Sunday, April 26, 2009


This is Phineas, or Phin for short. He comes to our home from the SW Washington Humane Society in Vancouver, WA. He is 10 weeks old. We just introduced him to our cat community about a half hour ago.

So far our older cats Mac and Abby are merely curious, and don't seem hostile. Zeva seems pretty upset, and we have heard quite a bit of hissing from her. She has swatted Phinny once already. After the loss of Zeke, we are hoping that Zeva will warm up to this little guy. Time will tell.

Phin was great in the car today. During a 4 1/2 hour car ride he slept for about three hours in Mrs. Snave's lap. He is totally litter-box trained, and seems like a fun-loving little guy. We are very pleased to have him in our family!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I'll be going to the Sasquatch Music Festival again this year. It will be my third year in a row, and I am looking forward to it again this time around. It happens at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington during Memorial Weekend (May 23-25). I'm getting ready for three days of outdoor music and fun!

This year's headliners are Kings of Leon, Jane's Addiction and Ben Harper, and there will be plenty of other good acts supporting them, including Nine Inch Nails, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Erykah Badu, M83 and The Decemberists, just to name a few. Demetri Martin will be at the comedy tent, and there has been a dance tent added this time (to showcase bands like Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, and Chromeo). Bands I am most excited about seeing this time are Doves, Silversun Pickups and Explosions In The Sky.

Doves and Silversun Pickups released new CDs during the past couple of weeks. I wanted to get both so I could familiarize myself with some of the new material before seeing the bands at Sasquatch


"Kingdom Of Rust" is an excellent album for those who like creative song arrangements, great vocals, and good musicianship in a slightly-arty rock format. Doves' music is radio-friendly but not to the point of being out-and-out "pop". It has enough of an edge that it retains personality in spades. There are very few moments where I lose interest when listening to this one.

The opening track "Jetstream" is a mix of real and synthetic beats, backing a nice mix of guitars and synths in a song that really locomotes. The synths actually recall those from Steve Miller Band's hit single "Fly Like An Eagle". The title track is a gorgeous ballad, lushly arranged, with personal pain coming through in the exquisite singing of Jimi Goodwin.

"The Outsiders" starts off with tempestuous drums and synth sequencer before evolving into a high-intensity guitar-driven piece. Nobody can tell me the Doves didn't listen to some Who before devising the intro to "Winter Hill"; it is one of the more atmospheric numbers. I want my band to cover this tune! It is nice and circular, very well-crafted.

"10:03" starts off as a ballad before becoming something Coldplay could only imagine pulling off in the intensity department. "The Greatest Denier" is heartfelt sadness about the decline of England, clothed in an atmospheric mid-tempo piece: "So go to sleep citizen, we'll wake you when we're done."

While the album rocks at times, much of it is also carried about at a leisurely pace. That isn't to say there is not also power in the slower tunes. "Birds Flew Backwards" is a very creative slow number with soothing sounds. Reverb-drenched backing vocals and strings frame Goodwin's lonesome voice.

"Spellbound" is a classic Doves number in 6/8 time, complete with acoustic guitars and majestic keyboards and a lovely guitar line that weaves in and out through the choruses. Songs like this were what made up much of the meat of Doves' first two discs.

I'm less enamoured with the song "Compulsion". While it still feels organic, there is almost an industrial feel to it. Not all a bad thing, and the track is growing on me the more I hear it. You will find both good vocal harmonies and unison singing in the chorus of "House of Mirrors", a tune which might lend itself well to an arena. In this tune, the musicianship of the band members really shines through. The closing number "Lifelines" has a near-Beatles feel in places.

Vocalist Jimi Goodwin is the band's bassist, and brother Jez plays guitars. Andy Williams (not the crooner who sang "Moon River"!) is the drummer. The unofficial "fourth member" of the band is keyboardist Martin Rebelski, who I expect will be onstage with Doves at Sasquatch.
This one is growing on me. I wasn't sure about it at first listen. Having been a fan of their previous album "Carnavas", I find this one fairly different. While "Carnavas" had a consistently tough feel about it most of the way through, I find "Swoon" veers wildly from delicate to brutal. The band has added strings to the mix, and the effect is a lush rollercoaster ride of sound. A lot of effort went into this recording, and I am looking forward to seeing and hearing how it translates to the "live" setting!
L.A.'s SSPU has endured endless comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins, although they don't necessarily list the Pumpkins as an influence as much as they like to mention My Bloody Valentine, Secret Machine, Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. I will admit the sound is similar to Smashing Pumpkins when it comes to the multitude of thick, fat, fuzzy guitars layered over pumping basslines and driving drumbeats.
One major difference is in the vocals. SSPU's Brian Aubert tends to sing in a gaspy, breathy, almost boy-bandish way at times, while when the Pumpkins' Billy Corgan sings it often sounds like he is trying to squeeze out a painful bowel movement. Take your pick! 8-)
The Pumpkins may feature more guitar virtouosity from Corgan when it comes to solos, but when it comes to a total guitar sound I think Aubert may actually be a better arranger. On record anyway, SSPU just sounds a little tighter. Definitely a difference, anyway.
Maybe this is due to the difference in the way the two bands are configured. The Pumpkins use a two guitars/bass/drums lineup, while SSPU goes with one guitar (Aubert), bass (Nikki Monninger), drums (Christopher Guanlao), and keyboards (Joe Lester). Monninger does great vocal harmonies with Aubert.
No more comparisons... this band is just who it is.
My standout tracks on "Swoon" are "The Royal We" and "Growing Old Is Getting Old". "It's Nice To Work Alone", "Substitution" and the album closer "Surrounded (Or Spiraling)" are also very nice. "Catch and Release" is a pretty ballad, and the first few minutes of "Growing Old" are quietly, pulsingly beautiful.
The lyrics are a bit fluffy in places, but every time I start thinking about that, along comes an instrumental passage that blows me away. And whenever I think the music is written like pop music, the whole sound drops off some kind of sonic cliff.
This album is designed to be played LOUD. Listening to the opening track "There's No Secrets This Year" with the volume turned down low is almost like sacrilege.

During the next few weeks I will be posting some other items about bands that will also be at Sasquatch, among them Sun Kil Moon and Explosions In The Sky.
Happy listening!

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I decided I needed to make my 1,500th blog post something truly special for you. So.... my goddamned liberal elitist RANT MODE is definitely ON! It's time for some great big sweeping generalizations, and for all kinds of inflammatory writing. So let's have some fun here, people!

I LOATHE today's "country music". It makes my skin crawl. I see it as little more than pop music played with fiddles and steel guitars thrown in, so as to dress it up in fake cowboy garb. It is sung by singers who use an artificial-sounding "twang", to give it that "honest" feel. "All hat, no cattle" indeed!

Where did this gawdawful crap come from? Was Hank Williams, Jr. (the crawly "A Country Boy Can Survive") born when his father Hank Williams (the magnificant "Honky Tonkin"and "Your Cheatin' Heart") took a massive, distressed dump?

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on Hank, Jr. As much as I find the majority of his musical output to be creepy-crawly, at least it does have a little bit of grit to it. But his stuff helped serve as a progenitor (or laxative, if you will) to more recent musical bowel phenomena such as the I''m-coming-to-kick-your-ass" schtick of Toby Keith, just as much as others during Hank, Jr.'s zenith (maybe like Alabama? Nah, I can't pick on those guys, I like them too much) greased the skids for the polished, packaged, candied-up road-apple goods like Lonestar and Rascal Flatts.

Some of my bias may be because I come from a rural area, and seeing all the phony outfits the singers wear and the wimpy musical material they produce just about makes me physically ill. I find nary an ounce of rural authenticity in it. I doubt that many of the performers could tell the difference between cow shit and horse shit if their lives depended on it. Have they ever ridden horses, or even seen cattle?

The subject matter of the lyrics of modern "country"? It's pablum. For a while it seemed like most "country" lyrics had gone the way of rock and roll, i.e. dealing mostly with sex... and in "country's" case, with lots of lyrics about marital infidelity. Nowadays if "country" songs get topical, they are little more than goofballish saccharine ditties about heartwarming family moments (like how a sudden stop in the car caused the little boy's "happy meal" to spill, for gawdsakes... many non-thanks to Rodney Atkins for that one with his massive hit "Watching You"...) The words might be about how "country" the object of the singer's affection is. Or maybe it's Toby Keith-type stuff, just simple blabbering about some neopatriotic post-"9-11" thing.

Most all of that stuff can be fun in small doses, but a steady diet of it? Whoa, talk about brain-rot. I would just as soon listen to unintelligible Rap or mindless Heavy Metal, or even hours and hours of Polka music or Swiss yodeling.

I will say a couple of things in modern "country" music's defense. The musicianship is usually impeccable, and the music itself is nearly always melodic. The musicians are often amazingly good, and the songwriters and arrangers expertly create melodic hooks and "earworms" that will stay with the listener for days (for better, or for very worse!) For those things I believe modern "country" music cannot be faulted. But for my tastes, the general mindlessness underlying it ruins its good qualities.

Dave Barry once said something like "The complexity of the line dance is inversely proportional to the collective IQ of those performing it." I think he nailed it. Modern country music is about as mindless as it gets.

And if calling it mindless makes me a "liberal elitist", well then... in the words of Hank, Jr., "I'd love to spit some beechnut in that dude's eyes, and shoot him with my old 45, 'cause a country boy can survive."

In the last 15-20 years I think "country music" has come to be driven way too much by social and political conservatism. If you believe in God, then get on your knees and give your thanks to Him. Not for "country music" itself, but for a few of the "country" musicians who feel free to express themselves politically in America (a nation in which I have always thought such freedom of political expression should be valued, by the way). The Dixie Chicks and Steve Earle come immediately to mind as Country "lefties", but there are others, Tim McGraw for one. Lesser-known Country artists such as the Austin Lounge Lizards are decidedly leftist. If you turn over enough stones, you will find a few of them.

So is the world of "country" more right-wing than Hollywood is supposedly left-wing? I think it is. The right wing's social conservatives love to make Hollywood it's whipping boy, and I suppose many of us on the left make things like "country" music and NASCAR our own things to unmercifully beat upon. Oh well, it's all relative, isn't it! Nyah, nyah, nyah.

Should the Dixie Chicks have paid such a price for their words when they were publicly critical of George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01? I think not, but it seems like a lot of "country" fans practically wanted to crucify them. Which is worse? Simply saying something that isn't nice about the president during national tough times, or basically getting convicted of treason in the public court of "country" opinion for saying those things? The Chicks got the latter, and Gol' durn it, that sounds a lot more like Red China than America t' me!!! But hey, that's "country".

Give me the music of Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel, Hank Williams, the Carter family, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, some of Loretta Lynn's music, or some good tradtional American Bluegrass music... THAT is some REAL Country.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, weed-addled hippies though they were, played some damned fine Country and Swing in the 70s. I also enjoyed a fair amount of songs by Willie Nelson and Wayon Jennings during the 70s and 80s; good voices, not militant about politics, all just very pleasing to my ear.

Or give me some of the more recent "crossover" stuff that has a creative bent, like the music of Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakum, Ryan Adams or even the music of "alternative country" bands such as Old 97s, Jayhawks, Son Volt or Uncle Tupelo.

But please, give me none of the processed, stamped and packaged "country" crap that comes out of today's Nashville. It's the musical equivalent of a puppy mill. And for me, listening to it is the auditory equivalent of having my teeth drilled.

And DAMN you Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, et al for playing such a big part in the creation of the ugly hybrid "country music" monster we have today. Whether or not we care to admit it now, artists like those, as much as some of us "boomers" liked them way back when, played a huge part in paving the way for what we see and hear today. As much as I liked them then, today I view them as a large part of the problem.

HELP!! The COUNTRY MUSIC monster is upon us! We can't let it infiltrate any more genres of our music! We must ISOLATE IT, DESTROY IT! HELP US!!!!

Seriously though, I think this monster has gone about as far as it can. After all, we are in the Digital Music Age. How many lovers of today's "country" music are going to own computers or know how to download the music? Sales should, thankfully, plummet.

O.K., O.K., I'll be nice. It isn't just real rural folks (who tend to be nice and to have computers and know how to use them, by the way!) who have been sucked into the modern "country" thing. There are also millions of non-rural Americans who want to buy into the fake "country" image this crap portrays, for whatever reason. Do those people think they're somehow connecting with a kind of "age of lost American innocence", or that they are tapping into some similar profoundly fool thing concocted just for them by the charlatans of today's "country music" industry?

I think many rural folks are a lot smarter than the urban "country wannabes", and I believe real Country is, by definition, rural. So maybe at some point rural America will clean up its musical act by spurning Nashville's massive outflow of human bodily waste disguised as music. Really, there should be very little "rural" in all the glitz and glamour of the Trisha Yearwoods and Carrie Underwoods for all the Woody Peckerwoods out there to connect with.

After all, as much as many rural Americans connect with the fabricated but underlying unifying social/political right-wing concepts in "country" music and all things "country", certainly they must also be laughing their asses off at those city-born-and-bred types who try to be "country". And sooner or later, as they laugh, the rural adherents to this sad "country" music doctrine may realize they are also laughing at themselves. When that happens, maybe our great nation will turn a musical corner... and "country" will once again become Country.

The fakiness has to reach a saturation point somewhere, sometime. I hope the time comes very soon. Otherwise, the "country music" terrorists win, and we become a nation of mindless, stumbling, socially-conservative autobots.

Or maybe we are already there. Maybe modern American "country" music is more a manifestation of what has happened to America in the last 30 years than it is a causative agent of our social dysfunction. Whichever the case may be, I find it TRAGIC.

Modern American "country" music is a TRAGEDY, plain and simple.

Many grateful thanks to you for the valuable time you took to read this vicious diatribe. 8-)

And finally, the "country" question for the ages... and it has an answer!!

Q: How can you tell one modern "country" song from another"?
A: By the title.