In Which We Listen to Girly Music

Amy Winehouse resurrects an old blues-pop sound with Back to Black (a reference to AC/DC’s disco-defying disc?), and she does it with plenty of attitude and back-alley bombast, prompting her American label to plaster her record with a parental-laziness sticker. Despite the fun showmanship and modernization of a great retro sound, Back to Black falls largely flat, not because it is a poor imitation of an old style, but because an imitation is all it is. With the notable exception of the title track (which is truly fantastic), Miss Winehouse’s record is mostly forget-able. Once the fun of “Rehab” has worn off, Back to Black fades away, and nothing sticks. Musically it is a refurbishment of the classic Motown hit-machine: Pleasant party music, but only the one track stands out as something that will be worth having once the novelty has faded. That said, the concept is appealing to me, and I am cautiously anticipating her next record. Given the nature of her music, I would definitely check out Miss Winehouse’s live show, despite the weakness of her record.

Lilly Allen, on the other hand, has dropped a powerful album with Alright, Still. It is pop in the best sense of the word. Despite also earning a “parental-advisory” sticker (for being British), Allen’s major label debut is spectacularly catchy and fun. Unlike most dance-pop, Alright, Still holds your attention and maintains momentum even after multiple listens. It is by turns effervescent, angry, manic, introspective, and silly, and only slides into Euro-pop cliche once (“Take What You Take”). Check out her myspace and give her a listen. After all, that is how the majors found her.

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In Which We’ve been Reading, Mostly

As Led Zeppelin so aptly put it, “It’s been a long time.” We’ve been basking in the glory of not having a schedule and so forth.

1. We got our annual ACCS conference on 2 weeks ago. Plenty of good stuff was flung about, and we were edified like nobody’s business. Particularly by Doug Jones, about whose talks we will have more to say at a later date. While at said conference, we used up a chunk of our book allowance on the following:

Small is Still Beautiful, by Joseph Pearce (link on the sidebar).

The Violent Bear it Away, by Flannery O’Connor.

What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copeland.

Art for God’s Sake, by Philip Graham Ryken (son of Leland Ryken).

2. We also finished a number of books this past week. Here’s the 12 peso version of our thoughts:

Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. Fun, light reading, though not as good as High Fidelity. As with How to be Good, Hornby is very strong in his characterizations and incidental commentary about the human condition. However, when it comes time to conclude the book, to comment on the transcendant, Hornby isn’t sure what to do. in How to be Good, he tried to pull off a lame conclusion that didn’t stick (much like Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Ray). In Long Way Down, Hornby wisely walked away without any commentary at the end. It makes for a weak ending, but it’s better for a song to fade out on a repeating chorus than to suddenly end with whoopee-cushion noise.

My Antonia by Willa Cather. Great writing and characterization, though her understanding of men is imperfect, and one is occasionally pulled out of the story by her oddly feminine descriptions of male thoughts. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, if a little maudlin at times, story of the American midwest in the early part of the 20th century. Not the great American novel, but one could spend a few summer hours less productively.

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac. Mercifully short. Kerouac is pretensious and tedious, with a few momments of glorious luminosity. A gifted writer with little discipline.

Art for God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken. Not as good as I had thought it would be, having a piece by Mokato Fujimura on the cover. Should have listened to LaVar Burton. Not a terrible book, but very simplistic and a little too reliant on Beauty theology for my taste. As a scholarly book, this is weak. However, Mr. Ryken is a pastor first, which makes me suspect that the goal of this book was to speak to the average Christian in the congregation who doesn’t think that art is a legitimate profession, and that we as Christians don’t really need to waste our time understanding art. For that person, this is a fine start. For me; well, it has a beautiful cover.

3. Further, we are beginning some books, most notably Ulysses by James Joyce. We are simultaneously reading Homer’s Odyssey in the hopes of having a clue about what is going on.

4. We have no idea why we are using the first person plural to refer to ourselves. But it’s not going to stop.

5. Here are some music updates, for those who care.

The Smashing Pumpkins come out with a new album on the 10th of July. The singles and the buzz sound promising. As do the set lists from their recent shows. Start looking for tickets now. The best band of the 90’s is back.

Silverchair has a new record out called Young Modern, and it is worth a listen. It is produced by Nick Launay, mixed by David Bottril (I Mother Earth, Muse, Tool) and the orchestral arrangements are written by Van Dyke Parks (The Beach Boys, U2) who also did the arrangements on Silverchair’s 2002 magnum opus Diorama (if you don’t own that record, you are a philistine). Though frontman Daniel Johns still has some work to do as a lyricist, his song-writing keeps getting better and better. Young Modern is expansive, experimental pop-rock at its best. You can listen to the record here.

Post Stardom Depression is a band from Seattle that has been giving our buddy Casey’s band The Magic Mirrors a helping hand. If you are into straightforward hard rock ala Alice in Chains, check them out.

6. Doug Jones is our hero, and he recently preached a semi-controversial sermon at Christ Church in Moscow, ID. Extremely important for Christians who want to understand modern America and especially the so-called “war on terror” from a Biblical perspective. Click on the Christ Church link, go to “sermons/lectures”, then 6/17/2007 “Whose Freedom are You?”. It is worth the time it takes to listen.

7. We catalogued our books. Nearing a thousand. We’ll be buying a storage unit soon. “Gurulib.com” is a great service. And Free.