Spilken Selects #4: Little Fictions, by Elbow (but also Elbow’s entire back catalogue)

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool. PS all album links in this post are to Amazon, all songs to iTunes. 

Elbow is a band that can easily be labeled as “consistent.” I would add to that “great” as in, consistently great. Their new album, Little Fictions, continues their tradition of releasing engaging, atmospheric, and fantastic rock albums.

Elbow’s sound is typically moody, but Little Fictions borders on joyous. Buoyed by strong melodies and ebullient percussion, songs like the lead off “Magnificent (She Says)” and “Firebrand & Angel” draw you in and keep the record moving forward. To me the standout track is “K2”, where they go in on Brexit with characteristic verve. The album isn’t without its more contemplative tracks as well, with songs like “All Disco” digging into the meanings behind our actions. Why do anything anyway?

As always, Guy Garvey’s vocals are delivered in his unique gruff/soaring “Peter Gabriel by way of Manchester” way while the band is driven by the interplay between the drums and spacious melodic elements. The production on these albums is fantastic; every Elbow album sounds awesome and Little Fictions is no exception.

This brings me to the parentheses part of this posts title. Elbow records in general, from their 2002 debut Asleep in the Back to 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything are all worth listening to. They share a similar sound; you can’t have a voice like Garvey’s be anything outside of what it is, but the songwriting on display is, as mentioned previously, consistently great. I get choked up listening to “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” from TTOALOE, and songs like “Grounds for Divorce” and “Mexican Standoff” just rock, for lack of a better description.

Another thing I love about Elbow is that their politically leaning songs are effective and cutting. I mentioned K2 already, but a favorite of mine (That just so happens to be perfect for these insane times)? “The Fix” from 2009’s Mercury Prize Winning The Seldom Seen Kid  Here’s a live video of them performing it with album collaborator Richard Hawley:

So good. Too good.

So yeah, buy/stream Little Fictions and dive into Elbow. If you like rock and roll you’ll be glad you did. Already a fan? Want to know more? Hit me in the comments!


Spilken Selects #3: Streaks Workout

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool.

It’s easy to say that you’re going to start working out in the New Year. I’ve done it a couple of times m’self. It seems that I’ve found a way to make workouts actually happen this time, and that’s been with the aid of the Streaks Workout app.

The app is easy to use: choose what (equipment free) exercise moves you’d like to do (you do this once at setup but can adjust to your liking anytime), pick for how long you’d like to do a workout, and Streaks Workout will put together a random series of your chosen moves that you follow along with. It keeps track of your progress and how often you do workouts, and also reports to the Health app (if that’s your thing).

Annaliese and I did at least one workout a day for 72% of January. We both feel like it’s been tremendously beneficial, and we also enjoy the simple interface. The randomness of the workouts themselves is also quite fun, as you never quite know what moves you’ll be doing, and at what interval you’ll do them. Sometimes it’ll come through with an intense core workout, sometimes it’s for the whole body.

The only drawback I can find is that at the moment, it’s only available for iOS. It’s not expensive (2.99 at the time of this writing) and provides a simple, consistent exercise experience.

Interested? Learn more at Streaks Workout.

Freedom To

Another tune from a Wild Bob’s Musical bookclub fleshed out, this was based on the eerily prescient “Handmaiden’s Tale”.

Freedom To

Freedom to, and freedom from
What’s forgotten, and what’s to come
When you see it on the sidelines, it’s already too late
So keep on sliding backwards into the rigorous state

Freedom From and freedom to
Practice poison, smother progress
and take the hits for you
If you ask for a description you’re getting something opaque
and you’re handing off the passwords and keys to the safe

Freedom To, and freedom from
Get what you’re giving
Leaving when you’re done
When you’re looking at it sideways, you wonder what does it take
To get your brothers and your sisters to realize what’s at stake

Freedom From, and freedom to
Correct action, Moral Traction
and unopposed views
If you’d only see it my way it might not be too late
And I’ll keep falling over backwards into the rigorous state
Freedom From, and freedom to

Spilken Selects #2: The Food Lab’s Hummus Recipe

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool.

My earliest recipe for Hummus came from my friend Catherine’s mother, Sonja Lallemand. Sonja’s hummus was impossibly flavorful, and though I never got the full scoop on what additional spices went in with the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and olive oil I had a pretty good handle on making a quite edible variation. Sonja’s hummus is a stiffer, grainier blend that holds up wonderfully in sandwiches, but I’ve always wondered how to pull off the smooth, creamy hummus (topped with a delightfully spicy sauce we’ll get back to soon) that I first tasted at the Jerusalem Cafe in Westport.

The answer came from J. Kenji López-Alt, aka the genius behind The Food Lab on Serious Eats.

The Food Lab’s Israeli-Style Extra Smooth Hummus Recipe

I’ve made this recipe twice now, and each time it’s been a massive success. The time investment is minimal, the ingredients are relatively cheap, and the flavor is, frankly, amazing. In future iterations I intend to create variations including olives, spinach & artichokes, and a spicy version (that I alone will end up eating).

Speaking of spicy, the sauce that I mentioned earlier? For years I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, so I added Sambal Oelek to bring the heat. Sambal does make an excellent compliment to hummus, but for that authentic Mediterranean / African taste, you’ve got to get “wet” Harissa. It brings a roasted pepper richness to the party along with a subtle creeping heat that’s just delightful.

BTW, Kenji’s first cookbook, The Food Lab, is phenomenal. It’s a masterclass in cooking techniques with a scientific, nerdy bend that has really upped my game in the kitchen. The Hummus recipe isn’t included but the “no stir” risotto method alone makes it worth the price of admission. The book itself is gorgeous, and makes an AMAZING gift. Check it out here:


Security Theater

I wrote this song as a FUCK OFF to people that get off on authority.

Another hour of security theater with patience holding back the cries
It’s a lesson in objective behavior where two wrongs always make a right
The largest sample size has crept into your element
And on the street you can’t keep jiving with that elephant
The youngest team ain’t gonna give a vote of confidence

Security theater!
Showtime and you’re turned on again
Security theater!
We hear all that you should’ve said
And I never really liked that look

Another hour of security thieving in a room far to cold to burn
Given access to abhorrent behavior
Everyone’s gonna take a turn
And the pecking order sometimes is so nonchalant
That chicken scratch is never gonna getcha whatcha want
Old devil mash keeps piling on until you’re good and hot

Security theater!
Showtime and you’re turned on again
Security theater!
We hear all that you should’ve said
And I never really liked that look

But sometimes we think we’re really getting there
And are given everything we’d want
A stiff reminder of our impotence
When we can’t even detect the plot

F This S, For Real.

In years past, I felt that it was important to add my voice to political discourse on social media. I stopped for a long time, minus a couple of blog posts and a RT here and there (which I’ve done more of recently). I thought that because of the generally positive discourse/rapport I’ve got with people IRL, I could do some good in the online community. Maybe someone that didn’t agree with me could understand why I make the choices I do and hold the POV that I hold through me saying what I felt or amplifying what I agree with. I thought that I could help the world in a small way through these actions.

Ahh delusions; such sweet dreams.

With that being said, there’s a quote from the Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill that bears sharing: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” I suspect that most of us have tailored our feeds to provide a steady diet of confirmation bias. Continually exposing oneself to one’s self feels good, man. I judge not, as I am an active participant. However, at this point in our collective journey it seems that we need to get offline with our sentiment and make some things happen on the ground.

The federal government is now in the hands of people who do not care at all for the common man. It is what it is. However…

FUCK THIS SHIT, for real.

It’s not all over. We can shield ourselves, our families, and our neighbors from the potentially disastrous fallout through conversation, compassion, and compromise at the face-to-face, local level. There are decent people everywhere with a spectrum of political beliefs. I don’t believe that the majority of these people will find what’s coming as a positive direction for any of us. Maybe they’ll speak up. When they do, let’s act.

I will continue calling my representatives in congress and the senate, and will begin attending local government/school board meetings. Also, we’re going to attempt to do business with local providers who share our values as often as possible. As we are still new to the community in NY, I will try to meet people, network, and possibly organize when called to.

I feel very fortunate to be an American. Part of the reason I am able to have such a good quality of life is purely provenance. I can give something back and this still can be a place of justice and equality for all. I’m readier than ever to find out what I can do and what we can build. Join me if you can.

Spilken Selects #1: The Zyliss Y Vegetable Peeler

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this *new* weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool.

The Low Down:

I’m not breaking new ground by saying that peeling vegetables is less than fun. However, the Zyliss Y Vegetable Peeler makes it a considerably smaller pain in the keister. The handle is mad ergonomic, and the blade is really effective. The little loop on the side of the Y’s apex? Though you can’t see it in the picture, it’s slightly conical, making for a perfect quick “eye” remover.

While peeling potatoes the other night to make The Food Lab’s Caldo Verde I thought “Wow, this takes the tedium out of something tedious, and the handle is large, comfortable, and stable. Wait, why am I peeling these potatoes instead of the kids?”

This sturdy and inexpensive device made quick work of the potatoes, and cleans up really easily as well. Later on last week, I peeled two eggplants in under 3 minutes. It’s simply the king of peelers. KING. OF. PEELERS.

Alright, how do I get one?

The Zyliss Y Vegetable Peeler is only $8.95 on Amazon. It’s head and shoulders better than any “inline” peeler. Do it.

2017, GO!

Enough has been said about how F’n crazy ’16 was, right? My own year was something else; an album, a major death in the family, and a cross country move were just the tips of the tumult. So let’s put it behind us and make something happen in the coming 12 months! Who’s coming with me!?

Anyway, I’ve made a point of posting my resolutions for the New Year for the last two years, so let’s keep that train rolling, shall we? I did my best to stick to what I said at this time last year but some items definitely get carried over to this list, as I didn’t quite nail it. It’s all about the journey, right? So without further ado, here’s where my efforts will go in 2017:

  • I intend to focus on healthy habits. I’m not talking about some short lived diet or exercise plan, but a return to sensible portions and routine movement. I have a kitchen scale and very decent shoes, so this is a matter of self-discipline more than anything. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go down the road my father did and I mean that. I’m not getting any younger, after all. This is my primary concern for the year.
  • As a family, we’ll be working towards dialing in our finances this year. Annaliese and I have decided to call 2017 the “Year of the Squirrel” in regards to cashflow, and will do our best to resist spending more than we absolutely need to. I’d like to have a decent chunk of change in an emergency fund by mid-year, something I’ve never been able to muster in the past.
  • Musically, I’d really like to reach out and collaborate with others on new songs. Reading Elvis Costello’s biography (highly recommended, btw) has inspired me to attempt more collaborations with people I know and admire. If you’re a musician/writer type and want to swap riffs, lyrics, and audio files to write some tunes with no specific goal in mind other than a new song, holler atcha boy.
  • Following my cousin Linda’s lead on her blog, Stories I Tell Myself, I’m going to begin posting here regularly damnit. Linda posts a well written and introspective piece (on her past and our family) every Monday, and I highly recommend it. So with that routine in mind, I’ll launch a series of weekly articles by February. Right now I’m considering calling it “Spilken Selects”, where I share about something I enjoy, be it music, a recipe, a piece of gear, or whatever. Any other ideas for this series are most welcome, hit me in the comments.
  • In the same vein, I’m going to learn more about WordPress and spiff this site up. It needs a refresher.
  • Lastly, I’l continue to attempt to improve as a husband and father. The big kids are in a crazy time of their lives (High School and Middle School), and the little kid is just plain crazy (toddlers are intense bro), but they need stable and positive influence from their parents. I know Annaliese always delivers on this requirement, so more than anything I’ll try and follow her lead and be there for her in any way I can be.

Alright. 2017 is here. May good luck, fortune, and the Force be with all of you. Cheers!