Monday, July 25, 2005


Doing laundry tonite at the Three Seven Coin Laundry in East Dundee. I was hoping to watch the Sox game on one of the televisions here, but it appears Spanish soap operas are the programming of choice for the evening. I fear for the life of any man who might dare to turn off one of these shows, so instead I write.

I'm quite happy to see the end of the Tour de France. Even more so, the end of Lance Armstrong's career. With his retirement comes the end of the yearly media blitz attempting to persuade us all into believing what a terrific human being he is. I wonder if anyone else finds it coincidental that he is deciding to retire now after questions of his steroid use are heating up. I'd also say most "terrific" men I know don't ditch their wives right after having three kids with them. Yeah, it's true he overcame great odds in winning race after race after a battle with cancer. Still, I have to wonder if such a struggle might have been avoidable if, say, he hadn't been injecting himself with liquid muscle in the first place.

I wonder if men cry this much on English speaking soap operas. These guys on El Cuerpo del Deseo sure are weepy.

Can we put an end to calling the Decemberists an original band? I know the kids get all excited over the use of an accordion, but really they aren't at all an original sounding band. I'll admit that Picaresque is a moderately decent album, and even confessing to being rather fond of We Both Go Down Together, but calling the Decemberists anything more than a Neutral Milk Hotel cover band is really overstating things.

On the topic of music, 2005 has been overwhelmingly disappointing. At present I can really only think of 4 albums I could confidently recommend to people, despite already listening to probably twice as many albums as last year. In order they are:

Sufjan Stevens Invites You to Come on Feel the Illinoise:
Rolling Stone magazine actually featured this album in their last issues reviews, and rightly so gave it 4 out of 4 stars. Look for his popularity to grow and grow over the next few months as this album starts to sink in with casual music fans.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy:
Complete with the knock your feet from under you, have you curled up in the corner before tearing your heart out lyrics rabid fans have come to expect out of Will Sheff.

Architecture in Helsinki - In Case we Die:
This my be the funnest album since the Unicorns (a moment of silence for the Unicorns please) made Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone. Quite a good live performance as well, you Chicago kids can look forward to them coming back this way in the Fall.

Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs:
This one is still growing on me. I'm not sure who Bird reminds me of (I think maybe Rufus Wainwright, OH NOS!) but he's quite the musician, as it turns out quite the whistler as well.

Folding laundry must the most boring endeavor man can commit himself to.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A New Project

I've started a new blog, which is not really a blog at all. It's more of a project that will probably take years to finish, if I ever finish it at all.

Intrigued? Don't be, it's really nothing special. Click here to check out the details of The Principle Driven Life.

I've added a new song that's a must have for all old school 8-bit Nintendo players. It's an old Jellyfish song sung from the point of view of King Bowser of Super Mario Bros. fame. Even if you're unfamiliar with video games you should really check it out, as it's an amazing pop song anyone could enjoy. As always you'll find it in the Songs to Love section to the right.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Silly Games

Which twentieth century philosophical novelist are you?

You are Ayn Rand!

Okay, so I didn't really get that from one of those silly web quizzes, and truth be told I pretty much loathe those things. But I have been reading The Passion of Ayn Rand, and I must say I've been shocked by some of the similarities in our personalities. Well, we're not that similar I suppose; she's an atheist, I'm a Christian, she was born in Russia, I in America, Ayn was a genius and I'm... well not, and of course she is, after all, a she.

Still, there have been some uncanny moments of, "Goodness, that's me," in reading this biography. Maybe the most obvious example is this one:

"Throughout her high school days, Ayn continued to be very vocal about ideas that were important to her. "I argued at the slightest provocation, whether people did or not want to hear. I criticized myself for this. I was very aware they didn't want to talk, and I was forcing the conversation. I knew it was wrong." Her passion for ideas, her conviction that they were of paramount importance, led Ayn, all her life, to "force conversations." One might make the mildest of off-hand comments - and suddenly find oneself engaged in an all night philosophical conversation about the wider meaning and implications of one's comment."

I don't know why it is I insist on "forcing conversations." I often find myself getting into uncomfortable situations with co-workers or friends after they say something trivial and I over react because it violates even the smallest of my principles. I can see it in the eyes of my victim friends. They really have no desire to talk about whatever subject is at hand, yet I continue driving my points home, in an oft times overbearing fashion.

I don't typically come out of these arguments conversations feeling too well about them. I can't say I usually make my point, or make them come around to my way of thinking. I do honestly try and hear other peoples opinions though, and then proceed to annoyingly force them to prove their points ad nauseam. I've learned people are more than happy to have their own opinions and not really know why they have them, or how to defend them. I have not learned to shut up and keep mine to myself.

I suppose it boils down to my desire to be right. I don't know.

Well, that's all for now, I've got important things to do. Thanks to Lauren, I've got a little game that I've become obsessed with.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Short Play Showing the Effects of the UN's Condemnation of Terrorist Actions

"Hmm, I think I will blow something up today, and kill several innocent people."



The UN security council reacts to the attack...



Friday, July 08, 2005

An Invitation

Sufjan Stevens Invites You to: Come on! Feel the Illinoise!

Back in 2001 John Linnel of They Might Be Giants fame released his first and only solo project. Entitled State Songs it consisted of 16 songs about various states. Leading off the play list was Illinois, and while State Songs was filled to the brim with the clever lyrics and catchy hooks that made They Might Be Giants great, Illinois was a major disappointment. A simple organ solo with no lyrics, it served as a mere primer to the rest of the greatness on that album. My home state got screwed. My civic pride was in shambles. My fellow statesmen weeped and tore their clothes. Until, that is, hope was restored in the form of news about Sufjan Steven's second installment to his 50 states project: Sufjan Stevens Invites You to Come on Feel the Illinoise! Would the Land of Lincoln finally get the homage she so richly deserves?

I remember the first time I heard Sufjan's first album (first state album that is) Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State. A friend of mine had given it to me, telling me "it's about Michigan." "Great." I thought, "it must be fascinating." I loaded it up in my media player, grabbed my headphones and to my shock was immediately mesmerized. Over the next few weeks I couldn't get Sufjan's unique arrangements out of my head. And his writing? Well, having grown up in Michigan, Stevens wrote songs about his memories associated with the state, no so much the state itself. The results were some of the most emotionally moving songs of 2003.

Stevens' 2004 follow-up, Seven Swans, was some what of a drop off from Michigan though his writing was still solid, he moved away from the orchestral accompaniments and odd time signatures that helped make Michigan my pick for 2003's album of the year. Based on this, it was easy to assume Stevens would continue this acoustic trend on Illinois. Turns out this isn't the case.

Illinoise starts out with a piano solo much like Michigan does with one of the quieter tracks on the album. It follows with one of the many instrumental interludes before bursting into the title track, Come on Feel the Illinoise!, Stevens' most robust and compelling song to date. Seeing as Sufjan grew up in Michigan, not Illinois, it may be unfair to expect as much emotion out of this album as Greetings From Michigan, though songs like John Wayne Gacy, Palisades, and Casimir Pulaski Day are certainly touching to say the least. Still, whatever emotion is lost from Michigan is more than made up for with Illinoise's, in-depth compositions and improved production.

It's probably unfair to compare the two albums at all as Illinoise is more than good enough to stand independent of his first work. This album is gorgeous, nothing less. An impressive composition of songs packed with strings and horns interwoven with simple, yet still beautiful, folk songs. Rarely does Illinoise let up or drop your interest, despite its length. Each song has its own uniqueness, much the way Michigan did, only better. Sporting over 20 instruments and several back up vocalists, Stevens does everything big with Illinoise. From the 74+ minute play list, to what I have to assume is a purposely pretentious and obnoxious track list as follows:

1 - Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
2 - The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, "I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!"
3 - Come on! Feel the Illinoise!
-Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition
-Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream
4 - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
5 - Jacksonville
6 - A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons
7 - Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother!
8 - One Last "Woo-hoo!" for the Pullman
9 - Chicago
10 - Casimir Pulaski Day
11 - To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and it involves shoe string, a lavender garland, and twelve strong women
12 - The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
13 - Prairie Fire That Wanders About
14 - A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze
15 - The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
16 - They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhhh!
17 - Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell
18 - In This Temple, as in the Hearts of Man, for Whom He Saved the Earth
19 - The Seer's Tower
20 - The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
-Part I: The Great Frontier
-Part II: Come to Me Only With Playthings Now
21 - Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few
22 - Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I shake the dirt from my sandals as I run

Though it looks daunting, only 13 of the 22 tracks are what would be considered full songs with lyrics and all, while 6 of them are less than a minute and consist of music only, (or less in the case of One Last Woo Hoo). The connections to Illinois are broad. From Come on Feel, which is a 2 part song about Chicago's Worlds Fair and Illinois' own Carl Sandburg. Decatur taps into Macon County's Civil War history while pleading for sympathy for stepmothers. Two of the albums most emotional songs, Casmir Pulaski Day and John Wayne Gacy both deal in death. The former talks about a man of faith wrestling with God over the death of a loved one and in the latter Stevens confesses, "In my best behavior, I am really just like him."

I could go on and bore you to death with a song by song recount of how great this album is, but such things get old. Obviously it's impossible to say whether or not a better album than Illinoise will come out in 2005, but I very highly doubt a more beautiful sounding one will. And even if this doesn't finish the year as my favorite, it's easy to call Sufjan Stevens one of the best song writers currently creating music. Maybe the best. Seriously. I am anxious to see where the next stop in the 50 States project will take us (current rumors say Oregon) until then it's nice to know Illinois wasn't forsaken.

Rating: 9.65/10