Sunday, August 19, 2012

First train home

It's pretty uncommon for music that I like to have lyrics that really speak to me.  The music that I enjoy usually either is instrumental, or more often than not speaks of topics that aren't really relevant to my life, like a lot of heartbreak or violence or promiscuous women in dance clubs.  I live my life in such a way to avoid all of those sorts of things.

Some songs get pretty close, like Atlantic by Keane—it's a song about a fear of growing old alone and one of my favorite songs ever, but while it's something I certainly understand, and it's a beautiful song that I find touching, they aren't lyrics that really speak to me.  That's not really a fear I have.  I don't ever feel lonely.  But Imogen Heap is one artist who has several songs that I identify with on some level, which is several more than just about every other artist.

First Train Home is a song about feeling isolated and awkward at a party, getting tired of the obnoxious behavior of the drunk people there, and wanting nothing but to get on the first train home.

Yet no one cares to notice
For all their yamming on
I clam up to hold it together

So what? I'm not that much fun to be with...
So what? You've got a silly hat on...
So what? I didn't want to come here anyway

Goodnight and Go is a song about having a crush on someone she sees frequently and constructing elaborate fantasy scenarios in which the heating goes out and she has an excuse to get close to him.  (She also follows him home and watches him through a window but that's neither here nor there...)

Why'd you have to be so cute?
It's impossible to ignore you
Must you make me laugh so much?
It's bad enough we get along so well

One of these days, you'll miss your train and come stay with me
You'd sleep here, I'd sleep there, but then the heating may be down again
(At my convenience)
We'd be good, we'd be great, together

Hide and Seek is a song about the aftermath of being hurt, and then after her initial sadness she retreats into annoyed sarcasm.

Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that you only meant well?
Well, of course you did...
Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that it's all for the best?
Of course it is...
Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that it's just what we need?
You decided this?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Amateur girlfriends

The short version:
Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese—The Raid: Redemption: 5/10
Hans Zimmer—The Dark Knight Rises: 8/10
Russell Brower—Diablo III: 8/10
Vanessa-Mae—Storm: 7/10
Bond—Play: 6/10
Moulin Rouge soundtrack: 6/10
Lifehouse—No Name Face: 4/10
OutKast—Speakerboxx and The Love Below: 3/10
Nappy Roots—Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz: 4/10
Gramatik—Street Bangerz Volume 1: 4/10
Röyksopp—Junior: 7/10
Katie Herzig—The Waking Sleep: 8/10
Xploding Plastix—Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents: 8/10
Parov Stelar—Seven and Storm: 8/10
Miike Snow—Happy to You: 8/10
Civil Twilight—Civil Twilight: 7/10
Civil Twilight—Holy Weather: 7/10
B.o.B—Strange Clouds: 5/10
Keane—Strangeland: 5/10
Kimbra—Vows: 7/10

The latest in the series of soundtracks I've bought to movies I haven't seen is The Raid: Redemption, by Mike Shinoda with Joe Trapanese.  I adore Mike Shinoda as the rapper in Linkin Park and Fort Minor, but he's just running the computers for this soundtrack.  It sounded better when I previewed it; on subsequent listens it's not incredibly exciting.  There are still some really good tracks though, and a few others that are decent.  The track that I'm guessing plays during the credits, RAZORS.OUT featuring Chino Moreno from deftones, is really great, and We Have Company and Moving Up part 2 is also very good.  I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you loved the movie's soundtrack and really like that sort of industrial electronic music though.

Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises was a worthy followup to the first two, and is just as explosive and Zimmer-y as you'd expect.  It fits the themes and emotions of the movie perfectly and it's everything I'd expect from a score to that film.  I love The Fire Rises and Imagine the Fire, and Mind if I Cut In?, and unlike the movie, it doesn't take forever to get to the point either.

Russell Brower's soundtrack for Diablo III is the odd game soundtrack that for some reason sounds better to me as standalone music than in the game.  I'm not sure if it's because in the game you're hearing it along with a thousand different spells and weapon clangs and gory demonsplosions at once, or just if it's mixed particularly well on the CD that came with the collector's edition, but it actually sounds pretty nice, in contrast to feeling sort of disappointed when I heard it in-game.  (Matt Uelmen's soundtrack for Diablo II is either my favorite game soundtrack ever, or at least in my top three or so.)  Anyway, there are a lot of great tracks.  Many of the best are from cinematics and cutscenes, but there's a variety: And the Heavens Shall Tremble, The Eternal Conflict, and Caldeum.

Vanessa-Mae is a talented Asian-lady who plays a stringed-instrument particularly-well on Storm.  It's not a solo CD, though; she has quite a bit of backup of various forms.  So it's probably more fair to characterize it as an album of modern instrumental music in which each piece features her as a soloist.  Anyway, if you can't get enough stringed instruments you will probably like it.  Check out Happy Valley, Summer Haze, and The Blessed Spirits.

Bond is a group of four other talented women who play stringed instruments.  Their music is a lot less traditional and more dance-focused than Vanessa-Mae's.  But their latest album Play is still catchy, even though it still dips into uncomfortably cheesy territory from time to time.  Elysium is great, and so's Midas / West with the NightRoad to Samarkand is pretty good too.  Check it out if you thought Vanessa-Mae could really use a DJ or a producer.

I've had the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for basically forever but never really gave it a proper listen.  (I remember almost nothing from the movie at this point, but I remember that there was a lot of red in it.  And windmills.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi.)  I really like Lady Marmalade (with Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and P!nk), and Sparkling Diamonds (with the cast) is quite good too.  Diamond Dogs (with Beck) is probably my third favorite.  Musicals aren't normally my thing but Moulin Rouge is a fairly unusual movie, and the soundtrack's pretty... interesting.

Lifehouse's No Name Face is bland rock.  Hanging by a Moment is a great song.  Breathing and Cling and Clatter are good.  The rest is completely skippable and forgettable.  I got this one a long time ago... I hope I got a good deal on it.

OutKast's Speakerboxx and The Love Below is a huge two-CD set practically exploding with tracks, most of which are extremely terrible.  (For reference, on a five-star scale, I gave a whopping 18 tracks one star.  Eighteen.)  But!  It has Hey Ya!, which is of course pretty good, and Bowtie, which is also pretty good, and Dracula's Wedding, which is pretty good, and a couple other pretty good tracks.  The rest is mostly crap.  Pass.

Nappy Roots' Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz (racism defense note: that is the actual title of the CD) is okay.  It's also rather mediocre.  By far the best track is the bonus track, the rock remix of Awnaw.  But I was aware of that going in.  After that there are several decent tracks, of which Set it Out and Ho Down are probably slightly better than the others.  I recommend passing and just picking up the Awnaw remix if you like it.

Gramatik's Street Bangerz Volume 1 almost sounds like a CD of music to be sold as background music for commercials or TV show montages.  It's missing something.  I'm not sure what, but I think the answer is either "variation" or "weed."  (Or even "rapping.")  In My Hood, Bring It Fast, and Lorena's Butterfly are the best tracks.  Definitely skippable, unless you need background music for a commercial or a TV show montage.

Röyksopp's Junior is definitely better.  Röyksopp Forever is a lot of fun (for whatever definition of fun includes electronic chillout music), and The Girl and the Robot (featuring Robyn) is strangely upbeat and dancey.  Vision One has some crazy glitchy synth sounds that also aren't very relaxing.  Worth checking out.

Katie Herzig sounds like a cross between the lead singer of Dragonette and Vanessa Carlton in The Waking Sleep.  Style-wise, it's a lot closer to Carlton's, in the "soft and pretty" end of the spectrum.  Lost and Found is my favorite track, and Best Day of Your Life and Free My Mind are close behind.  This album ended up being surprisingly excellent, and I'm definitely going to have to pay close attention to what she's up to in the future.

Xploding Plastix' bizarrely-titled album Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents is, like, electronic jazz, I guess.  It's very pleasant.  The opening track Sports Not Heavy Crime is excellent, and the closing track Comatose Luck is also excellent.  The rest is consistently good; check out Behind the Eightball.  It's not easy to find in CD format but it can be easily purchased as MP3s.

Parov Stelar's Seven and Storm is sort of similar in style and is also very pleasant.  It's a bit more overtly electronic.  Faith featuring Odette di Maio and Nowhere featuring Billy Kern are both are beautiful and relaxing, and Spygame is clearly James Bond-influenced and is much more upbeat.  I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try too.

Happy to You by Miike Snow is good electronic music with heavy use of snare drums so it sounds rather military-ish.  Bavarian #1 (Say You Will) is the most recognizable track from the CD, and Devil's Work and Pretender are very good too.  The CD as-is isn't very danceable (though I imagine that any of the tracks could be remixed pretty easily), so if you're looking for electronic music that you can dance to then this probably isn't the disc for you.  But it's quality stuff nonetheless.

Civil Twilight's self-titled debut and their second album Holy Weather are both consistently good.  Their best song overall is from their debut album, the amazing Letters from the Sky, and the opening track from that album Anybody Out There is also great.  They've got a good, solid, standard-rock sort of sound.  I'm not a huge fan of the lead singer's voice, but the songwriting and instrumentals are really well done.  Their second album experiments a bit more and has more overall-good songs but nothing quite as excellent as Letters: Holy Weather, Shape of a Sound, and Sweet Resistance.  Definitely suggested for modern rock fans.

I wasn't a big fan of B.o.B's latest, Strange Clouds.  It's never a great sign when Morgan Freeman is in your first track and that doesn't save it, right?  Both of Us, a duet with Taylor Swift, is the best on the CD, and Chandelier featuring Lauriana Mae is quite good.  Never Let You Go featuring the delightful Ryan Tedder is pretty acceptable too.  Overall the album is just pretty forgettable.

Keane's latest album Strangeland wins the award for most disappointing in the bunch.  It's like a disc full of B-sides.  The weirdest thing to me is that before this album they put out an EP that suggested a change in musical direction with some more electronic influences and some interesting new sounds coming, and then a year or so later they put out a boring album with songs that all sound like rejects from their very first CD.  Sovereign Light Café is pretty good, and then I guess after that would be On the Road and Day Will Come.  Only really worth picking up if you need to fill in your Keane collection.

Finally, Kimbra now has a full-length album out, Vows, and it's lovely.  If you've already heard the Settle Down EP you know what to expect, and in fact you've already heard several of the tracks from this album.  Quality alt-rock.  The best song on here is Warrior, then Settle Down and Good Intent.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Epic Weekend and the story of the homeless velociraptors

May 11-13 I had a weekend that condensed all of the interesting things that would have normally happened to me in a month or two into a span of less than 48 hours.

Back around that time I was scheduling way too many things in my life.  I had plans for Friday evening, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, and something that probably could have been construed as a date on Sunday.  But on Epic Weekend, nothing went according to plan.  I'd intended to hang out with a friend on Friday night after dinner with my old coworkers, but the plans I'd made for Friday night he had made for Saturday night, so the scheduling miscommunication left me with some extra time on Friday.  I decided to cancel Saturday afternoon so I'd feel less overextended, but then the guy I'd planned to see on Sunday invited me over, and for some reason that didn't seem like a stupid idea.  We didn't stay up too late, and I crashed at his place; he took the couch and I took his bed.

That worked well for all of about 45 minutes, when suddenly the front door was slammed open and people started yelling and entered the apartment.  My heart rate jumped to about 150 as my body switched over into "preparing to run for your life" mode, but soon amidst the yelling and loud noises I heard laughing, and someone turned on music.  What the...  what's going on?  Does he have roommates?  It certainly hadn't looked like he had roommates.  This looked like an apartment for one person.  But that's what it sounded like—it was 2:30 or so, his roommates were home, and they were very drunk, very loud, and wanted the couch.  Ten minutes or so after they arrived, the door to the bedroom arrived, and my new friend stumbled over to the bed in a zombie trance mumbling something like "ugh... couch... ugh... sleep here."  Then he collapsed into the bed and seemed to instantly fall asleep.

So now I'm lying in a bed next to an unconscious person I don't know extremely well, in a place I've never been before, right after what my fight-or-flight mechanism was pretty sure was a home invasion.  My heart rate didn't slow down.  Not a bit.  I was wide awake for hours.  Hours.  During the night I was slow-motion elbowed in the face several times, I had the back of my head grabbed like he was going to either attempt to detach my skull from my spine or make out with me, and I was intensely bear-hugged for about ten minutes, all while he was fast asleep.

I don't know when I finally passed out, but I'm guessing it wasn't until about 7, as it was light outside at that point.  In the morning we walked around and talked for a while in my two-hours-of-sleep state, but then he had other plans, so I headed back home.  When I got home a friend from Malaysia was online and I hadn't talked to him in a while so we chatted for a while, and by the time it was all said and done, I had time to nap for about an hour or two before it was time to head to Seattle for a birthday party.  I was a bit late in my exhausted post-nap state, so I quickly found a garage and headed to the restaurant for the party.

I sat at the end of the table, across from a cute guy I'd seen on Facebook before, but upon discovering that I was an engineer, the guy sitting next to me pretty much monopolized my time for the next couple hours.  The guy across the table didn't seem to notice my staring, though I found out a week later that everyone else at the table was quite eye-rollingly aware.  I talked to the one person I knew there for about one minute out of the whole night.  After the restaurant closed, the remaining half dozen of us (including me, the birthday boy, and the cute guy from across the table, but not the conversation monopolizer) went across the street to a bar to continue chatting.  That went on until about 1:45.  I headed back to the garage, pulled up to the gate, and noticed that nothing was moving.  I was locked in.  Sigh.

Given that I had now slept three or four hours in the past forty-eight, and the fact that I had an I-guess-this-is-a-date scheduled for later that day, I saw the "if you're locked in, call this number and for a $25 fee we'll send someone to let you out" sign and said YES PLEASE.  So I called the number.  "We're sorry, but this number is not in service."  Double sigh.

Guess I'm sleeping in the car for now.  It's 2:00.  People need to park for work... garage probably opens at 5.  I can leave then, cross the bridge with no traffic, get home to Redmond, and sleep in a comfy bed until a more reasonable wakeup time.  So I set alarm and set to work on the whole sleeping-in-the-car plan.  This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.  As four-door sedans go I have a reasonably large car, but even in my ready-to-sleep state it just wasn't happening.  At 5 I went to see if the gate opened up.  5:05, still nothing—but I did finally find the garage schedule.  On Sundays they don't open until 9.  Craaaaaaap.

This particular garage was interesting in that it was split into two levels that were separated by ground-floor businesses—an underground level, and an upper level of additional parking.  I decided to see if the upper level had an attendant yet, or an updated phone number to call, or anything else.  A few minutes later, no dice.  Defeated, I returned back to the lower level of the garage... only to find that the door was now locked behind me.  Arrrrggghhhh.

I had nothing left to do but wander the streets of Seattle for four hours.  I figured that if I have to be outside and awake I might as well at least get some exercise.  So I walked.  And walked.  A homeless black man came up to me with alternating concerned and happy looks on his face, warning me of something he had just realized: there was only "like a 1 in 20,000 chance that God is black."  I thought about asking exactly how he had calculated that probability but I decided against it.  A couple blocks later, I walked past just about the sketchiest group of people I've ever come across, who were standing at strategic locations around a few intersections, clearly communicating something to each other nonverbally.  Perhaps they were homeless velociraptors, strategizing a plan of attack.

It had been quite a while since I'd eaten anything so I looped back around after a bit and stopped in at the McDonald's that was half a mile or so from where I'd parked once it opened.  (Not even Starbucks was open that early.)  In there I met a very angry man—specifically angry at all of the motherfuckers.  The motherfuckers who worked there, the stupid motherfuckers outside, the stupid motherfuckers with their pants falling off, the motherfuckers that he sees at some place he goes to a lot that I don't recall anymore, and the other stupid motherfuckers he sees all the time.  Apparently I was the only person in there who didn't look like a stupid motherfucker, because he followed me around the McDonald's and decided that he'd eat with me and tell me about motherfuckers, and how if it were back in the day when he was in the marines, he'd show those stupid motherfuckers what was up.  But I heard just about enough of the man's terrifyingly obscene rants so I took care to finish my food before he did and then bid him a good day and continued on my epic journey.

I made it back to the garage a few minutes before 9, ready for all of this nonsense to be over.  I drove up to the gate, of which there were two—a metal security gate that opened precisely at 9 (hooray!) and let new people come in and park, and a regular wooden one that lifts up once you pay the man in the booth.  But at 9:05 there was still no man in the booth.  Nor at 9:10.  At about 9:12 the attendant finally showed up, and he walked up to my car and said "Hey, how are you?  You looking to get out?"  This seemed like a moderately absurd question given that I was parked at the exit gate to a parking garage at 9:00 in the morning, but I indulged him.  When I answered yes, he got a concerned look on his face.  "Hmmm.  So, there's a problem.  The guy's not coming."

"What... do you mean, exactly?"  "The guy, he's not coming," and he pointed at the booth.  Turns out this was just a security guard.  We talked for a while longer and he decided that he would go call someone in charge, which seemed awfully, uh, nice.  Long story short, at about 9:25, an SUV barreled into the parking garage at about 60 miles an hour and a guy stepped out to take my credit card, cheerfully charging me something like $50 for two days of parking.  I was long past the point of caring at that point, so I drove home, took out my contacts, and pretty much just fainted into bed.

Then the guy I had plans with on Sunday stood me up, completing the checklist of absolutely nothing on Epic Weekend going as planned.  Pissed.

Probably in retrospect I should have just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.  But either way, the cute across-the-table guy I met at the birthday party is now my boyfriend, so Epic Weekend all worked out in a weird sort of way.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Potential future value

My homeowner's association is renting a dumpster for a week, so it seemed prudent to take advantage of the fact and get rid of some of the extra junk around my place.  I'd already gotten rid of a bunch of stuff when I remodeled my kitchen a few months ago and I had one all to myself, but I still managed a little more than a trunkload of crap.  A lot of it was old shirts that I'd saved around.  These were shirts that I'd never wear again—shirts with big holes, large and impossible-to-remove stains, and so on.  I sorted through a couple boxes of these things, pulled out a couple shirts to throw away, and then put most of them back and was just about ready to leave for the dumpster before I realized what I had done.

I have a bit of a hoarding compulsion.  (Thanks Mom and Dad.)  It's a pretty mild one, and luckily for me, I also have organizational and tidiness compulsions that are much stronger.  But I do tend to keep things around far longer than is necessary because I vastly exaggerate their potential future value, which is the core behavior of a hoarder.  I went through my closet with the express purpose of finding shirts that I was absolutely certain that I'd never wear again, I found them, and then I put them back, because I couldn't bear to part with them, and I managed to trick myself into thinking that I was done with my task.  The logical and organized and tidy parts of me wanted to get rid of those shirts today, but the hoarding instinct in me said that I might need them someday and put them back in the boxes.  Whenever I catch myself doing something instinctively that differs from what I planned it always concerns me somewhat.