Religious Orders

Music I Bought in 2014-2015

Posted: Wednesday March 11 2015 @ 9:41am

Religious Order: Music

Well, how about some really short music reviews, instead of the usual book reviews?

I have two main resources for musical insight these days. One is Tuff Gnarl, at least partially run by Chuck Livid, who used to run Livid Records. The other is Sound It Out. Tuff Gnarl runs more towards the punk side, while Sound It Out has a broader overall coverage.

So here's some stuff to which I first listened to in 2014-2015. That doesn't mean something came out recently, just that I bought it recently. Releases are roughly in order of their coming to my attention.

Beauty & Ruin by Bob Mould

Sounds like vintage Bob Mould. To be honest, none of it really stood out for me, but it's solid Bob. If you like Bob's solo work, you'll like this.

I've Failed You by Kittie

I haven't really listened to Kittie since their debut. This new-ish release is tighter, more restrained. Musically, they're more skilled, but it's missing the raw edge of their early work.

This will probably work for you if you're more of a fan of this style of metal than I am.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 16 by the Donnas

This is a hodge-podge of new tracks, re-recorded tracks, unreleased tracks, and live tracks. The new ones are okay, but the Donnas lost their punk edge a while back and never really recovered from it. The re-recorded tracks are some of their very early songs rescued from their extremely lo-fi recording abilities at the time. Alas, they also lack the edge of youth. They sonically sound better while not being anywhere near as exciting. The rest is fine, but nothing really stands out.

The Menace by Elastica

Each song sounds like some sort of novelty experiment. None really work. Disappointing.

Cannibal Island by the Young Rochelles

Miss the Dickies? These folks are a decent replacement.

Intercourse by Intercourse

Sounds an awful lot like early Henry-era Black Flag. Brings up the same pissy punk rage feelings from my youth. Crank it loud in the car.

Unfortunately, the band didn't properly set up their Bandcamp account, so they never received my money. This makes me sad.

Lady Bits by Lady Bits

Atonal riot grrrls.

Village of Weedville by Village of Weedville

Awesome chunk of southern rock. Sort of a bastard mix of Nashville Pussy, Drive-By Truckers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd? I dunno. All I know is that I like it. (If you can't enjoy a song joyously called She Eats Pussy, then I don't think you can enjoy life.)

Lost Sirens by New Order

Alternate tracks and outtakes from the last New Order album. There's a reason they were left off the album. Totally unnecessary.

Rips by Ex Hex

At first, this sounded like a more instrumentally skilled version of Famous Monsters. Turns out they're more like the Cramps. I know it's hard to think back, but the Cramps didn't really click for me, at first. It took some listening before they oozed into my brain. Same thing here. After a bit, the songs suddenly are insanely catchy and won't leave your head.

Ex Hex by Mary Timony

Hey! This record has the same name as the previous band! That's because the band is led by Timony. So, this release has a similar habit of worming its way into your head.

Reboot by Go Betty Go

So, Go Betty Go broke up, reformed, and launched this crowd-funded release. It's pretty good, but I would be lying if I said it was as good as their pre-breakup releases. The thing is, those earlier records set a high bar. I have high hopes for future efforts.

Spin-O-Rama by the Primitives

Oh, my, the same sunny bright pop as in the 80s. It's as if they stepped out of a time machine.

The Way by Buzzcocks

Sounds like current day Buzzcocks, no more, no less.

Aliens in the Outfield by Diarrhea Planet

Tasty power-pop leaning towards the rock side, with a really unfortunate name. Sure, it would be great for a punk band. This isn't a punk band.

REV by the Reverend Horton Heat

The previous Reverend release leaned more country. Perhaps it didn't sell well, because this one leans heavily towards the sort of classic frat boy rockabilly that made their name. It's a rollicking fun listen, although Let Me Teach You How To Eat is just an awful attempt at a double-entendre song, despite the inclusion of some deliciously chubbier cheesecake in the video. Their own Wiggle Stick is a much better example.

Girlpool by Girlpool

Do you wish the Murmurs were punkier and had worse voices. Here you go!

Ummm, that's actually a recommendation.

Back From The Abyss by Orange Goblin

Solid metal, but they really wear their inspirations on their sleeves. Oh, yeah, that's a Motorhead song. Yep, that's an Iron Maiden song. Again, it's solid stuff, just very derivative at times.

Let It Rock by The Georgia Satellites

Got a little change in my pocket, going jing-a-ling-a-ling...

So I picked up this great best-of. They were a great band, with more great songs than just their one big hit. I was actually pointed at the disc by an article describing their cover of Don't Pass Me By as sounding like a southern Replacements. I'll be damned it if doesn't, too.

Treatment Bound by Bright Little Field

I recently bought an ukulele. I was working on learning If Only You Were Lonely and decided to pick up this ukulele tribute to the Replacements. It's excellent. The ukulele has a clear presence in each song, without being just a novelty. The simple arrangements really showcase Westerberg's writing ability.

Worship/Transfixiation by A Place to Bury Strangers

Would you like some noise rock with more than a nod towards Chrome, yet with more typical song lengths? Then you'll love these two CDs.

Afraid of Ghosts by Butch Walker

Sadly, Butch's father died recently. This album is a tribute to him, so it's full of sad songs. The trouble is that I don't like Butch's sad songs very much. Not because they're sad; because they're not very good. It's just not a genre at which he excels.

Nighttiming/Davy by Coconut Records

So, I was in need of a Butchesque fix. Luck was with me! I was shuffling basically everything on my hard drive and up popped a song called West Coast. It was from the party mix CD from the movie Cloverfield, by a band called Coconut Records. Just a nice piece of sweet pop.

So, I looked them up. Turns out that Coconut Records is a one-man band, and that one man is actor Jason Schwartzman. Yes, I know, music made by actors is nearly always completely awful. But this guy was actually in a band before he became an actor. Anyway, bottom line is that both records are delightful.

Musically, he's basically a less polished Butch Walker. Despite being from California, his vocals add in a bit of Geoff Useless' New England accent, to charming effect. (He also has a major Beatles obsession, to the point of being derivative. But, hell, there are entire music genres that are derivative of individual Beatles songs.)

The songs are catchy as all get out while covering a surprising variety. The physical CDs also include a load of alternate versions, which are themselves quite listenable.

Pink Palms et al by The Bots

Basically, take the White Strips, add in a heavier sound, subtract the pretentiousness. Sounds great? It is pretty great. Then keep in mind that both of the band members just became adults. These are two seriously talented guys.

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Not a Well-Rounded Book

Posted: Monday February 23 2015 @ 7:03pm

Religious Order: Books

So, here's the first book conforming to my 2015 resolution, Flat Earth by Christine Garwood. It examines fairly recent beliefs in an actual flat Earth. It's an amusing read, in places, but drags most of the time.

It starts out with a couple chapters explaining why we as a culture thought folks back in Columbus' time even thought that the world was flat. (Actually, I didn't think they thought that, nor I suspect do many people today.) Turns out it was evil secularists, trying to drive a wedge between religion and science! No, really, that's what the first couple chapters are about. It's awkward, as if she has an axe to grind, but just a wee axe, not deserving of a longer treatment.

Then we get into some fairly modern-day believers and their activities. The characters are, at times, colorful. Often, they're just misguided fools, spewing the same bad arguments over and over. They're often lauded at the time for their debate skills, despite their lack of good arguments. Obviously, there are parallels with creationists today. These parallels are mentioned but not really analyzed in any way.

Eventually, the book works its way through several people. It ends with a summary that criticizes secularists a bit more, while somewhat lauding the Flat Earth people for no apparent reason. There's a mention of the parallels to creationism again, but no analysis, again.

And therein lies the problem with the book. It just doesn't know what it wants to be. Reconciling science and religion is a juicy topic, but isn't treated in depth here, nor even-handedly. Parallels with creationism are ripe with possibilities, but the text never examines these other than to merely mention them. They're no evolution of Flat Earth theories, just the same ones offered over and over.

All that leaves is a book about wacky people who believe wacky things. Frankly, that could be enough, given sufficient wackiness. These folks lack that level of wackiness. They're not boring, mind you. (Well, some are simply boring people.) They're just not interesting enough to carry the book by themselves.

Overall, it's not a bad read, but nor is it really a good read. It was good enough that I read it all the way through, yet I would be lying if I claimed I wasn't looking forward to the end just a bit.

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Posted: Monday February 23 2015 @ 6:25pm

Religious Order: Books

Okay, it's late February, but I do have a New Year's resolution I've been keeping up on. It's a simple one. For 2015, I'm not recreationally reading any books by white men. It's not my own idea, of course. Being a white man, I'd maybe think of one like read more stuff by women and folks of color. Alas, that's a really fluffy kind of resolution, the sort that's easy on which to slide a bit. A better one? No white men.

Now, truth be told, I did start one book by a white guy in 2015, namely Erewhon. I started it before I read that linked blog post. Instead of setting it aside for the year, I finished it off.

I meant to mention this resolution earlier, but I'm lazy. Then, today, I saw a similar post and was reminded to mention the resolution here.

I'm on my third book in the resolution period right now. I'll post reviews of the first two soon. Well, soonish.

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A Tale of Two Victorian Utopias

Posted: Thursday January 15 2015 @ 8:03pm

Religious Order: Books

For some reason I no longer remember, I decided to read Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race. It's a bit of utopian fiction that came out in 1871. It describes an adventurer stumbling onto an unknown civilization. The protagonist describes the people and society, falls in love with a woman, and attempts to escape when the society endangers him.

Later, I learned of Samuel Butler's Erewhon, published the very next year. It describes an adventurer stumbling onto an unknown civilization. The protagonist describes the people and society, falls in love with a woman, and attempts to escape when the society endangers him.

So, let's say there's some similarity here. Butler, in a later version's forward, assures the reader that his book was written without any knowledge of the other.

So, let's review them!

The Coming Race - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

If you've ever heard the phrase It was a dark and stormy night then you've heard of Bulwer-Lytton. So, he's known as a bad writer. Despite that reputation, he was a successful writer. This is the only book of his I've read, so my opinion of his writing is based solely on this one example. My opinion? Well, he wasn't very good.

I'll be honest; I didn't finish the book. It just became too tiresome. Bulwer-Lytton drones on and on, describing aspects of the found society. It's a weird twist on society, matriarchal in odd ways, and I suppose it could be a gripping subject. Alas, the descriptions are florid, yet bone-dry. The society is technologically evolved, but in a magical fantastical sort of way that just isn't that interesting. There's no real plot of which to speak, just a long series of essays on aspects of a fictional society. I just couldn't get through it. Others may like it as an early example of this type of fiction, but I wanted something better. If only there was such an example...

Erewhon - Samuel Butler

It's difficult to believe that this book was written at the same time as The Coming Race. Although there really isn't much plot here either, the delivery feels fresh, the language almost modern. I actually cared about the protagonist.

The society itself is a reversal of real-world society, for the purposes of satire. It's not really meant to represent a real alternative society. (The reversal goes to the extent of forming proper names by near-reversals of normal words and names. Erewhon is nearly nowhere in reverse.) As with the other example, the middle consists of essays. However, instead of being dry, they're lively and chuckle-worthy. Some of the targets of the satire flew by me. Either I'm not smart enough or the targets themselves are strictly of another time. (Most likely the former.) There's a wonderful trio of chapters detailing the dangers of technology. It's not far off from some of the concerns you hear today regarding artificial intelligence. The section on children is simply hilarious.

The plot aspects are wrapped up quickly at the end, mostly just as a means of getting the protagonist into a position to be able to hand over the narrative to the reader. Neither of these books are novels. They're essays wrapped in just enough plot to justify themselves.

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The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard Review

Posted: Friday November 28 2014 @ 4:19pm

Religious Order: Books

The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard - J. G. Ballard

I've always loved Ballard, but this is really a bit too much. Read one after the other, the stories reveal Ballard's weakness for always writing the same story too obviously to ignore. Take one male protagonist, representing Ballard, add in a bromance with a second charismatic character, add an optional female love interest. Shake in a dystopia until the two men have a falling out. Done!

That said, if you're a big fan, there's some tasty stuff in here, just don't try and read it straight through. Dip in here and there, jumping back out when it gets to be too much. If you're a casual fan, you can get the highlights in other collections.

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On the Steel Breeze Review

Posted: Friday November 28 2014 @ 4:17pm

Religious Order: Books

On the Steel Breeze - Alastair Reynolds

This is the sequel to Blue Remembered Earth. I didn't like that one much. I don't like this one much either. Most of the characters lack any sort of agency. Things happen to them or push them into certain actions. It doesn't help that much of the story is told in flashbacks. It's an odd choice in dealing with time dilation. I don't think it was a good one.

All that said, it's well written and contains more in the way of big ideas than the first book.

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Ears of Steel Review

Posted: Friday November 28 2014 @ 4:14pm

Religious Order: Books

Ears of Steel: The Real Man's Guide to Walt Disney World - Bart Scott

As a nice short guide to manly stuff at Disney World, this was surprisingly good. I learned some new things while also learning to look at some old favorites in a different light.

The pandering to manly men gets a little old, but I'm not a manly man, so I'm not precisely the target market.

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Doubt: A History Review

Posted: Friday November 28 2014 @ 4:12pm

Religious Order: Books

Doubt: A History - Jennifer Hecht

I can't say enough good things about this book. It's long. It's detailed. I loved every minute of it.

The subtitle explains it well: "The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson." That's exactly what it does, looking at various philosophers and philosophies, tracing the ideas through the ages, watching how they change. It's fascinating.

One thing I loved about it was that it isn't an atheist polemic. It covers some atheists, sure, but also believers with their own forms and levels of doubt. Sure, some religions look pretty bad during some eras. That's because they were pretty bad during those eras.

Another thing I loved is that it provides enough background on various religious movements for me to understand the changes in doubt that react to those movements, while not boring me if I happen to already know the details of a particular religion.

The only weakness is the last chapter, which spends a little too much time listing current doubters based on fame rather than ideas.

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Ancillary Justice Review

Posted: Friday November 28 2014 @ 4:11pm

Religious Order: Books

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

I'm pretty sure this is a debut novel, which is darn impressive. It's garnered some awards, as well. It has some really innovative stuff going on, although not everything works.

The first-person protagonist is an AI who runs distributed bodies to extend her real-world presence. Sweet idea and very well done. Any more details would be highly spoilery.

There are two separate storylines, displaced in time, which come together in a satisfying manner.

There's a goodly amount of societal backstory spicing things up. Most folks mention that the main society is genderless. Her and she are the defaults. You can play at trying to figure out which characters have which genitalia. I don't really visualize characters in books, so it neither thrilled nor annoyed me, once I realized what was going on.

Backstory I found more interesting included the various religions and the gloves. Yes, gloves. Their importance isn't explained, which I liked. I'm reading the second book in the trilogy right now. Still isn't explained. Good.

Two negative things stand out for me.

First, the writing is, well, unclear. Not bad, certainly. Not even clunky. Still, I found my self repeatedly rereading sections, unsure of what I had just read. Sure, this happens when I'm reading some heavy non-fiction or philosophy, but not with fiction. It's not just me, either. I've seen others make similar complaints. I'm having the same issue with the second book in the trilogy.

The second thing is that the basic plot is, well, very similar to the plot of the first book in John Varley's Titan series.

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Burn This Book!

Posted: Friday September 26 2014 @ 6:43am

Religious Order: Books

No, don't. Burn your body, instead. After you're dead. Or try a natural burial.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
- Caitlin Doughty

Doughty's deal is that she's looking to revamp how we, as a society, deal with death. She has a series of fun videos called Ask a Mortician. This book augments her efforts there.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is basically a combination of Mary Roach's Stiff and Steve Almond's Candyfreak. It has some of the inside detail that Roach supplies, combined with the personal connections that you find from Almond. It describes her experiences working in a crematorium alongside her evolving views of death. There's a good balance between the two.

Keep in mind that her criticisms are societal in nature. If you're looking for a rant about the ecological consequences of huge-ass coffins, you'll not find it here. I'm not suggesting those aren't valid concerns, they're just not the focus of this particular book.

The only criticisms I'll lob are that her efforts building The Order of the Good Death get crammed into the very end of the book and the events in the Redwoods chapter seem to come out of nowhere.

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