Posts Tagged ‘Five Stars’

Before I bought At Mount Zoomer, I read reviews about how they recorded it at the church owned by the Arcade Fire. My heart caught in my throat. The Arcade Fire treatment, I thought, was the last thing my lovely Wolf Parade ever needed, because Wolf Parade is all rough edges and the Arcade Fire is all sandpaper. To sort of mix a metaphor, I like the Arcade Fire okay, but I feel like they’re in third gear all the time and need to push it to overdrive. I realize this is not a popular opinion among the skinnypants-and-ironic-shirt wearing crowd.

It’s not as bad as all that. Actually, that’s not fair to say–At Mount Zoomer is downright good. It’s full of the howling synth and vocals, both always sounding a little off key, that I loved on their first album. It’s downtempo, it’s got melodies and hooks. It jams. It has lots of those driving grooves that make you tap your foot and nod your head and you don’t even realize it, along with my favorite rock & roll trick, which is the mid-song tempo change. Lots of eighties-style singing along the lines of New Order (see also: Modest Mouse, Interpol) that some other blogger doesn’t like but I do.

The thing is, though, that I can’t talk about this album or the show I went to a few weeks ago without comparing it to their first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Calling that one frenetic and raw wouldn’t be amiss, and that’s something that’s just not there in Zoomer. It doesn’t have the same wild, screaming-at-the-rafters energy of the first, the near desperation you can hear in all their best songs. And who knows, maybe they really were desperate. Maybe the sound of Mount Zoomer is the sound of relief.

The concert crowd agreed with me, though. They cheered for the new songs, but they went berserk for the older stuff. Hell, I went berserk, sitting up in the balcony in my padded seat I was waving my arms, singing along and probably looking a little like a lunatic. I felt like a lunatic, and it was great.

I couldn’t really find a decent concert video of these guys (although they were amazing), so here’s a great regular video.

At Mount Zoomer: ★★★★☆

(Apologies to the Queen Mary: ★★★★★)

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As far as I’m concerned, Bob Dylan hasn’t put out a bad album in the last sixteen years. (I would have said nineteen, but, well – sorry, Under the Red Sky, I tried to like you). His original songs have been great lately – funny, pretty, harsh, and intense, all at the same time.

In fact, his music seems to be going so well that he has a surplus of songs. How else to explain the presence of previously unreleased Dylan recordings on countless compilations, tribute albums, and movie soundtracks, including a 2007 movie which I hadn’t heard of before, called Lucky You. Dylan contributed Huck’s Tune, which apparently played over the end credits.

This song is straight up gorgeous. It’s a murky waltz, full of long organ notes and sparse guitar picking. Dylan croaks through what sounds like an ancient melody, singing with what sounds like a genuine melancholy smile. And the lyrics embody what Dylan in his current incarnation does best – gone is the dazzling but showy wordplay, replaced with a more subdued sense of wordplay. “The game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold”, he sings at the end, and he sounds sad but not surprised or even disappointed.

Bob Dylan – Huck’s Tune: ★★★★★

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That’s right: Pope Benedict XVI, nee Ratzinger, turns 81 today. Have a good one, dude. Someday when I rule the world you will have a show about your birthday, such as “My Super Sweet (Benedict the) Sixteenth.”

In other papal news, yesterday driving home from work I was listening to news radio, hoping they would explain what the traffic was all about, but they were talking about the pope’s visit instead. Bush is pulling out all the stops, it sounds like: inviting 9,000 people to the party, giving Benny a 21-gun salute, inviting a famous soprano to sing for him, and doing something else that Bush has never done for a foreign dignitary: meeting the Pope at the airport.

That made me really happy. First, in my mind the Pope flies in this:

Second, I love the idea of a cranky Pope getting off a long international flight and trying to find George in the madness that is Dulles International Airport, Swiss Guard in tow (and in full getup). To get from the gate to the main terminal at Dulles, one must ride one of these delightful vehicles:

I am convinced that Dulles got them for a real deal when they were auctioned off the set of Star Wars. Imagine the Pope, in his fancy vestments, big Pope hat, and diamonds-and-gold-encrusted laptop bag (what I imagine the Pope carries on flights), getting on one of these and staring out the window as it slowly crawls across the tarmac. Meanwhile, the Pope has taken out his cell phone–would the Pope have an iPhone?–and is trying to call George, but there’s no signal.

The Pope would probably have checked luggage. By that point he’s probably made contact with George, who’s waiting in the car on the downstairs level, looking at everyone coming out of the airport, thinking, Is that him? No, that’s big hair, not the Pope hat and wondering whether he should just park and get coffee inside. Meanwhile the Pope is standing at the baggage claim, directly in front of the chute from which the baggage comes, and all the people around him can’t decide whether to be annoyed that his big hat is blocking the view, or excited that the Pope is standing next to them. Someone takes a picture with a camera phone. The Swiss guard glares, but couldn’t take their fancy pikes because of airline regulations.

Their luggage finally comes, probably made out of a 13th century painting of St. Christopher, and the Pope goes outside to look for George. George has gotten impatient waiting and decides to circle around the airport once, so the Pope calls.

Finally George comes back, gets out, greets the Pope, they do a fist pound, the Swiss guard loads the luggage and they all get in the car (Pope calls shotgun. “He always calls shotgun,” one of the Swiss guard mutters).

“How was your flight?” George says.

“The usual. Heathrow was awful,” the Pope says.

“Heathrow’s always awful,” George says. “Are you hungry? There’s an IHOP on the way home.”

Picking the Pope up from the airport: five stars.

I know the Pope actually flew the Official Vatican Jet into an Air Force base, but I think my version is way better.

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There’s a certain kind of person who, when they find out about my borderline insane interest in other peoples’ religion, always wants to know what my personal beliefs are. And that question actually stumps me, because the question of whether whatever Sky Fairy actually exists just doesn’t cross my mind. To me, the answer is an obvious “no,” and then I go back to thinking about glossolalia.

One of Twisty’s latest posts has been knocking around in my brain for the last few days. In sum, she thinks it would make more sense if the nothingness of atheism were the default state of the world, and religion were considered an anomaly. Maybe it would, but we’re never going to know, because religion is the default state of human society. Sorry everybody.

The cause of religion is a moderately warm topic these days, and to anyone looking for answers I recommend Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy. Actually, I don’t recommend you read it so much as you read the Clif Notes or get someone to tell you about it, because while he may be an excellent sociological theorist, Berger’s a terrible writer. It’s one of the more obtuse books I’ve read in my life. What he says, though, is that people are social creatures, and religion is essentially human social structures imposed upon the unknown. It’s not at all outlandish to assume that, the way that a social grouping has control over certain things, another social grouping has control over you. Religion is making sense out of the cosmos–the things we don’t understand otherwise–in a way we can relate to. This New York Times Magazine article about evolution, neurology and religion is also pretty rad.

There aren’t any religion-less cultures that we know of. The official state religion of Russia was atheism for a while, but Russian Orthodoxy was still heavily practiced in secret. There are atheists today, for sure, but they’re isolated in a heavily religious society (and tend to be among the more privileged elements of society, but that’s another post). In the US, we take the separation of church and state for granted, as something that’s obviously how the government is supposed to be, but if you look at the whole of human history it’s a fucking radical idea. In fact, talking about “religion” in history (especially ancient history, which is my strong point) is almost impossible because it was so intertwined with everyday life; before you can start thinking about Greek or Roman religion, you have to define what’s religion and what’s something else, which is hard because the ancient people themselves didn’t do that. It’s anachronistic.

I’m straying from my point, which is that religion is the default of human society. My other favorite piece of evidence is this: a 70,000 year old carving of a python that seems to have been used in religious rituals. That’s pretty old, given that we learned about agriculture and domesticating animals about 10,000 years ago, and now I’m using a laptop and the magic of wireless internet to tell you about it. People have been organizing the world according to their social structures* since before they figured out how to cut the balls off of sheep.

That story got covered in a whole lot of religious contexts, most of which were something like, “See! Religion is THE WAY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE,” but apparently they didn’t read page two of the article. Behind the giant snake was a chamber, with an exit to the outside, from which someone could presumably speak as the snake god. That’s right: we have been both believing in crazy shit and faking that selfsame crazy shit, so that someone else will believe in it, for 70,000 years. How anyone could be anything but fascinated by it all is what I don’t understand.

The snake god, by the way, gets five stars.

*You may be thinking, “A big snake is not reflective of human order in the cosmos.” To which I say, what the hell does an actual snake want with arrowheads?**

**I also have a vague theory about the supernatural becoming more human as we get better at exerting control over our surroundings. Perhaps I will tell you about it sometime.

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Fafblog is back!



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It’s hard to find a more serious, self-important genre than contemporary folk music. Folkies tend to split into two groups: those who perform somber reflections on relationships, unhappiness, and other feelings-intensive topics, and those who carefully recreate older forms of music. At least the Ditty Bops seem to be having fun. They draw their inspiration from jazz and folk standards, and sound more like Dan Hicks than Leonard Cohen. I don’t know why there aren’t more bands like this – I’d certainly be happy if there were.

Their latest album continues in the vein of their previous releases, playing ragtime and western-swing inspired music, with catchy and surprisingly complex melodies. However, the music is a little less frantic, and the lyrics a little less confrontational. It’s a (relatively) subdued album, built on guitar, mandolin, and lap steel, and it sounds a little more relaxed. Their newfound restraint results in fewer of the ear-twisters and hooks which made their previous albums so memorable. However, the new approach pays off on the quietly swinging “When She’s Coming Home”, a highlight of the album. Some of the slower songs drag, particularly the lethargic “I Feel From the Outside In”, but as a whole, the album is both fun and rewarding – a good combination.

Summer Rains is probably best summed up by its title song and opener. The lyrics are about global warming, the arrangement is drenched in lap steel, and it doesn’t have the melodic hooks their previous albums provided. So why does it work so well?

Summer Rains manages to include references and nods to all kinds of interesting music from the first half of the 20th century, ensuring that old music geeks such as myself are happy, without skimping on the energy and fun that makes people want to, you know, listen to music in the first place. Good job, Ditty Bops.

Summer Rains:

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