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Books

The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena by Bob Rickard and John Michell

Mikita Brottman

Unexplained phenomena, as Rickard and Michell make clear, are limited neither to time nor place.


The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena

Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 1843537087
Author: John Michell
Price: $21.99
Display Artist: Bob Rickard and John Michell
Length: 464
Formats: Paperback
UK publication date: 2007-08
US publication date: 2007-09
Author website
Amazon

The Rough Guides from Penguin seem to have hit on a winning formula, if the expansion and proliferation of the series is anything to go by. Along with their well-known travel books, Rough Guides now offer a flourishing collection of smart-looking reference books on topics of contemporary interest, from the Templars to Shopping with a Conscience, from Bob Dylan to Climate Change, from Conspiracy Theories to the Velvet Underground.

Their success is slightly puzzling, because it's not clear quite how you're meant to use them, or who their target readers are. The user-friendly design of the books invites long-term browsing, rather than reading them cover-to-cover like a novel. On the other hand, they're not organized alphabetically (at least, this one isn't), so it's hard to know were to find a specific subject. Perhaps they're best seen as the informational equivalent of the Rough Guide travel books, dealing with areas of thought you might already be familiar with, might even have visited a few times, and want to understand in more depth and detail (there's really nothing "Rough" about these Guides).

The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena is the combined work of two experts in the shadowy zone between the known and the unknown. Bob Rickard is the founder of the Fortean Times, the long-running UK-based "Journal of Anomalous Phenomena" and John Michell is the author of many books on sacred geometry, crop circles, and other mysteries of existence. Their book, published here in a second edition, is thick and handsome, glossy looking, and beautifully designed and produced, full of wonderful photographs and illustrations.

The content is divided into sections on Teleportation, Strange Rains, Wild Talents, the Madness of Crowds, the Fairy Folk, Mysterious Entities, the Haunted Planet, Signs and Portents, Simulacra and Other Images, Monsters, and Living Wonders, along with notes and suggestions for further reading. In other words, the book is jam-packed with hours of fascinating browsing in store for anyone curious about hollow earth theories, blizzards of butterflies, anomalous fossils, man-eating trees, cattle mutilation, spontaneous human combustion, UFOs, poltergeists, crypto-zoological creatures, crop circles, alien abductions, and plenty more.

Unlike many authors who write on these subjects, Rickard and Michell are lively and authoritative writers, engaged and open-minded, neither dogmatic nor overly credulous. Rational explanations for unexplained phenomena are discussed, where relevant, as are the possibilities (and sometimes the proof) of hoaxes. Yet no doors are ever closed completely, always leaving a little room for doubt.

Unexplained phenomena, as Rickard and Michell make clear, are limited neither to time nor place, although certain kinds of manifestations seem to occur in particular places at certain times, as, for example, with the later 19th-century vogue for mediums and spiritualism in Europe and the USA. With the advent and ubiquity of digital photography, one would assume that filmed evidence of such phenomena, if they exist, would be all over YouTube, LiveLeak, and similar sites, but this isn't the case. Type in "poltergeist" or "levitation" on YouTube, you'll find a lot of footage, some of it freaky and amazing, some of it suspect and silly, accompanied by lengthy notes from believers and debunkers alike.

In other words, this is an area in which nothing has changed. The founder of the field, Charles Fort, put it best: "Our very existence in this world is an unexplained mystery, and that is something we have to accept and be happy with."

6
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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