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Avant Rock: Experimental Music from the Beatles to Bjork (Feedback (Chicago, Ill.), V. 3.)
Avant Rock: Experimental Music from the Beatles to Bjork (Feedback (Chicago, Ill.), V. 3.)
by Bill Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.54
43 used & new from $4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy and unique effort, with irredeemable omissions, March 1, 2011
I randomly found this in my local library. I can't help but be intrigued by a work on rock music by a bass-playing philosophy professor steeped in Deleuze and Derrida, seemingly having time-traveled to our post-punk era from a 1960s world I sometimes wish I could have lived through, where it was actually cool to read that stuff and get all worked up about social theory and "things that matter." It does turn out that the subtitle (why not something more like, to pull at random from the possibilities, "...from Red Crayola to The Books"?) is a reliable hint, if only a hint, to the book's huge amount of personal bias in selecting what's "good" and "bad" or "avant" or not in the history of rock music (or music in general, since the likes of Schoenberg, Cage, Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor play foundational roles in the presentation). But having already spent countless hours digesting Piero Scaruffi's encyclopedic online history of rock, in which the Beatles figure as one of the greatest pop industry swindles of all time and Bjork's avantgarde cred is attributed mainly to her producers, I thought it'd be worthwhile to absorb a different bias.

And it was, for me. Not that Bill Martin has convinced me of the sensibility of his discography in the context of avantgarde (or even more broadly, experimental) music, by any means. Sure, for example, I had it in my head that Stereolab were just indie pop, but Martin made them sound more interesting than that, so perhaps I'll finally pull them off my "to check out later" list and buy an album. But I already loved King Crimson and Sonic Youth, and still think Yes is usually too pretentious, and still suspect the Beatles (though my respect for them has increased somewhat) were followers, not leaders, into psychedelia, and find them overrated even while liking their later stuff (and by later, I mean really later, not Sgt. Pepper's). And I still have no idea where to begin, to get into intriguing but intimidatingly-prolific artists like Bill Laswell or John Zorn.

But reading about avantgarde music can often be more fun than listening to it. With some (notable) exceptions, the writing is engaging (at least, if you can follow the literary and musical name-dropping) and not apologetic for or dishonest about its personal/subjective nature, his reasons for his tastes are interesting, and, best of all, the connections he draws all over and across the worlds of music and ideas, are, if not always original, fun to take in, at least for someone like me who, similar to the author, is an amateur guitarist and philosophy buff prone to (thus perhaps sympathetic to) rambling.

The bias is mainly in favor of late 60s music, the classical avantgarde, and especially prog, and against punk, metal, electronic music, and hip hop in general. He tries hard to convince himself and the reader this isn't just "old fogey-ism" where you only like the music of your formative years, and indeed forcefully resents the tendency of the rock industry to put listeners in generational niche-marketing boxes this way, and he does show a good appreciation for much post-70s music, and does some justice to, for example, some of the more "progressive" punk, of the 80s if not the 90s, and in that way, though I probably have more punk and related alternative rock in my collection than any other genre, maybe my tastes don't run quite so different from his as his emphasis might suggest. He even spends a fair amount of time on Japanese noise artists like Merzbow. In any case I don't have a problem with differing tastes, and indeed read the book in order to expand my own.

The problem is that the conventional-vs-avantgarde dichotomy really doesn't map very well onto the prog-vs-punk or even prog-vs-pop one, and this does undermine the concept of a book with the words "avant" and "experimental" in the title. I think he would agree in general with that statement, and I can't help but oversimplify the book in saying it nevertheless seems to fall into some such trap. What it comes down to is that there are large swaths of experimental music (e.g. glitch music) deserving of attention that he completely misses, or at least passes over superficially (e.g. drum'n'bass, or "so-called Krautrock"), while spending a lot of time on already-well-known bands like Yes and the Beatles whose "avant" status is perhaps questionable. On the other hand, as he himself laments, no one (maybe not even Piero Scaruffi) can listen to and absorb the sheer quantity of new and challenging music being produced and so these are weaknesses one might expect in almost any such book. So on balance I liked this book and think it deserves respect for its effort and its unusually philosophical perspective, and for, importantly, Martin's obvious love for the music he writes about and for artistic innovation per se, but I hope to find more books that flesh out the world of experimental music from other angles, to cover the gaps in this one.


Permanent Fatal Error
Permanent Fatal Error
Price: $12.05
23 used & new from $0.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If it weren't for the vocals, October 30, 2008
This review is from: Permanent Fatal Error (Audio CD)
I don't know how to write an album review, but someone's gotta do it.

I grew up in a bubble and didn't discover grunge music until the era was nearly over, but when I did it had a profound effect on me, but, like many, my exposure to it and ability to appreciate it was limited to what went mainstream. In recent years my interest in grunge music has had a resurgence, and I came across Jack Endino, who produced Soundgarden's and Nirvana's debut Sub Pop albums. Listening to the samples of "Permanent Fatal Error", I felt I had struck gold and downloaded it.

This is a very impressive album in nearly all respects. In the first place, this is genuine Seattle Sound, despite being released in 2005. I'm by no means expert on what's out there, but I personally haven't found anything else being put out these days that returns so faithfully to those roots at all, let alone so well and without sounding out of place today.

More importantly, it's great music and great art. Raw, guitar-driven, often speedy and aggressive. Complex rhythms and riffs. Most will not find it catchy, but to me that is a plus. The hooks have all been done before; this one explores the nooks and crannies of the space of possibilities within its style. It's not always brilliant, but always intelligent, interesting, and edgy.

If I have one complaint, it is that Endino's voice strikes me as not going well with this style of music. He isn't able to scream like Cobain, Cornell, Staley, Vedder, etc. And not that I think he can't, but he doesn't, just sing clean, which actually might work better for his songs anyway, but perhaps he decided that didn't give it the edginess needed, and settled for a compromise of unvaryingly singing with a raspy voice. His raspiness seems contrived, though, and this deprives it of emotional power and dynamism, which is something I think is pretty essential to grunge music. But he has the voice he has (and there are instrumental tracks, too), and that's a small price to pay for the excellent contribution this album is.


Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell 3rd Edition
Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell 3rd Edition
by Michael R. Kelsey
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from $12.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent history and geology, adequate route info, October 3, 2007
The historical background and geological cross-sections (of which there is at least one for every hiking area) show Michael Kelsey at his best; I have battered my borrowed copy (which I need to replace) pretty well. The most understandable criticism in my view is the lack of difficulty ratings; just remember that Kelsey is a fast hiker so go conservative at first to see what your multiplier factor is, and remember that 3rd and 4th class scrambling often, but not consistently, constitutes straightforward hiking to him. And bring your own topo map; his sketches are a good reference for route, access, and other descriptions in the text, but are not meant to be your only map. You wouldn't want to be deprived of adventure because your guidebook gave you GPS coordinates for each footstep you are to take, so I have no problem with route descriptions like "look for one of the several ways down" and so forth. There is also the occasional rant against imagined people who want to "lock up" the land and keep everyone out, which I take as a slightly odd way of expressing his otherwise understandable viewpoint on access restrictions for popular but sensitive areas.


The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
by Joseph Smith
Edition: Hardcover
111 used & new from $0.01

73 of 120 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars invisible Semitic civilizations in ancient Mesoamerica, December 3, 2004
I fanatically devoted most of my life so far to the Mormon church, read the Book of Mormon from a believer's perspective well over a dozen times, and genuinely considered myself justified in letting the goosebumps and spine chills (is that all they were?) I desperately learned to manipulate myself into feeling as I read it have veto authority in my otherwise rational epistemology. But that was before I acquired the guts to critically and honestly examine my beliefs, and now that I have untangled myself, perhaps a blurb on this book's merits from someone with my background would be helpful to someone.

Now that scientists have established beyond doubt through DNA analysis that all native Americans are descended from east Asians that crossed the Bering Strait land bridge during the ice age and haven't got a drop of Semitic DNA in their bodies (not to mention the fact that horses, silk, steel, chariots (hell, wheels themselves), 7-day weeks, asses, bulls, cows, domesticated sheep and goats, breastplates, etc. did not exist in this hemisphere prior to the European colonization), it is hilarious to watch how the Mormon church backpedals on its claim that the Book of Mormon, which describes an enormous Hebraic civilzation in ancient America that took all these things for granted, is real history.

Now we are to believe that the characters in this charming book of fiction were of a negligible number among a large number of preexisting natives who somehow never actually get mentioned in the book, and that the founder effect somehow wiped out their DNA imprint on the archaeological record (did those FARMS dudes really pay attention in their evolutionary biology classes?).

Right. So Lehite DNA was diluted into oblivion by mixing with preexisting natives, but on the other hand, the natives completely abandoned their established ways and adopted the Jewish ways of this genetically negligible population so much so and so quickly that they were willing to fight wars and risk their lives to take sides in said negligible population's silly family feud. Yeah, the Lehites arrive in the New World and almost overnight they are fighting wars, either with only a literal handful of people on each side, or with the help of thousands of natives who despite not even speaking the invaders' language, just dropped what they'd been doing for untold generations to fight over who gets to take over their own government? And no mention of whether any of the oldtimers thought, "hmm, we were here first, maybe WE should run the government. Nah, let's completely abandon our traditions and make the newbie foreign invader our king." HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

A classic technique of the disingenuous: when reality gets in the way of your dogma, retreat into ostensibly nonfalsifiable gibberish, no matter how convoluted. This is why the religions with the oldest traditions are the hardest to prove wrong...or right. Mormonism, being still quite young, has its value in showing us how myths form.

Hence my belief that Mormonism can only improve at the expense of its credibility. If it does the honest thing and squares with its history and the numerous points at which it fails to connect with reality, it will of course have trouble convincing anyone of its monopoly on God's authority, let alone that it was not an outright [...]. On the other hand, if it continues its 174-year-old trend of rewriting its history and doctrine ad hoc, it can gradually distance itself from unpalatable elements of its past that it has not apologized for (racism, misogyny, violence), but only shield the truth from the uncritical.

So, study this cult if, like me, you have a perverse fascination with how crackpotness can go mainstream over time. Otherwise, go live your life and don't waste your time here.


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