Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Year Zero is a Loss for the Aliens and the Music Industry

Year Zero by Rob Reid may seem to have a far-out premise to some, but, upon starting the book, I considered it pretty great. Aliens discover Earth's amazing catalog of rock music and attempt to acquire rights to it all.

Many reviewers have compared it to the classic Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is certainly one of the best sci-fi novels of all-time. And Reid's style and language tricks are indeed very similar to those of Hitchhiker author Douglas Adams. But the comparisons end there.

Year Zero begins promisingly. The main characters are established and the reader starts to feel a connection with them.

The somewhat-uninteresting aliens visit Nick Carter, a low-level lawyer whom they mistake for a former Backstreet Boy. Ever since they heard the Welcome Back, Kotter theme, they have been obsessed with Earth's rock music. Now they have a plan they present to Carter that they believe will help them acquire all that music. Nick realizes that this may be a good way to undermine his awful bosses and win a girl that is way out of his league.

I loved all that part, but then the second half of the book wallows in a mess of navigating through an unnecessarily complicated inter-galactic journey that never really seems to go much of anywhere. The ending completes the mess when (I don't feel too bad in telling you) Bill Gates is some kind of alien and somehow behind it all. Even that sounds like it could be a somewhat interesting premise, but Reid's story is so convoluted that I had lost the ability to care by that point.

** out of ***** stars

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Minneapolis Treats Me Well Again, From the Mall of America to Westerberg

The family just returned from a kid-focused weekend in Minneapolis to visit our old friends/cousins/drummers Paula and Harlan, and their 2-year-old Davis.

I had never been to the Mall of America, and we headed straight there from the airport. If you have a 5-year-old, and it's snowy with not much else to do, it's really tough to beat the low prices of the rides in the amusement park at the famous shopping center. The park is mammoth, and the mall itself supposedly is big enough to hold seven Yankee Stadiums.

Jackson takes after me in loving the log flume the most of any amusement park rides.

Then, except for one night out at a tasty restaurant and local-character-filled tavern, it was mostly more of a kids weekend. As these photos display, there was snow on the ground when we arrived and more fell while we were there. It made for some of the most perfect sledding and snowman-making I've experienced in decades.

And, along with going to look at many of the haunts from my mom's childhood growing up in Edina (just southwest of downtown Minneapolis), I got this photo outside of legendary rocker Paul Westerberg's house. He lives about a mile from Paula and Harlan. 

And I'm pretty sure it was his wife, author Laurie Lindeen, who looked out the window right after I snapped this photo. I felt a little bit like a stalker and feel that way even more after reading her blog about some teenage girls who once violated her privacy to see her rock star husband. But c'mon, this guy is one of the top 10 rock stars of all time, I had to get a picture of his house.

I really love Minneapolis and think it's one of the few cities where I would want to live in the U.S. besides D.C.

Things to do next time I visit? Perhaps see more of little Davis' future school. It's incredibly the same one that my mom attended years ago. And also see Prince's house, although that's a long shot since it's way out in the 'burbs.

And, according to this list of my favorite things about Minneapolis (Westerberg's former band The Replacements ranks as #1), there are a lot of other things I still need to check off my list.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Need Some Cale? Read My Letter Printed in Magnet Magazine

For the third time in the past year, my favorite music magazine has published a letter from me. The letters don't appear on Magnet's website, but I opened it up at my mailbox today and found my screed about John Cale of the Velvet Underground.


Thanks so much for having "A Conversation with John Cale." What a breathe of fresh air from all the other "old rockers" who appear on the pages of Rolling Stone and other music magazines. 

Ever since soon after the moment in the 1980s when I heard my older brother's copy of New Sensations by Lou Reed (still way underrated, despite the dink-pop elements), I have included the Velvet Underground in my pantheon of favorites. But despite digging deep into Lou Reed's unstoppable catalog, I had never given his former bandmate Calemuch of a chance until this past year. And now I can't stop listening.

How in the world has he floated relatively under-the-radar for so long? Perhaps he drifts too far into proggy Emerson, Lake, and Palmer territory from time to time, but my god, this man has so much incredible music! I keep being floored by song after song in his extremely diverse catalog. Sometimes he's like the best Of Montreal, often like David Byrne, and always powerfully creative and with hooks galore spread throughout his avant-garde stylings.

There is literally something for everyone with Cale. With the added benefit of having tons of great new material, something that is highly debatable with the likes of Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Best New Albums: January 2013

This is a monthly feature I recently introduced. You can stream all the albums mentioned here for free at this Spotify link, which I keep updated.

Best Albums of the Month (tie):

These two albums could be a preview of what my year-end "best of" list will look like. Cult-like musical magician Christopher Owens (whose recent concert I reviewed here) and L.A. classic-rock mash-upper duo Foxygen simply both blow me away.

Buy Owens' Lysandre and Foxygen's We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic now.

Best of the Rest:

Guided By Voices - The Bears For Lunch
Readers of this blog probably know I put a lot of GBV out there. But really, it doesn't matter how many records leader Robert Pollard puts out per year (and it's a lot), I want them all. This is one of his best.

Big Dipper - Crashes on the Platinum Planet
Speaking of Pollard, this great lost band from 1980s Boston is inexplicably back, and the highlight of their resurgent power-pop record is a song called "Robert Pollard" (in which his voice is a dead ringer for my former bandmate and mentor who now helms the legendary Edwardsville, Illinois band Rock Hill Academy). Big Dipper's entire collection was recently released. Buy it all, fast.

The Highballers - Soft Music and Hard Liquor
My son was in the process of getting married to The Highballers' showman-leader Kendall's daughter in their preschool class. That would have made this review a conflict of interest, but luckily it was clean-up time and the kids were unable to comlete the ceremony. Regardless, I saw this band live at Arlington's Artisphere and they were a force. It's easy to compare them to an offshoot of Johnny Cash and June Carter (what with the boy-girl vocals and all), but The Highballers are much funnier, have smoking and tasteful musicianship all around, have lots of songs about drinking (which is, let's admit, the point of honky tonk), and gloriously adds a modern twist ala Uncle Tupelo and The Bottle Rockets.

Yo La Tengo - Fade
One of my favorite space-rock bands of the 90s is back with possibly their best album in years. The seven-minute opener "Ohm" will surely go down as one of their finest songs, and the pace remains pretty strong through most of the record.

Tame Impala - Lonerism
If you like fuzz-psych bands dating from Jimi Hendrix to MGMT, then this is the new band for you. This is super catchy all the way through. They are from Australia and so probably don't tour the U.S. very often, but I imagine the live show would be large.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wanderlust Wanders Out of Lust

Just that fact that a Judd Apatow comedy starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston came out a year ago and I didn't see it until now is scary.

I don't miss Rudd movies. Or Apatow. And Aniston is difficult not to love.

But my instincts were right. Wanderlust simply isn't very good. Sure, it's fun at times. And the sight of watching Rudd (and Aniston) trying to join a hippie cult is irresistible in small doses.

Highlights include Alan Alda as a four-decader in Georgia's hippie commune Elysium. He constantly recites the list of names of his fellow founders. Rudd and Aniston end up there after things in New York and Atlanta don't work out. Rudd's scene speaking to himself in the mirror to pump himself up for the free-love lifestyle is classic. Two supporting actors (Rudd's potential love interest, played by Malin Akerman, and his jerk brother, a high-strung and racist Ken Marino) are about as hilarious as they are on the excellent Comedy Central show Children's Hospital.

But too much of the humor and plot wander. The movie doesn't really go anywhere, and the near-impossible task of not really caring about Rudd and Aniston is almost entirely accomplished.

**1/2 out of ***** stars