Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

I got this book for christmas last year, and I only got around to reading it last month. I've had this huge 'to-read' pile sitting in my bookshelf since last year, and I've only just got it down to a couple of books, and then I realise it's almost christmas again, which usually means lots more books for me.

Anyway, this one was a Booker prize winner. Ooooh, I feel litemarary. It's about an Indian boy who survives a shipwreck and ends up stranded on a lifeboat with a 450-pound tiger. You might think that two characters in a boat in the middle of the Pacific for months and months would be a fairly dull setup, but the author generates quite a bit of mileage out of it.

I was a little concerned that, being a literary prize winner, it'd be filled with all sorts of turgid symbolism and pretentious prose, but I found it a very easy agreeable read, as demonstrated by the fact that I read it in less than a day (of course, it was a day that involved 7 or 8 hours in airports and airplanes). There's a little bit of a twist at the end, which caused me to at first think 'Lame'. And then, 'Oh hang on, this relates back to all the stuff at the start...'. And then, 'Hey, cool, this book made me think!'. (Which goes to show what a sci-fi snob I am, being surprised that the kind of book that gets praised by the New York Times would have actually made me think.)

Anyway, pretty cool book. Short and breezy so it doesn't take too long to read. Completely unlike Neal Stephensons Baroque Trilogy, which I'll be writing about shortly.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

Nirvana's live album. Not nearly as good as Unplugged in New York, but it's interesting to hear what they were like in concert. Basically they were messy as hell, which probably made for a great concert to attend, but not such a good one to listen to on cd.

Hmm, not much enthusiasm for writing about this stuff at the moment, Half-life 2 calls...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Legends II

Edited by Robert Silverberg

This is a collection of short stories by popular fantasy authors. I bought it because it contained stories by George Martin and Neil Gaiman, which I knew would be guaranteed good reads, but I vainly held out hope that some of the other stories might be good too. I should have known better, since I read the first Legends compilation years ago, and it was pretty shit.

The first story is 'Homecoming' by Robin Hobb. Once upon a time she was one of my favorite authors. Her Assassin trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I've ever read. Unfortunately then she wrote a sequel trilogy, which was OK, but a bit of a disappointment compared to the first series. It's a good thing she never wrote a third series, which not only was incredibly crap, but completely ruined the first series retroactively. Boy, I sure would have been pissed if she'd done that. Her story here relates to the second series, and is about equivalent to it in terms of quality, which is to say, pretty average. Little did I know when I read it that 'pretty average' would make it one of the best stories in the book.

'The Sworn Sword' by George Martin. One of the stories I bought the book for, and it didn't disappoint. It's set hundreds of years before the events of his big epic series 'A Song of Ice and Fire', but is a sequel to the story he wrote for the first Legends. Don't buy either book just for his story though, as they're both also coming out in graphic novel form. I've got the first one, and the stories really lend themselves to the comic format.

'The Yazoo Queen' by Orson Scott Card. I've never read any of his books before, and maybe if I had I would have liked this one more, but while he seems like a pretty good writer, I found this story, set in an alternate history colonial America, quite dull.

'Lord John and the Succubus' by Diana Galbadon. It took me a while to figure out that this was the same woman who writes the big epic soft porn historical books that the girls are always reading. I quite enjoyed the start of this one, but by the end it had gotten pretty rubbish. Still, ends up being one of the better stories.

'The Book of Changes' by Robert Silverberg. I remember virtually nothing about the first Legends book except that Silverberg's story was really shit. Well this one is even worse. I honestly couldn't believe that someone would publish a story this uninteresting, trite, and predictable.

'The Happiest Dead Boy in the World" by Tad Williams. Tad Williams can be pretty good sometimes, but not in this case unfortunately. It's a bit of a sequel to his series Otherland, showing what happened to the main character afterwards. It builds up to a big sci-fi style twist at the end which is really just uninteresting. It occurs to me that all of these authors are famous for writing huge long series' of books. I guess it's no surprise that they're not that great at short stories.

"Beyond Between" by Anne McCaffrey. McCaffrey's written about a billion books, all called Dragon-something-or-other. I read one of them as a kid and that was enough. All I'll say about this story is that it was mercifully short. Actually, I'll say one other thing, how is it that someone who's been writing since the late 60s can still be such a godawful writer?

"The Messenger" by Raymond E. Feist. I've read a few a Feist's books and they're not bad, but not good enough for me to spend time on reading any more of them when there's so much better stuff out there. His short story is nothing special, even for this collection. At least I'll give him credit for coming up with a decent idea for a short story: a day in the life of a messenger boy during a big war that occurred during one of his novels. It still ends up being cheesy and boring, but gosh darn it, Feist just really wants you to know that this kid was just the Bravest Little Boy in the World!

"Threshold" by Elizabeth Haydon. I've never heard of her before, and even after looking up the story in the book it took me a little while to remember anything at all about this one. Like most of these stories, the author has decided to take an element of the backstory of her Big Series and retell it in tedious detail. Fortunately she seems to be a decent enough writer, so this one wasn't as much of a chore to read as some of the others.

"The Monarch of the Glen" by Neil Gaiman. At last, a decent story! It comes after American Gods, featuring the main character from that book, and presumably linking it to the forthcoming sequel, but also standing pretty well on it's own. I had a great deal of trouble figuring out what was actually going on, as most of the characters are mythical figures with their identities concealed, and unlike in American Gods, Gaiman doesn't explain who they are, you just have to figure it out from the clues. I consider that a good thing though, I'll have to do a bit of reading to find out about it, and maybe I'll learn something.

"Indomitable" by Terry Brooks. I read a lot of Brooks when I was in intermediate school. He's not very good, but I thought maybe I'd feel a bit of enjoyable nostalgia from reading about his characters again. No, I didn't.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I Saw Some Ordinary Slaughter, I Saw Some Routine Atrocities

Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

For some reason I feel vaguely guilty that I've never bought any Nick Cave before now. I've always liked his singles (except for the one with Kylie Minogue in it, but that's probably just the music snob in me), and he's one of these indie guys who everyone loves. And I've been hearing a lot of people say that it's his best album ever, so I picked it up as an impulse buy.

I've always mentally lumped Nick Cave in with Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. God knows why, because all I can think of that they have in common is uncommonly deep voices. Anyway this album seems to be more conventional and upbeat than the older songs of his that I'm familiar with. The songs are largely based around the piano, and range in tone from maudlin and slow to rhapsodic and upbeat.

I can see why people like this album so much, it's very well written, and Nick Cave has always written great lyrics, but somehow it's just not exciting me so much. I'm liking the more upbeat songs, which is unusual for me, but it's still not enough to make me listen to both disks back to back. So while I don't feel guilty for not owning any Nick Cave anymore, I now feel guilty for putting it aside to listen to Slipknot again...

Monday, November 22, 2004


Over at Crooked Timber they're talking about assigned reading for high school kids, and how one guy assigned American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and got some interesting responses. There's also a mildly amusing comment thread about what vocabulary young nerds learned from fantasy novels and comic books.

Quit complaining about your job. The first picture is actually pretty awesome.

Science doesn't really have an explanation yet as to why humans like listening to music, but what they've discovered about it so far is still pretty interesting.

Plus I just realised that the D4 were in both of the Big Day Out announcements so far. I guess they must have meant The Datsuns the first time, but got them confused.

What Have You Got to Lose, Except Your Soul?

Slipknot - Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses

For a long time I dismissed Slipknot as just another stupid nu-metal band, (although I did always think the gimp suits they always wear were kind of cool). "What kind of stupid band has two drummers, two guitarists and two singers anyway?" I said. Then their single Duality came out, and I thought it was not too bad, and Trent Reznor wrote on his website that he'd been listening to their new album, and they announced that they were coming to the big day out. So I thought, "Maybe it's about time I gave these Slipknot guys a chance".

Well the album wasn't really what I expected. There's a strong death metal influence, making them a lot heavier than just another stupid nu-metal band. Having two drummers means there's some pretty insane percussion happening on there, always a plus for a metal album. The two singers work well together too, and they keep it more interesting than 'there's one guy who sings, and one guy who screams'. Another pleasant surprise was that there were a few acoustic(-ish) tracks included to break up the heavy metal, and they work a lot better than you'd expect than from a band with eight members.

While the lead single (Duality) is still my favorite track, most of the rest of the album lives up to it. The only criticisms I'd make are that they veer off into stupid death metal wankery once or twice, and the lyrics aren't that great. While the vocalists have an ear for a catchy turn of phrase, there isn't much substance to back it up. They're fond of saying things like "I've gotta say what I've gotta say!", but I never really figured out just what that was. They're kind of like the Monkee's in that respect. However by and large this album is well written and infectiously agressive. The mellow tracks are very good and contrast nicely with the brutal heavy tracks that surround them. The heavy tracks are well written and varied in style (a lack of variety is a common shortcoming of many metal bands). This is the full-on, hardcore metal album album I was hoping Reise Reise would be.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Moon Musick

So now that John Balance has passed away, I'm not sure if Coil are going to keep going, so I thought it's probably about time for a great big Coil post.

Our story begins, Dear Reader, far back in the mists of history. Come with me now, back to the 1970s...

[Whooo, whooo, time travel effects....]

Once upon a time there was a band called Throbbing Gristle. They were one of the original industrial bands. They considered themselves 'anti musicians', and their goal was to make the most bewildering unpredictable sounds they could. In ideology they were similar to the original punks, believing that society was corrupt and about to collapse, but their music was completely different. While the kind of music that normally comes to mind when thinking of industrial are ambient droning songs or god-awful electronic noise songs, Throbbing Gristle's songs incorporate influences from jazz to pop, even writing a twisted but sincere football anthem. I could go on about industrial music for a while, but it's a subject for another post. In 1981 Throbbing Gristle disbanded and declared industrial music to be over.

Two of the former members of Throbbing Gristle, Peter Christopherson and Genesis P. Orridge formed a new band, Psychic TV, with a bunch of other guys, one of whom was John Balance. (Since industrial music was declared over, it's usually called a post-industrial band.) Genesis and Christopherson had a falling out (a subject for yet another post), and Christopherson left with Balance to form Coil.

Compared to Throbbing Gristle, Coil is more accessible and somewhat less confrontational. To begin with, their albums were similar in format and style to TG, but as the years went on their style became, for the most part, more contemplative and peaceful.

Coil's first album was called 'How to Destroy Angels', they only ever made something like twelve copies of it so they're probably worth a billion dollars now. Their first album that's widely available is Scatology. As you might guess from the title, it has a somewhat dodgy theme. Apparantely they used samples of people shitting, having anal sex, and other scatologically themed sounds in the recording of this album. To this day I've been too scared to buy it.

Their second album was 'Horse Rotorvator'. Out of all of their albums it's probably the most accessible, although this is a very relative statement. The songs aren't too long, and stick to a relatively normal structure. It's still pretty feral though, as you'd expect from an album with a song called 'The Anal Staircase'. Lots of confrontational disturbing content, but not as unrelenting as Throbbing Gristle's work, and with a mellow side too.

Their next album was 'Loves Secret Domain', which was a bit of a departure into the realm of house music, although their interpretation of house was of course pretty twisted. It's widely regarded as one of their best albums, and I can see why as it neatly combines catchy electronic dance tracks with peaceful and moving ambient tracks, while keeping the thread of perverse experimentation that makes them who they are.

By now we're into the early 90s, and here Coil's discography starts to a bit get hard to follow, with lots of EPs, b-sides and rarities albums, limited editions and releases under other names. The only album from this period that I own is 'A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room', released under the name Black Light District. It's a very ambient album (it actually gets quite boring during the middle), but it contains some of the best ambient music I've ever heard.

In the last few years they released 'Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil', a noise album, which means lots of rhythmic static, and uh, non-rhythmic static. One of the least accessible albums in an inaccessible discography, but I mention it just to highlight the variety of their releases.

They also released the Moons Milk series, four EPs, each relating to a different season. The autumn equinox disk (subtitled 'Amethyst Deceivers') is probably my favorite Coil album. They're very varied releases, switching between styles from song to song, but retaining a constant tone and topic.

The two 'Musick to Play in the Dark' CDs are regarded to be their best, and they certainly are some of the best albums in my collection. The songs on these disks are all very dark, but peaceful (as the title would imply). As all the songs are about ten minutes long, it gives them room to show off both their ambient and their conventional sides, often within one song.

John Balance was the main vocalist of the band, and while there was nothing special about his voice he's one of my top three favorite lyricists. Between their beyond new-age philosophy and their obsessions with death, drugs, (gay) sex and the paranormal, it's always interesting subject matter and would probably come out pretentious and cheesy in the hands of most, but Balance had the talent to keep it original and thought-provoking. It just goes to demonstrate the inspirational power of hallucinogens.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Link Roundup

The Coil post won't be finished until the weekend.

In the meantime, here's some random links:

An interview with the former chief interrogator of Israel's security service. This guy's pretty tough.

Bill Gates gets 4 million emails a day, and most of it's spam.

Israeli tank blows up 3 Egyptian police. Pissing off one of their only neighbours who they're at peace with.

More doom and gloom for the American dollar.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Why Coil Are Awesome

I've got a huge coil post halfway out of the chute and dangling into the bowl. I meant to post it tonight, but I figured after spending over an hour and only being about half done I should finish it off later, so hopefully I'll post it tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

RIP John Balance

John Balance, the singer from Coil, died over the weekend. He fell off a first floor landing whilst drunk. It's very sad news for me, as Coil is one of my favorite bands ever. He was a brilliant musician and lyricist, and while almost no one knows who he is, his death is a great loss to the music world.

"Whichever stars we walk among
We both seek out the darkest red
The wine was turned to blood again
Without this blood we'd both be dead "

Monday, November 15, 2004

Big Day Out Announcement 2

It's that time of the month again, here we go...

Yay! I like these guys, and as far as I know they haven't done anything for yonks. I'll be pretty keen to see them.

Believe it or not I was actually into house music for a little while, and I saw this guy the last time he played the BDO (2000 I think) and I thought he was alright, so I might go along.

Similar to Regurgitator, but not quite as good. I'll try and see these guys too though.

[Cookie Monster Voice] Oh yeah! It's going to be Hard Core!
Best band in this announcement anyway.

Wow. I've never heard of any of these guys.

I always get the Hives mixed up with the Vines. I think the Vines are the ones I hate and the Hives are the ones who are kind of alright. Well the Hives new song is pretty shit at any rate, so this one's probably on the Must Miss list.

Last time they played I thought they were the Datsuns. Or maybe it was the Datsuns and I thought they were the D4. Anyway, even if I see them, I won't remember it.

Three excellent reasons to stay away from the hip-hop tent!

KID 606
A 'gabba' band from Mike Patton's record label Ipecac. If you don't know what that is, it's basically insanely fast dance music. I've got one of their albums, and while I don't listen to it much, I'm pretty sure this will be a kick ass show.


By A Perfect Circle

Well I've wanked on about this album a bit before, and now it's finally come out.

My overall verdict is 'pretty damn good for a covers album'. There's a few filler songs on there, but even they are worth listening too. Most of the tracks are incredibly mellow. I've mentioned 'Imagine' previously, but there's also an incredibly laid back, almost ambient version of 'What's Going On' (by Marvin Gaye), which is very pretty, and 'When the Levee Breaks' (traditional, apparently, but covered earlier by Led Zeppelin) with pianos and floaty far-away vocals.

The heavier songs are all in the middle of the album, I've already talked about 'Passive', which still kicks arse, and 'Counting Bodies Like Sheep', which I previously didn't like, but have now revised my opinion of. What came across as a crappy uninspired remix over the radio or streamed off the net sounds a whole lot better when played on a decent stereo which can reproduce the more fucked up crazy aspects.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


By Greg Egan

Greg Egan is a science fiction author who writes stories with actual science in them. The kind of science that you can only really get your head around if you've got a degree in physics. Luminous is a collection of his short stories. It's definitely not light reading, but very interesting if you can plow through and understand all the technical stuff.

The title story is a discussion of weird questions about philosophy of mathematics, dressed up with a few gun wielding assassins and a bit of corporate espionage to make it a proper science fiction story. He shouldn't have bothered as the story is really quite dull compared to the mind bending ideas. 'Transition Dreams' is probably my favorite story of the lot, it returns to the subject of some of Egan's earlier novels, people making electronic copies of their brains and putting them into robot bodies. The ending is a particularly twisted mind fuck.

Some of the other stories are a bit week, 'Mitochondrial Eve', 'Silver Fire' and 'Our Lady of Chernobyl' all make the same point, "Hippies are stupid and would kill us all if they could", a sentiment I agree with, but the stories come across as being a bit hysterical and preachy.

Other than that it's a pretty good book, if you've got a reasonable scientific background.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Minor Fall and the Major Lift

Grace - Jeff Buckley, 10th anniversary edition

So for many years I've heard a lot about Jeff Buckley, but I always just wrote him off as 'some indie rock dude' until I heard the new single 'Forget Her' on the radio. It's pretty cool, so I bought the album, and while it's not really my sort of thing, I quite like it.

The album came out at the height of the grunge era, but it doesn't really fit in with most other big albums of the time, while there are some heavy Nirvana-esque tracks, a lot of the songs are very blues or country. In fact, part of Buckley's lasting appeal probably comes from the way he wrote so well in so many different genres. My favorite track has to be 'Dream Brother', a dreamy but memorable album closer a bit in the vein of OK-Computer.

The bonus disk is pretty good too, but not quite up to the standard of the original. It contains 'Forget Her', as well as two new versions of 'Dream Brother'. There are a few country and blues covers which tend to bore me a bit, but it also contains Kanga-Roo, which is 4 minutes of song followed by 10 minutes of badass drum solo.

All in all, recommended if you like a bit of loosely defined indie rock.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


I didn't expect the result of the presidential election to affect me much, but it's really put me in a very bad mood all day. I think the USA is in for a pretty bad four years, to tell the truth. Jeremy's predictions of an impending economic disaster are being echoed in various places and I'm starting to concur myself. Lets not even get started on the civil liberties and foreign policy stuff. It almost feels like I'm watching the start of the decline of the American empire.

And I for one welcome our new Chinese overlords! I have no doubt that they will run the world much better than the Americans ever did. Imagine how easily Iraq could have been sorted out by a superpower with a total disregard for human rights and an army of giant robot soldiers imported from Japan. In fact, in the new global order pop culture will be dominated by Japan. Think about it, no more stupid American sitcoms and lame teenybopper pop music! The most popular TV shows will be anime, like Pokemon and the new Transformers, and all the girls will wear schoolgirl uniforms. I can't wait!

OK, I'll go take my pills now.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

This is not a Love Song

Well right now I'm glued to the presidential election results. It doesn't look good for the democrats at the moment, but it's still up in the air.

So in the meantime, I'll take my mind off it by talking about:

Reise Reise - the new Rammstein album.

Rammstein's fourth album is a little mellower than their previous ones. While it opens with a pair of hard out metal tracks, Reise Reise and Mein Tiel (the second being about the German cannibal who ate that other dude earlier this year, you can always rely on these guys for some perverted subject matter), the rest of the album is more subdued, finishing on a trio of 'Rammstein ballads'. 'Los' is a quirky track that I can only describe as 'country metal'. I'm not sure yet if I like it or not. The centerpiece (and highlight) of the album is a pair of political anthems, 'Amerika' and 'Moskau'. Amerika is their new single, so you might know it, Moskau is just as catchy, and just as amusing (if you translate the lyrics).

Overall I found the album a little dissapointing, since it's not as good as Mutter or Sensucht, but it's certainly a worthwhile purchase. I'd say that the songs all stand fairly well on their own, but don't quite fit together as an album.

Monday, November 01, 2004

More on Eminem

Ken Layne has more on Eminems new video, about why it's getting so much airplay in the US.