23 January 2010

The Blues Preachers - Dry Long So (2009)

The Blues Preachers is a duo playing traditional American blues and folk music. This wouldn't be all that unusual, but for the fact that Brother John and Captain Bluetongue (as the players call themselves) hail from Sydney, Australia, of all places. But Australian-ness notwithstanding, the duo's take on American music sounds every bit as good the genuine article.

Released just last year, Dry Long So is The Blues Preachers' second album, featuring eighteen tracks that demonstrate a variety of sounds and styles. Songs like "Creole Belle" and "The Angel of Death" are folksy ballads, "Oh Death" and "John the Revelator" have the distinct feel of gospel dirges, "Big Road Blues" and "Hard Time Killing Floor" are excellent examples of the pure Blues sound and "Goodnight Irene" has an impeccable air of Ragtime about it (as an aside, "Oh Death" and "Hard Time Killing Floor" should sound familiar to anyone who has seen O Brother, Where art Thou?).

I like some of the songs better than others, but to tell the truth there really isn't a bad track on this album. It's a superb collection that not only gives the listener a feel for the times, but also pays tribute to styles of music that, in spite of their monumental influence, are now either only remembered primarily in small circles of particularly dedicated musicians (in the case of Blues music) or are virtually forgotten (in the case of American Folk music).

For those interested in American culture between the World Wars or just interested in music history, The Blues Preachers are definitely worth looking into. I do recommend that you give them a listen.

20 January 2010

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 21

Owing to the mysterious circumstances under which she died at the relatively young age of thirty, Thelma Todd is perhaps more famous today as a victim of the supposed depravity of Hollywood. This interpretation, however, truly misses the point. The former Ms. Massachusetts was in fact a rather lively comedienne who appeared in an impressively high number of pictures in her short career -- IMDb puts the number at 119 -- most of these under the aegis of Hal Roach. She appeared opposite big name comedians such as the Marx brothers and Laurel and Hardy, more often than playing some variation of a vampy sexpot (and doing that quite well, I might add).

Sadly, Thelma was found dead in her car in the garage of another actress, leading to all manner of speculation regarding the circumstances of her untimely demise (for all the juicy details, see wikipedia).

As an aside, I've actually seen a few photos from after Thelma's autopsy. How was it? Mortifying, to say the least. She looked much better alive, as most people tend to do. Why bring this up? Well, it does remind one of the fragility and mutability of youth and beauty, and indeed of life itself. Let us not mourn that such a beauty died; rather, let us thank the stars that such a beauty lived.

18 January 2010

How to Spend a Foggy Day

The fog that inspired the last post was back with a vengeance this morning. I had to go work, but what I really wanted to do was this:

In retrospect, I find it hard to believe that it's taken me so long to post this little treasure.

15 January 2010

There's a Time and a Place for Music

I drove to work this morning in the fog. It was a kind of fog that is rare for this part of the country, a kind of fog I haven't seen since I left Washington -- an impenetrable blanket of gunmetal gray. For the first time in many months, I suddenly wanted to listen to some Black Metal.

Black Metal shouldn't make me nostalgic, but it does. As paradoxical as it may seem for me to have a pleasant emotional reaction to a form of music that is outwardly so hostile, Black Metal nevertheless reminds me of the time in my life when I was most happy. In my collegiate days I was given to bouts of brooding that I found strangely comforting (melancholy, for whatever reason, has always seemed to be my natural state). Things have not gone so well since those days were borne away by the march of time, and as the series of unfortunate events churned onward, my affinity for Black Metal became more than a little diluted (to put it another way, depressive music isn't nearly so much fun when one actually has things about which to be depressed).

As the days and months after my college graduation wore on, my joblessness became an increasingly difficult cross to bear. For consolation and comfort, I took refuge in happier forms of music, most notably Power Metal and 1930s show tunes. Perhaps not the most intellectually profound forms of music one might think of, but they nevertheless helped me muddle my way through the hard times, giving my spirits a much-needed lift and helping me believe that in one way or another, everything would work itself out in the end. Whether it has or hasn't is still up open for debate, but in any case I've taken up an interest in nihilistic, Black Sabbath-influenced Stoner Doom Metal in recent months.

It must be said, however, that my ever-evolving musical tastes are not purely based on my personal zeitgeist. Place, it seems, has had just as much of an influence. When my mania for Black Metal was at its apex, I was living in a place that was so befitting of the music that it seemed almost tailor-made for it. Black Metal is music for towering mountains and evergreen trees, for cloudy skies and impenetrable fog. These are all things that the Pacific Northwest has in spades -- it's the closest facsimile to Norway that one is likely to find outside of the genuine article.

The geography of the American Midwest, meanwhile, is hardly so captivating. The wide open plains, in all their emptiness and desolation, suggest nothing so much as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Though not without it's occasional spurts of beauty, the Midwest is virtually devoid of any real majesty. Black Metal seems utterly misplaced here. Nor is the climate in the least bit fitting -- the Midwestern summer, with the relentless heat of the sun and the scoffing indifference of the landscape, is more suggestive of the plodding riffs of Sunn O))) or Earth than of the crisp tones of Gorgoroth or Immortal, and although the winters are bitterly cold and icy as any one might experience in Trondheim, they want for snow-capped peaks, and seem more becoming of a Mozartian funeral dirge than anything else.

The fog, though, changes everything when it rolls in. The fog obscures the dreadful openness of wide expanses and bestows a feeling of mystery and wonderment otherwise absent in this typically mundane steppe. It makes the world seem unknowable, and fills it with a sense of shadowy pulchritude. In such a penumbra I can once again feel that strangely comforting melancholy that was a keystone of the best years of my life, and that drew me to Black Metal in the first place.

06 January 2010

Forever Young

A fashionably late happy birthday to Loretta Young, the greatest thing to come out of Utah. Ever.

[Via Dr. Macro]

03 January 2010

New Year's Dissolutions

I can't say I'm sad to see 2009 go -- it was a year when not many things worked out the way I wanted them to, the marquee disaster being the ignominy of having to move back in with my parents after a unsuccessful year-long job search in Washington. Although I did manage to eventually find a job, it's strictly a just-here-for-the-paycheck affair (to be perfectly frank, the work bores me to tears). Yet in times such as these we hardy survivors can do naught but but look for the silver lining, and there is one I managed to move into my own apartment once more, and in one of the few interesting part of Kansas City, no less. It is now 2010, and in keeping in that spirit of positive thinking I'm planning to make 2010 a better year than it's predecessor.

The first thing I'd like to do is find a new job. Even it's just another office job, it's difficult to believe that it could be any more menial and unfulfilling than the one I have now. Besides, the prospect of merely having a different boss is rather appealing, as is the prospect of not having to drive all the way to Lenexa every morning (Lenexa being a commuter town that is so thoroughly white-bread and boring that it makes Overland Park seem interesting by comparison). In any case, I've been thinking about getting into the health care industry. I've even kicked around the idea of trying to become a paramedic.

Next on the list is to build a collection of classic movie swag (and if possible, swag from the twenties and thirties in general). I've gotten off to a pretty good start over the holidays -- as is apparent in the last post -- but I don't think a nerdy obsession can carry much street cred until you have at least a dozen or so books on one's chosen subject matter (by my last count, I have ten such volumes. Looks like I'll need to step it up a bit). If nothing else, this will let me say that I have a genuinely interesting hobby (besides playing Castlevania until four in the morning, that is).

But finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want to write something and get it published. In a strictly technical sense, I am a published author -- you'll find my name in the byline of a few thoroughly uninteresting articles in my High School Yearbook, but in all honesty, who gives a toss about High School Yearbooks? I don't even have mine anymore, and I'll bet that at least half of you out there don't, either. I've mentioned in previous posts my hopes being a proper writer, but I have yet to make good on that aspiration. To get anything published at all -- even a brief article in an obscure online journal -- would be huge step forward, and a significant personal victory (of which I have had precious few over the years).

I haven't much of a conclusion for this bit, so I'll leave it at that. Whatever your plans are for this new year, here's hoping they come to fruition.

P.S. I might have added "make some new friends" to my list of resolutions, but I really suck at that sort of thing. And besides, there's no substitute for the crew I ran with way back when.