Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Like sand in an hourglass with no borders; the shifting perceptions of time.

My coworker (and neighbor from across the street shared the below with me and it is 99% accurate.*

I also just noticed I've slipped on my "posting every weekday" initiative, but between the rapidly disappearing distinction between the week and the weekend and time in general I'm not feeling too badly about that.

I initially thought I'd have much more brain time to write, but the truth is my workday has slowly lengthened, as I'm sure it has for everyone lucky enough to still be employed and working from home right now, and most of my time not working is spent sleeping. Lame! I know. I do find it a little amusing that as everyone else is catching up on their movie and TV viewing right now, I'm falling behind on even my favorite TV shows, much less watching movies long on my to-do list. But this is the new normal, for at least another month and probably longer—so I'm at peace with that.

That said, when I do have free time, what am I missing that I should catch up on? Don't say Tiger King. That, I made time for over the weekend. Priorities!

*I may be in dire need of a shave and a haircut, but I do still get dressed as if I'm going into the office every day,

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Five Six things I think you'll like today.

Just few quick links to help distract you on a Wednesday Thursday* with some quality reading / viewing / listening material!

1. Thanks to goldenfiddle for sharing the below original art since I love Days of Future Past era X-Men and Art Adams so much.

2. Third Coast Review posted this guide to bands on Bandcamp you should check out. I didn't 't contribute to it, but it's loaded with acts I['ve never heard of and look forward to sampling!

3. This completely cracked me up when In first saw it. IKEA is one of the few brands who managed to be effectively cheeky and serious at the same time while dealing with out new reality.

4. Read this excellent essay on dealing with the novel coronavirus lockdown with a newborn.

5. Finally, my friend Steve released his own take on Genesis' Duke for FREE yesterday, and I think it's pretty dang good. Stream it below and stay safe!

UPDATE: 6. I didn't see this until after publishing this morning, but the You Are Beautiful folks are offering collection of coloring pages and stickers for free right now, for everyone stuck at home. And they are kid friendly should you need to occupy some smaller people in your life. Get 'em!

*Gah. Fixed that after publishing, but it it certainly looks like I can't even keep the days straight at this point?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Peel Dream Magazine conjures up a familiar dreamscape.

Photo by Andy Schilling
Peel Dream Magazine is based in New York and led by Joe Stevens. When I recently spun their forthcoming album Agitprop Alterna I noted that it was interesting but seemed unfocused. I didn't realize that the music was the delivery system meant to burrow under your skin and keep tugging at your consciousness.*

Something about the music kept nagging at me—it felt so alien yet so familiar. And then I cracked it! On Agitprop Alterna Peel Dream is stitching together fragments to create a whole a la the more psych-y Elephant 6 bands like Olivia Tremor Control.**

Which begs the question—do I like this because it reminds me of something else or do I like it on its own merits?**** That's a valid question with any band, but in this case I was trying to puzzle out why Agitprop Alterna's songs didn't initially connect until WHAMMO they totally did. My conclusion? I just let go, stopped thinking, and accepted that these tunes have something I can't identify that makes them stick. And sometimes it's better to give into the mystery than it is to think everything through too far.

You can stream the first three songs below. It's not the same as immersing yourself om the full album but it's a good taste of what to expect when you can hear the whole thing upon its release a week from this Friday.

*I am doing everything I can to avoid making some sort of viral comparison with the music infecting you. Even though that's a much simpler way of conveying the feeling I was trying to cpature. But, y'know...

**I just went back and read the press release after writing this (something I tend to avoid doing until after recording my first impressions of a band I'm unfamiliar with) and it noted that the group's first album was "a mysterious, liminal tribute to the hazy end of ‘90s dream-pop" so I don't think I'm too far off here as far as Stevens and his compatriots' intentions.***

***And now you know some of these footnotes are added as I write, and a few get added after I'm done. A peek behind the curtain! Whoo! [Dear reader responds to this with a massive eyeball, sighing.]

****Sorry for "begging the question" but in this instance I went the straightforward route and didn't try and do any backflips in search of a unique way of saying that. Priorities.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Is that a seal? Or what? No matter: I like it!

Apparently a few days ago Taylor Swift and Kanye West's "conversation" from a few years ago that created quite the friction between the two parties' camps leaked online.*

Who cares?

One thing that's gotten under my skin in the last few years has been just how many celebrities remain famous even as their talent fades. They're now famous for being famous and we're supposed to care.** I don't care, really. Do you?

More and more of what seemed so important to people just a week or two ago now seems so ... silly. Even my current griping sounds silly. Who cares that I don't care about Kanye and T-Swizzle's feud? Do you? I didn't think so.

Something delightful is happening though. As this clutter falls further aways as far as its perceived importance is concerned, I find myself with time to appreciate things I've long overlooked. Like the stone statue of a seal (at least I think it's a seal, or some kind of dolphin. You tell me.

So cute!
Anyway, that thing is a whopping 2 blocks from my place and yesterday was the first time I've actually noticed it in almost three years. And I've surely walked past it dozens of times in that timespan. And yesterday I finally saw it. And smiled. And felt honest-to-gosh joy.

Those kinds of things have been happening in greater frequency. Even as I am (we are all) separated from each other physically I've found my attention broaden to the actual world around me, and not the world we've built through social constructs that have created a class of "celebrity" I'm not so certain we should be paying attention to much less looking up to, and passive entertainment desires.

In fact, I think I want to devote far more of my time to appreciating the things I should care about, and be open to discovering new things in that process.

*I literally just found out about it, despite it being the sort of thing I'd probably be reporting on when I was a Senior Editor at Chicagoist. In case anyone's wondering why I'm suddenly mentioning this when it was potentially news you've long known. That's not the point of this piece, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

**I'm not simply grousing about fake celebrities or influencers—annoying though they are, they're too obvious a target and honestly, their influence is far less tangible than they (or their marketing partners) would have you believe—but trying to draw attention to the fact that bona fide artists who have created mind-blowing work have the capacity to run out of ideas and we have the capacity to stop paying attention to them once they do. In other words we can, and should, stop caring.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Pace yourself.

Yeah, the is no one on the roads in Chicago...
I should preface this with the fact that I am endlessly appreciative I have the opportunity to do my job from home while so many others do not. I went back and forth about publishing this in fear anyone would read it and get angry I even bring any of this up when their situation may be much more dire than mine. I think we're all trying to navigate the disruptions in our own lives while remaining cognizant of how much more disruptive it is for people that don't have the same opportunities someone like me might have in this particular situation. 

Working from home has plenty of challenges but the one I think is universal in a situation like this is balancing the actual "working" with "living." It's Sunday and I keep feeling guilty for not opening my laptop and getting work done, because I've been so busy that the days blend together. I can't go anywhere so all the usual built in breaks in my regular schedule have vanished so the work day has expanded in my head and now every day feels like a "work day."

This is of course stupid of me.

My company isn't asking me to needlessly work on the weekend. There's nothing I currently have on my plate that has to be addressed on the weekend that can't also be done on Monday. But I've gotten so used to being plugged into virtual work that I'm beginning to be blind to that, already! ALREADY!*

On the bright side, I got my phone screen time report and it is WAY down for the last week. Primarily because I'm in front of my computer working for 8-10 hours a day. No need to leave for lunch (or even commute!) crossed with the self-preservational move to not read all the news all of the time all of the news ALL OF THE TIME though I would usually be tempted to if I still had time on the train or at the gym or (gasp!) eating lunch. That sort of thing.

So, don't be like me. Don't feel bad about not working on a Sunday. In fact, I think I'm going to dig through one of my boxes of Blu-rays and treat myself to a movie that isn't on streaming, and enjoy my Sunday.

Right after I check my work email one last time...

*After all of this I am very curious how companies that had been hostile to employees working from home because they couldn't possibly get the work done remotely are going to deal with entire staffs who will, by then, have proven that ain't completely true. Personally I can't wait to get back to the office since I thrive on humans and collaboration—and, frankly, working with people in-person is SO MUCH EASIER AND EFFICIENT, for me—but I have been delighted to see everyone I work with rise to the occasion and still keep everything moving forward and keeping a team atmosphere, even remotely.

Plus, seeing people's kitties, puppies, and kids popping up in folks' video streams during meetings has been 100% awesome.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

We are up to the challenge.

Pickle supervises me while I WFH.
So ... it's really hard to write right now. We keep hitting limits I didn't think we were capable of hitting. Things have spiraled out of control and we've had to depend on a network of Governors and mayors to keep us safe since the President of the U.S. has proven he is nowhere up to the task, though he's more than willing to take credit for everyone else's work on the ground while spreading confusion and pandemonium with his incapability to reel in his own self-promotion and lies for even a minute.

It's boggling.

I went through some older posts from other historic pain points recently and was almost amused to see how catastrophic I though G.W. Bush was. And he was! But in comparison to what we're experiencing now Bush almost seems like he was a competent commander-in-chief.

But politics politics politics. We're not getting rid of Trump anytime soon, so we'll have to figure out how to work around his chaos. And we are! Communities and organizations and people are all coming together—within a very safe distance—to support each other and provide the essentials that they can. Everyone I know is helping out or offering support in any way they can. So to me the silver lining is that our country is in better shape than I thought it was. Trump and his cronies' incompetence got us in this position, but we will be the ones to lift ourselves out of it. With each others' help.

And of course, a few months from now, Trump will take all the credit for our hard work. But that's later—for now it's up to us.

And we are up to the challenge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Compelling headline goes here! Wait, this IS the headline?

I had planned a series of pieces on musician / band box sets and career retrospectives this week, in order to give people things to listen to (or not) while everyone is mostly stuck at home.

However I've been mentally strung thin this week—I am exhausted after each day of work, but I am not complaining since I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to work remotely while so many of my friends are out of work right now.* And when you're that tired, you end up sleeping a lot, so at least I'm incredibly well rested!

But the point I'm trying to make is my brain has been occupied and kept busy and that is excellent for everyone involved, except for you dear reader, who may be looking for distracting content or fun jams (or warnings of bad jams), since those topics have fallen down the list of priorities.

But humans are incredibly adaptable and I am no different. So, look for those longer pieces in the next couple of days as my mental shelf space allows for extracurricular writing.**

*If you have the means to donate to any of the numerous GoFundMe campaigns put together by your favorite venues / bars / restaurants for their employees, or can buy merchandise from touring musicians stuck at home, please do! I have and will continue to do so as much as I can.

**An odd phrase fro write coming from someone who once said during a discussion while on a panel of music critics that like a cockroach, I would feel compelled to write about and share music even during the apocalypse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Brett Newski hopes you won't let the bastards get you down.

Photo by Alejandro Albuernes
Brett Newski hails from the desolate north lands of Milwaukee, and how latest album Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down was titled quite a while ago but feels incredibly timely, huh?*

He sounds kinda like Peter Murphy had he latched onto power-pop before turning glam goth.

I won't go into any greater detail, but since I'm sure we could all use any welcome distraction from the torrent of ever-changing news I reckoned we could all use a slice of good music to help us along. And if you dig this taste, make sure to check out the full album when it's released on April 3!

And, clearly, since he lives so close to Chicago I'm hoping to get a chance top catch him live ... sometime in the future.

UPDATE: Newski is generously donating all pre-order proceeds to Doctors Without Borders if you place your order through March 19!

*Totally joking. Milwaukee is a lovely town and a terrific weekend getaway shoaled you be within a few hours drive. Just maybe not right now.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Funny ... for now!

The daily New Yorker cartoon was by Emily Flake, and it made me immediately chuckle ... and then groan.*

I have long been O.K. with working from home occasionally, but working in the creative sector of the advertising business means that I am the kind of person who enjoys collaborating with others, and much of the nuts and bolts work we do is in person, so while the core of this cartoon (so many meetings! why?!) makes sense to me, it misses the "non-meeting" portion of daily work.

Luckily, my agency has a really robust system for remote work, so communication with my teammates has been thriving, but I already miss sitting with an art director or account partner when working through a project. This wouldn't bother me in a limited sense, but the open-ended nature of our current social restrictions for very valid health reasons is giving me more anxiety than usual.

But we are all in this together and we'll all figure it out. So, enjoy that chuckle the above cartoon immediately elicits now—we need the laughs.

*And not just because The New Yorker still insists on styling "email" as "e-mail," a pet peeve of mine.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Bits and pieces on a quiet Friday.

Huh, well, that was quite a week, huh? Plenty of other people are freaking out / trying to reassure through a kajillion think pieces about everything going on right now, and it's a lot, and I don't think anyone needs me adding to that mix, at least not today.

So instead, go read my review of ROOKIE's most excellent new album. Seriously, this LP is pure fire. I would say it slaps but don't want to tether current slang to a timeless piece of art. Or something like that.

In other news, last night I saw of Montreal and it was also a LOT.

K went with me and I could tell she was getting a little agitated (justifiably so)  as the venue grew more and more crowded. And at the end of the main set, the band threaded a chain of balloons through the audience, ensuring every participant had the chance to manhandle a strip of rubber dozens then hundreds of hands had already touched. I found it amusing (and kept my distance from the GermBalloon™) however K stared at the whole exchange in horror. We both survived. We'll know in 14 days if we survived without getting eventually sick.

Speaing of surviving, are we?

Good luck out there y'all, and stay safe!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

of Montreal IS FUN.

Photo by Christina Schneider
I've had a slightly complicated personal history with of Montreal, so it had been a while since I actively listened to any of their stuff, but their latest album UR FUN absolutely entranced me.

Learn all about it! I reviewed the album and previewed their show tonight at Bottom Lounge for Third Coast Review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Scrub-a-dub and a song I love.

The "wash your hands to a song" generator has blown up over the last few days, though it should be purely used for entertainment purposes and not actually timing that 20 second suggested scrubbing period. For instance, we you to select my choice above to sing to yourself, your hands would be super clean, since you'll be scrubbing away for 1.5+ minutes.

Personally, I've just been singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" softly to myself because I love how everyone around me headbangs at the big break in the middle.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Are you ready to rock with ROOKIE?! Well, hold on tight!

Photo by Alec Basse
I'll be doing a proper review about ROOKIE's self-titled debut album for Third Coast Review later this week, but that shouldn't stop you from listening to ALL OF THE MUSIC of theirs that's currently publicly available, including and especially the lead off track from that new LP out on Friday, "Hold On Tight."

I'll keep focused on this tune and not ROOKIE in general, O.K.?

The first time I heard "Hold On Tight" I immediately thought of Sloan's "Money City Maniacs" since ROOKIE utilizes a very similar clear out the stadium a massive party is a-comin' mega-riff on "Hold On Tight." The band is on Bloodshot Records, a label with a history of identifying promising young talent, and in this case I think the label struck massive gold by getting these cats onto the roster.

So, hold on tight and get ready to rock and/or roll with wild abandon!

Monday, March 09, 2020

If you listen to one podcast this week / month / year, make it this episode of 'Reply All.'

It's been a long time since a single podcast episode blew my mind, but last week's episode of Reply All did just that.

I don't want to ruin anything with too much of a setup, but it's such a delight. The premise—tracking down a song no one is even positive exists—is would be intriguing enough (and it is!) but I admit I got some additional shivers of recognition as a few familiar voices popped up over the course of this journey.

So—will you delve into the the case of the missing hit and find out if the mystery actually gets solved?

Friday, March 06, 2020

Shifting opinions are O.K. and a sign you're always growing as a human being.

When this song came out I HATED it.

I now find it HILARIOUS.

So see? Opinions on art can and should evolve, or I would have cheated myself of the pleasure this brings me nearly 30 (?!) years later.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

What started off as a post about haircuts turned into a rumination on just how deeply uncool my style choices are. Oh well!

Some days I feel like I'm finally starting to get it together, and other days I realize I need a haircut and had no idea my longtime salon was closing and my stylist already left for another salon. So now I gotta figure out what to do since I tend to wait until waaaaaay too long to get my hair cut.

Yep, that's right ya'll, it's a post about my hair! Huzzah!

We are, all of us, full of internal contradictions, and it's just that sort of thing that means someone like me probably already knew that news you're just now telling me about a week ago, but I can't manage to put together an outfit more complicated or interesting than  jeans paired with a band t-shirt or solid colored collared button-up and my trusty pair of Doc Martens.*

This was gonna be the kinda post where I outlined more and more of those types of things in a humorous fashion, but after creating out the footnote to that sentence above, I realized that maybe I don't have a lot to say on the matter and my main focus was always going to be that I'm a creature of habit when it comes to my appearance.

At this point the only way I could convincingly update my look / style would be by moving to a new city where nobody knows me and trying to start from there. And I'd probably be back in jeans, t-shirts, and Docs within a week.

So you don't feel like you completely wasted your time reading all this, here is a video of my favorite weatherperson in the nation right at this second.

*I already ordered my back-up pair of Docs and they're sitting by my front door in a box, just waiting for my current pair to develop a hole or become unwearable for some other reason. And on my dresser is a new pair of jeans, exactly like all my other jeans, I bought months ago but haven't put into rotation yet since none of my other jeans are in poor enough shape to retire. That's right, I stockpile jeans and boots, but not in an "I love fashion and need alternatives" kinda way but more a "I found what works and I'll do whatever I can to ensure I always have those items in the replacement queue" way, possibly triggered by the Great Boot Panic of the 2016 when Doc Martens had stopped making my favorite boot and every other reseller was out of stock, forcing me to choose a new boot style after 15 years. The trauma!

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

I was curious and threw this poll up on Twitter.

What do you think? Feel free to vote away if you use Twitter!

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

"Change takes time!"

As we waited for hours in lines for trains to get back home after Obama's first inauguration in D.C., one city transit worker walked up and down the line proclaiming, "Change takes time!" in a plea with all of us to exhibit patience in the situation.

I've thought about that moment a lot over the years, because that transit worker was mostly correct—positive change, change that tries to replace broken systems with something productive, takes a LOT of time.

Think of it this way: every year Lollapalooza comes to Chicago and for weeks they build the equivalent of a small metropolis in the middle of Graht Park. That construction takes quite a bit of time, every single year.

Do you know how long it takes to dismantle most of that temporary metropolis each year? A couple of hours.

Destruction is easy. Building something new is not.

The U.S. elected a President in 2016 that is very good at implementing change, as long as that change is reversing progress and destroying basic rights. The next person to occupy that office isn't going to be able to fix just that damage in their first four years, much less make much progress on the raft of transformative plans many of the people running for that office right now are promising.

Vote your heart, but don't vote for someone simply promising you a better, new world that will solve all of your problems, because I think we're a long way from that. We need to elect people who are thinking about the generations after us, and slowly start to build a better world for them.

So when you vote, keep that in mind. Ultimately though, you should vote for who you think is best. And if you want to support that person and try to convince other people that your candidate deserves their vote, by all means, please do so! But maybe, just maybe, we could support the candidates we want in a single party without viciously attacking any candidate from that party that we don't support.

Make positive arguments. Be part of the change. Don't be part of the destruction.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Why I will survive the coronavirus / COVID-19.

Attack cat!
I mean, I’ve always been good about the whole hand washing thing. And the fact that so many articles seem to focus on how to properly wash your hands frightens me primarily because that means so many people simply don’t wash their hands properly. Ew! But they ain’t gonna get me that!

And the face touching thing—I’ve gotten pretty good about being aware of when I’m touching my face because I own a cat and enjoy petting my cat but don’t enjoy inviting the risk of pink eye or other maladies into my life. So I’m very good about keeping the ol’ hands away from my face when they aren’t freshly washed. For the most part. I still occasionally have to rub my temples or slap my forehead in real life situations, but at least I’m not randomly sticking my digits into my mouth or constantly rubbing my eyes or wiping my nose with the back of my hand.

I have no current international travel plans, and due to the hard work of one DFW you’re not gonna find me on a cruise ship any time soon (or probably ever, unless someone wants me to write a lesser sequel to his original).

I no longer drink alcohol, I get 30+ minutes of physical activity 7 days a week (supplemented by at least 5+ days at the gym each week), and I get 8+ hours of sleep a night now. In other words, my immune system is probably in the best shape it’s ever been. In fact, I’m a relative freaking superhuman specimen right now!*

Despite the looks from my neighbors who doubted my decision to begin a construction project during a Chicago winter, the moat around my apartment building is almost complete. I changed my plans to fill it with lava, so it’s currently filled with egg shells.*** Sharp little egg shells! No one’s walking across those.**** And just wait until all that creates a fertile bed for thick vegetation to densely grow in, blocking all access to my building via conventional means. Genius!

And of course, Pickle the Kitten is a trained attack cat, so I’m covered there if anyone manages to make it across that moat.

So I’m safe! How are your preparations going for the end of the world as we know it?

*Until I look in the mirror shirtless each morning as I get ready and ponder if more time at the gym is in order and at all possible. Who cares abut the underlying state of the system when my vanity is at risk?!**

**Truly spoken like someone not facing a life-threatening illness, yet.

***It pays to read

****The only way into my building is via secret underground tunnel, and I bet you thought I would slip and tell you where the entrance to said tunnel lies above the ground. I wasn’t born yesterday!