06 July 2008

The 100th and final(?) post

The infamouse PL packed up her blogspot bags and switched over to a wordpress blog. She was drawn in by the plethora of themes and... stuff. Am I following suit? Yes. The pressure of my one peer who consistently reads this blog has turned me. In fact, I already did turn. Am I easily swayed? Yes. But she's a good influence - I swear.

I'll miss this blog. And while it's treated me well, it has never felt exactly true to fit. I have to say, the wordpress themes are a compelling reason, but the final straw is that I have finally come up with a new name for a blog - so it seemed as good a time as any to make the switch.

Head on over to thoughts are made of water.

Peace out, cub scouts.

02 July 2008


I was standing on the platform, waiting for my train to be announced yesterday, when I heard people - young backpackers, for lack of a better term - talking behind me in an undeterminable language. We made eye contact, I smiled meekly, and went back to gazing at the screen.

The guy approached me to ask a question. I was secretly thrilled. These people! People of my stripe! They know I that I have traveled, but they know that I am native. That I am a wealth of information. That I am young and capable and flexible like them. They know I have stood in train stations gazing at boards with distant, unknown locations in countries unseen, all while locals are going about their lives, not knowing what they were missing. I had been to the other side and yearn for it always. I will not fail them.

While his accent said Eastern European, his appearance said Spain. "Excuse me," he said in heavily accented, but perfectly comprehendible English, "can I ask you a question?" I already had my earbuds out, iPod paused, attention rapt. Where were these two beautiful and anonymous people going? They needed my help! They asked me because I knew! I wondered if they needed a guide. "Which of these," he continued, gesturing at the board, "can take us to Niagara Falls?"

This, unknown to them, was sort of a stupid question. For several reasons.

"You want to go to Niagara Falls?" I said as seriously and kindly as I could, making sure that I got this right, not wanting to send them to upstate New York for a very specific and somewhat outdated tourist spot. "Yes, the Niagara Falls."

"Oh, honey," I wanted to say. It was the cutest thing I'd ever heard.

I wanted to tell them where to go - someplace more fun - have you ever been to the Southwest? You've never seen anything like it! Go to the Grand Canyon before it crumbles under the crushing fist of pollution. Go to a nature reserve in Idaho - near the Snake River - where I was born! Well, not in the river, but close bye... Maybe we'll see wolves! There's Red Rocks in Colorado - always wanted to see that. Maybe you want something more urban. I hear Chicago is incredible - cheaper than New York and beautiful at this time of year. I have a friend there... You like barbecue? We'll go to Memphis. I've always wanted to go to Memphis. We'll laugh at their hats, but secretly want to buy one, because we know that on us, they would look awesome...

Instead, I directed them inside to the Amtrak information center. There was no direct way to upstate NY, that's for sure, but a change-over in NYC... or maybe the Amtrak people would tell them to go by bus... either way, they probably made it to Niagara Falls by 4 AM or decide that it was too much of a hassle and changed their plans.

I'm on that platform everyday if they change their minds.

01 July 2008

Anatomy of a Mix: Josh Ritter for Beginners

In honor of the Josh Ritter and Co. concert I attended Friday, I decided to do a (semi)formal introduction of eight tunes to JR - some of his more popular songs that give a glimpse into his musical catalog.

He's been compared to Leonard Cohen, Dylan, and Springsteen, and draws inspiration from Mark Twain - but JR is very much his own man/musician/manician? I can't wrap my head around why he's not more popular, but what can one do beside spread the good word? If you dig what you hear, snag a CD or three, hit up iTunes, or grab passes to a live show. You won't regret it.

And now, on to the mix!

From Josh Ritter (1999)

Stuck to You (The Science Song)
Well there's one more thing, I'll tell you if I can / It is not love that makes a non-stick frying pan...

Story goes that JR was to become a neuroscientist just like his parents. Upon reaching college, he switched majors to "American History through Narrative Folk Music." He combined his former pursuit and his new love in a little song called "Stuck to You," a hidden track on his self-titled debut LP. Twangy and cheeky, this is the first JR song I remember ever hearing, some point sophomore year in college... I wonder if he ever played the Wheaton coffee house...

From Golden Age of Radio (2002)

Come and Find Me
If I could trace the lines that ran / Between your smile and your sleight of hand / I would guess that you put something up my sleeve

Before I'd known that JR lived in Providence for a spell, I long had associated this song with the quiet, empty streets of East Side in August... In any case, this pensive and intimate song floats perfectly into the warm air of anyone's summer evening.

From Hello Starling (2003)

I won't be your last dance, just your last good night / Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied / I'll be the one to drive you back home, Kathleen

While this song may bring specific joy to the heart of every girl named "Kathleen," it tugs on the heartstrings of every girl with ears thanks to the opening line all the other girls here are stars - you are the Northern Lights. This one is always greeted with deafening cheers in concert, and my favorite lines of the song (the ones above), reach their maximum potential when performed live.

Snow Is Gone
I’m not sure if I’m singing for the love of it or for the love of you

When the weather in New England, or wherever you find yourself, warms up after a dreary winter, it's hard not to be joyous. And to find and declare love on top of it? How is that not worthy of a song? I, myself, find it impossible to (1) not sing along with this song and (2) not smile while doing so. Watch the live version and you'll see I'm not alone in that sentiment.

From The Animal Years (2006)

But I still remember that time when we were dancing / We were dancing to a song that I'd heard / Your face was simple and your hands were naked / I was singing without knowing the words

A sad song in a major key. Some of JR's best work lingers in this seemingly contradictory landscape of tragedy and jubilation - a kind of joyful heartbreak. It blends regret and retrospect with the sentimentality of beautiful days-gone-by... this may be - and I don't say this lightly - a perfectly written song.

Girl In The War
But I gotta girl in the war, Paul, her eyes are like champagne / They sparkle, bubble over, in the morning all you've got is rain

One of two more overtly political songs from The Animal Years, this presents a hypothetical conversation between Peter and Paul (guess which ones), concerning the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness when everything that matters is on the line. This one is sure to give you goose-bumps.

From The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)

The Temptation of Adam
We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside / "What five letters spell apocalypse?" she asked me / I won her over singing, "W-W-I-I-I" / She smiled and we both knew that she'd misjudged me

Combining an apocalyptic love story with a sense of humor, this song is one of the more popular among the NPR crowd. Taking place in a missile silo while the subjects guard the "big red button," it's (generally) about knowing that even glorious perfection must come to an end.

Check out a solo live acoustic performance here.

Right Moves
I said, what if we are like the Northern Sky? / What if there are things that come between us that we can't take back and we can't make right? / And you said, I don't know darlin, but I'm here with you / And we're coming to the chorus now!'

A few Fridays ago, I was walking from work to downtown Boston - a hearty but pleasant trip. The sun was shining, it was a warm and breezy day... "Could this get any better?" I asked myself.

This song popped up on my iPod and I instantly broke out into a smile as I strolled down Commonwealth, trying not to dance at the crosswalks. This song is nothing but pure, unadulterated feel-good.

30 June 2008

Je tombe du ciel.

This weekend, through the power of Netflix, I was able to finally see Angel-A, a film by Luc Besson, director of Leon: The Professional (my favorite Gary Oldman movie) and The Fifth Element. It came out last year, but sort of slipped below the surface, as most foreign films are wont to do in the US market.

Shot entirely in black and white, on location in Paris, the movie is about André (played capably by Jamel Debouze, who you may remember as Lucien in Amélie), a down-on-his-luck (almost) good-for-nothing. After facing the fact that he owes immense sums of money to gansters and lowlifes all around Paris, he decides to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Seine. While standing on the edge, he looks over to see a beautiful, statuesque woman (Rie Rasmussen as Angela), about to end it all on the same bridge. He saves her, and in return, she follows him around Paris, helping him pay back his debts and right his wrongs through more bizarre and surreal methods.

The film is almost thematically divided in two lopsided parts - the former is relatively funny and almost light-hearted considering the circumstances; the latter - more dark and dramatic (revelations abound!) The whole film is beautiful - deep, inky blacks and luminous pearl whites in the city for which black and white photography was practically invented. From a photographic stand-point, it's downright sexy.

While "classically" shot and lacking in hand-to-hand combat, this is unmistakably a Luc Besson film; there are surreal (some would say sci-fi) themes, some obvious one-liners and a beautiful but lethal and scantily clad female lead. Besson's films have a tendency to follow a smart, strong woman who acts as the pillar of a male/female dichotomy, until she ultimately needs the support of the man... while better than 99% of the portrayals of women on film, some may argue he's falling into a thematic rut.

While Angel-A isn't perfect, it's engaging and bold, and who doesn't like a little dose of simultaneously languid and rapid Parisian French every now and then? Check out the trailer for yourself.

28 June 2008

I don't know darlin', but I'm here with you - and we're coming to the chorus now!

Last night was a night I've been looking forward to ever since I was at a laundromat/web café in Valencia, buying my tickets under the impatient gaze of blinking ticker noting my rapidly decreasing surfing time. Yes - last night was the Josh Ritter/Boston Pops show.

I wasn't able to find a home for the second ticket I had, but saw some Wheaties I knew at the show and chatted with them before and after. And seeing as how I would have dropped twice as much for the seat I had, I'm trying not to look at it as a waste. My seat was fantastic - on the floor, only two rows behind the big dogs who dropped $80 on their seats. And the concert was phenomenal. This is the third time I've seen Josh and the guys perform since last October (what can I say - they keep playing shows here and I keep showing up), and this was definitely the grandest performance.

He opened with a haunting and intimate version of "Idaho" (appropriate for a haunting and intimate song), followed by what might be my favorite, "Best for the Best." Upon hearing the first opening chords, my eyes welled up with tears and I cursed myself for wearing mascara. Beautiful renditions of already near-perfect songs. The rest was a bit of a fantastic blur, but they played (among other songs) "Temptation of Adam," "Girl in the War," "Thin Blue Flame," Right Moves," and "Rumors" - where everyone promptly (and appropriately) exploded at the line my orchestra is gigantic - this thing could sink the Titanic. They also performed "Wildfires," one of the most simple and powerful songs off of The Historical Conquests, and one of my favorite JR songs to date. Such a thrill to see that done live.

Late in the show, Robert Pinsky did a reading, and even though I work in the same building as the man, it was the first time I'd ever seen him. He certainly added his own enjoyable dramatic flair to the show.

And while the Pops looked like they had a little too much starch in their shirts, it was obvious the guys were having a blast, and nothing's better than a bunch of joyful and skilled performers. While closing with "Empty Hearts," a song with a very singable chorus, Josh said, "if you ever wanted to sing at Symphony Hall, now's your chance." And yeah - I sang along - that is to say, I threw my hair back and I sang along (name that song!) You could tell the audience was comprised almost entirely of people who were familiar with the music, and the enthusiasm was palpable. It was an amazing monster of a show and I spent the train ride home with a smile on my face. Always a joy, that Josh Ritter. Always a joy.

25 June 2008

Oh, oh my God... whatever... etcetera...

This song kept me from completely writing off Easy Tiger, Ryan Adams' second least amazing album. (The first least-amazing being the "snap out of it!" worthy-of-a-slap Follow The Lights EP.) And this particular live and electric version of this song makes me love it even more... especially when he screws up and yells, "stab me in the eye with the Empire State Building!" For that moment, he is the Ryan we know and love... in a highly dysfunctional sort of way.

For no other reason than music for music's sake, here's Mr. David Ryan Adams...

19 June 2008

Anatomy of a Mix: Amplify!

A little bit of techno, a smidgen of hip-hop and lots and lots of guitars. Here are some tracks that ask - simply by being - to be turned up.

Wolf Parade - Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts | Now we'll say it's in God's hands / But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, does he?

This song was selected by Josh Radnor (who plays Ted on "How I Met Your Mother") for his "iTunes Celebrity Playlist," with the following description: "This song makes me want to drink eight pints of beer and punch someone in the face. In a good way." I could be down for that - though not on the receiving end of the punch, thanks.

Then I'd give this particular Josh R. a high five cause he's got pretty rockin' musical taste. We'd then pass out (well, I know I would after eight pints), slumped in adjacent corners while Spencer Krug howled and "la la la la la la'd" his way through this sloppy, loud, and amazing song from Apologies to Queen Mary. Upon gaining consciousness, I'd then ask him about the status of the Ninja Report.

The National - Mistaken For Strangers | Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts / So you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves

This song, from The National's latest release while not especially loud, grumpy, or overtly "angsty," deserves to be played loud... in the headphones of your soul. The lead singer's voice is something to write home about - cool, clear, and controlled without being contrived - it feels like it would echo perfectly out over the streets of New York City at 2am. The rapid guitar and immaculate drums just give this song more to love.

Beck - E-Pro | See me comin' to town with my soul / Straight down out of the world with my fingers / Holding onto the devil I know / All my troubles'll hang on your trigger

My version of this is not DRM free, so you'll just have to be satisfied with the youtube video (which is a total trip, by the way), and then hopefully pick up this amazingly funky and loud track for yourself. This song vaguely reminds me of "Minus" from Odelay.

To sum up my feelings about this track, if there was an army of zombie ninjas to fight Shaun of the Dead-style, I think I'd choose this song for my heroic, irreverent anthem.

Danger Mouse - Encore | Who you goin' find doper than him with no pen / Just draw off inspiration / Soon you goin' see you can't replace him / With cheap imitations for these generations

Take the best band of all time and (arguably), the best rapper alive (according to Ryan Adams, Jay-Z should be the first artist to play on the moon), put them in the hands of a DJ genius, and this is what you've got.

Danger Mouse (one half of Gnarls Barkley) took Jay-Z's a capella Black Album, magically mashed it with the Beatles' White Album. This particular track takes Jay-Z's "Encore" (obviously) and pairs it with "Glass Onion" and "Savoy Truffle." The raw, looped guitar placed alongside Jay-Z's über-masculine vocals and lyrics makes for a track that deserves going up to eleven.

The Pixies - Where Is My Mind | With your feet in the air / And your head on the ground / Try this trick and spin it

This track from Boston-based band, The Pixies, was done way back in 1988 - but it's held up remarkably well over time. The general renewed interest in it undoubtedly has to do with its use at the end of the deranged, all-too-often misunderstood, and entirely awesome movie, Fight Club. In terms of titles, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better song to fit the theme of the movie.

The nearly-dissonant guitar and vocals of this song have a tendency to enter your ears and clang around inside for a while, so don't be surprised if you happen to find yourself echoing the ending "ooooooh ooooo"s to yourself while washing dishes.

Deep Dish - Flashdance [Radio Mix] | He didn't mean to catch my eye / Well he's lucky he just walked on by / If he ever met a girl like me / Are you kidding? / Well I'd tell him that I'd rather die

Deep Dish, the Iranian-American DJ duo, came to the US way back when and started making music - and what music they make! Songs by these guys have a tendency to slip themselves onto multiple playlists during my summers with their good vibes and sweet sound.

But this guitar-driven house track (is it house? I get all the electronic sub-genres confused), is motivational for those of us with two X chromosomes. With firm but super-feminine vocals from fellow-Iranian Anousheh Khalili, both the song and video are something of a metaphorical kick to the groin...

That is to say, this one is for the laaaadies...