Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some Loose Ends: The Rest of the Music of 2009, Pt. 2

A lot of music happened in 2009. Some of it was great, some of it was good, and some of it... well, it was neither of those two things. Not just some, either--lots. Lots of music that fell into that last category, though really in most cases I hesitate to call that stuff music at all. For example, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Miley Cyrus are still releasing music, which consequently means that none of them has been eaten by wolves yet. That's no good. The same goes for the Jonas Brothers, who I had hope for when they released an album entitled Lines, Vines, and Trying Times because I thought for sure it had to be about drug addiction (or at least the jungle). Not so, and a great disappointment. And who the fuck is this "Owl City" guy? When I hoped that The Postal Service would put out another album, I actually hoped that they'd be the ones putting it out. He's paying royalties, right? I'm pretty sure that's illegal.

Point is, people get mixed up. So on this, the last day of the year of 2009, I feel as though it is my duty to clarify for those of you who get your music news from such flawed sources as Pitchfork, Spin, Rolling Stone or Hunter Korchak. Because all of those sources seem to have this thing where they forget that they are supposed to make lists of good music and not just popular music. So they all end up with the same albums on their lists, and they all don't fucking belong there in the slightest. Spin put the new Kiss album on their list. At number forty, sure, but I have the entire Kiss discography and I love them to death and I still don't think they should have been put on anyone's top anything list since ten years before I was born. It's hardly even the same band! Those new guys should have to pick new facepaint designs at the least. And what the hell is with Rolling Stone putting U2 as their number one album of the year? When the fuck were those old self-important bastards last relevant? I'm pretty sure it was War. And that was three albums in. You see my dilemma here; as someone who is never wrong about anything, I'm obligated to remedy this situation. So now, without further ado, let me take you on a little trip through...

The Top 5 Albums That Everyone Else Says Were Great But Really Weren't At All, So They Must Have Been Mistaken... of 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Easily the best of the five, but the fact that they got ranked so high on every single list this year puts them in my crosshairs anyway. It's not "bad" per se, it's just... pointless. Blah blah, they're French and hip. I liked this album way better when it was called Satanic Panic in the Attic. Or when Jason Schwartzman released it two years ago. Either one of those, really. Points for referencing two different classical Germanic composers in the course of your single and album names. Is that supposed to let us know that you're "real musicians"?

Phoenix - Lisztomania


Another band I won't necessarily hate come next year, but the pretentiousness of calling your first album "Album" paired with your fake British accents despite the fact that you are from San Francisco--it just gets my knickers all in a twist. So you used to be part of some stupid, half-assed cult and now you let loose by doing drugs all the time and making the video of your big "hit single" some kind of rejected American Apparel ad porno or something. You wanna make a porno music video? Talk to Rammstein about that one.

Girls - Lust for Life

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

Here is what should have been done with Dirty Projectors' single, "Stillness Is the Move": it should hae been air-express mailed up to Björk's fucking ice palace that I'm sure she lives in and she could have made it into at least an endearingly unlistenable piece of weirdo shit. "Bitte Orca" means "Please Killer Whale" in German and I can only assume that what the band means to say by that is, "Please Killer Whale, come and tear our bodies limb from limb and consume our raw flesh so that we can never ever do this to music again."

Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is the Move

Neon Indian
Psychic Chasms

God, isn't this Eighties thing over yet? Even Pacific Sunwear (I'm sorry, "Pac-Sun") is carrying flannel now. Can't we give up on this synth-pop horseshit and move on to some kind of grunge revival already? This album is so boring that it effectively kicked Grizzly Bear off the list, and I really wanted to sit and list all the shitty other Woodsy-Type Animal-Named bands there are stepping on each other's toes nowadays. Like Deertick and Deerhunter and The Deer Hunter and Deerhoof (even though they're good). Oops, looks like I did anyway!

Neon Indian - Should Have Taken Acid With You

The xx

Holy shit. The only band that could out-bore Neon Indian--and I think they're trying it, too! What's with all the off-key talk-singing and whispering and shit? Naturally, my dad heard them on the radio and thinks they're "pretty cool" and totally "the kind of music you listen to, Jeremy." Ugh. Just look at them! It's like MySpace started a band, complete with Hot Topic jewelry and Kelly Osbourne cameo. You know who isn't in this band though? E.E. Cummings. Capitalize your fucking letters, assholes. It's not artsy, it's just as stupid and boring as you are.

The xx - Basic Space

There you go. The best of the worst. Or the worst of the best. I don't even know. I'm going to go open a couple of veins and hope for better in 2010. Happy goddamn New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Loose Ends: The Rest of the Music of 2009, Pt. 1

Just because my Top 5 is finished doesn't mean I'm done. Hell no! There are definitely still a few loose ends to tie up this year. Too many, in fact. So I'm going to have to split 'em up into two parts!

In what is quickly becoming a tradition for my End of the Year List-Making, I must now go back and scratch the whole last week or so of posting, because it turns out only one album counted this year. And just like Peter Fox's Stadtaffe last year, I only heard about it once my countdown was winding down and didn't have a place to put it. Besides, putting it anywhere on any list would be pointless: this album needs to be put on a list all its own. So just who in the world could have released something so mind-blowing that it would shame all of my other entries this year into the muck and mire of unimportance?

Why, Andrew W.K., of course! It's been awhile since I'd heard from the man. He released Close Calls With Brick Walls in 2006, but only in Japan (it was later released in the U.S. on Load Records, the Providence, RI home of Lightning Bolt and White Mice), and after that I'd heard he was working on three albums at once, but nothing ever surfaced on my radar.

Those three albums turned out to include a disc of covers of fourteen of the most popular J-Pop and J-Rock songs of recent memory (not mine), fittingly entitled The Japan Covers and a party-rock reworking of the soundtrack to the influential, decade-spanning anime Gundam. Both of those albums include translated lyrics, in very broken english. He's... sorta really into Japan, I guess. I just hope he leaves the creepy stuff to Rivers Cuomo.

But the most important of this trilogy does not have a thing to do with Japan. It doesn't have much to do with anything at all. Especially anything you've come to expect of Mr. Wilkes-Krier. Because 55 Cadillac is an album of classically-inspired, improvised instrumental piano pieces. Eight of them in total. All of them with names like "Begin the Engine," "Night Driver," and "Central Park Cruiser." All of them fucking beautiful and unbelievably brilliant. All of them ready to make your head explode because you had no fucking idea the guy who sang "Party Hard" could play the fuck like this. Unless, of course, you've seen him live, in which case you've seen him do exactly that and when you told all of your friends later, they didn't believe you in the slightest.

Well, now you've got proof. All but forty minutes of proof. Forty minutes of some of the best piano-playing you've probably ever heard--or at least the best piano-playing you've ever heard from a guy with long, greasy black hair, ripped up old basketball shoes and matching sweat-stained white jeans and t-shirts. Just go listen to it. Right now. That's all there is to say, because words do not do it justice. I've said my piece.

Oh, and watch this and this too. He's pretty much the coolest guy ever.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #1

The Flaming Lips

After 2006's disastrous At War with the Mystics, I wasn't sure what to make of The Flaming Lips anymore. I love Wayne Coyne and his merry band of psychos, but they just seemed to let go a bit too much. It was a generally accepted fact that Mystics was disjointed mess, with some of the worst songs The Lips had recorded since before Wayne even joined the band--but most critics simply looked at it as a bump in their otherwise pretty flawless discography. I, however, being the natural pessimist that I so often am, got worried and I retreated back into their mid-Nineties recordings--the ones that had gotten me into the Lips to begin with. While the rest of the music world wrestled with Mystics, I hunkered down with Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic, trying to pretend that their latest abomination had never existed.

And so, fast-forward to two years later, I wasn't all that terribly excited when the new album was set to release, but I downloaded it illegally as a dutiful fan must (well, not too dutiful--I need that fifteen bucks to eat, mind you) and braced myself for the Oklahoma City boys to slip farther down the rabbit hole. But... hark! What is this? This fuzzed out bass! This twangy, distorted guitar! These bottom-of-the-Grand-Canyon booming drums! This wasn't the Flaming Lips of the past decade at all, with their loopy pop songs and obsessions with Japanese girls (let that up to Rivers, Wayne, 'cuz it's kinda creepy). This wasn't like that at all! It was like stumbling upon eighteen separate B-Sides from "She Might Be Jelly" that were dredged up from the Lips' vault and pressed in platinum by the holy hands of Thor and Jimi Hendrix.

Here I was, for the last two years, barricading myself with the Lips' heavier acid-rock albums, so worried that one of my favorite bands of all time were long gone from me--but apparently they were doing the same the whole time. And what they came back with is, without a question in my mind, their best album of all time. Some of these other albums on my Top 5 this year and in my Top lists in the past, have sort of hinged on the fact that you even like the kind of music that the band plays. Whether it be psychedelic chamber pop, frenzied spazzcore, or politically-driven ambient downtempo, you sort of have to want to like it, or you won't appreciate it at all. Which is fine, because I'm not reviewing albums based on how many plays FM97 is giving them, or how good their chance at a Grammy is--I'm reviewing them on their musical worth. And frankly, there is a whole lot more musical worth in some guy punching a de-tuned guitar for three hours than half the shit that is on the radio. But Embryonic is just plain awesome, regardless of what you like and don't like. And if you don't like it, I'm sorry for your loss. It's the best Lips album in history, and one of my absolute favorite albums of all time, so being the best release this year is kinda small beans, really.

From start to finish, the hour-long double album does not misstep. Crunchy, wah-pedaled guitars intertwine with rumbling bass parts and shotgun snare hits, as Wayne's over-chorused voice lilts in just above the clean, full sounds of keyboards and chimes, sometimes singing, sometimes just shouting nonsense along with the beat. Every song is filthy with distortion, even the pretty songs--where tracks on The Soft Bulletin could sound saccharine-sweet and overly-catchy, Embryonic plays out beautiful songs like "Evil" and "If" while still keeping the spirit of the album very alive. A spirit, perfectly represented in tracks like "See the Leaves" and "Worm Mountain" (which features last year's Top Album winners, MGMT), that makes me want to do a five-gallon bucket of heroin in a dark room and then die there in a puddle of my own sweat and vomit. In fact, the entire album is ridiculously consistent, and that's one of my favorite parts coming off such a haphazard release as At War with the Mystics, and even a rather wandering concept album in Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots four years before that.

A double album, especially one where the band admits that they just threw in the kitchen sink in not wanting to cut anything, can be a very scary thing. So many double albums in the history of music should have been run through the ringer one last time, by some third-party, not so attached to the music, perhaps. Do I dare ask to direct your attention to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as proof that sometimes the editing floor needs to be a bit more littered with snippings? I don't even have the heart to do that. It's become tradition for bands to get bloated with self-importance and then release these multi-disc supposed epics that are just So Brilliant They Couldn't Figure Out Which World-Changing Songs to Cut. And then we get maybe three single-worthy tracks and 27 others that could have been shot directly into the sun for all they were worth. Well, let me be the one to tell you, that's not the case on Embryonic. It's brilliant, and at eighteen tracks, however long each may be, there really wasn't a need to cut anything anyway. And I'm glad that the Lips didn't, because every one of them is worth a listen. Because it's the best album of the year.

The Flaming Lips - I Can Be a Frog (featuring Karen O, over the phone and high as a kite)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #2

Matt & Kim

The first time I heard Matt and Kim was soon after their self-titled debut was released in 2006, and in so many words, I was not a fan. The duo seemed like they were trying a little too hard, the production value was thin at best, and Matt's voice grated on my nerves (if not slightly because I had a bunch of classes with an obnoxious kid named Eric who sounded just like him). So I wrote the band off, forgot about them until I heard the song "Daylight" on a Bacardi Mojito commercial. Instantly I recognized Matt's voice, but this time I found myself nodding along instead of wanting to throw myself into traffic.

So I gave their newest album a chance. And really, "a chance" is all I could really call it, because I listened through it once or twice and thought, "Well that was pleasant I suppose," and promptly forgot about it all over again until I happened to see the video for Grand's second single, "Lessons Learned" online. And I was hooked. In no small part, I'm sure, due to the fact that Matt and Kim are both rather attractive people and end up getting very naked in said video. I went back and listened through the album again, and something inside me clicked. My icy heart melted and I fell in love with the cute hipster couple from Brooklyn.

You see, it's all about context. I initially thought them no more than a bunch of trust-fund, art-school clowns going out of their way to make peppy dance music to get popular with the tragically hip Williamsburg scene. But what came off as so Cool to me was actually just plain... well, cool. Their songs are upbeat because they're upbeat. Their lyrics are about how awesome life is because their lives are awesome. How couldn't they be? Here are two twentysomethings that are living their absolute dream, playing music and living in New York City and being ridiculously, adorably in love with each other. They've found something that few people in the world can ever find, and it gushes forth in their music.

It also doesn't hurt that the production on Grand has been ramped up considerably since the couple's last album. With just a drummer and a keyboardist, all sorts of places on the equalizer can get missed, and with Matt & Kim, they did. The album was all mid-range, with sounds tripping over each other to be heard. Now, there is bass! Not the instrument, of course, but the range--a booming low end that rings out with the thump of Kim's drums and the rumble of the left-most keys on Matt's keyboards. Add in some more delicate numbers than were found on their sugar-pop first release, and you have a record that gets more to the heart of things: namely, their hearts.

Every single song on Grand sounds like summertime. Like riding your bike around town in cutoffs and a v-neck, sitting on your filthy, broken porch watching the world go by without a single care. Probably because most of the songs are about exactly that. And they touch me because, frankly, that's exactly what I'd like to be doing at any given moment. Some people might not take Matt & Kim seriously because of how much fun they are having, because their music isn't "serious" enough, but it's the loss of those people. This album does for me what people talk about Pet Sounds or Workingman's Dead doing for them. This is most definitely a Desert Island Disc for me, because it just makes me feel better when I turn it on. And I feel like, as brilliant as, say... Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Of Natural History may be, I might want to have something to cheer me up a bit. Y'know?

Matt & Kim - Daylight

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #3

Jónsi & Alex
Riceboy Sleeps

The Jónsi and Alex of the so aptly named "Jónsi & Alex" are Sigur Rós' lead singer Jón Þór Birgisson and his boyfriend Alex Somers, who has done most of the artwork for the band, so it should come as no surprise that the duo's first album together, Riceboy Sleeps, sounds something like the Icelandic post-rock band. But after Sigur Rós released their surprisingly poppy Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust last year, I wasn't sure where I could expect Jónsi & Alex to pick up in conceptual trajectory of Jón's über-famous band. Was this something new that he wanted to take further on his own? Would it be that sort of new, upbeat sound that the band had ventured into on their last release? Or would it be closer to the lush orchestral sounds that put them on soundtracks for The Life Aquatic  and Vanilla Sky?

If either, it was the latter that rings true with Riceboy Sleeps definitely taking a scenic route through ambient harmonies reminiscent of Sigur Rós' earlier recordings. But to call this a return to the days of Ágætis byrjun would be just plain inaccurate. Von, perhaps would be a more likely comparison, but Riceboy Sleeps is a whole and complete, extremely satisfying listen, and Von comes off sort of disjointed, a little scary, and frankly, kinda bad. Like a forgotten Godspeed! You Black Emperor project--and forgotten for good reason. If you actually like Von, I'll have to send you a case of PBR or something, because you've got way more hipster points than the rest of us.

As much as the sounds here do hearken to Jónsi's primary project (hell, every post-rock band hearkens to Jónsi's primary project at this point; you can't not--they are one of the absolute finest bands recording and touring today), they are far more closely related to ambient artists like Xela or Secede. This is an experimental album for certain, and perhaps not all fans of Sigur Rós will find this to their liking. Where a Sigur Rós song might start off quiet and build its way into a dreamy wall of epic stringed orchestration, these songs are more prone to just wander, satisfied to loll about under the muted sun that hangs amidst Iceland's perpetually grey and misty skies. Throw into the mix old friend Amiina (the string quartet who records and often tours with Sigur Rós, and whose own album Kurr is an absolute pleasure) and the Kópavogsdætur Choir, and you've got quite an interesting disc on your hands.

"All the Big Trees" and "Daníell in the Sea," the seamless sixth and seventh tracks on the album, are a perfect example of what Riceboy Sleeps represents. They sound like they could have been torn directly from Secede's Bye Bye Gridlock Traffic, if not for the delicate, ethereal melodies Jónsi and Alex hide beneath the blurring ambiance instead of stutter-step electronic beats. These songs don't have anywhere to go--they're just living in the moment, and it is so unbelievably satisfying to just live there with them. There is no need to crescendo into a smashing blast of distortion, cello bows drawn over tweaked out guitars and hammering drums pounding into oblivion; nor is there a drive to swoop in with ten-thousand strings and produce a tear-jerking moment that Michael Bay will want to pick up for his next celluloid abomination.

That's the best part about Jónsi and Alex: they're just happy to be who they are. Musically, and personally. I mean, have you seen them? A six-foot-tall, half-blind introverted Icelander and his tiny little American boyfriend whose bowl-cut hairdo helps him look roughly thirteen years old. I mean, I absolutely love and respect the guys, but if they're not comfortable with themselves in every single way by now, they've got bigger issues to work out than how many atmospheric flowing-water-sound overdubs they want to put on track nine. Correct answer, incidentally: approximately one billion.

Jónsi & Alex - Happiness

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #4

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

Way back in January, Animal Collective released their eighth studio album and, twenty days into 2009, already cemented their place at the top of just about everyone's yearly list. Named after a concert venue near their hometown of Baltimore (marking the second time the Maryland city has made this list in as many entries), Merriweather Post Pavilion was a massive hit for the psychedelic quartet, launching them into the public eye. Even Entertainment Weekly commented on the album, saying: "While it won't land the band the opening slot on a Coldplay tour, it cleaves closer to Person Pitch's more listener-friendly aesthetic." Who the hell knew Entertainment Weekly was into Panda Bear?

So why, with all this acclaim and attention, is Animal Collective's latest release sitting so relatively low on my list? It's only half so that I don't look too much like an unrepentant, Pitchfork-worshipping hipster, I promise. Actually, the rest of the next part of that Entertainment Weekly quote pretty much hits my feelings on the head, saying that the record abandoned "the self-indulgent impulses that sometimes muddied last year's Strawberry Jam for an album full of effervescent, transportive oddity."

But wait... that's a good thing, right? Well, if I agreed, it probably would be. Don't get me wrong, I think that Strawberry Jam is definitely pretty damn self-indulgent and muddied at times--I just also happen to think that Merriweather Post Pavilion is even more so. Lots of critics have touted it as the band's "most accessible" outing, and they are right in so much as that the songs take on more traditional pop structures and have fewer repeated random noises sent through Geologist's Kaoss Pad phaser. But since when does making an album catchier make an album better? Is Rihanna inherently a better musician than Sunn 0))) because you can sing along to her songs? Chuck Klosterman would probably argue for it, but who the fuck cares what he thinks? (Or what you think, either, Hunter Korchak.)

The production quality of Merriweather Post Pavilion is what's got me down. It sounds like it was recorded on the bottom of a river. My favorite Animal Collective album is probably Sung Tongs--layered but precise, sweepingly psychedelic but careful in its production, giving each sound it includes the room to breathe. There are moments of clarity on the new disc, where everything focuses, and beautiful music emanates from the speakers--the chorus of "My Girls" for example, or the last verse of "Summertime Clothes"--but in general, the album sounds messy and poorly mixed.

When I first listened to it after having a friend send me a pre-release pirated copy, I thought that there was, perhaps, something wrong with the version I'd received. It sounded like someone had purposely fucked with it so to discourage pirating. Too much was going on under the voices and melodies which even themselves are over-reverbed half to death. But it turns out that was the way Avey & Co. intended for it to sound. It's strange, especially after listening to their newest EP, Fall Be Kind, released just one month ago, where this noisy background bubbling has been stripped away to the point that the band now sounds kind of naked. How about finding some middle ground again, eh? And yet, for all my negativity, they're still Animal Collective, so whatever they end up putting out is inevitably going to be better than just about everything else that a year has in store for music. It doesn't exactly "advance the dialogue on pop and electronic music" (yes, someone on a messageboard I frequent said that; no, I have no idea what that even means), but it's certainly good enough to hit number four on the countdown at least.

Animal Collective - My Girls

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #5

Dan Deacon

When his last album was released in 2007, Dan Deacon topped my End of the Year list, head and shoulders above all other contenders. Of course, at that time I wasn't keeping a blog, so exactly no one knew that fact--whereas now I'm pretty sure, like, six people will know who tops my list this year. Spiderman of the Rings was the Baltimore man-child's ADHD-fueled manic trip into electronic insanity, a giddy carnival ride of sounds and samples played back at hyperspeed to put your ass into a sugar-induced dancing rampage.

Two years later, Deacon has returned from a lengthy tour of the United States in a filthy green bus run on vegetable oil and has brought with him a brand new album, entitled Bromst. And as strange as it is to say about the sort of tubby, bearded man with a childlike wonder of the world around him and the music before him, he's matured. The songs on Bromst (which, by the way has no meaning, though during an interview with Pitchfork, Deacon briefly opined: "It's like a... it's like when a dragon wakes up and its not horny but it knows it could easily become horny") feel more complete, more thought out. They use many of the same sounds and structures as the tracks on Spiderman of the Rings, pieces from older songs showing up almost like conscious reprises--but this time around, they are vastly more refined in their presentation. It really feels, on this second release for Carpark Records, as though Deacon is coming into his own, more comfortable in his surroundings and able to give a little more of himself in the process.

Even the lyrics, when you can catch snippets of them as they travel by in tweaked-out, high-pitched tones, have matured. They've taken an introspective turn in many cases, and it makes me wonder what had been going on in Deacon's life as he recorded these songs. He was injured and sick for awhile and had to cancel a handful of shows, and I know from interviews that running his vegetable oil-fueled bus around the United States was wearing on him a bit (where to find enough vegetable oil, after all?). For as nice of a guy as he seems, it's almost heartbreaking to think that he was driven to write something so personal--but it certainly makes for a deeper and more satisfying album than his rather cartoon-y first outing.

My favorite song on Spiderman of the Rings was "Wham City," an eleven-minute-long ode to Deacon's hometown of Baltimore. I loved that song so much because of how much care it was obvious Deacon put into every second of it. The song was not a frenzied mashing together of blips and boops and samples of Woody Woodpecker's obnoxious laugh--it was quite obviously a passion piece for Deacon, and it stood out above the rest of the tracklisting because of the care he put into producing it. Now, with Bromst, he has given us an entire album of those careful songs, lush and full with a wall of sound driving them forward. I can't believe I've said it already or that I feel the need to say it again, but I think Dan Deacon is growing up. Not too much, of course, but enough to make heads turn on this release. I certainly did a double-take.

Dan Deacon - Snookered

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009

It's December and that means it's time for candy canes, Christmas lights, and everybody and their brother to trot out their favorite albums of the year. Whether you write a blog post, a newspaper article or just on the walls of your padded cell, you've probably got a bunch of opinions (that are just like assholes) on who was made the best music this year, and boy-howdy if you don't want to make a contest out of it. Because music shouldn't just be to enjoy; it should be judged and cross-examined until it just ain't fun no more!

But hey, I'm not immune! Thing is, it's been over a year now since I worked at a hip little college radio station in Pittsburgh, so my intake of music hasn't been quite as voluminous as it once was. I have a list of plenty and more than a handful have to be cut to get it down to a manageable size, but without the vast amounts of music sifting through my hands as I used to have, I just don't feel right listing a Top 10 this year. It usually happens that half of my list is populated by weird, little obscure bands that I have been so fortunate to stumble upon during the course of the year, so instead of just pump the list full of other popular stuff you'll no doubt read all about in Rolling Stone or Spin, I've decided to cut it in half. Plus, maybe I'll actually get it all done before the month is out. Less work for me!

That being said, I'm now totally going to make myself a liar, because I have to give out no fewer than four honorable mentions before the list even begins. I debated just working these four albums into the list, but I don't know if they'd all have actually made it. So why choose them as my honorable mentions? Because it's been a good year in heavy music--a genre that doesn't get a whole lot of love on these countdowns in general. Combined, these four albums show a promising direction in the heaviest of heavies, and because of that, they shouldn't be ignored.

Honorable Mention #1

Lightning Bolt
Earthly Delights

When I said heavy, I meant it; this isn't the crunchy guitars of Jack White's new project, The Dead Weather (though I did quite enjoy that disc, despite its absence on this year's list). If you've never heard of Providence, Rhode Island's spazzcore darlings, Lightning Bolt, go ahead and do yourself a favor and shoot yourself in the skull with a shotgun. Because that's the closest thing I can think of to approximate their music to. Or just pick up one of their half-dozen recordings. This year's Earthly Delights is a marked return to the styling of 2001's Ride the Skies, with production set firmly in the mid-range rather than with the brutalizing bass drive of the last two albums. It's not my favorite of their efforts (that would have to be 2005's Hypermagic Mountain), but the directions in which the duo experiments on this disc is worth a listen alone.

Lightning Bolt - Sound Guardians (live--and on a stage??)

Honorable Mention #2

Wavering Radiant

Isis has been, and continues to be, one of the heaviest bands in existence. They don't need speed metal solos or black eyeshadow--they're just five guys from Boston who happen to make some of the most skull-crushing (and yet still elegantly melodic) music on the face of the earth. Led by Aaron Turner, one of the most prolific musicians/artists/producers in American post-rock and metal with his label Hydra Head and his armloads of varied projects, Isis' Wavering Radiant again shows why Turner and his gang are so widely respected. It's also a crowning example of what Turner has called "thinking man's metal" and music journalists have begun, since the release of Isis' 2002 release Oceanic, branding "post-metal" or "metalgaze." Yes, Isis has their own genre. They're kind of a big deal.

Isis - 20 Minutes/40 Years

Honorable Mention #3


Remember how I couldn't get over how awesome Aaron Turner is? Well, that's because he shows up on this little list twice this year. He wasn't satisfied to just record the best Isis album since In the Absence of Truth--he went right ahead and got together with Justin Broadrick of British experimental metal band Jesu and made an album that could probably break every bone in your body just by turning it on. Definitely more on the "noise" side of "noise rock," Greymachine is the very definition of the experimental metal that Turner and Broadrick are so famous for churning out. It's not an easy listen, but if you can appreciate what these two masters of the craft have brought forth, you are in for a real treat. Plus, "Vultures Descend" might just be the most simple-yet-utterly-bad-ass name for a song in the history of music.

Greymachine - Just Breathing

Honorable Mention #4

Russian Circles

Hands-down my favorite album of the four of these, Russian Circles' Geneva is nothing like the beautiful, clean, peaceful Swiss city that it derives its name from. The Chicago trio's second album in as many years is their messiest, most ambient, distortion-driven they have recorded. I'd always been a fan of Russian Circles above many other post-rock bands for their ability to be painstakingly intricate in their musicianship, even live--but this new iteration is something that surprised me, and it's a direction I really like to see them headed. Perhaps it is the influence of relatively new bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch, These Arms Are Snakes) being added to the mix. Either way, I'm definitely a fan. Now to see if they can pull off three albums in three years--I'm excited just to see where a new album after this might be headed. Don't make me wait too long, boys! (If only I had a dollar for every time I've said that.)

Russian Circles - Fathom

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Rules of Cool

As hipsters, one of our favorite things to do is to do things ironically. We think it's so clever to take things that are/were popular and turn them on their head and pretend that they are cool for reasons that have nothing/everything to do with how they got to be cool in the first place. We watch Full House, wear high-top wrestling sneakers, and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon to be subversive; to show how clever we are by doing things that are/aren't already cool for the same/different reason than we are doing them for.

Which is fine, on the surface. Irony is a delicate sort of humor that not all can fully appreciate or even understand (look for a blog in the near future expounding that exact theory), and when it is done correctly, it can be quite the quaint little laugh. It's funny (and frankly, pretty damn fun as well) to have a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles-themed 21st birthday party in 2009. Especially if you're going to hold it at a laser tag arena, with Little Caesar's pizza and Surge. Okay... now that I'm thinking about it, that kind of birthday party is one that I'd throw without any sense of irony whatsoever, so maybe that's a bad example.

But you know what I'm driving at: doing stuff that isn't cool so that it's cool all over again--or, alternately, doing stuff that is currently cool, but making sure that everyone knows you know it's uncool (because it's cool) while you're doing it, therefore making it cool again (in a different way) because it's self-aware and therefore not-cool/cool/uncool again in the opposite kind of way. Or something. I'm not sure. And neither are you. And that's where we run into problems.

Because what we have to remember, when these sorts of delineations of coolness and irony start to get all fuzzy and confused, is that the things that we are pretending to like for irony's sake are actually not cool at all, even if they are cool--and especially if they were never cool to begin with, no matter what anyone thought of them. Because if we aren't careful, we begin to see cracks in the system. Bugs in the matrix. Like Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga is not cool. Sure, she's cool to 13 year old girls and slutty sorority sluts (who are slutty), but that's just the kind of cool that we hipsters are dying to make fun of. An uncool kind of cool that just begs to be mocked with our finely-tuned irony we've gleaned from watching Wes Anderson movies and reading Chuck Klosterman (I don't even know if he's being ironic or not, he's just a fucking asshole). However, lots of hipsters of late have been falling into their own traps, losing a sense of irony about how cool they think Lady Gaga is and convincing themselves that she's actually quite cool after all. They've tripped up in their own snare that they've set for Society, in which Society is supposed to see said hipsters and think, "Boy, they certainly are/aren't cool," while secretly Society is being tricked and, in fact, said hipsters are that much cooler because of how confused they have made Society about what is and isn't not-cool/cool/uncool.

But with Lady Gaga (as well as HBO's True Blood and those striped, plastic Kanye West sunglasses), this admittedly confusing system has become quite a slippery slope. Hipsters the world over have fallen prey to their own irony, and have actually come to believe that Lady Gaga is, in fact, cool. Or worth listening to. Or worth the air she breathes. Well, let me be the one to set the record straight:

She's not. Any of those things.

She's just Britney Spears dressed up in (un?)ironic drag; a robot programmed to appeal to the subversive anti-counter-über-culturalists like me, with my tight pants and road bike, while at the same time still capitalizing on impressionable over-sexualized middle school girls. She is everything the music industry has been looking for since the hipster demographic started blipping on their radar with all kinds of disposable income. She is a plastic, over-produced pop star that has no worth or purpose but to suck money out of you and make you a little bit dumber and more prone to buy the next bullshit bucket of schlock that MTV ironically throws your way.

Dear god, they're beating us at our own game.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Michael Ian Black - My Custom Van ***

You probably know Michael Ian Black from any of the numerous "I Love the [Something's]" shows on VH1, or as an integral part of comedy troupes The State and Stella. I didn't, however, know him as a stand-up comic on his own (his album, I Am A Wonderful Man, is quite fantastic), or an essayist. Well... "essayist" might be a rather misleading term. Yes, his book, My Custom Van, is filled with essays, but it won't be found on shelves anywhere near the works of John Gardner or Noam Chomsky.

Not that I'm complaining. I wouldn't have bought a book from Black expecting him to expound on theories of libertarian socialist philosophy. I bought his book to laugh my ass off, and that is exactly what I did. Each of his brief essays reads more like a set from his stand-up routine, and it isn't hard in the slightest to hear him reading them in his own voice, to a crowded little college town comedy club.

However, as fun as it is to have Michael Ian Black run loose (and I mean, really loose) in your hands, as you page through all 50+ of his essays, I don't suggest doing it all in one sitting as I did. The book is a quick read, and you'll blaze through it if you want to, but it is definitely the kind of thing that would be best taken in small doses. By the time I finished, some of the essays were beginning to run together. Those in the back of the book are just as hilarious as those in the front of the book, but taking it all in at once is almost overwhelming, and I found my brain going numb to the hilarity. And that's just not fair to the genius that Black is. Even if he does repeatedly insist upon that genius. Humility is overrated.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are you crazy?

My friend Rob asked me today if I ever feel like I am insane.

The three subjects that we most often get talking about when we're online are politics, music and movies, but really they all boil down to a single, unifying topic of "Who the Hell Are We?" because sometimes it's really hard to tell. We're not like the people that live in our neighborhoods. We listen to weird music and watch weird movies and have weird political opinions. Growing up in the kind of place where we both did, in the very red belly of Central Pennsylvania, it can be difficult goings if you identify with anything short of a huntin', fishin', beer-swillin' redneck or a psychotically religious, conservative farmer. Your parents probably are, and your grandparents definitely were, and on backward through your lineage and down the street and clean across town. It's everybody.

It's not something you even think about growing up, because it's just How Things Are, but eventually you get to a point where you can't help but question every time your grandmother goes off on her rants about what an asshole Martin Luther King, Jr. was (true story--but not my grandmother, thankfully). You can't help but cringe at the jokes that get passed around at the holidays, at the bumper stickers you see on the backs of your uncles' trucks. But you are the exception to the norm. All the kids you grew up with are flying Confederate flags in their front yards (because Pennsylvania was, and still is, a bastion of the South) and hang on every word Glenn Beck cries out of his fat face. How did you turn out the way you did? You want to see universal health care and the military to be disbanded. Are you crazy? Or are you just one a' them socialist faggots?

So you start questioning yourself. You wonder what you're fighting for. Or what you're fighting about. Or who the fuck you're even fighting. I got to a point recently where I decided I was tired of fighting completely, and that if the United States wanted to elect a rights-stomping, war-mongering, religio-nut to its highest office, maybe I just didn't belong in the United States at all. I didn't go around threatening to move to Canada (who would care?), but I sort of just realized that maybe I'm not an American at all; maybe I was just born into it. I was born into a Christian household and I'm certainly not Christian, so is it possible that I'm really a Swede, trapped in an American's body? I don't even root for America in the World Cup (Go Germany!), so really, what kind of patriot am I? I'm not even a fan. It's impossible not to ask yourself what the point of all the arguing is. Thankfully, the nation over, I'm still in a small majority in the core of my progressive beliefs--but what happens when more Liebermanns and Lincolns jump ship and leave me in the minority. Is it our responsibility to educate the rest of the entire United States on why they are so wrong and who they are so badly hurting? That's a steep measure, especially when they don't want to hear you, let alone listen. Should we just let them go down that path and stand back and watch as they burn their hands on the stove again and again until they turn around and ask us, why we don't have enough band-aids?

What are we supposed to do? What do I even mean by "fighting" as I've stated above. I have no idea, and that's another place for mental disconnect. You believe something so strongly in your head, but what are you doing to exact change? Are you donating money to the campaign fund for Dennis Kucinich or to the United States Socialist Party? Do you pay your taxes and your Union dues with a smile on your face? Are you at least leading rallies on your state capitol, making yourself and your fiery opinions heard? Or are you just blogging in a frustrated state of defeat at three-thirty in the morning. That's what I do. I've never liked to call myself a "writer" because, to me, it means that I do it as a job. And while it might be a goddamn job to get these words out sometimes, it certainly doesn't pay my bills. Still, what I do is write. That's how I guess I do my fighting, even if I just end up shadowboxing more often than not. I hope that someone can read this silly site of mine and find themselves nodding along every once in a while, and then tell someone else. Not to increase my site traffic (though that's nice too), but to educate. To pass along knowledge. I'm not so conceited to think that what I write here is essential to the betterment of mankind--but I hope I write with enough conviction to help someone who is waffling in their own beliefs, either in their politics or philosophies or just in themselves.

Because we're all crazy. If you sit and think about things, you begin to feel it, wearing away inside your brain. And if you don't, you're even crazier, but you don't know that. Mr. Beck tells you you're a patriot, and that people like me don't even support our national soccer (not football) team. I do feel insane. I feel crazy all the time. I am surrounded by people who don't understand a word I'm saying, and it makes me physically tired when I just talk about music with some people, let alone worldviews. But that's just how it has to be. It's something that we need. And I'm glad to know that there are others in the world who feel it too. If no one was as crazy as I often feel (and with the ability, time, money and dedication to do more than just write about it) we wouldn't even be as far as we are now. We'd still have slaves, because our parents did. Tradition.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are **

As the credits on Spike Jonze's newest film, Where the Wild Things Are, began to roll, I sat in my seat in the theatre feeling a little confused and sort of worried. I was as excited as anyone for the screen adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, but now as Karen O sang the closing tune, I couldn't help but be concerned that my hipster membership was going to be revoked, because I just didn't really care for the movie all that much.

I know, right! What the hell was wrong with me? But I just couldn't get over it. I wanted to like it so much. It was Spike Jonze and David Eggers and even Mark Ruffalo was in it for all of fifteen seconds. I should have adored it. In fact, the story connected with me on an even more personal level because in second grade, my teacher wrote a short play based on Where the Wild Things Are and I played Max in front of the whole school and parents and everything! I love the book, and when I saw the previews start to pop up months ago, I was excited as all hell.

And yet, I just couldn't. It was beautiful, the soundtrack was good (and could have been great, if it hadn't just been Karen O masturbating herself the entire time), and the direction was fantastic. I mean, it's Spike Jonze after all. But as a movie, it just didn't do much for me. A lot of people defended it for having been based on a kid's book, or as a kid's movie on the whole, but is it fair to somehow hold it to a lesser standard because of that? Horton Hears a Who was fantastic, as was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or at least Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if you weren't into Tim Burton's version), and both of those films were based on a children's book. To argue that my expectations of Where the Wild Things Are should somehow be lower because of the source material is silly, because after all is said and done, it's still a movie. A major motion picture. And not a kid's movie, I'm sorry. It was directed clearly at twentysomethings in skinny jeans and cardigans.

What it ended up being was somewhat disjointed and wandering, without much emotional weight or consequence or even much tension at all. Max disappears, no one goes looking for him, he hangs out with a giant monster version of the MTV's The Real World for an hour, decides that they're just as bad as his bitchy family and goes the fuck home where his mom feels bad that she yelled even though Max was the one acting out in the first place. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted old man for it, but I have no idea how so many people cried through the entire thing. I even tear up at the end of every single Harry Potter movie, and this did nothing to tug at my heart strings.

Forevermore, movies about escaping into a fantasy world from a shitty reality will inevitably be compared to Pan's Labyrinth in my mind, and there just isn't a whole lot you can do to beat that one. There is weight in that movie. There are consequences and there is a whole fuck-load of tension, both in the real world and in the fantasy one. They play off each other, and the movie feels well-rounded and purposeful. It's not that every movie of the genre now has to live up to Pan's Labyrinth, but they should at least be a fraction of what Guillermo del Toro managed to achieve. Jonze's indie music video starring a bunch of tittybaby monsters and a bratty little kid with ADHD--it didn't even step into the ring.

So rescind my hipster membership if you must. I'll cut up my card and hand in my jaunty beret, and be a hipster no more. You can turn me away at the door of every Urban Outfitters in the United States, but I'll get over it I suppose. I tried, I really did. Maybe it will take a second viewing, or kids of my own, but right now, even as a huge fan of the book (perhaps especially as a huge fan of the book), it just didn't do it for me. Sorry guys. I really, truly am.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Analyze this

Google and I don't always get along too well. It likes to shut me off in the middle of doing things in Gmail, it added so many ads to YouTube videos that you can barely watch them uninterrupted anymore, and worst of all, it keeps setting my Image Safe Search back to Moderate, which just isn't getting me the results that I'm looking for. Like any other company that started off small and grown into a massive enough corporation that it has Microsoft shaking in its boots (Bing? Seriously? I'd say you can do better, but I know you can't), Google has overextended itself. Instead of being satisfied with being the best at one thing, they've managed to be mediocre in a whole slew of things.

There are a few things that they do still do quite well. Their search engine is still the best online, though saying that is like congratulating Chevy for making the best SUV--sure, it's the "best" at what it does, but the whole concept itself could use a major overhaul. Blogger, owned by Google of course, isn't too bad either. I mean, I'm here using it. What it lacks in customization it makes up for in simplicity and user-friendliness. And Google's Chrome browser is also now my go-to browser whenever I work on someone's PC. I still use Opera on my Mac whenever I can (even though Facebook has reached the Glitchiness Event Horizon, forcing me to open Safari whenever I want to do anything more than log half-way in), but despite my original reservations about it, Chrome has turned out pretty alright. Sure, it's mostly just on the laurels of Firefox having gone the way of Internet Explorer--bloated, unsecure and all-around out-dated--but at least someone is picking up the slack there.

But what made me get online tonight and talk all about Google is the site Curtis recently introduced me to, Google Analytics. If you're already familiar with Analytics or another site that does the work it does, you're probably not that amazed, but I haven't gotten over it in the past few weeks since I set it up. Basically, if you run any kind of website, what Analytics does is tracks it for you. It keeps tabs on your visitors: where they're from, how long they stayed on your site, where they looked on it, even what browser and operating system they are running. Pretty freakin' cool. I mean, if you don't have a website, then there's really nothing there for you, but if you do, it's awesome just to browse through. You can even pull up a skin of your website and see where on it people are clicking. How wild is that?

A lot of the things they provide, like what build of Flash your visitors are using, are for more useful for a big company who, say, has a Flash-based website and wants to know just how many of its visitors can actually get all the way through their site. For me, it's just fun. I mostly just like to look at how many hits I'm getting and where those people are from. Many are probably just here accidentally for searching things like book titles that I've reviewed (really, they are, because Analytics tracks how and why they came to the site in the first place), which explains my occasional readership in places like Risskov, Denmark and Khartoum, Sudan. But there are repeated views from a few cities, around the United States mostly, where I don't even know anyone, which I assume means that people there are actually purposely reading my blog. Whoa!

So my question is this: who are you? I mean, I'm totally pumped that you're here, reading all about whatever the hell I give a shit about, but I want to know more about you! When I saw i had nine views from Syracuse, New York, my mind reeled, hoping that somehow, some way, George Saunders had become a fan of my blog before I remembered that Miller just moved up there for grad school. No offense, man--that would have been cool. But who are the rest of you? From Charlottesville, Virginia and Milton, Pennsylvania? And any of the people who are visiting from the Twin Cities out there in Minnesota, or my apparent West Coast friends in Sunnyvale, Claremont and Santa Monica? I made my comments section available for everyone, so say hi! I would love to talk to you! I think that would be pretty much the coolest thing ever, so don't be scared. I'm really not as angry as I seem. Usually. I just wanna be your friend.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Will Lavender - Obedience ****

Being constantly between jobs and assorted other gigs, I have been buying a lot fewer completely random books that call out to me from the shelf when I'm browsing through my local Barnes & Noble. But every once in a while, one of them just finds its way into my hand, and my feet lead me up to the counter, and suddenly my wallet is fifteen dollars lighter.

Will Lavender's debut novel Obedience was one such book. I was without paycheck, but somehow convinced myself I needed it, despite my already enormous library of books that I have yet to read. I don't know if it was the title, so direct but mysterious. Or maybe the cover, or just inside with lots of great reviews. But I'm guessing that it was probably, per usual, the blurb describing it on the back. To me, reading it again, it sounds a little like Tobias Wolff's Old School, plus a little bit of meta-fictional murder mystery. Not a bad combo in my mind.

The story follows three students at Winchester University's Logic and Reasoning 204 with Professor Williams. These students are presented, on the first day of class, with a murder mystery which they will need to use the lessons of the class to figure out. But something doesn't seem quite right. Things are a bit too real, and way too complex just for a class assignment. Add that to the stresses college students already have, like long distance relationships, getting wasted and having sex with the dean's hot young wife.

Yeah, that was all in there. The laurels of the book fall less on the characters (or really, caricatures) that populate it and more on the story itself. The students--Mary, Brian and Dennis--are a means to an end, a vehicle to deliver a quite layered and rather intriguing story. I can't fault him for it. I'm guilty of the same in my writing, and even greats like Jonathan Lethem (Amnesia Moon) and George Orwell (pretty much everything he's ever written) have fallen prey when they're trying to make a grand point. And although in his point-making, Lavender can't help but beat the reader to death with the fact that he's referencing Paul Auster. Seriously now. I got that before you even assigned Mary City of Glass in one of her other classes. We're cool, you can put the hammer down now, Mr. Lavender.

Like the New York Times Book Review said, "If you solve this one without peeking at the last chapter, it's an automatic A." I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult. I like being able to follow along with the clues in my mysteries. But either way, they are right. I didn't see it coming at all. It definitely worked, and it made complete sense just like an ending should, but it wasn't at all what I expected. At first it actually disappointed me, but now looking back, it was exactly what it had to be I suppose. Just the fact that I'm still thinking about it half a year later should tell you enough about the book. Namely that it should be read by you. And probably again by me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bite the hand that breeds

Let's say your neighbor has really been getting on your nerves. This isn't just letting his leaves fall on your lawn; see, there's a lot of homeless people in town and on the weekends he's been having a little soup kitchen-style picnic in his backyard. Not only that, but he's been knocking on doors up and down your street for the last few weeks to try to collect money for the local hardware store that's going out of business because a Home Depot just built a superstore on the other side of town. I mean, this is just one pain-in-the-ass kind of guy, just a bad dude.

So what do you do? There's only one sensible option: you buy a pack of wild attack dogs and you let them loose in his yard. They'll kill and eat him and shit all over his lawn and then, finally, you might get some piece and quiet. That is, until the dogs get hungry again and head back through the hedge to your place and murder your entire family to feed their ravenous hunger. Wait, you didn't see that coming? You didn't have the foresight to realize that a pack of untrained, rabid attack dogs might turn on you once you let them loose? Welcome to the Republican Party.

When Glenn Beck, Dick Armey, and Michael Steele worked their packs into a frenzy in each their own deliciously devious way ("populist" rhetoric and tear-shedding, an internet-based astroturfing campaign, and the seat at the head of the elephant's table itself), it seems like they didn't bother buying leashes. Now, the infamous Teabaggers have turned on their own with the same furious bark and bite that used on Democratic Senator's town-hall meetings in August.

Their target? Republican Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham. Yes, these bastions of conservatism have disowned the only man in America conservative enough to fill Strom Thurmond's seat in Congress. But why should I ruin all the fun. Watch it yourself, from this clip courtesy of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

A deal with the devil! A liar! When's he going to just own up and switch parties? Oh that Lindsey Graham, with his A rating from the NRA and his iron fist on gay marriage--he's a turncoat if I ever saw one. Not only him, but Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) as well! Those bastards and their attempts to have civil discourse with... Democrats. It's almost like they're trying to get something done.

So now what is the Republican Party to do? They bought these dogs, they injected them full of steroids and gave them the taste of blood, but now they've begun to turn on their makers. Frankenstein's monster. The Party is fracturing before our very eyes, and oh in what a glorious display. The rift is growing right in the middle of it (okay... maybe it's a little waaayyy further right), and I can't even guess what will happen next. I really can't. I've posited theories in the past about the party throwing up someone like Bobby Jindal in 2012 in an attempt to appear more moderate and level-headed, but at this point, their own party would revolt. You can't just put these mutts down.

The only other way to go is to either get ahold of Ron Paul and apologize to him profusely (since these Teabaggers all think they're Libertarians and Constitutionalists), or just own up and get whomever is currently Grand Wizard of the KKK right now, (since these Teabaggers all are racists and homophobes). The Dixiecrats were a party once, after all, and their slogan was--and I'm totally not kidding--"Segregation Forever!". They even won four states in the 1948 Presidential election, running, of all people... oh, you don't know? Not Dewey, that was the Republicans. Who else lost to Harry S. Truman that year?

Strom Thurmond, of course.

Boy, the GOP had best be setting up one of those invisible fences right now, because this is going to get ugly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm baaaaaack...

And ready to par-tayyy! So put on your best galoshes and release the doves, because I'm back in my shithole hometown, and ready to get bloggin' like I mean it again! It's the only way to keep myself from jumping headfirst off my roof into the hard, cold asphalt of my driveway below! That and maybe re-watching Freaks and Geeks. But this time I won't even have to run on the elliptical while I do so, because apparently I lost 17 pounds over the course of my travels, eating steak and chocolate mousse every single day.

No lie. But the ridiculously over-processed, terribly unhealthy food that we cram into our gaping maws here in the United States is a subject for a later blog. Before I get back into my screaming matches with the internet, I figured I should share with you some of the photographs I took while I was out and about in Buenos Aires. Like those from New Zealand last year, these are not all of my pictures, but just a smattering of some of the artsy-fartsy ones I fancied.

For a complete collection of my pictures, feel free to visit either my Flickr site, where I've got the majority of these sorts of pictures posted, or my travel blog from the trip, The Hypermagic Tangophase. There you'll find a relatively complete journaling of my month away from my real life. And on that note, if you know anywhere that is hiring around the Lancaster or Reading areas, feel free to drop me a line. Turns out I'm broke and need a job. What a crock.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You are not a vampire

Nope. Sorry, you're just not. I don't care what it says on your Facebook or your MySpace or your Twitter, because you're just not a vampire. Actually, even if vampires existed (which they don't, consequently making me so certain that you are not one), I'd gather that you probably wouldn't really want to be one anyway. Oh really? I don't understand the pain inside you and you really really do want to be a vampire? You sure about that?

Here's the thing about vampires: it doesn't matter what some fat, unpopular, Mormon chick dreamed up as her perfect scenario to escape her fat, unpopular, Mormon life (and then sold by the millions to other fat, unpopular girls of varied but equally retarded belief systems) because none of it is true. The whole sparkle-skinned, able to fly, don't melt into blistering sores out in daylight bullshit--it's all just that: bullshit. What makes me such an expert on vampires, you ask? Did I take some kind of upper level college course on them or something?

Actually, I did.

Yes, at the University of Pittsburgh there is a course called "Vampires: Blood and Empire," and my A in that class I believe makes me about as much of an expert as anybody can be about something that doesn't fucking exist. So let me educate your asses. Being a vampire sucks. If you've read any vampire-related literature, or seen any vampire-related movies pre-dating Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, you'll know just how shitty being a vampire is. You are forever stuck in your body, for the rest of time itself and then probably beyond that, watching the people around, your friends, your family, all get old and weak and die. Plus, half the time you can't even hang out with them because you can't help but want to eat the shit out of them. Either that, or your ass is being chased all around town for murdering people. Chances are, you're not going to be falling in love with every dipshit high school bitch you stumble upon for a thousand years; you're probably going to be pretty surly.

That's the whole intriguing part about vampires. They're not soulless beasts like mummies or werewolves, they've got far more complex issues. They are trapped in a netherworld, despite their normal appearance, and they can never interact with the rest of humanity in the same way again, no matter how much they want to. Watch the brilliant Francis Ford Coppola film, Bram Stoker's Dracula, or The Hunger (with David Bowie!) and see how fucking painful it is to be a vampire. The torment you are put through at every turn. But you're already tormented, right? Mom and dad didn't let you go to that My Chemical Romance show, so you drew on your arms in sharpie, and then they got even more pissed, so now you're grounded. Man. If you were a vampire, you'd show them.

No, you wouldn't. You'd start to feel pretty terrible about that decision to become a vampire when you realized you'd watch your entire family die around you and be cursed to a solitary existence for all eternity. Not to mention you don't have a reflection, you can't eat Italian food anymore (garlic!), you have to sleep in a coffin with dirt from your homeland... oh yeah, and you can't go outside in the daylight ever again. You hear that Stephanie Meyer? YOU CAN'T GO OUTSIDE IN DAYLIGHT!

But she wrote it, she gets to decide! Nope. Not true. There is a pretty long-standing set of rules about vampires that have been in existence long before Miss Meyer decided to wipe her fat ass across three hundred pages and call it a bestseller. Some of them bend, and others come and go with the fashion of the times, but a standard was set way in advance of the travesty that is Twilight being put to print. Being a vampire isn't about cute boys and floating around through the trees and eternal love blah blah shut the fuck up. It's about pain and suffering and isolation and drinking blood.

You're not a vampire. I don't care if you're on MySpace with your little stupid fangs, or on some forum talking to other "vampires" or on some fucked up dating site trying to meet, date and marry your perfect blood-sucking match. You're just not one. And to prove it, I'll make you a deal. For the next few months, I have decided to let four pints of blood every two weeks. The entire operation will be overseen by medical professionals and my blood will be safely and hygienically stored in a cool, dry place. If you really think you're a vampire and want to make me eat my words, you can choose between two courses of action:

Option 1: You can purchase some of this blood to drink in four pint containers. You must document this via video from start to finish, send it to me, and I will post it to YouTube when legitimacy is verified, as well as hosting it here on the Hypermagic Headphase.

Option 2: You can actually come to see me in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and drink my blood right in front of me. You won't have to pay a nickel. In fact, if you're into it, I will slit my wrist right then and there, and you can suck the very life force from my veins. Not that you'd need me to do that--you can just puncture my neck with your fangs and do it that way.

FURTHERMORE, in the course of either of these events, you may not throw up, cry, or even cringe. YOU MUST APPEAR TO ENJOY EVERY SECOND OF IT. If you're really a vampire, this shouldn't be a problem. But don't think I'm being mean here! I'm just trying to help you achieve your dream! Or "be yourself," if that's what you're calling it, along with thirty million other screaming seventh grade girls and bored housewives in loveless marriages. I'll tell you what: if you choose Option 2 and come visit me, I'll even throw in two night's stay in historic and beautiful Lancaster County. I'm no slouch! I'm sure I can knock together a nice tight pine box coffin in a day or two. You should be plenty comfy in there, right?

Wrong. You're not a vampire.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The beast of apathy

So I've been writing for Daily Kos lately, and today marked my third article. In fact, if you've been reading this blog lately, you've been reading my Daily Kos articles. At least the political ones here--the MySpace rant didn't make the cut. I want it to become a regular thing, because Curtis thinks that if I can garner a following there, maybe someday someone might want to pay me to write for them. It's a pipe dream, but one that I can cling to. Plus, I love ranting about politics, so it's a win-win. And today, my article made it beyond my 7 and 9 comment response-rate of the last two... to 146 and counting! In fact, it made it onto the Recommended Diaries listing on the Daily Kos homepage! I was so happy that I had to take a screenshot to remember it by!

See it down there on the right? You're gonna have to click on it, because I know that little thumbnail is pretty small. But isn't that awesome?? Well, except for the whole subject matter of what I was writing. That's about as shitty and depressing as it gets. So without further ado, the most horrible thing you will read all day (available also at dailykos.com, if you want to get into the comment discussions and such):

Here in Pennsylvania, it seems that we have finally seen the wretched beast of our twisted priorities rear up and show its hideous face. And scrawled across its forehead, carved in ragged, bloody letters are these words:

"We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009."

Patrons of the Free Library of Philadelphia, your city has cried wolf for the last time. The Pennsylvania state government has been threatening to cut back library funding to the point of closing for a decade or more, slowly inching the budget back further and further each year on each of the state's libraries, and now, just less than a month from today, the deed will be done. You didn't think it was possible; how could you? For them to shut down libraries? It was just a scare tactic, a scapegoat for "budget concerns" that they liked to kick around to make sure you knew they were talkin' business. And yet, now all that stands between the closing of the FLP in a month (and inevitably, tens if not hundreds more libraries around the state in the many months to come) is the State Legislature and their willingness to pass a funding legislation. They've got two weeks.

Good luck getting money piped down through the works in the current political climate. It's fucking monsoon season right now. With all the fear of our money going to such horrible socialist ideas as keeping each other healthy and safe and alive, do libraries really stand a chance? If we can't even come to a common ground on the worth of the lives of other human beings, what the fuck do we need books for? Reading is for liberals and pussies! Not to mention after-school programs, daycare and senior centers, computer courses and GED and ESL classes! ESL!! If you can't SPEAK American, then you can't READ it either, so what are you doin' in our libraries anyway? Am I right??

Reading down through the list of canceled programs that the closing of the FLP really brings to light how much libraries do for a community, and seeing the city of Philadelphia be forced to close down its twenty-four branches makes my heart break and my blood boil. My brother works as a cameraman for the Pennsylvania Cable Network, and has covered these budget hearings in Harrisburg and said they are the most depressing things he has ever seen. There is no debating at them; the two sides stand up, give their piece, don't listen to a word the other side is proposing, and sits back down. The budget is already months overdue and may well continue to sit until the end of this year. But by then, it won't matter what happens. The Free Library of Philadelphia will have closed and be remembered as nothing more than a footnote to the debate, a sad but necessary casualty to the cost of cutting back and scaling down.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why I just don't mind seeing newspapers go out of business in the slightest

Most people think it's the internet's fault that newspapers are slowly going the way of the dinosaurs. It's online news sites and bloggers who can break stories faster than the rickety old presses can print, and they do so without the inherent bias of a giant company with vested interests in their investors who need to be placated with every article. Plus, web news is free, while you're forced to pay for a subscription or an inflated newsstand price to get your daily paper--and it's still half full of advertisements. And most of the rest of that space you skip anyway because you're only interested in politics, or in sports, or in local news.

So the newspaper industry is on its last legs, that much is certain. But record players still exist in this day of MP3s, and books are still being written even though we can see every single bestseller at our local cinema. They might be scaled back, but these industries haven't sounded their death rattles just yet. Because there is inherent worth in them. There are people doing some amazing work, and therefore, the public can never let them die.

Now, I'm not saying that there is no one worth reading in your local and national newspapers, but dear god is it a depressing state of affairs when you crack open those finger-blackening pages. This week just took it to the next level for me, when I happened upon two amazing pieces out of Southern California. The first one was blasted all over the internet, and is being claimed by some websites as "The Worst Newspaper Article of All Time." It's pretty hard to disagree.

It's from the Orange County Register, written by a right-wing sportswriter named Mark Whicker. I could go into depth about just how horrible it is, not just in writing, but simply in idea. Or how blatantly racist the guy is. I could mention that it's about the last eighteen years in sports--written expressly to, and making light of, Jaycee Dugard, the girl who was recently found eighteen years after having been kidnapped at the age of eleven, raped and forced to bear the child in a tent in her kidnapper/rapist's backyard! I could mention those things, but I'd rather you just read it yourself. Don't miss the punchy closing, where Whicker's witticism really hits a homer: "Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard."

I thought it couldn't be topped, as I read more internet news all day. And then I came upon another right-wing wack-job, one Andrew Malcolm, and his political blog on the Los Angeles Times website. It's nowhere near as incredibly tactless as Whicker's, but for all it lacks in unabashed insensitivity, it makes up for in sheer stupidity. At least Whicker's article had a point. A completely horrible one, but a point all the same. Malcolm's rant on the city of Pittsburgh, the sport of hockey and that goddamn foreigner "President" Obama just didn't really have much of a direction. It sounded more like a snot-nosed diary entry than an article for one of the biggest newspapers in the United States. Someone in a Malkin jersey must have cut him off on the 5 and he just couldn't get over it by the time his editor made him turn something in.

If this is really the state of the newspaper industry today, may it all go directly to hell, do not pass go, do not collect any more of my money. It's not just about the piss-poor writing, though I'll admit that's most of it; I mean, seriously, here I am, a writer myself who wishes his writing could be read by the millions that stumble over these two bozos' idiotic pap every week--and I don't even get paid for it! This isn't just the fault of two idiot paleoconservative hack "political" writers; it's the fault of their editors, their byline authors, and their newspapers at large. The simple fact that this kind of shit can make it into print at all is indicative of the standards to which our papers have fallen. This isn't even Pat Buchanan making his retarded, but at least well-written, weekly rants to the Washington Post. This is just... bad. It's horrible. It's a 9th-grader's attempt at humor on his Xanga blog. And there's a reason no one uses that site anymore.

In closing, I thought I should share just one more thing: my response to Malcolm, which apparently the LA Times didn't approve, because it hasn't showed up on the site a full ten hours later. And by "LA Times", I apparently mean Malcolm himself, because if you click through the comments that have been left, you'll notice little annotations beneath the better part of them... see them down there in the parentheses? Yeah, those are little notes that Malcolm actually added to people's posts, just to try to fit in more fun little jabs. He's the one modding his comments? Wonderful. This is who we are paying with our subscription money. I can't figure out why he didn't do the same to my post, or even let it show up at all. Guess it hit a little too close to home.

But I digress, as always. Now, my response. And to all my readers, have a happy somber 9/11!

Man, between you and Mark Whicker, this has really been a watershed week for Southern California newspaper columnists. But as deeply disturbed as I was at his complete lack of tact, I at least saw the ill-fated point of his article. You however... what exactly was it that you were even trying to say here? This couldn't really just be a rant about the city of Pittsburgh. I mean, you're a professional journalist, for one of the biggest newspapers in the United States. They don't print diary entries there, do they?

It's about hockey, right? You've just got sand in your shorts about the Kings, I guess. Hey man, we're Pirates fans, we know how it is to be on the losing team. Or is this about football? Are you still worked up about losing your Rams and your Raiders? It's been fifteen years, you know. Probably time to move on. Maybe it's just President Obama getting you all riled up. I'm sure just hearing that name gets your knickers all in a twist. Sounds kinda foreign, doesn't it? Man, you sure don't like that; especially not with that pesky "President" out there in front. So that's what it's got to be, right? A little bit of hate, maybe a touch of jealousy, a sprinkle of racism thrown in their for good measure. Because it can't just be about how much you think Pittsburgh sucks. There's no way your editor let this kind of thing slip through.

Seriously now, Mr. Malcolm. To pick this thing apart would be a field day for any legitimate journalist. The least you could have done when you decided to turn in a snot-nosed diary entry to your editor this week was take a minute for some fact-checking. You've already been called out on the history of Pittsburgh and the whole inviting national championship professional sports teams to the White House thing, so it's pointless to retread. But as a Californian, I'm sure you know that the "guns and religion" quip, which is always taken spectacularly out of context, was spoken at a fundraiser in San Francisco. But then again, I'm sure you don't pay much attention to the northern part of your state. Too many hippies and gays for your liking, eh?

Regardless of your politics, I'm ashamed. Not just as a Pittsburgher, or a sports fan in general, but as an aspiring political writer myself. To think that you've got a job and millions of subscribers while I write for free and reach only those who go looking for it; it just about makes me sick to the stomach, sir. This is absolutely some of the worst writing I've read since... well, since this morning when Mr. Whicker's ridiculous article was blasted all over the internet. I can only hope that the both of you find your desks empty come Monday. The newspaper business is already sounding its swan song, and they're probably looking to cut some fat in your office anyway.