Category Archives: Zombies

The Magnetic Fields, Distortion

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.

“There is the group that goes to the pub…”

Last week Lawyers, Guns, and Money linked to an article about simulations of crowd behavior:

McKenzie has devised Crowd Federate, a model that will add a crowd component to a variety of defense simulations. “The intent is to provide a real-time, realistic, psychologically based crowd model to provide interactions with control forces.”
Based on extensive psychological research, Crowd Federate works at several levels. At the smallest, the model tracks individual people, although only for navigation within the city at this point. The psychological aspects kick in at the group level, with groups typically composed of 10 people.
“There are different types of groups,” McKenzie said. “There is the protester group which protests for a cause. They’re the ones holding the banners. The agitator group is there to cause trouble. The bystanders are just there and don’t want to get involved. Then there is the curious group that will move toward anything interesting and stick their noses in. If something violent should erupt, they will probably run away.”

This has obvious applications for both police and military. So why is it that my very first thought was: This would be perfect for modeling a zombie outbreak!
I bet it’s much more sophisticated than this one.