Last night I was talking to a guy - Ben - who has played basketball against me in one of the leagues I used to play in. He inquired why I wasn't playing this year, and I gave him the skinny on my wrist. He then went on to mention that when his team played mine, they would say that they had to watch out for me outside, because I was good in the key but would also hit threes. I almost cried. That was all I ever wanted to be known for.
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I was thinking today - as I paid for a $180 bill to fix the phone line of whoever owns my rental - what life would be like without the internet. I imagined a year, quickly revised down to a month, of living without internet. I imagined becoming reacquainted with the White Pages, reading more books, relying on network television to provide me with entertainment on their schedule and dog earring my street directory. Then I thought of blogging my experience.
At that point I realised my idea was as well thought out as my plan to visit the world's zoos using Google Earth.
Now Entering Non-Existence Week
I'm prepared for tomorrow, the start of the week that doesn't really exist. After the past months have gone from the first symptoms of Christmas - occasional carols in store radio, red bows appearing on things - the holiday is in full effect now. Surely? There's wreaths and balls everywhere, calendars are bursting, the weather is fair. Every job and organisation you belong to has had their Christmas party. The shopping is done, you've even bought the ingredients for Christmas lunch. Little bears wearing Santa Hats and scarves now adorn the mirror of your toilet.
So you'll be lying in bed tonight. Santa Claus will come in, listen to your heart and look at the stats on your life support monitor. Then his eyes will lose a bit of dazzle and he'll turn to say to Jesus and a little drummer boy "There's nothing left to do, we can only make him comfortable now and wait."
But then, nothing happens. For a week. This week. The week before Christmas week. Five whole days of work. Traffic. Bills and appointments. Dusting and dishes. No Christmas at all, just anticipation. CHRISTMAS!
Christmas is Coming
At Ballara house we had a Passion-fruit Vine that spread and flowered with such enthusiasm in the early months of Spring that even I - at that point much hungrier than I am these days - began to quiver at the thought of consuming the fruit that was to come.
Thus it was to my memorable despair around this time last year when I was informed that this was a decorative Passion-fruit vine, one that promised so much but ultimately only spread like a parasite throughout my garden and my heart.
At that point I took to ripping as much of the vine out as I could. A few days later though, after a December shower sprouts of vine poked out the earth and within hours began writhing across all surfaces and latching onto anything within reaching distance and growing themselves upwards. I've never felt more futile as a gardener, although I haven't much experience. Nevertheless I still have dreams about the rapid and all-encompassing engulfment my backyard experienced from those vines.
I tell this story because I had a similar experience today, with tinsel at the office. It started in a big pile next to someone who had had a North Pole Express trainset running loops around their dual-monitors (Jealous! Of both) and by lunchtime had branched out to wrap around every corner and pole of every cubicle in sight.
It was glorious.
Like my words? Want to buy one of my books? I think you'll like this one:
If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?
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I Got A K
I had my annual performance review from my boss today. In the past performance targets were given by "Exceeds Requirements", "Doesn't meet Requirements" and "Meets Requirements" - otherwise known as the thumbs up, thumbs down or shrug. OK they weren't really known as that..
Anyway, now those definitions are gone, replaced with an incrementing scale of goodness from I to K... which goes like this: I, P-, P, P+, K.
My boss, who I could subtly infer is a cool guy but I'll just get out of the way and state it, gave me a K overall this year. I think this is partly because he knows I've been doing a lot of work for a lot of clients in the middle of a two year (and counting!) pay freeze, but also because he's as curious as me about what a "K" actually is. It doesn't say it on the review forms anywhere, and in all the excitement to invest money in a not-broken system they forgot to mention it.
So, anyone who feels like a comment, what do you think a K really means?
I'm writing my 'Best Tracks of 2009' fluff piece that will hopefully soon replace the icon for either my Bradism.com shirts joke from February, or the chocolate crackle tragedy I cooked in 2004. It probably won't get read much, but there will be free MP3s.
I'm noticing a common theme of percussion throughout my choices. Big, boomy percussion. I'm not sure what that means... repressed bitterness about becoming crippled before I could ever use Guitar Hero drums? Coincidence? Probably the latter.
Maybe I just keep writing 'big, boomy percussion' because I'm writing up track summaries while thunder resonates above Adelaide with regularity and menace. It's pretty hot.
This year when pondering what arbitrary number of my favourite songs to countdown this year I settled on 21. That was the number of songs I managed to fit onto a mix CD to commemorate the good times and good songs I've heard the last twelve months. But good music this year hasn't been limited to just one CDs worth, so while you wait for the next installment of my favourite singles enjoy the tracks that almost made it.
There are streams and download links of almost all of them, except for the ones I think I'm likely to get in the most trouble for sharing with you.
The Antlers – Two A bit of emotional acoustic indie pop meets Brooklyn shoegaze.
Slaughterhouse feat. The New Royales – The One Hip-Hop supergroup collaborates with electric guitar playing hip hop group to produce an incredibly catchy rock/hip-hop fusion hook, then rap over it featuring mainly sexualized pop culture metaphors.
I managed to fit 21 of my favourite songs released this year into an 80 minute CD. Then I arranged them in subjective order of best to worst, mainly so I could publish them in two parts. Here is part one. Enjoy the links for this and the runners up posted last week while you can, as I will start taking them down to make room for part two.
After over a decade with indie-rock staples Spoon, Britt Daniel made his production debut with Brooklyn band White Rabbits. On its opening track Percussion Gun Daniel unleashes some pent up creativity with a thick mix of floor toms, crashing piano and increasingly anxious electric guitar. The quality of the song doesn't extend across the whole album – its number of plays on MySpace eclipses the other nine tracks on the album combined – but standalone it's a powerful, rocking single crossing Austin, Texas indie with Brooklyn shadows.
I Heart Hiroshima's twin guitars are rough; both take turns to stab crudely on sophomore The Rip. The main respite to all this coarseness is vocalist Susie Patten who gives contrasting smoothness to the jangled and frantic music. Among walls of riffs and needlework guitar notes pop melodies occasionally sprout and none were catchier than lead single Shakeytown. It's an exhibition of the band at their best: one guitar playing fuzzy rock chords while the other picks the best notes out in an overlapping melody. From an album that you think is yelling at you to begin with, but might make you feel like yelling along by the end.
My first Christmas living with Vanessa started on November 1st, when we decided to put up our tree. That was after I said when she asked in July that we couldn't put the tree up until after Halloween.
Since then it's been an enjoyable assault of Christmas cheer that's had several moments of triumph. Most recently on Monday when, after wrapping my presents last week she asked me every day to open one and I finally relented.
Last weekend I also downloaded over 10 hours of Christmas music, including albums by the orthodox - Beach Boys, Elvis, Willie Nelson - to the more bizarre. Amongst this playlist was David Hasselhoff singing carols to young children (top 10 in Germany in 2004!!) and from Christmas in the Stars the track What do you get a Wookie for Christmas (If he already has a comb.
Then there was the afternoon I arrived home to find every light switch, tap and computer peripheral in our house labelled with a Christmas sticker. Including the toilet which looked like this:
Although I think these two stickers might be mixed up.
By the way the answer to the Wookie question can be found here.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Merry Christmas Dwight Howard Gingerbread Man!
Seeing as there's only 1 day left
I think it's time I put up the second half of my favourite tracks of 2009, with links.
Former Formater Nate Reuss is gifted with one of the best voices in pop music, and with new band Fun his sweeping, storytelling vocals finally have found music to match. Be Calm starts the album like the multiple-parts opening number of a grand production. It builds from accordion and slow strings as Ruess ponders aloud this fresh start. Instrumentation and other band members kick in vocals and noise as frantic percussion starts and the orchestra explodes. Rocking guitars and thudding bass take over as Ruess’ voice goes from Meatloaf to Brian Wilson to Stefani – he hits heartfelt, joyous and intense. Everything sticks.
Brit rockers The Big Pink took their influences from the wealth of musical history available in their homeland: a little shoegaze here, some electro synths to go along with their drum machine, some Cure darkness in places. It resulted in a pretty solid album A Brief History of Love. During its recording process they hooked up with Paul Epworth to produce a song called Dominos. Epworth brought all his size and dancefloor hooks tricks from his time with Annie, Bloc Party and Friendly Fires – among many – to pump up the rhythm section and make the chorus into something huge.
Franz’s Ferdinand third album was a long time coming and its concept – an exploration of a night of partying from start to finish – could explain why. Nevertheless the Scots nailed that point in the night where all of a sudden every drink manifests itself in you as unrestrainable confidence and you have no choice but to live in the now. It starts with a funky strut, a target identified and when the chorus arrives at a chaos of guitars, drinks and the answers to stupid questions. Things go predictably well from there, culminating in a backs-to-the-amps-pop metal finale, which might be in triumph or in disarray. It might be a double entendre, it’s too blurry to tell.
With its guest list The Spirit of Apollo seemed destined to either be amazing or phoned in. Fortunately on most songs it’s the former, with The People Tree being a pertinent example. Chali 2na’s luscious baritone is perfect for the role of God and his back-and-forth with Gift of Gab is tight – verse after verse. Meanwhile David Byrne is at his vintage best on the bridge and Z-Trip adds subtle cuts to some funky South American beats. It only pretends to contain the meaning of life, but it’s so damn smooth you’ll swallow anyway.
The Dirty Projectors would make every single end of year list if all of their songs were as easy to absorb as the sugary and funky Stillness is the Move. It’s just great to hear an indie-as rock group try their best to sound like 90’s girl group TLC. That’s without sacrificing any precision guitar work or artistic integrity. So insanely catchy and well produced.
There are feel good songs, and there are songs that sound like the musicians just feel good and you’re the lucky beneficiary of the by-product. Norweigans Röyksopp put their chirpiest song ever at the start of their latest album Junior – their “spring” album – with the hope that a digitally enhanced quarter of a Parliament hook might be the cheeriest music you ever heard. This Spring I think it was.
Superfast rapper Busdriver left a spot on latest album Jhelli Beam to drop a ferocious, intelligent and witty call out on pretty much any popular rapper ever. Nocando - whose raps have speed too, but sometimes seem like slow motion in tandem with Busdriver - take shots and set each other up for quips both intricate and verbose and are all tight. The beat beeps and bloops along in dark, nerd rap style build the song to its predictably ironic end.
Daylight is a jaunty Brooklyn anthem from keyboard/percussion pair Matt and Kim. Matt’s infectious keyboard melody and Kim’s marching band drums set-up are upbeat and fill a whole sound spectrum with just the two instruments. There is complete indie-punk charm with enough production polish on it to add the perfect amount of colour. It certainly lives up to its album’s title Grand.
Simplicity was the key to The Thermals fourth and best album, a weightless and colourful collection of punk-pop ear candy. Frontman Hutch Harris rollicked his way through each track like a tipsy Ben Gibbard and playing looping chords with first-mouthful-of-Coco-Pops crunch. Production values, however, were high with John Congleton – the man behind The Polyphonic Spree - managing the same kind of booming choruses out of the sparser Portland three-piece. Title track Now We Can See is one of the most quickly satisfying, smile-creating sing-alongs ever.
Interpol frontman Paul Banks released a solo album under the alias Julian Plenti this year which explored a lot of his repressed artistic intentions – most of which were to play guitar over less complex bass and drums. It wasn’t a completely cohesive album, but it did contain the gem Games For Days where the man who built a career out of dark, stomping riffs mixed with moody, gloomy guitar lines laid some of his best down on tape. With his rhythm section now simplified into a driving clap Banks rips through a thoroughly Interpol-esque set of lyrics and riffs, thrashing his guitar into oblivion.
Phoenix are one of the classiest rock bands going around, raised in Versailles and recording some of the smoothest things in life. Their rock had always had a hint of electro influence – maybe because their guitarist was in Daft Punk before they were Daft Punk. Nevertheless they got the balance just right on 1901, a track that starts with guitar lines spun through digital honey along with a more corrosive synth streak and peculiarly fitting sonar pings. This simple arrangement carries the song its full length at an energetic 150bpm as the more traditional guitars and drums kick in co-operatively. There’s also what sounds like sped up tambourines and more sonar pings. It’s a pure hit from the opening bar, lyrically fulfilling, polished and rocking.
If you'd told me 18 months ago I would go a whole calendar year without a game of basketball or a trip to the gym I would have laughed at you. Not really, I would have gone deathly quiet.