Mailing It In

The internet is fine but could be better. Its ills are profound (disinformation, social isolation, public shaming), but when it’s good, it’s good (I haven’t bought a piece of shaving equipment in person for two years).

From the comfort of sleek apps and enticing websites, it seems we can now procure anything within reason in 3-5 business days. The emergence of an economy based upon walking to your doorstep to retrieve whatever you need is reaching new frontiers of ubiquity. What began with Netflix in the pre-instant era has spread to all sectors, from grooming to grocery shopping to, it turns out, fitness supplements.

A few days ago, I was spending a few mindless moments scrolling through Instagram when I saw an advertised post for a mail-order, personalized supplement service called, aptly, ‘Gainful’. It seems no territory is left uncharted when it comes to the subscription market. Although I’ve never purchased whey powder and swore off fitness supplements after taking some pre-workout and feeling like I had heart palpitations for the next 4 business days, the company’s market research division prevailed, and I soon found myself on their website punching in only-slightly-inflated fitness info for their specialists to review.

After listing myself at a charitable 5 foot 10, describing my weekly activities, and selecting my preferred end-of-regimen body type (muscular/toned), I was given a final question: chocolate or vanilla. Then, after due deliberation leading to vanilla and one last edit to say I should probably add a few pounds to my build, I waited on a loading screen and was presented with a breakdown of hard-to-pronounce chemical compounds that would, with any luck, leave me somewhere between toned and torn.

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Where will the age of hyper-personalization leave us? The democratization of expertise, it seems, could give everyone the ability to be their ‘best’ selves, attuned to the dangers of sedentary lifestyles and condensed fats.

More likely? I stare at the screen for what time I would’ve been working out and convince myself I have a glucose deficiency, then order Chinese food to the very couch from which I’m planning my ascent to the peak human form.

25 Tracks from 2018

“My mind tells me this is cliché, but my heart tells me I am fundamentally unique”

Reading & Re-reading

Some articles and a book I keep returning to—

  • Elif Batuman - The Murder of Leo Tolstoy

    Coming from someone who knows nothing of Russian literature, this piece passes the test. It was the first thing I read in an excellent nonfiction writers’ workshop this fall and does everything you’d want a good piece of longform to do: laugh, scratch your head, and become deeply interested in something which was previously totally off your radar. You can sense the author herself falling down a rabbit hole, and it’s full of great anecdotes (my personal favorite being the time Chekhov ran out of a sauna into the street because he heard Tolstoy was in the building and didn’t want to meet him under such circumstances). If I’m ever a grad school student looking for a grant and have a little extra time on my hands, maybe I, too, will head to the International Tolstoy Conference and meet some worthwhile figures.

  • William Finnegan - Barbarian Days

    This book has become something like a holy text to my brothers and me over the past few years. Any time I’m planning to travel somewhere for longer than a week, I bring it along. Bill has done all the things I secretly and not-secretly crave—to travel a great many far-flung locales and live to tell the tale, to surf untouched waves, and, of course, to eventually write about it all. A good primer comes from the piece that would eventually turn into the book, ‘Playing Doc’s Games’.

  • Joshua Rothman - The Sage of Yale Law

    Here’s something I never thought would affect me as deeply as it has: a short profile of a theologian in New Haven. Rothman introduces us to Anthony Kronman, the former Dean of Yale Law School, “arguably the world’s most fulfilled man”, and the foremost authority on Born-Again Paganism, Kronman’s personal ideology that centers on a deep appreciation for the the minutia of day-to-day life. It’s a look into a life of the highest academic privilege, where one’s only concern is to think the big thoughts. Once, I presented it in a senior seminar on ‘the future of work’, trying to contend that Kronman has the right idea and maybe we should all just stare at ivy growth patterns for a while (?)—everyone hated it. Nevertheless, it always makes me think of what my own form of absolute contentment may look like.

De Luxe

On a sunny Schöneberg afternoon in early September, an Italian man grabbed my arm and said this bike fit me just right. I’m glad I fell for his pitch. Long live the Montana De Luxe!

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IRL

I don’t think, unless I was really bored or had mono or something, that I’d gleefully spend 35 minutes on Instagram looking at photos of right hand breaks off Portugal. And then another 20 perusing Kitchen Toke, the first magazine devoted to Cannabis cooking. Plus a leisurely leafing through Do! It! Yourself! (the thought of building a stool by hand is most abstract).

Thankfully, through a chance encounter with Soda Books, I was, if only briefly, reinvigorated by the visual-physical medium and the pleasures of non-algorithmically curated discovery.

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Sure, I guess it’s nice to have people tell me what’s cool and beam filtered images directly into my eyes from the comfort of my bed each morning, but the more organic editorialization in a place like Soda is a helpful reminder of the power of deliberation

Soon, it was dark outside, and I didn’t have the usual regret or neck pain that comes with having stared at my phone for two hours and forty five minutes. Magazines: they’re good.

Busy Being Busy

A few weeks ago, a roommate of mine posed a peculiar question. I was describing the common path of a great many new graduates from US universities - that is, to take one or two months off, then begin a very serious, very full-time job in a major city - when she began to look confused.

“That’s so crazy. You guys are all, like, 22, yeah? Do you even know if you want a career yet?”.

I had no good answer and was admittedly puzzled by the notion.

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Regulars

I used to see the same group of men drinking at the bar inside a grocery store around the block. They reveled, slapped backs, and enjoyed two dollar pints. Yes, I guess it’s a bar. But it’s in a grocery store. What an odd place to be a regular, I thought, peering over my beer each time I saw them. Why, I could never spend so much time at such a place.

There’s a man I often see juggling a soccer ball with a cigarette in his mouth at the air field around the block. Today it’s windy, grey as can be, and looks like it may rain. Why would anyone even be here, at this air field, right now? That’s beyond me, and I lay back down on the damp, cigarette-butt-littered grass.

There’s a woman hitting tennis balls against the backboard at the courts around the block all the time. Who has the time to be playing tennis, of all sports, with such regularity? Has she seen the news? And all that whacking on the backboard is kind of loud when I’m trying to serve.

No Laptops, Some Exceptions

It’s a cool, crisp, early fall evening and I’m at Nathanja & Heinrich, an impossibly cozy café and bar in Neukölln. The walls are muted tones of red and brown resting between brick and a most agreeable form of ambient electronica plays as bartenders shake cocktails; it is just past 6:40, which, on this Saturday in Berlin, means it’s time to start warming up with something besides espresso. Beanie-adorned thirty-somethings dot the main room and, as I stroll toward the back corner carrying a backpack and a tall, golden beer, I see several small signs with kind cursive atop tables: “no laptops, please”.

This is normally a request which I not only honor but one that is met with a hearty nod of approval. Again, I really am into it. Some cafes (see: Astro Coffee in Detroit) have even gone as far as to deliberately withhold wifi information from patrons — I’m still into it.

But, at this moment, I find myself in a predicament in which, while not explicitly against the stated rules of the establishment, I must go against my own conventions. A few justifications:

The only book I have on hand is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and I find Hunter S Thompson’s work far too manic to enjoy in this type of setting.

I’m all caught up on Fresh Air interviews and my phone will die soon.

I want to listen to this Khruangbin record.

I need to, every 35 minutes, google if an infected hangnail can kill you (don’t ask).

I think I forgot to unsubscribe from those emails inviting me to for-profit college honor societies and need to do so immediately.

Plus, I’m in the throes of a seemingly-impossible apartment hunt and I fear two hours spent away from wg-gesucht.com, sending 92 messages that say I’m “laid back, creative, but can also probably pay rent on time”, will put me out of contention for a room next month.

And I guess I’m writing this, too.

So here I sit, and, you know what? I feel bad. Do as I say, not as I do.

Notes from Hell

Hell is not fiery.  It is not divided into nine levels of concentric circles. Its inhabitants don’t appear especially sinister.  Hell is not a place for punishment, and it is neither desolate nor sprawling. Its weather, most often, is temperate.  As far as popular culture is concerned, it has gotten a bad rap.

Hell, in reality, lies roughly four miles southwest of Pinckney, Michigan.

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Day Trader: The Reluctant Investor's Foray into Cryptocurrency

I’m generally not a terribly pessimistic person.  With the right amount of coffee I can find the good in most anything (Ranch dressing exempt).  I trend away from blaming my problems on late stage capitalism, and I don’t judge people who smoke cigarettes.  I even made it through 45 minutes of Requiem for a Dream with my roommate last summer, an affable frat-boy with an affinity for mid-career David Foster Wallace, über depressing films, and the rapper A$AP Rocky.  

I have, however, long kept the world of cryptocurrency — Bitcoin and all other forms of internet money, so to speak — at arm’s length.

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Music for the Skateboard

It's uncharacteristically warm in Michigan, which means that I'm skateboarding! Here are a few fine minutes of music which soundtracked 2018's first lap around greater Burns Park.

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1.) An excellent moment of French House comes from the 19 year old producer Lewis Ofman in 'Plein de Bisous' at 2:20. He makes some very fun electronic pop tracks that, more often than not, go right where I want them to.  His stuff is on the lighter side of what one finds from Parisian label Ed Banger. From Ofman I'd also recommend 'Flash'

2.) Nicolas Jaar released a surprise album last week (!) under the name 'Against All Logic'.  Among its highlights are a track called 'Now U Got Me Hooked', which I was excited to have recognized from his outstanding 2013 Boiler Room set. Here's a taste (1:54) of the new record.

3.) Moment of zen. Manuel Göttsching, the man behind E2-E4, brings us some addictive ambient offerings in addition to his more experimental, minimal work. The quintessential Berliner has a prolific catalog, but I think 'Oasis', released under the project Ashra, is a good place to start. This track is also my favorite way to finish off a morning cruise (wenn die Sonne scheint).  

What I'm Listening to in February

Here's what has been occupying the 'recently played' page of my Spotify app lately in the form of an eclectic (eccentric?) playlist.  New points of interest include Nick Hakim and the pianist and producer Kiefer.  And, as is expected, there's still some Scandinavian electronic disco from the likes of Lindstrøm and Todd Terje. 

Rare Groove

I recently had the pleasure of hanging out with and writing a profile of Marc Taras, the co-owner of PJ's Used Records on Packard Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He has run the shop since 1981 with his brother, Jeff; it's a real treat to get lost in a space of physical music for a while. We discussed the ins and outs of owning a record shop in 2018, what it's like to see Ann Arbor change before your eyes, and some tips on steering clear of music snobbery.

Read more here 

 

Erlend in '03

There's a great record by the Norwegian singer-songwriter, bandleader, DJ, and definitive #MildBoy Erlend Øye called Unrest.  Of most interest to me from this 2003 release are the production credits: 10 tracks, 10 producers, 10 different cities.  From Bjørn Torske in Bergen to Morgan Geist in NYC, Mr. Øye croons over some very nice techno-influenced, tastefully-synchronized dance tunes (other cities include Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, and, strangely enough, Shelton, Connecticut). The song 'Ghost Trains' also features a closing riff that, I argue, should probably be made into a 10 hour loop.

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Although the year is 2018, I often find my own music to still be influenced by this record, especially numbers like 'Sympton of Disease' and 'Sudden Rush'.  So, in case he makes a follow-up that needs a track from a left-leaning, Midwestern college town, I offer this:

What I Talk About When I Talk About [electronic music], Volume 1

The umbrella term of 'EDM' is not a particularly helpful one when it comes to music description and categorization, yet it remains.  I used to try to parse it out in order to put a definition to the electronic music most dear to me, but that's a tiring exercise that didn't really lead anywhere.  While the beginnings of my relationship with electronic centered on obsessing over Nicolas Jaar, Todd Terje, and French House oddball Breakbot, it hasn't been one without turbulence and identity crises.  And, to clarify, there's nothing wrong with a little loud room here and there (I do, however, feel obligated to mention Ryan Dombal's delightful account of a Chainsmokers song featuring Coldplay's Chris Martin -- "clickbait collaboration... fair-weather drops built for Cancun's tourism association".  I digress).  My high horse having been abandoned for a Trabant, I'm going to try to just enjoy electronic music for what it is without going crazy.

If you really do want to get theoretical about it, though, you should start with Nick Paumgarten's stunning 2014 essay Berlin Nights.  While the piece deals mostly with techno, he offers a description that perfectly captures the complexity of trying to assign a single acronym to all these sounds.

Electronic music spans many genres, from the experimental bleeps and blurts that you might hear at the fringes of Berlin’s CTM Festival to the mega-popular sets performed by famous d.j.s like Skrillex and Avicii... The music isn’t pop, although many elements of it derive from and inform pop. It isn’t punk, although it owes something to punk, in spirit and scene. It isn’t high art, either. It is, fundamentally, Gebrauchsmusik—“utility music,” as Paul Nettl, the Bohemian musicologist, described dance music, in 1921. The utility, in this case, is mostly that of providing succor and pleasure, a sense of direction and purpose, to addled bodies and minds.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way I'd like to share some fine pieces of electronic music that provide succor and pleasure to my addled body.  For this installment I've selected a tune from Metro Area, the duo consisting of Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, who offer a seminal record of ultra-smooth, blissed-out nu disc... scratch that - EDM.  Their self-titled album from 2002 saw a re-release last year.  Here's my favorite track from that, Soft Hoop: