Friday, June 29, 2007

MUSIC: Hospital Music

For those interested, Matthew Good's new record is available for some advance listening goodness at his official site. I must say, it's pretty fucking rad so far.

Easy Tiger pickup today as well. This just seems to be my lucky day. I'll report back on that later.

Update: It's here, and it's spectacular. My personal favourite on the first listen is "Halloweenhead," in which the guitar solo is actually announced (something that made me burst out laughing when I heard it). Interestingly enough for Ryan fans, is the inclusion of "Off Broadway" and the reworked "These Girls" (AKA: Hey There Mrs Lovely) from the Suicide Handbook album. So, everyone go buy it. There. That's the review.

I somehow managed to spend a bit more than anticipated on that trip to music world, grabbing Paul Westerberg's soundtrack to "Open Season," and the Best of Sam Cooke (The greatest soul singer that ever lived).

Happy Canada Day to all! Hopefully all of the camping and debauchery in the woods will do everyone some good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

MUSIC: Easy Tiger

Ryan Adams' new disc came out yesterday, and I still haven't got it. This pains me more than I can write in words. Payday will be sweet relief.

I haven't been posting much lately, because I have been knee deep in lyric sheets, preparing for a possible gig coming up. If anyone has requests, or at the very least, ideas, I'm more than happy to hear them.

In other news: The Damnwells are incredible. "Assholes" is about as infectious as any summer song can get, and it kinda reminds me of Primal Scream (At least the good parts of Primal Scream.).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

BOOTLEG: Matthew Good @ CFOX, and a bit of catch up!

Since Pseudo-Friday (AKA: Thursday) rolled around a bit quicker this week for me, I was a little surprised to find that I hadn't written anything. Today's shitty-cram-post(tm) will hopefully make up for that.

Keeping with the summer theme, Heather has uploaded a spectacular summer mix-tape. Unzip, burn and listen, NOW! Featuring an excellent cover of Kokomo by Ben Kweller (and a bunch of other neat songs I haven't heard before), this is definitely a perfect companion for the summer evening drive.

If you're more the literary type, I suggest you check out Pajiba's list of This Generation's Best Books. Sadly, I've only read one so far, and none of the others are on my reading list. Perhaps someday this will be corrected.

But for now I will settle for re-listening to Matthew Good's set from last year's CFOX "Uninvited Guest" special to support his greatest hits compilation. Short, but sweet, and it was all I could afford the time for today. Enjoy.

Matthew Good - 2005.09.13 - CFOX Uninvited Guest

01 - Intro
02 - Strange Days
03 - Interview
04 - Tripoli
05 - Interview
06 - Generation X-Wing
07 - Commercial Break
08 - Interview
09 - Oh Be Joyful
10 - Interview
11 - Can't Get Shot In The Back
12 - Outro

(Also, don't forget that the Ben Gibbard show is still online.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

MUSIC: Because blogger originality is overrated...

Of all the bands and artists in your collection, of which one do you own the most albums?

My big three at the moment are the Beatles, Tom Waits, and Van Morrison. Honourable mentions to Paul Simon, the Stones, Ryan Adams, and the Kinks.

What was the last song you listened to?

A live boot of "I Taught Myself to Grow Old" by Ryan Adams. Easily my most anticipated album of the year.

What are your favorite instruments?

I really dig my Epiphone 6-string acoustic. It's got a big sound, and it looks like something Van or Ryan, or even Hank would pick up.

Who’s your favorite local artist/band?

Thanks for the mention, Trav, and I'm honoured. Right backatcha. I'm in Ottawa right now, so I'll say I really dig Kathleen Edwards. One of my guitar-heroes was born here as well (Bruce Cockburn).

What was the last show you attended?

It's been far too long. Might be Matt Mays back in January. Sweet Jesus. I've got butterflies for seeing Van Morrison next month, so that might help make up for it.

What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?

Dylan last November hands down. I don't care what anyone says, he's always reinventing himself and messing around with his standards, and that's really cool to me.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen in concert?

I had an unfortunate experience with My Chemical Toilet at Warped one year. *Chills.

What band do you love musically but hate the members of?

Hmmm.... Broken Social Scene, and a lot of the T.O. Arts & Crafts scene have mad talent, but have always seemed a bit pretentious and snobbish. I wouldn't use the word 'hate' though. In the end, we're all just trying to make sounds.

What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

Agreed on the "strange question" remark. I would say the creative process, and musical opportunity for me right now is at an all-time high productivity wise, but that's not to say that somehow when I wasn't writing anything or playing at all I was "uninvolved."

What show are you looking forward to?

Easily Van in July. I'm also really stoked about seeing the White Stripes, Randy Newman, and George Thorogood with my parents. (!)

What is your favorite band shirt?

I really dig my Neil Young "After the Goldrush" shirt, as well as my Sufjan Stevens shirt.

What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

Lennon during his drunk phase would be fun, but Ryan would also be on my list. I'd love to hang out with Van and Paul Simon, or Jesus (he played bass, right?).

What musician would you like to be in love with you for a day?

Joni Mitchell, circa 1970. I'm not saying it would be easy, but I'm pretty fucked up so she might get another "Blue" out of it.

What was your last musical “phase” before you wised up?

Hmmm... "wised up?" Let's see... I listened to some Korn in Grade 8.

Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

Now and again I get a taste for early Sabbath.

What was the greatest decade for music?

Jazz wise, the 1950's. Everything else it's pretty close between the 60's and 70's. But there are a lot of great records being made today, so I just might be completely full of shit.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

I immediately think of the Royal Tenenbaums, as well as any Wes Andersen film, but Forrest Gump is also right up there.

Who is your favorite artist who is much better live than on a recording?

Although I've never seen them, I'd take Counting Crows live over the studio any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Do you have a hidden desire to be a popular musician?

It's no secret.

Have you ever used drugs to enhance the music experience?

Yes. A little grass and a lot of Miles go a long way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

MUSIC: "Web memes are for little girls and housewives!!!"

Of all the bands and artists in your collection, of which one do you own the most albums?

According to Windows Media Player, it's the Beatles, followed by Tom Waits.

What was the last song you listened to?

Record Time by Steve Key, and it was the first time I've heard Mr. Key. I'm planning on looking into him in the near future.

What are your favorite instruments?

At the moment, I dig listening to Banjo, Wurlitzer and Folk/Celtic-ish Violin.

Who’s your favorite local artist/band?

Most of of my local artist experience comes from playing with them. I'll say that Paul Danard and Carey Worrod were the funnest to jam with. And of course... Zach Stockill.

What was the last show you attended?

I believe it was Stabilo/Tommy Swick/The Suits at call the Office in London. Stabilo wasn't as good as when they opened for Matt Good, and Mr. Swick was actually a very cool cat, and busted out an excellent cover of Graceland by Paul Simon.

What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?

Reel Big Fish really knocked my socks off at the time, since it was a free show. They seemed to be having more fun than anyone else that showed up that night at the Kool Haus in Toronto, and put on an absolutely wicked show.

Other than that, Matt Good put on a few solid performances from the times I've seen him, particularly the acoustic show.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen in concert?

I looked after the "Homemade Jam" tent at the local Summerfolk music festival here, which consists of 70% open stage acts, so I've thankfully blocked most of those from my mind.

What band do you love musically but hate the members of?

I would never want to meet Oasis, and if I did, I wouldn't want to talk about music with any of them.

What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

This is kind of a strange question. On one hand, I've recorded little things on my own for fun and I've recorded a band or two, but I've never done anything professionally, or even semi-professionally. On the other, I've played with and for quite a few people, and would really like to do so again. I may try and get a restaurant gig doing covers around here this summer just for fun.

What show are you looking forward to?

Matthew Good's next acoustic tour. The only show I am planning on in the immediate future is Blue Rodeo in Wiarton, if I remember to get tickets soon. Should be a blast if Keelor isn't plastered this time.

What is your favorite band shirt?

Used to be my REM shirt, but it grew too many holes. At the moment it's my "Recovering the Satellites" Counting Crows shirt, but it's due for the dumpster any day now.

What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

I would spend a day watching Ryan Adams record something. That, or have Henry Rollins be my bodyguard.

What musician would you like to be in love with you for a day?

Neko Case or Kathleen Edwards. I've got a pseudo-creepy preference for alt-country redhead chicks, from what I've been told.

What was your last musical “phase” before you wised up?

Post-Garage-Noise-Metal-Baroque. Truthfully, it would've been 1990's era alt-rock, but you can't ever really throw away what you grew up on.

Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

I don’t really know about or care for either.

What was the greatest decade for music?

This is a ridiculous question. You could easily take 20 or 30 great artists from each decade, but the problem is recognition. I only recently started listening to bands like the Pixies or the Replacements, and seven years ago I would've told you that the 1980's was a terrible time for music. Perhaps this is better saved for a later entry.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

I want to say "Magnolia," but those songs were mostly culled from a single Aimee Mann record, so I suppose it doesn't count. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is very good as well, or perhaps "I Am Sam."

Who is your favorite artist who is much better live than on a recording?

Sam Roberts.

Do you have a hidden desire to be a popular musician?

It'd be kinda cool, but financially it is not feasable. I already have a hard enough time dealing with fame and notoriety as it is. (You think I'm famous, right?)

Have you ever used drugs to enhance the music experience?

No, but alcohol has been an interesting thing to have present while music is on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MUSIC: Ben Gibbard on NPR in Washington

After a few weeks of promising to several friends that I would upload it, I finally remembered to bring it to work with me. A great sounboard recording, with Gibbard doing DCFC and Postal Service songs solo along with a few great covers. My personal favourite from the set is Couches in Alleys, originally from a slip EP that came out several years ago. The original can be heard here.

They'll only be up for a limited time, so download them and enjoy. Remember: Live recordings are meant to be listened to loudly.

2007.10.10 - Ben Gibbard - Washington DC, NPR Radio

01 - To Sing For You/Brand New Colony
02 - Title and Registration
03 - Crooked Teeth
04 - We Will Become Silhouettes
05 - Photobooth
06 - Banter
07 - Why'd You Want To Live Here
08 - Passenger Seat
09 - Soul Meets Body
10 - Recycled Air
11 - Farmer Chords
12 - Couches in Alleys
13 - A Lack Of Color
14 - Banter
15 - The Sound of Settling
16 - Such Great Heights
17 - Encore Break
18 - Blacking Out the Friction
19 - All Apologies
20 - I Will Follow You Into The Dark

Friday, June 8, 2007

BLOG: Design

Since the web design is basically a joke around here, I'm willing to take suggestions. Apparently you can export an XML file from Blogger with the blog template on it, but I have no idea how to edit it. If any aspiring web designers want to take a crack at it, be my guest and drop me an email.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

SPORT: Positively 4th Street...

It seemed appropriate that my city was a dreary, rain-drenched oasis of disappointment this morning.

Apologies for the pretentious wording of the previous sentence. Any way you word it, however, this was one depressing city this morning, basking in the glow of a Stanley Cup hangover that will inevitably persist until at least the last week of training camp this fall. Even if you have no interest in, or don't understand or appreciate the game at all, on this side of the border, it seems impossible to remain unaffected when your city's hockey team makes a playoff run like the Senators did this Spring. The daily newspapers, for weeks, featured a cover story related to the Senators every day of their Stanley Cup run (even days with no games). In a city which is the capital of the country, where decisions are made and Conrad Black scandals come to a head and Steven Harper appears more Darth Vader-esque by the day, it seems that the only redeeming story lately in this city has been the Sens playoff run, and good on them, so to speak.

I'm a Leafs fan, and I got drunk with the rest of the city and supported and enjoyed this Cup run to the fullest. Ask any Leafs fan in the 613, and you'll receive a similar response - under just about any circumstances, cheering for the Sens is simply sac-religious. But I believe you'd be hard pressed to find any Leafs fan, or Habs fan for that matter, in Ottawa who didn't support the Sens and get caught up in the excitement that is the Stanley Cup Finals. I also believe you'd be hard pressed to find any non-hockey fan who didn't party with the rest of this city, and get caught up in the romantic notion of being the greatest hockey city in the world, if only for a few months. Fan of the game or not, in this country, there's just something about a Stanley Cup run that is just... well... fun.

And that's why I cheered for the Sens in the playoffs this year. And for the record, I was still cheering for the Leafs this spring as well (I believe Darcy Tucker was 4 strokes under par the other day.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

FILM: Knocked Up

A friend of mine who watched Freaks and Geeks during it's original run encouraged me whenever I saw her to watch her DVD set of the show. To give you an idea of the time period this was in, my reaction had more to do with the fact that TV on DVD was a concept that absolutely bewildered me. I wouldn't participate because I assumed this was some attempt by Satan to lure me into a quicksand pit of temptation which I would never be able to get out of. (I actually can't think of the reason that I didn't watch it.)

When I finally did watch it this past year, it didn't really make any sense to me why more people didn't watch this show. Granted, it was no Saved by The Bell, but Freaks and Geeks really felt like high school. Not that I identified with particular characters, but the interactions between them seemed genuine (or at least culled from Apatow's own experience).

Knocked Up does the exact same thing. There are elements of people you know, and a sincerity in the way they act that hasn't really been seen in comedies of this ilk before. It seems almost similar to the Kevin Smith phenomenon after Clerks came out, that characters in mainstream film begin to talk in a different way. Many comparisons have been made to "frat pack" movies like Anchorman or Wedding Crashers. The latter was on it's way to being some kind of redemptive vehicle for Owen "The Nose" Wilson' character, but managed to lost any convincing motivation in the second act. ("I think I love her" for no real reason).

One thing that got to me about Knocked Up was the little things that Julia Roberts wouldn't necessarily talk about in a simlar role, or at least not as convincingly. Should Ben propose to Alison? How to you approach sex in a relationship context after something like this? And, while pregnancy-sex is expected to be brought up in a supposed gross-out comedy, it seemed to be handled with a frank honesty that I wasn't entirely expecting.

Interesting tips of the hat to Apatow's friends like James Franco (from that spider-thing or whatever project that he's doing). Also: Keep an eye out for the Topher Grace poster that says "FAMOUS PEOPLE AROUND TITS."

I was extremely satisfied by this movie, and they even managed to make the inevitable conclusion have a convincing effect on the characters without making it jokey. There were some downright shocking shots in the climactic sequence, but I think it was necessary to get across the effect of the birth. (hilight to reveal spoilers)

My expectations were high, and Knocked Up still managed to exceed them. This just heightens my excitement for Superbad, coming in August.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

GAMES: The Importance of Play

Rainbow Six Vegas (RSV) is a pretty good piece of software; controls are tight, the cover system works well, there’s plenty of innovative and fun ways to clear a room of a terrorists. That being said, RSV is not a good game. A good game is a toy. A good game is something to be played with. A good game allows players to find enjoyment in whatever way they want. Unfortunately, RSV isn’t so much a toy to be played with as a challenge to be played against. The reason for this is the lack of any game-saving function outside of checkpoints. This makes the game artificially more difficult and frustrating and almost completely eliminates the ability to use RSV as a toy.

The most enjoyable part of RSV is that any situation can be handled a number of different ways. One level gives the player a choice of crashing into a room full of tangos through a skylight, rappelling down a building to breach through a window, hanging upside down and sniping with a silenced handgun, blowing open the door with an explosive charge or dropping white phosphorus grenades from the roof. The incredible variety of different ways to clear the room makes the checkpoint save system that much worse. If I want to replay that section to try a different strategy, I have to hope that there was a checkpoint right before it. Sometimes there is, but sometimes I have to shoot my way through three or four hallways to get back to the part that is actually enjoyable.

The heart of playfulness is giving players choices and options to enjoy a game the way they want to. This can be anything from branching storylines to adjustable options to various difficulty levels to customizable characters to alternate paths to success. RSV’s checkpoint system eliminates the feeling of play by arbitrarily forcing players to repeat portions of the game. Each encounter, rather than feeling like a fun scenario to play with, feels like an obstacle that must be eliminated.

The most successful games, both critically and commercially, embrace the principle of play. They try to accommodate a variety of playstyles. The Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls franchises became runaway successes because they presented the player with a wide open world that they could simply play with. The Sims almost completely favours play over work. Deus Ex and Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines let the player character and storyline develop in many different ways. World of Warcraft beat out other MMORPGs by accommodating solo, small group, raid, and PvP playstyles. Neverwinter Nights shipped with a distinctly un-playful campaign, but wisely allowed the modding community to create a wide variety of high quality adventures. Even genres with more rigid rules have embraced their role as toys to be played with. The most recent Soul Calibur incarnation featured the ability to create custom characters, compete in matches with non-standards rules, and carefully pick their battles in a strategy mini-game.

While there are some exceptions, such as the Devil May Cry series and highly competitive multiplayer games like Starcraft and DotA, the future of gaming seems to be playful. Spore and Portal are heavily hyped games that embrace playfulness and the fun-focused Wii is poised to win the current round of console wars. So developers, when you’re planning out a game, ask yourself: “is this a toy?”

MUSIC: Let's Get Out Of This Country

Camera Obscura are a band that I discovered last summer at work while listening to the web feed of WYEP, a radio station out of Pittsburgh. I can't recommend the station enough to people, as it provided me with enough new music throughout the summer such that I didn't go on some kind of ill-advised spree at the Keg.

While the Scottish twee-poppers have been around for a while, the first song I'd ever heard by them was "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken," a response to Lloyd Cole's tune "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" What initially caught my ear was the fact that it sounded just like a 1950's pop song, a trait that continues throughout last year's album "Let's Get Out Of This Country." There's a certain charm to that kind of aesthetic, but I think it goes beyond that with this band.

Although I can't really name all of the specifics as far as the instrumental arrangement is concerned (not that it would make a difference for this post), I tend to really buy into the timelessness of these tracks (Discerning readers may assume by my use of the word "timeless" that I'm a grey-haired old man with a hatred for sugary cereals, skateboards and loud metal music.).

Without making a slingshot around-the-sun, we're taken back to a past that never existed with this CD. Until about halfway through high-school, the word "pop" was a dirty one within my musical vocabulary, and for good reason. For a young boy struggling to figure out who was telling the truth, and who was not, there was simply no way that many of these leather-pantsed video-boys were on the side of the angels. It's like a kid inherently knowing that Skittles are bad for you because they go down just a little too easy.

Tracyanne Campbell's songs make you want to believe that a time existed when all our popstars told the truth. These little ditties that grab your ear with their little surf-guitar lines and Campbell's soothing voice really are all about self-doubt and frustration, but not necessarily in some all-consuming fashion. Someone once noted to me that whenever a girl sings about these sort of things, you fall in love a little bit with her. Not to take away from the band's instrumental efforts, but this is definitely true with Camera Obscura. It's like she's a friend who you've secretly been wanting for years, and she comes to tell you all of her little problems with the boys in your school. She tells you that she's ready to give up guys altogether, although a week later she's fallen for someone else.

Fed up with girls in pretty dresses
With boys who want to teach them a lesson
Sick of the sight of my old lover
Went under sheets and covers to get away from him

They also own one of the best summer-escape songs I've heard in a while, the title track "Let's Get Out Of This Country." To me, it's an homage to a road trip that John Hughes maybe forgot to film.

We'll pick berries and recline
Let's hit the road dear friend of mine
Wave goodbye to our thankless jobs
We'll drive for miles maybe never turn off

Although there's much more that can be said about this album, I'll leave the rest up to you. Go buy the damn thing, I've gotta go to sleep.