A love letter to 8-bit gaming
It has been nearly 30 years since the Nintendo Entertainment System debuted in North America and no other console since has so dominated the culture, aesthetics, and market share of video gaming in its respective era. The NES not only had scarce competition, but its distinctive capabilities – and modest specs – ensured that it would leave a mark. After all, what other console in history could exert such influence and be so recognizable as to appear in a Ghost Busters movie?
As the children of the 1980s and early 1990s have come of age, 8-bit nostalgia has flourished. A while back, I looked at Mutant Mudds Deluxe for Wii U, a delightfully straightforward, unabashed throwback platformer. Nintendo’s current generation consoles have become ecosystems for genres and styles seemingly from other times, whether pixelated side scrollers like Mutant Mudds Deluxe, HD games such as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze that reprise the retro difficulty of the NES and SNES, and visual novels such as the peerless Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.
And now we have Shovel Knight. The platformer brought to Wii U and 3DS via Kickstarter is a gorgeous, endlessly playable love letter to 8-bit gaming.
Shovel Knight digs the details
Shovel Knight has almost scholarly attention to the aesthetics of 8-bit gaming. The NES’s color palette is instantly recognizable in the game’s gorgeous underground caverns, crisp blue skies, lush forests, and lively towns. Players may find themselves thinking of classics such as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Mega Man, and especially the Wizards and Warriors games.
Speaking of Mega Man, composer Manami Matsumae contributes music here, along with Jake Kaufman. The soundtrack is pitch perfect, both on its own merits and as a nod to the annals of 8-bit gaming. I found myself endlessly humming the theme from the first stage in my head.
The tunes are nice microcosm of Shovel Knight’s overall approach: Exceptional, encyclopedic 8-bit vocabulary, yet an experience that rises far above mere homage. Its modernity can be felt in the control scheme, especially the jumping, which is much crisper than in most NES platformers. The cutscenes, dialog, and exploratory sequences in the towns, while indebted to games such as Ninja Gaiden: The Dark Sword of Chaos, have a cohesiveness and theatricality that is of more recent vintage.
The cerulean knight
The basic gameplay is inspired. Shovel Knight is a knight who starts with a shovel rather than a sword. The shovel can unearth diamonds, swipe enemies, or be used a pseudo-pogo stick, a la Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales for NES.
It takes a little while to get fully accustomed to the ins and outs of Shovel Knight. The pogo behavior was tricky at first, since it’s required to cross some chasms (a classic NES pitfall) but doesn’t quite work like it does in Duck Tales or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the latter of which imitated the former’s trademark feature. However, the controls are tight and simple overall.
Difficulty is well calibrated. It masterfully emulates the platforming perils of its NES predecessors, but gives the player a break through Shovel Knight’s impressive jumping abilities and robust health meter (no one- or two-hit deaths a la Ghosts and Goblins). The boss battles are tough – I really enjoyed learning the ropes against the Death-like Specter Knight.
Finally, the game is deep, with plenty to collect and explore. Playing the Wii U version, I appreciated how it grouped items neatly on the Game Pad and used Miiverse to provide a community diary of each room. A must-have for any Wii U library.
Do not engage
One of my favorite quotes is from Quentin Crisp, who said:
“Abatement in the hostility of one’s enemies must never be thought to signify they have been won over. It only means that one has ceased to constitute a threat.”
So if an epic Reddit argument ends with a 500-word comment rejoined by nothing at all, do not assume the comment’s writer has “won” and reduced her interlocutors to silence. That scenario never pops up. Success in argument is not humiliating others to produce a tidy resolution. Instead, the best sign that someone is onto something is usually spirited opposition. A response is a sign that the original argument is worth engaging; if it weren’t, it could be ignored. Even if the response is a typical Internet comment, its existence shows that its writer thought that there was something in the original that could be repurposed (“made fun of,” a lot of the time) for personal gain.
We have come to expect responses to everything we do, from custom job applications to Facebook status updates. Yet, as many lonely social media users can attest, as they stew over their beach photo album getting few or no likes, someone else’s refusal to engage is often devastating. Aristotle skirted past Parmenides’ deeply contrarian ideas by implying, in the Physics, that everybody knows that change is real. He didn’t pause to engage with Parmenides explicitly at length, expressing annoyance at every turn while lobbing tenuous counterexamples his way. Indifference is devastating.
The problem with “disruption”
By the same token, overzealous engagement often emanates from insecurity. If you haven’t done so, please read Jill Lepore’s essay “The Disruption Machine” in the June edition of The New Yorker. After that, check out some of the responses to it, from the likes of venture capitalist Marc Andreesen, Noah Smith (“Should I write a ‘stoned rewrite‘ of the Jill Lepore ‘disruptive innovation’ article?,” he asked), and Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard professor behind the “disruption” buzzword that has underpinned every Silicon Valley slide deck of the last 15 years, and which Lepore took to the woodshed in just a few thousands words.
More measured responses have acknowledged Lepore’s keen observation that “disruption” is tired and imperfect, while insisting that it remains an important concept. Meanwhile, Christensen has been reduced to referring to himself in the third-person while taking on Lepore’s critique.
The tenor of response to Lepore’s critique speaks to its quality or, one might say, its disruption. Not only is it not being ignored, but it is inviting criticisms that would fall at the base of Graham’s Pyramid of Disagreement (engaging poorly is the opposite not just of engaging well, but of not engaging at all). Her interlocutors can’t let it go.
This is what happens when no one thinks the humanities are important. Lepore’s own background in American Studies has predictably been made fun of, in a highbrow variant on everyone’s annoying uncle asking “what ya gonna do with that?” when she tells him that she’s majoring in anything other than pre-med (“psychology, huh”). A society that doesn’t give value to language, theory, and the humanities at large is one in which a poorly architected system such as Christensen’s “disruption” model are rarely questioned until a skilled humanist demolishes them. Even then, onlookers fail to see the importance of training everyone to have historical perspective and realize that even Big Ideas are not special and have traceable roots in the mood of their eras.
As Lepore points out, “disruption” is a violent term. It is the basis of an explanation that could only have accrued cultural currency in an era marked by the perceived infringement of countries such as Japan and China onto U.S. economic supremacy (Christensen’s model is nothing if not Americentric) and the blatant infringement of Islamists via the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When everything feels like it’s under siege, it makes sense to assume that the natural state of business is one of upstarts lunging at fattened, entrenched cows, even if such a paradigm would have looked alien to people from other centuries and may end up seeming silly in retrospect.
The hornet’s nest
My title is a convenient reference to Stieg Larsson’s thriller, but the term “hornet’s nest” here refers to the vast, entrenched community that has real interests in ensuring that “disruption” is never disrupted. Like hornets, they have come out, stingers ready, to get back at the disrupter.
Irony aside, the real-world reaction to Lepore’s piece is a handy gloss to the arguments she makes in her New Yorker article, namely that each era has its own explanatory models that everyone feels “must be” right, whether the decline of man (pre-Renaissance Europe), progress (17th and 18th century Europe), evolution (19th century Europe and America), and now disruption. One can easily see how an event such as the Industrial Revolution, with its revelation that products can be iterated and changed, reinforced macro models such as evolution, while the devastation of the World Wars, global warming, and inequality have put pressure on the notion of “progress.”
Despite these major events, it is always difficult to dislodge a prevailing explanation of how human affairs are organized. This difficulty exists regardless of its quality. After all, it wasn’t easy for Galileo to take on geocentrism. Someone is always going to offer spirited resistance, given that the argument is a threat, and Lepore’s essay is threatening indeed, maybe even disruptive.
Intro: Musica practica
The music album review is a blank canvas. Specialized, technical music criticism – anything that addresses time signatures, keys, or the musicians’ technical ability at length – has long since left the mainstream, leaving behind abundant opportunities for writers to unfurl lengthy tracts infused with anecdotes, fake correspondence, riffs on Marxism, and geographical inaccuracy.
The divergence of technical critique and music writing may be the result of rapid expansion in opportunities to consume and experience music. This growth that has not been matched by advances that would make music production any easier. Roland Barthes was onto something when he hypothesized about “two musics” in an essay, noting the ascent of receptive music at the expense of its productive counterpart:
“[P]assive, receptive music, sound music, is become the music (that of concert, festival, record, radio): playing has ceased to exist; musical activity is no longer manual, muscular, kneadingly physical, but merely liquid, effusive, ‘lubrificating” …”
EDM is ground zero for the emerging dominance of “passive, receptive music.” With DJs as well known for their record collection as their technical abilities, the musical producer has become one with the festival-goer – sort of like Deadmau5.
The music writer has been acquiescent in the transformation, by making commentary on tracks – but especially albums – immensely personal and unacademic:
- Reading a positive album review is the equivalent of running up to someone in a crowd and asking for an explanation of why the artist is so great.
- Reading a negative take is often barely better than being swarmed by a faceless Internet commenter.
Yet, there’s art in Internet comments, and music isn’t a form to be evaluated solely on technical merits, especially given its inevitability in so many contexts. After all, even the top 40 music playing in the background at the mall is a successor to the country music that once played in the countryside, or the hip-hop that spilled over 1970s and 1980s NYC. It’s contextual music that listeners cannot curate and are instead forced to experience. Such music, under such circumstances, almost deserves a similarly imprecise, broad-brush form of criticism in return; technical dissection is asymmetric.
Learning from styles around the Web
There are a million and one music review sites out there, including, sometimes, this blog. Everyone’s a (music) critic. Like the Internet comment, it presents an easy way to produce words at scale and create an appearance of sophistication. I looked at four sites that I have frequently read for music criticism at some point. Here’s how to write a review in each of their house styles, which between them cover a comprehensive range of approaches to criticism. Combining traits of each is a good foundation for reviewing.
- Background: Pitchfork is one of the most successful music sites on the Web. Started in 1996, it has grown into a brand synonymous with indie music, and it sponsors the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park.
- Stylistic hallmarks: Introduction heavy on personal anecdotes and/history of the artist; subsequent historical information on the artist’s back catalog; references to classic albums perhaps not from the same genre (“OK Computer is, after all, one of the greatest albums our generation has experienced in its time,” in a review of Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump); if not, perhaps comparisons to similar-sounding artists (see below); references to other media (“”As a lifestyle, you always being the focal point is innately unhealthy,” Ocean recently told The New York Times,” in a review of Frank Ocean).
- Representative sentence: “There comes a certain moment in the life of a music fan when the realization hits that you’ve crossed the line from being merely interested in a band to being a collector, a bit obsessed maybe– scouring magazines for a curiosity fix, digging in dollar bins, scanning instrument credits in used shops, making long lists of great songs for driving past lakes in the moonlight, buying things by bands that look like they might sound kind of like the Smiths, and…well, half a decade after you cross that line, you look around your home and the teetering piles of discs you’ve barely had time to listen to, clear the liner notes from the second Nuggets boxed set off your coffee table and think to yourself, “is this what I’ve become?” (introduction to review of reissue of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible).
- Strengths: Pitchfork’s approach has matured over 18 years and resulted in good journalism if nothing else. Reviews often link to contextual and corroborating materials. Each review is of digestible yet comprehensive length, with key tracks highlighted and assessed in comparison to each other and the band’s overall catalog.
- Weaknesses: Early Pitchfork reviews are by and large awful, with self-indulgence on both the negative (a mean-spirited takedown of Tool) and positive side (the review of Radiohead’s Kid A talks about a song sounding like “mating tyrannosaurs”). Also, certain genres and artists seemed walled-off from Pitchfork’s good ratings (anything 7.0 and above, it seems like) – Pitchfork’s stylistic focus is narrow.
- Background: Rolling Stone is a music and entertainment magazine operating since the 1960s.
- Stylistic hallmarks: Short overall format; generalizations (“EDM has changed pop”); lifestyle reporting; rhetorical questions (“Where do lonely hearts go?”); rockism.
- Representative sentence: “Three years ago, Lana Del Rey seemed to hatch into existence as a fully formed provocateur: She has introduced previously untasted flavors to pop music (her slow, torchy genre of choice might best be described as “Calvin Klein Eternity commercial”) and shaped herself into as crafty a video star as Lady Gaga, making her racy, mysterious clips a core part of her brand.”
- Strengths: RS reviews are brief, rarely testing the attention span. The five-star system is also much more discrete, if limited, than the 0.0-10.0 system of Pitchfork; a 4-star album is easy to tell apart from a 3-star one by RS’s criteria, whereas distinguishing between 7.0 and 7.9 on Pitchfork is more difficult.
- Weaknesses: Too much lifestyle reporting tinged with rockism. Certain artists (such as Bruce Springsteen) could get five stars for anything. Others are almost guaranteed 4 stars for their mainstream debut (e.g., AFI’s Sing the Sorrow).
- Background: Resident Advisor is a massive, fully-featured website focused primarily on house music and electronica.
- Stylistic hallmarks: Usually just a few paragraphs; heavy on adjectives and similes (“the soft, grainy feel of old black and white footage”); highly contextual – no album is assessed in isolation from its respective scene or its creator’s catalog, unless a debut; sharp, straightforward transitions (“Other tracks are less effective. “); nice short introductions, occasional generalizations (“As genres enjoy peaks in popularity…”).
- Representative sentence: “Peder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon aren’t lacking ambition. The Swedish duo’s new album as Roll The Dice is the third in a series that’s chronicled the full sweep of Western civilisation over the last two centuries, from the agrarian existence evoked on their self-titled debut, through the Industrial Revolution on 2011’s In Dust, to the late-capitalist society of Until Silence.”
- Strengths: Highly educational: I knew almost nothing about house or EDM before reading RA, but now it’s the genre I am most comfortable talking about. Rating system is a simple 1-5 stars. Article comments are actually worth reading an informative, a small miracle among Internet comments sections.
- Weaknesses: Most reviews are in a narrow range between 3-4.5 stars. Language can be imprecise and only tangentially related to music (“hardly lacking in ideas, but they could do with more finessing”). Information about the artist’s background can derail reviews due to their short length.
- Background: One of the first websites to ever publish album reviews, warr.org still has a Web 1.0 interface. It only reviews albums and live concerts, and sometimes publishes essays.
- Stylistic hallmarks: Paragraph length; rapid-fire analysis of tracks and musical characteristics, sometimes on the technical side (“goes from massive power chords to a capella nursery rhyme to 50’s doo-wop); occasional humor (“look up ‘wretched excess’ in the dictionary, and you should find a picture of this double album”); no generalizations.
- Representative sentence: “Sadness and loss permeate this record; spare arrangements and his gripping delivery add up to what is perhaps his most powerful and coherent statement.”
- Strengths: No-nonsense and uninterested in lifestyle reporting. Gets right to the point. Is not beholden to prevailing critical attitudes or consensus – the reviewers’ destruction of Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Radiohead and others show that they have no sacred cows; incredible scope, with reviews of everything from Latin and jazz to Turkish pop.
- Weaknesses: Occasionally opaque – ratings may seem hard to justify with the text supplied. Standards are super-high – they haven’t awarded any album five stars since 2000.
Putting it all together
With some background in reading album reviews (reviewing the reviews, even), writing them isn’t so hard:
- Listen to the whole album 3 times. This provides enough exposure to the album’s overall sound to make an informed assessment.
- Pick out 3 or 4 tracks to touch upon – the introductory and closing tracks are always good candidates, as are the longest tracks.
- Write the track-by-track analysis first and introduction last. That way, the latter will square with what you wrote about the actual music.
- Introduce cultural or personal materials only to strengthen the analytical core. Don’t make the entire piece about your experience listening to Dark Side of the Moon at an MtG tournament.
Writing well is difficult. Sometimes, the writer is granted brilliance that feels scarcely controllable, but these instances seems rare. Even being in one such moment provides that distinctive feeling – like standing on top of the Duomo or producing creative work with ease – capable of being be evaluated in real time and appreciated for its rarity: “I might never have it so good/easy again.” So how can writing be made easier? Simple: write everything like it’s an Internet comment.
The writer vs the vacuum cleaner
Much writing is a slog, a series of slight maneuvers that cancel each other out until finally a coherent thread emerges. It took me 5 minutes just to write the paragraph above. Writing is not unique in this respect. Even glorified professions such as programming are full of drudgery.
What consistently gums up the writing works? It’s as if there’s a vacuum cleaner sucking up thoughts from the brain. The task ahead demands lots of ideas and eloquent turns of phrase, but the reserves quickly run out, and then there’s nothing.
Staring down at blank space is like the times when, on the verge of sleep, there’s that startlingly realistic falling sensation, that causes real fear despite harboring no threat of actual mental or physical damage. That’s writer’s block: Real fear, fake consequences. The feeling of an empty idea cupboard is irrational, given that it’s impossible not to think.
Vague feelings of brilliance vs concrete sensations of inadequacy
While most writing isn’t pleasurable to produce, it usually reads better than it felt to write. The fear of inadequacy is often just a deep-seated anxiety of what to write to right next, rather than despair about the project at large.
Overwhelming, tangible brilliance can make the writer inhabit the moment and relish how power is building and obstacles are receding, yet the grind of the writing process gives her a frame-by-frame feeling of pain. Each word is scrutinized. This sort of perspective is what makes writing both pleasurable and painful: The writer may sometimes vaguely sense overall quality, but she must also regularly dwell on specific defects.
The latter tendency is what makes in-the-moment elation – the happiness at being able to step back and appreciate beauty as it is formed – difficult in all but exceptional cases. Certainly, it is painful, but it is almost necessary to chipping away at word choice, syntax, and argument until something is unlocked. This quibbling is the fallback mechanism when sweeping brilliance isn’t available; it’s the writer’s workhorse.
Internet comments vs everything else
If there’s one type of writing that feels tangibly easier than all others, it’s the Internet comment. It has a low bar to entry: Good grammar and reasoning skills aren’t required, there’s little curation, and the writer herself does not even need an environment, other than the Web browser or app in question.
Bad comments are easy to the point of near-unthinking, but even apparently good ones can be produced in a flash. The show-off Internet comment – a missive that can include copious amounts of evidence, conspiracy theories, personal anecdotes – is a staple of Reddit et al, and their volume speaks to a writing form that not only exhibits effort (if not always quality), but also scales tremendously.
This combination is unique. There is plenty of substandard prose and poetry on the Web, but it lacks the airs of greatness put on by Internet comments. A comment can be:
- Easy to write (thus reinforcing subtle norms around the great artist who effortlessly churns out masterpieces
- Superficially convincing (even if the reasoning is poor, the author may overwhelm with length, cherry-picked numbers, flowery language, or a combination thereof)
- Instantly applauded (forget a publishing deal; upvotes and likes can confer immediate gravitas to the text)
Thinking about these perks, why doesn’t the Internet comment become a literary form? Its real advantage, staked in the three foundations enumerated above, is its built-in audience – by far the most irritating obstacle for any writer in any context. There’s major schlep blindness in not trying to turn such a facile mode of writing into something with aesthetic and philosophical value.
It’s easy to write an epic Internet comment (whether a tweetstorm or rambling Facebook status update) because there’s no intimidating void to fill, no vast spaces to traverse without knowing what tone, language, or evidence to use. Even a bad comment will get attention because the audience is there to seize upon it; a good comment will be acclaimed or, in an even better indication of its impact, viciously attacked by insecure dissenters.
A while back, I wrote, on the occasion of Google requiring a Google+ account for YouTube comments:
“Every commenter is an expert, or at the very least a potential conversation hijacker whose hastily gathered yet half coherent sentiments can trigger thousand-word outbursts from her faceless peers.”
My language was over the top, but I still feel the same about the comment’s power as a low-hanging enabler of expertise and catalyst for raw word production. It’s all about the audience and the ability to show off, knowing everyone is already watching.
The album: From LP to SoundCloud
The album as an art form has been under escalating artistic, economic, and political pressures for decades. Since the decline of vinyl LPs in the 1980s, creative possibilities such as themed sides or run-out grooves were lost, swept away by digital audio. Bonus tracks, remixes, live versions, the whole lot were appended to already exhausting CD run times, producing an experience that was increasingly at odds with the ideal of the album as a digestible, coherent statement. It was the musical equivalent of every novel suddenly becoming Infinite Jest (that is not a compliment).
The CD was overtaken by the MP3, a simple file with no close association with any larger artistic system, at least not in the same way as a vinyl groove or a Red Book audio track. The MP3 could go it alone, be shoved into a playlist with anything else, mislabeled (the early days of Napster sent one Pitchfork writer for a ride by labeling old Pavement material as Weezer’s then-unreleased Green Album), or shuffled off onto an iPod or smartphone.
Now even the MP3 is bowing to streaming services such as Spotify and SoundCloud. Music has become something to experience, not own. In this sense, it has come full circle, returning to its millennia-old state as something that individuals and groups absorb in a continuous stream, without the discrete packaging of an album or single. The key difference, though, is that the user has more curatorial power than ever – it took the decline of the album to make everyone her own album producer and sequencer.
As someone who listens predominantly to albums, I have found the music industry’s direction over the past three decades dispiriting, but also liberating. What’s telling about the most shift to streaming is that it appears to have affected EDM more acutely, and earlier, than rock or even hip-hop.
The idea of an artist album in trance, house, techno, or any EDM field was always a lot different than in other genres – an artist might go years, producing tons of remixes, mixtapes, and podcasts, without putting together a “proper” album of original, deliberately sequenced music. Look at Sasha and Michael Cassette for but two examples. EDM artists, it seems, were just waiting for the consumptive and technological breakthroughs that would turn their habits into freeform yet stamped listening experiences enabled by the likes of SoundCloud and Pandora.
Deadmau5: At the frontier of the album’s evolution
No artist in EDM has been as publicly and repeatedly conscious of the genre’s complex relationship with form than Deadmau5. His albums, if you can call them that, have all born cheeky, inscrutable titles, from Random Album Title to <album title goes here> to For Lack of a Better Name. None of them were what a rockist might think of as an album, often recycling previously released material and using segues to disguise an absence of cohesion. Deadmau5 himself has also been at the center of recent debates about authenticity in EDM, a blanket genre going up against decades of rock-centric critical skepticism of electronic music’s value.
Leave it to Deadmau5 to expose one of the core contradictions of EDM: while mixtapes and similar media are often continuous, with one song fading into the other, this seamlessness does not play the same role as it does in rock, a genre in which the segue (think The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper) is often a way of making a Big Artistic Statement. In EDM, it’s just mechanics – an experience might run through all sorts of disparate songs, but still keep the listener gripped with nice transitions. Mat Zo’s “Mat Zo Mixes” on SoundCloud, which span drum ‘n’ bass and Anjunadeep releases, exemplify this exact ethos.
There are plenty of EDM artists still dedicated to the album experience, though. Above & Beyond’s recent Acoustic release is an example of a trance artist taking up the classic rock trope of an unplugged set to confer seriousness and artistic depth. Now, Deadmau5 himself is on the eve of releasing a double album with a cute C programming-inspired title and 25 tracks that he claims represents the first work that he’s made that can “even be called an album.”
Is Deadmau5 injecting traditional album design into the anti-album EDM world? Earlier this year, he purged his massively popular SoundCloud feed. His albums have been getting progressively more immersive and deliberate, with 4×4=12 and <album titles goes here> both showing the traces of long player logic despite their castoff titles.
While(1 <2): Deadmau5’s Biggest Statement So Far
Deadmau5’s latest album, While(1 < 2), is both his most forward-looking and old school effort. It has more genre exercises than ever before – minor-key piano interludes, contemplative acoustic guitar, vocoder experiments, and 90s/early 00s alt-rock angst – to go alongside some of the most distinctive hooks (“Phantoms Can’t Hang,” “Avaritia”) of his career.
Its unmixed version, clocking in at an astonishing 139 minutes, resists flow and momentum, almost deliberately. There’s a remix of the ancient NIN track “Survivalism” right next to the piano balladry of “Silent Picture.” Hook-drenched opener “Avaritia” segues into the barely-there “Coelacanth I,” which yields to a remix of How to Destroy Angels’ “Ice Age.” While the influence of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is undeniable – both in Deadmau5’s apparent love of “The Social Network” sound track and in the two Reznor-related remixes that sit next to the 20+ originals – While(1 < 2) has even more in common with Aphex Twin’s 2001 oddity Drukqs, another double album chock full of discrete genre exercises from drum ‘n’ bass to classical (the unforgettable Avril 14th became the basis of Kanye West’s “Blame Game”).
Strangely, While(1 < 2) becomes an album through this resistance to the easy segue and undifferentiated experience of the mixtape and, one could argue, of latter-day rock and pop albums, which have taken the coherence mandate of Sgt. Pepper and its successors to the extreme, by making everything sound the same (uniformly loud, vaguely dance-y, consistently exhausting). The tracks on While(1 < 2) each call out for individual attention – why else put the title-says-it-all “A Moment to Myself” as a prelude to the upbeat, hookier “Pets”? Yet its epic length, by willfully tempting short attention spans, begs for it to be put on in the background as something that doesn’t have to be touched for more than 2 hours. It can demand careful attention or mere acquiescence, depending on the listener’s situation. Time to have another go at it.