Home Archives & Search Best of… Reviews About
Archives & Search Best of… Reviews About
Support Opus
Facebook App Icon

The New York Times has published a damning article on Facebook’s various responses to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the rise in hate speech, and various privacy snafus.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

While I still use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family, my activity has decreased considerably in recent months — something I plan to write about a bit more in the coming weeks. But I fully agree with Manton Reece when he writes: ​“Having your own domain name for blog posts and photos isn’t just about personal independence from the control of massive social networks. Owning our content is key to the way out of the current social network mess.”

If and when social media giants like Facebook ever disappear, it’ll be a net positive for humanity. (Though it’s a safe bet that something equally egregious will come along.)

On the heels of their latest release — the excellent Double Negative — Treblezine considers each album in Low’s discography: ​“With one of the best albums of their career looming large among the year’s most prominent releases, the time seemed ripe to listen to the band’s catalog as a whole and chart their progression from reluctant pioneers of ​‘slowcore’ into the consistently compelling iconoclasts they’ve become.”

I particularly liked their thoughts concerning Low’s debut, I Could Live in Hope: “[It] stands among the band’s darkest and most haunting albums, sharing a lot more in common with the sepulchral starkness of The Cure’s Faith than the more meditative strums of slowcore pioneers Galaxie 500.” I’m glad I’m not the only one who caught the Cure similarities with that album.

For as much fun as they are to read, comics can be awfully confusing at times. Throw in multiple series featuring the same characters, confusing and conflicting backstories, and of course, retcons, and it can be pretty daunting to know where to begin — especially with long-running characters and titles. Marvel is particularly notorious for this; just consider the convoluted history of the various ​“X” teams (e.g., X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, Excalibur).

Thankfully, Marvel seems to have realized this, hence ​“Marvel TL;DR,” an ongoing web series that explains the studio’s most famous (and convoluted) storylines, including the Dark Phoenix Saga, the coming of Galactus (watch above), World War Hulk, and Weapon X. And even if you already know everything there is to know about, say, Jean Grey’s becoming the vessel for a cosmic force of destruction, you’ll still probably find these humorous shorts entertaining.

Watch Low Perform Songs From Double Negative

Low’s Double Negative is one of my favorite albums of 2018 so far (read my review). Furthermore, it’s one of the best and most intriguing albums in the band’s nearly three-decade-long career. With Double Negative, the slowcore pioneers don’t evolve their sound so much as disintegrate it, running their trademark minimal, pristine arrangements through a barrage of abrasive, distorted electronics — and it works brilliantly.

At least, it works in the studio. But Low has always been a stellar live act, so how well does their new sonic direction, which relies so heavily on studio manipulation, translate to a live setting? Pretty well, as it turns out, going by this recent performance for The Current at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater.

The live versions of the Double Negative songs are uniformly excellent — consider the booming strains of ​“Quorum,” the swirling storm of ​“Tempest,” and Mimi Parker’s haunting vocals on ​“Dancing and Blood” and ​“Fly” — and the band also performs material from older albums including 2015’s Ones and Sixes, 2013’s The Invisible Way, and 2005’s The Great Destroyer.

Setlist:

  1. Quorum”
  2. No Comprende”
  3. Plastic Cup”
  4. The Innocents”
  5. Tempest”
  6. Always Up”
  7. Dancing and Blood”
  8. Pissing”
  9. Always Trying to Work It Out”
  10. Poor Sucker”
  11. Fly”
  12. Spanish Translation”
  13. Nothing but Heart”
  14. Holy Ghost”
  15. Lies”
  16. Dancing and Fire”
  17. Disarray”
  18. When I Go Deaf”

Note: The original version of this video was missing several minutes of audio and had other technical issues. This is the updated version with the corrected audio.

Filmmaker Seán Doran’s Orbit ​“is a real time reconstruction of time lapse photography taken on board the International Space Station by NASA’s Earth Science & Remote Sensing Unit.” Via Jason Kottke, who writes:

This is easily the most awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping thing I’ve seen in months. In its low Earth orbit ~250 miles above our planet, the International Space Station takes about 90 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth. Fewer than 600 people have ever orbited our planet, but with this realtime video by Seán Doran, you can experience what it looks like from the vantage point of the IIS for the full 90 minutes.

Regardless of how you’re feeling after yesterday’s election — for what it’s worth, I’m feeling exhausted and disappointed, but also sadly unsurprised — it’s good to be reminded that life and the world is bigger than American politics. Just make sure you watch the video at the highest resolution possible in order to fully appreciate the breathtaking images.

On a geekier note, watching this video feels rather apropos considering that I started watching the third season of The Expanse — easily the best pure sci-fi show I’ve seen in years — last night.

Aimee Armstrong offers a brief introduction to the strange and inimitable music of David Tibet and Current 93:

The world of Current 93 is a darkly splendid one. At its centre is David Michael Bunting, who’s better known by his Genesis P-Orridge given name, David Tibet. After four decades as the inner cog of the project, Tibet’s perverse vernacular has cemented him as one of the great unsung English poets. His lyrics are decadent and often esoteric, but at their core these songs are both beautiful and tragic. He writes words that are informed as much by gnostic poetry as the love and loss of his own pet cats.

Current 93 is one of those groups that I find endlessly fascinating and intriguing, though I confess I rarely listen to their music. But their legacy is hard to avoid, as their shadow looms large over several realms of music that I frequently explore, particularly neo-folk.

A brothel owner who died last month won a recent election in Nevada, and — surprise! — he was a Republican. ​“Family value” voters electing a dead pimp to own the libs: that’s America, and American politics, in a nutshell for you.

This article about a recent study concerning the psychological benefits of introverts acting like extraverts is interesting, not just because it apparently conflates extraversion with ​“authenticity,” but also because of the comments that criticize the author for daring to use ​“extravert” instead of ​“extrovert.” Given some of the vehemence, you’d think you were reading a debate over the serial comma.

Although they could easily be mentioned in the same breath as Depeche Mode, Clan of Xyxmox, and New Order, Québec’s Handful of Snowdrops may be the best post-punk/post-goth band that nobody seems to have heard of. But over the course of 30+ years, Jean-Pierre and Michel Mercier (plus numerous collaborators) have released several albums and compilations’ worth of moody, atmospheric rock that any fan of the classic 4AD sound would do well to check out. (Case in point, their excellent cover of Clan of Xymox’s ​“Back Door.”)

By all appearances, 2015’s excellent III was Handful of Snowdrops’ final album. But earlier this year, the band ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund their fourth studio album. Titled Noir and consisting of 8 new songs, the new album will be released on November 30 (and is the planned first album in a trilogy titled ​“Trois Niveaux de Gris”). However, the band has released the above teaser for Noir, with brief snippets of the songs — all of which sound really good, and true to form for the long-running band.

Kara Swisher calls tech firms to task for their complicity in online hate speech:

Let me say it again: Social media platforms — and Facebook and Twitter are as guilty of this as Gab is — are designed so that the awful travels twice as fast as the good. And they are operating with sloppy disregard of the consequences of that awful speech, leading to disasters that they then have to clean up after.

And they are doing a very bad job of that, too, because they are unwilling to pay the price to make needed fixes. Why? because draining the cesspool would mean losing users, and that would hurt the bottom line.

A friendly reminder: for as ​“woke” as they claim to be, technology firms like Facebook and Twitter do not care about you. They don’t care about making your life better nor do they care about improving the world — not in any real, tangible sense. For all of their talk about freedom, justice, equality, and other such virtues, their coffers will always remain their ultimate concern.

Cameron McAllister reviews Low’s Double Negative for Christ and Pop Culture:

[I]f there’s one image that can encapsulate this arresting album, it’s the snow-strewn ruins of an ancient church. By turns haunting, beautiful, and sad, it’s a place that hints at a hidden wholeness, especially at moments when the sun shines through the broken stained glass windows, or when the shadow of an old cross falls across the icy floor. If you stand absolutely still, the wind howling through the sanctuary might even sound like a choir.

Double Negative is easily one of my favorite albums of 2018 (read my review), and one of my favorite Low albums to date — which, given their considerable discography, is saying something.

Why doesn’t Bandcamp have playlists?

Bandcamp Logo

I love Bandcamp for many reasons, beginning with the mind-boggling amount and variety of music that it offers. I appreciate how it constantly tries to highlight, surface, and curate new and interesting music (e.g., Bandcamp Daily). And as a music lover who wants musicians to be able to make a living from their art, I like that it cuts out middlemen and allows artists and labels to sell music and merchandise (e.g., shirts, vinyl, even cassettes) directly to fans, and can be more profitable for artists than streaming services like Spotify.

And then there’s the simple fact that they offer actual music downloads, which gives me more ownership and control over the music that I buy. Even if Bandcamp shuts down or an artist deletes their Bandcamp page, I’ll still be able to listen to all of the music that I bought because the files will still be on my computer.

Having said all that, there’s one thing that kind of irks me about Bandcamp, and that’s the lack of a playlist feature (and I’m not the only one who feels that way). As Marc Weidenbaum puts it:

Unlike services from Spotify to SoundCloud, Bandcamp lacks the ability for listeners to serve as collators. You can learn a lot from following and looking into the acquisitions of fellow Bandcamp users, but you can’t do much more than that. You speak through your wallet (and your wishlist) on Bandcamp. If you buy something, it’s associated with your account (mine is at band​camp​.com/​d​i​s​quiet), but you can’t, for example, create an ersatz hits collection for an artist with multiple albums, or, as I was drawn to do with Dual Concentric, whittle 20 tracks down to their background-music essentials.

My desire for playlists is largely due to how I often use Bandcamp, e.g., embedding its players into posts and reviews. If I had to make a guess as to why Bandcamp lacks this feature, it’s probably because they’re focused on selling music, and so they want to drive traffic to individual releases that are available for purchase/​download.

But there have been many times when I’m writing a post about several musicians, and I’d much rather embed a single player containing a playlist of their songs rather than a player for each one of them. If nothing else, this would make for a more seamless listening experience for my readers, and it’d probably also decrease the amount of time it takes for the post in question to load. (If a post has multiple embedded players, each player can add a little overhead because it has to load its own resources.)

There is a workaround: you can create a playlist of Bandcamp-hosted songs with Playmoss. However, I’m loathe to use third-party integrations. Perhaps I’m just a bit too paranoid, but integration services like Playmoss feel inherently fragile to me, and represent additional points of failure that could negatively affect my site’s performance. Given the ephemeral nature of the internet, where services come and go, are acquired and then ignored, mishandled, or shut down, or suddenly pivot to some other new market/​angle, I simply don’t want something else that I have to manage even as I worry about how long it’ll be around.

I realize some slight hypocrisy here, since embedded players from Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, et al. are essentially a kind of integration, and I make frequent use of them. But they feel less fragile than using yet another service as an intermediary between them and my site.

Essentially, I agree with Alan Parish when he writes:

Bandcamp would be wise to go ahead and buy Playmoss, or incorporate the same feature into their own website. Bandcamp has been around long enough that they have the resources to add a playlist function, and in my opinion would lead to even more money for the artists, and for Bandcamp itself.

As for how a Bandcamp playlist feature might work, it could be as ​“simple” as adding an ​“Add to Playlist” link on an individual song’s page next to the ​“Share/​Embed” and ​“Wishlist” links. Clicking on that link would open a modal that lets you select from an existing playlist or a new playlist.

As for managing the playlists themselves, they could all be accessed via a ​“Playlists” link located next to the ​“Collection” link in the upper-right corner. (I’m assuming that you must have a Bandcamp account in order to create playlists.) The interface for managing an individual playlist’s details and tracks could be based on the interface that Bandcamp currently has for artists/​labels to manage their releases, albeit in a much more simplified and stripped down form.

Finally, each playlist could be embedded in a manner similar to how releases and individual songs are currently embedded, and a link to all of a specific user’s playlists could also be on their public profile page.

Obviously, I have no idea how Bandcamp has been built so it might be a good deal more convoluted than the simplified processes I’ve outlined above, if not outright impossible. But even if adding playlists wouldn’t represent a major technical challenge, it may very well be that Bandcamp considers that sort of functionality as opposed or detrimental to their current business model and goals.

Speaking from the perspective of a longtime fan and frequent consumer, though, I believe Bandcamp’s utility would only be increased by the addition of some sort of playlist feature.

The Thin Place

The Thin Place by Young Hierophant (Review)

Inspired by classic horror soundtracks and ’70s educational films, Young Hierophant crafts otherworldly (yet catchy) electronic music.
Oct 31, 2018

I was making my way through Treble’s mammoth (and excellent) ​“Top 100 Post-Punk Albums” and decided to give The Sisters of Mercy’s ​“Lucretia, My Reflection” a spin… and my kid started flossing to it. What does this mean for his goth status?

I bought The Spinanes’ Manos on a whim two decades ago, and though I don’t reach for it on a regular basis, whenever I do, I totally fall for the band’s big, hook-y sound. Case in point, ​“Noël, Jonah, and Me.” Rebecca Gates’ riffs and Scott Plouf’s propulsive drumming here make for a tight, potent blend, with the result being some ​‘90s indie-rock of the finest variety.

I had no idea this video existed, but I came across it in this Treblezine article about the upcoming Manos reissue, courtesy of Merge Records (it was originally released by Sub Pop Records).

Internet Memories and Battle of the Bands ‘93

Here’s more proof that you can find anything on the internet. Even though it’s been 25 years since I watched Battle of the Bands, it popped into my mind for some reason earlier this month. Or rather, this particular performance did. It only took a few minutes of searching to find this video, and suddenly, I was transported back to my parents’ living room in 1993.

Interestingly enough, I had only the vaguest recollection of what Wake actually sounded like, though I did remember thinking they should’ve won. (While Wake made it to the semifinals, Los Angeles-based funk group Dox Haus Mob were the night’s winners.) For the record, ​“She Wants” is the sort of driving, melodic college rock that screams ​“early ​‘90s” — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can see why seventeen-year-old Jason wanted Wake to win.

It’s weirdly cool (and maybe even a bit humbling) to discover that I wasn’t the only one who found this memorable. In this particular case, Wake’s performance on Battle of the Bands didn’t just leave an impression on me that was strong enough to last nearly three decades. It was also memorable enough that one Eric Thompson not only recorded it from his TV but then, sixteen years on, saw fit to upload his recording to YouTube for anyone — like some random guy who had the vaguest memories of watching it in high school — to (re)discover years later.

For better or worse, the internet has become a big collective memory organ. It allows us to revisit and rediscover even the most random and trivial things: a barely-remembered TV show, a song that you heard once on the radio decades ago, a movie of which you only remember a single scene or line of dialog, a favorite childhood story or author… the list goes on. So long as somebody has even the slightest remembrance of something that they once experienced somewhere, there’s a good chance that they can find it lurking on some website. Or if not the entire thing, then at least enough to further jog, enhance, and accentuate their own memory.

The nice thing about this is that it allows us to plug in the holes in our lives where our minds fail us, and it can lead to unlikely connections and communities. How many of us have stumbled across an entire website devoted to something that we loved — and we’d been absolutely certain we were the only ones who felt that way? Somebody else likes this band? Somebody else watched this TV show? Others enjoyed this book? I thought I was the only one!

That sort of thing is what can make the internet so great, and indeed, it’s one of the reasons why I became so enamored with it in the first place. But what about stuff that’s more embarrassing or shameful than a decent performance on a Dick Clark-produced talent show from the early ​‘90s?

Tweets filled with ugly insults and off-color jokes; embarrassing photos and videos that you thought would only ever be seen by close friends; awkward blog posts; trolling, doxxing, and cyberbullying… this list goes on, as well, and depressingly so. If it was ever posted online, even in a manner that you thought private and protected, then chances are that it’s still somewhere online — and it’s simply biding its time, waiting to be discovered, waiting to haunt, waiting to upend, embarrass, and even ruin.

This should give us all pause whenever we think about posting and sharing online. This has really been driven home for me as of late. As time permits, I’ve been importing older posts from Opus’ previous incarnations, a process that can leave me wincing at stuff I wrote five, ten, even fifteen years ago. Not necessarily wincing at the content or opinion itself, but rather, at how I worded it, which often reveals my own naïveté and immaturity (e.g., the times when I mistook snark for wit and thoughtful criticism).

In its own innocuous way, this random video taken from a nearly 30-year-old TV talent show serves as a reminder that thanks to the internet, nothing ever truly disappears. It can always re-emerge in the most random of ways, and you’ll have little to no control over how it’ll be (mis)used and (mis)interpreted, or what it’ll dredge up in others.

Swervedriver Announce New Album Future Ruins, Release First Single

Swervedriver 2018

Dangerbird Records has announced that they’ll be releasing Swervedriver’s new album, Future Ruins, on January 25, 2019. This follows the shoegaze/​alternative rock outfit’s previous album, 2015’s I Wasn’t Born to Lose You (which was one of the first albums in the shoegaze revival that saw the return of Slowdive, Ride, and Lush).

The new album’s first single, ​“Mary Winter,” has been released via the usual streaming outlets, or just watch the video below. Although Swervedriver has always been described as a ​“shoegaze” band, their sound was actually heavier and more aggressive than their contemporaries — something that’s readily apparent on the new single.

ExpressionEngine is Going Free, Open Source

I’ve been a fan of the ExpressionEngine content management system for many years, thanks to its power and flexibility, and still use it for many client projects. So this comes as some very interesting and exciting news:

For many years we have wanted to make ExpressionEngine open source, because it has become as such a dominant and overwhelmingly popular licensing model. Every corner of the Internet, in fact, is built on open source products. As announced today at the ExpressionEngine conference, we are now making this a reality.

ExpressionEngine will go open source in November but as of today, it’s free.

Trump’s Super-Duper, Ultra-Secure iPhone Practices

Given the fuss that Donald Trump made regarding Hillary Clinton’s private email server, I’m sure that using technology in a wise and secure manner is at the top of his list. Oh wait…

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

But maybe there’s a silver lining to all this:

Administration officials… said they had further confidence he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities.

Whew. I was worried for a moment there.