Wanderings Blog

Best Albums of 2006

  1. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
    Carissa’s Wierd may have died but luckily the band did not; in fact, they brought us the best album of the year. Thank you, my Seattle brethren.
    • One great track: “The Great Salt Lake”

  2. Mew – And the Glass Handed Kites
    Mew quite simply rock.
    • One great track: “Apocalypso”

  3. The Submarines – Declare a New State!
    Here is proof that, against all odds, LA can foster some lovely, unforgettable music. The boy-girl pair calling themselves The Submarines combine the sweet harmonies of Stars plus the sweet harmonies of Weezer.
    • One great track: “Clouds”

  4. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
    Anthems of adolescence sung with conviction. I suspect that anyone who grew up in America, anywhere, ever, can relate.
    • One great track: “You Can Make Him Like You”

  5. Lily Allen – Alright, Still
    With her gritty, colloquial British lyrics, Lily is the new female Streets. She definitely deserves all the attention.
    • One great track: “Friday Night”

  6. Early Day Miners – Offshore
    My favorite EDM song, reinterpreted and extended to album length. What’s not to love?
    • One great track: “Hymn Beneath the Palisades”

  7. David Bazan – Fewer Moving Parts
    Anyone who does Q&A sessions at his shows is pretty much a genius.
    • One great track: “Cold Beer and Cigarettes (The Devil Is Beating His Wife) (Acoustic)”

  8. Annuals – Be He Me
    The mastermind behind this concept record is maybe a little too pretentious and complicated (as in the kind that elicits comments like “Wow, you’re really complicated.”) but the product has a surprising number of high points.
    • One great track: “Brother”

  9. Halou – Wholeness and Separation
    Do you remember the miserable failure that is Garbage? Halou has stepped in to fill the void. Think of them as Garbage 3.0. Ha.
    • One great track: “Stonefruit”

  10. VA – Dolemite Soundtrack
    One might claim it’s cheating to tack this here on the end of the list, but it’s my list and I make the rules. Plus, 2006 marked the first time this classic soundtrack was made available on CD.
    • One great track: “Creeper”

Tower of Power

This is Smith Tower. Once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, it is now dwarfed by the newer buildings making up Seattle’s contemporary skyline. But Smith Tower still inspires respect, awe and mystery, due in large part to its architectural details, such as the glowing sphere perched atop its spire, a globe whose color shifts in concert with some unknown cue (or otherworldly force). A mysterious, wealthy benefactor of the arts lives in the pyramidal apartment just below this sphere, but little is known about this person. Of course, theories and speculations abound. To me there is no mystery. To me it is obvious that the Smith Tower Penthouse is occupied by a Superhero. Think of it; who else but a Superhero would live in the attic of a skyscraper? Why else but as a Superhero signaling mechanism would the Smith Tower globe change color? And could the penthouse’s large Gothic windows be any more convenient for flying out of? It’s easy to imagine a Superhero, dressed in Superhero finery, spending his or her sleepless nights crouched inside the globe, waiting and watching…

(Photo by Flickr user ChrisB in SEA.)

Letter to Cat Power

I sent this letter to Cat Power on March 1, 2003, care of her record company. I never received a response.

Dear Chan,

My name is Nathan and I am writing to propose marriage. I admit that this is an uncommon and unexpected question, simply because we have never met. However, I suspect you will agree that the merits of my proposal outweigh any arguments against. You and I have every prospect for a happy life together.

  • I enjoy traveling, which seems convenient given your lifestyle.
  • I have a college education and a lucrative career in computing, which may be a useful financial supplement to your music income.
  • I would make a good father due to my friendly, childlike personality.
  • As an Irish-American with reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes, I would bring an element of genetic variation to our progeny.
  • I am a safe driver.
  • I own two of your albums which are entitled “Moon Pix” & “You Are Free.”
  • There are a number of useful tasks I can perform around the house, such as cleaning, simple food preparation, and yard work. In addition I am quite tidy.
  • Lest you think I am overly domestic, I would also note that I enjoy mountain biking and caving.
  • If you ever want to retire to the Irish or French countryside, my citizenship in the European Union will be invaluable in achieving this.

These are just a few of the reasons why I’d make an excellent husband. And, in case you doubt my sincerity, may I point out that I have never proposed to anyone before, in person or in writing. I can understand that you might prefer to get to know me before the wedding; perhaps we can arrange to meet for dinner at the restaurant of your choice. So, please consider my suggestion and let me know what your decision is.


My First Meme

It’s time for a meme. Here’s one I really like: comfort games. This is based on the observation that, for some people, playing certain video games is a good way to relax and unwind. Although I don’t play very many video games myself, I can totally relate to this idea. There’s just nothing that quite matches the feeling of playing a fun, classic game. It really can be therapeutic.

My top 5 comfort games:

  1. Snow Bros.
  2. Unreal Tournament 2003
  3. Mario Kart 64
  4. Dig Dug
  5. The Faery Tale Adventure (Amiga)

Yes, my #1 comfort game is an early-nineties Bubble Bobble derivative. At least its premise is a little more believable than dinosaurs blowing bubbles; in Snow Bros., animated snowmen roll boulder-sized balls of snow around the screen. It’s madness, and it’s genius.

Döner ist Wunderbar

Last week I spent a few days exploring Berlin, a unique and amazing city. I think much of the character it exudes stems from the extreme changes it has faced during the past century. The city center was all but destroyed during World War II, then rebuilt separately by the Allies and the Axis according to two wholly distinct philosophies. After the end of the Wende reunited East and West Berlin in 1989 the city began to coalesce once again, but the personalities of the two halves remain highly evident today. East Berlin is still full of vacant lots, piles of rubble, and graffiti. There is a lot of building and rebuilding going on everywhere one looks, resulting in a level of gentrification which I suspect is unsettling to many longtime East Berliners. By contrast, West Berlin is more tame, more “westernized” and therefore quite a lot less interesting.

One of my goals for the visit was to explore the many museums on offer — there are over 70 state-owned museums in Berlin and countless private ones too. That may sound like an obscene number of museums and, in truth, it is, especially if one has only four days to tackle the challenge. I got around to just a handful of them: the Pergamonmuseum, the Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Gemäldegalerie. (Also in the museum-ish category is Schloss Charlottenburg, King Frederick III’s giant baroque castle, which I toured.) Unfortunately the permanent collections of the Ägyptisches Museum, Museum Berggruen and the Neue Nationalgalerie were all unavailable during my visit, or I undoubtedly would have added them all to my roster.

But Berlin is not just about museums. It’s also about the best street food ever: the döner kebab, a Turkish-inspired concoction of sliced meat bits, salad, and garlicky yogurt sauce, all stuffed into a toasted triangle of thin bread. All in all, a lovely invention. I happily ate döner almost every night, but the best one I found was at Pergamon Bistro in the Friedrichstraße train station. I also tried Currywurst (sausage with curry sauce), Apfelsaftschorle (a mixture of apple juice and soda water), and some random confectioneries. I enjoyed huge carb-laden German breakfasts every morning. And of course I couldn’t resist trying a selection of local beers such as the ultra-cheap and quite decent Berliner Pilsner, and the green variety of Berliner Weisse, which is singularly weird.

Anyway, I took some photos, which are now online, complete with pithy and uninformative descriptions. Enjoy.

Day 1 – Unter den Linden, Alexanderplatz

Day 2 – Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz, Holocaust Memorial

Day 3 – Museuminsel

Day 4 – Charlottenburg

Ethnography in Berlin

Tonight I went out to an “Indie Pop” show at Berlin’s Mudd Club, a tiny place with the feel of a wine cellar; it was underground, with brick columns interspersed and low, vaulted ceilings. It also featured a pitch dark corridor leading off to who-knows-where (actually, in retrospect, it probably led to the bathrooms).

UK band Amusement Parks on Fire headlined. Needless to say, the show was excellent, but since I had nobody to talk to, I took on the role of resident American ethnographer. My observations follow. It’s all quite scientific.

  • Estimated total numbers of attendees: 175.
  • Percentage of which female: 10.
  • Percentage of which smokers: 40.
  • Number of chain smokers standing right next to me: 2.
  • Percentage of audience members dancing: 0.
  • Percentage of audience members nodding heads: 30.
  • Percentage of audience members standing stock still: 70.
  • Number of times I had variations of the thought, “Hey, they’re just like us!”: 3.
  • Number of couples observed making out: 4.
  • Ratio of words spoken by me in German and in English: 11:0.
  • Ratio of words spoken to me in German and in English: 1:7.
  • Minimum number of prostitutes encountered on the 10-minute walk along Oranienburger Straße back to my room: 6.
  • Number of Death Cab for Cutie songs heard during that journey: 1.
  • Overall fun rating of the evening, expressed as number, with 1 representing the least amount of fun and 5 the most: 4.

Octavia, Octavia

I’ve been a little depressed ever since I heard about the sudden, untimely death of local science-fiction author and “genius” Octavia Estelle Butler last Sunday. On a whim, I attended a reading by Octavia Butler at the UW Bookstore a few months ago and was struck by her sonorous voice and wise presence. I’d never read any of her books, so whilst waiting in the book-signing line I was forced to come up with some other topic of conversation. As she scrawled an autograph on the title page of my 5-minute-old copy of “Lilith’s Brood” we had the following exchange.

Me: So what’s your favorite local bookstore?
Butler: I usually go to Third Place.
Me: Oh, on 65th?
Butler: The one in Bothell. It’s just down the street from my house.
Me: I haven’t been to that one.
Butler: It’s nice.

Unfortunately, as of last weekend I still hadn’t got around to reading any of her works, so on Sunday I immediately started on that signed copy of the “Lilith’s Brood” trilogy. It’s one of the most engaging sci-fi novels I’ve read — right up there with “Ender’s Game” (but not written by a raving lunatic). Ms. Butler had an utterly unique vision and the talent of a clear storytelling voice which which to share that vision. The calibre of her writing was very much welcome in a genre where such quality can be hard to come by. What’s especially sad is that, at the age of 58, Octavia Butler surely had a few more of these wonderful novels in her still.

To me, thinking about the loss of Octavia Butler, it feels somewhat like the breakup of The Pixies back in the early nineties just as I was discovering their music. But in this case, there’s no possibility of a reunion tour fifteen years later.

Rarest Tapioca

One of BoingBoing’s memes for this week has been anagram transit maps — hilarious, to be sure, but here in Seattle we have no subways, no metro, and certainly no monorail. So while I felt slightly inspired to anagrammize a transit map for my own beloved city, that just didn’t seem possible. Enter Metroblogging Seattle with the answer: remix Sound Transit’s planned light rail route! And so I did. (Click for the full-size image.)

Best Overlooked Album of 2005

  1. Youth Group – Skeleton Jar
    I heard Youth Group for the first time less than two weeks ago, but they’re good enough to merit a special post of their very own. Sounding like James with a little Built to Spill and Coldplay thrown in, then mixed with a dash of U2, Youth Group feels familiar and comfortable to my ears. But they’re not derivative. Just awesome.
    • One great track: “Shadowland”