April 2015 music update.

My latest draft blog post covers Georgia prep catcher Tyler Stephenson and includes lots of gossip on teams’ preferences for their first picks. I’ve got a top 100 draft ranking due to run on Tuesday.

Django Django – Shake and Tremble. Due on Tuesday, Django Django’s sophomore album, Born Under Saturn, marks their first output since their Mercury Prize-nominated debut, an album that likely would have won the award had it not run into the alt-J juggernaut that year. If you liked “Default” and “Hail Bop,” this lead single will be up your alley, with a similar psychedelic/dance beat but more hints of the heyday of pop-rock in the 1970s and ’80s.

The National – Sunshine on My Back. I shouldn’t like this song, an unreleased track from their Trouble Will Find Me sessions that combines two vocalists whose singing styles I dislike, Matt Berninger and Sharon Van Etten. You can understand Berninger’s words here – maybe that’s why they left it on the cutting room floor – and I love the way all of the instruments work together to provide an enormous buildup of tension that calls for a catharsis that never arrives.

Houndmouth – Sedona. Roots-rock that draws from alt-country and american folk traditions. I could see Houndmouth becoming the new Mumford & Sons, a band that crosses over into the mainstream by putting harmonic elements and pop arrangements on top of genres that don’t typically attract top 40 attention.

Drenge – Favourite Son. The most Drenge-like track from their strong sophomore album, Undertow, which I reviewed two weeks back.

Lord Huron – Meet Me in the Woods. I reviewed Strange Trails, the band’s second album, in mid-April; this is one of my two favorite tracks on the album.

Mumford & Sons – The Wolf. Speaking of Mr. Mulligan and friends, they’ve plugged in for their forthcoming album, Wilder Mind, which comes out on Tuesday … but so far I’m not hearing anything remotely new in the singles they’ve released. It sounds like Babel with electric guitars, and, speaking as someone who truly enjoyed their debut album, I am not interested in a rehashing of their somewhat stagnant follow-up.

The Wombats – Emoticons. Their latest album, Glitterbug, feels like it has some breakthrough potential, with more consistent work across the record’s eleven tracks, slightly poppier melodies, and all of the wit and wordplay that has made Matthew Murphy one of my favorite lyricists.

San Cisco – Too Much Time Together. I’ve only given their sophomore album, Gracetown, a couple of spins so far, but I’ve liked most of what I’ve heard; this track is my daughter’s favorite and I think it’s easy to hear why.

Tame Impala – Cause I’m A Man. The lyrics are a step up for Tame Impala front man Kevin Parker, although I find his falsetto a bit cloying; I could see this ballad getting cross-over airplay thanks to the music’s heavy influences from 1960s and 1970s soft-rock artists, without abandoning Tame Impala’s trademark psychedelic sound.

Kero Kero Bonito – Picture This. My pick for the feel-good hit of the summer; KKB’s previous songs are all disposable if not outright embarrassing J-Pop trifles, but this song has an obnoxious edge to its lyrics (mocking folks who photograph every aspect of their lives so they can share the pics on social media) and music that was absent from their previous efforts.

Failure – Hot Traveler. This alternative trio will release their first album in nineteen years in late June, and only their fourth full-length release overall. They suffered a bit from overgenrification in their 1990s heyday, touring with Tool (a much heavier, more prog-rock act) while not quite fitting in with the grunge or post-hardcore movements that were the flavor of the year. If you don’t remember Failure’s work, you probably know of former member Troy Van Leeuwen, who is currently a member of Queens of the Stone Age and played with A Perfect Circle on three albums.

Wild Beasts – Woebegone Wanderers II. An unexpected new release from the British art-rock quartet whose music is only consistent in its weirdness, this song is a sort of sequel to the track of the same name from their 2008 debut album, Limbo, Panto.

Speedy Ortiz – The Graduates. Their second full-length album, Foil Deer, came out on April 20th, with a very similar overall noise-pop vibe to their debut, featuring Sadie Dupuis’ faintly warbling vocals and the band’s heavy use of unexpected chord changes and tritone-based riffs.

Jamie xx with Romy – Loud Places. Both members of the Mercury Prize-winning, highly overrated indie-pop act the xx, Jamie (producer) and Romy (singer) collaborated on this, the only decent song I’ve ever heard from him (Jamie). It’s by turns sad and ecstatic, a pastiche of song scraps that wouldn’t appear to work together until you hear them.

Strange Wilds – Pronoia. Strange Wilds are a power trio from the Pacific Northwest who bear a strong resemblance to pre-Nevermind Nirvana and are signed to Sub Pop, the label that owned grunge before the term went mainstream. Their first album is due this summer.

Ceremony – Your Life In France. Post-punk that derives musically from Wire (whom they covered on a 2011 EP) and Gang of Four, but here skipping the politics for a song about loss and regret. “The Separation,” another promising track from their forthcoming album, is getting some airplay on Sirius XM.

Violent Soho – Fur Eyes. The best track from the Australian alternative band’s album Hungry Ghost, which was released in their home country in September 2013 but didn’t come out here until a year later, and is just now getting a fresh marketing push.

Of Monsters and Men – I Of The Storm. I might be looking forward to this album as much as any due the rest of this year.

Kid Astray – Cornerstone. This Norwegian sextet had a hit on alternative radio in 2013 with “The Mess,” a song that was both catchy and incredibly quirky, sounding at multiple points like the band had cut up several tracks and stitched them back together at random. This track has a much more conventional structure, and the shared male/female vocals have them firmly in Naked & Famous territory.

Torres – Sprinter. I’m not a huge fan of Mackenzie Scott’s solo work (that would be Paul Boyé’s domain), but there’s some promise in the singles from her upcoming second album. I think it’s her voice that keeps me from becoming a bigger fan.

Blur – Lonesome Street. Remember when Blur’s music was cheerful and energetic, even when Damon Albarn’s lyrics were their most biting? “Country House,” “Charmless Man,” “Chemical World,” “Girls and Boys” – these songs were all exuberant in contrast with their satirical nature. Blur’s new album, The Magic Whip, their first since 2003, is positively maudlin in contrast with all of their work from the mid-90s, before their discography took a turn for the worse with 13. Only three tracks from this album could stand up with their Britpop halcyon days – “Go Out,” “I Broadcast,” and the opener “Lonesome Street,” which boasts a shuffling, syncopated guitar line that seems like a lengthy allusion back to Modern Life is Rubbish. It’s good to have a little bit of the old Blur back, but the album as a whole was a disappointment.

The Victorian Internet.

I first encountered Tom Standage’s work when a friend gave me Standage’s A History of the World in Six Glasses, a brief history of a half-dozen fundamental drinks common to most global cuisines. At some point after I wrote about that book, Amazon put Standage’s 1996 book, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph, on sale for the Kindle for just $1.99, so I picked it up because it seemed – as Paddington Brown might say – very good value, and I like to stash a few ebooks on my iPad in case I’m traveling and am caught without a book. Standage’s book was more than worth that price, as it’s a breezy, enlightening book on the invention, rise, and fall of the telegraph, with many parallels to the invention and rise of the modern Internet – although the latter’s fall has yet to come.

Standage covers a lot of ground in a short book, so he’s rarely bogged down in excessive detail; what detail there is he concentrates toward the front of the book as he describes attempts to invent the first telegrpah and then to improve it. The telegraph was preceded by what now seem comically inept attempts to transmit information over long distances using towers that would send signals using light by moving large panels that were visible from the next station. (Such towers live on in the many places around the world named Telegraph Hill.) It took a couple of crackpots who either didn’t know of the difficulties they faced or simply wished them away to come up with the first real devices that transmitted very simple signals over electrical wires – and then the inventors had to convince others that these things would actually work. Telegraphs first caught on thanks to some basic economic needs, not to actual foresight on anyone’s part: Railways and stock traders were among the leading early customers, and the rapid increase in the demand for immediate information via telegraphy led to attempts to increase what we’d now call the bandwidth of telegraph lines. These efforts eventually led to the fortunate accident, also described in Standage’s book, that led to Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Watson (as all good assistants are named) discovering that they could transmit sounds over electrical wires, leading them to invent the telephone. Thomas Edison also makes a few appearances, as his first paying job was as a telegraph operator, a task at which he was so adept he quickly raised his pay and status and eventually used his work as leverage to fund his first laboratory.

Once that technical material is out of the way, Standage can focus on the social and economic aspects of the telegraph’s invention and rapid spread and adoption. News agencies were also early adopters, leading to the now-ubiquitous organizations Reuters and the Associated Press. Diplomats made heavy use of such cables for several decades, with the telegraph playing significant roles in the Dreyfuss Affair (which led Emile Zola to pen his “J’accuse!” column) and the Zimmermann Telegram fiasco during World War I. But there were also dreamers who thought the telegraph would lead to world peace and skeptics who thought the telegraph a parlor trick or feared its impact, similar to pronouncements on all sides of the earliest days of the World Wide Web (and the Segway, which didn’t work out quite so well). It’s an instructive look at how new technologies can disrupt entire economies, and how people and businesses react to such disruptive technologies in the first place, with massive investments made as if the telegraph was going to last forever, only to have it supplanted by the telephone within a few decades.

Standage wrote his book in 1997, so even in the short period since then we’ve seen substantial upheaval from the explosion of the Internet around the globe and through new access points unthought of when most people got online via a computer and a 28k modem. He adds an afterword, written in 2007, where he correctly foresees the rise of mobile phones as Internet access devices, and even draws a parallel between the economy of characters in text messaging and the various methods of shorthand used to send cheaper telegraphs. The afterword gives The Victorian Internet the finishing bow it needs to tie together its subject with the subtitle, and to allow Standage to emphasize the broader point about the creative destruction wrought by highly disruptive technologies. It’s a quick, educational read that, if it pops up for $2 again, would even make a bear from darkest Peru smile.

Next up: I finished Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena last night and started Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

Saturday five, 5/2/15.

My annual ranking of the top 25 MLB players under 25 is up for Insiders, as is another draft blog post on Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson. My weekly Klawchat transcript is up.

I also appeared on actor Nate Corddry’s Reading Aloud podcast, talking mostly about books and pizza with a little baseball chatter thrown in.

And now, the links…saturdayfive

  • English college student Ione Wells wrote a letter to her assaulter as a statement of strength for herself and other victims of sexual assault. It’s absolutely worth reading (and re-posting, since I tweeted to it on Wednesday).
  • Anything with David Simon is an auto-link for me; with Baltimore in flames earlier this week, he’s a a natural commentator, and you might say he has some thoughts on the matter. The failed War on Drugs comes up, as you would expect.
  • Hugh Acheson and Empire State South barista Dale Donchey will open a new coffee shop called Spiller Park Coffee in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, with a projected opening date in September. They’ll use a selection from a small number of the best small/third-wave roasters in the country.
  • Nearly all economists agree free trade is good, so why are some members of Congress fighting renewal of the President’s Trade Promotion Authority? Why is Elizabeth Warren, by all accounts a fairly intelligent person, on the wrong side of the table here – along with a good chunk of her fellow Democrats?
  • The New York Times was strong this week, between that op ed and this investigative report on the deep, unspoken support for the drone program within Washington’s inner circles of power.
  • Chipotle, the most responsible of all national food chains when it comes to sourcing ingredients, will no longer serve food made with GMO ingredients. That’s too bad, as it feeds into FraudBabe-style anti-science woo-woo; GMOs are completely safe to eat and can improve crop yields, although they have negative externalities regarding pesticide use. (I still favor GMO labelling, as it’s the consumer’s right to decide what to consume, even if they want to be stupid about it.)
  • Rubella has been eradicated in the Americas. You know why? Because vaccines. It’s the third virus that infects humans to be wiped out in this hemisphere and the fourth virus in total (including rinderpest, which infected mostly cattle and buffalo).
  • NPR’s Fresh Air dedicated a show to an interview with journalist Mark Arax about California’s water wars, especially the current conflict over almond farms’ use of water.
  • A short but potent piece from Ta-Nehisi Coates on Nonviolence as Compliance in Baltimore.

Nashville eats, 2015 edition.

My annual ranking of the top 25 MLB players under 25 is up for Insiders, as is another draft blog post on Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson. My weekly Klawchat transcript is up. I also appeared on actor Nate Corddry’s Reading Aloud podcast, talking mostly about books and pizza with a little baseball chatter thrown in.

Nashville has more great places to eat than I could possibly hit in one scouting trip, even if I stayed five or six nights. And new ones are constantly opening, which was my aim on my two trips there in April since several of them have become so popular either with critics or locals.

The 404 Kitchen (restaurant not found error?) was the best meal I had while in Nashville; it’s a small place, seating about 40, and the menu changes daily depending on what ingredients were available that particular day. When I was there, there was a farm egg starter that was just a yolk served on a plate of al dente farro with mixed wild mushrooms and herbs, with enough of the dark cooking liquid to form a sauce when I mixed the yolk into the grains. Farro is an ancient form of wheat that has long been eaten in southern Italy the way we might eat rice or barley, but since it’s a whole grain it’s more nutritious than white rice, and I greatly prefer its flavor to that of barley. I would have preferred the farro to be a little more cooked – this was Al Dente’s cousin, Trey Dente – but the dark, earthy, lemony sauce was superb in its balance of acid and umami. I made an improvised version of the dish over the weekend using mixed dried mushrooms, reconstituting them for the cooking liquid, and using steel cut oats (a.k.a. groats) because I couldn’t get farro.

The entree was the least successful of the three dishes, a wahoo fillet served with some spring vegetables, but lacking a little punch to spruce up the mildness of the fish itself. (My first experience with wahoo was on my honeymoon in Bermuda twenty years ago, at the White Horse Tavern. They served a fried wahoo sandwich that was so frequently confused with chicken by tourists that they had a sign up saying, “No, the fried wahoo isn’t actually chicken.”) The mixture underneath the fish included some fingerling potatoes and sunchokes, easily my favorite part of the dish. The dessert was a chocolate “budino” that was thicker than most budinos or mousses, semi-sweet with bits of almond and drunken tart cherries; I like darker chocolates but this was close, and it was rich enough that it was best shared.

Two Ten Jack is Nashville’s first izakaya/ramen house, and while I am no judge of ramen or broth at all – I’ve had real ramen maybe three times in my life – I thought the tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen at Two Ten Jack was spectacular. Tonkotsu is made from pork bones, often trotters (yep, that’s pig feet), so the flavor is meatier than any other stock or broth made from chicken or beef. It’s also thicker because the preparation of the stock involves slowly poaching some pork fat and then whisking it into the liquid to form an emulsion. Two Ten Jack’s version has a little pork floating on top as well as the noodles adn aromatics you’d expect to have, but I would gladly drink this stock by the pint. The restaurant also offers sashimi, a few other raw fish preparations (including a tuna poke that I thought needed more acidity), and yakitori skewers you can order by the stick for about $3-5 each. They also serve several cocktails built around the distilled rice spirit shochu, including one that mixes it with their own house-made tonic water.

Several of you have recommended Mas Tacos Por Favor for a while, although it’s much easier now that they have a brick and mortar location right across the street from The Pharmacy, a great burger joint that also serves amazing tater tots. Mas Tacos offers five different taco options that look like they rotate or change frequently; when I was there there were options with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a vegetarian one with sweet potato. The pulled (braised) pork was the easy winner over the chicken, as the pork had the flavor of carnitas without being too heavy, while I thought the chicken was too bland and I mostly got the flavors of the toppings. You can get one elote (grilled seasoned corn on the cob with paprika and cotija cheese) for $3, which I recommend, and a small plate of maduros (fried sweet plantains), which I probably wouldn’t. They also sell aguas frescas in varying flavors, but were out of the one flavor (tamarind) I would have ordered that day.

Desano’s Pizza is a mini-chain of three locations (Nashville, Charleston, LA) serving thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas to diners at long picnic tables in a dining hall in sight of the three ovens. It’s a little above-average for this style of pizza, with the crust a little too thick underneath the toppings and the sauce definitely too garlicky for me, definitely a good spot for a group outing though.

I tried to go to Barista Parlor, the over-the-top coffee emporium on the east side of Nashville, but their espresso machine was down that morning, so I’ll have to save that for another trip. I did make it back to Crema, still the best local roaster I’ve found in Nashville, not quite at the level of direct-trade spots like Intelligentsia or Counter Culture but at the high end of the next tier.


My annual list of the top 25 big leaguers under 25 is up for Insiders, as is a draft blog post on Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer, both of Vanderbilt.

Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie is one of my favorite living novelists, and I say that having read only two-thirds of her total output (she’s written three). Her ability to craft realistic characters, especially black female characters, and to have all of her characters engage in thoughtful, intelligent, unpandering dramas built around race and ethnic identities is second to none right now; she’s even passed Toni Morrison, whose recent output hasn’t matched her Beloved/Song of Solomon peak. Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) in 2007, made my last top 100 novels update at #92.

Her most recent novel, 2013’s Americanah, once again begins and ends in Nigeria, but this time follows two people as they emigrate to the west, one legally and one illegally, to escape a limited economic future in their native country, one that deprives them of hope. Ifemelu and Odinze are high school sweethearts, bonded by their intelligence and refusal to submit to a grey future, but the expectation that they’ll marry is lost when Ifemelu is allowed to enter the United States legally but Odinze, a single foreign male from Africa, is rejected due (we assume) to U.S. immigration crackdowns post-9/11. While Ifemelu encounters financial difficulties and humiliations as a student in the U.S. who lacks money or worldliness, even finding that her brand of English isn’t much use in understanding the American idiom, Odinze enters England without papers and aims for a sham marriage with a citizen to allow himself to stay and work. Ifemelu, ashamed by her situation and depressed by her isolation, ceases contact with Odinze and only resumes it when she returns to Nigeria over a decade later, finding the love of her life now married with a daughter.

“Americanah” is a derogatory term in Nigerian slang referring to someone who has moved to America and come back a changed person, especially one affecting an American accent or an excessive affection for American customs and culture. Ifemelu tries to assimilate early in her time in the U.S. because she’s told repeatedly that she won’t receive job offers if she’s too “ethnic,” but eventually sheds her American façade in favor of her own accent, her own hair, and her identity as an African woman. She adapts rather than assimilating, eventually advancing in her education and career thanks to a blog she writes under a pen name, called Raceteenth Or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes), that documents her thoughts on the racial divide in the United States from the perspective of someone who was not conscious of race before she arrived in this country. (Adichie has since brought Ifemelu’s second blog, written after the character’s return to Nigeria, to life online as The Small Redemptions of Lagos.) Odinze’s story is shorter, as was his stint abroad, working dicey jobs under someone else’s National Insurance number, before he’s discovered and shipped back to Lagos.

Ifemelu is the star of the book, as Odinze, while a well-defined character, is rarely in the spotlight, while his story in England seems like a plot contrivance to contrast with Ifemelu’s experiences as a legal emigrant from Nigeria. Her story has global aspirations which largely succeed, coming through her series of jobs (including nanny to a definite White Privilege family) and relationships, including one with Progressive White Guy and one with Earnest Black Intellectual. We get some pretentious dialogue along the way, especially when Ifemelu starts to travel in increasingly academic circles, but Adichie avoids turning the book into a sermon by keeping Ifemelu’s emotions at the center of the book rather than driving us toward some Big Conclusion via plot tricks. The book describes the emigrant/immigrant experience, the desire to return home for its own sake (rather than to change the world), the emotional pull of a romance that one can’t fully separate from its environment, instead of trying to tell us one country or culture or path is better. This is Ifemelu’s story, just one tale that has its metaphorical implications but doesn’t feel in any way like Adichie is trying to tell every immigrant’s story at once.

Adichie’s strengths in characterization and avoiding predictable plot lines cover some of her weaknesses in portions of the dialogue and nearly all of the sample blog posts included in the book. The posts she includes are far too short and superficial to garner the kind of audience Ifemelu is supposed to have collected through her writing, not enough in a real world that has Ta-Nehisi Coates and Tanzina Vega and Jamil Smith and too many others to name who produce statement pieces that bring examples and evidence to the table. Ifemelu’s blog posts from the book wouldn’t find an audience because they’re not saying much of anything we haven’t heard hundreds of times before. Adichie says more about race when she’s not talking directly about it, putting characters into situations that force them to confront questions of racism and identity, than she does when she tries to blog through Ifemelu’s lens.

Told through frequent moves back and forth in time and across an ocean, Americanah marks another hugely compelling and intelligent novel from Adichie and her biggest seller to date, even though it lacks the gravity of Half of a Yellow Sun, which was set in Nigeria during the Biafra conflict and resulting genocide. Her eye for detail is sharper in the sections of Americanah where her characters are still in Lagos, growing up among ambitious economic strivers, religious zealots, and co-opted concubines whose fortunes are only secure as long as the current regime stays in power. When she transitions to America and England, Adichie’s writing becomes less nuanced and the stakes are largely lower (especially since we know from the first chapter that Odinze gets back to Nigeria safely). The strongest scenes of Ifemelu’s time in America come in an African hair salon she visits, somewhat resentfully, in Trenton, because she can’t find a place that knows how to braid hair properly in Princeton. The reactions she receives there from women who might share some of her background but clearly want very different things from life – and are largely appalled that she would return to Africa of her own volition – drive not just Ifemelu’s own memories but the overall narrative of the book, as well as its strongest symbol (hair) of race and identity.

Next up: I knocked off The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage’s brief history of the telegraph, over the weekend, and have since started Anthony Marra’s novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

Saturday five, 4/25/15.

My one Insider piece this week was a draft blog post on Donny Everett, Mike Nikorak, and first-round rumors, and I’ll have a similar post up within 24 hours on two Vanderbilt prospects and more gossip. I held my Klawchat on Wednesday, and I have a new boardgame review up for Paste on the X-COM boardgame adaptation, which seems to be true to the spirit of the video game, but which I found excessively complicated.

And now, the links… saturdayfive

  • Yet another study showing vaccines don’t cause autism. How much research time and money has been wasted because of one disgraced doctor’s fraud? And how many children have suffered because their parents bought into the vaccine deniers’ lie?
  • The BBC has a 25-minute Inquiry program on the true causes of the conflict in Yemen, and why it matters for the rest of the world. It’s an essential story that’s barely covered in the U.S. right now, even though we’ve had a hand in it and are poised to come out big losers once again.
  • Does a US child go missing every 90 seconds? No, of course not, but that won’t stop people from repeating a bad statistic that gets clicks.
  • It’s full of spoilers, but I enjoyed the NY Timesrecap/review of the Broadchurch season finale. My review of season two is mostly spoiler-free.
  • Are hospitals doing all they can to prevent Clostridium difficile infections? Not yet, according to a terrifying new study.
  • How Dodgers fans are using tech tricks to evade the TV blackout. This isn’t a black-and-white issue; viewers getting screwed by a legally sanctioned monopolist are resorting to illegal methods to access content for which they would and do pay. MLB can solve this quickly by ending local blackouts, or Congress could force cable companies to open their infrastructure to competitive carriers, and please stop laughing now.
  • Earlier this month, a federal court upheld New Jersey’s ban on gay “conversion” therapy, leading to calls for a national law doing the same. The Human Rights Commission has some links on the harm such therapy inflicts, as well statements from major medical associations against the practice. It’s abhorrent and cruel.
  • My friend Wendy Thurm waxes on the Islanders’ departure from Nassau Coliseum. I grew up an Islanders fan and still remember hanging the Newsday cover with the headshots of everyone on the Isles’ roster after they won their fourth straight Stanley Cup, as well as the cover the following spring with the headline “Deprived of Five.” (Damn you, Gretzky.) But the Coliseum is a dump and it was never easy to get to in the first place. That said, if you play in Brooklyn, you’re no longer allowed to be called the “Islanders.” You can be the Hipsters, you can be the Tip-Tops, you can even be the Bums, but once you crossed the county line into Queens you ceased to be Islanders.

Finally, apropos of nothing, I’m just going to leave this here:

Broadchurch, season two.

This week’s Klawchat had lots of overreactions to early-season stats. For Insiders, my latest draft blog post covers first-rounders Donny Everett and Mike Nikorak, with word on a pop-up arm in El Paso and some early top ten gossip.

The British series Broadchurch originally aired as a one-and-done season of eight episodes built around a murder mystery, with the real focus of the writing on the effects of the crime and the investigation on the residents of the small town of the show’s title, many of whom would end up suspects at one point in the season. The show was so well-received by British audiences and TV critics that ITV has now turned it into a recurring series, with season two just completing its first American run on BBC America this week and season three to begin filming this summer. (I reviewed season one while contrasting it to the inferior U.S. remake, Gracepoint.

The formula of the first season no longer applies, as the two detectives assigned to the case, outsider Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Broadchurch lifer Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), solved it in somewhat shocking fashion in the last episode. That presented several challenges to the writers: how to restart the narrative greed that an unsolved murder brought to the show, and how to continue to push the various characters into uncomfortable situations that could provoke the dialogue that is the show’s greatest strength?

An American series would just kill off another character and start over, of course – has anyone thought about the spike in the murder rate of Naval officers and midshipmen with every new NCIS spinoff? – but Broadchurch went a less traditional route: The murderer, who confessed in season one, pleads not guilty, leading to a trial that enmeshes the town in more scandal, while Alec gets a second chance to solve the old case that wrecked his marriage, career, and nearly his life. The resulting eight episodes of season two moved more quickly and were more involved, with a half-dozen new and significant secondary characters, but they never slacked on the incisive dialogue that powers the show. (Of course, at some point they will likely have to kill someone else off, just to give Alec and Ellie something else to do together.)

The trial itself is the framework for the season, but its outcome isn’t in much doubt, with many of the steps – notably the exclusion of the confession, without which season two would have been about an episode and a half long – easy to see coming. A reader mentioned on Twitter that the writers took many liberties with the British judicial process, none of which were evident to me as an American. But viewing Broadchurch as a crime drama misses its point: The writers develop complex, fascinating characters and put compelling words in their mouths to reveal truths about how we live in small communities where everyone knows everyone else and someone else probably knows that thing you think is secret. Finding out who was guilty was critical to season one, but we already know he’s guilty, and the trial’s outcome was both justified by what we saw of the court proceedings and because of the opportunities it presented for the plot.

Meanwhile, the Sandbrook case brings the man Alec believed committed both murders, Lee Ashworth, into Broadchurch, the result of what might be a long con of Alec’s designed to get Ashworth, acquitted when a critical piece of evidence was stolen from a detective’s car before trial, to confess. Ashworth, his wife Claire, their neighbor Ricky (father to one of the victims, uncle to the other), and his wife Kate had a convulted web of interrelationships, jealousies, and possibly infidelities that give the investigation itself layers of intrigue beyond ordinary investigation. Having just read the first Philo Vance novel, I was reminded of his axiom that physical evidence is useless and true detection should be the result of deduction, as the solution the Broadchurch writers have given us here barely relies on any evidence at all, and one of those bits – the floor – itself indicates nothing at all without Ellie’s reasoning.

The season also brings two new characters into the fold in the lead prosecuting attorney, Jocelyn Knight, and her former protegee, Sharon Bishop; the two have a testy, unfriendly relationship, and each is fighting her own private war. Those side stories were too isolated from either of the main plot threads and seemed to exist solely to give the characters some depth and/or to set up subplots for season three, but the character of Jocelyn, played superbly by Charlotte Rampling, OBE, is one of the most well-developed female characters past the age of 60 I can think of on TV. Her integration into the fabric of the show was smooth and sets her up to become more central next season, possibly working together with her quondam rival to free the latter’s son from what might be aun unjust conviction. (Bishop is played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, shorn of her locks and the convincing New York City accent she wore on her days on Without a Trace.)

The season narrowed its focus on the holdover residents of the town primarily to the Latimers, the parents and daughter of the murdered boy, whose lives are ripped open anew by the killer’s plea and the resulting trial. Mark’s evisceration on the stand in particular puts new strains on a marriage that was never strong to our eyes yet appears ready to tear apart with a gentle breeze once his latest secrets come out for everyone to see. While the daughter, Chloe, remains mostly a prop – hey, someone had to hold the baby in court! – Mark and Beth benefit from the added screen time, with Beth showing greater strength in tragedy while Mark’s grief manifests itself in unexpected ways. Of the other denizens of Broadchurch, only Paul, himself a cipher much of the season, gets a big moment, as he becomes the moral center of the town in the final sequence of the season.

The writers have dropped enough seeds into Broadchurch’s soil to harvest plenty of new storylines in season three, even without introducing another crime to investigate, but there are a couple I’d most like to see them pursue. Alec and Ellie have zero sexual tension between then, yet Alec’s ex-wife was visibly jealous of the bond he’s formed with his new partner – and Ellie, meanwhile, shows herself how much Alec’s friendship, bizarre as it can be, has meant to her in her own time of emotional turmoil. Her own evolving relationship with her son Tom and perhaps Alec’s with his daughter Daisy, overtly mentioned as a priority for him in the closing scenes of season two, should also come more to the fore. I imagine we’ll see Susan Wright and Nigel again, and Becca Fisher seems to just be a paperweight, but screen time spent on them takes it away from these other characters or Ellie’s gambling-addict sister or Jocelyn in her reemergence from self-imposed isolation. There are probably too many stories here to tell, which is a testament to how rich and full a town that Broadchurch‘s writers have created.

Undertow (Drenge album).

The debut album from British rock duo Drenge was one of my favorite albums of 2013, and remains one of my favorite of the decade so far, an unabashed sneering post-punk cataclysm that took the now-common guitar-and-drum format to a logical extreme. They were more Gang of Four than White Stripes, with lyrics that focused on sex, violence, and self-loathing, yet the album was full of strong hooks that sustained the mostly two to three minute tracks and extended them beyond mere guitar/drum demo material.

The album didn’t make a dent in the U.S. at all – it wasn’t even released here until about six months after its UK release – and for their sophomore set, Undertow, Drenge have changed their approach, incorporating more hard-rock sounds while largely relegating their angry punk influences to the background. The results are strong but a little bittersweet; it’s a very good album, one that shows substantial musical growth, but if you liked Drenge and were hoping for more of the same, it’s a serious departure from their initial sound.

The change is noticeable right away in the first proper track, “Running Wild,” with multiple layers, an actual bass line, and reverb that makes the track sound like Richard Butler brought the Psychedelic Furs back together to be a hard-rock band. There’s still a distinctive guitar riff in the transition from verse to verse, but I wonder if someone told the brothers that they needed to sound a little more like fellow UK duo Royal Blood, whose sound is heavier and slower, drawing more from mid-70s metal than late-70s new wave. “Never Awake” comes from similar territory as the first album’s “Face Like a Skull,” but the opening drum riff is exponentially more intricate, and that same muted, reverb-heavy production quality feels like we’re referring back to pre-grunge Soundgarden or Nirvana.

The new-wave stylings aren’t limited to Gang of Four/Wire influences, as there’s a groove element to several songs here that, while not quite dance-able, at least sit in that shaded area where the post-punk portion of new wave overlapped with bands like Blondie who adapted that sound into something that did work on the dance floor. The main guitar riff in “The Snake” slithers low and mid-tempo, with an actual harmony in the song’s vocals and a drum pattern that departs from anything the brothers tried on their first album. “Side by Side” scared me at first with a hand-clap pattern that might make Imagine Dragons proud, but the song evolves into an irreducible complexity shortly thereafter with a two-tone guitar riff and percussion lines that are probably drummer Rory Loveless’s best work to date, swirling in a way that refuses to let the listener get comfortable with the pattern.

Drenge haven’t eschewed punk entirely on Undertow, as “We Can Do What We Want” sits somewhere between classic punk and modern punk-pop variants like the Vaccines’ “Teenage Icon,” opening with a very Drenge-ish image of a “balaclava on my boyfriend’s head.” (The melody reminded me, inexplicably, of “Kids in America.”) “Favourite Son” is by far the song most comparable to the core tracks from Drenge (“Backwaters,” “Bloodsports,” “Gun Crazy”), hard and fast and sparse, with quickly-sung, rage-filled lyrics delivered without apparent irony or concern for your opinions.

I don’t know if the album’s title is in any way a nod to Tool’s album of the same name, itself a seminal work of dark, progressive metal that created a new subgenre and led to a number of bands that, for better or worse, tried new song structures and greater musical experimentation that weren’t typically found outside of technical or extreme metal. That album took the brooding standard in grunge and alternative rock at the time to a new level of angst, a sound that struck me as self-parodic but that evidently appealed to a broad cross-section of listeners looking for something more serious about its seriousness. Drenge aren’t serious or even as pissed off as they were on their first album; they’ve lightened up and expanded their sound rather than merely refining it. I didn’t see any connection to Tool until I reached the final track on Undertow, “Have You Forgotten My Name?,” which begins with a heavy, deep guitar-bass-drum section that wouldn’t have been out of place on &Aelig;nima, although Tool would have had the song go on for eight more minutes. The wrath of Drenge is now resigned submission, and while it’s not what I wanted from them after such a phenomenal debut, it’s a clear step forward for a band worthy of more more attention from American audiences.

Saturday five, 4/18/15.

My Insider post this week covered seven prospect-laden minor league rosters, which went up after Eric Longenhagen identified the Opening Day assignments for all 300 prospects in my thirty team top 10s. This week’s Klawchat transcript, full of “small sample size” questions, is up as well.

And now, the links…

Strange Trails.

Lord Huron’s first full-length album, 2012’s Lonesome Dreams, spawned a minor crossover hit in the single “Time to Run,” a folk/alt-country song that I put at #35 on my list of my top 100 songs of 2013. That song stood out on the album for its upbeat tempo and shuffling guitar pattern that is in itself a foundational element of the group’s second album, Strange Trails, which came out on April 7th.

The album begins in more subdued fashion, almost like (dare I say it) a Mumford and Sons “let’s have a slow bit, then a faster bit, then a slow bit again” track, “Love Like Ghosts,” a song with big sounds that seem designed to fill an arena without surrendering that syncopation that is such an essential part of the group’s sound. The same rhythm works more effectively when the pace picks up on “Until the Night Turns,” the swirling “Hurricane,” and “Meet Me in the Woods,” with a melody very reminiscent of that of the War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes.”

I frequently see Lord Huron pegged as indie-folk or folk-rock or just alternative, but this album is much more country than any of those labels would lead you to believe, although on some level it’s all just marketing copy. It’s guitar-driven, shuffling, yearning music that probably draws as much from rockabilly and the Bakersfield sound as it does from any folk or indie-rock tradition. It isn’t as sentimental as its musical progenitors, which were more products of their time in lyrical tone and in a production style that forced the twang of the guitars to the forefront, yet maintains a strong connection to its roots through shared rhythms and motifs. That makes Strainge Trails‘ strength also its main drawback: there’s little variation from the group’s fundamental sound, just alterations in pacing. That’s part of why “The World Ender” stands out to me as the album’s best track: the music is similar to everything else on the record, but the lyrics are darker, so it’s more Johnny Cash than Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

That revivalist mantle might fit Lord Huron better, as they seem to revel in long-forgotten sounds that haven’t been popular since the death of the border blasters. The album closes with the mid-tempo “Louisa,” a love song with an arpeggiated rhythm guitar line, and “The Night We Met,” which recycles the main melodic line from the opening track – a nod back to a nod back. There’s nothing wrong (in my mind, at least) with a band committing itself to a retro sound, especially when it’s one to which so much of rock, folk, and country owes a debt. I would like to see more experimentation or modern flourishes within that sound, however; it’s an album you’ll like if you liked the first Lord Huron record, but I hope their next album covers new ground.