Saturday, January 31, 2015


Jean-Luc Godard is a lot like The Melvins. I first encountered both artists in my teens. Godard was a huge influence behind, and inaugurated La Nouvelle Vague, or The French New Wave in the early 1960s in the same way The Melvins were a huge influence behind, and inaugurated Grunge in the early 1990s. Both Godard and The Melvins proved early on that instead of riding the crest on their wave of success it was more appealing to deliver avant-garde works that would ultimately polarize their fans and test the patience of many for years to come. À bout de souffle (1960, Jean-Luc Godard) is Godard's Houdini (1993, Atlantic Records) in its accessibility, the way it catapulted them into the public spotlight, and its lasting impact.

Stoner Witch (1994, Atlantic Records) was an event in my hometown of Corpus Christi. Everytime I recall hopping into someone's car, with my skateboard stowed in the trunk among those of the other passengers', that tape was constantly looped on auto-reverse, constantly blasted. And while it rocked harder than Houdini, it showed increasing experimentation and side B is almost all drone and sparse. Pierrot le fou (1965) is Godard's Stoner Witch because it's comparable with À bout de souffle as his strongest work (the one to recommend) but boasts significantly more experimentation of the type that typically distances many fans.

1994 was my introduction to the culture of personal filmmaking. I don't feel like going on about Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) but, yeah it came out that year, and yes, it taught me that movies were made by one person and that getting taken out of the moment is the best way to put you in the moment. So aside from cinema, I was skateboarding, hanging out with kids 10 years older than me, going to all ages punk rock shows, and listening to Melvins. Somehow one day an older dude, I mean like thick black beard/I heard he smokes crystal-older was telling a group of friends I was tagging along with that there was a Melvins release after Houdini and before Stoner Witch . . . whaaaaaa?!!! Street legend had it that Prick (1994, Amphetamine Reptile Records) was complete garbage, absolutely positively unlistenable, and the reason it had a cover illustrated with the text SNIVLEM was because they hated their parent major label and this was a way to find a loophole in their contract and release this when and as they wanted. So the bearded older kid stoked the fires that would be in my imagination the coolest sounding tape ever.

Ici et Ailleurs (1976, Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville) is Prick. Both are spontaneous, unpredictable, beautiful, funny, dark, ridden with non sequiter bridges and tons of sampling. And both are mesmerizing, accessible works that are refreshing because they are unlike 99% of the work done by their contemporaries, yet done by artists who have already been  to, say, the top of the charts.

Watching Goodbye to Language in 3D (2014, Jean-Luc Godard) harnesses what it means to be spontaneous and to explore. Its structure is very much in keeping with late Godard, especially Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98, Godard) with techniques that imbue his narrative with music, art,  literature, and philosophical references at a constant rate. Late Godard is appealing to me because it feels like what I want to capture as a filmmaker, without outside pressures like audiences, budgets, and marketability. It feels like a chore to set up a story so clearly everytime, always planning a film considering the audience. If feels like a joy to walk outside and film what you see, then improvise a story, then put in the music you never dreamed would be married to these images, and finally start cutting and make if fun. Of all that is going to be written about this movie, I'd like to leave my basic appraisal at that.

I still can't believe Godard shot a movie in 3D, and I've heard about this for almost a year. The film is choppy in the spontaneous way I've come to love. The 3D is fun but turns impressive when Godard tracks a character leaving a 2-shot by panning right, but stays on the first character--so each of your eyes processes this simultaneously. There is an exhilaration about seeing something in a theater for the first time. Sometimes it feels like they screwed up the 3D, but I think the flaws only endear this experience. I was constantly straining to see, feel, and know more, but I was never disappointed.

At one point there is some dialogue like: the image is the murder of the present. And yet somehow all of the images of Godard's dog, nude women, flower arrangements, and water all present Godard as explorer. We feel that at the present this is what inspires him and that that is enough.

I'll admit that I don't get why Mary Shelley is writing Frankenstein while joined by Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley in the same way I kind of understood why Emily Brönte gets murdered in Weekend (1967, Godard). And I will admit that there is a lot in Goodbye to Language that I don't yet fully comprehend, but that's alright with me. Again, I'm sick of the every other movie tendency to be so safe and organized.

And I am not sure what this film would be like in 2D, but as of now the experience I had seeing this in a theater in 3D was wholly engrossing. And while in the past I have had doubts as to whether old age negatively influences filmmakers, my top film of 2013 was by a 78 year old and now my top film of 2014 was by an 83 year old. Goodbye to Language feels like it was shot by someone very young, and that's one of the highest complements I can bestow.

This film runs 69 minutes and I've always been a proponent of shorter features. 72 is my sweet spot, but 69 guarantees I'm walking into the theater with the requisite excitement of knowing I won't get bored.


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dregs' 10 of 2014

1.     Goodbye to Language in 3D (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)
2.     Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
3.     Mood Indigo (2013, Michel Gondry)
4.     Joe (2013, David Gordon Green)
5.     Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher)
6.     Inherent Vice (2014, Paul Thomas Anderson)
7.     Foxcatcher (2014, Bennett Miller)
8.     Sin City: A Dame to Kill For in 3D (2014, Robert Rodriguez and           Frank Miller)
9.     The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)
10.    Nymphomaniac (2013, Lars von Trier)

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Fat's best HEAVY TUNES of 2014

0. TL;DR List + Links Only

I. Meandering Introductionalizing

Looking back at the year in the light of the full list, I realize that 2014 was a musical year of...a bit of a rut, honestly. "Retrenchment" is probably the nicest word to use, but what I spent my year listening to was pretty much loud guitars and male voices and that was it.

I will have to make a point of greater variety next year.

II. The Long Version, the Real Relationships

My 2014 began much as 2013 ended—with Shooting Guns' rolling-truck rumblings, loud, heavy, and moving hard, if not fast. Almost all of what I liked best this year was what the great Erik Highter called "low-altitude space rock", the kind of music that remembers that rocket ships are just hot rods in another dimension. Which brings us to:

Solar Halos
Probably 2014's most common "just listened to this, I'll just listen to it again right now" experience. The four-song demo was outstanding, the six-song record is basically perfect, and I listened to both again and again and again. No record I listened to this year was sequenced as well as Solar Halos—the build to the final song, "Resonance", essentially eight minutes of continual pummeling explosions, or a strong crashing surf pulling you under, was unmatched and made for enormously satisfying listening.

Check out their twitter: the band was really good in January about aggregating all their reviews—numerous and rapturous—but the album now seems forgotten here at the end of the year. Which is bullshit: by a wide margin one of the best records of the year. Buy it and introduce yourself to them. Every song is great and the album as a whole is even better.

My pal Abe the Professor recommended these guys a few times before it sunk in—but finally they popped up enough on one of my Pandora stations for me to fall completely in love with them. Very good swaggering rhythms around which spectacular guitar solos solo and solo and solo—these are side-long songs mostly with solos the entire time. Much of the year's best getting-work-done music. I like Sonic Prayer best, but Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky is, as Pete Beatty pointed out to me, also super.

Holy Mount
A late-in-the-year discovery (again from the rad-as-hell Erik Higher) this Canadian hard psych outfit scratched the hell out of my Hawkwind itch, with John Carpenter synths and long guitar odysseys that never got boring. Absolutely terrific. I listened to everything they had on Bandcamp and picked Alpic, but recent days' listenings have suggested strongly that the newer Vol might be one of 2014's finest and loveliest releases. I'll investigate further and report back.

Why so much Hawkwind? Well, three reasons. First, I've been there before. Second, they're great. Third, I saw them (or anyway a version of them) this summer with my dude Abe, and it was as good a show as I've ever seen. Old dudes trying, and succeeding, to blow the roof off the venue so that the levitating crowd can transcend. Band of my year, in that what they did was what I spent the year looking and listening for.

Speaking of transcending, I finally discovered Jesu this year. (Thanks to David Raposa!) Very emo metallic shoegaze, or something, this Godflesh spinoff is exceptionally sensitive and powerful music for lone bodies trying for anything more. "We All Falter" is the entire album conveniently distilled into one longish track, a trek encompassing what I once saw called "tragedy ecstasy doom and so on" but with crushing guitars and beautiful textures that envelop without smothering. Sounds so loud, even when you play it quiet, that it always verges on the sublime. Always makes me a little weepy, to be honest.

This year I finally picked up a copy of Back in the USA, which is the worst-produced important album ever: you can barely hear the (nearly perfect) songs through the clock-radio-speaker production values. Basically all you can hear on this record is just snare drums, vocals, and trebly guitars, but that works well when the vocals are as piercingly wonderful as Robin Tyner's "I'm sooooooory, I'm soooooooooooooory" in "human being lawnmower". This record is hard to listen to, but easy to love. And I do love it: it's the (perfect) pop exponent of a normally noisy band's attempts to make everything okay through purely sonic means. Or, as Greil Marcus said, to:
create a young community of spirit, affection, excitement, and self-consciousness
Fuckin' A, brothers.

Comes legitimately close to working, too.

But you can't always be trying to create a community of spirit, affection, excitement, and self-consciousness. Sometimes you just want to get down into the king-hell bummerism that pervades: it is, after all, the 70s. That's where Bongripper comes in. Bongripper's barely relieved grim / grind / semi-sleaze works more thoroughly for me than I'm stoked about, on records like Satan Worshipping Doom, Hippie Killer, and Hate Ashbury. But the puns do suggest a tiny glimmer of humor, which lets in a little light, as do the song titles, as on Miserable, where they run "Endless", "Descent" and "Into Ruin". But nothing I've heard matches their 80-minute single-song "great barrier reefer", which matches its drug-humor title with occasional grunge chords that lighten up the proceedings a bit and keep things from just being one detuned sludge chord for an hour or so. Not that there's anything wrong with one detuned sludge chord for an hour or so: if you'd prefer that vibe, I can definitely vouch for Miserable, and it's not at all unlikely that I'll buy everything else on their Bandcamp this year.

Oh, man, Mothership Connection. This record is so god damned good. Irrepressible. I listened to its bubbling, throbbing humanity dozens of times this year, but only ever in one circumstance: bummed the fuck out, exhausted, maybe hungover, and at my desk at work. And, every single time, it helped, at least a little. It's not hard to feel better when you're hearing unstoppable funk grooves under odes to interstellar escape. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I bet.

Captain Beyond
My pal Ian turned me onto the band, and this song-cycle album was one of the year's most versatile. From bike rides to writing to trying to crash, this one spun under it all. It was a foursquare reminder that, even sodden and miserable under an overwhelming onslaught of bummer vibes, there's still good times to be had, experiments to be made, and boundary lines to ignore the fuck out of. Whether that reminder makes you scream HANDS UP DON'T SHOOT or scatter parts of a song across an entire album side, it's a good lesson. And this is a good record!

I'm just sad that the flaccid mopes at 33 1/3 turned down his book pitch: I'd love to read what he had to say about the roiling "Raging River of Fear" and "Frozen Over", where you can hear half of the next 40 (!) years of heavy metal, or his can-actually-play-his-fucking-instrument insights into the proto-technical "Dancing Madly Backwards (on a Sea of Air") and the bullet-spraying breakdown towards the end of "I Can't Feel Nothin' (Part 1)"—to say nothing of how much I'd like to hear him come up with an explanation for the relationship between song parts, lyrics, and titles here. Why does the phrase "dancing madly backwards" appear in "Myopic Void" but not in "Dancing Madly Backwards", one wonders. Where exactly is the divide between "I Can't Feel Nothin'" and "As the Moon Speaks"? Why are there two listed two-part songs when other songs seem to share as much or more while being listed as distinct? No matter, probably: just slurp down another sugar cube and turn the fucker up and lie down and close your eyes, a person, on this planet, loved. When "Armworth" turns into "Myopic Void", going from post-Berry choked guitar chirps under pre-Priest dual lead melodies straight (in) to space, all reverb and "aaaaaaaaaah"s you smile, and you think about possibility, and you smile more. And the spoken-word pieces in "As the Moon Speaks (To the Waves of the Sea)" will work for me forever. Even if I won't listen to it in public, so nobody will catch me grooving on what could very easily be mistaken for the second-best Jethro Tull jams ever. (Note: if you ever liked that one Beta Band song in High Fidelity—I did—, you will 100% dig "Myopic Void", as it's a straight rip job.)

Side two is definitely just one long multi-part song. Fuck the haters: I know I'm right.

Dead Moon
The positive side of my year's familiarity/retrenchment is that I spent so much of my time with lifers. No lifers are purer, more committed and inspiring, or better than Fred and Toody Cole, and no band is better than Dead Moon and no songs are better than their songs.

If you can listen to "in the waiting" or "I won't be the one" and not want somebody to sing you a song that loving, or if you can listen to "diamonds in the rough" or "running out of time" and not find your entire life, hope and age and weakness and doom and resistance in there, then you can just get the fuck away from me. Probably the best American band ever.

Bad Daddies
Speaking of couples, and of lifers. One of the most important things I learned this year was that I could learn a lot from some vegan homeowners who started their band as a hobby. Because not only did Bad Daddies have a hell of a lot of interesting—even wise—things to say when I interviewed them for Negative Fun Records, they put out a couple of the year's undisputed best songs: "You Ain't Right", their Negative Fun Singles Club release will, I think, have a long life on comps, and in the bedrooms of miserable rebels: it's one of those evergreen punk songs that fits into you the first time you hear it like you've always known it but satisfies you like you've only just now stopped being incomplete. (The song is love, in other words.)

Their other big release this year, a split with Hard Left, shows a band moving—fast! "War" is a traditional Bad Daddies song: 22 seconds long, with noisy, dissonant guitar blankets over a wrestling match backbeat, Camylle's unmatched scratchy scream, and a feedback outro. It's a great song. "Festering Brine" stacks huge guitar hooks and a classic Matt solo with some of the band's most dynamic loud/soft—or maybe loud/slightly-less-loud—changes yet, and it's also a great song. And "We Never Will" is a lost New Wave hit, with Camylle's keening, poppy vocals carrying an unforgettable melody and Matt's guitar mostly cleaned up but occasionally splattering noise-magma all over the song structure: it's an absolutely thrilling song by anybody. In the context of this band's established louder/faster/shorter/noisier aesthetic, it's revolutionary. They're extending and deepening their approach farther and faster than seems possible. (The Captain Beefheart effect: there's so much noise, and it's so well-chosen and -inflicted, that everything fits.)

The core of the band is the power of no: the characteristic Bad Daddies song lyric is a negation (I don't, you ain't right, we never will). But the melodies, whether in Camylle's torn vocals or Matt's surging spatters of guitar, build something else up against that negation. The songs aren't an opposition, but a knot, made of threads of passion, negativity, beauty, the whole thing. These may seem like big claims for barely-three-minute snot-punk screeds—unless you've heard the songs, anyway.

What 2014 requires you to believe, because it's self-evidently true, is that a late-starting band of suburban teachers can make some of the year's most powerful punk records, can make vital, necessary art. That alone makes it a better year than a lot of us thought it was.

More lifers! New Shellac! Finally I got authentic fucking information about the song titles of the songs I heard like three years ago. This record is inconsistent, but great, just like Shellac themselves, and the title song is perfect and contains one of the year's most bizarrely saddening lyrics:
some of us are tired
of where we are
in this cul-de-sac
fuck that, let's go, we can always eat along the way

Screaming Females
This New Jersey trio was by far my year's most breathtaking discovery. Guitarist / frontwoman Marissa Paternoster is probably the best guitar player on the planet—or at least the most consistently thrilling. Sylvia Juncosa's lead-like rhythm playing, Bill Carter's lunatic spasms, J. Mascis' throat-closing, heart-gripping solos. The songs are wonderful, and even the lyrics hold up. I got hooked by "leave it all up to me" off of the live record, and spent most of the year having my blood well and truly whipped by the series of tunes from "crow's nest" to "doom 84". Listen to everything Screaming Females does. Buy everything they put out. Buy them fizzy water and fruit when they come to your town and let them crash at your pad.

Mark Lanegan
I started the year listening a lot to the very-stripped-down and incredibly rad Black Pudding LP. Mostly just Lanegan's vocals with English fingerstyle acoustic guitar, this record really did it for me, especially late at night when the rains wouldn't come and the mezcaleros' work was done.

Black Pudding was particularly pleasing at the time as against the one before that, Blues Funeral, which I'd picked up in the summer of 2012. That year, I found Blues Funeral alienating and half-assed: the electronic drums seemed to be playing boring and meaningless beats, and the cold synth textures were jarring and out of place around Lanegan's unrelentingly organic vocals, lyrics, and worldview—at least that's how it felt when I bought the record. Even in February, when I made my pal a Lanegan primer, I was still even calling Blues Funeral "the only one I don't like". But after I saw his intense and excellent November set, I went back to revisit that record in the light of what I'd seen and heard.

Originally I had heard the new Phantom Radio and especially its accompanying preorder EP No Bells on Sunday as huge leaps forward for Lanegan's interest in integrating electronics. The ticking noises like devices breaking in "dry iced" worked perfectly under Lanegan's understated "I'm sorry" refrain, and the quiet little-kid-picks-out-a-melody under synth washes of "no bells on Sunday" worked like good New Order with a better singer. And my introduction to the whole thing, "sad lover", couldn't've been better fit for me: a Thin White Rope lyric over (what Mojo tells me is called) a Krautrock-style motorik beat? SIGN ME THE FUCK UP. And they did sign me up, and took my credit card number, and sent me some records. It was awesome.

Later, I revisited Blues Funeral after spending significant time with No Bells on Sunday and a little time with Phantom Radio. That time around, I found the execution great, the songs wonderful and varied, and the production immediate and engaging. I don't know what my fucking problem was: Blues Funeral, Phantom Radio and No Bells on Sunday are all great. So is Black Pudding. Lanegan rules okay.

Bonus self-promotional material: I got to interview Lanegan and he was a hell of a nice guy. Super-fun to talk to about basketball.

Charles Mingus
Every year, I make an attempt at the beginning of the year to learn about jazz. This year, I was lucky, and what I ended up with was Charles Mingus' epochal Pithecanthropus Erectus and some fantastic emails explaining it and other jazz from the great J. D. Hatings.

I didn't get much farther than this record this year, but this was one of 2014's's most revelatory and consistent pieces of work: heavy without being loud, consistent without being monotonous, and exciting without being rock. With the new year coming, I look forward to another attempt to learn about the genre.

Courtney Barnett
As 2014 slumped toward its grave, I happened to hear the song "avant gardener" on KALX and fell instantly under its spell. Apparently it's already well exposed: it's been on TV and whatnot, Pitchfork was all over it a couple years ago, etc. But it was new to me and I found it inspiring, heartening, and refreshing beyond belief, probably partly because it's so good, and partly because my year had had so much bassy guitar and howling men. After so much oppressive weight, it did me great good to hear uptempo if not upbeat bouncing songs with major lyrical variation and cool, rising melodies bubbling everywhere. Within an hour of hearing the song on the radio, I'd listened to a couple of her EPs and bought "how to carve a carrot into a rose", and it's basically been on repeat ever since. Particular favorites include "don't apply compression gently" and "history eraser". This is great shit. I really like the weird curls of Australian accent and the conversational, colloquial, witty lyrics that somehow always still fit the tune and the music. It's kind of like a likeable, charismatic, competent Craig Finn, but with a better backing band and a lot more to say.

No Other
Best song-about-work of the year, "Option C". Angry and bitterly observed, this is a song for anybody who ever had to punch a clock and keep themselves from punching a boss.

III. The Quickies

Russian Circles
Took me a while, but @jefcanuk finally wore me down and convinced me that these guys had (a lot of) (great) moments. It continually catches me off-guard that this drony, amiable outfit shares a nervous system with previous HEAVY TUNE fave-purveyors Botch. Anyway, this is instrumental metal with lots of sprinkly emo/chimey-sparkle parts, and it's extremely my shit, especially if Red Sparowes are going to continue to not exist.

Russian Circles have a ton of records. I ended up with Memorial, which is pretty good, but which passes by mostly forgettably for long stretches, until the dependably pretty/sad "Ethel" towards the end.

Run the Jewels
This one didn't do it for me quite like last year's did: the beats were slower, for one, and I didn't hear quite as many completely great long lines like El-P's "With the pull of a pin a grenade / Get a crowd to they feet and a soul to its options / I'm a fool for the win I been made" and it keeps going like that for a while. Also this record sounded like shit through my el cheapo earbuds, which is, sadly, one of my primary listening vectors. All that negativity nuance aside, the good songs here are superb, and no lyrics meant more to me in this season of Ferguson than Killer Mike's:
Where my thuggers and my cripples and my blooders and my brothers?
When you niggas gon' unite and kill the police, mothafuckas?
And take over a jail, give them COs hell
The burnin' of the sulfur, goddamn I love the smell
Now get to pillow torchin', where the fuck the warden?
And when you find him, we don't kill him, we just waterboard him
We killin' them for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom
And even if some good ones die, fuck it, the Lord'll sort 'em

In the aftermath of Abe selling me on Run the Jewels, he managed to hook me up with El-P's previous solo album, which spent a solid month on repeat in my ears. I loved almost all of it, but I couldn't possibly love anything more than the sad Metroid noises that closed the album. If I'd known one record could have both samples from Metroid and the line "fuck your droid noise, void boys / 'nnoyed ploy / oi oi! / I'll fuckin kick the shit outcha groin, boy / oy vey!" I would have bought this on release day.

Big Business
Kind of the flipside of the Parliament record, I turned to this one mostly when I was down and wanted to stay there: the songs on this record didn't get into me like so many of the earlier ones did, but "lonely Lyle" nailed me instantly, smiling-sad barbs that won't come out without ruining what they hit. A melancholy slow burn, perfect for a decade in full retreat. This record had plenty of other highlights, too, even if it wasn't a year-defining release like Here Come the Waterworks or Mind the Drift. "Chump Chance" had the year's most urgent vocal melody, and "Doomsday, Today!" was one of 2014's best pummelings. It's good shit: you should buy it.

The Men
It's been all downhill for these guys since 2011, but I did spent easily three weeks listening to this on heavy repeat. Odd that I can't now conjure up a note of it to memory. I suspect the problem is that they were, like the historians they are, trying to ape the MC5's triumph-over-bad-production move—because this is one incredibly badly produced album, with everything sounding like it was recorded in different circumstances—but the songs weren't world-defining. The best example is "Another Night" which was audibly shooting for Early Bruce Springsteen and instead ended up at Second-Tier Eddie Money, totally exhausted on the album. But the band did work these tunes beautifully when I saw them last: one of the year's best dance parties by a mile. So I'm chalking this up to a great band trying to pull off a degree-of-difficulty move and failing, slightly, and I'm looking forward to the next record and I'm really looking forward to the next time they come to town. Let's go see 'em!


  1. 2013
  2. 2012
  3. 2011

V. Disclaimers

Relationship Disclaimers

I get paid to write catalog copy and similar stuff for Negative Fun Records, and I probably wouldn't've heard any Negative Fun bands unless I did so: that said, I paid for every note of Bad Daddies I heard this year, including a couple of shows I saw, and the dough I made writing about them had nothing to do with the esteem I hold them, and their music, in. Same goes for No Other! Except I would inevitably have heard them through the great Paul Bruno's great Unblinking Ear podcast, and on his new label's indispensable Serious Rockers mixtape.

Financial Disclaimers

I bought everything on this list, with the exception of the El-P record, which Abe gave me.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Against the Day Mixtape Track 5


"Well, it turns out we got a anti-Tsarist crowd of our own, right up here in San Miguel County, and we call em the Finns. Is who's running their native Finland these days, is that same all-powerful Tsar of Russia. And make no mistake, they just hate his ass."

Against the Day, p. 331-332.

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Against the Day Mixtape Track 4

The expression on his face was one Lew had noted from time to time among the British, a combination of smugness and self-pity, which he still couldn't explain but knew enough to exercise caution around.

Against the Day, p. 271.

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Against the Day Mixtape Track 3

Out of that night and day of unconditional wrath, folks would've expected to see any city, if it survived, all newly reborn, purified by flame, taken clear beyond greed, real-estate speculating, local politics - instead of which, here was this weeping widow, some one-woman grievance committee in black, who would go on to save up and lovingly record and mercilessly begrudge every goddamn single tear she ever had to cry, and over the years to come would make up for them all by developing into the meanest, cruelest bitch of a city, even among cities not notable for their kindness.

Against the Day p. 171

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Against the Day Mixtape Track 2

"Suppose it were to happen to us, in the civilized world. If 'another form of life' decided to use humans for similar purposes, and being out on a mission of comparable desperation, as its own resources dwindled, we human beasts would likewise simply be slaughtered one by one, and those still alive obliged to, in some sense, eat their flesh."
"Oh dear." The General's wife put down her utensils and gazed at her plate.
"Sir, that is disgusting."
"Not literally, then . . . but we do use one another, often mortally, with the same disablement of feeling, of conscience. . . each of us knowing that at some point it will be our own turn. Nowhere to run but into a hostile and lifeless waste."
"You refer to present world conditions under capitalism and the Trusts."
"There appears to be little difference. How else could we have come to it?"

Against the Day p.164-165.

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Against the Day Mixtape Track 1

 No double talking you like the plutes do, 'cause with them you always have to be listening for is the opposite of what they say. 'Freedom,' then's the time to watch your back in particular - start telling you how free you are, somethin's up, next thing you know the gates have slammed shut and there's the Captain givin you them looks. 'Reform'? More new snouts at the trough. 'Compassion' means the population of starving, homeless, and dead is about to take another jump. So forth. Why, you could write a whole foreign phrase book just on what Republicans have to say."

Against the Day, p.104.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wow. That's like a nightmare.

[In which I indulge in overanalysis]

Doc Venture just finished (while wiping off his glasses) recounting his 16th birthday poolside party and an incident with a shrink ray. He is still in his pajamas and Hank is shirtless so both are unshielded and vulnerable and intimate in that sense. Hank is visibly distraut at his father's trauma. His eyebrows peak questioningly as he submits his judgment on his father's recounting. Doc's scowl and furrowed brow speak of deep, complicated feelings, and also a frustration that Hank has incorrectly but innocently misinterpreted his feelings on the experience.


Doc's eyebrow arches. His face still holds a sneer, his brow is still knitted. Observe his legs akimbo, as if he has scooted forward on his seat, or is leaning forward as he gives vent to his frustration.


Lot going on here. Hank's hands are shoved into his theighs, a vulnerable or unsecure gesture: his father is letting him into his inner life and Hank doesn't want to appear judgmental, just attentive. Doc's torso is now straight and tall. He uses finger quotes, typically a mocking or sarcastic tool (from a man who is commonly mocking or sarcastic or mean) but his upright posture and facial expression (grievance aired), and his on-edge legs akimbo stance indicate that he speaking quite seriously.


Doc's arms fall between his legs. His torso slumps. The furrowed brow looks not so much frustrated (see Slide 2) or contemplatative (Slide 1) but rather inquistive instead. Consider his passive body stance. This is a confession, but the arched eyebrows and scowled mouth indicate that empathy or even sympathy is not sought.


Not a tender confession and show of grudging acceptance by Doc, but rather an egotistical and selfish aggrandization of Doc's adolescent trauma over and above anything anyone else anywhere could ever have experienced much less comprehend. Consider the trials and trauma of Hank and his brother Dean (witnesses or participants many times over to death and violence, thier father's failures and shortcomings, abandonment by Brock): is Doc's public humilation at his birthday pool party truly any worse than what his own sons have experienced? But to follow this line of thought a little further, Doc's insistence of the greatness of his pain in the face of his own sons' arguably equal or greater traumas underscores the depth of Doc's damage. In other words, Doc is a man with ISSUES.


Note: The above sequence is pretty much my favorite sequence in the entire Venture Bros. so far. Nothing encapsulates the complete lack of irony for which I love and adore this program more than this incredibly adult and sincere conversation. Ever since I saw it I've wanted to write something about it, and the sort of slideshow presentation used above is what resulted and seemed to work best.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jandd Hurricane Iniki Messenger Bag

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings / Methodological Preliminaries / Theoretical Foundations

Rain. It was rain that brought Jandd into my life. I'd quit the rains of Portland for California sunshine, but a year or so in, my secondhand first-generation Timbuktu was disintegrating badly, and my college-era Bean Turbo Transit pack had proven itself inadequate against hard winter precipitation. I was working 10 hours of overtime a week to be able to afford not hating every second I wasn't at work: the winter had begun with me treating myself to the then-new Chinese Democracy, which I could barely afford. —I knew I needed the bro price on whatever I tried to buy, so I just asked a then-popular social networking Web site if anybody knew about a strongly weatherproof bag option for bike riding they could help hook me up with.

My pal Mike came through. Didn't get to choose a color, but I did get to specify "biggest available", and one day in what I remember as early April of 2010 (but was actually 14may2009), I got the package, and took it to Bushrod Park in Berkeley to drink sunshine beer after work and open it up.

I've used it daily, with a couple of breaks here and there, since. The bag is a Jandd Hurricane Iniki. It's in a colorway approximating blue/beige, which is probably described as "thick ocean/mushroom" or "sex iris/olive" on the site. (I looked it up: midnight/bark.) It's still holding up well, still in daily use. It's got some significant cosmetic defects at this point, and at least some functional wear that indicates that, while it's lasted 5+ years to this point, it's not going to last another five. Or anyway suggests it won't. The thing has surprised me before.

This review is of a messenger bag, judged from the point of view of a bike rider. I ride exclusively: my concerns are how the bag works when I'm no the bike, when I'm carrying the bike (up stairs, say), when I'm locking up the bike. My uses for the bag are carrying things to and from work (office job) or my girlfriend's house, or the grocery store, or a ride to the beach for a picnic, or the bar, or the coffee shop, or wherever. The bag's performance outdoors is all I really care about, not its appearance indoors. It's worth noting that I carry a lot of shit on a day-to-day basis. Including but not limited to: shaving kit; Nalgene; coffee thermos; notebook/pens; book or kindle plus the new LRB or Harper's; phone charger; walkman; U-lock and cable lock; spare handkerchief and chamois; sunglasses; hat; next day's socks/underwear/work shirt; lights/gloves/pants clip; lunch; layer against the weather. I mention all this because it's a specific perspective on a specific set of requirements: most bag reviews I see seem to site the bag in the passenger seat of a car, or on a bus, and in an office; these reviews thus don't speak at all to my concerns. This review is also based on a quantity of experience most reviews don't have.

The bag is big. It holds a lot.

It's not too uncomfortable to carry heavy loads. I do my grocery runs with it, which means a lot of canned goods (beans) and beer (I like beer), and it's fine. (Those heavy loads are starting to pull the strap through the body of the bag, and that's what killed the Timbuktu.)

It's fairly waterproof. When the rain really comes down, the seam across the top, holding the rain flap to the body of the bag, leaks. There's a drawstring inside the body of the bag that's meant to close the bag against rain, but it's unfortunately prone to capillary action, which draws water into the bag. The rain flap and the body also aren't fitted to each other that well: there's often a gap open at each end, which is another rain problem.

The lining is thick and black and helps ensure that the bag is waterproof—or at least -resistant. But I will say that the white lining I see on my friends' bags is awesome, and I'm jealous, because it's easier for them to find shit in their bags than it is for me in mine, particularly in low-light conditions. (If you don't think I care about finding things in low-light conditions, you don't know me—and you don't know Mike Watt:

The pattern of pocket fabric should be at a 45-degree angle from the shirt's front pattern so you can find them in low-light conditions. Also mandatory, dual pockets and button-down flaps — dropping stuff out of my pocket and plumber's crack are my most embarrassing things on stage.

The lining on the storm flap is peeling badly. This is a very minor functional issue, so far at least, but it is a quite significant aesthetic issue.

There are thin leather discs sewn over the four bottom corners. They don't look great, but they are great. A wonderful idea that probably adds a year to the bag's life all by itself.

(The bag loaded.)

(The bag partially unloaded.)

(The bag's load. NOTE: this load was in addition to the daily carry.)

1. Some Minor Flaws

Most of the design elements are good. It's sound against the sky-wet; it's strong with the heavy; it's made out of phenomenally, ridiculously durable materials. But it also lags behind more modern bags in some important ways. I suspect it wasn't designed by somebody who actually uses a bag like this. It's heavy, but it's floppy, not stiff: it won't stand up on its own, and it doesn't really hold its shape very well. The bottom of the bag is square: just square enough to beg for things to fall all around it, but not square enough to be a platform for the bag and its contents to stand up. This matters because it makes the bag much harder to use. With a light load, you have to strap the bag very tightly to your body to keep things from moving around. (I.e., your thermos or bike lock ending up pushing directly into your kidneys or back.) This means that the bag's too tight to get into in the intended way: swinging it around your body and opening up the flap. Instead, you have to loosen the bag a bunch, which lets the contents shift around—hello again, bike lock! How pleasing it is to feel you jabbing my trunk again. Also when things shift around, they snag each other when you try to pull one or another thing out of the bag: your lock will snag your book, and it will fall on the ground, and you will curse.

The pockets play into this issue. Inside the body of the bag, there's a panel on which are mounted two pen pockets, a glasses case pocket, and two trade-paperback (slash bike lock) pockets. I use one of the trade paperback pockets as a bike lock pocket, but gravity and the bag's floppiness makes the lock weigh the bag's opening shut: the whole bag just collapses in on itself. (This also more or less happens if you throw a nice, heavy book into one or more of those bigger pockets, which you will want to do, because putting a book naked into the gaping maw of a bike bag is a good way to Beat That Book Absolutely To Shit.) This makes the bag harder to load, unload, use, etc.

Outside the body of the bag, there are two more pockets. One has a bunch of pen slots, which is good. I love pen slots. This one is good for your walkman, cigs, lighter, tampons, sundries. On that pocket's face is a zippered pocket. The zipper comes with a "stealth pull"—a strip of fabric, instead of a rattly-jangly metal tab to yank upon. This is pretty great! It's light and it's quiet. But it's also long enough to reach, and stick upon, and get torn up by, the hook side of the hook-and-loop closure stuff. Frustrating! Slightly bad design: who wants one part of their bag to get stuck on another? Who wants one part of their bag to fray another? Also: putting stuff in this zippered pocket will make it hard to put things into the pen slots. This is annoying.

Another problem involves the reflective strip. It's designed to reflect headlights and to be a mounting point for a flashy light. But if the bag is on the back of a human on a bike, the strip, or a light attached to, will point to the sky. Completely useless. I have actually had cars stop and stop me to tell me they couldn't see my light or reflectors.

2. Accessories Are Fun

There are a lot of accessories available and I've used a bunch of them.

  • Computer Sleeve
    Sleeve for a laptop. It works well! For a long time, I kept it in my bag to add Structure, and to protect reading materials, (like my precious magazines) and to free up the front internal pockets: with this thing in there, you can tuck your bike locks in between the sleeve and your back, and they don't snag the rest of the bag's contents. But it's heavy, and it's bulk, so I quit carrying it when I wasn't carrying a laptop.
  • Reflective Strips
    Essentially a necessity, given the reflective strip's problematic (useless) placement. They mostly work okay, though mounting them on the bag's compression straps adds some moving parts to the mechanism of locking down the rain flap and seems to make the buckles looser. I've lost at least one buckle, and at least one of the reflective strips.
  • Stuff Sack
    I use these to keep my work shirts clean and wrinkly when I ride to work. They're thick and stout and they keep coffee drips off of my plaids.
  • Pant Cuff Savior
    I didn't really want to buy this: my preferred way to keep my jeans off of my chain is this beautiful stainless steel C that I picked up in Portland and am terrified of losing, but that C isn't actually big and strong enough to handle both thick books and thick expensive denim, which combination I deploy kind of a lot. It's weird to call out something like this as particularly good, but this ankle strap is basically perfect. Ugly as sin and twice as strong, perfect for its function.
  • Seat Bag
    This is how I know some of Jandd's design deserves to be held to a higher standard: while this is heavy and arguably overbuilt, it's got a light-colored lining, unlike the bags. I don't use it often, because leaving things attached to your bike is a good way to get them stolen, but it's great for what it is. (A fun alternative review is here.)
  • Strap Pouch
    Just picked this up, and it's good. It's hot here, often, and I like to ride with a walkman in—this lets me put that walkman someplace besides a shirt with a pocket, saving me a layer and some sweat. Not sure it's waterproof, but otherwise it's smart: well built, well designed. Works.

3. Conclusionary Expansions

Every Jandd product I've bought shows up with a little card attached. One of the things the card says is:

At Jandd Mountaineering our primary objectives are in this order: functional, strength and design, and aesthetic appearance. Endless craftsmanship and attention to detail can be seen throughout each product. We are proud to say that we have the finest packs around.

I think Jandd mostly hist the marks they're aiming for. Mostly. The craftsmanship is more than evident: the materials they use and the techniques for assembling those materials are matchless. The aesthetics take a back seat, but the colors are quiet and attractive, the lines well-suited for the purpose. All this means that the durability and most of the functionality is off the charts.

But the day-to-day use is often marked with frustration, and this is because some of the design is amateurish. Small bonuses, like a white lining, are nowhere to be found. Errors persist that testing or experience would have revealed, like the useless reflective strip. Actual usability is sometimes lacking, as in the shapeless bag and the problem of hoisting out one and only one item.

I spend a lot of time looking at and for other bags. I have used this one, and used it hard, for around 1,500 days, and I have often been very frustrated with it. That said, I have a deep reservoir of affection for it: around the edges of this bag lurk the sloppy brushstrokes of amateurism, to be sure, but the center of the object is strong and full-hearted and incredibly well-intentioned. It's a bag I think about, but it's a bag I never have to worry about. My next bike bag is probably a year or more away, and it will almost certainly be another Jandd Hurricane Iniki, as it is, I judge, impossible to get a bag of higher quality for anything close to the price. Why would I buy anything else?

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Have Complicated Thoughts About Getting Paid for Work

Some Quick Thoughts on Having a Job, Being a Dick, &c.

Part Zero: Introductionalizing Maunderings

The astute reader may note that there are some redactions below. This is because, like Guy Debord before me:

I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to give too much information to just anybody. [...] Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear.

Part One: God Bows to Math

  1. If I have a job, then I work for someone (the employer).
  2. This means the employer gets to tell me what to do.
  3. But if I have a job, I was hired.
  4. This means that the employer has chosen my ways of thinking, my ways of doing, and my ways of being.
  5. This is why I get to say "No." to an employer.
  6. If I say "No." to an employer too often, or about something that is too important, I will likely no longer work for that employer (= have that job).
  7. This is because in this (vaguely) capitalist system, I am, as the man says, ""doubly free".

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

Part Two: An Anecdote

Over the past couple days, I threw some online tantrums. I was a dick to Bethlehem Shoals and to Tomas Rios. These are two men I like and respect. I owe Bethlehem Shoals whatever small "career" I have had in writing about sports online; I once collaborated with Tomas Rios, and quite enjoyed it, and him. The reasons for these tantrums were related, and related to work.

Shoals made the (common and most likely correct) point that the range of possibilities in sports writing has narrowed dramatically since his blog's heyday:

No real problems here: it's a claim I've not infrequently made myself. But it still set wrong with me. Especially because what I actually saw first was this:

I cannot easily explain why this irritated me so much. My best guess is that it's a contradictory mix of the following response thoughts: (1) Old man laments how there are no young men any more; (2) "Wanna know why things changed? Because you quit, buddy."; (3) "Oh, okay, the one guy to get a book deal and some magazine gigs out of sports blogs thinks the money ruined everybody and everything." Not my most charitable set of responses. So I pissed and moaned for a while, and got helpful responses from some, less helpful responses from others, and went on about my day.

Later, Colin McGowan, who recently left because he hated working there, published a very Colin-McGowany piece about his leaving. In it, he hinted that an editor had told him what he was doing wasn't commercially viable, and noted that this had helped him decide to bail. The current EiC of, Tomas Rios, began subtweeting furiously.

When I responded to him, he continued his subtweet avalanche.

My point was not well expressed. Probably I should have listened to some Dillinger Four records and gotten on with my day. Certainly I should have skipped reading his further subtweets (and responding with some of my own).

So let me try to express my point a little better: yes, of course I have complicated feelings -- and, I trust, complicated thoughts -- about getting "*paid*" for "*work*". Some of those thoughts and feelings are expressed in Part One, above, about jobs qua jobs. Some are about writing in particular, and are admittedly contradictory:

  1. who the fuck told anybody they'd get to get paid to write just what they wanted?
  2. you can pay me, but that doesn't mean you own, or even rent, me -- so tread lightly, boss man
  3. a job, is indeed a job, and for that, again, see Part One

A lot of my thoughts and feelings about getting "*paid*" for "*work*" have to do with not liking hierarchies, or bullies. I felt and feel that what Tomas Rios was doing by addressing Colin McGowan without addressing him was demeaning, rude, and indicative of an obvious power differential: the differential between the boss and the employee. I felt that his actions removed dignity from his former employee and were likely to stifle the freelancers who presumably still want to write for I did not feel that Tomas Rios' self-description (below) was accurate.

I still don't. Nor do I think "disagreeing publicly" with somebody without naming them is worth a whole hell of a lot.

Part Three: Some Backstory [Redacted]

I wrote for for a bit. [] --It is not the job of my employers to make me feel good about myself; nor can my employer begrudge my wanting to be treated differently and better.


Punchline of backstory: So maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe I've got some sour grapes. Maybe every point I've tried to make here is completely invalidated because I am not a world-class writer, or a journalist of any kind, or an employee whose reliability and availability perfectly suits the needs of the employer.


Part Four: Some Funny Things I Found

To write, I use Vim. Well, gVim, but you get the point. One of the cool things about Vim is that it has 26 registers, which is effectively 26 separate clipboards. Every so often, I remember that I can look to see what is in all those clipboards, and so yesterday I found the following thoughts about work. They make me laugh. Most of it comes from Bogdan von Pylon, who is a never-ending fount of smart insights into the nature of work. I'm leaving them here because they are Important. Hope you like them.

"Sorry doesn't cut it anymore Scotty. Sorry is for assholes!"
-Larry "the Badger" Employerstein (I cant remember his fucking last name)

B. (From Bogdan to me, when I was actively trying to burn some work bridges)
Dude. Can you stop unloading the entire weapon into your foot for one minute today and just go the fuck home early?

Have you ever wanted to tell someone:

You have exhausted your lifetime allotment of words, please shut the fuck up.

D. (Bogdan's proposed boilerplate for me to use so that designers would stop fucking up my copy)

Please do not key this copy in. It is a delicate, finely polished, and finely tuned machine that needs all of its letters and punctuation, in the order given, to function legally and correctly. I have provided a script for the express purpose of passing on a golden, error-free document which will be flawless in our finished product—by doing this, I have magnanimously assumed all responsibility for its use. If you use it, you are shiny and blameless. If you do not, you are fucking stupid and deserve to die in a fire.

E. (Bogdan's Family Motto)
Misanthropy is a bottomless well of inspiration.

F. (explaining office work to a bartender who asked about it)
The work is broadly comparable. Replace "asked me for something" with "asked me for something", ratchet up the everybody's sober factor...replace "sidework" with "spreadsheet", "passive-aggressive notes" become "passive-aggressive emails", "meetings" become "meetings" only they're near-constant.

Basically, imagine you're with all your customers, except it's day, it's really well-lit, there's no jukebox, the bathroom is slightly cleaner, and you're really really not supposed to cuss. And nobody's impressed by not showering or hangovers, so a person has to keep her mouth shut & get up half an hour earlier than she wants to. But the free coffee is still completely awful, everyone around you is annoying in incredibly specific ways that you can use to bore the tears out of everybody you know, and anybody getting laid is probably being a complete creep to do so/about doing so.

G. (An Exchange)
You know what really sucks? having to make truthful threats—"You've just made a powerless enemy, chum."

"From my desk in this open-plan office, I stab at thee! People you don't know will receive chapter and verse on your failings! TWITTER WILL KNOW OF MY OPINION. Emails, you may be certain, shall be sent. Unflattering doodles WILL fill my notepad during meetings, regardless of your presence, absence, or wishes on the matter. And, when required by law, custom, or job security to interact with you, I will comply, grudgingly, and look for any opportunity to subtly undermine you without making myself look incompetent or hostile."

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