Saturday, December 29, 2012

we, the undersigned

By now you know the rote, I missed more new music in 2012 than I actually heard, including some big obvious titles blah blah blah.  Same old excuses, and they remain as true as ever for me.  And this year I have an additional excuse, the lapsing of my participation in BLIP, where I used to count on cutting edge fellow blipsters to keep me cresting the wave of new music.

Even so I did manage to hear a lot of great new music over the year, thanks in no small part to many trusting musicians and a handful of record labels who kept my album review pile overflowing.  Some of those albums made it onto my Top 10 of 2012 list.  Which is as follows, thusly:

1.    John K Samson - Provincial
The debut solo album from the literary mastermind behind the Weakerthans, Provincial is filled with the sorts of musical gems that we have come to expect from John K Samson - poetic, thoughtful and highly infectious songs that marry intimate details with themes of greater historical or social significance.  The fact that Provincial has at its core the central theme of Manitoba highways makes this album essential listening for anyone from the keystone province.  Truth be told, this album should be in absolutely everybody's music library.  Better yet would be two copies, because the first is bound to get worn out from constant rotation.

2.    First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
The close vocal harmonies of the sisters Söderberg, and the way their achingly beautiful voices embrace such a folksy feel, send chills up my spine every time I hear this album.  It's hard enough to believe that a record of this quality could be made by a 22 and an 18 year old, never mind that this is their third recording.  The Lion's Roar was a strong contender for my album of the year, but in the final tally, the Winnipeg poet won out over the Swedish phenoms. But just barely.   

3.    Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere
  I have yet to find a Great Lake Swimmers album that I don't like, thanks in large part to Tony Dekker's haunting voice - at once full and rich, but with a fragile ache that can make the angels weep.  New Wild Everywhere takes Great Lake Swimmers to new territory, with a bolder and more sweeping sound, thanks to the addition of violin and cello.  Still achingly lovely, but with more gusto.  

4.    Jack White - Blunderbuss
After years of resisting the genius (there I said it) of Jack White, I happily admit to being bowled over by Blunderbuss. It's an album that feels like the culmination of all his musical explorations to date.  Awesome shit.

  5.    Beach House - Bloom
Perfect dream pop, always lovely, always note perfect.  Beach House just keep getting better and better and Bloom is a must have in any music lover's collection.   

6.    The Avett Brothers - the Carpenter
Strong alt-country sensibility with solid rock chops, The Carpenter figures prominently on many best of lists, and with good reason.  I think it's the Avett Brothers' best effort to date.  
7.    Fort Atlantic - Fort Atlantic
I first heard Jon Black (aka Fort Atlantic) on a NoiseTrade sampler that included his stunning track Let Your Heart Hold Fast.  I had to hear more.  I ordered his self-titled album and was gobsmacked to discover that every song was equally as solid.  Soaring choruses, building crescendos, mixed with a little electronic experimentation, Fort Atlantic was a smorgasboard of everything I love in music.

8.   Josh Ritter - Bringing in the Darlings
I am cheating a bit by including this one, as it is an EP, but it's so lovely and it is tiding me over until Josh Ritter releases a full-length album in the new year.  And every song includes the word "darling".  Awww.

9.    The Sumner Brothers - I'll Be There Tomorrow
This album came to me out of the blue, offered to me by the Sumner Brothers of Vancouver prior to their recent tour.  Real-life brothers Bob and Brain Sumner tag team on lead vocals, Bob with a compellingly heartbreaking catch in his emotive voice, Brian with an authoritative baritone that hearkens back to the heyday of Johnny Cash. The Sumners serve up a beautifully soulful  brand of alt-country that you need to hear.

10.   Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet on Sky
They disbanded and then reunited, but these guys just don't quit.  I Bet on Sky sounds exactly the way it should, and that's good enough to give it placement in my favourites list. 
What were your favourite albums of the year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

lockdown the freezeup

Our house phone died on Christmas Eve.  That's pretty much the only time all year that we get actual phone calls and even then we didn't even miss it all that much.  The suspicious part of me suspects that it was all a ploy by the Spousal Unit and the OFKAR for me to fulfill the obligations of one of my Christmas gifts - a Best Buy catalogue and an old flip phone from the junk drawer, which I am to trade in for a smart phone.  Apparently it is time for me to enter, kicking and screaming, the 21st century.  Just know that it is not my fault if I suddenly start posting photos of my lunch on Instagram.

I was thoroughly pleased with my gifts - a mounted original oil painting courtesy of the OFKAR, a desk calendar of archaic maps, a much needed reporterly notebook, a collection of stories from the Northwest Territories compiled by none other than our very own John Mutford, and socks, gloriously warm socks. These are especially appreciated during this extended cold snap.  

I also appreciated that the annual mystery parcel was elegantly understated this year - a handmade book in which each page contained the name of a leaping lord of the amphibian variety.  Because frogs are totally dope.

We've spent the past few days of our self-imposed Christmas lock-down eating far too much and burning it all off by playing board games.  For this year's annual Christmas board game I bought Cards Against Humanity, a delightfully subversive party game which a savvy friend introduced me to at Communiqu3 in Seattle.  I expect at least a few more days of board gaming before we finally emerge from hibernation.

This year, through some magical alignment of the stars, Get Your Own Damn Supper Day coincides with Pyjama Day for a happy collision of sloth and stretchy pants. Turkey smells even better the next day, straight out of the microwave.

How has your Christmas been?  I hope you are all enjoying some laid-back family time.  
Pass the Baileys.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

right here in my living room

I am in serious need of some pyjama days.  

The OFKAR made it home on Wednesday night.  Yes, the very same Wednesday that saw Vancouver all but closed down with snow and flooding and ice raining down on vehicles from the brand new Port Mann bridge.  That Wednesday.  I fretted all day.  First that she would make it to the airport unscathed, and then that the airport was going to remain open with no flight cancellations.  Because of course I never buy flight insurance.  

The ensuing three hour delay was a welcome tradeoff, especially since it gave me time to get some presents wrapped and under the tree before the Offspring walked in the door.  I came off looking like a Christmas ninja.

Since then the days have been rather hectic.  With each passing hour the traffic gets more congested and the stores more hectic.  A couple of days ago, the OFKAR and I made a trek to the library, which shares a parking lot with a major mall.  We parked far from the craziness and walked over to the library, which completely threw the traffic cop off his game.  It was insane enough that there was a cop directing mall traffic on December 20, but we then had to stop and tell him where we were heading so he could flail his arms in the right direction.  I don't even want to speculate on the craziness that would have ensued if the library had been located next to the really big mall in town.

Last night's snow made the roads nice and slick so all the last minute scramblers were forced to slow down.  That didn't stop me from seeing a half dozen pretty significant collisions when I headed across town this morning to give the OFKAR a lift home from the sleepover she had with her in-town peeps. This was followed by the season's major grocery shop.  Our normally sleepy little mall was an exercise in stupidity with cars tetrising themselves into every conceivable spot.  

We are now all safely ensconced in our toasty warm home, with ribs in the oven and the tree lights glistening off the presents piled beneath (including the one that the Slightly Retarded Kitty has already tried to unwrap). 

And this big glass of red wine at my elbow says I am not leaving the house in the foreseeable future.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

you can't get there from here

The spousal unit and I had matching looks of horror on our faces when he returned from his annual trip to the mall, while I sorted out the annual microwave repair call.  

Armed with a list that included model numbers, he arrived at the mall moments after it opened, figuring that an early Tuesday morning would be the least painful time to shop.  And it would have been, if the store he was looking for still existed as more than a just name on the you-are-here map at the mall info booth.  His attempts to buy my presents were equally stymied, since HMV now only stocks Ke$sha and Beiber.  Where do you buy CDs anymore? he asked in frustration. I tried to reassure him, you have to go to Seattle.  Sad, but true.

Meanwhile, my calls to book the annual microwave repair were a study in absurdist theatre.  It gets a little complicated, but essentially I knew from last year's annual repair that since the warranty expired a couple of months ago, I would need to go directly through an authorized repair centre.  But of course, there's a proviso - one of the parts (which was replaced last year) is still under warranty.  You would think this would be a good development, however ...

Repair Service: If it is the magnetron, you need to call Sears and get them to fax us a service order, because that's still under warranty. 

Sears:  Why are you phoning us? Your microwave isn't under warranty, so we are no longer responsible.  However, if it is the magnetron (which is still under warranty), then you would have had to call us and have a Sears repair person come out, in order for us to pay for the repair.  However there are no Sears repair people in your area, so we would call the same company that you did.  However since you called them instead of us, we can't pay for it, even if it is the magnetron.

Rather than cancel the service call that we waited a week for, in order to have Sears issue another one for which we will no doubt wait at least another week (last year we waited for a month), and for which we may not be covered under warranty anyway, I think we'll just suck it up and pay for it ourselves.  

The planned warranty invalidation is truly impressive.  It almost makes up for non-quality of over-the-range microwaves these days.

Monday, December 17, 2012

amp up and amplify

We have a winner, folks! 

Deb, who twenty years ago was raging to Pearl Jam and who still has Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams on cassette tape, has managed to get her name drawn out of the big black sorting hat.  Nicely done, Deb!  You are the recipient of XX, the 20th anniversary special edition reissue of Rage Against the Machine's debut album.

Well played, Deb.  Your prize will be winging its way to you shortly, soon to be filling your home with manifest rage, just in time for Christmas.

Thanks to everyone who entered. It was fun (and more than a little illuminating) to find out what you were bopping your heads to twenty years ago.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

$400 tummy ache

We're still not entirely sure what she ate, but I suspect that lessons have now been learned. The timing of the beginning of days of copious vomiting (tmi?) would point toward Christmas tree preservative, which I have certainly now learned to keep covered with a feline-impenetrable barrier.

A trip to the vet for an examination, X-rays, fluids and five days of anti-nausea medication was the Slightly Retarded Kitty's early Christmas present.  It was tough to see her go from a loud, sprightly, perpetually ravenous (and not afraid to tell you about it) kitty to a listless, anorexic, sad little thing.  My nights were spent sleeping only very lightly, waiting in dread for the sounds of middle of the night retching.  Being the obsessive documenter and recovering science nerd that I am, I even kept notes.  

If you've ever nursed a sick pet, you will appreciate the joy that I felt when she took her first tentative nibbles after days of not eating. 

Today we celebrated the SRK being off the anti-nausea meds and resuming her hearty appetite (complete with food flying all over the kitchen) and her general exuberance for life, by taking the cat grass down from its hiding place.  Vigorous chomping ensued, along with much burying of kitty noses deep into the greenery, followed by a major nap.  We appear to be back to regular programming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

rep the stutter step

I've got an early Christmas present for you.  So wake-up, kiddos!  It's album giveaway time again.

You may recall from my recent review how gobsmacked I was by XX, the 20th anniversary reissue of Rage Against the Machine's seminal debut album. Normally I am a fairly vehement detractor of the whole reissue thing, but I will make an exception for this one.  XX is actually well worth it.  

The special edition I have to give away contains two CDs - a remaster of the self-titled debut Rage Against the Machine album and the original demos for same - and it also comes with a DVD of videos and live clips.  You may just want to give yourself this for Christmas.

All you have to do is tell me what you were listening to twenty years ago.  And if by chance you weren't around or you were listening to womb sounds at the time, just tell me what you wish you were listening to twenty years ago.  The winner will be chosen by random draw.

Let's have a quick turnaround time for this contest, shall we, to ensure that you get get this special edition under your tree before all the shortbread is consumed.  Contest will close Sunday, December 16 at 11:59pm MT.  Unfortunately the contest is only open to Canadian residents, although of course I would love to hear the musical reminiscences of my non-Canadian friends as well.

So come on!  Take the power back and get in on this!

Monday, December 10, 2012

man of the day

Happy Birthday to the Spousal Unit!  

Man of the moment, and, if you believe the fishing tales, man of the century.  But that's something we knew all along, isn't it?

Here's to many more years of knowing how to stand up in a boat!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

manifest Rage

XX  (20th Anniversary Edition)
- Rage Against the Machine

DAMN!  My mind's been blown.

Rage Against the Machine's incendiary debut album may have been released twenty years ago, but it is every bit as powerful today as it was in 1992. The scorching lyrics and explosive hip-hop funk metal with punk leanings are no less revolutionary now than they were when Rage Against the Machine first became the voice of leftist revolution in the American music scene.

The 20th anniversary reissue contains a two CD set - the remastered debut album plus a second disc containing the original demo - as well as a bonus DVD of videos and live clips.  I am not normally a fan of reissues, but for this I make an exception.  The sound on this remastered album is as fresh and startling and in-your-face as the day that this manifesto of sociopolitical outrage first ripped the world a new one.  Rage Against the Machine's explosive power and righteous social anger have mightily stood the test of the decades.  

The tight funky riffs, the aggressively spit-out rap vocals, and all that passion contained in that enraged scream still have the power to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  You really need to listen!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

tick tock

Tonight I work my last shift for the year at my non-writing job.  

The OFKAR arrives home in exactly two weeks.  

In exactly one week, it will be the last repetitive date (12/12/12) I will see in my lifetime.

Fortunately I am equally as fond of consecutive dates.  Looking forward to 11/12/13 and 12/13/14!

I've begun pondering my favourite albums of 2012.  At this point, it's a dead heat for that coveted #1 spot.  

Right now I am listening to Spark and having my mind blown by the concept of brontobytes (1237940039285380274899124224 bytes) and geobytes (1267650600228229401496703205376 bytes). 

Stay tuned for an upcoming album giveaway contest, coming soon to a blog near you.  This one right here, one of the few blogs still somewhat active, apparently.