30 April 2005

may day ruminations

this is your life : the dust brothers
click here to listen
listening time: 3m 31s

do you remember how you ended up doing what you now do for a living?

how different is it from what you wanted to be when you were young?

what happened? what changed?

would you rather be doing something else, or is it too late?

28 April 2005

a playlist : songs to get depressed by

grey : ani difranco
click here to listen
listening time: 5m 22s

it's contrived, i know, and i can afford to say this because i'm looking at this playlist from a safe distance. i'm not depressed, not even sad. but i do tend to revisit this playlist once in a while because of the simple beauty of the songs in it. some of these are love songs, some are not, or at least not overtly so, but they all pine over a certain kind of loss and make for good company when i'm out of endorphins. i come from the let-it-flow school of emotional therapy, and in this school we learn to wallow in our misery by listening to songs that tear our hearts. grey by ani difranco is on the top of my list. what qualifies? the dour acoustic melody comes first, the words of pain are secondary. i have about 40 songs in this playlist. here are some of them, with my favorite lines.
grey : ani difranco
what kind of paradise am i looking for?
i've got everything i want
still i want more
maybe one tiny shiny key
will wash up on the shore

wise up : aimee mann
you're sure there's a cure
and you have finally found it
you think one drink
will shrink you to your underground
and living down
but it's not going to stop

i am : train
am i the son i think i am?
am i the friend i think i am?
am i the man i think i want to be?

have you forgotten : red house painters
when we were kids, we hated things our parents did
we listened low to casey kasem's radio show
that's when friends were nice
to think of them just makes you feel nice
the smell of grass in spring
and october leaves cover everything.
have you forgotten how to love yourself?

why don't you find out for yourself : morrissey
don't rake up my mistakes
i know exactly what they are
and what do you do?
well, you just sit there
i've been stabbed in the back
so many, many times

ghost : indigo girls
and i feel it like a sickness
how this love is killing me
i'd walk into the fingers
of your fire willingly
and dance the edge of sanity
i've never been this close

landslide : smashing pumpkins
oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
can the child within my heart rise above?
can i sail thru the changing ocean tides?
can i handle the seasons of my life?

please please please let me get what i want : the smiths
haven't had a dream in a long time
see, the life i've had
can make a good man bad
boo hoo.

23 April 2005

carry me : nick cave and the bad seeds

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 37s

i decided to post a nick cave song after stumbling upon this striking portrait of the musician by san francisco-based (but soon to be chicagoan) blogging artist eugene smith. based on this photograph, the sketch softens cave's expression, which eugene may have done out of his own interpretation, or by blending it with this other photograph, or both. in any case i think the look in cave's eyes in this sketch very well captures the mood of his music, which can be morose and contemplative, or ironic and humorous, but often angry and always deadly serious.

click on the image to see it in its original size. cave is the kind of songwriter who tends to intellectualize too much. in a lecture on love songs at the vienna poetry festival in 1998, he said:
The love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them...The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.
and you can see how much he believes in this even from one of his seemingly more uplifting songs, into my arms, which also has one of my favorite first lines ever ("i don't believe in an interventionist god"):
And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
what's so sad about it? it could just be me, but listening to it, i imagine him singing to a woman on the verge of death. he is sitting next to her lying unconscious in a hospital bed. there is a wooden cross on the wall against the headboard, and wilting lilacs in a glass vase on the bedside table. he holds her hand, brings it to his lips, and cries. death is in fact a recurring theme in cave's songs; he even wrote one in the first person about a murderer set to be executed in an electric chair. i'm posting a different song because lyrically carry me, which comes from his new double album abattoir blues / the lyre of orpheus, disturbs me the most. here is a man in a dilemma over two unrewarding choices, choices that may lead him to do something harmful, to himself and to someone he loves. he refuses to take action and instead waits for a sign. it's deeply spiritual, which you can tell from its churchlike chorus. listen to it, read the lyrics here, and tell me what you think.

thanks to eugene for letting me post the sketch.

21 April 2005

two songs : sondre lerche and blur

all luck ran out : sondre lerche
click here to listen
listening time: 3m 51s
coffee & tv : blur
click here to listen
listening time: 5m 19s

i've had these songs in my ipod for ages but i never really noticed the similarity until today, when my ipod, which is always in shuffle mode, played one after the other in the order above. i'd always thought there was something familiar about all luck ran out by sondre lerche (who incidentally is from bergen, norway like the kings of convenience below). i just never paused to think hard enough to tell what it is exactly. well now i know, and it's funny it took me so long because i love coffee & tv, especially the video. you remember this, dont you?

well you should, and if you haven't seen it yet, then leave this blog and google it now. it's one of my all-time favorite videos. but i digress.

i think sondre lerche was barely 20 when i bought his debut cd, faces down, and i thought good god, what would this guy be capable of when he's 30? and i mean that in a good way -- just think about all the crap that male poseurs of his age are excereting these days. sondre's voice is so engaging yet he uses it so effortlessly. his songs start off easy on the ear and end on rather disturbing notes. all luck ran out isn't a good example of that because it's pretty linear, but it nonetheless has an addictive rhythm to it.

which he may nor may not have borrowed from blur's coffee & tv. the pace, the rhythm...i think sondre only played it a couple of keys higher. you can almost interchange the guitars on both songs and still come up with nearly the same output. i googled and found two other people who thought the same, though i can't be sure, because one wrote in italian, the other in norwegian. are we tone deaf?

18 April 2005

misread : kings of convenience

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 08s

they're launch.com's one to watch, and i'm nonplussed. i've been hooked on kings of convenience since their first single toxic girl started appearing in indie album compilations about four years ago. they're a rare breed in an artform that's populated with fluff, and i wanted them to remain unknown. i wanted them to remain mine, but i guess that's wishing too far. now that the norwegian duo of erlend oye and eirik glambek boe have been noticed, i only wish they don't fall into ringtone hell.

this song is the first single from their second album, riot on an empty street, which builds on the brilliance of their debut, quiet is the new loud. their music is all vocal harmony and guitars, and this minimalism has led to comparisons with folk legends simon & garfunkel. of course, that's just the easy route the music press has taken to break them into the market. there's really no better way to describe them than a breath of fresh air.

16 April 2005

this is why you should never buy pirated cd's

you just don't get what you pay for!

only in hong kong, people. in case you're too young to get it, that dude above is country singer kenny rogers, who looks about as dangerous as a geriatric cat. the one below is the real kenny loggins, who seems to age gracefully. the songs in the album are by loggins.

this takes the comedy in buying pirated stuff to a whole new level. prior to this i would often find typo errors and misspellings in artist names and song titles. it's more common in movie dvd's. i've seen ahale berry and russell crowr. and i've also seen pirated dvd movies with subtitles from another movie!

13 April 2005

missing : beck

click here to listen
listening time: 4m 43s

this is my favorite track from guero, the new album by beck, the 90s pop rock slacker poster child. guero is a great album, and as far as i'm concerned it's at par with his delicious odelay from 1996. inevitably that's the album guero has been most compared to, since they best showcase how beck can swing from one genre to the next (plus the collaboration with the dust brothers). he does so while maintainting a sound that's uniquely his own, not least owing to his voice. beck drags his voice than sings with it, and it works from the hopping hell yes -- which has a catchy bass line layered with scratches, harmonica, and awkward female ad libs -- to the melancholic broken drum, which sounds like it should be in sea change, beck's last album from 2002.

and then there's missing. listen carefully to his vocals here and you'll find that it's full and assured, a departure from the lazy warbling beck has charmed us with since mellow gold's loser. he showed nearly this much confidence in sea change, a collection of funereal acoustic ballads, notably in the track end of the day. his voice in missing is jarring, almost depressive, and he couldn't have done it better for this song, which itself is mature in its acceptance of loss in spite of continued yearning. it's not contradictory; it's honest and universal.
i prayed heaven today would bring its hammer down on me
and pound you out of my head
i can't think with you in it...

something always takes the place of missing pieces
you can take and put together even though
you know there's something missing...

she rides in a car like a queen on a card
and the guns of her mind aim a line
straight at mine to a heart that was broke

complete lyrics here
if missing is a taste of things to come from beck, then his best work is yet ahead of him.

12 April 2005

why do i care about this?

if you've logged off from a session with yahoo in the last few days you've probably seen it. for a split second i thought wow, eminem's looking sharp. but something wasn't quite right and i had to rub my eyes to see if i read the name right. it's rob thomas, vocalist of matchbox twenty, sans the shaggy hair. and look at the sculpted arching brow and the white pearl earring!

i watched the video of the single lonely no more, from his first solo album something to be, and the similarity ends. but what's this -- rob shimmying in skin-tight pants? don't get me wrong, i like rob thomas. i liked him from his band's debut to his collaboration with santana in smooth. but lately he's becoming a bit of a pussy. lonely no more, catchy as it is, is devoid of the introspection of every song in yourself or someone like you and even mad season. oh well. so what if he wants to attract a larger audience (and with his makeover that probably means preteen girls). nothing wrong with that. and if my nieces ask me how old i am, i can just say, i'm younger than rob thomas and eminem!

10 April 2005

back from europe

been away for over two weeks and i still feel it was too short. not that i didn't enjoy the trip; i did immensely. but the truth is, significant other and i probably crammed too many places in one trip that except for one, we felt bad having to leave each place just as we were getting warmed up. at least i did. all told, we went to six major european destinations in 17 days, including a couple of day trips. it's the curse of the corporate holiday handout. you can only take so many holidays a year, you feel like you need to make the most of it. so you end up planning to go to many different places in a short span of time, you end up taking in not enough of them. of course we could have chosen to stay longer in one or two cities, but it's the curiosity, you know, made more easily doable by the convenience of train travel. and hell if it wasn't fun! here's what we did:

venice. three full days, which means excluding the days we arrive and leave. i fell in love the night we arrived, even if it meant hauling our luggages through three tall, stepped bridges from the bus station. venice's innate charm springs at you the moment you see and smell its canals. walking its cobbled streets and crossing its arched bridges are just as fun as taking the water buses that run the stretch of the grand canal, which truly lives up to its name, not least due to the characterful facades of the buildings on both sides. since venice is one of significant other's dream destinations, and we were there in time for her birthday, we took the expensive gondola ride. twice. yes, our gondoliers did burst into song, and no, neither sang o sole mio. but even in broad daylight, the ride upholds its reputation for being romantic, especially when you enter the quiet tiny canals. and i don't care if we, like other googly-eyed gondola riders, became the subject of camera-toting tourists taking pictures from bridges, it was worth it. here's what it looked like, but the couple below isn't us. i'd never look quite as good wearing a straw hat with a red ribbon.

day trip to verona. i'm sure verona is a fine city, but can i help it if i felt that its top attraction, casa di giulietta, is a rip-off? it's the verona government's unimaginative interpretation of juliet's house, with the famous balcony that romeo stealthily climbed up to as its highlight. for ordinary folk, the building as a residence may impress, but shakespeare would probably cringe if he saw it. if you ever decide to pay juliet a visit, you'll do better than spend 4 euros to get inside her house. just stay outside and read visitors' love notes in different languages, pasted all over the walls of the courtyard, or take snapshots of male tourists rubbing the right breast of juliet's bronze statue, supposedly for good luck in love, which this overzealous dude probably needs:

florence. three full days is clearly not enough to absorb the art and architecture of this gem of a place. and yet, for some reason, it's easy enough to get bored here. it's small, and every corner or square looks like the one you've just been. oddly, the same can be said of venice, but venice never for a moment loses its charm, perhaps because the changing colors of the old buildings and reflections on the canals under the sun give you a different perspective each time you cast a glance at them. of course, florence more than makes up for this with its artistic treasures. two of the obvious highlights are the uffizi, which houses the ethereal the birth of venus and galleria dell'accademia which houses michelangelo's sensual rendition of david. picture-taking isn't allowed in both museums, so if you want to immortalize david in your photo album, you'll have to settle for a good reproduction of it in front of the palazzo vecchio at the piazza della signora. let's cut to the (uncut) chase, shall we:

day trip to pisa. there weren't as many tourists here as i feared, but even if there were, that surely wouldn't have lessened my appreciation of this place. yes, we went straight to the leaning tower, which is actually a bell tower that accompanies the cathedral and baptistry next to it. (apparently, most cathedrals in europe combine all three in one structure, but the italians like to do things differently. the duomo, the cathedral in florence with the famous dome, is another example.) all are magnificent structures in marble, but pale in comparison to the taj mahal which i've already rhapsodized about somewhere below. a curious structure -- it leans about 4.5 meters from the top because of the soft soil underneath -- the leaning tower brings out the silly in us. while most would pose as if they were pushing the tower up, this guy does it a bit differently:

rome, one full day. we've been in 2002, but we had to fly out of rome to get to amsterdam anyway (long story) so we thought we'd spend a couple of days there. it turned out to be fortuitous, because we arrived on the day the pope passed away, and we were able to hear the mass in his honor at st. peter's square the following day. i'm not a catholic, nor religious, but being there and seeing the outpouring of respect for a great man proved emotional for me too. frankly, it made me rethink of the reasons i converted away from catholicism, and although in the end my convictions against it as enforced by pope john paul didn't change, being able to reflect was an enriching experience.

amsterdam. three full days, and definitely worth coming back to. we arrived very late at night, and the morning we stepped out of the hotel, took the tram, and crossed the park leading to the van gogh museum, and nearly got run over by a bike, i said to myself, i can live here. that's always been one of my measures whether i like a place or not, and i'll do anything to move to amsterdam. it's pleasant, it's pictureseque, the people are straightforward and friendly, there is diversity among the people and in effect the cuisine, and i love the fact that bicycles like the one below rule the road. forget the red light district and the accessibility of marijuana, you can get your high for free walking alongside the canals, or very cheaply (29.95 euros a year) appreciating its museums. i'm happy the start and the end of our trip were also its highlights.

we stayed at bed-and-breakfasts during the whole trip, and i recommend every one of them. in venice, we stayed at albergo marin, which is kept spotlessly clean by its friendly owner, gabriele. they also serve perfect cappuccinos. albergo marin is located in the santa croce district, which is far from the main attraction of st. mark's square, but i like it because being away made us explore the areas that receive less tourist attention, yet we remained very close to the waterbus and train stations. in florence, luigi hosted us in his small and homey althea rooms, located in the quiet santo spirito district. it's tucked away from the noise of the historical district, yet only 10 minutes or less by foot from piazza della signora. there are also a couple of good places to eat in the santo spirito square. osteria santo spirito is delightfully innovative, and cafe ricci is frequented by friendly locals. in rome, 58 via cavour is probably worth less than the amount it charged us, but again the location is tops, somewhere in between the colosseum and the spanish steps, and a two-minute walk from the termini station. in amsterdam, hotel washington made for a convenient stay in the museum quarter. our room was huge, the bathroom was impressive, and it was good to listen to english tv programming again after nearly two weeks of nothing but italian.

next project: summer break. last year i trekked in the ruwenzoris of uganda and 'did kili' (reached the summit of kilimanjaro) in tanzania. i haven't any plans yet this year.

where are you going next?