Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Don't Know Much About History"

I'm in the middle of figuring my grades for the third quarter, which is technically supposed to be completed by midnight tonight (yeah, that ain't happening). I've got all the classes completed except Humanities, and then I have to write personal blurbs for all of the students. Wee.

Dad's coming in tomorrow. I'm excited to get to see him and nervous about he and Michelle finally meeting. I'm sure it'll go fine, but I'm a worrier (like my mother). Apartment still needs a lot of cleaning between now and then.


Song of the Moment: The Decemberists, "Shiny"

Friday, March 30, 2007

Snakes On A Plane

Just finished watching Snakes on a Plane. It falls squarely into that category of movies called "Awesomely Bad." The plot is so patently ridiculous--I mean, c'mon, using snakes to do the dirty work?--that you can't help but sit back and enjoy the conceit of the film.

I think it really only works at all because of the awesomeness that is Samuel L. Jackson. Seriously, no one else could've pulled off that role. I think it's the power of his mustache.

Seriously, it's a groovy mustache that would've fit into a 1970s cop flick.

So yeah, Snakes on a Plane. What can you really say? There were snakes. They were on a plane. Samuel L. Jackson killed them with various weapons, including a depressurized cabin in the airplane. And he had some great one liners.


Song of the Moment: totally not the stupid-ass song they played at the end of the movie. God, that song sucked.

"I'm In Love With My Car"

My car is fixed and back in my possession. Final damage: roughly $1660, which is rather less than I'd feared it would be. Considering they replaced a gasket in the engine, did a coolant system flush, replaced some leaking oil hoses, and patched the radiator, I think it wasn't too terribly bad.

I'm finally on Spring Break now. A week and a half of mostly relaxing. Dad's coming into town Sunday night to visit for a couple of days. Should be a good time.

Michelle and I are currently watching Snakes on a Plane. It's too early to see if this is as horribly funny a film as I think it can be. Time will tell.


Song of the Moment: White Stripes, "Offend in Every Way"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Son Volt - The Search

I'm rather interested in the different paths the careers of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy have taken. If, in 1994, you'd asked me to pick which of the two Uncle Tupelo musicians would have the most successful post-Tupelo career, I'd have said "wha? Who the hell are you talking about?" But, if you'd sat me down and played me some of their stuff, I'd have guessed that Jay Farrar was going to be more successful. He was the stronger writer of the two, had the better songs, and seemed like he could sing better.

The first albums by Son Volt and Wilco would seem to bear out this prediction: Trace is a much stronger collection that AM. Both pick up right where their leading songwriters left off on Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne, but Farrar's compositions are just stronger. More interesting. More literate, I guess you could say. There are more shades and variations to Trace than to AM.

The problem, if you can call it that, is the direction each musician took after that first post-Tupelo album. Farrar continued to mine the same mostly-acoustic alt-country vibe on Wide Swing Tremelo and Straightaways, while Tweedy veered off into new sonic territory with the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Americana of Being There, the sunny pop of Summerteeth, and the experimentation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Farrar seemed to be working himself into a rut and a corner, digging further into his key themes (love lost, social decay, and cryptic who-knows-what) but not coming up with anything new or different to say about them. His lyrics got harder and harder to understand, his music sparser and more understated.

Then came Okemah and the Melody of Riot. A damn fine album, I say. Farrar plugged his electric guitar back in and cranked everything up. The new Son Volt was a tight, expert rock band with slight country feel to it (think Crazy Horse, but much tighter and more precise). Farrar also brought his best batch of songs to the table since Trace. The results were fantastic, even if he wasn't doing anything he hadn't done before in either Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt.

The Search picks up right where Okemah left off, but that's not a bad thing. Farrar kept the same roster of musicians from Okemah for The Search, and the band's had some time on the road to get even stronger and to really contribute some great stuff to the record. And it feels like more of a band effort rather than a Jay Farrar and some other guys record. Each musician has added a distinct flavor or style to the music, dispelling Farrar's tendency for monochromatic songscapes in favor of punchy guitars, pulsing bass, tub-thumping drums, and the occasional hint of slide guitar, piano, or even horns (!) to brighten things up and add extra flavor to the mix.

Farrar's songs are even better than on Okemah. "Slow Hearse" is a dirge-like opener that could've fit right alongside Farrar's work on the Gob Iron side project. "The Picture" is horn-driven country rock, which works significantly better than you'd think. "Satellite" rocks harder than anything Farrar's done since No Depression. This is an album where the ambition to expand the sonic palette meets an excellent clutch of songs, and the results are exceptional.

The Search is a great follow-up to the return to form that was Okemah. Farrar's managed to keep himself busy the past few years, both with Son Volt and side projects (like Gob Iron), and the activity has clearly done him a world of good. Let's hope he keeps up the streak and the level of production.


Song of the Moment: Son Volt, "The Picture"

"Beep Beep, Beep Beep, Yeah!"

So a conversation with the service department at the local GM dealership indicates that the problem with my car is probably not the head gasket. The guy says the intake gasket right above the head gasket seems to be our likely culprit: a repair that isn't quite as expensive as the head gasket, at least, but is still more than I'm really wanting to shell out for my car.

But it's good to know that whatever's wrong with this can be fixed. The guy is supposed to call me back and let me know exactly where we stand and give me an estimate this afternoon. We'll see how it goes from there.


Song of the Moment: Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"

Monday, March 26, 2007

"The Continuing Story Of Chuck's Damn Car"

So the drama becomes grander and the plot thicker: to fix the car is going to cost about $1800. Eighteen-hundred dollars we really don't have, I should add.

To say that this frightens and sickens me is to grossly understate the case.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "I'm So Tired"

"Baby You Can't Drive My Car"

The never-ending saga of car troubles has a new chapter today. Last night, we discovered that my car was once again leaking coolant. In fact, we discovered that the car was completely empty of coolant last night, possibly because it'd all ended up in a puddle on my father-in-law's driveway earlier that afternoon. So we dumped some more coolant into the car and drove it to the service station, where I left it to be worked on today. My father-in-law loaned me his van, which I proceeded to drive without any sort of iPod or CD accompaniment. This, I thought to myself, is what primitive man must have felt like, driving back and forth between his home and work with nothing but the strains of Bad Company drifting across the AM/FM waves to comfort him. It was a sobering thought.

Today we discovered that the likely culprit in the coolant leak is probably the head gasket. In theory, this is a relatively straightforward part to replace. In theory. Unfortunately, due to some bizarre way the engine is designed and set up in a GMC Jimmy, the head gasket replacement is an involved, difficult procedure that takes about 18 hours of labor to accomplish (or so claims the dealership service department guy. I still have my doubts that it could take longer than a few hours to do). At about $100 per hour of labor, this is not a cheap part to replace.

So I face a dilemma: do I pay the large short-term cost and get my car repaired, that it might continue to serve me for another year or so? Or do I say "to hell with this," trade in the car for what little I can get, and purchase a new vehicle? Admittedly, I won't be able to get much for my car if it is a head gasket. The overall cost of the new car will be a strain. But the one-time cost of the head gasket replacement is rather steep. It'll put a much more immediate strain on finances.

I honestly don't know what the right answer here is (aside from, possibly, "learn how to replace a head gasket yourself"). This whole affair is frustrating as all hell, I can tell you that much.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Drive My Car"

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Autumn Defense - The Autumn Defense

I admit to a weakness for mellow, sunny pop of the lovelorn, strummy acoustic variety. I can’t help it. There’s something about the warmth, the harmonies, and the joy that seems to radiate from the music that’s just hard for me to ignore. The folky, singer-songwriter stuff is just about my bread and butter (and would be, if it weren’t for the fact that I dig a kick ass electric guitar solo every so often).

I also really like Wilco and any band or side project even remotely connected to them.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I really like the new album by the Autumn Defense. I mean, sunny, folky pop with great harmonies and strummed acoustic guitars? Wilco musician John Stirratt? What’s not to like?

And really, the strength of the tunes here means this music would stand on its own even without those prior endorsements and caveats. The Autumn Defense has had three albums to perfect their craft, and perfect it they have. It seamlessly blends folk, pop, jazz, bossa nova, ‘70s singer-songwriter, and a little bit of whatever else was lying around to create a tasty blend of acoustic guitars, delicate piano, subtle percussion, a touch of slide guitar once in awhile, and a hint of strings, horns, and synthesized woodwinds.

This record is more up-tempo than the Autumn Defense’s previous effort, Circles. The jazz and world beat influences are also more obvious on this record. “Canyon Arrow” has an insistent groove that wouldn’t be out of place on an old-school Latin dance album from the 1970s. "Estate Remains" and "Simple Explanation" rock in a folksy, Byrds sort of way. "City Bells" is a gorgeous piano-led ballad that sits at the heart of the record, both literally and metaphorically.

The album is really all about harmony and interconnection, especially between the dual voices and guitars of John Stirratt and Pat Sansone. These two guys can harmonize like nobody's business, and their guitars (Sansone usually sports a 3/4-size classical guitar while Stirratt sticks to the more standard full-size acoustic) bounce off of each other, trading lines and leads and riffs as though the two men shared a brain. Their backing band seems to share the brainwave, too, because they follow Stirratt and Sansone down the garden path and discover some beautiful and melodic music there.

The Autumn Defense is easily one of the prettiest albums I've heard in ages and definitely worth picking up if you like mellow California pop. If you can find it (which is tricky; I had to attend one of their live shows to get my hands on it), grab it. You won't be disappointed.


Song of the Moment: The Autumn Defense, "Simple Explanation"

Monday, March 12, 2007

"She's The Second-Best Killer That I've Ever Seen"

The household's conversion to Macs continues to please. This week, I got the scanner and printer set up on the network (so we can print from the laptops even if we're not directly connected to the printer). I tried doing some comics, but the programs I had on the Mac didn't work the way I wanted them to. I'm going to have to see what I can work out.

A good part of the weekend was given over to getting the cars cleaned up from all the nasty weather we've had in the past few weeks. I got my car washed on Saturday and Michelle's washed on Sunday. Both efforts took well over an hour each. I was not happy about sitting in a line for that long, but after all the snow storms and ice and all the sand and salt they put down to deal with that, we really needed to clean the cars.

Michelle spent a good part of yesterday afternoon cleaning the downstairs of the apartment. It looks fantastic down there now. Next stop: the office and the bedroom closet, both of which need a serious overhaul.

Next weekend, the plan is to get some furniture we're in need of (a futon for the office/guest room, possibly some more bookcases). This probably means another trip to Ikea, which is never a bad thing.

In other news, the new Arcade Fire CD, Neon Bible, is fantastic. I listened to it several times yesterday while running errands and waiting to get Michelle's car washed.

More stuff to talk about later, but it's time to earn my pay.


Song of the Moment: The Arcade Fire, "Keep the Car Running"

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Great Mac/PC Switch Over

So we finally did it: we finally switched from PCs to Macs.

Michelle and I have been talking about it for awhile now. We were both rather dreading having to switch to Windows Vista, which I'm pretty sure is a craptastic operating system that isn't anywhere near as intuitive as previous iterations of Windows were. It was also trying too hard to be like a Mac. We figured, why settle for OS X lite when you can buy a Mac and get the real thing? So we did.

And God, did we go big.

We each grabbed a laptop--she got the 13" MacBook, I got the 15" MacBook Pro--and we got a Mac Mini to set up as our network hub and to have all of our stuff (scanner, printer, etc.) hooked up to it. Total damages are estimated around $4500. But hey, that's for three brand-new computers, all the software, and a couple of other odds and ends (laptop bag for Michelle, keyboard for the Mini, etc.).

So far, I'm really pleased with the new computers. the Mini is really easy to use, and once I figured out how to make the cable modem work with it, I haven't had any problems. Sometime tonight, I'll get the scanner up and running on this bad boy. There are also so many applications and programs on here that I want to try out, it's not even funny.

Anyway, I'm awfully happy with the whole setup. We've finally got the wireless network up and running the way we want it (which is something we never really accomplished with the PCs), we're selling our old computers to Michelle's sister for a pitance, and all is groovy in the land of Cottrell.


Song of the Moment: XTC, "Scarecrow People"