Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting to Yes

I don't remember where the poster came from, but I remember the blue UFOs hovering over hills with duct-tape loops holding them on the wall, and I remember knowing—but never learning—that it was a painting by Roger Dean. Somehow I knew also that Roger Dean painted album covers for Yes, who at that point I had certainly never heard. The poster lived on one wall or another for a few of the places we lived in in the stretch during which I went to two schools for fourth grade, a third for fifth, a fourth for sixth, and a fifth for seventh.

When the summer ended and I rejoined my parents for (a couple weeks after) the beginning of seventh grade, my uncle, my mom's youngest brother, was living with us. He'd work with me on Frisbee throwing / catching, and I'd sit in his car and listen to his tapes, or the radio, soaking up his thoughts on Don't Stop (drumming on the steering wheel) or Everybody Have Fun Tonight ("everybody Wang Chung tonight") ("This is an anthem!"). I suspect but can not prove that he was the original source of the poster—I know he was the source of my first orange crate of records, turntable, receiver, and speakers; he'd moved out one night, unexpectedly, after a falling out with my mother.

It was 1986. I didn't know much. I knew I'd loved a glowing-blue poster, by a guy who did album covers for Yes.* I knew AC/DC was my favorite band, maybe my favorite thing, I knew my favorite novel was Starship Troopers, with all its powered armor and pointedly problematic patriotism. Flipping through the orange crate, I saw art familiar, friendly to my eyes. I pulled out it, and skimmed song titles, and when I found "Starship Trooper", I knew this is, this has to be, For Me. I knew, before the needle hit the groove, that this would surely crunch harder, punch faster, than anything off of Flick of the Switch.

What I heard was, essentially, early R.E.M. with a more expansive heart: soaring organ, chiming guitars, carefully plucked, and a falsetto opening the song with "Sister bluebird / flying high abo-o-ove".

I was nothing close to prepared for this. I pulled the needle up and off, stuffed the record back in its sleeve, went back to hard rock radio and didn't think about Yes again for close to 20 years, when my girlfriend was out of town, and I had her mom's car so I could dogsit, so (naturally) I went to Best Buy, where I made a joke purchase of Yes' greatest hits...which blew my mind...and then, a few years later, I was at last ready to realize: Yes makes pretty music that makes me happy; sometimes that's what I want.

Now "Starship Trooper" is one of my favorite songs. When the pretty, hopeful, bombastic section (that I'm pretty sure is called "Life Seeker") gives way to the quick-stepping-then-electric "Disillusion" part (probably), with its layered "aaaahhhh" harmonies, that is extremely pleasing and heartening. When everything drops out and phased, flanged guitar carries the day solo for a while, with a hook so irresistable that Love & Rockets would have a huge hit with a song consisting exclusively of it, then building intensity and instrumentation on top of it for long minutes...then the coily solo comes in and combines soaring with the kind of heart-cutting wince of happy pain you feel when you see your crush (or when I see a particularly blocky puppy head), I realize, in as real a way as I can manage: this is church music.

Twenty years ago, when I heard Yes, it repelled me. A few weeks ago, working a strike in a town not my own, lonely (and exhausted, and generically upset / sad) in a hotel room, I paid for a music streaming service I'd used the free version of for years, putting up with mostly awful ads and unable to download anything, subject to data availability and the whims of Wi-Fi. The first thing I downloaded: Fragile.

NOTE: The artist responsible for my poster, and, I think, a few other artifacts from that time that I haven't been able to remember clearly enough to run down, was not Roger Dean. A lot of the things we just know, but maybe can't remember learning, turn out to be not so, later. This may be particularly true with the knowledge of, and imparted by, Record Store Guys.

The artist is Gilbert Williams. The image I loved, I recently learned, was an album cover for Crosby, Stills, and Nash. It probably sold a couple million copies. thing it's important to learn is that a cool thing can be shared. It doesn't have to be just yours. (My copy of the poster did not have any words on it, though. I have to make that clear.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Comprehensive Review of Alex Garland's Film Annihilation, Compendious in Its Correctness (Also It Is: Indisputable)

Point 1.

Oh, Alex Garland.

Point 2.

Here are some things that are extremely cool.

  • that one episode of X-Files where the scientists in the Arctic discover a creepy worm alien or whatever and the one guy yells "We're not ... who we ARE!"
  • The Thing
  • 2001
  • Alien / Aliens
  • Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now / going up a river to where humanity disintegrates

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Vim (for non-programmers) Part Three: Refactoring my .vimrc File, Chapter Five; Correct Easy Markup of Markdown Headlines (Building on Chris Toomey's "Your First Vim Plugin")

At some point in the quest to have The World's Greatest .vimrc File, a person will naturally begin to explore the wider surround, see what the community is up to on the weird-ass-solutions-to-incredibly-narrow-problems front. Since, sometimes, work, life, and other responsibilities exert their gravitationals* upon a person, one helpful way to perform this exploration is to throw on a YouTube video in the background while waiting for the requiring hordes to get bored waiting for me to do the needful and go bother somebody else. I.e., it can be kind of fun to half-listen to somebody, and sometimes you get interesting hints while you're ostensibly, or even actually, working on something else...

*Read: suck.

A great place to start is with Chris Toomey's "Your First Vim Plugin" talk.

Toomey comes across like a delightful fellow, smart and approachable, and his basic approach to creating a plugin seems exactly right to me:

  • Find a problem (something that's difficult, or time-consuming, or repetitive to do)
  • Figure out a working solution (that is easier, or faster, or that eliminates repetition)
  • Drop it in your .vimrc
  • Tinker with it as you find that it needs improvement
  • Eventually abstract it and pull it out of your .vimrc, if you feel like it or if you feel like sharing it

Since I tend to take a lot of my notes in Markdown**, his Markdown underlining approach really made sense to me: a quick and dirty mapping to make something an H1 headline or H2 headline fits my workflow nicely—particularly after abstracting it a tiny bit so that one mapping, <leader>h1, adds the appropriate headlining markup whether I'm writing HTML or Markdown (which Vim knows because it's smart about filetypes!).

**What's Markdown? For most people, it's a way to write very lightly formatted text that can be submitted to another program, and out is spit nicely formatted HTML or something that looks pretty pasted into a Word doc or something. For me, it's a way to tell Vim "Please treat a raw .txt file like it's something else, including pretty syntax highlighting that makes it easier to see what's what." It looks like so:

Here's Chris Toomey's approach:

:nnoremap <leader>h1 :normal! "yypVr=<esc>"
– in normal mode, ignoring all other mappings
<leader>h1 – when I type the leader key, then h then 1, act like I typed the next line (without quotes)
:normal! "yypVr=<esc>"
yypVr=yy means "yank (copy) the entire line";
p means "put (paste), in this case, the entire line"
V means "visually select (highlight) the entire line"
r= uses the r command followed by another character to mean "replace the character under the cursor with the character typed after r"; in this case, since the entire line has been visually selected, in effect, every character in the line is under the cursor, so every character in the line gets replaced with an equals sign character, which is the Markdown character that makes a headline

It works, it's lightning-fast, and it's completely transparent! I dumped it into my .vimrc immediately, and changed two characters so it would also work for h2 tags (by adding a line of hyphens, not equals signs):

:nnoremap <leader>h2 :normal! "yypVr-<esc>"

This overall approach, in which you come up with a solution that can then be extended, is super congenial to me, and I'm beyond stoked that Toomey put it in front of me. After a while, though, the specific nature of the solution started to bug me a little bit.

The problem was that, at an abstract level, I didn't want to:

Copy a line
Paste a copy of the line beneath the first line
Replace all the characters in the second line with a Markdown markup character

What I wanted to do was:

Given a certain line
Create a line underneath it
With as many markdown markup characters as the given line had characters (including tabs or whatever) so it looks pretty

So I set about trying to make something that would do those things.

Oddly, I succeeded. Here's how it went down.

Vim's built-in programming language, VimScript, has a big library of built-in functions, some of which interact with text. You can check them out at :help functions and :help function-list. After poking around in them and fiddling around getting frustrated for a while, I was able to write the following one-liner, which did exactly what I wanted:

:call append(".", repeat("=", strdisplaywidth(getline("."))))

Let's read that from the inside out:

getline(".") is a function that fetches a line in the current buffer (read buffer for our purposes as "the file we're working on"); what goes in the parentheses is the line number, and "." is the wildcard that means "the line the cursor is on"
strdisplaywidth() is a function that looks at a string and tells you how wide it is, in characters displayed on the screen – including tabs and what have you. The trick with this function is that it can take as its argument another function; put the two functions together as we have, and it means "get the line under the cursor, then tell me how long it is"
repeat("=", 68) is trickier: the way the help describes it as a generic function is repeat({expression}, {count}), which means "do the {expression}, which is the thing inside quotes and before the comma, a number of times specified in {count}". Here I've told it that the expression is the equals sign, which is the character we use in Markdown to underline something that's a headline, and I've yet again fed it, instead of a number, the result of a function, our earlier "get the line under the cursor, then tell me how long it is"
append(".", {text}) is a bit of an easier one by now. append()'s arguments say "after a specified line, insert {text}". Here, we re-use the "." wildcard to specify that the line we want to start with is the line under the cursor, and the text we want to be inserted is the result of the repeat("=", strdisplaywidth(getline(".))) series of functions. Simple!

I can do this any time just by putting the cursor on the line I want and typing:
:call append(".", repeat("=", strdisplaywidth(getline("."))))

That's a lot of relatively persnickety typing to have to do, though. The approach I took was what I take to be a relatively common one, but one that I may very well be misunderstanding! What I did was:

  1. Wrapped the 'sucker in a (script-specific) function of my own
  2. Defined a special command to call the function
  3. Made a mapping that will call that command when I'm writing Markdown, but will call a different command when I'm writing something else

What I may be misunderstanding is why exactly I needed my own function. It seems to simplify using the same mapping to call a variety of different commands, but it may be an unneeded step. Anyway, as it lives in my .vimrc file, it looks like the following:

function! s:MarkdownHeadline1()
:call append(".", repeat("=", strdisplaywidth(getline("."))))
command! MarkdownHeadline1 call s:MarkdownHeadline1()

function! s:MarkdownHeadline2()
:call append(".", repeat("-", strdisplaywidth(getline("."))))
command! MarkdownHeadline2 call s:MarkdownHeadline2()

function! s:MakeHeadlines()
if &filetype == 'markdown'
echo "Markdown!"
" :nnoremap h1 yypVr=
:nnoremap h1 :MarkdownHeadline1
" :nnoremap h2 yypVr-
:nnoremap h2 :MarkdownHeadline2
:nnoremap li I-
" other stuff elided for clarity
command! MakeHeadlines call s:MakeHeadlines()

The MakeHeadlines() function is growing, slowly, and as I get it to do more stuff that I want it to do, it's slowly outgrowing its little name. By the time I'll abstract it into something more broadly useful and extract it into a real plugin, not just a chunk of code sitting in my .vimrc file, I will rename it "Corduroy."

Previous entries in Vim (for non-programmers):

Image yoinked from: http://zedisred.blogspot.com/2011/05/let-me-win-your-heart-and-mind-or-ill.html.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

your battle is also ours

Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts, Jim Starlin art

...when my merest touch

Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts, Gene Colan art

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Vim (for non-programmers) Part Three: Refactoring my _vimrc File; Chapter Five: Correct Easy Link Addition (Correcting My Misreading of Steve Losh)

As we've seen in previous entries, I've decided to refactor my somewhat creaky, bloated _vimrc file. (For one thing, it was more or less organized chronologically, which makes a certain kind of sense—it certainly reflects an increasing sophistication (or anyway complexity) to my efforts—but also is obviously an insane way to organize configuration settings for anything. For another, I have a tendency to want to hold on to everything I ever tried, so I have, for example, an entire section called "Experiments That Failed Too Many Times".)

Part of the refactoring process, though, involves more than just reordering elements in the file: it involves examining those elements and determining if they could stand some improving.

One of the most vital resources for customizing your _vimrc is Steve Losh's Learn Vimscript the Hard Way. While I was working my way through (the early parts of) this book, I fell in love with a mapping he suggested for surrounding a word with double quotes. (As we know, mappings are a way to tell Vim, "When I type X, please act as though I typed Y". To keep from typing X accidentally, it's common to use a "leader" key followed by a short mnemonic. Because Vim is incredibly complicated, you have to specify what mode the mapping operates in, and you have to specify whether or not the mapping is recursive. This means a mapping is almost impossible to parse visually, because it has the form:
Which, given Vim's predilection for being hella terse, and the obvious utility to tell it "When I type something very short and easy to type, act as though I typed something very long and difficult to type", makes reading mappings difficult.)

– visually select the current word (the word the cursor is on)
<ESC> – exit visual mode / return to normal mode
a – enter insert mode after the character the cursor is on
" – insert a double quote <ESC> – exit insert mode / return to normal mode
b – move to beginning of word the cursor is on
i – enter insert mode before the character the cursor is on
" – insert a double quote
<ESC> – exit insert mode / return to normal mode
l – move cursor right one character (back onto the word)
e – move to end of word
l – move cursor right one character (onto the closing double quote)

As an exercise, he suggested a more advanced mapping that added double quotes around the last thing that had been visually suggested. I was quite taken with this approach, and, reasoning that HTML tags came in pairs just like quotation marks, I adapted his mappings so that I could quickly add hyperlinks to the word the cursor was on, or to the last thing I had visually suggested. The chunk of my _vimrc containing these mappings read like so (please be impressed with my incredible commitment to code documentation via comment):

" make the word under the cursor a hyperlink to URL from system clipboard
" 18jan2016
" mapping <leader>a to:
" select the current word with viw
" wrap the current word in an <a href> tag
" by moving to the end of the word and adding </a> to close the tag
" then moving to the beginning of the WORD and adding <a href="">
" moving back to the beginning of the WORD to move to the quotes
" and populate the quotes with the contents of the + register
" mostly inspired by Steve Losh
" edited 27dec2016
" :nnoremap <leader>a viw<esc>a</a><esc>Bi<a href=""><esc>Bci"<esc>a<c-r>+<esc>
:nnoremap <leader>a viw<esc>a</a><esc>Bi<a href="<c-r>+<esc>a"><esc>

" make the last visually selected text a hyperlink to URL from system clipboard
" 18jan2016
" mapping <leader>v to:
" select the last visual selection with `< and `>
" wrap that selection in an <a href> tag
" by moving to the end of the visual selection and adding </a> to close the tag
" then moving to the beginning of the visual selection and adding <a href="">
" moving back to the beginning of the visual selection to move to the quotes
" and populate the quotes with the contents of the + register
" mostly inspired by Steve Losh
:nnoremap <leader>v `><esc>a</a><esc>`<i<a href=""><esc>Bci"<esc>a<c-r>+<esc>

This allowed me to use two keystrokes—<leader>v or <leader>a—to add links to my text. This is an extremely handy shortcut—especially when working here in Reviewiera, where it's often the case that to make the case that some stuff is better than some other stuff, it is helpful to link to stuff, and then again to other stuff.

The one big problem I had with this mapping is that it didn't work if the line had quotes in it, because my clever ci" motion "selects the text from the previous quote until the next quote" (see :help a"). This meant that when I wanted to add my links to, say, a paragraph where I had mentioned the title of something, I had to:

  1. Enter some line breaks before and after the text I wanted to add links to
  2. Then add the links
  3. Then remove the line breaks

This pretty severely compromised the whole point of having a quick-keystroke method for adding links. And because I didn't look up the behavior of ci" until I was typing this up, I wasn't entirely certain what the glitch was! All I knew was that I had had to create a workaround when the line before whatever I wanted to add a link to included double quotes.

Today, in a meeting, I decided this was no longer an acceptable way to go about my business, so I put the matter to some thought, and decided:

  • Steve Losh was wrong and his approach to selecting a word then moving the cursor around manually wasn't the best
  • The way to craft this mapping properly would leverage Vim's multiple registers (registers are basically clipboards with names: the ones you can assign are a, b, c ... z, and this was something I abused a lot in my early days using Vim)

I sketched it out on paper before trying anything on the laptop, and, oddly, it turned out to work pretty much exactly as designed. Here's what it looks like:

:nnoremap <leader>a "zdiwi<a href="<CTRL-r>+"<CTRL-z</a><ESC>

As I was working on it and testing it, I realized that the problem wasn't Steve Losh at all, the problem was all me! But now I have a couple extremely sexy mappings that work when I personally need them to work. Just for grins, let's break them down and see what they do.

:nnoremap <leader>a "zdiwi<a href="<CTRL-r>+"<CTRL-z</a><ESC> "z – into the z buffer ... diw – delete the word the cursor is on (not including any surrounding whitespace) i – enter insert mode <a href=" – type <a href=" <CTRL-r> – hold down Control and r at the same time (in insert mode, this allows pasting from registers) + – the + register is the system clipboard, where we assume the URL is <CTRL-r> – hold down Control and r at the same time (in insert mode, this allows pasting from registers) z – paste the z register in (this is the word we deleted at first) </a> – close the html tag <ESC> – exit insert mode / return to normal mode

What I like about this is that it works left-to-right, in a more or less sensible way. It basically does exactly what I would do if I were typing: the bulk of the mapping is just banging away in insert mode; typing in the <a href=", then using <CTRL-r>+ to drop in the URL from the clipboard is precisely how I tended to add links before I started fiddling around with mappings in the first place. Also, since I rarely use named registers, I think it's okay to have this mapping clobber the z register. However, as a best practice slash approximation to idiomatically written Vimscript, I think the following mapping is probably better:

:nnoremap <leader>a diwi<a href="<c-r>+"><c-r>"</a><esc>

This just deletes the word, which by default places it into the unnamed register (see :help quotequote), which can be accessed by calling it by the name '"'. (By this point in the series, we should be far beyond being surprised or upset by trivialities like the fact that you can name an unnamed register...)

The visual mapping is a little bit trickier, but only a little bit. It uses exactly the same left-to-right approach, but leverages a fancy little command: gv, which in normal mode re-selects the last visual selection. NOTE: the g prefix in normal mode does some seriously under-known shit. In February of 2015, Tim Chase, one of the heroes on the Vim list, dropped this little gem:

Also, just in case you need it, "g&" is an obscure "across all lines in the file, repeat the last substitution with the same flags" command, even if it's several items back in your command-line history.

Like, seriously, what the hell, Vim? That's a LOT of power to pack into two keystrokes. Anyway, let's check out visual-mode link-adding.

:nnoremap <leader>v gvdi<a href="<c-r>+"><c-r>"</a><esc>
gv – re-select the last visual selection
d – delete what's selected
i – enter insert mode
<a href=" – type <a href="
<CTRL-r> – hold down Control and r at the same time (in insert mode, this allows pasting from registers)
+ – the + register is the system clipboard, where we assume the URL is
<CTRL-r> – hold down Control and r at the same time (in insert mode, this allows pasting from registers)
" – paste the so-called unnamed register in (this is the word we deleted at first)
</a> – close the html tag
<ESC> – exit insert mode / return to normal mode

Again, this is a simpler approach than Losh's, which goes right-to-left, then has to jump back to the right when it's done. Literally everything else he says and does makes a hell of a lot more sense than anything else I say or do, of course.

Anyway, that's two mappings refactored! I only have the entire rest of my _vimrc to go.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2017

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings

Rough year, 2017.  Music seemed, through the early months, beside the point and inaccessible somehow.  Nothing new landed, everything just slid off of me for months.  Eventually, though, a perhaps predictable combination managed to crack my stasis: a couple powerful live shows plus the inordinate potency of perfect pop.  After about midyear, I felt open again to the delivery of novelty and pleasure from music.  Better late than never. 
Looking over what meant most to me this year, what I came back to most, I'm struck by, again, how little truly new stuff I adopted, and how much I came back to Big Melodies and Deep Textures.  I assume this was because my soul needed soothing and my life needed joy.  If you're in similar straits, maybe this list will do you some help, as it did me. 

I. List + Links (TD;LR crowd)

II. Fat's Diary Action

I wrote about EMA earlier in the year, declaring her 2011 song "California" the song of the summer 2017 (prematurely, as it would turn out), but it would be difficult to sum up how much time I spent listening to Past Life Martyred Saints and The Future's Void in 2017.  For much of the year, the only things that made sense were EMA's folk-melodies-into-explosions-of-guitar-noise and pretty, clean vocals, mostly saying upsetting things.  (Because I saw Mary Timony playing Helium last night, this makes me want to declare EMA the rightful heir to Timony's guitar-hero-with-dark-lyrics throne, but don't quote me on that yet.)

Past Life is a brilliant collection of overlapping musical and lyrical themes, treated in frequently experimental ways, ranging from extended guitar solos so simple and satisfying you'd swear only Lou Reed could have written them to self-harmonizing rounds; Future's Void is a more polished, narrower exploration of a couple ideas (musically: sadness, electronics, etc.; lyrically, technology, sadness, fame, etc.) that along the way earns a place as the most interesting and sustained engagement with the work of William Gibson I've ever encountered.  I didn't listen to anything more than I listened to these records this year, and I didn't listen to anything better than these records this year. 

A lot of the power of this music comes straight out of EMA's throat: 3Jane shows off her emotional singing beautifully.  Her sense of simple melodies is wonderful: the synth figure in Dead Celebrity is maybe the best example, or her unexpected appropriation of Camptown Races in California, a seriously weird moment that surprises and works every time I hear it.  Appropriation really works for this band: while everything feels forward-looking and even futuristic, there are frequent lyrical references to what's come before, so in a synth/guitar-noise dirge you might get a Bo Diddley callback, or even something like So Blonde would have been the best b-side on Hole's Celebrity Skin, which sounds like a backhanded compliment unless you understand that most times, the b-sides are a band's best, and that Celebrity Skin was, and is, a record without flaw.  Complicated emotions and sounds, the future and the past blending, stuff you can whistle.  Sounds like a good future to me. 

The one that came out last year, Exile in the Outer Ring didn't do much for me.  Then again, neither did either Past Life Martyred Saints or The Future's Void for 6 and 3 years, respectively.  I think I'll catch up with Exile in a couple years, at which point the band will probably be another couple years ahead of me... 

Völur landed in front of me via Twitter, shockingly, when Kim Kelley of Vice's Noisey mentioned them.  Something about the deep doom drones and the no-guitar instrumentation worked for me nearly perfectly all year.  Rocking, yet soothing: very useful in a nerve-jangling year where nothing seemed in-rhythm and everything had the power to annoy.  Indecipherable (German) lyrics helped, too, in a time where everything is far too explicit.  Metal can be a nice place to hide, and Ancestors built a sturdy shelter to rebuild one's stamina.  (A lot of other people really liked the Big Brave record, but I had trouble getting that one to work for me; as always, I'll probably come around to it in like two years.)

I have this pet theory about punk that says that what punk really is is consuming art made mostly by your friends.  Magazines, music, other performances, whatever.  Anyway, my friend Dan is in a lot of bands, like Wolf Parade and, for me, especially, like Operators.  I liked the Operators records I heard, had them in rotation all over the place.  Then I had some computer work to do and threw on some YouTubes of live sets, at which point I graduated to loving Operators.  Great textures and phenomenal urgency inhabiting beautifully structured songs—what's NOT to love? 

Hard to pick a favorite, but probably my choice for The Single is True, with its amazingly layered synths and unstoppable chorus.  Also if you can line up a friend who makes music you love and is willing to text with you about D&D, I highly recommend you do so. 
  • Swans

If you have a chance to see Swans live, see Swans live.  Resets the heart and mind. 

A surprisingly emotionally intense show was Magnetic Fields performing some of the 50 Song Memoir project.  The night of, "Me and Fred and Dave and Ted" provided the most life and lift—something about the humor directed at dark times vibed with me.  The few times I've tried to go back and click with the album, different bits have enveloped me, but never the same one twice, I don't think.  It may be that the album is a live show, different each time and only approachable on its own terms.  It also may be that I'm high? 

While EMA by a kilometer or two provided all my songs of the year, my song of the summer was, same as everybody's, Cardi B's stunning hypnotic manifesto.  Shame it had possibly the worst, most inept/inane video in recent memory, but even that could hardly tarnish the undeniable all-conquering compulsion of this single. 

Somewhere in the year, we saw the Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile tour.  The second-best songs were the ones from the albums they'd made before their collaboration.  The best songs were a Belly cover and "Elvis Presley Blues" which I had never heard before, and which I instantly fell in love with, and which I was taught later that night was a Gillian Welch song from a decade-plus ago, and which I now think is one of the greatest songs anybody's ever written. 

Another year-end list, another Future of the Left appearance, ho hum.  But in all seriousness, this live album was ridiculously good, bringing everything you want in a live document: a tight, excellent performance, just enough slop or mistake or equipment failure to remind you it was live, actually funny banter, and pre-show music that made at least me laugh.  The song here was new to me, somehow, and for long stretches of autumn, the anvil-dropping-onto-concrete riff and shouty bits made a lot of car rides significantly more tolerable. 

Voivod's Dimension Hatröss, is, as you know, the best record ever made.  But sometimes a person wants to listen to something the same as something they've heard before, but new.  That's where Vektor comes in: the same great pre-major-label Voivod taste you crave, but with new songs you haven't heard before!  Absolute shredders, incredibly technically proficient, but rarely boringly so. 
Terminal Redux is maybe a little bit too long, and maybe a little bit too samey, but my three-song edit, featuring all the songs with clean singing (first song, second-to-last song, last song) has put frothy joy into my soul each time I've tried it.  And, because metal, those three songs? add up to a half-hour of music.  Value for money.

I can't really remember why I decided to revisit Alice Cooper.  But after marching through Spotify for a few concerted days in the fall, I realized a couple things.  First, Alice Cooper's best record is probably Billion Dollar Babies, which came like 5 albums and 7 years into their career.  That was a different, better time; bands don't get the support they need to grow into themselves anymore.  Second, the record you want to own is the very early Greatest Hits compilation, particularly side 2.  Third, "Hello Hooray" is his (/their?) best song, and the single best exponent of a truly HEAVY TUNE that links itself to the Beatles, which all of these dudes love beyond belief, that I've ever encountered.  (No matter what the press kit for Black Sabbath's last album said.)  Anyway, it doesn't really rock all that hard, and it's always on the light side of heavy, but if you're not interested in big Broadway melodies, what are you doing listening to metal in the first place!?
If that doesn't sell you, my pal dB described Alice Cooper as "David Bowie's ugly cousin", so. 
  • Yes

Yes, it's more Yes.  What can I say?  I read Dave Weigel's book The Show That Never Ends, and all it did was make me like Yes, and Jon Anderson's basically down-to-Earth (if a little bit stoned), hopeful lyrics, and legitimately beautiful melodies even more.  Plus Chris Squire's bass playing just makes me laugh, particularly in the songs where everybody gets their own solo, which he happily solos underneath, and then he gets his own, which he solos over, but like twice as hard. 
It's what I turn to at work, when I need a little boost.  What's a bigger recommendation than that? 

III. Conclusatory Thinkery

Not a bad music year: more diversity than I'd've expected from a year of frank comfort-seeking.  Beyond that, I got nothing.  Technology-wise, I still loathe Spotify, but have found something it seems to me to be good for: creating playlists that replicate experiences I had, live shows, albums that aren't easily available to me anymore, etc. 

Anyways, I bought everything on this list, other than the Operators live show, wich I stole off of YouTube, and the Gillian Welch / Magnetic Fields / Cardi B, which I just stream a lot, and Yes, which I own some of but mostly just Pandora at work. 

I saw Less Art this year, and really had a great time at the show.  The record I returned to a couple times, but it really demands a certain volume-in-the-open-air listening experience I don't enjoy as often as I should, being a headphone weenie, mostly.  Also, too, I demand that they appropriate the old SS Decontrol song "How Much Art Can You Take?" and make a t-shirt reading "How Much Less Art Can You Take?".  If you really think about it, it works on multiple levels. 

IV. Previously in Years in HEAVY TUNES

Thursday, January 25, 2018

As my father cautioned, do not eat pork, or you'll be eating the undead.

From The Book of Madness and Cures - Regina O'Melveny

My more recent-ish book-selection habits have led me to some stuff way weirder than anything I read when I was actively trying to read weird stuff.