Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Home, In Pictures; And Randomness; With a Song

Time spent at home has been exhilarating thus far. It couldn’t have gone a whole lot better. Usually, I think, if someone’s parents ask you to help watch your little brother for four day, the internal response is probably not all that positive. But in my case it’s a little different. See, Jonathan is at his best when he’s out in nature. And what have I been missing? Nature. On Monday we took a trip to Mt. Walker and the Dosewallips River. Call it a mini-trip. It was just a warmup for Tuesday. But this isn’t bad for a warmup, is it?

IMG_2724 IMG_2739 Tuesday I was excited because not only did Holly and Jonathan come, but we got our friend Brianna to come along as well. If there’s anything I love more than nature coming home, it’s reconnecting with family and friends. This trip had all three. We headed to the Pacific Ocean at La Push via the now-famous-due-to-Twilight city of Forks. Then we headed up to the Olympic National Park via the Deer Park lookout on Blue Mountain. Just a few highlight:

IMG_2777 IMG_2790 IMG_2812 IMG_2820 IMG_2843 All in all it was an 11 hour adventure. But the fun doesn’t end! I’m now sitting on the shores of Dyes Inlet at Old Mill Park blogging and watching my little bro throw rocks into the water.

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You could have been certain from the start of the Tea Party Movement that there would eventually be some sort of effort to discredit. I’m not a “Tea Party” member and have never attended their rallies. But whether it be the Tea Party or most other politically based organizations, it’s inherently stupid to refer to the organization as being racist just because there are a couple idiots among them. Unless the organization itself it racist (KKK, among others), then you might as well call the state of Washington racist because you heard of some moron up in Everett. There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize both conservatives and liberals, and the minute I hear someone voice idiocy like this, I think they’re just desperate and unintelligent.

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For those of you who read my post on Lebron James not too long ago, watching Steve Carrell’s take on the situation is downright hilarious.

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GPS kinda freaks me out.

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It’s weird to me that if something happens to my flight back home that no one will call me. I’m done. I haven’t grasped that yet. And I’m not entirely a big fan of that.

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I decided yesterday that instead of keeping the traditional “Top Five Celebrities” list that mine will just be Alexis Bledel and Zooey Deschanel alternating, with Alexis Bledel earning three of the spots.

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My brother gets home tonight. He’s already technically returned home from his deployment, but this will be the day he actually lands in Washington, and I have the honor of picking him up at the airport with his daughter (my niece). I haven’t seen him since my wedding over two years ago. Isn’t that crazy?

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Song recommendation comes from Portland band Horse Feathers. It’s called “Belly of June”.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thoughts on Moving Day

You know what’s a little awkward? In a military move they send people out to pack all your stuff. On one hand, this is awesome. On the other hand, I’m not supposed to do anything, so I’ve been relegated to sitting here and watching as they work their tails off. I might as well get out the shades, get a drink with an umbrella in it, and kick my feet up. Fortunately for me, I have two things going for me. First, “packers” and “movers” are separate things, so the packers are here doing the small, box-able items. This means my couch is still safe and sound at this point. Second, although my internet is down now, I’m happy to report that “Jeffery” has kept his wireless internet unsecured, so I’m happily leeching so that I can blog while I sit here awkwardly.

Yesterday was my last day with my Materiel Management Flight at work. It was a pretty emotional day for me, though I made it through without tears. I think I’m a decently emotional guy—at least comparatively—but there were no tears. Part of me wishes I could’ve mustered some for the people who think that things don’t effect you unless you’re crying. But it was a hard day….and I’ve had far too many hard days lately. This week has been a whirlwind. I’m physically exhausted from working on the house from sunrise to sunset. And after saying goodbye to my co-workers, my friends, my flight, my minions of elementary schoolers at Bible Buzz, and the church, I’m so, so done with saying goodbye. I’m looking very much forward to landing in Seattle tomorrow night and just taking it easy for a couple weeks.

Hello Seattle-ites, do I have some plans for you. Two Mariners games? A couple hikes? The beach? I want to go here:

Moose Lake

That, my friends, is Moose Lake in the Olympic National Park. It’s a hike I did with my dad a long time ago. If I have my way, I’ll be going back soon. You just can’t beat an alpine lake, ya know? Idaho has a lot of nice things, but what they really lack is trees and naturally occurring water. Heading to the “water” around here plants you at a man-made reservoir. Man-made reservoirs just never look that pretty.

I’m looking forward to hitting the road and checking out some of the sights of America in places I’ve never been. We’ll be doing Grand Teton National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel and Wind Cave, Badlands National Park, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, the most famous BBQ place in the US in Kansas City, The Gateway Arch, and whatever random places we fine. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “please, Derek, do a travel blog!”. (Wait, you weren’t thinking that?). Well, have no fear, I’m certain that I would be happy to pass the time at the hotels with a little travel blog action.

Well, Holly has taken our poor cat into the backyard to ease the pain. He’s been trapped in his carrier in the back room while the packers are here. Yup, he’s pretty miserable. But they’re almost done with the kitchen, so hopefully this won’t go too far after lunch. It’s going to be a late night, probably, since we have just tonight and tomorrow morning to get the house ready for our final inspection. When I land in Seattle tomorrow I’m going to be exhausted. I already am.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Top 10 Songs of 2010…and Top 3 Albums (Midseason Edition)

(Disclaimer! Top 10 songs and Top 3 albums of 2010 are a reflection of current feelings on July 12, 2010 and do not necessarily guarantee similar ranking in the official yearly Top 50 mega-post! Alright, phew, on with the list.)

Thus far 2010 is shaping up to be the best music year since the delightful 2007. Frankly, I believe I could make a Top 50 right now that would be superior to last year's entire Top 50. That says as much about this year as last year.

I couldn’t help but notice we just hit the halfway mark of the year, and since people tend to pay more attention to smaller lists anyhow, here are the Top 10 Songs of 2010 So Far (with youtube vids!).

1) The National – “Conversation 16”

The National will have multiple songs on the final list this year, but none will be higher than “Conversation 16”, a song that relates lack of self-confidence and presence of self-doubt as sincerely as you’ll here. Combine that with the musical chops of The National and you have the #1 track thus far.

2) Broken Bells – “High Road”

I’m a major fan of The Shins, so hearing that The Shins’ lead singer was teaming with Danger Mouse got me pretty excited. But nothing excited me more than hearing “High Road” for the first time.

3) LCD Soundsystem - “I Can Change”

When James Murphy hits the “ah-ah-ah-ahl-riiiight” right at 2:55 an already outstanding album hits its peak. “I Can Change” continues an LCD Soundsystem tradition of taking an album filled with dance tracks and supporting it with at least one flat out masterpiece.

4) Freelance Whales - “Generator ^ Second Floor”

Probably my favorite new band, Freelance Whales display their amazing knack for indie pop on their debut album. No track is better than “Generator ^ Second Floor”, whether on the album or in utilizing banjo.

5) Band of Horses - “Factory”

What do you get when you combine the wistful alt-country vibe of Band of Horses with a little strings? You get “Factory”, the best track off of their new album.

6) The Hold Steady - “The Sweet Part of the City”

The Holy Steady tried something new on their newest album: singing. Mostly ditching the speaking-with-the-music storytelling vibe, Craig Finn flexes the pipes a little bit here. Put that together same visceral imagery that The Hold Steady are known for and you get “The Sweet Part of the City”.

7) Avi Buffalo - “What’s In It For?”

If I told you this song was made by a 17 year old and includes a line like “your lips are like tiny pieces of bacon”, would you even remotely believe that it could be that good? Try it.

8) Local Natives - “Airplanes”

I listen to a lot of details in music, but percussion is normally where I fall short. But the percussion here is front and center, and the song is better for it. Local Natives are going to big says this aspiring amateur music critic.

9) Minus the Bear - “My Time”

While the album may be disappointing, there is nothing disappointing about the powerful “My Time” from Minus the Bear. From the time the song builds of it’s intro it never stops.

10) Spoon - “Who Makes Your Money?”

Spoon continued their wonderful run of excellence on “Transference”, and the best track is the understated “Who Makes Your Money?” with it’s sly details, subtle electronics, and soft touches of Britt Daniels’ throaty vocals.

(By the way, I’m still deciding how I’ll fit the monster 2009 trio of The Antlers’ “Kettering”, “Bear”, and “Two” into the equation since it doesn’t seem right that they don’t get some inclusion, and I missed them completely in 2009’s list.)

And the Top 3 albums are:

1) The National - “High Violet”

I can’t believe I’m writing this. When May saw new releases from LCD Soundsystem, The Hold Steady, Band of Horses, and Minus the Bear I would never, EVER believe the best album would be a throw-in purchase by The National. But it’s true. The National’s “High Violet” is a powerhouse album with zero weak tracks, and some stunners that include “Conversation 16” and “England”.

2) The Hold Steady - “Heaven is Whenever”

The Hold Steady branched free from their usual stories and characters and even tried singing out for size, and didn’t miss a beat. Led by “The Sweet Part of the City”, “Hurricane J”, and “Weekenders”, this album is great front to back.

3) Broken Bells - “Broken Bells”

Fans of The Shins will not be disappointed. Some could even argue that the album is “better Shins”. Headlined by “High Road” and propelled to greatness by “Vaporize”, “The Ghost Inside”, and “Trap Doors”, this album is nearly impossible not to like.

Honorable Mentions: Spoon – “Transference”; LCD Soundsystem – “This is Happening”; Local Natives – “Gorilla Manor”; Yeasayer - “Odd Blood”; Band of Horses - “Infinite Arms”; Freelance Whales – “Weathervanes”; Mumford & Sons - “Sigh No More”

Six more months of music to go, and still many more from earlier in the year that I’m just getting a change to listen to, so more changes may be in the mix when the annual megapost comes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Music Review: Gaslight Anthem - “American Slang”

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The straightforward, no-frills guitars-and-drums style of Gaslight Anthem evokes Bruce Springsteen references wherever it is discussed. The Gaslight Anthem don’t dabble in electronics/sythns or what some folks would call gimmicks. Nothing but the gruff, throaty vocals of Brian Fallon and the spirit of rock and roll.

Gaslight Anthem’s previous album, The ‘59 Sound, was full of some strong tracks, but fell short of being a memorable overall album. The good news for Gaslight Anthem is that with “American Slang” they come up with an album that’s once again full of strong tracks, but this time a little more consistently. Nostalgia and storytelling are rampant, churning forth songs about blue-collar city folk and singing lines like “my queen of the Bronx”, “the lights go low on the avenue”, and “American girls, they want the whole world”. If America has it’s own mythology outside of country music, then leave it to the Bruce Springsteens, Hold Steadys, and Gaslight Anthems of the world to tap it.

Stunning tracks like “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” highlight the band at its best, combining the elements of storytelling and a memorable-yet-simple guitar riff. The toe-tapping wonder of “The Diamond Church Street Choir” shows a band with chaps, mastering the syncopation and verbal phrasing as Fallon writes “But the beat never leaves/and the tempo’s a relief/to my aching bones, rambling all over”. On “Boxer” and “Old Haunts” the nostalgia flows free, with the characters in the songs delivering tines like “Remember them songs/and the reasons we were singing” and “God help the man who says/’if you’d have know me when…’”. By the time Gaslight Anthem drop a line “the cool is dead, baby” on “The Spirit of Jazz”, you’re convinced they have the cred to make such a statement.

I don’t believe The Gaslight Anthem are going to change the world, but like their contemporaries, the superior band The Hold Steady, they show that some bands feel that straight-laced rock and roll doesn’t have to choose between the synth-rock of bands like The Killers or the self-loathing pop-rock of bands like Three Days Grace. Give the song below a shot, and if you like it you’ll probably like the rest.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Of Lebron James, Mel Gibson, Chuck Norris, and PG Action Adventure Movies. Plus a Song!

So Lebron James announced his new team yesterday in a press stunt TV show called “The Decision” in his attempt to become as unlikeable as Kobe Bryant. What kind of self-gratifying jerkwad uses a tv special with a name as over-dramatic as “The Decision” to announce a new team? Not only does he lose any legacy potential he had by staying with the same team his whole career, he ruins his entire reputation in the process by doing something completely unnecessary. I think the next time I need to make a big announcement I’m going to bring together everyone at work into a meeting that I title “The Announcement” where I tell them something completely mundane.

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Who would have thought a few years back that both Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson would become completely unbankable stars? I know that we never really know anything about the stars that we watch on the screen or listen to. I also don’t usually care too much about the personal lives of these people since they are not role models, but entertainers. Which is why I haven’t completely disowned Tom Cruise, since being certifiably crazy hasn’t stopped from listening to any number of musicians. But these latest Mel Gibson issues? Hard to look past. When looking at someone on the screen does nothing except for remind you about what kind of disgusting person someone is, then I guess their career is over.

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There comes a time when all trendy jokes come to an end. It’s usually right around the time that everyone catches on to the joke. It’s when parents start saying them and news anchors start repeating them. That being said, Chuck Norris jokes ended a long time ago.

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Watched “Prince of Persia” today, which was fun albeit predicable. The Disney PG/PG-13 Action Adventure genre is satisfying in the same way that Matchbox Twenty is satisfying: You know exactly what you are going to get, it’s executed to be intentionally acceptable to everyone, it’s still executed well, and you come out with the gratification that it was exactly what you expected it to be. In other related news, my wife likes Jake Gyllenhaal and Rob Thomas.

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Song of the day is “O.N.E.” from Yeasayer’s sophomore album “Odd Blood”.

But wait, it’s a BONUS song recommendation!!! Brought to you from the wistful band The Middle East is a song entitled “Blood”.

Peace out!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Wife Prefers the Random Blogs

After essentially begging my wife to read my last music review she readily admitted she preferred my so-called “random blogs”. I guess that’s just how it is. I’ll forgive her. Or maybe I’ll get her back by talking about politics, since she hates it when I do that. So, Holly, this one goes out to you. Here come the random tidbits!!!

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My least favorite lyrical thing is when songwriters rhyme “love” with “above”. It annoys the tar out of me. Lyrical copout! I call lyrical copout! Listen for it. You’ll hear it ALL. THE. TIME. How can this happen? Well, I Binged (yes, you Bing things if you can Google them) and the rhyming dictionaries suggest glove, dove, shove, and above. My guess is combining love and glove is a bad idea. Dove is hard to pull off. Shove pushes us into domestic violence territory. So what happens? Either we end phrases constantly with “of”, find a way to work “thereof” into the line, or we just get to hear Britney Spears sing “Oops you think I’m in love/That I’ve been sent from above” or Mariah Carey belting “Sent from up above/So much love”. Yes, these are the kind of things that I think about at night.

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Who here has seen How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? Isn’t he a total jerk? He really is. He’s a cocky guy who uses her as a pawn. But wait! SHE is a jerk too. She' uses him as a pawn TOO. Usually movies try to get you to root for the male and female leads to get together. In the best romantic comedies you are pulling for them both. In Say Anything, it will kill you if Lloyd doesn’t get the girl. In the bad ones, such as Kate & Leopold, you end up wondering why in the world Leopold deserves to get stuck with that nasty Kate. But How to Lose a Guy 10 Days you get the most interesting combo yet. Do you pull for them to get together so that these two jerkwards don’t go infesting other peoples’ lives and instead let their rottenness just permeate and destroy one family?

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Pomegranates. They’re an event, not a just a food.

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That guy on Man vs. Food is going to die at 34. I almost get heart attacks WATCHING the show.

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http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-07-03-drive-through-ban_N.htm

It should be illegal to prevent businesses from opening competing institutions just because a few people believe that enforcing a “healthy community” is actually something government should be allowed to do. Is a healthy community better? I guess, but honestly people, what country do we live in where I couldn’t even open a Subway, like I’m spreading some sort of drug. Are people really okay with the government telling them what they can and cannot eat, like we don’t already know that McDonald’s is bad for us when we order it in the first place?

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Who doesn’t love a good shiskebob? C’mon, really. Grilled meat and veggies on a stick? Awesome.

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Did a five year old name “brownies”? That’s like naming your cat “Kitty” or turtle “Shelly”.

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Paul Rubin of the Wall Street Journal wonders why the oil spill cleanup is taking so long. Like Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703426004575339650877298556.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_opinion

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If I were a super hero I would be Iron Man. I’m actually really good at ironing. Holly has me iron her shirts for her.

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Since I’ve criticized the ultra-liberal (fast food bans) and the Obama administration (using the oil crisis), let me take a moment to say this. I don’t give a rip if Obama golfs. I didn’t give a rip when Bush went to his Texas ranch either. Presidents age what appears to be 20 years in just 4. I get stressed running an 84 person section at work, and these guys run the country. And they can’t take one day off? These pics of Obama golfing during the oil spill have no effect on me. Maybe he needs a day on the course to clear his mind and reattack the problem.

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They should just stop briefing the seat belt instructions on planes. It’s embarrassing.

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I love when people use big words to sound smart. Like metallic oxide salts.

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Any oldie but a goodie from My Morning Jacket.

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Music Review: Avi Buffalo - “Avi Buffalo”

AviBuffalo_20PT ALT PACKAGE 1 UP ★1/2

They often draw comparisons to one of my very favorite bands, The Shins. They hail from Sub Pop records, home of stellar bands Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and many more. They released one of the year’s best tracks so far, “What’s In It For?”.

Unfortunately for Avi Buffalo, it doesn’t get much past the stellar setup. Despite releasing an album that’s heavy on the comparisons to great bands, solid on the musicianship, and rife with critical acclaim, I must confess that I just don’t get it. Not all of it at least.

Avi Buffalo are basically a group of uber-talented high schoolers who have here concocted a collection of summer-sounding west coast indie jams. Lead singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg was one of the most grounded, likeable people who I had the pleasure of seeing at the Sasquatch Festival this summer. Reviews that I have flipped through have thrown around such heavy-hitting names as The Shins (wikipedia calls them “Shins-esque”), Wilco, Neil Young, and Built to Spill. And, on the heels of hearing their amazing song “What’s In It For?”, perhaps I set my expectations too high when I downloaded their entire album.

“What’s In It For?” is one of the most easily digest able and likeable indie songs to hit the shelves recently. The sunny Beach Boys-ish guitars, longing vocals, tepid synth organ, and sing-along-able woah-ohs are irresistible. And when they lay down a line like “You are tiny and your lips are like little pieces of bacon”, they actually pull it off in a way that just makes you smile and laugh along, rather than laughing AT.

I approached the rest of the album with open, welcoming ears. I waited for the greatness to hit me. When I didn’t hear greatness I sought out what I was missing, pouring through critical reviews trying to hear what they were saying. But I never found it. The songmanship is most certainly there, and musically I find the details, such as the twinkling background piano and horns on “Coaxed” appeasing, despite not really finding any reason to listen to “Coaxed” on a regular basis. I find the crescendo on “Remember the Last Time” to be a great portion of the song, but I wouldn’t recommend it to friends. I did find “Five Little Sluts” and it’s adolescent musings about washing your pores amusing, and I believe it’s probably the album’s second best track. Slow moving “Jessica” is good as well, but that’s about it.

I’ll try to wrap this up succinctly so as to clearly express my feelings on Avi Buffalo, because I feel like I may be giving an odd impression about them. Avi Buffalo are an amazingly talented collection of musicians who put together songs that are lush in detail. Their songs have the feel of a band who have been seasoned with years of growth and experience despite being teenagers. However, on a song by song basis there is only one or two truly memorable, repeatable, mix tape eligible songs. In a way what I’m simply trying to say is that you can like what a band does, how they sound, the thought process behind the music, etc., and still not come away blown away by the tracks.

My suggestion? There’s not a better 99 cents you can spend right now than to log onto iTunes or Amazon and download “What’s In It For?”. If you adore the track try “Five Little Sluts”, “Jessica”, and maybe even “Remember the Last Time”. But the whole album? In an age where you can purchase track-by-track, don’t bother.

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