Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Check Your Zune

It looks like Zunes everywhere are failing. I can chime in with my own anecdotal evidence as my Zune is bricked as of this morning. I went to sync it and it just bricked. Total sucktasm since I take this thing everywhere. I've got 20 gigs of music on it along with podcasts, tv shows, and other mindless entertainment. And without it, I sure as heck won't go to the gym since I get bored after 5 minutes if I'm not listening to something.

This is extremely weird as it is happening to Zunes everywhere, so it is definitely a faulty piece of code somewhere. I just wonder how they're going to fix this since you can't get the Zune out of its bricked state. I can't get it to turn off, to sync, to play, to reset, or do anything. It just sits there, on, with the Zune logo on the front.

Thanks for the Christmas present, Microsoft.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tsavo - The Search CD Review

Thank God there are still some decent bands in the modern hard rock scene. It’s been a tough on and off battle for whether we’d see Nickelback, Hinder, Daughtry, and their brethren utterly dominate the popular rock scene with their more intelligent kin giving up, or if we’d see the continued insurrection of smart, catchy hard rock bands making inroads to give the genre at least a modicum of respect. Tsavo continues a trend of underground hard rock bands trying to push their way into the spotlight, even if only temporarily and to remind people that if you want to listen to rock music it doesn’t necessarily have to be utter crap.

Following in the footsteps of some of the other inspiring hard rock releases of this year, such as new efforts from 10 Years, The Butterfly Effect, and Rishloo, as well as a strong debut from Pitchblend, Tsavo serve up a hearty rock sounds with numerous influences ranging from A Perfect Circle to Chevelle. Eschewing the simple song structures of the moronic radio friendly rock bands, Tsavo craft songs that feel like they could be heard on a local hard rock radio station, but lacking the artificiality that seems to be needed to garner any prime airtime. Let’s just say they sound a little too introspective and moody to get the local shotgun toting, pickup driving, Pabst drinking meatheads reared up and ready to beat their girlfriends. Listening to anything off of The Search might make their heads hurt, not because it’s so “brootal dude!” but because it might make a synapse or two actually fire, something that doesn’t happen very often for the world of Hurt fans out there.

The focus of this band will easily be the crooning vocals of lead singer Cameron. It’s not too far of a stretch to hear a strong A Perfect Circle influence in the way he stretches his notes and draws out the length of the lyrics as he sings. If he were not as strong of a vocalist as he is, the album would fall quite flat, despite the talent of the rest of the band. In the melodic alt-rock world, if you don’t have a commanding vocalist, you just won’t make it. Period. And Cameron isn’t afraid to put himself out there as evidenced on the song “Absence”, in which he is backed only by acoustic guitars, letting him croon freely. Despite the very solid vocal performance throughout the album, there are a couple of small setbacks, mainly the couple of screamy growls thrown onto the album (see “Run” for a jarring example). They simply aren’t a natural addition to the band’s sound and are horribly out of place.

For the vast majority of the album, Tsavo stick to creating slower paced, methodical tracks, not too far from the structure that 10 Years employs. The influence is hard not to notice, but it shouldn’t come off as a negative criticism. It’s hard to think of a better modern hard rock act to look to for inspiration. You can also hear the influence in the way the album is paced — Tsavo are not afraid to shift gears from mellow to a full band assault back to slowing it down and then mixing it up from there. Doing this is often risky and can kill the flow of an album, but Tsavo pull it off and keep the album interesting up until near the close of the album. The tail end of the album loses a lot of steam and direction, but up unto that point the album is quite a compelling listen.

Now what’s really hard to believe is that Tsavo are currently unsigned and put The Search together independently. For an unsigned, independent band, there is a load of untapped potential and talent that could really be unleashed with a big studio treatment. Even without that, however, The Search feels full, hearty, and most importantly — mature. Many great things have come from Seattle in the past and the city has once again given us a band full of promise and talent.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I'm going to consider myself lucky. I had to be in Chicago for work Thursday and Friday of last week and the way they were forecasting the weather, I was wondering if I was going to be there all weekend. Getting in to Chicago was no problem, but getting out was threatening to be a completely different beast altogether.

With a flight scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm out of Midway on Friday night, I was a little worried when O'hare canceled a ton of flights throughout the day on Friday and it was snowing and blowing and cold and gross most of the morning and early afternoon. Thankfully, however, the snow quit, the skies cleared a bit, and the snow in Minnesota decided to hold off until the middle of the night, leaving me a window of about 6-8 hours of perfect weather for flights between Chicago and Minneapolis. And what a well used window it was.

Even though all of the afternoon flights to MN were listed as "on time" at the Northwest website, they were all still sitting at the airport and all of the flights, including mine, left between 5:30 pm and 8:00 pm. I'm really glad I made it home, considering the people stranded throughout the US over the weekend, as well as considering the dumping of snow we got on Saturday, which made getting out to shop and going to the T-Wolves game a real pain in the ass. And snowblowing the yard on Sunday was no walk in the park either, considering it was windy as all get out and about 1 to 2 degrees out. And this morning as I waited for the bus it was -13 out. Winter is most definitely here. And she's going to supposedly bring us some more snow today and Wednesday. There's no escaping a white Christmas this year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Problems

I don't get it. I live in Minnesota where we traditionally and historically get assloads of snow each and every year. I've been driving in snow since I was 16. Most everyone I know has been driving in snow their entire lives. There's the occasional person here and there that moved to Minnesota from outside of the midwest, but they usually learn how to drive in snow after a winter or two. So, really, there shouldn't be that big of a deal when we get a couple of inches of snow, right? That's what you'd think, but yesterday night it felt like suddenly the Minneapolis area was overtaken by a bunch of out of towners who had never seen a snowflake before.

Usually I just avoid driving altogether when it's snowing out since I have learned in my few years in Minneapolis that the people here are much different than the people in rural Minnesota--they actually aren't that good at driving in the snow. Maybe it's because they really only do city driving and didn't get the practice having to drive for miles to do anything like I did in the farm country of southern Minnesota, or maybe they just don't drive that much, but whatever it is, snow totally kills any ability to get anywhere in the Twin Cities area in a managable amount of time.

Most days, I can just let it go and factor in some extra travel time and know that my buses to and from downtown won't exactly be on time, but last night I hit my breaking point. After work I hit the gym and was down at my bus stop at 6:20 pm to catch the 6:25 pm bus. I figured it might be a little late, but wanted to be there early just in case they left early to try to compensate for the snow. That, and if I miss teh 6:25, I only have one other bus (the 6:49 pm bus) to catch home from my bus stop. After that I have to go to a different part of town to catch a different bus that drops me off in my neighborhood, but about a 10-15 minute walk from my house.

I waited... and waited... watched buses for other routes go by... checked my watch... and waited. I waited in the blowing below zero cold and snow until 7:00 pm. I stood there listening to my Zune for 40 freaking minutes and neither of my buses showed up. There were two other people there with me waiting as well and we were all pretty upset with Minneapolis public transit. I couldn't take it any longer, though, as I was freezing my ass off and was not in the mood to wait any more. So I hopped back into the skyway system (thank God for the Minneapolis skyways) and walked down to Kristi's place and stayed there.

Minneapolis public transit, thanks for wasting a huge chunk of my night. I really appreciate it, you bunch of clowns. I'll leave a complaint message with you, but just like in times past, it won't matter. They don't care when buses are late or don't show up, even when people are depending upon them to get where they are going.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Economy Seems Fine to Me

Shopping this past weekend sure felt like pre-Christmas shopping of last year... and the year before... and the year before. The mall was packed. I had to drive around for a few minutes just to find a spot to park, which was in a parking lot across the road from the mall (I refused to keep circling and circling). People were clogging up parking lanes as they sat with their blinkers on while the car parked a few spaces up was being filled by a family packing all their wares in. It's a beautiful thing when one car, while waiting for a somewhat mediocre parking spot, blocks the 15 vehicles behind it, about a third who are honking their horns to get by.

Inside the mall itself, people were everywhere. And of course, everyone felt the need to walk at least 3 abreast and at the pace of an out of shape snail. Then they give you the stink eye when you blow past them any time there's even the narrowest opening. Sorry people, I have better things to do than mosey along behind you listening to you talk about nonsensical crap.

Individual stores were also pretty tightly packed with people. Checkout lanes were fully manned and had lines snaking away for yards. People were browsing and getting in other people's ways as they were so caught up in their own little world that they forget there's anyone else around. From everything I'd seen, the economy is as far from a recession as possible...

...but then I realized why the checkout lines were so long. The stinginess of the season was on full display as people brought their armloads of goods up to the cash register. I wasn't in many stores, mostly just in JC Penny getting some new dress clothes, but my experiences there I'm sure were seen throughout many stores.

In front of me a few people up was a middle aged couple that looked to be buying gifts for relatives or children. They had a bunch of clothes, trinkets, and jewlery. Once the clerk rung up everything and gave them the total, they had the poor woman show them each item on the receipt to make sure they weren't accidentally charged twice, and when that activity was completed, they asked for price checks on half of the items they had there. As expected, everything rung up correctly and was the right price. So then they started asking the clerk how much they would save if they didn't get this item, then what about if they didn't get that item, or how about if they did get that item, but didn't get those two... way to be in your own world and not realize there are other people waiting. Dumbasses.

Next to the register was an old lady who had not been in line. No, she'd been standing off to the side mumbling to herself about God knows what. She just rushes up to the cashier throws a sweatshirt at her, tosses a crumpled receipt on the counter and says she wants money. The sweatshirt has no tags on it. The receipt, the clerk tells her, shows a sweatshirt had already been returned. The crazy lady proceeds to start ranting about her cousin Kim and how she's no longer a part of the family and she doesn't want her dirty clothes, but wants her damned money because she's a dirty old bitch that should stay in Texas and never see her children again and that's the receipt that the dumbass clerk gave her and it's all she has and she wants her money now...

This lasts for a few minutes until they call in a manager to take her aside and hopefully explain to her how crazy she is. Now at the register was a guy who wanted price checks on everything he had in his hands. He wasn't going to buy them, he just wanted price checks. Does he not know how to read the price stickers on them? Or potentially the price signs by the displays where he picked up the items?

Finally, there's only one person in front of me. Thankfully, she was normal. She had her stuff rung up, swiped her card, tossed her clothes into a reusable shopping bag she had with, and was on her way. Thank goodness. I did the same and got the hell out of the store.

So apparently everyone is still shopping this season, but the main difference is everyone is more of a jerkass about price and gives even less of a crap about anyone else trying to shop. If anything, it won't be the recession driving me away from the malls, it'll be the even more self-absorbed people the places are populated with.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blagojevich, You're Hilarious

I don't have too much to say about Blagojevich and his attempts to sell Obama's Senate seat, other than I think he could have easily gotten away with it if he wasn't such a moron. But then a friend pointed out a hilariously awesome video over on ABC News where Blagojevich talks about promising his mother he'd never take bribes not only because it is wrong, but because it is illegal. Irony, you never looked so good. Just go watch it and laugh. I did a few times.

Vessels - White Fields and Open Devices CD Review

I think someone spilled some vocals in my post-rock… oh wait, you can have vocals in a post-rock band? Seriously? Because it’s pretty damn annoying. Knowing that White Fields and Open Devices was produced by John Congleton, who also did some production work for a little known band that goes by the name of Explosions in the Sky, the expectation was that Vessels would fall much into the same realm, and they do to a certain extent, but you'll catch them trying to branch out in certain directions that don’t always succeed 100% of the time.

For example, the aforementioned vocals. They pop up in a few tracks, most notably on “A Hundred Times in Every Direction” where they are so low in the mix it is hard to decipher what is being sung. The vocals aren’t bad, but they aren’t amazing either, so maybe that’s why they are mixed in so low compared to the rest of the band. In this particular example, it pains me to say it, but I think the song would have benefited strongly from the removal of the vocal track. At their core, Vessels are an instrumental band and they really shouldn’t try to stretch too far away from that because when they stick to their Caspian meets Isis approach, they’re extremely bad ass.

“An Idle Brain and the Devil’s Workshop” is the perfect encapsulation of the band. Establishing the track from the get-go is a crashing riff that is then let go of to focus on some intense guitar noodling which is followed by more and more layers of heavy riffing and driving drum work. As it builds, it grows in decibels and scope until it hits you hard with some intense riffage, only to collapse back to a slow, nuanced, mellow, exploratory soundscape that eventually fades out to finish the track. This is stellar stuff for sure, but unfortunately there are too many odds and ends tossed in on other areas of the album that detract from some of this greatness.

If you listen to “Happy Accident” you’ll find an odd distorted sound effect cluttering the song and distracting you from what the rest of the band is doing. Similarly “Walking Through Walls” has some odd sound effects at times, which aren’t quite as distracting as on “Happy Accident”, and also show a return of the use of vocals. Since the song itself is mellow through and through, the vocals are able to be heard a little easier and actually add to the composition. But, again, the band seem to be losing focus on what they're truly good at when they go down these experimental paths. Kudos for trying to take baby steps in different directions, but they don't necessarily add a lot to the album.

With these few negatives pointed out, it should be noted that Vessels are a tremendously talented band and they have all the makings of a phenomenal album in them. You can hear it hiding under the surface as you listen to White Fields and Open Devices. Their ability to take the heavily mined post-rock template, work with it and stretch it to encompass many of the sub-genres included under the post-rock banner, and come out sounding interesting is something few bands possess. In the hour plus runtime of the album, there are some amazing mellow moments as well as some pummeling, heavy hitting, sledgehammer riffs, all augmented by the well placed piano pieces and (occasionally) well used sound effects.

Vessels’ debut album is best viewed as a building block for future endeavors. With a plethora of ideas on the table and out of their system, they can now focus on choosing which ones are their best ideas and putting their efforts into doing what they do well, leaving behind what serves merely as a distraction from their good ideas. Vessels are on the cusp of doing something great and I can’t wait to eventually hear it… but until then, White Fields and Open Devices will definitely keep people tided over.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

People Suck

You know, for Christmas time supposedly being a "happy" time of year, I seem to notice people being dicks more and more often around holiday time. Everyone puts more focus on themselves, what they need to get done, what's going on around them, and don't really look outside of their little personal bubble. It gets somewhat frustrating that people, as much as they want to pretend they're all good and nice, just don't give a crap about other people in their completely self-centered world.

A perfect example of this happened as I was coming in to the office this morning. As I walked up towards the elevator to my floor, a co-worker from my floor was in a rush getting into the elevator. She saw me walking towards the elevator, but instead of holding the door got in and quickly hit our floor number, hoping the doors would close before I got there. Unfortunately for her, they didn't.

As the doors were closing we met eyes and she just stood there... so I put my foot in the door to stop it from closing. While they opened back up, I could tell she was pissed because I broke into her little bubble and because she got caught being a dick. Looking away after I stepped in she mumbled, "Uhhh... sorry," in a very douche-y tone. Trying to be the nice guy, I smiled at the back of her head and told her, "No worries." Of course as soon as we reached our floor she was out of the elevator lickety-split and going the opposite direction as me.

Has it gotten to the point this holiday season where everyone only gives a crap about themselves and trying to keep their image of niceness alive amongst those around them? I rarely see anyone simply being nice or actually thinking of someone else before themselves or their image. It's sad, but what can you expect? People just tend to suck.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Misery Signals, The Ghost Inside, Confide, and Bring Me the Horizon

It seems to be a recurring problem here in Minnesota that weekday shows start way too early for people to get to the venue. I suppose the blame can be laid on the fact that almost all hardcore and metal shows in the Twin Cities area are all ages and there’s a curfew in place that forces shows to get done by 9:00 pm, but it doesn’t change the frustration factor any for those of us who are no longer ‘tweens or in college and have to put up with an 8-5 job. Thankfully I was able to get my ass out of work quick enough to get from downtown Minneapolis to Station 4 in St. Paul so that I only missed the first couple of songs by opening band Confide.

Even though I was getting to the venue at 6:00 pm, busloads of kids had already made their way to the show. The venue was packed… well, except for the 21+ bar section where there was all of 10-15 people, showing just exactly what the demographics of the crowd were. Lots of the kids up in the front were really getting into Confide and I could totally see why – they sounded strikingly similar to current metalcore heavyweights Underoath. On disc, the comparison doesn’t come across as strongly, but live it is nearly unmistakable. The combination of very overtly Christian lyrics and the sing/scream dynamic kids go nutty for today screamed trend-hopping. The kids dug it, though, so more power to the band for making a connection.

After a very quick set change, The Ghost Inside came out and tore it up. Their stage presence was the strongest off all of the evening’s bands. The only rival to them was the individual performance that Karl Schuback would later give. The Ghost Inside met my expectations quite handily. Considering they play a very breakdown heavy band of metalcore, the crowd had plenty of opportunities to circle pit and spin-kick themselves silly. Even though vocalist Vigil had a cold and wasn’t feeling well, you sure couldn’t tell as he stomped across the stage spitting venom and screaming his lungs out, even taking a few impromptu dives into the crowd looking to drive the energy of the place even higher. In the 25 minutes they were on stage, they kept it going full force.

Following another quick set change, the always amazing Misery Signals came out to a delighted crowd. The majority of the material they played was off of Controller, but they did manage to toss in “Anchor” and “The Failsafe” off of Mirrors, both eliciting a huge response from the crowd. As I mentioned before, Karl was undeniably commanding on stage. With the build to back up his gruff vocals, the intimidation factor was pretty high. Backing him up, the rest of the band was flawless. If you thought Misery Signals sounded good on disc, hearing them perform live is an audible treat. The vast majority of the set simply bled aggression. The ending of “Labyinthian” nearly ripped the venue apart, while “Reset” simply crushed in your ear drums. We also can’t forget some of the mellower moments that served to show the band’s diversity, such as Karl and the band’s venture into melody in “A Certain Death” and the closing moments of “Parallels”. There’s a reason this band will be on so many people’s top 10 lists – they’re just that good. It’s just a shame they got their set shortened so that Bring Me the Horizon could get their full set in before curfew. I could have simply listened to Misery Signals play the rest of the night.

Unlike the other set changes, it took ages for everything to get set up for Bring Me the Horizon. I’m guessing it took so long because instead of BMTH setting up their own gear, they had one roadie setting everything up and doing the sound check while the band stood back stage dicking around. So they think they’re rock stars already, eh? What’s even crazier is that a healthy portion of the kids in the crowd seemed to think BMTH are the rock stars they wished they were. You have to give Epitaph props for promoting the hell out of BMTH and getting people into them. Once they finally did take the stage, they got the crowd chanting as they broke into a sloppy rendition of their “Sleep is for the weak…” song. In comparison to the three other bands on the bill, BMTH were very loose in their playing. After a couple of songs they bantered with the crowd about getting drunk, fucking, and were overly crass just because, which simply isn’t appealing to me. Maybe it’s because I’m in my late 20’s and more mature now, but promoting and fostering such negativity in a crowd full of kids isn’t something I tend to enjoy… so I left. I couldn’t take it. They were just that annoying and bad, which is unfortunate considering they were headlining and they’ve had so much promotion put behind them.

In the end, the show was definitely worth going to and I would sincerely suggest you see The Ghost Inside, Misery Signals, and (to an extent) Confide. They were all very good. On the other hand, I’d urge you to avoid Bring Me the Horizon if at all humanly possible. Seriously, stay away.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cruel Hand - Prying Eyes CD Review

Bridge 9 Records is usually the label to turn to when you want to get your fill of quality hardcore. Being home to stellar acts such as Betrayed, Ruiner, Crime in Stereo, Have Heart, and Ceremony, as well as many others, you can usually be assured that any new signing by the label is going to, at the very least, be decent. You can also usually be relatively sure of exactly what any new signee will sound like — at least one of Bridge 9's already signed bands. B9 have consistency going for them, and with Cruel Hand’s Prying Eyes they continue the trend of signing solid hardcore bands.

It would be remiss to not point out from the get go that Prying Eyes is strictly a 12 track hardcore stomp-fest, nothing more, nothing less. With only one song breaking the 2:30 barrier, the band is quick to get to the point. There is little to no deviation from the established hardcore paradigm, with the one small exception being the occasional metal flavored guitar lick. “Hounds” is probably the easiest song to listen to in order to notice the sharp, old-school, metal-tinged guitar tones. They’re sprinkled throughout the rest of the album as well, but the predominant musical theme on the album is straight ahead hardcore with plenty of opportunities for tastefully placed breakdowns.

Not quite up to par with many of Bridge 9’s other releases this year, Prying Eyes seems to spend most of its run time oscillating between speedy chord progressions and slowed down stomps. This isn’t to say that the transitions aren’t well done or missing, but each song tends to either be purely speed focused, purely stomp focused, or a straight up 50/50 mix of the two. There is rarely an in between pace, which leaves this album extremely lacking in the variation department making repeated listens quite dull. The metallic sheen on a lot of standard hardcore conventions lends something interesting to the presentation, but the underlying hardcore template is still being utilized quite heavily.

Also of note for all of you CD buyers out there, the packaging for this album is unfortunately below that of some of B9’s more recent offerings, such as the latest Crime in Stereo or Ceremony albums. Hardcore fans usually flip for great packaging, so it would have been nice to have something other than a single sheet of paper for an insert. I haven’t gotten my hands on the vinyl, but it looks like they did a nice job with the record itself being a smooth purple.

Beyond the CD packaging and the narrow scope of Cruel Hand’s brand of hardcore, this release is entertaining enough for hardcore junkies. However, as is the case with many recent hardcore releases, Prying Eyes doesn’t jump into “good” territory but is instead stuck in “good for the genre” territory.

My Other Web Endeavor

You'll often notice that many of my posts here are music reviews or can be music related. Well, it's because of my other web work that I do--Decoy Music. I've been writing there almost as long as I've been writing here. I haven't done as much writing in the last year or two, however, as I focused more on editing, but I still try to write music related pieces whenever I can to help keep the content there fresh.

I bring this up because I also selfishly want everyone to go visit the site since we have a completely new layout and, for the most part, completely new site. It's pretty bad-ass and I really like the progression we've made from our old site. It seems much more professional now, as well as much slicker and modern looking/feeling.

Now if I would only take the time to redesign this site... nah, that's too much work.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Call To Preserve - From Isolation CD Review

2006’s Unsinkable was one of 2006’s under-appreciated hardcore gems. Call to Preserve put together a very competent debut that should have let them break through into the hardcore mainstream (quite the oxymoron, I know...), but instead they didn’t seem to gain a lot of traction. Hopefully that will change with the release of their sophomore effort From Isolation.

Truth be told, From Isolation is not a terribly huge advance from Unsinkable and, in fact, there are some definite negatives to be found (the vocals on “Vices”, for example), but what the band excels at is combining a familiar hardcore sound with a barraging amount of energy. I’m sure that this can be said about the vast majority of hardcore bands throughout the states, touring their local scenes, playing basement shows, and releasing independently produced albums, but in this case, with the backing of Facedown Records, Call to Preserve have focused their overflowing amount of energy into 13 concise, blunt force trauma inducing tracks.

Obviously, by being on Facedown Records’ roster it is a known quantity that Call to Preserve are a Christian band, which can often spell doom if they get a little too preachy. Thankfully, there are no extremely overt lyrics that force the band members’ beliefs down your throat. Instead, much of the lyrical content deals with coming out of a negative place into a positive realm, or overcoming obstacles to push into a better frame of mind or lifestyle. It’s a welcome relief from the two ends of the hardcore lyrical spectrum — preaching values or preaching hate. It's nothing new, but it's tastefully done nonetheless.

Musically, it’s hard not to say that there is nothing new here. If you’ve been listening to hardcore since the days of Give Up the Ghost, you know what to expect. Beyond the one to two minute ragers, there are some inspired mid-tempo moments, such as the second half of “Lincoln Street” where you can almost hear a little bit of Modern Life is War trying to come through. More often than not, you’ll feel some strong This is Hell and Terror influences and similarities. There’s plenty of stomp-worthy, ground-pounding anthems, my personal favorite being “Waiting for Dawn”, so there will no doubt be a full-on circle pit at live shows.

Call to Preserve pack a punch in the 31 minutes of From Isolation. If your usual rotation of bands contains Buried Alive, Death Threat, Hatebreed, or No Innocent Victim then odds are you will probably fall in love with this disc. Even for a casual hardcore connoisseur, there is a lot to like here. It’s not often you find tasteful positivity in a hardcore band, so enjoy it when you have the chance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One Way to Get Cool X-Rays

We've all heard the jokes about emo kids and how they cut themselves, my favorite being, "I wish my lawn was emo so it would cut itself!" I've known a few cutters in my day and must say that I still don't really understand the concept. I can somewhat understand the need to invoke physical pain to try and releive emotional issues, but actually cutting yourself just doesn't sound fun. Maybe that's because when I was all emo-y, which came late in life for me (college years), instead of doing something ridiculous like slicing up my arms with a pocket knife, I just went to the gym and beat myself up on the track or in the weight room.

I don't think the concept of cutting oneself is going to go away with kids any time soon, but I didn't see kids upping the ante as much as they supposedly have either. A new phenomenon, now referred to as "self embedding", is proliferating amongst the cutting crowd. This is definitely a new concept to me.

It's hard to understand why people cut themselves to begin with, but what the hell drives a kid to take paperclips, staples, wood splinters, crayons (from the article, not my imagination), or other things and find a way to get them inside your body under your skin? Yes, piercing has taken on new life in the emo/goth/metal/hardcore scenes with lots of interesting new piercing places (lips, cheeks, the back of the neck, etc.), which I can understand because it is a way to change your image that others see. However, with embedding kids aren't changing what's visible to others in a lame attempt to garner attention or artificially boost their self esteem. No, instead all they do is succeed in putting an object into their body outside of the usual ingestion methods.

This is really proof that we're only a few years or decades away from transhumanism becoming a mainstream thing. Body modification has exploded in the past few decades and we're really not that far away from openly grafting technology onto or into our bodies. RFID embedding, artificial organs, mechanical enhancements... by the time I'm 80 it probably won't even be controversial to be a cyborg. Oddly, I'm sort of looking forward to see how we can mesh technology and the human body together to make life longer, fuller, and more interesting.

That being said, self-embedding is just ridiculous. Don't be dumb, kids.

AristeiA - How to Kill a King CD Review

In today’s critical arena where ‘zines are covering a multitude of genres, much like we do here at Decoy Music, it seems like near blasphemy to ever criticize a post-rock band or to *gasp* give a bad review or score to anything post-rock. In any genre, however, there are going to be releases that are good, some that are bad, some that are absolute dreck, others that are mind-alteringly spectacular, and a bunch of mediocre stuff. It seems odd that for post-rock, nearly every band is given a “get out of the bad category free” card. Conversely, you could also say that metalcore and pop-punk are overly criticized in a negative light, but that’s an argument for another time and another place. Now, as you can easily guess by this point, How to Kill a King is unfortunately not going to get a free pass.

AristeiA are a fine band hailing from Portland, Oregon, and they’ve done some decent work in the form of 2007’s You Give Me Strength, You Give Me Patience, but they fall a little flat with How to Kill a King. The easiest potshot to take at this album is the fact that there is way too much Explosions in the Sky worship. True, it’s easy to say that almost any post-rock band shows an EitS influence, but there are tracks on this album that feel like they were created as musical love letters to EitS. “Stairway to Heaven Part II” exemplifies this with the very methodical, slow guitar build of the first third of the song before the sparse drumming enters, allowing the song to grow further and eventually climax, shooting their proverbial post-rock load all over the place, only to be followed by the near sleep inducing “I’ll Take Mine Black”.

This has been done to death, people. Because post-rock is such an insulated and critically loved genre, being derivative doesn’t seem to be called out as much as it should. It’s getting called out here, however, because as competent of musicians as AristeiA are, they’ve simply gone through the motions with How to Kill a King. Truth be told, however, it is a little easier to tolerate a so-so post-rock effort as compared to many other genres’ so-so entries, mostly because even with a middle of the road post-rock effort, you at least can hear that the band knows something about song structure, can play their instruments well, and demonstrate decent songwriting dynamics.

There are some positives that should be pointed out, however, most notably being that AristeiA have put this album up for free for everyone to download over at the Internet Archive. Knowing that it’s totally free, it’s hard to have buyer’s remorse if you do go get this album (and I actually recommend you do go give it a listen). I’m also sure that post-rock aficionados will find something to like, at least in the first couple of tracks (the final three are pretty lackluster downers, sadly). To be brutally honest, however, there are a lot of other post-rock efforts out there that are more deserving of your time if you are a discerning listener.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rosematter - Rosematter CD Review

I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for a blatant cash-in attempt on the Paramore craze to come along. Not only do Rosematter try to be the next big female fronted pop-punk band, but they gratuitously rip-off those ever loved popsters Fall Out Boy, tongue-in-cheek song titles and all. It’s hard to listen to this album without being overwhelmed by the notion that you now know what the audible manifestation of mediocre sounds like.

Before this album gets utterly dismantled, it should be mentioned that the majority of the songs on this album are upbeat, bouncy, moderately catchy, and totally mom-friendly. Most of that stems simply from the fact that Rosematter plays in a genre of music where 90% of the bands share these traits to begin with. They’re inherently a part of the pre-requisites that every pop-punk band is require to have in order to simply get started.

That being said… where do we start? Before you even listen to the band, you’ll be confronted with the horribly unfunny song titles on the back cover. Some gems are “I Bet She Gives Great Helmet”, “Do Re Egon”, and “I Drink to Prepare for a Fight (Tonight I’m Very Prepared)”. Let’s all agree right now that quasi-ironic song titles are long past their expiration date. All they do is inform a potential listener that a band is trying to be more clever than they actually are.

As you listen to each song you’ll soon realize that you’re hearing the exact same basic song structure over and over again with only some slight variations here and there that attempt to trick you into thinking that each of these songs are uniquely their own. Don't be fooled. The most blatant element that is shared amongst all of the songs is the tempo – that mid-paced, pop-punk, sing-a-long pace that is fine for a song or two on an album but gets played out all too fast when overused.

Of course, let’s keep in mind that we are operating in the pop-punk realm so the conventions of the genre should be expected. For a relatively simple genre, however, Rosematter pull a Lynyrd Skynyrd and have three guitarists in the band, even though you can't actually identify any songs that use more than a maximum of two guitar lines. And, in all honesty, there's very little noticeable use of multiple guitar lines. The majority of the album could have been played by a single guitarist.

The majority of the album could also be viewed as what would happen in an alternative reality where Relient K had Haley Williams as a lead singer. The only problem here is that Katie Kolos doesn’t quite have the range that Williams has with Paramore, which only perpetuates the monotony of the album.

I’m sure Torque Records saw this release as a good idea, but I don’t think that Rosematter will be able to garner enough attention or staying power to really matter beyond a quick flash in the pan. Other than Paramore there hasn’t been another female fronted pop-punk band to make a significant sales splash and Rosematter surely won't be rivaling the current kings (and queen) for their throne.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I'm Not Dead...

...I just hadn't really had much of a desire to write. Oddly, I just found that doing any sort of blogging felt more like a chore than anything else, which is not what I ever wanted it to be. I'm sure it was a bunch of different things coming together to finally get me to give up (temporarily, I guess, since this is now another post). I felt I didn't have much to talk about, I was getting overwhelmed at work (where I'd often feel frustrated, which only leads to negative rants... and I don't want to rant about work), and while I was at my computer at home I never felt the desire to pull up a blank screen and start typing.

So what's changed? Not much, really. I still don't feel the urge to write 100%, but it's not the empty tank I was running on a couple months ago. I'd still been doing some writing in the form of music reviews for Decoy Music and documentation at work, so I didn't go cold turkey. What really got me to reconsider writing anything in this space was the simple fact that a couple of different people asked why I quit. They were family, yes, but still... knowing anyone reads anything you write is always a good feeling. I know that the letters I write to my grandparents are only read by a couple of people, but that doesn't stop me from writing them. And I know that I'll never be a Keith Olbermann or James Lileks or even a Ryan Rhodes, but if there's a couple people out there paying attention, then what the heck. I might as well keep at it.

So with that, I guess I'm going to try to be back enjoying myself in the written word. And just to be clear, nothing tragic or horrendous or life altering happened to me over the last few months. I just wasn't motivated and got pretty bored. And for all I know, I might get completely bored again in a couple of months. Who knows? But I'm hoping I won't.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Smartbomb - Diamond Heist CD Review

In the time it takes to type out this initial opening paragraph, over one third of Diamond Heist will have already played. As you can guess, this is far from a lengthy CD, with most songs clocking in around a minute and a half in length, and for as much as this keeps the release short and to the point, it is also what kills this album. There are so many good ideas being tossed around by Smartbomb, but rarely are any of them given enough space to become fully developed. Instead, songs come to a close just as they’re taking off, which is beyond unfortunate considering the band’s pedigree.

This three-piece, consisting of two members of No Trigger and one member of Shock Nagasaki, plays a style of punk that is definitely in the same vein as their other bands, but they slam their foot on the accelerator a bit harder. There’s no denying that playing fast and in your face is not a problem for the band. “Crucial Times” is the perfect example of what makes this band appealing (a raging 90’s Epi-Wreck slab of pulse-pounding punk), as well as what kills this album (a song that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere until it blends into the next track). If Smartbomb were to have combined “Crucial Times” and the next track, “Second View”, into one track it would have made for a diverse track that shows the band can do more than explore one singular element in a song.

The best section of the album comes later on in the form of the one-two punch of “PCH (Intermission)” and “Blood & Sand”. “PCH” takes its time to develop into a 3+ minute instrumental jam, letting the band actually make a transition or two between tempos and playing styles, which they do extremely well. “Blood & Sand” also stretches past the 2 minute mark and toys around with some vocal maneuvers that are unique to this track alone, namely using female backing vocals. To go with the feminine voice there is also a very bouncy and, dare I say it, poppy sound to the track.

However, after these two killer tracks, it is back to two more nondescript tracks that just plow ahead in the same manner as the first 7 songs of the album. To make matters worse, “My Wicked Mind” simply trails off to nothingness. I realize that it was a stylistic choice to go with the lyrics of the song, but it leaves the song feeling incomplete, coming off more so as an idea for a full fledged song rather than a completed musical effort.

Smartbomb have at times been referred to as simply “No Trigger’s side project”. For as much as this band wants to be more than that, they can’t crawl out from under the fact that Diamond Heist is little more than an underdeveloped, but well intentioned, imitation of the band members’ other bands. It’s not enough to have a lot of good ideas - you also need to know how to use them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Miseration - Your Demons Their Angels CD Review

It’s hard to believe that this CD was recorded at the end of 2006, nearly 2 years ago, because it is very much in tune with the current death metal environment. Despite the length of time that has passed since then, Lifeforce Records is just now bringing Your Demons – Their Angels to Europe and the states. Miseration isn't just another melodeath group, but are instead a “supergroup” of sorts, consisting of only Jani Stefanovic of Divinefire and Christian Älvestam of Scar Symmetry. Jani plays all of the instruments while Christian is responsible for the vocal work, and despite having only two members in the recording studio, this album feels huge, no doubt in part to precise mixing, expert production, and the raw talent of both members of the band.

Obviously the first thing you’ll notice is the similarities to Christian’s other band, Scar Symmetry. Vocally, Christian sticks to his growling for the majority of the album, using melodic vocals very sparingly. This comes in stark contrast to Holographic Universe where he let his melodic vocals take center stage on a number of songs. Even with the limited use of his melodic vocals, you never find yourself yearning to hear more of them. Instead, the variations on his growling and guttural approaches provide each song with an identity of its own, but that’s not only his doing.

Jani, who is responsible for all of the instruments, shows off exactly how multi-talented he is. Drawing on strong influences from Scar Symmetry, Dark Tranquility, and heavier Opeth, Jani proves he can do it all. Now you all know exactly the type of melodic death metal that Miseration and the aforementioned bands play, so it would be a bold faced lie to say that somehow Jani and Christian have done something ground breaking and new, but it would not be a lie to say that they aren’t completely on top of their game.

There may only be nine tracks on the album, but each one is a solid slab of melodeath. There is your prerequisite long, brooding intro into pummeling, yet melodic, headbanger “World Lethality”. Then you have the extremely diverse track, “Chain-Work Soul”, which shifts gears from mid-paced melodic chorus to double bass pounding verse progressions. The closing track, “Scattering the Few”, is one of the more straight forward death metal songs and has a competently short and shred-worthy solo placed nicely in the middle. Oh, and don’t forget the album’s opener, “Thrones”, which is quite easily the most menacing track of the album. The buzzsaw riffs and precision drumming drive this song right through your skull.

Not too bad for a two man band, is it? Or for a side project either, eh? This is definitely one of the essential melodic death metal releases to hit the shelves this year. Crafting a melodeath album that goes beyond simply touching upon clichés is somewhat rare today. True, Miseration don’t completely sidestep delving into cliché-ridden territory, but when they do, they at least do it very competently.

Monday, October 06, 2008

That Bailout Bill...

...was supposed to help the broader market, right? But as I sit and watch the DOW, it's down 300-ish points and is about 15 points away from dipping below 10,000 points. I fear what would happen then, especially considering how much of the market movement is psychological right now. Everyone has jitters, everyone is on edge, and there's a fear that the bottom is ready to fall out at any moment.

It's painful to look at my brokerage account and retirement accounts. I don't mind the huge losses in the retirement accounts right now as I am confident they'll have increased plenty by the time I actually need to get to the funds, but my current investments in my brokerage account are hard to look at.

I wish I had the extra money to invest in more companies that are on the cheap because of the broad market kick to the pants that has been happening. It's a great time to get stuff on the cheap, but I'm not really willing, right now, to sell off some of my stakes in what I believe to be strong companies at a loss to move to others. There are a couple of stocks that I hold that I think have weaken since I bought them, but I think their share prices have been overly punished so I'm waiting for a little bit of a bump back before dumping. Any way you look at it, though, it's a rough market.

So anyone think we'll close below 10,000 today? I think it's very possible...

Friday, October 03, 2008

This Election

I'm starting to actually get worn out talking about politics. I think I'm too my breaking point. I can only encounter and debate a certain number of closed minded idiots before I want to resort to groin punching instead of talking. That point, I've pretty much reached.

I'm going to try to say only a limited amount about what I think of our choices, but even that is usually enough to incite someone to go on a tirade about how I'm obviously a moron. Anyhow, here's how I see things:

--Palin is sorely inexperienced, seems sort of dumb (from her interviews), but is nicely "folksy". She appeals to the everyday joe because she seems like "one of us". It makes people think that one of their own could be the VP. Well, honestly, I don't like the idea of "any one of us" being able to be VP. I wouldn't want a guy down the street as VP. I wouldn't want many of my friends as VP. Heck, I don't think I'd want myself as VP. The reason why is that I don't have any experience or a lot of knowledge about the decisions I'd have to make. Sure, I could armchair quarterback it, but that's not what I'd want someone doing. And with no track record in the Senate or House, we don't really know how she'd vote on different measures. She's an enigma right now, and I'm really scared that Palin could be making decisions for our country, no matter how nice she is or how good a pan of brownies she can make.

--Biden is an interesting character. He's knowledgable, yes, but he also likes to run his mouth off at times which can get him into trouble. He also has an air about him that gives off a vibe that he's too good to be just the VP, he should be the presidential candidate. Beyond that, however, I see him as an experienced, smart man who would (hopefully) make informed decisions, and also be passionate about those decisions.

--McCain is getting harder and harder to believe lately the way he changes his stances on topics and then twists, turns, contorts, and distorts things to make it seem like he's not really changing his mind, but clarifying what he said before and how it fits in with what he says now. He also seems a little impatient, which is most definitely a trait I would not want to see in a president. Yes, he has experience on his side, but he's made a lot of gaffes when talking about items, such as foreign policy, that he supposedly has so much experience with. His age can also be a factor, but I'm guessing that with the state of the health care industry and the fact that he'd get the best there was, there isn't really too much of a risk he'll kick the bucket while in office.

--Obama, I'll admit, is the most appealing person in the lot. He's a gifted speaker, has a very energetic outlook and approach, and also appears to be quite intelligent and knowledgable, even despite his limited experience. Obviously his downside is his inexperience, but in stark contrast to Palin (the other inexperienced person in this lot), he has a plan, is not afraid to answer questions directly, and will give specifics when needed. He sometimes may come off as aloof, but I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing all of the time. It shows that he is confident in his plan and wants to get into office to actually DO something.

As it stands, if the vote was tomorrow, I'd check the box next to Obama and Biden. I think they'll do so many more positive things for our country than McCain and Palin could.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More Europe Pictures

Yeah, I know I haven't really talked about my vacation to Europe much, but at least there are pictures. It was a great time, despite half of my time in Europe being there for work. I'd love to go back and visit other parts of Europe beyond Italy and the Czech Republic, but unfortunately it's a little too expensive and our economy is a little too busy crapping all over itself to make it any easier to get over there.


Dammit, Twins. At least it was a good game to watch, although I wish we wouldn't have even had to see the playoff game at all. Unfortunately the Twins got themselves into the predicament they were in by having such a terrible slide at the end of the season. Losing 2 of 3 games to the Royals to end the season didn't help anything.

I'm sad to see the Twins go down since they're probably our only hope for a playoff team this year in Minnesota. The Timberwolves are a lost cause. The Vikings are going to have to pull their heads out of their asses to struggle into playoff contention. And the Wild will be ok, but I don't think they'll be able to make runs like they've been able to in past years.

On a plus note in baseball, I won one of my fantasy leagues that I played with Erik (aka: Johnny Huh). It was a pretty fun league to play in, but I thought for sure I was going to give up on it by mid-season since my team was fighting for lowest of the low of basement dwellers, but with a few moves, a turn around near the All-Star break, and then a huge breakout after the break I took first and never got close to even giving it up. Huzzah!

Now, with the Twins' season over, I can focus 110% on football and my fantasy teams.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Thoughts on the Current Financial Markets

Yeah, not such a good day on Wall Street today... or on any street for that matter. Failed US bailout plan, global market pullback, international bank bailouts, and financial failures left and right. Gotta love watching my brokerage accounts dive further and further into the red each day.

Failing Hardware

I really love my Xbox 360... when it is working. Over the weekend I had my second 360 fail. It was really odd too, since there was no real hints that anything was wrong. I didn't have any problems with the console, hadn't been using it excessively, and really had only been using it lately as a DVD player and for playing arcade games. Sunday morning I watched an episode of the X-Files (just finishing up the 7th season) before breakfast and turned the unit off. When I came back after breakfast to play a game of Scene It with Kristi, the thing gave me the red rings of death.

This is the second time I've had to have my 360 replaced. I had to have my 360 replaced last year because of the same problem. I also had to have my power cord replaced last year. On top of those repairs, I also had both the guitar and drum set that came with Rock Band get replaced since they had broken. The 360 is, in my opinion, an amazing platform that does it all--games, a great online experience, DVD player, media streamer, and entertainment center--but the console and peripherals have such a high fail rate it's ridiculous.

I've had two 360's replaced. My brother has had to have one replaced. That's three broken consoles between the two of us. Not a great statistic if you ask me. Thankfully, Microsoft is pretty good about repairing or replacing broken machines. Oddly when I called to have this 360 fixed, it came up as out of warranty for over a year, which is odd since Microsoft has a 3 year warranty on all of their consoles. It must have somehow got screwed up in their system that I no longer had my original system, but a replacement unit. I didn't have to dick around with them, however, to get it classified as under warranty. All I did was tell them their records were wrong and they took me at my word, emailed a shipping label, and set me up to have it serviced free of charge.

It's stuff like that which keeps me so torn on the 360 and Microsoft. Their service is great. I love it, but I hate that I have to take advantage of it because of their crappy hardware. Oh well, I'll deal for now. Thankfully I've never had any issues with my Zune. I beat the crap out of that thing and it's still ticking.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seriously Frustrating

It's pretty apparent that I haven't written much the last couple of months. Obviously the biggest reason is simply that I haven't gotten around to it or felt the urge. However, lately now that all of my travels are done for the year, the summer is winding down, and I'm back in my routine, I do have that itch to do some writing again. But wouldn't you know it, life has conspired against me.

Recently the company I work for re-tooled all of their web filtering tools, their wide area network setup, and their proxy servers. In doing so, they blocked many sites I use and also screwed up and/or blocked the ftp usage for my office. In essence, even though I do now want to take a minute or two to write something during lunch or a break, I have a hard time doing so.

I'll just have to figure something out...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where's My Money Going?

Everyone knows right now that we're in the middle of a financial crisis here in the US. And truthfully, it's not just a US issue, it's affecting the entire global economy, but the US seems to be at the center of it. I find myself more and more fascinated by the financial news each day, but not because the topics are necessarily interesting or because I have lots of vested interest (I do hold a relatively moderate number of stocks and funds so I would like them to turn around), but more so because of the "car crash" effect of it all. Just like when everyone slows down on the highway to gawk at a really bad car wreck, I find myself doing just that with the financial news.

I don't really have anything to add that many people haven't already said. I found Ryan's digging up of an old article from 1999 interesting in how, looking back, you can really see how this all went wrong. I'm also a big fan of Obama's speech on the bailout plans. Then there's the analysis left and right about Paulson's and Bernanke's plans, the ups, the downs, the big questions marks, and everything in between. Regardless of what eventually does happen, this is a monumental time and I hope everyone is paying attention to the situation that's around them. This isn't going to affect just the fat cats on Wall Street, the oil barons, rich people, and the politicians. If everything goes according to the proposed plans, the everyday taxpayer is going to be on the hook for a lot of government spent money on failed investments and companies. I can't say I'm a fan of it, but I also can't say that if we let everything fail we'd be in a better position.

All I do know is that I'm tired of seeing red in my portfolio and I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines of the investing game because of all the uncertainty, corruption, greed, and toxicity that has invaded the markets. It would be nice to see some regulation, some stability, and a little less dumbass investments made available, but as we all know greed is too big of a motivator to keep things simple. What's the next crazy derivative that's going to be designed that'll make a chunk of people rich while others get ripped off? I wish I knew, so I could get in on some of that action at the ground level and then let taxpayers worry about the aftermath.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Johnny Truant - No Tears for the Creatures CD Review

It looks like Johnny Truant have finally broken through to the (relatively speaking) big leagues, releasing their third album on Ferret Records. Having been in existence for 8 years already, most people will probably only be hearing of this band now, which is both wonderful and, at the same time, disheartening. Johnny Truant definitely deserve to be on the larger stage that Ferret presents them with, but it’s some of their past work that is somewhat more interesting in comparison to the somewhat safe No Tears for the Creatures.

Johnny Truant’s debut, The Repercussions of a Badly Planned Suicide, although suffering from some underwhelming production, was an album that showed the band could put together some grand metalcore songs. With the shortest song on that album clocking in at just under 5 minutes, there were a lot of ideas explored in their long form experiments — two tracks even neared the 10 minute mark. The toying around with progressive metalcore and some spacier moments showed a lot of promise which, unfortunately, wasn’t capitalized on with their sophomore effort, In the Library of Horrific Events. This album focused more on truncating song length, neutering some of the experimentation, and adding in some melody here and there which, essentially, generalized them to some extent. It was still a very solid album, but didn’t expand on the room for growth that was hinted at on their debut.

Now we have No Tears for the Creatures, which shows the band again making some changes to their approach. The first thing that you’ll notice is the huge sound of the album. Every song feels large and in charge with thick, meaty grooves and equally visceral vocals, even if they are at times mixed in a bit low. It’s also very noticeable that the band has tried to streamline their sound even further, creating a lean metalcore machine, but in doing so have also sacrificed even further the few things they did differently from some of their peers. Thankfully they didn’t make these sacrifices throughout entire album.

Even without a lot of the experimentation of their debut and the spacey moments of their last album, this is still a relatively solid album. It’s possible to hear the remnants of their past work as there are some melodic guitar lines sparsely spaced out on the first half of the album, and the final two tracks show a little of the longer form song-writing they previously employed. Still, the main focus of the first 2/3 of this album is to be ferocious and aggressive, which they have definitely accomplished. One of the keys to their heavy sound is the well placed, thunderous drumming during breakdowns and key moments. It may simply be due to the production or mixing, but the bass drum rolls are pummeling.

Mention should be made of the final two tracks, as well as “Dead Ships Sinking”, since they are definitely much different than the other 7 tracks of the album. As I mentioned before they employ a very progressive style, much in the same manner as Misery Signals, on these compositions. The aggressive vocals are screamed out over well choreographed, growing progressions of heaviness that churn in a slow-burn fashion. These 3 songs are definitely the best portion of the album and are, unfortunately, buried at the end of the release.

Identity crisis aside, Johnny Truant are proving that Ferret did indeed pick up a solid band, but there is still room for growth. With three albums now under their belt, it’s time for Johnny Truant to sit down and decide exactly what kind of band they want to be because modern fans are fickle and might not create an attachment to a band that is constantly going in different directions on each album, and even on different songs within a single album.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes, There Are Zune Users Out There... And I am One of Them!

For any of you Zune owners, the latest 3.0 software and firmware has recently dropped. I must say, I liked my Zune before 3.0 was released, but there were things that could be better. Now, with 3.0, a few of my issue have been resolved and I am now more in love with my Zune then ever. Some of the updates that really made my day are below:

--Audible Support: This one is huge. I had a lot of Audible audiobooks that I bought when I had my previous MP3 player (which had Audible support), but when it died and I upgraded to my Zune, I couldn't listen to them. They've been sitting in my Audible account forever and now, finally, I can listen to them and not feel like I totally wasted a bunch of money.

--A Clock: It may seem trivial, but I thought it was really stupid how there was no clock on the Zune anywhere. Now I can time my runs and better manage my pace, as well as not have to pull my blackberry out of my other pocket just to check the time (if I'm for some reason not wearing my watch).

--Games: I really didn't seem to think this would be that cool, but after having played a little Hexic while listening to a podcast, I can see how games will be a stellar addition. As long as they don't take up too much space, I'll probably buy a few for when I'm on the go.

--Better Video Support: Some video podcasts that I subscribed to wouldn't be watchable on my Zune because the format wasn't quite right, even though they were in MP4 format. It seems that this has been addressed as those podcasts are now watchable.

--Mixview: This is a part of the Zune software that is loaded onto your PC that mimics iTunes in giving you a neato way to see similar artists to what you listen to and such. It's neat, but I won't use it.

There are a few new features that I really could care less about, like buying things from the marketplace wirelessly, buying songs you listend to on the radio, Zune channels, and the added social integration stuff, but I'm sure they have their uses for some users. Now if only Microsoft could get a little more market share. For what it's worth, I feel like my Zune is a much better product than an iPod, especially when it comes to the wireless syncing, better video screen, and moderately less bloated software.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Have Returned!

I'm back from Europe! Well, I have been since Saturday night, but I'm still getting readjusted. Lots of work built up while I was out, and not just work for my daily job, but other odds and ends work. The first piece of work that I'm working on is getting back to a normal sleep schedule. It took me a few days to get adjusted to the 7 hour difference while I was in Italy and the Czech Republic, but once I was adjusted (with the help of some sleeping pills and strong espresso), my body took to the new time. Now, back in my normal time zone, my body isn't so keen on making the switch back.

I've found the last couple of nights that once 5 or 6 pm rolls around, I'm dog tired and have to force myself to really work to stay up. I can't read a book because it'll just put me right to sleep. Watching TV is tough, because if the show is boring at all I'm nappy. I pretty much have to be doing something to keep my body moving along until at least 9 or 10 before I crash. But then my body is keyed to wake up in the middle of the night, wide awake, because it is still convinced it is morning time. Stupid body. It's a little better this morning. I got up at around 5:20 am instead of 3 am. So maybe tomorrow I'll get up at my usual 6:30 am.

Beyond adjusting my sleep patterns, I had tons of mail to go through. Two weeks leads to lots of junk mail, magazines, Decoy Music review submissions, and bills. Sorting that took some time. And I also will have to clean the house sometime this week since nothing appears to have been vacuumed or cleaned while I was away (and my plant was on death's door since it hadn't been watered... sad). So that'll no doubt be a task, one that I had hoped I wouldn't have to undertake.

Then there's the matter of just getting back into my routine. Having not done any physical activity on vacation other than walking, ultimate was rough on Sunday and I felt like I could hardly jump at volleyball last night. Time to whip this lazy ass body back into shape! All in all, I've proven once again to myself that vacation is fun, but also a hassle. The week after getting back just kind of sucks because of the readjusting that needs to be done, but it's a sacrifice we're forced to make to be able to have our vacation time.

Oh, before I forget, Kristi put up some of our pictures from vacation here. I should have mine up sometime in the next week or so (I hope). Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rest of Colorado

I'm pretty sure the writing bug has left my system temporarily... probably until later in the fall when I feel like I have a free moment's time to do anything. It's kind of weird how things wax and wane like they do. The podcast was also going strong, but then I went on vacation and now I haven't had a chance to get another episode out simply because there's not a night where I have free time to do it, and when I do occasionally get a moment or two, I'm catching up on bills, laundry, cleaning, or whatever else needs done. I'm starting to wonder whether I need to think about cutting some commitments out of my life so I can focus on what I stick with, but I really enjoy everything that I am committed to, so I can't imagine cutting anything out. Anyhow... that vacation I was talking about... I figured I'd recap quickly since I'm getting prepared to fly to Italy on Saturday for a couple of weeks in Europe.

I never did get to blog more about Colorado while I was out there, mostly because I was trying to catch up on reading I'd had piled up and playing dominoes with the family. Writing didn't top my list of fun things to do while relaxing, I guess. Anyhow, we tried to take in the major tourist attraction type stuff since none of us had been to Colorado and we figured we should see the main sights.

The Royal Gorge was a nice area to visit for a day. Walking over the bridge, feeling it sway, and looking down was quite fun despite my fear of heights. Looking around at the gigantic valleys and scars that nature had carved out of the area was pretty intense. It's so completely different from the flatness of Minnesota. Getting to go down to the bottom of the gorge also gave you a completely different perspective on just how far down it was. As you look back up at the bridge, it's hard to reconcile the fact that this little thing is a two car wide bridge when you're on it. Learning about how it was built was also a treat!

Then, of course, there was a visit to Pike's Peak. How could we NOT go to Pike's Peak being we were staying almost right next to it. The drive up was pretty white knuckle for me, even though I was driving. The road is gravel or dirt most of the way and is consistently at a 10% or greater incline. To top it off there is usually just enough room for two lanes, tons of switchbacks, and rarely a guard rail. Looking over the edge as we drove right along it was freaky as all get out on the way up. On the way down I tolerated it a little better, but for someone who doesn't necessarily enjoy heights, this was quite the nerve wracking vacation attraction. Being up on top and looking around was really fun, even though the air was pretty thin and I was feeling light headed at times.

Where we stayed was less than a mile from the Garden of the Gods, so we visited there a couple of times. My dad and I hiked around the entire park, which was a great way to spent an afternoon. The rock formations are beautiful and jarring at the same time. They seem to just rise up out of the ground, which is kind of neat really. On our hike around the park, the map we had didn't have all the trails listed so we ended up hiking into a different part of Colorado Springs instead of coming back around to the entrace we started at. Luckily it wasn't too far from where we were staying.

We also made a day to drive through and see some of the Rocky Mountain National Forest. We entered at Estes Park. There wasn't much time to get hiking in, but I managed to do a 5K trail while the rest of the family was driving around looking at things. Saw lots of beautiful streams and rapids, along with a great view of some of the mountains.

Hmmm... what else? Oh! We went to Seven Falls as well. Gorgeous falls, but a lot of stairs to traverse to see it from the top. And when you get to the top of the falls, if you decide to go hike, one of the two trails is a constant uphill climb for about a mile and a half. Great view when you get up to the top of the trail, but sort of treacherous if you're out of shape.

Lastly, I think the only other main attraction we saw was the Denver Aquarium. It was a ton of fun and one of the best aquariums I've been to. Lots of unique fish, oodles of fun displays, and all around a good amount of information to take in and see.

So... that's pretty much the gist of the Colorado vacation I took with my family... about a month ago. And now I'm off on to another one. And I'm pretty sure I won't be able to write from over there considering how busy I'll be vacationing and, unfortunatly, working as well. It should be great, though!

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's Fair Time Again

Summer's running its course pretty quickly here with August almost half over. Fair season snuck up on me pretty quickly. And to think I only have a few weeks until I'll be jetting over to Europe for vacation and work. My summer is, for all intents and purposes, done. Part of my summer routine is attending the county fairs and hitting up the demolition derbies that are held. This past weekend I went to the Mower County Fair and caught their derby.

To be completely honest, it feels like the Mower County Fair has gotten worse and worse each year. There are less notable events at the grandstand, there aren't as many things to see, people don't seem to be that enthused to be there, and there just aren't as many people coming to the fair. This might have to do with fairs in general not being as popular any more, but it was definitely pretty apparent at the Sunday demo derby.

Usually you can depend on having a good few hours of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome styled car crashing goodness, but this year there was only a little under 2 hours' worth of action... and there were some significant "intermissions" spaced throughout that time. They even stretched out the classes into multiple heats when there were barely enough cars to fill one full heat.

I hate to think about it, but demo derbies might be on their way out. With less and less cars being manufactured to have metal frames (everything is plastic now) and fuel prices growing and growing, there might not be as many demo worthy cars available and those that are might be better cut up and sold as parts than destroyed for fair entertainment. I really hope this isn't the case, but it feels like it really could be. The true test will be the Owatonna derbies the coming weekend. They're usually the largest and most entertaining in southern Minnesota and I hope that continues through to this year.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Early Summer Vacation Photos

I was on vacation last week in Colorado with my family... but these pictures aren't from that vacation. They're from a trip Kristi and I took to the Wisconsin Dells with my parents and brother Ryan. Most of the photos are of scrap metal robots from the Forevertron outside of the Dells area. Also a couple of pictures of the now dry Lake Delton. Click on the photo below to see the gallery!

vacation 030

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Out in Colorado

Maybe now that I'm on vacation I'll have a chance to write a little more. Truth be told, I don't know if I'm even ready for this vacation. The last couple of weeks have been killer work weeks, partially because the week before and week after a vacation are always uber-busy trying to cram all the stuff you need to do while you'll be out into the time before and after your jaunt away. So really, vacation isn't all that much of a vacation. It's more of a shifting of when your free time is. I'm sure it'll be a fun time, though.

It's a family vacation. My mom, dad, two brothers, and myself are staying in Colorado Springs for the week to see the sites in the area. We hit up the Colorado Springs zoo today, which was pretty fun. It's a well put together zoo and has a very diverse set of animals to visit. I do feel somewhat melancholy when I'm at a zoo, simply because I don't like the concept of locked up animals, especially those that should be out in very large open spaces (wolves, elephants, giraffes, etc.). Although it is nice to get to see animals that I usually otherwise wouldn't.

One animal that I really have a hard time visiting in any zoo is the Silverback Gorilla. I don't know what it is, but whenever I look at a Silverback, especially when our eyes meet, I feel like there's something more going on in that animal's head than any other animal in a zoo. It's like you can sense there's something more than simply instinct present. A self awareness maybe? Potentially a realization of their captivity or the reality of their situation? I don't know, but whatever it is, I feel almost as if they are partial people and keeping them confined is somehow immoral.

Now today is the first day of vacation, but it almost feels like I've been here for a couple days already, most likely because I had a 6:45 am flight from Minneapolis to Denver after a night of not really getting any sleep. So today has been a long day. The flight itself was also a tad bit stressful, mainly because it was the most turbulent flight I've been on. There was a chunk of the flight, probaly about a solid 10-15 minutes where we were being thrown all over. Cups, magazines, and anything that was loose was pretty much getting tossed every which way. It was a little nerve wracking, especially when there's a sharp move of the plane in a certain direction or a loud slam as the wind or dense cloud hits. Thankfully the rest of the trip was only normal turbulence.

It's getting to be late (10:30 pm home time, 9:30 here) so I'm running mostly on pure caffeine and delirium. Sleeping tonight is going to be a heck of a re-energizing experience that I'm quite looking forward to.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Decoy Podcast 009: From the UK with Love

Back again for show number 9. One away from double digits! This week is a great one. First, there's a Misery Signals interview that I'm sure you're all interested in. Also, I was joined by Alex Davies all the way from the UK. Having him on was a lot of fun. I'm also starting to narrow down some of the technical issues that have been affecting me. It looks like the recording software I use doesn't exactly sync things up correctly since the recorded conversation has lags and pauses where there were none in our actual conversation. So when there's a pause and I start laughing, it's not because I'm some crazy loon or dimwit.

As always, subscribe to the feed or through iTunes and let people know about the show!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Crash Coordinates - Ansible CD Review

You’re probably not going to recognize the title of this album... that is unless you’re a sci-fi reader who has had a chance to read Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels. In these novels, an ansible is a communications device that allows instantaneous communication between two points, regardless of distance. It’s a clever album title, alluding to its ability to instantly “reach” the listener, and it actually manages to, but part of the reason this album does “reach” you right away is that you’ve heard some of it already.

There’s a familiarity to the band that exudes a sense of comfort, a knowledge that you’re hearing something you’ve stumbled across in the past, but you can’t necessarily pick out what it reminds you of. It would be easy to peg this band as a knock-off spacey, emo version 2.0 style of band, but that’s only giving you half of the picture, especially when you consider this band is still unsigned and young.

After a few spins you’ll start to pick up on the influences as the album grows itself on you. Here and there you feel some mellower Armor for Sleep moments, especially in parts of “Reverie”. Maybe it’s because the song is about dreams and living forever in them (similar lyrical territory as Things To Do When You Are Dead), or maybe it is simply the song's structure. It’s definitely not the vocals, however. Sung in a very youthful tenor, or at times in a semi-spoken style, they bring to mind a less polished Quietdrive using a different approach. Unfortunately, the vocals are the weakest part of Ansible, not so much because of the voice, but because some glossier production, for once, actually could have helped out a band, whereas in most cases it becomes a hindrance. The rest of the band is quite polished (for the most part) so there’s a bit of a disconnect between vocal and instrument clarity at times.

The instruments all come across very well, but there are times where the band shows some rough edges, such as on “The Torino Scale”. The song contains some very Fall of Troy inspired guitar work, and it doesn’t always feel like there is a true command over the material like there is on the more slowed moments, such as the dredg-tastic guitar tones of “Pompeii”. Given some time to mature, it’ll all come together I’m sure.

For a young, unsigned band, this is a great initial salvo into the musical world. Assuming the band doesn’t make any drastic changes, they’re poised to hone their talents and coalesce into a solid musical entity in the near future. Keep a look out because I think you’ll be hearing about these guys some more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Decoy Podcast 008: Quiznos Vs. Subway

It looks like Tuesdays are turning into the usual posting day for podcasts, which is cool by me since it means I am at least being consistent and sticking with it. This week's episode was a little more free flowing as we talked about some new songs from bands and then dove into some video game talk. Capping off the podcast was my interview with John of Inhale Exhale.

We're going to try and act on some of the suggestions that are tossed our way in the next few weeks, so let us know what you like, what you don't, and what you'd like to hear more of. One of the suggestions was to list the bands we talk about in the podcast, which sounds like a great idea, so I'll try to do that going forward. Here is this week's list:

--Brightwood (opening track)
--Fear My Thoughts
--Hawthorne Heights
--The Showdown
--Sky Eats Airplane
--Coheed and Cambria
--Inhale Exhale
--Life in Your Way (closing track)

As always, subscribe to the feed or through iTunes and let people know about the show!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Our Friends, Fannie and Freddie

First, I just want to express how swamped I've been lately. I've been at work at least 9 hours a day the last couple of weeks and had every minute pretty much filled with various projects that are all coming together at the same time, with some being intensely schedule driven. My nights have also felt busy since I usually have activities going on at every turn and when I don't, I try to catch up on cleaning and chores. Adulthood... sucks sometimes.

But anyhow, something that has really been on my mind the last week or so has been the fiasco of what is Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two largest mortgage lenders in the US. If you've been reading the news, they're lost about 75% of their value this year and are in serious trouble. Thankfully, in order to prop up our ailing economy because of the buttload of terrible fiscal decisions by banks, the government, and the US population in the last 5 years, the government is stepping in to aid Freddie and Fannie.

I should be happy by this since it's getting my stocks turned back around in the right direction and should be a step in getting this economy to at least level out, but I'm really not. As I've said before, these types of bail-outs are helping those institutions and people who have made terrible decisions and allowing them to "get away" with these egregiously bad choices while the responsible people and institutions are penalized by receiving no benefit.

I don't want to see my tax dollars getting spent on other people's sub-prime mortgage woes. Why should I be punished and have a chunk of my money go towards someone else's mortgage, one that they no doubt can't afford when I was rational, reasonable, and sane when I bought the house I did and stayed within my means? We're implicitly rewarding this bad behavior by saying if those bad decisions are widespread enough, we'll help you out. If the value of my house and the economy wasn't so dependant upon this whole mortgage mess, I'd say let every bank and institution that made these crazy sub-prime mortgages and participated in bad lending practices go belly up. And let every person who can't pay their mortgage to hit the street with a permanent blemish on their financial records and credit reports.

Yeah, I'm a little bitter about the whole thing, but it's because responsible people always get screwed by these types of situations and scenarios. Where's the reward for being smart? If anything, it just reinforces the belief that you don't need to be too responsible because someone will bail you out or pick up your slack. It's sick and if this nation is ever going to be more than a second rate world power in the course of this century, there needs to be some serious overhauling of institutional and personal fiscal policies. Our nation is getting to be too stupid when it comes to managing money.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Decoy Podcast 007: The Max Headroom Effect

Hey everybody. Here's the 7th Decoy podcast. I must apologize up front for the issues we had with it. Apparently somewhere between California and Minnesota the internets were conspiring against us to introduce delay and what I term the "Max Headroom Effect" where Aaron's voice repeats similar to the character from the TV show.

Beyond the odd recording issues, I think we had a great show. I'm trying to figure out why there was a delay problem since the last time I recorded with Aaron there was no problem at all. I'd love to simply blame Comcast and be done with it, but I'm wondering if it might be something with my new computer and network connection. Anyhow, please enjoy the show despite its few flaws! Or at least enjoy the opening and closing tracks from 3OH!3

As always, subscribe to the feed or through iTunes and let people know about the show!

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Weekend Out of Town

Bucking the trend of staying home for vacations this summer, I spent the July 4th weekend with my parents, gf, and brother Ryan in the Wisconsin Dells. It was really great to have some time to slow down a bit, not worry about work, and hang with the family. It doesn't happen nearly enough any more. As I sat back and really thought about it, next to the campfire that was burning, I am constantly going going going going going... It's either for work or for Decoy Music related stuff (the podcast is a new, large time sink) or for ultimate or for catching up on house work or trying to do some reading or TV watching. There's rarely a moment I'm not doing something or on my way to doing something. So it was really nice to have a change to NOT do something, if even for a couple of hours.

As is usually the case with our family trips to the Dells, we spent most of the weekend mini golfing, grilling food, playing camping games (this time it was ladder golf), and reading. We also made the required trip to Rocky Roccocco pizza. Since it was the July 4th weekend, we also took in the fireworks that the city had and, frankly, we were pretty disappointed, for a couple of reasons.

First, there were two fireworks shows in the town--one by the city and one by Mount Olympus (a water park/go-kart place). The town fireworks started at about 9:15 and Mount Olympus' started at 9:30, so there were two competing displays that were on opposite ends of town so if you were seated in the middle you had to rubberneck it back and forth to try and catch what you could of both. Secondly, the fireworks just weren't nearly as impressive as back home. Last year's fireworks display in Austin, MN was phenomenal and other local MN fireworks displays, even in little towns, outperformed what was at the Dells. So I was a little disappointed, but it was still entertaining to sit out and watch them.

Lastly, we re-visited the Forevertron since Kristi had not been to it and our family found it really impressively unique. I could spend hours at the Forevertron simply looking at all of the unique creations that have been put together out of scrap metal and simple creativity. I can only imagine how enamored I would have been visiting when I was an impressionable young child.

Anyhow, it was a great trip and I was glad I was able to make it. Hopefully everyone else had wonderful weekends as well and were able to enjoy it no matter where you were.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

These Should Come Standard

I know just about everyone who has played Rock Band or been around people playing Rock Band has wished that the drums weren't so annoyingly loud... especially when you're like me and believe that hitting the drums harder somehow makes you better. I just can't hit softly. I end up spending more concentration trying to not pound on the drums than hitting notes. And besides, you're supposed to beat the hell out of a drum kit, even if it's a virtual one.

For those of you, however, that want to damped that sound but still hit like Mike Portnoy on crack, get some covers for your drum kit. Apparently, it looks like they do a good job and don't screw with your playing style. Now, if they weren't $45 I'd think about ordering a set. As it is, that's just a little too spendy. Great concept, however.

Decoy Podcast 006: Here Comes the Joker

Number six is now up. Check it out here. Couple of firsts in this episode. I have a co-host for the entire show, fellow Decoy editor Chris Conlan and I also have our first interview. It's with Tino of Lower Definition. Let me know what you think.

As always, subscribe to the feed or through iTunes and let people know about the show!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Computer Woes

It seems like lately everything I've been doing has been centered around computers and the troubles they bring. If it's not my laptop at work crapping out, it's my brand new computer at home not playing nice or doing what I want it to do or it's my previous computer (which is now the gf's computer) not being as freshly wiped and workable as I hoped. Or else maybe it's my Skype phone not working. Or it's re-installing software on all of these machines. Regardless, I haven't had any free time on my computers that hasn't been spent simply trying to make them work. Freakin' technology can bite my ass.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

EZ Tracks Review

This post is a paid review from, so feel free to keep that in mind while reading.

EZ Tracks is, from the moment you get to the main page, a throwback to early 90's sites that were trafficking in MP3 downloading. It touts free, legal music downloads... but we all know that in today's environment free usually equals illegal, at least if you listen to the RIAA and what they're spewing. The site even has an info corner to try an dispell any stigmas that users may initially have. Check out some of the Q&A found there:
Why EZ-Tracks?
MP3 music downloads are completely free and legal.
We are not P2P!

Why Download Online Music in MP3 format?
MP3's are the preferred music format, almost all portable music devices can play them.

Legal Music Downloads
Basics on downloading EZ-Tracks songs plus instructions on playing, copying, and burning music.

Countdown Music
EZ-Tracks is home to Countdown, the world's greatest cover band.

Not exactly dispelling anything for me, but I'm intrigued (for comedic reasons) about their claim of being the home of Countdown, the world's greatest cover band.

Anyways, you can look around for MP3s and bands and such, but to get to any of the actual music you need to sign up for an account at the site and, as you're signing up, the first thing they ask for is your email address with a popup message that exclaims "We DO NOT spam our users!" That screams to me that, "Yep, we probably will spam you with stuff." Any time you have to overtly deny that you'll do something it's because you're thinking about doing it or are doing it and want to reassure people's perceptions.

Now, as I'm signing up for an account (using fake info because I'm leery about things already), I find that I'm required to give my address and a phone number. Why do they need a physical address and phone number if I'm dealing with digitally distributed music, which doesn't need an address to be delivered to or a phone number to call. And besides, this is all supposed to be free music, remember? Again, they get fake info because I don't want any calls or snail mail spam.

As I finally get through their long ass registration process to get to my supposedly free music, I'm hit with advertisements to sign up for pay services. Annoying, to say the least. I just want to get my free music, dammit.

After I say "No thanks" to their offers, I find out that I'm STILL NOT REGISTERED!!! I get another page that says I need to make sure I have a valid cell number since they're TEXT MESSAGING ME MY ACCOUNT PIN NUMBER! Ridiculous! So I can't get any further because I didn't want to give out my cell phone number to get something texted to it.

This little bit makes me wonder if this is simply a scheme to get at people's cell numbers to continually text them and make money that way. I don't even have texting enabled on my phone because I hate getting raped by AT&T and their ludicrous price plans for text messaging. So it looks like I won't actually be getting my account created, which I guess isn't all that bad because the more and more I go through this site, the more and more it looks like a scam.

Oh, no a side note, I don't know if it was just a problem for me as I was going through, but on the pages asking for my cell phone number, half of the images on the page never loaded, which made it hard to know exactly what I was doing.

Hmmm... well, it seems like after I said no to everything, I still have an account. So I tried downloading a song... it sends me to an iTunes download page. I don't use iTunes. And why would I want to use iTunes if I could come to EZ Tracks for free music? Instead the site just shuttles me over to iTunes to download one of my supposedly free 101 tracks.

Let's just sum it up succinctly here: EZ Tracks isn't worth the hassle. If you want free music, keep downloading crap illegally (knowing you're running the risks of performing an illegal activity) or just pony up the 99 cents a song over at the Amazon music store.