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Archive for the ‘Adam Gopnik’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. (2000).  

When this disc came out it was greeted with rounds of praise.  And it’s easy to see why.  It’s a mature album and it seems very New York City (or, perhaps, more specifically, it seems very Patti Smith–“Good Fortune” practically has Smith singing–I mean the way she says “Little Italy” could have been sampled from Smith).

And after the somewhat wispy Is This Desire and the stopgap Dance Hall at Louse Point, it was great to hear PJ back in full swing. These songs are stripped down (but not raw like her early albums) and most of them pack a punch.  And I just read this quite from PJ  in Q Magazine:

I want this album to sing and fly and be full of reverb and lush layers of melody. I want it to be my beautiful, sumptuous, lovely piece of work.

And it is.  It’s very commercially successful. And it was commercially successful without compromising herself.

“Big Exit” and “Good Fortune” are wonderful rockers, catchy without being predictable.  “A Place Called Home” continues in this vein, with a somewhat slower, moodier piece.  It also exhibits some of her higher register (in the bridge), but for the most part she sings in the deep voice she’s been known for (Uh Huh Her came next, and then she switched over to the higher pitch on White Chalk).

“One Line” even made it on the Gilmore Girls (paragons of good musical taste).

“Beautiful Feeling” is a slow brooding number.  Typically, I find that I don’t like these songs from PJ, but this one is fantastic.  It’s followed by the noisy “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore” which is very dark lyrically.

Midway through the disc, we get a surprise Thom York from Radiohead sings the lead vocals on “This Mess We’re In” (PJ does backing vocals) and it shows that Yorke sounds great doing anything.  It’s a great song.  “You Said Something” is the first real upbeat moment on the disc, with some nice acoustic guitars.  And it’s followed by the absolutely rocker, “Kamikaze” which harkens to some of the noisier aspects from her earlier records (especially her screaming vocals).

The back half of many PJ albums seem to lose momentum, but not this one: “This is Love” is another great single, catchy with some simple but cool sounding guitars.

“Horses in My Dreams” is one of long (5 minute), slow numbers.  It is a kind of languid piece, which I admit I don’t like all that much.  (I find that PJ’s slow pieces aren’t dynamic enough).  But the album closer “We Float” (at 6 minutes, I think the longest track she’s done) is the kind of moody piece that Harvey does right.  There’s some simple drums and piano that comprise the verses, but when she gets to the chorus, the song perks up with her gorgeous singing “We Float.”

Confusingly, the whole album seems like it is more from the “City” than the “Sea” (“We Float” being the exception), but that’s okay.  It’s a wonderful album and the start of another great decade for PJ.

[READ: late March 2011] discussing The Turing Test

Occasionally things converge in my reading life. And sometimes things converge rapidly.  I had just read an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker that discussed machines becoming (or surpassing) humans.  The timing of this coincides somewhat with the appearance of Watson on Jeopardy! so it’s not entirely surprising to see it.  Watson proved to be very good on Jeopardy!, but that seems mostly because it can buzz in more quickly.  The real test for a computer’s “humanity” is what has been termed “The Turing Test.”

Gopnik’s summary of the Turing Test:

If a program could consistently counterfeit human language in an ongoing exchange, then, many theorists have argued, the threshold of language would have been crossed, and there would be no need for more games to conquer. This is the famous “Turing test,” named for Alan Turing.

The next night I read a story by Ryan Boudinot (in The Littlest Hitler).  The story is not current at all, and yet he also mentions the Turing test.

The third article is another book review.  The subtitle is “What will happen when computers become smarter than people?”  Again, given everything that’s happening in the world technology-wise, it’s not a total surprise, and yet the items are all quite different and it was interesting to read them all so close together. (more…)

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ny1It took me going to Seattle to learn about The New Yorker magazine.  I was visiting my friend Rob and he was really surprised that I didn’t read the magazine all the time (my reading always seems to surprise people, see The Believer.)

Upon my first read of the magazine, I was surprised to see that the first twenty pages or so are taken up with upcoming shows: films, concerts, sports, everything.  I actually wondered how much content would be left after all that small print.

Since then I have learned that Sasha Frere-Jones writes columns in here quite ofuiten.  For reasons known only to my head, I was convinced that Sasha was a black woman.  Little did I realize that he is not.  And that he was in a band that I have a CD of called Ui.  He is an excellent resource for all things music, whether I like the artist he’s talking about or not.  Some entries are here.  This audio entry about Auto-Tune is simply fantastic.

But of course, there’s a lot of content.  And the first thing you get are letters.  I don’t think I have EVER looked at the letters section. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WRXP, 101.9 FM, New York City (45 days later).

The past two weeks I have been listening to this station more because I have been doing work in the garage (building a chicken coop).  Without going into my neurotic music listening, I’ll just say that I listen to the radio rather than CDs when I do noisy work.  And so, WRXP.

I haven’t listened that much since my last post, but the most dramatic difference to me is that they seem to have real commercials now.  Wal-Mart seemed to be advertised a lot, and there were one or two other name brand items (with effective ads obviously).  They still have all of those weird ads for services rather than products (in fact if you need full term life insurance, just listen in for 20 minutes and you’ll hear that one).  But I guess they must be doing well if the real companies are showing up.

They still play way too many commercials.  But heck, that’s commercial radio for you.

They also seem to rely a lot on a few bands that surprise me: Dave Matthews in particular.  I’m not a big fan of his, so I’m surprised to hear him so much; however, overall I think their selection is quite good.  They seem to be off Pink Floyd and on to Zeppelin now, which, frankly would be a neat idea for this station: pick a classic rock artist that you will overplay for a week, and then move on.   What a cool thing: you could do all kinds of back catalog stuff, and less popular songs and then, just as people got sick of them, switch to someone else, and repeat.  Genius!

Anyhow, the other thing I wanted to mention is that the only person with any credibility to ever be on MTV, Matt Pinfield, is a morning DJ on the station.  He and his co-jock do a bit too much DJ banter for my liking, but mostly he’s just a dude who loves music and will tell you more or less fascinating stories about whoever he’s going to play, and then play good stuff.  I heard a fun interview with Supergrass the other morning, which was good.  Pinfield also knows his music enough to ask good questions and still be fun.

Hilariously, he also committed the hilarious gaffe that I used to commit in high school: pronouncing the Police album: “Outlandos DE Amoor” rather than the more accurate Outlandos Damoor (surely he must know that by NOW).  (Like pronouncing the Plasmatics album COOP DE AY-TAT, rather then Coo DAY TAH (I’m guilty of that too).  And, I found out that he grew up in East Brunswick, NJ, merely a few miles from where I now work.  So, Matt, if you ever used the North Brunswick Library, well, you should come back and see how nice we look now.

[READ: August 13, 2008] “The Real Work”

This piece was recommended by two people who commented on my post about Alex Stone in Harper‘s Magazine. They both said that this was a far better, far more appreciative article about magic.  And they were right.  I won’t really compare it to Stone’s except to say that Stone’s piece (whatever his credibility may be) was designed as a suspenseful tale following the events and the winner of “The Magic Olympics.” He also gave away some secrets to some of the tricks he did and saw there.

Gopnik’s piece is more of a loving appreciation for magicians and their work. (more…)

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