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Tuesday, Jun 4, 2013
The sumo wrestler suits are still awesome.

In late April 2013, I sat in the Sonoran Desert, listening, for the first time in years, to Alice in Chains’ “Nutshell”. The occasion for this event was a cousin’s First Holy Communion. Her family lives just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and though their neighborhood is willfully suburban—massive sports complexes don’t naturally exist in the desert—the Sonoran’s vast, charred landscape is never entirely masked by strip mall sprawl. Indeed, from the relative comfort of my cousin’s back patio, it seemed that any of the hundreds of miles that stretch outward from there to the Pescott National Forest (and well beyond) could have served as the setting for the cover photo of Alice in Chains’ Dirt.


On that late April evening, I found myself listening to AIC for the most banal of reasons: my uncle had set his satellite radio to the Lithium channel. As a teenager, I was a fan of Alice in Chains, perhaps more so than of any of the other grunge bands of the early-1990s. To date, I have probably heard “Nutshell” hundreds of times. Still, on that oppressively hot night, I found the song more moving than I ever had in the past. There was something eerily appropriate about Layne Staley, a victim of a fatal drug addiction, crooning, “I’d feel better dead” on the eve of a sacramental celebration. Catholicism, if nothing else, promises the ecstasy of an afterlife, a life that begins when the eternal soul is resurrected from the imperfect, ever-decaying body. In a way, Staley’s sentiment is entirely Catholic, which is a thought that I honest-to-God never imagined I’d think.


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Thursday, May 9, 2013
“The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Built to Spill's 2001 release Ancient Melodies of the Future, and it's a song that's certainly no "dud".

In an otherwise lively, judicious, and conversant article that ranked Built to Spill’s albums from worst to best, Stereogum critic Chris DeVille took a departure from sound judgment with this puzzling perspective: he referred to “The Weather” as a “dud”. At the risk of being dramatic, let me state that prior to this I’d never heard or read anyone venture a slighting word about “The Weather”. I may have stood quiet had tamer language been used, but “dud” represents a bridge too far.

For those unaware, “The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Ancient Melodies of the Future, the Idahoan indie-rock act’s 2001 full-length. As a whole, the album doesn’t amount to much more than solid and enjoyable—especially coming on the heels of heady, near-flawless heavyweights like Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret—but it does boast some stand-out moments, including “Strange”, “You Are”, and – yes – “The Weather”.


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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012
If you have a chance to check Clark out live, do so. He sounds fine in a studio setting, and I encourage you to grab his new disc. But like most of the better acts, especially of the jazz and blues idioms, he needs to be seen to be appreciated, and believed.

It’s only happened on two other occasions, before the night of November 9th.


In 2001, I saw Mike Patton in person for the first time, with his brand new side project Tomahawk at the Black Cat in D.C. (which, before the overdue smoking ban, was like standing in a dark closet with a nicotine-scented dry-ice machine). They came out and played “God Hates a Coward” and I turned to my date and said, “I’m good. We can go now.” We did not, of course, but I truly would have been 100% satisfied with just those three minutes. To get an hour-plus of that passion, musicality, and showmanship was one for the ages. I was less than 20 feet from the stage.


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Thursday, Mar 22, 2012
Cro-Magnon mating music, Martian childcare, hellbound murderers, and the serene pleasure of speed -- sounds like Swervedriver.

I’ve been a competitive runner for over 20 years. During that span of time, I’ve found running to be intensely thrilling, incredibly frustrating, wholly fulfilling, and painfully heartbreaking—sometimes all at once. For me, competitive running has probably taught me more about life—its peaks and valleys, its pleasures and pains—than anything else in my life.


Right now, the spring of 2012, I’m coming out of a particularly disheartening winter. After running quite well in last October’s Army 10 Miler, I suffered three different injuries in my right foot. Given that my right leg is a bit more bowed then my left, these injuries have become chronic over time. They’re completely unpredictable and are often unrelated to any specific workout or training regimen. Nevertheless, whenever I do suffer from them (posterior tibial problems are the absolute bane of my existence), I end up sidelined for weeks, requiring all manner of intense body work—ice massages, trigger point therapy, myofascial release sessions—to get back in gear. In the meantime, I miss races, my hopes for new PRs slippin’ through like sand.


This is the mindset that I will be bringing to Swervedriver’s upcoming show at Washington, D.C.‘s Rock & Roll Hotel on March 30—just two short days before the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, a race that I will no longer be able to race. Even though I’m not entirely pleased that, yet again, I won’t be able to blast around Hains Point, I actually can’t think of a more fitting physiological space to inhabit while attending what is sure to be a blistering concert.


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Thursday, Jan 19, 2012
Often too pretentious for its own good, in 2003 goth-tinged punk group AFI surmounted its shortcomings and excesses to craft at least one near-perfect single.

Ask a random music critic to come up with a shortlist of the best rock songs of the Noughties, and it’s quite unlikely his or her picks will include any offerings by walking Hot Topic billboard AFI. The California quartet (which started as a snotty hardcore outfit before gradually morphing into a goth/punk/emo/alt-rock hybrid obsessed with all things black and somber) is very much a people’s band, one whose increasingly ham-fisted aspirations of seriousness and grandeur is directly proportionate to how many records it sells. Though AFI wishes for its records to be taken as Art, its ambitions have been undercut by a misguided (and frankly adolescent) understanding of what that means, best evidenced by singer Davey Havok’s unabashedly purple lyrics (sample lines from “The Days of the Phoenix”: “The words were mystical as / Purring animals / The circle of rage / The voice on the stage appeared”). Thus, you probably won’t find many AFI tracks on year-end “best-of” critics’ polls


Yes, AFI is pretentious as all hell and Havok comes off as little too in love with the sound of his voice whenever he sings, but nevertheless the group has always had a knack for thrilling, full-throttle rockitude (it’s never a good idea for this band to move at anything slower than a restless clip—witness “Miss Murder”). With the proper focus and the right touch, AFI is indeed capable of greatness—and its magnificent 2003 single “Girl’s Not Grey” is proof of it. Indeed, it’s one of the best the past decade has produced. Seriously. I mean it.


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