Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Paramore


Should I be embarrassed for liking this band? Am I bleeding street cred even as I write this post? I honestly don't know. And I really shouldn't care.

(I do, a little bit.)

I'm a little late to this whole Paramore thing, and for all I know, it could be all downhill for them from here. Pop punk bands have a way of not sticking around very long, especially when they get big so young only to flame out just as quickly. Paramore also seems to have signed a pretty ridiculous deal with their record label - any time the record industry hails a deal as being good for business, you know they mean their business... not the artist's.

But they only just started playing them on my local K-Rock, which is what I listen to on the way to the train station in the morning. It's about the only regular outside source of new music I have these days.

Paramore's fans seem to be made up of mostly 12 year old girls. I have a habit lately of getting into bands like this, and it's starting to make me wonder. What kind of music are thirtysomething guys supposed to listen to? I mean I like Nirvana, I like the Foo Fighters, I like the Ramones, I like all those testosterone-driven bands from the 70's through the 90's, when I was growing up. I used to care about stuff like how "real" a band was too. I was pretty militant. Nowadays, I don't even know what "real" means or why it should matter, if the music's good.

And sometimes, I confess I feel like Jerry Seinfeld when he said, "I can't listen to a man sing a song..." In rock music, at least, the male voice is imprecise and brusk. When was the last time you listened to a male-fronted band and said, "I just love his voice"? To paraphrase another quote from Seinfeld, the male voice is utilitarian, it's for gettin' around, it's like a Jeep. Not to say various male vocalists don't fit their bands' style perfectly - Dave Grohl is still my idol - but I can listen to women sing just to hear them sing. I can't do that with a guy.

Paramore's got a re-release of their second album RIOT! that just recently came out, with a DVD and a CD together that contain a butt-ton of bonus material. I just ordered one myself; Amazon's got it for $14.99.

Everybody under the age of 15 has probably seen this a million times, but it was new to me a couple days ago (no, I don't watch much MTV anymore), and I love it:


Paramore - Misery Business
Uploaded by migite

Whatever happens to Paramore in the future, Hayley Williams is a fucking rock star.

UPDATE: MVI DVD received! And I'm honestly happy to hear that "Misery Business" is actually one of the weaker songs on the album. They really rock, and they're no lightweights. This is not straight-ahead pop music, for the most part - there's some real depth in both the performance and the songwriting. I mean they're no Pink Floyd or anything, but there's definitely more here than I would have expected. Most of their songs are not nearly as radio friendly as a lot of modern "emo" bands, though they still have some ridiculously catchy hooks to them. But when Hayley's singing stuff like "This is how we'll stand when they burn our houses down... this is what will be, oh glory", it's pretty obvious this is not just a cheesy pop band singing about bitchy teenage girls.

I've read a lot about them in the past week or two - seems like they take a lot of flak for pretty bullshit reasons. One article I read gave them a back-handed compliment for being "non-threatening", as in "parents don't mind their kids listening to Paramore because they are" - like that's a bad thing. Ignoring the vaguely misogynistic implication of that critique, what is wrong with this country that we think everything needs to be "threatening" to be taken seriously? I think if we figure that out, we'll get to the root of a lot of this country's problems. There's nothing wrong with bands that just want to be fun.

Paramore are definitely young, and they sound it. Even the title of their latest album, "Riot!", is a little trite. Their music and lyrics will mature even further as they get older, assuming they stay together. But I haven't heard this much raw talent in years, throughout the entire band. They're starting out from a point way beyond where most bands end up. I can't wait to hear what they've got in store through the next decade.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Country for Old Men


I'm a little late in posting this, but last week my wife and I saw Joel and Ethan Coen's screen adaptation of No Country for Old Men, and the film is definitely an experience worth a few words.

I gotta confess that I haven't read the book. Sometimes that's a good thing when coming into a novel-to-film adaptation, because you don't have any preconceptions of how the characters are supposed to look or which way the plot is supposed to go. Still, everything I've read suggests that this is a pretty faithful adaptation. I really wouldn't know, though - but I'd like to read the book now that I've seen the film.

What I do know is that this film is bleak. Not really in a bad way, but you need to be expecting it. I really wasn't, for some reason, and it was pretty obvious that the crowd of apparent retirees and Tommy Lee Jones fans in the theater with my wife and I weren't either. (We saw it on a weekday; I was on vacation, but most of the people in there with us obviously had every day off.) I overheard lots of people afterwards who clearly missed the entire point of the film and were instead fixated on little plot points that had really nothing to do with anything. I understand why the Coen brothers chose to make this film, because it's similar to many of their own original works where the plot, as complex as it is, is completely secondary to the characters and theme.

The bottom line is a lot of stuff happens in this film, almost all of it bad, and none of it happens for any reason other than to make a point.

Honestly, this is not a good date movie.

You might think this is a departure for the Coens, but it's really a return to form. If you've seen their first feature Blood Simple, then you know what I mean. No Country for Old Men is very similar in a lot of ways - lots of suspense, lots of violence, lots of dark visuals, a morality lesson hanging over everything - but with a much less conventional thriller ending. One other difference between the two films is that Blood Simple's characters were all essentially rational people on opposite sides of the same morality play, whereas No Country for Old Men sports a much darker take on human nature. Here, there exist irrational, psychopathic criminals that cannot be understood, and consequently cannot be stopped.

I think the Coens are probably the greatest filmmakers working today. I don't think they'll be fully appreciated until many years from now, probably not until after they're gone. Blood Simple holds up more than 20 years after its release for its teeth-gritting suspense - I really don't think anyone has done suspense better than the Coens since Hitchcock. Part of their genius is that their suspense scenes are so unpredictable - some end quickly and in surprising ways, others are long and drawn out to an uncomfortable degree. One of the things a film professor I had said about them is that they're among the few filmmakers who understand that human beings are hard to kill. In a Coen brothers film, killing somebody is an ordeal; it takes a long time, it's messy, and it's physically exhausting. That makes the few "easy" kills in their films that much more unexpected.

No Country for Old Men
features both kinds of scenes. It's really vintage Coens. It's not a very fun movie, but then not all of their films are. It's a statement.

Visit the official web site if you need a synopsis or more visual prodding to get you to the theater.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beer Review: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Something new today, and maybe a regular thing - heck, maybe the genesis of an all-new blog eventually. I'm writing a beer review.

There are plenty of people reviewing beer out there already. Why the hell should you listen to me? You're going to have to judge that for yourself. I will say I think my perspective's probably a little different than most - I'm not the same kind of beer snob that some beer snobs are. I love a good beer, but what is "good beer"? There are definitely things that are pretty easy to objectively measure and still other things that I think we can probably all agree on, but beyond that lies both the nebulous realm of personal taste and the purpose for which you drink beer in the first place. There's nothing wrong with a good lager while watching a football game.

Which brings us to Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. I picked this up looking for something a little different than the pale lagers I usually keep around. I looked forward to a deep, dark beer, having read well of it at ratebeer.com, the Zagat guide of the beer world. There, it rated 4.04 out of 5, which puts it in the 99th percentile of all beers in the world. (Few beers ever break 4 overall stars, both because there are always reviewers who dislike even the best beers, and because within each review, the 5 star rating is itself an average of five separate criteria.)

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is a seasonal beer that's produced in limited runs. It's brewed in Utica like most Brooklyn beer. Like an Imperial Stout, it's intended to keep you warm in winter, and should therefore be drunk at a fairly high temperature - about 55 degrees or so is optimal. Well, my cellar's heated so it's not like I have an easy way to do that, but I did try to drink my first bottle before it had fully cooled in my refrigerator.

I gotta tell you, this is some crazy beer. Crazy. I have never had a beer this strong, and I'm no stranger to stouts.

It definitely looks nice when you pour it:

The head is quite frothy (not tight like a dry stout), with a deep tan color, and the beer itself definitely is jet black and thick. The aroma is almost totally roasted chocolate. It is quite fizzy; a little more than I'd expect from such a husky stout.

The flavor is not anything that I was prepared for. I admit that I'm a little more used to dry stouts than chocolate stouts, and this is one strong chocolate stout in both chocolate and coffee flavors, and in alcohol. Brooklyn Brewery makes a big deal out of using "six types of black, chocolate, and roasted malts" in the making of this beer - and I believe it. It is just overpowering.

It's also a little odd. The flavors just don't quite mesh - it's like pouring a chocolate soda into a dry stout, topping off with some espresso and then adding a flask of ether. All of these flavors remain completely distinct, and all of them are too strong both individually and together.

I have to say that I couldn't finish a bottle. My wife couldn't finish what I left for her.

And here's my rant about ratebeer.com. I looked at the ratings before buying this beer, but I didn't actually read many of the comments. Now, keep in mind their ratings are all out of 5. Take a look at a couple of these comments about Brooklyn Black:
Dark chocolate and burnt coffee taste, heavy and oily.
That guy's rating: 4.2.

Another:
Crazy thick, with lots of alcohol note.
Rating: 3.9.


Since when do comments like "crazy thick" and "burnt coffee taste, heavy and oily" equate with quality in any beverage? If you didn't know they were talking about beer, you'd imagine that must be a pretty disgusting drink.

The big problem I have with ratebeer.com is that the scale most reviewers there use is absolute - the thicker and stronger a beer, the better it is. There is no regard to beer category or style; a lager, being thinner and lighter than a stout, can be the best lager in the world but can never be as good as even a bad stout. Take a look at their top 50 - how many lagers (hell, how many ales) on that list?

Similarly, "light" and dry stouts are considered inherently inferior to Imperial or chocolate stouts, simply because the latter have more flavor. How good that flavor is is almost immaterial. I consider this the equivalent of rating one chef's dish more highly than another because it has more salt.

(My theory is that the most experienced reviewers there don't rate this way, but that it's mostly the rookies that do - as they try to show their manliness in drinking and enjoying the strongest beers around. They then have enough influence to skew the results.)

If you're a fan of chocolate stouts, then you probably don't need me to tell you whether or not you should drink this beer. Everybody else should probably avoid it, unless you're either out for adventure, or just a glutton for punishment.

Beer Run

I'm afraid I'm becoming a beer snob. In fact, today we had originally planned to hit up the Brooklyn Brewery for a tour, and just overslept. Plan B took immediate effect.

I used to hate beer - even the good stuff, I just couldn't handle the malt/alcohol flavor. It literally made me gag. When I was in college, I drank it to get drunk and I drank it fast, so I'd drink the cheapest, worst shit you can think up - I remember junk like Yankee beer, Czech Rebel, and Crazy Horse malt liquor. There was one brand - I can't think of the name right now - that was $4 per case. What the hell, the good stuff didn't taste any better to me.

10 years on and all that's changed. In fact, I'm becoming more than just a beer snob, I'm becoming some sort of meta beer snob. I think most of the other beer snobs rating beer on places like ratebeer.com are idiots; I don't think they have any idea what a good beer is even supposed to be, I think the whole conception they're operating under is just wrong. I'll explain in a later post (it's gonna get too specific if I do it here; I don't want to be reviewing beers right now.) The point I'm making here is that today, we went on an old-fashioned college beer run. A 30 mile beer run. That's how far out of the way we were willing to go to find a place that sold Hitachino Nest beers. Oh, and some other stuff:

McSorley's is one of our "default" beers; we buy it just to have some beer around. It's pretty inoffensive, but still has some decent flavor. It's Budweiser for beer snobs. I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be the beer they serve at the (in)famous McSorley's Ale House in New York City, hangout to New Jersey frat boys everywhere. I've been there, and it does taste similar to their "light" beer. The other stuff in the box is three kinds of Hitachino beer and six-packs of Hoegaarden, Brooklyn Brown Ale and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

I'm gonna talk about all of these in individual blog posts, but just a few general things right now...

We actually have a good beer store right near us (it's where we bought the McSorley's), and they sell everything we've got here except the Hitachino.

It's pretty great having a place like this close by. I didn't even know places like this really existed before moving to Long Island - it's like a liquour store but just for beer. They carry brands from all over the world - just not Hitachino Nest. For that, we made the long (but interesting!) trek out to Shoreline Beverage in Huntington.

What's so special about Hitachino? Well, I'll tell you in my upcoming post about it. One of the things is that it's brewed right near where my wife's from:


As for the other beers we bought, Hoegaarden is probably the beer that started me down the path to beer snobbery, and I've only ever had it on tap before. I haven't actually drunk it in years now, so I'm not sure it's really as good as I remember - but it was the first beer I'd had that actually had some flavor other than malt and hops and alcohol.

And of course we had to get some Brooklyn beers, given that we'd planned on taking the brewery tour today. The Brooklyn Brewery is a really interesting company - really young (only since 1988), but already making some world-class beer. Most of their stuff is actually brewed in Utica, not Brooklyn, but they do brew about 30% of their beer in their namesake borough. Their standard Brooklyn Lager is now sold pretty much everywhere throughout the country and at all types of stores, and it's probably the best beer you can buy in a supermarket (that includes the major imports). If you don't live near a real "beverage store", then you really ought to try a Brooklyn Lager from your supermarket sometime. It's a real beer, and American, no less!

We wanted to try some of their other stuff, though, hence the Brown Ale and the Dark Chocolate Stout, which were rated pretty highly on ratebeer.com. The stout, for its part, has a rating of 4.04 out of 5, which is very high for that site (puts it in the 99th percentile) considering it's a pretty tough crowd and it's an average of all user reviews. Not many beers ever break the 4 star mark there - in fact, not coincidentally I'd probably say only about 1% ever do.

I'll put up some mini-posts on my thoughts about all of these beers over the next couple days. I will just say that so far, I'm not agreeing with ratebeer.com on much.

Portable GPS - how did I ever live without this??

Before we moved out to the "inner suburbs", my wife and I - and just I before that - lived in the middle of New York City. A lot of you probably know the old adage that New Yorkers don't drive, and it's true. I was born in New York and I've lived there off and on for a total of about 20 years, and for about 19 of those years I did not own a car. Every time I did break down and buy one, I realized why I didn't have one before and promptly sold it within just a few months. $1,000 worth of parking tickets and a $4,000 suspension repair bill will do that to you.

For most people, transportation in New York City consists of the subway. And while I know the NYC subway can be confusing for people new to the city, the fact is still that any given train goes to the same place every time you get on it. When you step on an "A" train, you don't generally have to worry about where it's going - it's going the same place it went yesterday and the day before that. Whole areas are defined by what subway line they're on. When you ask someone where they're from and they tell you a neighborhood that sounds unfamiliar, the common follow-up question is "what train do you take?" And if an area has no subway line, well, it's "the middle of nowhere" - even in New York City!

So when we moved out to Long Island, we were pretty unprepared for real freedom of movement, and having to actually find our own way everywhere. My wife's from a rural area so she's a bit better at it than me, but she doesn't know this area very well either. So we were like the stereotypical couple pulled over on the side of the road, lost and fumbling with maps on almost every trip. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, after getting lost on the way to an unfamiliar car dealer (our automobile needed some fixin') and ending up two hours late for our service appointment, I resolved to buy a portable GPS unit.

Long story short, I ended up with a refurbished Magellan Roadmate 2200T. My budget was quite low, and this model had text-to-speech (it pronounces street names), which most budget models don't. So far, it's awesome. I wrote up a full review at Epinions here, but the condensed, big-picture version is that this is a life-changing device. We're taking trips we never would have before, seeing and doing things just for the hell of it that just seemed impossible. Today, we went to a beer store 30 miles away in a town we'd never been to before, just to buy beer. (More on that later.) I mean, we feel like we can go anywhere and do anything now.

Someday, people like us are gonna be telling our grandkids about the olden days when we actually drove around not knowing where the hell we were or how to get where we were going. And our grandkids are gonna look at us with wide eyes and go "wow!" (Or, more likely, they're gonna tell us to shut up so they can concentrate on their video games.) Eventually, everybody's gonna have one of these things - it's gonna be standard equipment in both cars and in cell phones and probably other kinds of devices too. It's just such an incredibly useful piece of technology.

The good news too is that prices are really coming down. Our 2200T cost $169 refurbished from Buy.com, although you can get new, non-refurb models (though without text-to-speech) from various companies for $199. By next year, I'll bet you'll see one or two for $99.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Siouxsie Sioux - the original high priestess of goth returns

As you stare at this photo, try to reconcile it with the fact that this woman is fifty years old:

Yes, that's Siouxsie Sioux, and yes, that's a new photo. Feel free to click through to the big version for the full effect. I hope I look that good when I'm 50. She looks the same as she did when I saw her live in 1996 and 1991. She looks fantastic.

I mean, come on, this shot below was taken almost 30 years ago!

Talk about aging well. She looks better now!

I must have been asleep when word of her budding solo career first broke. So it's old news now, but if you're living a sheltered suburban life like me, you may be interested in knowing that she's got a new album released simply under the name of "Siouxsie" called "Mantaray". There are a few song clips at her official web site here.

I'm glad to see her back on the scene. Maybe she can teach some of these goth posers stinking up the airwaves these days a thing or two.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Guitar Hero

I made this video today to be part of a project that a guitar discussion forum I belong to is putting together, where all the members are recording themselves and taking photos of their guitars and then a guy is going to edit them together and put them on YouTube. But he's only taking the audio (it'll play over the photo), so this video's going to be lost if I don't post it somewhere myself. So, here it is! Just a quick ten seconds or so, proves I can sort of play, at least.


I'm playing my interpretation of the chorus to Chatmonchy's "Tobiuo no Butterfly". I don't think I've quite got it exactly right, but I like the way it sounds anyway :)

And for those of you who are arriving via Google, that is a Japanese (CIJ) Fender Jazzmaster, unmodified. I'm playing it through a little Marshall practice amp with only in-amp distortion applied.

Here's the original song if you want to see what I'm playing (first chorus starts at the -8:03 mark):

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.

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