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Moment of Zen (inspired by Tim's Koans)

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    Monday, January 31, 2005

    Tracks of the Week: Fish

    Mr. Scruff "Fish" - Trout. are. freshwater. fish. and. have. underwater. weapons. "Playful" is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Mr. Scruff. He's a rabid record collector that loves to inject funny, obscure samples into his breakbeat noodlings. Have fun singing along to this with your freshwater friends. Buy It.

    Helms "Candy Fish" - The Helms are a Boston-based indie rock trio that create tight guitar-based atmospheres with sung/spoken vocals usually buried deep in the mix. This track is on the mellower side and closes their debut The Swimmer. The bass player is an ex-colleague and the drummer is a fantastic graphic artist. He designs all the album artwork and show posters. Good stuff. Buy It.

    Sunday, January 30, 2005

    I'll give *you* an attribute set!

    I've been reading David Hunter's book on XML for the last few hours, and I'm getting punchy. I think it's time to hit the hay. I knew I was toast when I just finished reading this line:

    Notice also that attribute sets can use other attribute sets, since <xsl:attribute-set> also has a use-attribute-sets attribute!
    What?!? Wait... I *think* I understand that. At least I did when I first read it. Now I'm not so sure. I think I'm going insane. Yup, it's time to call it a night.

    Saturday, January 29, 2005

    Label of the Year

    Before I close the books on another year of great music, I wanted to point out a wonderful music label I discovered in 2004: Sublime Frequencies. Last fall I really started getting into the bizarre music of the Sun City Girls. They're a bit of an enigma usually opting to wear masks in their publicity photos and live shows. Their discography reaches back to the mid-80s and they consistently crank out solid quirky indie/world (?) music.

    Maverick ethnomusicologists Alan and Richard Bishop, two-thirds of the Sun City Girls, launched their own label called Sublime Frequencies last year to promote what they call:

    Music and film, short wave, field, and radio recordings of Asia, Africa, and the middle east from international world music of Java, Bali, Sumatra, Burma, Morocco, Thailand, India, Mali, Syria, Laos, Cambodia, and Nepal to the Nat Pwe Festival at Taungbyon in Myanmar and Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech Morocco film documentaries with a focus on ethnic folk, pop, ceremony, animist, bizarre, ritual, and exotica as an alternative aesthetic of exploration and research of global sound and culture.

    So there you have it. An eclectic mix of music from around the world filtered through the offbeat tendencies of the Sun City Girls. The music on these compilations sound not unlike interludes you'd hear on NPR, but with a rougher, more visceral quality that gives them a personality all their own.

    To show you what I mean, here's a track from my favorite Sublime Frequencies comp Cambodian Cassette Archives. The collection was culled from over 150 ageing cassettes found at the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library in California, and it's definitely worth seeking out.

    Sim Sisamouth "Don't Let My Girlfriend Tickle Me"

    With this track, the countdown has officially come to a close for another year. The full list can be found in the sidebar, but the mp3s will be available for only another day -- so grab 'em while you can! The Tracks of the Week will start up again on Monday. Thanks for listening.

    Friday, January 28, 2005

    1. Devendra Banhart: Rejoicing in the Hands / Niño Rojo

    Release two stellar albums in the same year: I guess that's one way to get yourself to #1. My first opinion of Devendra emerged when I repeatedly listened to his debut Oh Me Oh My.... Maybe it was the lo-fi recording quality, but I walked away with an image of a scary, angry little man. Like an evil Tiny Tim; someone I never wanted to meet in a dark alley.

    Two new albums and a few live shows later, I have an entirely different perspective of the man. He seems kind and almost fragile. With these two new records this year, he's opened up his sound and no longer seems to be huddled in the corner of his bedroom with his 4-track rolling. Recorded simultaneously, Rejoicing in the Hands and Niño Rojo show off Devendra as a captivating and playful artist who seems to pull new tunes out of the air all the time. Over the last two years, he's recorded roughly 132 songs -- did I mention he did this before he turned 23?

    Devendra certainly appears to be an eccentric. His live shows can be a surprise as he melds songs together and makes up new lyrics on the spot. But that's what makes his music so compelling. He's operating on his own terms. His unconventional approach and abstract musings will ultimately leave you wanting more. Buy Rejoicing in the Hands. Buy Niño Rojo.

    Devendra Banhart "Will Is My Friend" (from Rejoicing in the Hands)

    Devendra Banhart "At The Hop" (from Niño Rojo)

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    2. Animal Collective: Sung Tongs

    The New Yorker magazine classified Animal Collective as "folksy experimentalists" -- they're way too weird to stop there though. I picked up Sung Tongs early in the year and I knew that it would fall near the top of my list for the year. I love Here Comes the Indian from 2003 but the two-man Animal Collective really hit their stride on this poppier (?!?) album.

    Listening to Sung Tongs you get the feeling you accidentally stumbled upon a late-night ritual deep in the woods of another world. There's happy chanting, delirious drumming, and bizarre instrumentation. Think Brian Wilson collaborating with woodland elves and you're kinda there. This is not psychedelia. This is not indie rock. This is just weird and beautiful. Buy It.

    Animal Collective "Who Could Win a Rabbit"

    [UPDATE: Crazy minds think alike. Tim posted this same exact song last night. Oh well. Download both so you'll have a matching pair.]

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005

    Indoor activities when your town gets 40 inches of snow in 4 days

    In no particular order:

    Organize your CD collection by spine color
    Enjoy a mug of your favorite tea
    Vacuum up cobwebs
    Build a fort for your cat
    Stare at your laundry pile
    Kick back with these unusual articles from Wikipedia

    Fun fact: One of those articles is about the Boston Molasses Disaster. I did a report on it in elementary school. What a sticky subject.

    3. The Arcade Fire: Funeral

    Fans of indie rock juggernaut may be letting out a collective sigh of disappointment right about now. I know, yes, this is on most everyone's year-end list. But it's a good album. Wait... actually, it's a *great* album. Would it have become so popular without the lift of GlitchPork? I don't know. Maybe not.

    But I have to think this would've become a big album at some point. Yes some say they could be simmered down to Broken Social Scene + The Pixies + The Talking Heads, but there's more to hear with repeated listens. It's an emotionally draining set of songs from a Montreal couple who lost members of their family during recording. The tone of the album is anthemic. The songs are just absolutely bursting with raw emotion.

    This is most evident in "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" -- the most rockin' track on the record. This is one of those songs that goes beyond "a good driving song." It actually makes you want to blast off into outer space with your Corolla. Or better yet, it makes you want to run through the streets peeing your pants. Buy It.

    The Arcade Fire "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    4. Dungen: Ta Det Lugnt

    In the age of the mp3, I find myself consistently taking more risks when giving new music a listen. I've always tended to stay the course, discover a particular genre I dig, and then go with that until I'm blue in the ears. Case in point, the "micro-house" phenomenon that's been brewing for the last several years. Take a look at my last two "Top Ten/Twelve" lists and you'll see what I mean.

    Lately, however, I'm broadening the scope of my collection, and one of the most recent out-there additions is Dungen's Ta Det Lugnt. Late 60s acid rock? Early 70s Swedish psychedelia? That's what it sounds like, but it's an album from 2004 by an unassisted 24-year old. And, in terms of production, it's the lushest release on this list.

    Hearing the Swedish lyrics (and not understanding a bit of them) takes me back to my foreign exchange experience in high school. I remember really getting into a sub-par French band called Noir Desir. Looking back, the music was not very good, but the idea of listening to something I couldn't understand had a certain mystery to it that I was drawn to.

    I bet my host student felt the same way as we zipped along the mountain roads of Annecy while blaring The Pixies' Doolittle. I'm sure he had no clue what Black Francis was shouting about. Except for maybe that bit about un chien Andalusia. Buy It.

    Dungen "Panda"

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    5. Joanna Newsom: Milk-Eyed Mender

    Joanna Newsom's album is enchanting and I loved seeing her live earlier this year. If you can get past the sometimes shrill nature of her voice, you have a lot to get into here. Her harp playing is mesmerizing. And who learns to play the harp these days? I mean, really??

    This is one of those albums I find very difficult to classify. You may need a high threshold for the absurd. Maybe that's one of the reasons I listened to it so much this year. There's really not much else out there like this. If I casually overheard this somewhere, I'd probably not get into it very much. But when I really listen, it's easy to detect flashes of brilliance even though I'm never really sure what she's singing about.

    Having said that, Boston's The Weekly Dig once called her a "retarded sprite." And I'd have to agree. Buy It.

    Joanna Newsom "The Book of Right-On"

    Sunday, January 23, 2005

    I hate street parking

    Blizzard 2005 has come and gone in southern Connecticut. The last few snowflakes fell around 8am this morning, and now it's clean up time. I hate street parking. To illustrate, I give you exhibits A, B, and C.

    Our friends in the Boston area may not have been as fortunate as us. I heard eastern MA was going to get hit the hardest. How's everyone doing up there?

    The 2004 music countdown will resume tomorrow with #5. That is, if I can dig myself out of this snow in time.

    Saturday, January 22, 2005

    Got To-dos? Ta-da!

    The folks at 37signals released their newest web app Ta-da Lists this week. I've been using their project management tool Basecamp for a year now (and love it). Ta-da Lists is a free version of the to-do list feature you can find in Basecamp. It allows you to create online to-do lists and share them with the public, if you'd like. And it doesn't presume to do anything more. The beauty of this little app is in its simplicity and clarity.

    Here, let me show you: My List of Tasks. See? It's nifty. And you can find lots of ways to use Ta-da other than a task list. A wishlist of books, music or movies. A holiday shopping list. A grocery list. Or even a list of words that you're trying to fit into your dissertation (ahem).

    Have fun with it, and don't forget to brush your teeth.

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    6. The Album Leaf: In A Safe Place

    Over the last several years, Iceland has had quite an impact on the music industry. You have Bjork, Sigor Rós, and Múm to name a few. So, if you dug a hole straight down from Reykjavik, would you end up in San Diego? I suppose only a spelunker would know for sure.

    Jimmy LaValle (AKA The Album Leaf) hails from San Diego, but considering the help he gets from his buddies in Sigor Rós and Múm you'd think In A Safe Place is another Icelandic export. I reach for this album when I'm in the mood to get some work done. Although it has some intricate melodies, it makes for nice ambient background music too. It's very pretty without being overly cloying.

    Songs float by unnoticed sometimes, and I find myself reaching to start it over again. A few of the songs (especially the ones with vocals) can stand on their own as solid efforts. But I find the real success of the album lies in its tendency to just exist as a collection of gently floating, cozy melodies. Buy It.

    The Album Leaf "Over the Pond"

    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    7. Blonde Redhead: Misery is a Butterfly

    2 Italian (twin) brothers + 1 Japanese art student = 1 Blonde Redhead. Is this considered "fuzzy math"?

    Misery is a Butterfly is the band's darkest and most delicate album to date. Blonde Redhead (the name taken from a DNA song -- check my favorite reissues of the year) have been concocting a unique blend of indie rock since their inception in 1993. With each release, I find the songs get less and less jarring. So this is really a good place to start and work your way backwards, at least through my favorite Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons from 2000.

    This is their first album since signing to 4AD and it seems the moody, ethereal history of the label has seeped into many of the songs here. Like always, the tracks alternate between the uniquely shrill yelp and countering tenor of the two vocalists. However this go around, with a less discordant approach, Misery is a Butterfly makes for a compelling listen. Buy It.

    Blonde Redhead "Pink Love"

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    8. Fennesz: Venice

    Vienna-based electronic composer Christian Fennesz is a bit of a perfectionist. Critics raved about his 2001 release Endless Summer which was a glitchy, experimental homage to the Beach Boys. It certainly didn't *sound* like the Beach Boys, but Fennesz's overly processed guitars and electronics made for an intriguing listen. And I think Venice is even better.

    He seems to have finely tuned his skills at producing strange little glitchy tracks of audio art. Even the one vocal track (with guest David Sylvian) succeeds. I really took to the BBC's reaction to this album:

    The experience of listening to most of these twelve pieces might be compared to the act of viewing from a distance a series of Monet's weather and light studies (the Haystacks, the Poplars or Rouen Cathedral). The longer the gaze is maintained, the more the colours vibrate and the forms shimmer between abstraction and figuration. The lack of any form of overt rhythmic instrumentation further underlines this impression, causing the music to float like a mirage or apparition.

    Laptop musicians that create this kind of music are a dime-a-dozen these days. However Fennesz continues to exceed the status quo by skillfully and deliberately releasing another impressive collection of undeniably beautiful gems. Buy It.

    Fennesz "Rivers of Sand"

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    9. Dave Douglas: Strange Liberation

    Taking its title from a Martin Luther King statement about how the Vietnamese must have seen Americans as "strange liberators," Dave Douglas' 22nd LP is the most intoxicating jazz release I heard this year.

    He pulls his sextet together, including guitarist Bill Frisell, to achieve a richly detailed sound. Fragments of late-60s Miles can be heard here. For me, the pieces on this album seem to strike just the right balance between improvisation and composition.

    I tend to veer toward jazz releases from 40 years ago, so I'm not sure how this particular 2004 release stacks up against the rest of last year's bunch. But I will say I found Strange Liberation to be a very thoughtful listen. Buy It.

    Dave Douglas "The Jones"

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    10. Comets on Fire: Blue Cathedral

    This is fierce fiery rock. Who knew something like this would ever end up on the year-end list? Blue Cathedral is the band's third full-length, and from what I've heard, the most dynamic. I'm sure this has something to do with the addition of a second guitarist, Ben Chasney of Six Organs of Admittance. Actually, I like Six Organs' Dark Noontide quite a bit and that's what turned me on to Comets of Fire. But, yowsers, the two are sonically very different.

    If there's ever another Terrastock Festival, I'd love to see Six Organs of Admittance play on a lazy Sunday afternoon followed by Comets on Fire later that night -- they'd be a perfect closer, what with their sub-orbital freak-outs and sprawling interludes.

    This kind of music isn't usually my thing. Reviews of Blue Cathedral have been raising references of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Hawkwind, and Iron Butterfly. But somehow this album has made its way into heavy rotation of my gym routine. Rock on? Buy It.

    Comets on Fire "The Bee & the Crackin' Egg"

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    It's that time again

    Time to pretend I know how to write and decide on my year-end best albums list. In previous years I've just offered up the full list of 10 or 12 of my personal faves. But now that I'm serving up some songs here, I figure it'd be more interesting if I spaced out my picks with highlights from each of the albums. So naturally the "Tracks of the Week" will be on hold until the countdown is over.

    Before i dive into #10, however, I need to do a little housecleaning. Year-end lists often customarily include "honorable mentions" so, in no particular order, these were great releases of 2004 but didn't quite make the cut... the grade... the je ne sais quoi:

    Pan Sonic: Kesto
       review | buy

    Tom Waits: Real Gone
       review | buy

    Vetiver: Vetiver
       review | buy

    Ghost: Hypnotic Underworld
       review | buy

    Death From Above 1979: You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
       review | buy

    While I'm at it, I'll also highlight a few albums that weren't created in 2004 but finally got their due this year. So, here are my favorite reissues:

    DNA: DNA on DNA
       review | buy

    Metal Urbain: Anarchy in Paris
       review | buy

    Six Organs of Admittance: The Manifestation
       review | buy

    Arthur Russell: The World of Arthur Russell
       review | buy

    Various Artists: The Third Unheard
       review | buy

    Stay tuned for #10 (avec mp3) mañana.

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Like two peas in a pod

    Last Friday evening, to kick off our vacation in style, we planned a sunset kayak trip off the coast of Key Largo. The owner of our resort at Azul Del Mar was more than gracious to lend us his 2-person kayak and take us out to a remote location of the mangroves so we could sit like two peas in a pod and watch the sun set.

    At about 4pm we met him at the end of the resort's pier and helped him lift the kayak onto the bow of his boat. Soon after, we found ourselves zipping through the mangrove islands out to a peaceful location to drop our kayak for a couple hours. The owner, who resembled a crazy cross between Gene Wilder and The Who's Roger Daltrey, kept joking during the ride about leaving us out there to find our way back. Given the number of times he brought it up and his wry sense of humor, we weren't sure if we'd ever see land again.

    We plunked ourselves into the tandem yellow Hobie and soon our ride was out of sight leaving us to paddle among a maze of mangroves. Motorboats could be heard in the distance, but during our little adventure we felt like we were the only two people for miles around. Neither of us are avid kayakers so for the most part we let the slight breeze take us where it wanted to go. We soon found the leeward side of the mangroves where the wind died down and no sound could be heard except for a few pelicans hopping among the branches.

    Alyssa spotted some movement in the water thirty feet ahead of us. At first, we thought it could have been a couple turtles surfacing for air. But the splashes were far too frequent and quick. She wanted a closer look, so off we went rowing toward the action despite my trepidation. I was certain it was a man-eating alligator or some other denizen of the deep. But I kept my fears at bay and soon we were floating above where we first saw the disturbances in the water. There was no sign of any movement until we heard some flapping behind us.

    We discovered it was a school of small silvery fish leaping out of the water to catch bugs on the surface. At least that's what we settled on. We still couldn't tell for sure and this explanation kept us the happiest. (For all we knew, it could've been an underwater monster).

    It was 5:30 and twilight was approaching. At this time of year, it takes just over two minutes for the sun to vanish after it begins its descent into the sea. As the sun's edge dipped into the horizon, and with the flapping fish as our only witness, I asked Alyssa to marry me. She said yes. I really don't remember much after that. I was just trying my best not to flip our kayak in excitement.

    Moments later the sun disappeared. Our adventure for the day was coming to an end but our lifelong adventure together was just starting. We paddled back to our ride and returned to shore a few minutes later. Like two peas in a pod.

    Key Largo Sunset

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Florida Keys

    No doubt Florida has a lot of wildlife. The Everglades region, in particular, has some feathery and freaky friends. We snapped these photos yesterday on our last day of our vacation.

    The week was fantastic and it's always difficult to come back to the New England winter after you've spent a few days exploring the Keys, kayaking at sunset, eating every meal outdoors, and stargazing with the pelicans. Plus we stayed at the fabulous Azul Del Mar on Key Largo which I would highly recommend to anyone looking for some classy R&R.

    Plenty of photos of our trip are up on Flickr now.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2005

    USB Flash Drives, AKA Keychain Doo-hickies

    My gift of choice to give this year was a USB flash drive. Geeky, huh? I never thought I'd have use for one until it saved my life in early November while finishing up a project.

    I needed to get about 80MB of files from one computer to another in order to burn them to CD. It was one of those things that the computer that *did* have network access did not have a burner, and the computer that *did* have a burner did not have network access. Anyway, a colleague had a flash drive (or as I called it at the time "a key fob doo-hicky"). He saved the day because the vendor was about to show up asking for the files, and without that little gadget I would've had to rip my desktop PC out of the wall to hand over my hard drive. Not too slick.

    Now that I know these little toys can be very helpful, I gave away a few to friends this year as gifts. My choice was the SanDisk Cruzer Mini. I'm a big fan. They're not just good for saving the day when you need to get files from one machine to another. They're also quite handy when you load them up with tiny apps which can get you out of a bind.

    There are tons of sites dedicated to listing out popular apps for keychain drives. So I won't bore you with the details here. Instead, I've made a short list of the contents of my own drive. If you have one, maybe these will come in handy?

    Portable Firefox - The kids call this the bomb-diggity. Unlike the rest of the apps on this list, Portable Firefox (and there's Portable Thunderbird too) is a condensed version of the browser that actually runs *on* the flash drive itself. This was very useful when I needed to see something in Firefox on a company PC that was locked down with all kinds of user restrictions and I couldn't install Firefox.

    Ad-Aware - One of the best spyware cleaners.

    AdMuncher - For eating away ads while you browse the web.

    AVG - A nice light-weight anti-virus tool.

    HTML-Kit - My code editor of choice for Windows. If I ever move to Mac, I'm jumping all over BBEdit v8 like pants on a mannequin.

    Printkey - A terrific little screen-grabber.

    Snood - What I spent senior year playing.

    SpaceMonger - Visual tool for keeping track of free space on your computer.

    Spybot - One of the best spyware cleaners.

    WinPatrol - Keeps an eye on spyware, startup items, file associations and other helpful bric-a-brac.

    WiseFTP - One of a zillion FTP clients available for free on the web. Maybe you prefer SmartFTP or CuteFTP? I tried WiseFTP first and it's what I've stuck with ever since.

    ZoneAlarm - I love this firewall.

    Oh yeah - and my resumé. Never know when I'll need it.

    Even if you don't have a USB drive, maybe you'll find these little apps helpful. Enjoy! We're off to Key Largo for a week-long vacation. See you next week when the countdown of my 2004 top ten list of CDs will begin. Stay tuned.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2005


    I was in Cambridge this weekend for a friendly little gathering at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Inman Square. The gathering was called "Squeeze" -- and four of us DJed. It was a scene right out of MTV's The Grind. Well, no, not really. But it was a heckuva good time. Check out a few photos.

    Seeing as I rarely DJ, I figured it would be fun to post my setlist here. For those of you who weren't present, the set sounded just as dumb as it looks:

    Kenny Rogers & the First Edition: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
    Talking Heads: Slippery People (live)
    David Byrne: Dance on Vaseline (Thievery Corporation mix)
    DJ Q-Bert: Redworm
    RJD2: Smoke & Mirrors
    The Roots: Act Too (Love of My Life)
    Nightmares on Wax: Ethnic Majority
    T. Rex: Bang a Gong (Get It On)
    David Bowie: Golden Years
    Thievery Corporation: Omid (Hope)
    Sly & Robbie (with Howie B): Stripped to the Bone
    Beanfield: Re-ac-tion
    Incognito: Get Into My Groove (Jazzanova Re-Groove Mix)
    Ratatat: Seventeen Years
    LCD Soundsystem: Daft Punk Is Playing at My House
    Lee Hazlewood: Ten or Eleven Towns Ago
    Calexico: Alone Again Or
    Patsy Cline: Back in Baby's Arms
    Nancy Sinatra: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
    Mitch & Mickey: A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow

    A big THANK YOU to Stacie and Chris for making Squeeze happen! The night was skookum.