Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of the 2000s: Albums

Before I unveil my favorite albums of this decade, I will give you some songs that missed the cut. I meant to add this to my last entry.

"Kids" MGMT, "Keep the Car Running" Arcade Fire, "Optimistic" Radiohead, "Munich" The Editors, "Tie Up My Hands" Starsailor, "Jesus of Suburbia", Green Day

Moving on ... I know any real list would have Eminem, Kanye West, Amy Winehouse etc.
Again, I'm as narrow-minded as a Tea Partier when it comes to music, though I do appreciate some of the above artists' songs. Also, unlike real lists, you won't see Radiohead here 15 times.

So here's my Top 10, brought to you by WBRU.

10. Good News for People Who Love Bad News - Modest Mouse (2004): An quirky collection of songs, some with a dreamy feel (Float On), some punkish (Dance Hall) and some very understated and folksy (The Good Times Are Killing Me). This collection of songs sounds from another planet, from another time. It's easy to lose yourself in this 16-track behemoth.

Best songs: Ocean Breathes Salty, Dance Hall, Float On.

9. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (2004): While some albums drag, especially towards the end, this one checks in at a scant and rollicking 38 minutes. Right from the catchy "Jacqueline" to the final " '40," you don't have much time to breathe. There are no acoustic ballads or filler tracks to calm things down. These Scots start off running and they don't stop. "Take Me Out" is the masterpiece, but it's not the only notable track. "This Fire" sticks to your brain and "Darts of Pleasure" does the same, the latter containing the album's best lyrics. "You can feel my lips undress your eyes" and "Words of love and words so leisured / Words of poisoned darts of pleasure." These guys came out of nowhere - for me anyway - and I haven't heard much from them since, but at least they left us with this memorable record.

Best songs: Take Me Out, Darts of Pleasure, This Fire, Jacqueline

8. By The Way: Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002): The Peppers eschewed their usual funk stylings with their most pop-friendly, accessible album. The title track gets the adrenaline started but mellow, sad songs mark this album, from "I Could Die For You" to "Tear." They definitely throw in some rockers, like "On Mercury" and my favorite, "Can't Stop." They toss the entire playbook in this one, which sets By the Way apart from much of their work. It's emotional, subdued and some of the songs are downright beautiful. No "Suck My Kiss" or "Give It Away" here.

Best songs: Can't Stop, On Mercury, By the Way, Tear

7. In Your Honor: Foo Fighters (2005): Dave Grohl has said he wants to be remembered for this album. This isn't the best Foo Fighters record - that goes to The Colour and the Shape - but it's their best since Y2k ended the world in 2000. Inspired by his time campaigning with John Kerry in 2004, he penned this double-album, one disc full of rock songs and the other full with acoustic tracks. "Best of You" and "DOA" mark the first side with typical Foo Fighters energy and melody. What really separates this from the rest is the acoustic part. For these hard-rockers to discard the amps and electric guitars and come up with very solid, stripped down songs is a major achievement. The haunting "Over and Out," the whimsical "What If I Do?" and the jaunty "Hard Day in the Sun" highlight the softer side of In Your Honor. It's hard to pull off a double-album, especially these days in ADD nation, but the Foos did it.

Best Songs: DOA, What If I Do?, Over and Out

6. Elephant: The White Stripes (2003): In the annals of album openers, "Seven Nation Army" is near the top. Right away, you know the Stripes are following up White Blood Cells with an album even more diverse, daring and bare. The garage rock tunes still pepper this album, but Jack White slows it down with some slower, even odd tunes, like the final "It's True That We Love One Another" and the piano-tinged "I Want To Be The Boy Who Warms Your Mother's Heart." They don't forget their roots though, which explains "The Hardest Button to Button" and "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself." Jack White is an old-school blues musician who comes up with simple, home-spun lyrics and chords that just thump like a heartbeat. Elephant was universally praised by critics and fans alike - for good reason. It turned the Stripes from niche garage rockers to megastars.
5. Songs for the Deaf: Queens of the Stone Age (2002): Anytime you have Dave Grohl as a drummer, odds are the album will kick ass. He mans the drum kit for this amazing collection of head-banging, mosh-pit rock. It's more than just some songs thrown together; Songs for the Deaf actually serves as a concept album of sorts. It's a car ride from LA to the Mojave Desert where we get to hear the Queens poke fun at the state of radio. It begins with "Clone Radio" in L.A., that proudly says "We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else." Everything from Spanish stations to college stations appear, adding another level to what is already a great album. "No One Knows," "First It Giveth" and "The Sky is Falling" are some of the standouts. While satirizing the stale, mind-numbing airwaves, Josh Homme and company find the time to add in great song after great song after great song. Not bad.

Best songs: No One Knows, The Sky Is Falling, Go With The Flow, First It Giveth

4. American Idiot: Green Day (2004): Another concept album, but from Green Day? They're used to singing about getting stoned and masturbating. They named an album "Dookie" for crying out loud. The fact they produced a modern-day, suburban America rock opera is one of the biggest surprises of the decade. American Idiot follows the Jesus of Suburbia, a bored, lost and frustrated everyman who runs away from home and falls in love with Whatshername. He also meets St. Jimmy, a self-destructive freedom-fighting rocker who is supposed to represent the Jesus of Suburbia's alter ego. The Jesus of Suburbia medley is beyond great, with Billie Joe Armstrong's best lyrics to date. "I read the graffiti on the bathroom stall / like the Holy Scriptures of the shopping mall." While making an American Beauty-esque critique on American materialism and conformity, Green Days tells this story and, like most operas, it ends in tragedy and loss. Unlike most operas, the music is listenable. The Who would be proud.

Best songs: Jesus of Suburbia, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Holiday

3. Is This It - The Strokes (2001): No list of albums for this decade can ignore this seismic offering from this New York, Emily Schaible-discovered misfit band. While not nearly as good as Nevermind, it had a similar effect on this decade in rock music. While Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit and Korn were dominating the air waves, The Strokes blew everything up. Instead of macho, bloated metal, people started paying attention to alternative bands with tattered jeans, suit jackets over t-shirts and floppy hair. This album lacks any pretension. Simple, groovy, low-key guitar rock, from the huge hit "Last Nite" to the hypnotic "Soma" make up this record. Julian Casablancas growls into the microphone, his voice distorted and probably hung-over. This album kicked off the frenzy for the "The" bands. The Hives, The Vines, The Libertines, even Kings of Leon owe them. This album made alternative cool again.

Best songs: Someday, Soma, Last Nite

2. A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (2002): These top two albums are in my all-time top five. This album is as close to perfect as an album can be. Reflecting post-9/11 attitudes, A Rush of Blood to the Head begins with the epic piano rock of Politik and ends with a somber and sweet piano song "Amsterdam." I like every single song. Every single one. As you know by now, "Clocks" is the stand-out. But "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" is infectious while "The Scientist" could make a lesser man cry. The circular guitar and ecstatic vocals of "Daylight" are hard to dislike and the simple "Green Eyes" is enough to make any woman melt. It worked on Gwyneth Paltrow, right? Six years later, I still listen to this album often and I almost never skip a song. This record still stands up as Coldplay's masterpiece. Don't snicker. They've released four albums this decade and all have been good. AROBTTH is more than just good. It's a deserted island album for me.

Best songs: Clocks, Politik, The Scientist, Green Eyes, Daylight

1. Hot Fuss - The Killers (2004): While I love the previous album on this list, I don't think it broke any new ground. This one did. The Killers resurrected 80's synth-rock by jazzing it up with pop melodies and adding sneakily dark lyrics. Fun themes of murder, obsession, helplessness, rage, sorrow and vengeance pop up everywhere. "Jenny is Friend of Mine" has a man confessing to the murder of his sweetheart. "Mr. Brightside" has the man obsessing about his mate girl on him. "Smile Like You Mean It" deals with the break-up. "Midnight Show" deals with the murder. Brandon Flowers shields these dark words with a flurry of pop chords made for radio airplay. It's a delicate balancing act and these Las Vegas guys pull it off brilliantly. It's the one album that I think would make the deserted island list of The Brookline Trio of Jeff, Steve and Zach. The one quibble I have is the final track, but the greatness of what comes before it more than makes up for my distaste. Frankly, I still remember the first time I heard this album. I was laid up after surgery and it was love at first sound. This album just fucking rocks. I don't think I'll ever stop enjoying it.

Best songs: All These Things I've Done, Jenny Was a Friend of Mine, Mr. Brightside, Midnight Show
Whew. This took a while. More than I expected. Here are the albums that missed the cut.

Only by the Night: Kings of Leon

Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam

Oracular Spectacular: MGMT

Audioslave: Audioslave

Hopes and Fears: Keane
How To Build An Atomic Bomb: U2

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best of the 2000s: Songs

Ready for the 2,000th Best of the Decade list?

In music, the 2000s could not - and did not - live up to the high standards of the 1990s. That doesn't mean there weren't some great songs. Below I'll list my favorite songs of the past 10 years. Be prepared for me to miss something. I did a list of Best Comedies and forgot Arrested Development. Epic FAIL! Also, my tastes in music aren't the most eclectic in the world. I know that. Live with it.

And if this were Rolling Stone, I'd put Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen all over this list. They're legends, I get it, but how relevant has their new music been this decade? Not much in my eyes. Another thing ... if this were Rolling Stone you'd see 10,000 comments below crying "Where's The Comatorium Emporian of Wounder Seals? Their debut album "Whispering the Heart" is the best of all time!! You sell out!"

With that out of the way, here are my Best Songs of the 2000s.

15. World Wide Suicide - Pearl Jam: Again, if Rolling Stone can put Bruce and Bob on their lists, I can include PJ. They came back to life in 2006 with their eponymous album and this was the first single. A rollicking song that brought back angry Eddie Vedder as he rants against George Bush and the war in Iraq. "Tell you to pray/while the devil's on their shoulder." The guy writes great lyrics and it was nice to see him dip back in the well of angst one last time.

14. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab For Cutie: Not much to say except this is one great melody. A great, great, great melody. "I know our filthy hands can wash one another / and not one speck will remain." "If the silence takes you / then I hope it takes me too." Oh, those boys in Death Cab! They're so sensitive! Every now and then they produce a very good tune as well.

13. Ocean Breathes Salty - Modest Mouse: Another song dealing with death and the afterlife. While "Float On" was the big hit off their album "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," this is the best song. Far and away. My favorite line: "You wasted life, why wouldn't you waste death?"

12. Bedshaped - Keane: Did you hear? Keane is a rock band without guitars. It's true. This song, moody and atmospheric, almost seems as if it's rising to heaven. I don't know how to write about music like Jeff Schaible, so I hope that makes sense. Here's my take: Great song. Fun to listen to. It's good. I like it.

11. Cochise - Audioslave: I remember first hearing this song and wondering how Chris Cornell and the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine would sound and not being disappointed. While some never accepted this band, their first album holds up well, beginning with this ear-scratching opener. When I'm pumping iron in the gym, I like to put this on the ol' iPod. A great workout song.

10. 1901 - Phoenix: I can't stop playing this song. I just can't. It's so damn catchy and original. The lyrics are vaguely historical and the music very modern and electronic, but not too electronic. They performed on Letterman and this song sounded exactly the same live. It was amazing. Who knew the French could rock out? And yes, I first heard this on the car commercial. I'm not proud of it, but that's what happened. All that matters is I found it. And now I can't stop replaying it.

9. Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand: Sometimes when pitchers are yanked, you can hear this song blaring in the stadium. It doesn't have anything to do with baseball, but the title is a perfect, if accidental, fit. This guitar lick that starts at 55 seconds is the best of the decade. Impossible not to remember.

8. Beautiful Day - U2: A sentimental choice. They played this song during halftime of the Pats-Rams Super Bowl and from then on it became the soundtrack to all the highlights chronicling that momentous game and that shocking season. This is standard U2 fare, but any song that immediately turns my mind to that season gets a place on this list.

7. 3 Libras - A Perfect Circle: Melancholy. Sad. Sorta beautiful. Not what you usually expect from the lead singer of Tool, but then this was not Tool. A violin and soft guitar lead to a powerful chorus where he repeats "You don't see me." Appropriate, since this song came out during my high school years. A really solid song that the decade has forgotten. That should never happen to song as great as this one.

6. The Widow - The Mars Volta: My musical tastes don't align much with The Mars Volta and their prog-rock, but they cut a very radio-friendly tune here. Echoing Led Zeppelin, The Widow contains a fantastic chorus and a great guitar solo and freaky lyrics to go with them. I don't think this ever received huge air play, which I'll never understand. This should have been on of the biggest rock hits of the decade.

5. Banquet - Bloc Party: A very enigmatic song, but entirely original and catchy like you wouldn't believe. Those British rock bands know how to write great 3-minute tunes that burrow into your brain. "Turning away from the light / Becoming adult / Turning into my soul." No idea what this means. Who cares? I know I love a song that whenever it comes on my iPod shuffle, I never EVER press fast-forward. This is one of those songs.

4. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes: One of the best rifts in rock history. I'm not kidding. Even the Grammys couldn't ignore this song. Famous for not having a bassist, The White Stripes create a rift that sounds like bass, but Wikipedia tells me the sound is actually a semi-acoustic guitar run through an octave pedal. Wikipedia also informs me Jack White used to call the Salvation Army the Seven Nation Army. Thanks, Wikipedia. And thank you, White Stripes. You even have soccer and college crowds singing this song in stadiums.

3. Change (In the House of Flies) - Deftones: This might be the oldest song on the list, all the way from the Year 2000. Some songs rock and some songs ROCK. This one ROCKS. I can't imagine what it must be like to hear live. It has to be ear-splitting, with Chino Moreno screaming his lungs into shards and the guitars and drums blasting away. The lyrics mean nothing to me. It's just one of those songs that make you want to turn up your speaker to 11 so all your neighbors can bang on the ceiling with their broomsticks for you stop.

2. All These Things I've Done - The Killers: Could easily be No. 1. It starts with a single keyboard note and then the organ sounds and Brandon Flowers appears and then the drums and then the rolling guitar lifts you off. The Killers know how to build up a song (see Jenny was a Friend of Mine). What starts a slow soliloquy turns into a sing-along and, most famously, a church choir singing the lyrics The Killers are most famous for: "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier." This song has it all. And it's perfect. I wouldn't change a thing, a single note.

1. Clocks - Coldplay: I wrestled with this one. Clocks wins out because I've never heard a song quite like it. I'm a sucker for great piano rifts and this might be one of the best I've ever heard in a pop/rock/alternative song. The lyrics generally allude to time winding down ("Confusion never stops / closing walls and ticking clocks"), but as with most of the entries on the list, the words pale in comparison to the arrangement. Dreamy and trance-like, the piano, the repetitive drum and the muted guitar flow together on a cloud of melancholy. (How's that for a Rolling Stone-esque sentence?) If I could ever learn one instrument and one song on that instrument, I would learn this one. Imagine just plopping down on any piano and letting this rift go ... I'd be the coolest person in the room.

I bet you have many problems with this list. Please, be my guest and do your own. I'm feeling kind of lonely in the blog world lately. What's keeping you away? Jobs? Relationships? Please.

I'll be back soon with my Best Albums of the 2000s. There will be more buzz for this than the final season of Lost.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Worst commercial ever

This commercial is on all the time at work. It makes me sick every time I see it.

Basically, the message is this: Buy a gun or get murdered, maybe even raped. It's just disgusting. And it plays every day.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive. You be the judge.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Entertainment tonight

I have some TV/movie/book related topics to share.

1. I remember being angry when Saving Private Ryan lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love. SPR is a war movie classic and the D-Day scene at the beginning is unforgettably intense. SIL seemed like a chick flick that had no business winning that Oscar. I remember my history teacher that year, Mr. Thompson, being visibly upset the morning after.

However, how could I truly know if SPR was shafted if I never saw SIL? Due to wonderful Netflix, I finally saw it. I have to say the movie pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow's performance and Dame Judi Dench got the job done in her 10 minutes of Oscar-winning screen time. Nice, enjoyable film with solid performances all around. Though the William Shakespeare character didn't quite ring true. He prances around like a horny twenty something in Melrose Place. The weight of his genius is nowhere to be found. Didn't detract that much from the movie, however.

Still, I can now say with certainly it did not deserve the Best Picture award. The verdict is in ... about ten years late. It's not just my testosterone either. History has decided this one as well. SPR is more fondly remembered and the storming the beach scene is one of the most memorable scenes to come out of any film in two decades. I wanted to make sure my first impression was correct and it was.

2. Since when did Jim Halpert become a complete moron? This past Office episode saw him fail to recognize what was clearly a Dwight prank, especially when the cake arrived. He should've known it had to be Dwight, yet he stammers.

What happened to witty, smart Jim. He's one of the only characters we're supposed to identify with. I understand they're trying to show that Michael Scott's job isn't as easy as it looks and it can be funny for Jim to have problems in his new position, but to continually have no idea how to act or react to situations is really grating on me. So much so that scenes that are supposed to be funny just end up pissing me off.

For the past few episodes, Jim will find himself in trouble with his underlings. Instead of simply stating his case, he hems and haws and makes his "aw gosh" face to the camera. I guess we're supposed to laugh. I yell at the TV.
It's clear The Office is in Tim Duncan mode. It's still good, but greatness has passed it by. It happens to every show, especially comedies. But please, stop making Jim a moron. He's supposed to be one of the smart ones.
3. Mad Men and Friday Night Lights are in a neck-and-neck battle for best show in TV right now. I started watching Season 4 online and it's safe to say FNL is not giving up its title without a fight. The past episode, titled "The Son," was perhaps the show's best. I won't spoil anything. I'll only say Zach Gilford puts on an acting clinic. Just amazing to watch. It's uncanny how FNL always hits the right emotional notes, never getting too sappy or too melodramatic. Still the most authentic show I've seen.

4. I finally caught Marley & Me. I promised myself I wouldn't cry. I can neither confirm nor deny that I did. I will allow that I got emotional. I had a dog, while not as destructive as Marley, was certainly a nuisance at times. But you still had to love him. The scene where the wife is crying and Marley is right there to comfort her., that's what dogs are about. They always seem to know, which is why they're much better than cats. Cats want to kill you for the insurance money.

Our family also buried our first dog (RIP Sparky) in the backyard just like Marley. I dug the hole and poured the dirt on the body ... something I'll never forget. So the movie hit a spot.
5. One more thing, actually. I just finished Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." It started almost exactly like his other books, but midway through I could not put it down. The man has his formula and I'll be damned if it doesn't work.
It's Dan Brown paint-by-numbers. Freaky, silent, deadly villain obsessed with something very archaic? Check. Old man put in jeopardy in beginning? Yes. Attractive, single, brilliant woman to be Robert Langdon's sidekick? Check. Secret societies who left us with coded messages? You bet. Characters talking like encyclopedias? Sure. Two-page chapters? Yes.
(I don't like how Brown does one of his cliff-hangers at the end of short chapter and then begins the next chapter at the same point. For example, a character sees something shocking.
Robert Langdon opened the door and what he saw made him step back in shock.
"What the hell ..." he whispered breathlessly.
Chapter ends. Next chapter then begins right there. So why the cliff-hanger? Sometimes, it's not even a new chapter. He breaks, then starts right there again in the next paragraph. The scene should change.)
Anyway, it's still a great page-turner with some neat little tidbits of history. I was thinking "That was it?" after the secret all the characters were desperately chasing/protecting was revealed. If you liked The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, you'll like this one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bill's in town

This is my 100th blog post. In celebration, I plan on using some salty language. You've been warned.

Bill Maher came to Northeastern while I was there and yet I did not go. Since then, I've regretted it. Friday night I finally made amends, traveling down to Miami beach to see Maher at the Jackie Gleason theater.

He was fantastic.

This is a (mostly) family blog, so it will be tough to relay what he said. He went off on the usual subjects, from Republicans to drugs to marriage and, of course, religion. I'll paraphrase a few of his memorable jokes.

On Scientology: It's gotta take some massive balls to tell another human being what happened 12 trillion years ago. And not even talk generally, like the earth was cooling. No, you know the name. 'Zenu. 12 trillion years ago. End of story'

On the Rapture: Jesus has been dead for 2,000 years and has yet to come back. Of course, these nuts think he's coming back ... in their lifetime. "He wants to meet me! Hey Jesus, Bob Feldstein here. Big fan. I know you must be real busy but if you can just give me one autograph."

On married men: I knew these guys before they were married. They used to be mustangs. Now they're like the horse in central park with the blinders on, just walking all day in a circle.

And I hear them on the phone in the airport. "Hi, I'm checking my bags. Hi, I'm sitting down now. Hi, I'm going into the plane now. Love you. Love you, too. Love you more." Why don't you just put on a husband cam so she can see what you do every second of every day, you pathetic, pussy-whipped piece of shit."

On relationships: Men and women don't have mutual fantasies. Your fantasies bore us. Our fantasies offend you. You fantasize about a charming prince on a white stallion galloping in a meadow and picking you up and promising you his undying love. We fantasize about cumming on your face.

On Tiger Woods: If his wife was black, that driver would not have gone through his back window. It would've been through the back of his head.

On Republicans: It's unfair to say the Republicans hate black people. They also hate Mexicans.

On presidents: Don't think if I make fun of Obama I'm making fun of all black people. When I made fun of George Bush all those years, it wasn't aimed at all retards.

On stress: Stress is a normal part of life. It's nature. Ever see animals? Look at a squirrel. It's the most stressed-out animal on earth. "I know I'm gonna die. I know it. I just want this acorn but I now I'm gonna die." (Mimics chewing an acorn and nervously looking in every direction.)

On people being offended by his religious stuff: They tell me religion does no harm. Really? I guess they're right, if you don't count most wars, 9/11, the Inquisition, the Crusades, stonings, oppression of women, blacks, homosexuals, Jews, beheadings, suicide bombers, human sacrifice, mutilation and molested children.

Obviously, he's not politically correct. But that's part of his charm. There were many more great bits to which I can do no justice. He brought the house down, except for the one woman in front of me who seemed to be sleeping and another old lady who left when he started talking about "pussyboners." (A female version of an erection, in case you didn't know.) What was she expecting?

Time for some bonus Steve's Peeves time.

On my way down to Miami, some woman started honking at me for not taking a right on green. I couldn't go because if I did, I would have killed or hurt two pedestrians. She ends up passing me seconds later and gives me the wide-eyed look of the Pissed Off Driver. I usually don't do this, but I flipped her the bird. Sorry I kept you from your destination an extra three seconds. I know you were on your way to something very important.

I ended up parking ten minutes away and walked through the Lincoln Road strip of flashy clubs and restaurants. If you know me, I don't like to be bothered when walking around. No one cares about that, obviously. People are always asking for money or a signature to save the seagulls or something. I literally had to run an obstacle course to miss all the pests on my walk to the theater.

You know how restaurants will put a good looking person, usually a woman, near the display menu? Well, every single place on Lincoln Road seems to have one. So just because you're a cute blonde, I'm going to want to drop 50 bucks on lobster bread? Is there anything else in it for me? No? Didn't think so.

They were like pesky mosquitoes at dusk. They wouldn't go away. When you swat one away, another takes its place. Very, very annoying.

Anyway, a fun night. I finally saw one of my favorite comedians live and he came through. He even gave me a new word in pussyboner. Not sure I could ever use it in an appropriate manner. And he called Sarah Palin Cruella De Vil, which the crowd loved.

I can't wait until Real Time comes back. Maher's voice is a needed one. The airwaves suffer without him.