It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks

I hoped Declan would let me leave 2005 behind with some happy tunes. Alas, that was not to be. He left me with good tunes, but necessarily happy ones.

American IV: The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash is probably best known for its cover of "Hurt". The video for the song was nominated for all sorts of awards, and it makes me cry every time. The rest of the album doesn't really cheer up from there.

American IV is filled with covers of songs that might have made Cash a caricature. He makes songs like "Personal Jesus" and "Desperado" his own, though. They never sound like a gimmick.

So that's my prayer for 2006. Let's all work harder to make things our own and avoid gimmicks. That's as good a resolution as anything else.


I'm bored with the same old lines

I haven't been writing very long posts lately but Declan seems to be in a bit of a slump. All the albums he's been giving me have been pretty mediocre. I need something awesome to come up and give me a kick in the pants. Unfortunately, today's album isn't it.

American Hi-Fi
by (you guessed it) American Hi-Fi was a total impulse buy. It might as well have been a tin of Altoids or new pair of socks. I heard "Flavor of the Weak" once on Mtv and found the album on sale at Target for $8. That's all it took.

I wasn't expecting anything life changing in the album. I was merely hoping for some fun punky power pop a la Blink 182. I got neither. The whole thing is full of sappy self-important tunes (with the exception of the still delightful "Flavor of the Week"). You can imagine how thrilled I was to see them open for Elvis Costello on his 2002 tour. I got to see them three times. A freakin' dream come true.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed your time in the sun, American Hi-Fi because I doubt you're long for this iPod. I have more mediocre music waiting to take your place.


Had seven good years 'till I noticed they were looking at me

Hey Everybody!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and got all the presents you wanted. I am the proud new owner of an iPod Shuffle which I will use at the gym without the constant fear of dropping or stepping that haunts me when I take Declan there. Does the shuffle have a name? Why yes, his name is Sheldon and he's full of rockin' tunes.

So on to today's music...

I'm a sucker for soundtracks. I sit at the movies and listen to all the good music and I have to rush out and buy the soundtrack.

But somehow when I sit in my living room listening to my new purchase, it just sounds like a random collection of songs.

Today's album is no different. American Beauty: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack seemed like a good idea at the time. It does have a couple of really nice songs, but it fails to conjure up images of midlife crises and teenage temptresses. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.


There's got to be a hero somewhere

Today's album: America Town by Five For Fighting.

Why: Yeah, I don't know either.

Verdict: I've already taken it off Declan's playlist (I had to make room for Illinois). Mostly it just
makes me feel boring.


So you think that you have seen her when you're lying in between her

I sometimes feel like there are too many tribute albums out there. You know, (insert hot new bands here) plays the music of (insert old, beloved musician here). When I stumbled upon today's album, Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello, at the library a few months ago, I still had to check it out.

My biggest complaint about tribute albums is they tend to be too reverential. In an effort to pay homage the artist, bands start to sound exactly like them. If I wanted to listen to the original, I would. So the best thing about Almost You is that the musicians take a few risks. They aren't afraid to slow things down or speed them up. There are steel guitars where there used to be acoustics and acoustics where there were electrics. Best of all, by having a little fun with the music, the artists show how versatile Elvis Costello's songs truly are. That's the best tribute of all.


I'm a birthday candle in a circle of black girls

Today's album is easy. I listen to it all the time. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I love The National. In fact, their most recent album tops my list of best albums of the year. So what are the other nine, you might ask? Here they are:

Alligator - The National: Great nighttime listening as you drive through a city. The lyrics really do it for me here. They have a subtle humor and swagger that I can't resist.

I'm Wide Awake It's Morning/Digital Ash in a Digital Urn - Bright Eyes: These two albums were released in the same day and I really can't decide which one I like better. It's Morning is very folky and sweet but Digital Ash has some great songs that shouldn't be overlooked. Ever since my road trip this summer, it reminds me of driving around Fargo at night.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: I turned around on these guys in a big way this year. I didn't believe the hype until I saw them in concert. It's the best album I've ever owned that has completely unintelligible lyrics.

Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 - Michael Penn: A "concept" album where the theme doesn't overshadow the music. Michael Penn is so underrated these days. "Walter Reed" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Make Believe - Weezer: Old Weezer is back! A little less emo and a little more rockin' this album was perfect this summer. It gives me hope for their future.

Twin Cinema - The New Pornographers: Pop deliciousness. I've always sort of ignored The New Pornographers. Not anymore.

Plans - Death Cab For Cutie: In lieu of a new Postal Service album this year, I had to content myself with this album. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" is really nice and some of the whininess can be overlooked.

Picaresque - Decemberists: By far my favorite album title of the year. It reminds me of my high school literature class! I always call the Decemberists pirate rock and Picaresque takes a journey through time as you meet people like Eli the barrow boy. Definitely not for everyone.

This Bird Has Flown - Various Artists: Indie rockers like Ben Lee, Sufjan Stevens and Low do a track by track tribute to The Beatles' 1965 album Rubber Soul. They should keep it up! I'd love to hear what they'd do with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, too.

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations - Eels: A sad, sad album. So sad, in fact, they needed two discs. If you can make it through, though, there are rewards to be had.


I took my better nature out, drowned it in the babbling stream, took the blossom of my youth and blew it all to smithereens

I should really be excited as Declan followed his natural instincts today and offered up the first Elvis Costello album of my listening journey. Unfortunately, All This Useless Beauty is not really up there on my list on favorite EC albums. It feels like all his righteous anger has been replaced with a world-weary exhaustion. I like angry! I do, however, like the album a lot more nowadays than I did when it was released on May 14, 1996. Maybe I, too, am a little less angry and a little more exhausted. Here's the breakdown:

Woo-hoo, Angry!
Little Atoms
It's Time
You Bowed Down
Shallow Grave

Eh, whatever.
Complicated Shadows
Distorted Angel
Starting To Come To Me

Why are you so tired Elvis?
All This useless Beauty
The Other End Of The Telescope
Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?
Poor Fractured Atlas
I Want To Vanish


Living to get his freak on

I always had Fastball pegged as one of my radio bands. You know, those bands whose songs you flip away from when they come on the radio, but you're also pretty sure you're not going to buy their album. I also include Smashing Pumpkins, Soul Asylum and the Goo Goo Dolls in that category.

I was at the library a couple months ago, though, and I stumbled across the 1998 Fastball album All The Pain Money Can Buy. While it's not their only album, it might as well be. It has both their big singles "The Way" and "Out of my Head." I remember both songs fondly from the radio and they still sound great today. The rest of the album is far from filler. There are some good tune there. I just wished I loved them more. After going through the whole album, I think I'll keep Fastball as a radio band.


Isn't that the name of a box?

I read something a couple weeks ago (Rolling Stone maybe?) about this web site, but it was Carrie's insistence that I check it out that finally got me to discover the coolest thing ever.

Go to pandora.com. Seriously, go right now. It's sort of like internet radio meets Tivo. You tell it what you like and it plays similar music. It's so much fun. Right now, my station thinks I like folky stuff a little more than I really do, but we'll get that straightened out.

The other fun tool is pandora will tell you why its playing a certain song. It took all of about five minutes for it to figure out that I like "dynamic male vocals" (I think that means guys who yell). I've never listened to internet radio much but I can see this getting addictive.

Here's my story from the U2 concert. Right before the opening band started (The horrible Institute, featuring Gavin Rossdale from Bush and some guy who used to be in Helmet. They sound exactly like you imagine.) some crazy blonde woman and her husband pushed their way through the crowd. She was trying that ploy where you pretend you're looking for your friends who are up front somewhere, but then they just stopped beside Sarah and me.

The crowd around us was a little peeved. We'd all bonded and these interlopers were ruining are little bit of heaven. I was o.k. with them (they weren't in front of me after all) until Gavin walked out onto the runway that juts out from the stage. After he went by, the woman says to her husband, "I can't believe Bono is going to be that close!"

While that was a statement that ran through more than one person's mind that night, she might have been the only person that close to Bono who actually pronounced his name incorrectly. She said it like he might be married to Cher or something. It just blew my mind. In this day and age when U2 and/or Bono seem to be on tv every five minutes, you don't know how to say the guy's name? You went to the trouble of securing floor tickets to their concert and you can't say Bono? Insane!

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight

The U2 show was great and my short trip to Cleveland turned out to be a lot of fun. I might write more later, but here are a couple links from the Plain Dealer you should check out:

U2 review

Concert photos


All I need is a pint a day

I've been waiting to post more albums in the hope that Jeff would grace me with my first truly British comment. See, he's on vacation in merry old England and has popped into one of those internet cafes now and then. Alas, no comment yet, so I'll have to move on.

But today's album is pretty fitting, too. It's Sir Paul's 1990 greatest hits compilation All The Best. I got this album when I was at the height of my Beatles love affair and it was shoved into the tape deck on many a family road trip. Sure, some of it is pretty sappy. I had trouble getting through "With a Little Luck" and "Silly Love Songs" but I have a HUGE soft spot for "No More Lonely Nights." Even the endless guitar solo makes my heart melt a little.

I guess my favorite thing about All The Best might be the inclusion of some great less well known songs "C Moon" and "Junior's Farm" are two that spring to mind. It also includes both of Paul's duets with black artists. It's fun to hear him try to be soulful with Stevie Wonder on "Ebony and Ivory" and "Say Say Say" is about the most awesome song ever. Oh Michael, why did you ever change?

This is an album for anyone who likes their 80's music with power chords and sappy lyrics instead of synthesizers and moaning (although, there's a nice sprinkling of the synths on here, too).


Slow down my bleeding heart

Nine years after I bought my first U2 album, I bought my second one. It was today's selection, All That You Can't Leave Behind (released October 31, 2000 according to Mr. Amazon). I probably wouldn't have even made it to a second album if it hadn't been for my friend Josh and his constant insistence that U2 is the best band on the face of the Earth.

I guess I had to see what all the fuss was about.

All That You Can't Leave Behind was on pretty heavy rotation for me through all of 2001. I have distinct little memories for each song that I won't bore you with. What surprises me the most, though, is how different they all are. At this point it's not so much an album to me as a memory book that I can break out at any time. It's nice.

I should also add that I'm going to be seeing U2 in concert on Saturday. My friend Sarah and I are driving up to Cleveland where she managed to procure floor seats for their show. Jeff and Josh, I'll be sure to tell Bono "hi" for you!


All the papers lied tonight

Oh man, today's album is All of This and Nothing, a greatest hits collection by the Psychedelic Furs and it's making me feel all 80's. I want to put lots of stuff in my hair to make it all spiky or wavy or something and I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation that there has never been a more beautiful instrument than the synthesizer.

I have to be honest here, though. I bought this album in the summer of 1999 when that Nissan commercial with "How Soon is Now?" was all over the airwaves and I was absolutely sure it was a Psychedelic Furs song (sorry Smiths). I had dial-up internet and lived in Iowa at the time so it was difficult to double check such assumptions. Imagine my confusion when I couldn't find the song anywhere on the Furs album. I thought it was the worst greatest hits collection ever.

Later, the summer of '99 became known as the summer Eileen bought both the Psychedelic Furs and Smiths greatest hits.

All was not lost, however. "The Ghost in You" and "Pretty in Pink" are still pretty nice tunes. I'm not sure I needed a whole album of Furs songs, though. Richard Butler kind of weirds me out.


Have you got me in your bleeding heart file next to lady luck?

I discovered Canadian folkie Sarah Harmer at a listening station in a Barnes and Noble. Yeah, I'm hardcore. I bought her 2000 album You Were Here and I loved it for being sweet and romantic and a little bit angry all at the same time.

Today's album, though, is her 2004 release All of Our Names. It's not as angry, more melancholy. I like it better when Sarah's a little bit angry. I feel the same about Kathleen Edwards. "Greeting Card Aisle" is about as angry as she gets, which is why it's my favorite song on the album. Overall, the whole thing is decent but I think she's done better. She already has a new album out in Canada that's being released stateside in February, so it looks like I won't have to wait long for something else.


I guess I'm alright

The tooth agony is over so I guess it's back to the albums. I have to admit I've been having a mental block with today's album and I've been putting off writing about it. I'm not really sure why its been a problem but I'm just going to try and keep it short then move on.

I was watching 120 Minutes on Mtv back in 1995 (the last of its good years) when they played a video by a British band named Cast. The band was started by John Power, former bass player for the most underrated pop band of all time, the La's. I was thrilled to find that anyone from the La's was still making music so I bought the album, All Change, immediately.

All Change provided me with some excellent driving music over the years and it's really a nice album. What it isn't, though, is the La's and that always makes me a little sad. Their self-titled 1990 album is nearly perfect and I find myself comparing everything by Cast to that. I guess that's how a lot of people feel about Beatles' solo albums.

But one thing The Beatles never did was get back together and my research has informed me that the La's actually reunited this summer and played at Glastonbury. I can only hope the magic will return.


At least they gave me Vicodin

I'm back from Milwaukee. I was really, truly planning to listen to some albums while I was up there but it just didn't happen. What did happen, though, was a touchy filling of mine decided to go ahead and flare up. Now I have a throbbing tooth and an appointment with my dentist for an emergency root canal. Hopefully I will feel much better by this time tomorrow.

Until then, it's more pudding and drugs for me.


Tippy: A Users Guide

Dear Sarah and Austin,

Thank you for checking in on Tippy while I'm up in Milwaukee for Thanksgiving. I'm sure you'll find the experience enjoyable. If not, at least take advantage of the free laundry facilities because I know that's where the big reward is.

To truly appreciate your Tippy experience you should know a few things about his personality. First, he revels in his foot fetish. If he rubs his face against your foot (which he will) he doesn't really want you to pet him, he just wants to enjoy your feet. It's his special time so try to not disturb him.

Tippy may have been standoffish in the past but in your new role as surrogate feeder he will eventually come up to you and demand to be petted. He will probably stand in you lap (not quite trusting you enough for a full sit) and purr softly until you scratch his head. It's your choice to give in to his demands or not, but he is pretty cute.

I know Austin is hoping to take Tippy outside, play fetch with him and go for walks. I just want to clarify: Tippy is NOT a dog. In fact, he is practically furniture. Activities you can look forward to enjoying with Tippy include petting, lying on the floor, napping and eating.

You can let him outside if you want. Don't latch the door behind him because he will go out and sit on the steps until a car drives by. Then, he will run full speed at the door. It's always been unlatched in the past, so don't fail him now. If it does latch and then you hear a thud, that's probably Tippy.

I've left out some catnip pouches and cat treats. If he's feeling particularly comfortable he might indulge in a bit of the nip. Don't be surprised if he rolls on his back and starts snorting. That's just how he handles catnip.

Tippy has a water bowl but he never uses it. Instead he prefers to drink from the glass of water I keep by my bed. If you could make sure the glass stays full it will keep him from drinking from the toilet (his second choice). There's also a glass in the bathroom that he drinks out of.

Please make sure the propped open doors stay propped open. The doors in my apartment tend to swing closed and trap clawless cats. Things could get messy if he's trapped in the bathroom for four days.

So that's about it. Feel fee to watch anything I've Tivoed, just don't delete it when you're done. There are two very old bottles of beer in the fridge that you're welcome to. If you want food, you'd better like Tomato soup. Then again, it will be Thanksgiving so I can only hope you'll have something more interesting to eat.

If you need anything, give me a call. I'll be back early Monday.


P.S. If Tippy bites your arm, that means he wants to play.


Won't you show me everything you know?

I've been to Stockton, California several times but there was only one trip that didn't involve photographing high school basketball. I bought two tickets to see Semisonic at the University of the Pacific and then bullied my friend Shawn to go with me.

There were two parts to this plan. One, I'd seen Semisonic live several times and they're really good. Just three guys up there playing a bunch of different things at once. The songs are fun and everyone is happy. It's usually worth the $10-$15 ticket price.

Two, Shawn might whine about going to a concert at first, but once he gets there and sees all the girls jumping up and down, he's in his happy place. I really think concerts might be his natural habitat.

Semisonic were touring in support of their latest album All About Chemistry. It was the 2001 follow-up to Feeling Strangely Fine (which had their big hit "Closing Time"). Suddenly, everyone knew who they were.

Now I'm going to claim original old school Semisonic lovin'. I bought their first album back in 1996 after I saw them at The Blue Note and I've lost track of how many times I've seen them in concert. The concert in Stockton was a fun time (we missed the opening act - Pete Yorn) but All About Chemistry is by far their worst album.

There's none of their usual swagger and smirk on this album. It's like the fame got to them and they folded under the pressure. They just sound like they're trying too hard. The opening song "Chemistry" is really nice but that's the high point.

Nowadays I think Semisonic is broken up or "on hiatus" or something. That show in Stockton might be the last time I ever see them. Either way, it was a good run.


I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record

I spent all weekend cleaning my apartment (well not all weekend, I did find time to get see the Harry Potter movie and attended a couple social gatherings, let's say most of the weekend). There were floors to scrub, pots to clean and always, always vacuuming to do. Anyway, now that it's mostly done, I'm filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. If I weren't so messy, I would clean all the time.

Speaking of messy, today's album is from the poster boys of slacker rock - sexually frustrated and angst-ridden slacker rock. Yes, that's right, it's Add It Up (1981-1993) by the Violent Femmes.

Pretty much everyone I know was madly in love with the Violent Femmes in high school. Seeing how it is most people's pinnacle of angst and sexual frustration that's not surprising. They practically wrote the soundtrack for those years.

So Add It Up is a nice trip down memory lane. It starts off nicely with "Blister in the Sun" "Gone Daddy Gone" and "Country Death Song" but it does ramble a bit in the middle with some songs I could really do without (like "Degradation"). Overall, the whole thing is a great collection of everything you could want by the Femmes.

But then they pull a little bit of a bait and switch on you at the end.

What two songs does every casual Violent Femmes fan want? "Kiss Off" and "Add It Up", of course. But if you buy this album you get live versions of those songs. While this might be a nice treat for hardcore fans, it's sort of a bummer for those of us who were hoping to get everything they wanted on one album.

So what you really need to do is but this album and their self-titled debut album. That'll pretty much cover every song you can think of from your high school years.

Favorite Song of the Week: "I Melt With You" by Nouvelle Vague - If you listened closely to Grey's Anatomy last week, you may have heard this nice little cover version of the Modern English hit. Nouvelle Vague is a French electronica group with a new album that features loungy bossa nova versions of 80's songs. Yes, it's as awesome as it sounds.


I deserve a little more

Concerts can be puzzling events. It seems like more and more these days people expect a show to sound just like an artist's albums. If they dare veer even slightly off course, you're sure to hear comments afterward that the show "sounded weird." Apparently people want the exact experience of listening to a CD in their living room except that there's also some guy in tight pants prancing around.

At the other end of the spectrum are the jam bands. For them albums are just a rough draft. A few short thoughts that will undoubtedly serve as a springboard for 15 minute guitar and bongo solos during a live show. The audience is prepared for these journeys and is usually too stoned to notice the guitarist has been playing the same note for five minutes. Hey, it's a niche, but I'm not sure it's any better musically than the band that sounds exactly like their studio releases.

A handful of bands fall somewhere in between these two categories. They know people want familiar songs, but they're not afraid to take them a little off the beaten path. So that brings me to today's album, a live double album by Counting Crows called Across a Wire: Live in New York City.

The albums are actually recordings of shows taped for Mtv and VH-1, one electric and one acoustic. Live shows for television sound like they could be pretty stultifying but the Counting Crows manage to avoid that trap. With just the right amount of reworking of songs and the odd added lyric, they make only two album's worth of studio material sound fresh. I don't own many live albums and I listen to them even less, but the acoustic disc from Across a Wire has always gotten pretty heavy rotation on my stereo.

On a final note, if you're ever presented with the opportunity to see Counting Crows live, you should go. Even if you're not a huge fan of their music, I think you'll appreciate just watching them put on a show. These guys are great live and it's a beautiful thing to see.


I have a date with Harry on Friday

And I'm really looking forward to it. Oh, Jeff is coming, too. He's managed to avoid every little bit of Potter hype up until now. I've vowed to fill him in so he won't be completely lost.

The reviews have been really positive so I think he'll have a good time.

Double album from Declan today so I'll post an update tomorrow.


I kissed your lips and broke your heart

Declan's selection today is the much anticipated Achtung Baby by U2 and I'm sort of overwhelmed by the thought of writing anything about this album. I think I might go with just the collection of random thoughts that have been popping into my head as I'm listening to it (that's really not much different than any other day now that I think about it).

1. I've never really been a fan of early U2. Achtung Baby was the first album of theirs I bought and, for a long time, the only one I owned.

2. It's also one of a very small number of albums that I first bought on tape then felt it was important enough to repurchase on CD. So enjoy it U2 - you got my money twice.

3. I didn't really like Achtung Baby when I first listened to it. There was so much hype on MTV for the video for "The Fly" that I just had a built in aversion to the whole thing. It was the release of "Mysterious Ways" as a single that made me think I should change my mind.

4. Achtung Baby is almost exactly 14 years old (released on November 19, 1991 according to Mr. Amazon) and it still sounds amazingly fresh. There aren't any kitschy synthesizers or stupid overdubs that date it. It's just clean and classic.

5. When my parents were looking for a surround sound system, we took a copy of "Mysterious Ways" to every store. It was great fun turning it up really loud to test the stereos.

6. I was secretly rooting for Eric Clapton when "Tears in Heaven" kept beating out Achtung Baby in the 1992 Grammy's. Do I ever listen to "Tears in Heaven" now? No. Sorry U2.

7. I still listen to Achtung Baby about once a month so today's album is hardly a chore.



I'm just between the Costco and the Barnes and Noble

Back before the days of iPods and the like, I used to listen to music from my cable box. They had dozens of channels in different genres but my favorite was "Coffeehouse Rock." It was a mellow mix of modern folkies and softer alternative tunes. I bought many an album (like Sarah Harmer) based on the songs Coffeehouse Rock threw my way.

In early 2001, one of my favorite Coffehouse Rock songs was "Fred Meyer" by Glen Phillips. It's a light, bouncy tune about a post-apocalyptic future. Big fun. Then Shawn told me all about the legendary Fred Meyer stores themselves. They were the first of the supercenters (like Meijer for those of you from Michigan) and the song sounded even more awesome.

I finally bought the CD that "Fred Meyer" was on. It's actually called Abulum and it's Phillip's first solo album after Toad the Wet Sprocket. I always had it pegged as mix CD fodder. Just a couple of good songs that could be plucked off for mixes to let the rest of the thing collect dust. But listening to it again tonight made me think that perhaps I gave it short shrift. It's a quiet album that can be a little too self-obsessed at times, but I probably shouldn't let it collect dust. It has some beautiful moments and a little bit of everything. Just like Fred Meyer.

Jeff, tomorrow's your big day.

I bet you don't know I'm a superhero

It's a long story but one night several years ago, Shawn and Josh and I formed the San Francisco Three. Ideally there was a purpose to this group, but it really just gave us a reason to go around saying stupid things like, "Ah, San Francisco! It's good to be back in The Windy City."

Yeah, that's how awesome we are.

But Shawn, with visions of superhero world domination in his head, has finally brought the true and amazing stories of the SF3 to life. You can go here to see what he's been working on. I just like that I get to wear a cape.


We wake up in the sunshine every day

I have no idea why I ever bought Absolutely by the Young Dubliners. None. But here it is, my next album on Declan, staring me right in the face.

The Young Dubliners play this sort of Celtic influenced catchy rock that's easy to listen to but provokes no thought whatsoever. I've always liked my music to make me think about stuff so this whole album is pretty forgettable (especially the terrible cover of "Ooh La La" at the end).

I will add, though, that I bought Absolutely when I was working as a photographer and spending several hours a day driving around in my car. I listened to the album several times in those days when a little mindless music wasn't always a bad thing.

I don't care how you feel about the war

You should check out this story regardless. It's full of beautiful photos and the small but compelling stories of everyday people (be sure to check out the slide shows). It will probably make you cry but it seems like war should be a little sad, don't you think?


New York, New York, it's a wonderful town! The Bronx is up and the Battery's down.

O.k., now that I have all my clearances, I bring you photos from my New York City trip. I was too busy having drinks on Friday and most of Saturday to actually take pictures so we begin after seeing my friend Andrew's play on Saturday night. I went to high school with Andrew (we even went to prom together but that's another story) but I hadn't seen him in almost eight years. I knew I needed to visit people in NYC but when I heard he was directing a play, I timed my trip accordingly.

Now when I think of Andrew, I picture this:

Yes, this was his senior picture.

Or this:

So seeing him in New York blew my mind. He seemed all growed up. It was great to see him involved in theater - something he's always loved. I also forgot what an awesome laugh he has. It made me think about all my friends and how great they sound when they laugh. They're like big, loud snowflakes. Think about it...

Anyway, after the play, a bunch of us went out to catch up on things. It was great talking with everybody and Andrew once again seemed so much older than the teenager I remembered. Then, I told him I wanted to get a photo of him for my mom and he did this:

Some things never change.

Later, we went out for karaoke (my favorite) and I got another photo:

So that was about it for Saturday. Sunday, we woke up just in time for the New York City Marathon. It goes right by Josh's apartment so we sat on the fire escape and cheered on all the runners. Here are Josh's roommates Jon and Stephanie out on the fire escape:

They're married. Aren't they cute?

First, the Kenyans went by:

Then everybody else:

I also snapped some photos of Josh and his new girlfriend, Kelly. She was totally fun and we tried not to gang up on Josh too much. Don't they look all Midwestern and wholesome?

And here's the schmoopy version:

Kelly also gave me a list of yarn stores to go see on Monday while all my friends were at work. I don't have pictures because honestly yarn shops are only exciting if you care about yarn. It was like a little scavenger hunt, though, and I got see a lot of the city. There was also that taping of the Colbert Report which was a lot of fun. I also shouldn't forget Nancy. She and her roommates were at most of these things I just somehow didn't get pictures of them. Sorry Nancy, I'll get your photo next time.


The end is nigh, folks. The end is nigh!

According to this story, Fox is cancelling Arrested Development. Yes, it's another instance of a show being too awesome for the world as it meets an untimely end. I thought the second season was even better than the first, too.

I will miss you Gob.


I do not want to spend Christmas with Ms. Granola Suicide and her spawn

Do you know what I like almost as much as sad and British music? Sad and British movies based on books by sad and British writers. Throw in a sad and British soundtrack and you have a mind blowing convergence of sadness - and Britishness.

So make a cup and tea and pretend you love the queen as you listen to the soundtrack to About A Boy, a lovely movie based on the Nick Hornby book. The soundtrack is a collection of songs and short instrumentals by Badly Drawn Boy that makes for a beautiful but slightly melancholy album. "A Minor Incident" is perhaps the best song on the album. Everything has a lazy Saturday feel to it. It's nice, just like that cup of tea you're drinking.

Best photo ever!

I just had to share this picture with those of you who haven't been lucky enough to see it yet. Yes, that is a boy jumping on a trampoline with a goat.

Twelve- year-old David Valentine of Miami Township, Clermont County plays with Blessing, one of his two goats, in the backyard of his home Thursday afternoon. Some neighbors have complained about the goats, Blessing and DJ, but David's parents say that the goats are the best thing they have found to help David deal with his ADD. The Cincinnati Enquirer/Glenn Hartong


And so I quit the police department and got myself a steady job

I really shouldn't have to write much today other than that I listened to Abbey Road by The Beatles. If you are a fan of any kind of music you should seek out The Beatles in general and Abbey Road specifically.

But as we do with so many great things, I'd grown overfamilar with this album and had all but forgotten it. I'd forgotten the great bass line that makes "Something" extra special and the great sound in Paul McCartney's voice as he sings "Oh! Darling." Even sillier songs like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Mean Mr. Mustard" sounded fresh after such a long absence.

Damn, this is a good album.


As you might have figured out by now, I am indeed back from New York City. I had a mighty good time and I will post pictures and the like soon. First, though, I have to figure out if I am actually allowed to mention by name or show photographic proof of Josh's girlfriend. I think she might be wanted by the Feds. Just kidding, they're just being schmoopy.


Open hearted surgery never works

I'm leaving for a long weekend in New York in a few hours. This is my third trip in the last couple years so I'm starting to feel comfortable with how everything works. Yeah, I can take the bus from LaGuardia to the 2-3. No problem.

I'm going to try and listen to some albums while I'm traveling but I'm not sure if that's really going to happen. So for now I'll leave you with today's listening, the abundantly named Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline by Gomez.

Most of us have heard Gomez even if we haven't heard of them. They recorded a cover of The Beatles' song "Getting Better" that Phillips Electronics used in their commercials around 1999. Think about it really hard and you'll remember.

Even if you can't remember, this album will help. It's a collection of outtakes and radio performances and it also features the aforementioned Beatles song. And that's pretty much the reason why I bought the whole album.

I think I actually own all of Gomez's albums but this one is my least favorite. It's just random and lacks any sort of cohesiveness. It sounds like a bunch of stoned guys just playing their guitars and grooving for way too long (which is what it is). This is probably the closest I'll ever come to owning a Phish album.

So if you want to own that "Getting Better" cover you can probably buy it on iTunes these days. You need to be a really big fan to buy this Gomez album. Believe me, there are better ones out there.


Just shouldn't ever have to be this hard

Who: Me and Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco
What: An embarrassing non-encounter
Where: The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri
When: 10/7/95 (according to the internet)
Why: I had toilets to clean

If you'll think back to my blathering about A Ghost Is Born, you'll remember that I bought today's album, A.M. by Wilco shortly before I left for college. Well, shortly after I started college I got a job as a cleaner at a club called The Blue Note. It paid minimum wage, but I could get into the shows for free. I was loving my Wilco album and I was totally excited when I found out they were coming to The Blue Note. Cleaning was more fun on days when there was a band in town that I liked. They would wander around and you could maybe mingle a little. Very cool.

For the embarrassing part, though, you need to know a little of the layout of the club. The cleaning closet where we kept our supplies was in a little hallway that led to the men's bathroom. There was no other door to the men's room but that usually wasn't a problem because there was no one around during the day.

No one except Jeff Tweedy.

So as I'm buzzing around all excited about the Wilco show, I decide to pop into the cleaning closet to get a new mop head. When I turn the corner, through, I realize I'm standing just a few feet away from Jeff - using the urinal. Stealthily (I like to think) I slink into the tiny cleaning closet and stand there as quietly as possible until Jeff leaves (he did wash his hands). He seemed pretty occupied with the job at hand so I don't think he noticed me (or at least that's what I choose to believe). Overall it's not the most embarrassing moment ever, but it's still the closest I've ever been to Jeff Tweedy.

So what does all of this have to do with A.M.? Not much. It's a great driving down a dirt road kind of album. I especially enjoy it when I'm in the Ozarks. If you're a recent fan of the band, you might be surprised by how overwhelmingly country they sound on this album. "Box Full Of Letters" is a good song in any genre, though.


God give me style and give me grace

Declan offered up A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay for my listening pleasure today which Mr. Amazon says was released on August 27, 2002. I'm not going to go on and on about Coldplay tonight because I'm a little sick of them, too. This album was their second release and is my second favorite. In fact I'm liking each of their new albums less each time. We'll see what it's like by the time they get to their fifth one.

Good stuff? "Green Eyes" and "Clocks" are great. I also have a huge soft spot for "The Scientist." At the other end of things, I tend to skip the last three or four songs. It just starts to sound a little repetitive.


36 hours but my mind is fresh

Whenever you hear that a musician has had something tragic happen in their life (death of a family member, divorce, botched plastic surgery) you know their next album isn't going to be a barrel of laughs. So, I wasn't hoping for much when I heard that David Gray's new album at the time, A New Day At Midnight, focused on the death of his father. Mix that with the pressure of churning out a follow up to White Ladder and I was poster girl for low expectations.

Mr. Amazon says A New Day At Midnight was released November 5, 2002. I bought it pretty shortly after it came out and stumbled upon a happy coincidence. I, too, was not in the mood for a happy album.

Those of us who were working at a certain newspaper at a certain place can remember that fall and winter of 2002. They were bleak days and the consoling tones of Mr. Gray were just what I needed. He got heavy rotation in my car for several months.

Perhaps the saving grace of the album is that it is not entirely sad. An upbeat song like "Caroline" and the sweet love song "Be Mine" kept me from just driving off a steep hill. David Gray could see the light in bad times and so could I.

Favorite Song of the Week:
"Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" by Bright Eyes - Unless he's changed it, this is Josh's ring tone when I call his cell phone. I really can't say much about it except that it's a great song. I would like to know if that thing in the background that sounds like a bag of change rattling really is a bag of change. If any of you guys are close friends of Conor Oberst, please pass along my question.


Remember my dear, they only want one thing. Maybe they want it more than once, but it's still only one thing.

I think every musician hopes to make timeless music. Sure, most pop music carries some of the hallmarks of the time in which it was made, but the best music doesn't get weighed down by a particular sound.

So what has struck me most about the soundtrack to the 1997 film A Life Less Ordinary is how much it sounds like a little time capsule of the late 90's. It's full of bands that were all the rage at the time, never to be heard from again. Remember Ash? How about Luscious Jackson or The Cardigans? The whole thing sounds like the height of hipness - for 1997.

A Life Less Ordinary is also my least favorite Danny Boyle movie. Ewan McGregor is its only saving grace. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Ewan is singing to himself as he gathers wood. The song he's singing ("Round Are Way" by Oasis) isn't even on the soundtrack. I had to dig it up at a record store in London instead.

So if you want to feel like it's 1997 all over again, this is great listening. To me it was more of a sociological experience than a musical one.

I could totally rock the Olympics

Friday was a really cool day. I actually spent most of the daylight hours bumming around my apartment and moaning about the Run Like Hell. I was trying to think of reasons I shouldn't go, excuses I could tell people, etc. Finally, around 6 p.m. I decided I didn't really have any excuses and headed out.

Once I got there, though, I knew it was going to be really fun. People were dressed up and having fun. The weather was beautiful and suddenly 5 kilometers didn't sound so far. I'm not very good at figuring crowd sizes but there were at least several hundred people. Big fun.

The race itself wasn't bad. Jeff warned me about getting caught up in the raceness of it all and going out too fast, so I made a point of sticking to my so very slow pace. Some girl wearing a refrigerator box passed me, but I didn't let it get me down.

There was another girl wearing a hoop skirt and a corset and that was the last straw. We were running at about the same pace but I really didn't want her to get too far in front of me. There was no way I was going to let a girl in a hoop skirt beat me.

The part of the race that went through the cemetery was really cool. They had the trail lined with flashlights and you see the gravestones backlit by the setting sun. It would have been even cooler if there hadn't been a giant hill in the middle of the place. I did resort to walking up the steepest part of this hill but it was only about 30 seconds. I'm pretty proud of myself for not stopping any more than that.

The end of the race was really fun. It seemed to go by quickly and there was a big party at the end. I finished in 42 minutes, far from fast but, most importantly, the exact same time as hoop skirt girl.

Later that night, my friends Mike and Anne Elisabeth were hosting Prombie 2: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It's their annual prom for zombies, so I slathered on the zombie makeup and headed over. The highlight of the evening was meeting (and thereby verifying the actual existence of) Kelly's boyfriend (who is coincidentally named Edmund). Yes, Jeff, he does seem to be real. I also got meet Mike's cat, Stella, who looks like Tippy but without the tip. Throw in some chocolate fondue and it makes for a pretty good time.

Wanna see some Prombie pictures? Go here.

Finally, we won our third football game of the season today. It took a penalty on the other team and a fourth down deflection by yours truly but it was a win and I'll take it.

So back to the albums tomorrow. If I don't start listening again, I'll never get to Achtung Baby and Jeff has been waiting on pins and needles for that day to roll around.


But this is just another case of female stopping play in an otherwise total result of a holiday

Mike Skinner and I have a lot in common. Our cell phones get terrible reception. Sometimes
we find out we don't have money when we go to the ATM. Little errands like returning DVD's can really screw up our day.

There are two big things that separate us, though, (1) I've never lost $1,000 inside a television set and (2) if I had, I wouldn't have written a concept album about it.

But I'm glad Mike did.

Mike Skinner is better known as The Streets and his album A Grand Don't Come For Free is today's selection from Declan. It was released May 18, 2004 and was one of my favorite albums of the year. An album all about mundane stresses and roller coaster relationships.

It's really hard to describe what The Streets sound like. To call it British rap doesn't really do it justice. You should just go to their web site and check it out. The whole thing sounds fairly comical at first but Mike Skinner's heart is right there under the surface and you can hear it.

Of course, to truly understand The Streets it helps if you speak English. No, not that English they speak in America, the crazy slangy English they speak in Britain. Luckily I'm bilingual so I know what he's talking about when he uses words like:
It's a good skill to have whether you use it for The Streets albums or Harry Potter books.

Listening to A Grand Don't Come For Free is like taking a little journey through Mike Skinner's life. There's lots of partying and fighting and other unwholesome activities but it's a pretty fun trip.

H-E-double hockey sticks

I've been promising Jeff for ages that I will one day run a 5k. Well, that day it seems is tomorrow. There's a race called the Run Like Hell which goes through Walnut Hills Cemetery tomorrow night. Very spooky! Also, there's a party afterwards so it met all my basic criteria.

I sprained my ankle last week, though, so I haven't been able to get as much running in as I would have liked. I'm pretty confident I can go two miles but that third one might be a killer. It also looks like there's a hill at the end. So for me it might be the run like Hell for two miles then the endless walk up the big hill at the end. We'll see.

If this thing goes reasonably well, I'm hoping to doing a Thanksgiving 5k up in Milwaukee. Because nothing says welcome to the holidays like dragging your butt through the freezing cold streets of Mequon before eating some turkey.


The best life never leaves your lungs

I was pretty excited to listen to A Ghost is Born by Wilco. I'm a big Wilco fan and I have been for a very long time. When I was a senior in high school I lived in Michigan but I was heading off to college in Missouri. A few weeks before I left for school, Rolling Stone listed the ten most popular albums at Slackers Records in Columbia, Missouri. Perched at number one was A.M. by Wilco, a band I'd never heard of. So in an effort to get to know my new town, I went out and bought A.M. I've never looked back.

Maybe when I get to A.M. on Declan, I'll tell you about the time I accidentally walked in on Jeff Tweedy in the men's room. Oh, the memories.

Anyway, in order to like A Ghost is Born, you must like feedback. I mean really like it. My first reaction to this album (and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) was pure disgust. I really had to spend some time with it before I started to like it. Now, it's probably my second favorite Wilco album so I guess all that time paid off.

That said, I don't think I'll ever like "Less Than You Think." The little song part at the beginning is sweet and haunting, but the seven minutes of feedback at the end is more than anybody should be asked to suffer through. What do they think this is? 1968?

I am worried that Wilco is at risk of going completely off the deep end. There's a fine line between pushing the envelope and being unlistenable (Radiohead has been on both sides over the years) and for now Wilco is on the right side of it. I hope they stay there.


Maybe I feel like I've been gathering dust

If you've been paying close attention (as I'm sure all of you are) you'll have noticed that I've finally progressed past the album titles that begin with numbers. But with that shift begins my annoyance with Apple's method of alphabetizing.

I'm surrounded by a fairly large number of copy editor or English major types and more than one has questioned me about the way albums are listed on Declan. "How can 7 come after 69 Love Songs?" asked Jeff. The answer is Declan has a short attention span and he only looks at the first (and only first) letter or number. So now that I've made it past the numbers, I have a whole list of albums that begin with the word "A" to get through. That is so wrong.

Apple, pissing off copy editors everywhere.

So using this novel method of alphabetization, next on my list is A Century Ends by David Gray. This was actually Gray's first album (released in England in 1993) but it didn't see a U.S. release until 2001. Fresh off the success of White Ladder, everybody was looking to cash in on Gray's new popularity and suddenly every label he'd ever recorded for had a new compilation or old reissue.

I was quick to hop on that bandwagon and I picked up many of these aforementioned reissues and compilations. I enjoy each of them to varying degrees with Flesh probably being my favorite. It has all the unabashed sincerity of A Century Ends with just a little more catchiness to the music. Did you get that?

Now, there is a small group of diehard fans out there who will swear that Gray has never recorded anything better than "Shine" and "Birds Without Wings" (both on this album) but I just don't see it. They have nice lyrics but if you can't match that with a good melody you should probably just be a poet.

Luckily, Gray did get better at the whole melody thing and he has White Ladder to show for it. A Century Ends is probably best kept to the hardcore fan.