Coolness. ALA Midwinter has a wiki! I’ve already added one item about Seattle. For some reason, this wiki is the tipping point that has allowed me to become excited and looking forward to Midwinter. I haven’t looked forward to an ALA conference since my first and only one in 2002. I guess I finally drank the koolaid.
This is the best Weird Al album ever. Seriously.
Weird Al Yankovic thinks that Straight Outta Lynwood is the best album he’s made. Of course, he says that every time he makes a new one. Yankovic tries to raise the bar with every album that he puts out. This one makes it easy to see that his hard work has paid off.
The cover of Straight Outta Lynwood was planned long before the first single was chosen to be on the album, but the two are pure chemistry together. “White & Nerdy” is a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” and it is sure to become the hip-hop anthem of geeks everywhere. The protagonist wants to hang out with the gangstas, but he’s too white and nerdy to fit in, as he displays in the typical hip-hop style of pimping one’s skills and abilities.
First in my class there at MIT
Got skills, I’m a champion at D&D
MC Escher, that’s my favorite MC
Keep your 40, I’ll just have an Earl Grey tea
The lyrics are classic Weird Al, but delivered in a believable hip-hop style, and enhanced through a hilarious music video. It almost doesn’t seem like the same guy who gained national attention by performing a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” on the accordion.
Yankovic says that he’s toned down the comedic use of instruments over the years and only includes the accordion and other atypical instruments when they are appropriate in the song. For example, the Beach Boys inspired ode to a body part, “Pancreas,” includes a ukulele because Brian Wilson used the ukulele in some of his music. Not that anyone would notice its presence along with lyrics such as, “Don’t you know you got to flow, flow, flow, pancreatic, juice / Flow, flow, into the duodenum…”
Refreshing alternative rock that reminds us of a time before the rise of angst-ridden boy bands with ironic names.
The Oohlas are former Everclear drummer Greg Eklund on lead guitar and vocals, his brother Mark on bass and vocals, and Ollie Stone on guitar and vocals. They have recently added Luke Adams on drums for live performances, but Greg played the drums for Best Stop Pop. The volume of guitars and vocals cause the waves of sound to crash against the ears in a way that only mid-90s alternative rock can do. The Oohlas present a retro sound with a refreshingly modern approach that reminds us of a time before the rise of angst-ridden boy bands with ironic names.
The first track begins with a slightly industrial wail and clank bleeding into guitars and vocals from one of the Eklunds. It is an odd choice to put “Gone” as the lead song for an album that is essentially introducing the band to listeners outside of their Los Angeles area fan base. The theme of the song is that everyone the writer knows has left him (or her – I was not provided the liner notes for this review), and he doesn’t care. It is sung with emo-ish tenor, and could be Greg Eklund’s anthem of “I’m not in Everclear anymore and I don’t miss it. Really.” Or it could be about something else entirely. Since it is the lead track, one is left to assume that it is meant as a former band/friend post-breakup song.
By alternating tracks between male and female lead vocals, the Oohlas have kept the sound fresh on this album. This is handy since most of the lyrical content appears to consist of stream of consciousness or journal content. Aside from the occasional peculiar or amusing line, nothing really reaches out and grabs the listener by the collar. The music is undeniably engaging, but the lyrics are disappointingly not at the same level.
“Across the Stars In Blue” has one of the most entertaining yet odd lyric on Best Stop Pop: “Some pretty titty shaving kitty’s gonna charm the world, but I’m just charming the love of my girl.” It is possible that I have misheard the lyric, but it is such an amusing mental image that I hope I am right. The line leaves me with an image of a fluffy house cat holding a razor and chasing after a scantily clad woman with a blue starfield in the background.
The song with the best hook is “Small Parts.” Despite the happy-go-lucky feel of the music, the lyrics paint a picture of a person in the midst of a mental breakdown. Still, one cannot help but sing or hum along when the chorus comes around.
The whole album is very radio friendly, and I suspect that the band will have no trouble breaking out into the national mainstream music scene where songwriting is not as important as a tight sound and attractive band members. In that, the Oohlas have already succeeded.
Some days I wish I only had to work a half-day. Usually when I do work a half-day, I remember why I don’t do it very often. I find myself feeling very rushed and flustered trying to cram in everything I need to cram in before leaving work.
Then there is the reason why I am working a half-day. Almost always it’s because I’m going out of town for something, and inevitably I’ve left the packing or the one last errand to be done as soon as I leave work. I end up harried and annoyed with myself because it takes me longer to get it all done than I planned for.
Eventually, I’m in my car and cruising down the interstate just a bit over the speed limit in order to make up for the extra time spent getting ready to go. This time I was heading towards Seattle with forty-eight hours of a local science fiction convention ahead of me.
Foolscap is in its eighth year of existence. The con focuses on flat media, which is mainly books and artwork, as opposed to the more general conventions one usually hears about (ie WorldCon, Dragon*Con, Norwescon, etc.). Each year the con features one author and one artist, and this year it was C. J. Cherryh and Mark Ferrari, respectively. I was not familiar with either of them before attending the con, and they weren’t the reason why I went. I just wanted geek out all weekend with a bunch of people who enjoy reading similar stuff and talking about it.
By the time I found the hotel in Bellevue, got checked in, and parked my car, my brain was nearly fried. I get that way when I travel, and the events listed above didn’t help that much. Dragging my suitcase along behind me, I headed towards the elevators where I saw two older women getting on. Quickening my pace, I was able to get in before the doors shut.
I notice they were both wearing name tags, and in my befuddled state, I asked the one standing directly across from me if she knew where the registration desk was located. She told me where it was on the first floor, and somehow I managed to retain that information, despite my embarrassment at realizing that I had just asked the Guest of Honor, C. J. Cherryh, for directions.
The next time I go to a con, I’m going to do my homework and make sure I can recognize the GoH’s on sight.
Charlotte Martin creates lush soundscapes that incorporate elements of opera and pop music using the piano and a bevy of electronic instruments.
Charlotte Martin creates lush soundscapes that incorporate elements of opera and pop music using the piano and a bevy of electronic instruments. Her most recent album Stromata was released last week. Even though I had an advance copy, it took me a bit longer than I expected to fully absorb the music.
The title track begins with a piano phrase that feels almost cyclic. Layered on top are electronic percussion and orchestral elements that add just the right amount of oomph to expand the song from an ethereal thing to something massive. The music is what holds the song together, since the lyrics are obscurely self-referential and most phrases are broken up in order to fit the melody. Yet, this is appropriate for a song that takes its title from the name of “the supporting framework of an animal organ typically consisting of connective tissue.”
“Cut the Cord” goes off in a different musical direction featuring tribal rhythms and syncopated beats. Martin’s vocals are gorgeous and the music is infectious, but again the lyrics are obscure and self-referential. This is true of many songs on the album. Although Stromata is pleasant to listen to, there is often very little lyrical substance for the listener to chew on.
One exception to this is the song “Pills.” Most people probably wouldn’t associate the operatic goth’n’roll Martin with geek hero singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, but that’s only because most people don’t realize that both have written songs that are round-about criticisms of our society obsessed with taking a pill to fix everything that ails us. Coulton’s “I Feel Fantastic” is more tongue in cheek with a sci-fi element, which is his trademark. Martin, on the other hand, delivers “Pills” with a somber sincerity. “Pills that make you think that you are happy. Pills that make you think that you are sad,” she sings with the piano matching the vocal line, doubling up the melody and emphasizing the lyrics.
“Keep Me In Your Pocket” reminds me of Nelly McKay, both in style and in content. It has a strident-yet-bouncy piano line and conversational lyrics. Martin creates an additional percussive element with an emphasis on the consonants of the bridge: “Don’t let the stone into the eye / Grabbing my flesh / Miss it, you’re mine.”
The final track on the album (“Redeemed“) has a wistfully hopeful piano line that meshes well with the story of trial, triumph, and empowerment told in the lyrics.
Every tree has got her root
And every girl forbidden fruit
And got her demons
And the path I chose to go
A different girl so long ago
I had my reasons
And she’s in my head so loud
“Shouldn’t you be proud of what you came from?”
Martin has every reason to be proud of Stromata. Although the lyrical content could do with less navel gazing, the production is orchestrated well and is pleasant to the ears.
One hour of an excellent blend of rock and pop with solid singer/songwriter underpinnings.
Lennon‘s major label debut album had the misfortune of being released on September 11, 2001. With the country focused on other things, the album didn’t get much attention and she was later dropped from Arista. Undaunted, Lennon has continued to pump out an excellent blend of rock and pop with solid singer/songwriter underpinnings.
Most of Damaged Goods leans towards darker sounds. The album is a lengthy collection of songs dealing with tragedy, mainly on a personal level. “Goodbye” is one song that steps out from this and provides, at least musically, a hint of hopefulness. The lyrics capture a moment in time near the end of a relationship when the protagonist realizes that they cannot be who their lover/friend/relative wants them to be. While the lyrics are a bit disparaging, the music and hook indicates a looking forward to when the pain of the moment will fade into memory.
The rhythm of the album flows effortlessly from introspective and dark ballads to head nodding guitar-driven rock. One song that sends this listener into rock ecstasy is “Nothing Out of Me“. It leads out with pounding snares and chunky electric guitars, and then shifts into a hooky chorus that has just the right amount of anguish. The momentum shifts down to poignant at the last verse with just vocals and percussion. Then the guitar is added in and leads into one last driving chorus.
Along with the solid songwriting, Damaged Goods is blessed with a tight studio band. The songs themselves are stereotypical of their genres, and it is the production and execution that makes them shine. In addition to writing (or co-writing) all seventeen tracks and singing the lead vocals, Lennon plays the piano on several. The piano has the potential of turning a good rock album into something that will forever be compared with Tori Amos, but in this case the producers smartly incorporated it in only sparingly and where appropriate.
The lead track (“No One Knows“) begins with a bit of piano and vocals, but then ramps up into full-on rock with muddy electric guitars and aggressive vocals. “Finish What We Start” is a mostly piano-driven tune, and one of the more introspective ballads on the album. After ten tracks of drums and guitars, it is almost like finding a quiet corner away from the party to catch your breath and regroup. None of the energy and momentum of the album is lost on this track; merely, they are put on hold while allowing the listener to revel in the beauty of Lennon’s voice.
Lennon is currently touring with Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe, and if Damaged Goods is any indication, I have no doubt that she will be able to hold her own.
Lately I’ve been playing with the video setting for my digital camera. I didn’t bother with it when I first got it because the memory card was so small. But now that I’ve got a 128 Mb card, I have more flexibility. Here are two videos I shot of my cats. The first one is mainly Pesh, who was being rather talkative and cute trying to make me give her a snack.
This second one is of a sneak-attack on Alex by Pesh. They play like this from time to time. Usually just for a moment or two and then it’s back to napping or lounging around.
Now thirty ain’t like fifteen
And it’s not like twenty-five
My back’s a little stiff
And there’re some lines around my eyes
But I’ve still got my energy
And I’ve got most of my hair
And I’m not too old to rock ‘n roll
And I’m not really scared
Of turning thirty
“Turning Thirty” – Randy Stonehill
Sherry Frasier’s brooding vocals and topical subjects will be well received by fans of Portishead or Sleater-Kinney.
Two Ton Boa is essentially the work of one woman, Sherry Frasier. She writes and arranges all of the songs, and the pounding dual bass sound was her idea. That element is what sets Two Ton Boa apart from other bands in the dark and introspective indie rock subgenre. Even with the despair of Frasier’s voice, the listener is carried through by the groove of the bass guitars.
The new CD Parasiticide follows up on the eponymous EP from 1999. Some tracks are so good one must wonder why Frasier has been keeping these songs from us for the past seven years. The album starts off with the strongest song in the collection and follows it with several contenders, but after the midway point, it begins to slide into darker and less driving rhythms. It is a little disappointing, but it also serves to make the really engaging songs stand out even more.
“Cash Machine” is by far the best song on the album. Musically, it contains the essence of Two Ton Boa. The pounding bass and percussion provide the energy to move the song forward, leaving the melody and expressiveness to Frasier’s vocals. Lyrically, the song exemplifies the word pictures and oblique metaphors that are scattered throughout Frasier’s writings.
Steal my hope
Fix the bail
Charge me interest while
I’m stuck in your plastic jail
From my cell hear
Of my freedom ring
Inside the belly of
your cash machine
The song is an allegory for a situation many Americans find themselves in: trapped in the endless cycle of credit card debt furthered by the complicity of the banks and companies that issue the cards. “Nickel and dimed / It surely comes as no surprise / I can’t afford your paradise” Frasier creatively uses industrial/factory sounds illustrate the message of the song. She also uses her own artwork to illustrate part of the visual feast that is the video for the song.
Other great tunes on the album are “HERarchy” and “Gumshoe.” The latter begins with piano and vocals that seem to have been taken from an old Victrola, and then the song shifts into the normal Two Ton Boa sound. The listener is presented with a story of innocence twisted by a parasitic ex-lover. “HERarchy” is another song of innocence lost, but in this case the perpetrators are the protagonist’s childhood peers. The story is one familiar to anyone intimate with the social politics of twelve year old girls; they are friends one minute and in the next they are stabbing each other in the back. “HERarchy” uses the words themselves as added percussion much the way that they are used in hip-hop.
Frasier’s brooding vocals and topical subjects will be well received by fans of Portishead or Sleater-Kinney. Parasiticide is a solid album, from the songwriting to the production, and worthy of any music lover’s collection.
I finally made myself read this book, despite being a bit intimidated by the 446 pages. I should have known that it would be an enjoyable read and not seem to be nearly that long. Diane Duane is a word weaver, and a very good one. This book is part of the Errantry universe that began with So, You Want To Be A Wizard. It wasn’t until I was well into the book that I realized there were others that came before it. However, Duane has set this one up to stand on its own, so while I suspect the reader might have a broader picture of wizardry in general by having read the other books first, it doesn’t detract from enjoying this one.
The main characters are New York cats that also happen to be wizards. Their job is to maintain the worldgates that are located in the New York subway system. Something is interfering with the workings of the worldgates and it’s up to Rhiow and her team to find out who and how to stop them before they open the gates to allow the sentient dinosaurs from ancient days to pass through to modern Earth.
The story is well-told. Read it, and you won’t look at cats in the same way you did before.