28 March 2008

Anatomy of a Mix: Part Due

Continuing with music that means something to me, I've got another segment of music for you. Today, I've got two "feel good" tracks and one brutal piece of bitter brilliance.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Beautiful Sorta
When I say L-U-V, you better believe me L-U-V!
Ryan Adams is very good at being a sad bastard - he even had a solo acoustic tour by the same name. So, it's all the more rare when he does a song where you actually feel really good after listening to it - "Beautiful Sorta" is one of them. It's one of my favorite tracks from Cold Roses - what might be my favorite album of all time - it's at least my favorite RA album. (Perhaps also noteworthy: it's also the first album I ever got on vinyl.)

It's hard to say why I like this song so much. It feels like it was thrown together in a few blissful and reckless minutes and instantly became a gem for future generations. One day, I'll drag my kids over to the record player and say, "this is where Ryan Adams peaked! You hear the free-wheeling guitar? That's how music is supposed to sound!" It's a great jam that makes me think of summer, and being young and stupid.

Rufus Wainwright - Dinner at Eight
Then I know it had to be long ago / Actually in the drifting white snow / You loved me
Martha Wainwright has "Bloody Motherfucking Asshole" as her therapeutic song about her father and apparent douchebag, musician Loudon Wainwright. "Dinner at Eight" is Rufus's. While "BMFA" reflects a whole lot of anger and confusion, Rufus's is a simple and sad lament of something lost. Just like his sister's, his voice is something of an acquired taste, but this song brings out so much of its strength and character, it borders on perfection. I admit - I sing along with this song with little to no abandon. It's a great song to which you can sip red wine and reflect on life and love and loss.

The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane
Ya know, those were different times / All the poets they studied rules of verse / And those ladies, they rolled their eyes

I fell in love with The Velvet Underground in the summer, and this song is a sunny afternoon in the car with the windows down. Lou Reed tells it like it is... only so much better. He sounds tough, but he's just singing about life and love like nobody else can - so informal and casual (I love the "huh!" and clap), but he rallies so much passion. "But anyone who ever had a heart / They wouldn't turn around and break it..." Makes me wish I was in NYC in the 1960's... but without the heroin. And the Warhol.

27 March 2008

At least I won't have to worry about scurvy.

I fell head-first into a cold sometime around Tuesday afternoon. A rogue train collision further down the Providence line stopped my commute home Tuesday evening, dragging out into Tuesday night. I got home over four hours after I'd left work. Uncool, MBTA. Uncool. I took yesterday and today off in spite of my dwindling sick time, because man... I'm sick. I've been zincing it up and vitamin Cing it up, so let's just assume that I'm on the mend...

So that's where I stand now... or sit, rather, because I'm stuffy and easily confused by a change in perspective.

But in other news, I got a dress for the Big A, finalemente. It's a sassy little number, but it could never out-sass the bride.

I also finally saw No Country for Old Men. Oh boy. It's beautifully shot and very well-acted -- Javier Bardem may have gotten the little golden statue (and for good reason - he is creeptastic), but Josh Brolin was a treat. Very real, very subtle and very capable. I'm still sifting through, trying to decide whether I liked it or not. I did like it, but not in the traditional sense. I will say this: it's a movie that doesn't care whether you like it or not - it has its own agenda.

I also watched Michael Clayton, which I had bought on DVD in good faith. It was good - pretty much everything I thought it would be, so I'm not sure why I walked away slightly disappointed. It's a good legal thriller/drama, I just need to remember that I don't really like legal thrillers/dramas.

Musically speaking, Andrew Bird has a blog on the NY Times website. It's mostly about his song-writing, as he's prepping for a new album (editor's note: sweetness!) He's got an interesting approach to writing, song-writing, what have you... I feel like if you could just tip him to one side that cuckoo clocks, a broken banjo, antique medicine bottles, a child-sized bow and arrow set circa 1910, a bushel of apples, a set of "collectible" ceramic angels, and various gears and springs would just tumble out of his head. A patch-work quilt kind of man.

In other news, Ryan Adams (who is now maybe going by his full name of David Ryan Adams...?) continues to be absolutely insane and is now proving it to the masses on a daily basis via blog. Maybe I should read up on it now while my mind struggles with the concept of opening my generic ibuprofen bottle... it might make more sense that way.

25 March 2008

I get by.

A while ago I was talking with Mama B... about this and that. Then the topic of Little Erin came up and I said (like you do when you're talking about Little Erin), "she's just so cute..." And my mom replied, "she is cute... actually, all of your friends are really cute. You have really lovely friends."

And it hit me (as it sometimes does), that I do. I have great friends. They're fun and smart and cultured and weird - and I know that, while diverse in interests and backgrounds, if they all got together, they'd all get along really well. They're people that I want to know for the rest of my life - and you can't say that about many people. I want to be able to call up PL when I'm 73 and pop over to her house (villa?) and make supremely awesome cookies. Then we'd get mildly annoyed but end up laughing when we realize that A-Town drank all the milk. "Oh, A-Town - you and your Mukki!

Or I could give One Eye and Berto a ring and say, "Coffee?" And they'd both say, "meh..." And then I'd say "Whiskey?" And they'd both say, "Heck yes." (Who could say no?)

Or give Rachel two day's notice and say, "you wanna retrace our Irish steps?" And she would pull the deer-in-headlights face and hold up an already-packed bag.

I could go on...

But this is why teleportation not only has to be invented within the next 30 years, but also become available for personal use. Or else, we can all just move to a giant commune. Take your pick, people - it's one or the other!

But anyway. Good people. I know good people.

Erin and Emily with Erich
Pirate Eye is contagious.

One of my favorite photos of anyone. Ever.

Rachel & Mika

Courtney & Emily
"Would you like to share my beard?"
(P.S. I wish I had the Maura mugshot.)

A-Town and Eryn
I'm a twin of both of these people... and they're getting married... is that weird?

In a whaling ship. Obviously.

Eryn, me, & Rachel
Oh, sweet Helen of SACI, I love this picture.

P-Funk, Emily and Abby get in a scuffle.
Showing that even the best of friends can have disagreements.

21 March 2008

The Anatomy of a Mix: Part I

A while ago, I was driving around with Mama B, listening to whatever mix CD was in the player, and she just busts out with "you know - you've always had a very musical memory. I remember when I had to bring you in for an interview before you started kindergarten and when Mrs. Marcott asked if there was something special she should know about you, I told her, 'well, Alec has a musical memory.' And she said that was very surprising, especially for someone your age. And I said, 'well... yeah!'"

Oh, mom. Tragically, I have no musical talent, but could sooner function without music than I could sans air... well, maybe not air - but, as Nietzsche said, "without music, life would be a mistake."

You tell 'em, Fred.

I'll [temporarily] post a few songs that somehow changed me or what I thought about music... you know - songs that have that little bit something extra. It's like an iTunes celebrity playlist... but without the pesky celebrity.

Josh Ritter - Best for the Best | Now I listen to my sweetheart, and I listen to my thirst / I don't spend time listening to other people's words / Sometimes they're right, most times the reverse / They say the best is for the best when the best's for the worse

In the introduction to the only live version of this song that I've heard, JR says, "this song is dedicated to Mark Twain, who said 'loyalty to your country always, loyalty to your government when it deserves it.'" It gives more context to the song, but I still feel the same about it - it still feels remarkably personal.

After seeing JR live last December at the tiny Songs For A Friend show, I got on the train and while it still sitting in South Station, I turned on my iPod and this song came up; inexplicably, tears started to roll down my cheeks - not out of sadness, but something else. He hadn't sung the song at the show, but for some reason, its beautiful simplicity just struck me all the more.

JR's music as a whole, means a lot to me - sometimes I have trouble wrapping my head around it it's just so... good. But this particular song means something more... it reaches down so far you can almost feel it. I could go on and on about this song, but there's an undefinable quality to it that is probably best left alone. But bottom line is that I find it to be extraordinarily comforting - listen to it on a set of good headphones in a quiet room and maybe you'll see what I mean.

Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone | When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose / You're invisible now - you got no secrets to conceal

I can't say that I'm crazy about Bob, though he's been steadily growing on me the past few years. This song, however, is just so chock full of everything a good folk song should be - cross that - everything a good song should be - that you can't deny its excellence.

This song is just Bob. Bob freaking Dylan, man. And he's telling you that you screwed up - you did. Big time, too. And he's asking - demanding of you - how does it feel? But maybe there's something in that fall from grace... maybe you've got something going for you - something that you never had before.

I usually turn this song on when I'm cooking or doing something menial that I want to forget joyously. I open the windows, turn it up, and sing the whole time.

M. Ward - To Go Home | God, it's great to be alive / Takes the skin right off my hide / To think I'll have to give it all up someday

M. Ward's got that crazy voice... that crazy 12-packs-a-day voice that never bottoms out and never gets louder than it needs to... unlike Daniel Johnston, the writer of this song.

But it just goes to show - take a good song, give it to M. Ward and he'll make it great. He did it with Alejandro Escovedo's "Way It Goes," and he did it here. The musical arrangement behind this track is so joyous and so lusty and powerful, it barely hangs on to itself. It's a song of contradictions, but it's carefully balanced. And like a carousel that keeps going faster and faster, it's jarring, but exciting... and you're sad when it's over.

A little tornado

This past Tuesday was chock full of major music releases, several of which I was looking forward to. Through legit, unnamed sources, I got the She & Him album a couple weeks ago, but haven't actually gotten around to it that much because I was too busy with the Doves Some Cities, The National's The Boxer, and the recently released in the US In The Dark: Live at Vicar Street album/DVD... I mean, it's JR. In Dublin. Singing "Best for the Best." What's a girl supposed to do? I even had to remove the intro to "Kathleen" from my "Current Tracks" iPod playlist because it makes me laugh... out loud... regardless of location or social situation.

But I digress.

I iTunes'd it up and bought The Kills' Midnight Boom a day before getting Devotchka's A Mad and Faithful Telling... which I sort of regret, because now I can't stop listening to The Kills. It's just so good! The lyrics aren't exactly amazing - mostly nonsensical or neo-neo-punk-based - but the entire album is catchy and simple, different and new, sleek and electronic... but not without some good ol' fashioned riffs and roaring guitar.

They just released (free on iTunes for the week) "Cheap and Cheerful" as the second single. Upon first listen, I really didn't like it, but it has since grown on me (still working on liking the video, however...) As for the rest of the album, the only song I can definitely live without is "Alphabet Pony" (we get it... "easy alphabet pony..." alright already.) But "Hook and Line," "Tape Song," "Last Day of Magic," and the tragically short but nonetheless awesome "M.E.X.I.C.O.C.U." are great examples of The Kills being... The Kills... still loud and proud, just a more evolved version of themselves. Bravo to them.

I wish that I could catch their Boston show at the end of April, but I will be in Spain at the time, eating tapas and drinking something surely delicious and intoxicating. Next time aound.

The Kills - Last Day of Magic

17 March 2008

Where the green is optional but the beer mandatory, AKA good craic.

This weekend was spent as St Patrick's weekend should be spent (should the opportunity arise): in Boston with friends. Saturday afternoon, I zipped into Bostonia on the Amtrak (I couldn't bear to take the commuter rail on a day off), met up with Rob for a coffee at Diesel in Davis Square... though it would be wrong to call it simply "a coffee." It's called the Accelerator - essentially a caffe latte with the perfect amount of vanilla and almond, creating a flavor similar to that of toasted marshmallows. It would also be an injustice to call it anything less than "hot magic" (a term I usually reserve strictly for PL.)

Anyway, Rob and I parted ways, and I caught up with Emily (One Eye), my favorite drinking buddy (my newest nickname for her is "the walking id.") We snagged a dinner of fried appetizers at a nice neighborhood place just a few blocks away from her apartment. We hadn't even finished our RI-Style calamari when Little Erin gave a ring and we agreed to meet at Bukowki's Tavern, a mellow beer-centric bar, perfect for practical scenesters who prefer their beverages with their normal coloration, even on the most emerald of holidays. One Eye and I beat Erin and Erich (her bf), to Bukowski's, so we took our time ordering. I got a beer - and actually enjoyed it - but stuck with Belgian whites, since it's strong hops that make me cringe as though I'm about to receive a smack in the face from Charlie Mopps himself.

Erin and Erich arrived and we caught up on the subject of... everything. I hadn't seen Erin since the JR show back in October, so there was definitely some catching up to be done. There's that moment of "AHHH!HOWAREYOU??" followed by "so... what do we talk about?" but that hiccup is drowned out by fart jokes and physical comedy...

It's almost as though no time has passed.

I'm lucky in that while I have sort of distinctive "clusters" of friends (college friends/SACI friends) - they're very open. Though Emily had only met Erin once, they clicked. I love when that happens - though, it helps to know fantastically awesome people. Erich is also quite chill. He and Erin share similar musical tastes - along the lines of my own, but more broad and probably more chic. But it's great to compare notes and walk away with some musical tips in your change pocket (I knew that pocket had to be good for something.)

They called it a night rather early, so Emily and I took off for Central Square. We went to the Asgard. It was alright - nothing to write home about. Definitely a different atmosphere than the bubble of Bukowski's, so that was a little jarring. We one drink, one of us mentioned Bagel Bites, and in our infinite buzzed wisdom, immediately needed them, so we headed out. It should be noted that Emily earned her nickname of "One Eye" for more than one reason. She wore her aesthetic eye patch on the walk back to her apartment, and said walk took way longer than it should have, because I was half-collapsed in laughter the entire time. We eventually got back, inhaled nuclear Bagel Bites, and went to bed.

The next morning, we went out with Rob and Emily's roommate Christine for breakfast in Davis Square at a place called Johnny D's. There was a bit of a wait, but the jazz brunch was quality, even keeping in mind that we were all so hungry, we briefly contemplated divvying up the bottle of table ketchup while waiting. Post-brunch Emily and Christine headed off to the parade and I kept my streak going of never actually making it to the parade by going back to -suprise! - Diesel with Rob. I think the thing about Diesel is that their coffee is never bitter - it's pure espresso, but it never has that burnt taste. Maybe it's their blend or their ratio... whatever it is, it's freaking magic and I want it always and forever. And ever and ever.

And now it's time for "How I Met Your Mother," so I must say goodbye and adieu... and Happy St Patrick's Day.

11 March 2008

You can't call me "Al."

As a girl bearing what is pretty much universally recognized as a masculine name (despite whatever my dad attests to), I've dealt with some crap. Not necessarily as much as, say, a boy named "Sue" would run into, but a decent helping. Such as being stuck with male roommates in college - on two separate occasions. Not being on the list for girls' gym class - every year - and having to walk down to the main office to get the bureaucracy straightened out so that the lumbering symbol of irony - the overweight gym teacher - didn't have to. Inevitably, I'd end up getting stuck in something lame like badminton - before it was actually fun to play badminton (see: college). Being called every form of "Alexandra," as well as "Alice" and "Allie" (oh, how I hate "Allie"), though that is a pretty much a universal gripe for everyone with the name "Alec." I just happen to have the double whammy of a relatively uncommon name in combination with it being a masculine name.

So catching this article in the NY Times today was something of a relief - though the article focuses on the other side of the gender equation - guys with women's names. I've asked my parents many - MANY - times why they chose "Alec," and never really got a straight answer. My dad says it's partially because he knew "more than one" female Alec who was apparently kickass enough to name spawn after. I find this story to be rather dubious. My mom has said, "I wanted to name you 'Obi Wan Kenobi' but dad shot me down, so we went with 'Alec'... as in 'Alec Guinness.'" I am actually less skeptical about this story than I am the one concerning female Alecs roaming the southern New England area in the 70's.

What I've noticed over the years, perhaps surprisingly, is that guys are more likely to say my name properly on the first try, and to spell it correctly, as well. They rack up even more awesome points if they say something like "cool" after hearing my name (which happened just last week - thanks, Borders bookstore guy.) With women, I usually have the following conversation...

Random lady: Ok, what's your name?
Alec: It's Alec... A-L-E-C.
RL: Alex?
A: No - Alec. A-L-E-C.
RL: A-L-E-X?
A: With a "C."
RL: A-L-E-C-K?

I can't tell you how many times that exchange has taken place. Where did the "K" come from? Throwing it in for some flavor? It's not like it's an Eastern European name with Cyrillic characters or has silent letters just sitting, waiting to screw you up. It's four letters. It's the name of not only of classically trained, tragically deceased actor Sir Guinness, but of the best Baldwin, as well.

The best Baldwin!

The name has brought me some good luck - if the woman in housing at SACI hadn't stuck me with that random guy (oh, Soheil), I would have never ended up at the Buf, and probably wouldn't have made friends with Alex and Eryn and definitely wouldn't have made friends with Rachel since we didn't share any classes... it's weird to think how much would be different in my life if I was an "Emily" or a "Sara." I believe that everyone is shaped by their name, certainly - but mine has practically run my life at points - for better or for worse.

I have met a guy Alec before. He had a bit of an existential/gender crisis upon meeting me, but I'm sure he's fine since I explained that, no, his name is not a girl's name; my name is the boy's name. I've always wondered what would happen if I met another female Alec... we could swap stories and demented versions of our name... but then, having this name is sort of my thing. I kind of hate it... but it's mine...

There can only be one Highlander.

08 March 2008

Music IS my aeroplane!

If I were to try to describe how I've felt today, I really could just point out the window at the rainy and all-encompassing gray. That would pretty much sum it up.

But, like always, my music is there for me. I'd been teetering on buying Dove's Some Cities since it's release... in 2005. I bit the bullet a couple weeks ago and have slapped my forehead numerous times, wondering why - oh why - hadn't I bought it sooner, rather than merely surviving on the several singles I had? I've been a fan of Doves for years (though apparently not enough to buy what is arguably their best album to date), as they're the artist behind one of my favorite songs of all time: "Pounding." They blend electronic elements with a solid rock base. Some Cities is cohesive but not homogeneous. The title track immediately hooks you with a beat that compels your head to bounce from side to side. The rest of the album is really great, as well. Doves do the English rock thing with a bit of fire and light inside, which keeps it exciting and prevents it from becoming waterlogged and overly-moody - symptoms from which many English bands tragically suffer.

And due to a case of mistaken identity, I ended up falling for The National. A week or so ago I was talking to Rob about Arcade Fire and "what is the freaking big deal with them?" I had thought The National was under that same heading of Over-Appreciated, Mediocre Bands along with The Shins (who aren't terrible) and Sufjan Stevens (who is pretty terrible). I checked The National out on iTunes to see if I was right and I was, happily, not. I was covered in SHAME. And then musical goodness.

Upon first listening, there's a little bit of Interpol in there (specifically, "Mistaken For Strangers")... but then, it's gone. I bought one song from Boxer... and then another... and then completed the album. Anytime you have some sort of epiphany during the second listening of a song, you should probably just roll with it. That song was "Fake Empires." The piano and marching beat carries you away to a better euphonic place, and the lead singer's smooth but expressive baritone pulls you in - hard.

The serendipitous similarity between Doves and The National that I just now realized is that they both have songs that sort of put a metaphorical warm hand on your shoulder. A nice feeling for a rainy day.

Doves - Some Cities (Rich Costey's Remix)
The National - Fake Empires

04 March 2008

Rhapsody in (grayish) blue.

This morning was ridiculously nice; it was sunny and breezy and over 53 degreeees! (I drag out my E's when I am pleasantly surprised.) Oh, sunshine and reasonable temperatures, how I've missed you. The nice weather held out until I got to work (it's now cloudy and threatening rain), and it felt great. I felt great. I got my Vitamin D on... yeah - what up sunshine. I dawdled around Downtown for a while (the train usually gets me into the city with 45 minutes to take a 10 minute T ride) and splurged on an iced caramel macchiato, because it was just one of those mornings. You've got to roll with that good feeling.

Now, normally at das 'bucks, when they ask for my name, I tell them "Alex" because that's what they end up writing anyway... but in a moment of unguarded happiness, I gave the barista my real name to write on the cup - and he got it right! A million awesome points for him. I may hate my name, but I love when people get it right. They are the few. The proud. The people I like for their ability to hear and repeat two particular syllables. (Catchy, right?)

I feel lighter, in spirits and otherwise... which is a nice change from last night when I wanted to body-checked a rude, middle-aged woman who walked into me face-first while I was getting off the T. Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves: when people who want to get ON the T stand directly in doorway, thus preventing the people who want to get OFF the T from actually fulfilling their simple desire, thereby creating what is known in the scientific world as a "clusterfuck." It's like trying to take off your jacket while you're putting on your shirt. I wonder how people like that, who apparently don't know how doors work, haven't offed themselves by heedlessly sticking metal objects in their toasters or juggling blow-driers while they're soaking their feet in the tub, or some other Darwinian death. Those people are the same people who stop the moment they're off the escalator, especially if there are 87 people directly behind them. These people are not my favorite people. I doubt any of them would get my name right.

But I digress.

There is a notable, visceral change that people undergo when the weather improves - people get bolder, more social - which may account for the "ola, senorita" I got waiting for the T this morning. Sketchtastic. You can practically hear "Morning Mood" swelling while walking through the streets - people shake off that drab grayness that has clung to them for the past several months. And I know it's way too early to call it "spring," but it's hard not to look forward to the future - especially when the future has COLOR! And no more ice! Which means no more salt and sand! And none too soon - it looks like a beach exploded in Copley Square.

"Grab your shovels and pails, kids! We're going to Dartmouth Street!"