Weekend Reads: Radiohead, ABBA, “Dune,” Disney+, Aaron Rodgers, Space Tacos

Recommended weekend reading material for November 13, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

Andy Beta charts the path of musical influences that led to Radiohead’s landmark 2000 album, Kid A.

OK Computer reviews breathlessly proclaimed how Radiohead had “saved rock,” but in the intervening years, the band was no longer interested in said genre. Attention instead drifted towards electronic music, 20th century classical, jazz, German kosmische, and ambient.

When the band finally re-emerged in 2000 with Kid A, they found a sonic palette perfectly suited to the post-millennial tension that lay ahead, their themes of alienation and disconnect finding resonance amid the by-turns placid and chaotic new sounds of the band. Radiohead looked outside of rock for inspiration, to jazz that embraced both chaos and gentleness and bucked against tradition; at their adventurous forbearers in Germany and the U.S.; and their contemporaries who were also pushing their electronic gear into heady new realms. With Kid A, the band was reborn for the next century.

Radiohead’s catalog is now available on Bandcamp.

ABBA’s first album in 40 years is a smash success. So far, Voyage has outsold all of the other top 40 albums combined, putting the disco pioneers on track to get their tenth number one album.

The Official Albums Chart say the group is also on course to achieve the biggest opening week for an album in over four years. To achieve this, the group must first beat the first-week sales of Ed Sheeran’s Equals, which stood at 139,000. Currently, the group looks on course to achieve this milestone.

The group will also tour next year in support of the album, but only as digital avatars.

Although it was released 20 years ago this week, Hood’s Cold House still remains the perfect album for mid-November, when the air’s getting colder, the skies are getting grayer, and the sun sets earlier and earlier. David Agasi, Joel Hanson, and Hood’s own Richard Adams reflect on the album’s recording and legacy.

Probably the worst thing to do would be to play a miserable album I was once involved in, but I wanted to remember the happy creative time when we made it and to remind myself that some parts of my life haven’t been an unmitigated catastrophe. It was a sunny day, but Cold House immediately transported me into the bleak back streets of Leeds in damp November in the early 2000s. I could almost smell the house I lived in and I shivered at the unheated rooms I had to attempt to sleep in before wrapping up warm each day, ready to get lashed by the relentless rain on the sopping trudge to work. It’s not an album to cheer anyone up, but it is like stepping into another world and it takes you on a journey.

Related: Read my review of Cold House.

I always appreciate K. B. Hoyle’s thoughtful analysis of movies and TV shows, and her review of Dune is no different.

When I sat down to Dune, I expected it to be a dense story filled with political intrigue, interplanetary conflict, social commentary, and (based on the way longtime fans talk about it) much more. But Villeneuve gave us something more intimate than any of that. He honed in on what would ground a massive story in the hearts of viewers: the journey of Paul Atreides from childhood to adulthood.

I didn’t expect a close and personal tale of a boy struggling to reach manhood. In short, I didn’t expect Dune to be a Bildungsroman.

And speaking of Dune, Steven D. Greydanus has also weighed in on Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic.

So far I’ve watched Villeneuve’s film twice: the first time just to try to take it in, and the second, after catching up with Lynch’s version as a point of comparison and contrast, to get at least some sense of Villeneuve’s contributions to the material. My main takeaway is that, while I’m not convinced I want to commit to plowing through the novel’s 800 or whatever pages, I’m eager to watch Villeneuve’s film again. I well understand, though, some of the reasons this response is far from universal. Dune is one of those rare films that can reasonably be held to justify fully both the worst and the best that can be said about it.

Weta Digital, the special effects company that did the Oscar-winning effects for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, has been acquired by the makers of the Unity game engine for $1.6 billion.

Together, Unity and Weta Digital can create a pathway for any artist, from any industry, to be able to leverage these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Offering aspiring creatives access to Weta Digital’s technology will be nothing short of game changing and Unity is just the company to bring this vision to life.

The Unity engine has been used to create a number of acclaimed video games, including Alto’s Adventure, Kentucky Route Zero, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Pillars of Eternity. Jason Rochlin theorizes what this deal could mean for the video game industry as a whole, such as making a bunch of really powerful tools available to game developers.

Note: This deal apparently only affects the digital side of Weta, but not Weta Workshop, which specializes in designing and building award-winning sets, props, and practical effects.

Yesterday was Disney Plus Day, during which Disney highlights future titles for their Disney+ streaming service. Here’s a complete list of the day’s announcements, which include Baymax (a follow-up series to 2014’s Big Hero 6), a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi series, and peeks at the upcoming Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight MCU series. Speaking of the MCU, yesterday also saw the Disney+ premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (which premiered in theaters back in September).

The Disney Plus Day announcements come on the heels of news that Disney+ subscriptions appear to be tapering off (via Morning Brew). The service only added 2.1 million subscriptions in the last quarter, compared to 12.4 million in the quarter before that. Disney+ currently has 118.1 million subscribers, compared to Netflix (209 million) and HBO Max (67 million).

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers came under fire after his positive COVID test revealed that he had lied about being vaccinated and following NFL protocols. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — yes, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — is having none of Rodgers’ excuses.

Rodgers’ ignorance regarding the science of immunology brings back to life the old stereotype of the big dumb jock. His utter lack of even the most basic knowledge and logic is shocking. In an effort to defend his lying, he stated, “This idea that it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it’s just a total lie … If the vaccine is so great, then how come people are still getting covid and spreading covid and, unfortunately dying of covid?” Those two statements don’t even belong together. Statistics from many sources conclude that around 97 percent of those being hospitalized or who have died in the past several months are unvaccinated. The CDC found that the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die than those vaccinated. If he thinks that’s a lie, what credible evidence does he have? None.

Abdul-Jabbar also draws a pointed comparison between what will probably happen to Rodgers as a result of his deception (i.e., nothing at all) to the treatment Colin Kaepernick received for protesting racism.

A recent blog post by Substack’s Chris Best and Hamish McKenzie argues that more oversight isn’t the best approach to fixing our current social media debacle.

[T]he key to a healthier platform is to flip the power dynamic: give the people themselves the power to choose what they pay attention to. Let the will of the people control their feeds, not the other way around. Instead of removing people’s agency by manipulating their attention in favor of the most profitable and provocative content, let them seek out what they really value. Other than in extreme cases involving violence or illicit activity, people should be allowed to decide for themselves who’s worth listening to, what’s trustworthy, and which direction is punching “down.”

Later in the post, Best and McKenzie claim that people may “hate-read and doom-scroll,” but they won’t pay for that sort of content. Instead, they’ll only pay for content that they find valuable, instead of whatever is pushed on them via social media algorithms driven by advertising.

That is, of course, precisely Substack’s business model (and, full disclaimer, one that I that employ myself). But when they write that the ad-based business model was the internet’s “original sin,” they’re not entirely wrong.

In an attempt to cut down on harassment, YouTube is making a seemingly minor change: they’re removing the dislike count from all videos.

The decision is likely to be controversial given the extent that it impacts the public’s visibility into a video’s reception. But YouTube believes the change will better protect its creators from harassment and reduce the threat of what it calls “dislike attacks” — essentially, when a group teams up to drive up the number of dislikes a video receives.

You’ll still be able to dislike videos; you just won’t see how many dislikes a particular video has received.

This follows a similar move by Instagram to hide the number of Likes on posts, but they ultimately left it up to users to decide whether they wanted to see Likes or not.

Tired of Google? A brand new search engine has entered the fray. You.com claims to be more privacy and user-focused due to its lack of advertising and its use of artificial intelligence to generate and summarize search results (read the press release).

My initial reactions are mixed. I’m glad that there’s one more challenger to Google’s dominance, but in its present “beta” form, You.com feels really cluttered, like it’s trying to do too much when it’s trying to summarize the web.

Somebody deserves a Nobel prize for this: we officially have space tacos.

The International Space Station hosted a taco bash for astronauts on Friday as they celebrated the harvest of the first chile peppers grown in space. The crew finally had a chance to taste test the peppers after initially kicking off the plant experiment on the space station in July.

Via 1440.

From the Blog

Earlier this week, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of vidnaObmana’s The River of Appearance, one of my favorite ambient albums of all time.

Put simply, The River of Appearance is a masterpiece of serene, contemplative ambient music for which terms like “heavenly” and “ethereal” are perfectly apt even as they fail to adequately capture its essence. I return to this album when I need refuge, be it from the torment of a migraine or illness, or from a world that feels increasingly insane. With its shimmering electronics and elegant arrangements, The River of Appearance handily provides just such a tranquil space.

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