Friday, May 30, 2008

(05.30.08) Recommends:

Ema and the Ghosts.

After yesterday's Beirut post, we got an email tip to check out Ema and the Ghosts. So we went to her myspace and, honestly, the first thing we noticed was her profile introduction:

ema is a girl who would like to make a sound to make a feeling to make a revolution. yes, she understands the unlikelyhood of this daydream being realized but she does not care. she has more important things to worry about.

Okay, as far as myspace profiles go, that's pretty crush-worthy. The next thing we noticed was the music. It's one female, an accordion, a ukulele, random bells and whistles. Completely charming. If you like Beirut or Jens Lekman or Andrew Bird or the Moldy Peaches or if you breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide, we're willing to bet that you'll enjoy Ema and the Ghosts.

Ema and the Ghosts at Myspace.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

(05.29.08) Recommends:

The Los Angeles Return of Beirut.

Oh, Zach Condon. What more can we possibly say about him? He released music in 2006 and it was among our favorite music of that year. He released some more music in 2007 and it was among our favorite music of that year.

He's an interesting artist for many reasons, but one of the things that strikes us is this. If you read this blog because you're really into music, you're familiar with Beirut. If you read this blog simply because you know us, you're probably not familiar with Beirut. And if you get out from beyond your computers right now and ask the first five people you come across if they know of Beirut, after clarifying that you're talking about the band, we can almost guarantee that you'll be meet with blank stares. So here's what's awesome. Last time Beirut came through Los Angeles -- October '07 -- they played two shows at the Avalon (the first of which we know for sure was sold out). The Avalon is not the Hollywood Bowl, but it easily fits in excess of 1,000 people. It's quite impressive playing, let alone selling out, a venue that size while being a band that is in large measure obscure.

And not only did Beirut sell out the Avalon. The crowd was as attentive as any crowd we've ever seen. Hanging on his every word. Singing along to every word. And at the time of these shows Beirut's second full length album had been officially released less than a week, yet we overheard at least two people claim various songs on the album were their favorite songs of all time. And we don't think this was simply hipster hyperbole. Zach Condon has an effect on people that is true and pure and above all else real. (As an example, after the show, we went home and were inspired to start goofing around with our camera. We took a picture of the concert ticket and within thirty minutes had created what has turned out to be easily one of this blog's most viewed posts).

People of our generation, we're the Mtv generation. We've been advertised to our entire lives. Since our earliest years, we've been sold soda and shoes and lifestyles and dreams. It's become hard to tell the difference between what we really think and believe and feel and what we're told we're supposed to think and believe and feel. It seems that every time we stumble upon something authentic and different, in come the marketers to repackage it and sell it on a mass scale. It's enough to make one crazy. Unfortunately, cynical, we think, is what it's made most of us. There's a sense of sadness that pervades our generation because we desperately seek things real -- real emotions, real connections, whatever -- but too often feel we are left with the manufactured, facsimiles. We want to know that the emotions that we experience are the emotions we actually have, and not the emotions that marketers and advertisers and media executives are feeding us.

And into this vast space steps Zach Condon. He is real and pure and haunting and haunted and seems like he arrived in our speakers straight out of a novel. People are responding, we suppose, because they fear this moment is fleeting. That Zach Condon will one day just up and vanish. Well, for now Beirut is back for two shows. This time at the Wiltern. The band is still pretty obscure. But that hasn't stopped them from already selling out the Friday show.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed with the cynical and the snarky and the snide and the sarcastic, we really recommend going to one of these shows. We guarantee they will be life affirming. And that's a good thing.

Beirut -- various tracks -- streaming audio.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(05.28.08) Recommends:

The Track "Creeper" from Islands' "Arm's Way" (Anti, 2008).

We're so underground that we've been anxiously awaiting Islands backlash since Nick Thornborn was still in the Unicorns. We're kidding, of course (click here for some background history); there are few bands in recent years that we've listened to with as much awe as the Unicorns and then Islands (though we've always thought Islands makes some of their songs about 90 seconds too long). So we waited with baited breath for the newest Islands release -- literally: we were on a strict fish bait diet for like three weeks prior to the release.

It came out several weeks ago but we've held off writing about it because we wanted to fully dig into it. And, frankly, it's also taken several weeks because it leads off with Creeper and it took us about nine days before our brain would allow us to move on to track 2.

So today we're gonna drop some Islands crumbs. If you listen to only one track on Arm's Way, it should be this one.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

(05.27.08) Recommends:

Surya India,
8048 W. 3rd St.

We've lived in both the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles. We notice certain differences between the two. There is a certain rivalry between them, though probably not as much as people outside of the two areas would imagine. We've also come to appreciate certain similarities between the two as well. And say what you will about the two areas, but this much is hard to argue with: living in either one is pretty different than living in Kansas.

There are many differences that we expected, and expected to enjoy, before we moved -- the weather, the geographic diversity, the concentration of ambitious young people who flock here from all over the country and world. But these are pretty much the differences that lured us here in the first place. There are also differences that we didn't really think much about, but that we now find ourselves loving and they leave us unable to imagine how we could have gone so long living without them. One of the most pleasantly surprising differences that we've come to love is the diversity of ethnic food. We have never really been Food People; pasta and chicken pretty much got us to our early 20s. And still today, we cannot be considered foodies or food snobs (mostly because we just eat what is put in front of us with little understanding of or regard for the ingredients or how it's put together or the proper verbs used to describe food and ambiance), but we have been surprised to find out how much we love exploring new restaurants, and particularly restaurants that offer cuisine that is rare or non-existent in Kansas, it of the 91% white population.

So this weekend's revelation: bharta. Pardon our French -- we're talking food here, so an illusion to the French somehow seems necessary, right? -- but: Holy Shit. We ordered this, along with three or four other dishes, from Surya and had it delieverd. And when a Fellow Blogger put it on the table it looked to us like a container of tomato puree and we were neither excited with its look nor sure what to do with it. And even now, all we know for sure about bharta is that it is a vegetarian India dish made out of eggplant. But we were told to put some on our plate over our rice and we did what we were told and, again: Holy Shit.

We don't think we've ever thought of eggplant and crack at the same time, but bharta was bridging all sorts of divides this weekend. And again, because we are not foodies, we don't know if Bharta is "authenthic" (but trust us when we say we don't care). For all we know, bharta might be the Indian equivalent of a chili dog or a funnel cake -- something unsophicated for which your love can only be expressed to yourself while you are driving alone in the car or taking a shower.

Whatever bharta's story, we loved it and ate the whole container and when it was gone insisted on scraping up the container with nan, to make sure every last lick was gone.

And here we sit, Tuesday morning, and all we can think about is the next time we get to have it.

Surya India:
On the web.

(05.27.08) Recommends:

How Me Breaking Up With You Is Like Jon Lester Pitching A No Hitter Against The Kansas City Royals.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(05.21.08) Recommends:

Karma Police.

Question: What do you get for inventing bands like Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync?

Answer: Why, 25 years in prision, natch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

(05.20.08) Recommends:

Carbon Dating.

As an alternative to, you know, Online Dating.

Think about it, people. Think about it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

(05.19.08) Recommends:

Mount Righteous.

This is some kind of 11-piece acoustic-indie-rock-punk marching band. We keep seeing this name pop up in our inboxes and they're playing a bunch of local shows in the coming weeks so we're very excited to catch them live. We've been listening to their myspace all day and we like what we've heard. They kind of remind us of Head of Femur, (myspace) which is another old live favorite of the blog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(05.14.08) Recommends:

Willy's Favorite Burrito (w/ grilled Skirt steak instead of chicken).
Bossa Nova,
7181 W Sunset Blvd.

We carry three things in our pockets (we actually carry things in our pockets Huck Finn-style, long ago eschewing the notion of wallets and whatnots) at all times: (1) a bank card; (2) a form of government-issued identification; (3) a card that says "We Love Burritos."

So take it from self-styled burrito fiends, when we say there may be no better burrito available in this country than Willy's Favorite Burrito at Bossa Nova, a Brazilian place in the middle of Hollywood. Who woulda figured, right? We had previously believed that the best burrito available in this country was the orange-sauce ladened crack burrito of La Victoria. But Bossa Nova is making us question the very principles around which our world is organized. And never has such disorganization and chaos satisfied us and fortified us and bowled over our little burrito-loving brains as Willy's Favorite Burrito.

If you live in Los Angeles and act on one recommendation from this blog this week, make it to go to Bossa Nova and order this. Also: you should probably invite us along.

Two Additional Notes:
One. On the menu, the burrito is found under "Sandwiches". Do not let this alarm you. You are in Hollywood after all and they just do things a little differently here -- an artist's constitution and whatnot. You say tomato, we say tomahto. You say sandwich, we say burrito. Whatever. We'll deal.

Two. There are several Bossa Nova locations, but the great thing about the Hollywood location is that before or after your burrito you can go across the street and catch some live theater. Seventh Veil specializes in putting on what we guess is termed Off Broadway productions. The first time we heard about the Bossa Nova/Seventh Veil combo was back in the fall, during the heat of the writer's strike. Our friend went and told us -- we presumed that it was in solidarity with the writer's -- that the cast members choose to perform the play totally naked. Frankly, our friend found the whole thing was a bit startling and we're not sure every show is like this. But you'll basically just have to go and find out for yourself. And if you act on that recommendation? There's no need to actually invite us along. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

(05.13.08) Recommends:

The track "We're From Barcelona" by the band I'm From Barcelona.

Okay, since last Thursday we have had this stuck in our head for the first time since late-'06/early-'07. Here is the tale.

Part 1. We were living in Northern California when this song was first released, back in 2006. By January 2007 we were dating a girl who lived in San Francisco. She did not just live in San Francisco though, no no, she lived on California Street at the peak of Nob Hill. Now, anybody who has spent any time in San Francisco on California Street at the peak of Nob Hill understands that this area offers some of the most breathtaking views of anywhere in the United States.

Part 2. At the time, we were also living the Student Life, and sometimes -- in particular Friday's, when we had no classes and could go roam around freely -- the Student Life is the Best Life Their Is.

Part 3. So on many of these Friday afternoons in January 2007, we'd find ourselves driving up to San Francisco to spend the weekend with said girlfriend. And we burned a CD that featured only this song -- anybody who reads this blog with any regularity knows that when we get a song on the brain, we will listen to nothing else until we've completely mastered the song -- so we would be driving windows rolled down radio cranked up, slowly enveloped by the smell of the Bay and breathtaking views and this song. Intoxicated with life. We would shout the lyrics at the top of our lungs -- the band is, a bit confusingly given the name, from Sweden and even though we think the song is mostly in English, the only part we knew we were getting right was the "la-la-la-la-laaaaa la-la-la-laaaa lalalalaaaaaa." [1]

Part 4. When this relationship ended -- which is the terminus of all relationships that are predicated almost entirely upon the stunning vistas afforded by the significant others' neighborhood (yes, yes, we're horrible people for saying this, but let this be a Lesson For Us All) -- this single song CD got shoved to the bottom of the CD pile/got lost somewhere amid all the crap in the backseat/trunk/under the drivers or passengers seat of our car. One of the two. It's been a long time since we've seen the CD so it's location, really, could be anywhere at this point.

Part 5. But the song made an unexpected reprise in our lives at the Ben Solee show on Thursday. It was played over the speakers between Ben's sound check and the beginning of his set proper. The show was great, but now we're retroactively wondering if having this song as a lead-off didn't put us in a particularly sentimental mood. And since that show, the catchy song has lodged its way back into our brain. We've literally been whistling it in the shower. Whistling it on the metro to work. Whistling it in the office. If we're feeling particularly giddy -- and we're sure nobody is within earshoot of us -- we've even been belting out the old "la-la-la-la-laaaa la-la-la-la-laaaaa lalalalaaaa" line. Then, last night while taking the metro home, we got a deep-seated urge for edamame. So we stopped into our neighborhood crap sushi joint (a place so crappy that we refuse to even recognize it by name it in this space) for a pre-dinner snack. And what instantly popped up on the speakers as we sat down? Why, "We're From Barcelona." So we figured that the gods, in addition to being crazy, must want us to blog about this song.

Part 6 . So here we are. Blogging about the song. We really hope everybody will click on the mp3 below and give the song a try. It really is one of the most catchy, whistleable, damn near perfect pop songs crafted in the last twenty fives years.

I'm From Barcelona -- We're From Barcelona -- mp3.

[1] A little known fact is that many school children in Sweden actually speak French. So, if our recollection of high school French is correct, this lyric, translated from the original French means roughly "the-the-the-theeeeee the the the theeeeeee thethethetheeeee."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Friday, May 09, 2008

(05.09.08) Recommends:

Ben Sollee.

So we just received an email about this gentleman earlier in the week. The email basically said: this dude is kinda like Andrew Bird and he's playing an early show at the Silverlake Lounge on Thursday and you like both Andrew Bird and early shows at the Silverlake Lounge so go check this out already. And so we went and checked it out.

Ben Sollee is 24 and plays the cello. He is a bit like Andrew Bird, we suppose. He's also a bit New Grassy, and jazzy. Here's the thing. We spend lots of time consuming obscure-to-somewhat-obscure media. And then we come here and make recommendations. Often very enthusiastically. We do this despite our knowledge that many people will never act on the recommendations, or click though to the linnks we present (sad, true, but we understand that everybody is under a constant delgue of stuff that must be done, so we understand sometimes people just do not/cannot take the time to take chances with culture), and that which we recommend might not find an audience as big as we believe it deserves.

But this recommendation is different. As a general rule, solo cellists do not perform at the Silverlake Lounge to the rapt attention of a roomful of hipsters. But here's the thing. He also plays in Sparrow Quartet, a band that also includes Bela Fleck (the offical banjo hero of this blog), so he'll play to the rapt attention of the bluegrass festival circuit this summer. We could see him catching on big with the Dave Matthews Band crowd.

He reminds us a bit of someone like Andrew Bird, or someone like Zach Condon of Beirut in that he is obviously inspired by a force that touches few people. Most young people do not wake up and say "I want to be a cello player. I want to fuse jazz and bluegrass and rock. And I want to do it in front of both small rooms in Silverlake and large fields of the Rockies." But -- and god bless him for this -- Ben Sollee does walk around with thoughts like these in his head. And that's why we're convinced that he is very needed. Because society is better for people who think these strange, but captivating, thoughts.

Endnote: For people in LA, Ben is opening for Tapes 'n Tapes tonight at the Troubadour.

Ben Solle @ myspace.
Ben Sollee featured on NPR.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

(05.08.08) Recommends:

Blogging Your Way To Work/Proving Your Critics Wrong.

So after yesterday's post, we received no less than two messages challenging the assertion that we actually take the metro to work. We've long suspected that the readers of this blog are primarily ne'r-do-wells; however, we did not anticipate that they were also faithless.

We figured the only way to prove the nay-sayers wrong is to turn our morning commute into a Bloggable Event.

We like to call this first pic the Pre-6AM Hollywood Blackout Blues. LA -- we're not being fair here, this is pretty much applicable to California as a whole -- doesn't really get started until 10:30am, 9:30am tops. Which is great for us, as we grew up waking to the crowing of roosters and whirling of blow dryers at 4:00am every morning, so we can get started with our work without having to, you know, like, interact with people and stuff.

This next pic doesn't really do this building justice. But it's built in this weird castle-inspired architecture that is oddly prevalent throughout Los Angeles (was castle-inspired architecture big in, like, the 50s? Is this some residual Disney effect? Is this an elaborate joke we're not in on? If anybody has any info on LA's obsession with castle-based architecture, we'd love to know).

Franklin Ave. and Beachwood Dr.

Sushi Ike. Perhaps our favorite sushi in LA. Another peculiar California-ism is they put really excellent restaurants in totally sketchy strip malls. This has taken us years to get used to.

See what we mean? We remember the first time we (hurriedly) walked by this sign and thought rather than Al Wazir Chicken it said Al Jeezera Chicken. We figured that explained the existence, in the same strip mall, of a store called Security Training (which, no doubt, is a Department of Homeland Security it's-so-unsubtle-it-becomes-subtle front). However, upon noting our error, we're now pretty sure it's Thai Massage that the feds may or may not be monitoring.

We go to LA music venues all the time. We walk by the Henry Fonda every day. But we've never seen a show here.

Looking westward on Hollywood Blvd. The streets of where I'm from are paved with hearts instead of gold...

Our red line station.

The Alice in Wonderland decent.

The Metro is well-known for its use of alliteration.

Our g ride.

Our exit.

The view from the 7th Street Metro stop.

The view outside our office.

The view inside our office.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

(05.07.08) Recommends:

Public Transportation.

So over the past several weeks we've finally wised up. We have finally stopped trying to find secret routes! -- here and here for some background -- and started taking the metro to work. And my oh my. We've always believed that travel by train is the most civilized way to travel. And our belief has been reconfirmed. It is so lovely not having to deal with traffic. We sit peacefully on the way home now. Sometimes we even -- gasp! -- read books and magazines. We are reducing our carbon footprint. We are reducing our blood pressure -- we'd venture to guess we've lowered it anywhere from one-half to two-thirds. And we're the kind of people who always must be stressing to the point of a nervous breakdown. So with public transportion eliminating many of our known stressors we're very curious to see what will come up over this month to make us edgy. With public transportation on our side, we're willing to take on all comers.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

(05.06.08) Recommends:

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee.

If you monitor the world of books (or, if you're like us and pay attention to a few sources that monitor the world of books for us), you most likely haven't gotten through a book-reviewing source in the past few months without seeing a review of this book.

The idea for it began with a March 2005 Powerball drawing. Powerball statisticians expected there to be 3.7 second place winners for this particular drawing (second place meaning correctly picking 5 of the 6 numbers drawn). Instead, there were 110. The winners came from every state in the country, but of them 104 had picked the same six numbers. What's more, under the rules of Powerball, if 110 people had all won first place (i.e., correctly picked all 6 numbers), the jackpot would just be split 110 ways. However, there is no such limitation on second place -- Powerball had to pay out 110 fixed amounts. And they suspected fraud. So, one by one, they interviewed the winners. What they found were 104 people who had put their Powerball number picking faith in the same string of numbers received from the fortune of fortune cookies.

From this story, Jennifer 8. Lee traces back the fortunes to the Chinese restaurants and develops her thesis that Chinese food is now more American than apple pie. Along the way for her search for the lucky fortune cookies, she tells the story of the modern Chinese restaurant in America. The history of fortune cookies -- where they're from, how they're made, who writes the fortunes, intellectual property litigation of the fortune cookie. The history of those stacks of Chinese delivery menus piled up in the corner that anybody who has ever rented an apartment has experienced. The history of chop suey. The history of General Tso's chicken (and why nobody in his home village has ever heard of it). Why, of all Americans, Jews have a particularly strong attachment to Chinese food (and what happens when the only Kosher Chinese restaurant in town might not be, well, kosher). The path -- almost always illegal and harrowing -- of the average Chinese worker to an American Chinese restaurant -- first from their home village in China to New York City, then to points throughout the entire U.S. methodically plotted by companies whose sole purpose is to track the best places for Chinese restaurants to be located (and the myriad struggles faced by the immigrants once they arrive in the US). The history of Chinese delivery and take-out and those ubiquitous take-out containers. The history of soy sauce, and a search for the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world.

The book is as entertaining as it is ambitious. It's like a mix between The Tipping Point, Fast Food Nation, your favorite episode of This American Life and just sitting around with your most interesting friend over Chinese take-out and tall bottles of Tsingtao.* Our biggest complaint is that it's only 300 pages -- it could easily be three times that length to allow some of the chapters to be explored a bit deeper and we're still sure it could be read in two days, even at that length.

The book is a charming page-turner and we can't wait to see what Jennifer 8. Lee comes up with next.

*An interesting aside. We wrote this post yesterday morning but didn't have time to post it until this morning. And in between we, by complete coincidence, actually had dinner with an interesting friend -- rather than Chinese, it was done-up up pub food in the LA via NYC style; rather than Tsingtao it was a "beer flight" of yummy beers. And this friend, by further coincidence, informed us that she wrote for her college newspaper with Jennifer 8. Lee. Blogging, like Chinese food, has mysterious powers.