2009 - %3, April

New Music: Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 5:28 PM PDT

Depeche Mode is not New Order, although you could be forgiven for mixing them up, I suppose, if you're not paying attention, or just looking at their keyboards, or maybe their career arcs. Actually, Depeche Mode's unlikely, meteoric rise to super-fame and subsequent plateau most resembles The Cure's: minimalist, early '80s experiments give way to mid-'80s "alt-culture" idolatry, then early 90's chart-topping mega-success, and finally a semi-retirement based on recycling (with varying degrees of success) the motifs of their earlier output. But there's a reason New Order gets their own section on my record shelves, while D-Mode languishes on the '80s shelf: they've always been a little, well, obvious for my taste, I guess, with their Peoples are Peoples and Personal Jesuses and I Expect to Find God Laffff-ing. Plus, what may be their artistic peak, 1990's "Enjoy the Silence," was basically a New Order homage, at best. But, weirdly enough, Sounds of the Universe, their 12th and latest album, achieves an intriguing complexity by looking to the lessons of early New Order, i.e., being a little obscure might not be such a bad thing.

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Awl Aboard

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 2:29 PM PDT

Here's one reason I'm digging the newly launched Awl, started by former Gawkerites Choire Sicha and Alex Balk:

Remember how when blogging started to get attention the whole gang of print journalists would snort derisively about how it wasn’t “really writing”? And then, a couple of years later, when their papers were dying off and ownership was so desperate for anything to staunch the flow of red ink that it forced them all to start blogging, and they were like, “Holy shit, blogging is hard!” Well, there was a certain protected class of columnists and reporters who, because they were so established, were not made to sully themselves by coding HTML and searching for pooping dog videos. You don’t make a Maureen Dowd blog, particularly when Jennifer 8. Lee will do it five hundred times a day and happily twitpimp the results.
So don’t worry if Maureen Dowd doesn’t like Twitter; it’s not for her. There are plenty of other journalists who desperately need it (and some who definitely need to be weaned from it—David Carr, you are FILLING UP MY DASHBOARD, YOU HAVE TO CHILL). Let the Dowds bury their Dowds; the rest of us are stuck slapping up the minutiae out of fear that we will otherwise become invisible. Which is, of course, the worst thing of all.

Can't really beat a line like "let the Dowds bury their Dowds." Go Alex Balk. When did Gawker start to feel like established biggish media, anyone know?

Music Inspired by J. G. Ballard

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 1:48 PM PDT

If you go by numbers of books, J. G. Ballard takes up more room on my shelves than any other author other than Philip K. Dick, and while I don't know if that makes him my second favorite writer, I have enjoyed his work my whole life. The British writer died on Sunday, and while his fame was assured by his novels that became movies, Empire of the Sun and Crash, it was his dystopian science fiction work (usually short stories) that I always found most compelling. Their shocking ideas were often powerful precisely because they were aspects of our world taken to their logical—if extreme—conclusions. "The Concentration City," for instance, imagines an entirely enclosed conurbation so large its residents believe it to be infinite, while "Billenium" looks forward (almost quaintly now) at an overpopulated Earth so crowded with people the protagonists are stunned to discover a single hidden, empty room.

Whether it was his mind-blowing subject matter or edgy style, Ballard's fiction has always appealed to musicians as well, and his work has served as inspirations for songs, albums and even band names. After the jump, a couple examples and their connections (or lack thereof) to Ballard's work.

China Cracks Down on Pesky Names

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 12:41 PM PDT

Remember Tiki Tiki Tembo, the story of the unfortunately named Tikki Tikki Tembo-No Sa Rembo-Chari Bari Ruchi-Pip Peri Pembo, the Chinese boy with a name so extensive it was hazardous to the boy's health?

Well, China's had it with the unique names. Earlier this month Mother Jones reported on the wacky story of Texas legislator Betty Brown, who recommended that Asians adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with." Now China itself thinks it's time to simplify its citizens' names. According to Monday's New York Times, the People's Republic of China is upgrading the country's identity cards; its Public Security Bureau will replace the handwritten one currently used with a new card with color photos and embedded microchips that can be read by a computer. As the article explained:

How Twitter Makes Vanity Acceptable

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 12:06 PM PDT

I'm with Garry Trudeau all the way here. Speaking to Media Bistro:

The serious journotwits, though, are at it all day — 30, 40 tweets between breakfast and bedtime. And as someone who follows a lot of these folks, I can assure you that outside of the occasional interesting link, there's not much added news value.

It's all about fan base maintenance and trying to pump up follower counts. But high follower counts are like Mardi Gras throw beads — worthless out of context.

What amazes me is that these folks have voluntarily elected to add a new hour-a-day habit to what presumably were pretty busy schedules to begin with. Many of them Twitter about their apparently exemplary parenting, so you do wonder why they don't turn off their Berrys and recover that hour for the family — or at least make themselves a little more present for the people they're actually with.

Look, all of us are narcissists to some degree, but most find it embarrassing enough to at least try to hide it. What Twitter and its social media cousins do is disable inhibition. We expect narcissism from our movie stars and politicians and teenagers, but it's a little surprising to encounter so many otherwise personally modest journalists oblivious to how they're presenting.

Look, it's true. Twitter doesn't just make you stupid, it makes your most vain and most preening instincts socially acceptable. I realize that Twitter can be a great way to organize and build interest in a cause or event, and it provides those of us in the media with an additional way to distribute our links, and thus our content. But I preferred a world where people didn't think their breakfasts were automatically interesting to the world at large simply because they ate them.

H/T TNR.

Lily Allen, Lumberjacks, and the Lottery: What's New in Book, Film and Music Reviews

| Tue Apr. 21, 2009 9:59 AM PDT

Looking for a distraction? Here's a quick guide to what we read, watched, and listened to in our March/April 2009 issue:

In this age of Google maps (Street View, Earth, et al), it's easy to think that we live in a transparent world. Not quite: In Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World, geographer Trevor Paglen exposes the secret airstrips, extralegal prisons, and bases that the government claims don't exist. Moving from the world of stuff the government doesn't want you to see to stuff you don't want to see, there's the documentary Food, Inc., an eye-opening tour of all the myriad gross things that could happen to your meat—from farm (chickens with breasts so big their legs can't support them) to slaughterhouse (sick cows being tortured before slaughter) to meatpacking plant (a variety of stomach-churning germs)—before it gets to your plate.

Once you've learned about the backstory of your food, check out Brush Cat: On Trees, the Wood Economy, and the Most Dangerous Job in America for the inside scoop on the dying breed of lumberjacks who bring you your furniture, books, Starbucks cup, and even your McDonald's milkshake (for reals).

 

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Susan Boyle's 20 Media Euphemisms

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 3:29 PM PDT

A Lexis-Nexis search turns up 952 articles concerning Britain's Got Talent Superstar, Susan Boyle. Why? She's got a smoking singing voice, but she's not-hot, and that's touched a cultural nerve. We are shallow. We don't want to be shallow. Or at least, we don't want people to know how very shallow we are. But we can't talk about how shallow we are without mentioning how not-hot Susan Boyle is and how we wrote her off because of her not-hottitude. Right?

So. How many colorful euphemisms can the media come up with? Lots—see 20 below.

1. "The plain Jane superstar," in a Daily News article about an offer from a porn company to put Boyle in an adult film. (It plans to fly her to L.A. on Virgin Airlines.)

2. "Like Shrek come to life," Rosie O'Donnell to People magazine.

3. "Frizzy-haired" from Mother Jones's own Party Ben.

4. "Plain, dowdy, unemployed," in New York Magazine's round up.

5. The Age of Melbourne let an imaginary Jane Austen do the dissing and refers to her as "ill-favoured."

 

The Vlogger MoJo and Maddow Love

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 11:03 AM PDT

If you watched The Rachel Maddow Show last Friday, you may have caught vlogger Jonathan Mann performing his cheeky tune "Hey Paul Krugman." Mann's Rock Cookie Bottom website, where he posts an original music video every day, has more than just Maddow buzzing. Want to know more? Check out MoJo's podcast interview with Mann (excerpt after the jump).

Coachella 2009 Wrapup - Sunday

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 1:59 AM PDT

Hello again from La Quinta, where we've just returned from what may have been the most action-packed day of the 2009 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. In tonight's exciting edition: Giant creepy eyeballs! Rock star friends have a moment in the sun! And unsuspecting festivalgoers have their ears melted from their heads! Most importantly, we kind of snuck out a little early tonight after our traumatic parking lot experience last night, so hopefully this wrapup will be a little less muddled. Click "more" to jump in.

Coachella 2009 Wrapup - Saturday

| Sun Apr. 19, 2009 2:56 AM PDT

Welcome to night two of Mother Jones' blanket coverage of the Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival! In tonight's exciting edition: Oodles of star sightings! Endless traffic jams! A major cancellation! And apparently M.I.A. reads the Riff! It's 2:00 a.m. and we've just made it back to our lovely rental crib, so my apologies for poorly grammar, nonsensical metaphors like palm trees on fire, or sentences that don't. Click "more" only if those things don't matter to you.