Weekend Recap: Beatles / Murakami / RDR2

Re: the new 2018 stereo remix of The White Album

It’s never been my favorite Beatles album.  Lots of great songs on it – especially from Lennon, which I’ll get to later on – but there’s also a fair amount of stuff I tend to skip over.  Even though my first exposure to the White Album was at summer camp at least 30 years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve listened to “Good Night” all the way through, and that’s because I also can’t physically sit through Revolution 9 without getting anxious.

I feel compelled to back up for a second and give some context here.  Feel free to skip this little mini-bio, though it’ll hopefully explain where I’m coming from.

I am a Beatles nerd, though I would never in a million years consider myself an expert.  (At some point I need to get my hands on one of those coffee-table books that detail every single recording session, because there’s tons of fun trivia in there that I still don’t know about.)  I am a devoted fan of everything from Rubber Soul onward, and my favorite album at any given moment is either Revolver or Abbey Road.  When the stereo (and mono) CDs came out on 9/9/09, I took the following day off from work and binged.  (Also played a fair amount of Beatles Rock Band, I believe.)  I took a deep dive into those new releases with my kick-ass headphones and suddenly heard a ton of stuff I’d never noticed before.  And while my ultimate ranking of albums didn’t end up changing all that much, I did gain new appreciation for pretty much everything.   (Also, for whatever it’s worth, I found that the mono remixes were far better than the stereo remixes, if only because the stereo remixes were still very much hard-panned, making them distracting to listen to over headphones.)

I’m a nerd also in the sense that I tend to approach their albums with this weird sense of reverence, as if the albums were sacred texts meant to be studied, as if they were caverns of knowledge in which I have to entomb myself inside.  I never just pop on a Beatles album; I isolate myself from the rest of the world, put on serious headphones, and dive very, very deep.

Anyway, these new 5.1 surround-sound stereo mixes are something else entirely, and I adore them because they sound like what my memory of Beatles songs sound like – they are suddenly and quite vividly three-dimensional.  In the same way that “Getting Better” on the new “Sgt Pepper” suddenly sounded extraordinary, I have to give props to the new mix of “Birthday”, which is a song that I normally skip over at every opportunity, because it is dumb as hell.  In this new mix, however, it fucking rocks the fuck out.  Do yourself a favor and listen to what happens after the drum break following the first verse:  the gigantic E chord that comes in after that break sounds absolutely enormous.   (Hell, go back and A/B the old stereo mix with this new one, too:  it’s still a completely different animal.)  It’s the sort of jaw-dropping sound where you can just tell that the engineers went “holy shit, that sounds AMAZING” when they played it back.  And the whole album sounds like that.

My favorite Beatle has always been Paul, even though – or perhaps because – he is a cheeseball who writes extraordinarily beautiful melodies.  The Beatle that I feel the closest kinship with is George, because he – like me, when I was in bands in college – was the youngest, and while he was an incredible songwriter in his own right, it’s awfully hard to fight for album space when you’re competing with Lennon/McCartney (and this is also how I felt trying to write songs for those bands back in the day).  This being said, I’d also have to say that the White Album contains the best overall collection of Lennon-penned songs.  I mean, yes, “I Am The Walrus” is probably my favorite John song in the whole catalog, followed very closely by “Come Together”, but it’s hard to beat “Dear Prudence”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Yer Blues”, “I’m So Tired”, “Julia”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…” in terms of sheer consistency.

I have not yet given the bonus material enough passes to offer any definitive statement on them, beyond that they sound fantastic and they’re super-fun for someone like me, who likes to hear how these “sacred texts” originally formed and evolved.  (As an example, they include Paul noodling around and then finding that little “Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From” thing that follows “Cry Baby Cry”.)

I can only hope that they go back and give this deluxe stereo treatment to everything else.  Especially Revolver, because holy shit I can only imagine what “Tomorrow Never Knows” will sound like.

Re: Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

I used to be a huge Murakami fan, and then “1Q84” came out and disappointed me so much that I started to reconsider if I actually liked the stuff I used to like.  I didn’t know if it was the translation that was off, or if it was the actual text, but it felt like a thousand pages of nonsense, interspersed with surprisingly and shockingly juvenile attempts at erotic writing.  I have continued to buy his stuff but I very rarely feel motivated to give it a proper go.  That said, I have this enormous backlog and I feel obligated to get through it, and I’d heard enough positive things about KC that I figured it was finally time to give it a shot.  And, well, I’m not yet finished with it, but what I’ve read thus far has been excellent.  I’ve come to realize that part of what annoys me about Murakami is how utterly passive his main characters are; everything happens to them, they never go out and make any decisions on their own.  That still happens here, to a certain extent, but at least it’s justified by what’s happened to the main character before the book begins; without spoiling anything, his passivity makes a bit more sense.  I don’t know if it will stick the landing, but then again, in a book this surreal it’s hard to say what the ending should be.  To put it another way, I’m still invested in what’s happening and I’m willing to see it through the end.

Re: Red Dead Redemption 2

I have some complicated feelings about RDR2, the long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  On the one hand, quite a lot of it is incredibly tedious, and when compared to other open-world games that the original inspired (i.e. The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Origins / Odyssey), it feels almost antiquated in terms of quality-of-life stuff.  On the other hand, it is staggeringly beautiful and almost begs you to play it while “in character”; the slow pace and tedium is a deliberate choice by the designers to make you feel like you are inhabiting the actual persona of Arthur Morgan.

And, of course, on the third hand is the knowledge that this game was built under extreme crunch conditions for quite a lot of its staff, and there’s a guilt that accompanies my purchase, because my purchase equals acceptance of harsh working conditions.  It also doesn’t help that all that extra work is absolutely shown on screen.  The attention to detail in this game is simply extraordinary.

I’m still somewhere in Chapter 3, which means I’ve got at least another 40 hours left to go.  I’m sure there’ll be a few quality-of-life patches between now and then, too, which may address some of the weird bugs and glitches (not that there’s been a lot, mind you, but there’s certainly a fair share).  So I’m not quite ready to get into how I’m feeling about it, especially since I’m still figuring that part out.

But I will say that it’s engrossing and beautiful and overwhelming, and in these troubled times we’re living in, it is very much what I need right now.

Moody in Manhattan

Serious, heavy-duty case of the Mondays going on here.  I came this close to taking a mental health day, except my son was also having a serious heavy-duty case of the Mondays, and if I can’t set a good example for him, then what am I even doing being a parent?  So here I am, twitchy and over-caffeinated, just trying to make it through the day, one endless hour at a time.

I have a bunch of random, scattered thoughts littering my head this morning, so, look out:

1. I don’t know what else to say about 45 other than I’m exhausted and feeling like I’m approaching some sort of breaking point, where I’m going to have to forcibly remove myself from the news in order to maintain some sort of equilibrium.  This quote from Josh Marshall says it a bit better:

The terror attack in London is not Donald Trump’s fault of course. But his response to it is hard to fathom even for him… Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s hard to fathom. It’s not even surprising. We’ve known and seen this withering deficit of shame and grace before when he tweeted out “appreciate the congrats” in response to the Orlando club massacre last year. I’m not even sure what the word is or if there is one. But the one I am struggling to find is the experience of not being remotely surprised by the President’s action and yet marveling that the expected action – or transgression in this case – has managed to find a new depth of awfulness to penetrate and explore.

Emphasis added.  I spent most of my therapy session this weekend trying to get this stuff off my chest.  A lot of my anxiety issues in my 20s and 30s – back when I was actively avoiding therapy and medication – were because I felt out of control, or that things were happening to me that I was unable to control, or simply that if I couldn’t exert some form of control over what was happening to me, then I was doomed.  I’ve gotten a lot better in the last few years with this; if things are out of my control, then I am (for the most part) able to accept that, and I can instead try to step back and be objective about whatever it is that’s bothering me and take stock of what I can control, and then deal with the rest when it finally happens.  The thing with Trump, though, is that it would appear that nobody can control the nonsense that flies out of his mouth or fingers, and his insanity will have a very real and tangible effect on my life and of my child’s life.  Every day it gets worse and worse and it feels like the worst kind of nightmare.  I do try my best to keep it together, and if nothing else I indulge in every form of self-care I can think of.  But as I said above, it’s exhausting.  I don’t know how this circus can continue.

2. You know what’s good?  Music is good.  I haven’t written about music in a while.  I haven’t written any music in a while, either, but that’s a different story.

I’ve been listening to music a lot lately – or, rather, I’ve been listening to music with great intensity lately.  The new remix of Sgt. Pepper?  Holy shit, it’s incredible.  (And I say this mostly through listening via Spotify on my shitty work headphones.)  If it’s not too much to ask, I’d very much love it if all of the pre-Abbey Road albums could get the same sort of 3-dimensional stereo support that this Sgt. Pepper album got, because it’s amazing.

Sgt. Pepper isn’t my favorite Beatles record – that distinction gets tossed around between Abbey Road, Revolver and The White Album, and I must confess that Magical Mystery Tour is up there, too – but there’s also a mythic quality to Sgt. Pepper that those other albums simply don’t have.  When I think of my favorite Beatles songs, I tend to gloss over the Sgt. Pepper album just because they all feel connected in a way that the rest of their catalog doesn’t.  But goddamn, this remix makes it feel vital in a way that it simply never has before.  “Getting Better”, in particular, is staggering to behold – I don’t think I’d ever appreciated just how magnificent the arrangement of that song is.  One can start to see, now, how mind-blowing Sgt. Pepper must have sounded when it was first released.

Another album that is also blowing my mind, in a completely different way, is Elder’s “Reflections of a Floating World.”  I’d never heard of these guys before last week, and I acknowledge that they’re a bit more on the heavy stoner-metal side of things than what I normally listen to, but whatever – it’s awesome.  Listen to “The Falling Veil”, if nothing else.

3. E3 2017 is next week and I am surprisingly apathetic about it.  This may simply be because I expect that most of what will be announced will be stuff that isn’t coming out until 2018 at the earliest.  Indeed, a lot of the most exciting-sounding stuff from last year’s E3 was for games that still haven’t come out yet.  I may or may not live-tweet the press conferences; I’m not really sure I have the energy to sit through everything.  I don’t even really know what it is that I’d like to hear, beyond a reasonable price for Project Scorpio (and that Scorpio will improve performance to existing Xbox One games the way that the PS4 Pro does for PS4 games).  That’s really all I’m hoping for.  I’d like PSVR to get some new stuff, too, though I’m not necessarily holding my breath.

OK, it’s lunch time.

Greatness in all forms

1. I said this on Facebook late last night, and in the cold light of morning I think it still holds true:  the wife and I finished True Detective S1 last night and while I don’t watch nearly enough TV to consider myself any sort of critical authority, I’d have to put it among the very top of my Top 10 favorite TV seasons ever.  (I have no idea what that list looks like, by the way.)  Certainly I have a much more profound respect for Matthew McConaughey than I ever did before; his performance throughout the season is nothing short of extraordinary.  But also the writing, the cinematography, the sound design (sweet jesus, the sound design!), the rest of the cast… I’m not necessarily thrilled with the show’s gender politics (and I can now certainly understand why fans of the first season wanted to see two female detectives in Season 2), and maybe there’s a little too much gratuitous/unnecessary T&A (even if this is an HBO series, which apparently stands for Has Boobs, Obviously), but look:  for what is ostensibly a cop show, these eight episodes make for some of the most compelling and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had in quite some time.

2. I just finished Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer this morning, and am about to start Grimscribe, the second collection of stories in the omnibus edition.  Even if I don’t find Ligotti horrifying, I find his ability to conjure the feeling of uncanny, nameless dread nothing short of breathtaking.  I started reading Ligotti specifically because of his apparent influence over True Detective; now that I’ve finished Season 1, I suppose I see it a bit though not nearly as much as I expected to, if only because the Louisiana Bayou is the exact opposite of the sort of grey, misty, shapeless towns that Ligotti’s stories all seem to occupy.  But certainly some of Rust Cohle’s nihilism can be traced through to Ligotti, that’s for sure.  In any event, there’s one story in Songs that I simply adored (though that’s maybe not the right word for it) – seek out “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story”, which executes on its premise in such a fantastic way that I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

“He has failed to embody in words his semi-autobiographical sorrow, and all these games with protective names have only made it more painful. It hurts to hide his heart within pseudonyms of pseudonyms.”

3.  I woke up to the news that George Martin had passed away.  It’s hard for me to put my thoughts in order about it.  Regardless of your thoughts on the Beatles themselves, there can be no question that Martin was the most influential producer in the history of modern music.  He pioneered so many recording techniques and oversaw some of the most mind-bending sounds that had ever been heard; even now, all these years later, songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I Am The Walrus” and the string arrangements of “Eleanor Rigby” are still mesmerizing and astonishing.  A true giant, a true legend.

4.  I am continuing to putter around in Far Cry Primal, though with my rental copy of The Division arriving either tonight or tomorrow, I expect FCP will be put away for a bit.  I am not nearly as down on it as I expected to be, even if I find it somewhat aimless and without any narrative urgency.  Indeed, FCP is one of the few instances where having so much shit on the map is actually a good thing rather than a bad thing, because I find the non-story stuff infinitely more compelling.  I do like me some crafting; and while I’m not crazy about hunting, at least it’s somewhat tastefully done here.  It is very easy to pick up and mess around and then put away, without feeling like I’ve lost anything.  I still have no idea why this game needs the “Far Cry” tag, beyond the obvious corporate need to get the attention of gamers who might not have internet connections.

5.  iOS gamers:  download Train Conductor World now.  Just do it.  It’s free.