Irreal Life Top Ten, early April 2016.

by waxbanks

  1. Loveless: Maybe one of the highest compliments you can give to a work of art is: ‘I go back and forth with that one.’ Well, with this one I do — some days I think the thin boring vocals are a perfect textural element, some days it’s better that they’re buried because they’re terrible and who cares about the lyrics anyway, some days ‘When You Sleep’ is 88% too cute, some days a perilously flat-of-affect alternarock guitar album covered in artful electrosludge really is an alternarock guitar album. Some days a private vision is best expressed by retreating from impulse to share. A song that can’t exist around a campfire is hardly a song, but then here we are watching the seas rise and this sound is in the world providing what diversion it can. And I could probably sing these songs around a campfire too, if I could find them. I enjoy Loveless more today than I resent it, but make no guarantees about tomorrow. What is there to say about the album? Take it or leave it. It’s not the first, last, or best of anything, but the most of something deserves (if not a listen then) a shot. Here’s a handy bonus lesson: right before MBV in my iTunes library is the unlistenable, genetically related Musica Transonic, which handily shows just how accessible Kevin Shields’s overrated masterpiece is.

  2. Family Week: My son’s kindergarten class welcomes one family per week to lead a class activity, do a little interview with the kids, decorate the Dramatic Play area, lay out a little ‘share table’ with mementos from home, and — this is crucial — provide a mix CD of songs that the kid likes. My son chose these ten tracks from the several dozen in regular drive-to-school rotation: ‘We Will Rock You’ (Queen), ‘Tightrope’ (Janelle Monae), ‘Single Ladies’ (Beyoncé), ‘Cantina Band’ (John Williams, Star Wars), ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ (The Meters), ‘Untitled Self Portrait’ (Batman’s song from The Lego Movie), ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ (TMBG’s cover), ‘The Passenger’ (Iggy Pop), ‘Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra’ (John Williams, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and ‘The Inner Light’ (The Beatles).

  3. Douglas Adams: My son has also been digging the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio broadcasts. He likes the silly bits (e.g. the mice), loses patience with Adams’s labyrinthine sentences, and — this is crucial — has demonstrated an ability to parse several British accents. My dad’s from the north of England so this is a survival skill. We just started in on the episode set at the Restaurant. (I recommend the rerecorded LP version, which features superior performances, much fuller sound, and an edited script.) I noticed again that Trillian doesn’t quite register. Pratchett’s women are humans, but Adams’s are just characters. Of course, the same is largely true of their men. Pratchett wrote stories about complex people which at times communicated interesting ideas; Adams wrote stories about complex ideas which contained funny characters. Nearly everyone in the H2G2 universe is ‘unlikable,’ and no one and nothing is lovable. (I identified with Marvin as a kid, and so overlooked what a vicious bit of characterization he was.) His novels’ moments of warmth — the Magrathean factory floor, the cavemen drawing Scrabble pieces, the sight of the burning trees — are genuine and memorable, but they’re always undercut by a hollow echoing laughter in the background: the cavemen are dying pointlessly, the earth’s reconstruction is cancelled by the mice because they’re bored, its forests burn as part of the mad Golgafrinchan currency revaluation program. It’s telling that Adams’s one nonfiction book is humane, empathetic, and largely about endangered African animals.

  4. King of Tokyo: Having played a ton of Richard Garfield’s King of New York over the last 6-12 months, I’d forgotten what pure pleasure its simpler predecessor still offers. Ideal for 5yo kids who read well, and perfectly suited to beer’n’pretzels adult play — the variety of cards and carefully managed randomness give it strong replay value, and the players’ fates are tightly coupled and unpredictable. Heartily recommended as a beginner board game.

  5. Rewatching The Force Awakens: It’s every bit as skillfully executed as it seemed, but the only things I love about it are the four central performances, which have a swimming-upstream quality due to the adolescent writing. Since Daisy Ridley’ll presumably have to carry the next film, let’s hope she’s a touch more flexible next time around. Most importantly — and unsurprisingly, if you’ve read anything I’ve written about the man and his work over the last decade — I see nothing in this film to suggest that JJ Abrams has ever had a human emotion.

  6. Drop bars: It was time for a new bike and the folks at Ace Wheelworks were happy to sell me one. For casual riders and commuters, the theory behind drop bars — y’know, the pronghorn-shaped things the fitness obsessives lean on while pedaling furiously to escape themselves — isn’t performance but rest. With a half-dozen hand/arm positions available you can ride long distances comfortably, varying posture and degree of stretch to maintain good kinesthetic order longer. It’s a little more acutely taxing, but more importantly it’s comfortable enough to tax you in new ways over the long haul; drop bars present new affordances. The American cult of pseudoathletic biking (wearing the padded shorts to ride a few city blocks at a time on the way to the code farm) is an embarrassment. The Euros get it: if you’re in the world, look at the world. But I can’t anymore use those upright stroll-through-the-countryside things. The load is such that I need the variety and power that a proper touring bike offers. So: drop bars, and the word ‘kinesthetic,’ and a promise to myself that I won’t wear those bloody padded shorts, which promise I’ll break at the first twinge of prostate discomfort in 3…2…

  7. Story Cubes: Rory’s, in our case, though the ‘off-brand’ stuff works just as well. For Family Week at my son’s kindergarten we’re making a giant set of Story Cubes with U-Haul book boxes. This is one of the best ideas we’ve ever had, the best family projects we’ve done (all three of us sitting crosslegged on the living room floor painting until bedtime) and you should do it too. Warning: tempera paint is flaky, some sort of varnish will be necessary before the end of the project. What a hassle. Still worth it though.

  8. Beyoncé: I’ve finally listened to a Beyoncé LP, her self-titled 2014 ‘visual album’ or whatever the PR folks call it. I haven’t seen the videos because the music doesn’t interest me. I don’t generally listen to contemporary pop music that isn’t written by its performers, and Beyoncé is widely said to have not one writing bone in her body; without autobiographical Significance, the songs are generally banal, embarrassing. The blowjob song (‘Partition’) is a fine piece of car-stereo pap, except for the line ‘I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker,’ which I choose to take (perhaps unjustifiably) as a deeply courageous comprehensive account of her contribution to the songwriting. The multipart ‘Flawless’ is completely daft: a series of greeting-card affirmations mixed with an extraordinarily petty bit of ‘Bow down, bitches!’ puffery and a dose of feminist Significance from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, opening and closing with the sound of Ed McMahon denying her teen rap group the top prize on Star Search, which presumably the listener is supposed to feel Beyoncé and her crew deserved — you know they lost to a white hair band, right? (Of course you do, that’s part of the point.) ‘Drunk in Love’ would be perfect without words or Beyoncé’s tiresome boor of a husband, ‘Jealous’ is gorgeous, ‘Rocket’ is conventional fun, ‘Blow’ would be better with some of Janelle Monae’s weird vibe, and the whole thing turns out to be stadium-pop in which not a single split second of accident or uninhibited risk-taking is possible or desirable. Effortlessly slick and proficient, and Beyoncé’s voice is gigantic — but help me out, didn’t somebody once sing ‘Your kisses are sweet like honey / But guess what / So is my money’ over a killer beat made by human beings sweating on a bandstand? She had a decent voice too, as I recall; could play the piano as well! — and the goddamn crown doesn’t pass until the Queen does. Respect.

  9. ‘Hacking’: You may not care that the word ‘hacking’ has been devalued to the point where it’s now applied to using an IKEA product for other than its intended purpose, or houseruling Dungeons & Dragons, or setting up a Gmail filter…but as an MIT alum, I remember the word ‘hacking’ being an honorific which you earned by demonstrating ingenuity and respect — by taking risks without seeking credit. This is not a minor semantic quibble. Everything is getting devalued the same way, have you noticed? ‘Genius.’ ‘Activism.’ ‘Identity.’ ‘Entrepreneur.’ ‘Angel,’ even. When the seas rise, we’ll wish we’d been more careful with them.

  10. Buy my books. Do it. Actually, buy them directly from me! I get more money that way. Your best bet is to drop me an email (waxbanks at gmail) or comment or Twitter message. I’ll write strange things in your copy, in addition to the strange things already printed inside. BUY MY BOOOOOOOKS!!!!