Friday, May 30, 2008

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Doug complained in the previous post that I should have critiqued Heretic Pride instead of just soliciting opinions. You got me, Doug. I was remiss. Here you go:

My rule of thumb for good music is this: I listen to it a couple of times and then see what sticks in my head. If I'm hearing it in the shower in the morning, it's good.

That said, in my limited experience, a classic Mountain Goats song has at least one of three key characteristics: (1) a hilariously absurd premise, (2) beautiful and innovative lyrics, and (3) a catchy refrain encapsulating a pessimistic yet not hopeless world view.

For the first, think "Golden Boy," an ode to a particular brand of peanuts: "There are no pan-Asian supermarkets down in Hell, so you can't buy Golden Boy peanuts there."

For the second: "Held under these smothering waves, by your strong and thick veined hand, but one of these days I'm going to wriggle up on dry land."

For the third, think "I'm going to make it through this year, if it kills me" from "This Year" or "I'm coming home to you, with my own blood in my mouth" from "Sax Rohmer #1."

(By the way, I think that strictly following those criteria would make "No Children" the best Mountain Goats song ever. But I'm not sure I believe that.)

In my previous post, I said that I thought that parts of Heretic Pride were "kind of weird." In addition to that criticism, I would also add Doug's that several of the songs "sound pretty similar to earlier stuff." On the other hand, that includes several songs that I really like -- they may not be groundbreaking, but they're still good stuff. But there are also several songs that, upon first hearing, my reaction was "what is that?" For example, "In the Craters on the Moon" has a more wailing than I enjoy; there is more than one odd use of falsetto ("So Desperate" and "Michael Myer Resplendent"); and, as Doug also pointed out, "Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident" may feature backup vocals more appropriate for a bad prom song. I think that some of the problem is due to the fact that I don't really know what the album is about. (Recent albums can be described fairly succinctly: The Sunset Tree is about John Darnielle's terrible childhood; Get Lonely is a breakup album; and Tallahassee is about a couple on the verge of divorce.) Without a sense that the album is going somewhere, it's harder to be patient when songs take chances.

Some notes on the songs themselves:

Do I really need to explain again how awesome "Sax Rohmer #1" is?

I kind of see "San Bernardino" to "So Desperate" as the easy listening section of the album. You might think that bad, but really it means I listen to this portion of the album more -- it's easy to listen to while working. "San Bernandino" is the kind laid back with plinky strings song that I'm not big on and that seems like it might fit right in with the last album, Get Lonely. A few songs in the album, like "New Zion," just slide by my consciousness, even while I'm listening to the album in order to blog about it. But I like "Heretic Pride" and I really like "Autoclave," which to me is a classic Mountain Goats song.

I admire "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," but I don't see what Doug sees in "Tianchi Lake." I prefer "How to Embrace a Swamp Creature." And although I feel like I should make a defense of "Sept 15 1983," I can't really articulate what I like about it.

Finally, "Michael Myers Resplendent" is indeed a song about the horror movie character or maybe the actor portraying him or maybe the victims in the movie. In addition, it's either brilliant or overwrought to the point of ridiculousness. I first thought it was the latter because there's a section where John Darnielle sings in a totally crazy and ridiculous falsetto. And, yet, I listen to it. A lot. By my own rule of thumb, it's good.

Regardless of any criticisms I've mentioned, I've been listening to the whole album obsessively which as an objective measure makes it better than 90% of the albums I have.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Lazy Blogger

Yeah, there's basically no excuse for my rampant blog-ignoring and in the entire time between my last post and right now, I haven't thought of a single thing about which to blog.

That said, the guilt induced by my blog is nothing compared to the guilt induced by the constant GoodReads update emails I receive: I get it, you're all much better than me for spending your time reading instead of surfing the web for random stuff.

And speaking of random stuff on the internet, one of the things I noticed reading The Box of Paperbacks Book Club feature on the Onion's AV Club Blog is that old paperback covers are often more interesting than the books. I found this list of The Best (Worst) Fantasy & Science Fiction Book Covers. I'm still chuckling over the cover with the ninja.

By the way, I recently got my hands on the whole Heretic Pride album from the Mountain Goats. While some of it is full of typical Mountain Goats awesomeness (I still love "Sax Rohmer #1"), some of the songs are kind of weird. What did you guys think?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

May Day

May 1st is a holiday here (and a lot of other places that aren't the USA). One of the local traditions is that people will cut down a birch tree (or a good fraction of one) , decorate it with ribbons and a sign with the name of their beloved and install it in front of that person's house. My German teacher says that most years the men do this for the women, but it should be reversed this year because it's a leap year. Of course, I took pictures.

Most of the trees had women's names on them, so I don't know if that leap thing is real. Here's a tree, but I was too far away to see the name on it.

This one's a little cheat, but it's for "Richard."

And the "Lisa" tree.