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Thursday, Apr 5, 2007

March 2007, 88 pages, $5.95 USD

Paste is exactly as its name implies: a magazine full of bits and pieces, glued together here, stitched there, some ribbons and sequins slapped on top. It is an eclectic hodgepodge of pop culture delights, featuring articles on music, books, movies, and even food. Its interviews are random, its music selection all over the place—but hey, who doesn’t like a little variation once in awhile?

The main section, so to speak (there are subsections and sub-subsections) is prominently titled “The Scrapbook,” a collection of recent music news, film, and culture articles. It is a huge section; in the most recent issue it ranged from page 18 to 42. And out of 88 pages? That’s some scrapbook.

Music articles take the most space. Pages are broken down into color-coded areas (this month’s issue: hot pink and white) that each have a different title: “The Bottom Line,” “Ears We Trust,” “Filmmakers to Watch,” and others. My personal favorite is “4 to Watch,” a two-page spread of four up-and-coming music artists from around the world that Paste thinks are really neat. It provides all the essential info: their hometown, members, fun facts, why they’re worth watching, and what other bands they’re similar to. I’ve found that this last part is not always entirely accurate—sorry, Issue #29, but the Silver Lakes in no way remind me of Belle & Sebastian.


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Thursday, Apr 5, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Martin Sexton —"Wild Angels"
From Seeds on Kitchen Table
Renowned as a die-hard road warrior, Sexton has traveled the globe with his guitar slung on his back and a heart full of soul. His songs are intricate and spirited… His fans range from teenage students to jocks to musicians, from the East Village to Wall Street, tradesmen to doctors, black, white, young and old, all singing together in three-part harmony. To see the crowd at a Martin Sexton concert is to witness a cross-section of America.

Air —"Once Upon a Time"
From Pocket Symphony on Astralwerks
Now entering the 10th year of a highly illustrious career that has seen the band grow in stature to become one of the most instantly recognizable names in music, Parisian duo Air (Nicolas Godin and JB Dunckel) return with Pocket Symphony, a career masterpiece and their most seductive and accomplished work to date. Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin are modernists. Air embrace the new. Their music is intellectually stimulating yet intuitively simple; elegiac and triumphal; beyond pop and yet resolutely of it, too.

Prosser —"I Met a Girl"
From Prosser: Self-Titled on spinART
Prosser is the new project from Eric Woodruff (formerly of Bellingham, WA, space rock band Delay). His self-titled debut release is a melding of Indie Rock and Alt-Country, with some psychedelic and folk influences thrown in for good measure. Fans of Nick Drake, Cracker, Elliot Smith, Wilco, and heartbreak-induced whiskey drinking music will not be able to resist.

Arcade Fire —"Black Mirror"
From Neon Bible on Merge
The Arcade Fire spent most of 2006 holed up in a small church in a small town outside of Montreal. They were recording their second album Neon Bible. It was a slow year, mostly.

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Thursday, Apr 5, 2007

Americans seem to regard optimism as a sign of strength of character, an quasi-spiritual eagerness to take what life throws at you, to make lemonade from lemons, to take the kind of risks that yield great discoveries, etc. There is also a tendency to conflate optimism with cheerfulness, even though optimism in a business context often has more to do with rapacious greed and hubris than fellow feeling. Optimism is usually what’s necessary to fuel utopian schemes, speculative bubbles and risky, destabilizing gambles. Optimism often supplies the gullibility that allows people to overlook such codicils as “Past performance is no guarantee of future success” and “Actual results may differ” and “Caveat emptor”. Since it is sanctioned as a laudable value, optimism is consumable as an experiential good, it’s an end in itself that’s facilitated by assuming risk.

It seems to me that optimism, at a personal level, tends to be a luxury that most people can’t afford. From the BPS Research Digest, here’s some substantiation for that view: Researchers have found that people tend to ignore the complications involved with taking on debt because they sunnily assume they will pay it back before any of those problems kick in.

Given their high interest rates, why do so many people continue to borrow money on credit cards? According to Sha Yang and colleagues, part of the answer has to do with people being unrealistically optimistic about paying off their balance each month…. “We show that unrealistic optimism may be one of the psychological explanations underlying why some consumers prefer credit cards with features that are not in their best interest, which has long been a puzzle for both researchers and credit card marketers”, the researchers said, adding that public policy may be needed to protect such people.

I don’t know that we need the state to mandate pessimism (I’d lose my competitive advantage). This would be the same kind of paternalism that would intervene to prevent people from wasting money on lottery tickets and depriving them of the pleasurable fantasy that they might win—this may make the cost of tickets money well spent, as far as they are concerned, regardless of whether they ever win or understand their real chances. But it seems a contradiction in terms to talk of realistic optimism; isn’t optimism by definition unrealistic? To point out that those in debt are “optimistic” is almost tautological. Optimism can perhaps be defined as chronic shortsightedness, though the same could be said of extreme pessimism, I suppose. But pessimism seems less like shortsightedness and more a matter of taking in and processing too much of reality, as when pot-induced hypersensitivity becomes raging paranoia. And isn’t the “reality principle” a matter of tempering expectations and acknowledging inevitable shortcomings and failures? Reality is defined in terms of the way it thwarts optimism; if we dispense with that yardstick, then we perhaps are in Baudrillard’s hyperreal, where skepticism is impossible because there is nothing in which it can be grounded.

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Thursday, Apr 5, 2007

America’s premier J-school dean takes a hit. In his own school’s publication, no less!

It was satisfying for a few reasons to read Robert Kuttner’s piece on Internet journalism in the March/April issue of Columbia Journalism Review. The article acknowledges a change in thinking among old-school journalists, who are beginning to understand that the Internet is not so much a distraction from print (aka serious) journalism as it is a lifeline for increasingly imperiled newspapers and the best of what they have to offer.

This article gives hope to those of us who would like to preserve the newspaper tradition of investigation and original reporting. In addition, the Kuttner piece quietly rebukes an article last year in the New Yorker that compared Internet journalism’s content to that of a church newsletter. The author? Dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Nick Lemann.

Kuttner’s piece also proposed we stop lumping all bloggers together and recognize that some blogs are more reportorial than others. He proposed, perhaps facetiously, we start a category called CROGS—that is Carefully Researched Web Logs.

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Thursday, Apr 5, 2007

Vivien Goldman is quite a restless soul.  In addition to being an author (including the recent Book of Exodus about Bob Marley’s classic album), musician (who’s recently re-started up her musical career with kindred spirits Chicks on Speed) and professor at NYU (teaching courses in reggae and punk, where she’s witnessed a lot of first-hand history), she’s now returned to her work as a columnist, schooling virtual students online in a BBC America column.  What I want to know now is what ISN’T she doing in the music realm?  All that’s left is for her to become a Jay Z-like mogul and I wouldn’t bet against her getting there someday.

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