October 30, 2010


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.


Song: "Sway"
Artist: The Rolling Stones

For the longest time, I thought they were saying "It's just that evil life has got me in its sway". Not that much difference from the actual lyric of "demon life," but it still annoyed me. Anyhow, how about that guitar sound? The slide part is kind of hypnotic, in a way that you wouldn't expect from what is essentially a country/blues song. In ways, it's more psychedelic than some of the Stones' actual mid-60s psych stuff. That outro... far out.

Song: "Tightrope"
Artist: Janelle Monáe

Discovery of this song tied me up for hours last weekend. Katie mentioned some songs she heard on Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice, which I tracked to the ABC site for each show. Found Janelle Monae, who sent me diving into her work and back to Outkast and some MTV VMA performances. I've also added Idlewild to my Netflix queue. I love these visuals, love the dancing, love the song.

Song: "I Go I Go I Go"
Artist: The Wave Machines

I'm not totally sold with the Wave Machines, but I've been listening to them all week by virtue of the fact that I keep finding more of their songs. Mostly upbeat and upticked, I think this band might be best described as the ugly offspring of the Beta Band, Of Montreal, Scissor Sisters, Devo and Hot Chip. Definitely interesting, definitely nerds (just check out some their videos) -- but also maybe a little too much of an afterthought.

In what might be an arbitrary and late-night line of thinking, I feel like their album, Wave If You're Really There reaches for something but only grabs fluff.

...Even still. There's something to be said for head bobbing, yeah?

Song: "Who Knows Where the Time Goes"
Artist: Fairport Convention

Because the best part of fall is over.

Song: "Apeman"
Artist: The Kinks

Periodically, the local NPR station plays this song alongside the local Appalachian music.

Song: "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again"
Artist: Bob Dylan

Song: "A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under"
Artist: WHY?

The other night after the lobby closed, I put Alopecia on the speakers. I think I like it even more now than I did when it came out a couple years ago, and I decided something had to be posted from it.

Originally I was going to post the opening track because it was the first song of their that grabbed me. Then I thought I'd post "The Hollows," but I remain too much of a prude to do so (though y'all should check it out if you consider yourselves less prudish than me. It has one of the album's best lyrics: "This goes out to dirty-dancing, cursing, back-masking, back-slidden pastors kids").

So here's "A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under," posted in large part because Josiah Wolf, the percussionist, is badass. I think he's wearing jorts. Yoni, his brother, sounds like a tool in the video, but elsewhere he seems more like the annoying-but-funny crass class clown than exactly a tool.

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October 24, 2010

Maps + Books

If you haven't already heard, here's a final plug for the collaboration between the Hand Drawn Map Association and linenlaid&felt. You've got until the end of the month to submit a hand-drawn map, which will get you entered to win one of Katie's map-related books. Submissions details here.

The books to be given out to the five randomly selected mapmakers are shown above. You can read more about those over at Katie's site too.

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October 21, 2010


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.


Song: "Lipstick Vogue"
Artist: Elvis Costello and the Attractions

It made me really angry when not one of the songs I wanted to share from the Elvis/Attractions album Trust was online. Not one! I really have been listening to that album nonstop for like two months, so I was really going to share the album itself, but you'll just have to take my word for it and download it.

In the meantime, you'll just have to make do with this This Year's Model track where Elvis doing what he does best — ramble through a song about sex, specifically the aftermath of a sexual encounter with some unattainable woman who has (maybe in his own mind) wronged him in some way. "Maybe they told you you were only a girl in a million," he says. "Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being."

Not that I can necessarily relate, per se, but those lines get me every time. Elvis surely has some major insecurity issues, but I'm inclined to believe him for some reason. I think it's because he sells it so well.

Also, note the superhuman drum fills from Pete Thomas. He pounds the shit out of that tiny drum set. Sounds like someone told him he was supposed to play the entire song like he was Phil Collins doing the drum break on "In the Air Tonight." More punk rock drummers should pretend like they're Phil Collins.

Song: "We Talk Like Machines"
Artist: Savoir Adore

Heard this song during a marathon shopping day in Charlottesville last weekend. Like I occasionally do, I jotted down a snippet of lyric that I heard. Like I almost never do, I actually followed up on that note to find the song. Encountered this in Anthropologie, in the sale nook, packed with girls dressed in layers and skinny jeans. Katie bought a dress there. We also bought 4 coasters. Excuse the video. Apparently this band isn't so well known, so 'tube offerings are slim.

Song: "Dance Yrself Clean"
Artist: LCD Soundsystem

I'm addicted to 3:08.

This is Happening isn't exactly the most impressive album. Starting off (smartly) with "Dance Yrself Clean," LCD Soundsystem manages to link this new record with Sound of Silver (a pretty popular album if you're bananas about the band). After the first track though...TIH seems almost throwaway. Maybe not, I've listened through it twice.

But when you get around to listening to this song, turn it up. The droll whistlings and beats of the first few minutes fall to bits in the face of an explosive pounding that keeps you listening through other five minutes. It's perfect for waking up and driving...and even when you know that explosion is on it's way, you'll never learn to anticipate just how thumping it's gonna be.

Song: "Tropicana"
Artist: Ratatat

I am the walrus.

Song: "Born Under Punches"
Artist: Talking Heads

Best bass line ever? Also, David Byrne + Adrian Belew = abundant and overwhelming badassery.

Song: "Coronado"
Artist: Deerhunter

The new album is definitely less immersive, definitely more catchy than the last.

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October 19, 2010

Keepin' the feds away

My student loans are paid.

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October 17, 2010


Finished Lolita last night. A few snippets from its conclusion:

In preparation for a possible assassination:
... I resolved to make myself especially handsome and smart as I pressed home the nipple of my alarm clock before it exploded at the set hour of six a.m. Then, with the stern and romantic care of a gentleman about to fight a duel, I checked the arrangement of my papers, bathed and perfumed my delicate body, shaved my face and chest, selected a silk shirt and clean drawers, pulled on transparent taupe socks, and congratulated myself for having with me in my trunk some very exquisite clothes -- a waistcoat with nacreous buttons, for instance, a pale cashmere tie and so on.

I was not able, alas, to hold my breakfast, but dismissed that physicality as a trivial contretemps, wiped my mouth with a goassamer handkerchief produced from my sleeve, and with a blue block of ice for hear, a pill on my tongue and solid death in my hip pocket, I stepped neatly into a telephone booth in Coalmont (Ah-ah-ah said its little door) and rang up the only Schiller -- Paul, Furniture -- to be found in the battered book.
Describing a town upon arrival after being towed out of a muddy, unpaved road:
The rain had been cancelled miles before. It was a black warm night, somewhere in Appalachia. Now and then cars passed me, red tail-lights receding, white headlights advancing, but the town was dead ... I was alone to enjoy the innocent night and my terrible thoughts. A wire receptacle on the curb was very particular about acceptable contents: Sweepings. Paper. No Garbage.

Sherry-red letters of light marked a Camera Shop. A large thermometer with the name of a laxative quietly dwelt on the front of a drugstore. Rubinov's Jewelry Company had a display of artificial diamonds reflected in a red mirror. A lighted green clock swam in the linenish depths of Jiffy Jeff Laundry ...

Some way further across the street, neon lights flickered twice slower than my heart: the outline of a restaurant sign, a large coffee-pot, kept bursting, every full second or so, into emerald life, and every time it went out, pink letters saying Fine Foods relayed it, but the pot could still be made out as a latent shadow teasing the eye before its next emerald resurrection. We made shadowgraphs ... I was weeping again, drunk on the impossible past.
On leaving:
Then, as I drove away, I heard her shout in a vibrant voice to her Dick; and the dog started to lope alongside my car like a fat dolphin, but he was too heavy and old, and very soon gave up.

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October 16, 2010

By Mark, A Sufjan Explanation

After the posting of this week's Mid-Week Mix, a couple of people asked Mark Perkins about the appeal of Sufjan Stevens...and the distinguishing differences between his previous albums and his most recent.

Here is his response:

Let’s start here. This pretty-boy banjo plucker has this blistering mess sitting in his back pocket. What I mean is, Sufjan has a remarkable ability to hit exactly what he’s aiming for. So, THESIS: Sufjan, like extraordinarily few other artists, does what he wants, and whatever it is that he wants to do, he does well.

I have to start with the state albums, Michigan and Illinois, if I'm going to talk about his appeal. Then I'll bounce over to Seven Swans, which provides a better lens for understanding Adz and a nice segue into talking about everything else he's done since debuting as a solo artist. I'll ignore Marzuki. I recognize that this is a rather ridiculous way to respond to two brief questions. Yet here we are. Naturally what follows is a non-technical, listener's evaluation.

I. The State Albums

I imagine most Sad Bears would prefer to talk about Detroit Rock City (idea, not song) rather than, say, the Sad Sack State. The White Stripes are more emblematic of Detroit music than, say, Sufjan Stevens, but Sufjan’s Michigan embodies something about the state as a whole that you won't find in rock and roll. Outside the appealingly gritty aspects of industrial Detroit or the chic Ann Arbor downtown, sentiments run a little less aggressive, a little more run down. Saginaw, Jackson, Jonesville, and all the sagging barns in between, all the meth labs, the closed plants, the U.A.W. pensions: Sufjan truly captures a Michigan sentiment that is not far off the mark despite being a gross generalization. Recall, too, that he writes as a Michigander, born in Detroit, raised in the upper lower peninsula, and schooled at Hope College.

Michigan is a subtler, less grandiose album than Illinois. It's not all melancholy : 'Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)’ in particular has a turn-of-the-(19th-)century, metropolis-building energy. Sufjan knows when to let his voice do the work, when to use piano, banjo, when to bring in some horns or a background singer. And it’s the perfect intertwining of these elements that a thousand others have tried and in varying degrees failed to do. Sufjan has marvelous evocative power.

And then along came Illinois. Less subtle. More grandiose. Even longer titles, lots of trilling flutes, more background vocals, more horns, rolling drums, pop, pizazz, etc. ‘Chicago’ often stands as a microcosm of the album: beautiful, poignant—and enormously catchy. Disliking this song betrays some sort of wicked prejudice, some arbitrary discriminatory criteria designed to exclude unauthorized catchiness (Sorry. I've been reading postcolonial historiography.) 'Chicago' may have more to do with the idea of the city than the city itself, well, that’s kind of the idea, isn’t it? (“I was in love with a place / in my mind, in my mind”). And here I think of Stephen Millhauser’s Chicago as a Midwestern frontier city in Martin Dressler... again with the turn-of-the-century metropolis. The bubbling, industrious optimism combined with fatalistic undertones in both ‘Detroit’ and ‘Chicago’ evokes the "belle époque" for me, and that's that.

‘Chicago’ is crunched in the middle of a brilliant three-track progression from cheery pop to energetically reflective pop to agonized reflection. I know of no better laundry-list of a town’s civic trivia than ‘Decatur,’ and no more touching a reflection on a friend’s death than ‘Casimir Pulaski Day.’ For that matter, find me better treatment of alien visitation than the album’s opener. Consider also how the album’s weepiest tune, ‘Predatory Wasp…’ precedes ‘Zombies!…’ which hints at the "phat beats" of Adz (and here's to whoever saw hip-hop potential in creating ‘Zombies Walk!!’).

The Tiny Mix Tapes review of The Age of Adz mentions ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ as something of a forerunner of Adz’s distressing elements: “He dressed up like a clown for them / with his face paint white and red / and on his best behavior / in a dark room on the bed / he kissed them all . . . he took off all their clothes for them / he put a cloth on their lips / quiet hands, quiet kiss…” I admit that a few lines overreach (namely “Are you one of them?,” “He’d kill ten thousand people / with a slight of his hand,” and the slightly clichéd introspective moralizing of the final lines). On the whole, though, it’s brilliantly written and downright frightening.

II. The Christian Album

I challenge you to find a profile or mainstream article of Sufjan that doesn't lightly needle his employment of biblical imagery as though he were Thomas Kinkade or Joel Osteen. Moments of the Christmas albums support the idea, but... they're Christmas albums, and even those are not toothless. But it is Seven Swans that did most to solidify his reputation as the Sunday School teacher of indie music.

Like the Mountain Goats’ the Life of the World to Come, Sufjan’s Seven Swans mixes biblical passages and images with human pain—and some really wild imagery. As with Darnielle, Sufjan treats Scripture with sympathy, reverence, and a bit of subversion. Consider a passage from ‘Seven Swans’: “We saw the dragon move down / my father burned into coal / my mother saw it from far / she took her purse to the bed / I saw a sign in the sky / seven horns, seven horns, seven horns / I heard a voice in my mind / I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord . . . he will take you / if you run / he will chase you . . . cause he is the Lord...” The images here are less painter of light, more William Blake.

Seven Swans
, released between the state albums, is a pretty, quiet album. Most tracks feature nothing more than a handful of instruments, and the voices of Sufjan and the girls from the Danielson Famile. What casual listeners—and a number of fans, too—miss behind and within that prettiness is some substantial weirdness.

III. The Early (Solo) Albums

The three aforementioned albums compose the bulk of Sufjan's career prior to the past couple months. His first albums, A Sun Came and Enjoy Your Rabbit, are less known. As it should be. Plenty interesting in hindsight, they aren't especially good albums in their own right.

If you want to place the ugliness sprinkled throughout Adz, start with Sufjan’s first album. I’m not sure if Sufjan was playing with Danielson at this point, but you can hear an affinity throughout A Sun Came. ‘A Winner Needs a Wand’ (‘I Want to Be Well’ may be Suf’s first “fuck” but “this life has shit on me” appears a couple times) and ‘Jason' are the best tracks. This disjointed album suggests Sufjan may have more up his sleeve in the future.

I suppose I understand the latter-day fuss over Enjoy Your Rabbit. It’s the clearest precedent for the electronic sounds of Adz. Recall, too, that Sufjan recorded this in 2001 without Garage Band, etc. It’s an experimental album. As such, it provides plenty of material for reinterpretation and room for adjustment—hence the Osso Quartet’s revamping this past year, and the upcoming album-inspired ballet. But it’s more interesting than exactly good. Check out the Years of Ox, Boar, and Dragon, and especially the title track, and you can probably call it a day.

IV. 2006-Present

I'm glad Adz came out now, and not 2006 or 2007. Three or four years ago everyone was either clambering for a follow-up or pissed that this flutist choir boy was so hyped. In the aftermath of Illinois blowing up, Adz would have been seen as, basically, an attempt to sidestep expectations.

Of course he's released a lot of material since Illinois, starting with B-sides. I can't shake a comparison between Sufjan's the Avalanche and Radiohead's Amnesiac. Both were initially recorded in the same sessions as the preceding, landmark album. Both were released a year later. But Avalanche is a b-sides, while Radiohead released Amnesiac as a studio album in its own right. The attending expectations destroyed Amnesiac. Fans of Sufjan knew they were getting table scraps and were pleased because the scraps were quite good.

[Well, okay, there's also the fact that Amnesiac came out just as file-sharing blew up. The story goes that people spent an hour downloading… Spinning Plates. Which, incidentally, I did in 2001 on Napster, and never listened to any post-Kid A Radiohead until college.]

Sufjan released the Christmas albums soon afterwards. The combination of those albums and Avalanche sated the fanboys (me) without really addressing expectations. And then Sufjan had numerous guest spots, tended to his own record label, produced a handful of albums, made the BQE for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and dropped a few songs: the afore-linked ‘In the Words of the Governor,' the NPR-initiated 'Lord God Bird,' the 2007-tour-theme 'Majesty, Snowbird', and ‘You are the Blood,’ which dominated initial discussion of Dark Was the Night.

I’m afraid I am not sure where All Delighted People falls in my scheme. My guess is that Sufjan had a bunch of really great tracks sitting around that just didn’t fit with Adz. They were to good to go unreleased, but to release them as a b-sides would imply they were recorded at the same time and with the same vision of Adz. I think this “EP” probably could have cut some of the sixty minutes off (does the “classic rock version”—which my dad thinks sounds like bizarro Neil Young—really need to be eight minutes? How about three? And while the expansive 17-minutes of ‘Djohariah’ work fine initially, it gets a little wearying after a few listens). Still, it’s great. The opener/title track stacks up to Sufjan's grandest work. ‘From the Mouth of Gabriel’ and ‘Heirloom’ are fantastic lyrically and musically.

I am not ready to write about Adz at length, but I’ll offer a few thoughts:
-Sufjan’s moved here from fascinating takes on external material—the states and Scripture—to more standard songwriter materia: himself. But what a weird self we seem to have gotten.
-In some ways this is his most comprehensive representative album: the ugliness and inconsistency of A Sun Came, the electronic experimentation of Enjoy Your Rabbit, the melancholy of Michigan, intimacy of Seven Swans, and catchiness of Illinois.
-I love the kitchen-sink electronic approach (particularly ‘Too Much,’ ‘Age of Adz,’ and portions of ‘Impossible Soul’). It’s why I love Dan Deacon and appreciate Fuck Buttons. I think it works.
-In less-packed tracks he delivers some great beats and some nearly, not-quite danceable tunes (‘I Walked,’ ‘Get Real Get Right,’ ‘Vesuvius,’ ‘I Want to Be Well,’ portions of ‘Impossible Soul’).
-On the whole, I think this is another example of Sufjan deciding to shoot for a particular aesthetic and succeeding.


I’ve enjoyed writing this down and listening through Sufjan’s discography again. Thanks to Silliman and Tony for providing the impetus.

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October 13, 2010


After a lengthy hiatus, Mid-Week Mixes are back. The rest was needed.

Now that it is back, a couple of things to look out for.
(1) The list may be posted on any day in a given week. Not just Wednesday.
(2) We've added Mark Perkins as a regular contributor to the mix posts. Mark listens to a pretty large swath of music. And he comments so much (specifically on music posts) -- why not give him a slot.


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.


Song: "I Can Feel It, But I Can't See It"
Artist: My Bloody Valentine

I was going to go with a noisier MBV selection, but then I realized that I really liked some of their earlier "quieter" songs just as well. I'm pretty sure every single song they write is about sex, you just can't hear the vocals in the Loveless songs. And I am okay with that.

Song: "While You Wait for the Others"
Artist: Grizzly Bear

I grew up trying to not listen to the live Jimi Hendrix videos my dad often played. I was too busy listening to oldies, or B-96 (yes, judging by those call letters, you can assume that it was pop Top 40s crap tailor made for school dances), then Bush and The Presidents on Q101.

Eventually, though, I took a liking to a particular guitar tone, that slide guitar sound from Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying." Not long after, I ventured to Best Buy to pick up the White Stripes, as I was really gunning for "Fell in Love with a Girl."

I bought the wrong album. It changed my ears. I started listening to the crackling metal of guitar.

I listened to some other stuff between then and now, but lately I've more clearly come to terms with the "tones of 2010" for me. It's the Walkmen, the Flaming Lips, Dungen, accordion, fuzz, farfisa, "Sister Ray," and Grizzly Bear, among others.

So take a listen to the jangly and shimmering crunch of "While You Wait for the Others," which consistently forces me to a) play air guitar, b) think about music invading my stomach/guts and c) hit repeat.

See also: KCRW performance and strange acoustic version.

Song: "The Desert"
Artist: Verbena

In a recent dig through my iTunes I re-discovered this group. Gritty and aggressive, they always reminded me of Nirvana a bit.

Song: "Jonah"
Artist: Fiveng

One could almost mistake this for Animal Collective -- not just the sound, but also the Super 8 aesthetic of this clip, the official music video.

Song: "Blue Blood Blues"
Artist: The Dead Weather

I don't even think I like this band that much. Their image, a lot of their songs, their general attitude, etc. seem a bit over the top and, since I'm well past my infatuation stage with Jack White, I'm not really buying all the shit they're selling. However, they hit a motherfucking home run with this track, in my opinion. It starts their second album and, apart from torn feelings about the pitch shifting effect on Jack White's vocals and the envelope filter on the little ascending guitar line after the three part harmony of "Come home. . .", it's goddamn flawless. The riffs, the grooves, the production, the atmosphere - everything is just on point. It's simply a masterpiece of a gritty, old fashioned rock opener, and makes the part of me deep inside that savors feedback, fuzz tones, ratty spring reverb, overdriven hammond organs feel rul good.

Song: "Runaround Sue"
Artist: Dion and the Belmonts

Song: "I am trying to break your heart"
Artist: Wilco

I listened to this song over and over again while I drank whisky on the roof of the funeral home.

Song: "I Want to be Well"
Artist: Sufjan Stevens

Of course I would post Sufjan. I am a huge fan of both albums he's released this year. I'm seeing him next week, so I'm listening to Age of Adz constantly. This track in particular includes elements from just about everything Sufjan's ever done.

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October 10, 2010

Vimeo Festival + Awards

All last week submissions were released for the Vimeo Festival + Awards. A few of them were really great. Made me smile. Made me cry.

The first of the five released, "Last Minutes with ODEN", took the first place award in the documentary category. Check it out.

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

Consequently, "Last Minutes with ODEN" took the Best Video Award at the festival.

The other nominees were:

Pennies HEART from phos pictures on Vimeo.

Facts About Projection from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

Schlimazeltov! from THE LIGHT SURGEONS on Vimeo.

shinya kimura @ chabott engineering from Henrik Hansen on Vimeo.

I'm not sure which is my favorite. The motorcycle doc really grabs me with all the sounds and dynamic shots. "Schlimazeltov!" had some unusual shots that seemed to show they thought way outside the box. The projection documentary was intriguing and the narration was great.

I had questions about some of the choices behind the filming of "ODEN" but was moved nonetheless by the story and voices. I'm curious about documentaries that use clearly set up and artistically prepared shots when the purpose of the film is to capture a raw part of life.

"Toddler" was good, especially the shots of the little girl's eyes.

There were other categories with winners (I haven't seen all of them):

"Thrush" by Gabriel Bisset-Smith
Music Video:
"Liars 'Scissor'" by Andy Bruntel
Animation: "Between Bears" by Eran Hilleli
Original Series: "Break-ups The Series" by Ted Tremper
Experimental: "oops" by Chris Beckman
Motion Graphics: "TRIANGLE" by Onur Senturk
Captured: "Fluid Sculpture" by Charlie Bucket
Remix: "BREAKDOWN the video" by Kasumi

Of the ones I've seen, "oops" and "thrush" I really liked. Especially "oops."

Judges included: M.I.A., David Lynch, Roman Coppola, Ted Hope, Lucy Walker, and Morgan Spurlock, among others.

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October 8, 2010


Koon dorm
... has come a long way ...
Emphasis on the leather couch, of course.

* Tip of the hat to the tipster.


October 6, 2010

Amusing morning

Went to the dentist this morning. Witnessed a classic move: Just as the dentist was about to dive in he snagged the remote, wheeled around to the stereo and knocked it up a notch. On the radio? The Who's "Baba O'Riley." Go time.

* I've been writing a lot of nature/ag/enviro stuff lately. Cool news for Waynesboro is the opening of a stretch of river to trout fishing.

Also recent: Big pumpkins, Dog wheelchair, Road rage

* WSJ had some good stuff today. Turns out the new biodegradable Sun Chips bag was too noisy, so they're scrapping it. Also interesting was their recent report on new ocean species and a new language in India. They also reported that an average baseball broadcast has 14 minutes of action. About 68% of baseball broadcasts show "standing around."

* Speaking of baseball, Todd Zeile had an odd career. Who knew?

* Mastiffs are still sweet. (pic)

Katie and I stay busy this weekend with the art show of the season around here. Chase and I are headed to St. Petersburg for a journalism conference in a couple weeks. And we're trying to carve out Halloween in Athens, OH.