Friday, December 29, 2006

So Long 2006

The year 2006 is wanning like nobody's business, and that means it's time to recollect my ten favorite albums from the year. There was actually quite a lot of music this year that caught my fancy. In no particular order, my favorite ten are:

1. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat: I really got into Rilo Kiley this year, which in turn led me to this. And damn if this isn't some of the best music I've ever heard. Seriously. She's figured out how to make 21st century old-school country (of the Patsy Cline variety) and make it sound freakin' fantastic. Plus, they do a cover of the Traveling Wilbury's "Handle with Care." That takes balls, man...metaphorically speaking.

2. The Flaming Lips, At War With The Mystics: Maybe it's not as earth-shattering a stylistic leap forward as The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi were, but it's still a damn fine album. "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and "Free Radicals" are possibly the best one-two opening pair you could hope for, and the sonic textures rival their best work here.

3. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers: I didn't used to care much for the White Stripes, but listening to Jack White's other band made me change my mind. This disc just rocks, period. The guitar interplay, the variation between Jack White's voice and Brendan Benson's voice, and a solid set of rock songs make this a must-have.

4. Bob Dylan, Modern Times: Hands down my favorite album of the year (it's a Dylan album. What did you expect, hmm?). Dylan digs even deeper into Americana and drags up some juke joint blues, vaudevillian song-and-dance, jazz-inflected pop standard, and anything and everything else he decided would be fun to play that day. His backing band is as sharp as ever (though I really miss Charlie Sexton's presence at the guitar post), and Dylan's lyrics are sharper still.

5. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards: Because an odds'n'sods collection is pretty damn lame, Waits scrapped the idea, recorded like 40 new songs, and released it as the three-disc sprawl of Orphans. The three loosely-thematic discs consolidate and reinvent all of Waits's standard styles, hitting the hipster beat poet, boozy crooner, dimestore madman and musichall piano man (and everything in-between).

6. Ray LaMontagne, Till The Sun Goes Black: His first album, Trouble, is a brilliant CS&N-style folk rock collection; for this follow-up, he trimmed all the fat off the arrangements and created a sparse, almost harrowing atmosphere of forlorn lovers, alcohol haze, and gorgeous, delicate vocals.

7. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions: Holy. Crap. I didn't know the Boss had it in him. This is one of the most startling sets I've ever heard. The Boss, usually such a perfectionist, abandons his bombastic wall of sound for a bombastic New Orleans/Dixieland Jazz band, horn section, banjo, and all. He takes songs that are decades (or even centuries) old, shouts out chords as they come up to the band, and just tears through these songs like a man half his age with something to prove. In the process, he reinvigorates the songs and himself. If Springsteen decides to pursue this sort of stuff more often, I'm in favor of it.

8. Butch Walker & The Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, The Rise and Fall of...: I know he writes songs for Avril Lavigne and all that, but the man can churn out a catchy song like nobody's business. His new backing band, the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites, keep the songs supple, tight, and energetic. Easily his best work since the end of the Marvelous 3.

9. Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam: Who knew the veteran grunge rockers had it in them to be this straight-forward and badass? They do, and this is their best record in years (and also their most accessible).

10. Tom Petty, Highway Companion: Speaking of "best album in years," this is probably Petty's strongest collection since the mellow perfection of Wildflowers. Sure, The Last DJ had a couple of minor gems tucked away amidst all the angst and rage, and Echo is a better album than I originally gave it credit for (how I hated that album when it came out on the heels of Wildflowers), but neither album felt like he was really putting that much effort into the proceedings (or worse, that he was trying much too hard to make the themes work and make the songs tell stories instead of just letting the stories tell themselves). They lacked the seeming effortless grace of Wildflowers, felt forced and sometimes heavy-handed, and just didn't work as well as Wildflowers. Highway Companion, while not as good as Wildflowers, is still a worthy descendant of that masterwork.

There were a lot of other excellent records put out this year, and honorable mention goes to Sean Lennon, Thom Yorke, Barenaked Ladies, Gob Iron (Jay Farrar of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt fame), Robyn Hitchcock, Golden Smog, Van Morrison, and The Who. All of their albums were excellent and worth a listen. Go check 'em out.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Ain't Talkin'"

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Dorothy Mantooth Is A Saint!"

Hope everyone's had a happy Christmas/Solstice/Hannukah/Kwanza/Festivus. Things here at Casa de Chuck y Michelle have been busy as all hell, as you can imagine. We still don't have internet for some reason. I tried setting the cable and internet up on Saturday, but nothing was registering. It's either something with the outlets, the apartment complex, or something we don't know about. Should be able to find out tomorrow.

Thankfully, someone in the area has wireless and we're able to get access with Michelle's laptop. Don't really want to do this for long, mind, but it gives us a temporary solution until we can get our own internet working.

Michelle and I ended up staying here in Fairfax for Christmas this weekend. She fell ill Friday, so we decided to let her family go without us. We've spent the weekend relaxing and doing...well, pretty much nothing. It's been nice, honestly. We haven't really had any time off since before we moved, so we needed a weekend of doing absolutely nothing.

Christmas turned out pretty good for me. Got an iPod, several DVDs (the original Star Wars trilogy, volume four of Family Guy, the That's My Bush! DVD collection, Arrested Development Season 1, and a Jeff Tweedy live set), a Leadbelly CD collection ('cause Michelle rocks), Soul Calibur III (which is hellacool), and various other things (including a harmonica). Also got quite a bit of money, most of which will be socked away for a later date (like buying Michelle's wedding ring).

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to get a thing installed in my car that will allow me to play my iPod through the car stereo. Also gonna get the oil changed and do a bunch of other stuff with Michelle that needs to be done. The rest of the week is devoted to finishing up the unpacking upstairs that we might finally have a bedroom that looks liveable.

Yes, we have noble dreams and aspirations. Probably unrelastic ones as well.


Song of the Moment: Leadbelly, "Rock Island Line"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"There'll Be A Knock On Your Back Door"

Well, tomorrow's the day of the Big Move. Well, Day 1 of the Big Move (hey, allow me this one use of gratuitous capitols. It doesn't happen often). We should be able to completely clear out my stuff from this apartment tomorrow, assuming I can get the rest of it packed up tonight (considering I've run out of boxes, this could pose a problem).

Went into DC today on a field trip with the school. We went to DC Central Kitchen, which is a community kitchen that provides food for those in need in the DC metro area. It was a fantastic opportunity for the students to do some community service at a time of the year when a lot of people need help. Unfortunately, I got to spend the entire field trip sitting with the bus. We didn't have a real parking spot, so someone had to be there in case the bus needed to be moved. Since I was the one who'd driven the damn thing, I volunteered to stay with it. Not the most exciting way to spend the day, but it beats a swift kick in the pants (of course, most things do).

It's strange to think that I'm moving out tomorrow. I'd kinda settled into this apartment, even if it always felt like I was just visiting Wendy and Tim. Wonder how long it'll take me to get used to living in the new place and with my fiancee...


Song of the Moment: My Morning Jacket, "Strangulation"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"The Folk Singers Sit On Their Front Porch"

One of the upshots of having listened to the old-school Yeti stuff earlier today is that now I really just want to sit and play Yeti songs all night long instead of packing. Thus far, I've managed to resist the keening urge to pick up the Martin and just strum out a dozen of our songs. I've packed lots of boxes. The closet is mostly packed. All of the CDs are packed. I'm working on the last of the books and the stuff in the desk, which is something of a beast. I fear to see what resides under the bed.

But I've been good. I've been packing. I should be able to finish whatever I don't get packed tomorrow.

Granted, I've been wasting time sitting here typing this. Dammit.


Song of the Moment: Ben Folds, "The Ascent of Stan"

"Hear It In These Lines"

So, although my car heater was fixed Saturday, it's still at the shop. See, the car developed a nasty coolant leak (though "leak" is a rather small term to describe the torrential flood of coolant that exited the underside of my car with amazing rapidity on Sunday afternoon). I took it back to the service station Sunday afternoon and left it there so they could work on it Monday. Unfortunately, issues with their equipment meant they didn't have a chance to work on it until today. The car is ready now, but I haven't been able to go pick it up quite yet.

On the positive side, though, Michelle's father was kind enough to loan me his van until my car is fixed and back in my possession. So I've been cruisin' in the Plymouth Voyager van since Sunday. Lemme tell ya, I'm ready to be back in my car.

One positive aspect to the whole I'm having to drive a freakin' mini-van thing is that I've had the opportunity to listen to an old tape I found in the bottom of my pit of a closet last night. It's the tape Clif and I recorded back in the summer of 2002 of the original Cross-Eyed Yeti tunes. It's interesting listening to the songs we'd picked out to record back then (a lot of them ended up on the CD we made the summer of 2003 in Norman), hearing how the songs had changed (man, some of those have been sped up from their original recording version) and what songs we've stopped playing (I can't remember the last time we did "I Dig Chicks"). We actually had some good stuff (I really wish we'd do a proper recording of "Folk Singer's Blues," 'cause that song actually kicks a significant amount of ass) that is just sitting in the "vault," as it were. The Clyde and I really just need to get together and record some of this stuff properly somewhere (there's a place down in Fredericksburg I still want to try out at some point).

The first half of that cassette was the original "album," about 14 songs (including the two "bonus" tracks, "Country Joe" and the "Hummingbird Version" of "Lord, Take Me Home WHere I Belong"). The second half was a "show" we played at the Mammoth Hot Springs employee pub that summer with mom and dad in attendance. The live show was pretty interesting (we could tear up when we wanted to), though dear God, what were we thinking letting Clif sing? And where did I get it in my head that I could sing the Beatles' "All My Loving?" Ah well. Many of the original tunes had an energy and a fire that impresses me. I also rather liked the poor sound quality on the tape. It had an old-fashioned, homemade feel to that I really dig. Worked especially well on "Folk Singer's Blues." My biggest complaint about the CD we made is that it sounds too cold, too sterile and small. There really is something to be said for recording with analog equipment, I guess.


Song of the Moment: Cross-Eyed Yeti, "Folk Singer's Blues"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Sonny, Move Out To The Country"

Today, I spent over $1100 on furniture. For this rather large expenditure of money, Michelle and I have a sofa and love seat (worth at least $1500-$2000 on their own), a dresser, a kitchen table, six chairs for said table, three really nice bookcases, and some odds and ends. Ikea, it turns out, is your friend. Overall, we ended up spending about $1600 on furniture and necessities (vacuum cleaner, dish drainer, cleaning supplies, etc.) for the new apartment, which is pretty damn good when you think about how expensive it can be to totally outfit an entire apartment.

Friday is the big moving day. Michelle and I decided it makes more sense to get all my stuff moved on that day, since it can all be moved by the two of us, and then move all the stuff at her place (everything that she and her sister have) on Saturday. It's more efficient that way, really. So we'll spend Friday moving all my stuff, putting together all that modular furniture we bought at Ikea, and basically getting everything started. Saturday will be the heavy, bulky stuff (entertainment center, couches, etc.) and all of Michelle and Allison's stuff. Seems like a good plan.

Admittedly, the plan relies rather heavily on me having everything packed by Friday morning. We'll see how that goes.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "The Long and Winding Road"

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"I Go To My Hollow"

As you can probably imagine, I've been rather busy this week. I've packed about a dozen boxes, mostly of books and DVDs and papers and such. It should all come together by early next week, I hope. Then we have to get Michelle packed up and ready. We've got enough people helping that, if we can have everything packed and ready by next Saturday, the move should go remarkably fast.

I learned a My Morning Jacket song ("Dondante") and a Raconteurs song ("Blue Veins") this week. I was rather proud of myself. Also found Dad's Christmas presents, so that was groovy. I need to mail the family presents to Oklahoma this week, or they won't make it by Christmas.

The heater in my car is being fixed as I type this. Should only run about $200, which is fantastic compared to what I feared it'd cost.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Moonshiner (Live)"

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"As I Reach For A Peach"

Despite the fact that we move in two weeks, I still haven't started to pack anything. In my defense, I've been rather busy and still don't have boxes to pack things in; I need to go to the local liquor stores and see if I can finagle some boxes out of them.

My assignment for today: create the image for a Christmas card. Michelle and I are sending out a joint Christmas card this year, and I was commissioned to design the front of it. Then we'll go to Kinko's and make lots and lots of copies to send out. Should be fun.

Tonight is Michelle's office party. We're attending, apparently. She says I should enjoy it quite a bit, what with the good food and the interesting people (so says she; I'm not convinced there are all that many interesting accountants in the world, and I don't see how a concentration of them could have ended up all working for the same company). Ah well: such are the things we do for those we love. 'Sides, I've never said no to a free meal yet.

Tomorrow night: Tenacious D. Oh yes, the house shall be rockin'.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan and the Band, "Like a Rolling Stone (Live)"