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Archive for the ‘Stephen Baker’ 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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