December 27, 2010

The Best of 2010

Even though it was 300 degrees outside, the coolest thing that happened all year was when I finally got to see Faith No More perform live. I didn't go to too many other concerts (Steroid Maximus was another highlight), but I did hear plenty of good music. The one record I listened to more than any other this year was French pop singer Olivia Ruiz's Miss Meteores. The album is so good that I've decided to name it Album of Year... 2009. Yeah, a year late, I know. I'd like to give a more in-depth review of that album sometime soon. Maybe in 2013.

In terms of singles, La Roux's "Bulletproof" and David Guetta/Akon's "Sexy Bitch" were a couple of my favorites, though they were also both technically from 2009. Some of the songs Michelle Branch recorded in 2008 were finally released by Warner Brothers as an EP this year. They're good, but I don't know if they count here. Glassjaw also finally got some material out as an EP. These were really good tracks as well, but I have no idea when they were actually recorded (and technically the EP isn't available until 2011). The best singles I heard that actually do qualify as 2010 releases were Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" and Sarah Bareilles' "King of Anything." I hope they win some Grammys and stuff.

Now here are my favorite albums of 2010:

Diamond Eyes

This year, many of the artists I had been waiting for in 2009 finally put out their albums. The Deftones had scrapped an entire album after bassist Chi Cheng fell into a coma, but quickly wrote and recorded an entire new album instead. Like "Minerva" and "Hole in the Earth," the title track from Diamond Eyes represents what I love most about this band--heavy riffing with soaring, ethereal choruses. I was particularly attracted to the harmonizing effect on the end of Chino's vocals. Other favorite tracks were "Rocket Skates," "Sex Tape," "Beauty School," and a faithful cover of The Cardigans' "Do You Believe."

At Night We Live
*** You will cry if you watch this video. Don't say I didn't warn you. ***

Far was one of a million 90s bands that reunited to tour in the past recently, but they were one of the only to actually get back in the studio and record a new album. The result was more of a modern update of the guys' evolution than a return to the classic Far sound. That's not a complaint, by the way. I'm not sure if they decided to continue on together after the album was released, but I really hope it's a stepping stone to further collaborations from a band who never really reached the level of acclaim they deserved while together the first time around. Other tracks from the album are a bit more upbeat, so if you're interested, check out "Better Surrender," "Dear Enemy," or the left-field cover of Ginuwine's "Pony."

Tub Ring
Secret Handshakes

The first song from this album sounds very much a natural extension of their last album, but then subsequent tracks reveal a new electronic direction for Tub Ring. At first, I worried that everyone playing an organic instrument may have quit the band, but then I realized that this recording is yet another experiment for a band having fun by changing their sound on each album. Whether change is out of necessity or self-challenge, it's important for musicians to be confident enough to take chances like this, and I look forward to whatever they have on deck for the next album. I would, however, like to see these tracks performed live first. Their set is extremely energetic and I think some of the weaker tunes on the album would benefit greatly from a live treatment. It's a shame that they haven't toured on this record at all. I'm sure they have their reasons. Anyway, favorite tracks: "Stop This (Now!)," "Bird of a Different Color," "Feed the Rapture," and the cover of Queen's "Flash."

Corin Tucker Band
1,000 Years

I've already covered this album in detail, so I won't repeat myself. After subsequent listens and seeing the band live, I still think the writing and instrumentation on the album is tight and refreshing. I'm glad that this is what "middle-aged mom records" sound like these days. I'm also glad they released a video for a song other than "Doubt" because I don't think that track was a good representation of the album.  I think the title track is my favorite.

The Damned Things

Dudes from Anthrax, Every Time I Die, and Fall Out Boy put together in one supergroup.  I went to see them at their first ever live performance earlier this year, and I'm happy to say that the equation worked out perfectly for me. The album does not disappoint. Keith Buckley of ETID is one of my favorite lyricists ever, and his transition into a more melodic vocal style is a lot of fun to hear. There are definitely aggressive ETID-like passages found in the songs, but overall, the songs have more of an updated classic rock/action movie feel. It's not that the songs are cheesy, there's just an underlying appreciation for that aesthetic in the album subtext from the guitar solos to the background vocals in the choruses. They take cliches like partying on Friday night, a little darlin', and bad blood, and make them awesome for 2010. If The Wraith is ever remade, I want The Damned Things to create the soundtrack.

I should also take this moment to recognize "We've Got a Situation Here" as my pick for Video of the Year:


We've got references to comic books, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Full Metal Jacket, plus Joanna Angel blowing Brian Posehn. The whole concept is based on a Patton Oswalt joke and directed by Metalocalypse's Brendon Small... how could it not work? They rock the streets clean, indeed.

Shamefully, I have still not heard The Bride Screamed Murder, so if you were wondering where the Melvins were... sorry. I'll bet they're on somebody else's list. Let's go read those lists now!

December 24, 2010

Animal Farm

I spotted these at Barnes & Noble in the Cultural Studies Dept.:

Do you think they came to the same conclusion?

December 21, 2010

The Worst of 2010

I never allow myself to read anyone else's Year End lists until I finish my own so I can avoid outside influences. As usual, I haven't dedicated enough time to the blog this year, so I want to just get this over with and read other people's stuff.

Ah, 2010, the year I wrote this joke:
"Linguistics experts have predicted that 'Twenty Eleven' will be the preferred term for Americans next year. I guess I'm in the minority because 'I want to stab Ke$ha two thousand and eleven times' sounds smoother to me." (Me, 2010)

More importantly, it was the year I replaced my lost mp3 player and cut down on listening to the radio again. I bought my second Creative Zen Vision: M used on ebay from a guy in Florida who actually left 40gb of music loaded on the thing. Not all of it was gold (like the 20+ Jimmy Buffet albums), but I got enough Yacht Rock, Classic Rock, and 80s/90s hits to keep me busy for a while. The only problem was that its battery life was not as good as my original Zen, so I often found myself tuning to my standby mix CDs, or groan, back to the radio.

Pop radio was very much an exciting novelty for me in 2009, but by 2010 it was all dull and routine. The artists are all the same, the synthesizers are just as lame, and the lyrics are all Aspertame. Now keep in mind that almost all the new music I hear comes from Top 40 radio, is recycled on Adult Contemporary, and then expelled in commercials and movie trailers. So most of it is either bad to begin with, or will oversaturate to the point of hating it eventually anyway. I've tried to concentrate on some songs that I've hated this year because for reasons other than "I'm sick of hearing them." Let's see if I can stick to that.

Jason DerĂ¼lo
"In My Head"

(I know I'm already breaking the rules by bringing up something technically from 2009. It was released too late to make last year's radar, so congratulations, Jason.)

The first time I heard this song, The RoBeastress and I were playing Scrabble and listening to Music Choice stations on the TV. Our rule is whoever is in the lead in the game gets to choose the channel. One of us flipped through to Party Hits or Hit List or something, and the first few notes started. I assumed it was "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga, and as the song progressed for three minutes, I couldn't believe that someone just stole Lady Gaga's entire track and got away with it. The beat, the verse, the chorus--it's the exact same song. I assumed that music fans would see through this imitation and send him back to Poseur City.

Boy, was I wrong. This single sold over 2 million in the US and the video's up to 76 million hits on youtube, despite the absence of originality in the song. I haven't figured out where the pre-chorus is stolen from yet, but I'm sure it's from a Gaga song I just haven't heard.  According to the Music Choice crawl, he opened for Lady Gaga on one of her tours. Surprise! I can't believe it took four people to write a song that someone else already wrote.

"Don't Stop Believing" (Regionals Version)

I'm concentrating on the Regionals Version because that's the one I heard recently announced as a 2011 Grammy Nominee. I don't really know what "Regionals Version" means, or if it differs from the original Glee version, if there even is one. I've never seen the show, if that isn't obvious.

Journey's original version is already pretty cheeseball, but it at least rocks where it needs to. The Glee version castrates the rock and leaves only the cheeseball.  I don't have problem with songs being reworked as covers, but this one is pretty half-assed. I can deal with the vocals replacing the piano intro--it's an even trade and an interesting artistic choice--but where the hell is the bass?  The bass fills and drums are a huge part of what makes the original good, and this version erases them from history. Of course the guitar is still there because the solo pads the track length and allows them to catch their breath in preparation for the predictable key change.

I know Glee is all about showcasing vocals, but taking away from the music in order to make vocals look better is never going to work for me. Fortunately, Tony Soprano is not around to hear this version.

Katy Perry
"California Gurls"

This song was deemed Jam of the Summer before it was ever released, and I still haven't identified its hook. I mean, I get Katy Perry. She's not the best singer on the block, but she's attractive, writes her own stuff, and has a flashy sense of humor and fashion. And it helps that Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson were all out of the spotlight most of the year, leaving Katy Perry and Rhianna to run around the radio unsupervised.

Every time I hear "California Gurls" it just sounds like a bunch of words brainstormed at a California Chamber of Commerce meeting on Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. The phrases that rhymed were matched up and then a couple bars of music were slapped on and repeated. The whole things just sounds like a commercial: "California wine, it's undeniable!/Orange Juice, we've got it on sale!". There were over 9000 parodies of the song and none were less creative than the original--that's a bad sign. As for the video, there was WAY more thought put into it, and that's the secret behind the song's success.

I know she's capable of better songwriting than this, but more often than not, she squanders it. Kelly Clarkson used two of Perry's older songs on her own album ("I Do Not Hook Up" and "Long Shot") and I thought they were really good. But then I hear dumbed down stuff like "Hot 'n' Cold" and "Waking Up in Vegas" and I can't help but think she's putting in minimal effort. Hell, I even like "Teenage Dream" because it at least sounds more subtle than most Top 40. But I will quote Local H once again and say "Please no more California Songs... (and fuck New York too)."

"Raise Your Glass"

All right, so Pink did do something this year. She put out a greatest hits album in November with a new song or two. To me, "Raise Your Glass" should have no problem fitting in there because it's another formulaic Pink tune with pseudo-punk attitude, calculated quirk, and anthemic prom/wedding/Friday night-ready choruses. I appreciate her sense of humor (which I get more out of the video than the song itself), but I think she's often out of place. I recognize that Pink's intention is to represent the "dirty, little freaks," but can you do that spending millions of dollars on producers, videos, and promotion? She wishes we would "just freak out already," but I don't see her leading much of an example. Maybe playing the Top 40 game is the only way she thinks she will still be able to reach her peeps, but if she wants to fucking rock out and get dirty, then I say do it already!  Get the unemployed guys from Nine Inch Nails together and write some crazy shit with them. Or if you want to keep writing songs like "Please Don't Leave Me" (which I liked), then keep doing that, but I'm not accepting that you're an outsider when your stuff sounds like it's comfortable inside.

My Chemical Romance

I've defended My Chemical Romance in the past, but shit like this makes it difficult. I thought Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge was a refreshing, exciting rock album in 2004. The signer sang and yelled like a madman, the backups vocals were awesome, the guitars played lots of fun shit, and the drums kicked ass. I didn't get the "concept" of the album, but still liked the energy of what everyone was doing on it.

I didn't buy the album after that because they seemed to really push the concept album thing again and a couple of the songs I heard sounded very arena-rock, which is really tough to pull off. I can occasionally enjoy stuff like that (or maybe just Pink Floyd's The Wall), but when Muse or My Chemical Romance does it, I'd rather tell them to stop shooting so high so it doesn't go over my head.

Unfortunately, "SING" sings directly to the imaginary boys and girls with generic imaginary problems in the imaginary arena. I am not in that arena. I'm just a little dude in a little car listening on my little speakers. Don't sing about singing, just fucking sing. Sloganeering is why we don't trust politicians or salesman. Of all people, Gerard Way should know by now that the meme makes you, not the other way around. Just write cool shit and the right people will like it. I know I've said this before, but you don't have to try so hard.

I also just wanted to mention that "SING" has a chorus dangerously close to Lostprophets' similarly vague but much more down-to-Earth anthem  "Last Train Home." The end.

Far East Movement f/ The Cataracts & Dev
"Like a G6"

Easily the most annoying song I've heard all year.  There's just a standard drum machine beat and a bouncy-synth tone that I'm positive Pitbull used for a song that I hated last year. Lyrically, I don't know what the fuck anybody's talking about. Some dudes sort of rap occasionally, and that's split up by a chick simply speaking the hook before the copypasta producers do their work. It's like the Black Eyed Peas with even less musical ambition. The only thing that made this listenable was when someone told me to pretend they're saying "Now I'm feeling so fried like a cheesestick."

The B.o.B. Portions of 
"Any B.o.B. Song"

They all start with a catchy hooks sung by a familiar voice, and they usually have interesting beats behind them. And then as soon as the hook is over, B.o.B. starts rapping and I realize I've been hornswaggled again. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am really just not a fan of rap. I won't comment whether the guy is a good at rapping or not. I think songs like these (and "California Gurls" featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg) are just shameless, opportunistic plays for Grammy nomination because they are eligible for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. And no surprise, both this song and Perry's were nominated. B.o.B. seems adequate at whatever he's doing, but his rapping is just not impressive to hold my interest from hook to hook. I recognize the need for rhythmic vocals absent of melody occasionally, but I'd rather hear them hollered with more complicated music behind it. In the case of these B.o.B. songs, I think I'd prefer the songs to continue by Hayley Williams or Rivers Cuomo or whomever is starting them...


Maybe I take that back. I don't want Weezer to write and performs songs anymore. The lyrics just make me want to puke, and Rivers barely even sings them anymore. "Memories/Make me want to go back there/Back there"? That's your millionaire rock star chorus? Try again dude. Sure, it's a catchy melody, but any of the guys in Jackass could have written it 1000x more interesting. For instance:

  • Shitstorm/Flying like a hurricane/Of black rain
  • Master/Baiting like a bastard/Faster
  • Handlebar/Mustache is on fire/Why sir?
  • Punching you/In the balls in 3D/That's three of me
  • Jealousy/Turning saints into the sea (Oh wait, that was The Killers)
  • Gravity/Seems to be malfunctioning (Nope, that was Shades Apart)
  • Never/Buy a Weezer album/Again

I don't honestly believe that anyone is really buying their albums anymore. If you have, could you please admit it here, today? We'd like to take you in for some tests.

December 9, 2010

Dick Lewis is Watching Big Brother Watch the Watchman

It's about 25 degrees F here today, so the pond behind the building is mostly frozen over. They leave the fountain on all year so the center part tends to stay liquid, making it look like a giant scary eyeball. I snuck onto the roof this morning to take this shot:

This is what it would like if I was on Jupiter:

(or if my offices were on Natalie Portman's face when she transforms into the Black Swan)

December 2, 2010

Chair 69 or The Kiss 2010?

There's been two office chairs stacked near where I've been sitting at work. One was on the ground, and the other, I inverted, and placed on top of the other. There's nothing unusual about that--it's the standard, efficient way to store chairs. Yesterday, I decided to move the chairs closer to the other group of chairs we have stored on this floor. Since no one is in the building anymore, I didn't just casually walk them over, I instead chose to thrust them away down an imaginary bowling alley. I heard them fall, but I didn't notice until a few hours later the peculiar way they collapsed.

When I took a closer look, I discovered that they still had not let go of each other or accepted defeat. Neither were touching the ground except for two tiptoes of their five-point legs. It was a perfect arch of chair ballet. The seat, the back, the arms all came alive in an embrace. Chair 69 or The Kiss 2010? It's your call.

I took a million pictures of the chairs from every angle feeling the double rainbow guy, then pulled a screen over to make the background more interesting. Eventually, I had to disrupt the union to get some shots on a less corporate carpet. Here are my favorites (click for larger versions):

I like this because it looks metallic and airbrushed.

If L7 ever gets back together, here's their album cover.

The fireplace scenery never quite worked out. Maybe it was the creepy red voyeur?

December 1, 2010

Windblown Jackie Bigfoot

I just watched the documentary Smash His Camera the other day. It focuses on photographer Ron Galella. His stalker-like obsession over Jackie Kennedy Onassis resulted in lawsuits, restraining orders, and the iconic photo "Windblown Jackie." When I saw the photo, it reminded me of a similar famous shot--the still from Roger Patterson's 16mm Bigfoot film. I had a lot of ideas on how to combine them (the most ambitious being a party of Jackie, Bigfoot, Elvis, and Michael Jackson on the cover of Abbey Road), but here is the simple finished product.