Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: The Shade of Poison Trees

I will be the first to admit that I like emo music. I absolutely detest the label of "emo", but a lot of the music I really identify with and enjoy falls under that increasingly maligned umbrella. It's much too liberally applied, seeing as how great albums by Jimmy Eat World and Gatsby's American Dream are getting included in the genre but don't fit the modern popular conception of the original sound.

Emo used to be a genuinely great genre of music, with bands like Weezer even fitting in with Pinkerton. An emotional song works for me, and an emotional album that fits together sonically is something that resonates very deeply with me as a listener. Unfortunately, the "emo" label tends to stick to an artist and never get off their back, and Dashboard Confessional is a prime example of that. Chris Carrabba left Further Seems Forever after their debut album in 2001 and broke into the hearts of women everywhere with his first albums as Dashboard Confessional. Over the course of his first four albums, he started to get more an more electric, leaving behind the "one man and a guitar" sound that was his catalog so far. After last year's Dusk and Summer failed to connect while being the biggest departure from Carrabba's sound, he saw fit to go back to basics on his new album, The Shade of Poison Trees.

My favorite album by Dashboard is still 2003's A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar because of its ease switching from acoustic to electric while still maintaining its high level of emotion throughout, but this album comes close to matching that. After last year's album, a lot of people have fallen off the Dashboard wagon, and I almost counted myself among those ranks. However, I decided to give the album a shot after hearing it would be a much less expansive record, and I think Carrabba is much better suited to making that kind of music. He messed around with arrangements on Dusk and Summer, seemingly forgetting that what he's best at is writing a heartfelt song with amazing acoustic chord progression, which TSoPT has in spades.

I'll start with what I think is the strongest song, which happens to be the closer "Widow's Peak." It happens to be one of the only tracks that lacks acoustic guitar as a central instrument, opting instead for piano, but the more intimate sound is so much better for Carrabba's writing style and his voice. He sings very high for a guy, and the fragility of his voice in that register works very well with light instumentation. I remember seeing videos of him performing solo with just his guitar, and he gives much stronger performances that way.

Songs that would've been fleshed out in too much production on a different album are much stronger when they are kept stripped down, like "Little Bombs", "Watch Out For Mines", and the opener "Where There's Gold...". Even songs that are fleshed out by the rest of the band like "Thick as Theives" sound more like AMAMABAS, and that is the highest of compliments. It's also a great help that he's finally tried his hand at making his lyrics a bit more mature. It was a little was listening to a guy so far removed from adulthood still singing like he's hurting from that girl in high school. The songs here still deal with the same subject matter and have a similar sound, but the lyrics have taken a huge step forward.

Will this album bring back the fans that left? I don't think so, most of them have been really turned off by the last album, but those that actually do stick around and buy this album will find that Carrabba has gotten himself back on track. Dashboard isn't for everyone, but I still like it a lot, and this album shows me that somewhere inside Carrabba is another great album just waiting to get out so long as he resists the urge to over-produce it.

Dashboard Confessional - Widow's Peak
Dashboard Confessional - Thick as Theives

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cinema Trend: Musician Movies

This fall sees the release of Control, the bioptic about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, who hung himself in his kitchen at the age of 23, right before the release of the band's 2nd album Closer, which I would put at or near the top of a list of "Most Depressing Albums Ever" even though it's a piece of melancholy genius. We're getting I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan movie where the character of Dylan gets split among 6 actors, among them Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett.

Is it just me, or are movies about musicians getting better? Ray was all right, but Ray Charles isn't in my short list of favorite artists, and I didn't really think Jamie Foxx deserved that Oscar over DiCaprio in The Aviator. Walk the Line was a fantastic step in the right direction for bios of rock musicians, and Joaquin Phoenix deserved his nomination in full. Now with the impending release of Control and the festival buzz that the Kurt Cobain documentary About a Son has been getting, maybe we'll be getting some better movies about musicians in the next couple years.

The past few years of music movies is not that different from the re-emergence of movies based on comic book characters. Ever since Spider-Man wreaked havoc on a May box office and raked in over $100 million in a single weekend back in 2002, studios have been trying to duplicate that buisness. We've seen some great flicks come along (Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, Sin City), as well as some pretty decent attempts (Hellboy, 300), and some miserable failures (The Punisher, Catwoman, Hulk).

I think the same could go for movies about musicians in the coming years. Before Ray got released in 2004, the most recent good film about a recent musician was the Oliver Stone helmed The Doors. After the awards attention that Ray got, hopefully studios will see fit to start production on films about some of my favorite bands like Joy Division. (I'm Not There is certainly getting helped by critical buzz, but I think a lot of it is just people that loved Dylan trying to make him relevant again. New albums from Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are among the best reviewed of the past few years, but the music on those CDs sound the same as pretty much the entire catalog of their music. I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear The Boss singing 14 songs that aren't discernable from one another for over an hour, it's just not interesting. Give me something like Joy Division, with a small catalog that opens itself up and reveals its secrets to you on successive visits to the albums. Blood on the Tracks did that, but these recent albums just don't have the same creative spark.)

All of the positives aside, I am a little nervous that it will spiral out of control and we'll end up with movies about bands that really weren't all that great. Let's be honest, we're all a little tired when we hear about the next new comic-to-movie adaptation coming out; we've seen enough of them, we need more space before we're willing to accept another worthy transfer from page to screen. I'm worried that in about three years we'll be getting a movie about Foreigner, W.A.S.P., or some other hair metal band from the 80s that nobody really wondered about. The enigmatic figures are few and far between, and I just hope we don't start scraping the bottom of the barrel too early. The great films about musicians have risen so far above the novelty of Behind the Music, I'd really hate to see these movies take a dive back towards that low point.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mid-Week Special: Nirvana Live at the Metro

There are times in your musical life where you remember the exact moment you first heard a song by a certain artist. My introduction to Nirvana was one of those moments. Without getting into too many details, the first song I ever listened to by them was "About a Girl" off of their first LP Bleach. I was so obsessed with it that I started playing guitar just to be able to play it. It's still one of my favorite songs to play and perform, and one of my favorite Nirvana tracks. Every time I play it, I like to imagine what Kurt Cobain said at the beginning of their MTV Unplugged in New York album: "This is off our first record, most people don't know it." This version comes from a live set at the Metro in 1991, and is accompanied by a few other choice songs from that set. Enjoy.

Nirvana - Drain You(Live)
Nirvana - About a Girl(Live)
Nirvana - Breed(Live)

Lord of the Bones

It's been heavily reported over the past day or so that Mark Wahlberg has replaced Ryan Gosling in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones. Now, I'm not such a huge fan of the book, but this news came on the eve of the start of production, and it rings a bell somewhere in my memory...

Back when production started on Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, there was another actor who was fired right at the beginning of the production.

That man was Stuart Townsend, who was the original choice to play Aragorn. Jackson decided that Townsend looked too young to play Aragorn and replaced him with Viggo Mortensen four days after shooting began in New Zealand. Townsend ended up in films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one of my least favorite films of all time, and Mortensen went on to a career revitalization with the help of David Cronenberg. Though Townsend has pretty much fallen out of favor as an actor right now, he wrote and directed Battle in Seattle, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a few weeks ago.

A bunch of stories have turned up saying that Gosling showed up to the production having gained way too much weight and with a monster beard, and was fighting with the wardrobe department. The news is collected over at /Film, and I pretty much agree with what's posted over there about Gosling. He's an actor, he should be concerned with saying his lines, and leave the rest of the stuff to Peter Jackson and the crew.

That being said, what is with Jackson and these last minute casting decisions? It looks to me like the person who should be getting the axe is Jackson's casting director, or maybe he should just think things through a little more before signing a lead actor. Granted, Mortensen was fantastic as Aragorn, and that change was probably a good decision, but I don't think the same comparison can be made here. I really like Mark Wahlberg; his roles in Boogie Nights, Three Kings, and The Departed were great, but I'm not so sure if this will be as much of a better switch. Wahlberg is an established actor who is still getting high paying lead roles unlike Mortensen was, and Gosling is an up-and-coming, respectable actor, unlike Townsend (who in addition to Gentlemen also had a turn in the Aaliyah movie Queen of the Damned). I'm not sure how this will turn out, but with the casting of Rachel Weisz as the wife of the character Gosling was supposed to play, it does make some sense to switch for someone older, even if that wasn't the original intention.

Hopefully the sudden change won't make that much of a difference, it sure as hell didn't make LOTR any worse off having Viggo in there. Who knows, maybe Jackson will get lucky again and Wahlberg will turn in a great performance.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Live: Daphne Loves Derby & This Providence

Saturday night I took the El into Chicago to see my favorite band: Daphne Loves Derby. I'm actually kind of surprised that it's taken me this long to write a post about them, but seeing as how they don't exactly fit into the rest of my music taste, I guess I'll go with that reason.

I used to cruise around PureVolume a lot, and one day back in 2004 while I was hitting the random band button Daphne Loves Derby came up. I listened to a few of their songs, and noticed that their entire 2003 debut album was available for download. They'd also put out a studio-produced EP called Closing Down the Pattern Department, which I picked up as well. For some reason, those songs struck a chord with me, and I've been listening to every song they've ever recorded since. I think that I've basically got every single track they ever put to tape, but I can't be totally sure.

The band is from Kent, Washington, which is outside of Seattle. They formed about five years ago when the members were still in high school. At the time I happened upon them, the band consisted of Kenny Choi (vocals/guitar), Spencer Abbot (guitar), Jason Call (bass/vocals), and Stu Clay (drums). Since then, Jason left the band to go on his Mormon mission, and was replaced by David Sparks on bass. They signed to indie label Outlook Records, which is owned by former Denver Bronco Trevor Pryce, and have released two full albums, On The Strength of All Convinced in 2005, and Good Night, Witness Light this past February. I have no qualms about saying that GNWL is one of my favorite albums of the year, I think it's just luminous.

They have a sound that is a lot like some other bands I know from the softer, emo/alternative/indie rock genre, mostly bands like Copeland. Even still, I think Kenny's voice is just amazing, and his lyrics are so layered, steeped in lush imagery, and so emotive that the band is one of a kind. They've really progressed from garage/punk mixed with solo acoustic songs into full-fledged arrangements over the course of the few years I've followed them, and the transition suits them.

On Saturday night they were playing with another Seattle-based indie/emo band, This Providence. The very first time I saw Daphne Loves Derby back in the summer of '05 they were touring with This Providence. That band has seen some lineup changes as well, but now have seen the release of two full length album, the most recent being an eponymous sophomore disc for Fueled by Ramen Records. They have a lot of great guitar work going on and some really good shout choruses, and I really enjoyed seeing them for a second time. They didn't play my favorite song "To Kill This" - which is essentially the theme song to my middle and high school years - but the set was really great. The venue was really small, so we could get up close and see the band, hear them perfectly, and not have our ears blown out.

Daphne came out at around 8:00 and played about a 45 minute set that included some new, some old, and some very old songs that I was glad to hear. I've now been to 5 Daphne Loves Derby shows, and I think the crowd last night was right up there with the best I've been a part of. Everyone was really into the set, the band was feeding off the energy of the crowd, and things just got better from there. Kenny played the acoustic gem "Pollen and Salt" from their debut, as well as older favorites "Guerra All Interno" and "Closing Down The Patern Department". They also threw in a great cover of Third Eye Blind's "Jumper", which was sort of the icing on the cake of the set. What I've noticed over the course of two years watching the band is that now instead of simply going straight ahead with songs, Spencer layers his guitar playing a lot more, and adds much more depth to the sound of the songs. Even songs that were on their EPs in 2004 now sound better with the hard work the band has put into sounding better and getting better as musicians. I'm really glad to have seen this band grow, and they're without a doubt my favorite band right now. Here are a few sample tracks from their career to give you an example of how they've progressed. If you like it, please go buy a record or see a show. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Daphne Loves Derby - Closing Down the Pattern Department
Daphne Loves Derby - Middle Middle (Post Post EP Version)
Daphne Loves Derby - Pollen and Salt
Daphne Loves Derby - That's Our Hero Shot
Daphne Loves Derby - Jumper (Live) [Third Eye Blind cover]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mid-Week Special: Rilo Kiley on the Desert Blue Soundtrack

I've been collecting Rilo Kiley songs pretty obsessively ever since I bought Under the Blacklight over the summer. This song comes from the soundtrack of the 1998 film Desert Blue, a movie that had Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, and others. The movie wasn't that great, and didn't do very well, but the song Rilo Kiley contributed is somewhat of a gem to me. It's called "The Frug" and it's a nice, light indie rock song. I really like the guitars in it, and the lyrics about different dances are good for a little laugh. Check it out.

Rilo Kiley - The Frug

Blast from the Past: Asia in Wonderland

Ok. Storytime:

I went to middle school with the niece of Rob Schneider, Asia. I'm going to let that sink in for a second...yes, the "actor" Rob Schneider. I'll be quite honest, he hasn't done a piece of good acting since Saturday Night Live. I liked him when he was on that show, I thought he was really funny, but apart from a few tiny bits and pieces here and there, he has deteriorated completely as a comic. Then again, most comics do, so I don't really see it as being that different, although Trey Parker and Matt Stone did create the obvious joke about his movie career during South Park.

Anyways, there's no way she remembers me, but from what I recall over the past couple years she finished high school early and moved to southern California to start recording music. Asia and her sister Alex both have music MySpaces, as does every aspiring singer/band/musician in the country, but considering their lineage they probably have a little bit of a leg up on other people trying to break into the industry.

Now, I think the production on their music sounds almost exactly the same. They make different music, but the production doesn't exactly sound like in studio recording, the instruments sound pretty heavily altered. Couple that with the fact that I don't like a lot of general pop music like this and you'll end up knowing I'm not going to rush and and buy a CD by either of them. However, they both have great voices that sound different and work in differnt styles, and I share a hometown with Asia, so this is a little bit of a plug. I'd like to see her succeed, if not only to become an artist in her own right instead of Rob Schneider's neice.

Since only Alex has mp3s to download off her MySpace, I'm going to post one of her songs, but go listen to some of Asia's, they're pretty good.

Alex Schneider - Last Second Chance

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Recognize & Analyze: Chris Ayer

Okay, so this is the first in a series of posts that will go up over the next few weeks, where I will take a chance by plugging some of my favorite artists that don't get a lot of attention. Just by the way, Vh1 put Foo Fighters in the "You Oughta Know" category when they put "The Pretender" in video rotation. Shameful.

Chris Ayer is a singer/songwriter that attended Stanford University and now resides in NYC. He used to play free acoustic shows right outside of a cafe that I went to all the time during high school. I saw him for the first time the fall of my junior year, and then started going to all of his shows because he is just a really personable guy that writes good songs. He self-releases all of his material, which right now includes the EPs Static and New Songs, his debut album This is the Place, and an album of live material available on iTunes here. He won a 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest award for his song "Evaporate" of off his debut album.

Most of his songs are soft, but there are a few that let loose a little bit. He's a great acoustic guitarist who experiments a lot with how he plays songs. Also, he does a cover of "Purple Rain" that absolutely kills me, I love when he plays it.

I've seen reviews comparing him to a lot of other guys that started out playing acousticly, namely John Mayer's first album, but I seriously doubt the liklihood of Chris ever moving over to electric guitar virtuoso in the way Mayer has. Names like Gabriel, Taylor, Damien Rice, and Paul Simon have been tossed out, but I don't really think he's a lot like those guys. Maybe it's just because I've gotten to actually talk to him a few times, but for some reason his songs and his attitude just don't seem like anyone else I've ever heard. Anyways, here are a couple sample songs from his earlier EPs. If you like it, go buy some stuff off iTunes or off of

Chris Ayer - Fade
Chris Ayer - A Starfish in the Front Yard
Chris Ayer - The Story

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mid-Week Special: operationBumblebee reads from the Neon Bible

For the first time, I'm going post a cover by somewhat of an unknown. I found this girl, operationBumblebee, on the net that does some solo or a capella covers of indie rock songs, and this cover of Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" is really great. If you haven't seen the interactive video that Arcade Fire put up, go check it out here. I'm not sure if they change the graphics each day, but I haven't seen the same version each time I've shown it to people. It was my second favorite song on the album after "No Cars Go", but I like the a capella aspect and female voice in the cover, so take a listen.

operationBumblebee - Neon Bible (Arcade Fire cover)

In the coming days, I'm going to try and get up a post about an artist I think "You Oughta Know", and maybe something about movies I'd like to see get some attention this coming winter.

I Read the News Today...

Radiohead's new album In Rainbows became available to download today. I previously stated that while listening to the live version I didn't think the album was "album of the year" worthy, but after listening to it at least five times straight through today, I stand completely corrected. It's coherent, it's mystical, it's a huge trip, and I will definately be paying a little bit of money now that I've heard it.

I've seen a bunch of blogs posting up songs from the album...or the entire album itself. Apparently those guys didn't get the memo that the album is entirely, 100% free to those that don't want to pay a cent for it. You can go buy it from the site here.

So far my favorites are "15 Step", "Bodysnatchers", "Reckoner", and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place". The rest of the tracks are great too, and I think it does a great job of blending thematically even though the songs were written over a long period of time. I hope this release style is successful, because I'd really like to see it done in the future by other bands, because it skirts around the whole marketing hype a record company goes through. The record succeeds or fails based on its own merits, not on the marketing ability of a record label or interest in a particular band doing well for the company.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How to start a season...

Okay, so a couple weeks ago NBC premiered the new seasons of two of my favorite shows on television right now: Heroes and The Office. I've waited a couple weeks to talk about the because 1. I've been busy as shit with college, and 2. I wanted to see a few episodes to get a feel for the direction each show is going this season. Here are my reactions:


I didn't start watching Heroes until its midseason break last December, and I was really glad I got on the bandwagon for the rest of the first season. It was a fantastic live comic book, playing out the origin stories of seemingly normal people with "extraordinary abilities" as all the advertisements said. The first season introduced a great range of characters, but about 2/3 of the way through the season they had all discovered their powers and learned to use them, which took a little of fun out of everything. The "heroes" had all started to meet each other, but the whole mystique of the show was how the characters discovered their powers and dealt with their abilities, not in seeing the whole gang get together to fight evil as a group.

Personally, I loved the intricacies of the plot over the course of the season, especially Malcom McDowell as Mr. Linderman and the backstory of Primatech Paper and HRG. I wanted to see more of that group, and within the first little bit of the premiere, I thought I was getting what I wanted. It seems as though there will be a focus on the "Old Guard" of the Heroes world, the heroes who joined together under Mr. Linderman, Mr. & Mrs. Petrelli, and Mr. Nakamura.

So, things I like about the first couple episodes:

-Most of the heroes being split up and not being in a group dynamic after the events four months prior. Like I said, I think it's more fun to see the individual deal with the ability than the group come together and "fight crime" or some greater evil.

-Seeing what Candice really looks like. I think after the last bit of the first season we needed to know that she was vain and overly self-conscious. I feel like the "bad" characters always have some sort of flaw along the lines of Seven. Syler is avaricious, Mr. Linderman is too proud, Candice is too vain, etc...

-Takeo Kenzei not being the great hero that Hiro believed him to be. It was pretty obvious that would happen, but I still liked it anyways, as well as Hiro's notes to Ando. Their friendship was a great part of the first season.

-Including more of the Bennett family; getting rid of HRG hiding things from his family has been good for the scenes of the whole family or with Mrs. Bennett

-Interaction b/w Mohinder, Parkman, and HRG. They are the only characters still working in conjuction with one another, and it actually makes sense what action they are taking.

-The Hatian. Awesome.

-Issac Mendez's apartment is back as a location. I really loved the artwork that was sprinkled throughout the seaon, be it in the loft or in Linderman's private collection.

-I'm not sure how I feel about the Bourne Identity direction Peter Petrelli's character is taking, but for now I'm intrigued

...and now for things I find a bit strange about the beginning to this chapter:

-Matt Parkman and Mohinder Suresh are living together raising nobody seeing the implications of this? Why was this necessary? Couldn't they make it a little less out of the blue?

-Maya and her brother have got to be the worst new characters to show up. For some reason Kring thought the show needed another foreign language hero, so they brought in a twisted, crying-Virgin-Mary-painting character

-Why are two heroes finding love? Couldn't Claire's boyfriend have a NEW power...instead of one that makes it seems like he could be her freaking BROTHER??? Is a Luke/Leia possibility really what we needed there?

-More of Molly's nightmares need to be addressed. I think a newer villain, more powerful than Sylar, is what we need for this season.

-Even though I like that the heroes aren't necessarily in a group, I feel like now they storylines are stretched a little too thin. It was frustrating in the first season not to see a certain hero for a few episodes and pick up their plotline a few episodes later, and that same frustration set in when we didn't see Micah or Niki for two episodes, and then only barely in the third.

-The first season did a great job having a central event (the explosion in NYC) that slowly drew the heroes to each other over the course of the entire season. It solved the problem losing plotlines for a few episodes and made it so we saw all our favorite characters in one episode. Now, however, we don't have an event that will do the same thing. We seem to be following too many individual storylines that will carry through the season.

I've got high hopes for this I'll be looking for a few more good things when new characters get introduced, especially that girl...who was on some little show...Veronica Mars was it?

The Office

I remember watching the original British version of this show and being really upset when I heard there would be a US adaptation of it. The first season struggled, mainly due to the fact that they were following the British version's episodes almost to the t. When they ran out of episodes to copy, and the writers got a chance to play around with the dynamics, the show got infinately better.

The third season was the breakout year for the show, and by the end of the season they had run up the expectations so high that I didn't really think that the start of this season could live up to the hype. However, a couple episodes in, I'm pleasantly surprised with how good the first two episodes are.

I really thought that the fun of the show would be gone with Jim and Pam being together. The whole show had really depended on the sexual tension between those two, and after a few "couple" episodes you'd think it would get kind of bland, but the writers counteracted that little snafu by hilariously writing in a breakup of Dwight and Angela. I still think that Jim & Pam will have to break up soon, maybe with a possible return of Karen, but who knows.

I'm glad that Ryan is still around, if only in a secondary capacity. I can see him coming back as often as Jan did during the first three seasons, which would be good if only for the interaction with Kelli. The whole rest of the office is getting great lines as well. I think my favorite line from the premiere was Kevin's "Are you KIDDING me!" to the camera in an interview, and staffers like Oscar and Creed are getting great bits too.

I hope the show doesn't lean too hard on the Jan/Michael development, because we already went through one breakup with them, we don't need to see it again. Also, I think the whole digital upgrading thing was pretty cool, and that it could make the whole season a little different, with a struggle against modernizing and staying a company of people. That's really the only redeeming quality of Michael: his belief that people don't go out of buisness, that genuine people working for Dunder Mifflin is a good thing.

So who's got the better season opening? I'd say The Office, just b/c Heroes disappointed quite a bit in its first three episodes, but I think ultimately that the latter has more potential to go somewhere better and different. The Office is in its fourth season, already had its rise to prominence, and I don't really see it topping the last season, but who knows...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The In Rainbows Revolution

Everyone reading music news on the web knows that Radiohead has announced the release date, title, and release format of their 7th album. It's called In Rainbows, it comes out on Tuesday the 10th of October, which is just a few days.

Now, the songs that are on the album aren't exactly a collection of brand new material. In fact, most of it is material that dates back to the Amnesiac/Kid A sessions or the OK Computer sessions. I'm not really sure how to feel about that, but considering the live versions of almost all the songs have been available for over a year now, I know the songs still sound great. The studio versions are bound to sound a little bit different, but I still think it will be great. Not "Album of the Year" great, but yet another fantastic addition to the Radiohead catalog.

What I find more interesting than the fact that we already know all of the songs on the album is how the band is choosing to release it. The album is currently only available to order on one website, which you can find here. As most of the internet has already said, you choose what you pay for the album, provided it does not exceed £100.

Radiohead has always been pretty much at the forefront of putting up their middle fingers at the recording industry ever since "Creep" became a hit. They've spent a little more than ten years diving down an artistic rabbit hole over the course of their career, and enough fans followed them through that process to make sure that for the rest of their lives they will be able to do things their own way. This surprise announcement is the strangest thing they've done yet, but there is talk that they will sign a one album deal so that a record company can cash in with a "proper" release of the record.

You can find almost all of the songs across the two discs everywhere on the net, so go listen to some of the live versions. I think I'm going to try downloading the album for free (it's not really free, there's a transaction fee of $1.00, so go figure), and then deciding whether or not to pay a little more money after I listen to it. I think that's a good way of releasing albums in the future, because at least then people could decide which bands survive by paying money for the good ones to keep making music. Of course we could end up with a bunch of least common denominator bands because of the buying power of Middle America, but who knows...

My Pride Is Soaring...

Though I attend Northwestern University, I have always been and always will be a fan of the Stanford Cardinal. I was raised a Stanford fan; I’ve gone to every football, basketball, and soccer game I could since I was about five. I remember watching Brevin Knight, Tim Young, Ryan Mendez, the Collins twins, Casey Jacobsen, Curtis Borchard, Julius Barnes, Chris Hernandez, Nick Robinson, and all the other now graduated basketball players with an awestruck expression on my face. I watch the Lopez twins now and see almost the same things I saw when I watched Jason and Jarron Collins out on the court.

I’d like to say I remember Stanford football the same way I was in love with the basketball, but I wasn’t. I kept track of some players, like Teyo Johnson, Troy Walters, Trent Edwards, Mark Bradford, and others, but I always went to the games and loved them.

I remember a while back when Sports Illustrated did a cover story on whether Stanford or Texas was the best sports university in the country. They gave Texas the edge, but in my opinion that was complete bullshit. Stanford has won the Director’s Cup, given to the university with the overall top athletic program in the nation, every single year except for the first year it was given out about 15 years ago. That is athletic dominance, regardless of their finishes in football and basketball, which at the time were not up to par with Texas but still fantastic. They went to the Rose Bowl in 2000 after winning the Pac-10, went to the Final Four and were one of the top basketball programs in the nation during that time, so they deserved a little respect.

About seven years ago, Stanford hired a new admissions director away from a small liberal arts college, where athletics had never been a priority and academic ability was subject to a stricter standard. Stanford University is a peculiar beast in that it is an academic institution that competes with the Ivy League, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, and other big time universities while competing on an athletic plain with the major athletic players in the country. This admissions director changed all of that, heightening standards for athletes so that recruits for basketball were getting into schools like Duke, but were getting denied at Stanford. Head coach Mike Montgomery became so infuriated by this trend that he left the school and went to the Golden State Warriors. Whereas basketball has managed in some ways to still compete, nowhere has this trend been more apparent than in the football team. When Tyrone Willingham was on the sideline, he had a fantastic set of football players around him and out on the field. Now, Jim Harbaugh has T.C. Ostrander, a quarterback from Menlo-Atherton High School about 15 minutes away from Palo Alto, and a handful of other players who could’ve played D-I ball in other places. Aside from that, Stanford football has essentially become a I-AA team (I’m using the old division notations, because why the hell would someone change those?) They haven’t competed in the Pac-10 in years, they’ve gone through three coaches since Willingham left, and it will take a few years to get new recruits coming through the ranks now that the University has hired away Yale’s admissions director.

What does all of this add up to? Pretty much the greatest day of my college life so far.

Northwestern isn’t the strongest football program in the nation either, and yet they managed to survive a terrible defensive day to beat Michigan State in OT 48-41 yesterday. Granted, they blocked an extra point and a punt, missed a field goal as time expired, and couldn’t tackled either of the Spartan’s backs the entire day, but C.J. Bachet threw for 5 touchdowns and over 500 yards to keep them afloat.

During the game, the people I was watching the game with and I talked about the Stanford-USC game that was to happen later that night. It was in Memorial Stadium, where USC is almost unbeatable. Stanford’s only true football player on the team, T.C. Ostrander, was out of the game with a head injury. He was sacked 7 times against Arizona State, and a few days later had a seizure in a restaurant while eating with his family. In his place was backup Tavita Pritchard who had only completed one pass in his career, and the only thing I knew about him was that he was the nephew of Washington State’s quarterback who is known as the “Throwin’ Samoan.” Stanford’s defense has always been terrible, and John David Booty combined with a rotation of running backs was sure to rip apart the Cardinal. All the signs pointed to a complete blowout, but then again, all of those things describe some of the greatest upsets in college football history. I jokingly predicted a Stanford win, fully expecting be wrong and having to suffer through watching Stanford get pummeled again by the nation’s top team.

What occurred that night can be described as nothing short of a miracle. Booty threw four picks, including one with less than a minute to go to clinch a 24-23 victory. The offense didn’t play fantastic, nobody had racked up a ton of yards, but they didn’t give the ball away. One interception got returned for a TD, and Stanford somehow managed to come from behind and score 17 points in the fourth quarter to win the game. I’ve seen some pretty amazing football games, and many more fantastic basketball games (I saw Nick Robinson hit a shot from half court to beat Arizona a few years ago when Stanford almost went undefeated for the season, it was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen), but this game topped any Big Game victory, any bowl game my parents saw, and just about cemented Harbaugh as the coach of the future for the Cardinal. They’ve now gone from losing to UC Davis one year to beating the #2 team in the nation in ONE YEAR. I don’t expect anything else good out of the team this year, but at this moment, after two fantastic wins for my two teams on college football Saturday, I am finding it very easy to survive the crappy workload that I’ve managed to leave for myself today…

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mid-Week Special: KT Tunstall does "The Prayer"

Bloc Party is one of my favorite bands, and most covers that I've heard of their songs usually end up completely disappointing me. Their web site does a fan thing where people can send in their own covers of Bloc Party songs. There are about 15 or so songs I think, but only two of them are any good.

Anyways, KT Tunstall recently did a cover of "The Prayer," which was one of the best songs from A Weekend in the City. I'm actually surprised that I like this cover, seeing as how I'm not the biggest fan of Tunstall's normal music, but I guess that's the nature of covers. I tend to not like songs by an artist, but find their cover of an artist that I like is a great new twist on a song. Here, I think her voice is what makes the song appealing. It's obviously different from Kele Okereke's, but it still has this desperate feeling to it that I found impressive.

Enjoy...coming later this week are my reactions to the openings of Heroes, The Office, and the upcoming new Radiohead album In Rainbows...

KT Tunstall - The Prayer (Bloc Party cover)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Album Review: Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace

There wasn't supposed to be a Foo Fighters album this year. The band was supposed to be taking a break for '07 and reconvening early next year, but Dave Grohl couldn't keep himself away from a recording studio, and Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace was born. With that little history in mind, the album is a nice little treat, but doesn't really do anything to stretch the band at all. It is the sound of a band doing what it does best entirely inside its own comfort zone.

As a bunch of other reviews have said, ESPG sounds a lot like the entire back catalogue of the band compressed into one album. There's a vaguely political song about President Bush ("The Pretender"), songs that sound as though they came off of The Colour and The Shape, and just an overall sense of a condensed style.

Right from the start, I think the first two songs should've been switched. "Let it Die" has the slow start that leads to a volcanic finale, and it would've been a great lead-in to first single "The Pretender." That aside, I think the album does a great job of not only blending the past Foo albums, but of correcting the main problem of In Your Honor: separating the acoustic and electric tracks. Here, they mingle freely, interspersed over the course of the album in a way that makes the music flow easily from track to track. "Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners" is an especially awesome song, an instrumental that Grohl wrote when he heard the story of a group of miners stuck deep in a mine shaft who asked for some Foo Fighters music to listen to while they were waiting to be rescued. It's the kind of acoustic song that was really missing from IYH, and it fits in really nicely here.

In a lot of ways, this album is Foo Fighters' version of Stadium Arcadium, and I have the same qualms about the two albums. Both are very, very good records with some great songs, but they don't really go anywhere. They are both long glances into a rearview mirror of a career, and are thus limited in their artistic advancement. The best thing I can say about them is that the two respective bands perfect their sounds on each respective album, but as an audience we tend to find shocking perfection more valuable than a slow, progressive move towards sonic perfection.

Don't get me wrong, ESPG is a great album; if you are a fan of Foo Fighters you will find a lot to love here, and if you've been living under a rock for ten years and haven't heard anything by them, then this would be a decent place to start. All I'm saying is that the struggle for a better, more perfect sound isn't here, the strive for something new is missing. It's Dave Grohl & Co. sitting down, collecting their past material, and putting out the best summary they can.

Foo Fighters - Let It Die
Foo Fighters - Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners(Acoustic Bootleg)