Saturday, December 30, 2006

another potential blog reader!

My friend Meredith has a blog called "I Want a Pony"...the link's to
the right. Well, she didn't get a pony, but she did get a healthy
daughter at 5:30 today. A hearty cheer and toast to Sydney
Katherine...welcome to the game.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

top ten albums...the penultimate entry

2. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

It's always nice to find out that there is still someone putting out music who, rather than looking for polish and maximum sales ability, would rather put out a great, steaming slab of rawk...and that's why I've fallen in love with The Hold Steady.

(for those not in the know, rawk (as opposed to rock) is distinguished by its utter need for the edge, for the necessity of straddling the line between control and collapse...if you are talking about music where the thrill for the listener is determining not if but when the band will implode, you are verging on rawk territory)

The Hold Steady's music is, quite simply, fun. Every riff makes me want to sell all my posessions save my Telecaster, Les Paul, and Marshall; move to Detroit; and start a band. Every lyric makes me want to flee all responsibility and fall into a life of debauchery, excess, and decline...if, for no other reason, so I can get stories that are half as good as these. Every time I play this disk, I want to follow the band around like some ersatz contemporary version of a deadhead, but since these guys are so obviously a bar band (nay, a magnificent bar band), I'm not sure my liver would hold up.

At first, I had a little difficulty getting past the vocal delivery on this disk. The singer's voice reminds me in timbre of Bruce Springsteen, and that's not really a good thing. But there is an undeniable energy, and part of me will always love albums where all the songs are about getting drunk or high. And this album is clearly not subtle; "Chips Ahoy!," for instance, is about the singer hooking up with a girl who can pick winning race horses...and their response to a win? "He came in six lengths ahead, we spent the whole next week getting high." Again, from "Stuck Between Stations," about a dream girl: "she was a really cool kisser and she wasn't all that strict of a Christian." Again, from "Chill-Out Tent," about two people who meet after OD'ing at a concert: "they started kissing when the nurses took off their IVs; it was kind of sexy but it was kind of creepy."

As I said, good, simple, obscene rawk. Me and the spousal unit were listening to this on the way to a wedding, and I made a crack about how this band was awesome, but they would be dangerous if they ever outgrew the "party/stoner" schtick. Then the song "You can make him like you" came on, and I started really listening to the lyrics...and I came across this one:

You don't have to go to the right kind of schools
let your boyfriend come to the right kind of schools
you can wear his old sweatshirt
you can cover yourself like a bruise

...and that's where it hit me...The Hold Steady had been playing me all along. They have all this rock...excuse me, rawk...ability AND they can do deep, subtle lyrics? I thought, in the words of Agent K, that I had "a pretty good bead on things," but this one lyric is making me do a re-think. Once again, I need to reevaluate everything I think about music, art, and life.

But isn't that what great art is supposed to do?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

top ten albums...part cuatro

3. Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing and a Curse

Since Decoration Day, the Drive-By Truckers have been in my list of bands that could be the best rock band in America. Their last album, The Dirty South, featured crushing rockers by guitarist Mike Cooley and a selection of wide-ranging masterpieces from newer guitarist Jason Isabell. The contributions from Patterson Hood, the main singer, were, however, slightly uneven. For each epic rocker like "Lookout Mountain," there were weaker tracks which sounded forced, like "The Boys from Alabama." Overall, however, there were enough brilliant moments on the disk to still make it a top rock album. one had to wonder, however, if Patterson's talent was beginning to fade.

Then came A Blessing and a Curse...and if this album makes nothing else clear, it is obvious that Patterson Hood is hitting on all cylinders. "Aftermath USA" is just as raucous as ever, while "Goodbye" is as bittersweet as possible. Mike Cooley's songs have also hit a new level of depth, especially the shimmering "Space City." Isabell's songs don't stand out as much, but that might just be because everything else on here is so damn strong.

Overall, the album has the feel of The Replacements slammed together with The Faces. Less political than their previous work, but that might help them better get that mass audience that they so deserve. If you've never heard DBT, they've got a great catalog, and you should dive in immediately. Also, look for solo albums from both Isabell and Hood.

4. Raconteurs - Broken Soldier Boy

I've been a big White Stripes fan for a while, and I'm proud to say that I got into them before the bandwagon really started rolling (right after White Blood Cells, actually). When I found out that White Stripes singer Jack White was putting out a side project, I was filled with a little bit of trepidation. Could he collaborate, or would be be
a control freak? Could he find collaborators who could match up to him? Since he's pretty much the brains behind The White Stripes, what's the point? If the side project was in fact substantially different, would it tame White's rebellious, non-mainstream side (which, after all, is the point of his full-time band)?

Luckily, White found a brilliant collaborator in Brendan Benson, a polished indy pop-rock guru also out of Detroit, and the two of them work together very well. The result, when it works the best (such as in the Benson tune "Together," which has some brilliant, gorgeous Jack White background vocals; ditto with the bluesy "Level"), is a nuanced blend of raw power and experimental polish. This is rocky, loose blues rock with an experimental, non-cliched pop feel that doesn't really sound like anything else out there.

Now I have to really start a Brendan Benson obsession to balance out my White Stripes fandom.

Can I also say that The Raconteurs have the coolest band web site ever?

best line heard during Christmas visitation

from a relative: "For some reason, I've always had an affinity for all things Swedish...I guess that's why I like Abba."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

top ten albums...part III

5. Beatles - Love

Yes, a new Beatles release. These tracks have been remixed, messed with. This is actually the soundtrack to the new Vegas Cirque du Soleil show. So far, everything I've mentioned should work against this, and I should look upon this album as an abomination.

The album is, however, fantastic. There is extensive work on this, but it's done by Beatles producer George Martin, approved by the Harrison & Lennon estates and by McCartney and Starr. All added tracks are from original Beatles sessions. And boy, does this sound good...picture Beatles songwriting brilliance with the sonic adventureness of Wilco and Pink Floyd. The arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" will make you weep.

If you've ever wondered how this band would hold up if they came out now, listen to this. If you're one of those that never really "got" this band, then buy this, as it will most likely make you reevaluate music in the last decade.

6. Incubus - Light Grenades

I am admittedly late to the Incubus bandwagon. When I heard the band name, I thought they must be another noise/rap metal band. I ran across "Megalomania" last year on Fuse, and I liked it, but it took me a while to hunt down the album A Crow Left of the Murder. When I did, I found several really great tracks and several more that did little for me. It was clear the band had potential, but the album was uneven.

I bought Light Grenades when it came out, mostly because one of the big chains had it for only $9.99. The cd remained in my car player for at least a week. I listened to it straight through several times, litened to "Dig" over and over, listened to "Anna Molly" over and over, listened to "Oil and Water" and then "Diamonds and Coal" over and over. This album is very solid, and it has strong songwriting throughout. The mix of heavy and soulful is about perfect.

A friend of mine tells me that while this album is good, Morning View is much better. I can't wait until I can get into that one.

Friday, December 22, 2006

top ten albums...part 2

7. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

My Chemical Romance, for me, was a bit of a revelation when I discovered them last year. With their name, I was expecting generic Cookie-Monster rap metal. Instead, I got intelligent lyrics, well-constructed songs, tight musicianship. This is modern metal with songwriting ability and a wicked sense of humor...after all, how else could you explain song titles like "It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A Deathwish"?

With The Black Parade, the band must've been listening to either Broadway musicals or to Queen's Night at the Opera while on mushrooms. There's definitely increased theatrics here, but while they do take some getting used to, they don't come off as cheesy. The songs are still solid (highlights are the brutal "Dead!," "Teenagers," and "Mama," which, strangely enough, includes guest vocals from one Liza Minelli...seriously!). The only really weak periods are when they try to get overly commercial, which they do in the semi-cheddar "I Don't Love You"...but these are in the minority. I really hope they don't keep going for the commercial, because it's not their strong point, and they are getting a fan base with their regular stuff...and they do rock.

8. Loose Fur - Born Again in the USA

While the self-titled Loose Fur debut was a noisefest (which unfortunately killed some great songs, such as the Wilco outtake "Not for the Seasons," which became a very strange "Laminated Cat"), this one is much more coherent, much more controlled. And the benefit of this is that the songs, as a result, really stand out. The sound is still experimental, but rather than employing the "let's hit something" strategy of its predecessor, Born Again in the USA employs a Zappa-esque creativity with arrangements...albeit from a 3 piece.

Half the songs are from Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, and those are dandies. "Hey Chicken" rocks, while "The Ruling Class" (as played on Tweedy's last midwest solo tour) is a soothing, funny acoustic singalong opportunity waiting to happen...and then there's "Pretty Sparks," which has Tweedy turning in his most soulful singing performance yet. Jim O'Rourke's material can be a bit more introspective (see the moody, somber "Answers to your Questions"), but the man can rock and rollick, as in "An Ecumenical Matter," his lively take on the ten commandments.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I suck less than I thought!

I am online at my house, where, instead of the spiffy high-speed campus connection I have at work, I instead have dial-up. It is pretty good dial-up...dirt cheap, from a cool local non-profit, and pretty fast for a phone line...but from my work computer, this is still dreadfully slow. So, when I'm online, I tend to be here for ages.

I'm in front of the computer now to do my standard daily web stuff and to work on syllabi (I have my boss coming to observe me teach in week 3, so I need to have everything really buttoned up), and I have the MP3s going. A little while ago, I was listening to My Chemical Romance, and I thought I might've heard some new sonic layers I've missed in the past. Then I realized I might want to check my cell phone, because the sound could've been my crappy little ringtone.

Long story short? I got my first interview of the job hunt year. I am, of course, tremendously excited that someone knows I exist and still wants to talk to me. Of course, it's only a phone interview, so I don't want to get my hopes up at this point, but it's a positive sign...and I went so long between positives in my early job search years, so this is nice.

Anyway, back to work. I have two courses to design, a book to review, and an article to write, and I have to get these done by the end of the sorry if I'm not more in-touch.

top ten albums...part one

Welcome to my top ten cds of the year. This is the first of five installments, and the rest should hit by New Year's. I am including links to the artists' web sites, and most of them have samples give them a listen!

9. Aimee Mann - One More Drifter in the Snow

Y'know, I just knew this was going to be a joke or something. When I found out that this was an honestly real release, I figured it would be the most depressign thing in the face of the world. Whenever I hear of artists releasing Christmas albums, I generally make the crack that either they've decided to become purile teeny-boppers, or their career must be over and they're desperate.

This is neither. Aimee Mann is, of course, insanely talented. Mann harkens back to the 50s for feel and inevitably leaves her own quirks...but in a melancholy, not depressive way. I really like this album, and I would've rated it higher...but it is, after all, a Christmas record, and how often are you actually gonna play it in June?

10. Golden Smog - Another Fine Day

Golden Smog is that weird breed...a supergroup of musicians that 90% of the population have never heard of. Out of all their releases, this one is the closest to a pastiche of each member's personalities...and as such, is less a band release, and not tremendously cohesive.

There are some very great things going on here. Ex-Jayhawk Gary Louris' "Listen Joe" and "Think About Yourself" are both gorgeous. Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy only has one track, but "Long Time Ago" (co-sung with Louris) is a doozy, emotional without being sappy. Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy pens some great rockers ("Corvette" and "Hurricane") that will get your heart pumping...but they don't really fit in with Louris' work.

There are a few clunkers. "You Make It Easy" goes on entirely too long, and "Beautiful Mind" is just annoying. This is still, however, better than most other albums released this year...and what would you expect from anything with Gary Louris?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

John McCain Wants To Regulate Blogs

from MetaFilter at

Senator John McCain (R. - AZ) has introduced legislation that would hold blogs responsible for all activity in their comments sections and user profiles. Provisions of the proposed bill include: (1) commercial websites and personal blogs "would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000," (2) bloggers with comment sections may face "even stiffer penalties" than ISPs, and (3) any social-networking site must take "effective measures" to remove any Web page that's "associated" with a sex offender. "Because 'social-networking site' isn't defined, it could encompass far more than just, Friendster and similar sites." The list could include any site that allows comments, authot and personal profiles. Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that this proposal may be based more "on fear or political considerations rather than on the facts." "McCain’s legislation could deal a serious blow to the blogosphere. Lacking resources to police their sites, many individual blogs may have to shut down open discussion."*

My take: I think it's interesting that McCain is justifying limiting freedom of speech in the name of "saving the children." This man is becoming more and more conservative by the day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

a going away gift from me...

I'm gonna avoid this blog and most of my e-mail for a week or so, because my students' writing portfolios are coming in today...which means grading hell will soon commence. As a going-away gift, a memento from my days writing poetry, previously published in the long-defunct Conspire:

an apple: 6 reflections

Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord
Than that it rotie al the remenaunt'
---G. Chauser

you say
"let us observe an apple"

I look closely at the apple
study its imperfect roundness
marvel at its almost luminescent yellow-green hue
contemplate its slowly advancing brown patches

I pronounce it a Golden Delicious

you say
"maybe its very greeness is a slap in the face

I always think of red apples
our apple is green, not red
our apple is not happy just being
fresh and juicy
crisp to the bite
an instrument of good health
our green apple is a rebel

but what's wrong with red?
what is wrong with being typical, expected, traditional?
does the apple see something we have missed?
what does he know?
he must be rebelling
only for rebellion's sake"

another might say
"maybe the brown patch is the key
maybe the apple has seen the error of empty rebellion
and is trying to become normal, red, typical
trying too late, perhaps
but still making the effort to change"

he might say
"maybe the apple knew
he was flawed from the start
full of rot, decay, disease
knew he was dying
but was having too much fun
being different
to change"

another might say this
I just say
"I only see a Golden Delicious"

I now take our apple and slice it open
look at the two halves
study the bruised flesh hiding just beneath the skin
marvel at the sweet, dripping juices
contemplate the seeds imersed in the fruit's heart

you pronounce it butchered

you say
"I think the decay inside the apple is your fault

maybe the apple is hurting
(the bruise, her wound)
because she will be manhandled, squeezed
as you check for freshness

maybe the apple is crying
(the juice, her tears)
because she can now only turn brown and rot
since you have dissected her

maybe the apple is despairing
(the seeds, her offspring)
because you will throw her children away
like debris

again you say
"now let us observe the apple"

I look closely at the apple
study its severed proportions
marvel at the dried, sticky juices
contemplate the torn out stem

yet I can only pronounce it a Golden Delicious

required reading...

An article on my favorite bar ever, Howards Club H.