Archive for Music

(the obligatory) Best Of ’08

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by amson

It’s a little late but still apropos to the flipping of the calendar.  Here’s my “best of” list for 2008- I’ll cover my favorite music, TV, books, podcasts, movies, and games of the past year:

Best Music/ Album/ CD of 2008

For Emma, Forever Ago

For Emma, Forever Ago

This was an easy pick for me, which is unusual because I normally don’t settle on one album very easily.  The irony of this pick is that the album was released in 2007 by an independent label and then re-released in February 2008 “to the masses”.  After several listens I pretty much had decided that it would take an opus from a contender to knock this album from the spot of my favorite of 2008.

And that album is:

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

This unknown artist took me completely by surprise last winter.  I had heard several clips of these songs through the All Songs Considered Blog written by Bob Boilen at NPR, but until I downloaded the complete album I could have no idea how this collection of finely crafted songs could impact my musical palette.

To generalize, it’s folk music, but it’s a whole hell of a lot more than that.  There’s a haunting aspect of the songs and their feel.  There’s ephemeral moments that I wish would last forever, and at times the lyrics are sung in such a way and with such harmony with the music that I’m almost moved to tears.  No matter how many times I hear these individual moments or the disc as a whole, it never affects me any less.  Bon Iver runs the gamut of emotions here, from soaring moments of seeming exaltation to clear pain and suffering.

This is a lovely album, a powerful album, and a collection that should be heard by all!

Go see the Metacritic entry for this album.

Runners Up for Album of the Year: (in no special order)

Atmosphere- “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Slug & Ant are back, with another solid hip-hop album- this one about being a father… complete with nursery chimes and electric steel slide guitars!  Yep!

John Mellencamp- “Life, Death, Love, Freedom

Mellencamp is quality.  He’s an honest, emotional, and gifted songwriter and storyteller- definitely one of the greatest rockers of all time, and this album helps that claim.

Conor Oberst- “Conor Oberst

His first album minus the “Bright Eyes” moniker.   This is a great romp- with fun singalongs, terrific melodies, and fun chorus’.

My Morning Jacket- “Evil Urges

The Peanut Butter Pudding Surprise does not work perfectly well, but it doesn’t fall on its face either.  The bearded and long haired boys are back and just as musical and energetic as ever.

Okkervil River- “The Stand Ins

A new artist to me, these literate songsmiths are adept musicians and lyricists.  Great melody, fierce satire, and rocking rock songs!

The Mountain Goats- “Heretic Pride

Another more-than-solid effort from John Darnielle (& Co.) that returns the subtle lyricism and gentle guitars that have made them (him) so good for so long!

Best TV Series of the Year (not necessarily aired in 2008, but I watched it in 2008)

The Wire

The Wire

The Wire (HBO)

This show has left a mark upon me.  It’s tainted how I perceive every other television show I watch- quite frankly, nothing else compares.  It’s sad that this show is over, because it was powerful, deep, well acted, intense, well written, inspiring, thought provoking, and so much more…

I don’t know if there’s ever been a villain TV character that has garnered as much love as Omar Little.  I don’t know how much more polarizing a guy like Jimmy McNulty could ever be- sometimes he was loved, and most of the time he was despised by all of those around him (including the audience).  Detective Lester Freamon was a likable guy, one who I think most viewers respected and rooted for.  Even supporting characters were front and center most of the time- with just as powerful and important roles as the “stars”.  I could go on and on… but with this show, “all the pieces matter”!

If you like good television, watch this show!!  I’m not a fan of crime dramas and I don’t watch much actual TV, but this show hooked me from the start.  So sad that it has to be over…

Runners Up for Best TV Series of the year (in no particular order)

Totally Rad Show– (free downoad from Revision 3 or on iTunes) It’s 3 totally rad dudes who review movies, videogames, tv, and comics.  Hilarious, intelligent, informative, and well produced!  If not for The Wire, this could very well have won the top spot- despite the fact that it’s not a “true TV show”!

Fareed Zakaria GPS– a new show on CNN (also available in podcast form) that involves host Fareed Zakaria interviewing politicians both foreign and domestic.  He includes roundtable discussions that reflect a worldly view of politics and global affairs.  I like Mr. Zakaria, he’s a tremendous scholar and more than adequate interviewer.

Firefly– can’t believe I missed this show a few years back.  It’s “sci-fi meets western”.  It’s almost perfect- with great dialogue, cool sci-fi effects and great atmosphere.  There are well done and well reasoned action scenes, great characters, and an interesting and easy to follow storyline.

Best Book of 2008

The Post American World

The Post American World

(I have a confession to make- as far as book reading went, it was a slow year for me in 2008.  I only read 3 full books.  I think I spent a lot of time paying attention and reading about the election, the economic crisis, preparing myself to say good riddance to GW, and also played more video games this fall than usual…)

The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria

By no means am I an expert on foreign relations, foreign economic policy, globalization, emerging national powers, or history.  But I will state this- Fareed Zakaria is brilliant!  In this amazing book, he lays out the foundation for what this planet will look and feel like once American domination in world affairs plateaus or recedes.  His anecdotes and explanations are surprisingly tangible, informative, interesting, and powerful.  He knows his stuff- that’s for damn sure.  And he knows how to convey this new way of thinking in a digestible manner.  I know one thing, America better get itself together or China, India, Brazil, and others are more than ready to take our place as preeminent world power. (Note: Zakaria makes this list twice, the only person/ thing that can claim such status this year!!)

Runners Up for Best Book of 2008

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Weather you’re for or against Obama, this is a worthy and insightful look into him as a person as well as a politician.  (Read my review from late 2008)

Moyers On Democracy by Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is one of my favorite and most respected political/ social commentators.  His book is a collection of speeches and addresses he’s given over the years- and while it is very good, it can tend to be a bit repetitive.  Very good!

Hot, Flat, & Crowded by Thomas Friedman (I haven’t read this yet, but Friedman is one of my favorite authors and columnists, so I’d be surprised if this book were to disappoint me.)

Best Podcast(s) of 2008 (No clear Winner for’08)

I listen to many  podcasts each week, and the simplest way to judge my favorites seems to be to select those which I “skip” the least.  In other words, some days I find myself not necessarily wanting to listen to a particular show.  I’ve listed those from my listening routine that I skip the least…

Slate’s Political Gabfest– Emily Bazelon, John Dickeson, and David Plotz do a terrific job of summarizing the previous weeks political news.  There’s always good insight, intelligent humor, great discussion and argument, and even lighthearted “cocktail chatter”!

NPR’s All Songs Considered– I love NPR.  Bob Boilen is a great music commentator.  They play great new music.  What more is there to like!?

Xbox Live’s Major Nelson Radio– Larry Hyrb (gamertag: Major Nelson) works for Microsoft on the Xbox Live team.  He shares weekly updates and information about Xbox games and news.  Perfect!

NPR’s It’s All Politics– Ken Rudin and Ron Elving talk about the week’s political news.  It’s humorous, short, and well informed.  Must not miss!

FORA.tv Audio Program of the Week– Fora.tv is a great sight to watch seminars, speeches, panel discussions and other educational events from such institutions as The Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, and C-SPAN.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by what I can learn here…

On The Media– A program from radio station WNYC that offers great news and information from the world of media- such as reports on how media affects society, how it is consumed and delivered, as well as discussions of past, present, and future media relations and anecdotes.  Oh, “and edited by Brooke…”

Best Movie of 2008

(Another disclaimer: I don’t watch a lot of movies.  I didn’t watch many in 2008 that were actually released in 2008.  Because of this, I’m going to list two movies- neither was necessarily released in 2008.  Sorry.)

The Visitor

The Visitor

The Visitor– a good story about 3 strangers who live together and become friends despite the fact that 2 of them have a secret… (I’m not interested in spoiling)  It’s a story filled with emotion and uplifting feelings.

Outsourced

Outsourced

Outsourced- a story about a telephone product salesman who finds that his job has been outsourced.  He is sent to India to train his replacements and finds more than he expected in this foreign land.  I loved this movie- it seemed to be an accurate representation of the situation and India in general.  A very warm film with many appealing qualities.

Best Video Game of 2008

Fable II

Fable II

Fable II– a fun adventure/ RPG game that has you assume the role of a small boy in search of the evil that killed his sister.  Your actions matter- the way you communicate and interact with people and the world all have an affect on the way the game plays out.  In the end, to be good or to be evil isn’t the only question however…  it’s more about how to achieve your goals while balancing that good/ evil perception.  Fun, deep, and engrossing, there wasn’t another game in 2008 that engulfed me quite like Fable II.  It’s not perfect- I wish there was a more in depth communication method with fellow citizens and your family, and I wish the story didn’t feel so short.  In the end however, the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot here.

Runners Up for Best Video Game of 2008

Call of Duty: World at War– this game could have won the award, but the story mode just wasn’t as engrossing as I would have liked.  The very strong multiplayer has kept this game in my tray for a long while now.

Little Big Planet– if I told you that in 2008 a platform game a la Mario or Zelda would make my list for best games of the year, you’d probably think I was in some sort of time warp.  Well, there’s no time warp, but yes a “platformer” made this list.  Little Big Planet is revolutionary, it’s going to change the gaming landscape in so many ways…  believe it!  And Sack Boy is so damn cute!

Grand Theft Auto IV– probably the most highly anticipated game in a long time, and it did a fairly good job of living up to the hype.  At the end of the day however, I just get sick of the stupid driving, chasing, and racing missions.  Isn’t there any other way to unfurl the story…?  You listening Rockstar?

Dead Space– a newcomer to the games lineup, this was a great surprise for many gamers in ’08.  Survival Horror isn’t quite my thing, so it loses points there, but it’s a very well executed game that tells a very compelling story.

MLB ’08: The Show– there isn’t a sports game that compares to the MLB: The Show series.  It’s got realistic simulation down almost flawlessly, and does so many things that stand out.  If it weren’t for the fact that my interest for sports games ebbs and flows with the relevant season, this game may have taken top honors.

So there ya have it- my favorites of ’08!

Let me know if you agree or disagree, or if you want to have a conversation about it all.

Thanks for reading…

Peace

AM Son

RIP Leroi Moore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 20, 2008 by amson

Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Leroi Moore passed away unexpectedly yesterday due to complications from an accident he suffered in June.  As a fan of the band, he will be immensely missed by myself and many millions more.

Here’s the official site report:

LEROI MOORE 1961-2008

08/19/2008

We are deeply saddened that LeRoi Moore, saxophonist and founding member of Dave Matthews Band, died unexpectedly Tuesday afternoon, August 19, 2008, at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles from sudden complications stemming from his June ATV accident on his farm near Charlottesville, Virginia. LeRoi had recently returned to his Los Angeles home to begin an intensive physical rehabilitation program.

Peace

AM Son

Free=Good in ’07

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 27, 2008 by amson

In the past year there were several albums released for free (legally) or for minimal costs to the user. A novel idea? Maybe? A profitable idea? Probably not? A good idea? I think most definitely so!

In an age of illegal music downloading and lawsuits against those involved in the pirating of music- it’s comforting to know that there are visionary artists and labels out there willing to transcend the establishment and break down the archetype in favor of spreading music! Many bands can offer free or discounted albums because they make most of their profit from touring and merchandise sales- so spreading their music is basically free advertising!

So why do I care about free or low cost albums (other then the obvious)? Well, it just so happens that in 2007 the albums I obtained for free or for a reduced cost were all vying for top honors in my “best album” list. Yes, you read that correctly- they all were solid efforts- which dispels the theory that free music is cast-away sort of stuff or cutting room floor material. These albums aren’t just free music to satiate a devoted fanbase, it’s honest to goodness top flight music!

Big Head Todd & the Monsters– “All the Love You Need”

-Big Head Todd mailed actual copies of this album to mailing list members and radio stations- hoping to spread the word and garner interest. Everyone else can download the album for free at their website. They were sponsored by a few companies in this endeavor- including Croc (Soles United) as well as Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The album is still free- and as far as I can tell it will always be free. In my opinion, this album is classic Big Head Todd. It’s great roots type rock music- with great craftsmanship in the writing as well as the playing. For me, this collection of songs was a strong contender for album of the year!

Saul Williams- “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust”

Poet/ rapper/ actor/ writer Saul Williams released this album with options- pay either $5 or $0 for the download of the music. I paid nothing- and after hearing the album wished I had contributed! Admittedly, it’s a strange blend of hip-hop, slam poetry, and (due to Trent Reznor production) hard hitting metal noises…. but it’s a surprisingly good take on Saul’s disjointed, frenetic, and blunt style of art!

Atmosphere-“Strictly Leakage

One of my favorite rap duos, Atmosphere, have never been known to follow anyone’s lead or compromise themselves, their personality, or their art. That is why they surprised their fans with a FREE treat called “Strictly Leakage”. I found out about this album download a tad too late (2008) which removed it from consideration for top honors in 2007. Having said that, when one album is packed with tracks like “The Things that Hate Us”, “Get it to Get Her”, “Domestic Dog”, and “You Played Yourself”, it has got to be considered among the very best. To make matters even more exciting, Atmosphere is going to release an official new studio album on April 22- it just doesn’t get any more exciting for fans of the Rhymesayers or MinneSNOWta hip hop!!

Radiohead- “In Rainbows

I do not own this album- I kind of slept on this download, and when I came to my senses it was no longer available. This was the talk and buzz of entertainment circles for most of the last 6 months or so. Radiohead has always been known as a trailblazer- not only in their musical style but also in how they present themselves to the world. Radiohead, like Williams, gave fans the option of what they wanted to pay. Only this time, they let you decide just exactly how much to contribute. So, if desired, the album download could be had for $0.00. I like their style, but can’t comment on the actual music here- although it’s been reviewed quite favorably all over the place!

There were other free or reduced album releases in 2007- I’m fairly confident of that. These are the gems that happened to cross my path- and I’m sure glad they did. I hope this trend continues…

Peace

AM Son

Once

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 25, 2008 by amson

Once

Move over “Michael Clayton“- you’ve been bumped from the top spot. And the film to credit for this feat is- “Once“! (IMDb entry)
You’ve probably not heard of this (musical) movie, and if not for the fact that it stars one of my favorite musician/ songwriters I probably would never have heard of it either.

Yes, you read that correctly- I called the film a “musical”. However, it’s not a musical in the “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Phantom of the Opera”, or “Rent” sort of way, it’s more of a modern “folk/ rock musical”. The main male character is Glen Hansard– lead singer and front man for the Irish rock/ roots band “The Frames“, while the lead female character is Marketa Irglová– a Czech singer/ songwriter. Being that these two are first and foremost musicians and not actors, the film takes on a real and authentic quality rarely seen in movies nowadays. There’s a sense of urgency to the characters- the songs they perform infuse a fresh dose of reality into an already grounded and pedestrian atmosphere. Basically, when watching this movie one feels as if the lead characters could be anybody- even me or you.

The basic premise of the film is simple- ordinary guy meets ordinary girl, they find out they share a love for music, and through their shared love of music come closer together and discover that each other has a secret passion…. (I won’t spoil the whole movie!).

Neither character has a specified name- whereas Glen Hansard is listed as “Guy” in the credits, and Marketa Irglová listed simply as “Girl”. They never address each other directly either, which leads to an ordinary kind of vibe all the way through the movie. Guy is a street musician (busker) and vacuum repair man (which leads to one of the funniest movie moments of the year) and Girl is a house cleaner. They have an awkward sort of relationship- one which borders on the romantic side while still staying grounded in the acquaintance mold. Neither seems comfortable in their current situation- weather it be professional or personal, but each seems to find strength from one another in order to make the changes they’ve been longing to see in themselves. What’s interesting throughout this movie is how the manner in which the characters interact becomes the driving force for how the viewer plots the outcome in their own head- whereas most dramas set a plot and lead you in a certain direction, this film lets your own perception of each characters actions lead you down your own self prescribed path. I enjoyed the feel this gave the movie… almost as if it could be my own life playing out in parts- I’d try and make decisions for the movie based on what seemed to be important or impending in my own mind.

All in all, I cannot say enough about this movie. The setting is beautiful- and how could it not be- it’s Dublin! The characters are beautifully intertwined with each others insecurities and misgivings. The music is mostly that of Hansards solo work or from his band The Frames- which alone is incredible- but made even more powerful through the collaboration of Hansard and Irglová. They compliment each other wonderfully- neither displays any pretense or celebrity- and thusly their styles mesh and empower perfectly. In addition to the music being so wonderful is the fact that it does, in many instances, drive the storyline while adding emotion, elegance, and credence to the overall plot.

I could go on and on about this movie- but I doubt anyone would wish for that. So, I’ll just wrap up my thoughts into this concise statement:
If you like good great music and a good great story with good great performances, go rent this movie soon now!!

So, what does all the aforementioned stuff mean? It all adds up to mean “Once” was my favorite movie of 2007- and in turn it has a nice spot in my top 10 movies of all time. YEAH!

Peace

AM
Son

Top 10 Tracks of ’07

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2008 by amson

Here’s my top 10 songs from 2007: (not in any certain order)

“Green Gloves”- The National
– a slow, pensive, and creepy account of a guy walking around his friends house with green gloves on- while they’re not home. Just awesome atmosphere, lyrics, and music here!

“All the Love You Need”- Big Head Todd & the Monsters
– maybe one of the best songs BHT has ever written! Awesome and engaging chorus, nice message, and catchy as heck!

“Impossible Germany”- Wilco
– maybe one of Wilco’s best songs ever too! The chorus draws you in the first time you hear it, and Wilco doesn’t forget to add some guitar freestyling and showmanship in the middle of the song too!

“Two”- Ryan Adams
– when not acting out or becoming lost in his own ethereal world, Mr. Adams has a penchant for writing smooth and beautiful songs- to which “Two” shines through as one of his best.

“Mind’s Made Up”- Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
– a song about friendship and support- with a power and beauty all it’s own. Great performance of a “Frames” song- and a GREAT movie to boot!

“The Underdog”- Spoon
– a fun tune about life- I think! a little Billy Joel-esque!

“Right Moves”- Josh Ritter
-brooding over past romance maybe? Feeling lost in love? Possibly, but either way this is a great song.

“Body Baby”- Pharoahe Monch
definitely the most fun and “danceable” (haha, even though I don’t) song on the list.

“Ode to LRC”- Band of Horses
– I reviewed this puppy in my Album of the Year post a few days ago!

“A Bottle of Buckie”- Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
– I have absolutely no clue what this one’s all about, but I just love it! Ted Leo’s always got a message he’s trying to pound home, but here I just don’t know… haha.

Honorable Mention:
it was tough to pick just 10, so I’ll stretch the concept a bit here!

“Fake Empire”- The National
– it was tough to pick just one from this GREAT alnum- and “Fake Empire” was first runner up here.

“Falling Slowly”- Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
– I’ll echo the sentiments from above ^^^^ – this album was awesome!

“Halloweenhead”- Ryan Adams
– if not for “Body Baby”, here’s the most fun song of the year- a bit wacky- yes indeed!!

“Set Me Up”- Shane Nicholson
– cool little pop love song. It’s a little too simple to win outright, but it’s still got teeth and is solid overall.

“Is There a Ghost”- Band of Horses
– I’ll make it 3 times under the “great album, can’t pick just one” sentiment from above^^!

In a year full of awesome music, it’s tough to pick 10 songs… but I’ve tried my best.
Anyone agree with any of the selections? Either way, go check out some of these albums and tunes!

Peace
AM Son