Monday, December 31, 2007

Favorite Music of the Year – Pop Hooks Galore!

The older I get the more my music tastes move towards well crafted pop songs full of melody and hooks as opposed to the sound of chugging guitars for noise sake that I was into a few years back. What this means is that I’m able to tolerate an overproduced Avril Lavigne record over a redundant faux punk band channeling the 1977 scene. Scary to admit but it’s true. After a weekend listening to my nephew's (or is it my sister's?) copy of the latest Avril Lavigne record it's hard not to admire the sleek production and silly lyrics.

With that being said this has been a grand year for pop hookiness in all its glory. Here’s a round up of some of my favorite pop songs/albums of the past year or so.

The “maybe the pop/commerce nexus award isn’t such a bad thing” goes to Feist and Flaming Lips. Feist’s 1,2,3,4 may have come across as a Sesame Street song at first blush but after the 4 millionth time of seeing the Apple commercial I succumbed to it’s charms. Likewise for the Dell commercial that featured the song, the W.A.N.D. by the Lips. It forced me to go back and give their last album another few listens which was a good thing. A great lyric and that bass line rocks!

Arcade Fire came out with one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year but the real gem is the wall of sound Intervention. It almost made me want to go to church with that extraordinary organ. Too bad they tend to channel Bruce Springsteen a bit much for my tastes.

In a career of surprising turns PJ Harvey released her most surprising album to date. White Chalk is easily one of her better records and that is saying something considering she has more masterpieces under her belt than any artist has a right to create. The ghostly Victorian aura of that record haunts me.

Speaking of ghosts, Elliott Smith came back from the grave to release a catchy set of leftovers. It’s kind of sad when most living artists can’t pull together something as catchy as a bunch of outtakes from someone who has been dead for years.

Radiohead returned to create possibly their best record since OK Computer, for my money one of the best albums ever. It’s another album that reveals more and more with each listen. The hooks are just underneath the surface and worth it. Apparently the “free” (or pay what you want) online release of the album was a success [I paid for mine]. In a sidenote, Jonny Greenwood created a beautiful, haunting, minimalist soundscape for the Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men.

Wilco returned to their alt-country roots with a new album. I adore Jeff Tweedy and company but this is an album that hasn’t sustained my interest like their three masterpieces, Being There, Summer Teeth, or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The Apples in Stereo came back with a great set of pop craftsmanship. Almost too catchy but I’ll take anything that includes pop gems like what is included on New Magnetic Wonder.

Interpol continues to win the “best band trying to be Joy Division” award. Being derivative is like walking a tightrope. Rock and Roll by its very nature is derivative but too much kowtowing to historical icons can send lesser bands into the abyss. Luckily Interpol is crafty enough to avoid this pitfall.

Speaking of derivative, I know we’re all supposed to bow down before Amy Winehouse according to the mainstream music press but the only way I’d do that is if I wretch at another slobbering article saying how great she is. She was “out” before she was “in” as far as I’m concerned. As “Jack” on 30 Rock would say: “Boring…I’m bored now.”

Others on my “please go away” list [a sampling anyway]: Fall Out Boy, Beyonce, Maroon 5, John Mayer, J-Lo, Britney, 50 Cent, and Kanye West.

Finally, album of the year for me has to go to The New Pornographers for releasing their most mature and catchiest collection to date. This album is more of a “grower” than previous N.P. albums and that’s a good thing. I’m sad I missed the tour supporting Challengers. And when is A.C. Newman going to follow up his solo masterpiece, The Slow Wonder?!

Here’s to the new year! It should be starting off well with a new collection of Eels music, a book, and rarities and videos.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Life in the Bike Lane

An interesting profile from the Wall Street Journal on Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. The video is worth a look as well.

From the piece:
He launched the Congressional Bike Caucus, a bipartisan group that promotes public investment in cycling. In his early days, he tracked down Speaker Newt Gingrich in the House gym to pitch transit-fare subsidies for House workers. He got them. As the ranks of the Bicycle Caucus have grown -- there are now more than 170 members -- money for bike projects has grown, more than doubling during his time in office.

Sunday Morning Music - The Cure for what ails you

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Best. Dessert. Ever.

I'm convinced there would be world peace if we all ate this.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Amount Measure Ingredient -
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1/2 Cup Butter
2 Cups confectioner's sugar
2 Eggs
3 Cups Flour
8 Ounces Dates
1 Teaspoon Baking soda
2 Cups Boiling water
1 Cup Butter
2 3/4 Cups Brown sugar
1 Pint Whipping cream

Cream butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Beat in eggs gradually.
Fold in flour. In a separate bowl pour the boiling water over the dates
and soda. When water is absorbed add other ingredients and cream mixture.
Bake in 9″ x 13″ cake pan in moderate hot oven (350 F) for 40 minutes.
Mix all ingredients and bring to a boil. Poke holes in top of cake and
pour half of mixture over top, allowing sauce to soak into cake. Brown
under grill before serving. Keep remaining sauce hot and spoon onto still
warm pieces of cake cut into 3″ squares. Top with whipped cream.

Sunday Morning Music - Flaming Lips

This song isn't overtly Christmasy but the sentiment is certainly in keeping with what is more important during the holiday season than a trip to the mall.

Brangelina go Biking or (Why I'll Never Look This Good On a Bike)

Sheesh, the two most beautiful people in the world look even better riding their bikes through the French Quarter in New old stomping grounds for a time. I doubt I've ever looked this dapper on a bike. Try as I might. Of course, I'm always wearing those pesky helmets so that might be part of the issue. Is their some law down in N.O. about making your kids wear helmets? Because the gallery of photos clearly shows some of the kids without them. Of course, they also have a bodyguard there to help fix Angelina's chain. If only I had a mechanical support team to follow behind me when I ride.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's to be done with Michael Vick?

I've been wondering what to say about the sad case of Michael Vick and been feeling rather flustered. So I took an informal poll of my 8th and 9th grade students and had them write about the 23 month sentence of Michael Vick for the organizing and funding of a dog-fighting ring. Out of 130 students all thought the punishment was too lenient.

Some even proposed rather draconian punishments of their own. Some had a logic to them (one year for every dog killed) while others were cruel and unusual (dipping Vick in turkey fat and letting a pack of pitbulls have their way with him)! Eeeeewwww.

Most felt he shouldn't be allowed to play football again when he gets out (he'll only be 29-30). How many NFL teams will let him try out? I suspect more than I'd like to think. King Kaufman is probably right about that.

Let me make this pledge right now publicly that I won't be watching any more NFL games if he does play again. The thought is just too revolting to think about. I can rationalize a lot of crap about football and sports in general but not that. Besides, after Vick gets his next shot there may not be a point in watching when the Sportsmen of the Year is no longer on the field.

John Edwards...the sleeper?!

I understand the case that Newsweek is making here but am less inclined to call him a sleeper candidate when you look at how his poll numbers stack up against the various GOP Presidential frontrunners. Besides, many of the same arguments were made in a Rolling Stone piece from a few months ago.

Happy Birthday to the Blog...sorta

"If you're a fan of blogs -- whether you fancy Perez Hilton and Boing Boing, or your tastes run more towards Daily Kos and Instapundit -- you should be celebrating: Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the "weblog." Er, maybe."

In other news, I have been sorta, kinda, around. Except for going over to Sacramento and seeing the NCAA volleyball championship. Penn State pulled it out in a nailbiter over Stanford. I didn't really have any stake in the match since Nebraska was ousted by Cal earlier. But I was kinda hoping to see Stanford come back from the 0-2 deficit. Alas the Nittany Lions were too much for them in the final game.

If their bands had anything to do with it the Cardinals should have won easily. I don't know that I've seen a more raucous band at an indoor arena. Kudos especially to the band leader and the amazingly wild trombone player that nearly took a whole section of seats with her antics.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Do Women Want?

Finished up my poetry unit this past week with a poetry reading bash, complete with espresso, pastries, juice (alas no wine) and some obligatory French cafe music. Oh yeah, we all read some poetry as well. Amazing what can come out of the minds of some 15 year olds. Their sonnets were especially good. A nice change from the free verse navel gazing they can be prone to as young writers. Besides some of the dead white male usual suspects that we read and listened to (have you ever heard T.S. Eliot read the Wasteland?) I pulled out this wonderful poem from Kim Addonizio (with audio here).

What Do Women Want?

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Baby, It's Cold Outside - Sunday Morning Music

Easily my favorite Christmas film of the last decade.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It's that time of the year - Go Nebraska!

No, I'm not talking about Christmas. And I'm definitely not talking about the football program at NU. It's the NCAA Women's Volleyball tournament. My alma mater is making a run for their second national championship in two years. Hopefully I'm not jinxing them since last night they barely squeaked by a strong Michigan State team. They were down 2 games to Zero but came back to win the last three in a nailbiter. They face Cal tonight. If they can win there they'll be in the Final Four and play next week in Sacramento. I'll be there along with who knows how many fans. Nebraska has been setting attendance records right and left the last few years. A couple of months ago they played in front of over 13,000 paying fans. That's bigger than Lawlor folks. And this is women's volleyball.

Merry Beermas!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In the Presence of Genius

I can't seem to get this song out of my head the last couple of days so why not share. Sufjan Stevens is one of those few artists that should make people thankful just to be alive at this point in history. I don't know that I always understand what he is doing, or on what level his brain seems to be working, but I always feel like I'm in the presence of genius when I listen to him. It reminds me of how a physics professor I had telling me that certain theories were accepted within the field based on the sheer beauty of the numbers (I'm not doing justice to his explanation). But the analogy works for me.

Your Turbo Powered "Bike" Pic of the Day

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I Want to Rock and Roll All Night...and party EV-R-E Day!

With apologies to KISS (excluding that a**hole, Gene Simmons) ... I think this is how you do it. Courtesy of the NYTimes no less. Here's a video sampling from youtube to catch the subject in action.

Not to forget my usual Sunday Morning Music pick, courtesy of SpongeBob.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Rivendell Bikes Article

A pretty straightforward article about Rivendell Bicycle Works. Say what you will about their "distinctive" vision of what cycling should be, at least they have a vision. Unlike so many other bike companies operating today. Take the bikesnobnyc blog quiz to see what I mean.

An excerpt from the Rivendell article:

"...the industry lost its way when it began catering to the minority of riders who actually race, resulting in featherweight bikes with cramped angles. Racers endure discomfort in the interest of speed, but the majority of consumers who buy these machines—middle-aged men and women with disposable income to burn—will never enter the Tour de California and will wind up stashing their bikes in the garage to gather dust.
Petersen prefers a gentler, more old-world aesthetic aimed at enjoyment and practicality rather than aerodynamics. His lugged steel frames are hand-brazed, a lost art perfected decades ago, when a finely crafted bicycle was comparable to a work of art. Although customers may gush over how Petersen’s Rivendell bikes look, they spend big bucks—prices for complete bikes range from $1,500 to $5,000—for the ideas that go into them. Petersen stretches the front of his bikes upward for a more relaxed position for the rider, for example. He drops the center of gravity to hug the curves. You can take his fastest bike down a fire trail on Mount Diablo, or you can ride his Mixte, what the uninformed would call a granny bike, on a tour across the country. Former president Jimmy Carter rides a custom Rivendell, which he bought a few years ago."

Huffy Cross