Category: reviews (Page 2 of 3)

summer of Miyazaki #13: From Up On Poppy Hill (2011) – we hadn’t seen this one before; it was interesting. a well-done romantic melodrama

summer of Miyazaki #12: Secret World of Arrietty (2010) – book adaptation, like Howl’s; good story & characters in another interesting world

summer of Miyazaki #11: Ponyo (2008) – Little Mermaid adaptation some fun moments, but it’s too simple, even juvenile, to be a favorite

summer of Miyazaki #10: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – one of our favorites, with all the great characters, magic, & themes you’d want

summer of Miyazaki #9: The Cat Returns (2002) – a stretch since he didn’t write or direct, but a favorite years ago; still really cute & fun

summer of Miyazaki #8: Princess Mononoke (1997) – a classic, but sprawling storylines & an ambiguous ending made it not my favorite tbh

summer of Miyazaki #7: Spirited Away (2001) – masterpiece of mood, character, & action [watched Fri.; out of order w/Mononoke but it’s next]

summer of Miyazaki #6: Porco Rosso (1992) – wasn’t sure if we’d seen this before; we hadn’t. it’s great: funny, charming, & exciting

summer of Miyazaki #5: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – the very 1st Miyazaki movie we ever saw, & still a favorite. Phil Hartman as Jiji!

summer of Miyazaki #4: My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – just imagine if you’d never seen this & watched it the first time with no spoilers

summer of Miyazaki #3: Castle in the Sky (1986) – heart-achingly, heart-breakingly pure, beautiful, and fantastic.

summer of Miyazaki #2: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – I’m sure we’ve seen this but barely remembered it – amazing & fantastic

started a summer of Miyazaki last night with his first feature, 1979’s Castle of Cagliostro. we hadn’t seen it before; really enjoyed it

Butterick’s Practical Typography

I just finished reading Butterick’s Practical Typography, an excellent online book that I found to be just the right depth. That is, it did more than just make fun of Comic Sans and Papyrus, but stayed well short of fancy stuff like setting margins based on the golden ratio. The word “practical” in the title isn’t misleading.

This book just scratches the surface of the huge subject of typefaces, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to tell Arial apart from Helvetica. But after reading it, I do feel like I have a slightly keener eye, and certainly more interest and appreciation for what makes fonts good or bad.

One of my favorite parts is the book’s advice about which standard, widely-available “system” fonts are better than others, as well as the lists of suggested alternatives, which are short and not overwhelming. Practical, you could say. In addition to his own custom-designed fonts, he also recommends some nice free ones, such as Charter (which you’re reading right now), Firefox’s Fira Sans, and Adobe’s Source Code Pro.

As the author says right up front, there’s a lot more to typography than fonts, and with confidence and casual style, he takes you through all of it. It’s a lot of information, but it’s engaging, interesting, and best of all, kept at the practical level. The book’s conciseness and organization also make it a valuable reference.

In fact I’ve already started using it as a reference, as it prompted me to make some typographic improvements to both this blog and the Unicks Bestiary. I almost hesitate to mention these “improvements”, as both sites would probably make a professional designer weep, but I do feel like they’re less bad than they were, at least. It’s fun stuff to tinker with, anyway.

The makeover he does on a sample résumé is a good glimpse at some of the book’s principles in action. And if you go on to read the rest of the book, be sure to pay for it. I did.

Best of My 2014 Music

Time again for my annual best-of music review! The process, as in years past, is to pick my ten favorite “new” albums of the year. “New” is in scare-quotes because I go by new-to-me, not by release date. If there are old albums that I get in the calendar year – as happened this year in spades with Wussy – then they’re eligible for the list, regardless of their oldness.

Here are my 2014 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top 10, but I don’t order them further than that). The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.

Event II, Deltron 3030 – “not a big rap fan, but: a sci-fi concept album + humor = yes please thank you” – me, when I first heard of this album. And that pretty well sums it up. The little interstitial skits are okay, though they can get a little old and they’re terrible when shuffling. But overall, this wide-ranging album has a lot of good songs.

Stay Gold, First Aid Kit – With this followup to 2012’s The Lion’s Roar, these Swedish sisters bring their beautiful voices to another set of beautiful songs. The folksy, simple lyrics aren’t afraid to have a little more edge than you might expect.

The Voyager, Jenny Lewis – This one’s not unlike the First Aid Kit album in some ways: sunny, warm, 70s-reminiscent pop music, also with an occasional pleasantly surprising lyrical barb. I’d listened to her some in the past, in Rilo Kiley and her album with the Watson Twins, but was never really impressed until this album, which is fantastic. I also saw her perform at ACL Festival in October, and it was the best show of the weekend for me.

Eight Houses, She Keeps Bees – I wish I remembered how I heard of this band. Also mellow, but darker and more electronic than the previous two, this collection of psychedelic songs is great stuff.

Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz – A little uneven, but overall a nice little indie-rocker album. I saw them at a free Waterloo SXSW show, and they were superb. I even got my CD signed that day.

Warpaint, Warpaint – “Atmospheric, haunting, but with some edge & some texture to keep it from going down too easy” – me, when I recommended this excellent album earlier in the year. Clever, interesting music; I look forward to seeing what else they’ll do.

Deep Fantasy, White Lung – This makes two years running for this kick-ass punk band to get an album in my top 10. As with last year’s Sorry, it’s short (23 minutes), sharp, and to the point.

Attica!, Funeral Dress, and Strawberry, Wussy – So, there’s all those bands and albums above, and then there’s the band that overwhelmingly dominated my 2014 music: Wussy.

I’d never heard of them before the June 27 episode of Sound Opinions, which named their new album one of the “best of 2014… so far”. I checked it out, and was instantly hooked. I went on to buy all seven of their previous albums from their Bandcamp page, and didn’t find a bad one in the bunch.

I love this band. It’s partly the Ohio-ness of them and their lyrics (Pizza King, Little Miami, the corn-maze in Teenage Wasteland), it’s partly that critics adore them (Robert Christgau said they’re “the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005”), but in the end the main thing is, of course, the music. It’s not flashy or amazing or mind-blowing, it’s just thoroughly and solidly good. Really, really good.

I decided to pick three of their albums for this top 10, enough to show their influence but few enough to allow some other bands onto the list. The rest of Wussy’s fine albums had to settle for song selections on the “best of the rest” playlist, below.

So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2014.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage with an assortment like this. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the 50 Foot Wave tracks).

  1. Maglite (Remix) – Wussy, …Popular Favorites
  2. The Grand Destruction Game – Nina Persson, Animal Heart
  3. Too True To Be Good – Dum Dum Girls, Too True
  4. Antipatriarca – Ana Tijoux, Vengo
  5. La La La (Brazil 2014) – Shakira, 2014 Fifa World Cup: One Love, One Rhythm
  6. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair – Arctic Monkeys, Suck It And See
  7. Night Mail – Public Service Broadcasting, Inform – Educate – Entertain
  8. Black Out Days – Phantogram, Voices
  9. Renaissance Girls – Oh Land, Wishbone
  10. Hard Out Here – Lily Allen, Sheezus
  11. Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary) – Los Campesinos!, No Blues
  12. West Coast – Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
  13. Jonah – Wussy, Left for Dead
  14. Fool’s Complaint – Suzanne Vega, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
  15. Muscle Cars – Wussy, Wussy
  16. Radiant Addict – 50 Foot Wave, With Love From The Men’s Room
  17. Fancy – Iggy Azalea, The New Classic
  18. R U Mine? – Arctic Monkeys, AM
  19. Clara Bow (live) – 50 Foot Wave, You’re Soaking In It
  20. Rigor Mortis (Live) – Wussy, Rigor Mortis EP
  21. Team – Lorde, Pure Heroine
  22. Young And Beautiful – Lana Del Rey, Music From The Great Gatsby
  23. Soak It Up – Wussy, Funeral Dress II – Acoustically

– saw band live this year

As in past years, there are some tracks here more for “time-capsule” value than because they’re really favorite songs: a World Cup theme song and I-G-G-Y, to name a couple.

Enjoy!

Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013

Soccer in Sun and Shadow

"Soccer in Sun and Shadow" by Eduardo GaleanoWe are now less than 50 days from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and I just finished what might be the perfect book to get ready for the big event: Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (published as Football in Sun and Shadow in the UK).

The introduction includes a truly great line, one of my favorites, which I’ve seen reproduced in several other soccer books. After feeling guilty for wanting to cheer for the star players of Peñarol (Uruguayan arch-rivals of his own beloved Nacional), Galeano writes:

Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’

And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.

The whole book is similarly lyrical and charming. The structure is kind of unusual; it’s a chronological collection of short vignettes, many less than a page. Some are philosophical ruminations on the modern game vs the good old days, some vivid sketches of glorious individual goals and players, and others fascinating time capsules of current events surrounding every World Cup, from 1930 through 2002.

An example:

The Cicada and the Ant

In 1992, the singing cicada defeated the worker ant 2-0.

Germany and Denmark faced each other in the final of the European Championship. The German players were raised on fasting, abstinence and hard work, the Danes on beer, women and naps in the sun. Denmark had lost out in the qualifiers and the players were on holiday when war intervened and they were called urgently to take Yugoslavia’s place in the tournament. They had no time for training nor any interest in it, and had to make do without Michael Laudrup, a brilliant, happy and sure-footed player who had just won the European Cup wearing a Barcelona shirt. The German team, on the other hand, came to the final with Matthaus, Klinsmann and all the stars. Germany who ought to have won, was defeated by Denmark, who had nothing to prove and played as if the field were a continuation of the beach.

It’s great stuff; I highly recommend it. Get a copy from your local bookstore or Half.com, or get the ebook from Amazon or Apple.

And get ready for June, when we’ll see new stories of victory and loss, glory and defeat. And some pretty moves, too, for the love of God.

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