Monday, January 29, 2018

Completely Conspicuous 485: Word is Bond

Part 1 of my conversation with guest Matt Phillion as we discuss the power of the written word. Listen to the episode below or download directly.

Show notes:
- Check out Matt's book Echo and the Sea
- Everything's great
- Content has a different meaning these days
- Gotta grab readers much more quickly
- We read full articles more infrequently
- Rarely go directly to newspaper sites
- Jay: Use Feedly, which is like the old Google Reader RSS feed aggregator
- RSS feeds are archaic now
- Facebook's News Feed is pretty light on actual news
- People "liking" products on social media
- Matt: Shorter stories seem to do better than longer novels
- e-readers are good and bad
- Internet publishing took away the gatekeeper so anyone can publish now
- Now there's so much out there, you can't tell the good from the bad
- Paperbacks are making a comeback, like vinyl
- Putting "girl" in a book title is trending
- Dino erotica is a thing
- Fun with keywords
- Doing chart battle with werewolf smut
- Jay: Finally got a Kindle last year
- Matt: Amazon is the devil that pays on time
- To be continued
Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

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 Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Found Object: Comics Relief

Editor's note: Found Object is a new recurring feature that's part writing exercise, part old guy reflections. Each entry is about a different piece of detritus that I've collected at some point in my life.

I've always enjoyed reading, but when I was around 9, I started getting into comics. I had enjoyed the old Batman series in reruns over the years, as well as the Spider-man cartoon from the '60s. Right from the start, I was a Marvel guy: Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, Captain America. I didn't have a lot of disposable income at the time, so I would pick them up occasionally.

A few years later, I got a little more serious about comics collecting, mainly because I got caught up in the storylines. The Hulk and Spidey had prime-time live action shows, but the monthly comics were what I was into. I would get them at the mall, at convenience stores, wherever I could find them. When we moved to Washington state, there was a comics shop within bike riding distance of my house, so I was a regular. It was the first time I had heard of having the store hold your issues for you. I'm still not sure how I was able to afford getting all those books, plus music, plus other stuff I was into. I had an allowance, but that was pretty much it. I had a paper route for a short while in Washington, but that was it until my junior year of high school in New Hampshire when I got a job at Market Basket.

I kept buying comics regularly through high school and college, although once I was at UNH, I was only able to pick up my books and read them once a month when I was home. By this point, I was getting more into music and once I graduated, I stopped buying them because I couldn't keep up. Marvel started publishing twice monthly for some of the hotter titles, which just added to the backlog. But I held on to my collection (which was probably around 2500 comics) for another 11 years or so, through many moves on the North Shore, until I got married. We bought a house a few months after getting married and I agreed to sell my collection; I didn't get much for it because thanks to eBay, everybody was selling collectibles and the market was flooded. I kind of regret not holding on to certain titles, but what are you going to do? The pictured giant-sized compilation was in a box of stuff in our basement, purchased in 1980.

I now purchase the occasional trade compilation of newer titles I've heard good things about or older ones that I enjoyed back in the day. I've toyed with getting a Comixology subscription to get access to all the Marvel titles but I don't have the time to read all that stuff, so I've passed. But I enjoy watching the various superhero movies and TV shows with my daughters, who are big into it all. They haven't gotten into reading comics, though. Not sure why, but I think there's so much good work being done in bringing those stories to the screen that reading the books might be a bit anti-climactic for them. Which is fine, but I'll always treasure the many hours I spent reading new comics in my room while listening to music. It was an essential part of my childhood.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Found Object: Trade Secret

Editor's note: Found Object is a new recurring feature that's part writing exercise, part old guy reflections. Each entry is about a different piece of detritus that I've collected at some point in my life.

Back in August 1988, the world was a much different place. I was 20, doing an internship with the Peabody Times after my junior year at UNH. Back in the late '80s, a career as a newspaper reporter was still something that made sense. You weren't going to make a lot of money, but it was a respectable profession and one that didn't seem to have an expiration date. 

Back then, newspaper internships were pivotal things. Not only did they give a prospective employer a glimpse at your skillset, they also give you an idea of whether you want to get into the business. It was one thing to write for the college newspaper, but another thing entirely to prove your worth for a daily paper. There were plenty of folks who had moved on to careers in journalism, but there were also those who couldn't handle the pressure of daily deadlines.

When I showed up in Peabody in June of '88, I found out that it wasn't going to be much of a challenge. My predecessor couldn't hack it and nearly quit after a month; he stuck around, but it was clear that he wasn't carrying a lot of weight. By the time I showed up, the editor of the Peabody paper was so desperate to not have the intern quit that she basically told me I could do whatever I wanted. I could've spent the entire three months doodling on a piece of paper and it wouldn't have mattered. But I wanted to make this my profession, so I wasn't about to waste it. I wanted to dive in. At first, there was a lot of puff pieces, mainly because there were three other reporters in the office to take the weightier stories. However, one of the reporters left in early August, which meant I was able to take on some more of the burden. More than anything, it proved that I was able to do the job.

So there I was on August 9, working on a story in the Beverly office of Essex County Newspapers, when I read on the AP sports wire that a big trade had gone through late in the day. This was a time before sports talk radio and Twitter and constant sports coverage, so I had no idea that the greatest hockey player of all time would be dealt at the peak of his powers. Indeed, Wayne Gretzky, who was coming off his fourth Stanley Cup win in five years with the Edmonton Oilers, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It was one of the biggest trades in sports history, especially given the fact that Gretzky was literally the best player in the sport and coming off a dominant stretch with Edmonton. Reading that he was getting traded was shocking, to say the least. There had been big trades before: Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and many other stars had been traded, but none had been as key at the time of their trade as Gretzky was.

The trade of Gretzky to the Kings was a big deal for the NHL in terms of establishing itself in warm weather areas. The Kings had been in LA since 1967, and had had stars like Marcel Dionne, Luc Robitaille, Rogie Vachon and Dave Taylor, but Gretzky brought a whole new level of star power to the team. He attracted a whole new level of attention to the Kings, bringing in Hollywood celebrities and showcasing the game to a new audience. Even though the Great One was unable to bring a Cup to LA (although he did take them to the 1993 Cup final vs. Montreal), he generated so much interest in the game south of the border that it inspired a whole generation of American players.

The Kings eventually won Cups in 2012 and 2014, and while Gretzky was long gone at that point (he was traded to St. Louis in 1996 and retired in 1999), there's no denying the impact he had on hockey in California and the U.S. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done with Edmonton had he stayed (they won another Cup in 1990), but he clearly paved the way for U.S. hockey to reach many more kids.

I can still remember driving home from Beverly to Kingston, N.H., on August 9, 1988, shocked to the core that one of the greatest hockey players in history had been traded. A few weeks later, I headed back to Durham, N.H., for my senior year at UNH. A year later, I was back in Peabody, having been hired at the Times as a reporter. I was on to my career in journalism. How was I to know that things would change so radically for the entire newspaper industry? But in 1988, I was on the right track.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Stuck In Thee Garage #209: January 19, 2018

Time marches on, and with every year that passes, we hit milestones that don't make sense. Now that we're into 2018, that means that a quarter century ago was 1993. This week on Stuck In Thee Garage, I played songs from that great year for music in hour 2. As always, the truth is out there.

This playlist wants to believe:

Hour 1
Artist - Song/Album
The Breeders - Wait in the Car/All Nerve
Lefty's Deceiver - Our Best/Lefty's Deceiver
Jeff Rosenstock - USA/POST-
Knox Fortune - I Don't Wanna Talk About It/Paradise
Magnet School - Fur & Velvet/The Art of Telling the Truth
Melkbelly - Kid Kreative/Nothing Valley
Quicksand - Sick Mind/Interiors
Wet Trident - Complex Slide/Double Exposure
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - The Fourth Colour/Polygwondwanaland
TeeVee - Junk Driver/Live on KUTX
Ron Gallo - Please Yourself/Heavy Meta
Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts - Pretty Prizes/MILANO
Buffalo Tom - Lonely, Fast and Deep/Quiet and Peace
Gord Downie - The Road/Introduce Yerself
Destroyer - Stay Lost/ken
Protomartyr - Here is the Thing/Relatives in Descent

Hour 2: 1993
Nirvana - Scentless Apprentice/In Utero
Smashing Pumpkins - Quiet/Siamese Dream
The Afghan Whigs - Now You Know/Gentlemen
Evan Dando - Frying Pan/Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams
PJ Harvey - Rid of Me/Rid of Me
The Breeders - Do You Love Me Now?/Last Splash
Morphine - Thursday/Cure for Pain
Matthew Sweet - Superdeformed/No Alternative
Urge Overkill - Positive Bleeding/Saturation
Superchunk - For Tension/On the Mouth
Sugar - Tilted/Beaster
Dinosaur Jr. - Out There/Where You Been
Living Colour - Auslander/Stain
Helmet and House of Pain - Just Another Victim/Judgment Night soundtrack
Butthole Surfers - Who Was in My Room Last Night?/Independent Worm Saloon

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Found Object: To the Letter

Editor's note: Found Object is a new recurring feature that's part writing exercise, part old guy reflections. Each entry is about a different piece of detritus that I've collected at some point in my life.

Sports has always been a big part of my life, even though I've never been what you'd call a gifted athlete. My parents were from a culture that didn't place a big emphasis on sports, although my father played cricket and other sports while he was in school in India. Once he graduated, the most physical activity he would get was when he was in a bowling league in his 20s and 30s. He would play catch with me when I was getting into baseball around age 10-12, but he'd be sitting on our front steps at the time. But he was a big sports fan, and as a result, I spent many hours with him watching the Leafs, Blue Jays and various golf and tennis tournaments (as well as tons of other TV programming...he watched a LOT of TV).

I wasn't blessed with athletic skill, but I loved to play. Most of my spare time was spent playing hockey in our driveway; at first, by myself but later with my little brother and buddies from the neighborhood. I took a learn-to-skate class and then did "hockey school" at the local arena in Pickering, Ontario. But my organized hockey dreams died there because my parents refused to let me play in the town league like all my other friends; they told me it was because they didn't want me to get hurt, but I knew it was because they didn't want to schlep me to practices at godawful hours of the day and night. I put on this big presentation where I noted that I could get rides from my friends' parents and it wouldn't be a hassle, but my parents were steadfast. I was enraged; still annoyed by it, but I understand it. I continued to play street hockey all the time, but even that went by the wayside when we moved when I was in 9th grade.

But a sport my parents could get behind was soccer. I played indoor soccer starting in 5th grade and then started playing outdoor in the town league the next few years. My dad's union even sponsored my team one session, although we had to have a ridiculous name like "Ontario Hydro Draftsman's Union Local 515." At the time, I was a little pipsqueak with plenty of energy to burn but no shot to speak of. They put me on defense, where I wasn't awful because most of the other kids were twerps like me. I remember we'd be lining up in practice to take shots and I could barely get it to the net. Just had no strength. Again, the soccer stopped my freshman year after we moved to Washington state because my new high school didn't have a soccer program at the time.

But when we moved to New Hampshire for my junior year, I signed up to play soccer. It was good because going to summer workouts meant I got to meet some of my classmates before school actually started. This was helpful because I didn't know a damn soul at the time; we lived on the way out of town on a highway, so it wasn't exactly a neighborhood. There were no cuts because the school was so small. I hadn't played organized (or really, any) soccer in a few years, so the coach put me on the JV squad my first year. Thankfully, they moved me up to offense. I played sporadically because I wasn't that great and was still a scrawny runt. I ended up with a single goal that year. The best thing that came of it was fitness; we ran a lot in practice so I was in great shape during the season. Of course, I didn't play any other sports (there was no hockey team and I hated running, so cross country was out of the question), but I didn't need to exercise to stay skinny back then. I just was.

Senior year, I made the varsity team, probably because it would have been embarrassing to be on JV as a senior. I didn't play a whole lot; there was one game where I didn't play at all. I was pissed off about it, but I get it. At the banquet, I got my varsity letter and jacket.

You were supposed to get the letter sewn on the jacket, but I never did. Not sure why. I wore the jacket occasionally, even a few times my freshman year of college. It was a classic mid-'80s corduroy deal with my name on the sleeve and "SANBORN" (the name of my school) in huge letters on the back. I still have the jacket, but the letter was buried in a box of junk in my basement until this morning.

Once I got to UNH, I played sports sporadically. Intramural soccer, softball,floor hockey. A bunch of guys from the hockey team lived in my dorm so I would play in these marathon street hockey games with them. Even though it had been several years since I had played regularly, it didn't take long to get my timing back and I held my own in those games. On ice, my skating ability couldn't compare to D1 players, but running around on a tennis court, I did okay. Sophomore year, I bought a new set of hockey equipment and started playing intramurals and going to stick practice at Snively Arena on Fridays.

After graduation, I discovered the joys of working out, mainly out of necessity because my metabolism slowed down a bit around junior year and I started to add beer and junk food weight. I ran a little bit on the beach in Magnolia and then joined the Y, where I started to work out daily. I also started to join various leagues: mainly softball and indoor soccer at first. I started playing tennis and golf and eventually around '97, joined a pickup hockey league. I was doing something almost every day of the week at that point. After we had kids, I got into running and started dropping a bunch of stuff to spend more time around the family. Soon much of my spare time was spent taking the girls to their various practices and games, and eventually coaching them as well. The only sport I still play is hockey; I'm skating twice a week and having a blast. I'm still not a great athlete, but I'm effective. Still no plans to sew on that damn letter, though.

Stuck In Thee Garage #208: January 12, 2018

Life moves by quickly. Too quickly at times. Sometimes it's good to slow down and look around. This week on Stuck In Thee Garage, I played songs about slowing down in hour 2.

The dramatic slo-mo playlist:

Hour 1
Artist - Song/Album
Jeff Rosenstock - All This Useless Energy/POST-
Buffalo Tom - Roman Cars/Quiet and Peace
Naked Giants - The Information Age/Split single
DoM - Gud Tymes/Gud Tymes
Sneaks - Look Like That/It's a Myth
Mattiel - Not Today/Mattiel
Gingerlys - Turtledoves/Gingerlys
Dream Wife - Let's Make Out/Dream Wife
Stonefield - Delusion/Stonefield
Wolf Alice - Don't Delete the Kisses/Visions of a Life
Weaves - Grass/Wide Open
Big Thief - Shark Smile/Capacity
Partner - Everybody Knows/In Search of Lost Time
Fred Thomas - Mallwalker/Changer
The Dears - 1998/Times Infinity Volume Two
Holy Data - Vacation/Holy Data

Hour 2: Slow
Hallelujah the Hills - I'm in the Phone Book, I'm on the Planet, I'm Dying Slowly/A Band is Something to Figure Out
The Needy Sons - Majoring in Slow/Vis-a-Vis
Infinity Girl - But I'm Slow/Somewhere Nice, Someday
Mikal Cronin - Slow Down/Mikal Cronin
Mark Lanegan Band - Lexington Slow Down/Here Comes That Weird Chill
Queens of the Stone Age - Long Slow Goodbye/Lullabies to Paralyze
The Peep Tempel - Go Slow/Joy
We Were Promised Jetpacks - Moving Clocks Run Slow/These Four Walls
Sloan - She's Slowin' Down Again/The Double Cross
J Mascis x Kim Gordon - Slow Boy/CONS EP VOL. 3
Belly - Slow Dog/Star
Superchunk - Slow Drip/Majesty Shredding
Mission of Burma - Slow Faucet/The Sound, The Speed, The Light
Christian Fitness - Praying for a Slow Train/Single
Fugazi - Last Chance for a Slow Dance/In On the Kill Taker

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Found Object: Sophomore Jinx

Editor's note: Found Object is a new recurring feature that's part writing exercise, part old guy reflections. 

So there I was this afternoon, minding my own business and trying to think of ways to re-energize this here old blog. I still post regularly to it, but they're cross posts of the playlists from my radio show Stuck In Thee Garage and from my podcast Completely Conspicuous. But I'd gotten away from doing any original writing here on a regular basis, so I'm hoping this will get things going again. The idea for Found Object is for me to take one of the many pieces of detritus I've accumulated over the years and write a short essay about it: Could be related to music, sports, school or anything, really.

The first item is from a turbulent time in my life. It's my school ID card from grade 10, when I was starting my first full year at Hanford High School in Richland, Wash.:

I look pretty psyched for my sophomore year, huh? This was the fall of 1982. A year earlier, we had moved from Pickering, Ontario to Richland, following my dad, who had taken a new job there and moved in June 1981. For whatever reason, my mom, me and my brother stayed in Pickering for another five months before moving to the U.S. It was a strange time, because even though the move was inevitable, I think I was somewhat in denial, maybe hoping that my dad would come back and tell us it didn't work out and we wouldn't have to leave. So I started my freshman year at Pickering High School, moved at the end of November and started at a junior high in Richland for a month before we moved across town to a house we rented. The second half of freshman year was at Hanford High, which was a bigger and nicer school than the junior high.

Fast forward to September 1982. When this picture was taken, despite my dour expression, things were actually better than the previous year. I was starting to make some friends and was getting used to the strange city in the desert we had moved to. Richland is located in the southeastern part of the state, about three hours from Seattle and part of an area called the Tri-Cities, along with Kennewick and Pasco; all three around situated around the Columbia and Yakima rivers. Unlike the northern part of the state, the Tri-Cities are bone dry, getting very little precipitation every year and occasionally getting sand storms whipped up Chinook winds that blow down from Canada.

Richland is also home to the Hanford nuclear site, where testing was done during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project. My dad worked at the Hanford nuke plant, which has since been decommissioned. But at the time, it seemed everybody in town worked there. We even were sent home early from school one day when there was a pro-nuclear power march through Richland. The Hanford reservation is now the most contaminated site in the U.S.

As for me, I was not thrilled about those glasses I was wearing. They were my first glasses and as you can see, they took up most of my face. Plus I was a dork and only had a few friends at the time and zero prospects in terms of girlfriends. All that moving doesn't exactly help you make inroads in that department.

In general, living in Richland was a big adjustment after growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, one of the biggest cities in North America. My big interests were sports and music and there was little coverage of either, at least the stuff I was into. I went from being able to watch every Leafs game and many Jays games to not being to see them much, if at all. Our cable system got the Vancouver CTV station, which occasionally aired Canucks games, but I never got to see Jays games. At least we got ESPN so I could watch highlights.

As for music, all we had for radio was a crappy top 40 station. I read Rolling Stone, Circus and Hit Parader regularly, so I kept as up to date on hard rock as I could. We didn't get MTV, which had launched in August 1981 but wasn't on a lot of cable systems yet. Still, there were outlets for my interests. I remember early in September '82 riding my bike to the local record store in town to pick up Rush's new album Signals on its release day. I was also big into comics and made regular visits to the local comic shop to get my favorite titles.

The school year itself went pretty well. But in typical fashion, just as I got settled into life in Richland, my dad's job was transferred to New Hampshire and he moved out there in early 1983. My mom and us moved into a condo right across from Hanford, which was great for the morning commute, but it highlighted the transient nature of our existence. And indeed, the day after the school year ended in June '83, we were on a plane to New Hampshire (well, Boston); I spent the entire trip holding the new vinyl copy of Iron Maiden's Piece of Mind, which came out just before we left.

There was actually a fair amount of discussion in early '83 about the three of us moving back to Toronto; my mother had gone as far as talking to a high school in Scarborough, when we lived before we moved to Pickering (it's since been swallowed up as part of Toronto). I remember perusing a school handbook and thinking this might actually happen. But in the end, she decided we should all be together in NH. Ultimately, things worked out great, but at the time, I was pretty pissed about the whole situation. When my dad picked us up at Logan and drove us to our new home in Kingston, NH, it was a little shocking. It was situated on Route 125 on a three-acre plot, with a mud driveway. I thought my mom was going to cry; maybe she did. This was pre-Internet, so we had no idea what the place looked like; apparently, my dad got a good deal on it, but it was like moving to the boonies. We had a few months of summer to acclimate ourselves before school started; my new school was so small there was apparently no need for ID cards. But that's a story for another day and another found object.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Stuck In Thee Garage #207: January 5, 2018

Looking back at a year is a weird thing. Especially when the year was a strange one. This week on Stuck In Thee Garage, it's part 2 of my look back at the best indie rock of 2017. As it turned out, Winter came.

This playlist always pays its debts:

Artist - Song/Album
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - On Script/Lotta Sea Lice
Waxahatchee - Silver/Out in the Storm
Girlpool - It Gets More Blue/Powerplant
Mark Lanegan Band - Death Head's Tattoo/Gargoyle
Nine Inch Nails - Less Than/Add Violence
Wolf Parade - Valley Boy/Cry Cry Cry
Deer Tick - It's a Whale/Deer Tick, Vol. 2
White Reaper - Party Next Door/The World's Best American Band
Male Gaze - Wha Do Wha Do/Miss Taken
Superchunk - I Got Cut/Single
Two Inch Astronaut - Can You Please Not Help/Can You Please Not Help
Lo Tom - Overboard/Lo Tom
Palehound - Carnations/A Place I'll Always Go
Alvvays - In Undertow/Antisocialites
Rainer Maria - Suicides and Lazy Eyes/Rainer Maria
Ted Leo - You're Like Me/The Hanged Man
Infinity Girl - The Winner Always Talks/Somewhere Nice, Someday
EMA - I Wanna Destroy/Exile in the Outer Ring
B Boys - Another Thing/Dada
Guided By Voices - Just to Show You/How Do You Spell Heaven?
A Giant Dog - Fake Plastic Trees/Toy
METZ - Mr. Plague/Strange Peace
Death From Above - Holy Books/Outrage! Is Now
Living Colour - Always Wrong/Shade
Protomartyr - My Children/Relatives in Descent
Gord Downie - Love Over Money/Introduce Yerself
Dead Stars - Erase Me/Perfect Patterns
St. Vincent - Masseduction/Masseduction
Queens of the Stone Age - Head Like a Haunted House/Villains
Wet Trident - Eclectic Boogaloo/Double Exposure
Oh Sees - Nite Expo/Orc
Destroyer - Sometimes in the World/ken
The War on Drugs - Knocked Down/A Deeper Understanding
LCD Soundsystem - Emotional Haircut/American Dream

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Over Everything: My Favorite Albums of 2017

Editor's note: You can hear indie rock maven Jay Breitling and I discuss our favorite music of 2017 ad nauseum on CompCon (here's parts 1, 2 and 3). And here's part 1 of my Stuck In Thee Garage look at the best rock jams of the year.

Remember how we thought 2016 was a godawful year? Boy, were we not prepared for the mega shit sandwich that was 2017. But once again, in the face of despair and negativity, we were given a boatload of excellent music to distract ourselves with. It wasn't easy to narrow my list down to 15, but here we go.

15. Pile - A Hairshirt of Purpose
Pile has built a strong reputation over the last few years as a nonstop touring machine, but its recorded output has been outstanding as well. Rick Maguire and crew deliver a potent mix of blistering post-punk and mid-tempo slow-burning numbers. The Boston act tones down much of the heaviness of past efforts, careening from one style to another; hushed one moment, thundering the next. Another winner from a consistently interesting band. (Recommended: "Texas," "Hissing for Peace," "Hairshirt")

14. Ron Gallo - Heavy Meta
To say this album came out of left field for me doesn't do it justice. I had never heard of the Philly-bred/Nashville-relocated Gallo before this year, but I didn't actually pick up Heavy Meta until around December. Although even those familiar with his previous work in the Americana act Toy Soldiers probably wouldn't recognize Heavy Meta. Gallo and his backing band have embraced the '70s punk sound of acts like the Stooges and New York Dolls, wrapped in a garage rock edge like Ty Segall. (Recommended: "Young Lady, You're Scaring Me," "Put the Kids to Bed," "Kill the Medicine Man") 

13. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
The Detroit post-punk outfit is one of the most consistently interesting acts of the 2010s. Singer Joe Casey spins densely literate tales that reference everything from Greek philosophers to the Flint, Mich., water crisis while his bandmates spread layers of post-punk dread liberally throughout. Casey is one of the most captivating frontmen around, a disheveled shout-singer who evokes Mark E. Smith of the Fall while penning lyrics about moral and physical decay. Protomartyr's roiling roar are the perfect foil for Casey's increasingly dark and angry tales. (Recommended: "My Children," "Male Plague," "Corpses in Regalia")

12. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
In this age of constant band reunions, it really should have come as no surprise to anyone when James Murphy announced that he was reforming LCD Soundsystem six years after the band's famous NYC farewell show. And even with Murphy (who for all intents and purposes IS LCD Soundsystem) admitting that the whole farewell thing was done to drum up ticket sales, American Dream shows why we love the band. LCD's fourth album is chock full of long, twisty electronic jams, but with some interesting references: Bowie here, Talking Heads there. And while the synths prevail, every so often some hot guitar cuts through to liven things up. Unlike many band reunions, this one is both necessary and welcomed. (Recommended: "Tonite," "Emotional Haircut," "Change Yr Mind")


11. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
Three years after releasing the impressive Lost In the Dream, Adam Granduciel and the War on Drugs have continued their momentum with another big-sounding record. On the band's major-label debut, Granduciel perfects its mid-'80s major label sound, with generous echoes of Springsteen/Hornsby/Petty/Dire Straits/Gilmour-led Pink Floyd. Heavy dollops of synths laced with majestic guitar solos and Granduciel's airy vocals contribute to the overall sound, while avoiding the crappy aspects of '80s production like gated drums. A Deeper Understanding is a great driving record, tailor made for a long road trip on a cloudless day. (Recommended: "Holding On," "Nothing to Find," "In Chains")


10. Boss Hog - Brood X
The indie rock power couple of Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez had been professionally dormant for much of the last two decades since the release of Boss Hog's last album in 2000. But the band, and Martinez in particular, is back with a vengeance on Brood X. Rather than sound like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion fronted by a woman, Boss Hog mixes in the keyboards of Mickey Finn to create a layered, skittering sound that varies from proto-garage rock to claustrophobic electro-punk, all driven by Martinez's snarling vocals. Whether Boss Hog takes another 17 years to release a record is unclear, but let's hope not. This is good stuff. (Recommended: "Billy," "Ground Control," "Shh Shh Shh")

9. Ted Leo - The Hanged Man
Ted Leo is a national treasure. For much of the 2000s, he was one of our most consistent indie rock forces, regularly releasing excellent records and voicing political dissent at a time when not many artists dared to. But after 2010's The Brutalist Bricks, Leo's solo output dried up (save for 2014's The Both, a collaboration with Aimee Mann). Dwindling sales and label support left him ready to quit music, and then Leo and his wife had to deal with the crushing blows of a miscarriage and serious illness. Thankfully, he was able to persevere and produce this double album in his home studio, aided by a successful crowdfunding effort. Leo tackles the aftermath of last fall's presidential election, examines the state of the political landscape and addresses his personal struggles. The Hanged Man is a triumphant return by one of our great unsung artists. (Recommended: "You're Like Me," "Lonsdale Avenue," "Run to the City")

8. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
Certain bands have created such a strong body of work that fans go to war over which albums are the best. Queens of the Stone Age provokes such reactions, especially with their first three albums. One reason for that is because Josh Homme and crew have never made the same album twice. On Villains, QOTSA heads in another direction by working with dance music producer Mark Ronson, and even before any new music was released, fans were proclaiming the team-up a disaster. On the contrary: Although the band moves further away from its desert rock roots, it retains the hard rock edge forged over the last 20 years while exploring more danceable terrain. Gone are the guest stars of 2013's Like Clockwork, as well as the bleak dystopian feel of that record. It's not their strongest album, but Villains is entertaining and still one of the best of the year. And yes, Homme's recent bad behavior (kicking a female photographer while on stage) is worrisome, but that doesn't change his and the band's accomplishments. Hopefully he gets some help and continues making music that matters. (Recommended: "Feet Don't Fail Me," "The Way You Used to Do," "The Evil Has Landed")

7. METZ - Strange Peace
Traditionally, when one thinks of power trios from Toronto, one thinks of Rush or Triumph. But with its third album, METZ has proven it's got the goods to take the mantle. The band delivered two powerhouse records with its first efforts, but Strange Peace has it moving into different directions. Teaming with Steve Albini, METZ expands on its blistering piledriver sound with melodies, ambience and even choruses. Don't get it twisted, though: METZ still kicks serious ass. This album is downright thunderous. By taking the band's trademark sound and adding new flourishes, singer-guitarist Alex Edkins and bandmates made a good thing even better. (Recommended: "Mess of Wires," "Cellophane," "Lost in the Blank City")


6. St. Vincent - Masseduction
Through the course of five albums, Annie Clark's St. Vincent has constantly evolved. Indie rock guitar god. Electro pop chanteuse. Robo-funkstress. Bowie-esque cipher. On Masseduction, Clark fuses all those elements into big pop statements about prescription drugs, Hollywood fakeness, disconnection and power dynamics. Everything is precision-assembled, combining elements of funk, disco, jazz and whatever else Clark felt like throwing in. St. Vincent might not be Bowie, but she's probably the closest thing we have to him right now. (Recommended: "Los Ageless," "New York," "Sugarboy")

5. Gord Downie - Introduce Yerself
The story of Gord Downie is both tragic and triumphant. Diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2015, the Tragically Hip frontman was able to finish an amazing farewell tour in 2016 while dealing with the effects of chemotherapy. He also released Secret Path, an album and multimedia project, and worked to bring attention to the plight of First Nations people in Canada. But Downie wasn't done. He recorded one final album, Introduce Yerself, with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene; it was released 10 days after his death in October 2017. Downie wrote 23 songs, each one for a different person in his life. The album is a remarkable last statement from an artist looking back at his life, knowing he didn't have much left. (Recommended: "Introduce Yerself,", "Safe is Dead," "Love Over Money")

4. Destroyer - ken
A few years ago, many indie bands were bringing back '90s sounds. Now it seems like acts are reaching further the big '80s. Like The War on Drugs, Dan Bejar of Destroyer also harks back to the mid-'80s with his latest album. Bejar has always created cinematic records, and his last three have been drenched in synths and sax. On ken, he embraces a darker synth-pop sound that's reminiscent of Depeche Mode or New Order. There are also jazzier passages that call back to 2011's Kaputt, floating coolly while Bejar sings of paranoia and disillusionment. There's a real noir feel to ken, whether detailing moral decay in Hollywood or just conveying a general unease with the world. Bejar has always followed his own muse, but this album finds him firing on all cylinders. (Recommended: "Sky's Grey," "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood," "Ivory Coast")

3. Mark Lanegan Band - Gargoyle
Mark Lanegan has been many things in his long (33 years and counting) career: psych rocker, grunge belter, blues yowler, crooner, uber collaborator, indie rock elder statesman. But of late, he has embraced electronic sounds on recent albums Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio. With Gargoyle, Lanegan teamed with British musician Rob Marshall on several tracks and producer/desert rock vet Alain Johannes to meld his world weary voice with electronica. It's a heady and exhilarating combo; Lanegan has seen some shit, but he sounds as vital as ever and he's always been willing to try new things. Old friends Greg Dulli, Josh Homme and Duke Garwood guest star, but this is Lanegan's show. He may be a grizzled veteran, but he's not done yet. (Recommended: "Drunk on Destruction," "Nocturne," "Emperor")

2. The Afghan Whigs - In Spades
Two albums into its second act, The Afghan Whigs are forging new ground. Mastermind Greg Dulli didn't rest on his laurels after the band dissolved in 2001, forming the Twilight Singers and releasing a string of excellent albums. Even though Whigs 2.0 is essentially the Twilight Singers + Whigs bassist John Curley, this album captures the spirit of the Whigs' '90s heyday: raw, cinematic potboilers starring flawed protagonists. Unlike many of the acts they came up with in the grunge years, the Whigs were never content to stay put in one musical box. Dulli and the Whigs can jump genres at the drop of a hat: Dulli breaks out funk and R&B on some tracks, revs up the guitars on others, adds strings to others and goes with just voice and piano on the gut-wrencher "I Got Lost." Dulli is a master craftsman continuing to produce great music. (Recommended: "Demon in Profile," "Toy Automatic," "Copernicus")

1. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
Two budding young indie rock superstars team up to make an album. It's not exactly a new concept, but the reason Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile work so well together might just be due to how different they are. Barnett, an Australian prone to uptempo rocking, and Vile, a supremely chill Philly guitar whiz who makes sublime mellow jams, seem to have created Lotta Sea Lice in about as unplanned a way as possible. The songs are ramshackle and conversational as the two trade lyrics about songwriting and motivation, veering from alt-country rambles to acoustic laments. The record works because the two are likable and clearly enjoy playing music with each other. It's a fun, easy-going listen that hits all the right notes.  (Recommended: "Over Everything," "Fear is Like a Forest," "Continental Breakfast")


Honorable mention (in no particular order):
Wolf Parade - Cry Cry Cry
Dead Stars - Perfect Patterns
Quicksand - Interiors
Savak - Cut Ups
Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder
Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts - MILANO
Big Heet - On a Wire
Wet Trident - Double Exposure
Alvvays - Antisocialites
Deer Tick - Vol. 1 and 2
Gold Class - Drum
Infinity Girl - Somewhere Nice, Someday
Bad History Month - Dead and Loving It
Living Colour - Shade
Death From Above - Outrage! Is Now
Makthaverskan - III

Oh Sees - Orc/OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head
EMA - Exile in the Outer Ring
A Giant Dog - Toy
Rainer Maria - s/t
Guided By Voices - How Do You Spell Heaven?
Waxahatchee - Out in the Storm
Lo Tom - s/t
B Boys - Dada
Rips - s/t
Ty Segall - s/t
Los Campesinos! - Sick Scenes
The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions
Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Run the Jewels - RTJ3
Bash & Pop - Anything Could Happen
Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound

Baked - Farnham
White Reaper - The World's Best American Band
Two Inch Astronaut - Can You Please Not Help
Top Down - Rough Roads
Chastity Belt - I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone
Girlpool - Powerplant
The Feelies - In Between
Melkbelly - Nothing Valley
At the Drive-In - inter-alia
Black Lips - Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?
Horse Jumper of Love - s/t
Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
Froth - Outside (briefly)
Palehound - A Place I'll Always Go
Snowball II - Flashes of Quincy
Spiral Stairs - Doris and the Daggers

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Completely Conspicuous 484: Wrap It Up

Part 3 of my conversation with guest Jay Breitling about our favorite albums of 2017. Listen to the episode below or download directly.

Show notes:
- Recorded at Clicky Clicky world HQ
- JB's #4
- A surprising shoegaze comeback
- JK's #4
- Dan Bejar hits the sweet spot
- JB's #3
- The greatness of Father/Daughter Records
- Interesting songs that grab you
- JK's #3
- A man of constant reinvention
- JB's #2
- A strong farewell from a beloved band
- JK's #2
- Harking back to a signature sound with some new twists
- JB's #1
- Strong set produced by Kurt Heasley of the Lilys
- JK's #1
- Two great tastes that taste great together
- Very conversational, ramshackle
- Some great box sets/archival releases from Husker Du, Replacements, Acetone
- Anticipated releases: Yr Poetry, Buffalo Tom, Sloan, Ty Segall, Arctic Monkeys, My Bloody Valentine
- Shout out to Ollie

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

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian.