Known Johnson

May 30, 2005

A reasonable excuse for procrastination

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:37 pm

You’d think with a three-day weekend I’d have knocked out a considerable amount of painting, but no – the nursery is still creeping along toward completion. I feel the pressure to get it done but I’m just not rushing it. Perhaps it’s the free-form attitude I’m taking with the room – I have no concrete plans about what’s going to happen in there, and that alone is enough to slow down any progress being made. This tactic has resulted, of course, in many moments of self-doubt and worry, but ultimately that’s when I decide it’s time to lay something permanent down, and I head in, armed with paint, rollers, and brushes, to see what I can do. It doesn’t look like much right now, but what’s there is the fertile ground for a million ideas that I have to pare down to something reasonable. My artistic nature is desperate to take over and overdo everything, or simply get myself in way over my head (at least time-wise,) but that’s also a reason why I’m refusing to rush into anything. Things are slowly falling into place, and as each bit goes down, it all, obviously, starts to make more sense. One of the very reasons I was an art major instead of an English major in college is because of this tendency – I’m not a planner. Make me plan something out and you’ll see a disaster unfold, almost uncontrollably, the deeper involved I get. As unspontaneous a person as I typically am, when it comes to things creative I leave that up to “the moment.” I think King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp once said something to the effect that it’s all “out there,” art/music/writing, and we just have to be prepared for it to filter through us to the real world. It sounds artsy-fartsy, but it’s really quite a beautiful way of looking at things. Just be open and the possibilities can more readily become realities.

This isn’t to say, of course, that this nursery is going to be a work of art. It just needs to be a piece of me that I feel is accurate and faithful to what I wanted it to be. And, really, the room’s decorations aren’t for the baby – it’s for us adults to enjoy, and as such it’s a little projection of the kind of world we would want to raise our babies in. Not making every effort to make it as perfect as possible doesn’t seem fair, does it?

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Overlooked Alternatives: new releases for May 31, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:12 pm

I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that Tuesday releases following a major Monday US holiday tend to be the things the labels were thinking wouldn’t cause much of a ruckus if they didn’t reach shelves that day, perhaps due to shipping delays, lazy music-store staff, etc. It seems like these days are when a bunch of smaller things get released that might be so overshadowed by a normal week’s release that they’re given a much better chance of attracting attention on weeks like this. Maybe in Britain that new Oasis album is a big deal, but here in the US it seems to register as a pretty minor release this week – but it is, by far, the biggest name on the roster. However, there’s a few really choice, but much more minor ones as well:

New Releases:

Better Than Ezra: Before the Robots – I guess it’s not cool to enjoy BTE, but they’ve been putting out consistently solid albums of N’awlins-tinged pop-rock for the better part of a decade now, and they put on one heck of a good live show. I know pretty much nothing of this new release – my wife is the big Ezra fan in the house – but they make mention of robots, and robots automatically score you a few extra points in my book. I do know that they’ve rerecorded “A Lifetime” from their previous album, Closer, apparently because they thought it deserved the exposure it wasn’t afforded when their previous label folded.

Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic – On the past Four Tet albums, Keiran Hebden explored folktronica, which is an intriguing genre based around using samples of live instruments to create electronic music. The techniques Hebden employs results in a highly organic sound – something much more emotional than typical electronic music. The hip-hop beats and cut-up acoustic guitars, pianos, and percussion identified his sound, among other distinctive traits, but these hallmarks of the style have become more commonplace lately as common aural backdrops for commercials and movies. This time around, however, Hebden forgoes the emphasis on organic sources and instead relies on his formidable talent and hopes his natural sound comes to the surface, as Everything Ecstatic is awash more with sounds and styles that Aphex Twin fans may already be too familiar with. For someone with such an innovative style and sound, it seems a step backwards to embrace something that had already been done before – and so well. But perhaps that’s the brilliance behind his effort this time around – by treading well-worn ground, Hebden may just find fertile ground somewhere between the tracks to start something new.

Meshuggah: Catch Thirty-Three – And you thought Meshuggah pulled off a long song with last year’s 22 minute long I . . . Catch Thirty-Three is one 47 minute long song! Divided up into 13 parts, the longest being the 13-plus minute “In Death – Is Death,” Catch winds and twists like any normal Meshuggah song ever has – it just does so on a much grander scale, allowing the band to really explore the textures of their deep, complex riffing. The sheer length lends the album a punishing quality, as riffs are extended and repeated and often pop back up later in the piece. Everything Meshuggah is known for is here – the dense, claustrophic intensity of the band’s music doesn’t lose its punch in this format, but it does require a some time to reveal its secrets when it’s presented this way. It grows quite mesmerizing, in fact, as those deep, low-tuned riffs slowly morph into other pieces of the song, then tie themselves all back together later in the song. I’m seeing calls for this to be metal album of the year, and it’s a very strong contender, along with Corrosion of Conformity’s In the Arms of God. But it’s still relatively early in the year. Who knows what is yet to be unleashed upon us in the next six months?

Reissues/etc:

Bjork: Army of Me: Remixes and Covers – Created as a benefit for Unicef, this is a bit of a unique remix album. Bjork allowed fans, or, well, anybody, to submit their own take on her song, “Army of Me” on her official website. The best results wound up on this album. You might need a mighty strong dose of patienct to listen to twenty versions of the same song, but at least your money is going to a good cause.

Check back next week for more – because there’s always something to tempt you from separating cash from your wallet.

May 29, 2005

Bob Mould – a tiny taster of Body of Song

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:57 pm

YepRoc, Bob Mould’s current label, has a preview of a great, absolutely great new song from his upcoming album, Body of Song, available here (at the moment it’s #1 on the list.) Bob managed to reign in his techno exploration that utterly destroyed his previous album, the abominable modulate (it ranks as one of the worst things I’ve ever heard by an artist I really respect,) and balances it with that great, razor-sharp guitar sound he’s so known for. I’m also equally enthused after hearing another song, “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope,” even with the awful Cher-type effect (known in the industry as AutoTune – just think of the song she had a few years back “I Believe,”) which is available, legally or not, here. Yeah, the vocal effect irritates the hell out of me, too, but otherwise it’s a great song. Could this be his best album since Sugar’s File Under Easy Listening? I think it might be. Check out those two songs, then head right over to the YepRoc site and order the deluxe edition of his album, due out July 26, because it comes with 9 extra songs and apparently will not be available in stores. You know you want this.

May 27, 2005

PSA: Epson Stylus C84 printer blows goats

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:10 pm

If you know me, you know that one thing I love to do with the site is warn people away from crap. Here’s the first time in a long, long time that I’m offering one of my Public Service Announcements on: Epson’s Stylus C84 printer is a pile o’ dung. I’ve had it nearly a year and have only gotten about . . . maybe . . . four good prints out of it. The rest of the time, paper, and ink has been spent attempting to coax a good print by realigning printheads, cleaning the print heads, trying new ink – you name it, aside from taking the thing apart, I’ve tried it. I officially declare this thing garbage and will now have to reneg on my several-year-long Hewlett Packard ban, which was initiated because I got sick of buying HP products only to find that with one damned Windows update they would suddenly no longer work, and HP had “moved on” to newer products and decided not to support their older ones. Well, HP, you got me – I still hate you, but your products actually work.

I’m seriously thinking of going all Office-Space on this thing.


“Paper jam?! Why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?!”

Good news – I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:02 pm

. . . wait, no, that’s not the good news. The real good news is that Alissa’s three-hour tour glucose test was for naught: the test came up negative, which is a positive. It’s just unfortunate that she had to endure three boring hours of having an empty-stomached high on, essentially, corn syrup.

May 26, 2005

Overlooked Alternatives: new releases for May 24, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:15 pm

A little bit of everything for every taste in music this week, so it seems:

Dave Brubeck – London Flat, London Sharp: It’s hard to believe Brubeck is 85 years old this year and is still turning out new music that is nearly as sprightly and likeable as his classic Time Out, but here it is, another year, another Brubeck. His Quartet this time is filled out by familiar names: Bobby Militello on flute and sax, Randy Jones on drums, and Michael Moore on bass. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s not that Michael Moore.

Robert Cray – Twenty: My dad introduced me to Cray’s urban-blues long ago, and from the looks of things, little has changed with Cray: he’s still putting out dependable, if unspectacular albums of his smooth brand of blues music that fills in that overlooked category of music that can be played in the background for pretty much anyone and it won’t offend in any way. Cray’s blues are soulful, but have enough sheen that they aren’t going to drag people’s mood down, but they’re real, and therefore it never feels like inconsequential background music. Robert Cray’s music is the kind of thing that’s essentially safe, but not so safe that you’ll hear it all over adult-contemporary stations, and guitar-afficianados should find plenty to enjoy in his well-developed sound.

Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls: It’s hard to believe that, in 2005, the voice of Iron Maiden is still able to pull it off. More than 20 years after joining Maiden in the wake of Paul Di’Anno’s dismissal, Dickinson is still the “air-raid siren” he was back then, his voice hardly showing any age except for in the very highest registers. After two albums with the 6-piece Maiden collective, Dickinson’s turning out another solo album under the direction of producer Roy Z, who was behind his incredible Chemical Wedding and slightly less incredible Accident of Birth albums. Unfortunately, Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith isn’t along for the ride this time, but I’m sure he’s found a suitable replacement for him. Blogcritics’ Marty Dodge gives this one his stamp of full-approval.

Gorillaz – Demon Days: The sophomore release from the best cartoon-band in the world finds them skirting that dreaded sophomore-slump, for the most part. Out is Dan the Automator, in is Grey Album conspirator Danger Mouse, and the difference is notable in the tone of the album. Where the self-titled release was a little more happy-go-lucky, Demon Days is considerably darker and grittier. The good news is, it works. The bad news, however, is that it runs out of steam, the final four tracks of the album sounding like tacked-on bonuses rather than bonafide album material, and the blame may lie partially with the uncharacteristically dance-rhythm driven “DARE,” which sounds absolutely like nothing else on the album. From opening track “Last Living Souls” (I purposely ignore the intro) to “White Light,” the album is solid. After that, give it one listen and then forget those tracks exist – it’s a much stronger listen without them. Available in the seemingly now-standard single CD edition along with the “deluxe” CD and DVD in special packaging, which gives you an audio-only bonus track on the DVD as well as access to exclusive material on the official website (where another bonus track is available to download . . . if you can find it (I haven’t.))

There’s also a few notable best-of sets this week:

At the Drive-In – Anthology: This Station is Non-Operational: If you, like me, picked up on the Mars Volta, but never checked out the band that birthed them (as well as Sparta,) now’s a good time to take advantage of an easy way to check ’em out. Filled with a mix of hits, b-sides, live radio tracks, and even including a DVD of various things probably more of interest to die-hard fans than newbies.

Son Volt – A Retrospective: 1995-2000: If you wanted to know what happened to the other guys from Uncle Tupelo, this is it. Son Volt hasn’t, and probably won’t reach the heights that Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco has, but they do remain more true to their alt-country roots. Son Volt only has a few albums, so this retrospective might seem a bit premature, but what better time for the curious Wilco fan to give the band a shot? Blogcritics’ Johno has a review.

Screaming Trees – Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming Trees 1989-1996: A sadly overlooked band, the Trees got lumped in with the grunge movement in the early 90s. What’s unfortunate is that, like fellow Seattlites Mudhoney, these guys were way better than what got popular. It’s a typical complaint, I know, but I dare you to listen to pretty much anything these guys put out and tell me it doesn’t stand the test of time. What sets the Trees apart is a heavy dose of 60s psychedelia that few other grunge bands exploited like they did – except for, again, Mudhoney. Luckily, comprehensive best-ofs like this come along and help to re-expose their music to the world, but it comes with the usual warning: once you devour this, you’ll be picking up the full albums and never listen to this again – there’s only three non-album tracks, which makes for little incentive for long-time fans to pick it up. But don’t let that stop you.

May 25, 2005

Lost for words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:54 pm

I have been a huge supporter of ABC’s Lost this season. I’ve been the one to try and bolster hope in some of the people I’ve shared the show with at work during those times when it seemed nothing was being answered, when it seemed that the secrecy was just going to go on and on and we’d never get a satisfying answer. I felt certain the show wouldn’t let us down . . . until tonight, the season finale. And now I’m feeling rather foolish because this finale was one of the biggest TV letdowns I’ve ever experienced.

For the past few weeks, the creators of the show have been promising a “Who shot JR” type of ending – not who got shot, but something that big that would keep us in suspense all summer long. And while there were a few interesting diversions along the way, most of this two hour episode tonight was devoid of anything that pushed the story forward. I kept nervously watching the clock as the minutes ticked down, certain that whatever big event that would leave us all in suspense was about to be sprung upon us at some unexpected moment. Would it be the secret of what’s in the hatch? Would it be whatever was beeping on the makeshift radar of the cobbled-together raft? It was both – and neither.

Locke blows the hatch, despite Hurley’s desperate pleas not to because, as only he knows, his lottery numbers are inscribed on the side, and he knows those numbers are bad news. We jump back to the raft at this point, but I’ll get to that in a moment. All this time I’ve been reading people’s predictions of what was inside that hatch, and every time someone said, “It’ll be a passage into something inside the island,” I, and others who responded on message boards, scoffed – this was way too simple of a solution. No – instead there would be an answer of some sort inside there – we’d see something of significance that would make the last 9 months of faithfully watching worthwhile. So when Locke and Jack shove the destroyed door aside, the camera peers up at the two from inside, then slowly descends, what do we see? A shaft with a ladder. A shaft with a ladder? That’s it?

It’s not that I’m impatient – I’m not. I’m perfectly happy to let this show go on being mysterious forever. I’d rather them keep coming up with logical weirdness week after week and never getting a good, solid answer. But when they decide it’s time to offer something up, it needs to be something substantial. The build-up to the reveal tonight has been tremendous – they’ve really made it seem like this was going to be something huge. And then it wasn’t. I expected something truly mindblowing, like the ending to “Numbers.” In that episode, Hurley’s backstory is revealed and we find out he’s a lottery winner who has been plagued with bad luck since he hit it big. Hurley is always fine, but as we quickly see, those around him suffer, and he comes to believe that he is bad luck. As the show winds down, we see the hatch, uncovered by Locke and Boone, sitting alone in the jungle. The camera closes in on the hatch and we see something truly spinetinglingly shocking: each of Hurley’s lottery numbers, etched, perfectly rendered, into the metal of the hatch. It was an incredible TV moment, the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and which set us up for a season finale that should have been even bigger.

Back on the raft, Jin, gun-toting Sawyer, Michael, and his (unknown to everyone on the island) weirdly psychic son Walt are eagerly watching a blip on the radar screen and struggle with the decision of whether to use the one and only flare they have – not knowing if the radar is picking up anything worthwhile or not. As the blip moves quickly toward the outer edges of the radar screen, the flare is launched . . . and the blip begins to move back toward them. This is it – this is the big reveal, the big moment that will shock us and leave us talking all summer. Something incredible is going to happen here, something amazing, and, perhaps as had been hinted at by the show’s creators, we will get to see a glimpse of the mysterious, noisy “creature” that has been occasionally stalking the island’s new inhabitants. In the dark of the night, a magnificent, blinding light suddenly shines, illuminating the raft. As it comes closer, we see that it’s a boat – a gas powered boat – and it appears that, somehow, everyone’s been saved. But when the boat comes closer, we get a glimpse of who is onboard and find that it’s . . . hillbillies?

Hillbillies? Island-dwelling hillbillies, complete with the back-woods hick accent and everything, and it turns out they want Walt. A scuffle ensues and it appears that Sawyer is shot – perhaps – and dives into the water, with Jin quickly following. This is, of course, an assumption – we don’t really see what happens, but there is a gunshot, and Sawyer winds up in the water immediately following that. Perhaps Sawyer fired and fell – we simply don’t know. What we do know for sure is that, despite Michael’s efforts, Walt is carried off by boating hillbillies.

Hillbillies.

And this is when we see that hatch again, and you really expect something big to happen, so imagine the response when all we see is a ladder. It’s a tremendous letdown, it’s a simple solution that many, including me, had come upon long ago and had dismissed as far too simple. But that’s what it is. A ladder . . . and some hillbillies.

After all the build-up, hints, and talk, Lost finds me at a loss for once. I’m simply utterly baffled and disappointed. How can a show build up such tremendous momentum and then lose it all so quickly? It’s easy – blow your steam far too early in the season and then try, desperately, to keep people involved. “Numbers” could have been – and maybe should have been – the season finale, at least in terms of intensity. “Exodus,” tonight’s (and last week’s – it was part 1 of 2) episode, simply didn’t have enough momentum to finish off the right way, in a way that was keeping in the spirit of the show so far. Instead of something satisfying, we got hillbillies. Lost has a lot of work to do next season, but it’s not work on the story – it’s repairing the damaging disappointment of tonight’s “big” finale.

May 23, 2005

A rose by any other name (part 2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:36 pm

Not funny names this time . . . it’s the announcement that our bouncy little bubble has a name. Of course, this is purely for torture purposes because that name will remain between Alissa and I until the Unknown Johnson decides to grace us with his/her presence. But I can say this: we shared a few names in common but one of each sex stood out to both of us and, in the end, a combination of both of our lists provided a couple of really great names (completely with middle names.) Now you just have to wait three months to find out what those names are!

So sweet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:32 pm

Well, as luck would have it, Alissa just missed passing the 1-hour glucose test by like 8 points or something and now has to go back for the three-hour test on Thursday. And it’ll probably come out fine – most women who test positive in the first wind up negative in the more thorough test. And, looking at the bigger picture, this pregnancy has been pretty much event-free, so it’s hard for me to complain much. It could, however, give us great guilt-trip leverage later in life. So there’s that.

Revenge of the stiff

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:26 pm

Okay, I can’t get out of it – I have to post something Star Wars-related. I know, I know – everyone’s doing it, and you came here to get away from all that, but I just have to.

So George Lucas has all this money, right? All these talented people working for him constructing beautiful and amazing sights . . . and not one of them is set aside to create dialogue. I just don’t get it. He has to know by now that dialogue is just not his strong suit – and is, in fact, his weakest “talent.” I won’t jump on the bandwagon – the guy’s got a great eye for detail and . . . lots of stuff going on in his films, but when it comes to making people sound even remotely normal, he’s got a decidedly tin ear. I’m sure you’ve seen others commenting on this exchange of dialogue, but I, again, just have to make a comment myself:

“You’re so beautiful.”
“It’s only because I love you so much.”
“No, it’s only because I love you so much.”
“And that’s only because I love you so much.”
“No, that’s because I love you so much.”
“You’re beautiful because I’m beautiful, and I love that.”
“I love that you’re so beautiful, because I’m beautiful and I love that too.”
“I love that you love me being so beautiful because of your love.”
“I love that we’re so beautiful.”
“I do too.”
“I do because you do.”
“I do only because you do, too.”
“We’re beautiful.”
“Let us weep for our beauty.”

Okay, fine, maybe only the first three lines of that exchange are the real lines of dialogue, but you get the point.

What bothers me the most about Revenge of the Sith isn’t that there’s a lot wrong with it – it works, in a clunky sort of way at times, and it ties up most of the loose ends Lucas created a few years back with the first one. It’s just so fun. What really bothers me is what could have been. Lucas is at an unfortunate disadvantage because he has an obvious ending on his hands, and he also has the “future” episodes already set in stone. So he’s charted out a path to get where he wants, but it seems that he did so with such rigid tension that he couldn’t let the story breathe at all. I mean, in Ep. I, we meet Darth Maul, the baddest of the badass baddies in the universe. And he looks it – he’s all nasty-teeth, yellowy-eyes mean. And he has this reputation as such an evil dude, so super-dark of the dark side and all. And then we see him get pretty much whupped with hardly an effort at all. Dead. Gone. Next!

And so here we are at Ep. 3, where Darth Vader makes his transition from Anakin to the dark side. It’s not done with a huge, epic struggle, like I think we all thought it would . . . it’s just sort of a shrug, like an employee being asked to take on a new position that amounts to a lateral move and no pay increase. “Vader, huh? Yeah, I guess.”

It’s at this point that I question why Lucas killed off Maul in Ep. 1 – why not have him disappear into the depths of space for a couple episodes, then come to claim his rightful place by Darth Sidious’ side, where Vader takes him on in a truly magnificent battle? But no, Lucas seems to be tossing much of this stuff together as he gets to it – regardless of his many claims of having had this all mapped out long ago. It just seems like he stumbled upon many “ah ha!” moments and shoehorned them in. In the end, he makes it all work out (or so I think – I don’t live and breathe this stuff like some do, but it all worked out for me.) But . . . ah, what it could have been.

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