Known Johnson

February 27, 2007

Older, wiser . . . well, older

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:43 pm

Birthday came, birthday went and as far as birthdays go, it was a nice one – gifts aplenty, cake, etc. I have since decided that, should my birthday fall on a weekday (and it will 5 times out of 7, obviously) will from now on, if I have the vacation days, take the day off of work. It’s just not as fun being at work knowing I could be at home with Amanda not working.

A quick summary of The Gifting: Rob Sheffield’s book, Love Is A Mix Tape, Clint Eastwood’s beautiful biography of Charlie Parker with Forest Whitaker in the title role, Bird, both seasons of the new Battlestar Galactica, The Devil And Daniel Johnston (a documentary about the fascinating manic depressive musician of the title that is getting rave reviews,) and Ricky Gervais’ Extras on DVD, plus, of course, a number of CDs, most of which I won’t name off for you, but, in a move that may have set the world temporarily tilted the wrong way because, if you know me, some are going to sound like odd choices for me – I’m all about surprises, man. Just to freak you out, I, weird jazz and hardly-known rock guy, feel I must mention that I got the latest from John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae, and, the one that surprised me most for liking so damned much, Gnarls Barkley – all of them are good but the last is especially so. And even stranger, my parents, of all people, bought it first and I borrowed it to check out and then fell in love. Hell of a fun listen. One big benefit to not listening to radio nor watching MTV: “Crazy” is practically brand new to me. Don’t fret about the world being tilted, however, because things were probably righted for the world by me also receiving the big 3-disc Iron Maiden live DVD set that came out not too long ago. That’s balance.

And tonight was Alissa’s birthday – yes, that’s right, back to back birthdays. No we didn’t plan it that way. Anyway, I surprised her with a Nintendo Wii that was a hard-fought battle to track down a week ago – these things are still just as hot as the day the were released into stores, believe it or not. Not a single local store had them – believe me, I spent a lot of time and gas driving around fruitlessly – but I found a local seller on Ebay and therefore saved myself the shipping costs so I wound up getting it for only a little over retail. The way I figured, what initially sounded ridiculous – paying more than retail – became a decent idea when it became clear that I’d have to sit in a line for hours to possibly get one of the few that might make it to store shelves on the random days that Nintendo released them to stores. That didn’t sit well with me, and I really, really wanted Alissa to have one, so I bit the bullet, pulled the trigger, and probably several other cliches.

If anyone out there wanted to get either of us a gift, that’s awesome, but what I’d really like you to do is just to promise to start watching the CW’s Veronica Mars when it comes back on in late April. It’s the best drama on TV right now, and this is probably a good time to jump in for the 4 or 5 remaining episodes of the season to get a good idea of what the show’s like. If you’re frustrated with Lost* not giving you enough clues, watch VM – you’ll be choking on information and won’t know where to go next. Incredible show – smart, funny, and very well written. And, of course, it struggles. WATCH IT, I implore you – don’t let this go down in flames like Arrested Development. Consider it a gift for me.

*Hey, I still love Lost but can understand that some don’t. I won’t accept anything other than love for Veronica Mars. And, besides, VM star Kristen Bell? Guys, let me put it this way: you need to watch.

February 25, 2007

Someone left a gift for me

Filed under: General — Tom @ 4:03 pm

I know what you’re wondering. You’re wondering, “Hey, Tom, how did you spend the eve of your 34th birthday?” Well, I’ll tell you! I spent it spraying congealed vomit off of our sidewalk! It wasn’t my vomit, nor Alissa’s, nor Amanda’s, and I don’t think it was anyone’s that we knew, but I wasn’t about to go out of my way to find out whose it was because, as I’m sure some of you know, “you can’t really dust for vomit.”

As disgusting as it was – and it was spectacularly disgusting in both sight and smell – the spewer got an impressive spread. The initial impact site was a good two-foot area in diameter, but there were significant splatter effects for at least 6 feet all around. Stuck as I was staring at the mess, I was able to determine that the upchucking consisted of french fries, some sort of meat product (likely hamburger,) and a vanilla shake, the latter of which seemed to have helped it adhere to the concrete with an admirable amount of persistence. Eventually the mass broke up, little blobs decorating the street, but not without leaving an apparently indelible stain on the concrete to remind me of this wonderful afternoon spent celebrating the last hours of my 33rd year around the sun – and also why we will never, ever buy a house on the corner of a busy street again.

(It’s also a reminder of how I have indeed gotten older – just a couple of years ago, I surely would have gotten a before and after shot of the mass-ejection. I’m a little disappointed now, I have to admit.)

February 22, 2007

Ian Wallace, RIP

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 9:36 pm

(This has been re-written/edited for use on Blogcritics.)

It’s been a bad year for fans of the King Crimson 1971-1972 lineup. First it was vocalist/bassist Boz Burrell last fall and now it’s Ian Wallace, who died February 23 of esophageal cancer. I honestly don’t have much to say, I just find it really sad – I’ve grown to really appreciate that band due to Robert Fripp’s incessant releasing of live material from that until-recently overlooked period that really shows them as a strong, vibrant, creative live band, driven by an incredible drummer. Ian will be missed.

DGMLive is now offering two free sample tracks from the fantastic Summit Studios show (available from the Collector’s Club) that both the late Ian and Boz Burrell played on, available at the DGM Shop, with a small note from the powers-that-be:

Farewell, Ian. Five months ago to the day you asked Boz to save you a place where you could “play your balls off somewhere with people you love, to appreciative audiences”. None of us could have known that you would need it so soon.

This page offers a place for the many of us who will wish to leave tributes to this remarkable man.

For those who have not yet bought Summit Studios, we offer two examples of Ian’s unique talent – “My Hobby”, ironically so bursting with life, and “The Sailor’s Tale”. a drum part of which he was rightly so proud.

Our thoughts are with Margie and all those who knew and loved him.

Head on over and grab those samples – and then buy the disc from the DGM Shop because it’s that good.

February 21, 2007

McChurch

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:40 pm

While I’m in a ranting mood, let me get this off my chest: if you’re going to bother going to church, at least commit. If you’re going to be a God-fearing church-goer, you should have to put it down that you’re a Lutheran, a Catholic, whatever. I’m glad to see these “megachurches” are uniting people of different races, but I don’t like the idea that people are going to, basically, concerts every week rather than going to a small local church. The little church down the street where the clergy knew your name is no longer something people crave – they just want these giant, impersonal, generic, non-denominational conglomerations because, I think, people are growing more and more distant from having anything that affects them personally. At a small church, the clergy knows you – and you’ll see them in your grocery store and they’ll recognize you back. In these giant churches, it’s like any rock concert – the churchgoers all recognize the pastor, but he’ll never know anyone there beyond the money they leave in the collection boxes. And, in this way, it makes it less of a burden to just go on about your daily life without really worrying about that friendly pastor finding you doing/saying/being something less than Christianly. With megachurch behind you, you’re just another unknown face in a giant crowd of unknown faces.

This is not to say I’m some religious zealot. I’m not. I don’t go to church. But I do think that when you want to do something you do it right and you do it with conviction. If you want to be a Christian, be one and commit to one of the many variations available. Our forefathers fought for this right to have all of these options, don’t let that fade away into one big generic goulash of Christianity. Hell, be a Quaker, or Amish! Now that’s different, that’s conviction!

Ikea: Fartful Jerker*

Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:57 pm

Hey, screw you, Ikea. As usual, it’s the consumer that bears the blame for environmental woes, not the companies that produce products. Charging customers for bags? That SUCKS. I don’t care that it’s 5 cents – the cost is not the issue. It’s the principle. It’s the fact that you’re so big-headed that you think you can charge us – it’s the fact that you’re also a foreign company stepping in and, as usual, saying “Dirty Americans, you foul up our environment and for that we punish you!” Well guess what? It’s not us, the buying public’s fault – it’s the companies that produce this crap for us. Go after them and leave us the hell alone. I’m not going to drive around with a bunch of damned reusable bags filling up my trunk. How many of these things are they expecting us to carry? I know when I go to the grocery store I may only need one, or I may need 6 or 7, it just depends on how much stuff I’m buying. Do I really need to fill up my limited trunk space with those bags? And, of course, Ikea is going to charge you for their reusable bags. So I guess the environment isn’t so important that they can give those away, huh?

I’m sick and tired of everything being the public’s fault for using what’s out there for us to use. SCREW YOU, Ikea. I’ll take my dollars elsewhere if I feel like buying furniture. Maybe you should think about repackaging your damned furniture into less friggin’ boxes that just get thrown away. How about that?

*”Fartful” and “jerker” are names of desks that Ikea sells – the former is a children’s desk that means “speedy,” the latter is a Swedish man’s name.

GnR – Better . . . ?

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 8:52 am

So maybe this “Chinese Democracy exists and is coming out soon” thing is going to hold water. Why? Because here’s a real, apparently finished song from the upcoming album: Better. And I have to say that while it’s nothing like the GnR of old, it’s actually not bad. Sounds a bit like Axel got fascinated with the sound of Filter back in the mid-90s, but this still fares better than expected – it’s not a complete trainwreck, and I have a feeling with more listens I might actually grow to really like it. Okay, fine, I’m a softie for Guns ‘n Roses and even hold out hope that Chinese Democracy will show up the naysayers and actually be a decent piece of work.

February 20, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Explosions In The Sky, Jesu, Viktor Krauss

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 10:21 pm

Explosions In The Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone: For those that follow the instrumental post-rock likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor (I’ll let you decide where to put the “!”) and Mogwai it’s unlikely that they’re unfamiliar with Explosions In The Sky, and those who saw Friday Night Lights are more familiar with them than they probably realize since they provided the score for the film. Whatever similarities they may share with Godspeed and Mogwai, I’ve still managed to find EitS to be just a bit more interesting – they follow a similar formula of expansive tracks that build and build over time with lots of repetitive motion, often exploding with vibrant, violent crescendos, but Explosions In The Sky have just a tinge of metal to their sound that interests me more than the other bands.

Also available is a limited-edition import with a second disc of remixes which sounds to be intriguing.

Jesu – Conqueror: This second full-length release from the remnant of heavyweight Godflesh has a lot riding on it. Where the self-titled debut album merely established Jesu as a branch off of Godflesh, it was clear that much growth was needed before the band could really stand on its own. Last year’s Silver EP showed some promised that Justin Broadrick was following through on what Jesu could accomplish, but something still felt tied to the past. Well, a year later I’m putting it down now: Jesu has done it. The links to Godflesh are there, but this one stands on its own. It’s dark, brooding, and heavy, but there’s something optimistic going on in the mix – not to mention the vocal direction that Broadrick has chosen to take, going for clear, smooth sung vocals instead of the distant yelled vocals that were typically buried in the mix in Godflesh. This is the metal album to beat right now, and this is the one that really establishes them as a monster in the genre – but it may also be the one that sheds them of fans hanging on from the Godflesh days, hoping for more of the same. They’re going to be missing out. Dare I say that this is Jesu’s Pure?

As with Explosions In The Sky, there’s a limited-edition import available with two very very exclusive and lengthy tracks that were previously only available on vinyl. To get this, read closely: http://inoxia-rec.com/, choose the Daymare link, then pick Conqueror from the list and you’ll get the limited Japanese version. Do it before it’s too late – these things are a hot commodity and they probably won’t be around long.

Viktor Krauss – II: And now for something completely different . . . Bassist Viktor Krauss has backed a ton of greats (Bill Frisell, Lyle Lovett, a ton more I can’t even begin to think of) and returns with his second solo album that, if it’s anything like his first (Far From Enough), will quickly find itself in heavy rotation on my Ipod. What I read is that it’s inspired by film scores this time around, but still follows a similar style as the first disc, so that leaves me very curious and intrigued. Guests this time around include Shawn Colvin (who sings on a cover of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,”) Bill Frisell, Shweta Jhaveri, Lyle Lovett, and Ben Taylor, while Krauss handles bass, guitars, and keyboards with Dean Parks on guitar and Matt Chamberlain on drums.

February 19, 2007

The Listening Room submission: “Augmatic Disport” – Autechre

Filed under: Music,Reviews,The Listening Room submissions — Tom @ 9:59 pm

This week’s Listening Room submission is one of my more unusual musical interests, the oblique, electronic blitz of Autechre.

“Augmatic Disport,” from Untilted by Autechre

It’s the abstract rhythms in the electronic chaos that Autechre creates that draws me in. The beat lurches back and forth, fighting with itself, as if two drum machines are dueling over time. This is impossible dance music – no sane person could find a beat to center themselves around here, or, if they did, it would make for something humorous.

There are stabs of synth here and there, but the focus is on time and how it competes with itself for the little sensible space our minds can allow. The listener’s payoff comes when bits of rhythmic predictability set in, little by little – chaos resolving slowly to order, layers of fragmenting drums giving way to a steady pulse. Left with a simple beat for what seems like an eternity, it’s something oddly soothing and predictable from a group who so rarely offers anything of the sort.

February 14, 2007

A teaser of “Far Cry”

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 7:17 pm

Rush fans get your browsers over to the official Rush site and check out the very, very short teaser for the new Rush single, “Far Cry.” Jangly acoustic guitar in the background, gritty electric up front, and then . . . a particular chord-strike that sounds very, very much like stuff off of Hemispheres! Producer Nick Raskulinecz wasn’t kidding when he hinted that the album would have shades of the late-70s sound of the band – it’s there in all its glory.

And what’s even more encouraging, it sounds great – I mean, literally SOUNDS great. After the unfortunate marring that Vapor Trails received either due to a really heavy hand during the mixing or just really hot levels during recording, this is exciting.

Anyone that wrote Rush off after the 90s albums, and especially the relative dud, Test For Echo, should be looking back into the band again. We can’t fix the aural problems with Vapor Trails, but there’s no denying the power of the music the managed to capture there. If that’s why they decided to go with it as-is, then I guess I can’t fault them for turning an album in with so many sonic flaws. But this time they picked a good team to have behind the boards to let them go play in the studio, to concentrate solely on creating, rather than editing, mixing, etc. I have few doubts this is going to be one of my favorites of the year (I may be biased, but I’m also realistic – Test For Echo, while not a complete failure, wouldn’t have made my 1996 top-10, and it’s not in my favorites of the band, either.) But I’m also confident that Rush is the kind of band that no longer feels a need to turn out new music if they don’t feel it’s their best work. They’ve made it pretty clear that if they think they’re staggering along, if they’re not feeling it, they’re just going to hold off even longer until they’ve got something of which both they and the fans can be proud.

May 1st seems like a long, long two and half months away.

February 12, 2007

Book Report! King Dork by Frank Portman

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:41 pm

I’m not even going to attempt a formal book report – I haven’t done any such thing since high school and, frankly, I simply don’t have the background to make an attempt on the level with my music reviews, but I will say this: music lovers should take a good look at former Mr. T Experience frontman Frank Portman’s first novel, King Dork. I’m not a fan of the band – I’ve never heard them, only know them by name – but Portman weaves his vast knowledge of rock into this involving story of a loser teenager trying to untwist the complicated knots of not only his life but the life of the father who’d died before he ever really got to know him. And it’s frequently hilarious.

The story is built around misfit teen Tom Henderson finding his father’s worn copy of Catcher In The Rye, among many other books, and among the pages of these books are found mysterious notations to himself that Tom slowly begins to decipher as his own life begins to grow more and more complicated. Tucked into the many details uncovered by Tom and his sole friend and bandmate, the too smart for his own good Sam Hellerman, are nuggets of humorous observations about life from the teenage perspective, some about music, some about girls, and many of them surprisingly effective at showing this self-described loser actually growing without it being as obvious as it might sound. Not to mention a revolving door of band names and music-trivia that should have any music fiend smiling the whole way through.

What pleased me most was that this book did something I can’t remember a book doing for me in a long, long time: it actually shocked me with a turn of events that I had no idea was coming. I don’t even want to begin describing it so you, too, can stumble upon it like I did. Just let this one rumble along being a fun read – it starts out a bit rough, as it seems many first-time writers do with a lot of exposition, but when the story gets rolling, it’s a good ride.

Now for the part that I don’t want to have turn you away: this one’s filed under “young adult,” mostly because it’s about a “young adult,” not because it’s truly a “young adult” book. I really don’t think it’s actually aimed at teens, and I think most of the themes are more advanced than most teens would really grasp, unless they were as sophisticated as this one.

Don’t let this one slip by. You’ll want to have read this before the movie comes out, because you can bet there’ll be a movie made of this one, and it’ll be the next Napoleon Dynamite. (Will Ferrell’s production company has actually bought the rights to this.)

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