Friday, December 30, 2005

Oh, Traveling.

On a split-second final decision, I will be in New York City for the last day of 2005, hangin' with some sorely-missed SlowKids.

I will not, however, be there for the ball drop. 'Cause I hate crowds.

Also, I've got to get up early to go skiing on Sunday.


That's right. Skiing again!

If you're in New York and not busy, drop me a line or call my cell phone. I'd love to see ya before I head back to the mild climate of Los Angeles.

Oh, and pre-emptive Happy New Year.


that one guy you know, 1:58 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Skiing is All About Physics

Yup. There it is. Something no one in my family, myself included, ever thought they'd see. Me, skiing. Thrill at the marvelous snowpack. Gape in amazement at my skillfully coordinated hodgepodge of a skiing outfit, cobbled together from bits and pieces of other peoples' old outfits. Gawk as I pretend I'm athletic.

Skiing is something just about everyone else in my family does, and one of the many outdoor activities I just never got into when I was growing up. But for some reason, I decided to stop talking about trying it and finally "hit the slopes," as I understand skiers say.

Right now, I'm chalking it up to a pre-mid-midlife crisis ... or something like the constant, ongoing crisis that is my life. 2005 has been rife with examples of me doing things I never thought I'd be doing - voluntarily hiking up the tallest waterfall in North America in hundred degree heat; solo hiking and camping in Oregon for a week; eating fish - so what the hell, right? Let's add skiing to that list.

I got to Mount Southington Wednesday afternoon, where my mother and 14-year-old sister thankfully walked me through the complicated process of putting on ski boots. I was able to balance myself in them pretty quickly, and loudly trudged my way to the instructors' booth at the foot of the bunny hill.

Soon I was awkwardly putting on my rented skis with the rest of my n00b group and learning the wonders of the wedge position. Within no time, I was on the rope pull to the halfway point of the bunny hill.

And of course, within no time after that, I found myself with my ass involuntarily planted in the snow.

But with some help from my knowledgeable (and extremely patient) instructor, I was able to gather enough momentum to make it a good 10-15 meters before falling again. I will say that the one thing I was immediately good at in skiing was falling down. Only the first time did I bend and twist my leg into unnatural positions. After that, I was down and up again in a matter of seconds.

Soon, we were taking the Big Kids ski-lift up to a higher part of the bunny hill, which, admittedly, I was probably not ready for. On that particular run, I must have hit the ground a dozen times. I will say, however, that they were not because of loss of balance, but because I was going too fast and didn't want to plow into groups of errant toddlers. Even though that would be pretty funny to watch.

And of course, all it took was a physics-based explanation of friction and force to get me to understand what I had to do to control speed and direction. Proving, once again, that you can take the nerd outside, but you can't take the ... um ... well, nerd out of the nerd, I guess. Bad analogy, but you get the point.

And I was terrible at physics in high school.

And immediately after that, I was cruising down the hill at respectable speeds without falling or hitting anyone. This picture would be impressive, were it not for the six year old to my right and the eight year old behind me. Still, you have to accept when life gives you little victories, and I will count this as one ... even though I was so sore I could barely move the next day, and I think I may have busted up my knee something fierce.

Next year, I plan on rock climbing in the desert and sleeping with bears in Alaska.

Until then, anyone want to rock the Kiddie Slopes at Big Bear?


that one guy you know, 7:00 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Friendly Reminder

Just a reminder that tomorrow's Attack of the Show "Best of" is Attack of the Sketch, the episode that sucked more of my soul than another other this year.

If you're around and not doin' much at 7PM on Thursday, fire up the ol' G4 and watch us push the very limits of today's green screen technology.

Also, I'm going skiing today for the first time ever, so this episode may double as a televised eulogy.
that one guy you know, 7:24 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Obligatory Top 5(+1) of '05

The time has come for the grand tradition of Annual Top Whatever Lists of Everything. Christmas pastries have settled into a slow state of indigestion, and now everyone's lazily browsing Amazon to spend their holiday cash and/or gift certificates.

And so, being the music nerd I am, I have to have a list of my favorite music of 2005. A Top 5, with one non-2005 release thrown in for good measure and added drama.

It should be noted (and should also become clear after you take a look at my picks) that I usually lean toward a particular type of music, and there are a lot of things on other peoples' lists that I haven't listened to yet. If history proves reliable, I'll start picking up those albums two or three years from now, when everyone's already gotten over them and moved on to something else that's hip, now and wow. Sure I'm late, but then I get to feel like I discovered them myself. And if you're anything like me, then you LIVE for that feeling.

And now, let's begin:

5. The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinemas"

I don't know if the New Pornographers will ever put out anything as cohesive or surprising as "Mass Romantic" again, but it's hard to fault them for that. For me, these guys are in the same boat as the Fountains of Wayne - not every disc is a masterpiece, but when something new comes out, I'm going to buy it because I know it's going to be good.

The band seems to get larger and more democratic with each release, but instead of spinning off into unrelated and disjointed sounds when new writers or singers take the spotlight (I'm lookin' at you, "Fold Your Hands, Child..."), the New Pornographers manage to keep a similar guitar power pop / new wave vibe - even on the more subdued tracks. And half the time, so many people are singing, it just sounds like a bunch of friends hangin' out and rockin' out. In a studio. With lots of polish. Good, good stuff.

4. The Decemberists - "Picaresque"

OK, so knowing that a band is named after a failed 19th century Russian revolutionary group might turn some people off. Those same people might also be turned off by story-songs about whalers, prostitutes, and Dickensian socialites ... or by having to run to the dictionary every four minutes to look up an arcane word just snuck into their ear via a folk-pop song.

But if that kind of thing gets you excited and you still haven't heard the Decemberists, do yourself a favor and pick up "Picaresque." Your English professor would be proud.

On their third full album, the Decemberists are noticably more upbeat. First track "The Infanta" opens with a 21-gun-salute of drums and cymbal crashes and doesn't let up until the opera tenor sounds the final note. Then you're treated to lush, jangle-drenched songs about suicide pacts, village ghosts, and embarassing sport-blunder moments.

Before it's done, "Picaresque" will give you one of the poppiest (and least obnoxious) anti-war songs you've ever heard, and what is probably the best (and only) nine-minute martime homicidal sea shanty performed since the Age of Exploration.

3. Sufjan Stevens - "Illinois"

Sufjan Stevens' second state-specific mini-opera moves south from Michigan to tackle the Land of Lincoln. And just like the last foray, Stevens manages to take local pieces of geography, history, and folklore and use them as jumping-off points for his own highly detailed and effective musical portraits.

Whether it's John Wayne Gacy, Jr., a pair of doomed teenage lovers or an anonymous wanderer en-route to Chicago, each character is given the chance for empathy and disgust, with no obvious weight thrown toward either. Muscially, the backing changes from "Peanuts"-style piano to lightly-strummed acoustic guitars to full on brass and choir sections in ways that are seamless, appropriate, and effective. I think I've seen this disc on almost every Top Albums list for 2005, and with very good reason.

2. Calexico / Iron & Wine - "In the Reins"

If you like Calexico, but wish they'd cut out some of their weirder sonic experiments; or if you like Iron & Wine, but wish Sam Beam would drink some coffee once in while, then consider "In the Reins" your answered prayer.

All of the songwriting on this disc is credited to Beam, and he does almost all of the singing - but "More of Our Endless Numbered Days" this is not. Calexico really shows off what great collaborators they are by taking the gentle folk compositions of Iron and Wine, tossing them in the back of a rusty pickup, and dropping them off in the middle of the desert. From the fencepost rumination of "He Lays in the Reins" to the punchy Vegas horns of "History of Lovers," or the backalley blues bar of "Red Dust," every single song on this EP succeeds. Never once does it sound like Calexico with a new singer, or Iron & Wine with some new backing session men.

If you got the chance to see them on tour this year, then you know how incredible this new omnivorous musical beast is. In New York, Sufjan Stevens joined them on stage. In Portland, The Shins. When I saw them in Los Angeles, they included Mike Watt from The Minutemen, kindred blues/rockers Califone, and alt-country singer Victoria Williams. The covers they played - from Willie Nelson to the Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones - were just as varied and effective.

If you didn't get to see them live, then pray for another tour. In the meantime, though, grab this disc.

+1. Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott - "Real Time"

And now the +1.

This disc actually came out five years ago, but even though it didn't come out last year, I can honestly say it is my favorite purchase of 2005. And thus, the inclusion on this list.

Also, it acts as a nice little cliffhanger before the number one pick comes up. Suspense!

The concept: Two guys, a living room recording studio, a bunch of stringed instruments, and one week's time. The result: an absolute masterpiece that should please not only fans of folk, bluegrass, or traditional country - but all good music in general.

While there are a number of Hank Williams covers and traditional ballads, O'Brien and Scott aren't content to deliver "faithful" renditions, instead injecting new life and energy. The slow and sorrowful murder song "Little Sadie" becomes and absolute barnstormer with O'Brien's high Appalachian tenor. The original songs shine here, as well. Scott's world-weary baritone will stop you in your tracks the first time you hear "There Ain't No Easy Way."

Both of these musicians have released some excellent solo albums, but this is the only one I've heard (so far, at least) that manages to sound both fully polished and fully improvisational at the same time. So let's summarize here - great musicians, great songs, great production. Why don't you own this yet?

and finally...

1. Andrew Bird - "The Mysterious Production of Eggs"

This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows me. I've been singing the praises of Andrew Bird since I bought "Thrills" on an impulse in 2000. What is surprising, though, is that with each time I listen to a new release from Bird, I can honestly say it's his best work.

Wheras 2001's "The Swimming Hour" found him abandoning the hot jazz that built his career for lush classic pop, and 2003's "Weather Systems" had him abandoning all that for haunting farmhouse solitude, "Mysterious Production" performs a great leap forward by taking lessons from each.

Like "Weather Systems," Bird plays almost every instrument himself, and gets some nice assistance from previous Bowl of Fire members Kevin O'Donnell and Nora O'Connor. He further utilizes his incredible whistle and picks up the guitar for the first time on record. But instead of feeling open, airy, and desolate like "Weather Systems," Bird uses looping and multitracking to give each track a full-band feel ... even though there's probably only two or three different people actually playing.

The end result is fourteen sinuous, fully-realized pocket symphonies that not only build, bend, and break in surprising and fascinating ways; but which also work as one cohesive whole. Albums like this only come around once in a while, and they usually only come from Andrew Bird.
that one guy you know, 8:49 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Death of a Gnome

... and so it is with a heavy heart and lowered head we remember the life and times of Cleymour, level 60 Gnome Rogue on the Dragonblight server.

Cleymour was the third of my Azerothian companions, after first flirting with a druid, a shaman, and a mage. Yes, roguery was my first true online virtual love - my dual-wielded, poison-tipped daggers flying slicing through dragons, zombies, and unsuspecting n00bs alike.

Cleymour's greatest passion was his Gnomish Engineering. He never went into battle without his bag full of self-made trinkets. From Shrink Rays to Death Rays to fireworks, Cleymour always had something that would help in every situation. Or, at least, entertain. Cley loved Engineering so much that he would often spend his entire bank account buying raw materials and schematics. As a result, Cley never knew the joy of riding an Epic Mount or wearing fancy armor.

Cleymour was a founding member of the Knights of S., whose vampire bat guild emblem struck fear into those who saw it. As the guild's only rogue, Cleymour was adept at hiding in the bushes while guild druid Barazov spent all of his mana, luring Horde into traps. When the Horde attacked the seemingly helpless night elf, Cley would emerge from the shadows to decimate the confused and angered Horde. These were some of Cleymour's most cherished memories.

But as the Guild dissolved, Cley was left purposeless in Azeroth. No one wants a rogue in their group, and Cley was left to fighting in the Arathi Basin for PvP points. After having trouble getting into other guilds for the same reason, Cleymour grew disinterested and frustrated with long wait times, and departed Azeroth on December 18, 2005 - about one year after he entered the realm.

Let us all share a moment of silence for Cleymour, knowing full well he will probably be back for the next expansion pack.

Cleymour is survived by his Mechanostrider, Gnomish Battle Chicken, Mechanical Dragonling, and Field Repair-Bot. Donations can be made to Casey Schreiner's bank account, in his honor.
that one guy you know, 9:01 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 3 comments |

Sunday, December 11, 2005

For the Record

It was finally done.

For my roommate Meryl's surprise early-birthday party this weekend, I finally did what I'd been talking about for at least four years and sang "Love Hurts" at karaoke.

My previous attempts to sing the song had been limited to the phrase "love hurts," followed by ear-splitting (yet musically correct) falsetto caterwauling. This was the first time I had actually seen the lyrics to the song, which increased my appreciation for the masterpiece at least a dozen-fold.

Let's take a look at some choice samples, shall we?

"Love hurts, love scars,
Love wounds, and marks,
Any heart, not tough,
Or strong, enough
To take a lot of pain,
Take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts, ooh ooh love hurts"

Yes. You just read the phrase "love is like a cloud. Holds a lot of rain." Genius!

"I’m young, I know,
But even so
I know a thing, or two
I learned, from you
I really learned a lot,
Really learned a lot
Love is like a flame
It burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts, ooh ooh love hurts"

How much did you learn? A lot? A lot. And what did you learn? That love is like a flame (that) burns you when it's hot.

For the record, it will take one vodka tonic and two vodkas on the rocks to get me to sing this if we're at a karaoke bar together. If there's an arbitrary scoring system, like there was for us, I will score a perfect 100.

Salt 'n' Pepa's "None of Your Business," I will sing for free. But only when accompanied by Aimee Jones.
that one guy you know, 8:55 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 6 comments |

MySpace = New Cultural Revolution?

So I guess the kids really like this MySpace thing, huh?

A few days ago, Cable Television Darling Kevin Pereira put me in his top 8, and ever since then I've gotten a steady stream of AOTS fans, who all want to tell me how funny things are and clog up my bulletins with chain letter surveys.

Not that I'm complaining. I don't know exactly what MySpace is actually useful for, yet ... but now that I only actually know a tiny fraction of the people listed as my friends, I'm sure whatever usefulness the site features has been long flushed away.

Witness the current bulletin snapshot:

We've got something about football, a chain letter, a survey/chain letter, a bit of nonsense, and a MySpace whoring. Interesting? Yes. Useful? Nope.

Unless the actual use of MySpace really IS to waste time. Is Rupert Murdoch a Red Commie Cyborg from China, sent to befuddle us with television news and destroy productivity with MySpace?

Perhaps I've said too much.
that one guy you know, 8:25 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |

Friday, December 02, 2005

Advertising Equation

Spike Jonze + The Gap = Amazing Commercial.


that one guy you know, 7:12 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Musique Nonstop

On one of the days in Seattle, it ended up raining pretty steadily all day. Luckily, this was the only such day while we were there, and it gave us an excuse to spend time browsing the Experience Music Project.

It was one of the most incredible museums I have ever been to. We spent over 5 hours there, and could have easily stayed even longer.

As a self-professed music junkie, I knew I'd enjoy it. When I saw a room full of guitars tracing the evolution from 17th century Spanish guitars through the first crude steel slides and electric flying V's, I knew I'd be spending some serious time there. When my bulky super Palm Pilot / wireless audio tour computer let me actually HEAR those guitars being played, I might as well have set up a lawn chair and beer helmet.

Exhibits on pop music, songwriting, Dylan and Hendrix were all extremely interesting, and there was also a sort of music-lab, where you could learn to play instruments (I tried my hand at bass for a while) as well as studio mixing boards. If you're ever in Seattle, you absolutely have to see it.

Of course, I also kept a small piece of note paper with albums I should buy when I got back to Amoeba. Not good for the bank account, but I've heard it makes me a more well-rounded person when I expand the Music Collection. Or at least, that's what I tell myself when I watch my checking account get smaller and smaller.

* * *

In other music-related news, David Byrne got a warning from the RIAA for one of his streaming radio playlists because it featured too much Missy Elliot. Some weird subclause of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that says he can't stream more than 4 tracks by a single artist within an hour. Oh well. Just one more digital rights bullshit going down.

For now, though, and for the forseeable future, Radio David Byrne is still up and running, and still excellent. Last month was all old club songs, now it's all old folk and country. Previous months have had Italian operas, All-Dylan, and a really great psychadelic mix to celebrate the IRA cease fire. If you're at work and your ipod ran out of batteries, it's a worthwhile stand-in.

And, if you're interested, NPR has also posted streaming sets of the Calexico/Iron and Wine show in Washington, D.C. If you haven't bought their split EP yet (one of my front-runners for Best of '05), give these a whirl.

OK. That's enough about music. For now.


that one guy you know, 10:06 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |