:: Monday, January 26, 2004 ::
:: Tuesday, January 20, 2004 ::
Unassigned Topics has moved!
Please redirect your bookmarks to:
:: Mike D 1:14 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, December 30, 2003 ::
Well, grad school application continue to take up my free time (every time I feel like blogging a little voice in my head screams "You should work on your personal statement first!"), so it'll still be another week or two before I return to blogging full force again. When I do, I'm hoping to have a new site running movable type, and i'll definitely post all the details here when I do. Until then, enjoy the Dem primaries, as things got rediculous fast! I'm starting to think that Edwards kid could be the real deal...
Oh yeah, I got married too!
:: Mike D 1:42 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, December 23, 2003 ::
You know how it always seems that the administration outdoes the Democrats statistics-wise whenever an economic issue comes up for debate (the last round of tax cuts being a prime example, as Dems could never even make the distinction between mean and median that would have drastically undercut the right's fairness arguments)? Well Paul Krugman has lent a helping hand to the party in today's column, as he attempts to pre-empt Bush's upcoming "Ownership Society/increased tax shelters for the rich" proposal that is expected to be introduced in his State of the Union address later this month:
Aren't we well on our way toward becoming what the administration and its reliable defenders call an "ownership society," in which everyone shares in stock market gains? Um, no. It's true that slightly more than half of American families participate in the stock market, either directly or through investment accounts. But most families own at most a few thousand dollars' worth of stocks.
67 percent of corporate taxes are paid by the richest 5 percent. The poorest 60 percent of families pay only 8 percent. And remember that the poor don't have access to the tax shelters that the well-off do, so their share of the gains is probably even less than this figure. If I don't hear this statistics constantly during the inevitable debate on this, it will be yet another indication that the current Democratic leadership is woefully ineffective when it comes to communication strategy.
A good indicator of the share of increased profits that goes to different income groups is the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the share of the corporate profits tax that falls, indirectly, on those groups. According to the most recent estimate, only 8 percent of corporate taxes were paid by the poorest 60 percent of families, while 67 percent were paid by the richest 5 percent, and 49 percent by the richest 1 percent. ("Class warfare!" the right shouts.) So a recovery that boosts profits but not wages delivers the bulk of its benefits to a small, affluent minority. [emphasis mine]
:: Mike D 8:57 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, December 22, 2003 ::
In this week's year-end issue of Newsweek (Jon Stuart on the cover!), there's a quick blurb on George Bush in the Conventional Wisdom section:
"Ends year on a roll with economy and the spider-hole coup. Next: Capture of Bin Laden as October surprise?" That got me thinking in a purely political way: it would probably be extremely beneficial to the Democratic candidate if this line is pushed into mainstream consciousness (same goes for Dean's brilliant "Bush Tax" meme). Build up the expectations so that if he's caught, it's not as dramatic as it would be if it were as out of the blue as the Saddam capture; if he isn't found by the election, there's a tangible feeling of disapointment, as though he was supposed to have been caught by that time. Kind of like how the Bush camp was able to get expectations so low for the Bush-Gore debates that "not a total failure" was considered "great!"
So if you're blue to the core, the next time someone mentions Bin Laden, be sure to say that he'll probably be found right before the election. Try to throw the phrase "October Surprise" in there somewhere if you can...
:: Mike D 6:35 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, November 18, 2003 ::
Top 10 Albums of 2003
It's finally time to break my posting fast and let out my list of the best albums of 2003. I'd have to say this year was a bit disapointing music-wise, but there was still some really good stuff. As is probably obvious from the list, I'm not the biggest pop or rap fan and I hate straight country, so if those are your favorite styles this probably isn't the best list for you. But if you like great guitar and kick-ass melodies, I hope you'll find some good stuff here. With that, here are my favorite albums of the year (The biggest drop-offs in the list occur between #'s 4 & 5 and 3 & 4, in that order):
10. The White Stripes - Elephant
I'd be lying if I told you I didn't get totally burned out by the White Stripes this year. I was (and still am) a huge fan of White Blood Cells (it's one of my favorite all time albums), and De Stijl is a big favorite of mine as well ("Hello Operator" is one of my all time favorite songs), but when I first heard this album I was a bit disapointed, as Elephant didn't seem to be much of an improvement over the first two. Combine that with their overexposure, and I tuned them out pretty soon after I got the awesome vinyl pressing of this album (a great gatefold featuring two LPs, with one red and one white). However, I've gone back to it in the past week or so and it's been growing on me again. I scoffed when Jack White was listed #17 on Rolling Stones' "Greatest guitarists" list, but he really is damn good. I saw them at the Warfield last spring and they put on a hell of a show, and seeing him play live was definitely the highlight. On my recent listens, it has definitely been his guitar play that has most captured my attention (the first time through it was all about the melodies).
I still think the album is too long (White Blood Cells was just such a nice, tight package of an album with barely any down time), but among the excess it has highlights galore. "Seven Nation Army" has a sick groove and great slide solos, and "Hypnotize" rips off "Fell in love with a Girl" in a really good way. "You've got her in your pocket" is a ballad on par with "We're going to be friends," and while it's no "Your Southern Can Is Mine," "It's True that we Love One Another" is another great closer to an album for this band. "I want to be the boy who warms you mother's heart" has a great melody and more great slide guitar, and "In the Cold, Cold Night" is good in a really wierd way (something about Meg's voice is so hypnotic). And be sure to check out the guitar solo in "Girl, you have no faith in Medicine," as I'd give my right arm to be able to play guitar like that. Finally, "The Air Near My Fingers" is both the best song on this album by far and one of my top five of the year. Despite the odd lyrical content (as best I can tell it's a song about how much he reveres...his mom), the song glides through the verse on lyrics that would give Jack Johnson's rhythmic singing abilities a run for their money. The chorus serves to build up tension before the musical breakdown blows the doors off the joint with a keyboard that should be shipped to the rock and roll hall of fame now. Definitely the highlight, and hopefully a sign of things to come. Jack White's guitar is almost unparalleled these days, but to me it's when he pairs it with a great melody that he really impresses. Unfortunately, there's not as much of that on this album as I'd prefer, but it's still chock full of some great songs that make me want to join a rock band.
9. The Delgados - Hate
To say the Delgados get a bit of the wall of sound thing going would be the understatement of the milleneum (yeah, it's still early), and to call it a little depressing would probably be the runner up. That said, the hauntingly beautiful melodies on this album provide for a very chill, very reflective listening experience (definitely not a party album). The Scottish group is led by two lead singers, Alun Woodward and Emma Polluck, and they provide a male-female trade-off reminiscent of Blonde Redhead's last album, singing every-other song on the album. While the first half of the album has its stong points, the album really takes off from track five, "Coming in from the Cold," providing soaring chorus after soaring chorus until the end of the album. Yeah, it feels a bit cheesy at times, but it's really good too. Like many of my top choices this year, this album's chief success is the mood it gives across the entire album. If you're down with feeling a little meloncholy and daydreaming for an hour, this is the album for you. "Favors" and "Never Look at the Sun" are among my favorites, and "If this is a Plan" provides a perfect soaring close for an album with no shortage of soaring wall-of-sound moments.
8. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
With this album, Death Cab has certainly shaken off the Built to Spill comparisons and cemented their own original sound. More sophisticated than their earlier work, there are a variety of styles here that are all tied seamlessly together. Form rockers that harken back to their earliest albums like "The Sound of Settling" and "We looked like Giants" to glossier numbers like "This is the New Year" to the epic "Transatlanticism" and then back to songs that wouldn't be out of place on their last LP "The Photo Album" like "Death of an Interior Decorator" and "Expo '86" and then finally to the beautiful closer "A Lack of Color," this album never gets stuck in one gear (I hope no English teachers read that last sentence). But it's my favorite track, "Title and Registration," that sums up their "new" sound perfectly: a blend of simplicity and technology, perfect production, beautiful melodies and great lyrics, and the trademark Death Cab guitar cascades. It's still the Death Cab for Cutie that we know and love, but now it's impossible to say they are copying anyone else. While the album is perhaps a little on the long side and not quite as catchy as their earlier stuff, it's a remarkable leap forward in terms of complexity and a sound I am looking forward to seeing them further develop in the coming years.
7. The Black Keys - Thickfreakness.
Yeah, they're a two-piece (guitar and drums) blues unit, but the White Stripes comparisons really should be held back a bit. First off--and this isn't necessarily a knock on Jack White--these guys are legit blues. I saw them open for Sleater-Kinney and they were great: guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerback rocks the hell out of his Telecaster, and has a perfect voice to match his playing style. One story I read told of how this Ohio native spent a great deal of time cruising through blues bars in the deep south playing with local legends, and it shows. Drummer Patrick Carney throws a bit of funk into the mix, and does a great job producing the album with his patented recording technique known as "medium fidelity" ("equal parts broke-ass shit to equal parts hot-ass shit"). The result is an album that--much like the Postal Service album below--sets a great mood that carries through the entire album. "Thickfreakness," Midnight In Her Eyes," the cover "Have Love Will Travel" and the CCR-like "If You See Me" are highlights, but the strength of the album is in its entirety. Definitely a good listen if you like accessible blues that also has the "it" that so many bands today are lacking.
6. OutKast - SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below
Now, first the caveat: I have by no means fully wrapped my head around this one yet (I'm still waiting to pick up the quadruple-vinyl version to really get in a few hard-core listens). That said, from what I've listened to--and that would be mainly Andre's CD and a few times through Big Boi's--it's pretty damn amazing. "Happy Valentine's Day" has the sickest guitar riff I've heard in ages, and everyone knows how good "Hey Ya" is. Throughout Andre's CD I keep getting Prince flashbacks--the up to "Sign O' The Times" and therefor good Prince, so quite the complement in my opinion. From the few listens I've had of Big Boi's half it seems pretty clear that he's mastered his own particular idiom as well. I wish I could provide more detail at this point, but it's tough to get complete control of two and half hours of music. So far though, this album has been pretty damn overwhelming--in a good way.
5. Postal Service - Give Up
I'm a big Death Cab for Cutie fan (they were the band that really got me into indie rock), so when my friend tipped me on to this colaboration between DCFC lead singer (and super nice guy) Ben Gibbard and DNtel's electronic mastermind Jimmy Tamborello I was curious as hell to say the least. It took me a bit to get past the first two incredible tracks ("The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "Such Great Heights"), and while I still think they are the best on the album I've really opened up to the rest of the LP as well. It just puts me in such a great mood overall. While the gorgeous "Recycled Air" is the only song outside of the first two that I would probably put on a mixed CD, the album as a whole is a great 45 minutes of electronic bliss that holds my attention throughout, no doubt due to my familiarity with Gibbard and the great mix of live instruments with electronics. Now we just need to get Sub Pop to press it on wax!
4. The New Pornographers - The Electric Version
The second album from the Vancouver "Super Group" has energy in spades. But unlike the new Ted Leo and the Pharmacists album, "Electric Version" is so full of infectious melodies and great hooks that it never gets exhausting (well, maybe a little bit). Nico Case again steals the show, as her vocals on "Electric Version," "The Laws Have Changed," "Miss Teen Worldpower" and--most especially--"All for Swinging You Around" fit the music perfectly, the latter being perhaps the catchiest song I've ever heard. She throws in great harmonies on most of the rest of Carl Newman's compositions as well. Best...cameo...ever!
"Secret Member" Dan Bejar only has three writing credits on this album, but they're all great. The "Woo Hoos" on "Chump Change" and the "No no no no..." breakdown on "Testament to Youth in Verse" catch me every time, and by the end of "Ballad of a Comeback Kid" I always want to rush out and cheer an underdog on. But the real genius on this album is clearly Newman's, as he wrote the remainder of the songs on the album. He writes Case's parts perfectly for her, and all his compositions are so damn enjoyable that I can't help but smile as I listen to this LP. Plus, his voice works with the style perfectly. Overall, a great album from start to finish though perhaps just a bit overwhelming in its energy. I would definitely like to see them concentrate on putting out more of an "album" next time around, with a ballad here and there or at least a chance to catch your breath, but I really can't complain too much about an album that is just so much damn fun.
3. The Strokes - Room on Fire
This album just kicks ass, plain and simple. It is similar to their debut in that regard, but this album takes their sound to another level and shows this band evolving towards a bit more complexity (while I disagree with the assertion that "all the songs on their first album sound the same," I can see how one could have that complaint about their debut. I would simply laugh at someone who said the same about this album).
Tearing out of the gates with the great opener "What Ever Happened?" then following with "Reptillia" with what can only be described as a new sound for this New York based fivesome, it's obvious that this will definitely be a more complex endeavor than their debut. But that didn't prepare me for "Automatic Stop," my pick for song of the year. The chorus of this song is simply amazing, as the songs kicks into another gear and Albert Hammond Jr. throws down a guitar melody that stuck in my head for about a month straight after hearing this song for the first time. The rhythm through the chorus is perfect, and it's even better the second time through as Casablancas' vocals carry directly into it. Simply dynamite.
The rest of the album is consistently unstoppable, from the 80's sounding $10 Casio-like keyboard in "12:51" and "The End Has No End" to the swing of "Under Control" and the Elvis Costello's "Pump it Up"-sounding build up in "The Way It Is." This is definitely the drinking album of the year in my opinion, as I can't think of anything better to throw on with a room full of people getting pumped for a night out (for the tokers out there I'd suggest #1 or #2 for your parties). A great follow-up to their perfect debut, proving to me that this band is clearly worthy of upper-enchelon status--despite the hype.
2. The Shins - Chutes too Narrow
A brilliant follow up to 2001's great "Oh, Inverted World," this year's #2 introduced a stripped-down sound for this New Mexico based group. Whereas their debut featured multi-tracked vocals and production that smoothed the sounds together (in a good way), Chutes too Narrow eschews their former style for a much more cutting sound. Lead singer/songwriter James Mercer has clearly come into his own, and I'd now rank him with Built to Spill's Doug Martsch and Spoon's Britt Daniel as one of the best singular musical forces today (sadly, Elliott Smith is no longer a member of this prestigious group).
The A-side is simply unstoppable, as "Kissing the Lipless" proves a perfect segway into their new sound, and "Mine's not a High Horse" cruises its way seamlessly accross a constant rhythm with vocal harmonies in all the right places. "So Says I" rocks the hell out of the joint, with delightfully sinister sounding sixties psychadelia pushing the verse and a great bridge featuring more great harmonies. "Young Pilgrims" follows, delivering the hook of the year in the chorus to this beautiful acoustic track. The close of the A-side is the high point of the album, the amazing "Saint Simon:" from the fabulous bassline and "You Won't See Me"-like guitars in the verse to the beautifully harmonized "la da da dums" leading into the chorus. You won't find a prettier song this year.
The B-side slows down a bit, but is still consistently great the whole way through. "Turn a Square" is my second favorite song on the album, slashing its way through a fantastic riff and featuring lyrics so great I actually pay attention to them (lyrics aren't exactly my forte). "Gone for good" is the type of country I can deal with, and "Pink Bullets" and the closing "Those to Come" are two more great soft numbers. Overall, a perfect album from start to finish with no low points and the most beautiful melodies of the year. My only complaint is that it's too short! Definitely a band to watch (and if you like vinyl LPs, be sure to get this one: it's bright pink).
1. Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
I went back and forth on my top 3 quite a bit, as the two albums preceeding this one on the list are a bit tighter and have no dead weight, but in the end I came to the conclusion that Radiohead simply makes music on a higher plane of existence than any other band today. Yes, this album has flaws (it's too long to feel like a tight, coherent album, as the momentum is killed on tracks 6-8), but it's high points reach levels that other bands could only dream of. The album opens ("2+2=5") and closes ("Wolf at the Door") perfectly (despite the latter's lifting of the progression from "I Want You (She's So Heavy)), and "Go To Sleep" is one of my top songs of the year, casting off any allegiance to a verse-chorus-verse song structure in favor of a linear build-up based on perfect guitar work. The first time I heard "Sit Down, Stand Up" I went numb when the bass dropped at the 3:03 mark (definitely the best 3-minute build up since Built to Spill's "Stop the Show," and if you have access to the vinyl be sure to listen to it backwards: Thom is saying "Fuck you" backwards over and over again throughout the "little raindrops" section), and "Backdrifts" puts their electronic abilities on full display in a hauntingly good song.
While the first half of the album is full of stand-alone highlights, the latter half is where this album throws it into fifth. The cathartic "There There" begins a stretch of songs that together are better than the sum of their parts, as the beautiful "I Will" follows the pounding drums of the first single and then segues seamelessly into the phat groove of "Punch up at a Wedding." "Myxomatosis" follows with some of the loudest rock they've put out since "Electioneering," showing that you can write music that kicks-ass based on rabbit-killing diseases. "Scatterbrain" follows featuring beautiful guitar melodies that carries the song, and the album closes with the aforementioned "Wolf at the Door."
While I think the album could have been tightened up considerably be relegating a few songs in the middle to b-side status (speaking of which, be sure to check out the bass-line on "Paperbag Writer," which shares honors with OutKast's "Happy Valentine's Day" for best groove of the year), but even with its flaws the music Radiohead is putting out is simply unparalelled. Every time I return to this album I am amazed at the level of sophistication in the songwriting, the flawless musicianship, and their ability to sonsitently push the envelope. But I also am amazed at how damn good the music is: how beautiful the melodies are, how gripping the beats are, and how memorable the songs are. For that, Hail to the Thief is my album of the year for 2003.
All right kids, there you have it. I've shown you mine, now you show me yours: tell me why I'm wrong, what I've missed, your faves, etc!
:: Mike D 11:06 AM [+] ::
:: Friday, October 31, 2003 ::
As is probably obvious, I haven't exactly been keeping up with this here blog, and that probably won't change for another month or two. Grad school applications continue to cloud my mind, and every time I have some free time my conscience tells me that's what I should be focusing on. Throw in the upcoming holidays and that alone would probably keep me from contributing heavily to this site.
But now one more thing has been added to the mix: I'm getting married to my girlfriend of almost 7 years (since I was a junior in high school) on January 3rd, so now I'm definitely not going to be jump starting the blog any time soon! I'll probably throw up a few posts as the year comes to a close on my second favorite topic in the world: music. But aside from the year-end list-making, I'll probably be silent here until after the first of the year.
At that point, I should be wallowing in free time. Applications will be done, and all that will need to be done on that front is wait. Kelly and I have been living together since we graduated from college, so no major changes there aside from title(except that we'll have some fun new toys to play with!). And, of course, we'll be done with the champion vacuum of free-time: the holidays.
My goal is to redesign this site (the yellow on black gets a bit old, eh? I'm also dying to try out the movable type thing...) and return to posting full-force by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around. As the presidential election heats up I know I'll be brimming with shit to say about everything, and in late summer I'll be starting grad school (fingers crossed) in either Applied Politics or Public Policy (hopefully in DC). I'm really excited about the blogging I'll be able to do in that environment.
So with that, it's back to the grind, but I wanted to let my handful of loyal readers know what the hell's going on, and hopefully get you a bit excited about where this site will be headed in the future. Happy Holidays!
:: Mike D 8:26 AM [+] ::
:: Mike D 1:46 PM [+] ::