Month / March, 2011

Dirty Beaches – Badlands (2011 Zoo Music)

Badlands cover

When I first heard True Blue from Dirty Beaches’ Sweet 16 EP, I have to say I was impressed. The romantic tone and undulating guitars made me want to sit by a fire on a beach at dusk, wrapped in a musty blanket with my best-girl, listening to the waves crash. It was just this over-romanticized vision of 1950s sound that got me hooked. As a sound, it was fresh and really got me interested.

YouTube Preview Image

The Badlands album, however, suffers from too much of a good thing. While an EP of fuzzed out rockabilly guitars is fun, a full albums worth of difficult to decipher eclectic low-fi is a little hard on the ears. Sure there are some interesting moments on Badlands, but after about 4 songs — you get it. You get the whole thing. You think, I hope this changes a little from the predictability of the “dadada-dada-dadada-dada” and it doesn’t. It holds tight — to a fault.

Even wonderful songs like Lord Knows Best begin to grate on your nerves after the repetition of the 5 songs before it. I want to like this album, because I really have been looking forward to it, but as an album it doesn’t hold up. It stubbornly marches to the end without the love or joy you might have expected from the standouts like True Blue or Lord Know Best. By the end, Black Nylon and Hotel gave me distinct impression I was being asked to leave the beach I had so enjoyed hearing snapshots of before.

Rating: 40/100
Released: March 28, 2011

Things I Talk About at Bars

I’m a pretty good talker. Not all the time mind you; but get me a drink, a seat, and a captive audience (preferably tied to their chairs) and I will talk their ears off.

Unfortunately after a night of hardcore talking, which probably involved me telling you an embarrassingly personal story about an ex-girlfriend, people ask me to e-mail them all the things I was talking about. They also ask me to untie them.

Below is a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve been talking about for the month of March 2011.

Comedy Stuff

  • Kumail Nanjiani – Another great stand-up from Pakistan. Love his bit about Benjamin Button.
  • IT Crowd – Super funny BBC comedy about an english IT department.
  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – Is a total cult classic BBC comedy in the style of old 1980’s tales from the crypt, Stephen King style horror. Probably the best show to convincingly do badly done.
  • QI – One of my favorite UK vices after PG Tips, Qi is a quiz show, but a quiz show unlike any you have ever watched before. The point is not to get the answer right, but instead to be interesting. Hosted by the incredibly smart and interesting Stephen Fry.

Tech Stuff

  • Stacey CMS – This little Content Management system surprised me because of how easy it is to use and install. No Databases, just easy to write templates and text files. Very good for the beginner. Can be completely pimped out as seen in the architecturally inspired theme Assemblage.
    Stacey CMS
  • TwentyTen Five – Based on an article in Smashing Magazine, this WordPress theme is wonderful for those wanting to dip their toes into HTML5. Based on WordPress’s default theme, it is very easy to work with and style. You can see templates I have built using it here on this website and on ElizaSkinner.com.
    TwentyTen Five
  • Pure Reader – For all of you who use Google Reader to read your RSS, the Pure Reader browser extension makes that experience amazing. Seriously, I cannot recommend it enough.
  • Ultimate CSS Gradient Generator – I do love me some smooth gradients, especially when I can create them in CSS3.0 ala an Adobe Illustrator style chooser. Found this via 25 Super Web-based HTML & CSS Tools an incredible resource for great web tools.
    CSS Gradient Generator
  • Calibre – If you own an e-Book, then you must have Calibre. Although the interface is chunky and pretty counter-intuitive, Calibre can convert any eBook format to any other e-book format. It also organizes books and allows you create e-books from a website’s RSS feed.
  • Roku Player – Still my favorite video streamer. If you subscribe to Netflix instant watch, you owe it to yourself to get a Roku Player.

So, now you know what it’s like to have drinks with me. Pretty exciting right? My calendar is pretty open if you?… no? You have to?… go? Oh, okay, maybe next time. Here, let me untie you.

Renewed Writing

Sleepwalk With MeI’ve recently been reading Mike Birbiglia‘s Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories and really been enjoying it. There have been some full on laugh-out-loud moments and I normally don’t laugh-out-loud while reading — I hate those people. But now I’m one of those people and I have been thinking, I should write more! Why don’t I write more? I have funny stories too?

And so, I have been writing again. It’s taking a lot longer than expected and also longer than it takes to read Mike’s stories, which seems like a ridiculous thing to measure against, but I do. I think oh this is funny, I can do this too! And I start dictating in my mind, which is a terrible habit because my mind never writes anything I tell it down. And then I’m like PERFECT send it to press and my mind goes, sorry I wasn’t writing ANY of that down. I don’t even have hands, what were you expecting? Also ‘send it to press’? Where are we Citizen Kane, the 40s?

I should really fire my mind and get a real assistant. Keep an eye out for some ridiculously embarrassing stories soon.

Update: You should also check out my new bestie Kimmy Gatewood’s blog My Boyfriend Tolerates Me — very funny and has also been inspiring me to write more.

On the Subject of Business Cards…

As a designer, I know how hard it can be to talk about your work. I have tried to create the 10 second elevator pitch and usually I feel like a total d-bag. Then I see this guy and realize, perhaps I can learn something from his philosophy?

And by philosophy, I mean snorting cocaine off of a picture of myself, while standing front of a mirror admiring my ‘guns’.

I love it when he looks into the camera.

Japan Earthquake

I’m not religious, but when catastrophe of this magnitude strikes I can’t help but send whatever my closest approximation of prayers are, to the people of Japan. This earthquake is truly horrifying and my thoughts go out to everyone effected.

Please take a moment and give to the Red Cross.

Back to the Way It Used to Be

Recently I’ve been on project overload. Too many things to focus on, not enough time to complete them all. One of my major points of stress was figuring out which blog I really should be using to talk about my life. I have one for work, one for personal work, one for documenting my improvisation studies, and this one. This one, Up The Tree has long been used solely to house the podcast Tracks Up The Tree which has been my on-again, off-again (love/hate) focus for the last 5+ years. When I wasn’t podcasting, I was neglecting the site.

Eating a sandwich

Me circa Dec 5, 2002 - Eating a huge sandwich

I can remember originally starting it on Blogger in 2002, back when there was such a thing as Blogger. It was originally called Fun Time Tree House and was where I gained my nickname Funtime Ben. The most amazing part of blogging back then was that there were a few thousands of us and everyone was hungry to connect with one another. I would post something and within minutes a stranger had commented. People were literally waiting for blog aggregators to list the latest blogs which had been updated.

It was back then I discovered some of my favorite sites:

  • More Than Donuts (now KDUNK) Who was the most rockenist bloggers in New York and someone I truly looked up to in terms of style and wit.
  • Fireland (now Fireland) was an edgy and well designed blog I thought pulled no punches in terms of content and tone.
  • Dooce was and still is the mom of the blogoshere and became quite famous when she was fired from her job for blogging. I loved her stores about LA and her move back home to Mormon Utah. It was her Leaving Los Angeles mixtapethat effectively opened my eyes to indie music.
  • Slower.net (now Eliot Shepard) Was the first photologger in my book. His photographs inspired me take pictures and make art. He was also one of the fistbloggers I ever met in real life and was very kind to me.
  • Little Yellow Different (now Littlest, Yellowest, Differentest) Was the irreverent writings of wonderfully hilarious Ernie Hsiung.

It really feels like going back in time to revisit these blogs. I can remember so well the feeling of checking-in to see if anyone had updated. Looking for a new writer to read while I should have been working — back when that was a new thing.

Sadly I no longer read any of these blogs anymore. Not because of any one reason, life gets in the way. Like relationships that grow apart, so too did my connection’s with each of these blogs. Dooce had babies, More Than Donuts and Fireland closed up shop for a while to regain sanity, Slower moved to flickr. The technology and landscape for expression had changed.

And so… in honor of those days passed, today I roll out my new and improved old website. I have decided to cut out all the complications and get back to the weblog I started so long ago. I have restored it to the way it looked back in 2006, with all the bells and whistles of a modern site. It’s my blog, back when I was most fond of it. Back to when blogging was about expression rather than guilt of neglecting the thing you once loved. Hope you enjoy the new old me.

28 Days Later, A Month Without Booze

Unless you are super into football, or a successful movie mogul, or just got a new boyfriend/girlfriend, or your birthday happens to fall in February, the month is by and large forgettable. The cold, the lapsed new year’s resolutions, the overwhelming feeling of futility; February sucks. The only saving grace of February is that it is the shortest month. At least if you have to suffer — you don’t have to suffer for long.

Sober February

So when funny man, directer, and all around swell guy Eric Appel posted about participating in soberfebruary.com I was inspired. Perhaps the idea appealed to me, because at the time my body felt like an dumpster, or perhaps it was that my girlfriend had once again left for her new home in Los Angeles, or maybe it was that I had a fear that my drinking alone playing video games was not as healthy as I once believed. Whatever the reason for my sudden fortitude, I made a mental agreement to participate.

To make the shortest month even more resemble a nondenominational lent, I also decided to cut out all meat, cut back on sweets, and drink less coffee. My thinking being; if I’m going to be good, why not be really good? Likewise, if I’m going to be miserable, why not get all my deprivations over in one shot (why not be really miserable)?

When I think back to the month where all my friends looked at me as though they suspected me of some unforgivable crime, such as butchering my neighbors and burying them under my floorboards. Or the countless bartenders who’s disgusted eyes seemed to imply my membership to being a man was hereby revoked once I acknowledged receipt of my cranberry and soda. Or that first night I went inexperienced to my local bar and had a diet coke to every beer of my friends only to find myself fantastically awake at 4am watching the first 45 seconds every movie in my Netflix instant watch cue. February had some good times, but I also learned some interesting things about being deprived of my favorite things I thought I would share.

What I learned from depriving myself of my favorite things for 28 days

  1. Not drinking booze is incredibly cheap! There were some nights were I literally spent $5 on a nights worth of drinks! That is amazing.
  2. It is amazing how much weight you can loose by cutting out booze! I lost 10lbs, mostly of happiness.
  3. Being a vegetarian was harder than being on the wagon. (ie – there are only so many slices of pizza and felafels you can eat)
  4. I thought eating well and treating my body right would make me feel better, it didn’t overall. Day-to-day I did feel better.
  5. Going to bars while sober is surprisingly easy and feels a lot better the day after.
  6. I am more addicted to coffee than I am to booze.
  7. Video games are FAR less entertaining sober.
  8. If you are going to go out with friends who are drinking be sure to act as drunk as them, or they will think you are acting superior.
  9. Don’t forget to tip the bartender if you are drinking non-alcoholic drinks, or you will become the lowest priority at the bar and it will  take you 15 minutes to get another drink.
  10. Hamburgers are seriously delicious and go really well with beers.

So that’s my story. 28 days and I have to say I’m glad I did it. I think I might make April the day I go to the gym every day and see how that effects my health, because while I learned a lot about my addictive personality, or lack thereof… I still feel like a dumpster.