Trying hard to not keep up with the Joneses in 2005.

Out with the old; in with the new

Friday, April 15
If you've wondered why I've been posting so sporadically as of the past month, wonder no more. Sure, there was this little thing called the NCAA Tournament, and rooting for my Illini took up a good deal of time. But, there was also something else--a secret lover. Yes, dear old blog, sorry to have to spring it on ya in such a public fashion, but I've been seeing someone else. And, she's a looker, too. I'm packing my suitcase and heading for the door. So long, old pal.

The Blank Generation is no more. But, don't fret. It's death means the birth of a new fling. Ladies and gents, feast your eyes on this. My new mp3 blog.

If you've been reading my site for any amount of time, then you know about my friendship with fellow scribe Jon Wright, who runs Unfinished Novellas. Well, in an effort to defend against writer's burnout, he and I have decided to merge forces, to test the "less is more" philosophy. By that I mean, less individual work, but more sweet, sweet musically-inspired mischief for you, the reader, to enjoy. So, click on over there and bookmark it at once. If you're a fellow blog and you link here, please update your link. Folks, it's time to getLevitation.

The Noiseboy

N/P--Marty Robbins, "They're Hanging Me Tonight"

Quick update

Tuesday, April 12
Sorry for the delay again, but I'm working on something "new" that requires a bit of time off. Apologies, but the wait will be worth it. More bang for your buck, so to speak.

In the meantime, if you've been in the hunt for the new Jens Lekman EP, The Opposite of Hallelujah, I just received word that it's finally available for order here. Paypal is the accepted method, and the item ships from Canada. It works out to be about ten American dollars (shipping included).

Also, the new issue of Skyscraper is on the stands now (at your favorite record store/Borders/B&N/etc.). Issue 18 includes a feature article on The Living Blue (formerly The Blackouts) written by yours truly, as well as lots of reviews and other good stuff. Check it out...

N/P--The Sounds of Sniffles

Well, crap

Monday, April 4
I strongly dislike losing, and that's just what my Illini did tonight. It was clear that on this particular eve, North Carolina outperformed my team, mostly due to one Sean May. What I wouldn't give for a guy like that on my team.

We had our chances to win--we had our open looks at the basket--but when it counted, the shots didn't fall. But, don't hang your head for these Illini. They proved once again that they should never be counted out. They almost mounted another unbelievable comeback. Tonight, unfortunately, the opponent was just too good to give under the pressure.

Some of you are probably wondering if I'm ever going to get back to writing about music. Well, yes I am. But, not for a short while. A few changes are in the works. You'll be in the loop on those shortly. For now, however, just sit tight. (However, try not to sit as tight as I did during the NCAA Tourney. That's not good on the old ticker.)

Howdy stranger: J is for Jonathan Fire*Eater

Monday, March 28

Jonathan Fire*Eater's EP The Public Hanging of a Movie Star (pictured above) is located on the shelf between The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy and Smashed Blocked! by John's Children.

If you're hipper than most, you can say that you were there first, when the last great band from NYC to feature an asterisk in their name was packing 'em in at dingy NYC venues. I can't make that claim, myself, even though I hopped on the JFE bandwagon long before they signed to Dreamworks and quickly had their tires slashed. I remember buying this CD--well actually the seven inch (I later bought the CD as it had an extra song on it)--from East Peoria Co-Op without really having any clue who in the fuck Jonathan Fire*Eater was. I soon found out, however.

I gobbled up this release--the band's first--and their subsequent EP, Tremble Under the Boom Lights, before losing interest in the group prior to them actually "making it big" on the indie circuit. I did have the pleasure of catching them in concert. My friend booked them in an attic show--the perfect foil to the typical basement gig--in Peoria in the middle of the summer. It was hot as hell up there, and the band had to lug their equipment up three flights of stairs. Five songs into their set, the cops showed up in response to noise complaints and broke the show up. My friend lost his shirt on the affair, but JFE was cool enough to take what meager amount of money he could offer--which was significantly under their guarantee--and a place to crash for the night. That left quite an impression on me.

Apparently, it left quite an impression on the band, too. Some six years later, when I spoke to them in their new incarnation (The Walkmen), they remembered the gig and said they had just discussed it that day as they drove past Peoria en route to Chicago. JFE pale in comparison to The Walkmen, partly due to the superior frontman abilities of Hamilton Leithauser, who replaced JFE singer Stewart Lupton when The Walkmen formed. In addition, JFE sound more like imitators, happy to be good with the gimmick but hardly a fully-realized musical outfit. Still, I remember these days fondly.

At least two things have remained a constant since that attic show in Peoria. One, organist Walter Martin (now in The Walkmen) still has that killer farfisa with the black and white keys. And Two, I've still got a thing for pale-faced, lanky white kids who wish they had a bit of Mick Jagger in them.

JFE, "When Prince was a Kid"
JFE, "The Public Hanging of a Movie Star"

This is long out of print, but you can buy it here if you've got a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket.

March madness, indeed

Sunday, March 27

My friends make fun of me for recording Illini basketball games. I haven’t been doing it for every game, but I have captured all their significant games--their win over Wake Forest which launched them into the No. 1 ranking, Big Ten rivalries against Wisconsin and Michigan State, their lone loss at Ohio State, the conference tournament, and of course the NCAA Tourney. After last night’s game, they now at least know why.

The final four minutes of regulation during Illinois 90-89 victory over Arizona is a complete blur. I need to go back and watch it again--not just so that I can relive the moment, but so that I can recall just what actually happened in that moment. The nuts and bolts of it are simple: Illinois erased a 15-point deficit with under four minutes to go to send the game to overtime. If you don’t watch much college basketball, let me just say this: that sort of thing doesn’t happen--especially against elite teams in the NCAA Tourney.

Saturday was possibly the best day of basketball that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. First, Louisville found a way to defeat West Virginia in overtime, much to my chagrin. This, after the Mountaineers made an astounding 18 three-pointers on unbelievable 67 percent three-point shooting. My boy Pittsnogle netted a game-high 25 points in the loss, which ended a real Cinderella story. That game was simply phenomenal. I should have came to the correct conclusion at that game’s end: on this day, anything was possible. If Louisville, which looked like a severely overmatched team in the first half, could battle back after being down 20 points to win the game going away in overtime, then anything could happen in the Illinois-Arizona game.

And, boy, did it ever.

I’ll allow others to sing the Illini’s praises. The team’s rally is already being called the greatest comeback in college basketball history. While that declaration might be a bit premature or reactionary, it’s certain that this game is among the elite comebacks the game has ever witnessed. See for yourself. But, I don’t want to simply rehash what you can already gather from opening up the front page of any sports section in America.

On many personal levels, this game was a wake-up call for me. I’m a doubter by nature, a pessimist that would rather shoulder the doubt than boast of the positive possibilities of “what if?” I’m also an addict. I’m addicted to the thrill of victory and the misery of defeat. And, in the world of an average sports fan, the pain of defeat is encountered far more often than the joy of a championship. During my adult life, I’ve yet to know what it feels like to get the Big Win. I certainly know what it feels like to come close. I only have to turn back to October of 2004 for that emotion, as the Cardinals defeated the Astros to make it to the World Series. We all know how that one turned out.

That Series only reinforced the dangers within for the rooting fan. Enter the world of fandom at your own risk. A season following your favorite team is a tiresome rollercoaster ride. You will be crushed far too often. You will be rewarded with only fleeting, occasional moments of rejoice. You will become oh so familiar with the phrase, “this close.” Rarely, sometimes not even in your lifetime, will you be allowed to call your team a Champion. And, if you are not strong or wise, you will become a cynic, a person who doesn’t allow him or herself to revel in the happiness that goes hand in hand with rooting for a winning, championship-caliber team. There’s always that shadow of doubt darkening the road ahead, begging you to miss the forest for the trees.

Up until last night, I was that cynic. I was full of doubt, attempting to be “realistic.” No, my team isn’t good enough to win a national title. They don’t have the athletes to beat this team. They don’t have the size to handle those guys. They don’t have the talent to beat so-and-so. But, now I know better. There’s no room for “realism” in the mind of a fan. There’s only room for hope. And hope breeds positive energy. And positive energy is what compels basketball teams on to National Championships. And, today, I think that’s exactly where the Illini are headed.

(I promise to get back to writing about music soon. I’m mulling over some significant changes to the site, and should have all of that ironed out within the next few days.)

N/P--Ted Leo & the Pharmcists, The Tyranny of Distance

I'll be back

Friday, March 25
Not to get all Schwarzenegger on you, but I will be back--and soon. I've been inspired to new heights recently by the success of the West Virginia Moutaineers (if only I had a photo of me in my new WV t-shirt that M picked up for me while at her peeps in Pee-Ay). And, a modest stack of new albums. So, this weekend I plan to take time out from my NCAA basketball blitz to share some tunes with you all. Look forward to something from Mouse and the Traps, Los Dug Dug's (yay for Mexican bands sporting my name!), and Sam Gopal (Lemmy from Motorhead's old, old band). I know you can't wait!

In the meantime, brackets be damned! Make sure you're rootin' loud and proud this weekend for Joe Herber (pronounced Hair-bear), Kevin Pittsnogle, D'or Fischer, Mike Gansey and the Mountaineers as they battle the evil Rick Pitino-led Louisville Cardinals. And while you're rooting for the underdog, please don't root against the top dog--my Illini. They've got an equally-difficult task ahead in trying to defeat the dapper Lute Olson and his Arizona Wildcats.

N/P--Michael Hurley, Long Journey

Excavating 2004: Freaky folk that's not so weird

Saturday, March 19

Vetiver. Apparently it’s a kind of tropical grass that’s commonly found in Thailand. That does little to describe why San Francisco songwriter Andy Cabic (he of The Raymond Brake fame) selected the word as his moniker. Further exploration unveils that Vetiver grass is often used by farmers to promote soil and water conservation. The grass grows upward in large clumps, but does not spread outward. Hence, when planted on a slope it forms a natural embankment that helps to eradicate erosion without disturbing the crop it serves to protect. It’s an ideal grass for a rainy area like Thailand.

That said, I have no witty way to tie Vetiver the grass to Vetiver the artist, but at least you’ve now been educated on one small aspect of farming in southeast Asia. Bonus!

Vetiver’s self-titled debut (on the DiCristina label) totally flew under my radar in 2004. Seeing as the group has been lumped in with the new “weird-folk” movement that’s taking the States by storm, and seeing as Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and White Magic all ended up on my Best of 2004 list, I suppose I’m just behind the curve on this one. My bad. The guest appearances on this album are probably its greatest selling point on the surface: Banhart is around for all eleven songs, Newsom guests on harp, and Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star) even shows up to lend her voice to a tune. And--get this--Colm O’Ciosoig of My Bloody Valentine lent his San Fran living room and the occasional drum fill to the recording of this album. That’s quite a guest list for Cabic, a newbie to the folk scene.

But, after listening to the record, it’s easy to see why Cabic gained such support. Vetiver is a pleasure to listen to and stands stiff-spined in comparison to Newsom and Banhart’s recent releases. Drawing influences from a wide array of sources--Marc Bolan, Donovan, Nick Drake--Cabic’s songs are wistful and sweet. From a sonic standpoint, his music breathes deep belly breaths, allowing the nostrils to soak in the surroundings. Like a smattering of cool moss on the underside of a felled tree, Vetiver’s rich, tuneful songs are a pleasant surprise given the perception of the "weird-folk" movement that he's been lumped in with.

Cabic is easier on the ears and more approachable than counterpart Banhart and less pretentious than Sufjan Stevens. He reminds me the most of Iron & Wine, yet his songs are more textured than all three thanks to a full-time cellist and violinist.

Pitchfork described the album as “devoid of 21st century,” and I couldn’t disagree more. While the album’s pen-and-ink on parchment paper cover art might lead one down that path, the music itself sounds “hi-fi” and features a glowing, warm ambience. Vetiver’s lyrics are also slice-of-life in nature, a far cry from the esoteric musings of many of his contemporaries. And that fact hardly dates the album in any sense.

There really isn’t much information available online about Vetiver. Apparently, there’s no band web site, and the label is small enough to not have an internet presence either. A google search will turn up a handful of reviews and a couple brief interviews, but Vetiver is missing in action in the world wide web. I guess that’s the only way in which Pitchfork’s assessment was correct.

A trio of songs for you to enjoy:
"Amerilie" (That acoustic guitar riff sounds familiar, but I can't place it. That's Newsom on harp, though.)
"Farther On"
"Angels' Share" (Featuring Hope Sandoval on backing vocals.)

Who are you rooting for?

Wednesday, March 16
Apologies are due for my inability to update my MP3s of the Week. Chances are you wouldn't be too interested in hearing that Gary Glitter song--"da-da-da-da-da HEY..."--for the thousandth time anyway. And, that's about the only theme I could come up with for this week. (Well, that and the Native American-ish "war song" featured at all Illini home games and performed so dutifully by the pep band. Speaking of Mr. Chief Illiniwek, the pressure's once again on to give him the boot, and it's possible that he might be shown the door soon. But as long as I've lived here, that's been the case. So, I'm not holding my breath.)

I doubt I'll post anything new until Sunday. Sorry, but I'm preoccupied over the next several days. I've got Fairleigh Dickinson, the Ragin' Cajuns, and buzzer beaters on my mind. I'd absolutely love to see West Virginia win a couple games and knock off Chris F'in Paul and Wake Forest. How can I not root for a guy named Pittsnogle? And for the love of the basketball God, can someone please take out North Carolina and shut up all these commentators once and for all? Of ESPN's "experts", only four of seven actually have my boys going to the Final Four. They might not make it that far, despite a relatively easy bracket, but for crying out loud they're the No. 1 team in the nation and have lost just once this year--by a single point on a last-second shot on the road. One would think that that would at least buy them a bit more support from the media pundits.

As for my Final Four picks, I've filled out three brackets for three different pools. On each, I changed my picks somewhat to improve my chances at winning the jackpot. In general, I'll take my chances with these four teams: Illinois, Louisville, UConn, and Duke. At least, that's what my gut tells me. What's your's whisperin' to ya?

Waving the white flag

Tuesday, March 15
Music for the moment: Cheap Trick, "Surrender" (outtake from the Heaven Tonight sessions)

I’ll admit to being more than a little distracted as of late. I’ve got 64 reasons to be this time of year. Plus, I’ve been sick, and on “vacation”--which always makes for an amusing pair of bedfellows. But, in general, I just haven’t felt inspired to write about music.

Being the finger-pointing type, I select my “Year Without Music” as the scapegoat. It has felt an awful lot like an ankle bracelet, which I guess means that Martha Stewart and I have something in common other than the towels hanging in my bathroom. Coming into this absurd New Year’s resolution, I thought that I would potentially experience a sense of freedom from my obsession, as if I could detach myself from my greed by simply waving a magic wand. But if anything, instituting such a rigid guideline has accomplished the exact opposite. I feel suffocated by my own desire, unable to shake the need to purchase new music from my thoughts. It’s a Catch-22: if I buy music, I feed the greed. If I don’t buy music, the greed only grows hungry and barks louder.

So, it’s over. Two-and-a-half months into 2005, and I surrender. Maybe all my friends are right about which Cheap Trick song is superior after all.

It never was much of a fast, if we’re speaking honestly. I purchased eight albums this year prior to the great “Year Without Music” crash of ‘05. Three with “cash money,” and five more thanks to credit earned from items sold online. I didn’t break the rules of my silly contract, that is until my trip to Bloomington, Indiana to see Jens Lekman. Bloomington presented me with a fresh challenge--an actual live, breathing record store. Champaign doesn’t have any of those. We have Record Swap, which sells only used vinyl and CDs (at extremely outrageous prices and with generally poor selection). And we have Parasol, which is a wonderful store but sells only new vinyl and CDs. Bloomington, however, has a real survivor in T.D.’s, a little hole-in-the-wall store in the basement of a coffee shop that isn’t much bigger than my bedroom. It stocks new and used vinyl and has a tasteful eye for the kind of music that I’m interested in--left-of-center rock music and eclectic contemporary music. It’s back catalogue is actually quite impressive, and I assume because Bloomington is a small town that it’s racks aren’t picked over like one often finds in a big city emporium. I passed on several new releases of interest and--given self-imposed time constraints--I didn’t have enough time to really scour the racks. But, I did find a few used items of note:

1. James Chance & the Contortions, Lost Chance on CD
2. Esquivel, Music from a Sparkling Planet on CD
3. The Cherry Valance, Riffin’ on LP (to replace my CD)
4. John Mayall, The Blues Alone on LP, and
5. The Monkees Greatest Hits on LP (to replace my severely beat-up copy)

I wouldn’t call it “the jackpot” by any stretch of the imagination. But, it was exhilarating nonetheless to be in a real record store for the first time in months, slap a couple twenties on the counter and walk out the door with a stash under my arm. Music is the one constant in my life--other than M--that keeps me happy. I was stupid to think that I could deprive myself of that joy and not suffer an intolerable loss. I live for such experiences: the thrill of the hunt, the agony of defeat and the occasional exhileration of the kill. I suppose that if I lived in a larger city I might find a trip to the record store to be more commonplace. But, I don’t. So this trip, considering the past two months, was like a cross-continent trek to the Wailing Wall.

As for my “Year Without Music,” I have no regrets that I gave it a go. I may never kick the habit, but hopefully I’ll be better off because of it, not worse off as a result of it. As author Thornton Wilder famously quipped: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

So, grow record collection. Stand tall with sturdy knees and a firm backbone. I’m sorry that I neglected you all these weeks. And, dear blog, forgive my recent absence. It’s true that it only makes the heart grow fonder.

N/P–Vetiver’s self-titled album (more on that soon)

Sorry for the delay

Thursday, March 10
I'm actually on one of those use-it-or-lose-it vacations from work. The unfortunate thing is, I'm also sick. That means plenty of time on the couch (with the HBO series The Carnivale). So, I apologize, but I haven't felt up to posting anything new this week.

On the bright side, I received an e-mail from Jens Lekman yesterday in response to an inquiry about how to order his new EP, The Opposite of Hallelujah. The process sounds more like a spy mission than a simple ordering process. But, if you're one of the brave souls (like me) who really wants to hear his new songs, follow the advice of "J" (that's how Jens signs his name):

"Write to (for vinyl 7") or (for CD version). Be patient as it might take a while for them to reply."


N/P--The sound of coughing

MP3s of the Week: Go Swedes Go!

Sunday, March 6
Mr. Jens Lekman is an abominable snowman in the market, the luckiest guy on the lower East Side, and the light that never goes out--all rolled into one! His show on Friday in Bloomington, Indiana simply floored me. It was like the first time I saw Stephin Merritt all over again (except unlike Merritt, Lekman has a wee bit of innocence and a dash of youthful energy). Simply spectacular. Lekman performed with a drummer (playing standing up), a bassist (both on loan from The Impossible Shapes), a cellist and a violinist. Lekman handled electric guitar and ukelele (another thing he has in common with Merritt). His set consisted of a good number of tunes from his EPs, to my surprise. In fact, the only one of the songs that he didn't play from those I previously posted (see post below) was "Sky Phenomenon". The best news from the show? Lekman has a new 7" you can purchase, although even he doesn't know how you go about buying it. (See his site for contact info.) He performed the title cut from it, "The Opposite of Hallelujah," which is yet another stellar offering from this boy genius.

The rest of Bloomington was a minor letdown. For starters, we arrived late, but luckily didn't miss any of Lekman. M and I forgot about the time change and then had trouble finding the club, which was a dump compared to the posh indie rock venues of Champaign. The no smoking policy was a nice surprise, but unfortunately all that did was call more attention to the skank smell of mold. Hello, ventilation, you are needed at the Second Story. Our hotel, The University Plaza, came cheap enough ($56 through Priceline). But, let's just say, the room reflected the price. Peeling wallpaper, no hot water, and a wall of curtains that would lead one to believe that there was a wall of windows behind it. Sadly, much like in The Wizard of Oz, once the curtains were opened, what was behind them was found to be quite inferior: a wall.

Once outside the hotel, things perked up. M found some good clothing shops, I picked up an MC5 t-shirt, we had a yummy brunch at a downtown deli and toured the campus/downtown (they are essentially connected) by foot. And, oh yes, I bought a few records. But, more on that haul--and the happy/sad demise of my Year Without Music--at a later date.

To speed things along, in honor of Mr. Lekman's super show, I'm posting some MP3s this week from his fellow Swedish patriots, whom I highly recommend: The Chrysler, the Shout Out Louds, and Suburban Kids with Biblical Names. See my Top 30 of 2004 for additional thoughts on the tunes. I will add that the Shout Out Louds, who recently released a new EP, have signed to Capitol and are likely to blow up this year. They're touring the western half of the States with The Futureheads right now (see schedule at their site). If memory serves, The Chrysler will be re-releasing their last full length with Parasol shortly. So, look for that. And, Suburban Kids can be found on the net here and here.

N/P--Tears of rage as a result of the first loss of the season for my Fighting Illini. (29-1 ain't too shabby, though.)

TBG on hiatus thru weekend

Thursday, March 3
I'm heading to sunny (hopefully) Bloomington, Indiana tomorrow night to see Sweden's "15th sexiest man," so says he: Jens Lekman. I gotta say, I'm pumped! This will be my second trip to Bloomington in the past year. However, last time, I was there with M for a conference she was participating in, and I didn't really get much of a chance to explore the town. This time around, I'll be seeing Lekman at the Second Story, spending the night, and using Saturday to find my way to a few cool shops and an interesting eatery or two. (If all goes well, I'll avoid the two fine record shops that I dropped $100 at my last time through town. Remember, I'm still holding on ever so loosely to my Year Without Music.)

In the meantime, you can have your very own Jens Lekman concert in your study (or bedroom, or living room, or wherever your computer resides). Enjoy the following tracks taken from two of his EPs. As you listen up, feel free to revisit my ramblings on Lekman from September. If you like what you read/hear, be sure to pick up some of his goods. Parasol's got them all.

Isn't he adorable?

"A Sweet Summernight on Hammer Hill" (from You Are the Light EP)

"I Saw Her in the Anti-War Demonstration" (from You Are the Light EP)

"Sky Phenomenon" (from Maple Leaves EP)

"Black Cab" (from Maple Leaves EP)