December 30, 2004

BOOKS I READ IN 2004


LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez



CARNET DE VOYAGE
by Craig Thompson
This is an illustrated travel journal, a detailed account of Thompson's recent trip that took him through Europe promoting his last novel, Blankets, and gathering research for his next book, Habibi, the proper follow-up to Blankets. Not so much about that side of it, though. It's more a chronicle of the struggles he faces as a comic artist and as a person experiencing new places, meeting new people and discovering new perspectives, as well as feeling lost and lonely at times, far from his life back home. His illustrations do an incredible job of capturing the fascinating beauty of the landscapes, architecture and people of Morroco, Italy, Paris, Switzerland, Spain, etc....
Can't wait for his next work.



A MILLION LITTLE PIECES
by James Frey
A powerful tale of redemption and victory over addiction. Unbelievable and incredibly eye-opening. If you can handle the coarse language, do yourself a favor and read this. It's an amazing, highly affecting story full of hope and strength.



A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS
by Dave Eggers



CHOKE
by Chuck Palahniuk
The sexually explicit nature of this book was completely not what I was expecting to find here. The back cover and all the other blurbs I read made no mention of how vile and graphic the content of this book would be and completely mislead me with their description of the basic plot. In my opinion, this is well-written garbage and not worth reading at all. I tried to give it a chance and kept going, hoping the tone of the book would change and the plot would shift, but it never did. It will take a LOT to interest me in giving Palahniuk's work a second chance. I highly un-recommended this book.



ON THE ROAD
by Jack Kerouac



LIFE OF PI
by Yann Martel


LOVE IN THE RUINS
by Walker Percy



BLANKETS
by Craig Thompson



BLUE LIKE JAZZ
by Donald Miller



THE ROLE OF REDEMPTION IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS
by David Bazan
"I feel the darkness growing stronger, as you cram light down my throat. How does that work out for you in your quest to be above reproach?" - Pedro the Lion's "Magazine"
This is not actually a book, but an essay I came across on the web that is truly essential reading, particularly if you enjoy the work of David Bazan (a.k.a. Pedro the Lion) or if you are interested in reading about faith and redemption and their relation to the creative process in music, art, and just life in general.
The link above will take you to a transcipt of a workshop Bazan did at the "Calvin Festival of Faith & Music" about a month ago, and as I read it, I kept reading things he'd say that just totally clicked with my ideas. It's a lengthy article, but well worth the read and I think it contains a lot of truths that many people don't realize or completely think through on their own.
Bazan does a solid job of revealing and explaining some misguided theologies that some Christians hold to - intentionally or not - and shows that they're just totally missing it...the point of what Jesus' sacrifice has done for us, the freedom we have because His success has replaced our failure(s). Another thing he said that really left an impression on me was the concept that everything we do is either worship or it's sin, but that even sometimes our worship can be sin - when it's a complete lie. When that is the case, God is seeing what we're doing and our failure in that aspect, However, it is being covered up by what Jesus has done for us and so He is pleased with us and can pour His love out over us, quenching that need that is inherently within everyone to feel loved, especially by the One whose impression is stamped on us because we were created in His image. Knowing this and being certain of it - that is what faith really is.
So, anyway, I'd really, really urge everyone that's checking in here on my blog to click over there when you have the time to read it and focus on what he's talking about, because it's really valuable wisdom that he's sharing. One thing that I've always admired and been drawn to so much in Bazan's work is his incredibly deep level of honesty. He's so real - no facades here - and very driven intellectually. He's done his thinking and research. Combine that with his experiences and background, and he has an enormous amount of wisdom. So seriously, read it when you have the chance.

December 20, 2004

10 ALBUMS I MISSED IN 2003

As I've been busily preparing my list of my favorite music to come out of 2004, I've noticed that - like in previous years when I've done this - there have been a number of records that I missed out on last year, only to discover them at some point THIS year. All of these albums, for one reason or another, might be considered by some to be ineligible for 2004 lists. Several have had my head spinning as I've been finalizing my 'Best of 2004' list b/c I've wanted to include them. The solution, at least for me, was to just compile this special 2003 list as a supplement to my upcoming 2004 list.
Keep in mind that a few of these would be making a pretty darn serious run at my Top 5 this year if they did indeed qualify. I'm dead serious.
I'll try to have my 2004 list done real soon. Until then, hunt down these records and then enjoy. Okay, here:

2003 ALBUMS THAT I DISCOVERED IN 2004



MY FAVORITE "The Happiest Days of Our Lives"
A total throwback to new-wave/goth, british synth-pop sound of the 80s, a la New Order, The Cure & The Smiths, reinvented by this five-piece from NYC. Gorgeous guy and girl vocals. Extremely cohesive album. Plenty of solid tunes. This album is just plain awesome. Would've been great on the Pretty in Pink OST. Bonus points for a second disc full of remixes of a handful of the first disc's tracks, even though none of them top the original tracks. I can honestly say this would be making a headstrong run at my #1 spot on the 2004 list if it had actually come out in 2004.




ROGUE WAVE "Out of the Shadow"
If you like The Shins, you're gonna love Rogue Wave. It's been said by just about everyone by now, but I'm sorry. It's true. It's impossible to talk about this group w/o mentioning The Shins. Uncle. It's not as simple as a namedrop, though, b/c Rogue Wave are great in their own right. They have a certain element to them that is all their own. And I guarantee you'll like them even if you haven't heard of The Shins. Just take my word for it and get this album. You'll have these melodies stuck in your head after one listen. It's catchy as hell. Out of the Shadow also just so happens to contain the lyric of the year: ("In this postage st-stamp world / you'll get what you want / In this postage st-stamp world / you can all get in line / and lick my behind / Cause I won't be living with you / this time").




THE RADIO DEPT. "Lesser Matters"
I was first introduced to this band by my friend Kaleb from Slightly Confusing to a Stranger, after he had had a conversation with Zack Rogue about new music he'd been enjoying lately. Since I was right in the middle of my infatuation with Rogue Wave's Out of the Shadow, I (of course) immediately hunted down this disc. It had to be good. And I was not disappointed one bit. In fact, my very high expectations were actually exceeded.
Following a slew of Scandinavian buzz bands (The Hives, Kings of Convenience, etc.), this Swedish four-piece manage to cultivate some of the sweetest, most dreamy, understated lo-fi pop I've heard in quite some time. I can't even remember the last time I heard a band in this vein do something as good as this. Maybe Jesus & Mary Chain? The Cure? I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't dare to say it, but what the hell: This might be better. I can imagine a couple of songs off Lesser Matters would've been absolutely perfect in Lost In Translation, nestled somewhere between Kevin Shields' new material and the J & MC's "Just Like Honey". Delicate, sugary vocals combined with purposefully underproduced and lovable, fuzzy guitar riffs and casiotone rhythms = i want to curl up under a blanket and spend the afternoon with this record. I undoubtedly have failed to truly and adequately express the greatness of this record. But I had to try.




HALLOWEEN, ALASKA "self-titled"
You may have unknowingly heard a couple of Halloween, Alaska's tunes already and loved them. That's because their moody, contemplative tunes have already graced Fox's popular show "The O.C." on no less than two occasions. In each instance, their tune(s) enhanced the moment immensely. On my way from Detroit to Nashville last week to visit my family for a few days, I realized this was the perfect soundtrack for driving through Ohio. You could probably substitute "Ohio" there with the state of your choice and that statement would still be true. It was strikingly fitting. Right down to the tune "State Trooper" (no, I didn't get stopped). At certain points during this album, it is upbeat and fun. Other times it can be sort of a downer (in a good way). But every time it's like warm honey.




B.FLEISCHMANN "Welcome Tourist"
By far one of the best electronic records released over the past year (or two), at least in my opinion, of course. As the title of this 2-disc gem suggests, Welcome Tourist is great travelliing music. Listening to these 12 songs actually feels like you're on a journey of sorts. Bernhard Fleischmann - armed with his groovebox, his classical training on piano and drums, and his collection of found sounds from some of his own travels - mixes and matches everything in his arsenal until...Voila! He's got a masterpiece on his hands! I can't tell you how much I enjoy listening to this record when I'm in the mood for some good computer-aided beats and melodies. This is impressive stuff for any DJ, let alone a guy who had only been working on electronic music for about four years at the time of this album's conception. Did I mention that the second disc is one, single 45-minute track? And as impossible as it may seem, it doesn't lose my interest for one of those. Morr Music just continues to pump out the goods (see Lali Puna, see Styrofoam, etc.).




ULRICH SCHNAUSS "A Strangely Isolated Place"
Is it just me or is shoegaze making a comeback (watch for Dykehouse's Midrange to possibly make it onto my 2004 list)? I'd venture to guess it might be on its way back in. Ulrich Schnauss' latest album is just one example of why I can make this claim and not feel like a pipe dreamer whilst doing so. Although it's not your traditional shoegaze (rather than live guitars, this is mostly synths and looped electronic samples), it certainly adopts the famous atmospheric, dreamlike sound that we have grown to love and hold on to with our dear lives for the past sixteen years or so.




MENOMENA "I Am The Fun Blame Monster"
Have you ever heard of a band developing their own computer software for the sole purpose of customizing their recording process? Me neither. But Menomena did it. That's insane. They also came up with some great packaging, in the form of a hand-illustrated flipbook featuring that cute little dragon on the front cover. Not to be missed. Oh, what? Am I forgetting to mention the music? My bad. The first three songs are magically delicious, then there is a slightly noticeable dropoff for the rest of the record. Still a couple goodies, but truthfully, some of it weirds me out a little. Anyway, the album maintains itself enough to still be considered a solid purchase. And - oh my goodness - don't get me started on their crazy website. These guys are totally weird, but pretty dang cool, too.




AQUALUNG "Still Life"
While some may quickly slap the Imitation Coldplay/Radiohead/Travis tag onto Aqualung, I wouldn't exactly put it that way. I would say that fans of those bands will probably enjoy Aqualung's Still Life. However, the songwriting and talent shown on Matt Hales' sophomore effort is not to be ignored or thrown aside as derivative so rashly. What we have here is actually quite beautiful and stands up to repeated listening pretty well, too. 10 songs, most of which are piano-driven pop/rock ballads and most of which are love songs. Same sort of thing we heard on Aqualung's self-titled debut, really. However, this time around, Hales goes for a bigger sound by steadily building up to a number of epic choruses, complete with - (gulp!) - drums and strings and guitars! It definitely proves to be a good move for the band. Hales' voice and the heartbreak put forth on display here make this a record that should be heard and enjoyed by many. Give it one or two chances and I can almost assure you that you'll be hooked. And 50 times better than those Keane wankers.



DAMIEN RICE "O"
I heard Damien Rice last year and turned a cold shoulder rather quickly. I had heard all this stuff about how he was this great new artist (he won the 2003 Shortlist Award), but when I first heard some samples of his songs, they just didn't come close to living up to the hype for me at all. I misguidedly lumped him in with the John Mayer/Jason Mraz crowd. So, Rice was relegated to the furthest reaches of my mind for most of the year following O's release. Then my wife got wind of him and tugged my arm for awhile to download some of his songs for her. Once I did, she liked what she heard. Then that trailer for the movie Closer came out with Rice's beautifully sparse ballad "Delicate" all over it, and the rest is history. Only now, a year later, have I finally recognized this young talent.




DOLOREAN "Not Exotic"
Out of nowhere late last year came Dolorean with a voice that sounded very familiar to me, yet I couldn't put my finger on where I knew it from. I quickly gave up on that and just decided to enjoy it for what it was: an incredibly delicate collection of songs that sucked me in and won me over right front the get-go. Fans of Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, and Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters) will definitely fall in love with the music of Dolorean. Heck, anyone else would, too, if they had the fortune of hearing this album.

December 14, 2004

ANOTHER BRIEF ABSCENCE

Apologies to all my faithful readers...
It has nearly been two weeks now since I last wrote.
This can partly be attributed to the fact that for the last five days I have been travelling, visiting my family in Nashville, Tennessee. It was glorious.
Prior to this, I was busily gathering heaps and bushels of empirical data regarding the musical releases of the year 2004, which I will definitely be needing as I carefully assemble my "Best of 2004" list.
So do not fret, young Dubliners. I am here. And I am hard at work on that list (that I will have for you soon, I assure you).
Also, I've got a small little Christmas Get-Together ditty at our house this Friday nite. Dana and I will have our hands full planning that, but it should pay off in spades. That is, we're gonna steal everybody's money playing 'Texas Hold 'Em' so that we can recover some of the money we're spending on Christmas gifts this year.

December 2, 2004

YOU ARE INVITED



I'm throwing a "Casshern" Party at my place on Saturday night. Just a small get together. Nothing major.

Those of you in the Detroit area who would consider yourselves a friend of mine and also those of you who are not in the Detroit area but are feeling spontaneous and would be willing to drive long distances to see this movie, you are all welcome to join me in my abode for the viewing of this cinematic wonder on a much smaller screen than it was intended to be seen on. Regardless, I cannot wait to see it.

More details will follow soon, in regards to the start time of the evening's festivities.

December 1, 2004

2004 MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS

in order of most recently watched first...



SPIDERMAN 2



FREAKS & GEEKS (TV series)



CASSHERN



BEFORE SUNSET



GOODBYE LENIN



TWO OF US (Mates of State)



THE INCREDIBLES



ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND



DOGVILLE



THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES



WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF



I HEART HUCKABEES



COFFEE AND CIGARETTES



SUPER SIZE ME



GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE



HERO (2x's)



GARDEN STATE (2x's)



THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND



PING PONG



INFERNAL AFFAIRS



MARIA FULL OF GRACE



RIDING GIANTS



NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (3x's)



TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER



LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE



ANCHORMAN



SAMURAI FICTION



YEAH, RIGHT!



MY SASSY GIRL



ALL THE REAL GIRLS



CHAPELLE'S SHOW - SEASON 1 (TV series)



SHREK 2



THE STATION AGENT



CITY OF GOD



SAVED!



KILL BILL, VOLUME 2



MUSA: THE WARRIOR



X2: XMEN UNITED



STEP INTO LIQUID



KUROSAWA'S FOUR SAMURAI CLASSICS (Collector's Set)



THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST



GERRY



TASOGARE SEIBEI (TWILIGHT SAMURAI)



LOST IN TRANSLATION



INTERSTELLA 5555



SHAOLIN SOCCER



BATTLE ROYALE