Wednesday, December 3, 2014

TS Top of the Pops 2014

Here's the problem with popular music: much of it isn't very good and therefore does not stand the test of time. Most newly released independent and alternative music in particular does not bear repeated listening after the initial rush of excitement when you first discover it.

To put this to the test, I looked back at my Top of the Pops lists from the last three years. With each passing year, I listen to fewer of the selections on a regular basis, in fact at least three of them were part of a cache of CD's that your 'Scatter-in-Chief unloaded earlier this year to a flea market vendor.

I'm not sure if I will be looking to root out my She Keeps Bees CD three years from now from the back of the cabinet or if it will be within easy reach in the front row. I mean, after all, when I really need a shot of them, I can always put on PJ Harvey, The White Stripes or Heartless Bastards, all of whom inform their sound. And all of whom are still in the front row.

That being stated, there were some standouts from this past year, in fact I found it a lot easier than last year to settle on my winners. Maybe it was because they were that much better than the rest of the pack. Maybe it was because there were less new releases to sift through. Or, maybe I just got lucky.

As many of you know, I also listen to a lot of music (jazz, early and classical) made by people who are now dead. It takes up nearly half of my critical listening hours, leaving less time for the new stuff. Consequently, I do a lot of catching up these days, something that would be damn near impossible if it weren't for streaming via the mighty KEXP-Seattle and Radio Paradise. Those two sources continue to influence most of my new music purchasing decisions.

Herewith, the list:

TEMPLES: Sound Structures
   A trippy, psychedelic fun fest from start to finish.
BECK: Morning Phase
   You're not gonna get a better folk-rock record than this one. Well worth the 7-year wait.
ALT-J: This is all yours
   Yes the darlings of the art-rock world have delivered on the dreaded 'sophomore' effort.
    Includes my choice for song of the year, "So now you Know".
    The songs seem to last forever, and that's a good thing.
BOB MOULD: Beauty & Ruin
    One year after "Silver Age", this little burst of a record shines. Bob Mould is a god.
BOB MOULD: Workbook 25 (Reissue)
    A masterful reissue, twenty-five years hence. Bob Mould is a god.
THE TWILIGHT SAD: Nobody wants to be Here and nobody wants to leave
    Scotland's finest. The song arrangements are especially noteworthy.
SHE KEEPS BEES: Eight Houses
    The 'surprise' find of the year. Moody and powerful, this one's my sleeper.
   Return to form for the trip-folk kings, after several mishits. This one's a keeper.
As an added treat, we've added a few categories to recognize some very special achievements this past year in new music:

MOST ANNOYING ARTIST (aka "The She & Him Award"): Frazey Ford. She seems to be turning up on everyone else's 'best of' list. I suppose those folks are charmed by her nasally warbling but to me, it just annoys from note one. She's been around longer than I care to admit, but she's never been more annoying. She thinks she's Victoria Williams, but she's no Victoria Williams. Hell, she's not even Alanis Morissette.

BEST NEW RELEASE FROM BAND WITH BEST NAME (aka "The Blonde Redhead Award"): I Love you but I've chosen Darkness, "Dust". Joining some esteemed company from this year and the recent past, including The Pains of being Pure at Heart, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, We were Promised Jetpacks and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash.

GREAT CONCEPT, POOR EXECUTION (aka "The Elvis Costello Award"): Thompson, "Family". Richard Thompson has enjoyed one of the most interesting and prolific careers in all of music. He is my personal favorite guitar virtuoso, but he's had his share of mishits, this being the latest. "Family" unites the great one with his buttery-voiced ex-wife and ex-musical partner, Linda, and their son, Teddy. Lyrically, it has some shining moments; musically, it could have been saved by fleshier arrangements. Conceptually? Great idea however Linda and Richard obviously still don't like each other and as far as the offspring is concerned, he's not yet qualified to join in on all the historic greatness.

WORST ALBUM FROM MOST DISAPPOINTING ARTIST (aka "The Tori Amos Award"): And the winner is...Tori Amos, with "Unrepentant Geraldines". She's always been a bit of a zagger against all of the ziggers, but her particular brand of obtuse quirkiness has worn very thin. She's become quite far removed from the piano-bench-humping siren bringing tears to listeners' eyes with her dramatic and poignant storytelling. Nowadays, it looks like she spends most of her time at the cosmetic surgeon's office, the gym and the hair stylist. If this one were released in 1999, we might want to look deeper into it to find out exactly what an 'unrepentant geraldine' is, but when the first lyric of the opening song is "I hate you", and then gets repeated, it's hard to commit.

BANDS WHO MADE GOOD ALBUMS BUT WHO DON'T MAKE THE LIST BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE HAS THEM ON THEIR LISTS (aka "The Shabazz Palaces Award"): Perfume Genius, The War on Drugs, Cloud Nothings, Strand of Oaks.
There you have it, 'scatters, the list. I hope I've inspired you to seek out some great new music that you might have either missed or overlooked this past year. I shall be posting cuts from each of the selections on my personal FB wall so be sure to give them a peek. Keep your ears on.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"... for they shall inherit the earth."

I love cats. If someone were to ask me, "Hey, Mark, what is your favorite animal?", the answer would be, hands down, "Cats. I love cats." They're so cool, with their idiosyncratic behavior, the purring, the different varieties like tabby, Siamese, calico. I just love them.
I also love to soak my feet. I usually put a cup and a half of Epsom salts and a few drops of some nice smelling essential oil, like lavender, into a foot tub of hot water and soak those puppies for a good ten or twelve minutes. I also like to use my German-engineered "Tweezerman" callous shaver after the soak to remove all of that dead skin that builds up during the week, since I'm on my feet most of the time. I like to be on my feet, especially when standing, walking or climbing and descending stairs. It is much easier doing any of those activities with your feet than with your hands and arms.
I like to listen to music, and often. I estimate that music, of one variety or another, is being delivered to my ears for about ten to twelve hours each day. I like many different categories of music, but mostly I listen to music that was made by people who are now dead. I love jazz, and most of the best jazz is from people who are dead. Some are dead for more than 40, 50 or even 60 years. Charlie Parker has been dead for almost 60 years, and he made arguably the best jazz music ever. It would be very difficult to find anything better than his jazz made nowadays, so, I figure, why bother?
I also listen to music from people who are very, very dead, we're talking dead for like more than 250 years, like Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact, he's been dead for about 264 years, I just looked it up on Wiki. His music is phenomenal, and he was very prolific, which means he made an awful lot of it. There are people who have spent their entire lifetimes studying nothing but the music of Bach, and for good reason. You should try to listen to some Bach if you get a chance, you won't regret it.
You know what else I like? Flannel shirts. Goddamn if there is an article of clothing ever that is as totally awesome as a flannel shirt. The grunge rock scene of the 1990's did wonders for the humble flannel shirt but those of us who didn't need some drug-addled rock stars in Seattle to make it cool to wear flannel were wearing it for many years already. My first real flannel shirt was from Sears & Roebuck in Hackensack, and it was a beauty. I remember wearing the fuck out of it, my mother washing it every week, and it eventually disintegrated, too worn and tattered to even make it to the rag pile.
I like to drink bourbon. It's not something I drink every day, but when I'm at a nice bar or upscale restaurant, I love to order a "Makers on the rocks". Not only do I enjoy the taste and the warmth it provides when I drink it, it makes me look important to the bartender so I get his respect in order that he treats me better than the schmuck next to me who ordered a Blue Moon. Blue Moon is one of the worst beers on earth. The guy who orders it is usually some philistine who thinks he's ordering a 'craft beer', but what he doesn't realize is that it's mass produced by MillerCoors and cleverly marketed as a craft beer. But it's basically a Coors with some flavoring added, and its usually served with an orange slice on the rim of the glass to make it look fancy.
Sorry, I got distracted there for a moment, and I'm trying hard to keep this post positive, upbeat, friendly and light, what with all the chat about how cute cats are and jazz music and flannel shirts.
I like to be a little cold when I climb into bed. I also like to remain that way throughout the night. As I drift into sleep, it makes me feel all safe and cozy to get snug under the blanket, thinking about the hard and dangerous world outside my window and how lucky I am to have a bed and a window and a blanket to protect me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Airing of grievances, part 378.

BIRTHDAYS: That one day of the year that we all celebrate, unless of course we fall into the category of person who celebrates their 'birth month'. I once suffered a co-worker who was of this ilk, and lemme tell ya, there are few people as annoying as someone who is over 30 (or over 20 for that matter) who counts down the days to her birthday for weeks leading up to it. And, if you happen to forget this person's very special day? A fatal error, my friend, you'll be hearing about it for weeks to follow.

I am offering this post to you because I have such a friend now, and she's pushing 50. At what age does one finally realize that the earth did not spin off of its axis on the day your mama farted you out of her womb? I don't want to be a buzzkill (oh, crap, that's a lie, sure I do) but c'mon, people, can we please reserve the big, balloon-strewn, Carvel-ice-cream-cake-serving festival for the kids?

Now, I do have a reputation for being a bit of a birthday curmudgeon but I have very good reason for this: the anniversary of my birth happens to land on January 1st, every year. That's New Year's Day, the day that has most people sleeping in until about 10:30AM, waking up, reluctantly and most likely very hungover, or in a puddle of their own vomit, to face another year of their shitty job, stressful family, strangling mortgage, college tuition, and taxes. Who wants to help you celebrate your birthday? Nooobaaahdy, that's who.

My grandfather, the incomparable Edson Arthur Fuller, once told me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper that the rest of the world was not only celebrating the start of a new year, they were helping me celebrate my birthday. He had a special gift for making me feel better, but he had to contend with the rest of my family; we were not what I like to refer to as 'birthday-centric' in that we would usually only have the immediate family and maybe, maybe, a friend or two watch us blow out the candles. Not that it was an afterthought, but it just wasn't made a big deal.

There's a certain humility in that sort of quiet observance of a birthday, but I can remember more than a few years when I felt slighted or even left out in the cold (which it usually is on January 1st around these parts; hey, who wants to go to your house for a stupid birthday cake when its 19 fucking degrees out and there's a 3-foot layer of ice on the driveway?). This being stated, as of today, there are exactly 92 days until my birthday. Start planning now on forgetting it.


WORLD MUSIC: Let's face it, folks, once you own one "world music" record, you've got them all. I happened to catch a few insufferable minutes of the "Putamayo World Music Hour" on a local public radio station the other night and they were featuring some Togolese or Malian "singer"-songwriters. It sounded a lot like last week's feature of Ivorian and Tanzanian artists even though the producers spend boundless energy traveling the globe to seek out the unique sounds of the 'world' music category. Let me save you lots of time and trouble: buy ONE album from Ali Farka Toure and you've got it covered.


ETHICS: I have just completed a section of my state-mandated continuing education, so that I may continue to legally perform therapeutic massage. The course was in ethics, a potentially thorny subject, you could imagine, and it covers a broad range of categories, from proper client draping to recognizing "boundary" violations. According to the guidelines, the state of New Jersey prohibits everything from offering a client a bottle of water after a session to listening to them complain about their loveless marriage; we can't accept a benign hug from them as they leave the studio nor can we barter with one of them for any services other than massage. At this level of depersonalization of the studio environment, I am going to start suggesting to my clients to go out and buy one of those $8.000 massage chairs.


SHAVING CHRONICLES, part four: I can report, after being a member for well over six months now, that the Dollar Shaving Club is working out quite well for me, and I even have a pleasant customer service story to tell you. A few weeks back, the handle that accompanied my original shipment of blade cartridges developed a crack right at the point where the cartridge is engaged, rendering it quite impossible to use effectively. The promised "3 to 5 business day" period for receiving a replacement was now entering its eighth day and I was starting to look like Mike Napoli from the Boston Red Sox circa October 2013. After bringing this to their attention, they apologized for losing the order, and another one was sent out, only to arrive one day after the first one (which, apparently wasn't lost after all!). So now I have two. But they did credit my account $6 for the inconvenience, totally redeeming themselves, and I decided to add a packet of their fancy-schmancy man-ass wipes for my next shipment.

DSC now also offers a very useful adjustment to your shipment schedule; some of us who do not shave every day, sometimes skipping a full two or three days, do not require four fresh blades every month, so they give you the optional 'every other month' feature. Whether this idea grew from customers dropping the service due to the glut of unused blades taking up inventory in their medicine cabinets or from someone at DSC-HQ being a marketing fucking genius is unknown, but for now I'm sticking with it. ... For an extra chuckle, one of the DSC representatives who helped me with the replacement handle issue was named "Nick". I couldn't resist mentioning the obvious to him, but he politely handled that by telling me that, yes, indeed, he's heard that one before.

I'm so proud in fact of my membership in the Dollar Shaving Club that I'm considering including it on my next resume, you know, in the "Organizations and Associations" section. It will fit in very nicely with "Lifetime member of the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770" and "Charter member of  the Jean Jacques Rousseau Society", don't you think?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Airing of grievances

---Are you ready for some football? All eleven minutes of actual live play, seventeen minutes of replays, 100+ commercials, coach's challenges, official reviews and boneheaded commentary at half-time?

---To anyone thinking about opening up the restaurant of their dreams, please do us all a favor and avoid the following: naming the place with the address of its location. If I see one more restaurant called "Seventy Seven Park" or "251 Main" I'm gonna lose it. If the extent of your creativity is that limited, I could imagine what's coming out of the kitchen.

---Now that the ice bucket challenge excitement has finally subsided, I'm wondering what really came from it. Are we 'more aware' of Lou Gehrig's disease now that LeBron James and Britney Spears have been doused? And, I'm wondering if Ryan Seacrest ever accepted Bill Gates' challenge (what an odd pairing that is, no?)... But here's to ALS, a disease that affects only about 5,000 people every year, already receives about $40 million in research money and is no closer to a cure now than it was 73 years ago. I feel better, don't you?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Word Turds Vol 2 and a very important Update

You might remember many moons ago a post here on the TS, "Word Turds". It was a scatalogical play on the term "Word Birds", a collection of neologisms for the new age of language usage, but with a decidedly snarky twist. It's been some time since that first edition, so here goes with two fresh turds:

VEGETERRORIST: A particularly belligerent, and annoying, vegetarian (or vegan, for that matter) who adheres to the absolute strictest standards when it comes to what he or she will allow to pass down his or her sacred gullet, as in: "Oh no, I appreciate your offer of organic kale and goji berry salad, but I only eat kale from one farm, located in the southern tier of New York State, at exactly 42.3 degrees north latitude, that grows one crop, Lacinato kale, using as fertilizer the waste matter of organically-raised, free-range Marans chickens." To which we should reply, "Hey douchebag, why don't you head back to Williamsburg and go fuck yourself."

CHICKATARIAN: Someone who professes to be a vegetarian but who you are certain is not following the letter of the vegetable law when it comes to actually chowing down. We had a neighbor who bragged constantly about his vegetarianism but from whose kitchen we would occasionally catch the unmistakable scent of microwave chicken (organic, but of course). In addition, any visit to his apartment might include an offer of a minimum of three varieties of ice cream (organic, but of course) because, as we all know, vegetarians are inveterately addicted to sweets. Comes from not eating enough meat.


Another news story that your Scatter-in-Chief has been fascinated with over the last two years is the wreck, salvage and, finally, the scrapping of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that ran into trouble on the island of Giglio. The $2 billion project has entered its final chapter today as the wounded giant was floated into the port of Genoa to meet with the cutter's torch. If you haven't seen footage of this incredible operation, you're missing out on something truly extraordinary. You don't need to be an engineering geek nor a total "planes-trains-and-airplanes" nerd to appreciate the massive effort that went into getting this hulking wreck dislodged, re-floated and then ultimately removed. The BBC has been posting regular videos to keep us all updated on the progress; this one is nice little recap of everything leading up to the final journey to Genoa:

Monday, April 28, 2014

This just in.

>>> Here's a quick update on two sports that nobody in the USA really cares about, English football and Formula One. It's coming down to the wire in the English Premier League, with the top dogs Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all having at least a mathematical chance of winning the trophy. Oh, and for those of you who don't know it, they don't have playoffs. And you can tie. "Why do you even do this?" ... The rules have changed, yet again, in F1 for the new season: the engines are smaller and less noisy (not a good thing), and only two teams seem to have figured out how to make the most of these changes (also not a good thing). But, it has made for some very competitive racing, not against teams but against teammates. Yes, the 'number one' and 'number two' guys for the top teams are actually being allowed to race against each other. In an auto race. Go figure.

>>> April is the new March. Have you noticed a gradual shift away from March being the harbinger of springtime? My mother was the first one who told me the meaning of "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." In recent years, its been more like, "March comes in like a Tasmanian devil and goes out like a badger." It's now on April's shoulders to announce all the glorious promise of the spring season, but given the increasing inconsistencies of this year's edition, I'm guessing that May is now the new April.

>>> Nope. No sign of that damn airplane they seem to have lost. Not a trace.

>>> A friend recently asked me what possible interest I could have in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, so here's a taste of it: "Authority built round the concept of private property is the principal cause of humanity's decline. The publicly authorized appropriation of the earth by some men at the expense of others has led to the establishment of a civil society gained through guile and injustice."

>>> The Boston Marathon bombing, which happened just about a year ago, has become a recent obsession of mine, mostly because of an ongoing communication with a friend who is a tireless watchdog of all media and a champion skeptic. The more you read into it, the more farcical it all seems; as this friend states, "it makes for a movie script that even Quentin Tarantino would reject."

>>> I think we need to send some of our ship captains back for re-training, especially the part where they tell you to 'go down with the ship'. Its either that, or we change the rule to "Women and children and pussy-assed captains first." What the fuck with that South Korean ferry?  This guy didn't wait for a minute; he was one of the first to bail, that is, after he took his uniform off so he would look like one of the passengers. He makes that other seafaring weasel, the greaser who jumped out of the Costa Concordia, look like Captain Edward Smith. I'm no battlefield hero, but I gotta say, this has got to be one of the most egregious displays of cowardice in the long history of cowardice.

>>> Still no sign of the plane. They keep looking, but there's not even a seat cushion to be found.

>>> And, finally, one more thought from our friend Rousseau: "While our Creator had made everything good, anything corrupt and depraved has been forged by man; evil is the characteristic outcome of human enterprise, if not always the object of human design."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sage Advice and The Shaving Chronicles, abridged, version 73.

I am in a particularly generous mood today, my fellow Scat-heads, and when I'm in this kind of mood I feel like giving everybody a smattering of good advice. I often talk to my clients about health, fitness or nutrition, but I doubt most of them actually follow any of my suggestions or tips. I once complained to a colleague that I keep doing this over and over, and often to the same people, until I'm blue in the face, so when should I stop? His reply: "Until you're red in the face."

Before I dispense any of this wisdom, I always include the disclaimer that, as a licensed massage therapist, I'm technically not permitted to advise clients on anything outside of my limited scope of practice, but that's never stopped me from trying to enrich their lives with some knowledge that just might lead to a more robust, healthy life.

FOOD JOURNALING: If you are seeking to shed some weight, we all know that you need to eat less, exercise more, and sleep well. For that first item, I remind you that keeping a daily journal of everything you stuff into your pie hole (which, hopefully, does not actually include any actual pie) will almost certainly help you identify what's good and what's bad about your daily intake. I attempt to follow the 80/20 rule, in that 80% of the food and drink I consume is either a whole food, minimally processed, organic whenever possible (or, sensible), and is of high nutritional value, and the 20% is 'marginal', by which I mean, those foods and beverages that are generally nutritious but that might include added ingredients, like sugar, that should be consumed in small quantities.

This simple exercise will clearly illustrate how much of your diet is really not so wholesome and healthy. If you decide to do it, you must not cheat or lie, nor leave anything off the list. Try to document the portion size and/or the weight in ounces, the time at which you consumed each meal or snack (very important!) and the cooking method as well; after all, it makes a difference if you cooked those morning eggs using butter or olive oil and it also matters whether that fish for dinner was deep fried or broiled.

Try it for three or four days, and, again, be as exact as possible. I kept such a journal for two days this past week, even though I'm not attempting to lose (oops, I mean "shed") any weight. To take it one step further, you could calculate the number of total calories as well, but that would take major research and way too much math for this guy. Good luck!

OIL PULLING: I've mentioned this to you Scatters in at least one previous post, but here I go again: First thing in the morning, upon rising from bed, one teaspoon of good quality, unrefined coconut oil into your mouth. Swish (do not gargle) for anywhere from seven to ten minutes (or more, if you wish), then spit it out. The Ayurvedic camp believe it helps to suspend and then eliminate the toxins and germs in your mouth that accumulate overnight. They've been doing it for 5,000 years; I've been doing it for about eight months, and I am happy to report the following findings... my dental hygienist was very happy with the decreased amount of plaque and scale on my teeth at my last cleaning and I have also successfully avoided any full-blown head cold or sinus infection this past fall and winter for the first time in many years. I've done nothing different nor have I added anything to my health regimen other than oil pulling almost every morning. Highly recommended.

AVOID CONFLICT: The current situation in Ukraine is the latest, most notable flare-up in an often violent and dangerous world, but if you read some of the details of the story, it might not be as combustible as the media would have us believe. One of my few trusted news sources is reporting that Russian and Ukrainian soldiers are jointly keeping guard over those military and naval installments in Crimea, they're sipping tea and taking meals together and there's a general sense of cooperation; in other words, these guys really don't want to shoot at each other. Now this isn't to say that we might soon be reading headlines about a breakdown in the stalemate and that Russian soldiers have been ordered to take their fast friends as prisoners, and at gunpoint if necessary, but for now, it's nice to think that people who are at such obvious opposing ends of a serious argument are, for the moment, valuing life over death.

I think we should borrow this lesson and apply it to our personal and business affairs. An impassioned response to a potentially unpleasant situation is not always the best approach. Keep a lid on that snarky email reply to the disagreeable client, friend or family member; let the asshole who's tailgating you on the highway pass, and don't give it a second thought; allow your Facebook friends of friends to offer their opinion, however ignorant and irrelevant it is, on your wall; and, above all, try hard not to take anything personally, as that is the one thing that usually leads to conflict.

*   *   *   *   *   * 

The Shaving Chronicles, abridged, version 73:
I plan on making this installment concerning my never-ending battle with the blade my last, but I can't make any guarantees. Complaining about shaving my beard, after all, has been a hallmark of Tiger Scat almost since its inception, and the traditionalist in me wants to pay due respect to the storied legends that helped build this citadel of knowledge, wit and wisdom.

I am happy to report that joining the Dollar Shaving Club has thus far proven to be a good decision. I have been using the four-blade option, the one they call the "Lover's Blade" and I've yet to suffer one nick on my pretty face in almost two weeks of almost-daily shaving. I do have some complaints: the blade head is pivoting, a feature that I heretofore found useless, as it takes some of the control out of the user's hand. I can't quite seem to get the sharpest line on my sideburns or that troublesome little spot under my nose, but I'm getting accustomed to it. Also, that 'lubricating strip' at the top of the blade head leaves behind a sticky residue on the bathroom vanity counter, that is, if the head is rested on the surface while still wet. I think the solution is to place the shaver handle upright, allowing it to air-dry properly.

These minor quibbles aside, Dollar Shave Club receives high marks. It's costing me $6/month for four cartridges, shipping included; compare that to about $16 for 'the other guys' and it's easy to see why over 350,000 men with hair on their faces have joined up as well. The good folks at DSC urge us to toss out the used cartridge after every week of use. I plan on following their advice, unlike the people to whom I offer advice, as I truly believe that starting out the week with a fresh set of blades will go far in avoiding any conflict.


Now that I've held you captive to read my entire post without navigating away from it, here is the link to Dollar Shaving Club. I've recruited two friends this week, and at least one other is expressing real interest. Shave on!