Sunday, April 17, 2005

CD/DVD hunting

I've mentioned it here before, but I once bought an excellent-condition hardcover copy of Stephen King's It at Half-Price Books for $1. That was a good day.

I generally find myself gravitating toward the CD section whenever I go in there. Now, any store's used-CD section presents an interesting dilemma: the music is clearly cheaper, yes (especially at Half-Price Books, where everything is -- obviously -- half-price), but the chances of finding anything truly good there are small. I mean, if it's really good, the person who bought it wouldn't have sold it back in the first place. So what you're left with are obscure discs you've never heard of (probably someone's birthday presents), the back catalog of one-hit wonders and pop-culture detritus (I saw eight different copies of the same Backstreet Boys CD, no kidding), and weaker releases from quality artists. (You can also find the occasional diamond lost in there -- I saw two, not one but two, copies of Crash from the Dave Matthews Band and couldn't believe it.) The odds of finding, say, Sgt. Pepper's or Nevermind or OK Computer or The Joshua Tree are beyond remote.

Since I had a few bucks to burn (and the DVD section was an enormous disappointment), I picked up three CDs. One of the three I actually own on cassette (do our younger readers remember cassettes?), one of them I used to have but lost, and a third was just really cheap.

Cake, Fashion Nugget
I've waxed poetic about Cake before, but they are really one of the most original-sounding bands out there. Rock + pop + country + a trumpet + background vocals like a 30s-style Big Band + a lead vocalist that occasionally sounds like a drunken karaoke singer = Cake. If that's a genre, I'm not sure which it is. Their first album, Motorcade of Generosity, is largely forgettable; crappy production values mar the few good songs available, and the only track that gets out alive is the too-cool "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," which somehow still gets airplay once a year or so. Fashion Nugget was the follow-up, and it's a success on all levels. The inebriated cover of "I Will Survive" got them airplay as a novelty act, but it was the next single, the awesomely awesome "The Distance," that blew the doors off and hit big. The rest of the record follows along the same lines -- quirky, but never self-consciously so, with a crystal-clear sound that parodoxically sounds as if it were recorded in someone's basement (the band is credited as producing the record, but I have to imagine leader/vocalist John McCrea is primarily responsible, as he's listed as producer for their later albums). If you haven't yet picked up a Cake album, you should first slap yourself, then buy this one.

Dust for Life, Dust for Life
You may remember these guys. You probably don't. They were popular for about five minutes in 2000, on the back of their one hit single, "Step Into the Light." And the only reason anyone heard that song at all was because they shared a label (and perhaps a tour) with Creed, who were still on the upward arc of their meteoric rise. And like Creed, Dust for Life is clearly a graduate of the Grunge School of Music (Alice in Chains campus), but there's a marked difference between them -- Dust for Life is the nerdy kid who sat in the back and paid attention and aced all the tests but missed all the frat parties, while Creed is the annoying fratboy jock asshole that is still somehow popular, the one who beats up the nerdy kid and steals his answers to pass the big exam. Dust for Life, therefore, comes across as a poor man's Alice in Chains, a band with the right sound and style, but without a singer the caliber of Layne Staley or a songwriter the caliber of Jerry Cantrell. (Or, if you prefer, you can think of them as an improved version of Creed, a band with the same sound and style, but without the cloying pretentions of singer-lyricist Scott Stapp or the smug, narcissistic guitar of Mark Tremonti. It's up to you.) If you're a big AiC fan, then you'll probably get a charge out of Dust for Life; otherwise, you probably won't want to bother.

Collective Soul, Disciplined Breakdown
Okay, let's talk about the problem with Collective Soul. They're clearly a very good band. Ed Roland is extremely talented, both as a singer and a producer (my favorite aspect of Collective Soul has always been the sound they get in the studio). The, uh, other guys (can't say I remember any other names) are capable fellows, the guitarists especially. But the songwriting -- it's like they pile up five or six good songs for prospective singles, then say, "That's good enough," and the rest of the disc is occupied by lackluster filler. Now, lots of acts do this, sure...but the good Collective Soul songs are so good that the mediocre tracks drive me nuts. (Of course, then there's Blender, which features one good song, then goes straight into the toilet with ten godawful tracks in a row. So it could be worse.) Disciplined Breakdown is no exception to this rule: there are five excellent tracks, all of them with hefty radio potential -- and at least two of them were indeed hits -- but the rest are not worth the time it takes to listen to them. It's hard not to recommend the album, though, when it boasts a song as good as "Blame," which is as glorious as modern arena rock can get. (The title track is crazy awesome, too.) If you can find this one really cheap, like I did, then pick it up. That said, I'm not surprised to find that someone sold this.

I also found myself at Wal*Mart yesterday. A few weeks ago, I went there looking for Casablanca. They didn't have it. This time, I went in search of the first season of The Sopranos...which they, of course, did not have. But they did have Casablanca this time, because Wal*Mart is a tool of the devil that enjoys my suffering. So I picked up the Bogey flick, along with the largely-forgotten-about The Way of the Gun from the discount rack.

Now, tonight, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble, not to actually buy anything, but to see how much I would have to drop on said Sopranos DVD...and the bastards wanted $99 for it. The West Wing: The Complete Fourth Season, sitting right next to it on the shelf, was forty dollars cheaper. The Sopranos has 13 episodes. The West Wing set has 22. Yet the former is forty dollars more? The hell? (Of course, I already have the fourth season of West Wing, purchased at Wal*Mart for twenty dollars cheaper than B&N. So.)

And this blog entry has gone on waaaaaaaay longer than I originally thought it would.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A weight from my shoulders...

...has been lifted. My entry in the White Wolf contest has been finished and sent in. So now I can stop worrying about finishing it, and start worrying about whether I'll get to the next round or not.

The Holy Trinity of my life: Fear, Anxiety, and Tension.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


So I'm writing...well, 'kay, attempting to write...a plot synopsis as per the requirements of the White Wolf Novel Writing Contest. (The fact that I'm writing this instead of the synopsis should be your first clue as to how it's going.) And I've once again reminded of something I've known of myself for quite some time: I find it difficult to work with word count limits.

See, if I'm just allowed to write as much or as little as I want, then I'm fine (more or less). I write until I have nothing more to say. And it usually works out.

But when the person/group/faceless corporation I'm writing for demands my work be of a certain length, or under a certain length, then suddenly the word count is all I can think about. I'm counting the words of every sentence, deleting adjectives and adverbs, wiping out prepositional phrases, until every sentence sounds like, "Bob is angry. He goes home. Then he kills someone." And I go into so far into Editorial Headhunter mode while I'm writing that the finished product will end up way, way short of the limit. (Right now, I'm at 142 words and running out of things to say.) So this small writing assignment, which should be so simple, turns into something akin to playing Jenga, and I'm desperately shifting blocks of words around, petrified the whole thing will tumble over and crash.

I have until April 15th to strangle this thing into working shape. You may pray for my success, if that's your thing.

(And this post, not counting this parenthetical, featured 259 words, and was written in about five minutes. See what I mean?)