I write things and am nominally in charge here. Below are my most recent posts.

The bulk of my work is in a style I have, in an act of mild narcissism, named psychochronography. Psychochronography, an offshoot of the artistic concept of psychogeography. Psychogeography is a practice originally developed by the Situationist International as part of their efforts to forcibly dismantle the established social order. Psychogeography is the study of how physical spaces impact social, cultural, and personal lives. Its central technique is what is called the derivé, or drift, in which one wanders through an urban area according to some idiosyncratic logic that causes one to cut against the usual lines and paths traced.

Psychochronography applies this notion to our internal landscape. Taking seriously Alan Moore's notion of ideaspace, psychochronography suggests that we can wander through history and ideas just as easily as we can physical spaces, and that by observing the course of such a conceptual exploration we can discover new things about our world. Topics I've applied this approach to include Doctor Who, British comic books, and Super Nintendo games.

Much Stronger Than You Know (Cool On Your Island)

Cool on Your Island (1988)

Cool on Your Island (single mix, 1988)

Cool on Your Island/Hey Jupiter (first performance, 1996)

Cool on Your Island (official bootleg, 2005)

Cool on Your Island (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Cool on Your Island (live, 2011)

Cool on Your Island (live, 2017)

On an album of misfires, “Cool On Your Island” stands out as the song that Amos has most readily accepted and reintegrated into her canon. It is not the first song from the album that she played live—we’ll deal with that next entry as we wrap up this stretch so that we can actually get into the good stuff. But it is the one she has ultimately played the most—seventy-two times over the course of her tours, more than “Girl” (70), “Professional Widow” (57), or “Muhammad My Friend” (42). If you’ve seen a Tori Amos concert, there’s around a one in twenty chance she played it—it’s one of her hundred most common choices (out of a gobsmacking 485 unique songs played live across her career). And it comes the closest to being a song she’s spoken about, if not warmly, at least not entirely coldly, amusingly suggesting in 1998 that “ ...

What About What I Want? (The Big Picture)

The Big Picture (1988)

The Big Picture (video, 1988)

Pictures of You/The Big Picture (live, 2014)

Selected as the lead single and sequenced as the first track, “The Big Picture” serves as the first and, for many, last impression of Y Kant Tori Read. It’s tempting to offer some snark about how unwise this is, but frankly, survey the other options again. There are certainly better songs, but the bulk of them are the downtempo numbers—”Fire on the Side,” “Floating City,” or “Cool on Your Island,” which ended up being the second single. The overblown production and 80s chintz of Y Kant Tori Read is consistently at its worst on the uptempo numbers, which meant that good choices of high energy lead singles were thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, it means that the album opens on a note that borders on self-parody—two bars of rapid, slightly clappy-sounding drums counting off the sixteenth notes in the song’s 128 bpm, followed by a melodramatic synth stab before Amos attempts a swaggering vocal delivery of “someone smashed my window / broke into my brand new car / last night” in a vaguely New Jersey-inflected accent such that it comes out roughly ...

Uncle Terrance

There’s a TARDIS Eruditorum tradition of writing farewell posts to major creative figures. But one never really got one: Terrance Dicks. I covered one of his two Tenth Doctor novels with a sense of valediction, but it never felt permanent. There always felt like the possibility he could swoop in one more time. Heck, he just wrote a story for that Target Storybook, which I’ve not gotten around to looking at, but which serves to extend his tenure as an active figure in Doctor Who by another decade. I was right not to count him out. Except, of course, now he’s gone, it’s the end, and I am hopelessly unprepared, sitting around on a cool September morning without the faintest idea of how to react to something I’ve known was coming for years. 

I mean, how does one begin grappling with the legacy of Terrance Dicks? He invented the basic structure of a Doctor Who story as we recognize it today. He did as much for childhood literacy as anyone ever has. He wrote seminal stories for six different Doctors in six different eras—more if you break up the Tom Baker years a bit. He’s a lion—as legendary a ...

There is a Light That Shines on the Frontier (Pirates)

Pirates (1988)

Pirates (live, 2014)

Jamaica Inn/Pirates (live, 2017)

1. Captain Blood

Upon joining the project, Joe Chicharelli introduced Amos to Kim Bullard, a keyboard player he’d used on several albums, mostly with the band Poco. Bullard ended up playing most of the synths on the album, and formed a brief writing partnership with Amos that resulted in three songs on Y Kant Tori Read. Two of these became the album’s singles. The third was “Pirates.”

On an album of frustrated love songs, “Pirates” stands out for completely and utterly not being one. It is instead the sort of song that characterizes Tori Amos’s later career, namely one in which it’s difficult to straightforwardly make a statement of the form “the song is about X.” I mean, it’s about pirates, obviously, but not in some straightforward narrative sense in which Amos relates the story of a pirate ship. The pirates exist somewhere between a metaphor and a straightforward subject. In the first verse, they seem to be imaginary—“Traveled far / from my home / foreign streets / paved with stone / deep in my dreams / Moroccan sand / I sail my ship / on dry land.” But the second verse has no ...

I Should Have More Control (You Go To My Head)

You Go To My Head (1988)

Like “Heart Attack at 23,” “You Go To my Head” is a track that poses a significant challenge to anyone looking to argue that Y Kant Tori Read is unfairly maligned. (And, fittingly, the other song from the album that Amos has never revived in concert.) The song is not the cringeworthy mess of bathos that “Heart Attack of 23” is, but is instead something considerably more banal in its inadequacy: a largely forgettable song that furthers its general sense of petering out after “Floating City.” The fact that it was picked as the b-side for “The Big Picture,” the lead single, speaks volumes about how ill-conceived promotion for the album was. 

Musically, the song is the album’s inevitable and doomed Prince rip-off. Bassist Tim Landers gives it his best funk groove, but the production is at once flaccid and lacking the clear sharpness of Prince’s actual hits. The guitar has all the enthusiasm of someone who’s just been asked to work the weekend, the synths in the second verse are as if a kazoo has just learned about cyberpunk, and the saxophone solo in the middle sounds like a ...

The Only Planet That Can't Conceive You (Floating City)

Floating City (1988)

Floating City (live, 2014)

Floating City (live, 2015)

At first, casual listen, another song of heartbreak and disappointed love: “you went away / why did you leave me / you know I believed you,” it opens. In fact, “Floating City” is the first shot in a longer and larger battle with the patriarchal Christian god of her upbringing. Eventually this would go on to fuel multiple albums in which Amos constructed her own sprawling alternative mythology. Compared to those songs, “Floating City” is a half-developed thought; compared to the rest of Y Kant Tori Read, it’s a song of towering scope and ambition.

Amos is, as she often notes, a minister’s daughter. In some ways this led to all the stereotypes you’d expect. Amos went to church multiple times a week, and sang frequently at weddings and funerals. Her father was reasonably progressive—Amos recounts that he marched with Martin Luther King and was a supporter of women’s rights. But this had clear limits—her account of how after “being exposed to so many gay people who work on my tours and shoots he’s evolved to seeing them as individuals, as people, and not as ‘the gays’” is decidedly modest ...

The Taste of My World (On the Boundary)

On the Boundary (1988)

On the Boundary (live, 2011)

On the Boundary (live, 2014)

Caught a Lite Sneeze/On the Boundary (live, 2017)

“On the Boundary” is the rare Y Kant Tori Read song that is neither embarrassing nor good. It is of course another song of frustrated love, but unlike most of the album it is at least not bothering to pine for its subject. Here Amos is clear that the romance is over and is settling on castigating her lover for his inadequacy instead of holding out hope for fixing things. This has the pleasant effect of making the song one in which the swagger of Y Kant Tori Read makes sense, as the song actually casts Amos in a position of confidence and assertiveness.

The song is built around a reasonably effective crescendo from the verses to the chorus. The verses are built on an alternating major chord progression that’s largely carried by the bass, which blats out a two note pattern over some synth pads and, in later verses, a smidgen of acoustic guitar. The lyrics here show Amos sketching out her lover’s failures, which generally amount to his insistence on shutting Amos out and not ...

Someone Had to Lose (Fire on the Side)

Fire on the Side (1988)

Fire on the Side/Purple Rain (live, 1996)

Fire on the Side (live, 2014)

Fire on the Side (live, 2017)

Another song of frustrated love, but ultimately one that is elevated by the particulars of its subject matter, which sees Amos tackling a classic of songwriting: infidelity. There are, obviously, three perspectives one can write a song about infidelity from. The most common is the person being cheated on, a perspective that allows for sadness (“I Heard it Through The Grapevine,” “Lyin Eyse”), anger (“You Oughta Know,” “Before He Cheats,” the first half of Lemonade), or more innovative perspectives (“Jolene”). Less common but still frequent is the cheater, which allows the singer to cast themselves as a villain, whether a self-pitying one (“The Call”) or an unrepentant one (“O.P.P.”, “It Wasn’t Me”). 

The least common, however, is the most consistently interesting: the other woman. Examples exist—Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” is the example par excellence here, although The Long Blondes’ “Giddy Stratospheres” deserves mention. And it is into this more arcane tradition that Amos steps with “Fire on the Side.” Amos approaches the subject, however, without any of ...

Recent Posts





RSS / Atom