September 30, 2011


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.

01. JACK -- "Crazy For You", Best Coast
02. TONY -- "The Desert", Benjy Ferree
03. CHASE -- "Vendela Vida", Dinosaur Feathers
04. ECON -- "Sound And Vision", David Bowie
05. OATESS -- "She's Like Heroin To Me", The Gun Club
06. DUNN -- "For Once In My Life", Frank Sinatra
07. MARK -- "Cold Milk Bottle", The Mountain Goats

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September 29, 2011

Almost done

It has been three years and a few months since graduation and I am officially a Ph.D. Candidate. ABD. I've finished my coursework and my written exams and my oral exams. I've spent most of the time between then and now reading about linguistics. I've succeeded mostly in expanding the category of things that I know that I don't know. And growing grumpier. I'm currently losing the ability to articulate the conventional pronunciations of English words. My syntactic competence was lost some time ago. I guess my point is that I thought I would understand something by now, but I don't think I do.

The good thing is that I now enjoy being stupid.

September 23, 2011


My contribution to the latest mix comes from a tribute album of Is This It covers. There are a number of different ways to cover a song, and the collection displays a variety.

Covering the title track, Peter Bjorn & John write, "We didn’t want to do anything crazy or weird like turning the song into a acid jazz P-funk power ballad. We just wanted to play it as good as we could." Indeed it's the least radical cover on the album, but it remains interesting since it still sounds like Peter Bjorn & John. And unlike some of the others, they don't fuck up what was great about the song in the first place.

Owen Pallett took his inspiration from a Regina Spektor comment and a message board user "named Nabisco" who noted elements of classical composition in the Strokes. Pallett says he "re-imagined the Strokes as a piano quintet, and had us all playing hard, fast and mechanical." While quite different than the original, his cover of "Hard to Explain" sounds great.

The members of Real Estate were apparently a Strokes cover band in high school. They played at Cassie Ramone's sweet 16 party. Covering "Barely Legal," Real Estate deliberately set out "to not make it sound like the original." Their cover is nice but a little boring--but then I find Real Estate nice but a little boring, so.

Then there's Heems, aka Himanshu Suri of Das Racist. I'll let you listen to that one yourself. Everybody hates it. I like it.


I shared the Morning Benders' take on "Last Night." They could have just gotten out of the way of a great, catchy, universally recognizable track, as did Peter Bjorn & John. Or they could have totally revamped it. Instead they found a beautiful middle ground, tapping into the original successfully while changing it enough that you're interested in second, third, fourth listens. I thought Chris Chu's explanation of his process was pretty fantastic, so I'll let him have the last word:
Back when Is This It was released everyone was going crazy over how much The Strokes sounded like VU and Television and Iggy Pop. But to me, there first single “Last Nite” always felt like a Beatles song. The way the rhythmic elements always stay out of the way of the vocal, that one note guitar line a la George Harrison, even Julian’s vocal has that combo of snotty grit and melody that reminds of Lennon. But beyond all that, the reason it really feels like a Beatles song is the structure. It’s classic early-Beatles Lennon, and an approach to pop structure that still hasn’t really been tapped into. There’s no clear verse or chorus, just one main hook and melody. The only other section is a short bridge, that really just acts as a kind of propeller for the main melody, giving it the momentum it needs to come back over and over and over again. That’s good pop! And of course the middle eight is replaced by a guitar solo because, well, they’re the Strokes. For our cover we turned that structure on its head. The sections still occur in the same order, but we have re-imagined them. The main “Last Nite” melody/lyric becomes a proper verse, and the section that used to be a short bridge becomes the proper chorus/hook. At the end everything intersects with each other and we have a melodic party. Pretty fun, right?
[Download the cover album for free and read the rest of the artist explanations here.]


September 22, 2011


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.

01. JACK -- "Bones", Male Bonding
02. TONY -- "Second Song", TV on the Radio
03. CHASE -- "Floating Vibes", Surfer Blood
04. ECON -- "When I Paint My Masterpiece", The Band
05. OATESS -- "Surfin' Bird", The Trashmen
06. MARK -- "Last Night", The Morning Benders


September 21, 2011

Signs you are addicted to a television show

Maybe it's because I'm actually following it as it happens, or maybe it's because I really believe it. Either way, here goes: Breaking Bad is the best show on television in the past 10 years. At least.*

*Yes. This includes the Wire. I'll admit that Breaking Bad isn't quite as dense as The Wire — David Simon is a master of creating beautifully interwoven plot layers that stack up and then come down so neatly. It lives and breathes a city. Breaking Bad is not that show, and I might argue it is better for it. Breaking Bad is about the plot, sure, but the characters are deeper. We know each and every one of them so much better.

Again, I am saying it is so good and that might be because I am watching it in real time. I get so giddy on Sunday nights when I know the show is going to be on. I didn't feel that way about The Wire, but that's because I was watching it all at once, and also because I cheated and looked up spoilers on Wikipedia so I could understand what the hell was going on.

On Sunday nights, though, I text people in real time about the show. (OK, I text one person.) Two weeks ago, I sent Econ this series of messages:

"Shit. Hank is on to something!"
"Walter's kind of an asshole sometimes."
"Gus is badass."

Then, this weekend:
"Oh goddamit. Walt made Skylar look like the bad guy again."

His response:
"Yeah, well she gave away $620k of cash to spite him, so... Well call it even"

Those don't make a lick of sense if you don't watch the show, and I apologize. But it says something about one's devotion to a television show when he is exasperatedly texting his friends about the goings-on of said show in real time.

That's the point of television dramas, I suppose, but if that's the case then why aren't more like this? And why have so many of them been relegated to cable?*

*No, I don't actually watch said shows on TV, but that's a different argument.

I thought I would throw that out for discussion. But whatever the reason, I know one thing for sure: I want to be like Mike.

And yes, you really WILL have to watch the show to even begin to understand what this means and why.

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September 15, 2011


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.

01. JACK -- "Ready To Die", Andrew W.K.
02. TONY -- "Caribou", Pixies
03. CHASE -- "Moves Like Jagger", Maroon 5
04. ECON -- "Rolling Moon", The Chills
05. OATESS -- "London's Burning", The Clash
06. DUNN -- "She Blinded Me With Science", Thomas Dolby
07. MARK -- "Under the Knife", The Rural Alberta Advantage

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September 12, 2011

Marcus Monroe

I just re-ran across this video today and felt absolutely compelled to share it with an audience.


September 8, 2011


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.

01. JACK -- "Blue Line Swinger", Yo La Tengo
02. TONY -- "The Winter", CAKE
03. CHASE -- "Doldrums", Fungi Girls
04. ECON -- "Tune Grief", Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
05. OATESS -- "53rd & 3rd", The Ramones
06. DUNN -- "One More Saturday Night", Grateful Dead
07. MARK -- "A Stone", Okkervil River


September 6, 2011

'What is an Arcade Fire?'


Does anybody know, or have they sensed (even if it's playful), a wider rift between hispters and mainstream/Top-40 pop types since The Arcade Fire won their grammy? Or did that fizzle entirely?


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September 4, 2011

Popular photos


In the past week, seven Flickr people have added this photo of mine as a favorite. It's a pretty straightforward perp walk of a woman I wrote a lot about in Virginia. You see, it's the perfect type of photo for Flickr hoarding as exemplified here by CuffGirls' favorite photos (NSFW, sorta, but they're only thumbnails when you first click).

It's not the first time I've been amused by Flickr's social manners. I got picked up by a couple snowplow groups during the late 2009 blizzard. The best, of course, was when my photo of myself throwing a frisbee at Katie in the pool got picked up by a collection of photos of girls on inflatable rafts.

More importantly, Errol Morris has his new photography book out now. NYT review here.


Thinking about judgy grandkids

Early modern historians wrestle with a paucity of evidence and generally end up trying to say quite a bit with very little to go on. Historians of the 20th-century have the opposite problem. By many measures--not necessarily all--the amount of potential historical evidence created today outpaces that of entire centuries only a few hundred years ago. I think constantly about what kind of evidence we're leaving behind of ourselves, and how it will be interpreted by later cultures.

How much, I wonder, will survive and in what form? Though I'm no sign-waving apocalypticist (<---made-up word), I don't find the total collapse of our civilization an impossibility. It's conceivable that the digital world we've constructed could be permanently and irrevocably lost. When I entertain such thoughts, I find suddenly terrifying our digitizing of everything. In this potential future, some historian will no doubt pen some eloquent lines about our Eternal-Sunshine-esque erasure of worlds, our deliberate and orderly destruction of the evidence of our existence.*

*In this potential future of my invention, historians and the written word and a script of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will naturally survive. Not sure about journalism.

Aside from such grim thoughts, fertile possibilities of cultural foreignness abound. My mind meanders from questions of overarching moral legacy (human rights, abortion, Axe commercials) to Nicholson Baker details (bottled water, keyboard alphabets, Axe commercials). As a rule, I avoid going the easy "THEY'LL WONDER ABOUT THOSE DAMN LOLCATZ HAHA" route. Still, I can't help but wonder if historians and history students a century down the road will get "fuckyeah" tumblrs or gifs, seeing as I can't exactly explain what makes them great myself.

No doubt these future examiners will see certain elements of our culture as barbaric and patently wicked. After all, there's not a time period or a place in history where we don't find glaring immoralities to judge. There are some obvious candidates: nationalism, Fox News, OFWGKTA, hippies. Still, I place no faith in a progressive understanding of history (<---not a political statement), so perhaps they'll find representative government astonishingly uncivilized, the no-moral-of-the-story morality of the Wire horrifying, the narcissism of rock'n'roll disgusting. Or Tina Fey.

At the end of last year I wrote that Tina Fey's not-controversial-except-to-neocon-pundits joke about Mark Twain might actually be a brilliant anticipation of the totally unfair ways we'll be judged by our descendants. And it's that unpredictability--turning a prescient, humane condemnation of racism into racism itself--that makes me think worrying too much about our grandchildren's judgment is a waste of time. They'll probably have bad taste.

After Chase invited me to join the blog, I batted around a number of ideas for a first post. Most of them involved cheesy "tribute to ____" ideas (Tucson, my bike, the Sad Bear apartment, etc.) or ill-advised attempts to Think Deeply About Pop Music. My semester had just started, however, so I'm stuck with thoughts about history. Originally I composed a rather pompous piece of self-indulgence about the internal contradictions of writing "history from below" but decided no one really wants to read that. Instead you're stuck with the preceding pseudo-philosophical-historical gibberish. Anyway, I'm happy to be here and pleased to have been invited. -Mark