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Book a Week: Weeks 17-26, Books 17-18

It's been a bit since I last posted. I have been reading, but I've also been packing to move. So posting wasn't on my mind. Onto the books.

First was The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The movie kept creeping up on Amazon Prime, and I wanted to watch it. However, like usual, I wanted to read the book first. By the time I made it back to Amazon, the movie wasn't free anymore. So I guess I'll grab it some other time. As for the book, it was an interesting take on what I like to call the “day after” genre. Something terrible, unforeseen, or alien happened the day before, and now people are living in the aftermath. Our narrator wakes up in a hospital having just had eye surgery. So he doesn't know if he can see. It turns out that nearly everyone has been blinded. They think it's a comet, although it might not have been, and people are forced to survive. There are some truly scary depictions of what humans can turn to when faced with blindness. However, we also find out that a certain plant, recently genetically created, is also taking advantage of the humans' plight. There are some real heart breakers in this book. How do you fend for yourself, do you commit suicide, do you help others, and do you follow established norms or create new ones? It isn't long, either, so you should check it out.

Bonus points for the usage of misgave, gymkhana, lugubrious, salubrious, and expostulate.

After this, I read Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk. It's the story of a group of spies infiltrating the US as exchange students in order to perform acts of terrorism. First, as much as I love some of Chuck's books, sometimes they're just too weird, even for me. This one comes close. It's written from the perspective of someone who has been taught to hate the US. Someone who has the barest grasp on English. It was very difficult for me to get into the pattern of that speech. I liked the descriptions, but the grammar threw me for a loop. So it took longer than usual to get through the book since I was often re-reading sentences and phrases.

While all this was going on, I was also reading Manners and Morals of Victorian America by Wayne Erbsen. You'll notice I didn't list it as one of the books I'm reading. I was expecting something a bit more narrative. This is more like lists and pictures collected from the time period. While it's interesting, it's not engaging. So, I'll read that one over time and review it once I'm done.

Book a Week: Weeks 14-16, Book 16

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, has been on my radar for some time. However, when I saw the trailer for the new series, I knew I had to read the book before I could watch it. I've never read Pratchett, although people have said I would enjoy his writing. Neil, however, is a mixed bag for me. Sometimes I like his work, and sometimes I just don't. But this book proves to be a good one. It has a feeling similar to Douglas Adams. The books is just long enough to establish the major players without being too chunky. If you like angels and demons working together to sabotage the Apocalypse, then this book is for you. Also, I don't know if other editions have it, but mine had a Caveat on the inside page. People should look for it. I also love that there's mention of Bosch and Durer.


Simulation Theory (2018)

"The Dark Side"
"Break It to Me"
"Something Human"
"Thought Contagion"
"Get Up and Fight"
"Dig Down"
"The Void"

This album has a much lighter tone, focusing on a more electronic sound and a sci-fi theme. It starts with "Algorithm" and those arpeggios that I love. "The Dark Side" is the first song that starts to have that chiptune/synth sound. I just love it. "Pressure" might be my favorite song on the album. It really reminds me of earlier Muse. It has a rock anthem kind of feeling, with a touch of nerd rock to round it out. "Propaganda" starts out so fun, and it just keeps trucking along. It’s like Prince meets Lead Belly. "Break It to Me" definitely has some of the hip-hop influence. It’s a strange but interesting collection of sounds. After the darkness of the Drones album, we get something light and fun with "Something Human." It’s a stripped down piece, but it still has some great robotic harmonies on the chorus. "Thought Contagion" also has that touch of nerd rock. I love the melodies. "Get Up and Fight" has some great lyrics “Get up and fight/Get up and fight/I can't do this thing without you/I'm lost in this without you/Get up and fight/We've gotta get up and fight/I can't handle this without you/Can't do it without you.” "Blockades" brings us back to the simulation idea along with some strong rock elements. "Dig Down" gives us a gospel style inspirational piece. It’s probably the weakest song on the album, but it’s still good. The album ends with "The Void" in its creepy crawling. It’s a slow piece, but it has real depth from the bass and strings. It has a real 1980s feel to it.


Musical Musings - Drones

Drones (2015)

"Dead Inside"
"[Drill Sergeant]"
"The Handler"
"The Globalist"

It’s another concept album, but this one is a bit more like their old style. The drone-inception starts with "Dead Inside." There are some great lyrics: "You've taught me to lie without a trace/And to kill with no remorse/On the outside I'm the greatest guy/Now I'm dead inside!" If you’re going to have a human drone, you’ll need a drill instructor. He’ll turn you into, yes, a "Psycho." This song is unusual for Muse in that there’s so much adult language. I don’t mind, but I’m sure some people did. But it’s a nice to Full Metal Jacket. Muse had been off my radar for a bit, and I think "Reapers" is the song that caught my attention again. So much so that I tried to go to the Drones tour when it came through in January 2016. It’s easily my favorite song on the album. It has a nice, hard edge along with a driving rhythm. About halfway through the song, we hit the awesome solos, and I always crank it up. I love the back and forth of it all. I have to put in a little note about "The Handler" simply because I love Bellamy’s range. It makes me smile. "Aftermath" is a nice, bluesy ballad. I have to admit that I really like "Drones." The madrigal style piece just takes me back to college.


Musical Musings - The 2nd Law

The 2nd Law (2012)

"Panic Station"
"Follow Me"
"Big Freeze"
"Save Me"
"Liquid State"
"The 2nd Law: Unsustainable"
"The 2nd Law: Isolated System"

The very first time I heard "Madness," I didn’t realize who was singing it. It felt like a Queen song. When I found out it was Muse, I looked up their inspiration. Yup, it was Queen. You can tell with the harmonies and that guitar riff. It really reminds me of a deep, deep cut of Queen. I can see where the inspirations come from. It’s probably my favorite song on the album. "Survival" became the official song of the 2012 Olympics in London, as it seems they asked him to write it. It feels a bit overblown, but then I’m sure "Bohemian Rhapsody" did as well on first listening. I know that "Follow Me" had mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed the addition of the Nero dub-step production. I just wish there was more of it. "Animals" has some really lovely guitar work. As much as I love Matt, it’s nice to see someone else stepping up to do some work. I really liked "Save Me" from Chris Wolstenholme. While I understand it’s about his battle with alcoholism, I think it could apply to many people. IT’s an overall positive song with a hopeful feel. We get more dub-step in "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," but I love that they did it with real instruments. It’s fun to know that Bellamy was reading World War Z, a book that I’ve read and enjoyed, while making the album.


Musical Musings - The Resistance

The Resistance (2009)

"Undisclosed Desires"
"United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)"
"Guiding Light"
"Unnatural Selection"
"MK Ultra"
"I Belong to You (+Mon Cœur S'ouvre a ta Voix)"
"Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1 (Overture)"
"Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 (Cross-Pollination)"
"Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption)"

Of all the albums, this is the one I have the hardest time getting into, and that’s not saying much, really. It’s a concept album, and those can sometimes be hard to listen for me because they have parts that are only there to tell a story. You’d never hear them on a regular album. So, this one has some very nice songs interspersed with some lovely classical-style music. It all works, but I’d prefer one or the other on an album, and not together. I understand that many bands go through this. They want to try new recording and production techniques, and you need a special platform. They get tired of writing songs just for an album, and they want to try something different, more cohesive as an experience. Sometimes you get The Wall and sometimes you get Tommy. But when Brian May from Queen is telling you that you’re doing a good job, I guess you’re doing a good job.

"Uprising" is definitely my favorite song on the album. When I heard this one the radio, I was blown away. This is some top notch stuff right here. I love the guitar and synths, and there’s something that reminds me of the Dr. Who theme in there. When I first heard "Undisclosed Desires," I wasn’t really listen to the lyrics. It took a few more listens for me to get the words, even though I had to CD cover with them inside. Once I knew what was going on, I really warmed up to the song. I love the darkness of the music paired with the intimate lyrics: "I want to reconcile the violence in your heart/I want to recognize your beauty is not just a mask/I want to exorcise the demons from your past/I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart." The Queen style break in "United States of Eurasia" I noticed immediately. Gotta love those harmonies. It was kind of fun to hear the tribute. The Chopin ("Collateral Damage") is very nice, but it feels a little weird to have it there. More of the Queen influence comes through in "Guiding Light" with that guitar solo. I could totally hear Brian May playing. Then we go back to some serious rock n’ roll with the guitar and drums of "Unnatural Selection." I do enjoy the French selection in "I Belong to You (+Mon Cœur S'ouvre a ta Voix)" since I could probably sing it myself. "Exogenesis" is an interesting bit of music. I can’t deny people love it. It’s interesting for sure. I know other composers are sighted as inspiration, but the Part 2 has a flavor of Gershwin to me. Maybe it’s Rachmaninoff, but it sounds like Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue."


Book a Week: Weeks 12-13, Book 15

When I first saw the trailer for The Circle, I thought that this had to be based on a book. I was right. That book was written by Dave Eggers. I enjoyed the book. It was an interesting look at where we could be heading with social media and online activism. It has an interesting ending. Then I saw the movie. It was markedly different. It was streamlined, but it had a completely 180 degree change to the ending. I didn't care for it. But, the book is worth a read.

“Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication.”

“It's not that I'm not social. I'm social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you're purveying. It improves nothing. It's not nourishing. It's like snack food.”


Black Holes and Revelations (2005)

"Take a Bow"
"Supermassive Black Hole"
"Map of the Problematique"
"Soldier's Poem"
"City of Delusion"
"Knights of Cydonia"

We move into a more political album than the ones before. It starts strong with "Take a Bow." The lyrics are pretty obvious, but that’s fine for the opener. Define where this album is going in not-so-glowing terms. "Starlight" is a nice, rocking song. I love the lyrics. It’s a song that I always find myself singing to, although that happens with a good deal of Muse. (I think part of that is because Bellamy’s voice is high, like mine, unlike so many other bands.) From there we march into "Supermassive Black Hole." It has a funk fell that hasn’t really been present before. They synths in the background just keep the song moving forward. Do I sing to this one? You bet, every time. It’s a sexy song with places to go. It might very well be my favorite song on the album. We move back into our main dystopian theme with "Map of the Problematique." I really like the distortion. Best lyric: "Why can't we see/That when we bleed we bleed the same." "Soldier's Poem" reminds me of a 1950s slow doo-whop sing about the war. It makes me sad. Even when things look bleak, you need to have some hope, and that’s what "Invincible" brings. It’s not as musically sophisticated as some of the other songs, but it has a really powerful message of joining forces to make change. We plow into "Assassin" that has some of the most powerful drumming I’ve heard up until now. What would a political album be worth without some zealots and conspiracies? So we have "Exo-Politics" and "City of Delusion." I love the effects on both songs. "Hoodoo" has that wonderful guitar that reminds me of both Spanish guitar and surf rock. Then we hit another belt of classical piano. It’s a great respite before we launch into insanity. The final track, "Knights of Cydonia," might also be my favorite. It’s hard to choose. It starts with an explosion, horses neighing, literally gallops into being, and then we get more of that surf rock guitar. For a song about taking control of your destiny, this one rocks hard. I love the harmonies. When they hit in the bridge with "No one's going to take me alive," I always turn it up.


Musical Musings - Absolution

Absolution (2003)

"Apocalypse Please"
"Time Is Running Out"
"Sing for Absolution"
"Stockholm Syndrome"
"Falling Away with You"
"Butterflies & Hurricanes"
"The Small Print"
"Thoughts of a Dying Atheist"
"Ruled by Secrecy"

This is probably my favorite Muse album. It has so many songs that I love. I listened to this CD in my car ad nauseam. It’s a darker and heavier album overall, something that I greatly appreciate. We also start to hear the big symphonic sound. "Intro" leads into the discordant start of "Apocalypse Please." It has this swirling pattern in the bridge that I love. While I don’t remember exactly what song I heard originally, I think it might have been "Time Is Running Out." I love singing along to it. "Sing for Absolution" is written in D minor, my favorite key, which could explain why I like it so much. It also has this slow but bouncing piano and drums part that sort of leads me along, usually singing. Then we move into "Stockholm Syndrome" with that driving guitar riff. While I didn’t know, the song is based on the Phrygian mode, which as a music major, makes me happy. I love modal music. I also love the lyrics "This is the last time I'll abandon you/And this is the last time I'll forget you." We slow things down a bit with "Falling Away with You." I like the song, but the intro and outro bug me. I have a problem with the sounds of sliding up and down guitar strings. It’s personal, I know that. But it sets my nerves on edge. So I don’t listen to this song that often. But I do like the pinball-like sounds. It’s the fanfare portion, it reminds me of an arcade. We have our little "Interlude" and then move into "Hysteria." This might be my favorite song on the album. The bassline intro is amazing, and then that sliding guitar entry. It’s yet another song that I suddenly find myself singing along to. The part I really love is the second bridge where the music really goes all out. I always turn it up in the car. I’m not even 100% sure if it’s a guitar or synths, but I don’t care. Then we slide into "Blackout" with a grace that doesn’t seem to fit. It’s like a liquid ballad. But you need that break before we rocket into "Butterflies & Hurricanes." It starts so slow and builds up into this massive orchestral piece. It’s like listening to Rachmaninoff. There’s just so much complexity to this song. It feels like I find something new every time. After that, we move to a more stripped down version with "The Small Print." I love the lyrics "Sell/I'll sell your memories/For fifteen pounds per year/But just the good days." The guitar is just amazing. "Endlessly" might also be my favorite song the album, but for completely different reasons. This is the slower song I love. The lyrics speak to me: "Hopelessly I'll love you endlessly/Hopelessly I'll give you everything/But I won't give you up/I won't let you down/And I won't leave you falling/If the moment ever comes." "Thoughts of a Dying Atheist" is the song I never expect. It was a song that at first I wasn’t sure I liked, but the more I listened, the more I liked. Like so much of this album, I find myself singing along. We inch to the end of the album with "Ruled by Secrecy." It’s a quiet end to a very loud album.


Back in the early 2000s, I heard a group on the radio. I had no idea who they were, but everyone loved them. It took me some time, but I warmed up to Muse. I have fallen for their music, and I’m finally getting to see them live. I enjoyed my delve into Queen so much, I want to do it for Muse. In fact, trying to listen to the Muse albums in order is actually what inspired me to listen to Queen’s. So, let’s go back to the beginning.

Showbiz (1999)

"Muscle Museum"
"Falling Down"
"Hate This & I'll Love You"

From the very beginning track, “Sunburn,” I’m pulled right in. I love the arpeggios, and then that little guitar riff comes meandering in from nowhere. I also like the driving rhythm of “Muscle Memory.” It’s not often that Muse slows down, but “Falling Down” is a nice example. I love the lyrics from “Cave”: “Leave me alone, it's nothing serious/I'll do it myself, it's got nothing to do with you/And there's still nothing that you can do.” I have to admit that I find the titular song “Showbiz” a bit repetitive. I love “Unintended.” I think many people can identify with feeling hopeless after a devastating break up. Being close to suicide and then pulling back when you’ve noticed someone new. I think the best part is that he understands he’s not ready yet, but he’s on the path to healing. He’ll meet up soon. So thoughtful. Same with “Uno.” I really like the crickets in "Hate This & I'll Love You.” It’s such a nice touch.

Origin of Symmetry (2001)

"New Born"
"Space Dementia"
"Hyper Music"
"Plug In Baby"
"Citizen Erased"
"Micro Cuts"
"Feeling Good"

The album starts strong with the pulsating “New Born.” It bounces along on the piano, and then that chugging guitar riff comes barreling in. It’s such a great start. “Bliss” is one of my favorite Muse songs. The fast pace, the arpeggios, the high voice, and amazing lyrics. It’s everything I want. It makes me smile that Matthew Bellamy has said it’s his favorite as well. We dip into some prog rock with "Space Dementia.” The guitar insanity continues with “Plug In Baby.” I hadn’t known what a revered riff it was until I started reading about this album. It’s certainly my second favorite song on the album. I do have to admit that it’s almost impossible for me to understand “Micro Cuts” without a lyric sheet. But I do like how the sound bounces from left to right and back again. “Screenager" makes me think of a kid who is becoming a teenager, and no one will recognize it. They still treat them like a child. “Feel Good” is from the Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. It’s a nice, crunchy version. This was the first album that I heard in its entirety. In the end I liked it, but I wanted something more.