Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back From States

Just returned from the Pennsylvania High School Speech League State Championship (or PHSSLs). It was a pretty fun trip, filled with cows and raves, and in the end, I won Superior Speaker for Student Congress. (Another way of saying 2nd place.) Frankly, I would've gotten 1st if the voting hadn't been purely student vote, but... Not complaining. ^^

And sleeping for 15 hours when you are exhausted is amazing. AMAZING.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hibachi Roxxorz ma Soxxorzz

Just putting this out there: teppanyaki-style (or hibachi) cooking is possibly the greatest culinary innovation since that of the technique of frying or the spork. Or possibly just the greatest ever.

Having chefs with extraordinary knife schools and good stand-up skills throw shrimp into your mouth and cook you food so delicious you never ever want to leave your seat is an experience that everyone should experience at least once, if not sixty times during their lifetime.

Also helps when you're surrounded with a bunch of good friends to laugh it up, have fun, and make chopstick mustaches.

Friends + Food = Best

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring

Happy first day of spring, everyone. We have finally finished with the bitter cold, snow, wind, and blehhh of winter, to be replaced by warmth, blooming flowers, and the prospect of release from school. Naturally, I thought today would be a nice, warm day for a good tennis match, being spring and all...

At 6:20 this morning, I stepped outside to snowflakes the size of nickels. The forecast said today would be a little cloudy, but sunny later and a high of 48. No mention of snow. None.

It was one of the more "WTF" moments of my life.

Happy spring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Word of the Day: Verisimilitude

Today I find myself in the role of English teacher, offering a little tidbit of knowledge on the English language

Verisimilitude: (n.) the appearance of truth; the quality of seeming to be true

I was reading a Joan Didion essay and the word popped up, and I decided to assuage my curiosity by looking up the definition. I don't really know how it relates to anything (although one could say that a statement could exhibit verisimilitude if they were being specious or sophistic) Just thought it would be interesting.

On another note, my entries will be fewer and further between for the next month or so: I have made my school's varsity tennis team, and we have approximately 25 matches over the next 40 days. That equates to about 4 matches per 5 weekdays, plus practices. My earliest arrival will be at 6pm, often later, and then I get to deal with 3 AP courses worth of homework, dinner, and various other responsibilities. Although this will still periodically be updated.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Band Review: The Most Serene Republic

You last heard me talking about a recent favorite band of mine known as Menomena. Today I discuss one of my favorite bands of all-time, the Ontario-based indie rock band known as The Most Serene Republic (TMSR).

TMSR is not your average, everyday indie group. (Although, there's really nowhere near an "average" indie group.) Their instrumentation is particularly unique, featuring violin, EBow, trombone (and other brass), and xylophones in addition to the classic piano/guitar/bass/drum orchestration. They are a quirky, hyper-educated bunch, with song titles such as 'Solipsism Millionaires' and 'The Protagonist Suddenly Realizes What He Must Do in the Middle of Downtown Traffic' towering over their repetoire, sporting lyrics like "This deducer of lives is not a being, but profused meaning" and "Purpose: What a selfish orangutang; progress has now been changed, nature is lost."

What gets me most of all about TMSR, though, is the depth of their sound. With layer upon layer of floating synths, twinkling xylophones, guitars, pianos, and drums, all topped with the vocal tradeoff and duets of lead singers Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn, The Most Serene Republic create full, complete sound that I've rarely, if ever, heard from any other band. As their website puts it: "At the rate they’re going, whether they mean to or not, the Most Serene Republic will alter the way in which people appreciate rock music"

Here are a couple of tracks that I've particularly fallen in love with:

Fading in from some random distortion, the listener is led in with a calm acoustic guitar, soon overshadowed by an elegant piano riff and a vocal duet, pondering (in complex language), the actions of the "men who live upstairs" and the influence food has on our behavior. It soon explodes into a satisfying chorus of crashing drums, guitar, piano, and a singing violin. A real gem from their album Population.
(Also, video can be found here.)

Begining with an acoustic prelude to the main theme, this track is fuelled by a driving, up-and-down guitar riff, some crashing drums, and a full brass horn section to back. Its intensity is constantly changes, easing off to allow for some odd lyrical prominence, talking of the futility of emotions and the "solving" of human beings by computers. It continually builds, pulling out all of the musical talents of the band: sparkling piano melodies, rocking guitars, vocal dualism, and energy in a song the likes of which I haven't often heard. It all culminates in a climaxing conclusion that will leave you a bit confused, yet quite satisfied. Bats cleanup on Population.

A somewhat experimental track from their EP Phages, this song starts with a complex drumbeat and violins with sudden, abrupt eigth notes, Anhoi Polloi suddenly explodes into an energetic guitar riff, easing off for the crooning of the two main singers: "I see real as an aging face, with lines of time put right in place." In many ways, this track reminds me of Present of Future End: A big guitar riff trading with vocals, and ending with some big brass covering the main theme. Still a really nice piece. (This one's in .m4a, off of iTunes.)

The second track off of their debut album Underwater Cinematographer, I fell in love with this track due to its complex structure that seems to be ever-evolving. Jumping right off with the high tenor of Adrian Jewett singing "my world is firmly compressed into the pocket of your front breast" over a buzzing synthesizer, after about a minute, the track devolves into a repetitive vocal cadence over handclaps with some added synth. Suddenly, the track changes direction, completely cutting for a moment before introducing a fast, warm acoustic guitar, soon aided by a crazy xylophone and "la la"'s galore. It continues on that note for a while, eventually devolving into the same buzzing synthesizer and a piano drifting out to the sound of Jewett's pleasing vocals singing "you're what I want".

The Most Serene Republic have released two albums to date: Underwater Cinematographer and Population, in addition to an EP entitled Phages.

An album may be coming up in the future: Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Menomena (No, Sadly, not Sesame Street-related)

Among my current musical preferences at the moment is a band I recently discovered called Menomena. There are two main reasons that I like this band. The first is there name, which evokes vivid memories of a certain Sesame Street skit... Specifically this one: 
In addition, their somewhat unique, indie sound (classified by Wikipedia as "experimental rock") is quite appealing. Overall, what I love about Menomena is the creative aspect to their sound. To record, they use a program called Deeler, which allows each band member to record short riffs on their respective instrument, and turn these into loops onto which they base their songs. In the words of the band's leader Brent Knopf, "Deeler keeps the process democratic, which is the only way we can operate."

As a result, Menomena has produced two well-received albums: I Am the Fun Blame Monster! and Friend and Foe. While the latter is a bit more polished in its sound, I prefer the rawness of the first album. It often builds off of small, simple loops, such as a basic sliding guitar riff on E. is Stable that rises and falls with the intensity of the song, or the chillout guitar on Oahu. On both of these songs the music builds around these simple riffs,
with judicious use of some swirling pianos, a favorite of mine. Still, they don't keep everything too straightforward, pulling out the two-part beauty that is The Late Great Libido, which has two distinct parts, yet still manages to incorporate the main theme into both, with a droning saxophone and xylophone providing some serious novelty.

Their stuff from Friend and Foe seems a little... overdone, in my opinion - it seems to me that most of the songs from there have this enduring dark aspect to the music, and it lacks the charm of an earlier indie attempt. Nonetheless, I am infatuated with the dreamy My My, a floaty synth and guitar composition that makes my world seem to glow, yet brings me back down to earth with the opening line of "What if all my enemies were dead?"

In short, check out Menomena, if you're willing to try an independent band a little out of the ordinary. I would especially recommend I Am the Fun Blame Monster!, if not just for the album title.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Dragster-Wave

Well, I've never been very into Belgian poppish-rock bands by the name of Ghinzu before... but... after watching the movie Taken (great action flick, by the way, go see it) I found myself shuffling through the seats, trying to get out of the theater, when suddenly this hypnotic piano riff started to play from the speakers. It sort of sucked me in, eventually developing into a really rocking and emotional guitar-jam, but man, was I hooked.

Thus, today, I present to you (a live version of) the song that I found: The Dragster-Wave, by Ghinzu. Personal suggestion: Skip to 2:20.

And no, I have no idea what a Dragster-Wave is either.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rocket Science

Well, it's been a busy few days: Traveled to Florida for two days to visit my grandma, saw my school's production of Beauty and the Beast, ate Cuban food for the first time...

Anyway: On the way home, I watched a film called Rocket Science. It's not in theaters, and it's not particularly well-known, although it did win an award at teh 2007 Sundance Film Festival. But it is a film that I think you should try to watch, if you can find it.

Rocket Science chronicles the life of Hal Hefner, a teenager with a pronounced stutter that limits virtually everything he does and says. It is not a traditional film - not a love story, not a big plot or goal that anyone is striving for. It involves a girl, the quick-witted and biting Ginny Ryerson, but it is not a traditional romance.

Rocket Science is called a comedy-drama, in that there are quite a few awkward situations that could make you laugh. My personal favorite involves a drunken Hal heaving a fullsized cello through a window.

But really, Rocket Science is about coming of age, and finding your place in the world. Hal is an outsider, unable to really find his niche, or even make any sense of the world around him. In that sense, this is one of the more realistic films you'll see - a real character struggling just to find his place, and not necessarily with a fairytale ending, either.

Go see Rocket Science. It's well worth it.