31 December 2007

2007 Music in Review

I've painstakingly assembled the most subjective and epic list of the year - my favorite music of the year. And since having a "Top 12 Albums of the Year" post would be kind of odd, here are...

The Honorable Mentions
You're still pretty wonderful!


Feist: The Reminder
No one really knew who in-the-name-of-Quebecois this chick was until she popped up in iPod ads, Verizon ads, Starbucks shops, and on the soundtrack for Paris, Je T'aime. This attention, albeit a bit overdue (and a lot bit over-commercialized), is well-deserved. The Reminder is a much needed creative jolt to the bland pop scene of late. Her voice is a little bit raspy, a little bit sexy, and charmingly cracks with soulful sincerity. "How My Heart Behaves" is a slow, confessional with male backing-vocals, lending this feminine ballad a calloused hand. "1 2 3 4," "I Feel It All," and "Past in the Present" are... feisty tunes - pardon the pun, but it's true. Check out Feist's older Let It Die for a hip lounge sound blended with acoustic sensibility.


Interpol: Our Love to Admire
Interpol is moody NYC/Brit-infused rock, brought to you by scenesters with a bit of soul. They create perfect music for winter's darkest days and the darker end of your life's spectrum of moodiness. That's not to say everything they do makes you want to dress in tight black clothes and straighten your hair - "Heinrich Maneuver" has flamboyant vocals and a beat so energetic it practically stumbles over itself. Highlights like "Pioneer to the Falls" and "Scale" chug uphill with a dark pulse and riffs to match.

While Interpol haven't really stretched their proverbial wings too much with this record, if it ain't broke...




The Top Ten
You're arbitrarily better!


10 | Rogue Wave: Asleep at Heaven's Gate
I was excited for Rogue Wave's new album. Descended Like Vultures was a great record, and they've been making strides with their relatively new and unique sound with each album. This year's effort was a solid compilation, with the amazing single, "Lake Michigan" leading the way. The album builds up and tumbles down, going from a cacophony to soft vocals - and that's just starting with the opening track, "Harmonium." "Chicago X 12" and "Ghost" are about as pop-ish as Rogue Wave is probably ever going to get, but they're skillful, jaunty songs. "Lullaby" and "I Can Die" (a bonus track) are pulsing and edgy, leading the listener through a mountainous aural landscape in true Rogue Wave fashion.


9 | Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I've jumped, or rather stumbled, on the bandwagon. Austin-natives, Spoon, have released a surprisingly artfully accessible and tight record with this year's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. With a smattering of horns and ample usage of tambourine, "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and the upbeat anthem "The Underdog" guarantee Spoon a much broader audience, but... who cares? They're damn good songs. It's tracks like the indignant, unabashed growling rock of "Don't Make Me A Target," the funky "Finer Feelings," and the sassy and sexy "Eddie's Ragga" that will keep this album in heavy rotation in one's collection. They're sweet talking rock to come in a new direction... and they're quite persuasive. It's time to give credit where credit is due.


8 | Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
She's walking disaster. And she totally stood up my friends at ACL. But the girl's got pipes.

With Back In Black, Winehouse teamed up with super producer Mark Ronson and constructed a Motown vibe that's so spot-on, it sounds like it was yanked straight from a Detroit studio in the 60's... but with a lot more vulgarity. Smooth and solid bass lines, daintily chattering piano, pulsing horns and ample use of high-hat give this record a gorgeous instrumental foundation. On tracks like "These Tears Dry On Their Own" and "Back to Black" Winehouse's voice is smoother than velvet but not short on character with its smoky undertones and solid range. Let's hope this girl pulls it together.



7 | Travis: The Boy With No Name
I have a little spot in my heart for Travis. Maybe it's because they're Scottish. Or maybe because the lead singer goes by "Fran." Or maybe that they were one of the first bands that I liked that actually made music that is widely accepted as good, and continues to do so, almost ten odd years after I "discovered" them.

Their previous LP, 12 Memories was a solid, introspective record... but maybe kinda sorta... dark. Post-bad breakup kind of dark. And I think a lot of Travis fans were afraid that the band was headed down a gloomy path, never to return to the acoustic jam with soul and sincerity that they did ohso well. Well, the boys are out of the woods - they've got smiles on their faces and they're clicking their heels. "Selfish Jean" is nothing but fun: you keep the chocolate biscuits wired to a car alarm, oh selfish Jean! And while songs like "Big Chair" and "Out In Space" are vaguely reminiscent of the sound of 12 Memories, their videos for the lovely tracks "My Eyes" (a song Fran Healy wrote for his son) and "Closer" (complete with famous cameo), show that they're back to their old, charming selves. To quote Mr. Healy, "welcome in."


6 | Benjamin Biolay: Trash Yéyé
I'm probably the only person on the eastern seaboard who can say this... but I've been waiting for Trash Yéyé from Benjamin Biolay for months. I'm relieved the record has lived up to the hype that I attached to it so prematurely.

Benjamin Biolay has an exceptional handle on producing and composing tunes, and this album is no different. He's come further in his ability to manipulate sound, and the album is a considerable step forward. He's taken the best musical elements of Negatif (i.e. grand, swooping orchestral riffs), and the adventurous bold confidence of A L'origine to create what is probably his best work yet. The album is cohesive and strong throughout - sexy and smooth. Even the single, "Dans la Merco Benz," has grown on me.

In France, he's earned the monicker of "the new Serge Gainsbourg," but other than the nicotine-coated mellow vocals, it's an unfound nickname. Biolay deftly avoids the kitsch that bogs down the legacy of Gainbourg, all while remaining faithfully... "French." With Trash Yéyé, Benjamin Biolay continues to expand on his career of truly being a musicians's musician.


5 | The Fratellis: Costello Music
The Fratellis hail from Scotland and if you listen closely, you can hear them playing from here... Loud and belligerent tracks like "Chelsea Dagger" and "Baby Fratelli" make this the record of the year that makes you want to get drunk in a bar and sing ("la la's" and "na na's" abound on this record)... or fight. Costello Music would make the perfect musical accompaniment for the pastime of "Guinness and fights..." not that I know anyone who engage in such an activity.

It has its moments of sweetness and sentimentality, tempered by brash honesty, e.g. "Whistle for the Choir": So if you're crazy / I don't care - you amaze me / But you're a stupid girl... They're like a less squeaky clean version of Ok-Go... so pretty much Ok-Go if they grew up in Glasgow. There's a retro feel to many of the songs, like "Creepin' Up The Backstairs," with its warm, simple production and the pace of the acoustic guitar. Costello Music does not feed starving children in Africa or give you answers to life's deepest, darkest questions, but it is a whole lot of freaking fun. And the best part is that the Fratellis know it.


4 | Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
I'd be lying if I said this year's release from Andrew Bird was as warm and oddly comforting as 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs, but Andrew Bird is the thinking man's musician with the vocabulary of a lonely librarian, and has earned the right to do as he damn well pleases. This album is a tad production-heavy, but AB uses it as an exuse to try some new things. "Imitosis" is painfully clever and so lively it practically gives you a wink. The epic "Armchairs" slowly builds itself up and tears itself down, meandering between lonesome boredom and bemused anger: you didn't write/ you didn't call/ it didn't cross your mind at all - a surprisingly intimate line for a man who rarely sings without a substantial veil of metaphors. But don't get bogged down with emotion - "Darkmatter" slingshots you through space with a galloping drumbeat, pure energy and a little of that famous Bird whistle. "Scythian Empires" and "Simple X" march along with airy substance - warm and upbeat with amazing violin work (as per usual.) There's hardly a fault to be found with that Mr. Bird...


3 | Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova: Once: Music from the Motion Picture
There's no excuse not to be familiar with the movie Once - it's out on DVD now, so you should already know why this soundtrack is so darn good. Written and recorded and all that jazz by singers/songwriters/actors Glen Hansard (Guy) and Marketa Irglova (Girl), it's plain to see (aka hear) that they were fully invested in these songs. The tracks fit the film perfectly: simple and beautiful, usually ebbing somewhere between toe-tapping and tear-jerking. "Falling Slowly" was the song they pushed when the film came out, but it's not the only piece of brilliance on there; "When Your Mind's Made Up," "Fallen From The Sky" (the baby Casio keyboard!), and "All The Way Down" are all tremendous pieces of work from the best co-ed duo since Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan... who are also Irish. Coincidence? I think not.


2 | Aqualung: Memory Man
Matt Hales, the ridiculously adorable and delightfully clever one-man-band, Aqualung, released his finest assemblage of musicality to date. It's a bright and beautiful collection, more energetic than its predecessor, the lovely but down-tempo Strange and Beautiful. "Cinderella" is a beautiful, tumultuous song, filled with vocals that sink and soar, built to match the delicate brushes of piano keys alternating with the deafening slamming of the bass strings.

But wait - there's more!

"Outside" and "Rolls So Deep" are appropriate roll-the-windows-down type tunes for a summer's day. Even "The Lake," a haunting track, has an "oomph" that wasn't really present in his previous work. It seems that he's received a long overdue boost of confidence. Aqualung has grown leaps and bounds with this album and deserves every bit of praise he's received and then some.


1 | Josh Ritter: The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
It's extraordinarily difficult to write about Josh Ritter's music without gushing a bit. His 2006 release, The Animal Years, comes out of its package fully assembled - leaving this feeling that your job as a listener shouldn't be that easy. It's beautiful and thought-provoking - but like Bernini's David (the ultimate A-Town compliment) - it's finished - polished and prime for admiration. The Historical Conquests comes with some assembly required. The record throws you around a bit - your hands get dirty, you sweat and laugh and cry and are ultimately left with a feeling of immense satisfaction. This album feels more interactive, more aggressive - like you've spent all day raising a musical barn and at the end of the whole thing, Josh Ritter's going to be standing there, ready with a cold beer and a celebratory slap on the back. From the roaring "Real Long Distance Call," to the exquisitely delicate song about a possible nuclear apocalypse, "The Temptation of Adam," to the snarling "Mind's Eye," JR branches out to fierce and beautiful territory unknown to lesser souls. The Historical Conquests... was supposedly the product of a few weeks in Maine last winter... I say, give the man a case of Jameson, a pair of wool mittens, and send him back - there's so much more music to be had.




Top Songs of 2007
(in no particular order or quantity)


Ryan Adams: "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." & "Two Hearts," Easy Tiger
Ok, so Ryan's Easy Tiger didn't make my album list... but two of his songs did. I don't know if it's the über simple production, the sweetness of his voice, or the old-school country content of the lyrics, but whatever it is, "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." is definitely worth a listen... or fifty. The loud, rowdy, don't-give-a-crap Ryan is fun... but humble, quiet Ryan is brilliant.

Now, let's say, metaphorically speaking, that the most beautiful, amazing and delicious sandwich Ryan Adams ever made was Cold Roses. It was glorious, but in all the reveling in the brilliance of said sandwich, RA just plumb forgot he had an avocado ripening in a paper bag. "Two Hearts" is that avocado. Cold Roses was fine without it, but I'm glad Ryan remembered it on his kitchen counter and made it the delicious and creamy guacamole core of Easy Tiger. You know what I mean?


Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova: "When Your Mind's Made Up," Once [Soundtrack to the Motion Picture]
There's something about this song. You get a moment of it in the Once trailer and I spent much of the movie waiting, just waaaiting for it. And then, bam. Magic.


Andrew Bird: "Darkmatter," Armchair Apocrypha
Do you wonder where the self resides? / Is it in your head or between your sides? / And who will be the one who will decide its true location? On what is arguably the most rocking track from Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird soars with whirling guitars, introspective lyrics, bold vocals, and that trademark whistle of his; in short, "Dark Matter" is a focused beam of ever-expanding energy that could blind the uninitiated.


Feist: "My Moon My Man," The Reminder
It was a toss-up between "I Feel It All" and "My Moon My Man." "I Feel It All" has self-consciously spunky lyrics (Oh, I'll be the one who breaks my heart/ I'll be the one who holds the gun), and the other is sexy and rowdy... and the video has dancing... on moving sidewalks! Nothing competes with moving sidewalks, ergo, "My Moon My Man" wins. The groovy bass and whispery vocals drive this song... straight to Funkytown. Oh snap.


Aqualung: "Pressure Suit," Memory Man
I could have chosen several from Memory Man, but I chose this one because it makes me happy. It soars high, but holds you close to its caring bosom for the ride. In terms of romantic indie piano ballads, "Pressure Suit" is the best there is: I'll be your four leaf clover/ I'll be your pressure suit/ I'll be your angel wings/ I'll be your parachute/ I'll be your running reason/ I'll be your only reason... swaddled by the whispering chant of "I can't stop loving you, I can't stop loving you." Well played, Mr. Hales... well played, indeed.


Lupe Fiasco ft. Matthew Santos: "Superstar," The Cool
Every rapper who tastes even a smidgen of success has to put out a song about what it's like to taste said smidgen of success. "Superstar" is Lupe's. Fellow Chi-Town native, Matthew Santos, donates a lazily soulful chorus that pairs nicely with LF's lively style.


Lisa Hannigan: "Last Leaf," The Cake Sale
At first, I was bummed to hear that Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan had ended their creative relationship; after hearing this track from the The Cake Sale charity album however, I realized she's going to be just fine...


Kanye West: "Good Life," Graduation
This is not the world's most beautiful, thought-provoking song. But just turn it up.


M. Ward: "Headed for a Fall," To Go Home EP
While M. Ward didn't release any new LPs this year, this song was on the To Go Home EP, released earlier this year. The music feels older than old, but thumps and swings with horns, and crashes around the studio with a blithe liveliness that's pretty damn rare in M. Ward's music. I enjoy this M. Ward. What do you say, M. Ward? More of the same to come?


Magnet: "Gospel Song," The Simple Life
Oh, Norway. Not known for much more than salmon and vikings. But Anglophonic singer/songwriter Magnet, released in a nugget of delicious pop with smoky vocals, plucked strings, dabs of cello, and group clapping... and man, I am a sucker for group clapping.


Beck: "Timebomb," Timebomb Single
Hey! More group clapping! On more than once occasion, I became embarrassed after realizing that I was not alone while I was dancing to "Timebomb." Luckily, the catchiness of this song possesses the power to distract from even the worst white girl dance moves.


Josh Ritter: "To The Dogs Or Whoever" & "Wildfires" (bonus track), The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Two songs from the same album, but nearly polar opposites.

With its ragged guitar, boisterous chorus, and schizophrenic lyrics that drag you across centuries, down to the depths of the ocean, to battle fields and a sun-speckled afternoon, "To The Dogs Or Whoever" is arguably the best song Josh Ritter has ever written. It's impossibly perfect - the sort of song that brings a fan to their feet and his musical contemporaries to their knees. This song is all the proof you need that Josh Ritter's love affair with words is more alive than ever.

"Wildfires" on the other hand, is an understated slow burner of an acoustic ballad, along the tonal lines of Ritter's own "Wings" or "Idaho." This bonus track to The Historical Conquests... gives goosebumps with its simplicity: you must be living on wildfires.../ that's why your eyes are smoke and ash/ you must be living on earthquakes.../ must be why my heart breaks every time you pass. The lamentation, the vast, nearly-empty expanse of the production, the guitar with a pulse so strong you'd swear it was alive... this one is a heartbreaker that really gets under your skin.


Okkervil River: "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe," The Stage Names
The melodrama! The joy! The soaring, nearly cracking vocals! A little dissonance, zero to sixty and back again... and back again, this song is (sort of) reminiscent of the Talking Heads at their most riotous. That is to say, in spite of the tragic lyrics, this song is fun.



So that's it. That's the list. Happy New Year, all. May it be everything you wish it to be.

20 December 2007

A couple musical highlights of the moment / Yes, I do listen to more than Josh Ritter.

Josh Rouse | Probably exactly what you picture when you think "adorably sensitive and nerdy singer-songwriter." I'm a bit jealous of my brother because he was able to go to a Josh Rouse show - without even knowing who he was. But at least he ended up enjoying it. (And this is my brother we're talking about - the owner of a musical collection where house and techno reign supreme!) His style is dominated by American acoustic folk and blues, but as you can probably tell from the video below, he has embraced certain Mediterranean vibes since his relocation to Spain. Anyway, Josh Rouse (can't call him "JR" cause I've already got one... Maybe "JR2: Electric Boogaloo?") doesn't have a ton of music videos under his belt - he's a bit under the radar in that respect. But "Quiet Town" is quite appropriately not only one of my favorite Josh Rouse songs, but also a nice warm tune for a cold and snowy day. (P.S. Nature, wtf? More snow??)



The Kills | On the opposite end of the spectrum from Josh Rouse lie the duo, the Kills. They've got a dirty, sexy and dense NY/London rock sound... and the guy vaguely reminds me of Lou Reed, so bonus points there. And while they've always experimented with noise and sound, this one seems to have a little extra oomph. I can't wait until they release this single, "U R A Fever," to iTunes. (The album will be released in March.) This track is just... so freaking good. I love the aesthetics of the video, as well - it's so very... them.

OK. Enough said. Enjoy.

12 December 2007

"And then the conversation degrades... you start talking about your favorite type of... lint."

The day is a dull slate gray - chilly and damp. Earlier, I felt swaddled in an overwhelming fatigue that could have almost been construed as comforting... were it not for the fact that I was at work and couldn't succumb to a nice bout of warm exhaustion. The reason behind said inordinate level of tiredness?

Last night was the "Songs for a Friend" acoustic show with Josh Ritter and a couple of his bandmates - bassist Zack Hickman and keyboardist Sam Kassirer. It took place at the intimate (read "tiny") Club Passim in Cambridge. The last time I saw JR in concert, the temperature hit record highs, I had to swim like a desperate salmon against the brackish tide of Sox fans, and Park Street station caught fire... this time, the only thing that got in the way was a bit of cold rain. Emily (One Eye/Un Occhio), was totally my hot date and seemed to really enjoy herself. Now, it wasn't the raucous, foot-stomping Somerville show, but it was a lot of fun nevertheless. A lovely night and all for a good cause, as well. Both shows (I went to the 7 o'clock, there was also a 10 o'clock), were recorded and will be combined most likely into one disc of amazing joyfulness and released sometime... soon? I forgot about signing up for the pre-order, since I was so fixated on getting a poster. Oh swizzle sticks.

The show was simple and casual - you got the feeling that most people there knew the band in some way or another. That dang JR has got to have one of the most contagious smiles I've ever seen - combine that and the music and I regularly caught myself grinning like a creature without a central nervous system.

A few of the evening's highlights...

- JR stopped in the middle of "Girl in the War" to tell Zack to get on stage and sing. Zack then sang, charmingly/slightly out-of-tune, a song about his very best friend: his mustache. My favorite line (I'm probably paraphrasing here): people never ask me to babysit... Fan-freaking-tastic.

- The rendition of "Good Man." It was never really one of my favorite tunes of JR's, but performed live, it's more immediate, more striking and bare - especially My hands held on, my mind let go/ And back to you my heart went skipping... Even if you do possess an elaborate central nervous system (unlike myself apparently), you've got to find yourself smiling at that.

- Being a phenomenal songwriter himself, I found myself wondering why JR should bother covering other artists' songs - but he did a sweet Dylan cover and a really, really amazing cover of a tune by... someone whose name escapes me. Well, it'll be on the CD whenever they release that, so... I'll know one day.

- When Kate (the young woman for whom the benefit was held) got up to thank everyone, she gave a very brief speech and started to cry. Then I started to cry. Then everyone clapped. It was nice.

After the show, I ended up missing the earlier train back to Provtown, but it allowed me to go back to the venue and grab a very cool poster print (I'll try to post a pic of it later.) And luckily for me, Em hadn't yet caught her bus, so I had some pleasant company while wandering around Cambridge late on a Tuesday evening.

(About the pics... 1: can you tell I need a new digital camera? And 2: I have nothing against keyboardist Sam. I'm sure he's a cool dude. But there was most definitely a pole in the way of a good shot.)

Fast forward to the train ride home - I did the post-concert dorky fan thing and listened to my JR collection on my iPod. "Best for the Best" came up - a song he didn't even perform at the show - but I was apparently a little emotional yesterday because I started to well up with tears. It's a comforting song - one for tired souls. And I guess I'm just feeling a little tired these days.

Once I knew a girl in the hard, hard times
She made me a shirt out of fives and dimes
Now she's gone but when I wear it she crosses my mind
And if the best is for the best, then the best is unkind

09 December 2007

Today's special: sloth.

So I've been a bad blogger - it happens. Unfortunately, I can't use the old "I'm busy" excuse - it's just a case of the lazies that's got me.

Friday, I went out with Manda and Joj for Manda's slightly early birthday celebration. It'd been some time since I'd seen either of them, so that was cool. Nothing big or crazy (man, we're old), but good times nonetheless.

Today, Roberto came down to Prov town to sample the deliciousness of Julian's, a super chic - cross that- super scene restaurant near Federal Hill. They've got great food and a casual atmosphere. The music - loud but (generally) good. The staff - young and tattooed. I've had dinner there once before, but in general, their brunch is definitely worth getting up early for. After a hearty brunch, we tried to get some Christmas shopping done. Rob was semi-successful, but I left empty-handed. I'm still stumped on what to get the family. My dad liked the sweater I got for him for his birthday so much, he asked that I pick up another one in a different color... but that sort of takes the surprise out of it, non?

My bro went to Ireland a bit over a week ago for a long overdue vacation. He stayed in Dublin the whole time and enjoyed it in general, though one of the only things he said about it was, "it's like Boston... but with shorter buildings and better accents." I say Boston is like Dublin... but with taller buildings and worse accents. But, he did bring me back The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter on vinyl, which, unbeknownst to him, came out the day he found it. I believe that's what they call "serendipitous." We're hopefully going to hook up a sweet, albeit rather old, sound system this week, record player included. May my modest vinyl collection grow like the mighty oak.

Anyway, I'd give my eye teeth to go back to Ireland. Lovely place, wonderful people. One thing I've always wanted to do, even before I'd ever gone to Ireland, was to spend some holiday time in Dublin. One day, I'll do Christmas in Europe. Until that day, check out my bro's pictures from his trip. There are some pretty gorgeous ones in there.

01 December 2007

Thus spoke A-Town.

It took me three hours to get home yesterday. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Thanksgiving was nice this year - just the immediate fam... which is probably the way to go. My efforts consisted of roast garlic mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. I would have liked to do more, but frankly, as much as I like to cook, the freak-out I had while mashing the potatoes told me that it's probably best that ease into the holiday dinner process.

For the past few years, I've gotten a little bummed at Thanksgiving, knowing full well that no Thanksgiving could ever compete with the Bufa Thanksgiving of 2004. It was like the first Thanksgiving, the loaves and the fishes, and... James Brown - all rolled into one. I dare anyone to make an amazing Thanksgiving dinner for ten people in Italy, with limited utensils, a fridge the size of shoe box, and a stove the size of an EZ Bake oven.

Magical times, my friends. Magical times.

The other day, I bought two one-way tickets to Ireland for April! Why, you ask? Because Rachel and I are doing it up as cheaply as possible. As much as we'll want to stay in Ireland - home of alcoholic wonders and the nicest general population ever - Italia and the Amalgamation will be calling. From Dublin, we'll hop on a cheap-o RyanAir flight to Bologna and hop on a train to Flo-town. Next step - buying the one-ways back. I'm not sure whether we'll be flying out of Barcelona with Aerlingus (they have a stop there) or with Ryanair. It's inexpensiveness vs. a slight convenience.

I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet, which is technically fine. It's not even December. But this whole "SHOP NOW OR YOU'RE SCREWED!" push by every retailer under the sun is making me panicky. Well, that, and I have NO idea what to get anyone. I have back-up ideas for my dad and brother, but frankly, I want to do something a little different (don't we all?)

I should get my dad "A Charlie Brown Christmas." He'd probably torch the DVD and chuck it out the window. It was on TV the other night, and upon landing on it, he just said, "oh dear God," like you would upon seeing a car accident or a crime against humanity. I don't have as strong a feeling about C.B.C. as my dear father, but then again, he's been bombarded by it for 20 some-odd years more than I have. Ugh.

I finished The History of Love a couple weeks ago. And even though (or maybe because) it felt like a companion piece to the author's husband's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I enjoyed it. Very similar styles and storylines, really. I'll say this: if you dig Jonathan Safran Foer, you'll probably like this.

I also churned right through The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2006. I read the collection from 2002 a few years ago, and was discouraged - there were some good reads, but nothing to get really excited about. Luckily, I borrowed the 2006 collection from my brother, and it totally turned my opinion around of the series. Oddly enough, Dave Eggers was the editor of both collection, but he really seemed to create a cohesive but somehow diverse book for this past year. There is a slightly leftist political bent to the collection, but what do you expect from an author/editor in the SF Bay Area? The introduction by Matt Groening is a pretty nice start to the whole collection - pretty much a declaration to his love of literature. I'm normally not a fan of short stories, but two of them, "Nadia" and "Peg" were... interesting. "Nadia" is about a man acquiring a mail-order bride, told from the perspective of a female friend; "Peg" is about... who knows what... a man going off the deep end, pretty much. It's one of those stories where you don't want to take it literally, but it forces you to do so. I like them more than dislike them, but struggled with both, all the same. "Shipwreck" (a quasi-journalistic look at the plastination process), "The New Mecca" (a piece on the uber-capitalist city of Dubai), and "Letting Go of God" (ex-SNL cast member Julia Sweeney's struggle with Catholicism) were all highlights.

Speaking of ditching the big cheese, I'm about a little more than half way through God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by British-American author/journalist/pundit Christopher Hitchens. I'm an atheist and not a fan of religion in general, so in this case, he's "preaching to the choir;" I can see however, how this book could be offensive - even to people who don't subscribe to any particular religion. He's a bit brash and gets right down to business, mostly tearing apart the big three monotheistic religions, though sporadically, Hindu and Buddhism. He once said, "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful." He's a divisive individual, and interesting, to say the least. I'm going to hold off on saying anything else about this book or Hitchens until I'm finished with it, but I just felt compelled to say it's definitely interesting enough to keep me awake on the commuter rail... instead of conking out, mouth agape... a position in which I sometimes find myself, unflattering as it is.

I love long sentences.

19 November 2007

A Festivus miracle.

This past Friday was spent as Fridays are meant to be spent: getting stressed out and then having fun in spite of oneself. I attended the celebration of young Robert's passage into his 23rd year. There were rites and feasting... and by "rites and feasting," I mean "tequila and quesadillas" in Cambridge. Spending time with Wheaties is always nice. One Eye (aka Emily) and I almost immediately regressed back into our symbiotic college-era relationship: she nearly made me snarf frozen margarita and I was her interpreter for the evening. A couple of gems: You made me laugh I was crying so hard! and everyone's favorite, I know that the alcohol is working... because I want to touch people. And a conversation between One Eye and I...

Alec: I have the phrase "a Festivus for the rest of us" stuck in my head. Do you know what I mean?
One Eye: "It's a Festivus miracle." "An aluminum pole - I find tinsel distracting." "WE WILL NOW HAVE THE AIRING OF THE GRIEVANCES!" ...[deadpan face] I have no idea what you're talking about.

After dinner, we headed to Good Times (the formal title of which is "Good Time Emporium.") Senior year, we were dropped off at Good Times as our surprise senior outing. And it was a surprise, alright. The picture above was taken during one of the "Ladies Wrestling Nights" (which no one in our party attended... to my knowledge), but I'm just including that to illustrate its unique atmosphere. What can I say - I went for the birthday boy.

I was rereading Josh Ritter's blog this morning. Obviously, the man can write. Poetry. Prose. What have you. It would be amazing if he wrote a book. Yes. Josh Ritter should write a book. I'm sending this persuasive message through the power of the internet: Josh Ritter - write a book. Anyway, I liked this excerpt from his time in San Francisco, in particular:

...I stepped out into the street, where, wonder of wonders, there didn't seem to be any street. My foot caught on some kind of pylon, and as I fell I noticed that I was falling on to the tram tracks. "How cheesy," I thought to myself. "Dead on the tram tracks." After all these songs about trains, to be wiped out by a train's cousin, no matter how iconic a landmark of San Francisco it is, would be a back-handed irony. I waited for just a moment to get my breath and thankfully there was no tram close by. I got up and dusted myself off and started stating the obvious to passerby as people do when they do things like inexplicably fall. "I fell," I say to a group of Japanese tourists as they cross in the cross walk all around me.

I laughed. And not just because of the irony (though it's rather compelling), but rather because everyone has done something like that. We've all inexplicably explained ourselves to a group of Japanese tourists, literally or figuratively speaking.

For better or for worse, one of my most visceral memories from Firenze was slipping off one of their notoriously steep and slickly worn sidewalks on my way to class, and not predictably, falling all the way down and meeting the cobblestones, but rather, swooping towards the earth in a bizarre serpentine fashion, only to swoop right back up again like a stunt plane at a 4th of July air show while no part of me, other than my feet, touched the (questionably clean) streets of Florence, Italy. I was being followed by a group of young Italian men who laughed at me and earth-bound flight. The irony was that these laughing, grown men were all sporting mullets, tight acid-washed jeans and fanny packs, circa 1987.

But as I fell, I expelled one of the weirdest noises I think I've ever made. And this noise could only be described as a yelp.

Every time I think of that incident, it reminds me of Dave Eggers' "They Learned to Yelp" (here in The Guardian) from his collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry. It's one of my favorites from that collection. It's a relatively strong collection of work, and while I'm not a huge fan of short stories as a rule, I recommend it.

I met Dave Eggers very briefly at a book signing at Brown University this past summer. He was promoting his new book, What is the What? with Achak Deng, the Sudanese refugee whose life the story is based on - an "as told to" situation. Mr. Deng was cheerful and beaming as he signed my copy, happy to do so, and slipped it over Mr. Egger's side of the table. I should say that I really enjoy Dave Egger's work. He's one of my favorite contemporary writers, if not my favorite, and his other projects (McSweeney's and 826 National) are wonderful. Grass roots-ilicious. But I hate those 2 second book signings. You want to tell someone what their work means to you, that you hope they get half as much joy in creating it as you do devouring it... but you're there, with your name Sharpie'd on a post-it note so they doesn't even have to ask how to spell it, and you're left feeling like a jackass because all you managed to blurt out was "you're an amazing storyteller..." though I did sound less of an idiot than the girl in front of me, so I'm glad of that. ("You could get your Masters here at Brown!" He could also get a really good piece of pizza down the street, but that's not why he's here, either.) He smiled and thanked me like he hadn't heard that 6,000 times, and I left Brown's ironically hideous art building with a personalized copy of my least favorite Dave Eggers book (my qualms with the text stem from something that perhaps I'll explain at another time.) You just want to say, "I'm cooler than I'm coming across. Let's get a piece of pizza and I'll tell you my 'yelp' story. Complete with near-reenactment."

Some time this week, being that time of year, I'm sure my dad will hold the annual viewing of John Candy's opus, "Planes Trains and Automobiles." I remember the moment I found out Eryn's dad did the same thing. It was then that I knew we would be friends for a long time.

I did not see "No Country for Old Men," as I have been dying to, but thanks to a loud Starbucks employee this morning, I now know how it ends. I'll still see it, but talk about rubbing it in my face. But I revisited "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" this weekend. I somehow always manage to forget exactly how amazing that movie is. I always say it one of my favorites, but it still gets me every time I watch it. It's beautifully shot and directed; the writing is different and new, but not, for lack of a better word, polarizing. Strange and wonderful. My kind of movie.

"I wish I had stayed, too. Now I wish I had stayed. I wish I had done a lot of things. I wish I had... I wish I had stayed. I do."

Have a Happy Planes Trains and Automobiles day and may your babies not come out siiiideways.

09 November 2007

Pop-Tarts? Oh no--what do you do with the Pop-Tarts?!

I'm getting over quite a knock-out of a cold, meaning this long weekend is probably going to be spent somewhat conservatively. But one thing I really want to do is go see No Country for Old Men. It now takes movie-going precedence over the new Wes Anderson flick and American Gangster. Superficially, the most disturbing thing about it might be Javier Bardem's hair ("the haircut suggests a lost Beatle from hell"), especially since he is normally a rather god-like Spaniard. But the film itself looks like a great thriller--a stripped down, back-to-basics exercise in good movie-making. And Jeebus knows we could use more of those.

While confined to my room on one of my sick days this week, I realized, a full month later, that The Cake Sale was released. I am pleased. The whole album is streamed here and also available from iTunes. Lisa Hannigan's "Last Leaf", Glen Hansard's "Too Many People," and of course Josh Ritter's "Vapour Trail," are all phenomenal little pieces of aural wonderment. "Last Leaf" is simply gorgeous--really moving and the vocals are surprisingly assertive. After seeing Lisa Hannigan perform live with Damien Rice, I have a lot more respect for her--her voice was just as wonderful live as in-studio--she even nailed the opera vocals from "Eskimo Friend," which you may remember as being pretty epic. While I'm glad that she's branched off to do her own thing, I do hope that her creative relationship with Damien Rice hasn't completely dissolved--they make a good team. "Vapour Trail" (written by a member of Bell X1, hence "vapor" with the excess Brit-born "u"), is a warming, simple tune with a great sing-along-in-an-Irish-pub type chorus. And Glen Hansard (aka the long-lost Irish brother of Rachel's bf Mark), is quickly becoming a favorite musician of mine. I was never super crazy about the Frames (though to be fair, I've had only limited exposure to their stuff), but this solo/Marketa Irglova stuff he's been putting out has been really compelling.

I'm going to really nerd it up and say that "30 Rock" last night was, hands down, one of the best episodes yet. It was only after seeing the entire cast gathered together (along with a Harlem Globetrotter) that you realize that has never really happened before. I wish I could remember an especially hilarious line from last night's show, but they all spilled out of my head while I was convulsively laughing.

To round out this pinpoint of a microcosm of an informal post of contemporary culture, I'm currently reading The History of Love, written by Nicole Krauss, wife of one of my favorite writers, Jonathan Safran-Foer. If you had peeled the cover off, I would have guessed that it was written by JSF himself. Their prose is so similar, it's kind of"creepy," as my mom said. It has the same two-person narrative as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--one young, one old. It's riddled with Eastern European culture and Yiddish like Everything is Illuminated and the plot is also bound to a past tragedy. It utilizes the same sort of humor and form that he does... I haven't finished it yet, so I'll wait to see if it really is eerily similar to JSF's writing... But it really is.

04 November 2007

Through the windows of midnight, moonfoam and silver.

This photo is Rachel standing on a cliff walk in Ireland, 3 years ago. I wish I were still there.

Yesterday, I got a haircut. The woman caught the comb on my cartilage loop-earring and pulled out the ball bearing. It was lost to the salon floor. I have yet to buy a new one.

The haircut, though desparately needed, is to be considered average.

Also, I'm getting a cold. I swear by Zicam products, but they really need to create something that doesn't taste like metal butt.

The clocks have changed and the weather has turned. And much like changing wardrobe accoutrements to withstand winter, my music has taken a turn for the wintry. Sigur Ros, The Stills, Travis (mostly 12 Memories), Keane, Blur, Massive Attack, and Interpol now dominate many of my playlists. But then there's the warm drag of fingers over acoustic strings and the minor chords of a cold piano. Enter: David Gray, Nick Drake, Josh Ritter, Damien Rice, Jeff Buckley.

To illustrate my point, here's the very talented, very bobble-headed David Gray, singing one of my favorites, "Shine." Enjoy.

27 October 2007

Ever get... urges?

When Megan and I aren't exchanging stories about spiders after lunch (worst possible time ever for that, by the way), we try to keep it culture-centric. A couple of weeks ago, we were swapping stories about artistic urges... that is to say, the way you feel when you need to do something artistic--whether it's painting, drawing, writing, etc. With her, it's writing poetry, but our experiences are surprisingly similar. There's a distracting sort of little gnawing away at the back of your mind and very abruptly, you start feeling edgy--almost uncomfortable. Your muscles tense up, your heartbeat quickens, there's a rush of adrenaline--"it's almost... sexual," she hesitated to say, but I'm inclined to agree. It's a very primitive emotion for something that is, in essence, very human.

Usually, when I get the urge to paint or draw, I don't have immediate access to the materials that I need, so I end up frustrated and irritated, or sometimes, just downright surly. Very suddenly today, I felt the need to paint. It's almost like your body just grew without warning and your skin's not keeping up--you feel confined and the only thing to break out of that shell is to create. Unfortunately, it takes me about 5 minutes to set up to paint, and in that time so much can go wrong--mostly, you run the risk of losing the clear picture you've created in your mind. I did end up painting--I'm not very happy with what I painted, but at least I did it. There is relief in that.

I've noticed that when I feel compelled to write however, it's much easier. It's probably simply because I always keep a small notepad and pen with me, or I'm close to a computer, so there's a much shorter time between that sensation and the actual act of writing. But something I've noticed with the writing compulsion is that my brow literally jumps up when I get a thought I want to write down. It's just for a moment, but I must look startled and bemused--like I've just heard an elderly woman swear.

May your artistic urges be many, always be requited, and your facial expressions priceless.

26 October 2007

Talk amongst ya'selves.

This is amazing. I feel that Zack Hickman would be proud.

And now to add a little bit to a post that Eryn started. Since I'm at work, I'm not going to presently answer the more difficult questions, but I'll get to them soon.

Favorite Store Bought Cookie: You know, it's a tough call between the Oreo and the Mint Milano cookie from Pepperidge Farm. There's a Pepperidge Farm discount store (aka the "we sell expired cookies" store), just over the RI/MA border, so I may have to do some tie-breaking research this weekend. For the moment, I will default to the Oreo--Eryn's favorite--which always seems to be my favorite, as well.

Favorite Smell: I love the smell of beach roses. It rockets me back to summers spent camping on Hermit Island in Maine when I was a child. (It's as deceptively named as Rhode Island, as Hermit Island is actually a peninsula.) The swarms of bees, jumbo-jet mosquitoes, and a scooter wipe-out on a rocky dirt road pale in comparison to my memory of beach roses. The smell of a cool summer night is something of which I'll never get enough. The frantic smells of the day have sunken and the calm night air just lays over the fresh grass like a weightless blanket. It's peaceful, but not too peaceful, for somewhere in the distance is a Portuguese karaoke festival. Fantastico.

Favorite time/day of the week: Before I started this job, I would have said Friday night, but now I'm wiped out by Friday night. So, now I'm going to say Saturday afternoon. The day seems to have such promise after sleeping in (which at this point, is until 8:30 or 9), getting up, making coffee, leisurely getting ready, doing some yoga, then I like to hit the East Side for some (more) coffee or maybe some Thai or Antonio's... yesssss. I'm all for the simple things.

Favorite TV channel: Waaaaay back in the day when I had cable, it was between Travel, Food, and Comedy Central. Yes--three of my favorite things, which I guess means that a hilarious trip involving food would be ideal (Cinque Terre, post-dinner, A-Town giving Rachel a piggie-back ride--an amazing example.) Nowadays, if I actually watch TV, it's usually a PBS travel or science show, or "Father Ted" repeats. You can feel my vibrating waves of dorkiness from here, can't you? I don't care--"Father Ted" is amazing--the "Pete and Pete" of Ireland.

Favorite mode of transportation: Dublin light-rail. Absolutely. You're surrounded by people with charming accents who love to extemporaneously speak on nearly any subject, and all the stops are announced in English and Gaelic. A recording of a woman with a beautiful, futuristic voice says, "Smithfield... Nakherakrushnah..." Mmmmmmotherland! My Irish senses are tingling.

Favorite animal: Canines, in general, but wolves are such beautiful animals. Who can't embrace a creature that's the subject of quality airbrushed van art the world over? Polar bears, elephants, and gorillas round out the top 4 of my favorite animals.

Favorite childhood memory: Oh jeez. This is going to have to wait.

Favorite post-adolescent/adult memory: As is this.

In the meantime (and not that I give a hoot), but... how about them Sox?

'EY! MANNY!

23 October 2007

Like we are all half crazy and all at least half alright.

I got my tickets to the JR benefit gig, December 11th in Cambridge, a smidge more than two months after seeing him a couple stops down on the Red Line in Somerville. It's a tiny place and he's playing a ("mostly") solo acoustic show for the benefit of a friend with cancer. Good music and a good cause--during the season of giving? What more can you ask for? Should be amazing.

Obama was in Boston today for a rally, but I skipped it so I could get home before 9. Sorry Barack--but you don't need to preach to the choir. You got my vote, and frankly, a Democrat speaking in Massachusetts is like the Pope speaking in Brazil... you're surrounded by your biggest fans. But I guess it's a good ego-boost (especially with Hillary schooling him in the polls lately.) Whatever--his universal healthcare plan is by far the most solid. Go Barack.

But who am I kidding--I'll vote for whatever blue person is on the ballot.

Fin.

21 October 2007

Of yoga, art, forums, and Finns.

Oh you know... just listening to some Dusty Springfield, hanging outside, enjoying some té bianca. Cause that's how I roll on a Sunday. Went out for a late brunch on Wickenden this afternoon with Joj, cause you know, sometimes a girl just has to have some blueberry pancakes. It was nice enough to eat outside–-sunny and warm–-the last bastion of summer... perhaps.

I've been a pretty good A-Town lately. Made the switch to skim moo juice, and I'm not really sure why it took me so long. I've also started up a daily yoga routine after little Erin gave me a talking-to ("you have to find the time!"), and I'm glad that she did. I took it senior year and did it off-and-on for a while, but now I'm back with avengence--it's actually become something that I look forward to post-work. It's a great way to chill out and rid oneself of a long commute. And it's easier to keep up than running or biking since it isn't weather or equipment-dependent. We may have found a winner.

As if I really even need to say so, NPR is amazing. They've posted the recent Josh Ritter concert from DC on iTunes–-for free. And, immediately following the concert, there's an interview. The guy conducting it is a bit of a tool who apparently loves the sound of his own voice, but whatever... JR's rad. NPR's website also posted an acoustic in-studio of "To The Dogs or Whoever". It's a great time to be a Mr. Ritter fan or to become one (hint hint Eryn.)

I've been in a major lull for art work lately, but I've been writing more. They seem to balance each other out, but it's still frustrating to want to draw or paint, but find oneself with a blank page and a mind equally barren of inspiration. Tips as to beating the blank canvas syndrome are welcome.

Alright, it's getting chilly and dark, so I'm moving inside.

I had a classic lunchtime phone call from A-Town this week, and among other things, we spoke of where he and Eryn were going to be staying while in Rome--as far as I know, it's still up in the air. I've been trying to remember where we stayed as a class in Rome... not that I'm advocating that as a honeymoon destination. But it was very close to the Theatre of Pompey where Caesar was stabbed, and relatively close to the "Typewriter" in Piazza Venezia. It seems that you can't really go wrong in terms of what is surrounding you in Rome.

"This is where Augustus stubbed his toe and uttered, 'stupid Jesus sandals' ...truly curious, as Jesus was not active or alive during that time."


But I just want to advocate the NY Times travel section (here is their section on Rome.) It has everything. It breaks themes and topics down to manageable chunks. When looking at a place that you're not familiar with (say, Barcelona), it's almost a little overwhelming, but don't be alarmed. For the relatively OCD traveler such as myself, it's amazing.

One last item, Kimi Raikkonen, taciturn Finnish F1 driver extraordinaire, has (finally) won his first World Championship. Yeah, Kimi! It was beginning to feel like rooting for the Sox, pre-2004. As for you, Mr. Hamilton--maybe next year. You've still got quite a career ahead of you, so... don't blow it.

13 October 2007

"Balls to the water."

I was fishing through my closet today and found a cheapo video camera that I used during the Bufa Reunion of 2005. There was only about 9 minutes of footage on the tape, but it was like finding $50 in the pocket of a coat you haven't worn in years (though that's not to put a price on the Bufas.) I plugged that puppy in (unfortuntately, it's VHS), and it was nine golden minutes of the camera pivoting on the table, capturing Rachel, A-Town, Fink, me, and the one and only PL being... stupid. That is to say, us. We're singing along with John Mayer's brief foray into blues, out of key and getting the words wrong. We're playing a delectable game of Tunk, where I drag Team A-Town down, Eryn giggles like a giddy school girl, A-Town soulfully "sings," and Rachel plays air guitar with her teeth. And Fink is an old man.

Of course.

I'm happy to have found it, but it was also a sentimental reminder that I haven't seen three of those peeps face to face in two years to the day. How odd.

April's so far off.

06 October 2007

But the music's never loud enough.

Right when I stepped out of Back Bay Friday morning, I knew it was going to be a fantastic day. But before I get to why I was more right than I ever could have imagined, let me break it down like a fraction for ya.

The Journey

Work was unremarkable, though exceedingly slow. I got out in plenty of time for the 7:30 concert opening... or so I thought. Little Erin and I were going to the show together and I was going to swing by her apartment first, then we'd grab some pizza with E.C. and her friend before the show.

The T has a funny way of choosing when it catches fire.

Park Street, the main hinge of the T, combusted at rush hour on this particular Friday–the very Friday before a long holiday weekend. And, oh yeah, the Sox were playing. Amazing.

But apart from the relatively inconvenient delay, it was actually sort of beautiful. I went up to Tremont to see people literally filling the streets around Downtown Crossing and Park. All this was happening at sunset with the city just beginning to slip into its nighttime glow. It was surreal... like a very pretty and only slightly annoying apocalypse.

Eventually, the red line started running again and I was able to get to Davis Square and meet up with the girls. We desparately needed sustenance, so we got pizza in lieu of the bulk of the opening act's set. I am glad, however, that I got to see Old School Freight Train's version of "Heart of Glass" which was nothing short of genius.

As soon as I saw our seats, I began to smile with a grin that still remains plastered on my face at this moment. I was dead center, seventh row in a tiny venue. While we were waiting, Erin noted that it felt like the theatre had really great energy, and I have to agree. It was pretty electric, even when people were just waiting for the show to start.

The Show

Josh and the band came out and played a phenomenal set chock full of wholesome rocking goodness. They boiled with energy and enthusiasm, opening with "Mind's Eye" and "To The Dogs Or Whoever." The fact that they were having a blast playing up there made it so much more enjoyable for everyone. It was like permission to not take it too seriously. Josh was smiling away the whole time he sang, and 90% of the audience had the same expression reflected on their faces.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the whole set list, but some major highlights were "Rumors," "Me & Jiggs," "The Temptation of Adam," and "Naked As A Window" flowing into an assertive, electric version of "Girl in the War." "Monster Ballads" and "Here At The Right Time" were so beautiful that I welled up with tears. I liked those two songs before, but I love them now. His voice was clear and strong and the band was tight. He sang a full song without the mic, projecting out into the venue. It was amazing.

Josh also gets props for good banter, as I'm a big fan of concert banter. Ryan Adams is pretty good in a rambling-crazy-guy sort of way (when he bothers to actually speak), but Josh was humble and charming and just a little bit goofy--"...but avoid the deli section, where they're angry for no apparent reason..."

Long story, short, it was incredible and the most fun I've ever had at a show.

The Ritter

Afterwards, Erin and I went for a drink at a particularly classy establishment... and by "classy," I mean "questionable smelling," and by "establishment," I mean "closet with 60 people in it."

When we walked back by the venue, Josh was signing stuff and talking to fans. We stuck around to chat with him. I'm not going to say I wasn't nervous, because I sort of was, but I wasn't intimidated. He was just genuinely happy that people cared enough to hang out and talk to him about music and life and everything else.

We chatted about the show and random things (Erin: How are you sooo humble?), and I ended up giving him a dog tag from an on-going project by a Providence artist. It had occurred to me a while ago that its engraved quotation just seemed really in tune with his music and maybe some of the philosophy behind it. Apparently, my intuition was correct--he loved it. Really. "Oh man, I wish I wrote that line!" he said. He was so appreciative, and at the risk of using a bland word, he was nice. He was really, truly nice.

Even if he hadn't taken the time to talk to us, I would still buy his music and go to his shows, but the fact that he did simply reinforced why I dig him, his music, and why I would do something like give him that one particular token...

"in the smallness of this world/ in the smallness of this world/ in the small small smallness of this world."

04 October 2007

"STOP. Just stop. Next time, I'm silencing you at the fifth syllable."


Having just talked about The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I felt compelled to post this. An artist lived in the Providence Place Mall undetected for four years. That's 36 different kinds of amazing. Make sure to go to his website and look at his statement--it's pure gold. And judging from an article or two that I've seen, it sounds like the police weren't even mad... sounds like they were actually subtly impressed. I mean, who wouldn't be a little amused?

Fantastico.


Edit: by the by, this link was provided by Rob. I would give you his blog address, but he doesn't actually post. What a little bitch.

24 September 2007

"The Dude abides."

This weekend was spent doing what I actually enjoy doing: hanging out with friends, reading, enjoying some quality visual media, feeling ok about the state of cleanliness the house was in, and generally relaxing. I'll try not to dwell on the mysterious assmonkey who called my house at 8am on Saturday and 9am on Sunday (I'm assuming it was the same person.) But if I ever find out who it was...

Moving on.

Emily (One Eye/ Un Occhio) and (Ro)Berto came down on Saturday for the first time in forever... that is to say, ever, pretty much. We swung on swings at a children's playground and tried not to look sketchy about it. Indulged in Johnny Rockets shakes. Had some good coffee. Wandered around the East Side and generally, just caught up with each other. It's been months since I'd seen either of them. Next time, we shall go to the zoo. And I am serious.

Saturday night, I watched The Big Lebowski with my bro, which I'd just purchased on DVD for $10. I saw it once a couple years ago and remembered that it was sort of funny, but couldn't recall why. Watching it again on Saturday night, I loved it. I love when movies and whatnot turn out so much funnier the second time around. And the movie's weird, of course, but it's hilarious. Jeff Bridges is awesome (and a great photographer and artist.) My brother's feelings towards the movie, however, cooled upon second viewing. Interesting.

Sunday was a bit different. Just some grocery shopping and "Arrested Development." I also started Steinbeck's East of Eden which dragged for the first few chapters, but reading it during lunch today, it switched gears completely. I'm tempted to read it here at work since I catch my boss frequently reading a novel... but then again, she is the boss.

This weekend, I also became engulfed, for the second time, in Flight of the Conchords. They're a New Zealand musical comedy duo with a show on HBO of the same name. If you look for them on youtube, a delightful cross-section of comical music videos will pop up, like "Think About It, Think Think About It" and "The Hiphopopotamus vs. The Rhymenoceros." But the one I'm posting doesn't have any of their music, specifically--rather, it's Bret ("the cute one"), doing "The Angry Dance" from the season 1 finale. Not to over-sell it, but the first time I saw this, I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face. Hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.

16 September 2007

Contention within.

I saw 3:10 to Yuma yesterday- the remake, that is. It's good. In the truest sense of the word, it is good. Though a little slow at times, it's an interesting step towards the revitalization of the genre and there are some spectacular performances.

I'm especially amazed by Ben Foster. He was absolutely terrifying, in the way a cornered wild animal is terrifying. He plays a desperate, compulsive gunman driven by loyalty- and conversely- an absolute lack of conscience. His mindset is not one of coherent reason, but of swift and damning action. His on-paper one-dimensional character comes across as multifaceted on screen. He is a kamikaze Old West rockstar with six-shooters (sporting the best threads of any of the characters.)

After seeing Foster play a few bad guys as of late, I realized that his rather closely-spaced eyes lend themselves to a subconsciously "predatory" look. But while watching his interview on Charlie Rose, there is nothing "villainous" about him at all- he's timid- almost melancholy. It sounds obvious, but if you see the movie and then the interview, there is practically no semblance of the man in the character or vice versa. The change is extraordinary. Keep in mind, he didn't undergo any sort of huge physical change for the role (he has a beard... big deal.) He just has an incredibly expressive face and is a richly talented and compelling actor unafraid of a challenge.

With this movie, Russel Crowe is back on my good list. He seemed to relish playing his character and ran with it- a charming and deceitful outlaw, who chooses between killing men or breaking them. He's so good, it's almost hard NOT to root for him, though he's obviously a bad man (albeit a complex one.) Christian Bale never left my good list and gave a solid performance as a desperate, down-on-his-luck everyman.

The relatively straightforward plot of 3:10 to Yuma is given substantial depth by a rounded cast and dynamic but classic direction. It will be interesting to see how The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood, and my pick, No Country for Old Men all compare to this, both in terms of quality and of bringing something new to the classic but somewhat passé genre of Western. The bar has been set.

13 September 2007

Pardon?

I like Benjamin Biolay. I really do. He's a phenomenal producer, a great musician, and he's married to an offspring of Marcello Mastroianni. He blends genres seamlessly and while his voice isn't super-powerful, it has a distinct, sexy sound and he rocks it. I have three of his albums, plan on getting the latest when it comes out here, and always spread l'amour de Benjamin où je peux.

Mais... these days he's looking a bit... rough. A far cry from the pouty prince of French pop of 5 years past (see photo.)

Alors, all shallowness aside, I love the new single. I'm glad he steered away from the acoustic bossa nova French 60's whispery duet thing. Thaaaat made me want to vom. The video for this latest song, however, makes very little sense to me. If you take into account that it's so French it could start chain-smoking and eating odoriferous cheese at any moment, it makes slightly more sense... mais, toute la même... je suis perdu. Also, bear in mind the title of the song means "Let the Dogs Bark." Quoi?

Benjamin Biolay - Laisse Aboyer les Chiens

09 September 2007

All roads lead to...

I've had time to think. Whether on the train or during downtime at work, my mind's been going nonstop, more frantically than before. I've pretty much given up TV and while the future of that abstinence is uncertain, lately, I've been reading a lot, writing a lot, drawing a bit, and thinking a ton about Italia.

I've been chipping away at The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the Rivalry That Transformed Rome during my commute and lunch breaks. I've always been a fan of Bernini, but I've come to appreciate Borromini more, even though he was apparently quite a chore. So far, it's been a very even-handed and interesting look into the lives of two very different, but very talented men- both involved in the some of the most amazing projects of the era.

Reading about some of Bernini's works especially, I thought to myself "what? I didn't see that- I have to go back!" I don't remember seeing Truth Unveiled By Time, though it was in Galleria Borghese, which we visited. And while I'm kicking myself for that, David was by far the numero uno piece piece of art I ever wanted to see. Visiting it was something of a religious experience. I left Helen's side to see Dave, before she mangled my perfect idea of him with her subjective spiel... "whatever." The only other person in the room was Ryan- we nodded at each other in silent understanding. Being in the presence of something so much larger than yourself, figuratively speaking. The Colosseum yells over you with its might... Bernini silences you.

Second to that piece is Bernini's sculpture of Constantine, which I saw... from a distance. A pretty great distance. About 200 feet. Thanks, Vatican. And I had no idea that Bernini designed the fountain at the base of The Spanish Steps... the very same fountain Helen practically dove into for a drink. No cup required. Practically half of the public art in Rome was sculpted, designed, or overseen by Bernini. Apparently, he was quite busy. (No TV.)

I got my first paycheck this past Friday, marking the first step towards Italia. The Amalgamation is about seven months away- once it hits 6, I'll flip. Anyway, I'm looking to take off maybe 10 days of work for it. One of the days is accounted for (yeah Boston and Patriot's Day!), so maybe I'll stretch it a little longer. If this past week has been any sort of accurate depiction of the rest of the year, they should be able to get along fine without me. Work study students are the best resource ever.

I traveled a lot with Rachel while in Europe (we hit Milan, Ireland, Tuscan countryside, Cinque Terre, and Switzerland), and we know that we can live and travel together, so it made sense that we team up for the Amalgamation. (Question: why does the creepy Funny Farm mascot wear a vest? Is he McLovin?) Rach is excited for it, writing in her most recent e-mail, "When I think about the wedding, I want to shout 'gheluueewoooooh!' from the top my apartment!" Since there are so many possible countries/cities to travel to, I figured we should both write separate lists of cities we're dying to visit- then, we see where we overlap. If we don't, then we could visit both of our top choices. She just sent me her informal choices: Prague, Sweden and/or Denmark. I've thought about Prague, but Barcelona is sticking in my mind like delicious sticks to gelato. Eryn has said that it's one of her favorite cities, and Samantha Brown (my second favorite travel show host (behind Ian of "Globe Trekker")), has said that it's her favorite city in the world. (I just googled her and she now has a new "Passport to Latin America..." nice!)

At the moment, I'm leaning towards Barcelona, Berlin, someplace in Greece, Amsterdam or Corsica. I'll probably have to limit myself to Florence and one or two other cities, so as to not become insane, broke, and exhausted. In any case, this trip is going to be expensive, but I hope to plan it as efficiently, reasonably, and comfortably as possible. While Sweden is tempting, I wouldn't mind going someplace that wasn't freezing. I'm guessing that late April is pretty mild in most of Europe, but I don't want to have to bring a big coat. I'm in a very Mediterranean mood. Who knows? There's still seven months, right? And FYI, I'm open to suggestions.

Monza, the Italian Grand Prix (Ferrari's home race) was today. Unfortunately, Ferrari only placed third. But it reminded me that it three years ago when I contemplated skipping SACI orientation to go to Milano for the race. Yes- it was almost exactly three years ago that I arrived in Florence- jet lagged, completely dehydrated, and stuck with a sketchy guy roommate and a migraine. That was probably the worst day of my life. And yet, there was nowhere to go but up.

Oh, Italia. You are a life lesson wrapped in sass and spaghetti.

30 August 2007

Playing catch-up.

My new job started this past Monday. I can tell that commuting over such a distance has its good days and bad days. As of yet, there have mostly been bad days. There are a lot of variables that weasel their way into an otherwise normal, lengthy commute and just turn it to crap. As I learn and can handle more at my job, it'll reduce the stress factor somewhat, but that commute just kills me. So far, however, everyone's nice at the new travajo, which is encouraging.

In my life that is not related to work (which was hastily reduced to pretty much nothing), I got two pretty good seats (middle of the 7th row, orchestra center), for Josh Ritter in October. I'm very excited. I've heard/seen some of his live recordings and they're amazing. His voice is just as wonderful live as it is in studio... and he smiles and rambles when he sings, which may be my favorite thing about him... apart from the awesome lyrics and our similar geographic history.

To sum up this rather brief posting, I shall quote the great contemporary poet, Megan Collins.

I'm so beat. Like someone picked me up cause they thought I was a tennis ball and just chucked me against a garage door for 4 hours singing Hanson songs.

As true today as it was when it was written...

23 August 2007

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter's The Animal Years was released last year to critical acclaim, and rightfully so. The songs are a gorgeous cross-section of styles and themes: from the poignant "Girl in the War," to the run-away train of a song "Lillian, Egypt," to the sweet and satisfying "Good Man." Just a short year later, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter is a vibrant continuation of his increasingly exceptional body of work.

Even from the opening song, "To The Dogs or Whoever," Ritter effortlessly works a thematic dichotomy involving love and... everything else. It's a kaleidoscope of a song– a loose and playful ode to a lover, juxtaposed with passing philosophical mentions of generals and Jesus, water and war– all set to a foot-stomping beat, chugging along on its own accord. As if to remind the listener how seriously they should take this song however, he belts out, "lemonade on your breath, sun in your hair–did I mention how I love you in your underwear?"

The album quickly takes a dark turn into "Mind's Eye," a surprisingly aggressive track with tight, sharp vocals riddled with just the right amount of spite: "my day might be comin', yours is comin' first..." It's followed by "Right Moves," a groovy, upbeat love song with playful intentions and a danceable beat. Other highlights include the gutsy and in-all-ways-rocking "Rumors" and "Wait For Love (You Know You Will)"– a beautifully sloppy song with colorful, twangy vocals and production so warm it could have been recorded on a front porch in Austin. The album keeps a brisk pace with enough quiet moments to catch your breath (with the delicate song about love and nuclear war, "The Temptation of Adam" and the sentimental "Still Beating.") Throughout the album, piano and horns add an appealing texture to a solid acoustic base. The production varies appropriately from track to track, but remains cohesive– breathing just enough heat into each song to create a perfect album for late summer. Thunderous and lusty, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter blithely rides the line between out-right levity and late-night rumination.

Josh Ritter is the cream of the crop of this generation–his music is smart and dense and beautiful–riddled with history, metaphor, mystery, winks of the eye and nods of the head. He's frequently gets the flattering comparisons to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash–but Ritter is very much his own man, with a body of work worthy of the aspirations of his peers. Richly complex, his songs are swaddled in tradition without ignoring the immediacy of now. In Josh Ritter, American songwriting has found its balance and its hero–with his head in the present and his heart in the past.

22 August 2007

An Andy Rooney moment

The fleur-de-lis is a decorative royal symbol of France, Quebec and even part of Switzerland. Also, a variety of the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of Florence. AND it's the symbol of New Orleans. And speaking of the Big Easy, the fleur-de-lis is also the symbol which graces my favorite coffee cup, which Rachel made me a couple years ago.

I went to the mall with my mom today, looking for clothes... and trouble... but mostly clothes. And everywhere we went, there was a plethora of fleur-de-lis. It is truly "le symbole du moment." We went to a craft store yesterday (just furthering my nerdom), and everywhere we looked there were stencils and iron-on's and bedazzling pattern kits for fleur-de-lis- yes- it has trickled down to the backwardly-chic Bedazzlers of America.

But what gives? Who started this trend? I feel like I should write a letter... but... to whooom? There have got to be some French watching MTV right now saying, "quoi?" And in Italia, SGM tilts his head and sighs in all-too-familiar disappointment, for he knows his city's wonderful symbol has been used on something that has undoubtedly been worn by Lindsay Lohan between arrests.

Or, it could just be like everyone wearing "I <3 NYC" shirts. Except, everyone knows what NYC is... does everyone know what a fleur-de-lis is? But, I could just be overreacting since I've been working on a fleur-de-lis print and am now pissed that the mass consciousness is saturated with this symbol enough and has lost all meaning.

Next time your out at your local "centre commercial," take a look around and try not to furrow your brow at the numerous abuses against our beloved Firenze... and France, too, I suppose.