The Decemberists: Castaways and Cut-​outs

Friday, 30 May 2003

Hell, I’m always on the lookout for some good new music. Unfortunately my search often results in less than good new music. There are far too many bands out there with delusions of grandeur, weird gimmicks, and stranger sounds, all of which don’t particularly agree with my constitution.

Thankfully, The Decemberists album Castaways and Cut-​outs does not fit this bill.

[initialize pomposity]

They are from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Washington or Oregon, or someplace. Treehuggers. Their sound on the other hand, seems to draw on influences from the world over, merged into a very indie feel. The vocals fo Colin Meloy gives the band a very Irish sound, he’s got an Irish name too, but he is from Missoula, Montana. Some of the song content is also quite reminiscent of relatively current events in Ireland. “Leslie Ann Levine” in particular would fit quite well as a meditation on the rife subject of teenage pregnancy, abortion and the Kerry babies case.

The songs are quite seedy in content, and create within me a sense that the entire album is a period piece of wharves, docks, and sundry other salty topics from a 19th century sea story. Petticoats, camisoles, castaways, and men at war, all blend together to create a subtle and sinister lyric-​scape that is only heightened by the peppy music. You enjoy listening to the songs but then when you think about the lyrics you’re, like, whoa!

A Cautionary Song” is probably the best example of this. Its a song about a mother who whores herself out in order to feed the kids. It rollicks along though, to a concertina/​accordion, in a sea-​shanty sailor rhythm. You might find yoruself tapping your feet as you hear about how she goes through an entire ship in a night.

and the next time she feeds you collard greens
remember what she does when you’re asleep

A nice zinger to end the song, eh? So sorry kids.

Their musical abilities are an amalgam of country, pop, standard rock, and various manifestations of form [i.e. the shanty] throughout the album. It might end on a note of hope, but it is a bit hard to tell, “California One/​Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the closest the Decemberists seem to get to truly modern cookie-​cutter false unity/​alienation, yet the lyrics seem ironic, as if joining the Youth and Beauty Brigade might not be such a good thing. Perhaps this irony is meant to expose the shallowness of the “Youth of a Nation” vs. “Broken Home” dichotomy that so much crap music today seems to feed off of.

The Decemberists’ Castaways and Cut-​outs should definitely be added to any self-​respecting audiophile’s library.

another link

[end pomposity]

3 teeth

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Yessiree, you heard it here first. I truly am teething. Or, perhaps, toothing, to be more precise. A [singular] wisdom tooth has deemed its time ripe to emerge from the evolutionary boondocks that forms the backplates of the mandible. My wisdom tooth, instead of being a mere nuisance, and a reason for people to look like jaundiced chipmunks upon removal, serves a purpose.

I’m pretty sure that sentence has way too many clauses.

I am missing three teeth. One wisdom tooth [lower left], one permanent premolar [lower right], and the baby version of aforementioned permanent premolar. The AWOL wisdom tooth is cool, it means when they are finally yanked, only the upper ones will come out, and the likelihood of dry sockets decreases logarithmically.

I used to have the lower right premolar [the baby version] but when I got braces a few years ago, it needed to come out. The reason it had never fallen out was because I had no permanent tooth underneath to replace it.

Getting that baby tooth removed wasn’t peaches and cream, or even oranges and cream, or even sour cream. It was just bad. I’ve got damn strong teeth, no cavities, no fillings, no problems apart from being a few teeth shy of a rational amount. This baby tooth did not want to go; it was huge, secure in its gripping power on my gums, and not about to take any sass from a dentist.

The roots were so intent on being immovable they were as close to being barbed as they could get. The nerve was surrounded in a perfectly executed four pronged pincer.

So the dentist cut it down the middle with a saw and yanked out each half.

When I got my braces on, they put a bunch of torque on my lonseome molar, to bring it up next to the bicuspid, to fill in the gap left by the premolar, so my wisdom tooth would also move forward, emerge and take the place of my last molar.

Too many clauses again.

Thus, what I once thought of as an evolutionary throwback to our more robust skeletal structures, and more herbivorous or frugivorous eating behaviors, actually serves a purpose for this gracile Homo sapiens sapiens[me].

I’m going to suck on some ice now.

Computer Crapola

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

The past few days have been spent in a flurry of sundry computer cleaning procedures. We’ve ghosted the summer image onto the business clusters, we’ve scraped the hand salsa off of innumerable keyboards and mice, we’ve shined monitors and razed the cluster kiosks of any and all unnecessary paraphernalia.

On the personal side, I reformatted my PC at home and installed XP in order to squeeze another year of use out of its aging circuits. I didn’t have any problems at all running Win2000Pro but XP takes up a bit less space without the unneccessary NTserver scripts.

Signing up for hours looks like it is going to be a chore this summer, we are a bit overstaffed, so I’m going to have to scrounge to get the full 40 I am alotted.

I managed to copy everything over to my friend’s machine so I saved all of my mp3s, papers, etc. Everything except my contact list/​address book with all of my email addresses, and all of the saved emails that I have. d’oh!

If you are reading this, know who I am, and would like to be reinstated into my new contact list please email me with all of your pertinent contact information [email, phone, etc.].

If you are reading this, don’t know me personally, but would still like to be put into my address book, please do the same.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Gothic Production Values

Sunday, 25 May 2003

The second entry, and then I must needs say no more about matrices till November.

As a film, The Matrix [original] was authentic in its rawness of mise-​en-​scene, tight plot, character construction and philosophy. The Matrix: Reloaded, has the mangy paw of Hollywood overproduction and overengineering all over it.

Now that the goth look is mainstreamed [hoodathunkit?] it is at the same time extremed in the Matrix, Hollywood knows who its demographics are and plays to them, even putting in vampires and ghosts. Every good guy is gothic while in the Matrix. Zion even has that retarded rave/​orgy/​infernal masses sequence, where everyone porks to heavy bass beats. All of the guns from the last flik have been replaced by a variety of weapons [katana, longsword, trident, sai, mace, etc.] that don’t do much good except look cool. Then, of course, you’ve got the gothic château in the mountains, the gothic retro technology [old TVs etc, still cool] and the rusted out ships of Zion.

Costuming

The costumes in the original Matrix were indeed quite cool, but their coolness was secondary and the manifestations of the mind that wears them. In TM:R the clothes were cool because Hollywood decided it must be so, and they fail at it. Keanu in a cassock, is a bit preposterous, Trinity maintains skintight pleather, and the only noticeable difference in the agents and Morpheus is that they’ve got spiffy new shoes. The Zionists can’t manage to clothe themselves decently [except for the elders] despite their ability to hew an existence near the earth’s core. The baddies just wear white or black variations in suit themes. Who really cares.

Plot

Schizophrenically polysemous. Dragged a bit, then had some über-​cheesy part, followed by an über-​philosophical part. Rinse, repeat. This is where I found the conflict between a smart film, and a Hollywood film to be most prevalent. The cheese parts [the n Smith fight, rave, the Seraph fight, sex scene, ubercar chase, the other n Smith fight, the you saved me dialogue at the end] are Hollywood. The smart parts [Oracle, Merovingian, Architect, back doors, Keymaker] reminded me most of the original film, despite the fact that the Merovingian and the Architect still had some obvious distractions to them [yesterday’s post]. Although, the Keymaker, when describing how to get into the mainframe, reminded me much of the Old Man From Scene 24 in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is also the whole Keymaster of Gozer thing from Ghost Busters as well.

CG/​Special Effects

They were cutting edge last time, but mainstream this time. Bullet time/​slomo adn the spinning camera moves were the same stuff from the last movie. The CGs were pretty obvious too, supporting my theory that digital still has a long way to go before it can render as well as film stock can pick up the minute details of a person’s face. Thus, sometimes Neo and Smith look quite CG, because the subtle shadows and facial expressions are not there. Rendering fabrics is pretty damn hard as well. Thus, Neo’s idiotic cassock goes from being nice and textured to smooth as silk when he is CG. The wire-​work legitimately seemed ripped off from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Sound

Sound effects and Foley work was impressive, though the music was most definitely created with the soundtrack in mind, and of course contained tracks from the most gothic sellout — Rob Zombie. Hell, it even had a track by Dave Mathews. [*pukes*] I did like what Juno Reactor did with many of the songs though — mixing standard techno/​trance with the score in many instances.

Other

The shot selection was also a bit schizoid. The OTS shots were so repetitive i could predict what was going to happen next [MS1a, MS2a, MS1b, MS2b, MCU1a, MCU2a, etc.]. At the same time, the digital stuff with Morpheus fight on the trailer, and the motorcycle shots — were pretty damn amazing. The washed-​out hotness of the whites, and the subtle lows of the blacks seemed appropriately gothic and also helped the CGs fit into the the film better, since so much data was lost by intentional overexposure.

Morpheus says the prophecy should have come true if Neo reached the source, but Neo did not reach the souce, he went after Trinity, something that I only realized post facto the movie. There is no mention of it in the flik itself.

Wrap

I liked TM:R, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t like it as well as the first one. I give the 1st an 8 and this one a 6. Mostly because, it is obvious Hollywood tried too hard as usual, only approximated what it feels is authentic — rather than going for the real thing. Ergo, all the people are gothically serious except for Link who is more a family man thug than anything else — and the wonderful Merovingian asshole. The bad guys are much more interesting than the good guys. It leaves no room for any type of those once plugged in than the gothic. Someone should crack a joke or play a prank or perhaps wear comfortable clothes that are nondescript. Right? I think it is too shallow because it is too pretentious.

Probably much like this review.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Fides et Ratio

Saturday, 24 May 2003

I’ve seen The Matrix: Reloaded twice now. Fittingly I will give it two entries, one on philosophy and one on its cinematic qualities. This is the philo one. Most likely they will both contain spoilers.

To start out, those who say that this second film lacks [in substance and thought provoking material] are idiots.

They must have ignored [slept through, dismissed because they did not understand] the Oracle, the Merovingian [who is ridiculous awesome], and the Architect. Granted, much of the rest of the film is cotton candy [to be covered in the next entry], but the aforementioned segments are anything but.

Continuing the debate that was exhumed in the original Matrix, this film deals time and again with the antagonism between choice/​free will and causality/​predetermination. Its pretty ho hum, and the screenwriters are either geniuses or stayed up all cramming and then regurgitated the answers. I lean toward the bile side myself, because the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all contradict themselves in their soliloquys on choice v. causality.

The Oracle

An ‘intuitive’ computer program that created a version of the Matrix that 99% of test subjects accepted as long as they were offered a choice. Neo looks to her for guidance and questions her regarding choice. If she knows the answer to the questions she asks him, what does his choice matter? She tells him that his choices have already been made, Neo is now supposed to understand why he made/​making/​will make these choices.

But then, ‘we can’t see past the choices we don’t understand.’

All of this time, while discussing choice, the discussion has really centered on causality, the Oracle seems to be hinting that choices do not matter. At the same time, she tells Neo to makes choices.

For her it appears that choice is merely an illusory mechanism of causality. But not seeing past the choices we do not understand gives her the lie, for unless she understands all choices, how can she see the future. To me it appears that for causality to function is must be concerned only with hindsight. It can only prove its veracity by showing completed cause and effect relations as something inevitable. It should only be able to postulate the future, not predict it.

The Merovingian

This guy is my favorite character in the entire film. We’ll just get that out of the way.

This exquisitely contemptible French program apparently touts causality as its champion. He says choice is an illusion given by those with power to those without it. Ostensibly, as a means of control [see The Architect]. He states the humans run on instinct, and proves this by enchanting a hot chick with a programmed piece of aphroditic chocolate and making her all horny. Thus, doubly proving his point [if you were even listening to his monologue] because most likely the audience watching the film was more interested in the warm spot in hot chick’s crotch than what the Merovingian was saying.

He says that those with power are those who ‘understand the why’ of things.

To me ‘why’ is a word that deals with choice. To know ‘why’ you do something is to know the reasons you made the choice. To understand ‘what’ is to understand causality. ‘What made you do something’ — this recognizes that an outside, predetermined, non-​willful stimulation resulted in an act. Why is subjective, thus controllable, What is objective, and causal.

When Persephone screws him over, in a beautiful throw-​away remark after his recent homily, he demands to know the reason she lets Neo have the Keymaker: she says something about causality and retorts with — Cause? There is no cause for this!

The Architect

Like the Merovingian sequence, The Architect uses a shitload of monitors showing different things to distract the viewer from the discussion.

The Architect explains about the means of control within the Matrix, that Neo is an expected anomaly resulting from the inability of the cause/​effect nature of programming to adequately cope with the demands of imperfect human desires and choices. The human mind is lesser or, perhaps, not bound by the demands of perfection. To deal with this the machines use life outside the Matrix, and Zion, an apparently oft destroyed and rebuilt city, as another method of control. Neo is also apparently the sixth anomaly, so Zion is in its 5th reincarnation.

Besides all that, The Architect points out the flaws between causality and choice. He offers Neo a Lady or Tiger choice, choose a door. This is where the philosophies get a bit shallow for me. Cause and effect seem to hang on Neo’s choice. Except, Neo seems to think he only has two choices, one door or the other. He has plenty of options.

Other

Where is the religion? TM:R uses the devices of religion [Morpheus as a prophet, mentions of providence, the need for faith, etc] but never deigns to illustrate the efficacy of these demands, nor to explain what it is people are to have faith in. Are we to assume that faith should be placed in Neo. Who should Neo have faith in then? Only himself? Morpheus faith seems bound to his ideas about choice and providence, but at odd points these eat each other. He says everything happens for a reason, his providence, but he also says everyone has a choice. In the dialectic set up within the Matrix, these are at cross-​purposes.

They could however, be explained in regard to faith. Yet, they never are.

Last BS

I think, though I am quite prepared to admit that this could very well be wrong, that what the Architect spoke of, that 99% accept the Matrix as long as they are offered a choice, hints at a possible twist. Perhaps while Neo and Trinity, and Morpheus, et al. think they are outside of the Matrix, they are actually still within it. Thus, The Matrix encompasses both the Zion-​world and what we have come to know as the Matrix itself.

This is explained both through what the Architect says, as well as in Neo’s freaky lightning abilities at the end. He can sense the sentinels in the ‘real world,’ and can EMP-​bake them with his hand in the ‘real world.’ I think he realized he was in another level of the Matrix, and sent his consciousness forth into a higher state of mind. Yeah, it sounds a bit new-​agey.

or, perhaps while he was in the mainframe, he gained a new ability, to transport himself directly into the Matrix, without plugs.

Hell, like I know what I’m talking about.

Summer Reading

Friday, 23 May 2003

The Summer Reading List currently contains:

  1. High Fidelity — Nick Hornby
  2. Ulysses — James Joyce
  3. The Hawkline Monster — Richard Brautigan
  4. The Wasp Factory — Iain Banks
  5. His Dark Materials Trilogy — Philip Pullman
  6. Gravity’s Rainbow — Thomas Pynchon
  7. The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen
  8. Something by Kafka

I’m always taking suggestions as well, especially poetry.

Tomorrow I get my St. Joe County Library Card.

Confused Little Ant

Thursday, 22 May 2003

I had lunch with her today. She had been gone to Spain all last semester, and had just gotten back the previous week. She came up to South Bend to get her job at the Center for the Homeless settled, and to run a few other errands. She cut her hair.

I really like the new look, although her long hair was nice as well. Now she has this quite attractive flip to her hair, which heightens her already quite atttractiveness. It was a bit strange to be actually talking to her after so long an absence. I left things unsaid as usual [while talking my lips off].

She spoke of Spain in glowing terms, she wants to go back. It sounds quite the nice place to be. She also spoke of her friend Javi [I hope not boyfriend]. She does not know if she wants to live in America, because after being abroad she understands just how work-​centric the American culture is. I’ve felt the same way myself, but just on hearsay, that Europe sounds like my sort of p[l]ace.

Her father called while we ate at Macri’s Deli, and when he heard I was there with her, told her to tell me a joke: he loves bad jokes.

Q: Why were the little ants confused?

A: Because someone told them that their uncles were aunts.

That one was pretty bad, but for me the humor derives from knowing a person who relishes such bad jokes.

She and I are both quite protective of our inner thoughts, we speak them rarely, so it is most difficult for one such as me to work up the confidence to broach certain subjects with her. I hope I can do it the next chance I get.