Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday Monday Comics

Friday, October 23, 2009

How Very, Very 1986

So here's the new Weezer single, "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To." The new album, Raditude, drops November 5.

What do you think of the song? I wasn't feeling it until the Beach Boys-style harmony bridge. But I'm curious how this one lands.

EDIT: Okay, a second listen won me over. It's like a long-lost Dexy's Midnight Runners track or something. Not really digging the video, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Album That Might Reach Through Your Speakers and Peel Your Face Off

Even though I put the Foo Fighters' second record at number 80 in my 100 albums list, I actually don't like the band all that much. The Colour and the Shape was their peak, and despite a few bright spots since -- "Stacked Actors," "The Pretender," that cover of "Darling Nikki" -- it's been a pretty mediocre bunch of albums since. Why is that? Well, the fact is that Dave Grohl is not that great a songwriter. He is, however, one of the greatest drummers ever to walk the planet, which is why this news has me so excited.

Check it out: Them Crooked Vultures, a new Supergroup band consisting of Grohl on drums where he belongs; Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age on guitar; and on bass -- no joke -- John Paul Jones. Yes, Led Fucking Zeppelin John Paul Jones. Sweet fancy Moses.

Queens of the Stone Age is great all over -- Songs for the Deaf, in fact, is featured in my next Musical Canon installment. But John Paul Freaking Jones? Is it actually legal to keep this much awesome in one place without a permit from Homeland Security or something? I've been trying to come up with a way this band could be more cool for about twenty minutes now, but I can't do it.

The album is called simply Them Crooked Vultures, and it will be released November 17. I don't have a single or a video to play you, so I leave you only with the tracklist:
  1. No One Loves Me & Neither Do I
  2. Mind Eraser, No Chaser
  3. New Fang
  4. Dead End Friends
  5. Elephants
  6. Scumbag Blues
  7. Bandoliers
  8. Reptiles
  9. Interlude with Ludes
  10. Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up
  11. Caligulove
  12. Gunman
  13. Spinning in Daffodils


So: there go the Dodgers. And the Yankees are completely unbeatable right now, so it looks like we're stuck with two teams I don't give a damn about playing each other in the World Series. The baseball purist in me thinks that's perfect: the Yanks and the Phils appear to actually be the two best teams in baseball, which who you'd theoretically like to see play for the championship. The baseball fan in me, on the other hand, wants to root for somebody. And who could that possibly be?

And thus: the Official jwalkernet Baseball Rooting Matrix. A Rock-Paper-Scissors-esque ranking of every team in baseball. Of course, it's not exactly like RPS -- there is one unbeatable team. But it's close enough for our purposes.

Each team, obviously, has my support against every team beneath it...except the last team, who can all die in a fire. I wonder who that will be.
  1. Astros
  2. Red Sox
  3. Dodgers
  4. Mariners
  5. Twins
  6. Rays
  7. Rockies
  8. Diamondbacks
  9. Orioles
  10. Marlins
  11. Brewers
  12. Angels
  13. Athletics
  14. Royals
  15. Blue Jays
  16. Rangers
  17. Pirates
  18. Tigers
  19. Indians
  20. Padres
  21. Reds
  22. Cubs
  23. Nationals
  24. Phillies
  25. White Sox
  26. Mets
  27. Giants
  28. Cardinals
  29. Braves
  30. Yankees
So: go Phillies. I guess.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Did You See? Was It Me, Holding My Face in My Hands and Screaming?

We're only four episodes in, but FlashForward might just be the most infuriating show in the history of television. And not infuriating in a good way, the way Lost is infuriating. In the "I swear to god, I am going to punch every last one of you in the kidneys" way.

I should explain.

Imagine if David Copperfield spent an hour-long special making quarters appear behind a ten-year-old's ear. Imagine if Radiohead and U2 shared the stage for a free concert, but played poorly rehearsed Lady Gaga covers all night. Imagine showing up for a Patton Oswalt comedy performance only to see him read knock-knock jokes for an hour. Imagine someone giving you a free Star Trek DVD and finding out it's "Spock's Brain." Imagine somebody wins that Toys R' Us spending spree they used to give out as prizes on Nickelodeon game shows, but only buys a pack of baseball cards.

That's FlashForward.

I guess I need to keep explaining.

For those of you who haven't seen it (or its heavy advertising campaign), FlashForward has a dynamite premise: everyone, everywhere in the world, simultaneously blacks out for exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds. During that time, everyone sees a vision -- they see themselves, six months into the future. Why did everyone see these visions? Who or what caused them? What could have affected everyone on the planet at the same time? What's the significance of the date of the flash-forwards -- everyone sees themselves at the same moment in time, so why that particular moment? And is the future set? Can knowledge of what's to come allow you to change it? One FBI agent sees himself investigating the blackouts, and uses those few disjointed images as the launching pad to an investigation to try to find answers to the biggest mystery in the history of humanity.

Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Told you: dynamite premise. But the execution -- oh gods, the execution.

The writers -- and, also, the editors -- of this show seem convinced that we, the audience, are idiots. Now, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, for sure, but you should get a load of these guys. The FBI agent, the one I mentioned before? His wife -- who actually also plays Penny on Lost, and that's not the last time I'm going draw parallels between these shows before we're done -- sees herself in the future with another man. A man she hasn't met at the time of the flashforward, no less. Drama! And then, while treating a young boy injured during the blackouts -- she's a doctor -- she meets the boy's now-single father...and it's him! Suspense! Not a bad dramatic hook, not at all.

Now, I trust that you can remember that information. But FlashForward does not. Because every time it's brought up -- and it's brought up a lot, as characters spend pages and pages of dialogue doing nothing but standing around reiterating what's already happened -- we are once again subjected to her flashforward. Flash -- the man in front of the fire! Flash -- doctor lady gazing down on him from the stairs! Every. Time.

The FBI agent? He's a recovering alcoholic. But in his vision, he was drinking. We know that it weighs heavy on his mind. But just in case, we're going to look at it ten times every episode. His partner? He didn't see anything during the blackout. Does that he mean he might die? He thinks so. And it scares him. And so he'll tell us. Over. And over. And over. The FBI agent's AA sponsor? He saw himself with his daughter...who's been dead for several years. Hope you like watching that meeting, too, 'cause they're gonna rerun it so many times I'm afraid they'll eat through the tape.

And the dialogue -- Je-sus. The little kids are the worst, speaking in fucktarded ready-for-trailers snippets that don't make the slightest bit of damn sense -- when asked about her vision, the agent's daughter says, "I dreamed there were no more good days." Yeah. Sure you did. A character has a moment where he realizes that he could act and potentially alter the future -- the audience realizes it. The other character in the scene realizes it. But just in case, he talks about it for a paragraph, ending with, "You get to decide whether or not my future happens!"

Each episode opens with a compelling image, and ends with a banging cliffhanger...but the forty minutes in between are the very worst kind of overwritten hackery, buoyed by the occasional moment of brilliance. Personally, I like to lay the blame for this on the network: they're afraid of losing an audience trained on Grey's Anatomy with what is, admittedly, something of an off-the-wall premise. So the fantastical time-loop stuff has to be explained ad nauseam, for fear someone might get confused and flip over to Dancing with Disgraced Former Republicans.*

But you know what? Lost is, hands down, the strangest show I've seen on network television since, well probably ever. And they don't feel the need to spend half of every episode retreading already retread exposition. And you know what else? Lost had the common courtesy to actually make us care about its characters before hitting us with the high drama -- FlashForward doesn't do that, so we get dramatic moments that fall flat, like a father we know nothing about telling his son we know nothing about that the mother we've never seen is dead. We know nothing about the FBI agent's partner other than that he's a surly asshole, so it's hard to get wrapped up in his eventual death and the existential quandary he's having about it. And the reason I keep referring to people by vague nouns instead of their names is because the show hasn't actually made me remember them.

"So," you say, "why don't you just, ya know, quit watching it?"

Because. Because I love the premise. And there are those occasionally flashes of brilliance, which make me think the show might be going somewhere interesting. I get the feeling that this is a problem of execution, not concept, and that if the network gets out of the way and the creators pull their heads from their asses, FlashForward could be something great.

Or, I could end up killing everyone on the planet in a screaming rage.

*Yes, I know Tom Delay isn't on Dancing with the Stars anymore. But I never got a chance to make a joke about it when he was, so just deal with it, 'kay?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Six (82-78)

It occurs to me now how much longer I have until we finish this thing. I mean, we're just now getting out of the 80s. It didn't really settle in until yesterday, when I was tweaking the list -- I'd made a few egregious errors in ordering the albums from 40-60, but that's all settled now. I've got the whole thing in an Excel spreadsheet, of which here is a tiny, tiny piece:

(The titles in red -- which are numbers 51-100 on this list -- I've given a four-star rating at Rate Your Music. The gold albums, ranked 16-50, have a four-and-a-half star rating. The top fifteen, ranked a perfect five stars, are green, but aren't in this image, obviously. I can't imagine why I thought you would give a damn about this.)

Anyway. With that in mind, tonight we're gonna be a little more brief. One paragraph, if I can manage it. And even though I didn't do this on purpose, it's all '90s rock this time around. Go figure.

82. The Verve Pipe, The Verve Pipe
The Verve Pipe - The Verve PipeYou remember from earlier in the list: I seem to love the album bands make after the one that makes them famous. In this case, the Verve Pipe followed the one-hit-wondertastic smash "The Freshmen" with this album-long meditation on stardom and the temporary nature of fame. The Verve Pipe is the rare sophomore album that seems to know it's a sophomore album, and there's no way the band could have actually believed these dark, sarcastic songs would actually hit. Even the songs that don't fit that theme are resigned and defeated, filled with broken hearts and bad dreams.

81. Oasis, Be Here Now
Oasis - Be Here NowThe first three Oasis albums, to me, each sound like the controlled substance the Gallagher brothers used most during its creation. Definitely, Maybe has the loud, clumsy roar of a good, drunken bender; (What's the Story) Morning Glory? has the sound and pace of a contemplative cigarette. Be Here Now, with its endless track listing and mammoth songs and arrangements, could only be the result of a mountain of cocaine. And it sure didn't appeal to audiences at the time -- Be Here Now is apparently the most-often pawned record in Britain, and not a single track from it made their greatest hits collection a few years back. But you know what? All that sound, all those guitars, all that noise? That's why I like the album so much. "All Around the World" could just be a throwaway pop song, but Noel Gallagher -- bless his douchebag black little heart -- stretches it out to over nine minutes, adds three (!) orchestras and something like fifteen key changes, and it becomes a fucking work of art. "D'You Know What I Mean?" doesn't need the two minutes of helicopter noises and Morse code at the beginning, I guess...but at the same time it really does. These songs have what Oasis songs had never had and would never have again -- weight. They could have just rewritten "Wonderwall" a dozen times and made everyone happy, but instead they took their body weights in Bolivian marching powder and recorded the longest, loudest fuck you they could muster. And it doesn't hurt that these are the best, most compelling songs the band would ever put together, with some of Noel's strongest lyrics (and Noel's lyrics are always awful -- he makes Coldplay look like Leonard Cohen). It's too bad they never tried anything this incredible again.

80. Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape
Foo Fighters - The Colour and the ShapeDave Grohl recorded most of the first Foo Fighters album in his spare time, while Nirvana was still a thriving entity. After its success, he had to prove on his second album he was more than just Nirvana's drummer -- he needed to prove his chops as a genuine frontman. Luckily for him, he knocked it out of the park, and The Colour and the Shape is his best post-Nirvana work. This is late-nineties modern rock at its very finest -- "Monkey Wrench" is one of the best songs ever written, and "Everlong" isn't far behind. This is the first album of what I think of internally as my High School Trilogy -- the three albums that, honestly, I don't think I could have survived those four years without. The Colour and the Shape was one of them: when Grohl ends the record by repeatedly screaming I'm not scared, I felt like I could find a new way home, too.

79. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite SadnessBilly Corgan is kind of an insufferable tool, but this is the album he was born to make. (It's also the third double album on the list. I can't help it, I like epics.) Everything Smashing Pumpkins was great at, everything they weren't so great at, all of it on display here. The loud ("Bullet with Butterfly Wings"), the melodic ("1979"), the twee ("Thirty-Three") and the insane ("We Only Come Out at Night"), stretching out as far as humanly possible. Siamese Dream seemed better at the time, but they've flipped sides completely looking back now: Mellon Collie feels like a perfect document of its era, when modern rock music was trying to morph into something else entirely -- maybe something electronic, maybe something grand and orchestral, maybe something ugly and out of its mind. It did none of those things, as we ended up with nu-metal and the post-grunge trash that Nickelback and Creed would deliver, but Billy Corgan was at least trying, dammit. For all its faults, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a statement, something most artists of the time couldn't be bothered with. Oh, and "Zero" is just a great fucking song. So there.

78. Days of the New, Days of the New II
Days of the New - Days of the New See my note in entry 82 about sophomore albums. Travis Meeks recorded the first Days of the New album at the age of seventeen, and it got a lot of play on rock radio for its unique sound -- he wrote grungy rock songs, but played them all acoustically, giving his work an amber tint and special quality. So, of course, he immediately fired the rest of his band and recorded this gigantic follow-up, which is about as sharp a turn one can take artistically without switching genres altogether. It's still rock, I guess -- but I can't think of a whole lot of other rock music that sounds like this, with the oboes and violins taking the melodies on several tracks. Meeks ties it all together as one massive piece, dropping in instrumentals and sound effects freakouts whenever the mood strikes. Suffice to say, Days of the New II was a massive commercial bomb on release, as fans of the first record fled to Creed concerts in horror.

Sunday Comics

My favorite living standup comic, Patton Oswalt, from his fantastic new album, My Weakness Is Strong.

(And the audio/video sync is off. But it's too funny not to post.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Glenn Beck Is a Damn Lunatic

In other shocking news, the sun set this evening.

Seriously, though, I've never so badly in my life felt the urge to grab a YouTube video by its lapels and shout into its face, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!"

Really, now. Any idea what that meant? What that old Coca-Cola commercial had to do with anything? Does he honestly believe that the American life we need to get back to can be found in a goddamn advertisement? Not a fan of Mad Men, I take it, Glenn?

To answer your question, though: No, I don't remember what it was like in a "simpler" America. I grew up in the Reagan '80s. Surging poverty, crack cocaine explosion, crime up, our government illegally funding terrorists, the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. And before that, before I was born, what? Watergate? Vietnam? The Kennedy assassination? Segregation? The Great Depression? When the hell was this "simpler" time, you unbelievable horse's ass?

And don't even get me started on that insanely labored -- and laboriously insane -- party metaphor. Who were the "bad" kids taking us to this party? The Democrats? They haven't taken us anywhere, last I checked. And what fucking party is this at which we've stayed too late? I think he was trying to draw a verbal political cartoon but got lost into his own bullshit. So he cried. (And these were especially fake tears, Glenn, even for you.)

Someone commit this man before he hurts himself or someone else. Or, more likely, someone hurts him.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Five (86-83)

[All entries.]

86. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say YeahIt doesn't get a whole lot more indie than this. Clap Your Hands's debut album was originally self-released, and by "self-released," I mean "the bassist personally licked the stamps and mailed discs to people." That independent attitude informs the entire record: this is noisy, jangly weirdo pop, insanely catchy and intensely weird at the same time. Alec Ounsworth's vocals stretch and snap like rubber bands -- sometimes they're on key, sometimes they're not; sometimes he enunciates, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes the songs are good, sometimes they're not: the opening track is one of the most off-putting pieces of music I've heard, and it's meant to be that way. If you want into this album, you're going to have to earn it.

And that's probably why this is such a great record, and one of my favorites: its utter and complete confidence. They know their songs are good enough to deserve your attention, and if you're not willing to keep up with them through "Clap Your Hands!," well, that's your problem. The album's final track, "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood," features my favorite moment: the band halts in transition from one part of the song to the next, hanging in the bridge as Ounsworth sticks on the phrase "child stars" like a skipping LP, repeating both music and words for what seems like a minute. The tension builds, and builds, and builds, and then releases you back with no warning. If that's too much for you, well, Clap Your Hands doesn't really care. (Which led, of course, to the inevitable hipster backlash, and I'm not sure it's cool to like this album anymore. Because I give a damn.)

85. The Postal Service, Give Up
The Postal Service - Give UpBen Gibbard's been writing delicate sad bastard songs for ages now with his band, Death Cab for Cutie, so I'm not sure why it's such a surprise that he'd turn out a set of similarly beautiful tracks for his side project. But the Postal Service -- a collaboration with electronic musician Jimmy Tamborello -- brings an entirely different feel, and the result is fantastic. Give Up is icy and dark, but pulses with energy -- a sad, mournful energy, but energy nonetheless.

It's the kind of album I wish I'd had in high school. Lonely, heartbroken songs like "Recycled Air" would have spun over and over in my CD player. I would have tried my best at writing pale retreads of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" in my notebooks, trying as hard as I could to recapture that elusive feeling. I would've tried to name my garage band We Will Become Silhouettes, and my friends would have refused.

But the best song here is, stunningly, the least despairing. "Such Great Heights" is easily the best thing either of the artists here have ever done and one of the best love songs ever written by anyone, four-and-a-half minutes of driving pop that is as close to perfect as one can get. And when someone as insistently depressed as Ben Gibbard says, "They will see us waving from such great heights," the hope in his voice is moving beyond words. If I'd heard it when I was fifteen, I probably would have been a much more pleasant guy to be around.

84. Genesis, Duke
Genesis - DukeHere's the thing with Phil Collins, okay: the guy takes a lot of crap, but he's actually a fairly talented guy. His tendencies toward schmaltz and over-emoting are problematic, but there was a time when he had a band that would rein him in. That band was Genesis, of course, and Duke is the last time they put out an album before the Phil Factor started pushing them over the shark and into bland irrelevance. Even the poppier excursions -- "Misunderstanding," I'm looking at you -- hold up much better than, say, "Sussudio."

Duke is also the last time Genesis really stretched out like the progressive rock pioneers they could be. "Duke's Travels/Duke's End" is as compelling a piece as they ever recorded, almost eleven minutes of rich, layered music; "Turn It on Again" may be pop, but its 13/4 time signature adds a rare element. Those instincts running in opposite directions -- to one side straightforward rock, to the other progressive experimentation -- came into perfect balance on Duke, which stands as their last great album.

83. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on BroadwayOf course, there was a time when Phil Collins was just a drummer, and a truly demented man stood up front...sometimes dressed as a flower. If Duke was Phil's best Genesis record, then The Lamb is Peter Gabriel's masterpiece, a mammoth two-disc suite that shows all of Gabriel's lunacies in full bloom. A barely intelligible story, laden with symbolism and sexual imagery, coupled with the most intricate, elaborate music Genesis ever recorded together. The creation of this album drove Gabriel from the group completely, but I almost can't blame the band. How could they be expected to keep up with this?

I won't try to summarize the story, because I can't, so I'll stick to the songs, which are uniformly brilliant. "Broadway Melody of 1974" throws pop culture into a blender, dishing out a surrealist treasure ("Lenny Bruce declares a truce and plays his other hand/Marshall Mcluhan, casual viewin', head buried in the sand"). "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging" starts tiny, but stacks on itself until it reaches titanic size. "The Carpet Crawlers" might be the best song Genesis ever put to tape, hushed and gorgeous, swaying with such power and beauty that it almost tricks you into thinking you understand what Gabriel's talking about. (You won't, though: "Mild mannered supermen are held in Kryptonite/While the wise and foolish virgins giggle, with their bodies glowing bright/Through the door, a harvest feast is lit by candlelight." Yeah, and don't even get me started on the part with the raven who steals the protagonist's penis.)

I love The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway for a lot of the same reasons I love Clap Your Hands, now that I think about it: it's a flat-out shitballs crazy record confident enough to let all its weirdness flow out as far as it can. There are no "safe" songs here, no ready-for-radio singles to give the audience an entrance into the album. There's just The Lamb, all of it, and you're either in or you're out.

Game Over

Captain Lou Albano died today. He was 76.

He gained his fame as a manager in the WWF, and is mostly widely known for his appearance as Cyndi Lauper's disapproving dad in the gloriously '80s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" video. But I remember him most fondly for his defining performance as Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

You have to remember, I was, like, eight. Mario Brothers and Zelda were, almost literally, my entire life. And here was a daily TV show, which came on just as I was getting home from school, which combined the two in one brilliant package. There'd be some sitcom stuff with Mario and Luigi, a Mario cartoon, and then -- every Friday -- a long-form Legend of Zelda episode. I was enraptured. And considering the hellish time I was having -- separated from my mother, living with very loving but very not-my-mother great-grandparents -- the Mario show was an escape that I badly, badly needed.

I haven't seen anything from the show since I was a kid, and I'm okay with that. I'm afraid my cynical adult eyes will tarnish what are very fond memories of both the show and of Albano.

So rest in peace, Captain. You were very important to me during a very difficult time of my life. Which is pretty much the best thing any artist can do, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Failure to launch

I'd write about the playoffs, but a Yankees championship seems at this point so terrifyingly inevitable that I'd rather not think about it. So instead, let's talk about the Astros. More specifically, the surprising announcement that they're considering re-hiring Phil Garner as their manager.

You remember: Phil Garner took over after Jimy Williams was unceremoniously canned over the 2004 All-Star Break. Garner turned the team around and took them to the playoffs that year, then the World Series the following season. And then...well. 2006 wasn't so good, and 2007 was worse, leading to Garner himself getting the boot midseason. His replacement, Cecil Cooper, accomplished exactly fuckall and has since been fired.

So we're talking about a team that's gone through three managers in the last six seasons. A team that's wildly, frustratingly inconsistent, with wide gaping holes in its roster.

Honestly, does anyone think a manager is really going to make that much of a difference?

Go ahead, then. Bring Garner back. I'm not sure if he ever should have been fired in the first place. But hey -- maybe you should put the names of all the candidates in a hat and decide the manager that way. Because the problem with the Astros isn't who's drawing up the lineup cards. It's who's writing the checks.

'Cause let's all take a deep breath and say it together: the Astros suck. That's right. They suck. And unless the players get a major overhaul, this team is going nowhere and getting there at warp speed.

And the only ones who can do anything about that are the ones in the front office. But they've raised "treading water" to a damn art.

Look: I hate Andy Pettitte -- Petitte? Pettite? fuck it, Pettttitttttttee with an immeasurable rage, but you know what? He can still pitch his ass off. Maybe we should have been a tad nicer to him and just given him the four million dollars he was so bent out of shape about. Maybe instead of signing Roger Clemens those two years, we should have paid someone else a bajillion dollars to not win the big game. Maybe Miguel Tejada was a bad investment. Maybe letting Willy Taveras go was a bad idea. Hell, Clay Bucholz is apparently good now. What the hell?

So don't expect the Astros to be playing in any of the next few Octobers. No matter who gets the managing job. Because you can't expect Phil Garner to fix this team's problems.

"Somebody's gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes!"

From Pajiba: the "Other" 100 Best Movie Quotes of All Time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Comics

The one. The only. Bill Hicks.

My 25 Favorite Album Covers

And of course, this is solely about the quality of the cover art -- the actual music inside doesn't always stack up, unfortunately.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible25.
Neon Bible
Arcade Fire

Pink Floyd - A Momentary Lapse of Reason24.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason
Pink Floyd

Elvis Costello - King of America23.
King of America
Elvis Costello

The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band22.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles

OutKast - Stankonia21.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois20.
Sufjan Stevens

Kanye West - Late Registration19.
Late Registration
Kanye West

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon18.
Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd

Alice in Chains - Dirt17.
Alice in Chains

Eminem - The Slim Shady LP16.
The Slim Shady LP

Korn - Korn15.

Metallica - ...And Justice for All14.
...And Justice for All

The Who - Quadrophenia13.
The Who

The Who - Who's Next12.
Who's Next
The Who

Bill Hicks - Relentless11.
Bill Hicks

Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King10.
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King
Dave Matthews Band

Metallica - Ride the Lightning9.
Ride the Lightning

Pink Floyd - Animals8.
Pink Floyd

Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel7.
Peter Gabriel 3
Peter Gabriel

The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute6.
Frances the Mute
The Mars Volta

Nirvana - Nevermind5.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here4.
Wish You Were Here
Pink Floyd

Jay-Z - The Blueprint3.
The Blueprint

Metallica - Master of Puppets2.
Master of Puppets

The Beatles - Abbey Road1.
Abbey Road
The Beatles

Friday, October 09, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Four (89-87)

By the way, I'm getting all of the album art for these lists from Rate Your Music, a handy music cataloging and research site. In case you were curious. Which you probably were not.

89. Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs
Ben Folds - Rockin' the SuburbsBen Folds is an avowed admirer of Randy Newman, so it's no surprise that his first solo pop album would take a similar approach: a series of short stories and character sketches, masterfully crafted and performed. Actually, the biggest surprise is how little his work suffers from the lack of his backing band -- though I love the Ben Folds Five (and they will most certainly show up later in our countdown), he shines here alone, playing almost all of the instruments himself. That autonomy results in an album that's more tightly wound than previous efforts (all those overdubs leave little room for improvisation), but the songs and performances are so brilliant that it doesn't matter.

And for a guy who achieved fame as frontman of "the piano band that rocks," Rockin' the Suburbs is stunningly low-key. Sure, the title track is a heavy hitter (and truly hilarious, as Folds lampoons the whiny white-boy metal of Fred Durst and his ilk), but it's wildly out of place. Even more thumping songs like "Not the Same" are tempered and almost delicate. And the album does work best at its most quiet: "Fred Jones Pt. 2" is practically whispered, and "The Luckiest" is love-song cheese at its very finest.

88. MC Frontalot, Nerdcore Rising
MC Frontalot - Nerdcore Rising Someone over at Pitchfork wrote recently that rapping about the internet is never cool. Well, MC Frontalot has never been very interested in being cool, as each and every beat of Nerdcore Rising proves. This is a phenomenally geeky record, obsessed with everything you'd expect to find rattling around a nerd's head: illegal music downloads, Star Wars, collectible card games, Penny Arcade, Nigerian email scams and girls in goth makeup. And as for Pitchfork, they might give a listen to "Indier Than Thou," which has choice words for their often tiring hipsterism.

The geekiness wouldn't be noteworthy if Frontalot weren't such a talented rapper, but thankfully he's a genius -- his work on tracks like "Charity Case" and "This Old Man" can stand up to any other "real" rapper you'd care to mention. And Front's blinding-fast delivery stacks up the clever rhymes and jokes high and deep, unfolding in the listener's ear over multiple plays. Screw Pitchfork: Frontalot turns being uncool into a art form.

87. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
Bob Dylan - Blood on the TracksSome of Dylan's best songs are like listening to someone juggle. Take "Simple Twist of Fate," one of Blood's very best songs. He keeps piling on the lyrics, telling his elaborate and intricate story, and you know that every verse is going to end with a word that rhymes with "fate"...but you don't know which one. And that lends the entire song with an almost mysterious air of tension, waiting for him to finally land on that last line. This wouldn't work for most songwriters, of course. But Dylan isn't most songwriters, and Blood on the Tracks isn't most albums.

Inspired by either the end of a marriage (if you ask critics and fans) or the short stories of Anton Chekhov (if you ask Dylan), Blood on the Tracks is a largely bleak, somber affair; its short bursts of humor ("Tangled up in Blue") ring out like firecrackers. "Idiot Wind," on the other hand, is a head-shaking, drunken scream of rage, enveloping both the listener and Dylan's target in a shroud of bile: "You're an idiot, babe/It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe."

This is the album that turned me into a Dylan fan. I'd heard some of his bigger hits, but this was the first Dylan album I ever truly fell in love with. When I heard him tripping through "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I don't see how anyone could hear "Shelter from the Storm" and not understand it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

I Me Meme

I'm actually trying to post on a regular, near-daily basis again. I hope you've noticed.

So: here's a meme. I encourage any and all to participate.

The meme: Using only song titles from one artist, cleverly answer these questions.

My artist - The Beatles.
  1. Are you male or female? - "Mother Nature's Son"
  2. Describe yourself. - "I Am the Walrus"
  3. How do you feel about yourself? - "I Feel Fine"
  4. Describe where you currently live. - "Octopus's Garden"
  5. If you could go anywhere, where would you go? - "Across the Universe"
  6. Your best friend is... - "Mr. Moonlight"
  7. Your favorite color is... - "For You Blue"
  8. You know that... - "All You Need Is Love"
  9. What's the weather like? - "Rain"
  10. If your life was a TV show, what would it be called? - "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey"
  11. What is life to you? - "Magical Mystery Tour"
  12. What is the best advice you have to give? - "Think for Yourself"
  13. If you could change your name, what would it be? - "Mean Mr. Mustard"
God, I love the Beatles.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Three (93-90)

[Hey, yeah, it's back. Time to finish what I started. Previous entries are here and here.]

93. Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile
Nine Inch Nails - The FragileTrent Reznor's work has always been frustrating and uneven to me. That he managed to fill two complete discs with music not only listenable but jaw-droppingly amazing, then, is not just impressive, it's a goddamn miracle. The Fragile is the sound of a master studio craftsman branching out in every direction he can, as far out as he can, all at once. It's a little overwhelming at times, in fact -- the frequent sparse instrumentals serve as much-needed breathers. At least, some of them do: "Just Like You Imagined" starts quietly, but ends up pounding with more force than anything Reznor had constructed before, or since.

I guess it's technically a concept album, though I'm not sure I can parse what exactly that concept might be. Things start bad ("fuck the rest and stab it dead"), get worse ("it didn't turn out the way you wanted it, did it?"), and then bottom out entirely ("the closer I get, the worse it becomes"). But along the way, Trent finds himself reaching outward for the first time: "We're in This Together Now" is a wail of optimistic determination, and the title track ends with his repeated declaration that he "won't let you fall apart." All of which makes his eventual downfall on the album's final songs all the more tragic.

92. Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Elton John - Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt CowboyIt isn't his most popular album, or his most epic, or his most experimental. But Captain Fantastic is my favorite Elton John record because it's the one with the most feeling. Bernie Taupin's lyrics aren't character sketches or vague, obtuse tone poems anymore -- these songs are fiercely autobiographical, telling the story of his and Elton's rise up to the top of the pop music world. And it's exactly the kind of raw, emotional experience you'd expect, tinged with just the right amounts of nostaliga, relief and regret.

It's also really angry, though Elton's sweet melodies and blast-to-the-rafters vocals can hide that. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" can sound, at first listen, to be a lighter-waving ballad; further analysis finds real bile in lines like "A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams/I'm strangled by your haunted social scene." And "Tower of Babel" -- Elton makes it appear to be a standard-issue pub rocker, but Bernie's there to say "See the letches crawl with the call girls under the table/Watch 'em dig their graves." But in the end, they can't look back in anger anymore -- "Curtains" brings the album to a close by addressing the listener directly, with the notion that "just like us, you must have had your once upon a time." Sometimes those childhood dreams and fairy tales do come true.

91. Randy Newman, Good Old Boys
Randy Newman - Good Old BoysSome satirists aim their jokes like sniper rifles. Some like machine guns. Randy Newman manages to do both at once somehow, eviscerating people on both sides of an argument. Take this album's opening track, "Rednecks." Listen to the lyrics. Now, exactly who is he making fun of? Southerners, for being racists? Northerners, for hypocritically mocking southerners for racism while clinging to racism themselves? Southerners, for hypocritically attacking northerners for making fun of them hypocritically? The listener, for laughing at either one of them? No, the joke is somehow on everyone, everywhere, all at the same time.

Newman's a master of this, and his gifts were at their peak on Good Old Boys, a loosely-constructed song suite about life in the American south. His bouncing rhythms and sweet piano melodies are a perfect place to hide the ugliness at the bottom of a story like "Back on My Feet Again," and his ochestra is the perfect accompaniment to the pain and anguish of "Louisiana 1927." He'd write better and more popular songs, and evetually win an Oscar for one, but he'd never again put together an album with quite the impact as Good Old Boys.

90. Peter Gabriel, Us
Peter Gabriel - UsGabriel reacted to the success of his breakthrough pop hit, So, in a rather surprising fashion: he scored a controversial film (The Passion of the Christ), and then didn't do anything else at all for six years. By the time 1992 rolled around, most of the momentum from hits like "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes" had faded, and Us didn't really make the impact on the mainstream it should have. Which is a damn shame, because Us is a stunning collection of material that doesn't really sound like anything else.

It's an intensely lonely album, beginning with an extended plea to "Come Talk to Me," and continuing through the wreckage of failed relationships in "Love to Be Loved" and "Blood of Eden." "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog" lend some pep and humor, but "Washing of the Water" is arresting in its bald-faced anguish; "Digging in the Dirt" turns that sadness into a bipolar stomp through rage and misery. But through all of that, there's Gabriel's voice, and when he finally concludes on "Secret World" that "With no guilt and no shame, no sorrow or blame/Whatever it is, we are all the same," his happy ending seems more than earned.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Kobayashi stands by his comments

It turns out that Michael Vick's agent was completely out to lunch, because Nike has denied signing any deals with him. So it appears our dog kind of jumped the gun a bit when he excoriated them for doing so a few days ago.

Of course, there's also the conspiracy theory that Nike had given him a contract, but once they saw the vitriolic reaction (from everyone, not just this blog, obviously) they took it back. But I doubt it -- I think that Vick is looking for anyway to keep talking about him that doesn't involve the phrase "dog murderer" or "third-string quarterback," and his agent pulled a story directly from his ass. Nice try.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Good luck getting this song out of your head

I'm not going to insult your intelligence by pretending to know what this is. So I leave to you without commentary.

Fine tuning

I've spent the last few hours tweaking my blog's look and features, in some ways you can see and others you can't. I moved some of the sidebars around, modified the look of some of them (the labels, you might notice on the right, are a tag cloud instead of a long list). In case you aren't interested in playing Spot the Difference!, here's a rundown:

I didn't mention it, and I don't know how you couldn't have noticed it, but I've started a Twitter feed and planted it top right. You can follow me there, if you'd like.

What I'm Listening To has been moved to the right and redone as a much cleaner, simpler embedded Lala playlist. If you sign up for a Lala account (which is free), you should be able to listen to each song once for free. That playlist will be updated once a week.

Each post now has a ShareThis button, which will allow you spread my gospel posts anywhere on the web you can imagine. Also, each post has a Reactions feature: you can quickly rate the quality of each post as you see fit. Be kind, but honest.

Oh, and if (for some reason) you've been tracking my X-Box Live Gamerscore, you may have noticed it hasn't changed in a while. That's because our 360 Red-Ringed last week. Yay!

And yes, I've been playing Grand Theft Auto IV. A lot. Because it's awesome.

I think that's it. I thought about adding more widgets, but then the thing'll start to look like a damn MySpace page, and that's not what I'm going for. I'm happy to hear suggestions.