Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry's Mission to Marzipan

Oddly enough, it was almost a year ago today that I did my one other ice cream review on this blog. That flavor was probably a little less polarizing than Mission to Marzipan, because I don't know many people who dislike cheesecake brownies, but I know a lot of people who dislike marzipan. My German wife got me hooked on the stuff (we've even visited Luebeck, where marzipan was supposedly first created), and after chocolate, it's probably one of my favorite dessert flavors.

The marzipan in this new Ben & Jerry's flavor isn't exactly Niederegger quality, but it's still pretty dang good. I initially bought it for my highly pregnant wife, but I confess that I think I've eaten more of it than she has. The sweet cream ice cream would probably be pretty delicious on its own, but the almond cookies and marzipan swirl make it downright addictive. A must-try for anyone who likes marzipan, and it might even win over some marzipan skeptics. The only thing that would have improved it is a little dark chocolate somewhere, but then again, I think chocolate improves pretty much anything.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Mini Music Reviews: April 2009

Still listening to a ton of new and newish music; still compelled to write about it. Here's what's been spinning lately...

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
This album has been pretty polarizing among Decemberists fans (of which I am one) and critics in general. Even I'm of two minds about it. Listening to the album from start to finish--which one should certainly do, since it's a concept album/rock opera/what have you--has been a roller coaster ride for me. Sometimes I think it's brilliant and innovative, sometimes it feels like the most pretentious tripe Colin Meloy has pulled from his literary ass. It's certainly beautiful. Tucker Martine's production has never been better. Some of the songs are among The Decemberists' best; "The Rake's Song" is both disturbing and witty, hearkening all the way back to "A Cautionary Song" in its style and quality. Dunno...I'll have to give more time. I know it won't be among my favorite Decemberists albums, but you have to admire their effort, no matter what you think of the actual music. For now, a B.

The Thermals - Now We Can See

Wow, I liked this album waaaay more than I thought I would. I never even heard The Blood, The Body, The Machine, The Thermals' second album, because I was only so-so on their debut, More Parts Per Million. I'm glad I took a chance on this one. The themes are pretty grim for the most part, as one might expect from tracks titled "When I Died", "We Were Sick", "When I Was Afraid", and so on. But the album's still full of jangly tunes that demand some head shakin' and leg slappin'. The title track is definitely a stand-out, but the whole album is highly listenable. Hutch Harris has a voice that you either really dislike, or you tolerate. I can't imagine many people really like it, but that's a small price to pay for songs this catchy. Besides, how many male indie vocalists are really any good? I'm giving this one a B+, though it might even lean towards an A-.

Dan Deacon - Bromst
This was my first foray into the Deacon-zone, and from what I understand, this album is one of his most user-friendly. I have never really immersed myself into electronic music--I listen to some, but not a lot. Deacon takes electronic music well past a thumping beat into something much more complex, and ultimately for me, rewarding. It's hard to believe all this music was made by one dude. There's a lot of texture here, and the album is very versatile in that I can either concentrate on it when I listen and find new things every time, or it could be pleasant background music. Still not something I could listen to tons, but a good intro to this interesting artist. B

Madeleine Peyroux - Bare Bones
Peyroux has a voice I could listen to even if she sang the phone book. Its bluesy warmth wraps around you like a glass of red wine on a cold night. I honestly don't know what most of these songs are about. I just like to listen to her sing. Known for her covers, these songs are originals, many written or co-written by Peyroux herself. This is the type of album you put on during cocktail party to impress your friends and make them think you're cultured. Except for maybe "You Can't Do Me," which is a fun song, but sounds kind of silly when you actually listen to it. B+

Telekinesis - Telekinesis!
I posted about this band recently when I saw them live a few weeks ago. I bought their album at the show and I'm glad I did. Two of the songs in particular, "Coast of Carolina" and "Tokyo" (see video below), are ridiculously infectious. I have to be careful when I listen to the CD because I'm garaunteed to get one of these two songs stuck in my head for hours. Michael Benjamin Lerner knows how write a hook. Really hooky hooks. The whole album is solid, and this band is well on its way to being one of my favorite newcomers of the year. A-

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - The Stars Are Out
I enjoyed the first two albums by this group (one made my top 20 a few years ago), but I was a bit let down by this one. Borges and her band are definitely talented, but with the exception of a pretty cool Magnetic Fields cover (of "No One Will Ever Love You"), nothing really grabbed me by the lapels here. I don't know if the producer changed or what happened exactly, but when the best song on an album is a cover--even if it's a great cover--that's never a good sign. The band's previous albums tended to be more country than rock n' roll, but the opposite is true this time around, and that didn't do them any favors. A lot of bands tend to drop off a cliff at the third album, and though I wouldn't call this a cliff exactly, it's definitely a step down. C

Ida Maria - Fortress 'round My Heart
Holy crap. If you're reading this, go out and buy this album right now. I should probably give this album its own post, but I'm kinda lazy, and at least I'm saving the best for last. It's so rare for me to like an entire album upon the very first listen, but that's what happened here. The first track, "Oh My God", is bursting with energy and emotion, and Ida Maria Siversten manages to maintain that raw energy right to the last track, "In The End." The UK has apparently been all about Ida Maria for a while now, and I think it's only a matter of time before she starts hitting US charts. And I mean the real charts, not just indie and college radio. The album's first single, "I Like You So Much Better When Your Naked", is so ridiculously catchy that it'll make your head spin (see video here).

There's nothing hugely ground breaking here. The music is pretty simple. Well done, but simple. The lyrics are also relatively simple--lots of talk about booze, caffeine, cigarettes, and sex. You don't really expect any high falutin' literary shenanigans from a Norwegian anyway. I think the real draw for me is Siversten's voice. She lets it crack and stretch and howl in ways that you just don't hear that often from a female vocalist this day and age. My first thoughts upon hearing her sing were of Janis Joplin, and upon looking at some other reviews, I'm certainly not the first make the comparison. That rawness in her voice lends a sense of urgency and sincerity to all of the songs. And they're not all head bangers; "Stella", "Keep Me Warm", and the aforementioned closing track are all slower, but no less powerful.

Considering how much I've already been listening to it, I can already tell you that this'll end up somewhere in my top 10 for the year. A solid and enthusiastic A.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weaksabi-Ginger Pop

I finally tried the Wasabi-Ginger pop from Lollyphile and it was a bit of a let down. Maybe they spilled some of the Maple-Bacon batch in my batch of Wasabi-Ginger, but it wasn't all that gingery and it definitely didn't have much wasabi. It mostly tasted like sugar with a vaguely ginger aftertaste. Of the three flavors I've tried so far, I'd have to say that this one falls in the middle. Absinthe had a strong flavor, but a strong bad flavor. Maple- Bacon was actually pretty tasty. This one was just meh.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blitzen Trapper in Juan's Basement

I've never really paid attention to the "Juan's Basement" feature on Pitchfork. Juan apparently invites bands to jam in his basement and then he has an informal interview with them. His latest victims are Blitzen Trapper, a band I'm coming to appreciate more and more.

Having watched this edition of Juan's Basement, I can honestly say that if I saw these guys walking down the sidewalk, it would take some mental effort not to walk to the other side of the road to avoid them. But they're pretty amusing, and their music is highly entertaining. Check it out if you have 15-20 minutes or so to spare. Or, just check out my favorite song from this short set below.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Boyle's "Million" Movies

The one and only movie I've seen in theaters recently was Slumdog Millionaire, which was playing at the tiny crap theater down the street from where I live. It's pretty much pointless to review of a film that just won best picture and has had tons of publicity. If you've seen it, you know it's good. I have no idea whether or not it deserved best picture since I didn't see anything else that was nominated. If you haven't seen it, you probably should.

Whether or not you think Slumdog Millionaire deserved the accolades it received, it's hard to deny the skills of Danny Boyle as a director. He's joined the ranks of David Fincher, Wes Anderson, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet as one of my favorite directors of the past decade or so. What sets Boyle apart from some of these other directors, however, is the sheer diversity of his movies. There's the underrated Shallow Grave (a remarkable effort for his first feature), Trainspotting, the turn-the-genre-on-its-ear zombie film 28 Days Later (the last movie I saw in theaters twice), and though I haven't seen it yet, his sci-fi film Sunshine is reportedly excellent. And then there's Millions, a DVD I got for free after sending some cereal box tops in.

Millions is dubbed a "family" film, and I'm assuming it is Boyle's only PG-rated movie. Set in Britain, a little boy finds a huge bag of money--British pounds that will be useless in a few weeks when the currency is converted to the Euro. The film follows our protagonist, Damian, and his brother, showing what they do with the money. There are elements of fantasy (Damian is obsessed with saints and talks to them throughout the movie) and crime--the money turns out to be stolen, and the thief wants it back. It's a bit of a hodge podge, actually. Nevertheless, I loved it. I'd even go so far as to say that I liked it better than Slumdog. It has its semi-cheesy tug-at-the-heartstrings moments, but they really did tug at my heartstrings. I'm not gonna lie. I cried at one point. Shut up! A movie hasn't made me do that for a while, and it actually felt pretty good. If you've been avoiding this film because you thought it was just for kids, I urge you to check it out.

The bottom line is, I knew Boyle was a solid director, but his two "Million" movies have confirmed that he'll be a force in film-making for a long while yet. I hope he continues to experiment with genres--a western or straight-up comedy might be nice--and I hope he can maintain the high standard he's set for himself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nerd Rant: Terminator Salvation

I was kinda sorta willing to give Terminator Salvation a chance, but that chance was blown after watching the third trailer here:

Hmm...robots that look like people and don't know that they're robots, and don't want to be robots. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? BSG has, let's face it, wrung this sci-fi plot line for all it's worth. And though I haven't started watching this last season yet, I'm willing to bet they've done it better than this movie will. Just sayin', is all.