Saturday, April 12, 2014

Television's Golden Era Continues

The following is the first part of a three part piece I plan on writing about the current state of television. Part 3 will be a new list on the top 10 shows on television right now, updating my previous one from 2012.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music in 2012: A Year in Review

There are only a few days left in the year. 2012 is departing us as quickly as she came (Are years female? I don't know, let's assume yes). It was a decent year. Well, not really, I suppose, there were some shitty stuff that happened, but fuck what can I do. But, regarding entertainment, which has apparently become my forte on this blog (what blog is that, you ask, since I haven't written a damn thing since June), it's been a rather good year. I've talked enough about television this year. Everyone (4 people) who's read this blog know where I stand on the television front. I like good television. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation and Boardwalk Empire had the best seasons/moments on TV in 2012. For me, at least. I still have some catching up to do on some shows.

Anyway, fuck television for a post, am I right? Let's talk about something that I have yet to write about in my short and inconsistent blogging "career." Music. Good ol' fucking music. In all forms. I'm no stranger to music. In today's world, acquiring and listening to new/old/shitty/good/indie/popular music is easier than ever. You can illegally acquire it, you can just listen to your favorite songs on youtube, you can LEGALLY download it on iTunes, or Amazon (So much better/cheaper than Itunes). You even have digital oases of music through things such as Spotify and Pandora. Anyway, despite the lack of traditional going to the store and buying a CD, music is in its most democratized state ever. Literally, anyone with WiFi can listen to practically anything they want. Anyway, I'm an album guy of the old school. Don't purchase single songs, and enjoy owning things. I probably bought about 30-50 albums this year through Amazon's digital MP3 store. Some of them were old classics, or things I'd wanted to get my hands on, but just never came across at a reasonable price before. Honestly, if it's 5 bucks and I might really like it, why not buy it. I've discovered some gems through just giving something a shot, based merely on a quick listen of one song. 

So, that brings me to the purpose of this post. I discovered a number of amazing artists and albums in the year 2012. A good portion of those were new or emerging bands or solo artists. So I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite albums of the year 2012. That means albums that were released this year, not things I happened to listen to for the first time. So no, Cat Stevens will not appear on this list, if that's the only reason you were reading. So here's a reversely ordered list of my top 10 albums released in 2012. You know what, fuck it, this one goes to 11. And I'm going to list the artist first in bold, then the album title second italicized. Since you probably have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about. Ever. 

11. Father John Misty - Fear Fun

This is a very good indie-kind of folk album from former Fleet Foxes member, J. Tillman. It's not as americana perfection harmonized folk genius as Fleet Foxes, but that sound is nearly impossible to recreate. Tillman writes some dark and personal songs that are perfectly captured through his voice. At first listen, I found it fairly repetitive, but it's something I've revisited a few times, and am always pleasantly surprised at how much it keeps my attention. 

Best song: "This is Sally Hatchet"

10. Hospitality - Hospitality

This is a fun album. This pop-rock four piece is fronted by a female singer. While always fun and catchy, this album doesn't fall into a formulaic sound of female rock singers. It's typical Indie-goodness. There's not much to say here other than it's short and sweet and you should give it a listen. Lyrically, it channels some 20-something NY malaise. The first lines of the album, for example, set the tone nicely for the rest of what's to come: "I met you at seven/I didn't expect your friends/I'm feeling much older/Somewhat a generation gap/You won't understand/I'm lost in a land/I'm not twenty seven." 

Best songs: "Eight Avenue" and "Friends of Friends"

9. Tame Impala - Lonerism

This album fucking rocks. It's just complete psychedelic rock reminiscent of late 60s British rock. Specifically, it literally sounds like John Lennon. I swear, I've never heard a voice that sound so much like someone else's. Lead singer of this band sounds just like John Lennon in something like "Strawberry Fields Forever." So, this is like a modern version of a full length Beatles psychedelic album. It's fucking awesome. The album kicks off with a few songs that contain few lyrics, but amazing instrumentation. As soon as you hear the first lyric sung on the album, you're like "John, is that you?" It's not, but it very well could be. I thinkn these guys are Australian. Either way, they're good. It's not a short album, but by the time you're done with it, you're longing for more. I'd imagine many pot smokers being completely entranced by this thing for its duration. For me, this is the kind of album that may remain a favorite for mine for years to come, perhaps outlasting higher albums on this list. 

Best song: "Apocalypse Dreams"

8. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Jack White roared onto his official solo career with exactly what you'd expect: a fucking bluesy rocking guitar filled rock album. Some were disappointed, expecting some kind of shift in style from Jack White, but I don't know why. Jack does what he does best on this album. Create some of the best true rock music around today. Songs like "Sixteen Saltines" and "Love Interruption" sound like they've been around for a decade at least. White's sound has been among the most distinct of the past decade, vocally and instrumentally. Few people alive can play a guitar solo like this man. In the studio or live. I saw this dude earlier this year, and could not believe how different he can make his songs live. A fair amount of piano also appears on the album, as Jack has always had the ability to change the tempo from the hard rock.

Best songs: "Sixteen Saltines" and "Freedom at 21"

7. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Grizzly Bear's follow up to the amazing Veckatimest seems to fall short a tad on first listen, but it's definitely an album that grows on me the more I hear it. Daniel Rossen's guitar playing is so amazingly reminiscent of George Harrison. Grizzly Bear has the distinction of being the band in indie-rock right now that clearly doesn't sound like anyone else out there. You may think they do, but you might have to listen again. "Sleeping Ute" literally kicks off this album with a bang (a storm or a metaphor? Or both?). It's experimental, rocks pretty damn hard, and feels altogether brand new, while somehow reminding you of something George Harrison could have played guitar on in the 1970s. (Daniel Rossen's "Silent Song" off his solo EP is the another amazing example of Harrison inspired brilliance). There's not a weak moment on the entire album. Nothing about it gets tedious or repetitive. I guess any band with multiple lead singers and therefore varying styles in the songwriting will have the originality that limits other bands. Isn't it what made The Beatles so amazing? 

Best songs: "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" and "gun-shy"

6.  Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal

This is probably the album that most confuses me on this list. Upon first few listens, I thought for sure that nothing else would be able to beat this as my favorite album of the year. It starts off with just an amazing string of songs. "Dirty Paws" and "Little Talks" are two amazing songs that I cannot get enough of. It's actually kind of difficult to explain the sound of this band, but it definitely is original. It's not full blown folk, or really too folky in the traditional sense, but it is definitely classifiable under the modern indie-folk genre. The one thing that can be said about this album is that it has an amazingly full sound. The two lead singers (one male, one female, they're from Iceland and have some LEGIT names I don't want to spell) work great off each other, creating more than just beautiful harmonies. The sound originates from the piano section on the album, with steady rhythm sections throughout the album. There's little electric guitar or other rock elements on the album. If it wasn't for it's length, this would easily be a top three of the year for me, but some of the back end songs bring down/extend the album. But re-listening to it right now as I write this, I remember why I think this thing is a gem. Because it is. It might move up after I'm done writing this. Fucking great. 

Best songs: "Dirty Paws" and "Little Talks" and "Sloom"

5. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls

This is probably the one album that could move either way for me on this list. I mean, it's fucking amazing. I don't know why I said that, but I just guess I can't tell how long it will remain relevant for me and my musical tastes. Still, the bluesy soulful debut from this southern band is a pleasant change of pace from the rest of the music dominating either mainstream or indie rock right now. Brittany Howard sings the shit out of this album, to perfection. They opened for Jack White when I saw him this year, and I could not for my life believe how perfect her voice was even live. It's mostly a fun album, but lyrically delves into the darker psyche of the lead singer. For example, on "Hold On," the single that launched them into popularity, she opens the album by singing: "Bless my heart/Bless my soul/Didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old." Simple, effective, and of course, sung with amazing passion. I've listened to this twice today, and it kind of inspired me to think of a 2012 best-of list. 

Best songs: "Hold On" and "Boys and Girls"

4. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

I actually bought and loved this album well before they blew up toward the end of the year. I believe this came out in April, and I had it like within a few weeks of its release. I knew about them before they had a Wikipedia page (hipster points +1). This album is a great example of modern indie-folk. It's catchy, pretty, with sing-along harmonies. It doesn't reach the levels of the best in folk today like Fleet Foxes, Mumford and Sons, and others (including #1 on this list). It falls short because of its limited use of instrumentation. But, I honestly cannot think of a catchier tune from 2012 than their "Ho-Hey." If you hear it once, it's almost guaranteed to be stuck in your head. I remember hearing it in that commercial (Internet Explorer? Blue Moon?) and was so excited that a band I liked and wasn't sure if anyone else knew was in a commercial. They're kind of a big deal now, which is really awesome, because they're the kind of soft and well put together folk sound I like to break through.  If they continue to make music like this album, I can foresee them having a mainstream pop presence, similar to Mumford and Sons, for a few years to come. In the age of the electronic music revolution, with EDM exploding with popularity, it's refreshing for a modern folk fan like myself to see minimalist music gain some widespread recognition. The Civil Wars were somewhat able to do it last year, so best of luck to The Lumineers. 

Best songs: "Ho-Hey" and "Big Parade" and kind of also "Classy Girls"

3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

One of these things is not like the other. I know. How fucking hipster of me to only include one hip-hop album on the list and of course it's the hipster darling right now Kendrick Lamar. But what can I say? I agree that this album is just fantastic. It's a step above his previous album, section.80, which I happen to think is also good, but just doesn't have the succinct production value or thematic links as this album. Kendrick Lamar has kind of blown up over the past year, especially with this studio debut that has been so favorably received. Kendrick's writing skills are really quite extraordinary. He's not just a rapper with clever lines and a great flow, he paints an amazing story. An entire album about the city he grew up in that didn't destroy him like it very well could have, but rather made him. "The Art of Peer Pressure" really captures his storytelling abilities. The little non-distracting skits between songs help the album's coherence. Albums are an art form. The best ones create not only amazing individual songs, but a consistent sound with a coherent thematic link. In other words, this is not an album that should be shuffled. It's well served by being listened to in its entirety. 

Best songs: The whole thing, but my favorites are "good kid" and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst"

2. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan 

Okay, so remember when I said Grizzly Bear was that band that was really original right now and had a one of a kind sound. No, that would have to be Dirty Projectors, who are literally a living experimentation in constant evolution for the better. Every song and new sound and new album seems like a progression away from regularity and into a genre all of its own. There's nothing quite like hearing a song like "Gun Has No Trigger" where the rhythm section is entirely a drum beat and background vocals. Dave Longstreth's lead vocals jump out at you on this track, as the females provide the rest in the background. It's honestly one of the more original sounds you'll ever hear. Now, of course the band does more than just experiment in style just to do it. They make it their own. The title track is beautiful, and actually one of the more straightforward songs on the album. It's just an amazing song that catches you from the first second. You'll have the chorus, if you can call it that, stuck in your head after one listen (Swing Lo-oh Magellan). After hearing Bitte Orca (their previous album) for the first time last year, I was very excited for anything else this band could do, but also a bit anxious about them being unable to recreate that album's sound. They went above and beyond with this one. Again, the prevalence of multiple voices on the album, both male and female, all add to the vibe that IS the Dirty Projectors. If you're even remotely interested in this kind of music, put on "Dance for You" or "The Socialites" or "Unto Caesar" and try not to smile while listening to it. These songs have such a full sound that you need headphones to truly catch it all. 

Best songs: "Gun Has No Trigger" and "Swing Lo Magellan" and "Unto Caesar" and "The Socialites" and pretty much the whole fucking thing. 

1. The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now

The Tallest Man on Earth is the stage name of Swedish folk singer Kristian Mattson. This album is the truest form of traditional Bob Dylan-esque folk you'll hear these days. His voice is oddly reminiscent of Dylan's in its style. The subject matter is rather non-Dylan, with few political statements showing up on this album. However, that doesn't mean Mattson isn't a brilliant songwriter. This is how the modern incarnation of folk is supposed to sound. Just a man, his heart, his guitar, and just amazing lyrics. The album begins with the poetic "To Just Grow Away" and doesn't give up. There's no way to describe the lyrics and mood of the album other than musical poetry. As I stated, it's amazing what one man can do with his voice and a guitar. Thematically, the album is more sad in nature than uplifting, unlike some previous folk albums that showed up on this list (The Lumineers and My Head is An Animal for example). The Tallest Man on Earth sings about his own failures, shortcomings and disappointments.On "Revelation Blues," a song truly Dylan-esque in its sound, he begins: "I was more than just a coward/I was handsome too." and ends "I always want to bring you something/But sometimes it's just roses dying too young." The nature imagery he creates on "Bright Lanterns" is chill-inducing. This album is truly a testament to the powers of music to affect emotion. On the title track, he sings about being lost like a child again. Is he completely powerless, or just fully aware of his limitations? There's a defined sound on this album that doesn't waver. With that, There's No Leaving Now is a truly great album. I've probably listened to it more than any other album on this list. 

Best songs: "Bright Lanterns" and "1904" and "Little Brother" and "Revelation Blues" and "To Just Grow Away"

So that's it. Music is a funny thing. My list changed order literally as I was coming up with it and re-listening to things. It's nearly impossible to pick favorite music, because that obviously is so heavily influenced by my mood. Sometimes it's easier to feel a connection to an introspective and personal album like There's No Leaving Now or Boys and Girls. Other times, a fun album that just gets the sound perfect like Lonerism or Blunderbuss does the trick. Either way, that's my long post about my favorite music from the year that ends in like a day. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Baseball, Baseball, Baseball

It's late June. Which means a few things. You see more children around. 90 degree days are soon to be accepted as the norm. And of course, baseball is the all the rage. With the NBA finals commencing this past week, baseball will be occupying the head of the sports world until the NFL returns in a few months. ESPN is probably already lubing up in anticipation of more Tebow news to over report. But, for about a month until people start semi giving a shit about football in the heat of fucking summer, you're stuck with the national pastime. Baseball.

The MLB season is actually almost half over. It sure as shit doesn't feel like it is. The next two months are the dog days of summer. Things get interesting. Trade deadline. Injuries. Surging teams. Win streaks. Slumps. It's exciting. The official half way point is upon us in just a few weeks. The All Star Game. Major League Baseball's All Star Game is perhaps still the most entertaining and revered of any major sports' version of the game. Despite the asinine fact that it actually means something toward World Series home field advantage, it has a tradition that remains unrivaled in sports. Perhaps some of that tradition has declined since the advent of interleague play over a decade ago. You literally would never get to see these players face each other. It was actually something special. Maybe just growing up a baseball fan first gives me this impression. But I still remember some of the memorable games of the late 90s-early 00s. I remember Ichiro leading off of Randy Johnson. I remember Pedro lighting it up at Fenway after Ted Williams making the trip around the field. I remember Cal Ripken and A-Rod's jesting and Ripken's HR later in that game. Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds. The Tie. Clemens getting lit up in Houston. I remember those games more than I remember what happened the past few years. There was nothing like it in the world seeing all those great legendary baseball players at once when I was only 12 years old. Now, I'm amazed at watching the brilliance of players who are actually younger than I am. Seeing Bryce Harper play the game the way we were all taught in little league. The way we wished we could play was we grew up. Seeing Mike Trout dazzle and astound at both the plate and in the outfield. I can literally call these guys "kids." Not that I'm any kind of real adult or anything. I still get giddy about the best things in baseball. I'm still obsessed with the stats of the game. Yes, I know Luis Castillo is the all time hits leader for the Marlins. Yes, I know Greg Maddux has a boat load (official number) of gold gloves. But my excitement for the All Star game is different than that of a 10 year old. I still love it, and love watching baseball, no doubt. Now I'm just really into making sure everyone who deserves it actually makes the team, ha.

Which brings me to the next point of this post. I guess I should give a bit of a midseason report and then pick my personal all star selections. Considering I made some predictions before the season, I suppose I could go back and look at them to see how they compare to what is actually going on. I think I picked Tulo to win NL MVP which obviously isn't happening, considering he's out for like two months with an injury. I had too much faith in the Phillies rotation. I didn't think the Angels would suck it up (including Pujols) for a month and  a half before finally coming into their own. I didn't think that nobody in the Tigers rotation would show up other than Justin Verlander and nobody in their lineup other than their big two. I didn't think that the Orioles would have the best bullpen in the American League. I didn't think they would be contending with anyone in that strong division. But I think that's probably one of the underrated things about baseball. There's ALWAYS a few surprise teams every season. Yankees haters love to shit on our team for spending a shit load of money, and they try to diminish our championship rings because of that. But the least talked about argument about that is that talent and money and big names isn't everything in baseball. It's not like some other sports (most notably different from basketball, I suppose). Small market teams can compete in baseball with a proper mix of pitching and timely hitting. Hell, look at the Mets right now. On paper, their lineup isn't all impressive. One true star in there with David Wright, then a bunch of mid level players to over achieving role players. But they're producing and their pitching keeps them in every game, which is about all you can ask for in baseball. R.A Dickey has been the pitching story of the first half so far. When you're getting one start out of five at his quality, you're going to win baseball games and you're going to compete. This post is excessive, let's get to the point.


American League

C - AJ Pierzynski (CHW)
1B - Paul Konerko (CHW)
2B - Robinson Cano (NYY)
SS - Derek Jeter (NYY)
3B - Miguel Cabrera (DET)
OF - Mark Trumbo (LAA)*
OF - Mike Trout (LAA) **
OF - Josh Hamilton (TEX)
DH- David Ortiz (BOS)
P - Chris Sale (CHW)

*On the ballot at 3B, but has been playing OF for 2 months now (LOL)
**Not on ballot, write in

National League

C - Yadier Molina (STL)***
1B - Joey Votto (CIN)
2B - Brandon Phillips (CIN)
SS - Starlin Castro (CHC)
3B - David Wright (NYM)
OF - Andrew McCutcheon (PIT)
OF - Melky Cabrera (SF)
OF - Carlos Beltran (STL)
P - R.A. Dickey (NYM)

*** Screw Carlos Ruiz.

There are obviously a number of candidates worthy of starting on the mound for either league, including David Price, CC Sabathia, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Lance Lynn, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, etc. etc. etc.

That's pretty much my All Star ballot now. Probably actually vote Adam Jones on actual ballot in AL OF, considering Trumbo is at third base. I won't vote for him at 3B though, because he hasn't played there since like April. So what the fuck. #Baseball

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Three Year Olds are Awesome

A Non-Parental Perspective 

A few days ago a three year old asked me why I had a pillow on my head. It was about 930 AM on a Saturday, an time normally reserved for deep sleep before awaking for a single, regularly alone, 23 year old like me. I was sleeping on a pullout futon with a couch pillow covering my head. If you've never slept in the play room of a pair of three year old twins, you may be equally confused about the pillow being over my head instead of under it. But kids are really loud in the morning, which can be very annoying. The pillow was the closest equivalent to ear plugs. It especially doesn't work when the kids start asking you about it. It becomes counterproductive almost.

The most fascinating thing about this incident was that the tiny little person in front of me legitimately had no idea why the pillow was on my head. She found it hilarious. Picture a little kid laughing asking why there's a pillow on your head. She was implying I'm a moron and the pillow goes under the head. It was actually somewhat degrading with her tone.

So there I am. Being laughed at by a three year old ,way too early in the day. The other one, her twin brother, just looked at me like "shit did I wake him up." Or at least that's what I hoped or imagined he was thinking. Doubt he was. Children have no sense of how loud or potentially annoying they are. That's what makes toddlers pretty awesome. They'll just start yelling and talking about nonsense. They understand their world more than any adult understands his or hers. Think about it. I have no fucking idea what to make of my life right now. I've grown into an apathetic post college 20something, effectively contributing as much to society as any three year old.

So if there's a point or argument in all of this it's this: Three year olds know more about the world than 23 year olds. They know more than I do. Not in the literal sense. I mean, I probably consider myself to be a pretty intelligent person. I know of the existence of the EU and the starting lineup for the Yankees and I know who was president in 1947. Sure, so literally I know more than any three year old. But that's just information. A three year old knows everything about his/her own world. The most important goal of anyone in the world, regardless of age or occupational aspiration, is to get what they want. It's as basic and mundane as that. You do what you do because ultimately you want to be happy and get what you want. Three year olds are the fucking kings of getting what they want! They understand their very very limited world in terms of just that. I want a snack. I will complain and/or cry until I get the snack. Mission accomplished. Think about it. You ever hang out with a three year old for a significant amount of time? They'll just make shit up and pass it off as fact. Yeah you fought a dragon in your dream last night? That's awesome. I dreamt that I overslept for work then got stuck in traffic. I was frightened in the morning waking up to that. My favorite thing about three year olds is that they express every emotion with certainty. If they're happy, what do they do? They dance around and jump around and just smile and run around. It's awesome. I'm never that happy! When's the last time the world made me so pleased that I literally started running around my house with joy? I'm going to go ahead and say it's been a while.

That's why we're so attached to children. Not only are they adorable and fun. They remind us of the one thing in the world we can never ever recreate and capture no matter how hard we try: the innocence of childhood. There's no way I can unlearn things about war or politics or even something innocent like baseball. Children have no worldly concerns except their own. They play, they laugh, and they run around. Sure they cry too. But they don't cry the way adults cry. The last time you cried was probably a real bummer and I'm sure whatever caused it didn't just go away again the next morning. It was probably a sad emotional moment. Maybe you had a tough breakup or got some real shitty news about someone you loved. Or maybe you just watched the fifth season of Six Feet Under. Whatever it was, it was real and true and it reminded you of the problems of the world. Yours personally and the problems of others. A child doesn't cry like this. They cry because they're physically hurt for a moment, temporarily upset, or want to sleep.

That brings me to another thing a three year old told me this past weekend. I stayed in bed, aka uncomfortable futon, after I acknowledged the presence of the little one. She knew I was awake and yet I had yet to get up for the day and I even tried to roll back over. She asked me why I was still sleeping. She said it was morning, the sun had come up, and therefore I had to be awake. And that's common sense for a three year old I suppose. They know you go to sleep at night, and wake up in the morning. But this told me more. Her telling me I was supposed to wake up meant more than that though. Not to her, but to me. I realized the reason that three year olds are so happy is because there is no past for them. Everything that happened the day before means nothing now. If they were mad at mommy or daddy for taking away a toy, it was completely forgotten the next day. Sure, kids remember things like movies and what toys do and words and they make memories. But the bad just goes away. They live in the present. Nothing is more important to a toddler than the current task they're completing, whether it's playing Wii or having a tea party or just running around. This, of course, relates to their innocence and command of their world. It's why they know more than adults. They know how to stay happy and forget the bad to focus on the fun.

So next time you're hanging around a toddler relative of yours and they're crying or yelling, try not to be annoyed for long. Pay attention to them when they're just playing and having fun. Check out the little games they just make up on a whim. I guarantee it'll make you smile. And just like the thing that makes you cry and stay sad for a few days, the memory of that little kid running around may do just the same. Except instead of sadness, you'll just have a little smile or stay happy for a few days, reminded that there are people out there that, despite their diminutive size, are just living in the moment. That's what my little half siblings did for me this weekend.

Important disclaimer: I am not a parent. I have no children of my own. I’d imagine being overtaken by three year olds constantly as a parent would be a significantly different experience than hanging out with them for a weekend. I claim no parental experience or expertise. If you’re a parent, this is probably a moot point I just made here with this blog. Parents obviously have a much more rewarding, yet frustrating, relationship with their three year olds. And I’m sure their opinions/views on three year olds are entirely different than anything I mentioned here.