Monday, October 30, 2006

An Evening

Saturday, I met up with a couple friends for dinner.

We ate at a restaurant in the town I grew up in, more or less. I don't count the six months spent in Hawaii, or the four years spent in Greenbelt. I can barely remember any of that, but Laurel is a fixture in the back of my brain.

Laurel is going through some kind of chain-establishment revival, added since my departure are a Starbucks, California Tortilla, Coldstone Creamery, Shoppers Food Warehouse, Applebees, and a LoneStar Steakhouse. The steakhouse is where we ate.

My three younger brothers work at an Outback Steakhouse. I wondered this meal counted as an act of betrayal. Instead of boomerangs and upside down maps of the world(putting Australia in it's proper place, playing second fiddle to Antartica I suppose), there were fake steer horns and paintings of cowboys taming the wild west; or maybe the taming was already done, since there were no Indians in any of the paintings. The Maryland football game was on the flat screen TVs hanging over the bar; we briefly discussed it and it became apparent none of us had any idea or interest in how the season was going for a school we all used to go to(and should therefore care about), but it was a game on TV, what else were we going to talk about while waiting to be seated.

The food and service were adequate. I briefly speculated as to how many waiters I could trip before they realized I was doing it on purpose. The consensus we reached was three to six, depending on what they were carrying. Then we discussed the best domino strategy, since the staff often traveled in packs of two or three. Trip the lead, the middle, or the straggler? Cases were made for each.

Our waiter himself presented an interesting conundrum, at least to me: how does someone so devoid of charisma get by being a waiter? Saturday night was the closet I have ever come to being served by a robot. An instantly forgettable man. My theory is he gets by because people, not being able to remember much about him, can't remember how the service was and tip at least fifteen percent. I tipped him twenty, because I always tip twenty, and I couldn't remember how the service was. Hell, I didn't remember him taking our order; when the food came I was surprised. Who ordered this? Have we been here that long?

The girl who brought the food, however, was very memorable.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Favorite Albums Of 2006, So Far

Two months and some change is all that remains of 2006, one of the better years in music(for me at least). I know every blogger does a Top X list, so here's mine. Feel free to tell me what great/crappy taste in music I have.

1. Pick A Bigger Weapon, - The Coup. A politically Marxist rap group from California, The Coup made not only the best hip-hop album of the year, but also the best record of the year, period. Filled with clever, cynical lyrics that attack the President, corporations, and other things worth hating, Weapon will blow you away.

2. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - The Arctic Monkeys. Chuck D may have told us not to believe the hype, but in this case, believe it. The Arctic Monkeys are that good. Their blend of indie-rock/punk sensibilities with catchy, story-telling lyrics is superb.

3. First Impressions Of Earth - The Strokes. The third album from the kings of the guitar revival, Impressions does not disappoint. The Strokes rock on songs like Juicebox, Heart In A Cage, Vision of Division, You Only Live Once, and the great stylistic departure Electricityscape.

4. Food & Liqour - Lupe Fiasco. If it wasn't for The Coup, this would have been then best hip-hop album of the year by far. Fresh, clever lyrics that touch on everything from skateboarding to fantasy to politics, delivered with an incredible flow from a new, young voice.

5. Boys And Girls In America - The Hold Steady. A band that plays seventies style rock through an eighties indie filter for a twenty-first century that badly needs them. If this were the 1970s, they would be one of the biggest bands on earth.

6. Broken Boy Soldiers - The Raconteurs. A very solid album. Not one weak song, which is what I would expect from a Jack White and Brendan Benson collaboration. I think some people where expecting a supernova of an album; the listening equivalent of multiple orgasms or something. Talent does not work like math, people! We have two great songwriters, and we got some good and great songs from them. Calm down, smoke a joint, and go back to ranting about how there will never be another Cream(or that they were overrated, whichever).

7. Magic Potion - The Black Keys. The Akron, Ohio duo of Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney deliver another great blues-rock record. Although there isn't much growth from earlier albums, their formula still works with some stirring musicianship and a never-boring style.

8. Dying To Say This To You - The Sounds. Infectious indie-punk with pop/new wave stylings, Dying is a great showcase for the best The Sounds have to offer. Maja Ivarsson is a great rock vocalist.

9. Hello Young Lovers - Sparks. Metaphor is one of my favorite songs of the year; Dick Around is an anthem for the ages. The Sparks make great pop music.

10. Destroyer's Rubies - Destroyer. More cryptic, but alluring shoegazing lyrics and "european blues". A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point is one of my favorite songs of 2006.

11. Modern Times - Bob Dylan.

12. Show Your Bones - Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

13. Standing In The Way Of Control - The Gossip.

14. Death By Sexy - The Eagles Of Death Metal.

15. Daggers Out! - Magneta Lane.

16. Eyes Open - Snow Patrol.

Albums I am eagerly looking forward to hearing that could change this list: Ear Drum - Talib Kweli, The Information - Beck, Shine On - Jet, Once Again - John Legend, Bat Out Of Hell III - Meat Loaf, Chinese Democracy - Guns N Roses(wait, what? seriously?), Kingdom Come - Jay-Z, Light Grenades - Incubus, Hip-Hop Is Dead...The N - Nas, Beach House - Beach House.

Disappointments Of The Year, So far: Sam's Town - The Killers, A Blessing And A Curse - The Drive-By-Truckers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Longer Four-Eyed

I finally picked up my contacts yesterday; a month and a half of glasses in enough for me, and everyone else for that matter.

I relapsed into being four-eyed again pretty easily. 17 years of wearing glasses should make that transition smooth, I guess. My switch to contacts was one shot in a rapid-fire self-improvement spree five years ago(that also included a new haircut, running shoes, and what is possibly the deadliest of all sins - online dating).

Anyway, it's good to be wearing contacts again; I'd forgotten what my unobstructed face looked like. Although my friends will contend otherwise(because they are good friends), I do look better without glasses. At least I get laid more( I realize this may be the result of my improved self-confidence from thinking I look better, but more women approach me sans-glasses than with).

I get my contacts from a trendy place in DC, Blink Optical. Outside it's pretty unassuming. Inside, the place looks like a swank lounge or club; it even has the euro-electronic muzak to go with it's stripped-down urban-industrial chic look(see, I can make up bullshit just as well as any club promoter). Hell, even the staff look like international scene regulars. Throughout the store, slumped and stacked behind the register and perched in designer chairs, Blink is sure to be employing an array of people who are at least three of these five things: a) urban hipster, b) thin, c) tall, d)European, and e) attractively androgynous.

What Blink really is, I realized, is the parallel dimension version of a trendy lounge - the version from the good dimension. It's only open during the day, all the pretty people are courteous and warm, there are no drugs(unless you count the wine - I shit you not - they serve while you wait or browse), and I can see more than three fucking feet in front of me. Euro-electronic muzak must be a multidimensional constant, however.

One thing I didn't count on, now that I have my contacts, is how it would affect my running. I developed the habit of taking my glasses off when I ran at the gym, to blind myself to the numerous gym distractions: TVs tuned to MTV1 and VH1, group aerobics classes, inappropriate spandex displays, etc. That, and I grew tired of pushing my glasses up Kent style every thirty seconds or so.

Having all those distractions filtered out really helped my focus. Nothing existed outside of step, push, stride, breathe, plant, repeat. My times improved steadily during my six weeks of wearing glasses.

Today, I'm running and I have to work to focus. I can see everything very clearly, but I refuse to take my contacts out in the gym locker room. They go in after I wake up, and go out before I go to bed. Anything else just complicates the entire process and throws the universe into chaos. So to focus, I picked a treadmill from the line of machines that had a clear line of sight to a glass door - giving me a phantom me to stare down while I psych myself up to set a new best time.

One last hazard of this switch: I keep trying to adjust glasses that aren't there, making me look insane in public.

1I don't know what tripping on LSD or mushrooms is like, but I imagine the disorienting effect is something like watching MTV muted and without context - utter nonsensical imagery full of big, bright colors and quick cuts.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Boys And Girls In America

Twenty-first century indie rock has been dominated so far by post-punk, prog-rock, and art bands who largely ignore much of rock's history. The Hold Steady - much like their predecessors The Replacements did in the previous century - are injecting the indie scene with a much needed reminder that you don't need to tear down the old to make room for the new. Filled with powerful classic rock influences, stories of debauchery and love, Boys And Girls In America is one hell of an ass-kicking shot to the arm(or liver).

Right from the beginning, with the opening power chords and keyboards of Stuck Between Stations, the record grabs you. The band chisels the influences of Springsteen, the aforementioned Replacements, Thin Lizzy, a little Cheap Trick and Meat Loaf into a big, fun, powerful sounding record. Tad Kubler and vocalist Craig Finn's soaring and intertwining guitars never swallow drummer Bobby Drake(I'll won't make any Iceman jokes if you don't) and bassist Galen Polivka's driving rhythm section, resulting in a full, layered sound when they all play together. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay reminds you, yes, keyboards do belong in a rocking band with inspired playing that's as chilled as the guitars are scorching. Not only does he provide the slower songs with depth, but he adds feeling to the faster numbers without being overwhelmed by the rest of the band.

The album even features a beautiful acoustic track, Citrus, one of the few songs that leave Finn's vocals and brilliant lyrics largely alone and unchallenged. One of the albums few weak points is that it's sometimes hard to hear Finn when the rest of the band are all wailing at the same time, which is more often than not.

Finn's singing hits you like a strong shot of whiskey; it takes some getting used to if you're a virgin to either. Sounding like a slightly drunk, American Elvis Costello who is telling stories while shooting the shit with you at the bar, Finn is never uninteresting or whining, and always clever. He writes timeless lyrics of boys and girls trying to make sense of themselves and each other through drugs, booze, and parties.

This is the drinking album for the fall; for house parties with old friends while the record seemingly narrates your memories. It's that personal connection, the ability to make a song seem like it's about you, that's the strength of Finn's songwriting that puts him in the class of Westerberg, Joel, and Springsteen. You Can Make Him Like You will remind everyone of a girl they know, and Massive Nights is the soundtrack of great debauched teenage memories.

Finn and the band even have a penchant for the silly and absurd with Chillout Tent, a mini-rock-opera. The bizarre story of a love'em and leave'em encounter in the unlikely setting of concert detox, the song reaches it's comical climax right after the male protagonist is likened to Izzy Stradlin, whose mention blew my mind. Seriously, I haven't thought about Stradlin in years and hearing his name poked a long forgotten and unused part of my brain. It was like tripping. Incidentally, the lovers' vocals are provided by Soul Asylum's David Pirner(a perennial guest vocalist, all the way back to cussing out the Minneannapolis police on The Replacements Kids Don't Follow) and The Reputation's Elizabeth Elmore.

Arguably the best American band right now; in a prefragmented pop landscape The Hold Steady, with their big, fun sound could have been the biggest band on the planet(and probably could be today, but they would have to dumb it down). As it is, they are playing in 2006 and not 1986, and so are an "indie" band. And using influences unassociated with and therefore largely unused and neglected by the genre, they have delivered the most refreshing indie rock record of the year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Fun Night

It's about 10:30 - I just got home from drinks with friends - and I'm happy.

For the last two or so years, there has always been at least one major problem in my life. The kind of problem that you go out and have drinks with friends to forget, but you know will be waiting for you when the fun ends. Sticky problems that gunk up your brain at night and pull at it during the day.

A failing marriage, then divorce, money, and finally regaining independence(financial and spiritual) - problems were always there. After a while, it just seemed normal. This is what life is like, I told myself, one problem after another, and you go out and do your best, and wait for the next one.

Tonight the next one seems far over the horizon. I still have problems, I haven't channeled Tony Robbins or anything. The difference is, the future doesn't keep me up at night. Which is strange, because it for the first time in a while, it seems bright.

Of course, my ancestors have a saying: An Irishman has an abiding sense of tragedy which sustains him through temporary periods of joy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fooled Again

I've hesitated to write about this; it didn't seem right to throw dirty laundry onto the lawn for the neighbors to see, especially when the bedsheets were shared. I wasn't going to write this.

Then, a vivid memory came to me: another blog, written over a year ago, where the author proclaimed to anyone with interest or a MySpace account she had left her husband and was looking forward to a new future without him. Below were one line comments of affirmation from people who knew only what they could learn from a lone paragraph on the internet. It confronted me in the cold glow of a monitor in a half-filled apartment that had been full the day before.

So fuck it.

For now, I'll focus on the most recent business. Maybe, someday, you will be regaled by my divorce scabs and scars(but those are my responsibility). No, what is most pressing is something still the responsibility of two people: money, of course.

My ex-wife and I were a couple just starting out, young and poor. Our first - and only - major purchase was a stylish couch. We shared a nice one-bedroom apartment in a good area of town, blocks from her job. Neither of us had much.

When she left, there was a huge tax bill, credit debt, and six months left on our lease. A lease signed with the assumption there would always be two incomes paying the rent.

The day after she left, I was fired. That was not a good week, unless you count the record number of 151 shots I did that Friday, which I don't.

Despite my one week alcoholism, I found a better job, a better girlfriend, and I paid everything off. It wasn't easy after two months of unemployment, and it took nearly a year, but it could have been much, much worse.

The divorce was finalized a day before what would have been our third anniversary; one of those meaningless coincidences that reminds you the universe is an uncaring mean place. My ex-wife, albeit late, took care of the papers(papers that came to me on Valentine's Day, another coincidence - or the job of a well paid mailman, I suppose) and she even promised to start paying me back her half of all the debt I had paid off for us. She would start in September, she told me in an e-mail that also gave me updates on family members I would never see again.

It's mid-October. Nothing, not a word.

I'm not, I'm lying, I am surprised. The money means nothing at this point, it's a past hardship I'd like to forget. The gesture, though, the sign on her part that the marriage at least meant something, even if it was just a debt to be repaid; that meant something. To me, it meant a tiny bit of satisfaction you get from a little respect. I still craved respect from this woman, or I at least liked receiving it.

What can I say, I'm a sucker - I don't learn. And in a year plus since I last saw her, my ex-wife can still remind me of that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sam's Town, The Killers

For some reason, known only to them, The Killers have decided they want to be an important rock band making important music. Not being omnipresent, neither you nor I have anyway of knowing when this happened, but I'm guessing it was after the surprise success of 2004's Hot Fuss that Brandon Flowers and company knew it was their fate to be mentioned among the pantheon of rock greats. And like a boy who misreads a kind girl's smile, they plunge headfirst into trouble. Unfortunately for The Killers and their new album Sam's Town, important music can very often be boring and unloved music. All of which Sam's Town, save for some tracks on the first half, is destined to be.

Unimportant music, like Hot Fuss, can be fiercely loved. I adored Hot Fuss. More than just a New Wave knock-off, an unfair pegging it received from far to many jaded critics who still miss Joy Division, it was a great display of catchy hooks in pop songs so full of life they stuck with you like the taste of really good candy. The music was candy. Unimportant, disposable candy shipped straight from Las Vegas; that's what made it so damn good. The unimportant Hot Fuss made The Killers an important band, and I eagerly awaited Sam's Town. Which is too bad for me, since Sam's Town is a track by track record of The Killers abandoning everything great about Hot Fuss.

Now, it's impossible to talk about this record without talking about Bruce Springsteen - thank you Brandon Flowers - as the very prolific frontman told anyone who would listen how 'influenced' he was by The Boss, and how he planned to make the next Killers album one of the best albums of the last twenty years(if you are reading this twenty years in the future, and this prediction has come true, I don't know what else is going on in the world but I'll bet you envy the dead).

This is a very average, but not horrible, album. It only ends in disaster, like a bad relationship or a skateboarder pulling of some really good tricks right before hitting a guardrail, flipping over and falling down the kind of wide concrete stairs that only downtown office buildings seem to have, and breaking both his legs. Except in this case, you can hear every bone breaking very clearly. With some reverb and synthesizers.

The first few tracks of Sam's Town still have some of the energy of songs like Somebody Told Me. The title track itself is pretty good, and For Reasons Unkown could have been a b-side on Hot Fuss. It's around Uncle Jonny, the seventh track, that everything begins to fall apart(spelling Jonny without the h served as a warning, I suppose). Listening to Jonny, I could hear it begging, screaming for a hook, a better melody, something, anything to rescue it from it's own mediocrity. The band desperately tries to sound different; to sound like they grew up in working class New Jersey.

Up to this point, the only sign of The Boss that I could detect was in the lyrics. And when you are listening to a Killers song, the last thing you should worry about are the lyrics. As long as they don't get in the way, who cares what Brandon is singing about? Mr. Brightside could have been an ode to Chernobyl and no one would have noticed or cared. Lyrics, or rather 'deep' lyrics, are not Flower's strength. So when he attempts to write something inspired by Springsteen, we get something that sounds like someone trying to write something inspired by Springsteen. Although listening to the dichotomy of a slightly evolved, but still New Wave sounding Killers against lyrics straight out of a watered-down Born To Run was a little weird, it was still enjoyable and definitely catchy.

Listening to The Killers chaotic and confused attempt at a Springsteen sound, however, is when you begin to hear the bones break. Especially on the next track, Bones, one of the most boring and creepy songs I've heard all year. I don't know what kind of women Flowers plans to seduce with lines about putting bones on bones, but I'll bet Eric Roberts is still stealing them.

After Bones there are some songs that manage a decent imitation of a Springsteen record, but they still fail. I'm sorry no one had the balls to tell Flowers this, but his vocals are not suited at all for that type of rock. Nearly breathless vocals sound very good when you are backed by synth-guitar laden music, but when those elements are layered so densely with a more earthy sound, well, you get the drowned out and challenged singing found throughout the second half of Sam's Town.

Okay, now I feel bad for ripping this album. I really enjoyed the first few songs, and one song in the second half, My Lists, actually does a decent job of Flower's vision. Plus, on the so silly it's fun Exitlude, the band sounds genuinely sad to see you go. So, it should be noted(and it will be, to the dismay of many people who genuinely hate fun, unimportant music) that this isn't the death toll of The Killers by any stretch. Hopefully, they will look at what worked and what didn't and go from there for their next effort. I just hope the band remembers the importance of being unimportant.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Pattern Developing

I don't know if I could take it if another girl, after telling me how I'm the best thing to ever, ever happen to her, leaves me for not being interesting enough. The downside to dating artsy types I guess.

The beautiful people, the beautiful people,
It's all relative to the size of your steeple,
You can't see the forest, for the trees,
You can't smell
your own shit on your knees!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wes Anderson, Are You Directing My life?

There's this guy in the gym locker room. He works out in a gray Harvard t-shirt(I can't imagine another color for a Harvard t-shirt) and matching shorts. One crimson sweatband around his wrist to go with long socks bleeding the same right into his unremarkable sneakers. Grey and silver streaked hair above a pair of large mid-eighties era glasses.

So this guy, this fucking guy, turns to me and says:

" it fucking cold in here? Or is it me?", in a dead-on Owen Wilson impression.

Except it isn't an impression, this is how he really talks. Panicked, I try and balance things so the universe doesn't get pissed and hurl a comet at us.

"Yes, it is rather chilly..." I say as properly white-collar as I can muster.

A startling moment, the kind that makes you wonder if you are actually part of someones imagination because shit like this just doesn't happen outside of clever screenplays.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Still Magic

The Black Keys are venturing into dangerous territory. Not musically mind you. If their latest LP Magic Potion really goes anywhere, it's nowhere new. No, the dangerous territory is not the result of a new musical direction but rather from the often perilous jump to a major record label from an indie one. In this case the jump is from Fat Possum Records, home of the group's last two albums, to Elektra subsidiary Nonesuch Records.

A major label means not only raised commercial expectations, but also an entire new set of fan expectations that are often just as bad as they are good. Any change to a band or artist's sound will raise accusations of selling out from a fan base that helped the band get the new record deal in the first place. If you built your indie reputation on intertwining guitars and Lou Reed-esque vocals, and all of a sudden you start writing songs that remind people of The Magnetic Fields, you might face some backlash.

Even if the change is much less drastic than that, a band can expect anything from mild grumbling to fans ready to form pitchfork and torch wielding mobs. Whether or not the new sound is the product of corporate tinkering or just a new artistic direction doesn't matter. Ask Spoon or Metallica. All that matters is you changed from what made you great, and everyone thinks you have more money now. Suspected rich people get very little critical slack.

Which I guess means good news for the Akron, Ohio duo as the Keys have stayed true to their lo-fi, blues-rock sound on their fourth full-length album. In fact, they stay so close to their blues roots it seems they have actually gone backwards since 2004's Rubber Factory. That record was also a collection of short, blues-riff driven songs - even their great interpretation of the Kinks' Act Nice and Gentle fit right in. Potion is more of the same, with seven of the eleven tracks coming in under four minutes, with the one long standout being Goodbye Babylon at 5:56.

Dan Auerbach provides a smooth groove with his guitar work, starting with the attacking, chugging riff of the album opener Just Got To Be, then into an even faster tempo only one track later on the sizzling Your Touch. Fitting the blues staple of devilish lust perfectly, Your Touch features some of Pat Carney's best attacking drum work to go with Auerbach's equally violent guitar playing. It's definitely the most obvious highlight of the album.

After those two scorchers open the album, the Keys move into the slower You're The One. It's tempting to call any slow rock song a ballad, but to do that to any Keys song would be a disservice. Even their slower offerings still hum with garage-band energy.

From here, the Keys settle into a nice pace in the middle of the album with songs like Just A Little Heat, Give Your Heart Away, and Strange Desire. Here we see the only real change from previous records, as the rest of the album is devoid of the up-tempo songs the Keys usually have throughout their recordings. Maybe Dan and Pat thought we needed a break. The album closes very solidly with Elevator, a nice reminder that the Keys have no use for filler material.

Lyrically, the Keys stay close to earthy, gritty side of life with songs about love, lust, family. The songs Modern Times and Goodbye, Babylon however, deal out commentary on current events, a new wrinkle not found on previous records. Modern Times has some vague lines alluding to hurricane Katrina. Goodbye, Babylon criticizes the Iraq War, and seems to be a reference to the destruction of some ancient Babylonian ruins by the U.S. Military since the 2003 invasion.

The band also released an EP earlier in the year, Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough. A tribute to the late bluesman and former lablemate at Fat Possum, the blues covers were apparently also a signal that the Keys had no plans to deviate from their formula. In fact, Chulahoma actually used additional instruments on one track, Have Mercy On Me, meaning technically it had more "growth" than Potion.

That said, Magic Potion is a solid blues-rock record. Though there is nothing "new" musically, listening to the album is like hearing your favorite band play new songs that remind you why this band is your favorite, while at the same time they don't threaten the internal idea you have of what the band is about. Often when a band does go in a new direction, the result can alienate fans used to the band's old sound. Ask Metallica(but not Spoon). I don't see The Black Keys ever making their equivalent to Load. If anything, they seem to be working their way towards being the AC/DC of indie blues-rock. Or now, just blues-rock.

As a bonus, here is a screen shot of my iTune ratings for Magic Potion:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lupe Fiasco: The Next Big Thing?

Whenever a new artist brings something fresh or new to music, there is often a temptation to label them "the future" of whatever genre of music they make. In the case of hip-hop, a genre approaching thirty, there has been plenty of artists that were fresh and new that unfortunately didn't always turn out to be the future. Usually, they were a great diversion before being drowned under the current of mainstream music as it moved on towards whatever moved the most product. Labeling something as the future really just means it's the future you hope for.

That said, I hope the future of hip-hop includes more skateboarding anthems and tales of zombie gangstas all while being socially conscientious. Lupe Fiasco brings all of this and more in his first full length album, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liqour.

Lupe Fiasco, real name Wassulu Muhammad Jaco, received his first taste of mainstream success with a guest verse on fellow Chicagoian Kanye West's single, Touch The Sky. With the aforementioned skate anthem, Kick, Push, the first single off Food & Liqour getting good radio and MTV airplay since it's release in July and leaked(but incomplete) copies of Food & Liqour circulating online generating huge buzz, the album was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. All of this has Lupe poised to be the breakout hip-hop artist of 2006.

Push, well, kicks with a simple strings sample and a steady beat. There isn't that much to the production, the attraction is mainly Fiasco's flow and lyrics. The story of a kid's love affair with skating, it shows Fiasco's empathy for and admiration of the skating scene:

I dedicate this one right here/ To all my homies out there grinding You know what I'm saying?/ Legally and illegally

The album even features a shout out to Tony Hawk on the latter track Outro, an eleven minute monster that appears to thank anyone who even remotely helped with Food & Liqour(probably the only time Tony Hawk will be thanked alongside Talib Kweli and Jay-Z). Kick, Push also contains themes found throughout the album; feelings of alienation, the hope for love, and the search for a place that feels like home:

And away he rolled/ Just a rebel to the world with no place to go And so he kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, coast So come and skate with me/ Just a rebel/ Looking for a place to be

In a stark contrast to most mainstream hip-hop, Fiasco features plenty of strong female imagery, fittingly for an album dedicated to a grandmother. The skater protagonist of Push meets a skater girl:

Met his girlfriend she was clapping in the crowd/ Love is what what was happening to him now Uh, he said I would marry you/ But I'm engaged to these arials and variels And I don't think this board is strong enough to carry two/ She said Bow, I weigh 120 pounds Now, let me make one thing clear/ I don't need to ride yours/ I got mine right here

Assertive skating women, the new staple of rap? The motif continues in other tracks: He Say, She Say, a plea to an absent father from a woman who doesn't want him around her, just to be there for their son. On Hurt Me Soul Lupe admits he hated hip-hop for it's degradation of women, but also admits being a hypocrite and singing songs that refer to women as bitches, even if he wouldn't sing that part. In an art form where male posturing is such a large part of an artist's supposed marketability, this is remarkable.

Lyrically, Food & Liqour is way beyond mainstream hip-hop, finding better company with the likes of Talib Kweli, Common, and Lupe's stated direct influence, Nas. His flow is effortless from verse to hook to verse. Subjects range from his dislike of gangsta-oriented hip-hop on the catchy I Gotcha; Lupe serves out "realness" while telling us: I Know You Sick Of Them Players Big Car And Watch Ya/ Either They Pimps Or They Macks Or They Mobsters. He continues his assault on the scathing second verse of Daydreaming, a thorough dismantling of bling-bling clich├ęs. A Muslim, Lupe links the liquor stores prevalent in the ghetto to keeping funeral homes in business and quotes his prophet on American Terrorist saying: the ink of a scholar is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a martyr.

Food & Liqour also makes great use of it's many guest artists. Unlike a lot of hip-hop albums, these aren't merely brief, uninspired appearances strictly meant to get a well-known name written on the track list. Fiasco makes full use of his collaborator's talents on tracks like Just Might Be Ok, He Say She Say(featuring Gemini), American Terrorists (featuring Matthew Santos), and holds his own against the world's most famous semi-retired rapper on Pressure(that rapper being Jay-Z).

With clever lyrics and a catchy delivery style, along with a refreshing break from current hip-hop, Lupe Fiasco has definitely put out one of the, if not the, best hip-hop albums of the year. Save for The Coup's Pick A Bigger Weapon, nothing else comes close.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Damn You Everyman Paul Walker

Understand, I didn't want to watch Eight Below. There are no choices, however, on Peter Pan buses. The inbus movie is not a democratic matter. You don't even have the option of escaping the movie, since unlike planes headphones are not required. So I was stuck with Paul Walker, his biceps, eight dogs, and at least two tragedies.

The tragedies are why I didn't want to watch. I knew the Disney feature would be the kind of insipid, corny, and wondrous crap that only a child's open mind can appreciate, but also knowing that two of the eight dogs die before I even got to the first heartwarming doggie moment was too much. How I knew this isn't really important, but I'll tell you anyway: I'm the kind of person who wants details about movies I will never see, mostly so I'll stay literate in useless culture. I asked a friend if all of the dogs made it, and I was very sad to hear his spoiler. So, even without seeing the movie, I was already sad.

And after saying goodbye to my girlfriend that afternoon, I was sad enough, thanks. If I had showed the driver my shirt smeared with make-up and tears, maybe he would have turned that heartbreaking movie off. That washed-out tan blotch right over my heart might have persuaded him. That isn't the kind of thing you can tell bus drivers, unfortunately.

So I watched two dogs die. I tried taking off my glasses, but the cold and tiny bus TV was only one seat away. I couldn't fall asleep; the snow-filled movie illuminated the bus like a second moon. Even my beloved iPod didn't save me. So, I watched two dogs die - noble, heartbreaking deaths - and the sadness brought me back to the moment I left my girlfriend's apartment.

Leaving is hard. Leaving is full of holding, shoe-gazing, and kisses wet from tears. It's not for the weak of heart. Especially the part when you think you've pulled yourself together, and the deed can be done. There is more crying, then false goodbyes(because you always try to band-aid it and do it quick, but that never happens), and, finally, there is the moment when you turn around and don't look back.

After that moment, late Monday afternoon, I walked up 116th street to the subway. Squinting against the sun kept the tears away. That moment sat on my shoulders during the walk to the subway, and it hunched me down in my seat as I rode the car to Grand Central. Packed with people staring off beyond the car windows, I became intimate with the worn patches of my jeans.

The moment stayed with me through the subway ride, the shuttle to Port Authority, the Peter Pan bus, and finally the walk home.

When I could finally call to say I had made it, and I heard her voice(no longer sad), that painful, lingering motherfucker of a moment finally ended.

This isn't a happy ending, though, since the moment will come again in two weeks, and two weeks after that. It isn't a sad ending either. That moment, as terrible as it is, is nothing compared to all the time that passes before it. Time filled with joy, happiness, and kisses wet from passion. So I'll keep living that moment.

If Old Yeller is playing on the bus home, I will seriously start to look into flying.

Friday, October 06, 2006

For Friday, My Quirks

  • With the exception of the song Hallelujah, I don't like any song with Hallelujah in the title.
  • Every night, before I go to sleep, I imagine the deafening sound and blinding flash of a nuclear bomb going off not far from my apartment. I'm not sure if this makes me strange, or normal.
  • I use all of my towels exactly twice before washing them. And work clothes.
  • I always put the sun visor down when I'm driving. The sky is distracting.

Anyway, I'm off to NYC for the weekend. Everyone enjoy the rain.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What am I?

What can you make of an e-mail from your boss with the subject line You're It!, ? I thought Oh damn, what am I? The guy now in charge of re-filling the water cooler, a company representative at a conference, the new office monkey? What? What am I!?

As it turns out, I was just the back-up for the day. Not the boss, mind you. I couldn't start giving orders or arbitrarily tell people to go home or anything. Nope, I'm just the back-up. Not in a vice president kind of way, more like the president's secretary.

Whew. This was good, because I don't want to be the boss. Her job seems pretty hard, and we have great team members. I was once the boss in my previous job, more specifically a team lead. We did not have so great team members. Team members who came in late, left early, and made plenty of mistakes. Fun mistakes, for me to correct. Like deleting entire directories of files, accidentally. Fun times. Even more fun, my boss decided I was just the person to scream at for this, even though I had almost no input on the hiring of these people. The stress level there made my jaw clench and my arm go numb, like right before a heart attack. In fact, that's when I had my first heart attack. Did I say heart attack, because I meant panic attack. I haven't had a heart attack yet, but I imagine I won't be too surprised when it happens. I feel like I'm back at that shitty job...oh fuck I'm having a heart attack...still, better than that job.

Back to the e-mail, though, it would have been nice if I had been the chosen one, or even the new office monkey, or if the e-mail had finally told me what my purpose on this planet was.

Anyway, things are much better now. It's good to be tagged 'it'. My co-workers are great. If they were a band, they would be The Beatles. The best I've ever worked with. I don't know which ones would be John, Paul, George or Ringo. I think I'd be Stuart Sutcliffe.

It was still about 70 degrees today, but I wore my new fall coat anyway. I bought it two weeks or so ago when it was just freezing every morning, and it's been warm spring weather ever since. I like the coat, I like the way it looks, and I'm wearing it, body heat be damned!

Well, that's enough out of me. If you need me, I'll be sweating in my stylish fall coat.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Break

Finally, a chance to sit down and catch up on reading, music, and other things that have been piling up. There was nothing to do tonight but fix dinner, then relax. Best of all, there was time to relax with.

I've settled into a nice weekday rhythm. Since I moved back to DC, it's been wake up, work, workout, work, fix dinner, sleep. I'm only now getting better at inserting some fun in between dinner and sleep. I think tomorrow I'll break it up and see a movie right after work, maybe The Science Of Sleep or Last Kiss. Both seem well suited to my frame of mind.

When you finally live alone after a long period of cohabitation, you only have yourself to blame if your life is still boring. There is no family or partner holding you back anymore, those responsibilities are gone for the most part. You can't blame them.

I could get used to eight hours sleep every night. Already looks like I'll get seven at the most tonight, but that's still good for me. Especially lately. With good night's sleep, everything seems a little better, a little easier. Even the Metro ride.

Speaking of the Metro ride, I saw a rather disturbing incident the other night. A little girl was riding with her father. She was terrified of an ad on in the car that featured an angry looking man talking into a cellphone; it was part of WMATA's campaign to discourage people from having loud conversations with people not actually in the train.

So anyway, she told her father that the man scared her. He was buried nose-deep in a newspaper, and replied "So shoot him then."

So she did, turning her tiny fist into a tiny gun, and popping a tiny cap into the scary man's large, angry head.

And that was a little...weird, to say the least. In ten or twenty years, if there is a metro serial killer popping off irate Verizon1 customers who certainly won't be hearing anyone anymore, I can offer some marginally helpful information to the authorities. If anyone believes me.

1Verizon cellphones are the only ones that work in the DC Metro, so rest easy non-Verizon cellphone users. Little Susie won't be gunning for you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sick In The Head

I hate feeling sick. I especially hate feeling head sick. Stomach sick is bad, and often feels(at least physically) far worse than head sick. Head sick, though, always bothers me because it's so close to where my brain is. My thoughts are here; I'm here! And there is sick, right by it, and I can't shake it! It's like trying to drive a car while the windshield is covered in bile and the wipers can't cut through it because it's too thick, and it's clogging the engine. It's unsettling and disorienting, with phlegm thrown in at the end.

I couldn't even work out today. I hate not working out. Hopefully, after some rest, I'll be right as rain tomorrow. However right rain is, since I personally have no direct knowledge of the inherent rightness of rain.

Okay, something in the office smells like a shopping-mall hair salon. And that's not good. Every time I take a walk around I get a strong whiff of it and I feel like I'm eight years old again, being led against my will to the Hair Cuttery while the arcade mocks me from across the way. Last week, something in the office smelled like straight up feet. It was nasty. I don't even want to know what it was.

Anyway, to move away from the subject of office odors, the Redskins won 36-30 in a game that had my sick ass jumping up and down in my apartment with excitement and rage. My apologies to anyone who had to hear me shouting.

Tonight, I'm going to just rest and catch up on my reading and writing. Should help get the engine unclogged.