Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Hilarious Pump Up Video for Northwestern

Northwestern has their first Big Ten game of the season on Saturday at Iowa. We're 4-0 against some middle of the road non-conference teams, and Iowa is coming off its first loss of the season to Pittsburgh. I'm nervous about the game, especially after CJ Bacher's 4 INTs last week. Hopefully Tyrell Sutton is healthy like the coaches say he is and we'll have a more balanced and successful offensive attack this week. The defense played pretty damn well, but they've yet to face a truly equal opponent, so we'll see how that goes.

In recent weeks there's been a video circulating through the campus of a fantastic video created by an NU alum. does a lot of college news videos, and I know a few people that now work for the site, but one creation in particular stands head and shoulders above the rest. Mo Greene's "Go U" is a very funny piece of work as well as a pretty good pump up for football fans. A ton of my friends are in the beginning of the video, and the shout outs to key players make the song nice for this season.

A few questions though: Did we need the last minute of this video where Mo Greene basically shouts idiotically and speaks in a gravelly tone about the players? Why is he rapping in an empty stadium, we couldn't try and get some extras in there to be fans? I know there are people devoted enough to NU football to appear in a video, even one as cheesy and ridiculous as this one is. Take a look:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue

This review appears in edited form on North By Northwestern.

As far as solo albums go, Jenny Lewis' eventual separation from her band Rilo Kiley was fairly obvious. Over the course of their career, Lewis had taken more and more of a lead role, overshadowing her band mates in public fascination, if not always in talent (I still have a giant soft spot for Blake Sennett). When Lewis came out with her debut solo effort Rabbit Fur Coat with the help of the Watson Twins in 2005, the surprise wasn't that she had done solo work on a Rilo Kiley break, but that she'd switched genres. That first album dabbled in gospel and country, leaving us all wondering if she'd gone all Nashville on us for good.

Lewis' follow-up solo effort Acid Tongue takes us in a completely new direction for her. She isn't so much concerned with playing a different genre, but changing a perception. Her first album created a good-girl image; here she's at work deconstructing that image, dirtying it up and doing her best to go bad. Much like Under the Blacklight created a seedy, unfamiliar atmosphere for Rilo Kiley, this album is forward-thinking, if not as strong as her debut.

I'm not sure what it is about this year, but a good amount of records are starting off with lackluster tracks, and Acid Tongue unfortunately falls into that category. The worst offender is probably "The Next Messiah", which is an eight-minute-plus medly that sounds like the black sheep child of The Who and one of Green Day's punk operetta's from American Idiot. It's got too many undercooked ideas packed into one track, and for the first four songs on the record, Lewis sounds too constrained, too caught up in trying to force a change in her perception.

Thankfully the title track comes in at just the right time to shift gears completely. "Acid Tongue" is exactly the kind of catharsis the album needs to shake off the frills and heavy production clogging the music so far. Lewis has been performing a lot of these songs live for years, including the title track, and they sound so well-travelled. Backed by a country-tinged chorus of helping voices, Lewis strips everything down to a very real image of herself. The line "To be lonely is a habit / like smoking or taking drugs / and I've quit them both / but man was it rough" does more for her than anything in the behemoth "The Next Messiah."

From the title track on Acid Tongue plays like a completely different record. It sound freer, more in tune with going for broke and having fun while maintaining an edge. "Carpetbaggers" is an easy standout that maintains some country twangs of Fur Coat but rocks more than any track on that album, and the macabre storytelling of "Jack Killed Mom" keeps with the darker progression both Lewis and her band have been taking through their career. Where gospel invaded her debut, there are bits of soul sprinkled liberally through the later tracks on Lewis' sophomore effort, and she isn't afraid to let her voice explore that style.

After two records, it's still hard to gauge whether Lewis is better off without her band. There certainly aren't full arrangements on the album that could've done with a little guitar meddling from Blake Sennett, but with a guest list that contains Elvis Costello, M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, and Lewis' boyfriend Jonathan Rice, there's no shortage of star power. Lewis has the chops to create a cohesive and compelling tune on her own, but Acid Tongue stumbles out of the gate with a few weak songs. That isn't to say there aren't very strong tracks later in the record, but one wonders if she had the whole band together if those kinks could've been worked out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jack White & Alicia Keys Do 007

There was some juicy gossip news months ago when Amy Winehouse whined about producers of the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace nixing her theme song attempt. What followed was a denial from producer Mark Ronson, and the announcement that none other than Jack White and Alicia Keys would be performing a duet on the actual theme song.

Well, now the day has arrived. The track has been played on European radio and already ripped onto the internet. The track is called "Another Way To Die" and features some odd production for a Jack White track.

It's interesting, I'll give it that, and hearing Keys and White singing opposite each other is surely a trip, but I'm not sure if this really belongs in a Bond movie yet. Maybe another couple listens will help me make up my mind. I am digging the piano, strings, and drums combo underneath the combined wailing of Jack and Alicia.

Take a listen, tell me what you think, and ignore the radio interruptions in the track from time to time.

Jack White & Alicia Keys - "Another Way to Die"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Take Two: Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley is probably the most high-profile band to have ever signed to Saddle Creek, after Conor Oberst of course. They rode a wave of indie praise through their early albums, but as of late have not garnered as much critical acclaim, and I don't really know why. Indie critics hypocritically hate two things: bands that deviate from their sound too much, and bands that always sound the same. They want bands that don't deviate to experiment with new sounds, and want bands that go down the rabbit hole to just do what they loved in the first place. It's a lose-lose situation. I don't know why, but for some reason I've liked everything I ever heard from Rilo Kiley. They do different things on different albums, but every time it works for me.

Take Offs and Landings

"Science Vs. Romance" - I love how low-key the first couple songs on their debut record sound. It's very sparse, with Jenny Lewis' voice taking up most of the space, and it's a beautiful one. I know a lot of girls who would go gay for Jenny Lewis after seeing her in concert. This song has such a mellow tone to it, but the lyrics lambast the idea that love can be thought out scientifically, thus the title. Romance is a fluid and ever-changing idea that doesn't have plans that always work, and this song gets that point across nicely. The end of the song drives into a great guitar solo and breakdown, moving away from the completely toned-down sound of the record so far.

"August" - I really dig Blake Sennett, but across Rilo Kiley's albums they've started decreasing his songwriting input, which is a shame. This song, like a lot of Rilo Kiley songs, succeeds on its simplicity. It's a simple message, a simple riff, a simple sound, not much vocal stretching, but I like the sound a lot. There are times where all you want is something stripped down to its bare elements, and Rilo Kiley does a good job of crafting songs in that vein, albeit with a few little production touches here and there.

The Execution of All Things

"The Execution of All Things" - I love the high-pitched guitar line that comes in right before the end of the first verse, as well as the stream-of-consciousness lyrics from Jenny Lewis. They got more atmospheric on their second album, with more little digital blurbs going in different places, but they still kept a great guitar boom between the verses.

"With Arms Outstretched" - A great build from acoustic guitar and Jenny Lewis to a more chorus-like vocal track with many voices, even building to group clapping as the song closes. I like the stripped-down feel and softness of the track, and it slips very nicely into the end of the record.

More Adventurous

"Does He Love You?" - Around this album was when Jenny Lewis pretty much took over all songwriting duties, and she got really amazing at storytelling in her songs for this record. This tells the story of a mistress in heartbreaking fashion, and the emotional highs and lows that Lewis hits in her vocals are amazing.

"Accidental Death" - Perhaps the greatest verse in all of Rilo Kiley's songs is the second verse, about a story of a father hunting deer. The instrumentation is wonderfully layered, the drums echo greatly, the guitars hit the right intensity, and those lyrics are the kind that make me wish I could write a song like they do. It's one of the best songs of the decade for me, and my favorite song on the album.

Under the Blacklight

"Breakin' Up" - A lot of people don't like this album, but I still really dig it as a distinctly LA breakup record. Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett had recently broken up, and just like No Doubt ten years earlier they got a great breakup track out of it. I love the little guitar riff that floats through the song, and for a former child actor and LA resident for a long time, Jenny Lewis does a damn good job of sounding a little bit country in her singing.

"Smoke Detector" - The best lyric on the entire album to me is the second verse when Lewis sings "I took a man back to my room/I was smoking him in bed" then for the rest of the song she only sings "I was smoking in bed." It's like a wink to the audience, only in lyric form. The song is very 60s-simple pop as well, but there are still sleazy LA dark bits around the edges. I love the way that they made a light sounding album full of so much dark little bits sprinkled throughout the songs. Most people say its their worst record, but I really think Under the Blacklight was a great step in a new direction for the band. Unfortunately, with Jenny Lewis rising as a solo artist and the strain of a breakup and increased success, it could be their last.

Non-Album Tracks
"The Frug" - Some of the best Rilo Kiley songs are beautiful for their simplicity. This is one of the best for that reason alone, but the utter catchiness of the melody does a lot to help.

"Teenage Love Song" - Most of the time its annoying when non-teens sing about teenage life, but the attitude Jenny Lewis has as she sings forlornly on this track makes me believe she can fit back into a teen mindset. The song is simple, heartbreaking, humorous, and somehow very calm.

Friday, September 12, 2008

NU vs. Duke Redux: Escape of the Wildcats

Northwestern went 2-0 for the second straight year, barely scraping out a 24-20 win over Duke in Durham, North Carolina. Last season Duke broke their 22-game losing streak by defeating NU in Evanston 20-14, and this year's affair was no less of a nail biter.

In short, they played like crap for a lot of the game, as if they were trying to lose the game to Duke for the 2nd straight year. CJ Bacher is a pretty good quarterback, but he's very streaky. It's why he threw just as many touchdowns as he did interceptions last year. If he's on, he'll throw great passes all over the field; if he's not, like against Duke, he can't really do anything to help the team beat even a mediocre opponent.

Not that the blame should rest only on him, the NU defense let Duke move down the field almost at will, and without a lot of their best players no less.

Tomorrow, we play Southern Illinois in another non-conference game we must win. With Ohio actually challenging Ohio State, I'm concerned about our game next week against Ohio, but we can't afford to look that far ahead.

Hopefully we get another win. We need to go 4-0 before the Big Ten season begins, and then we'll have a shot at a bowl game.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Review: Matt Black - Pitch Black

Back in the summer before my senior year of high school, I did a summer film program at Northwestern. I stayed there for five weeks learning some film theory, writing an original short film, and watching at least two movies a day. A lot of the kids from that program went on to film school, at USC, NYU, Northwestern, or a number of other places. The funniest thing that happened in the dorm were rap tracks that got made by different sections of my hall (East Side, West Side...yeah it was kind of lame). A couple of the kids were actually talented producers or MCs, and its one of those kids that I’m talking about today.

Matt Black (or Matt McFerrin if we’re going by birth names) made a sick film, and was an even better freestyle rapper, especially at 3am after ordering Papa John’s. He had music posted up on a MySpace
for a long time, but I assumed that like most amateur musicians he’d go do something else and those tracks would end up being the last real rapping he ever did. How surprised was I to find that he put out his own indie rap album just a few weeks ago?

Pitch Black is a crazy cacophony of instrumentation, beats, and samples. Matt doesn’t exactly have a heart-wrenching tale to tell with his rhymes, but he does pull out all the stops to make everything he does really fun to hear. It only takes a few plays for songs like “Track 9 From OutaSpace” and “Back From the Jungle” to be a very silly kind of entertainment due to the production values.. Matt careens through rhymes that seem nonsensical, but then I consider that it sounds pretty much like I do when I bounce from pop culture reference to reference in conversation.

I used to have this personal stigma against any rap that didn’t tell a story or have a social purpose like N.W.A., but the more I delve into the genre the more I can separate talented musicianship from the crap that is just shitty party music (Nelly, most if not all Crunk music). Pitch Black walks a fine line in my rap tastes, never being too senseless in its random pop culture and Mary Jane references and containing enough fantastic production to keep me listening if only for the beats. Matt’s flow isn’t deep or imposing, but it sounds like he loves what he does and is having a shitload of fun on every track.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for music that’s created by people I know, and if I was going into journalism that lack of differentiation would be a problem, but I’m not. I really like the album, I have a good time listening to it, and it helps that the production is pretty damn top notch. You may not like his voice, his flow, or his rhymes, but I do, and the beats are universally likeable enough to give it a shot.

Matt Black – “Chemically Enhanced”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Box Office Mystery of Tyler Perry

There aren’t too many filmmakers that I outright do not care for at all. I don’t like the films of Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, or Uwe Boll, but I don’t harbor ill will against the people themselves, just the poor-quality films they turn out. I can’t say the same thing about writer/director/douchebag Tyler Perry.

A playwright by the age of 18, Perry has made his own fortune touring his sentimental yet “edgy” family dramedies around the country, featuring his own “original” character Madea (how original is a heavyset, opinionated, wise-cracking black woman, even if its a guy in drag?). When he made the transition from stage to screen in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, I wasn’t surprised to see critics collectively pan the film. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t even mediocre. The film was poorly made, poorly written, poorly acted, and was far too cliché, borrowing liberally from other stories and situations that had been done better before Perry chose to drop Madea into them.

What was surprising was how the box office figures turned out. Now we’ve seen people turn out for bad movies before, and my favorite moment of the Hollywood elite not understanding audiences may be Chris Rock’s video at the 2005 Academy Awards where moviegoers tell him their favorite movies of the year were White Chicks and The Chronicles of Riddick, but Tyler Perry becoming a franchise (mainly in the Bible Belt, but there are sizeable audiences elsewhere) just seems wrong to me.

The man doesn’t seem to have any original ideas, and brings back Madea far too often to be the stereotypical loud, angry, black woman who just cracks jokes. I love Kevin Smith, and the knock that he always relies on Jay and Silent Bob is a little bit of a different case to me. The two have very minor roles in Clerks and Chasing Amy, and got their own specialty film in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but they actually provide insight and a moral compass to Smith’s films.

Perry’s films are vaguely religious in their tone, and to that end he’s right when he says Hollywood doesn’t understand the audience of his films. Most big art – and by that I mean television, film, and music - is not made by devoutly religious people anymore; artists don’t require the patronage of wealthy devout people or the church to create works of art.

Where I don’t like Perry on a filmmaker level is that he is bulletproof to bad ratings and devoted audiences drink his stuff up like Kool-Aid. Films like the Movie have seen declining grosses over the years as the terrible ratings rack up, but the devoted audience Perry has cultivated seems content with buying tickets to see his plays, DVDs of his plays being performed, tickets to the movies based on his plays, DVDs of those movies, and continuing to see everything he produces. Perry is a figure that works outside the system, mocks it, and survives the way artists never used to be able to: making money in spite of the lack of quality of their art.

His new movie The Family That Preys comes out on Friday, and in light of the critical beating he’s taken over the years I’m anxious to see if he’s finally made a respectable film, or he’s just recycled another plot that we’ve seen a million times before and packaged it so that his core audience will deliver him another typically-sized profit. It’s as though he doesn’t strive to bring in a bigger audience, to convert nonbelievers if you will. He is uncompromising, difficult, and shuns those that don’t “understand” what he does. If it’s critically substandard, and the ratings all over the internet reflect that, I think people understand fine.

Review: Kings of Leon - Only By The Night

There are few bands with as deep a mystique as Kings of Leon. Three sons of a preacher and their cousin playing the devil’s music, that’s how they get summed up. They’ve gone through a critically acclaimed debut, an acclaimed deepening of style on a follow-up, and an epic, daunting third record. Amid all the alleged drug use, promiscuous sex, and rehab the group has gone through, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that their newest foray, Only By The Night, is a record properly absorbed in a candlelit room with a partner.

With the exception of “Sex on Fire”, which plays like a very good, if significantly less metaphoric or subtle, companion piece to “Molly’s Chambers”, the entire record plays like different variations of rock slow jams. It’s like southern-fried rock mixed with R&B. They still maintain that air of classic southern rock, and they’re not breaking new sonic ground with this stuff, but nobody’s ever accused Kings of Leon of being forward-thinking. They’re not revolutionaries, they’re just really good at what they do.

Their sound occupies more space this time around, with voices echoing off into the air and guitars lingering in reverb. His voice is much less of a growl or a drawl and more of a croon, especially in songs like the verses of “Use Somebody.” You keep waiting for the band to kick the tempo up a notch, but it never comes, and you never seem to mind. They’ve slowed their songs down and made them very night-friendly.

They’ve always been overtly sexual, even when including religious imagery. Just take a look at the song titles (“I Want You”, “Sex on Fire”, “Use Somebody”). “17” is dripping with Lolita-esque eroticism as it ponders an underage sexpot (eerily similar to “15” by Rilo Kiley, albeit from a first person perspective instead of third). There aren’t may loud come-ons, just slow burning croons that seduce over time, it’s a delayed release of lust over the course of forty-five minutes.

The album is calm, contemplative, but still contains a layer of erotic tension. His voice, no matter how quavering, always has an air of desire. I can see a ton of these songs being used over sex scenes in indie movies for years. It’s a really solid record from beginning to end, even if there aren’t really any popping singles besides “Sex on Fire”. Only By The Night works as an album, played all the way through during the night, and as a very atmospheric work it succeeds greatly.

A lot of odd things were said about Kings of Leon through their early years. They got unfairly and inexplicably compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd for being a good rock band from the south, and were allegedly virgins on their first tour; but four albums in, they’ve established themselves as a very strong force in rock. This album saw the exploration of a completely new kind of sound within their parameters, and it begs excitement for whatever direction the band chooses to go in next.

Kings of Leon – “Sex On Fire”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Records of the Summer

Tomorrow I leave for my second year of college. I'm taking a two-day train across the country to Chicago, and most likely will be without internet access. In my final hours at home for the summer, I'm going to write a bit about the albums I spun the most this summer. As with most of the lists I do, they don't represent what I think are the "best" albums, just the ones I personally favored the most.

Ratatat - LP3

Ever since their first album (which I loved immediately), it's taken a while for their newest material to grow on me. There have been a lot of times where I just wanted some instrumental to fill in the silence, and that's given me a lot of time to absorb this album, and I've come to find a place for this album just as I have for their other two. "Mirando" always packs a twittering punch, and "Dura" got a lot of spins as well. From the sound of the album and the song titles, this somehow has tinges of Spanish and Eastern influences, which is experimentation enough on the great electronic formula Ratatat have for me. I remember a lot of critics wondering if the "gimmick" of their first album could spawn others, and I really admire their ability to keep finding new ways to make electronic instrumentals interesting.

Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

I was really not impressed when I saw Girl Talk perform at Northwestern in the winter, so this album really came out of left field for me. I didn't pay anything for it, as Gregg Gillis offered it up for free (you can kind of see why, considering all the songs he samples freely and with complete reckless abandon). For some reason this album rang differently to me. Where on other albums I'd feel frustrated by how fast the samples were burned up to move through a song, I felt that they lingered just long enough to capture our attention, and then moved onto something else at the right time. I danced many times to this entire record at parties and in the car over the course of the summer, and I was really taken aback at how much I like what he did on this record. I love being able to laugh at what he's sampling (the moment "Steal My Sunshine" comes on for 10 seconds is the best shout out on the entire CD to me, though "In A Big Country" is a close second). I had so much fun listening to this album in the past couple months; it'll always be linked to anything I remember from this summer, and that's the best praise I can give it.

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

I remembering reading about The Hold Steady for the first time the summer before my senior year of high school when a RollingStone writer called them the best band of the decade. Since I'd never heard of them I picked up their debut and have been hooked ever since. Boys and Girls in America is a really hard album to top, but Stay Positive is another in a line of very consistent, very strong records for the band. They deserve all the critical praise they get, and while there's no song here to match my favorite from the last "Hot Soft Light" there are some great barn burners. "Constructive Summer" was an early song of the summer favorite for me, and "Sequestered in Memphis" was played many a time as I drove the highways with my windows down. I really dig the earthy feel of the album art and how it fits the Americana storytelling of the record. I just really like seeing a good band put out something deserving of their name.

Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

I never did get around to commenting on the ridiculousness surrounding the debut album of the much-buzzed about Jacksonville, FL band, so I guess now comes my compressed and delayed reaction. Pitchfork gave their debut EP an 8.4, and then inexplicably gave their full-length debut a non-review of 3.3 just nine short months later. I've seen a lot of internet reviewers trying to build and break down hype with their writing alone, but this case got out of hand quickly. The review smelled terribly of Pitchfork drumming up an audience for itself rather than making good on its intended purpose of reviewing and reacting to music in a helpful and informative fashion. It was more in tune with this Onion article than any well-written review they've ever posted.

Buzz and backlash aside, they did release four tracks from their debut EP re-recorded along with only six other tracks, but I still really like the album. I think the best four tracks close out the record, beginning with their awesome single "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" and continuing through "Love Me Already", "I Want To Be Your Limosine", and "Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo)." It's some nice dance-rock, and if people could focus on the music instead of the cloud of internet whining trying to grab at people's attention, everyone could see the strong record underneath it all.

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst

A song that overstays its welcome and lasts too long for its own good is painfully bad. Conversely, a fantastic song that ends too soon is a masterful achievement. Clocking in at just 1:12, "NYC - Gone,Gone" was my favorite song of the summer, and ever since first hearing songs from the record I've been absolutely hooked on it. Aside from the fifty second interlude that is "Valley Mistico (Ruben's Song)", there is not a single weak song on this record. Somehow Oberst found himself using his own name and freeing himself of his longtime producer down in Mexico. From the opening notes of "Cape Canaveral" to the closing of "Milk Thistle" I was stunned. I've liked a lot from his past three records, but this album rang out a "return to form" vibe, and never gave it up. "Eagle On a Pole" is a standout, as are "Danny Callahan" and "Moab." Like I said, it's hard to pick a bad song from the bunch, and it's one of those rare albums that I can listen straight through without skipping a single track.

Bloc Party - Intimacy

It's taken a couple weeks, but just like I thought, the new Bloc Party album is already growing on me. I spin "Halo" a couple times a day, and "Trojan Horse", first single "Mercury" and "Biko" get frequent plays as well. I didn't like the places Bloc Party was growing towards, but now I've accepted the direction and enjoy the sounds. There's less angular, typical guitar work here and much more of Okereke's ideas at play here, but the other members do fill in the bits in fantastic ways. The bells in "Signs" shimmer nicely, and there are still a few walls to be broken down in "One Month Off." They do sound a bit like they didn't their ideas air out to a public reaction before settling on a final draft, but it's still a really enjoyable record, especially for a rabid Bloc Party fan like myself.

There you have it, my records of the summer. Hopefully some of the big profile fall releases will prove to be worth their salt, and maybe this year I'll actually get around to posting a list of my favorite records of the entire year.

"Fun" With A Former Format Leader

I was really sad when The Format broke up. It was the first in a string of bands I really liked breaking up, and that was the first time since Rage Against the Machine fizzled out that I had to deal with bands I was a fan of not making music together anymore.

Well, now I get to enjoy some "new" music by at least one of those bands. Nate Ruess, former lead singer of The Format, now has a new band: fun. Yeah, all promo material points to the name being lower case.

He's teamed up with Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost to form the new trio, and they're recording during September for a first release. They're on tour with Jack's Mannequin later in the fall, with a single planned for November and an album due in February 2009. Take a listen to the demo for "Benson Hedges" at the link below. It definitely sounds like The Format, which is good if you're a fan, but I wonder what new direction, if any, they'll take as a new outfit.

fun - "Benson Hedges (Demo)"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oklahoma City's NBA Team Has A Nickname: Thunder

It's been leaked for about a month now, but today the Seattle, excuse me, Oklahoma City NBA franchise has a new nickname, and it's not the one we all knew it should be (the Bandits). They are now officially the Oklahoma City...Thunder. Sounds pretty lame doesn't it? Check out their website here.

There were a ton of leaks of the name along the way. There was the discovery of the website domain purchases, the NBA website screwing up and posting a schedule for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then the news the OKC trademarked six different nicknames.

Here were the six nicknames the NBA filed trademarks for: Barons, Bison, Energy, Marshals, Thunder, and Wind. Of those six, Energy, Bison, and Wind are just ridiculously bad. Energy is a WNBA or WUSA-caliber name, Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the Old West, and Wind is just plain terrible. Barons and Marshals are actually two pretty good ideas, and I'd give my vote to Marshals, but Thunder is clearly the weakest of the top three.

The last team to go through a naming fiasco this bad was the Houston Dynamo of the MLS. The original idea was to name the team Houston 1836, after the year of Houston's founding, but the name came under fire for being linked with the Texas War for Independence, and was changed to the ridiculously lame Dynamo...or maybe I'm just bitter they took my Earthquakes out of San Jose for a few years.

Come to think of it, the people that have been doing a good job of naming teams lately are MLS teams. Names like Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, FC Dallas, Toronto FC, and the expansion team Seattle Sounders FC are proper team names. I've always liked the idea of nicknames developing on their own through a fanbase instead of an artificial mascot propped in front for a new team. Old names in the NFL and MLB are good and traditional, but football always had the right idea about naming teams. Rumor has it the new team in Philadelphia will be named Philadelphia Athletic, which already sounds cool.

Teams in European leagues like Charlton Athletic or Atletico Madrid use the name, and I don't see any reason to burden the team with silly adjectives or nicknames from the get-go in football.

Take Two: Weezer

There are a lot of people who don't like Rivers Cuomo and his band Weezer. Some don't like his style altogether, others don't like the directions he's taken the band in the years since their resurgance with The Green Album. I don't really care, because I am a huge Weezer fan. Always have been, always will be. There are a few bands that I will follow in whatever musical direction they wander, and Wezer is one of those bands. Here's my take on their albums:

Weezer (Blue Album)

"Say It Ain't So" - It's a wonderfully vivid story told through the lyrics, and the chorus roars through as Rivers rises to a scream. The most powerful point may be when he suddenly crescendos during the second verse, ending on "be cool." The guitar intro is great as well.

"Only In Dreams" - My personal favorite Weezer song of all time. Its an epic track that builds through its immense bridge slowly but surely, rising to a climactic finale. It starts off blissfully, and its transformation into a slow burner is fantastic.


"Across The Sea" - Rivers plagarized a letter from a Japanese girl so badly in this song that he actually gave her a minor songwriting credit. It's the apex of sexual frustration that inhabits the album, without a doubt their best in my mind. The lewd fantasies of the narrator give way to youthful lonliness, and the emotional and generation shift in the tone of the lyrics is a reason why I believe Cuomo is such a gifted songwriter.

"The Good Life" - After the frustration that haunts the entire first half of the record, this track begins side two by shoving off the complacency and vowing to get back to partying and getting out there. I love the transitions on this record, and the sequencing is excellent, especially with these two songs right after one another, then "El Scorcho" and "Pink Triangle" in succession. It plays through like a great sexually frustrated narrative.

Weezer (Green Album)

"Photograph" - Returning with a new record after 5 years, The Green Album was full of short, punchy, almost teaser songs for the new incarnation of the band. "Photograph" is my favorite of the short, sweet, simple songs on this record.

"Island In The Sun" - Yeah its cheesy, and now its overplayed and used in commertials, but its still a wonderfully relaxing and happy song, great to listen to in the summertime. I'd gladly put a couple more songs from Pinkerton in place of these two, as I find the album to be too short to really offer great songs, but these are some of the best on the record.


"Keep Fishin'" - Any music video that features the Muppets is okay in my book. I love the riff, the chorus, the lyrics, the rocking, everything about this song is what I like about Weezer...except for maybe a little turned down relaxed vibe.

"Burndt Jamb" - Speaking of a great relaxed vibe, this is the buried gem on Maladroit, perfect for sitting back and chilling, with a little guitar solo chucked in for kicks. I like the balance between virtuosic solos and chilled-out verses on this album a lot.

Make Believe

"Perfect Situation" - Almost ten years down the road, and Rivers is still as frustrated as he was on Pinkerton. Much like with Dashboard Confessional, it may be odd to hear the romantic frustrations of a thirty-something, but Rivers makes it work most of the time. The chorus might be a bit weak, but the verses are another great dose of his romance storytelling.

"This Is Such A Pity" - A welcome change of pace and stylistic exploration for the band, I really like the 80s feel and straight-ahead, no stopping sensability of the track. It's another reconciliation track with romance breaking down, but it wouldn't be a Weezer song if there wasn't at least a little of that.

Weezer (Red Album)

"Troublemaker" - Originally intended to be the first single from the record (until the record label-dissing "Pork and Beans" came along in the final sessions for the album with Jacknife Lee), I really like the simplicity of the song. It's no nonsense, simple progression, and really catchy.

"The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn)" - A great epic track that changes styles about every 30 seconds, adding a choir here, a power ballad guitar there, and everything between. It goes on for a long time, but I enjoy hearing the quick changes and the myriad of styles the band molds to each time they switch. A lot of people have grown tired of how Cuomo does his songwriting, but he does take it seriously, and I think there are legitimately great songs on every Weezer album. You just have to give the stylistic change a chance, and it'll grow on you.

Non-Album Tracks
"Jamie" - From the Deluxe Edition of The Blue Album, another one of Rivers' perfect lyrical portraits. It's got romance, a tinge of humor in the heartbreak, and a great sound.

"I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams" - The only surviving song from the aborted Songs From the Black Hole album/musical to have full female vocals. It shows off how that concept would've sounded when fully realized, and I have to say, it would've been awesome. People have compiled demos and unreleased tracks to form the unfinished album, and Songs From the Black Hole sits in Top 10 lists of best unreleased or unfinished albums all the time. The female vocals are from Rachel Haden of the band that dog, and now the reformed version of Weezer ex-bassist Matt Sharp's The Rentals. It's a shame the album never got finished, but this one suriving, essentially finished look makes me lament the loss of the fully realized album.

So there's another one of my favorite groups whittled down to just a few tracks per album. I'd love for them to return to the form of their first two albums, but they've gotten too old to express that kind of feel in an album. I just hope they find a groove as they grow older to make something that everyone can appreciate as much as their first forays.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Next Big Sound is The Next Big Sound

I'm in a fraternity at Northwestern, and I distinctly remember hearing a conversation in the house where one of the older brothers that I really like was concerned about not having a job for the summer. Well, a few months later, there shouldn't have been any concern.

The Next Big Sound was founded by a group of 5 guys, two of whom are in my fraternity, working on a project in an entrepeneurship class that got investors from the Illinois Ventures Program. They got their fledgling site off the ground this summer in Champaign, IL, and now its up and running as a startup business in Evanston.

Here's how it works. Users who sign up on the site are called "moguls" who create their own faux record label. They then listen to demos submitted by unsigned artists on the site. If they like the band's music, they "sign" the band to one of ten artist slots designated to each user. Moguls sign artists that they think other people will want to sign, hoping to earn points as a band gains popularity. The bands are rewarded for more people signing them, and the moguls are rewarded when more people sign the band after them. The site keeps track of who signed a band first, so you can actually prove you were listening to a band before anyone else.

It is a little bit more of a business game than it is discovering music, but hey, when you get to pretend to have your own label with music that you like, there's a little bit right in the world.

A lot of bands from the Chicago area or with members at Northwestern see a huge boost in popularity on the site, but that's not to say that eventually it couldn't have regional success anywhere. It's sort of like PureVolume, but with much more user input and involvement. It gets the fans in direct control over who is successful, because to be 1 of only 10 slots you have to sound pretty good to a lot of people.

The site draws comparisons to networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, especially the latter's music section, but there's less of an emphasis on networking between users and more on a fantasy business/game vibe. There's a box office prediction game that I've played every now and again called Fantasy Moguls that is essentially fantasy football for movies, and this site runs a lot like fantasy football with unsigned musicians and bands.

Here's a link to my profile on the site. Take a look at what they've got going there, these guys deserve some success with such an interesting idea.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I Am An Air Bud Apologist

There are a few movies in each generation that stick in childhood minds more than others. Disney animated films are ubiquitous, but some children don't latch onto them. I have my favorite Disney animated films, but there are live actions ones I thoroughly enjoyed. Bedknobs and Broomsticks for instance, is a great memory from my childhood, as is Mary Poppins. In later years, there were many Disney films I watched on video, but one theatre experience stands out from all the rest: 1997's Air Bud.

It's easy to say that because of a series' later disasters, the original loses some respect, but I beg to differ. I feel like Air Bud has a ton of classic moments in my childhood that the later sins of Golden Reciever, 7th Inning Fetch, and the like cannot sour.

Most kids from the 90s know the story. "Buddy" the golden retriever with the ability to hit a ball with his muzzle, belongs to a mean, abusive clown named Norman Snively (they really stayed impartial on the character with that name, didn't they?), but escapes. Josh Framm's family has just moved to a new home in Washington state after the death of his father, and is too shy to play basketball, the sport he loves. Of course, the boy meets the dog, the boy tries out for the team after meeting the school's "engineer" (who's actually a retired ex-player for the New York Knicks), and Buddy becomes the accidental team mascot after demonstrating his ability to hit the ball into the basket with his muzzle. There's a generic underdog plot going on here for the basketball team, but there's also much more subtle commentary that I only picked up on vaguely as a child, but now notice and commend the filmmaker's for including.

There are three moments that raise Air Bud out of the realm of forgettable and repetitive children's fare, and have stuck in my mind forever.. First, there is the demon of a basketball coach at Josh's school. After the first game Josh plays (one in which Buddy runs onto the court and causes a commotion), one of his teammates has repeatedly dropped the ball. During a thrillingly annoying speech from Josh's principal, he sees Buddy running back towards the gym, where everyone finds the coach chucking basketballs at the poor kid. There's only one light on in the gym, directly above the boy being struck by basketballs. I know mean coaches now, but back then I was scared by this guy, and I'll never forget the principal's line "That'll be enough coach...that'll be enough."

Second, there's the ball hog of the team, Larry Willingham (played by Brendan Fletcher, who went on to appear in the Nickelodeon series Caitlin's Way and The Onion Movie). He's your generic ball hog that always wants the ball and hates his teammates, but his dad is one of the first onscreen examples of terrible athlete parents I ever saw. Mr. Willingham is essentially a second coach for the team in yelling at his son for small mistakes, and eventually yanks his son off the team to move to Spokane so he can play for another team. Obviously this team in Spokane is who Josh's school plays against in the championship, giving the "good guys" a chance to defeat the meddling father who should stay out of his son's athletic life and let him choose what to do. I've seen parents destroy their children's athletic dreams due to too much pressure to succeed. Even my friends at Stanford notice Michelle Wie's parents and their horrible meddling into their daughter's life.

The third moment is perhaps the most heartbreaking. When Snively sees Buddy on television, he comes back to claim the dog. Josh breaks Buddy out before the championship basketball game, and attempts to set Buddy free, but the dog won't understand that he has to leave his new owner. Josh is forced to yell "Get!" at the dog repeatedly, ending in screaming with tears rushing down his cheek before throwing a basketball for Buddy to chase in the wrong direction before running away. I own a golden retriever, and I think of Air Bud every time I play with her, and that scene still brings a little tear to my eye. Giving up a dog, or watching a pet separated from its owner, is always heartbreaking.

I'm a sucker for dogs, underdog stories, and movies from my childhood, and Air Bud hits all three of those buttons. Call me soft, sentimental, or hypocritical for liking these movies, but I distinctly believe that there is a difference between what we find great, and what we personally like. Can I apologize for the terrible lighting in much of this film? Or the overacting by Josh's mom and several of the kids? No, but I don't care, I find the dog story incredibly enthralling, and I will always stick up for this movie.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Northwestern Football Mini-Preview 2008

I didn't get excited about going to home college football games until after I had arrived at school last year. I got the field over an hour before the game and sat in the front two rows of the student section with new friends, and had one of the most important experiences of my year, even in losing to Michigan 28-16. I became a die-hard Wildcat fan that afternoon, and it carried through the entire season as I watched every game in the front rows or on television, even road tripping to Champagne, Illinois to watch our season-ending rivalry game with the Illini.

Yesterday, the Northwestern University Wildcats' 2008 football campaign opened with a win over Syracuse University. Senior running back Tyrell Sutton got his season off to a great start, hopefully erasing memory of an injury-ridden 2007 season, and the defense started well, even getting a safety to open our scoring. The first quarter didn't go so well, but we went into the half in the lead and never looked back. We depend on a senior offensive trio of Quarterback CJ Bacher, wideout Ross Lane, and Sutton to light up the scoreboard. Our defense last year was incredibly leaky, bleeding yards and big plays all over the place, and hopefully will hold better this year with a new defensive coordinator.

Here's our schedule for the rest of the season (home games in bold):

at Duke University
Southern Illinois
at Iowa
Michigan St.
Purdue (Homecoming)
at Indiana
at Minnesota
Ohio State
at Michigan

Looking at that schedule, the Wildcats need to win their first four games. We've gotten ourselves a lucky schedule once again, avoiding Penn State and Wisconsin. If results are the same as last year, we take wins at home against Michigan St., and away at Indiana and Minnesota. If that hold true, we end at 7-5 and are bowl eligible, but that's not what could happen in the best case scenario. We should have beaten Iowa at home last year, and they haven't shown too many signs of being better this year, and we definitely should have beaten Purdue away as well. It isn't likely, but we could head into Columbus, OH with a 9-0 record. In the absolute best case, we'd steal a game from the Wolverines, take our rivalry game with Illinois, and have an 11-1 record through the Big Ten season. Will that happen? Probably not. We'll probably lose at Iowa and either Indiana or Minnesota, and home against Ohio State. Besides that, I think we've got a pretty good chance in every home game, and could steal a win from Iowa or Michigan. All in all, I'd say we go 8-4 and run off to a bowl game. I know I'd be making the road trip wherever we'd be headed, and so would a ton of my friends.

I Know Everyone Is Tired of The Movie Movies...

Yesterday saw the release of the latest "spoof" movie Disaster Movie. In the past 8 years since Scary Movie came out, there have now been 9 films in the series. It started with the Wayans brothers, moved to David Zucker (of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame), then to Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for the Non-"Scary" Movies. Here's a list of the loosely tied together "series":

2000 - Scary Movie
2001 - Scary Movie 2
2003 - Scary Movie 3
2006 - Scary Movie 4, Date Movie
2007 - Epic Movie
2008 - Meet the Spartans, Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie

I don't know about anyone else, but this series is pretty much the worst ever made. I don't think a single one of them has a positive score on the Tomatometer or on IMDB. I'll be honest, I enjoyed Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2. They had the right kind of bad humor going for them, and at least they parodied horror movies for their blatant silliness. Even 3 and 4 kept a reasonable amount of the parody within its own genre.

Anna Faris legitimized the series to a certain extent, and when she left, the writers just went off the deep end. Things started to unravel to the point of lunacy in Date Movie, but there was still the mostly-genre parody only for romantic comedies. It was in the last four that things have just become absolutely out of control. Beginning with Epic Movie, there has been essentially no semblance of plot along with stupid parodies of recent films that had almost nothing to do with the genre. It's as though the creators of these recent ones just think people will laugh if you put a joke in with a reference to a recent movie, instead of creating context for the joke and a reason why their observation is funny in light of the original. There's no substance here, only recreation of moments from recent blockbusters.

Meet the Spartans starts with 300, but devolves into referencing Britney Spears shaving her head and including such terrible movies as Stomp the Yard and You Got Served, and borrowed its title from Meet the Parents, which has nothing to do with the haphazard, piecemeal, Frankenstein monster-like screenwriting that apparently occurred. It includes references to Nacho Libre and Snakes on a Plane, two at-the-time-recent but distinctly non-epic films. There's also an obligatory scene involving a Paris Hilton look-alike saying "that's hot" before being crushed by a woman falling from above.

The newest, Disaster Movie, might be the worst offender. In the trailer, it combines references to Enchanted, Hannah Montana, Sex and the City, Don't Mess With the Zohan, Juno, Hulk, Iron man, and Hancock. It even repeats the joke of Paris Hilton getting crushed by having Hannah Montana die under a huge rock and bikini-clad women getting killed. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but NONE of those are "disaster" movies. Hulk and Iron Man belong with superheroes, Juno and the Sex and the City girls have nothing to do with disasters, and those two are combined in a single scene which also contains the completely unfunny and unnecessary reference to Zohan. They are mocking jokes from films nobody even though were funny in the first place!

The Hannah Montana scene confuses me the most. It posits that the character wants fans to go out and buy "2 new albums" as she's crushed to death. Now while I understand that Disney has made a ton of money from releasing Hannah Montana albums, created a tour for those songs, released a film version of that concert, and then released a DVD of that movie of that concert in a Star Wars-like cash grab, but all of that possible commentary is completely lost in how lame the joke is. Couldn't it have been a list of what they needed to buy? It's just an unintelligent parody of what could be an interesting commentary. That's what is lacking all over the place, there's no thought put into these jokes to make them subversive or intelligent, they just are trying to ham it up and hope that people laugh.

The proper parody of disaster films is Airplane!; this is just a cruel joke gone horribly wrong. Check the reviews on RottenTomatoes: they're the worst I've seen since Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, the famed worst-reviewed film of all time on the site. The best to me comes from : "So ugly, unpleasant and devoid of laughs that the notion of releasing a film with such a title on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is actually one of the least offensive things about it." Good lord does that sum up how it looks.

The box office can't sustain this, can it? There must be some semblance of intelligence in the American viewing public to stay away from the horrific downturn these films have been for our culture. Here are the numbers in domestic box office grosses, rounded to the nearest million:

Scary Movie - $157 million
Scary Movie 2 - $71 million
Scary Movie 3 - $110 million
Scary Movie 4 - $90 million
Date Movie - $48 million
Epic Movie - $39 million
Meet the Spartans - $38 million
Superhero Movie - $25 million

I'm thankful that the grosses have almost uniformly gone down, and that it looks as those this series could soon meet its end in the same way the Hostel films did, but we've gone on too long with all of this. There are fantastic indie films that have had total grosses less than the opening weekends of these disgusting excuses for film. Disaster Movie is predicted to make around $13 million this weekend, which is extremely high for how bad the film is. I can't believe that people would be so mindless that they would go see this steaming pile. That's not to say mindless entertainment doesn't have its place, but even in the category of mindless entertainment this ranks one of the lowest. Please, do me and everyone you know a favor, and do not see Disaster Movie or any subsequent film by these men. It's for our own good.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Take Two: Echo & the Bunnymen

Among my absolute favorite 80s bands is Echo & the Bunnymen. Ever since hearing "The Killing Moon" in the opening credits of Donnie Darko I've loved their music, and their 80s albums all have different feels to them. Their drummer Pete De Freitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989, and on either side of that death they've released five proper albums (frontman Ian McCulloch left the band in 1988 and they released an album with a different singer which doesn't really count since they reuinited in 1997). In the interest of preserving my 1980s image of the band, I'm only going to pick songs from their five albums of the 80s. Maybe we'll catch up on the uneven records of the 90s and 2000s some other time.

"Crocodiles" - I don't know why, but the title tracks of most of these albums are right around my favorites for each record. Maybe they actually titled their albums after one of the strongest songs, or perhaps it was just intriguing names each time. Either way, this song rocks out. It's a good calling card for their early style, straight forward rock with a little punk in there. They just went for breakneck speed here with McCulloch's gravely voice keeping up with the pace.

"Villiers Terrace" - Definitely a harbinger of sound experimenting to come. It's the most memorable song on the record to me, especially with all the drug imagery. McCulloch's lyrics got a little too weird towards the end of the 80s, but here he's very focused, very visual, very cryptic about the place he sings about.

Heaven Up Here
"Show of Strength" - Everything about this song fits together perfectly to me. The bass and drums are in tune with each other's movements, the guitar floats around and punches when it needs to, and McCulloch's vocals careen from a hoarse whisper to a bellow in an instant over the course of the song. The ending breakdown is fantastic as well.

"Heaven Up Here" - Probably my favorite track they ever did. The emptiness the sound disappears into on the track is awesome. The bass line thunders for the entire song, and McCulloch's wailing is in full swing here. Pete De Freitas' drums are going wild for the entire song as well. RollingStone rated this album their highest in their ranking of the Top 500 albums, and I think that's actually accurate. It's not their most popular album, but I really do think it's their most well-rounded and best.

"Back of Love" - A fantastic opening riff makes this another visceral Echo classic. This album was the hardest to record for the band, and the tensions that began here followed them for the rest of their career. This is probably my least favorite Echo record, but they still keep it together on a lot of these songs. McCulloch's screaming and the repeating guitar work really well in contrast, and the strings in the bridge give it an interesting change.

"Heads Will Roll" - Great acoustic opening, with a tinge of the eastern influence that hangs over the entire album. This album did feel a little bit too much like Echo trying to do the Beatles' eastern bits with English rock, but they rock harder to make up for it.

Ocean Rain
"The Killing Moon" - Ian McCulloch claims that this is a candidate for the greatest song ever written. I think it has enough to merit entrance to the conversation for the greats, with the fantastic imagery of the lyrics and the lush, fully realized instrumentation. Everything is timed perfectly in this song, and it comes out as though it took absolutely no effort. The sequence in Donnie Darko that used this song originally was to be scored by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, and I think that changing the song in the Director's Cut of the film weakened it a little bit. The acoustic opening and the first verse fit perfectly with that shot of Jake Gyllenhaal biking down a hill.

"My Kingdom" - Far and away my favorite Echo & the Bunnymen song. It's my favorite riff and my favorite lyrics of any song they've ever done. The record itself is only 9 songs long, but the final 4 tracks are just about the best things they've ever done. This is their most popular record, and "The Killing Moon" shot them to some degree of popularity, and deservedly so. McCulloch got a little bigheaded after this album, but for just a short time, they were riding high on a wave of critical and popular success.

Echo & the Bunnymen
"Bedbugs & Ballyhoo" - Echo mastered the slow build on songs like this. They're pretty much on autopilot for most of the song doing what they do best, but damn if it doesn't sound good. Don't try to make sense of the lyrics, they're nonsensical, but the blending sounds, especially when the saloon-style piano enters in the middle, are amazing.

"Blue Blue Ocean" - My favorite departure the band took in terms of their musical style. On this album they got much more into epic 80s synth-style sound, and this one was one of the few that worked for me. They've still got and underlying guitar there that's doing some pretty straight riffing, which is nice. The band was too far apart to survive after the recording sessions for this album, and McCulloch left the band after its release, leaving the band with the terrible idea of replacing their front man for one album before calling it quits for the rest of the 80s.

Honorable Mention Non-Album Tracks:
"Bring on the Dancing Horses" -This is pretty much the most covered song the Bunnymen ever made, and I personally really enjoy it a ton. McCulloch may have been hard to work with, and the rest of the band might have not gotten along really well, but they could write a single.

"Do It Clean" - This song can be found on the remastered version of their debut Crocodiles. You know how Bloc Party releases one-off singles in between records that are sometimes really awesome? Yeah, Echo & the Bunnymen did that twenty years ago with songs like this. Sure it's probably not the first time a band did this, but it's damn cool to hear awesome singles that have no album context to pay attention to sometimes.

There you have it, one of my favorite bands tracked in two songs per album. If you've never listen to them, maybe now's the time to try them out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Roy Keane Making Moves at Sunderland

Right around the time I started following international club soccer seriously, Roy Keane left Manchester United to play for Celtic. I never really got to see him play, but man did I read a lot of his fiery comments on Manchester United and the game of football. He and Eric Cantona are the two most important commentators on football to me, and Cantona's "Joga Bonita" ad campaign remains one of my favorite commercials of all time.

Since taking charge of Sunderland two years ago, he's brought the team to the English Premier League and kept them from relegation in their first season. This summer he made an extensive effort to sign a lot of new talent. In the past two months alone he's brought Djibril Cisse on loan from Marseille, striker El Hadji Diouf from Bolton Wanderers, three players from Tottenham(midfielder Teemu Tainio, right back Pascal Chimbonda, and winger Steed Malbranque), and today landed West Ham's Anton Ferdinand.

Keane has a history of ripping players to shreds, and one of his more infamous tirades was against Anton's older brother Rio at Manchester United. It seems that Keane has some respect for the players he lambasted at Man U and Celtic, though, because he's brough a lot of cast off players from those teams into his squads in his first two years in charge.

I like the challenging personality Keane had against Sir Alex Ferguson at Man U, mainly because SAF likes to believe everything he says, does, and thinks is right. Keane looks to be developing a nice managerial career, and they've started their first games 1-0-1, so hopefully all the transfers will pay off in the end. While I really want to see Chelsea back on top in everything this year, it would be nice for someone other than the Big Four clubs (Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool) challenge for the title, a Champions League spot, the FA cup, Carling Cup, or just something major. We're in need of a shakeup in English football, and maybe Keane's approach at Sunderland can provide it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm Going Radiohead Crazy: Get Your B-Sides Here + Take Two Update

You know that period of time after you see a band live where basically all you listen to is their stuff? Yeah, that happens to me really badly whenever I see a show. It's happened for The Hives, Interpol, Daphne Loves Derby, and most recently Radiohead. Last year, right after the release of In Rainbows, I tracked down a ton of Radiohead b-sides over at The Good, the Bad, & the Unknown. I think in light of my recent Radiohead binge I'd like to point people on over there to listen to the two b-side "albums" he made over there: Caisson Disease and Photographic Memory. My favorite things about his b-side collections are that the titles that are inverses of actual releases (e.g. Photographic Memory instead of Amnesiac) and the awesome custom album covers. Check them out, these tracks are just fantastic and are really hard to track down one by one.

And in the spirit of there being some "unofficial" albums of b-sides, I'll update my Take Two from yesterday.

Caisson Disease

"Maquiladora" - That guitar riff, man does that just epitomize the sound of the 90s to me. Hearing Yorke wailing over those dueling guitars is magnificent. I find myself wondering why some of these tracks didn't make the album, but then I remember that the albums are pretty much perfectly sequenced and pared down so there's no filler. These songs work as a b-side collection, but I wouldn't ever really want one of them messing up the images I have of the albums as they are.

"Coke Babies" - That fuzzed out ending is pretty sweet, and I love the semi-floating feeling of the guitar and the drums up until the fuzzing of the chorus. For a gruesome song title, its a pretty sweet sounding track, which is all the more sinister. Considering the amount of material Radiohead releases and the number of songs they hold over from session to session, they really do have an amazing back catalogue of b-sides from over the years. To be able to get multiple collections out of the b-sides is intense, especially when they form albums that dwarf other bands' actual recording output in terms of quality.

Photographic Memory

"Lull" - The shortest song I put on the whole list of Radiohead songs, but I love the guitar work here. All of these songs are culled from different sessions so it's a little hard to place these thematically with one record or another. Caisson is from The Bends-era, and Photographic Memory is from Ok Computer until after Amnesiac, so I'm not really sure where to place this song amongst the records, but I really like it on its own. After a couple more re-listens, the drums are fantastic as well. Short, sweet, simple, altogether not really the kind of track that Radiohead releases, but still awesome. It shows how well they'd do if they were just playing straightforward rock, but we know they're capable of much, much more.

"Talk Show Host" - In a list of my favorite songs of all time it's a all-out-brawl between this song and "2+2=5" for the Radiohead slot (I limit myself to one song per artist). The atmosphere, the guitar, the vocals, the lyrics, the Romeo + Juliet connection, everything just fits for me. The first time I listened to the song outside the film, my jaw dropped I was in so much awe of its beauty.

Okay, now I'm going to stop with the Radiohead overload and try to write something else for once. Just give me a few days or something.

Take Two: Radiohead

A while ago I was wondering what it would be like to boil down the albums of an entire career into just a few songs. Beyond that, what it would be like to only be able to choose a few songs off each album, making a different kind of "greatest hits" collection. Most of the time you like some albums in a discography more than others and would choose more tracks from there, but that's not the case with these posts.

I'm going to go back into some of my favorite artists who have released four or more albums, and pick two favorite tracks from each album to list. I'm not looking for "greatest" song or big hits, I'm just picking the songs I like the most off of each record. It's especially hard to do because you end up with songs that would be on the list if you weren't limiting yourself to only two songs per album.

Pablo Honey
"Creep" - Just because they hated the touring after their one mainstream hit doesn't mean it isn't a great song. Hell, it's an iconic guitar entrance at the chorus.

"Anyone Can Play Guitar" - Their debut is certainly their weakest album (there aren't too many worthwhile modern bands you can say that about...), but I still find myself coming back to this song when I'm in a Radiohead groove.

The Bends
"Fake Plastic Trees" - I'm a sucker for Thom Yorke beginning a song with just his voice and acoustic guitar.

"My Iron Lung" - One of my favorite opening riffs of any song, ever. People say that this album is what Radiohead would sound like if they didn't go down the creative rabbit hole of Ok Computer, but I'd disagree a little bit. This is a huge step forward from Pablo Honey and was probably just as much of a departure as any of their other albums. They hated the late recognition "Creep" got them and just completely turned away from that attitude.

Ok Computer
"Paranoid Android" - The epic, operatic centerpiece of the album to me. The legend goes that the band stayed up an entire night orchestrating all the instrumentation for the song, and then Thom Yorke heard it and laid down the vocals in one take. The lyrics in the breakdown (especially "kicking, screaming, Gucci little piggy") are some of the best I've ever heard.

"Exit Music (For A Film)" - Originally composed for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack in the mid 90s (I can hear the play's influence a little bit in the verses), it shows off one of my favorite aspects of Radiohead in the shift from just acoustic guitar and airy noises to a bellowing bass shift that thunders through the track.

Kid A
"Kid A" - I keep picking some soft songs off these records, but damn if Radiohead doesn't do both extremes fantastically and blend them together too. This is probably my 2nd favorite record, and I love the masked vocals so much. Deciphering the words coming out of Yorke's mouth surrounded by the lush sonic landscape is simply beautiful.

"The National Anthem" - How can this cacophany immediately follow the title track on Kid A. What balls, Radiohead! My favorite softer song is followed immediately by their most destructive rocking, but then the horn section comes in. It's like rock mixed with experimental jazz, and then everything cuts out to let Yorke say his piece.

"Like Spinning Plates" - There's no hiding that this is my least favorite Radiohead album after Pablo Honey, and there are songs off Ok Computer and Hail to the Thief that would bump these two songs off, but they're still great tracks. This track debuts the opening effect that went on to open another great track on Hail to The Thief ("The Gloaming"), and to my mind it kind of represents the sound of spinning plates pretty well. It's a hyper-realistic experience to listen to Radiohead, espeically in a dark setting and a contemplative mood. These are records that make me want to bring back the days of just putting on some music and sitting down with friends, or alone, to listen through it.

"I Might Be Wrong" - This is definitely one of the tracks that separates Amnesiac as something more than a b-sides album to the Kid A sessions. Its got a great backing beat and guitar riff, and the style just feels all its own. That's one thing that always amazes me about the band: their ability to write songs and keep them gestating over multiple sessions, but still have a stylistically cohesive album that sounds as though it was all written at the same time.

Hail to the Thief
"2+2=5" - This is still probably my favorite Radiohead song of all time. I love the guitar being plugged in at the start, the incidental dialogue, the opening riff, the frenetic, gasping-for-breath ending, the otherworldly post-apocalyptic 1984 feeling it instills right from the get-go. This song convinced me to buy into Radiohead as a band, and for that it remains my favorite.

"There There" - Again I choose contrasting songs, this with a much more mellow track, but there's still a feeling of claustraphobia, trapped anger, some emotion waiting just beneath the surface. This whole album feels very alive to me, like its a time capsule for that time in 2003. It's one of those records I can throw on and feel transported to the past.

In Rainbows
"All I Need" - The bass and piano make this song for me. This entire song feels effortless to me, but it's so well crafted and executed. It may have taken four years between albums for the band, but man was In Rainbows worth the wait.

"Reckoner" - I haven't really mentioned Johnny Greenwood a lot and have been mostly praising Thom Yorke, but good lord do I love the little guitar bits here. The things that impress me most about the guitars in Radiohead's work is how subtle it can be, and the many uses they've found for a guitar. They don't use the traditional rock instruments in the same way that all other bands do; they're able to use a guitar to fill gaps instead of set the tone.

So there you have it, my inagural Take Two post. I'll be putting up another one of these later in the week for another artist, I've just got to choose from among the four album plus contenders.