Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Invisible Man

I used to think that the Meddling Boss was the worst affront facing the gainfully employed. I have come to discover that there is a worse fate, and that is the Totally Uninterested Boss. Not the Bored Boss. Everybody goes through phases when they're bored. This is the Totally Uninterested Boss, whose lack of concern about your work is matched only by his utter indifference to you as a human being.

I am wrapping up a 6-month contract assignment tomorrow. I start a new job Monday. During those six months, I believe that my boss has spoken to me for perhaps three minutes. My guess is that at least two of those minutes have been taken up by reluctantly mouthing the words "Good morning" after I have literally gotten in his face and said, "Good morning!!!" This is a company that went three years without anyone writing documentation for their software. What a nuisance that their customers couldn't figure out how to use it without someone, in this case me, coming in and writing manuals and developing online help systems. So now I'm finished. My work has never been glanced at, let alone thoroughly reviewed. I could have written "Press the Easy Button when you don't know what to do" over and over, my own little techno-geek tribute to Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and no one would know. But I didn't. I tried, in the absence of input and direction, to tease out how to use the software. And then I wrote about it.

By Monday morning they will have forgotten that I was ever here. I can't say I will miss the place. Perhaps sometime six months from now someone will glance over, puzzled, and wonder, "Hey, didn't somebody once sit in that chair?" But they won't linger long on the thought. There will be too much meaningful work to do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mono -- Holy Ground: NYC Live

Nothing against Jonsi and Sigur Ros, but I'll take the portentous bombast of his band's early music any rainbow-filled day over the twee flutterings and cooings of his current solo album. Sigur Ros' influence over the post-rock landscape is incalculable, and during the past decade a host of celestial warriors has stormed the heavenly gates, with mixed results. The basic post-rock formula -- the pensive, glacially slow buildup to a pounding, roaring catharsis -- is now something of a cliche, and it's hard to imagine any band achieving an artistic breakthrough given the tired trappings of the framework. And that makes the Japanese post-rockers Mono, and their new album Holy Ground: NYC Live, such a surprising and welcome triumph.

For seven albums Mono has consistently delivered cinematic post rock, minus the Hopelandic whalesong. They do it again here, but with a nicely nuanced twist. The 24-member Wordless Music Orchestra contributes beautifully shaded chamber music accompaniment to the sturm and drang, and that means that these long, long songs -- most of them in the 12 to 15 minute range -- are just as captivating during the glacial buildups as they are during the big, cathartic payoffs. The 9 live tracks, spanning 80 minutes, are primarily taken from the band's great 2008 studio album Hymn to the Immortal Wind, but there are a couple surprising choices as well, including two from the band's 2004 collaborative re-mix album New York Soundtracks. The classical/post-rock hybrid is such an obviously fitting stylistic marriage that it's surprising that it hasn't been tried more frequently. Sigur Ros, with their collaborations with string quartet Amiina, have beautifully explored the quiet side of the equation. But Holy Ground takes in the full sonic gamut, and the results are everything one could hope for -- brooding, serene, explosively powerful, and never less than lovely.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Road Trip

This is Robert Schneider. He is a rock star. The man gives me great hope.

Schneider and his terrific band The Apples in Stereo are playing Cleveland tomorrow night. And that means a Tuesday night road trip with four other folks. We'll hook up for dinner with a couple other fans in Akron, one of whom is a long-lost friend, then venture up to The Grog Shop. And then drive back to Columbus, with a 3:00 a.m. ETA. Wednesday should be fun at work.

These are the things we do for rock 'n roll. And friendship. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Unthanks -- Here's the Tender Coming

Northumbrian sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank evoke the trad folkie vision of cloned Sandy Denny's. Trust me, that's almost more than some of us can bear. Even so, Lord, let your servant depart in peace. But if their harmonies are otherworldly and sublime, and they are, their songs are firmly rooted in the palpable earthiness of desperate lives. On Here's the Tender Coming there are thirteen ancient and contemporary tales of drowning sailors, child mine workers, unfaithful husbands, and, yes, a bride who commits suicide on her wedding day. Good times. Sister Rachel received top billing on the two previous efforts, but Becky has been elevated to equal status here, and it shows. Rachel's voice is raw, soulful, and ragged at times, but Becky contributes a sweetness and folkie purity to the proceedings that perfectly complements her sister. Their harmonies are swoon-worthy. The other Unthanks contribute surprisingly non-Trad accompaniment. The focus is unsurprisingly on the vocals, but the string and horn arrangements sometimes suggest a baroque Sufjan Stevens, sometimes a small jazz ensemble. This is a beautiful album.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

MGMT -- Congratulations

Number nine, number nine.

Wow. Syd Barrett lives. This is one trippy album, and I mean that in the most obvious lysergic sense. It's an undisciplined, sprawling mess, but that doesn't mean I don't like it. I do. I think. Parts of Congratulations are really lovely. But those parts tend to be separated into twenty- or thirty-second splices, surrounded by more twenty- or thirty-second splices of sound that I don't like as well. I'm not sure how many songs are actually happening during the 12-minute "Siberian Breaks." Twenty or more I'd guess.

It's ambitious as can be. It's a total departure from the goofy, singalong anthems of the debut album. It's a natural for those who suffer from ADD, and who can't ... Wow, it's weird. It namechecks Brian Eno, and Dan Treacy, punk pioneer from Brit wunderkinds Television Personalities. So bonus points for that. It features cheesy Farfisa organ. All in all. Whoa. The colors.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Today is the 35th anniversary of my "born again" experience, the day I "gave my life to Christ." I know this because I wrote about it when it happened, and I can look back and read what I was thinking at the time. Here are a few short thoughts on what I think about that experience now.

1) Becoming a Christian didn't solve all my problems, least of all the problem of being Andy Whitman.
2) I still haven't been zapped into holiness. I'm getting the impression that it's not going to happen. But I believe that holiness is possible. I believe that God changes me. And I believe that I have to deliberately put myself in places and surround myself with people to facilitate change.
3) Becoming a Christian didn't magically undo genetics and history. I wish someone could have clued me into this about 30 years sooner.
4) Change, real change, is slow. And difficult.
5) I need to give my life to Christ day by day, moment by moment. I do this imperfectly and sporadically. But I'm doing it better than I was a couple years ago.
6) I'm incredibly thankful for those who have put up with and loved the pre-zapped me. Since I don't envision being zapped anytime soon, I would respectfully request that you keep it up. I like it and appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk

It was with great sadness that I read that Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, died yesterday.

Michael was a pastor, a father, a friend to many. But like many others in this digital age, I knew Michael primarily from his words that appeared on my computer monitor. His blog, The Internet Monk, was a constant source of enlightenment, humor, civility, and thoughtful challenge.

Michael was an uneasy but faithful Christian who loved Jesus, and who simultaneously loved and was exasperated by the Church. Surely there is much with which to be exasperated, and Michael unfailingly chronicled its foibles. But he did so not out of judgment, or out of an outraged sense of injury, but out of concern. His words, and the dialogues he shepherded on his blog, were a source of light and love in the murky and frequently distasteful world of Internet intercourse.

I only met Michael once, and briefly at that, a couple years ago in the house trailer that housed the speakers at the Cornerstone Festival. We had a five-minute conversation, during which he was warm, opinionated, affable, and incisive. I suspect he was, in real life, much the same as he appeared in print.

But I don't know. I do know that he leaves a void, and that in an Internet universe where religious dialogue is little more than shrill sloganeering, he was the real thinking deal, and a credit to the Christian faith. I also know that he leaves a grieving wife and children. He was only 53 years old, and cancer, fucking cancer, got him. Please pray for his family.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Jonsi -- Go

The cover pretty much tells the story. The Sigur Ros frontman emerges as Luna Moth on his solo debut Go, wings aflutter and gilt by rainbow colors. All that's missing is the unicorn.

My reaction is decidedly mixed. The more pop-oriented direction, first heard on 2008's Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, is more than a little disconcerting. I actually love those 12-minute glacial buildups, and I miss them. Even more problematic for me is that Jonsi, in his new hit-making incarnation, now sounds uncannily like Jon Anderson from Yes. And the English lyrics really aren't that far removed from "In and around the lake/Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there/Twenty four before my love you'll see I'll be there with you." I like "Eeeee Siiiiiigh Ooooooh" a lot better because it never pretended to mean anything.

That said, there are some wonderful musical moments here. Nico Muhly's orchestral arrangements are spectacular. The jackhammer percussion, the strings and horns, and that unearthly choirboy tenor really are thrilling when they coalesce. I think I really like and really dislike this album. In any case, it's a letdown for me from ( ), which is still unpronounceably great.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Luciano Pavarotti and Emmylou Harris -- The Lost Duets

Some exciting and intriguing news from Nonesuch Records …


Groundbreaking 1980 Recordings Reveal Charming Chemistry

She’s recorded with over 750,000 musicians, but even Emmylou Harris admits that her previously unknown collaboration The Lost Duets with operatic superstar Luciano Pavarotti was something special. “Ít was big,” she says from her home in Franklin, Tennessee. “I mean, he was big. Massive. He filled the room, and not just his voice, either. At first we thought we might have to record in separate studios, but I managed to squeeze in beside him.” Originally recorded in 1980, when the renowned tenor visited Nashville, The Lost Duets features an inspiring and eclectic merger of the best of two worlds – Pavarotti’s window-rattling operatic tenor and Harris’s plaintive cooing and sighing. “A lot of people thought that arias and honky-tonk wouldn’t mix,” Harris says. “But they didn’t know Luciano. He was just a big, goofy buckaroo, really, once you made it past the fact that he thought that Bakersfield was where they whipped up his desserts. But he always loved country music. Every once in a while he would throw in a little twang, even when he was singing Puccini. It was just a little harder to hear in Italian.”

The 12-song collaboration sat dormant in the vaults for thirty years, and, in fact, its very existence was unknown since apparently all involved in the recording process were sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. “Thirty years just seemed long enough,” Harris admitted. “Time and distance have healed a lot of the memories.”

Released digitally on May 25th, and on CD and 180-gram vinyl on June 1st, The Lost Duets features first single “Che Galida Manina (Hands of a Cowgirl)” and a rockin’ version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freezeout.” When pestered again about the unlikely pairing, Emmylou responded, “Look, I’ve sung with Bob Dylan. You think this was any weirder than that?”