Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 :: That Was The Year That Was 

Best Junk from 2014:

We finally did a family portrait. The photographer kept saying "SQUIRREL!" to get Daisy's attention. You can tell.

Henry coined what he considers to be The 4 Steps Of Men:
Step 1: You get born
Step 2: You get action figures
Step 3: You get beer
Step 4: You die

A successful road trip to Falling Water, Gettysburg and DC.
The boy became very interested in the Civil War this year and asked to spend spring break exploring the ghosts of the battlefield. Along the way we saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, toured the Library of Congress (where I saw Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's original first page of the first Amazing Spider Man comic), and ate chili dogs at Ben's Chili Bowl

Appalachian Brewing Company in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
This brewpub had such great beer and burgers, we eschewed going anywhere else and just ate here twice.

The Sleeper Has Awakened
Started the year with a triumphant Porchsleeper reunion show at The Loving Touch and ended the year back in the studio recording new jams.

The Moscow Mule
My darling bride introduced me to this delicious wintertime beverage. Vodka, ginger beer and lime in a copper cup. Until recently we didn't have copper cups so usually I just threw whatever pennies I found on the street into the glass.

The Draper Stereo Cabinet
Along the same Mad Men lines, after years of searching we were finally able to find a replication Mid-Century Modern stereo cabinet that matches our refined sensibilities.

A beer for all seasons
Bell's Smitten Ale in the summer, New Belgium Accumulation Ale in the winter.

One of my all-time favorite bands Great Lakes Myth Society reunited after a long absence for a sweaty and exuberant show at the Lager House this year.
They left a lantern at the bar.

Trillions of Trillium

Visiting Glen Arbor in May 2014, we were amazed to see tens of thousands of trillium flowers carpeting the woods.
At one point these flowers were protected (I believe they still are) and it was jaw-dropping to see them in such quantities.

We spent a day on our camping trip splashing around Tahquamenon Falls in the U.P.
While the upper falls are more majestic and root beer-colored, the lower falls are pretty spectacular. You can just wander around and try not to fall dowm for hours.

We went to Disney again and Henry got to battle against Captain Jack Sparrow himself.
No parlay was asked, and none given.


On Father's Day this year we splurged on great seats at a Tigers game and Miguel Cabrera threw Henry the ball they were practicing with.

We got a cat, his name is Twix, he is adorable and makes us bleed.

A little local grocery and produce station called Argus Farm Stop opened up about a block from our house.
If we run out of milk, we can go down the street and buy more. As somebody who lives downtown, this is a game-changer.

Blimpy Burger Reopened

Grease merchants Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger reopened in a new location about a block from my house.
Once the hour-plus wait time eases off, I hope to gain ten thousand pounds.

Computers, Innernets and Technology:

The iPhone 6
Henry was asking Siri some questions and as it turns out,
she and Lewis Tully from Ghostbusters have some shared experiences.

Radiolab podcasts.
Late to the party here, because the over-production still kinda irks me, but the stories are so good I kept coming back.

The dudes in my office were oft tickled by The Onion's offshoot Clickhole
If you are not already familiar, this quiz entitled "How Many Beach Boys Songs Have You Heard?" is a good place to start.

Oh that Fake Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Abracadabralifornia"
From this Time Magazine article: Then the new “Chili Peppers” song starts playing. The track titled “Abracadabralifornia” features a knock-off Anthony Kiedis crooning about California, replete with nonsensical lyrics like “Bing a bong bing a bong a bong Burbank,” “Shopping cart — escalator!” and then scat-rapping rhymes like, “I drink an Alabama slammer with your sexy-ass grandma.”

Too Many Cooks
Bizzaro '80s sitcom theme song that goes on forever. You might think "Oh, I get it" but after about 14 minutes you may re-think everything you know.

Tumblr, again

If for no other reason, just because it brought forth this image of a wallet full of Pizza Rolls.

DataWhat celebrated its 10th anniversary.
While it only gets updated about 1/365th as much as it used to, it still lives and breathes.


This Spotify Playlist has my best tunes from 2014.

Spotify is like a faucet of music that you just turn on

Atlas by Real Estate
Wonderful, simple and tuneful. I miss Luna records and this one really locked in for me.

Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs
Oh man did the bros and I run this one into the ground (but I still find new things to like about it). The album was dismissed as "beer commercial music" and while that is painfully not too far off, this guy has all of the right records. Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, The Outfield, The Hooters, Bruce Hornsby...I swear to God I hear them in every song...but y'know, in a good way. (Oh man, I am selling this record short).

Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady
A return to form for The Hold Steady. This album has more memorable songs than any of theirs since "Boys & Girls in America" which is one of my favorite albums of the past 10 years.

The Continuing Adventures of the Butterfly Kid by Jim Roll
A million years ago I wrote a letter to Jim Roll encouraging him to stop effing around with so many other bands and record another of his own albums. I'm glad he did.

Awake by Tycho
Ghostly International knows my sweet spot when it comes to instrumental/ambient post-rock. Yeah that's right, I have a sweet spot for that.

Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014 by Wilco
A dorky fan's dream, the b-sides and throwaway tracks on this collection are better than 99% of the songs that the kids put out these days. Just being able to hear alternate mixes from the Summerteeth era was worth it. This is one of those box sets that you can you can just sit with the liner notes and read like a book.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!
So I didn't know what to think of this record.

It's the first album by this punk band after the lead singer said "Y'know what? I'm actually a woman born into a man's body but forget that, I'm gonna be transgendered and not as a gimmick or a Rocky Horror laugh, but I'm tired of being pushed into the gym locker of life by all of the punk rock jocks. You can now call me Laura Jane." So, when I initially heard the story I was like "OK little mascara, nice way to set yourself apart from the Green Days by coming up with a tabloid story. I got enough drama in my day-to-day thank you very much."

But then you listen to the album and it is a very well-crafted set of songs with good playing and a good frontman/woman voice...reminds me a bit of The Clash's Joe Strummer energy, or Billy Bragg or Fugazi or The Gaslight Anthem.

And then you think about the experience of the person. I mean punk is the ultimate disenfranchisement ... the establishment is against you, you don't know what you want but you know how to get it... But even now when Green Day has a hit musical on Broadway, I guess being a dude who wants to be a chick in a hardcore band is pretty goddamned punk rock. Sure beats the pain of a rock star feeling put-upon because fame is a bitch or being on the road is hard or being a bullet with butterfly wings. This dude has put himself in one of the least friendly environments and decided to let his/her freak flag fly.

And the songs have good pop hooks.

Most Messed Up by Old 97's
A fine return to form for these guys. Great smart power pop with a hint of twang, and the songs hold together better than anything since Satellite Rides (which was one of my favorite records of the last 15 years).

The Golden Age of Glitter by Sweet Apple
More power pop, this time by J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), a couple guys from Cobra Verde, Mark Lanegan, as well as Guided by Voices leader Robert Pollard and Rachel Haden of that dog. You could slip most of these songs into a Cheap Trick or Badfinger collection and nobody would get mad at you.

Jumping the Tracks by +/-
Imagine my surprise when finding out that the guy in this band used to be in a local Ann Arbor band (Skillet Records' The Melba) that I loved 20 years ago.

Also, I think my favorite song of the year was "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.

A sugar-rich pop confection with the "Oh Mickey you're so fine" stomp, a persistent "Thrift Store" saxophone honk,
a totally weird melodica flurping under the chorus, and brimming over with (post-)teenage sass that feels like it is coming from a real place.

Book Em':

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This is being dismissed by a lot of fancy book critics, but I found it to be very entertaining (in a literature way, not in a "oh that was cute" way). Lots of believable characters in soul-wrenching situations. Plus, a painting of a pretty bird.

The Circle by Dave Eggers
Oh man, Eggers re-writes Microserfs for the social media generation. A bit haunting, if you want to get down to it.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Speaking of haunting, the author of Gone Girl has some twisted dark recesses in her brain. Still, super page-turny.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Oh my, this cute little mixtape warmed the Say Anything part of my soul. If you were ever in high school between 1984 and 1992, I bet you can relate. (Uh, not in high school the WHOLE TIME between 1984 and 1992...if that was the case, I bet you don't usually read for fun).

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Time travel gone wrong and mortal peril abounds? Sign me up.

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #2) by Ransom Riggs
This author combs flea markets and estate sales to find weird old photographs of double negatives and circus sideshow freaks, then crafts this incredible Harry Potter-esque story around them. It claims to be Young Adult fiction but I am an old adult and I like it just fine.



Far and away my favorite show of the year. So much batshit crazy unexpected nonsense in each episode, I can't even...Oh man, I had something for this...

This was some of the best television of the year. The 6-episode "Elevator" arc could be rolled into a cute little depressing indie movie and I'd go see it.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Funny people talking about funny things.

Super-entertaining and maddening that there are so few episodes.

Eastbound & Down
Late to the party here, but Danny McBride spins such a cringeworthy character it's impossible to look away.

Brain assplode. Great to watch with the boy.

Not 100% sold but I've found that it becomes even more enjoyable if you exaggeratedly ask "Got Ham???" every time the show title comes onscreen.

The usual suspects:
Tigers games, Mad Men, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones and 30 Rock reruns.

The Picture Shows:

These are all of the movies I saw this year.
In retrospect, all of them were pretty much cartoons (especially the Frank Miller-esque murder scene in Gone Girl).

Captain America Winter Soldier
The LEGO Movie
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Grand Budapest Hotel
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Amazing Spider-Man 2
Gone Girl
Big Hero 6
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

And we watched the Star Wars 7 Trailer about a hundred times.

Speaking of The Dark Side...These Things Sucked

Henry's bum toe
Yerg. This year my kid had a medical issue with his toe and needed to have a couple of procedures done. It was brutal and painful, resulted in an emergency overnight stay at the hospital and he was actually in a wheelchair for a while after. One of those things where you just feel so rotten and you can't help the kid at all.

Do they have whiskey in Heaven, Grandma?

A tough but loveable old bird, she passed at 96.

Pete Seeger died
This one hit pretty hard. I wrote a little something about it here.

A bunch of people I like got fired for dumb business reasons.

This is going to bite their former company in the ass so hard and for a long time, and none of the suits know it.

Ian McLagan (Faces) and Bobby Keys (Stones) died.
Like, within a week of each other.

Stupid Cold Winter
Holy icicles, last winter was frigid and interminable.

Lauren Bacall went down that Dark Passage

"You know how to whistle, don'tcha Steve?".


Thanks Innernets and those involved with my life.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 :: These Are a Few of my Favorite Things 

Best Junk from 2013:

This one and that one:
Best Best
New job, new hat, all good stuff.
Really the favorites of all of my favorite favorites. Forreals.

All Media Network
Turmoil! Upheaval! Exciting Things! Terrifying Things! Liberating Things! Pain-In-The-Ass Facilities/Office Manager/Startup-y Things! This year my former company spun the websites I work for off to a new company called All Media Network. This means that the day-to-day operation of AllMusic, AllMovie and AllGame has been handed over to myself and a small team of my good friends. While this is ultimately not unwelcome, it is a huge responsibility and it weighs heavily on my soul. I am up for the task, I feel empowered to keep the sites growing, but at the same time...hoo boy. It was a bit of a surprise.

The Redesign of AllMusic:

We hired a really talented designer, got our shit together and nailed down an entire from-the-ground-up redesign of the site in a matter of weeks.
It then won an FWA shortlist award and will be a Merit award winner in the 15th Annual HOW Interactive Design Awards in July 2014.
It was a slog to build out but I'm incredibly proud of the results.

Basement Erasement
A couple years ago we had some problems with our plumbing and the guy said "You've got two options. You can replace all of the plumbing or you can never keep anything of value in your basement." This year we replaced all of the plumbing in our house (no small task), then insulated, painted, repaired the cement, replaced the windows, added carpeting and put furniture down there, now we have a place for the boy to put his Legos and we could reclaim the living room. Hard work, expensive, but ultimately worth it.

My father's day consisted of Zingerman's bacon, Biercamp brats, Bells beer, the Detroit Tigers and Washtenaw Dairy ice cream.
Michigan Father's Day achieved

Henry made these crazy paper monsters.
They look so cartoonishly alive. I want to watch a Cartoon Network series based on their escapades.
Bobcat Goldthwait voices Red Rooster and Pee Wee Herman is the voice of Big Blue.

I got to go to South By Southwest music festival as part of my job. Lonestars, BBQ and heard some good music.

AMG Softball Reunion
I flexed my Softball bones at an AMG softball team reunion game this year. Everybody won.


A talented artist created the monster on the left and then another talented artist create a companion monster on the right.
They both look like cool bros.

A boat tour under Mighty Mac
We took a boat tour under the Mackinac Bridge and really got the back story and little tidbits about the construction of the bridge. Additionally, sailing underneath the bridge and seeing all of the angles in the sunset was pretty great. Recommended!

Porchsleeper reunion
Where you been? Honestly this is probably the only situation in the history of rock and roll where the band members liked hanging out with each other so much that they decided to start playing music together again just so they could be around each other. Also, this is the basic plot of Brokeback Mountain.

A buddy of mine discovered this 49-year-old bourbon in his aunt's closet and immediately thought of me.
I have some pretty nice friends.

An independent bookstore opened in a downtown location in America. It was appreciated and became financially viable, not by selling papercraft or incense or action figures, but by selling actual books. Film at 11.

A terrific Mexican street food place called Isalita opened up in our town. Bury me in elotes!

While my kid was at the zoo, one of the parents took this spectacular picture:
I've always heard the phrase "Does a bear shit in the woods?" but I guess I never thought about what polar bears might do...

I saw a meteor:
I really thought it was just above Ann Arbor. Turns out it was an entire state away. Still, pretty wild to see.

My Mom retired
Long time coming. She seems happier.

On the night before April Fools Day I spent about an hour gluing googly eyes on every thing in our fridge.
The look on my wife's face the next morning was worth it.
Also, there's still a mustard with one eye in the door of our refrigerator.

The Bar at Braun Court
A kooky little bar opened our little town and I got to spend some time there this year. They serve some weird drinks and they have a bathroom full of plug-in moving portraits of Niagara Falls. It feels a lot like the kind of bar I'll probably open someday.

I saw Hem, Band of Horses, Old 97s and Drive By Truckers do rock shows.
We also saw Bill Harley who does stories and kids music, and I'll be damned if this goofy guy doing his storytelling goofballiness didn't stick with us. We'll go see him again.

At my grandma's 95th birthday party she only received whiskey.
She made excellent choices in life.

Computers, Innernets and Technology:

This guy dancing at a Willie Nelson concert.

"Swing out...Beach Boys... downstairs ...annnnd we're back. YEAH!"

Teeny six-second movies that loop. Sometimes it's the little things.

Wii U
We finally caved and got a video game system for the boy (now that we have a cool basement). It's a pretty amazing piece of technology.

The podcasts Harmontown and Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.
Both of these are worth putting in your ears.


This guy makes fathering look like fun (and being his wife look very challenging).

Tumblr in general but also LiartownUSA
Liartown USA are the folks behind the fake grocery fliers you may have seen. All comedy gold.


This Spotify Playlist has my best tunes from 2013.

Spotify is like a faucet of music that you just turn on

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Quite simply the most original and best album of the year. Damn if those French robots don't know how to make good music.

Lonesome Dreams by Lord Huron
The debut from Michigan-born/Los Angeles-based band, this got a lot of play from me this summer. Just terrific wistful and melodic music from the ends of the earth.

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
Oh Neko, you wild thing. How do you make such incredible, loving, terrifying music. I think if I met you we'd eithe have a pleasant conversation or you'd force me into a car for some unwanted Thelma & Louise-type caper. (Aw who'm I kidding, I'd probably go willingly).

Ghost on Ghost by Iron & Wine
In my imagination, Sam Beam moved down to a ramshackle old mansion in New Orleans, channeled some ghosts and then hired a ton of great musicians to record a new version of Astral Weeks. That's how the movie plays out in my head anyways.

The Ash & Clay by The Milk Carton Kids
Heartbreakingly sweet and haunting, these two kids pick up the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings mantle, channel it through some early Simon & Garfunkel LPs and make some really charming and heartfelt songs.

Summer Sleeves by Andrew Leahey & the Homestead
Even though this EP is only 4 songs long, the leadoff track "Little In Love" got a ton of "windows-down-volume-up" play in my car this summer.

Hannah Georgas by Hannah Georgas
Haim and Lorde made a ton of noise this year but in my opinion, this Canadian singer-songwriter has more songwriting chops than both of 'em.

No Beginning No End by José James
Imagine if that D'Angelo video of his torso was interpreted by a jazz combo and recorded for Blue Note, you might have an idea of what this album is about.

Magpie and the Dandelion by The Avett Brothers
While I believe these are mostly b-sides or leftovers or what-have-you from The Carpenter sessions, I liked this better than the proper album they put out.

Steel Guitar Jazz by Buddie Emmons
While this album actually came out 50 years ago, I was turned onto it this year. It was described to me thusly: "I picked up an album in NYC that I have now learned is the long out of print score for the Truman Show-esque movie about Zac. When he's in the scene, this is playing. In your head, his, or both."

I spent a lot of time refining this early Reggae/Ska/Bluebeat playlist.

Good for summer afternoons or January days when you wish it was summer.

Finally: somebody uncovered this recording of The Ronettes doing Baby I Love You (Isolated Mix)

Book Learnin':

These are books:

True North by Jim Harrison
I waited until I was in the northern Michigan woods before starting this book and it was the right choice. Harrison's simple anti-hero drinks too much, gets some tail from women who are not too skinny and aimlessly tries to atone for the horrible money-grubbing rape of the wilderness his family has caused in the Upper Peninsula. No wait, it's really good and uplifting. Aw, I'm not telling it right. Jim Harrison does though. You should let him do it.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
A twisting tale that kept me rapt the whole way through. I am afraid to see the movie.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Listed as young adult fiction, but this weirdo time travel Potter-esque tale was pretty dark and twisted. Kudos!

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
An amateur pilot and his dog try to survive in a barren post-apocalyptic wilderness. Gripping.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks, Rob Tannenbaum
I will never look at Billy Squier the same way.

Straight Man by Richard Russo
Over the novel's four days, all heck breaks loose -- while his wife is out of town, college professor Hank Devereaux's department goes haywire, his daughter's marriage dissolves, his nose is mutilated by a coworker, he threatens to kill a goose on local television . . . oh, there's a drunken episode involving a hot tub, and another scene in which our hero is stuck in a heating vent while spying on a department meeting.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott
If you had handed me this book about two high school cheerleaders getting involved in a smalltown suicide/murder investigation and said "You'll really like it" I woulda said "Nah." In fact it was quite compelling and made me very glad that we will never have a teenaged girl living in our house.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This was not a terrific book but it was a terrific read. The definition of a page-turner. It'll probably make a great movie if they don't screw it up too bad.


All of the other shows I watched this year cannot hold a candle to Breaking Bad.
So many people say "It's the greatest" or "There's not a bad episode in the whole series" and that is tough to swallow from a rabid uber-fan. "Yeah yeah, I'm sure it's great." But if you spend 44 minutes and watch the pilot, you might want to clear your schedule for the next couple weeks. It's pretty compelling TV. Also, I am now interested in buying some crystal meth if you know somebody who is holding.

Arrested Development
I never watched these the first time around although the concept is right up my alley (comedy weirdos, ensemble cast) and when they got resurrected by Netflix I started watching the first series. There is a lot to like but I abandoned ship about halfway through. I'll get back in once Breaking Bad is done.

The IT Crowd's Last Episode
Poke around on the innernets. It's worth it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Joss Whedon had something to do with it. I'm In.

Alternately hilarious and creepy but then hilarious in the creeposity. These brajs really love each other, which is sweet...but creepy.

The usual suspects.
Tigers games, Mad Men, Firefly and 30 Rock reruns.

R.I.P. 30 Rock!!!

'I love this cornbread so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.'
– Tracy

'I like when a woman has ambition. It's like seeing a dog wearing clothes'

'I watched Boston Legal 9 times before I realized it wasn't a new Star Trek.'

'I don't sleep on planes. I don't want to get incepted.'

'I only pass gas once a year, for an hour, atop a mountain in Switzerland.'
– Jack

Liz: 'Why are you wearing a tux?'
Jack: 'It's after six. What am I, a farmer?'
–Liz and Jack

'Who hasn't made mistakes? I once french-kissed a dog at a party to try to impress what turned out to be a very tall 12-year-old.'

'They do that a lot in movies: An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, and that remake of An Affair to Remember that I was in, A Blaffair to Rememblack.'

'Hey, nerds! Who’s got two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn’t cried once today? [pointing thumbs at self] This moi.'

'One time I laughed at a blind guy eating spaghetti! Sometimes I pee in the shower if I’m really tired! I saw my grandparents making love once and I didn’t leave right away!'

Kenneth: 'And your landlord called and he says it's not the toilet, it's you.'
Liz: 'That's his opinion.'
-Liz and Kenneth

'Here's some advice I wish I woulda got when I was your age: Live every week like it's Shark Week.'

The Cinema:

These are all of the movies I saw this year.
I offer no ranking for them only to say that Planes was pretty terrible and Free Birds was only passable.

Pacific Rim
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Sound City
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Free Birds

Ug, This Shit Again?

Our ancient cat Bukowski died.
Sweet Kitty
The only cat I ever knew who would fetch. Hair ties, milk jug rings...If you balled up a piece of paper she would come around to see if you would throw it.

My Great-Uncle Aub died
A ballsy old coot. He drove a hot yellow muscle car for as long as I knew him.

Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burgers Closed.
My parents actually sorta met at Blimpy's all those years ago. Hopefully they'll reopen somewhere but I doubt it'll be the same.

Some folks I worked with no longer work with me.
Some by choice, some were not by choice. All were a drag.

Famous people I like died.
George Jones, Storm Thorgerson, Roger Ebert, Hal Needham, Jonathan Winters, Elmore Leonard and Barbara Park (the author of the sassy Junie B Jones children's books) hit pretty hard.


Thanks Innernets and those involved with my life.

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