Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the Year Pile

I've made a bit of a dent in my pile over vacation but not anything substantial. Here's what I have to read in the early part of 2010...

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer
Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro (from the library)
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (waiting for me at the library)
Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Chew Vol. 1: Taster's Choice
House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom

I also have 2 issues of F&SF and 3 issues of Asimov's stacked up.

I shouldn't wait for 2010 to start reading any of these but I probably will. Yeah, I know

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Doctors, Dolls, and the Decade

I have the penultimate David Tennant episode of Doctor Who sitting on my DVR right now. I want to watch it and I don't want to watch it. I'm not a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, though I do remember watching episodes on PBS with my dad when I was a teenager. I wasn't aware that the series had been restarted until I caught "Blink" a few years ago and I was hooked after watching that episode. I went back and caught up on the season with Christopher Eccleston, followed by as many of the Tennant eps as I could find. I am going to miss him tremendously...but I also want to see how he (and head writer Russell T. Davies) will exit the show.

Speaking of exits, let's talk Dollhouse, a show I held at arm's length when it first appeared and even gave up on. I documented my return to the show back in late September and was an avid viewer during the current season. Unfortunately, Fox cancelled the show (as I feared) and pulled it off the air. A few weeks ago they started burning off the episodes two at a time and with a few weeks off I've started to catch up. I was stymied today by a bad DVR recording, so I'll probably try to catch that episode ("Meet Jane Doe") on Hulu in the near future. The show has been quite good and it will join Firefly as a Joss Whedon show that got away (though I loved Firefly more than I do this one).

You know what else got away? My planned posts on my favorite stuff from the last decade. I would still like to put something together, as well as best of the year lists. Not sure if either will happen, though I'd put better odds on the latter rather than the former. Still, we'll see...

Sunday Shuffle Shutdown

It turns out last week was my last Sunday Shuffle. It wasn't planned and I might have done things differently if I had known. So why am I stopping? My wife and I bought a new computer as a joint Christmas present, which means I've had to reload all my music into iTunes. As a consequence, all of my play counts were lost. It seems silly to keep on shuffling when almost everything I have would be the first play and all of my tracks in the high 20s and 30s and even high 40s (Harvey Danger's "Little Round Mirrors" comes to mind) are all reset. I will probably still do a shuffle on Sunday for myself, since I've been doing it for 3 plus years. I'm also mulling possibilities that would replace that feature on the blog, so stay tuned for next Sunday to see if I came up with something.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


We spent our annual Christmas at my parents' house the past few days. The season started with a drive through icy conditions to pick my brother up from O'Hare on Wednesday night and included a road being closed right before I was going to go on it; I lost time but was able to get him back to my house by 1:00 in the morning. By 1:00 the next afternoon, we had already decamped to DeMotte and got into the swing of the season with a traditional party and tons of food. Yesterday we opened gifts and got a great reaction out of my son when he opened his new PS3. Lots more eating and some euchre playing and the joy of being together as a family followed.

I am now back home, though in a couple hours we will be off to another traditional party with some very close friends. In the meantime, I'm in my usual post-Christmas state of not knowing quite what to do with myself. There is so much I can do that I have a hard time committing to any one thing, so I've been shuffling through my iTunes and poking around the internet.

I do have plenty to listen to, including The Beatles stereo remasters boxed set. I've actually never heard 5 of their albums all the way through (I know, I know) and I still haven't listened to 3 of them yet. In addition, I got the new live Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers anthology, R.E.M.'s deluxe edition of Reckoning, and a Roxy Music album I've never heard.

I also decided to not read the three library books at once - I have three books stockpiled that I've been wanting to read when I have the time. I have the time now and should take advantage of that; after all, I can always check those other books out of the library again. So, I started Peter & Max, the first prose novel set in the world of Fables, on Christmas Eve.

Maybe it would be a good idea to read some more of that and stick Beatles For Sale in the stereo (that's one of the ones I've never heard). Think I will...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Double Dinosaur

During the time I was reading Interfictions 2, I was also reading another book. That's a rare event for me; I usually like to concentrate on only one book at a time. I also like leaving some space between reading short stories, so I decided to also read Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur. It worked out well.

I've always meant to read Klosterman but just never got around to him. He's a pop culture critic but he likes to use bits of pop to talk about deeper issues (or sometimes shallow ones). He's funny and his essays are all entertaining. In this book he writes about ABBA, football, Weezer, canned laughter on soundtracks, Garth Brooks, truth, irony, Ralph Sampson, interviews, the link between Nirvana and David Koresh, and much more. It's definitely worth a read.

And since reading 2 books at once worked out well, I'm thinking about delving into 3 at once over the next few days. We'll see...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In The Stices

Interfictions 2 bills itself as an anthology of interstitial writing and takes time at the beginning and end to try and figure out what that term means. What comes in between are stories that the editors (Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak) feel fits into those parameters. What are the parameters? Stories that fall between the cracks of genres or the spaces in between those genres, stories that are more unusual than the standard fare or that meld many genres. I've heard the term, of course, and have already been a fan of an unusual story that catches the imagination. As such, none of the stories in the anthology are shocking in their content but that's okay. For me, it always comes down to stories and there are some good ones here.

You want unusual narrators? I'll give you a couple - a house and an explosion. Will Ludwigsen's "Remembrance Is Something Like a House" tells the tale of a house traveling across the country after many years to bring relief to an old man for a crime the house inadvertently committed. The house is a fully-realized character and the story makes sense within its framework (does that make any sense?). The explosion is David J. Schwartz's "The 121" is fully-realized as well. It's an explosion born of a bomb that somehow lives with the souls of the 121 people it killed. It is inventive and devastating. I loved both stories.

You want unusual events? In Ray Vukcevich's "The Two of Me," a brother and sister have to go through their lives with her slowly growing out of him.

You want unusual structures? Brian Francis Slattery uses oral history to tell about a musician who caused a revolution and disappeared in "Interviews After the Revolution" and Alan DeNiro dispenses with section breaks and runs his character viewpoints together in "(*_*?) ~~~(-_-): The Warp and the Woof," a fascinating look at a disastrous future that was caused by a thriller writer.

You want quietly brilliant? Try the low key time travel of "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken" by Elizabeth Ziemska or the magic and ghost of Carlos Hernandez's "The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria."

Or the slightly askew? Theodora Goss presents a typical adventurer on another planet story from a different perspective in "Child-Empress of Mars."

I haven't touched on all the stories or approaches but there is definitely a variety. All of them are interesting, which is a hard thing for an anthology to accomplish. The ones I mentioned above are my favorites of the bunch. Your mileage may vary but there is a lot to dive into, enjoy, and think about in this collection.


My wife and I bought a new computer for Christmas. Our other computer was at least eight years old and was way slower than computers are these days, so it was needed. One consequence of the purchase is that I now have to reload all of my digital music into iTunes, which means that all of my play counts are reset at zero. That fact makes my ongoing Sunday Shuffle series seem a bit pointless. I have felt I need a new approach to blogging, so I'm going to take the opportunity to retool how I do things around here. Since we're so close to a new year, I'll probably wait to implement any changes then.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heavy Rotation #5

I haven't done one of these on the current version of the blog but I'm going to keep my numbering intact from the last version. It's been almost 20 months since I've done this feature, which is hard to believe. Anyway, here are some albums I've been listening to a lot of over the past couple weeks...

The Avett Brothers/I And Love And You
Belle and Sebastian/The Life Pursuit
Elvis Costello/Armed Forces
Elvis Costello/Get Happy!!
Elvis Costello/Trust
Patterson Hood/Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)
Sloan/Never Heard The End Of It

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #165

I'm hoping to put some actual content up this week but until then here are today's ten...

1. Woodgrain/Wilco (10)
2. 7/4 (Shoreline)/Broken Social Scene (3)
3. Crimson/Apples In Stereo (13)
4. If It Rains/Robert Forster (4)
5. Patterns of Fairytales/The National (7)
6. Big Star/Kathleen Edwards (15)
7. Friendship/Sloan (13)
8. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/The Crystals (3)
9. Trying My Best To Love You/Jenny Lewis (10)
10. Troll Nacht/The Dodos (3)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #164

I need to focus today and tomorrow so I can be ready for the Spanish final on Tuesday but I know I'll be watching some football today in addition to the all the household chores. Better get to it then...

1. When Doves Cry/Prince (3)
2. One Big Holiday/My Morning Jacket (7)
3. Romans 10:9/The Mountain Goats (6)
4. Don't Lie to Me/Big Star (11)
5. Black Eye (live)/Jeff Tweedy (7)
6. In My Dreams/Eels (14)
7. Cajun Country/Hoodoo Gurus (5)
8. Paul Burch's Rattlesnake Daddy Blues/Paul Burch (3)
9. The Patient Ferris Wheel/The Gaslight Anthem (13)
10. Gang Bang Suicide/Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew (8)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Numbers Game

3 - My Spanish final is that many days away and then I'm done for the semester!

7 - That is how many books I have stacked up to read...and I'm still not quite done with the book I'm working on.

2 - Yes, I bought some comics on the day they came out...and still haven't read them yet.

46% - That's how full the DVR is, though not everything on it is mine or will be watched.

5 - That's the combined total of SF mags I have piled up...and I've been in the middle of another one for at least a month now

Les than 10 - We'll be leaving in that time frame (minutes) and will be gone most of the day, so the rest of those numbers

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #163

Now that it's December, I will include any Christmas music that may happen to pop up...

1. Mermaid Eyes/Luna (13)
2. Sun It Rises/Fleet Foxes (10)
3. Walk Out/Justin Townes Earle (7)
4. Deuteronomy 2:10/The Mountain Goats (6)
5. One Big Holiday/My Morning Jacket (6)
6. The Stars/American Music Club (9)
7. Lost Boys/Two Hours Traffic (7)
8. Effigy/Andrew Bird (9)
9. Mama's Eyes/Justin Townes Earle (5)
10. Ashes of American Flags (demo)/Wilco (16)

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Things will continue to be quiet around here for a little longer. My college semester is coming down to the end and I have three big things still to do - a research paper, an oral presentation in my Spanish class, and my Spanish final. The first two will be over by Wednesday, so things will ease a bit, though I'll still have the final to prepare for. Once that is over on Dec. 15, I will be able to relax for a few weeks. Yay!

The first blog project for that time period will be to read and review Interfictions 2, which I was generously sent thanks to David Schwartz. After that, I'll get to whatever decade and/or year-end stuff I'm going to do. I also plan on reading all of the stuff I have piled up around here.

I will, of course, be back tomorrow with a Sunday Shuffle (and one the week after), but it will be another 10 days or so until I put up a post with some content to it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #161/162

It's time for the annual Sunday-before-Thanksgiving double issue...

1. Embassy Row/Pavement (12)
2. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations/Arcade Fire (17)
3. Hands (demo)/Fanfarlo (3)
4. Cream and Bastards Rise/Harvey Danger (34)
5. Domesticated Lovers/Josh Rouse (6)
6. The Greatest Sum (electric)/The Avett Brothers (9)
7. San Francisco/Lucero (7)
8. On a Freezing Chicago Street/Margot & The Nuclear So & So's (12)
9. In The Mausoleum/Beirut (6)
10. My Very Best/Elbow (18)
11. Loosens/Sloan (14)
12. Shangri-La/M. Ward (14)
13. Morning Of/Le Switch (4)
14. Injustica/Kathleen Edwards (13)
15. Dirt On Your New Shoes/Bishop Allen (7)
16. London Bridges/Josh Rouse (10)
17. Myriad Harbor/The New Pornographers (20)
18. Floating in the Forth/Frightened Rabbit (11)
19. 66/The Afghan Whigs (2)
20. Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever/Destroyer (11)

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I cannot stop listening to Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices.

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel, The Windup Girl, is dark and fantastic.

Jack Skillingstead's "Life on the Preservation" is wonderfully depressing and uplifting at the same time.

Adventure Comics #4 uses Superboy Prime for a bit of metafiction in the midst of the DC-wide Blackest Night storyline and succeeds.

I am excited for Chuck to return on Jan. 10 and Lost to do the same on Feb. 2.

Even though I have stacks of things to read and tons of stuff on the DVR, I think I'll watch Ashes of American Flags (the recent live Wilco DVD) again...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #160

It was a busy week and this coming week should prove to be more of the same. I still would like to continue my posts about the best of the 2000s but I may end up doing lists once my college classes wind up (on the plus side, I only have 7 more classes of each...and then a Spanish final). We'll see. In the meantime, here is today's ten...

1. Sweetie/Josh Rouse (10)
2. Golden Pony/Army Navy (11)
3. Every Single Instinct/Superchunk (4)
4. Susie Q/Creedence Clearwater Revival (6)
5. Your English Is Good/Tokyo Police Club (15) - album version
6. The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone/The Decemberists (6)
7. Impossible Germany (live)/Wilco (10)
8. Nude/Radiohead (26)
9. O'Brien/O'Brien's Nocturne/M. Ward (10)
10. ST 100/6/Big Star (11)

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Truth be told, I didn't love Fables at first. I felt the first story arc, collected in Legends in Exile, was overwritten, had too much exposition. I did like the idea of book, though, with Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf and Prince Charming and all the rest alive and living in New York. So when the second collection (Animal Farm) came out, I picked it up. I haven't stopped buying the book since.

By this point, Bill Willingham's creation is getting close to its 100th issue and I am eagerly awaiting the 13th trade. It has spawned a spinoff series co-written by Willingham and Matthew Sturges, Jack of Fables (which has just seen its 6th collection published), an original graphic novel, a prose novel (still sitting on my shelves waiting to be read), and now a mini-series starring Cinderella (and written by Shooflypie-approved Chris Roberson).

Why has it stuck around so long and proven to be so popular? The characters. The cool ideas. The stories. Mark Buckingham's art. James Jean on covers for years. It has been to Vertigo in the 2000s as Sandman was in the 90s...that's no small feat. It's a great comic.

Sunday Shuffle #159

I have lots of work to do for my English class today, so I'm just going to jump right into the music...

1. I'll Be Yr Bird/M. Ward (8)
2. Weary Mind/Frankel (4)
3. Hang Me Up to Dry/Cold War Kids (10)
4. Imposters/Canasta (12)
5. OK/Higgins (7)
6. 30 Gallon Tank/Spoon (8) - EP version
7. Here We Go Again/Justin Townes Earle (7)
8. Getting Down/The Kills (6)
9. Ruination Day/Gillian Welch (4)
10. Crumble/Dinosaur Jr. (9)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Almost Famous

Russell Hammond on a kid's roof yelling "I am a golden god!"

The true confessions of a band and their manager who think they are going down in a tiny plane.

The band and gang on the bus singing "Tiny Dancer" together and getting over the slings and arrows of life on the road.

Russell, thinking he is going to see Penny Lane, discovers he is at William's house and William finally gets an interview...

William: So, Russell, what do you love most about music?

Russell: To begin with, everything. (Cue Led Zeppelin's "Tangerine" on the soundtrack)

These are some of my favorite moments from Cameron Crowe's great movie, Almost Famous, a fictionalized look at his life as a teenage rock and roll writer. It's a movie about music, life, love, and dreams. It has humor, heart, and drama. It has great performances, including Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs. It's not only one of my favorite movies of the last ten years, but one of my favorite movies period.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

"I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
I'm hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you"

With that evocative verse and disparate song elements that wouldn't fully cohere until several minutes into the song, Wilco opened their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At this point, the story behind the album's release is as big as or bigger than the actual songs but we shouldn't forget about the music. The songs were great when I first listened to them as a stream from Wilco's website and they are still great more than 7 years later when I run them through iTunes or crank it on my car stereo.

There's the hushed intimacy and urgency of "Jesus, Etc." The goofy fun of "Heavy Metal Drummer." The moody dirge of "Ashes of American Flags," which wonders why we listen to poets "when nobody gives a fuck" all where Tweedy's "lies are always wishes." And no matter how many times I listen to it, the ending of "Poor Places" always gets me as the music dissolves into searing feedback that just scrapes at my soul; I think the fact it comes after the swell and build of it all makes it that much more devastating. It's an epic in just over 5 minutes.

I know I said I wasn't going to rank anything in this series but I will admit that if I had to choose my favorite album of the last ten years, this would be it. It might even be my favorite album ever.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The 2000s

I will not be posting a series of decade's best lists. I am not interested in ranking what I've loved from the last ten years. I would rather write about the music and books and TV and movies and comics and short stories that I've loved from the 2000s and tell you why I love them. This blog will be mostly devoted to just that over the next two months. I'm looking forward to sharing.

Sunday Shuffle #158

The extra hour we got last night didn't do me much good, as I was awake at 4:50 and couldn't go back to sleep. I have a bit of college stress happening right now and that doesn't help. Before I attack that work, let's get to today's ten...

1. Gwen, Now and Then/The Broken West (16)
2. Lights Out For Darker Skies/British Sea Power (6)
3. Old Forgotten Soldier/Harry Nilsson (2)
4. Jump Into The Fire/Harry Nilsson (3)
5. Fool the Moon/Warren Zanes (13)
6. Los Cruzados/Elk City (8)
7. It's All Gonna Break/Broken Social Scene (3)
8. I Never Said I Was Deep/Jarvis Cocker (12)
9. Chips and Dip/Spoon (18)
10. Country Song/Le Switch (3)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Old Faves, New Ways

My pop culture consumption this last week has been mainly focused on some old favorites being presented in new ways, or at least ways new to me.

Two weeks ago I picked up JLA/Avengers at the sale at the comics shop. This softcover collects the mini-series from 2003-04 by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, which I didn't read the first time around and don't really remember existing (it must have come out when I wasn't paying close attention to comics). I am a big fan of both Busiek and Perez and they did not disappoint here. One standard of the super-hero crossover is a fight between the sets of heroes and it's not one that I'm too fond of. That said, there is a reason for it to happen in this book but it also doesn't go on forever. In fact, there is an alternate reality wherein the JLA had a crossover with the Avengers every year and not the JSA. Fun and cool moments abound in a shifting reality and shifting rosters for both teams. Perez really pulls out the stops with his "camera angles" and singular super-hero prowess. It seems that this is the last DC/Marvel crossover for the forseeable future (and maybe ever); if so, they went out on a high note.

Tuesday saw the release of a new R.E.M. album, Live at the Olympia, which presents highlights from a five night run of rehearsals they did in 2007...and invited the public to. At the start of the double CD, Mike Mills announces "this is not a show" and Michael Stipe refers to the whole experience as an "experiment in terror." Their impetus for the shows was to rehearse new material they were going to record and indeed, you can hear 9 of the 11 songs from Accelerate (one in a different form) as well as 2 that didn't make the record (I really like the change of pace that is "On The Fly"). The rest of the songs span the breadth of their career and many are from Chronic Town and Reckoning, two albums I've still never gotten around to picking up. After hearing "Second Guessing" and "Harborcoat" I know I need to rectify that fact. The band sounds great and bangs out classics like "So. Central Rain" and "Cuyahoga" and "Pretty Persuasion" as well as should have been classics like "New Test Leper"(New Adventures in Hi-Fi seems to be forgotten these days). It's also a testament to their solid songcraft that the new songs don't seem out of place with the rest. I have a feeling I'm going to be listening to a lot of their music over the next month or two.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chabon's Unwritten Adventures

If I was asked who my favorite writer is, most days I would say Michael Chabon. Why? It starts with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and continues with The Yiddish Policeman's Union and all the points in between. He doesn't just write great novels, though; he also excels at the essay and just published his second collection of them, Manhood For Amateurs. He writes about a teenage sexual encounter with his mother's friend, the beauty of a developing a personality in a basement, his love for Big Barda, the question of whether his son should have been circumcised, and many other topics. It is all written beautifully and fascinating. I can't wait to see what he does next (though I wouldn't mind another novel).

Anyone who has read my blog(s) over the years has heard me talk about my love for the Legion of Super-Heroes and has seen my constant back-and-forth of how I consumer my comics. Those longtime themes clash as I have once again broken my recent rule of only trade paperbacks with the purchase of the two most recent issues of Adventure Comics. And while the Legion is the second feature in the book, I love it more for the first feature of Superboy. Geoff Johns is writing a character-based comic around Superboy's quest to discover which man's DNA is winning the war in his blood - Superman or Lex Luthor - and it is pitch perfect. To make it even better is Francis Manapul's gorgeous art. I will miss this team when they leave after three more issue but I can follow them to a new Flash series if I want. These are great comics.

Did I stop at that comic? No, I did not. I also realized that I don't want to wait for a second trade (which would come out next fall at the earliest) to continue reading The Unwritten. Issue #5 was a standalone delving into Rudyard Kipling's involvement with the mysterious figures who have been manipulating the written word and #6 brings us back to Tom Taylor as he goes to prison and meets a most-interesting monstrous literary character. I will continue to buy this in single issues and do my part to try and ensure that Mike Carey and Peter Gross get to tell this tale for as long as they want.

My Music Year

It's time to admit that I won't be able to complete this project by the end of the year. I have about 75 albums to write about before I'm caught up and I'm sure there will be another 10-15 by the end of the year (especially with Christmas), so it's a losing battle. I also want to get my best of the 2000s project underway and that will take up most of my blogging time. I will try to do a year-end roundup of my music year, most likely in the form of a top ten list. It was fun while it lasted, though!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #157

I've managed to avoid my college work so far the last two days, so today I need to get focused. I'd like to watch football as well, which means I need to get focused soon. While I'm working my way towards that state, here are today's ten songs...

1. In This Camp/Midlake (10)
2. Jamie/Weezer (2)
3. Walking For Two Hours/The Twilight Sad (6)
4. The Monitor/Bishop Allen (13)
5. All The Miles/Amy Millan (10)
6. You Got Me/Elk City (9)
7. Instrumental 3 (demo)/Wilco (7)
8. How Deep Is the Red/Elvis Costello (5)
9. We're Not Alone/Dinosaur Jr. (13)
10. Sour Shores/Portastatic (15)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Music Year #10

This feature hits double digits and rolls into February with a look at Ben Kweller's Changing Horses. To be honest, I'm still not sure what to make of this album. Kweller adopts a more country music style for the record, complete with steel guitar and lots of piano, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I certainly have no problem with twang in music I listen to and I also don't have a problem with an artist trying something new. The songs are solid, from the pretty "Old Hat" to the kinda-cowboy punk of "Fight" to the typical goofy-yet-endearing Kweller lyrics of "Things I Like To Do." So what's my problem? It's not his last album, about which you'll be hearing more in my best of the decade series. What it comes down to is that while I like it well enough, I don't love it and I was hoping for another home run. Not much else to be said, I guess.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Music Year #9

When I read that David Byrne and Brian Eno were releasing a record in 2008, I was mildly interested. I've been a fan of Byrne's but that fandom wasn't really active; I can't tell you the last time I listened to my Talking Heads compilation and I let go of the 2 solo albums of his I'd had. Brian Eno I knew more for his production on U2 records than for any of his records. I flagged it as something worth checking out, then forgot about it until I noticed it on eMusic and here we are.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is an album with two modes. One is a shimmery pop with chiming guitars and soaring melodies as exemplified in "Home" and "My Big Nurse" and the title track. The other is more experimental, like the skittering piano and squalling guitar of "I Feel My Stuff" and the white guy danceable funk of "Strange Overtones," which is a song about a song. The styles work very well together and make for a solid record.

Break Blues

Posting has been obviously sparse this week, though that's not necessarily unusual. Life has been busy as always and my college classes took a step in terms of the quantity of work this week, so I've been stressed and feeling behind. However, I have reached a bit of a respite - it is fall break in the school system where I work during the day, which means two days off wrapped around a weekend. It feels heavenly.

It comes at a time where I have 140 or so items on my Google Reader and a DVR that's about 40% full. It comes at a time when I have two books to be read and a third that's in at the library, not to mention the JLA/Avengers trade I bought last week or the issues of SF magazines that are stacked up (I've been halfway through one for a couple weeks now). Let's not even mention all the DVDs I haven't even cracked open.

I also want to keep things moving on the blog. I still have one more album I bought in January to discuss in "My Music Year" and the year as a whole is getting shorter. I do still want to write about my favorite works of art from the 2000s, which I hope to kick off on Nov. 1. I think at this point, The Jayhawks project will have to remain on hold for a while longer.

I can't let all of these things get in the way of school either - that work isn't going away. When I think about how quickly the break will go and how much I won't be able to accomplish, it makes me a little depressed. I won't let the negatives rule the days, however, and I'll enjoy what I get done and know it will be more than it would have been without the days off. I'm taking today off completely from my school work, which definitely helps. You should see a few more posts from me over the next few days as well.

My Music Year #8

Here's a case of not knowing what you'll come home with when you go shopping. I had received some Best Buy gift cards for Christmas and hadn't spent all of the money yet, so I was wandering around the music section. I walked by the "R"s and saw some of last year's Replacements reissues. I flipped through and came home with All Shook Down, their final album from 1990. I had owned the album once before but had gotten rid of it during the big 1994 depressed music purge and while I had replaced the rest of the Replacement discs, this one hadn't quite found its way back. Perfect.

I think there are many fans of the Mats who don't really think of this one much and that's a shame. Yes, I suppose it could be seen as a Paul Westerberg solo album but it's not labeled as such. And yes, there are a bunch of guest musicians like Benmont Tench and John Cale and Steve Berlin but their presence only serves to enhance the music. In the end, isn't the music really what the focus should be on?

The album gets out of the gate strong with the mid-tempo rock of "When It Began" and stays strong all the way through the piano-based "The Last." The songs are tightly constructed and the mood varies from light (the fumbled countdown of "Attitude") to the somber (the haunting "Sadly Beautiful"). It also contains one of my favorite-for-no-particular-reason lines - "The magazine she flips through/Is a special double issue/Smells like perfume/She leaves it on the plane" - which is followed by a little Steve Berlin sax riff in time with the snapping drums.

The reissue also contains demos for many of the songs as well as a couple of extra tracks. They are worth listening to but the main attraction here is the album proper, an underappreciated classic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #156

I stayed up late to watch the end of the Angels/Yankees ALCS game last night and the wrong team won. What can you do? Today's sports highlights include the Giants/Saints at noon and the Bears/Falcons tonight. Looking forward to watching those games and to seeing what songs pop up right now...

1. Modesto Is Not That Sweet/The Hold Steady (20)
2. Outta My Head/M. Ward (14)
3. Teeth/Bowerbirds (4)
4. Monster Closet/Two Hours Traffic (6)
5. The Supine/Andrew Bird (13)
6. Backstabbin'/Sloan (9)
7. Come Crash/A.C. Newman (7)
8. Nothing Can Hurt You Now/Glossary (9)
9. Alone (Alternate Version)/Wilco (10)
10. Hard Talkin/Le Switch (3)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Music Year #7

This year has been a big year for Jayhawks fans and not just for the release of a retrospective and rarities disc this summer. We were also treated to new material from Gary Louris and Mark Olson, the driving forces of the early period of The Jayhawks. Olson left the band in 1995 but over the past couple years the two have performed together and recorded Ready For the Flood. It's not a Jayhawks record but there are still many pleasures to be had.

Much of the album is the two men together - their voices (Louris up high and Olson on the bottom) and their acoustic guitars. They blend so well together that you can just get wrapped up in the sound. That's helped, of course, by a keen sense of melody and the construction of the songs. I don't think any of the songs will strike a person as one of the best they've ever heard but they are all candidates to get stuck in your head. There are subtleties to the music as well and other instruments (notably organ, harmonica, and electric guitar) contribute to the whole. It's a cohesive album in the best sense and one of my favorites of the year. I hope they keep making music together.


I started out the day with big dreams, wanting to see two movies, buy two books, download the new Built To Spill album, and pick up some goodies at a sale at the comics shop. I knew I wouldn't be able to do all of it and didn't really have the money to do all of it anyway but some days it's nice to dream. As it turned out, some of my dreams for the day came true and I got some other stuff I hadn't even planned on getting.

I ended up getting four nice shirts that I can wear to work, as well as a new pair of corduroys. I might even end up with a pair of black ones by the time the weekend is over - my wife and I saw them on the way out of the store and she had to make a movie time.

That's right, she went to the movies and I didn't. The good news for me is that I have a four day weekend coming up due to fall break, so I have a decent chance of catching either Where the Wild Things Are or The Invention of Lying (or both!) next weekend. Why not tomorrow? Football, baby.

I went to Barnes & Noble but they only had one of the books I was looking for (the missing one was the new Jonathan Lethem) and that one wasn't on any sort of sale, so I passed it up.

My last stop was the comics shop...and I couldn't decide on anything. I came home. I sat around for a bit. Then I went back to the comics shop.

They had the other book I was looking for, Peter and Max by Bill Willingham, which is a prose novel set in the world of his Fables comic. It was included in the sale. Finally, a decision made.

I had been looking at the first collection of Invincible Iron Man, which I've heard great things about (and read the first issue of about 18 months ago), but I just couldn't commit to it. One day, I will. I did notice the collection of the last DC and Marvel crossover series, JLA/Avengers, which was written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez. I'd been looking at that for months too and decided to pull the trigger.

That should have been the end of it...but I wasn't done. Even though I had resolved to only buy trades again, I couldn't help myself. I had to pick up a couple single issues and at 40% off it was easier to justify. I grabbed the two most recent issues of The Unwritten (the first four were great), the first issue of Sweet Tooth (which was originally a buck), and Adventure Comics #2 (I can't resist a comic starring the original Legion of Super-Heroes). I would have picked up Adventure Comics #3 if they had it. I don't want to start down that path again but there has got to be a way to make it work for me. I need to figure it out.

Anyway, there's my day of consuming.

My Music Year #6

My Bruce Springsteen fandom goes back 25 years to when I heard the singles from Born in the U.S.A. on the radio. It wasn't until my 14th birthday in 1985 that I got the whole album (on cassette, having received a Walkman for a Christmas present in 1984) and I spent months listening to it while doing a wide variety of chores outside. The live boxed set that came out in 1986 introduced me to a lot more of his music and I became a true fan. Naturally, I bought his latest album, Working On A Dream, the day it came out.

The title track was out and about before the album came out and it's a good indicator of the album's feel as a whole. Springsteen is definitely working in a pop mode, and I love the little bass run by Gary W. Tallent that opens this song. We get melody and some background "la, la, la-la"s with an uplifting message. It's not his best song but it is solid.

The bass is a bit more upfront on the whole album than previous E Street records and I enjoy hearing it. Springsteen and the E Street Band have been working together for more than 35 years and I love all the little touches they bring. "My Lucky Day" starts out as a run-of-the-mill pop song but when Steve Van Zandt starts harmonizing on the second verse, the song seems to catch another gear and everything just seems sharper.

Some reviewers had a problem with "Queen of the Supermarket," specifically the lyrics. They were reading the song as some sort of commentary on the state of American consumerism but to me it's just a love song set in a supermarket with some nimble bass and a solid pop feel that gets a bit operatic before an odd little outro.

I'll admit to not being the biggest fan of the album opener, "Outlaw Pete." It's a tall tale that really goes on a couple minutes too long. I do enjoy the bonus track, the Oscar-nominated "The Wrestler" from the movie of the same name, although I don't think I've ever seen a one-legged dog.

The back half of the album holds some real gems. "Tomorrow Never Knows" has a lovely folk pop beat (and borrows the title from The Beatles) and "Life Itself" is filled with urgency and nice guitar texture. Finally, the acoustic-based "Last Carnival" is a tribute to the late E Streeter Dan Federici and is effective due to the brevity and tone and some beautiful gospel coos at the end.

Will this be one of the Springsteen albums I listen to over and over and over again? No, and it hasn't been. Is it yet another solid album in his long career? Absolutely.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Music Year #5

One of the drawbacks to using eMusic as a main source of music is that sometimes you have to find a album that fits the amount of downloads you have left. There are also times when you are running out of time before your downloads turn over. These circumstances can lead to some hasty decisions, decisions which sometimes work out and sometimes don't.

I don't quite remember if Rilo Kiley's The Execution of All Things falls into either or both of those categories but the facts are these: I listened to the whole album 2 time in late January and hadn't listened to it since until tonight. Now it's not that I don't like Rilo Kiley or Jenny Lewis but obviously this album didn't grab me. You know what? It still doesn't. Oh sure, this album has well-crafted mid-tempo pop songs but I don't hear anything to really grab me. If the songs come up during a shuffle, no problem. But as for a fourth listen? I don't see it happening anytime soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #155

I got three posts up this week, which isn't too bad. I still want to get into the other two projects I outlined a few weeks ago and maybe this is the week that will happen. Stay tuned...

1. 16, Maybe Less/Iron And Wine & Calexico (15)
2. Uniform/The Essex Green (21)
3. Without You/Centro-Matic (15)
4. No Lucifer/British Sea Power (6)
5. Savannah Smiles/Okkervil River (12)
6. You Can Always Count On Me (In The Worst Way)/Superchunk (10)
7. Josephine/Portastatic (7)
8. Wall of Dumb/Higgins (5)
9. Headed For a Fall/M. Ward (17)
10. Odalisque/The Decemberists (7)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Music Year #4

Let's talk Tokyo Police Club. The Canadian band made a splash in the music blogosphere with the release of their 2006 debut EP, A Lesson in Crime, and rightfully so. It was full of short, sharp songs that were extremely catchy; my favorite of the 7 songs was "Citizens of Tomorrow," which was a warning about how we would so be ruled by robots. They followed that up in 2007 with a 3 song EP, Smith, and then a 2 song release, Your English is Good. In 2008, they released their first full album, Elephant Shell, and the reaction was not even close to what it had been. I read words like disappointing and letdown in reviews. I still wanted to get the album but didn't have it at the top of my priorities.

I got the album from eMusic back in January and was unsure of it at first. By a few more listens, however, I was wondering if everyone else had heard a different album because the one I was hearing was great.

They are still writing short, sharp catchy songs. The drums and bass are often prominent, as well as some slashing guitar. The lyrics are wonderful. "In A Cave" and "Juno" are so good that I'm surprised they haven't been used in a movie or TV show...hell, even an advertisement. It's a great album that deserves a second chance and I think the band should be huge.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Music Year #3

I resisted Bon Iver for much of 2008. He was a music blog baby and I was hesitant because sometimes the blog buzz is for an artist or band who may have a different sound but really isn't all that good. I finally decided to give him a shot and was glad to have found someone whose work I did like, so when his Blood Bank EP came out early this year, I quickly downloaded it.

The first song and title track is the highlight of the collection. Justin Vernon's falsetto is one of his signatures and in this minor key pulser he harmonizes with himself to gorgeous affect at the start of the song. The lyrics are interesting too: "Well I met you at the blood bank/we were looking at the bags/wondering if any of the colors/matched any of the names on the tags" are the opening lines in a song about family and secrets. It's a beautiful song and one of his best.

While the other three songs don't quite match the first, there are still pleasures to be found in the strum and slide guitar of "Beach Baby" and the dissonant piano of "Babys." The last song, "Woods," is just Vernon's voice run through Auto-Tune and then layered while he sings only, "I'm up in the woods/I'm down on my mind/I'm building a still/To slow down the time." When you first hear it, it sounds stupid and weird but repeated listens changes that impression into something more positive.

On the whole, that's what listening to Bon Iver needs to be. You need to hear the songs a few times to let the subtleties hit your ears and, at times, to understand what's he's saying. That falsetto is gorgeous, yes, but sometimes the diction isn't all that clear. It's a minor quibble, though.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Music Year #2

When I think of Andrew Bird, I think of plucked strings, violin, and whistling. On the first track of Noble Beast ("Oh No"), you get all three and you also get melody, another Birdian trait. You also get some intriguing lyrics - in this case, "Arm in arm we are the hopeless sociopaths." Indeed. That opener also give you a pretty good indication of what you're going to get on the whole record, which is not to say that every song sounds the same. Rather, these elements are his strengths and he weaves them throughout time and mood shifts in his songs; one example is "Anonanimal," which starts out with the sweeping strings and starts layering in sounds before opening up into a rockier style of drums and guitar. "Masterswarm" dissolves into video game-like blips and clicks after starting with an introductory passage followed by a lightly bouncing rhythm accompanying the violin. There is also the "pop hit" of "Fitz and the Dizzyspells."

I admire Bird quite a bit and I enjoy this album (and his previous one, Armchair Apocrypha) when I listen to them but I don't always reach for them. I don't often have his songs running through my head either, though they have a bit more after listening to this album in preparation for this post. If you like music that can make you think while also entertaining, this album is for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #154

I've not abandoned my projects but it's been a pretty busy week and this coming week should be even worse with two tests. Still, I hope to get a few posts up between now and next Sunday's shuffle. Meanwhile, let's get to today's music...

1. Mating Calls/Warren Zanes (9)
2. Life is White/Big Star (11)
3. California Stars (live)/Jeff Tweedy (10)
4. Honey Blue/Paul Burch (3)
5. Scythian Empires/Andrew Bird (9)
6. Pleasure Is Mine/Matthew Sweet (10)
7. An Apology/Canasta (13)
8. Pride of the Yankees/Patterson Hood (6)
9. Marie Provost/Nick Lowe (8)
10. On the Bubble/The Broken West (20)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Looking Ahead: October 2009

I meant to get around to this feature again last month but just didn't get my act together. I should be on my way to bed right now but I don't want to let this month start to slip away before I looked ahead to it. So, here are some things I'm looking forward to this month...

The Invention of Lying (Oct. 2) - A cool idea concept that was written and directed by Ricky Gervais

Built To Spill/There Is No Enemy (Oct. 6) - Guitar goodness

The Mountain Goats/The Life of the World to Come (Oct. 6) - One of my favorite songwriters using Bible verses as inspiration? I'm intrigued.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (Oct. 6) - Personal essays from one of my favorite writers

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel (Oct. 7) - A prose piece set in the world of Fables, one of my favorite comics

Jack of Fables Vol. 6: The Big Book of War (Oct. 7) - I hope it features more one pagers with my favorite character of 2009, Babe the Blue Ox

Planetary #27 (Oct. 7) - While I won't pick it up, this means a fourth collection is somewhere on the horizon and I can finally read everything from #19 on

The Flaming Lips/Embryonic (Oct. 13) - An old-fashioned double album

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Oct. 13) - A new novel by another of my favorite writers

30 Rock season premiere (Oct. 15) - I want to go there

Where The Wild Things Are (Oct. 16) - I have high hopes for this Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of the classic book that was a childhood favorite

Scalped Vol. 5: High Lonesome (Oct. 21) - I still need to buy and read the 3rd and 4th volumes

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds HC (Oct. 21) - A collection of the mini-series that continued the revitalization of "my" Legion of Super-Heroes

R.E.M./Live At The Olympia (Oct. 27) - These shows were supposedly high quality and covered the breadth of their career

Gentlemen Broncos (Oct. 30) - This is something I'll probably end up seeing on DVD but I am all over the concept from the team behind Napoleon Dynamite

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Music Year #1

I didn't get my first album of 2009 until the second half of January, which is a bit unusual for me. There was no big reason for it; I was just waiting for some music of interest to come and was still digging into what little I got for Christmas. Whatever the reason, my first new music of the year came in the form of A.C. Newman's Get Guilty.

A.C. Newman is the solo guise of Carl Newman, who is the glue that holds The New Pornographers together. He writes most of the band's material (excluding the songs Dan Bejar writes and sings on and a few other exceptions), fueling their four album run of power pop goodness. This is his second solo album after 2004's The Slow Wonder.

Newman writes pop songs, real pop songs that aren't afraid of melody or subtlety or varied instrumentation. Heck, he's not even afraid to use whistling in the background (see "All of My Days And All Of My Days Off"), to use "yo ho" in the place of a la-la or do-do (see "The Heartbreak Rides"), or even a chorus of "one high, one high, one high, one." (see "Prophets")

The album gets off to a great start with "There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve," with it's ascending and falling guitar line, soft plucked strings, and a string of interesting lyrics (such as "There are maybe ten or twelve/Things I could teach you/After that well I guess you're on your own/And that wasn't the opening line/It was the tenth or the twelfth/Make of that what you will").

Other highlights include the propulsive strumming and percussion of "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer" and the mid-tempo pulse of "The Changling (Get Guilty)" with its piano chords and the great first line: "It's not war/It's more like a warning."

The album has many charms and I can also state from firsthand experience that he and his band did a fantastic job translating these songs to a live setting as well. Any album with work written and performed by A.C. Newman is well-worth picking up and this one is no different.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #153

I had planned on getting many of my online Spanish exercises done yesterday so I could relax and watch football this afternoon, but my professor still hasn't posted them. To be honest, I'm a little frustrated. Still, no need to take it out on the music...

1. Against Pollution/The Mountain Goats (25)
2. Bulls Through/The Henry Clay People (11)
3. OK/Higgins (6)
4. They Ran/My Morning Jacket (8)
5. Poor Boy/David Byrne & Brian Eno (5)
6. All The Old Showstoppers/The New Pornographers (21)
7. Glamour Puss/Hoodoo Gurus (3)
8. Night Falls/Cracker (4)
9. Joanie Don't U Worry/Apples In Stereo (12)
10. This Day/Bowerbirds (4)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Project Collection

The history of this blog and even my life is littered with ideas and projects that I don't follow through on, yet I keep coming up with new ones. This year the big ones have included recording an EP (not one note), reading Infinite Summer (I lasted less than 50 pages), writing a biography of The Jayhawks (not one word written), blogging about every song by The Jayhawks (I've covered 4 in 2 months), reading the entire works of Charles Dickens (not one word read), and writing about every issue of Astro City (nope). Still, I don't want to give up on these ideas or at least on the idea of ideas in general. I'd like to follow through on a project or two. I realize I'm setting myself up for failure with all the school work I have in college this semester and the general craziness of life, but here are the blog projects I plan on doing over the next few months...

* A series of posts on the best of the decade in books, music, movies, TV, comics, and whatever else I come up with

* A resumption of writing about The Jayhawks songs

* Reviews of all the new music I've bought this year, in chronological order

It's ambitious, especially for someone with my track record, but I feel like I have to do it. What have I got to lose?

Broken Dolls

I've been a fan of Joss Whedon ever since I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer during its second season. As much as I loved that show, I think Firefly holds an even bigger place in my heart. I watched it religiously when it was being shown on Fox and was crushed when it got cancelled all too soon. So it was with some trepidation that I began watching his latest TV show, Dollhouse back in the spring.

I found myself not watching each episode right away and got a couple weeks behind almost immediately. The show didn't grab me right away and then a few characters were revealed to be "actives" (dolls), which seemed a bit over the top. I was also stressed out and busy with school and it seemed like I was perpetually behind on the DVR. I had to make a decision - should I keep recording a show I wasn't totally in love with and that would probably be cancelled anyway - and decided to stop.

Almost immediately, I started hearing that the second half of its season and made a dramatic turn and was now must-see. Still, I didn't bother. It was announced the show would return for a second season of 13 episodes and I wondered if I had been too hasty. When the DVD of the first season came out, there was high praise for an episode that hadn't aired which was set in the future of the show. I thought maybe I should pick up the DVD, but I couldn't justify the expense. Luckily, the internet and Netflix came to my rescue.

Hulu only had half of the season available for viewing but I had actually seen all the episode they didn't have. I started watching and was hooked. I saw that the first half of the season was really setting up the second and everything kicked into high gear. I used Netflix to get the last disc of the DVD set and was able to watch "Epitaph One." It was great.

Last night was the first episode of season 2 and I watched it not long after it aired. It was written and directed by Whedon and there was a lot going on. I also enjoyed it immensely. I will be watching the rest of the season and will probably put the first season DVD on my Christmas list. I gave up on the show too soon but now I've rediscovered it and am well on my way to loving it.

On the cosmic pop culture scale, however, it seems that things have to balance. I may have gained a new love but word came this week that I have lost another one. The Broken West announced that they have disbanded. I love their sound and I love their songs and I'm sad that there won't be any more of them. I saw them open for A.C. Newman back in March and it was a great show all the way around. They will be missed but at least they left us with two great albums (I Can't Go On I'll Go On and Now or Heaven) and an EP (The Dutchman's Gold, which was released under their previous name, The Brokedown). Go and search them out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #152

It's been a busy week and today isn't going to be any different, so let's get right to the music...

1. There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve/A.C. Newman (15)
2. Painted Halo/Two Hours Traffic (4)
3. We Used to Vacation/Cold War Kids (11)
4. Blood On The Knobs/Glossary (6)
5. Bandit Queen (with DT)/The Decemberists (9)
6. Antarctica Starts Here/Okkervil River (7)
7. Marrow/St. Vincent (5)
8. Some Bridges Are for Burning/I Love Math (7)
9. Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters/The Twilight Sad (9)
10. Last Day of Magic/The Kills (4)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #151

I could complain about the work I still have to do for college today but I won't. Instead, let's celebrate the return of the NFL to Sundays. I'm going to do my best to watch as much as I can. In that spirit, let's get going on today's ten...

1. Criminal Piece/Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (3)
2. Theme to Wendel Stivers/Spoon (6)
3. No One Here Knows Jane/Warren Zanes (12)
4. Stop Breathin/Pavement (16)
5. Hand-Me-Down Tune/The Avett Brothers (12)
6. Fisher of Men/M. Ward (13)
7. Back of a Car/Big Star (9)
8. Vintage Violet/The Minus 5 (6)
9. Black Lexus/Joseph Arthur (12)
10. Game Show Touch Our Lives/The Mountain Goats (19)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Music Downs and Ups

For someone who loves music as much as I do, this week has been a bit of a failure. I don't have a few hundred bucks to spend on the stereo remasters Beatles box set; what's more, I haven't even gotten a single one of the individual releases. I did, however, read the reviews on Pitchfork and Popdose...which is as close as I'll come to listening to them until maybe Christmas. That hasn't stopped me doing my own small part to contribute to this latest round of Beatlemania by breaking out Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album for car listening this week.

I also haven't managed to pick up Popular Songs, the latest from Yo La Tengo. I'm still pretty new to my fandom of the band but it's reached a level that I wanted to own the new one right away. However, it's not yet available on eMusic and if it will be soon (and I hope so), I'd rather wait than pick up a physical copy right now.

So what have I been listening to instead this past week besides The Beatles? The new Two Hours Traffic, Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood, A.A. Bondy, Destroyer, Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel, The Decemberists, Teenage Fanclub, and...Yo La Tengo. Can't complain about any of that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor of Love

I don't want to give up on this blog. In fact, I think it will be necessary in the coming weeks just to switch my brain into a mode that isn't about school. I may not post often and I may not follow through with all the projects I want to start but I still want to be here. They say you're supposed to dress for the job you want, right? I would like to earn money as a writer before it's all said and done, so with this blog I'll be dressing for that job. I love music and books and TV and movies and comics and more and I want to be able to share that love. And so I will.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #150

I can't leave the Sunday Shuffle holding at #149 for who knows how long, so I'm back already to get it to a nice even number. Yes, I am a nerd. And yes, I am a music nerd too...

1. Alone (a.k.a. Shakin Sugar) (demo)/Wilco (2)
2. Moral Centralia (demo)/Harvey Danger (13)
3. Starling Of The Slipstream/Pavement (7)
4. Set Me Free/The Kinks (2)
5. Me In Honey/R.E.M. (15)
6. Apartment Story/The National (19)
7. From/Dr. Dog (10)
8. Highly Suspicious/My Morning Jacket (8)
9. Hand-Me-Down Tune/The Avett Brothers (11)
10. Impossible Germany (live)/Wilco (9)

Sunday, August 30, 2009


It's rather obvious that I haven't followed through with my intentions when I (re)started my blog under this new title. The chances of that fact changing anytime in the forseeable future are slim to none, unfortunately. As I mentioned earlier today, my new college semester has begun and it looks like I have a lot of work ahead of my over the next 3 1/2 months. I do not intend to only live and breathe the day job and my school work but I know that writing blog entries will not be at the top of my list of things to do in my spare time. So, I am suspending all blogging until...well, I'm not sure. I suspect my use of Twitter will diminish as well; if I'm going to keep up with anything, it will probably be Facebook, where I do get feedback and a sense of community amongst my friends, new and old. Take care.

Sunday Shuffle #149

My plans for posts got derailed by college classes this week. I'm going to have a lot to do this semester and my coping mechanism yesterday was to pretend I had nothing at all to do. Not very efficient. Still, I do want to post from time to time as it will be a good antidote to my English class. For now, though, here's some music...

1. Stop And Think It Over/Mary Weiss (2)
2. Black Sand/Jenny Lewis (10)
3. Expensive Tastes/Cold War Kids (8)
4. Angeles/Elliott Smith (23)
5. This Tornado Loves You/Neko Case (2)
6. Junior Panthers/Sloan (16)
7. I'll Be Yr Bird/M. Ward (6)
8. Cool James/Harvey Danger (28)
9. A Call To Arms/Beirut (5)
10. Colleen/Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (13)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I could be working on some blog posts right now. I could be writing about the three Jack of Fables trades I read this week. I could be writing about all the books I read this summer. I could be working on my (slowly-progressing) Jayhawks project. I could be taking notes for all the blog projects I have in mind (looking at Astro City issue by issue; a myriad of posts about my favorite pop culture from the 2000s; a long-delayed review of the new Wilco album).

I could be reading some more of the June/July issue of F&SF.

I could be looking at my Spanish book from last year in preparation for my third semester class.

But I'm not doing any of those things.

Instead, I am very restless because college starts again tomorrow and I'll be in my first English class since spring semester of 1994. I'm not nervous at all, I just want to get it started and see what the class will be like. I guess it's a good thing I go to work tomorrow before class or else it would be another wasted day (at least I got the laundry done today).

I know I will get to all the things I mentioned above...just not until after I've been to my English 201 class (The Nature of Literary Study) tomorrow evening.

Sunday Shuffle #148

My posting plan went awry this week, which isn't too surprising. School started on Wednesday and I had meetings on Tuesday and other things going on. This week I start my third semester back at college and have my first English class since 1994. It will be interesting. I do have some ideas for posts but we'll see what happens.

1. Magic Door/Elk City (9)
2. Army Bound/Ted Leo (9)
3. Isn't Life Strange?/The Clientele (13)
4. Robbers/Cold War Kids (11)
5. Effigy/Andrew Bird (7)
6. The Girl/Dr. Dog (10)
7. Simple X/Andrew Bird (9)
8. Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider/Of Montreal (7)
9. Help Help/Mates of State (7)
10. For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea/Belle and Sebastian (16)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #147

Last Sunday before the school year starts - my wife goes back tomorrow and my son and I go back on Wednesday. I do still have a week before my college classes get going, so this week will be the easiest one until Christmas week. Let's see what we get...

1. Argonne Limit Co./Centro-Matic (22)
2. They Ran/My Morning Jacket (6)
3. Stars Fell on Alabama/The Mountain Goats (6)
4. Lullaby + Exile/M. Ward (6)
5. All the Lightning Rods/Centro-Matic (14)
6. I'm in Love with a Girl/Big Star (9)
7. Her Disappearing Theme/Broken Social Scene (1)
8. Heretics/Andrew Bird (8)
9. Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2/My Morning Jacket (10)
10. Just A Little Heat/The Black Keys (7)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trade Winds Blowing

I've been in denial all summer. I've been buying single issues of comics and pretending that I could continue doing just that forever and ever amen. I can't. I don't have the room for boxes of comics, which is why I got rid of all my boxes years ago. I don't have the patience to just read a single issue of anything, no matter how good (and ADVENTURE COMICS #1 was pretty darn good this week, thanks to a solid Geoff Johns story and fantastic Francis Manapul art plus 10 pages of the Legion). I don't like the inflexibility it creates in my entertainment budget, which is not very big to begin with. And finally, buying all the single issues this summer has meant I couldn't afford to buy any trades (until the new Fables trade this week, which was possible only by some extra work as a math tutor).

I am behind on a bunch of different series that I follow. As I mentioned yesterday, I am 3 collections behind on Jack of Fables (though I did go out and pick up the 3rd volume, thanks to a coupon and some more of that tutoring money). I started reading Scalped earlier this year and loved it but I'm 2 volumes behind with a 3rd out soon. There are now 6 100 Bullets trades that I haven't bought, a series I really want to finish. And that's just a few Vertigo titles off the top of my head.

Don't get me started on the big ticket items like Starman Omnibus (still need the 3rd volume), Nexus Archives (only have 2 out of a soon-to-be 10), Asterios Polyp, and Darwyn Cooke's Parker graphic novel.

I've actually made the decision to revert back to trades a couple times this summer but just never followed through. This time, I have to. And I will.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dark Days of Summer

When all three members of a household are involved with a school in one form or another, summer comes to an end once a new school year gets started. That's where the Steiner household is at, as we all start back next week. I'm actually ready to get back to it and not just for the fact I won't have to be in the pool 4 to 5 hours a day, although a full week of nothing to do would be nice.

I've been squeezing in as much pop culture consumption as I can before life gets super busy and thought I would share some quick thoughts about some of it...

(500) Days of Summer - This movie finally made it to my neck of the woods (about 20 minutes away) last weekend and I jumped at the chance to go see it. I was not disappointed. The movie tells you up front (via narration) that it is not a love story...well, it is and it isn't. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and work and falls hard. She, on the other hand, doesn't, though she does like him a lot. What follows in an out-of-order look at their relationship, shifting from the good times to the bad. This allows scenes to be cast in a new light, bits of conversation, and so forth. Director Marc Webb gives us a dance number, split screens, and great visuals to match the mix of humor and pain and understanding. Good stuff.

The Magicians - This is Lev Grossman's new novel and the first one of his that I've read, though I loved his brother Austin's Soon I Will Be Invincible. As the title of this one would indicate, it's a fantasy novel set in a world of magic. Specifically, it's set in a world where people have read Harry Potter and a series of Narnia-like books about a world called Fillory. Quentin Coldwater is a huge fan of that series and one day discovers he is able to perform magic and is admitted to Brakebills, a school for magic. So yes, there are some similarities with the world of Harry Potter but this book deals with sex and drugs and depression and there is no big evil out there in the world. It's a story of love and loss and selfishness and yes, magic. Some reviews have taken it to task for trying to be a commentary on this type of novel as well as an example of the species but I didn't think it was more metafictional commentary than just a well-written story that I liked.

District 9 - I went and saw this movie at the first showing this morning and was a bit distracted by the kids who were in the audience. The movie is bloody and the f-word is used an awful lot. An awful lot. Now I don't have a problem with that type of thing but it did bother me at times. As for the movie itself, it is a very grim story of aliens forced to live in slums, corporations that want profit, gangs that want power. Events are set in motion by Wickus, who is in charge of informing the "prawns" that they are being moved to a new residence far from Johannesburg. He becomes exposed to something that starts changing him, both physically and also in another one. Except it's not a saccharine and clean-cut as it seems. The effects are seamlessly woven into the story and it is mostly told in doucmentary form. It is a dark story that echoes problems in our world without it being bludgeoningly so. A thoughtful, gruesome SF movie that looks cool? Interesting summer fare.

Fables: The Dark Ages - Wednesday saw the release of the 12th volume collecting the ongoing series, which also happens to be one of my favorite comics. It's a rather grim volume featuring that aftermath of the big victory over Gepetto. One would think times would be good but they aren't. There's the rise of a powerful new entity, the death of a beloved character, and the destruction of Fabletown. Naturally, I read it as quickly as I could and I can't wait until the next collection in early 2010. In the meantime, I need to catch up on Jack of Fables in trade form - I've only read 2 of 5 volumes!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nothing Left To Borrow

Let's dive back into the Jayhawks project with a look at one of the lesser-known songs from Tomorrow the Green Grass (released in 1995)...

"Nothing Left to Borrow" is built on a relatively subdued but still interesting riff by Gary Louris on electric guitar, which is then supported by a nice bouncing bass line and a lot of cymbal work on the drumkit. It lifts off during the chorus with a short piano line and when Mark Olson joins Louris in harmony (Louris sings lead on this one). The song is not flashy and a little bit melnacholy but it sticks in the head.

"Then just stick around..."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #146

It's amazing how quickly I've devolved my relaunched blog back to a Sunday Shuffle every week and maybe another post. I've got plenty of things to write about but I just need to sit down and do it. We'll see...

1. Thurston @ 13/Thurston Moore (6)
2. Perfume-V/Pavement (10)
3. The Chinatown Bus/Bishop Allen (10)
4. Ella/M. Ward (13)
5. Cass/Lucero (6)
6. Make You Up/Portastatic (6)
7. On My Way/American Music Club (8)
8. The Swamp/Brendan Benson (15)
9. Summerteeth (live)/Jeff Tweedy (11)
10. Between the Bars/Elliott Smith (19)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Looking Ahead: August 2009

Each new month brings promise of fresh pop culture to devour...

My Old, Familiar Friend - The upcoming 4th solo album from Brendan Benson. Brendan is probably more known for being the second guy in The Raconteurs alongside Jack White but there is so much more to him than that. His three previous records are power pop gems and I can't wait to hear what the new one sounds like. (8/18)

Mad Men - Any self-respecting fan of quality TV is salivating over the return of the gang at Sterling Cooper and the fascinating enigma of the man at its core, Don Draper. This will be the 3rd season of the show. (8/16)

Top Chef - I hadn't watched this show until this past spring, which was set in New York. I was quickly hooked and not just because I love food. I am currently watching Top Chef Masters, which has famous chefs competing for charity and is a more dignified take the series, but I can't wait to see who shows up to compete in Las Vegas. (8/19)

District 9 - There was a lot of buzz out of Comic-Con about this different take on aliens living on Earth. Peter Jackson is the executive producer and the trailer looks intriguing. It doesn't have big stars, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. (8/14)

Inglorious Basterds - The latest movie from Quentin Tarantino, this one could go either way. Not sure there will be an in-between. We'll see. (8/21)

Adventure Comics - This comic will star the recently-resurrected Superboy and is written by current comics king Geoff Johns. The art will be by Francis Manapul, who made his professional debut in the same comic I did (Love in Tights #1). Of course, he's gone on to fame and I've gone on to this blog, so score 500 for him. Meanwhile, the backup feature in this comic will focus on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Unsurprisingly, this excites me more than the main feature, though the 5 page preview that is running in the back of DC books right now is very promising. (8/12)

Sunday Shuffle #145

I do have some posts planned for this week, including getting back to my Jayhawks project. For now I'm still waking up, so let's get to 10 shuffled songs from my iTunes...

1. Hurtin' You/Ben Kweller (7)
2. The Marquee and the Moon/Sloan (12)
3. Theologians (live)/Jeff Tweedy (8)
4. The '59 Sound/The Gaslight Anthem (14)
5. Constantinople/The Decemberists (7)
6. Fat Children/Jarvis Cocker (4)
7. Charlemagne In Sweatpants/The Hold Steady (5)
8. Creature Fear/Bon Iver (9)
9. Streetlights/Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit (6)
10. I Will Possess Your Heart/Death Cab For Cutie (3)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Good News Dept.

Kurt Busiek announced at last week's Comic-Con that Astro City would be returning to monthly status sometime next year, picking up with #23 after all these years. Before then, we will get a two-part special about a grown-up Astra and the final part of the "Dark Age" story (which will included a special focusing on the Silver Agent). More details can be found here.

Multiple sources are announcing that the original cast of Futurama has signed on to do 26 more episodes of the series. Fox was reportedly looking to replace the cast but a compromise on salary was reached and fans like me are very happy that the show will be back in all its glory. I also realize I haven't watched the last 2 direct-to-DVD movies yet, a fact which I will have to rectify soon.

And finally, after a disastrous 1-6 road trip to Detroit and Minnesota, my White Sox have won 3 straight against the Yankees and go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon with Mark Buehrle on the mound. Yes, he lost his last game but not before setting the all-time record for most consecutive batters retired (45 in a row, thanks to a perfect game followed by 5 2/3 perfect innings in the next game before he fell apart). I'll be watching.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #144

Three weeks into the new blog and I'm already thinking of stopping. Not surprised, really. I haven't made a final decision yet, so I'll do my longest running and most consistent feature...

1. My Very Best/Elbow (15)
2. Alone (Alternate Version)/Wilco (9)
3. The Thanks I Get/Jeff Tweedy (8)
4. Mission Control/The Whigs (17)
5. The Shape of the Sum/I Love Math (6)
6. December/The Lemonheads (18)
7. Sing A Song For Them/Jenny Lewis (10)
8. Hot Bed/The Whigs (17)
9. Echo/Always On/Easy Con/Blitzen Trapper (7)
10. California Stars/Jeff Tweedy (9)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Geek Parts

I can't stay focused long enough to get an honest-to-goodness post going because my geek parts are warring with each other.

My TV/science fiction geek part is about halfway through the first episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth. It's off to a really good start and I want to just keep watching.

My books geek part checked 5 books out of the library on Friday. I read Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin over the weekend and loved it. Loved it. Now I'm 120 pages into The Way Home by George Pelecanos and I don't want to stop reading.

My music geek part is trying to figure out how to utilize the rest of this month's eMusic downloads while listened to Pernice Brothers' Live a Little, which I last listened to a year ago today. I also can't stop listening to the Jayhawks anthology or new Wilco album. Is there a way to listen to 4 albums at once?

My comics geek part still wants to write up a big post on all the comics I've bought and read this month but tomorrow is Wednesday again and we finally get the last issue of Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds and another issue of Wednesday Comics and a new Green Lantern on the heels of last week's Blackest Night.

My DVD geek part really wants to buy The Middleman next week, a show that I fell in love with last summer and got canceled way too soon (I love many shows that have that happen).

My baseball geek part is watching the Rays/White Sox game and my Sox are nursing a 1 run lead in the bottom of the 7th. If they can hold on and the Tigers lose, they'll be tied for first place!

And that's why you're not getting a real blog post tonight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Live Jayhawks

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #143

I broke my streak of 11 straight days with a post earlier this week and it's been hard getting back into the groove. Still, I'm not going to give up and hope today's entry can get me started on another nice run. I may even post something else later today...we'll see. For now, let's just get to the music...

1. What Do You Look Forward To?/Superchunk (15)
2. Out Of Reaches/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (14)
3. For Beginners/M. Ward (13)
4. Pictures Of Me/Elliott Smith (13)
5. Red Cotton/Elvis Costello (4)
6. Money In the Afterlife/Saturday Looks Good To Me (7)
7. I'm Not Mad Enough/The Ladybug Transistor (10)
8. Elmo Delmo/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (13)
9. Old Hat/Ben Kweller (8)
10. Sin City/The Essex Green (18)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Save It For a Rainy Day

The Jayhawks deal in dichotomies and dualities. They have always enjoyed critical success but it never really translated to commerical success. Their sound was built on the high/low harmonies of Gary Louris and Mark Olson and the marriage of country and rock and folk and more. They also know how to weld a sad song with a beautiful sing-along melody, which is the case with "Save It For a Rainy Day" from their swan song, 2003's Rainy Day Music.

It's a mostly acoustic song and starts with a little descending then reascending guitar line and then the words hit...

"Pretty little hairdo don't do what it used to
Can't describe the living
All the miles that you've been through"

Not the happiest of tunes but then we get a sweet walking baseline from Marc Perlman and a bouncing drumbeat. And that's all before we get to "Don't look so sad, Marina, there's another part to play" with lilting harmonies hitting the "so sad." Drummer Tim O'Reagan takes the lower notes in the hamony that were once Olson's and the result still sounds like the Jayhawks.

A nice little harmonica solo and a little electric guitar solo from Louris and then we're back to that beautiful chorus. Marina is supposed to "save it for a rainy day" and I hope she does.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Books Matter

What would happen if you knew before you were born that the world was going to end in just over 36 years? How would you live your life knowing that fact? That's what Junior Thibodeau has to face in the novel Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.

Along with that high concept, we also get some interesting structure to the book. Parts of it are numbered and give us the voice of the entities (it's not really clear on how many are involved, but their sections always use a "we") who have burdened Junior with the ultimate fate of Earth. Not only do they tell him things but they also narrate a portion of his life. We also get sections from the viewpoint of the major characters in the book - Junior, his family, and Amy, whom he loves and loses.

It's not a very happy book, unsurprisingly. There is addiction, abuse, cancer, mental illness, and lots of pain. But there is also happiness. And baseball.

There is a science fiction element to this book as well. Junior happens to be the fourth smartest person in the world and under his guidance, ships are built to allow many people to escape the coming apocalypse. But Junior doesn't escape. Instead...well, that's something to be discovered by reading the book.

This is a book worth reading, for the ideas and for the quality of writing. I had a hard time putting it down and I have a feeling I will be thinking about it for quite a while.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #142

This morning I wanted to get to my chores and just shuffled up a few songs on iTunes but now it's after 7:30 and I'm in the mood to follow my tradition. So, here we go...

1. Scene From #12/M. Ward (11)
2. Gold Soundz/Pavement (15)
3. Great Dane/Mates of State (6)
4. White Winter Hymnal/Fleet Foxes (10)
5. The Coroner's Gambit/The Mountain Goats (13)
6. Dead To Rights/The Twilight Singers (16)
7. Cardinal Points/The Essex Green (21)
8. Stand Ins, Three/Okkervil River (7)
9. Act Surprised/Superchunk (16)
10. Little Fern/Portastatic (5)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Big Star

In the mid-90s, The Jayhawks were at a crossroads. Mark Olson had left the band and while the band was a critical success, commercial success hadn't materialized. Gary Louris had to decide whether to continue on with the band or if they should break up. Obviously, they stayed together and gave us 1997's Sound of Lies, an album that is one of the most underrated of the 90s if not of all time.

The first (and only?) single was "Big Star." Louris talks with self-deprecation and a bit of pain about how that success hasn't yet materialized...

"Yeah I'm flat busted
Wild-eyed and free
Couldn't get arrested if I tried
A has-been at a mere thirty-five"


The song is a rocker, though it does slow down in the middle when Louris sings "But it's so hard/So hard/So hard getting by" and again at the end for the last chorus, "I'm gonna be a Big Star someday." It has some nice plaintive harmonies on the main verses and a great guitar solo in the middle (remind me to talk at some point about Louris as a guitar player). But again, it's the lyrics that really make this song and he gets in some good lines throughout...

"Seems it's high noon and I ain't got no gun"

"I'm perfecting the finest art of wasting hours"

The 4:25 of this particular song is anything but a waste.

Friday, July 10, 2009

That Spark

When I read, watch, or listen to something for the first time, I'm hoping for that spark. I need something to take hold of me and pull me into the piece of art, whether it be a melody or a character or an idea or an overall aesthetic. I think that's what we all look for, isn't it?

There's another part to the equation, though. Your state of mind, you mood, can have a big affect on whether you feel that spark. I'm sure I read or listen to things at the wrong time for that particular piece of art. For example, I grabbed the last album from Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, fairly quickly after it came out. I was in love with the song "Mr. Tough" and was expecting the whole album to sound like that. It doesn't. I thought the album was okay and stopped listening to it except for random pop-ups on shuffle. Lately, though, I've rediscovered it and dig the variety of styles through the songs. It's good stuff but stuff it took me a couple years to fully appreciate. I experienced something similar with Jarvis Cocker's debut solo album recently as well. Granted, that kind of approach works with music that exists as digital files you can keep around. But what happens when you're dealing with books?

For the past two years, I've been doing most of my reading by checking books out of the library. That means I have a finite amount of time in which to decide if that spark is there or not. As recently as a couple of years ago, I would read every book I started. I would feel I was letting a book down if I didn't. These days, though, I'll give a book anywhere from 50 to 100 pages to really grab me and if it doesn't, that's the end.

I mentioned in my Asimov's review earlier this week that Stephen Baxter's story made me want to check out the books set earlier in the story's timeline. A few days ago I checked Flood out of the library and settled in. The problem was it didn't really grab me. The characters didn't really hook me and all the water was repetitive after 50 pages and the prospect of 450 or so more was not appealing (and yes, I know the book is called Flood and I should probably have known better). So, I stopped reading my 5th book of the year (as opposed to 19 I read all the way through).

The next book up in the reading queue? Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. That spark was there from the first page, in which a baby in the womb was getting advice about not moving around so as not to wrap the umbilical cord around itself further and face dire consequences. The next 50 pages have upheld that promise and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

I do feel bad when I don't get that spark from a piece of art. I'm sure some of the time it's me. Of course, other times it's the work of art (don't get me started on the mess that was Greek Street #1, which I am thankful was only a buck). But when that spark happens? Magic time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Waiting For the Sun

Let's start with the song that introduced me to The Jayhawks, the first song on Hollywood Town Hall, "Waiting For the Sun."

It starts with a piano plunk and then the electric guitar comes in. A chug-a-lug beat with the bass running in between. The piano and guitar work with each other. Then in comes a high voice, "I was waiting for the sun..." and we're off.

For the first 5 or 6 years of my Jayhawks fandom, I didn't which voice was Gary Louris and which was Mark Olson. It wasn't until my first Golden Smog record that I knew the high voice was Gary's and the lower voice coming into harmonize was Mark's.

"It was not lost on me."

We get a nice guitar solo and then the guitar comes back as the song works itself to a conclusion. It's a guitar that speaks to me, that works within the context of the song and also has a yearning to it.

"I never made amends for the sake of no else."

The song perfectly encapsulates what you're going to get from the album - great music with a tinge of sadness, harmony mixed with yearning. Let's go "walkin' on down the road," indeed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Year in Books

I read 19 books in the first half of the year, which is a decent total for someone who was working two jobs and taking 6 credit hours in addition to having a family. My book habits have changed over the past almost 2 years, when I began utilizing the library. I have been able to read more books and keep more current with my reading than in years past.

That point was drive home when I read a list of the year's best books so far over at Omnivoracious (Amazon's books blog). I have read 2 of their overall Top Ten - Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead and The City & The City by China Mieville. In addition, I am on the request list at the library for a third - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. I liked both books very much.

Furthermore, I have read a book on their Fiction Top Ten - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower - and have another on my shelf waiting to be read after Stephen Baxter's Flood (Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.).

When I look over my reading list for the year, I see that 11 of the books I've read were published this year and the rest were either published or reissued last year. I'm much more current than I ever realized.

Of course, I haven't read nearly as many books as I've wanted to. I do still have 5 weeks left of summer, so I should be able to knock out at least 5 more before all the craziness of the school year starts up again.

I won't go back and review any of the books I've read up until now (I'll save some of that for my year-end list) but here's what I've read so far this year...

1. Prince of Stories by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bissette
2. The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
3. Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford
4. The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford
5. End of the Century by Chris Roberson
6. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
7. The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko
8. Midwinter by Matthew Sturges
9. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
10. The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay
11. The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips
12. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
13. Walking Dead by Greg Rucka
14. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
15. Busted Flush edited by George R.R. Martin
16. Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick
17. The Women by T.C. Boyle
18. Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick
19. The City & The City by China Mieville

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Jayhawks

I'm not sure when I first heard The Jayhawks. It seems likely that WXRT in Chicago would have played "Waiting For The Sun" when it first came out and that was my first exposure to the band. It also seems likely that I read a positive review of Hollywood Town Hall in Rolling Stone, since that was where I did most of my music reading back in 1992. Whatever the case, I bought that album and it quickly became a favorite. They were at the vanguard of "alternative country," though I'm still not sure what that means (and it wasn't anything they claimed themselves). They had guitars, both acoustic and electric, and harmonies. Maybe their songs sounded country and maybe not but I was buying the music.

Their next album was 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass and I was all over it when it came out. More great music. And then, word came that Mark Olson had left the band. Well, that was the end of The Jayhawks. Or rather, it was for me. Sound of Lies came out in 1997 and I didn't buy it.

Meanwhile, I become a fan of Golden Smog, for which Gary Louris is a main songwriter and contributor. I like his stuff quite a bit and think that maybe I was hasty in my dismissal of The Jayhawks as uninteresting with only him at the helm. Still, I do nothing.

Cut to 2000 and I'm listening to WXRT. I hear a new song by The Jayhawks and it sounds great. On the strength of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," I pick up their new album Smile. I am once again and ongoing fan of the band (I had still listened to the previous two albums over the years, no doubt about it).

At some point I find a used copy of Sound of Lies and pick it up. I wonder how I could have let it pass me by all those years ago. It's a brilliant record and one of the most underrated of the 90s, hands down.

When 2003's Rainy Day Music rolls around, I pick it up the day it comes out and love it. Turns out it's their swan song and I am terribly disappointed. The members continue to put out music, like drummer Tim O'Reagan's gorgeous solo album in 2006. Louris pops up here and there, notably on another Golden Smog record and then his solo debut Vagabonds last year. Early in 2009, Olson and Louris reteam and give us Ready For the Flood. It's not a Jayhawks record but it doesn't matter - they sound great together.

Still, that's not the end of the story. Today saw the release of a Jayhawks anthology, Music From the North Country. I, of course, bought the deluxe edition with a second disc of rarities and a DVD (however, it is still snaking its way to me through the mail). I can't wait to dig in. There are also plans for reissues of all their albums (and you know, I never did get around to buying their debut, Blue Earth; a fact I will have to remedy).

In celebration, I am going to be taking a look at their catalogue over the next few months. I plan to cover not only the songs from the albums but also take a look at the side projects and solo albums as well. It will not be complete by any means; for starters, I've never picked up any of Olson's solo records. But I'm going to do the best I can two or three times a week to celebrate a band I wholeheartedly love. Please come along for the ride.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Asimov's July 2009

Following on the heels of a strong June issue, Asimov's delivers another high quality issue with the July 2009 edition. There are three excellent stories and a couple of solid stories, with only one real disappointment. When reading a magazine or anthology, it's hard to get a better percentage of stories you like.

The issue gets off to a great start with Michael Cassutt's "The Last Apostle." Joe Liquori is Omega, the last of the Twelve Apostles, the group of astronauts who landed on the Moon and were dubbed by a writer. He is on the mood again in his 80s, sort of living in a retirement home on the Moon, and he makes a return trip to an unscheduled stop he made years ago with his landing partner, the Alpha Male. That return doesn't go as planned but has unexpected consequences that will forever cement his name in history. The story is an interesting look at an alternate space program that could have been and has a very strong sense of character and mood.

I did not much care for Kit Reed's "Camp Nowhere" and she is a writer I usually like. I think the voice of the main character, a teen whose parents resent him and take him to a sinister psycho therapy-like camp, was too whiny. I didn't care at all what happened to him. So it goes.

I was happy to return to R. Garcia y Robertson's future of SuperCats and Greenies in "SinBad the Sand Sailor." The titular character gets into trouble when he drops his cargo of drugs (that he is smuggling) to pick up a pretty air hostess who has been thrown overboard. He is soon forced to rob a wind wagon, be hostilely be taken aboard another ship, only to be accepted and then outcast, before going back to reresuce the woman he resuced...but she ends up rescuing him more than once. It has a cool setting and is just an entertaining story. Someone needs to collect all the stories Robertson has written in that setting - it would be a big book of stories that are tons of fun.

The next two stories were solid - "Sleepless in the House of Ye" by Ian McHugh and "Shoes-To-Run" by Sara Genge. The former is a tale of aliens trying desperately to keep their offspring alive amidst harsh weather and attacks by worms; the latter is about a girl who wants to be a man instead of a woman as well as a tale of a future where Paris has sealed itself inside a dome and what the people outside the dome try to do.

Finally, there is Stephen Baxter's "Earth II." I have always enjoyed Baxter's appearances in Asimov's, though it's been a while since his last one. This one is set on a world in the future where inhabitants of Earth fled after a disaster. The story deals with the legacy of those Founders and the future of the world, with its coolsummers and hotsprings and Purple all over the place. A society where women are the warriors and the men stay home. Xaia Windru pushes on to find the City of the Living Dead and learns more about herself and her world than she though. This story takes place in the same world as Baxter's current novels Flood and Ark and I'm going to have to put those on my reading list.

As a bonus, Paul Di Filippo points me toward a few books of interest (I would love to get to read as much as he does) in the On Books column - Nick DiChario's Valley of Day-Glo, Robert Freeman Wexler's chapbook Psychological Methods to Sell Must Be Destroyed, and yet another poetry collection from Bruce Boston (my favorite poet regularly appearing in the pages of Asimov's).