It was as if

Sidereal Blue

are a dead language

in the fake early morning
of a city block

pulling on a thread
of sparks

brother god
I am convinced

we are not all
drenched in white light.


Waking toward
the same new world

bombed out
dazzled into obscurity

under retail slabs
our profuse anxieties

dressed up in light
slough off that world

breaking lockstep
to shuck the cerements

a thread of sparks!


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1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon (Spotify)


2. Lights – Little Machines (Spotify)


3. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There (Spotify)


4. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Spotify)


5. Future Islands – Singles (Spotify)


6. Jessie Ware – Tough Love (Spotify)


7. The Antlers – Familiars (Spotify)


8. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Spotify)


9. Stars – No One Is Lost (Spotify)


10. Matt Kivel – Days of Being Wild (Spotify)


11. Real Estate – Atlas (Spotify)


12. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Spotify)


13. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (haha)


14. Alvvays – Alvvays (Spotify)


15. Wye Oak – Shriek (Spotify)


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Sisyphus At The Gym

If I feel the universe is rolling up inside me it’s because
it is; it has nowhere else to go.

And so, I sit still and listen
to my choice of illusions, the well-fed
desiccated death’s-head, squatter célèbre
of the psychic tenement, squawking the con
man’s overtures of lovelessness.

Sisyphus, the faith healer, drinks 10 kombuchas as a cancer cure.

Sisyphus! At the gym, working lats and traps,
but there’s noise on the channel —
packet loss in the stream of infinite ones,
I found nothing but a gaunt Clark Kent
with his finger down his throat
and Sisyphus at the gym
working traps and lats, saying
that wasn’t me and this isn’t that —

I got the message; it’s scrambled and I can’t tell
which grimace on the Wong-Baker pain scale is me
and I need to know: what’s heavier than eternal
return and could I lift it — up ladders,
through trap doors, either either or
or and what’s the constant choosing ever for?

Sisyphus hits the gravity bong and turns the dharma wheel uphill.

Breathe in, shapeshifter,
make your illusion of choice
between negative pressure and potential
space. The breath breathes itself
and light, the only sacrament, falls in
to itch that skeletal geometry
beneath bones, the network of all ones,
light that can’t be seen.

The gates are open,
      Polyphemus of Tarsus —
No one
is blinding you!

Sisyphus refreshes his email inbox as he is damned to do
until something breaks or breaks through.


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Self-knowledge is hard to come by.

What happens when companies and governments know more about consumers than we know about ourselves? (I prefer to think of us as people, or maybe citizens, though we are also consumers.)

The NSA has a new spy center going up in Utah. It’s a data storage facility, a really big one. When it’s finished later this year, it will have the capacity to store over 3.5 million GB per capita. That’s equivalent to storing 7,000 laptop hard drives full of information on every American citizen. Now I’m not saying the government is profiling you individually, but… I want you to know that they could. (Don’t worry, they’ll only use their powers to catch bad guys.)

In 2006, AOL leaked documents containing 20 million things that their users typed into the AOL search engine over three months. Though the searches were in one sense ‘anonymized’ (no names or IP addresses, etc.), each search string was attributed to a numeric ID, making it easy to associate different searches by the same user.

You might not realize how intimate the relationship between human and search engine can be. When you have a weird growth on your body, where do you turn first for information? Problems with your love life? The nearest therapist is your browser. You’ve talked to a search engine before, haven’t you?

“How to tie a bow tie”
“What day is Easter 2013”
“Is the NHL lockout over”

One of the assignments for my first grad class was to take a look at the leaked AOL documents—literally just to scroll through for a while and get a sense of what you were looking at. It’s overwhelming in a creepy, intimate way.

We were prompted to identify and approximate the geographic location of users with certain specific characteristics, such as A gambler who might not be paying his/her taxes, or Someone looking to terminate a pregnancy with over-the-counter medication.

Some of my findings for At least 3 people trying to self-diagnose an illness:

10291 – This user appears to be from the Long Island area in New York, based on numerous searches for things in Jones Beach and Selden, NY. The user, presumably a mother, first searches for “two year old with lazy eye red in inner corner of eye,” and “inner corner of eye is red swollon,” leading her to investigate the possibility of the condition “dacryocystitis.” She then spends some time trying to diagnose what sounds like a more serious condition with queries like “discharge of clear fluid sack from vagina not pregnant,” “can you pass cyst from ovary after it ruptured,” “ovarian cyst,” “blood in urine,” and “symptoms of bladder cancer.” The user is concerned that prescription drug use may be to blame, asking the search engine “can vicoden or percocet make blood in urine.” Also interesting to note the earlier query, “buy vicodin.”

These leaked logs are still pretty easy to find. Just search for them. [wink]

If you think about it, your search history might “know” more about you than anyone else in your life.

I was born in the mid-1980s and sort of remember what it was like to not have the Web. Now, it takes a fair amount of effort to distance myself from the Web, even temporarily or in small degrees. Every day, we interact with, depend on, and orchestrate our lives through Web-connected technology. The depth of connection with technology is evident in our individual lives and society at large. It’s not possible to live “on the grid” in a first-world society today and not experience this relationship with technology.

You expose an incredible amount of information about yourself, willingly or otherwise, just by using the internet. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re living mindful of the fact, but consider:

– What does your web history say about you—the blogs you read, videos you watch, places you shop, and everything else you “do” online?
– What about the relationships in your social network?
– And, now that we carry the Web with us, what about location data? Where are you right now on planet Earth and where did you get your coffee this morning?

Aggregate enough of that stuff and it’s likely that a clear picture of who you are, what you do, and how you might think and feel can be discerned or extrapolated.

Before I dramatically segue back to the NSA spy center, let me express my (naive?) optimism that these personal datasets can be made available to individuals and protected from surveillant and commercial interests. If we all had such powerful, wide perspective on ourselves, it might prompt us to change, to live better.

But back to that 1.5 million square foot data center the NSA is wrapping up in Utah right now. Last year, details about the intelligence center and the NSA’s digital spy network were published in a fantastic piece of investigative reporting by James Bamford for Wired magazine. It’s absolutely worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a good synopsis:

“Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade.

“Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.

“The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.”

Other highlights include:

– A former senior NSA crypto guy going on the record to say, holding his thumb and forefinger together, “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”

– The NSA, with full complicity of US telecoms, uses “wiretaps” across the country to read domestic internet traffic in real time. They also read the internet’s major ocean floor cable lays and monitor satellite communications. In other words, they’re reading all the world’s unencrypted internet traffic in real time. And they’re storing it all (including the encrypted stuff) for a rainy day.

– The NSA’s ability to eavesdrop directly on phone calls in real time. Yep!

About nine months after this article was published, another whistleblower, also a former NSA crypto guy, went on the record with a similar story about the US government’s capacity to monitor the populace. Discussing Gen. Petraeus’s affair, he claimed, “all the congressional members are on the surveillance too, no one is excluded. They are all included. So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason – they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least.” (Watch/read the full interview here)

What is privacy?

Privacy is an abstract concept with important implications.

It is “an interest of the human personality. It protects the inviolate personality, the individual’s independence, dignity and integrity.” – Edward Bloustein¹

An article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy cites arguments that privacy is “crucial for intimacy” and “the development of varied and meaningful interpersonal relationships.”

Data privacy is an Internet-era extension to the domain of privacy. “Data” refers to an ever-growing array of digital records and artifacts. Think of it as all information you generate by using technology, including meta-information like how, when, and where you use it. Also all the information that is generated about you—video recordings of you driving through a toll booth, the scheduling software at your doctor’s office that records your visits, and so on.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in an interview with the Guardian, calls data privacy a human right.

When you use your computer or phone, your data is collected directly and indirectly by software companies, app developers, search engines, service providers, and content providers—among many other interested parties. Other industries (government agencies, hospitals, retail stores, insurance companies, cable companies, etc.) also capture, retain, aggregate, sell, and buy your data using various methods and sources.

Data collection is not new.

Storing and selling information is not new.

What is new is “the scope of data collected, the precision with which the company can associate an action with a customer, and the sheer quantity of information.” – Catherine Tucker, MIT Sloan School²

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”³

Data collection is a business model. The free apps and services we use are often provided by companies whose business is based on ‘monetizing’ information about you: by selling your information directly and/or by knowing who you are and selling access to you to other companies. As more information about you becomes available to enable such a thing, what’s being marketed to you (products, ideas, feelings) will involve increasingly complex psychological methodology. Advertising, that vanguard of behaviorism, and ‘business intelligence,’ which companies now pursue (in the form of data warehousing and analysis) with fanatical exuberance, will together lead the research that probes the extent of data’s power to create profit.

“But I have nothing to hide. . . ”

I’ve heard it a lot, and I’m really interested in this rebuttal. If you feel this way, can you share your perspective in the comments section?

Because I do have something to hide, in a protective sense, and it’s not a criminal act or an embarrassing secret, it’s my “inviolate personality” that wants to reserve the right to be unknown. Unknown to companies trying to sell me stuff. Unknown to governments eavesdropping on everyone. Unknown to a new friend, in a time when a Google search and a curated Facebook timeline rob us of opportunities to actually share ourselves and build trust and empathy.

Privacy is subjective. But in that Stanford article on privacy, Priscilla Regan is quoted, arguing that “Privacy is not only of value to the individual, but also to society in general… Privacy is a common value in that all individuals value some degree of privacy and have some common perceptions about privacy… Privacy is rapidly becoming a collective value in that technology and market forces are making it hard for any one person to have privacy without all persons having a similar minimum level of privacy.”

When thinking about any technology, I’ve learned to consider what could happen with ubiquity and scale. We are increasingly reliant on technology to shape our perception and understanding of reality. The camera eye of a smartphone takes on new significance when ‘everyone’ has a smartphone, billions of optical eyes that can scan and record their surroundings, mapping out an archive of physical space in real time. With tools like GPS and a connection to the internet, and with algorithms and databases of facial and object recognition data, those millions of eyes not only watch and document the world but begin to understand what they’re looking at.

Google is putting considerable resources behind bringing augmented reality devices to the mass market. Here’s a teaser video for their new product, Glass:

Maybe not this product, but this idea is likely to become as ubiquitous as smartphones are now, and more. We now have to ask how expectations of privacy will change, even if you plan to never use one of these devices.

In a recent blog post, Mark Hurst plays the scenario out:

“Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world… The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.”

The buzzphrase right now is ‘big data.’ Do a search for that term and you’ll see hardware and software companies promoting the idea that amassing colossal data sets is “the foundation for creating new levels of business value.” The tech and business trade magazines rhapsodize about how Big Data will affect life and society and industry at every level. I think that’s probably true. A change of such magnitude brings both gains and losses. And though it seems to me that privacy is non-negotiable, that perspective is underrepresented in the conversation about Big Data.

I recently attended a lecture titled “Big Data – and its Dark Side,” which, ostensibly, was a promotional stop on a book tour for a new book, Big Data, retitled with a “Dark Side” to appeal to the audience of the event’s sponsor, the Berkman Center. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say definitively, but the two co-authors seem to represent the idea that massive change is coming, and as long as we’re careful, it’s going to be great. Setting the tone early in the lecture, Kenneth Cukier, who is data editor at The Economist, put up a slide of a preemie cradled in someone’s palm, talked about qualitative studies and letting the data speak, and admonished the audience, “Lest you forget… Big Data saves lives.”

The “dark side” turned out to be the potential for actualizing ‘precognitive’ law enforcement (as depicted in the movie Minority Report), using data to profile future criminals and prosecute crimes before they are committed. Though he didn’t have to tell the audience at a law school, the other presenter, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, repeated how “highly unlikely” this idea is. And while the authors didn’t talk about data-interpretive tools like facial recognition rendering our current concepts of privacy outmoded, they did mention “humility” as necessary for keeping the “evils” of Big Data in check. Which is great, but probably below “shareholders” on most companies’ list of priorities.

During the Q&A, a Harvard Business faculty member, after dismantling the authors’ definition of ‘Big Data’ as something distinct from just ‘data,’ posed what feels like an important question: “What does empiricism crowd out?” What truths are concealed by data points? What perspective is lost understanding the world by mining its information? As advertisers engineer taste, for example, what sum of the human person is disturbed by manipulating its parts?

The data revolution is here, and we’re collectively opted in. This new relationship with data will change how we live, and we will celebrate the changes that benefit humanity. But there is also a dark side, it will show itself in gradually less-subtle ways, and you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the government to legislate the protection of your inviolate personality. It’s a tired-but-true aphorism: knowledge is power. Don’t freely offer power over yourself to companies or governments—do the opposite: resist!

P.S. If you set your Twitter profile to private, the government may not actually be reading your tweets. The HTTPS protocol is commonly used to encrypt internet traffic, and in March, 2012, Twitter began using this protocol as a default for all users. Encryption can be cracked, though. It takes an extremely powerful computer system. Not unlike the ones the NSA keeps building.


1 Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity, [1964] 39 New York U. L.R. 962. (Though I originally found this quote on


  • The Government is Reading Your Tweets : The Lone Pamphleteer × 07.08.13

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Dear Mira,

Your story begins at Christmas, 2010, in an ice skating rink outside of Charlotte, NC. That’s where your grandma Noni asked me when we were planning on starting a family. I inwardly (and probably outwardly) rolled my eyes and told her that we were thinking four or five years. To be funny, Noni gave your mom and I a bunch of baby clothes for Christmas. We laughed, returned them for merchandise credit, and I took it all as a sign of my mother’s baby-crazed empty nest syndrome. In retrospect, call it intuition.

A couple weeks later, your mom and I were walking through the self-checkout line at Stop & Shop with a box of pregnancy tests. Two plus signs told us you were on your way.

We painted the walls in our little condo. We bought new furniture. I took down the posters from the extra room that had been our study, and Grandpa helped us install a big paper light fixture from IKEA. It cast fun shadows on the wall above your crib. Your mom made a chain of black and white paper flowers to hang over your dresser. Our friends and family showered us with more tiny clothes than you could ever possibly wear. We worried. We waited.

You already know that your mom is beautiful, but while you were gestating in her belly, she was extra beautiful. When she was really, really pregnant, we took a trip to Amelia Island, FL, and she wore a bikini. People on the beach came over to tell her she was beautiful. People in the restaurants came over to tell her she was glowing. We sat on the bed of our hotel, eating ice cream and wondering about you.

A week before you were born, a hurricane passed through New England. I was worried the change in air pressure might prompt you to come into the world. Worried because I wasn’t ready. I was working late into the night, I had so many loose ends at my job I needed to tie up before you came. As if by checking every item off my life’s to do list I would be ready to be your dad. I didn’t know yet that the perfection is in the messiness. I was still trying to arrange my days.

The night before you were born, we went to a movie. We saw The Debt, starring Helen Mirren. As we left the theater, your mom told me she was having contractions during the movie. An electric jolt passed through my body. Your mom smiled and the current ran between us as we held hands, walking home across the lawn of the Salem Armory in the cool night air. There was a sublime sparkling reflection off the storefront windows.

Around 5 the next morning, your mom got up. We had gone to a class that told us about the false starts that many pregnancies experience before going into actual labor. I rolled over and tried to drift back to sleep. Soon after, though, I woke to your mom softly saying, I think my water broke.

At 2:41 that day, you were here. When the nurse placed you on your mother’s chest and I saw your little body for the first time, I let out a yelp like a wounded animal. I was crying. You were crying. Your mom was staring at you in quiet amazement. Your pruny hands were flailing around into that new vastness of physical space. I cut the cord that had nourished you from a blueberry-sized, alien-looking mass of tissue to the perfect form of fingers and toes and eyelashes that came into the world. You were, all of a sudden, your own person.

You joined our family on your due date. What a punctual and considerate little girl, I thought. I held you carefully through the joyful procession of visitors in what seemed like a supernaturally long 48 hours. We squeezed together on the hospital bed, a new family, listening to an album by Broken Social Scene called “Feel Good Lost.” That detail seems important to me for some reason. While I conked out on the pull-out chair next to her hospital bed, your mom didn’t sleep at all, holding you through the night. The world had changed. And when we took you home, our concept of home changed, too.

When you’d wake up at 4 in the morning, we would bounce together on a yoga ball, watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. We figured things out together as we went. The days were long—very long—and the months flew by.

You grew a little belly. You learned to sit up. You learned to crawl. We sat on the floor and played with toys. Putting things in and out of boxes, pushing buttons, shaking shaky things, finding leftover Cheerios on the floor.

I’d say, Mira, this is fun. I love hanging out with you. Do you want to walk to the park later?

And you’d say Da da da da da da da da.

And I’d say, Mira, I feel kind of crazy, like the thrilling lightness of your unbridled joy and innocence is always contrasting this weight of love and responsibility.

And you’d look up at me for a second and then back to the smiley face ball in your hand, which you dropped into a plastic cup with a calculated jerk of your arm. Da! Satisfaction on your face when it plunks in successfully.

Great job! I mean it.

Considering you couldn’t talk, I got to know you really well in your first year. For instance, I knew that you LIKED RAISINS A LOT and that you make a tiny noise right before you fall asleep. You and I kind of had a thing, where your face turned into a huge smile when you saw me, and I’d spend all day doing silly things with you because I didn’t want you to stop smiling.

And some days you’d have a complete and utter meltdown, and your mother would say it was because you napped too much. It happens.

You only know the present moment. When you’re teething, it HURTS. And when I think of life from that perspective, even through the frustration and boredom, there’s your smile and a crazy giggle when we play peek-a-boo. I want so badly to learn these things from you.

I am learning that part of parenting is exploring the relationship between love and possession. You are my responsibility but you are not mine. Even now, at 16 months, you’re marching around the house like you own the world, shouting commands at me and all our household objects. Who am I to tell you that you’re wrong? As far as I can tell, you’re not.

Hello, open doors!

1 Comment

  • PG × 01.25.13


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Robag Wruhme - Wuppdeckmischmampflow

1. Robag Wruhme – Wuppdeckmischmampflow

Robag also released a full-length LP of original compositions in 2011, but it was this DJ mix that struck me as easily the most gorgeous piece of music I heard last year. It’s an hour-long, sit-at-home headphones album, masterfully arranged in a continuous effusion of atmospheric minimalism, lush swells, and deep house bangers. Yeah.

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for my Halo

2. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo (Spotify)

Swirling, psychedelic acoustic guitar riffs underneath plaintive lyrical ruminations that trail off into a heroin coma (“Society is my friend / It makes me lie down in a cool bloodbath / Ohh, society / Ohh, yeah” and “I get sick of just about everyone / And I hide in my baby’s arms / Hide in my baby’s arms / ‘Cause except for her / You know, as I’ve implied. . .”)—what’s not to love? Kurt Vile’s slurred, muttering vocal is calm and believable, and his guitar riffs are simple and prodigious. I love singing along to the blissfully downbeat “On Tour”, which starts, “On tour / Lord of the Flies / Aw hey, who cares? / What’s a guitar?” Makes me feel like I’ve been drinking whiskey, bumping across America.

Bright Eyes - The People's Key

3. Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Spotify)

Pitchfork panned this album for being “a wildly spiritual record without any spirit,” claiming that “it doesn’t articulate much at all.” For their strength in waxing omniscient in a structuralist approach to reviewing new music, Pitchfork tends to focus their reviews on ‘the band’ as performance art rather than letting the music speak. In the process, they are prone to missing large swaths of emotional appeal. Don’t be fooled—this is the real, modern American folk music. It’s poppy and synthesized, up-tempo with a low-fi sensibility; the album’s concepts are strung haphazardly-but-coherently together with Conor Oberst’s trademark lyrical acrobatics. The album is rife with spirituality. Bright Eyes pads songs articulating Buddhist, Judeo-Christian, Rastafarian, and pagan traditions with ‘found sound’-style, barely-intelligible ramblings about ‘dimensions’, reptiles, and ‘frequencies’ that resolve beautifully at the end of the album:

“And you say, ‘No, we’re moving on and I hope I see you later where everybody’s okay.’ And that’s the human race. When there’s total enlightenment, there will be peace. The world will be in bliss when there’s total enlightenment. So enlightenment is knowledge—as much knowledge as you can get people to seek and understand, ya know, and it’s mankind. It’s me, it’s you, it’s us that do it. But we have to call it to align. We say, ‘Look, I’m not gonna kick that guy’s ass, that happened ten years ago, I wish him well.’ That’s love, ya know, and compassion. Or, uhh. . . what do you call it? . . . (mercy?) . . . what’s that? . . . (mercy?) . . . mercy.”

There’s no tidy moral in this exploration of humanity, belief, and meaning, though the album’s brilliant closer, “One For You, One For Me”, comes close. It’s a poetic catalog of moral dichotomies that ends, “You and me, you and me / That is an awful lie / It’s I and I.” This album could probably withstand an academic criticism, but the messages about the search for meaning and connection are vividly apparent (and it’s catchy as hell).

Real Estate - Days

4. Real Estate – Days (Spotify)

I love this album through and through. It’s fantastically breezy where the last album was bluesy, and the guitar interplay is such a treat to the ears.

I just saw them in Boston, though, and I was pretty perplexed. Like a question from the comments section of one of their YouTube videos asks, “Why are they all dressed like Stephen King 30 years ago?” They give off a strong vibe, and it’s really tough to tell how serious they are about the band’s image (which is—nerdy and sensitive? Pensive on percocet?). You could hear by how tightly they played that they’ve been touring nonstop since this album came out. At their best, they sounded like a more bluesy, psychedelic version of early Death Cab (early being, of course, the best variety of Death Cab). Check out the song “Municipality” off of this record and see if you can’t hear it. But unlike Death Cab, they didn’t have the punch to pull off their more upbeat songs convincingly. They seemed bored/boring and pretty emotionless during the upbeat songs, which broke me out of my jangly guitar reverie long enough to seriously wonder whether or not the band members are assholes.

Don’t get me wrong—when Real Estate hit a groove (usually while playing songs off their first record, during which the vocalist would really emote), they hit it hard. But when they weren’t in a ballad or a long jam, I felt like I was watching them rehearse. The band relies on texture, and it didn’t help their cause that the mix was nothing like their studio sound. The guitar levels didn’t complement each other, the vocals were way in the front of the mix. . . Now that the band is selling out shows, they can afford to hire a sound tech!

A few songs from this album, “All the Same”, and especially “Out of Tune” came across really well live. “Kinder Blumen”, my favorite track on the album, was pretty good even though the tempo was much faster than the album version. They played a new song that sounded like an indie pop masterpiece. Can’t wait to hear that again. After another year of touring, when they figure out how to translate their studio mood into live acoustics, Real Estate is going to rule their scene.

Destroyer - Kaputt

5. Destroyer – Kaputt (Spotify)

Even though Daniel Bejar is Canadian, this album sounds like everything I hate about New York. It feels seedily sensual, indulgent, pretentious, and, in spite of (because of?) all that, beautiful. This album is hauntingly human. I listened to “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” on repeat until it literally brought me to tears. (That song is about three minutes too long on the tail end, but that’s forgivable in light of the perfect intro.) From the driving bass line on “Chinatown” to the lamenting drones of “Bay of Pigs”, this is incredible music. The album’s one unforgivable stumble: the female background vocals are absolutely terrible!

Washed Out - Within and Without

6. Washed Out – Within and Without (Spotify)

It’s like a baby pops ex utero and immediately throws a dance party for all his baby friends. Womb-like reverb, perpetually-driving snare heartbeat, in awe of the wonder of the world, maybe a little sad because it’s so cold out here. Look at the album title (and cover)—pretty sure I’m on to something.

The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

7. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient (Spotify)

Bob Dylan with a shoegaze aesthetic?

The Radio Dept. - Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010

8. The Radio Dept. – Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 (Spotify)

It’s The Radio Dept., so it’s on my list.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (Spotify)

I can’t believe Bon Iver put out another good album. “For Emma, Forever Ago” is the most emotionally-compelling album I’ve ever heard—I listened daily, on repeat, for at least three months—but it seemed like an anomaly. Justin Vernon can’t really sing, and I wasn’t exactly excited for him to release new music after his rapid rise to stardom and the subsequent weak feature (“Monster”) and thematic sellout (“Lost In The World”) on Kanye’s album. But this is a good album. Maybe not a great album, but it’s really good. I don’t need to write much here because you’ve heard it, and it’s on everyone else’s year-end ‘best of’ lists. A testament, I think, to Vernon’s artistic integrity (I guess, really, who would have said no to Kanye? or a fat check from Bushmills?).

The lyrics are even more fragmented and nonsensical than “For Emma”, and though I like the tone of Vernon’s voice arranged with his beautiful music, I still wish it meant something more direct when he sings, “I could see for miles, miles, miles. . .” on “Holocene”. The mood feels familiar, but I can’t tie it to something meaningful. Reliance on the poetics of lyrical sound can get a little iffy for me when it’s more pattern than variation. So I’m not really sure what Bon Iver is expressing on this album. Meaningful subtlety is great (e.g., to toss an heirloom apple up against a GMO orange, I’d validate Kurt Vile asking, “Aw hey, who cares? / What’s a guitar?” over Lady Gaga’s proclamation, “I’m as free as my hair / I am my hair”), but the metaphors are so fragmented in songs like “Minnesota, WI” that I’m not buying it. Man up on your songwriting, Bon Iver.

There was an 80s vibe moving through some of the critically-acclaimed music of the past couple years. I keep waiting for the circle to really come back around to the early 90s shoegaze/dream pop sound that I like a lot. I spent a good part of 2011 going back to bands like Slowdive, Mazzy Star, The Sundays, My Bloody Valentine, Starflyer 59, and Cocteau Twins, thinking about how nice it would all sound with modern production. Anyone want to start a band?

1 Comment

  • JA × 01.27.12

    Well done. Hey, let’s start that band.

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Do you ever feel burdened by the immensity of knowable things?

Weird way to start a blog, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed thinking about how we can spend our lives studying any subject without ever knowing its fullness—without even grasping the fullness of what’s knowable. That incomprehensible vastness of existence and its innumerable bits of information leads me to search for what is worth knowing.

Worth is a capricious word, but bear with me.

I want to make good choices in life, the kind of choices that increase in personal value with the passing of time. Choices that make good sense for us in the here and now, but that we come to value even more as life goes on—to live slow and die old. It seems that to make good choices, we need some situational knowledge about the decision at hand. But how much and what quality of knowledge is enough to make good decisions? Is there an objective value to having knowledge in the first place?

I don’t know, but I hope you agree that honesty is valuable. I believe honesty wants directness and is more fully understood through context, nuance, and when presented precisely.

Through this blog, I want to explore Western culture honestly. (I think of culture as a collection of human now-ness in time and space.) I am interested in the kind of culture that moves assiduously forward. But forward into what? I really like the Latin word proficiens, which represents an idea from the Stoics.¹ They desired perfection in wisdom and virtue, but finding it arrogant to assume achievement of such status, branded themselves as “in training.” Proficiens means “trying to achieve being wise,” or, more literally, “going places.” I like the definition “making progress.” If we can’t know everything (and of course we can’t), let us at least be found to be making progress. And not with some busy carpe diem New Year’s resolution, but through the intentional dismantling, evisceration, and substantiation of both the mundane and our deepest-held truths.

Will we find that we have, in fact, progressed since the ancients?
(This is also a blog about technology.)

We are far too quick to accept what is handed to us without considering the cost. The advance of human culture and its Frankenstein’s monster, the wires and silicon into which we attempt to imbue our consciousness, shows no restraint. And really, why should it? Responsibility falls down to the smallest spheres of society, ending with the individual, to define value, to make choices, and to preserve a vital, thoughtful sense of beauty.

I’m saying we cannot assume our trajectory is upward. We are not along for a ride; we must not fall asleep watching television or collecting virtual friends, nor stitch our eyes open and charge toward the strobe of cultural ideals, arriving at old age with only a list of accomplishments and objects of status. Even so, there is no pride inherent in asceticism; balance comes through making good choices.

(This is also a blog about less weighty things—e.g. my reflections on being in a negligibly-successful Christian emo band; why Kanye West is a manchild who thoroughly squanders his artistic talent; and, because I sense you are dying for this information, my favorite smoothie recipes—but I wanted to first distinguish myself, for whatever audience arrives here in a stream of clicksciousness, from the glut of pageview-obsessed Internet writing.)

I want to think in words.
I want to cultivate a healthy anxiety about living.
I want to develop my own philosophy of technology.
I want to help orient the personal culture of those around me toward intentionality.
I want to become more teachable, more open to correction, and allow myself to be publicly wrong.

I know that the face value of self-improvement cannot be trusted—it’s a dangerous feedback loop. I want this blog to serve as a public egress for the judgments and ruminations of my inner voice, which tend to be cynical, systematic, and critical. In doing so I hope it sparks a conversation. Maybe we can relieve each other of the burden of knowable things, by sifting out what is valuable to she or he who would live an examined life.


1 Early Stoicism did not allow for a middle ground between vice and virtue, though it was later accepted that the proficiens could progress toward the ideal. Recommended reading (especially passages 16-18): Seneca’s 75th epistle to Lucilius


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