Monday, May 31, 2010

$3 Music Review: The National - High Violet

I had this review completely written, pasted something into it, went to delete the last pasted thing, got a little handsy with the touch pad on my Macbook and mistakenly deleted the whole thing, and Blogger helpfully auto-saved it at that moment.


And it was so important!

If not important, than at least an hour of my life.


Should I start over?

Here's a shortened version, because I've thrown the earbuds out of my ears in frustration and made a pouty noise, so I'm not in the same place, musically.

I've been cueing up The National's new release, High Violet, in the car, listening for a few songs, and then itchily switching the iPhone to Passion Pit or Two Door Cinema Club for a happiness break. My mood has been hormonally blackened over the past few days, and The National is not safe under severely stormy conditions. However, like Volcano Choir, the sound, the layers of sound, and even the mood of the sound, were heightened exponentially once played through my earbuds.

And what is the mood of the music? Um, brooding without being whiny. Deep without being dark. Thoughtful without being navel-gazing. It's best when the drums are anchored firmly to the bass to match that deep voice.  It's the stuff on your iPod that gives your walk around the city that extra gravitas.

Critics aren't sure whether this album stands up to the (what was that word they used? divinity? excellenceness? superlove?) esteem in which they hold their earlier release, Boxer, but they mostly like it. And after a chat with my music therapist, Dean, and some YouTube time, I found that Boxer (which had gone unnoticed by me on account of my nerdism) does hold some divine songs, including "All the Wine," which is a cocktail hour playlist MUST.  However, this one has some outstanding cuts as well, such as "Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Terrible Love," "Sorrow," "England," you know, I'm starting to like the whole thing.

Now a word about The Voice. The National's lead, Matt Berninger, has a distinctive buttery sleepy baritone that, once you see the box that the voice comes wrapped in, gives you one of those Rick Astley moments (THAT voice comes out of THAT face?). However, absorbing the two helps give the songs more of a whimsical vibe then if the words and that voice had come out of the large, bearlike fellow you might have originally imagined. You can experience the voice+quirkiness best in this video.

My Final Opinion re The National's High Violet on the cold/lukewarm/hot scale: Hot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

$3 Music Review: The Hold Steady

Okay, the last time we met, I was griping about aging while new young bands keep popping up with newer, better versions of the music I used to listen to.  Now we are going to talk about a band that has been around for a while, aging along with me (although on a parallel track started somewhat later).

Craig Finn, the front man for the Hold Steady will turn 40 next year, and his lyrics, if not his music, is showing signs of someone starting to look behind him at the damn kids and their destructive behavior, which he realizes is not unlike his own at their age. Now he's writing lyrics like, "You ask me not to do it, but you can't control the kids...We used to want it all, now we just want a little bit." If the lyrics have become more wistful, the volume knob is still at eleven.

The Hold Steady's latest album, Heaven is Whenever, is more of the same Springsteen-heavy club rock, even more so without the more playfully inventive stylings of their former keyboardist, Franz Nicolay (for instance, there are no harpsichord solos, such as in "One for the Cutters" from the Stay Positive album).

Reasons to avoid The Hold Steady's Heaven is Whenever:

  1. Through three full listens, I have yet to find a "sing-a-long" song (Call back! from the song "Constructive Summer"! Get it?), such as "Sequestered in Memphis," from Stay Positive.
  2. These songs have very few hooks or memorable melodies - they have all been wrapped around Finn's lyrics almost as a second thought, so that the music seems to have been forced to fit.  Not that that is not the case with all Hold Steady songs to a degree. There are a lot of words there. But here it seems like these lyrics were fitted a little uncomfortably to these club rock anthems.
  3. The lack of hooky songs puts Craig Finn's voice front and center. The Village Voice's Rob Harvilla euphemistically notes that Finn's vocal efforts convey a "melodic disregard." At other times Harvilla likens his style to a carnival barker. Both are accurate.
Reasons to listen to The Hold Steady's Heaven is Whenever multiple times:

Those words. Craig Finn's lyrics are always a highlight.  What a gift of poetry. Here are some snippets from Heaven is Whenever:
There were a couple pretty crass propositions 
There were some bugs in the bars, there was a kid camped out by the coat check
She said the theme of this party's the industrial age
And you came in dressed like a train wreck

I know, right? Or how about this: 

There was that whole weird thing with the horses
I think they know exactly what happened, I don't think it needs any explaining
I'm pretty sure I wasn't your first choice
I think I was the last one remaining

or this: 

Don't it suck about the succubi, the bloodsuckers and the parasites?
They're never funny and they're all so scared to die
All the small talk seems like suicide, the spiderwebs with the legs and eggs and eyes
They creep up from behind

or, finally, this:

That one girl got me cornered in the kitchen, I said I'll do anything but clean
She wants to know what I like being better, a trash bin or an ice machine
Some writer's by the fridge, said he didn't make the gig, wants to know if I was drunk
He said some kids that he knows from the net said the sound kinda sucks

Yes. They play bar band music around these lyrics. That's the beauty and the sadness of it. Sometimes I feel like I should just bind the lyrics in a book, and then read them while listening to Philip Glass.

I'll listen some more, and I suspect that The Captain (although he is out rescuing citizens from themselves today as I am playing these songs on repeat) will enjoy it as well. It is welcome in the Driving With The Captain Playlist. But I don't think it will attain the playlist status of my other Mother's Day Music, or even of their former album, Stay Positive.

Of my new rating system of hot/lukewarm/cold, I'm giving this a Lukewarm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

$3 Music Review: Two Door Cinema Club

To the basement, people! To the basement!

Oh, I really like this. Witty. Crisp. Fast moving. Pretty tunes and harmonies.

This is Two Door Cinema Club's debut album, "Tourist History," released in March of 2010.  According to Wiki, they are from Northern Ireland and their band name was born when one of the band members mispronounced the local cinema, Tudor Cinema.

These fellows sound young. So many members of my favorite bands are so not of my generation. I know I should still be listening to Elton John, or occasionally singing along to a Shakira song in the car (well, my hips don't lie), but I refuse to be age-appropriate when it comes to music.

The music that is being produced (although not played on the radio) today is so superior to what I listened to as a kid, I have no problem in moving on. I know I am not alone (hi, Chauncey), but I realize I may be in the minority among forty-somethings. (forty-something - not baby boomer. You may refer to   this earlier post that proves I am NOT a baby boomer.

Those of the Sound Opinions ilk, I give this an enthusiastic "buy it."

Monday, May 24, 2010

$3 Music Review: Volcano Choir

I'm listening to Volcano Choir. The Captain is enduring Volcano Choir.

Volcano Choir is everything The Captain cannot abide: repetition, unfamiliar chords, dissonance, unintelligible lyrics, and no catchy hooks.

None of those things disqualifies it for goodness in my opinion. However, it still has to be good.

Volcano Choir is a collaboration between Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the Milwaukee-based instrumental band Collections of Colonies of Bees (which is not a bad attempt at Best Band Name Ever, and positively affects my opinion of their music).

Most of the music on their 2009 album "Unmap" is an interesting juxtaposition of soothing drones, harmonies, choppy bits of words and phrases, as well as dissonances, unconventional percussion, and experimental instrumentation - at times ethereal, divine and chantlike, at others, clanky and demanding. I would give four stars (out of the five-star iTunes system) to at least four out of the nine cuts on the album, but I'm not sure what I would DO with them.  For instance, the opening cut, "Husks and Shells," is a beautiful blend of voices, save for the fact that I swear that's my Polar heart rate monitor beeping in the background throughout, as if I had exceeded my target heart rate during my workout. It is not, for the most part, relaxing music, nor would it fit in a party or workout mix. So when do you pull out the experimental, drone-intensive, attention-sustaining prog-alt?

What's great about it, however, is that it does not get in the way of my words as I write this, as there are very few full sentences to vie for my attention. In fact, it may be a nice change of pace at work, when I have the office to myself (The Captain and my boss share many of the same musical tastes). And now that I've moved it from the stereo to my earphones (The Captain was getting tense), I'm enjoying it more, especially "Still." And now that I am re-listening to "Seeplymouth" (not a misspelling), I may put some of these on a few playlists after all.

Just not the ones that I play for The Captain.


(Awkward sentence alert:) Although I blame him for the worst pub quiz defeat of my life, he WAS the only thing I would stop fast forwarding through commercials for.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Welcome To Your Animal Rating Service. Today: The Five Cutest Deadliest Animals

I know you know which is number one in terms of cutest/deadliest.  But can you name Numbers 2 through 5? I can! Let's!

Number 5: The Hippopotamus.

These guys are probably deadlier than some of the higher-placed animals, but their lack of furriness affects their score.  No, really. These pink blobbies, for all their Disney-friendly tubby tummies and wiggly ears, are cranky and surprisingly fast and ferocious. And it doesn't take much to set them off.  But man, in a zoo, they are aahh-dorable.  Blink-blink. Wiggle-wiggle.

Number 4:  The Chimpanzee.

Cute in a little hat. Darling when they are small, maybe sporting a little diaper. But just like humans, when they hit adolescence, they turn into reckless, unthinking sex and rage machines. DO NOT adopt a cute little chimp baby. It will tear your friend's face off.

Number 3:  Cheetahs.

For the purposes of my very important list, the cheetah is representing all big cats.  They are all cute when they are lolling about the savanna, yawning and licking their babies, but cheetahs are the most cutest of all the big cat faces.  Look at the puss on that puss!  Makes you just want to smoosh it, which would be unwise if you want to keep your blood inside your skin.

Number 2:  Elephants.

Here's another animal that can kill us (however, unlike the others on this list, not by eating, or even biting, but by stomping us with their enormous, adorable feet - 'cause they are vegetarians - they probably think we taste terrible), but yet we insist on making them dress in tutus and dance for us. It's hard to resist their cuteness, even though it comes in such a jumbo size. (Fun fact: did you know the word "jumbo" came from the name of an elephant captured in the Sudan and brought to Europe in the 1860s and later sold to P.T. Barnum? Sadly, Jumbo was killed by a locomotive. Okay, that fact was not that fun.) The more I learn about elephants, the more I don't want to see them in circuses, or even small zoos.  These wonderful, intelligent animals are not meant to be squished into trucks and other small spaces and made to do tricks.  I wouldn't want to either.

Number 1: BEARS!

This is not a surprise to anyone with eyes and a brain.  In fact, this whole list would be just a list of different types of bears (polar, grizzly, black, Kodiak, sunbear, panda, Fozzy) if I hadn't given the other animals a break by consolidating all of them here under one heading. Bears have it all:  fluffy fur, big forehead with little round ears, expressive eyes, kind of pigeon-toed feet, round tummy, a little black nose, deadly teeth, and long, slashing claws.  Bears have it.

Oh, and you're welcome.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Get Me a Goddam Goat.

I'm crying from laughing. This is my personal tickle button. Play it and I will laugh. Oh, and don't tickle me. I hate it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Report from MaxFunCon 2010

We were told to park the trailer at the tennis courts, but we weren’t sure, so we kept driving up into the complex (the complex being the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center). 

We were sure that there would be a place to turn our truck-and-trailer train around at the check-in parking lot. There isn’t. And it’s a busy day. Cars, delivery trucks, garbage trucks. And in the middle, a pick-up and trailer straddling the road with not enough room to turn around. And sweat. Quite a bit of sweat.  How stuck were we? Stuck enough to require unhitching the truck, turning it around, and rehitching it, facing out.  And sweat. More sweat.
And so MaxFunCon begins. 
The first meet-and-greet is awkward. Loud and crowded with returning campers from last year meeting old friends. We sat at a corner table and were glad when someone took pity on us and sat down at our table, or just got tired of standing and sat down.
The room became more crowded and hot until I had to escape outside, where I, oddly and uncharacteristically, took a seat by Maria Bamford, told Marc Maron I was a big fan since Morning Sedition, and told Neal Pollack that I was looking forward to taking a yoga class from him in the morning. (Huh? A minute ago I wasn’t able to talk to my fellow Maxfunsters. Who am I?)
John Hodgman’s benediction was perfectly Hodgmanesque, although blurry because (a) we were sitting in the very back row, and (b) I had temporarily misplaced my glasses. A swig from a bottle of Jeppson's Malort Liqueur is required of all campers. Malort is everything the label says it is. ("Jeppson's Malort Liquoer has the aroma and full-bodied flavor of an unusual botanical. Its bitter taste is favored by two-fisted drinkers." Really.) I shared a swig with Al Madrigal. He seemed nice.

Dinner was slightly less awkward with just a few strangers to deal with. Neal Pollack noticed our plates piled with beef and jokingly (we hoped) banned us from yoga in the morning if we ate all that meat.
After dinner there was sketch comedy by Elephant Larry. Silly, fun, and cookie intensive. And bat. There was some bat eating.

Then San Francisco-based sketch group Kasper Hauser kicked the crap out of us with their seminar on awesomeness. If you get a chance to see them, don’t even fuck around. Just go.
Pretty Amazing Photo of Kasper Hauser by Noe Montes
The awkwardness melted away for a moment as we, as a group of nerds, sang “Skullcrusher Mountain” with Jonathan Coulton. I didn't know that I knew the words. (You Tube it, people.) Then we sat back as a newly love-bonded group and allowed Coulton’s “Fancy Pants” song to knock the shoes right off our collective feet.

Jonathon Coulton. Photo by Noe Montes
The evening ended at the pretend frontierland at the top of the hill with s’mores, beer, and sitting cross legged in a fake prairie schooner, chatting with people whom I hoped would wear their name tags again tomorrow.

Photo by Noe Montes

Day 2 - Saturday

The problem with a breakfast buffet is that there is a pile of bacon. When bacon comes in a pile, there is nothing that you can do but try to eat your way down to the bottom of the steam tray. 
We met nice people at breakfast. I would tell you all about them, but I spent all of my attention on failing to keep the conversation going. They were nice, though, because everybody is nice here. It’s what MaxFunCon is known for.
Full of even more meat, we headed up the hill to the “Zen Deck.” On our yoga mats, we listened to Neal Pollack read parts of his new book (August 2010) about his journey to yogihood and then we did some basic yoga poses. The weather was warm and sunny. The view was spectacular, down the wooded hill to Lake Arrowhead and beyond. Neal Pollack was both sincere and funny about his practice, still curious and eager to learn more, as all good yogis should be. There were no meat-related digestive mishaps. As far as Pollack knows.
Neal Pollack and me. Yoga nerds on the Zen Deck.

Back down the hill for Andrew W.K. Perfectly rambling, twitchy and sincere.
From You Look Nice Today, we learned what “doing a number three” is. Um, and a new meaning for the nickname "Lonely Sandwich." From Jordan, Jesse, Go! we learned that Spiderman costumes can be quite comfy, and we got a look at Chompers 2. A fine pig.
After lunch, Jad Abumrad from WNYC's Radiolab gave a presentation on his use of music and sounds to help make the stories on the show more accessible and fun to listen to. As so many humans are, he is the perfect person to be doing what he is doing.
After Jad’s presentation, we moseyed over to get our asses kicked in pub trivia. The trivia game was lead by John Hodgman and the questions (and subject matter) were picked by the members of the sketch group Elephant Larry. The subjects could not have been further from our areas of expertise, to borrow a Hodgmanian phrase: Disneyland, comic books, the New York Yankees, and apples. Really, Elephant Larry? Those are the things that turn you on? Really? I’m afraid none of them can be my friends. We lost so hard, we won dirt. No, really. Dirt.
THE John Hodgman. I don't think he liked us. We were losers.

At dinner (taco night!) we met more awesome people, including Dr. Cocktail, who worked as hard or harder this weekend than anyone. This may be a fun and positive group, but they are a hard drinking crew. Hard. Drinking.
After dinner, it was time for shit to get real. I’m talking Jimmy Pardo. Killed. I’m talking Al Madrigal. Charmed us all. I’m talking Maria Bamford. So good. And Then. Marc Maron brought it. And then he dropped it on us. Saturday’s entertainment was worth the entire price of the weekend. 

I would have happily climbed our little hill to our condolet and crawled into bed, but for many, that’s when the real partying started. It was time for the Country Estate party. 

Maxfunsters had been alternately buzzing and harrumphing about dressing up in their best (or most recently scavenged) tweeds and tattersals to wear to the Country Estate party for weeks, but in the end, most seemed to enjoy the challenge. And it would have been an awesome idea in a room twice as big with twice as many bartenders. As it was, it was too much for my ADD/social anxiety-addled brain, even with a heavy dose of Xanax on board. I sat outside in my consignment-shop tweed riding cape and drank my drink, then Drew’s, then we got cold and went back to our condolet. This was not a failure of MaxFunCon, but my own intense inability to mingle in loud, crowded, party-like settings. I am aware of this and try not to beat myself up about failing to act like a more social human.

My tweed riding cape. And my name tag.
We were in bed by 11:30 or midnight maybe. Others partied past 3:00 a.m. We are too old for that. Or we know that it’s not worth whatever fun you think you are having in the wee hours. Because whatever fun it is will reveal itself to be less fun in the morning.
Day 3 - Sunday

Sunday morning. Due to our relatively early night last night (but no thanks to a nose that has just HAD it with the juniper pollen and went on strike for the duration of the night), we made it down to breakfast in time. And who sat down with us but the wonder that is Maria Bamford. We talked about Drew being a firefighter and Captain America, and my bear paintings, which we all agreed I should put on Etsy. I’m going to have to get on that. I swear.
Jimmy Pardo, Matt Bellknap and Pat Francis of Never Not Funny introduced us to a new way to terrorize our spouses (“SMELL THE GARBAGE!”), and Pat Francis helped us to understand E-Bay correspondence.
And then we ate lunch, met even more people at the very final meal, packed up and left. 

Jesse Thorn, founder of MaxFunCon and Benevolent Colonel of the Nerd Plantation (as dubbed by Marc Maron).
Photo by Noe Montes

Did I say that we had breakfast with Maria Bamford?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Life Is Beautiful, California Needs to Get Their Shit Together, and Cancer Sucks

What?! There's no wi-fi at this glorious campground overlooking Monterey Bay with the smell of eucalyptus in the air? Not cool, California! Not cool!

I'm ready to blame the color of John Boehner on California right now, after experiencing what the "highways" have been reduced to thanks to the "leadership" of this once great state. Guard rails left dangling. Crash bumpers, once filled with sand, limp with use and neglect. Highways with holes so big, even with a sports bra on, I was in pain. The MaxFunCan took a beating. The microwave platter was chipped (yes, there's a microwave, duh) and the dishes went flying. It looked and felt like Mad Max California Apocalypse Edition. I was left with an urge to hoard gas and pack heat. Schwarzenegger, CA legislature, pull your over-inflated head out!

Where was I?

Capitola. New Brighton State Park. I'll add pictures later. We've been to the beach. We've been to the pier. We've had fish tacos in Capitola. We are currently sitting in the shade of eucalyptus and pine trees, drinking cold beverages. We are happy.

Meanwhile in Clovis, our dear, dear sister-in-law is in the hospital, newly diagnosed over the weekend with acute myeloid leukemia. "Sister-in-law" does not capture the pure light that radiates from this mother of two darling girls. Brandy should have pulled the highest draft card number in the worldwide cancer draft. Why she pulled such a low number is a logic game mere mortals have no business playing. I'm just confident that her inner light will laser-vaporize whatever malevolent cancer demon is working inside her bones. Godspeed, Brandy. We are all on your side.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Operation MaxFunCon: Mobilize!

Dropped Scotty and Annie off at Suzie's Country Inn and Doggy Bed and Breakfast at eight this morning. Scotty was happy to see the other doggies. Annie tried to escape. I was all "whatever."

Filled Coco's Vacation Food Delivery Device and told her I was sorry. She didn't look up.  Dean is supposed to check up on her every few days. I hope she notices.

Trailer docking successful. Trailer backing-up-out-of-the-cul-de-sac affirmative. Go! Go! Go!

We roll through Portland. We roll through Salem. When am I going to remember that one crucial item that we forgot to pack?........thinking.....pillows. Pillows! Dammit.

The Captain expertly pilots the MaxFunCan through I-5 traffic. By Cottage Grove, the traffic finally begins to relax, and we relax. The tunes play on. I think Courtney Taylor-Taylor would appreciate the fact that, somewhere in the universe, there is a playlist that includes both the Dandy Warhols and Glen Campbell (okay, just one Glen Campbell song, but it's the only important one, "Wichita Lineman," and I was not particularly sober when I purchased it on iTunes).

Since he knew how much ease it gives me when we have a confirmed reservation, The Captain has made us reservations at a place he found via the World Wide Web called Jackson WellSprings RV Park. It looked very spa-like on the website, with things like natural spring water, whirpool spas and ladies' night on Mondays featuring hot stone massages.

Now that we pull up, the sign looks a little shop-worn. And it seems like there are a lot of hand-painted signs pronouncing things like, "yard sale" and "breathe" at the Community Center where we checked in.

There seems to be a lot of long grey hair, sometimes tamed in ponytails, most of the time not. And flowy cotton clothing. And skin.

The Captain comes back with a smile on his face.  "The hot tub is clothing optional."


So if you were wondering where all the hippies went after the sixties were over, we found them.

They live here.  On our way into our camp space, it was evident that most of the "campers" here were full-timers. Rock gardens. Patios. Weeds growing out of vehicles. These guys are home.  We are the oddballs here.

Not an uncommon feeling for me. A little off-putting for The Captain.  He still had his fight-or-flight face on as we backed into our space, next to a four-year long cribbage game played by a grey-pony-tailed neighbor and one of our new neighbors, sporting one tooth, well past the canine dental zone.

We were welcomed by our park host, Mountain, who directed us to an alternate spot, as the first one had been bogarted by a resident's car.  Later we were to follow Mountain's example to come up with WellSprings names of our own. The Captain would like heretofor to be known as Victory Moon Dance. I chose Beautyrest Seafoam Dance. We would appreciate you abiding by our wishes in referring to us by our WellSprings names.

I won't sully our earth-hippy vibe here by describing our trip to WalMart (Hey! Don't judge! It's where our uni-toothed neighbor sent us, and it turned out to be the only place that sold housewares anywhere near Ashland!). Just suffice it to say that what you see on the blog "People of Walmart" is not an exaggeration. We purchased pillows.

Once we returned, we made hamburgers in the MaxFunCan and went for a walk. We took these pictures.

Oh, yes, the adventure has effing BEGUN, mofos.