Saturday, November 20, 2010

My favorite Pink Floyd Album, Meddle

A little bit ago some people on that Face Place website - you know, the one with a population larger than all but two countries - were talking about the most memorable albums they could remember. I was pretty distraught that people kept tossing Pink Floyd, but it was always The Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall  - like they were the only Floyd albums ever released.

Props to the guy who listed Wish You Were Here - but it's such a shame that it's the "deep cuts" album. It was shocking that one of the greatest space/prog-rock bands ever was reduced to three albums. I'm some raving Pink Floyd fan who can rattle off the liner notes from the back cover of some obscure single from 1967, but at least I know not to ask which one's Pink.

I started writing this blog a month ago, then saw fit to delete half of it. Since then I've just sat on it. Now I don't really remember how I started my argument, but it was something like, "you can take your precious Dark Side and The Wall and jam them," because they wouldn't have been anything without Meddle.

This album in particular gets a really bad wrap for no reason at all. Lets face it, Floyd produced experimental art in the form of music and that means it's 100% subjective. One persons Picasso is another's Van Gogh.

On a critical level, I argue that Meddle signifies a specific change in their sound. It's the first cohesive album featuring solid suites of music that each move from point A to B. I dare say, it's their first true progressive album.

Now I'm not some vinyl snob - my ever growing 180+gb digital library indicates I'm quite far from it - but this is definitely an album that makes much more sense with two sides. And, yes, I do own it on vinyl - it's just more convenient to listen on my iPod. If figure it as two suites of music hyphenated by a few stand alone tracks.

The first two tracks, "One of These Days" and "A Pillow of Winds", directly segue with the sound of ambient wind, a technique they later showcase on Wish you Were Here. While "Fearless" isn't directly connected with the first two songs, I feel it completes the movement.

"Fearless" balances the driving, almost horrifying tone of "One of These Days" with the breathy, romantic "A Pillow of Winds". Plus droning rhythm of "Fearless" is one of my favorite PF guitar riffs; there is just so much that can be done with four chords and the right timing.

"San Tropez" and "Seamus" are stand alone experiments with jazz and blues, respectively. While potentially just fits of whimsy, I consider these focused attempts at expanding their sonic character. And poor, poor "Seamus" (that's the dog) always gets left out in the cold as their worst song - something I really feel is a little harsh.

Side two contains the 23+ minute opus "Echoes", which really diagrams my feelings about this album. It's an adventure, with ups and downs. It starts one place, moves somewhere else, gets a little lost, a little scary and then ends on some solid footing. I'm filled with a sense of accomplishment when I listen to it.

So, I stand by earlier comment. You cannot have your precious Dark Side without it. Coincidentally, Dark Side is their next full length, non-soundtrack album. And while I'm not dismissing Obscured By Clouds in any way, I'd argue that you could mash Meddle with Dark Side quite successfully.

If you listen to "Echoes", you can hear pieces of Dark Side developing, especially portions of "Brain Damage". Sure it lacks the sonic cohesion of Dark Side or the potent lyrics of The Wall, but it's the start of something big. And I'm a real sucker for starting points.

When you're looking at Pink Floyd, the journey is just as important as each stop along the way. I just happen to believe Meddle was a very important stop. Undoubtedly I've failed to convince anyone that Meddle is a superior album, but at least I can say that I've argued on it's behalf.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Making My Own Beer, Part 1

I only really started to like beer about five or six years ago. Throughout the first half of my twenties, I could hardly stand drinking mass produced, commercial beer and I spent most of my time ordering mixed drinks. Sadly, I didn't know what I was missing.

Thankfully I discovered there were good beers on the market and have spent the last few years enjoying them. Hey, I'm no expert, but I know what I like and what I don't like. Haven't seen any of my beer reviews? Watch them now:

I can't say when I first got interested in brewing my own beer, but it's been at least two years. After reading, lusting, dreaming, forgetting, rediscovering and repeating, I've finally took my first step. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I need to ramble on first about some stuff that you'll likely find boring. It's what I do.

Now, there seems to be a million different ways to make your own beer, but if everyone agrees on only one thing, it's the need to maintain a consistent fermentation temperature. I'm an ale guy and ale yeast like temperatures somewhere in the 60's. Given our thermally inefficient apartment, it's hard to maintain a consistent 72°, let alone 64°.

Thus a fermentation chiller has been a necessity - and therefore a major hurdle - in my quest to brew beer. There are friendly folks all over the intertubes with dozens of DIY fermentation chillers, most notably the Son of Fermentation Chiller designed by Ken Schwartz.

Your basic fermentation chiller is a foam box with two compartments. One for your fermenting proto-beer and one for some ice. Slap a home thermostat together with a small PC fan to circulate the cold air from the ice chamber with the warmer air from the fermentation chamber and viola!

Seems like everyone in the home brew community has made at least one DIY brewing device. And one of the main tenants of home brewers is thrift, with many of them pointing out their chillers cost mere pennies - or around $75 - built with free or inexpensive pieces and parts that require only "simple" and "minor" electrical modification. Sadly, most of the stuff I've read or watched is a little fast and loose for my skill level.

Something about hacking together a home thermostat, a 12v DC power adapter and a computer fan, sticking that into a foam box and then plugging it into the wall has been intimidating. I never was very good at wiring up electronics and getting M to sign off on what could result in the apartment going up in a ball of fire just wasn't going to happen.

Call me a coward, but I love my wife and I really like my guitars, computers and HD TV. I'm really not ready to risk them for some home made beer. And I'm pretty sure that a flaming box of foam in my front closet is probably cause for eviction and definitely negates my renters insurance.

And so I dreamed. Every few months I'd get the itch, reread a bunch of blogs, brew journals and chiller schematics looking for a safe, reliable way of not burning down our home. I've almost bought a thermostat down at Home Depot three times, most recently just a last weekend.

Thankfully, I've found a much more reasonable, reliable and, yes, expensive solution. Sure, I might be spitting in the face of the DIY ethic, but whatever. I want to brew beer, not build the cheapest box to do it in. If I'm going to take this up as a serious hobby, I want to focus on making the tastiest beer I can, not saving a few bucks on one of the most crucial parts of the process.

So, here's what I ordered:

Coolerguys Programmable Thermal Fan Controller with LED Display for $34.95 from Cooler Guys

Waterproof Thermal Probe for $2.95 from Cooler Guys

COOLER MASTER R4-S2S-124K-GP 120mm Case Fan for $14.99 from NewEgg

OKGEAR PA-AD-UL 12V/5V AC/DC Power adapter w/ 4pin molex connector for $12.99 from NewEgg

Link Depot 12" Power Supply 3 Pin Fan Extension Cable Model POW-12-EXT - Quantity 4 for $1.99 each from NewEgg

The grand total was $92.41 - and yes, I still have a number of pieces left to purchase at Home Depot. I'm estimating anther $40 or $50 worth of construction materials, raising my total expenses upwards of $150. Still, I have a safe, reliable temperature control solution that should outlast my first and second fermentation chillers.

And so begins my journey towards delicious home brew. When the parts arrive in the next week, I'll test my easy-to-construct circuit and if everything is green, hard core construction will being in early November.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It feels good being "Lost in the Supermarket"

If I had to make a list of my favorite albums of all time, London Calling would definitely be on it. I hate making lists of favorites and it's super hard for me to pick a favorite anything in music. Even top fives are rough. Top tens, well, maybe - if you hold a gun to my head.

But, if I were to make a list of my favorite albums, London Calling would definitely fall near the top. To me, it represents The Clash at their very best, as well as a sort of the holy grail of music cliffs. It was instrumental in my life because it was a great album that I discovered at the right time, but it also exposed me to a whole bunch of other types of music like rocksteady, dancehall, soul and hip-hop.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wishing it was Gone in 60 Seconds

In my continuing series of movie remakes, I got Gone in 60 Seconds from Netflix the other day. The original film was made by stunt car driver turned filmmaker H. B. 'Toby' Halicki in 1974, with over the top producer Jerry Bruckheimer making a remake in 2000.

Posters for Both Films

I was immediate struck by the DIY nature of the original. It's razor thin plot played second, or maybe even third fiddle, to the 30+ minute chase scene featuring Eleanor, a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1. At first I found it laughable, but as the film developed, I realized the lack of plot - acting and dialog, too - increased my enjoyment. There was no complicated story to bind up the action.

In spite of it's laughable nature, it's simple and pure. Sure there are lots of over dubbed lines to fill in a loose back story and some cheesy, badly acted scenes to build up the tension, but as an amateur filmmaker, you can learn a lot from Halicki. He was quite economic with his use of space, "sets", locations and personnel - it's honestly quite an achievement.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Home made In-N-Out Burgers!

Yep, you read right. Home made. In-N-Out Burgers. Not sure what I'm talking about, well, unless you live on the left coast, I'm not surprised. Us right coasters are missing out on some seriously phenomenal burgers. Sure, we have some tasty options like Five Guys and Brown Bag, but one taste of a Double Double will make you forget all about those sub-standard burgers.

M's First In-N-Out Burger, Brookhurst and Orange in Anaheim

When I lived in Los Angeles, I did my best to sample In-N-Out as regularly as possible and when I took M there in 2009, she fell in love too. Sadly, we now sit at some mock-burger joint eating substitute "burgers" dreaming of the day when we can stuff a juicy, messy Double Double in our mouths and experience true burger ecstasy again. UNTIL NOW!

Friday, August 27, 2010

I want to be a Violent Femme too

I'm not sure when I first heard Violent Femmes, but I'm sure - like most everyone else - that the song was "Blister in the Sun". My first real experience with the Femmes came from a tape copy of their eponymous debut my uncle gave me in the early 1990's. I have such vivid memories of listening to it on my Walkman as I road the bus home from school.

Violent Femmes: Victor DeLorenzo, Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie. Photo by Francis Ford. © 1993 Reprise Records.

Sample Three Songs from the Album:

The first thing that struck me about the album was their signature sound. So raw and full of angst. It was punk with violins, acoustic guitars and xylophones. Sure, they might be known for their wonky pseudo-pop hits like "Blister", "Kiss Off" and "Add It Up", but it was their less popular songs that really blew me way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thunderball V. Never Say Never Again, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a movie remake comparison. If you haven't already read Part 1, you may want to do so before you start reading.

I've always been a fan of the classic Sean Connery Bond films and so I've generally always liked Thunderball. In order to do this comparison, I watched it critically, perhaps for the first time, and I quickly realized it's one of, if not the, weakest of the original five Connery films.

The characters and plot are simple, but it's not like Thunderball was made to change the world. James Bond embodies excitement; toss in some suspense, a gadget or two, a leading lady, a dastardly villain, a few bull sharks and you're willing to suspend disbelief.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thunderball V. Never Say Never Again, Part 1

I have a strange fascination with history, chronology and the concept of 'what has come before'. I love comparing different versions of the same idea, to look for it's evolution. Movie remakes are fascinating examples of how ideas can evolve and I've chosen to highlight some famous cinematic remakes in a new series of film comparisons.

A Little About the Remake
Remakes are nearly as old as movies themselves. Lew Wallace's novel Ben-Hur was the basis for the 1907 Sidney Olcott directed Ben Hur, which was later remade in 1925 and 1959.

Screens from the 1907, 1925 and 1959 versions of Ben-Hur

But why remake a story that has already been told? In some cases it's a simple as one auteur wanting to tell their own variation of a given story. Special effect laden movies are often remade as technology improves. Many "foreign" films have been adapted for the US market. Some directors, including D.W. Griffith and Alfred Hitchcock, have even remade their own works, seeking to produce a definitive vision. Sadly, most films are remade to recapture the cinematic success of the original film. In Hollywood, a new idea is always riskier than an old idea.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Remembering Warren Zevon Learning to Flinch

My iTunes Library has gotten pretty bloated with several decades of music, the vast majority of which I haven't heard in a really long time. Today I busted out my favorite Warren Zevon album.

I got my first real taste of Warren Zevon's genius around Christmas of 1993. Learning to Flinch was a gift from urban family friend and occasional music mentor Wayne and, honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure, I had heard, and liked, "Werewolves of London" - who hasn't - but a full album from the novelty song guy? Hmm.

Still, Wayne had never failed me and after the excitement of Christmas and New Years died down, I dropped the disc in to the stereo for a listen. Few things prepared me for the connection I was about to make or the impact that Warren Zevon would leave on me. It redefined the way I thought about live music, acoustic guitar and piano.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Musical Memory Lane: X-Ray Spex

Few punk bands had the tenacious tone of X-Ray Spex. Dirty, raw and shrill, they blew my mind when I first heard "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" on a punk compilation album in late 1995. The thing that got be about "Bondage" was the honking sax. Who puts saxophone in punk music? And bad, poorly performed sax at that; but that was the mystic of it. It was phenomenal because it was so bad.

I had to have more. Immediately. I was able to locate their 1995 sophomore release Conscious Consumer easily, but it was too new wavey, too modern. It reeked of reunion album, as it should - it was.

While I was on the internet in 1995, most people weren't and finding their vintage albums took quite some work. Camelot be damned, I got to know the guys at Record Den in Great Lakes Mall pretty good.

Eventually I got their debut release, Germ Free Adolescents on CD and I was hooked. Raw, visceral and discordant; they were amazing. More so than the raucous Sex Pistols or the gentile Clash, the embodied the UK punk movement to me.

At this time, I was exploring music at a voracious rate and amassing a collection that would have impressed Rob Gordon. By 1996 the pop punk movement had reached a pinnacle of success; I couldn't stand the sound of Billie Joe chugging away on a happy power chord yapping on about how there was nothing to watch on TV.

Even more annoying were the throngs of Green Day, Offspring and Rancid (the most vile of them all) fans declaring their allegiance as "punks". And they called me the poser for talking about X-Ray or the New York Dolls. My interest in punk music as a whole began to wain, as I was tired of constantly being counter-sold on such mockery.

When it was time to pack for college, all of my music got packed up and shipped - something that didn't happen when I moved back home. Quite a number of amazing things had gotten lost in the shuffle. And so now, not quite 15 years after originally discovering X-Ray Spex, I am happy to have spent a week rediscovering them.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dave Matthews Band at Blossom Music Center on June 25th, 2010

This was my second time seeing Dave at Blossom and while I really enjoyed myself, I don't feel like it was a totally amazing show.

Traffic on the way to Blossom was much better than I expected. We took 77 down and really didn't encounter any trouble until we were about a mile and half away. Usual human stupidity aside, it was a perfect drive in. The SOLD OUT signs at the entrance signaled we might be in for quite a ride.

Our walk to the gates were pretty uneventful. We did cross paths with a 9 year old. My only real issue with that was the four 18 year old girls escorting him in. Big sister or cousin looked like she was prime for a good time. Think of the emotional scarring.

That's a Child

With a little bit of a slow down at the gates, we were through security and inside in a flash. It was a short walk to the bathrooms which both had long lines. I said goodbye to Morgan, fully expecting to not see here for another half hour.

The mens line went pretty quick and was uneventful with the major exception of the shit monster creeping out of one of the stalls. I'm serious. This was something straight out of Dogma. I then headed outside to park myself as I waited for M.

However, the womens line seemed to be moving abnormally fast. M appeared before my direct message even went through. I don't know what they've done differently, but we both made it through a bathroom line in less than 6 minutes. AMAZING pee experiences at Blossom were had by all.

Our Seats

Finding our seats was cake and our row was nearly empty. At 8:15p I was surprised, but also concerned. We were two rows behind a taper. They looked pretty young, but their gear seemed okay. Sadly, they never put the mics too high up in the air. I hope their recording came out, but I don't have much hope.

Dave and crew took the stage about 8:30, opening with "Big Eyed Fish", something I thought was a bit random. As they jammed out of the song, Boyd started doing his long bow draws signaling the start of "Bartender", but instead we got "Grace is Gone". The segue seemed a bit disjointed.

Next they played "Seven" from Big Whiskey, which reminded me that I need to go back and relisten to that album again. "Stay or Leave" was nice and they ripped it up on "Don't Drink the Water".

M was excited to hear "#41", but I have to admit that I was underwhelmed. They jammed it out nicely, but it sounded like a dozen or more recordings I already have. Given it's staple status, I expected something new this leg.

Grace Is Gone

The show really face planted when they started "Stand Up (For It)". Thankfully it ended up being only a tease, but it was just all wrong. It's bad when you can feel the music fighting itself. They segued into "Recently" after a very, very brief (almost too brief to mention) "Cornbread" tease. Even a decent "Recently" couldn't recover from this mess.

"Squirm" is becoming a new fav of mine; I think it's the harder edge and the sound of Timmy's Flying V shredding that gets me excited. "Eh Hee" and "Shake Me Like A Monkey" followed, with both songs feeling particularly rocked out.

"You and Me" was nice, but it seemed a little misplaced coming after a three pack of hard stuff. Okay, I know hard for Dave is like a Van Halen ballad, but it's all relative.

As "You and Me" wrapped up, I was expecting one, maybe two more songs before the encore break. When they launched into "Dancing Nancies", I was certain of it. As they rolled out of the "Nancies" jam, Carter started to segue into "Warehouse" and I literally had my mine blow.

It was like a total flash back and for a moment it was all chills and body high. The "Warehouse" jam was excellent, with Boyd dropping an amazing violin solo. I was certain this was the break.

Until they shocked me with the unreleased "Can't Stop", which felt poorly executed. M's night was made complete by a full "Cornbread" which they segued into "Ants Marching". Again, they really brought out all the stops. Carter was all over the place and Boyd was once again just lighting the stage on fire.

Dave came back after the break with a solo, acoustic "Little Red Bird" which I wish I could have enjoyed more, but it was just really, really loud. The rest of the band joined him for "So Right" and "So Damn Lucky" which seem to be staple closers this tour. The encore was good, but it just didn't seem very tight.

I noticed throughout the show that Boyd pretty continually seemed to be standing on the sidelines. His solos in "Warehouse" and "Ants" were enlightening, but otherwise, he seemed detached. Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross, who also had their moments of solitude, seemed much more engaged.

High Contrast

Stefan seemed to be rocking it hardcore, but we'd never know. Carters low end was just totally obliterating everything else in the lower frequencies.

Dave's voice seemed to be a little weak, but the real issue was the guy sleeping at the soundboard. There were huge sections where his vocal channel was just off completely.

Speaking of the sound team: they were horrible. Okay, maybe it was my location, but my ears were assaulted in an unfriendly fashion. The low end was horribly loud, mids where decent and there was next to no high end. The sound pressure levels of Carter's kick drum was so high that you can see it impacting the focus on the video.

Ultimately the worse aspect of the show was the crowd. There was the couple tweaked out on ecstasy, weed and beer who kept pushing around in our room. I can't say where their assigned seater were, but they clearly didn't seem to care. If they weren't making out or grinding on each other, they were knocking into anything and everyone.

For those of you new to a concert, please walk IN FRONT of people. It was an epidemic of people pushing behind us. The usual alcohol and weed fuel party crew seemed to take root one row up and just left of us. They weren't horrible, but it wasn't a relaxing walk in the park either.

All in all, I'm glad we went to see Dave. Maybe I'm getting too old for all the concert bullshit or maybe the concert bullshit is just getting old.

I counted at least 5 taping rigs, so someone should have something available soon.

Traffic Leaving Blossom

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's almost time for Thanksgiving in June

I'm betting every single person reading this just went WTF. Okay, that might be a stretch... I think there might only be one person reading this and I'm pretty sure I married her last month, so not sure how that counts.

But, in the event that you're reading this... Thanksgiving in June is like Christmas in July, only way cooler with turkey.

Again, many of you might be thinking: WHY? If your Thanksgiving Turkey tastes as good as ours does, you understand. Turkey is good. Mash potatoes are good. Stuff - I mean dressing - is good. (Stuffing, as we all know, if evil).

Saturday we'll be enjoying a small feast of Thanksgiving proportions. But in order to make a meal of that flavor magnitude, you need to prep. And prep I did.

The turkey is currently taking a bath in tub. It was rock hard when we picked it up at the Eagle - yes, I dare say we got our bird at the Eagle - and it needs a slow thermal trip back to reality. A little bit of cold convection does the trick nicely.

While the bird is in the bath, I cleaned out the fridge and then did a major overhaul on the kitchen. Half a roll of bleach wipes and two dish-pan hands later and the kitchen is nearly spotless.

Now what? Well, it's time for a nice cold Monk's Blood before the zzzzz's come.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Week in Review... The American Journalism at it's Best

Nothing is simpler than the Week in Review concept. It smells heavily of the American way of life and it must be stopped. Sadly, I am a cliche this time.

It's hard to focus on this thing when there are so many other simulating devices to occupy your time. After spending all of the previous weekend working on Wedding stuff, we went to dinner with my parents on Monday. After that we celebrated the 25th Birthday of East Coast Custard.

Tuesday and Wednesday went by with little interest and Thursday I drank beer.

Friday we suffered from the Great Fish Fry Debacle! Donauschwaben German American Cultural Center was clearly not the place to go for Fish Fry.

Saturday I did some design work for the Wedding and the we went suit shopping.

Saturday wrapped up with a trip to The Pub in Rocky River where we talked about "The Old Days" and music while I proceeded to drink several Hoegaarden Original White Ales. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to bust out the Flip... no, it was.

Sunday was a slow moving day full of breakfast, more design work and the Oscars.