October 2006

I mentioned it awhile back in my music review section (mainly because that’s where the lions share of traffic goes on my site), but roughly two weeks ago I passed two million page views for the year. That’s not hits, nor individual users (which most people probably gauge their worth on), but nonetheless it was a minor milestone for my little domain, which has grown in traffic a little bit each year since launching it.

With the music reviews being the largest part of the growth, I’ve actually had several times in the past couple years where I’ve considered putting ads into the section. I’ve been approached by several different labels asking about rates for placing ads, yet I’ve never even seriously considered it. With creating podcasts and trying to listen to everything, I’m spending more time per week than ever actually thinking and putting work into the section, yet for some reason I still feel weird about trying to take the next step and putting ads up. For some reason it feels like it would be impartial, even though the spots would obviously be paid for. It’s something that may happen in the future at some point, yet I can say it probably won’t be any time soon.

All of the above said, I’ve seen the stats for this blog and there are a lot more readers here than I thought there would be. Who’s sleuthing me?

Paul Wellstone 1944-2002We lost a great one four years ago today.

At the time it happened, I didn’t know a whole lot about Paul Wellstone, as I had just gone through a re-awakening on more of a national and local level just before the turn of the century.

After his death, I read a lot more about his work, including his speeches and his ideas and policies and came to the conclusion that our country would certainly be a much better place if there were a lot more people like Paul Wellstone working in politics.

Aaron (formerly one-fifth of Marianas, a great designer, and a weekly tennis chap of mine) is now officially the first member of our group to actually put some music out into a public forum in a new band. Humland made their live debut the other evening with a soaring batch of songs (the tracks on their aforementioned myspace page don’t really do them service) that work the intricate post rock tip nicely. They even played a cover/reworking of the Marianas track “Good God Damn” (off our Summering EP) that was quite surreal to hear as a non-participating audience member.

And speaking of A.M. (after Marianas) projects, Ryan and I are indeed still working on our little project. It is coming along slowly but surely, with several evenings per month looking like this in my living room…

Ryan recording...

I took a photo of the back of our house about two months ago and it’s been sitting on the desktop of my computer since then. My original thought when taking the photo was to show off the huge grapevines growing on our pergola or how big the tomato plants were just outside the back door of our house. TG had just found a great old metal lawn chair at a garage sale for five dollars and we managed to get some good use out of it sitting in the later summer sun.

After several hard frosts in our area, though, just about everything that was flourishing in the photo is now dying. The tomato plants are completely decimated, nothing more than floppy, wet strands bent over the metal cages that used to barely hold them up, while the leaves on the grapevines have all turned brown and are starting to fall into the grass (which has also lost a lot of its color).

Instead of the fresh smell of basil greeting you when walking out the back door, it’s now the slightly pungent aroma of vegetables starting to rot. We need to take the time to cut everything back and put all our vegetable cages into the shed for the winter, but we either haven’t had the heart yet, or the time. We’re getting close to finally using up the last of the peppers that we picked, and while we did manage to save a few tomatoes and sack them up in a paper bag for continued ripening, it’s just not quite the same as picking them fresh.

There’s a possibility of snow in the forecast for tomorrow, so I decided to finally post the picture of the green backyard for reference over the course of the next couple desolate months.
backyard and house

Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly I’m not a huge fan of “talk like a pirate day,” nor have I seen either of the Pirates of the Carribean movies, but I have to admit at least a partial fascination with pirates. I mean, who doesn’t have one? I suppose it goes back to my days of youth (where forest forts became a perfect place for swashbuckling daydreams) a little more than recent times, but continuing my non-fiction kick for the year, I decided to tackle Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly.

The book was recommended quite some time back by friend and former band-mate Tom (hi, Tom!), and TG bought the book and sped through about 75 pages only to deposit it on the lower level of our nightstand and leave it for dead. Not quite ready to tackle a book on World War II right on the heels of one on World War I, I thought some lighter fare on pirates might be good.

As it turns out, Cordingly’s book is very well researched and is an interesting look at both the facts and fictions behind how pirates have been portrayed over the ages. It was interesting to see a lot of the romantic misconceptions get blown out of the water (pun sort of intended), as well as some of the more brutal elements brought into focus. Yes, there was a lot of drinking and galavanting on the high seas, but in most cases this sort of a lifestyle meant for a very short lifespan and if death didn’t come by disease or battle wounds, it came by hanging (after which the corpse was usually coated in tar and placed in a large metal cage at port entries as a warning to others) after pirate activity was cracked down more severly by the British government.

At roughly 250 pages, the book was also a speedy read, with some interesting drawings, maps, and illustrations to boot. If you think that the pirates life was all Errol Flynn style swashbuckling and loveable rogues like a drunken Johnny Depp, this might be a good book to check out.

Steve Reich - Phases (A Retrospective)Many, many years ago, I found a CD in a markdown bin at a music store in the town that I was going to college in. It was a CD by the Orb and it became one of my real jumping off points to electronic music and one of my favorite CDs of that time. On this CD, the group sampled a bit of Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” (in “Little Fluffy Clouds”), although I wouldn’t know that for some time afterwards.

Several years later, after I was out of college, I was told about a piece of music called “Different Trains,” which was a collaboration between Kronos Quartet (who I really liked at the time, and were the foundation for said conversation) and Steve Reich. I purchased this CD and it blew my mind. It was really unlike anything I had heard at the time (even from Kronos Quartet, whose “Howl U.S.A.” has similar musical touchpoints, yet I hadn’t heard at that point in time), and it subsequently moved me enough to seek out more work by Steve Reich.

The first purchase that I made was Music For 18 Musicians and it quickly became one of my favorite pieces of music in my entire collection (and still is). It’s one of those amazing, timeless pieces of music that seems to encompass everything I love about music. If you listen to it in certain situations, it can sound driving and almost relentless, yet put into another listening context can sound weightless and ethereal. It’s truly one of those rare pieces of music that I can listen to at any point during any given day, whether I’m happy or sad and know that I’ll enjoy it.

Over the years, I’ve picked up several more CDs by Steve Reich and enjoyed almost everything that I’ve heard by him. In sort of a roundabout way, I learned that he was having his 70th birthday this month (it was on October 3rd), and in doing so it re-ignited my fascination with his music. Even though I already had a good portion of the music contained on it, I went ahead and purchased the recently-released 5CD Phases: A Retrospective compilation on Nonesuch Records. Not only is the set a better introduction to his music, but it’s also much cheaper than his super expensive 10CD set on the same label. After listening to the set again straight through several times, I can honestly say that I feel it’s essential. It not only includes the aforementioned “Music For 18 Musicians,” but also his stunning “Drumming” (the shorter version), “Different Trains,” his earliest tape loop piece (“Come Out”), his newest composition (“You Are (Variations”) and even “Electric Counterpoint,” which was the song I mentioned waaaay back at the beginning, which was sampled by The Orb. There’s also a ton of other music, and each disc runs well over seventy minutes, making for a huge batch of listening.

But anyway, enough shilling. In honor of his birthday, NPR re-ran an interview that Reich did with Terry Gross a couple years back, and while it’s several years old, it’s still worth listening to. The interview was done in 1999 when Reich was 63, but it’s still amazing to hear how vibrant and excited about creating art he still is at his age. If you’re someone who likes to listen to someone who is well-spoken talk about their art and the thought processes that go into it, I highly recommend the interview. It’s worth noting that listening to said interview, I learned that his last name is actually pronounced “Reish.” I’d been pronouncing it incorrectly for years and years.

I can honestly say that Steve Reich is one of those composers/musicians who have changed my life for the better, even if it’s just a little bit. For that, I want to wish him a happy birthday and many more productive years doing what he loves.

Oh, and I’m also sorry about the name. I promise to pronounce it correctly from now on.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been working on a new musical project for a good portion of this year. Ryan and I have been slowly plugging along and making progress on a post Marianas project that has a couple things in common with our old group, but moves in lots of new directions as well.

One of these directions is that our new group is going to have vocals. Every song. We’re both big fans of groups like Talking Heads and Depeche Mode and even more modern artists like Notwist and DNTEL, and it seemed like the next logical step. Plus, it seemed like a good way to challenge ourselves even more.
The problem is that I’ve never really done much in terms of lyrics before. Sure, I’ve written down slews of stuff for songs that never turned into anything, but I’ve never penned anything that I’d feel either comfortable or interested in singing aloud and especially recording. I’ve done a ton of writing in my life, including lots of reviews (obviously), loads of fiction (including several 20+ page unpublished pieces), and lots of essays and non-fiction. Writing lyrics is an entirely different beast, though.

Because I’m still sort of learning at it, I find myself falling into familiar traps like trying to rhyme each end of line with the next. I catch myself coming up with over-used words and I’ve done a large amount of simply slashing and burning different things that I’ve written when upon second reading they sound like the work of a complete lightweight idiot.

All of the above said, I have come up with some lines that I’m really proud of (I’m trying to take the mindset that I have to be comfortable enough with anything I come up with to see it in print at some point) and I go through little periods where it seems like I can spit out one line after another. I just want to come up with words that are slightly original and I won’t feel embarrassed about in the morning. Is that too much to ask?

Kranky RecordsIt seems like such a minor detail, but I have to say that the small packaging change that Kranky Records instated last year sometime has thrilled me. The label started experimenting with cardboard sleeve packaging as far back as Pan American’s 360 Business / 360 Bypass and Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna To Heaven double CD, but now it seems like the aforementioned packaging has turned into their primary mode of delivering music.

As mentioned above, this is a rather silly, minor thing, but it makes me happy for several reasons. The first of these is that their packaging now feels largely like a mini LP. Obviously the artwork is not as large (and they still make LPs of all their output), but in pure tactile ways, their small sleeve releases are quite nice. Secondly, their CDs and packaging simply take up less room on my shelf while still being plainly visible. Like a lot of people, I’m starting to accumilate quite a collection of CDs, and the slim packages from Kranky still fit on the shelf nicely (with readable spines) while some other companies insist on not only putting releases inside jewelcases, but including cardboard slipcases, etc. I’m not a huge treehugger (well, okay, sort of), but it just seems kind of wasteful at this point in time.

So that’s my little ramble. Kranky has always been one of my favorite labels, and their new understated (but nice) packaging is just one of several reasons why.

After a long, hot summer and a rather nice, somewhat extended fall, it seems that cold weather will finally be arriving this week in Nebraska. It’s supposed to freeze the next couple nights in a serious enough way that covering plants won’t be enough to save them. Because of this, TG and I have been trying to gather just about everything we can out of our garden before the frost hits and everything dies. She went out the other night and brought in everything that was of a decent size, including a slew of peppers, a huge bowl of chard, several butternut squash, some tomatoes, and a pumpkin.

Veggies from the garden

We had such a successful garden this year that it makes me a little sad knowing that I won’t be able to go out in back whenever I’m cooking dinner and grab a green pepper or a tomato to add to the recipe. We have loads and loads of homemade pesto in the freezer (and I might get one more big batch made if I can motivate myself tomorrow night), but it seems that the fresh organic veggies grown by our own hand will be coming to an end very, very soon.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of compost going for next year already, and we have even more plans and ideas for what we want to let loose in the spring. It’s still gonna be a bit sad seeing everything wilt and come to an end.

If you’ve looked at this site at all in the past, you’re probably aware that the more updated part of this domain is the music review section. In the time since I’ve started doing them (nearly 10 years!), I’ve gotten to the point where I now receive a fairly modest amount of CDs from record labels (and publicists) to review. I do my best to get around to a majority of them, but it’s a bit hard sometimes.

At some point in the past year, I got put on the mailing list of a major label, and despite a couple emails from me to them asking to be removed, they keep sending me stuff. I’ve stopped feeling bad about trading these CDs into stores for things I want, or giving them away to friends who actually like what this label sends me. They also send me loads of crap that if they looked at my site, they’d know I would most likely never review.

At any rate, I open the post office box today and find not one, not two, but three of the usual huge cardboard mailers that they usually send things to me in. Within each one of these mailers is the same, 4-track (same track, different versions) CD of what is apparently the first single from some new forthcoming Eminem album. One of them is nearly smashed to bits, which is maybe why they felt the need to send me two more in addition to it.

3 CDs

Looks like the museum of lost music will be aquiring some new radio singles in the near future.