Tag Archives: Fugitive Waves

Omnireviewer (week of Feb. 27, 2016)

I’ve been writing about Pink Floyd, and thus listening to and reading about Pink Floyd a hell of a lot. Hopefully the fruits of these labours will be visible soon. But you can’t rush these things. Speaking of Pink Floyd and Rush, let’s begin with Genesis, and continue with 29 other things, for a total of 30! That’s the most in ages. Well done, Parsons. Thank you, Parsons.  

Music

Genesis: A Trick of the Tail — You know when a song you haven’t thought about for years comes to mind unbidden and you have to listen to it? That happened to me with “Squonk,” just now. I never expected that to happen with “Squonk.” But it did prompt me to listen through this entire album, which I haven’t heard for ages. This is like homemade macaroni and cheese straight out of the oven to me. People consider it a miracle that Genesis managed to make an album this good immediately after Peter Gabriel’s departure. But those people might not have a firm grasp on the power dynamic in Genesis: it was never Peter Gabriel’s band. Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford were at least as influential. Without Gabriel, they did lose a certain amount of the darkness that made The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway so delicious. But that’s not objectively a bad thing. I think it’s telling that fans of Genesis’ prog output tend to love this album and dislike, say, Duke. Because both of those albums are basically pop albums. The difference is that Trick is a pop album wearing a prog aesthetic: Hans Christian Andersonesque fables in the lyrics and semi-acoustic pastoralism in the music. Whereas Duke is a modern-sounding pop album mostly made up of love songs. But they’re both full of pop hooks. Really, Genesis was always more of a pop band than their prog contemporaries, even when their frontman was a guy who wore flower costumes. Maybe that’s why their music has such comfort food potential.

Pink Floyd: assorted early singles and unreleased tracks — I listened to all of the most notable tracks from the Barrett era that aren’t on Saucerful or the Piper special edition. Namely: “It Would Be So Nice,” “Julia Dream,” “Point Me At The Sky,” “Careful With That Axe Eugene” (the less-familiar studio version), “Vegetable Man,” “Scream Thy Last Scream,” “One in a Million,” “Reaction in G” and “Sunshine.” Together, they make a nice, if disjointed, early Floyd mini-album. Seldom has there been a band whose castoffs and curios are quite so interesting. I think it’s undeniable that Pink Floyd got better towards the mid-70s, but they were never again so radical as they were when Barrett was around. (An aside: the “Point Me At The Sky” single is apparently the rarest of all Pink Floyd releases. It is also the first track with a Gilmour/Waters songwriting credit. It also features the line “If you survive ‘til 2005…” What I’m saying here is that they really should have played it at their 2005 reunion show. That’s a huge missed opportunity. Sure, nobody would have known it. But, considering that it was the first time in decades that Gilmour and Waters shared a stage, it would have had such sentimental value.)

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon — It turned 43 on Tuesday, so I figured may as well. I always feel like a hipster when I say stuff like this, but I really don’t think that Dark Side is one of the best Pink Floyd albums. Wish You Were Here and Animals are both more up my street where the mid-70s stuff is concerned, and The Wall is stronger thematically, if not musically. But I sure do see the appeal: it’s got a directness to it that other Pink Floyd albums don’t have. I played a couple of songs from this album with the band I was in back in high school, Sundog One. Every time I listen to it, there’s a parallel version running in my head of how it would sound if the band were still together, playing these songs. I imagine that sounds terribly sentimental, and I suppose it is, but it’s also just a fun exercise. I like to imagine that Sundog would have gotten more playful with time. We’d do “Us and Them” as a twangy campfire song with a harmonica solo in lieu of the saxophone, and “Any Colour You Like” would be flat-out disco. *Sigh.* Maybe someday.

Syd Barrett: Opel — Everything that improved in Barrett’s songwriting after he left Pink Floyd (or, was forced out by necessity) is counterbalanced by the way his solo albums are seemingly produced to highlight his “madness” rather than his genius wherever possible. This is more of a problem on The Madcap Laughs than on Barrett and it’s hard to discern why, considering that both were produced by Barrett’s friends (Roger Waters, David Gilmour and others on the first, Gilmour alone on the second). You’d think they’d want Syd to get a sympathetic hearing, and not seem like a freak show exhibit. In any case, Opel is an odds-and-sods collection from an artist whose music is chaotic even in a more polished state. It isn’t an easy listen, and you get the sense that some of it should have been kept in the vault for the sake of Barrett’s reputation. But like everything he ever did, it’s got some intensely haunting moments, and others of intense joy. The alternate take of “Golden Hair” is among the former (and also as good a setting of a literary poem as any composer ever made), and the version of “Octopus” (here called “Clowns and Jugglers”) featuring Soft Machine is very much the latter. Worth hearing at least once.

Literature, etc.

Mark Blake: Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd — I continue to be distracted from David Day’s annotated Alice, but I promise it is very good. This is something I picked up from the library for research, which I likely won’t be finishing this time around, but it’s a really great book. Like all rock music from the pre-punk era, Pink Floyd has inspired some truly dodgy writing. But Blake is a class act, with a real sense for storytelling. He starts at the end, nearly, with the band’s reunion at Live 8 in 2005. And he uses the absence of one member at that reunion, Syd Barrett, to transition to the band’s origins — and to set the scene for oncoming tragedy. Blake gets great recollections from band members and associates in original interviews. This makes a great pairing with Nick Mason’s Inside Out, which, being a memoir, can’t lay claim to accuracy. Both are entertaining reads.

Movies

World of Tomorrow — Here’s one of the two animated shorts that everybody said got egregiously snubbed at the Oscars. I haven’t seen Bear Story, so I can’t say. But this was adorable! And really dark. And adorable! The story and writing are only okay, really. It’s not top-shelf science fiction. But the really clever thing is how it uses audio that’s clearly just random babbling of an actual child as a key part of its dialogue. It’s only 17 minutes long, and it’s on American Netflix, so if you have access to that, just go watch it.

Television

Deadwood: Season 2, episodes 7-12 — The back half of this season is, no question, some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. A few highlights: at pretty much exactly halfway through the series, Al Swearengen and Alma Garrett finally have their first scene together. It’s insane that those two characters have gone so long without actually meeting, but it’s a canny decision because it makes that scene feel really momentous — so much so that when Al emerges from Alma’s room, E.B. asks him, “Have we a new pope?” What a line. Then there’s the ending of the episode “Amalgamation and Capital,” which, without spoiling anything, brings several ongoing storylines to their separate conclusions so that they all combine to have one specific consequence. It’s the kind of showy storytelling that I don’t think TV saw again until Breaking Bad. And frankly, Deadwood has better dialogue. There’s Timothy Olyphant’s performance in the following episode. He’s a scary dude when he’s angry, but he’s heartbreaking when faced with tragedy. And, of course, there’s the arrival of George Hearst, a character who’s been talked about so often that you feel like it should be a momentous event when he actually gets to Deadwood. But the show undercuts it by sending E.B. Farnum to meet him in a state of gastrointestinal distress. This is now my favourite poop joke: “Allow me a moment’s silence, Mr. Hearst, sir. I am having a digestive crisis, and must focus on suppressing its expression.” Deadwood is a show that everybody should watch. I am dreading the third season, because I’ve heard about how badly cancellation threw the ending into disarray. But the two seasons I’ve watched so far are essential. Pick of the week.

Last Week Tonight: February 28 — The main reason this isn’t pick of the week is that you’ve almost certainly watched it anyway. (And also Deadwood.) I never wanted John Oliver to cover Donald Trump. I admired him for saying that he wasn’t interested in Trump on Colbert. Basically, the thing I love most about Last Week Tonight is that it focusses on topics that aren’t necessarily part of the news cycle at any given time and manages to find the relevance and humour in them. And covering Trump is the opposite of that. But Oliver’s right: ignoring him won’t help. As I write this, Trump is trouncing Ted Cruz on Super Tuesday. And the key insight that Oliver brought to the conversation is that Trump’s greatest asset is his name. Not necessarily the actual word “Trump,” although that helps. But, the Trump brand has massively positive connotations for many people, in spite of Trump’s actually pretty dodgy leadership. So, the best mode of attack is to strip him of his damn name. Make Donald Drumpf again, indeed.

Better Call Saul: “Amarillo” — Okay. I’m just going to take a moment to rain on the parade. I still love this show, and this was a good episode. Things are picking up. But I started thinking about where the points of tension are in this story. And they’re basically, “Will Jimmy screw up his hard-won new career, and ruin his promising new relationship?” And, putting aside the fact that we know from Breaking Bad that the answer is yes, I feel like I’ve seen this story before. That’s not a knock, though. Actually, it’s nice to see such skilled TV craftspeople making something so simple. Not everything has to be Deadwood.

QI: “Messy” — Stephen Fry’s leaving QI? My god, I hadn’t heard! I’m disconsolate.

Podcasts

Criminal: “Hastings” — This is a story about a day when an eighth-grader brought a gun to school and tried to fire it. It’s told by three people who were there: the principal and two former students, now grown. It’s refreshing to hear a story like this told with so much attention paid to the experience of the survivors and so little paid to the sensational details of the (potential) shooter’s life, mental health, etc. Criminal tends to be a show that I appreciate more than I love, but it could be that I just haven’t heard a bunch of the best episodes.

Fugitive Waves: “A Secret Civil Rights Kitchen” — A lovely, slight little story about a woman who used her phenomenal cooking abilities for social good. Like all Kitchen Sisters stories, it’s beautifully produced. Listen to this to find out if Fugitive Waves will be for you. And then, even if it’s not, go listen to “Waiting for Joe DiMaggio.”

Radiolab: “K-poparazzi” — Really great. This is presented as a counterpart to the story about Gary Hart: both ask the question, “how much do we want to know about our public figures?” But instead of focussing on American politics, this one focusses on K-pop. I kind of wish they’d tightened both stories up and added a third, so it could be a classic Radiolab themed triptych. But then, my attitude towards Radiolab is always mediated by misty nostalgia.

99% Invisible: “The Green Book” — A new producer! Nice. I love how 99pi can find a way to present just about any story as being about a design solution. The Green Book was a travel guide designed to help black people travel through the United States in relative safety during the years of Jim Crow. The last edition was published shortly after the Civil Rights Act was passed, but it’s still enormously informative of that time.

On the Media: “Spotlight on ‘Spotlight,’ the Movie” — This made me even more glad that Spotlight won Best Picture. Robby Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer’s devotion to truth in storytelling obviously extends even to their own story. Brooke Gladstone doesn’t push Robinson too hard on why he and the Globe didn’t break the Catholic Church child abuse story earlier, because she doesn’t need to. The movie explores that side of the story just as deeply as it explores the journalistic process. I loved this interview, but mostly I just love Spotlight.

The Heart: “Ghost: Alex” — This didn’t work for me. The Heart’s previous forays into fiction/semi-fiction have worked because they relied principally on a third-person narrator, which is a familiar format for a podcast. This is just a straight-ahead radio drama, and while I adore that format, the writing and acting feels forced. I would have preferred if Kaitlin Prest had remained present throughout. Maybe that’s just me.

The Memory Palace: “Overland” — Hey, there’s humour in this! I love The Memory Palace, but I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard humour in it before. I’ve also never heard Led Zeppelin in The Memory Palace before. Nice.

Reply All: “Zardulu” — This might be the best episode Reply All has ever made. It’s best not to know too much about this going in. I’ll just tell you that it involves a conspiracy, a number of enigmas, some head scratchers, and Justin Trudeau getting threatened by the Sasquatch. I’ll also tell you that I am now halfway convinced that nothing is real. Pick of the week.

Love and Radio: “Deep Stealth Mode” — This is actually an episode of Here Be Monsters that’s making a guest appearance in Love and Radio’s feed. I’ve never listened to Here Be Monsters, but it sounds like it’s basically just Love and Radio made by different people. This is a story of a mother raising a transgender daughter whose consciousness of her gender became obvious when she was three years old. In classic Love and Radio style, the narrative stays in the tape the whole time: it’s just the mother and the daughter. No host or interviewer. It’s a lovely little story, and probably more relevant than the one I’ve chosen as pick of the week, but relevance isn’t everything. Let’s call it “recommended.”

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “The Oscars Omnibus 2016” — It’s possibly more fun listening to this with the benefit of hindsight. The lack of outright dismissiveness towards The Revenant is appreciated. I get it, awards momentum makes things tiresome. But it’s a skillfully made movie, and this panel recognizes that. On the other hand, Bob Mondello’s dislike of Spotlight is totally beyond me. Doesn’t matter now, though, does it?

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Small Batch: The 2016 Oscars” — Basically a continuation of the above. Nice to have Gene Demby on here to offer some insight into the problems with the Chris Rock monologue.

99% Invisible: “Norman Doors” — This is actually a video, but the audio from it showed up in my feed anyway. It does really work better with the visual element. Mostly it’s just cool to see Roman Mars show up as a Vox reporter’s audio spirit guide. But I’m also a fan of any instance where he gets to gripe about bad design. (I.e. his TED talk.)

All Songs Considered: “New Mix: Breakthroughs by Car Seat Headrest, The Coathangers, Big Thief, More” — Oh my god that Car Seat Headrest song is incredible. The full version is nearly twice as long as the video edit and that’s what you need to hear. Stream it here. Do it. A show that starts there and ends with Tim Hecker has got to be good. Actually, it’s probably the best All Songs I’ve ever heard.

All Songs Considered: “New Mix: Music From M. Ward, Nothing, Marissa Nadler, a Chat with Mitski & More” — There hasn’t been a song on these last two episodes of All Songs that hasn’t been awesome. I’ve already gone back and listened to huge chunks of these shows. Now I have to try and remember to actually check out the records when they come out. My highlights here are “Pentecost” by Kyle Craft, “Girl From Conejo Valley” by M. Ward, and “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski.

On The Media: “FiveThirtyEight Explains Super Tuesday” — Listening to statisticians talk about Super Tuesday was almost as depressing as Super Tuesday itself.

Imaginary Worlds: “Imagining Wonder Woman” — Wonder Woman has the most interesting real-world origin story of any superhero, bar none. Can Superman claim to be created by a renegade polyamorous psychologist with a whips and chains fetish, as a vision of a feminist utopia? No he cannot. This is fascinating.

99% Invisible: “Mojave Phone Booth” — Actually a Snap Judgement story, this is the tale of the man who discovered a phone booth in the middle of the desert and how it became a precursor to social media. Really good.

Serial: “Trade Secrets” — Again, we venture into the weeds, and again I can’t keep myself apprised. Presumably, the reason Serial was the breakout podcast is that it was exciting. Not that this is a virtue in itself, but I do think that’s a reasonable statement of causation. So, in a sense, it’s sad to see it descend into something so eye-glazingly boring. On the other hand, maybe it reflects admirably on the team’s principles: don’t just be fun, be important. Can you tell I’m conflicted about this season? Every time I sit down to write one of these blurbs, I tie myself in knots. This is the sort of thing I’m quick to say should exist in the world, yet I’m basically listening to it out of inertia at this point.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Downton Abbey and Nostalgia as a Genre” — I came so close to starting Downton Abbey. I even made it about five minutes into the premiere. But now that I know how swiftly it went south, I think I may sit this one out. As for the podcast, I love when Barrie Hardymon and Audie Cornish come around. But for some reason, this episode doesn’t seem as interested in speaking to people who haven’t seen the thing they’re talking about. Still fine. But that’s usually one of the reasons that I prefer this show to the likes of Pop Rocket, which is more insidey. Just saying.

All Songs Considered: “The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner” — Gaelynn Lea is awesome. I love that NPR chose somebody with such an idiosyncratic sound as their winner. Frankly, finding talent like this is the entire reason why public broadcasters should still be in the music business. I could not love All Songs Considered more than I do this week. In fact, let’s give the three episodes I reviewed here a collective, honourary pick of the week. But Reply All is still the best podcast episode I listened to this week, no question.

And with that, I got my listen later playlist on Stitcher down to zero for the first time in months. Thank you, dishes. Thank you, running.

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Omnireviewer (week of Nov. 22)

Only 20 reviews, this time. A slow week. To be fair, I’ve got a brand new digital piano and that seems to be taking up a lot of my time. Also, down below the podcasts you’ll find a review of thing that required more words than usual. So, look forward to that.

Movies

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 — This oscillated wildly. At its best, I thought it was pretty brilliant and lived up to the rest of the franchise, which I generally like. At its worst, it was slow, laboured, and a considerable waste of Julianne Moore. But the fantastic cast sees this through. Seriously, it’s like the casting director for these movies just raided my brain for the kind of actors I like: Donald Sutherland, Natalie Dormer, Jeffrey Wright (also underutilized, but twas ever thus), Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman (nice to see him, one last time), Elizabeth Banks… I could go on. Even Gwendoline Christie shows up for a scene. (Somebody needs to make a movie starring Gwendoline Christie and Jeffrey Wright.) Jennifer Lawrence continues to be wonderful. And, honestly, even Moore is so amazing that she manages to elevate her somewhat bungled character into the realm of watchability. With a cast like this, it’s easier to forgive weaknesses.

Star Wars — I watched a fan edit of Episode IV that aims to reconstruct as much of the original movie as possible — without special editionification — in high def. It was great. Star Wars remains a movie that I don’t especially admire, but I sure love putting it on when there are other people around, and talking through it. And I also learned that my childhood role model, C-3PO, remains my favourite character in the Star Wars universe.

The Empire Strikes Back — I also watched this in the despecialized edition, and it really is something. These edits are really worth checking out. And this movie is wonderful, in a way that the first one sort of isn’t. From Hoth to Cloud City, it’s enthralling. But this time through, it was especially clear that the best part of the movie (and the franchise) by a mile is the sequence of Luke training with Yoda on Dagobah. That senile little weirdo is the best thing in Star Wars (aside from C-3PO, obviously). Frank Oz is a wonder, and the Yoda puppet is more expressive than any of his Muppet characters. But more than that, Yoda is a plausible representation of what it might be like if the sharpest mind in the galaxy were forced into isolation for decades. He might be the most believable character in the series.

Television

Last Week Tonight: November 22 — If the first half of this episode were all that John Oliver had ever done in his career, he’d still be awesome. Not only is this segment — on the needlessly thorny topic of Syrian refugees — amusing somehow, it is also beautifully argued. It is a thing you can send to people who think differently to you and say “This! Look! Reasoning!” The other segment, on pennies, is fantastic because we Canadians have been through this. Pick of the week.

BoJack Horseman: Christmas Special + Season 2, episodes 1-6 — “Hoo-ray! Begrudging acquiescence!” Okay, I’m properly loving this now. It’s sad, and dark, and the humour is incredibly writerly — full of wordplay and incredibly structured exchanges of dialogue. And the voice acting is universally wonderful. This must be one of the best things Netflix has produced.

Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” — The best episode of the season, and possibly of Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor. It’s really fantastic to see the Doctor get to be the main character in his own story, which surprisingly isn’t the default for this show, considering that it’s named after him. It takes considerable guts to do an hour of TV with basically only one character, but Capaldi carries it easily. The reveal towards the end (re: where all of the skulls came from) is something that only Steven Moffat could have come up with, and it’s why I love his version of Doctor Who in a nutshell. All that said, I’m going to try to avoid making the same show pick of the week twice in a row. So, it goes to another televisual Brit, this time around.

Literature, etc.

I dove back into No God But God this week. There will be remarks to be written on that very soon.

China Miéville: “Säcken” — Certainly the most frightening story in Three Moments so far. Apparently there are people who think that Miéville’s characterization is weak? No. The entire reason this story is terrifying is because we’re able to see through the protagonist’s eyes so easily. And because Miéville is very good at grotesque descriptions. The story doubles as an acute examination of the impact of loss.

China Miéville: “Syllabus” — Not so much a story as a whimsical joke. But it’s a whimsical joke that makes my brain hurt. Typical Miéville.

Music

The Smiths: Strangeways, Here We Come — This is about on par with the debut, to me. So, a magnificent album, better than Meat is Murder, but not quite as good as The Queen is Dead. Morrissey’s voice is remarkable on this. In fact, all four members of the band give their best performances on record here. It’s nice to hear Johnny Marr take a proper guitar solo on “Paint a Vulgar Picture.” Lately, I’ve been thinking about how one of my old favourite bands (but no longer), Marillion, are basically what the Smiths would sound like if they’d been huge Genesis fans. In addition to that, the Smiths’ four studio albums map neatly onto the first four Marillion albums, prior to their first breakup: there’s the promising debut, the problematic sophomore effort, the masterpiece third album, and the ever-so-slightly compromised final album. Strangeways is very much the Smiths’ Clutching at Straws, insofar as it’s remotely useful to compare one of the most esteemed bands of the ‘80s to a niche interest neo-prog band who weren’t even very good.

The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow — There’s a reason this singles/odds-and-sods collection is considered as essential as the studio albums. This is incredible. That guitar on “How Soon Is Now!”

Comedy

Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats — Just as funny the second time. The bit about how to eat a banana in public is one of my favourite bits of stand-up. The gimmicky audience cutaways, on the other hand, are less effective. Would have been better if this were a straight-ahead film of her show.

Podcasts

The Heart: “Desiree+Aaron” — This is a story about a woman who is deeply invested in Aaron Carter fandom. As you might expect, it’s an awkward listen. It lacks the humour and the slight remove of Mystery Show’s Britney episode, and you kind of don’t know whether to be sad or not. I do like the premise of this season of The Heart, though: following unusual relationships through their make or break moments. I intend to keep listening.

Reply All: “Yik Yak Returns” — One of Reply All’s best episodes gets an update. Alex Goldman’s story about how campus racism went especially bonkers on one particular mobile app, on one particular campus was fantastic journalism when it came out months ago. This expanded version covers a spate of similar violence on campuses across the USA. Pretty much essential. Pick of the week.

Fresh Air: “ Music Writer Peter Guralnick on ‘The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll’” — This and Good Night And Good Riddance are apparently part of my recent obsession with the people behind the success of iconic musicians. Sam Phillips — the founder of Sun Records, and discoverer of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, and countless others — was fascinating. I’m sure Guralnick’s book is also fascinating, and I’d love to read it. But I’ll have to space it out from Good Night and Good Riddance, because that might be a bit too much rock and roll reading material in too little time. But you can count on Terry Gross to curate a fascinating conversation, so this podcast will hold me over until I’ve actually got an appetite to read this book.

StartUp: “Words About Words From Our Sponsors” — As an episode of StartUp this is as good as usual. As a status update on Gimlet Media, it’s perplexing. Apparently, the plan is to introduce a new revenue stream by making branded podcasts in collaboration with companies. It seems clear that Gimlet will handle that without treading into any ethical murky areas, but I just don’t understand the idea of branded podcasts. I mean, you can listen to anything you want. So who’s going to listen to half-hour ads? I fully expect to be proven wrong in short order, but I don’t think I could ever enjoy a branded podcast. It’s not a matter of principle — I just think that when there are so many great podcasts out there, I’m always going to choose the ones that are passion projects, not ads.

Radiolab: “Birthstory” — Radiolab is always at its best when covering really complex stories. When stories are simple, they always end up trying too hard to imbue them with universal themes. This story is massively complex and has hundreds of moving parts. It starts off dealing with the circumstances that convene to prevent gay couples in Israel from having children via surrogacy, and it ends up detailing the circumstances that lead women in Nepal to become surrogates for pay. This episode, produced by Molly Webster, is extraordinary not just for its fascinating and important story, but also for its clarity and organization. Most shows would make a total hash of this. I was all set to make this pick of the week, until the end music faded down and Jad Abumrad came roaring back in with one of his superfluous thinky closing monologues. “In a way, this story is about dreams.” Oh, give me a break. If you stop listening to this when the actual produced story ends, it is 100% awesome.

99% Invisible: “Fixing the Hobo Suit” — Once again, Roman Mars introduces me to another podcast that I feel compelled to add to my rotation. Eric Molinsky’s Imaginary Worlds seems right up my street. This story about how and why superhero costumes have gotten so much less cringeworthy is fantastic, and apparently he does similarly nerdy things on a bi-weekly basis. We’ll see if I can fit it in.

On The Media: “The Language of Terror” — After international tragedies, the media people I most want to hear from are Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield. You can trust them and their producers to keep their heads and present clear lines of reasoning while TV gets totally histrionic and people start shouting tirades of bigotry at each other on Facebook. This show is really, really not just for news junkies and media types. It’s useful to anybody who wants to be able to parse news coverage in a way that keeps them more informed.

Fugitive Waves: “Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake” — This is a decent way to passively spend 20 minutes. There’s nothing here that provides more insight into Nick Drake than even the most casual fan would already have. But there are some nice remembrances of him, and a few (scrappily recorded) extracts from a live covers project that sounds like it might have been good. Anyway, this vapourized upon impact.

Live events

King Crimson: Live at the Vogue — *breathes deeply*

I nearly didn’t go to this concert. It was a matter of principle. The whole idea of a version of King Crimson that exists specifically to play the back catalogue is anathema to the basic concept of King Crimson, to me. I’m all for playing the old favourites, but every version of King Crimson should focus on developing its own music, and until now all of them have. Still, when it came down to crunch time, I just couldn’t not buy a ticket. It’s King Crimson.

Here’s how that went down.

When I entered the Vogue, I was told very sternly by the bouncer not to take any photos whatsoever — before, during or after the show. Which is a shame, because the setup — with three drum kits across the front of the stage and a Long & McQuade’s worth of guitars, basses, pedals, reed instruments and miscellany on a riser across the back — was the most #prog thing I’ve seen in my life.

On either side of the stage were giant white signs again entreating the audience to take absolutely no photographs at all from this point forward. I sat in the hall for nearly an hour before the show, because I’m like that. A soundtrack of placid Frippertronics burbled along as dudes in Magma t-shirts name-dropped Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. This is a room full of older versions of me.

Just as the show was about to start, Fripp’s familiar voice rang out over the PA, with just one more reminder: no photography. Ah, Fripp, you curmudgeonly so-and-so. Never change.

Never change. What an odd thing to say to the most volatile and restless rock musician this side of David Bowie. But is he still? What shall we make of this new, seven-person King Crimson repertory company?

The most compelling new feature of this lineup is not actually the three drummers (though that’s certainly novel), it’s the absence of Adrian Belew. I adore Belew, lest anybody misunderstand. I saw his trio play in Edmonton a few years back and it’s still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to (much better than this one, as it turns out). But Belew had been a major creative force in King Crimson for longer than anybody who isn’t Robert Fripp deserves to be, and it was threatening to force the band into stagnation.

Still, even with Belew gone, the only members of this lineup who haven’t been in at least one previous lineup of King Crimson are Bill Rieflin and Jakko Jakszyk — the latter of whom has been involved in Crimson side-projects (and projeKcts) for so long that he may as well have been. There is no way around it: for the first time ever, King Crimson is touring as a nostalgia act.

This isn’t in itself a bad thing. I’ve seen legacy tours that have knocked me flat. But this version of King Crimson has some issues. Firstly, you can’t hear anything through the drums. Fripp’s playing in particular was so obscured that there were times when I caught myself wondering “is he playing a solo right now?” Same goes for Tony Levin.

But the larger problem is that this band plays like consummate professionals who don’t give a shit. (Except for Pat Mastelotto. He gives all the shits, and was by far the most interesting musician onstage to listen to.) There’s no commitment to the big moments in songs like “Epitaph,” and “Level Five.” This King Crimson sounds bored, a lot of the time. I’m tempted to blame the mix, but there were moments that came off gorgeously: I’m thinking mainly of “Starless” and “21st Century Schizoid Man.” So, it seems like the problem is just that they were on autopilot for most of the show.

A lot of the time, I found myself missing Belew in spite of myself. His real value to the band was his ability to play the wild card. He’s a disciplined musician, but he also knew how to keep the band on their toes: keep them from becoming complacent.

Complacent. What an unfortunate word to resort to when describing the most volatile and restless rock band this side of Radiohead. But there you go.

On the other hand, Mel Collins was actually wearing crimson suspenders. Well played, Mel Collins.

Omnireviewer (Week of Oct. 25, 2015)

I read, watch and listen to a whole lot of stuff. Usually, I have thoughts on that stuff. Oftentimes, those thoughts are not substantial enough to justify a proper essay, and I don’t have time for that anyway. To wit, here is the premise of Omnireviewer: if I read, watch or listen to it, I will review it in a few sentences. Every Sunday, I will compile the previous week’s reviews in a post like this one.

Before we begin, a few guidelines. Here are some things I generally won’t review:

  • Stuff made by people I know, or people who people I know know. I’m doing this for fun, not to make my life awkward.
  • Every bit of music I listen to for work. My job involves listening to a LOT of music. I’ll review it if it’s especially interesting or new, but I won’t hold myself to this.
  • Fragments. If I listen to a single song on the way to the grocery store, no. If I listen to a whole album walking home from work, yes. If I watch a John Oliver segment on YouTube, no. If I watch a full episode of Last Week Tonight, yes.
  • Blog posts/articles/essays etc. This accounts for a lot of what I read in any given week. But actually reviewing that stuff seems needlessly far down the rabbit hole, even for me.

For things that will take me more than a week to get through (i.e. books and games), I’ll give them a mention when I start them, review them when I’m finished them, and give updates periodically in between. That’s unless the book or game breaks down logically, like episodic games or collections of short stories. In that case, I’ll review each part.

Not everything I review will be new, nor will it all even be new to me. I revisit old favourites as frequently or more than I seek out new favourites — especially where music’s concerned. But I’ll only review something in an Omnireviewer post once. Subsequent revisitations will occur anonymously. In general, if I don’t mention that I’ve seen/read/heard something before, I probably haven’t.

Finally, none of what I’ve said above constitutes “rules.” By which I mean: I reserve the right to break them at my convenience. And now, here are my reviews of the 28 things I read, watched or listened to since Sunday, October 25:

Movies

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night — I’m not one of those people who gorges on horror movies around Halloween, because most of my favourite horror movies aren’t the Halloween kind of horror movies. I don’t scare easy, so I tend to prefer horror of a more existential persuasion — the kind that finds its way into your dreams and changes you for a while. (See especially Davids Lynch and Cronenberg.) This is not that kind of movie. This is a vampire movie, totally Halloween-ready. But totally, totally unconventional. Best to go into it knowing as little as possible. But, if you’ve seen it: that scene with the disco ball? Seriously.

Television

Doctor Who: “The Woman Who Lived” — This season of Doctor Who hasn’t been hitting it out of the park for me. I adored the last season, and I think Peter Capaldi is as good an actor as ever played the Doctor. But the scripts so far this year have been bland: even Steven Moffat’s, and to me he’s the best writer in all the land. Strange then, that Catherine Treganna — best known for her work on Torchwood, which I don’t especially like — should write the first really good episode of the season. It’s no “Listen,” or “Kill the Moon,” but Maisie Williams playing a jaded immortal was always going to be a winning concept.

QI: “A Medley of Maladies” — The brilliance of QI is that the humour often veers into territory that you’d be embarrassed to enjoy if it were stand-up, but it’s packaged alongside fascinating obscure trivia to make you feel less dumb. Any episode with Ross Noble is bound to be a gem.

Music

Peter Hammill: Nadir’s Big Chance — I’ve been meaning to listen to this for years, and somehow didn’t get around to it until now. This is the album where the lead singer of Van Der Graaf Generator allegedly invented punk rock in 1974. If that sounds a bit outlandish to you, you’re right. But there are places where he comes surprisingly close. More importantly, this is fantastic. Possibly second only to In Camera in Hammill’s solo catalogue.

Philip Glass: Solo Piano — This is a collection of three separate pieces of music that all feature a two-note repeating pattern in the left hand. One might think it would get old, but it’s actually hypnotic in the way that Glass is at his best. His piano playing is pretty scrappy in places, but it’s always nice to hear recordings where that feels beside the point.

Wilhelm Kempff: Brahms Klavierstücke, Op. 116-119 — It was about time I sat down and listened to Brahms’s final piano pieces all the way through. The famous Eb-major intermezzo was always a favourite, but all of these pieces are gems. It’s perfect mood music — a mellow old scotch in harmony and counterpoint. I can see this joining my other favourite solo piano music (Debussy’s preludes, Beethoven’s late sonatas, Bach’s partitas) within a few listens. Kempff’s 1963 recording is deservedly a classic. I’ll be checking out his Beethoven next, for contrast.

Jethro Tull: Peel Sessions, 1968-69 — A revisit, inspired by a book I’ve been reading (see below). These recordings really highlight what Mick Abrahams brought to the table. For all that Martin Barre added to the band, Abrahams plays most of these early songs better. Ian Anderson’s vocal performance on “Stormy Weather” is borderline minstrelsy, though. This is not a pun; this is an allegation of casual racism, lest anybody misunderstand. These things happen with white blues bands. I still love this, though.

Neil Young: Time Fades Away — An old favourite of mine. It’s hard to reckon why Young still hates this album and refuses to reissue it. Is he even listening? He may have been out of his head at the time, but his band has never sounded better. “Last Dance” is not one of Young’s best songs, but it is one of his very best tracks. It’s all in the performance. The fakeout at the end is one of my favourite moments on a rock live album. Also, how is this not in every list of best album covers ever?

Literature, etc.

China Miéville: “The Rope is the World” — This is from his short story collection Three Moments of an Explosion, which I’ve been really enjoying. Miéville’s writing sometimes borders on poetry in its density. In this story about elevators into the atmosphere, he coins words on the fly with no explanation. It forces you to think through their likely etymology, lest you lose the plot entirely. I can see how some readers might be frustrated by that, but I find it fun.

Reza Aslan: No God But God — I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and already recommending it to everyone I know. I was always amazed by Aslan’s eloquence in interviews. He could basically talk into a microphone for several hours, transcribe it, and that would be a decent book. But he’s way more of a craftsman than that. He structures his chapters around an introductory anecdote or parable, told in prose worthy of the best living novelists. Each of these stories helps situate you before he transitions into his always-lucid argumentation. It’s an ingenious structure. I’ll have more to say about the content itself when I’m finished the book.

David Cavanagh: Good Night and Good Riddance — I bought this as soon as I finished the Kindle sample. Good God, is this ever exactly what I want to read right now. In case you haven’t read the Guardian’s shimmering platinum review, this book is a deep dive into the life’s work of the BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, with whom I am not directly familiar, being 25 and Canadian. But his show was clearly a force in a number of consecutive countercultures. And Cavanagh’s a dazzling writer. I’ll be putting a couple of other books down for a while, to tuck into this.

Games

Stasis — After reading so many rave reviews, I confess to being a little disappointed. There are bright spots in this: parts of it are genuinely terrifying, and exploring a post-catastrophe civilization riddled with biological horrors is never not going to be fun. But, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, the writing is weak at best, the villain is of the moustache-twirling variety, and the backstory just introduced a hackneyed love quadrangle that I assume was supposed to make me feel something but didn’t. By the time I finish this, I may like it better.

Podcasts

(These will always come at the end, because I listen to a lot of them — commutes, runs and dishes, you know — and I listen to several of the same ones every week. It may get dull for you, even if it never does for me.)

Welcome to Night Vale: “Rumbling” — My general opinion of Night Vale is that it’s a great idea with some great writing and some great jokes, but it has structural issues. This instalment foregrounds some of those issues. Cecil Baldwin, who I generally like a lot as a character and slightly less as a host, oscillates back and forth between phoning it in and overselling every joke. The choices of background music seem arbitrary. Still, this is tying up threads of a major plot arc, and I can forgive a bit of sluggishness while the show adjusts to a new status quo.

The Allusionist: “Vocables” — I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts from the Radiotopia network, lately. They’ve got a fundraising campaign on, and they’re going big. This is apparently the first of several planned crossover events where Helen Zaltzman will collaborate with hosts of other Radiotopia shows, which is satisfying in itself for podcast geeks like me. This week, it’s Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder. So, language geekiness collides with music geekiness and I couldn’t be happier.

The Truth: “Starburst” — I loved this. I won’t spoil it by describing it too much. It’s a radio play about a jerk magazine writer at a comic con, but it quickly veers off in a truly unpredictable direction. The really notable thing about it is how The Truth’s pristine, elaborate sound design feeds into the story to become a structural element. I’ve never heard that before in the episodes of this show that I’ve listened to. It’s only fifteen minutes long. It’s well worth your time. Also, people who are interested in nominating things for Hugos should nominate this for a Hugo.

This American Life: “The Night in Question” — I love a good conspiracy theory. And here’s one with political implications, to boot. This is about how most of Israel questions the official narrative about the assassination of their prime minister 25 years ago. It’s gripping in exactly the way that Serial gets too much credit for being.

On The Media: “Truth(ish)” — Where Jon Stewart was always a comedian who also happened to be a media critic, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield are media critics who also happen to be funny. If you were one of the people who watched Stewart’s Daily Show as much for the sanity as for the humour, you need to be listening to this. If the West Wing pastiche that opens this episode doesn’t sell you on the entire show, you’re unlikely to be into it at all.

Fugitive Waves: “WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts” — The Kitchen Sisters’ radio storytelling can be a bit on the slow, meditative side for my taste, but they have a great ear for interesting characters. In this two-parter, they interview the women (and a couple of the men) who kept the first all-woman radio station in the United States running. It also contains an infuriating yet funny clip of one of the first female radio announcers trying to ward off the explicit advances of her male guest while maintaining on-air decorum. Worth a listen.

This American Life: “The Call Was Coming from the Basement” — The story of a woman getting attacked by a rabid raccoon is perhaps not Alex Blumberg’s very best work. But David Sedaris’s story about hanging out in a morgue makes up the difference.

The Memory Palace: “Butterflies” — This podcast might just have the best writing for the ear that I’ve ever heard. Nate DiMeo is basically a spoken word artist for history nuts. This is a particularly sweeping and ambitious story, at more than twice the normal length (it’s 20 minutes long). It’s a story about humans screwing themselves. Those stories are always relevant.

Fresh Air: “Gloria Steinem” — Steinem is a hero and has some great stories. Hearing her talk about the circumstances she encountered in media at the beginning of the women’s movement is fascinating: editors feeling that one editorial saying “women are equal” needed to be counterbalanced by another saying “no they’re not,” etc. Terry Gross asks some unexpected questions and gets some truly wonderful moments of radio out of it. There’s a reason Marc Maron calls her the “industry standard.”

Meet the Composer: “Ingram Marshall” — This is the first episode of Meet the Composer that I’ve listened to that’s about a composer I’d never heard of. And, I’ll certainly be looking into Ingram Marshall’s music further. So, mission accomplished, there. But the great thing about this show is that every episode incorporates at least one tangential discussion of an element of music history for context. This time around, we hear about the legacy of gamelan in Western music: from Debussy to the Canadian composer Colin McPhee, who transcribed gamelan music for two pianos and performed it with Benjamin Britten. That you’ve got to hear.

99% Invisible: “War and Pizza” — Most of what’s in our grocery aisles started off as military technology. That is a tidbit I can now file away and impress somebody with later. This is why I love 99% Invisible.

Reply All: “The Law That Sticks” — A somewhat procedural episode of Reply All. You should listen to it, because the law it’s about is properly disturbing. But it feels like that’s the main reason the producers think you should listen to this episode, also. Basically, not one of their most fun episodes, but worth hearing.

The Moth: “Kimya Dawson & Kevin Haas” — It’s fine. Kept me amused during my run. Sometimes The Moth knocks me flat. Not this time.

Theory of Everything: “The Things We Do For Money” — ToE’s cross-promotion game has been strong since the start of the Radiotopia fundraising campaign. Last time, Roman Mars helped tell the long-view story of podcasting, and this time Jonathan Mitchell from The Truth reconstructed a radio play by Walter Benjamin. (I know.) I don’t mind people asking for money when they do it in a way that’s this clever.

Welcome to Night Vale: “The Retirement of Pamela Winchell” — Oh, look, it’s picking up already.

Live events

Welcome to Night Vale: Live at the Chan Centre — I waffled on whether to go to this. Night Vale is scrappy at the best of times: their live episodes even more so. Plus, I’m about twenty episodes behind. But then I thought, eh, what are the chances of the most popular comedy/horror podcast coming through your town on Halloween? And I bit the bullet, ditched my plans and went. (I tried to convince my friends to come with, but it went down kind of like this.)

Gosh, but this was a whimsical experience. The story was a fluffy, whimsical romp. The musical guest was a whimsical sort of musical guest, of the harmonium/glockenspiel/ukulele-playing variety. And the audience sure was whimsical. I mean, it was Halloween, to be fair. But one gets the feeling that some of those people might dress like that year-round. Good on ‘em.

This live show lacks the bloat of some of the others I’ve heard. Cecil carried the bulk of the story, with a brief appearance from Carlos being the only significant guest spot. The story was mercifully continuity-light, considering how much listening I have to do before I’m caught up. It just told a story and got done with it, which is what I wish Night Vale would do more often. Cecil was in top form. Everything was in its right place and made me glad I decided to go. Plus: kidding aside, that whimsical musician, Eliza Rickman, is completely fantastic.

But even in a live setting, Disparition’s background music still doesn’t make a lick of narrative sense.