Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Improv Everywhere: Musicals

Where Do You Belong?

Instead of my normal routine of listening to NPR on my commute to work, I decided to pop in Cassadaga by Bright Eyes to relive the Monsters of Folk show last Sunday.

The second to last track, "I Must Belong Somewhere," was never a stand-out favorite of mine on the record. However, this morning, I found it really thought-provoking and moving. Since high school, I've gone back and forth between wanting to move [current candidates: Boston, Washington (D.C.) New York, Portland (OR), Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boulder/Denver (CO)] and stay in California where I have a good network of friends. After I graduated and was thinking of doing fellowships across the country, I struggled with this same question.

This song today brought up a lot of emotion and I'm afraid that it may just be me and may have just been a temporary affinity for this song, but I just had to share it and ask:

Do you think you'll eventually stay fairly near to where your family is and/or where you grew up. or do you feel you belong somewhere else?

Weekend of Concerts

I had a great weekend for music. Besides the Bon Iver cemetery concert a couple of weeks back, I haven't been going to concerts much lately. This weekend, I had two in a row. On Saturday, I saw Manchester Orchestra and Brand New at the Hollywood Palladium.

Half way through Manchester Orchestra's set, in addition to reconfirming my belief that they are my favorite band currently by putting on another amazing live show, I actually had the urge to drop everything in my life and get involved in the music industry. The impulse to follow the band around and dedicate my career to music eventually faded, but I was left with some great memories of a terrific show. Brand New's new and raw material also translated quite well live. Much better live than on record. I prefer Brand New's slower songs, but I did enjoy the effort they put in with crazy videos going on during the new songs like "Vices" below.

One of my favorite new Manchester Orchestra songs:

The River - Manchester Orchestra

It wasn't the best Brand New show I've been to (the crowd was pretty bad) and I much prefer seeing MO headline, but I thought it was an awesome night. However, Sunday proved even better. The Monsters of Folk at the Greek Theatre was one of my favorite concerts in recent memory. 2 1/2 hours of Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), M.Ward (of She & Him fame), and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) playing Monsters of Folk songs as well as playing songs by each other's bands. What a great weekend.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hip-Hop Week: M.I.A. and Diplo

In the same vein as my Wale recommendation, today I also want to talk about a mixtape. Everyone knows the name M.I.A. now because of "Paper Planes." Before a fully-pregnant M.I.A. swaggered at the Grammy's with Kanye and Lil Wayne, there was Piracy Funds Terrorism Volume 1. This mixtape by British rapper M.I.A. and American producer Diplo is one of my favorite CDs to listen to while driving.

On this mixtape, Diplo takes M.I.A.'s vocal tracks from her yet-to-be-released debut album Arular and mixes it with just about everything: The Bangles, Jay-Z, Ciara, Brazilian baile funk, reggaeton, etc... You can stream the whole thing on youtube or a quick internet search will help you find a place to download it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hip-Hop Week: The Streets

Today I want to plug Mike Skinner, better known as The Streets. The British rapper has used the moniker since 2000 and has released 4 albums, with one more to go.

The Streets debut album, Original Pirate Material was released in 2002 with the standout track "Let's Push Things Forward:"

In 2004, the Streets released one of my favorite recrods, hip-hop or otherwise. A Grand Don't Come for Free is a concept record that focuses equally on the big events and the mundane thoughts of an everyman in England.

From the Pitchfork review: "On A Grand Don't Come for Free...Mike Skinner audaciously weaves an 11-track narrative over an often bare and inert musical backdrop, one that acts more like a film score than the foundation of a pop record. The plot is pretty bare-bones: boy loses money, boy meets girl, boy loses girl. But by focusing as much on the minutiae of life as on its grand gestures, the impact of Skinner's album-- essentially a musical update of 'The Parable of the Lost Coin' peppered with Seinfeld's quotidian anxiety and, eventually, a philosophical examination of Skinner's lifestyle and personal relationships-- transcends its seemingly simple tale."

A Grand is by far my favorite The Streets album. His third album, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, focused more on his thoughts on fame, and while solid (and giving us a fun first single about celebrity dating with "When You Wasn't Famous"), it didn't resonate as much. Same story with his fourth album Everything Is Borrowed. Skinner has announced that the next The Streets album, 2010's Computers and Blues, will also be the last under the Streets moniker. He has been tweeting tracks that may or may not be on the album since April.

Stream: A Grand Don't Come for Free

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hip-Hop Week: Wale

It appears that unintentionally, each day my pick is someone progressively more widely-known. Today is Maryland-based (and son of Nigerian parents) Wale, but he's associated with Washington, D.C. He's been steadily building up a fan base by releasing 5 mixtapes for free since 2006. His first album is supposed to come out next month.

My favorite mixtape by Wale is Mixtape About Nothing. You can download it for free on his myspace. As the title indicates, it is inspired by Seinfeld, a show that Wale says he has seen every episode of 30 times. Wale tackles big issues while peppering the mixtape with clever references and even an appearance by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. One of the stand-out tracks is "The Kramer," where he addresses Michael Richards racist tirade at the Laugh Factory.
Another personal favorite track is "The Perfect Plan" (noticing a pattern with the track titles? Seinfeld fans will). I even included this song on a mixtape I made for my students about the music industry.
Since embedding for this video is disabled, go here to check out the music video of Wale's "Chillin" featuring Lady GaGa.


I didn't go to Spring Sing last year for the first time after going 4 years in a row. Unfortunately, that meant that I missed this video until Aubrey was kind enough to bring it to my attention. With the first rain of the season hitting yesterday and today, a lot of conversations have revolved around the weather, particularly how no one in this city knows how to change lanes or approach a yellow light in the rain.

Update: One blog I always follow is the LAist. Just noticed that they also showed the above clip, by prefacing it with the fact that there were 186 accidents between midnight and earlier this morning.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hip-Hop Week: Astronautalis

The second hip-hop artist I'd like to feature is Astronautalis. This Jacksonville-born, Seattle-based rapper blew me away with his third record, Pomegranate. Produced by John Congleton (Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, Mountain Goats, Polyphonic Spree), it blends hip-hop with folk sensibilities and great storytelling.

Pomegranate has been described as historical fiction, "taking us from the life of a desperate conman, to a pre-Ian Fleming tale of an espionage during the Opium Wars, then to the heresy trial of William Robertson Smith, to Washington on the Delaware." I highly recommend this album if you want to try something in the hip-hop world but with a style all its own.

Stream Astronautalis's Pomegranate here.

To connect yesterday and today: The last track on Pomegranate features P.O.S.:

State Fair Food

I remember reading about Meat Lovers' Ice Cream Cone being sold recently at the Los Angeles County Fair. Needless to say, I found the name alone pretty disgusting.

But then in my The Economist issue this week, there was an article discussing deep fried balls of butter. I am not sure if this should even count as food. A little searching and I quickly found that Paul Deen had a recipe for this scary conconction. If anyone is brave (and self-loathing) enough to try it, here is the recipe:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • Peanut oil, for frying
"Cream the butter, cream cheese, salt and pepper together with an electric mixer until smooth. Using a very small ice cream scoop, or melon baller, form 1-inch balls of butter mixture and arrange them on a parchment or waxed paper lined sheet pan. Freeze until solid. Coat the frozen balls in flour, egg, and then bread crumbs and freeze again until solid.

When ready to fry, preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Fry balls for 10 to 15 seconds until just light golden. Drain on paper towels before serving."

Food Receipts with Nutritional Info

I weighed in on a debate a couple of months back (on Facebook of all places) with a friend about the new California law that requires chain restaurants to make available the nutritional information of their food. She was against the idea (staunch Libertarian), and I was a big fan of the idea of providing more information to consumers to allow them to make informed choices.

I just came across the Nutricate System that actually prints on your receipt the exact nutritional information of what you ordered, including order customizations. What would you think of this being included on all receipts vs. an option?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hip-Hop Week: P.O.S.

For the past couple of years, my musical tastes have been changing at an accelerated pace. While my listening habits are becoming more deeply entrenched in the indie rock world, it's worth noting that I do still listen to types of music all over the spectrum.

I just finished reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman and he had a great quote about music: "Do you know people who insist they like 'all kinds of music'? That actually means they like no kinds of music." I agree with this to a certain extent and whenever people ask me what kind of music I listen to, it's hard to answer but I just say some variation of indie/alternative rock (not a very helpful answer though). Although there are a handful of artists in almost every genre that I enjoy, most of my new favorites are in the indie rock scene. However, every day this week I will be discussing a hip-hop artist that I love and think should be given a chance by everyone.

Today I recommend P.O.S. Maybe I am drawn to P.O.S.'s rhymes because he actually started as a punk rocker in high school. Of course I didn't know this when I first started listening to P.O.S., but this influence is evident in songs like "Safety in Speed," which features one of my favorite poet-singers Craig Finn of The Hold Steady.

When I am driving late and need a pick me up, I reach for P.O.S.'s Audition.

Stream P.O.S.'s second album, Audition, here.

From P.O.S's latest album Never Better:

Food Rules

I recently got a Santa Monica Public Library card since the main library is only a few blocks from my work. The past couple of times I've gone, I've sort of just browsed and picked up books at random. However, there are huge opportunity costs when it comes to reading books. I've decided to plan ahead and I've put half a dozen books on hold for me at the library so I can be sure to have something I'm excited about when they become available. A couple of the books I added today were about food. While I had to throw on Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, I'm more excited about reading books about food politics such as Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

In the recent New York Times Magazine issue dedicated entirely to food, Pollan discussed Food Rules: Your Dietary Do's and Dont's. Here are some of his favorites that have been submitted to him. There are some good ones in there. If you don't feel like reading a book about food politics, maybe you should think about renting Food, Inc. when it is released next month.

Tomorrow, in a Year

Anyone want to go to Copenhagen to see the "Charles Darwin-inspired opera called Tomorrow, in a Year featuring new music from Swedish innovators the Knife?"

H/T Pitchfork

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bon Iver at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Every once in awhile I need to do something different that just mixes up the routine and renews my spirit. One of the more memorable experiences of this since I last blogged was going to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see Bon Iver perform. I drove to Hollywood, parked near the transvestite hookers, and walked through the cemetery at 1:15 am on Sep. 27. After a few minutes, I got to where the concert was being held, put down my blanket, enjoyed the movies they were projecting on the screen, took an hour nap around 4 am, grabbed some free coffee, and got excited when the show got officially under way around 5 am with Buddhist monks coming out to do a blessing and light some candles.

After some candles were lit and a lot of chanting, Justin Vernon and the rest of Bon Iver came out and played pretty much every song he has written under that moniker.

It was fairly dark when he started playing, and although you couldn't quite see the sun rise because it was so foggy, it was amazing just being able to lay down and stair at the palm trees and the sky get lighter while listening to Bon Iver's hauntingly beautiful music. Here are a few videos, including one of Justin playing with his old bandmates in Megafaun.

Let's Try This Again

I haven't blogged in over a month since I've been losing motivation to turn on my computer when I get home from work after staring at a computer screen all day. However, I'm going to try to start this back up again.

Work has been going well. When I get stuck with a relatively boring project, I try to rush to get it done so I can move onto something more interesting. However, in this job, when you turn something in, chances are you aren't done with it. For example, I had to go back to the drawing board several times for one project. I've been spending a ton of time reading medical journals about medical marijuana, and am excited to move onto working on the death penalty site soon.

I've been trying to read more (I highly recommend Chuck Klosterman's work as well as the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) but its hard balancing reading all the blogs I follow plus the weekly print version of The Economist, plus books. Having a job really cuts into doing a lot of the important things in life! I've also been going to the gym just about everyday, cooking a lot, listening to a lot of NPR, and trying to stay in touch with people in the area by doing dinner and/or drinks.

Speaking of blogs, I saw this on a design blog & felt like sharing: One of the best designed sites I've seen in awhile.