Vinyl Me Please

Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind

Us old dudes are suckers for reissues of our favorite records. I’ve owned Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr. on cassette, compact disc and vinyl. Still, when I saw another colored vinyl version newly available for sale, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to make a purchase. It’s especially hard to resist that kind of acquisition when you believe that, after the apocalypse, the only currency worth anything will be vinyl records.

The limited edition vinyl game is not for the faint of heart nor the easily discouraged. A rare bundle of reissues came up recently for another one of my favorite indie rock bands, and before I even knew about the bundle, it was sold out.

The most frustrating thing about this sort of “you snooze, you lose” situation is that being off Instagram for a few days was what ultimately prevented me from getting the bundle of LP’s. Now that the three LP bundle is unavailable, the only way to get the third record is to buy it off of Discogs for a cool $100. This wouldn’t irritate me as much as it does if it wasn’t a case of a legendary independent record label like Merge Records using a corporate silo owned by Facebook exclusively to advertise their new hotness. There is a news section on the label’s website, but it doesn’t appear to have an RSS feed.

The founders of Merge records are famous for their progressive political activism. However, not even they consider the role that Facebook has played in undermining our democracy. That is a role to which even executives at the company now admit. It doesn’t seem like Facebook is a company a fiercely independent label would want to help strengthen. Merge shouldn’t force their fans onto a Facebook platform to keep up with new releases.


Engineering Our Art

Image via Bruce Timothy Mans

Music is easier than ever to discover. Surely this is a triumph and yet, it makes me kind of sad when I think about how one doesn’t have to search out and find music in traditional ways anymore. Pitchfork and Rolling Stone may still be relevant, but you don’t need the encyclopedic knowledge of a music critic to tell you what you might like these days. Plug in some songs you already know you love, and have an algorithm feed you what else you will probably enjoy.

It really works, mostly. What the formula probably won’t tell you, that you should know, is that “Pale Blue Eyes” was the sonic template from which Mazzy Star was birthed. It won’t tell you that “Sex Beat” by Gun Club created the sound that was heard in many a Pixies song. You might figure some of those things out from recommended “influencers” lists, but it will be hard to put together an entire band’s catalog from the seed of some forgotten classic.

Turning art recommendations into a system is about more than just algorithms, though. If you feel like you just want to unwind, in addition to the “chill mixes” that all the streaming services feature, neuroscience has found the song that will most relax you. After listening to the song, “Weightless,” by Marconi Union, I can attest to the fact that the song is indeed, incredibly relaxing. They even have a ten hour version. With results this precise, it can be hard to argue with science.

This trend is not limited to music, either. New technology is even going to assess what audiences would like to see on the big screen. Warner Bros. is planning on letting AI green light their movies.

It works by assessing the “value” of an actor, estimating how much the film could make in theaters or streaming sites, and offering “dollar-figure parameters” for packaging, marketing, and distribution decisions behinds movies.

Human creative choices are not entirely out-of-the-picture, but data drives business decisions. They say lightning doesn’t strike twelve times, but based on the criteria above, don’t be surprised to see artificial intelligence recommend Die Hard 12. Thank goodness the Skywalker series is over because things could get a lot worse for that unfortunate family’s saga. You might even find yourself wondering what could go wrong with reconstituting a couple of dinosaurs from some ancient DNA to make a theme park, again.

As with many of the scientific and technological advancements, these things seem like mixed blessings. Computers can never replace humans in some areas, and creativity is certainly one of those areas. Tastes will never be an exact science. I like to think people are a bit too mysterious for that.


It’s the End of Advent, Merry Christmas

This year, around the holiday season, I’ve had a shift in my thinking about Christmas and the period of waiting that comes before. In the past, I’ve thought of the season of Advent as a joyous preparatory time for the a celebration that is Christmas. The onslaught of cheerful Christmas songs, that starts just as the tryptophan induced coma from Thanksgiving wears off, contributes to that way of framing things. Bing lets you know when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and he doesn’t seem at all concerned that the holiday is almost a month away.

Recently though, I’ve started to view Advent in a more Orthodox way, as more like Lent. As a time of fasting, rather than feasting. A time that starts in the darkness, as we make our way toward the light. It’s a period of quiet contemplation, instead of the exuberant cacophony of bells from a sleigh, furiously driven to the big box stores in search of Black Friday door busters. Advent is to be waited out with patience and solemn hope.


We Demand A King

According to a new Pew Research poll, the number of Republicans who say presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts has increased 16 percentage points since last year, from 27% to 43%. Among only those classified as conservative Republicans, the number of those in favor of more presidential power has doubled in the past year. The fears that this president has promoted the idea of a totalitarian state to his followers seems to have been well founded. That should come as no surprise to those who noted the president’s open affection for dictators, including those as brutal as Sadam Hussein.

It appears a certain segment of the population, particularly conservative Republicans, essentially want a king of the United States. This was the state of affairs in ancient Israel, in the time of the prophet Samuel. The prophet warned the people against putting themselves under the yoke of a king. However, the Israelites had lost faith in God as deliverer and wanted a king to lead them to victory over the Philistines.



Once you’ve popped that VHS copy of Cocktail out of the VCR and it’s safely in the rewinder, take the time to watch this video from Treatment.

It may be a bit trite at this point to overemphasize the 80’s feel of the disciples of Prefab Sprout, but if the shoe fits, and fits well…

I wrote a couple of months ago that without any new sounds from bands like Roman à Clef and the Ice Choir in years, I have been starved for more good modern sophistipop. Thankfully, Treatment has come to the rescue, with their new full-length, Pond Life. While the above single, Solitary, is a strong introduction to the album, I think I prefer the below track, “Slight Infatuation.”

The sophistipop sound dominates the album. The male vocals with tight harmonies from female backing vocals abound. Warm bass tones with a slight bit of funk anchor many of the songs. Tasteful saxophone makes appearances throughout. There are other influences, as well, though. “Feel It Out” sounds so much like New Edition, you would think Maurice Starr hand-picked the members of Treatment, wrote them a song and loaned them a drum machine.

This is a strong collection of songs. I have a feeling record will make it into my top ten of 2019 and fill a distinctive hole there.


Lord of Scripture

Pete Buttigieg recently gave a very candid interview to Rolling Stone. In the interview, he opens up about his Christian faith, which can probably best be described as “progressive.” Often, Christians on the more progressive end of the spectrum are thought of as having low biblical fidelity, sometimes even rightfully so. Buttigieg responds to those who accuse progressive Christians of cherry picking the passages of scripture that suit their world view.

Well, I think for a lot of us — certainly for me — any encounter with Scripture includes some process of sorting out what connects you with the God versus what simply tells you about the morals of the times when it was written, right? For example, the proposition that you should execute your sister by stoning if she commits adultery. I don’t believe that that was right once upon a time, and then the New Testament came and it was gone. I believe it was always wrong, but it was considered right once, and that found its way into Scripture.

And to me that’s not so much cherry-picking as just being serious, because of course there’s so many things in Scripture that are inconsistent internally, and you’ve got to decide what sense to make of it. Jesus speaks so often in hyperbole and parable, in mysterious code, that in my experience, there’s simply no way that a literal understanding of Scripture can fit into the Bible that I find in my hands.

Though I don’t agree with Buttigeig on every position he takes, and wouldn’t label myself necessarily as a progressive Christian, I do understand what he is getting at in this statement. There are contradictions in scripture, and it requires some critical thinking, research and prayer as to what to make out of those contradictions. It is undeniably true that Jesus speaks in hyperbole and parable. In fact, he tells his disciples that his wisdom is exclusively imparted to others in the form of parable.

He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. (Mark 4:11, CEB)

From this statement, we can take away that the form of teaching that Jesus used requires discernment.


Movember Starlings

(Polvo, without Eddie on drums, by Edward on Flickr)

I saw my first show at a club in 1993, at the venerable Local 506, on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. The venue is still there, nestled snugly between two Indian restaurants. Now I typically go to see a band there every couple of years or so. At that initial show, I saw Polvo, with the classic lineup of Ash Bowie, Dave Brylawski, Steve Popson and Eddie Watkins. My first rock show was supposed to be seeing Mudhoney the previous year, at the 9:30 Club in DC, where my cousin worked. However, my dad strongly objected to me going to what he just thought of as a bar to see a grunge band. He was intransigent on the subject, and it was out of my hands. I had to wait a bit longer to experience eardrum pounding indie rock in the dark confines of a club.

Polvo was brilliant and raw that night, and left me with a taste for move live music. Polvo remained on of my favorite bands through the 90’s (I also love their more recent records), though drummer Eddie Watkins left the group after the 1996 Exploded Drawing double-LP. That record is considered by many to be the best math rock album ever made. Exploded Drawing effectively showcased the many different sides of Polvo, from the Eastern influences, to the unusual time signatures and unpredictable song structures in an almost grinding journey through the essence of the band. It was certainly a fitting last act with the group for an unusually gifted drummer.


🎵 Tennis – Runner: Folks, I would really like to checkout The Mandolorian. However, that would require two things:

  • That I setup a Disney+ subscription. This shouldn’t be too hard.
  • That I stop watching the new Tennis video on repeat. That one is going to be tougher.

The husband and wife duo that comprise Tennis wrote this song while living on a boat, anchored in a fisherman’s cove, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a drum sequencer. The recorded version, however, is fully fleshed out and bubbling with synthesizers. The video is simply hypnotic. This is a trance from which I never want to return.


Do You Like Me (check yes or no)?

Next week, Instagram is set to begin hiding like counts on posts in the US, according to this TechCrunch piece. The move is expected to hurt influencers on the platform, as initial tests in other countries showed that likes on posts went down when the counts were not displayed. The influencer economy is supposed to be a big part of what drives the platform. The speculation is that anything that hurts those influencers and their ability to use Instagram to build their businesses too badly will be rolled back.

I’m not completely bought into the idea that influencers are as strong a driver of engagement on Instagram as they are assumed to be, but to be fair, I haven’t looked deeply at the data. However, I know that the move will be good for teenagers who view posts as popularity contests and delete photos when they don’t achieve a certain like count, for fear of embarrassment. I appreciate the fact that those who are steering the Instagram ship are taking steps that account for the mental health of its users.


🎵 Frankie Cosmos – Jesse: A conservative estimate would be that I’ve listened to this song somewhere around a million times in the past year.

I didn’t know, however, that the force behind Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline, is the daughter of married couple Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. There is something so gratifying about the daughter of two film celebrities making music this wonderfully understated.