Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Post-Christmas/Pre-New Year Musical Round-Up

Everyone is keen to put this year to bed. Let's put out the old and bring in the new. And keep those paddles revved up: this baby just might need 'em.

But before we roll up our sleeves and get to work on rescuing what we can, it's worth remembering some of the best of last year. The five CDs that received the most play in this house were:

#5 - To Survive by Joan As Police Woman (A, e)
#4 - Harps And Angels by Randy Newman (A)
#3 - Vegas by Martyn Joseph (A, e)
#2 - I, Flathead by Ry Cooder (A)

But the number one most played CD in my house was ... (drum-roll, please) ... Mama Mia!

Oy vey -- to think there ever was a time when I was dying for something -- anything -- to usurp Hairspray. *Sigh* Another reason why I can't wait for the new year to begin.

Whenever I was in charge, however, the number one disc in this house was Just Us Kids by James McMurtry (A, e).

Were I to let Google describe McMurtry's appeal, you'd get attributes like, "Caustic observer of Americana", "Lou Reed from Texas", "Leonard Cohen of the South" etc ... but the man has created his own genre. And though he claims to have made peace with being a "beer salesman" his music is deeply affecting stuff. The "caustic" is what the uninitiated tend to hear first (releasing "Cheney's Toy" as the album's first, free single pretty much sealed the deal). But there's also a depth of human yearning that comes from scraping the bottom of the soul, and listening to what the shadows are whispering when you can't get back to sleep. It might not be as finely balanced in its sensibilities as Childish Things was (A, e), but ... it scratched the most difficult-to-reach aural itch for me. So there it is.

Some other pleasant memories:

Favorite Celeb Singer Interview: Esquire UK with Robert Plant Technically, the interview took place over a year ago, the morning after the Zep reunion, but it wasn't published until February. Nor is it available on-line, alas, but NME has some highlights here. Plant basically says he enjoyed the packed-stadium hoo-ha, but not enough to quit touring the smaller venues with Alison Kraus and T Bone Burnett. You da man, Robert!

This was the year I gave it up to Apple. No, I haven't bought a Mac ... yet. But I did buy a new iPod for my wife. And, resorting to my weenie Windows partition, I went through the bother of installing iTunes. Once the platform was up and running I even used it to purchase a few coveted albums, including the aforementioned Harps And Angels. I reached several glum conclusions:

1) iTunes downloads are as good in sound quality as you'll find below DVD-level releases. Mind you, that's not saying much. I bought H&A via iTunes, gave it a listen, and wondered if the file compression hadn't flattened things out just a little. When I was finally able to hear the CD the quality of sound was exactly the same. Lesson learned: CD production has crapped out. Unless the item I'm after is available on dual-disc, I'll opt out of the CD package and go the iTunes route.

2) The iTunes/iPod synchronization is as close to flawless as a computer sync is likely to get. For Linux users like me, this is the equivalent of Bono walking out on stage, today, with the largest white flag you ever saw. I'm basically admitting that, when it comes to music, Open Source Software is still trailing-edge. There are a lot of fine excuses for this ("Apple has all the money!") but the truth is the truth. Apple rewards music lovers; Open Source rewards code freaks ... seven-point-eight out of ten tries (not that that's a bad thing).

If 2009 were to provide any disposable income, might this be in my foreseeable future?

Worth a closer look:

Volume One by She & Him didn't make the list because I didn't start listening to it until this month. It is very, very good and could well be mentioned again this time next year.

The Hold Steady didn't make the list, just because they were edged out by these other acts. But they deserve more than mention; they deserve Robert Wiersema's post on what their music fucking means.

Happy New Year, all.

Haven't We All Lived Here?

Via ALD, life next to a Wendy's. I once lived next to a Burger King. I will not be purchasing their just-released flame-broiled scent for men.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Disc

The children line up. The lights are shining, the mics are on. Some of these kids have already opened their presents, others will be tearing into the gifts when the show is over. They've all got something scripted to say, but nothing more challenging than, "Happy Birthday, Jesus," or "God bless us everyone!" And still, for some, the pressure of doing this on stage is too much. Tears erupt; a meltdown ensues.

The children don't know it yet, but their performance anxieties are only the tip of the iceberg. Someday, God willing, they will be adults hosting, or joining in, larger Christmas gatherings. And a performance of subtler nuance will be expected of them.

So my favorite Christmas disc is Up For It by the Keith Jarrett Trio (A). It's not their best recording, but in one aspect it is possibly their most remarkable performance. A soul-crushing year, an oppressive environment. Nobody wants to take to the stage.

But they do go on. It takes a few minutes for everyone to find the groove, but they do. They find the groove, they dig it, they shine.

I daresay this is the way it is for many of us on Christmas day. So much performance, in the silent hope that at some point, perhaps for only a minute or two, the mask will become the face. And when it does, it is good.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Donald Fagen on Jean Shepherd

My generation knows Jean Shepherd as the source material and chortling narrator for A Christmas Story (wp). But Donald Fagen remembers "Shep" as a distinctively subversive personality:

"From Bert the Turtle's exhortations to 'duck and cover' in the face of an atomic blast to the endless parade of new products hawked on the tube by Madison Avenue, Americans were feeding themselves a line of hooey that was no less absurd than the most hard-core Maoist brainwash. 'Relax, life is good,' we were told. 'Your government and Walt Disney have got the future well in hand.' To skeptical Mad magazine-reading little stinkers like myself, it was this mendacity on the part of adults that was the most sinister enemy of all. Because Shep made it clear he was just as dazed, enraged, and amused as you were, that he noticed what you noticed, he established himself as one of a handful of adults you could trust."

If that seems a little rich, don't just read the piece: hit the sound-files too. Fagen brushes away a little of the "protective coloration" and reveals some of the man's discomfiting depth of character, here.

She & Him, Volume One / Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

The '01 Echo has become our dust-around-town-and-get-things-done vehicle. It's also where I listen with the greatest intent to my music. The car came with a factory-installed CD player, which, in this era of sound files and satellite radio, is the technological equivalent of the 8-Track Cassette Deck. When I've finished my monthly downloads at eMusic I see which "albums" fit together on a single CD, then burn it and give it a spin as I scoot about on errands.

This practice has made for some strange musical bedfellows, but few pairings have been as jarring to my expectations as this month's: She & Him, Volume One (e) and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos! (e) The latter are keeping alive (*cough*) the sex-death obsession that fueled British dance-music in the 80s (the jaunty fatalism that runs through 24 Hour Party People(A)). These Cardiff kids inject a lot of snap into their gloom, and I find it all a welcome reprieve from the aurally-enforced cheer of the season.

Hot on their heels is Volume One by She & Him, Paste's choice for album of the year. Full disclosure: I was determined to dislike this album. The deliberate understatement of the duet's name and album (starring Zooey Deschanel as the torch singer!!) along with the cutesy poses for the camera signaled something altogether a little too fey for my tastes. And 2008, I thought, signaled a year when fey was a quality we had in overabundance. I figured I'd give it a quick spin, then dismiss it and the rest of this dismal year with a shrug.

It can't be done. For all the posing, the actual product is delivered with charming sincerity. Deschanel fluidly shifts from sha-da-da R&B to Loretta Lynn twang, and wallows about in Ward's lush retro-production with a delightful ease. I'm not yet sure if I can claim Volume One as my all-time favorite album of the year, but it's certainly made my top-five. Added bonus: it appeals to the women in my household, too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Darkest Night Of The Year by Over The Rhine

As with so many aspects of life, women have an edge over men when it comes to appreciating Christmas. Men can look into the pinched-dough features of a newborn child and be moved by the thought of God as Newborn Babe. Fathers appreciate this. But mothers get it.*

So it is no surprise that women performers produce some of the most moving Christmas music. My daughters really like Carolyn Arends' Christmas CD (A); my wife is partial to Emmylou Harris'(A). There is much I enjoy in both discs, but nothing moves me quite like The Darkest Night Of The Year by Over The Rhine.

Today marks the longest night of the year. As another Mary points out, this is not the time of year a person naturally feels like singing the Magnificat. That Christendom finally superimposed this particularly Christian moment over this particular time of year makes for "holy days" that are rife with ironies -- so much so that the ironies threaten to overwhelm even the deepest, most revered metaphors of hope, humility and love.

Returning to the Magnificat, it is for me one of the most beautiful passages of scripture. But I have to admit, it takes some effort for me to let it past the Adult Reader Filter that screams, "AFTER THE FACT! AFTER THE FACT!!" The larger "fact" remains: these words embody not just a primal hope, but the desperation it tries to resist.

I think that's the quality I find in this particular performance by Over The Rhine. Despite the cover's depiction of an angel deafening a human, this is an album with varying shades of quiet disquiet. Especially in Karin Bergquist's vocals there is a sense that true hope resists and speaks obliquely to the desperation that bears down on it. It has to, otherwise it is not hope at all, but something shallow and disposable.

Not this. This is music to accompany the listener through the longest -- and darkest -- night of the year.

Links: The Darkest Night Of The Year (A, e). Over The Rhine (h).

*Post-script: I can't write this without including the old Jewish joke: How do we know Jesus was Jewish? He lived with his parents until he was 30; he thought his mother was a virgin; she thought her son was God.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

As If We Needed Proof...

Nick Hornby is hipper than I am. *sigh* I really don't "get" Vampire Weekend.

Christmas In The Lounge

I'm not sure when or where I developed an appetite for this ... stuff. I was probably at too impressionable an age the day my father rediscovered his old Spike Jones 45s, and spun them for me on my little record player.

Although, it's more likely my appetites were stirred the day I purchased Television's Greatest Hits: 65 TV Themes From The 50s And 60s! I took great pleasure in peppering my mixed tapes with obscure (to me) themes like "I Married Joan" or "The Late Show." More than that, I actually had the capacity to play this double album from beginning to end and listen to it without interruption. In the 70s our prairie town received exactly three channels, including the required-by-law French broadcast. Of the 65 themes on offer I'd probably seen 20 of the shows represented, tops. As I listened I mused over the possible content, and wondered how much more thrilling the average US suburban childhood had been in contrast to my own.

When, in my 20s, I finally saw a sampling of what I'd missed, I realized that for most of these projects the best thing about them was the music. Just contrasting the thrilling 40-second score of "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" with the too-awful-to-be-camp visual product is an invitation to tepid disappointment. So the music stays -- I still throw it into the mix, whenever I'm burning compilations.

Similarly, lounge music -- specifically Christmas Lounge Music. I didn't grow up with the stuff, and my life is arguably the richer for it. In fact, I can't accurately recall any Christmas music being played on the family hi-fi, except for a traditional rendering of "Go Tell It On The Mountain," which I loved. Christmas music was what we learned and did in church, at Sunday School. Even in our public school the curriculum required that every "Frosty The Snowman" be counter-balanced with "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear." This seemed right to me at the time -- still does, really. But once I finally reached the age where a martini became an appealing indulgence, I indulged in the music, as well.

To those who assert that Christmas Carols seductively re-generate a bizarre religious fantasy, I say that Christmas Lounge Music generates an equally bizarre counter-fantasy. By turns hyper-cheery, smarmy and woozily-relaxed (Jackie Gleason's Orchestra in particular) or generating an erotic charge that seems just a tad forced, the listener gradually gets the impression that when Mom and Dad throw a Christmas cocktail party, they're likely to get a little too friendly with the neighbors, and a little too surly with each other the morning after.

What's that you say? "That's no fantasy"? Oh. I'm so sorry!

Regardless, I keep this stuff in rotation with the religious material because Christmas isn't an either/or proposition for me: it's an "all of the above" deal.

Links: Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails (A), ULCC2 (A), Merry Christmas From The Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Esquivel! and Television's Greatest Hits are out of print and unavailable, alas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bruce Cockburn Christmas

"I included this song because I guess I was in a festive mood. If you're not, well ... piss off."

Fifteen years ago, the CBC hosted a Bruce Cockburn concert. It was broadcast a week before Christmas, and he'd just released his Christmas CD. Sentiments like the above were expressed with his usual rueful grin, and pleasurably received in kind. Colin Linden backed him up, and offered his own seasonal song, which gave some insight into how a Jewish kid (or one in particular) views the whole Santa Claus scene. Near the end, Hugh Marsh delivered a devastating rendition of "Amazing Grace" on his electric violin.

"Over the years as people have asked me to play this song, I've variously replied with, 'I'd rather not' to 'I hate that fucking song.'"

And so it went: 50 tidy minutes of Cockburn's salty reverence. What I really desire is a proper recording of that concert. Unfortunately The Corp ain't offering it, and neither is True North. So I settle for this album, year after year.

If you, like me, would be happy just listening to Bruce play the nose-harp, then this collection contains nothing but pleasure. If, on the other hand, Bruce is a taste you've had difficulty acquiring, this is unlikely to make the difference one way or the other. He only works with material that interests him, so we get a grab-bag of cultural miscellany: an old Spanish carol, the expected Huron carol, and some call-and-response melodies from South Carolina. The CD is worth purchasing for Cockburn's commentary on each selection (e.g., "If there were a contest for the title of spookiest Christmas carol, this ought to win hands down"), but if the curious were to opt for some download selections I would recommend "Early On One Christmas Morn" "I Saw Three Ships" "Iesus Ahatonnia" and "Mary Had A Baby".

That should hold you until the concert, by some miracle, is once again made available to the public.

*The song referred to here is "Wondering Where The Lions Are." And he sang it like he meant it.

Quantum Of Solace

On the ride home from Quantum Of Solace I found myself measuring it against You Only Live Twice. As scripted by Roald Dahl — a cranky fabulist who took on every writing project as if it were a personal dare — the fifth of the Connery Bonds pulled in every single trope from the now established series and inflated it to comic proportions. The gadgets were gadgetier, the girls were cheerier and Connery was puffier and amused. He had every right to be: he was box office gold, living the high life of the 60s and sauntering through a movie in which the villain's lair had a retractable lake and a monorail whose only stop en route to escape was a hidden self-destruct button.

From Russia With Love may have established James Bond as a movie franchise, but You Only Live Twice became the standard for it. When Dahl's absurdities were puffed up beyond what the cartoon could bear, we got Moonraker and Live And Let Die. Just the right amount of gas, and we got Octopussy and For Your Eyes Only. Too little, and we got Timothy Dalton.

Thus James Bond became the movie equivalent of Kraft Dinner — garnish it with a little too much of this or that, cook it a little too long, and it was a mess; follow the instructions on the box and it was surprisingly comforting fare. Lost, of course, was any sense of the lethal menace that Bond had in From Russia With Love. But was that really so desirable in an age that brought us Dirty Harry, then Rambo?

Since then, paranoid revenge fantasies have lost their traction with movie audiences. The best of the bunch, the Bourne films, make efficient use of The All-Controlling Establishment as enemy. But this is an ideological holdover from the 70s that seems almost charming as we begin to get some measure of just how dismally the Bush-Cheney republic failed to secure even its own self-interest. Now that we have met the enemy and confirmed that, yes, he is us, the necessity of cooking up some cinematic Other on which to safely vent our frustrations and rage is obvious. Enter “Quantum,” the SPECTRE for the new millennium — Quantum Of Solace, indeed.

It's old news that Daniel Craig and his teamsters didn't just get in touch with Bond's lethal menace, they pumped it up with steroids, and the current movie brings the roid-rage to a high boil, as it should. But what is more remarkable about Quantum Of Solace is how cannily the franchise picks up on Dahl's instincts, and trumps them. Clearly the creative team sat down and listed off everything it liked about the “old Bond” then committed itself to bringing that to the screen and making it work — really work — for today's audience.

Car chase with Aston Martin? Check. State-of-the-art technology? Check. Teeth-rattling fight scenes that leave Bond bloodied but unbowed? Insufferable villain with a cruel streak? Gee-whiz Ken Adams' sets that erupt in pyrotechnic splendor? Check, check, check. Alright then: how about the queasy erotic thrill of a nude corpse covered in gold paint? Take a gander at the babe covered in crude.

Missing is John Barry's swoon-inducing orchestral score — I've never been a fan of Jack White, and would have had trouble stifling my gag-impulse were it not for the distractingly fab graphics. And while some people can't stand the jarring cut-and-paste cinematography that kicks in every time there is an action scene, I had to wonder if the scenes would work at all if the camera was ever allowed to linger. The audience knows exactly how it's all being done — what they require is sufficient distraction from their knowledge, and the new hyper-vérité kinda gets the job done.

The villain is a creep I wanted to see torn limb from limb, and I found deeply appealing the movie's notion that there is a super-secret den of thieves and extortionists taking full advantage of the venal impulses of this beleaguered planet's every nation state. And, wonder of wonders, this marked the very first time that a typically effortless Bond seduction was actually believable.

The film's final success lies in Craig's uncluttered embodiment of Bond. His face has an agelessness that is anything but youthful, while his body moves with a lithe and surprisingly understated athleticism. At one point he hops over a balustrade and strides along a six-inch ledge as if it were the hallway he just abandoned. It's as bold a physical statement as any of the preceding fight scenes: getting away from his pursuers is really just this easy.

I loved it. A 40-year-old franchise has me wondering anew just how it can possibly top itself. Whodathunkit? James Bond really is back.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Tuneage: Verve Remixed Christmas

DarkoV, the Delawarean DJ, begins his list of The 12 Discs Of Christmas here. Some of the usual suspects are mentioned. Personally, I think there's no better way to soothe my inner Scrooge than by calming me down with Vince Guaraldi, and following that up with a cool shot of happy via Charles Brown. Given how they both have prominent places on DarkoV's list, the ones I've yet to spin look very promising indeed.

Unlike my encyclopedic friend, I couldn't list 12 Christmas discs without including a little padding -- and, frankly, padding is the last thing any of us needs this holiday. But over the next 12-ish days I'll opine on a particular Christmas aural offering. I might as well start with the most current, and the most disposable: Verve Remixed Christmas (A).

So long as the listener's expectations are properly braced, "disposable" is a laudable quality. Neither sensational nor galling, this collection of tweaked treasures from the Verve back-catalog offers its services as pleasant aural wallpaper for large social gatherings. The Orb's jigging of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" remains the most interesting track: Satchmo's voice receives a light layer of static, giving his delivery a distant, spectral quality. This can evoke longing and dismay in equal measure, particularly when an industrial beat marches purposefully over the orchestration. There is an adventurousness that The Orb bring to the kitchen that I much prefer over, say, the schmaltz-drenched ladling that lang & Bennett served up in aught-one.

Otherwise, the collection remains inoffensive, if unremarkable filler. It can be inexpensively downloaded at iTunes, which is the way to go with this collection. You don't need the disc cluttering up your CD shelf, and given the compression of Verve's soundfiles I very much doubt there is any difference between what you get online and what you get on the disc. Besides, there is nothing on this disc likely to become a classic of the ages. That is not at all a bad thing, particularly during a Christmas which will require us all to be as "in the moment" as we can.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Revolutionary Road: A Reputation Redacted

When I heard the news that Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road (A) was finally being fast-tracked into production, I ... well, what did I do? I snickered cynically ("Hardly a book begging for movie treatment, really"), I silently appreciated director Sam Mendes' gutsiness, while I audibly disdained his original attempt at this self-same material; then when he enlisted his wife, I conceded I would probably queue up to see the movie in theatres because I'll happily watch Kate Winslett in anything, even if it co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio. And, finally, I checked my face in the mirror, to try on a, "Let's give this a try," look that I hoped would impress my wife with its manly "let's remain open to all the options" demeanor.

As for the book, am I the only guy who thought it was ... funny (resorting to blurbage: "savagely funny")? Poor April Wheeler comes to a grotty end, but Frank is a truly comic figure who, as James Wood points out, gets exactly what he wants by book's end, and isn't fettered with the self-awareness to acknowledge this as a tragedy. Why, Frank Wheeler is as comic a hero as you're likely to find on this side of Beckett -- or Road Runner, actually. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time I put books down and took the trash to the curb.

Worst Christmas Single Ever

An amusing list of loathed Christmas Singles. But I'm not sure how a self-professed curmudgeon missed the greatest offender of them all: Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Worst Form Of Government

In a curious twist of kismet, the Canadian parliament now appears to be modeling its behavior on that of the Israeli parliament. If Alberta and Quebec threaten to secede we may yet wind up with an environment that is as physically charged.

"What an unpalatable choice now beckons Canadians: a government led by a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, whose approach has disappointed so many; or a government led by Stéphane Dion, the Liberal Leader Canadians resoundingly rejected six weeks ago."

Amen to that, Jeffrey Simpson. When the nation's economic statement was being read last Thursday, I was listening in utter astonishment as the finance minister proposed the nation cut its way through the rising economic tsunami. Don't misunderstand me: I'm contrary enough to admire anyone who swims against the teams of money-minders from every single industrialized nation on this planet. I just want to hear an articulate defense of this particular strategy -- especially when said strategy is delivered with a heavy back-handed slap against the majority of seat-holders in our collective parliament. If the report hadn't been such a gem of hubristic folly, I would have hailed Harper's brand of realpolitik.

Ugh. We live in times that are too interesting by half.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Another "Best of 2008" List

Boing-Boing lists their favorite books. The title that caught me off guard was Magic & Showmanship by Henning Nelms. The Boing-Boing summary: "Classic book about conjuring has many lessons for writers."

I had to read that twice before the penny dropped: "Of course!" BB, A

Best Video Game, Redux

Another impediment to my enjoying Fallout 3 is the family console. We don't Xbox 360 here: we Wii.

This limits my gaming experience, but in a good way: we get fewer first-person-shooters, and more get-up-and-move games. In the latter category is No More Heroes(MC) -- Paste's #5 pick, succinctly and artfully summed up as "the first game in history to satisfy the video-store junkie and the video-game burnout in equal measure." Hey, that's me!

It is fabulously silly, gouts-of-bloody fun -- which means I have to play it when the kids are asleep. Also, the swordplay requires some physical dexterity and a sharp memory for the appropriate combination moves. In other words, this is not a game for the pleasantly beer-buzzed. A clear head and primed muscles are a definite asset -- yet another recommendation for the game.

No More Heroes isn't my favorite Wii game -- that title still belongs to Super Mario Galaxy (MC). But it certainly rates as this year's gaming highlight. Bonus: after a year of poor sales it can be had quite cheaply.

Conversation Fodder: Best Video Game of 2008?

I have no doubt that, had I world enough and time, 20 straight hours ensconced in the family Sumo before our gargantuan flat-screen Hi-Def Behemoth playing Fallout 3 (h) -- Paste magazine's video game of the year -- would be just the thing. My daughters could take turns refreshing my mug of rooibos tea, while my wife would happily serve up ramen noodles every four hours. I suppose some sort of industrial absorbency diaper would be in order, as well as an occupational therapist for massage purposes: don't want to lose circulation to any extremities that aren't enlisted for button-mashing.

Unfortunately my trust in Paste's video game judges was irreparably damaged when they piled on the fudge and gave The Simpsons game a positive review. Some people might say I'm being too hard on a game that was merely mediocre, but I'd argue otherwise. The Lego games are mediocre; they're also pleasant diversions. The Simpsons is bafflingly unimaginative and no fun whatsoever -- pretty much in line with 95% of the games out there.

It sounds like the engineers of Fallout 3 worked hard to weave in as many textured surprises as possible. I'm sure if I gave it a chance I'd enjoy it. But (and I'm willing to receive correction on this) it also sounds like it's a run-n-shoot game. Thirty years of run-n-shoot, and we're willing to call this "a towering achievement"?

Please: a little less hyperbole and a little more critical sand. The industry might not comp you with as many $80 games, but I'd be tempted to resubscribe. And who would dare put a dollar value on that?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Conversation Fodder: PASTE's "Best Of 2008"

Just in time for the US American Thanksgiving, Paste magazine delivers its Best Of 2008 issue. I believe I'll be letting my subscription lapse, but this yearly ish is worth picking up, if only to inform my heated debates with younger nephews at the extended-family dinner table.

Last year Paste proclaimed Boxer by The National to be the album of the year. Prior to that, I was too deep in retro-yearning to notice The National. I downloaded the album from eMusic, and was happy for the experience. We shall see what I make of She & Him when my downloads refresh in another week.

More anon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Right To Bear Pocket Knives

I wouldn't want it to take precedence over my first request of the forthcoming administration, but this petition for the right to bear pocket-knives seems sane to me. Since 9/11 I've surrendered three of these babies just because I forgot to remove them from the (equally lethal) ring of keys before leaving for the airport:

Sunday, November 23, 2008


A flaming meteor over the skies of Edmonton wasn't quite the spectral sensation I proposed. Even so, had I witnessed this I am sure I would have soiled myself. Ever since I watched If You Love This Planet (w) I hold my breath every time an airplane passes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trailer Trash

Via Occasional Superheroine: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the latest trailer for the forthcoming Star Trek movie. I wish I could say all this flashy, booty-n-bra stuff makes me hopeful for the current triage being performed on the Franchise's corpse, but ...

Oh, alright: I've been dissing this thing since it was a rumor!! It's fun to be a Trekkie Grinch!

The Rest Of The Platter

So: is Randy Newman sending Jackson Browne a shout-out, or a put-down? I think it's the former, while John Mellencamp gets the latter (although Newman doth protest). Me, I like 'em both, in no small part because they're lamenting the same decline of national character that Newman does. Mellencamp and Browne are selling their latest on eMusic, and I was quick to hit "download." Neither disc is likely to win new fans for either artist, and it's conceivable that in Mellencamp's case he might just lose a few for sticking with a stripped-down acoustic aesthetic.

T Bone Burnett is the knob-fiddler for Mellencamp (e), and I'm told he utilized a "new technology" that makes it sound like Mellencamp and his crew are in my living room. That isn't quite the effect I'm getting with the eMusic mp3 files, but it hardly matters. Even if I had the DVD it wouldn't help: I'm one of those dinosaurs who hasn't invested in SurroundSound because I haven't invested in a large-screen TV. I'm also keen to retain good relations with my neighbors. But getting back to Mellencamp, there is an intimacy to this recording that adds weight to some already very melancholy songs, and it is receiving a fair bit of play in this house.

Although not quite as much as Mr. Browne (e). There's very little for me to say regarding his latest offering: he's not breaking new ground, and you either like Jackson Browne or you don't. Mr. Newman likes Jackson, and so do I.

Other Tunes: this is the first I've consciously tuned-in to Eagles Of Death Metal (e), who are anything but a death metal act. I wasn't aware of their commercial background, or their being on the receiving end of some typical Axlrosean abuse (wiki), but their on-stage pairing with Guns 'n Roses strikes me as being as boneheaded a mis-match as Joe Jackson's early pairing with the Rolling Stones. Personally, I'd love nothing more than to see Peachfuzz open for EODM at House of Blues. EODM are more in sync with the nouveau-retro stylings of the Dandy Warhols, Marah, My Morning Jacket or The Kings of Leon. Quite a swath, wouldn't you say? I think EODM are a pleasant kick, however -- the songs are all catchy, and remind me of Tones On Tail at their most mischievous, or early INXS at their snappiest. Lyrically, the songs are as prurient as the album-title suggests. I suppose it's possible the material is strictly the by-product of feverish speculation; if not, there are probably one or two band-members who might want to talk to a professional about obsessive-compulsive behavior before it runs away with them, or they convert into Jehovah's Witnesses. Not that the latter is a bad thing.

Finally, there's Mark Farina, another first for me. I may not know from "funky instrumental Hip-Hop, downtempo, Soul and blunted beats" but I know what I like. And this is likable, but probably fated for a short shelf-life on my 'pod. When it comes to atmospheric music, I'm just not that kinda guy. The Grails' Doomsdayers' Holiday (MC) is a little more my speed, but even so, if you're using electricity to make all the noise, I almost always need some vocals to pull me completely in. Otherwise, it's just something that papers the wall -- and in my house, that is quickly disposed of.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Orphans Of God

"We will always be remembered as the orphans of God."

In response to my cochlea's post-funeral yearnings, I have turned to Orphans Of God, the tribute-slash-fund-raising extravaganza that came out in response to Mark Heard's death (and concomitant medical bills). This 12-year-old item is not new to me, but I returned to it after the revelatory experience of Buddy Miller's MH cover, "Worry Too Much." Miller's cover was a revelation because he did nothing to alter the song: the delivery is the same, the emphasis, the pace -- all the same as Mark's. It's just the voice that's different, and that was enough for me to hear the lyrics anew.

As I tried to gage my response to Miller's singing, I began to wonder if Mark was always the most appropriate performer of his own material. A song like "Worry Too Much" slipped under my radar when I first heard it because, frankly, after ten-plus years of listening to Mark's albums I tended to think his chorus was spot-on: he did worry too much. That was just a given. Hearing someone else sing the song, I actually felt the impact of the words for the first time. I realized what is at stake for anyone who sings them with conviction: basically, everything the singer believes -- or hopes -- is sacred.

Orphans Of God is a mixed bag of tricks that holds many such moments for me, as well as many moments I simply don't "get" (they were recorded nearly 15 years ago, and what once sounded au courant now seems to land a bit wide of the mark) and a few that set my teeth right on edge. I'm tempted to call out the chief offenders, if only to add to the interpretive controversy. One Amazon reviewer thinks Ramona Silver's cover of "Remarks To Mr. McLuhan" is a waste of time, but for me it's a delightful highlight: a short, creative riddle, layered with meaning and media -- and it sounds gorgeous.

So I'm not going to shit on any of the contributors because all of them were living and performing on the fringes of the scene long before the scene frayed to the point of becoming one enormous below-the-poverty-line fringe. These people Google themselves (maybe not Olivia Newton-John. Or maybe she does) so to them I say, "Thanks for doing this, and God love ya." Particularly noteworthy performances include: Pierce Pettis, Brooks Williams, Victoria Williams, Carolyn Arends and Ashley Cleveland. Through their voices we hear the angst and even some of the humor that informed Mark's best work.

But my personal award for head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest performance goes to:

Colin Linden -- singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer extraordinaire -- for his soulful rendering of "Dry Bones Dance."

Links: here are some more of my thoughts on Mark Heard; here is Colin Linden's website; finally, Orphans Of God eMusic, Amazon. Also: the lyrics to "Orphans Of God" and "Worry Too Much".

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Words In Defense Of My Fragile Feelings Of Relief

The end of an Empire
Is messy at best
And this Empire is ending
Like all the rest

I've been told my taciturn response to the recent US election of Barack Obama is noteworthy. I naively imagined the overabundance of public chatter more than made up for my personal silence. But since silence on significant issues of the day is not something I want to be “noteworthy” for, here goes:

US Americans, I am happy for you. In fact I'm happy for everyone. I know the hip thing to do for those of us who take joy in Mr. Obama's victory is to forward a bunch of links from The Onion signifying that we know we know we KNOW this isn't as big a deal as we're making it out to be. Guilty as charged. But c'mon: this is a big deal.

Some observations from my perspective as Canadian solipsist: First, the issue of race seems like a non-issue, so long as I don't reflect on it. But if I thought of what my country might be like if our population had the moral fiber to give someone like, say, Elijah Harper the PMO, well ... that would be a very big deal, indeed. It would also be cause for considerable celebration. But things get thorny when we mull over these issues, so let's avoid them altogether and skip straight to politics.

I don't know which Canucklehead wag said it first, but the general consensus among the chattering classes up here is, “Things have finally moved from worse to bad.” Most observers of American democracy concede that in the main both parties seem to exist primarily to serve corporate interests and only secondarily to manage them. Even so, if there had been such a thing as a “global democracy,” and this fantasy global electorate had been able to exercise a vote eight years ago, George W. Bush would never have been given so much as a tourist's pass to the White House.

The rest of the world does not "get" Americans, it is true: one need look no further than the ill-fated letter campaign of four years ago for evidence of this. And I have to wonder just how deeply we comprehend our own democracies (those of us who live in them) and the leaders we elect. Last time I checked, Elijah Harper was still retired and our Prime Minister was dredging up dirty oil in his back yard. But I digress.

Jesus Christ it stinks here high and low
The rich are getting richer
I should know
While we’re going up
You’re going down
And no one gives a shit but Jackson Browne

For the last two years whenever anyone asked me who I thought the next president should be, I gave them the same formulated answer: I didn't think it mattered so much as that the next president be a clear winner. I figured the US could, and probably would, muddle through another administration of "business as usual" but I couldn't see how it would survive another hung or stolen election. This concern only grew in magnitude when Barack Obama won the Democratic candidacy.

But then John McCain brought forward his running mate, and I thought, “Just how much contempt can a person demonstrate toward voters before people start calling for the guillotine?”

Please. I hope the jaded and worldly-wise can forgive some of us our feelings of elation, even if said feelings are incommensurate with the grim “new” reality.

The man given charge of the last eight years seemed to take a special delight in tormenting not his potential enemies, but his friends: hectoring the Jew to join the Presidential Bible study, giving the German Chancellor a “friendly” shoulder-rub — and always with the nicknames. Eight years devoted to having his way with the nation that voted for and supported him, and taking the rest of the world down a peg ...

The new President will need something considerably more audacious than hope to rescue what tattered worthy scraps still reside within the catastrophe he's inherited. God help him. God help us all. And maybe, while we're at it, we can stow the God-talk for a bit and roll up our collective sleeves and do the real work for a change. Let us at least stop torturing our prisoners of war — that would be the Christian place to start, I think.

Lyrics courtesy of Randy Newman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frisbee: The Life & Death Of A Hippie Preacher

In the surreal environs of mid-60s California, an elfin naif by the name of Lonnie Frisbee walks out of the desert and into conservative evangelicalism. Serving as a one-man catalyst for charismatic phenomena, this bizarre little man inexplicably generates a series of conservative charismatic religious movements which continue to ripple throughout the world to this day. By 1993 Frisbee has died of AIDS in near-obscurity, while the religious figureheads who capitalized on his appearances grow to be well-known "pillars" within American christendom.
Frisbee, doing some dunkin'
Filmmaker David DiSabatino's provocative documentary is a straight-forward bit of business that untangles what it can from a rather twisted sub-narrative in recent American church history. His technique is rudimentary -- people talk as the camera rolls -- but his approach is strangely unique. DiSabatino is genuinely friendly with his interview subjects, and (I'm guessing) sympathetic to Pentecostal Christianity. Fortunately, while his love and loyalty to these people and their church is evident, his deeper love is for the story and its complexities. The camera lingers over little details that speak volumes: during an enormous sea-side revival, a young preacher's hand rests on the bare thigh of the girl he is baptizing.

Watching the footage of Lonnie Frisbee's Crystal Cathedral funeral, the viewer quickly gets a sense of how relieved these people are to have him gone from the scene. No-one knew what to do with Lonnie Frisbee, with his cultivated naivete, the strange occurrences that happened wherever he showed up, or his sexual history and yearnings -- least of all Frisbee himself. DiSabatino restores some much-needed humanity to a narrative that is often methodically purged of just such character.

A quick end-note: potential viewers whose lives have crossed into and out of this sort of church experience should be forewarned: the skeletons in your closet will certainly have something to say about all this. Book your shrink in advance. And it seems DiSabatino is working to release a documentary on the life of the late Christian rocker Larry Norman -- despite the Norman family's very personal (and legal) antagonism. If this is any indication of the film's potential, I can't wait to see it.

Links: Lonnie Frisbee wiki; DiSabatino's Frisbee site is here (hey -- the soundtrack cooks, too!); and here is my brief obit for Larry Norman.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Awaiting Quantum of Solace

Paid movie critics seem to be leaving Quantum of Solace in a state of shock, wringing their hands and wondering whatever happened to the "classy" James Bond of yesteryear.

It's always fun when critics whine. Here is David Edelstein, just warming up on the theme song: The movie opens with a car chase that’s a hash, but nowhere near as ghastly as the theme song that follows, an anti-fusion of Jack White’s caterwauls and Alicia Keys’s breathy soul stylings called “Another Way to Die.” Worst Bond theme ever? Let’s just say Madonna is now off the hook for “Die Another Day.”

Here is Anthony Lane, on the film's title: Impact is what “Quantum of Solace” is about. The title is too frail by far. Someone should have called it “Total of Wreckage.” Or “Batter of Ram.” Lane continues in this vein, but then goes on to ponder how this film managed to haunt him beyond the exit door.

Even as prone as I am to nostalgia, the "standard" of former James Bonds strikes me as too shaky a proposition to merit serious consideration. For the most part, Connery and Moore capably justified a trip to the cinema, where the other three struggled to distract. I suspect Lane's observations are closer to the money -- my money, at least. Daniel Craig remains firmly in step with Connery, enticing me and my wife to join the theater queue.

Links: Metacritic is underwhelmed; my wife and I spent a date on Casino Royale and enjoyed ourselves.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tony Hillerman

Another life well-lived. And although Tony Hillerman will be remembered, quite rightly, for his mystery novels, the passage that sticks with me comes from his memoirs, describing an incident during his early post-war life as a reporter:

I was talking to a young Texas highway patrolman one morning outside the Stinnett Courthouse when his radio buzzed him. A double fatality on Highway 206 about 12 miles north. He roared away. I followed. A Packard sedan had collided head-on in about the center of the two-lane highway with some sort of pickup truck. The remains of the truck were scattered in the roadside wheat field. The sedan was still on the pavement, its front end back to the instrument panel missing. The body of the driver was in his seat, his head impaled on the steering post, blood, teeth and tissue splashed everywhere. The highway patrolman backed away from this, unable to control his nausea. I remember standing there untouched, guessing at the combined speeds, noticing how the wheel rim had gouged a rut in the concrete, collecting the details I'd need for my story, finally aware the patrolman, still pale and shaken, was looking at me as if I was something less than human. And all I could say to explain it was that it's not so bad when the dead are not your friends.

The shrinks had not yet invented post-combat trauma syndrome but I suppose that's the name for it — for the accumulation of baggage we sometimes talk about even now when what's left of Charley Company has its annual reunion. We mention the recurrence of old nightmares, of how long it took us to get rid of chronic moments of “morning sickness,” but we hardly ever discuss this incurable numbness. A deep, deep burn costs one the feeling in a fingertip. Perhaps seeing too much ghastly casual death does it to a nerve somewhere behind the forehead bone.

here I muse over one of Hillerman's Jim Chee novels. Here I report back on his memoirs, which, though memorable, desperately needed an attentive copy editor.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Life Well-Lived

After the last post I received inquiries into my father in law's state. He passed away this morning in a moment that, by the nurse's description, sounds as if it was quite peaceful.

Thank you all for your comments, thoughts and prayers. It seems fitting I link back to this post in which I contrasted his life with Hugh Hefner's, and wondered whose life was richer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swordfishtrombones (33 1/3 Series) by David Smay

We have become a driving household. Six weeks ago my father in law was taken to the hospital. He has since been moved to palliative care. Combine this with the usual school events and ringette games and the family schedule, such as it is, gets thrown seriously out of whack.

These events alter the reading habit too. A friend of mine once told me he'd read a bunch of John Irving novels while his wife underwent a series of critical operations. Now that he and his wife were on the other side of that health crisis, he couldn't remember anything about the novels, except that he had no trouble following their plots.

I'm not quite that preoccupied, but even so Continuum's 33 1/3 books are a very welcome alternative to choosing between "heavy lifting" novels and mysteries. They are wee things: roughly 4" X 5", 125 pages or so. They fit easily into jacket pockets, and look as if they were built to accompany the CDs of the albums they dissect and laud. They are written and published for people (guys, mostly) for whom the liner notes are never enough.

There are now over 60 of these books, and I had trouble deciding where to start. On the face of it my choice of Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones by David Smay (A) was almost counterintuitive. I don't mind Waits in small doses -- on a mixed tape, or a "various artists" CD -- and I'm sure a concert would be an event worth the price and logistics of attending (certainly the movie was worth it). But it's rare that I bother myself with an entire album's worth of his material. Tom Waits fans are frequently Neil Young fans, and both performers start with the roadblock: Folks, you didn't come here to listen to something "pretty," so brace yourselves and let's go.

So why bother at all? I wasn't sure, but I dozily read through the first 25 pages in which Smay recounts Waits' preoccupation with the freakish, his determination to control his musical legacy, his stubborn streak and litigiousness when it comes to advertisers, and how advertisers would still give anything to get a little Waits' sound behind their corn chips and automobiles, and gradually I found myself compelled to accept Smay's own thesis: "Maybe Carnivale's creator never listened to Tom Waits -- doesn't matter. Because that vision that Tom created moves and breathes in the world now ... the Tom Waits Carnival is part of our common currency."

Damn. He's right!

I doubt I'll spring for another 60 titles, but I'm sure my 33 1/3 library is bound to get larger. If Continuum would like, I've even got a proposal for Jason & The Scorchers' Thunder & Fire (A), linking its underlying narrative to the preaching of Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. I'm cheap, too: Will Write For Books.

Links: the 33 1/3 blog, my post on Jason & The Scorchers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Deeper" vs. "Urgent" Questions, vis-à-vis Milan Kundera

I heard an interview with one of the founders of London's School Of Life, a place that promises curious fun (home). She described the meals they hold, and among the questions "tabled" is: "When did you realize you were no longer a child?" My initial reaction to that question was, "I hope I am becoming more childlike (as opposed to childish) all the time!" After some consideration of Milan Kundera's past, however, I realized that there is at least one identifiable moment when I understood I was no longer a child: when I comprehended that most, if not all, of my favorite writers were anything but paragons of virtue.

I'm told the Cubans have a saying: "There are only two sorts of citizens: the innocent and the living." Certainly that is a motif that runs through the literature of dissident writers who witnessed Communism firsthand. This is not an uncommon motif in Western fiction either -- and properly so. Even so, revelations like these pose difficulties for readers who love their writers through their work.

Richard Byrne
says, "The deeper question ... is how the reader should assess Kundera's approach to many of his pet themes -- memory, betrayal, and the defense of history against the violence done to it by our political leaders East and West." The Anabaptist Confessional side of me is surprised that Kundera's (and Grass's) "approach" wasn't more direct: begin with the worst of who you are, and proceed from there via concentric circles until you've worked out your salvation with fear and trembling, and the odd unexpected measure of grace. Of course, the fearful drunkard in me understands all too well why this approach is to be avoided at all costs.

Milan, Milan: God be with 'im, the poor sod. And perhaps while we're all pondering the deeper question we can address the more urgent one: how do we put a stop to our nation's policy and practice of torture?
"Except in accessories."

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

When I was in late adolescence I read several paperback versions of the Arthurian saga. Most of these were camp, usually with a slightly pornographic bent. They were all fun, but offered very little insight into what prompts humans to make wise or disastrous choices of far-reaching consequence. When I got to university I asked a friend who was immersing himself in Arthurian narratives to recommend a particular writer. He covered the gamut from T.H. White’s purely naturalistic approach (A) to some of the wilder “bibbety-bobbity-boo” magick-fests. “Mary Stewart strikes a balance between the two. Her Merlin is in the grip of some sort of supernatural impulse, but it isn’t magic wand stuff. I’d probably recommend her Merlin books over just about anyone else’s.”

Re-reading The Crystal Cave some twenty years later, I think my friend’s analysis was right on the money. Stewart introduces Merlin as a young, conniving bastard with an appetite for eavesdropping. He is a pitiable figure — picked upon, beaten and targeted for a courtyard assassination. But occasionally something seems to take hold of him and show him the true shape of things. He cannot summon this ability, but it visits him at crucial moments.

Already prone to manipulating people’s fear of him, he learns to exploit these moments with increasing confidence. By book’s end he is a cocky young man, gleefully assisting the newly crowned Uther in his midnight tryst with Lady Ygraine, an adulterous romp that will result in the birth of Arthur — and the New Beginning for England.

400-plus pages leading up to the conception of Arthur might seem like an indulgence in another writer’s hands, but Stewart ably demonstrates why her Arthurian account is still the first choice of geek (or any other) readers everywhere. Her pre-Arthurian England is mash-up of Christian and pagan sects vying to hold political sway over the country's itinerant warlords. Merlin is a skeptic of both religions, but has a shrewd sense of how the two collude. Above all he is a pragmatist with a sense of destiny, and he appeals to one or the other wherever they serve his purpose.

Someone once equated writing a novel to “juggling confetti” and in this regard Stewart has few peers. There are several strains of political intrigue running through these novels, and she has a clear sense of where they all lead, but only reveals what she has to in order to sustain reader interest. Again, this is meat and potatoes geek material, but she serves it up with considerable panache where someone like, say, Neal Stephenson sometimes struggles. In Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle an all too frequent narrative pattern was an unanticipated wallop of unexplained significance, followed by a buffering scene, followed by an episode that revealed what the wallop was all about. Stewart is a gentle massager of foreshadowing, giving the reader a sense of how and why a particular character is developing a moral blind-spot which will eventually be exploited to tragic effect. When surprises occur they do not materialize out of thin air, and thus have genuine emotional weight.

My 37-year-old copy of this book fell apart on my second reading, so I visited the nearest used bookstore and picked up replacements for all three titles. Is there a used bookstore that doesn’t have these books on hand? Go and find out. If you’re an Arthurian buff who hasn’t yet read Mary Stewart, you’ll thank me for introducing you to such cheap but enduring thrills.

(And of course there is always Amazon.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oh. Right.

The News today. I know finances are a bit tight right now, but wasn't that worth $300 million?


Last month's musical selections were such a treat, I hesitate to turn the odometer. A quick summary:

Fate by Dr. Dog. I hadn't heard of these guys until DV assured me they are all the rage among the younger crowd, particularly in Philly. Despite my initial misgivings, I quickly became fond of Fate. I won't try to emulate this guy's Bangsian endorsement (I'm not that enthusiastic of the disc, for one thing): better just to resort to lazy typifying. Dr. Dog gains their musical traction via the disciplined harmonic experimentation The Beatles liked to do, coupled with the lyrical and percussive play the Talking Heads enjoyed. My daughters found the overarching effect a little melancholy, but nowhere near to the degree of an act like Wilco (I confess I don't really get those guys). Best Heard: while prepping food on a sunny afternoon (e, A).

Universal United House of Prayer
by Buddy Miller
. This is a spinach 'n grits album — it's delicious, but has a robustness that can be unsettling. Miller opens the album with a Mark Heard song that pretty much sums up the last eight years (well ... the last 30, really) of my life: “Worry Too Much.”

It's the quick-step march of history
The vanity of nations
It's the way there'll be no muffled drums
To mark the passage of my generation
It's the children of my children
It's the lambs born in innocence
It's wondering if the good I know
Will last to be seen by the eyes of the little ones

Miller launches from here into a sincere exploration of his faith, the parameters of which are familiar — and discomfiting — to me. Miller's vehicle of choice is what Pappy O'Daniel calls “Old Timey Music”: I do love this disc, but find it difficult to listen to. The songs, the sentiment and dare I say the faith are all sturdy enough to deliver Miller from the present crucible of life, but I could have done with just a dash of “O'Daniel's” conniving guile. A little whisky makes the preaching easier to ingest. Best Heard: when tempted to YouTube Sarah Palin (e, A).

Lost In The Sound Of Separation
by Underoath
. Metal has splintered into so many different discordant shards I have a very difficult time keeping track of what's worth listening to. Unless a friend passes along a disc, or Metacritic tabulates a particularly high mark, I don't even bother with the genre. Underoath qualifies in the latter instance, but on closer look the high score is the result of four respectful reviews, and no dissent. As far as I'm concerned the album delivers the conceptual and lyrical goods, but technically isn't in the same league as, say, Meshuggah's ObZen (another Metacritic high score). Mind you, I doubt anyone is in the same league as Meshuggah, so Underoath have done themselves proud just by holding their own. Best Heard: while cleaning out the basement — alone (A).

Baboon Strength by Charlie Hunter. Far and away my favorite album last month, which came to my attention thanks to 30 all-too-brief seconds when it qualified for eMusic's daily “Powerchart.” Hunter's album recalls the dance-infectious rhapsodizing of Medeski, Martin & Wood, while staying firmly inside the pocket. It's trippy Space: 1999 fun — a progressive revelation as well as a delightful throwback to what made T Rex such a hoot to listen to. Best Heard: while driving the car, 'cos it is The Antidote to simmering road rage. Not to be missed! (e, A)

Websites: Dr. Dog, Buddy Miller, Underoath, Charlie Hunter.