Red Album


Band: Baroness
Album: Red Album
Best song: “Isak” has an amazing riff. “O’appalachia” is awesome.
Worst song: “Untitled” is short and mostly unnecessary.

I was having a conversation recently with a friend who does some nanny work. She was mentioning that she had the children walking around a neighborhood, about to cross the street. The little girl with her asked my friend “Can we walk now?” and my friend replied, “No, we have to wait until the white man pops up on the sign. We have to wait for the white man to tell us to go.

We chuckled a little at this idiosyncrasy of road etiquette/racism, but it also transitioned us into something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: Standardization in society.

We are all generally OK with the little walking white man, but it is kind of institutionally racist to have a man who is “white” as the positive sign for crossing a street. Similarly confusing is that we have an orange hand to tell the walker not to walk. Why orange?

We already have colors for stop and go: Green and red. The hand should be red and the man should be green. We have this shit figured out. Why muddy up the waters with white and orange?

But, at least the white/orange thing is sorta standardized for people crossing roads. Let’s take something else I’ve been thinking about: Taxis.

The iconic taxi is a yellow sedan (Let’s take the different taxi car types out of the question for now). We all know who these taxis look. We’re all happy with the notion of trying to hail a yellow cab. Shit, we basically don’t make regular passenger cars in this color solely because it was the domain of taxis.

And yet.

Here in Washington, cabs are every fucking color of the rainbow. There are white cabs, brown cabs, green cabs with white piping, black cabs, whatever. In fact, the only color taxi I can’t seem to find would be the iconic yellow cab.

How did this happen? Wouldn’t it be better to have all cabs — a public service, all told — as the same color? We already have the restriction that they have to have various accoutrements — signage, that thing on the top of the cab, certain types of meters, etc. Why not add that all cab companies need to paint their cabs the same color?

Let’s be clear. I am not someone who wants to live in some totally homogeneous society wherein we all dress the same/look the same/etc. That would be constricting, boring and all-around awful. I don’t want some 1984-style terror.

But, for public services, I don’t understand why things aren’t more standardized. These services are supposed to be used by the entire public and the iconography helps everyone. When I see the big M outside a Metro station, I know it’s somewhere I can catch a train. When I see a bathroom sign in a public place, I know I can use the facilities if nature calls.

We know what these standardized things mean because they are almost universal. When everyone gets on a different standard, it confuses everyone. Have you ever been to a restaurant wherein the bathrooms are labeled in another language? I realize that we all sorta know what one or the other is (Donne and Uomini, in Italian), but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have the normal bathroom signs, also?

This was a problem at the dawn of the telephone. If you were on one telephone network, you couldn’t call the other networks or you needed an operator to switch chords around. Shit got standardized so we all could talk to one another.

We see these things all the time in technology. High-definition video discs had a recent war between HD-DVDs and Blu Ray, with Blu Ray winning out. It became the standard, because, all told, it’s better for all of us to not have to deal with the question of whether or not Planet of the Apes is available on my preferred disc format.

I see it all the time with instant messaging. I use Google Talk, but there are human beings that do not use Google Talk. They use AOL IM or Microsoft Messenger or something. These people are morons. Google Talk is the standard. We use it. You should, too.

(Yes, I realize that this analogy doesn’t work all the time. The crosswalk light thing is probably best analogized to the computing world in the form of the Microsoft Office suite: It is the standard, but a sucky standard. I’d like us to move to something else, but I think we’re stuck with Office. Bleh.)

Standards make things easy for everyone to understand. We have universal road signs. We have universal labels for the gears in our cars (R, D, etc.).

All of this writing comes at the expense of Baroness’ Red album. It’s a nice record; the album is heavy with bone-crushing riffs and amazing solos. It’s most things a metal record should be, certainly.

I’m not in love with the vocals, but that’s kind of small potatoes, considering it’s one of the more kickass metal records of recent vintage. I mostly have issue with the description on the album’s Last.fm page:

Despite the large, glaring influences staring you right back in the face, Baroness have crafted a fine debut worthy of standing next to their peer’s albums Leviathan and Panopticon.

Uh, no. Those two albums are great, epic, amazing albums. Red is fun and an awesome metal record, but it’s hardly on the same plain.

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