My top 18 albums of 2006

This is a list of albums that were new to me in 2006. They may very well have been released earlier. Most of them are available on eMusic. Reviewing the list, I’m surprised to note there’s no hip-hop. Seems I’ve been favoring the indy end of the pool this year. If you like nerdy art-core, and like yourself some volume, you may find something you like below:

Aloha – Some Echoes
I found this via an ad on Pitchfork Media (see! advertising! works!). I think this might go onto the desert island top ten. It’s groovy and mellow and they have a guy who plays the vibes! I love the vibes.

Beck – The Information
Have all his other recent albums been as good as this? Holy crap. Funky good. So good it almost feels like a guilty pleasure.

Danielson – Ships
I bought into the pitchfork hype, and bought it from emusic. Did not disappoint at all. Very weird, yet very listenable.

Herbert – Scale
The only dance oriented on my list this year. The Movers and the Shakers was my song of the summer.

Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
For sheer audacity and burning creativity alone this album should be included in every “serious” indy annual list. It was a VERY longshot to win Canada’s new “for the art of it” Polaris Music Prize, which it won. There was no shortage of controversy over that, but frankly I think it deserves it. This album is so strange: think Antony from Antony and the Johnsons but with a violin and a bunch of electronic effects. Yet it is not overly challenging to listen to. How he manages to hold it all together is the magic of the art.

Iron & Wine – iTunes Exclusive
This is Sam with his sister singing harmony. They do a cover of one of my all time favorite New Order songs, Love Vigilantes. How could a folk music rock SO hard?

Marvin Gaye – Live in Montreux 1980
Wow, what a talent. If you haven’t heard Marvin Gaye in a while, go check him out. He poured so much soul and love into his music, it just reeks of it.

Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Theatrical, rocking, emotive, cool synths, and a voice reminiscent of Thom Yorke.

The Deadly Snakes – Porcella
There’s something so poignantly sad about this album. It’s The Deadly Snakes last album. A fact I can’t keep out of my head when I listen to this (something I do a lot). The songs themselves seem to pluck directly at my emotions. The lyrics are smart and relevant, and are delivered with a gravelly, loose sincerity. There’s a old western feel to the songs, lots of twang and sauce. I’ve recently become the singer in a garage band. This is how I want to sing. Listen to Gore Veil at the link above. You’ll thank me.

The Dears – Gang of Losers
This was a toss up. I could have included any of The Dears albums. They’re all top 10 worthy, but that would cheapen the rest of the list. Gang of Losers was released this year, so it got the nod. Oh, also because I can play There Goes My Outfit solo on my acoustic, and it sounds awesome.

The English Beat – Beat This! The Best of…
I bought this in one of those “thank god for downloads” moments. For some reason I <strong>had</strong> to hear Mirror in the Bathroom. I was a HUGE Beat fan back in the 80s. Twenty years later it’s amazing how well these songs hold up. This has become the Girls (ages 5.75 and 3) favorite cd. We blast it in the house, and it’s been in the car stereo for months now.

The Kooks – Inside In Inside Out
If I were a teenage girl, I’d have posters of these guys all over my walls. The song Seaside motivated me to pick up my guitar again (and hey! now I’m the singer in a band). Super amazing power pop with nice crunchy (easy to play) guitar driven rock songs.

The National – Alligator
Not technically from 06, I didn’t discover it till all of last year’s best-of lists.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser
My playcount on this album is embarrassingly high.

Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
There are 3cds full of music and spoken word stuff here. And not one bad track. True, you’ve got to be a Waits fan. This album won’t convert you. But you need not be a hard core fan. This is a work of genius.

Tool – 10000 Days
A tiny bit disappointing. I mean, it was a long wait. I was expecting a reinvention. What I got was Lateralus 2. Which is fine.

TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
I’ve seen this on a bunch of best-of lists already, and deservedly so. Weird and so good. This is another “why does it work so well?” album, like He Poos Clouds, only with a chance of radio airplay.

Yo La Tengo – I Am  Not Afraid Of  You And I Will Beat Your Ass
Deserves to be on everyone’s list for the title alone. This sprawling album goes EVERYWHERE. We’re talking 15 tracks, two of which are over 10 minutes long. The musicianship is amazing, the songs are inventive and catchy.

Almost Cool v8: Done Fiddling for Now.

Hey hey hey. Just a note to say I’m done fiddling with the site design. It’s a lot more refined then a few days ago, so if you saw it then, pop back for another peek.

I’ve adjusted the typography, and made the line length shorter. I’m using non-standard fonts: Gill Sans as the first choice, Franklin Gothic is up on deck. Those are pretty safe bets, as many modern os’s feature one of those two in its core package. Helvetica and Arial are my backup choices.

You can see examples of both typefaces in use below:

There are still a few things to be done of course. Those using ie6 don’t get to see the footer monkey. Sorry, no monkey for you. IE7 renders the footer properly, but Firefox doesn’t. So go figure. The footer design in general needs to be totally rethought… Maybe I’m not as done as I think.

'06: What I've learned in under 150 words

say no more than you say yes

get it in writing

take a deposit

send an email after a conversation

you don’t have to suffer

disappointing people hurts more than saying no

don’t assume other people are as motivated as you

spending time with your kids, when nothing is pulling at you, is the greatest thing ever

starting a business is lonely

even doing what you love can be hard

blogging works

we can only make changes now

life exists in the moment, not in the voice in your head

acceptance is the key

buy a really good chair

buy a really big monitor (or 2)

communicate with your clients non-stop

everything will take twice as long as they say it will

it’s ok to take a break from blogging

if your people aren’t giving what you want/need, perhaps the problem lies with you, not with them

How 97 monkeys can change the world

Here’s how it happened. I was reading a post by Bruce Sterling on; (it had been linked to from Boing Boing). Sterling’s post was a reprint of an essay by John L. Peterson, Arlington Institute on the state of the world, with Sterling’s asides to the reader interspersed throughout. Long story short, things don’t look so good. But, Petereson goes on, the impending collapse may just push humanity to wake up and work together on an epic adventure that redefines what it means to be human.

The a ha! moment came for me when I realized that this brilliant, respected intellectual is talking about the things I’m discovering inside myself. Things that are still risky to say in certain company.

I’d rather talk about the weather. Uh, maybe not

People who come from a background that didn’t address or promote spirituality can be taken aback when they realize the significance and impact spirituality (by which I mean simply the sense that you are greater than the sum of your parts) has in their lives. Coming from a secularly agnostic upbringing myself, I feel uncomfortable discussing anything having to do with me – the real me, not the surface me. It feels like I’m coming out the closet. Which is exactly why I’m doing this 97th monkey project.

Reading Peterson’s essay and Sterling’s replay flipped a switch in me. It was the right message at the right place. I realized that the world really is well and truly screwed if we stay on our current course. I realized that the danger is massive, and very, very near. I realized the only hope of survival lies in rapid change of behaviour at the individual level. Governments won’t do this. Their constituents are the very same creatures that cause this havoc: ego and greed. This change has to happen at the dinner table. It has to come up in conversations at the bar. It has to come from regular people; from teachers, lawyers, police, stock brokers, media, designers…

I know what you think

I’m in so many ways a particular breed of joe average. I reflect a portion of the population. We like the same books, we listen to the same music… I know what you’re thinking, in broad fuzzy terms. You’re thinking metaphysical thoughts and realizing this planet is more screwed than you thought it was. And you have absolutely no idea what to do about it.

Our egos want to bury the knowledge. “Just ignore it” works amazing well. We’re just waking up today to how well it’s worked for the past 100 years.

In many of us, the awareness that we are more than our egos – that our egos are only a minute (and misguided) portion of ourselves – has reached the stage where we’re able to stand aside from our habitual egoic behaviour. That awareness brings a freedom. It frees us from having to repeat yesterday’s mistakes in the name of image or status or greed. It shows us that we can be small and yet infinitely massive, all without a bit of flash or bling.

It also shows you that our observed reality is more fluid than it first appears. It shows you the magic of words and thoughts. It shows you how an inspiration can take solid form in this world through thought, word, and action. And above all, it gives you hope.

I pin my hope on this belief: if enough people believe something, it will become real.

I believe a shift in individual consciousness, from an ego driven dream state to an awareness centered in the present moment, can heal the world. I think that shift needs to come now.

Calling number 100

This is where the 97th monkey comes in. The parable of the 100th monkey* says that once a certain percentage of a population knows a thing, the whole population all of a sudden just “gets it” too. The 97th monkey then, is an interesting one. He’s a bellwether for the rest of the population. When he comes along, you know there’s a wave coming soon after him. I think there’s a whole bunch of 97th monkeys waking up right now. I think that if we get together, we can collectively wake up the world.

The 97th Monkey project is about building momentum in this whole consciousness/spirituality thing. It’s about standing up and saying what you know in your heart is true, and looking for that 100th monkey.

So I’m stripping myself naked and standing on a milk crate shouting “look at me! I’m just like you: totally uncomfortable talking about anything whiffing of new age.” But I’ve been forced up here by our planet’s frighteningly quick turn.

I don’t know what this thing will turn into. I’m going to start with a simple blog to collect links and occasionally post a thought or inspiration or whatnot. If you’re interested in contributing to the blog, let me know. I think a forum probably makes sense too, but I’m open to suggestions. I do know what this thing won’t be though: stuffy, judgemental, or preachy.

Come and join me and let’s wake up the world.

The 97th Monkey Project

From the site:

We’re on the very tipping point of unprecedented change. Which direction we fall is entirely up to us.

To one side lies catastrophe, war, famine, disease, and massive misery.

To the other lies hope, spirit, imagination, and joy.

The purpose of the 97th Monkey project is twofold: to act as a gathering point for the growing number of individuals who see hope and salvation in a deepening sense of presence and awareness, and to be a rallying cry for the transition from individual to global consciousness.

Check it out.

In which I wax rhetoric and reflect on the past 18 months.

Holy crap.

Where do I even start? Let’s start with the setting. It was April 2005. I was working full-time as an in-house designer for the nicest and most boring people in the world. The pay was pretty good, but it wasn’t enough to support my Toronto-sized mortgage and family. So like most of you, I was doing a little something on the side.

The thing on the side was called The Blog Studio. I’d been thinking about blogging an awful lot, due in large part to the huge benefits this blog had brought me. It also seemed like a smart idea to hop on the Long Tail and go after a really narrow niche. Blogging was a lot smaller back then. Most companies were just starting to hear about blogs. There were only a handful of people working in blogging at the time – competition was thin.

So I set up a website, and started writing about blogging. It was an easy subject to write about. I was passionate. Really into it: I drank the kool-aid. To make a long story short, I made some great friends online. One asked me to do fill in on his blog with another couple of folks while he was away. That’s where I met another new friend. Together we redesigned her well known blog and shared the process. That led to a lot of exposure, and a lot of new business.

Before I knew it, I was too busy to go to my day job. To be honest, I had to leave. My back was in really rough shape, and the long commute was killing me. It was tough to walk away from full benefits. Together as a family we’d been through some really difficult times. The reserves were tapped. So we were really forced into making the jump to full time self-employment: the lure of being able to pay our bills was in the air.

Six months earlier I’d sworn I wouldn’t own a business again. It was too much stress. It wasn’t worth it. There have been a couple of times during the past 18 months where I’d have agreed.

Trouble started almost right away. I didn’t know how to say no. I was terrified, you understand. I *had* to make a certain, relatively large sum of money. So when someone offered me work, I said yes. Learn from my mistake: do not do this.

I had no idea what I’d gotten into. I have a retail and marketing background. I’d never owned a web design studio. I knew how to manage projects, in general terms. But the specifics – forget it. All I knew was that I was in the right place, at the right time, and that I had to catch the wave.

That’s a pretty great analogy actually. I had three choices: paddle like crazy to catch the wave of growing interest in blogging, let it pass me by, or get crushed by it. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I let this one go, so I paddled like my life depended on it.

I worked every minute I possible (and then some). I hired a guy full time. Then another. I took on a partner, then hired another guy, all in less than a year. The growth was amazing. So were the growing pains. The work wasn’t getting done on time. I hated to hear the sound of the phone ringing. I cringed when I checked my email. But we were up front and honest with our clients, something I know saved a couple of important relationships. We lost a couple that way as well. We took our knocks and kept our heads up. We were learning as fast as we could.

A guy can only pound his head against the wall so many times before he realizes it’s not improving the situation. Having staff in-house wasn’t working. I was convinced that having a team under one roof was the way to go. And hey! I was wrong.  Paying everyone except yourself isn’t a lot of fun. There are a couple of reasons the in-house experiment went the way it did. First and foremost, we weren’t charging enough. Secondly, I was distracted and being pulled in too many directions. Thirdly I’m a crappy project manager.

Of those three points, the first is the most important. If you charge enough, you can cover up an awful lot of mistakes. Don’t charge enough though, and your billings become a magnifying glass for every single inefficiency and hiccup in your business.

I credit the fact that The Blog Studio is a viable business today to a willingness to let our egos take a pounding, and to learn. A couple of years ago, I was forcibly taught that it’s ok to make mistakes, that it’s part of business, part of life. Because of this, instead of trying to sweep our gaffs under the carpet, we examined them. We’re a moderately smart group of people, so we avoided a lot of the really big mistakes. Still, we were taken for a couple of grand a couple of times. If you’re starting out, be prepared for that: it will happen.

Today we’ve got a business structure that makes sense. My partner Lucia manages clients and projects, I manage design and technology. We work with a close team of contractors (including the above-mentioned former full timers). Our processes have matured to the point where we know what we’re doing; our clients keep calling us to do more work for them, so something’s gotta be right! Most months I can even pay my bills.

The past 18 months have been one hell of a ride. But then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Safety is all fine and good, but unless you taste danger, you’ll never know how good you’ve got it.