I think I’ve said this about a hundred times but if you’re not listening to Calhoun you need to take a step back and re-evaluate your life.

Calhoun - Lola's 10/20/2013

Their new EP, Paperweights, comes out today and it is phenomenal. I was lucky enough to get my hands on it several months ago thanks to the unending generosity and awesomeness of Tim Locke and it has, as pretty much all of Calhoun’s music does, become a staple of my playlists.

When I saw the official tracklist for Paperweights I was amused and also glad I didn’t write this post earlier, because four out of the six songs’ names have changed. I knew this was the case with “Don’t Look Strange,” previously known as “Shit On My Face” because according to Tim at the show the other night, there were “objections.”

This EP is a definite departure from their previous album, Heavy Sugar, and light-years away from Year That Never Was, and I mean this in the best possible way. With each album, Calhoun’s sound becomes tighter and more focused and evolves in ways that deliver some of the best lyrics and music since David Byrne fronted Talking Heads. Tim Locke likes to call Paperweights a “dance party,” and he’s not wrong. There are plenty of synths and more danceable beats than you can shake a stick at and the combination is sublime.

“Fatal Flaw” and “Paperweights” are my two favorite songs on the album, and they are the opener and closer, respectively. The former has a definite Erasure feel to it, something I first thought when I caught it on the Local Edge, while the latter’s final moments feel like the end of a fireworks show – setting everything off for the grand finale.

Mister E, on the other hand, is firmly in the “Reap/Sow” camp. He has stated on more than one occasion that this is his favorite music by Calhoun because it speaks to him in a way their other stuff hasn’t. He was quick to point out that he likes their other stuff – he seems particularly fond of “Knife Fight” – but Paperweights is it for him.

“Reap/Sow” is their first single off the new EP, so sit back, have a listen, then go buy the album because the rest of it is just as awesome.

I cannot recommend Calhoun and Paperweights strongly enough. You can get it today on iTunes and Amazon, with potential vinyl happening in the future. Go now, and dance on.


On Holiday: Food Tourism and the Movies

One of the best parts of any vacation is the fact that you can eat anything and it doesn’t count. Here are some of the things I ate:

What I did not eat was okonomiyaki, which I really wanted to eat, but sadly we drove all over Austin and weren’t able to locate the truck. After a lot of wandering around and finding ourselves across the street from a store called New Brohemia whose stock you can probably guess from the name.

We ended up at New Brohemia after the first GPS mishap, wandering around a number of other food trucks that did not strike our fancy. Not to be deterred, RJ tried Foursquare, which sent us to another location entirely that did not have any food trucks to speak of. After the second round of wandering in the dark, we gave up and went to Aster’s to have delicious Ethiopian food and lots of injeera. When a door closes and all that.

Another disappointment occurred in our attempt to see Django Unchained at the Drafthouse. We checked the time and dutifully showed up at the theatre only to find out that it was sold out. This after we had a long discussion about my wanting to go see it with Mister E because he loves Tarantino movies so much. Instead we went on an adventure and found a regular movie theatre after a lot of searching.

After carefully weighing our options, we decided on Mama.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Mama is about two little girls who get taken out into the snowy woods by their father, who has just killed their mother and his business partners. He plans to shoot the girls and then himself, but before he can pull the trigger something drags him away and dispatches him. The same presence – Mama – then raises the little girls until they’re found five years later. They’re taken back to civilization and terror ensues.

This movie scared the piss out of me. Not literally, of course, but regularly and with feeling. There were a lot of those corner-of-the-eye glimpses of Mama, feral children scuttling around on all fours like crabs (shudder shudder), and a lot of jump scares that were terrifying even when you knew they were coming. There was also some of that horrible jerky contortionist-like movement that makes me cringe every time I see it. So yeah, it was good. The ending was bittersweet and unexpected, even to RJ who always figures out the ending of movies, so I can honestly say I recommend it.

We made it back home with much less incident than it had taken us to get to the theatre but without anything to eat because by that point it was so late that nothing was open and RJ had to get to bed to go to work in the morning. I must have been tired as well because I wasn’t even worried about the closet door being partway open. This time.

Beta Love

rrrbetalovecoverSo now that it’s been out a little while and I’ve had a chance to listen to it on repeat for a while, add it to every running mix I’ve created, and pick out my favorite songs, I suppose I should tell you how I feel about Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love. It might come as a shock to you, but I love it.

I wasn’t sure I’d like it, though.

As we have previously established through an exhaustive inspection of my music collection, I tend to go for bands and singers whose music feature strings, such as Blue October and Andrew Bird. When I first heard Ra Ra Riot, it was the string section in their song “Dying is Fine” that caught my attention. So when I heard that Alexandra, their cellist, was leaving the band I was heartbroken and concerned.

However, we have also previously established that I love Ra Ra Riot. Hell, part of my beloved Bucky tattoo are the words “Skin and Claw,” a reference to their song “Ghost Under Rocks.” So even though the article said that their new album was going to be more synth-based, I resolved to give them the benefit of the doubt because they’re one of my all-time favorites. When “Beta Love” was released as a single in November, I gritted my teeth and pressed play.

It was wonderful.

I was immediately hooked and ended up listening to it so many times that I think Mister E even knows the lyrics. Every new single that they released on Spotify was on perma-play. As soon as they put the entire album up on Youtube, I started listening to all of the songs in the same way. I just could not (and cannot) get enough of this album.

The synths and violin work beautifully together, and the frantic beats that populate the majority of the album get into your head and make you want to dance, no matter where you are. I have to remind myself that I’m not allowed to have a dance party on the treadmill when “Dance With Me” comes on. Every. Single. Time. The lyrics are a little different than previous albums; science fiction inspired with a lot of emphasis on artificial intelligence and the capability of machines to feel, but I still get that straight-to-the-heart feeling that gives me goosebumps from them.

Beta Love is an awesome album. Why haven’t you stopped reading yet to go listen to it?

Since I already posted “Dance With Me” yesterday, I’ll put up “Beta Love” so you can get hooked too. Then go buy their album or go to a show, like I will be next week. Trust me, they’re awesome.

Yakitate!! Japan

Yakitate!! Japan I honestly can’t remember what made me pick up my first copy of Yakitate!! Japan. It’s got two of the things I generally can’t stand in manga: a specialized story and gags. Tons of gags. Puns and extreme reactions everywhere. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of YJ.

By specialized story, I mean that it’s all about one thing. There are plenty of manga like that in Japan, too, and they’re mostly sports manga. Shounen manga has Prince of Tennis, shoujo manga has Crimson Hero. Meanwhile, I prefer seinen titles like Afterschool Charisma and sweet josei ones like Bunny Drop. And if none of those words make sense to you, don’t worry. The gist of it is that I like stories that are character-driven, and YJ is about one thing: bread.

The story is fairly simple. Kazuma Azuma is a 16 year old kid (they’re always sixteen years old) who wants to make a bread that Japanese people like better than rice, and that can be seen as Japan’s national bread. To do that, he goes to Tokyo to gets himself a job at Pantasia, the biggest bakery chain in Japan. Starting with his very first day, he ends up in bread-making contest after bread-making contest in an attempt to create the ultimate bread and save Pantasia from the rival bakery St. Pierre. He’s also got the “Hands of the Sun,” warm hands that are ideal for baking and that are often responsible for his ability to create amazing breads.

There’s a lot of information about bread in this manga. Not just passing facts, either, there are detailed explanations of methods of baking right down to the temperature of the oven. Of course there are also all manner of wacky, strange breads being made by Azuma and his rivals, which often leads to the outrageous reactions and puns.

Let me just say that the localization team really knocked it out of the park with this one. I’ve watched some of the anime (of course there’s an anime. And it’s hilarious.) and hearing the original lines to compare them with the ones in the translation it’s obvious that they worked their butts off to make it work. Example: in the original they use the word umai, which means “delicious.” But they use uma, the character for horse, as the base because he’s talking about making a bread that a horse would eat. The translated version goes with “mare-velous,” which keeps the spirit of the joke.

Yakitate!! Japan isn’t for everyone. Mister E took one look at the back of it and said “Yeah, I’m never reading this.” But if you like goofy shounen manga with genuinely likeable characters, you could do a lot worse. As for me, I’m totally trying the recipe for making bread in a rice cooker that’s at the end of volume 2. Fermentation, here I come!

Texas Recommendation: Thundercloud Subs

If you don’t eat meat, you often have to deal with some less-than-stellar food options when you eat out. If you’re vegan, the options narrow even further. Unless you’re going to a restaurant that specifically caters to the meatless eater, you’ll probably end up ordering a plate of sides. Not at Thundercloud Subs!

Even though you can get a vegetarian sub at places like Subway, they tend to be pretty unimpressive. Rather than go for anything special, it feels like they added to the menu as an afterthought, and the result is a sandwich that is basically just their regular fare minus the meat. It’s boring and sad.

By comparison, Thundercloud’s Veggie Delite is packed with goodies. You can choose cream cheese or hummus for your protein (both are delicious), and it’s also got avocado, olives, and sprouts in addition to their usual toppings and special Thundersauce. It’s an actual menu choice, not something you have to settle for. Also, all their nutrition information is posted online so you know what you’re getting into. They also offer a hot sub with a meatless chick’n patty if that’s more your speed!

Also, all of their nice, soft bread is vegan. So if you choose hummus instead of cream cheese, you have a healthy vegan option that doesn’t taste like they just swept all the leftover toppings onto a roll. Some of their locations even offer gluten-free bread! And they’re local if you live in South/Central Texas, so you can feel better about eating there as opposed to a national chain.

They’re also quite reasonable when it comes to the price. Most of their subs are less than $5, with some of them as low as $3.49, depending on the weekly specials. All in all, it’s a great place to eat if you’re in the mood for a sandwich and don’t want to be stuck with a load of sides again.

I meant to write this last week when we ate there but I didn’t get around to it. But tomorrow is Round Two at the Social Security office, so we’re going to eat there again. This time I’ll probably get hummus (last week it was cream cheese), and Mister E has his eye on the pastrami. Good times.