Saturday, November 5, 2005

LIFE: Friday 'Firefly,' Fiona and file-sharing

Image hosted by Photobucket.comITEM! The wife and I have been hip-deep in a fine marathon of the cult TV series "Firefly" on DVD all week from Netflix. It's one of those series I missed during its brief life on TV, and had never checked out. After all the good talk about the recent "Serenity" movie based on the TV series, I decided to catch up. A lot of times stuff you hear is really great isn't quite as great as you thought, but boy, this is a fantastic show, one of the best science fiction TV programs I've seen in years.

If you aren't already in the loop, "Firefly" was a kind of sci-fi/western, set 500 years in the future in a time when man has colonized the stars. Mal Reynolds captains the Serenity, a ship that operates odd jobs semi-legally in deep space, with a crew of various reprobates and fugitives. It's tremendous so far, what "Star Trek: Enterprise" might've been if it didn't, y'know, suck. It's the "anti-Trek" in some ways with its detailed realism, lawless, fear-filled galaxy and constantly brawling characters. No lasers, no aliens, only men scrambling for survival on pioneer planets. Creator Joss Whedon has made a detailed, yet not overwhelming world, full of fine characters and notable journeys. Nathan Fillion's bold, likable and layered Captain Mal is now my personal hero.

Of course, like too many great Fox shows ("Undeclared," "Andy Richter," etc.) it was promptly canceled, back in 2002. Still it's well worth renting now on DVD. I'm depressed already, though, knowing that once we finish Disc 4 sometime this weekend, that's it (except for catching up with the movie "Serenity," which I haven't seen, when it comes out on DVD next month). Why do the good shows always die too soon?

ITEM! iPod update – after two weeks of iPod ownership, I'm closing in on 2,000 songs loaded, about 1/3 of its capacity it looks like. The idea of having dozens of my albums accessible at the touch of a fingertip is still novel to me, and I'm having a ball testing out the "shuffle" while I exercise. I'm constantly in search of the perfect shuffle, one that will make the misty veils of reality part and cause me to see nirvana (not the band). Come close a couple times but it gets derailed when some slow-moving 11-minute Led Zeppelin opus comes on.

One of the big reasons I bought Mr. iPod is to reduce the size of our CD collection down a bit. I've taken close to 100 CDs, ripped them onto the iPod and sold them at Second Spin. It's a little weird for me to abandon the physicality of a CD for strictly digital music. It's like, what if I lose my iPod or it explodes? Then all that music I don't have on CD anymore is gone. Hard transition to make. I even bought my first downloaded entire CD from iTunes the other day (more on that in a minute), and it seemed off for me to buy a CD but not have anything tangible to show for it. Just call me a primitive man.

ITEM! That first album I downloaded on iTunes was Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine," and it's good stuff. I, like many others, picked up Fiona's debut "Tidal" back in the mid-1990s, which was catchy piano-laced angry girl rock; but I got rid of it somewhere along the way (still liked the song "Criminal" though) and didn't pick up her next one in 1999. Image hosted by Photobucket.comNow, six years on, she's back. But "Extrarordinary Machine" has been a big buzz album, with a whole sordid history prior to its release.

All that aside, how's the final product? Well, the somewhat immature Fiona of 10 years ago has grown up a lot, and "Extraordinary Machine" presents a far more thoughtful, wizened sound, without the pretentious edge that snuck into her earlier work. At her best, Fiona combines the melodic knack of Tori Amos with the rough honesty of P.J. Harvey. These 12 tracks are detailed, piano-driven ruminations on love and self-respect, with Apple's dark, smoky voice holding sway over it all. She's got excellent, cutting lyrics — "Oh you silly stupid pastime of mine / You were always good for a rhyme" — and a sense of confidence that is only gained by a little heartbreak. It's sharp, poignant introspective stuff, and worth the wait.

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