Friday, March 28, 2008

Ethereal Architect - Dissension CD Review

Horrible pop-punk band… strange avant garde mess… over promoted metalcore crap… some backwater garage band… another generic metalcore album… junk, junk, junk. This is what I sift sift through week in and week out as I go over each batch of albums submitted to be reviewed. It’s all pretty much 70-80% garbage. There’s a reason why your no-talent band from “the underground scene” of whatever city you’re from isn’t signed--you’re no good. It’s gotten to the point where I almost dread my weekly sit-and-spin session where I pop in every CD I had submitted to me during the week to see if there’s anything salvageable in the mess. In most cases there is an album or two that are decent and I usually put them out to reviewers to consider for review, but in most cases the albums wouldn’t muster more than a one or two star rating here and really, isn't it more humane to simply let the disc slide by unreviewed instead of ripping apart an unsigned band filled with hopes running all too high? It can be a depressing task, and it makes me wonder if there’s any talent left out there in the musical world, but there is a reason I keep doing it--the occasional diamond in the rough.

Every now and again I’ll pop in an album that will floor me, straight out, for one reason or another. It could be that it’s actually well produced or maybe it’s a band that doesn’t sound like I assumed they would from looking over their bio and album cover or, in Ethereal Architect’s case, they’ve got potential exploding all over the place. From the first track, “Phrygian”, my ears perked up and I knew I’d stumbled onto something interesting. Here was an unsigned band from Texas playing some very European sounding progressive metal. Instantly I could hear elements of Dream Theater and Opeth in the band’s compositions, which is definitely not a bad thing at all.

Musically, this band has talent oozing all over. Guitarist David Glass knows how to kick out a ripping solo and also doesn’t shy away from putting together some crunchy riffs that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Between the Buried and Me album. There’s also enough variation in Glass’ playing to keep the album from dragging, which is an essential quality that any prog guitarist needs. “Undone” is a great example of what Glass can do, showing him channeling John Petrucci and the Dream Theater sound while drummer Jake Koenig keeps the song thundering along with some quality drum work, filled with numerous double bass fills to give the song an added crunch to offset Glass' fluttering guitar. Koenig doesn’t try to steal the song, however, and knows to back off when Glass is diving into a solo. So not only is the band talented, this song also shows they’re very smart when it comes to songwriting.

On other tracks you’ll see the different sides of the band, such as the power metal gallop of “Driven” which is half cheesy, half awesome to be completely honest. Thankfully it is only four minutes long and the album’s shortest song. The chorus reminds me of some of the Norse metal bands that meander throughout Scandinavia and are loved by every World of Warcraft playing nerd this side of the Atlantic ocean. “Slip” starts out very atmospherically with some well placed keys before hitting full symphonic metal stride about a third of the way in. Think Within Temptation without the female singer and a bitchin’ solo 3 minutes into the song. And, of course, you can’t forget the 11 and a half minute closer, “Negative Two-Thirds”. This track ties together the band’s talents and lets them touch all the bases on this musical home run.

Now I haven’t mentioned the vocals up to this point because I believe they merit special attention. As opposed to most modern prog metal, Adam Contreras doesn’t utilize any type of screaming. Instead he comes off as a mix of Ray Alder from Redemption and Serj Tankian, minus all of the vocal warbling. It’s interesting to hear such a restrained vocal performance when it would be so easy to add in some falsetto screams or deep, guttural growls. Maybe restrained isn’t the best word to use, however, because Contreras is indeed a strong vocalist, but he has a very set range that he sticks to. Never do his vocals detract from a song, but they also never stand out.

Regardless, this is one unsigned band that deserves your attention. It’s a rare occurrence to stumble across a band with this much potential that hasn’t already been snapped up by a label, but I’m sure that will change shortly. It’d be pretty foolish for labels to pass over such a talented group of musicians. Imagine what they’d be capable of with some heavy duty studio time and a solid mixing and mastering process. Even without all of the fancy big label niceties, Dissension is a quality album all around that any prog fan will enjoy thoroughly.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This is the Life

Right now, it doesn't get much better than this. I'm sitting on my couch at home, leaning over my laptop that has real time basketball stats flickering by as I type. On the TV the basketball games are on. Next to my laptop is a big ol' plate of chicken wings I just took out of the oven and slathered in hot sauce. Right behind that is Grain Belt Premium, cold as can be. To top it all off, tomorrow I've got the day off so I don't have to worry about getting up early or getting to bed on time. It simply doesn't get more glorious than this...

...I'm just not looking forward to going to the gym tomorrow to work off all the crap I'm polluting my body with. It's a price I'm willing to pay, however.

Daily Dozen... With Commentary!

It's a busy day at work, so you get my random thoughts on some random tunes. These twelve songs came up when I hit random on my music collection.
  1. A Perfect Circle - "Passive": Got into this band initially because of the Tool connection, but grew to appreciate them in their own right in time.
  2. Danko Jones - "When Will I See You Again": Straight up, rocking punk complete with the attitude. I remember seeing him at CBGBs before the place closed up. Was hooked ever since.
  3. The Beautiful Mistake - "On Building": This is from their debut, a CD I picked up because I really liked their sophomore effort. This disc wasn't quite as good, however, but still decent emo with some screaming tossed in.
  4. Istra - "Must We Be": Generic modern screamo. I should really delete this one of these days.
  5. Spoken - "Love in Return": Glossy hard rock that I should hate, but for some reason can't.
  6. Angel Eyes - "One": From a two track EP that sees the crafting some good, but not great, atmospheric post-metal.
  7. Doubledrive - "Stand By": I bought this CD on a whim so long ago. Loved it for a while, then went into a radio rock hating phase, then pulled it back out again.
  8. Ignite - "No Regrets": Awesome, awesome punk band. Saw them at the Triple Rock and was floored. This is from their earlier stuff, which isn't as good as their latest, but still solid.
  9. Takota - "City Drugs": Eh, this is another CD I should delete. It was sent for review a while back and I liked one song on it, but the guy's vocals are annoying and the songs just aren't that good... ok, it's now been deleted from my collection.
  10. 40 Below Summer - "Endorphines": Uggghhh, I think Winamp hates me today. This is crappy ass old nu-metal that I keep around for nostalgia's sake since I listened to it a bunch in college.
  11. Madison Prep - "Parkview": Decent unsigned band. Play your standard emo with really high pitched, nasally vocals. Another band that had sent me stuff to review.
  12. Trail of Tears - "Empty Room": Power metalcore through and through. The female vocalist isn't too bad. The male vocalist gets on my nerves, though.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Was a Star Trek Nerd

Lately I've been trying to do more reading than I've previously been able to. Being so busy with work and other junk all winter has really drained my motivation to read. By the time I finally am able to settle into my cozy reading chair and flick on my reading lamp, any motivation I have to dig into a good book is washed away within a couple of minutes. Instead I end up flicking the lamp back off as I plop my ass down on the couch and toss in TV on DVD to watch. It's so much more mind numbing. It's also pretty brain rotting, which is why I'm putting forth more of an effort now towards reading.

In going through some of my books, namely some that I ended up listing on paperbackswap, I dug through my Star Trek book collection. I've ended up listing most of them for trade, but in doing so, I remember when I was in middle school and high school and totally obsessed with Star Trek. Every Sunday morning I'd watch the episodes of Star Trek that I'd taped the night before. I didn't get into the original series all that much but The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were aces.

Of course, being a nerd in all senses of the word in my youth, I totally bought into the entire Star Trek universe and everything that came with it. Not only did I watch the TV shows, I collected the action figures, bought any memorabilia I could, played the few Star Trek video games that were out for computer, and read every Star Trek book I could get my hands on.

At the time, new paperback books were considered expensive to both me and my parents. Thankfully, my mom visited a craft store in Austin, MN that was also a used book shop. The place was called Eileen's Books and Things and it was a holy mecca on my continued quest for more and more Star Trek books. Eileen had a group of friends who all read Star Trek books and when they'd all finished reading a particular book, she'd save it for me. Since they were used books, they cost a fraction of new books and my mom let me line my book shelves with every Star Trek book I could get my hands on.

I'm pretty sure I read a few too many adventures of Kirk, Picard, and their associated crews. Oh, for some reason I only enjoyed reading books that chronicled the adventures of the original and next generation crews, especially adventures of the original crew because they could do so much more with the written word than was capable when the show was made way back in the day.

Thinking back to those days where I was so enamored with Star Trek books (and reading in general), I can't help but miss it and wonder where that continual craving to dig into books has went. I still love to read and my bookshelves are still overflowing with stuff I haven't gotten around to yet, but my time for reading just seems to have disappeared. No longer do I spend a couple of hours a day paging through my latest favorite novel.

I suppose that I can keep plugging slowly away at my current collection and in 40 years or so when I retire I can spend my final years living other people's lives through the magic of the written word. But I really don't want to wait until then...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It Doesn't Work

It looks like there's still plenty of people up at St. John's that believe people won't get plowed if they're reminded not to enough. I've been graduated from St. John's for four years and I can remember that when I was there they were running the "Stop at Buzzed" campaign, so it's not something new, but apparently the Star Tribune thinks that their continuing of this stupid program is newsworthy.

Let me tell you from experience, no one pays any attention to the "Stop at Buzzed" paraphernalia that gets put up all over campus. No one reads the mini-ads in the school paper. No one takes any of the sponsored events seriously (or even goes to them). College kids are going to go drink themselves into retardation no matter how much you preach not to or, if you're "hip", tell them drinking is cool but only if you do it a little.

What they need to do is think about the mentality of a college student. They're poor, over-studied, and want to have a damn good time when they go out. In college some of the biggest bar events were "all-you-can-drink" nights and all of the party houses charged a cover fee to get in and then you drank as much as you could until the kegs were empty. College students are cheap, especially the kids who barely can pay for the private school they're attending. Since they are so cheap, they want to get as much for their money as possible (duh).

So what're kids going to do when they want to get drunk and forget about the stress of the week? They're going to go where they can get their money's worth. In those environments where you've paid to drink as much as you want, what college kids is going to stop after 2 or 3 drinks? Not a damn one. They paid $10 or whatever it cost to get in and they're going to make sure they can get a nice, hefty load of alcohol in their system before the night is through.

No one is going to stop at buzzed. They're going to stop when the bar closes or when the kegs run dry. People involved in these anti-drinking campaigns are wasting their time and college resources, but it's a necessary task in order to keep parents fooled into thinking that, "Oh my little Timmy doesn't drink, but if he does he said he'd be one of those kids who stops at buzzed, like all the cool kids in that group on campus. They're pretty popular. I've seen their posters everywhere!"

Give it up. Stopping at buzzed is a joke. How about you acknowledge the reality of college and then go from there in advising your peers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

He Has Joined the Stars

Today one of my idols from childhood (and today) passed on to his next life. Arthur C. Clarke, along with Isaac Asimov, introduced me to intelligent science fiction literature in middle and high school. I distinctly remember reading Rendezvous with Rama in high school and being totally mesmerized by the sheer scope of the story and the intricacies of the future technology. It felt like it could be real, like it could actually happen in the near future. Unlike the usual Star Trek books and other campy sci-fi that I had been used to reading, where everything is explained away with some technobabble or crazy futuristic scenario, hard sci-fi didn't have easy outs.

I went through a phase where almost all I read was Asimov or Clarke. From I, Robot to Childhood's End to Foundation to 2001 to Nightfall to Dolphin Island. Every book was a new possible future. I was amazed at the worlds and new realities they created. Eventually I stumbled across other authors that wrote in the same realm, but for a while I thought that these two authors were the only people to write engaging hard sci-fi.

On my bookshelf at home, I still have a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey that was originally my dad's from the 70's. When he first gave it to me back in 5th or 6th grade, it was along with a bunch of his old books and I didn't initially take notice. Later in 6th grade or maybe 7th grade, I did try to read it and found myself way over my head, as well as a little bored. I couldn't grasp the concepts and chalked it up to being a terrible book. When you're at that age, you don't ever assume that there's something you can't understand if you put your mind to it. Instead you just think it's dumb.

Later on, however, after I'd read some Asimov short stories, I came back to 2001 partially because I felt like it had defeated me in the past and partially because I knew it was a book my dad had obviously enjoyed and, unlike the war novels he had given me, it was something right up my nerdy alley. By this time I was 16 or 17 and able to comprehend the story, maybe not on all levels, but enough to get the big ideas. And I was floored.

Despite how beat up this book has become over time and despite having hardcover copies of 2010, 2061, and 3001, I proudly keep my dad's copy of 2001 on my bookshelf to remind me of that somewhat life changing reading experience from a decade ago. Arthur C. Clarke was, and still is, an author I hold in the highest regard.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Music Meme... I Guess

Well, since Kevin did it, I thought I would. If you feel the urge, you should too. Here's my Daily Dozen (generated by hitting shuffle on my music collection and seeing what comes up).

1. "Murderous" by Total Devastation
2. "I'm the Ocean" by Pearl Jam & Neil Young
3. "Frostbite" by Strength in Numbers
4. "Inside the Machine" by This Ending
5. "A Wider Shade of Pain" by Barcode
6. "We Couldn't Care Less" by Day of the Dead
7. "Burn the Remembrance" by Katatonia
8. "Keep It Hot for Daddy" by Soul Position
9. "Rip Out Your Eyes" by Ill Nino
10. "Across Five Years" by Boy Sets Fire
11. "God Bless Pepsi" by Weerd Science
12. "Delirium Trigger" by Coheed and Cambria

So what's your Daily Dozen?

Signal Lost - Prosthetic Screams CD Review

I’m not sure if many people have even heard of the bands Deathreat, Balance of Terror, Severed Head of State, orJ-Church, but if you have then you should know that Signal Lost is made up of ex-members of the aforementioned bands. I also doubt a lot of people have heard of Signal Lost, but that isn’t really a surprise since this is an album that is permeated with an underground anarcho-punk crust. If it was popular, it would lose its soul.

Feeling much like a throwback to the early days of AFI and even earlier to the days of the Wipers or Black Flag, Prosthetic Screams is a little more than 20 minutes of blasting female fronted melodic punk. Now don’t get confused when I say female fronted melodic punk. This isn’t some lame-ass wannabe Paramore. This is more akin to Tsunami Bomb but with a much more classically styled punk approach.

Despite the classic structure of many of the songs, a lot borrowing quite heavily from AFI, there is a significant amount of edgy melody. Take “Second Voice” for example. It’s straight up punk, feeling like an early Rise Against track, but even with the abrasive nature of the song, it is written with a killer melody to carry it through. The strong vocal performance also helps, being both abrasive enough to remind you that this girl is pissed off, yet moody enough to not be ignored.

The album does falter in a few areas, however, mainly when it comes to the differentiation in the songwriting approach the band takes from track to track… or lack thereof. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that the dirty punk of yesterday isn’t know for being diverse, but when a band is staring down the history of punk greats and emulating their sound, it helps to do something somewhat different. If not, then why should anyone stop listening to The Avengers in favor of Signal Lost? Still, this is a respectable release that’s true enough to its punk roots to make it feel real and remind you of those good ol’ days of playing music because you loved it, not because you wanted to see how many MySpace friends you could get.

My New Favorite Website

Head on over to The Daily Batman for a few good laughs. I didn't know there were so many great pictures of the dark knight floating around out on the internets. Considering he's my favorite superhero, flipping through the archives of TDB is an awesome way for me to waste time.

On a related note, for anyone interested in reading Batman at his most bat-shit insane, make sure to stop by your local comic shop and pick up the All-Star Batman series written by Frank Miller. It doesn't get much better. Or if you're comic-shop-aphobic, like I know many comic fans who don't want other people to know they're comic fans can be, pre-order the first hardcover collection from Amazon.

Edit: Looks like there aren't any archives yet. This is a freshly new site, from what I can tell. Which means there's plenty of awesome batasticness to come!

Monday, March 17, 2008

People or Things I Would Not Want to Be Right Now

I would not want to be any of the following at the current time:
  • Alan Schwartz: Who would want to be in his shoes after his company, Bear Stearns, just got bought out for $2 a share when they were trading at $170 a share only a year ago?
  • Ben Bernanke: He's staring down a recession, a continuing mortgage problem, a weak dollar, rising oil prices, and a potential future breakdown in the commodities markets (just wait and see, in a year or two it's going to be a mini-sub-prime mess).
  • In Flames: Their latest CD, A Sense of Purpose, just leaked today and it's pretty weak. They should be prepared for middling and sub-par reviews all over the place soon.
  • Fans of X-Men Comic Books: Looks like Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, and Ed Brubaker (who are all great writers) are going to attempt to make things fun again. I sense a lot of crappy ass story telling.
  • A Bartender: Since it's St. Patrick's Day, everyone who needs an excuse (or doesn't) will be out drunkity drunk tonight and calling in sick to work in the morning.
  • My Computer: Unfortunately when I'm overloaded at work I tend to beat the crap out of my keyboard, typing unnecessarily hard to ease frustration and batting my mouse around when I get an email I don't want to deal with. They should really get me some industrial strength computing gear.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Scapegoat - Zombie Dog CD Review

Those bastards in Scapegoat sure are a bunch of tricky nut jobs. They somehow possess more musical identities that you can count on one confused hand. Going into reviewing this album, by only looking at the cover, I was guessing I was either in for some synth-tinged goth punk or cheesy metalcore. However, I really didn’t get either… or really much of either. Seriously, it’s quite a chore pinning these guys down to a single genre, and pigeonholing this band is simply not something that is going to happen.

Kicking off the album is the ridiculously catchy “Zombies”, which is a killer melodic metalcore-lite song that, even while possessing some slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics, manages to put a lot of scene bands to shame. Moving on to “The Hurricane”, the band leaves most of the metalcore behind for some hard rockin’ fun (with a few screams tossed in for good measure). There are more than enough places within these two songs where the band could have dropped in a breakdown or three to appease the pit ninjas, but they possess enough restraint to keep from adding in extraneous things that don’t need to be there.

Now just wait until you get to “Criminal”. You’ll be swearing to yourself that you’re actually listening to Anberlin. Kit Walters sounds like he’s Stephen Christian’s long lost vocal twin brother. The song does end on a decidedly dark, growling note that, unfortunately, didn’t need to be there at all, but up until that point it’s pure hard rock bliss. But then the band kicks it into a different gear with a Deftones influenced groove on “Dead in the Nethers”. The song does fall into the sing/scream trap of a lot of modern screamo, but it’s still much better than average.

Believe it or not, the follow up to that crunching song is the undeniably upbeat “The Witness”. Sure it has the occasional scream tossed in, but for the majority of the song Walters is crooning along in a soft, almost half-whispered, tender, melodic tenor. The rest of the band, as aggressive as their playing is, softens the edges to accentuate the melody of the song. So where does the band go next? How about to the bouncy, swaggering “The Room in Which I Sit”. There’s some underlying elements in the songwriting that remind one of a Paramore or a Fall Out Boy mixed in with Dance Gavin Dance. In fact, I might argue that this catchy as crabs song is the strongest on the album. As for the rest of the album, let’s just say they cover some of the previously described musical territory again along with doing some exploring into southern rock influences, pop rock tendencies, and even some turntable spinning.

To have such a diverse album is quite an accomplishment for a band whose average age is only 21 years old, especially in a scene where most bands are more concerned about conformity to a defined mold or emulating their influences instead of trying to branch out and explore new territory. Zombie Dog isn’t creating something brand new, but it does show us a band that’s not afraid to go in whichever direction they damn well please.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Spring

Today, I believe, was the first truly gorgeous day of this year. Low to mid 50's, sunny, just a faint breeze, and the smell of emerging life. It was just too hard to stay indoors... so I didn't. As soon as the afternoon rolled around and I finished up with most of the work I was working on this morning (on a vacation day, no less), I laced up the running shoes and went out for a solid 5K run through the neighborhood. It turned out to be a wet, sloppy run from all of the snow melting, but it was still undeniably refreshing.

Not content to have a run be my only time spent outdoors, I ran a number of errand with the windows rolled down and the stereo thumping as loud as it could, even with the sub that stopped working. Being able to get into my car without my teeth chattering while I anxiously await the heater to kick in was a refreshing reminder that soon enough we won't even have a hint of snow on the ground.

As the late afternoon moved in, I pulled out a lawn chair from the garage, grabbed a Diet Coke, and sat out in the middle of the driveway to read. I'd have loved to have sat in the front or back yards, but they're both still filled with snow. Having the sun shine down and the wind blow by, all the while the noises of the suburbs going on around me as everyone else decided to get outside for the day, was like a mini-vacation all its own. Of course, the afternoon had to draw to a close, which it did.

It couldn't last all day, no matter how much I wished it could. So I returned to the indoors, cranked out a little more work, and headed off to other tasks. Still, the feelings of the day are fresh in my mind and are fueling my anxiousness for spring to truly get underway.

It's Not April Yet, Is It?

Today's WTF story: Woman sits on toilet for 2 years. Amazing. She probably should have tried eating some more fiber.

It's a sad story, true, but on the bright side I'm pretty sure she could apply for a Guinness World Record. Although, that might not be the best idea because I can see idiots trying to eventually break that record...

Monday, March 10, 2008

This Isn't Goodbye

Winter, I am officially done with you. We had a nice run together, sharing fun times in the wintery wonderland you created, but things have run their course. We both knew that things wouldn't work out for the long run. Besides, we've always worked best in this on and off again relationship we tend to get in. Just face it, we can only stand each other for so long. With that said, I think you need to move on and so do I.

We'll always have our memories--the broomball games out on the ice at local parks, the first time I got to use my new snowblower, the fiasco it took to get that damn snowblower working, your cute practical joke where you let the temperature get so cold that my car wouldn't start, all the heavy clothes I got to wear in order to spend quality time with you, and, of course, watching the snow through the front window as it fell so beautifully upon the ground. I'll cherish those times...

...but I need out. I need warmer weather. I need to be able to run outside without having to wear 3 layers of clothes. I don't want my teeth to chatter as I wait for the bus. I can't keep playing ultimate indoors because, well, it's meant for the grass, wind, sun, and outdoors. I crave more than white. There needs to be greens and browns and yellows and blacks in the views of nature around me. And I'm sick of dealing with packed snow and ice all over from people not shoveling sidewalks. I'm bound to twist an ankle or something eventually.

It's over, winter. Move on. Please, just go. Don't drag this on any longer. I'm sure I'll see you again. But until that time, well, why don't you pack up your crap and get the hell out of my face?

Buying Ghosts

I know, I know, another music post. Right now, though, there isn't too much all that interesting for me to talk about on my mind other than music since work has been overwhelming and I don't have the energy to muster in trying to dig for topics to think and write about. So I resort to music since I listen to it for probably 8 hours a day.

Now if you haven't heard, Trent Reznor decided to pull a Radiohead and release his latest work, Ghosts, online distributed either via a paid download (or free download for part of the album) or ordering it directly from his website. I'm not a fan of Radiohead so I didn't get in on that whole thingermajob, but I'm a huge Nine Inch Nails fan so I jumped on the chance to get in on Ghosts.

I've only now digested completely the entire four part instrumental album and love it very thoroughly. I know some people are going to say it's a bunch of half-assed ideas thrown together in the shape of an album, but I like the minimalistic and, at times, ambient approach Reznor took with this album.

That and I love the value you get for the money invested. For $5 you can download the entire thing in whatever format you like. For $10 (plus $6.99 shipping - lame) you get to download the album plus you get the four part album on disc, which is great for those of us who still like to have physical CDs. And I feel like I'm getting my money's worth knowing I get the full download and a double disc length album and full artwork and I don't have to give any of that money to the middlemen, RIAA, or labels.

I really think that this is (or should be) the future of album distribution. I'm waiting for a label or distribution company to come up with some type of "disc on demand" system for artists where actual physical albums can be created as they are ordered by fans. No need to have set print runs or labels needing to fund a band's album -- the bands themselves would be in control and the fans would make them popular, not some cartel of label execs who are pushing who they want to be the next big thing onto the radio and other media outlets.

Let artists succeed (or fail) on their own merits and ingenuity. People shouldn't have to have the music they listen to forced upon them. It's so much more satisfying to find good music and to share it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Warm Beer, Cold Women

I know I mentioned previously that I went to go see Warm Beer, Cold Women at the Guthrie here in Minneapolis, but I find that I keep revisiting that performance in my day dreaming time. I was never a huge Tom Waits fan, being that most of what I listen to ventures into the heavier musical realms, but I was familiar with some of his more famous songs.

After having seen Warm Beer, Cold Women, I took it upon myself to track down the entire Tom Waits discography. Thank goodness for the internets. I've now been slowly making my way through everything he's ever put to tape and find myself really enjoying some of his stuff and being utterly bored by the rest of it.

For me, Waits seems to be best when he's either doing his lounge tinged jazz numbers or some of his more experimental compositions. When he ventures into schmaltzy pop, I tend to zone out. Maybe because it feels a little cheesy (despite his always unique lyrics), maybe because I'm just not a pop music fan, or maybe it really is the most boring portion of his catalogue... Any way you look at it, though, I'm glad I dove into Waits' very large, and very diverse, discography. So far, I think I find myself digging Orphans the most, which is interesting considering it is a compilation from 2006 of songs that never made it onto his past releases.

So, yeah, there you go. I'm a little late to the Tom Waits party (about 30+ years late, I guess), but I finally made it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Housing Problem

It's pretty apparent we're in a recession and that we're facing the biggest housing and mortgage problem in a very long time. The collapse of the sub-prime market and the subsequent ripples that have made their way through all of the mortgage markets and credit areas have led to many thoughts and actions about what to do to stem the housing foreclosure and defaulting problems now faced. Banks are already trying to work with problem accounts to keep houses from being foreclosed upon, but now Mr. Bernanke thinks they need to do more--like forgive portions of mortgages.

I've been unhappy about the whole housing situation in general, mostly because lots and lots of people made horrible choices in picking mortgages or the size of home they could purchase and banks, of course, let them since it meant more money in their pockets. Now it's come back to bite both the lenders and lendees in the ass with both sides looking for help.

I say screw 'em. Let the lenders take the hit for making stupid loans and for putting money in investments that lacked any type of real transparency. Let the borrowers have their houses foreclosed upon. They were morons that borrowed way too much or did so in a mortgage not fitting their long term lifestyle.

Why are the people who screwed up and spent more than they could afford being rewarded? They should not have portions of their mortgages forgiven when responsible people, such as myself and many other people who make their mortgage payments on time every month, are not rewarded in any way for being good, responsible customers. If you're going to forgive portions of mortgages, then do it across the freakin' board. Knock off 1.5% of the remaining balance on all existing mortgages. Lower the interest rate by an equal percentage to EVERYONE. Don't give gifts to people that don't know how to handle their money in the first place.

It's actually gotten to the point where I'm angry about the way this is all playing out with both banks and borrowers getting let off the hook. Yeah, they've both paid a price (plummeting stock prices and a marring of credit ratings), but not enough of a price. So if you're getting foreclosed on, don't look to me for any type of sympathy. Just go talk to your bank or whine to the Fed and you'll probably get more than enough of a break for your bad decisions.

This all just goes to show that being responsible and trying to keep yourself out of debt doesn't get rewarded like it should, and until it does people will continue to try and live way beyond their means and we'll continue to have economic problems such as this.

Monday, March 03, 2008

This is My Today...

...dealing with a terrible application and data provider and all the headaches that come with it. We've been through this same song and dance routine way too many times, and I don't know why we just don't drop them permanently. It would be so nice...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I Heart Taxes! ...WTF?

I know that I have a month and a half before taxes are due, but I like to have mine in early, which means I spent last weekend figuring them out for the year. In years past I've usually had just about as much tax withheld as I needed so that I didn't have to pay much and didn't get that big of a refund. I'm really opposed to letting the government have an interest free loan from my back pocket. This year, however, I'll be getting a rather decent sized refund. How decent sized? Well, I don't want to give out any specific numbers, but speaking in thousands would be an appropriate way of measuring the size.

Why is this year so different? Two reasons. First, I purchased a house. It's lovely being able to deduct all of that interest that I have to shell out, especially since my brain has such a hard time comprehending how about 3/4 or more of each month's mortgage payment right now is going simply to interest. Second, most of my stock & mutual fund income was in the form of long-term gains, which is taxed at a lower rate than my short-term gains.

It's really weird having such a huge refund coming. Of course the first thought to cross my mind is, "What the heck can I buy with all that dough?" Then I realize that I really don't have anything I need or even want all that bad. More than likely it'll get reinvested in the stock market or, depending upon the continuing housing market, put towards purchasing another property. I think it's quite possible to get a few good steals in the housing market in the next year and having a rental property would help to diversify my investments and would also, hopefully, provide another small tax shelter.

I'm always curious as to what people do with their refunds, and I'm sure it all depends upon the size of the refund, but when you have a large pile of money drop into your lap, are you more likely to spend it on frivolous stuff or put it to use frugally? It's tempting to think about buying a new car or new furniture or taking an expensive vacation, but I think I'm just too much of a penny pincher to really go out and indulge myself on extravagant and expensive excesses.