Archive for the ‘Narwhal’ Category

extremeSOUNDTRACK: QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-…Like Clockwork (2013).

qotsa I have loved the earlier QOTSA albums, but I just couldn’t get into this one when it came out.  Perhaps it was too…subtle?  I put it aside, heard everyone rave about it and kind of forgot about it.  Well, I recently rediscovered it and now I get it.  It is just as good and complex as everyone said–I think I was just missing the subtleties, yes.

It’s still very QOTSA–Josh Homme is Josh Homme after all, but there are added elements–pianos, strings (!) and slower sections that add depth and bring really interesting sonic textures to their sound that make this album far more complex but no less sleazy fun.

The roaring sounds that are the guitars of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” (accompanied by that bottom heavy bass are just fantastic.  “I Sat By the Ocean” has a chorus that goes from good to great when it builds to a second set of chords–it’s really irresistible.  I recall being surprised by the ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Okay not a ballad exactly but a piano intro that turns into a classic rocker (complete with lengthy guitar solo).

“If I Had a Tail” is a wonderfully sleazy track with a great riff and a great sound.  It’s also got some of the more unusual lyrics I’ve heard–“If I had a tail, I’d own the place.  If I had a tail I’d swat the flies.”  It’s followed by “My God is the Sun” another great riff-based song where Homme’s falsetto is just another catchy element of the song.  It also has another great chorus (why didn’t I like this album last year?).

“Kalopsia” slows the disc down quite a lot–it’s a pretty, gentle song.  Until you get used to it being a mellow song and then it turns into a real rocker (and back again).  “Fairweather Friends” has another great riff and a funny ending with Homme cutting off his chorus and saying “I don’t give a shit about them anyway.”  “Smooth Sailing” reintroduces that sleazy falsetto.  It has a (another) great chorus and an amazing guitar riff that is slowly manipulated into sounding really alien.  It’s very cool.

Most of the songs are pretty standard length, but the final two songs really stretch out.  “I Appear Missing” pushes 6 minutes and has some slower elements, and a great guitar section that connects them all.  The five and a half-minute “Like Clockwork” also starts with a lengthy piano intro and then morphs into another classic rock soloing type song.

It’s one of the best albums of 2013 that I didn’t realize until 2014.  I do wish they lyrics sheet was included as I’m not really sure what he’s saying half the time, and I’m not sure if my guesses make any more or less sense than the actual words.

[READ: September 2014] The Extreme Life of the Sea

I saw this book when I took a tour of the Princeton University Press building.  I loved the cover and thought it seemed like a really interesting topic.  I was later pretty delighted to see it on display in my local library, where I grabbed this copy.

The book is small, but I was a little daunted by the tiny print size (old age or laziness?).  Nevertheless, I was quite interested in the subject, so I pressed on.

Interestingly, a lot of the information that I read in the book, my nine-year old son also knew about–he loves this kind of scary undersea information.  The difference here is that the Palumbis (a father and son team–Stephen is a Professor of Biology, Anthony is a science writer and novelist) write for adults and include a lot of the scientific information to support and explain all the stuff that my son knows–although he knew a surprising amount of detail as well.

And the writing was really enjoyable too.  Anthony knows how to tell a story.  The Prologue itself–about the battle between sperm whale and giant squid–is quite compellingly told.  And whenever an actual creature is involved–he engages us with the creature’s life cycle. (more…)

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gulpSOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-Elysium (2012).

220px-PSB_ElysiumPet Shop Boys are known for big dancey singles.  And so perhaps it’s something of a surprise to get this album which is pretty but certainly low key.   It’s not like they haven’t written low key songs before, but there’s very little to get up and sing about here.

Which is not to say the album is bad.  It’s actually very good once you accept the lack of big songs.

Of course, having said that, there are one or two anthemic tracks, but the album overall is more introspective (unlike their album Introspective).  The title, Elysium refers to the afterlife where those chosen by the gods would live a happy (after)life, indulging in whatever they had enjoyed in life.  Yes, mortality is on Tennant’s mind.

“Leaving” opens the disc with a great chorus, which leads to this somber opening verse: “Our love is dead but the dead don’t go away.”  And that certainly sets the tone–nice synth rock, but nothing to loud and frenetic.  “Invisible” is a similarly low key song.   This is one of their quiet ballads, with just touches of synth melody: “I’m here but you can’t see me, I’m invisible.”  It’s a definite downer of a song but it’s very pretty.

Of course all that I said about mellow low key albums is belied by the third track: “Winner.”  This was written in time for the 2012 Olympics in London and it is very much an anthem about, well, winning.  It’s kind of obvious (although lyrically it is more in depth than many similar songs), but the melody is just simple and uplifting–(just what you’d want for Olympic documentaries).

“Your Early Stuff” is a much darker song–it is a song written to a “washed up” performer: “you’ve been around but you don’t look too rough and I still quite like some of your early stuff.”  It’s funny but also tender.  “A Face Like That” is the closest thing to a dance single on the album–it’s fast and synthy and the vocals are echoed and repeated.  But even the verses are more low-key than you might expect from the chorus.  “Breathing Space” is another pretty ballad.

“Ego Music” is another faster song, with a very funny premise: “ego music–it’s all about me.”  It’s a slight song but good for a laugh.

“Hold On” also aspires to anthemicness, but it is slower than a typical PSB anthem.  It also has a synth line that is vaguely classical.  Although of all the songs, this one is lyrically the most tautological:  “Hold on, there’s got to be a future or the world will end today.”  “Give it a Go” is a slower, simpler track. Not too memorable, although the chorus is bouncy and catchy h.

“Memory of the Future” has a great synth line and Tennant’s cool accompanying vocals–it’s a classic PSB song and one of my favorites on the disc.  Although I don’t love “Everything Means Something,” the final song, “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” is a great ending–slow but very catchy and rather wry and funny.

So this album overall is certainly more, dare I say it, “mature” for the Pet Shop Boys, but they haven’t lost any lustre in songwriting.

[READ: Summer 2013] Gulp

Yes, that date is correct, I read this book over a year and a half ago.  I meant to write about it then, but I loaned it out to someone and I like to have the book nearby when I write about it.  So I put it off and put it off and now that I have the book back, I will do my best to remember whatever I can about it.

But the thing about this book is that it was so memorable, I won’t have much trouble writing about it anyhow.

Mary Roach investigates the physical properties of eating from pre-digestion through to the end.  And she does it with thorough research and a boatload of humor (sometimes gross out humor, although she warns that that is not her intent–“I want you to say, ‘I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting.’  Okay, and maybe a little gross.” (19).

She begins with the nose.  Most people know that the nose contributes tremendously to your sense of taste.  But Roach really explicates how much.  She speaks to a woman, Langstaff, who is a professional sniffer and who is currently staffing the Olive Oil taste Panel at the Olive Center.  She is training novices to be be better at tasting flavors.  But Langstaff herself for instance rarely drinks beer for pleasure even though she is an expert at tasting it.

The most amusing (or not, depending) information here is that there are people who were paid to taste cat food.  Yes.  And that humans prefer cat food with a tuna or herbal flavor over those that taste “rancid,” “offaly,” “cereal” or “burnt.”

Fortunately, the second chapter shows that it is actually dogs who test the dog food.  It turns out that dogs and cats really shouldn’t enjoy dry dog food (cats and dogs are not grain eaters by choice).  Dry dog food was created as a means of convenience for people (and as a way to stop tinning food during the war).  As for your pets, “pet foods come in a variety of flavors because that’s what we humans like, and we assume our pets like what we like.  We have that wrong.  ‘For cats especially…change is often more difficult than monotony.'” (43).  Some other pet observations: cat’s can’t taste sweet (although dogs can and rodents are slaves to it).   (more…)

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