Stranger Things 3 - Soundtrack Wishlist

With Stranger Things 3 we return to the fictional Hawkins, Indiana in the summer of 1985. Just a few hours from where my parents were enjoying one of their last real adolescent summers in a small town in Illinois.

When we sat down to watch Strangers Things with they were a little freaked out at first, simply because of how precisely it resembled what they remembered about growing up in a small rural community in middle America. It also didn't help that Steve and Nancy were accurate depictions of my father and mother—I mean, my Dad's name is actually Steve. They kind of even look like them, my Mom joking wether Steve Jones or Steve Harrington had more ridiculous hair.

We watched the whole first and second seasons together and they were just amazed by the show how the captured the time. The posters from Jaws and John Carpenter's The Thing that were in Mike's basement were also on the walls of my Dad's childhood bedroom. He instantly made some observations about the interior of Dustin's house; hideously-colored carpeting and tacky wood panelling left over from a "trashy wannabe-disco"-chic from the delusions of the early 70s decorating trends.

But what was most eerie to them was the way they could recall certain moments when they had been listening to the exact songs that were played in the soundtrack. When "Whip It" came on my Dad groaned. My Mom did the about same when they played Cyndi Lauper. But they played the Furs, the Police, the Clash, and Foreigner and my parents would pause it and be like, "Okay, this is too weird. When I used to work late shifts at Pizza Hut...." and they launch into some story about a time and place that they hadn't been able to recall so viscerally in thirty years.

Experiencing their nostalgia secondhand is also an interesting byproduct for me. Minus the few newer artists my Dad would get into, I grew up listening almost exclusively to 60s rock, 70s punk, and 80s alternative. As a result, when I hear Prince or the Police playing I don't think of the 80s—I think of my childhood.

My parents and I have waited with great anticipation for the next season of Stranger Things, so we were pretty excited when the official Netflix premier announcement was released. The screen flashed 'Summer of 1985' and my mom immediately noted, "it's going to have a killer soundtrack."

This isn't a "prediction" list

1985 was certainly a defining year, arguably of the second most important of the entire decade, behind 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia. In 1985 Gorbachev takes office, dozens of artists come together for the recording of "We Are The World" and the LIVE AID fundraising concert, a hole in the ozone is found, Microsoft releases Windows 1.0 to the world, and The Breakfast Club plays in theaters across the country.

Some the top albums from that year (based on chart popularity and release) include:

  • Purple Rain - Prince
  • Born In The USA - Bruce Springsteen
  • Like A Virgin - Madonna
  • Songs From The Big Chair - Tears For Fears
  • Make It Big - Wham!
  • No Jacket Required - Phil Collins
  • Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits

Funny enough, the soundtrack to Miami Vice was also a hit that year. Produced by legend and electronica genre forefather Jan Hammer, it utilized the synthesizer for a futuristic and spacey vibe that is so integral to the sound of Stranger Things and ultimately what many people think of when they think of "80s music".

So now I'll dive into some thoughts on tracks I think we might see, tracks we deserve to see, and tracks we absolutely will see. I've tried to avoid all of the trailers to preserve the purity of the viewing experience, so we'll see how this compares in a couple of days.

Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen

ST3 is being launched on the 4th of July and I'd assume that's coupled with the timeline of the episodes, the same way previous seasons have been coupled with autumn and Halloween. Excluding the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, I don't think there is a more patriotic-sounding song than "Born In The U.S.A." Although we know now that Springsteen meant it largely as a skeptical commentary on nationalism, it doesn't really matter because it was one of the biggest songs of the year and ultimately the decade. I have a strong feeling that in the first episode this song will be playing either as people participate in a 4th of July parade or as fireworks close out with something foreboding happening in contrast to the music.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World - Tears For Fears

It's hard to say which song off this album should be picked. Arguably the most iconic usage of a song from Songs From The Big Chair was of the "Head Over Heels" school montage from Donnie Darko, which is set in 1988. While this is my favorite song from the album and also in my top five favorite scenes in film ever, but for that reason alone I think it's unusable.

Allow me a second to enter some meta-commentary territory on this regarding Simple Mind's "Don't You Forget About Me". Is it a 'good idea' for a film/TV set in a specific time (in this case 1985) to use a song from a film that was made in that specific time? The Breakfast Club came out and "Don't You Forget About Me" skyrocketed to number one on the charts in the spring of 1985 but I can't see the Duffer brothers wanting to use it in ST3, because it's too blunt. They've managed walk a razors edge that uses the borderline-fetishy 80s-hypernostalgia as a substrate for doing something new and captivating. Using the iconic moments from actual 80s-era films isn't something that they're going to stoop down to and nor should they.

While any number of songs from Songs From The Big Chair are viable, this song aesthetically deserves to be in the soundtrack, simply for it's indistinguishable riff that is inseparably tied to the 80s. I could see it not being included because it's just too popular, but it really deserves to be in there... "Welcome to your life... there's no turning back..." I bet you're hearing that chugging bassline.

Like A Virgin - Madonna

Also in the spring of 1985 we saw Madonna's first tour—geniusly named the "Like A Virgin Tour". I said something about bluntness, what was it? Anyway. Her second album was an unadulterated smash and was ultimately her defining work. From the trailers that have been released thus far it seems like there's a bubblegum-cotton-candy pastel visual aesthetic to the Starcourt Mall which will be a main location in the ST3 narrative. Is there a better song to play as teenagers run around a foodcourt in neon leggings, Chuck Taylors, and Reebok hightops? No, there really isn't.

The Perfect Kiss - New Order

The Duffer brother clearly like New Order, something easily noticed in ST1. I was going through the New Order discography trying to guess what song might appear in ST3 and I noticed something interesting. New Order's Low Life was released in 1985 and contains a song "Elegia", which upon listening some of you might recognize as a song used in ST1, which is set in 1983. Now this kind of is loose-timeline is acceptable all things considered because it's an instrumental song and it's only observed by the audience and not the characters (I'm sure there a technical word for that). Also it was used perfectly to set the mood of Will's funeral ("Elegia" is Greek for "elegy") and even more the song was originally written as a tribute to the life of Ian Curtis, Joy Division's singer who tragically committed suicide, ultimately leading his bandmates to go on to form New Order.

New Order's sound is extremely aligned with the 80s synth aesthetic the Duffer Brothers have carefully cultivated for the show. I really could imagine any of the songs from Low Life being used, but "The Perfect Kiss" represents the best of the eclectic electric sound New Order has to offer. The track has a sheer massiveness and intensity in the outro (check out the frog noises and cowbells). It's one of the few songs I know that exists that is cinematic and danceable at the same time. However I'm going to generalize a bit here beyond a specific prediction and assert that we certainly see at least one New Order song in the ST3 soundtrack and I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of their more popular singles that were prior released prior to 1985. In particular "Bizarre Love Triangle" or "Thieves Like Us".

When Love Breaks Down - Prefab Sprout

We've already shown that the Duffer Brothers are not particularly concerned with the actual historical popularity of the tracks that are chosen, and if anything they've leaned toward New Wave and Alternative of the era. "When Love Breaks Down" is a wonderful upbeat ballad from Britpop band Prefab Sprout's second album Steve McQueen.

Every element of the song is a perfectly crafted representation of 80s pop ballads. Soft synth chimes coming from the iconic Yamaha e-pianos that ubiquitous on pop records of the era. Airy synth choruses that are so painfully characteristic of the mid-80s. Massive delay and reverb filling the space around the not-so-challenging lyrics of 'love gone bad'. Overall, it's a really warm and bright track (feels like a good hug), I think it could be spliced into some summer-love romantic narrative in the show to great effect.

Sussudio - Phil Collins

What about Phil Collins? What about Phil Collins.

No Jack Required was released as a permanent divergence from his brand as being a former prog-rocking lead Genesis and established him as pure purporter of pop. Nothing wrong with any of that, it's just was what it was. We saw the same thing happen with former Genesis bass player Mike Rutherford and his new band Mike & The Mechanics (who I also have listed below). But the reason I've selected this is because the show is set to take place on July 4th, 1985 and Sussudio was number 1 on the charts that week. That would be like not including the "Old Town Road Remix" in the timepiece set in the summer of 2019. Hmm.... did I just make a strong argument for why Sussudio shouldn't be in there?

Hounds of Love - Kate Bush

I've gone back and forth over which Kate Bush song I think should appear on the soundtrack and I really feel that it has to be the title track of her 1985 album Hounds of Love. The song employs a few major devices that lend itself to an ideal soundtrack-track for ST3 in particular. Right of the bat, the song begins with the verses:

It's in the trees 

It's coming

When I was a child

Running in the night

Afraid of what might be

Hiding in the dark

Hiding in the street

And of what was following me

Sounds familiar right? Not to mention the "cinematic" orchestral sounds present in the track. Staccato cello stabs and pounding distant drums driving beneath droning strings all come together to craft an energy that has a uniquely curious intensity. What would be really, really cool would be they remixed the song into a more uptempo synthwave arrangement. Imagine instead of the strings and cellos it's the replaced with the synth sounds of the Stranger Things theme. A gritty warbling synth horn blaring above a thick AF bass while Kate belts it out with her particularly divine creepiness. 100% yes.

All I Need Is A Miracle - Mike and the Mechanics

This song is so cheesy that it's perfect? It's too perfect and that makes it's cheesy? I don't know, but Mike has a ridiculous voice for being a bass player and wraps the best (and worst) parts of 80s pop music into one song that could be a great filler into a soundtrack that's trying to ground itself in a very distinct musical timeframe.

This Charming Man - The Smiths

If there's going to be a Smiths song (which there should be) it really, really should be this one. Given the Vonnegut references and The Clash cassette, self-proclaimed 'weirdo' Jonathan Byers' character seems like the kind of guy who would be really into Morrissey and The Smiths. And what better song to summarize their high-quality danceable quirkiness than the jangle-pop ABSOLUTE BOP that is their 1984 smash hit "This Charming Man".

Regardless of what songs do or don't show up in the soundtrack I'm pretty sure I'll be on the edge of my seat for 7+ hours aggressively fist-pumping as #Milleven, Hopp, and our boy Steve save Hawkins from total destruction from another dimension set to the beat of the best the 80s have to offer.

Happy viewing (and listening)!

the best of new music in 2018

I took a moment to write up some color commentary on my favorite new music from 2018. Please excuse the over-the-top flowery language, this is primarily an exercise for me to practice longer form writing. Interestingly enough, this list looked very different when I began writing but upon attempting to articulate what was special about each song and why, it became apparent what should be included and where it should be placed.

2018 was an excellent year in music for me personally. I did quite a bit more exploration than I've done in recent years which is why I wanted to document it in this kind of more detailed format.

10. boy pablo - tkm

Bedroom pop. Dreampop. Whatever you want to call it, we want more of it, especially from the rising Norwegian musician Nicolás Pablo Rivera Muñoz. I caught wind of boy pablo in late 2017 when I heard "Yeah (Fantasizing)" and I was instantly hooked. But compared to the many other artists making music in this vein, boy pablo seems to stand out and until today I couldn't place my finger on why.

For the last half hour I've been sitting in bed, guitar in lap, "tkm" on loop, noodling along in an attempt to try to wrap my head around why I feel so attracted to this track. Right away, I realized the melody is very simple, but it's performed so expressively, seeming to sing like a human voice over the (also very simple) substrate harmony. I'm immediately reminded of Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow or Wired where his guitar performance takes on vocal characteristics. Muñoz's approach with "tkm" focuses the energy of the track into a climaxing instrumental section where the guitar is repeating the same 6 notes over and over as it slowly fades into darkness. A genius stylistic twist on typical poprock vocal outros like the classic "Na na na" outro of The Beatles - "Hey Jude". Muñoz employs the 'vocality of the guitar' brilliantly, because as you'll notice, there are no lyrics in the whole second half of the song.

I'll be singing along to "tkm", "Yeah (Fantasizing)", and "Ready / Problems" into 2019, sorry in advance.

9. Men I Trust - Seven

Last year I was really in a stint with psychedelic rock. My friends even made fun of me saying that the phaser was my favorite instrument. This year it's clearly all about folky female vocalists singing bedroom-pop playing Jazzmasters. It's literally half of this list. So here we are with another one. "Seven" by Men I Trust is just one of a handful of excellent singles they've released this year and I cannot get enough of this track. An absolutely groovin' bassline, jazzy 7th chords drenched in chorus modulation, and a scorcher of Santana-esque outro solo that rolls off into the distance as the track volume fades.

Since their debut album in 2014, Men I Trust hasn't found a home stylistically. Their recent singles really venture off into uncharted sonic territory and I couldn't be more intrigued for what a full length project sounds like.

Also, I'd like to add that they have such a well curated lo-fi aesthetic, especially cultivated by their live performances. You've gotta check them out. 

8. Soccer Mommy - Cool

Interestingly, the most captivating thing about Soccer Mommy and this track in particular is warmth. Fuzzy, lo-fi guitar tones and a washed-out rhythm section that feel like holding a bowl of soup in the winter. Somewhat like that bowl of soup there is something delicate and fragile about their record Clean.

I got turned on to their 2017 album Collection last year and I was so happy to see they continued innovating and experimenting beyond their bedroom pop roots. The soccer mother, Sophie Allison, has clearly taken her narrative songwriting to the next level. Songs like "Cool" paints these wonderful vintage-feel vignettes, like you're watching a 90s VHS tape home video your dad recorded. Grab a Capri-Sun, sit back and listen to your childhood on Clean.

7. Jungle - Beat 54

I've been a Jungle 'stan' since the first time I heard the harmonies on "Julia" from their self-titled debut Jungle. Since then, the duo has taken their time putting out a record, even worrying some of us to a point where we didn't think it was ever going to happen.

But in 2018 they delivered with one of the most fun releases of the year. Every song off their sophomore album For Ever makes me wish I could keep my falsetto on pitch the way frontmen Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson can. The duo captures an instrumental darkness similar to James Blake but replaces his airy qualities with a more joyous and playful surf-feel. "Beat 54" in particular has rich layers of vocal harmony that feels like an darker electronica-infused evolution of 1960s "pop" groups like the Mamas And The Papas and The Beach Boys. I encourage you to check out their September interview they did with Noisey.

6. Heat Wave

And I hope whoever it is, holds their breath around you, because I know I did

Lindsay Jordan has a lot to say. Lindsay Jordan is 19—a fact I'm sure she's tired of people pointing out. As a songwriter, guitarist, and the face of the band Snail Mail, she's able to articulate complex and profound emotion with her music in a holistically compelling manner that is doesn't seem possible for someone who just graduated high school. There's nothing one-dimensional about her music. "Heat Wave" is a haze—a dream sequence consisting of lyrics floating over a landscape of reverb-washed chords. Chaotic swells of fuzzed-out tones coming from her cherry red Fender Jaguar, tossing the energy high into the air and letting fall back to Earth, back to the lull of tender chords and soft-spoken regret.

There are plenty of great interviews with her about her influences and inspiration on the Snail Mail debut Lush, so I'll let you check those out on your own, but I will say this: I had a very hard time not putting three different songs from Lush on this list (particularly "Pristine" and "Anytime"). We'll wait patiently for more music, Lindsay.

5. Venice Bitch

Paint me happy and blue

There are very few artists that have the capacity of conjuring images of the past the way Lana Del Rey can. Since her breakout Born To Die Lana has pulled us back into the 1950s and 1960s with an unwavering duality present all of her music, "Venice Bitch" is no exception—there's something sinister and forlorn swimming beneath the faded sun-washed California surface.

I listen to "Venice Bitch" and picture Lana driving through the desert, donning a large-brimmed straw sun hat and a pale green polka-dotted dress that matches the chipping paint job of her 66 T-Bird. She's Thelma and Louise. Everything is spectacularly beautiful, but you're just waiting for it all to go to hell.

Lana has always had a bit of an experimental edge but "Venice Bitch" is a clear departure into a new territory. The song is essentially void of structure, relying on erratic synthesized noise and arhythmic textures to evoke emotion more so than repeated melodic or lyrical content like every other song she's ever made. Unlike Thelma and Louise, the song isn't driving off a cliff. It really isn't driving anywhere—as a matter of fact, it appears like Lana is just exploring. She seems complacent. Happy even? Though like always, there's something dark swirling deep within the textures of "Venice Bitch". Something is waiting to erupt. Maybe we'll see in the follow up tracks we're hoping for in 2019.

4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Not in Love We're Just High

Each year I've become more convinced that Unknown Mortal Orchestra, frontman Ruban Nielson in particular, are going to be to viewed in the rear view mirror as one of the most interesting acts of this decade. Over the last seven years they've made literally every kind of song you could imagine. Garage-grunge in their 2011 self-titled debut album, soft folky pop with jazz brushes on the drumkit on 2013's II, and jazzy electropop on 2015's polyamory inspired Multi-Love. (Not to mention their most recent work: a seven track acid-rock fusion "mixtape" IC-01 Hanoi that they recorded in Vietnam?).

Sex and Food is one of those albums where I've been obsessed with a different song off it as each month passes. I easily could swap out "Not in Love We're Just High" for 5 different songs from this album—I really love it that much—however, I settled on this track for one reason.

Block by block the tension in "Not in Love We're Just High" builds up to the sky. Almost the entirely of the song is spent resting on one synthesizer chord riff that bounces along, slowly accumulating weight and tension, like the track is falling forward toward something. Syncopated hihats and echoing vocals intensify and an explosive drum fill signals the beginning of the end. The drum fills continue to swirl as the bass enters for the first time pushing the tension even higher and the cymbals crash in circles around your head. And then at 3m09s everything shatters as Nielson executes a flawless vocal run on the word 'mind' that resolves all of the tension. At that point, I'm done listening to the song, my brain is fighting to holding onto those notes.

We're not in love
We're just halfway out of our mind

Focusing in on this hyper-specific point may feel little bit like when your high school literature teacher got hung up analyzing F. Scott Fitzgerald's description of the 'green light' in the ending of The Great Gatsby, but I'm completely serious—this song is great because of those 4 notes that he glides between on one word that we've been waiting for this entire time.

There was an interesting video I saw that explains this concept, how inherently coupled tension and release are with our expectations of harmony. I'll do a disservice to the theory so just go watch the video. "Not in Love We're Just High" rewards repeated listening as one grows more and more familiar with the building tension and the sublime resolution that we know is waiting at the top of the ride.

3. Haley Henderickx - Worth It

So put me in a line
Add another line
Soon you'll have a box
And you can put me inside

Haley Henderickx was provided per recommendation from a friend and my god this song is pure madness. The quality of the tone she plays with, the finger-picking, smooth glissandos—Haley Hendrickx performed the instrument tracks on I Need To Start A Garden while she was singing. And that's the just first thing.

While the entire album is a songwriting tour de force, "Worth It" is a masterclass in arrangement. A 7m54s song, Hendrickx switches back and forth, walking and sprinting us through a journey of self-doubt. Dynamics swelling and falling with the lyrics. Distortion on the lead guitar blasting atop dissonant textures as the contempt climaxes into resignation. Her consistent use of juxtaposition of the timbral characteristics of the spunky acoustic tone and the massive reverb on a electric guitar cements the narrative. Manic self-doubt. It's fucking punk folk.

This has to be one of the best songs I've heard in a long time.

2. Lucy Dacus - Night Shift

Artists like Dylan, Springsteen, Bowie, and Joan Baez, have their place in history because of their ability to take you to a time and place with a few words, few chords, within a few minutes. In just six minutes, Lucy Dacus pours her heart out, painting an unmistakable portrait. Confusion following a split with an unfaithful partner and manic swings between apathy and violent rage. A resolution to avoid someone until you forget they exist. "Night Shift" is the one the best love songs I've ever heard. It's a distillation of a painful truth—forgetting broken love is futile, but attempting to is necessary.

This is obviously a subjective list and ranking, and I probably could have made it less subjective if I had omitted this song. Every verse takes me to places that I've tried to forget.

You've got a 9 to 5, so I'll take the night shift
And I'll never see you again if I can help it

There's no contempt at the end of this song. Just hope that someday in the future she'll be able to look back on the memories fondly, like they're not even a part of her experiences. Something about her voice feel like she's accepting that it's futile, but maybe that's just me projecting myself. Maybe I'm just too close to it.

1. boygenius - Salt In The Wound

I make the magic and you unrelentingly ask for the secret

I finally know what it's like to be a hysterical fan of something. To be completely honest, I'm not sure I've ever actually obsessed over anything in my life. Not until boygenius at least. In November and few friends and I spent two nights at Thalia Hall seeing Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers for their cross-country boygenius tour and it was unlike any performance I've ever seen. Everyone in the crowd is dead silent just trying to hold themselves together during each set.

When they came out together for their group set they played straight through the EP and each song was magnificent. After the closing chords of "Stay Down", they immediately launched in "Salt In The Wound". It was the moment I had been waiting for the entire night. Actually, the last two weeks leading up to that night. Julien finished her verse and kicked on the distortion and began just absolutely shredding the outro while Lucy held out the last line.

They say the finish line is in your sights
What they don’t say is what's on the other side
They say the hearts and minds are on your side

I got chills up and down my entire body, I was smiling from ear-to-ear, and I could feel my eyes begin water. Everyone is granted a few of these of moments in their life, where we are not so subtly reminded that it's possible for seemingly arbitrary words and seemingly arbitrary actions to be beautiful and powerful beyond explicable reason. Even now, as I have this song on repeat, I'm picturing the stage lights illuminating as the chorus rings out and I can't help but feel lighter.

There are a ton of interviews they've all done which I 100% recommend—if you're into ASMR, just listen to Julien talk. Do yourself a favor and put on the boygenius EP and walk around your city (safely) at night.

'He stepped down, avoiding any long look at her as one avoids long looks at the sun, but seeing her as one sees the sun, without looking.'

Various excerpts from Anna Karenina

Kitty looked into his face which was so near her own, and long after—for years after—that look so full of love which she then gave him, and which met with no response from him, cut her to the heart with tormenting shame.

and in front of all, the exquisite Diana, carrying Kusovlev, who was more dead than alive.

he thought, like a man who having vainly tried to extinguish a fire should be vexed at his vain exertions and say to it: ‘Well, go on and burn, it is your own fault.’

Oblonsky had gone to Petersburg to fulfil a very necessary duty—which to officials seems most natural and familiar, though to laymen it is incomprehensible—that of reminding the Ministry of his existence, without the performance of which rite continuance in Government service is impossible.

Vronsky listened attentively, but it was not so much the meaning of Serpukhovskoy’s words that interested him as his outlook on these questions, for Serpukhovskoy was already dreaming of a struggle with the powers-that-be and already had sympathies and antipathies in that sphere, whereas Vronsky’s interest in the service was limited to his own squadron. Vronsky realized, too, how powerful Serpukhovskoy might become by his undoubted capacity for reflection and comprehension, and by his intellect and gift of speech, so seldom met with in the Society in which he lived. And, ashamed as he was of the fact, he felt jealous.

‘All the same I lack the most necessary thing,’ he replied. ‘I lack the wish for power. I had it once, but it is gone.’

This was one of the unpleasant things, while the other was the fact that his new superior, like all new superiors, had the reputation of being a dreadful man who got up at six in the morning, worked like a horse, and expected his subordinates to do the same.

Levin was saying what of late he had really been thinking. He saw death and the approach of death in everything; but the work he had begun interested him all the more. After all, he had to live his life somehow, till death came. Everything for him was wrapped in darkness; but just because of the darkness, feeling his work to be the only thread to guide him through that darkness, he seized upon it and clung to it with all his might.

Koznyshev, who knew better than anyone how at the end of a most abstract and serious dispute unexpectedly to administer a grain of Attic salt and thereby to change his interlocutor’s frame of mind, did so now. Karenin was arguing that the Russification of Poland could only be accomplished by high principles which the Russian Administration must introduce. Pestsov insisted that one nation can assimilate another only when the former is more densely populated. Koznyshev agreed with both, but with limitations.

When they had left the drawing-room Koznyshev, to finish the conversation, remarked with a smile: ‘Consequently for the Russification of the alien nationalities, there is but one means: to breed as many children as possible.... So my brother and I are acting worst of all, and you married gentlemen, and especially Stephen Arkadyevich, are acting most patriotically. How many have you got?’ he asked, turning to the host with a kindly smile and holding out a tiny wineglass to be filled. Everybody laughed, and Oblonsky most merrily of all.

‘Yes, that is the very best way,’ he said, chewing some cheese and filling the glass with a special kind of vodka. And the conversation was really ended by the joke.

Koznyshev, while continuing his conversation with the hostess, listened with one ear to his brother, turning his eyes toward him, and thought, ‘What has happened to him to-day? He behaves like a conqueror. ’ He did not know that Levin felt as if he had grown a pair of wings.

Levin felt that it would not be proper to enter into a philosophic discussion with a priest, and therefore merely replied to the direct questions, ‘I don’t know.’

Updated last as of October 12th, 2018. 

These were among my favorite sections from the first half of the book. I've tried to keep out any spoilers. I need to go back through and review my quotes from the second half of the book and append them to this list. If you haven't read this book, please give it a chance! It contains some of the most pure descriptions of the complexity of life and human interaction that I've ever come across and during reading I'd often find myself staring at my phone (Kindle app), smiling like a crazy person.

Apr18 playlist

Here's a playlist of the tracks I had on replay during April. It's a particularly long one, as I got in a lot of listening time this month. Most weeks I spent bustling around the factory floor with my headphones in to try to block out of the sound of the sonic welding. Here are some notes on new releases, throwbacks, and a quite a few psychedelic tracks.

Lots of old Tame Impala because I was watching a few videos on Kevin Parker's guitar tone and it reminded me that InnerSpeaker is ridiculously good.

New ZHU is absolute fire. Will be one of the best dance releases of the year.

"Rude Boy" from Mr. Twin Sister might have been the track I listened to the most this month.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra released a new album (which I need to listen to more) but made me remember how awesome their previous albums are.

Post Animal with brand new hypnotizing psychedelic sound on When I Think Of You In A High Castle.

Haven't give the new Kali Uchis enough time yet because I put that Steve Lacy feature on repeat! She wants my hundred-dollar bills, she don't want love! I'm sure more of these tracks will be on my playlist next month. Might end up being one of the best albums this year.

MGMT released their first good music in a decade. Why didn't they start making emo stuff sooner? "Hand It Over" is genius.

Here's a throwback. Los Lobos with "Mas Y Mas" on their '96 album Colossal Head. David Hidalgo is a badass guitar player and his more experimental project Latin Playboys has two albums from the '90s also worth checking out.

I've been a psychedelic-rock kick lately and Dr. Dog appeared in some the playlists I was searching through. I'm in love with the vintage guitar tones mixed in with the angsty new age punk vocals. All the themes are horrific and dark, but the tone is so bright. Same goes with the Ceramic Animals track on there.

I don't know what Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2 is supposed to mean, but their track "JBS" is a phaser masterpiece. Smooth tones with a springy delay and a gorgeous major-minor-suspended chord progressions.

If you've got monthly playlists send me the info! Always in search of good things I haven't heard.

Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"

I wanted to round out my exposure to classic film and so I've recently spent some time watching the "greats". The internet recommended Elia Kazan's works as a starting place. I've watched a lot of movies but am far from knowledgeable enough to describe myself as someone who's "into film", but even I've heard of many of Kazan's films. A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront, East of Eden.. the list goes on. He's responsible for introducing Marlon Brando and James Dean in film, has won countless awards, and played a role in un-blacklisting Zero Mostel following all the Hollywood 40s/50s communist scares. A man absolutely worth reading more about.

While his critically acclaimed films, On the Waterfront particularly, were all absolutely incredible, I haven't been able to stop thinking about one of his less popular films, A Face in the Crowdbased on a short story from Budd Schulberg.
     At the time it was released it received no love from the Academy nor any film festivals, overall landing with mixed reviews. The film is most known for introducing the world to Andy Griffith, one of the most poplar television figures ever.
     Without giving a whole synopsis, the plot is centered around a drifter Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who becomes a powerful radio and TV personality, with the help of Marcia Jeffries (Oscar-winner Patricia Neal), by presenting himself as a man of the common folk. Eventually, he has the ear of powerful military figures, politicians, Koch-like business moguls, and the rest of that ilk. Eventually this power consumes him and the people around him and destroys everything. It's an excellent commentary on the power of the media and influence of personalities, as well an intimate view of fame disfigured relationships and the moral decay of power. Neal's performance is terrific and she executes the darkening character arc flawlessly. As for Griffith, it's a one-of-a-kind performance, one that shaped his entire career, but more on that later.

Image result for a face in the crowd

A couple of my favorite quotes...
Rhodes discussing campaign politics with a Senator and his advisors

Rhodes: "We've got to face it, politics have entered a new stage, television. Instead of long-winded debates, the people want slogans. "Time for a change" "The mess in Washington" "More bang for a buck". Punch-lines and glamour. Yes, Mr. Furness, even glamour."
Furness: "My papers have supported Worthington Fuller...from the first day he ran for office, he's not a grandstander... a backslapper or a baby-kisser."
Rhodes: "That’s exactly what he's got to become."

Rhodes and Marcia discussing his upcoming dinner party with some of the Washington elites

Rhodes: "The biggest men in the country are coming to my get things rolling. I've got an admiral, two governors...some investment house boys and a cabinet minister."
Jeffries: "Which one? 
Rhodes: "I don't know. I told the general to pick one."
Jeffries: "They're coming to your party?"
Rhodes: "Honey, if I ask them, they've got to come. They'd be afraid not to come. I could murder them, like guests."
Jeffries: "I'm afraid it’s true."
Rhodes: "What’s true?"
Jeffries: "Right here, tonight, you might have that much power."

The poignant revelance to today's current political and mainstream media climate is unmissable, making for a foreboding and eerie viewing experience. If Rhodes had run for office it would have been flat out prophetic. The real haunting part for me comes in the final scene when Marcia and one of Rhodes' former writers Mel Miller (another Oscar-winner, Walter Matthau) confront him.

Rhodes: Listen, I'm not through yet. You know what's gonna to happen to me?
Miller: Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: "Why don't we try him again in a inexpensive format. People's memories aren't too long." And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody'll ask: "Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, a, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers."

**Mel turns and starts to leave. Then, he turns back towards Lonesome.

Miller: Beanie!

**Beanie, who is manning the automatic appalause machine, instinctively pulls the switch, unleashing a massive abundance of cheers. The mechanical jubilation continues as Mel joins Marcia in the waiting elevator, leaving Lonesome alone in the empty penthouse with his broken dreams.

Although it provides a nice ribbon for wrapping up the film, it doesn't quite capture how distorted our current sad reality is, where celebrities and politicians can take should-be career deathblows and somehow get stronger. They are somehow impervious to their own should-be self-destructive ways. Kazan underestimated the blindness of tribalism, but can we blame him?
     What I find most interesting about this movie is the outcome of it for Andy Griffith. His performance as Lonesome Rhodes is captivating. Griffith even commented in some interviews that he was very afraid of the feeling he got from playing Rhodes, because he was too good at it, he could easily do exactly what Rhodes was doing in the film.

"You've got to be a saint to stand the power that box gives you."

Actualizing A Face in the Crowd, Griffith went on to make his self-named show, becoming the face of America of the 1960s. He became in institution in his own right just as Rhodes had been. Griffith understood the burden he was going to bear and believed he could do justice to the responsibility the massive national audience would place upon him. The resulting product was nine seasons of wholesome moral indoctrination starring the undeniably virtuous model American, Andy Taylor.
     Overall, A Face in the Crowd stands tall as one of the most powerful films I've ever seen. There are tons of excellent videos where Andy and other creators discuss the film and other related topics. Obviously watch the movie first, but these make the viewing experience that much more memorable. This particular video provided some thought-provoking points on how our retrospective viewing of the film is what makes it compelling due to our context with Griffith's Andy Taylor character as the anti-Rhodes.

If you haven't seen it, please do yourself a favor and watch the movie. It's available on Amazon to rent for $3.

Richard Wright and "Us and Them"

I tend to find myself coming back to vulnerability as a topic. Great art either makes you feel vulnerable or is vulnerable itself, which allows you to connect to it. This is especially true of great music.

"I love that chord, I don't know why. But it wouldn't work if it had gone up to an A. But that what music's all about..."

After hearing it stripped down and bare, "Us and Them" has taken on a totally new form for me, and consequently so has Dark Side of the Moon. I personally put DSOTM in contention with the "greatest", (Kind of BlueSgt. PepperElectric Ladyland) because it makes me feel so vulnerable. I've never been grasp the album, it's always been the other way around. The raw emotion would grab me and wrap me up to a point where I feel very small. Like an astronaut floating out in space. But hearing a track from the album sound so naked I found an edge to grasp. Now for the first time I can listen to the album and slide inbetween despair and triumph, wrestling with it track by track.

And now I wait for the sun to set so I can walk through the city at night and listen to the words of Roger Water's for what must be the thousandth time.

I avoid my intuition, it’s usually wrong

Understanding your assumptions and thoroughly questioning them is crucial to building complex systems. I’ve found that the vast majority of mistakes I make in hardware are where I let my intuition develop an argument for why something is occurring. Intuition easily justifies the bad assumptions that thrive in our knowledge gaps.

A few months back a teammate and I ran into a bug where a sensor (IR photointerrupter) was counting way too many times when it was triggered. It was a particularly weird bug because we had another set of these already implemented and they didn’t have this problem. We started looking into the code to see if it was issue with how we were counting the interrupts.

After some careful examination of the software, we started looking at the physical hardware. The physical hardware seemed fine. The voltages were exactly as expected when the sensor was blocked and unblocked. I hooked up the outputs to a digital logic analyzer and blocked and unblocked the sensor. Sure enough, leading up to the actual pulse were lots of tiny pulses increasing in duty cycle. There were also tiny pulses trailing the actual pulse, decreasing in duty cycle. We went and checked our correctly functioning implementation and surprisingly the small leading and trailing pulses were there too! But for some reason they were being counted properly by the MCU. We were confused. So we attached analog leads to the output of our sensor. We blocked and unblocked it, expecting to see the false pulse train leading up to the actual pulse. Nope. Perfectly clean rising and falling edges on each of the implementations, exactly the same way. We were very confused.

This is painful to recount because the solution now appears so obvious in hindsight. We had evidence suggesting that our MCU was performing some strange counting of the rising and falling edges of our actual pulse. It was right in front of us. We had data showing that the duty cycle of the false triggers were increasing as the it came closer to the actual pulse. What were we missing?

We had made a major assumption that analog-to-digital conversion on the logic analyzer would be able to get a clean reading of the sensor output being pulled high and low. We assumed that the measurement tool we were using wouldn’t also be having false triggers. We were really thrown off the trail because we had another implementation of the same sensors functioning properly. All of this combined, we let our intuition grasp for answers rather than consider the facts.

After a bit of discussion, some forum reading, and more analysis of the signals we figured out the problem. The Schmitt Trigger implemented on both our logic analyzer and on our MCU were getting triggered by the rising and falling edges of the sensor being blocked and unblocked. This is a pretty common occurrence and it can usually be resolved by low-pass filtration in hardware right before the signal enters the MCU.

Schmitt Trigger Edge Detection

The reason the count on the other implementation appeared correct was because we were performing quadrature encoding with the sensors and we would increment in one direction and decrement in the other direction. The false pulses one on sensor offset the false pulses on the other since these were being used in conjunction. This is a little technical and very specific to our application but it basically masked the fact that the sensors had all the extra triggers because the end result always appeared correct.

Quadrature Encoder Waveforms

We were really confused by all the evidence presented to us simply because of the assumptions we were making. Multiple logical explanations could be presented but would conflict one another. Keep an eye out for these type of inconsistencies, as they’re a strong indicator of bad of assumptions.

Jenga blocks

It was a weeknight and I was out with a group of friends at a painfully stereotypical tech corporate party. I had already gone to my fair share of these throughout the summer. A couple at VC shops, one at a startup, and now one at a pretty large public company. We barely knew anyone who worked there but we figured it would be fun to poach a few free beers and American Apparel company branded t-shirts while they tried to poach us from the places we were interning.

The price we paid was to sit through a few painful keynote speakers and slideshows full of one-liners from Steve Blank and Charlie Munger.

“We want to do our part to make the world a better place.”
“We’re a public company that actually turns a profit, unlike our friends across the way at Salesforce”.
 I was wearing my Salesforce backpack, which got a couple of good chuckles from the people standing behind me.
“Feel free to grab some swag as you go, don’t walk out with the alcohol though.”

All laughs aside, it was a fun night of hanging out with all the other terrible tech people we Twitter-knew that were there soaking up the IPAs and cocktails. A group of six of us decided to head over to a nearby bar and continue our night. A few Moscow Mules and deceivingly small tequila shots and we were on our way. We sat down at a booth nearby the main bar, only to find a tin of Jenga blocks poured out onto the table. Looking around I noticed that all the other tables had different games and cards.

“It’s good we got literally the hardest game to play drunk.” We all had a good laugh. “Jesus, I’m shit at Jenga even when I’m sober.”

It turned out to be a blast. We ended up playing a variation of speed Jenga that resembles speed chess. The most interesting part was that people had written all over the blocks. The obvious vulgarities, so-and-so was here, and phone numbers, but also there were the open-ended questions that were clearly supposed to be used for a Truth-Or-Jenga variant.

Truth be told, it was the perfect thing to have at a table among friends. We had something to fiddle with and it got us talking and off our phones.

“This one says, ‘Who’s the biggest tool at the table?’” The table shook with our laughter as I was in the middle of extracting a snug bottom block and it all came down. “The fact that we need to debate this is bad.”

We all took turns with a pen drawing and squeezing our own messages onto the blank space available on the blocks.“What kind of message should I put on there? Go for the ‘wow, that is horrific’ or the kind of thing that makes someone soft smile?” I chimed in, “Yeah, I feel like I have so much bad karma to undo from arguing with strangers on Twitter that I should probably go with making a stranger smile.”

I had always hated Jenga growing up. It’s a game that's easy to get bored of and the setup time is usually longer than the time you spend playing. And it’s usually awful for little kids. They spent so much time and effort meticulously building up a tower of blocks only to have it all come crashing down. And if you’re playing with more than two people, there isn’t a winner, there’s just the idiot that knocked the blocks down.

Recently, I’ve used Jenga quite frequently as an analogy for the difficulties that people often face as aspects of their lives changes. The easiest changes are made near the top of the tower, the opinions we hold lightly, the people, places, and things we’ve only known a short time. Further down are the parts of us that carry more weight. They’re physically burdened by the weight of what rests above. Moving them could mean toppling everything that sits above, maybe even below. The manner is which they are removed has to be fitting. Sometimes a swift yank, sometimes a gentle tapping.

At the very bottom are the blocks fundamental to ourselves. They are not defined by our conviction or their severity but are directly tied to who we are. Our virtues and sense of purpose. Our health and our families. There is no easy way to change the position of these blocks without risking toppling the entire tower. Sometimes it is our decision, sometimes it isn’t.

What do you do when it all comes crashing down?

Well, you rebuild the tower just like the angry teary-eyed toddler. Meticulously, methodically, placing every last block back into place. Compared to the fraction of a second that it took come crashing down, how long does it take to build back up? Running your hands along the creases and gaps, straightening out the edges, well aware that if you want to play the game it will have to come tumbling back down eventually.

That is a harrowing truth that just about everyone hears but refuses to believe. Everything comes crashing down. It takes an indescribable amount of effort to create order from disorder and it is impossible to maintain. Refusing to rebuild and play the game is to live a life void of purpose and substance. To fill it with the superficial, to not care deeply enough about anything to a point where there isn’t even a tower to have crash down. The only solution is to proceed with great care and to learn to love rebuilding, because you’ll do it a lot.

“What did you put on your block?”
“It says, 'Make Love, Not Logical Fallacy.'"

“You’re an idiot.”

Path Integrals

I’m sitting in an electromechanics class listening to our professor lecture. He emphasizes that we should keenly pay attention to the lecture, not taking notes, but clinging to every word and anticipating the next. “It is imperative you focus on the concepts. Think about what is being taught and try to guess what is going to happen next.” His favorite word is imPERative. He says it just like too.

Today’s lecture is on finding energy and coenergy from electromechanical systems; basically the energy output of moving an iron object near some copper coils with current flowing through them.

  • Coenergy as described by current i and flux linkage λ
  • Most often the system in question, a motor or an electric generator at a power plant, are multiport— multiple energies and coenergies than can be described by the relationship as such
  • In order to perform these calculations path integrals are computed going along lines OB -> BA or OC -> CA

Coenergy calculations are actually not too complicated. A couple of integrals and derivatives and you’re there.

“Now we will just compute the coenergy as it has a much simpler integration.” My whirring thoughts came grinding to a halt as I tried to rationalize his statement. It had been two years but path integrals were about the only thing I remembered from multi-variable calculus. My hand shot up abnormally quick, wobbling my coffee thermos on the desk. He gave a slight nod in my general direction.

“Are we able assume the path is conservative because the system is electrically linear? Or do we have to check it?”

He smiled. “We can’t assume the system is conservative. You can never assume any two paths are the same.” He wasn’t referencing electrical engineering anymore.

Picture a mountain. There are easier and harder ways up the mountain that ultimately lead to the exact same point. Life is very similar, it is full of these destinations and points with a limitless number of possible paths. The main distinction, and by consequence the reason life is so much harder than electromechanics, is that we can’t calculate anything.

You want to climb higher up this abstract mountain of life, up to the heights of your dreams and goals. You see your peers there and you know their stories — their hardships, and sacrifices. But you cannot know what your journey will be along the path they took because in real life, no path is conservative. Life isn’t something you can integrate with respect to time and space and reduce to a function that describes when and where to walk. No matter what steps you take, guessing and theorizing, you will never know if you are taking the best path forward. Even worse, when it is all said and done, and you have either failed or succeeded, you won’t be able to know what other paths would have resulted to.

Knowing the unknown path is futile, looking forward and even in retrospect. I sat through the rest of the class trying to decide how I should feel about this. Am I mad that I’ll never know what lies ahead and what could have been? Or would knowing torment me more than anything else ever could?

“It is imPERative you check that the flux linkage and current partial derivatives to make sure they match up. If they do not, your path is not conservative and you can’t solve for the energy values.”

“What can we do then?”

“Write down that the path is not conservative. But that’s it, nothing else.”