Friday, February 27, 2009

Never tell me the odds

In writing this blog post, I am taking a short break from putting together my first Saying Story of 2009. This go-round, we're using song lyrics as our inspiration; my story (indeed, all of my stories this year) will concern, thusly, a fictitious totally real rock band. Look, here's the cover of their first album.

It won't be finished until tomorrow, but I thought I'd use this space to remind you that I actually used to write and publish things. No, really, I did. Here, as proof, is a list of my favorite things that I've written. If you think I'm forgetting something, I implore you to remind me.
Back to writing now. I need to finish. I will finish.

Anyone taking odds on my success? Not good, are they?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The internet is awesome

So, here's a cool meme. I did one like this once, where I used Wikipedia to name my band, first album and track listing. Here's another, which I stole from the Onion's A.V. Club:
  • Go to Wikipedia. Hit "random article." The title of the article is the name of your band.
  • Go to the Random Quotes page at the Quotations Page. The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is your album title.
  • Finally, go to Flickr. Click on "Explore the last seven days," and the third picture -- no matter what it is -- is your album cover.
I followed said meme, leading to my creation of this masterpiece album cover (click to enlarge):

That's Operation Pipe Dream, with People on the Way Down. Too perfect, right?

Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone. Time to give it another try (click to enlarge again):

Yes, that's New England Nun, with Evil That You Can Change.

Clearly, this is too great to not try again (I'm sure you've caught up with the enlarging by now):

This one is Dagbladet, with Time to Start Your Day. That looks like an Elliot Smith singer-songwriter kind of album, doesn't it?

I could do this all night, and if I don't stop now, I might. So I'll stop.

You should try some of your own. I don't expect you to take the time I did and actually create the album art, but the results should still be interesting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I know "Hey Jude"

I love it when my computer spits out a totally benign message that sounds awesome out of context.

This one just came up a few seconds ago: Paul McCartney has finished downloading.

I guess after I plug back into the construct and download John, George and Ringo, I'll be my own personal Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Which reminds me, did you hear the guy in the background of the Abbey Road cover died a few days ago? Did you even know there was a guy in the background of the Abbey Road cover?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

O what providence! What divine intelligence!

The Decemberists have a new album due March 24. You'll excuse me if I geek out for a moment.

The Hazards of Love is what the Decemberists have been on the verge of doing their entire career: a full-blown rock opera. It will bring us the story of "a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, Williams; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake," says a press release. All we need are some pirates, some ghosts and some pirate ghosts, and it sounds pretty typical, really.

And then's the track listing -- oh, gods, the track listing:
  1. Prelude
  2. The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
  3. A Bower Scene
  4. Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
  5. The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
  6. The Queen's Approach
  7. Isn't It a Lovely Night?
  8. The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid
  9. An Interlude
  10. The Rake's Song
  11. The Abduction of Margaret
  12. The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing
  13. Annan Water
  14. Margaret in Captivity
  15. The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
  16. The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)
  17. The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)
Sweet Jesus. "The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone"? I haven't heard a note of this, and it's already my favorite album ever.

On that note, here are the Decemberists, live in the studio, performing the greatest song ever: "The Mariner's Revenge Song" from Picaresque, one of the most spectacular records ever produced.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Gee, Chang not see that coming

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss just won Album of the Year at the Grammys. What a shock! I certainly didn't see that -- oh, wait, yes I did.
Radiohead is the other band the voters like to hose, so don't get too excited over the Album of the Year nod for In Rainbows. Even though it's the best record on that list. That doesn't matter. Not even a little bit. At all. The award will actually go to, as it always does, the oldest and/or deadest nominee -- in this case, Robert Plant, who's been dead since 1989.
--me, two months ago
Can I call 'em, or can I call 'em, folks?

Best live performance of the night? Neil Diamond, of all people, strolling his way through "Sweet Caroline." Runner-up: Radiohead and the USC Marching Band.

Aside from that: three and a half hours I want back.

So, typical Grammys.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Weekly iPod Shuffle: 2/7/09

1. "Alpha Beta Parking Lot," Cake
Alpha Beta, if memory serves, is a chain of grocery stores in California. I seem to remember them from my time living there, but just barely. Truth be told, I don't remember much from California. Some of that is because I was so young and it was so long ago; some of it has to be on purpose. Oh well. This song is a little slower than Cake usually goes for, but I'm down. (My rating: ****)

2. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," Radiohead
We're less than twenty-four hours away from Radiohead getting screwed out of the Album of the Year Grammy! Are you pumped! I know I am! Seriously, though, In Rainbows was phenomenal, but I can't see the Grammy voters approving weird, off-the-wall stuff like this, even if it is brilliant. (*****)

3. "Disgustipated," Tool
The strangest song Tool has yet to record. Yeah, just sit in that for a minute. It's barely a song, really -- Maynard howls an absurdist speech in the voice of a southern minister while farm animals bleat in the background, followed by a chanted chorus and shotgun blasts. It's actually really funny, but not something you'd want to listen to on a regular basis, you know? (***)

4. "Steady As We Go [live]," Dave Matthews Band
Even when Dave writes a mediocre song, as he did here, you can usually trust in a live performance to bring about mass improvements. Usually. (**)

5. "Battle with Magus," Chrono Trigger
Ah, there -- see? I told you I had more than just that one clip. Chrono Trigger has the greatest soundtrack of any video game ever. You may have missed it, but I also hold the game itself in high regard. (*****)

6. "A Beautiful Life," Everclear
Over the course of his storied, up-and-down career in the music business, Art Alexakis wrote and recorded many songs with his band, Everclear. This is one of them. (**)

7. "The Great Below," Nine Inch Nails
One of Trent's very best. This is the last song of his disc from his masterpiece, The Fragile. I don't know if that record really tells a story or anything, but this certainly ends the first half on a high note. Or, well, a low note, really. (*****)

8. "I Will Follow You into the Dark," Death Cab for Cutie
Spoiler alert: I have a lot to say about this song, but I'm saving for the next entry in my Musical Canon series. So I won't say it here. Instead -- you what's cool? YouTube covers. You know what's cooler? YouTube covers lit entirely by the fridge.

See: cooler. Get it? (*****)

9. "Going Mobile," The Who
One of the coolest things I've ever seen: the VH1 Classic Albums episode about Who's Next, where the producer picks apart the master track for his song and shows off all the little pieces. The Who were truly one of the greatest bands ever. "Going Mobile" sounds so effortless, but there's a lot going on under there...and they recorded almost all of it live off the floor, just three guys playing in a room. Incredible. (*****)

10. "Ghost Train," Counting Crows
Fun fact: heavy metal band Between the Buried and Me took their name from a line in this classic early Crows song. Fun fact: Between the Buried and Me are absolutely, jaw-droppingly awful. (*****)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Song of the week

Offered without commentary, here is Neutral Milk Hotel, with "Holland, 1945," from 1998's In the Aeroplane over the Sea.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Two (#94-97)

97. Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy
Fastball - All the Pain Money Can BuyA peculiar brand of rock dominated my local radio station from the mid- to late-nineties. Let's call it alterna-pop: big guitars, lots of distortion, massive choruses and ready-for-radio hooks. Some of these bands you may remember, others not, but they were all I could find on my FM dial through most of my years in high school. Marcy Playground, Tonic, Better Than Ezra, Semisonic, Eve 6, Lit, etc. They were all huge. Some had multiple hits; most had but one.

The winner of this bizarre battle royale? An Austin trio called Fastball, whose hit single "The Way" ruled the airwaves for a few months, gave way to a few less-successful hits, and then pretty much vanished from the face of the mainstream. A follow-up album sold about a tenth as many copies, and Fastball disappeared. And that's too bad, because All the Pain Money Can Buy shows a depth you wouldn't expect from a one-hit wonder. There are the big alterna-pop numbers you'd expect, sure -- "Warm Fuzzy Feeling" and "Fire Escape" are probably the best -- but also a distinct country twinge to be found on the slower tracks, like "Nowhere Road" and the beautiful "Out of My Head."

96. Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica
Modest Mouse - The Moon & AntarcticaIt's jangly, self-indulgent and overlong. The vocals are shaking, the guitars hovering in and out of key. It's a mess. It's also one of the most achingly beautiful records ever produced, a shimmering suite that feels as lonely and as cold as the locations in its title. Issac Brock's musical meditation on death and its aftermath have an effect so few albums do -- it crawls in your head through your ears and stays there, long after it's finished.

Earlier Modest Mouse albums piled on the noise and the quirk until they were practically unlistenable, but Moon finds them finally hitting all their marks. A large part of that is Brian Deck's spacey production; another is Brock's dogged focus. His songs are wounded tirades, seeking out answers and relief when surrounded by pain. He doesn't find much -- the closer, "What People Are Made Of," slams the door with a bang, coming to the conclusion that they're not made of much more than "water and shit."

95. Jonathan Coulton, Smoking Monkey
Jonathan Coulton - Smoking MonkeyThis might be a tad ironic, because Smoking Monkey isn't close to being JoCo's best release. The Thing a Week series is stunning merely because of its achievement, let alone the quality of some of those songs; the Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow EP is an essential that everyone should have in their collection. But again, this is my 100 favorite albums, and Smoking remains his only full-length LP. (Unless you count each part of the Thing a Week series as an individual LP, which I don't. And none of those are consistent enough on their own, anyway.)

Not to give you the impression this is a bad record -- gods, no. Smoking Monkey is a funny, catchy minor miracle, a smart collection of songs that shows a wonderfully geeky sensibility. Old holiday stories get tossed into a cuisinart on "Christmas Is Interesting," and "First of May" strips people-get-together sing-alongs of their innocence. My favorite: "Kenesaw Mountain Landis," an hilarious retelling of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, which manages to get just about every fact as wrong as possible in just over three and a half minutes -- "Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a bad motherfucker / He was seventeen feet tall, he had a hundred fifty wives" -- before ending it with a pun on Shoeless Joe Jackson vs. singer Joe Jackson.

94. Van Morrison, St. Dominic's Preview
Van Morrison - Saint Dominic's PreviewSo, in my first post, when I hinted that the artists with three entries wouldn't be who you'd expect -- exactly who was I trying to kid?

I could go on for days and days about Van's voice (and don't think I won't in his later appearances on our countdown), but this time around I'll focus on the songs, which are among the brightest he's recorded. "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" practically bounces with glee; "Redwood Tree" glows like the sunset. The title track, one of his very best compositions, feels like a reassuring arm slung over your shoulder. Elsewhere, "Almost Independence Day" harkens back to his first album, the flawless Astral Weeks, and features an acoustic guitar melody strikingly similar to one Pink Floyd would use on "Wish You Were Here" three years later.

If you don't have any Van Morrison (for shame!), St. Dominic's may be the best place to start. Not as spiritual as Astral Weeks, but it's the perfect feel-good record. Listening to Van here, I can't help but smile. You won't be able to, either.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Watchmen watch