Friday, April 30, 2004

Oh, snap! Once again! For the week of 4/30/04:
Top 10 People
A side note? Do people like this top 10 people thing? Or is it just some weird cheap thing? How about this: if five people in the next week e-mail me at and tell me they like this thing, I'll keep doing it. If they don't, I won't. Decide now!

1 - Bridget Mahoney. When I started doing this thing, I said I wouldn't list anyone who I know. Well, I'm breaking that rule right now. Bridget is the reason that the past year and a half has been the best of my life. I've had more fun doing stuff with her than I've had doing anything else ever, and that includes learning how to ride a bike downhill and seeing Avail when I was 16 and that one time in sixth grade when this kid was trying to punch me and I put my had on his forehead and held him away at arm's length and he couldn't reach me so he just kept swinging at nothing, just like in cartoons (that ruled!). She's everything good in my life, and she's 27 yesterday. Happy birthday, baby. I love you.

2 - Douglas Coupland. Hey Nostradamus! is a great book. I'd read All Families are Psychotic and thought it was meh, but now I might need to start checking his older books. Part of it stems from the subject of the book, a Columbine-style high-school massacre, something I find to be endlessly and morbidly fascinating, possibly because Columbine happened the year after I graduated high school and it could have easily happened at my school. But the book takes the massacre as a starting point, and the way it traces its after-effects over the years is just heart-wrenching. The book's second half is weaker than its first, but it's a riveting read all the way through.

3 - Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino seems like an obnoxious cokehead dweeb in his many media appearances, but I found Kill Bill 2: Kill Bill Harder to be enormously entertaining and satisfying. Maybe it's because the weather is getting warmer and the day is getting longer, but I've been fiending for some spectacle-heavy violent whiz-jet Entertainment, and that shit fit the bill nicely. It's perfect Sunday afternoon viewing. A big fuck you to New Yorker dickweed snob critic David Denby for dropping huge spoilers into his review of the movie, seemingly just out of contempt for the movie and anyone who would pay to see it.

4 - Mark Romanek. The "99 Problems" video is an absolute masterpiece: intense black-and-white, ridiculously fast cuts, Vincent Gallo looking way scraggly, black bikers in viking helmets, some dude in African garb in a subway tunnel, insane breaking, gorgeous cinematography. The shots of Jay on the Brooklyn Bridge are just breathtaking, the way the metal arranges itself into stunning geometric patterns behind him. You don't usually see urban decay captured eloquently on TV. The video is very Brooklyn, but if you've ever spent any amount of time in Baltimore it'll all look pretty familiar to you. MTV needs to get over itself and show this video. I can remember seeing an interview with Onyx on the box in like 98, and Sticky Fingaz was like, "In the 'Throw Ya Gunz' video, we had crazy guns in that video! Nowadays you can't even say the word gun!" And now I guess you can't even imply that they exist.

5 - T.I. I usually don't buy hip-hop albums when the first single doesn't move me, and I always thought "24s" sounded dinky and pointless, but I finally caved to the hype and bought Trap Muzik this week, and I'm glad I did. There's a lot more to this album than "Rubber Band Man"; it's a thick-sounding slow roll record, and it sounds great when you're driving. Even better, T.I. deals beautifully with his drug-dealing past, showing the inevitable regrets and inner conflicts that come up. The album has a whole new resonance now that he's locked up for the next three years.

6 - Mike Bibby. It was bittersweet to see my boy Dirk miss his buzzer shot last night. The Mavericks may be my favorite team, but as far as I'm concerned they were sacrificed at the alter of Someone Other Than The Spurs Or Lakers Winning The Championship. I think the Kings are pretty well-positioned to win it now, despite Bobby Jackson being injured, Chris Webber playing like a confused old man, and Vlade Divac apparently actually being a confused old man. If the Kings do manage to win it, it'll be because of Brad Miller and Bibby, who absolutely lit it up last night, hitting six 3-pointers and scoring a ridiculous 32 points. He's just playing like a monster right now, and I can't wait to see how he hold up against ugly Baltimorean Sam Cassel in the Kings/T-Wolves series.

7 - Kazu Mokino. The crowd at the Blonde Redhead/Secret Machines show in DC was terrible, and Blonde Redhead wasn't nearly as good as when I saw them last year. But here's the thing about this tour: these bands are both going for mystery and grandeur, two things that have been missing in indie rock for just about forever. Now, with these dudes, TV on the Radio, On Air Library, and Devendra Banhart and Espers and all the avant-folk dudes, we may finally be done with any festering leftover traces of Pavement. Guided by Voices is breaking up! It's a new era! (I like GBV's live show, but they had to go. We had to move on.)

8 - Charles Barklay. TNT has been doing a great job presenting the NBA finals: great production values, excellent camera work, and announcers who don't miss a thing. Barklay in particular is ridiculously fun to listen to; he hold back absolutely no negative remarks and isn't even a little bit afraid to come off like an asshole. My favorite non-game-related moment of last night's game came when the camera zoomed in on Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crowe in the crowd at Barklay was like, "What is this!?! He rides a bike! Sheryl Crowe hot! He rides a bike!"

9 - Bun B. UGK may be on hiatus until Pimp C gets out of prison (anyone know when that's supposed to happen?), but Bun seems to be doing OK by himself. He absolutely murdered his verse on "Bezzle" from Trap Muzik, and now rumor is that he's going to collaborate with Dizzee Rascal? Huh?

10 - Jessica Hopper. I love me some tour diaries, and the diary Jessica's got running on her blog right now is what happens when you let a kickass eloquent feminist out on a hardcore tour and then let her write about it. Pure entertainment!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

This happened a couple of weeks ago and I haven't yet commented on it, but it really sucks that Black Eyes broke up. If you don't know, Black Eyes was a chaotic DC dancepunk band that put out an album on Dischord last year, and they're breaking up because one of their two bass players (I think) is moving to the west coast. DC bands do stuff like this all the time; it's like they're looking for an excuse to break up. I saw them like four or five times last year, and they were always incredible, a scorching blast of youth and noise and energy. At their best, they were just ridiculously propulsive and powerful, something like Fugazi + the Rapture with none of the sense of order that would imply. At their worst, they were screechy and self-indulgent, but they were a DC band, so it comes with the territory. Also, being a DC band, they'll probably reunite with a different name and like one new member in a few months, and they won't be as good. Dischord is putting out their second album sometime soon, but I don't know if I'll still care when I don't have the prospect of seeing them live. They were supposed to open for Lungfish in a couple of weeks, but now we get Entrance. Woo.

Speaking of DC, fuck DC. Bridget and I went to see Blonde Redhead and the Secret Machines there last Friday; we were missing that tour's Baltimore stop because it was the same night as Bridget's birthday party. The Black Cat is a great club in many ways, but DC audiences just suck the life out of a show. Both bands have plenty of quiet parts, and all those parts were ruined because the incessant hipster conversation babble would actually drown out the music. I'm not saying people shouldn't have conversations at shows, but they shouldn't actually overwhelm the show itself. DC is lame.

Monday, April 26, 2004

So Bridget and I got wicked tore-up drunk Saturday night at Bridget's birthday party. And because of this drunkenness, we both missed the March for Women's Lives in DC on Sunday, and I'm ashamed. The pictures I've seen and the articles I've read this morning are making my heart soar. 500,000 people marched, and many of them came all the way across the country to be there. Meanwhile we were an hour's drive away, but we were too busy sleeping and then clutching our heads and moaning and watching the Punk'd marathon and then finally making it out of the house in the evening to see Kill Bill with a Vengeance (good movie!). We weren't at the march, and we should've been there.

In unrelated news, The Pretty Toney Album gets better every time I hear it.

Friday, April 23, 2004

So I knew this kid in college named Andrew, and he works at Entertainment Weekly now. Last summer he called to tell me he was starting a zine and could I write some stuff for him. And so I interviewed Travis from the Dismemberment Plan and wrote some reviews for him. A few months later, he told me the zine had become a webzine and it would totally be up sometime soon, and then I never heard from him again. Nothing came up when I googled my name, which I do pretty often because I'm egotistical like that. But then I googled the proposed name of his zine, and I found it. No idea how long it's been up, but you can read it here. I did the Travis interview and everything in the "retroactive reviews" section.

Anyway, for the week of 4/23/04
Top 10 People

1 - Corin Tucker. I said it yesterday, but Sleater-Kinney totally wailed on Wednesday night. Corin might be my new favorite member of the band. She has that incredible voice, and she does this thing where she emits this piercing, gut-wrenching primal howl and then steps back from the mic and sort of grins a little like, "whoa, was that me?" I love that.

2 - Craig Finn. As of right now, The Hold Steady is Killing Me is like the best album ever. I mean, all the bar-rock guitar solos aren't necessarily my thing, and I guess I probably like Fiestas and Fiascos better, but holy shit what a piece of work. Craig Finn has better lyrics than anyone ever. I'm going to be picking this thing apart for months.

3 - Ghostface. As of right now, The Pretty Toney Album is like the best album ever. My pulse rate probably doubles when "Run" comes on. The album doesn't have the same sort of hallucinatory impenetrable weirdness as Supreme Clientele, but it's probably a better overall listen because it hangs together so well sonically. The horn stabs and weeping strings and soul vocals and the unbelievable urgency of Ghostface's vocals just sweep me up. I have to listen to this album every couple of hours or else I don't feel right.

4 - Dirk Nowitski. I'm six foot eleven (no joke), and I haven't played organized basketball since high school, not even much then. I wasn't all that good. Whenever I did play, my coach would park me under the basket, and I'd block shots, get rebounds, and make layups. That's it. I never ran, I never made jump shots, I never tried to steal. I never once dribbled in an organized game, not once, ever. All this is why Nowitski is my favorite player. He runs the court, gets fast breaks, and hits three-pointers like a fiend. People this tall just don't do that stuff; it's amazing to see. A woman I work with says that the Dallas coach is shortening Nowitski's career by making him play this kind of running game; she says he'll blow out his knees in a couple of years. Maybe that's true, but I'm still consistently stunned. Game two of the Mavs-Kings series Tuesday night was one of the best games I've ever watched. They're my two favorite teams, and I wish they could both win. I guess I'm glad that Sacramento will probably win it, since they'll have a better chance of beating the Lakers and the Spurs. But man this guy is a joy to watch.

5 - Tami Siciliano. She's the woman who took a picture of a cargo plane full of caskets from Iraq and sent it to the Seattle Times. She worked in the cargo bay in Kuwait, and she's since lost her job because the government isn't allowing any of these pictures to get out, just another one in a long line of stunning, ridiculous violations of the American trust. Siciliano gave up her job so we'd have some tangible evidence of the costs of the Iraq war. We owe her a lot of thanks.

6 - Claudia DeHaza. The self-titled album from On Air Library (I'm not going to use those exclamation points) is a gorgeous record, better than the new joints from M83 and Pluramon for time-bending psychedelic haze. The thing I like the best about it (this is going to sound rockist) is how analogue it is, how the DeHaza sisters (I picked one at random) sound like real girls singing, not ethereal sprites or whatever. The music has force and sadness and this huge, intangible sense of longing that just kills me.

7 - Greg Weeks. Speaking of a huge, intangible sense of longing, the Espers record is fantastic, the best document of this whole astral raga-folk thing that's sweeping Baltimore and maybe some other parts of the country, though I couldn't find the record till I went to Portland. It's just a gorgeous piece of work.

8 - Douglas Coupland. I never read Generation X, and I thought All Families are Psychotic was just OK, but I loved "The Vanishers" to bits. In the new McSweeneys, there's this thing where all these great writers like Jonathan Lethem and Aleksander Hemon and Rick Moody and Emma Forrest have these 20-minute stories, short stories that were conceived, written, and finished over the course of 20 minutes. Coupland's story "The Vanishers" is the best of them. It's like something Vonnegut would come up with for a Kilgore Trout book, though it would be spoiling it to say anymore. I just started reading Hey Nostradamus!, and it's already killing me.

9 - T.I. This is fucked up. Right after he had his first-ever solo hit with "Rubber Band Man", one of my favorite songs of the year, T.I. is headed to prison for the next three years. When Mystikal went to prison, it was for sexually assaulting a woman. When Shyne went to prison, it was for shooting a woman in the face. These guys deserve all the prison time they got and more. T.I. is going to prison for, I think, parole violation and possession of marijuana. That's some bullshit. And he's going to prison in Cobb County, GA, which means he's going to have to deal with the Big Bossman as his prison guard.

10 - Bob Woodward. Do it again dude! Do Bush like you did Nixon! Or if nothing else, just convince enough people not to vote for him again. It's just insane that Bush can still be leading in the polls after so much damning evidence has come out.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

You can't go home again. The Red House in Syracuse, NY was my place of residence from 2000 to 2002, an enormous former frat house that housed 15 crazy-ass art student types quite comfortably. We painted shit on the walls, we mashed out our cigarettes on the carpet, we once put up a 20-foot Christmas tree on the front porch after someone saw it laying in the street. Some of the most ridiculous, crowded parties I've ever been to were there: six kegs, four bands, two DJs, that sort of thing. The landlord just sold it to some frat. Pour out a little.

But fuck it, it's spring, it's NBA playoffs season, Bridget's birthday is next week. Life is good. The Orioles are in first place, somehow. I was sleeping and then I woke up and was like "Huh? The hell? [blink blink] Oh, awesome."

And I saw my favorite band last night. Sleater-Kinney absolutely tore up the Recher Theater last night on the first night of their east coast mini-tour. That band is like ice cream on a hot summer day. Midway through they sent my heart soaring by playing the three best songs from One Beat, my favorite album of the decade thus far ("Oh!", "Sympathy", and "Step Aside", for those keeping score at home [if Bridget and I have a song that's our song, it's "Oh!"]). Corin's howl was just searing, the best I've ever heard it. The new song they closed with was a huge rock anthem with Carrie just shredding on this extended guitar solo, completely redeeming herself for skipping out on the EMP Conference. The sound was kinda flat compared to other times I've seen them, but it was still an amazing show. And the encores! "You're No Rock n Roll Fun", "Little Mouth", a cover of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" (!), and "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone". If they play you're town and you don't go see them, you're sleeping.

Oh, and Matt Cibula linked me, so I'm linking him right back. Matt Cibula is awesome.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

So I'm back from the Northwest. I had an awesome time in the up there, but I love me some Baltimore and I'm glad to be back. Olympia is a gorgeous little town, and a whole lot of cool people live there, but there's this weird left-wing hipster playground aspect to it. It seems totally disconnected from the rest of the world, and I can totally picture people there trying to out-left-wing each other. When we were there, everyone was still dissing The Passion. Like, dudes, give it a rest. It's an OK movie with a few great parts and some utterly confusing inexplicable parts and some seriously dubious overtones, but it was still better than Hellboy. But it's not like any of these kids bashing it have seen it. And it's not like it became a huge success just because People Are Stupid. And it's old news. Find some new target, please. Wow, that was a weird digression. The thing that best summed up Olympia for me was when I was in this completely awesome cheapass vintage clothing store where I copped a whole lot of badass shit for no money (and it's connected to the Kill Rock Stars record store, which is cool in theory but has very few good records), and the girl working there is talking on the phone, and I hear her say "My mom called me on the phone to say Happy Easter, and I was like 'Mom! You're Buddhist! Just how brainwashed are you?'"

Portland, on the other hand, seems like a ridiculously cool town, the sort of place I can totally see myself spending a few years. It's beautiful, you can walk everywhere, and they seem to have great bookstores and clubs and record stores. Seattle seemed sort of ugly, but they've got this huge park thing called the Seattle Center where the Space Needle and Experience Music Project are, and there's this huge dome-shaped fountain that has, like, musical displays. That was awesome. And they have a monorail, but I didn't get to ride it.

And so I went to the EMP Pop Conference, which is like this big annual music critics' conference where a whole pile of prominent music critics come together and show each other Powerpoint presentations about whatever. I loved the idea, and most of the presentations I heard were great, but there was something intimidating and alienating about the whole thing, like if you're not one of these hugely prominent critics you don't really have a place there. I must have been one of the few people who paid to get in and wasn't presenting anything, and so I barely talked with anyone because what would I say to them? "Um, dude, I liked your paper and I like your blog, and check it out I write for the Baltimore City Paper and we should totally kick it!" Well, maybe I should have done that, but I didn't. Also, it's a bit weird to have this conference where most of the people are just reading papers, papers which are then never published. Like, I'd rather read the paper myself than have someone read it to me. And, with notable exceptions, prominent music critics are a whole lot of old ugly dudes.

But so anyway, this/last week's top ten is going to be all Pop Conference people because I can't think of enough non-Pop Conference stuff to do one.

For the week of 4/16/04:
Top 10 People

1 - Elizabeth Mendez Berry. This lady kicked so much ass. It took me a minute to figure out that she was the one who wrote this absolutely amazing article about Jay-Z in the Village Voice a few months back. And she worked hard at the conference, doing three different panels in a row. She was on the truly fascinating female hip-hop writers' summit, and then she gave a paper on the larger-than-life Mexican lesbian 60s popstar Chavela Vargas, a paper that was in some ways really, really similar to the paper that Judith Halberstam had already given on Big Mama Thornton. I'm generally not one to get all into someone talking about old world music-type stuff, but EMB completely wrecked it, mostly by showing a total, all-consuming love for her subject that was really cool to see. And then she was one of the best on the great Critical Karaoke panel, a thing where a whole lot of critics talked about a song that had at one point been their favorite while the song played. She did some old cumbia song that her mother had introduced to her. And so she danced. Beautifully. This lady is so awesome.

2 - Jason King. King did a paper on, roughly speaking, Timbaland and feng shui. More specifically, he talked about how music critics should better address the way music affects the body and the way we dance, how we dance differently to a Timbaland track than to new jack swing or whatever. And also the way Tim uses flow and silence in his music, the way it sounds fast and slow at the same time. His paper really got me thinking. Like, the reason that Tim and Jay-Z compliment each other so well is bigger than just Jay is a great rapper and Tim makes great beats. Both of them use silence, hiccups, pauses, little undercurrents, and open spaces in these amazingly complex ways, and these ways rub up against each other just right. King left me liking Timbaland even more, if that's possible.

3 - Benjamin Melendez. Melendez was the founder of a gang called the Ghetto Brothers in the South Bronx in the late 60s, and he was instrumental in putting together an all-gang truce in the early 70s Bronx, something that helped to make hip-hop possible, though the panel didn't really dwell on that. He was also a member of a band, also called the Ghetto Brothers, that combined Latin music with funk and the Beatles in this totally joyous, organic way. Jeff Chang brought him in to do a panel pretty much just about himself, and it was a completely fascinating presentation. The footage of the gang truce meeting looked totally straight out of The Warriors, dudes from gangs named, like, the Savage Skulls passionately arguing with each other in 70s jivetalk. And the Ghetto Bros. music Chang played (and that he's hoping to reissue) sounded just great. But the main attraction was Melendez himself, a big, charming bear of a dude who loves to talk and will go off on huge narrative tangents at the slightest provocation. I'd like to take him out to lunch sometime.

4 - Joan Morgan. All of the participants in the female hip-hop writers' summit had fascinating things to say, but Morgan was the one who put it together, so she gets the credit. Music writing politics are weird and fucked up, especially on the highest levels, and I'm glad that there are voices like hers injecting a hugely needed dose of reason into the whole thing. She will tell you just how fucked up things are and how different they should be.

5 - Jon Caramanica. I guess I shouldn't have been, but I was surprised to find out Caramanica is white. His paper was about how Andre 3000 and Pharrell are abandoning hip-hop for rock, and how this could mean a brain drain for hip-hop as its brightest minds move on away from the genre. It's not the most interesting subject to me, and I'm dubious that a scene with the sort of sui generis genius and constantly changing nature of hip-hop will be seriously hurt if a few of its practitioners go off the artistic deep end. But that didn't matter; Caramanica is funny as hell and incredibly knowledgeable; his tangents are way more interesting than his main point. I could've listened to him talk for a lot longer. His Critical Karaoke on Smoothe the Hustler's "Broken Language" was pretty great too.

6 - Tim Lawrence. Lawrence just published a book about the history of disco, and his paper was about the "lost years" of disco, the early 80s times when people like the Clash and Arthur Russell crossed lines between disco and punk with absurd glee. I love the topic, and I loved the way Lawrence took down the disco-punk soft-hard dichotomy.

7 - Julianne Shepherd. Have I been spelling Julianne's name wrong all this time? I think maybe I have. In any case, her presentation posited Christina Aguilera as a potential new-school feminist icon on the strength of that one song with Lil Kim ("Can't Hold Us Down? Is that it?), and I hope she's right. She also did the Roger Rabbit during critical karaoke (to Shanice's "I Love Your Smile"! Middle school represent!), so you know you can't even fuck with her.

8 - Johnny Temple. Temple runs Akashik Books and plays bass in Girls Against Boys. He ran a panel about the crossover between music and the independent press that turned out to really not be about music at all. But he is a strikingly handsome, charming, well-spoken man. I'm going to be more like Johnny Temple. That's my new year's resolution. Maybe I'll even take another stab at learning to play the bass I got for Christmas 2002.

9 - Jeff Chang. Jeff had the unenviable task of trying to reign in Benjamin Melendez and keep him from spinning off too many anecdotes, and he did it with grace and aplomb. He also seems like an incredibly pleasant, laid-back dude. I can't picture myself sitting on the back porch drinking beer with too many music critics. I can with him.

10 - Judith Halberstam. Academia represent! Halberstam is a feminist/queer theorist, and I think I may have read her stuff in college (I read a lot of stuff in college), so it was really cool to see her talking about music, specifically about how Elvis stole his particular brand of masculinity from Big Mama Thornton, an interesting idea, though I don't know enough about either to say if she's right. She also did audience-volunteer critical karaoke to Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide". It's really cool when someone elbow-deep in academic theory can come right out and profess complete, undiluted love for anything, and she did it beautifully.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Before I forget, here's me on Cee-Lo and the Liars. I'm pretty happy with how both of these turned out.

I have zero attention span right now. That's mostly because tomorrow I go on my first vacation in one million years; Bridget and I are going to be spending the next week and a half in Olympia/Seattle/Portland/Vancouver/the town where they filmed Twin Peaks. And I'm going to the EMP Pop Conference, which should be ridiculous. I am crazy amped to the point where I don't much like sitting still, and I cannot wait to get out of work today. So if I don't post at all next week, that's why, although it's not like I post every day anyway. And if you live in the Pacific Northwest and feel like letting me know what's really good out there, get at me.

For the week of 4/9/04:
Top 10 People

1 - Jonathan Lethem. Lethem is absolutely one of my favorite writers, and he utterly redeems himself for the relative meh-factor of the second half of Fortress of Soltitude and the Da Capo thing he edited with "Super Goat Man", the mind-bendingly great short story he had in last week's New Yorker. Seek this thing out if you can; it's one of the best short stories I've ever read, no joke. And he's got a book of them things coming out later this year, so look out.

2 - Michel Gondry. I know it's kinda weak to list the same dude two weeks in a row, but I just got done watching the videos on side A of the Gondry DVD, and holy shit that guy is amazing. If you're not paying close attention, a video like the Chemical Brothers' "Star Guitar" or the Foo Fighters' "Everlong" (I think that's what it's called) seem kinda boring, but when you actually sit and invest yourself in them, they become amazing, hilarious, occasional moving, and generally just stunning. Gondry's videos for Bjork's "Bachelorette" and the White Stripes' "The Hardest Button to Button", neither of which I'd ever seen, just slammed me with wave upon wave of delight. Also, the "Mad World" video, which isn't on the DVD, is the shit. I'm hesitant to say it, but this guy is probably better than Spike Jonze.

3 - Ben Wallace. This guy is killing it. Dude looks like he escaped from a 70s funk album cover, and he eats up offense like Twix. Earlier this week, he held the division-leading Pacers to 61 points; they never even looked like they had a chance. The Pistons are now my favorite Eastern Conference team, and it would make me immensely happy if he wrecked Shaq or Duncan in the finals.

4 - George Saunders. Saunders is one of my favorite writers, and if you've read Pastoralia you know why. Saunders teaches at Syracuse, but I never took any of his classes (they filled up quickly) or even exchanged more than a couple of words with him. I am so not good at talking to people I admire. But Wallace's interview with Ben Marcus (a writer I can't stand) in the March Believer is stupid tight; it makes me think of any number of awesome conversations I could have had with him but didn't. Check this out: "I thought: that voice of Hemingway's can't function in a Wal-Mart, on Christmas Even, when you have an STD and your uncle is drunk and trying to buy an O-Jays record to give to his new girlfriend, a speed-freak waitress. Hence the constant necessity for new voices."

5 - Cam'ron. Dude is crazy! Have you seen this? He's working with scientists to patent a new color! He and the Dipset are having a massive cross-country race! He's switching from pink to purple! Dude is insane!

6 - Carrie Brownstein. My favorite member of my favorite band is totally moderating one of the panels at the EMP joint. She's smart too!

7 - Dikembe Motumbo. Motumbo still has some juice left in him! Half an hour of game time, 14 rebounds, and three blocks in the Knicks' shellacking of the Bulls last night. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I hear about old basketball heroes straight-up refusing to gracefully bow out. I got that same feeling when Charles Oakley popped up out of nowhere, looking all cantankerous in the Rockets' billionth loss to the asshole Lakers. You know and I know that Oakley should get better than a 10-day deal. That is effed up.

8 - Too Short. "Burn Rubber" is Too Short's "99 Problems", a perfect example of an old master taking an unforgiving old school blat-blat beat and dripping steely-eyed menace all over it (see also: Nas - "Get Down" from God's Son).

9 - Selma Blair. She was in Hellboy, but I like her anyway, and that says something. Hellboy was ass. Actually, it wasn't terrible; it was better than Secret Window, but not as good as The Passion, and not even within sight of Starsky & Hutch. Guillermo del Toro needs to step his comic book movie game up.

10 - Melissa Leo. 21 Grams wasn't really all that good, but she was great in it. And she was Detective Kay Howard on Homicide, the greatest TV show ever, so she automatically gets her propers. And plus I can't think of anyone else for number 10. Seriously, I saw 21 Grams like three weeks ago; I shouldn't even be thinking of it right now. I just cannot think right now. Three and a half hours before my vacation, punks!

Friday, April 02, 2004

I just spent a long-ass time updating my links section, so I'm keeping this short. For the week of 4/2/04:
Top 10 People

1 - Michel Gondry. It took me a minute to finally get around to seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it's an amazing movie. It's sad and beautiful and twisty and fascinating and impossible to get out of your head. It might be even better than Dawn of the Dead. This movie will break your heart. For the first time since Dumb and Dumber or maybe Ace Ventura One, Jim Carrey doesn't make me hate white people, and that alone is a monumental accomplishment.

2 - DJ Low Budget. Low Budget is one half of Hollertronix, the DJ crew whose aesthetics match my own to a frightening degree, and he just dropped four staggeringly great mix CDs. You should buy them all here. For my Baltimore heads, he'll be DJing at the Supreme Imperial with Cullen Stalin and somebody else on Saturday night. You can miss Britpop night at the Ottobar just this once. It won't kill you.

3 - Luke Jenner. Did I mention the Rapture might be working with Timbaland? Oh, I did. Well, I'll mention it again.

4 - Elena. Elena is a Ukranian girl who made this amazing site, a photo web diary of a motorcycle trip through Chernobyl. It's a completely stunning piece of work, a real-life Dawn of the Dead, evidence of an actual apocalypse that happened during our lifetime. It will make you dizzy. (Link courtesy JR Nelson.)

5 - Richard Clarke. How did I forget to mention this guy? Take em down, dude!

6 - Dave Eggers. Don't be a hater; you know you love him. I've been enjoying watching Eggers' global conscience kicking into high gear, becoming the first brilliantly self-conscious American writer to aggressively deal with the rest of the world. In the new(ish) Believer, he has an article about taking a young Sudanese refugee to see his village for the first time since he was a child. It's like whoa.

7 - The grandma on The O.C. Usually when teenage-type shows like My So-Called Life get too heavily involved in the parents' storylines, my eyelids get heavy. But the story about Seth's grandma, the New York socialist Jewish social worker who goes to see her partially estranged rich Cali family to tell them she's dying, well damn. It's just really good.

8 - Jay Smooth. Jay's site is essential reading. Dude is on fire. Schools banning pink clothes? Ghostface lyrics vs. spam text? Jay shutting down some conservative dickweed blogger in debate? You need this stuff.

9 - Morrissey. He's playing a set of shows at the Apollo Theatre? He's headlining Lollapalooza? Whoa. Dude is crazy.

10 - Lil Flip. I used to think David Banner was only good with Flip. Now it turns out Flip is only great with Banner. Flip's new album is OK, but it's nowhere near what it could be. For one thing, it's a transparent attempt to boost album sales by making it a double album when it would fit on one CD if it were even one song shorter. There's a lot of filler, a lot of songs with weak-ass or nonexistent hooks and leaden beats. But the two tracks with Banner and maybe four others are pure fire, hazey creeping horror-movie electro-crunk. And it's to Flip's credit that he survives the album completely intact, coasting on pure lazy charm. Now please do an album with Banner.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Oh my god! It's the...
Quarterly Report

I doubt I even saw five new movies or read five new books in the first three months of this year, and I definitely don't watch enough TV or know enough about news to pretend to be any sort of authority there. This is going to be strictly a music thing, and it's something I'll come back to every three months and maybe use to help myself come up with a good list at the end of the year. I know I do a lot of list-type stuff on this blog, and I know that lists aren't exactly the most constructive or enlightening form of criticism. I know that it's an affront to the art that people make to arrange it into some sort of sequential order. But whatever, fuck it, I like doing it. It's fun, and I have time to kill. So here we go.

Top Five Albums
This isn't including the new Hold Steady joint, which I haven't managed to obtain yet. It'll be considered for the next quarterly report.

1. Kanye West - The College Dropout
Like there was ever any doubt. Kanye has had way too much hype, yes. He's not exactly one of the most commanding voices in hip-hop, the album is too long and uneven, and all the anti-college stuff is just weird. He isn't going to save hip-hop or anything like that, and I've already played it so much I'm sort of sick of it. But this is still a glorious album. Musically, it's dense and full and often just heart-wrenching. The choirs, the violins, the glitchy vocal samples, the thwack of the drums - it all sounds great. And Kanye's persona, though thoroughly crafted, is still something new. He has room for self-deprecation and searching insight and bad puns and sly humor and knuckleheaded misogyny and acknowledgement of said knuckleheaded misogyny. I'm really happy that it exists.

2. Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healed
In general, I don't care too much about lyrics. They just don't matter too much to me. I have no idea what some of my favorite songs are about. I love Ghostface, for instance, and his lyrics generally mean nothing to me. I love him because of the timbre of his voice, the force of his delivery, and the way he runs figure eights all over every track. But some writers (Craig Finn, Jay-Z, Travis Morrison, Corin Tucker) just destroy me with their words and the way they match those words to music. John Darnielle is one of them. His lyrics don't read on paper any better than the (brilliant) writing on Last Plane to Jakarta would sound if put to music, but the way he really gets me with the way he delivers his absurdities with absolute conviction. He's practically spitting nails on "Home Again Garden Grove". From what I understand, We Shall All Be Healed is a radical departure from his low-fi past. I'm a newcomer, but I can only think that's a good thing. As it is, he's a perfect fit for 4AD; the lush, full-bodied music makes a nice pillow for his ragged-ass voice. And like Kanye, Darnielle deploys violin to ridiculous effect.

3. TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
I still feel like I'm just beginning to sink my teeth into this one. There's just so much there. The word atmospheric is way overused in music reviews, but that's what this album is. It's a deep, grey, smokey haze that surrounds and engulfs you. It fogs up your head, your thoughts trail off, you zone out on that smudge on your window. You breath it. Jessica Hopper will let you know what they do way better than I ever could (March 27th entry).

4. Madvillain - Madvillainy
A lot of hip-hop, even bad hip-hop, feels like it just has to exist, whether it's because someone just needs to say something or because someone needs to get rich or a party needs to get started. Madvillainy, on the other hand, sounds like something Madlib and DOOM did some night when they were bored and nothing good was on TV. It's a languid, distracted examination of absolutely nothing. The beats sound like rain hitting a car windshield, and the lyrics are what Ghostface probably says when he's talking in his sleep. And that's what I like about it. It's, um, atmospheric.

5. Cee-Lo Green - ....Is the Soul Machine
This album, on the other hand, is a sunburst, and explosion of laughter. It drags at times; there are way too many plastic-ass soul songs. But when Cee-Lo is on, it's a delight. The cartoony primary-color beats nicely compliment Cee-Lo's helium teddy-bear rasp, and dude can hit those high notes. This is what I was hoping The Love Below would be.

Top Five Singles
These are singles that I think were released this year, though some of them are off albums that were released last year.

1. Beyonce - Naughty Girl
"Crazy in Love" was great, but this is roughly one million times better; it's the best thing Beyonce has done since "Bootylicious" or "Jumpin' Jumpin'". The Donna Summer sample is completely appropriate; this is the sort of song Donna Summer would be making now if she were just coming up. It's an incredibly sexy record, all languid coos and sparkley whooshes being driven forward by a subtle but ridiculously propulsive elastic bassline. And I swear my opinion of this song is in no way enhanced by how hot Beyonce is. Really, it's not. Dude, I'm serious!

2. J-Kwon - Tipsy
If a good album is an album I'd rather listen to that "Tipsy" on repeat for 45 minutes, then there aren't too many good albums coming out right now. The beat is enormous, all-encompassing, and the synth smears go straight to my frontal lobe. J-Kwon kindly steps aside and allows the beat to utterly dominate the song.

3. T.I. - Rubberband Man
Hey! Crunk can be charming! T.I. is a great MC in the Jay-Z sense; his loose lyrics and pauses and vocal inflections get stuck in your head almost as much as his serious hooks do. And this is a serious hook, a celestial double-dutch whoop. David Banner should make a children's album.

4. Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris - Yeah
My enthusiasm for this one has been dulled by constant repetition, but what a great way to reintroduce Usher. One more great thing about crunk - its hectic harshness leaves no room for R&B melisma. The beat forces Usher to reign himself in and serve up the hooks undiluted. Ludacris keeps things grimey, and the great thing is that he's not really needed.

5. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
There's something really playful about this song, how it flirts with the disco groove before launching into it full-on. And then when that chorus hits it's like you're driving home from work on a beautiful afternoon with money in your pocket and flowers blooming everywhere.