My 10 Favorite Albums, 2014

10. Wye Oak - Shriek

It's pretty amazing what Wye Oak did with this risky move to synths and bass. They were an identifiably almost rootsy guitar-centric band with morose, haunting vocals. These are qualities that don't translate to the kind of 80s throwback pop you would expect fromSHRIEK's set up, but they proved themselves as flexible genre kings this year. When I listen to a song like "Logic of Color," a dream of post-punk, I can hardly believe they had it in them. "Glory" is an honest to goodness dance track but with darker concerns. Every bleeping key and squishing bass has a sinister tone to it so you can never totally enter the neon world they've created, and that unease is always resolved with refreshing beauty with tracks like "Before."

Read More

Just Give Me A Name

Ran into this song tonight via Lazify. This kind of quietly simmering, deceptively calm song is a hard bank shot to hit. It's a complex emotion to write in and to nail musically, and it's exhilirating when it works. It's rage, but spread so thin like fine spider-webs.

I don't need to know
I don't need to know
I don't need to know how it went
Where it took place
Night or day
or even what it might have meant
If you played or you laid
or just fell to the bed
whether you laughed or you cried
if you're in love
or just out of
I won't ask you to decide

Every time it loops back to "I just need a name" is more insistent and desperate than the last, until in the last verse it gives in to confrontation, revenge and hatred. It's uncomfortable, but relatable, and it warps the songs story into a man falling into the worst parts of his nature. It's exhilirating stuff if you're into these emotional gymnastics, these triple axels of the heart. I then read a review that interpreted it as a song about only needing someone's name to fall in love and I got incredulous and annoyed at my computer screen. This is why I type out lyrics every time I review something.

Los Angeles, Be Kind

I'm writing this from my new room, in my new apartment, in my new neighborhood. I've been here for about 2 weeks now. If I may toot my own horn a little bit: my room is huge and beautiful. It is highly likely this is the largest room I will ever live in. Gonig from to my tiny, absurdist 192 square foot studio to this apartment, feels like I am exhaling after one year of holding my breath.

That was a good year, though. Despite the constraints in parking and living space, it was my year out of Carson. My neighborhood was walkable, full of personality and history, and I enjoyed telling the 20+ friends I hosted on my couch about the district. My best days could be walking to the coffee shop alone, or walking to the El Rey to see a band I liked, or getting safely drunk at the little local bar. The weird stuff on La Brea that half the people just pass by and wonder about, I got to take a step inside. I still think I'll go back there, some day, when I move up in the world and can afford to live in a human-sized apartment.

As much as I liked it there, it always felt like a half measure. It was great and I was grateful, but it still didn't feel like I had attained the full, basic normalcy of adulthood that I wanted.

The constraints in parking meant I couldn't go out exactly when I wanted to without sacrificing a mile of walking. All reupping of groceries & supplies had to be done on weekend afternoons, and I scheduled my nights out to the ebb and flows of parking. I went into work late every Wednesday just so I could sneak a nearby spot after street sweeping. The constraints in living space meant I could never really cook without a stove or oven. My lack of counter space meant even making a salad took an hour, while the miniature fridge necessitated frequent trips to the market and inclined me to pre-cooked foods. I couldn't fry an egg without setting off the smoke alarm, much less initiate any kind of diet & exercise game plan. When I brought back a date, there was always the hesitance about how they'd view my stuffy, compacted living. Life was good, but it didn't feel like I had reached a new plateau.

Now, though, I think I'm there. I think the last 5 years have all led up to this moment, to a living situation like this, and I think I'm ready to begin.

When I graduated in 2009, I had vague plans of working for a year, saving up money, and then going to graduate school for writing. The economy threw a wrench into these plans. I spent 3 months unemployed, lowered my standards, and worked a minimum wage retail job for nearly a year. I applied to 3 graduate school programs and got into one, which was debilitatingly expensive. The more I looked at my prospects as a novelist (or whatever), the more I realized that this was like trying to win a lottery where the grand prize is an $7,000 advance.

So I looked for different routes. I did a few months at an unpaid magazine internship, which was a fun way to roleplay the type of life I wanted. I spent even more months floundering in another spell of unemployment and its accompanying depression as I tried to land any job that didn't sound like I was wasting my degree. I got close enough: data entry and administrative duties at an online retailer, which let me stack my savings account and build a safety net for my eventual move into the world. All the while, I was living at my parent's home, raring to get out and really, at long last, build my post-graduate life.

I know the flaw in this redemption story; I could have reached this point earlier if I had more determination and more willingness to take on risk. Others have ascended the ladder quickly simply because they seize the moment, doubts be damned. If I could forego my well-chronicled financial anxiety and my need for a safety net of savings, I probably could've been at this point in my mid-20s, instead of my late 20s. I know those are social years that I will probably never get back. I know, and I think about that a lot. I wish I didn't take this long.

But all that matters is that I'm here now and what I do with this opportunity. I've always put Los Angeles on a pedestal as my personal Big City Dream, the Center of the World. I was excited to work within its bones, and then I was ecstatic to live along its heart. It's only now that I feel like I'm really without unreasonable restraint, which is just a fancy way of saying no more excuses. There is no reason not to have the best years of my life.

How To Internet First Date


  1. Do last minute research by looking at her profile again and making a mental note of any likes and dislikes.
  2. Drive to the restaurant. Leave early because you know parking is hell.
  3. Somehow, you end up late anyway.
  4. On the way over practice saying her name out loud so you don't accidentally say the names of the other girls you've met on the internet.
  5. Stand up straight and ask for a table.
  6. Meet her and instantly recognize each other, not because everyone looks like their photos, but because there is no other reason individual strangers would make eye contact in this city.
  7. Be impressed; like, sincerely. She looks amazing, her outfit looks stunning on her, but also, wow, she's a little taller than you in heels.
  8. Wonder if that bothers you because you've bought into gender roles, or if that bothers you because you think it bothers her.
  9. Buy two drinks at the bar while you wait for a table. Whiskey & ginger ale.
  10. Fumble small talk while you wait for your drinks. It's a hard place to start conversation because you don't feel like the date has begun yet, so you accidentally create the first silent gap in your interaction.
  11. Luckily she asks you about a thing you said online; moving to a new apartment. Make a joke about your current apartment being slightly bigger than your body, a line shamelessly cribbed from Mike Birbiglia. Hope he does not find out and get mad.
  12. The joke lands, but with a delay. Still, she laughs, and that is important because you have to get across that you are A Funny Guy. You wish you could just wear a T-shirt that says "I Am Funny" and people would just believe you.
  13. Your table is ready! Sit down, but with good posture so that you maintain some semblance of eye height. Begin talking through the basics: job, life, education, origin story.
  14. Talk about writing, which you are always excited to do, because you've spent years just digesting and stewing on writing mantras and the craft of thinking about writerly stuff. Exchange these with pleasure.
  15. Wonder if it sounds like you're trying too hard to seem interesting, realize it doesn't matter, because this is where the talking has flowed. It's where you are now, and that's all that matters.
  16. Another lull in conversation. She tries to catch it by asking questions, and you do too when you think fast enough.
  17. Realize that you are Going Through The Motions, which is a trap you fall into at least once every Internet First Date. Panic! Your lifelong inability to be instantly engaging has left you reverting to the role of reporter; you ask questions, find out more about a person, but have nothing to add to it or volley it back and forth.
  18. Look at the menu. Say something about not being a big fan of quinoa even though you have no strong feelings one way or the other. Be secretly bewildered as to why you said that, and why you're now having an exchange about quinoa. Theorize that maybe it was an attempt to imbue yourself with personality/discerning taste.
  19. Awkwardly split a vegetarian pizza. Realize it's pretty spicy but try not to make a mess of the food.
  20. Make a mess of the food. You are eating like a child, and there is a pile of jalapenos and tomato sauce to the side of your plate.
  21. Realize that you should go, because they need the table, but you don't want to end the date because you have not had the chance to really say or do anything interesting.
  22. Suggest taking a walk around the area.
  23. Pay for the food & drinks because you're ballin'
  24. Realize that this is your last shot at presenting yourself as a likeable human being. Go next door to a strange art exhibit with accompanying video game.
  25. She stares down art on the wall and doesn't seem to be responding to comments or questions. You have a hard time reading if she likes the art or not.
  26. In the back room of the gallery is a large space where the game is set up with loud, beautiful ambient music. She likes the space, and so do you.
  27. Sign up for the mailing list.
  28. Watch her play a demo of the game with a Playstation 4 controller. "I don't play video games," she says, and she has trouble figuring out the objective of the game, which is more of an interactive art toy than anything else.
  29. She plays for 3 minutes, and then asks if you want to play.
  30. You play, and figure out what the goal is of this particular level, and so you go and try to win. You play for what feels like 10 minutes.
  31. This is obviously too long and you can see her getting visibly impatient. But damn it, you're so close to beating the level!
  32. Leave the gallery, trying to work in last important questions that will reveal her character and yours. What do you do for fun, what did you do today, what are your plans now.
  33. Think, in the back of your head: "Do you want to go dance at the Echo? They have a free funk music night, it's just on the other side of this block."
  34. Say instead: "I guess I'll go home."
  35. Mention an event that you like to go to. She says it sounds interesting and "She'll have to check it out some time." Realize that on other dates, you have used this as a window to say, "I'd be happy to take you when you're next free." For some reason you don't say it and that's weird, even to you.
  36. Wonder if this is what lacking chemistry is. The conversation was stilted, full of stops and starts, and whereas normally you manage to make a ton of jokes realize that you didn't make any jokes. 
  37. Maybe you did a bad job presenting yourself as an exciting person, but maybe that's because of your different personality types. Maybe you were off your groove because of that incompatibility. Your best internet first dates have been seamless and you never thought about yourself too much, so maybe this wasn't a failure but a symptom.
  38. Decide that that's impossible to assess in 2 hours. It wasn't a home run but it wasn't a strike out.
  39. That in-between zone is probably the worst because it's the most unknowable and up in the air and unsatisfying.
  40. Walk her to her car.
  41. Tell her it was good to meet her; she says the same. She says she might see you at some event. Say that would be good. You are unsure of anything you are saying but these are things you should say just in case.
  42. Hug her.
  43. Walk back to your car.
  44. A truck driver leaving a parking lot yells at you. "That's it? Just a hug?!" he says. "You gotta kiss her too, man."
  45. Laugh and say to him as you pass: "I'm working on it."
  46. Work on it.



Illustration by HarriorriharBonnaroo was like a great, big pause. It's a dip out of civilization, society, constant internet connection -- especially if you're with Sprint -- and just living for what's in front of you. I needed it. My mind was a carousel of repetative, worried thoughts; about my career momentum, my clients, my interpersonal relationships, my social life, my health and mortality. On that last one, I had been spending a lot of time diagnosing myself with everything from GERD to sleep apnea to Marfan's syndrome. That sounds ridiculous to read now that I've typed it out.

Those 5 days off were a break. In the same way you disconnect your wi-fi to really concentrate on your term paper, this was a disconnect from my dull, numbing anxieties. I missed out on all but a few quarters of the NBA Finals, and on Saturday I asked the crowd if anyone knew who won. "Are the Spurs champions? Are the Spurs champions right now and we don't even know it? Did Tim Duncan retire?" A day later I would joke that the world outside of this 700 acre farm could have ended and we wouldn't know about it. We could drive to the airport and find that civilization had broken down days ago. It was an insular world, a fever dream, a psychadelic trip. Having flown in in the morning I had a whole day to recover, and I took advantage of it with a 17 hour sleep. 

But now I'm back at work -- and how! Once back in the fold of work, I slid back in with more ease than I expected. After the initial fear of tackling a pile of unread e-mails, it was back to writing cases, filling out government forms, corresponding with clients and grinding out everything in-between.

There was a bit of dumb, unfortunate serendipity. Something like 5 clients got their stuff together at the same time and, consequently, all had the same urgent deadline. A bad time for a vacation. The result is that I'm working a lot -- 10 hour days, Saturdays from home, Sundays in the office. I stayed until 11 PM once just because the work necessitated it. There's no overtime incentive, there's just the necessity. It is physically impossible to get this many people through the system on a 40 hour work week.

Read More

Elsewhere | Mirah Review, Okkervil River's Free Culture

The two most intensive things I've written since I last crossposted my work to this blog:

1. A review of Mirah's great new album, Changing Light, for Buzzchips. I enjoyed writing about it, especially for a publication that doesn't force me to quantify my enjoyment into a number. Sometimes all I have are words.

2. A big editorial about Don Henley's comments on Okkervil River and Will Sheff's comments about free culture. This one had the added bonus of being linked to on Twitter by Will Sheff himself, so that made my day. I wish I had the will to write more pointed thinkpiece stuff -- it's in my head all the time, but it rarely makes it out onto the screen. Too often, the thoughts simmer and don't seem as interesting or urgent as they did in the heat of the moment. Sometimes my take doesn't seem fresh enough and I know someone on Grantland or The Atlantic or Stereogum will say all of it and then some. Every once in a while, I know I should just stop thinking about it or sleeping on it and just write it -- even if it's not the #HottestTake mankind has ever wrought. I'm glad I did, this time.

Otherwise, I'm preparing for my big summer trip -- Bonnaroo 2014 in Manchester, Tennesee. I'm excited. I've been excited for a month, but now it's palpable excitement. I leave Tuesday night/Wednesday morning -- 6 AM flight. I've already planned out the 4 days, with plenty of time for exploration and relaxation, but my must hit list is as follows:

  1. Kanye West
  2. Cloud Nothings
  3. Chance the Rapper
  4. Skrillex Superjam with Zedd, Janelle Monae, Thundercat, Chance, more.
  5. Elton John
  6. Deafheaven
  7. Vampire Weekend/Neutral Milk Hotel (Haven't decided yet)
  8. James Blake
  9. Disclosure
  10. Pusha T

I don't know what awaits me other than great music. I anticipate sweltering heat, sudden rain storms, and being caught by a lack of preparation no matter what. It's going to be a big deal, though, and that's all I really want out of this excursion.

On y va.

Weird Memory That Popped Into My Head

Some years ago I was at my magazine internship, I was working a 3 day party in Indio, just outside of the Coachella grounds. It was basically on someone's estate and we utilized their nice house and acres of land to throw a pool party. At night, running out of things to do, I wandered into the kitchen and found some kind of scientist cook, a young guy cooking with nitrogen. I offered to help, because there was nothing else to do.

"Great," he said. "What we're doing right now is putting this wild rice and sugar in a pan and caramelizing it." He showed me how to stir it and told me to make sure enough sugar was getting in there. Then he left the kitchen.

I took this picture when he was gone:

When he came back he said positive things and then we would begin to mash these caramelized, sticky bits of wild rice into small chunks. They were hot to touch, let alone press into tight squares.

"Let me see your hands," he said. I put my hands out, palms up, and he ran his thumbs over my fingers. He looked visibly disappointed.

"Well," he said, wondering how I could get through 24 years of life with unworn, child-like skin on my fingers. "You're not going to be a pussy about the heat, right?"

"Right," I said.

"Good," and he left again.

I tried to mash as many squares as I could, but they kept burning my fingers. If I couldn't press on them very hard for very long, they would just fall apart. I wanted to defend myself, saying, I used to play bass, give me a week with a bass and I'll have these gnarly calluses. That was the first time I was ever self conscious about having good skin.

Eventually we dipped the sticky, wild rice squares into a vat of nitrogen. When you took them out and bit into them, a cold cloud of smoke would erupt. It was pretty cool. There was a long line at the party to get some, and I brought some girls from the office to the front to try them. The cook was friendly and obliged.

My 10 Favorite Albums, 2013

Even though I did a light hearted variation of this for Moxipop, I did it here last year, so I'm doing it again because if I deviate from busy work routines I start to look at my actual life and how it's devoid of any real meaning. So here's 10 things I loved to listen to this year, ranked with great difficulty, but ultimately only reflecting my opinion at this very moment.

10. Bleeding Rainbow - Yeah Right

Proof that advance streaming works. Listened to it on a whim from the newly debuted Pitchfork Advance stream and I fell right into Bleeding Rainbow. Rad nostalgic alternative stuff with airy vocals. I got stuck on the constant beat of songs like "Shades of Eternal Night," or the druggy haze of "Drift Away." Just a cool, raw band with a tool belt of sounds. They build and build and build.

Read More

Digital Angeles

I beat Grand Theft Auto V a couple of weeks ago. It took a while. I push pencils full time, for myself and for a living, and I found one hour windows to play once a week. Twice if I really wanted to fuck up my deadlines. The game takes place in Los Santos, a satirized & compressed but otherwise stunningly accurate rendition of Los Angeles.

The game came out in mid-September, exactly one month after moving to Los Angeles.

I mean, I was born and raised in "Los Angeles" but any true Angeleno knows that LA is less of a city and more of a bunch of spread out disparate parts. LA County, my turf south of Greater LA, is where I spent most of my life thus far. It's a world of difference from the big city out-of-towners imagine when I tell them that I'm from LA: everything has a parking lot, everything is built flat and long, everyone lives an elliptical life disconnected from the center. It may as well be Reno, or Odessa, or Camden. Los Angeles, from Santa Monica to Highland Park, is the sun. Everything else, from the Valley to the South Bay, is its own planet in orbit. Life never really has to leave it, or even care much for the sun other than know it is there.

I have loved LA since I was a teenager, the way kids in the 70s loved space. I looked at it from a distance and felt an urge to explore and touch a bigger universe. You can tell by that metaphor that I'm one of those people, the ones that define the value of their life by its proximity to something that feels culturally important. I might toss around the phrase "center of the world" if I were brave enough. After college, I knew that was the goal. I began interning in LA, then working in LA, then driving there every day. It was a pain of a commute, a slow depressing trudge for over an hour every early morning, but it brought mere here to a studio apartment in the middle of it all.

By the time I got to live here, I was already well versed in the city's ways. I knew the landmarks, some history, a lot of the spots. I knew that you're better off taking Fountain over Sunset. So, when GTA V came out and I was tasked with exploring a digital Los Angeles, I was prepared to see a lot of my newfound life in the big city.

Read More

On Oddball Festival 2013

How much is mythology worth? It's not something you can buy, but that doesn't mean it's priceless. Dave Chappelle would have you believe it's not worth 30 million dollars.

"I didn't walk away from 30 million dollars," he said during the Irvine stop of Funny or Die's inaugural Oddbal Comedy & Curiosity Festival. "I still want it."

He went on about the bogus benefits of artistic integrity ("Let me feed my kids some integrity sandwiches") and the way most people will never understand what it's like to be offered 30 million dollars to do something. My initial instinct is to assume he's joking about the regret, because there are more jokes in it than talking about how you took a righteous stand against the fame machine. It just seemed like he left of his own free will and could get a show any time he wanted.

But he's right -- I can't fathom what a 30 million dollar offer means and what it feels like 10 years after turning it down. It's no small thing. So I can't assume that he doesn't mean the things he's saying.

At the same time, if he hadn't left his show, he wouldn't be the mythic figure he is now. But what does that amount to? He'd still be big enough to headline a comedy tour with Flight of the Conchords, but it wouldn't be a legendary return to the public eye. He still could have sold out the Verizon Ampitheatre in Irvine, but it might not have sold out as fast as it did. The idea of Dave Chappelle as a master comedian that won't dance when you tell him to, reinforced by his non-compliance at Oddball's stop in Hartford, has made him stand-up comedy's only modern day mythical figure. He would've been a hall of fame, headline comic like Chris Rock but now he could be anything.

But, still, 30 million dollars. I kept thinking about that trade off before & after the festival, wondering what's better, what matters more. It just comes down to waiting and seeing how his work will be remembered. Building a mythology is something that happens organically, and when everything comes together it's like a winning lottery ticket. But its value can only be determined in the far future. Perhaps it won't be worth the giant cash-in. Intangibles are hard to measure, and not everyone cares about maintaining a profile in the history of comedy.

Oddball was a great time, but, yes, odd. Stand-up comedy festivals can't work the way music festivals work. There's still more of a monoculture in comedy than there is in music, so you can't divide acts up into multiple stages and compete for the attention economy. There was a secondary stage, yes, but that wrapped up as soon as the big stage show began, which was a stacked line-up of Jeff Ross, Kristen Schaal, Al Madrigal, Chris D'elia, Jim Jeffries, Donnell Rawlings, Flight of the Conchords and, of course, Dave Chappelle.

Read More

Songs About Elliott Smith

It's Elliott Smith season; the time between his birthday (August 6th) and the date of his passing (October 21.) There's a certain segment of fans that treat these 3 months as a time to reflect on his work. Retrospective think pieces will be written and XO vinyls will be dusted off, but you can see this most at the Figure 8 mural in Los Angeles. It's around these dates that there's an uptick of messages scrawled along its black, white and red lines. As if it were a holiday, some fans leave flowers or candles.

In the nearly 10 years since his passing, there's no doubting that he's remembered as an avatar of suffering through art. He's become indie's Kurt Cobain. Depending on your temperament, this is either the canonizing of a saint or the reduction of a rich and unknowable life.

I understand the ways it is problematic. Even in life, Smith seemed to resist the idea of being the sad, confessional artist that many of us channeled from his work. It didn't matter. As fans, we used the idea as a totem to explore our own troubles. Falling in love with the tragic story required assumptions on our part that were easy to make. It's even easier to characterize him these days. In death, there's no one to stop us from forming whatever romantic image we want.

Read More

Washed Out @ Sonos Studio | 7.29.13

I wasn't sure if I was going to actually get in to the show, or rather, the "listening party" for Washed Out's newest album, PARACOSM. In truth, it was more of a free concert, but because of the nature of chillwave (and any instrumental studio composition album) perhaps "listening party" was more appropriate. The venue was Sonos Studio, a small soundproof art & sound gallery just a few miles from LACMA. The lack of ticket fees meant hundreds of leeches like me would be in line, yes, but it also meant there was potential for a special night.

In my on-going quest for once-in-a-lifetime concert experiences, the free show is a high value target. The rarity of the event plus the open access compels artists to put a unique performance together — or at least, as fans, we believe they will. They're not required to do so in any way, but if ever there was a time for it, it would have to be under these unique circumstances, right? That's the hope. Even I, a mere mid-level Washed Out fan, was excited for this night and the show that might happen.

But first there was the line and other fans. I arrived 45 minutes before the listed start time with only 20 people ahead of me in the general admission/mere pedestrian line. Across from us there was the VIP line which held 10 or so people that deceptively looked just like me. The first thing I noticed is that Washed Out's fanbase runs a little older. Maybe it was the promise of an interview with NPR's Nic Harcourt that skewed the demographics, but I was surprised at how many 30 and 40 somethings were down with "chillwave" or whatever replacement label we've decided to use without shame.

Read More

What Happened Today

"ALL SMILES" -- @joemande

On some level, yeah, I expected this verdict because the system is broken. Because the technicality of this dumb fucking law allows you to stalk and kill somebody so long as there are no witnesses. I can imagine someone who is a strict letter-of-the-law adherent, with no room for finesse or spirit of the law. I disagree vehemently with it, but I can imagine how someone could arrive to that conclusion. I can imagine a fearful, narrow-minded jury defaulting to innocence because it's one guys word versus literal dead silence.

What I cannot understand, under any fucking circumstance, is how this is somehow a verdict worth cheering for. Like, I don't understand you, I hope I never understand you, I hope your lack of empathy and basic humanity is your downfall some day. Even if you think the verdict should be not guilty, I don't know how you can see this as a victory. At best, it would be just a grim reality of the world we live in. Something to exhale over and move on. Not put on a smile and pump your first. Nah. Fuck you.

The only way that mentality can exist is if you see yourself on a "team" -- basically team Anti-black-teens. If you feel like your right to judge, hate, fear and despise young black men is under attack, then that's the only way you could feel a sense of victory. Hooray! You can continue being disgusting!

The lesson here is that in Florida, you can get away with murder so long as there are no witnesses, because then you control the narrative and can say whatever you want. Even when you created the situation. Even when you were wrong. Even when you admit to it.

These specific assholes like to say, "Well Trayvon shouldn't have swung back," or "Well here's a picture of Trayvon flipping off a camera." As if he's the one that's on trial, as if most 17 year olds aren't angry and flipping people off. They hold him -- the victim -- to a different standard than Zimmerman, the admitted murderer. They say Trayvon shouldn't have fought back, but they never say Zimmerman shouldn't have stalked him. They're willing to forgive Zimmerman's shortsighted decision, but they'll say Trayvon's led to his own death. 

I can understand a person who disagrees. I can imagine that being an opinion. I don't imagine how you can pretend anyone "won" here. George Zimmerman is a free man, he gets his gun back, he gets as many guns as he wants and he's out on the street as a one-man vigilante. And our legal system says it's okay to be just like him.

Contemporary Superheroics

Before I saw it, MAN OF STEEL was positioned in my head as an antidote to IRON MAN 3. IRON MAN 3, that annoying, mediocre, poorly-plotted superhero film that hated being a superhero film. You could really feel the change in behind-the-camera talent as they leaned hard on the charm of Robert Downey Jr.'s banter to the point of breaking. They constantly undercut themselves, defating suspense in order to shoehorn psueod-witty back-and-forth at every unnatural opportunity.

It reminded me of a class clown who uses humor as a defense mechanism to avoid being vulnerable or opening up. Like a school bully who had accidentally revealed something deeply personal and serious, and upon noticing this, slams it shut by immediately giving a kid a wedgie. Like, dude. You can take yourself seriously sometimes, it's cool. No one's going to judge you.

Instead, we have Tony Stark & James Rhodes forcing some Seinfeld-ian banter about ammunition or whatever before they storm the enemy base. Or, a defeated and worn Tony Stark must rely on the kindness of a kid he just ran into — except because that kind of sincerity is lame to someone, let's make them both sarcastic assholes because we think that's all people like about Iron Man. Flimsy facades of personality for everyone!

Read More


I've been having fun with the chaotic randomness of photo glitching, the way a child has fun with the spray paint tool in MS Paint. I know it's an old hat to a certain type of New Aesthetic graphic designer, and I know I'm not really doing anything interesting with it — but I've been randomly acquiring graphic design skills for nearly 10 years now, at some point I ought to learn how to create this type of warped, digital static and fragmentation. It's a tool to have.

I got curious about it because Warren Ellis was singing the praises of an iPhone app that took care of the nitty gritty photo glitching for you. Being an Android user, the app wasn't available to me, but I knew there were other ways around it. An app like decim8 is just a clean, accessible version of glitching the way Instagram is just a clean, accessible version of vintage photography. So with a quick Google, I found out glitching was really simple, done in under a minute, and weirdly fun.

Much like the faux-vintage cool of Instagram, photoglitching's appeal is in purposely fuxin' with something to create some illusion of artistry and authenticity. It's hipster chic that looks to the future instead of the past. The key here is that doing it yourself is more than just selecting a filter, it's about experimentation and the simple implications of little things.

All it is is taking a picture file in a certain format, opening it up in a text editor, deleting things, and seeing what happens. You use a barebones text editor like Notepad, Wordpad, or HTML editors like Notepad++. Better yet, use all three — that's the fun. Different file types do different things in different editors, even on different operating systems. Messing with a BMP scrambles the order & hue of the photo. A PNG creates harsh static, a TIFF warps like old VHS tapes. On Windows 7, Wordpad doesn't do much differently, but on older operating systems, even saving untouched data on Wordpad throws a huge wrench into how the file is read.

Then there's the question of what you're deleting and what it does. It's pure trial and error. You stare into the unintelligible glyphs, the matrix in every JPEG, and you pick spots at random to see your results. What happens if you delete a huge chunk? A single character? From the beginning of a file or the end?

I've found that most of the code at the top, especially in a PNG, is important to maintain the file's "stability." It is very easy to corrupt a picture so that it cannot be opened in Preview or Photoshop. I made a few dozen files last weekend, running them through different ringers — corrupt a BMP, save it as a PNG, make a copy, add minor glitches, add different glitches on the copy, resave them all — there are a million combinations. And it's easy. There's a stupid simplicity to the whole thing that turns out rewards that well outweigh the work you put in.

The last time I went to San Diego Comic Con, I made sure to get a sketch from one of my favorite illustrators, Francis Manapul. This was when his star was on the rise, but he had not yet revealed himself to be a company superstar. There wasn't a lot of traffic at his end of Artist's Alley, and he was a kind enough dude to do a quick, free sketch. With one hand holding up the pad, and the other holding up a brush, he whipped up a quick Superboy in a few strokes.

"I wouldn't even be able to hold up a pad with one hand, let alone draw on it."
"It's not really about control," he said. "It's more like managing the chaos."

He was just laying down thick lines and deciding what to do from there, letting the chaos of each stroke dictate how he would wrangle it in with the next one. And that's fun. The unpredictability of it makes it experimental and mysterious, though we have little chance of understanding it. It's art made from math, strictly adhering to algorithms, a painting completely free of the human mind.

The Redemption of Disco

I'm having trouble with the redemption of disco.

The long-awaited new Daft Punk album, RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY, certainly has a lot to do with it, but from where I'm standing the ball started rolling last year with Hot Chip's IN OUR HEADS. This is, of course, a purely personal evaluation; you may find enough disco element's in Royksopp's JUNIOR, or perhaps your definition of disco can encompass the sounds of LCD Soundsystem's 45:33. But for me, it wasn't until that Hot Chip album that I began to evaluate where I stood with disco, and it took a hell of a Daft Punk album to finally make me commit to a decision.

For us loathsome millenials, disco has long been the communal punching bag. We all developed different tastes and hates, but it was universal that disco was bad. It was awful high collar white suits, images of John Travolta pointing to the opposite corners of the room, "Disco Inferno" and our parents in awkward pictures. We could come around on all our other biases, but disco was the village idiot, never to be redeemed, a scar on music history reinforced by jokes on The Simpsons.

At the same time, I was a bassist, and disco was the last genre that let us feel important. Rock & roll had great bassists, but they were great because they used their talent to force themselves into notoriety. With disco, a good bass groove was necessity, not a luxury reserved for the cream of the crop. I thought of the genre as uncool, but even then I still had to learn "Play That Funky Music" and "Stayin' Alive." It was fun to do, but still, ultimately, the peak of uncoolness.

Read More

Loose Leaves 05.13.13

Tonight, I finished Haruki Murakami's NORWEGIAN WOOD. It's my second Murakami book (first being THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE) and I was surprised at how straight forward and brisk it was. I didn't realize that it was considered his blockbuster hit and most accessible, mainstream work but that didn't feel like a knock to me -- the surrealism of WIND-UP BIRD was a source of entertainment, but I didn't miss it in the books relentless push into the crevices of the heart. I wanted to say that this was "just a love story," but it's effective books like this that remind you that love stories are no small thing. When they're not just mandatory B-plots in suspense thrillers, they're as big as the world. They're life and death.

It's a fantastic read -- moving with unflourished, effortless prose, stock full of complex character histories, and a story that has a faint ring of death through out. The last 100 or so pages of any book are exciting because of the inertia; you know the end is near, and suddenly every passage is suspenseful, important ground. But disregarding this phenomenon, there was so much in that last third that determines the fates of these characters. It was almost unfair.

Even though I like it a lot, I have to acknowledge the heavy male-centric escapist fantasy going on. The protagonist Toru Watanabe is a guy with no obvious extraordinary personality traits except he's adopted a kind of CATCHER IN THE RYE laid back perpetual coolness. He speaks in short, frank sentences, but exudes a quiet untapped intelligence. As a result, nearly every woman throws themselves at him, he's constantly adored, but he does little to earn it (but rarely chases in.) It sounds worse when I type it out that way -- most of it isn't overbearing, and it's still enjoyable for readers of any gender, but it's hard to ignore that its engine relies on the yearnings, ego and angst of young men.

My reading of the book took away a lot about the echo of death. How it attaches to our lives and the lives of those around us -- Kizuki, Midori's father and the others -- and the different ways it curses or liberates. There's an argument in there about how this relationship, the line between life and death that we live along, makes death not the opposite, but an inescapable part of life. I'm afraid of ever really understanding this.

It's funny, a friend of mine a few years back asked me to read a novel he was working on, and one of the things I criticized was  the 4 or 5 character deaths he had written in. It was a bit much for me. I said, "If you're going to kill this many characters, it better make me feel like it's the worst day of my life." As I closed the back cover and examined how I felt, NORWEGIAN WOOD comes close. If I let myself take a step back and look at the character tree and all those withered branches, it does seem like a bit much, but it works. It gets dour, but not hysterical, tragic but not weeping. The way the news is delivered and doled out is almost merciful and sweet.

I was at my local post-work coffee shop when I finished the book. Still living in the book's fog, I semi-randomly picked Still Life Still's "Burial Suit" to listen to on the ride home. The wiry guitar hook and heavy bass let me stay in the fog a little longer. It was a good pairing, the cheese to book's wine. If you've got a sunset drive, I'd recommend it to anyone:

The next stop on my shelf is THE GREAT GATSBY which I'm supposed to have read by now. Through some weird contortions of fate, I was always taking the courses that didn't assign the book. In fact, my teachers didn't assign very many classics to us. In AP English, I was busy trying to pick through BRAZZAVILLE BEACH and THE HANDMAID'S TALE. There are advantages to this approach -- the classics are always there and obvious for us to read on our own time. Still, I'm going to knock this book out quick and in secret. Once I've assimilated it into my being, I'll pretend that I read it years ago. Don't tell anyone.

The only thing I'm taking in outside of music & books is THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: SKYRIM, the NBA Finals, and MARON. MARON is a great show for fans of Marc Maron. Andy Greenwald is correct in assessing that the show doesn't capture what's great about his WTF podcast, but for those of us that have grown to become a fan of his person, warts and all, it's immensely gratifying. No small part of it is his narrative of being a constant underdog finally getting his day in the sun -- it's joyful for superfans merely because he's getting the acclaim he's convinced us he deserves. In that current form, it might not be an instant crossover hit, but it's a wonderful base to start from.

I was surprised at how well they've written everyone that isn't Marc. Kyle, Dragon Master, and even the celebrity guests have delightful character quirks and personalities that deflect any criticism of Marc's work being navel-gazing. The temptation here is to compare it to LOUIE, another show where a comedian gets to do whatever the hell he wants, but it doesn't even feel like the same genre. It's more conventional and movie-like, as opposed to the strangely funny essays that LOUIE presents to us in theatrical form.

I'm looking forward to it. I dont' get IFC, so I've been relying on Hulu & Amazon Instant Video. I wasn't initially jazzed about spending $3 for an episode, but then I realized I spend twice that almost every day on expensive coffee because some guy makes it in a vase or some shit. I felt like an ass after that.

Brooklyn Festival: The Antlers & Chairlift at Walt Disney Concert Hall | 04.22.13

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the few prestige venues of Los Angeles that I really like. The Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theater bring with them an air of importance, but it's only downtown's Walt Disney that also allows for a pleasant viewing experience. It's small, so even though you're paying top dollar you're bound to get a good view, and most importantly, it's designed with acoustics in mind.

Last week they created an event they called "Brooklyn Festival" - 5 nights of notable Brooklyn acts, showcasing the creative and cultural burst that area has produced in the last decade. In place of Coachella's overload in the desert, I put my money into two of their nights: Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly & Bryce Dressner and Friday night's double header of The Antlers & Chairlift.

Read More

Songs | Lana Del Rey - Chelsea Hotel No. 2

After the American Idol appearances, countless magazine covers, and gigantic H&M billboards, it seems ridiculous that anyone ever had an argument about the indie cred of Lana Del Rey, or whether indie cred even mattered. Despite her Pitchfork-fueled rocket launch into the public eye, it's clear now that she's a much more natural fit in the gigantic mainstream overworld of pop music than some "authentic" singer-songwriter reimagined as a gangster Nancy Sinatra. We argued for so long about who she was and what was important, and the answer in hindsight was: none of it. The LDR machine would continue its upward inertia, regardless of the consensus of our thinkpieces, and become one of today's institutions in pop music. She is, pretty much, as close as we're going to get to Warren Ellis' horror vision of a pop icon virus in SUPERIDOL.

"Chelsea Hotel No. 2" is my favorite Leonard Cohen song. "Hallelujah" is a long thing to immerse yourself in, and as sacred as it can be, the intimacy of this secret ballad to a deceased love is more powerful to my tastes. When I heard Lana Del Rey dropped a cover on YouTube, my initial reaction was to cringe, but then I tried to suppress that reaction because I know that's just music snob bullshit.

Read More