Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 10 Best Albums of 2008

OK, this was hard to compile this year. And that's the best confirmation that it was an outstanding year for music. New faces, some old faces returning in big ways... I have no complaints.

As always, this list is the opinion of one person and it is meant to foster discussion and debate. No need to call me an ignorant SOB... if you think something is grievously wrong, just say so... who knows, you might open our ears to some new music.

Like last year, I'm including a link to a "second opinion" so you know I'm not nuts. And, when possible, I've linked to some tracks so you can hear for yourself... as you'll see, not all of these bands are mainstream.

Let's start with a list of honorable mentions that werejustthisclose but didn't make the top 10:

  • Beck - Modern Guilt - Another solid entry from my favorite Scientologist. In any other year, probably on the list.
  • Juliana Hatfield - How to Walk Away - A surprisingly good disc by someone who managed to stay as fresh as she sounded in 1993.
  • Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us - An album about the marital strife that comes with any move from one place to another. Unfortunately out of balance though. First six songs are some of the year's best stuff. Last few, not nearly as good.
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Slip - Where was this in 1998 instead of the over-indulgent double album? And the price? Free.
  • R.E.M. - Accelerate - And where was this instead of flipping Around the Sun? Michael Stipe & co. had a cup of coffee and got back to being a great band.
OK, here goes, friends:

10) Q-Tip, The Renaissance
Second Opinion: Pitchfork

Amazing what can happen when you keep it simple. Some great beats, perfectly-chosen samples and tremendous lyrical work and, voila!, a great rap album. And you have to give the man some credit when it comes to guests on his album. You can almost hear the record label saying "Oh you should call up L'il Wayne or T-Pain" but Tip dials up Raphael Saadiq, D'Angelo and Norah Jones. Why? Good instincts, apparently. Q-Tip, like a few others on this list, knew not to ask how to stay relevant after a long absence. That's because good music is always in demand.

Key tracks: "Won't Trade," "Official," "Gettin Up"

9) Duffy, Rockferry
Second Opinion:Rolling Stone

While Beck dabbled in 1960s psychedelia, Duffy brought the soul of the era. Despite inevitable Amy Winehouse comparisons, a few listens reveals Duffy to be more than a blond, non-strung-out repackaging. Her songs have depth and her voice is, honestly, a lot better than Ms. Winehouse. Plus, I always can make room for a Welsh accent.

Key tracks: "Rockferry," "Warwick Avenue," "Mercy"

8) Santogold, Santogold
Second Opinion: Rolling Stone

I barely know where to start here. Pounding beats on some tracks, 1980s quirks on others, good singing on some... awesomeness all around. Santogold picks carries M.I.A.'s torch and freakin' adds to the flame. This is no small task. Not quite as politically-motivated as her Sri Lankan comparison, Santogold puts a funky spin on traditional themes of relationships and life in Brooklyn. And if you watch any TV, you caught one of her songs on any number of commercials and didn't even know it. Well-suited for the dance club and a lazy day, Santogold is one of several new artists that have set a high bar for their sophomore efforts.

Key tracks: "Say Aha," "Creator," "Lights Out"

7) Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line
Second Opinion: Entertainment Weekly

"You know that dying is fine/but maybe/I wouldn't like death if death were good." So it goes on "Dying is Fine," one of many standout tracks from this amazing debut from Syracuse, NY outfit, Ra Ra Riot. Death is all over this album, and the fact that the band's founding drummer and songwriter died last year is certainly part of the reason. If channeling the grief onto this disc is what they needed to get by it, at least we can all enjoy the outcome. No band other than The Arcade Fire is using strings as well as this new band and even the weaker tracks on the disc are as good as many others' best songs this year. Bravo, kids.

Key tracks: "Dying is Fine," "Ghost Under Rocks"

6) N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds
Second Opinion: Entertainment Weekly

Is there a less likely inclusion here? I mean, their second album sucked. No need to dress it up. This time, though, Pharrel, Chad and Shaye bring their best: infectious beats, good songs and a bit of humor. All that made this one of the best discs of the summer, but what truly set it apart were two soulful tracks, "Sooner or Later" and "Love Bomb" that just, to paraphrase the latter, blew us away. And the modernized, hip-hop send up of "You're So Vain" that is "Yeah You" still has me wondering who the damn song is about.

Key tracks: "Windows," "Love Bomb," "Sooner or Later"

5) Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
Second Opinion: Pitchfork

A group of Ivy Leaguers are not the usual suspects to put out one of the year's most creative, infectiously-catchy albums. It's so not Brooklyn hipster enough for this world! What we get here is African-influenced indie-pop. Amazingly good African-influenced indie-pop. From songs about a campus crush ("Campus") to crosstown bus musings ("M79"), this disc was a refreshingly new sound that one can only hope bodes even better things to come from this Upper West Side ensemble.

Key tracks: "Oxford Comma," "Bryn," "Campus"

4) Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple
Second Opinion: Entertainment Weekly

There are few things in this world as the sophomore album that is better than the original. I know some might argue with me this album doesn't quite achieve that mark, but I will defend this stance. It may not have the instant pop appeal of St. Elsewhere, but this album has grown on me with every listen. First, songs like "Going On" grab you, but then you're drawn into more subtle tracks like "Surprise" and finally, the song-so-good-it-scares-you-once-you-get-it "Open Book." That track, is one you skip the first few times, and then one day you hear it and have to re-listen two or three times because you're going, "Whoa, really?" A startling step up for a band that once seemed like a novelty act. Dare I say that, if they can keep this up, they're going to be leading the league by this time two years from now.

Key tracks: You know, just sample the whole damn album

3) Portishead, Third
Second Opinion: Pitchfork

The thing about making music that defies categorization is that it can almost never be dated. So, 11 years after we last had new material from the band (and 5 since we had new Beth Gibbons material), Portishead sounds as good as ever. In fact, the absence of "competitors" such as Massive Attack and Tricky make them sound all that much better. Beth could always sing, but the production behind these tracks, from the beat-crazed "We Carry On" to the sparse banjo of "Deep Water,," is second to none. An astounding return to the scene.

Key tracks: "Silence," "Machine Gun"

2) Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
Second Opinion: Pitchfork

Simply put: astounding. Lush harmonies, layers of instrumentation, a jam band that doesn't jam... so much to say about this. They do forlorn well. They do exuberant well. They do it all well. The crime of the year is that, somehow, this has flown under the radar. Drawing comparisons to My Morning Jacket, the Foxes go a step further than MMJ if you ask me. Every song brings a surprise and, this is scary, it music that probably not only plays well now, but would have played well 50 years ago and will, in all likelihood, play well 50 years FROM now. In fact, I'm going to make a bold statement: I don't care what you like, you should like Fleet Foxes. Country fan? It's all there. Classical fan? It's all there. Rock fan? It's all there.

Key tracks: "Ragged Wood," "White Winter Hymnal," "Blue Ridge Mountains"

1) Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and all His Friends
Second Opinion: BBC

I could make an argument that Fleet Foxes had a case here, but their undoing is that there was an amazing album that gained a huge amount of attention. And that album is this one. Perhaps no other band is derided as much as Coldplay. I struggled to find a critical review that didn't say something to try and deflate what we have on this album. And yet, almost universally, this is the disc that just about all my friends can agree on. What we have on this album is the once-and-for-all dethroning of U2 as "biggest band in the world." A title the Irish boys got only because R.E.M. decided to step aside. Coldplay, which has gotten better with every disc, clears this final hurdle with seeming ease (though if you read about recording this album, you know they felt they had to make an amazing album). Every song works and each is bolstered by the songs (or silence) that bookend it. Be honest, when the first chirps of "Life in Technicolor" kick in, you're hooked. "Lost" is the kind of instant classic track we have grown to love this band for and, despite its omnipresence, even "Viva La Vida" is tough to get sick of. It's a can't miss album from one of the highest profile bands in the world. That happens... not so often. To have a mainstream album reach such heights is something we should all take a breath and appreciate.

Key tracks: "Lost," "Cemeteries of London," "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beginning to Wrap the Year in Music

Tomorrow (or later today, given the hour...), I'll be back here with the 10 Best Albums of 2008 for your reading pleasure and argument. But for now, it's the rest of the musical housekeeping for the year, where I write and blather about things I need to get off my chest:

Creed of the Year
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nickelback. Let's go over the details to see... always on the radio? Check. Overly devoted fanbase that has decided that the folks who don't think Nickelback is the best band ever are dumb and must be converted? Check. Vaguely Christian lyrics that said fanbase will inflate to one step below Luke's gospel? Check. Heaven help us all.

Cover of the Year
The two contenders this year both involve Radiohead. While Prince's live cover of "Creep" at Coachella made all the news, I actually think one that went below the radar goes one better. I doubt Thom Yorke will ever pull a Dylan and go so far as to say "Reckoner" was written so Gnarls Barkley could perform it (a la Hendrix and "Watchtower"), but this is a bad-ass cover:

Pop Song That Needs To Be Killed
I think I speak for us all... "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry was, when you got right down to it, an atrocity. Aside from the fact that many years ago we had a "meh" alternative song by Jill Sobule on this same subject BEFORE Madonna and Britney swapped spit on MTV and the L Word was on the air... I guess I'm saying, whoopdeedoo... I'm shocked - SHOCKED - to hear that two girls might kiss. And like it. Go figure. And since the song kinda sucked on top of it, it was radio poison.

Pop Song That Needs To Take Over Radio
When I first saw the Pineapple Express trailer, I thought I was in some parallel universe where, suddenly, people got good music. B/c there was M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." I'm sure this song annoys as many people as it pleases. And I am well aware this album actually came out LAST year, but by being featured in the movie trailer, it suddenly shot up every major singles chart we have from the Hot 100 to iTunes downloads. I knew this one had reached some critical mass when I saw a Facebook bumper sticker depicting the chorus: "All I wanna do is BANG BANG BANG BANG..."

Alarming Trend of the Year
David Cook. We've gone from Kelly Clarkson to this. And what's somewhat more alarming is the fact that good bands (read: Our Lady Peace) are lining up to help him write songs and follow on his coattails - in other words, deciding the best way to promote themselves is by joining up with an atrocity with better visibility.

Trend I can Deal With of the Year
Free music online. Radiohead made more money on the "free" release of In Rainbows than if they had released it traditionally. The Dandy Warhols are trying out a subscription-based model to get music and tickets into fans' hands. Nine Inch Nails and Matt Pond PA each posted fresh material gratis. The thing is, some bands are realizing that music is going to leak, people are going to seek it out and find it... why not just put it out there and try other revenue streams? In essence, it makes every band its own small business. If you have 100,000 fans and you can get each of them to get you $10 in a year... not too bad, huh? And you can get them to give you more... you see where this is going.

Trend I can Deal With of the Year (Runner Up)
The return of bands that I barely knew how much I missed. Well, I knew I missed Portishead and I don't care if I have to give up a pinky or what... I am going to do all I can to not have to wait 11 years for a new damn album from them again. But, Stone Temple Pilots? Did you know you missed them THAT much? I bet if you were at the concert with me, when they opened with "Big Empty" and went right into "Wicked Garden," you realized it then. No Doubt has just announced a new album and tour next year. Any chance we can get one more Soundgarden album?

Most Disappointing Albums of the Year
Next up will be the 10 best. Here are the ones that won't be on the list. It should be noted that this is not a compendium of bad albums. This takes expectations into account. All of the below are better to listen to than, say, the David Cook CD. But I expected to hate that one and therefore, it barely registers. These ones, I had a high bar for:

Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul - This is a shame. As one of the last standing American defenders of Oasis, I can fairly say this one fell flat. And I tried. But after making bombast sound so wonderfully easy a few years ago on Don't Believe the Truth, this one... I don't know. Felt like going through the motions to me. In a year where we needed as many good rock records as we could find, this one missed.

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy - If you take this long, I mean, it had better be epic. It's like waiting 90 minutes for the new roller coaster only to find out that, while it offers some thrills, it doesn't make up for the wait. Not even close. This one runs out of gas about halfway through, if you ask me. If this were the first album by some new band, it would be one thing. But it's not and, therefore, it is judged more harshly.

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak - I really really tried. I tried to convince myself that the AutoTune would grow on me. I kept hoping the next song would be something better. I don't care what the latest reviews say... how the lyrics are deep, how he's putting his heart on his sleeve like never before... that doesn't make it worth listening to. Maybe I will acquire a taste for it over time. But, to be honest, I doubt it. Kanye may have a good story to tell on this disc, but he's not telling it the right way and, just like the guy who's bad at party conversation, you're going to go check out the bar while he blathers on. Hopefully, this is his record to deal with the death of his mom and he can get back to writing Good-Ass Job to complete his original four-year plan.

The good stuff next...

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Whole New Decade

Today, I turn 30. I remember when I turned 20 and thinking 30 was, well, ten whole years away. It would be difficult to catalog everything that I've done through that time... and it wouldn't make a good blog post.

What I can say is that I'm not where I expected I'd be. I'm better off! Life seems to be getting better every day and every year for me.

And yes, the birthday gift of shiny new Nikon D80 digital SLR counts as things getting better. :-) Thank you to Sarie and all who contributed.

Anyhow, I intend on not acting my age whenever possible, and by that I mean not complaining that I'm "in my 30s." Maybe I'll start feeling 30 at 40.

Or maybe not. :-)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

(Better) Sounds of the Season

If you live somewhere that gets any manner of radio reception, you have been exposed to the "Christmas 24/7" station. Turn it on and, yep, there's "Sleigh Ride."

As fun as carols are, the ubiquity of Christmas songs almost spoils the fun. My old neighborhood in NYC (Astoria, Queens) had a PA system installed the length of Steinway St., blaring constant Christmas tunes. That's fun the first week it's up. After that it's more "Man, loud fire engines do not drive by often enough."

This is a shame. Compounding this is that there are plenty of good bands out there that could be played on the radio that are not. And 24-hour Christmas stations mean there's one less place on the dial for good music.

So, last year, I created a mix CD of songs by modern bands doing holiday songs... some humorous, some traditional. And I will say, it was a nice departure from the radio. The list was:

1) The Dandy Warhols - The Little Drummer Boy
2) Save Ferris - Christmas Wrapping
3) No Doubt - Oi to the World
4) Pearl Jam - Let Me Sleep
5) Bob & Doug McKenzie - 12 Days of Christmas
6) Blink 182 - I Won't Be Home For Christmas
7) Barenaked Ladies w/ Sarah McLachlan - God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
8) Justin Timberlake - Dick in a Box
9) Adam Sandler - The Hanukkah Song
10) South Park - O Holy Night
11) Everclear - Hating You For Christmas

I have to say, that was a fine disc. So fine, that I am proud to present the 2008 edition of Jay's Holiday Mix. While this year's has some humor, it's a little more serious, but the music might be better. Go track these down and put the rock back in Christmas:

1) The Raveonettes - The Christmas Song - This is just a brilliant little ditty, very catchy and wintry.

2) Liz Phair - Winter Wonderland - Presumably, this was recorded while she was still in her immediate post-Oberlin minimalistic stage. Nice and simple... not overdone like most versions you hear this time of year.

3) Fall Out Boy - Yule Shoot Your Eye Out - I almost left this off. Unfortunately the song is not about a mom telling her son why she won't buy him a BB gun. Alas. But it grew on me. If you have an emover hairdo, this song will be your holiday anthem.

4) They Might Be Giants - Feast of Lights - Your Jewish grandmother sings you a Hanukkah ditty. Of course it includes guilt.

5) Guster - Donde Esta Santa Claus - Includes the line "On Pedro! Ole!" This is a fun song.

6) Squirrel Nut Zippers - Santa Claus is Smoking Reefer - Last year, I asked for suggestions on what to include and said if anyone knew of a song called "All I Want for Christmas is to get in Your Pants," I wanted that. This is pretty damn close, yet no one suggested it. Alas.

7) My Morning Jacket - Xmas Times Is Here Again - Just a beautiful harmonic piece. I couldn't find a Fleet Foxes Christmas song, so this will suffice.

8) The White Stripes - Candy Cane Children - Includes a lyric about a gun and Jack White asking "Why don't you unwrap me, girl?" How did we celebrate this holiday before The White Stripes?

9) The Killers - Don't Shoot Me Santa - They might as well have called this "Santa's Got a Gun."

10) Kylie Minogue - Santa Baby - I'm sure the Brits knew about this long ago, but I just found it and think it's a deserving inclusion.

11) South Park - Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel - Features, among other things, Cartman yelling "Jew" a lot and everyone knows I support this.

12) R.E.M. - Christmas Time is Here - An instrumental, but well done.

13) Death Cab for Cutie - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - This song makes me want another Postal Service album stat.

14) Coldplay - 2000 Miles - It's Coldplay's world. We just live in it. Had to include them. And it's a good song, to boot.

Anyhow... hopefully you have those or know where you can get them. The holiday season is officially here... and it takes good tunes to get through it. Enjoy!

Requisite Reflection

At some point in the next few hours I will gorge myself on fowl and drink more than a few people's shares of spirits.

But that means I should take the time now to pay some heed to this holiday. Times is tough, you may have heard, yet this year, to date, has been very kind to Sarah & me. We've got all we need, we're both fortunate to be working in secure jobs... and with all the strife right now, there's a lot to be said for that.

So, that's what I'm thankful for this year... and here's hoping that my friends and family that are varying degrees of up against it won't be this time next year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

If it's free, it's for me

First Radiohead, then Nine Inch Nails, now... Matt Pond PA.

If you're into the rootsy indie rock, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Philly band Matt Pond PA is giving thanks for its fans with a free EP!

Haven't listened yet, but this is low-risk. Free music from a pretty good band. And yes, I'm biased b/c this is one of the bands that, when I lived in NYC, played a show every two months or so just by virtue of living near the venue.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday is Tune Day

Starting a new feature... every Tuesday, I pick a song that I am obsessed with. Or think you need to know about. Or just feel like posting for some reason.

Today, a band out of Syracuse, NY called Ra Ra Riot. You should read up on them. Pretty sad story involving the death of their original drummer. Of course, that means death is a big theme on their (excellent) disc The Rhumb Line. Here's "Ghost Under Rocks." Enjoy!

Ghost Under Rocks - Ra Ra Riot

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Glorious Sight

In my life, I've only skied once before Thanksgiving and that happened in New York. THIS is the scene in Banner Elk, NC today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Good Music in Odd Places

We all know the radio is generally terrifying. Rappers using the Autotune song after song on one station, Nickelback on another and some station that is "great to listen to in the office."

Needless to say I am wary of music once I leave the house or the comfort of my iPod.

Lately, though, I've been finding quality tunes in places I wouldn't expect, for instance:

  • Airside "F" at Tampa International Airport - It's like they have some classic alternative station rolling right there in the terminal. The past few times I've been in there, it's been a hit parade: Weezer, Nirvana, Spacehog, Guster... waiting for my plane has never been so pleasant.
  • The Mall - This is completely counterintuitive. But in the Gap today I heard Bloc Party. In Aerie (of all places) I heard Franz Ferdinand. And here in American Eagle we heard, The Cure, Matt Pond PA, Kurtis Blow and Shiny Toy Guns consecutively. If these kids would hang up their cell phones, they might hear some good stuff here and there.
  • The Supermarket - I'll be in the baking aisle and then suddenly hear, not making this up, Radiohead. This isn't at Trader Joe's, either. This is at our local yuppie chain.
Maybe I'm just getting to that age where stores and other places where money is spent will just play stuff I like to put me in a good mood, thus making me more able to talk myself into buying things.

Cold as the Coldest Winter was Cold

Something happened in Charlotte this week: it got to be really flipping cold. Not that it never gets cold down here. Most every year, we get nights in the 20s... in February.

It has rarely been this cold in Charlotte this early in the year. So cold that, tomorrow, I am going to be able to ski in North Carolina.

There were snow flurries in North Charlotte yesterday morning.

Normally, people down here bitch about the cold weather. Maybe it's because it's already Christmas around here, but people are loving the cold weather.

That said, on a chilly walk last night, we saw that one family in the neighborhood already has Christmas lights up. I'm talking the full effect here: animatronic reindeer, light-up snowmen, trees with lights... even sign on the mailbox that says "Letter Snow." Hee.

We'll see how long the cold spell really lasts... right now, it looks like for a good bit. And if gets too warm here in Charlotte, I can always look here to feel a little chill.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Since I Owe You One

After that disaster of a Kanye West song the other day, I owe y'all something good.

And good you can have. I came upon A Tribe Called Quest only b/c of The Beastie Boys and always enjoyed Q-Tip, Tribe's "frontman" of sorts.

Anyhow, Tribe is long gone, and Q-Tip was apparently taking the Bush presidency off b/c it's been eight years since we had new material from him. And, man, like another band who took a long break (see: Portishead), it's good to have Tip back.

He keeps things pretty simple on this new disc, The Renaissance, with solid beats, great rapping and special guests that you can love (Raphael Saddiq, Norah Jones...).

Anyhow, here's one that sums it up:

Official - Q--Tip

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If you thought eHarmony ads were creepy, hold on...

Frequent readers know I am a former New Yorker, that I grew up not far from NYC and that nothing this area can through at me really throws me for a loop. Sex shows on public access? Whatever. A woman on the 7 Train yelling at a man that he should love her so much that he "should pre-ejaculate" as soon as he hears her name? Maybe a bit much on a train with kids after a Mets game, but, again... it's New York.

So, it was very jarring to hear an ad this morning on K-Rock while driving to Connecticut that seems to cross every line.

As a PR guy, I cannot believe I'm even blogging about this b/c if I'm talking about it, most likely others are as well... spreading word-of-mouth. And they do not deserve word of mouth. Even though a Google News search shows they barely need my help to raise awareness.

Who is this I am discussing? The fine folks at Ashley Madison. I will not link to them, though it won't be hard to find the Web site if you are so motivated.

Ashley Madison is an online dating service. For married people.

And at 8:59 a.m. this morning on 92.3 on your NYC radio dial they had an ad on talking about how for "only" $49.95 you can, how did they say it? Oh yes, "have a little something on the side." The ad noted that "money cannot buy happiness. Unless it's $49.95." Basically, the way this works, is you post an anonymous profile with pictures and you, I don't know, troll around for harlots of both sexes.

The ad closed up with something along the lines of "if your marriage is great everywhere but the bedroom, here you go."

Holy. Shit.

I barely know where to begin here, so I will take several tacts:

  • Oh my God! First of all, if you're miserable in your marriage, get off your sad-sack ass, man-up and TALK about it with your spouse. You might - GASP! - work it out! I know... call me a revolutionary. And here's the thing, if you really want to mess around with other people while you're married, you probably are best to have the talk. Best case: it all works out and you live happily ever after. Worst case: you're single and can go hook up with whoever guilt free (though, don't call me when your therapy bills come in). Point is, as I have always contended, there is no reason to cheat. It never "just happens." "Just happens" is a lame excuse for people who didn't know when to tell themselves to stop before they became so inebriated that the HAD to go home with him/her for his/her own safety. Lord.
  • OK, so this site is simply a business, providing a service for which people are willing to pay. There is nothing illegal on the Web site's part. But... it's a completely unethical business! And yes, that matters. You know how you don't want to buy clothes made from workers in a sweatshop? That's b/c sweatshops are unethical! Although technically legal in some parts of the world, sweatshop labor not only devalues human life, it kills our economy because it's cheaper to pay sweatshop workers than Americans. So you don't buy that stuff. Unethical. A bar that would only let alcoholics in would do a gangbusters business, but that wouldn't make it a business you would want to support. This Web site is also unethical. Why should a different standard apply?
  • This is just an observation, but warrants mentioning. Since high school, I've known/heard about people getting cheated on. To date, people who have wanted to cheat on their spouses/partners haven't appeared to have any real trouble doing so. So, I guess if I always said you had to be stupid to cheat, you must be extra-special stupid to PAY to cheat! I don't have any experience here, so if anyone wants to comment anonymously on what the advantages are to paying for an illicit affair, please, I'm all eyes.
I could probably go on. And I hope you have some wisdom to add, too. Apparently, there are more than 2.5 million people who have signed up, so you never know...

Monday, November 17, 2008

"But I play one on TV..."

Since I prefer to get my news from online or print outlets (how droll!), I missed this: Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and former presidential candidate, has his own TV show on Fox News.

I have to admit, I think I would probably enjoy hanging out with Gov. Mike listening to music and such. Seems like an affable guy even though his social views scare the dickens out of me.

But, I have to object to him having his own talk show. It has nothing to do with his politics, too.

See, like it or not, Fox News (like CNN, MSNBC, etc.) aren't nearly as concerned with news as they are with ratings. Ratings are the name of the game in TV land... the better to sell ads with. And when ratings tank, ad dollars go south, too.

To that end, Mike Huckabee is exactly the kind of person Fox should have on TV. Not only is he engaging to watch, he is the kind of person who would capture Fox's key audiences and deliver big ratings. And to do that, he has to entertain. And he has to say things that won't get viewers to switch channels.

THAT, dear reader, is my issue. The man may still run for office in the future. Given that, he shouldn't be entertaining or saying things to attract viewers. he should be on the other side of the desk answering questions and taking stands - saying what he feels are hard truths and defending those views. or trying to build consensus.

Again, this has nothing to do with his political views. Oprah could probably run for office and get quite a few votes. And while she has built her success on TV by speaking her mind, she certainly has to deliver an audience to stations paying to pick up her show and then sell ads against it. That works for TV, but it undermines all non-TV motives, genuine or not.

Anyhow, I think Fox is under-utilizing Mike Huckabee. I'd much rather have him on instead of Hannity, a man who occasionally vacations into a realm I call reality. Huckabee, while I disagree with him, at least seems to understand that railroading his views in a smug manner is divisive.

But if he wants to run for office again... buyer beware.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thank you, bad economy!

The scene in Ft. Mill, SC:

Disoriented Tuning

Around here, we've got DirecTV. DirecTV's insistence on treating customers like human beings as apposed to other digital TV providers sets it apart. Thems the facts.

One of the bonuses with DirecTV is that you get all kinds of XM channels, which, believe it or not, we use often. I don't think I would ever purchase satellite radio on my own for, say, my car, but it's nice to have in the house.

Doing housework? I always turned to Lucy, the "classic alternative" option. Or I could have put on "Ethel," Lucy's edgier younger sister. Sophisticated dinner? Jazz channel.

This morning, however, was the first time I'd dialed up our music all week and... remember those news reports about the Sirius/XM merger? And how you didn't care because you didn't have satellite radio and it doesn't affect your life?

Yeah. Apparently it affects mine.

ALL my stations (and their corresponding channels) are different. Like, now I'm listening to "Lithium" instead of "Lucy." And, really, they sound the same, but on my Sunday morning, when it's 12:30 and I haven't bothered to even brush my teeth yet, this isn't the kind of challenge I'm looking for. Much less a challenge that involves going to a channel and hearing "classic country." I like me some pedal steel, but...

As always, advance warning would be nice in these situations.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wake Up, Mr. West

You know how every rap song on the radio right now seems like it's employing the whole voice effects-processor singing/rap? It kinda started with T-Pain's "Drank." Well, as that has been going on, there have been bright spots.

For instance, N.E.R.D.'s album was a wonderful mix of old-school influence mixed with 70s soul and tremendous beats.

And, you had always had Kanye West to lean on. But apparently, that might not be the case anymore.

I've been previewing tracks (that seem to be showing up all over the Internet) of Kanye's forthcoming 808s & Heartbreak, and, hate to say it: I'm really disappointed.

This is the guy who brought us smart-minded raps and rose above the pack for three straight discs and now, we've got an album that is 11 songs of this:

Amazing feat. Young Jeezy - Kanye West

In fairness, that by itself is not a bad song. nor is it amazing, despite its title. The strongest tracks still use the annoying voice effects ("Streetlights") and the best song is the one being titles either "See You in My Nightmares" or "Tell Every One That You Know" (depending on who's reporting. The thing is, on that track L'il Wayne shows up and completely owns Kanye. I mean, you're on the next-to-last real track and there's finally some real energy and there's L'il Wayne showing why he's as good as some people who know say he is.

The inspired creativity of last year's Graduation is completely gone. This doesn't sound like the Kanye that traded lyrics with a Daft Punk sample on "Stronger." It sounds, in fairness, like a man disoriented from the loss of his mother.

Of course, that is understandable, but I'm not sure I want it to sound like that. Look no further than Ra Ra Riot to see a band coping with a death in a way that you at least want to listen to.

Anyhow, let's hope Kanye doesn't pull an Elvis and spiral out in the wake of losing his mom. I doubt he will. but let's also hope that some of these leaks I'm hearing aren't really the album tracks (though, that is becoming less likely from what I read).

Sometimes, it take a bit for an album to grow on me. Maybe this one will. But out of the box, so far, I want more than this.

Seeing Blue

When I left New York City, a lot of people made comments that were not exactly the kind that help unify. Mainly it was "How are you going to deal with all those Republicans?"

Soon enough I will rant on here about some of the ultra-right folks down here, but today, I want to point out that, pretty much officially now, North Carolina voted for a democrat for president.

If you had told me this when I left NYC, I would have thought it not only wishful thinking, but an unrealistic statement. I had thought no way, no how; we are too divided on social issues.

I guess a rough economy can do weird things. Certainly, immigrants from New York and Pennsylvania helped "swing" North Carolina. But lots of rural voters went for Obama.

I try to see myself as a moderate and it's stories like that one there that give me some hope that the way we get stereotyped isn't reality. That we still do think for ourselves now and then, not just what the TV talkers tell us to think.

Because if that's the case, were in better shape than many have led us to believe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Gainesville know what I'm talkin' 'bout"

Tonight, I will make my first ever trip to Gainesville, FL, the home of the academic bastion known s the University of Florida (OK, they've got some good programs...).

U of F, though, is one of those Florida schools mainly known for sports, and, a few years ago, after winning the basketball national championship, their star player had this to say:

I have no idea what he's talking about. And since, after dinner tonight, I am unlikely to leave my hotel room, I doubt I will get the answer (not sure I want to know anyway).

That said, if there's a t-shirt that says "I went big in Gainesville," I'm buying it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thanksgiving Has Been Cancelled

Or, I should say, it seems like it. There's an ad on TV right now during the Steelers game using "Carol of the Bells."

At target today, it was a Christmas wonderland - lights! cards! trees!

And if you turn on K104.7 in Charlotte (this is the "great to listen to in the office" station in town), they have flipped the switch to "Christmas K104.7."

I imagine I'll see a semi on the Interstate with reindeer horns soon enough.

I bitch about this every year - as those who followed the old blog are well aware - but that's because it never ceases to be ridiculous. I realize life isn't all that great for some folks right now, but... really? We have so little to give thanks for that we're skipping any Thanksgiving promotion in favor of skipping right to Christmas?

I'm sure in a few weeks, we'll start hearing the local churchgoers imploring everyone to "keep Christ in Christmas." Can I start my own lobby to have Christmas kept in December?

Not to be macabre...

So, I wouldn't say that starting my Sunday morning at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is my preference for how to pass time, but here I sit.

And to pass the time, I'm on the Internet, trying to find news that will allow me to ignore the fact that Penn State lost yesterday. And what do I come upon first?

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- An engine fell off a Mexican government jet before it crashed, killing the second-highest official in the nation, the Cabinet member in charge of the investigation said Saturday.

Awesome. And then there's this (in comparison) "feel-good" story:

LONDON (AP) -- A British pilot who was suddenly blinded by a stroke during a solo flight was talked safely down by a military pilot.

I have no fear of flying, but why not some nice stories like "Flight 821 to Charlotte is on the safest plane ever and being flown by bionic pilots who never even catch a cold?"

Wishful thinking, I suppose.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A nutritious part of your workout

My first stop upon checking into my hotel this afternoon was the gym. Hotel gyms can be hit or miss. The place I stay in Tampa has the same machines as my YMCA. That's, of course, rare.

Today, the gym had passable equipment. Four treadmills, a bike and an elliptical. Because we all like to run, apparently. I hopped on the elliptical and got to work.

A few minutes later, a woman walked in. Looked to be in her 20s. Looked like she needed the gym, I'll be honest. I guess she wanted the one elliptical machine, b/c when she came in, she saw me on it and left the room.

She returned, apparently ready to wait for me to be done. And to get her through her wait, she had a large bag of beef jerky.

I have to say, I have no idea why I haven't been taking beef jerky to the gym with me and I think I may start to.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Currently Obsessed With: Fleet Foxes

This has been a grand year for music. My annual roundup of what I thought was the best is coming soon - very soon - and it's a struggle for me. There has been so much good stuff.

Including the emergence of Fleet Foxes. Seattle-based, you would never be able to tell from their sound. I'm one of those people that thinks a California band sounds different than one from Brooklyn. It's the weather. And more seriously, it's the bands that they hang out with from being in one area as opposed to another.

Maybe it's the folksy sound, maybe it's the harmonies. I dunno. But I am obsessed with them and they have been getting me through plane rides.

Try them on for yourself with "Ragged Wood:"
Ragged Wood - Fleet Foxes

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What? No glass of milk?

I have to wean myself from room service when I travel. It's expensive. And, while we don't talk about work on the blog, I think everyone can agree that delivery charges, automatic inflated gratuity and such is no way to go.

So, this evening, I went to the hotel restaurant. I had though about driving to Ybor City or even out to the Gulf, but really, no need. So downstairs I went.

When I dine alone, I usually sit at the bar. There are TVs to look at, so you've got the ultimate small-talk escape route. Annoying person next to you wants to talk? "Dude, I'm watching the game." Also, you get great service at the bar. The waiter may have 10 tables to deal with. The barkeep has you.

You also get weirdos. Like the guy who ended up sitting next to me. Also alone. He must come here often because the bartender knew exactly what he wanted. And that was a scotch on the rocks... and a hot Tazo tea. Because, when I want a scotch, I always think, now if only I had some Earl Grey.

He was talking to the bartender about how he still can't sleep, but how this helps. OK, then...

We've Gone Beta

So, we're going to keep housekeeping "behind the curtain" for the most part, but let's get a few things clear:
  • We've still got some kinks to figure out. Like, we need to figure out how to get the fonts to default to something normal and that's apparently not as cut and dry as you might suppose.
  • We need to expand the Blog Roll and Links section because I can hardly assume you're going to read this drivel. I mean I can come up with cool stuff to discuss and all, but you're busy people.
All that said, we're going to have some good things here. Free from the bounds of MySpace, an honest-to-heavens RSS feed... I mean, we're really getting somewhere. I mean, we keep this up, we might someday have our own domain name and other features that happened most other places several years ago.

Ah, but, dear readers, you will continue to be entertained. If you're familiar with the scene here, bear with me. This blog is apparently now public, so all kinda of crazy cats might run into this. So, here's the deal: we talk about it all. What do I mean? I mean:

  • When all else fails, I'll write about music. Maybe post some (legal) streaming songs and so forth. Tell you why some band kicks ass. Review CDs. Bitch about bands like Hinder. That kind of stuff.
  • I travel a lot. Which means airplanes. Which means an endless - seriously, terribly endless - display of stupidity very often. Don't believe me? Just wait.
  • Sports. Not too often and never in a "my world will end tomorrow if the Yankees don't win tonight" kind of way.
  • Politics - We're moderate here. Left on social issues. Right on the economy.
  • News - And not just current events. Crazy stuff. The Nigerian who built his own helicopter? Yeah, we were on that. Trying to keep you on your toes.
Anyhow, comments are always open, unless you post some kind of ridiculous manifesto based entirely on hearsay. Then it's gone.

More to come.