I just listened to the new album, and it’s pretty excellent. As a big fan of both Michael Angelakos the musician and the guy named Mike I graduated high school with, I sincerely hope he’s able to get control of his mental health.
Hey, Tumblr, long time no rant! This time the lucky recipient of my ire is one David Lowery, who recently wrote this post about ethical consumption of music on the internet as a response to this post about not paying for music by Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered, which is in turn a response to this post by Bob Boilen about entrusting all his music to the cloud. Obviously, one more blog response is just what this controversy needs, so even though I’m late to the party, here I am putting my hands on Mr. Lowery’s shoulders and seeing where this crazy conga line takes me.
I should say up front that I’m not going to give Mr. Lowery the full Joel Stein treatment, because unlike Mr. Stein, he does not seem to be an ignorant fool and/or troll, but rather just a guy who doesn’t realize that he’s having the wrong conversation. If I sound testy, it’s because I really hate when my generation (I’m using the word “my” loosely, by the way—just this afternoon I googled “What is a YOLO,” which I’m pretty sure automatically disqualifies me from membership in Generation Lazy or Generation Entitled, or whatever it is Generation Condescending is calling it these days) gets maligned as somehow morally deficient, when our only real crime is having been born just in time for the digital age to descend. Grown-ups like Mr. Lowery love invoking the issue of music sharing in order to take a moral high ground that doesn’t belong to them, tacitly giving themselves credit for resisting a temptation they never had to face when they were young and broke and foolish. As if their teenaged selves, when offered a perfect, perfectly free duplicate of the latest Beatles album by one of their friends, would have clutched at their pearls and gasped, “Goodness, no! Paul McCartney might go bankrupt and kill himself, and it would be all my fault! Absolutely keep that free music away from me!”
PTX Volume 1: A Cappella (and Electro-Pop) Like You've Never Heard It Before
It was only a matter of time until this post. I would have gotten it out earlier—the debut EP from Sing-Off Season Three champions Pentatonix has been out for almost two weeks, after all—but I was too swamped with visitors and fun to give it my immediate attention. Then last weekend I was able to dedicate a good chunk of a 12-hour round trip train ride (less fun) to the seven tracks contained in PTX Volume 1, and I pretty much haven’t stopped listening since. My headphones are in grave danger of fusing to my head. I may need an intervention soon, and it may need to be surgical.
So what’s got me so hooked? The same stuff that gets everyone else hooked on mainstream pop music, I imagine, only better. At a time when the chart toppers have reached an all time high in terms of vapidity*, along comes a group like Pentatonix, who can take a hollowed out shell of a pop song, fill it to the brim with musicality, and transform it into something just as fun, at least twice as listenable, and five times as impressive. Because did I mention the part about the instruments? Spoiler: there aren’t any.
I know it might seem weird to praise a group for their originality when over 2/3 of their album is covers, but the fact is that the best parts of those tracks didn’t appear in the original arrangements. If the phrase “make it your own” ever had meaning in the first place, it’s just been redefined. Take the opening track, a cover of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” which is available for listening on YouTube. (Warning: The music video was sponsored by a teeth whitening service, and is exactly as cheesy as you would expect a music video sponsored by a teeth whitening service to be. But the track itself is well worth the listen. For the full effect, turn the quality up to HD and wear headphones.) The song cycles through about twelve different harmonic, dynamic, and rhythmic shifts before it’s through—including two distinct breakdowns and a five-part choral arrangement—and comes out all the catchier for it. And come on, what club song wouldn’t be improved by adding a little overtone/Tuvan throat singing, am I right?
Coincidentally, someone just posted this meme to Facebook while I was writing this post:
Don’t despair, guy! Pentatonix are here to save you!
Sunshine. The weather here has been ruthlessly, unrelentingly gorgeous for as long as I can remember now, like a week or something. The stress this causes is twofold: 1) I feel like I’m wasting my life if I spend even a single second indoors, especially since I have exactly zero what one would call “good reasons” to be indoors, and 2) As a pale person, going outside and “enjoying” the sunshine means dousing myself in equal parts sunscreen and abject terror that I’m not wearing enough sunscreen, and then using any remaining bits of my consciousness to try and eke out some enjoyment.
That I’ve turned into the type of city-dweller who is stressed out by tourists.
That everyone in this city owns a dog but me. True story: while coming into my apartment last night, I saw a husky loping down the opposite sidewalk dragging its leash and had a brief but vivid fantasy about dashing across the street and claiming it for my own. It was an impulse I had to actively resist.
That there are still several days before my dear, dear family comes to visit and time is moving too slowly.
That there are only two months left of my stay in Berlin and time is moving too quickly.
That I have the free time to do anything and the patience to do nothing.
That every single sentence I write in my head immediately shifts in about a hundred different directions as soon as I start to type it out, like it’s not a sentence at all but rather a robot in disguise as a sentence, a short-circuited grammatical Transformer that continuously flips through syntax and synonyms and becomes neither a killing machine nor a car.
That each stage of this transformation (including the final one, which is only final by virtue of my surrender) is objectively terrible in some way, shape, or form.
That the LA Kings might very well win a Stanley Cup before the Buffalo Sabres. Honestly. The Kings.
That nothing on this list is, in the grand scheme of things, at all worth feeling stressed out about.
Been a while, but here are my respective high and low points of this week:
High: Going into a Spätkauf at one o’clock in the morning and discovering a brand of wine coolers called “Kalte Muschi.” (For those not familiar with dirty German slang, trust me that that is a hilarious name for a wine cooler. Especially at one o’clock in the morning.) (Okay, I’ll give you a hint: there’s a picture of a cat on the bottle.) It tasted pretty terrible, but the comedic value was worth every penny.
Low:Construction on the U1 has extended my twice-weekly commute to a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes round trip. Until June. You cut me deep, BVG. You cut me real deep.
I’ll be honest, I decided to read Atonement because I liked the movie. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across some random internet people’s opinions of the film and realized that maybe I’d had a much different reading of the story than everyone else. Now having finished the book, I’m pleased to know that it is I who is right. Take that, random internet people!
(Before I go any further, please note that I am not crazy. I realize that the comments I found were probably just coincidentally in agreement and not actually representative of the entirety of viewer reactions. But this is my blog, and I’ll construct straw men if I want to.)
(Also, at the risk of sounding presumptive that anyone is actually reading this: major spoilers ahead.)
Basically, the gist of these opinions was that Briony Tallis, the story’s protagonist as well as its fictional author, was evil. She was a vile little girl that grew up into a self-centered old woman, and in either incarnation she was in desperate need of a strangling. In short, she was the villain.
Leaving aside the richness of naming a thirteen year old the villain of a story that has a child rapist among its cast of characters, this just didn’t make sense to me. Were we really meant to believe that Briony did what she did out of malice and not ignorance? That she thought she’d made everything hunky dory by the end? Was I some kind of sociopath for empathizing with her? Thankfully, the book provided the answers, and they were all no. Or, look, at least I think they’re no. I suppose you could think differently, but just let me remind you that it’s lack of empathy that indicates sociopathy.
*Chapters 4-5, Amnon Zichroni, Die Leinwand - Benjamin Stein (Fiction)*
Chapter 1, Imaginary Girls - Nova Ren Suma (Young Adult Fiction) Note: This was a Kindle sample. I’m not going to continue the book right now, but I’m definitely putting it on my list for later because I liked what I read.
Prologue-Chapter 1, Part One, The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (Young Adult Fiction) Note: WHY HAVE I NOT READ THIS BEFORE. IT IS BRILLIANT. Joel Stein is a much bigger idiot than he knows if he’s deliberately missing out on stuff like this.
After finishing David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day recently, I felt inspired to write up one of my own personal experiences as an American abroad. Many procrastinatory hours later, here it is!
When it comes to traveling in Europe, pretending to be Canadian is the American way. That’s been the case for so long, I can’t even remember what exactly we’re supposed to be afraid of anymore. Still, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine why anyone might dislike the United States on principle (off the top of my head: politics, McDonald’s, war, the Kardashians, the Bush administration’s foreign policy, our undignified and tone-deaf clinging to the title of Greatest Country in the World), so the advice to wrap ourselves in the protective points of the red maple leaf and pretend to be one of our less complicated neighbors to the north seems unquestionably sound.
As a native Western New Yorker, I can fake Canadian better than most. I grew up less than 30 miles from the northern border and have the regional accent to match; I know all of the words to “O Canada,” and sing it often and with gusto; I can correctly name Canada’s capital (Ottawa, not Toronto), national animal (beaver, not moose), and national sport (lacrosse, not hockey); I can use words like “poutine” and “toque” in a sentence; and, although I wouldn’t be able to produce one if asked, I can tell you that the Canadian passport has both a griffin and a unicorn on it.
It’s an expertly, if completely coincidentally crafted disguise that I’ve never used once. I’m not sure why. Maybe I forget, maybe I just can’t be bothered, but I think probably I’m just that secure in my Americanness—not in the way that means I’ll put a boot in your ass, but in the way that means I’m okay letting other people get their grubby little misconceptions all over my sense of national identity. At the end of the day, those fingerprints wipe right off and my complex relationship with the country I call home is still entirely my own. I figure if someone wants to hate me based on where I was born, then that’s on them. I’m not obligated to lie to protect them from their prejudices.
And anyway, sometimes the Stars and Stripes offer their own protection.
In June of 2008 I was in Vienna, watching the irreparably imperial city play begrudging co-host to the UEFA Euro Cup Tournament and all its attendant football mania. Among other precautionary measures, the statue of Maria Theresia had been barricaded in her eponymous square, the collection of rare roses in the Volksgarten had been locked away from anyone who might pee or puke on them, and all portraits of Kaiser Franz Josef had been pre-defaced with silly mustaches.* It was all very theatrical, but the implicit promise of danger—“These crazy sports fans, there’s no telling what they’ll do!”—lent an attractive chaos to the final month of my semester abroad.
Walking home alone late one night, I noticed two men coming toward me on the sidewalk. I crossed the street to avoid them, and felt my heart start pumping instinctively faster when they followed me. Something told me I was about to have my first brush with foreign football nonsense, and I wasn’t disappointed.