Monthly Archives: September 2009

Banshee Beat – Animal Collective (2005) [archive]

i don’t know what it is. that’s probably a good starting point. if there are such things as favorites, this is my favorite Animal Collective song. if you know what the sublime is, this song is it. and no, it’s … Continue reading

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the Sublime, according to Edmund Burke [archive]

in 1757, renowned philosopher Edmund Burke published an eloquent piece entitled, “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.” in this work, Burke describes in the clearest and most succinct possible way the guidelines necessary for something to be Sublime. he sums up the monster as follows:

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analagous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.

now, with that apt summary alone, you might already be flipping through the archives of your mind, shuddering at those Sublime memories in your life, those Sublime vistas, those Sublime moments. and you probably already have a good idea of what Burke is talking about. but he could not content himself. like any good taxonomist, Burke sought to unambiguously inscribe a law by which everything in the universe could be classified as either Sublime or not.

before we take a look at his various classifications, however, we must be clear about a few things. the Sublime is not an emotion. it is productive of emotion. just as the release of a thousand balloons is not happiness and the murder of a puppy is not sadness, so too the Sublime instances in this world are not the emotion themselves. the central emotion produced by the Sublime, according to Burke, is Astonishment:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence and respect.

believable enough, i might say. but why the obsession with terror, horror? why can’t the Sublime be summoned by something wonderful and beautiful? are we not ever Astonished at the sight of a gorgeous garden or arrested by awe in the face of flowering beauty? maybe we are. but maybe, and i think Burke argues this, there is something greater at work here. Burke studied the wide range of human emotions feverishly and one conclusion he arrived at is that “no passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” therefore, if when we speak of the Sublime we speak of that which is productive of the most intense emotions, then we must necessarily be referring to something intrinsically tied to fear. it is inspired by terror. it is horrible.

at last, then, we are prepared to characterize this elusive Sublime. all we know now is that in its horror, it astonishes. rightfully so, OBSCURITY is the first trait Burke introduces. citing NIGHT as an excellent example of this quality, he writes that fearful things become much less so when we can see them more clearly. walking around a town during the day, we can make out people’s faces, we can see down alleys, we know where we are going and we do not feel threatened. at night, however, dark faces might hide sinister intentions, alleys become wells of potential for stirring evil, and we could easily feel as though we are pricked on all sides by an impending sense of dread. all because we cannot see.

as literary evidence of this quality, Burke turns to John Milton’s description of Death in “Paradise Lost:”

The other shape,
If shape it might be called that shape had none
Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,
For each seemed either; black he stood as night;
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;
And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.

could you paint this? Burke rambles on a bit about how superior poetry is to painting because it can represent so much without showing anything at all. whatever you think of that, none can deny the SUBLIME OBSCURITY of this passage. Milton gives no shape to Death where shape should be, he draws shadows where substance should be, and he hints only at the brief possibility of a head. in every darkness, the being exists in the extreme–in blackness, in ferocity, in terror, and in death. which contributes to Burke’s next point.

after taking that brief sidestep into a comparison of painting and poetry, Burke addresses this superlative nature of Death by noting that INFINITY is married to the Sublime, precisely because it is the most OBSCURE thing we know of:

The ideas of eternity, and infinity, are among the most affecting we have, and yet perhaps there is nothing of which we really understand so little, as of infinity and eternity.

here, we might be deceived into thinking that this is the first time that Burke introduces “lack of understanding” as central to the Sublime. but if we recall, his very definition of Astonishment centered on the mind’s complete consumption with one object, such that it cannot reason anything out, let alone the very object it focuses upon. wherever we encounter the infinite or the eternal, of course, we only encounter something for which the mind to trip over again and again. thus, following infinity and eternity, we discover the Sublime.

Burke moves on to the next most obvious trait: “I know of nothing sublime which is not some modification of power.” to arrive at this truth is natural enough. we need only recall why terror is so intertwined with the Sublime. we feel those strongest emotions when we sense impending pain, a terror to our animal minds. pain stretched out to its most extreme degree is Death, the terror of terrors. now, when we imagine POWER, we imagine that which has control over us and, in turn, the ability to cause pain. that which, like a growling beast or a marching army or a swelling ocean, could easily swipe us down in one swift motion. among other examples, Burke gives us a portrait of the whale, from the book of Job:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?

therefore, anything with POWER is always a characteristic of the SUBLIME.

All PRIVATIONS, says Burke, are of the Sublime, because “Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude, and Silence” are all terrible. again, we can easily translate all these terms into subsets of the infinite: “Infinite lack of objects, Infinite lack of light, Infinite lack of company, and Infinite lack of sound.”

Burke moves on to discuss how VASTNESS, or “greatness of dimension, is a powerful cause of the sublime.” this, of course, might already be apparent from examples of the sublime i’ve given earlier, especially the ocean. the more interesting point Burke raises in this section, however, is that one can find VASTNESS by looking through microscopes:

However, it may not be amiss to add to these remarks upon magnitude; that, as the great extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last extreme of littleness is in some measure sublime likewise; when we attend to the infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue animal life into these excessively small, and yet organized beings, that escape the nicest inquisition of the sense, when we push our discoveries yet downward, and consider those creatures so many degrees yet smaller, and the still diminishing scale of existence, in tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense, we become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we distinguish in its effect this extreme of littleness from the vast itself. For division must be infinite as well as addition; because the idea of a perfect unity can no more be arrived at, than that of a compleat whole to which nothing may be added.

from the leviathan to the bacterium, from the stretches of space and time to the orbit of an electron, we find the sublime. and so, Burke elaborates on a trait of the infinite that may have already been apparent from the outset: it stretches in both directions.

every time i reach the next section, where Burke elaborates on SUCCESSION and UNIFORMITY as contributors to the sublime, i pity the man for not having lived through the second half of the twentieth century. had he been here to witness the birth of Minimalism and Electronic Music In General, i feel that he would have had another well-fit example to add to the next edition of his Enquiry. for what genre of music rivals either of those two in fulfilling these two conditions of Burke’s:

1. Succession; which is requisite that the parts may be continued so long, and in such a direction, as by their frequent impulses on the sense to impress the imagination with an idea of their progress beyond their actual limits. 2. Uniformity; because if the figures of the parts should be changed, the imagination at every change finds a check; you are presented at every alteration with the termination of one idea, and the beginning of another; by which it becomes impossible to continue that uninterrupted progression, which alone can stamp on bounded objects the character of infinity.

Wikipedia defines “Four-on-the-floor” as “a musical rhythm pattern used in disco and electronic dance music, characterized by a steady, uniformly accented beat played on the bass drum in 4/4 time.” but i digress. one need only relate these qualities to other sublimities we have so far noted to see that these traits certainly make up the sublime.

DIFFICULTY, says Burke, is another source of the the sublime. citing Stonehenge as a good example, to which i might add the monolithic Pyramids of Egypt, the intricate works of Aphex Twin, and the very Universe itself, our philosopher suggests that “when any work seems to have required immense force and labour to effect it, the idea is grand.”

likewise, Burke claims MAGNIFICENCE to be a source of the sublime. though this might be better segmented off into various pieces and siphoned to each other characteristic, Burke believes it to be a quality of its own: “The starry heaven, though it occurs so very frequently to our view, never fails to excite any idea of grandeur.” well, could that not merely be because it is OBSCURE, POWERFUL, VAST, INFINITE, and filled with one of the greatest aspects of the sublime…

…DARKNESS. perhaps merely a more scientific restatement of OBSCURITY, the sublime is summoned in DARKNESS. to those who challenge this claim with the most POWERFUL, VAST, and MAGNIFICENT of counter-examples, the sun, i present you with a dare: stare into the sun. as Burke expresses so brilliantly, the extreme of light is nothing but another form of DARKNESS: “Extreme light, by overcoming the organs of sight, obliterates all objects, so as in its effect exactly to resemble darkness.” and, referring back to the section on VASTNESS, in which we noted that infinity runs in two directions (maybe more than that, but let’s keep it simple here), Burke says, “And this is not the only instance wherein the opposite extremes operate equally in favour of the sublime, which in all things abhors mediocrity.”

as we approach the end of Burke’s system of classification, we see him in a way repeating previous assertions through different media: “Excessive loudness alone is sufficient to overpower the soul, to suspend its action, and to fill it with terror.” POWER VASTNESS OBSCURITY. i don’t really feel like elaborating here. “A sudden beginning, or sudden cessation of sound of any considerable force has the same power.” But of course, of course. And on, and on.

Burke ends his list with a curious quality: INTERMITTENCE. “A low, tremulous, intermitting sound, though it seems in some respects opposite to that just mentioned, is productive of the sublime,” Burke claims. and i only have one concrete example to back this up, in Burke’s own terms. Professor Rick Blackwood instilled in us over and over that humans are only animals. though many of us had already arrived at this conclusion long ago, we had not exhausted a thorough dissection of its causes and effects. far from it. one example Blackwood pushed on us was the use of a low, tremulous, intermitting sound in films, precisely at the moment before something frightful was expected to happen. a woman walking alone down a dark alley. a group of soldiers treading through an unusual silent forest. a child lying in bed staring at the opening door. Blackwood’s hypothesis came down to evolution. we fear this kind of sound because it sounds like something very large and powerful, about to close its jaws around us. Burke basically says the same, though he does not go so far as saying it is a vestige of a past in which leopards were a sublime, constant threat.

the sublime, according to Edmund Burke:


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i don’t know [archive]

all people do all day long is babble.

hello how are you i’m doing just fine actually i just woke up i just took a shower i just got out of class i just ate breakfast i just ate lunch i just ate dinner i just got back from football i just got back from playing a game of chess i just got back from designing a program that can play mancala i just got back from drawing a whale yeah, it’s pretty cool yeah, it sucked yeah, it was okay what are you up to that’s cool that sucks that’s okay whatever i don’t know so anyway what are you doing now what are you doing today what are you doing tonight what are you doing later i’m actually really tired i have to go wash off i have to go to class i’m going to breakfast i’m going to lunch i’m going to dinner i’m going to football i’m going to go play a game of chess i’m going to go design a program that can play mancala i’m going to go draw a whale yeah yeah yeah do you want to come i wish i could bring you maybe i’ll see you later maybe not alright cool i love you fuck you haha peace later bye

call me a misanthrope or a dumb douchey dick or whatever you want, i don’t care. sometimes i can’t stand human conversation. people never say anything. they just go on and on about this or that, they tell me all the things they hate and all the things they love and they give reasons as if there are reasons for the things they do and, even if there actually were, as if they actually know what those reasons are.

i instantly like lyrics 100x more if they incorporate the phrase “i don’t know.”

my History of the English Language professor gave the class a little assignment: describe LANGUAGE in five words (probably adjectives). here’s what i chose:


i didn’t originally intend on only using the first five letters of the alphabet, but it just so happened that way. i’m sure you’ve instantly agreed with all the terms i’ve used to describe language, but you might be wondering why i, a clear hater of human speech, would venture out so far from my original stake and call the disgusting beast BEAUTIFUL. i bet you’re wondering, an explanation is sure to come. i bet you’re saying, tell me, clever fool, flying fish, vapid mule, how oh how oh how can language be both flopping and walking at the same time? well, i’ll tell you.

i don’t know. Continue reading

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“A clear idea is therefore another name for a LITTLE idea.” — Edmund Burke [archive]

An epiphany or great idea



Great? Lucid? Bright? Simple? Or was it supposed to be 5 letters?

Lucid? Continue reading

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Chapter xxiii – THE LEE SHORE [archive-fb]

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, new-landed mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.

When on that shivering winter’s night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years’ dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Know ye, now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God – so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing – straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

Daniel, Meryl, Mom, and Rick like this. Continue reading

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Nine Inch Nails: live [archive]

this is how i got into Nine Inch Nails:

it has always been about the live experience with this band. before i fell into The Downward Spiral, before i touched The Fragile or Pretty Hate Machine, there was And All That Could Have Been and nothing else.

i’ve come to realize that my main criterion for judging music is sincerity. i don’t care if you sound like death metal or like a guy dragging a tipped over ice cream truck or something in between: as long as what you’re doing is making you happy, as long as you are making music that you love, then i love it too. and what better test is there for sincerity than a live demonstration?

if you watch that video, you’ll see NIN performing the usual two first songs of their Fragility Tour shows, “Terrible Lie” and “Sin.” and, in less than ten minutes, you’ll see the energy, the love, the destruction, the emotion, the absolute fucking sincerity of Trent Reznor performing his music.

sure, he’s wearing a mask of cornstarch and makeup and, whatever, the videos are not actually complete performances, instead composed of patched up clips from ten different shows, but these things don’t make Trent seem any less sincere. what’s really important is how much detail goes into each performance. notice every flash of lighting, perfectly matched up with a synth or drum break. notice the structure of the bandmembers on stage, like a pentagon: bassist, front left. keyboardist, back left. guitarist, front right. drummer, back right. Reznor, center stage. five musicians with the main man at the front leading the charge. beyond that, there’s the obvious stuff. the whole band headbanging like they fucking mean it (take a look at 4:30-4:50, in particular… those 20 seconds practically taught me how to headbang). you don’t headbang the whole song, goddamnit, you wait until that shit breaks, and you follow the dynamics closely. this is a science. then at 5:10, there’s that fucking lighting again. a guy playing a theremin. strobe lights. the usual, the weird, the greatness.

but i’m not posting this just to talk about And All That Could Have Been, although that album and all of its distinct parts (CD/DVD/Still) certainly deserve their own posts. this is the Nine Inch Nails live experience. and though they are all created equal in awesomeness, they are not all the same.

it used to be a lot messier. NIN’s Woodstock 1994 performances are famous because, just minutes before going on stage, the band got into a fun little mud fight backstage, making for quite the picture-perfect look onstage:

there are legends that tell of performances on the Spiral tours in 94-95, in which, sick of sitting in bloody fucking SEATS at a Nine Inch Nails show, rabid fans tore apart whole rows and sections of seats, ripping them straight out of the ground. whether those stories are true or not, there’s plenty of evidence on Closure, the documentary of that tour, that the band caused enough destruction themselves to not even warrant the extra legends. check out the trailer for Closure for a peak into the madness:

a few years later, things got toned down a little bit on the Fragility tour, which i’ve already talked a little bit about above. Trent was still doing a shit ton of drugs, but he was destroying himself more than hotel rooms (oh, fragile Trent) and focusing his madness more on the visual experience than on anything else.

and that ended the era that i would never get to see because i was too young.

when i finally got into the band, Nine Inch Nails didn’t really exist. it was 2003 or so, And All That Could Have Been was three years in the past and the last thing Trent had said was inscribed as a little message in that DVD’s packaging:

just a glimpse
just a little reminder
of a time and place we
used to live in
this dvd attempts to
document the
experience of
nine inch nails live,
as we were in the
summer of 2000
we filmed and recorded
most of the dates of
the north american
fragility 2.0 tour
with home video cameras
then assembled
mixed and edited this
ourselves with our
home computers
in my eyes
fragility 2.0
was a summation of
what we had
accomplished up to
that time so this dvd
serves as a reminder
of achievement
as well as
a departure point
this is almost what
it felt like being there
trent reznor

i read this little message often, perhaps too often, and almost cried every time i read that last line, because i was certain that the DVD would be all i could ever have. i would only ever have “almost what it felt like.”

with 2005 came new hope (sort of), when NINdom found out that Trent barely made it alive through a hefty battle with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin addiction. next came news of a new album. i said “new hope (sort of)” because when i heard the first new NIN song in 6 years–“The Hand That Feeds”–i instantly knew that the Reznor who had composed songs like “Terrible Lie,” “Mr. Self Destruct,” and “Somewhat Damaged” was a changed man now.

he would be clean, sharp, and productive as shit.

it took stoned Trent ten years to release 3 studio albums and 1 ep. it took sober Trent three years to release 4 studio albums. ridiculous. and though i’ll agree that the quality of the music decreased, i can’t say the same about the live experience. though i never truly experienced a pre-With Teeth show, i think i landed on the same heavenly cloud of musically energetic paradise that existed in those early years. though he may not be able to make music like he could back then, he can still play it like he used to.

i still remember the exact date the first time i saw NIN the first time: March 25, 2005. it was that time of year where my allergies start picking up, and when they pick up, so does my asthma. but fuck it. i was seeing motherfucking NIN in a tiny auditorium on the uc davis campus. i had moaned for this for too long. he opened with The Frail –> The Wretched. it was a dream come true. i screamed the whole night and nearly rushed the barricade when he started singing Piggy. i killed myself at that show.

the next day i was sick as shit, but it didn’t matter. i could fucking die for all i cared because i had finally seen Nine Inch Nails live. i didn’t die. i went to my computer and downloaded a bootleg of the show and listened to it nonstop for days, sick in bed. the song “With Teeth,” in particular, with its soft, soothing, brutal refusal to let go of life, struck me so hard.

i was in love.

i proceeded to see NIN four more times that year: twice in the next month (two days in a row in San Francisco at a small venue called the Warfield, once with a bunch of friends and once by myself because none of my friends were as psycho as I was), once in November at the huge Oakland Arena, and once in December at a smaller venue in Santa Cruz.

the Oakland show was the one.

the show had originally been planned for an earlier date, about a month earlier, but the drummer at the time, Jerome Dillon, had repeatedly called in sick. Trent got pissed, got a new drummer, made a new date, and made it up to us more than we could have possibly imagined. Adam and i got to the venue before noon and we were still about 50 people back. we waited all day, hearing about how at other shows Trent had let NIN fan club members in for meet & greets and/or soundchecks. we got the latter. everyone casually walked into the venue as NIN was right there on stage, in broad daylight, like any other band, rocking out to Into the Void. and even when they were just playing for sound levels, they were having a good time. sincerity.

the actual show destroyed me and actually destroyed Adam. he hadn’t eaten enough during the day and hardly enjoyed the show because he was dying. i didn’t need food that night. firmly planted on the barricade, my arms, firmly planted on the band, my eyes, dazzled, firmly planted on the music, my mind. the light show, unlike any other NIN show (nay, any other show, by anyone) that i had every seen, was phenomenal. and they weren’t just rehashing the same old shit over and over. i think Trent got sick of playing same old Closer, so he remixed it with a song from Pretty Hate Machine, “The Only Time.” and it worked beautifully. check out the switch around 2:50.

i even got to experience that shit i saw on And All That Could Have Been, where in the middle of “Piggy,” Trent hands the mic to a bunch of fans in front so they could sing. a few people around me and i caught a thrown microphone from Trent in the middle of “Suck” and belted out the lyrics like it was the last song in the universe. the light show was stellar, the whole band was feeling it, movement, movement, motion, motion, madness, madness, music music music music music music. i wanted to die (again).

and so it went.

in the summer of 2006, i saw NIN at Mountain View with my dad. another great show, and the second time a parent of mine attended a NIN show with me. (the first was in Oakland, but my mom and little brother were in the seats while i was at the barricade with Adam… not everyone likes getting to shows nine hours early.)

a year ago was the first time i took a girlfriend to a Nine Inch Nails show. i thought it would suck. for years, i had witnessed boyfriends have miserable times trying to defend their little girlfriends, half the time fighting with everyone around them instead of making love to Trent. thank god, Meryl and i got to the show ballsass early, like Adam and i in 2005, and we got barricade, once again. protecting the girl was hardly a problem.

the show itself, of course, was amazing. it got interactive again, too. to go along with the Year Zero theme, security-style cams displayed everyone at the barricade in our section on giant screens in the arena during “Survivalism.” so silly, but so fun.

my favorite part of this show was the Ghosts breakdown. of all of NIN’s new releases, Ghosts is the best. it’s experimental and instrumental and glorious sound manipulation, which is all music is. oh, and it feels sincere. at the show, the band replicated a few songs off the album with upright bass and xylophones and all sorts of strange instruments i don’t know the names of. oh yeah, and the lighting ruled, of course.

i saw Nine Inch Nails for the eighth and (supposedly) last time two nights ago. and i’ve concluded a few things: Trent loves music, NIN still rocks, and Trent loves music. over the course of the night he had a bunch of his friends, influences, and more come on stage to play music with him over the course of the 31-song and 2.5 hour set. they included Gary Numan, Eric Avery of Jane’s Addiction, Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan, and Danny Lohner, the bassist from the Fragility tour. in the following video, Mike Garson, who was David Bowie’s keyboardist back in the day and played those insane arpeggios on The Fragile for “Just Like You Imagined,” made an appearance to add some piano mischief to the standard NIN repertoire.

i was stunned. and almost died (once again).

also, i’d be stunned if you actually read this whole thing. i just wanted to express how important the Nine Inch Nails live experience has been to me over the years and how, i’m sure, it will continue to be important to me for the rest of my life.

probably for a very long time, i will continue to say that a mass of people ebbing to Nine Inch Nails performing “Terrible Lie” live is probably the best possible thing that anybody can ever experience. i will compare all light shows to NIN’s light shows. i will compare all bands’ endurances to the endurance of a band that can rock and rock hard for well over 2 hours. every night. i will compare the dedication of other musicians’ fans to the dedication of NIN fans who line up before the sun starts rising just for a barricade spot. at every show. i will compare the recording policies of other bands to NIN’s policies, which strictly demand that everyone bring an HD camera and sturdy tripod to the show for the best quality possible. and, more than anything, i will compare your favorite musician’s sincerity to the sincerity of Trent Reznor, who bleeds the stuff from his fucking eyes and throat.

sincerity. Continue reading

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The Beatles [archive]

today Apple and EMI are releasing two box sets: The Beatles Stereo Box Set and The Beatles in Mono, two epic compilations of remastered stereo and mono recordings of the complete Beatles studio catalog. beautiful. to mark my renewed obsession … Continue reading

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