Monthly Archives: October 2005

campfire headphase

boards of canada - the campfire headphase
i tend to collect things: books, CDs, movies. with a few notable exceptions, i am not overly obsessive in my acquisitions (although i’m sure certain other people might disagree). boards of canada is an exception.

i’ve done my best to acquire everything they’ve ever released (see the wikipedia reference for BoC for the complete listing). while it’s not an exhaustive catalogue, there are a few pieces that are harder to come by than others. a total of 3 albums, 4 EPs, and one unreleased collection is what i’ve got; looks like i’m missing a few LPs and odd cassettes. the campfire headphase is their latest release, following the stunning geogaddi by three years.

the reviews are generally good (see metacritic for a quick synopsis). i can certainly see how this record would underwhelm some BoC fans. when a band generates so much fervor, such rabid adoration, it becomes harder and harder for them to impress over time. in fact, almost impossible. they can’t penetrate the fog of mystique and reverence that has built up around them.

this is partly their own doing. the two brothers who make up BoC have been noticeably reticent when it comes to either touring or doing interviews. they make their music, and that’s it. that is their statement, and they’ve done it in such a way as to wrap a riddle inside an enigma, hidden in a puzzle. as a result, people have analyzed their music beyond reason, flogged it until it’s dead and bleeding beside the road, stripped of any mystery. while some of this analysis is interesting, maybe even insightful, it’s still just mental masturbation, and it sets a standard that no band could meet with their next release. with geogaddi, they set a standard that would be difficult to follow, and then there was silence. three long years of silence, punctuated by two EP releases.

and then, after this long silence, they return with the campfire headphase, doomed to both fail and succeed, regardless of what it contains. in this writer’s humble opinion, it’s a brilliant and rewarding soundscape, an exploration of territory that seems simultaneously new and familiar.

it’s a different album for BoC. i would say drastically different from their work released to date. and yet, their signature sound is still there…it’s still possible, through a few simple sonic structures, a few unique sounds, to identify this record as theirs. and those sounds, in combination with new textures and seemingly infinite layers, make this album worth seeking out.

first and foremost, the samples are gone (or at least faded so far into the background that you don’t notice them consciously). geogaddi and music has the right to children were rife with odd samples, references that fed the imagination of the hungry listening masses. those samples added interesting punctuation marks to the composition, gave it another dimension, something to be puzzled over and interpreted. maybe that’s why they chose to drop them: too much analysis.

the second thing of note is the guitars—they take a prominent place in the sonic landscape of this new album, carving vast valleys and echoing canyons where other sounds can play within and beneath. they add a texture, a substrate that other sounds can attach themselves to. they also heighten the fuzzy warmth that has permeated most BoC releases.

the last thing i would note is the absence of less prominent beats. Hi Scores, MHTRTC, and maybe even Geogaddi had some beats woven through the narrative. this is not the case on the campfire headphase—no beats. (see Correction below)

when i talk about BoC, my tone becomes filled with rapture, and i speak nonsense. words fail me while i foam at the mouth. i can’t describe what their music makes me feel, how it envelopes my thoughts and washes away everything else. when i listen to their music, it takes me to a place that is joyous and melancholy at the same time, a place of warm, fuzzy, beautiful sadness.

maybe, in a way, Boards of Canada is a sonic subsitute for the frailties of language. they express things through meticulously textured sounds that could not be expressed otherwise. theirs is an electronic poetry that defies analysis. you just have to listen. and i do—over and over and over. when i listen, i’m taken back to my childhood, to a time of innocence. i feel that happiness again, all the while carrying in my heart the bittersweet knowledge that it lives only in my memories. for me, this is the tension that BoC somehow express with their shimmering strands of sound.

CORRECTION (10.25.05): i have been taken to the mat for saying that there are no beats on this album. at least two tracks have percussion (dayvan cowboy and oscar see through red eye) and some electronic beats. saying the album has fewer beats was not meant as a criticism. sincere apologies for ruffled feathers and potential confusion. ;-)

the daily commute

for three years, i worked at home (most of the time). my daily commute consisted of rubbing my eyes, crawling out of bed, and ambling across the room (or through the house) to my computer. maybe i had an early conference call, maybe i didn’t. maybe i had to get going early. maybe it just didn’t matter. i think what you’re sensing is that the pace of my life was, more or less, my own.

and then i got a real job. and a real commute.

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rockets red glare, bombs bursting

fleet week came to san francisco this weekend. most years it just comes and goes; i hear the jets roar across the sky for a few days, and i imagine the ships docked in the bay and the crowds, and i stay home and think nothing more of it.

this year was different, not in the sense that i actually went, but in the sense that i thought about it.
elaine and i were at a friend’s outdoor birthday BBQ on sunday when the aerial exhibition was taking place. it was a beautiful, clear, Indian Summer day, the warm air a welcome friend, soon to depart for distant shores. as we drank and ate and chatted on the patio by the apartment-complex pool, the blue angels flew overhead.

for the first 30 minutes or so, we just heard the jets. at high altitude, and flying near the speed of sound, they’re easy to hear, but hard to see—blue phantoms in a blue sky. at some point, the building we were in (not too far from pacific heights) got buzzed by one jet, then two, then four in formation. it’s a spectacular, exciting experience to have those metal birds blast past at 500 mph, in tight formation.

but then i thought, if i were in Iraq or Afghanistan or Tel Aviv, for that matter, how would i feel about those jets? would they fill me with excitement, or would it be fear? would i associate them with security or terror?
fleet week is a modern-day, US-style equivalent of tanks and soldiers parading through Red Square (or even jets flying over it). in the past, when i’ve seen images of military "celebration" on the news, i’ve always thought how openly militaristic other nations are, and how we tend to be a bit more dignified about our arsenals, our power, our supposed dominance.

maybe we do show a level of restraint when it comes to the classic large-scale military parade, but it doesn’t remove the fact that we are celebrating instruments of destruction. on one level, the flight of the blue angels demonstrates humankind’s mastery over the elements—our ability to overcome gravity, to fly even though we weren’t born to do so, and to do it with incredible power and grace. it could also been seen to symbolize national achievement, which is nothing at all to be ashamed of.

at the same time, we built these things as weapons of war. in light of all the horrible things happening in the world, it’s just so desirable to conveniently forget. it’s easier to think of birds in flight, of courage, of leaving the earth behind and flying away into a blue sky, unencumbered by the weight of our weakness.

the music of chance

martini glass shadow

every once in awhile, i see things that are pure accident, yet seem like they could not have been staged better. i’ve always felt it’s important to keep my eyes open for these things, because they’re everywhere. you could devote an entire blog, an entire library, to the beauty that lives in everyday randomness.

nouvelle vague

nouvelle vague
as someone who spent a lot of time listening to 80s music, i can occasionally appreciate a good cover band. in most cases, though, the cover pales in comparison to the original. it’s rare that a cover can thrive in its own right, without reference to the work that inspired it.

nouvelle vague has created a cover album that reaches this lofty goal—their music is wonderful, enchanting, fun, and only just slightly kitschy. their covers pay tribute to new wave hits from the 80s, and they do it bossa nova style. imagine the cure and the sisters of mercy rendered with delicate female vocals, sultry guitar, and waves washing across a warm shore, and that’s what you’ve got with nouvelle vague.

i was skeptical at first, but their version of "a forest" (my favorite song from seventeen seconds) had me sold in a heartbeat. there are a few misses (not so sure jello biafra ever meant too drunk to f*** to be done to a bossa nova beat). in general, though, this CD was one enjoyable hit parade for me. part flashback, part flash-further back, part modern-day lounge album, nouvelle vague is de rigeur if you’re an 80s kid with bossa nova leanings.

wrinkles

they are the bane of my existence. they are a virus—a plague that has spread through my closet and ravaged my clothes. they have gone so far as to infect my mind, so that i only buy clothes that will nurture them.

yes, i’m talking about wrinkles.

i have a closet full of shirts that i really, really like. most of them are flat-bottom shirts from kweejibo, a local store that makes custom shirts with cool fabrics and unusual patterns. it’s the first time in years that i haven’t been burdened with shirts i have to tuck in (the only thing i hate more than wrinkles). yet just about every shirt in my closet has a fatal flaw: they wrinkle when you look at them sideways. i put one of these shirts on, and within about 12 seconds, the bottom 8 inches of the shirt are a mess (usually after i sit down on the bus, on the way to work).

and so, what’s been happening lately is that i wear the wrinkle-attractors once, get home, hang them up, and then leave them there, infected. because i hate ironing all the time, they just sit there, taunting me. i get up in the morning, open my closet, and pull shirts out, one by one, doing the wrinkle assessment. usually, one or two shirts will pass muster, but the rest are lost causes. and so they sit there, until the next time i feel like ironing (which is usually about once a month).

i’ve actually started to feel a little OCD about my wrinkly shirts. i’ve taken to surreptitious visual surveys of the other guys in the office to see if their shirts are wrinkled, too. t-shirts don’t count of course, which means that half the dudes provide no data (it’s always casual friday at our office). the other half offer a mixed bag. some people seem to pull the wrinkly thing off, looking like they’re runway models and the whole wrinkled thing is intentional, you know what i’m sayin’? the other half don’t appear to be wrinkled at all.

and so i’m left in a conundrum. do i go with the wrinkles and see if i can pull off the "my shirt is wrinkled and i don’t care" thing, or do i start ironing more?

either way you slice it, i still think about wrinkles in my shirts way, way too much.

chindi

chindi
every once in awhile, i pick up a book by an author i don’t know, based on either critical acclaim, a snazzy cover, or a whim. every once in awhile, i am pleasantly surprised by the book i’ve bought; it lives up to its praises and more, and i run out and buy everything this author has written. discoveries like this are like opening a secret doorway that leads to a mystical universe.

chindi was not one of these books.
i had seen jack mcDevitt’s books around for awhile, had read the positive blurbs from all sorts of well-known publications (sci-fi and otherwise). the cover of chindi had stephen king (whom i like) claiming that mcDevitt is the logical heir to asimov and arthur c. clarke. maybe king was saying this about one of his other novels. based on this one book, i’d call mcDevitt the Dean Koontz of sci-fi.

the thing that makes this all the more disappointing was that i burned through the first half of chindi in one night. i don’t recall the last time i did that. it started with a bang, did some unexpected things, set up a great mystery, and then fell flat. i spent the last half of the book waiting for something else to happen, and was rewarded by thin characterization, absolutely unbelievably stupid characters doing insanely stupid things over and over and over, and a climax about as exciting as watching family ties reruns.

the one other thing that really irked me was that this had been characterized as "hard science fiction," which says to me that the author does their best to get the science right. while mcDevitt does that in many cases, there are others where the suspension of disbelief required was far more than any reader should give. as one example, in one cliff-hangar situation, he has to expose one of his characters to deep-space vacuum for a few seconds without ANY protection. they come out of it with some broken blood vessels after their magic energy shield kicks back in. puhleeeeeze. if your lungs didn’t explode, i bet about half the cells on the surface of your skin would flash freeze and burst.

did i mention that this book sucked?

to cleanse my palate, i had to start reading a Culture novel by Iain Banks that’s been sitting on my shelf since i finished Consider Phlebas a few months back. if you want to read great sci-fi, read Iain Banks or Frank Herbert or Gene Wolfe. leave jack mcDevitt in the store at the airport.