Roger Ebert impacted my life. Since he died today, I thought I would put down a few words on this blog that no one reads. I’m trying to think why I followed Ebert so closely, most recently through his online reviews and blog, which I read often; why he seemed so deeply present in life; why I am very sad now that he’s dead. He was a very good, but often flawed critic. But for sheer volume, I don’t think anyone could touch him, and if his art-house tastes seemed somewhat mainstream– Scorsese, Kurosawa, Fellini, Kubrick– this may simply have been because his tastes became the standard for not only artistic films, but for mainstream films as well. The movies he considered the best movies of any given year very frequently won the Academy Award. This was particularly true recently, with Crash, Juno, and Argo all winning. With that first choice, though, it’s clear that he wasn’t always incisive in his opinions; he sometimes allowed himself to be emotionally bowled over while ignoring filmic flaws. Indeed, of the Siskel & Ebert duo, Siskel was always the more cerebral one, enjoying movies like The Thin Red Line for their academic elements, while Ebert, that same year, preferred the emotional and thematic directness of Saving Private Ryan. Similarly, Ebert gave the cerebral Full Metal Jacket a thumbs down, in a segment were the onscreen disagreement with Siskel was particularly combative. [FN1] And sometimes Ebert’s tastes could not be defended by any metric, of which his favorable review for Garfield: The Movie will always be the gold standard. [FN2] But those were the exceptions that proved the rule. Way more often than not he did get it right, and Siskel agreed, and in the event of the bad movie– like, for instance, their review of the sperm-bank themed, Shelly Long vehicle Frozen Assets– the on-screen dog piling was classic.
But, ultimately, I think the reason I followed him so closely was that I grew up on Siskel & Ebert, the TV show. I remember always asking to watch that show at the dinner table, despite others in my family perhaps wanting to watch a sitcom or something other than two nerdy critics arguing about movies. And I also remember the common complaint that they would hate the mainstream flicks (which always started the show), but love the weird foreign movies– stuff like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer– that the show concluded with. Of course, this is what made them both great: they were decidedly not Hollywood shills. [FN3] They rooted for the underdog, and many times– like with Hoop Dreams– their underdog won. Having both of them debate art– it didn’t matter that it was movies– in my living room during my early years had, I think, a profound impact on me. In fact, I would estimate that my first exposure to artistic appreciation and criticism, in a dynamic sense, was through Siskel & Ebert. They made me want to like good movies, and gain the experience and appreciative skills to know what was good. And that’s nothing to take for granted because the amazing thing about it is, since Siskel died in 1999, there’s never been a show like it on TV.
According to Ebert in this autobiography, the first movie he ever saw was A Day at the Races by the Marx Brothers. As far as I can tell, the last movie he reviewed was The Host, just last week. His 2012 submission to the canonical Sight & Sound poll, which is conducted every 10 years, listed the following as his top ten movies of all time:
Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog) Apocalypse Now (Coppola) Citizen Kane (Welles) La Dolce Vita (Fellini) The General (Keaton) Raging Bull (Scorsese) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick) Tokyo Story (Ozu) The Tree of Life (Malick) Vertigo (Hitchcock)
His last blog post, from just two days ago, in which he indicated that his cancer had returned, was forward looking, if not decidedly tinged with sadness. It ends with:
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.
FN1: The off-screen disagreements were even more shrill, but also more hilarious, like in these two outtakes from the TV show:
FN2: Although I think I was personally more in awe of his favorable review of The Phantom Menace, others cite Speed 2 as his worst thumbs up. Since I won’t be seeing that movie … ever, I guess we’ll never know!
FN3: For instance, when they pilloried Bill Cosby for the product placements in Leonard Part 6:
1. Rhyme scheme, including the immutability thereof
Dante wrote The Commedia in a complex and difficult to duplicate rhyme scheme called terza rima. [FN1] One fascinating aspect of this choice is the extent to which its implementation had the dual purpose of not only dictating the interlocking rhythm of the poem, but also preventing errors, omissions, or even emendations in future reproductions. [FN2] Indeed, Dante’s adherence to the dictates of this rhyme scheme in The Commedia is uncharacteristically (for the Middle Ages) strict [FN3] and had the effect of giving us assurance that what we now read is “an amazingly accurate version of what Dante must have written” [FN4].
The rhyme scheme also, unintentionally, guarantees that the work will continue, for non-Italian readers, to be cloaked in a mysterious unknowableness. Indeed, the general consensus is that– at least with regard to English translations– attempts to capture the terza rima are noted more for their “tortuousness” [FN5] and their general “dismal failure” [FN6] than for their success in rendering, in English, the rhyme scheme’s desired effect of “combining onward movement with a feeling of conclusiveness in each step” [FN7]. Therefore, when reading a translation of this style, the essence of which remains untranslatable, the reader is left only to imagine the impact of the work in its original form. [FN8] This elusiveness is well-suited to the often impressionistic images of the poem. For instance, The Inferno famously begins with Dante’s reorientation toward “the mountain” or “the hill”, which he locates by the moon through the forest thicket:
But when I’d reached the bottom of the hill
it rose along the boundary of the valley
that had harassed my heart with so much fear.
I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed
already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead men straight along all roads. [FN9]
The mountain is never properly defined and, whether because of the constraints of the form [FN10] or intentionally, the effect is to acclimate the reader to the inherent vagaries of the coming spiritual and celestial journey. Robert Pinsky describes the result:
The ways figures like the hound or the sunny mountain may not correspond to exact identifiable allusions or to definite allegorical meanings is consistent with the action of the quest– and with the appeal that has made The Commedia an immediate, enduring success with readers. The path Virgil suggests, and to which Dante agrees, is one where meaning will come in irregular pools and flashes, with efforts, in a setting of uncertainty until the journey is done. [FN11]
Finishing the Paradiso marks the end of a personal two-year project of visiting or re-revisiting the classical pillars of literature. The focal points of this attempt were The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Metamorphosis, The Aeneid, and The Commedia. In reading these early epics of civilization “way leads on to way” [FN12] such that an appreciation of one becomes, at least in part, contingent on an appreciation of all. In a sense, this is a 400 meter relay, with Homer taking the first two legs (Iliad and Odyssey), Virgil the second, and Dante the final leg, crowding himself with the Apollonian laurel in celebration [FN13], and with Ovid coaching the team forward via mythological motivations.
These poets not only lionized, but fiercely imitated their predecessors. Perhaps the cleanest example is perpetuation of Homer’s epic similes throughout each of the main works. This following description of the tug-o-war-like battle for the corpse of Patrocles, which conjures agrarian imagery, is typical of the populist similes in The Iliad:
For the other heroes all day long the bout
of bitter striving raged: fatigue and sweat,
and hands and eyes of fighters were bespattered,
around the noble friend of swift Akhilleus.
A man will give his people a great oxhide
to stretch for him, having it soaked in grease;
and grasping it, on all sides braced around it,
they pull it till the moisture goes, the oil
sinks in, with many tugging hands, and soon
the expanse is dry and taut. Just so,
this and that way a little space
both sides kept tugging at the body: Trojans
panting it off toward Ilion,
Akhaians to the decked ships. [FN14]
However, just a few lines later, Homer shows a rarer, more cosmically inclined side that will be picked up on by Virgil and, to a greater extent, Dante:
Over Patroklos the rough combat widened,
loud with oaths and sobs; and from the sky
Athena came, kindling the fight, for Zeus
who views the wide world, as his humor changed,
had sent her down to stiffen the Danaans.
As when from storm-lit heaven he bends a rainbow,
omen of war to moral men, or omen
of a chill tempest, pelting flocks and herds,
and ending the field work of countrymen,
so, folded in a ragged cloud of stormlight,
Athena entered the Akhaian host. [FN15]
By the time of The Odyssey, Homer’s similes have become more seamlessly integrated into the plot descriptions:
So wand in hand he paced, down to sea level,
and veered to skim the swell. A gull patrolling
between the wave crests of the desolate sea
will dip to catch a fish, and douse his wings;
no higher above the whitecaps Hermes flew. [FN16]
But The Odyssey also contain ponderous analogies in the lumbering style of The Iliad:
Just as Artemis, shooter of arrows, moves on mountains, either along Taygetus or high Erymanthus, delighting in boars and swift deer; and along with her wild nymphs, daughters of Aegis-bearing Zeus, play, and Leto rejoices in her heart: for Artemis holds her head and her brows above all the rest, and easily she is recognized moving among them, though all are beautiful; so too Nausicaa, an untamed virgin, distinguished herself among her handmaids. [FN17]
Although he usually abandons them in the more heated scenes, Virgil deploys a wide variety of epic analogies, including those, like the following, that go so far as to expressly resemble Homer in both structure and theme:
As on Eurotas bank or Cythus ridge
Diana trains he dancers, and behind her
On every hand the mountain nymphs appear,
A myriad converging; with her quiver
Slung on her shoulders, in her stride she seems
The tallest, taller by a head than any,
And joy pervades Latona’s quiet heart:
So Dido seemed, in such delight she moved
Amid her people, cheering on the toil
Of a kingdom in the making. [FN18]
And finally, the technique, as deployed by Dante, reached its apotheosis:
Even as the snow among the living rafters
Upon the back of Italy congeals,
Blown on and drifted by Sclavonian winds,
And then, dissolving, trickles through itself
Whene’er the land that loses shadow breathes,
So that it seems a fire that melts a taper;
E’en thus was I without a tear or sigh,
Before the song of those who sing for ever
After the music of the eternal spheres. [FN19]
3. How Dante falls asleep a lot
Dante falls asleep a lot over the course of The Commedia [FN20], which is understandable and, indeed, commendably realistic given that the entire journey, from hell through heaven, takes place over the course of six days. There is something gently human about his frequent drowsiness, especially when it arrives at a particularly important juncture of the story, like, say, when Dante is about to cross the river Acheron, or when he is primed to ascend to the earthly paradise after successfully transpiring the terrace of Lust in The Purgatorio. But other times, his sleep is more leisurely, and even beset with dreams, which are always beautifully rendered, none more so than when Dante dreams of the Sirens in Canto XIX of The Purgatorio:
Then, when these shades so far from us had passed
That nothing could be seen of them, there rose
New fancies in my mind, whence thick and fast
Sprang others, countless, various; and from those
To these I drifted, down so long a stream
Of rambling thought, my lids began to close
And meditation melted into dream. [FN21]
With such sensuous descriptions of torpor, the reader will be warned against the soporific effect of reading such lines late at night and in a comfortable setting.
4. The Medieval congruency of godly heavens and observable cosmos
Gauging the progress of the push-and-retreat of science versus religion by its in-depth exploration in The Commedia and, most significantly, The Paradiso, is to see religion perhaps at its most historically encompassing. Before Dante’s time, without the basic knowledge of solar bodies (ending with Saturn), God, as explanation for the cosmos, was still, for the most past, a place holder, and heaven retained its original conception as a bright place beyond all imagination. On the other hand, once astrological understanding exceeded the bounds of the solar system and ventured into causation, the role of God was chased from the cosmos and heaven reverted back to its original ambiguities. But at Dante’s time, thinkers knew just enough about the physical solar system to be able to fit it within a conception of heaven. For instance, it is helpful in establishing the Primum Mobile as the grand mover of the solar system, and the Empyrean as its great beyond, when nothing is known past Saturn. A good example of science-driven portrayal of heaven comes in Canto X of The Paradiso, when Dante approaches the sun:
If our imaginations fall far short
Of such a height, no wonder, for our eyes
Have never seen a light to match the sun’s.
Such, here, was the fourth family of the high
Father who forever fills them, showing how
He breathes the Spirit and begets the Son.
And Beatrice began, “Give thanks! Give thanks
To this Sun of the Angels through whose grace
You have been lifted to the sun of sense!”
Never was heart of mortal so disposed
To its devotion, nor ready to surrender
Itself to God with its full gratitude
Than mine was when she spoke these words to me.
And all my love so set itself on Him
That Beatrice in oblivion was eclipsed.
Not the least displeased, she smiled so that
The splendor of her smiling eyes splintered
My singleness of mind in many pieces.
I saw many living and surpassing lights
Surround us in the center of a crown
With voices sweeter than their looks were bright. [FN22]
Indeed, it is one of the more surprising features of The Commedia that the journey to heaven resembles more a trip through the cosmos with Carl Sagan than anything else.
There are times when The Commedia can be a bit of a slog. The beatitudes of The Purgatorio, for instance, when removed (in translation) for the terza rima, are not all that different from the prayers that some of us were taught as school children. Similarly, appreciation of the Aristotelian exercise that takes up a lot of The Paradiso will be reserved largely for the historically minded. Nonetheless, there are plenty of moments in the work, aside for even the incomparably arresting images throughout, that bring it home as a profoundly human document. None of these are more enticing than the opening lines of The Inferno, which cannot help but resonate with anyone within or approaching adulthood:
Midway through our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is heard– so tangled and rough
And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well
I’ll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep [FN23]
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder
Off the true path. [FN24]
But, also, for my money, there is no more touching moment in the entire poem, then when Beatrice, in Canto XXX of The Purgatorio, shortly summarizes the goal of Dante’s journey. For anyone who has ever rebounded from a personal calamity, emerging with a lightness of step, “stronger at the broken parts”, these lines will resonate greatly.
“And, in the end, to such a depth he fell
That every means to save his soul came short
Except to let him see the lost in hell.
For this the gateway of the dead I sought,
And weeping, made request of him by whom
He has been raised thus far and hither brought.
It would do violence to God’s high doom
If Lethe could be passed, and ill-doers
To taste this blessed fate could straightaway come
Without some forfeit of repentant tears.” [FN25]
For me, these lines are nothing less than a reflective palliative for life, encapsulating not only life’s travails but its triumphs as well.
FN1: The formula for terza rima, which was Dante’s invention, is: aba bcb cdc … yzy z.
FN2: See Peter and Julia Bondalia, Introduction to The Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Commedia.
FN3: Even Shakespeare, about 300 years later, frequently departed from iambic pentameter form, whether via non-compliant verse (see e.g. the famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” line from Macbeth), or by resorting to prose to capture lowly speech or, sometimes, internal ruminations, such as Hamlet’s “quintessence of dust” monologue.
FN4: Introduction by Peter Bondanella to the The Commedia.
FN5: Robert Pinksy, Translator’s Note to The Inferno.
FN6: Peter and Julia Bondalia, Introduction to The Commedia.
FN7: Pinksy, Translator’s Note to The Inferno. As a general matter, I prefer the Pinksy and Mandelbaum translations, which are both in blank verse. However, it should be noted that the Dorthy Sayers translation, which maintains the terza rima, is well-worth seeking out as a second or third read, once the substance is mastered.
FN8: The meter of Dante’s Commedia, which is written in hendecassyllabic verse, is also unknowable to the English reader. Instead of using meters, as with the English iamb, for instance, Italian verse is apparently scanned by syllable, with the average Italian word receiving stress on the penultimate syllable.
FN9: Canto I, lns. 13-18; Allan Mandelbaum trans.
FN10: See Purgatorio, Canto XXXIII, in which Dante admits to submitting to the constraints of form: “If for my writing, Reader I’d more space,/ I’d sing– at least in part– those sweets my heart/ Might aye have drunk nor e’re known weariness;// But since I’ve filled the pages set apart/ For this my second cantique, I’ll pursue/ No further, bridled by the curb of art.” (Lns. 136-41; Sayers trans.)
FN11: Notes to Interno, Canto I.
FN13: “O power divine, lend’st thou thyself to me/ So that the shadow of the blessed realm/ Stamped in my brain I can make manifest,// Thou’lt see me come unto thy darling tree,/ And crown myself thereafter with those leaves/ Of which the theme and thou shall make me worthy.” (Paradiso, Canto II, lns. 22-27; William Wordworth Longfellow trans.)
FN14: Book XVII, lns. 431-46; Fitzgerald trans.
FN15: Id. at lns. 610-18.
FN16: Id. at Book V, lns. 54-59. My choice to use an analogy from the middle section of poem, i.e. not from the Telemachos or from the return scenes of Ithaka, is a result of there simply being no such analogies in the other segments of the poem. I have made the point before that I think this hints at these portions not being the work of Homer himself. (See “Belated Birthday Recap: Brine-Spouting Edition”, fn. 2.)
FN17: Book VI, lns. 110-18; Leslie Kristen, literal translation.
FN18: The Aeneid, Book I, lns. 678-87; Fitzgerald trans.
FN19: Purgatorio, Canto XXX, lns. 82-93; Longfellow trans.
FN20: Naturally, this heroic somnolence has origins in Homer: “Slipping away, I struck across the island/ to a sheltered spot, out of the driving gale./ I washed by hands there, and made supplication/ to the gods who own Olympus, all the gods–/ but they, for answer/ only closed my eyes/ under slow drops of sleep.” (The Odyssey, Book XII, lns. 428-34; Fitzgerald trans.)
FN21: Lns. 142-45; Sayers trans.
FN22: Lns, 46-66; James Cotter trans.
FN23: More sleeping.
FN24: Canto I, lns. 1-10; Pinsky trans.
FN25: Lns. 136-45; Sayers trans.
01. Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
02. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
03. The Tennis Court Oath by John Ashbery
04. VALIS by Philip K. Dick
05. Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
06. Raymond Chandler: Selected Writings by Various Authors
07. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre
08. Ajax by Sophocles
09. Fear & Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
10. The Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick
11. Iphigenia by Jean Racine
12. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
13. The World as Will & Idea by Arthur Schopenhauer
14. The Ambassadors by Henry James
15. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
16. The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper
Here’s another top 15 albums list.
#15 Nils Frahm Screws
If each short suite on this album of minimal piano, released on the Erased Tapes label, sounds gently and refreshingly imbued with a sense of struggle, it may simply be because pianist Nils Frahm played these songs with a broken thumb.
#14 Each Other Heavily Spaced
I had to check three times to make sure that this band was not directly related to Women, with whom they share a healthy affinity of sound. Having so confirmed, I was freed to realize that this EP features a better version of the sound for which Women strove on their last album.
#13 Baroness Yellow & Green
The physical CDs for this double album are distinguished only by their respective yellow and green color. Since I am yellow-green color blind, I am unable to tell them apart when hurtling down the highway in my car. No sweet, though, because both discs are equally killer.
#12 Loma Prieta I.V.
The same year that metal and hardcore’s cross-pollination finally resulted in the apex of both genres (see the album ten slots down), Loma Preita, with I.V., reveal the enduring power of brambly hardcore without the metal flourishes. Keep up the fight.
#11 Liars WIXIW
Liars are better when they’re focused in on something weird, an aspect that, missing on their last two albums, is totally present on WIXIW, where they make the jump to entirely electronic spaces. It’s They Were Wrong as reinterpreted by Luomo.
#10 Kyle Bobby Dunn Bring Me the Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn
It’s almost as if …And Their Refinement of the Decline blew up ambient drone as a genre. Since then Eluvium and Broderick are struggling with lyrics, Goldmund has become fully mired in the Civil War, and Belong tanked. KBD is now single-handedly keeping the genre vibrant.
#9 Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It
The lyrics deftly touch on social issues (”When all waters still and flowers cover the earth, when no tree is shivering and the dust settles in the desert. When I can take your hand on any crowded street and hold you close to me.” [FN1]) simply by conveying moments.
#8 Andy Stott Luxury Problems
Dropping some business papers in a gutter whose waters must, after all, taste metallic. The feel of imagined drugs. As if, in mid-spin, you sing to the cloud-filled sky. Plumbing a rave. Having sex with seven portions of the Internet at one time. The track “Luxury Problems”.
#7 Spiritualized Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
Spaceman wanted to call this album “Huh?”, but apparently he “kept picturing people locked in a Monty Python-like loop of trying to ask for the record with a question: ‘Have you got the new record, Huh?‘ ‘Huh?’.” I was caught in my own endless loop: one of listening to this album.
#6 Blut Aus Nord 777: Cosmosophy
This is the definitely the type of black metal that our future robot overlords will play. A few of these songs sound like they deserve to come on the radio while a Dick protagonist is driving his fly car away from an imagined doppelgänger. Specifically, “Epitome XVII” sounds like that.
#5 Dirty Projectors Swing Low Magellan
The same year that Dirty Projectors, with the adventurous but cultured Swing Lo Magellan, proved to be enduring and important band, Grizzly Bear, a band with a similar prior trajectory, released an album, the contrived Shields , that proves the opposite.
#4 Monolake Ghosts
One of most engaging yet disciplined electronic albums in years: no flavor-of-the-moment beats, just austere techno peppered with pinballs and the wideness of interplanetary space. This is great music to read about sex in a warehouse to.
#3 Beach House Bloom
Since starting chillwave with their self-titled album, Beach House is one of the few bands that can still make the sound come off as cool. Also, the song progression on this one– particularly how the hooks build slightly upon each other on the first half– is brilliant.
#2 Converge All We Love We Leave Behind
I think the message of this album is not that a life fixated on artistic creation at the borders of society necessarily involves neglecting the people and places that you originally loved. I think the message of this album is that it fucking rocks.
#1 The Walkmen Heaven
<insert last ten years of life here>
FN1: For a moment in the deep morning, the crescent moon’s slender glow held sway over the total darkness of the desert. Its lanternly light was the only means by which to tell trees from earth or the sky from the sand and, as such, it reigned quietly and alone—its fleeting authority informing a detached and melancholy presence in the sky. Indeed, to an owl or an awakened lizard, when a tree branch eclipsed the moon’s thin arc, the stars of the universe quickly usurped its throne. The moon’s coolness, however, would hang over the desert sands and town streets for much longer than the moon itself. This coolness survived even after the still sleeping light of the sun began to subtly color the darkness—which had just begun to invisibly occur, awakening the carapaced armadillo.
The brightening dawn is a time of movement. First, the black-red, flattened sun of the night morning gathers together like time-slowed mercury to form the bleary yellow circle that will be its traveling shape across the sky. Next, the shadows, from faint smears in the night sand, begin to move toward unity as the strengthening sun orchestrates their consolidating darkness and—as the day proceeds—their bending, turning trip along the earth. Then, the striped hare arises. It darts froth from behind a cold rock whose westerly bed is no longer hidden from the desert or the black-eyed fox, which has also awoken. And, finally, almost unnoticed amidst these neon movements: the stars, moving light years away, melt backwards—gracefully—into the blue sky.
It is strange indeed to glance up out of the corner of one’s eye to the sky on the awakened morning and, turning away from the unlookable sun, settle upon, of all things, the pale, faded moon—a frail white against the blue. In order to keep track of this moon, one must stand still, withdraw, and, letting the new day pulse by around one, place a hand over one’s eyes (so to block the sun) while staring, squintingly, at the curious relic of night. One must remember the old empire and the glory of dark, passionate times, and must remove one’s self from the vibrant modernity of the sun and the new morning. But eventually, one is distracted and returns, like a reluctant traveler, back to one’s time and place. Like the old women in the town, who sat quietly on a bench in front of the grocery store. Having miscalculated the store’s opening, she sat stranded when she first caught a glimpse of the moon. The distraction of the shop door’s opening pulled her away from her lunar reverie. After exchanging a few friendly, distracted words with the grocer, she looked back into the sky, but there was nothing left to hold on to. The moon might have grown lighter or disappeared altogether, but regardless her eyes no longer saw it, and she grew impatient with her strange need to revive the observation, the point of which she had already forgotten. As she turned to enter the store, she noticed the green spout of the carrot swaying in the gentle push of day-wind’s first breath.
The breeze was impossibly soft, but still substantial enough to ruffle the leaves of the bush against the fox’s hair. As subtle as this wind may have been, it was entirely unusual for the desert, especially during this time of year. The fox repositioned itself in the bush, the strange meteorological event goading it to take unfamiliar measures to protect itself from any further, more dramatic deviations from the landscape’s characteristic routine. But the breeze itself was utterly pleasant: a purring caress wafting across the cracked, bitter landscape to fondly touch the animals it encountered. Yet any of this cool relief that may have been felt was soon forgotten when the sun, moving quickly towards its high position, began to press its suffocating heat down upon the desert. And in this tolerable ante-chamber, the daily harbinger of the sweltering height of day, the activities of the desert moved at their feverish height—the ripples in the sky cast by the bleeding yellow sun marking the pace of its sanguinary motion across the virile afternoon.
The day reached its height. The huge sun in the sky loomed directly above everything. And nothing could hide in the shadowless noon. The microscope of heated sun explored the corners of everything, all the way to the deep center of the earth where, beneath all observations, molten lava bubbled thickly on the brink of eruption. The stomach acid of the earth’s center continued to rage, while, at the same moment, and in juxtaposed tranquility, the day-wind’s second breath gasped through the town. In the breeze, the fresh flower bud on a cactus on One Tree Hill ruffled, lightly, stretching in the coolness like a chapped snake in the dry remnant of a muddy puddle. The thorns on the cactus did not move in the wind. The lava beneath the earth sighed in tandem with the flower as the igneous rocks quiescently abdicated their position to the puissant lava, mollifying, once again, its fugitive surface-yearning. This slight relief in the desert’s innards signaled the end of the ephemeral noon as the late-day shadow crept faintly onto the bowed blossom of the cactus flower, painting, upon the bright gloaming pink of the flower, a light gradation of darkness leading down into the sun-yellow stamen.
As the sun leaned backwards from its high perch, the hisanthropic heat choked the land like water. In mid-retreat, this day will never end as it begins the end: an end the last possible event that might befall it. Between the saving, wheezy gusts, the desert trees begin to reach for the ground, sensing that, once again, the day would bring their parched end and the ground would only reach them closer to something other than the fiery sky. The scaled armadillo, encountering this desperation, did not even notice the tree’s gentle swan song. It was an innate obsession with the quotidian details of survival that turned the falling tree into saving food. Reaching its nose toward the green, the armadillo saw the life: green chloroform nutrients salient against the dusty hunger of the desert. As it strained failingly toward the rare leaf’s impossible height, the sun shifted backward and harkened the tired nadir of lethargic day.
The afternoon backed into place. The bleating sun, for the first time that day, began to understand the courting of the west and to feel the distance of the nostalgic eastern plain. Below, on the desert surface, the histrionics of day had become silence. With everything pulsing to the day’s undulations, nothing moved at all, relatively. The hunger, the thirst, the yearnings toward coolness, the high leaf, and the open prey all merged together into a resonant frequency of silent din. A snake found rigid rocks beneath the cool underbelly of a large boulder and the course earth slid off its blistered skin. There was, however, something in the sky that felt like a change. Nothing indicated it, though: as dusk crept in with its soft fingers, there was only sun. Except for that breeze. Another tiny, strange breeze. It blew invisibly from the east and cooled the weepy last burning cry of the day-sun.
The work of the rocks throughout the heat of day—rolling quickly under the slither of a snake or turning slightly in the afternoon breeze—began to move towards memories as the blue sky started to softly bleed ruddy dusk. The sight of the sun’s dying blood dotting the bubbling yellow of the bowing day imbued the tasks of the other desert inhabitants with an easy urgency. Under the cool dusk of change, their lives began to see themselves. In the haste of the waning sun, everything slowed a bit and looked at an object that had captured the sun’s crepuscular glow. But the reflection was soon cut short. The unchangeable course of evening in Red Hill—the sun slowly fighting every last foray of night—careened violently out of control by the approach, mysteriously, from the east, of a single, sailing cloud. And before the reddening glow of the shady sun could even fully grasp the outer edges of the unknown cloud, another cloud appeared on the east horizon, blowing towards Red Hill on a determined breeze that was no longer deniable.
Understand that, on a normal day, the hour-glass trickle death that pulled the sun away from its dry kingdom was almost welcomed by the sun itself. After all, only upon the soft coolness could the heat’s magnified ray of power focus on itself the burning attention of anything in its path. Understand also, though, the clouds. Like a surprise flank maneuver from a regiment long deemed defeated, the clouds closed the curtain on the sun’s campaign. The nostalgia of thoughtful dusk could be seen now only behind the white, cloudy shade of the premature dark—the curtain of day’s end drawn, strangely, when it could actually be seen in the light! The gathering clouds turned into a wrinkled sky. The warmth of the desert night became damp and the breeze the sun’s usurper. Against its touch, the leaves of the desert trees sang and the shrubs shook with life as the cold creatures scurried for cover in their warm folds. To everything, the proud darkness of victory showed its lamp-lit face.
The comforts of the day had not yet completely faded. Yet the lights and colors of the day’s vision had been whittled down into the small grooves of the evening. It was here, by a small puddle on whose surface a thin light wavered, that the desert fox paused to ponder the next day, looking unflinchingly, blankly into the last light as it hung in tattered luster on the water. Then the fox turned away, shivering knowingly when it realized, along with everything else in the desert, that suddenly the curtain had turned into the night—the sun, now alive only in the light of a feeble lantern or flashing fire, permitted only vague knowledge through the darkness of the bright house and the large rock, for instance, that soon too would be lost to the blackness of the dead, moonless night. And all the rocks sat, releasing their daily heat—the air of the night masking the burning hot change occurring so deep in the earth that it did not even move, to the slightest extent, the serene, cold Founder’s Rock at the base of One Tree Hill. And the clouds held thick in the air, as if covering the eyes of the sky from the elemental clash shifting into place behind the scenes of the dry valley. And all the while, above these clouds, the gleaming stars—patient and serene, unmovable masters of magnificent reticence—held the next day patiently.
Along the cove, the sun
crown an upper sky while
my mouth, your fingers touching
my mouth like yours
A layer of two colors,
blue/orange, yellow: your face
in mist; and
I utter above with two hands
to my face
hand in you
I bring drinks and
another ship arrives with
nymphs and I,
touched with drinks,
move them around with
As the roiling waves
to see you me through,
the coast to you again, I turn
and press against
a soft, loved women as if
music were waves and
waves were counted as,
in the morning,
a man’s penis is
You run through the air, slick with
sky; you have
finally loosened and
your entire body
is rosed up as you
begin to open: you
are like a rock in
how you open to the grasping
moon, in which
you can see
every moon in the world since
Altas started holding
And, when morning asks, you
cum hard as if,
with back arched,
you could stop the waves
“Born Before Oxygen”
legs, heads, your swords are
every once in a while, you
10. TIE: “Who Am I?” and “Little Drop of Rain”
9. “Do You Hear the People Sing”
8. “Javert’s Suicide”
7. “Bring Him home”
6. “On My Own”
5. “At the End of the Day”
4. “I Dreamed a Dream”
3. “One Day More”
1. “Red and Black”
“Dog Eats Dog”
“A Heart Full of Love”
“Beggars at the Feast”
“Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”
See, for a time, Thrill had a blog called Professor Truth. And some point, I became disgruntled with some aspect or another of life on the old Jo-tel (probably some petty thing about someone inserting a jump link on a long post of mine or something) and I defected, with modest pomp, but little circumstance, to Professor Truth for a few months. My sojourn there was pleasant and involved such posts as “Here’s to an Unhappy Christmas for the Insert Key”, “My Thoughts on New Orleans” (by Triceratops with a Saddle), “Last Night I Drank My Own Piss”, and “Top Ten Led Zeppelin Songs”. I also posted my first ever top 15 albums of the year list, appropriately titled “Top 15 Albums of 2005″. In hindsight, it’s pretty bad, at least in my opinion. However, it’s an interesting look back at the earlier days of the indie explosion, back when the mere existence of year-end lists was something to remark upon and bands like Gang Gang Dance were still considered legitimately weird.
Thrill deleted Professor Truth in 2006 and, for the longest time, I just assumed the content, including this post, was lost. However, thanks to a site called The Way Back Machine, and much to Thrill’s chagrin, some of the content, including this post, is now resurrectable. [Shark]
Todd Leopold at cnn.com writes, “No doubt [year-end lists] have some validity — they do tend to agree on several releases — but given the huge number of items coming into the American marketplace, something’s probably been overlooked. So I’m not fooling myself. The lists below aren’t ‘the best of the year’ …. The lists below reflect my favorites of that small sample. Three or 30 years from now, I fully expect to stumble on something shoved away in a stack and wonder where it had been all my life.” Todd Leopold wrote this because he is lame. I have no compunction about saying that these are the 15 best albums of the fucking year. Suck my crit:
#15 Kallikak Familiy May 23rd 2007
The Kaillikak Family appear to be the heir to the throne of the more experimental side of The Books. While the latter band showed us that above all they are song-writers, the Family (the nom de plume of a dude named Andrew Patterson) reminds us that it’s all about the pastiche. With subtle found pulsings, talking, and beats (see e.g. “Portland, Oregon, pt. 4″), May 23rd 2007 explores the terrain of discarded, discordantly cordant sound dreams. No sleep till PDX!
#14 Broken Social Scene Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene have balls. You Forgot It in People was totally awesome. But it was that kind of album that keeps its fans awake at night wondering how the band will top it. With Broken Social Scene, the Scene gives the best answer possible, namely, that they will not be content to simply compile good songs (which they have easily done here). No. It’s clear now that they want to make an artistic statement. So starting here and stretching until … sometime in the distant Canadian future, you can expect You Forget It in People to, slowly, start looking quaint. But, if this is all sounding a bit serious, keep in mind that song ten is called “Handjobs for the Holidays”. Hey, better than no jobs.
#13 Okkervil River Black Sheep Boy
Allow Okkervil River to introduce itself:
And I think I believe that, if stones could dream,
They’d dream of being laid side-by-side, piece-by-piece,
And turned into a castle for some towering queen
They’re unable to know.
And when that queen’s daughter came of age,
I think she’d be lovely and stubborn and brave,
And suitors would journey from kingdoms away
To make themselves known.
And I think that I know the bitter dismay
Of a lover who brought fresh bouquets every day
When she turned him away to remember some knave
Who once gave just one rose.
from “A Stone”
#12 M. Ward Transistor Radio
Oh, M., unlike your namesake narrator of A la Recharche du temps perdu you like to keep things short. And I love you for that. You came out in January, M., but I first met you in December. You’ve been hiding from me…. With a lo-fi mentality and folk-rocker juice in its veins, your Transistor Radio warbles out 14 really nice songs. And you, in your modestly, didn’t even tell me about yourself until a few weeks ago. So quiet. So quiet, M.
#11 Gang Gang Dance God’s Money
Fractal noise anyone? If I declare this the best experimental album of the year, would anyone hear the sound of a tree falling in the woods outside the Adirondack shack where Gang Gang Dance must have recorded this album? Maybe. The point is that God’s Money succeeds because it is equally able – through it’s short segway “diddies” that bookend the major fractal pieces – to both pull the listener out of the chaos and re-plunge her back into it. It’s refreshing to be able to see the forest sometimes. Excepter, are you breathing this?
#10 Spoon Gimme Fiction
Spoon refuses to stop making consummate albums. Gimme Fiction, which draws the listener in with a circular magnetism, explores the grooves of rock. It’s the best Spoon album since, uh, Kill the Moonlight.
#9 Xiu Xiu La Foret
(I bet that Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu’s frontman) didn’t even try to make this album murkier and more cerebral than Fabulous Muscles. I don’t think he has ears for what anyone else hears or thinks. That’s why he makes that crazy belching noise in “Yellow Raspberry”. Just like with every other album on this list, I recommend that you purchase and listen to La Foret with little more than a knee-reaction thought-process regardless of how I describe it in this blurb. But the album pretty much sounds like what you would expect from a band with a Chinese name that comes out with a French-titled album.) I like La Foret better than Fabulous Muscles.
#8 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
Remember back in 1997 when Old Dominion, the 15 seed in the NCAA tournament, knocked off the number-two-seeded UCLA Bruins in the first round? That was awesome.
#7 Lightning Bolt Hypermagic Mountain
Noise it is! Lately, Music has been really missing the lack of an heir to early 80s punk rock and thrash metal. The drop-D commercial sheen that coated mainstream “heavy” acts like Limp Biskit and Staind aimed at the exhilaration that these earlier, inspirationally grating albums provided to their high school listeners (Metallica Rulz!), but ended up creating little more than horrendous music videos and tons of dumb fans.
Noise rock takes the abusive aesthetic of a thrash metal and intellectualizes it to create sonic, Hip E.-at-2am-on-a-Saturday-awakening art pieces. Along these lines, Hypermagic Mountain, a huge slab of burning iceberg whose ferocity and competence scorches through both the brain and the gulliver, perfects Lightning Bolt’s sound.
#6 The Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree
By the time that “Pale Green Things” begins to spins its message you realize that Darnielle has subtly and unobtrusively – and by means of autobiographic material no less – affected your emotions. If I didn’t like John Darnielle so much, I might compare him to Dylan.
#5 Wilderness Wilderness
Of the three big Indie Rock albums by new bands this year (the others being CYHSY! and Wolf Parade) this one was the best. Like its Major Major Major-esque title track, Wilderness finds success by focusing on unusual goals. Indeed, despite sounding decidedly like stripped down Interpol, the perfectionist instrumentation and insistently repetitive lyrics spewn by lead singer James Johnson end up actually creating a detached, artistic recreation of indie rock at its most elemental.
#4 The Books Lost and Safe
“Coming down from the ethereal heights of The Lemon of Pink, The Books had the audacity to simply give us a great-sounding album.” I wrote this for my “Best of the Last Six Months to Me” post at the Jo-tel. I was so much older then.
#3 Animal Collective Feels
Feels has gotten a strangely divided reception from the indie-critosphere. Almost everyone acknowledges it as a great album, but about half of these people laud the album with flippant disdain for what they see as Animal Collective going for the big target – the nice(r) sounding album – instead of returning back their twiggy woods of abstraction. This is because, Feels is by far the most accessible Animal Collective album. Sung Tongs peppered its catchy melodies with discordant (”Whaddit I Done”) or lengthy (”Visiting Friends”) sound experiments. Here Comes the Indian (I read this review in the Guardian where the reviewer was trying to argue that Here Comes the Indian was his favorite Animal Collective album while repeatedly calling the album “Here Come the Indians”) was nothing but dissonance – ego-less, constantly shifting and pretty much terrible. Feels manages to focuses in on the more sonorous side of Sung Tongs (e.g. “Kids on Vacation”), mining the experimental nuances of their less experimental tendencies. In other words, helloh to yo’r undernation hand-traight, pleesr versus underyelly figure five, just bright, deathly longfellow, must such beings’s bastunderlay, vall call, water falll dinin, do Gren grssss, rollick in xero.
#2 Antony & the Johnsons I Am a Bird Now
How long has it been since I’ve gotten so enveloped in an album for its vocals? The songs on I Am a Bird Now are perfect shrines to Antony’s defiant, male-diva voice. So much so that the only way for me to properly summarize here would be for me to attached a .wav file that featured me singing this blurb in a voice as beautiful as Antony’s. If could sing, I might have actually attempted this. And it would have been funny.
#1 Deerhoof Runners Four
I wrote this poem to/about a Deerhoof song: “[something something] eyebright bugler [something something] (I can’t find the poem.)
And then there was prose: With this, their fifth LP entry, Deerhoof have penned their Ok Computer. The Runners Four is a wonderfully challenging listen, each song shift opening up sparkling nooks and crannies of ingenuity. If Apple O’ and Reveille were like riding a bronco, then The Runners Four is like going on Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and Pirates of Caribbean back to back about four times in a row. I guess that makes Milk Man kind of like having sex with the hot lemon frosty concession girl. Now, should I get the lemon or little lemon frosty? Wink!
All time measured based on the 1.0 hour.
Occupying the midpoint between a small and a large task, a 2.2 entry exudes both care and efficiency.
While elusive, all-day billing activities are an essential component of any strong billing month, and 8.1 is the quintessential time-entry for an all-day activity. Travel time not included.
Sneaky, yet sturdy, the .9 billable hour is almost unnoticeable. How long does the perfect one-page letter take? Answer: .9.
As my original billing mentor told me, no one ever bills for 1.0 because people never usually spend that exact amount of time on something. Of course, this explanation defies mathematics as well as the general space-time continuum theory. However, it is completely in line with accepted billing philosophy, since 1.0 looks, to the discerning eye, like a mere placeholder, whereas 1.1 looks like a hard-earned, precisely measured task. Nothing important ever takes 1.0 hours. If it’s important enough, it takes 1.1; if not, see entry #3 above.
The workhorse of the billable hour. Thinking about something really important– even for only a moment– takes .4. Any work that you do that is hard to captuer necessarily take .4, a billable time which will repeatedly save your life.