Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Fave CDs of 2005

Last year was a bit of a disaster, but 2005 redeemed itself musically with a bunch of decent releases. And I bought lots of them!

A quick disclaimer: Inclusion in this list has more to do with how many times I listened to a particular CD, and therefore how much I enjoyed it, in the past year, than it does anything else. It also must be a CD I purchased (or was given) for my own collection -- I frown upon copying studio releases for any purpose except promotional reasons (i.e., burn a CD for a buddy who might like a band enough to buy it eventually if only he had a chance to hear it, and who would never have purchased the CD to begin with under any other circumstances anyway) and personal backups. I make some adjustments for titles released late, but all this really is, is my own personal popularity contest.

So, without further ado, the winners:

My Favorite CDs of 2005

1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Upon hearing "John Wayne Gacy" for the first time, Beth asked me "how can someone make such a beautiful song about a serial killer?" The answer, of course, is that it's not about a serial killer so much as it's about ourselves, human beings -- and the potential for ugliness that lurks within. Stevens is an extremely talented songwriter, and it shows everywhere on this CD. "Casimir Pulaski Day," in which Stevens reminisces about a friend who died of cancer, is so crushingly beautiful my eyes well up every time I hear it. But lest you get the idea Illinois is all doom and despair, just give the disc a whirl and enjoy the uplifting hope of "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois," the propelling Vince Guaraldi-meets-Broadway "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!," the banjo-pickin' "Jacksonville," and (my favorite) the sing-along road trip saga "Chicago." And just try to suppress a smile when Stevens rhymes: "Stephen A. Douglas was the great debater, but Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator." It may be a tad overlong and perhaps a bit overambitious, but it's the most easily satisfying start-to-finish CD of the year, and (by a wide margin) it's the one I've listened to most.

2. Beck - Guero
I think Guero is better than Odelay: it's richer, more nuanced, and more listenable. It's also more grown up, and hard as I try to deny it, so am I.

3. Sleater Kinney - The Woods
People who doubt the value of a good record producer need only to listen to what Dave Fridmann did here with what was already a damned good rock group. Only in his capable hands would S-K have allowed the sprawling, largely improvised "Let's Call It Love" to wind up on the final track listing, a fitting penultimate track that nearly exhausts the listener but is really just a setup for the closer. And once you've heard that, you just want to start over again from the beginning.

4. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The self-titled debut from the entreprenurual Brooklynites is much better than it has any right to be, especially with all the hype it garnered in 2005 (capped by placement as background music on NBC's The Office, of all places!). But the record itself (with the exception of the throwaway opening track) is as good as anything else that was released this year. For once, the hypesters got it right! Huzzah!

5. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
"Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" had sure as hell better make you laugh (that is, if you're even the least bit hip to Daft Punk), and "Tribulations" had sure as hell better make you dance. Throw in a bonus CD with collected dance singles (including the all-time funny as hell classic hipster anthem, "Losing My Edge") and you have the coolest major label release of 2005.

6. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm Remixed
I preferred this (and still do) to the original Silent Alarm, which sounds less varied (and therefore less interesting) to me. Either way, though, you can't go wrong: Bloc Party channel Gang of Four better than Gof4 did on their own (uneven, but not as horrible as the critics said) remix record in 2005. Nothing wrong with that, when it's done well.

7. Sigur Rós - Takk
Takk is the most engaging of all the Sigur Rós records, and it's also the most immediate and embracable. That's not to say they've lost their edge -- quite the contrary. They've merely refined their sound and packaged it in a way that extracts the most emotional punch from a casual listener. It helped, too, that the live show we saw over the summer was absolutely spellbinding.

8. Black Mountain - Black Mountain
Big, dumb fun that practically begs to be spun again and again, especially while driving. No two tracks sound alike, yet they all stick together beautifully, improbably, as an album. I wish I had seen BM during their stint last summer opening for Coldplay, playing to empty shed arenas on hot, sticky summer days to a perplexed, disinterested, and probably mildly insulted group of Coldplay fans. And I wish I was there, singing along to "Druganaut" at the top of my lungs. As it was, Rilo Kiley opened for Coldplay here in Raleigh and we got there too late to see them anyway. So I guess that's OK.

9. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
This one snuck up on me, because to be completely honest after I listened to it the first time I'd have probably told you I wasn't planning on listening to it again. But I did, and it slowly revealed itself to be complex, rich, and beautiful -- the one thing on this list I could play for my mother without making her eye twitch.

10. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
Like Bloc Party, which got off to a poor start with me by performing (what I thought was) a sub-standard set at Coachella (but unlike Bloc Party in that I already owned, and liked, their previous CDs), Spoon nonetheless gained momentum throughout the year to wind up placing "Gimme Fiction" on this list. It's little grittier than previous efforts, but not so much as to be off-putting. In fact, I bet you won't notice after the third or fourth time you listen to it. It'll just sound to you like yet another good Spoon CD.

Also worth listing to, but not writing so much about (meaning, I am tired of writing and want to go home):

posted by Bill Purdy, 3:21 PM | link | 3 comments

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Canes That Much Better

Weird night at the RBC, as I went to the game alone for the first time all season. My record on the season is still perfect -- the Canes stuffed the Devils 4-1 (Brindy with his third straight, then Chad LaRose with his first in the Show, the game winner wouldn't ya know, and Eric and Erik capping a 3-goal third period).

I'm a Colorado guy, always will be no matter how long I live in the Carolinas, so there's a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the former Colorado Rockies (and Kansas City Scouts, but I digress). But that spot is so small as to be hardly visible anymore. Imagine my reaction when Devils fan "Ted" said to his (fat, skanky) wife, "Fran," after the shootaround:

(Looking around at the crowd, idly fingering his Devils' logo): "One thing for sure, there's a lot more Devils fans here than Panthers' fans!"

Fran's response: "That's for sure!"

But I was by myself, as Beth opted for sleep at 9:00 over a 9:45 return home from the game, so I just grumbled quietly to myself. Idiots.

One more small observation that must be made: David Lee has done a wonderful job enumerating the rules of sweater-wearing at hockey games (though I don't agree with all of them). I wonder what he'd have to say about the fat guy in the section next to mine wearing a Canes away sweater with the number 69, and the name "DOKTALOV." If it were up to me, I'd kick the guy the fuck outta there.

Idiot.

posted by Bill Purdy, 11:01 PM | link | 2 comments

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Neighbor Hoods

I live in a small neighborhood, with about a hundred homes in it. It's small enough that I know most of my neighbors by sight. I know, for instance, that there are a handful of teenagers in the neighborhood, of which most are polite and relatively harmless. I also know that at least one of them, a kid who lives with his parents about four houses up the street from me, has a bit of a drug problem. I know this because it's a small neighborhood. People gossip. My wife heard it at a neighborhood function, from a reliable source: his family moved here to get him away from the drug culture in which he had immersed himself in the city from where they came.

I don't think it's working. He is frequently seen moping about the neighborhood, often on his cell phone, occasionally smoking, seemingly up to no-good, sullen and defensive looking. He flipped off my wife one day when she beeped at him to get out of the middle of the road. We've never actually seen him do drugs, but he was arrested in his house when his father (or grandfather, I can't remember which) called police to report a $50 Wal-Mart gift card had been stolen from his mother's purse. This was a matter of public record; it was reported in the local newspaper.

Our neighborhood also has a self-appointed "communications director" (my description, not hers), a ten-year plus neighborhood resident who emails neighborhood-related bulletins to every family that has provided an email address. Her bulletins usually involve details of the next "Ladies' Night," a night when I get to be babysitter for a night while the ladies of the neighborhood shoot tequila and gossip.

A couple days ago, she sent an email to everyone indicating one of our neighbors, a Raleigh K-9 police officer, had been robbed. Someone had broken into his K-9 unit (which had been parked in his driveway) driven it around, then parked it on his lawn. "Items" were stolen from it, too, apparently. Then, the perpetrator broke into the victim's wife's car and stole some more "items."

Predictably, this email triggered a flurry of "Reply to All" emails from concerned neighbors, reminding us to call 911 if we see anything suspicious and suggesting a Neighborhood Watch meeting be called, as soon as possible. Someone even sent an email describing how, the night before, she saw flashlights in a house under construction that turned out to be cops! Yes, cops!

(Now might be a good time to point out that even though every house in our neighborhood has a garage, only about half of the people -- including the K-9 police officer -- actually use them to store their cars. Apparently, using your garage for the reason it was intended has become unfashionable and nobody told me about it.)

Because the criminal left the car in the victim's front yard, speculation centered on one of the "several 16-18 year old teenagers" who live in the neighborhood (of which, by my count, there are maybe six) and who have been in trouble with the law before (of which, by my knowledge, there is just one).

Sure enough, the K-9 officer himself, the victim in this senseless property crime, sent the following email the next day:

"John Rutledge was arrested in the break in and larceny of my police car and other items. We recovered all the items that were stolen. John's residence is at 103 Wall Creek Dr. He is a teenager that has caused problems many times before. Due to his arrest on these charges, he should spend some time in prison.

"I think we definitely need to have a community watch meeting. I would be glad along with the Rolesville Police to put it together. In the mean time, if you see anything unusual always call 911."

The perpetrator's name was highlighted, bolded, and in a larger font than the rest of the message. He was not, as it turned out, the same kid who lives on my street and of whom I immediately thought when the story broke.

Almost immediately, another neighbor sent an email chastising the victim's decision to send the child's name and address to the whole neighborhood because, as she put it, "the parents have had enough already." It was bad enough for them, she said, that the cops spent hours in front of their house.

Forgive me, but that woman is full of shit.

If a criminal is doing criminal things in my neighborhood, I want to know about it. And if he or she is caught, I want to know about it, too. ESPECIALLY if the criminal lives in my neighborhood! If his parents have a criminal living under their roof, I am sure they have much more important things to be concerned about than whether the neighbors know about it.

There is, of course, more to the story (as I learned when I looked at the front page of this morning's N&O).

The "items" stolen (and later recovered) included 10 pounds of marijuana, 33 grams of heroin, 250 grams of cocaine and 11 grams of methamphetamine. In addition, the kid stole three disabled revolvers, shooting blanks, dynamite, a cash box, a camera, a black police bag, black gloves and several dog toys.

Dog toys! The boy stole dog toys from a cop! For that reason and that reason alone, he should go to prison!

Rutledge will, indeed, be punished for his hooliganism. But perhaps my K-9 cop neighbor ought to be disciplined for the lack of common sense that led him to think it was OK to park a car filled with 10 pounds of marijuana, 33 grams of heroin, 250 grams of cocaine and 11 grams of methamphetamine, three disabled revolvers, shooting blanks, dynamite, a cash box, a camera, a black police bag, black gloves and several dog toys IN HIS DRIVEWAY INSTEAD OF HIS GARAGE.

Or am I off base on this one?

posted by Bill Purdy, 11:06 AM | link | 3 comments

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mobile Home

Have you missed me?

I've had too little time to post the last couple weeks, mostly because my employer has sent me to Mobile, Alabama, to run a little data warehousing project phase at a client site there. I've either been in transit, or frantically trying to catch up with all the administrative crap project managers are responsible for producing to write a post. But y'all deserve to hear at least a little bit about it. Really, it's fascinating.

Here's how I wound up here. One day, around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the Project Manager from my old project came into my office and asked me if I was interested in a PM role on a short data warehousing project. "Sure," I said. "Meet me in my office in five minutes," she said, and ran off. That gave me a couple minutes to read the Wikipedia article on "Data Warehousing." Thus fully debriefed with a vast knowledge of data warehousing, I joined the PM in her office for a conference call to a desperate service area manager who was looking for someone -- anyone who could breathe -- to take on this project. "I'm your man!," I offered enthusiastically. To emphasize my qualifications, I took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, then slowly let it out. "Then we need you in Mobile tomorrow for a 1 o'clock kickoff meeting," said the SAM (whom I have still, to this day, never met in person).

But getting to Mobile from Raleigh can be a nightmare. By eight o'clock, with the assistance of a marginally-competent American Express Travel consultant in, I think, Calcutta, I was able to book a flight from RDU that got me in early enough to attend the kickoff meeting. But that flight left RDU for Atlanta at 5:50 am. Ugh.

Still, I was too excited / nervous to sleep, so waking up at 3:30 wasn't a problem -- it never is when you're not asleep to begin with. I dusted off my suit and a tie and got myself all dolled up with plenty of time to drive to the airport.

I parked my car at 5:15. I was cutting it close, sure, but that early in the morning security is usually a breeze (because, you know, nobody's there yet). I didn't have any baggage to check -- all I needed to do was check in. The Amex agent said she booked me on a Delta/Northwest code share, so I stood in line for a couple minutes to use the Delta kiosk. I ran my credit card through -- no dice. Must be a Northwest flight out of RDU. I hustled over to the Northwest area, then waited to use one of their kiosks. Slid my credit card through... nothing. There was just one guy behind the counter, and he was busy checking bags for a sherpa family headed to Timbuktu. When he finally finished, I asked him about my reservation. Tap tap tap. "Nothing here. You don't have a reservation on Northwest."

Furious, and quickly running out of time, I went back to the Delta desk. That (one, of course -- the airlines don't really staff the counters anymore, especially not that early in the morning) guy was checking bags for a Khazakstani family of seven who were traveling to the old country to sell what, by my cursory count, appeared to be hundreds of pairs of used Levis. And two bicycles. And a set of golf clubs.

Finally, I got to the front of the line. Tap tap tap on the keyboard. Tap tap tap. "Bill Purdy?," he asked, as he ripped the boarding passes from his machine. "You had better run," he said, sounding exactly like Rip Taylor as he smirked at me. I half expected him to toss confetti my way. It was 5:34. Sixteen minutes to make my flight.

(Turns out the problem was with my profile at American Express, which had me as "Bill Purdy." Therefore, my reservations were made in that name. The credit cards I swiped at the kiosks say "William Purdy." So, no match.)

I ran. I began to sweat. Damn this heat! Damn my fat, out of shape self! I got to security.

Damn this extraordinarily long line!

It took ten minutes to get through security. Apparently (and unbeknownst to me, as RDU is still a new airport to me), lots of flights leave RDU around 6 am, because many of the airlines overnight their aircraft there. That means lots of people were in line to have their shoes inspected.

By the time I got to the gate, my flight was backing away from it.

Not 13 hours on this new project, and I had already missed a flight to work. Wonderful. And there was no other way for me to get to Mobile in time for the kickoff meeting. Great way to make a first impression!

There is, of course, more to the story. Eventually, I made it to Mobile, though I have had two endure two flight cancellations in the two weeks I've traveled there. Hotels are in extremely short supply there because of the influx of workers cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina, so I have had to stay in properties that are, shall I say, a bit lacking in amenities. But my colleague and SME on the project could not be a cooler guy, and the client staff seem quite interested in making our work easier (rather than harder, as many clients feel it is their responsibility to do).

Mobile is surprisingly nice -- the historic downtown district (where I work) is chock full of renovated and currently-being-renovated attractive old buildings. Stately live oaks line most of the streets. Restaurants are good and in abundant supply. They are even in the process of building a large 50-story skyscraper downtown -- a sign of economic prosperity that is rare in most similar-sized American cities. If I have any complaint, it's that the traffic engineers have devised some strange system of frontage roads where access to and from the main road is via numerous byways that require folks on the frontage roads to constantly yield to traffic merging from the main roads. This means Yield signs are everywhere, and it's often unclear to whom they apply -- the folks on the main road, or the folks on the frontage road. I'm surprised I haven't seen more accidents, especially with the amount of visitors who, like me, seem utterly perplexed by the unfamiliar rules dictated by this arrangement.

Ah, but that's a minor complaint. Things are fine here, really. I'll try to post more often from now on.

posted by Bill Purdy, 8:05 AM | link | 2 comments