Irrelevant Troubadour

George Crumb, Unto the Hills; Black Angels
February 17, 2011, 7:03 pm
Filed under: music

Some people like gentlemen’s clubs, some people like turkey clubs, some people like billy clubs, but me, I like The TV Tropes Album Exchange Club.  This one’s a review of George Crumb’s Unto the Hills and Black Angels, which I’m evaluating separately since they’re separate pieces.

The one adjective I can think of to describe Unto the Hills is “spare” (that and “not on youtube”).  Spare like empty, treeless hills at midnight under a full moon; spare like a burned-out Appalachian ghost town. Spare, yet haunted: this is piece that is dominated by silence and negative space, and the sounds that stand out—the percussion, dissonant chiming, piano, vocals (which I quite liked; they seemed very pure), eerie strings, and occasional Scare Chord—seems like ghosts, barely at the edge of perception. This piece is like stepping into an abandoned house and hearing, in the back of your mind, the music that once played there. As such, the interpolation of the Appalachian folk songs really works, making the piece seem like a sort of a requiem for this rapidly vanishing culture.

As for Black Angels? I’m torn. I probably enjoyed this more than Unto the Hills as a piece of music, but it lacks the thematic import the other piece had. Perhaps I’m simply lacking context. George Crumb certainly realizes just how versatile a string quartet can be, using is as everything from a percussion ensemble to a punishing noise attack to a barely-audible musical sigh. Yet these disparate elements really didn’t come together as a whole for me. While I could appreciate, say, the dissonant noise assault that opens the piece or the mournful yet defiant hymn at around 10:30, I really didn’t know how to connect them to each other. I also wasn’t much of a fan of the shouted interjections; they seemed like a cheap shock than a real musical element. But then again, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the liner notes; it could be that the only reason I’m missing the thematic relevance of all of this is because I don’t know it. Then again, I don’t have any background material on Unto the Hills either, so I really don’t know.


Professorial Percentages
February 12, 2011, 1:54 am
Filed under: occurances
  • Percentage of my professors this semester that have facial hair: 80%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester that have funny accents: 40%
    • Percentage of said professors that teach psychology: 100%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester with glasses: 40%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester that wear sweaters: 40%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester that wear truly horrifying Hawaiian shirts: 20%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester that enjoy inserting pop-culture references into their lectures: 60%
    • Percentage of said professors who do it because they legitimately enjoy the things they reference: 66%
    • Percentage of said professors who do it in a rather transparent and desperate attempt to look cool: 33%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester with rather obvious personal agendas: 60%
    • Percentage of said professors who don’t even bother trying to hide it: 33%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester who actually seem to know how their class Blackboard sites work: 40%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester who I regularly run into outside of class: 20%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester who have played the part of Albus Dumbledore at a public event: 20%
  • Percentage of my professors this semester whose classes I am really enjoying: 100%

Nurse With Wound, Rock ‘N’ Roll Station
February 12, 2011, 1:40 am
Filed under: music

Everybody loves the TV Tropes Album Exchange Club, right?  And everybody also loves Nurse With Wound’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Station, so this is bound to be the most popular post on this site.

This has to be the least rock ‘n’ roll album ever to have the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” in the title. I mean, the only rock-related thing I could hear here was a short sample of surf guitar at two minutes into “Two Golden Microphones”. Where’s the pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall R&R action I’ve come to expect from those masters of down ‘n’ dirty blues and boogie-woogie rawk Nurse With Wound?

Speaking seriously, this album seems to me to be a deconstruction of electronic dance music. It’s built around urgent, pounding, repetitive beats, but they’re beats that have been so simplified as to no longer be at all danceable. These rhythms wind in and out of each other, and sound less like music than some sort of ritual drumming or the workings of dark industrial machinery. Yet in some cases this experimentation fails, such as on “The Self-Sufficent Sexual Shoe”, which sounds less like a deconstruction of dance music and more like a failed attempt at it.

This isn’t to say that this is purely a rhythm album; there are lots of interesting things going to top of the beats. My favorites would be the deadpan yet absurd narration and chopped-up crowd noises in the title track and the ticking, whirring, and occasionally didgeridoo-ing insanity that is “Two Golden Microphones”. Also worth mentioning are “Finsbury Park, May 8th, 1:35 PM (I’ll See You In Another World)”, which is as close as this album comes to pure noise, and “R+B Through Collis Browne” which sounds like a less forceful version of what was going in “industrial” music (a genre Nurse With Wound arguably pioneered) at the time.

This album is unique and fabulously intelligent; having said that, I highly doubt that I am going to listen to it again after this review is up. It’s an experimental album in the purest sense of the world. It would be more apt for me to say that I was fascinated by it than to say that I enjoyed it. I suppose this music just arrests different parts of my mind than I usually desire to stimulate with music.

Let’s Get Metaphorical
February 7, 2011, 1:32 am
Filed under: literature, ridiculousness

In which I explain some jokes and in so doing deprive them of their humor.

You know what I find hilarious?  Bad metaphors.  It’s one of the few sub-categories of bad writing that’s consistently amusing and very rarely dull or off-putting.  They way I see it, you have four kinds of bad metaphors:

  • The basic mixed metaphor.  Simple and often effective. From the sports column of the New Jersey Star Ledger: “He was marooned in the jaws of a human minefield, and with every step the noose grew tighter.”
  • The forgotten metaphor, or “metaphorgotten” to quote the perpetually pun-happy TV Tropes.  Writing a metaphor is like riding a bull, see: you have to be careful not to let it get away from you or you’ll end up lying on the sand at a fairground in New Mexico while a bunch of snot-nosed kids laugh at you and then you’ll get puked on by a drunk clown.
  • The absurd metaphor.  It works, but the thing it compares the event it describes to is so outlandish that it draws attention to itself, something that in my mind metaphors shouldn’t do unless they’re begin deliberately silly.  It’s something like this, from the often hilarious LiveJournal community weepingcock: “And then he was fully socketed to her, like a pipe wrench in a crock of warm chili.”  Although thinking back on it, I kind of think “socketed” is much worse than any number of pipe wrenches in chili.
  • The completely literal metaphor.  I had to go to the Lyttle Lytton Contest to find this one: “The boat moved through the sea like wood through water.”  If you don’t get it, read it again.

And before you say it: yeah, I know all of these are similes, but I’ve never really cared for that distinction.  In closing, I hope you enjoyed reading this completely pointless post as much as I enjoyed writing it.  It’s been real.

The Crystal Method, Divided By Night
February 4, 2011, 12:14 pm
Filed under: music

Yet another dispatch from the TV Trope Album Exchange Club.  This is a review of The Crystal Method’s Divided By Night.

So when I first downloaded this album it had the tracks all out of order for some reason—more accurately, they were in alphabetical order, so “Black Rainbow” was first, then “Blunts & Robots”, etc. And honestly, now that I’ve listened to it in the correct order, I have to say I prefer it alphabetically. I don’t know, it just seemed to flow better that way. The album in its original order just seems sort of slapdash.

As for the album itself? Well, to be fair to it, I’m almost certainly not appreciating it in the right way; this is an album that’s meant to be heard on the dancefloor at 12:30 after two overpriced cocktails at an overhyped club in some generic major city that caters to bored office temps looking for some release from the drudgeries of their daily existence. Indeed, I can imagine, in an alternate life, being a data entry clerk from Wichita, Kansas and hooking up with a rather tipsy paralegal named Lana to the strains of “Kling to the Wreckage”. But I’m not, I’m listening to this album in a college dorm room on headphones, and as such am robbing of the context it deserves.

What, then, do I hear on these headphones? Well, as most of the people before me have said, I hear generic electro. This is not to say this album is all bad, persay—just like any other form of music, generic electro can be good. But this album only rarely rises above (or below, for that matter) mediocrity, and when it does it’s due pretty much entirely to the guest artists. In some cases they provide the album with its highlights: these are the Matisyahu-driven “Drown in the Now”, the surprisingly touching dark ballad “Falling Hard”, or the bittersweet and hooky dark pop song “Black Rainbow”, which is my favorite track on the album. In other cases they lead to the album’s biggest embarrassments: the dumb ‘angry’ number “Kling to the Wreckage”, or “Sine Language”, which the less that is said about the better. But without the guests this album just sort of fades into grayness and buzzing synths. It’s background music for the bored to wiggle to, and while it has a place in the world, that place is not in my music collection.

The Top Nine Most Homoerotic Prog-Rock Album Covers
February 3, 2011, 12:07 am
Filed under: music, ridiculousness

People on the internet love lists, right?  Well, even if you don’t, here’s one anyway.

When someone says “prog rock” to you, what’s the first image that comes into your mind? I mean, after the bemusement was to why a random stranger is walking up to you and mentioning a musical genre for no discernible reason. Is it Rick Wakeman in a cape? Peter Gabriel in a flower costume? A mellotron? No, I’d be willing to be that for most of you the image that prog rock conjures in your mind is of one its iconic album covers—The Dark Side of the Moon, In the Court of the Crimson King, a Roger Dean thing from Yes, something like that. Prog is a genre defined as much by its visuals and its icons as much as its music.

Prog rock is also almost exclusively a boys’ club. Oh, I know, there was Kate Bush, there was Renaissance, there were all those Canterbury bands I haven’t bothered to listen to, but besides them the vast majority of progressive rock was created by men. And in all-male communities, well…things happen. So it should come as no surprise that I present to you the Top Nine Most Homoerotic Progressive Rock Album Covers.

Before we begin, let’s first deal with the honorable mentions. These albums don’t make it onto the list not because they aren’t gay enough, but because they aren’t prog enough. True, they’re from prog-related genres—jazz and power metal, if you care—but the just don’t have that necessary cocktail of sophomoric genius needed for true prog. Still, they are pretty damn gay, so here they are.


Herbie Mann - Push Push


Manowar – Anthology (though really, any Manowar album could fit here)

Now, without further ado…

9. Captain Beyond – Captain Beyond

Now, there’s nothing overtly gay about this cover, but you have to admit that this guy (who I must assume is the album’s titular “Captain Beyond”) is more than a little bit fabulous. I mean, look at that coat! Look at those boots! Look at that bulge!

8. Gentle Giant – Acquiring the Taste

Now, again, there’s nothing explicitly gay about this cover; neither the extremely creepy-looking mouth nor the, um, body part it appears to be licking are given a gender. But still, there’s no way I was going to leave something like this off this list.

It’s also worth noting that when you open up this record’s gatefold, you discover that the…object that the tongue is about to take a healthy lick from is in fact a piece of fruit. This is about the calibre of humor we can expect from Gentle Giant.

7. Marillion – Fugazi

UK neo-proggers Marillion raise so many more questions than answers with this album cover. The issue of why a DC punk band decided to name themselves after this album aside, you have to wonder about the guy on the cover’s hips. Are they broken in some way? If not, how exactly is it physically possible for him to lie like that? As for the stuff in the background, well, Marillion have a well-documented history of including lots of pointless shit on their album covers. I’m sure the sad clown painting, the walkman, and the lizard all have intense symbolic significance to the members of the band, but here, they’re mostly just clutter.

How, then, is this album cover homoerotic? I mean, sure, it’s got a good deal of male skin on it, but it’s not particularly sexualized male skin. No, to figure this one out, you need to look back at the cover to Marillion’s earlier opus Script for a Jester’s Tear.

Now see that little bit of motley on the Fugazi guy’s foot? Yep. Marillion have made Rule 34 of themselves.

6. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – Love Beach

Love Beach is considered by many to be not only ELP’s shark-jumping moment, but also the end of the classic prog era. Here was a band that was previously known for concept albums about cyborg armadillos and half-hour keyboard solos, standing on a beach with their shirts open like the Bee Gees. And that’s the reason this album isn’t higher up on this list: it’s quite gay (in a coked-up 70s sort of way), but it’s not particularly prog. But still, Emerson (or is it Lake? maybe Palmer?) and his hairy chest mean that I can’t very well ignore this album.

5. Dreamscape – Trance

Now no one has heard of prog-metal-electronica act Dreamscape besides their, like, three MySpace friends—indeed, I hadn’t heard of them until I started researching for this list—but this can’t be ignored. Besides the fact that’s it’s got a man in a thong on it, this cover is just bad. There’re all the crappy blends, gradients, and Photoshop filters, there’s that god-awful font, there’s the sickening blue color—this is the sort of thing that keeps graphic designers from getting any sleep at night.  In fact, I’m starting to have second thoughts about including this on the list; I’m a big fan of both progressive rock and gay people, and I don’t really think either deserve to be associated with this image.

4. Atomic Rooster – Nice & Greasy

Now, I know that this cover is from an extremely limited edition version of this album that only came out in Germany, but come on. They’re shooting laser beams out of their massive penises! Who thought this was a good idea? All I know is that is a band that was definitely compensating for something. Oh, and calling the album Nice & Greasy doesn’t exactly help things either.

Tie for 2. Rush – Hemispheres and Yes – Going for the One

Ah, yes, the naked man-ass duo of the late 70s. Many a young prog nerd at the time had to endure the painful sting of mockery from his peers as he purchased these records from the shop, and no amount of justification (“But Rick Wakeman’s back for this one!”) would make him seem any more masculine. At least in Rush’s case, there’s a pretentious symbolic meaning for everything on the cover: you see, the straight-laced businessman dude represents the Apollonian ideal, and the naked guy posing on the giant brain represents the Dionysian ideal, beckoning the Apollonian to go on a journey into the center…of the mind, man. With Yes, on the other hand, it’s just a naked dude’s toned, firm rump. Which, admittedly, is a bit more than you got with Roger Dean.

And the number 1 most homoerotic progressive rock album cover of all time is…

Dream Theater – When Dream and Day Unite


So what have we learned here today? Well, I think the main thing to take away from this is that homoeroticism in prog rock transcends time, place, and obscurity. On this list, you have 70s classics and 00s upstarts, stadium legends and MySpace losers, Canadians and Brits. Truly, the full spectrum of prog is represented. Except for, y’know, all the other prog bands that weren’t on this list. Okay, so maybe there isn’t a message to take away from this. Ah well, enjoy the branding.

Procol Harum, A Salty Dog
February 1, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: music

This is post number four for the TV Tropes album exchange club.  It’s a review of Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog.  This was the album I submitted, and as such I’m not going into quite as much depth about it.

I really like this album (as probably be guessed, considering that I submitted it). It came around the end of psychadelic era and the beginning of prog rock, and as such sort of seems like a missing link between them, with a tinge of old-school blue and r&b thrown in (best heard on “Juicy John Pink” and “Crucifixion Lane”). It’s ostensibly a nautically-themed concept album, and though there are good number of sailing songs here, it doesn’t hew very close to the concept. It’s a melancholy affair, and remains understated even its more grandiose moments, such as “The Wreck of the Hesperus”. Mainly, I like it for how well it evokes a certain quiet, contemplative mood, like an evening listening to tall tales as the sun sets over the marina.