The  one mile scroll – a combination of an endurance race and a fall from space. Mile markers laid out as height. Elevations of points on the globe, heights of structures. It starts high and you slowly fall closer to sea-level.

I’ve had dreams like this, falling off a satellite, passing landmarks in the atmosphere. This is different, this is a crawl from the air to the surface. Gravity means nothing now, we’re climbing downwards.

Let's go.

Awhile back, I livetweeted myself listening to Fun.'s hit album Some Nights. Rather than actually write a real review, I've just catalogued my thoughts on this horrific album here.

2013 was a good year. Not only for the barrage of good albums - there were many - but it marks yet another year in a row that we're finally over the nu-metal and post-grunge that dominated the rock world for much of the century so far. 2011 and 2012 mark some of the strongest years in new album releases I can recall in my life. While part of this may be me simply being older and paying more attention to the industry, it's still hard to say that we aren't going through something of a renaissance right now. Of course, trying to keep up with a glut of "must-listens" while juggling several day jobs and my own hectic personal life is a challenge. I spent much of 2013 on a ten thousand mile road odyssey that stretched from Alaska to Florida, and the trip was marked by releases of many of the albums I'm about to mention, so it's something of a personal list for me. Still, this list has been a long time coming. It seems even with trying to keep up with the latest releases, something always escapes my grasp, and even now I'm not quite comfortable putting this concrete account of 2013 down to press. (I'm still haunted by forgetting to mention Dead Sara's debut in the 2012 list.) The past two months have been spent in a daze on Spotify and collecting recommendations from friends to see what I missed, but with March soon upon us, it's time to bite the bullet: Here's some of my favorite albums from last year, as well as an accompanying 35-track Spotify playlist to rock out to.

To say it has a "carrying" quality would be an understatement, as if I just tripped and fell onto a barge that's heading for that all-important Final Moment. A sense of direction is key, and we can get totally lost in the wonders of this barge without fear of losing track of where we'll end up. After this, I want to hold the biggest bonfire party in the Pacific Northwest, and if that involves buying a plot of land in the woods just outside Seattle and building a massive structure out of shipping containers so Lusine can DJ for us, then so be it. We will fuel the fire in front of the stage with lesser albums from Skrillex until the electronic world learns the art of subtlety. During the day, the structure can be used as a garage for even bigger projects. Recording studio? Mayhaps. The future can bring anything.

What is the meaning of life? If you were to ask God himself, he'd probably just shrug his shoulders. Why did he create us? Why do we, in our leisure time, strive to create things of our own? If we see the lives we live and the relationships and stories we create with them as a work of art in themselves, who is to say God doesn't justify his own existence in the same way? We invent our own meaning to life, and the universe is our canvas. To paint on this is to become God.

Broken friendships can be mended and all your dreams can come true. Or at least most of them. The reasonable ones. But if it's your life's dream to spend your night dancing around fires with a belly full of whiskey and a freezer full of the best seafood caught fresh from the swamps of Florida, well then make it happen, and drag whoever you can along for the ride. If Lusine created A Certain Distance, then it makes all our own dreams seem so much more attainable.

To say we've entered the territory of 'paradigm shift' isn't entirely unreasonable. The radio could declare tomorrow that Air Force One crash-landed during a storm into a Mississippi bayou, and cannibal hillbillies cranked out on crystal meth descended upon the airliner to devour President Obama's charred corpse in front of shocked cabinet members while Rush Limbaugh furiously masturbates behind the microphone. That's entirely possible, too. Nothing can be ruled out at this point. Not anymore.

I've been gearing for this one for awhile now. STS9 may have wowed me with displays of what's possible in this world, and Boards of Canada and Tycho can paint vivid narratives across our minds, but this is the Real Deal. We're here now. Clarity. Where are we going from here? No more questioning, we know what to do now.

The beautiful thing about beauty is you can always make something even better.

Hempfest is Seattle’s annual celebration of, well, you can probably guess what it celebrates. Hot on the heels of the 2012 elections that saw Washington and Colorado become the first states to legalize possession of marijuana, Hempfest organizers wasted no time in making sure that they became the first hemp festival to take place in a state where marijuana was legal. From August 16th through 18th, they would commandeer the Myrtle Edwards Park to set up a bunch of stages and space for vendors, and on top of that it would be free. Being in a city where possession of marijuana was now legal, this was bound to be a riot. After spending Friday night drinking whiskey and hotboxing my car to prepare my body, I was ready Saturday afternoon to hit the festival myself.

Everyone in downtown Seattle seemed to be going to Hempfest, as small groups of people walking down the streets could be seen merging into larger groups of people and eventually a solid line as I made my way closer to Myrtle Edwards Park. Getting into the park required taking the West Thomas Street pedestrian overpass, which festival organizers had renamed, “The Stephen Colbert Bridge to Somewhere, Maybe?” We were heading somewhere alright, though there was no time to ponder the foreboding uncertainty of the name as we were immediately assaulted at the entrance of the bridge by a crazy middle aged man handing out pamphlets...

Depending on who you ask, "Hesitation Marks" either refers to a series of cuts made in one's flesh to test the effectiveness of a blade before attempting suicide, or the start of an actual fatal cut that's been paused. This morbid definition is crucial to the understanding of the latest Nine Inch Nails album, also titled Hesitation Marks, which hangs on the same brink of tension as the act it gets its name from.

Fresh off a series of film scores and his other band, How To Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor and his producer buddy Atticus Ross teamed up for the first Nine Inch Nails album after an extended hiatus. Along the way they picked up help from Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), and Eugene Goreshter (Autolux), amongst others. The resulting album is one a bit more restrained and ambient than what Nine Inch Nails fans are used to, but at the same time one of the darkest in Reznor's career. Let's take a look.

Somehow I fell out of the loop on this one. I recently caught Hank 3 playing a show in Santa Ana, CA, and while not nearly as violent as the one I saw in Austin, TX last year, it was still up to the usual Hank 3 standards. However, when he played a ton of material I hadn't heard before, I was confused. Had a new album come out? Turns out there wasn't one, but two that had slipped totally under my radar this fall.

Besides the cowpunk A Fiendish Threat, he also dropped a new country album, Brothers of the 4x4, and the title sets the tone for the bulk of the album: Lots of songs about lifted trucks, going out hunting with his dog, and other thoroughly explored country clichés. Lyrically, it feels like the most uninspired Hank 3 album yet, at least on the first few listens. Some of it grows on you, like "Possum in a Tree," a bluegrassy ditty that's about exactly what it says it's about. Other tracks, like "Held Up," are absurdly fun tracks musically, until you realize he's literally closing out chorus lines with tacky nonsense like "and I love the sweet southern smell of Virginia's vagina." Or there's "Outdoor Plan," where he fills in gaps with vocal imitations of guitar lines. Hank 3 has never exactly been a poet, but coming off of 2011's absolutely epic Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town, this one feels a little half-assed.

Getting this project going required some research. After all, my sole "experience" in journalism until now has been in the gaming industry. So, to get in the mindset necessary to get this off the ground, I spent several weeks pretty much living in various public libraries reading.

During my delve into the history of the trade, I stumbled across Infamous Scribblers by former Fox and NBC News correspondent Eric Burns, which documents not only the birth of American journalism, but how it played so closely into how the country was formed.

Even the most amateur of American history buffs can tell you about the incendiary Sam Adams, and how he utilized the Boston Gazette to stir up opposition to the Crown. However, Infamous Scribblers also documents more forgotten characters of the era, such as Jemmy Rivington, who started out running a pro-Crown publication known as the New York Gazetteer in the days leading up to the war. Eventually, he served as the Crown's official printer in New York during the war where, unbeknownst to most of his peers, he was actually playing the role of double-agent and passing secrets to Washington's army.

A Primer in Boards of Canada

A few weeks ago, the internet was abuzz with a viral marketing campaign staged by Warp Records to announce the long-awaited newest album by electronic music duo Boards of Canada. Their first full-length album since 2005, entitled Tomorrow's Harvest, is due June 10th. And while their fans are going nuts, one thing the stunt has brought attention to is the mystique that surrounds the group.

Started in the mid-80's by brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Boards of Canada has built a reputation for being secretive - usually releasing albums with very little advertising and few interviews given to the press. This coupled with a painfully slow release schedule (seven years have passed since the release of their last EP, Trans-Canada Highway) has created an incredible demand for any material or news from the group, which when released is immediately jumped on by the Twoism fan forum and catalogued by the bocpages wiki. Safe to say, Boards of Canada fans are a seriously devoted bunch, but it leads a lot of people outside these circles of fans to wonder, "Why?"

Your basic law of supply and demand snowballs to an almost exponential level with these guys. It's a well known open secret that the group has roughly half a dozen unreleased albums that nobody can seem to get a copy of. These are things that fans dwell on during seven years of silence, and why they start placing bounties on them being found. This is what drives fans to start concocting theories on entities related to the band like the "Hexagon Sun" collective, which depending on who you ask, is either the duo's recording studio or some kind of mysterious Scottish cult.

Of course, the intrigue wouldn't be there at all if it wasn't for the music the duo produces. Boards of Canada is known for their relatively unique production style amongst electronic music artists, foregoing synthetic sounds in favor of old-fashioned analog equipment. Taking in lots of field recordings, samples of 70's media, documentaries, and numbers stations, and running them all through heavy distortion and electronic manipulation, their sound is usually described as "warm" or "nostalgic." So while we wait for the release of Tomorrow's Harvest, I figure now is as good a time as any to run through some of the biggest landmarks of their discography.

I wrote this last winter for submission to several local area blogs and papers in Southcentral Alaska. Nobody wanted to take it, and it kinda settled to the depths of my hard drive. Looking back on it, my thoughts on this subject still haven't changed, and the topic of content monopolization is still relevant, even if it's old news for ADN specifically. So, here you go:

On December 4th, visitors to the Anchorage Daily News' website were given a rude awakening: Beginning on the 18th, readers would be expected to pay for subscription access to read online content, with ADN publisher Pat Doyle stating "We can no longer expect only advertisers and print subscribers to shoulder the complete burden of supporting news-gathering and distribution ... Having all our readers share that cost is an essential and important step toward preserving the foundations of a free and independent press for future generations of Alaskans."

Curiously enough, Doyle makes no mention to Alaskans that online paywalls are part of a nationwide initiative by McClatchy, their parent company, to introduce these paywalls to all their newspapers. Not only is failing to disclose this exceedingly misleading, but Doyle's claims are virtually meritless. McClatchy posted roughly $54.4 million in net income and a sheer $1.3 billion in revenue for 2011. Of that revenue, $956.3 million was attributed to advertising and $262.3 million to circulation. However, in a press release on their third quarter earnings, McClatchy president Pat Talamantes declared the paywalls "could add more than $20 million" in new revenue for 2013. $20 million compared to the $262.3 million they make in circulation screams either unenthusiasm or bad idea or both. It also trivializes the supposed necessity of the paywalls, considering the number of readers they're likely to upset with them, if not lose entirely.

Doyle tries to appeal to the audience with straw man arguments, saying "Our industry and our customers are realizing that the news and information we produce has real value, regardless of how our readers choose to access it." Clearly, the content they post has "value," otherwise they wouldn't be pulling so much revenue on advertising. McClatchy is already getting something for the value, so maybe this is really about something else.

When the Internet got popular, it did a wonderful thing: It made information free. No longer did newspapers and television stations hold a monopoly on the news. The Internet has not only made it easier for journalists to get news out faster, but gave it to readers for free, as they found new revenue streams through advertising that entirely negated the need to charge for content. Companies like Gawker and HuffPo who took advantage of this new environment have been thriving ever since, but McClatchy failed to adapt, applying the old-media model of attempting to hold information at a premium, bleeding out a further few drops of precious "value." The only problem is, as we enter 2013, this really pisses off consumers.

McClatchy is well aware of this with their unenthusiastic financial expectations, and charging more isn't going to improve the shoddy state of affairs at the Anchorage Daily News. What Doyle calls "the fairest, most accurate and most professional news report possible" will continue to be recycled AP wires and unedited press releases, and the fact McClatchy is going to be charging for it is an insult to journalism as a whole. Much like the little boy that throws a temper-tantrum when he can't stay up until 4 a.m. on a school night playing video games, online paywalls are a screaming and childish last-ditch attempt to keep the Old Ways relevant in the 21st century. But as Hunter S. Thompson put it in The Rum Diary, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to those who see it coming and jump aside."

top-albums-2012.jpg

For those who remember, 2011 was a big year for me. Rock music has been going through a crazy revival ever since the demise of post-grunge and nu-metal, and that year is one of the strongest in recent memory for albums. From Jane's Addiction to Mastodon to Mike Doughty, Robbers on High Street, Opeth, Rich Robinson, Tycho, multiple albums from Hank Williams III, and countless other gems, 2011 was fantastic. So what are the odds the trend of AAA+ releases would continue a second year in a row? As it turns out, pretty good. I'm not going to do a definitive "Top 10" list, nor am I going to attempt to catalogue every great album I found, but there are a handful I'd like to shine a spotlight on. Read on to check them out.

If there's one band that I credit the most with shaping my musical tastes as they stand today, it's Soundgarden. Pioneers of the Seattle grunge scene, they ironically entered my life years after the popularity of grunge had waned. I was in middle school, going through an embarrassingly shameful nu-metal phase, when I first stumbled upon their 1994 magnum opus, Superunknown. That album was all I needed to start using the internet to track down other artists of the scene I had either forgotten about or missed entirely, leading me to research and make notes of any band I came across and turn into the bitter music critic that I am today. So yeah, I hold a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Cornell and the gang. Unfortunately they broke up long before I really had the chance to get into them, but times have changed, it's now 2012, and Soundgarden is not only back together and touring again, but they just dropped a whole album of new material for the first time in sixteen years. I bring you, King Animal.

Reunion albums are a fickle category. The Eagles got back together and were promptly forgotten about. Jane's Addiction bombed through their first reunion album only to get it right with their second one. Chris Cornell has been avoiding the idea of a Soundgarden reunion for years not wanting to tarnish the legacy, and I can agree with his artistic integrity. Regardless, fans have been demanding this one for awhile, and while maybe I'm a bit biased after sixteen years of nothing, I can safely say that King Animal throws aside any fears of this being a cash-in: This is as strong an album as the band has ever done in the past.

Steve Roggenbuck I've said it before, and I'll continue repeating it as necessary: Two years of bouncing around from city to city, with nothing more than a laptop and a beat-up pickup truck and no actual "home" other than the interstate highway system, was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I have no regrets about it. I learned more about the world, and myself, in those two years than I did in my 22 years of existence prior to that. That aside, I still feel I fell short of a lot of things I initially wanted to do. I wanted to get a book done, but I'm still carrying around a rough draft that is only a quarter of the way there. I wanted to energize people across the country to start questioning their own lives like I did, and help them realize they could go on crazy adventures of their own. I wanted to establish a caravan of ragged cars and find other roving vagabonds to join me and tag along for the trip. Things didn't quite pan out that way as I got sucked into a personal existential crisis, battling my own demons as I tried to make sense of this surreal world I had stepped into. However, I did find somebody that not only went on his own trip, but was picking up the slack in the "getting others motivated" department. This guy is probably the most fitting subject for the first entry of what I'm dubbing " The Rad Americans Series," so lets talk about him.

Who remembers Everclear? I know somebody remembers Everclear. Back in the 90's, the alt-rock outfit had a string of radio hits, most notably "Santa Monica" and "I Will Buy You A New Life." They had a string of fantastic albums that, while by no means any sort of technical achievement, were still loaded with ridiculously catchy pop-rock songs that had many youth at the time hooked. What happened to these guys?

Around the turn of the century, the band embarked on a really ambitious double-album series, Songs From An American Movie, Volumes 1 and 2. Sales for Volume 1 were strong at first, but the band and label decided to release both volumes as separate albums within four months of each other, each with separate singles, confusing most buyers and effectively stalling out sales. From a critical standpoint, Volume 2 also felt more like a collection of leftovers rather than it's own album. Frankly, I think tracks like "All Fucked Up" and "Overwhelming" should've been moved to the Volume 1 release, with "Song From an American Movie, Part 2" bookending it as the final track, dropping the Volume 1 part altogether and releasing Songs From An American Movie as a single album. Maybe salvage some of the remaining Volume 2 tracks as b-sides for the singles. Would've been much more successful, commercially speaking, and a more coherent release, conceptually speaking. But, hindsight is always 20/20 in these matters. The band broke up after their 2003 album, Slow Motion Daydream, and since then, lead singer Art Alexakis put together a new lineup and has been trying to rekindle the magic. In recent years they've released something like three greatest hits albums, all containing mediocre re-recordings of the band's 90's hits, in a feeble attempt to cash in some more on "I Will Buy You A New Life."

The embarrassment doesn't end there, either. This past summer saw release of their latest studio effort, Invisible Stars. The phrase "a totally generic and uninspired pop-rock album, completely devoid of all feeling and emotion" is something I really hate to say about the band that wrote the fantastic "Why I Don't Believe In God" so many years ago, but it really applies with Everclear's Invisible Stars. Every track sounds exactly the same, with the same structures, same chords, and same tired guitar and synth effects. The track "Jackie Robinson" is about the only exception with a somewhat catchy pop beat, albeit only briefly until the same synth we heard on every track before kicks in once again. And I think I heard several of these tracks on Slow Motion Daydream, too. It's almost like they were intentionally trying to create something literally as unremarkable and average as possible. I mean, even the album cover has a goddamned Instagram filter on it. Sigh.

It actually goes as far to be an even bigger let-down than The Offspring's effort this summer, Days Go By. I looked at the lead single from the album earlier this summer - quite positively, in fact. What a shame it was to see the rest of the album to fall so short. There's a really polished re-recording of Ignition's "Dirty Magic" that I absolutely adore, and "Dividing By Zero" also harkens back to their more aggressive 90's punk roots. But the rest? Yuck. The worst offender on the album is "Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk)," a ridiculously cliche atrocity that reminds me about Americana, an album I absolutely hated and still hate to this day. Even the video goes above and beyond the call of duty in terms of being annoying and insufferable. I've had some people suggest to me that "Cruising California" is simply there as a "joke" or the band intentionally trying to be ironic, and even then I still hate it. We have enough meta-irony in the music industry right now with people like Lil' B - we don't need more of it, and I'll be happy when that trend finally goes away.

22nd Annual Austin Hot Sauce Festival

I'm walking around in the sweltering Texas heat, slightly intoxicated, and my mouth is on fire. I just chained up some heavy consumption of dozens of different ghost pepper and habanero-based hot sauces, and at this point repeated doses of alcohol and tortilla chips are failing to disperse the burn. I'm pouring sweat and feeling a hell of a burn in my mouth that's extending down into my chest, but I'm still not sated. I need to find something even hotter.

Or perhaps I should back up a bit.

So, during my last weekend in Texas, I managed to hit up The Austin Chronicle's 22nd Annual Hot Sauce Festival. Every August, the Chronicle throws on one of the largest gatherings in the world that is dedicated to making your food really hot. Timing it in the middle of the summer is no coincidence, either; their website openly touts "If you wanna beat the heat... then you gotta eat the heat." And on top of being an excuse for locals to get drunk and dissolve their insides with unhealthy amounts of capsaicin, it's also a major fundraising event for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas: The event is "free" admission to anyone who brings a donation of canned foods (or cash) for the Food Bank.

The main draw to the Festival was the competition, in which restaurants, commercial bottlers and local individuals all submitted their creations for judging and critique. A pavilion hosted the main competition, where attendees were given plates of tortilla chips and set loose to judge the hot sauces for themselves. If that wasn't enough, many commercial bottlers had also set up booths outside, where you could try their entire product lines and purchase what you liked. If you *still* had a craving, a handful of local restaurants had also set up little tent kitchens. The food was mostly taco stands and other standard Mexican fare, but hey, this IS a festival dedicated to the flavor of spicy, after all. Throw in some decent live music, alcohol, and roughly 15 thousand people, and you have a pretty solid party.

This was no ordinary gathering of fans of spicy food, either - This was an event for the true connoisseur. One attendee by the name of Jacob summed up the attitude of the crowd:

" Most people fail to realize how truly complex hot sauce can be. Much of what is on the market these days, at least on a large-scale, is just simply "hot." People only know about generic brands like Tabasco or Frank's, but a lot of independent operations and home bottlers are finding new ways to balance hot with taste. It's not just a matter of being hot anymore. Hot can simultaneously also be sweet or spicy or tangy or sour."

22nd Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

And he was pretty spot on, as just about everyone there had a unique product that begged to be tasted over and over and over again. The only unwelcome guest was an oversized booth run by Texan grocery giant H-E-B, who had no business being there with their inferior mass-produced imitation. Sub-par grocery store salsas taste even worse than usual when put up against real bottlers, and H-E-B's offering was no exception.

My personal favorite came from Hobo Jim's, who had their whole lineup of hot sauces up for tasting. The king of their booth, however, was their "Yellow Jacket" sauce, a tangy mustard based hot sauce blended with ghost peppers and habaneros and a variety of other spices. It was selling out pretty fast, but I managed to snag myself a bottle before their stock totally dried up.

SilverLeaf International also deserves a special mention. After hitting a string of brutally hot sauces and salsas, I needed something even stronger to send out the festival with a fitting bang, and their Ghost Pepper Salsa fit that bill perfectly. They also had delicious marinated garlic cloves in a ghost pepper variety, but the salsa was the king of this booth. On top of being incredibly hot, it had a subtle sweet undertone to it that made it impossible to not go overboard with it. My final memory of the festival was stumbling out the gate away from SilverLeaf's booth, racing towards the truck so I could crack another cold beer out of the cooler. Relaxing with said beer in the grass of the neighboring park, it was now time to take in the variety of flavors I had experienced, and also to ponder the imminent doom of my lower digestive tract.

You can find more information on the festival, as well as archives for past years, on the Austin Chronicle's web site.