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.