Thursday, June 28, 2007

Beowulf - Westminster & 5th CD Review

Beowulf have, believe it or not, been around since the early 80’s. They were one of the original Venice Beach, California punk/hardcore bands who, according to some, helped define the scene. Truth be told, though, no one really remembers any of the Venice Beach bands from the 80’s outside of Suicidal Tendencies. More than two decades after the release of their first album, and more than a decade since their last studio album, Beowulf have put together Westminster & 5th, a throwback to the Venice scene of ages past.

Throwback is the definitely the most obvious and appropriate way to classify this album. It feels like it was actually released 20 years ago. The album cover is probably the most basic cover to grace a CD’s front in years. The recording quality is relatively murky, with everything feeling like it was recorded directly onto a four-track in someone’s garage and then burned to a CD. Almost all of the songs are in the 2-3 minute length range and tend to re-use the same hardcore punk riffs over and over. Heck, even the font used throughout the liner notes is a script that I haven’t seen actively used since 1996. This album simply feels old.

Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a release hearkening back to genres past. Lord knows we need another metalcore band about as much as Rosie O’Donnell needs another cheeseburger, but there isn’t anything on Westminster & 5th that will keep your interest longer than a minute or two. 16 tracks of repetitive skate punk is hard to stomach, especially when the songs are as boring as these.

Usually skate punks bands would at least have interesting, spirited, or funny lyrics to make up for the lack of variation in the musical structures of their genre, but in Beowulf’s case you get songs about NASCAR, beer, hillbillies, hick love songs, loving God, driving cars, getting drunk, and auctions. It’s amazing, really, that they could cover so much backwater hick territory on only one album.

Some credit should be given to the members of Beowulf for giving it a shot more than a decade after their last proper release, especially considering the amount of trauma that the death of their bassist had previously caused the band. Still, this album is far from memorable and will only have the tiniest amount of interest from anyone outside of skate punk diehards and Beowulf’s few remaining fans.

Thumbs are Useful

I bet you take your thumbs for granted. I know I do. You know how I realized this? I sprained my thumb pretty decently on Tuesday during my ultimate frisbee game. Right now pretty much half of the inside of my palm, my entire thumb, and the outside of my thumb area is black, blue, swollen, and sore. Moving my thumb (in the limited amount of range that the spraining allows) doesn't hurt at all. It's putting any pressure on it that really doesn't feel so nice.

I didn't think it would be a big deal, but even little stuff like typing this post is different with a thumb out of commission. Pounding down on the space bar or using my thumb for the usual keyboard shortcuts I'm used to isn't going so hot, mostly because I have a very firm keyboard. It's hard to adjust your typing pattern to accommodate the lack of use of a thumb.

Going to the bathroom is fun. Undoing buttons is a horrible pain in the ass. Attempting to put on pants doesn't work so well. Grabbing a can of pop or a glass has to be done with the other hand. I had to switch the hand I eat with. Thankfully it's not my throwing hand so I can still play in my ultimate game tonight... although catching things is going to be a bitch, isn't it?

Anyways, the moral of the story is don't injure your thumb. It really blows.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Actually Interesting to Watch

Monday night I stayed in town after work so Kristi and I could go see Knocked Up (great movie by the way). On our way back to her apartment we stopped by a local gas station to grab some ice cream to help offset the ungodly hot weather outside. Deciding on the new (at least to me) Ben & Jerry's flavor Half Baked, which is chocolate and vanilla ice cream mixed together with cookie dough and brownies and slathered in fat calories, we checked out and got ready to walk home when a man hurriedly pushed his wife and daughter into the gas station.

He told us to stay inside as there was a fight outside. Being a guy, I was curious and as I looked out the window, sure enough there were two kids tossing punches, grabbing shirts, rolling around on the ground, and pretty much looking like they've never been in a fight before.

These two kids were probably 16-18 years old, pretty scrawny, and appeared to be not really trying while they were fighting, but I think that again comes back to this looking like their first fighting experience. Eventually one kid got enough half assed punches and slaps in on the other to come out as the "winner" of the bout.

It was at this time the "loser" came walking into the gas station all in a huff. He went to the back of the store, still fuming, and grabbed what appeared to be a broom handle or something resembling it and walked back outside with purpose in his stride.

It was this moment in time where I realized there was probably no danger for outsiders in this fight. Initially I didn't know if knives or guns or any other stupid fight accessory would be pulled out, but since the kid had to come into the store to find something to use to take the fight to the next level, I figured everyone else was probably pretty safe.

As we left we didn't get to see the rest of the fight, but in under 30 seconds after having left the gas station, the kid who grabbed the broom handle came running back around from the other side of the building holding a bottle of what appeared to be Mountain Dew up in the air, all the while proclaiming how awesome he was.

For me, this whole situation was really very quite amusing. It's not often I get to see petty little fights such as this. Seeing real everyday people fight is so much different than watching boxing or ultimate fighting in that, well, it's just funny. Most people don't, by nature, know how to fight, which is probably a good thing... because if they did the fight would have been over so much quicker.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Black Light Burns - Cruel Melody CD Review

Let’s face it, we all listened to Limp Bizkit back in their heyday. You couldn’t avoid them. Looking back, 99% of us now realize what a mistake it was for anyone to have ever signed that band to a record contract. The one bright spot in the band, however, was Wes Borland. He was a guitarist who seemed to have some decent chops, but was stuck in a band that wouldn’t let him really flex his muscle, so when Borland moved on from Bizkit-land, he really went out on a limb with his first solo project Big Dumb Face, which dabbled in genres from all over the map. Considering how all over BDF was, Borland again didn't seem to be finding a realm to call his own. Later, he tried to give Limp Bizkit another chance, which didn’t work out (who didn't see that coming), and then tried a stint at playing guitar with the nearly talentless From First to Last. He simply couldn't seem to find a place to fit in, and he has now again tried to come into his own with Black Light Burns. Unlike his past endeavors, this time he seems to have found a focus for his talents and a band to feel at home in.

Black Light Burns, basically, sound like a mix of early Nine Inch Nails styled industrial, Marilyn Manson, and a strong focus on guitars. It would seem that this mix surfaced from the combination of Borland (the rock oriented member of the group) and bandmates Danny Lohner and Josh Freese (both previously being involved with both Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle). This mix, for the most part, actually works, whereas some other bands who have tried their hands at it (Filter or Ungod era Stabbing Westward) have not been able to mesh the two together seamlessly.

The album has a very unfortunate start by putting the worst track of the album out front. “Mesopotamia” would be hard pressed to even make it on to a b-sides of b-sides Marilyn Manson album. It’s repetitive, lacks maturity, and doesn’t show the band really doing what they do best — alternating between the electronically subdued and the progressively guitar heavy sounds they create. “Animal”, the next track, shows the band putting a little more thought into what they’re doing, but still seems a lot like an update of something Trent Reznor would have written for Petty Hate Machine.

It’s not until you get into the middle of the album that it really starts a true flow, with some extremely mellow passages to offset and accentuate the heavier moments. Throughout songs such as “Cruel Melody”, “The Mark”, and “Stop a Bullet”, it feels more like an actual group effort instead of seeming like the band was writing around Borland’s guitar lines. The final three tracks of the album see the entire group pulling back from the aggressive side of things to put together about 20 minutes of ambient, down-tempo, and depression inducing sounds, which is the complete opposite end of the spectrum that the album started on. This change over the course of the album showcases the range of the band and what they are capable of creating.

This isn’t the same Wes Borland that was miscast as a member of Limp Bizkit and his other endeavors. This is Borland surrounded by competent and talented musicians who are able to bring just as much to the table. Industrial is a genre that isn’t often tackled today, especially guitar oriented industrial, but Black Light Burns jumped right in, surprising us all with a very solid debut in Cruel Melody.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I Watched Some More Movies

Yep, here are some more movies I saw recently. Complete review thread here.

Stranger than Fiction (7.5/10): I was expecting this to be more of a comedy (it does have Will Farrell in it after all), but it was most definitely a drama with some comedic elements thrown in. As a drama, it was quite interesting and held some very strong, emotional moments, but the story faltered every now and again, failing to keep me totally interested. Most of the funny moments aren't necessarily laugh-out-loud as they are slight chuckle funny. Still, Emma Thompson and Will Farrell were great in their respective roles. It's just too bad Queen Latifa had to be in it at all.

Ocean's 13 (8/10): Ocean's 11 was a quick paced, totally fun, guessing game, heist film that kept me entertained all the way through. Ocean's 12 bored me to tears and, ultimately, pissed me off when the ending was revealed. Ocean's 13 is extremely close to 11 in feel, dialogue, and fun. In fact, I would even go out on a limb and say that 13 was only slightly inferior to 11, simply because it lacks a little in originality being a sequel and all. The cast, again, was phenomenal. Pitt, Clooney, Damon, Cheadle--they're all great. Definitely a must see movie.

2 Days in the Valley (7/10): I had interest in seeing this since it starred James Spader, Jeff Daniels, an early Teri Hatcher, and Charlize Theron's first movie roll. I didn't know what it was really about, however. Turns out it was one of those "multiple plot lines converge as the movie goes on" type of films. The complete lack of any connecting fiber between stories at the beginning of the movie did leave me feeling a little cold and having some of the finer plot elements (such as character motivation, backstory, etc.) glossed over didn't help. It was still entertaining enough, however.

Saw III (6.5/10): The first two Saw movies were horror guilty pleasures for me. The third? Not so much. The first 15 minutes of the movie, I kid you not, have next to nothing to do with the overall plot of the movie. They're gory scenes just for gore's sake. The main plot line of the movie seemed to lack the urgency of the first two and the main torturee was a character you had no like for whatsoever. I felt no connection and didn't care if he lived, died, or whatever else. The ending, which tied everything together, was mildly interesting, but overall this was the weakest of the three Saw movies. It shouldn't be too hard to make the fourth one better.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Email You

"Hey there, kiddo. Been a while since we've been in touch, eh?"

It was that statement, spoken to me over the phone by one of my co-workers, that made me re-examine the "contact" I had with people that I work with. What really made me ponder the notion of communication wasn't that I'd actually been out of contact with my co-worker, but the fact that she'd start a phone conversation like this when I communicated with her daily, sometimes multiple times a day.

I asked for an explanation because, oddly, I'd just been emailing her most of the morning. I didn't understand how we could have been "out of touch". Her response was something I had never thought about--"We haven't talked in a while. Yeah, we email, but that's not real. I'm talking with the fake you."

What's crazy, is I find myself agreeing with her. You're never really you when you're emailing (or texting or instant messaging or, heck, blogging). Every email I send, I end in "Thanks," or something similar. How often are my conversations that way? I know that's kind of stretching in looking for differences as salutations and closing and other such conventions are standard in written communication, but when you get beyond that, email communication is completely different and, the more I really think about it, can't substitute for actually talking to someone.

With email, you gather your thoughts, put them down into a well formed (at least I hope so, but I question how much thought kids put into emails nowadays) communique, and send them to the recipient. The recipient then reads the email, decides upon what his/her response should be, and returns a well thought out communique.

Looking at it in that light, it almost feels like you're communicating with a machine or responding to essay questions that are a part of a never ending exam. There is such little interaction that is spontaneous, emotional, or organic that I sometimes find myself craving for just a quick call with anyone or a chance to talk with someone in the office here, even though no one I work with is based here.

My co-worker is right. Simply emailing back and forth isn't "keeping in touch". It's sending coordinated updates. True communication, in the form of being "in touch", is 100% interactive and takes place simultaneously between two or more people. This is something email, text messaging, or any other form of non-verbal communication will ever be able to accomplish.

So pick up the phone and call someone every now and again. I know it might seem daunting, as I know I sometimes don't take the time to actually call people, but it's light years better than an email.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Makes My Stomach Churn

In an internet conversation I was involved in, the topic of cats and flame wars came up together so I figured it would be funny to add to the conversation a cat throwing a fireball or something of that nature. I'm sure by now, with the whole LOLCATS fad going around, that someone would have made a picture I could use. So I consulted the Google.

When I searched for pictures of said criteria above, I was horrified when a bunch of news articles were returned talking about how a cat, set on fire, was used as a molotov cocktail of sorts in an attempt to set a house on fire. I'm stunned and a little sick to my stomach. Who does this type of stuff? And where can I find them? So I can set them on fire and throw them at a building. The human race sucks.

Waiting for a Miracle - Self Titled CD Review

Waiting for a Miracle are an emo band at heart. The heartfelt vocals bring to mind many late 90’s emo bands. The song structures follow the well established emo template. The angsty lyrics fit in perfectly with the appropriate amount of whining and pining. So what keeps Waiting for a Miracle from being a complete cookie-cutter copy of a copy? Well, I don’t really know…

For all intents and purposes, these guys should be a decidedly average band in a horribly outplayed genre that fell from its glory days a few years ago, yet you’ll find them infectious and endearing, much like a lost dog you can’t help but enjoy spending time, with no matter how normal and blas√© the beast is. There are little things that break from the mold, such as the occasional double bass roll, intricate guitar passage, or breakdown, but those moments don’t so much set the band apart as much as they remind you of other bands, albeit with small changes to their staple sounds.

For an emo band, oddly, you'll find there are some decidedly metalcore elements to the band. As mentioned before, there are a few pseudo-breakdowns thrown in throughout the record, but they are the tamest breakdowns I have ever heard, not because they are bad, but because of the way they are employed. Instead of bringing them to the forefront of the mix, they are pushed into the back and used as accentuating elements for the lead guitar and vocals. You have to give credit to Ken Susi of Unearth for having enough restraint to keep the breakdowns and heavy guitar elements in the background because this band could have easily been turned into a terrible metalcore band without too much trouble, which is the absolute last thing anyone needs right now.

They didn’t end up being a terrible metalcore band, thankfully, but instead turned out to be a metalcore influenced emo band. It’s very interesting to see the different metalcore staples being used in a totally different way to spice up some pretty standard emo tracks. For example, listen to some of the guitar sweeps in “They Call Me ‘One Time’” and notice how easily they could be used in a metal track. Or how about the breakdowns and bass drum progression on “End this Tonight”? Crank those elements up a little and you’d have kids hardcore dancing in seconds.

I know it’s not something many people might think about, but if you ever did wonder what Jimmy Eat World or The Receiving End of Sirens might sound like if they grew up on metalcore, Waiting for a Miracle will clear things up. It’s great to hear a band using heavy elements with enough restraint to keep them from being just another boring bandwagon jumper.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Stock Picks

A while back I started a fantasy stock market account with Motley Fool's CAPS service. It's free and I thought it would be fun to see how some of my picks would do if I were to invest real money. With my fantasy picks, I was a little more daring that I normally would be with my real money.

However, I wondered how I'd fare against everyone else in the CAPS fantasy game if I listed what I am actually invested in, so that's what you see above -- my actual, real world investments. Obviously I'm invested in some heavier than others, but you can't tell that from the fantasy CAPS game. I don't think I'm faring too bad... except for stupid Xcel Energy. They need a good kick in the pants.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I Found My Bowl!

It's very rare that I take a lunch break at work and even more rare that I go eat out for lunch. Instead I bring in ramen, easy mac, soups, leftovers, popcorn, and other assorted things that can be made in a microwave and eaten quickly. I have too much crap to get done at work to blow an entire hour going out to grab food.

Since I almost always eat in my office, I have a set of silverware and a nice, big, multipurpose bowl in one of my drawers, along with a nice assortment of food. This bowl worked great for soup, easy mac, holding popcorn, chips, or anything else I could think of. It even worked for microwaving and holding left overs I might bring in.

Well, about 3 months ago I left this bowl in the shared kitchen sink to let the soap soak the easy mac off since I let it crust on while being a part of a marathon teleconference call. I totally forgot about it and didn't remember it until a few work days later. I had no need to use it since I worked at home one day and took another day off. When I did remember and rushed to find my favorite bowl, it was gone.

Sadly, I lived bowl-less for a few weeks and then broke down and bought a replacement. I couldn't replace bowl-y, but I needed some way to eat things that required the microwave. The memory of bowl-y lived on with me, however.

Today, I needed a mug to make some mocha coffee mix crap that I had sitting in my cube in order to get my afternoon caffeine fix, and remembering I took mine home to wash, I had to scour the kitchen to find a mug. In the process, I discovered bowl-y! He was hidden in a cupboard that I'd not ever been in before. So now I have two bowls!

But what do I do now that bowl-y is back? Even though I loved bowl-y and he'll always have a place in my heart, I've moved on and formed a tight relationship with bowl-io. It's going to be a rough lunch time for the next few weeks as I adjust and try to keep my emotions under control.

Ahh... bowls. I'm really struggling for stuff to write about, aren't I? *Sigh*

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bullet Points

I'm really scatter brained at work today, so here's a wonderful Friday bullet point list of random thoughts currently running through my head.

  • I'm writing my first discographies article for Decoy, focusing on the band Living Sacrifice, and I find myself wondering how anyone could have ever really, truly enjoyed late 80's and early 90's speed/thrash metal. Every song is exactly the same--super fast riffs, terrible vocals, and a rhythm section sitting there just matching the guitar leads.
  • My two summer league ultimate frisbee teams are completely winless so far this year and it's getting to the point where if one of the two teams doesn't pull out a win soon, I'm going to be a very frustrated dude. A bunch of our games have been close, but we just couldn't close them out.
  • I've been terribly busy at work doing boat loads of testing on a new software release and I find it amazing how many bugs and defects the company that built it let get through their QA process. Makes me wonder if they actually have one...
  • I have a 10K run in less than a month and I'm no where near having enough miles under my belt to do even close to well and I'm starting to freak out about it a little, especially since my knee that I hyper extended this winter is giving me some problems as of late.
  • This 90+ degree weather we've been having here in Minnesota is for the birds. I hate having that layer of sweat already saturating my undershirt by the time I get to work.
  • I eat like crap and I'm starting to get really sick of my lack of discipline when it comes to choosing what I eat and how often I've been eating out lately. I need to tighten the reigns here soon.
  • Oreos are so freakin' yummy.
  • I could use a nap.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Silva? Shutout? Really?

Wednesday nights during the summer are Twins nights for me... well, when they have home games... and when they're not in the afternoon. So really, about 8 Wednesdays during the entire year are Twins nights for me, but anyways. I go to Twins games on Wednesday nights because you can get tickets for $4 with a student ID (still got mine) and Dome Dogs are $1 a piece. It's not often I can have a night out at a baseball game, with food, for less than a 10 spot.

Last night the Twinkies were playing one of my favorite teams growing up (don't ask why or how because I can't really answer either myself), the Atlanta Braves. I figured we'd end up getting blown out with Carlos Silva pitching. With an ERA of over 4.00 and a 4-7 record on the year, he's note exactly Cy Young caliber.

Now imagine how shocked I was when, at the middle of the 9th inning, Silva throws his final pitch, which ended up being a fly out, to finish a complete game shutout. It was one of the best games I've been to in a while. Not only was there a complete game shutout, but there was plenty of drunk, college kids in my section heckling and fighting with the few Braves' fans.

What's really amazing, though, is that this was somehow Silva's second career shutout. Whoa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Still a Bastard

One of the big stories in rural southeastern Minnesota this week has been the sentencing of Dale Schlichting for the fleecing of members of the Hayfield community out of nearly 2 million dollars. Having grown up in Hayfield, knowing everyone who was taken, and being one of the people who Dale cheated out of money, this was a personal story.

What Schlichting did is unforgivable and horrible. He mislead people into investing their money through his DSI Agency into fake securities and insurance. He would then use the money for whatever he chose to do with it. Some people had their entire retirement fund disappear. Others had money they'd put away for their children's college payments evaporate. Even Dale's own church had nearly $300,000 stolen by one of their own. Even my family lost investments, not nearly as much as many, but it still sucked. Personally, I'm only out about $3,000, but that's still $3,000 I would have liked to have had.

At the sentencing Dale was supposedly very apologetic and promised to pay people back once he gets out of jail in 8 years, but how can anyone possibly believe a word he says? He spent years stealing and lying to his friends, his church, his community, and probably his own family so why the hell would he not lie now to appease a huge mob of people he'd pissed off? He's not going to pay anyone back more than the court mandated $200 a month restitution he'll be required to pay.

My bet is he has all of this money stored somewhere, unattached to his name, and he'll serve out his term, probably getting out early on "good behavior" or some other equally lame technicality, and then will live the good life somewhere far from Hayfield with the funds he's no doubt hidden somewhere.

Personally, in white collar situations like this where money is stolen, whoever stole that money should have to pay back everything they stole, plus interest or punitive damages, before he/she can make money to put towards anything but living costs, and those living costs should be the bare minimum. People like Schlichting should, upon release, be forced to find a job even if it's working at Wal-Mart, and then pay the entirety of their paycheck (outside of taxes, rent, clothes, and food) to a restitution fund. And there should definitely be a limit to what the person can keep to put towards living expenses (I'd say $600 a month or something--make them live in a crappy ass apartment and eat ramen). They'd then have to be in this situation until they have everything paid off... or their sorry ass dies.

Well... at least Dale was found guilty and will be serving 8 years. That's a start. I just wish there was some way to get everyone their money back and Dale to never earn another penny his entire life.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mostly Reviews

You'll have to forgive me for the content as of late. As you can easily see by scanning the front page, it seems like a sizable chunk of my posts have been music reviews. Well, this is mostly because the music site I edit for (Decoy Music) has been running a little short on reviews content so I've taken it upon myself to generate some more content to put up along with just editing our staff's submitted reviews. Hopefully this influx of reviews from me will get our writers moving along a little to take the load off.

In relation to writing reviews, I had a conversation last night in which I was discussing, of all things, Hootie and the Blowfish. The conversation came up when Kristi and I were talking about guilty pleasure discs from our childhood years. For her it was Counting Crows, which then lead down the path of talking about radio popular rock bands and I confessed I owned Hootie and the Blowfish's sophomore effort because I thought their debut was too radio oriented and they had shown more maturity on their sophomore disc. To this Kristi replied, "You really thought about stuff like that when you were that age?"

Thinking about that question for a bit, I realized that I did. Now, in college, in high school, and even in middle school I remember always justifying why I liked or disliked something and I would do so in as critical a manner as possible. Of course, I still enjoyed stuff as a kid in that kid sense. When I saw Terminator II, I walked out of the theater thinking, "Holy crap was that ever badass as hell. I need to see it again." Of course, I later thought, "As much as I enjoyed that, Arnold is a pretty terrible actor and some of the comedic relief moments weren't really needed, but the special effects were snazzy!".

Kristi seemed to imply, not negatively or anything, that it was odd to have that critical of a view of events when I was a kid. I should have been simply enjoying things as a kid. Was I too serious when I was younger? I like to think I just grew up quicker. And now, since I've had those years of being grown up under my belt, I've become a huge fan of doing immature things that I should have done in high school--like walking into a room, farting, and then laughing about it. I seriously get so much pleasure out of that.

Anyways... expect more album reviews coming your way until the Decoy writers get off their asses and get typing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Soulidium - Children of Chaos CD Review

One of the harder things a reviewer will be forced to do at one time or another is review an album by an artist that he or she holds in extremely high regard. Because of the already inherent bias towards liking the artist, examining the album critically becomes enormously difficult, and sometimes cannot even be done without the bias guiding the way. Conversely, it can also be hard for a reviewer to review something he or she already knows will be bad because it then becomes hard to hear anything that might be redeeming or worthwhile through the foggy glasses of jadedness already in place against the artist.

And then there are albums, such as Children of Chaos, by Soulidium, which are just plain bad regardless of what you think going into it. I’m sure that given the right amount of publicity and promotional push this disc could be huge, but huge in all the ways that educated music listeners hate. These guys could be the next rock saviors of the NASCAR watching, Coors Lite drinking, mullet wearing, backwater hick, conservative Republican, IQ of 83 type crowd. Packing together the blandness of the last Breaking Benjamin album with the occasional stomp of Disturbed and mixing in a heavy dose of Hinder styled modern power rock ballads along with some quasi-post-grunge overly distorted riffs, Soulidium is poised to join the ranks of Three Days Grace, Nickelback, and Smile Empty Soul as staples of the butt-rock world.

It would be very lax of me to not point out the one good thing this album has going for it, and there should be no facetiousness read into this -- there is actually something good to be found here. “Live Forever” is a solid modern rock song that puts the rest of the album to shame. Sporting a little middle eastern influence and coming across as a b-side from The Tea Party’s Transmission era, this song feels unnaturally placed alongside the other tracks on this album. It's really too bad there's only one song worthy of a repeat listen on this entire album.

Barring that one thrust above low level mediocrity (which is a generous classification), the rest of the album wallows in the cesspool of blas√© cock-rock metal. “Drama” has undeniably laugh out loud lyrics about some girl stalking the singer of the song, a heavy (yet boring) rhythm, some odd out of place screams, and about as much talent on display as a small town high school battle of the bands contest. Right after it is the gag worthy ballad “About You”. Complete with the prerequisite faux strings and 3rd grade poetry for lyrics, any discerning music fan will much sooner have their ears meet the business end of a power drill than listen to anything more from this band.

This album is, hands down, brutal. Not in any positive sense usually associated with metal, but in the literal sense of “it will hurt you and you won't like it.” If you find yourself actually enjoying this band, let me be the first to say that there is no longer any hope for you. Be prepared because if you don’t already love hunting, drive a horribly oversized pick-up truck with a shotgun in the back window, and consider Applebee’s a nice, sit down restaurant, you will soon. There’s no turning back.

Smart Move, Idiots

Here in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, we receive our power from Xcel Energy. I've been generally happy with them as I've never had a problem with a bill, the transfer of service went smoothly when I moved, the rates are reasonable, and I applaud their efforts to try and get people to conserve energy and gas. I actually thought the company was solid enough in financials and attitude to go ahead and buy stock in them. I'm starting to second guess my decision.

The last month or so their stock has been on a slow downward trend. Of course all stocks go up and down, but along with the downward swing, I found myself frustrated by some of the decisions being made by Xcel. The first was a rate hike on their natural gas services that equated to about a 29% average increase in price. I find that a bit steep, but it wasn't something so egregious that I wanted to dump my stock.

What happened recently, does. Xcel wants to put a surcharge on natural gas users if there is an underusage of natural gas. This totally defeats the purpose of trying to conserve energy usage. There is no logical sense to this move, except to pay for the extra gas reserves Xcel might have sitting around if too many people conserve.

Now I don't use Xcel's natural gas service, but I can understand how customers would be downright pissed about these two moves being made so closely to each other. It's basically taking the consumer, punching him in the face, and then while he's trying to figure that out kicking him in the kidneys.

Xcel, shame on you.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Retail Sectors - Subject Unknown CD Review

Music is an extremely hard thing to describe within the confines of language. Music, naturally, expresses what cannot be said by words alone. It is a narrative form all its own, especially in the realm of instrumental music. Music that contains vocals can, at the least, be seen as tangentially tied to language, even if what is providing the backdrop for those words is unable to be described exactly by the use of words in the spoken or written form. All anyone can hope to do is give a sense of what emotions a particular piece of music may invoke or describe the overall tone of a particular musical effort. Language and music, to some extent, are mutually exclusive concepts, and since there is no way to bring the two together in a way through which either can properly express the other, we make due with comparisons and generalizations.

Existing in the expansive realm of post rock, the aural ambience of The Retail Sectors simultaneously breaks the mold of this genre and confines itself to the established structures of those that have come before. The majority of the album, Subject Unknown, is spent weaving different threads through the mellow, guitar oriented tapestries of the softer side of post rock. This isn’t to say that there aren’t forays into denser territory, because there are, but the vast majority of the album sees the volume knob turned down to about 5 and nowhere near the thundering end of the spectrum 10.

The exceptions to the above are “The Dread” and parts of “The Distress” and “The Decadence”. “The Dread” is actually one of the more disorientating songs on the album and feels horribly lost amongst the other nine tracks. About two minutes into the song, a heavily distorted and oddly used guitar takes center stage, hazing up the piece and making a fuzzy, noise-filled mess. Adding to the confusion of it all are some less than covert electronics that transform the already abrasive guitars into a noisy cacophony of sound.

Thankfully, when Kentaro Togawa sticks to making contemplative, mellow compositions, his creativity truly shines. Some may be concerned that there isn’t enough “substance” to the sparse openness of some of the songs, especially those that feature only the guitar, but it’s the wide open space that is becoming rarer and rarer as contemporary post rock bands are now concerned more with showing off how much they can do with their instruments, forgetting about pacing altogether. The occasional electronic element and minimalist drumming style that is interwoven throughout the album does not detract from the overall experience, as might be expected, but instead focuses the listener more on the guitar melodies and arrangements, which is no doubt what the goal of these additions were in the first place.

The Retail Sectors keeps things mellow (for the most part), opens up spatially (pretty often), and does it very elegantly (when not adding distorted tidbits to the mix). It is true that many of the movements throughout the album conform to the usual build-up, come-down, build-up, climax format of post rock, but by keeping things drawn out, it doesn't feel quite as trite. It really is a treat to stumble across an album that feels like an unexpected, heart-felt present on Christmas morning, attuned to what you really needed, not what was on your all too commercial wish list that was mailed off to Santa a week before. Subject Unknown feels all warm and cozy, which is most definitely not a bad thing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Universal Sentence Closer

Recently, when I've been having conversations with people, I made a particular observation and now I can't help but notice this observation in every communication I have with someone. What I noticed was that, no matter what the contents of a sentence or conversation, about 80% of the time people end their sentences with a trailing "so..."

For example, how many times have you heard the following or similar to the following?

"Hey, I got that report done and it's ready to send off. So..."

"I just got Forza Motorsport 2 the other day and it's got a totally rad multiplayer component, so..."

"Anyways, I've gotta get to dinner now, so..."

It's like people just don't know how to finish a sentence any more and want to leave it open. That, or else people just assume that by saying "So..." the person being talked to would simply intuit what was supposed to be following the so or what should have been said in place of the so.

Right now it is to the point of craziness with me in that I notice every single freakin' time any person within earshot of me uses the word "so" in any capacity and when they do, it feels like I'm noticing something that I shouldn't be or that no one else is noticing because everyone continues to use this general sentence ender.

I now find myself avoiding using the word if at all possible in all cases, which is weird, because it's like I've developed an allergic reaction to the word and shun it whenever I have the chance. Does anyone else notice this? Hopefully by pointing it out other people will notice this trend and attempt to properly end sentences. If not, I might go crazy, and that'd be bad, so...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Movie Reviews

I watched some more movies. Here's what I thought. For everything I've watched this year, check the 2007 review thread.

The Fountain (9.5/10): Darren Aronofsky's first two films--Pi and Requiem for a Dream--are two of my favorite movies. Aronofsky's ability to craft dark, heady, unique films is truly amazing. For his third film, however, he takes his usual dark craft in a new direction and injects it with a little bit of melancholic hope. At times this seemingly disjointed film reaches the level unbelievable greatness by filling the viewer with heart-wrenching anguish coated in the enormity of the supreme question--what is death? This is a visually stunning, brooding, emotional movie that, frankly, everyone should see.

Tape (8/10): Movies adapted from plays are usually pretty hit and miss (more often miss). This film from Richard Linklater is one of the few hits. Focusing on only three characters, with one only being in the final third of the movie, this conversational film, which takes places solely in a hotel room, works because it feels real. As authentic as a movie can be, you relate to each character and by the time the climax of the movie hits, you have a relationship with each character.

The Science of Sleep (7.5/10): This was simultaneously a very entertaining and very frustrating film. Entertaining in that the mix of the main character's real world and dream world was well executed and visually interesting. Also, the interactions between the two main characters was cute, down to earth, and fun to watch progress. Where the movie was frustrating was in the final act of the film, especially the end scene. I have no problem with movies that contain open ended closings, but the final scene of this film left you completely out in left field wondering what the hell got you to this point (did you miss something?) and what the hell is going on (is there supposed to be something you're picking up on?). While the credits rolled, I longed for some tidbit of information to make the ending meaningful, but couldn't grasp anything. Barring this oddity, The Science of Sleep is a very funny, very cute romantic comedy.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Gender Bias

I've always hated wearing business attire. Even business casual isn't something I prefer. I grew up on a farm, not in some city suburb where my parents were doctors or business people, so for the majority of my life jeans or shorts and a t-shirt were what I wore every day, well, outside of Sundays when I dressed up for church, but I figure if I'm going to dress up for anyone it might as well be God.

Being at a position where I have to wear business attire, mostly of the casual variety, for a while now, I've come to loathe this particular type of attire more and more and more. Part of it is simply because I just don't like tucking in my shirt and having to wear pants on warm days, but a good majority of my rage comes at the difference in attire requirements between men and women... especially on really warm days.

There's nothing more annoying than having to go through a 90 degree day wearing dress shoes, slacks, and a long sleeve shirt. To make things worse, you pretty much have to double up the layers you wear the hotter it gets because you want the under clothes layer to absorb the sloppy amounts of sweat your body is giving off because it's a blast furnace outside and you're stuck wearing clothes better suited for a 55 degree fall day.

All the while women in the business world are walking around in open toed shoes that are basically glorified flip flops or sandals, capris or a loose, flowing skirt, and a short sleeved blouse while I'm stuck sweating my balls off.

Women, you want true equality in the workplace? Then start dressing like you're living in Siberia when it's 85 degrees and 90% humid out. If men are stuck doing it, so should you dammit. Either that or let guys start wearing shorts or other cool clothes so that we can actually be outside longer than 10 minutes without basting in our own urea. Business attire be damned.

Friday, June 01, 2007


This past weekend my youngest brother, Ryan, graduated from high school. He's the last of the three of us Gebhardt brothers to leave the realm of ostracizing, zits, awkwardness, cliques, close friends, football games, and small town life to move on to college, which I'll argue is one of the most amazing periods of a person's life.

Now Ryan didn't just graduate from high school. No, he came out on top, being one of the school's co-valedictorians. This is quite an honor for him, and no doubt an even greater honor for my parents as they have now completed the trifecta of valedictory in their children. All three of us Gebhardt boys were valedictorian of our class, which is pretty sweet when you think about it. How many couples out there can say they cranked out three pretty darn smart kids? Not many, I'm guessing.

Saturday was my little brother's open house and it was one heck of a decked out party. My parents had ordered in bucket loads of food (which, in equivalent terms, is 50 lbs of meat, lots of candy, chips, deserts, cake, and all the other goodies you think of when you think of graduation parties) and created quite the set up of my brother's achievements.

There were tables upon tables filled with photo albums of my brother covering every period of his life. Then there were scrapbooks my mom put together especially for him, all of his track medals & trophies, a good chunk of his artwork, school related t-shirts, and tons of other memorabilia. It was pretty darn amazing.

I know it might not mean much to Ryan, and when my mom did this for my graduation I don't think I really truly appreciated it, but looking back I realize it wasn't all for me. A lot of what my mom and dad did putting things together, going through old photos, and gathering up tokens of our lives was for them, not for us.

As they put together all of the wonderful graduation display pieces, they could think back to the memories they held on to of their children from that time. And with Ryan being the last of us boys, my mom might have went a little overboard on the graduation materials, but who can blame her? It's the last time she could do this.

It really was phenomenal to see everything out all over the place and the tables, walls, and any open space available decked out in snippets of memories from Ryan's life. I hope he doesn't miss high school too much, though, because college is one heck of a wonderful time.