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Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Let us now evaluate yet another Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Senor Leonard Cohen. Mr. Cohen has been in the music news quite a bit over the last year or so, having shows, collapsing on stage and the like. In nearly all of the stories I've read about Cohen, without knowing anything about him aside from the fact he wrote the Shrekly famous song "Hallelujah," he has been proclaimed as a "legendary." Being the curious cat that I am, I started to pursue his work a bit this past summer. I checked out a few of his top Youtube tunes and decided that he was not worthy of any more of my time, despite him looking like a pretty hip old man with his fedora and pin-striped suits. Of course, he has come up again and I decided to give him another chance and listen to full albums, starting with the beginning.

Leonard Cohen's first studio album, aptly named Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967. The sound of this album can be described as a mix between Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. It is pure, vintage folk singer/songwriter music, and it is actually very, very good. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the album in its totality. Cohen does not have an amazing voice, but he, like most musicians who don't sing the best, finds a way to utilize it to his advantage. His lyrics are the backbone of the songs and are far more important than the vocals. The songs usually clock in at about 5 minutes and they each have a story to tell. His acoustic guitar work is also quite good. The supporting instrumentation is also very tasteful. The production is through the proverbial roof. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has the slightest affinity towards folk or singer/songwriters, it is completely worth your time. Kudos on this effort.

Here comes the bad news, folks. I'm sorry, but from what I can tell, nearly everything from the 70s on is borderline unlistenable. The album that the gun toting Phil Spector produced, Death of a Ladies' Man, pretty much encompasses everything that was wrong with the 70s. I could barely make it through 4 songs before moving to the 80s. Let me tell you, it only gets worse. The 1988 album I'm Your Man is what happens when you give a singer/songwriter synthesizers, that is to say, bad things. This album is pure synth and crap. It's as if Duran Duran and Depeche Mode took a shit on Bob Dylan's harmonica and then Cohen decided to sing over it. Cohen's voice is amazingly different than his first release. He now sports a sultry, smokey bass voice that tries to do what it used to, but in a lower register. It honestly seems like he's in love with his own voice and is astounded by how low and gravely it can sound. The sounds and styles just do not match up.

Despite the terribleness of everything past his first release, it is easy to see how he has influenced others and why he is, in fact, important. In the beginning he is a great folk musician with amazing lyrics. From then on he still has the lyrics, but his music is just not good. Therefore, it is acceptable that he be influential because of his lyrical abilities. In fact, the man was a published author/novelist before any of his music became famous, and it shows.

I'm glad I got to listen to that first 1967 album, it really was a treat for the ole ears. And yes, I know he wrote "Hallelujah" long after the first album and that the song is not terrible, it is actually a very good song. Once again, his lyrics are the best part. I do not despise Leonard Cohen like I did before and now know where his true talent is, and it's not in the music, and that's ok.

NEXT UP: Lynryd Skynyrd

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rolling Stones...

Alright people, here comes the lowdown on ye olde Rolling Stones, and I do mean olde. I've listened to the all the albums that are supposed to be pivotal and important, and then some 90s stuff just for good measure. I've researched their (long) history and have made my decision.

The Rolling Stones are adequate.

This is the best I can come up with. The best part of any Stones record is the multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones. This is especially apparent on the compilation album Flowers. Jones adds flavor and parts that are actually interesting to listen to on the typical long, static songs of the Stones. Also, whoever does the piano on all those albums (former Stone Ian Stewart I believe) is the only reason they are moderately cool, usually. But for the most part, the main reason my favorite songs of the Rolling Stones are good is because of those two gentlemen.

That said, I believe that Mick Jagger is easily the worst part of the band. His voice is, as we say in the business, not good. I understand that rock vocalists do not have to possess great voice talent to be great, but in this case, he just makes me want to fill my veins with grease until it seaps from my pores and slide my way into a bus. His lyrics are not that good either. I do appreciate the song "Sympathy for the Devil" on Beggars Banquet, but the rest of the songs almost sound like he's trying to make fun of the genre, but clearly isn't. It ain't good, but not terrible.

The production of most of these albums is pretty sloppy. Parts don't line up and tuning is almost always an issue, especially in the vocals. Because of the nature of most of the songs (one riff or hook repeated for 6 minutes,) one would think they would try to build more, adding more parts or making key changes, but they don't. I'll take "Sympathy for the Devil" again. This song could be great, and almost is, but it builds too quickly. The backing "doo dooo"s are cool, but they get old fast. So much more to be done here. It makes me sad. I wonder if the sloppiness of these records made them more accessible? As opposed to the rather polished and neatness of the Beatles and the like.

A detail that has been brought to my attention is the time period in which these albums were made. However, look at their rivals at the same time. In 1967/68 the Beatles were making Sgt. Pepper and the White Album. The Kinks were making some of their most interesting music, not limited to the "Preservation Society." Beach Boys made Pet Sounds. Come on here. I do see that the Rolling Stones progressed, but not the point that their contemporaries did. And I do appreciate how they combine blues with some of their non-traditional stuff, like "Ruby Tuesday." That is cool, but not amazing.

The point I'm trying to make is that nothing they do really thrills me. Aside from the songs I really do enjoy, like "Ruby Tuesday," there is nothing that stands out to me. I will acknowledge that the Rolling Stones do not suck, but it is kind of hard to see how they are so influential. They clearly keep the blues alive during a time when other people were moving away from that genre, and I appreciate that. The fact of the matter is that the Rolling Stones are overrated. Their music is not overtly spectacular, but their dedication to the blues is admirable. So here's my last word on the matter: The Rolling Stones have their right to exist in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but are a bit too overpraised. They are on a pedestal and will never be knocked down, saggy under arm flesh and all. I don't mind you, The Rolling Stones, but I don't love you. End of demo.

Next up: Leonard Cohen

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let the great experiment....BEGIN!!!

As you saw in the last post, I'm questioning and looking into what makes all those old artists "classic" and "important." These are the ones that are universally accepted as such, but it's hard to pinpoint why for the average, or even above average music lover. I'm not sure what spawned this experiment, but it is something that has bugged me for quite a while, and am only now putting my thoughts and frustrations into words.

That being said, I have started to go through the catalogs of some of the artists I mention in the previous post. First on the docket is Neil Young. Let me start by saying I was totally wrong when it comes to the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. A few albums were recommended to me and I listened with an open mind. Or rather as open as I could be, considering my previous experiences. I just finished listening to the 1972 album Harvest. I was blown out of the proverbial water. First of all, the production on this album is amazing. There are backing vocals provided by Crosby, Stills, and Nash (who I also need to investigate) and Linda Ronstadt. Not to mention there are two tracks that are accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, and yes, they are epic. Young's voice is not as bad as I thought, and after a while it grows on you. It's not often you hear a tenor that is not belting lyrics about Africa, after all. His voice compliments the music he writes. That may be an extremely obvious statement, but it is very true in this case. Young is obviously untrained and has a lot of emotion in his vocals. There are singers out there who can sing a song to pieces, but have no soul. That's a huge reason I crush on the Bowie-pure emotion from that guy. Now, the same goes for Young. No repeating line is ever sung the same way and there is a strong emphasis on the lyrics. I'm starting to realize that the singer-songwriter genre is not all poppy seeds and heartache.

"A Man Needs a Maid" is a favorite from Harvest. It is one of the tunes that the LSO plays on and it is astounding. The lyrics are kind of weird, but the music is absolutely beautiful. Starting with just piano and Young, it is somber and intimate. The orchestra enters on the first chorus and take the piece in a grandiose direction. No doubt that it would be a good song without them, but they make this song special. Orchestration like this just doesn't happen anymore. "Old Man" is also a great tune. It is especially poignant to me because of my age and placement in the community. However, I feel as though this will be a song that I'll still love when I am much older. The banjo on this tune is f-ing sweet. Actually, there is not a song I did not enjoy on this record. Clocking in at a little over 37 minutes, it is a great and complete record.

After the Gold Rush is the second on the Neil Young extravaganza, as one album is rarely enough to determine the merit of an artist. "Tell Me Why" is the first track and immediately continues what I was loving on the last album, despite it being released 2 years earlier. He really writes great, great chord progressions. Again, the production is fantastic. It's these seemingly little things that make records like these timeless and "classic." I'm pretty sure this will be a reoccurring theme in my musical experiment. Of course "Southern Man" is on this album, renouncing the racism of the South and features some mean guitar solo-ing that I can only assume is Young. There seem to be a lot more ballad-esque, waltzy tunes on this album, but I honestly don't mind. But enough of this stuff, I believe I can accurately rate Neil Young now.

Of course, I am not through listening to the Young-ster, but there is enough evidence here to conclude, as I started saying, I was completely wrong. Neil Young is a fantastic songwriter who had the luxury of having an amazing producer that really brought these songs to life. The thing I'm most impressed with is how complete these albums sound and feel. I could be wrong, but it feels like a lot of thought was put into which songs would be selected for each album. Nowadays it seems that an hour is the expected length of a record and that a lot of filler is selected to make that time. I don't get that from either of these albums. I do understand that records could only hold about 40 minutes of music and that has to have been a factor, but the quality of those 40 minutes is stellar. Neil Young, I apologize for calling you a "semi-talentless ass clown." You have talent, that is for damn sure. It is easy to see how a man like Young could influence budding artists for generations. People in the recording industry should really study these albums for production, no doubt.

I am pleasantly surprised by this first round of digging into the artists that are automatically proclaimed as "classic" and "important." I am perfectly happy to be proven wrong, it only shows that there is some semblance of sanity left in the evaluation of music. I kind of hope that some of these artists really do suck though, otherwise I look like the ass clown.

NEXT UP: The Rolling Stones (sagging under arm flesh and all.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Classic Artists

What happens when you don't know a classic and legendary artist's music? You recognize and know they're important, but don't know any of their songs, except for one or two that are incessantly played on the radio. There are a lot of supposedly important artists that I know absolutely nothing about, or care about. The Rolling Stones are right up there. I understand they've been around since the time of Christ and now look completely gross, but nothing they have done thrills me at all. I enjoy "Ruby Tuesday" and "Play with Fire," but that's about it. The only reason I don't make a bigger fuss about it is that I understand that some people who now play good music were influenced by them. However, I choose to view them as influencing/inspiring people to make better music than theirs. The Rolling Stones are easily one of the most overrated bands of all time. It could be because I haven't heard all of their 29 albums, but I do no appreciate their "talents." Maybe I'll buckle when they die...which I hope is soon.

Another guy who I don't get is recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Cohen. Apparently the man is a great songwriter, but the only song of his that I don't loathe is "Hallelujah," and it's definitely not the version he sings. His voice honestly makes me cringe a little.

Neil Young is a semi-talentless ass clown. Perhaps his inability to sing makes him great, but he doesn't bring a whole lot to the table if you ask me, aside from his Canadian poncho. Bob Seger, too.

I don't understand why Lynyrd Skynyrd is important at all, aside from their excessive use of the letter "Y." They loved the Confederacy and the South as a whole and died in airplane crash. Too bad, so sad...that was a little harsh...but still. Jefferson Airplane/Starship? What the hell did they ever do? I have no idea. No f-ing clue why they are important.

Now there is a whole string of artists that I know almost nothing about their work, but acknowledge as important people: Patti Smith, Allman Brothers (mostly because two died in motorcycle accidents at the same intersection a year apart from each other),Van Morrison, The Band, and Jeff Beck, just to name a few. To my knowledge, I have never listened to their music, yet I still acknowledge their importance...

What separates these guys from those other ass-clowns? I honestly do not know, but it is my quest to find out why and to listen to some of these "classic" artists.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is Oasis really that important

I read the top stories of a music magazine/online publication called NME almost every day. They typically cover stories from bands and artists I actually care about, which definitely does not happen in American publications (NME is British.) When our people care about Pink and Taylor Swift, NME talks about Franz Ferdinand, Blur, Gorrilaz, Rage Against the Machine, Indie bands you've never heard of, and unfortunately...Oasis.

Even before the uber hyped up break-up of the shitty band, NME would have at least two stories on them per week. I'm really curious if Oasis is just that important to the people of England. Do they symbolize a great period of the first rule of British rock since the British invasion? I really don't understand it. I've looked up and down their list of singles and only recognize "Wonderwall." I'm sure if I heard some other songs I'd know them, but none really pop out at me. As a child I just remember getting them confused with R.E.M. and some other band I can't remember. They all sounded the same and it was boring.
Thanks to the reunion of Blur this past summer, I am now aware of a huge conflict that has been going on between Blur and Oasis since their popularity ensued. They apparently were in constant competition, especially for chart ratings. Personally, I don't see why they are remotely similar and why they are in the same boat, except that they must have been competitors for awards and all that crap the whole time. I guess I just don't get it, but any mention of Blur almost always means that Oasis will be involved. And I love me some Blur. Annoying.

Now, the break-up of Oasis. Apparently Noel and Liam Gallagher were having pissing matches and called each other naughty names. Sounds to me like their egos got too big for their stadium sized stages. Back in the day, bands just faded away and nobody cared. VH1 is the only reason people remember half the bands they used to listen to. Since they broke up, Oasis seems to be more in the news than ever, even after the initial "shock" of it all died down. Now we get three times as many stories (apparently the rhythm guitar and bass player aren't doing anything anymore.) But Noel and Liam are forming new bands, neither of who will retain the Oasis moniker. And then there's the drummer, drumming with other people. Who gives a shit? Not this guy.

Perhaps some day this will all become clear, but I don't think I will ever understand the British fascination with Oasis. Liam used a tambourine for Christ's sake. Uncalled for.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Against my better judgement...(accent talk)

Watched the romantic-comedy The Ugly Truth last night. First and foremost, I have to say the movie was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Gerard Butler maintains his status as a good egg, but I hate when actors that are so obviously foreign and have badass accents try to sound American. The man sounded like an absolute dufus, and I do not use that term lightly. Butler is still a man's man in my book, but that accent...terrible. From the trailers I've seen for The Bounty Hunter, another romantic comedy co-starring with Jennifer Aniston, he also has a damn American accent. WHY?! Is it that necessary to the plot of these movies that he be born and bred in the damned United States? Fuck dude, it ruins everything. But anyways, The Ugly Truth had some hilarious moments. Butler's character was like Tom Cruise in Magnolia, cock-sure, sexist, and such a dick you have to love him. He has a show where he speaks the "truth" about men and women, and his sassy female producer doesn't like him, but needs him for ratings. Rather predictably, they eventually fall in love with each other. Blah blah blah, penis joke, orgasm, and masturbation reference and then the movie is over. Not a total waste of time, but I'd probably never watch it again.

I'm sorry, but I can't get over the accent thing. I've seen at least 2 movies with one of my favorite actors, Sean Bean, where he has to fake an American accent. It makes the movie automatically terrible. I don't mind Europeans doing other European accents, like and English guy doing a German accent, those are believable, but ours does not translate well. Hank Azaria is one of the few actors who can really pull off any accent, mostly because the man can imitate anything he wants. Also, the actors that are in those Christopher Guest movies are pretty fantastic. But serious actors cannot do it. It is so rare these days. Fake voices are a thing of the past my friends, and that saddens me.

The most recent pinnacle of weird and successful characters with accents is Val Kilmer's performance in The Saint. Most people hate him and the movie, but he plays about 5 or 6 characters with different accents each, and they all rock, especially his gay Russian. Peter Sellers is also up there. Scratch that, he is definitely number one. Dr. Strangelove and The Magic Christian are amazing films with Sellers being several distinct people. If you want to count his performance as Inspector Clouseau you can, but his talent goes way beyond those films.

I told a lie, Hugh Jackman's American accent is dead on and I have never questioned his validity in a movie because of it. Fantastic voice work on that man's part. He's more American than half of us. On that note, I found 3 other actors who deserve props for their accent work in some films: Willem Dafoe as Klaus in The Life Aquatic, Brad Pitt as Mickey in Snatch, and Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Fantastic on all accounts. Kudos men, kudos.

I'm sure I'm missing tons, but the point is that is uncommon to find quality accent work nowadays. Johnny Depp doesn't count in case you were wondering, seeing as he does almost identical voices for all his characters these days. I suppose Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could count, but still, not that amazing. With that, I say good night to you, and analyze those accents.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Got me under pressure (noodley noodle noodle)

Is it just me or is ZZ Top one of the most awesome bands ever? Totally under appreciated, those Texans. For God's sake, two thirds of the group have beards that are longer than most people's hair. To make them even more badass, the one who doesn't have a beard is named Frank Beard. BRILLIANT!!!

But visual aesthetics aside, the trio has been together for over 40 years with the same members. How many bands can say that? Just watch clips from all the Super Bowls since Janet Jackson's boob made its famous appearance. I would have to double check, but I am 98% sure that none of those groups had all or in some cases, even half of their original members. This is one reason I have profound respect for ZZ Top. Actually, up until 2006, they had the same manager since their inception. Bad ass, of the Grade A variety.

Now, I know a lot of people who can't stand certain ZZ, claiming they sold out in the 80s with albums like Eliminator and Afterburner. If you ask me, their use of keyboards and up-to-date studio techniques merely shows that they were not about to be left in the Texas dust. Like a certain someone else I know (start with a "B," ends in an "owie") ZZ Top adjusted their sound with times and found a new audience. But come on, a lot of songs on those albums simply rock. They're amazing car music. I have a DVD of ZZ Top playing live in Texas from 2008 and the only song that I could really hear any live synthesizer on was "Legs." They make those songs just as badass without all that studio trickery. Not to mention, they still sound amazing live. It is my firm belief that Billy Gibbons will never die and that his beard is keeping him alive.

The first ZZ Top album I ever owned is Tres Hombres and it is still fantastic. It contains many classic tunes including "La Grange." Even if you hate the 80s years, you have to recognize how fantastic their combination of the blues and rock is on this album. It goes from classic Western-style blues to heavy, heavy rock("Precious and Grace"=heavy as hell.) Gibbons easily holds his own among the blues masters of the first half of the 20th century. There's a good reason that they're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (complete with furry guitars and drums, and props from when they dressed up their stage like a texas desert.)

With that, I close my ZZ Top rant/adoration. ZZ Top is actually coming to the Dells in August and I am really contemplating blowing an entire UPS paycheck on tickets. Damn fine fellas they are. Just look at the beards.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I heart blogging

I was recently reading some recent blog posts of some friends of mine and I really do love blogging. I feel like I can keep in touch with them even I haven't seen some of them in ages. Regardless, I have also been inspired to write in mine today.

I applied to a job this week. Kind of a weird one if you don't know about my past, but the position is for the Director of Traditional Music at the Lutheran Church Kristen and I have been recruited to sing and play bells in since Fall. I honestly believe I can do some good there. It doesn't pay much, but it would be a good move.

I've been writing more and more for that imaginary column I have going right now, the Musical Moods one. I have about 4 pages of material, most of which is pretty good. I'm going to write a page or two more and then find the best of the best and send them in to the local paper, try to get a steady column there. I really think it is a totally untapped market in this area and that I have a good chance of getting something. The great thing is that I really enjoy writing them and feel like they're a good reflection of my personality.

I'm still pissed at MATC, for they are douches.

All for now.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

One of the Most Disappointing and Ridiculous Evenings of My Life

I entered the Madison Area Technical College’s contest to “Win a Career” a few months ago with zero expectations. The essay requirement was easy to fulfill and was completed within an hour. I sent it off and wondered what life would be like with two years of free tuition. I discovered that life would be good. One day, a few weeks later, I received a congratulatory e-mail proclaiming that I was selected as a semi-finalist and was to make a two minute video showing my story and why I deserved to win. I was pretty psyched to say the least, as I never expected to make it that far. So I made a video, trying to highlight my desperation and plea for help. Then, an invite came in the mail explaining that I had to present at the Gala to win. So I went.

Here’s where things get a little ridiculous.

I walked in the doors of the school, found the check-in table and was handed a program with all the names of the semi-finalists…all 46 of us. My heart immediately dropped and everything went downhill from there. I was handed a complimentary shitty windbreaker and a terrible looking tote filled with pencils and G.I. Joe sized notepads. Keeping a polite smile on my face, I continued to where the “dessert banquet” was being held and was promptly stopped by a woman and her video camera.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Lost,” I replied, despite the fact I was at a bar.

“Well, we need you to do an interview!”

So I stepped by a lady and her microphone. She asked questions that were well rehearsed and hard to hear. I smiled a lot and attempted to keep on the sympathy train, but she kept pulling the microphone away while I was in the middle of sentences. As soon as I received my token “good luck” from the microphone lady, who cannot rightfully be called a reporter, I was on to the desserts. There was a terrible jazz band blasting their way through the charts full of old, old men. An even older white man was at the piano and clearly thought he was the two-year technical school’s version of Count Basie. I tried to ignore their mediocrity and moved to the sweets. Being filled with mostly brownies, I took three from the table. They were dry and were yet another bad omen. Surrounding the eating areas were televisions with the videos of all of the semi-finalists (again, all 46 of us.) The screens were filled with single mothers, minorities, and rich white kids. Lucky for me, the jazz band was so loud I could not hear the audio from any of said videos, for that would have only added to the crappy brownie taste in my mouth. I soon found out that there were a total of 130 applicants and that I was one of 46 lucky semi-finalists. 46, it seems, was the only number of names that could fit on the program page. We were then guided to the auditorium for the awards presentation.

The auditorium was nice enough, having five chairs on the stage (complete with water under each of them, game show style,) a large screen hanging from the ceiling, and a podium with one of whitest men I’ve ever seen behind it. The MC, who thankfully never called himself that, was the Dean of the college and was “under the weather.” He compared his voice cracking to one of the Brady Bunch children. This did not bode well. Deano McVoicecrack explained that five videos would be shown and that those five individuals should come on the stage but only one would be the big winner. The others would win a thousand dollars towards tuition each. Also, he made sure to note, “there are no losers.” The first three finalists were all still in high school and wanted to be: a cook, a vet tech, and an engineer (who thought that alternative fuels were not being explored…at all. He made sure to mention that alternative fuels would help the environment. This boy clearly did some serious research.)

Next up was a twenty-five year old guy with a spray on tan. Sporting pure white sneakers, jeans, and a sports jacket with a skater shirt underneath, he proudly took the stage. His video took the cake. Part of his selling point was that he was “kind of unhappy” in his current job. Yes, him and 90% of the world. He also wanted to be an engineer of sorts, but had a very distinct and clear vision of what he wanted to do. This man-child wanted to “reinvent the car” so that every single part of the vehicle could be put together and/or repaired with one tool, which he dubbed the “uni-tool.” Another aspect he wanted to change was the top speed of the car, to “about 80 or 90 miles per hour. I think that will make things easier for cops, too.” My jaw dropped. Also, he showed himself drawing a car in a notebook that looked like the cars I drew when I was in fourth grade; boxy, square, and two dimensional. He also presented a wood model he had created for his car to us lucky viewers. In conjunction with words like “MATC will help me zoom to my goals,” he pushed his wooden model car, only to have it immediately slide to a stop because the wheels did not spin. Needless to say, I was not the last finalist. It was a family man that couldn’t have been older than 30 who wanted to start his culinary career. He was not a bad guy, and I hope he won.

I say, “I hope” because I did not bother to stay. After all the finalists (who were not me) were called up, the Dean stated that “there are no losers” again. With that, an elderly man got up to the podium and tried telling us that there are other scholarships and that “there are no losers her tonight.” They were very clear on that point. Apparently losing did not, in fact, make me a loser. Interesting. The old man finished up, explaining that he was only wasting time, and another speaker came on to explain where the donations were coming from. I could not take any more and left during some applause.

I learned a few things that night. One, I am not a loser despite losing. Two, MATC clearly did not want to give money to a person who really needed it. They were more interested in white students (yes, they were all white. Only one pure Aryan though, so I guess that’s something) who could not make car wheels spin and who did not actually need the free tuition. Here I was thinking I needed to get more sympathy than people who had been on welfare, were single parents, or had harder backgrounds than me. Turns out I needed to be a smiling kid who made the audience laugh, not think. Thinking is overrated. The third thing I learned is that free brownies are almost never good. I can’t wait for that uni-tool.