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music

Princess Diana and King Richard; or, Two Royal Disappointments.

Diana Krall‘s The Look of Love ups the ante on her previous When I Look In Your Eyes album: more strings, more mush. Krall’s voice — cool, even cold, with limited range but nicely expressive nonetheless — sounds just about perfect in an intimate, small-group setting (check out the wonderful All for You), but it just isn’t strong enough to compete with the forced grandiloquence of a string orchestra. (Madeline and I saw her in concert with Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl last year, and she was okay with the orchestra — but not like Bennett, who simply brought the house down.) Here, the humor and life are just about sucked out of the songs, with Krall left to slaughter “Besame Mucho” — perhaps she should get lessons from her idol Nat King Cole on how a non-Spanish speaker is supposed to sing the song. The booklet’s gauzy shots (click on the “gallery” link) of her cleavage, her pouting lips and her legs — combined with all the fussy string arrangements — betray a sad lack of faith on the part of her handlers in her ability to smolder just as well in a trio. We want the old Diana back.

For another utter disappointment, Aphex Twin‘s new double album, Drukqs, vividly illustrates the sad state of electronic music. Or maybe it’s my tastes that have changed, but this sounds so 1998. Richard D. James cranks out 30 interchangeable and sometimes undeveloped tracks of stale drill-‘n-bass, piano pieces right out of Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” a prepared piano tune here and there. And the unpronounceable titles, the sampled unintelligible mumblings, the nursery-rhyme melodies are all still here — just buried underneath the heavy sameness of it all. It’s like he burned his laptop leavings onto a couple of CDRs and mailed it off to Sire.

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music

Could it be… Satan?

Here’s something I wrote in 1998 or 1999 or so.

I’ve always been kind of fascinated with how these little backmasking scares appear to come in cycles, particularly when there’s some perceived “moral crisis” in the country. As priest confessors, Grand Inquisitors, Puritans from Salem, Kenneth Starr and Manoling Morato illustrate, those most obsessed with sex (or Satan) are the same ones who’ve taken it upon themselves to ferret sex and Satan out.[1] Too much time on their hands, I’d say, when there are genuine social concerns to address.

Granted, subliminal images in advertising and films are fairly well-documented. There were rumors in the ’60s (during the Cold War, a good panicky time) that there were subliminal advertisements underneath the Muzak played in supermarkets to encourage shoppers to buy certain products. But to lead someone to worship Lucifer??? Give me a break. It’s a very anti-humanist view of people for Christian pastors to adopt, I’d say, taking the metaphor of “their flock” too seriously…

One of the guys in my high school was utterly obsessed over backmasking and the connection between rock ‘n’ roll and Satan that he ultimately wrote a 100-page paper for a Social Science class about it. Essentially the guy, fueled by his newfound born-again Christian fundamentalist faith, combed through back issues of Creem and Kerrang! or whatever and picked out various anti-Christian/anti-status quo quotes, of which there were many. The local Catholic church was so impressed with his research that they invited him to give a two-part lecture at the local auditorium. [2]

In any case, the highlight of his presentation was the result of painstaking backmasking; Cool Edit didn’t exist then, so he must have cracked open all those tapes and physically turned the loops over. Unbelievable! Anyhow, everyone was given a handout with all the evil lyrics they were supposed to hear, thus setting the stage for a more receptive audience.[3]

First up was Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” — the part in the beginning where the vocals go “It’s a lie / it’s a lie” was supposed to sound like “God is cheap / God is dead.” “Turn me on dead man,” from “Revolution No. 9,” was reinterpreted as a reference to Satan. Anyhow, he went through a whole range of songs — Tears For Fears’ “Shout,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Hotel California” (boy did he have a field day with that one), but I can’t remember the exact words we were supposed to hear. Most famously was the “Start to smoke marijuana” phrase supposedly heard during Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust.” (This was “clearest” during the chorus “breakdown” just before the end, when Freddie Mercury kept reciting “Another one bites the dust” over handclaps.) Though the backmasker couldn’t exactly explain the significance of the backwards message in Prince’s “Darling Nikki” (off the album “Purple Rain”) — it went something like “God is coming soon” — so Enrique (our backmasker’s name) chose to focus on the sexual lyrics instead.

Actually, the highlight for me was when he showed huge slides of black metal album covers. The look on the nuns’ faces was priceless.

[1] Satan and sex happen to some of the constant bugaboos in urban folklore, e.g. the supposed giant phallus on “The Little Mermaid” poster, the supposed “666” in the Procter and Gamble logo, etc.

[2] This happened to be a particularly urban folklore-fertile period (1988 or so) in the Philippines as well, which saw the country in the grip of a Satanism scare. Church groups were handing out flyers on “How to Spot a Satanist” — the anarchy symbol, the pentagram, 666, etc. The same flyers would warn of punks with mohawk haircuts defacing grave stones *and* distributing LSD-laced stickers to school kids (a nice conflation of urban myths right there). Needless to say, everyone distributed by the Twisted Red Cross label were highly suspect…

[3] (Obviously the way it works is through the power of suggestion: if you’re consciously looking out for “evil” lyrics, then garbled vocals will sound like what you want them to sound. The brain, in an attempt to find coherence in distortion, automatically tries to isolate and combine phonemes without the presence of a template — and if that same template (with all the evil lyrics) is already presented to you, then hey! it works.)

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Poop.

Poop. Madeline and I have recently become fascinated with poop. Not ours, mind you, but the poop of the two little creatures in our lives: Izzy the baby and Shelby the dog. At first it seemed that my primary way of relating with Izzy (now almost seven weeks) was through diaper-changing (thankfully today, after about 20 minutes of total bawling, she finally fed from the bottle). Even my nicknames for her seemed to be derived from diaper-related activities.

Much of this was precipitated by Shelby’s sudden regression, as it were, into the same nervous behavior when she first arrived from the pound: bouts of vomiting and melted-chocolate-ice-cream diarrhea inside the house (right next to where I’m sitting now as a matter of fact). A bland diet of rice and cream cheese ensued. Diarrhea continued for a while (the stains on the sidewalk stayed out there for what seemed like a month), but now it’s back to the reassuring dark-green, solid stuff.

Izzy’s bowel movements, on the other hand, remain the same consistency, whether fed with breast milk or formula — to be precise, her diaper always looks smeared with Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter. This is in contrast to the grainy Grey Poupon (or is it “Poopon?”) Dijon mustard stuff from her first two weeks. (I’m just thankful we have diaper service, otherwise we’ll have to be rinsing and washing a whole sackful of dirty diapers once a week.) But what varies is the force by which it comes out — either slow like toothpaste coming out of a tube, though accompanied by much farting, or downright explosive. One time the poop shot off the changing table and onto Madeline’s desk, a good two feet away, spraying everything (the changing table, the edge of the desk, the diaper Genie, Madeline’s arms, my hand) within a two-foot radius. Pretty spectacular.

Of course, the trick is to wait until all the racket is over before you decide to undo the tapes or Velcro (depending on whether she’s wearing a wrap). The change in the temperature, especially if the wipes are cold, can also stimulate other adverse reactions (peeing all over her clothes is not fun — I can’t imagine what we’d do if she was a boy, especially since I’ve heard many stories about little boys hitting their parents in the eye).

Haven’t written anything in a long time, what with an onslaught of midterms and quizzes and a spate of sleeping outside on the sofa during Izzy’s second month, when she wouldn’t go to sleep without being held. About two weeks ago, however, Izzy started sleeping through the night; now she goes to bed at 9 p.m. (and pretty much so do we), cries a bit at 5 a.m. as she moves from one sleep cycle to another, and then we wake her up at 7 a.m. with lots of good morning kisses, a moisturizer rubdown, and a diaper change.

Had a bit of a breakthrough with her bottle-feeding, which has caused us much anxiety and stress. It seems that Playtex nipples (and their nursers with disposable liners that look suspiciously like, um, never mind) seem to work, as Izzy was happily sucking away yesterday. (Previously Izzy would hardly suck or swallow with the Avent nipples, and the Gerber nipples, we think, gave her a massive tummy ache.) She took about an ounce and a half of breast milk with the Playtex, so we’ll continue with that today.

I’m in a bit of downtime right now, being in the middle of Thanksgiving weekend (spent last night’s dinner with my friends Jeff and Kumi), waiting for my dissertation committee to respond and with nothing to grade. So I’ve been preparing a syllabus for my Research Methods in Ethnic Studies class in the spring — quite difficult for someone with little background in quantitative research (which is wherre my team-teacher comes in) — and actually enjoying looking up information on interviewing and case studies.

Oh, and a little plug for an absolutely stellar game (I played the demo a few days ago): Max Payne. The comic-book cutscenes, the voice acting (but not the enemies, who come with terrible Italian accents right out of Life with Luigi), the graphics — are flat-out superb. But the best twist to this shoot-’em-up is “Bullet Time,” where with a click of the right-mouse button you can slow down everyone’s movement (and hear nothing but a loud heartbeat) and dive, John Woo-style, with dual berettas in hand, gunning your enemies down at the same time. And if you manage to clear out a roomful of baddies, you get an awesome slo-mo, Matrix-like 360-degree shot of the bad guy going down. (My favorite scene was when, via Bullet Time, I leaped out of a corner, gunned one bad guy down, jumped up on a sofa where another bad guy was hiding, and promptly wasted his ass from above while standing on a sofa.)

Okay, enough violence for such a little plug!

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music

Bjork; Stereolab.

Bjork; Stereolab. Two much-anticipated albums were released last week, and I promptly hopped over to Tower Records after my last class on Tuesday to get them.

Bjork‘s Vespertine is a fine, fine album, and it is growing on me with every listen. She has pretty much abandoned her dance diva days, but not necessarily the subject matter — this is still all about big-time sensuality. Each track is a finely-threaded, miniaturized, filigreed, ProTooled work; somehow wisps of jewelled lace come to mind. The album isn’t very melodic in the conventional sense and, as such, borrows more heavily from the theatrics of the Selmasongs album. The highlight comes at the end with “Unison,” the loveliest, most soaring song on Vespertine, but “Hyper-Ballad” it still isn’t. Along with Radiohead’s Amnesiac, this is the most experimental major-label release so far this year.

In contrast, Stereolab‘s Sound-Dust is a rather limp affair and, despite the presence of those fellers from Chicago (not the band Chicago, god no, but the folks from Tortoise / Chicago Underground Duo/Trio etc.), sounds like warmed-over Muzak. I saw them live a year or two ago, touring on the Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night album (or maybe it was Dots and Loops), and they rocked, coming across louder and harder in concert than in the studio. But this time the abrupt time changes, Laetitia Sadier’s run-on phrasing, the slightly off-kilter harmonizing — all quite endearing in previous albums — I find oddly cloying and grating somehow.

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music

The Eraserheads, Part Three: The Circus Years

And here’s part three of the Eraserheads article. I wish I’d finished it — in particular, with a little analysis of my favorite Eraserheads song ever, “Alapaap.”

The Eraserheads, Part Three: The Circus Years

But for the second album, Circus, an album of the highest order, the Eraserheads made a stunning leap into the sphere of Pure Pop Perfection, already more than hinted at by ultraelectromagneticpop! From the sly, skewed and skewering humor of “Punk Zappa” to the irrepressible longing of “Sembreak,” the album probed, with sparkling insight, the vagaries of the everyday: insomnia, drinking, smoking pot, pornography, semester breaks, obsessive music fans, pining for the one you love. Never have the Eraserheads been so earthbound and yet so transcendent at the same time.

The torch song “Kailan,” for instance, is both an uncanny doo-wop imitation (albeit one filtered through an Apo Hiking Society sensibility) and an in-joke, with only the slightest hint of irony. The often-abused “unplugged” or acoustic version – usually meant to convey some sort of sincerity about the music – actually works here, in “Kailan Lounge.” Buendia’s vocals are incredibly expressive here – but then again, so is the rest of the band. Adoro’s guitars sound extremely assured on “Wishing Wells”; Zabala’s bass-playing is fuller and more complex on “Magasin“; Marasigan drums up a storm on rave-ups like “Insomya” and “Alkohol.”

The sheer unpretentiousness of the Eraserheads’ music can be seen in concert; obviously they aren’t “too cool” to not lead the crowd on a sing-along to the chorus, or to not play a crowd-pleasing medley. The wonderful shamelessness in incorporating harmonizing vocals or pa-pa-pa-pa bridges attests to a certain kind of musical sincerity. (Buendia actually gets away with singing “Let me hear you sing it” between the doo-doo-doo-doo refrain in “With a Smile.”)

Circus, as I had pointed out, represents an incredible stylistic jump from the first album, taking listeners along with them on their forays into different musical territory. But it is, at the same time, quite cognizant of their musical influences, from the Apo Hiking Society to the J. Geils Band.

Which brings me to the amazing “Magasin,” which at first listen sounds like a pale ripoff of the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold.” This is hardly the case: the Eraserheads make the latter sound completely leering and adolescent. (Okay, so there may be deeper philosophical implications found in “My blood runs cold / My memory has just been sold,” but I doubt it.) Their plots are similar: guy picks up a nudie magazine, and discovers (the former) girl of his dreams inside. Buendia’s protagonist is momentarily guilt-stricken (“Sana’y hindi nakita“), but in the act of looking his entire world has suddenly changed (“Iba na ang ‘yong tingin / Iba na ang ‘yong ngiti / Nagbago na’ng lahat sa ‘yo“). “Magasin” is more complex, more in tune with the turmoil and guilty pleasure of seeing one’s boyhood fantasy naked to the world. It shouldn’t be this way, he must say to himself. She is not the same anymore. But then he looks. And looks. By the time we get to the song’s punchline of sorts, he has succumbed to the temptation. Such drama in a pop song!