Tuesday, January 5, 2010

End of the Year/Decade Lists Lists Lists!

THE LISTS (Note: I ran out of steam, as much as I would have liked commentary on all this, I wanted to get them out and just don't have time right now to finish, hopefully I will find a moment to edit in my thoughts, for now here you go):

Best Albums of 2009

1. Merriweather Post Pavillion - Animal Collective

So much has been made about this album at this point, its hard to add to the crowded field. But, here we go. This is an album, which marks itself as a classic, by this trait: every track is stellar and every track plays with the others to form
a cohesive piece of work. From the opening swaths of "In the Flowers" to the closing pulse of "Brothersport" the relentless creative push does not cease until it has planted a seed of wonder in your mind that grows with each listen, digging
further and further in your consciousness until the album begins to dig into your DNA and consume you like a drug. It was hard to cut back, for months, it was a daily ritual, and when I tried to go to other albums, it inevitably ended up
here, the warm comfortable embrace, during those brutally cold months of early 2009. But, I had this: I was the happiest I'd ever been, I had a new son, two months when this album came out, and one of my favorite memories is the
night, inconsolable I began singing him "Brothersport" and he stopped crying and looked at me, now he's going to be a brother and someday soon they will dance to this to their daddy's delight.

2. The xx - The xx

I recently saw this band in concert and they were lackluster, but when I left, I was smiling. I realized I had enjoyed myself, because despite a poor performance, the songs they sang are so good, even when they're bad they're enjoyable. I spent a solid three months listening to this album every morning on my commute to work. "Intro" leading me through the gas station to the sidewalk, by the time I got to the torn down building the pings of "VHS" were playing, I ascend the stairs to the train as "Crystallize's" upbeat lifts me up. "Islands" takes me into the Loop and "Heart Skips a Beat" takes me off the train...and then because I'm feeling the pressure I skip to "Basic Space," I'll admit it, I don't like to skip around on my favorite albums, but this song is so good. And in it you have the essence of both the xx, the band and the xx, the album. The beauty of this album lies both in it's basicness and it's spaces. It is minimal and sparse using its negative space as an instrument in itself, probably best utilized on "Fantasy." And it all seems so basic, but put it together and the hooks never stop, the mood never deviates, but its not meant to, behind the achingly distant vocal delivery to the short bass plucks, to the concise percussion, a beat is not missed, a note not misplaced.

3. Wind's Poem -- Mount Eerie

The opening of this album is the best of the year. The loud burst of black metal that spits from the speaker is nothing short of exhilarating. When this album dropped earlier this year, I had gradually been getting into Black Metal, as much
out of curiosity as enjoyment. It is so viscerally ugly that I am fascinated by attempting penetrate what is meant to repel. Enter Phil Elverum. I've known about Mr. Elverum since his Microphone days of the early aughts. He, himself, is a
curious figure - adored by a small but very loyal fan base. He is a bit of a chameleon, changing from one band to the other blending styles, re-imagining genres, etc. He is from Washington State, so his northwest roots make his music feel
like home to me. Add to that his influence of David Lynch on this album and you have a big old slab of my favorite things. The image on the cover of the album sets the mood perfectly. It is, um eerie, but welcoming, dark, but
introspective. Once you delve past the black burst at the beginning of the album you find all these moods and textures as you move through what is a brilliant progression of songs culminating in the re-purposing of the Twin Peaks theme in
"Between Two Strangers." It is an ethereal moment, when it comes I often close my eyes and imagine myself in the dark woods, wet, a little scared, but home.

4. Girls -- Album

Now, here is your sunny California album. The first time I heard it, my initial, almost involuntary reaction was to cringe. So saccharine, so happy, so sincere? Or was it. It has to be ironic. Right? But the more
I listened to "Laura" the more that melody, straight out of the Top 20 in the early 60's, penetrated my steely skepticism, until there I was singing right along. I want to go get stoned on the beach, too! Then, I
read Christopher Owens back story, and the dark undercurrent of the songs came clear. The play between the dark lyrics and sunny melodies is a classic one, and especially relevant hear in its reference of the
tortured genius of Brian Wilson. When I eventually saw them in concert, it was fascinating to watch Owens sing these songs, cause you do realize, it is sincere and that's what makes it special.

5. Bromst - Dan Deacon
I liked Spiderman of the Rings and enjoyed watching sweaty indie kids bursting with energy at Pitchfork, literally pushing the fences down during Dan's set, but honestly, I thought him a one trick pony, it was the kind of album that didn't
give me a lot of confidence that he would put out anything terribly different. So, imagine my pleasant surprise, when upon hearing Bromst, I found a thoughtful, introspective and, most surprisingly of all, mature Dan Deacon. This album is
the work of a composer, a significant leap from his previous work. I think a wonderful companion piece to understanding this album, is Pitchfork.tv's piece in the studio with Deacon during the crafting of this album in the wilderness of
Montana, you won't listen to "Of the Mountains" quite the same again. But, it's in "Snookered" that the heart of the album lay. "Been down this road so many times feel like its skin is part of mine" is one of the best sentiments of the year.
All of this was capped off this year, at Lollapalooza, when Deacon stole the show with his marching band blasting out "Woof Woof" to a crowd of people probably never exposed to this craziness and he had them all on their knees at one
point, rapt with attention at the next idea to spill from his stage. I can't wait to hear the next.

6. Bitte Orca -- Dirty Projectors

Here is another band I never really quite "got." I respected the effort on Rise Above, the re-imagining of the classic Black Flag album as a jagged artsy Brooklyn album. Maybe that was it all along, this band was always so Brooklyn, maybe it just seemed they were trying too hard. Even, when "Stillness is the Move" first came out, I thought it impressive, but maybe over-hyped. Surprisingly, though, in the context of Bitter Orca, it took on a whole new life, and became one of my favorite tracks of the year, I can't listen to it, without, as it ends, starting to sing "Two Doves." But, really what won me over here is the prog rock. There are so many phrasings here by Dave Longreth that remind me of Steve Howe, it's hard to distinguish them some times. Add to that, the incredible vocal acrobatics of Amber Coffman, kind of like Beyonce mashed with Jon Anderson and throw in Eastern vocal inflections -- you have a sound that really comes into its own on this album. So, sometimes when I'm listening to Bitte Orca, I close my eyes and picture Yes and it blends in a swirl of wonderfully complicated bliss.

7. Veckatimest -- Grizzly Bear

Probably the most anticipated indie release of the year, Veckatimest had a lot to live up to after the very good Yellow House. And, of course, it delivered. I make a best of the year mix of my favorite songs
every year and I have a rule, like any good mixtapologist, that any given band is allowed one song, I mean this is a very tough field to make. I broke that rule this year, because of Grizzly Bear. On "Two Weeks"
and "While You Wait for the Others" (the best song of the year) Veckatimest is already a great album, add "Ready, Able" "Cheerleader" and the beautiful closer "Foreground" and you have yourself a Top Ten slot.
It is not higher for a few tracks that drag and are a bit too Grizzly Bear for their own good, but when they're good, they're great. All year I've found myself walking down the street and the moment that chorus
hits on "While You Wait for the Others" I get chills and am lost in the harmonies. It's been one of my consistently favorite moments this year when I'm transported to the heavens, or maybe just the perfect

8. Flaming Lips -- Embryonic

With this album, I was going to officially write off the Flaming Lips. Since Yoshimi they had produced two lackluster albums, that's being generous, a self-indulgent movie and been travelling with the same road
show for what felt like ten years. By the time I walked away in disgust from their set at Pitchfork, I was sure this band had finally run its course. And so, Embryonic saw release and I dutifully put on my
headphones, I mean I should at least listen to it before I wax poetic about a once great band having gone down the tubes, the final nail a bloated double album nonetheless. But, alas, a funny thing happened. They
surprised me. What seeped out of my headphones was a dark, abrasive ooze of psychedelic sludge and I LOVED IT. With every passing minute that lacked a comprehensible vocal, or another blast of low end
fuzz, I couldn't believe they'd done it. They'd managed to do something new and keep it going. Shortly after the release I saw them bang out a redshithot version of "Watching the Planets" on the Tonight Show
to what I'm sure was a befuddled audience of tourists and it was awesome. They are back and I'm happy to welcome them.

9. Farm -- Dinosaur Jr.
This is my nostalgia pick of the year. Hey, at least it's not U2 or Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. But, I digress. I saw Dinosaur Jr. when they first came back in 105 degrees heat at Lollaplooza and they rocked
the shit out of those gigantic Marshall stacks. To hear them bust out the classics from You're Living All Over Me and Bug was amazing. But, why settle for a rehash? There first comeback album was great and I
believe Farm is even better. It's the sound of a band that knows their sound, even if it is 20+ years old, but they do it in a way that doesn't make it stale. The track that really encapsulates this album is "I Don't
Want to Go There."

10. Fever Ray -- Fever Ray

One of my friends recently got into the Knife and late one night told me he was listening to Silent Shout. So, I sent him the video for If I Had a Heart from Fever Ray's debut album. He e-mailed me his thanks
that he wouldn't be able to sleep that night. And so, there in a brief anecdote you have the mood of Fever Ray. Taking the path the Knife laid out before her Karin Andersson, makes the sound her own. This is
one of the most atmospheric albums of the year, it sucks you into its world surrounding you with the hums and rumbles that inhabit it. It's off-putting and beautiful all at the same time.

11. Two Suns -- Bat for Lashes
One of the best songs of the year here with Daniel. Natasha Khan is a great vocal talent, that uses sparing and precise instrumentation to complement her beautiful voice.

12. Atlas Sound -- Logos
I've always preferred Deerhunter to Bradford Cox's solo project, but I do feel that Logos is a step forward, and Atlas Sound has the possibility of creating something on par with Deerhunter's output. For now
enjoy Walkabout and Sheila, two of the best tracks of the year.

13. Real Estate -- Real Estate
Stoner, reverbed out beach rock from New Jersey?! WTF? But it works. I saw these guys open for Girls, a natural combination and their breezy melodies wisp in your ear like the warm summer breeze along
the shore, not that I would know what that is like, I grew up on the West Coast, but I can imagine that if I did grow up on the Jersey Shore, this is the music I'd want to accompany me.

Best Articles of 2009

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off by Sandra Tsing Loh
The Deepest Dive by Alec Wilkinson
Cash for Keys by Tad Friend
Flip and Pop My Collar Like the Fonz by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The End of Pax Americana? by Michael Lind
Andrew Sullivan's blog on the Green Revolution in Iran
Pakistan's Fatal Shore by Robert Kaplan
The Case Against Breast Feeding by Hanna Rosin
Center Stage for the 21st Century by Robert Kaplan
Held By The Taliban by David Rohde
There Are No Poor White People by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Worst Films of the Decade

1. Crash
2. Born Into Brothels
3. Sideways
4. About Schmidt
5. Gladiator
6. A Beautiful Mind
7. Chicago
8. The Pianist
9. Babel
10. Kill Bill Vol. 1

Best Films of the Decade

1. Talk to Her
2. The Son
3. Paranoid Park
4. Half Nelson
5. There Will Be Blood
6. 25th Hour
7. American Psycho
8. Mulholland Dr.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
10. Dancer in the Dark

The Rest:

You & Me & Everyone we Know
You Can Count on Me
Lost in Translation
Far From Heaven
Jesus' Son
The Five Obstructions
Morvern Callar
The Incredibles

Best Albums of the Decade

1. Kid A -- Radiohead

October 3, 2000: Kid A is released. Well, I guess it starts before that. I'm not sure the date, but this I remember: finding a leaked copy of Kid A on the internet (this is pre-Napster even), downloading it, turning the lights out, laying on the bed in my 10' x 10' dorm room and listening all the way through. From those dark and deep opening swashes of Everything in It's Right Place to the final ethereal tones of Motion Picture Soundtrack, I was transfixed.

Much was made of the build up to this album. It had been three years since OK Computer had exploded and catapulted Radiohead into superstardom, for which Thom Yorke was ill prepared. As documented in the film Meeting People is Easy, Yorke had a hard time dealing with the new found success. This feeling is shown in its purest form here on Kid A. They said it was the sound of the band imploding and playing from inside the fire. Now that we have the benefit of context in order to properly place this album, it is strikingly prophetic. A month later, the decade would kick off proper with a fradulent election, with terrorist attacks, war, disaster (both natural and human) to follow, capped off by the worst recession of our lifetime. So, when Yorke sings "I'm not here, this isn't happening," it's a sentiment many of us uttered too many times through the course of this decade.

Beyond the larger meaning of the album: the music. This was the first album, Yorke was allowed to flex his IDM muscles, adding Aphex Twin and Autechre to the Pixies, REM, U2 and Pink Floyd as influences. But, like the great albums of all time, this is an album in its purest sense. It's hard to listen to any of these songs outside of the album, they are so tied to its identity.

2. Drum's Not Dead -- Liars

There are many lasting memories I have of this album, but one remains the clearest and best representation of it: riding my bike home at 3AM after having worked a 20 hour day as part of 100 hour week, the streets of Chicago empty, the light bouncing off the pavement, the sound of my breath drowned out by the screaming guitar wail of Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack leading to the pounding drums of A Visit from Drum as I peddled faster, sleepless, adrenaline, rhythm and fear driving me home to collapse in bed for a few hours sleep, before I did it again.

This album may not have landed smack in the middle of the decade, but it landed smack in the middle of the shit. We were well into our second term of Bush. We had been at war for 5 years, now in two places, New Orleans had just been left to rot in its own filth and there was no end in sight. This album is the sound of that despair. Primalism was starting to set in. Mt. Heart Attack and the Drum in a constant struggle for supremacy.

But, the most telling thing is that after the ups and downs, beating drive of this album, we find "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack" and Angus tells us "I won't run far, I won't run far, I can always be found, I can always be found." A small glimmer of hope.

3. Funeral -- Arcade Fire

It took me a solid year to get it. I didn't want to jump on the band wagon, I thought it was a fad, an ironic indie hipster put on. But on a sweltering day in August of 2005, I watched Arcade Fire take the stage at Lollapalooza they proceeded to win me over as they had so many before me and continue to do to this day. Going back to Funeral after this performance, it was like I was hearing the songs for the first time. When Win waded through the crowd during Rebellion (Lies) imploring the crowd that "everytime you close your eyes, lies!" you believed him. He just kept saying it over and over, but he meant it and he continues to mean it. Now, five+ years later, there have been so many knockoffs and wanna bes, but nobody can match this intensity and sincerity. The strength of this band rests on this fact alone, that they believe and feel to their deepest core what they are singing and playing, the day this ceases to be the case, their power is gone.

4. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- I fell asleep to this album for my entire first year in Chicago. It seems so appropriate now. I lived in a small incredibly overpriced studio apartment in a high-rise in the terrible Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. I didn't really know anybody in the city, it took me two months to find a job and I lived off credit cards and ramen. Luckily, for me I had Jeff Tweedy to keep my company. I remember in the dead heat of August sweating in my un-airconditioned apartment wondering what lay ahead. It was a rough year. But, I got a job, at a record store no less, I met some good friends and found myself shortly on a career path after getting a job in my field. But, for those few months when I was alone, a little scared, more sad, but in the end hopeful, this album kept me company and welcomed me to Chicago, a place that is dear to my heart now. Thanks Mr. Tweedy

5. Merriweather Post Pavillion -- I had loved Strawberry Jam, the album that finally made me "get" Animal Collective. But, the hype had already built up so big for MPP that I went in very skeptical, believing it couldn't live up to the hype. I listened to it over and over again trying to find the sell-out, the moment of failure, the thing that just made it not as great as everybody made it to be. Then, I kept listening to it and couldn't stop. I remember at one point a few month after it came out talking to one of my friends about it and we agreed that it was like a drug, we couldn't really go that long without getting our fix and it felt so good. It's funny -- as summery as this album is, it reminds me of winter (it did come out in January)

6. Microcastle -- Deerhunter 2008
7. The Woods -- Sleater-Kinney 2005
8. Stankonia -- Outkast 2000
9. Moon and Antarctica -- Modest Mouse 2000
10. Boys and Girls in America -- Hold Steady 2006

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Morality of Torture

This post on NRO is fascinating. Of anything I've seen about the IG document drop, from the right, this is the clearest statement of contention. For some reason, many on the right won't just come out and say, clearly, how they feel, but you have that here:
The media has led with the story of our interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and in an effort to shock our national conscience, the report says, among other things, that he was told that if there was another attack on American soil, the CIA would “kill your children.”

I’m sorry but I’m left cold by this. The man who masterminded the actual murder of 3,000 Americans and changed our country forever, wanting to do more, was told that his children would be threatened if another attack took place. Let’s recall what we’re actually doing right now: We use Predator drones to actually kill terrorists with missiles — and we actually kill their children, friends, and relatives at the same time.

We truly have forgotten 9/11.

This is a clear portrait of the philosophical difference on this issue. Those who support these techniques believe that it is OK not only to threaten the children of terrorists, but to go ahead and kill them as well. Those who are opposed, feel this is not OK. I give Leibsohn credit that he lays it out, we have done this for a long time, we are doing this now and we will continue to do this, so don't act shocked when you find out it is happening. The question is are you OK with it?

He goes on to make an even harder philosophical point:
Back in 2001, without naming names, there were serious, intellectual people in Washington who spoke among themselves of doing things far worse than this to prevent another attack. There were learned moralists and foreign-policy experts who privately discussed schemes like threatening to target Mecca if another attack took place. Of course that never became policy, and it wasn’t the administration, but that was the mindset of an awful lot of serious people.

This, I believe, is the truest version of Cheney influenced foreign policy I have seen. The Church of the United States of America, where the US is God and anything and everything must be done to protect her, for she is the highest power and good in this world, that must never be destroyed. This is something not often talked about, but there are many foreign policy wonks who subscribe to this religion. God may or may not exist, but the US does and it is the purest form of Truth and Goodness, therefore any method to protect it is acceptable, including genocide.

I think this post speaks to an overall problem in political discourse and that is the inability of either side to be frank and honest about what they believe philosophically. Take Health Care. The right, if they were being honest, would just come out and say, they don't believe everybody deserves health care, they do not believe government is good for anything except for defense, so get a job, pay for your private health insurance and stop whining. The left, if they were being honest, would come out and say they believe private insurance companies do not care about human beings, just the bottom line, therefore there should be no such thing as private health insurance, but a non-profit, single-payer government run health care system for everybody. But somehow everything has to be equivocated.

So, back to our original subject. Do you think it is OK to do, literally, whatever it takes to protect this country, or do you believe there are moral limits to this?

One final note, I did this last shot amusing:
And finally, as the administration blasts away at the CIA, somewhere at Langley, good men and women, watching their agency go through these political throes, are watching their president who started all this play golf and tennis today.

How soon we forget George W. Bush clowning around in San Diego, while his own citizens died in the flooded streets of New Orleans.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let the Bloodletting Begin

A sign of things to come:

Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important that the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.

She reads racial preferences and quotas into the Constitution, even to the point of dishonoring those who preserve our public safety. On September 11, America saw firsthand the vital role of America's firefighters in protecting our citizens. They put their lives on the line for her and the other citizens of New York and the nation. But Judge Sotomayor would sacrifice their claims to fair treatment in employment promotions to racial preferences and quotas. The Supreme Court is now reviewing that decision.

She has an extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed, indicating that she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New 26th Ward Alderman

Meet Rev. Wilferdo DeJesus:

Here is his official bio from his church. Apparently, Rev. DeJesus played an integral part in the recent debate over opening a GLBT school in Chicago. More on that here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Curse of Longevity

I have posed this question to some and figured here would be a good place to include this challenge: Name a band/artist that has put out a GREAT album(s) after having been together for more than 10 years.

Here is what we have so far:

Neil Young -- Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon
Paul Simon -- Surprise, Graceland
Pink Floyd -- Animals, The Wall
Rolling Stones -- Some Girls
Radiohead -- Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows
Modest Mouse -- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Flaming Lips -- Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
David Bowie -- Heroes, Lodger, Scary Monsters
Sonic Youth -- Everything from Dirty on is 10+ years, a lot of good albums there
Pulp -- Different Class, This is Hardcore
Leonard Cohen -- I'm Your Man


Def Leppard -- Hysteria (10 years)
Led Zeppelin -- Physical Graffiti (7 years)