Posted on Friday, January 5th, 2018
Yesterday I had to go to the post office, which is always a guaranteed interesting time here in Small Town America. After a boring wait to buy stamps, I thought I was going to be denied any entertainment until I was leaving and passed a woman (mid 40's?) who kept singing "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" I stopped to look through my mail as an excuse to see if she knew any of the lyrics other than "Well hello, Dolly" but she did not. It was just "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" over and over until she left.
Not that I know what the hell the lyrics are. I can't stand Broadway musical type stuff, so she knew as much as I do.
I thought it was an odd song to be singing until I was driving home from work today and saw a banner advertising a local high school production of Hello Dolly! that's happening later this month.
After singing "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" all the way home, I finally Googled the lyrics. I also Googled what in the hell the play is about and ended up on Wikipedia. The Hello Dolly! article itself is Too Long, Didn't Read... but get a load of the character names! Horace Vandergelder? Cornelius Hackl? Barnaby Tucker? Ambrose Kemper? Ernestina Money? Rudolf Reisenweber? ERMENGARDE?!??
Hilarious. Maybe I need to buy a ticket to the high school play just to be able to hear today's teens call each other "Horace" and "Ernestina."
Just kidding. Sitting through a high school production of Hello Dolly! is what I imagine Hell must be like.
For the record, here are the actual lyrics I Googled...
This is miss Dolly
It's so nice to have you back where you belong
You're lookin' swell, Dolly
I can tell, Dolly
You're still glowin', you're still crowin', you're still goin' strong
I feel the room swayin'
While the band's playin'
One of our old favorite songs from way back when
So, take her wrap fellas
Find her an empty lap, fellas
Dolly, never go away again
I feel the room swayin'
While the band's playin'
One of our old favorite songs from way back when
So, golly gee, fellas
Have a little faith in me, fellas
Dolly, never go away
Promise, you'll never go away
Dolly, never go away again
So... apparently Dolly went away, came back to sit on somebody's lap, now everybody is begging her not to leave again?
I don't know why Wikipedia couldn't have just said that. Would save everybody who doesn't want to go see the play a lot of time.
Posted on Sunday, January 28th, 2018
Your eyes are not deceiving you, an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• THANKS, OBAMA! As I've mentioned here more than a few times, my feelings on President Obama are rather complex. I liked him personally. I loved his family. I thought he tried to fairly represent the country and his office the best he could. There's no doubt in my mind he's a patriot. But... by the same token, he also completely shit the bed on government transparency, privacy, and other issues that are important to me. Of course, when compared to the raging shit show currently occupying the presidency, it's not hard to romanticize President Obama's two terms. And now Netflix and David Letterman have teamed up for an interview that's worth watching...
I enjoyed the interview quite a lot, as it surprised me in many ways. First of all, they spent some time on his personal life where he was just as charming, touching, and funny as you would expect. Secondly, a goodly chunk of the show focused on The Civil Rights Movement and one of its key leaders, Representative John Lewis (a personal hero of mine) and how that lead to Barrack Obama's presidency. My only criticism is that I wish the interview was longer. The hour was over before I knew it, and I was left wanting more. Probably because it was so nice to remember back to the days when we had such a brilliant, literate, compassionate, leader running the country.
• One Day in Time! And speaking of Netflix... after work yesterday, I thought I'd watch a couple episodes of the One Day at a Time remake. I loved the first season, and was hopeful they wouldn't take a dump all over the second. They didn't. I ended up binge-watching all thirteen episodes and didn't get to bed until after midnight. This show is absolutely fascinating. It's firmly rooted in 1970's Normal Lear style laugh-track TV, but tackles contemporary topics in a way that's entertaining as hell...
The writing and performances are top notch. I've never seen a show that manages to shift gears so often so brilliantly. You're laughing one minute... crying the next... but never bored. After the last episode was over, Netflix started playing the first episode of the first season. I was dang close to watching the whole thing all over again from the start, but had to get some sleep. Highly recommended.
• Future Power! But, by all means... let's keep investing in coal. We're fucking idiots like that...
• Girl Power! "Tonight (it never gets dark this time of year) I skied back to the Pole again... to take this photo for all those men who commented “Make me a sandwich” on my TEDX Talk. I made you a sandwich (ham & cheese), now ski 37 days and 600km to the South Pole and you can eat it."
Jade Hameister's Facebook post is an epic smack-down on idiots who don't believe that girls can do anything... when clearly she can do more than they can.
• The Mash Report! You may want to take notes...
If only I had regular access to the BBC.
• Guitarz! A very cool video featuring a musician with a three-necked guitar playing Feel Good, Inc. (originally by Gorillaz)...
The artist is Luca Stricagnoli, and his videos are pretty amazing. Here he is crushing The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony on two guitars...
And one more for the road...
And that's it. The end. Bullet Sunday is done.
Posted on Monday, January 29th, 2018
My favorite musician/band changes regularly depending on what mood I'm in. Sometimes I'm in the mood for classic rock and it's The Beatles, sometimes I need rap and it's Run The Jewels, sometimes I just want metal and it's Slayer, sometimes I want a catchy beat and it's Matt & Kim. The list goes on and on.
But most of the time it's 80's synth-pop bands and I make no apologies for it.
For the longest time, my favorite band was Thompson Twins, and this was well before their breakout success with Into The Gap. Once the band broke up, I gravitated to another long-time favorite, Depeche Mode. I obsessed over the band for decades. Then they changed their sound a bit when Alan Wilder left and my enthusiasm dwindled through the next four albums, then left altogether for their two latest. During that time, my longtime appreciation for The Pet Shop Boys took hold, and they're probably the band I listen to more than any other... and are my favorite band most days now...
Given the massive catalog of music produced by the band, ranking favorite songs is almost impossible. And believe me, I've tried. I've made spreadsheets, listened through every song, shifted them back-and-forth... but then I'll look at it a couple days later and need to start over because I've changed my mind. If forced to choose a favorite, I'd have to pick The way it used to be off of the album Yes. It's everything you want in a PSB song... great beats, clever synths, and amazing lyrics. One of the most beautiful songs I've heard. Sadly, they never released it as a single or made a video for it, so all I can offer is this...
Of course, if you ask me another day, it could be Memory of the Future or even West End Girls that's my favorite, so who knows?
For Pet Shop Boys fans, there's a lot more to love about the band than their fantastic songs. They are highly creative in so many places, as the amazing retrospective book which encompasses the art, print, and media built around their music...
And, of course, there's the videos. Neil and Chris only work with the best, more imaginative artists, and their videos are a mixed bag because of it. But when they hit, they really hit. Once of my favorites being the video for yet another favorite track of mine, Flamboyant...
Needless to say, their live shows are amazing (I've been lucky enough to see them twice, and meet-and-greet them as well). When they were awarded at The Brits, they pulled out all the stops and were very Pet Shop about it...
No. Your eyes are not deceiving you. That's Lady Gaga filling in for Dusty Springfield. Watching this awards show would be the first time I had even heard of her.
As if all that wasn't enough, the band are forever collaborating with other artists. They've made albums and songs with everybody from David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Liza Minelli to Robbie Williams, Blur, and Madonna. Their music has been cited as inspiration from bands including U2, Coldplay, The Killers, Keane, Guns n' Roses, and many others. A true testament to just how good the Pet Shop Boys are and how well they're regarded.
When it comes to their own works, Pet Shop Boys never seem to be content. There are countless demos along with hundreds of remixes... both by them and others. Collecting them all is a bit of a nightmare for true fans because the sheer volume is overwhelming. For the past several years, the band has been making it a bit easier with their "Further Listening" CD sets, which have remasters of the original album along with discs filled with the various demos, remixes, B-sides, and other releases of the time period the album was created...
Please (Further Listening 1984-1986) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Actually (Further Listening 1987-1988) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Introspective (Further Listening 1988-1989) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Behavior (Further Listening 1990-1991) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Very (Further Listening 1992-1994) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Bilingual (Further Listening 1995-1997) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Nightlife (Further Listening 1996-2000) — July 2017
Release (Further Listening 2001-2004) — July 2017
Fundamental (Further Listening 2005-2007) — July 2017
Yes (Further Listening 2008-2010) — October 2017
Elysium (Further Listening 2011-2012) — October 2017
I never bought any of the original 2001 sets (I didn't have the money back then and they are insanely expensive now), but I've been buying all the 2017/2018 remasters and will pick up the March releases and the remainder when they are released later this year (even though I still don't have the money!).
As with so many remasters, I'm of a mixed opinion when it comes to artists messing with their older albums. When remastering is done badly, it's just increasing the volume so you can compete with modern albums that are mastered so loud that any subtlety is lost (casualties of the aptly named "Loudness War"). When it's done well, it can improve on the original tracks by bringing out details that were lost (especially when we made the transition to digital music). The "Mastered for iTunes" program, for example, attempts to compensate for sound compression and unwanted distortion that can leave iTunes purchases sounding much worse than their CD counterparts. For the most part, I've been pleased with the results. Very pleased. It's a fascinating process which makes for equally fascinating reading thanks to this article over at Ars Technica. The results can be pretty staggering, depending on the song (though I'm sure there are those who disagree, as this is highly subjective). I liked Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet better when it was Mastered for iTunes. Metallica's Master of Puppets I did not. Will an iTunes file replace an uncompressed FLAC file ripped directly from a CD? No. But, in so many cases, it's closer to the Real Thing than you'd get out of an MP3 file.
Back to the Pet Shop Boys...
The albums for sale by Apple were not "Mastered for iTunes" when remastered, and I dearly wish they had been. Since they were not, I ended up buying the CD releases and ripping them into iTunes for iTunes Match. The benefit in doing this is that you get the little booklets that come with each set which discusses the music (they are not included with the iTunes as booklets, for some strange reason). The bad news is that you end up having to deal with Apple's shitty, shitty iTunes app to try and get the music sorted. I had to rip Release THREE TIMES before I could get it to show up right, under one cover folio, in order, all while being labeled correctly. After ripping, CDs within the set would be inconsistently labeled, which is not Apple's fault since they are using a third-party service, but the music would then disappear when I merged the CDs into a single folio and labeled it correctly. What an infuriating waste of time. Eventually I figured out that you had to shut down iTunes then restart iTunes after every import/re-label in order for it to "stick" and be added to your catalog. Even then, I could never get some songs on the third disc of Release to be matched in iTunes Match, which means I can't access them on all my devices unless I download it*. How the fuck Apple can't get simple shit like this figured out is just beyond me. They have literally billions of dollars in the bank. They can't spend a minuscule portion of that to fix a bug-ridden pile of shit that their users are having to suffer with every damn day?
Back to the Pet Shop Boys again...
I've enjoyed the "Further Listening" albums I've bought so far (Nightlife through Elysium) quite a lot. Some of the material I already had, but a good chunk of it I did not. I was never as obsessive about collecting all the various parts and pieces for Pet Shop Boys as I was the Thompson Twins and Depeche Mode for some reason. In any event, there's certainly enough here to justify repurchasing the albums again (especially from the Yes era, which is responsible for some of my most favorite tracks.
Of everything I've heard on the "Further Listening" albums that completely escaped my notice, the song Always (a B-side for Home and Dry off of Release) is my favorite. A total treasure...
Beautiful. And I never even knew it existed.
As for the remastering? Overall I'd have to give them two thumbs up. Yes, they are louder than the originals, but not so much that subtle details are getting lost. Some albums benefit from the remastering more than others. You can tell with Fundamental that they made a real effort to pull out Johnny Marr's guitar work, which was appreciated. Most fans absolutely hate the original 2001 remastering of Behavior (featuring two tracks with Johnny Marr!) which I don't have, so hopefully the 2018 remastering will do a better job of it.
So... for the hard-core fan, the "Further Listening" sets are essential album collections to own. For the casual fan, probably not so much.
Though how anybody could be merely a casual fan of the Pet Shop Boys is a mystery to me.
*UPDATE: Eventually I was able to get the third album of Release into iTunes Match, but don't ask me how. I did delete the songs and re-rip them for a fourth time... though that didn't seem to be what did it, as I got a shitload of "duplicates" and "unmatched" icons, at which point I gave up. The next day the icons were still there, but when I restarted iTunes, everything was fine again(?). Well, whatever.
Posted on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018
And so... it would seem that Black Panther is going to kick ass in more than just the writing, directing, acting, visuals, and special effects.
The songs from the soundtrack released so far have been incredible and, as if that wasn't enough, the video for All the Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA has dropped, and it is absolutely mind-blowing beautiful...
Seriously, the artistry here is nothing short of feature film worthy, and I cannot stop looking at it. Every frame is a sublime work of art...
Stunning work by Dave Meyers and the little homies.
Posted on Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
My love of movies runs the gamut. There's something in just about every genre that I have found to like. Science fiction, animation, and comedies are my favorite, but I have favorites in action, mystery, drama, musical, adventure, fantasy, romance, spy, thriller, horror, biography, Western... even period dramas and (my least favorite) war.
There's a number of underappreciated films that I obsess over which I have no earthly idea why they're underappreciated. I mean, some of them, I get. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a brilliant film that I love dearly (hell, a quote from it is tattooed on my arm). It is also one of the most bizarre mainstream releases ever, and it's no surprise that it's been relegated to cult classic...
But one underappreciated movie I absolutely do not understand why is underappreciated is the 1995 film Strange Days...
This future-noir film (bordering on cyberpunk) which takes place in the final days of 1999 should have been a blockbuster. It was written by James Cameron, who is responsible for The Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar (among others). It was directed by none other than Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, who is responsible for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It stars Oscar-nominated Ralph Fiennes, Oscar-nominated Angela Bassett, and Oscar-nominated Juliette Lewis. It also features revolutionary camera work which shouldn't have been possible in 1995. As if all that wasn't enough, it's just a really good movie.
And yet... Strange Days was a huge flop. A massively huge flop. It grossed $8 million against a budget of $42 million.
Recently while talking to a friend, I was reminded of it and decided to watch it again.
Which isn't as easy as you'd think, because Strange Days is not available domestically on Blu-Ray or any digital format. This is due to conflicting studio distribution rights or some stupid crap. And since it stunk up the box office, the desire to spend money and effort getting it all straightened out is minimal, I'm sure. It's only available on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD. I own all of them. I also own a German Blu-Ray import, but I have no idea where my region-code-free Blu-Ray player is at.
DVD it is...
Strange Days is surprisingly relevant 22 years after it was released... and 18 years after it takes place.
Much of the plot involves the future of how we consume entertainment, but there are significant story elements which revolve around police corruption and racism. It's a movie designed for the times we live. Which is to say it was most definitely a movie ahead of its time despite the fact that police corruption and racism are hardly new.
If you haven't seen it and can find a copy somehow, it's definitely worth a look.
Anyway… as if all that wasn’t enough, the soundtrack still holds up and is pretty great. One of my favorite tracks is a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest called While the Earth Sleeps that plays over the closing credits…
Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018
Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018
Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. Because there's so much to unpack, I'm breaking it up into five parts.
And now on with the show...
Once Apple announced their HomePod, I started saving for one. "It's like having Alexa for my music!" I thought. And since I'm a Certified Apple Whore, how could I not buy some cool new tech from Apple?
Then at the last minute I changed my mind and went with their competition: the new Sonos One with Alexa. Yes, yes... I know. But I actually put some thought into this...
There's a caveat, of course. Neither Alexa nor Sonos cannot access iTunes Match, which is where the entirety of my music collection resides.
That's a huge deal.
I can download all my music from iTunes and put it on my local NAS drive, which Sonos can access, but Alexa can't control it there. The only thing Alexa can control is Amazon Music Unlimted, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The cheapest option is Amazon at $79 a year, but that still won't allow me to access a goodly chunk of my more esoteric songs. I couldn't say "Alexa, play Love on Your Back by Thompson Twins because the B-side to Love on Your Side doesn't exist in Amazon Music Unlimited. It used to be that Amazon allowed you to upload your music to their servers for $25 a year, but they discontinued that which is such a bummer. Music options for Sonos are a somewhat long and complex discussion, so let's save that for tomorrow.
Obviously going the Sonos route has some down-sides when it comes to listening to my music, but the down-sides for HomePod are catastrophic. HomePod isn't even an option unless I have nothing better to do with $350.
And so now I'm here...
And now that I am here, I honestly don't know if it's a place I want to be.
There are plusses and minuses to Sonos that I need to unpack and see if the system makes sense for me. Fortunately, I've got 30 days to decide. I'm not anticipating returning them, mind you, but I do want to live with them for more than a week to see if I can live with the minuses.
So far, however, the plusses are frickin' amazing.
Posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018
Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.
And now on with the show...
Yesterday I talked about deciding to bypass Apple's HomePod and leap into Sonos. Now that they've released the "Sonos One" with Amazon Alexa built-in, it was a better fit for me and my Alexa-centric lifestyle.
Alas, since Alexa has no way of accessing my iTunes Match library, my best option for having music she can control is to subscribe to "Amazon Music Unlimited" at $79 a year (that price reflects a $20 discount because I'm an Amazon Prime member). Since I can now discontinue iTunes match at $25 a year, that's a net increase of $54 annually over what I was already paying. I'm not happy about it, but there's nothing else I can do to get what I want. Something tells me that Amazon and Apple are not going to cooperate on getting things integrated, and I'm too enamored with Alexa to contemplate her not having control of my music the way she has control over everything else in my life.
Amazon Music Unlimited is nice, for what it is, but it's hardly perfect...
That being said, there are some things I love about Amazon Music Unlimited too...
So I dunno. If I have to pay for a streaming music service, I'd rather it be Apple because that's where my music purchases and videos come from. But since Apple was way late to the personal assistant game and has nothing to even touch what Alexa can do, that's not going to happen. So long as I am tied to Alexa for everything, Amazon is where I am going to be. Maybe one day Apple will give up on their laughably bad HomeKit crap and buy out INSTEON or something that drags me back into the fold, but right now I'm done. It's all Alexa all the time until something better comes along. And something tells me Amazon ain't going to allow something better to come along. Alexa is getting better and more capable every day.
Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018
Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.
And now on with the show...
There was never any question that I would be giving up some sound quality when I went with Sonos One over Apple HomePod. Apple made sure that having awesome sound was a priority over everything else and, if that was my primary reason for getting a smart speaker, I would have bought one despite it all. But my priority was smart home integration with Alexa, so Sonos it was.
Though I'm hardly an audiophile, I do like having quality audio, and was hoping that Sonos with their years of experience would deliver. This was not guaranteed. Yes, they regularly get good reviews for their equipment, but I'm buying the smallest speakers they offer. And yet... since my home is not that big and I have cats (which means I never blast the stereo at full volume), I was optimistic.
Turns out the Sonos One is plenty enough speaker for me. Despite their diminutive size in comparison to other offerings, the One had no problem filling my home with rich, vibrant sound. I ended up putting one in the living room and one in my kitchen at opposite ends of my home, then grouping them so that they both play the same thing. I can control their volume independently, or control the overall proportional volume for both at the same time, which is handy...
My dining room is closer to the kitchen than the living room, so I have the volume there a bit weaker. When I sit at the dining room table, it's a sweet spot where I am hearing sound equally from both, which is a very cool effect. People can dine and have a conversation while being enveloped in soft music for atmosphere. This... this is the true promise of Sonos. Everywhere sound that can be fine-tuned to whatever effect you want.
Obviously the problem with having only one speaker per room is no stereo sound, because pairing them for stereo in separate rooms is a bit schizophrenic. For my music, I'm not that bothered. If I end up going full-on Sonos with my television and A/V setup, then I'd have to add more speakers to get to Dolby 5:1 anyway (which is as far as Sonos can currently go... no DTS, PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos for you!). That being said, there is something which Sonos provides to get the best sound possible from their speakers no matter how many you have or where they're located. They call it "Trueplay" speaker tuning technology, and it's essentially an app on your smartphone that you walk around with to measure your room acoustics so your speaker can alter its output to give the best sound...
In my living room, Trueplay didn't make much different. The speaker seemed to sound the same before and after I applied it. But for my kitchen? Sound quality noticeably improved. Sonos is not blowing smoke here, there was an immediately noticeable improvement. This is a pretty great thing, even though it takes an extra couple minutes of setup to get there (Apple HomePod apparently does this automatically and constantly on its own... no need to walk around with your phone).
In the reviews I poured over before purchasing my pair of One speakers, I heard "lack of bass" mentioned more than once. This is puzzling to me, because I was thrilled to be getting so much bass out of such a small speaker. No, it's not earth-shaking (Sonos sells a subwoofer for that), but it's actually much better than I was lead to believe. Would I like more punch when I fire up All We Need by Odesza? Sure. That thumping bassline is meant to be something you feel. But I'm certainly not feeling deprived by the bass I'm getting, which is very good.
The Sonos One sound lives in the mid-range, which is pretty stellar. And while the highs are nice and bright, they can hit brassy spots that sound harsh to my ear. This is most notable when playing a song like There Must Be An Angel by Eurythmics (my go-to track for testing speakers). It handles the hook beautifully with the angelic backing vocals, but then fumbles a bit with the harmonica solo at the end. Still, it's never so bad that I'm wincing at it, and 98% of the time I'm not noticing anything but beautifully delivered acoustics that surprise me every time I fire up my speakers.
The upshot of all this is that I have no complaints about Sonos One sound quality for what I'm currently wanting to do with it. If I end up wanting to go further, I can absolutely do that buy purchasing more Sonos pieces. And that's the beauty of the system... it's just so darn extensible and configurable.
For a price, of course.
I bought two Sonos One speakers bundled at a $350 limited time price (now since expired), which is $175 each (regular $199). If sound quality is your primary concern, that kind of money can get you a larger speaker with significantly better sound quality. Sure, they won't be wireless, nor will thy have Sonos streaming capabilities or have Alexa built-in... and you'll need an amp to power them... but all that will mean nothing to a true audiophile. So know where your money is going before you plunk down for Sonos, which can get very expensive very quickly for chasing down the best sound the company offers (their largest PLAY:5 speaker, for example, is $500... so $1000 for stereo). Their 5:1 setup would require a PLAYBAR for my TV ($700) and SUB subwoofer ($700) and use my two One's as the back channels ($1750 total investment... $1800 now that the One is no longer on sale). This is a bit absurd when that kind of money can get you a Dolby Atmos-capable amp with some nice speakers for a better home-theater experience. But I'd probably go the Sonos route anyway because I love what it gets me in features and control. Maybe if I had a larger, more acoustic environment... like a custom home theater... my thinking would change. But since I don't, Sonos feels like a better fit, even for the price.
Hefty though it may be.
Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2018
Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.
And now on with the show...
Sonos One speakers are designed to provide great sound in a small package and integrate a microphone so you can talk to Alexa... all while looking good. The speakers, as I mentioned in yesterday's entry, are pretty great for sound. The microphone array for Alexa, on the other hand, could use some improvement. Apparently things were much worse when the One was first released, and they've since improved it with software updates. My hope is that they continue to work on this, because it's irritating how ambient noise can obliterate any Alexa commands you might make. My Sonos One in the living room sits on my media center... exactly where my Echo used to sit. With Echo, I could have the television blasting and Alexa would still respond to commands easily. With One, that's not the case. Both my living room and kitchen speakers will hear me say "Alexa..." (I get that "beep" from both) but, if the television is on, half the time it's the kitchen speaker which is the One to reply. This sucks because I can't hear it with the television on.
Yes, this is a testament to just how good the microphones are at picking up when I ask for Alexa from across the house, but their ability to recognize where I'm at when I'm saying it is really poor. Sure I can disable the microphone on the kitchen One so there's no confusion, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having a One in my kitchen in the first place.
Another issue which may or may not be tied to the design of the Sonos One... there seems to be more lag between when I say an Alexa command and when the speaker will respond and act on that command. It seems faster on Echo and Echo Dot. No idea what that's about, because you'd think Alexa is Alexa no matter where she is. Perhaps Amazon prioritizes commands from the units they sell over third party devices? No clue.
And then there's Alexa not responding to Sonos control commands on the Sonos One speakers, but that's such a complex topic that I'm saving it for my final installment tomorrow.
When it comes to Alexa on Sonos One, the microphone problem and lag are annoying, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. If you listen to Audible audiobooks with Alexa, you can't do it on the Sonos One. At least not yet. If you use Alexa for drop-in (intercom between your Alexa units) or calling, they're not supported on a Sonos One. At least not yet. Some Alexa skills also don't work (like Sleep Sounds). At least not yet. Maybe it's Amazon that's refusing to allow these things, I have no idea. But it's scary to think how the Alexa features people rely on might one day disappear from their Sonos One speakers if Amazon decides to axe them for one reason or another.
As for the physical appearance of the Sonos One speakers, they're very pretty. Also... the design of the touch controls and indicators on the top of the unit are wonderfully unobtrusive. Rendered all in black, it's much better-looking than the multi-toned PLAY:1. Real thought went into making this a gorgeous piece of hardware.
Unless you want to mount it to a wall.
Then you have to add a bunch of shit which destroys the sleek lines of the product.
Because there's no screw mount on the back, all the screw-mount hardware used to hang the very similar Sonos PLAY:1 on a wall won't work. You have to use a specialized mount which has stupid restraining wires to hold on to the unit (something which seems ugly, flawed, and unsafe). I have run this over and over and over in my head trying to figure out why the screw mount was omitted, but keep coming up empty. This is profoundly stupid. Your options for mounting hardware goes from dozens to one or two, and neither are that great (the Midlite cable-conceal mount is not compatible, which is the one I wanted to use, but can't). Perhaps this was a ploy by Sonos to get kickback money? Maybe Sonos hates their customers and wants everybody replacing their PLAY:1 speakers with One speakers to have to buy all new mounts? Maybe they think the Sonos One is too pretty, so they want you to have to ugly it up if you mount it on a wall? I mean, come on... just look at this janky crap hanging off the back...
That stupid wire will never stay straight, as you can see if you look close. Maybe Sonos just hates OCD types like me? And it takes two wires... TOP AND BOTTOM to restrain the damn thing...
This idiotic shit is rage-inducing. Why even bother designing such a pretty speaker if you have to fuck it up to mount it on a wall?
Regardless of how ugly or stupid, I'm sure more mounts are coming. Hopefully somebody can find a more creative way of solving this which doesn't require a big ass wires and massively ugly clips hanging off the back.
Another design decision which may be problematic... you cannot create a stereo pair between a Sonos One and a Sonos PLAY:1, or any other Sonos product other than another Sonos One. While this may be a bummer to some, I don't know that I'd want a stereo pairing between two speakers that aren't identical anyway. I'm OCD like that. What Sonos should do is come out with a Sonos One "Lite" speaker which looks the same as a Sonos One, but doesn't have Alexa in it. That way it would be cheaper (no Amazon licensing fees or additional microphone hardware) and a much better option for those wanting to create a stereo pair. It's not like you need two Alexas in the same space (you'd probably turn one of the microphones off anyway), so this seems like a no-brainer.
But it's hard to give much credit to Sonos for brains when they screwed up the mounting so heinously bad.
And tomorrow we wrap all this up on an even more sour note, so be sure to tune in for that.
Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2018
And now on with the show...
I'm just going to start this entry off by saying "I love my new Sonos One speakers." Because after you read the problems I've been dealing with, you may begin to wonder.
The whole point of the new "One" model over everything else Sonos has ever released is the Amazon Alexa integration. Without Alexa, the Play One would be just a prettier version of the PLAY:1 that they already have. With that in mind, you'd think that a company with the stellar reputation that Sonos has would make damn sure that the Alexa integration was rock solid and dead simple.
Yeah, you would think.
In reality? Not so much. This comes down to two issues...
In order to get Alexa to do things on top of the basic functionality that's built-in, you have to add app extensions to her "brain in the cloud" which are called "skills." Want to play Jeopardy with Alexa every night? You have to add the Jeopardy Skill. Want to control your Sonos speakers by talking to Alexa? You need the Sonos Skill. There are hundreds of skills to do all kinds of things, and part of the magic of Alexa is using these skills to customize your Alexa experience. Lord only knows I have. Alexa is such a huge part of my life that I find myself asking her to do things even when she's not around. I'm not entirely sure what half of the wall switches in my home do because I haven't used them in years. If I want to turn on a light, I either program it to happen automatically... or ask Alexa to do it.
The issue being that whatever you're wanting Alexa to do is only as good as the skill she uses to do it.
When it comes to Sonos, the skill is really rough.
On the third day of owning my Sonos One speakers, I woke up to an Alexa alarm to feed the cats... my path being lit by lights Alexa turns on. I then get to the kitchen and have Alexa play songs from Depeche Mode's 101 on my Sonos One while I'm dishing up cat food. Then I get myself cleaned up and head to work for the day. When I get home I ask Alexa to play songs by Roxette while I'm unloading my stuff and cleaning up the house. She dutifully complies and The Look starts blasting through my home.
I ask Alexa to turn the volume down and she won't.
I ask Alexa to stop playing music and she ignores me.
I ask Alexa to skip this song and she doesn't know what I'm talking about.
Eventually I'm screaming "ALEXA, STOP!!!" and she cooly asks me what I'd like to listen to while Roxette continues to blare. I yell "OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, ALEXA!" but the joke is lost on her.
After the song is over, Alexa goes quiet. As a test, I ask her to play songs by Matt & Kim, but she ignores me. Anything else I ask her to do... tell me the time... turn on some lights... read my notifications... she will do. But she categorically refuses to act on commands to control my Sonos speakers. It's as if she has forgotten that my Sonos speakers even exist.
Just to make sure she's hearing me, I look through my request history on the Alexa app. Yep, she heard me alright. Apparently Alexa has gone brain dead when it comes to Sonos, so it's off to the Sonos "Community" forums to find out if other people are having this problem. Turns out they are. This is not an isolated incident or Alexa disobedience... this is the Sonos Skill being wonky as fuck.
What follows is hours of disabling/re-enabling skills... logging-out/logging-in to accounts... deleting/reinstalling apps... forgetting/discovering devices... renaming devices... factory resetting speakers... the list goes on and on and on. Nothing seems to work, so I try everything. Eventually I accidentally get things running again. I say "accidentally" because I have no idea which thing... combination of things... or order I did things... ended up being what got Sonos working with Alexa again. Not a frickin' clue.
And she seems to be working correctly now, though a couple times I've asked her to pause my music and when I ask her to resume, she sends the command to my television instead of my Sonos, at which point I'm back to disabling/re-learning skills.
Obviously, Sonos and/or Amazon has some work to do.
For the sake of anybody coming to this page via Google search because they are having the same problem I was and are ready to smash their Sonos speakers with a hammer, I have three tips (in addition to all the stuff you'll find out there already)...
This whole ordeal was frustrating to the point of rage for me, and I'm still not quite sure what in the hell is going on. I can only hope that it all gets figured out... soon... so that I don't burst a blood vessel or something.
And now for "ducking"...
Yesterday I mentioned that Alexa on Sonos One has trouble figuring out where you are located so that the correct speaker is talking to you. I ask it a question in the living room and it responds in the kitchen... that kind of thing. But there was something I left out.
"Ducking" is when Alexa will drop the volume of whatever she is playing through her speakers so she can hear your commands. And while it sounds logical, it's actually stupid, stupid, STUPID!
Alexa has a microphone optimized to pick your voice out of other sounds in the room. As an example... when I have the television blaring, I can still talk to the Alexa device sitting next to it. Alexa can't control my television volume, so she does her best to hear around it. And it works... mostly... unless the volume is so loud that she can't make out what I'm saying.
But when your music or your television is plugged into your Sonos system, Alexa can control its volume. And she will lower it each and every time you ask her to do something. And that's not the worst part. If I say "Alexa, next!" to skip a song that's playing, she starts ducking the volume seconds after I'm done speaking... which means she is ducking for nothing!
And it gets better!
Alexa doesn't just duck the volume on the speaker you're talking to... she ducks the volume on ALL Sonos speakers in your whole house.
This is a major bug which I'm told Sonos is working with Amazon to fix.
I sure as hell hope so, because it's a seriously demented flaw that will be especially insane when you have several people living in your home and they are all talking to Alexa in different rooms. Jimmy asks Alexa what time it is in his bedroom on the second floor and the speaker you're listening to in the basement drops in volume? What sense does that even make? Did nobody at Sonos notice this when they were designing the One speaker? NOBODY?!? Good Lord. There's stupid... and then there's... whatever this is. This issue should have been resolved with Amazon long before the product was released to market.
Assuming Sonos makes it so that ducking only happens with the speakers in the room where somebody is talking to Alexa, that will be a big improvement... but I still won't be happy. I want to be able to turn ducking off completely. I never needed it when Alexa didn't have control over my speakers, and I don't need it now that she does. Maybe some people like it or need it, but those of us who don't should have the option of turning it off. Until we do, integrating Alexa with Sonos is kinda stupid.
The only option for Sonos to work the way it's supposed to and not duck your volume is to disable Alexa from having anything to do with your Sonos speakers. Which is insane for somebody like me who purchased the speakers specifically for their Alexa integration.
Ultimately Sonos One is a very cool speaker with some amazing features which was rushed to market to beat out Apple's HomePod. Unfortunately the thing that makes the Sonos One so compelling... having Alexa integration... is not done very well. Which is a real shame, because this is something which could potentially take Alexa to another level.
I'd say "This is the end of SONOS Week at Blogography... thanks for reading!," but I cannot. Tune in tomorrow to find out why.
Posted on Saturday, March 17th, 2018
And now on with the show...
When I started SONOS WEEK here at Blogography, I broke down what I wanted to say into five parts. Little did I know that a sixth part would unexpectedly appear.
Sonos gear is incredibly expensive. Whether it's worth the money is debatable. Given what it can do and how it works, it was worth it to me and my needs. I was able to afford the $350 for the pair of Sonos One speakers because I had a $120 credit at Amazon plus some tax refund money. And while I thought I might buy more pieces eventually, it was not on my radar. I have a nice Denon receiver plus a decent speaker setup and a living room wired for surround sound, and that's more than enough.
But then I had a long-time online friend notice I was reviewing Sonos on my blog who offered to sell me his PLAYBAR for cheap (well, maybe not "cheap," but for less than I could buy it new). He had upgraded to a Dolby Atmos 7.1 setup (Sonos can only do 5.1) and his PLAYBAR was sitting in his attic.
He had all the original packaging and said it was in perfect condition, so I said "Wrap it up, I'll take it."
The next day the UPS driver paid a visit and Christmas morning came early.
I anticipated that setting things up would be a bit problematic because I was having to shuffle around my existing Sonos speakers to get a surround sound system. The PLAYBAR would become the Left, Right, and Center channels... my existing Sonos One speakers (from the living room and kitchen) would become the Rear-Left and Rear-Right channels. Turns out it wasn't a problem at all. I plugged in the PLAYBAR, used the Sonos app to set it up, then was asked if I had rear speakers. Since I did, I tapped a button on the backs of them when instructed and everything was reconfigured for me automatically. Such is the joy of Sonos.
I was worried that a single PLAYBAR speaker taking the place of three speakers would destroy the stereo separation I was used to, but that was not the case at all. The Left, Right, and Center channels were fairly distinct after TruePlay tuning. The rear channels being in separate speakers were even more distinct, as expected. My go-to movie for demonstrating surround-sound is The Matrix, and it sounded terrific through Sonos.
It's a great system and the amount of wires and crap it replaces is very cool...
Denon receiver: $500 - Speakers: $300 - I should have just bought the $700 PLAYBAR to begin with.
There are some caveats to PLAYBAR, however...
Some really nice things about PLAYBAR before I go...
One horrible downside for me is that I lost my kitchen Sonos One speaker so it could fill out my rear channel. No more listening to music while I cook dinner or load the dishwasher. Replacing it is another $200, so that's the end of that.
The good news? Now that I could put my Amazon Echo in my bedroom and my Echo Dot in my garage, I have Alexa in every room of my house. All I need now is to embed an Echo Dot inside my brain and I guess I'm set.
Meanwhile, Neo has just realized he's The One and a fight has ensued, so I gotta get back to The Matrix.
UPDATE: And so my POWERBAR mounting kit came. It's pretty basic for $40... just a metal plate and some drywall screws. But it does the job. Kinda. There's a major problem with it.
Electrical codes make it illegal to run a power cable behind a wall. You have to purchase a electrical outlet wall kit which is code compliant. Then you can plug stuff into the outlet. But the six-foot power cable that came with my POWERBAR can't fit behind the speakers, so it has to hang below it in a big wad...
Kinda defeats the whole purpose. You'd think that since SONOS makes you buy a kit to wall-mount the thing that they would include a tiny power cable with it. Assumably they know that you can't run the cable in the wall, right? I mean, come on, every single photo they ever show of their stuff being wall-mounted shows the cables hidden in the wall... so how are they doing it? No frickin' clue since I can't find where they sell a short power cable anywhere. Maybe they don't care about complying with the electrical code and are mounting their stuff illegally.
I've emailed Sonos Customer Service, so I guess we'll see what they say.
UPDATE: Sonos Customer Service is all... "Uhhhh... nope, we don't sell that. We hire professional installers for our photos and they use adhesives and stuff to hide the wires!" (or something to that effect). Well, whatever. It really chaps my ass that Sonos has most every damn photo with the wires hidden, yet it's something they don't really provide for.
UPDATE: I found a Dell laptop 4.5-inch power cable that works much better than the 6-foot cord from Sonos. The plug is a tad too long, so it sticks out at the bottom a tiny bit, but it's better than the wad of Sonos cable I was dealing with. Hopefully one day Sonos will get off their asses and sell a short power cable with a small plug so you can legally get hidden wire mounting like they show in all their photos.
UPDATE: I have given up on wall-mounting my Sonos One speakers. With no screw-mount on the back, the solutions I've found are far from pretty. Furthermore, even if you buy short power cables, there's no really solution to bury the cables legally... at least not yet. Instead I'm using two IKEA 4-drawer shoe cabinets that are only 8 5/8-inches deep, wall-mounted, to put my Sonos One speakers on. They are the perfect height for the speakers to rise above my couch, but not so tall that they take up a lot of wall space. By drilling new holes to shift the top board, they can be set side-by-side. And once I drill holes in the top boards for power cables, they drop through and are completely hidden. Best solution I could find given hiding power cables in the wall was not an option for me.
Posted on Sunday, March 18th, 2018
Don't click that "Back Button" just yet, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• To Infinity! And so... here we are. A little over a month until the beginning of the end. Ten years of build-up all comes down to Avengers: Infinity War in April and its sequel next year...
So much to unpack here, which is not surprising considering the final movie has a runtime is 2 hours 36 minutes.
• A Brief History of Time. Stephen Hawking is gone! So remarkable that he managed to live so long with a disease which he was told would kill him decades ago. And look what his brilliant mind accomplished while trapped in a body which betrayed him! That he was a character on The Simpsons is just icing on the cake. An amazing, amazing man...
Rest in peace, sir.
• LOLZ! Probably the funniest thing I've ever seen on Twitter...
And yet... this is utterly insane as well. How in the hell do you confuse Kumail Nanjiani, Kunal Nayyar, and Kal Penn? They look nothing alike! I guess some people just see skin color and don't look any further.
• Fourth World! Looks like DC is finally moving past Zack Snyder's laughably bad take on super-heroes. After Patty Jenkins hit gold with Wonder Woman, they're striking a deal with another celebrated woman to helm New Gods for the big screen. Congrats to Ava DuVernay! My first choice would be Taika Waititi since his love letter to Jack Kirby in Thor: Ragnarok was so perfect... but this is a great choice too...
It will be interesting to see if DuVernay goes full-on Kirby or heads in another direction entirely.
• Incredible! ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG... It's REAL!
Needless to say, I want want want want this game!
• Chain Gang! Since subscribing to Amazon Music Unlimited, I've been going a bit crazy over music. Now that I have "tens of millions" of songs available anytime, anywhere, I'm asking Alexa to play esoteric stuff all day long that it would never have occurred to me to play before I subscribed. Something pops in my head? Play it Hear a song mentioned somewhere? Play it. Song pops up on a commercial? Play it. For the past two days I've been obsessed with Sam Cooke. He was mentioned on an episode of The West Wing, and I've been listening to everything available ever since. So many songs of his I recognize but never really knew where they came from.
Such an amazing talent. Which makes the bizarre circumstances of his death even more tragic.
Until next Sunday then...
Posted on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018
I've come to the conclusion that he internet is an incredibly useful thing... in addition to being a blight on all humanity from time to time, of course.
Like when you hear a song you really like and have no idea what it is, so you Shazam it and, as if by magic, the name and artist appears on your phone. That is the kind of thing that makes having the internet totally worth the crap you have to suffer through.
As an example, I kept hearing a Culligan Water commercial called "Drinks" that has a fantastic track thumping in the background...
Mere seconds after rewinding the DVR and calling up Shazam, I learn that the song is Pumper by Mai Lan...
And then... then there are the times where Shazam comes up empty.
Like when I was watching a video on using Plex with Alexa and this cool track pops up that I've never heard. I totally dig it, so I Shazam and get a completely different song (Across the Universe by Akira?).
I tried searching for the artist and song said in the video, but I couldn't understand it fully, so Google wasn't helping. I then tried Googling lyrics, but that also failed. So I kept hammering away with different variations of what I was hearing and finally arrived at this...
Castaway by Dunez. There we go! That's it!
Except when I go to buy the song from iTunes, it's not there. When I go to play it from Amazon Music Unlimited, it's not there. The only place it exists is on SoundCloud.
With no way of buying it, I finally rip the song and make a note of yet another track I need to buy in order to keep my music collection legal.
Which begs the question... how can a band exist... create a track... and there be no trace of it or them? I found their Facebook page, but the last thing they mention about any music is a promise for "new tunes coming soon" on August 13th, 2015.
Tunes that never came. At least from what I can tell.
And so I'm left hanging... wondering whatever happened to Dunez, if I'll ever be able to buy their song, and if we'll ever get anything new out of them. Because, from the sound of it, this is a band I'd really like.
The internet... sometimes creating more mysteries than it solves.
In addition to being a blight on all humanity from time to time, of course.
Posted on Friday, April 6th, 2018
I was looking for background noise to play while I work and ran across Miss Congeniality playing. It's one of those guilty pleasure films that I really don't need to see for the tenth time, which is perfect because I won't be distracted by it.
At one point in the film Sandra Bullock as hapless undercover FBI agent beauty contestant Gracie Lou Freebush is practicing a dance routine and ABBA's Dancing Queen...
And now I'm screwed.
Because any time I hear ABBA, I am immediately sucked down a rabbit hole of their amazing oeuvre of pop genius.
There are few songs of theirs that I don't love, but there's one song in particular that's my hands-down favorite... The Name of the Game. It's so beautifully constructed that it's easy to say it must be one of the greatest pop songs ever written. Couple that with the flawless voices of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and... well... it's pretty tough to find fault in the magic of it all...
Listening to ABBA always leads me to A*Teens, a Swedish teen group that hit the Disney circuit back in 2000. Originally formed as "ABBA Teens," their first album was filled with ABBA covers, including their take on The Name of the Game...
What's interesting is that A*Teens ended up having surprising depth, moving past their ABBA covers and creating their own stuff. Yes, it was teen-pop. But it was pretty good teen pop...
A*Teens always leads me to Hoku... aka Hoku Ho, daughter of Hawaiian legend Don Ho... who was gaining popularity around the same time that A*Teens were blowing up in the US. Her one album is actually really good, though the song she's probably most famous for is Perfect Day from the movie Legally Blonde...
As an interesting aside, Hoku is apparently working on new music and plans on releasing an album this year! The EP has her listed as a "Christian Artist," so I can only imagine that she's no longer going to be singing the bubblegum pop songs that made her famous.
Anyway... Hoku always leads me to fellow Hawaiian artist, Iz, and his magical version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow...
The voice of Hawaii obviously leads me back to ABBA and Happy Hawaii...
And now it starts all over again...
Posted on Sunday, May 20th, 2018
Put on your Sunday's best... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Mo Carbs! Hey everybody... IT'S CARB AWARENESS DAY! I'm not supposed to eat many carbs anymore, but you can bet I'll be celebrating! Bread, pasta, and sugar for everyone!
• Twins Redux! And here it is... the first single from Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey's forthcoming album: Feels Like Love to Me...
Needless to say, it's a huge relief that this has a true Thompson Twins vibe to it... which is exactly what I want in a new album from Tom Bailey. It feels a bit more mature than Into The Gap, but doesn't sound as different as Big Trash or Close to the Bone did at the time... which is to say that it fits nicely between the end of the Thompson Twins and the beginning of Babel. At least from this one song it does.
• I Smell Bullshit! Fraganzia... because Febreze and every other product name worth a shit has been taken...
=sigh= Product marketing is officially running out of ideas.
Holy shit... it's not a day ending in "Y" unless Mary Fallin is stirring up more bigoted shit. Such a fucking asshole. KIDS NEED LOVING HOMES. It has been shown over and over and over and over that same-sex parents DO AS WELL OR BETTER at churning out happy, healthy, well-adjusted children as opposite-sex parents. And in 2018 kids don't care... THEY SHOULDN'T CARE... because the ONLY things that matter is that they have a home to call their own. That they are fed and provided for. That they are loved and cherished. Who gives a fuck if that comes from two dads or two moms? Apparently Mary Fallin does, which means she is in no danger of spoiling her track record at being one of the shittiest human beings on the planet. Congrats, Mary, you repugnant pile of garbage. Are you going to take in all the kids being denied homes by your bigotry? =crickets=
• Adventure Redux! Last Bullet Sunday I had mentioned the very first graphical adventure video game... Adventure! As a formative part of my childhood, it's a game that fascinates me in a hundred different directions. Mostly because it shouldn't have even been possible given the technological limitations of the time. In a stroke of randomness, I ran across an interview with Adventure creator Warren Robinett earlier this week! It's pretty great...
Needless to say, I am thrilled at the prospect of reading The Annotated Adventure book mentioned in the talk, but the last mention of it was in 2016, so I'm guessing it's been put on indefinite hold or outright cancelled by now.
And on that note... DeeTwo out.
Posted on Sunday, June 10th, 2018
It's been yet another week full of hypocrisy and evil, but it's all good, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Two! I loved everything about the first LEGO Movie... except the ending. When they dropped into "The Real World," everything fell apart for me. With this in mind, I have mixed feelings about the sequel...
Yes, I'm excited to see it. But can we please just stick in the world of LEGO and let Chris Pratt be hilarious? That would be great, thanks.
• No Reservations. There wasn't much I didn't like about Anthony Bourdain. He was responsible for some highly entertaining television. He was a world traveler and advocate for better understanding and acceptance between cultures. He used his celebrity to advocate for worthwhile causes and draw attention to injustices. He was an incredible guest on any talk show he dropped by. He was somebody I liked and admired, which is why his death has hit me so hard. You will be missed, sir.
• Darkness and Light! I was never a fan of the Cloak & Dagger comic books. They all had the same story. Cloak & Dagger hunt down drug dealers. Cloak goes a little crazy because he's hungry. Dagger feeds him a light sandwich. Lather, rinse, repeat. On occasion they team up with other heroes, but their baggage is always the same. And now Freeform TV has created a Cloak & Dagger television show...
Now, I'm not saying that every super-hero show has to be packed with super-power fights... but there has to be something to make it interesting... otherwise it's just another boring TV drama I don't care about. And if the first two episodes of Cloak & Dagger are any indication, here's yet another boring TV drama I don't care about. Which is a shame, because the actors are very good.
• You! Other than an occasional song here and there, I haven't given much thought to Maroon 5 in years. But now they've dropped a new video for their song Girls Like You that's packed with more guest-stars than you can shake a stick at.
Not a bad song at all. And if you're having trouble putting a name to all the faces, here's a link for you. And, as much as I like it, this is not going to displace my favorite Maroon 5 video...
And if that's not enough Maroon 5 for you... here they are covering Bob Marley's Three Little Birds...
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright.
• NEWS: With deal to close this week, Bayer to retire Monsanto name
Well of course they are retiring the Monsanto name! Monsanto is fucking evil incarnate, and people were finally waking up to it. But now? Bayer is just the aspirin people! Evil + Evil = Bigger Evil.
• A Red Letter Day! As my final bullet of the day, I leave you with one of my favorite Pet Shop Boys songs that's woefully under-appreciated... and highly relevant to my life as of late...
Doesn't get much more Pet Shop Boys than that.
So long until next Bullet Sunday!
Posted on Thursday, June 14th, 2018
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark has long been one of my favorite bands. During the 80's I was pretty much obsessed with them, and their albums were in frequent rotation (even the much-hated Dazzle Ships). Needless to say, I was pretty upset when the band imploded back in 1988.
Sure Andy McCluskey carried on and released some albums I loved... Sugar Tax, Liberator, and Universal... but it wasn't the same without Paul Humphreys, and it seemed as good a time as any when OMD finally died in 1996.
But then... a miracle.
McCluskey and Humphreys reunited. Then released History of Modern in 2010.
It was amazing and I loved it. The follow-up in 2013, English Electric, was equally good. And while listening to the album this morning I was reminded just how good it was when I got to Night Cafe. Not just for the song... but for the video, which is both remarkable and disturbing in equal measure. It's a song I can't get enough of, and it surprises me just how overlooked a gem it is...
The next album, The Punishment of Luxury came out last year and was pretty great once all the experimental interludes were deleted. But it was no English Electric, despite some pretty great songs...
Back to life after this OMD musical interlude.
Or maybe just one more song first...
Posted on Sunday, June 17th, 2018
Time to celebrate all the good that's left in the world, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• The Carters! As if there could be any news bigger than Beyoncé and Jay Z dropping a duet album out of nowhere called Everything Is Love... there's the fact that they shot the first video for the single Apeshit in the frickin' Louvre. I mean, seriously! They rented out THE LOUVRE! Who does that? Who has the money to do that? Beyoncé and Jay Z, that's who...
Amazing stuff. Can't wait to get my hands on the finished album.
• Part Two! And so this popped up on the internet last week...
I have some thoughts...
Next up? Ant Man and The Wasp, which looks fantastic.
• Super! Here's the thing. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the DC Cinematic Universe has devolved into a heap of shit. Man of Steel... Batman vs. Superman... Suicide Squad... Justice League... they were all heinous crap that ignored huge portions of what makes DC characters so timeless and special. At the other end of the spectrum is the DC Television Universe (or Arrowverse, if you will) which has been killing it. Yes, Legends of Tomorrow has never quite worked... and Arrow has gotten stale... and the overall story arc for The Flash this past season went way too long and was ultimately pretty lame... but then there's Supergirl. It's been so good. And the season finale was no exception...
Is it too much to ask that the people in charge of Supergirl give us a Superman show? Preferably a show where the central character STANDS ON THEIR OWN instead of yet another team show? The movie Superman is going nowhere, while Tyler Hoechlin has proven he's the best on-screen Superman since Christopher Reeve....
DC should really just expand the Arrowverse into movies that don't suck. Because haven't we suffered enough? All I can hope is that we get another excellent season of SuperGirl. And a first season of Superman. Oh... and I would totally watch a Legion of Super-Heroes show too.
• 4K! I fell into a YouTube 4K HDR rabbit hole when I found out that my television can display them. Amazing stuff... even if you can't view 4K HDR. Here are some of my favorites...
But if you can watch 4K HDR on your TV...
• Beam! Don't get me wrong, I love my Sonos smart speaker setup, but there are some serious shortfalls that plague the system. Namely... it's stuck in the past. They've been clinging to optical cables for their PlayBar and PlayBase like a dead lemming, despite the fact that everybody else abandoned it a decade ago. And then this past week Sonos released a new product: Beam. Which is essentially a mini PlayBar that costs $399. But the biggest news? It's not using optical cable... it's HDMI ARC. Welcome to the future, Sonos...
It's a step in the right direction, but not a very big one. Still no Dolby Atmos or other modern sound technologies have been announced. On the contrary, they say they have no plans for Atmos at all. Instead we're getting IKEA furniture with Sonos built-in. Wheee.
Good luck getting Apeshit out of your head this week...
Posted on Sunday, June 24th, 2018
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Go West! And so tonight was the second season finale of HBO's Westworld. After being shocked to my core my the brilliance of the first season, I was really looking forward to what happens next. Unfortunately what happens next has largely been a confusing mess and a disappointment. All sympathy built up for the hosts trying to break free of their endless torture evaporated as psycho-Dolores lowered herself to the level of a human and wholesale slaughtered people by the hundreds...
But there were bright spots of course. The diversion into Shogunworld was a bit boring, but at least it was different. The return of "Ford" was a welcome treat. And then came episode 8, Kiksuya, which was a totally random departure, but absolutely beautiful to behold...
And then there was the finale.
I won't delve too deep into spoilers here for those who haven't seen it. But I will say that this season was a frustrating jumble of timeline jumps that were needlessly complex... and clumsy in execution compared to the first season. The finale didn't do much to make the more esoteric story beats any easier to comprehend, but it did wrap up some critical storylines and toss in enough twists to make me glad I invested my time in watching it. Here's hoping that the third season will try not to go so absurdly meta-philosophical and be more clever than obtuse.
• Paul! If you're even a casual fan of The Beatles, this is for you...
If you're a massive fan like me, it's really for you though.
• Batfleck! This article about DC's horrible handling of the Affleck Batman era nails it. How can you have a Batman at the end of his career be a part of a larger, continuing story? The Batman that Zack Snyder created makes absolutely no sense for The beginning of a franchise... Affleck or no Affleck... and it drives me crazy that Snyder was so sublimely oblivious to this fact. What? Batman is just going to be this old, broken, sad character on his last legs in every movie from here on out? So stupid. I've waited most of my life for DC characters to come together on the big screen... I've been dreaming about it since the Christopher Reeves' Superman movies... and I'll never forgive Zack Snyder for his heinously bad vision that ruined everything. All he had to do was look at the Bruce Timm animated shows (or decades of actual DC comic books) to see how Batman could work... both alone and in a larger narrative... but he decided to make something totally lame, incoherent, and just plain awful instead. He was the wrong choice for these films from the very start because he had no interest in portraying the characters as they are, but instead wanted to"put his own stamp"on them. And sadly, that's exactly what we got.
• Simba? This was made over a year ago. I am just now finding it. High-larious...
• Fan! Jake was hanging around while I was working in bed. He wanted to be petted, so I obliged for a bit...
Then the temperature started rising so I turned on the ceiling fan...
Jake loves airing out his junk, that's for sure.
• Act! Posted for no particular reason...
It's textbook, really.
And, on that foreboding note... time to finish up Luke Cage on Netflix! If you're not watching this, it's worth your time. The show is a slow-burn with incredible acting by a cast to die for. If Alfre Woodard doesn't get a truck-full of awards for her amazing work on Luke Cage, there's something wrong.
Posted on Sunday, July 8th, 2018
Everything in the world seems to suck... but life goes on, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Science Fiction! One of my all-time favorite bands is the Thompson Twins. I maintain that Quick Step and Side Kick, Into the Gap, and Here's to Future Days is one of the best trifecta of albums released. Not bad for a band that considered themselves to be a joke. Eventually lead singer and writer for the Twins resurfaced for a series of 80's flashback tours. He ended up having so much fun that he decided to write new material... sticking to the slick hooks and 80's vibe that made his work so popular. And now there's an album coming from Tom Bailey called Science Fiction. If the single What Kind of World is any indication, I'm going to love it...
Only have to wait five more days...
• Coaster! That Kayla is a lucky girl...
Who needs Disneyland?
• Gaston! And speaking of Disneyland... whomever hired this cast member struck gold...
The rides are cool and all that, but it's the people at Disney that make it theme park magic.
• Coaster! And speaking of theme park magic, take a look at this amazing video...
The riders are lucky that the camera and selfie-stick didn't fly out of his hand and kill somebody... but... very cool.
• MALKOVICH! How did I miss that Spike Jonze and Jordan Peele accepted a fan theory about a link between Being John Malkovich and Get Out? Then Peele confirmed that he now considers it to be true?
Bizarre! Which is what you'd expect when Being John Malkovich is involved.
• NOT MALKOVICH! Now, I hesitate to compare any film to Being John Malkovich, but this sure looks like a contender in the bizarre department...
So cool that there are people trying to do something different in movies... and that there are studios supporting them.
• Triple Header! I still have no idea how Luca Stricagnoli does what he does. You'd think that his brain would explode trying to do so many things at once...
Beautiful. Amazing how his interpretation just keeps getting better and more complex as time goes on.
And that's all she wrote for bullets this Sunday. See you again in a mere seven days.
Posted on Saturday, July 14th, 2018
We're on fire again and smoke fills the air... but don't despair, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• M-S-G Can You Dig It? Absolutely fascinating...
I don't eat Chinese food hardly at all (it's not very good here, and choices for vegetarians are severely limited)... and yet I've heard the MSG myth forever.
• Monkey Business! In case everybody doesn't know... I put the first volume of Bad Monkey Comix up to read online for free. You can take a look by clicking on this image...
Or you can just click this link!
• New MacBooks! Apple's new "Pro" MacBooks once again lacking the ports that "pros" need to actually FUNCTION in their fucking JOBS. Such a crock of shit. DONGLES! DONGLES EVERYWHERE!!!
I thought that Apple was supposed to be working with pros to find out what they want in "pro" products? I don't think that's true. Otherwise they wouldn't be sticking with a shallow, shitty keyboard and no standard USB ports. At least you get more than one port now. Still no MagSafe, which sucks.
• Science Fact! Tom Bailey's new album, Science Fiction, is here! If you pre-ordered, it has probably arrived (my autographed copy of the deluxe set did!) but you can also listen to it on the usual streaming services. I'm saving my review for another entry, but here's a sneak preview: love it.
• Be You! Oh noes. Roll up on a woman, call her a slut because of what she is wearing, then think that you can then proceed to slut-shame her into submission? Not. This. Woman. Not today. My guess is not any day...
What absolutely kills me about this is how we rave about "American freedom"... but never seem to back that up. Whether it's telling a Muslim woman she's wearing too much... or telling this woman she's wearing too little... everybody is just DYING to tell OTHER PEOPLE HOW TO LIVE THEIR LIVES. Well fuck that. Live your truth. Be who you are. Defy those who would oppress YOUR FREEDOM by defining what it means for you to be free. So long as you're not endangering others, be free to be you.
• Incompetence. I have been trying very hard to keep politics off of Blogography because I don't want it degrading into a comedy of horrors that makes me want to slit my wrists every time I visit my own blog. But things are so bad right now. So bad. And people don't even seem to realize what's happening. The Trump Administration trade fiasco is probably going to damage this country more than anything so far. Companies are already laying off scores of workers because the reciprocal tariffs are making it impossible for them to operate. It's horrendous, and it's just the beginning. From Professor David Honig...
I’m going to get a little wonky and write about Donald Trump and negotiations. For those who don't know, I'm an adjunct professor at Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law and I teach negotiations. Okay, here goes.
Trump, as most of us know, is the credited author of The Art of the Deal, a book that was actually ghost written by a man named Tony Schwartz, who was given access to Trump and wrote based upon his observations. If you've read The Art of the Deal, or if you've followed Trump lately, you'll know, even if you didn't know the label, that he sees all dealmaking as what we call "distributive bargaining."
Distributive bargaining always has a winner and a loser. It happens when there is a fixed quantity of something and two sides are fighting over how it gets distributed. Think of it as a pie and you're fighting over who gets how many pieces. In Trump's world, the bargaining was for a building, or for construction work, or subcontractors. He perceives a successful bargain as one in which there is a winner and a loser, so if he pays less than the seller wants, he wins. The more he saves the more he wins.
The other type of bargaining is called integrative bargaining. In integrative bargaining the two sides don't have a complete conflict of interest, and it is possible to reach mutually beneficial agreements. Think of it, not a single pie to be divided by two hungry people, but as a baker and a caterer negotiating over how many pies will be baked at what prices, and the nature of their ongoing relationship after this one gig is over.
The problem with Trump is that he sees only distributive bargaining in an international world that requires integrative bargaining. He can raise tariffs, but so can other countries. He can't demand they not respond. There is no defined end to the negotiation and there is no simple winner and loser. There are always more pies to be baked. Further, negotiations aren't binary. China's choices aren't (a) buy soybeans from US farmers, or (b) don't buy soybeans. They can also (c) buy soybeans from Russia, or Argentina, or Brazil, or Canada, etc. That completely strips the distributive bargainer of his power to win or lose, to control the negotiation.
One of the risks of distributive bargaining is bad will. In a one-time distributive bargain, e.g. negotiating with the cabinet maker in your casino about whether you're going to pay his whole bill or demand a discount, you don't have to worry about your ongoing credibility or the next deal. If you do that to the cabinet maker, you can bet he won't agree to do the cabinets in your next casino, and you're going to have to find another cabinet maker.
There isn't another Canada.
So when you approach international negotiation, in a world as complex as ours, with integrated economies and multiple buyers and sellers, you simply must approach them through integrative bargaining. If you attempt distributive bargaining, success is impossible. And we see that already.
Trump has raised tariffs on China. China responded, in addition to raising tariffs on US goods, by dropping all its soybean orders from the US and buying them from Russia. The effect is not only to cause tremendous harm to US farmers, but also to increase Russian revenue, making Russia less susceptible to sanctions and boycotts, increasing its economic and political power in the world, and reducing ours. Trump saw steel and aluminum and thought it would be an easy win, BECAUSE HE SAW ONLY STEEL AND ALUMINUM - HE SEES EVERY NEGOTIATION AS DISTRIBUTIVE. China saw it as integrative, and integrated Russia and its soybean purchase orders into a far more complex negotiation ecosystem.
Trump has the same weakness politically. For every winner there must be a loser. And that's just not how politics works, not over the long run.
For people who study negotiations, this is incredibly basic stuff, negotiations 101, definitions you learn before you even start talking about styles and tactics. And here's another huge problem for us.
Trump is utterly convinced that his experience in a closely held real estate company has prepared him to run a nation, and therefore he rejects the advice of people who spent entire careers studying the nuances of international negotiations and diplomacy. But the leaders on the other side of the table have not eschewed expertise, they have embraced it. And that means they look at Trump and, given his very limited tool chest and his blindly distributive understanding of negotiation, they know exactly what he is going to do and exactly how to respond to it.
From a professional negotiation point of view, Trump isn't even bringing checkers to a chess match. He's bringing a quarter that he insists of flipping for heads or tails, while everybody else is studying the chess board to decide whether its better to open with Najdorf or Grünfeld.
— David Honig
This level of incompetence when it comes to trade is going to completely and totally fuck us. And make no mistake that we, as a country, are fucked. And this is just trade. We are equally fucked in many other areas. Which leads me to believe that President Trump thinks that the era where America was "great" is The Great Depression.
And don't think that just getting a new president in two years is going to fix the problem. The things that have been screwed up may very well take decades to correct. If they are correctable at all.
• Czech! Came home to see Stripes was on this past week. It was at the part where their unit has accidentally crossed the border into Czechoslovakia and so, naturally, they're all going to die. Amazing how international relations have changed within my lifetime. I've been to Czechoslovakia... and China... and Romania... and other countries it was assumed I would never be able to step foot in back in the day...
Of course... thanks to the ineptness of the Trump Administration, we may very well be going back to those times, so I guess I'm happy to have enjoyed it while it lasted. Pretty soon the only place that Americans may be able to travel is Russia and North Korea.
• Which Brings Us To... So... under President Obama we were the laughing stock of the world you say? What about now, you feckless ridiculous ignorant fuck?
The absurdity of where we are as a country keeps hitting new lows.
And, I think that's enough bullets for a smoke-filled Sunday. See you next week!
Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2018
Today I headed over to Seattle to see Erasure with my long-time internet friends Matt and Scott. It was my third time seeing the band, and Andy and Vince were amazing as ever.
If I had a complaint, it was The Moore Theater Seattle has no air conditioning. I was in the front row and had (relatively) few people next to me and I was dying. Poor Andy Bell was dancing and singing his guts out and I thought he was literally going to die. But he was a total trooper...
The set list was as follows...
They skipped tracks from Erasure (their seventh album), Cowboy (their eighth, and probably my favorite, album), Loveboat (their ninth album), Other People's Songs (their tenth album), Union Street (their twelfth album), Light at the End of the World (their thirteenth album), Tomorrow's World (their fourteenth album), Snow Globe (their fifteenth... a Christmas album), and The Violet Flame (their sixteenth album).
Songs I would have liked to have heard? Heavenly Action, Weight of the World, just about anything from Cowboy plus Don't Say You Love Me, and I Broke It All in Two.
Not that I can really complain though... nineteen awesome songs was above and beyond!
If you ever have a chance to see them live, Erasure is worth the ticket of admission.
MARVEL STUDIOS MOVIE OF THE DAY, No. 13: Captain America: Civil War
Original Grade: A+ • Today's Grade: A+
Holy crap... what if Robert Downey Jr. had said no? What would this movie have been then? Chris Evans has made no secret of the fact that he never really wanted to sign on for Captain America because he had his fill of super-hero movies with the two awful Fantastic Four flicks. But he was talked into it, and signed a contract for a set number of appearances as Cap. And that was smart. Get the big money while he could, then move on to the directing career he wanted which would pay a lot less. He later extended his contract to include Avengers 4 when Avengers: Infinity War was split, but it's assumed that's the end of it. What's so cool is that Evans is such a stand-up guy that he agreed to cameo appearances in Thor: The Dark World and Spider-Man: Homecoming outside of his contract. Marvel Studios, in its infinite wisdom, decided to make the most of the original Captain America while they had him, and essentially created another Avengers movie instead of a Cap solo film. Taking the general idea from the comic book event of the same name, Civil War was a way to tear everything apart before bringing it back together again. And they pulled out all the stops doing it. In addition to getting the first appearances of Spider-Man and Black Panther, we also get Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Black Widow, The Falcon, Agent 13, Ant-Man, War Machine, Hawkeye, The Vision, and Scarlet Witch. When you consider that this could have easily been a movie with Cap as its only hero battling some random villain, that's beyond incredible. It was, of course, just a warm-up. I don't know that this was a better film than Winter Soldier, but it was a comic book fan's ultimate dream movie at the time. It was certainly mine. Kinda still is.
SCENE TO BEAT: Wow does Marvel Studios have the whole de-aging thing down! Seeing young Robert Downey Jr. at the front-end of the film was so cool. And it wasn't just for kicks... it actually had real relevance to the story being told. But, of course, the scene to beat would have to be the airport battle. Finally. Finally! After spending most my life waiting for a live-action super-hero battle that wasn't a pile of shit (I'm looking at you, X-Men 3) we got it. It didn't hurt that Spider-Man and Black Panther were in the mix, and absolutely everybody was used to their full potential. Including... Giant Man!
COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Wanda accidentally blew up part of a building when she levitated an exploding Crossbones who was in the middle of exploding. Sure some people got killed because of her inexperience. But the alternative was a lot more people on the ground getting wiped out? Including Captain America? I don't get how that pertinent fact was never raised in the entirety of the film. It bothers me because it's the whole turning point for The Accords being enacted, and it doesn't really make much sense.
SIDENOTE: Still hilarious to see Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei in a movie together again (I'm a big fan of Only You). Red Wing, which was a real-live falcon pal to The Falcon in the comics was made a drone in the movies. Once again we have Marvel being faithful to the source material... just updating it in a way that makes perfect sense! The Incredible Hulk is a movie largely ignored from the Marvel Studios canon, even though it was firmly established to be a part of it. And every once in a while, they drag out General Thunderbolt Ross to remind people of that. This actually makes me happy, because though Mark Ruffalo is better-suited to the role, the hulk movie was not a bad film at all. I expected that there would be a good reason for Thor and The Hulk being left out of Civil War, I just didn't expect it to be as good a reason as we were handed in Thor: Ragnarok. Once again, Marvel Studios knows exactly what they are doing.
Posted on Sunday, August 19th, 2018
Attempting to battle my way through the smoke... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Fires! The weather over the mountains was a bit hazy, but the skies were clear much of the time which was a nice change. Looking towards home this morning revealed what was awaiting me. At the top of the pass it was socked in and it never let up all the way home...
Supply trucks are on the road, headed towards the fire front...
And... I'm home. Such as it is...
The largest of the fires, Cougar Creek (currently 36719 acres), is just 16 miles north of me. It's spread a bit since I last checked, but is now 35% contained, which is pretty impressive work by our firefighters considering it was just 5% contained on Monday...
I guess now is the time we pray for rain. But no lightning, which is what started this fire in the first place.
• Entertainment! Turns out the best toy for a cat is still a cardboard box...
Anything I can do to keep the cats entertained inside the house instead of out in a smokey catio is a good thing.
• Soul. Aretha Franklin passed away which means the Queen of Soul has left us. There are many songs she's given us which put her on the throne... but my favorite is her duet with George Michael for I knew You Were Waiting...
Too many classic artists are leaving us too soon. Rest in peace, Miss Franklin.
• Bears! This video came across my newsfeed and I had to watch it multiple times...
I always feel bad for animals who have their territory encroached on by humans. The least we can do is let them take a dip in our pools from time to time.
• Outrage! Oh... I am outraged alright, Pat. Don't you worry your foolish old head about that.
Lock children in cages and separate them from their parents perhaps never to return because of a line on a map = God's work.
Reading to children = Work of the devil and the end of all humanity.
Just die already you vile, worthless, repugnant piece of shit.
• EnChroma! Instead of spending billions on a stupid wall that won't work... and a military parade to compensate for a tiny, tiny penis on a fucking lunatic... why not buy these EnChroma glasses for everybody who needs them? There are literally thousands of things that are a better use for money this country doesn't have...
And yet... here we are. Getting exactly what we deserve.
And that's a wrap on bullets for this week. Tune in again in a mere seven days...
Continuing on with my revisiting of every Marvel Studios movie...
MARVEL STUDIOS MOVIE OF THE DAY, No. 18: Black Panther
Original Grade: A+ • Today's Grade: A+
"Hey Auntie." =sigh= As I had mentioned, My favorite Marvel heroes have always been Doctor Strange and Black Panther. To get movies this amazing for both characters was a dream come true. Though calling Black Panther "good" is an epic understatement. This film was sublime. Steeped in African culture, we got something truly different than the Western super-hero fare which had come before. The fact that they were so painfully faithful to the source material is just a bonus. It was all here. The vast hidden wealth and mind-boggling technical superiority of Wakanda. The Dora Milaje. Character references old and new. And then they went and made T'Challa into a super-hero James Bond!
SCENE TO BEAT: That casino fight and subsequent car chase in South Korea was pretty spectacular.
COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Not a dang thing.
SIDENOTE: I want sequels to all the Marvel movies. All of them. There is not a single film that's left me thinking "Well, that's enough of that." But when it comes to the sequel I want to see right this minute... it's Black Panther. Things could head in a hundred different directions and almost all of them are going to be fascinating. And then there's the Wakanda outreach program, which has fascinating implications for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Surely another movie is coming soon, right? The first one made like... a billion dollars!
Posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2018
Tom Bailey's post Thompson Twins music is a nostalgic tour de force for 80's fans, and I am totally in love with his latest: Science Fiction. Yes, he has never been a lyrical genius as he pulls entire songs from cliches and sometimes feels like he comes up with rhymes just for the sake of rhyming, but there's some terrific stuff here.
The guy definitely knows how to write a hook that slays...
My thoughts on the album...
If you're a Thompson Twins fan, the album is definitely worth a listen.
Less than a month until I see Tom Bailey in concert!
Posted on Sunday, August 26th, 2018
Time to make the donuts... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Mars Investigations! In what can only be described as the best news I've heard all week, Hulu is apparently developing a new 8-episode season of one of my favorite television shows of all time: Veronica Mars...
And now I want to watch both television seasons and the movie for the hundredth time.
• Globalization! Oh how cool. When you zoom out on Google Maps now, it backs into a globe! No more misrepresenting the size of land masses! Africa is now that massive continent it actually is... whereas the US, Europe, and Greenland are proportionally correct!
This is hugely important. The traditional Mercator projection is a grotesque distortion of the world we inhabit...
If you want to play with The True Size of Things... here's a link for you.
• Nothing! Heard Chinatown by Wild Nothing while watching the Netflix Original To All the Boys I've Loved Before (which is excellent) and am now obsessed with it. Such a pretty track...
This track is from their 2010 album Gemini, which sounds like it's straight out of the 80's.
• Expertly Paired Cheese! This. Stuff. Is. AMAZING!!! It's awesome on tacos, but I have been putting it on everything. Eggs. Veggie Sausage. Sandwiches. Even STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BAG. Where has this been all my life?
They have a Swiss/Cheddar blend that I'm going to have to try too. Not that I couldn't shred the stuff myself and make my own blends... but convenience!
• Enchanting? I was anxiously awaiting the new Matt Groening series from Netflix: Disenchantment. From the looks of things, I was guessing it was Game of Thrones meets The Simpsons...
This week it was finally released and I binged the entire series. It was... okay? The background art is beautiful and full of sight-gags that had me pausing my DVR more often than I care to admit. But the story? It's entertaining. But the funny did not come as often as I was expecting. Every episode seemed a little... slow. Even so, it was clever enough to keep me watching. I was more than a little upset that they ended on a cliffhanger. What if there's no second season to conclude it? Oh well. Wouldn't be the first time a show left me hanging because it was canceled.
And... that'll have to be enough bullets for today. See you next Sunday!
Posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2018
Today after work I ran into The Big City so I could pick up more bird seed. Not that I really have money to be throwing at birds, but they have been so dang entertaining for my cats that I pretty much have to.
Birds are weird in my neck of the woods. During the summer, regular (cheap) bird seed gets me nowhere. The birds that are looking for food are little things and I guess it's just too big for them. And so I buy "nyjer seed" (aka thistle seed) which is tiny stuff that's five times more expensive. In the winter the little birds have gone, and it's only the bigger birds that stick around. That's when I can pull out the cheap stuff and everybody's happy.
I thought I'd be smart and see if the feed store had bulk nyjer. Turns out they did, but at $2.09 a pound, it was actually more expensive than what I can get at Lowe's. My favorite seed is their "Nyjer Plus" which is cut with bits of sunflower seed. The birds don't seem to mind that at all, and it makes less of a mess. Alas, that's almost always out of stock, but today I got lucky...
Weird how my entire day can be made by bird seed being in-stock at the hardware store, but there you have it. Maybe this is a sign I need to start a new woodworking project? Probably.
The entire time I was looking for bird seed, this was going through my head...
Interesting side-note... apparently we're getting the first new album in 14 years from Tears for Fears this Fall!
One more thing to look forward to...
Posted on Friday, September 21st, 2018
This morning I threw a change of clothes in my backpack, filled the cat feeder, filled the bird feeder, then tried to figure out which route over the mountains would be the best way to get to the airport. Which was not as easy as I had hoped because pulling info out of The Washington State Department of Transportation website was far more difficult than it should have been. But that's how it goes when you're dealing with a website that looks like it came from the 90's.
Almost three hours later, I was at the airport.
Two hours after that, I was winging my way to Salt Lake City so Marty (of Banal Leakage fame) and I could go to a concert featuring Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), The B-52's, and Culture Club.
Things did not get off to a good start.
The main reason I wanted to see this show was because I really wanted to hear Tom Bailey perform tracks off of his new album, Science Fiction, which I love. But there were technical difficulties at Maverick Center where the sound kept crapping out. For reasons I cannot comprehend, he wasn't given extra time to perform his set once the sound was restored... which meant he didn't get to perform a single new song. He barely got to perform his old songs. This was incredibly disappointing. Because what little he did get to perform was great...
I fully anticipated The B-52's to come out and play songs off of Cosmic Thing (their most popular album by far) and be done with it. But that wasn't what happened at all. They played a set that was very much geared towards The B-52's Faithful. Half the stuff they played was off their self-titled debut album, including Planet Claire, Dance This Mess Around, Lava, 52 Girls, and Rock Lobster. Their second album Wild Planet got two tracks... Private Idaho and Give Me Back My Man. Mesopotamia got no tracks. Whammy got Whammy Kiss. Bouncing Off the Satellites got no tracks. Cosmic Thing got Roam and Love Shack only(!). Funplex got the title track. And that was it...
I would have loved to have heard Legal Tender and Song for a Future Generation, which are two of my favorite B-52's songs. They are a fantastic bridge between the two eras of the band in their journey from post-punk new wave to pop sensations. But overall I was thrilled that they played so much from their early days, which was when I fell in love with them.
Culture Club was one of those bands that I appreciated, but never became obsessed with as I did other bands of the day. That being said, I was still very much looking forward to seeing them perform. And I wasn't disappointed. Boy George (and the dozen musicians on-stage with him) blew through all their biggest hits that people wanted to hear (It's a Miracle, I'll Tumble 4 Ya, Time (Clock of the Heart), Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?, Miss Me Blind, Church of the Poison Mind, and Karma Chameleon)... threw in some interesting covers (Let's Dance by Bowie, Everything I Own by Bread, Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer, and Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin. They also tossed in a couple of more esoteric later tracks (The Truth is a Runaway Train, Different Man, Life)...
I have no idea what was going on with the sound at Maverick Center, which was pretty bad. In addition to Tom Bailey's sound problems, Kate and Cindy's vocals were obliterated through most of the B-52's tracks, and the sound for Culture Club sounded horribly brassy at first... but evened out half-way through (Boy George's vocals were pretty well presented throughout, however). I don't remember these kind of problems when I saw Depeche Mode's "Tour of the Universe" show here.
And so... fun!
Even though I think that I must be getting too old to enjoy concerts any more. I used to love live music. But between shitty sound at the venues and the unbelievably rude behavior of people attending concerts now-a-days, I just feel done.
I mean... never say never... but there's a nice symmetry to my first concert being The Thompson Twins in 1984 and my last concert being Tom Bailey of The Thompson Twins 34 years later.
And on that sad note... time for bed. I fly back home tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, September 28th, 2018
There were three bands that defined my love of 80's music. Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode. Of the three, Pet Shop Boys has been my most enduring favorite (Thompson Twins quit long ago, though Tom Bailey has recently come back). As for Depeche Mode? Well... things happen from time to time that remind me why they were my favorite band for nearly 20 years, but it's been tough for me from Exciter onward.
Here's a ranking of their albums from love to loathe...
Posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2018
Home again and all is well... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Homeward. And, just like that, Hawaii is over for me. I would have liked to have stayed another couple days to hang out with my friends and relax but, alas, I've got a cat back home that is undoubtedly really, really anxious to get out of the hospital. I did get bumped to First Class, which is kinda like a vacation. A vacation with a bowl of warm nuts...
The last time I came to Hawaii for fun was when I managed to tack a few days on the back-side of a work trip in 2011. The four times since then were all work all the time. And while I wouldn't have missed this wedding in Oahu for anything, coming to photograph an event is still work!
• Salmon. I have been this close to flying Alaska Airlines' Salmon-Thirty-Salmon too many times to count. But I'm always a gate or two away. Like today...
It's not every day you get to fly in a plane painted to look like a big fish... and, alas, today is not my day either.
• Simon. On my trip to Honolulu on Friday I saw the available movies I hadn't seen (Tomb Raider, yawn... Won't You Be My Neighbor, awesome... and Blockers, surprisingly watchable) and so on my trip back I watched movies I enjoyed that I've already seen... Deadpool 2 and The Disaster Artist... and also Love, Simon...
This movie is so amazingly good (despite a rough start to the third act) and has an ending that's ten tons of wonderful. I've seen it three times now, and one thing continues to stand out... the casting on this film is phenomenal. Not just the main characters, but supporting roles as well. In particular, Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner as Simon's parents. I knew Garner could pull off the emotional weight... but Josh Duhamel?!? And yet...
And that clip has been edited down from the original scene.
The first coming-of-age-love-story with a gay lead character from a major studio was going to be a landmark film regardless of how good it was. Or how terrible. The fact that Love, Simon turned out to be something great is just icing on the cake. One can only hope that more films like this entering mainstream culture becomes a step towards more acceptance and less bullying in our schools. Because isn't high school hard enough?
• Haerts. In addition to being one of the sweetest, most charming, funny, genuine films in recent memory, Love, Simon has a great soundtrack. It was especially awesome that Wings by Haerts got a snippet into the movie. It's such an amazing song...
And now I'm addicted to it all over again.
• Photography. It didn't actually rain on the wedding yesterday, which was nice. A lot easier to shoot photos when you're not soaking wet. The problem was my poor back, which was in spasm the entire day. I was eating muscle relaxers like candy in an attempt to keep being able to move. The good news is that the photos turned out pretty good. Not so much because of my talent as a photographer, but because the bride and groom are phenomenally good-looking... and patient.
And... despite my not being a professional photographer (and especially not a wedding photographer), this was my sixth wedding shoot. No idea how this keeps happening to me.
• Home. Jenny meowed when I walked through the door. Meowed after me when I rolled my bag in. Meowed after me when I went to the bathroom. Meowed after me when when I went upstairs. Meowed after me when got undressed. Meowed after me when I got in bed. She did not stop. "Sheesh. I am sorry I had to leave you all alone! Are you going to calm down if I can bring your brother home tomorrow?!?"
Such a sweetheart. I hope that Jake and Jenny's reunion goes well.
And... I turn into a pumpkin at midnight, so... much aloha.
Posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2018
I bought Apple's "AirPods" when I got my iPhone X.
Since there was no more headphone jack, I pretty much had to. I mean, I'd purchased wireless headphones in the past... but they never had the sound I got from my faithful Sony buds, especially in the bass. AirPods were reported to have fantastic bass and nice clarity, along with being wireless, so they should be perfect, right?
Not so much, no. I ended up returning them.
The sound was, as expected, fantastic (for an in-ear bud). But they would not stay put in my ears and fall out easily. Especially out of my left ear, which is apparently mutated or something. I was told I could buy some silicone "hooks" to wrap around the AirPods so they would "stick" better, but that was a crappy solution because then you have to take the hooks off in order to fit them in their recharging case.
I went back to the dongle adapter so I could plug my Sony buds into my iPhone X, which sucks ass because then I can't charge the dang thing at the same time. I bought a splitter, but it didn't work half the time. How much easier would my life be if Apple would just put the fucking headphone jack back in their fucking phones because I do not buy the bullshit excuse of "not enough room." Lazy. Apple just doesn't want to have an ugly hole on their pretty pretty phone.
Fast forward a year.
There I was trying to get rid of some expiring shopping points and I see that Apple AirPods are available. This was shocking because, despite being nearly two years old, they are still in high demand and sometimes hard to find. But... here they were (because I'm guessing that Apple is coming out with a new version any day now). My points plus $55 and they were mine. Never mind that I don't really have $55. Never mind that they don't fit in my ears. I figured that I'd buy them anyway then get some of those stupid silicone hooks. At $159, they were not worth that hassle. But $55? Maybe.
And that's when I decided to Google and see if other people were having trouble fitting them in their ears. Turns out I was not alone! I ran across a forum post on MacRumors that said dots of Nexcare tape can be applied and solve the problem.
I gave it a try and it kinda worked. But adding a third piece of the tape mostly worked...
All those dots and they still fit in the charging case! Perhaps with some experimentation I can figure out a better way of applying the tape so I won't have to use so much of it. As it is, I'm still incredibly paranoid about them falling out of my ears. I just hope I don't end up losing them, as that would be just my luck.
"But other than the fit, how do you like them?"
Well, they're pretty great.
The core to Apple's lone wireless earbud entry is their W1 chip, which allows for some interesting features. The best being the smart way that they pair and sync up with your iPhone automatically after they have been set up (speaking of which, setup is a breeze). The chip is also supposed to be highly energy efficient so you get great battery life (around 4 hours, give or take). Additional juice is stored in the charging case which, according to Apple, gives you a total play-time of 20 hours.
Ultimately "AirPods" are yet another case of Apple being Apple and coming up with something that is of exceptional quality and looks sublimely beautiful... but has questionable functionality because "functionality" always takes a back-seat to what Apple does. Perhaps if I come into some real money (unlikely given Jake's vet bills!) I can afford to get a pair of BeatsX earbuds ($120) or Beats Studio3 over-ear cans (AT THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!!), both of which have the W1 chip. Or, since I'm reaching for the sky here, buy both... seeing as how I prefer cans for home or work and buds for travel.
Whether or not Apple gives a shit about what people actually need and has plans beyond AirPods is anybody's guess. If they could come up with a version of AirPods with variably-sized flexible silicone flanges to keep them in your ear... and a charging case which would accomodate them... something tells me a lot of Apple whores like me would be very happy.
Which would be a nice change of pace from how I've been feeling about Apple lately.
Posted on Monday, November 26th, 2018
I was upset with myself for going into credit card debt to buy the Sonos SUB (subwoofer) to complete my Dolby 5.1 setup... but couldn't pass up the $100 Black Friday savings. The thing is SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS and knocking a Benjamin off the price was just too good to be true. Even if it means that I've spent my tax refund before I've even seen it.
Now that I have it installed though? Amazing. Absolutely amazing. No regrets. Totally worth the three months' worth of groceries this thing cost me.
I knew that adding a subwoofer would give me better bass. I had one with my old audio system, so I knew what to expect. What I didn't expect is that Sonos would take the bass load off my front and rear channels so they can focus on producing bright, crisp midtones. Movie dialogue is phenomenal. My music is more alive. The room sounds bigger, fuller, and sound fills the space better. Acoustics with the SUB enabled are drastically improved.
As expected from Sonos, the build quality is excellent. The SUB weighs 36 pounds so you know the thing is capable of pushing serious air volume. The face-to-face drivers cancel cabinet vibration, which means it can be placed upright or lay flat. Sonos had mentioned you could put it under your couch if you wanted, so I attached the felt pads to a face, placed it on its side, then shoved it underneath mine (where the cats can't get to it). This has the side benefit of adding a nice punch under your butt when the bass is firing!
Setup is dead simple. You just open the Sonos app, tell it you want to add a SUB speaker, press a button on the unit, and everything happens automatically. You can then balance the sound by sitting where you'll be listening from and having the phone app "listen" to the room acoustics. Then you can use Sonos Trueplay tuning to walk around the room while the app "listens" to the space and adjusts to best fill it. The app makes the entire process fairly painless.
The first thing I did once I was all set up was to play Postiljonen's Plastic Panorama which is a beautiful piece of music that has soft, haunting vocals that can be overwhelmed by the punchy bass-line on a bad stereo. My Sonos system with the SUB added played the track beautifully. I've never heard the song sound so good...
Halsey's Without Me is particularly good with the SUB in play...
I then proceeded to play a wide variety of different music from every style and genre I could think of. Sonos took everything I threw at it and performed flawlessly. I then ran some movies with excellent sound design through the Sonos Dolby 5.1 separation and was consistently thrilled by what I was hearing (Blade Runner 2049 is incredible). I thought my stereo system sounded good before... and it did... but now it's next level. I turn the SUB off and on while listening and the difference is not subtle. This is one piece of equipment that will not be returned to the manufacturer because I don't want to live without it! I spend a huge chunk of my time listening to music and watching television or movies. It deserves to be the best experience it can be in my life. Even if I had to go into debt to do it.
I was worried about the cats adjusting to the increased bass, but they have completely ignored it. Don't ask me how they can sleep while music is playing, but they've never had a problem. There are quiet places they can retreat to but they don't. With that in mind, I try not to get too loud so as not to damage their sensitive ears.
So... to sum up...
If you've got a Sonos audio setup... especially if you've got a PLAYBAR with rear speakers for your home theater... the SUB is a fantastic addition. Perhaps even a necessary addition if you spend a lot of time watching movies at home like I do. Without it, you're kinda missing out.
The problem, of course, is the price tag. $700 is insanity. The $600 I paid on sale was still absurd. This is a $500 piece of audio equipment, tops. And yet... it sounds like a million bucks, so go figure.
Posted on Sunday, December 9th, 2018
I may have been to Maine and back this week, but that just means I'm locked and loaded... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Endings! Obviously the news of the week is that the Avengers 4 trailer finally dropped. It's everything it needed to be, with plenty to unpack. If you don't want to hear about it, best skip to the next bullet...
Okay, first of all, the name... Endgame is lame as shit. For months we've been told that the name was being kept secret because it revealed the plot and gave too much away. But does it really? No. Not even a little bit. LAME!
It's not much of a leap to figure that Ant-Man is going to be the key here. The Quantum Realm and its time-bending properties is an obvious way to undo what was done and bring back all those dusted characters so they can continue to print money for Marvel Studios (and Disney). I also wouldn't be surprised to find that Hawkeye (who looks like he's in his Ronin persona in the trailer) will have a major arc. Odds are his entire family was dusted and that's going to be the push to answer the question: "Why in the hell is he an Avenger?" No sign of Captain Marvel, but we know she's going to be kicking around...
April seems a long, long ways away...
• Pet Shop Christmas! This week I received an email from The Pet Shop Boys wishing a Merry Christmas to their fans. Which is nice, I guess, but it's the way they did it that was so cool...
Now, if you're a fan, you'll immediately "get it." But if you're not... does this help?
Seriously, how cool is that?
• MIB4! This week we finally learned the title of the fourth Men in Black movie... Men in Black International. It stars Chris Hemsworth as Agent H and Tessa Thompson as Agent M...
The spinoff film will not have Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) or Will Smith (Agent J) in it, but it will have Emma Thompson reprising her role as Agent O.
• Outlook! As I prepare my home for winter, I ran across something interesting...
Apparently my region of the country will be "much above average" when it comes to temperature this winter. I'm not quite sure what to think about that, because the nighttime temperatures seem as though they're the same as they've been for years now (which is not as cold as it was a decade ago, I can tell you that). I took a look at weather averages for the past couple years and it reads similar to what's been recorded lately. And while we haven't had any snow yet, I'm guessing it will be on its way any day now? While I'm happy at the idea of saving on heating costs, we really need good snow pack in the mountains or else we'll end up in drought conditions in the Summer. That's something we absolutely do not want.
• NHL! Good news, everybody! Something I've been waiting for... for a very long time, actually... is Major League Hockey coming to Seattle! I became a hockey fan when I got into The Milwaukee Admirals while working in the Mid-West. From there it was a short hop to the Chicago Blackhawks, which has been my team ever since...
I've been to a couple local games here at home, but love the idea of escaping to an NHL game from time to time. Earlier this week they finally gave Seattle an expansion team, which will debut in 2021. But what will they be called? It's a big mystery. I was greatly amused to find that Bovada is running Vegas odds on it...
Oh dear Lord. The odds favorite is the Totems?!? Now, I get it... that's the historic name for the team. It's a name which has emotional appeal to those who have been fighting to get a team here for a very long time. BUT COME ON! Are we really going to go down the cultural appropriation route again? My team, the Blackhawks, was named in honor of Black Hawk, a real-life Illinois historical figure. The team has kinda gotten a pass on this because it's not an offensive stereotype (like "Redskins") but it is still mired in controversy...
In 2010, for instance, Joe Podlasek stated that, "The stance is very clear. We want the Chicago Blackhawks logo to change. For us, that's one of our grandfathers. Would you do that with your grandfather's picture? Take it and throw it on a rug? Walk on it and dance on it?" John Blackhawk, Chairman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, has suggested that the change in position for the American Indian Center may be connected to contributions the Blackhawks organization has recently begun making to the center: "We all do contributions, but we don't do it for the sake of wanting to be forgiven for something we've done that's offensive."
So can we please just not this time? Personally I'm really liking the Sockeyes. There's a lot of logo potential there, and it's a fish that has cultural significance to Seattle both past and presence. The Emeralds isn't bad, but what do you do with it for a logo? And tying the name to The Wizard of Oz is kinda silly. Rainiers is already tied to a crappy beer. Kraken might be fine, but it's too abstract since it's mythological and all. Renegades, Cougars, and Eagles are boring and done to death. Sea Lions, Seals, and Whales just sound silly. Evergreens would give us a frickin' TREE as a logo? I dunno. Might work in the right hands? Firebirds isn't bad, but it's within spitting distance of Totems for me.
So... can we just be the Sockeyes and be done with it? Please?
• So Long, Fuckers! I finally managed to transfer everything away from my previous web hosting company, Media Temple. After being a loyal customer for over a decade and putting up with their broken promises and bullshit, the last straw was the horrific way I was treated when I tried to get an issue resolved. No help, shitty service, and a bill for $38 that they wouldn't reverse. Seriously, what a bunch of assholes. If you're looking for a place to host your stuff, keep looking.
And that's the end of that. See you next week.
Posted on Sunday, December 16th, 2018
The weather outside may be frightful, but there's warmth to be had... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Stranger Strange! It was announced earlier this week that Scott Derrickson will be returning for the sequel to Doctor Strange, which is fantastic news considering how amazing the first one turned out...
There are dozens of different directions that a new story might take. Baron Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is almost certain to be the villain. Or one of the villains anyway. Since magic-based characters in the MCU are scarce, they wouldn't necessarily have to go off-earth in order to come up with something wildly different, but some kind of inter-dimensional aspect to the plot is probably a safe bet. But what else? Will we get to see Mephisto? Clea? Umar? Nightmare?
• Julia Sans Julie! Did you know that somebody edited out all the horrible Julie Powell parts from Julie and Julia? Well they did! And it's so much better...
Makes me wish that they would have just made a Julia Child movie from the start. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were magic, and Julia's story is a fascinating one. Thanks to Run Jen Run for the tip!
• Musical Guest! Talk about lighting in a bottle. Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus (along with Sean Ono Lennon) performed the classic John Lemmon track Happy Xmas (War Is Over) on Saturday Night Live last night...
I've been a big Miley fan since I first saw her on Hannah Montana. She has an incredible voice... in and out of the studio... and, crazy antics aside, she knows how to sing. She's especially great at interpreting other people's music (as the above video shows). One of my favorites remains her beautiful take of the Crowded House song Don't Dream It's Over with Ariana Grande...
Can't wait to see what she's got lined up next.
• Echo! "Alexa, what song is this?"
"This is Good Time featuring Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson from the album Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson."
"HOLY SHIT, ALEXA! ENOUGH WITH GOOD TIME FEATURING OWL CITY AND CARLY RAE JEPSON!"
"Now playing Good Time featuring Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson from the album Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepson."
"Well played, Alexa. Well played."
• Don't Look Here, Look There! It's always the people with fucked up shit in their closet that goes after the LGBTQ community. Always. You can set your clocks by it. Whenever I see somebody "railing against the gays" I just set an egg-timer until the news drops about them going to prison for something heinous. Then a Facebook friend shared this...
There's a reason that there are people who are virulently attacking people who have nothing to do with them. Set your egg timers.
Stay warm there, buckaroos.
Posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2018
It goes without saying that 2018 was a terrible time to be me. Too much of the year was spent grieving, and escaping into movies and music were about all I had (other than my cats, of course). To be honest, I didn't spend a lot of time seeking out new music. In terrible times I usually sink back into that which I already know. In this case, it was a lot of old-school rap, 80's favorites, and whatever I happen to catch in music soundtracks or internet radio.
So while I'm sure there's plenty of new stuff that escaped my notice in 2018, here's the music I found which I liked quite a lot.
#1 Indigo by Wild Nothing
You'd think that I'd become accustomed to stumbling across a band that's been around for years that I never knew existed. There I was watching To All The Boys I've Loved Before (it's on Netflix and you should definitely check it out) when I hear a beautiful track playing. A little Google research reveals it's Chinatown by Wild Nothing from their 2010 debut album. That day was August 18th... the same day that Wild Nothing released their latest album, Indigo! It took me all of five minutes to completely obsess over Jack Tatum and everything he's ever done. Thoughtful lyrics, beautiful vocals, and a mellow sound all come together to wrap you up like a warm blanket. I've been listening to the album many, many times over the last several months.
#2 Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
This album took me completely by surprise when I had Amazon Music Unlimited Radio playing and Oh What A World came oozing through the speakers. At first I didn't know what to make of it. Is it pop? Is it country? Is it folk? What in the heck am I listening to? Who is singing this magical mashup? Turns out it was Kacey Musgraves, and her album Golden Hour was a new kind of wonderful landing in the middle of my Springtime. I am not a country music fan AT ALL, but there's something incredible about what she's doing here that can't be denied. Achingly beautiful music at every turn, I'm head over heels in love with Kacey Musgraves.
#3 Science Fiction by Tom Bailey
There has been a trio of bands that have become the bedrock of my love of 80's music. Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, and Thompson Twins. The latter being the only band to stop making music. Until Tom Bailey decided to ride a nostalgia wave and tour with old Twins' hits. After that was a success, he came out with a new album that feels very much like what I had hoped for. A brilliant 80's throwback with a bit of a contemporary edge.
#4 Great Big Blue by Geowulf
Like everybody else, I was swept away by the lovely dreamy pop stylings of Saltwater (aka that Corona commercial song). It feels like it's been around forever, but was only released in 2016. Two years later, the song shows up on Great Big Blue along with other magical tracks. Perfect music for a sleepy Sunday, there's a lot to love on an album that sounds like Summer (even if some of the tracks were released well before 2018).
#5 A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975
While this album was a step down from the previous two (very nearly making it to my "Disappointments" section) there was enough going on that I ended up listening to it quite a lot. Not surprising considering that The 1975 is one of my favorite bands.
#6 EP by Silhouettes
So there I was watching an ad for the excellent Shoshannah Stern dramedy This Close which has this awesome track playing in the background. I spent forever trying to track down who sang it and where it comes from. Eventually I fell down a YouTube comment rabbit-hole and found out it was called A Home To Come To by a band called Silhouettes. Fine. Except the only band called Silhouettes that showed up anywhere was the Yip Yip Yip Yip Sha Na Na Na Get a Job band from the 50's. Months later I gave it another shot and found that the (new) Silhouettes released an EP on iTunes that was fantastic. I bought it immediately and, for the longest time, that's the only place you can find it. Now it's on Spotify and Amazon Music as well. Hopefully you have one of those, because they have nothing on YouTube. All I can get for you is the This Close ad that started it all...
P.S. This Close was finally released to the iTunes Store if you're not a Sundance Now subscriber.
#7 Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
I don't know how to say this without offending a great many people... but Dirty Computer sounds more "Prince" to me than some of Prince's later albums where he found religion and turned his back on the nasty side of pop that he defined. Never one to leave a good idea laying on the ground, Monáe picked up that baton and took it in a fresh direction that had me singing "You fucked the world up now, we'll fuck it all back down! Let's get. Let's get. SCREWED!" while the song is blasting on my stereo. Her latest effort is inventive, imaginative, and all Janelle Monáe. What more could you want?
#8 Black Panther (Soundtrack) by Kendrick Lamar & Various
My favorite movie of 2018 got a killer soundtrack to go with it. Orchestrated by Kendrick Lamar (whose Damn made my list last year), the standout track would have to be All The Stars (with SZA) which so flawlessly closed Black Panther over the end-credits. Lush, haunting, and beautifully realized by not only the best video of 2018 but one of the best videos of all time. The rest of the tracks are suitably catchy (even though not all of them were in the movie). Notably Pray for Me (with The Weeknd).
#9 Bloom by Troye Sivan
I have never been a big fan of Sivan's stuff until I heard My My My! burning up the airwaves and realized he was the one singing it. The album that spawned it ended up being played far more than I thought it would throughout the Fall (especially Dance To This, his magical duet with Arianna Grande). Will be interesting to see where he goes next.
#10 FM! by Vince Staples
This was my go-to album as I worked through the holidays. Raw lyrics married to dirty beats that confront all the shitty frustration that life rains down day after day. People don't understand how somebody like me can find solace in rap... especially rap like this... and I'm hard-pressed to explain it myself. All I know is that every last track on FM! was like mana from heaven at a time I needed it most. Brutally brief in length, you can burn through the entire album in 20 minutes and come out the other side feeling like you've run a gauntlet. Only the best rappers can manage something like that.
#11 Walk Between Worlds by Simple Minds
I'm just going to be brutally honest here... Jim Kerr sounds like he's sleepwalking his way through this album. Maybe it's the 40 years he's been fronting the band. Maybe it's the sound he was going for. I don't know. But the bright, fresh vocals that pounded through such seminal Simple Minds tracks like Don't You (Forget About Me) and Alive and Kicking have left the building. Sure there's an occasional glimpse of what was, but Walk Between Worlds is a totally different animal. I still like it though.
#12 Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko
Kiyoko's debut is pretty spectacular. Poppy goodness with a slight edge to it and terrific vocals. On top of all that, she's got something to say. Built around LGBT themes, her music and videos serve as the ultimate form of self-expression, and that's always a good thing.
Scorpion by Drake
The latest Drake album dropped the day my mom died and I was quick to give it a listen. All these months later, I still don't know what to make of it. 25 tracks. There's rap. There's R&B. There's even a semblance of pop. If I'm being honest, it's a bit of a mess. And yet... it's Drake, so there's gems to be found in them thar hills.
SINGLES TO LOVE...
All the Ways by Meghan Trainor
Meghan's latest album TREAT MYSELF was due this year, but got pushed into next year because she wanted to add more tracks. But Amazon Music and iTunes has a partial album up, leaving us to live with tracks 1, 2, 3, 12, and 13. It's that 13th track, All The Ways which got stuck in my head for months thanks to those dang Target commercials. I do love it though (as I do the other tracks)...
My guess is I'll be seeing TREAT MYSELF on next year's BEST list.
Party For One by Carly Rae Jepsen
As a mega-huge fan of her last album (EMOTION) I have been waiting on pins and needles for her new album. That didn't happen in 2018, but we did get a taste of what's to come.
My guess is I'll be seeing Carly Rae on next year's BEST list.
Without Me by Halsey
Like Robyn, I have tried to get into Halsey but just can't seem to grab hold. Then she unleashes Without Me, easily one of my favorite tracks of 2018, and suddenly wonder where she's been all my life.
VIDEOS TO WATCH...
The best video of the year, hands-down, is All The Stars (see above). But a close second would have to be The Carters (aka Beyoncé and Jay-Z) RENTING OUT THE LOUVRE to shoot a video for Apeshit.
I JUST DON'T KNOW...
Pray for the Wicked by Panic! At the Disco
While the album isn't necessarily bad (some of the tracks I like quite a lot) I can't seem to take Brendon Urie's vocals in anything more than small doses. And then there's tracks like Dancing's Not a Crime where his screeching makes me want to jump in front of a bus. This is a band I should like, but can't seem to buy into because it feels like my ears are bleeding if I listen to more than two songs.
Jake Shears by Jake Shears
After getting completely hooked on Scissor Sisters just after they broke up, I was happy when I found out that Shears had more music on the way as a solo act. The resulting album is kinda Scissor Sisters but mostly not. And I honestly don't know what to make of it. I like a couple tracks, but was left mostly disappointed.