For those drawn to doom and gloom, the most affecting music sometimes takes a while to reveal itself. In 2008, the happily named duo Have a Nice Life released Deathconsciousness, a messy yet fascinating double-album fixated on the darker side of life and endowed with a gauzy, shoegaze-drenched underbelly. As time went on, I'd continue to see Deathconsciousness pop up in RSS and Twitter feeds from those just discovering an album too weird and too bleak for its time — or any time, for that matter. I should know; I was one of them a few years ago.
Six years later, in early 2014, Dan Barrett (also of the ghostly folk outfit Giles Corey) and Tim Macuga will finally return with a proper follow-up called The Unnatural World. It's massive in its scope, with production that reflects the heft of the material more than ever. "Defenestration Song" is our first peek into its realm.
With a driving rhythm and distorted bass line out of classic Bauhaus, "Defenestration Song" sounds restless and ominous in its movement. (A fitting title, as defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out the window.) A two-note guitar riff is barely heard above the dank din as warming feedback permeates the whole affair, like the kind that lulls you to sleep just before an icy death. It's a far cry from the thin-sounding version that appeared on the Voids demos and B-sides collection, that's for sure. And, on an album that maintains a plodding pace, "Defenestration Song" is the kind of pitch-black, post-punk party-rocker that'd really turn up at any Goth Night dance.
Throughout this week, we at NPR Music are taking a look at the year in music with our friend Audie Cornish, host of All Things Considered. I joined her to bring a closer ear to two very impressive classical albums and an international rarity that's been brought back to life. (I also provided Audie with a primer on pronouncing my last name. I hope you all pay close attention.)
Numbers released by the Obama administration show enrollment in health exchanges edged up in November, but the uptake remains far short of the administration's initial targets.
Roughly 264,000 people signed up for private insurance coverage last month through the federal and state exchanges, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department. That brings the total to about 364,000 for October and November.
Scott Horsley detailed the enrollment numbers in an earlier post. But if you're more visually inclined, take a look at a couple of charts we put together.
You can explore the cumulative state-by-state enrollment totals for the months of October and November. In the top chart, you can check out the raw enrollment numbers. We've color-coded the bars in the chart so you can see how enrollment went over two months.
Below, take a look at the cumulative enrollment numbers by the percentage of a state's uninsured population. With a few exceptions, such as Maryland and Hawaii, the states with their own exchanges outperform those using the federally facilitated exchange.
Enrollment has surged since Dec. 1, when HHS announced that the site is working smoothly for the "vast majority of users." The numbers show about 29,000 enrollments on Dec. 1 and 2, but those figures aren't in the latest report.
Because HealthCare.gov was barely functioning in October and much of November, the administration is falling far short of the 3.3 million people it had projected would sign up by the end of December.
But officials said they're still confident they'll reach the goal of 7 million sign-ups by the end of March, when open enrollment closes. "We think we're on track and we will reach the total that we thought. We're only 2 1/2 months into a six-month open enrollment period," said Michael Hash, the director of HHS's Office of Health Reform.
Looks like Harvard University scientists have given us another reason to walk past the cheese platter at holiday parties and reach for the carrot sticks instead: Your gut bacteria will thank you.
Switching to a diet packed with meat and cheese — and very few carbohydrates — alters the trillions of microbes living in the gut, scientists report Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The change happens quickly. Within two days, the types of microbes thriving in the gut shuffle around. And there are signs that some of these shifts might not be so good for your gut: One type of bacteria that flourishes under the meat-rich diet has been linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases in mice.
"I mean, I love meat," says microbiologist Lawrence David, who contributed to the study and is now at Duke University.
"But I will say that I definitely feel a lot more guilty ordering a hamburger ... since doing this work," he says.
Scientists are just beginning to learn about how our decisions at the dinner table — or the drive-through — tweak our microbiome, that is, the communities of bacteria living in our bodies. But one thing is becoming clear: The critters hanging out in our intestine influence many aspects of our health, including weight, immunity and perhaps even behavior.
And interest in studying the links between diet and the human microbiome is growing. Previous research in this field had turned up tantalizing evidence that eating fiber can alter the composition of gut bacteria. But these studies had looked at diets over long periods of times — months and even years. David and his colleagues wanted to know whether fiber — or lack of it — could alter gut bacteria more rapidly.
To figure that out, the researchers got nine volunteers to go on two extreme diets for five days each.
The first diet was all about meat and cheese. "Breakfast was eggs and bacon," David says. "Lunch was ribs and briskets, and then for dinner, it was salami and prosciutto with an assortment of cheeses. The volunteers had pork rinds for snacks."
Then, after a break, the nine volunteers began a second, fiber-rich diet at the other end of the spectrum: It all came from plants. "Breakfast was granola cereal," David says. "For lunch, it was jasmine rice, cooked onions, tomatoes, squash, garlic, peas and lentils." Dinner looked similar, and the volunteers could snack on bananas and mangoes.
"The animal-based diet is admittedly a little extreme," he says. "But the plant-based diet is one you might find in a developing country."
David and the team analyzed the volunteers' microbiomes before, during and after each diet. And the effects of all that meat and cheese were immediately apparent.
"The relative abundance of various bacteria species looked like it shifted within a day after the food hit the gut," David says. After the volunteers had spent about three days on each diet, the bacteria in the gut even started to change their behavior. "The kind of genes turned on in the microbes changed in both diets," he says.
In particular, microbes that "love bile" — the Bilophila — started to dominate the volunteers' guts during the animal-based diet. Bile helps the stomach digest fats. So people make more bile when their diet is rich in meat and dairy fats.
A study last year found that blooms of Bilophila cause inflammation and colitis in mice. "But we didn't measure levels of inflammation in our subjects," David says. "That's the next step."
Instead, he says, his team's data support the overall animal model that Bilophila promotes inflammation, which could ultimately be controlled by diet.
"Our study is a proof of concept that you can modify the microbiome through diet." David says. "But we're still a long ways off from being able to manipulate the community in any kind of way that an engineer would be pleased about."
Even just classifying Bilophila as a "bad bacteria" is a tricky matter, says Dr. Purna Kashyab, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
"These bacteria are members of a community that have lived in harmony with us for thousands of years," says Kashyab, who wasn't involved in the study. "You can't just pick out one member of this whole team and say it's bad. Most bacteria in the gut are here for our benefit, but given the right environment, they can turn on us and cause disease."
Nevertheless, Kashyab thinks the Nature study is exciting because the findings unlock a potentially new avenue for treating intestinal diseases. "We want to look at diet as a way of treating patients," Kashyab says. "This study shows that short-term dietary interventions can change microbial composition and function."
Of course, figuring out exactly how to do that will take much more research.
"The paper has made the next leap in the field," Kashyab says. "With discovery comes responsible. Once you make this big finding, it needs to be tested appropriately."
An anonymous bidder paid $530,000 for 24 Native American items that went on the block this week in Paris. The auction went ahead despite an appeal by the Hopi tribe to cancel the sale of the items it considers sacred. The U.S. Embassy asked for a delay, and the sale was challenged in court — unsuccessfully.
On Wednesday, it emerged that the mystery buyer was the Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation, which said in a statement that it planned to return 21 items to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three items to the San Carlos Apache.
"These are not trophies to have on one's mantel; they are truly sacred works for the Native Americans," Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, the foundation's vice president and director, said in a statement. "They do not belong in auction houses or private collections. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that they will be returned home to their rightful owners, the Native Americans."
The Annenberg statement said Weingarten decided to step in and purchase the items after a French judge issued a ruling last week rejecting an attempt by the advocacy group Survival International and the Hopi to block the sale.
The decision was praised by Hopi leaders.
"Our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility," said Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader. "They simply cannot be put up for sale."
Here's more on the story from The Associated Press:
"It was a happy ending for the Hopi tribe following a series of legal setbacks in efforts to delay the sale of the masks, arguing that they represent ancestral spirits and shouldn't be sold. The tribe has said it believes the masks, which date from the late 19th and early 20th century, were taken illegally from a northern Arizona reservation in the early 20th century.
"The U.S. Embassy had also called for a delay so that tribal representatives could come to France to identify the artifacts and investigate whether they have a claim under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, to which both France and the U.S. are signatories."
The sale marked the second time this year that Native American items were auctioned in Paris. Around 70 Hopi items were sold for some $1.2 million in April. As NPR's Tanya Ballard Brown wrote at the time, the "auction [stirred] up controversy on both sides of the Atlantic."
Indeed, the Hopi consider also consider images of the items to be sacrilegious; the AP said it had decided not to transmit photographs of the auctioned items.
And in a story on All Things Considered in August, Laurel Morales of Arizona member station KJZZ, said her work on the story "tested me as a reporter and as a member of my community."
Laurel noted that tribal leaders consider the use of the terms "mask" or "artifact" to describe the objects as offensive. Instead, she noted, "the Hopi call the [sacred objects] Katsina friends, and they are treated as such. The Hopi people use them in ceremonies and dances to call upon the spirits to bring them rainfall, healing and protection."