buffing

Read this afternoon in big white letters on the back of a Korean woman’s tee-shirt:

“I wish I was buffing.”

I am at a complete loss.

Abuse Photos

Abuse Photos (Washington Post)

computer game craziness

An article about the computer game craziness here:

Don’t Tell the Kids: Computer Games Can Make You Rich (WSJ)

I just got a copy of Starcraft, which I justified by citing cultural immersion. It’s pretty fun, really, although I have yet to try playing online against South Koreans. I reckon I’ll lose when I do.

I was wrong

New prisoner abuse accounts emerge (BBC)

Yet more photos of US brutality published (Guardian UK)

I actually thought it couldn’t get any worse than the photos that were already released — I was wrong. This is fucking abhorrent, and America needs to do more than simply apologize and slap some soldiers on the wrist. Rumsfeld already accepted blame for this behavior, now he needs to resign because of it.

everyone here is gay

A couple things I’ve been meaning to mention about South Korea…

While it’s relatively rare to see public displays of affection between men and women here, it’s quite common to see women holding hands with other women and men with their arms around other men (occasionally even holding hands, as well). Coming from a country where this sort of behavior is considered to be “gay,” it’s a fairly strange thing to witness on a daily basis. I also find it refreshing, though, to be in a place where people aren’t considering the notion of appearing “gay” to other people. One could attribute this to the fact that homosexuality is still far from being widely accepted here, so the concept of appearing “gay” is completely foreign to most Koreans, but I doubt that this same-sex affection would stop were homosexuality ever to come out in the open. Or, perhaps, everyone here is gay. The only firsthand experience I have with this “Korea affection” is with some of my male students, haphazardly petting my hand or arm as I try to teach them the meaning of “take a dump.”

Ninety-nine percent of the cars on Korean roads are made in Korea, which means that the only makes you almost ever see are KIA, Daewoo, and Hyundai. Apparently there is a steep import tax on foreign made cars and products, and Korean-made cars are fairly cheap to buy and easy to get fixed. The concept of a “beater” is also nonexistent here — I rarely see a car with any sort of visible bodily defect, let alone one that is more than five years old. It took me a while to notice this phenomenon, but once I did I couldn’t stop noticing it — the last time I saw rust on a car was on my old Honda Accord back in America. New and nice-looking things are big in South Korea.

ignore these

bushI’ve also added some permanent political/activist links on the sidebar — scroll down, scroll down some more, then look left and click on one of the links under the heading “ignore these.”

fence

One of the most important presidential elections in recent American history is going to take place in less than six months. I am not a big fan of John Kerry, but the Bush administration’s record stands against almost everything I believe in — both politically and morally — and it’s going to be hard for me to go home if he gets re-elected.

I’ve thought about making another blog where I can post links to articles of a political/activist nature, but I realize that were I to do so I would reach a much smaller and less politically diverse audience than I do here. So, whatever side of the fence you may be on, I hope you’ll at least take the time to read the articles & links I’ll be posting here occasionally over the next five and a half months. I welcome discourse, I welcome disagreement, I welcome counter-points…

Daily Reason To Dispatch Bush.

The Gray Zone

review

I wrote this review for The Seoul Classified a coupla weeks ago, but due to some organizational and communicational problems I was told today that it was too long to use. Now they want three short reviews on a half-page, although I’m expecting that this’ll change again soon, too.

I am happy with this review, however, and am a bit peeved that it won’t find its way into print. In lieu of a print home, I shall provide it with a digital home here:

Modest Mouse
Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Epic — 2004

I was first introduced to Modest Mouse a few years ago when my cousin sent me their major label debut The Moon & Antarctica over the internet (I, of course, promptly reimbursed the record label for this transaction). At the time, I had heard of them, but I’d never actually heard them. I gave the album a listen, and I remember thinking that it was a bit, er… inaccessible. Perhaps I didn’t like Isaac Brock’s straining, almost-cracking voice, or perhaps my ears just weren’t ready for their uniquely loose sound. I erased it from my hard drive and regretted having reimbursed the record company so impulsively.

Last weekend I’m drinking doubles and talking about music at The Hollywood Grill with a friend of mine, and she says something like “Modest Mouse is great” (I’m paraphrasing – doubles, remember?). To this I responded, “I haven’t heard much of their stuff.” It upsets me to not know much of a band that someone I know considers “great,” as strange as that may sound, so when I woke up the next afternoon with a hangover I promptly downloaded their new album, Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

Has my musical taste changed so much in the last few years, or is Good News a markedly different album than their last one? Either way, Modest Mouse’s new release is a good one. It maintains the unique instrumentation of The Moon & Antarctica – employing at various times horns (courtesy of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band), banjo, accordion, and an eclectic array of synth noises – yet relaxes the arrangements of them just enough to not be overwhelming. Isaac Brock’s guitar and vocals are still the center of their sound, backed up well by Eric Judy on bass, original guitarist Dann Gallucci, and new drummer Jeremiah Greene. The production is precise, yet it still maintains the sense of looseness that characterizes Modest Mouse’s music.

Good News opens with two loud blasts of horns (“Horn Intro”) that slide right into “World At Large”, the first proper track, in which Brock examines the notion of starting over. “Gonna find another place, maybe one I can stand” Brock sings over staccato guitar and atmospheric synth. This song is one of my favorites here, and it’s a subtly fitting way to open this album, which contains much more sonic and emotional variety (see: schizophrenic) than Modest Mouse’s previous efforts.

The first single “Float On,” is a song about seeing past the bad things in life and realizing that “we’ll all float on OK.” It’s a catchy song with a heavy downbeat (you could march to it) and high, spastic guitar – at times it almost takes on a chant-like quality. “Ocean Breathes Salty” is a fairly confounding song, albeit with a great chorus and the great line: “You wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste death?” As a whole, however, I’m not going to pretend to know what this song is about.

“Bury Me With It” seems to be a return to an earlier Modest Mouse sound, a sound that I’m not particularly fond of. Brock’s lyrics are as brilliantly bewildering as ever, but it’s the way he sings/raps/screams them here that I could do without. Brock also does lots of screaming in “Dance Hall”, which is easily the worst track on the album. “I’m gonna dance all dance hall every day” Brock repeats over and over and over until you think you might have an aneurism, which may very well have been his intent, in which case — well done! I applaud your aneurism-inducing song, Mr. Brock!

With “Bukowski” and “The Devil’s Work Day,” Good News takes on an undeniable Tom Waitsish quality. Brock has a flair for indecipherable and/or multidecipherable (yes, that’s a new word I made up) lyrics, a quality that makes Modest Mouse’s songs both more appealing and more confusing at the same time. One moment you’re thinking Oh, yeah… he’s singing about bacon! and the next you’re thinking He’s not singing about bacon, he’s using a pig as a metaphor for God. In “Bukowski” — a mellow, alt-countryish, banjo containing song – Brock starts out singing about Charles Bukowski, saying “Yeah I know he’s a pretty good read. / But God who’d wanna be such an asshole?” By the end, however, it’s pretty clear he’s talking about God, and it’s pretty clear that he’s not a Christian: “If God controls the land and disease, / keeps a watchful eye on me, / If he’s really so damn mighty, / my problem is I can’t see.” “The Devil’s Work Day” has Brock growling out even more confusing lyrics while baritone saxophone and horns wail underneath him. “All the people that you know / floatin’ in the river are logs.” This must be a metaphor of some sort, yes?

The remainder of Good News is, for the most part, consistently good. “The View” juxtaposes an upbeat pop-sounding song with terribly depressing lyrics: “For every good deed done there is a crime committed. / We are fixed.” You could dance to it, but I’m not sure you’d want to. “Satin in a Coffin” continues the album’s death fixation, repeatedly asking the question “Are you dead or are you sleepin’?” over a pulsating, almost dirge-like, instrumentation. The understated ballad “Blame It on the Tetons” — perhaps my favorite song on the album — has Brock’s voice almost cracking with innocence as he sings “Everyone’s a burning building / with no one to put the fire out. / Standing at the window looking out, / waiting for time to burn us down.” “Black Cadillacs” and “One Chance” are both catchy, if not terribly memorable. The album closes with “The Good Times are Killing Me”, a happy, bouncy song in which Brock reflects on his too many “late nights with warm, warm whiskey” eventually concluding that “the good times are killing me.”

I’m still not a huge fan of Modest Mouse, despite the fact that I have just given their new album a fairly good review. There’s enough decent songs on Good News to qualify it as a good album, but the existence of semi-bad songs combined with the absence of a wholly remarkable song keeps it from being great, and keeps me from joining the Modest Mouse club. Considering the fact that I’ve only heard two of their eight albums, I doubt they’d let me in anyway.