Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Make your own macro lens for any smartphone - for less than $2

I recently came across an idea for how to completely transform the camera in any cell/smartphone from one that can take a picture of $0.16 from this close:

 ...to one that can take a photo of $0.10 from this close:

For the record, this has not been cropped or processed at all - this image is straight off the phone's memory card.

...and the whole thing only costs a handful of dimes.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On racism in Canada

So it's been a while, but here we are again.

Here's a story from CTV news, published today. It's about how the Bank of Canada is redesigning their $100 bill so that the woman at the microscope appears "less Asian" - and it's all because of some racist assholes in a focus group.

Everything about this is nauseating, especially the fact that so many people are bound to disagree with the fact (yes, fact) that anyone who thought she should have been less Asian is racist.

The notion of "neutral ethnicity" is utterly, completely and insultingly garbage. There is no 'neutral ethnicity'. Everyone has it, and it's distinct from those that have a different variety. The idea that this fictitious scientist-woman would better represent Canada if she was less Asian is EXACTLY the same as saying that the only people who should be able to represent Canada are whites. There is NO argument about that.

The attitude demonstrated by the idiots in this focus group, and then dutifully endorsed in the most explicit way by the Bank of Canada, is precisely the one that let Crayola (and others) get away for decades by calling their light-peach-tan colour "flesh tone", and they likely complained pretty hard when it was finally changed.

Can't imagine what the focus groups would say about what Crayola has (awesomely) done to update themselves...

Actually, I probably can imagine...

If there was someone with a single iota of common sense or something that even bore a passing resemblance to even mediocre intelligence at the helm, they would have been able to come up with myriad reasons why they should simply quietly (or better yet, loudly) ignore the room full of mouth-breathing troglodytes that had pointed to the largest bill and wrote down "What's with the Chink?"

But since there obviously isn't someone like that involved here, howsabout we help them out?

"The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin."
- Hey, BoC - Everyone is "a person of a particular ethnic origin." If you mix up "neutrality" with "European origin", go back to 1950s Mississippi.

"The inclusion of an Asian without representing any other ethnicities was seen to be contentious." (Thanks, Quebec)
- Right. You can't have a single person on a banknote - you have to have someone from every single ethnicity out there. (NB: This is me desperately trying not to imagine that this particular suggestion came from someone who somehow expected them to put an obviously Francophone scientist on the note.)

And finally, the cream of the crop (keep in mind, the Bank of Canada not only paid $53,000 to hear from these people - they took all of these opinions into consideration and acted on them...), courtesy some Frederictonian white-power jerk:

"The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn't rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly."
- Let's ignore (for now) the fact that apparently what this person actually wrote was that she didn't "rep Canada", but... seriously?? This is the type of person that you had give opinions on the money to be used across Canada? You take this opinion into account like it "reps Canada"? Like it holds any validity whatsoever? I'll (briefly and grudgingly) acknowledge that the two sentences may have been intended to be separate complaints about the bill's design, with the latter having more to do with the overall impression rather than the person depicted, but it doesn't excuse any of this.

The Bank of Canada should be 100% ashamed of themselves, first for spending money on focus groups for something like this at all, and secondly for not employing a single bit of thought or intelligence in filtering the good suggestions from the racist blatherings of neanderthals.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A question of sovereignty indeed

Yesterday morning, CBC broke featured this story on their news website.

It's written in a classic new-style journalism way (which I'm not really complaining about, by the way) that tends to err towards overstating the case to grab readers before actually fleshing out the story.

Essentially, there's been a new law passed that provides legal coverage for teams of multinational police officers (RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard, to be precise) to operate on either side of the U.S./Canada border on the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River. On our side, the teams will be four RCMP officers and one guy/gal from the Coast Guard, and they'll be on a Canadian boat. On the other side of the water, the numbers are switched. The idea is that if someone's just jumped across the border after committing a crime in one country, they should still be able to be arrested by officers of that country.

This makes a certain level of sense. The extradition process is long and expensive (even if it's comparatively short and cheap when between countries with such close ties as ours) - much more so that simply allowing a U.S. officer to make an arrest on the Canadian side of the river and then hauling the baddie back across.

There are grey areas, of course - according to the article, "common sense" will determine exactly how far inland counts as a "border area" for the purposes of these teams, or whether or not arrests can still be made by the U.S. officers if they're separated from their Canadian counterparts, or how much time can pass between the offense and the arrest (IE if someone is wanted in the U.S. and has been living in downtown Niagara Falls for 10 years?). Relying on "common sense" for the boundaries of a law is... worrying... to say the least.

The article raises the question of sovereignty with this bill - armed agents of another country making arrests in ours? I'll be the first to locate that at the top of a very slippery slope (how about other crimes? What about provisions under new anti-terror laws that include simply protesting against U.S. policies? Can Canadians be arrested for junk like that in Canada? Could we ever? Don't just say "no, obviously not" - what counts as common sense to you may not to anyone else, or anyone else in power, for that matter).

However, here's what really, really gets me about this bill: it proves, once and for all, without a shadow of a doubt, that Stephen Harper and his Conservative government do not care even a little what you think of what they're doing for/to this country. For all their garbage-spewing, "party of the people" nonsense, they just don't care about Canadians enough to even inform them of new laws that they're passing.

When he was in the Reform Party, Steve Harper railed against omnibus bills every chance he got.

Case in point (from 1994, quoted at openparliament.ca):

Second, in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.

He also quotes from 1971 Speaker of the House Lucien Lamoureux on the matter, who hits the nail precisely on the head:

However, where do we stop? Where is the point of no return? The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, and I believe the hon. member for Edmonton West, said that we might reach a point where we would have only one bill, a bill at the start of the session for the improvement of the quality of the life in Canada which would include every single proposed piece of legislation for the session. That would be an omnibus bill with a capital O and a capital B . But would it be acceptable legislation? There must be a point where we can go beyond what is acceptable from a strictly parliamentary standpoint.

Where do we stop, indeed? What, exactly, do cross-border policing provisions have to do with budgetary matters? Nothing. That's the answer. This bill has NOTHING to do with the budget.

So why include it with the budget as part of an omnibus package?

So it'll be passed? Nope. With their house majority, the Tories can pass any bill they like for the next few years, without worry. If they want a bill passed, it will be passed. There's absolutely no question about it, so the success/failure of a separate border-crime bill is not the reason, or even a reason that this bill was incorporated into the budget omnibus.

So that's two potential reasons down (to recap: 1) that it has something pertinent to do with the budget, and 2) so that it'll have a better chance of actually becoming law).

The only remaining one (and I'd love to be shown a different possibility here) is so that the government doesn't have to actually talk about it.

Not, as I've mentioned before, that talking about it would mean that it wouldn't be passed. With three years left in their majority, it's not even as though talking about it would necessarily have any impact on their election chances next time around (what with people having such woefully short memories about these things). It's just a straight-up case of them not thinking that it's worth telling Canadians what new laws they're putting in place.

This goes beyond the (already infuriating) railroading of bills through the Commons, the blatant snubbing of any sort of proper debate procedure, the various scandals, the over-spending on stupid jets, the (very) historic instance where they were found to be in contempt of Parliament. It goes beyond all of that, because what this says is that this government thinks of itself as supreme.

Since he took power, even at the helm of a minority, the image of "King Harper" has been a popular one with pundits and political cartoonists, to the point where it's come dangerously close to cliche to actually point something like this out. And that's a shame, because it turns out, they were all right.

When a government specifically chooses not to even perform cursory communication to the people that it governs about new laws it's passing, it has completely lost touch with who exactly it is meant to work for. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The long road to the low road...

So the following is taken directly from the hansard from Question Period on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, June 5.

Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, Ind.):
    Madam Speaker, there are many Canadians who do not understand the difference between science and technology. There are profound differences. I have no doubt that our government and the minister understand and support technology but I wonder if they really understand and support science.
    I have a broad question for the minister. Does he really believe in science and the implications of scientific inquiry? I have a more specific question that will put a fine point on it. There is a vast bunch of science out there that says that life was created on this planet three to four billion years ago, and there are other theories. Does the minister believe that life was created on this planet through evolution three to four billion years ago or does he subscribe to a different theory?

Hon. Gary Goodyear (Minister of Science and Technology):
    Madam Speaker, what I would recommend to the hon. member is that when he tightens that towel around his neck at nighttime that he not do it for more than 20 seconds. It actually ends up causing cerebral anoxia that leaves permanent brain damage.
    What I can say is that we obviously support basic research all the way through to applied research. In fact, we are looking at particle accelerators that can create the next generation of medical isotopes. We are working on the CERN project, which is the Large Hadron Collider where we are trying to smash together protons. In Canada, we are investing in i basic research for the pipeline of the future and applying it so that we can create jobs today.
    The question is this: Will that member support this budget or reject it like he always has?

Now, for those who haven't spent a lot of time watching Question Period on CPAC or catching up on it occasionally via the hansard (you are definitely excused, although I think it's an important thing for people to do, just to get a glimpse at what kind of people are actually "running" this country on your behalf...), QP is not a forum for debate - at all. It's a rapid-fire exercise in soap-box politics, where opposition MPs/leaders try to score cheap, quick, non sequitur political points by throwing zingers at whatever government minister/MP is in the hot seat (or sometimes, more rarely, actually put an on-topic and relevant question to them) and the government MP/minister in question dodges it (regardless of whether it was on-topic or not) and then uses the opportunity to rehash some piece or other of the party's talking point list.

It's a time-honoured tradition that nobody really knows why we still even need, since it really doesn't do anything, and it certainly doesn't actually contribute to any legislative process whatsoever.

However, normally it remains in the realm of the comic and absurd, yet harmless and benign.

Every now and then, though, a line is crossed. The last time anyone noticed this line-crossing, you may recall, is when Justin Trudeau called federal Environment Minister Peter Kent a piece of shit for chastising opposition MPs for not attending an international climate conference that they were basically barred from attending. Headlines were written, scandal abounded, and formal apologies were issued by Trudeau.

I would love to see if anything even close to that comes out of this one, but I doubt it will. Let's take a look at what's actually going on here, shall we?

First of all, we've got one of the cheap-political-point-non-sequitur kind of questions, but at least it's relevant to the minister to whom it's addressed. Hyer asks Goodyear if he believes in evolution, and gives credence and credit to the science half of his portfolio, as much as he obviously does to the "technology" half. Not a great question, but fairly direct, and decently civil (even if it is obviously pot-stirring...).

Unsurprisingly, Goodyear doesn't answer the question at all.

What is surprising, however, is just how low he goes when not answering it.

Let's actually recap this in his own words:

Madam Speaker, what I would recommend to the hon. member is that when he tightens that towel around his neck at nighttime that he not do it for more than 20 seconds. It actually ends up causing cerebral anoxia that leaves permanent brain damage.

Really, Gary? As cabinet minister in the Government of Canada, you think this is somehow an okay way to respond to a colleague in Parliament, even in QP?

First off, he essentially makes a joke about brain damage, and how Hyer has it. For asking him a question. During Question Period. This, right here, ought to be enough to land him on as many headlines as Trudeau occupied after the Kent incident. Already we're in the territory of childish, petty and insulting.

But then we look a bit closer... "when he tightens the towel around his neck..."


He can't have really said that.

Here's the thing: I've been kicking around the Internet for some time now. It's ruined me in a lot of ways. I've seen things that people ought not to see, and I'm at least vaguely familiar with things that most people ought not to be even vaguely familiar with.  This is why I can't be absolutely sure that I'm write about this (I can, however, be absolutely sure that Goodyear will come up with some completely implausible alternate explanation for it, if need be...), but I can't think of any other possible meaning behind this other than Goodyear actually making some sort of insinuation about autoerotic asphyxiation.

Maybe there's some other explanation, though... maybe Goodyear showers at night and dries his neck off by tightly wrapping a towel around it so hard that it cuts off blood to his brain and air from his lungs. Maybe he's "just" making a joke about Hyer toying with suicide. Maybe... I can't think of anything else he could possibly mean...

This is what political discourse has come to in our country, apparently. A question can actually elicit a response involving AEA and brain damage, and nothing really registers anywhere on the media/political spectrum.

Setting aside for the moment that Goodyear could just as easily have assuaged some people's worries that he only cares about tech and not about science by saying that he does, even if he doesn't believe in evolution, and setting aside the strongly plausible assumption that because he didn't even bother trying to assuage those worries, it's a half-decent bet that the Minister of Science and Technology doesn't actually care too much about science at all, this is just bafflingly, insanely offensive blather from... well, anyone in any workplace, let alone a public official in Parliament, in session, on record.

It really seems at times that not a day goes by when I don't lose another chunk of pride in this country...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A highest possible recommendation

I've got a (first world) problem...

It's true. After a few years of dedicated effort to keeping up with new album releases from bands both familiar and brand new, I'm now stuck on a four-song rotation, and it's all the fault of one five-piece multinational folk-rock outfit called The Primary.

Back in May, the band released their debut EP - a four-song, all-original offering entitled Beneath the Tide, and if first impressions are the most important (hint: they are) then this is a band to look for in the future. Reminiscent of The Decemberists or Mumford and Sons, but with a unique style that makes their sound their own, the EP is instantly familiar - catchy, without being annoyingly ear-wormish.

Part of the freshness of the sound may be in the band's very composition, with members hailing from both sides of the Atlantic.

Chief songwriter Jon Lennon (yes, really) brings an Irish style to his lead vocals and acoustic guitar work, while lead guitarist Tony Boyd hails from the music-soaked city of Glasgow, Scotland. On bass is Florida native Bob Massicotte, who brings a combination of swampy FLA style and the technical experience of a professional orchestra director.

The remaining members are themselves case studies in multiculturalism. Rounding out the rhythm section is Matteo Cinnani, with roots in Italy and Colombia, currently calling Canada his home and native land. The band's lone female member,  Camila Ugarte, also calls Canada home now, but is Chilean by origin. In addition to shouldering the burden of being the band's feminine side, she also lends backup vocals and adds an unmistakable flavour to the band through the strings of her cello.

Based in Cheongju, South Korea, the band has been playing shows to rave reviews for some time, and their schedule is getting busier by the second. Already written up in several well-known ROK publications (including the Korea Herald and the Korea Times), tour dates are booking quick, with gigs scheduled for Seoul, Cheonan, Ochang, Daejon as well as a home-town show or two in Cheongju. In September, the band will grace the main stage at the International Sori Festival in Jeonju.

One can only hope that a few international tour dates crop up some time in the future.

Download the album (it's pay-what-you-want, including an entirely agreeable option of $0 - but let's throw them some cash anyway, shall we?) at their website, www.the-primary.com, and then be sure to keep up with updates on Facebook and Twitter to hear of new releases, videos and (fingers crossed) more tour dates as they're added.

Oh, and for a bit of an intro, watch this video:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An open letter to Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper

So here's an editorial piece on the issue that has spawned this rather spontaneous episode of blog-dusting-off:

Picard is pretty on the money with his thoughts on the issue, but I'm not really writing about his article, but about the issue in general. Let's say I've been inspired by his piece, although I haven't finished reading it yet...

And so, without further ado, my open letter to Kenney and Harper.


Dear Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Thanks for continuing to do your damnedest to turn Canada into a xenophobic, heartless, douchebag-ic wasteland. I first heard about this on The Current the other day, and it's truly depressing that this crap is continuing to happen.

The quote that I heard Kenney spew out of his face-hole when asked why these things were necessary was that the government had been hearing from lots of Canadians that they were tired of paying for healthcare for refugees that they don't receive themselves.

Apart from the fact that you could almost hear the air quotes he was putting around the word "refugees" when he said it, I'd like to meet or hear from those Canadians myself - those who know little enough about refugees to assume that most of them are actually wealthy/wealthy-ish immigrants who are cleverly pretending to be poor/mistreated/abused/at-risk in order to move into our country and occupy a precious place at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, but know enough about the refugee system to know what kind of healthcare they were getting.

I'd also like to have a chat with them about a medical appointment my son had today. They "paid for it" but they didn't receive it, because presumably they didn't need a neo-natal ultrasound this morning. Should they therefore call the government to complain? Maybe I'm just gaming the system and shouldn't take so much advantage of their generosity.

Everything about this is contrary to just about everything I like most about Canada, and like so many more of the actions taken by this stupid, fear-mongering government, it's taking those things and telling the world that Canada's not like that at all after all - that we're just as closed-minded, stingy, selfish, suspicious and xenophobic as the worst of our American policy-making neighbours.

You got voted in by a little more than a third of Canadian voters (who turned up, that is - which was only 61.4 per cent of those who could have possibly voted) - stop bandying around like you have this supreme mandate from the masses, or that you could possibly know what "most Canadians" think.

In fact, even if you started using the word "most" when you touted your drivel about what "Canadians" want, it'd be an improvement, regardless of how grotesque a twisting of the facts it would be, which gives you an idea of how misguided your current practices really are. Just stop pretending that there are people banging down your doors begging you to advance their hateful and malevolent agendas toward foreigners.

Stop pretending that it's some average Canadian who wouldn't blink an eye before denying an epileptic teenager from Iran, Mali or El Salvador access to therapeutic and preventative medication "unless they could pay for it".

Stop pretending that you've had letters and phone calls from Canadians who found it really unbearable that an unidentifiably miniscule portion of their federal taxes went to giving an elderly Ghanaian man a pair of prescription eyeglasses or checking a Sri Lankan toddler for TB.

Just stop.


A Canadian.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Wikipedia List of the Week: Cognitive Biases

In honour of the recent amazing display of "but when I do it, it's cute!" on the international stage by the American government, I am proud to present a brand new, theoretically regular, feature at Bewifed and Childrenised: The Wikipedia List of the Week!


This week's list is, as I've said, inspired by the amazing display of, let's be fair - governments in general, to condemn those actions in others that are perfectly acceptable, and even laudable, when they do it themselves: List of Cognitive Biases

Here's a fun game: depress yourself by finding all of the things that you can specifically remember falling prey to in, say, the last week. It's a little sad.

Of Pots and Kettles

The U.S. government is harping hard (along with others, of course) on Russia and China for their recent veto of a UN resolution condemning Syria's oppressive violence.

Just about everything about this veto sucks, particularly considering the ongoing nature of the violence against everyday Syrians by the government and military, and the fact that even the rest of the Arab world is completely against the violence and oppression.

However, it's a tough thing to be in a position where morals and ethics demand that you condemn someone else's actions, but your own history makes you a somewhat more pot-calling-kettle judge in the matter, like the U.S.A.'s own history of vetoing otherwise completely appropriate and morally upright resolutions.

Luckily (I guess...) the American government has had a long and storied history of condemning in others the actions that are "perfectly acceptable" when motivated by their own interests, so they're having a field day with this veto by Russia and China.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What? Wait.. oh, it's WHAT?

I've never felt a more sudden, or impactful, emotional roller coaster (at least not one that was directly influenced by a video on YouTube) like the one that followed my first five viewings of this clip:

If you must know, I've watched 3:30 seconds of this ten-second clip so far, and it'll only get worse as the night rolls on.

Apparently, it's just a teaser trailer for a Super Bowl commercial, but if that Super Bowl commercial turns out to be a teaser trailer to a sequel of my single most beloved movie of all time, I have no idea what I'm going to do...

It won't be pretty, though. The battling forces of my desire to experience even a modicum of what the original offered me and my surprisingly paternal sense of protectionism of all that it represented might tear a hole in something. Something important.

Incidentally, if you watched that clip and had no idea what was going on, there's a small chance that we could still be friends, but it's going to take a lot of work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The best of 2011 - #1!!

Man... I don't even care that 2011 has been over for 22 days already, last year's best album of the year is still the best album of the year, even this year.

#1 - The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup!

The Aquabats, for the uninitiated, are international (and some would say intergalactic) superheroes, bent on ridding the world of buzzkills and bullies, once and for all. I once heard them described as "The undisputed champions of nerd-core" and that fits pretty well, so I'm going to steal it. I'm also not going to give credit where it's due, because I have absolutely no idea where I heard it. For all I know, I made it up, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give me credit for using something I made up.

I'm getting off-track.

I feel like I should give some background on these guys, though, since I can't help but notice that this album utterly failed to make any top 10, 20, or even 50, list that I saw for 2011, and that leads me to believe that just not enough people know about the Aquabats, otherwise they would have heard the record and rejoiced that their ears had been blessed with such awesomeness.

I first discovered the Aquabats when I was in high school, shortly after their debut record, Return of the Aquabats! dropped back in 1996. At the time, they were a ska band, had a hopping horn section and were recording songs like Lobster Bucket!, which I stumbled upon (looooong before there needed to be capitals on those two words) on some lyrics website while I should have been studying in the school library.

From there, they gained some fame in California for being so damned awesome, recruited one Travis Barker to play drums for them (who would later be snatched up while they were opening for Blink-182 on tour in '98) and recorded/released Fury of the Aquabats! in 1997.

1999's Aquabats vs. the Floating Eye of Death! was the start of a different sound for the 'Bats, moving slightly away from ska and more in line with the band's musical heroes, Devo.

Then came a time known as the Dark Ages for Aquabats fans. Things were looking grim. The 'Bats were dropped from labels because their stage shows (which featured constant eclectic/esoteric video presentations and guest appearances by the most nefarious villains and aliens in the universe) became too expensive, and they were basically in the doldrums of a several-year recording hiatus.

Then in 2005, Charge!! was released and new life was breathed into the band. They got back into touring more heavily, much to everyone's relief, and were back as a band for the time being. They had more or less lost their ska sound when Prince Adam (the band's remaining trumpet player) left, and transitioned into a more synth-heavy new-new-wave pop-punk thing.

Anyway, they're awesome, and they've always been awesome.

This record is, as you may guess from its eminent position atop my top 10, is no exception. It's got pretty much everything that The Aquabats have always provided fans: great stories, incredibly catchy tunes, danceable tracks and just incredible musicianship. It may sometimes get lost in the theatre of what they do, but the Aquabats are a group of ridiculously talented musicians, and it definitely shows in this offering, from the complex rhythms of The Legend is True! and Food Fight on the Moon! to the pop-reference-laden Pink Pants! and Radio Down!

Listen and love, and if you do, for the love of everything you hold dear, SEE THESE MEN IN CONCERT! It will be unlike anything you've ever experienced, and you will be changed for the better.

Here are a few tunes from Hi-Five Soup! to get you started:

The Legend is True!:

Hey Homies!:

Radio Down! (featuring Biz Markie):

And, as a special something, a blast from the past! From 1997's Fury of the Aquabats!, I present, Super Rad!: (Watch at around 1:28 for a still-tattoo-less Travis Barker, and later in costume on the snare)

You're welcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The best of 2011 - #2

Sorry for the delay, but here we are: the penultimate album of last year, and although 2011 is rapidly receding into the mists of the past, this album will be in heavy rotation on my iPod for quite some time, and I doubt very much that I'm alone in that.

 #2 - Robbie Robertson - How to Become Clairvoyant

Robbie Roberson has been producing (in every sense of the word) amazing music for decades, from the classic hits with The Band to his impressive solo repertoire, and he's clearly not nearly done yet.
How to Become Clairvoyant ranges from the spiritual exploration of Straight Down the Line to the melancholy wistfulness of the title track to the nostalgic poignancy of an aging (aged?) hippy, which teeters on the edge of outright despair, in When the Night was Young.
Throughout all, Robertson sprinkles the prefect lick, riff and harmony in exactly the right spot, as only he can. 

The other thing amazing thing about this album is the number of musicians that appear alongside Robertson on many of the tracks. When you can attract names like Eric Clapton, Tom Morello, Steve Winwood and Trent Reznor, it's pretty clear how respected, and inter-generational, your music is.

Not that Robertson is new to collaborations, obviously, but he doesn't just rehash what's been done before, either in terms of his musical partners (although who wouldn't want to hear another track backed by Peter Gabriel?) or in terms of the music itself.

There's a general style and feel to Clairvoyant that harkens back to his amazing 1987 solo debut, but does it in a way that makes both albums feel new, rather than aging this one.

It's awesome. Listen to it. All of it. Over and over again.

Possible my favourite (in a really, really tight race) track on the album – Straight Down the Line:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The best of 2011 - #3

So here we are - the illustrious top three albums of last year.

Without further ado:

#3 - Bruce Cockburn - Small Source of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn is an interesting case of someone with incredible musical talent, an unparalleled gift for lyric, and a drive so prolific that a petty, squabbling thing like a lack of mainstream success could hardly stand in the way of an enduring career spanning more than four decades and producing 24 studio albums and another dozen live and compilation albums.

Live in concert, Cockburn is a virtuoso. I got to see Bruce live at Convocation Hall in Toronto loads of years ago, and he remains one of the few people that could so easily captivate an audience of hundreds for hours by himself with only a spotlight and a guitar.

Small Source of Comfort is an amazing album, and a good snapshot of Bruce's music. Ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to the spiritual to the political and back again.

Called Me Back is a snapshot into a simple train of thought after an irritating snub by a friend. Each One Lost should be played at every since Remembrance Day ceremony from now on - I've not heard a tribute for fallen soldiers like it.

Listening through, you get simple plucked guitar and complex rhythm and instrumentation, and - particularly in Call Me Rose, which I picked as the standout track - his tribute prodigious gift for starting songs with non sequitors that make even the most casual or unphasable listener stand up and pay attention.

Observer, and then get thee to some speakers to listen to the rest of the album.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The best of 2011 - #4-5

Here we go - breaking into the top 5.

In the last few weeks, I've heard several people who normally are pretty bang-on about these things say that 2011 was something of a dismal year for music, but I can't see how that's even possible, unless the requirement for a good year in music is for Arcade Fire to release an album, or for Nickelback to not release one...

Either way, it was awesome, and my top 10 are so close together in general that even as I'm posting these I'm still shuffling them around as we speak.

But as we get closer I'm just running out of albums. I've got five left, so I guess I'm on to the top five with not a ton of wiggle room.

#5 - The Decemberists - The King is Dead

See... this is what I'm talking about. Until I started writing the second portion of this post, The King Is Dead was number three on my list. Now it's number five, because as stupendous as it is, it just can't go ahead of #4, and I couldn't bear to put it ahead of what is now number three... or maybe number two... but I digress. Back to The Decemberists.

This was a *really* early addition to 2011's catalogue, released just about an entire year ago now, and it's so good, so satisfying and so easy to listen to that it feels like it's been around a lot longer than that.

As a big, big fan of words, I can't help but admire Colin Meloy's wordsmithery when it comes to some of the phrases involved in this album's songs. He's able to be folksy without being dumbed down, but is at the same time able to keep the words elevated without resorting to pomposity.

Unlike me, apparently.

Anyway, since The Decemberists were really not on my radar at all before the release of this album, I haven't got a lot of history with them, or much insight into where/how The King Is Dead fits in with the rest of their discography, but I can say that they've won themselves a new fan. Hard.

#4 - Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What

Every now and then I stand in awe of people who can just blatantly fly in the face of the idea that everyone has a somehow limited amount of excellence in them. Then 2011 rolls around and Paul Simon of all people releases a brand new album.

People who have been writing worldwide hits and inspirational examples of musical brilliance for very nearly a half-century really ought to have run out of awesome by now, but apparently it's just most of them that do that. This guy, on the other hand, apparently has loads of awesome left over for the world to enjoy.

This album, in addition to being an example of Simon's enduring mastery of songwriting, is a more spiritual exploration than is usual for him. While there are hints and allusions to his previous work (the "bomb in the marketplace" reference in Love is Eternal Sacred Light tying back to Graceland's Boy in the Bubble nicely) the overall tone is much more pensive, personal and introspective.

It's not a complete departure, though, and still has musical echoes of the African percussive/rhythmic elements that made Graceland such a groundbreaking venture. That's where Dazzling Blue comes in, the track that I thought would be the best choice for a standout example song, although you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't give serious attention to the entire album, particularly The Afterlife and Waiting for Christmas Day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The best of 2011 - #6-7

The saga continues with my entirely-unasked-for top 10 albums of 2011.

#7 - Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2

After the mind blowingly rad preview video featuring Will Farrell, Jack Black, Elijah Wood, etc, it was hard not to be at least a little deflated on the first couple of listens, but after the initial rebound from the overhype, things have settled in nicely for HSCP2.

Who would have guessed that three white Jewish boys who started out as an unremarkable NYC punk band would end up becoming one of the most influential, enduring and important hip hop acts ever?

I think what I like about this album the most is how hard the Beasties make you work, consistently, to get into one of their new offerings. Each album is different in a way you likely wouldn't have expected.

Take their previous three albums:
  • Hello Nasty (1998) - Sci-fi inspired, electronically laced, and awesome.
  • To The 5 Boroughs (2004) - Simpler arrangements, less production and awesome.
  • The Mix-Up (2007) - This is an instrumental album from a rap group. Yup. You heard me.

Which brings us to HSCP2, with its heavy voice effects, noisy layering and driving percussion all over the place, it's a new step, and one that maybe only the Beastie Boys could pull off with this much chutzpah.

#6 - The Black Keys - El Camino

After the atom bomb of rock that was Brothers, it was up in the air whether people would still be too wrapped up in it to give El Camino the attention it so richly deserves, and although critics have taken to it like Mayans to human sacrifice (too soon?), a lot of people aren't ready to bump Brothers from its heavy rotation spot just yet.

But they should. Once again, The Black Keys prove that you don't need the bells and whistles of rock production, a huge mini-orchestra (I'm looking at you, highly overrated Arcade Fire), or a crippling reliance on exhausted, recycled, cliched rock riffs and lyrics (you know who you are, Theory of a Nickel Creed bands) to make it in music today.

The imagined conversation that must have happened somewhere along the line in the youths of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney:

"You: learn guitar. You: learn drums. Good. Now, make something that nobody will ever want to stop listening do."

And then they did. Twice.