Bland Car Enthusiast: The Buick Avenir Concept

Buick Avenir Concept - Bland Car Enthusiast

If you haven’t heard about the Buick Avenir concept vehicle, that’s not really surprising. Concept vehicles are for the truly enthused. Everyday citizens generally have little to no idea what concept vehicles come and go, but those who pay attention are regularly rewarded with something they like.

Me, I like sedans. Especially big ones. Especially Buicks. Continue reading “Bland Car Enthusiast: The Buick Avenir Concept”

“Autumnopolis” Is Going To Be So Great

Surprise and Fear and Amazement!

Last week I had a meeting here in Southern California with Chicago-based composer Trevor Watkin, my long-time best friend and infrequent collaborator. I can say with all immodesty that this may be the best show in Chicago this year. Well – maybe, maybe not. But after my meeting with Trevor, I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been about something I wrote. Continue reading ““Autumnopolis” Is Going To Be So Great”

My Favorite Albums of 2014: A Highly Important List

Kaiser Chiefs, Real Estate, The Belle Brigade, OK Go, Broken Bells, Bear In Heaven, Jenny Lewis, Gerard Way, The Happy Hollows, Tennis, The Preatures, Wye Oak, The Black Keys

2014 was a sweet freakin’ year for music. I’m no music journalist, though, so I’ll preface this list by stating that I am not an authority, I just happen to really like these albums, and maybe you will, too.

What makes my list unique and interesting over all those other legitimate publications’ best-of lists is that I’m including the best song from each album to use as the soundtrack for a movie trailer. Clever, no?

Also, big disclaimer: this list is totally incomplete. There are too many albums for me to think of, and the longer I delay this post, the more I think of, so I have to just cut myself off and stick with what’s below. I apologize to all the awesome artists I omitted. Please trust that there is no rhyme or reason to it.

And now, in no particular order…

The Black Keys - Turn Blue“Turn Blue” by The Black Keys

This melancholy slow burn of an album from one of rock’s most relevant acts of this century is as close to psychedelia as anything they’ve ever done. Produced by Danger Mouse, which means it’s necessarily melancholy and psychedelic.

Movie trailer track: “It’s Up To You Now”

Music video: “Fever”

The Preatures - Blue Planet Eyes“Blue Planet Eyes” by The Preatures

Much like HAIM in some ways, this band channels the best of the ’80s and ’90s pop/rock and squashes the mix into one solid album.

Movie trailer track: “It Gets Better”

Music video: “Somebody’s Talking”

Happy Hollows - Amethyst“Amethyst” by Happy Hollows

This band was a happy discovery for me this year. Indie-pop-rock with a slightly spaced-out vibe.

Movie trailer track: “Supernatural”

Music video: “Endless”

Tennis - Ritual In Repeat“Ritual in Repeat” by Tennis

Tennis is fast becoming one of my favorite indie bands. I’m dying to see this act live.

Movie trailer track: “I’m Callin'”

Music video: “I’m Callin'”

Broken Bells - After the Disco“After the Disco” by Broken Bells

Danger Mouse again! This pairing of one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite songwriters (James Mercer of The Shins) plant their flag with Broken Bells’ sophomore effort. Dark and beautiful with disco influences through and through.

Movie trailer track: “Perfect World”

Music video: “Holding On For Life”

Wye Oak - Shriek“Shriek” by Wye Oak

It’s rare that when a band does as big a 180-degree turnaround in their sound as Wye Oak did this year, it works out this well. They went from acoustic folk to electric dream-pop on this album, and it COMPLETELY works.

Movie trailer track: “Logic of Color”

Music video: “The Tower”

Bear In Heaven - Time Is Over One Day Old“Time Is Over One Day Old” by Bear in Heaven

This one’s a little hard to defend, I just really like it. It’s slow-jam electronica at its finest, and I appreciate the science fiction tint. I also find it’s really easy to think with this album on. Not sure why that is.

Movie trailer track: “You Don’t Need the World”

Music video: “Autumn”

Jenny Lewis - The Voyager“The Voyager” by Jenny Lewis

The crown jewel of L.A.’s singer-songwriter scene brings us the closest thing to Tom Petty I’ve heard since, well, Tom Petty. Fun fact: this is my three-year-old daughter’s favorite album ever.

Movie trailer track: “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em”

Music video: “Just One Of The Guys”

The Belle Brigade - Just Because“Just Because” by The Belle Brigade

This quirky pop duo are the grandchildren of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” (and other) film composer John Williams. That’s enough to sell me on giving them a listen, but as it turns out, this album is infinitely pleasing to my ears and absolutely one of my favorites from this year.

Movie trailer track: “Likely To Use Something”

Music video: “Ashes”

Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien“Hesitant Alien” by Gerard Way

Debut solo album from the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. Hard rockin’, yet focused and in control. Did you know this guy is also a comic book artist? Amazing!

Movie trailer track: “No Shows”

Music video: “Millions”

Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War“Education, Education, Education & War” by Kaiser Chiefs

I’ve been a huge fan of Kaiser Chiefs ever since they let me choose my own track order for “The Future Is Medieval” back in 2011, not just because I believe so strongly that track order matters, but because they seriously rock. This album proves the latter point.

Movie trailer track: “Coming Home”

Music video: “Coming Home”

OK Go - Hungry Ghosts“Hungry Ghosts” by OK Go

One of my all-time favorite bands. With this eclectically bombastic new collection, OK Go take their songwriting — and their music videos — to a new level.

Movie trailer track: “The Writing’s On the Wall”

Music video: “I Won’t Let You Down”

Real Estate - Atlas“Atlas” by Real Estate

Super-chill new album from New Jersey’s definition of mellow indie rock. Simplistic and beautiful, yet infinitely complex.

Movie trailer track: “Navigator”

Music video: “Crime”

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Instantly Classic 2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200 profileRedesigned for this year – well, next year, but it’s on sale now – it’s not a model many people are excited about, primarily because it hasn’t historically been a model to get excited about. But the new generation is awesome. Seriously, check that thing out.

I’ve written about the Chrysler 200 before, after it was first revealed. Now I’m seeing it out and about on the road, and I love it even more. It looks so good on our highways. SO GOOD.

Exterior styling is retro-cool, and I’m not talking about looking back at the 80’s or even 70’s with retro reach. I’m talking about Art Deco. The 1920’s, baby. The profile of this car has the right lines to have come straight out of classic Hollywood. (That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The face, not so much – that’s very modern and just slightly forward-thinking enough to be at the forefront of what I believe is the direction of teens mid-to-late-teens overall sedan styling trend. The taillights fit right in with today’s hottest luxury cars. But that profile…yes. I can’t get enough of it.

It’s also got a nine-speed auto transmission, which is absurd and awesome and definitely a plus over any other sedans out there for smoothness and mileage. And its V6 option gets nearly 300 horsepower, which, for a family sedan, is absolutely unnecessary in the best possible way.

And for as much as I’ll talk about any car’s exterior styling – especially this car’s exterior styling – what actually intrigues me most about the new 200 is its cabin. It has a place below the cup holders & gear shift to place your iPad so it doesn’t slide all around, which, for some reason is a huge draw. It’s probably not that big a deal, but in my mind it’s fantastically innovative.

Also, it’s got a dial shifter instead of the normal stick. When I first heard of such an outlandish notion (as seen in the new Lincoln MKZ, with its console buttons), I scoffed, thinking with nowhere to place my hand, how could I possibly enjoy driving? But the more I think about it, the more and more appealing this notion is. Yes, if it’s not needed, by all means get that stick out of the way and feng shui the cabin for better flow. It will make me feel less claustrophobic, give me greater freedom of movement, and help keep me calm and serene. Ultimately, a great decision, and I secretly hope all car companies follow in that direction.

So – super-Zen, brain-pleasing driving with a nearly-300-horsepower engine that shifts smoother than butter, and exterior styling that no one else can touch? All for a price tag under $30K?

I’m sold.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Two Things About the 2015 Ford Focus

2015 Ford Focus DrawingOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Recently I discovered a new game. It’s called “Two Things” and it seems ideal for car trips. It’s simple: you just answer the question, “What are the two things you need to know about ___________?” Obviously, you fill in the blank and THEN answer it. This was more of an exercise in something professional when I discovered it, but I think it can easily become a car trip game.

I tried it on myself with the next-generation Ford Focus. What are the two things you need to know about the redesigned 2015 Ford Focus?

  1. It’s still the only car on the road that looks good in all shades of blue that the factory offers. Many cars come in multiple shades of blue, but every other car has at least one shade of blue that doesn’t look quite so great. Some cars offer only one shade of blue, and inevitably, they don’t look good in it. But the Focus looks good in all of Ford’s blues.
  2. The redesigned 2015 model, with its updated front fascia, now looks better in hatchback form than in sedan form. The current generation’s oversized front grille benefits the sedan, giving the appearance of a larger car when in fact it is a compact. The current hatchback still looks awesome, but I feel like the face was made for the sedan. The next generation, starting with 2015, looks like its face was designed for the hatchback. This is only disadvantageous to the sedan form. The next hatchback looks mega-sweet. Bold move, Ford, bold move.

Check out the 2015 Ford Focus on Ford’s official site.

Bland Car Enthusiast: It Is More Than Okay to Drive a Toyota Camry

Originally published June 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on how it’s okay to drive a Toyota Camry, the main concept being that despite other enthusiast publications’ insistence that it’s dull and boring and lame, it can be a super-awesome coolmobile because your car is what you make it. Everyone’s got different criteria for what makes a car a good car, and Toyota designed a vehicle with the goal of pleasing as many buyers as possible based on scientific market studies. So while it may not be perfect for anyone, it’s plenty good for a lot of people.

I’ll say it time and time again: vanilla is not a bad thing. Vanilla is, in fact, delicious on its own, and hey, you know what else? Vanilla is customizable. You can add sprinkles. You can add syrup. You can add a slice of pizza if that’s your thing. You add what you want, because that’s your taste. And if you drive a Toyota Camry, others might call you vanilla because you don’t like an engine that roars so loudly you can’t hear the radio, or a sleek, aerodynamic cocoon with no rear visibility, or whatever. Let them say what they want, because you know what? The car doesn’t make you cool. You make the car cool.

Of course, having written that with a chip on my shoulder in the fall of 2013, we are now past the 2014 New York Auto Show and the reveal of the “mid-cycle refresh” for the Toyota Camry turns out to be basically a complete exterior redesign. So now Toyota is helping you out with that cool factor a little bit.

The new styling is exciting and aggressive, not unlike its little sister, the new Corolla. With daring, determined headlights and an open maw for a grille, this car now carries the nay-sayer-challenging attitude that I wrote with last fall. And my eyebrows are raised.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the exterior styling when it debuted with the 2012 model, but it was perfectly respectable. The 2015 is much more than just respectable. Well done, Camry team. That’s one hot car.


Bland Car Enthusiast: The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai SonataOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

I’ve been a fan of the Hyundai Sonata since before it got its dramatic redesign back in 2011. I thought the 2010 model was handsome – stately, even, in an understated way. But I wasn’t sad to leave it behind for the next generation, because wow, what a game changer it was for midsize sedans.

Every other major auto manufacturer tried to pretend that it meant nothing. Good looking, sure, they said, but it’s still just a flimsy little Korean car. Too exotic-looking for the segment, they said. They didn’t realize that the interior was also better-built and better-looking than their segment-leaders. They kept their heads in the sands.

But sales numbers are sales numbers, and it didn’t take the rest of the manufacturers long to realize that they needed a dramatic redesign for their midsize sedans as well. So the once-innocuous Sonata came off the diving board with a cannonball into the still waters of midsize family sedans.

And now it’s time for a new Sonata. The design cycle is up, and the 2015 Hyunda Sonata will once again depart from the previous generation. I doubt this time around it will shake things up in the segment – the segment is now a Galapagos Islands-level mixture of exotic, colorful designs, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else on styling and engine performance – but the new Sonata’s design is revealed and public and yet again, I’m excited.

For one thing, apparently the back seat is so spacious, and there is so much room in the interior cabin, that the 2015 Hyundai Sonata technically qualifies as a full-size sedan, not a midsize. I’m all about size when it comes to sedans, so it’s nice to see the Sonata once again making a splash in its segment, this time for interior space.

The new exterior styling, though, is really just the loveliest part. It’s like it’s halfway between the current generation and the previous one – like the 2011 Sonata and the 2010 Sonata had a baby. A very big baby. It’s stately and understated, but still dramatic and sleek. And it’s beautiful.

U2 and the Rock & Roll Proletariat

U2 - Rock Ninjas, or Corporate Pawns?

I’m seeing outrage all over my Facebook feed – not because of actually outrageous things, mostly because of this illicit U2 album that allegedly every Apple customer received on their apple device. The story goes like this: upon announcement of various new Apple products to finally answer the call of “Hey, Samsung is doing it, why isn’t Apple,” Apple CEO Tim “Not Steve Jobs” Cook also declared that Apple had suavely pushed U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence,” to all our devices. (I think that’s how it goes. I didn’t watch the Keynote, and I sure as fuck didn’t read anybody’s tweets about it.)

Here’s the thing, though, I didn’t get mine. I saw the news that this happened and went and checked my iPhone, my iPad and my MacBook and NOWHERE did I see any U2. What gives? I thought. Why am I alone here?

So like a fucking peasant, I had to open up the iTunes store and OH MY GOD GO OUT OF MY WAY to download it. It took nearly 45 goddamn seconds, too. Surely, now, here was my outrage manifesting. I will not be left out of the pool of ruggedly outraged individuals who cherish a self-curated music collection of independent rarities.

Interestingly, much of the outrage on social media is now being hailed as a good thing – a sign of life for those who demand a great divorce between corporate global capitalism and good old-fashioned rock & roll. You wouldn’t break into someone’s house and slip a vinyl record onto their shelf, so why is it okay to do the digital equivalent?

A corporate mindset didn’t see a problem with that, but the rock and rollers of the world rejected that notion outright. And maybe, in dramatic denouement fashion, maybe we’re seeing the people rock band together and fight the big white capitol.

But here is the question no one’s asking: how is the new album, anyway? Is U2 still cool? Well, I mean, obviously NOT, but if, hypothetically, this whole download debacle hadn’t happened, would we appreciate the album?

My answer: maybe. The album is good. It’s actually good. Not the best, but not the worst. I’m no U2 scholar. They’ve never really played a huge role in my life, and I don’t over-sentimentalize Joshua Tree. For a long time, I thought all their songs sounded the same. Of course, I know better now, and I like quite a few U2 songs, but still, they’re not my most favorite band and I just don’t know if this lives up to the standards of long-time U2 fans. But it’s a good CD to keep in the car (yes, I burned it to a CD) and it’s nice to see an aging band still throw some hot energy into studio recording.

I guess I’m the luckiest in all of this. It’s a decent album that I downloaded myself, without the stigma of having it forced upon me, and without any loss of money for purchasing an album I wouldn’t have otherwise bought. And all around me, I see the spirit of rock and roll exploding all over corporate America.

I am alone. I am Patrick Bateman.

Don’t Stop Talking About Depression

Robin Williams - DepressionWhen news of Robin Williams’ death surfaced, and shortly thereafter news that it was self-inflicted, we were naturally all quite stunned. It shocked and appalled us to learn that someone with so much talent and energy could possibly be suffering from – gasp – depression.

And after the nation went through our standard week of mourning and opening up and sharing and seeking change, the conversations about depression pretty much dried up. We had a rough week losing a national treasure, but then we had a nice weekend, and anyway, much worse things continued to happen in the world, so it was back to business as usual for us, pretending that depression doesn’t exist.

But we need to keep talking about depression and its place in society. We can let Robin Williams the individual rest, but let’s keep Robin Williams the symbol alive. Let’s keep talking about depression the condition, and not depression the social taboo.

Why Continue the Conversation?

Why? The answer is simple: to move past the stigma, and actually do something useful and lasting in our culture. When depression and bipolar disorder are stigmatized, we force the sufferers into hiding. And when we force people into hiding, bad things happen.

Depression is no one’s fault. It’s a condition, like Type 1 Diabetes or allergies. It ought to be treated, not shunned.

If we get rid of the stigma, we can improve everything from health care to the wage gap to gun laws. We can start preventing school shootings. We can mend relationships that may have been strained.

A Call to Those Suffering From Depression

If you’re suffering from depression, or have suffered from depression at any point in the past, please come out and let everyone know. The more the world sees it, the more normal it will become, and that is the gateway to greater understanding.

A Call to Those NOT Suffering From Depression

Please be open to the idea that anyone around you may be suffering from depression, and you might never know it, because people with depression tend to be really, really good at hiding it. That’s actually part of the problem – it’s such an unspoken terror in our society that people with depression grow up learning how to hide how they feel, and instead of getting better, we all just get worse.

When someone tells you they are suffering, do not judge that person. (And don’t offer advice on how to cheer up.) Just try to understand and stay open, open, open. It’s hard to stay open, but you can do it. You really can. It is possible.

These conversations apply to everything everywhere, I promise. So now that we’re all past the shock of a brilliant comedian ending his own life, and now that we’ve all expressed our initial reactions, let’s do something about it. Like, for real.

What can we do, then? What, exactly?

I don’t know. Something will come up. Just keep talking about it.

To that end, I’ve created a page to list the conversations, posts, articles, etc. that have come out about this since Robin Williams’ death. Some were written long ago and have resurfaced as a result, some were written just in the few days following the news. I’m going to make an effort to keep adding these resources as I come across them, but please, feel free to add your own in the comments on that page.

Click here to view the page.


Godzilla 2014: Missed Opportunities

OMG you guys! Godzilla!

“Godzilla” was fantastic. I loved it. I loved, loved, loved, LOVED it. It was awesome. There’s some jibber-jabber around the net, like on Facebook and on reputable critics’ blogs, that the script was boring and predictable. This is actually true, but for a giant-ass monster movie, that’s kind of what I want. I don’t want to be made to care about the humans. I only want to care about giant-ass monsters.

But there were two very clear missed opportunities that I want to address.

Danger: spoilers ahead.

Missed opportunity #1:

Bryan Cranston dies (like, right in the beginning) and not in a huge explosion kind of way. He is grievously injured, but lives for a few moments and then dies peacefully in an ambulance helicopter.

As he lay dying, there was ample opportunity for him to whisper, “There is…another…Skywalker.” He made no such whisper. Big loss for us in the audience.

Missed opportunity #2:

The important thing about Godzilla movies is that, historically, they carry the deep significance of showing why nuclear weapons are bad. This film didn’t really explore why it’s BAD that mankind be all like hey-i’m-so-much-greater-than-nature. They gave us just one three-sentence monologue from Ken Watanabe (which was really only two sentences about man vs. nature and a third sentence that was just, “Let them fight.”) and one poignant reminder that Heroshima happened. And that was it.

There used to be hints that Godzilla was either formed by nuclear testing or, more likely, was there from eons ago but was lying dormant, and mankind’s nuke-rattling and bomb testing woke the beast up from its slumber, so in that sense it’s still sort of mankind’s fault, and the whole point is that nuclear proliferation is bad.

In the new film, not only was that not the case, they actually put a surprise twist on our known history of Godzilla — we weren’t “testing” hydrogen bombs, we were trying to kill the monster. This is a great story device, and I loved it, but then towards the end, the nuclear bomb was going to be the hero of it all with no real sense that, hey, maybe we shouldn’t have nuclear bombs.

It was just…a strangely pro-nuclear-weapons Godzilla movie.

Those two elements aside, this was a phenomenally great film. Godzilla looked exactly how he should have looked, he sounded how he should have sounded, and I was engaged the entire time. I don’t care that other people didn’t like the movie because the humans were too boring, or that the characters weren’t deep enough for us to care about. This is false. The characters were exactly as deep as they needed to be to scare me when it was appropriate to be scared, and they were exactly as boring I wanted them to be so I didn’t have to worry about their bullshit while I was watching monsters fight.



Bland Car Enthusiast: Tesla’s Patent Promise

Tesla Model S - Bland Car Enthusiast

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who wants to use Tesla’s patents.

Let me repeat that.


In other words: any carmaker that wants to use Tesla’s patented technology to make righteously awesome electric cars can do exactly that.

They are still retaining the patents, though, so anyone who abuses this generosity for evil purposes can still be stopped through legal action. But basically, they’re giving them away for all other car manufacturers.

Why? To save the world, of course.

A Hero’s Journey

In the early days of Tesla, it was easy to assume they’d fail, just like so many other electric car startups. The problem was that these other companies were aiming for the market of “people who want a sweet-ass electric car” – Tesla’s target market has always been “people who want the best car on the road.”

And to that end, they have endeavored to build the best car on the road, and they have been creating amazing technology to do that. They have been more successful with the technology than others, but this attitude of competing directly with combustion-engine luxury cars is really what has helped Tesla succeed to the degree that it has today.

But Tesla was not started to take BMW down a peg. Tesla was started to help save the world.

The patents were acquired to ensure business security, but since the only real threat, Fisker, has gone down in flames (pun intended), Tesla remains the only real electric car manufacturer. Other major carmakers like Nissan and GM and so on have made half-baked attempts to produce all-electric cars, but sales have been abysmal due largely to lack of interest.

These cars were designed from the get-go as “electric cars” instead of “super-awesome cars that happen to run on electricity.” They were then marketed the same way. They were low-rent economy cars with slow acceleration and dopey looks, and they cost as much as a Cadillac – who would buy that?

Taking It Up A Notch

Hybrid models have been quite successful, especially the Prius, but they still use combustion engines. The first phase of Tesla’s life has been to prove that a company that makes only all-electric cars can succeed, and they have done that. The next phase is to lead the way for combustion engines to disappear from our streets entirely.

Hence the new open patent philosophy. Since no one else is developing attractive electric cars, and since electric research & development is so stagnated at every manufacturer besides Tesla, they figured they’d give everyone else a leg up. This is a smart business decision, because healthy competition is historically good for successful companies like Tesla, and because it will help Tesla appear less like a novelty, and therefore they’ll be able to nudge their way into new markets.

The Future of Bland Cars

Tesla makes the best car on the road. Period. If everyone else catches up, they’ll have to keep improving or fall behind someone else – either way, there will be even better cars than what we see now in the Tesla Model S, and they will comprise a greater and greater percentage of our street traffic.

Can you just imagine?

Can you imagine if the Tesla Model S was the bland car? What a wonderful world indeed.

So get on it, Buick. Get on it, Hyundai. Get on it, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Lincoln, GMC, RAM, Nissan, Infiniti, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, EVERYBODY. Take Tesla’s patents and make a better car than Tesla, I dare you. I double dare you.

Read Elon Musk’s full announcement and explanation here:
All Our Patent Are Belong To You

I’m excited, and I hope you are, too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.