Saturday, December 31, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 208: The Final Countdown

Part 3 of my conversation with special guest Jay Breitling as we look back at the best rock music of 2011. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Kumar's #2: Sloan

- Band's 20th anniversary

- Jan. 26: New Music Night with Breitling and Brad Searles at River Gods in Cambridge, Mass.

- Breitling #1: Johnny Foreigner

- No overlap on our lists

- Kumar #1: Fucked Up

- Did a vinyl release of music from fake bands

- Breitling's bubbling under: Yuck, Screaming Maldini, Gold Bears

- Kumar's bubbling under: Mighty Fine, Foo Fighters, Mastodon, Feelies

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Fucked Up - A Little Death

Johnny Foreigner - (Don't) Show Us Your Fangs

Dananananaykroyd - E-Numbers

Yuck - Georgia

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Fucked Up song is on the album David Comes to Life on Matador Records. Download the song for free at Matador.

The Johnny Foreigner song is on the album Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything on Alcopop Records. Download the song for free at Bandcamp.

The Dananananaykroyd song is from the album There Is a Way on Pizza College. Download the song for free at the band's Internet Home Page.

The Yuck song is on the band's self-titled album on Fat Possum. Download the song for free at Brooklyn Vegan.

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 blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Turn It On Again: Best albums of 2011

Editor's note: I've already explored my best of 2011 albums list in abbreviated form for Popblerd and in much more depth with Jay Breitling on CompCon (listen to parts 1 and 2; part 3 will be up tomorrow night). But here's my top 15 of a particularly strong year for rock music.

2011 was packed with a lot of negativity, from the economy to the political rhetoric that continues to scrape rock bottom. But one good thing about this year was the plethora of excellent music released...for rock fans, at least. You may not have heard all these releases on the radio; I know I didn't, because I rarely listen to the radio anymore.

So let's get things rolling...

15. PJ Harvey--Let England Shake
I've been a fan of Polly Jean Harvey since she first burst on the scene back in the early '90s, but her last few releases didn't quite do it for me. This was a return to form, albeit not the rock-based sound that first drew me to her. These are haunting songs about war with sparse arrangements and a lot of autoharp. Truly inspired.



14. Mastodon--The Hunter
After releasing the trippy concept album Crack the Skye in 2009, Mastodon went in the other direction with their latest release by sticking to shorter, controlled bursts of metal. The result is not The Black Album 20 years later, but a powerful collection still retaining the core kick-ass elements of Mastodon: Thundering guitars, insanely frenetic drums and strangely catchy choruses.



13. Foo Fighters--Wasting Light
Another act that I'd soured on in recent years, the Foo Fighters bounced back with an album that moved away from the prom anthems of their last few albums and back to what Dave Grohl and company do best: bringing the rock. Much was made of Grohl and producer Butch Vig recording the album in Grohl's garage on old-school tape (as opposed to digitally), but the real difference is in the songs. In addition, Bob Mould and Krist Novoselic made guest appearances, and Pat Smear rejoined the band to add a little extra oomph.



12. Yuck--Yuck
The sounds of '90s alt-rock permeated this year and Yuck was certainly representative of that, echoing Geffen-era Sonic Youth and Dino Jr. Lots of feedback and thick riffs surrounding mopey yet catchy vocals. It was an irresistible combination.



11. Mighty Fine--Get Up to Get Down
This was an unexpected entry at midyear because I had never heard of these guys before stumbling across a Village Voice blog post about them in the fall. Frontman Steve Myers was a backup singer for the Afghan Whigs in the late '90s and recruited Greg Dulli and the Dirtbombs' Mick Collins to contribute vocals to this debut from his new band, which combines R&B with garage rock. It's a great sound and I look forward to seeing this band live.



10. Drive-By Truckers--Go-Go Boots
This uber-prolific band pretty much releases an album every year and manages to maintain a high level of quality with each one. This was recorded during the same sessions as 2010's The Big To-Do, but these songs lean more on adding soul and R&B elements to DBT's country-rock mix. The workload is spread among three songwriters (leader Patterson Hood, guitarist Mike Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker), so the results are diverse. Tucker recently left the band, so it'll be interesting to see where DBT goes from here (Sugar's David Barbe is filling in on tour).



9. J. Mascis--Several Shades of Why
Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Mascis is known for the jet-engine guitar roar he generates with that band, and seeing the original lineup performing their classic album Bug this year did little to dispel that. But at the same time, Mascis released an excellent collection of mostly-acoustic folk rock that revealed another side of his playing.



8. Beastie Boys--Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2
The Beasties returned with an album that echoed their classic mid-90s releases Check Your Head and Ill Communication. This came despite a cancer scare for Adam Yauch that forced some rescheduling. But the boys sound in good form, balancing their natural party sounds with the point of view of well-traveled guys in their 40s.



7. Buffalo Tom--Skins
Alt-rock heroes Buffalo Tom celebrated their 25th anniversary with a terrific new album that slots in with any of the full lengths they did back in the day. Even though the three members are all now, as Bill Janovitz says, part-time men of rock, you wouldn't know it from this release. The band played three shows in November celebrating the anniversary, but it looks like we won't see them again for a while, which is too bad.




6. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks--Mirror Traffic
Another '90s alt-rock stalwart, Malkmus recorded this album before touring with the reformed Pavement. It's more focused than his previous solo release, Real Emotional Trash, which emphasized his jam-rock tendencies. There's still some of that here, but the solos are shorter and the lyrics a little more on point. A worthy addition to the Malkmus canon.



5. The Twilight Singers--Dynamite Steps
Greg Dulli likes to stay busy. Whether it's with the Twilight Singers, the Gutter Twins or with his old band, the Afghan Whigs (who are finally reuniting for some shows in 2012), Dulli is not one to sit idly by. Dynamite Steps is another typically excellent release of moody tales of love and lust that should not be missed by anyone who enjoys rock with substance.



4. Wild Flag--Wild Flag
Here was a debut from some more alt-rock heroes of the '90s, teaming up Mary Timony of Helium with Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney. The results are magnificent, a rock tour de force that picks up where S-K's final album The Woods left off. While that album was Zeppelinesque in its power, Wild Flag packs in a jittery, herky-jerky energy that's infectious. Looking forward to seeing them live in a few months.



3. Deer Tick--Divine Providence
Deer Tick's indie-rock star has been on the rise for a few years. The band leans heavily on alt-country sounds, but also brings a heavy dose of the rock to the mix as evidenced by the "Deervana" covers of Nirvana songs it does from time to time. There's always been a Replacements influence on DT and that really shines through on Divine Providence, which rocks with abandon.



2. Sloan--The Double Cross
Sloan celebrated its 20th anniversary as a band this year, and did so with a typically strong collection of power pop and rock to mark the occasion. The band's four singer-songwriters bring their A games to this album, which proves they're at the peak of their powers.



1. Fucked Up--David Comes to Life
This was far and away my favorite album of the year. David Comes to Life is a sprawling rock opera about a factory worker in 1970s-era England, but more importantly, it kicks serious ass all over the place. Fucked Up songs are often a tug-of-war between the majestic guitars and the distinctive gravelly bellow of singer Pink Eyes, occasionally set off by angelic backing vocals. Whether you care about the storyline or just dig the catchiness of “Queen of Hearts,” “Ship of Fools” and “The Other Shoe,” David Comes to Life is an album that sticks with you.



Honorable mentions: The Feelies--Here Before, Johnny Foreigner--Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything, Los Campesinos--Hello Sadness, Maritime--Human Hearts, Wilco--The Whole Love, Boston Spaceships--Let It Beard, The Dears--Degeneration Street, The Hush Now--Memos, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit--Here We Rest, Telekinesis--12 Desperate Straight Lines, TV On the Radio--Nine Types of Light, Okkervil River--I Am Very Far, Radiohead--The King of Limbs, Anthrax--Worship Music, R.E.M.--Collapse Into Now.

Also: A few albums I got late in the year, but which are worthy of praise include St. Vincent's Strange Mercy, the Black Keys' El Camino and the Roots' Undun.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Time of the Season

It's funny how the meaning of the holidays changes as you get older. When you're a kid, all you're concerned about is what you're going to get (from Santa, your parents, whoever). As you get into your teens and 20s, you've got the added pressure of having to buy gifts for your loved ones, but you still have anticipation for what you will receive. When you get married and have kids, you're more worried about getting gifts for the kids and spouse, as well as where and how you'll be spending the holidays.

It really does become more of the selfless holiday that it's intended to be, even as you spend time doing battle with other shoppers and swearing at cars that cut you off in traffic. Sure, you get bombarded with Christmas music and ads pretty much the second Halloween ends, but somehow that glimmer of holiday spirit manages to stay alive within you. It's all worth it to see the kids open their presents on Christmas morning.

We're actually lucky in that we had three Christmases this year; we opened gifts here Sunday morning, again at my mom's place that afternoon, and then on Tuesday morning when my brother-in-law's family arrived from New Jersey. Everybody made out pretty well, and after a few days of going to New Hampshire and entertaining relatives here, the house is quiet again. We still have a few days to enjoy at home before we all go back to work and school next Tuesday.

Maybe I'm becoming an sap in my old age, but Christmas is starting to take on the feel that Thanksgiving already has for me: a time to enjoy the company of family. The holidays seem a lot easier to deal with now that the dysfunction that used to be associated with them has mostly dissipated. Now they're a nice way to recharge the batteries (and stuff the belly) before getting back to the mundane activities of everyday life. That's probably better than any gift you'll receive.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 207: Add It Up

Part 2 of my conversation with special guest Jay Breitling as we look back at the best rock music of 2011. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



The show notes:

- Breitling's #7: The Hush Now

- Clicky Clicky and Ash Gray Proclamation co-present live show on 1/14 with Hallelujah the Hills and The Blue Dress

- Breitling: Yuck is so-so live

- Kumar's #7: Buffalo Tom

- BT recently celebrated 25th anniversary

- Breitling's #6: Algernon Cadwallader

- Tough to make money as a band

- Kumar's #6: Malkmus

- Breitling's #5: War on Drugs

- Kumar's #4: Twilight Singers

- Afghan Whigs are reuniting in 2012

- Breitling's #4: Destroyer

- Album threw off some longtime fans

- Kumar's #4: Wild Flag

- Breitling's #3: Age Rings

- Kumar's #3: Deer Tick

- Breitling's #2: Benjamin Shaw

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
The Hush Now - Clouds

Buffalo Tom - Guilty Girls

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Senator

The War on Drugs - Baby Missiles

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Hush Now song is on the self-released album Memos. You can download the entire album for free at Bandcamp.

The Buffalo Tom song is on the album Skins on Scrawny Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at Spin.

The Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks song is on the album Mirror Traffic on Matador Records. Download the song for free at Matador.

The War on Drugs song is on the album Slave Ambient on Secretly Canadian. Download the song for free at Clicky Clicky.

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 blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shooting to Thrill

This piece originally ran in Cold as Ice, the hockey column I write for Popblerd.

In any pro sports league, you’ve got debates brewing over rule changes and inconsistencies. In baseball, the American League’s adoption of the designated hitter rule in 1973 is STILL hotly contested by purists. The NFL changed its kickoff rule this season to increase the number of touchbacks (in the name of player safety), but it also angered players who in previous years served solely as kick returners because they were essentially losing their jobs. In the NHL, a perennial argument has waged since the advent of the shootout in 2005-06: Is it a valid way to decide games or a cheap gimmick?

For decades, the NHL had regular season ties. If a game was tied 3-3 after 60 minutes of play, that was that. Each team received a point and moved on. (Playoff games, however, that are tied after regulation were and are played until one team scores to win.) The league added a regular-season overtime period in the early ‘80s to reduce the number of ties and then adopted the shootout after testing it out in the minor leagues. As things stand now, if a game goes to overtime, both teams automatically get a point. If things are still tied after the OT, the teams move on to a shootout round. Each team picks three shooters to take penalty shots on the opposing goalie; whichever team scores the most goals in that initial round wins the game. If the game is still tied after three shooters each, the shootout moves to sudden death mode, with each team getting one shot until a winner is decided. The winning team gets an extra point in the standings.

I was never a fan of ties. They always struck me as an inconclusive way for a game to end. But the shootout, which had been used for years in international soccer tournaments and playoffs, just cheapens the regular season to me. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting. A penalty shot in the middle of a game gets the crowd to its feet and can be electrifying, and the shootout can be similarly thrilling.

When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I used to love a program called “Showdown” that would air between periods of games. It was sort of the hockey equivalent of the old “Home Run Derby” show, filmed in the offseason and pitting NHLers against each other in several skills competitions, but the highlight was the one-on-one. I would spend endless hours emulating it in my driveway with me as Buffalo’s Gilbert Perreault (one of the flashiest players in the league in the ‘70s) and my brother as goalie Ken Dryden. It made for great TV and great street hockey, but it’s not a great way to end a team game. You have two teams that battle it out for 60 minutes and then the game is decided by a one-on-one skills competition. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

The gimmicky aspect has also been extended to the 5-minute overtime period preceding the shootout, with each team going 4-on-4 (instead of the customary 5-on-5) to create more space and offensive chances.

And as I mentioned earlier, the NHL has kept the gimmicks out of the playoffs. Tie games go to OT and are played 5-on-5 until somebody scores, whether it’s in the first minute or in the 6th OT period. The stakes are obviously higher in the playoffs and teams play with urgency throughout regulation, and even more so if it’s a sudden death situation in OT.

So what’s the solution for the regular season? Going back to ties is out of the question, and teams won’t agree to just playing until there’s a winner; there are too many games and owners want them concluded in a reasonable fashion (most games are concluded in approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes). Sure, baseball games are played until a team wins, but they can drag on into the night. Hell, even nine-inning games can take forever to play.

Some NHL general managers, including Detroit’s Ken Holland and Toronto’s Brian Burke, have criticized the shootout. Holland has even proposed adding another OT period with 3-on-3 play to hopefully reduce the number of shootouts. Such a format has been used for years in the British Columbia Hockey League. Holland’s proposal hasn’t been adopted, but it’s out there and with any luck, it’ll gain traction. Sure, 3-on-3 play is gimmicky, but at least it’s still a team game instead of a skills competition.

However, if it comes down to the lesser of two evils, I’ll still take a skills competition over a sister-kisser any day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Foolin'

Thanks to a surplus of vacation days, my Christmas break has officially begun. As I was working from home this afternoon, Def Leppard's "Foolin'" popped up on my iTunes and flashed me back to one of my first experiences of playing in a band. It was exceedingly brief but also very memorable...to me, at least.

My parents were always pushing me to take on different activities, mostly designed to round out my academic leanings. I enjoyed playing sports, but hockey was a non-starter with them (too many practices/too expensive) so I ended up playing soccer. My mom signed me up for piano lessons when I was 5 or 6, but they didn't take; I just wasn't getting it (Christ, I was TINY) and I felt the teacher was too strict so I just bailed. About 10 years later, I was interested in learning the guitar so I signed up for lessons with a woman in our New Hampshire town. Mom got me an acoustic and after a few months, picked me up a used Gibson L6-S from the late, lamented Daddy's Junky Music. It was, and is, a sweet guitar. I took lessons for about a year-and-a-half until in a tragic twist of fate, my guitar teacher's husband died in a head-on crash just down the street from my house on Route 125. She was pretty shattered by the whole thing and stopped giving lessons. I never went back.

But I was still very interested in the guitar. I subscribed to the fairly new magazine Guitar for the Practicing Musician, which had tons of guitar tabs of hard rock songs, so I would sporadically try to learn riffs. Meanwhile, in the summer of '84, I was working at the local Market Basket and became fast friends with a fellow shelf stocker named Butch who, as it turned out, also played the guitar. We started hanging out and he mentioned that he was starting a band with another co-worker, Duane, who played the drums, and he invited me to join.

Of course, I said yes immediately and we went to Duane's house to jam. Duane lived with his dad in Plaistow and apparently, dad wasn't around much because the kid's drum set was right in the living room. Since it wasn't my house, this was AWESOME. Butch had an Ibanez Destroyer (basically an Explorer knockoff) and could actually play the thing, unlike me. We plugged in and started learning covers, including the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and Def Leppard's "Foolin'." We didn't really have a singer, so I tried the vocals on "Foolin'"; I had a tough time hitting the high notes on that one. The "band" only lasted a week or so, probably because those guys realized I sucked. I remember one excursion where we went down to the grocery store and bought a bunch of junk food for our rehearsal, and I remember watching Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Cold Shot" and a Sammy Hagar video on MTV at Duane's house; my podunk town didn't have cable at that time, so this was a luxury. This happened during a week that the rest of my family went to Florida on vacation and I decided not to go, so I had plenty of time on my hands when I wasn't working.

Duane had sketched out a logo and name for the band, which he wanted to call Aria. I didn't really like it because it reminded me of the band Asia, which sucked to high heaven in my opinion. Even though the band, or my involvement in it, was short-lived, we still were friendly and worked at the store. Butch even started dating my ex-girlfriend, which I was strangely okay with. He was a good guy and it was a few months after she had dumped my ass; by that point, I felt he was more than welcome to her. Duane and I went to see Rush together that fall, although we stopped on the way so he could buy weed. I was pretty uptight about shit like that then, so when I ran into some other buddies of mine at the concert, I bummed a ride home with them. I had little or no contact with either Butch or Duane after that (we went to different schools) and then I was off to college the following year.

Since then, my guitar playing has been sporadic at best. I've got three guitars now and they're all collecting dust, but dammit, I will pick them up again if it's the last friggin' thing I do. Between all the extra-curricular stuff I do, it's tough to find the time and/or energy to devote to practicing the guitar, but I keep vowing to do it. Hopefully, I'm not just f-f-foolin' myself.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 206: Hits of the Year

Part 1 of my conversation with special guest Jay Breitling as we look back at the best rock music of 2011. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Of new additions and beer

- Revisiting our beer discussion of episodes 133 and 134

- Trends in 2011: The return of the '90s

- Bands reunited, new bands echo '90s influences

- Imminent death of the CD?

- Tons of reissues for classic albums

- Expanded versions of relatively recent albums

- Breitling's #10 album: Los Campesinos

- Proggy elements added to band's sound

- Kumar's #10: Drive-By Truckers

- Uber-prolific band combines Southern rock and soul

- Breitling's #9: Soccer Mom

- Boston band echoes sound of bands like Sonic Youth

- Kumar's #9: J. Mascis

- Solo album turns down the jet engine roar

- Breitling's #8: Ringo Deathstarr

- Album was four years in the making

- Kumar's #8: Beastie Boys

- Sounds like classic Beasties

- Overblown non-controversy of the week: Questlove vs. Michele Bachmann

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Los Campesinos - Hello Sadness

Ringo Deathstarr - Imagine Hearts

Drive-By Truckers - Used to Be a Cop

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Los Campesinos song is on the album Hello Sadness on Arts and Crafts. Download the song for free at Stereogum.

The Ringo Deathstarr song is on the album Colour Trip on Sonic Unyon Records. Download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The Drive-By Truckers song is from the album Go-Go Boots on ATO Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at DriveByTruckers.com.

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 blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Here and Gone

As many times as I've been to wakes, it never gets easier. On Sunday, I attended the wake for Kirk, a guy I played hockey with for several years. He died last Tuesday after having a heart attack while playing pickup hockey. He was 51 and leaves behind his wife and three young daughters.

I hadn't seen Kirk in probably four years because I started playing hockey closer to home. From '98 until about '06, I skated with a group in Waltham and then Concord, Mass., even though that's about a 40-minute drive each way. It was a great bunch of guys and the only reason I stopped playing with them was the skate moved to Tyngsboro or something and that was just too far to drive. I started skating with a group in Lynn, which is much closer (although it still takes close to 30 minutes because I have to go through friggin' Salem).

But Kirk and I always got along well. He was a big guy, bald with a goatee and always smiling and very gregarious. I often ended up playing against him, forward vs. defense, which was tough because he was a strong skater and delighted in shutting me down out there. And he often did, laughing as he gave me a playful bump or hack, or knocked the puck off my stick. Every so often, I would get by him and score, and I never neglected to let him know about it. He wasn't always there, but when he was, he usually made things more fun on the ice.

So even though it had been several years since I'd seen him, I know that if I saw him tomorrow, he'd be outgoing and friendly. He was just that kind of guy. I didn't know a whole lot about him other than he was married and had kids a little older than mine. I remember he was driving down from Maine for a while before moving back to the area.

There's an interesting camaraderie you develop with guys you play sports with (or even against). It's a mutual respect that only comes from competing with or against someone and then sharing a beer or two afterwards. Over the years, I've played ice hockey, street hockey, softball, soccer (indoor and outdoor), tennis and golf with hundreds of people. Unless the guy was a total dick, I always enjoy running into somebody I played with and catching up. Most of them don't end up becoming close friends, but they sort of fall into a category between acquaintance and friend. Even though the group I skate with now is growing increasingly younger as the older guys stop showing up and a group of hard-drinking guys in their 20s take over, that respect doesn't dissipate.

Kirk's death was also shocking because about three years ago, a fellow skater with the Lynn group had a stroke and then died shortly afterward. He was only 36, and I actually saw him struggling to communicate before someone realized he had a stroke and called 911. It was pretty goddamn horrible. He had some health problems that contributed to the stroke, but you still don't expect something like that to happen to someone so young. Even with Kirk, I was told he had been playing every week and was in good shape. You just never know. I suppose one response would be to stop playing to avoid such an outcome, but that's not living to me. The way I look at it, if it's your time, it's your time.

Still, seeing Kirk's family and friends at the wake was difficult. You know there's nothing you can say to make them feel any better. Seeing his daughters standing near the open casket was more heartbreaking than I could imagine. I just told his wife and girls about how I always remembered Kirk as a fun, friendly guy. Their memories will live on, and hopefully that will help them get through this tough time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 205: The End and Everything After

Part 3 of my conversation with special guest Matt Phillion as we discuss movie remakes. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Still going over bad remakes

- Jay: The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen

- The original Disney movies were good

- Kurt Russell's the man

- Matt: Sabrina with Harrison Ford

- Harrison Ford should not do comedy

- Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who was problematic

- Nicole Kidman's made a bunch of crappy remakes: The Invasion, Bewitched, Stepford Wives

- Daniel Craig is too handsome for remake of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

- Matt likes him some Noomi Rapace

- More bad remakes of Michael Caine movies: Alfie, Get Carter

- Stallone loves making movies

- Jason Statham is a charismatic action star

- Spider-man reboot on the way

- Jay: Have the Peter Jackson King Kong and still haven't watched it

- Matt: Zach Snyder directs with his dong

- Liked Watchmen, though

- How can you remake the Freddy Krueger movies without Robert Englund?

- Horror franchise reboots have been terrible

- Matt had shut off Human Centipede

- Hulk TV show changed Banner's name because "Bruce" was considered gay

- Batman movies of early '90s led the comic book film renaissance

- The Dark Knight comics were great, and brutal

- The Joel Schumacher Batman movies were horrendous

- Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg are only good in certain roles

- Matt: The Wolverine movie had great cast but was terrible

- Neither of us have seen many of the recent spate of comic book flicks

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Mark Lanegan Band - The Gravedigger's Song

Shearwater - Breaking the Yearlings

Handsome Furs - Repatriated

The Sheila Divine - Carve Away

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Mark Lanegan song is on the forthcoming album Blues Funeral on 4AD and is available for free download (in exchange for your email address) at MarkLanegan.com.

The Shearwater song is on the forthcoming album Animal Joy on Sub Pop. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at Sub Pop.

The Handsome Furs song is on the album Sound Kapital on Sub Pop. Download the song for free at Sub Pop.

The Sheila Divine song is available for free download (in exchange for your email address) at Bandcamp.

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 sites Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Change It

This piece originally ran in Cold as Ice, the hockey column I write for Popblerd.

Just last month, theories and rumors were flying about the impending change on the NHL horizon in regards to realignment of the league’s conferences. Spurred on by the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, most observers expected a slight adjustment of teams in the East and West conferences.

Instead, the NHL Board of Governors this week approved a plan to radically revamp the league, dividing it into four conferences (instead of the current system that features two conferences with three divisions each) and completely changing the playoff format. It’s a bold choice from a league that doesn’t usually make such moves, and the ramifications are still being sorted out. Whatever the case, the new look of the NHL starts with the 2012-13 season. The NHL Players’ Association still must sign off on the plan.

The four as-yet unnamed conferences (divisions have been done away with altogether) will look like this, essentially arranged in geographical groupings from West to East:

Conference A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

Conference B: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg

Conference C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto

Conference D: Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

Benefits of the new alignment:

· Boosting rivalries. The new system harks back to the one used by the NHL from 1982-1993, in which the top four teams in each division played the first two playoff rounds within their own division. So you’ll see a lot of those old divisional rivalries rekindled (Washington is back in the same grouping with its old Patrick Division foes Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Rangers and Islanders) and new ones emerge (Florida and Tampa have essentially been moved into the current Northeast division). The full playoff format has yet to be revealed, so we don’t know whether teams are re-seeded after the second round. Whatever happens, it’s a big change from the current 1-8 conference rankings (similar to the NBA).

· A balanced schedule. One of the biggest complaints with the existing system was the unfairness of the schedule for teams in the West in terms of increased air travel, later start times and an uneven schedule that meant certain marquee teams rarely came to visit. Under the new system, every NHL team will play in every city at least once per season and more games against regional rivals means more “normal” start times for road games.

· More flexibility. As it stands, there will be two seven-team and two eight-team conferences, which means if teams have to move to new locations (Phoenix, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders and New Jersey have all been struggling financially) or if new franchises are awarded, only minor changes would be necessary to place them properly. Don’t think franchise-hungry Canadians in western Ontario and Quebec City haven’t noticed.

Cons of the realignment include:

· Playoff repetition. The return to the 1980s playoff format means teams will see the same rivals each year, at least for the first two rounds. As much as folks have praised the rivalry aspect, others have bemoaned it. You also won’t see huge playoff upsets, such as an 8 seed knocking off a 1 seed, like you did in the past (Detroit fans can remember several such painful episodes). Also, teams with good records in tough conferences may find themselves out of the playoffs while teams with lesser records get in.

· Florida teams hit the road. By becoming part of the Northeast-based conference, the Panthers and Lightning will see their frequent flier mileage grow exponentially. Although they may also see increased business at home games with more visits from Original Six teams like Montreal, Boston and Toronto.

· Disappointed Canadians. The shakeup has six of the seven Canadian teams in two conferences, which means fewer playoff spots available for those clubs and more than likely fewer Canadian teams playing for the Stanley Cup each spring. That won’t go over well in the Great White North.

It remains to be seen how this whole realignment will shake out next season, but it’s sure to be an interesting ride.



Monday, December 05, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 204: One More Time

Part 2 of my conversation with special guest Matt Phillion as we count down our favorite movie remakes. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- More remakes

- Jay: True Lies

- Arnold as James Bond

- Matt: The Fly

- The movie Jeff Goldblum was born to make

- Jay: The Ring

- The best of the remakes of Japanese horror

- Jay: Ransom

- "Gimme back my son!"

- Worst remakes

- Matt: Never remake a Michael Caine movie

- Even bad Nic Cage movies are entertaining

- The Pink Panther remakes were bad ideas

- Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies were the inspiration for Austin Powers

- Matt: Wicker Man

- Nic Cage strikes again

- Jay: Arthur

- Another pointless remake

- Matt: Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes

- Rise of the Planet of the Apes was good

- Jay: Godzilla (1998)

- True bomb given all the merchandising tie-ins

- Soundtrack featured Godzilla sounds

- Matt owns the soundtrack

- Matt: Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake

- Shot-for-shot remake

- Jay: The Longest Yard

- Matt's never seen a Sandler movie he liked

- Playing a bunch of characters usually backfires

- Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor was pretty funny

- Matt: Last House on the Left

- Doesn't go far enough

- Taken was enjoyable

- Liam Neeson has a very specific set of skills

- Paul Thomas Anderson vs. P.S. Anderson

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Archers of Loaf - Harnessed in Slums

Guided By Voices - Doughnut for a Snowman

Heartless Bastards - Parted Ways

Okkervil River - Plan D

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Archers of Loaf song is on the remastered and expanded reissue of Vee Vee on Merge Records. Download the song for free at SoundCloud.

The Guided By Voices song is on the forthcoming album Let's Go Eat the Factory on Guided By Voices Records; the single is available from Fire Records. Download the song for free at SoundCloud.

The Heartless Bastards song is from the forthcoming album Arrow on Partisan Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at the band's website.

The Okkervil River song is from the EP Golden Opportunities 2. Download the EP for free from the band's website.

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 blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Taillights Fade

Until last Sunday, it had been many moons since I had last seen the great Buffalo Tom live. I believe it was 1994 at Lupo's in Providence. Since then, I had many opportunities to see the band but for whatever reason, did not. I saw frontman Bill Janovitz play solo a few times, including last spring at Brighton Music Hall opening for Ted Leo. That same venue is where I saw BT playing the last of three 25th anniversary shows last weekend.



The first two shows were, from all accounts (including those of the inimitable Rock of Clicky Clicky), awesome with guests including J. Mascis, Ted Leo, Tanya Donelly and others (including new Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein). Sunday's show had its own share of indie rock all-stars with Donelly returning to sing with the band on "Torch Singer," "Don't Forget Me" and "Frozen Lake," Thalia Zedek kicking things off with an excellent set, Mike Gent (the Figgs, the Gentlemen) playing on a few songs, and Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian of Mean Creek singing on a few as well. Actor Mike O'Malley (who graduated from UNH a year ahead of me and now stars on Glee) introduced the band and sang a cover of The Who's "The Seeker" (as he did the previous two nights) with them.

It was a loose affair, as Janovitz and bassist Chris Colbourn had fun ribbing drummer Tom Maginnis for being highlighted in Sassy magazine's "Cute Drummer Alert" feature in the early '90s. Janovitz also had some fun with a drunk patron who blurted out that she bought him a beer; he didn't touch it and she angrily reclaimed it. Later in the evening, she was seen dancing with a wall.

The band mainly focused on older songs in their catalog, especially from 1992's Let Me Come Over ("Staples," "Porchlight," "Velvet Roof," "Larry," "Frozen Lake") and 1994's Big Red Letter Day ("Sodajerk," "Taillights Fade," "Treehouse," "Would Not Be Denied," "Late at Night," "Torch Singer"), while 2007's Three Easy Pieces and 2011's Skins got shorter shrift.

Nevertheless, it was a terrific set from a band that has come a long way from its beginnings at UMass. No big announcements were made, but the event felt like it had some finality to it. All three band members have families and day jobs, so it may be a while before there's another album or tour. Which is too bad, because Buffalo Tom has been consistently excellent throughout their career, from their feedback-laden early days as an act heavily influenced by Dinosaur Jr. and Husker Du to their alt-rock ascendance in '94 with appearances on "My So-Called Life" and countless talk shows. One thing's for certain: When they do play shows again, I'll be there.

(Note: The Flickr photoset only has five photos in it now even though I took many more. Something's funked up and I've been unable to upload the rest of them, but I'll get 'em up eventually.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 203: Do It Again

Part 1 of my conversation with special guest Matt Phillion as we count down our favorite movie remakes. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").





Show notes:

- Seems like every movie's a remake these days

- Hollywood's afraid of original ideas

- Many different types of remakes

- Many American movies are remakes from films originally made overseas

- Remakes of TV shows

- Reboots of franchises (Spider-man, Superman, Hulk, Bourne)

- Recent remakes include Footloose, The Thing, Fright Night

- Matt's list of best remakes starts with: The Magnificent Seven

- Toughest actors in toughest movie

- Jay: The Departed

- Based on Korean movie

- Jay recommends checking out Oldboy, crazy Korean thriller

- Matt: True Grit

- Liked it better than the original

- Jay: Cape Fear

- Another Scorsese remake, DeNiro plays creepy

- Matt: 3:10 to Yuma

- In praise of Ben Foster

- Jay: Evil Dead 2, a sequel that's also a remake

- Bruce Campbell rules

- Matt: Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call New Orleans

- Nic Cage brings the crazy

- Cage's wacky career choices

- Jay: Scarface

- Totally over the top

- Matt: Insomnia

- Christopher Nolan's followup to Memento

- Jay: Fatal Attraction

- Glenn Close played classic scorned woman

- Matt: Ocean's 11

- Fun movie with great cast

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
The Dodos - So Cold

The Delta Spirit - Gimme Some Motivation

Damien Jurado - Nothing is the News

Benjamin Shaw - How to Test the Depth of a Well

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Dodos song is previously unreleased and is available for free download (in exchange for your email address) at the band's website.

The Delta Spirit song is on the EP I Think I've Found It. Download the EP for free (in exchange for your email address) from the band's blog.

The Damien Jurado song is on the album Mariqopa on Secretly Canadian. Download the song for free at http://rcrdlbl.com/2011/11/23/download_damien_jurado_nothing_is_the_news.

The Benjamin Shaw song is on the album There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet on Audio Antihero. Download the song for free at IODA Promonet:



There's Always Hope, There's Always CabernetBenjamin Shaw
"How to Test the Depth of a Well" (mp3)
from "There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet"
(Audio Antihero)
Buy at Amazon MP3
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 blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, November 25, 2011

You and I are a Gang of Losers

This piece originally ran in Cold as Ice, the hockey column I write for Popblerd.

These are strange days for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. A quarter of the way through the season, the Leafs are near the top of their division and boast the NHL’s leading scorer in Phil Kessel. And most of this was done with top goalie James Reimer out with “concussion-like symptoms.”

Still, if you’re a long-suffering Leaf fan like I am, you’re not getting overly excited just yet. After all, this is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the league came back after losing the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout. The team is among the youngest in the league, as GM Brian Burke has turned over the roster a few times since taking over the reins in 2008. There are still plenty of holes, and as dominant as Toronto looked in recent 7-1 victories over Washington and Tampa Bay, the team looked equally pathetic in two crushing losses to division rival Boston.

It hasn’t been easy, this lifelong relationship with the Leafs. I was born in Toronto in 1967, a few months after the team won its last Stanley Cup in the last season of the Original Six. My first memories of watching the Leafs were at age 4 with my dad, and I was quickly hooked. The team looked to be on the verge of something good in the late ‘70s led by the likes of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Borje Salming, but a batshit crazy owner named Harold Ballard tore the team apart after a few years and sent it into a near-death spiral in the ‘80s.

We moved to the U.S. in late 1981 and it became harder to follow the Leafs, especially the two years I lived in Washington. There was no Internet and no summaries in the local paper, but eventually I discovered this new channel called ESPN that would show nightly hockey highlights. I didn’t get to watch any Leafs games on TV until we moved to New England in ’83 and the Leafs would play the Bruins. It wasn’t much fun watching them then, because despite the presence of some good young players like Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall and Vincent Damphousse, Toronto was just plain bad.

Despite all that losing, I never considered switching allegiances to another team. I could have easily adopted the Bruins, a team whose games I watched religiously because they were always on, or maybe the Hartford Whalers. But that wasn’t an option for me.

Things started looking up in 1991 when the team acquired Doug Gilmour from Calgary and caught fire. Led by Gilmour (who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame) and coach Pat Burns, the Leafs were a win away from reaching the finals in the spring of ’93 before falling to Wayne Gretzky and the Kings. They lost in the third round again the following year and didn’t return again until ’99, led this time by the great Mats Sundin. Alas, despite being a perennial playoff team and winning a few playoff series each year, they couldn’t get over the hump. After the lockout, they barely missed the playoffs a few times before sinking to new lows in recent seasons.

So here we sit in 2011, with the Leafs finally seeming to field a competitive team on most nights. Whether they’ll make the playoffs is still a big concern. After Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the top line, the team doesn’t have a lot of proven scoring depth. Of late, younger players have been stepping up, so maybe that won’t be an issue. The defense is led by captain Dion Phaneuf and is young but improving. After Reimer went down on Oct. 22, the Leafs went through some harrowing games with subpar goaltending from backups Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens, but both seem to have stabilized in the last week. Reimer is expected back soon, which will help.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but be pessimistic about this team. It’s just in my nature. I compare being a Leafs fan to the lot in life that Chicago Cubs fans endure as each season without a championship drags on. We don’t abandon our teams, we just sadly watch them lose year after year. I have the Center Ice satellite package so I can watch every Leafs game, so those losses sting even more. I’ve watched fans of teams like the Bruins, Blackhawks and Rangers win Cups after excruciatingly long droughts and I’ve felt happy for them. Should the Leafs ever manage to win a championship in my lifetime, I’m not sure what I’d do, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the only guy in my town hooting and hollering with joy. Years of mediocrity have tempered my expectations, though. Right now, I’ll be happy if they just make the damn playoffs. Such is the mindset of the Maple Leafs fan.