A Life Well Wasted

Sometimes my nerdiness takes over and I end up doing the darnedest things. Today I finished a project, the results of which are pictured above. Yes, I painstakingly (and rather expensively) constructed this pixel art tribute to my favorite retro arcade game, Snow Bros, out of 285 LEGO bricks in nine colors. It stands 10″ tall. Why did I do this? Nerdiness.

Best Albums of 2008

  1. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    I adore this album. Its soaring lightness combines with simple earthbound beats, and the result is certainly their happiest and most perfect work yet. Seeing Sigur Rós live for the first time — finally — at Benaroya Hall earlier this year cemented my opinion that they are one of the best bands ever.
    • One great track: “Við spilum endalaust”

  2. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
    I guess I didn’t realize that the hype swirling around West for a couple of years now was actually deserved. I started listening to Graduation shortly before 808s came out and was hooked immediately. 808s is completely different and completely genius.
    • One great track: “RoboCop”

  3. The Knees – Sexual Radio
    This is some of the catchiest music I’ve heard in a long time. Imagine Liz Phair fronting Weezer and somehow in the process creating some very, very infectious songs that you’ll be singing in the shower for days.
    • One great track: “Sick of Being Stoned “

  4. The Teenagers – Reality Check
    A surprisingly good, if sophomoric, pop album. Unfortunately I’m 100% certain that we’ll never hear anything from The Teenagers again (or at least not anything worth listening to).
    • One great track: “Love No”

  5. M83 – Saturdays = Youth
    Oh, my. It’s so beautiful.
    • One great track: “Graveyard Girl”

  6. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
    Where else are you going to hear Kelly Clarkson, Nine Inch Nails, MC Hammer, Elvis Costello, Shawty Lo, Rick Springfield, Chris Brown, and Nelly Furtado — all on the same track? This is a man who can do a proper mash-up.
    • One great track: “Here’s the Thing”

  7. The Grand Archives – The Grand Archives
    I am just so pleased that Carissa’s Wierd continues in these various new forms (see also: Band of Horses).
    • One great track: “Sleepdriving”

  8. The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me
    The Notwist have definitely not produced an album to rival or even match 2002’s Neon Golden, but this is still a really strong offering. I’ll take it.
    • One great track: “The Devil, You + Me”

  9. Black Kids – Partie Traumatic
    Merits? A consistently good album with one obvious standout track, but also, they get props for an sincerely fun a-cappella performance at Easy Street Records.
    • One great track: “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You”

  10. The Cure – 4:13 Dream
    Yay! It doesn’t suck!
    • One great track: “Underneath the Stars”

Best Albums of 2007

  1. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
    Six more tracks of epic instrumental post-rock from these highly consistent Texans.
    • One great track: “Welcome, Ghosts”

  2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
    Their sophomore effort wasn’t nearly as disappointing as I feared it would be.
    • One great track: “Keep the Car Running”

  3. Blue Scholars – Bayani
    The best hip-hop duo in the Northwest (and possibly the best anywhere).
    • One great track: “Back Home”

  4. Maps – We Can Create
    Hard to describe but easy to appreciate.
    • One great track: “So Low So High”

  5. Coconut Records – Nighttiming
    If these songs weren’t so dang catchy, I’d happily hate Jason Schwartzman’s self-indulgent new project.
    • One great track: “West Coast”

  6. Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses
    • One great track: “I Am an Excellent Steel Horse”

  7. Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War
    I think the best of their creative juice has been depleted, but Stars can still write a dulcet tune.
    • One great track: “The Night Starts Here”

  8. Maserati – Inventions for the New Season
    Yummy, psychedelic experimental rock.
    • One great track: “Synchronicity IV”

  9. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
    More of the same, but that’s okay.
    • One great track: “Ode to LRC”

  10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
    How much did you pay for it?
    • One great track: “House of Cards”

Death of a Murderer

Rupert Thomson’s eighth novel, Death of a Murderer, is something of a departure from his earlier work. Previously Thomson has preferred to set his stories in blurred, dreamlike alternate realities such as Moon Beach, the pseudo-Los Angeles of The Five Gates of Hell whose economy is based on funerals, or the nameless European city where The Insult‘s protagonist finds himself unable to see except, paradoxically, at night. It is Thomson’s skill in treading the line between realistic fiction and outright fantasy — never fully crossing into either territory but always staying within spitting distance — which has earned Thomson the respect and adoration of me and many other readers.

Odd, then, that he’s decided to set his latest novel in a recognizable modern-day England, complete with accurate descriptions of existing roads and highways as well as a cast of characters that can only be described as normal. And, of course, the premise of the story itself is firmly based in reality, inspired as it was by the death of the infamous killer Myra Hindley in 2002. After Hindley’s death, her corpse was placed under 24-hour police protection until the funeral, such was the vitriol of the UK public’s hatred of the woman.

In Death of a Murderer, Thomson imagines what it may have been like to be one of those constables, sitting alone in a hospital morgue with the body of a serial murderer. Sounds creepy, right? We are introduced to Billy Tyler just as he’s being offered overtime pay to do the hapless job. Billy accepts, feeling a mixture of dread and curiosity, and for the bulk of the novel we are treated to a kind of psychological case study of Billy’s reaction to the situation. In the presence of the killer’s body (Thomson never actually mentions Myra Hindley by name) he cannot help but recall certain episodes from his own past, sometimes dredging up memories directly related to the murders and at other times addressing Billy’s lingering doubts about his own moral worth.

The macabre, fascinating subject matter, paired with Thomson’s trademark precise but evocative writing style, makes for a very good read. One reason why this book works so well is that creepiness just exudes from nearly every page. There is a pervasive undertone of death and sadism throughout the book, which is quite obvious at times, as in the passages describing the killers, but more often manifests itself on a smaller, more personal level as Billy explores his past, his feelings about his family, and the recesses of his psyche. Some readers might find the ending unsatisfactory; although we’ve followed Billy into some very dark places, learning quite a bit about him along the way, as he exits the morgue at the book’s conclusion it’s unclear what, if anything, he’ll do next. But I think with Death of a Murderer Thomson has really succeeded in creating a memorable and evocative case study contrasting the dark deeds of a serial killer with those of a simple everyman. I highly recommend this novel.

Sun Whitebox

My coworker and I toured Sun’s experimental Blackbox when it stopped by UW earlier this week, just for giggles (we run a fairly small shop, so we’ll never need one of these things). Ars Technica did a nice job on their writeup of the tour, but here are my own observations about this product.

  1. Project Blackbox only includes the shipping container full of racks and related infrastructure. No cooling, nor electrical generator, is included. This makes the product significantly less exciting (to me). Imagine if this system was completely self contained — just plop the container down in the jungle and it can run independently for a week on diesel or something — now that’d be awesome. Sun’s reps did, however, say that they have partnered with vendors for chillers and generators, so they can at least help you get everything needed to run one of these things.
  2. The way they cool these racks of equipment is pretty unique and clever. The eight racks are arranged in two lines along the sides of the container, back-to-front, kind of like lines of marching ants. There are no cold aisles or hot aisles; the (cold) front of one rack abuts on the (hot) rear of the next rack, with a condenser/fan assembly in between to chill the air and keep it moving. When the system is sealed by closing the doors at each end of the container, airflow takes a circular route around the perimeter, getting cooled at eight points along the way to keep each rack at optimum temperature.
  3. The guy giving tours was Conan O’Brien’s miniature doppelganger. But he was not hilarious.

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”

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.

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”


While watching old Seinfeld reruns tonight, I was struck by the realization that the simple addition of just one now-ubiquitous technology would ruin the plot of many a classic episode. The technology I speak of is, of course, the cell phone. If Jerry, George and Kramer all had mobiles in their pockets, wouldn’t it have been easy to find each other in L.A. and avoid a crazy situation (“The Trip”)? We take our phones for granted here in The FutureTM, even as we depend upon them every day to keep us out of trouble. Luckily, the characters on the show did not have access to cell phones, because the following reinterpreted plotlines lack that certain Seinfeldian something…

  • “Bubble Boy” – Lost track of the car you’re following? Forgot to bring a copy of the directions to your destination? No problem! Just call your friend on his cell!
  • “The Old Man” – Where’d that old bastard get to? Oh, wait; silly me! I’ll just give him a ring!
  • “The Parking Garage” – Well, we’re idiots. We lost the car in this huge parking garage. I guess we’ll just split up, and whoever finds it first will call everyone else. That’ll work!
  • “The Outing” – I’m supposed to meet a reporter for an interview at the coffee shop, but this is made difficult by the fact that I don’t know what she looks like. Good thing she’s got my cell number!
  • “The Caddy” – Why is my employee’s crashed car abandoned in the parking lot? Is he okay? I’m so worried! I’ll call his cell phone!
  • “The Airport” – So which airport are you flying into now? Okay, see you there!
  • “The Secretary” – Hello, Uma Thurman! What’s your number? I’ll just program that into my phone. Talk to you soon!