Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Go for the Exit

Man, 2008 was a real beeyotch of a year. I'm glad to see it go. But although it was a tough year for the world, it was a pretty good year for music, at least the music I was listening to. So here are my favorite 15 albums (yes, I still listen to albums) of 2008:

1. The Gutter Twins--Saturnalia
I was already a huge fan of Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan through their previous work apart and together in the Twilight Singers, so I knew this was gonna be good. I wasn't disappointed. A dark, brooding masterpiece featuring two of the greatest rock singers of their generation.
Video: All Misery/Flowers

2. King Khan and the Shrines--The Supreme Genius of...
This compilation of King Khan's European releases showcases the in-your-face garage rock/R&B/soul stylings of this crazy Canadian-born Indian dude now living in Germany. A real kick in the pants, this album will liven up the dullest of shindigs.
Video: Welfare Bread (live)

3. The Hold Steady--Stay Positive
The Hold Steady's fourth album is another solid effort, adding to their Springsteen-meets-Thin Lizzy sound with bigger production and more instrumentation. But at the heart of it all, the band still kicks butt, especially on rockers like the title track, "Constructive Summer" and "Slapped Actress."
Video: Stay Positive

4. Black Mountain--In the Future
These Canucks took stoner rock to new heights with this mix of '70s hard rock and indie attitude. At times very heavy, at other times very trippy, at all times very cool.
Video: Tyrants (live)

5. Ladyhawk--Shots
Another group of Western Canadians who kept things interesting in '08 with this collection of Stonesy rockers. Ladyhawk has a raw, rootsy sound that rewards after continued listens. My only regret is I never caught them live this year.
Video: I Don't Always Know What You're Saying (live)

6. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks--Real Emotional Trash
The former Pavement frontman delivers his best solo effort yet with a series of full-on rambling jams that feature his sly lyrics and ridiculously good guitar solos and Janet Weiss' powerhouse drumming. This is not Slanted and Enchanted 2, but that's okay.
Video: Baltimore (live)

7. Sloan--Parallel Play
More power pop goodness from Sloan, albeit a tad stripped down from their previous effort, the 30-song opus Never Hear the End of It. As always, all four band members contribute memorable songs, but the prime cuts this time around are Jay Ferguson's '70s AM radio homages "Cheap Champagne" and "Witch's Wand."
Video: Witch's Wand (live)

8. TV On the Radio--Dear Science
While not as powerful as their previous album, Return to Cookie Mountain, TVOTR's latest is still an excellent effort that veers more toward the dance-rock side of the ledger. Without a doubt, one of the best bands of our time.
Video: Dancing Choose (live on Letterman)

9. Dead Meadow--Old Growth
Dead Meadow moves into a mellower stoner rock space on this album, going for more of a mid-70s Neil Young groove instead of Sabbath. Another excellent guitar album, just quieter.
Video: What Needs Must Be

10. Drive-By Truckers--Brighter Than Creation's Dark
A 19-song effort encompassing all of this band's stylistic moods: rockers, bluesy numbers, quieter old-school country. Although Jason Isbell's contributions are missed, this is still a fine and rewarding album.
Video: That Man I Shot (live)

11. The Raconteurs--Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White and Brendan Benson turn this band into more than a side project, as this second effort amps up the energy from the band's debut. Great songs delivered by a bunch of guys who sound like they're having a blast.
Video: Salute Your Solution (live on Jools Holland)

12. The Raveonettes--Lust Lust Lust
A sublime mix of girl-group vocals with distortion that harks back to the Jesus and Mary Chain and one-ups it. Great stuff.
Video: Aly, Walk With Me

13. Eagles of Death Metal--Heart On
Jesse Hughes and boys deliver one of the most fun albums of the year. Just pure, silly sleaze-rock that's guaranteed to make you smile while you rock out.
Video: Heart On (live)

14. Frightened Rabbit--The Midnight Organ Fight
This is a bristling, emotional, intense album from the Scottish indie-pop act. Gets better with each listen.
Video: Head Rolls Off

15. MIA--Kala
Yeah, I know this came out in 2007, but I didn't pick it up until after Christmas last year, well after the music bloggers went gaga over it but well before MIA had a huge smash hit with the Clash-sampling "Paper Planes" after the song was used in trailer for the movie Pineapple Express.
Video: Paper Planes

On the bubble: The Kills--Midnight Boom; Fiery Furnaces--Widow City; Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel--Dual Hawks; Destroyer--Trouble in Dreams; Santogold--s/t; Elvis Costello and the Impostors--Momofuku; Julie Ocean--Long Gone and Nearly There; Jay Reatard--Matador Singles '08; Okkervil River--The Stand Ins; The Night Marchers--See You in Magic; The Dirtbombs--We Have You Surrounded; REM--Accelerate; Black Francis--Svn Fngrs; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds--Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Today's Lesson

Back in the Bay State after a long weekend down in New Jersey. We got down to Matt and Tricia's place Friday afternoon. They got the boys a Wii for Christmas and holy crap, is that thing a ton of fun. I played baseball, bowling, boxing and even some crazy cow racing game. The boxing game is especially interesting, because you're literally throwing punches like a real boxer. Matt and I battled and I eventually knocked him out, but not before working up a serious sweat; my shoulders and traps were really sore about 36 hours later, too. Deb, who's no gamer by any stretch of the imagination, thoroughly enjoyed the Wii, too. We're not buying one any time soon, but maybe someday.

Friday night ended up being quite the drunken affair. Our friends Pete and Sheera and their kids came over, so we got some pizza and beer. Matt, Pete and I went over to another little shindig not too far away at Joe's place; turns out a woman I knew from my UNH days married one of Joe's best friends and was in town. So we had a few beers over there and Pete, a fellow Torontonian, and I watched a little of the Leafs-Islanders game. We went back to Matt's and kept imbimbing. The kids were put to bed late. I didn't stay up too much later, but woke up with a nasty headache at 6, popped a few Tylenol Extra Strengths and went back to sleep. Thankfully, I don't drink like that much anymore. Got up at 9 and went for a run with Joe; the hills around there beat the hell out of me, but that was good. I ended up doing 9.5 miles. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, playing some Wii and reading mainly.

Yesterday, we took the kids into New York City to check out the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and skating rink; it was pretty fun, although not quite as Christmas-like since it was 60 degrees out. We took a ferry over from NJ. We kept a tight grip on the kids as we made our way through the crowds in Times Square and visited the M&M store and a big Toys R Us. We had a delicious Southern food lunch at Virgil's; I had some excellent beef brisket and sides. We made it back to Matt's by 3 and watched the DVR'd Patriots-Bills game, which was a must-win for New England. We had successfully observed a media blackout and were able to fast-forward through the commercials and enjoy the Pats' 13-0 win in blustery Buffalo conditions. Now the Jets had to beat the Dolphins or the Jags beat the Ravens for the Pats to make the playoffs, despite the fact they finished the season with an 11-5 record. Unfortunately, Brett Favre decided to be Brett Favre and threw interceptions left and right, resulting in a Miami victory. Baltimore steamrolled the Jags, and the Pats were left out of the playoff picture, after battling through season-ending injuries to Tom Brady, Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison, Laurence Maroney and many others. Ridiculous.

We got back this afternoon and I went for a 6-mile run that was only marred by the fact I ate a ham sandwich while driving home a few hours earlier; the exertion left me with quite the case of indigestion. But at least I got the run in.

Back to work tomorrow, albeit for another three-day week because of New Year's.

Assorted collections of words:
  • Note to tourists visiting Dubai: If you're going to hook up with someone, don't do it on the beach. This British businessman found out the hard way that they frown on that kinda stuff there.
  • More sad news about Alexei Cherepanov, the 19-year-old NY Rangers prospect who died in Russia after collapsing on the bench during a game. In addition to having a heart condition, Cherepanov had been blood doping, according to Russian authorities. Of course, it didn't help matters that the emergency response after his collapse was horrendous. Just a bummer all around.
  • Think about this story the next time you chatter incessantly during a movie: Some wacko might just shoot you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Needle and the Damage Done

Merry Christmas! Well, it's a new record: Deb had the tree stripped of lights and ornaments and ready to be taken out to the curb by 7:30 p.m. tonight. In her defense, while our tree looked good, it was drier than the Sahara. The thing would drop 100 needles if you so much as looked at it. We're heading down to Joisey tomorrow morning, so Deb wanted to have the tree out of our living room before we left and I can't say I blame her. There were piles of needles all along the path I took to take the tree out. We waited until the kids were in bed before we did it; they will undoubtedly be bummed in the a.m. when they find the tree gone.

So I got out of work at 2 yesterday and finished my shopping soon afterward, picking up a few books for Deb. I steered well clear of any of the local malls, which were mobbed all week after the snowstorms last weekend left a lot of people stuck in their homes. We hit our church's Christmas service and then had dinner before tucking our fired-up girls into bed. I have to say it's a lot of fun to see how worked up they get over Santa's impending arrival, tracking him online on the NORAD site. It'll be a sad day when they finally wise up, but I'll never blow it. That kind of innocence is just way too precious these days. I don't remember exactly when I realized the truth, but I'm thinking somebody at school told me. And then I found the presents my mom had hidden in a closet. But I wasn't crushed, because I was still getting some sweet presents.

The girls were up early and rousted me around 7. We had breakfast before getting into the presents. Hannah got a digital camera, both girls got scooters and new helmets, both got Leapster handheld games, and tons of other stuff. I got some new books (Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates and Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl); a new CD, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Dig Lazarus Dig!; some gift certificates for the local running store and a bookstore; clothes; and a grill light to aid me with winter grilling in our dark backyard.

I went for a 5-mile run, my first outdoor run in about 10 days. A lot of the snow has melted, but there's still plenty on the sidewalks so I ran mostly in the road. I've got another 10 days before my Boston Marathon training program begins.

We went up to visit my mom in NH for the afternoon. She's getting ready to leave next month on a three-month trip to India. I'll be checking in on her condo from time to time to make sure everything's hunky dory while she's gone.

Ho ho huh?
  • Christmas wasn't so merry at a party in Covina, California, where a psycho walked in dressed as Santa and started shooting the place up before setting the house on fire. Apparently it was the family of his ex-wife, and six people were left dead. He ended up killing himself later. Damn.
  • So the Yankees signed friggin' Mark Teixeira this week, bringing their offseason free agent total to $423 million in contracts so far. MLB is such a joke right now. There are a handful of teams in the mix for big-name free agents (Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc.) while everyone else just hopes their prospects can pick up the slack before they get good and leave. The Jays are at least being honest with their fans; GM JP Ricciardi says they won't sign anyone.
  • After it seemed to be on the wane for a few years, fighting is on the rise again in the NHL, up 15% over last season and 75% over three years ago. I'm an old-school hockey fan; I think fighting has its place in the game. By the same token, I don't want to see endless brawling, either. There was plenty of that in the '70s and it was ridiculous. But a good scrap every now and then can fire up both a team and a crowd. There's no denying that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Completely Conspicuous Episode 68: Face to Face

Here's the last episode of CompCon of the year. Download it directly here (right click and "save as") or click here to listen to it in streaming audio.

The show notes...

- The addictive lure of Facebook
- When an artist you love starts to suck
- Pinhead of the Week

- A.C. Newman - Submarines of Stockholm
- The Moondoggies - Changing
- Broken Social Scene - Swimmers
- Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

- New England Podcasting.

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

The A.C. Newman song is on the upcoming album Get Guilty on Matador Records, where you can find out more at and download the track.

The Moondoggies song is on the album Don't Be a Stranger; the Fleet Foxes song is on their self-titled album. Both songs are courtesy of Sub Pop Records, where you can find out more and download the tracks.

The Broken Social Scene song is on their self-titled album on Arts and Crafts Records. The song was provided by IODA Promonet:

Broken Social SceneBroken Social Scene
"Swimmers" (mp3)
from "Broken Social Scene"
(Arts & Crafts)

Buy at Rhapsody
Buy at Napster
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon MP3
Buy at mTraks
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 fine music blog. 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.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lucky Number

I got some good news on Monday: My running club gave me one of the six Boston Marathon numbers it has for 2009. Every year, the club provides volunteers to work the mile 12 water stop. We had 11 folks apply for the six numbers, so I was happy that they chose me to receive one of them. I ran Boston in '02 and '03; my goal this time around is more modest than my recent marathons. I'd be happy to break 4 hours on that brutal course. My training starts in January.

Speaking of running, my fifth running column ran today. This time around, I examine treadmill running, a necessary evil this time of year.

I joined a bunch of my buddies Tuesday night at the Midwest Grill in Cambridge for some all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ. Great food, but it leaves you absolutely stuffed at the end of the meal. I hadn't been there in a few years, so it was fun to go again. They've actually opened a second restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus, but I prefer to go to the original.

I'm working a half day tomorrow because we're expecting the first real snowstorm of the season to hit in the afternoon and I don't want to have a repeat of last December's horrendous traffic debacle. The snow is supposed to start in the afternoon, so I plan to head home early and work the rest of the day from the comfort of the house. I've seen forecasts of 6-10 inches or more, with another storm expected on Sunday night. Well, at least we'll have a white Christmas.

  • The seemingly neverending Mats Sundin saga is mercifully over: He signed with Vancouver today. The 'Nucks actually made him a two-year, $20 million offer during the offseason, but for some reason it took him until now to decide to accept it (although the story says it was a one-year deal). It had come down to Vancouver and the Rangers, although the Rangers would have had to trade somebody to fit him under the salary cap. Despite this annoying indecision of the last few months, he's still one of my favorite players and I hope he does well for Vancouver.
  • The story of the jackass who sued a dry cleaner for $54 million over a missing pair of pants is back in the news again: An appeals court denied the moron's appeal of a decision throwing out his 2005 lawsuit. It would not surprise me if he tried to take it to the Supreme Court. Unbelievable.
  • So apparently the only job that's profitable these days is that of Somalian pirate. Who knew?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something to Believe

We're creeping closer to Christmas. Better start my shopping soon, huh?

It was a long weekend. Not in terms of days, but activity. On Friday morning, I got a call from my mother, who told that her condo building in Hampton, NH, had been without power since the previous night. While we were soaked with rain near the coast Thursday and Friday, north and west of 495 were slammed by an ice storm that knocked out power in parts of Massachusetts and much of New Hampshire. With temps dropping down to the teens Friday night and no end in sight to the outage, I didn't want my mom to have to stay in a cold apartment, so I drove up and brought her home. It was pretty creepy once I took the exit off Route 101: the only light was provided by the full moon. Her complex had a generator and had lights in the hallways and in their first floor lounge, where a bunch of folks including my mom had dinner and were playing cards and other games. We got back here around 9. On Saturday, we went to Hannah's soccer game and then she decided she wanted to head back up to her place, so I took her home at 3. As it turned out, the power in her building was back by 5 or so, but it's still out for a lot of folks in both MA and NH.

I went to the holiday party for my running club last night, armed with appetizers that Deb made. It was a good time. Still waiting to hear who gets the six Boston Marathon numbers that the club gets for volunteering at the marathon every year. I put my name in the hat a few weeks ago. A committee is going through the applicants and is supposed to make its selections today, although as of this writing I still hadn't heard anything.

We went to a holiday party this afternoon hosted by some friends a few streets over. It was a good time, although I ate way too much. Can't wait until all the holiday tempation is removed; there's just too much good stuff to eat these days.

Jingle all the way:
  • Well, the George W. Bush farewell tour isn't going so well. An Iraqi journalist threw both his shoes at Bush at a press conference today. But give Dubya credit: He was able to duck out of the way of both of them.
  • If you don't think Major League Baseball needs a salary cap, consider this: After spending $240 million on deals for pitchers CC Sabathia (who basically was paid $2 million per pound) and AJ Burnett, the New York Yankees are now eyeing big-name free agent sluggers Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez. Of course, there are other suitors for those players, like the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, LA Dodgers. But there are plenty of other teams (my Blue Jays included) who are feeling the financial crunch and are going in the other direction. The Jays' big signing so far? Matt Clement. It's going to be another ugly season, I'm afraid. After having the top pitching staff in the league last season, the Jays lost their number 2 starter (Burnett) and have two of their top four pitchers (Dustin McGowan and Shawn Marcum) recovering from major arm surgery. In addition, the Canadian dollar has dropped back down to its customary weak position, so the team has had to lay off staff. I don't expect any major free agent pickups this offseason. My only hope is that the Yankees' acquisitions wilt under the NYC spotlight and they continue to miss out on the brass ring as they have for the last seven years.
  • So the Sean Avery era in Dallas is over. Yeah, the guy's a bozo, but did he really deserve to have his career derailed over yet another stupid comment? Seems kinda harsh to me. The guy's made a career out of being an a-hole and it made him an effective irritant on and off the ice. But I've seen guys commit much worse acts on the ice (Todd Bertuzzi, anyone?) and still maintain well-paid careers in the league.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This Time You Got It

Okay, okay, NOW I'm in the holiday spirit. As I predicted last week, Deb took one look at the unpacked fake tree and conceded that we need to get a real one. So now we have a nice, real Christmas tree in the living room. The girls and I decorated it on Saturday afternoon and it looks pretty sweet.

The Mill Cities Relay went well on Sunday. It snowed, but fortunately not too hard and not enough to make the footing treacherous. It was cold standing around waiting for the baton, but once I got going, I was fine. My leg was 9.5 miles and fortunately my injured didn't bother me at all. I ran at a 7:30/mile pace and felt good. My team finished 144th out of 182 teams, but what the hey.

Man, it was crazy cold yesterday. I took Hannah out to the bus stop in the morning and it was about 11 degrees. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long for the bus. Today was a little warmer, in the 30s, but tomorrow it could reach 60. Weird.

Gleep glorp:
  • I admit it, Facebook is like InterWeb crack. Totally addictive. But a student who was disciplined for creating an FB group criticizing a teacher has now sued her old principal. Next up, you'll see lawsuits over defamatory status messages.
  • Happy 40th birthday, computer mouse. You don't look a day over 28.
  • Stay classy, Syracuse fans. Yeesh.
  • Don't know if you've been following the travails of Rinku and Dinesh, the two Indian kids who won a contest and recently signed tryout contracts to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it's great stuff. And not just in the "make fun of the immigrants" vein; it's a compelling tale. But there's also some of that other stuff, too.
  • Burger King is embracing the power of publicity with its "Burger Virgins" campaign, in which folks in Thailand, Greenland and Romania who have never heard of hamburgers are given Whoppers to try. With wacky results. The campaign has drawn fire from nutritionists, who say the "virgins" are better off not eating the non-nutritious food and from folks who say the ads essentially make fun of foreigners. Me, I liked BK's "Coq Roq" campaign better.
  • Things are changing in the world of late night: Jay Leno's moving to prime time, Conan's taking over Leno's spot, and Jimmy Fallon is moving into the 12:30 slot on NBC. Fallon debuts in March and yesterday posted his first "vlog" (God, I hate that word) entry taking a behind-the-scenes look at the show. It's pretty short and kinda gave me a headache from the stupid shaky camerawork, but at least his house band is cool: The Roots. The Leno move is interesting because it appeared he would initially go to ABC or Fox to continue doing an 11:30 talk show, but instead he will do a 10 p.m. show five nights a week. It's a fairly unprecedented move for a major network to have the same show on every night during prime time. Apparently, NBC offered a similar show to Letterman a few years ago and he turned it down. It'll be fun to see how it plays out and whether people stick with it or get bored after a while.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Completely Conspicuous Episode 67: Shop Til You Drop

Damn, I was hoping to do this last weekend, but just didn't have the time. And then this week was busy, so here we are on Friday. But a new episode of the podcast is hot out of the oven, so download it directly here (right click and "save as"). Or visit the CompCon page to listen to it in streaming audio.

The show notes...

- Black Friday shopping
- The move away from childhood pickup sports
- Pinhead of the Week

- Jules Mark Shear - I'm Coming Back
- The Stills - Rooibos--Palm Wine Drunkard
- Of Montreal - Id Engager
- Spoon - The Underdog

- New England Podcasting.

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

The Of Montreal song is on the album Skeletal Lamping on Polyvinyl Records. The Spoon song is on the album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga on Merge Records. Both songs are courtesy of RCRD LBL.

The Jules Mark Shear song is on his new album More on Funzalo Records. The song from The Stills is on the album Oceans Will Rise on Arts and Crafts Records. Both songs are courtesy were provided by IODA Promonet:

More.Jules Mark Shear
"I'm Coming Back" (mp3)
from "More."
(Funzalo Records)

More On This Album

Oceans Will RiseThe Stills
"Rooibos - Palm Wine Drinkard" (mp3)
from "Oceans Will Rise"
(Arts & Crafts)

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 superb music blog. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Skeletal History

Man, December is here and streets is a mutha. I'm so busy with work right now, it's ridiculous. Lots of deadlines converging in the next few days. I've had about 40 ounces of Coke today, which is about 28 more than I usually have in a two-week period. Played hockey last night, the first night it moved to the hated 10:30 start time because Lynn English has the ice before us, so I didn't get home until 1. I didn't hit the wall today, but I definitely felt like I was in slow motion at times. Not good when you need to use your brain for stuff. The skate itself was fun, although we had fewer guys and I was sucking wind because I hadn't played in three weeks. I also think I aggravated a case of turf toe that I acquired during the marathon; my big right toe was bothering me throughout the race and has been sore on occasion since then. My sneakers seem to push down on the sore spot, and my skate did the same thing last night. So when I attempted to go for a run today, it hurt so bad I ended up not even going. Figured I'd give it a rest. I need to run a 9.5-mile leg in the Mill Cities Relay on Sunday and skipping it isn't an option, so I'll try again tomorrow and see how it feels.

Speaking of running, my latest column for the Salem News ran today, this time focusing on cross-training. I actually had a typewritten letter show up for me at the paper the other day from an old guy who took issue with my column on cold weather running. Among other things, he argued that there's no need to wear socks when you run, wool hats are great, and asked what the hell were moisture-wicking fibers. Gotta love fan mail.

Holiday music and decorations are everywhere, including my house, but I'm not feeling it yet. Can't get myself to listen to any of that stuff. Maybe next week. Deb wants us to set up the fake tree we bought last year; she took one look at it then and decided to get a real tree, but apparently she's willing to give it a try. We'll see how it looks. I'd prefer a real tree, having grown up with fake ones the first 15 or so years of my life.

Points of interest:
  • A guy was sentenced today in the wiggity wack case of a 2003 bank robbery in which a pizza deliveryman walked into the bank with a bomb attached around his neck. The pizza guy was in on the plot but apparently didn't realize the bomb was real until it was too late, and then died after it detonated. The mastermind of the plot got 45 years in jail.
  • Gee, Plaxico Burress seemed like such a rational fellow until this week. Memo to self: Don't wear sweatpants when bringing your gun to the club.
  • More classic acapella David Lee Roth vocals, this time from "Hot For Teacher." This stuff is seriously awesome.