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The experience might easily have changed a nicer man.

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Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
9:26 pm - Subdivisions
Was I saying something about Rush?Collapse )

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Sunday, June 19th, 2011
12:34 am - Vital Signs
sometimes our circuits get lj-cutCollapse )

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Monday, May 23rd, 2011
9:48 pm - Witch Hunt
I always find it hard to enjoy this song. I respect the excellence of its execution and would be surprised to hear anyone claim it was bad, but the depressing sound and lyrics lead me to respect it without any affection.

At the opening we get chimes, very light, at least as tenuous as the street sounds that opened the previous track. More ominous noises creep in, following quickly by the sounds of an angry, shouting crowd, and then at 0:45 by a really extreme flanger. I'm not sure it has anything to flange, but there it is, doing its thing.

A distorted guitar kicks in around 1:07, followed by a heavily fuzzed chorused bass. They definitely had a mood in mind, and the production sets it very well. The fuzz and time effects, combined with the choice of low notes throughout, create a sense of ponderous inevitability. A mod rarely travels fast, but it takes Chuck Norris to stop one. Musically they went very minimalist here; if you can't learn to play the first verse of this song, put down your instrument.

In the chorus we get more synth but otherwise things stay similar, though the melody builds towards a resolution of sorts. Beating and burning and killing often resolve matters, though rarely satisfactorily.

In the second verse the overall scheme remains the same but we get the embellishments characteristic of the band, especially in the bass and drums. The fill at 3:30 hasn't a patch on "War Paint" but it clearly belongs to this second verse, not the first.

The music works around a little more during the last 45 seconds or so, but never reaches any great musical heights. I suspect even Rush find it difficult to sound depressing while flexing their muscles. I wish I had more to say about this song, but honestly, I just don't want to break it down much more.

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Saturday, May 14th, 2011
2:19 am - The Camera Eye
mist in the LJ-cut tagCollapse )

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Sunday, May 8th, 2011
10:47 pm - Limelight
Cut for iconic riffsCollapse )

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Friday, May 6th, 2011
10:55 pm - YYZ
Not cut! No LJ-cut for the haters. Being an instrumental, YYZ features none of those shrieking Geddy vocals or pretentious Neil lyrics that sometimes turn people off. If you believe, as I believe, that being able to play your instrument well beats playing it poorly, you can probably stand to take a listen and follow along. You can just scroll down, if you want to be that way. I don't know if anyone actually misses these when I don't post them, but I do feel bad about diving back in January and then falling off the wagon so soon. Life got a little complicated there, and I sort of lost track of the project, but I'm going to try to get back into it.

This song taught me the limits of woodshedding. Every other song I had learned, I started by playing it slow, but through gradual practice, could get up to recorded speed in a few weeks. With YYZ, even with the published tab in front of me, I could never get half speed. I got so frustrated that I struck my bass with my fist, which broke one of the pickups. That taught me the importance of controlling my temper. I think that must be a landmark in my emotional development, since I don't know that I've truly lost my temper since.

Anyway, the song. The distinctive opening cadence, in which first Neil and then the entire band tap out the letters Y, Y, and Z in Morse code, must be built into the auditory framework of every true fan. I use it when I knock on doors as a matter of habit, and I don't think I'm the only one. With headphones on I can clearly hear the sound panning around at the opening, but it stabilizes in the center once the band joins in. The keyboard plays pedal tones in the background, laying out a melody which the band returns to periodically.

At 0:35 the magic starts, with Geddy and Alex playing a heinously complex figure in perfect unison. That goes right into the riff commonly identified with the track, which cannot be played by anyone without a comprehensive mastery of their intrument. At 1:10 they change into a more typical Rush approach, with Alex slowing to quarter notes while Geddy gives a little impromptu clinic. The line he plays at 1:22 almost defies the ear, and it's not even a proper bass break, it's just a little something he does for fun.

At 1:37 they move on to a new movement, and this time it includes some featured bass and drum breaks. The 1:56 bass break always gets a cheer at live shows, and I like the way the 2:12 break ends with a little ringing harmonic. I must also give Alex his creative props; the tone of the guitar remains consistent, but the way he changes from a very smooth, sustained style to the staccato shows the way he brings creativity to the table without relying on raw chops. At 2:18 Neil gets to show off a bit, which is only fair in a song where he often has to play a simple 4:4 line to anchor the band and let the guitaristas play their little game. Anyway, after that bass break, around 2:24 it's back to about what we had at 1:37, but not quite the same. (Why be the same when you can be different?)

At 2:47 Alex uses one of his beautiful descending spiral riffs to move the song into a slower-paced, keyboard-drenched movement, but at 3:19 they resolve all themes and pound straight into the rif we heard at 0:35.

I should probably walk back my earlier remarks about the drums. If a Rush cover band played this song at a bar, the drummer could probably manage a straight 4:4 beat, and as long as he had the one and the three right, the audience would let it all slide. However, Neil never just slides by. When I listen carefully, I can pick out the spots where he throws in little embellishments here and there. I really appreciate the way he does that. To me, it says that he knows he plays in a trio and has to support the rest of the band, but also that he can play in back and support the band without having to be boring. The guy writes his lyrics as pantoums; he understands that sometimes, having to fit into a structure can be an aid to creativity.

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Monday, March 7th, 2011
11:37 pm - Presumptive Freecycling
My Kindle's battery is pretty much shot, and I decided I wanted a new one instead of shelling out for the replacement battery. Anyone want a free Kindle 2 with 1 day battery life and no charger? It would cost about $60 to have Amazon replace the battery. Any micro-USB charger that can deliver enough power should work, or you could buy an official Amazon charger for $20.

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Friday, March 4th, 2011
8:40 pm - I hate sloppy thinking
http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/03/04/nextgen.consumers/index.html?hpt=Sbin

This Thom Patterson guy writes that "Some 41 million potential fliers chose not to travel by air from May 2007 to May 2008, according to Geoff Freeman of the U.S. Travel Association. That translates into $26.5 billion in lost spending that could have boosted a recession-dogged economy."

First of all, does anyone really think that people who decide not to buy airline tickets put that money in a sock and never, ever spend it?

Second, considering that excessive borrowing helped cause the recession, would it really be so awful if people did save their money for a change?

I used to love flying and now I avoid it whenever possible. That doesn't magically increase my savings rate. I just spend it on other stuff.

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Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
12:46 am - Red Barchetta
It used to be a post, before the LJ-cut.Collapse )

So yeah, I love this song. Someone buy me a Ferrari, or maybe a Caterham 7. I'll take you all for rides in it, I promise.

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Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
11:31 pm - Tom Sawyer
Look, two Rushppd posts in two days!Collapse )

If I had picked up this album when it first came out, I'm not sure if I'd be stoked at this point, or let down. As Earthshine mentioned in his comments to my last entry, Permanent Waves seems to mark the end of the band's crazy experimental phase and show a movement toward something more concise and polished. If I listened to "Science" and then "Tom Sawyer" for the very first time, I might feel let down by the loss of that experimental spirit. On the other hand, not all experiments work out as intended. As you'll see as I work my way through, I think Moving Pictures is one of rock's few perfect albums, and if you can do work like that while going commercial, then may I and all of you have the good fortune to go commercial too.

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Saturday, January 1st, 2011
9:23 pm - Natural Science
I'm back! I've been putting this post off because frankly, I doubt my ability to do justice to the song. Still, I ought to try.

Caution: don't headbang and read.Collapse )

current mood: upbeat

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Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
10:14 pm - Different Strings
I can find lots of different things to enjoy in a song, but somewhere high on the list sits a good beat, something that makes me want to get up and jump around. When I'm shopping and "Dancing With Myself" starts playing on the store speakers, I get stoked. You know what "Different Strings" utterly lacks? Yeah. You guessed it. A good beat.

The song opens with Alex playing quietly, and to my ears somewhat intricately, although I'm a bad judge of difficulty. Geddy chimes in with some really nice lyrics - props to Neil on this song, yes indeed. Into the chorus and denied! Everything goes on in the same way, no power kick, no tempo change.

The second verse steps it up with... a click track. OK, yes, I'm sure Neil actually drums, but it still lacks kick, and the token electric guitar bits and the introduction of a bass part may fortify the sound but they can't accelerate it.

The solo gives Alex a chance to show off his subtlest chops - not blazing speed, but fine dynamic control. I respect the skill but not the song - not here, not on this album, not with the solo to "Freewill" looking over its shoulder from the track 2 spot, nor with "Natural Science" looming on the horizon. "Different eyes see different things," and I see a filler track.

current mood: grumpy

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Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
10:28 pm - Entre Nous
In my last post I mentioned that I wasn't looking forward to the next two. I respect this song musically and the lyrics are certainly not bad, but they don't do anything for me either. Now that I listen to music on computers and have playlists, I avoid this song entirely. Just between us, the spaces between "Freewill" and "Natural Science" leave room for lesser works to make it onto the album.

Having dismissed the lyrics out of random misanthropy, let's talk music. I noticed the heavy use of synthesizer sounds right away. Peart opens with a very conventional 4:4 backbeat, and Alex strums chords as per usual, while Geddy rocks the Jazz bass sound and alternates between a very simple line, almost to the point of being pedal tones, and playing very intricate figures that remind me a lot of "Circumstances."

Going into the chorus, I listen for the drums and suddenly find myself visualizing Neil grabbing the cymbals to muffle them. I'm not sure why that image jumped out at me, since you don't hardly have to be Peart to use that move. Hrm.

The second verse sounds just like the first verse, but it's not. Neil seems to have shifted into top gear, and he's rattling away like mad on whatever it is that makes that thin metal noise - yeah, I know nothing about drums, what about it? Alex plays apreggios instead of chords. Only the bass seems broadly similar, although I suspect that if I saw the sheet music, I'd see big differences.

The solo... well, once again I listen for the bass first, and Geddy knows what time it is. Around 3:04 he starts into a really funky and growly section. I choose "funky" because he plays with a light touch, not a lot of attack, and higher than usual, and the result is a laid back, gliding feel to the part. A few seconds later Neil starts to throw in a lot more variety as well. He almost faked me out. I was about to say he played the same simple backbeat as before, and then all the sudden at 3:18, something totally other happens instead. Nice. As for the guitar... once again I suspect that Joe will explain that Alex does something very cunning from a theoretical standpoint, but I don't know that stuff. I just call it competent but not amazing.

Overall I can find a lot to like about the song. I still skip it when I can because the theme falls flat for me. Hopefully other fans enjoy it more.

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Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
10:25 pm - Jacob's Ladder
This has been the hardest review for me to get around to. I think "Jacob's Ladder" rocks pretty hard, but for some reason, I just don't like it. I don't dislike it, either. I have no strong emotional attachment to it at all. It is much less fun than World of Tanks. Must try to focus. Must not click on World of Tanks again.

The opening comes in slow, stately, and I can hear Ged using his (apparently insanely strong) fingernail to get a tone most guys get from a pick. The sudden vocal chorus effect at "distant overture" works really well. A little gimmicky, perhaps, but I think you can afford a gimmick or to when you have this band's chops.

The following instrumental break keeps the same steady 4/4 pace but brings in new themes and a much harder edge. Alex really takes center stage here, with Neil and Ged giving him plenty of room to maneuver. It's about 2:12 before they attract any attention to themselves, and even then, they bring in a little something special for show and tell, then go back to their seats. The introduction of the synth line around 2:45 starts to invest in a theme that doesn't pay off for almost a full minute, and I pause here to salute such compositional mojo.

That synth movement and accompanied "for once..." lyric doesn't do a lot for me. Good rock just got soft and sappy. I request metal, and since I have heard the song before, my request shall be granted around the 4:54 mark.

I think this movement is in alernating 6 and 7, and I can never get enough of that crazy time signature mojo. I also love Neil's play - I have no idea what he's on, but he's getting tinny-sounding rim hits, then bashing snares, then getting a shuffling high hat thing going, and then back again, and oh hey, a quick fill on the toms. The time signature may repeat, but nothing else has to!

Coming next, when I can take a break from tanks: two songs I like even less than this one!

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Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
7:39 pm - Driving class, part two: Acura TSX review
Our class leader at the Mid-Ohio School really loves Hondas and made a point of thanking Honda for all they do as sponsors of the school. According to Dave, their last set of class cars went 300,000 miles without an engine breakdown - and while I'm sure he meant total, not per car, those would be miles spent entirely on the autocross or track, so that's a proper endorsement. He also told a story of a student who tried for a fifth to third downshift, missed, and got fifth to first instead. It trashed the clutch but nothing else, which is a pretty cheap price to pay for a botch like that.

Mid-Ohio set up their TSXes with seasonal high performance tires and undisclosed "minor improvements," and of course they have five point harnesses for the drivers. I liked those cars. The had enough torque to charge hard down the autocross from any corner, but no noticable torque steer. I thought the shifter could have been a little more short and precise, but I couldn't believe how light the clutch was. When I finally got back in my WRX at the end of the day and put my foot on the clutch, I briefly thought I must be pressing the brake instead. The effort I always took for granted suddenly seemed totally unreasonable. Nice. Sadly I just could not love the interior. The dashboard slopes away from the driver at the top, and yet the windshield is so raked that there's still a very deep dash. It made the car feel bulky without being spacious. I want the driver's seat to feel like a cockpit, with everything right to hand and wrapped tight around me, not slope off into space to satisfy some design stylist. In the early 90s, Acura's design staff knew exactly what I wanted. Not so much anymore.

You know what would have been awesome? Same autocross track, in Honda Fit Sports.

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5:09 pm - High Performance Driving Class at the Mid-Ohio School
Two sentence summary: Full of valuable info, but I would have liked more one on one instruction. Probably still the best course available at the price. I am completely sold on sending L to their teen defensive driving course when she gets her license.

More details inside the cutCollapse )

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Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
11:10 pm - Freewill
This song contains all the things that make people love or hate Rush. Screeching vocals? The way Geddy sings "cell" is legendary. Pomposity? The subject of free will vs predestination still perplexes leading minds in theology, psychology, biology, and philosophy. My Existentialism professor made his name on a book called On Being Free. Sure, they can knock that sucker out in a 5:21 rock song. Maybe someday they'll balance the government's budget in a little three minute ditty. (Of course, as a Canadian band, they'll have a smaller hill to climb there.)

Musically, I suggest that anyone who doesn't love "Freewill" should get out now. I love it less than I love some other Rush songs, but nonetheless, it gets everything right. From the outset of the track, we see Alex really showing his moves, and then Geddy reminds us that the Fender Jazz bass remains the gold standard for that grindy rock tone. At first Alex and Ged double one another, but before long, the synth pedals some in, and then the crazy arpeggios, and then we're into the chorus.

At first the chorus feels fairly simple, especially if you tune out the effects. I decided to try to see what Neil did, since he often manages to trick me. Sadly I don't know jack about drumming, so unless he plays a fill that I can't comprehend, or a time signature I can't count, I tend to underestimate his contribution. Anyway, I love the fill just after "... made a choice." Ged goes from doubling the guitar to playing a bass fill exactly in time with the drum fill. Niiiice.

The solo for "Freewill" blows me away, so I'm going to hop over the second verse and do a little gushing here. When I started learning bass, all I wanted was to be Ged. I could play some Rush songs, like "Tom Sawyer." I could play "The Analog Kid" well enough to fool most people. I never managed to play "YYZ" at more than about half speed, but I could fathom how it could be done. But the solo to "Freewill"... no. Never. I've seen it live many times, and I still can't believe a man can do that. It's not even a bass solo! Alex gives Geddy a little space at first, but quickly goes into his own berserk realm of guitar madness. If you described it to me, I'd tell you that it couldn't work, that you need to let the solo breathe a little. I'd be wrong. It works just fine, if you're that good.

You know what keeps the song short of perspective for me? The relationship between the music and the melody. The first couple choruses imply a lot of nasty things about a lot of people's attitudes, but the music never feels nasty. It feels cheery, in a prog rock blow you away fashion. After the solo, Geddy's wailing develops a little more emotional content, but I want my rage served up front and person. Rush, being Canadian, probably feel differently about that issue.

current mood: tired

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Saturday, September 11th, 2010
9:04 pm - For no reason except my recent reading for pleasure
General George S. Patton, hell yeah.

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Thursday, September 9th, 2010
11:38 pm - The Spirit of Radio
Is there a more iconic guitar riff in the entire Rush discography? Three notes instantly generate extreme rocking out. Millions of people work hard and accomplish less.

Alex's guitar part displays his typical habits but also a lot of single note bending (a whole new type of bending - someone alert Aang!) and of course the aforementioned riff, without which the song would a hollow shell.

Geddy does Geddy stuff and does it well, but this is a guitar song, not a bass song. Neil really grabs my attention more with his deft work on cymbals and bells, or whatever crazy thing drummers use when they want to get tremble as all get-out. The sibilance of the high-hat and the high-pitched ringing of the whatever help create the soundscape for Alex's guitars, and the glockenspiel fills in the blanks in the chorus, and yet the man still finds time to keep on the toms to make sure no section of the audio spectrum gets ignored. I really like the way Neil starts laying into it just when Geddy sings "almost free" around 2:51. Because the metal percussion isn't especially loud, it doesn't crowd anybody out, but it nonetheless cranks up the energy of the song. During the solo/bridge/whatever right after that chorus, I can't even break down everything that goes on - there's some serious bionic man action there.

Musically, I could take or leave the reggae part, but the lyrics more than make up for any lack of prog insanity. "Salesman" definitely makes the list of essential Geddy-isms. Neil's little substitution of profits for prophets breaks no new literary ground, but the entire song stands up beautifully as an expression of his dislike for the way that the freeform world of FM began to acquire a disturbing corporate outlook. Is it really "just a question of your honesty?" I'm honestly not sure that radio is, but I believe honesty counts a full ten points in songwriting. To like a band, and not just a few of their songs, I need a sense that the guys in that band really feel the music they're writing, and didn't just turn out another set of 4:4 chord progressions because their producer said it would sell. Not that 4:4 equals selling out - I think prog without inspiration turns out to be much crappier and less honest than old U2 or any Vertical Horizon album. Hrm, I'm off on a rant here - perhaps all this machinery making modern LJ posts can be open hearted, but I struggle. Ah well. Rock on, Alex.

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Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
11:25 pm - La Villa Strangiato
It's going to be really hard to write this post, because my impression is that "La Villa Strangiato" has a lot of musical compositional tricks in its metaphorical bag, and I don't know musical theory much.

I adore the smoothness of this song. Rush often employ the "power kick," using a sudden rush of distortion and/or volume to completely change up the energy level of a song. Here they go the other way entirely. Elements of the Strangiato Theme come through during the intro, and then they smoothly blend more and more rock into it until all systems check out at 1:59. Everyone experiences music differently, but inside my head, the Strangiato Theme is exhilaration. Whether skiing, debating, paintballing, airsofting, playing tanks, or whatever, I sometimes find that zone where everything comes together and I can take on all comers. The Strangiato Theme puts that feeling into music.

Then it ends - the chord hits and the percussion keep an echo of it alive, but eventually it smooths into a brooding, almost exploratory vibe in which Alex explores the subtleties of the volume pedal. Here especially I think that someone like, oh, _earthshine_ could probably explain exactly what Alex does, but I just have to mutter about how he's slowly building something up and eventually really wailing into it. For all the songs where Alex basically plays rhythm guitar, this tune offers plenty of reminders that the man has chops. I never played six string but it spooks me a little to hear the pick noise around 5:35. I do not know for sure, but I suspect it takes strong left hand technique to play that smooth.

A quick increase in distortion melds that movement into a reprise of an earlier passage, and then Geddy steps up to the plate. Youch! Bass naturally allies with percussion, so of course Neil gets a quick turn to show off at 6:25, and then we get the whole band going again. By the seven minute mark, the current melody contains nothing I recognize from the intro, but there was never a time I really noticed it switching over - masterful. I also heard something for the first time - it sounds like Alex overdubbed some volume pedal nonsense over his main line around the 7:18 mark, or maybe someone's trodding a synth pedal, but somehow they inject a little something extra at the 3. Somewhere there's a three piece band in a teenager's basement that wonders why their cover never quite sounds right...

A minute or so later, we get a reprise of the Strangiato Theme, which I always find too short... and then we're on our way out. Dang. I would pay a lot of money to have been a fly on the wall when they were putting that song together. Possibly more than any other Rush song, LVS drives home the enormous gulf between playing music and writing it. When I was in high school and woodshedding 8-10 hours a week, I could imagine having the skill to play the bass line for this song. I never had it, but I thought I could see it from where I was. To have the imagination to think of so many different parts, and the patience and vision to assemble them... nope. My talents, thankfully, lie so far elsewhere that I don't even feel the need to try.

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