Monday, July 31, 2006

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

So apparently E3--the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or "thousands of unwashed gamers get together to be lied to by the major gaming companies," is no more. Apparently the press event where most major videogaming announcements are made every year was too expensive to keep putting on for the intangible returns the companies would get from it. So they're gonna just do smaller expos in various locations from now on.

Except...they've decided to ressurrect E3 as E3Expo...which I think is one of those redundancies like ATM Machine. Not really sure of the point myself. I was in favor of not having the big event anyway, because it means everyone saves up their big announcements (new systems, big games, etc.) for that one time. It's overkill during E3, and drought the rest of the year.

But honestly, who the hell cares? I certainly don't.

In more important news, I got paid today, and my paycheck was larger than I thought it would be. So that was nice.


Song of the Moment: The Jayhawks, "Waiting for the Sun"

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tom Petty - Highway Companion

Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: yes, this is the best album Petty's done since Wildflowers, his previous "solo" effort (when half of your backing band plays on most of the songs, can it really be called a "solo" effort?). Wildflowers was easily one of Petty's best albums ever, in large part because it seemed so effortless and natural and at ease. There was a simplicity to the songs--even songs that featured strings like "It's Good to be King"--that was in stark contrast to the two Jeff Lynne-helmed albums that came before it, Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open. There was also almost no filler: the album was fantastic from beginning to end, and even the songs that felt like throwaways had a vitality and a feel to them that made them worth keeping on the record.

Then came a decade of fairly mediocre or run-of-the-mill Heartbreakers albums. Well, only two of them, actually: Echo and The Last DJ. Nothing from Echo really stood out that much. The songs weren't memorable, and though they had that simplicity of arrangement and production that Wildflowers had possessed, the record had none of Wildflowers' charm or naturalness to it. And The Last DJ, while an admirable idea, just didn't have the songs or the momentum to carry off the concept. Both Echo and The Last DJ were serious letdowns after the masterpiece that was Wildflowers.

So Highway Companion comes as a pleasant surprise and a strong return to form for Petty. This record is significantly more solo than his two previous solo albums: the only other players on the whole record are Mike Campbell and Jeff Lynne, who also produces. Petty himself plays guitar and drums on most every track, Lynne plays keyboards, bass, guitar, and various other instruments, and Mike Campbell plays guitar. Lots of guitar. Good guitar. Mike Campbell is still one of the best and most underrated guitar players in rock and roll.

Lynne's production is surprisingly restrained. Gone are his usual bombast and layer upon layer of instruments. These are very stripped-down arrangements, usually featuring just two guitars, bass, drums, and a keyboard. The music is straight-forward and simple, a consolidation of the style and feel of Tom Petty's entire career, really. This is uncluttered, well-crafted, working-man's roots rock, and Petty and Co. wear it well.

The stripped-down feel of the music fits the songs Petty's written for the album. While these are not career-statements like "Dont' Do Me Like That" or"American Girl" or "Free Fallin'" or even "Mary Jane's Last Dance," they are excellent examples of the various styles and themes Petty has played with since his career began. The opening bluesy rocker, "Saving Grace," feels like a ZZ Top-via-The Byrds tune. The ballads are careful and beautiful, the sentiment heartfelt without being trite or treaclely. The rockers are fun and shuffle along to a good rhythm. There's an undercurrent of sadness to the whole affair, though, a sense of aging and of a prime that's several years past. But Petty both rebels against and accepts the inevitable: while he isn't necessarily happy about becoming an elder statesman of rock and roll, he acknowledges just how long the road to where he is has been and that it's been worth the detours to get there. That element of sadness and melancholy is actually part of what makes the album so good: if this were just straight-ahead classic rock that was all girls, guitars, and fast cars, it would feel false and dishonest. But Petty's touch of grey grounds the album, strikes a balance between superficial "gee ain't it fun to rock and roll" tone of the lyrics and the yearning for the good ol' days that Petty allows to creep into his vocal delivery.

The album loses some momentum towards the end, where it's weighed down with too many ballads and mid-tempo songs that all follow similiar paths and themes. But even this can't really keep the album down; the songs Petty has written are still sharp and well-done. There's a commitment to this music that his previous two albums lacked. While Echo and The Last DJ may have had their themes (divorce and moving on/acceptance for Echo and the evils of corporate rock and roll for The Last DJ), the variation and lack of a unifying theme to Highway Companion actually serve it well. Petty was able to write the songs he wanted to rather than the songs that fit the concept, and the music benefits from this freedom.

Overall, it's hard not to like Highway Companion. While it may not be a watershed moment like his two previous solo albums (a pair of creative peaks in his career), it's still a solid reminder that Petty is a great musician, even thirty years into the gig.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Jack"

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Got A Bomb In My Temple"

I have the headache to end all headaches. It's the Ur-headache, the headache of which all others are mere shadowy imitations. It's been tough doing anything other than sit here and not do anything all day.

I also had the weirdest dream last night. I was driving through Shawnee down Kickapoo Street, only I was going way too fast. I kept running red lights and actually rear-ended a couple of cars. It didn't matter how hard I put on the breaks, I couldn't stop. I woke up with every muscle in my body tensed and aching. I think it's probably just a manifestation of my concerns about going home. I had no control over what happened with my parents a year ago (the whole separation thing started right after I left home), sorta like I had no control over the car in my dream. The whole thing with my folks still seems unreal to me, to be honest.

Spent last night hanging out with Michelle, Lauren, and Chad. I made the Bitchstick 4000 for Lauren. It's a cardboard tube useful for beating up jackass roommates, former significant others, and anyone who annoys you. It was originally designed for ending world hunger, but this seems like a good use for it, too.

I'm gonna go shower. Maybe that'll help loosen me up and relieve the ache.


Song of the Moment: Elliott Smith, "Somebody That I Used to Know"

Friday, July 28, 2006

The CDs In My Car

Happy Friday, folks. I for one am glad it's finally here.

I do most of my music listening in the car, 'cause I spend a lot of time driving to and from work and all. So here are the CDs that are in my car as of today and that I've been listening to all week...

1) Tom Petty, Highway Companion: Michelle got this for me Wednesday, and I've listened to it constantly since then. It left the car only to head to the CD player in the apartment that night. Great music for driving, though better for the late at night driving than the early morning drive to work. Easily the best thing he's done in about a decade.

2) The Beatles, Please Please Me: There's this joyous, vital energy to The Beatles' early stuff that just never cropped up in their later, more mature work. While this may be the sound of a band still finding itself, it's so much damn fun that you can't help but sing along at the top of your lungs.

3) Barenaked Ladies, Stunt: One of the CDs that convinced me that it was okay to like newer music. The manic energy of "One Week," the goofy sweetness of "Some Fantastic," the poignant sadness of "Light Up My Room" and "Told You So"'s just a great album from beginning to end. Still my favorite BNL record.

4) David Gray, Life in Slow Motion: Significantly mellower and more subdued than his previous stuff (and that's really saying something), this record still has some excellent stuff on it and a couple of great tunes like "Alibi," "Ain't No Love," and "Nos da Cariad" (I have no idea what that means, either).

So yeah. Weekend's almost here. Just a few more hours to freedom.


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Alibi"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Sonny, Move Out To The Country"

A year ago today, I left Oklahoma--a state where I was born and spent most of my life--and arrived in the state of Virginia. In that year, I've found a teaching job, found a girlfriend, and generally had a great time living in the Northern Virginia/DC area. I've finally transitioned into that whole adulthood thing, which is probably a load off of most of my relatives' minds, and I've matured as a person in many ways (though in a lot of ways I remain exactly who I was).

Not all the changes have been good, of course. My parents' divorce was something of a shock, and the way I viewed the world was altered quite radically by that single event (or series of events, as it really was). I'm disconnected from most of my family (except for phone calls and occasional emails), and I don't have as much free time or creative energy as I did when I was working at the OU Athletic Department Writing Center. Money has become a major concern, since I really don't want to have to run to my folks each time I spend a little more than I should have.

Overall, though, I think the past year has shown that my move to Virginia was a move for the better. I'm happier and more confident than I was a year ago, more at ease with myself and those around me. I'm still a kid in a lot of ways--and probably always will be, to an extent--but I'm growing up. About damn time, probably.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Down South"

Butch Walker Live In Concert

So, the Butch Walker show at the the 9:30 Club was fantastic...once he finally got on stage. There were two opening acts, neither of which were particularly original or that good. The first was a sad Maroon 5 clone that thought turning on the "funk" effect on the keyboard would make them...well, funky. The lead singer was also under the impression he was Tom Jones, except he couldn't sing nearly that well. He also pulled out an ukelele at one point and played a uke with a wah-wah pedal. Seemed unnecessary to me. A little piece of my soul died when they asked the audience whether we wanted to hear a Beatles cover or a Radiohead cover. The Beatles "won," but I maintain that everyone loses when a band that bad tries to cover a band as good as the Beatles.

The second opening act was one of those pop-rock bands that sound like Good Charlotte and Dashboard Confessional and all those other bands that sound exactly alike and have no original ideas in their heads. It's not that the music was particularly bad, per se, just that there was nothing new about it.

Butch Walker's eventual arrival onstage made the previous two hours of agony seem all worthwhile. He's an excellent performer, and he really knows how to give the audience a hell of a good time. He tore through new and old songs alike, attacking the stuff from his days with the Marvelous 3 and his solo work with equal abandon and vigor. The Let's-Go-Out-Tonites! were a fantastic backing band; they were tight, supple, and fine-tuned throughout the show.

Overall, the Butch Walker show was about as good a rock show as you could ask for. The man knows how to play--both music and with his audience--and everyone seemed to have a good time. Can't wait until he comes through again.


Song of the Moment: Butch Walker, "Mixtape"

"I'll Never Dance With Another"

So yesterday was an interesting day. Michelle's car had a flat front passenger tire in the morning, so I came over to her place and put the spare on and led her to BJ's so she could get new tires. In accordance with Murphy's Law, the back passenger tire blew as she left the place. I ended up late to work because I was helping her change the tire, but it wasn't a problem because my first class of the day was with a student who won't be here for the rest of the summer. So I got off easy there, I guess.

We took the students to see Superman Returns yesterday afternoon. We were pretty much the only people in the theatre, which I figured wasn't a problem, really.

After work, I went over to visit Michelle, bringing with me food and DVDs to watch. She'd picked up the new Tom Petty for me as a way to thank me for taking care of the spare tire. I've said it before, I say it again: I have the coolest girlfriend ever.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Jack"

Monday, July 24, 2006

"Make Up Your Own Version Sing Along"

So, I have a ticket to see Butch Walker tonight courtesy of my lovely ladyfriend.

I must repeat an earlier statement: my girlfriend is the coolest ever.


Song of the Moment: Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, "Ladies and Gentlemen..."The Let's-Go-Out-Tonites!"

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Crash On The Levee"

So I was doing a tally today to see what Dylan albums I still don't own. If I discount compliations and live albums, I'm only eight records shy of having all of his albums. Mind you, two of these records are Self Portrait and Dylan, which are considered his two worst albums (in which he made a concerted effort to totally destroy his audience and deconstruct the myths surrounding him by creating...well, new myths to surround himself with), and Saved and Shot of Love, the second and third albums in his trio of born-again evangelical efforts (Saved actually sounds like there's a bit of conviction in his singing and efforts, while Shot of Love does have the gorgeous "Every Grain of Sand"). The other four CDs are his soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (a film which he also had a part in, if I'm not mistaken) and a trio of albums from the late '80s/early '90s: Knocked Out Loaded, Down in the Groove, and Under the Red Sky.

Beyond those, it's simply a handful of live releases - Hard Rain, Live at Budokan, Real Live, Dylan and the Dead (which is absolutely terrible), and Unplugged - and a few compliations - Greatest Hits (the first volume, which I do want to get), Essential, Best Of, etc. - most of which are not necessary (since I've got virtually all of the albums) and would be difficult to track down anyway.

So the question becomes this: how completist do I get? I've come to the conclusion that every Dylan album has at least something worthwhile on it. But do I really need all of those live albums, considering I've got all the Bootleg Series concerts (Live in '66, '75, 'and '64, all of which capture epochal moments in Dylan's career) and Before the Flood (the early '70s reunion tour with The Band where Dylan tore through classic songs like a man possessed)? None of the live albums left really offer anything more than what I've already got except maybe a few reworkings of songs that aren't on the already-owned live records. But the songs on these unowned live albums aren't necessarily Dylan's best, nor are these albums vital.

If I sound like I'm trying to convince myself of two contradictory things at once, it's mostly because I'm just airing the arguments in my head for each side to try to reach a conclusion. I know I'm going to end up getting the eight studio albums I first mentioned, even if they're really not all that good (like I said, each album has at least something worthwhile). I'm still not sure whether to get the other live albums or not. How completist do I really want to be? I am going to get Greatest Hits (the original one, released way back in the '60s and still one of the best 10-song summations of Dylan's power), mostly because it has the single "Positively 4th Street," which was never put on an album (except Greatest Hits).

So I'm looking at at least nine more Dylan CDs before I can think about calling it quits. Plus Modern Times when it comes out in September (oh, September! Cruelest of months, with your meager paycheck from August barely allowing me to survive!). So ten, I guess.

Wow. I still lack ten Dylan albums. Most bands anymore can't even record that many albums in their career.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "A Satisfied Mind"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Fading By Degrees"

Tom Petty kicks serious ass. This is something you all know, I'm sure.

In fact, he kicks so much ass, you can get a stream of his entire new album, Highway Companion, from Rhapsody right now.

So get your ass out there and listen to it, dammit.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Saving Grace"
Of note:

Butch Walker, like Adam Duritz before him, wants to be Bob Dylan...or at least keep everyone guessing at what each album will sound like. I rather envy Emily for getting the chance to chat with the guy, he sounds really down-to-earth and interesting.

Early Flaming Lips sounds to me like Syd Barrett fronting a punk band.

I spent most of my afternoon floating in the Lazy River thingie at Splashdown Water Park in Manassas. I kept telling myself the whole time, "man, I can't believe I'm getting paid for this."

The check my father sent me to help pay for my plane ticket home arrived today. To my surprise, it's for the entire cost of the plane ticket. This is a fantastic boon and a stroke of luck for me. I might be able to make it through September after all.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Southern Accent"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"All Boxed In"

Interesting tidbits of the day:

I finished another graduate education course today. I'm fairly certain I got an A for the class, which is shiny. I also picked up a side job as proofreader/editor for my professor's doctoral dissertation (compensation to be determined when she actually starts giving me chapters of the thing to look at). Apparently those three years of working the Writing Center are paying off even after I get out of Oklahoma. She's also maybe gonna hook me up with the GMU writing center for some part time editing shennanigans. As my uncle's old band the Regular Joes were fond of saying, "every little bit helps."

Speaking of Oklahoma, three of CNN's Top 100 American Cities to Live in are Okies. Norman, Edmond, and Broken Arrow all made the list. Now, I can understand Norman the nifty college town and Edmond the upscale yuppie farm, but Broken Arrow? I wasn't aware there was anything out there. There wasn't the last time I visited about ten years ago, at any rate.

Today is my uncle's birthday. He's all old and stuff. But he still rocks out better than you do.

Next Tuesday is my girlfriend's birthday. She is significantly cooler than you, and I get to date her and you don't. I also have a couple of coolest birthday presents ever lined up for her, 'cause she deserves it. Next Tuesday also marks the release of the new Tom Petty CD. I will be purchasing said CD regardless of the state of my finances. I don't care if I have to sell someone's kidney to get that album. It shall be mine.


Song of the Moment: Golden Smog, "Strangers"

The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites!

Butch Walker, I commented to a friend of mine the other day, is like a sleazy Paul McCartney: he writes these pop-rock songs that seem so effortless and easy, it almost makes you sick. He cranks out hooky songs like nobody's business, just like McCartney does.

Rise and Fall, Walker's third post-Marvelous 3 release, is easily the best album he's ever recorded. It's no accident that it's not credited as a Butch Walker solo release: the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, his backing band, pushes Walker to produce his best work, and he doesn't disappoint. Rise and Fall is his strongest set of songs, and the band gives them a varied and invigorating read. Most of Walker's previous efforts, both as a solo artist and with the Marvelous 3, had a sameness to them: '70s-inspired arena rock with a hefty dose of sleazy glam and a little bit of punk energy. But Rise and Fall mixes things up: there's a bit of country swagger to a couple of tracks, a little bit of Ben Folds in the ballads, and a whole lot of just damn-good music.

All in all, Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites have crafted a fantastic album. They sound like they're having the time of their lives just playing music, and that sort of enthusiasm is almost guaranteed to give you a great record. It certainly does here. Give it a listen, you won't be disappointed.


Song of the Moment: Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, "Hot Girls in Good Moods"

Monday, July 17, 2006

"If I Get My Hands On A Dollar Again"

So I figured up--based on my pay scale and the number of days I'll work in August and everything--that I'll have just enough money in September from my August paycheck to pay rent and car insurance. I just hope I don't have to drive anywhere or buy anything, 'cause I won't have the money for it.

It's frustrating, really. I thought working summer school would fix my financial issues for the summer, but I was wrong. Small paychecks (like June's. We worked about 3/4 of the month. Shouldn't they just go ahead and pay us for the full month?) really hurt me at a time when I couldn't afford to have small paychecks, and the next couple for summer school aren't going to be better.

What would've been real nice was if I'd had my pay schedule set up for 12 months instead of 10 months. My monthly paycheck wouldn't have been as large, but I'd have probably not spent as much money (and I'd definitely have enough money during the summer).

Ah well. No use getting upset about it now. My main goal at this point is to find a way to supplement my income somehow. My professor mentioned (half-jokingly) that she would pay me to proofread and edit her doctoral dissertation; I may actually take her up on it. Hey, extra money for doing what I'm good at is always welcome.


Song of the Moment: Butch Walker, "Ooh Ahh"

Monday, July 10, 2006

"I Love Lamp"

I helped Michelle's sister move Saturday. The actual moving part was easy: we stuffed a mattress and box springs into the back end of my car. Took a bit of doing initially. The box springs wouldn't fit into the back end with the glass closed. We ended up scooting the front seats forward so much that my elbows were propped on the stearing wheel the entire way home.

Which wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the traffic. The trip down wasn't too bad; it only took two hours to do the 100 mile drive. The trip back to Fairfax, though, took three hours. Apparently a lot of people wanted to drive to DC Saturday afternoon.

In other news, Thom Yorke's new album comes out tomorrow. I am, as they say, excited by this in ways I cannot share with the general public.


Song of the Moment: They Might be Giants, "New York City"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Oh no, it's a Gundam! Blargle argh *death*"

Recap o' the past week:

Friday: Spamalot totally rocked. The guy playing King Arthur totally sounded like Eddie Izzard, which ain't no bad thing. The after party--which involved the drinking of an absolutely gigantic bottle of Asti (mostly by Tim) and the consumption of pizza while watching Danger Mouse--was definite good times.

Saturday: Spent the morning helping Cris move. We got everything loaded into the trailer in about two hours, which isn't that bad. There was some hanging out with Michelle as well, which is just sorta the order of the day (there's a fancy French way to say that which I can't remember how to spell).

Sunday: The events surrounding the funeral for my student took up most of the day. The service was simple and heartfelt, with speeches by some of the people who knew him (including our principal). After the burial, some of the other teachers and I went out for lunch and basically comforted one another all afternoon. Sunday night was spent hanging with Michelle (are you sensing a pattern here yet?).

Monday: I can't for the life of me remember what the hell I did on Monday. I know I spent the evening hanging out with Michelle, but that's sorta a given, y'know? I think this was the evening we were over at Lauren's, but I can't say for certain. Fawlty Towers and Count Duckula were watched, and much laughter was had. God bless the British.

Tuesday: Fourth of July. Woke up early and participated in a parade for the City of Fairfax. We carried large balloons. I got in lots of good walking. It was freakin' hot. I spent the evening hanging out with Michelle.

Wednesday: Summer school finally started. Day was a little strange, what with a couple of students acting a little too wild and some of our plans falling through due to weather. Hung out with Michelle and Lauren.

Thursday: More summer school. We took a trip to the National Zoo, which was cool (except that our purpose for being there--a reptile show--was cancelled). After school, I went to Target, purchased a bookcase, and put it together. I feel all handy and manly now.

Tomorrow is finally Friday, the end of the first week of summer school. I'm fairly certain there'll be some hanging out with Michelle at some point, barring some sort of unforeseen problem. On Saturday, we're helping her sister move from Richmond to Fairfax (yeah, I'm a sucker for helping people move).

Anyway, that's been the week. I'm pretty tired, though I think that's in large part because I haven't been going to bed early enough and having to wake up much too early. Blarg.


Song of the Moment: Johnny Cash, "Delia's Gone"