Saturday, December 31, 2011

The year in review: books

I read 52 books this year, which, if you account for the varying lengths and difficulties, is still a lot of reading. Proud of myself. Also aware that it's my job to read. In 2012, I pledge to read more and to be less tempted by the internet and its surface pleasures. Let's do it together!

On with the show! I've considered my grand list, and here are ten top-tier books from 2011. 

David Foster Wallace - Oblivion
Tom Grimes - Mentor
EL Doctorow - Ragtime
Eric Larson - The Devil in the White City
Judy Budnitz - Nice Big American Baby
Randy Shilts - And the Band Played On
JG Ballard - High Rise
Chad Harbach - The Art of Fielding
Dave Zirin - Welcome to the Terrordome
James Michener - Chesapeake

The work of Judy Budnitz endeared itself to me more than the work of any other author in 2011. I came to her like I come to many authors: via a Google search and scouring lists. K and I read Nice Big American Baby on our way home from Canada. Cautionary/ celebratory stories of motherhood, pregnancy, and love in America. Just totally bizarre, hilarious, and deeply sad stories. Flawless collection, the best book I read in 2011. 

Her first collection Flying Leap starts strong and ends poorly---worth a read for completists. In her novel, If I Told You Once, Judy systematically sheds male characters until there are only women left, four generations crammed into a tiny apartment. 

I lament my male-dominated list. Perhaps in 2012, I too will shed men. Nine women to one man. It could happen. Or perhaps, like the characters in If I Told You Once, I'll revert to the old ways, and 2012's list will be the same, except with 9 new guys. What I'm saying is, keep me honest blogspot. Diverse reading habits! What I'm saying is, Nice Big American Baby came out in 2005, and it's about time for some new Budnitz, don't cha think? 

A man can dream in 2011. Tonight, with Biggs Stache (and whatever Marc digs out the cellar) on the cerebellum, I'll dream of a new Judy Budnitz novel, and of all the books I'll read in 2012. If the world ends, my blog will live on in the ether. If the world ends, I will blast our greatest texts into space for our extraterrestrial pals. If the world ends, I'll blog in the afterlife.   

Friday, December 30, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 10 - Spidey's Curse

A little research reveals that Mark Ronson produced the new Black Lips record, and a little more research reveals this fella manned the boards on records by powerhouses Nas and Wale, as well as on a record by someone named Adele, whose Limp Bizkit cover, "Keep Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' in the Deep," wowed critics this year.

Not surprised Arabia Mountain sounds so good anymore. Psychedelic punk with nods to the 60s. I hear King Khan and the Shrines too.

I only wish the songs were better. Some are good and many are so-so, but "Spidey's Curse" is a stunner. The vocal melody takes surprising turns, and it turns me on. I also vibe on that lead guitar line. Bonus points for the dumb lyrics.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 9 - Queen of Hearts

In this interview, Fucked Up's Damian Abraham talks about a touring version of the band, one without him as vocalist. I say he's got it backwards. Fucked Up rules live because he's got the mic. What I want from Fucked Up are more guest vocalists on-record, a paring-down of Damian's role. Fucked Up's hour-long records, such as 2011's David Comes to Life, wear on me because of that bark that I adore so much in person.

That in mind, "Queen of Hearts" is the finest song on DCTL. The guitars are layered gorgeously, Damian gets two minutes to do his thing, and then it's the triumphant break for the female vocalist. The latest iteration of Fucked Up needs this song as a template. I want a record of songs like "Queen of Hearts."


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 8 - All the Sun that Shines

It's the best time of the year for people who follow online music journalism. What I do is cross-check the year-end lists, note the records that keep cropping up, listen to them in rapid succession, and winnow out the wack (like Kate Bush, Youth Lagoon, Liturgy, Bon Iver, Beyonce, Drake, Joyce Manor, Adele, James Blake, and on and on) from the dope (Black Lips, Paul Simon, James Ferraro, Julianna Barwick...). 

The lists also remind me about what I should have listened to all along. The distinctive cover of Peaking Lights's 2011 release, 936, caught my eye since spring. Worried that it might be standard psych rock revival, I ignored it. Joke was on me, though, because it's wonderful.

I mostly get down to "All the Sun that Shines" and "Birds of Paradise Dub Version." Deep grooves, reverbed chant vocals, spaced-out synths. "All the Sun" even begins like "Kokomo," which should clue you in to the sunshining mood that prevails. Peaking Lights were a nice surprise.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 7 - Blue Eyes

Destroyer's new album, Kaputt, seemed destined to garner hype for a week and then disappear. A record with its quirks (corny saxophone, corny keys, corny everything) should not be enduring. Too many bands recycle 80s tropes, but we don't include Dan Bejar in that conversation because he's motherfucking Destroyer, and he's been on his game for like two decades. For me and for a lot of the internet with year-end lists, Kaputt was durable and worthy of revisiting. "Blue Eyes," with its quick start, sultry female backing vocalists, and laid-back groove stood out to me, but I wouldn't blame you if you prefer "Chinatown," "Savage Night," or "Poor In Love." Don't be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves.

Unfortunate end-note: Kaputt didn't work live for me at p4k.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 6 - Sad Girls

I first heard Big Troubles while panning for Gold Zounds, and I thought they were great. That song, though, was from their first lp, and it sounds totally different from the offerings on 2011's Romantic Comedy. The song-writing is better on Romantic Comedy, but I hold the squelchy production on Worry close to my heart. They switched labels, and that's okay, because Slumberland took the reins from Sarah Records

"Sad Girls" is endlessly addictive with its sweet melody and melodramatic lyrics. Great record, great band.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 5 - Doughnut for a Snowman

Could it be that all Robert Pollard needs to make another stellar lp is the name Guided By Voices? The solo work since 2006's From a Compound Eye has been marginal, at best. Boston Spaceships were sorta cool, but I'm still listening to Alien Lanes when push comes to shove.

"Doughnut for a Snowman" is the second mp3 from the new album
Let's Go Eat the Factory. The first was "The Unsinkable Fats Domino." Whereas that sounded like a wack solo-Pollard deep cut, "Doughnut" is the best song he's put out since songs from FACE. That record is phenomenal, in case you couldn't tell, and so is "Doughnut." It's not "classic" in most senses; it's a mid-fi, mid-tempo Pollard vehicle that sounds like a solo cut. But it's the flourishes that make GBV records from Pollard songs, and this one's got loads: the bizarre pan flute intro, the subtle orchestration, and the abstract lyrics.

The hammer, of course, is Tobin Sprout. As usual, his backing vocals complete the song. His entrance at the second verse is so welcomed, and before we can tire of "Doughnut," GBV ends it. Now that's classic.

"When everything goes right for her, when everything goes wroooonggg."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My week in media: October

Fake NPR piece for creative writing 101.

There has never been a better time to drink beer in America, and with the economy in shambles, it’s tempting to reach for the cheapest option on the menu, but savvy drinkers turn to craft beers for superior tastes and experiences.

My story begins at 2:30 A.M. on a Saturday morning in October, which is when my friend Marc rouses me from sleep. We drowsily get in the car, merge onto the highway, and embark on a three-hour car ride to Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founded in 1997, Founders brews some of America’s finest craft beers including Cerise Cherry-Fermented Ale and Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale. As we careen toward The Great Lakes State, only one thing comes to mind: Canadian Breakfast Stout, or CBS, for short.

CBS has a legendary reputation in craft beer circles. It is a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout aged in bourbon and maple syrup barrels. It pours dark as oil, caresses the palate like fine wine, and commands a rabid following. When we arrive at the brewery at 7:30 A.M., a line of 300 has already formed. We take our spot at the end and wait.

The local temperature hovers at fifty degrees. The sun refuses to peak. Antsy connoisseurs jog in place to stay warm, and the smart ones drink beer. Marc and I have forgotten our stash, and so we endure the wait soberly.

At 11 A.M., after three-plus hours of waiting, of paying our dues, the line moves. It takes another hour to get to the front. There, we buy two bottles apiece at eighteen dollars a bottle. Each bottle holds 750 mL of beer, and since there are fewer than 2000 bottles total, the investment is wise. We now own one of the rarest beers in America.

In the tap room where glasses clink, Marc and I get our first taste of CBS, and it is impeccable. It goes down smooth and wows me with each sip. It is dessert. It is liqueur. No, it is beer, and it is one of the finer beers I have tried, and likely will try.

When we return home, bottles have already hit eBay. They will fetch upwards of one-hundred dollars. I list one of my bottles, and it sells for eighty-two, a return of sixty-four dollars and enough money to cover that weekend’s expenses. Leave it to Americans to buy extra beer to flip on the internet for 500% profit.

The American craft beer scene is having a moment right now. Lifelong beer drinkers have new options at the local tavern. When I drink a Miller or Bud, I mourn the people who won’t get to or don’t care to sample something better. But then I smile because artisans like the brewmasters at Founders stand up to corporate brewers and show them we can do it better. They embody the American entrepreneurial spirit. Cheers to them.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 4 - Jamie Marie

If tonight's sold-out show at Lincoln Hall is any indication, the hype surrounding San Francisco's Girls is outta control. I watched a 20 minute interview they did with John Norris, fer Chrissake. On the other hand, they deserve the hype because the record is terrific. It's the best to come out this year, and I am obsessed with it.

Here's the cut that the hypebeasts keep missing. It's "Jamie Marie," and it closes Father, Son, Holy Ghost. I guess it's easy to ignore a song when the full band doesn't participate, but check out these lyrics. Goddamnit, those are some poignant break-up lyrics. Almost wanna break up to wallow in them all the way. Crystal-clear electric guitar playing from my savior Chris Owens, followed by the thrilling full-band organ-solo drop-in take this shit into the next stratosphere, and also to the top of my carefully monitored top 25 on iTunes and In case there was any doubt about whether or not I really like the music I post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Friend Zone - Double Standards We Like

Here's the latest offering from my band, The Friend Zone. This 4-song EP spent a long time in development, and I'm glad it's finally here to pass around. Sonically, I prefer it to our
first EP---louder music and vocals that echo way back in the mix. Songwriting-wise, you'll hear the influence/worship/plagiarism of Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Lemonheads, and The Strokes. The usual suspects (GBV, The Beach Boys, Jay Reatard) also appear.

Please follow the official tumblr. You'll notice that the presentation of the EP looks different there, as I assume only my friends will care about the nitty-gritty in this post. Jah bless.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 3 - Believer

A friend recommended John Maus's Heaven is Real to me years ago on the strength of the song "Do Your Best." I loved that record then, but it took Maus four years to follow it up and I forgot about him.

"Believer" is Maus's best song yet. Like "Do Your Best," "Believer" relies on bass drum on the 2s and 4s and a plodding bass line keep the pulsing, antiquated synths in check, and when he sings they call me the believer! I must take his word for it. "Believer" is a song from another time and place---maybe space, maybe the future, or maybe the past. It's just about the finest thing I've heard this year. I'm especially fond of the bridge and final choruses. You'll see this one on year-end lists, believe me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 2 - Out of the Eye

In 2009, Woods damaged the flow of their new LP Songs of Shame by slotting "September With Pete" fourth. Normally I approve of risky decisions like this, but the song is bad. And long. I skip it, and you probably do too. Check the play count on iTunes.
And it's a shame because Woods can create memorable experimental sounds. When they performed at Pitchfork Fest 2011, their jams weren't the best part, but they weren't bad either, not like "September" is.

The new album Sun and Shade is good. "Pushing Onlys" and "Who Do I Think I Am?" probably should be my songs of 2011, but here's "Out of the Eye," in which Woods uses their homemade sonics to write a Neu! song. Motorik drumming, psych guitar, and that distant echo-y noise thing that only Woods' weirdo with the headset can make. It's like we're back in '77. Not as thrilling as "Negativland" but what is? Sun and Shade has one other long song, and while not as memorable, it also doesn't point so obviously to one genre or musical movement like "Out of the Eye". This might appeal to you, oh dear listener. Woods in 2k11: writing the complete LP.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 1 - If You Leave...

Last year, I started talking about my favorite songs in September, but mostly in December when everyone else was talking about them. I denied my readers access to great music because of it, and I apologize---oh my god---I'm sorry. You could have been downloading instead of carrying on with your lives.

Anyway, it's useful to talk about these things now, so here goes.

The Men nearly de-mapped you last year with songs like "Lazarus" from their lp Immaculada. This year, they're back with Leave Home, a ripper on Sacred Bones (check out their offerings). As with "Lazarus," "If You Leave..." opens with noise/ feedback/ fuzz/ a preview of the noisy music to come, and then launches into a delayed, reverb-y shoegaze jam. The rest of the record is mean.

I only mention it because they're playing in Chicago next Friday. How come Googling "The Men Show Chicago" didn't turn up what I wanted? (Got weirder when I included "hardcore").

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My week in media: June & July

"It's good to be back in the USA. Fuck anybody that tells you it isn't the best country in the world."

Bradford Cox, a hero of mine, said this at Pitchfork Festival 2011 during a set that confirms my belief that his band Deerhunter is on top of their game, has been for years, hopefully will be for time to come. This post isn't about Deerhunter, but it is about the USA and an unusual influx of patriotic media on my brainstem.

I started watching The West Wing. It's an excellent drama (-edy? Usually really funny!) about a fictional president and his crew. The characters work too much, walk around all day, sometimes care very much about things, attempt to cultivate social lives, and then walk around some more. They never walk around and drink some more. They sit when they drink. Regardless, each episode has (so far) been superb or at least compelling. My complaint is the same as other people's: The West Wing's corny Full House-ish sentimental network television music and idealism are sometimes blushworthy. But sometimes they feel so good, too. What would DFW say? Is The West Wing
 the least ironic show in recent memory? No se.

Then there's
All the King's Men, Robert Rossen's Best Picture-winning (1949) adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's book of the same name. Main character and humble everyguy Willie Stark (Academy Award winner Broderick Crawford) works his way up from nothing and then breaks bad so hard. His platform of for-the-people and by-the-people--he calls himself a hick---gets convoluted by money and big politics and power tripping and all that. He's a sensation, a governor with Presidential potential. It's Grapes of Wrath, Manchurian Candidate, and All the President's Men (whoa) with probably five newspaper headline montages to boot. It's barely remembered. What a shame.

Finally, E.L. Doctorow's
Ragtime is the finest book I've read this year. The main characters---a family in chic New Rochelle, NY---encounter the poor and the very rich. Doctorow creates an American tapestry. Historical figures are characters. Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan have a dinner date. Harry Houdini gets existential. Booker T. Washington mediates a police standoff. If that isn't enough, it has one of the most memorable race conflicts since To Kill a Mockingbird.

If the United States isn't the best country, it's got to be the best at thinking about whether or not it is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Did you hear? Bats in the Belfry - In Bloom

The greatest feeling comes after finals are over. Instead of falling asleep---which is what you should do, considering your punk-ass is running on Rockstar and Doritos---you start to play guitar. You've neglected it in the last month, and the chords come difficultly at first---not to mention, it is hot in your dorm room. The college will not install AC for whatever reason---a choice that's alienating potential students---and it is making these new songs you write sound sluggish. If not sluggish, then slow. You cannot top 100 BPM, but you've found your voice and some simple melodic lines that please you, and you've called in your buddies for backup. Your vacation record is in the works.

In Bloom
 by Bats in the Belfry is evocative summer music that defeats the ridiculous notion that music needs to be technical or showy to be good. Basic but tasteful guitar playing anchors the affair. Kellen Shipley---Bats in the Belfry's mastermind---projects his voice as if into an empty gym or humid night. His harmonizers come in at all the right times. Shipley eschews the lo-fi recording techniques employed by his peers and retains his amateur charm in this way. By not hiding in murky production, Bats in the Belfry achieve the timelessness that comes from recording onto tape (which I assume they did).

So what influences are there? Of course,
In Bloom means Nirvana, but Bats in the Belfry don't share Nirvana's penchant for rhythmic pummeling and misanthropic lyrics. In fact, the lyrics sound heartfelt and unironic. It's a welcome diversion from tongue-in-cheek indie bullshit, and it calls to mind the powerful Galaxie 500. The music is there too. You ought to be listening to Galaxie 500. 

In Bloom
first appeared as a cd-r on Rover. Labelmates to Sean McCann and Horse Marriage. Why are cd-rs cool? Help needed, mind cannot grasp the appeal. Edition of 100, sold out. As a result, limited access and few listeners. That should change. On the other hand, it was fun to research a mysterious band for once. Bats in the Belfry were a welcome surprise. 

Get it here!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bad Movie Society - Nic Cage

If it weren't for Nic Cage, 1993's Deadfall would have been on a Fred Claus level. Dig writer/ director Christopher Coppola for a moment. When he's not Ali G'ing hard on his imdb page, he's creating pieces of crap such as Deadfall. Plot needed serious resuscitation. Cliches abounded. Just festering work, really. 

On the other hand, Cage turns in a maniacal performance as con artist Eddie. Channeling Frank Booth in the worst way, Cage mumbles, then yells, and then fights his way to an untimely death in a deep fryer. Viva la fuckin' France, man. Please help me find his Deadfall highlight reel on Youtube.

Then there was Know1ng. Yes, it's spelled with a 1. Completely unacceptable film about the world's end. Mix The Da Vinci Code with Signs with third-rate sci-fi, and you've got an abomination replete with time capsules, psychopathic-soothsaying dead grandmothers, and a race to save the movie's children. Cage's performance is subdued in comparison, but that doesn't mean Know1ng is worse. It's a better film than Deadfall. Deadfall is classic 'dear filmmakers, don't do this ever' fodder. Pure WGN sports rain-delay material. 

Bringing Out the Dead should have been better. Martin Scorsese directed it. You know him because he's awesome. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino...need I go on? He's the man, and yet, his '99 film about Cage as a desperate NY ambulance driver is confusing and uninspired. 

So we haven't had much luck with minor Nicolas Cage, and yet, I want to see Wicker Man badly.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Killing: Boom or Bust?

The Killing's developer, Veena Sud, knows that her new AMC show exists within the conversation about Twin Peaks. She can't ignore Twin Peaks's legacy or the guideposts Lynch and Frost set up twenty years ago. I wonder why writers would even try a murder-mystery television drama given that it was done nearly perfectly then. Nevertheless, Sud tries, and she invites the comparisons with taglines like "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" and by setting the show in Seattle. Fortunately, The Killing is its own show, not just bait for Twin Peaks's fanboys and girls, and I'm caught up/ addicted. 

Relative newcomer Mireille Enos is the main character. As detective Linden, she follows leads which take her all over Seattle in pursuit of Rosie's killer. These assignments are ruining her social life, and though her engagement to Rick (Callum Keith Rennie) provides the show with a clock or countdown, meaning, she better get back to him before he leaves her, that aspect of the show is not well-developed or necessary. I groan each time he calls or they fight. 

Holder (Joel Kinnaman) is Linden's sidekick. He challenges the rules of police behavior every couple of minutes and is wonderfully rough around the edges. Might have a drug problem too. Hope so. Politician and Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) can't decide on the type of campaign he wants to run, whether he's a good guy or scumbag politician as winning politicians tend to be, or if he's capable of distancing himself from the Rosie Larsen murder case in which he is tangled. 

Twin Peaks gave us all the suspects in the pilot. I can't remember who Rosie Larsen's suspects were in episode two, but they are memory now, and I feel like the current suspects will be memory soon, too. In other words, the plot thickens, the world spins, and The Killing becomes more engaging. 

Seattle's gloom naturally influences the way the show looks, and the gloomy grays, greens, and blues, coupled with the slow pace of the show, makes The Killing a heavy but visually sound hour of television. The soundtrack is twinkly and a little too CBS for my tastes, but that's fine. Neko Case's song "Hold On, Hold On" finds its way onto episode 5, and I had never heard her before. Opened my laptop, typed furiously, and was like whoa, another New Pornographers member who does it better on their own.  

Eventually, and Twin Peaks had this problem too, Rosie's killer needs to be caught. And then what happens to The Killing? The Twin Peaks people had some options because of the surrealism they'd established, but still, look what happened: chess games, inter-dimensional buildings, grown women thinking they're cheerleaders, and this. Am I signing up for another soap opera by way of murder? Hopefully not, and when the time comes to reveal Rosie's killer, here's hoping AMC gives the show a couple of episodes denouement and pulls the plug. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My week in media: Apr. 24-30

Been thinking about heavy stuff lately: heavy beers via Dark Lord Day 2011 and heavy breakdowns via Hum's "Dreamboat." When we made it through the Three Floyds gates ~10:30, the crowd was already thick. We got into the guest taps line and bought two beers apiece. Ferrari and I traded often because that's what friends do.  I drank Pizza Port Doheny double IPA and he had Bruery Saison De Lente. U probably haven't even heard of those; suck it. We made it through the guest taps line twice more. Highlights included Cigar City Big Sound Scotch Ale, Stone Double Bastard w/Chipotle, and Southern Tier Mokah. Zombie Dust was snorted too, of course.

While we were in line for the guest taps, a familiar tune came on. It was "Angel of Death" by Slayer. You know and love this song for it is the opening track on Reign In Blood. Everyone's ears perked when the big mosh part came in at 1:30. The clever disc jockey reminded us that beer is best paired with mosh parts. 

The Dark Lord bottle line took less than an hour to get through, and though we didn't win limited edition bottles, i.e., el Muerte, we bought our limits of 4 bottles, left happy (except for Ferrari, who will never be happy unless he finds el muerte, you can be his hero, baby, here), and even got to sample some 2010 stock when a generous bro cracked one and shared the wealth. Dude seriously topped us off 4 times. One of the noblest lords.

The grandest achievement in modern music is the perfectly executed breakdown or mosh part or sludge part or overall heavy part within the alternative/ non-hc/metal song. "Dreamboat" is a fine example and so is "Geek USA." Please recommend me more moments like these. They are the black truffles in my sonic universe. They are the tulip glass to my stout brew, my passion.

Drinking: Three Floyds Dark Lord 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Did you hear? Women

On their 2010 masterpiece, Public Strain, Calgary's Women took the best elements from their self-titled debut---the daring instrumentals, well-crafted pop songs, and thin recording---to create a cohesive and haunted record. Women's music lands in This Heat's, Bauhaus's, and Gang of Four's backyard, but it's also made its own backyard, and you know what, people compare bands to Women now. 

Here are 3 unreleased tracks. If you have more or know where to get more, comment please. I'd also like the vinyl. Sell now. 

"Service Animal" could fit on Public Strain with its swinging rhythm section and guitar interplay, but "Heat Distraction" and "Eyesore" work the formula better and were slotted instead. The psychedelic chorus calls to mind "Black Rice." The pops in "Bullfight" are great fun. My highlight is "Grey Skies." Its the story of doomed teenagers at the prom, dancing in 3/4 time, the disco ball shining its light everywhere. Sluggish, dragging, twinkling, an homage to the slow dancers, beautiful. The only reason I can think of for its cutting is that it's too much of a genre exercise, too clearly pointed at one movement and influence. "Penal Colony" and "Venice Lockjaw" achieve the same heights without the baggage. Still, "Grey Skies" is one of the most crucial b-sides I've heard. 

Women, please come back.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Whirl

Hey! The Friend Zone just released a cover of the Guided By Voices classic, "Little Whirl," on our tumblr. Check it out, please.

"Little Whirl" is a slippery lil' whirl of a song toward the end of Alien Lanes. Three nearly identical verses played with more verve each time followed by the ambivalent chorus. Warm guitar tones we couldn't even hope to copy. Toby f'ing Sprout. His grandest achievement? Perhaps. Maybe we'll cover "Gleemer" next time. I'm sitting on two heads.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My week in media: Mar. 28-Apr. 3

Spring Break came and went. I drank from a woman's navel, wore sandals with a bottle opener in the sole, and flashed my boobies. Now I'm back in dreary Downers Grove. Not to fear; I'm going to visit Texas State in San Marcos on Friday. That means I'll be in and around Austin, which is the most-relevant city in Texas. Gotta find a way to book The Friend Zone for SXSW next year.

Watched a shit-ton of movies. My reviews:

Being There - More confusing than the book, but there was Peter Sellers.
The Squid and the Whale - Glad I didn't watch this one on the ol' HP. Listened to the Postal Service shortly afterwards.
The Hammer - Marc and I didn't hate it like Adam Carolla's character hates the tar flats.
Homicide - gritty.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - 2 beer breaks and a coffee break.
127 Hours - You wouldn't have to twist my arm to make me watch this again.
Sleeper - My girlfriend hasn't seen Annie Hall.

Remember when you made me travel guides for NYC? One for Austin would be helpful.

Drinking: Big Sky Moose Breath

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Big Apple

I am typing this blog post to you, loyal reader, from my brand new MacBook Pro. I'm feeling highly relevant and hallucinating that my bedroom in Downers Grove is actually a hip coffee shop in Chicago, that I'm surrounded by women (all using Macs), and mixing songs that will be released on my band's new record, which will get a 9.0+ on Pitchfork, the review being that much easier to read and re-blog on my sleek new MacBook Pro. There's a St. Vincent collaboration in the works.

Not sure if I can still be friends with all of you. Can you keep up with my new lifestyle? Though the music I'm importing onto my new MacBook Pro is the same old stuff from my desktop, something feels new and exciting about it. Suddenly, my Allister collection is cool again. That ska from high school sounds eerily like forward-thinking French electronica. I put my pictures on the harddrive; I don't remember wearing a scarf in them. When did Godard take over my Netflix queue? Hey, what's your favorite Godard?

In other words, friends, this brand spanking new MacBook Pro has changed my life. The sun set on Downers Grove tonight, but the sun didn't set on my dreams, my desires, and my drive to be the best Apple user that I can be.

The old is out. The new is in. The old profile was prohibitive. I couldn't possibly move an artist to the top.

I've turned over a new leaf. Will you join me?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My week in media: Mar. 12-19

As a youngster, Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape popped out at me from the Blockbuster (RIP) shelves with its title and evocative cover. I was afraid of it, and I knew I wanted to see it, but because of BB's family-friendly policies, I couldn't.

S, L, & V came out at a weird time (1989). I was too young for it then, and when I turned 17, it wasn't even on my radar. American Pie and There's Something About Mary must have warped my poor mind w/r/t films about sex/ masturbation/ relationships; I don't think I would have appreciated S, L, & V, even though it's more f'd-up.

With his movie, Soderbergh ushered in the 1990s indie film craze and stoked the careers of Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, and James Spader (who kills it). Connections abound; when I look at my DVD shelf, I see tons of movies influenced by it: One Hour Photo, Closer, Short Cuts, Punch-Drunk Love, and especially American Beauty. In American Beauty, Ricky (Wes Bentley) films Jane (Thora Birch) undressing in her bedroom for him. He zooms in on her face when she exposes her breasts, and while I used to think that his superhuman restraint and dedication to capturing her face was wholly original, I now know that motherfucker was aping Graham (Spader) from Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

(The still-succinct Wiki [but who knows for how long] does a tremendous job at articulating why I'm so fascinated with R.B., and one can apply the content found there to Tommy Wiseau/ Sea of Treasures/ etc., if one is feeling so-inclined.)

Drinking: Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My week in media: Mar. 6-12

A new job with unprecedented downtime means I tear through books like a demon. Am I demon? Evidently so, as I've recently finished David Foster Wallace's Girl With Curious Hair and Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. Neat ride! Let's do it again!

The stories in Girl w/ C.H. have celebrity characters like Alex Trebek and L.B. Johnson behaving in imaginative and probably uncharacteristic ways, and it is funny. The last piece, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way," is a difficult exploration of meta-fiction and other stuff I don't pretend to understand, but the premise of staging a huge McDonald's commercial in Collision, IL and the characters inability to get there from the airport struck me and will certainly compel me to create bogus locations. Actually, Collision is a lot like Varna, IL, which is real and spectacular. The Pale King drops next month on April 15, tax day. Makes sense, except this year tax day is  April 18. My knowing that brings this blog post pretty much full-circle, wouldn't you agree?

The characters in Jesus' Son couldn't be more different. They are joes and janes with serious substance-abuse problems. These stories are gritty and sometimes terse, but Johnson drops awe-inspiring metaphors and similes on just about every page. A suffocating and uncomfortable collection, the last story, "Beverly Home," offers a brief respite from the gloom by taking us to Arizona, but things get all twisted, and we're left only seeing gray. 

I just ripped a record called Baby I'm-a Want You by Bread. Pray 4 me. 

Drinking: Stone Double Bastard Ale   

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My week in media: Feb. 28 - Mar. 6

A family friend is paying me to convert his records to mp3s, upload them to his iPod, and archive them on a flashdrive. While I could track down the CDs or download the files from the net, I've decided to rip most of these common 70s/80s rock and pop records myself. Not sure why I'm doing it. Perhaps I'm an aural masochist. Perhaps I don't want to attract too much attention to my IP by downloading many gigs of music in a short time span. Or perhaps, there's something more to it entirely. With this project, I can analyze musicians I've written off unfairly, think about genres and musical progression in the past 40  years, and maybe find a diamond in the rough. Hasn't happened yet, but I've saved some hopeful slabs for last.

Something had to be in the water in the 1970s causing song titles to be bad. Here is an imaginary album with my least-favorite (or most-favorite) song titles from the project.

1. Minstrel Gigolo - Christopher Cross
2. Give it All You Got, But Slowly - Chuck Mangione
3. 49 Bye-Byes - Crosby, Stills & Nash
4. Dreams of the Everyday Housewife - Glen Campbell
5. Winelight - Grover Washington Jr.
6. Hand Your Heart to the Wind - John Stewart
7. Have You Never Been Mellow - Olivia Newton-John
8. Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) - Bee Gees
9. (Love Me Like Music) I'll Be Your Song - Heart

When I'm not listening to old-people music, I listen to this Rihanna song.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My week in media: Feb. 20-26

Bookstores and record stores usually carry ultra-genre-specific music magazines which cost $5+ and should be treated as books, that is, never thrown out. waxpoetics highlights black music (soul, jazz, R&B, rap, disco, electronic) from ~1960-present. The editor wants to understand the elements that gave rise to hip-hop. I've only read two issues, but I read them cover-to-cover, often with no prior knowledge about the musician or movement. Really good magazine if you're into those genres. Here's a track from Issue 45's cover subject. It's Juan Atkins's "Urban Tropics" from 1991's The Future Sound EP.  Minimal Detroit techno with lush synth washes and sneaky melodies.

Don't forget to cop the new Friend Zone EP, either one post back or at this URL, which is The Friend Zone's home on the net.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Friend Zone - Who Will Google Me When I'm Dead?

I started a new band with members of Random Candy. We're called The Friend Zone. I play guitar and sing, Rob plays the drums, and Kyle plays bass and handles recording. This is our first EP/demo. It's called Who Will Google Me When I'm Dead.

The band's tumblr:
Please check it periodically for updates. 

Expect lo-fi indie/punk rock. Kindred spirits of Jay Reatard, Guided By Voices, Alkaline Trio.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vinyl news #9 - The Starting Line

Enjoy the Ride Records released two 10-inches from The Starting Line on Monday. I slept until today, and if I would have slept longer, I wouldn't have gotten them at all. With Hopes of Starting Over EP was The Starting Line's introduction, and it's fine, indeed. "Three's a Charm," "Greg's Last Day," and early drafts of songs from Say It Like You Mean It anchor the 5-song affair. Then there's the Starship cover. Seems appropriate in the Napster/ Limewire days of punk cover searches.

The acoustic Make Yourself At Home EP is weaker. "Playing Favorites" is one of my favorite songs by them, but the rendition of "The Best of Me" feels like cashing in on new found success. I bought it because I'm an impulsive, half-assed collector with an Expedit to fill.  Also, I've got a broken hearrrrrt.

In case you're unfamiliar, The Starting Line played pop-rock/ punk in the vein of Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory, and The All American Rejects. They broke up in 2009. Now will someone press Based On a True Story? Please?

You and I, cold February night

My week in media: Feb. 6-12

Odd Future is a band created by/ for/ on the internet. These L.A.-based teenage rappers/ producers/ filmmakers just started emerging from the internet in concert, but for the most part, they still exist entirely on the net. Their tumblr, linked above, serves as database and archive for their recordings where everything is free, and in a day or two, you can get fully acquainted with the crew's output. Obviously, 2dopeboys and nahright haven't been welcoming---OF talks about it in every song---but the rest of the internet has paid attention. As such, I am obligated to blog about them as I am a cog in the blogosphere. Just a cog with a blog.

For a bunch of young men, their vision is surprisingly coherent. Abject videos and lyrics about blood, vomit, rape, and drugs. The music is nightmareish. Minimal beats with unnerving bass and the occasional flourish like in the chorus of "Blow." It all sounds slowed-down, and Tyler, The Creator's low voice is a 45 playing at 33. Climbing stairs, feet plunging through the pulpy wood, Freddy advancing, a nightmare.

Of course, most of it's for show, just fiction, not real. Right?

Here's Tyler's new single, "Yonkers." Hear that oppressive beat? The nails-on-chalkboard chorus theme? See that cockroach? Dude's vision is working for him. This song is hard. 

I have a Supreme hat! I too can swag it out. Not sure what the means. Swag. Free Earl. Maybe this post will be news to someone. A blogger's wet dream. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My week in media: Jan. 31 - Feb. 5

Allow me to take you back---to the days before the blizzard, to before the media overload on my days off from work, to the desert. This desert is dry and wide, and in this desert, characters' consciousnesses expand and go underground, to a lair in which the deformed people live. El Topo (the mole) wants to free these people, but will the town understand? 

El Topo, often called the first of the Midnight Movies, has this loose plot, but the thrust of the movie is the symbolism. Everything is symbolic. A nude boy (and later, a foxy tour guide) rides on the back of El Topo's horse, accompanying him on duels with desert gun masters. Did Alejandro Jodorowsky (director, lead actor, writer, etc. of El Topo, also responsible for the insane Holy Mountain, also responsible for being a bad mf'r from Chile, like this guy) merely throw together suggestive images and scenes for the audience to unpack, as it might seem, or is everything in El Topo, all of the Christian symbolism, intended? I'll give the mastermind the benefit of the doubt; the content is deliberate and intentional. On the other hand, there are a lot of random pools of blood, the kind that looks like fruit punch, inexplicable nudes, and weighty gun battles. Take some acid, smoke weed, find out for yourself. Or watch it in pieces on the treadmill as I did.

J.D. Salinger is back in the news again with a biography called J.D. Salinger: A Life. Turned me on to the idea of finishing his small bibliography. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction had this reputation in my head for being the weakest of his work, but even if that's true, it's still a killer collection. The first story takes place in a limo and later in Seymour and Buddy Glass's apartment. Salinger uses dialogue to overcome the lack of action and restricted setting, and the Maiden of Honor is a character for the ages---imposing and arrogant. Seymour: An Introduction is also narrated by Buddy. Buddy takes his time, often stepping away from the page to sleep or do something else, to (imagine that!) introduce the reader to Seymour. Think stream-of-consciousness, the Beats, investigation of the purposes of writing, and the role of the reader. He ends by describing Seymour's physical appearance. It's tough but worth it.

Not much happening on the music front. I took up the task of listening to iTunes songs last played 2005-2009, and so I've been revisiting stuff. Here's the new Cold Cave track.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My week in media: Jan. 23-29

The biggest shame in Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore is that the title song, performed by Miss Saeki, doesn't exist. Maybe I'll have to write some music for the lyrics. In Kafka, two cosmically-connected characters converge on Takamatsu, Japan. Murakami reminds us that crazy and unrealistic shit should happen in fiction. Nakata, an old man, talks to cats, and Kafka, a teenager, untangles an Oedipal curse put on him by his father. Also, Kafka listens to Prince several times in the story. 

Getting severely pumped for the new album by Heidecker & Wood. Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric is vocalist and lyricist. Wood provides the cheesy rock. Two songs have come out: "Weatherman" and "Wedding Song." "Wedding Song" appeared for the first time late last week. In it, Tim proposes marriage. "Weatherman" first dropped in 2009, so maybe you've heard it. The song's protagonist worries about his alcoholic friend, Barry, amidst swirling Rhodes piano chords, a provocative bass part, and guitar/flute solos. So many funny lines. One of my most-anticipated records of 2k11.

Barry, when are you gonna grow up and finally put those brandies down?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Did you hear? Duress - Indifference

Punk recordings can suffer when they fail to capture a band's in-concert aggression. Duress's sets were fun (read: scary) to behold. Bodies and objects flying every which way, instruments and sweat. And then there's me standing in the back thinking about how it could possibly sound good at home on vinyl or mp3. Duress made it happen. 

The speed stands out at first. The record don't slow until the last song. The vocals are presented in the center of the mix, and Matt's harsh phrasing gives the 7" coherence. The drums pound in a similar way, often to accent the vocals. Kyle, the guitarist, rarely plays one riff for long, swiftly hopping from idea to idea while maintaining Duress's dedication to speed. The result is music that sounds like it could come unhinged at any time. By playing riffs way up on the neck, usually at the end of the song or passage, he rockets songs into outer space while the rhythm section focuses on pounding them back to Earth. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on my standout, "Allergic to Hope." In "Guilt," the affected guitar makes way for overdriven bass, and the conflict between these sounds almost, just almost, epitomizes the struggle in the pit. I can see it now as I saw it then.

My favorite 7" of 2010. Please sell me a physical copy, as I slept. 

Get it here! 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My week in media: Jan. 16-22

My parents see one "important" film each year. They like films with Oscar-buzz, films that are uplifting and not totally out there, and films based on true events. Think Slumdog Millionaire and The Blind Side. This year, obviously, Black Swan is out. My dad doesn't get Facebook, so why would he see The Social Network? Mom doesn't want to see True Grit. Fortunately, I found the perfect film for their annual foray into cinema, and it is called The King's Speech.

Colin Firth rocks the casbah as King George VI, the stammering English king with WWII to worry about. Geoffrey Rush is his speech coach. Man, if Geoff doesn't win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, I won't be surprised, but I'll act like I am. This film might make stammering, or stuttering as I've always called it, a hot cause for a hot minute, and it's great as the focus in the film, but there's more going on here. There's Daddy Issues and Brother Issues. George, or "Bertie" as Lionel insists on calling him, is one of the first politicians to reign entirely in the radio age. He can't fake speeches. He's gotta talk, and therein, my friends, lies the drama.

The Smith Westerns are garnering all sorts of attention with their new album, Dye It Blonde. The Pitchfork review says they went all Britpop. Maybe so (no), but I still get a strong Bowie vibe from "Smile," my favorite song on the record that isn't "Weekend." They're young, their jeans are ripped, and there is a great career in store for them. And that, folks, is how you use grammar.

A lot of L-7 Weenies didn't like Ricky Gervais's performance at the Golden Globes. See for yourself.

Another weekend, another trip to Hot Doug's. Another brewery. Go Bears.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My week in media: Jan. 9-15

It's already been one year since Jay Reatard died. That day fucked me up. His music moved me, and he had the trait that separates great musicians from the pack; he was prolific. I made a pact with J. Wilmes to see Jay each time he passed through town, and I saw him three times. Classic songs. There's "Screaming Hand." Jangly guitars open this bad mother, but then the chorus hits you with some flying-V noise and the poppiest chorus. But instead, I got a man with an empty beer bottle and a screaming hand. (Not on youtube- this is why I need a tumblr- nah fuckthatshit fuckthatshit, ya know the song anyway).

And then there's "Not a Substitute." Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, done. Seven words to the lyrics pack a big emotional punch.

PS - The new Smith Westerns record is hot hot, and I learned about them when they opened for Jay. Real shit, that is real.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My week in media: Jan. 2 -8

In this new feature, I will recap what I heard, read, and watched during the past week. That way, I'll be able to collect my thoughts at the end of the year, or whenever, really. You might find something you like, too.

The song I listened to most came from this mix by renowned guitarist Mark McGuire. It's called "Tossing and Turning," and it's by Windjammer. The 12-inch version is best for its extended intro, but for your sake, I'll embed a live performance replete with 80s wear, flashing lights, a mostly white crowd, and the literal interpretation of the lyric I wiggle in my sleep by the dancing frontman. Disco-influenced funk for fans of Prince and big hooks.


I finished John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. I seldom laugh when I read, but this novel cracked me up more than nine times. Its protagonist is the unforgettable Ignatius Reilly, a fat and crazy guy from New Orleans who drives everyone crazy. 

Finally, I listen to NPR now. I am learning about so much more than buzzbands and foreign films, although I can learn about those things on NPR, too. Have a good week, friends.

Monday, January 3, 2011

30 for 30: Boom or Bust?

Sports aren't as interesting to me as they once were. In the mid-90s, I played them, watched them, and obsessed over them. Boys my age growing up in Chicago were blessed. We had the Bulls, Frank Thomas, and later, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Brian Urlacher. Something changed in me, though. Now, it's all about books, music, movies, and original programming on television. I don't make time for sports. Actually, Chicago summers are still exciting when you follow one of the most rewarding professional baseball franchises and get to root against one of the least rewarding franchises in all of sports. But I digress. 

An underrated genre, then, is sports nonfiction. In a sports documentary, or in a book like Black Planet by David Shields, I can rekindle my love for sports without having to actually watch sports. It's totally awesome. For their thirtieth anniversary as a television network, ESPN commissioned 30 documentaries from 30 notable filmmakers. The films are about athletes and events from the past 30 years in sports, and mostly, they are excellent.

I've seen approx. ten of the films (from snippets to full-lengthers). I'll briefly talk about three. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson was my first taste. Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams, is on some next-level shit when it comes to sports documentaries. In both No Crossover and Hoop Dreams, he examines race and community by unpacking events in the lives of talented young black athletes in white athletic institutions. Baller. 

Dan Klores's Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks makes use of hilarious talking heads to get at the frustration of New Yorkers over the NBAtitlelessness of their beloved Knicks.

The best of the bunch, Brett Morgen's June 17, 1994, weaves what Comcast's crackerjack TVguidetaggers call a 'tone-poem' about the titular day, a day in which OJ Simpson led the LAPD and the American public on an infamous car chase. Forget voice-over narration and talking heads; Morgen makes broad claims about American celebrity fixation and the palate-whetting of Americans for reality television by using only archival footage and text. He is masterful.

Thanks to ESPN for gambling on documentaries when they could have re-aired the ESPYs or Texas Hold 'Em. We're surrounded by sports, but we don't often try to make sense of what they mean to us. Hopefully, the Steve Bartman film leaves the cutting room floor. I'll be watching with the biggest bowl of popcorn and a grin that extends onto Waveland.