A Slice of Fried Gold

March Madness: A Slice of Fried Gold Edition

Sunday, February 28, 2010
Recently I spent an evening writing and watching Travel Channel's Man vs. Food (starring Adam "I don't wash my hands after using the restroom before competitions" Richman), and I realized that if it was physically possible and affordable, I may never actually stop eating. I love food to an almost unhealthy degree (see: David Harper circa 2005).

With March starting up tomorrow, I had been thinking of something March Madness like I could do for my blog. That's when it hit me: what is the one thing I like more than basketball? Food.

I genuinely appreciate restaurants and all of the factors that make them great, from the food to the pricing to the intangibles like service and atmosphere. While Anchorage is a pretty small place, we are blessed with some sneaky good food. But what restaurant has the chops to be my favorite? Well that is what this month is for. I've set up my 32 "favorite" Anchorage restaurants (in quotations because some didn't make the cut due to bracket restrictions) into four different brackets: Fancy restaurants, Hippie restaurants, and two brackets of General. I tried to make an Asian food or Hispanic or Italian food bracket, but there just aren't enough high quality establishments to make it work.

From there I aligned the eight restaurants together by esteem and by logic (in the General brackets, you'll see first round matchups between "down home" restaurants, burger joints, and other like minded establishments), and away we go. Matchups will play throughout the month and all factors will be considered - and I will not be pulling punches. This is also entirely based off my opinion, so if you disagree let me know in the comments section. Check out the bracket below (click to enlarge), and let's get this started baby! That was in a Dick Vitale voice if you were wondering. The competition starts Monday with the first Fancy matchup.

"American Ghetto" Coming Next Tuesday

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Portugal. The Man holds a lot of distinctions in my world. Their album The Satanic Satanist was ranked # 2 on my 2009 Best Albums list. I've seen them live more times than any other band (9 times in 3 states). They are one of the rare bands that I've liked every release from.

Plus they are from the same state as me, with a couple of them originating in the Great White North as well. Now, with their new release (fifth in five years!) American Ghetto coming next Tuesday, November 2nd, they are trying something entirely new. I'll just let lead singer (and Alaskan) John Gourley say it for me:

"As much as it was discussed, we honestly feel that 'American Ghetto' is something best left for all of you to do with as you please. On March 2nd we will make this record available to you, press, radio, retail, etc. Nobody gets the record early; we will not be soliciting reviews, airplay or any support from the industry. It is up to you to tweet about #americanghetto or to share or to send friends to buy. If you want to write/blog/play 'American Ghetto,' March 2nd is your opportunity. It will be the same for everyone."
Wow. A very original approach, and something that seems very fitting for the band. Given the first track that was released for free download on their site, titled "The Dead Dog", I can't imagine this won't be another exceptional release from the band. Don't miss this album come next week, and you can bet you'll be seeing a review from me on Tuesday along with tweets aplenty. Let's make our favorite Alaskans a trending topic next Tuesday people.

Crafting A Musical Identity

Monday, February 22, 2010
I was driving home today blaring 98.1 KLEF FM Anchorage (classical) while contemplating whether I should listen to my standard running mix (a hodgepodge of 140 bpm style music by artists like Girl Talk, Passion Pit, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lil' Wayne and more) or if I could successfully pull off a run while listening to Yann Tiersen's soundtrack to Amélie. Tough decision, but I figured I could do it and dammit, I was really feeling Tiersen today. The run turned out great while listening to Tiersen, but it got me to thinking: how the heck have I gotten to where I am in terms of music?

They say that every moment in your life helps sculpt who you are (who they is, I don't know, I may have just come up with that), but what in life makes a person listen to what they do? A quick browse at my Last.FM page reveals an eclectic and seemingly disconnected list of artists. My Top Eight from all-time and from the past three months are below, from most listens on down:

All Time
1. Beirut
2. Sigur Rós
3. Girl Talk
4. Yann Tiersen
5. Spoon
6. Anathallo
7. Andrew Bird
8. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (666 listens - ahhh!!!!)

Last Three Months
1. Hot Chip
2. Kings of Convenience
3. The xx
4. Sigur Rós
5. Owen Pallett
6. Yeasayer
7. St. Vincent
8. Raekwon

Throw in the fact that my 12th most listened to "artist" is the identity-less "Movies" (collected soundtracks throughout the years) and that when I'm not listening to CD's or my iPod, I'm listening to Anchorage's classical station, and you have a pretty damn weird mix of music.

But when I look back on my childhood and my interests (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups excluded), you see a road map that leads directly to where I am. Each cultural touchstone left an indelible impression on who I am, and slowly but surely made me who I am today, at least musical. Here's the recipe to me as a musical listener, or at least what I surmise it is.

80's Pop

Some people grew up listening to The Beatles. Some people grew up listening to The Rolling Stones. Some people grew up listening to not much of anything. I grew up listening to 80's pop. Basically, what my mom listened to is what I listened to. This meant lots of Gloria Estefan, Mike and the Mechanics, The Doobie Brothers ("What a Fool Believes" still slays me), and Eurhythmics.

Hysterically enough, when I think of the comic book character Wolverine my mind inevitably goes back to Gloria Estefan's "Conga".


It reminds me of sitting out in the winter waiting for my brother's hockey practice to end as my mom listened to it and I read issues from Larry Hama's run ("oh my god! not Wolverine's adamantium skeleton!). What a weird message that is.

No less, the pop sensibilities and obsession with synthesizer from that music meant a lot to my addiction to indie pop, as those same characteristics are most seen today in groups like Passion Pit and Hot Chip.

Paul Simon's Graceland

More so than any album my mom regularly listened to, my mom's love for Graceland weighed heavily upon my future musical tastes. Particularly "You Can Call Me Al", a track that best bridged the gap between Paul Simon's newfound Afro Pop tendencies and his desire to make impossibly catchy music. Plus, you had a video that starred Chevy Chase, who was exactly as cool then as he was not cool five years ago (he's cool again though...poor Chevy Chase and his roller coaster popularity).

I loved it because it was unbelievably fun to dance like a dork to and so easy to sing along to. The whole album was a treasure, and whenever it was on you'd find me at my most gleeful.

For some reason I feel as if the whole of Vampire Weekend agrees with me.

Transformers: The Movie Soundtrack

Besides maybe The Goonies, there was no movie that captured my imagination more than this one. Growing up I wanted to be a Transformer, and when Optimus Prime died in the movie, I felt like a member of my own family died. Except he was better because he had the Matrix of Leadership. This soundtrack was the first piece of music I owned myself, a cassette I hid in my underwear drawer because god only knows no one would look for it there.

If you go out to a bar with me, there is the slightest chance you'll hear me break into an acapella rendition of Stan Bush's "The Touch" like my name was Dirk Diggler. In fact, I did that this past Saturday at the Buckaroo Club. Basically, this was all about cheesy synths and soaring vocals, which somehow over the past twenty plus years have been cultivated to be awesome instead of a ten out of ten on the ridiculous scale. Just ask Passion Pit.

Final Fantasy

Up until Final Fantasy IX, the only day that rivaled Christmas in childhood splendor were the days when a new Final Fantasy game was released. I wasn't really into music fully until high school, but I knew I loved Nobuo Uematsu's soundtracks. I remember very specifically when the Super Nintendo finally came out (after months and months of anguish suffered by my brother and I, akin to what Cartman went through while waiting for the Wii), we sprinted downstairs and immediately started playing FFIV (or FFII in America).

Ever since then I was completely and impossibly hooked.

In particular, the Airship Themes always got to me, and for some reason the structure and epic nature of them really killed me. In particular FFVII's Airship Theme, with its swirling background, triumphant high tones, and pseudo percussion (everything was basically a Midi file).

In fact, any time I hear a song that reminds me of one of those Airship Themes (like, say...Rufus Wainwright's "Evil Angel"), that song gets incalcuably cooler. It could be complete garbage and when a person would ask me why I'm listening to it, I'd respond with a completely straight face and say "because it makes me feel like I'm flying an airship."

Honest to god, I've done that before.

Simon and Simon's Theme Song

"Wait. What? Simon and Simon?"

Yes. Simon and Simon. The old CBS show starring Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker. That show. That was influential to me.


Yes. Really. One of my all-time favorite legends my parents tell of me (that's right, legends) involved me being completely dead asleep on their bed when I was probably four when it came on. Sure enough, as soon as it came on I got up and I danced until I couldn't dance any more. Which according to this YouTube Clip is about one minute and three seconds.

It was probably a completely ridiculous show, but something about it was like a cross between crack and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (have I mentioned I loved Reese's yet?) for me. When you get down to it, the song combines a lot of elements that work really well for me in music these days: oddly country like guitar riffs, horns, snapping/clapping, and bouncy rhythms. So thank you Simon and Simon, thank you for making me a sucker for Okkervil River, ska, and all kinds of other music.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lately it seems like close friends are leaving me on a relatively routine basis. I suppose that's the nature of getting older...more and more people strike out on their own and end up away from me. I've tried to come up with some sort of way to get people to stick around longer, but short of contractual agreements or empty threats of some sort, I really can't think of anything that may work.

To add to the growing list of all of the departures, my dear German friends Katharina and Kerstin left this past Friday. While every friend that leaves is rough, these two leaving were perhaps the worst to date. Why is that? They live in freaking Germany! At the very least, they are a day and a thousand plus dollars away. That's pretty rough. Throw in the fact that they were awesome adventure buddies (you would rarely hear either of them say no to anything) and my first legitimate friends from another country, and I'm suddenly on the market looking for new foreign pals who love going out and doing whatever.

That is not a market Anchorage is rich in.

So if you know any cool Danish people living in the Anchorage area with a hankering for new experiences, send them my way. Until then, I'll be lamenting the departure of my dear Germans. Auf Wiedersehen, friends.

Meal #2: Shrimp Fried Rice

My second attempt at making elaborate, tasty meals every Sunday was another solid entry. This week I went back to the well of Jaden Hair's The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook and went after her recipe for Shrimp Fried Rice. Given the dearth of quality Chinese restaurants in Anchorage, it seems like it'd be a good idea to learn how to make some quality chow for myself. I'm pretty sure it was already the best fried rice I've had in town (file that one under "sad but true").

I learned a lot on this recipe though. I chose to go with brown rice instead of white rice that the recipe asked for. Brown rice is a healthier alternative, but it comes with one major negative: it takes a long time to cook. To quote Jay-Z, I got no patience and I hate waitin', so brown rice and I have a tendency to not get along. My desire to make the meal go faster goes very poorly with the 50 minutes you likely should wait for brown rice to settle properly. Somewhat predictably, it ended up not combining with the water perfectly and led to some less than perfected rice.

Given that it's shrimp fried rice, that's an important misstep. While all of the flavors throughout combined very well, the undercooking of the rice and not putting enough green onions in there led this meal to not reach the peaks that it could have. Still, a tasty meal that was incredibly filling to eat while watching Shaun of the Dead this evening.

How's that for a slice of fried gold?

Multiversity Comics' Saturday Showdown Podcast

Friday, February 19, 2010

In case you missed it last week (which you probably did given that I didn't post it here), my co-writer Brandon Burpee and I launched a new podcast for Multiversity Comics titled Saturday Showdown. So far it's been a pretty decent success, ranking 47th for the last week on YouTube for most new subscribers in the category "Reporters" (sure, that's a lot of qualifiers, but I'll take it).

It's basically the most ridiculous thing ever, but if you enjoy comics and nerdery and things of that sort, you'll probably enjoy this. Do us a favor and subscribe to it if you enjoy it, as we'll be rolling forward with weekly installments (including one at Emerald City ComiCon). Plus, we may be comic nerds but man, we love ego boosts as much as anyone.

At the very least, come back to look at some of the ridiculous things we may do in the future. I'm deciding as to whether or not I can shape my hair to look like Wolverine's hair right now - odds are good. Here's hoping that makes a future edition. If you're really lucky we'll post the true first episode in which we may have had a few too many beers and we had to cut it because of variable quality and our 20 minute show running for over an hour. It was pretty hysterical.

I Am Sasquatch

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You have to love Sasquatch - they're the music festival that cares! Thanks to Seth Zeichner for being the man and making this.

Sasquatch 2010 Lineup Announced

The Lineup: A-Trak, Avi Buffalo, Band of Horses, Booka Shade, Boys Noize, Broken Social Scene, Brother Ali, Camera Obscura, Caribou, City and Colour, Craig Robinson, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Dam-Funk, Deadmau5, Dirty Projectors, DJ Z-Trip, Dr. Dog, Drive-By Truckers, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Fool’s Gold, Freelance Whales, Fresh Espresso, Fruit Bats, Garfunkel & Oates, Girls, Hudson Mohawke, Japandroids, Jets Overhead, Kid Cudi, Laura Marling, LCD Soundsystem, Local Natives, Luke Burbank, Massive Attack, Mayer Hawthorne, MGMT, Midlake, Miike Snow, Minus the Bear, Morning Teleportation, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, Nada Surf, Neon Indian, No Age, Nurses, OK Go, Passion Pit, Past Lives, Patrick Watson, Pavement, Phantogram, Portugal. The Man, Public Enemy, Quasi, Rob Riggle, Shabazz Palaces, She & Him, Simian Mobile Disco, Tegan & Sara, Telekinesis, The Hold Steady, The Lonely Forest, the long winters, The Low Anthem, The Middle East, The Mountain Goats, The National, The New Pornographers, The Tallest Man On Earth, The Temper Trap, The Very Best, The xx, tUnE-YaRdS, Vampire Weekend, Veviter, Wale, Ween, Why?, YACHT, Yes Giantess

That's a lot of awesome. I'm really happy for my friend's Erik, Katie and Kellie, but I have to say I'm still going to Coachella. While there are a lot of bands that aren't going to be there...well, let's look at who isn't going to be there (that I care about):

Not at Coachella: Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene, Freelance Whales, Massive Attack, Minus the Bear, My Morning Jacket, Nada Surf, Tegan & Sara, The Hold Steady, The National, The New Pornographers, The Very Best, Ween, Why?, YACHT.

Those bands break down into a few categories, those are...

I feel like I should see them: Broken Social Scene, My Morning Jacket, The Very Best, Ween

I have seen them: Minus the Bear, Tegan & Sara, The Hold Steady, The National, The New Pornographers

I really want to see them and am bummed I'm not: Band of Horses, Freelance Whales, Massive Attack, Nada Surf, Why?, YACHT.

So in the current alignment, there are only six bands I really want to see that I can't see at Coachella. Massive Attack, Why? and YACHT in particular, as they are going to be incredible and MA in particular is kind of legendary.

Still, this post is almost exclusively to Kellie - this is why I can't justify spending another $1k to go down for this concert. Even when considerering the aggregate attractiveness of my traveling partners.

Meal # 1: Baked Garlic Chili Wings and Shrimp Pad Thai

Sunday, February 14, 2010

To begin my grand cooking plans of 2010, my friend Eric and I got together and crafted some delicious foods from Jaden Hair's The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. I'd gotten it for Christmas and hadn't really looked into any of the recipes before today, inspired by my desire to cook and Julie & Julia. I'm glad I did, because the first two recipes I tried were priceless.

Our first recipes were the Baked Garlic Chili Wings appetizer with the Shrimp Pad Thai entree. We made a couple variations in there (no lemongrass on the wings, used the marinade as a flavor bonus while pan frying after the baking, white sugar instead of brown sugar in the marinade), but it was mostly the recipe. And DAMN. It was delicious. And filling.

We learned some valuable lessons about cooking. First off, preparation can be just as important as the actual cooking. We found ourselves scrambling in the midst of cooking because of a lack of prep. Second off, innovation is gold. You can turn something delicious into something phenomenal simply by derivating a tad (i.e. 4 teaspons of sriacha? How about 5?). Third off, just because it is an elaborate meal, does not mean it has to be time consuming. Eric and I wrapped up the whole meal in about an hour. That's not bad for two quite tasty meals.

There's something really fulfilling of the crafting and then eating of truly delicious food. Eric and I found that out thoroughly this evening. I'm going to keep cataloguing the elaborate recipes we cook, because there is nothing more delicious than the consumption and then discussion of delectable meals. You may not enjoy it, but at least I can look back and say I did these things and have proof of it. Well, besides the leftover flavor and the memories that support them.

Finding One's True Love

"I don't understand why everyone makes such a big deal about Valentine's Day here" my friend Katharina from Germany told me earlier.

A lot of people wonder that as well. Mostly single people. I don't think the average person who is spending their day with someone they adore is pondering thoughts about whether or not Valentine's Day is over commercialized. Unless they're edgy, in which case they feign disinterest but are covertly planning beds of roses or something similarly romantic.

While I think Valentine's day is a day of putting undue pressure on single people and involved people alike, I understand the attraction. Visions of romance and extravagance are not something that is altogether detestable. In fact, it's a delightful thought.

Today though I am alone, and I'm okay with that. I'm embracing a whole new affair. For the longest time, I'd say the thing that has consistently made me the happiest has been food.

Food is something that always elicits a provocative response from me...either I completely ravage the food because of the tastiness (95% of the time) or I find myself working through it when it isn't so good (the remainder). I cook from time to time, and I greatly enjoy the experience. Yet I find myself surviving on scraps and not embracing the more complex meals that I love crafting.

Yet today, Valentine's Day, I've decided to embrace my passion. Aided by an influx of cookbooks and viewing 2009's Julie & Julia (a sneaky awesome movie), tonight I will be beginning my love affair with two recipes from Jaden Hair's The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook - Baked Garlic Chilli Wings as an appetizer leading up to shrimp pad thai, all from scratch.

Photos to come from the experience. We'll see how I do. Hopefully this is the beginning of a more robust cooking life. My stomach is looking forward to it, and the warm embrace of a tasty meal on Valentine's Day.

Top Five Albums Of January (ish)

Friday, February 12, 2010
When I look back at the month and 12 days worth of albums that have come out so far this year, I realize there have been a ton of great ones. It's kind of crazy really how many albums have blown me away and been totally surprising in their quality.

That led me to encourage my listing nature even more: I'm going to update every month with my five favorite albums from the previous month (based off when I acquired them, not off of release date). So here we go with the inaugural edition of this trite and ridiculous exercise that I love putting upon myself.

1. Owen Pallett - Heartland

Why it's number one: Owen Pallett, previously recorded under the name Final Fantasy and string arranger for Arcade Fire, is a bit of a virtuoso when it comes to instrumental arrangements. He makes some of the most cleverly designed songs in the world today, and his sound ends up being somewhat akin to a marriage of Jens Lekman and Andrew Bird, with perhaps a bit of the instrumental verbosity of Anathallo or Sufjan Stevens. It's a hell of a record that really works in every situation you can put it in, acting as a bit of a musical skeleton key. Can't praise it enough.

2. Vampire Weekend - Contra

Why it's number two: I've talked about this plenty, so I won't go into too many details on this record. It's Vampire Weekend doing what they do best but filling it with a lot more of the electronic influence that they have shown in recent side projects. It's only ten tracks, but 7 of them are complete smashes, one is damn good, and two are decent. If this album was a baseball player, it would have been Barry Bonds circa 2001. Except Bud Selig would have said "no Barry, it's cool if you use steroids."

Oh wait.

3. Hot Chip - One Life Stand

Why it's number three: I just reviewed this earlier this week, so my thoughts on it should be fresh. It's the most complete record Hot Chip has made to date with eleven straight damn good tracks drawing the listener in. While it may not have reached the same peaks of their previous records, it's more than made up for by a previously unseen consistency from the band. Plus, you have to love an album that effortlessly makes you want to dance and practically compels you to be happy. One should never underrate such a simple and forgettable trait as that.

4. Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM

Why it's number four: This album came out of nowhere for me, but I guess it shouldn't given that it's an album featuring the sultry voice Gainsbourg with all tracks written and produced by Beck. In a lot of ways, this album feels like a mix between Feist and St. Vincent. Feist has a tendency to verge on the side of innocence too much, while St. Vincent can be a bit on the darker side. While Gainsbourg touches on both of those polar opposites (particularly on the St. Vincent side with the French language track "Le Chat du Café des Artistes", which is ridden with a flair for the ominous), she provides a good balance that results in one hell of a release.

5. Beach House - Teen Dream

Why it's number five: While I liked their previous release Devotion, it had a tendency to fall too easily into the background. Just because it's dreamy pop does not mean it has to be music lost in the transition of day to day life. This album though has a level of immediacy that is sorely lacking from that previous release. When combined with the innate beauty of the vocals and the arrangements, it's hard not to be swept off to a different place. This album gets bonus points for making me whistle as I walk around the gym listening to it, making me that weird guy who whistles while working out. Thanks for that Beach House!

Germans Make Me More Alaskan

Thursday, February 11, 2010

If you know me at all, you likely know that I am probably the worst Alaskan that has ever existed. It's a fact. I am horrendous at all winter sports (this is a fact, I can't even sled well). I despise the cold. I really don't like snow. I dress in slip on Sperry shoes year round. I don't own winter gear or boots of any sort.

Basically, I am about as ill equipped for the state as one person can be.

I'm okay with that.

So then why was I in Talkeetna last weekend for an adventure with dog sledding and wintry fun?

Well, my delightful German friends Katharina and Kerstin wanted to go, so go I went. They're leaving Alaska on February 19th and when given the opportunity to join them and do something a little bit different, I just couldn't pass.

I'm incredibly glad I did. The dog sledding part was amazing even though I didn't dog sled. Touring the kennel and talking to the folks who ran the Talkeetna Sun Dog Kennel was a blast and really informative. Plus, Katharina and Kerstin loved it, and that's all that matters.

I got to live my Talkeetna dream though - I got to eat at the Talkeetna Roadhouse! Featured on various Travel Channel shows, this place is as delectable as any breakfast joint in the state. In fact, they only have various pastries and three actual meals on the breakfast menu. Those meals? The standard (full size: 7 eggs, a pound of home fried potatoes, 6 pieces of pepper bacon), Sourdough Hotcakes, and my pick...biscuits and gravy.

Even though the waiter insisted that people who had just finished climbing mountains could barely finish the full size order of B&G, I ordered it. By ordered it, I mean I dominated it completely. It lasted roughly five minutes, but what a glorious five minutes it was.

All three of us loved our meals, which included the half standard and the special hotcake for the week (banana walnut). Throw in the incredible cinnamon roll we had earlier (redefining decadent, one bite at a time), and I had more of a love affair with this restaurant than an actual meal.

We retired to the area with couches afterwards, with myself napping on Katharina's lap as they chatted. The B&G was delicious, but oh dear lord was it exhausting.

It was an incredible journey, filled with lots of eating and lots of fun. It kind of proved that anywhere can be fantastic if you have the right people with you. Either that or it proved that Talkeetna was awesome. I think it did both, but no matter which way you look at it, I had an amazing time.

Now I just need to find a way to get Katharina and Kerstin to stay to help me become more Alaskan, and for me to get some biscuits and gravy stat! Just writing this made me ravenous for Roadhouse deliciousness.

A Tale of Two Keyboards

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Today brings us a release from two of the more interesting and innovative bands in indie music today - Yeasayer and Hot Chip. While both have been reviewed very well, one has resonated completely with me while the other started strong but has taking a downturn with increased listens. Given that they both focus on electropop, it's kind of interesting how their divergences has led to one of the releases having legs with me while the other has not. See which is which below.

Hot Chip - One Life Stand

From the first seconds of this album, I knew it was going be a hit with me. The warm synth that leads off "Thieves in the Night" leading into the driving drum beat...man, there is just something special about that intro. There is something just so simple and wonderful about the intro that exists as a microcosm for the album as a whole - a new found warmth and focus on dance pop that appeared from time to time on previous albums but never existed throughout.

While looking at this album you find yourself naturally comparing it to their other seminal releases like Made in the Dark and The Warning. While both of those albums had higher highs than this album (namely "Ready for the Floor" and "Over and Over" respectively), both felt like albums made by an experimental band grasping for an identity and trying a lot of things out in the process.

Yet One Life Stand grasps this concept perfectly. You have a lot of pop gems here, such as lead off tracks "Thieves in the Night", "Hand Me Down Your Love", "I Feel Better" and "One Life Stand." While they never quite hit you like a sledgehammer, they exist beyond when the track ends, sticking in your mind like all of the best do.

By the time they actually slow down the pace and give us a trio of more ballad like tracks in "Brothers", "Slush", and "Alley Cats", we're perfectly ready as listeners. They provide a nice mid album balance, slowing things down and still hitting all of the emotional targets. "Alley Cats" in itself is very cleverly designed, as it begins as a bit of a slower tempo track but by the end it reveals itself as something else entirely.

For the album as a whole, I find that album closer "Take It In" is my favorite to date. There's a darkness and a level of danger to combat the sweetness of the rest of the album that we just don't see elsewhere. The vocals themselves balance out the track with a matter of fact, deliberate nature in the verse and a real level of sweetness in the chorus. By the time the track closes with the band layering vocals to say "And oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove...It can fly, it can fly" you realize that this track could be a statement of what they were trying to do as a band with this album.

Their heart has flown to me as a listener, and I find myself quite receptive. Quite receptive, indeed.

Final Verdict: A

Yesayer - Odd Blood

From the very first time I heard "Ambling Alp", the lead single off of this album, I knew I was going to like this album. It's such an incredibly engaging track, effortlessly combining the more experimental aspects of the group with the pop sensibilities that help them reach their heighest peaks.

When I first saw this group at Sasquatch 2008, I knew they had to have quite the creative process given that the four musicians comprising the band could not look any more disparate. Listening to their album All Hours Cymbals really sells that, as it is a genre shifting release that has issues focusing. Their experimentalism gets in the way of their ability to create effective pop tracks.

I guess that sort of leads into my main problem with this album as well, as tracks like "Ambling Alp", "Madder Red", "I Remember", and "O.N.E." really kill it, while scores of others do not. Those aforementioned tracks use their more experimental thoughts to be more affecting from a listenability standpoint, using surprising harmonies and instrumental arrangements to really engage you as a listener.

The weirdest thing is I found almost every track (even the weird as hell opener "The Children") to be engaging through the first few listens. Yet quite like other artists who marry an experimental sound with pop, like Animal Collective, I found myself tiring of individual tracks. Sure, the highlights stick with me, but ultimately, I find myself skipping through certain tracks or just adding individual songs to playlists. While I ultimately really wanted to highlight this album as a major step forward, finding myself skipping around at will is not the foundation of a highlight worthy record.

Another odd thing is I find something to draw my interest on every track, but there are only elements that peak my interest. Like on "Love Me Girl", I love the build up of it. The instrumental arrangements with the driving piano notes and the synth flourishes and random vocal notes suck me in. Then the vocals start and I almost always skip the track.

However, I must note that some of the tracks on this album are so catchy and unique that they'd be near the top of my favorite tracks list so far this year. "O.N.E." in particular, as it is like an experimental dance track from my dreams and has found its way into my rotation of favorite workout songs very quickly (in my world, that's like receiving a Platinum Record).

All in all though, when I try to recall most of the album, I'm left with few lasting impressions. If this was an EP of my favorite tracks, it'd be marvelous. But it isn't, so I'm found wanting a little more from the rest of the album. I want an album comprised of great songs, not elements of songs. I think that day will come from Yeasayer eventually, just like it did for Hot Chip on their most recent release.

Final Verdict: C

Cold War Kids at First Tap

Sunday, February 7, 2010

This past Thursday, Bear Tooth actually had another band up in Alaska I liked for First Tap! Not to say there is something wrong with Rusted Root or Clinton Fearon or any of the others that followed Ghostland Observatory's performance at November's edition, but those bands are well past their prime. To be fair, as I noted with my friend Kerstin before the show, even the performers of the evening are not exactly on their way to the top.

Cold War Kids are their name, and they shot onto the scene with 2006's Robbers & Cowards. While it wasn't their first release, it was their first to gain them widespread attention. Highlighted by three particularly transcendant tracks in "Hospital Beds", "Hang Me Up to Dry" and "We Used to Vacation", they toured vigorously and gained them a lot of fans.

Including yours truly.

Of course, their follow up release Loyalty to Loyalty in 2008 was received by reviews of the negative nature from all kinds of critics.

Including yours truly.

Now they visited Alaska, supporting their recent EP release Behave Yourself (which is solid, in case you're wondering), and they were...mostly good. I saw them at Sasquatch 2008 before the release of Loyalty, and they were excellent. They brought a lot of energy and vitality, like you'd expect a band who'd just recently hit it big would do.

However, when they came into town on Thursday preceded by Wasilla's Lavoy (a decent local opener for what they are, but as Kerstin and I said it's like they don't know who they are so they switch genres constantly and have no real identity) instead of on the same day as The Cure, Death Cab for Cutie, and Tegan and Sara. Not sure if how much it affected it, but the timing and situation couldn't have helped as the band prepared.

Overall, they sounded very solid. They had a good mix between all of their releases, spreading all of my personal favorite tracks out over the length of the performance to keep me having something to look forward to. Everyone in the band performed their duties admirably, but there is one simple problem with the performance: they have a few great songs, and a lot of mediocre ones.

To me, this led their performance to drag on. They aren't particularly engaging performers, they don't draw us in with their stage presence, and they didn't have an insane stage show like Ghostland Observatory (or The Who at the Super Bowl today, mother of god!). While they sounded just fine, nothing about the evening excelled short of the excellent company with me and the fine brews Bear Tooth provided. Still a good time, but ultimately nothing fantastic.

Multiversity Comics Update: Version 2.0

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Multiversity Comics, the comic blog I write for, just went through an extensive redesign. The redesign was performed by none other than Sergei Shiryayev, the guy who redesigned my blog, and has already been lauded by a site for its brilliance in design using the Blogger formula. Just a fantastic job by Sergei, thanks man!

Besides the redesign, we've recently launched a forum, new features, loaded up on tons of big time creator interviews, and are actually trying out a gaggle of new writers (who knew that people would actually want to write for us?). Response has been great, as big time comic sites like Comic Book Resources, The Comics Journal and others have steadily linked to us, and it's really exciting. We just keep growing!

The next big step is Emerald City ComiCon, which my co-writer Brandon and I will be attending (with press passes!). While there, we're going to set up interviews with a ton of writers and artists, and will likely set up an Emerald City ComiCon version of our Saturday Showdown podcast (premieres this Saturday!). I really can't wait for all of that, but definitely check us out if you have any interest in comics or genre fiction.

2010 Oscar Nominations: My Thoughts

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
2010 marks the first year that the Academy would be awarding ten Best Picture nominations rather than the traditional five. The thought behind this was that ratings were sinking faster than the Titanic (actual ship, not the film - that thing had legs) and that the best way to get your Average Joe to care was to give them some movies that they actually like (how many of your friends were stoked about There Will Be Blood or Atonement?).

And it worked...mostly. The ten nominees are for the most part the best in film that I saw in 2010, with one wildly incorrect nomination in the midst. I've actually managed to see nine of the ten nominees this year.

I'm going to go through each Best Picture nominee and share my thoughts, along with each film's nomination count and my personal ranking.

Avatar (9 nominations, #8 on my list): This is the 800 pound gorilla of all. It's destroying box office records, it has insane buzz, and it has James Cameron's name behind it. Has to be considered the front runner, even though there is a strong contingent of backlash coming it's way. A very, very well made film that is perhaps being overrated by its masterful visuals.

The Hurt Locker (9 nominations, #7): Co-leader for nominations, Kathryn Bigelow's film is perhaps the most tense and well made film of all. It features numerous high caliber performances which resulted in just one nomination (Jeremy Renner!), as well as some of the best cinematography and editing of the year. If I had to bet on a winner, this would be it.

Inglourious Basterds (8 nominations, #3): Could this be the time Quentin Tarantino gets an Oscar win? It is his best shot yet, as many people think this is the first time his substance matched his style. From what I'm hearing buzz is rising on this, and with good reason: of the most likely winners, this is my favorite candidate by far. I'd love it if Basterds won.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (6 nominations, have not seen): Haven't seen it, but I think this film will likely not connect with wide enough of an audience to win. However, the lead performances are supposedly so superb, who knows.

Up in the Air (6 nominations, #4): Never discount the Jason Reitman/George Clooney collaboration, as it was once upon a time the frontrunner for Best Picture. It started strong, met some resistance, and could possibly swing back for a big push right before the show. That's the way things work sometimes. I would not be the least bit disappointed if this won, as I connected with it thoroughly.

A Serious Man (2 nominations, just missed the cut): The real indie feel film that had to make it in, plus it gives the Coen Brothers some love. This is a good, not great, Coen Brothers film. Often deeply funny and heightened by a masterful lead performance by Michael Stuhlbarg (how he wasn't nominated I have no idea), it is lessened by a narrative that is perhaps a bit aimless and anti-climactic.

Up (5 nominations, tied for #1): Yes! Yes! Yes! If this had not gotten nominated, I may have started some sort of petition or riot - whichever would get more attention. This was one of my co-favorite films of the year and perhaps the greatest film in the oeuvre of Pixar. I mean come on, it features a five minute silent section towards the beginning that confronts love, marriage, miscarriage, loss, death, and more with just stunning visuals and Michael Giacchino's gorgeous score to carry it. And this is an animated family film! I want this to win, but I know this was more of a courtesy nomination than anything.

An Education (3 nominations, #10): A sublimely acted film that was directed by the writer of the novel it's based off of and adapted by a brilliant and well loved novelist. Yeah, that works. Highlighted by Carey Mulligan's bravura performance (she should be the front runner in my book), this film is a funny and well crafted one, and one that is blessed with true emotional acuity.

District 9 (4 nominations, #6): This film brought the third biggest response out of me, behind only Up and the following film. Why? It's some of the best sci-fi in recent memory, as Neill Blomkamp crafted an innovative and stunning film with a cast of unknowns and the bargain basement cost of $30 million (how did we get to that being bargain basement?). This was the true sci-fi nod, getting it over massive crowd pleaser Star Trek simply because it's a better film. So glad this earned a nomination.

The Blind Side (2 nominations, ummm...what?): This film elicited my second biggest response, and that is because I was completely shocked. I guess I shouldn't be given its nature as a huge crowd pleaser and a come from nowhere hit, but come on: did they even watch this? It's a fairly average film in which I left the theater thinking "that was decent, but I really could have waited for DVD." It's a blatant tear jerker highlighted by a strong performance from Sandra Bullock, but really, there isn't a lot that separates this from manipulative and warm-hearted films from years past like "We Are Marshall", except those films never get nominations for one simple fact - they aren't good enough.

So there that is. I'd say the first three I listed have by far the best odds, and if I was going to pick a dark horse contender it would have to be Up. While I know it's not likely, it's such a well crafted film that perhaps there could be a rise of sentiment in one contingent of the Academy to help it win. Who knows? That's the fun thing about this new formula - it's such a crapshoot, it really is anyone's game.

Even Sandra Bullock's.