Saturday, December 31, 2011

best albums of 2011

Mostly dominated by foreigners, with only a trio of American artists (St. Vincent, Telekinesis!, and Girls) making the list, this year's top 10 albums underscores the Janus-faced trends in "indie" music this year: the look forward with the continuing rise of "indietronica," the so-called indie dance genre, and a look backwards with the revival of lo-fi sounds such as surf rock and 60s garage.

Destroyer - Kaputt

I put this on the list after a single listen. Seriously, it's that good. And it gets better with every listen. Dan Bejar (also part of the Canadian super-group The New Pornographers) creates a sound I shouldn't like by satirizing all the elements he pulled together to make it. The album is defined by a sort of lite jazz flavor with a full-fledged horn section and everything, very 80s and very much the sound of the suburban SUV crowd. But the lyrics aim a sharp, sardonic wit right at the heart of America's obsession with consumption and fame whores. In a year where the $25 million farce wedding of Kim Kardashian received more coverage than either the deaths of Gaddafi or Kim Jong Il, Destroyer hits all the right notes.

Cut Copy - Zonoscope

Oh, Cut Copy. How I love you guys. I think I saw them a total of 3 times this year. Maybe only twice. But every time was a booty-shaking good time. Not every song on the album hits but when they do, it's pure dance fun. It may just be the Australian accent, but something about them affects a very Men at Work vibe. They also win the first runner-up for cheesiest dance moves on stage behind Canada's Diamond Rings.

The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Man, this guy rounded out the year by releasing a third free, full-length mixtape. I don't know if the sleazy, sex and drug crazed persona portrayed throughout these 9 songs is just a character or these are autobiographical tales from a date rapist. I wouldn't want to run into this Canadian artist downtown at night but listening to him recount his exploits the next day set to r&b beats is pure bliss.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

What can I say, I love Annie Clark. She blends such muscularity on the guitar with deft lyrics. This time around, she's more overtly sexual. It's a great one.

Telekinesis! - 12 Desperate Straight Lines

This is the only band who breaks the "don't listen to them for 48 hours before the show rule." Michael Benjamin Lerner's "band" (he plays all the instruments on the album and only tours with others) is pop fun distilled into its purest form. Telekinesis! covers the same lovelorn, lovesick terrain as your basic top 40 crowd but without all the hackneyed cliches that make pop so boring and predictable.

Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting

Another indietronica album on this list. But whereas Cut Copy is mostly up and active and happy, Canada's Young Galaxy dwells on more introspective planes. Listening to Shapeshifting is like waking up to find yourself still moving around in a dreamscape thanks to Catherine McCandless' vocals. You know it's all still real but you're seeing things, love, friends, the party, the world, through a fog and haze that makes it both more alien and more familiar. For some reason, I can't help thinking his is what Stevie Nicks would have sounded like if she started recording 40 years later.

I Break Horses - Hearts

I can't quite put my finger on what it is about this Swedish duo that I like so much. Perhaps its the complex and rich digital soundscapes of the title track Hearts and Winter Beats. Or the more traditional gauzy shoegaze aesthetic of Wired. But whatever it is, it added up to be one of the biggest surprises for me this year.

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls

The last album I added to this list is London's Veronica Falls. It's bizarre and poppy and goth and absolutely wonderful. From the silly, morose opener Found Love in a Graveyard, about an affair with an apparition, to closer Come On Over, which rattles and jangles with some of the same lo-fi moves that have been so popular both here in the States and across the pond in England in recent years, this debut album bristles with exciting electricity. Bad Feeling and Misery are both great cuts, too.

Dirty Beaches - Badlands

A Taiwanese-born Canadian now taking up residence in California, Alex Zhang Hungtai plays a kind of lo-fi, early rock n' roll that's immediately recognizable and yet wholly strange. I got the pleasure of seeing him, and it's just him, on tour in London over the summer. His guitar snarls, pounds, cries, and whoops with all the frenetic, blues-inspired energy of the year rock broke.

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I didn't rank this list, but if I had, there's no doubt about the number 1. This San Francisco duo's album is unrivaled in its overall quality from beginning to end and sheer number of absolute ear worms that bury themselves deep into your psyche and emerge at random times as the tune you're humming while standing in line at the grocery store. In a year dominated by bands throwing back to the 1950s and 1960s with lo-fi, to the 1980s with synth pop textures and dance beats, and in the year that the Holy Grail of genius unreleased finally found a release date in Brian Wilson's SMiLE Sessions, Girls' Father, Son, Holy Ghost easily stands out. It's a kind of kitchen sink melange of an album, with everything from Pink Floyd-ish lush instrumentals to simple, quiet, soulful tunes like Forgiveness represented. There isn't a single dominating style except for evocation of other styles. An experiment like this often gets panned as being too loose, too unfocused but here it succeeds magnificently. The perfect album in the age of digital downloading singles instead of buying records and hitting shuffle on an iPod that contains everything from Lionel Richie to Li'l Wayne and Silver Apples to The Apples in Stereo.

Honorable Mentions

Neon Indian - Era Extraña

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Twin Sister - In Heaven

Honestly, I haven't had much exposure to the first full-length from Long Island's Twin Sister as an album proper instead of a collection of singles to rate it as an album. But what I heard I thoroughly enjoyed. We'll see in a few weeks if their formula translates well to the stage.

Washed Out - Within and Without

Cloud Nothings - Cloud Nothings

Wye Oak - Civilian

Friday, December 30, 2011

500 days of new year's?

I know, I know. This has already made it around the internet a bazillion times and back. But it's just so cute and apropos. Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? So, what are you doing?

top 5 of the week for 30 december 2011

New Year's Eve eve. Here's 5 of Elliott Smith covering other artists and bands.

1. elliott smith - when i paint my masterpiece (bob dylan cover)

2. elliott smith - trouble (cat stevens cover)

3. elliott smith - these days (jackson browne cover)

4. elliott smith - care of cell 44 (zombies cover)

5. elliott smith - for no one (beatles cover)

And a bonus:
6. metric - between the bars (elliott smith cover)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

a couple of christmas songs

Ok, I relent, some Christmas songs.

1. frightened rabbit - cheap gold
Frightened Rabbit - Cheap Gold by Frightened Rabbit

2. she & him - rockin' around the christmas tree

Friday, December 23, 2011

top 5 of the week for 23 december 2011

Sorry I didn't end up putting up a top 5 for last week. After finishing my seminar paper, I decided to take a break from the world for awhile. Yes, I'm still alive and kicking.

I bet you were expecting a holiday playlist from me. Well, there are music services to fill your head with Christmas music. Either that or you can step into any department store in American right now and get your fill. Instead, a theme playlist. Can you guess?[1]

1. islands - swans (life after death)

2. camera obscura - let's get out of this country

3. of montreal - a sentence of sorts in kongsvinger

4. modest mouse - world at large

5. led zeppelin - going to california

[1] No, it's not that they all suck, funny guy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

joseph heller presents space wars

Spoiler alert! This post reveals plot points of the novel Catch-22 as well as the 1993-1999 tv series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Proceed at your own peril.

I didn't intentionally set out to consume two texts about war this semester. As far as Joseph Heller's novel was concerned, it was the only thing on my shelf I hadn't read that wasn't speculative fiction set on the Indian Subcontinent or a history of the penis. At least until Murakami's 1Q84 arrived. As for DS9, well, I wasn't much in the mood for resuming the sitcom watching I began with 3rd Rock from the Sun I began in the spring. Then netflix notified me it had all 7 seasons available for streaming. I loved DS9 when I was a teenager but a stochastic appearance on the tv schedule starting around season 5 meant I didn't get to see how it all turned out.

But reading Catch-22 and DS9 side-by-side has been an interesting if serendipitous coincident. Together, they describe the experience of a people, the modern American people, at war. While these texts differ not only in setting but also tone, they manage to span the seriousness and insanity of being a soldier as well as offer a glimpse at war for the civilians who share space and time with the conflict. Looking back, they also anticipate much about the War on TerrorTM and the Bush years.


Friday, December 9, 2011

top 5 for the week of 9 december 2011

Originally I was going to post a playlist with a theme. But then I stumbled upon Pretty Much Amazing's Best Songs of 2011 playlist on spotify. So instead I'll share 5 of my favorite songs that I discovered on it.

1. tyler, the creator - yonkers

I've actually enjoyed Goblin before PMA's list came out. This is probably my favorite track on the album because of its calm, controlled insanity.

2. cass mccombs - county line

Another track I'd heard a few times before I saw the list. Can't remember who gave it away for free on the internet. Chill song nonetheless.

3. penguin prison - don't fuck with my money

There's something amusingly cheesy about this song. It recollects 80s synth pop but not nearly as cleverly, adroitly, or creatively as Twin Shadow. This is pure fluff. I'll probably forget about it in a week. Too bad the rest of the world won't do the same with that damn Foster the People song.

4. cold cave - the great pan is dead

A certain louse won't let me embed the version set to scenes of Oldboy but you can enjoy it here.[1] I was supposed to see Cold Cave and the Radio Dept. play in Dallas on 7 November but the Radio Dept. couldn't get a visa and the tour was cancelled. That seems to happen a lot to Scandinavian bands. My ACL after party tickets to see the Raveonettes a couple of years ago were cancelled for the same reason. Oh, and this Cold Cave song is pretty nifty, too.

5. the vaccines - if you wanna

In it's poppiness and simplicity, it kind of reminds me of the Ramones. Not as edgy or great as the Ramones. But it kinda reminds me of them.

[1] Oldboy is one mindfuck of a movie. Definitely, definitely worth seeing. But be prepared to be deeply disturbed. All of Chan Wook Park's Revenge trilogy is worth seeing (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance).

panda on a plane

I know we were all enamored with that photo of the panda riding business class on an airplane that circulated the internet just a few days ago. But my keen investigative reporter instincts have turned up that this adorable guy...
...was hanging out at the airport bar just two hours earlier and he was a drunken ass.

Here are a few more classy lines this panda tried to use.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

top 5 for the week of 2 december 2011

There are rumors swirling that snow may be coming to Austin this Monday or Tuesday. So in honor of the possibility of flakes, here are 5 of my top tracks about winter, the cold, and snow. Now with commentary![1]

1. bon iver - blood bank
Youtube and soundcloud are being ultra lame. No one has the full song available to listen to that I can also embed. Rather than subjecting you to some crappy version with the last 20 to 35 seconds cut off, just click here and ignore the long dead air at the end.

Probably my number one favorite cold-weather themed song of the moment. Winter and the cold reinforcing themes of isolation, loneliness, and loss. Fantastic stuff. Though, to be honest, all of For Emma, Forever Ago probably qualifies for that honor. Plus, you got to love a guy of Justin Vernon's stature in the music biz who basically tells the Grammys to go eat a D.[2]

2. fleet foxes - white winter hymnal

Blood Bank had to displace this simple but utterly profound little tune. It's just the same 52 words repeated three times but wow, so evocative.

3. mystery jets - flakes

Probably one of the saddest break up songs of all time. It makes my cry every time I listen to it (including this one). I came across the Mystery Jets and this tune for the first time on a now defunct music blog called Good Weather for Airstrikes. Good Weather is also where I came across Passion Pit and Sleepyhead about 2 years or so before they exploded. The guy who maintained the blog said he was shutting it down in order to pursue a full time gig promoting Passion Pit. If that's true, he did one helluva job. I'm not as keen on Passion Pit as I once was and the third LP from the Mystery Jets wasn't as great but oh, there was a time in the early aughts before you guys had heard of either of them...[3]

4. the decemberists - the crane wife 1 & 2

This album was my first experience with The Decemberists. Their brand of baroque pop and $5 words isn't for everybody but I like them. This song (in 3 parts, only 1 and 2 are included here; part 3 is a separate track that opens the album). Based on a Japanese folk tale, it's about profoundly screwing up a relationship by not seeing the forest for for the trees so this number touches on a number of themes dear to me.

5. the depreciation guild - november

I'm a huge fan of this now broken up band. Fronted by dreamy front man Kurt Feldman (who also gigs as the full-time drummer for another of my faves, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), The Depreciation Guild mixed 8bit fun with shoegaze earnestness. I hadn't heard of them before they opened for the Pains and Cymbals Eat Guitars on the 2009 tour. I was so psyched to see TPBPH and CEG together that I traveled to Dallas on a Thursday night from Austin to see them. They were playing Friday night in Austin but that Saturday was the LSAT. From time to time I do try to be somewhat responsible. But only sometimes. This band was an amazing and pleasant surprise.[4]

[1] If you like the commentary, let me know and I'll try to make it a regular thing on the top 5. I of course planned to provide some justifications when I debuted my favorite albums of the year at the end of the month but I thought I'd debut the feature here during week 1.
[2] His sophomore LP is nominated for a number of awards and egomaniac Kanye West pulled him into the studio to work on My Dark Twisted Fantasy. "Lost in the World" is basically just Kanye ripping off the genius of Justin's "The Woods", the last track on the same amazing EP that "Blood Bank" opens (reworked as "Still" on the Justin Vernon side project Volcano Choir with Collections of Colonies of Bees), and replacing all the understated power and simple, profound beauty with his usual bombast, over-production and Kanye-centric worldview.
[3] Yes, I did just hipster you ironically. That's meta-ironic for you. Alanis Morissette's song writers just collapsed into a singularity created with that level of actual irony. And isn't that ironic, don't you think? Maybe just a little too ironic? Fuck you, those jokes are still funny a decade and a half later. Or maybe they're just too obscure for you? Bazinga!!!
[4] Kind of like Here We Go Magic opening for Grizzly Bear at The Parish. But that's a-nother story. You win two internets if you got that reference before clicking on the link.

Friday, November 25, 2011

bing gives you free money

Bing has a rewards program that gives you free money for doing something you do anyway: use a search engine. And you can redeem the points for some good stuff including microsoft points, hulu plus subscriptions, and gift cards for restaurants, stores like Amazon and Target, frequent flyer miles, and even gas. It's like the early days of internet shopping all over again. You can get something for nearly nothing. And if you're not happy with the bing results, just google it.

You can sign up for bing rewards here.

top 5 for the week of 25 november 2011

1. the mary onettes - dare

2. boat club - memories

3. the pains of being pure at heart - young adult friction

4. the clientele - (i can't seem to) make you mine

5. veronica falls - wedding day

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the new worst movie i've ever seen

Please, please don't waste your time watching "Hooking Up", now available on Netflix streaming. It "stars" Balki, Dante from "Clerks" and the annoying Corey (Feldman) plus a lot of other unknown actors in the main roles. I wasn't expecting much. A lame "American Pie" on par with "18-Year-Old-Virgin". Instead I got 90 minutes of unfunny, misogynistic nonsense and sexual abuse by Feldman.

I get what the screenwriters were trying to do (or more likely I'm giving them too much credit). They're trying to capture the sexual sadism of adolescent boys and emotionally naïveté of teenage girls. But they fail and fail in a big way. This kind of day in the life of a high school student requires perspective, something the filmmakers sorely lack, dwelling instead in the same ignorance and inexperience of the movie's main characters.

There are elements that could work for somebody more mature than the teens whom they purport to capture (a la American Pie, Wet Hot American Summer, and others). The three guys sitting around the library table discussing and googling various deviant sex acts is a scene that many American men can relate to (me included). Whereas better movies use this kind of sexual exploration in the context of heterosexual male bonding, Hooking Up uses them to glorify as "funny" acts and ideas that can only be characterized as misogynistic.

Seagulling, as the resident perv of this trio explains, is like bukkake but the person(s) ejaculated on are unwilling participants. You lurk on an unsuspecting couple and then pop up, pop on them, flap your arms like a seagull and then run like hell.

I'll explain the relevance, eventually.

To be continued

new dodos single with b-side

The title pretty much says it all.

A side - Don't Try and Hide It

B side - So Cold

Friday, November 18, 2011

top 5 for the week of 18 november 2011

1. valley of the giants - whaling tale

2. the decemberists - mariner's revenge song

3. jens lekman - i don't know what to do with this information (maida vale session)
Jens Lekman - 'I Don't Know What To Do With This Information' (Maida Vale Session) by stripeyjumper

4. florence + the machine - hurricane drunk

5. the depreciation guild - my chariot

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

that's not *my* prime directive

S3E20 'Through the Looking Glass' involves Miles "Smiley" O'Brien from the "evil universe" previously featured in S2E23's 'Crossover' breaking into the main universe and kidnapping Commander Sisko. Apparently, "evil" Ben is the leader of the Terran resistance (which also features other Federation races like the Vulcans) against the Alliance of the Cardassians, Klingons, and Bajorans. Apparently, Ben got himself killed trying to convince Jennifer[1], his very much alive and estranged wife, to quit developing a new sensor array for the Alliance that would collapse the resistance in a instant. Smiley kidnaps our Sisko to complete the mission that "evil" Ben couldn't.

Tuvok of the Voyager series is present[2] and vocal as a member of Ben's resistance. I had to look it up, and the Voyager series was just then getting started.

Without too many details (or spoilers), Ben manages to convince Jennifer to leave the Alliance. She knows, however, that this isn't the Ben she married; maybe because while he has the swagger he doesn't possess the same id or egocentric worldview. And then Smiley sends him home.

I'm sure it violates some variant or subparagraph of the Prime Directive, but he should have "hit that" one more time before going home. I mean, it's his wife that he hasn't seen in over 4 years in his universe. And it didn't seem like she wouldn't have been receptive to this version of Sisko. There has to be a "but she's my dead spouse and willing even though she knows I'm not from her timeline" exception clause. And even if there's not, Sisko already broke the rules by interfering to rescue Jennifer in the first place. In for a penny, in for a pound, they say. And Jennifer Sisko didn't seem like she would have minded giving him change[3].

[1] For those of you without the DS9 scorecard, Jennifer died before Sisko took command of Deep Space Nine (aka Terok Nor). She died when the USS Saratoga was attacked by the Borg at the Battle of Wolf 359 before the series started.
[2] He isn't given a name, but the voice and mannerisms are very much Tuvok. I don't know if this is official canon but I'm going with it.
[3] Oh, bad pun. I'm sorry.

deadmau5 covers radiohead

So this guy...

...has decided to cover this guy...

...and unsurprisingly it's is awesome, haunting and beautiful. Enjoy Deadmau5 covering Radiohead's "Codex".

Radiohead - Codex (deadmau5 cover) by fuckmylife

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

jj chopped & screwed

Here's one of my favorite mixtapes of 2010, jj's Kills chopped and screwed. Strangely enough, I was just listening to the original tonight in the car. If you don't know what chopped and screwed is, you're obviously not from Texas. But I promise you you've heard it in your mainstream, top 40 hits.

Follow this link to download.

miles o'brien, intergalactic sex symbol

He's married to Japanese botanist Keiko O'Brien. In S1E19 "Duet" it's revealed that his Bajoran assistant Neela has a crush on him. And Cardassian scientist Gilora hits on him in S3E15 "Destiny", mistaking his irascibility for flirtation. Move over Kirk and Picard, apparently Chief of Operatons Miles O'Brien is the sexiest man in Starfleet. Who knew?

From the looks of it, Miles is as confused about it as I am.

Monday, November 14, 2011

new twin shadow track - changes

i'm checkin' out i'm listed M.I.A.

Sorry to be so quiet over the past several weeks. It's getting down to the end of the semester here at law school and so I've been preoccupied with school work. But on the agenda for this blog are:
  • a review of the documentary Sex + Money
  • my final commentary on Tiger & Bunny
  • some words about the UK's Human Trafficking Strategy announced over the summer
  • some information about a sex slave story out of China
  • a look at Chinese demography
  • the Singapore mom porn star
  • several more human trafficking stories
  • a discussion of the importance of the suspension of disbelief in scifi
  • why 90s space station scifi was better than the ship stuff
  • response to DS9 so far
  • a long overdue review of The Housemaid (2010)
  • anime series reviews including Aquarion, Claymore, Shigurui: Death Frenzy, and my most recent series Desert Punk
  • and at the end of the year I'll post a list of my favorite albums of 2011
So hold tight and I promise I'll be back soon.

top 5 for the week of 11 november 2011

Sorry this is coming out so late. It's the end of the Fall semester here in law school and things are getting quite hectic.

1. gauntlet hair - top bunk

2. veronica falls - found love in a graveyard

3. girls - my ma

4. twin sister - the other side of your face

5. memoryhouse - lately

Friday, November 4, 2011

top 5 for the week of 4 november 2011

1. girls - honey bunny

2. craft spells - the fog rose high

3. the dø - sex on fire (kings of leon cover)

4. cloud nothings - no future/no past
Cloud Nothings, "No Future/No Past" by The FADER

5. pepper rabbit - murder room

Friday, October 28, 2011

top 5 for the week of 28 october 2011

1. telekinesis! - please ask for help

I've linked to this instead of the official music video because I hate edited versions of songs, especially when they censor a minor, single curse like "can't see shit." But the video is pretty cool visually so you can also view it here.

2. chromatics - kill for love

3. mazzy star - common burn
Mazzy Star - Common Burn by weallwantsome1

4. active child - diamond heart

I try very hard to let you listen to each song without leaving the page, but this new one from Active Child is so great I wanted to make sure you get the opportunity to heart it. Right now it's exclusively available at stereogum without an embedded player option so just follow the link and enjoy.

5. friends - i'm his girl

PS I hope you guys are appreciating the fact that I'm trying to focus more on 2011 releases.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the cheesiest movie about a space station

Several weeks ago I sat down to watch a 1980s sci-fi movie on netflix called Arena. The plot revolved around aliens and humans living and working on a space station that also hosted an intergalactic blood sport. The human protagonist seeks to become the first human champion in over 5 decades against difficult odds made worse by cheating. At the time I made a joke that the 1990s space station sci-fi dramas (Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5) raided the cast of this movie to fill their own ranks (Ivanova from B5, Quark and Gul Dukat from DS9). And then DS9 showed up on netflix streaming a few weeks later.

Surprise, surprise. I'm a geek. You may have gleaned that from the comic book, anime, and video game related posts. I'm also a sci-fi geek and back in the day I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. And then in 1993 came Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A black captain?! It worked in Blazing Saddles.

Even though I watched the show religiously for a number of years, I never managed to see the end. Unfortunately, where I lived the scheduling and order of episodes was erratic. I definitely saw Worf join the crew and date Dax. Siddig el Fadil became Alexander Siddig. And then my grasp of the plot gets messy around the time the Shapeshifters invade the Alpha Quadrant with their army of drug-addicted lizard people. I think the Cardassians join them and the Klingons ally themselves with the Federation. Something about a top secret Federation ship illegally modified with Klingon cloaking technology. I'm pretty sure there was a one-eyed Klingon POW at some point. And yeah, it's all pretty hazy.

But thanks to technology, this week I've restarted watching DS9 from the very beginning. And without commercial interruption! So here's some thoughts.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Sisko in command. His story of losing his wife and moving to the frontier with his son makes for compelling drama. And the navigating of factional politics (the Federation, various Bajoran interests, the Cardassians, and the various parties wanting to get in on the wormhole) made for fascinating, complex plotlines. Much like the early seasons of Babylon 5 before they went and ruined it by hurrying up the war with the Shadows.

I think this show was the first time I ever had a crush on an Asian woman. It wasn't so much a crush as I found the relationship between Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) and his wife Keiko (Rosalind Chao). Even though she had previously appeared on ST:TNG in the same role (Worf delivered baby Molly - seriously), I found her appearances on DS9 to be much more interesting. I think it was the first time on television I had even seen a conjugal relationship treated seriously. It wasn't one of Picard's flings or the Riker-Troi will they/won't they Who's the Boss vibe. Miles and Keiko fought, made up, and worked to make things work raising a family on the outskirts of Federation territory. I suppose it doesn't hurt that she's fairly attractive, too.

One huge advantage of a space show set on a space station rather than a starship is that you can get rooted in stories that plant seeds that take several shows, sometimes even seasons, to blossom. With a starship, you have to keep moving which often brings a monster/disaster of the week storytelling mentality with a rotating cast of guest stars each week. Being station allows a stable cast of supporting characters to develop. And this led me to be more involved in the various plots, relationships, intrigues, dealings, double-dealings, and cloak-and-dagger.

I'll try to update on a fairly regular basis with my ongoing (re)impressions of the show. I just finished episode 3 where Garak, the only remaining Cardassian on the station, is introduced as a spy working to communicate with the Federation through Dr. Bashir. He helps break up a plot my Bajoran terrorists to destroy the wormhole with the help of Klingon sisters Lursa and B'etor Duras, last seen on ST:TNG failing in a coup attempt of the Klingon High Council.

Yes, I really did watch these shows. A lot.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

oh, THAT's what that's for!

I spent the summer in London at a law fellowship primarily working on the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Part of my duties was to scan media and various international organizations for news and reports related to the topic areas my employer was concerned with. And one of the organizations I frequently browsed was the OSCE. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is prolific in publication and active on a broad number of issues. And I honestly had no idea who they are or what they do all summer.

I'm not a stupid guy. I knew about the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, and various other international bodies prior to showing up on my first day. I'd taken an International Law class and worked on human trafficking issues from the international perspective before. Hell, I'd even done policy debate in high school. We (policy debaters) don't leave any stone unturned when seeking out resources with which to argue about an issue. But with all the OSCE reports and endorses this and Special Representatives going there to that, I really had no idea why exactly anybody should care about the OSCE.

Until about an hour ago, I didn't even know the US was a member state. Truly Americans don't care too much about international commitments. Even those with an outwards-facing orientation.

So here's what I gleaned after reading about the OSCE for International Human Rights. The OSCE was first convened as a conference in 1975 in Helsinki between Western European, America, and Soviet Bloc countries with the expectation to discuss security issues like borders. But somehow it transformed into a forum where the countries could snipe openly and pointedly at each other about each other's human rights abuses. Apparently this felt pretty good because they decided to have more of these meetings and eventually to formalize the process into the modern OSCE structure.

Unlike other international organizations like the UN or the Council of Europe, the OSCE isn't a treaty-based organization. That means it doesn't have binding legal authority over the member states. In other words, you can't bring a complaint to the OSCE and expect to get an enforceable decision back. Instead, the OSCE operates through "political" rather than "legal" force. That means the OSCE can't make you as a member State do anything. But they can serve as a roundtable to talk about what a miserable job you're doing at protecting human rights.

And that's my understanding of the OSCE in a nutshell.

Friday, October 21, 2011

top 5 for the week of 21 october 2011

Sorry this didn't appear on Friday. I've been fighting the sickness all week.

1. st. vincent - strange mercy

2. ting tings - hang it up

3. veronica falls - bad feeling

4. ganglians - drop the act

5. shimmering stars - i'm gonna try

Friday, October 14, 2011

top 5 for the week of 14 october 2011

1. acid house kings - under water

2. letting up despite great faults - if you're here today

3. veronica falls - the fountain

4. james pants - clouds over the pacific

5. apparat - ash/black veil

Saturday, October 8, 2011

lazy bachelor's cookbook - southwest style chicken

Welcome to another installment of the Lazy Bachelor's Cookbook. I bought a crock pot this week to up my laziness in the kitchen quotient to nearly pro levels. For this go round, I made a southwest style chicken with cornbread muffins. The cornbread came from a box so just go out and buy some if you want to make them. I'll focus on the chicken recipe. First, I'll give you the recipe I found and then explain how I went off the rails to spice it up and what I would do next time.

Southwest Style Chicken
4-5 frozen chicken breasts[1]
1x 15.5oz can of black beans
1x 15oz can of corn (drained)
1x 15oz jar of salsa
1x 8oz package of cream cheese

Like most crock pot recipes, you dump all the ingredients except the cream cheese into your crock pot and cook on high for 4-5 hours. Then you dump in the cream cheese and cook for another 30 minutes or so until it melts.

I selected a chipotle salsa. In addition, I also threw in some cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper to give it more of a southwest or texmex flavor. I also chopped up half an onion and threw that in. Before adding the cream cheese, I used a pair of forks to shred the chicken breasts. The cream cheese didn't melt for me after 30 minutes so I ended up mixing it in.

The results were pretty good. It turned out to be more of a stew than I was expecting but the taste was good. I'm definitely glad I decided to call on audible on this one and throw in the spices to up the flavor. The corn bread made a nice pairing especially for sopping up the remainders on my plate.

Next time I think I would throw in a jalapeno pepper or two and substitute sour cream for the cream cheese. But saying that I would cook this again is the highest compliment I can pay to a recipe. It's not the most delicious thing I've ever put in my mouth but it's tasty, spicy (if you follow my lead), and filling. I could also see it being included as the filling for a southwest style chicken pot pie or maybe chicken tacos

It's a very simple recipe requiring little prep work. I'd say I only spent about 10 minutes chopping the onion, opening cans, and tossing in spices. After that, it's all about the waiting. Plus, I have tons of leftovers. I warmed some up in my toaster oven today for lunch and it was still pretty yummy.

The lazy bachelor was pleased.

UPDATE: I cooked this again but added some cayenne, chili powder, and sour cream to the mix. The spicy kick it gave the chicken pleased my Tex-Mex palate. I also cooked it significantly longer. Maybe if you thawed the chicken instead of using frozen breasts it would turn out to be less like a stew. That's something to consider for next time.

[1] I just tossed them in frozen as called for in the recipe. Some people have said cooking frozen chicken in a crock pot is a no-no but I don't know. I haven't gotten sick but YMMV. Do what you think is best.

texas lost so now it's time to pull the covers over your head

Lykke Li joins a long list of people to cover the classic tune "Unchained Melody." It's most famous incarnation is the Righteous Brothers version immortalized in the film Ghost as the song playing when Demi gets muddy fingers while ghost Patrick Swayze feels her up from behind during pottery class. The Swede songstress covered it earlier this summer during an appearance on Australia's Triple J radio show.

And Justin Vernon strikes cover gold again, covering Bob Dylan's "With God On Our Side" at a Portland, Oregon show.

And finally, "we're not a Brooklyn indie band" MGMT teamed up with Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound) cover Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" on Jimmy Fallon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

top 5 for the week of 7 october 2011

1. i break horses - winter beats (there's an official video but it's 90 seconds shorter)

2. ryan paris - dolce vita

3. neon indian - hex girlfriend

4. anr - stay kids

5. niva - boy from the sun

stop-motion ninjas

Amateur animator Olivier Trudeau has created this stop-motion short featuring two ninjas engaged in beautiful combat. It's skillfully and fluidly choreographed. Enjoy!

Ninja from Olivier Trudeau on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

have fun storming the castle

I've been looking forward to Robot Entertainment's upcoming title Orcs Must Die! all summer and now we're only 3 days away from the release date. The game blends third person action, strategic, and castle defense elements together to create gameplay that looks unique and fun.

Players take on the role of the War Mage who's tasked with keeping the titular orcs and other baddies away from the rift that will allow the monsters to storm your home realm. And you're able to do that in two main ways. First, by laying down traps such as spikes, arrow walls, and spring traps that launch baddies into environmental hazards like lava pits. Second, by taking up arms (and spells) yourself to bash, burn, and blow wave after wave of wave to keep home safe. The blending of those two very different play styles into one game is a big draw and I'm hoping it's executed seamlessly.

Try this interactive choose your own adventure style trailer to get a feel for the gameplay.

Visually, Orcs Must Die! has opted for a more stylized, cartoonish approach like Team Fortress 2, Torchlight, or the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic over something more gritty and realistic. It looks great in my opinion with a colorful palette that's fun and unique. It's definitely a step up from the more muted, uncreative style of a game like Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale. The fun look of Orcs Must Die! is definitely a plus and another reason I've been eagerly anticipating its release all summer.

I'll write up a full review of Orcs Must Die! after 5 October once I've had a chance to get my (virtual) hands on it.

Orcs Must Die! will release on XBLA 5 October and for digital download on PC 12 October.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

dungeons & dragons: daggerdale

I know I said I would review Bastion for you, but something more pressing came up. Right now XBLA is advertising Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale by Atari for download at a discounted rate. Let me save you some microsoft points. Do not buy it. The game is broken. I did some research on the issue and it looks like Atari has no intentions of releasing a patch to fix a long list of known issues, or at least no intention of doing so anytime soon. Don't waste your time or money on major frustration.

D&D: Daggerdale is your basic action RPG based on the popular Wizards of the Coast license. I think it's based on 4e rules but I'm not completely sure. You have the choose of 4 class / race combinations: a human fighter, a dwarf cleric, an elven rogue, or a halfling wizard. As you gain levels, you can spend points to improve your base attributes, buy and rank up special attacks & spells (about 6 per character), and purchase abilities. Each character also has a special ability based on class triggered with RB (fighter-block, cleric-Healing Word, rogue-dodge, wizard-teleport). There's enough choices to make things interesting but not enough that you can really customize your character.

Play time clocks in at about 6 hours if you run most of the side questions in addition to the main story quests for the 4 chapters. I wasn't a big fan of the dialogue screens which felt clunky and slow. And there's very little voice acting so you have to read the dialogue if you want to follow the story.

This is an action RPG so you probably want to hear about the combat and loot. It's a basic 4 button map (melee, range, potions, and interact) with your special attacks accessibly by holding the LT and pressing one of the 4 main buttons. Apparently if you press and hold, you can also charge those special attacks. I only learned about this feature after reading about it on the internet. No tutorial that I saw in the opening level pointed this feature out to me.

Loot drops are fairly regular but like most games of this ilk, a lot of the items aren't usable by your class. There are merchants distributed fairly evenly across the 4 levels. BUT you don't have to visit the merchant to sell your loot. The game gives you the option from the inventory screen to convert unequipped stuff to gold from anywhere in the level. And I don't think there's a major penalty for doing so but I may be wrong.

Besides potions (health, temporary resistance or stat bonuses), the major loot builds upon a fairly simple formula: item type + descriptive adjectives for enchantments + any magical bonus to attack or defense. The adjectives let you know what kind of bonuses you will get. And higher level items tends to have several adjectives because of all the bonuses.
Example: you may get 2 longswords, one a venomous longsword +1 and the other a blazing longsword +1. Both have the same base stats (for longsword) and magical bonus (+1) but one does poison damage and the other fire damage.
There is also a loot rarity system based on color with purple (or possibly blue, I'm colorblind) representing the most rare. Unique named items are also available by drop or by purchase from the merchants.

So what's wrong with D&D: Daggerdale? Two major issues in order of importance.

First, it's broken. Majorly so. And they're bad enough to severely negative the fun. The one I ran into is the deletion of one of your special skills when moving from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. I played the dwarf cleric on my first (and likely only play-through without a patch). Shield of the Gods is a key special attack and one of the first ones you can unlock. It's major effect is to push enemies away from you (knockback) in addition to doing damage. When you start Chapter 3, all of your equipment and special skills are stripped away for plot reasons. After solving those, I found all of my points (4 total, or 2 full character levels) in Shield of the Gods had disappeared. What's worse, the game recognized I had already purchased it and so wouldn't let me spend newly earned points to reactivate it.

This became a major hassle later in the level because of an undead mini-boss that likes to stick with you and pin you. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected Shield of the Gods would have let me push it away to heal and attack from range. Instead, I had to keep running around the level, accidentally pulling the re-spawning mobs, and desperately burning through health potions because they don't make you pause midstride like Healing Word. Not being able to push back mobs was also a major annoyance. Thankfully healing potion drops were plentiful. Even burning through them like crazy due to Shield of the Gods disapparating mid-way through the game, I had somewhere around 130 in stock after finishing the game. But with Healing World, my cleric had a non-resource taxing way to heal so YMMV.

Atari forums indicate this is a known issue effecting all classes. Too bad they haven't patched it yet. It makes the game seriously less fun.

Second, the game has some serious balance issues after the second, and longest, Chapter. By this time, I had accumulated a substantial war chest and mostly purple equipment. It didn't require any extra work to purchase the few upgraded items available in Chapter 3 (Chapter 4 is just thef final boss battle against Rezlus and his dragon ally). This meant getting through the rest of the game was mostly a slog through repetitive, non-challenging mobs and bosses instead of a ramping up of the difficulty level as you progress through the game. Even the remaining special attack unlocks didn't seem to change the strategy all that much or add any novel mechanics to break the monotony. Perhaps a different character class would offer sustained interest throughout but the cleric build was severely lacking.

The graphics aren't terrible for the price if a bit boring and subdued. You spend most of your time either in dwarven mines or a fortress so there's tons of greys and browns on the palette. The character designs are pretty basic and all the NPCs look the same. Enemies aren't awful to look at but there's a real lack of variety. The level bosses, on the other hand, are pretty interesting. I really liked the Skull Lord, a 3 headed undead wizard that blocks your entry into the Tower. Not AAA quality but what do you expect for a $15 download? In terms of visuals, D&D: Daggerdale definitely lacks any original style or personality.

There's coop available for both local play (split screen?) or online. I didn't try it and from what I've read, all kinds of new bugs creep into the multiplayer to make it un-fun and unplayable in its own way.

The story isn't much to write home about, either. It's a pretty generic fantasy story about stopping an evil cleric who wants to take over the kingdom. Most of the quests are of the fetch variety (go find this person / thing) but at least you're only made to collect X number of items dropped by enemies once. At the end, I felt like I was playing Dragon Age: Origins with all the plot choices and deep character-building mechanics stripped out. Especially when the various factions you've helped as you make your way through the plot show up to lend a hand in battling Rezlus, the final boss, on top of the tower. The arrival of Incendius, his dragon ally, further drove this feeling home.

If Atari patches it to fix the many known issues, D&D: Daggerdale would still be a generic action RPG with balance issues plaguing the last quarter of the game. With so many better games out there on XBLA (Bastion), I wouldn't make this one a priority to play. Still, I might have pushed through it another 3 times to experience the other classes and grab the achievements for multiplayer and getting all 4 classes up to level 10. But without a patch, it's a definite miss. Bland graphics, repetitive combat, and boring story are unforgivable when combined with gameplay breaking bugs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

top 5 for the week of 30 september 2011

1. young galaxy - blown minded

2. lower dens - i get nervous

3. neutral milk hotel - where you'll find me now

4. st. vincent - surgeon

5. twin sister - bad street

Thursday, September 29, 2011

stream the new ringo deathstarr ep

Austin's shoegaze / lo fi act with the hipster name just released an LP in February but they've already got a 4 song EP called Shadow on the way in November. Nylon Magazine has it available to stream a full month in advance. Unfortunately, they won't let me embed the soundcloud so you'll have to follow this link to hear it.

The title track is easily my favorite of the 4. There's something a little bit grungy about it and the m/f vocal pairing is evocative.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a resurrected beatdown from the trash can of history

Am I the only one looking forward to the Guardian Heroes remake for XBLA? Of course I'm not. Looks like there's finally a release date for this Sega Saturn class: 12 October. You'll definitely catch me throwing away hours and hours on the branching storylines of this side-scrolling beat 'em up instead of researching for any of my 3 papers this semester. Here's a trailer to get you stoked.

While I was in London over the summer, 4 upcoming XBLA games caught my eye: Bastion (beat it), D&D: Daggerdale (played the demo), Orcs Must Die! (5 October), and this one. In just a few short weeks, I'll finally close that open appointment on my iCalendar.

Maybe in the meantime, I can write up a brief review and some impressions of Bastion for the 3 people in American on XBLA who haven't played it.

simpsons! (in minecraft)

A remarkable remake of the widely recognized opening from The Simpsons. But why is Dewey Largo naked?

So far both Star Wars trilogies, Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and Rock Band have gotten the Lego treatment from Traveller's Tales. How long until we see America's favorite yellow family[1] rendered in block form having madcap adventures?

[1] Sorry, All-American Girl. Apparently, I also need to seek out Mr. T and Tina. No, not "pity the foo" Mr. T but Pat "Mr. Miyagi used to be a cook on Happy Days" Morita. It's recognized as the first tv sitcom about an Asian American family on American TV. Query: why did all Japanese guys on TV in the 70s have the last name Takahashi? Were they all brothers or something?


Here's a movie in parts about (apparently) America going broke after the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of China. To make ends meet, America hosts a telethon. That's what we need, Obama. Jerry Lewis can get us out of this crisis. Declare America one of Jerry's Kids. Seriously, though, after I get time to watch the movie, I'll review it. But you can enjoy it now in segment form.

George Carlin narrates.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Saturday, September 24, 2011

new track from twin shadow

Twin Shadow debuted a new track called "Changes" on KCRW. Unfortunately, in my lameness, I can't absolutely confirm this is the new song they've been playing at recent shows (Atlanta, ACL), but I think it is. Here's your opportunity to download and listen to it yourself.

Twin Shadow - "Changes" by Pretty Much Amazing

Friday, September 23, 2011

top 5 for the week of 23 september 2011

An extended top 5 based on 3 days at ACL.

sept 18
1. arcade fire - ready to start

2. fleet foxes - white winter hymnal

3. death from above 1979 - you're a woman, i'm a machine (christian aids remix)

4. broken social scene - sweetest kill

5. the walkmen

sept 17
1. telekinesis! - awkward kisser

2. twin shadow - tyrant destroyed

3. phosphorescent - the mermaid parade

4. cut copy - lights and music

5. iron & wine - naked as we came

sept 16
1. wild beasts - the devil's crayon

2. reptar - stuck in my id

3. smith westerns - weekend

4. bright eyes - bowl of oranges

5. santigold - lights out

And a bonus video
* stars - your ex-lover is dead

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

the execution of troy davis

I moved from one state that takes pride in killing innocent people to take up domicile in another which feels the same way. Today, pending intervention from the governor, Georgia will put to death a man that no rational person can say is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the law isn't about justice.

A US Supreme Court judge (that's the joke, folks) recently wrote in an opinion that it was not only legal but appropriate to put an innocent man to death if it takes place in accordance with the judicial apparatus of the State.[1] Seriously, the US Supreme Court says it's ok to knowingly execute an "innocent" man. We are watching the erosion of the legitimacy of the American legal system one innocent person put to death at a time.

This is not justice. This is a miscarriage of justice.

My heart goes out to Troy Davis and his family.

19:26 It looks like a delay has been ordered for the execution. It's not a stay so the execution could still happen tonight. In this case, justice delayed may *NOT* justice denied.
19:31 Here's livestream coverage of what's going on with the execution.
19:46 It looks like it's a 1 to 7 day reprieve. That means Troy can still be executed as early as tomorrow.
22:30 US Supreme Court denies the stay. Execution of Troy Davis will go forward. May happen tonight.
23:08 Troy Davis has been murdered by the state of Georgia.

[1] The quote from Justice Scalia in his 2009 dissent to the unsigned Supreme Court opinion ordering a Georgia trial court to re-examine the evidence that could prove Troy Davis' innocence states:
This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

dueling with pigeons

Usually the failblog has just been failing in recent days but this one is genuinely amusing. I hope they washed their hands after dueling because pigeons are filthy animals.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ACL 2011 - 3rd day

The Mullet's Festival Guide for Not Being Lame at a Festival

Rule 13
If you shine your laser pointer all over the stage and at the band, you are lame, I hate you, and when I'm resurrected as a tiger I will hunt you down and bite off both your hands.
It was hot today. Super hot. Not many rain clouds hung over Zilker Park unlike the previous two. It did sprinkle for a little bit around 5:30 but not enough to thoroughly chase away the heat or provide much shady relief. A nice breeze blew sporadically. When it did, the wind felt good. It didn't blow enough.

Today, 18 September, I saw at ACL:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Detroit)
2. The Walkmen
3. The Airborne Toxic Event (Los Angeles)
5. Chiddy Bang
6. Broken Social Scene (Canada)
7. Death from Above 1979
8. Fleet Foxes
9. Social Distortion
10. Hayes Carll
11. Empire of the Sun
12. Arcade Fire

I started out day 3 by watching Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. who regular readers may recognize from the track 'Nothing But Our Love (Kasper Bjorke remix)' that's been in the top 5 of the week before. They weren't quite as dance-y as I had hoped. Still, a lot of fun and danceable. They threw out popsicles to the crowd half-way through the set which made them really popular on a hot Austin summer day. They also covered Steve Winwood's 'Higher Love'.

Split the next hour between The Walkmen and The Airborne Toxic Event sets. The Walkmen reminded me of a countrified Rod Stewart for some reason. I've seen The Airborne Toxic Event before at 101x Fest at Emo's[1] a few years ago. There's some inexplicable about them that I really like. They covered 'I Fought the Law' and dedicated to LAPD, the London Metro cops, and the police of Athens, GA who recently "detained [them] against [their] will." Definitely a fun set.

Finally managed to catch Broken Social Scene live. I tried to make something happen when they toured immediately after the release and in support of 'Forgiveness Rock Record.' This will be one of their last shows before going on indefinite hiatus. While I did enjoy watching their show streamed live via youtube several months, actually seeing them in person is much, much better. I guess that's the influence of the crowd rather than sitting at home listening while working on your 1L brief.

Death from Above 1979 brought the day's brief rain. They also brought bad news. They played Emo's last night. It will be the last show performed at Emo's because the venue is being dozed this Monday. What the hell happened, Austin? Emo's was one of the premier live music venues in Austin and a long-standing and venerable institution of the Austin music scene. Punk acts, metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, indie and more passed through the doors of its two stages and played for one of the few all ages crowds left in the city. I've been going to Emo's for nearly a decade and a half. I've seen a lot of good shows there in college and after and made a lot of good memories there. You will be missed, Emo's.

Hayes Carll has great stage banter. He told a story about appearing on Leno and was surprised the crowd didn't boo him. That night's guest was Kathie Lee Gifford. Then he related a tale about almost appearing on Letterman. He flew to NYC to speak with his manager and to try to make it happen but ultimately got passed over in favor of another band. Stuck in NYC for the night, he decided to tune into Letterman to see who that night's celebrity guest would be. It was the complete lineup of the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. But at least he got to meet Kathie Lee Gifford.[2]

The guy from Empire of the Sun smashed his guitar up all crazy rocker style at the end of their set.

I saw Arcade Fire in May in Austin with Explosions in the Sky. I'm not sure what it was, but I liked this year's Grammy winners a lot more this time around. It's not because I'm more familiar with their music. Neon Bible and the Suburbs were much more heavily in my rotation back then. Weather was also nicer. And they played substantially the same set tonight and 4 months ago.

Maybe it's because I was pissed off because my (ex)friend made me miss most of the Explosions in the Sky set.[3] Was there a horn section in May? I think there was. I don't like horns much. That and they played the songs straight up this time instead of trying to stadium rock-it.

They're traveling with the same stage setup I saw in May. That's the two screens angled together to look like an old-style movie theater marquee complete with a line of lights around each marquee. There's also a larger screen below them. Because they played on the Bud Light stage, the stage where all the major headlining acts played this year (Kanye, Stevie Wonder), two screens flanked the stage where ACL camera crews projected feeds from their various cameras.

I can't say enough about how different my experience was seeing them this time. I really, really enjoyed the show. Win Butler quipped that Austinites are "horrible dancers." He also dropped a hint that another major Canadian band may be going on hiatus after finishing up their scheduled tour dates. At the close of the show, Win said that we won't be seeing them for a couple of years. That sounds like more definite plans than 'until we record another album.' Did I miss some announcement? Just thought I'd share.

UPDATE 19 September: I've gone back and added some links to songs for the various artists I saw over the weekend. I'm starting with day 3 and working backwards. It will be a slow process because I'm also a busy 2L and a weekend of fun is a week's worth of hell in makeup work. Keep in mind, just because it's linked doesn't mean it was actually performed during ACL.

[1] RIP Emo's.
[2] He says he plans on retiring that story after tonight.
[3] Don't fret, faithful readers. I'll be seeing Explosions again on 29 September at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.