Stream It: A Doc about Human’s Delicate Dance with Technology
California Typewriter (2017) documentary on Prime
This was a hidden gem. On a 100-degree Saturday, I bit on a free-trial to the The Criterion Channel streaming service. I’d never heard of this documentary but it hooked me from the start. I’m in a state of digital withdrawal right now, and the ideas in this film completely reinforce it.
Sidebar: I’m just now realizing the irony of the situation: I was bored and rather comfy indoors on a particularly blistering summer day— so I instantly purchased access, over broadband internet, to an entire video library of contemporary and international classics the likes of which I used to have to put my name on a waiting list at Hastings to procure because the cult-classics were always checked out (looking at you Soylent Green).
California Typewriter is all about what we end up losing and what constitutes preservation when technology and time march on. John Mayer makes an appearance in the film and talks about how he saw handwritten drafts in a museum of famous songs. They were all chicken scratch with words crossed-out on yellowing paper and included lyrics by The Beatles and Rolling Stones. It caused him to wonder about the drafts of his own creative output. It was all on a hard drive in a drawer somewhere, never accessed since put away the first time.
People still lament over the burning of the Library of Alexandria… Usually history nerds, sure; but they kinda have a point. How much knowledge of the human experience burned up there? Likewise, how much will be totally blank on the timeline from our current era given that everything (family photos, correspondence, etc.) takes place digitally today? These are the larger ideas (though not specifically) from which California Typewriter draws upon.
Call me a saccharine sweet peddler of nostalgia. Call me a hoarder and a Luddite. But if you watch it, I think you’ll agree. California Typewriter will make you want to seek deeper connection and greater interaction with the very physical and tactile world we all inhabit.
Spin It: An Indie Rock Record from Some Canadians Concerned with Matters of Faith
Little Kid - Transfiguration Highway (2020)
This one ended up on my Best of 2020 list three-quarters through my first listen. That’s rare. Usually I have to listen at least three times before I know. The album has an acoustic earthiness to it, but these Canucks aren’t afraid to hit the overdrive either. For Little Kid’s brand of rock, the kit sounds dusty yet tight, keys add some nostalgic and atmospheric layers, and I imagine the drummer to be one of those drummers who hovers low over the snare elbows-out. I honestly can’t tell the band’s connection to Christianity because I haven’t heard or listened to anything else by them. However Transfiguration Highway’s stories are situated squarely upon concepts of evangelical belief. I’ve seen two critics compare Little Kid to Pinegrove now, and I can’t disagree more. More accurate are the contemporary references to artists like Whitney and (Sandy) Alex G and comparisons with classic artists like The Band and Neil Young. There’s a low-fi harmony and stillness to Little Kid. The lyrics are solid, thoughtful and understated. They have a narrative quality vs. the ruminative style of a Pinegrove. I like Pinegrove, but I find some of their work to be overwritten both lyrically and melodically. All that to say you should ignore that comparison if you happen to come across it.
The album opener, “I Thought You’d Been Raptured” is seriously strong song craft. It hits harder on each replay. Our character arrives home early from the factory to see his wife’s “favorite floral pattern, yeah / just lying in the doorway”. His mind goes to the Rapture and the reasons why he assumed he wouldn’t be left behind: he works hard for his family, he doesn’t drink or run around, he stopped smoking for the baby. In the second verse, as it starts to click, “…an unfamiliar t-shirt/ and an empty pair jeans were thrown…” musically the song pulses along wistfully even as the hammer begins to fall, “wonderin’ if you could be the sinner / left down here among the living..” The scene further unfolds to reveal a certain type of rapturous occasion, sure, but as you may have figured out, it’s not the capital “R” Rapture. But it’s how he, Kenny Boothby, Little Kid’s lead man, gets us there that is just so poetic— you don’t understand there’s a knife in someone’s back until the next track begins.
On “Thief On The Cross”, from critic Mia Hughes at The Line Of Best Fit:
“The track’s lyrics are a tongue-in-cheek play on the Biblical story of the Penitent Thief – crucified next to Jesus – who asks Christ to remember him when he arrives at his kingdom. With an acidic wit, Boothby positions himself on that cross, his peers in more successful bands playing the part of Christ: ‘Praying you’ll remember me / When you finally reach / The entrance to eternity / I played in that old three piece / We opened for thee / Way back in 2015.’ Yet the Christ figure’s response is hilariously dismissive: ‘Don’t take it personal, you weren’t the first one to ask’. It’s a sharp, amusing take on music community dynamics, biting and self-deprecating in equal measure.”
And thus is the flavor of the entire record. Metaphorical meatiness served up nice and easy atop breezy melodies as chill as a shade tree in August. But with the prerequisite rhythm section needed for any good head-nodding low-fi rock record.
Skim It: A Highly Graphical, Interactive Exploration of Coronavirus Mechanics
This is a cool learning experience if you’ve ever seen the infamous coronavirus mockup with it’s red triangle-tipped spikes and wondered: “what do those spiny things do, and how could that pretty lil RNA flower kill me?” This immersive visual guide has 3D renderings and layered graphics that explain how the virus’ inter-workings and how it invades cells so effectively.