Ahead on Differential

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The man himself, live in 1973 Photo: Jorge Butehrein

Being the last guy to leave a band before they settle into their consensus “classic” lineup is a rough lot for any musician. Just ask John Rutsey (RIP) or Pete Best. This was also the case with one Tony Kaye (the English musician, not the American History X guy), the founding keyboardist of a little prog rock band from London called Yes.

Kaye, who turns 76 today, recorded three albums with Yes, including my favourite of their records, 1971's The Yes Album. Then he got shitcanned for being reluctant to play any more of these newfangled synthesizers. Kaye's pared-down keyboard sound is part of the reason I enjoy those early Yes albums so much. Not that I dislike the albums Yes made with prog rock enfant terrible/literal wizard Rick Wakeman, far from it. But Kaye was not nearly as flashy as his eventual replacement, and Yes was all about pomp and flash as the 70s soldiered on. Kaye preferred a relatively small set-up of piano and Hammond organ, with some splashes of Moog for colour; for comparison, here is one of the Becaped One's massive rigs. Creative differences, you see.

Kaye was a brilliant rhythm player, and could make his Hammond sound the size of a mountain. He is the groove's bedrock on S-tier prog bangers like “Yours Is No Disgrace.” The only knock against him, so far as I can tell, was that he played for texture and mood in a genre that embraced individual excess and flair, the same flair that led to Yes torpedoing their own god run with the album that typified progressive rock's reach exceeding its grasp (to be fair, this was not Wakeman's fault, but lead singer Jon Anderson's, but that's another story for another time; the capes were mostly just bad optics).

Kaye bounced around in the 70s, recording with a couple of prog supergroups, including Flash (co-founded by another ex-Yes member, Peter Banks) and Badger (a prog band with a strong boogie-rock streak whose first album, 1973's One Live Badger, is a genuine diamond in the rough; check out the track “River”). He'd then join Badfinger, of all bands, before returning to Yes just as they were becoming bona fide pop stars (by this point, he had developed a taste for those aforementioned newfangled synthesizers) and eventually joining them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. He's still busy, playing in a ton of supergroups I've never heard of, which is par for the course for prog lifers. Still, not a bad career arc, all in all, for someone who was fired for not being prog enough.

#music #prog

The GOAT, talking shit

I am back in the swing of things at work, which is great for my livelihood but not so good for my writing. Thankfully, I love writing lists, and since it was both Hayao Miyazaki's birthday (happy 80th to the GOAT) and just another day on the internet (nerds having opinions about Wes Anderson, yours truly included), I wrote up some lists. I love making lists. And I hope you love reading (or arguing with, whichever suits your fancy) them.

Wes Anderson, Ranked

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel. It took me a long time to admit to myself that not only is it my favourite, but that it's a five-star film.

  2. Moonrise Kingdom. Maybe I just like the cute/funny Wes movies rather than the sad ones.

  3. Rushmore. The first one I saw. For a kid from the sticks, the movies Wes makes might has well have been set on Mars, but that was part of the appeal. What wasn't alien was kick-ass rock music, crushes on people I had no business having crushes on, and, in retrospect, being an annoying precocious asswipe.

  4. The Royal Tenenbaums. Bet you 20 bucks this goes up two spots on rewatch.

  5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. See above. Might resonate with me more now that I'm over 30.

  6. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Can't help but feel I lowballed this on the first go.

  7. Bottle Rocket. Wes's first is his least quintessential, but I love how shaggy it is. Come back to us, Owen Wilson, all is forgiven.

  8. Isle of Dogs. Uh, well... the dogs are cute? The sushi prep scene is cool? Strong weeb vibes coming off this one.

  9. The Darjeeling Limited. Man, I don't want to talk about this one, this one's kinda of rough. I think it's the only complete misfire in the run.

Top 10 (Paul Thomas,Paul W.S.,Wes) Anderson Films

  1. Boogie Nights. It's not the Great American Novel if there's no dick and no cocaine.

  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel.

  3. Inherent Vice. Up in smoke.

  4. There Will Be Blood. I'm starting to suspect that PTA is attracted to these widescreen American tragedies with mad barons and charlatans and shit in them.

  5. Moonrise Kingdom.

  6. The Master. This is what Joaquin should have gotten his Oscar for. Either this or You Were Never Really Here.

  7. Phantom Thread. Motherfucker really went and named his character "Woodcock," huh.

  8. Rushmore.

  9. The Royal Tenenbaums.

  10. Event Horizon. Hell is outer space.

Hayao Miyazaki: A Tier List

  • N/A: Porco Rosso, Ponyo. I'll get to them eventually, I swear.

  • D tier: Hayao Miyazaki has never made anything less than good and to claim otherwise would be heresy of the highest order.

  • C tier: Castle in the Sky. As with any of these lists, this is subjective, but this is the only one that doesn't, you know, move me.

  • B tier: The Castle of Caglisotro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Howl's Moving Castle. The first one is really fun heist movie, and Howl might be Miyazaki's most phantasmagorical film, and yes, I'm aware Spirited Away is a thing.

  • A tier: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, The Wind Rises. I especially like The Wind Rises, because it's the most politically complex film of the bunch. What does it mean when the thing you love is turned into something that brings hell on Earth?

  • S tier: My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke. Two perfect films, what can I say. Two very different way of communing with nature. Sometimes it comes to you softly, and sometimes it comes to you with a vengeance. Plus Totoro is south of God's Runtime, which as we all know, is 87 minutes.

#movies #lists #listsoflists

Source: Detroit Public Library Digital Collections

In case you couldn't tell with the prior entries about Blaseball or the Cosmic Baseball Association, I've had a lifelong fascination with baseball simulations. I spilled a lot of ink as a kid drawing up roll tables for simple 2d6-based baseball games. Many of these games were not... shall we say, statistically accurate (usually a ton more triples, a ton more reaching base on error, and practically no stolen bases). But they were fun! I sunk a lot of hours in the basement with these dice games, but also other variations: darts baseball (some dartboards have a little baseball game on the verso), coin flip trees, baseball-themed pinball machines from the dollar store, even weird BASEketball-esque hybrid sports. To this personal pantheon I will add what I have called Baccarat Baseball, a rudimentary but fun little baseball sim that plays like One-Handed Solitaire and requires nothing but a pack of cards and a firm grasp of grade-school math.

The core mechanic of the game is flipping two cards, adding the values together, and dropping the tens. Face cards are worth 10. You know, like in Baccarat. Hence the name.

Plate appearances are resolved in up to three different phases: the at-bat, the play, and the hit. Here's the results chart:

  • Phase 1: The At-Bat

    • 0-2: Ball
    • 3-6: Strike
    • 7-9: Ball in play; proceed to Phase 2
  • Phase 2: The Play

    • 0-2: Fly ball, batter is out
    • 3-6: Ground out, batter is out
    • 7-9: Batter is on base; proceed to Phase 3
  • Phase 3: The Hit

    • 0-3: Single, all runners advance one base
    • 4: “Long single” (same as a regular single, only the lead runner advances two bases)
    • 5: Double, all runners advance two bases
    • 6: “Long double” (same as a regular double, only the lead runner advances three bases)
    • 7: Triple, all runners advance three bases
    • 8-9: Home run, everybody scores

Keep pulling cards until there are three outs, then shuffle your deck. Change, rinse, repeat.

An example at-bat

So in this example, our batter took the first pitch for a strike (10+3=13, mod 10), hit the second pitch into play (6+3=9), and ground out (10+5=15, mod 10).

A second example at-bat

In this at-bat, our batter took a ball, then a strike (3+8=11, mod 10; 3+10=13, mod 10) before making contact (10+9=19, mod 10), getting a hit (4+5=9), and making it safe to first (5+8=13, mod 10).

You can make up house rules to account for events unaccounted for: you can add jokers for fielding errors, determine that a matched pair of twos, threes, or fours during an at-bat is stealing second, third, or home, whatever. I have a house rule for determining swinging strikes (a strike where the two drawn cards don't match colour) and looking strikes (a strike where the two drawn cards match colour).

Games are pretty short, clocking in at about 20 minutes, a bit more if, like me, you're a bit more involved with your scorekeeping. Have fun with it, and play ball!

#sports #baseball

  1. Blaseball, the little baseball idle game that could. Watching the community around this game develop and grow was one of the things that brought me the most joy this year. Go Garages!

  2. My favourite Blaseball game of the year was on Season 7, Day 10: a newly-revived Jaylen Hotdogfingers leads my beloved Seattle Garages to a 6-5 12-inning win over the Canada Moist Talkers and their first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher PolkaDot Patterson. LANG GANG!

  3. Jon Bois had another banner year: the co-founding of the Secret Base imprint, joining Kofie Yeobah in the continuing madness that is Fumble Dimension, a sequel to 17776 called 20020, and of course, a towering directorial achievement in The History of the Seattle Mariners, which he co-wrote with Alex Rubenstein.

  4. Rewatching John Berger's seminal miniseries Ways of Seeing.

  5. The unkillable cultural behemoth known as Jank City, the dollar-store pack Magic: The Gathering draft I hold every six weeks or so. We haven't been to the LGS in a minute, but the event continues in cyberspace.

  6. Finally got a big-ass TV. So many pixels! Naturally, I broke it in with Heat on Blu-ray.

  7. Introducing three local poets to dril's Betsy Ross Museum tweet over post-reading poutines.

  8. Writing 29 capsule reviews of 29 new-to-me albums as part of Gary Suarez's Music Writer Exercise (#MWE). Here's a thread of them.

  9. Parasite winning four Oscars, including Best Picture.

  10. A 42-year-old Zamboni driver named David Ayres coming into a Canes/Leafs game as an emergency goalie and getting the W. He's even got a Hockey Reference page now!

  11. Celebrating 11 years with my lovely partner Steph.

  12. Starview HCT-5808, a weird sci-fi relic from the Laserdisc era that I stumbled upon on YouTube. It's just... stills set to a jazz fusion score. It rules.

  13. All Fantasy Everything, still the podcast I look forward to hearing the most on a weekly basis. Their Sneakers draft is a perfect episode because I don't know shit about sneakers, but these dudes are so funny that it doesn't matter.

  14. The ongoing adventures of my Mastodon instance, laserdisc.party.

  15. Related: #VerseThursday. (Also here.)

  16. Four words: Animal Crossing: New Horizons. A balm in a year where we couldn't get together IRL.

  17. Speaking of New Horizons: Nicky Flowers's mashup of the game's 12pm theme and Nelly's "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)."

  18. Fleet Foxes' Shore, my absolute favourite record of the year. It's a brilliant synthesis of the cinematic folk and jazzbo accents present on both Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up, and the result is my favourite record of theirs since their self-titled one.

  19. Every day I record an episode of Middlebrow Madness with my pal Isabelle is a great day. The show has become weirder and more digressive in 2020, and I think it's better for it.

  20. Speaking of Isabelle, I loved this piece she wrote about M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, published on the still-chugging Dim the House Lights.

  21. I watched some bangers for the first time thanks to the podcast: La haine, Wild Strawberries, Das Boot, The Wages of Fear, Sunrise, Amadeus, Before Sunset, Diabolique.

  22. I didn't see a ton of movies from 2020 last year, but I did see a bunch of great movies for the first time even outside my homework for the show: Bringing Out the Dead, Bait, Ocean's Eleven, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (theatrical cuts only), Local Legends, The Big Easy, Tombstone, Yes, Madam, Righting Wrongs, Glass Chin, Gemini.

  23. Incidentally, I bought my copy of Local Legends from Toronto's Gold Ninja Video, the Criterion Collection of regional whatsits, forgotten kung fu movies, and public domain junk.

  24. Justin Decloux, the head honcho of Gold Ninja Video, and fellow Torontonian Will Sloan have a wonderful podcast called The Important Cinema Club, where they talk about everything from classic Hollywood films to Hong Kong Category III joints to vintage porn.

  25. Poetry night on Wednesdays. I didn't write as much this year, but I think the output was better overall.

  26. The good people over at Cactus Press were kind enough to publish three of my poems ("Oxblood," "Brain Sieve," and "Dream #9") in their online magazine, Lantern.

  27. Two of my closest poet friends put out chapbooks on Cactus last year: James Dunnigan with Wine and Fire, and Frances Pope with The Brazen Forecast.

  28. Game night every Friday, without fail. Lots of Codenames, lots of Jackbox. Like Animal Crossing, Jackbox Party Pack 7 could not have come out at a more opportune time.

  29. We did trivia a couple of times for game night. I miss pub trivia. I miss bar nachos.

  30. This is not really the way I wanted it to happen, but I did solidify my friendship with the game night regulars. You know who you are.

  31. I made a pepperoni pizza from scratch and it tasted amazing.

  32. I became an Instant Pot true believer. I made so many soups and stews. It's become my favourite tool for making mashed potatoes. I made eggplant parmesan once, I mean, fuck.

  33. Saturday night Commander. So many degenerate brews.

  34. You know what Magic format was super fun? Jumpstart.

  35. Super Mega Baseball 3 on Switch. Easy to pick up, ridiculously customizable, very fun.

  36. The Omnibus podcast, hosted by indie-rock luminary John Roderick and Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings.

  37. Revisiting the catalog of the late, great John Prine. I love this set he cut for Sessions at West 54th in 2000.

  38. "City Pop Films."

  39. The 8-bit-styled statistical esoterica of Foolish Baseball.

  40. Writing secret songs.

  41. Seeing The Irishman with friends in the dead of winter at a run-down theatre in a failing mall after having filled our bellies with Korean food.

  42. Making all kinds of playlists on Spotify. There are the Quarantunes lists (a series hour-long songs-of-the-month digest; here's the ninth and final one I put together), some 10-track artist primers (including Rush [RIP Neal Peart], Deerhoof, and Tom Waits), and my favourite, a collaborative playlist with some friends that is now 600+ songs strong.

  43. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who has a very real claim to being my favourite film writer, wrote a eulogy for Chicago cinephile institution Odd Obsession.

  44. New favourite writing tool: paint markers.

  45. The Merlin Mann Podcast Universe (Back to Work, Do By Friday, Reconcilable Differences, Roderick on the Line, and a returning You Look Nice Today called California King) continues to deliver.

  46. Not only super-niche, but also in French: the oral history of Roller Hockey International's Montreal Roadrunners.

  47. The fried chicken at Poulet Bronzé, the site of my last social outing before the world ground to a halt.

  48. Hot on the heels of their wonderful 2019 album Oncle Jazz and a few great singles this year, Men I Trust may very well be my new favourite Montreal band.

  49. Another band I fell in love with this year was Chicago's Beach Bunny. Honeymoon is one of my favourite records from this year. Very feels, very 90s.

  50. Speaking of music from Illinois: 2020 featured the return of Champaign's mighty Hum. Inlet was their first album in over two decades, and it was worth every second of the wait. An hour of crunchy, shoegaze-y space rock.

  51. Stasis Sounds for Long-Distance Space Travel by 36 and Zakè, a 96-minute sci-fi drone/ambient concept album about the loneliness and majesty of outer space.

  52. The melancholic bedroom pop of Su Lee.

  53. My mom got our cats a cat tree for Christmas. It's exactly as adorable as it sounds.

  54. Graeme Laird, aka Doc Destructo, late of the great WCW podcast The Greatest Podcast in the History of Our Sport, only put out two YouTube videos this year, but they're both incredibly written and fucking hilarious. One is about the notorious Charles Bronson vehicle Death Wish 3, and the other is about the gloriously cheap Italian Star Wars knockoff Starcrash.

  55. I started running and minding what I ate and I lost nearly 25 pounds.

  56. For Interview magazine, Marilyn Manson interviews Nicolas Cage.

  57. Dan Deacon's album Mystic Familiar. This manages to be very introspective without sacrificing the sugar-rush highs of his older work.

  58. I'd like to plug the work of one Nathan Smith, a writer from Knoxville currently based in New York. I like his Letterboxd lists (i.e. "Movies for Adults: Studio Auteur Oddities, 2004-2018" and "Aughts Eurotrash Special Effects Spectacle Cinema"), and he wrote a ton of good shit this year. My two faves of his were his piece for Pitchfork about Phantom of the Paradise and his piece for Waypoint on the DJing video game Fuser.

  59. One of the few times I've braved the outside this year was to check out the new Uniqlo store downtown, and I might have found the greatest T-shirt ever made.

  60. San Francisco noise-pop institution Deerhoof put out two great records this year: the post-apocalyptic Future Teenage Cave Artists and the kaleidoscopic covers album Love-Lore.

  61. For Vanity Fair, David Kushner on prog legend Rick Wakeman.

  62. Getting the 'rona buzz (aka #3 all over) four months after it was cool.

  63. Good Italian toothpaste.

  64. For Current Affairs, Lyta Gold on the fake nerd boys of Silicon Valley.

  65. Punisher, the newest album by Phoebe Bridgers. A good chunk of my favourite lyrics and song details of 2020 are on this.

  66. Getting a smaller desk and a better chair for my tiny computer nook.

  67. "The Docked Yacht: AOR Cinema 1979-85."

  68. Kayla Czaga's wonderful poetry collection For Your Safety Please Hold On.

  69. The continuing excellence of Blank Check with Griffin and David.

  70. The great Magic YouTube channel Rhystic Studies put out "1995: The Season of the Witch," a great video contextualizing early Magic's depiction of witchcraft within the Satanic Panic hangover.

  71. Speaking of Magic stuff on YouTube: my brothers in playing with crappy cards on purpose, Quest for the Janklord, the pride of Roseville, Minnesota.

  72. RTJ4, another fireball of a record courtesy of the the formidable indie-rap tag team Run the Jewels.

  73. Chef Sohla El-Waylly rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Bon Appétit fiasco to land a plum gig with the Babish Culinary Universe.

  74. Related: the great Claire Saffitz starting her own YouTube channel and dropping her cookbook Dessert Person.

  75. For the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff on Martin Scorsese.

  76. Repurposing a big birdcage for my rats.

  77. During my vacation towards the end of the year, I defaulted into a lounging uniform: black t-shirt, black running tights, black hoodie, black slippers. Not gonna lie, it kind of rules.

  78. Taking pictures of neighbourhood cats.

  79. Finally springing for a copy of the gorgeous movie-nerd card game Cinephile.

  80. Virtual board game night with my pal Adam.

  81. City Girl's continued run as the nea plus ultra of chill lo-fi beats to study to, with the release of the fizzy Goddess of the Hollow and, my favourite, the delicate Siren of the Formless.

  82. This year in chillhop: Kupla's Kingdom in Blue and Life Forms; Sleepy Fish's Beneath Your Waves and Everything Fades to Blue.

  83. Sending out a ton of custom-made postcards to friends and family for the holidays.

  84. Not one, not two, but three dope Mountain Goats albums this year: Songs for Pierre Chuvin, Getting Into Knives, and The Jordan Lake Sessions.

  85. For the New York Times Magazine, Sam Anderson profiles the man, the myth, the legend, "Weird Al" Yankovic.

  86. Two audiobooks on the creative process: Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist Trilogy (dude has been a source of inspiration for some years now) and Jeff Tweedy's How to Write One Song.

  87. Speaking of Austin Kleon, I really like his newsletter. (For the record: I just out and out lifted the idea for this very list from him like five years ago).

  88. Speaking of newsletters, another one I look forward to every week is Laura Olin's.

  89. The great William Tyler, one of my favourite guitarists, put out two bangers this year: Music from First Cow and New Vanitas.

  90. Some pals from Mastodon started a very funny podcast about advice columns called We'll Take This One.

  91. One of the hosts of We'll Take This One, my pal Amelia, has a very funny funny newsletter where she talks about Lifetime Original movies at length. It's called, awesomely, Don't Threaten Me with a Good Lifetime.

  92. I updated my 200 favourite albums list! New entries include the Blasters' rip-roaring self-titled album, Scott Gilmore's yard-sale Balearic beat missive Subtle Vertigo, and the Blue Nile's melancholic sophisti-pop masterpiece Hats.

  93. The meta-bro comedy stylings of Chad Kroeger (not his real name) and JT Parr. Their Going Deep with Chad and JT podcast is a digressive delight, and this profile in Vice gets to the heart of their appeal.

  94. I watched a ton of Todd in the Shadows videos, so I learned a lot of stuff about one-hit wonders and major flop records.

  95. Secret Santa by mail.

  96. Last and First Men, the late great Jóhann Jóhannsson's wonderful minimalistic post-apocalyptic sci-fi opus. Tilda Swinton narrates our ruins.

  97. Someone uploaded all of Orson Welles Sketchbook, the great director's BBC series from 1955, to YouTube. I could listen to this man talk for days.

  98. So there's this Korean YouTube channel called Yummyboy, and all they show is street food being made. That's it, that's the gimmick. It's riveting.

  99. Starting a daily writing practice in the dying days of the year.

  100. Getting through this Year of Pestilence in one piece.


  • Grocery lists
  • Diagrams of the change I need for the laundry
  • Chores (one of them is “Watch Vince Vaughan beat the piss out of a whole prison”)
  • Pen tests
  • Lists of movies
  • Lists of lists of movies
  • A single lament about my colour blindness
  • Magic: The Gathering Two-Headed Giant results, likely Battlebond (2-1, not bad)
  • Vehicles Brawl deck (speaking of Magic)
  • A podcast idea I'm still trying to crack
  • Another list of movies
  • “Sweaters?”
  • The results for Jank City III (if you know, you know)
  • A three-year absence

#miscellany #lists

Jaylen Hotdogfingers's blaseball card, with art by the homie M. Lee Lunsford art by M. Lee Lunsford

When I created my account on blaseball.com six weeks ago, the words “Jaylen Hotdogfingers” didn't mean anything. It was a silly placeholder name given to a collection of numerical attributes that, like all the players in Internet League Blaseball, were the little LED lights a gussied-up version of that handheld baseball game Mattel made in the late 70s. Hotdogfingers's team, the team I chose to root for, was the Seattle Garages. I chose them in part because I was still high off the brilliant Jon Bois/Alex Rubenstein documentary about the Seattle Mariners that came out this year.

Now, Blaseball is at its core a weighed RNG that the bored, baseball-starved developers of the Game Band could bet virtual funny money on; a clicker game you didn't click, but watched. It's a modern Playograph, broadcasting baseball from a parallel universe using only the most rudimentary baseball signifiers to tell the story. The players, the score, the runners, the count; the rest is details.

But then, at the end of the first season, the Blaseball faithful opened the Forbidden Book. This is, after all, a game, and the devs are de facto GMs. They know full well that if you dangle a carrot like “Open the Forbidden Book” in front of your players, they will bite. And so, to the consternation of many, the Book was opened and its pages incinerated Jaylen Hotdogfingers. The seeds of a legend were thus sowed.

A culture grew among the Garages fan base, steeped in the time-honoured Seattle baseball tradition of diminished expectations and hard luck. The grief of Hotdogfingers's teammates was made manifest through fan works, including zines and songs. Player personalities were fleshed out. In the macro fiction of the sport, the laws of time and physics were increasingly disposed of. Bugs and outages were incorporated into the game's mechanics. The newly opened Book spoke of ascension and atonement. This is precisely why this lo-fi eldritch spin on Out of the Park Baseball is such a vital and vibrant game: the Game Band recognized that baseball is the most mythopoetic of the team sports, and thus the most susceptible to be mutated into strange and wonderful shapes by the forces of collaborative fiction. I saw someone in the Blaseball Discord refer to the game as the most important development in emergent storytelling since Twitch Plays Pokémon, and I'm inclined to agree.

Case in point: through a little bit of vote manipulation and digital necromancy, Jaylen Hotdogfingers, the first victim of the so-called Discipline Era, was brought back from the other side to lead the Garages to victory once again. Mike Townsend, a mediocre Garages pitcher who went from team pariah to folk hero over the course of six seasons, ceded his place in the rotation to his revived friend, and now slinks in the shadows until the mechanics of the game catch up to the story the Garages faithful have woven. As for Hotdogfingers, she has to pay an ill-defined debt, as all Faustian bargains incur, and her time in the Void has apparently made her develop taste for beanballs (6 HB in her first two starts back, introducing a new stat and a new player status, “unstable,” in the process).

Now, Jaylen Hotdogfingers is not just a name. She's an entity. She has a cascade of wavy black hair, or has Terminator eyes, or throws Randy Johnson's cutter, or has actual literal hot dogs for fingers, depending on whom you ask. And this is just Jaylen. There are 280 players active in Blaseball at any given time, plus all those who have been lost to incineration, and each of them is a Cubist portrait of their respective fan bases. We celebrate in these players what we want to celebrate in ourselves, the uniqueness of our personalities and the strength of our characters. They are avatars for our joys and sorrows. Each and every one of them is someone's protagonist.

#sports #baseball #blaseball

Here's a bit of Derek lore for you: during my senior year of high school, no piece of writing had a greater influence on me than J. Eric Smith's collected March of the Mellotrons series. Not a novelist or a poet, but some guy in Albany with some spicy takes about Jethro Tull.

Smith, a blogger and self-avowed internet old-timer, had a few of these musical brackets up on his website at the time, and in retrospect was way ahead of the curve in the field of pop-culture bracketology, a trend which would crest towards the tail end of the 2000s and is having a bit of a renaissance now. Smith was, like a lot of my pre-YouTube guys, just someone with specific interests and perspectives, written for benefit of anyone who happened to land on their page. So a very hearty shout-out to him, to George Starostin, to Andrew Lampert of the Cosmic Baseball Association, to the wiped-clean-from-the-face-of-the-web Emergency League!, for doing your things. This is the internet I aspire to recreate in my own small way.

OK, that's enough weird soapboxing for one post.

So why was this prog rock bracket so important to yours truly? Among other things, it was my first exposure to a lot of "expansion pack" progressive rock, like Caravan's In the Land of Grey and Pink and Steven Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte. But it's the form that has stayed with me ever since. My back pages are full of these brackets: the two Dim the House Lights Tournaments of Films, the Middlebrow Madness podcast, even the backburnered Ebert Cup on this very blog. Plus, I love writing them!

So why lo-fi hip hop then? Like many, when I want music to write to, I'll often throw on some low-impact instrumental music as background noise, so I'm a fan of the genre . But it recently occurred to me that, beyond a few favourites I know by name, I can't contextualize any of it. The world of lo-fi hip hop is a constellation of obscure Bandcamps run by bedroom producers and Ableton artisans that have a clear vocabulary but, due to the way the work is consumed, not a clear voice. I am, in a way, trying to view the quintessential "playlist" musical form through the dead lens of the "album." This is my way of paying closer attention to something that, by accident or design, is relegated to the background.

All right, time for methodology.

  1. I've limited the field to albums from 2010 to 2019. This eliminates a bunch of the genre's foundational documents, including Nujabes's Spiritual State, J Dilla's Donuts, and Madlib's Beat Konducta series. I built this bracket with the intention on focusing on the first and second waves of performers that came in the wake of these guys, and not the progenitors themselves. But those records wouldn't have made the final cut anyways because...

  2. Only albums labelled as "Lo-Fi Hip Hop" on RateYourMusic were included in the final 64. Donuts, Spiritual State, and the Beat Konducta albums are all classified under the parent label of "Instrumental Hip-Hop," and we could argue about whether or not to include them (or, for that matter, more purely downtempo or plunderphonics albums) until the cows come home, but I needed to draw the line somewhere. So I have put my faith in the RYM hive mind to help populate the bracket. Also, seedings were determined by album ranking on RYM (as of 21 May 2020), and no artist could have more than four credits in the tournament.

  3. While part of this exercise is finding exemplary version of the form, I also want to find performers and records pushing the form forward or pulling them in strange, interesting directions. The genre goes down easy by design, so I'm looking for cool wrinkles in arrangement and production. Having vinyl crackles, clean jazz guitars, and a sturdy, square beat is all well and good, but if you also have some squiggly synths, some woodblock, or harmonizing clarinets or whatever? You'll do very well in this tournament.

  4. I am not a music historian, or music writer, or even all that smart, really. I'm just a curious enthusiast. And as with all media criticism, this whole thing is ultimately just my opinion. Any and all of my takes should be taken with heaping piles of salt. But know this: lo-fi hip hop is such a high-floor genre that there's a good chance I'm going to like 95% of the albums here.

  5. To preserve the spirit of the March Madness-style bracket: no reseeds, baby!

That said, here are our participants!

DILLA REGIONAL (1) Knxwledge, Skr∆wberries​.​Funr∆isrs Vol​. ​3 (2010) vs. (16) Engelwood, Boardwalk Bumps (2018) (8) moow, I Can't Tell You How Much It Hurts (2017) vs. (9) tomppabeats, Arcade (2017) (4) Wun Two, Rio (2014) v. (13) The Deli, Encounters (2017) (5) Birocratic, Beets 3 (2015) v. (12) NIKK BLVKK, Last Light (2017) (2) Saib., Bebop (2017) v. (15) Eevee, Eevee Beat Tape 01 (2016) (7) City Girl, Celestial Angel (2018) v. (10) Nitsua, Dayscape (2015) (3) jinsang, Confessions (2017) v. (14) Desired, Nineteen (2017) (6) glue70, After School (2016) v. (11) A L E X, Growing Up, Vol. 2 (2018)

NUJABES REGIONAL (1) Knxwledge, Kauliflower (2013) v. (16) Coubo, Selcouth (2015) (8) leon, re:treat (2018) v. (9) El Jazzy Chavo, Redirections (2018) (4) A L E X, Growing Up, Vol. 1 (2017) v. (13) Brrd / Wodoo Wolcan, Brrd / Wodoo Wolcan (2013) (5) potsu, ivy league (2019) v. (12) Saib., Around the World (2016) (2) Fanso, Música para Lagartos (2018) v. (15) Wun Two & CoryaYo, Waves (2015) (7) bsd.u, [Late Night Bumps] (2013) v. (10) jinsang & SwuM., Blossoms (2019) (3) City Girl, Neon Impasse (2018) v. (14) Eevee, Eevee Beat Tape 04 (2017) (6) Mndsgn, Exts (2012) v. (11) Nymano, Romance (2016)

MADLIB REGIONAL (1) tomppabeats, Harbour (2016) v. (16) barnes blvd., Last Summer (2018) (8) Fanso, Acid House (2015) v. (9) Outmind, champloo.lp (2013) (4) City Girl, Somnolent Nova (2019) v. (13) Greaf, Faceless (2017) (5) Birocratic, Beets 4 (2017) v. (12) Eevee, Eevee Beat Tape 02 (2017) (2) jinsang, Solitude. (2016) v. (15) Keys n Krates, A Beat Tape for Your Friends (2019) (7) FloFilz, Cenário (2016) vs. (10) Negroman, Negroman (2016) (3) Mounika, How Are You? (2017) v. (14) Knxwledge, relevnt​.​b​/​sdeLP._ (2013) (6) bsd.u, pook (2017) v. (11) Nymano, Short Stories (2015)

SHADOW REGIONAL (1) potsu, Just Friends (2018) vs. (16) Greaf, Looking Back (2014) (8) TMCT, Snow Beach Vol. 01 (2014) v. (9) Blackfist, World Manumission Defense (2019) (4) Andrew Huang, Lo-Fi (2017) v. (13) Eevee, Eevee Beat Tape 05 (2017) (5) City Girl, Snow Rose (2017) v. (12) Joey Pecoraro, Tired Boy (2017) (2) jinsang, Life (2016) vs. (15) Engelwood, Hotel Wood (2017) (7) Blackfist, Strapped 4 Survival (2018) vs. (10) Limes, Fresh Squeezed (2016) (3) Sam Wise, Winter Chill (2016) vs. (14) bsd.u, [late night bumps 2] (2017) (6) Saib., Sailing (2018) v. (11) AceMo, Boarders (2014)

Watch this space for the results from the Dilla Regional. Let the games begin!

#music #bracket

I don't say this lightly the man, the myth, the legend

Steve Dalkowski, a man who threw baseballs fast enough to scare Ted Williams and wildly enough to never make it to the majors, has passed away at the age of 80. He wasn't a stud athlete or a Hall of Famer, but the myth of his laser-like fastball made him a cult figure to people like me, people who are enamoured with the mythopoetic aura of baseball. And for my money, Dalko is the most mythopoetic figure in a sport teeming with them. The raw talent, the demons, the tall tales that may very well be true. Hell, I even wrote a poem about him back in October.

His stat lines boggle the mind: over nine seasons bouncing around the minors, we went 46-80, struck out 1,324 batters (that's an absurd 12.5 K/9 for those playing the home game) and walked 1,236 (an even more absurd 11.6 BB/9). He would routinely throw 200-plus pitches in a game and, people swear, still threw harder than Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, anybody. Writer/director Ron Shelton, who wrote about Dalko in 2009 for the Los Angeles Times, partially modelled Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh on the legendarily wild lefty.

He was a tragic figure. The magical arm that got him the nickname “White Lightning” went limp as he was about to make the jump to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963. Tommy John surgery was still a decade away at this point, so he never got his form back, hit the bottle, and more or less drifted for 30 years after he hung up his cleats in 1966. He couldn't remember most of that time because of alcohol-induced dementia.

The tale of Steve Dalkowski is mighty and sad, and I suggest you read every word written on him. There's a 1970 Sports Illustrated article by Pat Jordan that I recommend you start with, and this part near the end cuts right to why Dalko is an enduring figure in baseball lore:

Steve Dalkowski's real fame lies not in any list of statistics or legends but in all those low minor league towns like Wellsville and Leesburgand Yakima and Stockton, where young players still struggle toward the major leagues. To these minor-leaguers Dalkowski always symbolized every frustration and elation they had ever felt. His successes and failures were theirs and, though he failed, they looked with pride on that, too. Because his failure was not one of deficiency, but rather of excess. He was too fast. His ball moved too much. His talent was too superhuman. In a way, Dalkowski's failure softened the grimness of their own possible failure. [x]

#obit #baseball


Sometimes when I'm bored at work, I pull up YouTube and start listening to a jazz fusion or City Pop album from the 70s or 80s, and just let the algorithm chain 40-minute blocks of sweet grooves. Here was the map for my latest journey.

Yuji Ohno, Cosmos (1981): Smooth. widescreen lava-lamp jazz with a few funkier, disco-styled numbers.

Masayoshi Takanaka, Alone (1981): The good shit. Tight, funky, furious. I've spoken highly of Takanaka's 1977 album An Insatiable High in an older post.

Hiromasa Suzuki – High-Flying (1976): The deepest, slimiest grooves of this particular quartet of albums.

Shigeo Sekito – Special Sound Series Vol. 2 (1975): Kind of an outlier. A loungy jazz record whose lead instrument is the Electone, which was Yamaha's line of electronic organs, that contains covers of “Yesterday” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale?” Kitschy? A little. Groovy? You bet your ass. Mac DeMarco is a fan.


Last night I watched Jodie Mack's excellent Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project (elevator pitch: experimental stop-motion documentary about the rise and fall of a poster shop run by the director's mom and the history of the poster as cultural object, all set to a charming lo-fi rewrite of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon). I got to thinking about the decontextualization and recontextualization of pop imagery, of posters as contemporary icons; the Scarface posters used in Dusty Snacks of Mom mean something very different than a Scarface poster on a dorm room wall. The movie destroys the image and warps the soundtrack to shed light on both not as works of art, but as commodities.

Which got me thinking about Ways of Seeing. The 1972 BBC series hosted by John Berger is nearly 50 years old, but has lost none of its freshness and power. Having posters front of mind while rewatching it proved resonant. In the second episode, Berger breaks down the tradition of the classical nude, whose subjects Berger says “seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.” The same can be applied to cheesecake posters. The fourth and final episode concerns the imagery of advertising (which is what poster is, ultimately, extending the tendrils of brand awareness one dorm wall at a time), whose chief purpose is, in Berger's words, manufacturing glamour.


Says Berger in the preamble to the final episode:

Where do they exist, these fabulous rewards and objects and people? Where do they belong to? Here, there, or nowhere? They come with us everywhere. We take them away in our minds. We see them in our dreams.

#tv #movies #criticism