December 23, 2004

Best songs of 2004; or, "Everybody's a Critic, pt. 1"

Over the past few days, I've seen a lot of lists of the best songs released in 2004. Lists are funny things-- we profess to hate them, yet we can't get enough of them. What a paradox. Anyway, here are my $0.02. These are the songs that I personally liked the best, or that touched me the most this year. Some of them are those songs that you don't want to like, but you can't get them out of your head. Feel free to comment or add your own. You can dis me, too, but be advised that I don't really care what you think. :) Just kidding, I do, but not that much.

A.C. Newman/"On the Table" - A.C., aka "Carl" from the New Pornographers, made a great solo debut this year. "On the Table" is catchy as hell, but the lyrics are great too. What a guy.

Ghostface (ft. Jadakiss)/"Run" - The best song about running from the cops produced this year. Great production and nice flow from both rappers. You also gotta love the sirens. But what's up with Jada's "I might got to take my shirt off" interlude in the middle? Ah well, still a great song.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists/"Me and Mia" - Ted Leo is the shiznit.

The Killers/"Mr. Brightside" - The Killers are way overrated, and you've gotta hate a band whose singer has a fake British accent. This is a great song, though.

Kanye West (ft. Jamie Foxx, Twista)/"Slow Jamz" - Kanye's ode to the previous generation of soulsters from whom he gets so many of his samples. Jamie Foxx croons a hook worthy of Marvin, while Twista "spits it like it's R&B" (albeit, very, very fast R&B.) This is a song you can dance to and laugh at at the same time. In that sense, it reminds me of Beck's classic "Debra."

Snow Patrol/"Run" - Will satisfy your urge for some Britpop. Simple but good.

The Libertines/"Can't Stand Me Now" - Good song. I really wish someone hadn't lost my copy of Up the Bracket. Oh well.

Terror Squad/"Lean Back" - @America: Pull up your pants, lean back, and "do the Rockaway."

T.I./"Rubber Band Man" - I guess this album actually came out last year, but I didn't hear it until a couple weeks ago. It still counts 'cos the single is out in '04. Very addictive.

The Von Bondies/"C'mon C'mon" - I love this song, so it pained me to hear it in a car commercial. (For an SUV, no less.) That doesn't take away from its glory as the best "garage" song of the year.

Kanye West/"Through the Wire" - The bass line, organ and soul loop will get stuck in your head, even if you really can't identify with the lyrics-- but his little spoken things rock. "You know what I'm sayin', when the doctor told me I had a, um, I was gonna have to have a plate in my chin, I said, 'Dawg, don't you realize I'll never make it on the plane now? It's bad enough I got all this jewelry on.' She can't be serious, man." Genius.

Iron and Wine/"Sodom, South Georgia" - If you like downtempo acoustic stuff (and I do), you will love this song.

Britney Spears/"Toxic" - It pains me to put Britney on this list. But this is just such a killer song. I think anyone could have sung it and it still would have been huge-- in fact, it might have been better. Kudos to whoever actually wrote and produced it, may you have good fortune in the coming year.

The Black Keys/"The Lengths" - You wouldn't expect a hard-rocking blues band to be able to go acoustic, but "The Lengths" is a perfectly delicate, melancholy love song.

Wlico/"At Least That's What You Said" - No matter what you think of A Ghost is Born, we can all agree that this is a good song. It starts out gorgeously tentative, but then Mr. Tweedy starts (tastefully) shredding.

Elliott Smith/"Last Hour" - We miss you, Elliott! Gorgeous acoustic song. Takes listeners back to the halcyon days of Either/Or.

Modest Mouse/"Float On" - If only the album was this good. This is the song I listened to when I needed to feel hopeful. Things might not be great, but we'll all float on all right.

Kanye West/"We Don't Care" - Yet another great song from the Kan-man.

Jadakiss (ft. Styles P, Common, Nas, Anthony Hamilton)/"Why (Remix)" - "Why?" is a question that more people need to ask these days, and Jada takes it to 'em in this song. I like the original for the production, but the remix for the rhymes. "Why's Bush actin' like he tryin' to get Osama/Why don't we impeach him and elect Obama" will be my theme for 2005. And Nas, as usual, drops a killer verse.

The Arcade Fire/"Wake Up" - This band took the indie world by storm this year, and the accolades are well-deserved. Funeral is an amazing album, and "Wake Up" is its most accessible track. But the album needs to be listened to as a whole for its full impact.

Franz Ferdinand/"Take Me Out" - This song was everywhere in 2004. That's a good thing.

The Black Keys/"10 AM Automatic" - It's the Keys' hardest-rocking song to date, but the spirit of the blues is still there. This shoulda been a hit.

Interpol/"Evil" - My second-biggest disappointment of the year (after "The Re-Election") was that I didn't get to see the Interpol/Secret Machines show at First Ave because a) I'm not 21 and b) I can't pretend I am because I don't have a fake ID. Antics is a good album, but ultimately it falls short of Turn on the Bright Lights when taken as a whole. "Evil" is a standout track that showcases Interpol at its best.

Interpol/"Slow Hands" - Stands on its own better than any other song Interpol has done.

Muse/"Time is Running Out" - Not bad for a Radiohead ripoff.

Brian Wilson/"Good Vibrations" - Maybe Brian Wilson works better without the rest of the Beach Boys. His new cut of "Good Vibrations" really benefits the song. It sounds great cleaned up.

The Secret Machines/"Nowhere Again" - It's really hard to describe this band. Suffice it to say that Now Here is Nowhere was one of my favorite albums of the year. "Nowhere Again" is a catchy song, defintely worth a few listens. I especially like the opening line: "Cellophane flowers never happen for me."

Franz Ferdinand/"Darts of Pleasure" - I really, really like this song, and especially when it breaks down into its full glory at the end.

Bloc Party/"Banquet" - Danceable and political -- and eminently listenable.

Elliott Smith/"King's Crossing" - Ethereal piano and disjointed voices build into a deeply personal tale of Elliott's battle with drug addiction. This is the best song on the best album of the year, the posthumous From a Basement on the Hill.

Kanye West/"Jesus Walks" - Contrary to others who have spoken about this song, I'm really not surprised this became a hit. Kanye definitely earns a Grammy for this track. The beat is amazing, and the lyrics are great. Isn't it everyone's dream to walk into a club and find "everybody's screamin' out: JE! SUS! WALKS!"

Modest Mouse/"The World at Large" - Even better than "Float On," but in a different way. It's more introspective, less brash, and more beautiful.

THE SONG OF THE YEAR (drumroll...)

Eminem/"Mosh" - I discovered this video when it stormed the internet about a week before the election, and it ruled my world for those fateful last days. At first, I was entranced with the powerful imagery of the video. The vision of a black-hooded army rising up and striking a blow for democracy inspired me to work my ass off for UDFL-- and come back to watch the video again and again whenever I got a chance between school- and election-work. (Suffice it to say that schoolwork came in a distant second that week.) Unfortunately, as it turns out, even the most popular musician in America today was too little, too late. But now, coming back to it almost two months later, "Mosh" is still an extremely potent song. The angry, stomping beat propels some of Eminem's best-ever lyrics-- the favorite lines of mine are, "Look in his eyes, it's all lies/The Stars and Stripes, they've been swiped/Washed out and wiped/And replaced with his own face/ Mosh now or die." The entire last verse is a masterpiece.

This is Slim's most powerful song to date, and it shows what he can do when he puts his mind to it. Too often, Eminem's songs are narcissistic; while in Mosh he tells us, "Come with me, and I wont steer you wrong," there is more "WE" than "ME" in "Mosh." Which begs the question, Mr. Shady: why don't you do songs like "Mosh" more often? "The Real Slim Shady" and "My Name Is" are hilarious, but if you lost a little of the immaturity and started kicking more tracks like "Stan" and "Mosh," we'd all be a lot better off. These next four years, Bush will be trying to cement his "legacy"-- what will your legacy be? This time, it wasn't enough, but don't let that discourage you. We are listening.

Posted by smit2174 at 11:15 PM

December 12, 2004

Iraq again. (WARNING! Shocking image below!)

I don't know whether to be sad or disgusted about this... Apparently, US Marines are now reduced to hunting feral dogs in Fallujah to try to prevent the spread of rabies and other diseases. The dogs have "grown fat on the flesh from corpses" (note the imaginative use of language by the story's author) left by the assault on Fallujah last month. Yum. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty disturbing. Well, here is the image. I know you don't want to see it, but I'm gonna show it to you anyway.

Gross. George, are you happy? Now you can add a few hundred pets to the death toll, along with the uncounted thousands of civilians, and, of course, our beloved soldiers.

Posted by smit2174 at 6:06 PM

December 7, 2004

Grammy nominations-- my reactions

The big news today is that the Grammy Awards nominees were announced. Now, I am not a big listener to "popular" music. The only times I've listened to the radio since coming to college have been when I've been home for the weekend and my (undeniably awesome) CD-player-and-tape-adapter setup in the car has been uncooperative. But I have to say, Kanye West (10 nominations) definitely deserves them all. I don't necessarily like The College Dropout as an entire album; there are far too many skits and a couple of throwaway tracks. But in "Jesus Walks," "Slow Jamz" and "Through the Wire," Kanye has three of the best, most addictive songs I've heard all year. Whenever I get around to making a "Best of 2004" music list, I guarantee that at least two of those songs will be on it. I have a feeling that Mr. West will win big, like Outkast did last year, and even if the Grammy's weren't a complete farce that generally feature terrible music, I would say that Kanye definitely deserves whatever awards he gets.

Other comments:

Alternative Music Album: I have not heard the Bjork or PJ Harvey albums in their entirety, so I can't judge, but out of the three remaining (Modest Mouse, Wilco, and Franz Ferdinand), I would have to give the crown to FF. Wilco's A Ghost Is Born has some good tracks, but I think it is a flawed album overall, with too much gratuitous weirdness. It is certainly not up to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot standards-- but I don't blame them for that, because it would be hard to make a record as good as that every time out. Likewise, MM's Good News for People Who Love Bad News doesn't match up with the glory that is The Moon and Antarctica. GNFPWLBN is disappointing, because the first four (well, 3, the intro notwithstanding) tracks are amazing, but after that the quality drops off a lot. Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand is solid from start to finish. Try not to sing along to "Jacqueline" or "Take Me Out." Try not to smile when "Darts of Pleasure" breaks down into the bombastic Queen-style glory that is its "Ich heisse superfantastiche" outro. Yes, FF has been overexposed this year, which could limit their appeal to snobbish indie fans, but I think we should salute them for making a great album.

Rock Song: "Float On" wins this one hands down. It probably won't win. But at least "The Reason" wasn't nominated. I friggin' hate that song.

Various "Rap" categories: Kanye should sweep them all, if there is any justice in the world. The only one I am conflicted about is the Rap/Sung Collaboration because Kanye's "Slow Jamz" and Jadakiss' "Why" are both good songs. I would have to say that "Slow Jamz" is more entertaining, though.

Well, I won't be watching the Grammy Awards anyway, but tell me how they turn out. I might tune in if the performances look good-- Andre 3000 singing "Hey Ya" with extraterrestrial Indians and a full marching band was possibly the greatest moment of the year.

Posted by smit2174 at 2:50 PM

December 6, 2004

Intelligent Design lecture

Tonight, I went to a lecture on intelligent design theories by Dr. Del Ratzsch, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College. It was very interesting stuff. I am still working through what I think about it, but I was reassured that there could be evidence of intelligent design of the universe out there. Proponents of intelligent design, according to Dr. Ratzsch, have not yet come up with any empirical evidence of design, and he believes that they are focusing too much on biology, when the best hopes for evidence may lie in cosmology/astronomy.

Some theories, I thought, were pretty far-fetched. For instance, some 'true believers' of intelligent design disavow the existence of a God or creator, but believe that our universe could have been created by a different civilization-- this is the "bubble universe" theory. Another theory is that life originated elsewhere, but "life spores" somehow floated through the universe and landed on Earth, where they were hardy enough to flourish. These theories are (supposedly) supported by evidence which suggests that Earth was inhospitable to life when the Theory of Evolution claims the first organisms developed.

I personally find the idea of a God who created Earth and the universe and set the course of evolution much more plausible. But then again, who knows? AAAAAH! It's all so confusing! I believe in evolution but I want to believe in God as well! But then I hear so much about supposed "problems" with evolutionary theory, and I'm not a scientist, so I have no way to verify them.

But I am going to go out on a limb here and say I am definitely not a Creationist. To hold to a completely literal reading of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is ludicrous. It was all written by humans, and as we all know, humans are infinitely fallible. Couldn't it be that the Earth was not literally created in 7 days, but that those "days" are figurative? Calculating that the Earth is only 6000 years old, by a literal reading of the Bible, and holding steadfastly to that belief, is likewise ridiculous when all scientific evidence shows the world to be billions of years old.

But, that said, I am not completely convinced with any of the other theories either, but at this point I am going to try to do more research on Intelligent Design because it intrigues me.

Posted by smit2174 at 11:56 PM

December 4, 2004

Not my Senator.

"While many questions concerning Oil-for-Food remain unanswered, one conclusion has become abundantly clear: Kofi Annan should resign." --Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)

Norm, quit being such a dick. Could we please start being a little mature? You are looking more like good old Joe McCarthy every day. Except instead of phantom "communists," your whipping boy is the UN, or John Kerry, or those who oppose the war in Iraq. Here's a bright idea: maybe you should stop your cute publicity stunts and start doing some work for Minnesota. We just had our homeland security funding reduced, at a time when we've got a $700 million (or higher!) defecit at the state level. Start with that. Then, how about speaking out about the Bush administration's 80% cutback in salmon habitat protection funding? We Minnesotans love to fish, and if he's loosening restrictions on development in the Northwest, who's to say Minnesota isn't next? Plus, as you may or may not know (not being a true Minnesotan yourself), Minnesotans occasionally like to travel, and some of us might like to fish in Washington or Oregon someday. So would you quit being Bush's poodle for just 1 second and try to get something accomplished?

But if you really need some metaporical "witches" to burn, to keep your name in the news, how about investigating the Halliburton contracts in Iraq? You know, they are implicated in the oil-for-food scandal, as well. Or--why not investigate when the Bush administration knew about the abuse at Abu Ghraib?

Oh, and Norm: The day I support your call for Annan to resign is the day you call on Donald Rumsfeld to resign too, for how badly he fucked up in Iraq. Just to make things fair. Rice, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Perle, and probably some others, can go, too. After all, to paraphrase you,

"The massive scope of this debacle demands nothing less. If this...had occurred in any legitimate organization around the world, its CEO would have been ousted long ago, in disgrace."

Dammit, Minnesota, how can we stand 4 more years of this? (Norm and Bush.) Why do you keep electing hypocrites? Aww, screw it. I'm out.

Posted by smit2174 at 10:09 PM

I saw two concerts tonight. Jealous?

Concert #1: University Men's/Women's Chorus, 7:30 PM, Ted Mann Concert Hall

My roommate is in the Men's Chorus, and since I wasn't doing anything else tonight (I know, I'm a loser. Why do you think I have a blog?), I decided to go. It was a good decision. This was the best choral concert I've heard in a long time. (Sorry, SAHS Choirs, but somehow you just don't compare. And the CLC Steeple Singers... umm... well, it's not your fault, you're senior citizens.) (j/k, j/k, you know I <3 you all.)

I liked it best when both the choruses sang together, but each of them individually was very good as well. I thought the women's chorus, aside from being more attractive, had a better selection of songs. Their last piece, in which they were accompanied by a harpist, was absolutely gorgeous. But the men did great, too. My favorite piece by them was an arrangement of Robert Frost's "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening", which sounds like it would be a disaster, but it was actually pretty amazing. Somehow, the piano accompaniment and the singing fit the poem perfectly. It sounded very... wintry, if that's the right word.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable concert, though it was pretty short. (Even with an intermission, the concert was probably over by 8:45 or so.) I heartily reccomend the University of Minnesota Choruses if you ever get the chance.

Concert #2: Endochine, 10:00 PM, "The Whole" (Coffman Memorial Union)

First things first: I think they should change their name. Honestly. I almost didn't want to see them, solely on account of their name, but it was free and I was bored, so I went.

Endochine is a band from Austin, TX, but you can tell they wish they were from England. (And, really, who could blame them?) Specifically, they wish they were Radiohead. They sound a lot like everyone's favorite band, circa The Bends, or at least they try. Occasionally their singer will shift into a faux British accent (see: The Killers) ; whether he is doing this intentionally or not, I don't know, but it is obvious they are hoping to pick up listeners nostalgic for the less experimental, guitar-based Radiohead of yesteryear ('95 or so). They try pretty hard, and sometimes it works. I have no idea what any of their songs were called, but I liked a couple of them.

The lyrics are what really killed it for me, though. Radiohead might not have the best lyrics either (too often, they go for poetic but it just comes out weird), but at least they are willing to spice it up a little. Endochine, it seems, is willing to settle for writing the most generic lyrics possible-- they aren't "bad," per se, but their lyricist/songwriter could afford to maybe take a few chances. Another minor annoyance was the frontman's "banter" with the audience: "This is a song about the times when things aren't going so well." "This is one of our happier tunes." "I really like Jeff Buckley." (Proceeds to cover some song that Jeff Buckley supposedly "liked to cover.") "And I like to cover it, too." That's nice. Good for you. (For the love of.... would you please just play your damn set?!)

Am I making it sound like I hate Endochine? I really don't. I did enjoy the concert, and you can't beat the price. They really do have the potential to be good. All 4 members are very competent musicians, and they have some interesting ideas musically. Both of their singers are excellent vocalists for their style of music, and they can get some nice harmonies going. Guys, cut your hair(*ahem* bassist *cough*), stop smoking weed (if you do... *ahem* Mr. Bassist, sorry to pick on you again, but it's the image, man!), and tone down your Radiohead schtick a little. Oh, and, ditch the name. If you do all that, I forsee I bright future for you in the world of music.

Well, that was my evening. Now, enough with the pleasant stuff... I need to rant. See you in a few.

Posted by smit2174 at 12:51 AM

December 2, 2004

The U Bookstore is good for something after all!

So, until today, the only thing I'd done at the University Bookstore in Coffman was pay hundreds of dollars for my rip-off textbooks. (Thank God for scholarships! And, of course, the student account!) If you've been there, you probably know how I feel.

But, today, I had to go in there to buy some office paper, because I needed to pay my roommate back for giving me some at the beginning of the semester. (It's impossible to find, BTW, so if you ever need any, ask someone! Don't pull the "typical male" thing and look around for it yourself...unless you are into wasting won't find it. Trust me.) On my way in, I see the "Bargain Books" table, and I start looking at it. In a couple minutes, I've already found two Christmas gifts for a significantly cheap price. (If you care: They are both hardcover books. One was $26.00 list, dropped down to $6.98; the other was $23.95, dropped down to $3.98. That's a savings of 88%, according to to the ever-trusty win_calc.exe!)

Anyway, the gist of the story is, now I've got 2 out of the 5 members of my family covered, and it's only December 2. That's gotta be a new record for me.

Posted by smit2174 at 1:38 PM

December 1, 2004

Neil Young - Greatest Hits

In case you haven't heard, Neil Young just released his Greatest Hits CD. Which is good, because it gives me an excuse to write about it on my blog! I've been looking at the tracklist on Rhapsody, and it looks like a pretty good introduction to Neil's songs, but I think you'd do better to get Decade, which covers many of his best songs from 1967-76. There are a couple of glaring omissions on the new compilation-- where are "Thrasher," "Campaigner," "Cortez the Killer," "Sugar Mountain," "Pocahantas," "Powderfinger?"

All of Neil's records from the 70's are damn near invincible, though, and it's probably good to hear them in their entirety at some point. If you're new to Neil, I'd reccommend Decade, and supplementing it with the classic Rust Never Sleeps and possibly Live Rust for the live experience. If you like what you hear, then go for his masterpieces On the Beach, After the Gold Rush, and Tonight's the Night. Harvest is good, too, but it's a little inconsistent.

P.S. I have a problem with Rolling Stone's Top 500 list. Sure, the Beatles are good, but do they really deserve 20+ spots? While Neil Young gets only two? "Like a Hurricane" should have been in the Top 10, at least, but it didn't even make the list! And where was "Helpless?" Screw you, Rolling Stone! Pitchfork is where it's at now. You aren't worthy to kiss its 1's and 0's.

Posted by smit2174 at 11:20 PM