Sunday, December 30, 2007

Completely Conspicuous Episode 46: The Year in Rear View

Geez, you'd think with 10 days off from work, I'd have plenty of time to do a podcast or two. But between doing work that I brought home, finishing Christmas shopping, playing with my kids, entertaining guests, and watching televised sports, "studio" time (aka quiet time at the computer) has been scarce. But I had the afternoon free today while Deb took the girls to see the movie Enchanted, so I made the most of it. So here it is for your downloading pleasure (right click and "save as").

And as I wait for yet another snowstorm to hit, here are the show notes...

- A look back at the year that was
- Pinhead of the Year

- The Shins - Phantom Limb
- Les Savy Fav - Brace Yourself
- Brian Jonestown Massacre - When Jokers Attack
- Wolf Parade - You Are a Runner and I am My Father's Son
- The Thermals - No Culture Icons

- New England Podcasting

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes, Yahoo Podcasts and Podcast Pickle podcast directories. Subscribe and write a review!

The song from Les Savy Fav is on their album Let's Stay Friends on French Kiss Records. It comes courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network.

The Shins song is on the album Wincing the Night Away. The Wolf Parade song is on the album Apologies to the Queen Mary. The Thermals song is on the album More Parts Per Million. All three songs are courtesy of Sub Pop Records, where you can find out more and download the songs for free.

The song from Brian Jonestown Massacre is on the album Tepid Peppermint Wonderland on Rubric Records. It was provided by IODA Promonet.

Tepid Peppermint Wonderland:  A RetrospectiveThe Brian Jonestown Massacre
"When Jokers Attack" (mp3)
from "Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective"
(Rubric Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at eMusic
Buy at Napster
Buy at Rhapsody
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon
Buy at GroupieTunes
Buy at Insound
More On This Album

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling by visiting his muy excellente blog de la musica. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of Mark Campbell.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Better Than Most

Well, the year's just about done. Things have been pretty crazy around here. The girls had a three-pronged Christmas celebration: first here on the 25th, when they were over the moon to receive a huge dollhouse and umpteen dolls, clothes, toys and games. Then we went to my mom's that afternoon, where my brother and his family were staying and we spent the rest of the day with them. They came down to visit us the next day and then I took them to the airport on Thursday. A few hours after I got home, Deb's brother Matt and his family arrived and we exchanged presents with them. The kids had fun playing with their cousins and we hung out all day yesterday. They took off this morning because Matt has a ticket to the Pats-Giants game tonight at Giants Stadium.

I got some cool presents: a couple of Cormac McCarthy books, No Country for Old Men and The Road; I'm going to hold off on the former until after I see the Coen Brothers movie adaptation, but I've already started The Road. I also got the classic MST3K DVD of Manos and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, so I'm looking forward to watching those. I also received Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, so I have a good pile of books on my nightstand. I also got some good running gear and clothes, among other stuff.

The last month or so, the InterWebs have been full of year-end lists of favorite music, movies, etc. (Check out the always-awesome LHB for a comprehensive collection of lists.) Who am I not to join in? Here are my top 15 albums of the year, keeping in mind that I certainly haven't heard everything out there. I don't get free stuff, so I can only go on what I've heard. But I have heard a lot of good music this year, so here we go (with retail and video links):

1. Spoon--Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
These guys have been consistently releasing great music for years and this ridiculously named album is their latest and greatest. Spare arrangements, clever wordplay, and catchy songs. Dig it.
Video: The Underdog

2. Dinosaur Jr.--Beyond
J., Lou and Murph reunite to release a blast of an album that kicks butt while rivaling any of their old classics.
Video: Been There All the Time

3. Grinderman--Grinderman
Nick Cave has been at it in various forms and incarnations over the years, and I have to admit to not being very familiar with his past work. But this is stripped down and nasty. That's a good thing.
Video: Electric Alice

4. Black Francis--Bluefinger
Charles Thompson (aka Frank Black) returns to his Pixies-era persona for this excellent album, which is what a new Pixies album might sound like if Kim Deal was up for it.
Video: Tight Black Rubber

5. Radiohead--In Rainbows
Thom Yorke and the guys have still got it, Internet release or not. Not a radical departure from their last few full-lengths. I would have liked a little more gee-tar, but that's just me. Still, great stuff.
Video: Reckoner

6. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists--Living With the Living
Another artist who consistently delivers great music. He provides some especially timely critiques of the current administration in an age when there is a surprising dearth of protest music.
Video: Bomb.Repeat.Bomb

7. Queens of the Stone Age--Era Vulgaris
Josh Homme brings the rizzock. Heavy enough for your metal side, clever enough for your indie side.
Video: Make It Wit Chu

7a. Mondo Generator--Dead Planet
Some say the aforementioned QOTSA haven't been the same since wildman bassist Nick Oliveri got the boot a few years back. Maybe so, but at least he's still kickin' butt. Not for the faint of heart or eardrums.
Video: Lie Detector

8. Andrew Bird--Armchair Apocrypha
This is an exquisite album that makes the most of Bird's interesting sonic pallette. Definitely should be heard with headphones on.
Video: Imitosis

9. The White Stripes--Icky Thump
The novelty may have worn off somewhat since the Stripes first burst on the scene at the turn of the century, but they can still make compelling music.
Video: You Don't Know What Love Is

10. The National--Boxer
These guys provide low-key, atmospheric, slow-burn rock. Very cool.
Video: Mistaken for Strangers

11. Okkervil River--The Stage Names
I've been digging this for the last month or so. It really grows on you. Will Sheff and crew cover a lot of rock ground on this album. I pick up on something new every time I listen to it.
Video: Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe

12. Thurston Moore--Trees Outside the Academy
For his second solo album (and first in 12 years), the Sonic Youth leader goes for a quieter sound than he's known for. And it works really well.
Video: Fri/End (live on Jimmy Kimmel show)

13. LCD Soundsystem--Sound of Silver
A fun combination of dance, punk and electronic sounds. More infectious than the bird flu.
Video: North American Scum

14. Les Savy Fav--Let's Stay Friends
A triumphant return with an album that's all over the map with the indie rock.
Video: Patty Lee

15. The Arcade Fire--Neon Bible
A worthy if overhyped follow-up to their smashing debut of a few years back. Just great, anthemic anthemy anthems.
Video: No Cars Go

Some other good stuff I dug this year:
  • New Pornographers--Challengers
  • Ray Davies--Working Man's Cafe
  • Wilco--Sky Blue Sky
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings--100 Days, 100 Nights
  • PJ Harvey--White Chalk
  • Of Montreal--Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
  • The Dears--Gang of Losers
  • Bloc Party--A Weekend in the City
  • Bad Brains--Build a Nation
  • Jason Isbell--Sirens of the Ditch
  • The Horrors--Strange House
  • Foo Fighters--Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
  • Tim Armstrong--A Poet's Life
  • Arctic Monkeys--Favourite Worst Nightmare
Damn, I guess I did listen to a lot of stuff, after all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Candy Cane Crawl

Happy ho ho, y'all. The kids are tucked in their beds, with visions of dolls and accessories in their heads. Deb's off at the 10 p.m. service at our church and me, well, I'm just relaxing. Finished wrapping her gifts and stuffing her stocking, so now it's time to chill.

I've got this week off, but I'm still doing some work from home on a couple of book projects. Finished editing one book and sent the chapters to a copyeditor today; next I have to go over the proofer's copy of another book and drop that off on Thursday. My brother and his family flew into town on Saturday; I picked them up at Logan and took them up to my mom's, where they're staying. We're going up to see them tomorrow afternoon. They leave on Thursday, which is when Deb's brother Matt and his family will be arriving for a few days. The kids are psyched for all of this activity.

After running on the treadmill for more than a week, I was excited to get outside today. We had nearly two feet of snow from the three storms and it finally started to melt this weekend, especially on Sunday night when the temps got into the 40s and it rained hard. Today it got up to 45 and was sunny, so I ran in shorts. There was still a lot of snow and ice on the sidewalks in some areas, so I had to run on the road for the most part and be really careful. That scrape I got on my knee two Thursdays ago was healing slowly and I didn't want to rip it open again. Fortunately, there were no mishaps today.

Well, have a good one. Here's a little Ramones yuletide rawk to carry you through the next few days and beyond.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quick and to the Pointless

I have to admit, I'm getting a little stir crazy. At least when it comes to running. I've had to do my last three runs on the treadmill, which just plain suck-diddly-ucks. With all the snow and ice we've gotten, there isn't much room on the road for runners. I don't trust drivers when the conditions are perfect, so now I definitely have my reservations. But it's been raining all evening, so some of that ice is melting away. Of course, it'll probably all freeze overnight. We'll see if I can run outside tomorrow.

I just mapped out my training schedule for the NJ Marathon. I do a 16-week program and I start in about three weeks. Hopefully I won't end up doing most of it on the treadmill.

I'm not overly stressed about Christmas shopping. Deb took care of all the kids' stuff and I've already bought a few things for her. I have to get some stuff for my brother and his family, as well as some stocking stuffers for Deb, but I know what I'm getting, so that makes it a lot easier.

The only stress right now is at work, because I'm taking all of next week off, so I need to get a lot done before then. I'm editing a couple of books that are in different stages of production, so I'll probably have to do some work at home next week. But at least I'll be home.

Candy cane crawl:
  • The writers' strike saga continues, with the latest news being that several late-night talk shows are returning to the air, including Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. Of course, they're doing so without their writing staffs, arguing that they need to come back to support the non-writing employees who are currently out of work. Dave Letterman is negotiating a deal to return with his writers, as is Jon Stewart for The Daily Show. Meanwhile, the upcoming Golden Globes and Academy Awards telecasts may have to air without writers, and now there's talk that the actors may boycott the shows. Strange days indeed.
  • New York Rangers superpest Sean Avery got some pub today for his role as a 50s-era goon who gets his head handed to him by Rocket Richard in a Canadian film about the Hall of Famer. The movie actually came out in Canada two years ago, but is getting a DVD release in the U.S. now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snowed In

Hannah lets loose in the snow on Thursday night.
We woke up this morning to snowstorm number 2 hitting us hard. There were already about four or five inches of snow on the ground when I rolled out of bed at 7:30. The plows were nowhere to be seen, so we decided to blow off church and I made pancakes for the girls. Then we went out and started shoveling. By that point, the snow was mixing with sleet and the winds were whipping it all around. Nobody else on our street was shoveling at that point. When I finished up, the plow showed up and soon our neighbors were out clearing their driveways.

We stayed in all day, playing games and watching the Pats beat the Jets, albeit not by the huge margin we all expected. The weather was pretty nasty in Foxboro, with rain and wind wreaking havoc on the passing game. As a result, the Pats ran the ball much more than they usually do and won 20-10. They're now 14-0 on the season and next week take on the Dolphins, who won their first game of the season today.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Abominable Snow

We didn't have to wait too long for our first miserable winter experience this year. Yesterday's snowstorm dropped about eight inches on us, but it was more notable for the horrendous traffic jams it caused. The biggest reason for the problems wasn't so much the snow itself but the fact that most people left work early and just turned every roadway into a parking lot. I left work at 3 and it took me two hours to make the eight-mile commute home. I had to pick Hannah up at her after-school program because Deb was stuck in worse traffic coming home from Malden; she had a three-hour ride that was pretty intense. But other folks I worked with had it worse; one guy who lives in Shrewsbury left at 1 and got home at 11. Holy crap!

Once we got home, the girls had fun playing in the snow while Deb and I shoveled out our driveways, so at least some good came out of it. The forecasters are predicting that a Nor'easter will hit us on Sunday morning, although it's unclear whether we'll get slammed with snow or rain. It could wreak havoc on the Patriots-Jets game Sunday, too.

Another drawback of snow and ice is it forces me to run on a treadmill, which I normally hate. After Monday's ice storm, I ran inside, but ran outside on Tuesday and yesterday. The snow started about halfway through yesterday's run, but the real bummer was when I hit a patch of black ice and wiped out. I've got a nice scrape on my left knee, but that's about it. Looks like my 10-miler tomorrow will be done on a treadmill at the gym. Huzzah.

Where's the rock salt?
  • The other big news story yesterday was the release of the Mitchell Report on steroid use in major league baseball by former Maine Senator George Mitchell. Specifically, the report details a list of about 80 current and former players who allegedly use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Most notable was the section on Roger Clemens; a former trainer with the Blue Jays and Yankees claims he injected Clemens with roids in the late '90s, coinciding with his post-Red Sox Cy Young awards. The 409-page report is by no means comprehensive, since most players wouldn't cooperate and Mitchell's staff got most of its information from two main sources. Still, it caused quite a stir. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, MLB does about it. I have to say, though: This remains my favorite Mitchell.
  • I'm still working on addressing some Christmas cards, but I should get them out quicker than it took this one to arrive: 93 years.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Completely Conspicuous Episode 45: The Immigrant Song and Dance

Hola. Just recorded the latest episode of CC. You can download the show directly here (right click and "save as").

Ze show notes...

- The political debate over illegal immigration
- Holiday shopping tips
- Pinhead of the Week

- Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene - Tbtf
- Entrance - Grim Reaper Blues
- Jason Loewenstein - Circles
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Weapon of Choice
- The Subways - I Want to Hear What You Have to Say

- New England Podcasting.

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes, Yahoo Podcasts and Podcast Pickle podcast directories. Subscribe and write a review!

The song from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is on their album Baby 81on Red Int/Red Ink Records. The Subways song is on the album Young for Eternity on Sire/Warner Bros. Records. Both songs are courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network.

The Jason Loewenstein song is on the album At Sixes and Sevens; it comes courtesy of Sub Pop Records; find out more and download the song here.

The song from Kevin Drew is on the album Spirit If on Arts and Crafts Records. The Entrance song is on the compilation album Manifest Destiny on Tee Pee Records. Those two songs were provided by IODA Promonet.

Spirit If...Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew
"Tbtf" (mp3)
from "Spirit If..."
(Arts & Crafts)

Buy at Napster
Buy at Rhapsody
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon
More On This Album

Manifest DestinyEntrance
"Grim Reaper Blues" (mp3)
from "Manifest Destiny"
(Tee Pee Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Rhapsody
Buy at Napster
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon
Buy at GroupieTunes
More On This Album

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his excellente blog de la musica. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of Mark Campbell.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Christmas While I'm Talking

Usually around this time of year, I get all cynical about the holidays, but seeing it all through the eyes of two wide-eyed girls can certainly put a positive spin on things. We picked up our tree yesterday and decorated it today. Just seeing the girls get all excited about the ornaments is pretty cool. In fact, I was inspired to put together a rock-centric holiday song mix on my iTunes. I found that I had about 13 or so songs already, including my all-time favorite Christmas song, "Father Christmas" by the Kinks. So I went to The Hype Machine and tracked down close to 30 other songs; there's a ton more out there, too. I just get sick of hearing all the regular Xmas schlock.

After a week of hype and a guaranteed victory from the Steelers' Anthony Smith, the Patriots laid the smack down today, whipping the Pittsburgh squad 34-13. They're now 13-0 and next week they play the Jets at Foxboro. I'm sure Belichick will be pushing for them to hit triple digits against his former assistant, who ratted him out to the league after game 1 for having a cameraman videotaping the opposition signals.

Ho ho huh?
  • The Dallas Marathon was held today, with news reports citing the difficulty runners had with falling temperatures. It was in the 40s. Just about anywhere else, that's called ideal weather for marathon runners. But I'm sure it's a shock to the system for folks in warm-weather climates. I got out for 10 miles today and it was 33 and comfortable.
  • What's with all the wacko gunmen taking people out lately? First the shooting in the Omaha mall and then today, some nutjob killed four people at a Colorado church. It could be the season. Something about the holidays really brings out the worst in people, whether it's depression or something much, much uglier.
  • A freaky deaky serial killer case wrapped up today in Canada when a jury convicted pig farmer Robert Pickton of six counts of second-degree murder. He's charged in the murders of 20 other women and is believed to have killed several others. The Port Coquitlam, B.C., man would bring women--mainly prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver--to his farm and kill them. The court heard a recording made in prison in which Pickton told an undercover cop posing as a prisoner that he had killed 49 women and wanted to make it "an even 50" but was arrested before he could. Police found the remains of many of the women on the farm; it was believed he may have fed some of the remains to his pigs. Messed up stuff. His sentencing takes place next week.
  • On a lighter note, Back to the Future is one of those movies I stop and watch every time I see it on TV (and I haven't even seen more than a few minutes of either sequel). It came out the summer that I graduated from high school and I always get a kick out of it, even with the Huey Lewis theme song. So this clip gave me a chuckle.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Between the Lines

Winter doesn't officially start for a couple more weeks, but we're already feeling the deep freeze. It's colder than a mofo here right now. I ran 5 miles on Saturday afternoon when it was 25 degrees and windy, which was bad. But on Sunday, I did the Mill Cities Relay in Nashua and it was 15 degrees out. At least it wasn't that windy. There were dudes out there in shorts and singlets; forget that. I did the first leg for the NS Striders Men's Masters team; yep, now that I'm 40, I've moved up into another category. It was 5.6 miles and fairly flat, but I got a side-stitch around mile 3 and actually had to walk a little bit before getting going again. But I finished strong. After that, I just supported the other Strider runners, including my friend Molly, who ran the last leg for her team. One runner for another team was hit by a car; fortunately, he was okay. The relay finished in Lawrence. We didn't win anything, but it was fun nonetheless.

We got a little snow Sunday night, only an inch or two. It was pretty slushy and is now frozen solid on surfaces that weren't plowed or cleared. They got a lot more snow up north in NH and Maine.

Last night's Patriots-Ravens game was a major league nailbiter, right down to the very last second. The Ravens gave the Pats all they could handle and they nearly gave me a couple of heart attacks in the last two minutes. Tom Brady drove the Pats down the field to score the game-winning TD with 44 seconds left in the game, but the Pats definitely benefited from bad Baltimore decisions, penalties and good luck. In the dying seconds, Ravens QB Kyle Boller threw a Hail Mary that was caught on the 2-yard line, but the clock ran out as the Pats tackled the guy. Ultimately, it was the Pats winning 27-24 and going to 12-0, but damn, it was close. Next weekend, they play the Steelers, which should be really tough.

I just finished watching the Leafs knock off Nashville 3-1 for their third win in a row. Goon Wade Belak scored for the first time in four years (a stretch of 143 games), so you know things are going well. In typical Leafs fashion, the streak comes right after playing some of their worst hockey of the season and causing the Toronto media to go nuts speculating whether GM John Ferguson Jr. or coach Paul Maurice would get canned. Hopefully, they can keep it going, but they could just as easily lose five in a row. You just never know with that team.

The Blue Jays can't go more than two years without changing up their uniforms, and they were at it again yesterday by unveiling a new road jersey and bringing back the old-school powder blue shirts for their "Flashback Friday" home games. They brought back former stars John Mayberry and Lloyd Moseby. The best part of the press conference was when Moseby said the old uniforms "sucked." Nice! Other than the new duds, looks like they're going to be pretty quiet during the offseason, unlike the Red Sox, who are looking to add Johan Santana to their World Series champion roster. Meanwhile, the Tigers have pilfered Dontrelle Willis and Miggy Cabrera from the Marlins for a bunch of prospects. Damn. Well, the Jays might sign Matt Clement, so that's...ugh.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Written All Over Me

Well, it's over. My monthlong attempt to write a 50,000-word novel ended at midnight in failure, with my final tally hitting 36,523 words. Actually, I wouldn't consider it a failure at all because it got me motivated to write again. But now I plan to put it aside for awhile and then go back and look at how bad it is. Then I'll either edit it heavily or just start something else.

Welcome to December. We've got some seriously cold weather moving in here this weekend, capped off by some snow, or so sez the forecasters. I'm running with the Striders in the Mill Cities Relay tomorrow morning, when it's supposed to be in the teens out. Damn! Guess I'd better run fast.

Our new camcorder arrived the other day, but I haven't had a chance to play with it yet. Looks pretty cool, though. At some point, I may post some video clips.

Ever go years without a hearing a song you love and then hear it twice in the span of a few days? That happened to me with Led Zeppelin's "Achilles' Last Stand," a 10-minute epic on their underrated Presence album. A song that long isn't going to be played on the radio much; I have the vinyl version of that album but since my turntable isn't hooked up, I haven't listened to it in eons. So it was unusual that I heard it last Sunday on one of the local rock stations while driving to a holiday parade with the kids. And then last night, I was out for a few drinks with a bunch of people from work at a bar in Marblehead and I heard the song again; not sure if it was a satellite radio setup or an iPod or something more conventional, but it was among a collection of classic rock deep cuts (another good one I heard was Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money"). Anyhoo, the Zep tune is amazing: Check out this YouTube clip of them playing it at Knebworth in '79 on their last tour before Bonham died.

Dribs and drabs:
  • A lot of celebrity deaths lately. Evel Knievel went to that big stunt ramp in the sky after dying yesterday at the age of 69. He had been in pretty rough health over the years, but it's really amazing he lived as long as he did. For you young'uns, check out his motorcycle jump over the fountain at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. Ouch.
  • Another recent death was that of Quiet Riot lead yowler Kevin DuBrow, who was found dead at the age of 52 at his home last weekend. Quiet Riot dated back to the late '70s, when the lineup included guitar whiz Randy Rhoads, who went on to fame in Ozzy Osbourne's band and died in a tragic plane crash in 1982. A year later, Quiet Riot had a monster hit with "Cum On Feel the Noize," a cover of a Slade song that became one of the biggest videos on MTV. They also had a big hit with "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)." I liked them at the time, but grew out of them pretty quickly. DuBrow was pretty obnoxious, slagging off other bands in interviews, but he was a decent frontman. They tried to replicate the same formula on their next album, covering another Slade song, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," but the song and the album both stiffed and QR soon disbanded before being revived by DuBrow years later. Ultimately, they became a punchline and an '80s relic. And I always cracked up at how he had way more hair in the last 10 years than in his heyday. Still, a sad end at a relatively young age for the guy.
  • Another even more tragic death was that of Blue Jays pitcher Joe Kennedy, 28, who collapsed last Friday and died. Reports said the cause of death could have been an aneurysm or heart attack, but autopsy results aren't back yet.

Awright, time to get the kids dressed.