Monday, February 28, 2005

Voices from Chernobyl

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

The stories of the survivors of Chernobyl. It's pretty horrific, both the fates of the victims and the callousness and incompetence of the Soviet government.

NZPundit Outrage Day

So I visit NZPundit as part of my daily blogroll, and while there's usually one or two posts a day that make my inner Frenchman twitch, it's generally pretty entertaining and of course it's good to read opinions that differ from one's own, and to keep up with what the right blog hemisphere is talking about.

But even though I normally don't like to post politics here, today I read no less than three things there that I just had to comment on:

First up, the Larry Summers debate. (He's the president of Harvard who got in trouble a few weeks ago for suggesting that women are naturally not as good as men at maths and sciences.) NZP links to this article, which refers to Summers' comments as "a scientific hypothesis". Anyone with some degree of scientific background knows better than to mistake some clown spouting off stupid crap for the sake of being provocative, with no logic or empirical evidence to back it up, for scientific evidence. It also suggests that because decades of gender equity policies haven't balanced out the gender ratios in science departments then maybe Summers is right. I'm a bit boggled by this argument actually, you don't need to believe that the sciences are full of overtly sexist men to understand that the mere fact that there aren't many women in that line of work, coupled with it's geeky reputation, is enough to discourage women from pursuing maths and sciences. Chad Orzel had a good post on this subject a few weeks back.

Outrage number 2: Canada pulls out of the US missile defence program. Despite the fact that the program has been stunningly expensive and produced no results, this apparently makes the Canadians effeminate free-loaders. I'll let Paul Musgrave field this one. Money quote: "when Canada doesn't take you seriously, it's time to get some new policies."

Outrage number 3: Paraphrasing: 'Who says Jeff Gannon was a white house plant? There's no hard evidence that his credentials were fake, and the hoopla is all just liberals being mean to him because he's a conservative and a gay prostitute.' Turns out he's right about the 'no hard evidence' (at least for now), but there's plenty of soft evidence, like the fact that the news agency he works for doesn't seem to be a real agency, and that he got access to the white house press briefings under an assumed name and that he quit as soon as all this came to light, among other things. (It's all here at The Daily Kos, and here's the Salon article about it.) Plus it's pretty funny that he turned out to be on all those gay porn sites!

There may not be any evidence that he was planted by the white house, but there's definitely something very dodgy going on when this guy gets let into these press conferences with no journalism credentials.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

FAWM - Three Days to Go

Haven't posted anything about this recently, but I have been working on it. I gave up on reaching the 14 song goal some time ago, and have set myself a (not too impressive) personal goal of 3. My last song is coming along nicely, and I should have it done in a day or two.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Broken God

Written by David Zindell

Every now and then I start to feel like a bit of a philistine for reading so much geeky SF and fantasy, when I could be reading Joyce or Nietzsche or some huge fat non-fiction book in the interests of making myself more literate. 'But Jon', I reason to myself, 'science fiction has just as much potential to be deep and thought provoking as any other genre, you shouldn't feel like you're wasting your time when most people are reading the Da Vinci Code or John Grisham's latest turd.'

Well you've got a point there with the Da Vinci Code, alternate aspect of my psyche, but I'm afraid I can't take that argument very seriously with my normal literary diet of George "Then they all had kinky sex by the pile of corpses" Martin and Steven "Then this dude who could really fuck shit up appears" Erickson. But fortunately every now and then I read something that completely affirms my genre of choice as being worthwhile.

I read Zindell's first novel 'Neverness' many years back. I remember thinking it was very well written, but I found his characters strange and off putting, and the themes just generally disagreeable. 'The Broken God' is a sequel to 'Neverness', and also the first in the three part series 'A Requiem for Homo Sapiens'. I bought it about a year and half ago, and it's languished in the 'to read' pile for a long time since I was reluctant to tackle it after my dissatisfaction with the previous book.

The setting is the very very far future, when humanity has populated the entire galaxy. Our protagonist is the son of the protagonist in the first book, a man called Danlo Ringess who is raised by Neanderthals (or rather people who's ancestors genetically engineered themselves to be like Neanderthals) and begins with no knowledge of modern civilisation or science. He eventually comes to the city of Neverness, learns all about his fathers exploits and the threats facing humanity and of course meets a whole bunch of characters with 'future enemy' written all over them. As you can tell it's just a whole lot of setup for the rest of the series, but Zindell's world is unique and unusual enough so that just having it revealed is enough to entertain for 800 pages.

Once again Zindell's characters are weird and off putting, but I didn't let that bother me this time. At first I assumed that he was just doing a very good job of portraying a human society so far removed from our own that it may as well be alien. Later on I began to suspect that it might just be that Zindell has a weird and off putting mind (and towards the end I began to suspect that he might have done a fair amount of hallucinogenics). Whichever it is he's done a great job of coming up with unusual and challenging ideas, and putting them in his characters heads in a natural way.

There are lots of really cool science-fictional ideas here too. Interstellar space travel relies on the pilot's ability to manipulate mathematical equations while interfacing with the ships computer. Gods are real but are usually inscrutable AIs or huge aliens native to empty space.

The characters themselves are well drawn and consistent despite their eccentricities. Danlo's best friend Hanuman is probably the most interesting of the lot. Even though his ultimate role in the story is more or less spelled out in the sentence he is introduced, it is still fascinating to see how he gets there.

Like with Neverness I was put off by Zindell's apparent anti-rationality agenda in the book, but as I read on I put my prejudices to the side and recognised that what he's saying isn't quite that simple. Firstly it's obvious he has a solid scientific background, and secondly it's not clear at all where the line is drawn between what the characters are saying and what the author is saying. I will have to read the next two books to find out exactly where it's all going to go, but I'm pretty sure that even if I don't completely agree with it, it will be well worth reading.

Zindell's got the Big Questions in mind here. What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of consciousness? Spirituality or rationality? And it's all presented in a thought provoking way with grandiose and evocative science-fictional trappings, and some plain old great writing. I just started on Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good & Evil' and I recognise a few of his ideas in 'The Broken God'.

So this is one science fiction series that's deep and philosophical enough to not feel guilty for reading. Now I can go back to purely entertaining epic fantasy for a while.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

God Damn It Fisher! The Mission Is Over!

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

With the all the tension and debate about global politics these days, it'd be a good time to release a game that explored all these issues. I've always liked it in games like Deus Ex or Planescape: Torment that let you make moral choices about not only what you do, but how you do it, and these sort of things would suit a present day spy game perfectly. Initially it looks like Pandora Tomorrow might go in this direction, at least a little bit, but in the end it does nothing of the kind.

As in the first Splinter Cell you play the part of Sam Fisher, a covert operative for the US government. All the missions you're sent on involve sneaking around, stealing, kidnapping and killing without being detected.

I played the original Splinter Cell several years ago on the PC and enjoyed it immensely. I ended up buying the PS2 version of Pandora Tomorrow, and I found it quite hard to get used to. The PS2 controller works well with the third person perspective, but as soon as you go first person it becomes an exercise in frustration. So my awkwardness with the controls greatly impeded my getting into the game. The gameplay itself is generally pretty good, but a little too similar to the first game. There are some new gadgets and stealth techniques to use, but they don't change the gameplay much, and I didn't use them that much anyway.

The story starts out quite interesting, and quickly dissolves into an incoherent mess. The general gist of it is that a group of Indonesian terrorists are planning a biological attack against the US. Near the beginning there are a few parts where Sam questions his superiors, and comments unfavorably on what other branches of his government are up to, but none of that goes anywhere. In the middle of the game we encounter a whole lot of random plot threads that also go nowhere. What was up with the Shin-Bet agent? And the pilot in the jungle who tells you some dude's name which isn't safe to tell your superiors? None of that stuff ever gets explained. I don't mind games with no story, but a pointless story is just annoying.

The level design is very good though. Highlights include sneaking through (and over and under) a moving passenger train, sneaking over the rooftops of Jerusalem and infiltrating LAX while avoiding both the legitimate security and the terrorists who got there before you.

Graphics are pretty rubbish, but about as good as you can expect from the creaky old PS2.

Music is quite forgettable too. The track for the Jerusalem level is very nice and in a traditional middle eastern style, but other than that there's nothing special.

At it's heart it's a good game and I enjoyed it (once I got past the annoying interface), but it could have done with a bit more work on the trimmings. I'll probably buy the next one at some stage but I'll make sure it's the PC version.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In the Peripheric Ring, One Is Totally Seen

Isis - Panopticon

Another band from Mike Patton's Ipecac label. I've often heard these guys compared to Tool, and for that reason I've been keen to check them out for a while. At first it seems like a pretty fair comparison, Isis' songs are long, slow, heavy and epic, and Justin Chancellor even guests on one of the tracks off this album. But after a few listens the differences really start to show. Isis are a lot less evil sounding than Tool. They're not afraid of the occasional use of a major scale, or a long drawn out peaceful ambient break. More than anything else the ambient electronics, sparse vocals and the way the two guitars work together remind me very much of Mogwai.

I like this album a lot! Even though it's a huge downer and you have to be in the right mood to listen to it. The only way to describe it is 'majestic and powerful', but in a bad, moody sort of way, like the moon's falling out of the sky, or the earth is falling into the sun, or at least like modern civilisation is decaying before your eyes.

I'm not sure exactly what these songs are about, as the lyrics are usually cookie monstered beyond recognition and they haven't posted them to their website yet (which is a very nicely done site by the way), but judging from the quotes on the inside of the CD booklet (which is very nice too by the way) it's something to do with how the government wants to steal your freedom, and the music suits this perfectly.

This is easily the best album I've bought this year, I'll definitely be ordering their back catalogue soon.

A related note: The panopticon is the state of living under constant surveillance (the corporate controlled government wants to steal our freedom!) Today I read a post by Paul Musgrave about a recent issue of Reason magazine that mailed individualised copies to all their subscribers, with a satellite photo of their house on the front, and targeted advertising on the back. Isis are telling it like it is man!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ten Long Fucking Years

Hatebreed - Perseverence

Saw these guys at the big day out earlier this year and immediately put them on the 'buy their album as soon as I can' list. It's takena while but I've finally gotten around to buying it. There's no surprises here, the album delivers one straight up three minute hardcore anthem after another, and does so with little variation for 40 minutes.

After I saw these guys live I remarked that they were death metal without the bullshit. That works pretty well live, but on the album I wouldn't have minded just a little bit of bullshit, to spice things up. It's great and all, but it just gets somewhat repetative after about 15 minutes.

The other thing that I found a little bemusing is the lyrics. Coming from a heavy metal 'background' my expectations for heavy music are confounded when it turns out to all be about believing in yourself and perservering through hardship. Surely there's room for just one song about a demon that wants to eat your soul?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Gollum Blues

Every now and again I go to write a post about something I've bought and find that I don't really have much to say, but I feel like I should write something anyway, as a record of everything I've read, watched or listened to this year. The Jackass post yesterday fits into this category, and so does this one.

Led Zeppelin - Remasters

This is more or less their definitive greatest hits collection, and if you don't already know what to expect from it, then you're a bad person. Although I have to admit, there were a few tracks on here that caused me to exclaim "I didn't know this was their song!".

Two and a half hours of these guys is probably a bit much for me, and I suspect I might have been better off getting 'How the West Was Won' instead, because I think they were probably an excellent live band. Also the Lord of the Rings inspired lyrics seem kind of dorky, although I guess when they were written LotR was a bit more 'alternative' than it is now.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Jackass Vol. 2

Another Christmas present. There's not really much to say about this one, if you've ever seen Jackass then you know what to expect. Some funny stuff, some gross stuff, and some stuff you can't believe they actually did. As an example of the first, the 'American Werewolf in London', and an example of the latter, Johnny Knoxville getting hit in the crotch with a sledgehammer. Nothing much in the way of extras here either.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Velvet Revolver - Live in Concert, or, March of the Drunken Idiots

No photos sorry, I forgot my camera.

So last night it was back to the old Westpac Trust, the site of many a deafening barrage of noise, huge sweaty moshpit and hour long wait in the dark. It was about a half hour wait before The D4 (I almost wrote The Datsuns there) came on. I expected them to stink up the place, but they actually went off quite a bit. Personally I found it pretty dull, but the audience was moshing more than I've ever seen for a opening act. So respek to them for being a good opener.

It was an hour wait after they finished before Velvet Revolver came on. More than enough time to sample the erudite conversation and pleasant odour of my fellow concert-goers, the former revolving around how much they'd had to drink, or which people would be easier to push over to get to the front. I won't start on the smell. So after the interminable wait the lights suddenly went off, everyone went nuts, and Duff (the bass player) strikes a big spotlit rock pose at centre stage. I tried to be cool and collected about the whole thing, but seeing a bunch of rock legends like Slash in the flesh made me shriek like a school girl. OK, not so much shriek like a schoolgirl but more like kick people out of the way to get to the front like a munter. While the guys from Gunners were pretty awesome, it was Scott Weiland who really exuded stage presence. He came out dressed in a sort of military dress uniform, complete with tight shiny pants and a cap decorated with the iron cross.

I'm pretty sure my setlist is accurate, except that I'm not too familiar with the old Stone Temple Pilots and Gunners stuff, so I'm relying on setlists from previous shows.

Sucker Train Blues – opening with the first track from the new album. It's not very original and it always annoys me a bit when they do that. Anal I know! It's not my favorite song of theirs but it went off pretty hard. I was all primed to be in a good position to watch Slash's solo, but when it came time, he was standing at the back of the stage facing his amp. He came out to the front of the stage for the second half of it, but was very laid back. What a tease!

Do It for the Kids – Scott starts pulling off his clothes item by item.

Headspace – Slash tells us we're one of the best audiences they've played to this tour. I bet he says that to all the girls!

Superhuman – Thats four heavy songs in a row and the moshpit is still going nuts. Lots of idiot teenagers totally fucked up on booze or drugs. I do my best to encourage them to leave...

STP song I didn't know (Crackerman I believe) – Very well received. I felt dumb for not knowing it.

Illegal I Song – One of the best songs of the night, with a very long extended breakdown (the 'It's killing time on the streets' bit), with Slash playing a long mellowed out solo, I think he was modulating his voice with his guitar. It was very very cool!

Fall to Pieces – They played this one pretty straight. The crowd was into it in a major way of course. It's always cool to sing along to a ballad like this with a bunch of drunken munters.

Dirty Little Thing – Dedicated to a spoiled blonde heiress to a hotel chain. And he's not talking about the Four Seasons. One of their heaviest songs, so I was bit disappointed with the lack of hardout moshing. I guess all the wasted munters were too mellowed out from Fall to Pieces. I did my best to make up for them though!

Big Machine – OK, even I was getting a bit tired for this one...

Two songs I didn't know (research reveals that it was 'It's So Easy' by Gunners and 'Sex Type Thing' by STP) – Again I felt stink for not knowing these ones. Scott made a pretty cool speech during Sex Type Thing about not letting anyone take your freedom away. “Does it feel good to be alive today?” (big cheer), “Does it feel good to be free today?” (big cheer), “Do you feel free when you fuck?” (little cheer). Us New Zealanders have some queer hangups I think.

Set Me Free – Closing the main set with their first single. An awesome extra ending, with Slash and Dave Kushner trading riffs on the solo, and Slash playing his guitar behind his head.

First encore:
I Used to Love Her (Old Gunners song) – Slash comes back out (wearing his top hat!) and sits down to play a really nice acoustic solo. I just wished the audience had quietened down a little so I could hear it better. Slash plays his most technically impressive solo at the end of this song.

Set Me Free – My favorite song of theirs! A bit of a ballad, and I made with the waving arms and the closed eyes, much to the amusement of the drunk teenagers around me. Slash pulls out his double necked guitar for this one. Apparently one's electric and the other is acoustic.

Second encore:
Mr. Brownstone – I knew this one! Not so popular with the younger crowd.

Slither – As you can expect this one sent the crowd into a frenzy. Well, me at least. They added a cool breakdown after the solo which was pretty good.

In the end these guys totally blew me away. I wasn't actually expecting much from a big mainstream stadium band, but they put on a great show. I was there mainly to see Slash, my guitarist idol, but I was very impressed by Scott Weiland's stage presence too. And Dave Kushner, the rhythm guitarist and the only one of these guys not from another super popular band, impressed me too. He was low key and mostly avoided the limelight, but he's a pretty good guitarist too, and I liked his casual demeanor.

My only disappointments were that they didn't play 'Loving the Alien' off their new album, and that they didn't play any covers of other bands like they have at previous shows. In the past they've done 'Five to One' by The Doors and 'Negative Creep' by Nirvana, among other things, but it would have been awesome to see either of those.

FAWM - Day Something

Yeah there's been a lack of FAWM related updates this week, but I haven't been lazy, honest! Just posted a new song, '99' which I renamed 'Two Minutes of Hate', to make it more litermarary. The recording's terrible, but I'm actually happy with my cookie monster voice.

I even posted the lyrics, against my better judgement...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I Want To Stick You in the Head, and Kill You

Pluto - PipeLine Under The Ocean

Years and years ago (two, I think) I saw Pluto put on a really good show at the Big Day Out, and immediately went out and bought their album 'Red Light Syndrome'. I liked it, they're one of the quirkiest NZ rock bands, at least in the mainstream, but for some reason poor old RLS usually sits unloved and unlistened at the bottom of my CD pile.

Then this year I saw them put on another really good show at the Big Day Out this year, and bought their new album as soon as it came out. It's a lot more mainstream than their last one. There's no more freaky craziness, it's pretty much just straightforward rock, although it's very eclectic. There's the ambient 'Dance Stamina', the weird, heavy 'Perfectly Evil', the 60s surf song 'Rock'n'Roll' and the poppy 'Baby Cruel'.

Unfortunately I think it's probably going to end up at the bottom of the CD pile with it's forerunner. It's not that it's a bad album, I quite like a lot of it, especially all the sappy sad songs for some reason. However it lacks the quirkiness that I liked about their first one, and I'm not much of a fan of plain straightforward rock. Sorry Pluto, you made a nice album, but it lacks the special quality that makes me listen to something again and again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Astro City: Confession

Another graphic novel today. I'm not sure why I picked this one up, other than that it had somehow ended up on my mental list of 'good comics I should buy'.

The setting of Astro City is pretty standard superhero stuff. Busiek (the writer) has made a kind of stand in for DC's Metropolis, or the alternate New York of the Marvel series, in order to look at the superhero genre from unusual angles. The art is nice, but pretty typical of the genre. In this particular collection he tells the story of a young boy who moves to Astro City from out in the sticks, and ends up becoming a sidekick to a superhero, The Confessor.

In some ways this reminds me of Alan Moore's Top 10, even though that series is a mocking satire of superhero comics, and Astro City treats it's subject matter seriously. It tells a very character focused story with a touching ending. I'd rate it as easily one of the best comics I've read recently, in terms of good old fashioned story telling at least. I'll definitely be getting the rest of the series at some stage.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Queen & Country Book 2: Operation Morningstar

(Queen & Country Book 1: Operation Broken Ground)

You may remember that I liked the general premise of the first Queen & Country book, but felt that it lacked something in the execution. Nevertheless, during a recent shopping binge I picked up the second book in the series.

Operation: Morningstar has two separate but related plot threads. In the first, our heroine Tara Chase is having psychological issues related to the events of the first book. Meanwhile her colleagues are on a dangerous covert mission to Afghanistan (this series was written pre-9/11 by the way). The art is similar to the first book, although a little busier and less cartoony. I think I liked the original style a bit better.

Despite the sedate, morose quality of the first plot thread, the action of the second more than makes up for what I thought was missing in the first book - exciting derring-do in exotic places. The two stories actually complement one another quite nicely. In terms of mood this story is a lot darker than the last one. Tara's problems might be resolved at the end of the story, but there are some pretty unpleasant overtones to it, and in the other thread we get to see some rather nasty slices of life under the Taliban regime. But I'm certainly not afraid of grim story lines, so this was money well spent as far as I'm concerned. My only complaint is that this collection was a lot shorter than the last one.

Monday, February 14, 2005

FAWM - Day 14 (I think)

Did nothing on the weekend, I was very busy! Honest!

Today I tried my hand at drum programming, and put some to '99'. Tomorrow I'll put some lyrics to it and it'll be done. (And this time I mean it!)

Saturday Night at the Spewvies

Yesterday was the first time in a while I've gone a day without posting anything, but I had a good excuse; I was lying in bed quietly moaning, unable to move and wondering why I decided to drink so much the night before.

Anyway, before all that happened I went to see Alexander (the movie). I've stopped blogging about movies in detail because I don't feel that I have as much to say about them as I do about books and music, but I'm making an exception here in order to say "Beware: bad movie ahead! Use detour or proceed with caution!"

Oliver Stone is still a good director in many ways. I quite liked a lot of his wanky camera tricks and it was certainly a nice looking movie, but whoever wrote the script needs to take a few more writing classes, (I suggest 'How to Write a Story that Makes Sense and Doesn't Bore People to Tears' and 'The Difference Between Making Characters Nuanced and Making Them Schizophrenic'). Too much turgid drama, mastabatory pontificating about greatness, and boring speeches. Not enough foighting! The battle scenes (all two of them) were pretty good. The rest of the movie was just a big waste of time. Avoid at all costs.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Best [number] [things] Ever!

Pitchfork Media have a 'Best 100 albums of the last 5 years' feature, and it didn't completely piss me off (despite the inclusion of The Streets and The Strokes). I was pleased to see all three of Radiohead's eligible records on there, but unfortunately they forgot about Tool. I'm sure it was just momentary slip of the mind.

Just thought this was worth mentioning since it's the only time I can remember seeing one of these things and not being disgusted with their choices.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Seinfeld Volume 2

(What I said about Volume 1)

This box set contains all of season 3. By now the show had begun to grow into itself. While it is still a different beast from the crazy mayhem it eventually became, it is much less of a typical sitcom than the first few seasons (and it's gotten a lot funnier in the process).

The episodes in the first volume show the writers experimenting with different ideas, but by the third season they'd settled on what became their trademark style. Start with some little everyday incident, (two people go for the same parking space at the same time, someone gives you their pen), and in half an hour it's blown up into some improbable, insane scenario. OK, that's not the only kind of plot they use, there's also the one about the undefined areas of social behaviour (what do you do if you're indirectly responsible for causing a reformed alcoholic to fall of the wagon? How would someone react if they were told the truth about why they were being dumped?) and again, improbable insanity ensues.

All of the episodes are at least mildly funny, and always worth watching. A few of them are classics, such as 'The Parking Garage', when Jerry forgets where he parks his car and they spend the whole episode looking for it, 'The Limo', when George and Jerry con a ride in a limo intended for someone else from the airport, and my personal favorite, 'The Library' where George meets his old gym teacher, now insane and homeless.

The extras here aren't as good as those on the first volume. There's plenty of behind the scenes trivia, but it's a little scant and uninteresting compared to what was on the last box set. The commentaries aren't very good either. Mostly they're just a second laugh track. The best extra is a feature all about Kramer, and the real life guy that he's based on. You pretty much can't go wrong with that, since Kramer's the character that elevated the show from good to great.

Apologies if I've rambled a bit. I can't believe how much these three beers have affected me!

FAWM - Day 11

Polished off the guitar parts for '99'. Tomorrow I'll hopefully program in some drums, and then get drunk and record some vocals (I've got to be drunk to do a proper cookie monster voice).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

FAWM - Day 10

Did nothing today! I really wanted to too, but I was just too busy. I blame the unholy influence of Rod Stewart, who's performing a couple of blocks down the road tonight.

The song I posted last night has been eaten by geocities. So I've reposted it here, but it probably won't be accessible until tomorrow evening.

Victory over the Fascist Oppressors!

The Post Office has discontinued it's scheme to gather marketing information about houses they deliver to after major public outcry. I attribute their decision entirely to my blog post yesterday. Behold the victory of the New Media! I dance on the dessicated remains of the obsolete and corrupt Old Media!

Let this be a tribute to the power of hysterical over-reaction!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Around the Blogosphere Today

Russel Brown talks about Act's draft welfare policy, "as channelled to Muriel Newman from the space aliens".

Paul Musgrave explains why political blogs are always full of shrieking maniacs.

The regulars at Making Light are still cackling over the 'Atlanta Nights' hoax. I should really read the book at some stage.

Don't Criticise the Government, or the Posties Will Come for You

The Post Office is getting it's mail deliverers to take down details about the houses they visit and sell it to market research companies. I'm so stoked to hear that government agencies are spying on us for our corporate overlords! It saves us the trouble of putting the electrodes in our brains and beaming the information directly to them. So what do we need the SIS for? Just get the Posties to report our daily activities right back to Comrade Helen and the Ministry of Information.

FAWM - Day 9

Hey, good news. I posted a song today! I finally gave in and recorded some vocals, so 'Hard Vacuum' is available here. I might try and putting drums to '99' later tonight, but other than that, I feel like I've acheived something already tonight.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

FAWM - Day 8

I blame these oppressive humid days. I don't even want to turn my amp on because it warms up my room too much. Well I did get a little done. Re-recorded some of the guitar on 'Hard Vacuum', now it just needs some vocals. Worked a little more on the lyrics for '99'. I'm really procrastinating now, hopefully I'll feel more motivated soon.

Random Crap Day

From the 'unexpected synchronicity' file:
Why does this remind me of this? Those countries full of crazy fundies aren't so dissimilar sometimes.

From the 'is this shit for real?' file:
Does anyone live past 25 in these neighbourhoods?

Monday, February 07, 2005

FAWM - Day 7

Recorded guitar for a new song, '99', but I'm still too self conscious to record vocals on 'Hard Vacuum'. Some of the old 'musicians lubricant' might be in order later this week to help me get it done.

Resigned myself to the fact that I'll be lucky to get even seven songs by the end of the month.

Tales... of the VAMPIRES!!!

Normally I stay away from novelisations, and especially from graphic novelisations, of TV shows I like. All those Babylon5 and Dr Who books scream 'for 14 year olds only'. For some reason though, the authoritative voice of Joss Whedon convinced me to buy the one off graphic novel 'Tales of the Slayers' some months ago, and it was OK. The first story was great and the others various degrees of mediocre to all right. And that motherfucking dog next door is barking again, goddammit. OK, now I'm back. But now on Nip/Tuck they're playing some weird arse techno version of Ravel's 'Bolero' and it's not only annoying me but making me want to go and find an mp3 of the original. Jesus' must be sending me distractions because he doesn't want me to write this post or something.

OK, on to 'Tales of the Vampires'. 'Tales of the Slayers' was a series of short stories about various vampire slayers throughout history, and as you'd expect, tales of the vampires is a series of short stories about various vampires throughout history, along with a lame framing device.

I rate it a lot higher than 'Slayers', as there are several very good stories here. 'Father', 'Taking Care of Business' and 'Dames' are all cool quirky tales with a twist. 'Spot the Vampire' and 'Some Like it Hot' are just funny. My favorite however is 'Antique', which starts out as an eye-rollingly predictable re-hash of the Buffy ep 'Buffy vs. Dracula', but ends up in a completely different place, thematically speaking. The common thread through all the stories being the vulnerability of the demonic protagonists, exposing their human sides. There's a few average ones in there too, most notably a snoozer starring Angel and the uninteresting framing story, but by and large it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

FAWM - Day 6

Did nothing. It's too hot and I'm tired and hungover.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

FAWM - Day 5

Well, not as much progress as I'd hoped. Spent some time getting my audio hardware set up right, and then figuring out how to use Cubase (which conveniently came free with the sound card).

Recorded guitar for 'I Only Like Sad Songs', which probably needs to be done again, because I was kind of figuring things out as I went, and the tempo is completely screwed. Also recorded 'Acousticy song', now renamed 'Hard Vacuum', as it's found itself some lyrics (and became significantly non-acoustic). I should re-record some of it, 'cos there's quite a few fuckups in it, but I don't know if I've got time. Tomorrow or tonight I'll record some vocals (although I'm feeling pretty self conscious about that part of the process) and then I'll have a song to post. Hopefully.

The Red Star: Nokgorka

Nokgorka is the second volume in the Red Star series. It's a fantasised history of the USSR, set in a country called the URRS (the United Republic of the Red Star). In the first volume we were introduced to our protagonist Maya, a sorceress in the Army of the Red Star who's participating in the invasion of Al-Istaan, an analogue to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The second volume fast forwards ten years, where the URRS is attempting to pacify Nokgorka, an analogue to Chechnya.

First up, the art needs to be mentioned. It's a very cool mixture of hand drawn and computer generated art. It looks pretty awesome, the best part being a huge air battle involving the URRS troop transports, which are big flying magic powered juggernauts. As for the plot, it's pretty interesting, but like most comic compilations, the pacing just seems completely off.

It's a little expensive for it's slender length, but the stunning artwork more than makes up for it. I'll definitely be getting the next one soon.

Friday, February 04, 2005

FAWM - Day 4

Got my new sound card up and running, but other than that, nuthin. But hey, it's Friday! I'll make up for it tomorrow.

Friday 'When Can I Start Drinking' Bonus Link

Anti-Bush Administration Diatribe Edition

Thursday, February 03, 2005

FAWM - Day 3

Didn't get much done today, because I didn't have much time. My new sound card has been delayed till tomorrow as well, but I think that's a good thing, since it gave me time to revise 'I Only Like Sad Songs' a little, and I think it's much improved. I also wrote a bit more for 'Acousticy Song', but it's still a long way from finished. Came up with a few more cool riffs as well, but nothing solid enough to label as a song, yet.

Most importantly though, was that after wracking my brain all day I came up with some lyrics that I'm relatively pleased with, so that makes me happy with what I've achieved today. I might not have time to do much tomorrow, but hopefully I can put in some solid work over the weekend and post a few songs by the end of Sunday.

Queen and Country

It's graphic novel season here at the Wildebeest Asylum, so get ready for some hardcore discussion of sequential art.

First up it's 'Queen & Country' volume 1, subtitled 'Operation: Broken Ground', written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Steve Rolston.

For some time now I've been a sucker for modern, post-cold war spy stories. Compared to the black and white democracy vs communism stories you used to get in the heyday of James Bond, modern day stories usually have a large cast of minor global players, and every character and organisation is some dirty shade of grey. There's always plenty of opportunity for complicated relationships and clever schemes, and even more opportunity for it to all go awry. I love it.

Anyway, 'Queen and Country' fits right into this mold. The main character, Tara Chase, is a British SIS operative, and the first time we see her she's in Kosovo, blowing out the brains of a Russian mobster. Sweet. From then on in, it's all clever schemes, gunfights, inter-agency politics and stuff getting blown up, all done very gritty and realistic like.

Unfortunately, despite it containing all the ingredients to impress me, it felt a bit like it didn't quite achieve its potential. It's not that the characters are unlikable, you expect that from this genre, and I've enjoyed plenty of stories about unlikable characters in the past (although these guys did remind me a bit too much of Harry Enfield's 'Dog of War' character, "Insoide, Oim dead!"). It's pacing was very good, avoiding the most common problem I have with graphic novels. I think it just comes down to there being too much time spent on the characters interacting with one another, and not enough on shit getting fucked up. I know it sounds like a very low brow thing to say, but I expect a bit more action from my spy genre!

Having said that, by and large I thought it was pretty well done, and I expect I'll buy the next in the series at some stage. And the art is pretty cool too. Monochrome, simple and clean, but very realistic and expressive.

I also hear that Greg Rucka has written a Batman spin off about the everyday cops working in Gotham City. Sounds cool, that'll go on the 'to buy' list as well.

More comics soon....

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

FAWM Day 2

Still haven't succeeded in registering, but I just emailed them so hopefully that will help.

Took a look at what other people have already done at the fawm website, and am now a little concerned that all these folky pop/rock people might not be the best audience for what I'm doing, but never mind.

Their suggestion for this week is to write something in a weird time signature. That's convenient, because the influence of Dillinger Escape Plan has made 'I Only Like Sad Songs' come out in a pretty bizarre rhythm. In fact, it's almost completely inconsistent, so maybe I should try and do something else similar but a little more structured later on this week.

Speaking of which, that song is pretty much finished, and my new sound card arrives tomorrow so I'll be able to start recording it then. I've got two other songs on the go now too, currently called 'Acousticy song' and 'Blues song', which are a lot mellower than the first one I wrote. They need some lyrics though, hopefully I'll get some inspiration tomorrow.

See the Black Sun Rise, Over the Solar Lodge

Scatology - Coil

I finally caved in and bought this album, even though I've always been a little put off by it's subject matter. Turns out I was worried about nothing, the scatalogical references (musical and lyrical) don't exactly leap right out at you. This is their first full length album, and I believe the earliest of their recordings possible to find unless you want to trawl through eBay and pay through the nose.

The first impression that it makes is that it's very 80s. Other than that it's not too dissimilar from their later output. Expect lots of tortured electronics, moody ambiance, crazy high pitched flute noises and Jhon Balance howling like a madman.

About half the tracks are a bit forgettable, but the rest are pretty good. 'At the Heart of it All' is a nice moody one, 'Tenderness of Wolves' is a freaky scary song with haunting lyrics and vocals. Makes you think of the darkest aspects of human nature, (perfect accompaniment for reading this). 'Cathedral in Flames' has the coolest lyrics 'In the distance... a cathedral in flames'[1] (reminds me of 'The Golden Section' off Horse Rotorvator), and it finishes with a cover of 'Tainted Love' about a thousand times more interesting than Marilyn Manson's one.

[1] There's more than a little anti-christian sentiment here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

FAWM Day One

Well the website won't let me register, and it still hasn't officially started in the US because of time zone differences, but I'm starting anyway dammit.

Good start I guess, even though I had a nasty headache this afternoon and didn't work on it for as long as I could've. Got two good ideas for songs and began developing them, the current working titles are 'I Only Like Sad Songs' and 'Acousticy Song'. One of those titles is sarcastic...

I'm also looking at getting a badass sound card (probably Audigy2, I want a DMX but I don't think it's worth the hassle of importing it), and some decent composition software, any recommendations?

You're a Long Way Out

You've Got to Hear the Music - Dimmer

I caught about ten minutes of these guys at the Big Day Out and was moderately impressed, so I decided it was past time I grabbed their new album. These guys won a bunch of awards last year and the music press was absolutely stoked because Shayne Carter, the main guy behind this band, has been around in a variety of different bands for twenty years, most of which were critically acclaimed and commercially ignored (I've been meaning to buy some Straitjacket Fits for years...). I guess I've always had a soft spot for these ancient Flying Nun guys who've been doing their thing for way longer than kiwi rock has been cool, but I never seem to get around to expressing it with my wallet.

The album is very languid and relaxed. Very kiwi in some ways. It begins with some upbeat jazzy songs, including the single 'Come Here', but turns towards slower moodier tracks later on. It's all guitar based stuff, but on almost all the tracks there's a lot of electronica going on in the background. As you'd expect from someone who's been at this for twenty years, Carter's a pretty decent songwriter, and he mixes all sorts of influences together to make some unique and original music.

This is normally a recipe for the kind of thing I'd really like, but I'm not so excited about this album. Sure, it's OK, I quite like the moodiest songs, 'Case', 'Concentration' and 'Only One That Matters', and even the soppy closer, 'Finality'. But unfortunately the album as a whole just doesn't do it for me, I think it's just a little overtly poppy and unadventurous. I feel kind of bad for not liking it so much, Shayne Carter being a bigshot local indie musician and all, but the last time I felt that way about an album, it really grew on me a lot after I wrote the review, so maybe that will happen here too.

Oh, and it comes with a bonus live acoustic CD (which is almost as long as the album itself). I'd rate it about the same as the album. The low point is the ten minute 'Seed' which just goes on for too long, and the high point is 'If I Were You', which I believe is an old Straitjacket Fits song.