Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas Xmas Woo Xmas

I hope you're having a fine & pleasant day.

Here's to World Peace!
Nah, I'm kidding. All I really want is turkey.

Merry X &c. !

—the Festive Thoapsl

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 #10: Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't (Part Two)

. . . Continued!

Yeah, so apparently they make a big deal about the "xx" being lowercase. I'll try not to hold that against them.

This band has been making waves lately; they don't look cool, and not looking cool is an excellent way to be cool, but that's not why people are paying attention to them. What makes the xx unique is their sound, which is incredibly stripped back: as other bloggers have noted, they make four musicians sound like two. That kind of sonic restraint is incredibly rare in modern pop. Even better, they have the skills to use this restraint in service of some really spectacular tension-&-release songwriting. It's quite unlike anything else out there right now, and it's great.

But not great enough for me to spend money on it just yet, apparently.

Their debut album, Replica Replica, should have been a much bigger success – the damn thing was absolutely crammed with excellent, hard-edged guitar pop. But Red Riders don't seem to have the right image for success, or something; they're just too tuneful for the hardcore, too artsy for the popsters, too Sydney for the Melbourne. And apparently one of their (multiple) singer-songwriters has left them since the first album, which is a huge shame; they could have been so much more, if they'd all stuck together . . .

But that's people, I guess. In the meantime: if the second RR album has half as many kickarse songs as the debut, then it will be worth buying. Either way I'll be buying it eventually, I'm sure.

<Embedding disabled by request, morons>

Aw, look – she's just so damn pleasant! I don't know what it is, but there's something about Lily Allen that I just find massively, ineffably appealing. I feel like I probably shouldn't like her music, but I do. It's neat, sweet pop; the lyrics are usually way more clever than they should be; and even when it's bitter and sardonic, which is most of the time, it's also damn nice. At her worst, she's not quite right, but at her best she's excellent.

I've written about Sarah Blasko before, but I guess I like to repeat myself.

Sarah Blasko is excellent. Her latest album appears to be even better than her previous albums, which were also very good. Enough said?

<Embedding disabled by request, morons>

Florence is epic. I'm not exactly sure how she ended up at #1 on this list, though; her legs may have carried her over the line, I guess. That and her voice, which is astounding. I'm not usually the kind of person to be too impressed by a conventionally tuneful singing voice, but her voice is simply huge; the album title is apt. I've no idea if the rest of her album lives up to the interesting potential of the few singles I've heard so far, but I'm sure it's worth a shot. That, and I worry that she'll beat me up if I don't give her money.

And there you have it – Top 10 #10! And I'll be posting Top 10 #9 will before New Year, turkey permitting.
Merry Xmas!

--the Musical Thoapsl

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 #10: Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't (Part One)

I didn't buy many albums this year; partly because I had less disposable* income, and partly because I've been unsure whether to buy music on CD or via iTunes (and sometimes indecision = no decision). I used to love the physicality and security of a real CD, but these days I usually listen to music through my computer or iPod, so are CDs still worthwhile? My bookshelf full of CDs still looks nice, but it's not so convenient. A few years ago, my collection of CDs was my personal music library; today, it's just an insurance policy in case of hard drive failure.

(Don't even start me on those horrific CDs with the most hardcore copy protection, the ones that won't even let you copy the music into your iTunes library . . !)

And I never buy DVDs, because I figure that the DVD is already a dead medium; so isn't it past time for me to give up on the CD, too? What do you think?

I've been watching Rage regularly all year, so I've heard & seen the singles from practically every new album release of 2009. A lot of these singles made me want to go buy albums, but I don't always do what I want. Here are the Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't.

(Note, also: when I say "didn't buy", I don't mean "downloaded illegally". I don't like to do that; and it's not like any of these albums were inaccessible or overpriced or only available via an inconvenient delivery mechanism, such as certain television programs might be said to be, hypothetically speaking. Aside from the music videos, and/or songs freely available on myspace, I haven't actually listened to any of these albums.)

Blueberry Boat, the FF's second album (from 2004), is absolutely brilliant. It's bizarre, it's dense, it's complex, and it's very long. I had to listen to it three times before it actually made sense to me. That might sound like a bad thing, and it usually would be, but not here: it's an album that rewards you for paying attention, for remembering that the melody you're listening to now is an echo of the melody from thirty minutes earlier. It's unique, entertaining, catchy and very, very smart.

So yeah, Blueberry Boat impressed me hugely, to the point that I was kind of obsessed with FF for a while. I even saw them live (and they put on a fantastic live performance, too). But every one of their albums since 2004 has been mediocre by comparison, even after repeated listens and much effort on my part. Widow City (2007) was occasionally excellent, but only occasionally. Bitter Tea was mostly weak. And as for Rehearsing My Choir . . . I mean, I really wanted to love that one. I wanted to enjoy it. I did not.

And that's why I haven't bothered to buy this new album: I've been burnt. The single (above) was good, but not mindblowing. Their most recent album (Widow City) was worthwhile, so I'd like to think that I'm Going Away is another step up, but I'm not willing to wager money on it. Not just yet.

I've always kind of liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though I've never been a huge fan. But I always thought their songwriting was clever, and this album looked interesting; the singles were pretty good, at least. I'm kind of fascinated by the way they've changed their sound, too. It should seem like they're selling out, the way they've changed from punky-spiky-00s-rock into an 80s synth-underground feel – it's like a rebranding from one zeitgeist to the next, *cynicism* – but somehow, it just doesn't seem like a sell-out. Their new songs are good, and surprisingly subtle. Their new sound isn't a bland pop makeover. It's worth listening to.

But I actually haven't bought it yet.

Intriguing mix of psych-ish music under really grungey, 80s-punk vocals. (I really love the vocals – guy's got an awesome voice.) This single is probably their least impressive song, I think, but some of their stuff available elsewhere is pretty spectacular. Also, I'm building a collection of albums by cool bands with the word "Crystal" in their name.

The vocals are so English that it's almost distracting; together with the early-80s everything else, they obviously wish they were guesting on The Young Ones. But the more I hear of these guys, the more impressed I am by their pop songwriting & arrangement chops. It's really excellent stuff – the kind of clever, retro-but-not-pointless pop that only England ever seems to produce (see also, Mystery Jets). Damn fine. Even if I don't get a copy of their album this year, I'm sure I haven't heard the last of them.

Arctic Monkeys had such a meteoric rise to fame, and were so damn young and pretty, that their passage through the NME meatgrinder-of-adulation very quickly became the sausage of hipsters' casual dismissal. But they don't deserve to be dismissed: the original fame & adulation was well deserved, because their music at its best is absolutely excellent. Their first two albums were simply great. I haven't bought this third album yet, but I know I will eventually; if it's not also great, I'll be very surprised.

Gosh, there are more words on this list than I thought there'd be! I guess I have more to say about these albums than I thought I would. I'm going to have to split this post in two.

Back soon, with the top half of the Top 10!

(And don't worry, btw – the other Top Ten Top Tens will involve far fewer words than this, I promise :)

*all income is disposable

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10 Top 10 Lists That Don't Really Deserve To Be Top 10 Lists

We're coming up to the end of the calendar, which means only one thing: the mediasphere wants more lists. Yes, MORE lists. Endless, endless lists: Best Songs, Most Culturally Poisonous Films, Top 10 Everything, et cetera. MORE LISTS! And this year even more so than usual, because it isn't only the end of 2009: it's the end of the '00s.

(Speaking of which: how did we manage to live through an entire decade without being able to name it?* The Aughts, the Zeroes, the Noughties, the Nothings? – no. This was The Decade That Nobody Could Agree On The Name Of. When Generation Z grow up, how are they going to label their childhood nostalgia? We're not making it easy for them . . . And even worse, what the heck are we going to call the next decade? Are we really going to call it the "Twenty-Teens"? Seriously? I'm freaking out, man)

So, people like lists. You know this. It appeals to the human instinct for pattern recognition, I guess: people like seeing things ordered and labelled, we like to know what's important. That's why "Best Of" lists are always among the most popular blog posts, right?

But on the other hand, I'm kind of sick of Top Tens. The lists are almost always hopelessly subjective – which is fine – but they're also usually pretending to be objective and authoritative, which pisses me off no end. That list you just wrote up, that list you just read, over on that other blog? Please, internet, stop taking that list seriously. A list is not a table of statistics. It's a mixtape. For goodness' sake.
With this in mind: here's my Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists That Don't Really Deserve To Be Top 10 Lists.
10. Top 10 Albums Of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't
9. Top 10 High Concepts Improvised In Less Than One Minute
8. Top 10 Song Titles That Are No Longer Hits When Rephrased As A Question Instead Of As An Assertion
7. Top 10 Ambiguous Sporting Team Nicknames
6. Top 10 Pop Culture References That Will Make Me Feel Nostalgic For My Childhood, I Hope
5. Top 10 Pseudonyms Used By Undercover Ticket Inspectors On Melbourne Public Transport
4. Top 10 Least Respectable Titles Of Philip K. Dick Novels
3. Top 10 Sports That I Expect I Will Never Play
2. Top 10 Actors That I Can't Remember The Name Of, But Then When I See Their Faces I Go "Oh Yeah, I Know Them"
1. Top 10 Best Numbers Between 1 and 10
I'll actually be posting all these lists between now and the end of the year. No, wait – there's barely 10 days left in the year, that won't work. How about I post these Top 10 Top 10s between now and the end of, say, January? Or, at least no slower than once per week? Sure, at least!

Yeah, that's right. Watch me.

See you soon :)

*& cheers to M("F")V for reminding me about this, just the other day

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mondays Can Be Disturbing

Cheap of me to do two linkblogs in a row, rather than blogging something that I've actually created myself, but this tickled me too much to resist.

See, lately I've been looking for someone* to fill a vacant room in my house, and the process of interviewing prospective housemates has reminded me just how difficult it is to get to know people from only brief conversations. You can absorb a lot of intuitive impressions, but it seems impossible to really find out what they'll be like; I think people usually don't relax enough to show their "true" colours until you've been living with them for weeks, at least.

Thus, there's been a running joke between me & my other (non-new) housemate about the absolute best way to interview a stranger: the Voight-Kampff test.

The Voight-Kampff test is the interview from Blade Runner (via Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) that's supposed to test your empathy – empathy, of course, being the unique quality that sets humans apart from "non-humans" (e.g. animals, psychopaths, killer robots). I've always thought it would be great fun to spring the Voight-Kampff interview questions on somebody when they're not expecting it, but I've never had the guts to do it "for real" . . .

. . . unlike the journalists at San Francisco's The Wave magazine, who decided to give the Voight-Kampff test to all the upcoming SF mayoral candidates. If you don't know Blade Runner, you probably won't get it, but I thought it was freaking hilarious.

As one would expect, at least half the mayoral candidates are definitely not human.

*Subsequently found: hello, Sarah D—! She's moving in tomorrow, good luck to all involved . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009


No more than a fortnight to go, at the most. The Santa clearly has the upper hand.

I'm quite looking forward to the Xmas, this year. I'm not religious* (you could probably tell from the awesome Todd Schorr image I've posted above), but I much appreciate the nostalgia of midsummer turkey & family & feasting & gift-giving. And the X-holiday relaxation, especially: it's several days during which I don't have to do anything that isn't X-related. Freedom to loll (& lol) on a couch almost all day, freedom to feast, freedom to ignore work. Fantastic.

Even better – the gifts I've bought are already wrapped, a funky little stack in the corner of my room. How the hecks did I get my presents all sorted out so early, this year? I have no idea. It's very unlike me. I like it.

So! Two weeks until Xmas. Three weeks until 2010. More on events as they develop.
Good luck.

*So I figure the 'X' in my personal 'X-mas' simply stands for something other than 'Xrist'? (Or technically that would be 'XPIΣTΌΣ', for all you scholars of Ancient Greek and/or Theology in the audience . . . I know you're out there . . .)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Like A Tiger

I do not care about this recent Tiger Woods affair car-crash whatever thing. I also did not care about the Premier of South Australia having an affair last week, or whatever that was. I mean, I don't think I ever used to care about "celeb adultery shock!" stories, much – but lately I've been more than uninterested, I've been damn well anti-interested, to the point that celebrity sex scandals are actually repelling my interest.

Is it just me? I know that famous people's extramarital affairs used to be much more of a big deal, years ago, because extramarital affairs used to be much more of a big deal in general, years ago . . . Until the 1970s, divorce was always scandalous and/or nigh-impossible; sex scandals could literally bring down a government. Fair enough these stories were well newsworthy, then.

Today, though . . . how is adultery still worth a broadsheet's front page? Is it really news? I mean – what's the divorce rate, these days? I'm 28 now, and I'm almost the only person I know whose parents aren't divorced. Only a minuscule fraction of marriages last from the vows 'til death without being interrupted by adultery and/or divorce. Shouldn't it be a hell of a lot more newsworthy when famous people don't have an affair and/or break up?

This is the gist of my rant: adultery is BORING. Adultery is ROUTINE. Adultery is EVERYWHERE, even if some people still refuse to admit it. So can't we just assume that most famous married people are having affairs, and then forget about it? With rare exceptions, adultery has no bearing on anything that the famous person is actually doing in the public sphere. And it's none of our business, right? Look, I enjoy reading about (some) famous people, I totally understand the impulse to learn the "private" details of their lives; it's a neat thrill, sometimes. But adultery just isn't doing it for me, anymore. Adultery is dull, predictable and petty; it's not exciting, it's not even sexy. It leaves me feeling vaguely glum. I'd rather know what Tiger Woods eats for breakfast than know the state of his marriage, and I don't really care what he eats for breakfast. I don't even play golf.

I DO NOT CARE about Tiger Woods's marriage.

However. I did find this Chinese news report rather intriguing:

(via Pajiba)

The Onion's version of events is compelling, too.

Am I in a minority of one, in not caring about celebrity adultery? Am I being too old-fashioned, or too new-fashioned, or just daft?

/end rant

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Is Out Of Context

You know, somebody says "Slug Monster!" and you think you know what they're talking about. You turn around for a look, but you already feel like you know what you'll see. Heck, you've seen some horror movies, you've got a pretty vivid imagination; you've seen plenty of slug monsters before. How bad could this one be?

Obviously, you have underestimated certain German illustrators of the early 1920s.

(Note, also: the body in the lower left is not being crushed by the slug. It is being absorbed, or possibly growing out of the slug's body like a deformed limb.)

This image is actually part of a cover for a 1920 issue of Der Orchideengarten, a fantasy magazine that ran for an impressive fifty-one issues in Munich from 1919 to 1921. After the horrors of the Great War, THIS is what people were reading to relax.

Image via the ever-awesome A Journey Round My Skull blog. There's plenty more mind-melting Orchideengarten imagery and info to be found out there, if you dare . . .

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A salt is not a defence.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I Did On My Anti-Holidays

Where "anti-holidays" = "lots and lots and lots of work".

And I'm not going to make excuses for my blogging hiatus, because – *mysterious hand-waving* – there was no hiatus! Okay, this blog may have been looking all tumbleweeds and dust for a while, but I can assure you that I was in fact blogging the whole time over on this other blog. It was part of this postgrad course that I've been doing, you see. (Also, because I'm too lazy busy to do more than one blog at once while also working part-time and studying full-time. As long as I'm doing all my blogging for free, at least . . .)

But: my anti-holidays are now over, so here I am again. Welcome Back Me. I've also grabbed some of the blog posts that I liked from my other blog and re-posted versions of them here (complete with original comments!), to fill in the two-month gap between now and the beginning of this (non)-hiatus. Hooray for blogspot import/export!

That's enough meta-blogging for now. Real content to follow, soon, I promise :)

---the Summertime Thoapsl

Monday, November 2, 2009


Yes, it's that time of year again – Movember! Upper lips across the land are already sprouting the first brave whiskers of the season, well on their way to achieving the glorious full 'stache of a proud Mo Bro. It's all to help raise awareness of men's health issues, especially prostate cancer and depression. Men have traditionally been reluctant to look after their health, and that's a big contributor to their lower life expectancy, so it's an important issue.

I know what you're thinking: "I want to be part of Movember, but I've never had a moustache before! What do I do?!"

Fear not! Luckily, popular culture provides us with many valuable moustache role models. The gentlemen below (and lady – let's not forget that Mo Sistas are a big part of Movember, too) have all brought great honour and glory to the 'stache. From the world of cinema:


Image © 2007 Paramount Vantage
Greatest Mo: There Will Be Blood

Day-Lewis had previously grown a grand handlebar for Gangs of New York, but his brutal oil-man 'stache for There Will Be Blood is one of the greatest of all time. Yes, he drinks our milkshake; he drinks it up. This is the perfect 'stache for your next 1890s party.

Image © 1976 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Greatest Mo: Rocky III
Honourable Mentions: Rocky, Rocky IV, Predator, Rocky II

1980s action movie moustaches don't come tougher than Carl Weathers's lip-hugger. Whether he was boxing Stallone to a standstill or helping Schwarzenegger kill an invisible alien monster, Carl Weathers's moustache remained effortlessly respectable. Proof that a moustache can look classy even when you're not wearing a shirt.

Image © 1977 Universal Pictures
Greatest Mo: Smokey & The Bandit

Reynolds's acting is probably at its best in Boogie Nights, but his moustache was at its best during his 1970s–80s heyday – when Reynolds built an entire career out of driving fast cars, dropping cool one-liners and grinning seductively. He also lent his voice to a dog named Charlie B. Barkin in All Dogs Go To Heaven, arguably one of the better animated kids' movies of 1989. Unfortunately for all of us, however, that film did not include an animated version of Reynolds's moustache.

Image © 2002 Miramax
Greatest Mo: Frida

Hayek's face-fuzz may be even more subtle than the great Frida Kahlo's real-life moustache, but it's still a proud effort. (I'm not making fun – Kahlo's visible moustache was a serious artistic statement, famously represented in her many self-portraits, okay?) If nothing else, I think it's good to know that the potential for a great moustache lies within (almost) all of us – women included.

Are you inspired yet? Check out the official Movember website. And those of you who lack moustacheability can still support Movember – if you like, you may even enjoy a variety of crafty facial hair replicas. Everyone else – stop shaving!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Week: Scariest Music of All Time

If you're planning a Halloween party, there's no shortage of scary movies to watch – it's pretty easy to find at least 10 horror movies with the word "Halloween" in the actual title of the movie – but finding scary music is tricky. What kind of music could possibly be as scary as a horror movie?

It's Not What It Looks Like
Ever since Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper hit it big in the 1970s, there have been hundreds of metal, goth and emo bands willing to dress up in "scary" costumes to look like they're part of the scene. You know, the traditional "scary metal" look: wild hair, everything in black, chains . . . how could it not be scary?

'Ozzy on tour in Japan' by Jennifer, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 - follow link for details.
Ozzy Osbourne, Godfather of Scary Metal.
Forty years later, this sort of look just isn't scary at all, anymore – and neither is the music. In the 1970s, church groups were terrified about the "satanic powers" of bands like KISS – but these days, who's afraid of a little hard rock?

There's only one "scary"-looking band that might be worth a fright, and that's The Horrors. Although they're a pretty obvious choice – look at their name! – they're also one of the better British bands of the past few years, and their last couple of albums were great fun. But either way, they're probably not exactly horrifying . . . so who is?

I'm here to help. Give these tunes a whirl:

Come To Daddy — Aphex Twin
The music is very, very unsettling, but the real kicker is the video – directed by the great Chris Cunningham, and widely regarded as one of the scariest music videos of all time. Be warned: if you come across this one on Rage at 3am, you may have trouble sleeping afterwards.

'97 Bonnie & Clyde — Eminem, Tori Amos
The original Eminem version, with its disturbing lyrics and "googoo-gaga" toddler noises (sampled from his own baby daughter!), is creepy enough. But Tori Amos's interpretation – from her covers album, Strange Little Girls – is really frightening. While Eminem's skittish rant sounds like a sarcastic slasher film, Amos's intimate whispers create an In Cold Blood–style true-crime horror. Seriously, be warned: this song is not for the faint of heart. (Or the easily offended.)

And from the same Tori Amos album, her almost-unrecognisable cover of Slayer's death metal epic "Raining Blood" is pretty interesting, too . . .

So if you look around, there are plenty of scary songs in unexpected places. But if you want to hear something really scary, there's one musician who stands above the rest:

Why Does His Voice Sound Like That? BECAUSE HE EATS YOUR BONES
'Tom Waits' by Theplatypus, public domain image - follow link for details.
That's right – Tom Waits. He began his career as bluesy, Bukowski-esque balladeer, but with 1983's Swordfishtrombones his music took a turn for the seriously bizarre. Haunted 1880s gypsy accordions, skeleton-rib xylophones, electric guitars tuned to breaking point, some instruments so obscure that they may not actually exist – from one song to the next, Waits's music ticks every box marked "creepy" and several marked "awesome".

The most intense and terrifying instrument of all is his voice, which often sounds like he's been gargling battery acid. But his vocals are surprisingly versatile; one moment he's genuinely tender and forlorn, and the next he's crawling inside your ears to eat your brain. If you want to hear a sound that will make you fear for your life, Tom Waits's voice is a great start.

What's the scariest music you know?
Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 19, 2009

(Not) The Last Post

My favourite quote (out of everything I've read on the web today):

Comma. You never want one of these anywhere near you [. . .] Every time you add a comma to the description of what you do, you suck a little bit more [. . .] Commas are for unfocused hacks.

The quote isn't quite so awesome in context – it's from an article about marketing, *ho-hum* – but what a line, huh? I dare you all to yell, "Commas are for unfocused hacks!" at a professional writer or editor, as soon as possible. Preferably during a job interview.

I've been trying to think about what I should write about that would be fitting, now that my uni course (the one that's been about blogging) is almost over . . .

First, some trivia:
The most expensive word on Google is mesothelioma. If you want to buy a Google Ad that appears on searches for "mesothelioma", it'll cost you US$99.44 per click.
Secondly, Twitter:
It's a good and useful thing. Probably. I blogged about Twitter a while ago, but just yesterday I came across a really neat article about some ways that it might be worth your while. If you're curious about Twitter but still unsure (or if you're on Twitter already, but you have no idea what to do with it), try reading this.

Thirdly . . .
I like words. I like people. Blogging seems like a good compromise.

People often talk about the "dehumanising" effects of technology, but I don't really buy into that. I think the whole memesphere of the web is powered by people communicating with other people: it all feeds off the kick we get from exercising our empathy, from recognising differences and commonalities between ourselves and others. Jokes, stories, ideas. It's all good. (Mostly.)

Anyhow, I think it's something that we should feel good about. Sometimes people are awesome, and sometimes it's too easy to forget that.

(I think I read somewhere that happiness is "seven successful human interactions per day." I like that; it sounds achievable . . .)

Blogging is fun and satisfying in a very unique way, I think. If you keep writing, I'll keep reading, I promise.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Email: Obsolete?

By now we're all familiar with the imminent death of newspapers, the imminent death of CDs, the imminent death of television, etc. But the other day I came across an idea that I'd never considered: the imminent death of email. That got my attention.

Email went mainstream only fifteen years ago, but it's now an essential part of daily life; to imagine it being completely replaced (already?!) is bizarre. But this article has almost convinced me that email's days really are numbered; the writer has some interesting arguments, at least . . .

To begin with, email is apparently too slow for the modern internet, because it's not instantaneous. Email is stuck in the 1990s – deep down, it's still expecting you to be on dialup:
. . . email was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet—logging on and off, checking our messages in bursts. Now, we are always connected . . .
And that's why, according to the article, email is steadily being superseded by various kinds of instant messaging and chat (not to mention Twitter and Facebook). The last time you wanted to tell somebody something over the internet, did you actually use your email? Or did you just update your Facebook status?

The other big problem is email's lack of finesse. We're all dealing with more information than we actually have time to read, so we need good ways to classify and sort everything – #hashtags and meta-data, blog labels, threads. Email doesn't really allow for that. Also, we now have various personal profiles associated with our presence on the net – extra information and context about ourselves, which is a kind of "passive" communication – and email doesn't really allow for that, either.

This is why, for example, Google are setting up their Wave: a new system that's supposed to combine the functionalities of email, instant messages, social networking and collaborative documents (a.k.a. wikis) into one supreme package. When I first heard about the Google Wave I was sceptical (and also slightly . . . concerned), but the more I think about it, the more useful (and plausible) it all seems.

Is this really going to happen? Will email be completely abandoned within our lifetimes? Is it going to matter, either way?

Also: should we be worried that Google knows everything about us and is building artificially intelligent supercomputers?

Image © 2002, C2 and its related entities. Via Google Image Search ;)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rage Roundup (ish)

Not much Rage on this blog, lately? Yeah, I know. Here's a couple of tunes to tide you over.

Liam Finn has produced some impressive music lately. His band Betchadupa (currently "on hiatus") never made a huge impact, but I'll Be Lightning (2007) – Liam's melancholy solo album – was a more substantial success. Now that his musical partnership with Eliza-Jane Barnes (daughter of Jimmy Barnes) has moved to equal-billing status, there's a new enthusiasm to the music that's seriously punchy.

Both Finn and Barnes are multi-instrumentalists, and it's clear they have a passion for unusual musical arrangements. To construct this tune they've surrounded a glam bass riff with 1960s psych organ, 1970s synth bleeps and modern drums. It's an odd blend, and the central riff is very simple – you might even say, "old-fashioned" – but the arrangement overall is crafty and energetic. The guitar solo buzzes and twists like a drunk wasp, the organ chords generate great texture and tension (especially in the bridge – check out the way the organ plays against the background vocal harmonies), and the "sshhhpp!" percussion effects remind you to dance. It's great stuff.

The video shows Finn and Barnes flashing rapidly in and out of existence on their various instruments in the recording studio, showing off their simultaneous multi-instrumentalism. It's an interesting visual effect, but it's probably more uncomfortable to watch than it should be – the flashes are so rapid, it's surprising the video doesn't come with an epilepsy warning. Enjoy!

Lots of songs begin with only piano and voice; it's an elegant combination that flatters a nice voice, so singers tend to enjoy it. Jessica Says's new single starts with only piano and voice, but then it does something unusual: it refuses to add a single extra instrument as it goes along. (Listen carefully and you might notice occasional background vocals from New Buffalo's Sally Seltmann, but that's it.) One instrument, no overdubs – as far as pop ballads go, that sort of approach is practically punk! Luckily, the vocals are strong enough for the song to work well with piano alone, and it creates a wonderfully pure and clear, "live" sound.

It's tempting to compare Jessica Says (a.k.a. Jessica Venables) to Kate Bush – they share a similar songwriting taste for sweet-and-sour melodies, and there's even a vocal resemblance – but it'd be unfair to mark this as any kind of rip-off. Venables possesses a unique edge of her own, and this is simply a great song; the musical craft and spirit on show are undeniable.

The video is interesting, too. It looks like a homage to 1960s European art films (dubious sexual politics included); production-wise it's obviously cheap, but it's adequate. A song this good really deserves something better, but Jessica Says will hopefully be successful enough to demand a bigger music video budget next time. Looking forward to it!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

2009 ARIA Awards: Nominees!

As shiny as the Oscars, as confusing as the Grammys, as lucrative as the Nobels? No, the ARIA Music Awards are something else – Australia's own. And the 2009 nominees have been announced!

However, I have some questions:

1. How can there be "nominees" for the "Highest Selling Australian Single/Album"?
This has always confused me. Shouldn't winning this award be about statistics, not nominations? It generates competitive interest and publicity, I know – but surely anyone could figure out the winners right now, just by looking at the sales figures?

(Moral of this story: music journalists cannot be bothered to look through sales figures.)

2. What does "Adult Contemporary" mean?
Nominees this year include Bob Evans, Josh Pyke, Little Birdy and Paul Dempsey – all indie mainstays, each one loved and supported by youth radio stations (especially Triple J). So has "Adult Contemporary" become a replacement for the abandoned "Alternative" category? The teenagers of the 1990s "alternative music" boom are getting into their thirties now, so maybe the ARIAs are growing up, too. (Either that, or Triple J is actually a station for contemporary adults. Hmm . . .)

3. How come 2009 includes AC/DC's first ever ARIA nomination, and not their 50th?
Because the ARIAs only began in 1987. And let's face it, AC/DC have released only two albums since 1987 that are arguably better than "adequate": Black Ice (this year's nominee) and The Razors Edge (1990). Razors Edge does include "Thunderstruck", one of their best hits, but it was disqualified due to the lack of apostrophe in the word "Razor(')s". You can't rock out without appropriate punctuation, and I commend the Australian Recording Industry Association for their strong and principled stance on this issue.

4. Do the ARIA nominations violate their own guidelines?
This year, C. W. Stoneking was nominated for "Breakthrough Artist – Album", despite being ineligible (because his previous album was nominated for a 2007 ARIA). He's since been stripped of this nomination – but he's still nominated for "Best Male Artist", "Best Independent Release" and "Best Blues and Roots Album", so he's doing all right.

Another odd nomination is Ladyhawke (Pip Brown), who's nominated in 6 categories despite being a New Zealander. (Not that we aren't happy to claim her as an honorary Aussie, of course.) ARIA fine print indicates that artists are eligible if they've lived in Australia for more than six months and applied for permanent residency, which may or may not be the case – I'll keep you posted . . .

5. How many nominees have an exclamation mark in their song or album title?
Answer: At least four!!!!

It's good to see a strong field this year – I don't think there are any "what the?!" nominees making up the numbers. Award ceremonies are often controversial (one way or another), but their real purpose is to celebrate the industry and create publicity for deserving nominees. On that count, the 2009 ARIAs are already a success.

What do you think about giving awards for high sales, "Adult Contemporary", AC/DC or Ladyhawke's fair dinkum kiwi-ness?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beware! - The Ghost Fleet of Singapore!!

The most evocative and exciting news story I've read for ages:

"The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. Never before photographed, it is bigger than the U.S. and British navies combined but has no crew, no cargo and no destination ..."

Isn't that a spectacular introduction? Great article, too – check it out. If you haven't already.

Some day soon I'll blog something that's more than just a link to something else . . . but on the other hand, right now I'm on a break, so some day soon isn't tomorrow. Also, it looks like I'm writing a script for an actual movie, did I tell you that? Busy times, my friends! Busy times!

I did tell you about the script thing via Twitter, but I haven't actually told you that I am a twit before now (because, look, all this tweeting is still just an experiment, and it still leaves me feeling kind of . . . dirty . . . ), so, um, anyhow. There you go. Whatevs. Vive la communique ;)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mondays Can Be Disturbing

But not today! Check it out: have you ever seen an image more charming, more sweet, more heartwarming?

Aww yeah!
It's the wand that really makes it, I think.

I found it here, but it's originally from here – an odd site called TeeFury. Yeah, tons of sites sell novelty tee-shirts, but this TeeFury place is unique in that it puts each shirt on sale for one day only! By the time I discovered the Unicornasaurus, I was already too late . . .  :(

Heck of a hook to grab regular traffic & impulsive sales, huh?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Is Out Of Context

Gosh, you know what's lovely? Flowers. Flowers are lovely. Everyone loves flowers.

Wouldn't it be great if we could tell a heartwarming children's tale about flowers? And we could give them all names!
And faces.

Oh god their eyes, what have we done? HOLY NO WHAT HAVE WE DONE


oh sweet william, please stop. please stop

It's all the fault of T. Benjamin Faucett, but I found it here.
Childhood was harsh in 1924.

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: An anthropomorphism is not sneezing pollen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something That Grabs Your Attention

An interesting, unusual statement. An elaboration, less unusual but possibly amusing. A longer sentence, a clarification; and a hook to keep you reading.

A clearer statement of what I'm actually talking about. A piece of information relating to this. However, a modification of this information; a complication. A subtle contradiction.

A less formal sentence, framing a more personal context. Consequences of a possibility. A modest disavowal of judgment. A more contentious statement or dubious piece of information, presented as an uncertain possibility.

Gesture towards a summary. A more definitive statement. Hint of personal opinion. Something intended to inspire you to leave a comment.

Pithy conclusion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Tact Tract

Human relationships can be difficult. Here, Marvex The Super Robot has trouble responding to a compliment.

What might be a more appropriate, tactful response?
A. Thank you, Clara. You are the most wonderful man I know.
B. I reject your statement. You are incorrect.
C. *wistful smile*
D. I like your hair. I like your hair.
E. [other]
(Discuss with colleagues.)

• • • • •

Appropriate behaviour is, in fact, quite simple. When responding to compliments, you should always stare deep into the closest eyes and think of the Three Eees:


And always remember: Tact, Tact, Tact. It's just that simple.

--the Tactful Thoapsl
(is having an odd day today)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rage Roundup @ August 2009

Winter rolls to its bitter close. (Okay, not that bitter. I had an okay time.) And it brings a swag of indie prog rock to listen to, oddly enough; I wasn't expecting that. Thanks again for all your lovely music videos, Rage!

I should point out, there's nothing here that really feels like 1970s-type prog rock; there's no definitive '70s stylings, no genuine '70s modes. And maybe these '00s tunes here, unlike '70s prog, aren't really trying to be 'experimental' or 'progressive'? They're just trying to be musical and interesting, I think. And besides that they're all too modest, too self-aware, too Gen Y. That's not prog! So. 'Prog-ish', let's say; or just, 'progressive'?
Aw heck, who cares. It's a vague word for a fuzzy genre, anyhow. Bring it on.

(You know what's awesome, by the way? This is awesome. Yes. Shut up.)

Quick, watch it before Sony notices! 'Embedding disabled by request', oh Sony you ridiculous fools, you . . .

These folks are Danish, apparently. That's nice. Anyhow, they've made a seriously beautiful video. The photography is gorgeously cool; the visuals are superb. Also, the subject matter: creepy floating alien laser cubes in a forest? Lovely! It's striking and evocative, and all the better for being unexplained.

More than the video, what really makes this worthwhile is the music. I'm always pleased when a song is not only (musically) unusual and interesting, but also clever enough to maintain a decent sense of dynamics. Far too many 'artsy' or 'intelligent' bands regress by default into dull, meandering mush, but not here. Listen to the spark in those rhythms, the barbed wire in the guitar! It's indie and intellectual but it's never boring, and it never collapses into wimp-rock. Fine, intriguing stuff.

Look, it's the unexpectedly epic new single from the Hungry Kids of Hungary (of Brisbane). Their earlier indieguitarpop singles had shown good songwriting chops (though, never quite good enough for me to include them in a Rage Roundup before;), but this is something else: they've taken an unexpected turn into Wings-ish, almost Queen-ish piano balladry. The hook at the tune's heart provokes an unusual song structure to hold things in place, but as a whole it actually works quite well. Solid piano chords and falsetto harmonies ride over a broken-leg momentum (almost Hey Jude–like) that's a real kick. It's familiar, but not overtly nostalgic; and it's never too familiar (occasional McCartneyisms notwithstanding). Addictive stuff, and it improves with multiple listens. I like it.

Also, note: bow ties. Totally a fashion again. Huh.
(With that in mind: if anything, the video is maybe a bit too mocking & cheap-jokey for its own good; the melody is strong enough that they could easily play the emotions straight and get away with it. It's the type of strong, catchy song that could honestly be a real crossover hit if given a bit of airplay, I think.)

I liked Blitzen Trapper's 2007 album, but despite several moments of brilliance it was honestly a little uneven . . . and worst of all, the production had this terrible, terribly modern-style mix that almost ruined it. The kind of mix where all the levels are balanced too high, so it sounds punchy and loud on a car radio but there's no clarity or depth. A mix like that is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it was bad news for Blitzen Trapper; they tend to have a lot of subtlety in their arrangements, an unusual folk-rock vs electronica sound, and it's the kind of thing that needs precision and clarity to sound its best, I think. So although I've been curious, I've so far resisted getting their follow-up album, Furr. However: based on this single, I might have to stop resisting. This here music is A+.

The song is a bluesy ballad with a country-folk arrangement, which would be nice enough in itself, except, except – oh, it's much better than that. Listen! The fierce bursts of electric guitar punctuating the verse's turnaround chords – the tense musical restraint and laidback vocal, screaming to explode, that never does – the synth melody like a violin 21C, like an antique UFO – the spiralling chord progressions – the snare rippling its frustration – brilliant! Even the little turns of phrase in the lyrics, simple but smart: the best kind of balladry. And check out the excellent video, which perfectly matches the musical mood via clever effects editing and inventive, creepy imagery. (Not to mention the washed-out and dreamlike exposure of the film itself, which creates a great visual punchline when we get to the 'black river' of the finale.) There's also a great sense of menace implied by never showing the protagonist's face: it's simple, but very effective. Splendid.

And to top it all off, even the mix sounds pretty alright. Maybe I should go buy the whole album after all.

That was August. I'm tempted to include Calvin Harris's Ready For The Weekend as a Bonus (!) – that lad sure knows how to produce an effectively excellent pop song, alright – but you've probably heard that one already. Instead, how about some new-school old-school punk? Check out Hungry And Tired, by The Riot. That's pretty stupidly generic band name, but they are from Brisbane. It's also a pretty stupidly generic punk song, to be honest, but gosh I really do like the particular way that the singer sings 'I was hungry, and I was tired . . .' – what can I say? I enjoyed it.

Also, please pay attention to Golden Silvers and The Mint Chicks. Whole bunch of good things released by them, lately . . .

Gosh gosh gosh gosh! Musicamusicamusics!
Awesome. I reckon this must be the time for me to stop typing.

Until next time . . .
--the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, August 28, 2009


This isn't a post about "Anonymous", the 4chan meme (although that is a fascinating story, so maybe I'll have to do that some other time)*. I want to write something now about being anonymous. I've been thinking about blog anonymity a lot lately, but I'm still really uncertain about it. Maybe writing will help me make up my mind. Maybe you can help me out in the comments.

First: I started a blog a while ago. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with it, but I thought it would be good opportunity (and excuse) to force myself to practise different ways of writing. Which is what it's actually been, more or less, I think. I posted as "Thoapsl" because in my mind, that stood for "think of a pseudonym later". (Yeah, I know, I know...)

BUT. As of Wednesday, I'm no longer anonymous: my blog now carries my actual name. So? Even before, it was possible for people to figure out my identity if they tried hard enough. But I'd always had a vague paranoia that without anonymity, I was more vulnerable; that I couldn't post anything without fear of it haunting me irl. Anonymity meant the freedom to relax.

That's what I thought my motivation was. But in fact I've always cared about what I post, anyway, whether anonymous or not. Thoapsl's reputation isn't my reputation, but it's a reputation that I care about. I've even gone out of my way not to swear online, mostly, despite the fact that my natural inclination is to swear like a m*therf*ck**g c**tf*xed tro**er.

So if it's not really about freedom, what's my real paranoia? Am I maybe worried about potential employers not hiring me, because of something on my blog that they don't like?

I know I'm definitely conflicted about angling for employment via my blog. I want my personal blogging to be for fun and random – I don't want to feel constrained by purpose. I definitely don't want to seem mercenary. But if someone actually emailed me tomorrow and said "Hey Tim, I read your blog and I would like to give you money for something" – that would be great, wouldn't it? And if there's nothing on my blog that would actually lose me a job – at least, any job worth having – then what's the worst that could happen?

Maybe I've talked myself into it. Maybe I'm still unsure. Either way I probably need to work on my blogger profile some more. (Maybe I'm just embarrassed that I don't have a real "occupation" to fill in on my profile, yet.)

Is anonymity worth it? Do you care about it, yourself? Would you (or do you?) blog anonymously, or under your real name? Best answer wins a prize.

anonymous cat
*Hey, wait a minute! I just noticed, I am totally jumping on the mentioning-4chan-but-then-not-actually-talking-about-it-although-still-leaving-open-the-possibility-of-talking-about-it-later bandwagon. What a weird coincidence. Hat-tip to Carla!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mondays Can Be Disturbing

Um… do I have to?
Gosh I'm pretty sure I'd rather not, actually


Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm Like A Bird

I've resisted joining Twitter for a long time because, you know, Twitter? Only journalists, nerds and stupid celebrities (and their stalkers) use Twitter, everybody knows that! It's just a wank, right? Worse than blogging, even. Forget about it.

That would probably be a dumb and unfair exaggeration, but that doesn't mean it's not a common reaction. It seems that because Twitter has gone from what? to it's everywhere! with such speed, a lot of people I know already feel that it's just not cool anymore. Of course back when it was cool, hardly anyone was using it, so there was little point in signing up. But now that it's been aggressively colonised by mainstream celebrities, it's just tragically unhip.

It's the same thing that happened to Facebook after your mum and dad joined. The difference is that Facebook, unlike Twitter, enjoyed a good year or so (i.e. 2007) dominated by twentysomethings – the parents and bosses didn't make it over until more recently.

If you were born in the 1980s, you and your friends joined Facebook around 2007–08, right? That was the crucial year-without-parents that entrenched Facebook's social essentiality. And even if you've now changed your mind, even if you now openly despise Facebook, now it's too late! Because if you quit tomorrow, how will you get invited to parties? How will you flirt? How will you play Scrabble? Facebook today is like a mobile phone: it's so culturally pervasive that it's more of a hassle to avoid than it is to play along.

Twitter hasn't had Facebook's luxury of incubated hipster coolness. It has had a huge amount of press coverage and good buzz, but I have a weird suspicion that this might be due to two unusual factors:

1. Twitter is excellent for journalists. It's a 21st-century evolution of the wire service, perfect for concise bulletins and constant updates. And if a whole bunch of journalists are suddenly using a new technology, it makes sense they're going to be interested enough to write a whole bunch of articles about it – even if these journalists are actually an unusual minority, compared to everyone else.*

Of course, I could well be wrong about this. I live in a social bubble of my own. Most people I know don't really dig Twitter, but "most people I know" is not a meaningful demographic – everything I've said here could easily be way off. And yet, recent data indicates that I might be right: it turns out that most Twitter users are older professionals, while twentysomethings are definitely in the minority. But is this the way Twitter is going to stay, or will the demographic suddenly broaden after it passes the tipping point (as recently happened with Facebook)? And so what if it does, and so what if it doesn't?

Anyhow. My point: I joined Twitter this afternoon. Why?
Because yesterday, my housemate joined. Which meant that I suddenly had a total of two close friends on Twitter. If that's all it takes to convince me to join, maybe Twitter really is the future. I honestly don't know.

Answer me, people: is Twitter cool?

And, either way: so what?

*This is only a hypothesis, unfortunately: I've been able to find some data on Twitter demographics, but nothing that talks quantitatively about journalists. So this hunch of mine may be, in fact, complete crap.