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What I’ve Been Doing 16 Jan 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jan 17th, 2012 by Dan

Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation Lino Block Print

Ron Effing Swanson (Picture courtesy andyrama)

Parks and Recreation is back, everyone! Ron Swanson approves.

Movies

Paul – I’d heard very conflicting things about this movie. My feelings on it remain conflicted. I like Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Kristen Wiig, but this movie, while good, was not the best showcase of their various talents. I don’t regret watching it, but I’d say it’s pretty middling.

TV

Parks and Recreation – I love this show and I’m so glad it’s back! It’s bittersweet to get Parks back, but not Community, but I’ll take what I can get. I love the running gags about calzones and every scene with Aubrey Plaza. So great. This show is amazing. Skip season 1 and start watching it!

How I Met Your Mother – Finished season 6! Netflix is awesome. I wish they did more/better things with Cobie Smulders, but the season was decent, overall. The show did some interesting things with the season, but nothing as standout as in the first two or so. I didn’t hate Zoey as much as other people seemed to, but that’s just me. Now I need to catch up on this year’s season!

Samurai Champloo – Caught a few more episodes. I’m all set up for the last four. Been a good run so far. Not as good as Bebop, but still enjoyable.

Music

While working on Fukubukuro posts I discovered that Five Iron Frenzy got back together! If you like the band, they’ve got a new song on their site.

Books

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Slow and steady…

Video Games

The Old Republic – Got into the big raid instance. Lots of fun taking on the boss and figuring out strategies. There was supposed to be a new flashpoint today, but the patch was delayed. Excited to start leveling up alts now!

July: “Did You Get What You Wanted?” [Fukubukuro 2011]
Jan 10th, 2012 by Dan

Farewell, Rx Bandits.

We were introduced with The Resignation 2003 as a Christmas gift from my ex-girlfriend. I loved “Mastering the List” and I liked the album then, but I didn’t really LOVE RxB.

Love started in 2006 with …And The Battle Begun. So many great songs on that disc, but tops must always go to “Only for the Night”, which became (and remains) my favorite track.

In 2009 I explored your past with Halfway Between Here and There and Progress, enjoying the strides you’d made and how far you’d come. The seeds were always there and it all gelled with Mandala. Your crowning achievement of all that you wanted to do and all that you wanted to say and, despite my love for your horns, it was the end of that era. You’d grown up and so had I.

Eric was mentioning to me that he finds punk/ska to be young man’s music and I can understand that. Surface level anti-commercial and anti-establishment lyrics give way to more complicated thoughts about war, women, regret, loss. RxB’s songs had that arc. I mean, they may still hate the man, but it’s not in the same way that a punk kid just hates the man for being “fake”. RxB wants social change, but not anarchy, you know? It’s a fine line to toe.

Quick digression, both FIF and RxB were big on women’s rights and image issues and it makes me think that the ska scene tries to be friendlier to women (there were certainly a few women-led ones in the past), but I have no idea if that’s actually true. Any scene that’s big on moshing and all that can’t really be all that girl-friendly, can it? I may just have a biased view…

Anyway, RxB ran its farewell tour through DC in July and I knew I couldn’t miss it. I tried (in vain) to get someone to come with me, but despite being unable to muster any other concert goers other than myself, I went down to the 9:30 Club for the big show.

The only other Farewell Tour I’d been on was the fantastic Five Iron Frenzy Winners Never Quit tour (ED NOTE: FIF is actually a thing again! They got back together in Nov and they’ll be releasing an album in 2013!). That was such an emotional and awesome show. I almost cried at that show and I single-handedly credit it to proving to me that concerts can be mega-awesome. I knew I had to go to RxB’s.

It was a slightly different environment, for sure. I wasn’t 17 anymore and moshing wasn’t generally allowed at FIF concerts, but I’ve been to enough concerts that it wasn’t too jarring. Some of the jostling kept me from really focusing on the show, but it was still one of their most incredible gigs. I wish they’d brought back the horns for the last tour, but everyone was still on their A-game. Matt Embree and Steve Choi, in particular, were outstanding and showed why their direction defined the band post-Progress.

The highlight of the night was their show-ending “Only for the Night”. It was a meandering stunner. They start the song, flow into jams and other songs for another seven to ten minutes, and, when you’ve forgotten that this started with “Only for the Night”, they come bursting back into the song for its bombastic ending. It just felt so right and the entire venue was just blown away.

At the end of the night it was another goodbye. FIF was a farewell to high school. I went out of town to see them and it was a way to end the thread of music that had carried me through middle school and high school. RxB was the music I jammed to in undergrad and in that post-university limbo. It’s weird saying goodbye to a thing I love and a period of my life that I feel like I’ve moved past.

Thanks for the music, RxB. You guys were the best.

Rx Bandits at Ace of Spades - Sacramento

Peace, Matt Embree (Photo Courtesy Eric Lovato)

What I’ve Been Doing [F/FB/IB/BT/GO]
Jul 11th, 2011 by Dan

2010 Pine Leaf Boys scene from Treme, Breaux Bridge April 30 (23 of 34)

A performance from Tremé

Tomorrow night’s the All-Star Game, but my coverage might be a little different than usual. I plan on watching it with friends, so there may not be a liveblog, but I will cover it in the morning. In the meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Music:

Rx Bandits – Saw the Bandits down at the 9:30 Club on Saturday for their farewell tour. I don’t think anything will match the unparalleled emotion I felt at Five Iron Frenzy’s “Winners Never Quit” tour back in 2003, but it was a special show. They’re not writing off being a studio band, but that may have been the last time I’ll ever see the Bandits and they did not disappoint. Great show. The tour t-shirt puts me up to 5 RxB t-shirts. I think I’ve reached excessive there.

Movies:

Carancho - Ricardo Darín’s strong showing in El secreto de sus ojos attracted me to this movie. In it, Darín plays a carancho (translates to vulture), or an ambulance chaser, who scams victims out of their settlements. The story is a little uneven, but it’s clear to me that Darín is ridiculously talented and I love seeing him in anything. Gotta track down more of his films.

TV:

Tremé – Finally got around to watching the season 2 finale. Good stuff. It’s neat to see the differences between Tremé and The Wire. David Simon is clearly not compelled to make this show more watchable by limiting the live music or giving it a more structured plot, but that’s ok sometimes. It’s nice to see the different storylines just play out because, hey, that’s life. Good to also see the Vietnamese shrimp boats as a preparation for an eventual Gulf Oil Spill storyline.

Dead Like Me – As a fan of Pushing Daisies, I was not surprised to learn that this was a Bryan Fuller show. The same little quirks were apparent in the early episodes and although he left the show rather early in its run, his DNA runs through it. I gotta wonder about Fuller’s preoccupation with death and women with masculine nicknames…Anyway, it’s a pretty solid show that my girlfriend is watching and I hop in for an episode or two wherever she is. The premise, that the main characters are grim reapers who collect souls that are about to die, is pretty neat and I dig the characters. I also like that it was a Showtime show, so the writers are free to let the characters talk like real people.

Mad Men – Last weekend I just blew through S3 and S4. This is a fantastic show. I do love it when a show finds itself continually evolving so it’s neat to see how far the characters have come since S1. It was a little troubling in the 4th season to see Don struggling, but I’m excited to see what S5 brings in 2012. This is seriously one of the best shows I’ve seen in ages. Very good.

Books:

Chew – New issue (#19) came out last week. Toni appears in this one and she’s rapidly grown on me as one of my favorite characters. The latest issue sets up a lot of neat plot points that I’m excited to see born out and also reveals some interesting secrets about the Chu family. Definitely the best so far in the new arc.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – My love affair with Jonathan Hickman’s work has not abated yet. His examination of the secret history of an organization that a lot of Marvel fans kind of take for granted is very interesting. Could have interesting implications for the greater Marvel universe, but it also ties in very nicely with Hickman’s work in FF. Gotta wonder if Hickman has some serious father issues, because it’s yet another book of his thematically dealing with fathers and sons, but this time with a fate vs. free will wrinkle.

Fantastic Four/FF – More Hickman, more awesomeness. I finally got around to reading Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and I was seriously impressed. I mean, we’re talking a breadth of narrative that’s still bearing fruit in his current issues of FF. FF is one of my most anticipated books every month. I can’t wait to see what The War of the Four Cities will bring and whether or not the issues with the Council of Reeds (first introduced at the start of Hickman’s run back in 2009) will be resolved in this arc.

Ultimate Fantastic Four – Still cool, but man does it pale in comparison to the work being done on FF. Almost done with it, so I’ll continue for now.

Video Games:

Torchlight – Picked this guy up for $2 or so in the Steam summer sale. and it was well worth the purchasing price. Definitely scratching my Diablo itch with some seriously addictive game mechanics. Playing as the pet class and loving all the summons, but on Very Hard the final dungeons are proving challenging. I’m afraid to try it hardcore next, but the challenge is calling me (for those who don’t know, hardcore mode means that death is permanent for a character. THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE!)

Left 4 Dead – David finally built himself a new computer allowing him to play all the sweet games of the past that we couldn’t play before. We played No Mercy last night and it was a real blast from the past. I can’t wait for him to see the ways the game has evolved in L4D2! I’m sure he’ll find it just as awesome as I do.

inFamous – Beat it on very hard on the good track. Considering an evil run for trophies, but, truth be told, this game is middling, at best, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to motivate myself to play it again with more interesting options on hand.

StarCraft 2 – Played a couple of quick rounds with Dave and one of his friends. Still solid, but I’m not always in the mood.

My Favorite Bands/Albums/Musical Concepts of the 2000s [Feedback]
Dec 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s really been tough coming up with the music that has most resonated with me in the 2000s. Wanting to represent the entire decade is tough, since I don’t really find the music that I used to listen to before I went to college all that good. Once I had more money and exposure beyond the mainstream acts I was familiar with in high school, I feel my tastes really changed up some. This list is definitely not representative of the actual best bands of the decade, they’re just bands that had a strong effect on me and my musical development.

I’ll start with a band who I was introduced to my sophomore year of high school, Lucky Boys Confusion.

Lucky Boys Confusion

Notable Albums: Throwing the Game (2001) and Commitment (2003)

This one came to me courtesy of my friend Kristin who brought a burnt copy of Throwing the Game up to Tampa with her for a summer visit my sophomore year of high school (2002). The band isn’t anything too special that’s about to revolutionize music or anything, they’re just a solid rock band from Chicago with a great sound. My favorite songs by the band are “Not About Debra”, a Latin-infused song about a girl in the wrong relationship, “Do You Miss Me? [Killians]”, an upbeat cover of the freestyle classic by the same name (sans the [Killians]) by Jocelyn Enriquez, “Sunday Afternoon”, a nice reggae-type break from the usual uptempo beats that LBC is known for.

The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.

Five Iron Frenzy

Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)

As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.

The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.

Rx Bandits

Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)

I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.

Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.

Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”

If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.

Green Day

Notable Album: American Idiot (2004)

Another band that hails primarily from the previous decade, but whose 2004 release marked a huge turning point for the band. Yeah, Dookie is probably their most famous album, but American Idiot went and upped their pop relevance to eleven. The rock opera heralded in the “new” Green Day and turned the band into something far beyond its punk rock roots singing about weed and bumming around. For me, it was a great concept album whose lyrics seemed bold (I’m pretty sure they were early on the Bush backlash train) and far deeper than “Longview.” I don’t listen to the album much today, since I played it out my freshman year, but I’ll still let “Give Me Novacaine” or “Extraordinary Girl” play any time they come up on shuffle.

Relient K

Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)

When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.

The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75″, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?

The Zutons

Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)

This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.

OK Go

Notable Album: Oh No (2005)

There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.

While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.

The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.

Fall Out Boy

Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)

Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.

My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me””, “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.

Matisyahu

Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)

I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”

Wolfmother

Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)

Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.

Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”

Incubus

Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)

I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.

Streetlight Manifesto

Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)

Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.

The Fratellis

Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)

The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.

Jarabe de Palo

Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)

I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.

Jonathan Coulton

Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)

In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.

Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.

2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.

The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.

Back to bands!

Anamanaguchi

Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)

I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.

My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

Sambomaster (サンボマスター)

Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)

What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.

My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.

Streetlight Manifesto Concert [Feedback]
Apr 28th, 2009 by Dan

Last Friday I went out to Towson to see one of my favorite bands, Streetlight Manifesto. The last (and only) ska show I’d ever been to was back in 2003 for Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, which primarily means that I didn’t really go to a ska show. You see, FIF skewed mostly to a Christian audience and so at their shows they mostly discouraged the shoving and pushing endemic of most ska concerts. Naturally, SLM had no such qualms about the shoving, so I got firsthand knowledge of just how hard it is to jump/dance, sing, try and stay on two feet in all the shoving, and, most importantly, breathe. Other than all the unnecessary shoving (I get why, it’s all the energy, but it just seems kind of pointless…maybe I’m just old?), the venue was my kind of place. The last show I went to was at the DAR Constitution Hall (that’s Daughters of the American Revolution for the uninformed), which was a huge venue that meant that we had assigned seats that we were mostly confined to. Now, I was mostly turned off by Ben Folds’ all-new stuff set that night, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to be out in a crowd for it too. The Recher Theatre, on the other hand, was a tiny venue, with capacity for maybe 1000 people, if you stretched the limits of the place and maybe ignored a fire code or two. Perfect for a rock show, although I do also like the setup they had at school for Slope Day for the same kind of show.

The openers that night were the Skakabobs, an old ska group on a reunion tour. They must be really small time, cause Wikipedia doesn’t even know who they are, which would almost lead me to believe they didn’t exist if I hadn’t seen them with my own two eyes and heard fans of theirs singing their songs last night. Most of the band showed up for the reunion, but either the trombonist or the lead singer didn’t show up, because the lead singer that night also doubled as the trombonist when he was free of the mic. Their set was typical of ska bands and ska music, high energy, irrelevant, and catchy. Of note were two songs, one about Chinese food and the other about Emilio Estevez and how he was the band leader’s girlfriend (I believe this one was called “Emilio”). The latter featured chants of “Estevez!” after “Emilio!”s rang out, followed by awesome “Charlie!” “Sheen!”s. A good show and I was impressed…until I heard SLM come onto the stage.

It’s not the Skakabobs’ fault that they just can’t match up to Streetlight Manifesto, they just have a much richer sound that has yet to be upstaged by any ska performer I’ve heard since. The main strength, in my humble opinion, of SLM has to do with the composition of their horn section. Not content with just one saxophonist, Streetlight features both an alto (Jim Conti) and a baritone (Mike Brown) sax along with the usual trombone (Mike Soprano), trumpet (Matt Stewart), guitar (Tomas Kalnoky), bass (Peter McCullough), and drums. Each member of the band is a fully capable performer in his own right, which is frequently highlighted in their music with horn duets and solos, providing kind of a jazzy feel to their performance to break up all the ska punk flying around. They opened strong, they closed strong, and they had excellent pacing with a nice, slower section in the middle to ease us in to the raucous finale. I’ve yet to go to a better show.

On an interesting side note, lead singer Tomas Kalnoky mentioned that there would be a new SLM album of covers released on the net this summer and that, following Warped Tour, they would be working on their final album for Victory Records, creatively freeing them up to do whatever they wanted. I can’t wait.

Feedback: Live Shows: FOB and Rx Bandits
Apr 24th, 2008 by Dan

So I was wandering through Best Buy last week, as I am want to do, and I noticed that Fall Out Boy released a new album: Live in Phoenix. Back in the day I used to hate live albums. The sound quality was always a bit diminished and the songs were slightly different, musically, with different tempos, lyrics, and sometimes flourishes. They lacked the studio polish and effects and just sounded raw. Then I started going to concerts. My first real one was Five Iron Frenzy’s Winners Never Quit tour, which was just amazing. I remember hearing “The Medley of Power Ballads and Bad Taste” live and being just totally blown away. If this type of thing could happen at a concert, then it’s possible that other live CDs could have more than just songs that were on studio albums. Live album love was born for me and, to this day, I treasure my live albums by Ben Folds, FIF, and other odd live recordings here or there.

Even so, I’m still wary of these live albums. I’ve been burned by mediocre live albums in the past (I had to hate them for a reason, right?), so when I saw the FOB CD, I mosied on over to Borders to listen to previews of the album tracks. The first bunch failed to impress, I didn’t recognize one track, so I skipped it (more on this mistake later), but the tail end of the album seemed to be really neat, so I headed back over to Best Buy and bought the much more reasonably priced Live at Phoenix.

Once I copied the disk to my Linux computer and booted up the CD I was pleasantly…disappointed. The album just doesn’t sound good at all. FOB is not a band that translates well to the live medium. There are some pretty sweet parts in the tail end of the album, after “Beat It,” but the rest is pretty ho-hum. Worse…it sounds awful through my computer’s speakers. The lead’s voice just doesn’t sound good. The CD is actually much better through headphones, strangely enough.

Supposedly the CD is a sound recording of a live concert, with the DVD included and all, but this is where things get strange. Track 9, “Beat It,” is a studio recording. The concert CD has decent pacing, you’re into it, and then you’re thrown into a bonus track. Wikipedia’s got “Beat It” as a track too, so maybe it was a music video and not live? In any case, “Beat It,” a cover of the Michael Jackson hit, is amazing! FOB is just perfect for this cover. The tail end of this album, from about “Beat It” onwards, is worth the purchase, but that means that more than half of the 15 track album is just mediocre.

My recommendation: Unless you’re a diehard FOB fan, pass it up. Definitely try to get “Beat It” on its own from either iTunes or Amazon or something, it’s a great cover.

I’ve had …And the Battle Begun by Rx Bandits for quite some time, but had yet to really give it some serious listens. Once I had, I found a really deep and awesome album that just floors me whenever I hear its standout tracks. This led me to check out their wikipedia page and realize they had a live album out. Now, my friend Boz has often cited the opinions of his friends that the Bandits are just too long-winded with instrumentals in their concert. I can totally get where they’re coming from, since they are a former ska-band-turned-progressive-rock, so ska fans might not know what to think of music that clearly features an amazing horn section, but is not like ska or reggae or anything they’ve ever heard, really. I lamented that the album, Live at Bonnaroo (an amazing venue, I may go this year), was only available at iTunes (I HATE DRM!), but I relented and purchased the album anyway. Let me just say that RxB is amazing live. I’m going to have to seriously pay attention to when they’re in town and attend a show.

There are so many good tracks on this album, there’s no point in going through and highlighting the ones that are great, cause I’d just end up writing all 11 track names in a sequential list. My recommendation, listen to the Bandit’s other CDs, namely The Resignation and …And the Battle Begun, and buy this album from iTunes if you like that other music.

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