29 May 2008

Anatomy of a Mix: Bring it down to a simmer

I was going to do just a random assemblage of music, but seeing as how I just had to deal with some intense bureaucratic crap over the phone, I think I'll dedicate this post to chilling out.

Jamie Lidell - Multiply
I'm so tired of repeating myself / Beating myself up / Wanna take a trip and multiply / Least go under with a smile

This came up on my iTunes at just the right time. It's a low-key track, but has enough kick and funk to bring you up. Sing it, you beautifully gawky Englishman.

I would love to see Jamie Lidell in concert next week (I picture him belting out a song while standing on a piano... that's on fire), but I guess none of my Wheaties have sooooooooooooooul, unlike some people and those people's husbands who tell me things like "Jamie Lidell? I'd be there in a hot second." Damn it, Wheaties.

For now, I'll just nod my head along with JL's vocal stylings and toy with/tease myself with thoughts of going to ACL this year.

Josh Rouse - Come Back (Light Therapy)
I miss my serotonin / And my days are goin' nowhere fast

Josh Rouse (my other favorite Josh R), writes lovely and (for the most part), mellow songs... so it was just a matter of sticking my hand into a hat and grabbing one. This track is a little more upbeat and funky (yeah, bass line!) than most other Josh Rouse other songs, but it's still sunny, sweet, and a bit more clever than the average "I miss you" song.

I heard he's off being cool and mellow and mumbly somewhere in Valencia... that lucky so-and-so... Buenath diath, Thignor Routh.

Josh Ritter - Good Man
My hands held on, my mind let go / And back to you my heart went skipping

"Best for the Best" is like laying your head down on the world's softest pillow that smells of beach roses and lets you dream of a field of wriggly puppies. But I've already blogged about that song... and there are other amazing Josh Ritter songs that make me stop and smile, so I'm posting one of those numerous others.

"Good Man" was featured on "House," so it's become something of a hit for JR (relatively speaking.) As far as I'm concerned, he's too amazing for the popular palette. He's the amarena gelato in world of sugar-water ice cubes...

Ok. Getting back to my point... whatever that was... this song - the live version in particular - makes me smile. This past sunny Friday afternoon, strolling solo through downtown Boston, it came up on my iPod, and I found myself smiling out of sheer content... even via recording, that Ritter grin is damn contagious.

25 May 2008

A little bit of feel good DOES go a long way!

Jamie Lidell's been "under the radar" lately... that is to say, he's been ALL over the place lately... relatively speaking. I was skeptical, because in most cases, the artists who pop up like inflatible pool toys due to one song usually spring a leak shortly afterwards and slip back below the surface where they usually belong. So I bought - not without some cynicism - a few tracks off of Jim and Multiply on iTunes. Fastforward a few days later and I've treated myself to the whole Jim album.

So far, so good... and by "good," I mean "really freakin' awesome." I'm smiling just listening to "Green Light" right now. What a way to start the summer. Below is his video for "Another Day" - very Stevie Wonder-esque - but with considerably bizarre visual accompaniment. I partially blame his Britishness. Enjoy.

23 May 2008

Give me a scotch - I'm starving.

I don't care what you think - Iron Man is awesome.

I'd been dying to see it since I caught a glimpse of the trailer several months back and I finally got around to it this past weekend. While my DVD collection is filled with foreign, sincerely serious, and artsy indie flicks to beat the band, I do enjoy a good action flick... especially when it features a jacked man with facial hair... and surprisingly enough, Robert Downey Jr. fits the bill.

In real life, RDJ comes across as something of a gifted and charming shithead (which can tragically be attractive), so it's no surprise that he flips between sarcastic and sincere, spoiled and sympathetic with ease as Tony Stark, the not-so mild mannered alter ego of Iron Man. And I want more - a wish that will apparently be granted in 2010. This is good, because I want to know what happens (P.S. if you see it, stay through the credits.)

RDJ's obviously done some good work in the past - most recently rocking the cravat* in Zodiac, a great suspense flick with a trifecta of awesome male leads (the others being Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo). There are also a few other movies of his that I need to catch up on... A Scanner Darkly, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and Charlie Bartlett (well, he's been busy...) There's also the upcoming Tropic Thunder, which looks pretty hilarious.

So it seems like things are looking up for RDJ. Sobriety has obviously done him a lot of good... unlike someone else I can think of...

* It should be noted that my brother believes that no one can "rock the cravat." I believe he is in the minority.

22 May 2008

Round two: FIGHT!

Oh Valencia... where to begin? Rachel and I left Florence with a heave and a sigh (the heave from our hauling our heavy bags and the sigh out of sentimentality.) The Pisa airport was relatively small, but rather sleek - and much more efficient than Florence or Bologna (P.S. NEVER fly into Bologna.) We got to Valencia sans hitch - it was perfect. The Valencia airport is connected directly (like walk-down-one-flight-of-stairs directly) to the clean and efficient Metro system. Five or six stops later, we were wandering around a glorious plaza made of marble, surrounded by bright Baroque buildings, looking for our hostel. The hostel was nice - very simple, but bright and clean. A shower and sink in the room, along with our own balcony - not bad, eh?

One of my favorite moments from the whole trip actually was rather trying at first. The first evening in Valencia, we went exploring the evening and got lost in the Valencian suburbs. We were both hungry and tired and had low blood sugar (the one common thing that can make us both less than pleasant to be around.) At one point, I notice that Rachel is no longer walking beside me. I turn around to see her asking a handsome, middle-aged man tethered to a wire-haired fox terrier, in broken Spanish, where's a good place for tapas? He was awkwardly charming (he had "professor" written all over him), and his English was a bit better than our Spanish, so we continued our conversation in steady and purposeful Spanglish. His wife came out of the store we were standing in front of, and he explained our situation. They had a good-natured argument about directions and restaurants until the wife motioned for us to go with them. So we followed this adorable couple through the surprisingly busy streets. The missus left on her own errand, so we continued on with the man - pausing while he returned a DVD at a Blockbuster.

We found out that his name was Joaquin and his dog was Terry. And we love him.

After about ten minutes of walking, with a great big smile and a wave, he left us in front of a nice tapas place with great shrimp and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for this wonderful place - this beautiful Valencia - which, only an hour before, made me nauseous after I realized I couldn't understand anything anyone said. We also had our first taste of the Bud Light of Spain: Estrella Damm. Well, maybe it's more like the Spanish Sam Adams, since it's actually potable and rather nice. The food is great - lots of seafood, lots of fried, and yet, somehow, I still lost weight... I love the Spanish.

We did the adventure to the City of the Arts and Sciences. This involved a metro stop and about 48 miles of walking in sunshine, which is nice, unless you're of a certain P&C complexion (peaches and cream, yo). We trekked to the largest aquarium in all of Europe and spent most of the day mooning over over Beluga whales and sea lions. On the way back, the heat and sun caught up with my pale Northerness and I was slapped in the face with a bout of heat stroke and a rather nasty sunburn. While I slept off my nausea, Rach adventured out and found the super scene area of Valencia that was strewn with tapas places, shops and churches (of course.) We spent the next couple of days primarily in that neighborhood, exploring churches, drinking caffe con leche, and eating... there was much eating.

The thing I may love most about daily European life is the market/mercado. Quality fresh food, good prices, and good variety. You're bound to be more adventurous in your cooking and eating if you know where your food came from. There's the occasional farmer's market around here, but if there could be something large-scale and more consistent, my life would be... wondrous.

Strange Things About Valencia

• Wedding shops. EVERYWHERE. We also witnessed evidence of four weddings on one day. Apparently, getting hitched is quite en vogue in V-Town.

• Bull fights. Still big. Like, NASCAR big.

• I saw something with Dr. Phil on it. I don't remember what, because I forced it out as soon as I saw it, but I thought I had escaped his grasp.

• More "Strange Things About Valencia" under "Reasons Why Rachel and I Liked Spain (Valencia in Particular)"

Reasons Why Rachel and I Liked Spain (Valencia in Particular):

• Fatties! Yes - fat people! After Florence - a city of slender Italians in four-inch heels - we found ourselves surrounded by an equal number of beautiful, youthful Spaniards and Spaniards with yoga pants and beer bellies. Human after all!

• Spanish people do it. All the time. How do we know this? Babies. BABIES EVERYWHERE. Baby here, baby there... babies every-fraking-where. Like pietas in Italia, you're bound to see more than your fair share of babies in Espagna. Also, their version of a TV drama involves a comical amount of sex scenes. Hilarious bordering on just plain weird.

• They fucking LOVE chocolate. Not only are there chocolate shops everywhere, but also, after watching a couple of hours of Spanish TV, Rachel and I noticed that out of, say, seven commercials, five of them were for some sort of chocolate-based product; the other two commercials were for weight loss and feminine hygiene products. Take from that what you will.

• Dos cervezas = doth thervethaths. I adore the Valencian lisp - Rachel on the other hand, was not a fan.

• Caffe con leche. Unlike Italians who sneer at you for ordering a cappuccino after noon, the Spanish will whip up a less frothy version for you at any time. Though I missed the pomp and circumstance of a cappuccino, there was something to be said about getting what you wanted exactly when you wanted it. There are shops everywhere. I became very dependent on caffeine during the trip - I'm still trying to wean myself off 3-5 shots of espresso a day.

Anyway, both Rachel and I enjoyed Valencia a lot. While we expected it to be nice, I think we were both still pleasantly surprised. We came to the conclusion that it's a very livable city - there's open space and well-kept parks, nice public transit, and what seemed like stable, relatively diverse economy. It was tourist-friendly, but not "touristy" - an unfortunate bog that Florence has become thoroughly lodged in. The weather was perfect and the city was very clean. Anytime we asked for directions, someone was more than happy to help.

Oh Valencia, if I spoke Spanish, I'd be back to you in a heartbeat with a working visa.

20 May 2008

Anatomy of a Mix, Part Four: Earn Your Sassy Indie Stripes

I had an incredibly brief reunion with the Reginator Thursday that consisted of a T ride and a latte - way too little. That was followed by exact the same thing with Rob on Friday evening, but in reverse order. Now I'm just spinning my wheels with too little to do, occupied only by mild caffeine shakes and Pandora. So I'll throw together a music post. That seems less financially frivolous than ordering accessories for my new espresso maker and a bit more constructive than creating a chain of paper clips or fervently checking icanhascheezburger.com.

Dr. Dog - Heart It Races (Architecture In Helsinki cover)
And we slow to acknowledge the knots in the laces / Heart it races!

I like this song. A lot. (Well, this version of this song.) My time in Europe was one of the longest stints in years that I've gone without being constantly tied to my iPod - I only used it on flights... I usually log four hours every weekday, not counting music constantly playing on my laptop at home or blasting my iBoom on weekends. (P.S. never get one - the sound is crap.)

But the whole time I was in Europe, this song was solidly lodged in the space between my ears. I would absentmindedly start singing one of the verses and the "bod-a-ba-bop!" accompaniment, and apologize to Rachel for subjecting her to that. Her response? "Actually, that was pretty nice." Even sent through the filter of my (extremely limited) singing ability, it was "pretty nice." Go figure.

The song doesn't make much sense, if any. But if this is nonsense, so be it. Dr. Dog's casual and mellow take on this chatty track is well worth a listen under a shady tree with an iced tea or strolling (strutting?) down a sun-speckled street.

Wolf Parade - Call It A Ritual
'Cause you know / They will swing swing their swords for show / While you turn your flower petals so slow

A bit ominous and a little heavy, this song sounds like something primitive and primal - something cult-related - is about to occur. The song picks up and drops off with a certain amount of tumbling and bravado, but lacks the normal wailing dissonance present with most songs fronted by Spencer Krug. He keeps his voice down for most of the song, choosing less over more... and in this case, less is definitely more.

The National - Apartment Song
Be still for a second while I try and try to pin your flowers on / Can you carry my drink I have everything else / I can tie my tie all by myself...

The National sort of wear their hearts on their sleeves - in a very manly way, of course. This song feels so familiar and casual - the first lines alone (quoted above), bring about distinct imagery of a couple who have been together for a long time. Much of The Boxer reflects on "lost youth," or growing up and moving on, and this song is no different. But it's a little more realistic, perhaps, than their other songs concerning the whittling away of time. It's self-reflective and more personal, than say "Mistaken For Strangers," a song concerning similar subject matter, but with a very different (read: sentimental) approach.

The Kills - What New York Used To Be
What music used to be / What luck used to be / What art used to be / What you used to be

When the song kicks off with thumping beats and impatient guitars, starting and restarting like engines, only to morph into a pulsing techno-infused rock song with the tongue-twisting, rapid fire, sexily whispered Coma comma drama come on / Draw it, scratch it, say it, say it... you know it's going to be intense... and good. But what do you expect from a band that makes a music video (for "Last Day of Magic") out of beating the bejesus out of each other (in Barcelona!)?

The Kills reflect a bit of Velvet Underground in what they do and how they do it, so it makes sense that they yearn for a NYC of yesteryear, Warhol et all. Whether or not the song should be taken literally is up to the listener, but surely, the band must feel a little sentimentality for the New York that was a prime influence for them - not just the place, but a specific time. Maybe this time without the massive amounts of heroin, huh?

11 May 2008

Concertapalooza 2008

It's nearly summer, which means concert and festival season is upon us. An embarrassment of riches abounds on the horizon for those with kickin' musical taste. Grab your sunscreen and a $4 bottle of water - here's the run-down of Southern New England shows that I find completely relevant.

Apparently, my cries were heard. While in Valencia, doing a much-needed wash (crispy jeans = overdue laundry), I checked my e-mail and read that Josh Ritter is playing with the Boston Pops. I think I may have made a gleeful noise drowned out only by the noise of a thumping drier. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I did. I jammed a few more coins into the internet-controlling box (yeah, you come up with a name for it) and snagged myself a couple of orchestra seats. June 27th: it's going to be, in the words of Roberto, EPIC.

Devotchka is playing the Paradise on the 18th, but that being a Sunday, I find it hard to drag my ass up to Boston Sunday evening, only to drag it back even later that night, so I can drag it back at ass o'clock the next morning to go to work. Tough call...

The Fratellis are playing the Paradise later - on June 11th, followed by Wolf Parade on August 2nd. The Fratellis would no doubt be a fun time, and a little rockin' dissonance with WP is sure to be memorable... for someone else... because it's already sold out. Boo.

The Newport Folk Festival has a generous handful noteworthy names (Calexico, She & Him [aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward], Jim James, Jakob Dylan, etc.) - unfortunately, the two I'm dying to see (Calexico and She & Him) are playing on different days and tickets are $70 per day... yowsers. And it is the Newport Folk Festival... which translates to a whooole lot of hippies and yuppies... hippies and yuppies with money. I'm not sure I can handle that.

The National is playing June 13th with R.E.M. (aka mad money for tickets). While I'm sure it's a show that's worthy the money, it doesn't necessarily translate to my money. I'm sure they'll swing around again for a club show come fall/winter.

My Morning Jacket and Ryan Adams are playing the Bank o' America Pavilion back to back - September 6th and 7th, respectively. While Ryan puts on a good (and surreal and balls-out insane) show, my faith is a little shaken considering his latest contributions to the musical world. He's on musical probation.

If you're wondering who's playing in your neck of the woods, but don't feel like hitting up different venue websites or ticketmaster (ew), then check out JamBase. Create a basic profile, add your favorite artists and bam - you're done. E-mails are sent within a day or less after shows are announced.

For no other reason than self-indulgence, here's Calexico, doing what they do best.

In other news, Scarlett Johansson released her first single, "Falling Down," from her upcoming album Anywhere I Lay My Head, a collection of Tom Waits covers. I'm not sure whether I wanted to love or hate this, but I'm not a big Waits fan, so it removes "purism" from the issue. She does a decent job with this - the production is rather intrusive, but I think ScarJo's voice is suited for rock - she doesn't have perfect pitch or slick/smooth vocal styling, but her voice does have a smoky brashness that fits the music pretty well. It's growing on me. The video is nothing spectacular (I'm not even sure if it's the official one or not), but... yeah. (Please note the "Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man" for no apparent reason.) Enjoy...?

08 May 2008

"I'm going to a town that has already been burned down..."

Back from Europe and no worse for wear. Better for it, actually. And rather than cram a two week stint into one blog post, I'll divvy it up into city-sized chunks to be digested over a number of days.

Florence: the first - and best - stop. It felt like home. So yes - it was good to be back - but it was even better to see Eryn and Alex after a drought of nearly three years - THREE! That's not to say it wasn't good to see Rachel, but we knew we'd have over two weeks to rekindle our bond... and we sure did.

I think I was able to do everything I'd really wanted to do... I didn't go to a lot of new places (other than restaurants), but I was able to revisit the Florence I knew, which is what I needed. Fiddler's Elbow, Art Bar, the Mercato, SACI, and of course, Sad Gelato Man (best and most-anticipated reunion/picture ever!) Just the first lunch date with Eryn and A-Town would have made that trip worth it. "You're a gum-splitter, too??" It felt so right, so natural... can we have lunches like that once a week, please?


There was a grand dinner at il Latini, where we met all the parental units and plowed our way through probably six or seven glorious courses. It consisted of a nearly-pornographic amount of prosciutto, as well as amazing pasta and meat dishes, and wine for the sipping (swilling?) I don't think I've ever indulged (read: gorged) myself on so much food in my life. The delightful pain of it all, rolling Rachel and myself back to the doors of Hotel Tina!

The wedding - the Big A, as it were - was lovely. The couple looked so beautiful/handsome - so fresh and young... dare I say... "glowing?" Siiigh. The marriage ceremony was short, simple and civil - my type of ceremony. Still, tears flowed like a river of doves from the beard of Zeus. The two of them were so delightfully themselves. Eryn was not a "Bridezilla," in spite of her painful heels, which she wore like a champ, and A-Town cracked jokes and was as much himself as at any other time. Two people who belong together, just getting married alongside friends and family and enjoying the day... joined by the bonds of love. And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords... name that movie! I wanted to quote it the entire day, but I refrained.

The post-wedding dinner - oh the dinner! Served at La Terrazza del Principe on the other side of the Arno, up in the Tuscan hills past Boboli Garden, I had, what was probably the best meal of my life. A-Town and I couldn't get over the eggplant rigatoni... The dish could have been crafted by Michelangelo himself, it was so magnificent. Eryn, you get an extra bazillion awesome points for tracking down that place. Rachel and I parted with our beloved fellow-Bufas on hilltop, rather unceremoniously, but in the words of Helen, "whatever"... I shall see them again. Hopefully, relatively soon. None of this three years crap...

I'll eventually attach more pictures to this post - specifically some from the day of the Big A, when I get my act together.