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December 22, 2013

Best of 2013: Music, Spanning Genre and Critical Recognition

Best of 2013

VanRamblings' two favourite times of year occur from mid-July through the end of August, a six-week celebration revolving around the anniversary of our coming to this Earth (at least in this incarnation, in this time and place and history of life on our planet), and the period beginning in mid-
November through until December 31st. We have long been a romantic about most aspects of life, and love the idea of simply taking a bit of time off from the hurly burly of our everyday, and often too busy, life to reflect on the conditions of our existence, a deep and abiding reflection, a process in which we seek to provide meaning, context and, perhaps, resolution.

Within that contextual framework is contained our love for the arts — dance (we love the ballet), music (mostly of the pop culture variety, although we love progressive country), film, anything tech-related, literature, television, and the art of politics, which is to say, the political maelstrom that is public engagement early in this new millennium.

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In this first of five columns on the Best of 2013, we'll survey a cross-section of critical opinion on the best music of the year, much of which art you may have been utterly unaware of prior to the writing that'll appear below. As a means by which to introduce new music into your life, there is no more salutary event than that which occurs at year's end, as you (and I) become aware of the music of our age, through a survey of informed critical opinion — always a life-enhancing event offering steadfast insight, in the most propitious, enlightening and expedient manner possible. Yippee!

Best Music of 2013

There was a time, in recent years, when we turned to Salon (in its heyday, in the late 90s through 2005), Rolling Stone, the now defunct and the much-missed Blender magazine, but since 2009, Popmatters has been the go-to place for insight into the Best Music of the Year. Yes, we know there's NME and Paste (now available online only), Q, Pitchfork, Mojo and more, but we'll stick with Popmatters, at year's end, for our annual hit of unexpected and oh-so salutary musical insight.

Here's Popmatters 'best of music' home page, detailing the 75 Best Albums of the Year, Best Canadian, Country, Metal, Indie-Pop, and more ...

Popmatters' 75 Best Albums of 2013

Making Popmatters' 75 Best Albums of 2013 list, at 72. The Boards of Canada; at 63. the ever-present Lorde; at 47. David Bowie's The Next Day; 42. Julia Holter (a favourite of our friend, J.B. Shayne); 38. Rhye, to whom we introduced you earlier in the year; 27. Queens of the Stone Age; 24. Our very own Tegan and Sara; at 9 and 8, the breakout bands of the year, Haim and CHVRCHES, and at number one ... well, who else would you expect? But you'll have to read through to be sure you guessed right.

One of our favourite discoveries is a duo out of England, with whom our son Nathan has long been familiar, but is new to us this year: 4. Disclosure, who represent the very best danceable British garage house music of 2013.

Now, make no mistake, there's more, a great deal more ...

And, of course, much, much more.

In the The Best Country Music of 2013 category, we discovered a couple of artists with whom we were not previously familiar, Brandy Clark, and our favourite roots, working class, progressive country find of the year, Kacey Musgraves, who's making a whole tonne of Best Of lists in 2013.

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We leave you, dear and constant reader, with a survey list of the Best Music of 2013, critical reception from some of our favourite publications ...

Lots to listen to, lots to grok. Good luck. Enjoy. Merry Christmas!

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:32 AM | Permalink | Best of 2013

February 7, 2007

A Zen Experience Involving The Art of Juggling

For your enlightenment today, a Google Video of juggler Chris Bliss. For a larger screen version of the video, click on the Google Video button, bottom right, and then click on 'Go to Google Video', and enjoy. We think you will.

Yesterday alone, 6,547 people from across the globe accessed this video, out of a total of 8,964,155 people who've seen Bliss' video, to date.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 8:25 AM | Permalink | Pop Culture

May 8, 2006

A Docile American Press Corps Embarrasses Itself

Just click on the picture above to see the video

The most popular video in the blogosphere — so popular in fact that Google Video and were forced to take it down despite millions of visitors logging onto their sites — comedian Stephen Colbert’s evisceration of the President of the United at the recent Washington Press Corps dinner constitutes an act of bravery rivalled only by the actions of Cindy Sheehan this past year, as she has traveled the globe.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Stephen Colbert’s video, it's available by clicking on the picture above (or by clicking on the Google Video link, which actually provides a better video, even if Google’s lawyers have the folks at Google pull the video from time to time).

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:19 PM | Permalink | Politics

August 18, 2005

The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time


Whether you read Gizmodo to gain insight into the latest “must have” gadgets, or you find yourself pining away at Best Buy for the latest tech toy, or you’re one of those “early adopters” who just has to have the latest innovation (think stereo VCRs way back in the early 80s, when they cost $2000, or CD players in the mid-80s, or the first Pentium-powered computer in 1995, or the mini USB flash drives only a year ago), Mobile Magazine’s The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time will be a must-read for you.

Here are the ground rules that were established before they got started ...

  • It had to have electronic and / or moving parts of some kind. Scissors count, but the knife does not.

  • It had to be a self-contained apparatus that could be used on its own, not a subset of another device. The flashlight counts; the light bulb does not. The notebook counts, but the hard drive doesn’t.

  • It had to be smaller than the proverbial bread box. This is the most flexible of the categories, since gadgets have gotten inexorably smaller over time. But in general we included only items that were potentially mobile: The Dustbuster counts; the vacuum cleaner doesn’t.

So, what are / were your favourite gadgets of all time? The now ubiquitous cell phone? Or, how about going back a few years to the advent of pop music when the Sony TR-63 transistor radio came on the scene, a gadget that was instrumental in spreading the gospel of rock ’n roll to all teens?

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 10:28 PM | Permalink | Pop Culture

August 13, 2004

Bone-Tired? You Need a Job in Europe


In Europe, nothing happens in August.

While many Canadians slog away at their jobs, making do with a mean three weeks of annual vacation (if that), across Europe commuter trains are half empty and virtually no decisions of import are made throughout the summer months, as Europe’s annual foray into the philosophical and physical realm of relaxation, recreation and rejuvenation takes hold.

Not so in Canada, though. Here a neo-Calvanist ethic has us firm in its grip, as the city’s familiar rhythm of work is scarcely interrupted by the fact that it is summer. Only a select few take themselves off to the cabin for the summer. Why is this? For one thing, Canadians have shorter vacations than Europeans. While German, Italian and French workers enjoy more than 40 days of vacation a year, most Canadians make do with just 2 -3 weeks.

Perhaps the most striking of all the differences between Canadians and Europeans relates to hours worked. In 1999, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average Canadian employee worked just under 2,000 hours a year (1,976). The average German worked just 1,535 — fully 22% less. According to a recent Canadian labour force study, the average French citizen works 32% less.

Twenty-five years ago, this gap between Canadian and European working hours didn’t exist. Between 1979 and 1999, the average Canadian working year lengthened by 50 hours, or nearly 4%. But the average German working year shrank 12%. The same was true elsewhere in Europe.

Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard, explains the divergence as a function of German sociologist Max Weber’s famous essay on The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written a century ago.

Weber believed he had identified a link between the rise of Protestantism (and especially Calvinism) and the development of “the spirit of capitalism.” I would like to propose a modern version of Weber's theory, namely The Atheist Sloth Ethic and the Spirit of Collectivism. You see, the most remarkable thing about the transatlantic divergence in working patterns is that it has coincided almost exactly with a comparable divergence in religiosity, in terms of observance and belief.
According to the Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes (conducted in 1999), 48% of people in Western Europe nowadays almost never go to church; the figure for Eastern Europe is just a little lower at 44%. In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than one in 10 of the population now attends church at least once a month. Only in Catholic Italy and Ireland does more than a third of the population worship once a month or more often. By contrast, more than twice as many North Americans as Europeans attend religious services once a week or more.

Ferguson does not offer relative incidence of religiosity as the sole explanation for the fact that Europe today is lethargic while we in North America toil away as usual. But, he avers, “surely there is something more than coincidence about the simultaneous rise of unbelief, and the decline of Weber’s work ethic, across Europe.”

If Professor Ferguson wasn’t enjoying his annual vacation travelling across Europe, he’d probably set about to write a book on the subject.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 10:11 PM | Permalink | Pop Culture

April 23, 2004

Indecent Exposure: Do today's fashions promote the naked truth?

Abercrombie & Fitch catalog photo
marketed to 10 - 13 year olds

Throughout history, people have thrown up their hands at cultural change and declared the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Well, to many it looks as if it’s headed there again — faster than ever — as bare skin is spotted just about everywhere you look, particularly among young people.

What was once relegated to adult videos, strip clubs and Playboy magazine now shows up regularly on network sitcoms, reality shows, music videos and advertisements. Much to the alarm of many parents and child advocates, fashion merchants are marketing the provocative styles of pop-music princesses to teens and prepubescent girls who yearn to look “hot”.

Bucking the bare skin trend, though, is like trying to stop a freight train.

So where does the healthy expression of sexuality and a mature attitude about the human body end and plain old-fashioned smut begin? Young people in every generation have expressed themselves in ways that challenged authority and the rules of the game, from “Elvis the Pelvis” in the ’50s, to long hair, the ‘braless look’ and miniskirts in the ’60s; from the sexual revolution and punk rock in the ’70s through to the low-rise, hip-hugging jeans and exposed flesh of today.

Meanwhile, the controversies continue.

Late last year clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch pulled its controversial in-store catalogues after outraged parents threatened a boycott over material they said was pornographic, according to Slate magazine. The “Christmas Field Guide” featured naked or nearly naked young models in outdoor settings, and offered advice on sex. Even earlier, in 1995 and 1999, advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein Jeans employed images of pubescent models in provocative poses, causing major controversy and debate when they crossed the line between fashion and pornography.

Well, the answer to the decay of Western society seems to be at hand.

People who wear low-slung pants that expose skin or “intimate clothing” would face a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time under a bill filed by a Louisiana lawmaker.

According to a Times-Picayune article reporting on State Representative Derrick Shepherd’s concerns (“I'm sick of catching glimpses of boxer shorts and G-strings over the lowered belt lines of young adults”), the proposed legislation would be appended to the state’s obscenity law, which restricts sexual activity in public places and the sale of sexually explicit items. Joe Cook, head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana chapter, said the bill probably does not meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard for the prohibition of obscene behavior under the First Amendment.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 9:32 PM | Permalink | Pop Culture

April 21, 2004

Tangled Up In Boobs
Not Across My Daughter’s Big Brass Bed You Don’t, Bob

“When the man who wrote ‘Forever Young’ starts leering at jailbait during prime time, the result looks like a recruiting tool for a pedophilia advocacy group.”
Bob Dylan, as seen in the Victoria's
Secret campaign.

From the first moment VanRamblings saw Bob Dylan shilling women’s undergarments in a Victoria’s Secret ad, we felt a sense of dis-ease, as if we were watching something unsavoury, and corrupt.

Writing as a 53-year-old male who, in the past, has been very much attracted to younger women, in recent years I have changed the nature of my mindset around my relations with comely young women. No more are they objects of my sexual affection; rather, my feelings toward young women have become distinctly paternal and caring. I cannot help but see young women as an extension of family, as someone’s daughter. The nature of my relations with young women, then, has come to be governed by “the golden rule”: treat young women as you would wish older men to treat your daughter were she to find herself in a similar circumstance. To wit: caring, appreciative of their humanity and intelligence, and loving, in the most generous and non-sexual sense of the word.

What the hell, then, is Bob Dylan doing, carrying on in a lascivious manner with a barely clothed woman, young enough to be his granddaughter?

As a follow-up to VanRamblings’ earlier story on Dylan’s appearance in a Victoria’s Secret ad, Leslie Bennetts — who is quoted above — offers her thoughts on what she felt the first time she watched him play a song called ‘Love Sick’ while “a nubile young model writhed around in her underwear ...”

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 9:37 PM | Permalink | Pop Culture | Comments (3)

April 6, 2004

The Official Word Is In: The Sixties Are Truly Dead


Bob Dylan has gone from Tangled Up In Blue to tangled up in women's lingerie. As part of a move to bring Dylan's music to new audiences, the enigmatic singer-songwriter, one of the last cultural figures from the 1960s to continue to live outside the boundaries of mainstream pop culture, has made his first appearance as a celebrity pitchman — for Victoria’s Secret (Bobby, say it ain't so). And, yes, the world is in a state of collapse.

In a Wall Street Journal story, writer Brian Steinberg details how the mustachioed, 62-year-old Dylan filmed a TV ad for the lingerie chain's “Angels” line, while models cavort to a remixed version of his 1997 song Love Sick (and, really, don't we all feel a little bit sick about this?).

Fans are, as you might well imagine, heartsick at the latest developments in Dylan's career, expressing everything from dismay to incredulity, to outright and near apoplectic anger.

Update: Well, at least Dylan is consistent. VanRamblings offers this video in support of its contention that Dylan has sold out. The first part of the video is from a December 5, 1965 interview session with reporters, and the second portion of the video offers a clip from the Victoria's Secret ad.

Meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times begins a weekly series of articles about songwriters. This week they profile Mr. Sell-Out, er, I mean, Mr. Dylan.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Pop Culture | Comments (7)


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