Known Johnson

August 30, 2007

One(s) for the road

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 6:40 am

The bags are (mostly) packed, tire pressure checked, tank is full, and the windows are clean. We’re about ready to hit the road for a small vacation in San Diego – finally. This marks our first vacation as a family, believe it or not. We’ve been cooped up in this house for the last two years and we actually haven’t had a vacation at all in 3 and a half years! (I won’t count my near disasterous trip 2 and a half years ago to SD to see U2 that resulted in extreme foot pain that I endured for months as a “vacation.”) But being Amanda’s 2nd birthday, this calls for a celebration – that, and I really, really think we need a break from regular life about now.

Of course, my Ipod is stocked full of stuff from my 187gb Itunes selection, but there are a small handful of things that, for whatever reason (being brand new, or me being very lazy) that will travel with us in the form of CDs.

The newly acquired:

  • Wynton Marsalis: Marciac Suite – I wrote off too much of Marsalis’ music for too long due to his completely short-sighted views of jazz (basically, it seems to end in 1965, even while the genre soldiers on and has created some amazing works in the 42 years since then.) I admit it – I let his appearance and close-minded commentary about new jazz on Ken Burns’ Jazz color my view of the man’s music, which is something I rarely let happen. Hearing this, I realize my mistake. He may not make particularly forward-looking music, but for keeping the older forms of jazz, he’s doing an amazing job. Beautiful, fun album – even Amanda agrees, as she bops her head and feet in time with the music (this girl’s “Got Rhythm,” for sure!)
  • Andy Summers & Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked – Somehow this remaster slipped past me. I never saw it listed anywhere and so imagine my surprise the other day when I saw this sitting on the shelves at Zia. I didn’t even think about it – it was a must-purchase item. And it’s a beautiful remastering. Fripp and Summers can be heard in beautiful, sparkling sound now. Pretty neat little album, too – Fripp doing his midi guitar and Frippertronics while Summers finds ways to weave his signature sound around him. There are times when I’m not sure who I’m listening to, actually.
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel: Deep Song – Finally, the album that really lands a connecting punch from this guy. He’s an incredible young talent at guitar, but up until this album, there have been things that just got in the way of fully enjoying him. Not here! Along with basically Brad Mehldau’s trio, Joshua Redman adds his saxophone and Ali Jackson drums on the tracks that Jeff Ballard doesn’t. It’s a beautiful, powerful album. I hope we hear more like this from Rosenwinkel.
  • Crickets – The Best of the Fading Capton Series – Robert Pollard is one prolific dude. He created Fading Captain to put out the stuff he couldn’t fit into Guided By Voices releases, or was just so out there that it made no sense to force it upon the less adventurous listeners. However, with this series, ever release had something fantastic on it, and as some were limited editions or vinyl releases, a lot of things slipped through for fans like me who joined the game late. Here we get 56 tracks culled from the 40 some-dd releases in the series, along with some new ones that never found a home. HIGHLY recommended – this set is as good as any GBV release.
  • Circus Devils: Sgt. Disco – Amazingly, this isn’t anywhere near as weird as their earlier albums. In fact, this is one of Pollard’s more satisfying first-listens since he disolved Guided By Voices. Weird, yes, but not off-puttingly weird for non-fans, which I’m assuming Alissa and Amanda aren’t.
  • Heaven & Hell: Live at Radio City Music Hall – Damn! This is friggin’ great. Stunning, powerful recording, and Dio is in amazing voice. Not sure I’ll get to hear either of these last two much on the trip – they might be a bit overbearing, and this one especially benefits from loud playback – but they’re going along just in case.
  • Liars – This self-titled album is incredibly fun. Pop-rock by guys who don’t really know what “pop album” means (they call this their “easy listening, pop album.”) They also don’t really know how to play their instruments, and while that’s usually a huge turn-off for me, they “don’t know how to play” in a spectacularly entertaining fashion – and have an ear for weird-yet-catchy songs. Look for this one to be showing up in strange places this year – I think they may have a shot at some success with this one.

Example of lazy:

  • Wynton Marsalis: Live at the Village Vanguard – For whatever reason, this escaped conversion to mp3. Probably that whole grudge-thing I had against him. But I grabbed it off the shelves when I got Marciac Suite and have been slowly making my way through the 7 discs again. And, again, what was I thinking ignoring this?! Jesus, what a bunch of great, great music. And it’s still dirt cheap – something like $35 new for this thing. Worth every penny, and probably more.

And, with that, I’m ready to go print off some maps to places we want to go – San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and, of course, the fantastic Lou’s Records (kind of the retail home of Mike Keneally, which is how I first got to the store back when Dancing came out in 2000 – we were there on vacation and stopped to see him do an acoustic set on the release date. I got to meet the man and he’s incredibly cool. I doubt I’ll run into him this time, but you never know – they are having a “sidewalk sale” of $1 and $2 CDs. Who can resist that? Surely not Mike.)

Back for a report in a 5 or so days!

August 29, 2007

Re:Collection – 2005: Death Cab for Cutie/Opeth

Filed under: Music,Re:Collection — Tom @ 9:34 pm

Looking at this past two years, it’s simultaneously amazing to me that two years ago was just two years ago. On the one hand, it’s been incredibly fast, and it’s hard to believe it’s been two years, and on the other hand, two years ago seems like a lifetime ago. In a way, it was.

On the very day that the nation watched hurricane Katrina roll through the south, steamrolling New Orleans, Alissa and I were oblivious and would essentially remain so for another couple of days. We had no idea the destruction that took place, no idea about the devastation of lives that occured, and we were perfectly happy about that. Not maliciously so, understand. We were just a little preoccupied: at 2:53 pm on that day, we welcomed our little girl into the world.

So, when I say that two years ago feels like a lifetime ago, I mean it. They say life-changing events have a way of altering your perception, and I agree. There was the previous 32 years and 6 months, and now there’s the last 24 months, and counting. I’ve lived two lives in one, and while one life afforded a certain amount of freedom, this new one, 24 months young, sacrifices that freedom for the kind of beautiful dependence a child has on her parents. And let me emphasize that those 24 months have been amazing and incredibly entertaining in ways I could never have expected. People warned us about what we’d be giving up, that we needed to get out and enjoy our freedom because it would be nearly two decades before we’d get it back – but that our sanity would likely never return. On that last point, I have to agree. Being a parent is as stressful as it is fun, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. It’s good stress.

You may wonder what Death Cab for Cutie and Opeth, a disparate pairing of bands if there ever was one, have to do with all of this. On the day after Amanda was born, these two albums were released. Tied up in the hospital with our new responsibility, I, of course, neglected these two releases for a few days, but, when out to purchase some kind of baby-related items at Target – the first of many, many trips in coming weeks – I slipped across the street to Best Buy where I grabbed a copy of each (Plans and Ghost Reveries, respectively).

As so often happens, neither album is my favorite by either band, but, for a couple of weeks there, these two occupied my drives pretty much anywhere, and I got to know them in a way that I might not have had I not been so preoccupied with our new daughter. Lacking the ability to concentrate, or really even think, I simply left the discs in my truck for quick access. They might otherwise have slipped into the collection in lieu of other, stronger things to listen to. The timing and the intense exposure to only these two albums leaves me with a very soft feeling toward the two. I simply can’t be critical – memories of that time are inextricably tied around the music, and the music is tied to that time. Any attempt to separate them is like any attempt to separate your child from your life. It all becomes wound up, everything together in a big, beautiful knot of complexity. I’m perfectly fine with that.

The Breakdown: Circus Devils (Robert Pollard), Heaven & Hell, Liars, Queensryche

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 4:22 pm

First priorities this week aren’t really about music, for once. No, this week the priority is getting the hell out of Phoenix in exchange for a weekend of zoo, sea life, and the beach in Phoenicians’ second home, San Diego. Regardless, there is no doubt that at least a couple of the following discs will be accompanying my Ipod on the trip:

Circus Devils – Sgt. Disco: Yeah, it’s yet another Robert Pollard project – 32 more weird, rough little snippets of songs. Normally I’d say that people who like his former band, Guided By Voices, or his solo material, might as well go ahead and pick this up, but Circus Devils is more unusual than his typical GBV-style affairs, and Sgt. Disco won’t be much different. This is more like psycho-prog for short-attention spans, and that’s really the best and only way I can describe it. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure.

Heaven & Hell – Live at Radio City Music Hall (CD and DVD): I think it’s pretty cool that the band opted to not carry the Black Sabbath moniker for their tour in support of the material they recorded as Black Sabbath in the early 80s, then again in the early 90s, and once again this year for The Dio Years Sabbath compilation. The CDs are what you’d expect – the 15 tracks from the show – and the DVD adds about 35 minutes of extras in the form of a short overview of Radio City Music Hall, a short featuring the fans waiting in line for the show, another about the band itself, and a 20 minute documentary about the tour itself.

Liars: After 2006’s bizarre Drum’s Not Dead, it was anyone’s guess where this band would go. Apparently, they decided to take on relatively straight-ahead pop/rock, but filter it through their own weirdness. I’m anxiously optimistic that this is as charmingly weird as the previous album, but other than that, it’s probably best to go in with absolutely no expectations – there’s really no telling what this thing will be like until it’s in our ears.

Queensryche – Sign of the Times: A best-of is really nothing to get excited about – they already have one of those, and this one even looks very similar in design. Basically, this sums up the band’s career from first album The Warning through Hear in the Now Frontier along with one track from Mindcrime II. There’s a “deluxe edition,” of course, to tempt fans into a purchase, and it includes a a few demos from vocalist Geoff Tate’s early band, Myth, a few more early, unreleased Queensryche demos, and the completely unnecessary inclusion of a number of the bonus tracks culled from the remastered reissues from a few years back – seriously, fans don’t need these as they’ve already got them! The one big temptation here for fans is “Justified,” a “new” track that features former guitarist/songwriter Chris DeGarmo. It’s being trumpeted as a new collaboration, but it really is reportedly just a mostly-finished track that, I’m guessing here, is from the Tribe sessions. I like Tribe a lot, and I know I’m one of the few, but I’m not sure that’s enough to drive me to pick this up. Maybe if the package is real pretty or something.

August 28, 2007

Try not to laugh – I dare you

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 10:39 pm

I pop into the Mike Keneally newsgroup and what do I find but this thread called “What if Steve Vai was actually lame?” With no idea what to expect, I open the YouTube link to find this. Within seconds I’m laughing, and it doesn’t let up. Even better, the guy who did this made a bunch more, and I think I can say that his Eric Clapton video is easily one of the funniest things I have seen in ages:


Seriously – I was in tears when the keyboard player and sax guy had their moments. Check out the rest of the guy’s videos – he’s done a bunch like this. They’re not all as brilliant as this, but most are pretty damned funny.

Bonus content (I just couldn’t resist one more):

“Take Cover” – Queensryche is doing a covers album

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 9:14 am

These things are usually the death-knell of good bands, but Queensryche insists that despite the trend with covers albums doesn’t mean they’re not carrying on. There have even been reports that Chris DeGarmo has been writing with Geoff Tate again (apparently he has no plans to record or tour with the band, however.) So we’ll see.

Anyway, Take Cover will be out Nov. 13 and features some interesting choices, at least. I can hear Tate handling Queen’s “Innuendo” pretty well, as well as Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain,” the Police’s “Synchronicity II,” and even U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” I’m not so enthused to hear them take on Buffalo Springfield’s way overplayed “For What it’s Worth.” I put up with it when Rush did it, but that’s only because I’m a die-hard fan. And no one needs to cover “Welcome to the Machine” – Pink Floyd did the definitive version and I highly doubt any cover will do any justice to the original, no matter how great the band.

Update! Here’s the tracklisting:

1. “Innuendo” (Queen )
2. “Bullet The Blue Sky” – Live (U2)
3. “Synchronicity II” (Police)
4. “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
5. “Welcome To The Machine” (Pink Floyd)
6. “Red Rain” (Peter Gabriel)
7. “Neon Knights” (Black Sabbath)
8. “Almost Cut My Hair” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
9. “Heaven On Their Minds” (Jesus Christ Superstar)
10. “For The Love Of Money” (The O’Jays)
11. “Odissea” (Carlo Marrale & Cheope)

August 27, 2007

Jeremy Enigk – The Missing Link

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Tom @ 6:03 pm

I have a hard time relating the term “emo” with the music that Sunny Day Real Estate and now former lead singer Jeremy Enigk puts out. There’s something so . . . I don’t know, icky about the music that today is called emo. It’s beginnings were humble – punk music with more emotional vocal and lyrical content (not to mention less yelling.) What happened to it after Sunny Day Real Estate’s status went from active to “honorably discharged” is not their fault – and don’t let that “emo” label dissuade you from checking them out, or Enigk, for that matter.

Enigk, the former lead singer of now-legendary and defunct Sunny Day Real Estate and The Fire Theft, has put out a little album (I’m not kidding – it’s 34 minutes long) of four new songs and 5 in-studio live tracks of ornate rock. That fact left me a little iffy on this one, but regardless of it being half-new, half “live in the studio,” it’s a fantastic little release carrying on in the orchestral vein of World Waits, with a real orchestra backing the music.

The orchestra is most effectively used in the first couple of songs, which are more stripped down affairs with little “band” presence otherwise, but the orchestra is used to strong effect throughout the four songs. The most emotionally powerful tune is “Tatseo Show,” where the band itself is brought in midway through the song to drive it toward the finish. As for the live material, it simply sounds more immediate and raw than World Waits did – not that there’s anything wrong with that fine album. Somehow, for being familiar songs, they fit in very well with the four new tracks.

If there’s a complaint to be made it’s that instead of getting a full album of new material, we get what is essentially two EPs in one. This normally would have rated this release lower, because things like this are typically just time-fillers between albums (and as such shouldn’t be considered “albums,”) but I’m just enjoying this so much that I can’t hold that against it. If only more albums packed as much enjoyment into 34 minutes as this one does.

August 24, 2007

The most unexpected request

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:33 pm

. . . was uttered tonight on the way home from spending the day with grandma: “Amanda, stop eating that rock!”

(Amanda enjoys rocks. We don’t know why. But she picks them up like little souvenirs whenever she encounters them, which is seemingly everywhere because it’s rare to find a house in/around Phoenix without a gravel-covered front yard. She grasps these things like they’re actual treasures, brings them home, and by the time dinner is over, she has forgotten about them and now we’re stuck with these random rocks. Do we throw them away? Are they garbage? Or do we toss them in the yard, which could prove problematic if she keeps this up indefinitely – we’ll soon have a multicolored yard. Or are they recyclable? These are all concerns that I never could have imagined having two years ago.)

Randomly noticed things/complaints post

Filed under: General — Tom @ 2:19 pm

At a restaurant not too long ago, I got a kick out of watching a family of four that came in shortly after us. The two kids had their Ipod-type devices’ headphones on the entire time, mom and dad weren’t talking, and, in fact, pretty much the entire time we were there no one acknowledged anyone else at the table. RANDOM!

When merging, drivers will do nearly anything to avoid being behind me. I’m starting to get a complex – does my truck smell or something? If not, get the hell behind me and quit cutting me off (especially when there’s 200 feet of open space behind me but a mere car-lenghth’s room between me and the next car)! COMPLAINT!

My building at work is terrorized by someone who apparently wishes to be known as “The Booger Bandit.” I know this because he actually wrote “The Booger Bandit was here” on a bathroom stall wall, I assume after creating his latest masterpiece. His reputation precedes him, as even women know who he is, and I’m going to have to assume that he’s not leaving his calling card in their restroom. He has, however, recently expanded his canvas to include doors and walls outside of the bathroom, which just proves the point the police often make about how criminals will grow more and more brazen as they elude capture. While this guy being caught would be a relief, I’m also worried about finding out who exactly it is that’s doing this – because, you know, it might be someone I know and had occasion to touch him or things he’s given to me. I’d much prefer the behavior to just stop, but like most criminal and/or disgusting behavior, that’s going to require that the Bandit hit rock bottom. I do admire his tenacity, however. I mean, the someone that is doing this obviously hears the commentary about his actions and continues. I’d think hearing people say things like, “Man, I saw that the Booger Bandit struck again – looks like he’s got a runny nose this week” would kind of get to you after a while. But not this guy! RANDOM! COMPLAINT!

There are more people named Bob Pringle than I would have originally guessed. RANDOM!

August 22, 2007

Re:Collection – 1987: Hysteria

Filed under: Music,Re:Collection — Tom @ 9:23 pm

There was a time in high school during which I insisted that Def Leppard trumped all comers. Sitting on the brick tree-planters spread around my high school’s courtyard, my friends and I would debate all matters of great concern: cars, girls, and, of course, music. And, as far as I was concerned, cars were nothing compared to trucks, girls were a complete, unsolvable mystery, and Def Leppard was it.

This is not entirely true, at least the part about girls: Jamie and I had declared Virginia, who we frequently saw passing the same spot during our lunch period, to be deemed worthy of the nickname of “The Virgin.” This was not based on any evidence that would support this nickname – neither of us were lucky and/or cool enough to know her in any capacity, let alone one which would have earned us the privilege of learning this first hand, so to speak. No, it was based entirely on the fact that she was a rather unfriendly girl, cold, even, seemingly delicate like porcelain with a skin tone to match, and hung out with a small, but decidedly odd crowd of dysfunctional looking outcasts. The latter part of this pretty much summed up my crowd, too, but “The Virgin” had the benefit of being extremely hot. We, as can easily be assumed, were not. Regardless, somehow we came to the conclusion that, due to being named Virginia and all of the other factors added in, including that we were complete dorks with unrestrained imaginations, she must obviously be that mythical creature found only in movies: the entirely ignored yet extremely hot young lass who, being entirely ignored, was obviously as pure as fresh snow, and equally obviously saving herself for one of us. Perhaps it made us feel better to think that someone else, far more attractive than we were, was in the same predicament, too.

Music was not just a topic of discussion but of deep, often prickly debates. A frequent point of contention was that topic that still fuels many a musical argument: who was the best guitarist? The names tossed around back in those days were so casually used as to suggest they’d already reached the plateau at which it was unquestioned that they would always remain among the greats – George Lynch, Steve Stevens, Jake E. Lee, Kirk Hammett, etc. And I would always offer my pick – Steve Clark from Def Leppard, not based on any particular knowledge of guitar playing. I simply based my criteria on the fact that I loved Def Leppard and therefore Clark had to be the best. This insistence often led to many an argument, with the others tossing names out to challenge his position at the top of the guitar pile.

“What about Randy Rhodes?” one would ask, and I would dismiss him.

“Yngwie (Malmsteen),” another would toss out, and I would shoot it down. “Come on, Yngwie is without a doubt the best. Who else can play that fast?”

One of the guys leaned in and whispered something to John, who threw out what surely must have been a joke with a bit of a laugh: “David Gilmour.”

“Come on, the Pink Floyd guy?” I asked incredulously. And then, with a dismissive shake of the head and a simple, insulting “no,” I laughed off the suggestion all together. Def Leppard was my band. I defended them where need be, and there was no trumping them. And that was that.

However misguided I may have been at the time, Maybe I was on to something that I wouldn’t truly understand for many years. I mean, I realize now that I was brushing off musicians who were obviously the cream of the crop when it came to technique and speed, but I might have been listening for something that wasn’t such an important aspect in late 80s hard rock and metal: being the right musician playing the right things in the right context. I can’t think of a single solo in Def Leppard’s music that stands out as particularly emotionally moving or technical, but I can’t think of many other guitarists who suited the situation as well as Steve Clark did. With his death a few years later, it became even more obvious just how important he was to the sound and style of the band’s music. Vivian Campbell made a suitable replacement, at least in being able to replicate Clark’s parts, but the new music made with Campbell lacked what Clark brought to the band. There is a charismatic swagger missing in post-Clark Def Leppard, which is what made the band so vital in the 80s. That the musical climate was changing when Campbell jumped on board is beside the point. Def Leppard died when Steve Clark, and returned to life as a new band with Vivian Campbell.

It wasn’t until long after I’d gotten heavily into jazz that I really began to grasp what was driving my appreciation for guys like Steve Clark. Jazz, to me at first anyway, simply felt like an equation consisting of a bunch of solos held together by the parenthetical statements of the head of a song. The answer was always dependent upon who made up the band in question, but early on, it was an answer that took higher math than I was prepared for. After years of listening to it – and a music appreciation class in college focused solely on jazz – I really began to hear what jazz was really about: supportive musicians doing exactly the right things at the right times, the end result being a circle of trust between everyone involved. The musicians trusted each other to not only not step on each other’s toes but to also egg each other on, and we listeners trust that the musicians are going to keep up their halves of the equation. The success of projects hung on the need to make sure the delicate balance of that equation was maintained. So while jazz, on the outside at least, is all about musicians soloing, it really is more about collaboration and trust.

I can see now that, while I may have been wrong about Steve Clark as a shoe-in candidate for “best guitarist,” he formed a part of an equation in Def Leppard that was easily overlooked by those seeking the best, fastest, craziest guitar solos. I started back then learning to listen for what truly mattered to me – good chemistry – in the music I surround myself with. Def Leppard were certainly no jazz band, and are about as far removed from jazz as you can get, but their simple formula equated to something that would drive me deeper into music as time went on.

I quickly learned how wrong I was to dismiss David Gilmour and many of the others who were paired up with my choice of Steve Clark. While I can’t say that the same can be said of many of the others we discussed, I can say that I still feel pretty good about backing Clark for so long and against the ridicule of my friends. The music of Def Leppard, from that era at least, has ascended to “classic” status in my mind, and I still find myself frequently cuing up Hysteria and Pyromania. The band lives on, of course, but it’s the music they made back then, and with Clark as a vital part of a driving force, that seems to only grow in fondness for me. I doubt I’m alone.

Great guitarists continue to be talked about today as a typical topic of discussion all over the internet where often angry battles flare up. I never see Steve Clark mentioned.

Oh, and as for my friend Jamie and I, we drifted apart in the latter couple of years of high school. I saw him one day on my way to class, appearing from around the lockers. I caught his eye and he smiled a quick, odd smirk, and when I passed, who did I see by his side but “The Virgin.” I can only guess what the smirk meant, and, at the time, it was easy to dismiss as simply a sly smile about our shared joke. I have my suspicion now, however, that he may have found out whether the nickname was fitting or not.

The Breakdown: Jeremy Enigk, Flaming Lips, Minus the Bear, Josh Ritter

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 9:23 pm

This is the kind of week that I find myself excited for. We all have our favorite artists, but what about those bands that take a back seat to them? I still find their releases rewarding, but for some reason, they sometimes wind up a bit forgotten. And then when I do drop their tracks onto the Ipod, I’m consistently stunned that I neglected them for so long. And that’s what we’ve got this week – some artists who put out great music and yet slip through the cracks . . . okay, and one release by a pretty solid favorite of mine.

Jeremy Enigk – The Missing Link: The former Sunny Day Real Estate singer returns a year after his great second solo album, World Waits, with what is essentially a 4-song EP with 5 “live in the studio” bonus tracks whose original counterparts can be found on that previous album. I’m not quite sure why this release is the way it is, but for the fan, it should be something fun to fill the gap until the next full-length album.

The Flaming Lips – U.F.O’s At The Zoo – The Legendary Concert In Oklahoma City: Another frickin’ MVI. This is just a dumb format. Really, it’s not a format at all – it’s just a renaming of a current format, the venerable DVD. So we get some interactive extras – big deal, most people will play with those one time – and audio files of the music in formats for use on digital audio players (you know, Ipods and the like.) That’s kind of handy, but I am annoyed that they don’t bother to offer wav format files so we can burn lossless copies of the audio. But I digress – I’m not just hear to complain about the format.

Bands always wait one album too long to record a live set. For whatever reason, they never seem to record the tour that is in support of the album that arguably will forever be seen as their peak, and the Flaming Lips are unfortunately no different. While At War with the Mystics isn’t a terrible album, it certainly isn’t the high point that is the preceding Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (or The Soft Bulletin, depending on how you view things.) Luckily, the band seems to be well aware of the many weak spots on Mystics and so this concert offering isn’t so much in support of that album as in support of the later part of their career. I honestly can’t tell you much about the contents besides that – the tracklisting is peppered with a bunch of stuff I don’t recognize and I must assume they’re instrumental interludes or events during the concert itself.

I can, however, tell you that this one comes packaged in an annoying new digipak specially designed for MVIs. It’s just a square, slightly larger than the disc itself, which means that it won’t really fit in your collection very well. I appreciate the attempt to do something new for the format, but drastically changing the size makes it that oddity that never fits anywhere. It’s too big to fit in many CD racks, and those that it will it will sit a good half-inch back from the rest of the spines. It’s too small to fit well in DVD racks, too. I’d really rather see it in a standard DVD-sized package or a CD type of package. Yeah, I’m complaining again.

This, by the way, would be the “favorite” mentioned in my intro.

Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice: I found Minus the Bear’s previous album, Menos el Oso, to be a massive leap forward in maturity. Not only were the song titles not jokes (which was fun at first on their earlier albums, but could leave some with the impression that the band was a novelty act) but the music seemed just a bit more focused.

A pretty straight-forward indie rock act, MtB has one unusual aspect that sets them apart – one of the guitarists employs tapping. We’re not talking the Eddie Van Halen style of tapping, either. Here, the guitarist simply takes a less-widely used technique to make a unique sounding statement. It’s not about showing off or creating million-miles-per-hour solos, it’s about an unusual approach to presenting a guitar’s voice. It’s pretty intriguing to hear and see, but luckily it’s not the sole interest most people have in the band’s music.

Where the band stands with this new album, I can’t be sure yet, but it appears to follow in the vein of their previous album and that’s a good sign.

Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of . . . (with bonus EP): Ritter took everyone by surprise last year with the fantastic Animal Years, an album of beautiful, folky melodies and intriguing song subjects. Winding up way at the top of many best-of lists, in fact topping many, has expectations for this quick follow-up probably set too high, but early word is that Historical Conquests is rewarding nonetheless.

Early pressings of the album include a four-track EP, so grab one while they’re still available.

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