#34 – Jack’s Mannequin – The Mixed Tape

This was my song of late 2011. It’s May of 2012 and that still might be the case. I’ve probably listened to it well over 100 times. But the thing is this song is old, and I only heard it for the first time last year. I’m dumb.

I first heard Jack’s Mannequin when they released “Everything in Transit” in 2005. My friends and I loved the singles like Bruised, Holiday From Real and Dark Blue. Back then there was zero reason for me not to pick up the rest of that album, and then to pick up their subsequent releases. I should have a fucking library of Jack’s Mannequin songs by now. I’m sure I’d love them.

But no. I’ve got four and that changes today: iTunes is getting hit up.

Anyway, this song. Like all dopes, I get worked up over mixtapes and this one is the best song about ’em. Initially I played it because it reminded me of a girl, but now it stands fine on its own. It’s amazing and one of those I don’t think you can dislike. When it pops up in the iPhone or on iTunes it doesn’t get skipped. Even the music video is spectacular.

WATCH THIS. Your life will be better. You will love this song.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXkYFkTIEXw&w=420&h=315]

#35 – The Ataris – The Boys of Summer

I think it’s interesting to trace how you got into certain bands. The Ataris were never on the radio when was a teenager. It’s by sheer luck that I ever heard them in the first place.

Let’s follow this one out.

I’d watched a movie in September of ’99 called Stir of Echoes. On it was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8tJzKxsbEY&w=420&h=315]

I hit up a message board when I found out who they were. I asked for more bands like them. Someone gave me a list of songs, one of them being Strung Out’s Solitaire.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM2RmFD0hy8&w=420&h=315]

Another kid chimes in, says that Solitaire sounds a lot like a song by The Ataris called San Dimas High School Football Rules and if I liked Solitaire I should check ’em out.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyQaRC3AKGI&w=420&h=315]

In the span of an hour I was listening to three bands (all of which would go on to becoming all time favorites) that I wouldn’t have ever heard had I not seen a movie and posted a random question on a small internet message board.

This was the beginning of the end for me and FM radio. There just seemed to be so much better stuff that never got any airplay.

There wasn’t a band I listened to more during my senior year of high school and freshman year of college than The Ataris. There was The Ataris, and then there was everything else. This sappy, emo, pop-punk was on every playlist I made, every cd I listened to. When I was a dopey kid in love I listened to songs like I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone and Your Boyfriend Sucks. When I was miserable I listened to The Last Song I’ll Ever Write About A Girl and Make It Last.

Years later was when I was a little more jaded, a little less OMG FEELINGS, the Ataris released the last of their good albums. It was more adult, less sappy and emo, more about being a grown up. It didn’t resonate with me the way the their earlier albums did when I was a teen.

But, it still had one of the best covers I’d ever heard. They had been performing Don Henley’s classic The Boys of Summer for a couple years, and now they’d finally stuck a proper version on an album. Here my interest was finally winding down after years of listening to the Ataris, and now the general public was finally being introduced ’em.

It’s a very good cover, one that I still listen to often.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/13191958 w=500&h=281]

#36 – Pixie Lott – Broken Arrow

I’m not sure there’s another song on this list that was more clearly helped by a music video. A little over a year ago I’d never heard of Pixie Lott. If it hadn’t been for seeing this photo on this list, I still wouldn’t know who she is. But I was curious so I youtube’d her and came upon Broken Arrow.

Every once in a while a crappy pop song just gets lodged in my head and it won’t leave. I fight it, take my public shaming from my friends and, more often than not, just accept that I love it. It helps that I don’t listen to the radio. Everything in moderation, people.

Broken Arrow sort of fits that category. It’s kind of catchy. It’s got dopey lyrics. We’re not talking about the most talented of singers, though I do like her kind of scratchy voice you hear out of the female brits in the last decade.

But lets be honest. The only reason I played it so often initially is because of that music video. She’s gorgeous. Eventually the song just sorta stuck I legitimately sorta loved it.

That said, this is about a one-hit-wonder with me as there is. I’ve tried to give the rest of her music a shot and I can’t find another song I like. Not one.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVnvikQpEig&w=560&h=315]

#37 – Breaking Benjamin – Sooner or Later

While back in the early 2000s I was in the middle of my little post-punk phase with Strung Out, NUFAN, Gob and Good Riddance I found time for a little alt-metal too. Breaking Benjamin’s first album was a non stop listen for me during the summer before my junior year. I remember traveling to summer league baseball games and playing songs like Water, Next to Nothing and Shallow Bay on repeat.

But it was the second album where they went legendary for me. I could’t stop playing it in the summer of 2004. Sooner or Later wasn’t one of my initial favorites. Those would have been So Cold, Break my Fall and Away. But eight years later it’s the one that still shows up in a lot of playlists. Just really great rock tune.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpdFoizbnTg&w=420&h=315]

A FOOD! themed 5 things

Just a collection of random food thoughts that have gone through my head in the last 24 hours or so.

1 – Those who buy whole wheat pasta hate life. ~ Unknown

For a year+ I’d eaten whole grain or whole wheat pasta. It doesn’t taste as good, but I thought it was a small price to pay for eating healthier. This was dumb because in many cases the pasta was accompanied by elements that weren’t close to healthy. Proteins, sauces, bread, a bottle of wine…

Fuck it. From now on I’ll bike an extra mile or two before dinner. The taste is totally worth it.

2 – Want an underrated kitchen appliance? How about a coffee grinder used specifically for your spices.

I picked this up a year ago and it’s proven to be one of my favorite little gadgets.

I used it to grind all spice, peppercorns and crushed red pepper often. Believe me, it makes a big difference in your meals.

3 – If you’re not keeping a coffee cup or jar with rendered bacon fat in your fridge, you’re missing out on one of the most useful ingredients I can think of.

4 – Speaking of things I’ll never not have in my fridge or freezer, a big favorite of mine is a huge bag of shrimp. Note: not talking the $12.99/lb variety found fresh in the seafood section. Nope, I’m talking about the small, headless, farmed and deveined kind that are found in bags in the frozen food section.

Honestly, I’m not overly wild about the stuff. If you’re giving me the choice between a good burger and seafood, give me the beef.

But I can’t deny that shrimp is ridiculously easy to cook, is healthy depending on the preparation and makes for a great vehicle for a lot of flavors. If you get the bulk, frozen variety it’s not even pricey.

A few times in the past month I’ve come home from work, tossed a handful in a bowl of cold water and inside of 20 minutes had a shrimp dish that I would have spent $20 for at a restaurant. All it takes is some prep time to put together your flavors.

5 – If there’s been one big revelation I’ve had with regards to cooking in the last year, it may be the one I’ve had with sauces.

Namely, I don’t buy them anymore.

Tomato, marinara, alfredo…I can’t remember the last time I bought a jar of the stuff. No, not when you realize how it easy it is to make something to go with your pasta, chicken or seafood that tastes so much better.

When you want a good tomato sauce? Pick up some San Marzano tomatoes, simmer them in a pot and add your own spices. Flavor it the way you want it to taste.

If you want a cream based sauce? Heavy cream is your canvas. Add parmesan cheese, butter and freshly cracked black pepper for an alfredo sauce that’s better than anything you could buy in the store. Add curry and red pepper for something with kick. Whiskey and beef base for a rich, darker sauce for on top of that steak.

More than ever I’m looking to control everything I possibly can about my meals. I still have a ways to go (fresh pasta, I’m looking at YOU), but making great tasting meals doesn’t have to be difficult.

*******

On that note, let’s take a look at something I made that incorporates everything above. Last night I made something very quick, very easy, and silly good.

Here’s what I was working with:

10 small frozen shrimp, defrosted and patted dry
Bacon fat
Butter
Olive oil
Red curry paste
Crushed red pepper
Fresh black pepper
Spaghetti

The first step was to heat a pot of water and salt the shit out of it. Industry term. Use at least three tablespoons.

Just before the pasta went into the boiling water, I heated my stainless steal pan on medium. In went the pasta as the small pan was getting hot.

After the pasta goes in the pot, add a teaspoon of bacon fat, two teaspoons red curry paste, a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan and let it get hot.

The shrimp are only going to be in the pan for about five minutes, so everything has to be timed out. You want your pasta al dente just as the shrimp are heating up. If your pasta takes eight minutes to get to that point, you put the shrimp in the pan when there’s roughly four and a half minutes left.

Let them cook for roughly two minutes on one side, then flip ’em.

Add the crushed red and black pepper. Let them cook another two minutes.

Here’s where it gets fun: drain the pasta, reserving a couple ounces of the starchy water. Immediately add the pasta and water to the pan with the shrimp. Remove the pan from heat and mix everything with tongs or a fork. You want the pasta coated with all the awesome flavors.

PLATE THAT SHIT.

There you go. Inside of ten minutes you’ve made an awesome seafood dish with just the right amount of heat. It’s fucking idiot proof.

#38 – Avenged Sevenfold – Seize the Day

Checked my iTunes playcount for this one since it seems like this has been on every playlist I’ve made in the last five years. The total? 15.

Huh.

A7X was one of those bands I got into during my late college years. They were hardcore, did a lot of screaming and played seven minute songs. To this day they may be my favorite band to see live. But when they came out with their major label debut, “City of Evil”, it was a pretty big shift from what made them popular. Less screaming, less speed, more metal, higher production, more radio friendly, more acoustic guitars. Some didn’t like it. I loved it.

This is one of those songs I don’t really think you can hate, provided you like rock music. There’s a lot of Guns and Roses influence here, and it’s even more apparent when you watch the music video. Check out the 3:00 minute mark: Synyster Gates may as well be Slash.

I’m glad these guys are still around. When The Rev passed away I didn’t expect to get another album from one of my favorite bands of all time. But they’re still making good music and are as popular now as ever. Good for them.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B2yzG6Gj0A&w=420&h=315]

#39 – Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee

Not ashamed to admit that I probably listened to Boyz II Men more than any other band or artist or group in my early teen years. I got into “Cooleyhighharmony” before I hit my teenage years, “II” came out when I was 13 years old and I don’t think I stopped listening to them until I was 16.

I was actually pretty late on the bandwagon. When I was 12 my grandmother got myself and two of my cousins tickets to a Boyz II Men concert in the Cities. They were excited as shit; I didn’t even know who Boyz II Men were. I had vaguely heard of the two opening acts, Baby Face and Tevin Campbell. But yea, that was pretty much the start of a musical obsession.

It’s possible that more of their stuff belong on this list. I’ve played End of the Road, Water Runs Dry, I Sit Away and I’ll Make Love to You hundreds (maybe thousands) of times.

But this one gets the nod.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSUSFow70no&w=560&h=315]

#40 – Brand New – Me vs Maradona vs Elvis

So in places here I’ve talked about bands that had a certain sound early on, but completely switched gears in subsequent albums.

There’s the good. Then there’s the bad. Brand New is the former.

I first heard these guys because of a girl I dated during my sophomore year of school. She and I loved all the same tunes so when she told me to check out “Your Favorite Weapon” I had it pegged as something I’d like, and it was. Like a lot of the stuff I listened to back then it was simple, fast and catchy. Nothing mind blowing or remarkable, though.

When their second release, Deja Entendu, hit in my senior year I picked it up not expecting a whole lot, but I didn’t get through one play through before realizing it was something special. Yes, they changed their sound. Yes, it was for the better. This wasn’t the typical pop punk from their debut, it was a mix of all the genres I loved. Emo, post-hardcore, alternative…take your pick, this had it.

Me vs Maradona vs Elvis was the immediate highlight. Look, it’s a pretty dark tune. When I listened to the lyrics it completely floored me. My guess is it will have the same effect on you.

You HAVE to give this song a listen if you haven’t yet.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LllchE03xRk&w=420&h=315]

#41 – Eminem – Stan

I liked Eminem from the moment I saw his first music video, back when he first releaed My Name Is on the MTV viewing public. The Slim Shady LP is his best album by a pretty wide margin but nothing about his stuff seemed important or anything more than gimmicky. Maybe I’m selling him short, but while I played the hell out of that album, I don’t remember ever going, “Whoa…” after listening to Guilty Conscience, Role Model, Rock Bottom or Still Don’t Give a Fuck.

For a while that continued with his second major album, The Marshall Mathers LP. The Real Slim Shady was more of the same: goofing, mindless and forgettable. The Way I Am was more angry but after a decade that seemed almost exclusively angry hip hop, I didn’t think much of it.

Then, one night sitting in my dorm during my freshman year of college, I heard Stan for the first time and the “Whoa…” that had been missing finally came out. It was one of those instant, remember-where-you-were, kind of moments. I don’t have to tell you what the public thought about the song, you can read that here. Maybe I was just really late, but I think this is when I started taking Eminem seriously.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOMhN-hfMtY&w=560&h=315]

#42 – Finch – New Beginnings

If The Donnas were my college band by the end of my time at UW-Stout, Finch was probably my first. They were also the most disappointing. It’s tough to listen to their stuff, even a decade after I first heard them, and not be a little bitter.

We all probably have bands or artists that we once loved that changed their sound and lost you as a fan. In the last fifteen years or so I can only think of one, Thrice, I couldn’t say that about. They changed their sound on every album and I loved them all.

But while I got multiple albums and years of bands like No Use For a Name, The Ataris, Atmosphere, Strung Out, AFI, The Donnas and Good Riddance, Finch gave me and a lot of their fans only one before taking a serious 180 on the style of music that made a lot us love ’em.

“What it is to Burn” is a crazy good album. I doubt there’s one I listened to more over the course my sophomore and junior year. I could probably justify four or five songs from that album on this list, easy. On it, Finch somehow blended melodic hard-core, lyrics you could relate to and radio friendly music without coming across as poppy. The punkers I knew respected them, and the girls I introduced them to loved ’em. Their debut full length was so genre busting it made you anxious as hell for what was coming next.

Fans waited three years before Finch released their second full length, “Say Hello to Sunshine”. From wikipedia:

This album signaled a sharp departure from the band’s last release, What It Is to Burn. Say Hello to Sunshine introduced a harder, gritty sound, with more screaming and a less of a alternative rock sound compared to earlier songs such as “Letters to You”.[2] The album received mixed reactions. Some were disappointed, having been expecting a similar sound to their previous, whereas others embraced the change in direction.

I tried, I really did. Back then I was listening to a lot of great hard-core like Sick of it All and Glassjaw. I could have loved it. But it was just, really, bad. So yes, I was bitter. I really wanted more of the same, and instead they gave us something that made them indistinguishable from the band they were a few years earlier.

All that said, if you like really good alternative music I couldn’t possibly recommend “What it is to Burn” any more. New Beginnings won’t be the last Finch song on this list.

Listen to it here.