Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 in Music, part 1

Well, folks... it's that time once again. My annual roundup of all things music from my own selfish perspective. You might want to refresh your memory on last year to see if this holds up at all over time.

Anyhow, we'll get to the 10 best albums soon. For now, partially because rankings in and of themselves do not sum up a year in music - and partially because I need more time to write the albums blog - let's just get to some of the musical housekeeping for the year that was:

Creed of the Year
I'm going to take some pain for this one, because Creed is probably not the best parallel, but... Kings of Leon. I say this because I have their most recent album. It has some good songs. They are all overplayed. They are far overrated as a band. They have vague religious righteousness about them. Maybe Creed is a good parallel. That said, if Creed could write a song as good as "Sex on Fire" the world would be a better place.

Band I'm Glad I Got Into This Year
Hands down Modest Mouse. What the hell took me so long to get on this train? And it was the classic see-band-live-and-love-them-forever thing. Seriously, some great musicians. They can thrash, too. But Isaac Brock is a pretty talented songwriter and knows him some melody, too. I'm late to the game, but happy to be in nonetheless.

Concert Moment of the Year
So, I could pick a lot of things from the Coldplay show, where I saw one of the best mainstream bands of the decade look incredibly comfortable and engage the crowd and all that. But the moment was before they come on stage. Bands usually get to pick their pre-show music. So, it wasn't a shock to hear the normal background set-change music segue into Jay-Z, a Coldplay collaborator. What was more of a surprise was how Coldplay elected to have U2's "Magnificent" blare at full concert volume prior just prior to taking the stage. To me, that was the band saying, "Well, since someone's going to compare, you just go ahead and hear it and then we'll show you what we've got." Point taken. Ballsy move that Coldplay backed up with a killer show.

Creepiest Video Ever of the Year
This isn't even a contest. Good luck sleeping after this, kids:

Pop Song That Can Die, Preferably Quickly
"Single Ladies." I don't like it. I will not put a ring on it. I will change the station. And please stop putting it into TV shows. And I don't care about the baby dancing o YouTube either.

Trend of the Year
The continued rise (and toleration) of free. It's occurring to more and more bands/labels/rational people that there is little need to charge for music itself. There's, simply put, too much money to be made on concert tickets, merchandise, fan club fees, deluxe super versions of albums and more to worry about the cost of a 128kbps mp3 out there. Even as iTunes raised its prices, more and more we're seeing bands use simple economics to reap decent returns. Certainly sustainable returns. Think about it... you could sell 500,000 albums and get $4 for each sold. Or, you could sell 20,000 $120 super-deluxe album packages and get just about the same money. Anyone want to dispute it's easier to get 20,000 people to buy something than 500,000? Seriously... give your music away and put out awesome stuff that hardcore fans will pony up for.

Alarming Trend
Taylor Swift. All of it. Make it stop. I swear, every three years there some new country tart-let out there who gets shoved down our throats. And she is this year's winner. Make. It. Stop. Or please stop trying to make me care.

Biggest Disappointments
Ok, really, this year was a big letdown after last year. I suppose we were due for an off year... the past few have been pretty good music years. This year, just... geez. First off, a lot of bands should have put out EPs instead of albums. The Big Pink debut album has a lot of promise, but only up until about song 6.

But still, a few albums just tanked if you ask me:

  • Our Lady Peace - Burn Burn - Whither OLP? This album just made me sad. You have to consider that this is a band that, by most critical accounts, was easily one of the more creative heavy rock bands of its time as recently as 2001. Then... my lord has this band gone downhill. The worst part? Last song of this disc, "Paper Moon," harkens back to the sound of old and, honestly, I would rather listen to that song (half of it anyway) on a 30-minute loop than this album in its entirety. Fail.
  • Silversun Pickups - Swoon - We got wound up excited for this? Also, the Smashing Pumpkins comparison is lazy. The Smashing Pumpkins, like them or not, never made this bland an album.
  • Third Eye Blind - Ursa Major - This one is more about my own wishes and desires. I want 3EB to be good. Years ago Kevin Cadogan, guitarist, left the band. Apparently, he was a big part of the band, too, because their materials since has been meh.
Top 10 Songs of the Year
There were some awesome songs this year. As always. Let's count them down, shall we?

10) Green Day - "21st Century Breakdown"
On an album that didn't quite reach the heights of its classic predecessor, this song is an easy standout and captures the energy of Green Day at its best.

9) The Airborne Toxic Event - "Sometime Around Midnight"
Not sure what to make of this band, but this song was outstanding (especially in a year with no Arcade Fire to compete with since ATE seems to want to emulate that band).

8) Big Pink - "Dominos"
The best song from a new British band that might just turn into something. Plus, I like the swagger of this song, even if it means these guys are a bunch of bar-room louts. You can do that when you're a rock star.

7) Phoenix - "1901"
Some people are going to rave about this album, but this song was really the standout. And it easily wins the award for indie song to reap the most licensing royalties this year.

6) Lady Gaga - "Poker Face"
Don't even try to argue this point. If anything, I have ranked it too low.

5) Metric - "Help I'm Alive"
They were joking on Sirius/XM that this band and Shiny Toy Guns are basically interchangeable I'm not so sure. Metric has a better track record overall album-wise and, hey, we like Canadians. Plus, this song is better than any on the last Shiny Toy Guns disc.

4) Kelly Clarkson - "My Life Would Suck Without You"
Sarah is making obscene gestures at me for this (especially given the song two spots up, which she feels is more deserving). I dunno. I'm just a sucker. This song sounds like flipping fun dip tastes.

3) Radiohead - "These Are My Twisted Words"
I want to broker a deal with Radiohead: every month, they put out a new song. After 12 months, you've got a 12-track album that you burn and write the name of the year on it. Then you start over.

2) U2 - "Fez (Being Born)"
It had been more than 10 years since U2 put out a song like this and it was too damned long. Far too complex for radio and probably too complex for many of its "fans," too. It's a song like this that makes me step back and understand just why this band was so great. Each band member plays his role, they experiment with the sounds in their heads and, instead of another U2 song with "that sound," you get a creative burst of... I dunno what. But holy flipping lord can I pay this band to just make songs/albums like this again? It's everything the promise of Zooropa and Pop showed... finally in a neat package.

1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero"
I cannot stop listening to this song. From the first moment I heard it this year, to right now this very minute. I listened to it in the gym tonight (and thank god for that or I never would have gotten my workout started). I fantasize about making remixes of this song. This song makes me want to jump on the roof of my car and dance in rush hour traffic. AND... all from a band that I used to put on the jukebox in low-down shady bars in lower Manhattan when I was feeling sinister back in the day. The band is clearly comfortable trying new things and doing crazy crazy stuff in the process. And what's even crazier is I couldn't decide between this song and "Heads Will Roll" from the same album for a couple of weeks. I like options.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dubunking the SEC

It's my birthday and I am feeling punchy. And since I can barely look at my Twitter feed, turn on the TV or leave my house without hearing about how good SEC football is, I'm going to have my wits with people.

For those unacquainted with the issue, the Southeast Conference is widely touted to be the best college football conference ever in the history of the universe. At least by ESPN, which slathers the love on the SEC like my dog does to my bare feet.

I guess that shouldn't be too surprising. Much like ESPN overhypes the NBA (a league ESPN paid a lot of money to broadcast), ESPN's talkies love to hype up the SEC. Some of these idiots go as far as to say a team that loses a game in the SEC might still be better than an undefeated team from, say, the Big 12, another major football conference.

You would think ESPN signed a deal to televise SEC games... oh look: they did!

Beyond this, though, annoying fan after annoying fan is happy to remind me about how much better the SEC is. For instance, they talk about how the teams in the SEC are a step above the rest.

Really? This is a conference that had its championship game set weeks ago. In other words, they have two dominant teams... and a slew of also-rans. The Big 10 gets a lot of pain because it is so rare for a team to escape the conference schedule undefeated. The truth is... the Big 10 consistently fields a better overall field of teams. That might kill some national championship hopes for some teams. But this idea that the SEC is just loaded is just that... a load. Of crap. Highly-touted LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and the like have shown nothing that anyone could refer to as "elite" this year. And storied programs like Tennessee have a lot of tradition but are crap football sides.

Then, the same annoying fans want to let me know how much better the SEC teams are against other conferences. Friends, I give you the SEC's record out of conference since 1990:

  • Big-12 (20-16)
  • PAC-10 (10-9)
  • Big East (15-20)
  • Big-10 (30-23)
  • ACC (65-50)
  • The old Southwest Conference (20-19)
In other words, they've done well, but the conference is not dominant by any measure.

Then they tout the SEC's bowl game record. OK, let's look at last year:

  • Pac-10 5-0
  • Big 12 3-1
  • Conference USA 3-1
  • Southeastern 3-1
  • Big East 3-2
  • Mountain West 2- 2
  • Atlantic Coast 4-6
  • Big Ten 1-5
So... a nice 3-1 record, yes. But several conferences on this list sent more teams to bowl games than the SEC and one (last year's PAC-10) didn't lose! The SEC had great year before, too, but, again, its teams were hardly the only ones at the party.

Basically, I write this as a wake up call to SEC fans who love to toot their horns... you're standing on a house of cards. And hey, ESPN can hype y'all up as much as they want. This is the same network that crowned Matt Leinart's USC as the best team in college history a few years ago. That team, by the way, lost to Texas in grand fashion in the title game.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Sounds of the Season

For the past three years, I have worked to compile a mix of Christmas/holiday music that celebrates the season, but is performed by current indie bands. It's not because I dislike the old standards of the season... I just choose to not take the holidays quite as seriously as my local all-Christmas-all-the-time radio station might.

In 2007, the mix kicked off with The Dandy Warhols' psychedelic take on "The Little Drummer Boy," segued right into Save Ferris' Judaic send-up of "Christmas Wrapping" and, if I can say so myself, killed for 30+ minutes. It included the modern classic Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and more.

Last year, I felt I upped the ante with 40 minutes of spirited tunes. Ringing in with The Raveonette's "Christmas Song" and rolling right through to Coldplay's lovely cover of "2,000 Miles."

This year, it was a harder task. The simple fact of the matter is that there is a finite number of indie/alternative Christmas songs. There are fewer yet Hanukkah songs, which is a damn shame. Still, with about six weeks of searching and playing with a mix (and an assist from a Zooey Deschanel song located last night), I think I've got it.

So, dear readers, here's the playlist of the season for me (and with two previous collections, I've got about 90 minute sof totally tolerable holiday fare):

1) Pearl Jam - "Someday at Christmas"
2) Zooey Deschanel (with Leon Redbone) - "Baby, It's Cold Outside"
3) Jack Johnson - "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
4) The Bird and the Bee - "Carol of the Bells"
5) My Morning Jacket - "Santa Claus is Back in Town"
6) The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "All I Want for Christmas"
7) Bright Eyes - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
8) Oscar the Grouch - "I Hate Christmas"
9) Phantom Planet - "Winter Wonderland"
10) The Raveonettes - "Come On Santa"
11) Jimmy Eat World - "Last Christmas"
12) Coldplay - "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christas"
13) Jack White - "Christmastime Will Soon Be Over"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How I Fight a Cold

Last week, when I flew home from a conference in Phoenix, I was a mess. I had known I was due for a cold and, sure enough, it hit with a vengeance.

This was unacceptable. I had to fly to Seattle on Tuesday night and Sarah was going to meet me in Portland for the following weekend. I had to take action. When I fight disease, I fight to win. And while, the cold lingered well past its sell-by date, here's how I went from on my ass last Friday night to a cross-country flight Tuesday night and managed to feel OK:

  • I stop drinking - I know. Rare is the night I don't have at least one drink. It's OK. My doctor says it's fine. Anyhow... From when I got on my flight in Phoenix until this past Thursday night, no alcohol. Zip. Don't need my body processing anything but a virus.
  • I drink all kinds of other stuff. I have a rule with a cold... if I stand up, it's time for a glass of water. I must have had 6 cups of tea a day, too. Lunch? Soup. I basically challenge the virus' ability to make a real dent in me if all I'm doing is, essentially, asking my kidneys to move things along, per se.
  • Drugs. I do not hold back on the drugs. Homeopathic remedies and zinc lozenges are great, but I need some serious stuff. Since they made pseudo-ephedrine a controlled substance, I switched from NyQuil/DayQuil to the new Tylenol Cold suite of drugs. The daytime stuff makes me feel dopey... no idea how addicts can function. The nighttime stuff not only puts me straight out, but it gives we whacked out dreams. Way out there.
That's pretty much the plan. But you do that for 72 hours and things start to turn for you. I'm leaving out the part about hacking up whatever ickiness there is to be had, but no one wants to hear the details of that.

Anyhow, I wasn't feeling grand when I walked into the Sheraton Seattle Downtown on Tuesday evening, but I was miles better than a few days earlier. Fight to win, folks. Fight to win.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A quick clarification

CNN analysts are going on and on about the New Jersey governor's race, extrapolating what it means in the national scheme of things. One analyst talked about how big an indicator Chris Christie's election is... the fact that a Republican could win the governorship in a liberal state like New Jersey! One analyst even called it "shocking."

Friends, here are the governors of New Jersey since 1982:

1982-1990 - Tom Kean (Republican)
1990-1994 - Jim Florio (Democrat, lost in 1994 in a landslide)
1994-2001 - Christie Whitman (Republican)
2001-2002 - Don DiFrancesco (Republican)
2002-2004 - Jim McGreevey (Democrat, resigned)
2004-2006 - Richard Codey (Democrat)
2006-2010 - Jon Corzine (Democrat)

So, since 1982, in New Jersey, the "unlikely" party managed to hold the governor's office for only 16 years, with no democrat serving two terms.

If Christie winning tonight is "shocking," I can only assume the person - or anyone - saying it has never been to New Jersey.