Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Keane and Snow Patrol; Old Stars

It's been a while since Perfect Symmetry and A Hundred Million Suns came out in the States, but I've been keeping myself busy. A few weeks of impressive success in mock trial, a few days of stuffing myself with far too much food, and an afternoon of stunning Georgia Tech victory (how 'bout them dawgs?).

Review: Perfect Symmetry, Keane

I could tell you "okay, listen to this album, then go back and listen to 'Spiralling' again" but that would be wholly redundant, because you'd already be doing it. It's tough to give a positive review to an album based on one track alone, but I'm on the verge of being able to do that with Perfect Symmetry. It's the rare track that you can listen to over and over again and not get tired of, because it's so much fun. Excellent production, catchy, and not entirely vapid lyrically, if you're into that sort of thing.

The one problem that stems from this is that Perfect Symmetry might naturally suffer from a bit of In Our Bedroom After the War syndrome: front-loading the album with the best music, so the rest doesn't seem as good by comparison. This album doesn't quite do that to the same level, but it comes close. It does, however, compare favorably to Viva La Vida, in that it is the most interesting thing that Keane has ever done. I thought Hopes and Fears was sort of okay. I wasn't a big fan of Under the Iron Sea, although I didn't per se dislike it. It was just sort of neutral.

Perfect Symmetry is not neutral. It is good music, through and through.

Review: A Hundred Million Suns, Snow Patrol

I love this one too. Snow Patrol has transcended "alternative rock" to make music that actually has some sort of soul to it, almost like Mae's The Everglow. That's not praise I'm going to hand out lightly--and I'm not about to say that A Hundred Million Suns matches Mae's masterpiece. But it's beautiful nonetheless. There's so much heartfelt niceness here that if it comes across as saccharine at times, we're perfectly willing to forgive Snow Patrol. We're willing to forgive them because it's unmistakably sincere.

There's a point at the end of them album where we're treated to "Snow Patrol does Sufjan Stevens", or at least something that sounds remarkably like it. And it works. Most of the album sounds like traditional Snow Patrol, and it works too. But though some will accuse this album of being the same thing Snow Patrol has done five times already, it's not, because of the immense amount of emotion that made its way in. It will make you feel good, albeit in a non-cutting-edge manner.

Review: Heart, Stars

To bring things full circle, and talk about Stars again, I've finally brought myself around to listen to Stars' first album, and I don't think it's that great. Too weird and electronic-y for my tastes. Then again, like I mentioned in that earlier review of In Our Bedroom Under the War, or possibly in my review of the Stars concert from March, how much you like Stars' albums probably has the most to do with the order you listen to them in. And it makes perfect sense that fans of Heart probably wouldn't like the more recent endeavors.

Specifically, that introduction is way too hipster for me. "Elevator Love Letter" is a classic, to be sure. But the album goes downhill from there and really can't hold a candle to Set Yourself on Fire.

Currently listening: "Carry on Wayward Son", Kansas

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The "So" Neologism

(This entry is coming to you from the Grizzled Old Prescriptivist department of Isoceleria.)

The worst sort of neologism is the sort that you're not aware that you're using. When I caught myself sending a sentence with the antecedent-less "so" the other day, I immediately asked myself "isn't this the exact sort of thing that I should hate?" Yes, yes it is.

You know what I'm talking about. "Hey, why didn't you guys go to the game?" "We were planning to, but Dan didn't want to go, so..."

"Aren't you going to do your calc homework?" "I don't know--I've done the rest of it, and we get to drop one, so..."

My biggest problem with "so" is its grammatical nonsensicality. In this context, this seemingly benign conjunction transforms its meaning from "therefore" to something approximating "which explains what I just told you". This is not useful. "Dan didn't want to go, so we didn't" is a fine sentence. So is simply "Dan didn't want to go."

Therefore, it seems like the "so" neologism is nothing more than a rhetorical crutch. It doesn't mean anything. It's not important to elucidating the meaning of the sentence. In fact, it muddles it if anything. This use of "so" is in fact exactly like the French "t" that's stuck in the middle of words so the mortal sin of consecutive vowels isn't committed. But it doesn't even have the French excuse of making the phrase sound better.

Instead, it shows an utter lack of confidence on the speaker's part to simply end the sentence where it ought to. And it's a becoming more and more accepted crutch to lean on.

Currently listening: "Spiralling", from Perfect Symmetry, Keane (review to follow)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Exhortation to Voters

Normally, Isoceleria does not touch politics with a ten-foot pole. And indeed, even though this entry is about the election, it still does not offer any views on political discussions or policies.

I'm very, very worried about what the two-party system is doing to our elections in this country. Not since 2000 at the most recent (perhaps earlier than that) has a presidential election actually been about two candidates. Back in 2004, I heard pundits describe the election as a "vote of no confidence in Bush" instead of an election between Bush and Kerry. How many times, for example, did you hear the following?

"Hey, who are you voting for?"
"Definitely Kerry."
"Oh yeah? How come?"
"He's not Bush."
"Well, that's true. But what do you like about Kerry?"
"He wouldn't have gotten us into this war."
"Be that as it may, we're in this war now. How does Kerry plan to handle it?"
"We wouldn't have fought it in the first place."
"Yes, I understand that. Are you saying you're voting for him based on what he would have done, rather than what he will do?"
"I'm just voting for him because he's not Bush."

The 2004 "vote of no confidence" failed. And I firmly believe that that's at best a very weak function of John Kerry and his policy statements. The Democrats could have thrown Howard Dean, or John Edwards, or anyone else, on the ballot. It wouldn't have mattered. Kerry voters didn't like Kerry; they disliked Bush.

Now that it's 2008, that mentality has far from disappeared. Consider what's become a typical conversation now:

"Hey, who are you voting for?"
"McCain, I guess."
"Oh yeah? How come?"
"I'm scared of Obama."
"Okay, but what do you like about McCain?"
"His policies are better than Obama's."
"Yes, but are they good?"
"Well, McCain definitely wasn't my first choice. I'd rather have seen (Giuliani/Huckabee/Romney) on the ballot."
"So why are you voting for him if you disagree with him?"
"I'm just voting for him because he's not Obama."

We haven't made much progress. This time, instead of an election between McCain and Obama, we have a "referendum on Obama". By all accounts, that referendum is about to succeed. And again, even if it had been Giuliani, or Huckabee, or Romney, it wouldn't have mattered, because this election is only about Obama vs. Not-Obama.

One additional factor that's peculiar to this election is race. It's obvious that there are people voting for Obama only because Obama is black. And it's obvious that there are people voting against Obama only because Obama is black. I'm not sure which one is more racist. But there's equally as nonsensical.

Take-home message? If you truly, honestly believe that either Obama or McCain is going to take the country in a good direction, then yes, by all means, vote for one of them. If you don't believe that; if you dislike both of them; if you disagree with both of them so thoroughly that you believe neither one of them is going to take us in the "correct" direction, then don't feel pressured to vote for either of them. Vote for neither. Write yourself in. Go for a third party.

Vote on November 4th. But vote for the candidate you like, not against the one you dislike.

Currently listening: Perfect Symmetry, Keane