Monday, April 30, 2007

Vastly Underrated Albums, vol. 1: Dangerdoom, "The Mouse and the Mask"

I've got a lot of music. Not as much as my sister, but still plenty - I believe iTunes can play for almost a month straight without repeating.

In a situation like that, stuff can fall through the cracks, get forgotten in the sands of time, and find its way out of the rotation. This is why I'm starting up this occasional series: to categorize, remember and promote albums that I find in my music library where I've completely forgotten about their greatness. We're not talking all-time greats, but underrated or forgotten.

The first of these is Dangerdoom's "The Mouse and the Mask," one interesting-as-hell situation and album. Producer Dangermouse (The Gray Album, Gorillaz - Demon Days, Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere) is on the boards, MF Doom (he of a thousand names and side projects, including MM FOOD - a rap box set all about food) is spitting in the mic, and such acts as Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah and Cee-Lo Green (the other half of Gnarls Barkley) provide guest appearances, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows provide the aesthetic idea.

While some of the songs are themed around shows ("A.T.H.F." should be the new theme song for that show, "Space Ho's" is probably my favorite on the whole disc), the definition of 'theme' is rather loose. Sometimes it's close to the show's theme, sometimes it's incredibly loose. Soundbites and guest appearances by cartoon character voices (namely Master Shake from ATHF) add character, but never irritate. Okay, after more than a few listens Shake's end-of-song skits get old, but it's never overbearing.

Plus, importantly, it never takes away from MF Doom - who has *far* too many skills - and doesn't limit Dangermouse's superb production skills. Doom is something of a nerdy rapper anyways (he and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien are too cool and diverse to be called "nerdcore" and lumped in with mc chris or MC Frontalot) so the topics aren't a stretch, and Dangermouse cooks up a ton of funky beats with what he's given. Mouse is one of a few people I can actually point to and say "I love this guy's production, and no matter who's singing or rapping I'll listen."

so, if you have this album too, dust it off and give it a spin; otherwise, acquire it in whatever way you usually acquire music and you won't be disappointed. Somewhat irreverent and offbeat rapping with some funky, solid beats is never a bad combination; cartoon aural aesthetic is always welcomed too. Combine that all and it's a good time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

get your motor runnin'

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One day, my car will get onto the inside of Portland Int'l Raceway and see some action. Until then, it will wait with baited breath. Photo by Doug Bonham.

It's no secret at all that I love sports. And another fact for sports fans is that, oftentimes, what inspires a young man or woman to follow sports is a link from a parent - I'm partially a baseball fan because it came from my dad, just as my dad was a baseball fan because his dad was. For many Americans this comes for basketball, football, or baseball...not as often does it come up for auto racing.

There are two hobbies I've had for longer than I can literally remember: cars and auto racing, and video games. When I go to races now and see fathers with their little sons, who have great big earphones to protect their ears, I get both nostalgic and a little jealous - nostalgic, because I remember when that was me, and jealous because I wish I had that sweet ear protection back in the day; I just had ear plugs, which rarely worked (now, though, I go au natural. Ear plugs are for wusses).

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It was over 100 degrees, and a Saturday after a week of 100-degree days, but I still loved seeing the ALMS last year. Shame I was one of about 20 people there. Photo by Doug Bonham

As with many other aspects of my life, my relationship with auto racing rotates around an axis of love and hate. I love the American Le Mans Series and Champ Cars; I hate that they draw about as well as a Vanilla Ice cover band. I love following Formula 1 racing from around the world, but hate how much it costs: not only in even dreaming of traveling to a race, but in how much digital cable costs to receive the network that carries F1 in the US, SPEED Channel (strangely, it's on basic cable both on the Oregon coast and in the Columbia River Gorge; yes, both my grandparents have SPEED, while I don't. SHIT).

This means I turn into something of a junkie when it comes to watching actual racing on TV. I knew the Champ Car race was going to be on ESPN Sunday afternoon, but it started earlier than I thought it would; when my roommates (flipping between baseball, playoff basketball, and bad movies on TNT and Comedy Central) hit ESPN and the race, I went berserk. "LEAVE IT HERE" I almost screamed, foam spewing out and hitting the screen and my roommates.

of course they didn't understand. To them, and many of the uninitiated masses, auto racing is simple: how hard is it to drive a car around a track? Well, it's pretty damned difficult to do that for nearly two hours and do it quickly, but that's another argument. The aesthetics to watching racing are a bit more subtle; it's not as immediately rewarding, but watching a really good battle for position is as rewarding as anything else in sports. Much like with soccer, it's not the frequency of actual scoring (or passes) that matters, it's the build up: watching two drivers (or more sometimes) dicing for position before a decisive pass is attempted.

this is one of two legs upon which I stand and loathe NASCAR: passing is cheapened to the point where it is unrewarding and almost counter-productive to watch a full NASCAR race. The other leg is its horrible spread of commercialization; F1 handles their commercial side much better, while involving as many (if not more) blue-chip companies in the process. NASCAR is the carnival-caller mentality blown up ad naseum, which the NFL suffers from as well to a certain degree.

I still harbor dreams of doing some amateur SCCA autocrossing and light-caliber racing with my own car at a later date, but that's almost going to be another lifetime from now. Until then, though, I will follow auto racing with the eye of somebody mature enough to understand politics and savvy enough to understand the subtleties of the sport, while maintaining the wide-eyed youthful enthusiasm I've had ever since I first stepped foot at Portland International Raceway with my dad to see the Indy Cars.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

design flaws from the factory

I like technology. It brings me good things, makes my life better. I'm more than comfortable with computers, I like having advanced TVs and video games and computers, and I don't mind the rapid pace with which each of these things advance.

with improvements comes obsolescence; that's just the natural order of technology at this point in time. However, what annoys me like none other is a seemingly built-in obsolescence - or, at the least, a lack of build quality - in some technology products. Let's use the iPod as a case study, partially because it is a very important piece of technology, partially because there *are* many cases of failed iPods, partially because this brings up an interesting argument and dichotomy, and partially because I currently have a broken iPod.

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"...with dimes laid on your eyes." Nothing like a good Decemberists quote, especially because A) that's what my iPod is now - dead with dimes upon its eyes - and B) I USED TO BE ABLE TO LISTEN TO THAT SONG ON THERE.

This is the second iPod of that generation that I have broken, seemingly by dropping it and hitting it just right to kill the hard drive. the first one died after 21 months of use this past January, and was replaced under extended warranty; this second one (an older model, identical to the first) lasted but scarcely four months but, crucially, past the warranty. BOO! Boo I say to thee.

I'm not the only one to have this problem: besides my friend Laura being on her fourth iPod of the same generation (most of them dying from hard drive problems) and my sister having her 3rd gen iPod have battery problems (my mom now has that one's replacement), I've heard of many other anecdotal cases from my friends regarding iPods dying.

"hey guess what? that music you bought on iTunes? Only works with apple stuff. CONGRATULATIONS! This is the downside to drinking the kool-aid, kids.

This isn't a problem if you're a garden-variety pirate like my sister is, as replacing MP3s is cheap and easy; it's simply a matter of annoyance. However, for somebody who has played by the rules and bought music on iTunes (why? I can simply drop it onto my iPod and that works most everywhere, including my car, which has an iPod adapter for the CD head unit...), unless I want to lose my music - or, bar the annoying and time consuming burn-and-re-rip-as-MP3 routine (which, frankly, I don't have the time for) - I'm stuck with Apple. I drank their iLife iKoolAid, and now I'm iMarried to their products and if I don't like it, I'm iFucked.

now, we can go into DRMs and all the fun there, but here's a simpler matter: my dad's stereo equipment from the '70s still works beautifully; my iPod from freshman year is long gone. I know advances are advances, but can't something be built to last anymore?

Of course, for every horror story, there's an original-generation one still kicking - like my aunt's iPod from the first gen. But, seems to me there's more than a little planned obsolescence built into these little things, and it's all to bleed more money from consumers from a product that's popular and already probably packing a high profit margin.

I'm considering getting an iPod Nano this week, for a two-fold reason: one, I don't need that much space; two, I think it should survive a bit better because it works off of flash memory. However, if this thing breaks within a few years, I may have to begin rethinking my belief and faith in Apple and their products. Buying new $300 iPods every other year is not a sustainable practice, no matter how much the tech hound in me would love to do it. There is a breaking point in every consumer; I haven't hit mine yet, but what will I do when I finally do reach that?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

there's always this year

Oh, Ichiro. I wish the front office cared as much about winning as you do.

Ah, baseball season. Double ah, Opening the night before that featured the World Champion Cardinals start on a sour note. But that, really, was just an introduction to one of those few, glorious days where ESPN gives wall-to-wall coverage time to baseball (others include: memorial day, the 4th of July, labor day, and the final days into the stretch run).

for me - and many other people enjoying life in the beautifully rainy oasis that is the Northwest - ESPN's bevy of early day games from the East coast is a warm-up for switching over to FSN, hearing that usual intro music and waiting for Dave Niehaus to step up to the mic for the first time in the new season.

And, promptly, to be ready for another underwhelming season of Seattle Mariner baseball.

Aside from the Glorious Halcyon Days of 1995-2001, the Mariners have never really mattered. They were one of the worst franchises, had one of the worst owners, and played in the Kingdome - that should be self explanatory. Hell, much like the editor of With Leather, I could watch the clip of the Kingdome imploding all day long:

Ahem. I just watched that three and a half times. Good stuff.

I'm usually optimistic; I'm usually optimistic about my Mariners, too, but this season I just can't find any reason to be. We're in Year Three of the Reign of Hargrove, the man who fucked up with the mid-90s Cleveland Indians, one of the most stacked teams of all time, and we still have Bill Bavasi - aka Public Enemy Number One within Mariner fandom - as our General Manager. This man traded a great young middle reliever for a spent starter with injury problems this offseason. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

You can smell the pessimism from here. Winning the first two games barely enforces this - okay, King Felix played up to his potential, Sexson hit a couple bombs and Beltre is finally earning his pay...these are things that should be automatic. You pay a lot for a player, you expect him to pay to that level. am I wrong?

nope. just a pessimistic Mariner fan who has been unimpressed.


Blazers notes: Randolph out for the rest of the season with hand surgery; he's going to have to be careful when he makes it rain while on bereavement, I guess. This also is the equivalent of the Magic 8-Ball showing "Signs point to 'yes'" when you ask it "Will Z-bo be traded?": It's not a guarantee, but it's a nice sign. Thankfully LMA is a beast, though now out with something weird with his heart. He should talk to my mom about that, she just had a mild surgery last week.

Monday, April 2, 2007

GTA: Lightning rod for controversy

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The first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer hit the internets last week, almost broke many a server, and already has made some enemies (He Who Shall Not Be Named doesn't count). Picture from

You know, can't a good game series just get a break sometime? Can a trailer for their new game simply come out without getting people up in arms?

apparently not. As Kotaku reports, apparently some politicos in NYC are up in arms because the new game is set in a not-quite-so-hidden parody/homage/send-up of NYC, Liberty City.

This is nothing new - the mayor of Las Vegas was very upset because the newest Rainbow Six game, R6: Vegas, is set in Las Vegas and has you playing as an anti-terror team in hotels on the strip.

my beef with all of this? If this was a gangster movie, or a mob movie, or any other sort of police thriller movie set in NYC...wouldn't it 'reflect poorly' on their city too? So what's the disparity? Oh, wait, the disparity is in the gap that exists between those in charge and those making and playing games - generationally and in knowledge of the subject.

This gets back to the root problem that many people don't understand that video games are made for all ages and maturity levels. This is why people are up in arms about GTA getting into the hands of children, this is why it can get into those hands, and this is a problem that will only be solved after the generation ahead of mine gets to be even older and have more influence than the baby boomers. It will be solved by the time I'm a parent, because there will be a whole generation of parents who know that video games are like movies, and that the kids shouldn't play GTA as much as they should watch The Matrix or listen to NWA.