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by Oliver Ho

16 Dec 2009

There have been several books about Schulz and Peanuts (as opposed to collections of the strips) over the years, early examples being 1965’s Gospel According to Peanuts, and 1975’s Peanuts Jubilee. Published a year before Shultz’s death, 1999’s A Golden Celebration featured running commentary by the master himself. With its similarly large format, decade-oriented organization sprinkled with trivia, that book could have been an inspiration for the newest addition to the canon of Peanuts appreciation: Celebrating Peanuts.

What can any new book bring to this already crowded subject? Surprisingly, a nostalgic sense of joy. This book wants the work taken seriously, focusing on two key aspects: Schulz as hard-working artist, and Peanuts as pop culture phenomenon.

It’s a single volume in a large hardcover format, accompanied by a slipcase. It doesn’t offer all of the comics, but it offers a heck of a lot. Celebrating Peanuts seems aimed at fans (at all levels of fanaticism) who want comprehensive and colorful overview of the entire run of Peanuts in a single volume.

by Louis Battaglia

16 Dec 2009

cover art

Lotus Plaza

Floodlight Collective

(Kranky)

Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt’s first solo album as Lotus Plaza has an incredibly personal feel to it, as if Floodlight Collective was made with the primary intention of satisfying its creator. And while most albums made in this manner veer into the realm of self-indulgence, Pundt has created a remarkably buried, but brisk, and tangled, but tempered sound. On “Whiteout” and “These Years”, his voice calls out from beneath a sonic abyss of twinkling effects and layered pads, not so much struggling to be heard, but rather enticing the listener to venture downward. Building on the first half of Deerhunter’s self-proclaimed genre of “Ambient Punk”, Lotus Plaza’s album dabbles in drone on the title track, while “Antonie” would easily have felt at home on Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox’s first solo album as Atlas Sound. For more inventive moments, see standout track “Quicksand”, which synthesizes ‘60s doo-wop sounding beats with a surf-like guitar, coated with gorgeous atmospherics.

by Bill Reagan

16 Dec 2009

While Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is true to its title, offering advice for writers for every step of the process, from generating topic ideas to effective proofreading tips, this is not merely a reference book for writers. Most of the information applies equally to our daily conversation, concisely clarifying routine language-related issues and tackling those little bits of linguistic friction that rub us the wrong way, or perhaps should rub us the wrong way.

The book also examines contemporary language concerns, such as the increased use of “woman” in place of “female”: Nancy Pelosi’s election as Speaker of the House had many news agencies reporting that she was “the first woman Speaker of the House”, a phrase that sounded both awkward and incorrect since one would never say, “the first man Speaker of the House”. Fortunately, Fogarty chimed in and settled the matter. (As long as the gender is being used as an adjective, it should be “female”.)

Whether you are buying for a grammar-phobe seeking guidance, or a writer seeking a fun reference manual for frustrating recurring questions, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing will likely satisfy.

by Rob Horning

16 Dec 2009

Reading Simon Reynolds’s assessment of best-of-the-decade lists (“musical value and consensus are intimately connected”) made me think of how symbiotic the music industry and music critics are; that is, critics can only be as relevant as the culture industry is powerful and univocal. The hegemony of taste that the big labels sought to perpetuate relied on critics’ pronouncements, making the release of new Springsteen albums and whatnot seem epochal.

Reynolds shares his hunch that the critical consensus unwound completely in the past decade, leading to a situation where more “good” but “unimportant” records are made.

I reckon that if you were to draw up a top 2,000 albums of every pop decade and compare them, the noughties would win: it would beat the 1990s decisively, the 1980s handsomely, and it would thrash the 1970s and 1960s. But I also reckon that if you were to compare the top 200 albums, it’d be the other way around: the 60s would narrowly beat the 70s, the 70s would slightly less narrowly beat the 80s, the 80s would decisively beat the 90s, and the 90s would leave the noughties trailing in the dust. Yeah, it’s just a hunch – but it has the ring of truth. Because I think that the higher reaches of a chart of this kind demand something more than mere musical excellence: there has to be an X factor, the hard-to-define quality that you could call “importance” or “greatness”.

Musicians make music; critics and A&R people make “importance” or hype, and the latter is what allows music to become the broadly “unifying force” that critics yearn for it to become. Big, broadly popular records with an aesthetic aura (Reynolds and Pitchfork offer Funeral as the epitome) perhaps validate the importance of critics more than the music itself. It lets us then consume the zeitgeist in product form rather than listen.

The future of recorded music, I hope, belongs to microcommunities, small groups of friends who determine their own standards of importance (through listening rituals, what they play for each other in everyday life) and share them internally without needing to promote those standards online and proselytize. For these communities, it is all “best-of,” anything that is heard and remembered, that helps the group cohere, matters. Whether it had been released that year, or decade, or was promoted by the music industry or was a demo from a busker, or whatever, won’t matter. Taste can potentially be deindustrialized, and the critics will disappear into the multitude of voices. Ideally, artistic provenance will be relevant to us only if we want it to be.

by Michael Landweber

16 Dec 2009

There is a show on the air right now that is claiming to be Scrubs, but it clearly is not the same show. It is like a cloned sheep that looks a lot like the original, but every time it tries to walk it falls over and starts to shudder. Something just is not right with it.

Scrubs ran for eight years. It was one of the most consistently funny programs on TV. The combination of humor and pathos was pitch perfect for the hospital setting. The characters all grew beyond their original one-note set-ups. Even the minor characters were three-dimensional. And it went off the air last spring with one of the most satisfying finale episodes I’ve ever seen. I laughed, I cried, I reached closure.

But now it is back with about half the old cast. The new version seems intent on recycling key plot lines from previous seasons, perhaps thinking that the move to a new network also means that there is an entirely new audience. The result is vaguely familiar and ultimately unsatisfying.

I wish that Scrubs had gone the traditional spin-off route instead. Take one or two minor characters, put them front and center and name the show after them (see Maude or Frasier).

I nominate Ted and Gooch. Call it Ted and Gooch.

Sam Lloyd was so good as Ted the hapless hospital lawyer that I would start to laugh every time he appeared on screen. He sang TV theme songs with an a capella group,  lived with his mom, dreamed of standing up to his boss and had one particularly memorable moment where he lost a battle of wits to a dog. In Scrubs’ sort-of final season, Ted found love with Gooch (Kate Micucci), a ukulele playing oddball who was his perfect match.

In the first three episodes of Scrubs Reloaded, Ted was nowhere to be seen. Then, in episode four, Ted and Gooch came back for one last goodbye before heading off in an RV to visit every state in the U.S. That’s your spin-off right there. Ted and Gooch Hit the Road. I’d watch that (but in the meantime I’ll have to settle for streaming Best of Ted clips online).

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