Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top 5 Guilty Pleasures, Music

This was Tory's idea originally, last summer, I'm reviving it here. I thought about doing Top 5 Guilty Pleasures but I figured we could expand to movies, TV, books, etc. etc. etc. The list is tough as I have very little shame and embrace most all that I like, despite its blatant shittiness (I'm looking in your direction, Journey and Styx).

1. Wings, any and all songs that I like - I bought Wingspan in high school and was a devotee of its bland 70s bubblegum poppiness. Now those songs are nostalgic, and I have real problems with music and nostalgia (this issue will rear its ugly head in later list entries). Let me throw out some examples of songs that A) I like and B) I assume the general populace accepts as crap: Mull of Kintyre, Junior's Farm, Helen Wheels, Silly Love Songs (not only do I like this song, I love and will seek out this song--it almost deserves a separate entry).

2. Christmas music - OK, I suppose I don't feel especially guilty for my predilection for Christmas music, but the sappiness with which I embrace the holiday season really is a bit odd. From November through December, when we're driving at night, we typically first check Delilah's radio show to see what's on. I won't listen to ANY Christmas music, though (given, the birth of J.C. inspired a lot of good stuff [charity, loving thy neighbor] and a lot of bad stuff [The Crusades, "Christmas Shoes"]). Anyway, as I could say for every song on here, Christmas music surely won't earn me any cool points.

3. Pure Moods, Vol. I - Just kidding.

4. "Say Goodbye" by Madonna - Even I am tempted to beat myself up for liking this song. It did capture that existential ennui that my lovelorn self felt in 1994, though, to be fair.

5. Ace of Bass - All right, I'm not sure if I'm especially guilty about this one either, as I embrace Ace of Bass the same way I embrace Styx and Journey, and the way other people embrace "YMCA" by the Village People. That said, I'll include them, as they're so flagrantly deserving of a guilty pleasure list (they've got the Eurotrash angle working for them in spades). Also, I was a big fan when they were big--I don't appreciate them solely for reasons of kitsch.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Wesley Willis - Nonsense songs with a cheap keyboard accompaniment, featuring closing commercial taglines delivered by a huge, headbutting black man. All credit to Tim for introducing me to Wesley Willis. Rock over London, rock on Chicago.

2. Justin Timberlake - Futuresex/Lovesounds - This is my first of the mainstream artists to admit to liking in this list. I hold no shame in loving Styx or Journey at all, but when to comes to a former member of 'N Sync, that's nearly inexcusable.

3. Prog Rock - I'm talking about Rush, Genesis (the Gabriel years), Yes, Porcupine Tree, Coheed & Cambria, Pink Floyd and Muse. If it's highly technical music, I probably like it. It's about the second-most-nerdy genre of music that there is. (Number one is Heavy Metal. Speaking of which...)

4. Stabbing Westward - This band qualified as industrial metal, apparently. They existed before the pejorative "emo" label came about. They were dark and heavy, and their lyrics were very intense and emotional. NIN is gradually gaining acceptance among my music-loving peers, especially when I tell them that Trent Reznor cites Bowie as an influence. But I doubt that Stabbing Westward will ever enjoy an evolution from the realm of nerd music.

5. "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera - I actually think that this is a well-wriiten and well-executed pop song. But it comes from an artist I could never have imagined listening to. I guess we all know who won that Aguilera-Spears battle from way back when.

Honorable Mentions - any mainstream song that I happen to end up either liking or getting stuck in my head (e.g., "Umbrella" by Rhianna)

Tim's Top 5:

1. Music that's cooler than I could ever hope to be - The fact that I enjoy Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Jay-Z, Kanye West (ok...never mind about Kanye, he's not cool at all) says one thing about me -- I don't know my place and I've had a lot of awkward moments with cashiers who look at what I'm buying and then look at me and immediately call security. I could pass for being really into The Clash, because they did record Rock the Casbah. But Dead Kennedys...yeah, that's well beyond the pop sensibilities I'm permitted under the Geneva Convention.

2. Things involving Don Henley - I own Don Henley's greatest hits. And the Eagles greatest hits double album. And I listen to his solo greatest hits album (not so much with the Eagles album). Yes, even Heart of the Matter. Yeah, I've even listened to All She Wants To Do Is Dance. I blame Bruce Hornsby...because End of the Innocence forced me to buy the greatest hits album, and turned out I listen to the rest of it. Man, I suck.

3. Michelle Branch - I don't ever listen to her albums anymore, since my IPod is the source of all my music and it's listened to mostly at work, where I shan't dare to reveal my forbidden love. But deep down, I still like her and I think I'll end up buying her next album.

4. The Wallflowers - Part of me doesn't feel guilty...the rest of me knows that if I was spotted wearing a Wallflowers t-shirt, I'd have to join the Witness Protection Program. Their albums are actually relatively good, with the exception of Bringing Down The Horse, but it's also totally indefensible to own ALL of them.

5. James Bond themes - Yeah, all of them. Even if it's Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Sheena Easton, Rita frigging Coolidge...yeah, I can't separate them from the movies. So I enjoy them.

Honorable mention: Bruce Hornsby, Bobby Darin. Did I mention I'm 68 years old?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Top 5 Movies of 2007

Having now seen all but a few movies that I want to see, I felt authorized to concoct my all-too-uninformed list.

Tim's Top 5:
1. Into the Wild - Certainly, there could have been more of this movie, and it would have been welcome, but it's still a well-orchestrated masterpiece of a story with some fantastic ensemble performances, evocative photography and a wonderful score. Above all, it captures the tragedy of Christopher McCandless without forgetting the other people that his life touched, both for the positive and the negative. A masterful adaptation of a fantastic book.

2. There Will Be Blood - I knew literally nothing going in, but I could have known it all and it'd have mattered none. It's a slow movie, taking 15 minutes to get to a line of dialogue (though it doesn't seem like that was the case), developing its story for nearly an hour before reaching much of a conflict, but the frenzied energy that Daniel Day-Lewis lets loose through the latter hour and a half of the film make it well worth the wait. Not what you'd expect from Paul Thomas Anderson, by any means, but it's an extraordinary experience nonetheless.

3. Michael Clayton - If you made The Firm into a believable movie, this is probably what you'd have come up with, but George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson do the job. Sydney Pollack is too low-key in his role (perhaps bitter that he directed The Firm and not this movie), but for the most part, everyone fits their parts and does a good job with an interesting script. It's rare to come across a movie for which you've already seen its climax, but it worked here. The ending is a bit trite, perhaps, but it gives you both ends of what you expect into a solid Hegelian dialectic of an ending that's as Janusian as the practice of law.

4. Zodiac - Making a murder mystery where there isn't necessarily an answer is a difficult task. Making a murder mystery with no answer and making the protagonist a cartoonist? Nigh on impossible. But David Fincher does a great job of capturing the story and the feeling of 1960s-70s San Francisco, or at least conveying what it seems like it should feel like. An underrated gem that was mistakenly released in the spring, where it was guaranteed to be ignored by critics and moviegoers.

5. American Gangster - Not a fantastic movie, but a well-acted movie that would be even more enjoyable if it weren't pure fiction (having read that even more of it was false than I expected does take away from it), but in a very down year for movies, it should have generated more buzz than it did. A great score and a good script, combined with two dynamic lead performances, makes for an enjoyable, if flawed film.

Honorable mention: Knocked Up, Superbad, and Transformers were all well beyond expectations. Ratatouille was less than expected, but that speaks volumes about the expectations I have for Pixar. (I've not seen Cars nor Meet the Robinsons, I don't intend to change either, so they've yet to miss with me.)

Dan's Top 5:

1. There Will Be Blood - Everyone loves a good tycoon story - the American Dream at it's most successful and its most heartless. Daniel Day-Lewis makes this one to remember and brings to life a genius character who always waits to hide his cards until the very moment he can use them to their full effect - even if it's years later.

2. Ratatouille - My favorite Pixar movie yet, and that's saying something. I may be giving the movie an edge because it's a Pixar film, or because my favorite stand-up comedian voices the lead role, or because I think it got cheated out of the Best Picture category at the Oscars. Anyway, it strikes me as very real and human, probably a testament to the direction of Brad Bird. Great, now I'm going to have to see The Iron Giant.

3. Juno - I normally like indie films, which I consider to be a guilty pleasure by now. What I like about this movie is that the sense of humor seems sincere and doesn't often force the dramatic emotions that come along with the comedy. I liked it better than Little Miss Sunshine, if only for the fact that there's a subject to dwell on apart from family dysfunction.

4. No Country For Old Men - I was so astounded by how much I liked this movie that I'm surprised I didn't put it higher. For me, it took on a new level when I realized that Bardem's character, Anton Chigurh, represents the sum total of sin in the world - murder, greed, etc. - to the point that he could even be Satan. And his emotionless belief in order and fate only further the comparison. Loses points because the film is mostly a character study, and the plot isn't polished.

5. 3:10 to Yuma - A film I don't think any of my fellow Top 5 authors saw. I've never been a fan of Westerns, apart from the later Spaghetti Westerns, and I especially hate John Wayne films. This movie, however, is another fine character piece with good acting from Bale and Crowe. The plot is much more forgiving than No Country for Old Men, because Westerns tend to have the simplest plots ever. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, if that's any incentive.

Honorable mentions:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - My favorite musical yet. However, the progression of the plot suffers from being interrupted by song too often. In other words, things take too long to happen. Great film, though, and I'd recommend it unless you're allergic to musicals.

Hot Fuzz - Loses points only because it wasn't a "quality" movie that would be considered for awards. It revels in absurdity, and that's what makes it so damn good.

The Darjeeling Limited - I could very easily bump out #5 and place high on the list, but Ryan will surely include it, thus giving me a chance to talk about a more-overlooked movie in 3:10 to Yuma.

Ryan's Top Five

I always forget to put the heading. Whoops. In the spirit of disagreement, I'll go with five new movies. (I also have not seen There Will Be Blood.)

1. Once - I am forcing myself not to pick The Darjeeling Limited in this spot. If you haven't seen Once yet, do yourself a favor and buy it. It's really a great little movie, a simple plot with simple dialogue and excellent songs. Glen Hansard penned a good number of the songs before the movie was even an idea, so they don't feel like songs written for a specific movie.

2. Hot Fuzz - Damn it, it deserves mention. There was a debate about whether or not to consider "40-Year-Old Virgin" for serious awards, as people think comedy deserves more play. If this is true, then Hot Fuzz was the best comedy I saw last year, bar none (and better than 40-Y-O-V). (I've accepted that Shaun of the Dead is a better/funnier movie, but still...the last thirty minutes of Hot Fuzz are sheer joy.) Edgar Wright basically does the same thing Quentin Tarentino does, albeit less arrogantly; he knows how to master a genre, and, having done so, subvert it. The result is brilliance.

3. The Darjeeling Limited - Wes Anderson doesn't garner critical support anymore, but who cares. I wouldn't have liked this movie as much without the flashback scene, and the timing of the flashback scene was spot on. Wes Anderson's soundtrack is, again, amazing.

4. The Bourne Ultimatum - In my book, this is about as close to perfect as a pure action/spy thriller movie can get. There apparently was dialogue, but there really didn't have to be. The fight scenes hook you--they don't bore you, like most fight scenes do (for me, anyway). Paul Greengrass really knows how to shoot chase scenes, as well. The plot has some holes in it, but you really couldn't care less. You don't have time to stop and think anyway, lest you miss any Jason-Bourne-ass-kickery. (Note to self: draft Michael Bourn, rename team.)

5. Superbad - I can safely say this was a lot better than I thought it would be. The first time I saw the preview, I wasn't very interested, as it looked like a teen movie and I have a natural aversion to them after The She's All That Incident of 98 (read: I saw She's All That in a theater in 1998). Superbad, however, is legitimately hilarious. If I tried to explain how, it wouldn't be funny, so I'll not try.

Honorables: No Country For Old Men (I gotta rep the haircut...I have a tough time ranking things that aren't comedies, though), Knocked Up (upon further viewing, not as good as Superbad), Dan in Real Life (good in an In Good Company kind of way), Juno (I don't think I liked it as much as everyone else did, but it was good).

Top 5 Baseball Players You Will Knowingly Overvalue On Fantasy Draft Day, For Whatever Reason

I still plan on posting for the last few, but lately I've been all kinds of lazy. I'm reading "Fantasyland" by Sam Walker, and I have my three big drafts this weekend, so I'm on a fantasy kick lately.

Ryan's Top 5:

1. David DeJesus, OF, KC Royals - OK, to be fair, I will knowingly overvalue every Royal, but I will almost certainly give DDJ too much credit. Here's my logic; he scored 100 runs last year for a mediocre-at-best offense, if the offense improves, his numbers will improve too, right? Sure they will, and I'll still take him too high; even if he scores 120, he ain't gettin' more than 60-70 RBI tops, unless this is Tony Pena's year.

2. Alex Gordon, 1B-3B, KC Royals - Alex Gordon could do 100-30-100 this year and still I will have overvalued him. Last year I took him in the 10th round, and this year I've got other people considering taking him to contend with. I honestly don't know what mistakes will be made come draft day, but taking Gordon too high will probably be one of them.

3. Ben Sheets, SP, Milwaukee Brewers - Good ol' Ben has started 63 games over the past three seasons, but 2004 continues to be the only season I ever look at: 34 starts, 237 IP, 264 K, 2.70 ERA. You've got to lock up that DL spot with a pitcher, it's imperative.

4. Josh Willingham, OF, FLA Marlins - I'm putting him on the list because I will at one point consider drafting him, guaranteed. The man is not that good at baseball. And he lost Miguel Cabrera being on base in front of him.

5. Scott Kazmir, SP, Tampa Bay Rays - Kazmir is Sheets-esque in his appeal to me; he always seems right on the cusp of posting Cy Young numbers, never mind the fact that his career WHIP is 1.39.

Tim's Top 5
Having drafted twice, I can get started on this now.
1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals - I kept telling myself, hey, he's out of RFK, he's going to be amazing. Then I looked at his numbers and said -- crap, he's out of RFK -- but I already have him twice. I still like him more than most 3B, but he's not likely to put up much in the way of numbers that I couldn't get from Hank Blalock in Round 18.

2. Brandon Lyon, RP, Diamondbacks - I know that he's nominally the closer, but has anyone ever seemed more likely to lose a job as a closer for a good team? Except Ryan Dempster?

3. Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals - I drafted him. Admittedly, it was Round 21 in a champions league, but so few rookies ever make an impact that I can't believe I picked him -- though I dumped him shortly thereafter. For the record, I replaced him with Jay Bruce, who I will replace with Cameron Maybin when Dusty Baker sends Jay Bruce to the minors. I have a mancrush on rookie center fielders.

4. Carl Crawford, OF, Rays - I drafted him in the second round of a 8-team draft. I'm still not sure why, considering he brings little more in the stolen base category than Shane Victorino, little more average, runs, and home runs than Shane Victorino, and I thought Shane Victorino was a lousy pick way down in the draft. But oh well, Victorino's never been that much of a base thief. But I still remember when he was an ill-advised first round pick for others, and apparently can't wait to embrace him on my team. Or I was just high on stolen bases, having landed Jose Reyes in round 1 and mistakenly believing I was in a roto league.

5. Joe Borowski, RP, Indians - Ok, I will grant that he will probably get 35 or more saves. But the same thing can be said for everyone but Matt Capps. So I don't need to pounce on him every draft just because other people say "ERA of 81.00 and WHIP of 27.00, no thanks." But I seem to recall him being on my fantasy championship team when I won in my first ever league, and he was on all my teams last year, so I associate Joe Borowski with winning the same way I associate Jose Mesa with the slaughter of innocents.

Honorable mention: Billy Butler - seriously, he hit 8 HR, I'm not sure what I have mistaken him for; Austin Kearns - except I know he doesn't have value; Joey Votto - I hate Dusty Baker.

Dan's Top 5:

This list shows that I really don't know baseball.

1. Vernon Wells - Ever since I had him in 2003 (I think) and gave him the nickname "Vern the Burn" I've probably overvalued Vernon Wells. I mean potential-first-round-pick overvalued.

2. Justin Upton - He's an Upton, and I may get him confused with B. J.. So there's a high chance that I'll overvalue him out of sheer mistaken identity.

3. Prince Fielder - I know I should learn, from the Vernon Wells effect, that his outstanding performance last year won't translate to this year. But I don't learn from fantasy baseball. Ever.

4. Mark Prior - Maybe he won't get injured this year. Just maybe. Now that he's off the Cubs, I'll begin to hate him, though, and probably won't draft him.

5. Jake Peavy - There's no way he's that good again. But I'm probably drafting him like he will be.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top 5 Amendments in the Bill of Rights

Tim's Top 5:
1) Third Amendment: What, you ask, how on earth can anyone argue this is the best amendment in the Bill of Rights? If you ask this, you obviously have never spoken to me to learn that you should never ask this question. Anyway, next time you're off celebrating that you can't be subjected to establishment of religion and peaceably assembling while speaking freely, enjoying the rights of a well-armed militia, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and so on, think how much less you'd feel great doing those things if the state national guard was living in your house just because they could live there. In effect, the Third Amendment supersedes all the other Amendments (except the ninth and tenth) -- First: you're not all that free to speak, peaceably assemble, or freely exercise your religion if there's armed patroons in your dwelling. Second: They have bigger guns that you and your pithy militia. Fourth: who needs to search or seize? We live in your house, we'll just observe what you do -- no warrant necessary. Fifth: No need to incriminate yourself, we've got witnesses! Sixth: all right, you've got a fighting chance, but that jury is going to have to ignore an awful lot of those patroons serving as witnesses. Seventh: yeah, right. Eighth: Well, I'm sure this is come consolation that if I'm convicted...I'll likely not be sentenced to live in a cell with a militia, which makes prison superior to my home. Ninth and Tenth: ha, you're kidding, right?

Moreover, the Third Amendment's successfully dodged litigation, which means the Framers wrote it well enough to get the point across, except for one labor dispute in New York that reached the Second Circuit in the early 80s.

2) First Amendment - It's beautiful because absolutely nothing in this amendment is taken literally, the Amendment is at its finest when it's in the hands of morons and malcontents, and it protects freedoms that are absolutely essential. It speaks volumes about the importance of religion to the early founders and protects it from corruption by the state, something that your current bible-thumpers forget all too often when trying to inculcate "civic Christianity" that replaces biblical virtues with discrimination and oppression.

3) Fifth Amendment - This Amendment utterly baffles people who aren't lawyers, wondering how you can be free from incriminating yourself, but Roger Clemens can still be prosecuted for refusing to incriminate himself by lying. Well, what you learn in law school is that the Fifth Amendment only protects non-douchebags. Sorry, Clemens. In fact, it's a beautiful invention, and the Fifth Amendment brings in due process into federal courts and prohibits double jeopardy, at least since courts figured out that double jeopardy had meaning. Sorry, Mr. Palko. And if that weren't enough, we bring in (albeit mild) limitations on eminent domain. This is one power-packed amendment.

4) Fourth Amendment - The Amendment that kept criminal lawyers in business in a century where juries can't wait to put people in jail and add to an endless cycle of crime and violence. While the Amendment's meaning is totally unclear, at times it has substantially limited government intrusions, and its purpose is considerably more noble than one would expect from an era so narrowly removed from witch burnings.

5) Sixth Amendment - No one realizes the Confrontation Clause is in there unless they've taken Evidence in law school, but it's among the last best protections for criminal defendants, and post-Gideon v. Wainwright, it enables our grossly unfair system to at least have a modicum of protection for criminal defendants who have been processed through a system that effectively presumes their guilt and punishes them in a draconian fashion for exercising their rights to a trial. While the Sixth Amendment is in dire need of reform to create an actually "impartial" jury, particularly in capital cases, it is still a vital foundation for criminal rights.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Top 5 Songs of 2007

Tim mentioned this topic last time, and since I'm bored at the moment, digesting some lasagna, I guess I'll go ahead and try starting it. Since it's just songs, I imagine there will be a lot more feedback since I'm pretty sure everything we can think of putting here will be easily accessible. There's always Youtube.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Duran Duran - Falling Down - I had a really tough time trying to determine the #1 spot, which for some reason isn't normally the case. I decided to play it safe and go with a pop song. The masters of pop really came through on Red Carpet Massacre, and this is by far the best song on the album, and ranks up there with "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World" in terms of songwriting quality. I doubt I'll ever get tired of hearing this one.

2. Panda Bear - Comfy in Nautica - I talked a lot about this song in the last post, and it was really the only other contender for #1. I figure it's safer to put it at number two, but really, it's a virtual tie. Who knows, the Duran Duran song may even get old. Now, maybe Panda Bear loses some points because the vocals are just so reminiscent of Brian Wilson and his insane reverb that it almost seems a touch unoriginal. But no, this is just a damn good song.

3. Paul McCartney - Dance Tonight - A-ha, you had forgotten about this single, hadn't you? Shame on you, since it was the epitome of Paul McCartney songwriting. A short, simple-as-hell song. And it gets bonus points for featuring the mandolin. And it's catchy. Look it up on Youtube, and it will be in your head for the next week. Bonus points for Mackenzie Crook being in the music video.

4. Radiohead - Videotape - Not my favorite song off of In Rainbows, but probably the best objectively speaking. It's a good end-of-life retrospective piece, perfect as the last song on the album. I liked the earlier live bootlegs so much better, though.

5. LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends - The music behind this lengthy song is the definition of repetitive, but it gives it almost a "Heroes" kind of feel. I just started listening to it today, and I guess this is my way of saying, "hey, check it out - now I'm listening to LCD Soundsystem." But honestly, this song seems really special. Or maybe it isn't and just seems new to me.

Honorable mentions: All the other Radiohead songs on In Rainbows, The Good, The Bad, & The Queen - Herculean, The Bravery - Believe, The Bravery - Time Won't Let Me Go, Editors - An End Has a Start

Tim's Top 5:
This list is loaded with horns...sorry, KC and the Sunshine Band, this just about had to be your year.

1. Spoon - The Underdog - This is classic Spoon, an understated song that has no basis for ever reaching the radio. The song's even got a horn section, something not you're going to hear out of Austin, TX that often. Britt Daniel is in rare faux British form, and it's a brisk and catchy song with an infinitely memorable chorus moment that you will carry around with you weeks at a time. It's one of the best songs of 1966, which easily makes it the best song of 2007.

2. The Shins - Phantom Limb - It's hard to knock this from #1, since it's the song from 2007 that I've listened to the most obsessively, but for a long time I actually didn't even like it, so I suspect that there had to be something that turned me off initially. It's not all about the vocals here, because the simplistic and constant drumming carries more than its share of the weight, but there's more depth and direction in James Mercer's voice for one second in this track than Scott Stapp will have experienced in his entire life.

3. Jay-Z - Roc Boys (and the winner is...) - Ok, American Gangster is not a great album on par with The Black Album, but this is Jay-Z in rare form. And it's got its own horn section that really carries the flow. It mixes Curtis Mayfield-R&B, the unmatched rap stylings of Shawn Carter, and a pure pop chorus. Rolling Stone called it the number one song of the year, I'm sad to say, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Their inclusion of Kanye's "Stronger" at #13 on the list just shows that they are also quite wrong on a frequent basis.

4. The Bravery - Believe - I don't quibble with someone who would choose Time Won't Let Me Go as the better of the singles on this album, and part of me almost chose Fistful of Sand as the best track on the album. But if you're listening to it on the album, including the 29 second intro that begins the album, I don't think there's much choice. It's a more modest track than Time Won't Let Me Go, that really just sounds "big", but the guitar - drums - guitar - vocals lead-in in the first ten seconds of the song grabs me every time. It's also apparently on Madden 2008, but despite my hours and hours of playing the game, it didn't catch my attention until I got the album. Well done, The Bravery. With respect to 2007, I choose you in the feud with The Killers. In 2005 and 2006, uh...yeah, well, this album was amazing.

5. Arctic Monkeys - Fluorescent Adolescent - This is what an amazing day in London sounds like. This is the song that will forever place "daft" in my lexicon of words that will be useful in a pinch. It has a lo-fi sound, but you can also tell that all 8 tracks on the recorder were getting used before this went in the can. The real hook here is Alex Turner's vocal work and rapid tempo shifts, ranging from frenetic at the beginning of the verses and slowing down into the breaks -- it's perhaps the only song I can think of that builds up to slowing down, but it works masterfully...until it sprints to the finish. It's a 3 minute pop song, but it does it right.

Honorable Mention: The White Stripes - You Don't Know What Love Is (You Do As You're Told); Travis - My Eyes; The Bravery - Fistful of Sand; Bruce Springsteen - American Land (no one else could capture another era's music any better); Bruce Springsteen - Last To Die (probably the best lyrical song of 2007); Fall Out Boy - Carpal Tunnel of Love (just the "woo hoo hoo" almost pushed it into the Top 5); The Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running; Maroon 5 - Makes Me Wonder (the lyrics really made the difference, just knowing that the 18 year old girls who wanted to run out and buy the album didn't notice what Adam Levine is saying makes me love this song)

Ryan's Top Five

1. "The Good Life" - Kanye West - I love, love, love this song. This is the ultimate backyard party song.

2. "An End Has A Start" - The Editors This song rules. I love this sound, whatever particular genre this is.

3. "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" - The Editors - I thought about ranking this one above song #2, but then I'd just be being cheeky.

4. "Listen!!!" - Talib Kweli - He and Kanye are the two best rappers out there, says I. That'd be an interesting Top 5...

5. "Flashing Lights" - Kanye West - Well, this pick evidences how much music I heard last year. That said, I do love this song. A great driving song.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Top 5 Albums of 2007

We're going to jumpstart this thing...maybe we'll make it to weekly posts by the end of March or April.

Tim's Top 5:
2007 wasn't a bad year for music. It wasn't great, it brought disappointing albums from Kanye West, Jay-Z, an awful live album from Guided by Voices, and Fountains of Wayne, who managed to cash in on their fame by going into total hiding and not even getting their middling album promoted.

1) Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild -- Wow. There are a lot of bands that are such figureheads that their lead singer could branch off and create a great album on his own that's basically indistinguishable from the band's own work. Well, that's not what this album is. It's exceedingly brief, with a number of songs that are barely even long enough to be Robert Pollard-written, but it's mastery of the stripped-down musical ambience that a story like Into the Wild demands. I just can't envision how a story as magnificent as Into the Wild, merged with a soundtrack that's so perfect that even the book should be read to it, could be anything but the best film of 2007 (or, with little hyperbole, the best film in a decade), but that remains to be seen. "Hard Sun" is a great song, "Far Behind", "Society", "No Ceiling" and "Setting Forth" are all its peers or superiors. It took a second listen before I started to really enjoy it, it took me starting to read the book before I fell in love with it, but it's now an absolute essential to my playlist.

2) Bruce Springsteen - Magic -- I didn't notice that Radio Nowhere really did appear to be Springsteen channeling Eddie Vedder's voice until reading it in someone else's review, but it does seem true. The album as a whole is coherent, tight, and pretty even. It has definite highlights -- "Last to Die" and "Livin' in the Future" are among the best in recent years, but most of all it proved that The Rising was not a one-off, Springsteen's still more than capable of rocking out ("Radio Nowhere", "Last To Die"), but still has the ability to write evocative and emotional songs ("Terry's Song"). Perhaps most importantly, Clear Channel has refused to play anything from it, because it apparently commits the sacrilege of not giving George W. a big, sloppy kiss (though it's not necessary to treat it as a political album).

3) The Bravery - The Sun and the Moon -- Well, you can't write a band off just because their first album was disappointing. Granted, I only found out it was disappointing because I was so enamored with The Sun and the Moon that I bought the debut off ITunes a day later, but it is. The Sun and the Moon, on the other hand, has fed XM Radio two of the most pleasantly overplayed songs in Believe and Time Won't Let Me Go. The songs in between the two on the album fit in perfectly and capture the faux British sound that I clearly am totally susceptible to (let's be honest, Guided by Voices spawned it, Spoon is an obvious offspring of it, and The Bravery doesn't fall far from that tree, and neither do the Killers. Then about 75% of the other bands I like are British)

4) Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition -- I can't even begin to describe how much I thought the Seeger Sessions sounded like an awful idea. I wouldn't have ever listened to a single track from the album had I not landed tickets to see Springsteen at Giants Stadium in July. When I saw he was playing American Land to close out every show, I felt like I just about had to hear it and acquire it. That led to ITunes...which led to me buying the album. Now I can only say it's a shame that I'm ranking this behind Magic, because I think on so many levels this might be a better album, it's just not one you can just turn on and listen to in the same way. But what it surrenders in accessibility it makes up for in overwhelming greatness. This is one of those experiments that could have and probably should have gone horribly wrong. It didn't.

5) Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare -- Fluorescent Adolescent is one of my songs of 2007, Brianstorm is the most annoying single Arctic Monkeys have put out, and it's still great, it's just a totally listenable album that I think matches or exceeds the promise of their first album, even if this one pretty much stayed under the radar in both the United States and the U.K. (comparatively, it was still a #1 album in the UK, but it sold considerably less). This is what cements Arctic Monkeys in the "must buy" list. Now I just need to get back to the UK to get Who The F*** Are Arctic Monkeys for the price it should sell for.

Honorable Mention: The Shins - Wincing the Night Away -- It took me way too long to really enjoy anything on the album, and so much is wrapped up in the fact that Phantom Limb is the catchiest song of 2007 that I can't really say I'm a fan of the album as a whole; Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga -- Initially a disappointment, but it's a great album and The Underdog is definitely a rival with Phantom Limb for the song I'm most likely to listen to eight times in a row; The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible -- This is penalized for me having only listened to it once thus far (I bought it on a whim with The Sun and The Moon three weeks ago), but I think it could join a serious conversation for #5; lastly, Jay-Z - American Gangster -- Yes, I described it as disappointing, but I'm starting to appreciate it, and it has a couple tracks for the canon. I just don't want to pull a Sam's Town and look back a year later in disbelief that I didn't consider it an elite album.

The only album I know of that I feel like I need to hear from 2007 that's not on this list is Interpol, which I just got from the library. For now, it warrants an asterisk.

Take it away, other people, knowing full well that the Top songs of 2007 (where I really make my love for poppy, commercial music obvious) looms in the immediate future.

Dan's Top 5:

1. The Good, The Bad & The Queen – The Good, The Bad & The Queen – When Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) does anything, odds are it's going to be good. Add to that Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen (Africa 70), and you have the definition of a supergroup. Oh, and Dangermouse produced it, too. The thing is, most supergroups have traditionally put out crappy music. Or so I'd assume. I imagine everyone involved would be overplaying their parts and egos would be clashing. Not the case here. And hey, it's British and it sounds British. There's a definite London motif about the album, to the point where it makes me wonder if I'm missing out on what they're singing about.

2. Panda Bear – Person Pitch – If it's possible that one song can carry an album, it would be the opener to this little masterpiece, "Comfy in Nautica." It's one of the best and most addicting musical pieces I've heard, and apparently I'm not alone in thinking so. Rolling Stone called it the #74 best song of the year. If nothing else, it earns you points when you listen to it because no one is listening to it either. Unless they pay attention to Pitchfork, which called it the best album of the year. Then again, they take the art of being a pretentious music snob to another level.

3. Radiohead – In Rainbows – Alright, maybe I have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to Radiohead, but I'd argue against that. To this day, I still don't like Pablo Honey, Kid A or Amnesiac. The rest of their discography, however, is fucking brilliant. That being said, I'd say that this album isn't as good as Hail to the Thief was. It's very chill, and with the exception of "Bodysnatchers," it stays that way the whole way through and offers not much else to listen to. It could have been better, but it's still amazing.

4. Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta! – Gypsy Punk Music. That's a pretty accurate description. And if that's not enough to get you interested in listening to this album, I don't know if the rest of the words that follow will do much else. I had the privilege of seeing the band live, and it's something else entirely. If you like taking into account a band's originally, then this band is one of the most original you could ask for. What is helpful is that I believe any thirty-second clip of the tracks from this album will give you a pretty accurate indication of what they sound like. So check it out.

5. Duran Duran – Red Carpet Massacre – This last spot was tough, but I have to go with my old favorite. I had already heard that Justin Timberlake and Timbaland had done a good job making pop music. They both collaborated with the Fab Five on "Falling Down," resulting in one of the best songs I've ever heard. That song and the rest of the album prove that Duran Duran can still sound fresh and original, and they haven't done that since The Wedding Album.

Honorable Mentions: Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet, The Bravery – The Sun and the Moon (didn't make the top 5 since Tim already mentioned it.), The Go! Team – Proof of Youth

Ryan's Top Five

I will attempt to make a credible list despite my lack of albums from last year. That said, the only stuff I've heard has to be the best, right? Right?

1. Various Artists - "The Darjeeling Limited" Soundtrack - OK, I am cheating here but still, this was the best album I bought last year. Awesome songs from The Kinks, et. al.

2. Kanye West - "Graduation" - Not nearly as good as College Dropout, but miles better than Late Registration. I love "Good Life" and "Flashing Lights."

3. Various Artists - "Hot Fuzz" Soundtrack - Cheating again. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is one of my all-time favorites.

4. The Editors - "An End Has A Start" - OK, this is probably better than #4 on this list, but I haven't listened to it enough to slot it any higher.

5. Talib Kweli - "Eardrum" - Talib Kweli is like a poet who raps--literally, he references Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, and others in songs from this album.