science bastards

31 October, 2011

Shrug and Sigh

Filed under: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid, Oh Well, Whatever — sciencebastards @ 7:59 pm

It would be naïve in the extreme to think that clicking on everything in sight or allowing all manner of applications access to your personal Facebook account would not open up your details to marketers.  However, it seems like if some people had any idea of the scope of information that was being collected on them, they would lock themselves in a sealed chamber.  The concept of privacy seems to be fast morphing itself out of existence.  The young people I work with seem entirely comfortable with this fact and it seems the level of alarm people feel is in direct proportion to their age.  The trouble is that we all just shrug at the futility of our situation, and who could blame us?  Our absolute inability to do anything about it only makes the younger look much smarter than their older, wiser counterparts.

I believe one should always think twice about clicking on ads or liking things on Facebook.  Not that you’re going make a huge dent in the data compiled in your name, but the thought that every single thing I do online is being fed into some behemoth spreadsheet somewhere is just depressing.  I rarely search for bomb-making materials online so I’m not too worried about law enforcement getting wind of my habits.  On the flip side of that, I never give info to places that say they just want some responses for “marketing purposes”.  If they want that, they can pay me for it.  Likewise, if I ever take an online survey I make sure to lie as much as possible. Anyone who speaks of “double loyalties” is completely misguided.  The loyalties of those who mine data for a living never lie anywhere except for where the money is flowing from, and that is rarely from those being mined.  I have no illusions whatsoever that I am winning the war on the extraction of my own data but it’s always better to let yourself think you have a say in the matter.

29 October, 2011

Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun

Filed under: Boredoms — sciencebastards @ 9:40 pm

After I moved back to NY in 1999 I was definitely not well off.  Having recently abandoned a poorly-chosen career I was starting over at nearly age 30, and I was dirt-poor.  When Boredoms put out anything new, I would buy the import as soon as it came out (usually $35 or so) because the U.S. version was always up to a year or more away.  Some of their e.p.s didn’t come out in the states for more than a decade so I had no alternative, because even a few weeks delay was torture.  What’s more is that the Japanese version often had better artwork and packaging.  My unswerving love for this band will be discussed in a future column.  Suffice to say that I have remained a rabid fan for almost 20 years now.  Back to the point though.  When “Vision Creation Newsun” first came out, it was only available as a deluxe box set from Japan.

I was so broke that $150 or so was an unthinkable sum but I took out a credit card that I shouldn’t have just to buy the thing.  It is this sort of irrationality and slavish devotion that this band has caused in this fickle and cynical music consumer.  As for the album itself, it was the culmination of what they had been building towards since their shake up of the mid-90s.  And like all great albums, what you get out of it on listen one is a fraction of what comes on successive plays.  If this had been my entire music budget for two years it would have been a better choice than all the other records I could have bought.

I chose the album not just because it would probably rate as my all-time favorite, but because it ticks off so many boxes of greatness.  The record is challenging in that it has almost no lyrics save for the title being chanted in the first song and some other extraneous and unintelligible words sprinkled throughout.  Similarly, you could listen to it as one single track, I actually have a version of it in iTunes ripped that way because it works so well.  As such, it eschews a format of song followed by song for a long and flowing whole.  On the flip side, this record is ridiculously accessible.  I have a friend who used to work in a record store around the time this was released and, just like a scene out of “High Fidelity”, he would at least be asked about the record, if not sell a copy, every time he played it in-store.

Anyway, more gushing and specifics yet to come…

17 October, 2011

Bill Moyers

Filed under: Crazy People — sciencebastards @ 9:10 pm

I am struck watching this video by how impressionable some people can be.  This goes back to the debate about whether or not different media can incite violence.  For me, I don’t believe people should necessarily be prevented from saying outlandish things.  What I do have an issue with is that there is no apparatus to call people out on what they are talking about.  Talk radio has fostered an atmosphere where people can say just about anything they like and there is no counterbalance, at least in the same venue.  They touched upon this in the video but I think it’s important to consider that the general formula is to constantly ratchet up the absurdity every time to guarantee people stay outraged and keep tuning in.

Ultimately, I lay the blame on our society itself.  We live in a country that has begun more and more to value a really scary strain of anti-intellectualism.  Alongside this scariness is a decided lack of critical thinking.  Even as far back as I was in high school the one thing that still sticks out is 100% not learning to think critically about what I was taught, it was rote learning meant to support one version of things.  I especially remember being the subject of much criticism for being the person who always liked to argue with teachers about points that were entirely debatable.  Few teachers valued creating any sort of environment that fostered debate of any kind.  I have always remembered the ones who did fondly, even if I constantly disagreed with them.  As someone who deals with young college students in my job, things seem infinitely more grim nowadays.  Teaching for the test seems to have created a big thinking hole in a huge number of young kids.  Personally I believe that these twin evils are responsible for the bulk of this problem.  Not sure how to get us out of though.

I am also happy the producers of the show chose to just keep it silent during the little memorial bit at the end.  PBS and NPR can really ramp up the cheesiness in these things and it sort of takes the power away for me.  Bill Moyers is the man.

10 October, 2011

Handsome Boy Modeling School – Last Thoughts

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, I Know Everything — sciencebastards @ 5:04 pm

So I’ve spent a couple weeks listening to this album and my general opinion of it hasn’t really changed.  This either means my first thoughts are quite honed and incisive or I’m pigheaded.  The latter is probably closer to the truth.  In any case, I still have a few quibbles.

Firstly, I think the sequencing of songs on the album creates a real trough with songs 2-7.  Not that they aren’t good songs, they are all actually quite nice, even the one with the violins and Chris Elliott samples is ok.  I do feel like it comes close to sucking the life out of the album with such a sustained level of mellow.  However, these guys have sold many more albums in their lives than I have so I would guess I’m in the minority.  It slows up a bit after “Holy Calamity” also but it doesn’t feel as much of a lull for some reason.

I also thought the record could have been a bit more concise.  I’m not positive if labels like to put pressure on artists to fill up an entire cd but it does seem as if they usually pad the album out at the expense of making a tighter artistic statement.

I do find it interesting that I could find no live footage of them performing and almost no biographical info.  It isn’t that they were just a studio concept one-off project, I have found live stills of them.  This is a big positive for me though.  Any artistic venture that doesn’t seek to explain itself is always infinitely more interesting than one that does.  Anyone who has ever been to an art opening with an explanatory statement by the artist is well acquainted with how quickly over-explaining something can take all the impact out of something.  Handsome Boy Modeling School achieves the opposite of this.  Whether this silence is just a coincidence or by design doesn’t matter much.  I think one of the best things any artist can do is to confuse their audience.  I know this sounds glib and snobby but I truly hate to get exactly what I expect out of artists.

One part I will reiterate has to do with reception.  In a previous post I said that I didn’t think this album would fly on the radio.  I believe this now more than previously.  Commercial radio relies on easy categorizations and I just don’t think they would have a clue as to where to put this album.  Not that there aren’t plenty of tracks that seem to be of high enough quality and of wide enough appeal to merit airplay, I just think the project itself doesn’t fit an easy narrative.  Media like radio and television are often reluctant to promote art or artists that require much effort to digest.

Final rating: Somewhere between 4 and 4.5

8 October, 2011

Handsome Boy Modeling School – The Songs – Megaton B-Boy 2000

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, Trepidation — sciencebastards @ 11:32 pm

This track I picked mostly because of how different it sounds.  This song hits you right in the face from the start just because of how intensely blown out it is.  This is definitely not the usual hip-hop fare.  Part of the reason I’m so entranced here is because hip-hop very rarely ventures outside of clean recordings and an almost formulaic approach to the sonic qualities of the songs. This piece ends up sounding almost like a noise project, not entirely, but not too far off either.  In fact, I am reminded of a band that is sorely overlooked in rock circles even, Laddio Bolocko, one of their more abrasive songs instantly comes to mind when I hear this track.

It’s seriously good to know that people like to delve into different sensibilities when it comes to just the overall tone or sound of a track.  I’d like to think that not every form of music is so solipsistic that it only sounds like conventional wisdom says it’s supposed to.  Kanye West (I know, I know) pulls from odd enough places like King Crimson and Can and I feel as if it’s one of his saving graces.

The rapping itself is pretty intense but largely indecipherable as far as its intent goes. This is problematic because some words do come through and they aren’t nice ones.  The song is peppered with what seem to be anti-gay slurs such as “faggot” and “fairy”.  This would be an automatic deal killer for me if I wasn’t somehow convinced there was something else at work aside form some gross homophobia.  Also in the song are references to “castrati” and “The Ambiguously-Gay Duo”.  These seem to have a cultural currency to them that might override some ugly name-calling.  I seriously hope this is the case because I’d hate to think bad of these two guys and I’d really hate to think of a record that is so idiosyncratic and creative as having an element that is so retrograde at the same time.  Perhaps they are poking fun at aggressive machismo.  I’ll cross my fingers and give them the benefit of the doubt.  This is one of those times I think I’d like to know what the lyrics are and it’s one of the few instances where I’m not allowed to.

Incidentally, this is the one track of the three that isn’t on youtube.

Rating: 4 out of 5 with an asterisk in case all that ugliness is in earnest.

Handsome Boy Modeling School – The Songs, Holy Calamity

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, Drums, Tiki Fulwood — sciencebastards @ 10:17 pm

“Holy Calamity” comes to the rescue just as the album seems to have gone into a total slumber.  Track number eight comes after six songs that roll along at a reasonably slow rate, saved only by “Waterworld”.  There are so many good bits to this song, it seems tough to think of where to focus.

The very first thing you will notice is not just a marked jump in the excitement level compared to the previous few tracks however, it is the drum beat.  One thing missing from the days of heavy sampling is beats like this.  For some reason, a drum machine is totally incapable of replicating really good beats.  Maybe it has something also to do with the difference between recorded drums and drum machine drums.  This goes beyond Hip-Hop even but in this day and age, drum machines and a just a generalized standardization of drumming styles.  Twenty or so years ago, people would search for the most insane drum tracks to set their songs apart.  Reminds me of  the late, great Tiki “Sugarfoot” Fulwood of Funkadelic:

Now, it isn’t just the drum track itself here, whoever sliced it up and put it together didn’t just take a piece and repeat it over and over as a basic backing track.  The sample is itself pulled apart and repeated so brilliantly that it’s almost made into its own instrument, like the sample itself is its own drum set and its being played like an instrument.  That sounds goofy but it’s totally the case.  The effect is almost like it’s being scratched like a record.  I suppose you are meant to think it is someone scratching but I’m fairly certain it’s done digitally.

Scratching brings me to point number two about this track.  It seems minor but the scratching tracks are laid a few thick on top of one another here but they all fit the beats well, even the part where the messing with the beat messes with the tempo.  Whoever put this together made something relatively simple yet incredibly satisfying.

Point the last here is to drive a concept home that I made in a previous post.  This is that this song contains very little in the way of lyrics.  There is the main bit which is yelled over and over and some extraneous rapping here and there but most of that is scratched too, making it seem like a backing bit to the rest of the song.  This lack of lyrical content doesn’t necessarily enhance the song but it does absolutely nothing to hold it back either.

Easily my favorite track on the album.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Handsome Boy Modeling School – The Songs, Waterworld

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, Nit-Picking — sciencebastards @ 9:22 pm

It seems as if the prime song for reviewing off of any album would be song #1.  A band usually places it there for a reason; it’s the strongest track or a good initial hook.  I however, am not falling into that trap and insist on going with three that stand out sort of randomly.  This brings us to track #5, “Waterworld”, an odd choice maybe but I get to pick here.

“Waterworld” comes at vaguely the midpoint of a string of six slower numbers that come immediately after the upbeat opener “Rock N’ Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This)”.  Such a succession of slow numbers can really bring an album’s momentum to a grinding halt though, so it behooves one to try and maintain energy somehow.  This is no mean feat without upping the tempo, that being the easiest and most obvious method of creating excitement.  The song’s tempo and overall feel instrumentally are pretty laid back but it’s in the vocals that the song retains its energy.  They maintain a sort of slow burn anger while not having to be too speedy.

This song is also one of the more modern-feeling tracks on the record but it still retains a bit of old-style as well.  In fact at times, one can hear echoes of the old De La Soul track “Ghetto Thang”, especially in the pauses during the chorus.

The more modern bits seem to be from the rapping style with its lines that overlap the bars of the song and suddenly shift in and out of double time.  There are also plenty of aquatic-themed references to back up the water theme here: waves, tsunami, aquarius, the Great Lakes and Chinese Water Torture to name a few.

This last reference brings me to my first of two gripes however.  I always admire people doing innovative things in the studio.  In that spirit, “Waterworld” has water sloshing around as a part of the rhythm track.  This reminds me of Klark Kent using a typewriter for the same purpose back in the early 80s.  However, it sounds just a bit too close to someone chewing with their mouth open.  This sounds really anal but that happens to be one of my all-time pet peeves.  I just can’t get fully past it for some reason.

Gripe number two is relatively minor.  They are using the exact same sample as the Beastie Boys did on Paul’s Boutique in “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”.  What makes it worse is that it’s utilized for pretty much the identical purpose, namely as a transition piece between verses.  Minor quibbles, yes, but I have to put my years of wasting time digesting music to use somehow.

Listen at about 1:30 here…

About 2:32 here

All in all, it’s a pretty enjoyable track, the negatives notwithstanding and it does bridge what would otherwise be a real lull in the album’s momentum.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Handsome Boy Modeling School – Round 2

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, I Know Everything — sciencebastards @ 5:47 pm

One notable thing about Handsome Boy Modeling School is the dearth of authoritative information on them.  Their website seems to have been abandoned as you only get forbidden message when accessing http://www.handsomeboymodelingschool.com.  Likewise, their Myspace page seems to be mocking you with its sparseness.  The UK MTV site says “Unfortunately it looks as though they won’t be producing any more now that Prince Paul has left the group in 2006 over disputes with Dan.”  This may explain then why the site has been taken down, or at least neglected.

The only biographical info to be found online seems to have been passed to every site from the same initial source.  It is also very cursory and frankly unhelpful.  The group consists of Prince Paul, most famous for being one third of De La Soul, and Dan (The Automator) Nakamura who is a producer best known for his work with Gorillaz and Dr. Octagon (Kool Keith).  This seems to be the extent of useful information but it almost makes no difference.  Sometimes a conceptual band is better when they don’t explain themselves.  Although it is possible they did explain themselves at some point and it has since been scrubbed from the internet (I did check).

Having downloaded the album from Amazon, I have no liner notes to work with.  Most of the online commentary focuses on all the guests that got roped into contributing. Personally I think the concept, nebulous as it is, is far more interesting.  The cover, shown here:

seems to be mocking some of the trappings of snobby culture while the lyrics, especially of the first song, are calling out conspicuous consumer culture.  This promo seems to bear this out without giving too many specifics away.

 

 

I wonder if there is also a dig in there somewhere at the dominant materialism of hip-hop culture as well.  Prince Paul has always been unafraid to make music that ignores the conventions of hip-hop, especially by using humor.  Dan the Automator seems to have a similar bent, judging from this and his involvement with Kool Keith.  Why has hip-hop lost all of its silliness?  In any case the ambiguity doesn’t really take away from anything in the least.

Despite the frustration you’d expect from not being able to get a hold of useful information on these guys, I actually find it pretty refreshing.  A lack of preconceptions lets me just listen to the record and find what I like in it.  For the record, I really don’t listen to lyrics much, nor do I really care much what they are singing about.  That sounds insanely stupid for hip-hop but voices are just other instruments and I generally just like to keep them in that role sometimes.  In this case, ignorance is bliss and I am sort of enjoying that.

Rating: Hovering just above 4 out of 5 at this point.

2 October, 2011

Pump Up the Volume

Filed under: Teenage Tomfoolery, Unqualified Film Reviews — sciencebastards @ 3:19 pm

When I was in high school (in a slightly earlier time than this film) there were two instances of teenage metalheads entering into suicide pacts and actually succeeding.  New Jersey is such a dense state that despite the fact that these kids came from semi-nearby towns, we didn’t know them at all and weren’t really emotionally affected.  The administration of the school responded with a really ham-fisted campaign of suicide awareness that seemed far more concerned with covering their own butts than with the mental well-being of the students.  Being insensitive teenagers, we thought it funny to make extensive lists titled “Suicide Pact” in bold letters.  The list included all the top, most straight-laced kids as well as much of the school staff, including the principal and vice principal.  We left the lists in conspicuous places around school.  Now, before you condemn my fifteen-year-old self (yes, I know it was jerky) consider that we were making fun of the adults in school rather than the fact that these teenagers did something terrible and desperate.  Their understanding of us was so comically off center that I suppose we responded with something just as ridiculous.

What this has to do with the film is that it goes after this pre Nirvana-era teenage angst.  Adults not only don’t understand kids, they have no interest in understanding them.  In this sense, the movie actually rings pretty true.  I have no clue as to whether my school was typical or not but  the administrators in my school were such jerks that I felt it was my duty to mess with them as much as I was able to.  My low GPA likely says a lot about the wisdom of this course of action though.

It is worth noting that I can’t resist pointing out that a movie set in the early 80s has Chevy Caprices from the 90s in it (see “Basquiat”).  This means that I am also unable to resist pointing out the fact that the equipment required to produce any signal that you can listen to on your radio would maybe be larger than what you can cover up with dirty laundry when your parents walk in the room.  I know, I know, suspension of disbelief, yes.  Backyard teenage nudity is also hard to swallow, but it’s not the point.

I do find it somewhat depressing that if you were to violate FCC regulations like this in today’s America, you’d be in Guantanamo tout suite with your local folk hero status quickly revoked.  The aforementioned stunt got me no more than some grimaces from the vice principal, and he hated my guts.  In today’s world you get suspended for doing something as innocuous as this.  It’s possible we are moving backwards.

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