Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Top 11 for 2008

You have to have a list, right?

Honorable mention:
Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing

So it's a mixtape inspired by Seinfeld. For real. And it's incredibly good - just very odd, to the point of being kind of awkward. I don't think it's the 'best' anything this year, but it's so different that it's worth a shot - Wale is one of the brightest things to come out of 2008, a true cross-over-able intelligent rapper.

Just missed: Lil' Wayne, The Hold Steady, Okkervil River, The Black Ghosts

11- The Knux, Remind Me in 3 Days
I can remember starting college as a freshman and having a pretty extensive collection of very narrow music. Napster broke big, and completely changed my life - that's not even really hyperbole . . . there was a fundamental shift in my mentality courtesy of Napster. Two specific tracks then blew my mind: "Like Today" by Atmosphere, and "Letter from an Occupant" by The New Pornographers. All of the sudden, there was an entire world beyond Moon Records, Sublime and modern rock radio, combining elements I'd never seen mixed before. The Knux record surprised me like no rap record I've heard in a long, long time - not exactly traditional, not exactly backpack, not exactly even hip hop . . .

10- Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Music is mostly about moods for me. By that, I mean that most music matches a feeling or time or place in my mind, and I'll usually go back to songs to match a certain place. For In Ghost Colours, that place is my car while in a completely unexpected good mood, such as a random endorphin high after leaving the office and heading to happy hour, or getting good news, or simply feeling good for no damn reason.

9- The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound
Whenever a friend actively apologizes for liking an album (just like my incredible co-author C did, via Facebook no less, in re: this record), I almost invariably purchase/download it immediately. Sometimes this is good (like this), and sometimes it's bad (like ... almost every other time), but the search for a guilty pleasure marches on. I'm not even ashamed. This is probably the record that Craig Finn would have made at 15, if he weren't getting drunk in K-Mart parking lots in Minnetonka instead. We're all glad it went down like it did.

8- Titus Andronicus, The Airing of Grievances
A part of me will always want to light things on fire, or get into fights with assholes during rec league sports, or devastate people who have hurt me in the past, or rage against structure, or lash out at things that are completely unfair even if I can't do a single thing about it. That part doesn't really get out very much, and I'm pretty happy about that. I'm also happy that some bands rely on just that part of them as muse.

7- Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
When the days get shorter and winter sets in, slow nights can become almost interminable. The sun sets incredibly early, and weekdays are met with only brief periods of light. It's almost as if time passes more slowly - I can't tell you how many times I've looked at the clock and said "Holy God - it's only 8:30?" This has that same nearly-brutal quality, like waiting for warmth.

6- Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping
Schadenfreude is a powerful phenomenon - people love seeing others going crazy, almost as if it validates their own sanity. Yet we also fear it - the guy outside Marlboro Market lobbing imaginary grenades at Charley can touch a little close to home, or maybe we can connect or understand with the way someone like Hannibal Lecter or Gordon Gekko rationalizes things when we know we shouldn't. Still, the spectacle draws our attention - Kevin Barnes is now the spectacle, by choice and by consequence.

5- The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale
In the video for Dude 'N Nem's "Watch My Feet" the group is rocking the coolest thing I've ever seen in my entire fucking life: a t-shirt (apparently put out on Shorty Capone's line, which I've never found for sale anywhere), in either black or white, with contrasting rhinestone-laden letters that simply spell out "SHIRT." I have no clue why I think it's so awesome, but I would kill a child for one. Basically, that's how I feel about the Cool Kids at this point, too.

4- Deerhunter, Microcastle
Music reviews throw around meaningless words like "dreamy" or "atmospheric" all the time - these are shitty shorthand, allowing for lazy journalism and truly uninspired review. Still, they perfectly describe this album . . . whoops.

3- Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
I pulled a series of near-all-nighters to finish up a research study early this year - a good friend and the only other co-writer for that specific material made a tough choice to take another job, and I was left with a ton of work on a tight time frame. Obviously, it got finished, but it required typing in the back of a few bars like the Lift until closing time, knocking back beers with headphones as loud as they go. This was the perfect soundtrack for those nights - including how ridiculous I must have looked to everyone else.

2- TV on the Radio, Dear Science
There's a weird arc to the way sexual interaction happens in a relationship. At the beginning, there's some fumbling and struggling, definite awkwardness - but that's awash in a sort of animal interest, a drive that is both exciting and disorienting (Young Liars EP, Dirty Youth). As the relationship coalesces into the honeymoon phase, the frenzy remains, but there is some focus - you're discovering what each of you enjoys most, and you can apply that learning while retaining some of the fierceness, while still exploring and testing boundaries (Return to Cookie Mountain). Then, finally, you settle into a groove - you can become efficient and effective, and you can proceed with some pace, with just enough experimentation to keep it interesting . . . overall, this is the most satisfying phase, even while lacking many of the positives from the earlier phase. That's where TVOTR are today.

1- Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
It's always better to go to the beach when you're hung over - you can sleep more easily, the beer goes down smoother, and that little bit of dehydration makes everyone seem more attractive (even you, being a little more cut based on an utter lack of water in your body). This record will always be the sound of driving to the beach while hung over, and (hopefully) the party afterward.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The 2008 Mixtape

Most people send Christmas cards (or Moses cards, I guess?). Then again, most people don't do many of the things that I think are generally hilarious - so instead of a silly photo and a list of all the ridiculous stuff I did this year, once again, everyone gets a mixtape. This is actually way better - this has much more to do with how my year went, anyway, and will be around long after memory has faded into Bolivian like Mike Tyson.

I had an incredible year - I mean that in the colloquial sense of "awesome or good or great or fun or cool" but also in the sense of "I'm actually incredulous that some of this actually happened." That's usually a good thing, but the roller-coaster nature of one of the weirdest years in American history is certainly reflected in the tape, just like everything else.

This is the year that rock made a comeback . . . kind of. I feel like the tape is more rock-oriented than years past, although obviously it's nerdy ass indie rock (you don't need me to make a tape of Beyonce tracks, even though "All The Single Ladies" is pretty fucking bomb) - don't read too much into the individual song choices, mostly out of convenience for me rather than any real inability to make a read. Just saying.

The rules are simple: I made it fit onto one standard-length (80 minute) CD, I picked the songs I liked most from this year, one per artist, and I didn't put them in any particular order (save the first track) other than some semblance of genre cohesion.

Download RC's 2008 Mixtape Here

Track List:

-Okkervil River, "Lost Coastlines"
We'll start with the best song I heard all year - somehow, it manages to sound both sparse and lush, with perfect pacing. When the "La-la" chorus hits, it forms a perfect crescendo - unreal.

-Frightened Rabbit, "The Twist"
The best Scottish song about fucking since . . . ever? Anyone who has ever been to a bar or had so much as a single drop of alcohol can relate - and the music frames it perfectly, creating an additional sexual metaphor out of the arrangement, complete with pulsating piano line, drums as heartbeat, and orgasmic climax. The chorus - "So twist and whisper the wrong name/ I don't care, nor do my ears/ Twist yourself around me/ I need company, I need human heat/ I need human heat" - leads directly into a sort of mid-song denouement that sort of makes me poop myself. Amazing - I think I actually lived this song in the last year, which is both amazing and frightening. I'm mostly kidding by the way - feel free to laugh at that.

-The Gaslight Anthem, "Great Expectations"
The proliferation of "emo" as a genre has opened the door to a new emphasis on mainstream music with emotional ties . . . and these Jersey greasers manage to fuse Springsteen to the northeast punk/rockabilly tradition in the process. Who would have thought we'd be better off because of emo?

-And the Moneynotes, "My Kid Smokin'"
I have no idea what to do with these guys as a group, but this song is balls - featuring by far the best chorus of the year. Try not to sing along . . . especially when we all understand that "bros before hoes" (or the female equivalent) often isn't just a cliche - it's an admonition that perhaps mistakes were made.

-King Khan & the Shrines, "Welfare Bread"
So I put the two bands that sound fresh out of the Big Lebowski together, but in reality, they couldn't sound any different - this one is a massive Indian dude pretending to be Jerry Lee Lewis, kind of. Hilariously, I wrote up an entire note about the track "Torture" off the same album . . . not important. Seriously, this song makes me feel like The Dude, to the point where I'm ready to have a White Russian even though it's not even 11am yet.

-Four Year Strong, "Catastrophe"
Yeah . . . this track is pretty much what you'd expect from a guy that owns every single Less Than Jake record (me). How many people in your life would be best described as "Such a catastrophe"? I'm guessing more than you'd care to admit. College rock: not just for people in college?

-Of Montreal, "Id Engager"
There's always that point after a breakup, especially on the 'dumped' end, where you walk outside and the sun shines in just the right way, and you start to feel confident again, like you're a predator and every girl at the bar is made of slow, drunk meat. That's this song - arrogance and confidence and opportunity are the currency we're dealing in. Also it's the only track off Skeletal Lamping that doesn't include overt references to black crossdressers, so there's that too.

-The Black Ghosts, "I Want Nothing"
Yeah, I have a little bit of a problem: electronic music. I try to hide it, but it slips through - it's painful and nerdy, but I have a little Eurotrash in me. However, not only is this a great song, it's the opposite of 'club-ready' - rock without guitars. Another song about being a cold-blooded killer, with the backbone to back it up. In fact, this is what the Killers always thought they would be, post-Mr. Brightside.

-Atmosphere, "Shoulda Know"
It's almost obligatory at this point. Sometimes you follow a band so religiously you start to feel like you "know" them - I forget that the Slug I hear is really a cardboard cutout, an image. Still, I feel like an old friend, so I do what I do to all my old friends: listen, then ignore his advice. Standard. Doesn't change the fact that I should have known better - nor the fact that I really don't care, even in retrospect.

-Deerhunter, "Never Stops"
The sound of floating through something you're not sure you really want to do - whether I'm at my desk or in an airport or riding in a shitty cab to an annoying hotel, this track is it. "Haunts my days" indeed - I have a tendency to pretend I'm facing life head-on because I do things like 'listen to this song in the airport' while I neglect festering real-world core-group issues . . . in a weird way, Bradford Cox taught me how to stop pretending (sort of) and learn how to pretend better (kind of). That has value.

-The Electric Dream Machine, "Dayman"
Literally the greatest thing that has ever existed ever, no hyperbole.

-Bon Iver, "Skinny Love"
The sound of an outpouring - the song is a straight blood-letting, the best track off the saddest, most pained album of the year. I won't even pretend - I went through an awkward breakup early in the year, and this album was a total beating, seemingly made of jagged, sharp ice and insecurity . . . however, it's one of those brilliant pieces of art where I feel like I learned something even as I wanted to die. The "m-my-my, m-my-my-MY-my" chorus makes you shake your head in the same knowing fashion as it was intended, then the hammer drops: "Told my love to wreck it all/ Cut out all the ropes and let me fall . . . "

-Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, "Some Constellation"
My all-time favorite song is probably the version of "The Orchids" done by Califone. This song almost gets there, but with a sunny disposition (and a shockingly depressing subject). Oh yeah - and the worst band name in history too . . . holy shit guys, who thought this was a good idea? Good weed in Portland, apparently.

-Let's Wrestle, "I Won't Lie To You"
Sparse, rough, fun British rock - straightforward and smart. Party on, sad guy - Everyone can relate to something like "I won't lie to you/ I can't see that things are getting any better." I'm getting a stern look from a few of my friends right now, I can feel it - hey, I'm working on it, OK? Holy balls. You guys are dicks.

-Titus Andronicus, "Titus Andronicus"
Jersey kids who sing like Bright Eyes playing literate, scuzzy rock? Obviously, sign me up - the combination works more that well enough to overcome my annoyance at a song with the same title as the band. Imagine if, like, ABBA or Bon Jovi did this? Actually, I think the Village People did . . . then they got AIDS. Maybe I shouldn't have included this track.

-Lykke Li, "I'm Good, I'm Gone."
So yeah, she jacked "Working in a Coal Mine" - she's Swedish, it's allowed. While this seems like a weird transition from the previous track, it actually makes quite a bit of sense when you listen to the lyrics to each - although I'd much rather have sex with the latter (um, the latter performer, not the lyrics - hi English degree!). She's already an indie-geek sex symbol . . . given the raves about her live performance, a mainstream break seems likely in her future. You heard it here like 10,305th.

-Cut Copy, "Hearts on Fire"
The cheesy "Night at the Roxbury" vibe perfectly frames the song, a backdrop that gives it much more meaning than a track built from its parts would normally carry. The cheesy saxophone in the last third just blows it up when the bass drops back in . . . I secretly want to be Rod Stewart, and this song makes me shake my ass like I'm rich enough to not have to worry about looking like an aging douche.

-Dizzee Rascal, "Dance Wiv Me"
The most charismatic man in hip-hop (he can't really be considered 'Grime' anymore) breaks style to give us the closest thing to a club banger he's ever had - but it's much better suited for the car, or changing up your DJ sets while drunk, because singing is tech. An earworm of catastrophic proportions.

-TV on the Radio, "Golden Age"
The best single from the best album of the year (OMG foreshadowing!) - and a little treat for anyone who actually listens to the CD to the end, since the end puts the toe-tap upbeat shit all together. Total scam, I know.

-Santogold, "L.E.S. Artistes"
A completely un-ironic dressing-down of the Lower East Side crowd that, somewhat ironically, probably helped break her album. Douche bags are douche bags, no matter what.

-The Cool Kids, "88"
As the best things to happen to rap since Clipse got introduced to blow, the Cool Kids tear shit up while bragging about middle-class life, complete with two-door Grand Prixs and a little bit of gold and pager. Two smartasses save an entire genre of music, one jacked beat at a time.

-Lil Wayne, "Dr. Carter"
Whatever. Maybe this should be "Lollipop" - OK, it should probably be "A Milli" (I mean, seriously . . . "They on some f----t bullshit/ Call'em Dennis Rodman" for real?). But there's something about this track off Tha Carter III that hits me a little harder - just listen to Weezy's semi-feigned sigh at the beginning - "Ugh, another one . . ugh!" Perfection, from the best blogger alive.

-Wiley, "Wearing My Rolex"
This ALWAYS happens to me. Totally.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Will Not Reveal the Wu-Tang Secret

So obviously my work travel (in which I added yet another tiny-town courthouse bathroom to the illustrious rolls of "places RC has pooped") ended early, and obviously I got exceptionally drunk at the hotel bar playing live poker then internet poker then live poker again, then obviously the only flight I could get on in the morning is at 7am . . . and STL is an hour and a half away. Boner.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I keep laughing about one of the greatest questionnaire sets I've ever seen in my entire life, which included the following gems:

- A young man of 23 who listed his wife's occupation as . . . "Mother." Dude, how cool would it be if women couldn't vote? I KNOW!

- An old old old man who listed his reasons for not being able to serve as "Prostate has grown - have to pee a lot." There's obviously no better way to describe that - fuck it, let's go with straight-forward. Well played, Guy Who Doesn't Pay Attention To Flomax Commercials.

- And, obviously, the coup d'grace . . . a gentlemen listed his marital status as "widower" and his wife's occupation as . . . "retired." Apparently, permanently. Survey says! "Synonyms for Repose"! Sweet!

Moral of the story: the average person is markedly more stupid than you expect. You think it's bad? It's worse. Way worse. I now must retire for the evening, to the awkward sounds of tears from my non-existent spouse, who will be briefly widowed until I wake up at some retarded hour to drive to St. Louis. Life sucks - be prepared, Joe Buck, because I plan on raping your plastic face should there be any traffic at all. I hate you, and I hate your city, and I hate Rick Ankiel.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


So a MILF nails an incredibly awkward-looking guardsman from the middle of fucking nowhere, IA . . . and it's not even my favorite story of the past 10 days.

Of course not.

You see, getting drunk and sloppily railing a true American (weekend) Patriot? That's par for the course. Honestly, ol' Lois probably hasn't felt that (drunk and) sexy since about 'Nam - she's just reliving her glory years, blowing the entire baseball team in the old abandoned barn behind Carroll Kuemper Catholic High School. I'm cool with that - chances are, the husband knew what he was getting into before he bought the ring, and realizes he won't be doing much better. No harm, no foul, and hopefully no AIDS. I do feel bad for the kids, one of whom definitely looks in the 15-16 year old range - every single one of his friends will be bringing over a box of Franzia and trying to fuck his mom. That's kind of a pain in the ass, I'd bet. It's awkward being 16 and from Carroll, IA anyway - now imagine dudes asking for camera-phone pics of your mom getting out of the shower? FML, indeed.

Let's be honest - she may well have blacked out, she may well have not, and we'll never know the answer to that question. However, we do know there was chanting and cheering, and that's pretty fucking awesome - I love running into people doing it at the bar, and let's face it, the Metrodome has long been essentially a giant, ugly bar for Iowa fans at away games. Pride.

No, clearly the best story is Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the thigh with his own pistol. Shot himself. In the leg. In a club. With his own gun. Let's run through the specifics:

-Bringing a loaded weapon to a club? Check. (This doesn't even bother me that much, given the Collier/Williams/etc. situations - these guys are targets . . . however, I mean, the club. I'd expect a deer would want a gun if it wandered into an NRA convention, but I'm sure there were other options.)

-Holstering said loaded weapon in the elastic waistband of your sweatpants? CHECK! (note here that it is awesome to be a rich black dude - I can barely wear sweatpants around the house and not look like a total douche, but the club? Baller! Also, clearly Plax didn't take a gun class, or he'd know that you're supposed to buy sweatpants with pockets instead of jamming into the elastic. Amateur hour.)

-Gun slips out of elastic (HA) while carrying a drink back to the VIP? Oh mother fuckin' check! (Booze has done a lot to me in its time - I have injuries, I have embarrassing moments, I have burned-in memories of incredibly unattractive girls . . . but booze has never fucking shot me. Wow.)

-Reaches for gun, shoots self? Obv.

The sheer enormity of this is staggering - think of every bad decision that had to happen for Plax to cap his own ass. If, at any time, that little angel on his shoulder had whispered, "Mr. Burress! If I could interrupt, it's important to realize that, perhaps, it is not the best decision to keep a loaded firearm with the safety off next to your penis, with only the loosest of K-Mart sweatpants elastic to keep it from sliding down into the Mandingo - pardon my boldness!" then this had NO chance of happening. None.

Any time you can do something so ridiculous that it makes the connection between "drink fuckload of wine -> vanish from seat -> meet stranger -> insert penis into kidshitter" look positively linear, you're living an awkward and probably cursed life. Here's to you, Plaxico Burress - just when you couldn't be any more of a piece of crap, you raise the bar.