pitch perfect hits it out of the park

Pitch Perfect Original Theatrical Soundtrack CoverI’ve never sung in a collegiate a cappella group, and have no idea what it’s really like. That being said, I do have years of choral group experience to draw on for comparison. But, do you need any of that to enjoy the movie Pitch Perfect? No. Just a good sense of humor and an appreciation for modern pop music.

In case you haven’t heard of it, and I’m not surprised if you haven’t, there’s a new movie out called Pitch Perfect. It’s about college a cappella, the first year college experience, and taking risks.

It’s also fiction, so don’t take it too seriously. The boy gets the girl. The troubled youth defeats her inner demons. The underdog wins. Typical movie with a happy ending.

The real thrills came from the music. It was fun! Simply fun! Like the performances we saw on the three years of NBC’s The Sing-Off, there’s nothing quite like watching/hearing a group of singers using only their mouths and voices to perform creative arrangements of pop songs.

Simply put, I enjoyed Pitch Perfect. It was funny without being gross, and touching without being melodramatic. Go see it. It’ll be worth the ticket price.

my presentation at PTPL

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation on our ERMS implementation at the annual meeting of the Potomac Technical & Processing Librarians. It was a great honor to be asked to present along with a panel of other librarians talking about their ERMS. It was also the longest I’ve been asked to speak, and while a completely nerve-wracking experience internally, it seemed to have been well-received. If you are interested, my notes and slides are now available on SlideShare.

resolutions and all that

statue reading a book at Mozart Museum in Prague
statue at Mozart Museum in Prague

I’m terrible at making and keeping resolutions. The first week or two are great, and then it starts to slip. That’s partially why I’m hesitant to articulate them, much less share them with anyone else. That being said, I have made a few promises to myself regarding things I want to work on this year. I have hopes that enough practice will eventually turn the new behaviors into old habits.

One thing I really hope to do more of, and have been working on unsuccessfully for several years now, is to set aside time to read books. And if not physically read them, at least make use of the time I spend in my car or at the gym to listen to them. I used to consume several books a week on summer breaks from school, and even kept up the habit in the working years between college and graduate school. I think it was the combination of graduate school and home internet access that broke the habit.

Last year, I chose twelve books that I planned to read. I made it through six, finished one a day into 2012, and gave up on another. Here’s the list of books read, with links to my reviews on GoodReads:

When I made the original list, it was a mix of books I’ve wanted to read but didn’t own and books that I owned and hadn’t read yet. I thought maybe the list would make me more focused, and only 12 in one year seemed doable. In fact, I read 17 books total last year, just not all of the ones I told myself I would read. About four of the books I read were ones I found in audio format at my local public library, and they were my road trip companions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to Ohio.

Ultimately, what it came down to, was a mix of feeling like the list of 12 were more like school assignments and less like something I would choose to read, even though I did choose to read them and no one but myself “assigned” them. It was an interesting experiment, but this year I’ve decided to just make the time to read, and leave the material selection up to whatever I’m feeling like or have recently discovered.

Maybe all this resolution making and breaking is a good thing in the long run. Maybe it teaches me more about how my brain works and how to trick myself into making better decisions. Or maybe I just need to turn off the computer and pick up a book.

January readings

I always do better at the beginning of the year than later on, so I’m not going to crow too much about being on track for reading 50 this year, particularly since two are graphic novels that took less than 20 minutes to read. Nevertheless, here’s the round-up:

The first and last books I read this month are The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony by John Scalzi. Continuing on in the Old Man’s War universe, the first is from the perspective (mostly) of Jane Sagan, although not in the first person like OMW. The second is once again from first person perspective of John Perry. While TLC explains more of the politics of the OMW universe, I found TGB to be more interesting reading due to the issues of sentience and self-hood that Scalzi explores in the story. The fourth book, Zoe’s Tale, is on my reading list for this month.

Star Trek: Art of the Film is one that I read and reviewed for Blogcritics. It’s “is part coffee table book and part behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creation of the film.” Most of what I have to say about it, I said in the review, so check that out if you’re interested.

I started reading the new Wonder Woman comic series last year, and I found that I’m missing the context of an incredible amount of backstory, so I picked up copies of the first two trade paperbacks, Who Is Wonder Woman? and Love and Murder. It’s still a bit confusing, since even though they are the start of a new series, there is still an underlying assumption that the reader is familiar with the history of Wonder Woman. Me, I just vaguely remember the TV show. Anyway, I think I’ll continue getting the trade paperbacks instead of the single issues. It’s more cost-effective, and I need the longer story arcs to keep track of what’s happening.

#11

I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling

I’ll bet you thought I forgot about this whole 50 books thing. No, it’s just that once again, my intentions are much more noble than reality. I have also been rather poor at reporting on the books I’ve read this year, but most of the time, I assume I’m the only one who really cares about all this, anyway.

#11 is I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling, translated by Shelley Frisch. This one landed on my doorstep the other week as the latest in a slow trickle of review books coming in from Library Journal. (You can search for my recent reviews, if you’re so inclined.) A little uncertain about it at first, I quickly found myself lost in the story and read it cover to cover in one sitting.

Kerkeling is a German comedy performer of some renown. Not being up on my European comedians (aside from nearly memorizing all of Eddie Izzard’s routines on YouTube), I hadn’t heard of the fellow before this book. After failing to track down any recording of a performance in English or with subtitles, I gave up. Considering that my German linguistic skills are virtually nil, I’m not surprised I hadn’t heard of him before. (If you are interested, Amazon has a short interview with him in English.)

The book is essentially the diary he wrote while hiking the Camino de Santiago in 2001. It’s not strictly a recording of events and people from the pilgrimage, but the stories he tells about his background and prior experiences add import to the things that happen to him on the trail. By the end of the story, I felt as though Kerkeling was a long-lost friend with whom I had recently reunited over a cup of coffee. In many ways, this book reminded me of Kelly Winters’ Walking Home, and that is a good thing.

reviews on blogcritics: december

Things I reviewed in December.

December was a busy month for me, which left me little time to do much reviewing. I had hoped to get quite a bit done over the holidays, but instead I relaxed with friends and family. I think it was worth it, but it means working a bit harder in January.

A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa, Vol. 1 & 2

If you’ve heard a country version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one too many times this season, or if any other rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” performed by your grade school child/sibling/cousin/whatever will push you over the edge, then I suggest you pick up either or both volumes of A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa. With the selections of classic and classical Christmas songs performed by musicians who care more about the music than about cashing in on the season, these are Christmas albums worth owning.

Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller

In addition to the fairly comprehensive 60-year overview of Parton’s life, the book contains a selective discography, source notes, a bibliography, and an index – all useful tools for researchers. I particularly enjoyed looking at the 16 pages of plates of photographs of Parton at various points in her life. Unfortunately, only the most dedicated fans are likely to read the book from cover to cover.

reviews on blogcritics: november

So, I didn’t end up catching up as much as I thought I would. Hopefully, I can do that in the next few weeks.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Live in Japan

This live album includes many of the band’s popular tunes, and serves as a “best of” recording much better than any compilation of their past studio work could attempt to do, mainly because as precise and flawless as the studio recordings can be, they do not convey the energy contained in a live performance, which is a significant part of their appeal. [more]

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte

…Duarte outlines the elements that make up an effective presentation design, and provides many real-world examples of these elements in action. She does not give too many details on specific tools and functions within particular slide presentation programs; instead, she provides the reader with the design theory needed to create an effective presentation. [more]

P!nk – Funhouse

Beginning with the post-relationship celebrity breakdown of “So What,” P!nk tells stories of substance abuse, co-dependency, and emotional/physical abuse. Alternatively cursing her lover and also pleading with them to not leave, she explores the complexity that led to the broken ending that began the album. [more]

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 3 Remastered

The visual enhancements, for the most part, are not noticeable unless one is obsessively familiar with every detail of the original format, and in most cases, they stand out only against scenes that did not clean up quite as well.

reviews on blogcritics: october

October was a busy month for me. I went to my college reunion, battled with a cold and lower back pain, and attended a professional conference. The end result of this is that I didn’t do as much reviewing as I had planned on, and now I’m having to play catch-up. Expect to see a longer list for November, but for now, I give you:

Jessie Baylin – Firesight

The arrangements and production work on Firesight are both so well done that one hardly notices them. It’s simply a collection of good tunes that flow together well with an appropriate balance between the lead vocals and everything else. This is essential to making the album work, as anything that stands out as too rough or too glossy would immediately break the mellow mood. [more]

Theresa Andersson – Hummingbird Go!

It took a few listens before I began to appreciate the complexity and depth of Andersson’s music. It’s quirky and a bit more subdued that the assortment of rock-tinged pop that tends to be on regular rotation in my house. Putting away all other distractions and focusing on the album alone, I was able to hear the energy and drive of her performance that was not as apparent when approaching the recording casually. Andersson’s creative use of unorthodox instrumentation and unexpected arrangements need the listener’s full attention to be appreciated. [more]

Click and Clack’s As the Wrench TurnsClick & Clack – As the Wrench Turns

If the creators of Click & Clack were looking to achieve the success of shows like The Simpsons or The Family Guy, they have a great deal of room for improvement. Click & Clack: As the Wrench Turns may be enjoyed in small doses, but I would not recommend buying or renting this DVD unless you are a consummate NPR/PBS fan who must acquire everything put out by those media companies. [more]

Awake, My Soul – The Original Soundtrack / Help Me to Sing – Songs of the Sacred Harp

With the release of the two-disc soundtrack, we are treated with the full recordings of the songs referenced in the documentary, including the solfège – singing the song with the names of the notes rather than the words in order to learn the music. The second disc of the set features 20 renditions of Sacred Harp tunes by a diverse group of folk and pop performers. The set is treated as two different albums, each with its own title. [more]

Agatha Christie: Mystery Lover’s Collection

Although the box is given a distinctive design and theme, the contents are clearly pulled from the various sets and single releases previously made available by Acorn Media. It’s a little disappointing that they did not change the packaging of the contents to match, rather than making it appear to be an assortment of remainders marketed as something new. Luckily, it’s the contents that matter more than the packaging. [more]

reviews on blogcritics: July-September

Hey, there. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, but I want to you know that I’ve been thinking about you while we’ve been apart. I’ve had a busy schedule this past month, and it has kept me away from you, at least in this forum, and I want you to know that I have missed you very much. I hope you can forgive me for being away so long.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things that I have written for Blogcritics in recent months:

The World Is Your Litter Box: A How-to Manual for Cats by Quasi, with Minor Help from Steve Fisher

This book is by no means a serious psychological study of cat behavior or cat-human relationships, but it does provide some insight into the latter. The main thing I took away from this book is that no matter what cats do to irritate humans, most of us easily melt into a puddle of mush when our pets show affection. Think of how much calmer rush hour could be if we all had a purring cat in our laps? [more]

Amy Ray – Didn’t It Feel Kinder

Even though Ray worked with some of the same musicians on Didn’t It Feel Kinder as she did for Stag and Prom, this album has a completely different feel to it. The message is the same, but the medium has shifted. Fans expecting a punk rock album may be disappointed, but I think that Didn’t It Feel Kinder will find its audience among listeners who enjoy the message as much as the medium. [more]

Alū – Lobotomy Sessions

Each of the ten tracks are what some have described as “cinematic soundscapes.” Think of them as an art house film told in three to five minutes. Horror, science fiction, political commentary, drama… whatever your movie type of choice, there is likely to be a track on this album that draws on elements of it. It’s a veritable film festival of sound. [more]

Uh Huh Her – Common Reaction

…don’t go looking for much depth in the lyrics. Although the insert devotes a full six panels to the poetry, it’s by far the weakest aspect of the album. Some of the more uninspired lines are held up quite well with the musical arrangements, so unless you’re paying close attention, you’ll be too distracted by the beats and melody to notice. In any case, it’s slightly better than the drivel on Top 40 radio. [more]

Cordero – De Dónde Eres

Past albums have featured a mix of English- and Spanish-language songs, but regardless of the language of the lyrics, the message was frequently delivered in packages spiced with horns and beats that made it impossible to sit still. De Dónde Eres heightens the Latin rhythms, instrumentation, and mood. Alternating between contemplative, strident, and festive arrangements, the album and the band are unified by Ani’s passionate lyrics and delivery. [more]

Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp (Standard Edition)

Most likely, the audience that will pick up this DVD will already be familiar with shape note singing. However, I think that anyone interested in Early American music should also take the time to view it. The filmmakers, both Sacred Harp singers themselves, have created a piece of work that, much like shape note music itself, is simultaneously utilitarian and glorious. [more]

The Age of Rockets – Hannah

Hannah is designed to be a palindrome of an album. The first five songs reflect the last five songs, with the middle sixth track creating the pivot point. Listening to an album that is half-music, half-mathematical art piece can sometimes be disappointing, but despite (or because of) this structure, Hannah stands on its own as a cohesive and fun collection of delicately blended electronic/organic tunes. Honestly, I hardly noticed the relationship between the songs in the dozen or so times I have listened to this album over the past couple of months. [more]

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Until watching it again in this remastered deluxe edition, it had never occurred to me that the film has a structure that allows for that kind of repeat showings. Several of the characters refer to Linus’ past obsession with the Great Pumpkin, and the implication that the same thing happens every Halloween makes it easy to suspend disbelief and watch it anew every year as though you weren’t already familiar with the plot and events. Maybe, just maybe, this year things will be different and the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the patch! [more]

reviews on blogcritics – june 2008

I’ve decided that one way I can keep this blog from being just a “look at my latest review/article on Blogcritics” blog would be to do monthly summaries rather than individual posts right after each article is published. Here’s the first installment.

Ladytron – Velocifero

The second track is the album’s lead single, “Ghost,” and it’s easy to hear why that was chosen. The song’s pulsating beat and repetitive chorus are addictive and likely to be club favorites. “I’m Not Scared” follows with a relentless grind and power rock chords that touches the musical soul and compels the listener to crank up the volume a little bit more. With the attitude and energy level of the album set within the first few tracks, the band takes a moment to give the listener a breather before launching back in with the electronic wave assault prevalent in most of the rest of the tracks.

Rosemary & Thyme – The Complete Series

An aspect of the show that I find very appealing is the relationship between Laura and Rosemary. Early on in the series, they addressed the social perception that the only reason why two grown women could care about each other is because they are romantically linked (“Arabica and the Early Spider”). With that bigoted and misguided stereotype thrown out the window, Ferris and Kendal set out to develop their character’s friendship to be something deeper and stronger than what is usually shown on an episodic dramedy television series. The interplay between the two went from merely comedic to the kind of inside joke humor that happens only between very close friends.

Jaymay – Autumn Fallin’

It’s difficult to peg this album into any particular genre. There are elements of folk, pop, and even touches of the wall-of-sound aspects of electronica, although no processors are used in the creation of the music. And, just when you think you’ve got a label, with gusto she throws in the ragtime-style song “Hard to Say.”

That’s all for now! As you can tell from my sidebar, I have a few items that I’ll be working on this next month, although one is for a print publication due out later this year or early next year.