Archive for the ‘PJ Harvey’ Category

41116 SOUNDTRACK: SERATONES-Tiny Desk Concert #522 (April 15, 2016).

seraThis Seratones show totally rocked!  And it was a nice change of pace from the slower bands who have been on the Tiny Desk lately.

The lead singer and guitarist is A.J. Haynes.  She plays guitar with a pick on her thumb and has a very clean guitar sound.  Her voice is really lovely—powerful and strong and covering multiple styles from Grace Slick to PJ Harvey.  The blurb says

Haynes grew up singing in the Brownsville Baptist Church, learning to sing out to and hit that back wall without a microphone.

And that’s apparent from the ease she has at singing.  The rest of her band is really great too.  Continuing the blurb:

bassist Adam Davis heard a lot of American rock’s greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, as well as the amazing voice of Janis Joplin. The rest of the band is rounded out by the drumming of Jesse Gabriel, who is spare but there with a sharp backbeat, while guitarist Connor Davis rocks with lyrical grit.

Although I had to laugh because Haynes seems to be having so much fun while her bandmates are rather stonefaced.

They play three songs and they are all great.  “Don’t Need It” rocks out like nobody’s business.  Haynes is a charismatic (and adorable) lead singer with a big afro and a great smile.  “Get Gone” has a much more bluesy sound.  I like the way she delivers the line: “Suns coming out like you knew it would.”  After each verse she gives a big high-pitched “ooh oooh.” And then comes back with a growly low voice.  I love that she’s alternately belting out notes and then singing falsetto.

“Chandelier” has a great funky groove.  When the song sorta stops and just the drums kick in she gives a delightful giggle.

I was really delighted with this band whom I’d never heard of before and I definitely want to check out their recently released debut album.

[READ: April 11, 2016] “The Burglar”

I enjoyed the way that this story was structured.  One paragraph at a time with a dot in between them.  This allowed for a strange juxtaposition of time, with some things happening simultaneously and others possibly out of sequence.

There are several characters in the story.  There is a the burglar (known primarily as “he”); there is the wife who is waiting for exterminators to come to the house–she’s out and hopes to get home before they do).  There is the husband, who is off at work.  His job is fascinating, he’s writing his first script for a TV pilot.  The producers of the show want it to be edgy and different.  The character he is working on (the only person named in the story) is Emmet Byron Diggs, who is falsely accused of killing his wife.  Emmet is black, but the producers don’t want him to think about that as he develops the character.

The story rotates through these characters.  We see the scriptwriter and the producers talking about the show: a time travel show in which Emmet is going to start killing people.

The burglar encounters a dog in the house and tries to figure out how to deal with it.

The wife is racing to get home.

And Emmett is also walking down a street checking out the twenty-first century world he’s in.

Okay so the burglar is in the woman’s house.  But she hears him upstairs and assumes he is the exterminator.

And then the burglar hears her and tries to figure out what he’s going to do.  He calls out, “Just the cleaning crew.”  he berates himself for saying such a weird thing and she thinks its weird that the exterminator would call himself the cleaning crew.

And that’s when the phone rings and it’s the exterminators calling to say they’ll be late.

How does this real-life scenario play out at home while her husband is trying to create a similarly fictionalized setting on the page?

The stories even began to overlap somewhat with action in both stories taking place in a kitchen.  By the end of the story it’s not entirely clear what’s even happening, at least to me.  And yet despite or because of this confusion, I really loved the story.  It was intense and strangely funny at the same time.

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olymmp SOUNDTRACK: TORRES-Tiny Desk Concert #461 (August 10, 2015).

torresI’ve really enjoyed a lot about Torres’ music this year.  Mackenzie Scott has an interesting delivery which reminds me of certain aspects of PJ Harvey, and her songs are angry but measured.

Her songs seem to have a lot of low-end in them (without being bass heavy exactly–in fact in this Tiny Desk, there is no bassist).  And her singing voice is often rather low (and sometimes growly).  There’s a moment in the first song “New Skin” in which the music drops out and then Mackenzie Scott starts playing her guitar anew and it’s a sound unlike any in the song before (even though she has been playing all along).

Guitarist Cameron Kapoor adds cool sounds to what I think is her best song, “A Proper Polish Welcome.”  Erin Manning provides wonderful harmony vocals along with keyboards on this song which is as powerful as it is understated.  The song gives me chills.

“The Harshest Light” is a slow song that has glimpses of light as she sings slightly higher notes in the chorus.  And when her voice breaks near the end, you can hear the intensity in her singing.

It’s a great three song set that only leaves you wanting more.

I had resisted getting this album, but realizing just how good these songs are might tip the tables to a purchase.

[READ: Summer 2015] Olympians 1-6

While I imagined that I might read all of the First Second books this year, I paused about mid way through (more for me next year).  But one of the last things I read from First Second was this series of outstanding mythologies about the Greek Olympians.  It also turned out that a few years back I got these books for C., not realizing they were under the First Second imprint.  I was intrigued by them then, but I’m really glad that I read them now.

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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xkcdSOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-No Regerts (2013).

regertsChastity Belt’s debut full length returns to the lineup of the first EP: Julia Shapiro (guitar, vocals), Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), and Gretchen Grimm (drums).  But it retains some of the more full sound of the second EP.  It’s a really interesting album with a lot of diverse styles that are all held together by Shaprio’s voice.

I love the complexity of “Black Sail” which has some jangling guitar and an interesting lead riff at the same time–and which exudes a more psychedelic feel.  “Seattle Party” is up next and between the two songs, they clock in at 8 and a half minutes, which is funny since the next four songs total less than that.

“James Dean” (re-recorded from that first EP) sounds better here–you can make out the lyrics better and it’s less staticky.  It really highlights their great short song writing skills.  “Healthy Punk” has a quick sound, with an almost ska-like rhythm.  “Nip Slip” is a funny song about wanting some chips and dip (with appropriate sound effects–the whispered chorus is really quite funny too).  “Full” is a rather spare song that changes things up a bit.

“Happiness” is a slow song that I don’t love, but it’s followed by the awesome “Giant (Vagina)” which takes PJ Harvey’s “Sheela na Gig” to an even more unexpected place–it’s funny and funnier.  “Pussy Weed Beer” is about well, pussy weed and beer–a fun song for one and all.  “Evil” ends the disc with a bright happy guitar sound–belying the “evilness” of the narrator.

Not every song is great, but there’s plenty to like about this weird album.  And the new single from their soon to be released album sounds even better.

[READ: February 10, 2015] xkcd volume 0

After reading Monroe’s What If? [which, in a cool, utterly intentional time bending way will be posted two days from now], I saw that he had a previous book called xkcd.  This is also the name of his website. I had passing familiarity with xkcd, but didn’t know all that much about it.  I’ve mostly been sent links to it rather than actively going there.  And it turns out it’s not that friendly of a site anyhow.  But there is a lot of funny to be had there.

xkcd is primarily a bunch of stick figure characters getting involved in a few kinds of situations: romantic (or unromantic), mathematical and sci-fiction/sci-reality issues.  Or as he sums it up:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

It helps to know that Munroe used to work for NASA (although not as like an astronaut or anything), and that he has a very scientific/mathematical brain.  So much so that a liberal arts major such as myself found many many of these comics to be waaaaay over my head.  Of course, he also has cartoons about Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, so we can’t all be smug bastards, can we?

I laughed a lot at this book, and of course I scratched my head in confusion a lot too, but that’s okay, the ratio of humor to huh was high (there’s some basic math, right?). (more…)

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eaveptotterSOUNDTRACK: ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-Nostalgia/Pain EP [CST035] (2005).

This album is considered an EP, probably because it runs about 33 minutes. And yet with 3 songs and one of them nearly 20 minutes long, it feels like a much bigger release.

The first song, “Nostalgia” is 17 minutes long and begins with three minutes of scratchy violin “warm up” sounds.  Around 3 minutes guitars start playing some simple chords which gives the violin some direction.  Around 4 minutes’ Vajagic voice comes in, throaty and raw like a wounded PJ Harvey crossed with Patti Smith.  The song doesn’t vary all that much in the 17 minutes, but it’s her voice that carries the anguish and pain of the song along.  The interesting touch of the scratching guitars on the edges gives more angst to the song.  Starting around 12 minutes, the song kind of devolves into a series of noises –clicking drums, scratching violins.  A kind of free-form exploration like the beginning was.

So although the song is 17 minutes, it’s really only about nine of actual song.  The rest is sort of an experimental jam, with the volume down quite low in comparison.

Song 2, “Pain” is 12 minutes and opens with a slow guitar melody.  But the real focus is Vajagic’s voice because the instrumentation is basically a guideline.  Until, that is, the 4 minute mark comes around, when the guitar turns electric and more powerful and EAV’s voice goes away for about 3 minutes.  The melody is simple but has a good yearning and building quality with an interesting slow guitar solo meandering around.  Around 8 minutes she begins singing again, repeating the original vocal melody but now with screaming guitars behind her–it’s quite a change and a cathartic introduction of new sounds.  The ending kind of drifts away without ever really letting go.

The final sing is only 4 minutes.  It opens with cracking sounds and a music box.  When the song proper starts there’s more quiet guitars and EAV’s voice and that’s all the song is–like a microcosm of the longer songs and somewhat more powerful for its condensed nature.   Although I do prefer the louder more angsty music she makes, this is a nice showcase for her restraint.

This is the last record that I’m aware of her releasing.

[READ: April 26, 2014] Lord Tottering: An English Gentleman

I saw this comic strip book at work and decided it was interesting looking and might be fun to read.  The title made me laugh as did the Registered Trademark “Tottering-By-Gently” and is a kind of compendium of Lord Tottering comic strips.

Never heard of Lord Tottering?  Me either, but it has been appearing weekly in the magazine Country Life since 1993 and is “phenomenally successful” according to the introduction.  Which also states that Annie Tempest is one of the top cartoonists working in the UK.  (I’ve never heard of her either, but again, that doesn’t mean much).

The cast consists of Daffy Tottering, who reflects “the problems facing women in their everyday life” (if you are rich and British, and live in “their stately home in the fictional county of North Pimmshire).  She also spends time (and I feel compelled to put all of this in here because it is an amusingly long list):

“reflecting on the intergenerational tensions and the differing perspectives of men and women, as well as dieting, ageing, gardening, fashion, food, field sports, convention and much more.” [She must be exhausted].

Her husband is Dicky.  He is basically a retired rich Englishman who hunts and fishes and goes to the kind of club that is mocked endlessly in Snuff Box.

I mock this cartoon a little bit because it is pretty mockable–wealthy aristocrats suffering white people’s problems.  Think of it almost like Cathy for Rich Britons.  And yet, despite all the mocking, I got a chuckle out of a lot of the strips, and I’m sure it brings a smile to many people. (more…)

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I learned about Le Butcherettes from their Tiny Desk Concert.  So I thought I’d check out their album.  I’ve listened to it a few times now and it’s really quite good.

While the Tiny Desk Concert showed a subtle side of Teri Gender Bender, this album rocks really hard.  All three songs from the Tiny Desk Concert rock much harder here, and are actually better in this full band context (especially “Henry Don’t Got Love”).

It has a punk feel and reminds me of a more commercial sounding Bikini Kill or other Kill Rock Stars punk.  “Dress Off” is all Teri’s voice shouting over drums: “You take my dress off. Yeah, you take my dress off.
Yeah, You take my pretty dress off.”

In the Tiny Desk concert, Teri Gender Bender channeled PJ Harvey completely.  On the album, she has a bunch of different vocal styles that all work well for the songs.  Although “New York” is totally PJ, “The Actress That Ate Rousseau” reminds me of punkier No Doubt and”Tainted in Sin” has a simple stark keyboard melody with Teri singing a more aggressive guttural style.

Unsurprisingly for someone named Teri Gender Bender, there are some political songs as well.  “Bang!” has the lyric, “George Bush and McCain taking over Mexico.  Next thing you’ll see is their army banning seranata

Although there’s a lot of short songs (7 are 2 and a half minutes or under), there’s a few long ones too.  “The Leibniz Language is over 5 minutes and “I’m Getting Sick of You” and “Empty Dimes” are both over 4.  There’s also an instrumental, “Rikos’ Smooth Talking Mothers” which is a simple song spurred on mostly by scratchy guitars.

The final song, “Mr. Tolstoi” is the anomaly on the album.  Teri “sings” with a fake Russian accent  over a very Soviet-style keyboard march.  The chorus:

I want Raskolnikov To be inside of me.  I want Sonya’s eyes.  I want Sonya’s eyes.

Weird.  But not outrageously crazy for this record.  It’s good noisy fun.

[READ: January 23, 2012] “Labyrinth”

It’s no secret that I love Roberto Bolaño.  And I’ve said before that one thing I love about him is the astonishing variety of subjects and styles that he comes up with.

So this short story is forthcoming from his newly translated collection of unpublished short stories called The Secret of Evil.  What I love and find so unique about this story is that the entire story is based upon a photograph.  The New Yorker includes the photograph (I wonder if the The Secret of Evil will include it also).  In the photograph, eight writers/thinkers sit around a table.  Thy are: J. Henric, J.-J. Goux, Ph. Sollers, J. Kristeva, M-Th Réveillé, P. Guyotat, C. Devade, and M. Devade.  The only person I know of this list is J. Kristeva, whose work on semiotics I have read.  [I just looked her up on Wikipedia and learned that she has also written novels, including: Murder in Byzantium, which deals with themes from orthodox Christianity and politics and has been described by Kristeva as “a kind of anti-Da Vinci Code.”  Gotta put that on my list].  But the others are (evidently) prominent in their fields as well (editor of Tel Quel, author of several novels and non-fiction, etc).

The beginning of the short story is an extensive detailing of the photograph.  Bolaño looks at each man and woman in the photo and describes them with exquisite accuracy.  Beyond that he imparts a bit of speculation about what they are wearing, where they are looking, their attractiveness and even, about the length (or lack) of necks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MR. DREAM-“Holy Name” (2011).

The cool site Bob Dylan Wrote Protest Songs created a Top 20 list of 2011 albums.  It was an interesting mix of stuff other people liked (PJ Harvey, St. Vincent, Bon Iver) and a whole bunch of stuff that I’d never heard of (like this band).

BDWPS explains that the two guys in Mr. Dream met in college and are music critics (with Pitchfork in common among their employers).  And we all reflexively gag at the thought of music critics making music. 

This song opens as a direct rip off of Nirvana’s “Lithium.”  I mean, it’s unavoidable–same quiet guitar playing virtually the same chords.  It infuritaed me.

But on a second listen, I heard the differences.  They are the same chords as “Lithium” except that the final chord in the sequence goes in a different direction, as does the rest of the song.  It’s rawer than Nirvana (at least than Nevermind), but it has the same feel and attitude.  Maybe with a hint of Slint thrown in. 

I was prepared to write this off as a Nirvana rip off, but of course, Nevermind is twenty years old.  I think their music is just part of punk consciousness now.  And it’s nice that Mr. Dream makes good use of it.  Raw and angry.  Very nice.  I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album.

[READ: December 30, 2011] “Max reviews the classics”

May-Kate and Ashley Olsen are a really really easy target, and I’m a little embarassed for Max that he went after them with this review, but it is still pretty funny (and it’s not like they can’t take it).  The “review” is not as fish-in-a-barrel as it might be. 

The introduction is funny: “Last night I took a break from re-reading Cryptonomicon to pick up a book roughly as long as one of its paragraphs: Sealed with a Kiss” (with links provided for each).

He is clearly setting out to mock the book, I mean how could he not.  But the things he points out are interesting not so much from a Kate and Ashley standpoint as from a book standpoint.  Indeed, he spends a lot of time on just the first sentence: “‘We’re going home to Chicago for only two weeks!’ Mary-Kate Burker told her sister Ashley.”  Max points out, “who, exactly reads the 20th book in the Mary-Kate and Ashley series without realizing they’re sisters?  …If you’re worried about readers that stupid, you probably need to point out that they’re twins too.”  That’s a little harsh to the series as, yes, it is obvious, but the series is clearly written for young kids, and frankly in terms of exposition, that’s pretty brief.

A more salient (and funnier observation): “I can’t help but wonder what percentage of Mary-Kate and Ashley books contain an excalamtion point in the first sentence.  I haven’t checked, but I get the feeling it’s a high number.”  Hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JUNE TABOR & OYSTERBAND-“Bonnie Bunch of Roses” (2011).

Two artists that I have heard of for years but who I have never really listened to. This was described in the NPR music review as something The Decemberists might sing.  And indeed, it has a very Decemberists feel to it (which makes sense as this is a traditional song and, evidently, Tabor has been a master of this style for years.  ( I had no idea her voice was so deep–it adds a nice level of malice to this song about Napoleon.

The band is tight as they play this rollicking, dark shanty and Tabor’s voice is haunting (do I detect a similar style to Linda Thompson?) as she sings these lyrics of loss.  The music builds and builds as the song reaches its climax, but what’s neat is that Tabor never really changes her tone.  She is matter of fact, despite how sinister the music becomes.  It’s a very cool song.

I did some research and found out that tabor and the Oysterband got together in 1990 for the album Freedom and Rain, which was a collection of traditional songs as well as covers of Richard Thompson, The Velvet Underground, The Pogues, and Jefferson Airplane (I can’t believe that album is pretty well out of print–it sounds amazing).  This collaboration is more or less a follow-up, with more traditional songs and covers of PJ Harvey, Joy Division and others.

I’m really looking forward to listening to this disc and to what will certainly be the triumphant re-release of their first disc collaboration quite soon.

[READ: September 14, 2011] Storm Warning

Book Nine in the 39 Clues series made me feel like a kid again.  I started reading it when I got home from work and I stayed up till way late in the night to finish it.  Unlike when I was a kid, though, I am really suffering for staying up so late last night.

Storm Warning was written by Linda Sue Park, the first woman to write in the series.  And, appropriately, this is a very female-centered book.  We learn a lot about Nellie (finally, her story is explained!), the story focuses somewhat more on Amy than on Dan, there’s more evilness from Isabel Kabra, but most importantly, the clues lead them to two important women in history. 

They head down to the Caribbean–although they are undecided about whether to go to the Bahamas or Jamaica (Dan wants to go to the Bahamas to go to the greatest water park in the world: Oceanus–which is really the Atlantis Water Park) but Amy believes the answer is in Jamaica.  Dan convinces her and they decide to go to the Bahamas and the water park for a few hours of fun.  But the crazy thing is that before they even bought their tickets to the Bahamas, Nellie went into the bathroom and Dan received a message that the Holts were on their way to the Bahamas too.  Could Nellie be ratting them out?

On the flight down, they grill her about what’s going on.  But what happens is that for the first time in the series, we get into Nellie’s head.  Not completely, but we get to hear her thoughts.  So we know that she’s still hiding some truths, but she reveals that she has been working for Mr McIntyre and reporting to him about all of the family’s moves.  She was well paid for her services and she knew that there would be danger, but she had no idea exactly what the kids would be getting up to.  Dan and Amy are stunned.  They are betrayed and furious.  [I have to say I think they totally overreacted–Nellie saved their asses many many times along the way].  They agree to let Nellie come along with them but they’re not going to share any plans with her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-“In the Night” (2008).

I recently came across Basia Bulat via NPR.  She played a Tiny Desk concert and I discovered that she had several other entries in the NPR canon.

Basia is Canadian (of Polish descent); she has a beautiful strong mid-range/throaty voice and a great sense of melody.  She also has a bit of a gimmick: she plays all kinds of instruments (guitar, piano, sax, etc) including some really weird and unexpected instruments: Zither, pianoette (!) and autoharp–a couple of years before PJ Harvey brought it back to the mainstream.


“In the Night” is a wonderfully chipper poppy song.  And that autoharp gives it just a tinge of “huh?’ that makes it more than just a simple pop song.  The beat is fast and energetic, the harmonies are wonderful and the melody is top-notch.

I really like this song a lot, and the other snippets of songs that I’ve heard from her are equally wonderful.   I’ve even noticed that lately she’s been singing a song in Polish!

[READ: July 12, 2011] “Gastronomania”

I’m not going to go crazy reviewing all of the book reviews in Harper’s (that way lies madness), but occasionally an author I like writes a bit that I want to mention.  So Will Self, who I like but have not read a lot of, wrote this essay/book review about food.  He reviews three books, but what I especially liked about it was his introduction, which uses Luis Buñuel’s Le fantôme de la liberté [The Phantom of Liberty] as its starting point.  In the film (which I have not seen), the house’s dining room is actually a well…watch this clip:

It’s a wonderfully bizarre introduction to an essay about food.

It was unclear to me what made Will Self suitable to review three books about cooking.  And then (news to me) he revealed that he used to be a food critic (columns are collected in his book Junk Mail) and that Anton Ego in Ratatouille (yes that Ratatouille) bears “an uncanny, if not legally actionable” resemblance to him.

This essay was so much fun.  Self is as viciously negative about these books as he apparently was about food back in the day.  But he’s not dismissive of them as cookbooks per se, he’s more about trashing the current worship of food (and many other things too of course). (more…)

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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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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Live at the Warfield Theater, San Francisco, April 14, 2011 (2011).

NPR was given permission to share this PJ Harvey concert.  However, they were only allowed to share about half of it.  The show is fairly short to begin with (about 75 minutes) but the downloadable portion is barely 40 minutes.  It turns out that NPR was given the rights to all of the songs from the new album, Let England Shake.

Now, I have no idea how things like this work, why they are only given access to these songs as opposed to the other ones, or why an artist (or management) would not let her fans hear the ten or so other songs she played that night.  Legal restrictions are weird and usually stupid. But as I’ve mentioned before, you shouldn’t complain about free stuff.

So, what we get here is a spliced together concert (it sounds seamless, although they have removed all of the banter (if there was any)).  The album is played in its entirety (although we were not given “Written on the Forehead” which happens to be the song they are playing the most on the radio here), but it’s not played in order.  It was also interspersed with older songs “The Devil” and “Silence” from White Chalk, “The Sky Lit Up” and Angeline” from Is This Desire, “Pocket Knife” from Uh Huh Her, “Down by the Water” and “C’mon Billy” from To Bring Her My Love, (I’d like to hear how she handles the older songs, now that’s she’s singing primarily in the higher register).  And, “Big Exit” from Stories from the City.

It’s pretty clear that Harvey is no longer the young woman who made those first couple albums.  And she sounds strong and confident here.  It’s a great set; the autoharp never sounded better.

[READ: April 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 5

I have been enjoying all of the Five Dials, but this issue is easily my favorite so far.  The “theme” of this issue is translation.  Translators are the unheralded workers in literature, and while I have been trying to give them credit in my posts, I don’t always pay them enough attention (except when a translation is awkward or clunky).

But in addition to the theme (and the really cool interviews with some translators, I thought the fiction was outstanding and I loved Alain de Botton’s Advice column.  The whole issue was great. (more…)

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