Friday, 19 May 2017

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.2.4 - "Me Vs Maradona Vs Elvis" (Brand New)



A song I am ashamed to love.

This might be a good time to talk about guilty pleasures again. To restate my case: fuck guilty pleasures. Not the pleasures themselves, obviously. What I despise is the idea of the guilty pleasure; the smug, self-satisfied insistence of self-appointed gatekeepers that there are some slices of entertainment that you should actively feel bad for enjoying. "Oh, that's so cheesy, you should feel bad for liking it!". "Man, that's so manufactured; don't you feel awful having such fun with it?".  Sod off and hang out with that Portuguese prick who pissed away his Eurovision victory speech on "fake music" rather than the plight of refugees.

Even the phrase itself is terrible. It might not be so bad if it were "embarrassing pleasures"; profoundly uncool songs and shows and movies that you love but would rather not admit that in public. There's still all sorts of issues around the concept of "uncool" that would need unpicking, but at least "embarrassing pleasures" is a more accurate framing. It's about you going against conventional wisdom and public opinion. "Guilty" dare to suggest you're actually doing something wrong.

And the thing is, there really are things you should feel terrible about liking. This song is a case in point. I hate that I love it so much. I think my feels for it say something unpleasant about me as a person. This is after all a song about a man who goes to bars, gets women drunk, lies to get into their underwear, and then sleeps with them when they're on the verge of unconsciousness. If the narrator isn't actually a rapist, he's so close to the line that quibbling over whether he's actually crossed it would be an act of supreme ugliness. This is some full-on Roosh V shit. How could I not feel guilty taking pleasure from this?

I tell myself it's just the music that gets me. And for sure the tune is genuinely wonderful. It's sad and slow and yet still heavy with barely-restrained power. Melody and riff both descend across each line of the verse as the narrator drags unsuspecting drunks down into his "unadmirable plans", making them focus on him instead of the football on the TV or the music on the jukebox.  The instrumental break at 3:21 is rather lovely, and just under a minute later the song stops holding back and finally erupts into a squall of self-loathing, or sex, or probably both.

But that's the problem, isn't it? The song is so cleverly structured around this horrifying tale of a calculating predator that every part of it simply further underscores the ugliness on display. Every part of it is shot through with the vileness of this stalking monster. This would be the best, saddest song on the soundtrack to a Ched Evans biopic, but how much can the quality really matter with something as villainous as this? I know I'm really just describing the idea of a problematical fave, but rarely has something so earned so much of my favour despite being so problematical.

But it works for me. I don't know why. I don't know why, and I'm terrified to interrogate myself on the subject. Better to not know. Better to just shoulder the guilt.

I certainly can't see any argument that says I shouldn't have to.

And now the B-side, which is at least a little less Rape Culture The Movie, if nothing else. It's also interesting to see how Mae builds the song up via changes to the harmony to compensate for not being able to tack on the full-tilt emo ending.




Thursday, 11 May 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 5.1.6

In which Voyager finally does something new, and does it by making use of something old.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.6

Back to the station this week, where we're forced to deal with a most unwelcome visitor.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 3.1.6

We're on the Enterprise-D this week, as are a bunch of weird snake-dudes and Gul Dukat pretending to be a dog. No way that can be boring as hell, right?

Well...

Geek Syndicate Review: Rebels (These Free And Independent States) #2

In which Brian Wood's frustratingly-titled slice of historical fiction continues to not really know what it wants to say.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Six Things I Learned In Berlin

1. Berlin Zoo is a good time, especially its collection of big cats. Some of the enclosures are a bit on the small side compared to zoos I've visited elsewhere, but - from my entirely uninformed standpoint - nothing seemed particularly unhappy. It was especially nice to see polar bears having fun; the only other one I've seen was back in Edinburgh years ago and it was clearly suffering. These two bears have about three times the space, and it seems to be doing the job. The biggest concern I heard anyone raise while I was there was the danger of the polar bears catching a cold if their pool wasn't heated, which I guess demonstrates that brain-swivelling stupidity is truly an international concern.

If you're going for the full afternoon, it's well worth getting a combined ticket for the on-site aquarium too. It's filled with a massive array of fish - too many in some tanks, actually, though again what do I know? - but also houses every cold-blooded animal in the zoo, so it's not just aquatic creatures.

They also have a common tern, presumably as a replacement after a much more impressive bird cancelled last minute. I foolishly didn't think to take a picture of the resultant colossal misfire of an exhibit, so I have used the magic of Microsoft Paint to reproduce the effect.

(Original photos (c) Birds of North America Online & Australia Adventure)
Thrilling.

2. I'm officially adding nackensteak to my list of tasty German treats. It's meat from the nape of a pig's neck (hence the name) with a taste and texture halfway between a pork chop and well-done bacon, with the faintest hint of crackling. At least in the place where I bought it (a street market on Kurfurstendamm) it's a bit more expensive than sausage, and frankly not quite as good, but if you've already filled up on wurst and want to eat some flatter flesh, this is a fine choice.

3. Trabant wing mirrors come off really easily.

4. U-Bahn construction companies pay for some interesting artwork.


YES! Rock on, gay motorcycle gang members! I'm glad you'll soon find it even easier to get around Berlin.


Um, hi, Mark Wahlberg with a ponytail and also on a pony. I'm... not sure they'll let you take Scottie Gee Gee on the U-bahn, actually, but I'm delighted you're pitching in.


I didn't think this was legal, but maybe King Bear has issued a royal decree about lady-kissing. YOU SLY SCAMP, ROYAL BEAR.


IT WILL NEVER BE POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON HERE LIKE IS THE EAGLE IN A POLYAMOROUS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TWO ADULT HUMANS OR IS HE SMUG DAD'S ADOPTED BROTHER OR IS IT A LADY EAGLE HOW DO YOU TELL AND ACTUALLY IT MIGHT BE A GRIFFIN.

5. Museum Island sounds like a terrible sequel to any one of a dozen horror/monster films, but in fact, it's a rather pretty and awesome grouping of, well, museums. F and I checked out the Pergamon Museum there, and it's filled with some absolutely breathtaking reproductions of ancient locations, including the Ishtar Gate (which makes me wish we hadn't so totally devalued "awesome" as a word) and a section of an ancient market place. The collection also contains a large number of examples of Islamic Art, which is both lovely on its own terms and tremendously satisfying when you think of how many people must be appalled that it even exists.  The place is huge, too; there were three exhibits closed for renovation and it was still three and a half hours before we decided we needed to leave, with maybe another half hour's worth of stuff still to work through.

Two tips: first, if you don't speak German, make sure you borrow one of the (free) audio guides to take round. Only about two thirds of the material has been translated into English, and the translations themselves are occasionally patchy.  Second, make sure to book in advance. We didn't get around to doing so and ended up in a queue for seventy minutes. Considering there's a sign outside the museum marking an average two-hour waiting period, we got lucky, but still.

Oh, and one more tip, actually. Don't touch the handrail around the floor mosaic in the antiquities section. There's a guard there who gets really annoyed if you do. There's no sign or anything asking you not to; they've apparently decided to hire a guy pretty much entirely to whisper "NO! NO!" furiously into your ear if you touch a bar that's at exactly the right height for you to grasp it. I think half the people who went in just took hold out of habit; some Pavlovian response conditioned into us by decades of riding the subway or going up escalators or grabbing for iron coshes when shit goes down.

Anyway, go see this guy if you visit the museum. He'd probably appreciate human contact that isn't handrail-related. Just make sure to engage him in conversation from an angle that allows him to see every inch of his wrought-iron charge. It may not be much of a job, but it's his, and he's very proud of how well he does it.

6. No jokes for this one. The Topographie des Terrors is chilling, and horrifying, and profoundly upsetting, and something everyone really should see. You'll find it hard not to cry and harder still not to punch the giggling American tourists - "I'm touching Gestapo bricks ha ha!" - but the exhibition does excellently at the almost impossible task of rendering the entire story of the Nazi Party and its legacy into something short enough to read in two hours without feeling like anything has been ignored or skirted over.  Every time I read about the Nazis I find some new reason to fucking loathe them - this time it was discovering they would have murdered both my siblings for their medical histories - and every time I find some new way in which the contemporary right is inching towards the same sickening ideas. "Work-shy Reich" sounds like something IDS would suggest after his second whisky.

Monday, 10 April 2017

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.2.3 - "See You Soon" (Coldplay)



I've never been much for Coldplay in either their arena bombast or overly earnest modes, but I'm a total sucker for their quiet ballads, and this is their best. It's stripped down to almost nothing - a guitar riff that stretches out like a telescope, backed by slow, expansive keys. It's not until the final moments that anyone even remembers percussion is a thing.

And it works wonderfully, not just on its own terms, but in how it meshes with the song's story; a sad tale about a friend no-one in your social circle ever talks to anymore. Pretty much all of us must have been here; watching someone once loved at ever-greater distances as they drift away, or as they cut ties one by one in a seemingly calculated campaign of unprovoked viciousness. Watching as they coat themselves in more and more layers of armour for an attack they're convinced is coming, and thereby blocking out anyone who still cares. You still see them around, but as observers, watching someone who once meant the world to you pass by on the other side of the street, their gaze studiously avoiding yours.

The overall sense is one of space and distance, a story of old wounds that still ache from time to time. Martin sums the situation up early on:
Don't break your back if you ever see this.
Don't answer that.
Yes, this song is about how we used to be friends. We're not any more. Don't @ me. This isn't reconciliation. It's pathology set to music.

It just happens to be beautiful, too.
B-side:

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Geek Syndicate Review: Rebels (These Free And Independent States) #1

Brian Wood's back with another American history lesson. Features Alexander Hamilton for no real reason other than he's popular now. I wonder if he's ill, though; he's all pale and totally off-rhythm.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 5.1.5

In which Janeway needs to try new things, Chakotay needs more respect for his sense of humour, and Tom Paris needs to be banned from contact with anyone until he's sorted his shit out.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.5

Wanna see me rant about capitalism and pretend I'm talking about Star Trek. You know, again? Of course you do!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 3.1.5

Shut up, Wesley-worshippers.

(Also: 75,000 hits on this website as of today; just half a week shy of eight years since I added the counter. So that's nice.)

Friday, 3 March 2017

Friday, 24 February 2017

Friday Talisman: WTF Is Up With Her Face?

This is frustrating as hell. I go to the (minor) trouble and (equally minor) cost of getting myself a light box to show off my painted miniatures in all their glory, and the first figure I photograph looks like she's been attacked by a facehugger. I have absolutely no idea what's gone wrong here; she looks fine in both natural and electric light. Put her in a light box, though, and she looks like the Slenderman sucking a mustard lozenge.


I spent some time tonight looking at her face, trying to work out what to do to help, but the truth is there's nothing I want to change. I thought redder lips, but her face is too small for that; it'd look ridiculous. I think I'll just have to keep experimenting with the box and my camera.

Alternatively, I could stick to painting miniatures with sensibly-sized heads. The Vampiress' face is absolutely minute. I include the Warrior from the base game in the photo below for comparison. You could fit her entire head inside his nadsack.


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 6.1.4

In which I am forced to try and sort out a colossal mess left for me by Enterprise.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.2.2 - "Movies" (Alien Ant Farm)



I'm not sure there are many songs that tie my musical journey down to so precise a time period as this one. Alien Ant Farm are not a cool band anymore. They barely were at the time. They dropped from the cultural radar so quickly after the lumbering mess of the "Movies" re-release that I assumed they'd broken up. Maybe it was because of the rumours of how much the rest of the band hated their lead single that gave me that impression, or how boring everything they did after their first two singles was. Hell, even their debut album name suggested a band with a short lifespan: you don't name your first album on a major label ANThology unless you don't believe you'll ever get the chance to slap that pun over a singles collection (what I learned today: they called their first, independently-released album "Greatest Hits").

Looking back, things went wrong for AAF almost immediately. It's never a great sign when you reach the height of your fame with a cover version, especially one which gets talked about more for the video than the arrangement (which for the record is basically competent). With "Smooth Criminal" by any measure a massive success, and with no unreleased tracks on ANThology that could possibly reach those same heights, there was only one obvious move: re-release the debut single, but with a new and much more expensive video. The second video for "Movies" is a fucking horrific Day-Glo nightmare:



I hate that video for all sorts of reasons (ha ha ha he had his dick hidden in his popcorn HA HA HA!) but my main objection is the the degree to which it totally misses the point of the song. "Movies" isn't a song about films, it's about the moments in your life that feel like a film. Or at least, the kind of moments that feel like perfect subject matter for a film's closing moments.

Specifically, the song is - obviously - about a dying relationship, and the decision to kill it off for good. To slay a gigantic, lumbering beast that belongs to the past, as the original video takes pains to point out. It's a hell of a job, but it has to be done. That's why you need all that scruffy-ghet noise from those electronic guitar devices: taking down Godzilla requires a soundtrack with some bite to it. To the extent the term ever made any sense and wasn't just a warning label for a creatively bankrupt genre of leaden un-rock, this is the template nu-metal should have followed. Same riffs, less irony.

But what really makes this track special - aside from that juicy-as-hell descending bass riff at 00:18 - are the hints of calm acceptance that pepper the histronics and chugging guitars. It captures perfectly that period at the very end of a soured relationship in which the sudden release of obligation and restrictions makes the person you've spent days/weeks/months/years (delete as applicable) barely able to stay in the same room with seem not that bad after all. Like a president leaving the White House, nothing boosts your approval rating of a terrible partner like the act of disentangling yourself from them.

The feeling never lasts, obviously. But that's a different song.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 5.1.4

The Vidians this week. I like the Vidians. Shame they didn't get the chance... TO BREATHE!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Friday 40K: A Solid Wall And The Ground To Build It On

Following my New Year's Resolution to get some actual games of 40K in this year (think I've managed two at most since I moved to the West Midlands in early 2011), I've been hard at work expanding my scenery collection. Below are the results of January's efforts; the completion of a Tau shield wall I started painting in 2015(!), and a third Realm of Battle board for it to lie upon.


I rather like the design of these things, and I'm happy with my paint job. It's quite simplistic compared to the sort of drybrush-heavy stuff I put out these days, but then it needs to match the Tau army I started in 2003 (I have to stop saying stuff like this), when my abilities were far less developed.

If there's a problem here, it's that the shield itself is too high up for my Tau to shoot over. You'd think the Earth Caste would have thought to measure their cousins at some point during the design process. Still, maybe the energy field allows shooting from one direction. That's just the sort of underhanded trick you'd expect from these sneaky xenos. Still, my mate Dave promises me his Space Wolves will be eating my entire cadre fairly soon, so I guess it doesn't matter all that much.



Thursday, 26 January 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 3.1.4

Donald Trump and Daimon Tarr. You never see them together, do you? Here's why.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 2.1.4

The Animated Series once again, with some of the worst stuff about women the original crew ever gave us. Which, as I'm sure you know, is really saying something.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Limerick Of Grond

There was a door-knocker named Grond
Of whom Sauron was very much fond
'Cos to Denethor's place
Did Grond apply his face
'Til that strong door of Gondor was gone!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Geek Syndicate Review: Children of Lovecraft

In which I commend a Cthulhu anthology for finally including more female writers than it does racist piece-of-shit stories.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 1.1.4

It's back to the original series once more, with a look at "The Naked Time". This is where it first became obvious to me that Spock is suffering from a serious case of depression.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.2.1 - "Uptight" (Green Day)



A song about holding yourself together as you're charging forward.

There's a tremendous sense of tightness about this song, as the title would suggest. A tension born not from self-restraint, but from imprisonment. Almost every section of the track sees the guitar part oscillating wildly between two positions, like a bullet ricocheting down its own gun barrel. It's not so much that the song can't move - indeed it has a surging momentum to it that fires me up every time. It's that the route it takes as it barrels forward is horribly narrow.  Last week I went on a boat ride into an abandoned lead mine. We coasted down a tunnel maybe five feet across as we passed under a Peak District hill, slamming against rock walls as the boat drifted from side to side and back. That's what this song remind me of; that claustrophobic, echoing trip into darkness, only played back at eight times the speed.

As a result of this closeness, neither song nor listener is given a chance to breathe. The standard verse-chorus-verse structure is replaced with two verses in succession (themselves filled with reversals) which lead into a chorus we never really escape. The only structural change we get after that point - right up until the song collapses in exhaustion and is swept away after just three minutes - is a middle eight in which we'd expect Billie Joe Armstrong to burst into one of his snotty solos. Instead, though, the song snap back into the same riff repeated throughout, just with more muscle. The song coils tighter rather than unwinding, pulsing more fiercely, the way your thumb does when you squeeze it harder. Things don't become faster, the direction doesn't change, but the song gets thicker, somehow. More laden with weight. The bullet gains mass as it rockets from wall to wall.

The end result is a standard Green Day trick - to make bleak cynicism seem buzzing and vital - performed with a level of panache they seldom reach. Sooner or later we all find ourselves in tunnels we can't escape except by running their entire length. This is the best soundtrack possible for working your way deeper into the dark.

B-side: This. Because we always need more cowbell.



Thursday, 5 January 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 6.1.3

We reach the end of the third IDFC cycle with a look at "Strange New World". Just like the cave system it takes place in, it's surprisingly deep.