Friday, January 29, 2010

Gosh Obama is so smart/awesome

For those of you whom aren't aware, Obama held a Q&A with House Republicans today that felt a bit like the House of Commons and mostly involved Obama wiping the floor with most of them (as civilly as possible) and showing how sincere he is in reaching across the aisle. He frequently mentions how much he loathes the cheap political fear-mongering from both sides that 'box us in' from getting actual work done. He consistently assures GOP leadership that he reads their bills (he refers to several specifics) and takes responsibility for his administrations shortcomings. It was a pretty engaging 90 minute discussion, and Obama really showcases his humanitarian side and his understanding of the issues. It feels like an eternity since W was in the White House. I'm sure you don't have 66 minutes to watch this MSNBC clip of the session, but if you are at all interested in why things don't get done faster, or have any doubts regarding the President's heart, do yourself a favor and take a look.

Indie Band of the Week: Local Natives


Local Natives are a 5-piece rock group from LA who released their debut album Gorilla Manor in the UK in 2009 and will get a US release February 16th on Frenchkiss records. Combining the vocal mannerisms of Fleet Foxes and the arrangements of Vampire Weekend, Local Natives have made a some ripples on indie blogs with their single 'Sun Hands'. I greatly prefer their second single Airplanes, and have linked the video below here. It has an itchy drum part and I love the dichotomy of the structured harmonies within the verse and the rawness of the chorus. They avoid the sleepiness of Fleet Foxes and the kitsch of Vampire Weekend by striking a nice balance between the two. Check it out.

Airplanes

Local Natives | MySpace Music Videos

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beach House: Teen Dream



Thanks to SS for his Old Song Review this morning. I think (and told SS) that Jim Croce is like James Taylor but inexplicably MORE boring but that is beside the point. It is a nice song with good imagery, I will give him that. I don't want to scare him away from writing more, so I will hold my tongue and hope his next review rocks a little harder. We now return you to your regularly scheduled pretension.

When it comes to female vocalists in Indie music, women are generally given two options. The Karen O or the Cat Power. The former hoots and squeals and yelps her way through songs, usually blanketed with heavy instrumentals and rock elements. Outside of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I don't really care for this. I am in love with Cat Power and all her derivatives. I love Feist. I love Lykke Li. And now I love Beach House. I love Beach House because they give me the smoky, forlorn vocals I expect from Cat Power, but with rougher orchestration than an acoustic guitar or a piano. An organ arrangement and electric fingerpicking heighten otherwise familiar vocal stylings and simple lyrics. Sometimes it sounds like someone trying to sing in rush hour, but Victoria Legrands voice is strong and warm enough to inspire a sense of intimacy.

It's extremely rare that a group with such a big sound can sound as vulnerable as Cat Power and her acoustic guitar, but Beach House are extremely effective at balancing and pairing sounds to compliment and buoy the vocals. Something as simple as a well-timed crash of a cymbal or a steady drumbeat can add so much to a song, and what Beach House accomplishes here makes you wonder what other aforementioned folksy singers could aspire to with a bit more chutzpah. As it is, Beach House is the only one doing things like this, and that's fine by me.

The best testament to Beach House's mastery of their craft is in the closing track Take Care. As Legrand assuredly sings her verses, you can feel the song building and shifting to something triumphant. Sure enough, no sooner will you think this that Legrand fashions herself a tender crescendo, making the lines 'I'll take care of you/If you asked me to' completely devastating. Maybe it's just me, but the satisfaction in songs like these is in the building of these moments. There's not much more satisfying than that moment when a song realizes the potential it's been hinting at the whole time (see Sigur Ros). There are a lot of these moments on Teen Dream.

Old Song Review: Jim Croce - Operator

So your host does a lot of blogging about new music. I feel there's an opportunity here to broaden the interest in the blog by covering some older stuff. Here's the plan: every once in a while I'll review an old song. That's it. Unless I really know something about the singers or songwriters I'll generally stick to my take on the song, not the history behind it.

Today I heard this song in a store and remembered how much I loved it. The number is Operator, by Jim Croce. I've never felt the way the narrator in this song feels (because that of that situation, I mean) but I love the melancholy and despair that this fellow feels. It's a moving song. My highest praise in a piece of art is that it moved me. It doesn't happen often but when it does it's amazing. The song goes something like this . . . I can relate to the feeling of telling yourself, or someone else something to try to convince yourself that what you're saying is true. I realize that's a confusing sentence. Basically it's about trying to convince yourself that you're okay.

The second thing I love about this song is that it tells a story. I'll admit that that I love to beat the beat and listen to hip-hip, pop, club, and anything that makes you want to move your body, but my favorite kinds of songs are those that tell stories. Repeating the hook over and over again gets old, even if it's really good. This is one of the reasons I like rap and LOVE the notorious B.I.G. Look at some of those lyrics, especially those for Juicy; good rap entries often tell stories. I love Juicy, but that's for another day. Back to Jim Croce's Operator.

The story of the lyrics conjures the image of a man, soaking wet in an anonymous phone booth on some street corner in the city. It's pouring rain outside the booth and his hair is plastered to his forehead. His suit is soaked and has that clingy quality that wet suits get, especially the arms as he hold the phone receiver to his ear. You can't really tell if there are tears on his cheeks because of the rain, but you can see the anguish in his face. He leans against the top of the payphone with his head on his forearm.

He's trying to call his lost lover who ran away with his good friend, Ray. He wants to tell them that he's doing fine and doesn't need them, but the very act of seeking to do this confirms that he hasn't "overcome the blow." The operator never makes a peep in this song. She presumably gives the man the number at some point but really, the man just needs a shoulder to lean on. By the end of the conversation with the operator, the man decides that he doesn't need to make the call after all. He's still crushed but the operators been so much more than kind. We all need someone kind, and I love this old song.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: Fish Tank



Fish Tank starts as a familiar coming of age tale, but in the middle of the third act bucks convention dramatically. 15 year-old Mia comes from a broken home and lives with her mother and her younger sister, perpetually dishing streams of expletives and insults in their general direction. Things aren't much better outside these four walls, as she bullies other girls and dabbles in illegalities. She harbors secret aspirations of becoming a hip-hop dancer, but all in all, her life sucks, and she knows it.

Everything changes when her mother begins dating the charming Connor (Michael Fassbender). He treats her kindly, supports her dancing, and is everything her life is bereft of. Unsurprisingly, she crushes hard. Her crush is the familiar teenage variety, born from frustration and jealousy. It is all-consuming. She watches him longingly from afar, visits him at work, takes interest in his interests. Everything feels innocuous enough, and you wait for the scene when she awkwardly acts on her feelings and is rebuffed. I'm not going to spoil the movie for you, but that does not happen. The gripping third act is a complete deconstruction of this kind of film, and offers no easy answers.

Director Andrea Arnold does a lot with the typical mumblecore, cinema-verite' style that is popular these days, but stretches it over a tense story arc to keep it from feeling slight and pointless. Many shots are from hand-held cameras, offering Mia's viewpoint from her bed or through a window, observing her subjects from a distance with detached loneliness. You don't blame Mia for feeling attracted to the first person who treats her with dignity, and despite her callous behavior, you pull for her. Like the California Dreamin' cover that plays a large role in the film, Mia's life is quite the winter's day. She is not without her own California dreams, but without knowing the rules of adult life, she chases them in unfortunate ways.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Timewaster of the Week: icheckmovies.com

So I came across this nifty little website a few days ago, and it soaked up most of my Sunday afternoon. It's a simple concept, offering lists of movies and allowing you to click and check off a little field on the right hand side of the page if you've seen it. There are also provisions to allow you to mark a movie as a favorite or to dislike a movie. What's interesting here is how they aggregate the films. They have IMDB's Top 250 films (of course), but they also have the 50 top-rated films by Genre and by Decade. They also have tons of Critic Lists, Website Lists, Award Winners and even Highest-Grossing films. For example, here are some of my stats of interest:



I have seen 143 of IMDB's Top 250 Films. Pretty sad. However, if you look closer, I've seen 42 of the Top 50 films of the 2000's and 35 of the 1990's. From here things drop precipitously (and linearly) to seeing only ONE of the top 50 films of the 1910's (DW Griffith's The Birth of a Nation). For someone who is always looking for new movies to see, this place is a goldmine. And for someone who thinks they are a film-snob, it's also humbling to see all the gaps in my film knowledge (Film Noir, Westerns). I do take offense to the website saying I don't watch a lot of Documentaries. I watch a SHIT-TON of documentaries, as many of my friends can attest. When SS says bring over some movies, at least 2 of them will be documentaries. SS will proceed to toss them aside and ask what Volver is about, but you get my drift. There are worse ways of wasting your time.

I've seen 515 movies, but I'm still checking them off as I write this, so sign up and try and knock me off my high horse.

Authors Note: I just realized no one can read the image I posted above. What are you going to do about it? That's right.

Monday, January 25, 2010

iSlate? iPad? iDontgetit



Apple hysteria has reached critical mass this week. If you haven't heard, Apple has an 'event' on Wednesday. Apple's 'events' are similar to Oprah's favorite things episodes in that otherwise sane people LOSE their shit. Heck, if Steve Jobs eats a bad tuna sandwich it's on Gizmodo by the time he leaves the bathroom. I understand the fascination with Apple. The iMac was a massive hit, the iPod revolutionized portable music and the iPhone changed cellphones forever (and probably saved AT&T's arse). Rumor has it that Mr. Jobs has something big up his sleeve again this week, and all signs point to a tablet computer. With it, Jobs undoubtedly hopes to topple the Kindle, netbooks, portable gaming, magazines etc. All manufacturers of portable entertainment are probably Googling how to tie a certain knot right about now. I'm going to talk them off that ledge now.

Here's the thing guys, Tablet computers are not new. I remember playing with them years ago. They let you doodle with your finger!! You can click with your FINGER!!! .....FINGER!! Listen Steve, can I call you Steve? People are fine with the imbalance of form vs. function on the iPhone. With auto-correct, even the fattest thumbs can bang out a text message. A TEXT MESSAGE. Could you imagine writing a research paper like this? How about even a grammatically complete sentence? The thought alone makes my thumbs curl. Computers desperately need a tactile keyboard, something with some give and springiness. I'm writing this blog post on my netbook that has the smallest keyboard I've ever seen (cellphones notwithstanding), but it's still a keyboard. I don't care how many games you can play or how awesome videos look on it, by handicapping peoples ability to communicate, it's going to simply be a big iPhone. Not a bad thing, but hardly revolutionary.

There are other rumors that the screen will be OLED. OLED's are fantastic (my Zune HD has one), and use very little power, but the incredible contrast and colors they afford are not the characteristics you look for in an ereader. Books are bland, but easy on the eyes. An important quality for something you plan to stare at for hours. I will concede that magazines and gaming would be incredible on a 10-inch iPhone. But what makes it more than a 10-inch, $1000 iPhone? It seems as though Apple is trying to create a need and fill it (a fundamental marketing strategy), but how many of its own products is it willing to cannibalize? People have already seen through the iPhone/iTouch racket, and 99% of people who this product is gearing for are perfectly satisfied with having a home computer and a cellphone. Blurring this line doesn't exactly count as "creating a need". I'm sure it will be sexy, and I'm sure it will be extremely intuitive and user-friendly, but when the dust settles, I'd be surprised if it will really be "the most important thing I've ever done" as Steve Jobs has claimed this week.

Here's hoping I'm wrong.

My tax refund is burning an Apple-sized hole in my pocket.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things I Hate: Running in Winter



What's the worst thing about winter may you ask? No, it's not shoveling and having your Latissimus Dorsi get the Devil's Massage (if you can't see that, it's SS's cramp chart) for three days. Nor is it scraping off your car in scrubs whose heat capacity is eclipsed by tissue paper. The worst thing about winter is trying to run in it. I love running, and I don't necessarily mind running in the cold, but winter offers a perfect storm of terrible that makes me want to curl up under my electric blanket until the vernal equinox.

The WORST part about winter running is how obscenely early the sun sets. I'm not one of those people who gets all bent out of shape for a week after daylight savings time, but I couldn't help but make a bulge-eyed cartoon face when I realized it was dark at 4pm. This leaves me with two unsavory options. One, succumb to the sun's sadistic schedule and get to work early, leave at 3:30 and drive like a bat out of hell to get home and changed in time. Or two, throw caution to the wind and try to run in the dark. More often than not I manage the former, but for the purposes of this blog post let me tell you that running in the dark is an adventure of Homeric proportions.

Running in the dark is akin to doing gymnastics in space. You may have mastered the fundamentals, but the rules as you know them don't apply anymore. To those of you who are thinking 'Shut up and buy a light', I say 'I have a light and you're being rude'. Running lights are NOT for path illumination, but are instead worn to draw attention to your person, so that when you are inevitably run over, your lawyer will have a good case (though you'll still be dead). Short of wearing a headlamp and looking like a spelunker, you are wholly at the mercy of street lighting. And there is no street lighting. As such, you evolve superhuman spatial awareness. I can now spot puddles/ice patches from 50 paces. Of course, I can't tell them apart and they are impossible to avoid. This leads to some sophisticated calculations regarding the angle of my feet on this ambiguous patch of water. In my experience, it is best to assume that everything is black ice. Otherwise, you will find yourself bleeding out on Mass Ave. and nobody needs to see that. Its also important not to panic in the event you find yourself slipping on the ice. Much like a car, you need to shift into a lower gear and try to ride it out. Sudden movements will only accelerate your fall and may result in unnecessary collateral damage (sorry SS).

In addition to the danger of PLOWED terrain, there is also the matter of those who cannot be bothered to do their civic duty and shovel their sidewalks at all. In this situation, you will play human Frogger. You will also make a mental note of the address for egging purposes. You will also forget all of this five seconds later when you are sideswiped by a Corolla. Don't say I didn't warn you. What I'm trying to say here is that running in the dark, on ice, and sometimes in the road is a foolhardy idea, and you would be wise to join a gym from December to March if you value your body in its current state of 'not-dead'.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: The Year of Living Biblically



The Year of Living Biblically recounts author AJ Jacobs' year-long experiment in following the Bible as literally as possible, while at the same time traveling to and interviewing other religious folk, from all over the "crazy" scale. Intrigued by the subject matter (though admittedly a bit burned out by non-fiction over the last few months), I looked forward to a crash course on the Bible, something I knew very little about. While the concept sounded gimmicky, I was willing to withhold judgement. At least for a little while.

As I mentioned earlier, the book finds Jacobs following biblical rules and traveling throughout the United States (and Israel) to understand how people can interpret the same Bible in such disparate ways. The chapters that involve the author interacting with different sects, whether they the Amish or Tennessean Snake-handlers are engaging and respectful, mostly because they allow the followers to explain their belief system themselves, unprocessed by Jacobs. Unfortunately, these scenes are few and far between.

The majority of the book takes place in Jacobs' apartment in Manhattan which he uses as an opportunity to harass the ever-loving piss out of his pregnant wife and attract as much attention as possible from complete strangers. This would be comical if he weren't completely reveling in the attention. I understand parts of the bible are silly, but did he really need to bar himself from sitting anywhere his wife sat if she happened to be menstruating? Of course not, but it makes for a hilarious blurb on the inside cover! He treats most of the book like a self-indulgent stunt and as a result, when he tries to make any grand statements they come across as trite and convenient. He vows to take every passage in the bible literally, but spends much of the book molding and trimming them to fit what he felt like talking about (usually some lame joke). He dismisses others as being 'clearly metaphoric' snarkily and then handles snakes a few chapters later while acknowledging that most Christians believe 'picking up serpents' to be a metaphor.

As SS spoke of at the book meeting, hating Jacobs' the man made the book even more frustrating because he interviews some genuinely interesting people with fascinating things to say. I learned a great deal about the Bible and developed a respect for those who view it simply as a guide to do good. If the whole book consisted of these interviews and life philosophies alone I would have been quite satisfied. Instead, I had to suffer through Jacobs' obnoxious sideshow routine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spoon: Transference



In my younger days, I bristled at the thought of a band evolving. Why did Radiohead have to go and eff things up when The Bends rocked so hard? Couldn't they have just set up a studio in the land of riffs and whines and stamped these out ad infinitum? Sure they could have, but can you imagine a decade without songs like Idioteque, There There and Myxomatosis? Me either.

Spoon has made a career out of cranking out taut, efficient pop-rock albums, every song threatening to be copped for an indie film or a TV show (The OC, ahem). Even their experimental twists like The Ghost of You Lingers on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga are still obstensibly Spoon. Maybe that's why the first few tracks off Transference feel so wobbly. Not wobbly in a bad way, wobbly in that the reliable strum progression doesn't go where you expect, and you feel an uneasiness. Spoon is operating without the safety net of bridges and a chorus here, and you're scared for them. Even the next song Is Love Forever? brings to mind the teaser trailer for A Serious Man, with bits chopped and looped, reverbed vocals yipping and cutting off mid-syllable, the whole thing sounds like a Spoon remix, but there's enough of the familiar Spoon gleaming through to outweigh the lack of any discernable hook.

The rest of the album drifts back toward traditional Spoon fare, but isn't without string flourishes and vocal distortions that try to fetter away the melodies that are clearly there. The rousing piano-drum driven Written in Reverse allows us finally exhale, relieved that Spoon are still the indie Iron Chefs, taking basic ingredients and crafting a delicious amuse-bouche of rock and roll.

Spoon's last album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga seemed to have captured the bitterness and incredulity of being dumped, with fanged songs entitled Don't You Evah and Don't Make Me A Target that mince no words in tearing down the unfortunate subject. If Ga Ga is Spoon's break-up album, Transference finds them finally at peace with that chapter. The broken skips and loose ends here show that they aren't as they once were (they may never be), but there's the undeniable feeling that they are shedding a bit of their former selves. As Daniels sings on Got Nuffin, "got nothin' to lose but darkness and shadows/got nothin' to lose but bitterness and hang-ups."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Indie Band of the Week: Broken Bells



Broken Bells is a collaboration between James Mercer (of The Shins) and Danger Mouse (of The Grey Album fame). I've enjoyed Mouse's work with Gnarls Barkley and his production turns on the underrated The Black Keys' Attack and Release and The Rapture's Pieces of the People We Love. The Shins are a different story entirely. James Mercer's meandering echo is pleasant enough, but helplessly reduces me to zZz's if it takes him more than 1 verse to dangle a hook. A fantastic lyricist and perfectly capable of singing up an octave and imparting a bit of emotion into tracks, it's no surprise that the most successful songs on Wincing the Night Away (their most recent release) were those that found the band keeping their experimental urges in check (Sleeping Lessons, Australia, Phantom Limb).

If anyone is capable of revitalizing a tired formula, it's a new producer like Danger Mouse. Sure enough, the lead single The High Road sounds absolutely nothing like any Shins track I've ever heard. Keyboard loops float off into space before Mercer comes in, his echo on full display, singing down on us like that Teletubby sun baby. Before you can even place that it's "that Shins dude", a chorus of 'AHH's' sweep you into the bridge and Mercer's confident falsetto. The chorus is effective because it doesn't leave Mercer hanging to carry the load himself, sacrificing some intimacy but offering some needed reinforcement and depth. As a result, the song has a refreshing anthemic energy to it.

Listen to The High Road below:

It is also available as a free single on the duos website brokenbells.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

Now You've Done It...

Forgive my foray into politics for a moment, but something needs to be said about the nail-biter of a Senate race going on here in Massachusetts. Both of these candidates are imbeciles. Thankfully, they are simply placeholders to serve out the rest of Kennedy's term. Unfortunately, the first vote either of them will cast in the Senate will have incredibly far-reaching repercussions. Neither side can afford to lose this election and are pulling out all the stops. For Martha Coakley, this means recruiting the president himself to make a fluff appearance in the aftermath of the Haiti disaster. This is the political equivalent to having your parents help you with a book report you haven't started the night before it is due. It's going to suck, but all you want to do is pass. For Scott Brown, this means selling his soul to the rabid drones of the "Tea Party" movement and all that entails.

In Massachusetts, having two democratic senators is as much a foregone conclusion as Bill Belichick wearing one of these numbers on Sunday afternoon. Only an incredibly inept campaign and an aw-shucks candidate (DID YOU HEAR HE DRIVES A TRUCK??!) could buck this trend. While Coakley shmoozed and and treated her campaign like a victory lap, Brown quietly and steadily rose in the polls until last week when someone on Coakley's staff had to be the buzzkill and point out that the race had become a toss-up. Since said wake-up call, Coakley has responded with a punchdrunk mix of attack ads and nonsensical speeches, desperately trying to stop the bleeding.

Tomorrow will reveal whether she managed to turn things around in time, but regardless of whether she pulls it off, her campaign has been an epic study of hubris. It's too bad there is so much riding on it, because as much as I'd love to see her lose, I'll still be pulling the lever for her tomorrow afternoon. I'll just pretend its for Ted.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Roger Ebert Is My Hero



Roger Ebert is the most revered film critic in history. While I regularly disagree with his star ratings (3 stars for Speed 2: Cruise Control?), his reviews are thoughtful and completely stripped of pretensions. He makes a conscious effort to gauge a film's success not on artistic merit alone, but on how it will be received by its prospective audience. He loves watching films more than just about anything and this is clear in every review he pens. Even when he completely loathes a film, he comes across as more disappointed than angry, as though he really expected Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo to be a bit more complex and subtle. He has published twelve books on film in his 42 years as a critic, owns the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded for Criticism and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has certainly lived a full and noble life, but this alone is not why he is such an inspiration.

In 2002, Roger Ebert was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, which later spread to his salivary glands. Throughout everything, he remained dedicated to film and never missed an opening. The surgeries and radiation treatment altered his voice, but he was given a clean bill of health. Later, in 2006, he required further surgery for cancer surrounding his jaw, which involved removing a portion of his jawbone. Two weeks following this treatment, Ebert's carotid artery burst and he became bedridden in serious condition. After months of intense physical therapy, he was able to return to film criticism in earnest, albeit unable to speak, eat or drink. He even made an effort to go back and review films that he missed while he was receiving treatment. After 3 further surgeries to try to restore his speech (all of which failed) and a broken hip, he resolved to "be content with the abundance that I have". While still publishing his requisite 5-6 reviews a week and a regular "Answer Man" column, he introduced his blog about a year ago which has amassed a devoted following. It is really fantastic. His most recent entry is about "making out".

Regardless of your level of film enthusiasm, Roger Ebert is an inspiring figure. One who had it all and lost nearly everything, but still counts his blessings every day that he is still able to do what he loves. He has evolved around his disabilities and managed to touch even more people in the process. He surely has enough money to spend the rest of his days on some European beach, but instead, at the age of 67 he spends his days trying to find nice things to say about Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. Talk about selfless. Roger Ebert: ****

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Introducing the Sarcmark


See this little guy? This is the Sarcmark. In an era where communication is becoming increasingly dominated by texting, Facebooking, e-mailing and blogging, it is your only ally in the war against unintentional sincerity. The way it works is simple. You add it to the end of a sentence to simply and clearly denote that the preceding words were in jest. That's it. I've always been a fan of yelling 'SIKE!' or 'NOT!', but even those have malicious undertones and could result in even FURTHER miscommunication. Plus, neither is as cute as this little dude. Just look at it! Flirty with that coy eye, happy with that twisted vortex of a smile. Just precious. For only $1.99, you too can begin using the Sarcmark on your computer, your phone, even your email via a simple keystroke! Never again will you be forced to engage in the devastating 'are they serious' dance?

Consider this situation. You flirt with a girl via Facebook message (why you aren't simply speaking with her in person is beside the point), devoting hours and hours to distilling your wit to the perfect sentence. You send it off. She replies cordially, but ends her message with the ambiguous sentence "I wouldn't date you unless we were the last two people on earth". Now what does she mean by this? Without the Sarcmark there's really no telling. Could she is suggesting you try again after the Apocalypse? Maybe she simply wants some privacy for your date. Maybe she wants nothing to do with you whatsoever, but with such cryptic phrasing, no one can say for sure.

$1.99 is a small price to pay for this piece of mind. It's like getting into someones head and almost interacting with them in person (but not really because that's scary). It's like cracking a secret code! It is like having your own PR person! For someone who has their fair share of awkward human interactions, this piece of punctuation is a godsend. Now the only tricky part is to get everyone I know and will ever interact with to buy it too. I guess that's easier than getting a sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tea


I think I'm becoming addicted to tea. I still love every drop of my Grande Starbucks in the morning, but that's increasingly becoming a means to an end. Maybe I'm saying that because I'm already addicted. Well, a man can have multiple vices can't he? It's a free country!

I blame RH. It all started innocuously enough (cue wavy video and harp to signify flashback). It was one of the first days after RH had moved in and he had just come back from a long day at Med School (he's a hard working boy). He settled down on our most uncomfortable chair, pulled up a stool as a table, and proceeded to read about tinnitus or cat-scratch fever or all those tiny bones in your foot. After a while he got up and I heard him rummaging in the kitchen, during which he asked me "Would you like some tea Michael?" Yes, he calls me Michael, my full name which is typically reserved for my mother, some interviewer meeting me for the first time, or my grade school gym teacher (Hi Ms. Condon!). This doesn't bother me, but is an interesting aside. It does make me feel a little sheepish (for no reason in particular), but I digress. Before mumbling my default "No Thanks" (a response I've evolved since my roommate LK started using recipes as guidelines), I stifled hilarious thoughts of RH and I having a tea party, and said "sure."

I didn't really like the tea too much, but I liked that I could make it quickly (2 minutes!), it tasted complex, and didn't need to add anything to it to make it palatable. After that less than awe-inspiring first impression, I quickly forgot about tea. That was until I encountered the overwhelming tea display at Trader Joes. Of course, not knowing exactly what kind of tea I was given by RH that evening, I leaned towards the accessible teas, i.e, the ones with fruits in their titles. I settled on Pomegranate White Tea, surely the Bud Light of teas. I brought it home, put it in my cupboard, and forgot about it (this is becoming a theme in my life) until I was blogging one day and wanted something to sip. It was 3pm so beer seemed a bit premature, and coffee would involve scooping and measuring and percolating, so that was out too. Sure enough, good old box o' tea was waiting patiently in my cupboard for this very moment.

As soon as I put the bag in my mug of hot water, a terrifying realization washed over me. HOW LONG DO I STEEP THIS? AND WHAT DOES STEEPING EVEN MEAN? I checked the box and it offered no help (3-5 minutes?!!? That's an eternity in Tea World!), tried to remember if I had ever seen RH 'steep' before only to remember he has some fancy tea death chamber contraption. Using the pigment of the water as a guide, I danced that little bag all around the mug, futilely trying to keep it submerged, convinced I was doing it wrong or had a faulty product. After these frantic few minutes, I sat down and took a sip, finding that it tasted pretty much like what the box said. Tart, sweet, boring tea. But I didn't hate it, and that's a start! Maybe that's how chewing tobacco enthusiasts get started, because lord knows their maiden experience with that stuff can't be rosy.

To make a long story short, I've since purchased 4 (FOUR!) types of tea from Trader Joe's, even going so far as to buy Earl Grey (this is serious tea) and something called 'Bed-Time' Tea (which I feel obligated to yawn while drinking). I've enjoyed them all and it has become my go-to blogging drink. So next time you read something funny here, I hope you hear this old Asian dude in your head like I do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movies on My List

Now I'm angry! I was so happy when I saw that your fear[ful] blogger (MD) had referenced me in his blog post. Maybe I shouldn't have been excited so quickly (this is a problem of mine) because later on in the same blog post MD takes a pot-shot at my Netflix que and movie tastes. First, MD doesn't even know what's on my que.

Second, MD is a total movie snob. I think he's accepted that he's a music snob but I think he just assumes he has a "good" taste in movies and doesn't like crappy movies. Let me tell you, MD doesn't know the first thing about why people watch movies. MD sees movies as art that needs to stand up to some artsy-fartsy standards. While seeing a truly artful film is an amazing experience, seeing a crappy movie that makes us laugh, feel good, or remember the good ol' times is alright as well. MD forgets that people love movies for lots of different reasons and decides to denigrate others' movie tastes from his little ivory tower.

It's time to put a few cracks in that tower. MD says, "maybe SS should move to Bedford and stop dragging down Arlington's top film list?" Oh, I'm not going anywhere! Not only that, but I'm going to drag Arlington's movie respectability down further than you could even conceive, MD. For as long as I can come up with these movies (please help me readers be commenting with suggestions). I'm going to put these movies on my Netfilx que and inundate Arlington with their badness. I'm not going to even watch them. I'll just put them on my que, receive them, and send them back to get the next one. Hopefully I can game the NYTimes little stat sheet to give Arlington an interesting top ten.

In the mean time here's my starting list in no particular order. I've linked them all.

HAHAHAHAH [evil laugh].




Netflix Shares Some Fascinating Socio-Geographical Data


After stumbling upon an interesting Netflix related blog post on Google Reader (which is awesome by the way) yesterday, I visited the original New York Times article today on the advice of SS, who postulated that it could make an interesting blog post. After playing with the slidey-bar for about half an hour, I realized he was pretty perceptive. There is a wealth of raw socio graphic data in these Netflix charts, and it doesn't take much effort to draw some interesting, if flawed, conclusions.

First. Everyone loves Brad Pitt.


This is the Netflix ranking for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the David Fincher, Cate Blanchett and Mr. Dreamboat himself film from last year. As a rule, the darker the red, the more popular the film.

2nd. No one liked Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Bucket List, or Bolt.



The greater Boston area is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and demographics, but even in the melting pot of Boston, movies like Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (NO I WILL NOT LINK IT) fall on deaf ears. This restores some of my faith in humanity, although I thought Bolt was cute.

3. WTF is up with Bedford, MA (01731)

The above picture is the popularity of the universally loathed Renee Zelwegger rom-com New In Town. See that little red splotch? That is Bedford. And that's not all.


This is a map for the film Milk, the fantastic Gus Van Sant film, for which Sean Penn won an Oscar. Everyone loved this movie, but sure enough, there's Bedford up there, pale as a ghost. Here are the top 10 Netflixed movies from last year from Bedford.

1. Twilight
2. Seven Pounds
3. New In Town
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. Burn After Reading
6. Role Models
7. Paul Blart
8. Eagle Eye
9. The Changeling
10. Nights in Rodanthe(!!!)

So we have 3 Oscar Nominated films, a respectable comedy and 6 abysmal excuses for art. What gives? Here's my theory. This rinkydink corner of Bedford has only one person with Netflix account, and he is perpetually drunk. Staggeringly, profoundly drunk. That's still no excuse to rent New In Town. Maybe SS should move to Bedford and stop dragging down Arlington's top film list?

Finally, here is the most hilarious graphic of them all (I'll explain why in a minute)

The above graph shows a tiny blip of popularity, between Arlington and Cambridge, before fading into oblivion. You'll never guess what film this is, and even when I tell you it will probably mean nothing to you unless you live in this area (as I do). This map is for the film Coraline, a good flick to be sure, but not worthy of the smear of seemingly random interest in the middle of the Ivy-educated upper class. Well my friends, if you've ever ridden the Red line in the last YEAR, you'll know EXACTLY why this film piqued so much interest. Between Harvard and Central square, there is an entrancing flipbook-style trailer for Coraline, and it remained there for MONTHS (and I mean like at least 8 months) after the movie came out in theatres. Someone almost certainly forgot to take it down, but as you can see from the graph it paid hilarious dividends.  Advertisers listen up! You can still get through to bored, groggy people riding public transportation so long as you beat them over the head with it every day for 8 months! And they say no one rides the T.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vampire Weekend: Contra



Hey you. Yeah you. I can see you rolling eyes from here. I don't like Vampire Weekend either, but hear me out. Contra is the story of two Ezra Koenigs. There's the hyperliterate, borderline pretentious Ezra, the one who writes songs like Cousins, singing nonsensical verses with a shrill, scat-like delivery. This Ezra is insufferable and I want to choke him with his Polo sweater. Then there's the tender Ezra, with an uncanny ear for melody and able to write lyrics specific enough to visualize but vague enough to be accessible. Contra is a battle between these two Ezras (sometimes within the same song: see Horchata, White Sky), with the latter being victorious. Thank God.

Short of Cousins and a few moments on Horchata and Holiday, Ezra reigns in his kookiness here, and the album is all the better for it. He cedes ground to Rostam Batmanglij's warm arrangements, giving the songs  room to breathe and develop, while still retaining the snappy drums and taut guitar riffs when necessary. If you had told me that Vampire Weekend would write a song longer than 6 minutes I would have laughed in your face, but sure enough, the fantastic Diplomat's Son is 6:01. The influences of Vampire Weekend are varied, but the starkest influence here comes in the form of the Batmanglij's dripping synths and twinkly keyboard parts. After hearing Rostam's fantastic side-project Discovery (#18 on my Top 25), I'm pleased to see a healthy dose of it here and it fits beautifully.

Forgive me for saying so, but the parallels between Contra and Radiohead's In Rainbows are many. From the terrible throwaway scat tracks (Cousins vs. Faust Arp) to the eerie, remorseful, chill-inducing closer (I Think UR A Contra vs. Videotape), both albums share a warmth that the bands had rarely displayed prior. With Contra Vampire Weekend has realized what Radiohead did with OK Computer. Ezra even acknowledges as much on 'I Think Ur A Contra' warning us to 'Never pick sides/Never choose between two'. Yes Ezra, you can have a soft side and still rock. Just ask Prince.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Round-up Pt. 2

I've been sidetracked the past few days in finishing the movie round-up I started earlier this week. But sometimes you can't predict something as awesome as 100 Game Themed Cupcakes and a fritzy water heater and things just have to take a back seat. Miraculously, our water heater has been revived (apparently there is just some knob that needed to be turned) and is now dispensing liquid that I am CONVINCED is above water's natural boiling point. How is this possible may you ask? Considering the ideal gas law (PV=nRT), there is only one viable explanation. Our upstairs bathroom must be pressurized. 


Back to the show.   


Brothers

Brothers is a rare film that suffers because of its trailer. As such, I won't be linking it here. The reasons why the trailer fails is twofold. First, the trailer walks you through the ENTIRE plot of the film, sparing you no twist or scene. Second, the scenes shown in the trailer (and this poster frankly) make the film seem like a bizarre love triangle (the brotherly kind), which in fact is very minor subplot. The story surrounds Tobey Maguire's Sam (a Marine) and his ex-con brother Tommy played by Jake Gyllenhaal. While in Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter is shot down, and he is mistakenly pronounced dead. Jake Gyllenhaal attempts redemption by helping Sam's wife (Natalie Portman) and children get their life together. Maguire and Gyllenhaal are give great performances here, shedding any conceptions that had nagged them from their earlier work (Donnie Darko, Spiderman). They show a callous intensity that I've never seen from either before. Natalie Portman on the other hand, is going to have to work a little harder if she wants people to believe that she's the mother of two children and not the manic-pixie dreamgirl we're used to. The film is most successful as a study of how the atrocity of war can haunt a man, and less so when it dips into Sam Mendes-level suburban/familial angst.


The Messenger



With show-stealing turns in 3:10 to Yuma and the otherwise forgettable Pandorum and Hostage, little Tucker James (Ben Foster) has slowly risen up the ranks from child star to respected actor. The Messenger pairs him with Woody Harrelson as Casualty Notification Officers, a fancy name for the men who inform soldiers loved  ones of their passing. It's a thankless, soul-crushing job, but as they say, someone's gotta do it. Foster brings a sense of detached gloom to the role, clearly not 100% (physically or mentally) after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. As expected, the job weighs on him heavily, and he shoulders this burden in interesting ways, struggling to infuse some humanity into the sterilized procedural. Woody Harrelson is the yang to Fosters ying, adhering strictly to protocol and deflecting any weighty dialog with women and booze. It really resonates without resorting to pandering or quaint resolutions, a refreshing change of pace for this sort of film.      

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs


With every film adaptation of a classic childrens book, I cringe and shake my head, resigned to a terrible formulaic abomination until I hear otherwise. Miraculously, 2009 has been a pretty awesome year in this capacity, with The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Where the Wild Things Are doing justice to the source material and in some ways even adding depth. Add Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to this honorable club, although calling it an 'adaptation' is a bit of a stretch. The film revolves around an ambitious young scientist named Flint Lockwood who invents a Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator after his prior inventions (Ratbirds, Spray-On Shoes) failed to catch on. Taking requests from the townspeople, Flint's machine rains cheeseburgers and ice cream on the town until things start getting out of hand. Brilliantly imaginative, hilarious (see the scene below), and insightful without being preachy, it has everything you look for in a children's film (or any film for that matter).    

    

Up In The Air



Jason Reitman's new film (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) features George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a 'career transition counselor', a fancy name for a simple job. He fires people for a living. And he's good at it. The difference between Clooney here and the protagonists in 'The Messenger' I reviewed above, is that his strength and resolve is fortified with empathy and the assurance that things will get better. When a young upstart coworker  tries to phase him out, he takes her along with the hope that he can get her to change her tune. Of course, the story is much more complex than this and goes unexpected places, but the central conflict is between Ryan and the world around him. He's flaky with his family, flighty with love, and fights tooth and nail against setting down any sort of roots. I'm in the middle of reading 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' right now, and Kundera's writing has really made me view Ryan's philosophy in a different light, though it doesn't make his decisions any less frustrating to watch. Reitman tries to wring a bit too much sentimentality out of some scenes while others fall flat, but the film as a whole works well. It raises some thoughtful questions and shows the effects of decisions bluntly without taking sides.     

Whip It 




I had heard good things about this film, but was staggeringly disappointed in the end. Director Drew Barrymore(!!) traipses out every cliche and generality she can think of under the guise of 'girl-power'. The characters are obnoxious (Barrymore and Juliette Lewis especially), the central conflict between Ellen Page and her parents is laughable, and the Roller Derby scenes are a snooze to watch. There are much better ways of empowering women than giving them a pair of kneepads and a mouthguard. 


To be reviewed:


The Invention of Lying
Big Fan
A Serious Man


Friday, January 8, 2010

100!!!!11



With yesterday's erroneous cupcake post, I reached the 100 post milestone for this blog. 100 may not seem like much, but it represents a substantial investment of time and creative (I use this loosely) energy. I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed by the twinge of accomplishment I felt when I realized this or I should shout it from the rooftops. I'll try and split the difference.

I think starting a blog is a bit like making a resolution. If you can make it through the first month unscathed, there's a good chance the habit will stick. Many people make resolutions to get in shape and within a month of setting these goals find themselves with a dusty stairmaster. This blog is my mental exercise. I fancy myself a film/music guru, but this blog has given me a very rudimentary outlet for self-expression. I won't delude myself into thinking that an interesting blog post can pass for a piece of art, but as it serves to broaden my mind and  stand as a tangible (well, sorta) statement, it can have a similar effect.

I started this blog with the intention of creating something lasting. Or at least as a springboard to create something lasting. I don't think I am alone in this fantastical notion. I spoke to SS about this on a run a little while ago, trying to pin down whether the desire for some sort of immortality is a selfish one. Some people have children, creating a legacy and deriving satisfaction by raising them honorably, others manifest this by creating works of art that they hope will resonate with people for centuries. Everything we strive for in this life  stems from our struggle with mortality, and the truth that our time on Earth is finite. Without this sense of urgency, no man would accomplish anything. It is this subliminal ticking clock that draws us into the rat race of life. However we attempt to engage the world, be it a blog in some darkened corner of the internet or a forgotten painting in an abandoned house, it is always a noble exercise as it represents a swift kick against the current.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coolest Thing You'll See Today



It's rare that a website simultaneously blows my mind and makes me hungry, but I'll be darned if this little site hasn't made me check my watch to see if it is too early to start dinner.

Enter Ms. Robin Dahlberg. Ms. Dahlberg is to cupcakes what Fabrege' is to eggs. Well, maybe that's a stretch, but you get the idea. She's a jewelry artist by trade, owning Steelhead Studio, and the same attention to detail that allows her to make earrings like this:


also allows her to make cupcakes like this:



To celebrate 2010, Dahlberg designed 100 'game inspired' cupcakes, ranging from videogames (Guitar Hero, Mario Bros) to Board Games (Operation, Chutes and Ladders) to party games (Charades, Spin the Bottle). The website itself is even a game itself, allowing you to 'guess' what game is being honored on each cupcake before mousing over the question mark to find out for yourself. The craftsmanship on display is incredible here, and if I am speechless, I think nerds around the world just dropped their Mountain Dew. Here are a few of my favorites:



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Water Water Everywhere but WTF is going on



Our water heater is on the fritz, or something, but not fritzy enough for me to call my landlord and wag my finger and stomp my foot. Should I be a grumpus about a lukewarm shower, when there are children in Africa who shower in the crick? The answer is yes, and STFU. 


A lot of times, (ESPECIALLY in the winter), I like to crank up the shower to '11' for a few seconds, when I'm almost done, hoping to create a "warmth cloud" (I believe this is a scientific term) to follow me back to my freezing room. I don't think this is too much to ask, and up until two weeks ago, my warmth buffer was as reliable as the sunrise. Well kids, Cinderella was right


Now, before you get on your high horse and start pointing the fingers at me, let's get two things straight. First, I take fast showers, like, less than 10 minutes fast. This was instilled in me at a young age when we had water problems the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression, or some drought I didn't feel like looking up on Wikipedia. I grew accustomed to "showering" via bowls of lukewarm water, or, on the rare occasion that we had water, showering so fast that when I left for school I had to touch my hair to remember if I had bathed. Thankfully, my parents sprung for a new well and all has been right with the world since. Second, I am taking said showers at 6am, so the chance that someone else is also using the shower in my house OR that I am using all the hot water is virtually nil. 


Here are the steps I have taken to resolve this issue so far:


-Talked to my roommate JL and verified that the water is indeed "not hot".
-Considered calling the landlord after another unsatisfactory shower experience.
-Looked up a picture of a water heater
-Looked up the Wiki for "water heating"
-Got Intimidated (why that is the first picture for 'intimidate' I do not know)
-Conceived this blog post


Hot water is a basic human right, like Starbucks, HD, and the snooze button. We are in America, not The Congo, damnit. I don't fork over hard-earned money to the government fortnightly so I can live in fear of my shower knobs. If I avoid ONE shower because I am scared that the warm water will run out and I will scream bloody murder, then the terrorists have won.


Praise Allah for my electric blanket, I know it will never let me down. Right?.....RIGHT?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Movie Round-up Pt. 1

Being my favorite season (Oscar season) and my least favorite season (Winter), I've been watching a lot of movies lately. So many movies in fact, that I haven't taken the time to give most of them a full review like they deserve. As an olive branch of sorts, I'm going to try and compile a gaggle of mini-reviews here for films I've watched since Christmas.



Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade
A documentary about record-holding videogamers of the 1980's and the fame and rivalries that resulted. Featuring a few of the subjects from The King of Kong, most notably Billy Mitchell, it trades a bit of suspense for camaraderie compared to the King of Kong but has the same great character development and fascinating stories. It's a little sad to see how far some of these guys have fallen from grace, but it really encapsulated the phenomenon that were Arcade Games in the early 80s. If you had fast thumbs and a roll of quarters, you were a God. That's the American dream right there.


Two Lovers
A tender, tough film from James Gray, sprinkled with enough hopeful scenes to keep you optimistic. Joaquin Phoenix plays a sensitive, obsessive man living with his parents in NYC. Despite his glaring flaws, a beautiful family friend expresses interest in him but he has eyes for the troubled Gwyneth Paltrow. Frustrating but beautiful, Gray and the actors do a tremendous job expressing the deep longing in all of the characters (especially Phoenix and Paltrow) as they try to outwill their own defects and the defects of others. Really great.


Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans
I am by NO means a Nicholas Cage fan, but I love it when he completely crawls into a part. Like Adaptation and Bringing Out The Dead, he plays by his own rules here, and his manic eyes and his wobbly gait express how unhinged he is better than I can. Herzog has a fantastic eye for color, and a curiosity with wildlife, but he should be proudest of the performance he has coaxed out of Cage here. After being injured on duty, Cage's character Terrence becomes addicted to painkillers while still on the force, entrusted with tracking down a homicidal drug dealer while self-medicating to keep himself sane. Make no mistake about it, he does some depraved things here, but he's on so many drugs and his heart is in the right place, so I hesitate to label him evil. If Oscars were measured in time spent grappling with a film, Cage and Herzog would have it locked up.


9
Visually arresting and conceptually interesting, this steampunk inspired story by Shane Acker is a feature-length version of his award-winning short film of the same name. Telling the story of a post-apocalyptic world where only terrifying machines and a band of "stitchpunks" remain, the film follows the stitchpunks as they try to save one of their own. The voice-work is great and attention to detail is phenomenal here, but I struggled to follow/care about the narrative and there were too many "Are they really dead?" and "Phew that was close....LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!" moments for characters I wasn't invested in. With a better script, I think Acker could do something great.



Extract
In his newest film Mike Judge (Office Space) tries to out-Apatow Judd Apatow, introducing a quirky cast of characters (Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig, the awesome JK Simmons) to harass Jason Bateman's Joel Reynold's, owner of a flavor-extract company. After a series of events at the company, Joel hires Cindy (Mila Kunis) as a new temp, not knowing she is a con-artist. A big fan of all of these actors, Judge lacks the humanity of Apatow for this sort of redemptive film and it shows. The funny scenes here are quite funny (though mean-spirited), but Judge loses his grip on some of the more dramatic material, and most of it feels awkward. All-in-all a disappointment.

Come back tomorrow for reviews of:

Brothers
The Messenger
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Up In The Air
Whip It
The Invention of Lying

Sunday, January 3, 2010

25 Albums of 2009: 5-1

With the terrain outside my apartment so inhospitable it made a trip to Cadabra (Quebrada for the uninitiated) for a coffee feel like a Shackleton expedition, I've been reduced to watching movies, blogging and patting myself on the back for investing in an e-blanket last spring (even though it felt silly at the time). Don't get me started on electric blankets, they are a godsend for drafty apartments and a worthy alternative to human contact (blankets can't steal the blankets from you (how meta)). From the comfort of my preferred couch in my living room, here are albums 5-1.


5. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

With an album cover rife with more symbolism than a David Lynch film, Natasha Khan proves she is more than an enchanting face and has hollowed out a genre all her own, drawing favorable comparisons to Kate Bush in the process. There's no doubt that she's exposing some haunted, damaged parts of herself in her music, though it's so pretty you'd scarcely notice.

Best Track - Daniel 


4. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms

To the untrained ear, Neon Indian sound like a disciple of the psychedelic school of MGMT and Daft Punk, but also sound decidedly lo-fi and hazy, like poor surfer dudes trying their hand at electronica. Melding indecipherable vocals and complex sounds I can't even begin to place, trust me when I say it's a trip worth taking. I'll pass on the acid though, thanks.

Best Track - Deadbeat Summer

3. Passion Pit - Manners

It's hard to believe that a project that started as a Valentine's Day present from lead singer Michael Angelakos' to his girlfriend two years ago could snowball into a world tour, MTV recognition and a national TV commercial, but that's a testament to the power of the blogosphere. Like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend before them, Passion Pit became the pariahs of indie music in 2009, and like the aforementioned groups, their albums only served to validate the anointment. Let's hope the backlash they inevitably experience isn't as severe as those that came before them.

Best Track - Little Secrets


2. The Love Language - The Love Language

My Zune tells me that this is the album I listened to most in 2009, and I'd be a fool to argue. Whenever I drew a blank trying to decide on a song to listen to or was simply bored, I would assuredly queue up this album and listen to it straight through. It first drew me in with its energy and charm, and kept me coming back for the undeniable hooks and the incisive lyrics. It's a short listen, but that just makes it all the more tempting to press play again when it ends.

Best Song - Lalita


1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

If any band rivaled the critical and mainstream success of Passion Pit and Animal Collective this year it was Phoenix. Appearing on late night talk shows, SNL, a Cadillac commercial, movie trailers and TV shows, it's fair to say that Phoenix cashed in on their success this year. However, if anyone implies that they sold out, I will soundly box their ears. What's interesting about their success is that they've done so without changing their sound or sacrificing a shred of dignity. They play SNL for 20 million people one week and then play a take-away-show for strangers in front of the Eiffel tower the next. They don't care about the venue or the demographics, the Nielsen ratings or the Billboard rankings, they simply love to play music and disarm pretensions in the process. If you love Phoenix, you'll be happy for them. If you don't, you will soon.

Best Track - They're all awesome.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

25 Albums of 2009: 10-6

It's yucky outside. Some would say wicked slippery. In an effort to delay going for a run (and shoveling!) as long as possible, I'm back on 'my grind' as they say. Here are albums 10-6.

10 Lil Wayne - No Ceilings Mixtape


When you're Lil Wayne and you're the biggest name in hip-hop, you have absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by releasing a mixtape. Mixtapes are for up and coming artists to showcase their skills over a familiar beat. Wayne needs no such forum. Maybe that's liberating for him and why No Ceiling sounds like so much fun. After some missteps since The Carter III, No Ceilings resoundingly reaffirms that even though he spreads himself too thin and has more demons than the New Testament, no one can touch Weezy when he is on.

Best Track - Wasted


9. The Maccabees - Wall of Arms


It's always refreshing when potential hinted at in a debut album is fully realized in a band's sophomore release. The Maccabees had shown glimpses of their talents on their 2007 release Colour It In, and were a disappointing follow-up away from being lumped in amongst other forgotten indie acts. Thankfully, Wall of Arms is a smashing success. Tighter songs, stronger hooks, an improvement in every capacity.

Best Track - Can You Give It?


8- Franz Ferdinand - Tonight

Why more people don't take Franz Ferdinand seriously is beyond me. Sure, they don't break a lot of new ground singing about parties and drugs and girls, but for my money, there aren't a lot that do it better than Franz Ferdinand. If you're looking for your artists to speak noble truths, look elsewhere. If you want to dance, you've come to the right place.

Best Track - No You Girls


7- The XX - XX


I've really come around on these young Brits. Thoroughly unimpressed by the first song I had heard from them, I got the album and found it to be far subtler than I had given it credit for. Who knew a detached guitar part, a steady drumbeat and back and forth vocals could make for such simple, effective and dare I say sexy songs.


Best Track - Basic Space


6. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes - Up From Below

Part hippie, part cult, all awesome. The album sounds like a 40 year old relic unearthed from a time capsule, but features enough modern nuances for the album to feel fresh and accessible. Some may fault it for being too saccharine and cutesy in spots, but I ate it up.

Best Track - 40 Day Dream