Friday, December 28, 2007

The Office that Doubled as a Tomb

You know, I really don't understand why companies just don't give employees the entire week between Christmas and New Year's off. It seems like the vast majority of people take that time off anyways. Teachers have it off. Students have the time off. Why don't we just do like some foreign countries do and somewhat "unofficially" give the week off.

As I'm sitting here in the office, there are probably about half as many people, or less, that came in and it seems like a lot of them that did come in just don't have that much to do or aren't motivated. Unfortunately I've had more than enough to do so I haven't been able to indulge in slack time, but if I could I'd at home watching TV right now. Thankfully I have a four day weekend staring me in the face. Can't really complain about two four day weekends in a row.

Really, though, would it be too much to give people a few more days off just to be nice? I know some select companies do give the entire week off, which is beyond kick-ass, I just don't work for one of them. It's not really that much fun to be in the office with hardly any people around, wondering what everyone that's not here is doing because it is, no doubt, tons more fun.

Pain Principle - Waiting for the Flies CD Review

Lately my roommates and myself have been playing altogether too much Rock Band on the Xbox 360. It’s seriously way too much fun faking being a real band and rocking out to popular songs from all eras. It also helps that you’re able to download classic songs from metal’s past, such as a group of Black Sabbath tracks or some of the thrash classics by Metallica, like “Ride the Lightening” and “Blackened”. It’s quite a rush ripping through these thrashing, lengthy tracks as compared to some of the slower crap in the game (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put me to sleep). As I'm listening to Waiting for the Flies, I can’t help but catch myself wondering how much fun it would be to play these songs in Rock Band, since they're speedy, have some nice solos, and are covered in a modern thrash gleam.

Pain Principle have been around since 1993, with roots in the Florida thrash scene. Unlike some long ago formed bands, Pain Principle have managed to update their sound with the changing of the times instead of sticking only with what worked in the past. Sounding like a mixture of Nightrage, Dew Scented, and Pantera this album captures the thrashier side of late 80’s metal while throwing in some very modern metalcore elements, such as some well placed Gothenburg styled breakdowns and bridges. There is also a moderate deathcore influence that can be felt, especially on tracks such as “What the Dead Whisper”, which sounds like a mix of My Bitter End and Death.

Vocally, Kevin Bullock is at times a dead ringer for Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down fame. He’s managed to pull off the best Phil impression since Dave Peters of Throwdown had a love fest for his vocal style on Venom & Tears. Kevin often employs a deeper, throatier growl than Phil did, but when he’s doing the gruffy, sort-of-singing, but sort-of-yelling vocal work, I could almost swear I’m listening to Pantera, which isn’t a bad thing in the least. Frankly, there seems to be very few unique vocal styles in metal today with most frontmen simply trying to do the standard death metal growls.

Waiting for the Flies does have a few pitfalls, however, and the biggest is one that comes with the territory of playing in the modern thrash genre--songs tend to lack uniqueness. The band executes each song superfluously, but until you’ve listened to the CD at least a handful of times, you may have trouble remembering which solo is in which song, whether you’ve already heard a verse structure in another song or not, and other little things.

Downsides aside, this is most definitely a modern thrashcore (is it just me or are there too many *core genres out there?) hit. It’s always nice to have something refreshingly good cross my desk near the year’s end. Usually it’s crap that is sent out for review now in the December lull because, well, it’s crap. Pain Principle are the exception and definitely deserve some year end love, so all you thrash fans go give them some!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Day After

I hope everyone had a great Christmas this year. For me, it was a pretty low key last few days. I went back to the Hayfield area to stay with my parents Saturday through Christmas. It was nice being back and since I was there for four days it almost felt like I was on a school break, like back in the good ol' days.

It didn't necessarily feel totally like Christmas, though. There were actually a lot of reasons that contributed to it, but the biggest was probably that I just didn't get into the Christmas "spirit" this year, no doubt to a combination of December being a very busy month, the dark economic cloud hanging over everyone's heads, and this being the first Christmas in a long time that I've spent single.

Also with my brother, Randy, not being able to be home for Christmas, we didn't really celebrate on the 25th. We decided to celebrate Christmas as a family next weekend when he'll be back home and we can all be together as a family, which is how it should be, and always has been. Of course, some day us boys will have our own families that we'll spend Christmas Day with, but it's not looking like that's going to be a likely scenario for a while yet. It was still very nice to spend time with my mom, dad, and littlest brother, Ryan, especially since I don't see them as much as I'd like to.

Oddly, church also didn't seem very Christmas-y. Sure, not much has changed, but then again, enough has to make it feel unfamiliar, and when you're looking for something familiar, that definitely feels odd. The church I grew up in has now switched hymnals, service pieces, and songs so even though the structure and general components that I know are there, they're all presented differently. And to top it off, on Christmas Eve service there was no "Joy to the World" sung, which has been a tradition since I can remember going to Christmas Eve service. It left the night feeling, well, somewhat unfulfilled. It's odd how just having one song not there can change the feeling associated with an event so much.

Of course, it sounds like I'm just complaining and being a negative nancy, so I don't want everyone thinking I hate Christmas or that Christmas this year sucked--it didn't. It was just different. I couldn't have been happier snowed in with the 'rents during the whiteout that we had on Sunday (we seriously couldn't see across the yard at times), watching football, napping, catching up, and simply taking time to decompress from our hectic everyday lives. It's not often that we do get a whole day to kick back, turn our brains on low, and indulge ourselves in a little old fashioned sloth.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, no matter how you spent it. It hasn't been Christmas for me yet. We'll be having it a week late. Who said you had to celebrate Christmas only on the 25th? Not me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Figued I Could Take More


Man, I could totally take on more than 22 five year olds in a fight. They're freakin' five year olds! I think the quiz was flawed.

Annoying, Yet Environmentally Friendly Buses

I ride the bus every day to and from work. It's way better than driving, even on days when the bus is packed or is behind schedule. I can always zone out on the bus whereas I could never do that while driving. Lately, however, the bus rides have been a little more inconvenient than usual.

Minneapolis has been making a concerted effort to overhaul their busing system in order to make it more environmentally friendly and quieter. In order to do this, they've been rolling out hybrid buses that use less fuel and aren't the noise machines the older buses are. I applaud their effort and am behind them 100%... except when it comes to the design of the hybrid buses.

The old, standard buses are set up pretty much like your average school bus--airplane seating style. There are rows of seats that face forwards, allowing 4 people to sit in each row (2 on each side of the aisle). It's the most effective use of the space. The new buses, however, eschew this design for the front half of the bus and just have two long benches along each side of the bus. This significantly limits the amount of seats available. Because of this, people cram into these seats, extremely squished and on top of that, there are a lot more people stuck standing, making it hard for people getting on and off of the bus. Wading through people is no fun, especially now in winter when everyone is in large coats and carrying cold weather clothing items.

I am really curious to know why the hybrid buses took on such an odd design because it doesn't seem to really make practical sense to have the current design. Do people that take buses in other cities have these crazily set up buses as well or is Minneapolis an anomaly?

Paper Champion - Self Titled CD Review

There is something definitively early 00’s sounding about this EP. Most likely it’s because this blend of radio rock and progressive tendencies was heavily explored by second tier rock acts during that time. Bands like Earshot, Boy Hits Car, and The Apex Theory tried their hardest to separate themselves from the then current radio rock pack by adding some progressive elements to their songs while keeping the basic, softer end of the range, nu-metal structure that was ever so popular in place. It worked in that the bands sounded different, but they never really caught on with the masses.

Paper Champion would have fit in more than perfectly with the aforementioned bands. Sporting a very unique vocal style that sounds like a mix of Boy Hits Car and Serj Tankian’s warbling approach, the music often takes a back seat to the unique and somewhat out there vocals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are often passages where the music is doing something interesting and the vocal focus takes away from either the tenderness or ferociousness of the music.

Each song has, for the most part, created its own identity, with the exceptions being “This Mute Tide” and “Teeth” which are two songs that are a little too similar in nature for their own good. They share the same standard progressive rock structure and then, abruptly, come to an end. This repeated and very distinctive song ending technique on a five song EP really sticks out like a sore thumb. Also standing out is the song “Undone”, the slow indie rock inspired ballad on the EP. It’s actually a very pretty song complete with the perfectly added touch of female backing vocals. When it reaches its climax about 3/4 of the way through the song, it’s worth it. The build up, climax, and fade out are all executed wonderfully.

In the end, this is a very promising self released EP that shows a band trying to forge some new ground in the very stagnant realm of hard rock. The band may not sound completely fresh, but the amount of potential that is on display definitely is.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jon Arbuckle IS Crazy

Lately at work my time has revolved around performing data analysis and data validation, which can be extremely boring and tedious, not to mention time consuming (which sucks when you have other things you want to be working on as well). Every so often I'll find myself just randomly talking to myself about the data I'm looking at, which probably isn't so much weird for me but might be for the people in the cubicles around me. Usually it's a whisper, though... which is probably even creepier... oh well.

When I started thinking about how I probably seem a little crazy talking to database layouts on my computer screen, I remembered a website that I previously stumbled across where someone took Garfield out of a bunch of Garfield comic strips so it looked like Jon was just talking to himself. I looked it up again today and, if it wasn't for the few chuckles it gave me, I might have collapsed under the boredom of work.

Perth Express - Self Titled CD Review

Mastodon are a great band, don’t get me wrong, but do you ever feel like their songs sometimes drag on just a little too long? Every once and a while you just need that slab of down-tuned metal in smaller, more easily digestible bits, sort of like what Baroness has done with about half the songs on their Red Album. It’s only half their album, though, so you can't get a complete fix. Obviously, you can tell where I’m going with this. Perth Express is that band which manages to pull off the mini-Mastodon songs being alluded to.

This self titled effort is a compilation of Perth Express’ entire discography which consists of their self titled LP from 2006, their self titled 10” from 2004, a split 7” from 2004, and their self released demo tape from 2004. For some reason, this band just hates naming their musical efforts, but it doesn’t really matter since you have everything they’ve ever done (so far) here on one CD filled with 23 tracks.

From the first moment you spin up this CD, you’ll notice that this German band is intent on plowing through your stereo, doing so without ceasing or letting up. There is not a moment on this release where the pace settles or the band pulls back on the reigns... except for track 9, which works as a segue between songs, but we’ll ignore that as it’s a 1 in 23 anomaly. Now in most cases, this raw, undeterred aggressiveness would be something to be lauded, but over the course of 23 tracks the repetitiveness of it all becomes readily apparent. What is also very apparent is the very uniform production across all of the songs, barring the 4 songs from their demo which are pretty rough. For all intents and purposes the first 19 songs could have came from the same recording session.

Discographies are always a great way to experience everything a band has to offer, but it can also show a band’s lack of progress throughout their career. Sure, Perth Express is still a very young band with only a few years of history, but there is such little differentiation between everything they’ve done, it gets hard to enjoy listening all the way through, and full repeat listens sometimes feel like a chore more than anything else. There’s only so much down-tuned, hardcore-influenced metal that a person can take in one sitting. Truth be told, though, these guys know what they’re doing and there are numerous times throughout the album where you’ll catch yourself perking up as a song reaches a thundering climax or a sludgy groove will claw through the noise.

You really can’t go wrong with this album if you’re into the sludgy and dirty metal and are looking for something a little more compact than what the current stalwarts of the genre are putting out. There’s a lot here to listen to and a lot to like, but there’s also a lot that gets repetitive, so bear that in mind when considering picking up this album.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Shopping... something I usually try to have done, if at all possible, before Thanksgiving. This year I didn't quite make it, and I was so far behind that I had to do the majority of my shopping this last weekend. Shopping in the couple of weekends before Christmas, especially in a mall environment where everyone goes because they don't know what to get people and hope to the heavens above that they'll stumble across something for whoever they have to buy crap for (that's why I was there, at least). Every store was packed with people, and not just every day people--these are holiday shopping mutants.

Everyone seems to transform into another, less sane, more aggressive, impatient form of him or herself. I don't mind taking my time when I'm shopping. Being rushed is not that much fun and it's not as if there aren't enough deadlines to meet while I'm at work, so giving myself artificial timelines when I'm doing something that's supposed to be enjoyable just seems ridiculous.

I did manage to brave through the crowds and get the majority of my shopping done. I still have no clue what to get my parents, but it's pretty much an established fact that parents are the hardest people on the planet to shop for. And, of course, I did some shopping for myself while I was out and about, mostly new clothes and the third season of Lost (almost finished with the first season...).

Each year for the last few I've made a habit of getting myself new dress clothes at JC Penny. The reason why... their wonderful $10 off a purchase of at least $10 coupons. My family collects a bunch of them and then puts them all to great use. See, I find one article of clothing that I want, check out using the coupon so that whatever I'm getting is close to free, go find the next article of clothing I want, check out with just that one item with my next coupon, then repeat until out of coupons. This year I ended up with 4 new dress shirts and a pair of gray suit pants for around $35. No complaints here.

One other interesting thing I noted while trying to find something for my roommate is the single anomaly in the Minnesota teams sports store. This store is a great place to go to for anything related to Minnesota sports teams. They have Wild, Timberwolves, University of Minnesota, Twins, and other Minnesota sports related items that make great gifts. However, in one corner of the store there was something that stuck out as not quite belonging--a rack of Kevin Garnett jerseys... as a Celtic. I wonder if they sell more of those jerseys than they do of jerseys for actual Minnesota Timberwolves players. I'd guess yes.

Now, with my shopping adventures behind me, I will be plenty happy to not have to visit a mall for at least a month or two, if not longer. I'm done being a consumer for the foreseeable future!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cubesville, Ahoy!

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and I'd been trying to prepare myself for the day it would happen, but no matter how much I tried to remember that this would eventually happen, it still doesn't make it any easier. For the last year and a half, I've occupied various offices at my job, most recently one that was a double sized office, so I had more room that I really knew what to do with. I loved the office environment. There was no worries about people walking by and bothering you, people yakking on the phone near you, or other distractions and if there was, all I had to do was close my door and I was isolated.

As of yesterday, however, I've been transplanted into a cubicle. Who would have thought going back would be so different. I'm not used to the ambient noises, having people able to hear me while I'm on the phone, or the cramped space of a cube. It's not all bad, though, as I feel a little bit more connected since I'm in an area that has a few other people in it, but I'm not a part of their team and there isn't that much interaction besides the occasional hello. Still, I will say it is refreshing to be in the midst of people again.

Having to move to a cubicle that is way smaller than my office was has also helped me to sort through the crap I've not gone through and toss out stuff I no longer need--documents that have been updated, sticky notes for things that were done a long time ago, and random printouts that have accumulated over time.

I think the adjustment will be ok. I was in a cubicle at my last job the entire time I was there, so it's not so different. And as my manager tells me, this should give me even a little more motivation to strive for my next promotion because I would then be at a level where I would be granted an office.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nonpoint - Vengeance CD Review

Did anyone even know that Nonpoint was releasing a new CD this year? I thought they had long dropped off the musical radar with their most recent release being last year’s live album, Live and Kicking, and their last proper release being To the Pain in 2005. It seemed like the band was probably closing up shop, especially since their sound hasn’t really been popular in a while. Still, Vengeance appeared on store shelves in the middle of November with little to no fanfare. Maybe part of the problem was that it was released through Bieler Bros Records instead of their previous label, Lava.

Regardless of who released Vengeance, as soon as you listen to it you’ll know that you’re listening to Nonpoint. They haven’t changed much and this album feels like a natural progression from To the Pain where the band took on a more hard rock oriented approach with little of their early career rap-metal influence showing through. Vengeance is definitely Nonpoint’s most stripped down and raw album to date, that's for sure. The production is just good enough to keep the instruments separated, but beyond that this album feels very gritty and raw, which isn't necessarily bad.

This is also probably the band’s least heavy album, outside of Development. The nu-metal edge that some of their songs used to have is all but gone and replaced with a hard rock tone and feel. The only elements that feel “metal” anymore are the occasional pseudo-breakdowns (such as on “March of War”) and the rare scream (as heard in “Wake Up World”). The music often moves along with a strong bar rock influence that, at times, makes the album feel very basic, but on the flip side it also gives it a very “real” feel that has been lacking in previous albums. Knocking the sheen that glossed over their previous albums off gives the band a little more attitude as well.

Of course this wouldn’t be a Nonpoint album without the requisite slow tempo, hard rock ballads, in this case the songs “Breathe” and “A Way Out”. “Breathe” is actually one of the better songs on this album, showing a band pulling back their sound to make a more sparse and moody piece. It would easily fit in on modern rock radio between anything from Evans Blue or Trapt, which to most won’t really sound like praise, but it sort of is supposed to be.

In the end, though, it all comes down to whether you’re still aching for the brand of nu-metal tinged hard rock that Nonpoint is playing. Its peak in popularity has already been reached, but kudos to the band for continuing to do what they love, no matter what the current trends. If you don’t go into this album with too snobbish of an attitude, you might find some moments to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Snowblower Goodness

First, why do all of the service reps call a snowblower a snowthrower. I've lived my entire life in Minnesota and never heard a snowblower called that before this year. I guess that must be what they call them in Phoenix or Texas or wherever it is that Sears' call center is located.

After numerous more calls with Sears by both myself and my parents, it appears they just don't give a flying crap about their customers, but since I don't have a truck to haul the snowblower back to them to return, I'm trying to deal with their service as best I can.

Oh, and here's an interesting thing of note if you buy an appliance at Sears--you can't return the item to any old Sears. No, you can only return it to the Sears you bought it from because of some stupid-ass commission scheme they have. So I would have had to return my snowblower at the Sears my parents got it at, which is like 100 miles away.

Anyways, after more grueling telephone calls, Sears is supposed to be showing up today while I'm at work to fix the thing. I left it outside so they can work on it, but they have no clue what's even wrong with it as they never asked. And I'm still skeptical as to whether they'll actually show up at my place or go to my parents' house again, like they moronically did last time.

Anyone want to take bets on whether or not I have a functioning snowblower when I get home? I'm gonna say it's still sitting there totally broken.

Catching Up With Friends

We've all had friends we've, for whatever reason, grown apart from. It could be they moved far away, your common interests diverged, there was a traumatic experience, they got married... whatever, really. The end result was that you lost touch with that friend. It sucks but it happens. In time, though, there are moments when you have a chance to reconnect with those friends and, to me, this is the litmus test to prove whether that friendship was solid or a matter of circumstance.

When you haven't seen a friend in a long time (I'm talking months or even years) when you get back together for that "reconnecting" moment, the results are almost always the same and fall into two different situations.

The first result is the awkward, "umm... so... how you doin'?" situation. Let's face it, with some friends you were friends at the time because of one shared interest, a forced living arrangement, or out of necessity. It's these quasi-friends it is hard to reconnect with. Your common frame of reference can no longer sustain what you had, especially if one or both people have moved on from what used to bring them together.

I'm not advocating that you don't try to stay friends or stay in touch with these types of friends because that connection isn't there, but if you can't find a new connection to build or rebuild that friendship, it's probably best to temper the expectations of where that friendship will go and what levels it can possibly attain going forward. You may never have that "close" friendship that you used to have.

On the flip side, there are those moments where you see a friend you haven't seen in ages and, despite the amount of time that's gone by or the amount of things that have changed, it doesn't feel like a single moment has passed since you last saw each other. It's these moments that let you know you have something more than a superficial commonality drawing you together in your relationship. There's something deeper, more refined, and almost unidentifiable that speaks to you both and reminds you that you actually know each other.

These are the friends you know that will always be there, no matter what changes. Sometimes you don't even know that some of your friends fall into this category until you are away from them and you come back together.

...and with that, I'll bring today's run in with sentimentality to an end.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Some New Art

2007 - art piece 004

My living room used to feel really... naked, for lack of a better word. Above my couch was a gaping, open, white wall. I knew I'd eventually get something to put there, but never really knew what, mostly because I never really thought about it, I only told myself someday I'll put something up there.

It finally got to me how empty the wall looked, so while my parents were up visiting last weekend I visited some art stores with my mom to see what was out there. I narrowed down what I liked to a few large prints and pieces of art. Eventually, what you see above won out.

Yes, it looks a little lonely up there by itself, but there will eventually be other wall decorations to go with it. I'm thinking about that now, and not just in the ambiguous sense either. I have some ideas, just no money to do it right now (or at least none set aside for it at the moment).

What drew me to this piece is its simplistic nature. Some pieces of art can be extremely busy and overloaded with color, movement, and flair. I don't like to complicate things too much so something simplistic seemed natural.

The scene itself was also something I could relate to. The snow in the foreground gives it a definite Minnesota, or midwestern, feel to it. As you look through the trees there is definitely something coming on the horizon, something bright yet unknown. I know it's obviously me reading into it too much, but that gives me a sense of seeing that there is alway something approaching, something in the future coming your way and even though you don't know what it is, you know it's there and you can prepare yourself or anticipate it or enjoy the knowledge that something new is near.

I needed to put up something I could relate to and not get sick of looking at day in and day out. This managed to fit the bill, and fit it quite nicely.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Are You Kidding Me?

The snowblower fiasco continues. Sears never showed up at my place yesterday to fix my snowblower, which kind of really sucks since there is still snow in my driveway and I stayed home from work so that I could be there when the repairman came.

The repairman did show up to fix the snowblower, just not at my house. Even after leaving detailed instructions with the Sears repair center, they still sent a repairman out to my parents' house instead of mine. No one was home there during the day, obviously, and they called my dad's cell instead of me and left him a message.

When my parents called up to ask them about this snafu, they gave two options--wait until next Friday to have the repairman show up (hopefully at the right place) because that's the earliest open time they have or I can run over to a Sears store 20-ish miles away, get the broken cable myself, and install it myself. Seriously, why should I have to do all the work when my parents bought a $250 service plan on the snowblower?

Honestly, Sears screwed up. Their stupidity is keeping me from blowing out the rest of my driveway. Their faulty craftsmanship left me with a broken snowblower out of the box in the first place. I'm really tempted to tell them to come pick the damn thing up and take it back. I'll buy something somewhere else. If this is the quality of service I'm going to get, I don't know if I want to have anything to do with Sears. And they wonder why their stores aren't doing so well. Might this be one of the reasons?

I plan on calling them tonight to try and get things sorted out and hopefully get them over to fix things, get some type of refund, or make some sense out of the ridiculousness that is the Sears repair department. Screw Sears. Seriously.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter Has Arrived

...and with it about a foot of snow, my suffering from a cold, and a snowblower broken right out of the box. It's a little bit of a rough start to the winter months, but I'm sure it can only get better from here.

I was actually pretty stoked for the first snow. It's one of the few reasons I love Minnesota. I hate the cold, but when there's some snow to go with it, then it doesn't seem so bad. Really, there's no point to the cold if you aren't going to have something unique accompany it. So as the snow fell over the weekend, my dad and me unboxed my brand new Craftsman snowblower. Side note, who would ever have guessed how freakin' expensive these babies are? I sure had no idea.

The unboxing went well and we only had to put a couple of things on since it was nearly assembled right out of the packaging. As we pulled the boxing away, there was oddly a wire hanging from throttle lever on the handlebar. It was just dangling there, not attached to anything. As my dad examined it closer, since I don't really know jack about snowblowers, he saw that it was broken off and would need to be replaced. Before I could even use it, the bad boy was broken. How sad.

The snow came, fell, and made everything quite beautiful. With the falling snow came my falling further into a cold I had contracted last week. There was no way I could get out and shovel snow between coughing fits, sniffling, and trying to not take a power drill to my temple to relieve my headache. Being the wonderful people they are, my mom, dad, and housemate Caleb went out and shoveled the driveway. It was quite the task.

Of course, Mother Nature didn't want to wait until I got my snowblower fixed until she dumped another load on us yesterday. As it stands, we have a small path that my other housemate, Jared, shoveled for the time being. Sears is going to be coming out to fix the snowblower tomorrow so hopefully I can put it to its first use later in the evening.

I'm also hoping my cold subsides by then as I'm still battling it, winning slowly but surely. Every year, like clockwork, once winter arrives I end up with a knock-down, drag-out battle with the latest and greatest cold germs that have grown over the last year. I always win, but some years are harder than others and this year was a tough one.

And with that... I guess I'm back. I don't know how often I'll feel like writing as priorities, people, and pressures have all changed a fair amount this last month or two, but I'll give it the ol' college try. It's the best I can offer.