Sunday, October 07, 2012

Breaking Bad

On this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, there was a very familiar moment in a late-episode sketch. Fred Armisen was playing the obnoxious, elitist, outrĂ© girlfriend of Daniel Craig’s character in a sketch. Late in the sketch, Armisen broke character and had to fight hard to keep from laughing—and as he did, rapidly the other actors fell victim to the same affliction.

The phenomenon of breaking character to laugh (or “corpsing” as one article tells me it is known in the biz) is hardly new of course—poor Rachel Dratch fell victim to its snares in those Debbie Downer sketches, and current critical and audience favorite Bill Hader consistently breaks up during the Weekend Update “Stefan” segments. And Jimmy Fallon became infamous for the inability to stay in character for any sketch ever.

So—here’s my idea for a year-long research project I would totally undertake if someone would pay me to do it instead of my job: A statistical analysis of every SNL player and their “corpsing rate.” I’m very curious as to who was the least likely in the show’s cast to break – who did it the least, who the most. You could also envision a whole host of factors to account for in the research:

·         Degree of difficulty—is the situation such that you would have been impressed for the actor not to break? Or is it surprising that they did?

·         Friendly fire—is the breaking a chain reaction thing? Do you count it less against an actor if they are the third in the train to break?

·         Prep time—it’s commonly assumed and I believe somewhat validated that Hader is reading at least some of the Stefon stuff cold on air. Surely he should be dinged less than an actor who had the script early in the week?

·         How bad do they break? A smirk? A guffaw? A twinge?

Any guesses as to who would come out on top?

If any media outlet wants to fund this research write to me at with serious offers only please.
Dratch breaks in a Debbie Downer sketch:


Poor Hader at the mercy of the writers:

Until Whenever



Tuesday, October 02, 2012

U2 Ranked - #154 - #150

And we continue our march up the U2 ladder.
#154 – “Love Comes Tumbling”
A B-side off of The Unforgettable Fire, this track features some nice bass work from Adam, in the form of some unusually-for-him prominent almost bass-slaps. And the opening riff has an agreeably moody quality to it. But Bono’s sort-of mumbled lyrics never really go anywhere, and the track itself just kind of meanders aimlessly before sputtering to a close. This, like many U2 B-sides, sounds like something played with in the studio but never really developed into a “song,” per se.”

U2’s relationship to traditional song-craft and songwriting is something I expect to explore a lot here over the course of this project, so for now let me just note that U2’s music doesn’t hold up to the kind of translation a really well-crafted piece of songwriting can and usually does. This is why great U2 covers are few and far between. U2’s music, when written down as sheet music, is simple and almost sketchy. It’s only in the unique chemistry they bring to a song, as well as the unique way the Edge’s guitar approach expands what are simple soundscapes from a chord progression standpoint, that even many of their great songs come to life. More on that as we go.

 #153 – “With a Shout” – October
October has some great moments, but it is by a pretty decisive margin U2’s weakest album. It suffers from some typical sophomore effort issues, with a band reaching for places they don’t yet have the skills to reach. This song, a pretty nice driving bass line from Adam notwithstanding, is pretty undistinguished, and the tortured way Bono tried to force the line “Jerusalem” into a melody it simply does not fit doesn’t help matters. Add on top a pretty silly bridge featuring a spare horn that may have wandered in from another studio, and you have a filler track that does just that—fills the space, and not much more.

#152 – “Your Blue Room” – Original Soundtracks
So we come to our first Passengers track. At this point, I need to pause for a moment and talk about how I decided to treat the Passengers stuff. Passengers is a “band” that is really just U2 with longtime producer Brian Eno playing as a full team member, not just a producer. Their sole album was released after Pop, during U2’s most experimental phase, and many of the songs are very Eno-influenced soundscapes. I did not include those in this list of U2 songs. A few – this being one – are more traditional songs, and one – the grandly beautiful “Miss Sarajevo” even became a live staple and classic U2 tune.

So – “Your Blue Room.” With Bono really speaking more than speaking the verses, and singing the chorus in his “fat lady” falsetto, this is still an odd duck as a song. The background synths are fun, and the track has a nice ambling beat, but it’s too mellow by half, and the vaguely churchy organ never really coalesces into anything heartfelt. Some nice pieces here that don’t really gel.


#151 – “The Ocean” – Boy
Remember what I said when discussing “4th of July” about U2’s lack of facility with instrumentals? While “The Ocean” is not an instrumental, it’s pretty close, with a very mellow, very slow and moody guitar figure and drum beat interrupted by a very brief lyric whisper-sung by Bono. When I first got into Boy as a youth I loved this track, but now I find its oh-so-mellow attitude almost off-putting, and its brevity evidence, not of a smart decision to be brief, but as evidence of an idea that went nowhere.


#150 – “Numb” – Zooropa
Every once and a while, the Edge gets to take center stage. He’s sung lead on a few songs over the years, with this Zooropa track the most recent example. However, unlike those earlier attempts (on “Seconds” he sounds a lot like Bono), here there’s no mistaking whose at the mic. The experimental song, which is grounded by a sliding up-sliding down distorted guitar line, is a mumbled/rapped litany of exhortations (“Don't grab/Don't clutch/Don't hope for too much/Don't breathe/Don't achieve). Over this, yes, numbing refrain Bono lets loose some more “fat lady” falsetto, while a drum machine keeps the beat. It’s an interesting experiment to be fair, but one of those “interesting” experiments that you listen to a few times and then never really want to revisit.


Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The good folks over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago have reminded me that The Princess Bride turned 25 today. What a damn fine movie. Rather than share quotes or theories as to why this odd hybrid of comedy, romance, satire, and adventure works as well as it does, I thought I'd encourage anyone who hasn't to check out the "cast reminisces" feature on the DVD (I assume it's on the new Blu-Ray as well). My two favorite anecdotes from that feature:

Robin Wright Penn tells a story about how cold it was filming outside and how in her light gown she would be shivering and how Andre the Giant would come up behind her and lay his massive hand on her head, the heel of his palm at the nape of her neck and his fingers coming down in front of her face and how it would warm her up just perfectly and as she tells it she tears up and now I am too.

Mandy Patinkin (holla) tells a story about prepping for filming the "Inigo kills the Count" scene, and how he had recently lost his father to cancer, and how before filming he did laps, walking around the castle, just thinking about the cancer and how it killed his father, and how much he hated it, how when he filmed that scene it's cancer he's talking to, not Rugen, and damn now I'm crying again.

Damn I love this movie.

(A brief moment of silence for the passing of the Goldman/Guettel musical version)

Until Whenever

Sunday, September 23, 2012

U2 Ranked - #161- #155

We begin.

#161. “Elvis Presley and America” – The Unforgettable Fire
So here it is. The worst U2 song. Famous as an improvised first take, this droning, mumbled, repetitive song stands as one of those “experiments” that just didn’t work. Even the mix itself sounds half-hearted, with the vocals lost, the drums faded, and that damn interminable strummed guitar figure so very flat sounding. And at nearly six-and-a-half minutes, it just does. Not. End.

Now, let us not lose fact of the sight that failure is critical to innovation, and that experiments like this are important to the development of artists. I’m glad U2 tried this. I’m not sure it needed to be on the album. 

#160. “Deep in the Heart” – The Joshua Tree (bonus track)
When U2 released a 25th anniversary edition of its (arguably) most important album a few years back, it contained a whole disc of bonus tracks. This track feels less like a song than a collection of boilerplate U2-isms from the period. The parts sound familiar but lazily assembled and executed. Even the title (and refrain) sounds like almost like a U2 parody and less like a really lived-in idea. Bono gives in maybe too much to his “impassioned falsetto” tic, while The Edge tosses off pretty standard-issue Edge ringing figures before trying out a slow solo that sounds like a kid in a guitar shop noodling around, and not a real solo. Nothing worth hearing here.


#159. “4th of July” – The Unforgettable Fire
The Unforgettable Fire gets the ignoble award of having two songs in the bottom three. Given the heights a few of its tracks will reach (it’s not a spoiler to say that it will be a long while before I start writing about “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Bad,” or the title track), it’s a bit surprising, but there it is.

This song is that rare beast, a U2 instrumental, and while its slow, languid rhythms have some appeal, for the most part it’s a repetitive drone of a piece, with Edge soundscapes washing back and forth in the background while Adam plays a basic bass figure over and over in the foreground. Rock instrumentals are hard to pull off, but can be great. This is not.

#158. “Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1”
This oddity is a Bono and The Edge contribution to a Royal Shakespeare Company production of "A Clockwork Orange.” A strange bit of electronica-influenced background stuff, opened by a boy soprano singing some Latin, it’s barely a song at all, and really more of a short score piece that doesn’t hang together at all. Worth a listen for the novelty of it, but pretty disposable.


#157. “The Refugee” – War
This deep cut off of War has an odd bongo type of beat, with an impassioned Bono chant leading things off, and it has not really dated well. The shouted lyrics, the attempt at different percussion come off, not as U2 excited by something different, but rather more as U2 trying something different just for the sake of it. At the same time, the halfhearted attempt at political lyrics (“Her mama say one day she’s gonna’ live in America.”) some across as a confused attempt to keep with the album’s political leanings, rather than an effort to say something.


#156. “Two Hearts Beat As One” – War
U2 has dabbled in dance music at different parts of its career, and this song kind of qualifies. The problem is that the verses are OK U2 energetic rock stuff, while the chorus abruptly becomes this bouncy, poppy thing that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the song. Not to mention the sheer laziness of the title and chorus “”Two hearts beat as one – really?) and you have another War track that, while pleasant enough, is hardly essential.


#155. “The Playboy Mansion” – Pop
Pop is famously held up as an example of what happens when a band strays too far from what it does well and experiments in places it doesn’t belong. And while on the whole I strenuously disagree with that assessment, I’ll concede that this song is an experiment that does not come out well. Its attempts at hip-hop-styled beats, club rhythms, and the kind of Moby-influenced looping popular at the time all fail, while the self-consciously quirky lyrics about Michael Jackson, Coke, and OJ Simpson dated the song pretty quickly. As a time capsule piece “The Playboy Mansion” has its charms, but that’s about it.


Until Whenever

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We Actually Hear the People Sing!

I’ve been hearing for a while how the actors in the Christmas Day-opening Les Miserables film did all of their own singing (yawn) on set (huh?), in contrast to the near-universal practice of recording the score in-studio and then lip syncing to playback on set. The short preview feature below goes into some detail into the rationale behind the move as well as how they did it.*

I’ve long felt that movie musicals suffer from that lip syncing model simply because we can see and feel the physical tension caused by singing, and when that is absent we, sub-consciously perhaps, miss it. But the point made within this video about not having to make acting choices months ahead of time—especially for a musical like Les Miserables that is through-sung—is one I had never considered, and really a big deal. So many choices are locked in ahead of time when you pre-record, and the live singing really does open up a whole new world in terms of creating character and scenes.

But the method they used—of having a live pianist on set playing the songs directly into discrete ear pieces—seems to have engendered a kind of freedom for the actors I’m not sure will serve them well. A few actors here, Hugh Jackman among them, talk about how the technique enabled them to play freely with, not just phrasing and dynamics, but tempo and rhythms. And my immediate instinct was to question that—after all, isn’t tempo and rhythm the composer’s arena? I’m not sure the music is going to be best served by the actors second-guessing the choices the composers long ago made. Does Jackman really know better than Claude-Michel Schönberg what speed a song should take?

I’m fascinated to find out.

Until Whenever

*One tidbit they don’t discuss, but that was in, I believe, the Entertainment Weekly preview article, is that they could get around the difficulty of capturing solid recordings on set and in live atmospheres by giving all the actors body mikes—which, in post, were then just digitally erased. Genius.

The New Alan Thicke

Every time I watch Parenthood, I am delighted by the just-perfect use of a Bob Dylan song (“Forever Young”) as the theme music. And every time I feel that delight, I ponder the notion that all TV shows would be well-served to use Dylan as their theme music. To wit:

·         How I Met Your Mother – “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind”

·         The Good Wife – “She’s Your Lover Now”

·         Treme – “The Levee’s Gonna’ Break”

·         Boardwalk Empire – “When the Deal Goes Down”

·         Hung – “Lay, Lady Lay”

·         The West Wing – “Political World”

·         The Wire – “Everything Is Broken”

·         Animal Practice – “God Gave Names to All the Animals”

·         Game of Thrones – “Masters of War”

·         Sons of Anarchy – “Highway 61”

·         Justified – “Thunder on the Mountain”

·         That 70’s Show – “Rainy Day Woman  #12 & 35”

Got more?

Until Whenever

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I Don't Mean to Bug 'Ya

A few years back, I stumbled across a blogger who had ranked every Beatles song. “Damn,” I thought to myself. “What a cool idea.”*

Now that I’ve (or so it would seem) decided to start blogging again, I’ve been thinking of what a good long-term blogging project might be. And I think this is it. (Hypothetical) longtime readers can probably guess where this is going next, but for those new to these byways, Tosy and Cosh is a long-time, somewhat rabid, loyal-to-a-fault, die-hard U2 fan. So the notion of ranking every U2 song appeals.

As a matter of pure geekiness, I have long maintained a rough list of my 20 favorite U2 songs, both in various paper-based and digital forms and in my head. But it’s been a long while since I revisited that list, and some shake-up is due. Moreover, the idea of revisiting the entire U2 catalog really sits nicely with that small piece of me that craves order and gravitates towards completism. It’s a small part, and one I can usually fend off, but it’s there.

The other blogging project of note that got me thinking about this was this ongoing project by James Smythe at the Guardian to reread and comment on the entire Stephen King corpus, in chronological order of publication. In fact, I was sorely tempted to try to ape him and do my own walk back, but the scope of that reread just, frankly scared the crap out of me. That’s thousands and thousands of pages of King to read, and enjoyable as such a project would be, that’s a hell of a time commitment. Listening to all of U2’s songs, while not insubstantial, is more manageable.

So—a few notes about process, criteria, and other miscellany: 

·         I am considering U2 originals only. No “Satellite of Love.” No “Paint It Black.” No “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).

·         Whenever I think of the notion of “best” lists I struggle with the distinction between “my favorites” and what I think objectively to be great. For example, my favorite film ever is The Shawshank Redemption. And yet I’ve no illusion that it is the “best film ever” b any reasonable objective yardstick. My solution here is to try and inject a fair bit of objectivity into the proceedings, and to acknowledge that some U2 songs I love are lesser than some great songs I’ve tired of or never hooked into as easily, but to basically admit defeat and acknowledge that this list will be largely “one U2 nerd’s opinion.”

·         My initial thought is to chunk these up into five-song posts, but we’ll see how that goes. I can’t pretend to any kind of rigid methodology here.

So that's it--the 2012-2013 "Big Project." I’m excited. Are you?**

Until Whenever

*I just Googled quickly to see if I could find that blog, but I’m getting a RED security warning when trying to go there, so we’ll leave that alone.

**You don’t have to be excited, really. “Mildly curious” will be great.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thanks, Spotify! I think?

So I had been looking forward to the release of the soundtrack to The Master, by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, ever since I learned he was doing it. Greenwood scored Paul Thomas Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood, and that score stands as one of my favorites from the last decade of film scoring.

Having received some iTunes gift cards from my loving wife I thought I'd grab it this morning. Then I remembered Spotify. Sure enough, they have it up and I am listening to it right now. And it's good. But I'm not sure it's great. Specifically, I'm not sure it's so good that I need to own it. And yes, had it bowled me over I may well have bought it, free availability on Spotify notwithstanding. Why? Because only by buying it can I take it with me wherever I go, without worrying about whether or not I have access to WiFi or a data connection*.

I am fascinated by what being a music fan means these days in terms of access to music. And what it must be doing to artists' wallets. Because I know that my listening to an album on Spotify means much less money in the artists' pockets than me buying the album on iTunes. Which in turn, I believe, means less money in the artists' pockets than me buying the physical CD. And yet I feel hard-pressed to convince myself to buy CDs, rather than listen for free, even though I know I should do more of that. And a year ago, I would have bought that The Master album on iTunes. And today I won't. And I feel kind of bad about it.

Is that weird?

While we try and figure this all out, why don't you listen to some of Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood? It really is something:

Until Whenever

*See, to me, the whole notion of not needing a personal collection of music, because access to the "cloud" means you can always get what you need, is premature. Because I don't always have access to the cloud. Very often, it's just me and my iPod, no PC, no WiFi, no 3G, 4G, or LTE, whatever the hell that is.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Loves It, Porgy

I love Porgy and Bess. But I love it as music, never having seen a production. It’s a remarkable, gorgeous, complete score that never fails to ensnare me. But last Friday, after a few decades of admiring the music and collecting different versions of it (the famed “complete” Houston opera recording, the Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald set, the Miles Davis set), I finally saw an honest-to-God production of Porgy and Bess.

This production, the current Broadway revival, has had its share of criticism and controversy. The book has been revised, the music cut up and re-orchestrated, the piece shortened considerably—all in an effort to create a version of this piece of theater that is less “opera” and more “musical theater.” Add to that the very public exception very public figures like Stephen Sondheim took to some of the statements the revisers made during the rehearsal process about how they were “improving” the drama, and this was a production I was wondering if I would like. 

Here’s the thing. Terry Teachout, in his negative review, notes that “If you've never seen or heard ‘Porgy,’ you might well find this version blandly pleasing. Otherwise, you'll be appalled.” And while I don’t doubt that a full operatic version would have offered more pleasures than this scaled-down and choppy version did, I did not find it “bland.” To the contrary, I absolutely loved it, even as I could see and sense the seams and even as I intellectually realized that this was to some degree a facsimile and not the real thing.

Why? Two words: Audra McDonald. Upon our entry into the Richard Rodgers theater, I spied with my little eye notices about cast replacements. And indeed, two of the three leads (Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier, as Porgy and Sporting Life*) were out. But not Ms. McDonald. I said to my wife a few times on the ride home that McDonald is a national treasure. Because she is. This was my third time seeing her (having seen her in the original Broadway productions of Ragtime and Marie Christine) and she has gotten better with age. There were vocal moments that had me literally agape, stunned by the power and precision with which she yields that remarkable instrument. True, her replacement Porgy was not up to the challenge of going toe-to-toe with her, and there were times you almost felt bad for the guy, and wondered if she should have modulated her performance down to better mesh with him. But you know what? We paid $200, American, largely for the chance to her McDonald tackle this role with all the power at her disposal, and I’m OK with her ignoring the imbalance and playing to the hilt.

Beyond her performance, the play’s story and, most importantly, cast of characters—that close-knit community of Catfish Row—impressed me and grabbed me. The listening experience had never really delivered the story or characters of this play to me completely, and even in this truncated version those elements hit home.
So, yes, I would very much like to see a complete, operatic version at some point. But even in this reduced form, the bones of the work were strong and sturdy enough to impress and move me.
*Sporting Life’s understudy was Cedric Neal. As we waited for the show to start and I thumbed through the Playbill, I saw that he had been in Friday Night Lights. And when he first came on stage I was curious to see if I would recognize him from there. It took a minute, but I realized soon enough that this was Kennard, the criminal thug who tries to ensnare Vince back into a life of crime in Season 5. Did anyone else watch those episodes and assume Kennard was a damn fine song-and-dance man? Me either.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

God, I Miss Johnny Cash

I agree that Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" is a stunning performance, and very worthy of its reputation as one of the greatest covers ever. But I'd suggest that late-stage Johnny Cash tossed off many revelatory covers, great covers of great songs that maybe you haven't heard. So:

"The Mercy Seat"

This Nick Cave cover starts off with a simple guitar figure, a simple scale almost, up and down. up and down. And then Cash starts with some spoken word, then kind of sing-speaks a little. Then we get the chorus, and realize the song is being sung by a man sitting on the electric chair. Organ joins in. The sound is thicker. By the time we hit the instrumental break we've got an old-time, apocalyptic rolling piano that just gives you chills.

"In My Life""

I maintain that this cover stands as the best version of this song there is, by simple virtue of the weight Cash can give it as an actual old man, and not almost all the young or middle-aged men or women that did it originally and since. When he sings that refrain - "in my life" - you feel the length of that life in your bones, and the reminiscing becomes just that much more powerful.

"You Are My Sunshine"

Can we get Cash to sing an album of nothing but old classics like this? Oh, right. He's dead. Damn it.

"You'll Never Walk Alone."

Can we get Cash to sing an album of nothing but old show tunes like this? Oh, right. He's dead. Damn it.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Pinkman Chronicles

On a recent episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, the gang chatted about what makes a spin-off character a good character to spin off, as well as which characters, um, maybe, not so much.

Amongst talk of how the wacky character (cough, cough, Dwight Schrute) is almost never the right character to spin off, and how it’s the relatively calm characters who can serve as the, well, calm centers of their own shows, I remembered a thought I had a few years back when NBC tried to spin Joey, from Friends, into his own show.

As everyone knows, Joey failed. And while one could peg that on Joey’s status as one of the more exaggerated Friends, I’d argue that by the show’s end he had become pretty nuanced and “calm,” and that from that criteria he could have anchored a spin-off fine.

No, what I think sunk Joey was the simple notion that for 11 or so years, viewers had followed these six friends, and fallen in love with them as a unit. And that what made the Joey spin-off unpalatable was that viewers did not want to visit a world where the gang had been broken up. We still wanted to believe that these six friends hung out all the time, having more adventures, just with kids getting more and more in the way. Not that one of the gang was an entire country away not seeing Ross or Rachel or Chandler or Phoebe or Monica all the time. 

It’s my contention that a spin-off can’t work unless the character being spun off is a character we don’t mind the original gang losing. So Cheers fans may have loved Frasier, but within the world of that show Frasier leaving the bar was a natural development. Had they tried a Norm spin-off, I bet it would have failed horribly. We wouldn't have wanted to see Norm away from the bar.

How can we apply this theory to today’s sitcom hits?

·       How I Met Your Mother – None of the core gang of five could be spun off.

·       Parks and Recreation – We wouldn’t want to see Ron leave, but April and Andy? It’s not that Leslie and the gang don’t love them, but they also could let them go. Whereas, again, the Friends gang was a very decisive set of six.

·       The Office – Given the structure of the show, we could see any of the employees leave and be OK with it. It’s a job. People leave.

·       Modern Family, The Middle, Raising Hope – The families have been set up as too close-knit. Would have to be a periphery character (families are harder to spin off members from that workplaces, but not impossible. Depends on how much the show has set them up as a single, close unit).

·        Curb Your Enthusiasm, Two and a Half Men – Anyone. These people all hate each other.

·        Big Bang Theory – A trickier one. I would argue that they haven’t painted the trio of friends as too co-dependent. A spin-off could work. I think, though, that Penny and Leonard would be hard though. As lackluster as some of found that romance, I think the audience would object to a Penny spin off without Leonard.

Note that in the above scenarios, I don’t literally mean any character could be spun off from, say, The Office – other factors, including the wacky factor the PCHH gang expounded on, would come into play. But purely on “the audience doesn’t want to see people leave the group factor, I think I’m close.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Walter White Wins

The Internet is not lacking for reactions to, parsings of, and discussion about Breaking Bad. So, rather than add to the pile, my thought, after watching the season finale last night, was, not to offer up any kind of season summary or broad reaction piece, but to talk about the one moment from this season that sticks with me.







That moment, in a different way than expected, is the very last moment. After last season’s exploding wheelchair of an ending, I had been expecting some kind of similarly monumental shock here, some moment of unspeakable violence. The season had been charting the depths to which Walter White would descend to achieve his ambitions, and several signs had suggested to me we might find him hitting his nadir by finally bringing the violence he had immersed himself in home to his family. Specifically the way Skylar’s plot had developed—the way they made clear just how toxic the marriage had become, the “suicide attempt,” the setting up of a situation where she had taken Walt’s kids from him—had me thinking Walt would end the season by killing his wife so he could rule his meth empire with his children his once again. Add to that the season-opening flash-forward that showed us that, a year from now, Walt will be desperate and living under an assumed identity (and the fact that, in that flash-forward, Walt had to make his own “52” out of bacon, a task normally attended to by his wife—a further clue to her death! That I was wrong about!), and it was clear that a fall was coming. And, presumably, a violent one.
What I didn’t foresee (again, because I am dumb) was that what this season was really about was Walter White winning. He gets what he wanted in the end – an empire that he controls and that makes him rich. And what I really didn’t foresee was that he would then become tired of his empire and give it all up to be with his family, now unburdened by his criminal activity. I have no illusions that the marriage is repaired, but that last scene by the pool suggests some kind of happiness, even if it’s a sad and resigned happiness (and, if the cancer has returned, as the doctors' office visit could be suggesting, a short happiness) was his.

 All of which makes that final moment, of Hank finally getting the clue needed to snap everything into place, so devastating. Not violent. At all. But devastating. I knew Walter White was going to fall. We all did, given that flash-forward. But we didn’t know he would win first. And now we are set up for a final eight episodes in which Walter White is found out and, presumably, 15 different varieties of hell break loose.

 Man I can’t wait.

 Until Whenever


Monday, September 03, 2012

I Can Name That Tune in One Chord

So, the Words with Friends enchantment having slightly worn off (I still play, and enjoy, it, but with a little less the level of endorphin-squirting excitement I had originally), my new smart phone game addiction is the achingly simple Name That Tune knock-off SongPop. The premise is as basic as they come - guess 5 songs in a selected genre (with the available genres able to be expanded the more you win) as quickly as possible. Send your times to your opponent and see if they can beat them. They then send you a round. And so on.

What I have found fascinating about this experience in just over a week of play is how easy it is to cross brain neurons in an attempt to be really quick on the trigger. The game is multiple choice, and in trying to choose the right answer in, in the best of all worlds, less than a second (my best stands at .7 seconds; not sure if I'll ever get that down more, dependent as it is on basic reaction times), it is very easy to make the wrong connection, only realizing its obvious wrongness too late.

So I'll hear something I know and hit the button for an artist I know, and only after hitting the button realize the wrongness of the choice. It can get pretty infuriating. Especially when you play people who seem to have better-behaved neurons.

My favorite moment from this first infatuation period was when I (finally) earned* enough coins to purchase the Movie Soundtrack genre I had been eyeing and then got as one clue "Theme from Jurassic Park," which I nailed with just one chord. That was cool.

Until Whenever

*You can also buy coins with actual, real money to get genres, but seriously? I wasn't about to spring for the full version**, you think I'm going to pay money to get more genres? Come on.

**I'm a little cheap sometimes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Fall of Tosy and Cosh (Books Edition)

After yesterday's music post, it only felt fair to highlight the books coming out this Fall that I am most looking forward to. So:

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling

I am quite fascinated by the prospect of Rowling writing for adults. I know there have been quibbles, and harsher criticisms, of her skills as a stylist and constructor of prose (criticism I somewhat see, somewhat don't), but what happens to her style when she is writing for a more mature audience? Additionally, her topic--the political squabblings amongst a small English village set off by the death of one of its inhabitants--sounds right up her alley. The depiction of petty bureaucrats and political grievances (Umbridge, Dursleys) was some of the best stuff in the Potter novels, and a story set in that milieu is something I have high hopes for her ability to pull off.

Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue: A Novel

Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavailer and Klay remains one of the best novels I've read in the last decade or so, and so any new novel from his Mac (it's gotta be a Mac, right?) is welcome. The plot details have been hazy in coming, but Amazon now has a write up that indicates a battle between a small music store and a big chain at its center, with  a healthy dollop of race mixed in. Sounds like a good fit to Chabon's interests and gifts. As good as Kavalier and Klay is, nothing else Chabon has written has hit that same sweet spot (although much of it has been quite good), so I am interested to see if this reaches those heights.

NW, Zadie Smith

NW: A Novel

It's been a while since Smith's last novel, the excellent On Beauty, and it's good news that she's back in the game. Four central characters from the same housing development are apparently followed as they make their way in the world, which feels like a strong (albeit maybe too comfortable?) place for Smith to play in.

Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior: A Novel

Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible is near the top of my must-re-read list (right next to Kavalier and Klay!), so good was that tale of a missionary family in Africa. Her last novel was a epic historical novel about Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and others, that, good as it was, always felt just a bit stretched, as if you could feel her straining just a bit as she pushed against her boundaries and away from the familiar. This new novel, which takes place back in the Appalachian setting she knows so well, feels at first blush like a coming home.

Live By Night, Dennie Lehane

Live by Night: A Novel

Dennis Lehane usually writes tightly constructed, completely engrossing mysteries that are as much about character and place as the plot mechanics and twists of the mystery itself. His series of novels featuring detectives Kensie and Gennaro is a great, great series, with the best book in the bunch, Gone, Baby Gone turned into one of the most underappreciated films to come out in the past decade. But he also is known for a nicely stuffed historical novel about the police strike in Boston, The Given Day, that is may be his best work yet. So seeing that his new novel is set during the Prohibition, and seems to be a similarly epic novel set during real historical events, has me excited.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Fall of Tosy and Cosh

Wait a minute.

That doesn't sound right.

The Autumn of Tosy and Cosh! That's what I should have gone with.

So, I thought I would come out of hibernation (briefly? permanently? sporadically? who the hell knows at this point) to note a few of the new albums coming out this Fall that hit the Tosy and Cosh sweet spot. Let's start with the most important:

Tempest, Bob Dylan
This new collection of Dylan tunes, his first in a few years, is probably the single pop culture thing coming this Fall (Autumn!) that I am most looking forward to. Dylan's been on a hell of a roll the last decade-plus, and the first single, "Duquesne Whistle," is something I haven't been able to stop listening to for the past few days.

I have to admit to being completely fascinated by how as Dylan gets older and older he embraces older and older sounds. Whereas some older artists experiment with newer sounds and textures (Paul Simon jumps to mind--his latest, So Beautiful or So What, featured classic Simon songwriting but very modern production and arrangements), Dylan seems to be trying to make records that sound as if they could have been cut on wax pretty much around the time wax was invented. And of course what's doubly fascinating is how effective this strategem has been. This new single shows no signs of slowing the trend. I mean just listen to that opening, with those country fairground guitars happily chirping along; it sounds like something Wilbur might have overheard on the fairground while Charlotte spun her web. And yet, as I already said in this space a few years back, regarding one of the other more-recent albums, it sounds irrestisibly modern, even if the how and why of were that modern feel and vibe comes form completely escapes my critical faculties.

If the rest of the album is anywhere near as good as this irrestible bit of song we might be in Modern Times or Love and Theft territory. And for me, that's superb territory to be in.

Beyond the Dylan, here are some other forthcoming albums that have me intrigued and excited:

Aimee Mann, Charmer
While I haven't been as infatuated with the title song of Mann's new album, that's only because I've only given it one listen, as busy as I've been listening to "Duquesne Whistle" over and over. That said, the video is fun as hell, with a game and clearly blast-having Laura Linney playing a robotic version of our Miss Mann.

Muse, The 2nd Law
I got into Muse when the opened for U2 on their last go-round, and am curious to see where they take their blend of Queen excess and stadium-sized anthems next.

Mark Knopfler, Privateering
Knopfler's mix of folksy, bluesy, kind-of-Celtic guitar music just keeps getting more and more refined with every album. On top of that, he'll be sharing some tour dates with Dylan this Fall. Now that's a show I'll want to see.

Until Whenever