Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Repeat: ceo - Illuminata

Despite artwork that appears inspired by a Tool fan's back tattoo, Eric Berglund's pet project ceo is it's antithesis. The first thing you will notice on the exuberant Illuminata are the moody atmospherics that quickly recede to make room for bouncy bloops and sunny guitars. ceo is Sweden's answer to Spain's dance quartet Delorean, compressing summery riffs and warm, breezy vocals into refreshing 3-minute packages. The songs are bubbly and bright, the perfect sonic accompaniment to a time-lapse flight clip. The entire album bursts with this buoyant energy, some songs leaning on tribal rhythms and Spanish guitar, others like "No Mercy" sampling ominous sounds like a sword being unsheathed and still sounding unflinchingly happy. There aren't a lot of albums that can maintain such vitality and end up a syrupy, mushy mess. Let me put this in simple summer terms. Albums like this are usually Hoodsie cups. Unsatisfying, uninspired, and unmemorable. ceo is Fla-vor-ice. Fresh, unique and delicious.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It was inevitable really. I had been engaged in a high stakes game of chicken with my alarm clock for the better part of two weeks and it was a matter of time before it came to this. I knew full well that my love affair with the snooze bar would not satisfy forever and lead to turning the alarm off altogether. I told myself I was a respectable young man with willpower and logic. Today was the day I found out I was full of it.

Alarms are unnatural. Every fiber of your being wants to stay in bed when your alarm goes off and to dangle 9 extra minutes of sleep over you in the form of the snooze button is a recipe for disaster. Under normal circumstances, my logical brain would press snooze once and awake, knowing that further snoozes would impact my commute. However, my sleep-starved brain trumps any critical thinking skills at 6:15 AM. I would argue that one is never more coherent than the moment your alarm goes off; it sounds silly, but hear me out. As soon as my alarm goes off, I immediately deduce that the alarm clock is 13.64 minutes fast (a trick my awake brain came up with to trick my sleepy brain, which was soundly foiled) and hit snooze again. When the alarm goes off again, I instantly calculate the correct time, tabulate the time to shower and get ready and decide I still have time to spare if I hurry. When the snooze expires a THIRD time, my sleepy brain eloquently argues that showering is silly before you go into work and what I should really do is get adequate rest. When the fourth snooze cycle is complete, It is 6:51 (well, actually 6:38) and I turn off my alarm, ready to start my day. Once this happens, you have approximately 10 seconds to summon the Herculean strength to rise out of bed, or you are doomed and only an act of god will keep you from being late for work.

This is what I struggle with on a daily basis. It's a wonder I'm not late more often. Of course, after getting to work at 8:12 and having to stay until nearly FIVE O'CLOCK, I doubt I will hit the snooze at all tomorrow for fear of a repeat of today's horrorscape. But soon will come another day where this delicate dance between gainful employment and human nature will come to a head and I will surely lose again. And no defeat will taste so sweet.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Alex Alex Alex...

This was a real category on Jeopardy last week.

Couple things Alex:

1. On what planet is that Autotune? Typing the clue into an Apple IIe computer and having it read it back to you is not how autotune works. This is what my Teddy Ruxpin sounded like when it was running out of batteries and it scared the crap out of me. Pony up the $3 for the T-Pain iPhone app and thank me later.

2. I'm all for making Jeopardy more "hip", but less than a week after I heaped praises upon Jeopardy, calling it a "hallowed piece of Americana", you go and do something so desperate. Maybe you were hoping that by digitizing the clues you could somehow confuse your nemesis, but have some self-respect. If Jeopardy caved to every pop-culture whim, there would have been "Identify the Boy Band by their Frosted Tips" category in the 90's, and no one wants that.

3. On that note, is it just me, or has Alex Trebek lost a certain je ne sais quois since he shaved his moustache?  I mean, just LOOK at him back then and try to deny the warm pools of his eyes and his "Just For Men" pose. If producers wanted this Alex to sing auto-tuned nursery rhymes they would have needed a lot of scotch and a team of Navy Seals to come out of it alive. And even then he'd probably send them threatening faxes and mess up their Rubik's cube for a few weeks.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: The National - High Violet

Of all the cliche phrases that are tossed about by music reviewers, the term "grower" is perhaps the most egregious. It's usually used to describe an album that may not be immediately gratifying; instead requiring repeated listens to bloom in ones eardrum. These albums are often initially dismissed as "boring", until the offending party comes to their senses. The problem with the term "grower" is that EVERY album is a grower. With the exception of a Pokerface, I can't think of any song that I instantly embraced. Even my favorite songs were more intriguing than invigorating on the outset. In reality, the term grower is not used to describe a boring record, but instead one of daunting complexity. It's only natural of course, as people prefer simple things.

Like Wilco before them, The National are critical darlings that do little to inspire excitement in indie circles. Consistent and agreeable. Music's answer to meatloaf. Unfairly, I too have played a part in underestimating the Brooklyn via Cincinnati band. I should know better. I listened to 2007's Boxer over and over again when it came out, unable to see what distinguished it from thousands of bands doing the exact same thing. It wasn't until late that summer that the album had taken root. The beauty and nuance that I had missed or simply dismissed became integral to the record and the crucial difference between other bands of their ilk. I nearly made the same mistake with High Violet. Shame on me.

Listening to High Violet is a solitary experience. It's filled with soft anecdotes, bitter words and keen observations from frontman Matt Berninger. The cadence and depth of his baritone sound like the last snippets of coherence from after a long night of drinking. Tired, measured and introspective, the intimacy of his voice adds gravity to the lyrics. I never once wondered if he really swam in that fountain, or if his kids were really sick in "Conversation 16". Maybe it's because the details were mundane, but they are still vivid and believable.

What makes The National such a distinctive band is not Berninger's voice or the words he says. The National live an die by the snappy lead of drummer Bryan Devendorf. Every song is anchored by his confident beats, controlling the tempo and pacing like a virtuoso. Few bands use a set of drums as effectively as The National. Additionally, much of the nuance springs from interesting production choices, the edginess of which aren't apparent until you imagine the songs with them. The buzzy strums and string accompaniment on "Terrible Love" compliment each other perfectly, a similar technique of whirring, cycling static opens "Little Faith" later. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" unnerves with rising strings, trumpets, fuzzy guitars and a healthy dose of nostalgia. It feels familiar but wholly unique, which is where the best music comes from.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Old Song Review: Terry Riley - In C

I like to pretend I know a lot about music, but everyone has their blind spots. Classical music is mine. I took a   classical music class in college and was exposed to most of the major players, but even then, much of the enjoyment was lost in the mad-cramming session to commit pieces and dates and composers to memory. I still have most of the tracks rattling around on my Zune, and enjoy them when they come pop up inbetween Gucci Mane and Powerline. When I'm in the right mindset, classical music offers a degree of spontaneity and unpredictability that popular Verse-Chorus-Verse music doesn't offer. I'm sure there is a formula and a great deal of music theory in play in every classical piece, but it's exciting to discover where a piece takes you.

To call Terry Riley's 1964 piece In C influential is to call the Isner-Mahut match "long". It came at a time when classical music was very dark and cacophonous, essentially becoming the first minimalist piece and flipping the genre on its head. It influenced classical music heavyweights like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and musicians of every disposition. As soon as the piece lifts out of the opening piano note, the artists it has influenced floods your mind. From Jon Brion's soundtrack to I Heart Huckabees, to Sigur Ros and Sufjan Steven's Illinois album. Even techno owes a great deal to In C. It has a warm hypnotic quality, that is heightened even more by the fact that is different nearly every time it is performed.

As devised, In C has no set length or set instruments. Riley envisioned it to consist of 53 short musical phrases, of varying length, repeated an arbitrary number of times. Often times the performers are encouraged to begin at different times, so long as they remain within 2-3 phases of one another. Rhythms and keys change subtly, flowing in and out of one another gently and gracefully. Instruments form harmonies with one another that fall away and coalesce again. The piece can last as little as 15 minutes or several hours, depending on the performers involved. It's a fascinating piece that feels deeply rooted in classical music, but also like something else entirely.

Here are the first 10 minutes of Riley's original recording.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Buy: Calvin and Hobbes Complete Collection

I don't quite remember exactly when, but recently some friends and I unanimously agreed that Calvin and Hobbes is the best comic strip ever made. Sure, Far Side has its fair share of hilarity, but it doesn't have any of the manic charm and tenderness that Calvin often displayed. There also were never any plot arcs, every joke was contained in a single panel. It's easy to be funny in this setting, but quite hard to carry the emotional heft of the Calvin and Hobbes series of strips when he finds a baby raccoon or he loses Hobbes. For a hastily drawn cartoon about a delusional kid and his stuffed tiger to be able to resonate so strongly with so many different people is a testament to Bill Watterson's creative genius. Unlike other strips that have been running so long that they have nearly become a parody of themselves (Garfield) or are painfully unfunny and somehow  cling to life (Family Circus), Watterson knew precisely when to pull the plug on Calvin and Hobbes and did so in a dignified and satisfying manner. The strongest measure of its lasting impact are the legions of fans who still pine for the strip 15 years after it was ended. The best remedy for this withdrawal is the beautiful, 28-pound Calvin and Hobbes Complete Box Collection.

I distinctly remember checking out the smaller Calvin and Hobbes collections when I was in grade school, and harassing my mom to let me buy the newest one when the book fair was in town. I would read them straight through over and over again, comprehending half the jokes, but still completely enthralled. Those paperback pieces were child's play compared to the Complete Collection behemoth. It bows the top of my bookshelf, and would certainly maim anything that had the misfortune to get in the way between it and the ground. The heft alone isn't what makes the best way to spend $94.50 I can think of, it's the incredible attention to detail within. The collection is divided into 3 volumes, and is preceded by a 14-page foreward by Bill Watterson. 3,160 strips are included altogether, on brilliant glossy paper and in chronological order, each ascribed with date of first publication. It's not a coffee-table book per se, (it's too pretty/heavy); it's more of a fantastic, lovingly assembled piece of art. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Jenna Peterson - Her Notorious Viscount

Main Entry: vis·count 
Pronunciation: \ˈvī-ˌkant\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English viscounte sheriff, viscount, from Anglo-French visquens, visconte, from Medieval Latin vicecomit-, vicecomes, from Late Latin vice- vice- + comit-, comes count — more atcount
Date: 15th century
: a member of the peerage in Great Britain ranking below an earl and above a baron.

I had the esteemed honor of reading nearly 13 excerpts from Jenna Peterson's magnum opus this weekend. Her Notorious Viscount is bursting with carnal pleasures, but never sinks to cheap tricks to achieve them. The novel tells the story of boxer Nicholas Stoneworth ("Stone" to his friend "Rage") and the proper Jane Fenton in early 19th century England. The tragic death of Nicholas' brother brings he and Ms. Fenton together into the seedy London underground in search of answers and Jane's long lost brother. 

I don't know what happens in that regard, but I can assure you that Mrs. Peterson puts "romance" in the historical romance genre. As Amazon reviewer jjmachshev says, "Peterson imbues every scene with the smoldering passion between Stone and fairly jumps off the page". Grammatical errors aside, JJ speaks the truth. The author infuses romantic scenes "with things (or body parts) to drool over, as well as like" (Amazon reviewer Cali). Stone is never one for cuddling, but lady Fenton makes quick work of that and has this brute of a man eating from the palm of her hand. I strongly disagree with Amazon reviewer Pen Pen who laments "sex scenes were very brief, not hot enough for me", it was quite warm where I was sitting (it may have been my proximity to the camp fire).   

It's a shame when the spell of an entrancing book is no longer, but like the final notes of a sweet symphony, they linger in the air for a time after it passes (probably all the ash). Her Notorious Viscount is a brooding, sensual and satisfying read from the William Faulkner of Historical romance. $1 well spent.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Open Letter to Watson and I.B.M.

Listen Watson. I'm quite aware of your less-than-subtle plans for world domination and I'm here to tell you to it will not stand. Trivia acumen does not a super-computer make. And you have the GALL to flaunt your talents on Jeopardy, the most esteemed quiz show on planet Earth. Don't get me wrong, computers are great when they are in my cellphone or doing my dishes, but once they start encroaching on hallowed pieces of Americana like Jeopardy, I draw a line in the sand.

The New York Times, once the last refuge of journalistic integrity, is joining the parade for this glorified box of silicon. In an article for their magazine, they spare no adjectives in extolling its merits. It can help doctors! It can improve customer service! If a doctor crunches algorithms to figure out how to stop my brain hemorrhage, the medical establishment has serious problems. If computers were popstars, Watson would be Justin Beiber and The New York Times would be my 14 year old cousin. There are slight references to Skynet and computers becoming cognitive, but these are fleeting respites from the fanatic tone of the rest of the piece. It has been a life's dream of mine to appear on Jeopardy, and when I see some hotshot laptop waltz into the studio on little more than hype, the word sacrilegious doesn't seem strong enough. Alex Trebek would be smart to stand with me, or the next season of Jeopardy will be hosted by Johnny 5 and he'll be selling denture creams.

Thankfully, the NYTimes sheds some light on the Achilles (w)heel of these androids. Puns. Ask it where Bach  died, and it'll bloop its little lights and spit out an answer. But ask it a roundabout question about mosquito bites, and it will try to answer "A Bug's Life" or stranger still,  "CSI: New York", whe correct answer was "itching". It cannot process any sort of wordplay or trickery. Thus, if you come in contact with one, do not try and reason with it. Quickly resort to vicious sarcasm and "your mama" jokes. With any luck it will blow out its circuits trying to compute the physics of an obese person reducing a rainbow to skittles. Or, if you're one for tact, you could also just play it here, and hope you can shame it into submission. I kicked it's metal butt back into the 19th century, 27-13. Jeopardy producers, I await your call.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


On the heels of SS's America's Funniest Home Video themed blog post of yesterday, I thought I would dust off the above graph of AFV hilarity. I made it as a guest graph for Sam last fall, but after reading his post I feel compelled to add "Spills" and "Model Plane Failure" somewhere along the X-axis. Although I guess all those would fall under the umbrella of VIDEO MONTAGE, but that's a bit of a cop out. I'm not going to spend any more time splitting hairs about what type of clips are funniest, but I do want to explain why America's Funniest Home Videos is a national treasure and the funniest television show ever made (yes, even funnier than AD).

Before Jackass added a heavy dose of gross to the formula and Youtube had a domain, AFV was the original purveyor of viral videos. I remember watching on Sunday nights in my pajamas when I was 7 years old, listening to Bob Saget make abhorrent squeaky voices and having to slog through 20 minutes of flubbed Wedding vows and slippery dentures for the holy grail of the video montage. But without fail, it brought the heights of tear-inducing, diaphragm-seizing laughter that is nearly impossible to achieve sober. As such, my love for AFV is like that of a hopeless heroin addict. I can go a few days, maybe even a week without seeing an episode, but once I relapse, the AFV 5-episode bender is inevitable. 

It might be a stretch, but I would propose that anyone who dislikes AFV is unAmerican. Watching someone get hit in the balls is as American as baseball and apple pie. Furthermore, I would argue that AFV is a shining example of what makes America great. Americans love for video montages and receiving thousands of dollars for doing absolutely nothing cuts across all races and creeds. You will not see a more diverse group of people than those in the crowd during an AFV episode, and whenever the camera cuts to them their faces are contorted into such a display of ecstasy that it feels crass to be watching. Now, don't get me started on the clips that actually win. More often than not they are a kid who made a gigantic mess or some overwrought college prank. AFV humor is inversely proportional to the length of the clip, which is why an entire episode of video montages would result in societal collapse. But what a way to go.

EDIT: Hi Tom Bergeron! I am available for creative counsel or would settle for being a member of the studio audience. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

iPhone 4

So the iPhone 4 was released last week, with subdued fanfare. Everything you would expect from a phone update was on display. Thinner! Flatter! 30% Less Fat! I'll spare you the "incremental-progress-disguised-as-a-revolutionary-product" rant, but suffice to say the new iPhone is a lot like the old iPhone. One major update however, is the addition of a front facing camera, which opens up the Pandora's box of videoconferencing. This is a novelty feature at best. Why? Quite simply, people don't want to see themselves or have other people see them.

I loathe talking on the phone, but I understand its merits. I understand the appeal of Skype, but think it's moronic for daily use (I'm talking to YOU, LK). It's a narcissist's wet dream, but not my cup of tea in any way/shape/form. Videoconferencing is another matter entirely, and doomed to fail for reasons David Foster Wallace describes in Infinite Jest far better than I ever could.

A phone conversation offers the "bilateral illusion of unilateral attention", meaning, you assume you have the undivided attention of the person you are speaking with, while at the same time you are free to surf the internet, pantomime the exchange with friends, or otherwise distract yourself from the boring conversation you are having. A videophone would truly require your undivided attention, at the risk of appearing aloof or rude. People like to feel important, and traditional phone conversations fulfill this illusion quite nicely.

In addition to requiring you to curb your desire to multi-task, a videophone would also amplify the vanity in people. As DFW describes, "good old Aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses...even without clothes, if that rattled your saber." With videoconferencing, talking on the phone becomes a stressful event; one in which you are forced to come to terms with your own "shiny, pallid" self. In Infinite Jest, this experience leads to the creation of a line of "polybutylene-resin masks" of their best faces to wear during these stressful exchanges. Ultimately this evolved into contracting out beautiful models to carry out your conversations for you, before the technology fizzled out.

I doubt we'll get that to the "polybutylene mask" phase, but that's because people would just assume not use it  at all. The fact that it's only available over wifi and only between other iPhones doesn't help matters either. In any case, you can be sure that the iPhone 5 will not be trumpeting the newest generation of videoconferencing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Repeat: Kanye West - Power

You may not guess the subject of this caricature, but after I tell you it's Kanye West you'll see it. When I say it is Kanye West, I mean it IS Kanye West. Opinions accompany every exhale, exploding with the fiery snarl of a chained animal. A flared eye reflects a primal disconnect, while the other is locked into a leery squint. His default is set to Jekyll, and nothing short of a serious hit to his psyche can shake him into any semblance of compassion and tact. Say what you will about these attributes in a person, but in a rapper, this swagger is requisite.

Kanye's newest single "Power" is a microcosm of what makes him a musical genius. Gone are the 808s and shiny autotune of 808's and Heartbreak, returning to the brilliant sampling and lyrical hubris that made his first 3 albums shoo-ins into the hip-hop pantheon. Handclaps and tribal chants provide an a capella red carpet for Kanye to dance out on, and dance does he ever. He can't even stand to wait for the guitar and drums to come in, the verse galloping out of him with a familiar assuredness. When bass groan gives way to a sample of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man", any apprehensions about Mr. West have been laid to rest. And for those of you expecting introspection or remorse from someone who has been dartboard fodder for the better part of the last year, don't hold your breath. He spares no venom here, delivering verbal middle fingers to SNL and assorted haters, squeezing in extra syllables to specifically exactly what part of his ass they can kiss (the hole, of course). Between barbs he is his own PR man, billing himself as a superhero martyr, even going so far as to pull Dwele in to romanticize jumping to your death in the song's final moments. Not sure where Kanye comes down on the topic of suicide, but I'm sure he has an opinion on it.

Listen HERE.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

EDU: Tomato Paella

This is what I made tonight. Delicious, no? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, this picture is from the New York Times, but my tomato Paella looked very close to this, and in some ways better (just LOOK at the haphazardly strewn about tomatoes). It's such an easy recipe that I feel a bit sheepish about devoting a whole blog post to it, but so awesome I almost feel obligated. Here goes:

Note: I realized some of my earlier cooking blog posts were a little vague when it came to ingredients, measurements, etc. I'm going to try to remedy that here, but no promises.

3 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Large pinch saffron threads
1-2 teaspoons Spanish pimentón (I just used 1 tsp and it was plenty)
2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice

Minced parsley and basil for garnish

Very simple ingredients, especially in the summer. I had to run out to grab some wine, some Spanish rice and some Pimenton (which turns out to be paprika, but who knows what they have in their spice cabinet at any given moment). Here is a picture of my ingredients at the metaphorical "starting line":

Everything you need is pictured. Except for saffron (SHIT IS EXPENSIVE). The laptop is there for me to scroll around with my unsoiled pinky to try and figure out what the hell I'm doing. Note the large pan in the background. I used all of it. If you're not sure how much space you need, always give yourself more. A wise man told me that (Ratatouille, I think). Sometimes it helps to have nice music playing to set the culinary mood, but tonight my hands were covered in tomato entrails before I realized I didn't have anything playing. I would recommend some nice Merengue when you make paella. 

Like most recipes, you begin by saute'ing onions and garlic in olive oil. Ho-hum. Bear with me. I should have just used a stock photo for this.

While you saute the onions and garlic for 3-5 minutes, frantically cut your tomatoes into large chunks. The recipe says to "core" them, which is stupid. They aren't apples or avocados, jeez. I tried to be dainty around the less ride midsection, but I pretty much sliced the whole tomatoes into sixths. Once this is done, toss them in about a tablespoon of olive oil, add salt/pepper and let them think about what they've done.

After the garlic/onion get tender, add 1 TBSP (tablespoon, I'm not doing that to belittle you, I get them confused) of tomato paste, and 1-2 TSP of Paprika. Stir it up, and add half a cup of white wine. I used chardonnay, because I like chardonnay and had to drink the remaining 1.5 Liters minus 1/2 cup. Some of you may be asking why I didn't just buy a smaller bottle or one of those new-fangled non-alcoholic cooking wines at Trader Joes. Shut it. Drinking while cooking is integral to the process and is scientifically proven to improve taste bud performance. 

Once the wine is reduced a bit, add your Spanish rice. It should look like this. 

You may or may not be able to see the MASSIVE chunks of spice or whatever goodness Goya puts in their Spanish rice that makes it coagulate. You're going to need to break up these chunks whilst you stir the mixture. Once the rice is "shiny" (the recipe's words, not mine), add your water. This is shiny rice.

After you add the water, it will look like you drowned/ruined everything, but don't fret. 

Take a few deep breaths, and add your tomatoes really fancy-like. Oh, you should have pre-heated your oven to 450 a long time ago. Sorry! I never said I was a professional!

Slip this whole mess into the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, try the rice and see how it tastes. If it's wet still, give it some more time. If it's dry, add some more water (or wine!) and give it another 5 minutes. I broiled it another 5 minutes to give the tomatoes a little personality. In the meantime, I sauteed the tatsoi from Wednesday in some olive oil and garlic and topped it with some slivered almonds. Here's the finished product on display in the waning sunlight.

Told you it was pretty. I put a little basil on for color, but it's not critical. Here's the plate in its 20 Amsden glory. 

It was yummy and John agreed. Great success. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Clipless" Pedals

Yesterday, fellow biker and dear friend SS wrote a detailed review of clipless pedals. He prides himself on his thoroughness in these reviews, so I was incredulous when he failed to mention how ABSURDLY dangerous they are. He wrote quaint anecdotes about the benefits of straps over laces and that the term "clipless" makes no sense, as you CLIP INTO THEM. Thus, I thought I already had clipless pedals. When I realized I didn't, I asked my parents to get me them for my birthday. Allow me to play bad cop.

I will concede that clipless pedals are inherently more efficient, as your feet are holstered in and can generate momentum over your entire stride. But, once that momentum is gone, there's the little matter of your feet still being attached to the bicycle. Let me back up a few steps before I paint this gruesome picture.

SPD shoes are pretty straightforward. They look like soccer cleats, but have little clips on the bottom. They feel like wearing ski boots, and when I walk around in them I sound like I am learning Jazz tap. This is a problem because I like to do errands on my bike rides. For example, I had to pack a pair of sandals to change into when I got to Trader Joe's on Monday. That valuable space could have been used for hummus or tamales in my backpack.

The act of physically clipping into the pedal is a little tricky, but is definitely a personal problem. More often than not I get my right foot in and spend the next 10-100 seconds feeling like one of Cinderella's evil stepsisters. Now let us return to where we left off. You are clipped in and come to a stop. You realize feet are still clipped in. You immediately experience the surge of adrenaline and fear that is known in scientific circles as "fight or flight". I liken it to the time I tried to leapfrog SS off his trampoline and found myself 7 feet in the air parallel to the ground. I flailed once and landed on my face. On the bike, you wiggle your foot frantically, and this happens:

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Produce Bonanza

June 9th may not carry any significance for you. But what if I told you June 9th (TODAY) is the opening of the Arlington Farmers Market? Still nothing? Well, when you do an inordinate amount of shopping at Trader Joe's, you'll appreciate vegetables that don't spontaneously liquefy upon leaving the store. I'm exaggerating, but if you've ever purchased their "mixed greens", you are likely nodding in agreement. SOME people buy a CSA and have to eat salads for breakfast. I go to the farmers market.

The Arlington Farmers Market runs from 2-6:30pm in the Russell Common parking lot in Arlington Center. Most vendors deal in more produce that you could shake a stick at, but I would be remiss if I left it at that. There are 2 bakeries, a stand specializing in goat cheese, another with an intimidating variety of Gouda, a restaurant, a salsa stand, a table of fresh fish in styrofoam, a bustling chocolate-caffeine booth (Taza?), and more. Maybe farmers market is a bit of a misnomer; perhaps "yummy boulevard" will catch on.

I leisurely biked down this afternoon (sans helmet, sorry mom and JL). hitched my bike to a parking meter (HA), and surveyed the merchandise. Lots of scary leafy greens that brought to mind adjectives like "sharp" and "itchy", but being the adventurous sort, I bought a few with the hopes that I could find a recipe to make them palatable. The critical part of this, of course, is remembering the name of the vegetable long enough to search for it when you get home. Otherwise, you will spend 20 minutes Googling "pointy lettuce" like I did, trying to find something that looks like it.

Here are my wares:

This is Tatsoi. Tatsoi is an Asian green. It was $2 a bunch. This is the one I couldn't remember and had to Google. I'm pretty sure it is Tatsoi. Most recipes I found for it involve the word "saute" which is French for "fry in butter", which is my favorite way to cook things I might not like. I found another recipe for Tatsoi that involved some sort of salad, but it looked complicated and I didn't have any of the other ingredients.

This is Bok Choy. It's not the finest specimen, and there were stands with better looking bunches, but the girl at this booth looked particularly forlorn to be selling Bok Choy on a Wednesday afternoon. I doubt my $2 and half-hearted smile made her day better (especially since it started raining as I was leaving), but who knows. I'm sure you know Bok Choy, but how do you cook it? When I saw this recipe entitled Bacon-y Bok Choy, I knew my recipe search had ended.

This is Garlic Scape. They look like something found on Fawcett's boot in the Lost City of Z. They smell like garlic. I asked the nice lady how to prepare them and she said "use it like Garlic" and then yelled "they are good in pesto!" as I was walking away. If you are going to sell a plant that looks like an infestation and sounds like an injury, you should have recipes queued up in your head for inquisitive minds. Well, wouldn't you know it, but I found a recipe for Garlic Scape Pesto. I need to buy some almonds and Parmesan, but it looks hard to mess up.

This is an "Provencal Marinade" goat cheese that is out of this world. This is the reason I wait for the farmers market with bated breath. I think Provencal is a French word French people made up to make American's feel stupid. I tried to pronounce it with nobility, but when the guy said "What?" I said "the P one" and pointed. I bought one for me and one for my friend Stefany because I told her I would and I don't like her when she's angry.

This is an Apple-Almond something. It's huge and I'm going to eat it for breakfast tomorrow. The sign for it said "better than Apple Pie!" which is unfathomable to me. What they should have said is "it's dessert you can eat for breakfast!". I ate a couple almonds that fell off when I put it on the plate and they were good. I'm probably going to forget it in my fridge or crush it in my backpack tomorrow, but at least I'll have this picture.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Song of the Summer

It's about this time of year; early June, when you open the eternal "roll down the windows" or "turn on the AC" debate, and freeze-pops become a viable hydration alternative, that what kind of music you are playing in your car becomes VERY important. If you're rolling down Mass Ave with open windows and bumping Return of the Mack, you may get some strange looks (I maintain that it's a great song). Here is a brief rundown of songs that are in the running for Song of the Summer; meaning, if you play this in a crowd of people, half will know it and sing along, and the other half will feel inadequate immediately look it up on iTunes when they get home. Understandably, nearly all of these are hip-hop.

Roscoe Dash - Show Out

B.O.B. - Past My Shades

Drake - Miss Me (ft. Lil Wayne)

Big K.R.I.T. - See Me On Top

LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean

Kanye West - Power

Listen HERE

Young Jeezy - Lose My Mind (ft. Plies)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule

As you may know, there are no shortage of pretensions here at Lollipops and Crisps. As Jeff Van Gundy would say, the best offense is a good defense and as such, most popular things are met with scorn and ridicule and a healthy dose of eye-rolling round these parts. See for example, my verbal disemboweling of the ventriloquist hack Jeff Dunham during my Summer Concert Preview entry last week. But sometimes, oh some glorious times, things that have merit become popular and for a brief moment, all is right in the world. Usually these take the form of an internet viral video. If we ever want to make friendly contact with alien life, our best bet is to beam AFV music montages into space. There's no way they would dare annihilate a planet where children are adorably swinging baseball bats into their parents genitals and cats losings their minds over a laser pointer. But I digress.

One such internet clip is the Adult Swim show Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule. I find most of the stuff on Adult Swim a little bizarre for my taste, but Dr. Steve Brule is another matter entirely. Filmed like a late 80's public access show, the 11 minute series features John C. Reilly as Dr. Steve Brule, a strange, curious man. Apparently the entire thing is a spin-off from another Adult Swim show, but like I said, I don't usually indulge. With that being said, the first episode of Check It Out! sets a new high water mark for AFV style comedy.

Seeing respected actor John C. Reilly tease out his hair, slur and stagger around the stage and blink through coke-bottle glasses would probably be pretty funny in any context, but run through this VHS low-budget, error prone filter, it takes on a whole new form. Perhaps Reilly is this goofy in real life, but where he unearths these mannerisms and attitude is beyond me. The whole thing might seem sad if he weren't equal parts affable and asshole. There's a Martha Steward like segment where he tries to learn about Shushi Sandwiches (sushi) and is hilariously inept, followed by another scene where he engages in a stare-down with a nutritionist who has the gall to question his credentials. The whole thing has a Borat-like quality, but make no mistake about it, there is no bold social commentary on display here, just Reilly hamming it up. Expecting the show to maintain this momentum is unreasonable, but if they are half as funny as the pilot, I'll be happy.

Part 1

Part 2

And finally, this video my sister showed me over the weekend of a girl coming out of Wisdom Teeth anesthesia. It is so funny we spent the next hour Youtube-ing "Wisdom Teeth" to more like this. We eventually gave up and just watched this ten more times.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

I'm not sure people can really understand how audacious Janelle Monae's debut album The ArchAndroid really is. Part science fiction epic, part religious fable, it deftly dances across genres, while remaining wholly unique and coherent over 18 tracks. For a young, female R&B (I hesitate to call her that) artist to fully realize such an ambitious concept album is so rare that I struggle to come up with something to compare it to, and I think that's exactly what Monae is after here.

Alter-ego concept albums are a tired song and dance in Hip-hop. From Eminem nearly a decade ago, to the Beyonce/Sasha Fierce tug-of-war, it seems obligatory that a popular artist undergo some identity struggle and traipse it out as a concept album. The problem with these are that they are nearly always half-baked and never feel sincere. They are more acting audition than album, and it shows. Oh, you use a deeper voice for your angry alter-ego? How novel. You have a song about not recognizing yourself in the mirror? Poor you. Maybe now Janelle Monae's album has a bit more context. Not only does she have no "cred" whatsoever (that would allow her to try something this insane and not ruin her career if it tanked), she is completely and relentlessly in character here as Cindi Mayweather, the messianic android (seriously). She goes for it with an indomitable swagger that will beat you into submission if it can't charm your pants off.

The word "eclectic" seems to exist solely to describe this record. There are no fewer than 50 instrumental credits on the wikipedia entry for The ArchAndroid, and if I listened hard enough I could probably pick them all out. If that isn't enough, Monae's vocal gymnastics should probably count for another ten. From the DJ scratches that transition effortlessly into a caffeinated electric strum and a piano run of Faster that brings to mind a chrome old-time microphone in a smokey lounge to the sleepy synths of Cold War that aggressively lurch into Outkast-style frantic kick-drums and back-up coos. The homages here are dizzying. There's a song in which Monae hauntingly sings backwards that does not feel out of place (no small feat), followed by the absolutely jaw-dropping Oh, Maker that scales back the arrangements and production to allow for Monae's staggering Mariah Carey impression. The influences here are many, and Monae adapts like a chameleon to meet every one, all the while oozing the same brazen confidence. I'll be damned if I'm going to be the one to tell her otherwise.

If history is any indication, The ArchAndroid will likely join Sufjan Stevens "Illinois", David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and The Beatles "Sargent Pepper" into the epic and flawless concept album pantheon. There is truly something here for any taste, any mood, or any species for that matter.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer Concert Overview

What's the best thing about summer? Going to the beach? Puh-lease, some of us have pasty complexions. Barbecuing? Fun, but how many days in a row can you eat a Kielbasa? Binge-ing on Fla-vor-ice? Perhaps. Personally, I love seeing live music in the summer, especially outdoors. Not necessarily on the lawn at a Dave Matthews Band concert between a cloud of pot smoke and a frat dude passed out on a beach towel (been there, done that), but there are worse things. 

Any band worth their salt tours in the summer. I can't even imagine what it's like to spend three months driving 5000 miles a 12 person van with no air conditioning, stained carpets, and the same 4 people. Miserable? Probably. Also, exciting and lucrative. Seeing a them live is the best way to show your support for your favorite band. Don't believe me? Read this. Bands make next to nothing on album sales and royalties, but retain a significant portion of ticket sales. Despite rampant music piracy and poor record sales, artist revenues have increased for the last 5 years thanks to touring. Travel the world and make a ton (debatable) of money? Where do I sign up?

Here's a list of a few concerts I plan to attend this summer and a few that you'd best avoid. 

6/8 Backstreet Boys - Bank of America Pavillion

Yes, these charming young men. Now old and destitute! If you really want to feel like you are in Middle School again, buy yourself a scrunchie, a tamagotchi, and watch Friends. Do not go to this concert. 

6/17 Jimmy Buffett - Comcast Center

This goes for you too mom and dad. If you want to have a Margarita in a tropical paradise, go to Aruba and order one. Drinking a Bud Light Lime at a Jimmy Buffett is not a viable alternative.    

7/1 GAGA - TD Banknorth Garden

Sorry Gaga, but these are surely out of my price range. I will make a pair of lit cigarette sunglasses and make poison sandwiches in your honor.   

7/12 Wolf Parade - House of Blues

After the cultural wasteland that was the month of June, I was beginning to rethink this blog post. Mercifully, along came Wolf Parade to turn things around. Their new album is nifty, and they put on a good show. Note: there are no wolves or parades during the act, contrary to popular belief. Although they did have a marching band walk through the crowd when I saw them.  

7/14 The Love Language - TT The Bears

LOVE LOVE The Love Language. I still can't believe they are not Vampire Weekend popular yet, but they will be soon, belee dat*. Do yourself a favor and see them if you have the chance. 

7/24 Bon Jovi/Kid Rock - Gillette Stadium

Somehow a Bon Jovi/Kid Rock concert sounds oddly appropriate. I am not condoning this behavior, but if you're looking for a parking lot to shotgun beers or commit misdemeanors in on the weekend of the 24th, Gillette stadium is the place to be.

7/31 The Black Keys with the Morning Benders - Bank of America Pavillion

If you want to have your face melted off, follow me here. I could probably hear them shredding from my apartment, but I'd rather get a little closer.

8/1 The Arcade Fire with Spoon - Bank of America Pavillion

It is a point of personal shame that I haven't seen The Arcade Fire live. This will not stand.

8/5 Local Natives - The Middle East

2010's indie darlings come to Cambridge. I blogged about them a few months ago but don't feel like looking it up. Use the search bar. 

8/6 Jeff Dunham - I'm not telling you where he is "performing"

Jeff Dunham brings his unfunny, racist brand of ventriloquism to Boston. If you see him, have seen him, or see him on the street, do me a favor and break his hands and ruin his career. I'll pay your legal fees.  

These last two concerts are technically September but September is technically still summer, so shut it.  And they look great.  

9/12 Vampire Weekend/Beach House - Bank of America Pavillion

9/17 Broken Social Scene - House of Blues

*believe that.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

EDU: How to make Hummus

I made hummus yesterday. Usually I buy it from TJ's and never think twice*, but with a long weekend, the apartment to myself and the claws of boredom tightening their grip around my neck Monday afternoon, I hopped onto old reliable ( and found a winner. It was called "Hummus III" and was submitted by RC2STEP, who claims to have pilfered the secret formula from a Boston restaurant. I don't consider Boston to be the peak in Middle Eastern dining, but the 815 people who voted it 5 stars probably know better than I.  Note: the picture above is the World Record largest batch of hummus. No pita in sight. Poor saps.

Here is what you will need:

Pita bread, roasted peppers (optional), parsley (garnish), lemon, garbanzo beans, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes (not pictured), a functional blender, and tahini.

Before I go on any further, a few notes on these ingredients.

1. Chickpeas are Garbanzo beans, and Garbanzo beans are chickpeas. You're welcome. Now you won't have to spend 15 minutes poring over the canned vegetables and getting THIS close to buying regular hummus and going home.

2. Tahini is not as common as you think. I got most of my ingredients from Stop n' Shop, and while they had Tahini, it was enveloped in an disconcerting layer of dust and no expiration date to speak of. It was also $7. Cocksure**, I said "I'm sure Trader Joe's has it" and left it on the shelf. Well, allow me to spare you the suspense. Trader Joe's did not have it, and in fact they directed me to Whole Foods like a lost child. I am aware Whole Foods has everything under the sun, I just want some damn tahini. Well I biked to Whole Foods (sans HELMET, don't tell JL) and bought some $4 organic tahini and patted myself on the back for saving 3 dollars but wasting 2 hours. My time is valuable.

This is a picture of the monstrosity that was the Stop n' Shop garlic. The lemon is there for scale. It was a large lemon. The recipe called for 2-3 cloves of garlic, but people suggested more. I THOUGHT 3 of the uber cloves was a good compromise. Note: the preceding literary device is called foreshadowing. It is often used by authors to bring attention to a seemingly innocuous plot point which will play a large role later in the narrative. 

Forgive the lack of photos here, but it was messy and there really wasn't much to see. I strained two cans of Garbanzo beans and saved the juice (we'll return to this), halved the garlic cloves and tossed them into the blender, along with the beans, 3T of Tahini (which is delicious by the way in a nutty, bitter way***), 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, most of a jar of roasted red peppers, and some red pepper flakes. Here is a view from the side of the blender:

Note the layers. Another friendly tip; make sure the bottom of the blender is firmly secured to the body of the blender. It sounds like a no brainer, but it isn't (SS). Also, lemons aren't as juicy as you would expect. Perhaps if we owned one of these, I would be whistling a different tune, but 1/4 cup is a tall order to churn out of a lemon. I'm glad there was no one around to see me fight with it. I'm a pretty burly guy, so I took solace in the fact that if I can't do it, it probably can't be done.

When you begin blending the hummus, it will look like baby food peanut butter. Do not panic. Scrape the unblended peas and other bits down into the vortex and repeat. Also do not be alarmed that the blender pictured here appears "hot-wired". It was not stolen, and JL is a professional.

Once you have achieved a uniform consistency, you can start fiddling with flavors and textures. This is where the bean juice comes in. Use it to thin things out. It works wonders. It was around this time when I took my first bite of it and was pretty much knocked into next week. The garlic was SERIOUS. So serious that I added another can of garbanzo beans and the rest of the peppers to try and mellow things out. It seemed to do the trick.

Here's the finished product. Some toasted pita with parmesan, a little parsley garnish. Voila. Nice snack. Also good with veggies.

*SOME PEOPLE know a guy whose uncle owns Sagra and get 7 "free hummus" coupons and share not a one.