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by Joe Tacopino

10 Feb 2009

Coming off a tour of India where they caused all sorts of trouble, lo-fi rockers the Black Lips give us a taste of their forthcoming album 200 Million Thousand, due out February 24th. “Short Fuse” displays the band’s signature jangle, wacky lyrics and general old-school rock aesthetic. Take a listen before it “blows up like an atom bomb”.

The Black Lips
“Short Fuse” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

10 Feb 2009

Amazon has released a new Kindle. It costs $359. I don’t know why anyone would buy that piece of crippleware when you can buy a netbook for the same price or cheaper and get unlimited functionality. (I suppose if I had experienced the magic of the Kindle’s no-backlight technology, I wouldn’t dismiss it so glibly.) Even in his effort to champion the device, Joel Johnson reveals its inherent limitations: “While the new model now has 2 gigabytes of memory onboard, seven times as much as the old Kindle in storage terms, it no longer has the SD flash memory card slot that made it possible to keep a library of tens of thousands of books on the device at once. While my library never really grew that big (having even a few hundred books began to make getting around in the menus somewhat awkward), knowing it could went a long way towards tickling my desire for the world’s entire written history to be in my pocket at all times.” The Kindle is not apparently meant to be the book that subsumes all books; it appears to become clumsier to use the more you load onto it. In practice, it seems a novelty gadget for travelers who want respite from their laptops, but are too indecisive to settle on what book to bring on the plane.

At the Guardian’s blog, Bobbie Johnson makes this apt point about the Kindle’s modest success (via PSFK):

Everyone’s looking at the pattern they’ve seen in music and video - an old medium changed radically by technology - and waiting for it to hit the book world. But the chances of that happening right now are very small indeed. Why? It’s fairly straightforward.
The real reason that the music industry came around to the idea of downloads wasn’t because they had a startling insight into the future, or even because Apple forced the issue by building a clever ecosystem around the iPod (it didn’t launch the iTunes store until 2003). It was because customers were choosing to pirate instead.


That seems right to me. And the reason people aren’t pirating books isn’t because the opportunity isn’t there—you can probably find torrents for pdfs of Harry Potter and those Twilight books if you wanted them. It’s that people have other more convenient ways to share books. As Johnson explains, “the average book reader isn’t turning to legally dubious sources for their novels, or meeting up with book dealers on street corners to pick up copies of the latest bestseller. If they want to share files, they can get somebody to lend them a copy, or go to a place for sharing this information that’s wholly supported by the industry (you might know them as libraries).”

Basically publishers have no incentive to encourage people to read books on screens and every incentive to get them to enjoy the fetish of the object. The preference consumers have shown for digitized music and iPods doesn’t seem to translate to books. The usefulness of the iPod derives from its ability to shuffle songs that many people enjoy as background, more or less passively. On the subway I hear about a dozen songs each morning, and it pleases me that they are randomly selected from a list of several thousand. But I wouldn’t want my reading material served up that way. Generally I’m reading one thing at a time, and I benefit from the finality of that decision, when I leave home with one book. Books have the great built-in advantage of preventing me from surfing away elsewhere when the reading becomes arduous or requires an effort of concentration.

by Sarah Zupko

10 Feb 2009

Matthew Tow joined the Brian Jonestown Massacre back in 2003, but he’s also the main man behind pysch jangle poppers the Lovetones. The Lovetones put out their debut Be What You Want in 2002 on venerable pure pop label Bomp!. They return this year with their fourth album, Dimensions, releasing on February 24th through Planting Seeds Records. Their US tour is set to begin in April. “Journeyman” is heavily ‘60s drenched, like much of this band’s music.

The Lovetones
Journeyman [MP3]
     

by Mike Deane

10 Feb 2009

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I somehow heard Devendra Banhart before I heard Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Of course I’d heard T.Rex and their glam hits “Get It On” and “Metal Guru”, but I had no idea about Marc Bolan’s past as folk-pop crossover genius, I only knew him as the “Electric Warrior”.
Upon first hearing Banhart I thought he was amazing; such a grasp on melody and not afraid to do semi-hippy folk-pop, such a distinctive voice – I thought it was incredibly original.  When I heard Tyrannosaurus Rex’s “Debora” I quickly dismissed Banhart as the flakey shameless Bolan-aper that I still believe him to be.

Perhaps most people were luckier than I and were somehow exposed to Bolan’s early period as the folk-pop duo of Tyrannosaurus Rex rather than his glam period as T.Rex, and were able to get their tastes in order accordingly – but for those who’ve led a Tyrannosaurus Rex-less life, get ready to get excited.

Though championed by John Peel and having a number of hit albums that charted in England, in North America Tyrannosaurus Rex has been largely overshadowed by Bolan’s glam incarnation: T.Rex.  Full of Tolkien-imagery, beautiful and original vocal melodies, fast-paced bongos and madly strummed guitar, the first two Tyrannosaurus Rex albums are folk-pop gold – probably the best it’s ever been done.

After Bolan left his first band, John’s Children, he enlisted the help of percussionist Steve Peregrine Took (he took the latter part of his

name from a hobbit), and the two set out as a folk duo, playing concerts and busking around London.  Thanks to a huge push from John Peel and his BBC show, they gained national attention with their 1968 debut, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows.  All of the mysticism and majesty that the title suggests is represented on the album.  The album follows in typical Bolan fashion by swinging wildly from the otherworldly to American banalities – from “Dwarfish Trumpet Blues” to “Mustang Ford”, from “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)” to opener “Hot Rod Mama”.

by Rob Horning

10 Feb 2009

Rob Walker’s latest Consumed column in the Sunday NYT magazine looks at criminally overpriced chocolate as a vehicle for “compensatory consumption.” Professors at Northwestern University found in a study that “subjects who had put themselves in a powerless frame of mind were willing to pay measurably more than the other group for high-status items” and that “individuals who felt less powerful showed a preference for clothing with larger and more conspicuous luxury logos.” In other words, our status anxiety may register to us as a lack of autonomy, as powerlessness, and we may compensate by exercising the sort of autonomy with which we are all familiar—making a wasteful shopping choice to prove that we can. Hence, spending $8 on a chocolate bar.

If this phenomenon of “compensatory consumption” holds, there would be seem to be incentive for marketers to make us perpetually anxious about our status, in good times and bad, and to make sure that status remains a meaningful social category with as much salience as possible. This implies that there can be no end to the social barriers derived from class as long as there is a robust advertising industry. That industry, of course, is not so robust currently; unfortunately, its services in making us anxious about our future are not especially necessary right now.

Could the chocolate taste so good that it would be worth that much? That question is irrelevant, as it is for wine as well. The causality must be reversed; it tastes better because we spent the extra money on it, because we are eating our own sense of power.

Because I live in a neighborhood where cheap imported chocolates from Eastern Europe are readily available, I have a different relationship with chocolate. I get to enjoy not the ersatz thrill of pseudo-luxury spending but the ersatz cosmopolitanism of consuming unusual imported goods. Apologists for consumerism tend to celebrate this sort of access to goods as a kind of “power,” but really the variety of goods is not improving my life so much as it is further articulating the status hierarchy. In this case, the status boost I get comes not from my sense of extravagant spending on an overpriced chocolate with a fancy brand name but from a different sort of privilege: the undeserved sense of superiority that comes from living in the sort of neighborhood where I can find Bulgarian and Croatian candy bars that other Americans can’t get so casually. Nevertheless, I can’t give you an honest appraisal of whether this chocolate tastes better or worse than Hershey’s for the same reasons mentioned above. On the level of relative obscurity, they rate highly. What I worry about is the way the status value masks the flavor; it becomes hard for me to tell the relative “objective” worth of things in the ordinary course of life. I would have to go through life blindfolded to really taste anything as it is.

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