Wednesday, December 15, 2010

P’s Top Ten Albums of 2010

And here it is - my Top 10 Albums of 2010.

10. Black Keys – Brothers
9. Spoon – Transference
8. Vampire Weekend - Contra
7. Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now
6. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
5. Henry Clay People – Somewhere on the Golden Coast
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
3. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love
2. She & Him – Volume Two
1. New Pornographers – Together

Looking forward, Surfer Blood, Local Natives, and Titus Andronicus are my "bands to watch." Each of them released outstanding albums this year. If I were doing a Top 20 list, they would have made the cut.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Best of 2010 Tracks 5-8

My Shepherd - New Pornographers

Greatest lyric of the year -
Closed eye stare into morning sun when the dots form into connections. If I'm honest you come to mind, but baby I'm not.

Write About Love - Belle & Sebastian

My coup of the year was convincing my daughters that this was a "kids song." "Hey girls, this band is called Belle & Sebastian! That's like Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Sebastian from Little Mermaid!" Score! We now listen to B&S frequently and they call this song Tightrope Walk. Next task - convincing them that Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon are kids bands since there is a Mark Kozelek song on the Yo Gabba Gabba cd...

Trouble Comes Running - Spoon

Perfect pop music. The spaces left in Spoon's arrangements just make everything thing rock that much harder.

Twenty Miles - Deer Tick

Don't tell my wife I said this, but overall, I was disappointed with The Black Dirt Sessions as a whole. Compared to War Elephant and Born on Flag Day it's just not as great of an album. But this song, and Deer Tick's cover of John Prine's Unwed Fathers (from the John Prine tribute album) are two of the best songs of the year.

Half Light II (No Celebration) - The Arcade Fire

If their was ever a band that didn't have a sense of humor, it's Arcade Fire. I don't understand how they can take themselves so seriously, especially given the stupid outfits they wear. But they sure can write some excellent anthemic pop songs!

Best of 2010 Tracks 2-4

I dropped the ball and missed posting the second track of my Best of yesterday. As a result, I'll post tracks 2-4 now.

2. Tighten Up - The Black Keys

The Black Keys are another band that I was slow to appreciate. I always felt like they had great riffs but weak songs. I must have listened to the wrong tracks, because I now have songs I love from each of their albums. What finally got me into them was Dan Auerbach's solo album from last year. This album (and this track) do a good job of blending the rough edges of the Black Keys with the full-band sound of the solo disc. .and it has some of the coolest flange and fuzz tones around...

3. Don't Look Back - She & Him

M. Ward. Zooey Deschanel. Production that sounds like California in the 60's. Killer harmonies. A kick-ass bridge. If you don't love this you have zero taste.

4. Keep Your Eyes Closed - The Henry Clay People

I learned of this band by playing "the game." "The game" involves my wife scrolling through the digital music channels on the TV and me naming the song, artist, album, and year. This song came on and I said "Did Pavement include a new track on their singles compilation? Who is this?" It was Henry Clay People and it sounds like a perfect mix of Pavement, Built to Spill, and maybe a little Dinosaur Jr. It's perfect, poppy, indie rock.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

P90 Noir Best of 2010

I know that many of you out there in the interwebs have been dying to hear my Best of 2010. In order to "cash in" on the anticipation, I will be announcing one track a day for the next 22 days! Of course, many of you will receive the disc with your christmas card, so that will surely blow my cover. So without further ado...

Track 1 - Laredo, by Band of Horses

I love this song. I'm not claiming that it's the best song of 2010 - it's not. But it is a great song and the opening riff is perfect for kicking off a mix cd. All of Infinite Arms (the album from which Laredo comes) is excellent. And because the whole point of my Best of 2010 is to expose my friends and family to great new music, I tell you "go buy this cd now!"

I downloaded this song as a single shortly before a trip to San Diego. So for me, it's the sound of Stone Beer, In-N-Out Burger, Fish Tacos, and the Southern California landscape. I can't promise the same experience for you, but give it a shot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Saturday at Dogfish Head Brewery

I was in Fenwick, DE for Thanksgiving. And while I still didn’t achieve my goal of a turkey-free Thanksgiving (I’m thinking pork bbq or lobster as the centerpiece) I did finally make it to the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE. We did the tour and tasting last Saturday, and it was everything I ever dreamed it could be.

The tour is good, but didn’t blow my mind. You don’t venture into the bottling and kegging room and that was of more interest to me. You do see the giant oak and palo santo barrels where the wood-aged beers spend a little extra time. If you are a beer novice and/or never did any home brewing the content of the tour will keep your attention. If you know your stuff, you’ll get to be teachers pet and answer all of the tour guides questions…

Seeing as the day before was black Friday, the taps were full of the deepest darkest brews Dogfish makes. I started out as a dark beer fan but over the years made the transition to hop head. However, tasting the dark beers reminded me why I liked them in the first place.

Chicory Stout - I think Chicory Stout might have been the first Dogfish beer I ever bought, and tasting it again reminded me why I liked it in the first place. It's rich and roasty with a nice coffee-like bitterness.

Bitches Brew - I know the Bitches Brew is all the rage right now, but it did nothing for me. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something odd (grassy?) in the flavor. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of the Bitches Brew album either – I much prefer the Mahavishnu Orchestra stuff that some of the players went on to do…

Palo Santo Maron - I had never tried the Palo Santo Maron before. At 12% ABV, it’s a serious beer. It’s not as dark as the stout but richer and sweeter with caramel and vanilla flavors. I could see it pairing well with a steak, but the crazy in me wants to pour it over vanilla ice cream or at least make a chocolate sauce out of it.

World Wide Stout - And now for the World Wide Stout. CRAZY! This beer is 18% ABV. I’ve never had a beer that tastes so smooth and sweet before. It reminds me of my home brewing days when I exploded my primary fermenter making an imperial stout that landed at 14% ABV. But instead of being cloyingly sweet and kind of astringent, the WWS is rich like a ruby port.

And then there’s the store - it’s mecca for a Dogfish Fan. If Dogfish has done anything (aside from making killer beer) they have marketed themselves well. The store has at least 20 different t-shirts, beer soap, dog collars, beer glasses, beer signs, Patagonia jackets, etc. And most importantly, they have just about every Dogfish beer currently available in bottles. We stocked up on Burton Baton, 90-Minute IPA, Palo Santo Maron, and Chicory Stout. Oh, the beer shampoo is pretty kick-ass…

Last night I made chili with the Chicory Stout – I’ll post the recipe in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Finally – A Band I like is Playing a Reverend Guitar!

Looks like the Henry Clay People are going to be a common thread on p90noir. I saw a post yesterday from “What’s That Dude Play” showing the Henry Clay People with a Reverend Roundhouse RT. This blog doesn’t really show it yet, but anyone I have discussed gear with will tell you that I am a Reverend Devotee.

Rather than get sidetracked in professing my love for Reverend (I’ll do it in subsequent post), I’ll rant about how I think more indie rock and Alt.Country bands should be playing Revs.

If you’ve been watching indie bands in the last 15-20 years, you know that Jazzmasters and Jaguars were the de rigueur indie rock guitars of the 90’s. More recently it seems that P90 equipped LP Specials and 70’s Tele Deluxes are all the rage. If these are vintage guitars, this is great. But if these are re-issues (made in the 2000’s) they are crap. I played tons of Gibsons and Fenders in the sub-$1,500 range when buying my US Reverend (birthday present a few years ago). Holy crap were these guitars steaming piles of trash!

My US Reverend is great. My import Reverend is stupidly awesome for the $600 it cost. It sounds great, it plays great. The fit and finish are near flawless. The only flaws some visible filling materials around the inlays on the neck.

So here is my top five list of bands/players that I think should switch to Reverend and the models they should play.

  1. Jim James, My Morning Jacket – Jim favors a Gibson V and a 335. I’m not convinced that the Reverend Manta Ray is a replacement for a 335, but Jim should have a signature model of the Reverend Volcano!
  2. Carl Newman, New Pornographers - Carl plays what looks to be a reissue LP Special. He should ditch it for a Sensei. Silver sparkle would suit the NP's very well.
  3. Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams is also seen frequently with a Tele Deluxe. I can see RA playing Jetstream HB, a Buckshot, and a Manta Ray HB.
  4. Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie - Ben Gibbard seems to play mostly a Tele Deluxe. He should make the switch to a Jetstream HB. Chris Walla mixes it up with a few guitars, but he should replace his Fender Starcaster with a Club King HB.
  5. Sam Beam, Iron & Wine - Sam started off as mainly acoustic but has been slowly going more electric. The main electrics I have seen him play are an old Harmony hollow-body, an old Danelectro, and an SG. The Pete Anderson would be a nice upgrade for the Harmony, a Sensei would replace the SG, and for that Dano, he might need to find a US Reverend...

*Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys has a Flatroc and Chris Funk of the Decemberists has a Club King.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Antisocial Distortion

As a guitarist, too much distortion seems impossible, right? That’s exactly what I’m facing though. In the great game of trading pedals, I’ve ended up with seven (seven!) fuzz/distortion/overdrive pedals that I love. I realize for most people this isn’t a problem. But for me it is, I only want to have as many pedals as will fit on my pedal board and these guys all have to share space with a tuner, compressor, clean boost, and Line 6 M9 for mod/echo/verb. So this means I have to cull the herd. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working with the other guitarist in my band to blind test these pedals.

I’m hoping to start tonight with my “Marshall in a Box” pedals – the Lovepedal ProValve 1 and the Zvex Distrotron. My non-blind testing favors the ProValve but I’m as guilty as anyone else for falling for hype and the ProValve certainly comes with a lot of hype. And while it has two switchable gain settings, the ProValve is pretty much a one trick pony. It’s a well-done trick though, sweet, thick, cranked amp grind. The lowest gain setting sounds like an amp on 11, cranking any further just thickens the sound some but doesn’t really pile on more gain. I’d like this pedal more for rhythm if it had a little less gain. But for playing lead, it’s just amazing.

The Distortron on the other hand is far more versatile. It’s overall tone is a little rougher around the edges. It might be my ears, but the ProValve seems a tad scooped in the mids. The Distortron has plenty of mids and in doing so, played side-by-side with the ProValve sounds a little hash. But most of the testing has been done with my Weber Blue Pup equipped Vox AC4 (which is pretty mid-focused to begin with). I’m looking forward to running these guys through my Reverend Goblin and closed-back Avatar 12 tonight.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For the Love of Wood

A few days ago, I got to thinking about all of the things I’ve threatened to write about in this blog. It occurred to me that there is a common thread that connects guitars, BBQ, and wine – WOOD.

Mahogany, Korina, Maple, Rosewood, and Ash – these five woods come together in varying mixtures to create the snappy twang of my Strat (maple and ash), the thick singing leads of my Reverend Roundhouse (Korina, Maple, and Rosewood), and the roundness of my Jazzmaster (Ash, Maple, and Rosewood).

To read more about wood as used in electric guitars, check out the Electric Guitar Source Book by Dave Hunter and the brief article he did for Guitar Player.

Oak – how I love the. Oak makes both the charred barrels that my delicious bourbons age in and the resting place for so many wines. Oak even provides the hints of vanilla in my Stone Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard. And grilling a steak over red hot oak embers brings new meaning to grilling.

Hickory, cherry, apple, and mesquite – Along with oak, these woods provide the smoke that defines the greatest culinary tradition in the US – BBQ. Rather than try to define the flavors created by these woods, I will refer to an excellent piece that Jim Shahin recently wrote in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

P90 Noir Book Club - Booze Hound!

My wife gives me a lot of crap about buying books. And I do have a lot of cook books, books about guitars and music gear, books about songwriting, books about sharks, books about kayaking… Ok, maybe she has a good point. We have a great local library, and they often order the books that I request.

But sometimes, you just have to own a book. Such is the case with Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson (the spirits columnist for the Washington Post). I’ve been reading Jason’s work in the Post for a while now and I love that he never misses a chance to point out the ridiculous notion of premium vodka and spending $30 on a spirit that isn’t supposed to taste like anything.

Last July, Jason switched up my cocktail drinking routine by introducing me to the Boulevardier. It’s basically a Negroni, but with Bourbon in place of the gin. It’s delicious! So take it from me - ditch the vodka, buy the book, make a Boulevardier, and then keep going. Next up for me is to finally try Chartreuse. Maybe I’ll even write about the experience.

Oh, and my wife has been reading Boozehound as well…

The Recipe for the Boulevardier -

This cocktail is the Negroni's long-lost, whiskey-based cousin. It was named after a 1920s magazine for expats living in Paris that was run by socialite Erskine Gwynne.

1 serving
• Ice
• 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
• 1 ounce sweet vermouth
• 1 ounce Campari
• Twist of lemon peel, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from "Barflies and Cocktails," by Harry McElhone (1927; reissued 2008, Mud Puddle Books).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let them listen to (Hot)Cake

I’ve been wanting a Hotcake for a while, mainly because it’s on the pedalboards of Stephen Malkmus and Nels Cline –two of my favorite guitarists. So far, I’m loving this pedal. It also has a great buffer circuit that has my tone through the pedalboard sounding almost exactly like my straight to amp tone!

For a bit of history, the Hotcake was first produced in 1976 by Paul Crowther (a DRUMMER!) with the band, Split Enz.

According to Paul, “the Hotcake is designed to leave the undistorted component of the guitar sound unchanged, while providing a nice fat distortion sound without resorting to a treble cut circuit which will also affect the guitar tonality. With the Drive and Presence controls set to minimum, and the Level at around 2 o'clock, you should be hard pressed to hear any change in the sound at all when you switch the Hotcake in and out.” I’ve tested this and I agree 100%

I have the “Normal” original Hotcake. There was also a “Bluesberry” version which has a less buzzy edge at the onset of distortion. The buzz is what I was after. I imagined the Hotcake being the source for the tone at the intro of Silence Kit and that “wiggly” distorted part at the start of Stereo. It nails both tones. If I were to guess were it appears on Sky Blue Sky, I would say that Nels is using it on the solo for Side with the Seeds.

It also does great low gain tones and works well as a clean boost. If you keep it below 11 o’clock on gain the distortion is very amp like. Moving it up brings on what I would call fuzz – but a very smooth fuzz. Something about it really reminds of the tones on Siamese Dream as well. When you crank the gain all of the way, chords start to get a little muddy (with humbuckers and P90s). I plan to use it mainly for leads though. It also makes for great controllable feedback.

Any way you slice it, the Hotcake is awesome. Crowther Hotcake Review 

Cool Cat Fuzz

Am I the only person who just loves the Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz? I bought it about 18 months ago for $30 bucks and it continues to be my favorite fuzz pedal. I have a ZVex Fuzz Factory on the way (sold my Lovepedal Englishman for it) so maybe the Cool Cat with finally be dethroned. But it will still be the best fuzz for under $150!

I have tried it side-by-side with:
  • ZVex Mastotron
  • Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Fuzz (the old two knob black box version)
  • Visual Sound Angry Fuzz
  • EH Big Muff (large box NYC version)
  • EH Holy Stain (worst and noisiest pedal I have ever owned)
  • Guyatone HM2 Harmonic Distortion (called distortion, but to my ears sounds very similar to a muff)
My feelings on the Cool Cat are that it’s pretty versatile in terms of gain and tone and that it cleans up well from the volume control of the guitar. Word on the street is that the Cool Cat is a clone of the Frantone Peach Fuzz. Not sure how I feel about Dano “stealing” the design, but I do know that of the pedals listed above the only one that competes with the Cool Cat is the Mastotron. The Mastotron is more versatile and the subs switch is cool and makes for a much tighter low end. The pulse wave is also fun and makes for some very synth-like sounds.

I did a blind test between the Mastotron and the Cool Cat with the co-guitarist in my band switching between the two pedals and adjusting the dials while I played. The Mastotron won in most cases (especially for single note leads). But for $30 the Cool Cat Fuzz just kills!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Album Review: Henry Clay People – Somewhere on the Golden Coast

Thank you Slacker Radio! A few months ago, my wife and I were playing “the Game.” “The Game” consists of my wife flipping through the digital music stations on the TV and then me naming the song, artist, year, and album. I have a savant like ability at this endeavor. I’m unstoppable on 80’s new wave and 90’s altrock.

The game doesn’t end until you hear two songs by either Grand Funk Railroad or REO Speedwagon. This is not a hard and fast rule, but was pretty easy to follow on the old Music Choice Network that comes with our cable service, the 70’s Rock station played a boatload of these two artists.

Every now and again “the game” turns us onto a new artist. A few months ago we heard a song by the Henry Clay People. My initial response was “Did Pavement record a new song for their new greatest hits album?”

Wife: No
Me: So who is this? It sounds like a cross between Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., and Built to Spill!
Wife: The Henry Clay People
Me: Never heard of them, I’ll have to check them out.

I made a note to research them and never did. A few weeks ago, I finally downloaded the album. It’s great. If you like guitar-based indie rock, you should check it out. They aren’t breaking any ground or doing anything new, but the songs are catchy. They have some great guitar parts and the guitar tones are especially good. It's safe to say that they will have a spot on my Best of 2010. I'll stop short of calling them my Deer Tick for this year, but they might be my new Whigs...

Stand-out Tracks:
Keep Your Eyes Closed
Saturday Night
Slow Burn
The Digital Kid

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stink Bugs - Satan in a Shell?

Bugs! I’m not supposed to be writing about bugs, I’m supposed to be writing about wine, guitars, smoked meats, and other marvelous things that make life worth living. But no, for the third year in a row, a swarm of STINK BUGS has descended upon my home, and in particular, my screened-in deck.

I fancy myself to be a bit of a trendsetter. I like to discover new bands and share them with my friends. I love to find new little known wines and share them with friends. CA red blends – they’re great people! Drink them now, don’t wait two years until they are “deemed hip” by Food TV or some other source. But I digress, my point is that I don’t want to be a trend setter with regard to bug infestations! But stink bugs are the new black! I was just interviewed by a reporter from the local paper yesterday, and today the Washington Post has a piece on stink bugs.

So here is my stink bug story. We first started seeing stink bugs about three summers ago. As mentioned, we have a screened-in deck and we would find 5-10 a day the first year, 10-20 a day last year. This Spring, we had what at the time I referred to a “whole f**king lot of them!,” maybe 20-30 a day. I checked all of the screens, caulked any open spaces, and generally tried to seal up any entrance areas. They stopped for a while, but then started getting really bad again in July. Now we are seeing well over 100 day inside the screened area of the deck.

They annoy the crap out of me. Our neighborhood is built on central Maryland’s largest ant hill. I know nuisance bugs. But the stink bugs are pushing me over the edge. We have two small kids who love to play on the deck and constantly come in and out of the house from there. We used to leave the door leading out to the deck open any time the weather was nice. Now we have to leave it closed to keep the stink bugs from coming into the house. We eat dinner out there most nights. I now have to head out ten minutes in advance to vacuum up all of the bugs.

They are sucking the life out of me. But this brings me to the best way I have found for dealing with them. We bought a $30 shopvac at Lowes just for them. We bought it last weekend and it already seems to have a permanent stink. But sucking up the stink bugs brings me a new joy. Each one makes a satisfying little “phlupth” sound. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be hearing my guitar through a magical little germanium fuzz pedal, but I’ll take what I can get.

For those of you with just a few or a real desire to spray chemicals around your house, I have found that Terro ant and spider spray kills the bugs pretty quickly. To try to use it on the number of them we have would be impossible. Sealing should be the best method for keeping them out. That said, clearly I missed a spot or two. The shop-vac works like a charm. It smells to empty it though.

Fall used to be my favorite season. If stink bug invasions are the new changing leaves, I might be changing my tune. Rather than basking in my hammock (which let’s be honest, I don’t really have time for with two small children), I spend my outdoors time vacuuming up 100+ bugs per day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Elmo vs. Katy Perry: Which is Worse?

So, a Katy Perry clip has been pulled from Sesame Street. I’m glad. Katy Perry’s time should have ended long ago. But then again, somehow the Black-eyed Peas still exist to torment my ears.
I have kids that watch Sesame Street. I’ve made no secret of my hatred of Elmo - his piercing voice, his constant barrage of “why!” Any time I see someone wearing a red fleece jacket, I secretly hope that they have killed Elmo and made a coat from his fur. Sadly, this never manages to be the case.
I’m also guilty of not buying a Tinkerbell shirt for my daughter because I thought “Tink’s” dress was a tad too short. I guess I’m that dad. However, when it comes to Katy Perry’s outfit on Sesame Street, it offended me a lot less than her crappy song.
And on that note, here is a list of the Top 5 bands/songs I’d like to see on Sesame Street.
  1. Eels – I Like Birds: I can just see a bunch of muppet birds and Elmo and Mark Oliver Everett watching them. Bonus points because Everett goes by the name E and he and Elmo can discuss that both of their names start with the same letter.

  2. Monsters of Folk – Say Please: A lesson on manners! And I don’t know about you, but Jim James, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst seem like perfect Sesame Street people to me. Bonus points: Cookie Monster can talk to them about he is also a monster.

  3. Okkervil River – Lost Coastlines: My initial thought on this one is that it could be about maps and cartography.

  4. Death Cab for Cutie - Different Names for the Same Thing: I’m imaging a lovely lesson on synonyms...

  5. M. Ward – Here Comes the Sun Again: This one is easy. It’s either about the sun rising or it’s about photosynthesis.
And I’m still thinking that Highly Suspicious by My Morning Jacket could be a good fit. I’m thinking a piece on “stranger danger.” I can just imagine Cookie Monster singing the “Highly Suspicious” line.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finally getting started?

So, it's June 2, 2010. I've been meaning to start this blog since the 1st of January. Is today the day? My plan has been to write about music, guitars, beer, wine, food, and maybe my kids. I was going to use the blog as a tool to get my "creative juices" flowing at the start of each day.

Here goes...

Music - The Arcade Fire and Spoon are coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD on August 6th! This is indeed exciting. Now that I'm in my mid-30's and have kids, I just don't make it in to Baltimore or DC that often to catch the club shows. My dreams came true earlier this year when My Morning Jacket came to Merriweather. I've thought they could handle the venue since Z and it was great to finally see them (and see them there). It seems the wife and I always managed to schedule vacations around when MMJ was in the Balt/DC area.

But back to Arcade Fire. I last saw them at the 9:30 on the Funeral tour. The energy in the room and the output of the band were just amazing. The mood in the club as the band came out and played the opening chords to Wake Up is one those concert moments I will never forget. For some reason Mrs. P90 didn't go to the show and I felt almost guilty giving her the play by play the next morning. Last night, when I told her that Arcade Fire was coming to Merriweather, she mentioned that we've already pretty much blown our concert budget for the summer. Oh well, we're going to this show...

It will be great to see Spoon again as well. The last time we saw them was also at MPP. They were opening for the Shins and the sound was dreadful. Hopefully this time they will have a little more time to sound check...

And look at that, my first blog post. Here's hoping the next one won't be five months in the making!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Words on paper,
zeroes and ones,
electrons firing at a screen,
incoherent thoughts,
new ideas.

A travelogue of my days and nights as a father,
a husband,
a dog owner,
a marketing & development officer for a non profit org,
a guitar player,
a raging fan of music gear and why it works and sounds the way it does,
an fan of music,
an amateur cook,
a fan a wine, beer, and cocktails,
a geek obsessed with sharks and stingrays…
If you made it this far you now have a good idea of my interests.