This Will Be Our Year -- Part I

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

2008 has been one of the most up-and-down years I've ever been through. I worked through several personal struggles and attended way too many funerals. And all this happened amid a media barrage of war, recession, layoffs, scandals, etc.

But this was also the year my wife's first novel was released. My Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, giving my great hometown a long-overdue parade. And Barack Obama's historic election gave us all hope that with hard work things can, and will, get better.

So let's ring out aught eight with this hopeful song from the Zombies great pop-rock classic Odessey and Oracle.

Tuesday Treasure 12/30


A Better Class of Playlist

I missed the first night of Hannukah and Christmas, but this week's playlist makes it in time for Kwaanza ...

Serena. Ron Rash.
This gritty and violent novel is set in Depression-era North Carolina. It's a tale of greed, as the lumber baron Pembertons battle the government-led conservationists trying to create the Great Smokies National Park. Rash's attention to details and knowledge of the rural area is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy. And with the title character, Rash has created one of literature's great evil women, one whom the Washington Post has compared to Lady MacBeth. Serena -- the book and the character -- will not be easily forgotten
Better Class of Flying Man.
This Southern California band has a lot of potential. Better Class plays a brand of atmospheric post-rock. Songs like Unbelievable You Function Here, Cornelius and Family Tree thump along, yet there's a certain amount of space, allowing the songs to breathe, which adds to the dramatic feel. With his drawn out vocals, the lead singer sounds like the Strokes' Julian Casablancas (or Ryan Adams at his most effected). If you're in the San Diego area, look for them playing live -- and let us know what you think.


Wow. Gus Van Sant's latest lived up to my very high expectations. Milk chronicles a critical era in the gay rights movement and provides insight into the political process. The acting is superb, from Sean Penn's emotionally packed title character to Josh Brolin's tortured Dan Brown.

Survival. Forest Fire.
Apparently, this Brooklyn-based group released its debut album earlier this year with the same pay-what-you-want method that Radiohead used. That's not the only thing that makes them different. This is a very weird indie-folk album that owes some debt to the Velvet Underground. Its gothic sound creaks and moans and delivers lines like -- I only want to seem good in front of the right people/My aura is yellow like a coward.

The Execution of All Things. Rilo Kiley.
Recently, eMusic made available many Saddle Creek recordings, including this classic from Jenny Lewis' band. It's subtle and it's in-your-face. A little country, a little folk and a lot of indie attitude. Some may find it pretensious, but I think it's one of the best indie recordings of the past few years.

The Cheese Monkeys. Chip Kidd
The book jacket designer's first foray into writing is a gripping, funny and, surprisingly, well-written coming-of-age tale. The book takes place over two semesters at a state college (Kidd's alma mater Penn State?) in the 1950s as a young naive college student develops his love for graphic design -- and a respect for the mad genius William Sorbeck. Kidd's second book The Learners picks up where this left off. Unfortunately, I read Learners first (see my review). As with his second novel, Monkeys also serves as a great introduction into the world of graphic design. And, as usual, Kidd has come up with a unique book design.

weekly playlist 12/26


Come on Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

Tuesday Treasure 12/23


I Don't Get It -- Cursed Band Names

Holy F--k

F--k the Writer

F--k Buttons

No, my blog doesn't have Tourrete Syndrome. And it hasn't been taken over by Sarah Silverman. (I wish!)

These are actual names of bands. Bands who are currently trying to sustain a music career. And their names don't have little asterisks, dollar signs or dashes in them.

I dont' get. Why give your band such an alienating name? You think it's cool? Well, you and your group of a dozen friends will be the only ones in on the joke. Using one of these curse words for your band name is like getting a face tattoo before a job interview. You'll get some attention, but you're not going to get the job.

Ten years from now, we wont' be talking about that great album by F--k Emos. Or the great single that F--kbomb put out. And I certainly won't wonder whatever happened to F--kface. (All band names).

It's great to turn your cheek to convention and question the etymology of words as the great George Carlin did. But if you're playing music, focus on the music. Even in this day and age of satellite radio, MySpace, Facebook and music blogging, the bands who choose this four-letter word (or a variation of it) in their name?

Well, they're just f--ked.


Breathin' Easy

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

The Austin-based Reivers came on the jangle pop scene in the early 80s. Breathing Easy comes from their final album Pop Beloved, released in 1991.

Breathin Easy - The Reivers


Distractions' Best Albums of 2008

What a weird year in rock. Guns N Roses, or I should say Axel Rose, finally releases Chinese Democracy and nobody really cares. And those aging weirdos in AC/DC (come on Angus, it's time to lose that school boy uniform, it's getting pretty creepy) release an album that's only available in Wal-Mart.

But beneath the surface, there was a lot of good music being created. I spent the last few weeks trying to figure out my Top 10 list. It wasn't easy. But here we go ...

1. Conor Oberst. Conor Oberst.
Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis recently told Blender that The Mystic Valley Band is the "sh-t." She's right. But so is the main man. Oberst sheds his Bright Eyes moniker and delivers a third straight masterpiece.
Highlights: Danny Callahan, Souled Out!, Get Well Card
Original review

2. Fate. Dr. Dog.
For the second year in a row, the Dog lands in Distractions' number two spot. These guys do their thing incredibly well. They are The Band of indie rock.
Highlights: The Breeze, The Ark
Original review

3. Wagonwheel Blues. The War on Drugs.
Bob Dylan meets Arcade Fire with a wall of guitars. This Philly band creates a unique, dramatic sound. Keep an eye on them.
Highlights: Arms Like Boulders, Taking the Farm
Original review

4. Victory Shorts. Absentee.
This group dropped their alt-country leanings and released a rocking set of love songs filled with singer Dan Michaelson's deep voice and sense of humor.
Highlights: Bitchstealer, We Smash Plates
Original review

5. The Stand-ins. Okkervil River
This companion piece to last year's Stage Names stands on its own. Lead singer Will Sheff lampoons the pretensions of the music industry.
Highlights: Pop Lie, Singer Songwriter
Original review

6. Dual Hawks. Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel.
Another great set of intelligent, mid-tempo rootsy rockers from Will Johnson, who unleashes a double disc -- each side done by one of his two bands. Give it time. If you love Neil Young and Iron and Wine, this one will grow on you.
Highlights: Twenty-four, All Your Farewells
Original review

7. Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant EP. Fleet Foxes
With its choir-like vocals and 70s folk-rock sound, the EP and debut are the two most beautiful releases this year.
Highlights:White Winter Hymnal, Your Protector
Original review for Fleet Foxes
Original review for Sun Giant

8. We Brave
Bee Stings and All. Thao
Great sophomore effort by the young indie-folkie with a wispy Chan Marshall-like voice, great lyrics, and playful arrangements.
Highlights: Swimming Pools, Geography
Original review

9. Furr. Blitzen Trapper
Woodsy rock with guitars and jams breaking out all over the place. Wilco fans, take a chance on this band.
Highlights: Furr, War on Machines
Original review

Tie. 10. Real Emotional Trash. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.
The former Pavement leader lets loose and shreds all over the place.
Highlights: Dragonfly Pie, Real Emotional Trash, Baltimore
Original review

Tie. 10. Parc Avenue. Plants and Animals
They're a trio from Canada. They're an indie band. But they sometimes sound like a jam band. And they're awesome.
Highlights: Mercy, Good Friend
Original review

Honorable Mentions

Getting to the Point is Beside It. I Love Math
Volume 1. She & Him
Evil Urges. My Morning Jacket
In the Future. Black Mountain
Auditorium. Radar Bros


I Don't Get It -- Joe the Reader

Yes, it's that time of the year where newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. do their end-of-year book lists. You can expect to see a book list from just about everyone.

But Joe the Plumber?

Yep. And the list by Joe, aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, wasn't in Pump and Plungers Monthly, it was in The Economist. Not surprising, Joe's reading list leans toward the loo. His top three are Temples of Convenience—and Chambers of Delight by Lucinda Lambton, Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper by Wallace Reyburn, and that indispensable Howard C. Massey classic The Plumber's Handbook.

Actually, I was quite surprise that his list went past #1 and #2.

But here's the bigger shocker. His other favorite book is The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises. Plumber Joe told The Economist : "It brought monetary theory into the mainstream of economic analysis. It is important reading for these troubled times."

Nothing against my plumber friends, but either Joe is pulling this out of his exposed butt crack or he's been fooling us the whole time. Is it possible that Joe wasn't really a plumber looking to start his own small business, but a front for a desperate Republican machine?

Could be. Or, as one commenter on the story wrote, he could have just confused von Mises' book with Everybody Poops.

Whatever you do, please don't buy Joe's book. Let's make sure his 15 minutes of fame are up.


Weight of the World

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

The Decemberists are back. Their Always a Bridesmaid EP collects a group of singles they released on vinyl earlier this year. And their next full-length due out next year, according to lead singer Colin Meloy, will be a rock opera about a shape-shifting animal.

Or a woman named Maria.

Or both.

A couple years back, Kill Rock Stars released a double disc of Meloy's pre-Decemberist band Tarkio. Omnibus was trademark Meloy -- several catchy, witty songs. Weight of the World, in particular, stands out. It's hard to forget lines like ... the Homeless Philharmonic singing all of Charlies Angels to their heavingly convergence in the sky.

Weight Of The World - Tarkio


Playlist FAIL!

I Can Has Cheezburger is a group that puts together several Web sites. My favorite is the FAIL Blog, a site that illustrates failure and human stupidity through pictures and videos. Check it out. It's laugh-out loud funny. And read more about the Burger empire in this cnet news feature.

Here's the rest of this week's creepy playlist:

Cold Fact. Rodriguez.
This lost psychedelic/folk-rock classic was reissued earlier this year. Cold Fact sank quickly after its release and Rodriguez left the music business. But the album became a big hit in places like South Africa and Australia. The 1970 album featured street-wise stream-of-consciousness lyrics set over interesting orchestration. If you're a fan of early Dylan and psych-rocker Arthur Lee, you should really check this out.

Giant Sand. Provisions
This boozy, meandering, Americana band is not for everyone. In fact, I gave several listens to their live 1996 release Backyard Barbecue before giving up. Something must have changed with me, because Howe Gelb and his band are still playing the same kind of raw, off-beat country rock. And I've bought into it. This is great music for those late Sunday mornings when you've got nowhere to go.

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago. Simon Baatz
One of the first crimes of the century truly did shock Chicago and the world. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and killed a little boy in an effort to commit the perfect crime. It's a fascinating story with a lot of major players, including Clarence Darrow, who represented the defendants less than a year before taking on the Scopes trial. The book is interesting, but way too long, especially when Baatz goes into laborious detail, particularly when setting up the legal battle.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Jeff Lindsay.

It's creepy and it's kooky. For those who haven't seen the show (that includes me) or read the book, Lindsay's Dexter is a serial killer with no emotions. But he only kills bad people. It's weird having a likable lead character who talks so passionately about things like cut body parts and drained blood. An easy, quick and fun read.


John Walker's Blues

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

Well, the horror called the Bush Administration is coming to a close. And with the end of any administration, the president has already started receiving requests for pardons. The current president has given out fewer pardons than the previous two-termers Clinton and Reagan. And most experts don't expect him to change his ways.

And I don't expect him to consider a pardon of John Walker Lindh. The young man known as the American Taliban is asking for a shorter sentence. And he deserves it. Lindh was a peaceful young man on a spiritual quest who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was also a victim of the Bushies' bloodthirsty jingoism in leading up to the Iraq War.

Steve Earl's song John Walker's Blues got some press before it came out. Once out, it sank like a stone. Few stations dared play it. It's worth another listen. Check it out on Hear This on the right-hand side of the page. Or consider buying Earle's 2002 album Jerusalem.