Thursday, October 21, 2010

Odds 'n Sodds 1

October has been a peculiarly fallow time. Only one album has come out this month that's crossed my radar, Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz, and I was underwhelmed. This is, I think, in large part to my preference for "a good song." This is an album of impressive music, but it's not something I'm keen to listen to again. Well-made, as all of Stevens' work is, just not for me. As such, I don't feel giving it a review is fair, since I couldn't possibly do it properly. Such is life.

I've been listening to a lot of Randy Newman lately, which is balancing well with the brief Robyn overdose I went through; her Body Talk, Pt. 3, a summation of the first two Body Talk albums, comes out in a month, and I'll certainly be reviewing that. Both previous installments are well worth your time. I'm partial to Body Talk, Pt. 1 as a whole, but since Pt. 3 is going to feature the five best tracks from each of the first two albums, in addition to five new ones, it bodes very, very well. It will be the best pop album of the year, and it could be the best one in the last ten years. No pressure, Robyn.

I just recently finished reading Alex Ross' Listen to This, a collection of essays and articles he's written over the course of his career as a music critic for The New Yorker. Ross is a remarkable writer. He has a gift for relating music to you in a way that makes it palpable. No individual writer is more responsible for making me seek out new music I haven't heard. Anyone can tell you why they like something, but it's a rare talent that can make you feel and share in their enthusiasm for things you have no prior knowledge of. I highly recommend both of Ross' books. The other, The Rest is Noise, is a survey of compositional music in the twentieth century.

I'm in the middle of reading Infinite Jest for the second time. It's still an exhaustive, busy, sprawling, and chiefly indulgent read, but it is hilarious, and staggering in its scope.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica
Sci-Fi Network (Not that Syfy bullshit)

My love for this show is no secret. I have harangued friends to start watching in order that I may talk to them about it. I've kept an entire friendship alive through discussing it. After the first three seasons, I'd already ranked it as my sixth favourite television show. I've now finished watching all four seasons. It won't ever crack the Top 5, an impenetrable fortress of perfection, but this is one hell of a television show.

It goes way beyond the notion of "genre." This is, I've said it a hundred times before, the science fiction program I would recommend to people who don't like sci-fi. Yes, the enemies are robots, and, yes, it is set almost entirely on space ships. But it doesn't allow the conventions to get in the way of telling an amazing story. At least give the two-part first episode a try before you come to a decision about whether or not you'll give it a spin.

The wealth of material this show provides is incredible. I never once feared the writers were losing direction, or were unaware of where to take things. It is a flawless trail from the first to the last scene. The show remains varied throughout its run, helped in large part by its willingness to deal with a wide breadth of topics. Is it a sci-fi adventure? Is it a political thriller? Is it a character study? At various points, the writers deftly attempt everything. Religion, just barely mentioned in the first two seasons, is a crucial part of the show by the end.What the writers do with it is perfection. I won't spoil anything for you if I can help it, but you'll find yourself pulled along by the story while being intellectually impressed and fascinated by what's going on on the screen.

The show is realistic about the situation humanity is in, cast adrift in space with nothing but a fleet of spaceships. Supplies run low. Ships break down. People break down. Relationships fall apart and come together with that peculiar speed only duress can bring about. The dynamics between characters are constantly, organically, sensibly changing. Nothing ever seems forced; no one ever feels inconsistent as an individual. People don't act illogically, in so as they are always true to their character. You will find yourself disliking people you thought you were very fond of, because they are real, and, like real people, they do some things you'll like, and they'll do some things that drive you up a wall. Over four seasons, I loved and intensely loathed President Laura Roslin, and for that she has left a greater impression on me. There is no Good Guy, there is no Bad Guy. There are only people put in an extraordinary situation. Even the Cylons aren't left as the Big Baddies.

In approximately 75 episodes, the show only bothered me twice, at the end of season 3 and at the end of season 4. Season 3 uses an anachronism, and the last scene of the series works too hard to drive home the otherwise subtle and intimately understood point of the whole show. These are minor gripes in the grand scheme of things. When I attended ComiCon over the summer, the identities of the Final Five Cylons were revealed to me before my time. I was upset at the time, but as I watched the show, I realized I wasn't missing nearly as much as I thought. Not knowing would have been a blast, and it denied me a few gasps, but the writing is so well done that you still find yourself getting caught up in the idea of their identities. It's hard to pull that off, but they did it brilliantly.