The one hundred and fifty-fifth TV Show: #681 Lost
I'm sorry Lost, you never really found me.
There was a lot of hype around Lost and it's been on our backlog for over a decade to watch it. Watching it now, though, we never really got into it. In part it's because we knew the conclusion - spoiled by its comparison to a different TV show ending - making a lot of what happens meaningless, but I often feel it's about the journey more than it's about the outcome. The journey, however, never really appealed.
The show's split between flashbacks, focusing on a character per episode, and life on the island, often focusing more on what happens to that character and how they fit into what happens on the island. The flashbacks are mixed - not all of the characters are as interesting and as much as it's a delight to see Charlie do his thing, main lead Jack is a bland American hero type that didn't gain much over the first season.
The island loses out further. It feels like a lot of what they can and can't do and do or don't have available is plot based rather than survival based, which would have made for an interesting angle they never really get into. The interplay doesn't work well, the antagonism feels a bit forced, and the whole thing seems set up to drive the group into two camps rather than something more natural. I mean, the fact that the 'leaders' are the characters I care the least about put a damper on that anyway, with Jack and Kate not really working as interesting protagonists.
And the mysteries? Barely there, and when they are there's not enough to look at. You want to get answers to some of the small mysteries, so they can lead to bigger ones, but instead it doesn't give you anything. Knowing where it all ends up, and how because of that it's all meaningless, means that it just doesn't get that interesting.
That's not to say there aren't good bits - there are a bunch of good characters and an episode like Numbers works incredibly well, but there are so many scenes and episodes in between that feel perfunctory, spinning its wheels for some time, that the series doesn't connect. Ten years ago, I might have liked it. It might have been a good watch at the time. These days, however, it doesn't offer enough.
The two hundred and fifty-seventh album: #257 Stephen Stills - Manassas
Usually I try to find a hook when listening to these albums - a song or two that draw me in and define the album, or something special that stands out. The problem with Manassas is that I struggle to find anything like that. It's competent country/blues rock, the bluegrass is fine, it has some feeling put into it, but there's nothing that stands out. I couldn't tell you a song that I really enjoyed or something that made me sit up and pay attention. It's not that I can't tell the difference, we're certainly moving between several different songs, but it's hard to mention anything that actually makes an impact. The one that's closest is probably the final, fourth side, Rock and Roll is Here To Stay, which swings a lot more... but even then this doesn't have the impact other rock albums have for me.
The two hundred and fifty-sixth album: #256 Stevie Wonder - Talking Book
Talking Book is mostly a poppy soul album, flirting with rock in places and shifting a bit, but mostly sounding like a soul album that's polished itself to reduce the repetition that tends to get to me and feeling like a normal pop album, with the familiar topics of love and life without going that deep. Stevie Wonder brings several influences to the album, some funk, some rock and drifts between upbeat pop numbers, ballads and funk in an album that cheers you up and makes you feel better.
The one hundred and first classical recording: #971 Olivier Messiaen - Livre du Saint Sacrement
Sometimes music just hits you the wrong way. We were admittedly at a low energy moment when we started listening to Livre du Saint Sacrement, but there was something anxiety-inducing about it. Part of it might be the discordant sound of the first few tracks, a messy sound that we felt we couldn't keep listening to. On a later listen the later tracks move back from that a bit, although the nature of Messiaen's work still leaves you off balance, never letting you settle into a listening experience.
The question is whether you can get something more out of it even if it leaves you feeling off and get you in the right head space. Here, the work's disjointed nature means that there's not much I find in it and that anything that works is so fleeting that it's soon followed by something I don't enjoy. Without that through line, this doesn't give me much I enjoy.
The two hundred and fifty-fifth album: #255 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will The Circle Be Unbroken
It's a bit of a change to hear a bluegrass album, the bluesy country feeling at odds with the rock experiments we've been hearing and the country rock the genre seemed to be gravitating towards. That is, according to the documentary I only heard about, the reason behind the album - the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got artists from the past from the genre to record with them so the original sounds could be preserved.
It's not my sound and while I enjoyed the songs while doing something else, I wouldn't have sought them out. These are standard country songs performed incredibly well by the big people in the genre and they work, but I think only a few really gave me that connection. Well performed, capable, and the behind the scenes notes work, but it isn't quite my thing.
The one hundred and fifty-fourth TV show: #903 Marchlands
Thanks to some last minute changes in Christmas plans, we ended up watching a modern ghost story for Christmas. Marchlands in the story of three families living in a house called Marchlands, each twenty years apart, and the story of a ghost that connects them. The story slowly builds as we find out what happens and more characters gain prominence,
Setting the story in the same location helps a lot with that, as you keep going back to the same places, but always looking different - from a dark 60s house to the pastels from 1987 and the brighter, cleaner 2010 version. It adds to the continuity of events that draws the three families together even as the parallels between them shrink. One of the three eras doesn't even get too involved in the resolution of the story, instead providing the context for its hauntings and scares. It's more about how the death of a girl can linger on a house while giving it a more supernatural view of it.
It almost doesn't need to be said, but the performances are the best, as you can expect from British prestige drama. Jodie Whitaker as the bereft mother puts in a wonderfully layered performance in both her initial sadness and coping with it afterwards, and Anne Reid's follow up performance manages to carry that through perfectly. The other parents that are most involved - Dean Andrews in the 1980s and Shelley Conn as the new mother in the 2010s do a lot of this as well, trying to understand and be in tune with what is going on around them. A lot of them never interact, but here it means they get to shine on their own.
In the end, there are no big mysteries or conspiracies here and the story stays a lot more personal, just with a supernatural element that pushes things forward. It makes for a better show, in tune with one where the spirit is trying to help and warn rather than to scare, and all in all it's about that sadness, rather than any sort of horror angle.
The ninety-second comic: #640 Hellboy
As I suspect many have done, I've seen the Hellboy movie before reading this series. It's not a bad idea, it sets up the premise quite nicely and while I don't quite remember whether the plots match, it's close enough to the same universe that it works anyway. But while there is a bigger plot, Hellboy reads more as a number of cases that touch the supernatural, often with the nazi enemies that come in the backstory (something that's becoming disturbingly common in American superhero or supernatural stories). In that sense, it feels like it follows Mushi-shi - we go to a place, fix the problems, and move to the next. Here Hellboy and his companions are sent by a bureau instead.
The gritty art style fits with the violence that runs through, but as with something like Sandman, it's the world the comic creates that matters, as well as the weird creatures and situations that we find - especially when we get to deal with underwater monsters or various witches. It's those supernatural creatures and events that I enjoy the most, and luckily it feels like that's what the series embraces more as time goes on.
The two hundred and fifty-fourth album: #254 Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything
As I said, we're in the age of the double albums, but I don't think I've heard anyone embrace the advantages of having four sides to work with this much. Each of them has a distinct identity and if you start with the first you'd be deceived into thinking it's just pop, a polished sound that draws from both rock and r&b traditions to create a set of easy to listen to songs. The introduction to the second side - slightly tongue in cheek describing studio recording sounds - becomes more avant garde, with some more intellectual songs and different takes on the music. It's quite a twist and it primes you for these changes moving from a Phil Spector sound to something that would fit with Paul Simon or Bob Dylan's work with a hint of psychedelia.
The third side then takes it into a harder rock with heavier lyrics, something not best suited to Todd Rundgren's voice but sounded quite distinct on its own. It's the fourth that's the odd standout, a pop operetta that's the only side with tracks not written by Rundgren and with performances from other musicians. It starts off with a loose overture that leads into a tighter performance of Dust in the Wind. On the whole, though, this shared performance feels looser, with some of the live performance left in. It's a nice set of songs, not as clearly connected but creating a nice love story through line. It's probably the closest to a set of r&b and pop tracks on the album, which works well enough here, while giving the feeling that recording sessions were a lot of fun as well.
In the end, there are four sides to this album, and I feel they all work for different reasons. The second side probably connected best with me, but it's worth going on the full adventure.
The one hundredth classical performance: #738 Constant Lambert - The Rio Grande
There is, of course, not a clear delineation between classical and 'modern' music and even where there is some distinction, the two influence each other. While it has a full orchestra and chorus, this sounds and feels distinctly different from the other pieces. It's more like a movie soundtrack in its energy and it has a big jazz influence in its sound and how it plays. To be fair, that's probably just as much part of the way we randomly jump around the list. Seeing how this feels this could also be a backing soundtrack for Merry Melodies or another cartoon series, the amount of energy it has is amazing while it feels it takes you through a story at the same time.
The two hundred and fifty-third album: #253 Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges - Clube da Esquina
As I've seen before on this list, the Brazilian music scene has a tendency to take the prevalent music of the day and make it their own, mixing elements in a way that doesn't always get done in other countries. For Clube da Esquina, that's a case of taking their existing jazz and bossa nova route and mixing in contemporary rock, mixing in some rock ballads and psychedelic rock and bringing that experimentation into their own context.
What you get is a fusion of styles that's hard to place in what we know, but gives a nice, relaxed vibe that's pleasant to listen to. In the era of double albums an hour-long album is already feeling less excessive, but regardless of that it doesn't drag as other albums of this length tend to, offering a nice variety even as it's an album that works as well in the background as something to listen to while working.