Friday, September 25, 2015

Dan Kilian and The Million Man Band - Chairman Mao

Monday, September 14, 2015

Going Dutch

Peter van der Donck
Some books are so good they can make you tedious. Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America has made me into a bore. I’ll drone on about why we say “cookies” instead of “biscuits” and why Yonkers is called Yonkers. This book is chock-full of historical tidbits and trivia about the formative period of New England, which help its thesis go down. Shorto believes the democratic, inclusive spirit of the United States was born not with a bunch of theocratic Pilgrims, but with the Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam. 

The heart of this book, which lends credence and drama to that thesis, is the story of a legal battle, and a battle for control of the new colony, between two key figures. The idealistic Adriaen van der Donck wants more representation for the colony representatives, and the colony director Peter Stuyvesant wants to maintain his own central power, and have van der Donck put in shackles for treason. The conflict comes to a head back in the not-so-old country, the Netherlands—itself a rather modern construct in a time when feudal history determined most geography—in what was becoming a formative period of democratic nascence. The result of this legalistic and political wrangling almost birthed a more representative government in the New World—until yet another war broke out and ruined everything. Soon the English took over the colony and made it New York. Still, Shorto maintains, the key ingredients for a more inclusive and cosmopolitan United States had been baked into the mix.

Does Shorto repeat his theory about the spirit of tolerance a few too many times? Does the book occasionally get bogged down in too many historical details in some spots, and then get fuzzy in others? Do we hear about the guy who’s transcribing a mother lode of old Dutch documents too many times? Does my rhetorically asking these questions negate the need for an answer? 

Still, the writing is for the most part fluid and clear, making connections between seemingly disparate historical facts and building suspense. Also, there are those glorious tidbits, such as the cruel fate of Henry Hudson and the origin of coleslaw. To be clear, those are two different stories; Henry Hudson was not torn apart in a cabbage shredding machine.

There’s a popular TV show called Gotham, which lays out the story of young Bruce Wayne. The key to its enjoyment is savoring the slow reveal of bits of the origin story of Batman. The Island at the Center of the World is the origin story of the real Gotham, and with it, the real America. Our heroes wore white wigs and pantaloons instead of bat ears, but this is the story behind their story, and it’s a delight. 
 --Dan Kilian

Olde Tales of The Sea

The Rose Armonica



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Undeniable Better Crackerjack: Five-Song Review

The Weeknd: "Can’t Feel My Face" Hey Weeknd! You've got two E's in the front, and none in the back. It's inconsistent. The song's consistent, though. It'll be a car commercial, a bar background, that song that's blasting past your window at two in the morning. A little too much Michael Jackson, but it's undeniable.

Amy Bezunartea:  "New Villain" Promising from the low ominous first note, live with sliding fingers on the strings creating a chiming effect. Worrying from the first breathy vocal. Is this another indie  chick seducing us with whispers and not much else? Bezunartea sidesteps the pitfalls, building a slow compelling melody, adding layers like Guyville era Liz Phair, her guitar a tolling gong reminiscent of EMA's Past Live Martyred Saints in it's minimalist build. The lyrics, smart and off-kilter, suggest a looser Courtney Barnett. She is a new villain. You might feel bad but she's better.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: "Multi-Love" Secretly more soulful than psychedelic (Check out his solo acoustic video) UMO's Ruban Nielson moans a song about some mystical girl over baroque piano and washed out guitars as spurts of drum patterns drop in and out. It's more psychedelic than soulful this time, but this act has established itself as crackerjack, something to love. 

Rabit: "Pandemic" Disturbing sonics, but I'm not getting much of a groove here. 
Deerhunter: "Snakeskin" I should like Deerhunter. They rock and they have restless creativity, good songs and band sounds great, but I never feel like I truly know these guys.  Maybe it's the vocal effects, but I never hear what this guy is feeling, just what he's singing. I should like it. 

--Dan Kilian