise-pop turn is a good way to get my attention. The appropriately-titled Distortion is reportedly inspired by Jesus and Mary Chain, and runs the Fields’ pop songs through that sonic filter. I keep wanting to call them a synth-pop band, but the credits on the CD include the stern declaration “No synths”, so clearly that’s not right (even if it was two albums ago). (No synths?! Denied!)
The canonical length of a pop song is three minutes, and a look at the tracklist reveals that this band is very dedicated to that principle. The mean track length is 2:59, with a standard deviation of 6 seconds. (Steven Merritt has said that he was aiming for three-minute songs on this record.)
As for the actual music, it may be my preference for female vocalists but the songs where Shirley Simms sings (rather than Merritt) are definitely the best: “Drive On, Driver”, “The Nun’s Litany”, and “Till the Bitter End” in that order. The lyrics are clever and often amusing: the “Litany”, rather than being a religious song, is an exhibitionist fantasy, and the following track “Zombie Boy” is not speaking metaphorically, nor is the relationship with said zombie simply a platonic one based on brains alone.
There are a few skippable tracks on the CD: notably “Too Drunk to Dream”, and “Mr. Mistletoe”, which might be suffering from my bias against Christmas music (even if Christmas isn’t actually the focus of the song). Mostly, though, the quality of the songs stays pretty high.
They don’t seem to have posted any tracks for free download and I don’t see a good place to stream them (of course, there’s always MySpace), but I recommend sampling 30 seconds of “Drive On, Driver” or “The Nun’s Litany” at an online music store. It’s a fun album and worth checking out.
It always happens: people post “Best of…” lists at the end of the year, which leads me to great records that I wish I’d known about earlier (so they could contribute to the annual mix CD). I came across this one a few weeks ago: All Hour Cymbals by Yeasayer.
How to describe it? According to Wikipedia their self-description is “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel,” which sort of captures it. They sounds a bit like TV on the Radio along certain dimensions. Apart from that, they don’t sound like anything else I can think of. Lots of unusual instruments, and a very unique texture—there’s definitely an exotic quality to it.
It’s one of those albums where the best tracks are stacked in front: “Sunrise”, “Wait for the Summer”, and “2080” are all terrific, so if you only download a few songs make it those three. (And two of them are freely available at the band’s website.) Here’s 30 seconds of “2080” (since unfortunately I can’t find a good source for embedding the full song):
I’m a little late blogging this, but the Coachella 2008 lineup has been announced. However, is it just me or is the lineup weaker this year? Or maybe I’m just getting old and don’t know who the cool bands are anymore. (There are certainly a lot of unknown-to-me names on the list.) I may skip it this year and just catch Stars on whatever tour date is closest to wherever I happen to be in April. (I’ve been on a major Stars kick lately—partly their new album from last year and partly a new appreciation of Heart, on which several songs are more relevant than they used to be. They put on an amazing show the one time I saw them live, which was two years ago.)
Last year, when all the high-profile Coachella reunions were announced, I declared at the lunch table that My Bloody Valentine should reunite for Coachella 2008. Then they did reunite last year, and they were rumored to be playing Coachella, but they’re not on the list so it looks like I don’t get my wish.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a video so here’s “Elevator Love Letter” by Stars, from Heart. (Set Yourself on Fire remains their best album, however.)
It’s January 1, and time for the traditional consultation with the iPod oracle regarding the new year. Drawing ten songs at random and interpreting them as in a Celtic Cross tarot reading (key here), I get,
The Covering: Belle & Sebastian, “Judy and the Dream of Horses”
The Crossing: Junior Boys, “In the Morning”
The Crown: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Fancy”
The Root: Guided By Voices, “Kicker of Elves”
The Past: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, “Better Dead Than Lead”
The Future: Bloc Party, “Pioneers”
The Questioner: Stars, “Window Bird”
The House: Bloc Party, “Where Is Home?”
The Inside: Arcade Fire, “The Well and the Lighthouse”
The Outcome: The Hold Steady, “How A Resurrection Really Feels”
Wow. I don’t think any commentary is needed here. Sometimes it’s just too obvious…
With blogging curtailed in the last few months due to thesis writing, and a general decline in music reviews on this site over the entire year, longtime readers may be wondering if I will put together a compilation CD of the year’s music as I did the last two years. Wonder no longer! Those of you watching my Flickr stream already know that the mix CD for 2007 has been assembled. As usual, it’s compiled from my favorite songs of the year (defined by U.S. release date, since I don’t tend to seek out imports) and limited to one song per album.
However, this year my music collecting did suffer from my time spent on other pursuits: I didn’t get a chance to listen to very many new-to-me bands, and as a result the list of artists on this collection will seem very familiar to those of you who’ve heard the previous mixes. A number of artists are returning from 2005’s Year of the Phoenix: The New Pornographers, Iron & Wine, Spoon, Caribou, The Rosebuds, and Stars (the bonus track on the second version of Phoenix). The Arctic Monkeys are the only band to reappear from Year of the Wolf, but few bands release two albums less than a year apart so this is unsurprising. Anyway, this isn’t so bad since I obviously like these bands, so why not keep featuring them? But at the same time, I feel like I probably missed out on a lot of good new stuff. (Be sure to recommend some in comments!)
I didn’t have a good excuse to stick with the “Year of the…” naming scheme this year, so I went with the title Upward Fall, which is a phrase from one of the songs (“The Night Starts Here”). In the song it pretty clearly refers to death, and several of the songs invoke either death or falling as themes. I don’t mean to be morbid—in fact I don’t intend for the yearly CD to be thematically coherent at all (as opposed to most other mix CDs I make), but sometimes these things emerge subconsciously, because particular songs appeal to me because of the situation I’m in. Here the death imagery should be interpreted like the Death card in tarot, as representing a transition: in this case the end of my grad student career, and moving on into a new life, a new career, and (probably) a new city. The uncertainty about what exactly this will entail is reflected in the tension of the last few songs. The final song is perhaps a bit too apocalyptic, but this is what happens when I put together the CD in my last two weeks as a grad student.
If you’d like a copy of the CD, either see me in person (I will probably be carrying a few), leave a comment, or e-mail me—I’m happy to send them by mail to people who I won’t see in the next couple months.
Click through for the tracklist and comments on individual songs. I had trouble ranking them this year, so the list is in track order rather than rank order.
I’m supposed to be writing the concluding chapter (!) right now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t link to Carrie Brownstein’s review of Rock Band (which I haven’t played yet) in Slate. She’s a little snobbish about it, but when you played guitar for Sleater-Kinney you’re allowed.
She’s the one on the left:
(And I still have an appendix to write, so I’m not quite there yet… also the whole “revision” thing.)
The excellent Scottish band The Delgados unfortunately broke up two years ago, but now there’s the next best thing to a new Delgados record: an Emma Pollock solo album. Delgados fans should check it out, especially if, like me, you preferred her vocals to Alun Woodward’s. Here’s the video for “Acid Test”:
My favorite track, though, is not this one but “If Silence Means That Much To You”. She’s opening for The New Pornographers on their US tour this month—that’s a bill I’d definitely see, if only they were coming to California…
I was listening to one of my two favorite albums of all time—My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless—when I read that an instrumental band called Japancakes is covering the entire album on a CD coming out in November. This is a highly ambitious project, both from a technical standpoint (see Wikipedia for what was required to make the original), and from a critical one—in indie rock circles Loveless is a consensus choice for one of the best albums of all time, and a cover will almost certainly fall short.
So I was pleasantly surprised that Japancakes’ take on the first song (“Only Shallow”) is actually pretty good:
I downloaded the mp3 (in the first link above) and will probably buy the album. It certainly won’t supplant the original, but it’s an interesting twist.
The original version of “Only Shallow” can be found on YouTube but I won’t link it; this really is one of those albums that needs to be heard in CD quality (and preferably on good speakers rather than, say, iPod earbuds). If you’re unfamiliar with the album, you might still have heard the song “Sometimes” on the Lost in Translation soundtrack (but if you’re looking to try out one or two of the songs, go with “To Here Knows When” or “Soon”).