Frozen Planet (2011)

Categories: 2011 and TV.

This is yet another pretty good Attenborough nature documentary. However, there is a strong sense of deja vu. I feel like I’ve seen these scenes before. I probably haven’t but you can always watch so many documentaries. But it’s pretty. My favourite part was the last episode, actually, which was more interesting and unusual for one of these documentaries, given that it focuses on humans. I learned something! 7/10 Read More

Maggot Brain (1971) by Funkadelic

Categories: 1971 and Music.

My first exposure to Funkadelic didn’t exactly endear me to them and I generally want to like this record more. It opens with what I am assuming is the definitive Eddie Hazel guitar solo – that’s all it is, really, though it is pretty great – but the rest of the record is a far cry from that title track. The rest of the record is more what I was expecting. Though the lyrics are just about as inane as I was expecting, the bother me less this time out. And the music underlying it those lyrics is pretty much Read More

Fireball (1971) by Deep Purple

Categories: 1971 and Music.

I feel like Fireball perfectly illustrates why Purple are known less than Zeppelin and Sabbath: the playing is excellent (it feels like Blackmore and Lord just keep trying to push each other), Gillan is doing his insane over-singing thing and the record is actually more diverse than you might guess, but the songs aren’t great (though I will say that some of Gillan’s lyrics here are better than some of his lyrics). That’s the problem with this record, that keeps it from being among the great early metal records. They just didn’t write great songs. I will be hard pressed Read More

Yardbirds aka Roger The Engineer (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

The Yardbirds’ third album is definitely away from straight-ahead British blues towards psychedelia and even heavy metal (the intro to “Ever Since the World Began” almost sounds like a psychedelic Sabbath). And for that, it should be celebrated. And Beck does some (relatively) interesting things with his guitar, some of which likely don’t have much precedent in rock music (like that sustained note on that one song). But the songs are pretty weak. There’s a reason you don’t hear these on the radio. There’s quite a lot of filler – well played filler but filler nonetheless. For example “Hot House Read More

The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This is probably the definitive British blues album: it sounds like it could have been made by Americans in the US, it features great playing (particularly by Clapton) and I don’t know of any other pre-psychedelic blues album from the UK that is remotely this good. There is just one minor problem: by the time of its release, it was almost out of date, as both Clapton himself and Hendrix would absolutely transform blues-based guitar playing beginning only a few short months after its release. Had Hendrix not come along, maybe this album would be the gold standard for blues-based Read More

It’s Hard (2016) by The Bad Plus

Categories: 2016 and Music.

This is the first Bad Plus record in a while to be all covers. On some level, maybe that’s a retreat to their “safer” (albeit polarizing) earlier sound, routed in familiar melodies. And yes, I think this could be considered “fan service” to long time fans who maybe miss the nearly complete exclusion of the thing that made them popular in the first place when they come out and play their (usually more challenging) original material. But I don’t really care. The Bad Plus have returned to the thing that made me love them in the first place. It’s something Read More

Detective School

Categories: 2016, Philosophy, Science, and Society.

If I have learned one thing from immersing myself in too many true crime podcasts, TV series and movies, it’s this: most detectives have never been taught to think. There seems to be an obsession with relying on instinct and (supposed) “known knowns” and nothing else; no rigorous investigation techniques, no awareness of the infamous “unknown knowns,” known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” no logic, no deduction, no method whatsoever. Just “I feel this way so it must be true.” And that’s a problem. That’s a problem because “instinct” isn’t really a thing. What sometimes feels to us as deliberate framing Read More

White Light From the Mouth of Infinity (1991) by Swans

Categories: 1991 and Music.

I have only ever heard one Swans album previously, and I have seen them live once. The cumulative result of that was that I think I can say that they are a band that is an acquired taste and that is more impressive (if not likable) live. This record completely changed my mind. I respect Children of God but I don’t know that I like it…yet. I also respect a band that can be so loud that I wanted earplugs over 100m from the stage while I was outdoors (!). But I don’t know that I like that either. (They Read More

The Tragically Hip Live at the K-Rock Centre, August 20, 2016

Categories: 2016, Music, Religion, and Society.

I wasn’t going to watch this show. The cynic in me found the sudden outpouring of interest in The Hip weird. I felt like people I’d never heard mention this band previously were now obsessed with getting tickets to shows, all because someone (Canadian) famous is dying of cancer. Instead, I was going to watch the Olympics like I had been doing all day. I don’t know how I was going to watch the Olympics – I don’t have cable and only get CBC – but I was going to watch them. I wasn’t going to let CBC preempt my Read More

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015, Stanley Nelson)

Categories: 2015, Movies, and Society.

Age is a funny thing. I watched this movie months ago, perhaps more than that, on Netflix and forgot to review it (I think!), forgot to rate it, both things I do religiously. And then I got it from the library this week. When I started watching it (because Olympic golf is on!) I got the strongest sense of deja vu. I remember it being a pretty thorough examination of an important and complicated part of US history. It’s a standard documentary but it’s educational and it’s a story that needs to be told. I will say that I always Read More

Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981) by The Replacements

Categories: 1981 and Music.

As someone who has come at The Replacements backwards, this is a bit of a surprise. I mean, I’d read they were a hardcore band before, but it wasn’t really something I got until I heard this record. And it’s still a surprise. Listening to this record finally lets me understand why so many people were impressed by their transition to a more traditional rock band because you might not have guessed it listening to them in 1981. I mean, Westerberg’s lyrics are considerably more literate than some hardcore bands. But there are few inclinations that there was something else Read More

Only a Lad (1981) by Oingo Boingo

Categories: 1981 and Music.

Oingo Boingo’s debut is like Devo if the music were written by someone who went to music school, and who missed the memo that punk bands have to be left wing (it’s new wave but it’s reactionary new wave…if he’s being sincere…) The music is more musically inventive than your average new wave and there’s a distinct “classical” influence at times (especially on some of the breaks and bridges). Its’ clear Elfman is a talented guy. The only thing that keeps me from rating it higher is the sheer Devo-ness of the record. I mean, yes, Devo influenced most American Read More

Juju (1981) by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Categories: 1981 and Music.

I quite liked Kaleidoscope but this record takes that sound to its logical conclusion, creating something that is simultaneously dark and post-punky and also bright and shimmering. They really found a unique spin on British post punk that no other band (that I’m aware of) really had. Of the records I’ve heard of theirs, this is the best, I think it’s pretty clear – consistent songs and an impressive display of a signature sound. As an aside: it’s kind of a crime that The Edge is utterly adored the world over for his okay guitar playing and obsession with effects Read More

The Runaways (1976)

Categories: 1976 and Music.

I understand why this is an important record to a lot of people: it’s an all-woman rock band, with a bit of a punky attitude and very much behaving like men (or, at least, not like women were supposed to behave). And I’m sure it’s been hugely influential. But the music isn’t all that great: it’s pretty generic hard rock for its day, with a bit of a punky attitude but which isn’t really matched by the music, and a little too much camp, of the not self-aware variety, for me (particularly in the final track, which basically turns into Read More

Limetown (2015)

Categories: 2015 and Podcasts.

Limetown is an engrossing hard science fiction story that mostly manages to avoid the issues that seem to accompany these fictional podcasts – mostly the audio equivalent of the found footage film problem; in this case, ‘why is everything recorded?’ It’s a reasonably compelling mystery that keeps enough hidden for long enough. There’s still some nonsense typical of conspiracy theory stories, but it’s limited. Of the fictional podcasts I’ve listened to so far, it’s certainly as good as I’ve heard. 7/10 Read More

Jon-Rae and the River Knows What You Need (2006)

Categories: 2006 and Music.

At some level, it’s understandable why a certain section of Toronto’s (and Canada’s?) music critics lost their minds over this band back in 2006. There probably weren’t a lot of bands like this at the time, I suppose. And from listening to this record, I can imagine they are a good live band. I can imagine that, if you like energy in your shows above everything else, they are probably a great live band. But… Revivalism is revivalism and this band revives others’ music. They revive it very well, and the energy translates a lot better than you might have Read More

New York City You’re a Woman (1971) by Al Kooper

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Al Kooper fascinates me. He had a bizarre career: writing a hit pop song, becoming Dylan’s keyboardist, turning into a jazz rock pioneer and then having a career as a record producer. But despite my fascination, this is the first proper solo album of his I’ve heard. Maybe I’m disappointed because I was expecting something very different. Maybe I’m disappointed because, much like Kooper does here, I have mythologized his life a little too much. I don’t know. Reviews I have read compare this to Elton John around the same period. I have no idea if that’s apt or not Read More

Budgie (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

If you watch [i]Metal Evolution[/i] or other documentaries, you will see various major NWOBHM figures claiming they weren’t influenced by punk at all, claiming they hated punk and that punk had literally nothing to do with NWOBHM. That’s not entirely true, but listening to Budgie it’s clearer as to where NWOBHM came from if it didn’t actually come from a combination of punk and the first wave of British heavy metal. Because if there’s such a thing as proto-NWOBHM (that’s a meaningless term there!) then this is it. Budgie sometimes play faster than just about every other British metal band Read More

Instrumental Asylum (1966) by Manfred Mann

Categories: 1966 and Music.

Jazz fusion and jazz rock barely existed, if they existed at all, when this bizarre EP was recorded. Manfred Mann drops their pop music and their lead singer for a horn section and keyboard and vibraphone (!!!) solos on fairly radical covers of rock and pop songs. What did Jack Bruce do to this band? Despite its brevity, this is a bit of a landmark recording for what it suggested and for beating nearly everyone else to this genre (to the best of my knowledge). The jazz influence is more soul jazz than anything else, but it’s still rather remarkable. Read More

Animalisms (1966) by The Animals

Categories: 1966 and Music.

I’m pretty sure this music seemed quite rough, ragged and hard to British audiences in 1966. And I guess I should try to keep that in mind, but it’s hard. Because, of course, it wasn’t particularly grittier than its inspirations. I mean, this is mostly a covers record and there are better versions of these songs, and there were better versions of these songs in existence in 1966 (though they may not have been available in the UK or in many places in the US). So I am having more than my usual trouble imagining what it would have been Read More

Black Dynamite (2009, Scott Sanders)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

I haven’t seen any blaxploitation in some time but, from what I remember, this is a spot on parody. And, like every great parody, it takes itself seriously enough of the time that the film and characters feel committed to the genre even as they tear it apart. There are some really solid jokes here, about the genre itself, about African-American culture, about filmmaking in general, and even some “lower” stuff (of the kind you might find in a “spoof”). Though the film probably works better if you are a fan of the genre, it still works quite well even Read More

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Categories: 1972 and Movies.

This adaptation of Fassbinder’s own play is rather radical in its content for a film of its era – the story of an ageing fashion designer who falls in love with another woman. Its all female cast is also rather unique to my knowledge. Fassbinder manages by some miracle (really, his typically inventive camera work) to make the film not feel like a play, despite the fact that all the dialogue takes place inside one room. It’s a rather incredible display of his technique. As with a number of Fassbinder’s films, I find myself so in awe of his ability Read More

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

Categories: 2014.

I think I like this more than the first movie, though I can’t necessarily identify why. One thing that differentiates it from so many other current super hero movies is that the enemy at the end of the film isn’t some ridiculous, world-destroying force or space monsters, or whatever. So that’s something. But there are difficulties: I agree about the criticism regarding Black Widow – she sure feels dependent on the Cap’n and some of the other male characters a lot of the time. Also, the dating talk…for fuck’s sake. This movie is already so long but it needs a Read More

We do not want to know what we do not want to know

Categories: 2016, Psychology, and Society.

People say we’re rational. Human beings may be animals, but we are animals who have overcome our animal natures to make calculated decisions about our choices. I mean, look at all we’ve accomplished with our big brains. We tell each other we think rationally, even logically. And we  want rational explanations for what is happening in the world. We want to know why things happen. But every person who believes this is wrong to a degree. Human beings are not entirely rational. We may be able to think rationally or even logically about certain select things but, usually, we’re driving Read More

The Good Soldier (1915) by Ford Madox Ford

Categories: 1915, Books, and Fiction.

Sometimes I can handle stories of the idle rich, sometimes I cannot. This is one of the latter, where I really struggled to care about any of the characters, their rich, bored lives and their endless emotional struggles. I can understand why this novel is so well regarded: it exposed the fraud of “keeping up appearances,” it is told in, what was, for the time, an extremely unconventional way, with what I assume is one of the earlier uses of an unreliable narrator. These things should be celebrated. But I have a really hard time relating to these rich, religious, Read More

Trouble at the Henhouse (1996) by The Tragically Hip

Categories: 1996 and Music.

I’m pretty sure this was the Hip’s biggest album. It has a couple of their bigger hits on it – including “Ahead by a Century” which, if not their biggest hit, never seemed to leave Canadian radio in 1996. But I get a strong sense of deja vu from this record, particularly from “Gift Shop” which reminds me of another Hip song so damn much (I just can’t quite place it right now). I like some of their records from the first part of the decade and I’m not sure that this one really improved on any of them. It Read More

Aass Cobra (1996) by Turbonegro

Categories: 1996 and Music.

For some reason I always thought these guys were going to be Black Metal. I guess I just assumed that because of their name, and because their Norwegian. But they’re not Black Metal, obviously. I think I’d normally be kind of reluctant to get really excited about straight ahead hardcore in 1996 were it not for their demented sense of humour. To put it in perspective, these guys might be the most offensive band not named Anal Cunt. (At least as far as my knowledge of music goes.) “The Midnight NAMBLA” is not only a great pun, but it’s definitely Read More

Everything Must Go (1996) by Manic Street Preachers

Categories: 1996 and Music.

This is my first experience of The Manics, beyond one single (“If You Tolerate This than Your Children Will Be Next,” which I have a compilation). As I’ve noted more times than I can count, the problem with hype is that is elevates your expectations to heights where they will never be satisfied. This is a well made Britpop record with well-above-average lyrics. But one of the best albums of all time? Really? I want my “great” records to do more than just make me happy. For me, greatness is as much measured in influence and staying power (“transcendence” as Read More