Tuesday, November 30, 2010

11. WTF with Marc Maron

At the moment, we have 1747 unlistened-to podcast episodes waiting for us in iTunes. It would take over 50 days of listening (24 hrs/day, 7 days/wk) to hear them all. We need to prioritize, to put our ducks in a row. For the past several months, WTF with Marc Maron has been one of our favourite podcasts. It took us a while to warm to Marc's intense, personal monologues that open each episode. (Idea for a drinking game: Imbibe every time Maron says "What's wrong with me?!") We also didn't initially love his tendency to focus on himself during interviews. Now we can see that by talking about himself Maron (inadvertently or not) encourages his guests to talk about themselves -- and it works.

How we discovered WTF with Marc Maron:
We don't remember. Maybe it was through The Sound of Young America (still probably our very favourite podcast). Maybe it was an interview Maron did with the Onion's AV Club.

Why WTF is worth a listen:
If you like comedy -- particularly stand-up comedy -- you'll like WTF. (The lion's share of Maron's guests are comedians.) If you don't like comedy, you might still like the show. No promises, though.

Maron has been a stand-up comic for about 20 years, so the dynamic when he's interviewing another comedian is unique. It's essentially a conversation between peers. The fact that he's willing to talk about his insecurities and flaws often means that his guests do the same. It's particularly interesting when he has a guest on the show who he's known for a long time. His two-hour chat with Louis C.K. -- who was once Maron's roommate -- was fascinating. They had been good friends, then some shit came between them -- Maron was jealous of Louis' success, Louis felt that Maron had not been there for him when his marriage ended and his TV show Lucky Louie was cancelled, etc. -- and they talked quite openly about this shit on the air.

To our ears, WTF has one of the best hosts out there, features fantastic guests, and is updated with surprising regularity (hour-long episodes are generally uploaded twice a week).

Here's the first part of his interview with Louis CK:

Recommended viewing:
Obviously, we've been really into stand-up comedy lately. Here are two really good documentaries about stand-up we can recommend:
  1. Comedian follows Jerry Seinfeld as he develops a new stand-up routine after being away from it for many years. We're not the hugest fan of Seinfeld (the comedian or the TV show), but the documentary is great and really illuminates the process of developing a set.
  2. I Am Comic. The director talks to a bunch of different comedians (e.g., Andy Kindler, Jim Gaffigan, Dana Gould, Rosanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, etc.) about the business and the art of stand-up comedy. Great stuff.

Another delay

Clearly, we've been neglecting this blog. Heck, we've even changed its name from from Enthusiasm of the Week to Enthusiasm of the Moment to more accurately reflect how frequently [sic] we add new posts.

The original idea was to write a post a week for a year. 52 posts in 52 weeks. So far, we've added 10 posts in about 68 weeks. It's kinda like that poem "The Shadow People" by Auden: "This is the way the world ends, world ends, world ends / Not with a flood but a trickle." (If we're not mistaken, that poem might be where the band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet found inspiration for its name. We particularly like the SMoaSP album Dogs Go On With Their Doggy Life.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

10. The Octopus Project

We're going to hypothesize. And this is our hypothesis: Many people have a 10-15 year window when they care intensely about music. At some point, they lose that initial vigour. They still like music, but they don't love it quite as much. At least, we've noticed this tendency in ourselves and many of our friends.

Which brings us to the Octopus Project, the most exciting band we've discovered in the past few years. At first, its music -- being mainly instrumental -- was the perfect sonic accompaniment for reading on long commutes around Metro Vancouver. (We were shuttling between Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, Vancouver, and West Vancouver). Before long, we were playing Octopus Project on a daily basis.

How we discovered the Octopus Project:
Wiley Wiggins' blog may have been the first place that we heard about the band. He is friends with some members, and he was playing keyboards for the Diagonals, who opened for the OP on a brief tour. (By the way, the Diagonals have a few catchy tunes of their own. Our favourite song of theirs is "Clones," which has a creepy, grin-inducing video.)

Why the Octopus Project is worth listening to:
There are plenty of adjectives that we could use to describe the band's music (e.g., whimsical, poppy, electronic, circuit bending, ethereal). But we'll try to avoid using too many vague descriptors. The Octopus Project creates music for all ages and situations. You have guests coming over? Cue up some OP! Need an aural pick-me-up? Give OP a shot! The Octopus Project could be the musical guest on a children's show in the morning (they could even bring some fantastic, kid-friendly props!), set toes tapping at a retirement home in the afternoon, and rock your city's coolest club in the evening.

Where to start:
One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (2005)
Hello, Avalanche (2007)

The albums:

If you want a quick taste of the Octopus Project, we'd recommend downloading (for free and legally! with good sound quality, no less!) the group's four song Daytrotter session. If you don't like the Daytrotter songs, you won't like the Octopus Project. If you want to hear more of this Austin-based band, you should get One Ten Hundred Thousand Million next. Follow that up with Hello, Avalanche.

It's difficult for us to compare the Octopus Project's albums. They're of a piece, but they have different flavours. You'll hear some keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums. You'll also hear some thermin, samples, and glockenspiel. Some of the songs are rhythmic and some are atmospheric.

Rather than describe the music, I'm just going to include a batch of videos. Luckily, the Octopus Project tends to have stellar videos.

"Exit Counslor" (from One Ten Hundred Thousand Million):

"Music is Happiness" (from One Ten Hundred Thousand Million)

"I Saw the Bright Shinies" (from Hello, Avalanche) [Our favourite video of the past couple years!]

"An Evening with Rthrtha" (from Hello, Avalanche)

"Truck" (from Hello, Avalanche)

"Wet Gold" (from Golden Beds EP)

After listening to these two albums, you'll (likely) want to delve into the rest of the Octopus Project's catalogue. Enjoy. (The group has a song called "Music is Happiness" for a good reason.)

Other listening/viewing:

Earlier this year, the Octopus Project played two free shows in a tent set up in the parking lot of a Whole Foods in Austin. It looks like it was an unbelievable event.

Here is the commercial for the shows:

... and some live footage:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

9. Breaking Bad

At the moment, we're only watching one fictional TV series on a weekly basis: Breaking Bad. (We're also watching the reality show Top Chef Masters.)

How we discovered Breaking Bad:
Even though we've been watching Mad Men (also on AMC) for quite a while now, we only gave Breaking Bad a chance earlier this year. It might have been shortly after Onion A.V. Club began releasing its "Best of the decade" lists. (We're very fond of best-of lists.) Breaking Bad was #6 on the list of Best TV series of the '00s. (We were familiar with most of the titles, and we'd already watched the entire series for #1-5. A quick aside: Sure, the Wire should be #1. Absolutely. But the Sopranos and Arrested Development as #2 and #3? Doesn't anyone notice that AD took a severe quality dip in its last season and that the Sopranos had an overabundance of aimless dream sequences, not to mention plenty of so-so episodes? Anyhow, at least Freaks and Geeks [4] and Mad Men [5] rounded out the Top 5.)

The public library near our house had seasons 1 and 2 of Breaking Bad. We consumed both of them in quick succession.

Why it's worth watching:
Breaking Bad is very dark, and few of the characters are likeable. (Only one unambiguously likeable character comes to mind, Walter Jr., the main character's son.) But its writing is more consistent than most other series we've watched lately, including Dexter, Californication, and Big Love. It also boasts a richer collection of flawed characters than those three shows. (We're typing this one day after seeing an in-between episode ["Fly," directed by Rian Johnson, best known for high school-indie-noir flick Brick].)

The series:
Here's the set-up (revealed in the first episode): High school Chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, Skyler, is pregant, and his teenage son, Walter Jr. (aka "Flynn") has cerebral palsy. After learning that his former student Jesse Pinkman is involved in selling methamphetamine, Walter decides to start "cooking" (Walt's favourite term for producing meth), with Jesse as his business partner. That way, he'll be able to make enough money quickly to provide for his family after he's gone. (Yes, this is how the series gets its -- admittedly pretty lame -- title.)

Here is the first scene in season 1:

Walter's descent into criminality is compelling. Plus, we get to watch him slide between different worlds (home, school, underworld), wondering how long he'll be able to keep from getting caught by the law, by his wife, or by the drug dealers competing with him and his burnout partner-in-crime, Jesse.

We don't watch any TV shows just for the acting, but some of the performances here are amazing. There is a good reason Bryan Cranston (playing Walt) has won the Emmy the past two years as best actor in a dramatic series. His character is incredibly rich, and Cranston is great at conveying Walt's depth and darkness.

We will watch Bob Odenkirk in anything, but his portrayal of sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman takes the cake. (Check out the website Better Call Saul for a closer look at this ridiculously entertaining character.) Here is one of Saul Goodman's TV ads:

For additional dark comic relief, we're also partial to Jesse's slow-on-the-uptake homeboys, Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete.

Season 3 started off with an ill-advised brothers-out-for-vengance plotline. Thankfully, the season has also had some great moments, including nearly every scene with the calm, buttoned-down drug kingpin/restaurant owner Gus.

Other reading/viewing:
There are a number of webisodes that you can watch on the AMC website, though we've only seen a few of them.

We're hoping to post more frequently. That way, we won't need to change the title of this blog to 'Enthusiasm of the Month' or 'Infrequent Enthusiasms.' We will try, at least.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

8. Redd Kross

About once a year, we go through a Redd Kross phase. As this year's phase winds down, it seems like the perfect time to write about the band.

Redd Kross is one of those California-based bands with siblings at its core. (See also: the Beach Boys [from Hawthorne, CA, just like Redd Kross], CCR, and Van Halen.) Jeff McDonald (voice/guitar) and Steve McDonald (bass/voice) started playing together in the late-'70s, when they were both very young. (Jeff was barely a teenager and Steve was still in primary school.)

How we discovered Redd Kross:
When we were 14 or 15, we first heard Neurotica, the band's high-water mark. We immediately fell for its catchy songs with peculiar lyrics. (Two examples: "Tabasco is hot; / Some call it love" from "Janus, Jeanie, and George Harrison" and "Steven says 'papaya'; / he says 'papaya' / yeeeaaah!" from "Ghandi Is Dead [I'm the Cartoon Man].") Redd Kross was also the first band we ever saw in a club. We were underage at the time, but managed to get in using some borrowed ID. After the show, our friend Mike said we should talk to the band. We were nervous, but delighted to meet Steve, who was surprisingly friendly and wide-eyed. (At the time, he was really into the word 'groovy.')

Why Redd Kross is worth listening to:
Redd Kross writes and records songs that might be seen as superficial because they're steeped in pop culture references. But the brothers McDonald are delightfully playful and generally successful at negotiating the Spinal Tapian line between clever and stupid. No other band sounds or looks like Redd Kross. Imagine the Partridge Family with longer hair, better songs, and more drugs. Perhaps the Japanese all-girl trio Shonen Knife is as close as it gets. (RK more or less 'discovered' SK. The bands have also recorded songs about each other: 'Shonen Knife' by Redd Kross and 'Redd Kross' by Shonen Knife.)

Where to start:
Neurotica (1987)

The albums:
The band's first EP, Red Cross (1980), doesn't stand up well when placed beside some of the other recordings coming out the early LA punk scene (i.e., X's Los Angeles, Minutemen's Paranoid Time, and the early Black Flag singles). Then again, the band members were still in high school at the time. "Annette's Got the Hits" is the best number on the EP. This minute-long ditty about Annette Funicello is the first of many celebrity-related songs the band will write.

Redd Kross's first LP, Born Innocent (1982), opens with "Linda Blair," the song's first couplet being, "In The Exorcist, baby, you were really insane. / You got busted, you got busted, you got busted for cocaine." (According to interviews we've read, Redd Kross's name comes from the crucifix masturbation scene in The Exorcist.) The second song, "White Trash," underscores the album's snotty, kids-fucking-around-with-instruments tone. (The song's chorus is "You're just white trash. / You better watch what you say to me. / Just white trash / And your brother can't even read. Whew!") "Cellulite City" might be our favourite track on Born Innocent. Even after dozens of listens, its last lines remain incredibly funny and poignant: "Feel free to plug your ears / 'Cause I've only been alive for fourteen years."

Long before it was cool, Redd Kross released an EP of cover songs, Teen Babes From Monsanto (1984). (The band has always done dyamite covers.) Some of the songs are what you would expect (Kiss, Rolling Stones, Stooges, and Bowie) and some are more surprising (Shangri-Las, and "Blow You a Kiss in the Wind" from the TV show Bewitched).

Here's "Blow You a Kiss in the Wind" as it appeared on Bewitched:

And Redd Kross's cover version:

Neurotica (1987) is the group's most consistent album. It's confident, hooky, and sprawling (in a good way). It overflows with pop, love, pop culture, and punk-metallic goodness. There are a few songs that we don't love, but we're still glad they're there. In a just universe, songs like "Peach Kelli Pop" and "Love Is You" would have been blasting from car radios across North America in 1987. Instead, they were relegated to being spun on tiny university radio stations by grad student DJs. Trouser Press calls Neurotica the band's "national underground breakout record," whatever that means.

It's difficult for us to characterize what we love about Neurotica. Somehow, it manages to be simultaneously goofy and sincere. We find its distorted, catchy songs pretty irresistable. At this point, the group's songwriting and musicianship were at their zenith. There are gorgeous little moments in nearly every song. We love the dip in Jeff's voice when he sings the word "dance" in the lyrics "Tell me why they don't understand / When you take a little chance / The answers might come / And you learn how to dance" (in "Play My Song"). We love the bit in "McKenzie" (about One Day at a Time star Mackenzie Phillips, of course) when Jeff sings "I can make you happy" and the (Partridge Family-inspired?) backing vocals come in "Happy! / Happy!" We love Steve's melodic bass playing, Robert Hecker's guitar hijinks, and the Goldilocks-like use of cymbals (just the right amount).

We're too lazy to embed any music (as you may have already noticed), so we're stuck with what's freely available online. Here's some footage of Redd Kross circa Neurotica, playing the album's title track live:

After Neurotica, the band had some record label-related legal troubles and was unable to record under its own name for quite some time. Unfortunately, the loopy, Beatles-tweaking music the brothers McDonald recorded as the Tater Totz was not as beloved as their Redd Kross jams.

Redd Kross has released some great post-Neurotica songs (e.g., 'Bubblegum Factory,' 'Mess Around,' 'Switchblade Sister'), but it's never managed to put together another brilliant album. Maybe this will change now that the band has returned to its classic Neurotica line-up?

Other listening/viewing:
Sadly, there is no book about Redd Kross. (An oral history would be a great idea, folks! Put us down for an advance copy, please.) However, there is a Redd Kross podcast, which includes a few Robert Hecker-related episodes. ("Ted" -- aka episode 5 -- is infamous. It's a recording of a guy who auditioned to be the lead singer in a post-Redd Kross band that Hecker was assembling. Problem 1: Ted can't sing. Problem 2: He only knows one or two lines from any song, even the ones he suggests they play. Despite how embarrassing it might sound, it's actually strangely compelling. In particular, his version of "Start Me Up" is amazing. He only knows three words from that song. "Start me up! / Start me up, start me up, start me up! / Start me up! / Start! Me! Up!" Truly mind blowing.)

We'll leave you with one last video chestnut. A couple of years ago, Jeff McDonald directed a brilliant video for the Steven McDonald Group's blistering cover of Kim Fowley's song "Motorboat":

Monday, February 22, 2010

7. Stanza

It’s been over four months since the last EOTW entry. Rather than bore you with the details of that period, we’ll simply try posting weekly again.

A number of topics were considered for this week’s post. We decided to choose one that’s unlike than anything that we’ve discussed before: an application.

How we discovered Stanza:

Several months ago, we read Nicholson Baker’s article on the Kindle in the New Yorker. Baker was unimpressed with the Kindle, but he seemed to enjoy reading ebooks on his iPod Touch. He mentioned a variety of reading applications, including Stanza. (His favourite application was Eucalyptus, which we haven’t tried yet.) Recently, we downloaded Stanza and have added a handful of free ebooks (via Project Gutenberg) to our library.

Why Stanza is worth using:

Stanza is a joy to use, largely because it’s so intuitive. Click on the right edge of the screen to turn the page. To turn back a page, click on the left edge of the screen. Click in the middle of the screen to see how much of the book you’ve read, to change the settings (e.g., to change the font or font size), to search in the book, or to go back to the list of titles in your library. You can also adjust the brightness of the screen by clicking in the middle of the page and slowly dragging your finger down (to darken) or up (to brighten).

We primarily use Stanza for reading before bed. (So far, we have read 27% of Moby-Dick!) When we get tired, we can simply turn off the device and place it next to the bed. The next time Stanza is opened, it displays the last page we were reading.

One of the only wrinkles in our Stanza-joyment is that when you turn the iPod Touch sideways, the letters on the screen (predictably) display horizontally. Therefore, you can’t put your head on the pillow and place the iPod Touch horizontally on the bed because the letters will look sideways. You have to angle the device diagonally. No matter. This is a small convenience for such a great application. Did we mention it’s free?

We tried to film a brief in-action video of Stanza. However, our camera isn't very good at focusing on objects that are under a foot away. So, here's a brief video we've grabbed from YouTube that sounds like it may have been narrated by Robert Forster (thanks butterscotchcom!):