31 March 2009


Sorry about not having a Music Monday or Tech Tuesday post up, everyone.  I've had some stuff going on, but I'll be working on those tomorrow, and expect both by Wednesday night.

26 March 2009

Album Review - The Decemberists "The Hazards of Love"

The Hazards of Love is the newest offering from indie rockers The Decemberists.  Known for their less-than-popular style, they've won the hearts of many fans with their unique sound and album composition.  I in particular am a huge fan, and I think all of their albums are amazing.  However, Hazards really takes the cake.

The premise of this album is a story that revolves around a girl named Margaret.  She lives near the taiga (think Russian plains/steppes), and one day comes upon an injured faun.  As she stops to help it, the area around her shifts and changes, as does the faun, turning into a handsome human, William. The album follows their paths to each other and true love, braving a cold Forest Queen and a child-killing bandit.

The album opens with the haunting "Prelude", which feels like the lights coming up on the stage as the show begins.  The thing I loved about this album is that I could very clearly see it play out on my mind's stage.

"Prelude" segues into the opening vocal "The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)", featuring Meloy setting out the backstory and beginning of Margaret's journey.  This is the first of the "Hazards of Love" tracks, which are variants on the melody of this first piece.

We can guess what goes on in "A Bower Scene", and Margaret finds herself pregnant, and sets out into the taiga in search of her true love, William.  A special thing that I really enjoyed is that Margaret and other characters are voiced by guest vocalists.  Margaret is the lovely Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, and Meloy provides vocals for William and the evil Rake.  The track "Won't Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga) is bolstered by a steady bass beat under Stark's airy vocals, and evokes a long search in the wild.

The best song on this album is the fight between William and his aloof mother, The Forest Queen (Shara Worden aka My Brightest Diamond) in the track "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid".  It's easily my favorite, and really gives the impression of the furious and overbearing Queen forbidding William to go to Margaret.  In the end, he is given one night to go to her, but is foiled by our villain, the filicidal Rake.

"The Rake's Song" is a terrible and haunting account of the murder of his children and how he "came to be living easy and free".   I have to say, after a few listens I found myself nodding my head to the beat, which is catchy and strange at the same time.  It's one of the many songs on the album that requires more than one listen to really grasp, and once you do...oh boy.  That song is terrifying.

All the way through this album I'm picturing the story unfolding on stage, and it's incredible.  I'd love to see an actual stage production of this album at some point.  The picture Meloy and Co. paint with their appropriate music and amazing vocals is one that engrosses you and draws you in, which is something that most albums and artists don't do anymore.  This is really a story that needs to be listened to from beginning to end, multiple times.  Singles from this album would be like publishing the 2nd page of "Where the Wild Things Are" or "The Cat In The Hat" as a separate book.  It just wouldn't make sense on it's own.

Hazards concludes with the lovely and heartbreaking "The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)", as our lovers take their vows and their last breaths on a sinking ship.  The musical theme of the album all comes together in this last track, parallelling Margaret and William's love.  It really makes for a sonic masterpiece.

All together, this is one of the BEST albums I have ever heard.  It's masterfully excuted, with all the songs in the right places and a moving and involving tale of love and loss.  According to my iTunes, I've listened to this album 12 times now, and I don't plan to stop anytime soon.  


24 March 2009

Tech Tuesday - LG Dare

Today's Tech Tuesday is going to feature my new phone, the LG Dare.  It's been touted as an iPhone killer, so let's see if that holds up. 

First off, the Dare is sleek and light, with dimensions of 4.1"x 2.2" x 0.5" and a weight of 3.76oz.  It's dominated by a large touchscreen and has 3 physical buttons along the bottom edge, plus a volume rocker and dedicated camera button on one side, and screen lock and speakerphone buttons on the other side.  

The phone boots fast, only a couple seconds and a short VCast screen before the phone is running.  The touch screen is bright, with a 240x400 resolution.  It's also more responsive than the iPhone's screen, in my opinion.  It features a resistive screen and haptic feedback, making it much easier to type on.  Menus pop up fast and navigation is easy with two menus, one the original and the other a shortcut bar of sorts.  The shortcut menu is customizable, so you can set the stuff you use the most there.

The main menu sits at the bottom of the screen and takes up VERY little real estate, with only 5 sleek icons.  Most of the menus are animated as well, which shows off the power this phone really has.  It has an onboard memory of 148MB, but is expandable up to 8GB with memory cards.  Also, the charger cable doubles as a data cable, letting you link the phone to a computer for easy transfer of music/pictures.

On to the touch screen.  While a bit smaller than the iPhone's, it makes up for it in sheer usability. The screen is very responsive, and the haptic feedback gives a little buzz to let you know you've hit a button, rather than just poking the phone til something happens.  The contacts list makes use of the scroll feature, in which you just push up or down on the screen.  This scrolls the list up or down, and one touch stops it.  It's a handy feature, as the contacts list on this phone can hold up to 1000 contacts.

The camera is definitely the crowning jewel of this phone, though.  At 3.2MP, it's one of the highest quality cell phone cameras on the market.  It takes beautiful photos too, let me tell you.  They're very clear, and the phone has all the same anemities as a decent camera, like auto focus and blur reduction, as well as different settings for nighttime pictures, motion, etc.  The phone stores the pictures in a higher resolution too, so they're still decent quality when they get to your computer.

The battery life is very good, boasting 4.7 hours of talk time and 360 hours of standby (that's 15 days!).  I'm on day 2 of one charge, and I've used the phone quite a bit for phone calls, texting and other things.  I'm at one bar of battery now, which is FAR better than my old phone.  I expect I won't need to charge until I get home later tonight.

The Dare is also customizable with different applications (some from Verizon, some homebrew), and has built-in GPS capability.  This is one of my only problems with the phone, and it's not even the phone's fault.  Verizon tends to cripple their phones with GPS to push VZNavigator.

Quite honestly, I'd take the Dare over the iPhone any day.  It's got a better battery, a more interactive screen and the capacity to expand beyond the iPhone.  Add the 3.2MP camera and Verizon's coverage and price, the Dare comes out on top.  Now it's just up to LG and Verizon to push the Dare.  A comment on another review that I felt rung true was "The iPhone is a great multimedia platform with phone capabilities. The Dare is an excellent phone with multimedia capabilities."


23 March 2009

Music Monday - New Releases!

Ok, so this Music Monday (albeit almost Tuesday) is going to be dedicated to new albums!

First up is Neko Case's new endeavor, Middle Cyclone. I did a review of it a few days ago, and I HIGHLY recommend this album.  It's alt-country, but still carves a niche of it's own.  

Next is the highly anticipated The Hazards of Love from The Decemberists.  I've been following Colin Meloy's Twitter, and he is psyched about this album.  The premise is a rock opera-type story, featuring a girl named Margaret.  The story is convoluted and twisted, and the band had to make a wall chart to keep everything straight.  But even for all that, this album vastly outshines all of their previous efforts.  It combines a moving story with incredible music and vocals, something which is scarce in this age of hit singles. It's my humble opinion that an album should be a cohesive project, not just a bunch of singles thrown together, and I think The Decemberists share that opinion.  

Both of these albums are worth a listen (or two or three or four, etc.)


20 March 2009

Album Review - Neko Case

Today I have a review of the new album from The New Pornographer's co-vocalist, Neko Case. Middle Cyclone is the second solo release from Case, and arguably the best.

 Middle Cyclone is an alt-country offering, and has the same kind of feel as Bright Eyes.  It's a very nature-oriented album, with two songs about tornados, animals and a 30 minute track of crickets, recorded at night in Case's own backyard. I really thought that was a nice addition to this album.  It gives it an even more personal feel.   Case's voice is powerful, and a few tracks have her harmonizing with herself, which sounds amazing.  She is really a talented vocalist, as well as songwriter.  All but two songs are self written, and those are very well done covers.

Another interesting facet of this album is that it was recorded in a barn on Case's property in Vermont.  The barn isn't soundproof nor is it fully closed up, so nature sounds make their way through if you listen carefully.  

The first track, "This Tornado Loves You" is amazing, simply put.  It has a Pornographers feel to it, while it also has that unique Neko Case aspect.  It's a good song, probably my favorite on the album.

Some songs feel sort of repetitive, and a few have the same kind of instrumentation going on, but overall, there's really no negative aspect to it.

The whole album is a testament to Case's natural music ability and talent, and I HIGHLY recommend it. 

Middle Cyclone gets a 9/10.

17 March 2009

Tech Tuesday - New Google Chrome Beta?

Tech news for today!

Google has made a new Beta of their web browser, Chrome, available on the web.  From what I read on their blog, it runs MUCH better and faster, which is always a good thing.  It's got some nifty new features as well, like the ability to drag tabs so that they're side by side.

I'm kinda excited.  Chrome is my browser of choice, and if Google keeps on innovating with it, it'll only get better.

In other news, SHUT UP about the new Facebook.  Their developers don't give two shits about how you don't want to see other people's wall posts.  It's a free service, and if you don't like it, QUIT.

16 March 2009

It's that time again....MUSIC MONDAY!

Yeah! Ok, I'm back with another edition of Music Monday!  From now on, it will be new music/world music with a touch of older stuff I think you should listen to.

First up is Cansei de Ser Sexy, a Brazillian electroclash/indie group.  You may have heard their single "Music is My Hot Hot Sex", which is really my favorite song of theirs.  They took their name from a comment by Beyonce, who declared she was "tired of being sexy".  They have a lot of bass and synth, and their music is great.

Next is Track n Field, a Finnish trip-hop duo.  Their album Marathon is a masterpiece, with songs to fit every occasion. It's probably the most wide ranging album I've ever heard.  Some songs are synth-poppy, some are laid back lounge music, and some sound like soul or jazz.  I highly recommend this album.

Finally we have Craig D'Andrea, a fingerstyle guitarist. He's on the same label as Andy McKee, who I'm sure some of you have heard of.  His music is incredibly lyric, although not as complex as McKee's.  I especially love his song "In with the Purple and out with the Blue".  He uses some sweet harmonies and really makes that guitar speak.  Definitely check out the entire CandyRat label, they have some amazing artists.


12 March 2009

Videogames DO NOT Make People Shoot Up Schools!

I'm sure many of you have heard about the school shootings in Germany by now.  It's a tragic event, and my condolences go out to those families that lost a child.

But an article I read today really burns my ass.  In it, they report the shooting, place, names, etc. etc, but then at the end tack on this crap about "he played video games a lot and so that's probably why he did it. VIDEO GAMES ARE EEEEVIL!"

Uh, no.
This kid was obviously deranged, because normal people don't look at a videogame and go "Hmm, this is fun. I think I'll go shoot up a school!"  I've logged HUNDREDS of hours on just about every console, and I've yet to have homicidal tendencies.  If anything, games are cathartic.  If you're pissed off at your parents, you don't get a gun and shoot them.  You play GTA or Halo or something and blow away some pixels until you feel better.  

Also, my parents kept an eye on what games I played when I was younger.  I wasn't allowed to play hyper-violent stuff because they didn't think I was mature enough.  GASP! That's right, my parents actually monitored me and didn't let a TV do the child-rearing.  Thanks to that, I can tell the difference between reality and and pixels on my computer/TV screen.

Another thing:  He was baited and taunted in a chat room (again, no one's watching) when he mentioned his intentions.  Hindsight is 20/20, I know, but you would think a red flag would go up when a kid says "I'm gonna go kill some people."

ANOTHER thing:  He had a history of depression.  That right there gives me probable cause for the shooting.  

So, a mentally unstable young man who is an expert marksman and feels unwanted and inadequate brings a gun to a school and kills people in a horrific shooting.

But that's the fault of video games, of course.

Waking up is hard to do!

I, like many people, have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.  It's probably due to the fact that I have trouble getting IN bed at night.  I have an awkward sleep cycle, and I find that I can never sleep the same pattern for more than a week.  Also, I've been sick lately, and all I do when I'm sick is sleep, so that messed up my sleep cycle as well.

Now, as we age our bodies actually need less sleep to function normally, bottoming out at about 6 hrs in your 40's, then reversing.  I figure I need about 7, maybe 7 1/2 to function in the morning (and a good 8 to be somewhat likeable). Busy schedules and a puppy keep me from getting that, though.

Not to fear!  I found this neat article on Geekdad about ways to get out of bed in the morning, and I have to say I'll be trying some of them.  A few of my favorites:

"5. Put a glass of water next to your alarm.

Drink the whole glass when you get up and turn the alarm off. After a full night's sleep, you're probably a little dehydrated, and for whatever reason, drinking water just seems to help the body realize that it's time to get up."

I do this already, and it really does help. I keep my water bottle on my nightstand, and I drink 1/3 to 1/2 of it when I first wake up.

"7. Have a well-stocked "library."

I'm going to be perfectly frank with you. I get a lot of reading done in the bathroom. I think of it as my own Fortress of Solitude, minus the subzero temperature and creepy statues of my parents."

This has always been the case with my family.  We always had 5 or 6 books in the bathroom when I was growing up, and although it may be a little too much information for some, I actually like reading in the bathroom.  I feel rather...accomplished when I'm done.


11 March 2009

Been Sick/Music Monday/Tech Tuesday

Sorry about the lack of posting for the past few days, I've had a rather nasty cold/sinus infection. Computer screens aren't a fun thing to look at.

Anyway, I'm back with a mashup of World Music Monday and Tech Tuesday.

Brazillian native Aline de Lima is first, with her fresh arrangements of smooth bossa nova, influenced by samba and tropical music.  Her voice is simple and sweet, while carrying that quality that's a staple of bossa nova music.  I am a big bossa nova fan, and Brazillian bossa nova in particular.  I love the way Portuguese vocals blend nicely with the music. Definitely check this one out.

Next is another French singer, DaphnĂ©.  Her music is a bit pop-ier than Coeur de Pirate, but at the same time much more intimate.  Her piano player adds much to her act, and overall it's a beautiful listening experience.

Onward to techie stuff!

First up is a new PSP game, Resistance: Retribution.  There's been a dearth of PSP games in the past months, which I think is a real shame. The PSP is a damn good portable system.  CNET had this to say:

"Because the PSP lacks a second analog stick that would really help with aiming, Sony's touting the game's "advanced third-person targeting system designed specifically for the PSP system." However, the highlight of Resistance: Retribution is its robust eight-player multiplayer mode with five game modes (Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Containment and Assimilation).

We've been playing with an early release of the final version and, all in all, we're finding it pretty fun, though the advanced-targeting system does make killing computer foes a little too easy at times, so you'll probably want to ratchet up the gameplay setting to hard in the single-player campaign mode."

Sounds like it'll be a good game. Developers manage to get around the lack of a 2nd analog stick just fine.

I'm looking to get a new phone soon, and I've narrowed it down to two:  The Samsung Omnia and the LG Voyager.  Both feature large, haptic feedback touchscreens, and the Voyager flips open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard.

The Omnia, however, HAS to have a data plan through Verizon, which is an additional $30+ a month on top of the already big bill.  The Voyager has VCast and the other typical VZW features, but no EVDO or Wi-Fi.  

I'm fairly torn, because the Omnia would be well worth the money, but the Voyager is a cheaper and just as good phone.  Sometime before the end of the month I'll go and test them out, see which I like better.

All right, that's all for tonight.  I've got to finish sleeping off this cold.


06 March 2009

Funny video

So I found a funny video of a cat on Dailymotion today.  Probably the most musical cat I've ever seen!

For your viewing pleasure:

Also, it's a freakin' nice day out!  Took my puppy Bear outside to play, and for a car ride too.  Oh spring, how I missed you.

03 March 2009

Tech Tuesday!

I have some new tech/video games I'd like to share with everyone.

First off is a neat game I play called Perfect World.  It's an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), and it immerses you in a beautiful and massive world that bears resemblance to medieval China.  The character editor is one of the best you'll find, and the best part is the price: FREE.  That's right, free, as in no charge ever.  There are 3 races to choose from, with each race being able to perform 2 jobs.  It has an exciting backstory and an ever-unfolding landscape to explore.

My character is Rianan, if you do decide to play. Send me a friend request!

The second tech item is HammerHead Rhythm Station, a nice freeware program you can use to create drum patterns. It's very customizable, and you can make just about any kind of beat you can think of.  I use it for backing on my keyboard and guitars, and it's a solid program.

Check both of these out!

New Music!

I was messing around with HammerHead Rhythm software and the synth voice on my keyboard, and I came up with this neat little song.

02 March 2009

A Place for Tired Feet to Wander

I'm an avid hiker/backpacker. I love being outdoors and in the wild. It gives me a sense of really belonging, something I don't find in cities. Too much concrete for me.

Anyway, this summer I'd like to take a trip somewhere, a long camping trip.  My first choice is Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  It's a beautiful HUGE park, full of animals and practically untouched by man.  It'd be a tough trip though, since fires are prohibited in parts of the park and it can get downright cold at night, even in high summer.  Lots of gear needed for that one.

Another trip I'd like to take, and one that a lot of people could join in for, is a trip to Manistee National Forest in Manistee, MI.  It's not too far from home, but features some of the most spectacular beaches and dunes the state of Michigan has to offer.  I went on a trip there last summer with my aunt, and I was in awe.  We camped in a small bowl behind a barrier dune, only 150 yards or so from beautiful Lake Michigan.  Water was plentiful, obviously, and the park is huge, with wooded forest trails and miles of beachfront to hike.

If you'd maybe be interested, let me know. It'd be fun to get a nice group of people to go along and have some fun!

World Music Monday!

I really love music in other languages, or by foreign artists. Learning new languages is a hobby of mine, and music really helps that by cementing certain concepts in a medium that everyone understands.
First up is Coeur de Pirate. 18-year old Quebec native BĂ©atrice Martin brings a blend of airy vocals and piano pop melodies. I really like French singers, not gonna lie.  

Next is Sungha Jung, an 11-year old fingerstyle prodigy from Korea. While not technically world music, he plays covers of well known songs (amazingly, might I add) and has even composed a few of his own.  I really think this kid is an amazing guitar player.

Finally, we have Aleks Syntek, a well-known Mexican singer/songwriter and keyboardist.  He's worked with many artists in the Latin community, and has an extensive catalogue.  My high school Spanish teacher used music in her classes, and I think that really gave me a love of foreign music, especially Spanish stuff.   My favorite Syntek song is "Duele el Amor" feat. Ana Toroja, of Mecano (Laika anyone?)

01 March 2009

Some Music for Y'all...

I've recently gotten into a lot of unknown/experimental music, and one of my favorite new artists is a French hip-hop group called Outlines. They've got a really unique sound, and manage to incorporate a lot of cool effects into their songs. (also, aurgasm is a sweet site for new music.)

Another band I'm really into lately is Tera Melos. They're a experimental/math rock band, and they utilize a lot of time signature changes and electronics to make some pretty sweet music.  "40 Rods to the Hog's Head" is probably one of the more recognizable songs (check out my buddy Peter playing the intro).

First Post

Mmk, so...blogs.

This will probably take shape as my own thoughts take shape, so bear with me.

I'm looking for something to do, to document my own trials and tribulations, not for others, but for me. So here it is, a look into my mind.