Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The End of a Blog

I started this blog on Jan. 2, 2004, dragged just as I was into most technology/internet things by Mr. Chair, curious yet not really sure what I wanted to do with a blog or exactly why I should have one. But I do remember distinctly my impetus at least on that first day was to "publish" my own personal list of the top albums of 2003, capped unsurprisingly by Calexico's excellent Feast of Wire. My initial subtitle for the blog - a pleasantly subversive chronicle of music, politics, humor, sports and beer - reflected some broader topics of conversation, but outside of a few anti-war and anti-Bush rants in 2004 some epicly pointless posts about burritos and some Go Wildcats! posts, I rarely wrote about anything but music.

It's hard think about the blog without thinking back to its early days, 2004 and 2005, and how vastly different my life was at the time. And while that's a ball of wax I'd rather not start unraveling now - or ever - it's worth saying that in writing that post about the best albums of 2003, I reflected that I probably missed a great deal of awesome music that year because I wasn't a professional music critic. Not that I was explicitly voicing an aspiration along those lines at the time, but it's a status I've been at for a few years. And I still miss out on a great deal of awesome music every year.

I'm closing down this blog now because it's as good a time as any, I suppose. The truth is it's had far more fallow years than ones of bounty. I don't see any reason to pull it down, but it doesn't seem right to let Catfish Vegas presents... wither on the vine without any sort of a eulogy.

The only really active stretch on this blog ran through about the first half of 2008 and then again as I began earning my living as a freelance writer in 2009. And in a lot of ways, this blog got me to where I am now as music writer. But in doing so, it's long since served its purpose. For years it's been evident that I can't manage to keep up writing on two different tracks.

Along the way, as I got more and more into music, music writing and the fantastic work I discovered on other blogs, I always kinda wished that Catfish Vegas presents... would become more prominent, not in a chasing-the-next-big-thing sort of way, but more like the connecting-with-readers way of the blogs I read and enjoyed the most, like the excellent Captain's Dead, Fuel Friends and Aquarium Drunkard, and Arizona's two best, So Much Silence and Ick Music, each one a unique and indispensable voice to me.

But while I found some fans and some great connections to not only other music bloggers, but artists and publicists, what I found most was a writing voice that enabled me to break out of what I had been doing as a daily newspaper reporter and begin writing about music for pay, something that's been a bit of a bumpy ride as far as finances go, but something I've worked harder and harder at along the way and an area in which I've been able to not only improve dramatically, but expand as a portfolio.

But let me reflect a bit more for the time being on the blog. Aside from writing and working on my own craft, I really enjoyed thinking of myself even a little bit as a voice that might reach people, people who'd look for what I say, check out the music I recommended, toss some favorites back. I liked being part of this online community of enthusiastic music lovers sharing what they love the best. That happens to some degree with what I do now, but it's not the same.

I also appreciated the direct connection with artists, many of whom were and are making outstanding music outside the confines of any pre-established industry structure. No one else exemplifies than factor - and especially it's lasting impact on me - than Sum, an MC and incredible songwriter who arrived in my world via an unsolicited email, saying that that at first glance, my blog seemed to deal mainly in folk and blues but that I was clearly a lover of good music in general and would I mind checking out his tunes? These days I doubt I'd even open that email, but damn if Sum hasn't been a favorite of mine for years now. Absolutely go check out his Dragon, Vol. 1 album, which he's offering as a free download here.

Once I started writing for the Tucson Weekly, I kept up the blog because I liked the notion of being able to offer up new discoveries and share excitement about bands without having to be so formal as to write a full-fledged review. As I grew away from it, I held out some hope that I'd continue blogging in some way. Perhaps I will one day, perhaps on my own site or perhaps even here.

On that tip, go immediately and check out the Restorations and Resonars, two of the best bands I've discovered not just lately, but in years.  

That surge in music blogs was a fascinating phenomenon, and one I'm glad to say I was a small part of. But the heyday is certainly long gone. Many of the best ones have become entities of their own that far surpass being just blogs. Quality and dedication truly won out. On the other end, democratizing the world of music writing and criticism undoubtedly devalued a good bit of it. And, like mine, most of those thousands of music blogs have simply faded away. I view my efforts as sort of a trip through the minor leagues, earning some experience and stats along the way that I was able to use to jump up a level. If I don't think in those terms, then I'm left with little than an endless stream of emails from music publicists and hopeful artists, no matter how long Catfish Vegas presents... sits silent.

I still check out the ones that I liked best. But while a blog is an enthusiastic thing to begin, it's an exhausting thing to keep up with. Who's out there in the wilderness listening? Does it matter? I never really found my own answer to those two questions and I feel much more comfortable writing for something I know will see some eyes, either in print or online.

Along the way, my own aspirations as a writer have changed drastically. That's a lesson in itself. I know that hard work, dedication and continual improvement efforts are worth far more than talent in this world, just as they are in music. I write every day. I write about music, about other things. I write for myself, knowing that those efforts can add up to something better, just as my blogging did.

So while I'm ending Catfish Vegas presents... at this point, find me at It's not always completely up to date, but I repost my published work there. And perhaps some blogging one day. Or fictional projects. Or whatever.

I started this blog off with a best-of and it's only fitting that my final posts today include another best of. And a mix. And this blogeulogy, another shout in the wilderness.


I haven't posted a mix in ages, but here goes.

(sendspace is full of ads now - look for the blue box that says "click here to start download from sendspace)

Chuck Prophet - Play That Song Again
Restorations - Neighborhood Song
Nothington - Captive Audience
Japandroids - Fire's Highway
Superchunk - This Summer
Nada Surf - Clear Eye Clouded Mind
Traps - Ten Teardrops
Divine Fits - Civilian Stripe
Tom Morello - Ease My Revolutionary Mind
Billy Bragg & Wilco - My Thirty Thousand
Jay Farrar - New Multitudes
Shearwater - You As You Were
Metric - Breathing Underwater
Giant Giant Sand - Caranito
Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't
Field Report - Fergus Falls
Kelly Hogan - I Like To Keep Myself In Pain
Rainer - The Farm
Larry And His Flask - Ebb and Flow
Murs & Fashawn - This Generation
Big Meridox - Pen of a Titan
OutKast - SpottieOttieDopaliscious

My favorite albums of 2012

Here are, to my ears and in no particular order, the best and the next best of 2012:

Chuck Prophet, Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc)
A love song to San Francisco delivered on a hot plate of raucous rock 'n' roll, Temple Beautiful is instantly catchy. From the churning chords of opener "Play That Song Again" (which I did, again and again) to the celebratory "Willie Mays Is Up at Bat," Prophet makes San Francisco come to life in all its enduring, freaky glory.

Kelly Hogan, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (ANTI-)
Kelly Hogan enlisted a who's who of songwriters to pen tunes for her first solo album in 11 years. The title song (from Robyn Hitchcock) and "Ways of This World" (from the late Vic Chesnutt) are particularly well suited for Hogan's gorgeous voice, which amid all the excellent words and music (including Booker T. Jones on organ) still rises above.

The Helio Sequence, Negotiations (Sub Pop)
The Portland, Ore., duo put together a new practice space/studio alongside this album, working for four years on Negotiations, which balances the band's sense of shimmering cool with an entrenched sense of isolation. It's a night record, full of reflection, doubts, comforts and haunts.

Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Appropriately beginning with the sound of fireworks exploding, this head-rush of an album fits its title to a T. Celebrating big guitars, pounding drums and hooks galore, Japandroids made their mark on rock 'n' roll this year with simple perfection.

The Walkmen, Heaven (Fat Possum)
Without entirely abandoning the urgency of the band's early albums, the Walkmen stretch out and slow down a bit on Heaven, their most irresistibly melodic batch of songs yet.

Jaill, Traps (Sub Pop)
In a taut 34 minutes, Jaill delivers an album packed with jangly guitars, big garage riffs and psychedelic tangents. It's the sound of a scrappy band making good on 10 years of hard work.

Metric, Synthetica (Metric)
Metric's best-yet record, Synthetica is a sci-fi concept album—exploring disorientation, disillusionment and the defiant search for authenticity—packaged as a muscular and thrilling dance-rock record.

Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)
Swedish songwriter Lekman returns after five years with a lush, wistful album that explores a painful breakup through his inimitable songwriting voice, which combines tenderness, wit and honest self-awareness.

Dr. Dog, Be the Void (ANTI-)
Be the Void finds Dr. Dog thriving with a joyful, live spontaneity that bounds from song to song without ever losing the band's magnetic catchiness. It's an eclectic, adventurous, ramshackle album that swings between abstraction and dialed-in melodies.

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
Shockingly more than the sum of its weighty parts, this collaboration between Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) and Britt Daniel (Spoon) treads adventurously beyond "supergroup" expectations to deliver 11 fantastic, compelling songs.

Honorable Mention: Bob Dylan, Tempest; Shearwater, Animal Joy; Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls; Giant Giant Sand, Tucson; Sharon Van Etten, Tramp; Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy; Plants and Animals, The End of That; Calexico, Algiers; Field Report, Field Report; Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur; Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball; Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Yim Yames and Will Johnson, New Multitudes; Heartless Bastards, Arrow.