Saturday, October 31, 2009

Favorites Among Favorites, Part 2

I put together a list of my favorite bands about a year and a half ago. Probably time to reflect and update.

Here are my current top 17 favorite bands of all time, arranged in reverse chronological order by the approximate date on which I fell in love with each. (17 because that's my favorite number.)

first song: yellow
fell in love with: fix you
current favorite: square one

first song: you! me! dancing!
fell in love with: you! me! dancing!
current favorite:you'll need those fingers for crossing

first song: it never entered my mind
fell in love with: it never entered my mind
current favorite: some indulgence

first song: the comeback
fell in love with: shut your eyes
current favorite: hard rain

first song: the zookeper’s boy
fell in love with: the seething rain weeps for you
current favorite: sometimes life isn't easy

first song: too young
fell in love with: holdin’ on together
current favorite: 1901

first song: against the tide
fell in love with: strange things will happen
current favorite: ewan

first song: obstacle 1
fell in love with: obstacle 1
current favorite: obstacle 1

first song: i tried to rock you but you only roll
fell in love with: sunny sunday
current favorite: un-named

first song: soon
fell in love with: when you sleep
current favorite: sometimes

first song: mario’s cafe
fell in love with: spring
current favorite: method of modern love

first song: carolyn’s fingers
fell in love with: cico buff
current favorite: orange appled

first song: how soon is now?
fell in love with: there is a light that never goes out
current favorite: there is a light that never goes out

first song: just like heaven
fell in love with: just like heaven
current favorite: just like heaven

first song: oh l’amour
fell in love with: victim of love (vixenvitesse mix)
current favorite: i love saturday

first song: strangelove
fell in love with: everything counts
current favorite: but not tonight

first song: bizarre love triangle
fell in love with: bizarre love triangle
current favorite: bizarre love triangle


New favorite songs: "Bizarre Love Triangle," New Order; "Method of Modern Love," Saint Etienne; "1901," Phoenix; "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy," Mew; "Some Indulgence," The Embassy

Newly inducted: Leona Naess, The Embassy, Los Campesinos!, Coldplay 

Temporarily surpassed: Club 8, Stars, Broken Social Scene, British Sea Power

U.K.: 10
Sweden: 3
U.S.: 2
Denmark: 1
France: 1

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Darkness of Sunlight

A message I wrote to someone last night prompted me to listen to Slowdive.  Hadn't given them a listen in quite a while.  Not sure why I've let them go neglected the past few years.  Just for a Day is one of the prettiest albums of the early 90s.  It shimmers.  It soothes.  It straps a parachute onto your shoulders and slows you way, way down.  Perhaps the most potent downer of the non-pharmacological variety you can take.

I spent the whole day listening to it on an endless loop. While trudging through the rain to pick up lunch, I reflected on how perfectly suited that album is for a day like that.  Overcast.  Drizzly.  Cold.
Don't you know
I've left and gone away
You're knocking on the door I closed today
And everything looks brighter
Waves at play just soothe my pain away


And it's also particularly well-suited for my somber mood.

On my last day in L.A., I joked with my cousin about how the sun was really starting to get to me.  Every day seemed the same.  That relenting sun just wouldn't leave you alone.  So I got to thinking: had I grown up in Southern California, would I have discovered, let alone appreciated, Slowdive?  I think you need some clouds overhead, a chill in the air and some grime on the streets to connect fully with Slowdive.  And maybe that's why L.A. has little gravitational pull in the indie rock universe.  The scene emanates, instead, from places like NYC, the U.K. and Sweden -- places where people understand gloom.

[Update: Someone from L.A. took issue with my assessment, which is understandable.  I'm not suggesting that L.A. is incapable of exporting good music.  I'm just skeptical of its ability to inspire melancholy.  Could you imagine Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Interpol or Arcade Fire calling L.A. home?  I think that's part of the reason I've lost respect for Morrissey, now that he's an L.A. resident.  You can't preach miserablism from paradise.  You just can't.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There He Goes

I'm having a beer. I rarely drink alone, but this occasion demands it. Probably should've reached for the whiskey instead.

My best friend dropped quite the bombshell on me today. I've been traveling a lot the past couple of weeks, so we haven't had a chance to talk much. When we finally connected, he told me that things are going so well with someone he recently met that I was prompted to begin composing a draft best man's toast in my head.

How could this be? Who the hell will commiserate with me now on the miseries of singledom? For the past several years, we've worn singledom as a badge of masochistic honor. And now ... ugh.

All this on the heels of my cousin's wedding. Bumped into some family friends who hadn't seen me since I was a little kid. Invariably, they asked whether I'm married. Upon hearing my response, they just as invariably asked, "Why not?" And then came the collective brainstorming on a possible damsel with whom to match me.

Just finished writing about one existential crisis, and I've now been pressed to write about yet another. I didn't start drinking until about eight years ago. (And look at me now ... drinking alone on a school night.) I gave in partially because it grew to be tiresome being the only cognisant person amongst drunkards. I may have to give in again and get married soon so that I'm not the only one at a party without a spouse.

Yeah. Should've gone with the Suntory. Relaxing times are much needed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding Shame and Losing Your Soul

I've reached a bit of an existential crisis. It all started with the closing of the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. And it got worse with the closing of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square.

I'm one of an increasingly lonely breed who still buys CDs. A few months ago, after having dinner with a rather (annoyingly) young friend, I told him that I was going to drop by Virgin to pick up the new Franz Ferdinand album. He gave me a quizical look and asked: (1) Virgin's still around?; and (2) You actually buy CDs? (Keep in mind that this friend also stared at me blankly when I made a reference to The Karate Kid.  Annoyingly young, I tell ya.)

I have good reasons for holding on to such antiquated technology.  (I still have a turntable, damn it.) I enjoy flipping through liner notes; flipping through a PDF just ain't the same. It's hard to form a connection with a file. The tactile experience of fidgeting with a CD and its contents fosters a more direct association with the music that an MP3 just can't replicate. When I think of an album, I think of the case in which it came and, often, the design silkscreened onto the CD. Where's the slikscreening on an MP3?

And when I get that silly compulsion to impress an object of my affection by making her a mix CD, I need the source CDs. MP3s just won't do. I'm talking about a CD that you can listen to on a plain ol' CD player. Sure, I could simply plop a boatload of MP3s onto a CD. But where's the soul in that excercise? The soul lies in the hours of self-torment associated with slecting the perfect playlist to convey whatever obscure message you intend to send on an 80-minute disc. And converting from MP3 to WAV before burning won't do, either, because the process leaves you with a degraded reproduction.

Many people don't seem to realize that MP3s are created usng a lossy compression algorithm. To squish a 40 MB WAV file (about average for a four-minute song) into a 5 MB MP3 file, some compromises must be made. MP3s are merely a rough approximation of the real thing. There's sure to be a next-generation MP3 algorithm that's less lossy. With the original CDs on hand, I'll have the source materials needed to switch over for free. (A bit sickening to think about all the money Apple will make by convincing people to buy the same musc twice when a spiffy new compression algorithm comes along.)

I'm now left with J&R and Best Buy as brick-and-mortar stores where I can pick up CDs, and that just doesn't cut it. Virgin was pricey, but it was convenient. I used to walk over to the one in Times Square after work on Tuesdays to pick up new releases. It was open late, so stopping by after work was never a problem. And it tended to have a surprisingly good inventory. I could usually count on it to stock obscure imports and introduce me to good finds at its listening stations. (If not for Virgin, I wouldn't have stumbled upon White Lies the week before Coachella, and I would've missed my favorite performance at this year's festival.) J&R and Best Buy are as pedestrian as pedestrian can be. You can find Coldplay there, but good luck finding anything Pitchfork won't piss on.

Yeah, there are still indie shops like Other Music in the Village. But I need a place where I can buy Coldplay without being judged. And I need a place I can conveniently visit after work on Tuesday nights.

There's also the mail order route, but that puts a real crimp on the joy of instant gratification. On occasion, I've bought an album on iTunes so that I could have it as soon as it was released, only to order the CD as well from Amazon. As a good friend has suggested: why can't Amazon let you download an album instantly and offer you the option to buy the CD as well for a few bucks more? Alas, the answer -- as obvious as it is lamentable -- seems to be that the CD is a medium for which the industry is composing a requiem. There's no point in building a business model around a dying product. Its mass production life will soon end, and all that'll be left is a niche market -- much like the one for vinyl -- in which audio freaks shell out $25 for a domestic CD.

But back to that existential crisis. With the closing of Virgin, the last several albums I've purchased have been of the purely digital variety from iTunes. Nothing to touch, nothing to flip. Just a bunch of lifeless 1s and 0s masquerading as something with a pulse -- which is perhaps also an apt description of my soul now that I've crossed over to the other side.

Such a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Rumpus Confuseth

I'm really excited about seeing Where the Wild Things Are this weekend. Picked up the soundtrack last week. Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the Kids. Good stuff. Delicate at times, effervescent at others. Melds well with the trailers that I've seen. I can almost picture the movie while listening to the soundtrack. (Maybe a bit like Spike picturing the movie while reading the book?) There's a certain whimsy to Karen, Spike and the book that would seem to make for an enchanting combination.

I'm taking my niece and nephews to see it. (When all you boogers are old enough to read this: cut your uncle some slack and remember the times when he took you to movies and such, will ya?) Sure hope they appreciate the whimsy.

[Update: Ugh. They didn't. Definitely a better movie for kids at heart than kids in reality.]

The Dread of Not Knowing

Heading home to Houston to take my mom to M.D. Anderson. Hopefully, her elevated white blood cell counts during the past couple of check-ups were aberrations, and this will turn out to be an uneventful trip