Friday, February 29, 2008 

Ten things you should know about dictionaries

This video of a lecture by Erin McKean, one of the editors at the Oxford American Dictionary, is unexpectedly interesting. Or at least it is if you're an English/language/lexicographical/speech obsessive, just a little bit.

(if nothing else, watch about 20 minutes in for an extremely interesting throwaway bit about omniscience)



I've been meaning to post/link it for a while, but it kept slipping my mind; my friend/Stylus compatriot Stewart Voegtlin has a blog now, about food. Stew's generally a pretty entertaining guy, but I could literally read his writing about preparing and eating various animals all day long.

Thursday, February 28, 2008 

Electronic tattoo display runs on blood

Sometimes the original headline is so cool you just gotta leave it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008 

Log on to the innermets

So apparently auto insurance in the Seattle area is AWESOME.

Friday, February 22, 2008 

For future reference

I tried reading China Mieville once, and although I certainly respect his talent I gave up fairly swiftly; I mean to try again (probably with his first book) at some point. But I also have a bunch of other books I want to read, thanks to his list of Fifty Fantasy & Science Fiction Works That Socialists Should Read. What I've read from the list is good, and his descriptions are intriguing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 


Anyone who is at all interested in what I said about Vampire Weekend below (and I fixed some of the typos which I somehow missed - how embarrassing!) should drop by my friend Erik's blog for his take. I think his point about Billy Bragg is pretty well taken (I've never heard Bishop Allen), but I kind of disagree about Batmanglij's keyboards and fake strings - at first they annoyed me (I remarked to a friend that, for example, "Mansard Roof" sounded much better before the cheese came in), but I kind of came around to it; I now think their bright, simple feel matches the ethos and lyrics of the music so well that I'm glad he's such an essential part of the song. And while I like "Campus," I still think "M79" is the standout here. Still, I haven't heard "Ladies of Cambridge"...


The grace of a slasher movie

I'm still mulling over exactly how I feel about Heretic Pride (the first Mountain Goats album I've heard since becoming a fan that finds me kind of nonplussed), although I'm pretty sure it'll wind up on my top 20 for the year. But I can honestly say that for once a review has actually clarified my view of the album somewhat; that the review, easily the best thing you will read anywhere about Heretic Pride, is by my friend the good and wise Mike R. Powell, is merely icing on the cake.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 

Nothing makes any sense anymore, but everything rhymes

I started reading emusic's unofficial blog right about when, uh, I became aware that Todd Burns was working there, but I probably should have earlier; if I ever come around to MP3s as more than evaluation tool before I buy the CD, I'll probably pony up the dough for a membership. The blog is fantastic, anyway, and not just because today they give us something truly wonderful: John Darnielle talking about five of his favourite Mountain Goats songs in truly lovely, inspiring fashion. That man can write like a motherfucker.


This isn't helping my painful ambivalence about the institution of marriage, either

Why on earth is this the most depressing thing I've ever read? I'm a 26 year old single guy, a grad student (i.e. in a position where the social milieu is more immature than you might think), and a guy who thinks the whole Sex & The City/idealized vision of romance is stupid (the redeeming value of High Fidelity, I would tell you, is that Rob Gordon realizes that waiting for something perfect is ruining his life). I'm not in the position that Gottleib is in, and according to her I never will be, but the whole thing just makes me want to become a monk, to give up on the whole idea of romance and relationships (which I don't actually want to do - I like those, thanks). I'm not sure what she was setting out to do, but I hope making me feel like dating just isn't worth it wasn't one of her goals.


Why do you do what they tell you?

Christ I'm glad I bought the DVD version of Songbook: The Singles from work. Remember when the Super Furry Animals used to be the best band in the world? I don't, honestly, but in retrospect it seems bracingly clear. They shoulda been as big in the UK as Oasis wound up being. They produced at least four great albums in a row (and I need to re-evaluate Phantom Power, which I think I may like more than I remember), and Gruff Rhys is kinda my Platonic ideal of a rock frontman. Maybe it's just the nostalgia for when music videos looked like the ones for "Ice Hockey Hair" and "God! Show Me Magic," but I'm feeling very pro-SFA tonight. Guess it's time to finally check out Love Kraft and Hey Venus.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 

Joy inducing external causes

It may only be because I requested it, but seeing a webcomic make some Spinoza jokes is still completely awesome.


More valuable than the Mona Lisa

So they've figured out the Antikythera mechanism, and it winds up being a surprisingly complicated/accurate astronomical calendar. That's pretty cool.

Monday, February 18, 2008 

I am young and I am good

So I guess the first act this year that us critics are supposed to have an opinion about is Vampire Weekend. That's always fun, especially as out in the real world (at, say, the store I work at, where we still don't have a listing for their debut yet) no-one's heard of them, let alone heard them, yet. Still, while I think the whole critical/'blogospherical' echo chamber that happens is in the long run kind of damaging, it can be fun, and seeing so many people get so worked up over what is ultimately an enjoyably slight little pop-rock record is perversely thrilling. And as for the question of African (or Paul Simon's) influence, I don't know and there's a sense in which I don't care; not that I'm apathetic to the music of other parts of the world, or to influence in general, but finding out the exact details ain't going to make me like Vampire Weekend any more or less.

And what does make me like it are two main elements, one of which Robert Christgau articulated in his fairly-big deal semi-defence of the album: The sense of joy to the whole thing. Even the should-be-closer "Walcott" manages to spin us through several variations on "Walcott, don't you wanna get out of Cape Cod tonight?" all of which sound like Ezra Koenig and his chums are pretty alive with the possibilities of being young and educated (and possibly rich - aside from attending a fancy school, does anyone know if they're actually rich?). Mostly due to the flights that Rostam Batmanglij sends the music spiralling off into (a feat he pulls so often it stops being a crutch and becomes a style). And that's to say nothing of the likes of "A-Punk," "Mansard Roof" and "Oxford Comma" (which makes being lied to sound like a fucking blast), or even the relatively limp "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," which at least has the gleefully yelped "do you want to fuck like I do?" interjection. The album practically seethes with the wide-open face the world presents to kids like these guys, and although I only overlap with their demographic group partially, it's certainly appealing. The whole thing puts me in mind of the line that John Darnielle busts out on The Sunset Tree that titles this post, although his has a different feel for all sorts of reasons.

I mean, the thing is, I'm definitely not rich (I've worked part time or full time my entire post-secondary education to pay my own rent, gotten loans for tuition, etc), and neither is my family (solidly middle class, thanks, with the leftist lean you tend to get up here), but I do go to the Canadian equivalent of an Ivy League school (which means: education just as good, less money around, tuition much cheaper) and the only way I could be considered anything close to 'poor' is by the standards of the social class I find myself in (not wholly unwillingly, of course). Change some of the signifiers (which are, really, just local colour) and Koenig could be singing about Johnston Green on "Campus," and while I've come to love that song, I can palpably understand why anyone who isn't on one might hate it. Koenig, like all good songwriters, is as much standing outside and commenting/depicting as he is celebrating, but although I have my own (serious) problems with the upper class, I'm not sure I follow why he shouldn't be allowed to do the latter at all, especially since he seems to have a good head on his shoulders.

But the reasons I am not sure how much my love for the record will persist have nothing to do with the appropriation/class issues people are up in arms about. First off all, I have to agree that after "Campus" there's a sharp dip in quality, except for "I Stand Corrected" (surely the happiest song of its type I've ever heard, albeit quietly so) and "Walcott" - which really is robbed of its rightful place as the send-off to the album. The other three tracks aren't horrible, but they are filler, and they're not terribly well sequenced. Maybe I'll come around to them, but if not it's likely I'll be waiting to see if Vampire Weekend can top this one.

But I'm worried they won't, at least not for me, for the other reason I'm not sure my love of Vampire Weekend won't just be a fling: I may be too old. The debut is great mostly because of the way those first six songs especially sum up the aimless, vertigo-esque happiness of the undergrad, and although I'm a grad student I'm not yet tied down enough that I can't feel it, albeit a bit vicariously. But I'm not sure it would work for me as nostalgia, and I'm not sure Koenig's focus on the callow is going to be something he moves away from, or even that he should! That might just be his strength, and as the band's videos demonstrate, on of Vampire Weekend's key strengths is that they seem blissfully unconcerned about everyone else's concerns.

To contrast that, consider another album: Phoenix's mostly unheralded It's Never Been Like That. Still in many ways a 'young person's' album, Thomas Mars (who, yes, is just over 30) writes about not getting what you want in ways that seem much less able to shrug it off than Vampire Weekend can (which, again, is one of that album's virtues). When writing about the Afghan Whigs' 1965, I've said it's my favourite album about not getting laid, but when I did I had to think about what else I could put in that category; I guess on reflection It's Never Been Like That certainly qualifies (it doesn't help that I fell for the Phoenix disc in the middle of a relatively severe crush, I guess). But whereas Greg Dulli seems on the prowl for any number of women, Mars seems focused on one; but it's not a breakup record, it's a never-quite-getting-there one (in the "oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood" sense). Vampire Weekend, meanwhile, seem to regard that lack of ability to connect as a shame, but ultimately not that important - there are other opportunities ahead. Mars sounds a bit more aware of what's at stake, of how quickly you find yourself on the wrong side of the hip young crowd with a stable group of friends that's a tiny bit limiting (or feels that way) even as it's nurturing, wondering how you're going to meet anyone new. I don't think it's particularly self-revealing or self-pitying to say that while I am happy and love my friends, I identify with Phoenix a lot more than Vampire Weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2008 

Tell me what to do if it all falls through

Feel good hits of the 14th of February, 2008:

Super Furry Animals - "Ice Hockey Hair"
The Kills - "Last Day of Magic"
Gowns - "Clawless"
Low - "Violent Past (Daytrotter Session)"
U2 - "The First Time"
The Stratford 4 - "Rebecca"
The Mountain Goats - "Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident"
Bo Diddley - "Bo Diddley"
Stars of the Lid - "That Finger On Your Temple Is The Barrel Of My Raygun"
The Vulgar Boatmen - "Drive Somewhere"


Light headed

DONE! first draft, that is. 81 pages and 159 footnotes, I'm sure it'll swell under the weight of revisions. In a lot of ways this was intellectually the toughest thing I've ever done - not because Ingarden and Davies were hard to grasp (at least I don't think they were.... I hope) but just because producing 80 pages of academic writing is apparently something my brain will fight against every step of the fucking way. It was like pulling teeth, digging ditches, insert your metaphor here.

So now I just have revisions and defence, so I'm, what? 50% done?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 

Top marks for the cops

I have powerfully mixed feelings about the whole Scientology vs. Anonymous thing (although not about Scientology - it's a damned cult, period, and yes I believe there is a distinction between cults and religions), but this makes me feel a whole lot better. About anonymous, and the internet, and also just about people.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 

Some kind of breakthrough

Earlier today I finally finished off the third chapter, the lengthy account of Davies' project in Art as Performance. The fourth (and last, not counting a conclusion) chapter should be much easier. I sat down and wrote three single spaced pages in the time it was taking me to do one double space page before - not having to constantly hunt for references and quotations and being able to just write what you think is wonderfully freeing. And I've got two full days to do the rest of it! For now I'm just going to listen to a little Bo Diddley and then go to bed nice and early.

Monday, February 11, 2008 

That light may just be a train

Okay, so I've booked today through Thursday off from work; my first draft is due at the end of this week. Except for dropping by work Tuesday morning to purchase Made in the Dark, I don't expect to leave the apartment, nor to do much of anything besides sleep, eat and write. I'm almost not sure what I'll do after I'm finished - the list of things I've mentally said "I'll do that once I've finished" is now approaching truly ridiculous proportions. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 08, 2008 

You know you're in trouble when

I listened to this at the end of my shift tonight and was so struck by it that I had to put it on again when I got home. Not that Red House Painters (aka 'Rollercoaster') is new to me; but for whatever reason, it resonated extra clearly tonight, on both listens. It's weird to identify with this particular album so much; the references to physical abuse have no reference to my life (on either side, thankfully), songs like "Grace Cathedral Park" and "Strawberry Hill" (hell, the whole thing) are oddly specific bouts of soured nostalgia, and I certainly don't directly recognize the turmoil in "Funhouse" and "Mother." But something about Kozelek's voice, or his manor, frozen lava flows of his songs, convinces some part of my mind that he's not just singing about things I know about, that's he's in some sense me. It's an unsettling and powerful effect for an album to have (especially an album with "Down Through" on it).



Or at least, that's what I got from this article.

Thursday, February 07, 2008 

Some good news

I've got most of next week of work, so I can buckle down and finish the first draft of my thesis, and I just found out I got a $1500 bursary this semester. I won't see any of it - it'll go towards mostly repaying my parents for tuition - but it still makes me pretty happy. One less thing to worry about.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Kept pristine and totally devoid of pain

I'm still a big fan of the dearly departed band Hefner, as this would suggest, and I'm incredibly pleased to see that their site is not only still going but is actually improving (credit Darren Hayman's worthwhile solo career for the impetus, I guess?). Most excitingly, the new revamp not only has news of the deluxe reissue of The Fidelity Wars (once I have money again, those reissues are going to get bought, I swear), it's finally got all their videos up. I know what I'm doing next time I decide to procrastinate.

Monday, February 04, 2008 

Strepped out throats and we be robbed again

Anyone who knows me knows my love for the sadly self-destructed Dartmouth band the Sycamores; even their website is gone, although I wrote them up for Stylus once. Farewell to Deseronto still ranks high on my list of favourite albums, and it's with great pleasure that I can write that main Sycaguy Corey Walling his a website and some new music up. I've downloaded the album but haven't had a chance to listen yet, but I can't imagine it not being good. Now he just needs to throw up Farewell to Deseronto there...

Friday, February 01, 2008 

Yeah things could be different, but they're not

Let's not even get started on how I feel about the Canadian healthcare system right now, how mad I am at a friend's doctors, how upset I am, how much of a stress headache I have, and I'm not even the person getting screwed over (nothing life threatening is going on, mind you... which makes it better it an obvious, important sense, but also worse - a good friend's day could have been normal if someone had taken 10 or 20 minutes out of their day, instead of the spiralling nightmare it's become).

No, instead we should all listen to this version of Of Montreal's "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal." I said to my Stylus buddies that if we were doing year end ballots now I might have put it on my tracks list at #1, and depending how recently I've heard "You! Me! Dancing!" it might be a tight squeeze, but I think I'd go for this one. One of the few tracks from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? that I move beyond admiration for towards actual love, the original (just an excerpt, best I could do) is one of the best things I've ever heard. I didn't fully appreciate it until I heard it in the midst of a mix a friend made for me (convincing me, once again, that there is art in making a mix); in context it finally hit me fully, and I don't mind admitting to being a little choked up as well as properly obsessed.

If you'd told me Barnes could do the song by himself with just a solo guitar and still pull it off, I would have scoffed. Part of me is still scoffing (it's like hearing a solo acoustic version of "Station to Station"!). But I think he does; instead of synthpop or motorik it now sounds like early Bowie or T. Rex and much of the emotional complexity of the album version is folded into an overriding sadness, but I'm okay with that. It's still one of the more effortless ten minute songs I've heard, and still one of the best.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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imathers at gmail dot com

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