After the triumph of OK Computer, Radiohead fell into a creative tailspin -- and frontman Thom Yorke into a nervous breakdown. Exhausted from touring, hounded by press, and jaded by copycats, he escaped into the electronica scene pioneered by Kraftwerk and Warp Records -- fertile ground, the band discovered. Trading spacey rock for apocalyptic brooding, they teased their new sound not with singles or music videos but with innovative web streaming and cryptic, dreamlike "blips" -- winterlands, flocks of cubes, eyeballs, bears. After nearly breaking up over tracklist angst, they cut the kid in half. Thus fifteen years ago today, Kid A and (later) Amnesiac debuted, a confounding mix of electronic fugue, whalesong, pulsing IDM, drunken piano, and epic jazz funeral whose insights into anxiety, political dysfunction, and climate crisis would make it one of the most revered albums of the twenty-first century. See the documentary Reflections on Kid A for interviews and live cuts, or look inside for much more. [more inside]
Ten years ago today saw the English launch of a quirky Japanese puzzler, a sleeper hit that would go down as one of the most endearing, original, and gleefully weird gaming stories of the 2000s: Katamari Damacy. Its fever-dream plot has the record-scratching, Freddie Mercury-esque King of All Cosmos destroy the stars in a drunken fugue, and you, the diminutive Prince, must restore them with the Katamari -- a magical sticky ball that snowballs through cluttered environments, rolling up paperclips, flowerpots, cows, buses, houses, skyscrapers, and continents into new constellations. It also boasts one of the most infectiously joyous soundtracks of all time -- an eccentric, richly produced, and incredibly catchy blend of funk, salsa, bossa nova, experimental electronica, J-Pop, swing, lounge, bamboo flute, hair metal, buoyant parade music, soaring children's choirs, Macintalk fanfares, and the finest theme song this side of Super Mario Bros. Called a consumerist critique by sculptor-turned-developer Keita Takahashi (who after one sequel moved on to Glitch, the supremely odd Noby Noby Boy, and playground design), the series has inspired much celebration and thought [2, 3] on its way from budget bin to MoMA exhibit. Look inside for essays, artwork, comics, lyrics, more music, hopes, dreams... my, the internet really is full of things. [more inside]
"Advertising is not well. Though companies supported by advertising still dominate the landscape and capture the popular imagination, cracks are beginning to show in the very financial foundations of the web. Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online. The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web is slowly, but perceptibly beginning to falter. Consider the long-term trend: when the first banner advertisement emerged online in 1994, it reported a (now) staggering clickthrough rate of 78%. By 2011, the average Facebook advertisement clickthrough rate sat dramatically lower at 0.05%. Even if only a rough proxy, something underlies such a dramatic change in the ability for an advertisement to pique the interest of users online. What underlies this decline, and what does it mean for the Internet at large? This short [PDF] paper puts forth the argument for peak advertising—the argument that an overall slowing in online advertising will eventually force a significant (and potentially painful) shift in the structure of business online. Like the theory of Peak Oil that it references, the goal is not to look to the immediate upcoming quarter, but to think on the decade-long scale about the business models that sustain the Internet." [more inside]
Charlie Pierce is a longtime sportswriter and author who has, among other things, reported for Grantland, Slate, and the Boston Globe, paneled on more than a few games of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and fished diapers out of trees as a state forest ranger. He's also made a name for himself as one of the sharpest and most incisive political columnists since Molly Ivins. The lead writer for Esquire's Politics Blog ever since a caustic article on former Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell cost him his Globe job, Pierce has churned out an uninterrupted stream of clever, colorful, and challenging commentary on the 2012 election season and its implications for the nation's future, dispatches often seething with eviscerative anger but shot through with deep love of (or perhaps grief for) country. Look inside for a selection of Pierce's most vital works for some edifying Election Eve reading. [more inside]
Just wait till we're alone together. Then I will tell you something new, something cold, something sleepy, something of cease and peace and the long bright curve of space. Go upstairs to your room. I will be waiting for you... As a rare October blizzard drifts a blanket of white across the Northeast just before Halloween, what better time to settle in and read (or watch) Conrad Aiken's most famous short story, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow." About a small boy who increasingly slips into an ominous fantasy of isolation and endless snow, it could be viewed as a metaphor about autism, Asperger's syndrome, and even schizophrenia before such conditions even had names. In addition to the 1934 short story, the tale has also been adapted as a creepy 1966 black-and-white short film (also at the Internet Archive) and as a Night Gallery episode (1, 2) narrated by Orson Welles. Or for a more academic take, see the essay "The Delicious Progress" examining Aiken's use of white as a symbol of psychological regression.
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.