I can't complain but sometimes I still do
Friday, July 14, 2006
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Best CDs of the half-year
I am a degenerate pop culture list maker. I realized it back when I saw “High Fidelity” and caught myself making lists with John Cusack and Jack Black. (“Top Five Side-One First Tracks? Well, there’s “Baba O’Riley,” of course. And “Where the Streets Have No Name.” How about “Leave Them All Behind” from Ride’s “Going Blank Again”?)
I’m already working on my best CDs of 2006 list. Yes, I know it’s only July but you can’t be too prepared. Some of my top candidates include: Belle & Sebastian’s “The Life Pursuit,” Bruce Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” The Secret Machines’ “Ten Silver Drops,” Van Hunt’s “On the Jungle Floor,” The Coup’s “Pick a Bigger Weapon” and Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser.”
Here is my top five of the half-year in no particular order (well, except for the last one):
Mylo, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll”: The most addictive album I have heard so far this year, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll” also features the half-year’s catchiest song, “In My Arms,” a delirious dance-pop confection built on an irresistable sample from Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Described as “dance music for dummies” by indie music Bible Pitchfork.com, “Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll” might sound familiar to fans of Air, Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx. Mylo borrows liberally for all three and I’m sure many more electronic artists I’m not familiar with. (I’m one of the dance music dummies.) I know this should bother me, but my ears just don’t care.
Sam Roberts, “Chemical City”: I’m hopeful radio will eventually discover Canadian singer/songwriter Sam Roberts and his sophomore album, “Chemical City,” a pop-rock record packed with songs so likeably straightforward you can’t imagine anyone, not even taste challenged Nickelback fans, not liking them.
Then again, Roberts wouldn’t be the first shoulda-been star radio ignored. He wouldn’t even be the 200th. But in case the powers that be are reading, here’s a suggested spin: “With a Bullet.” I have listened to this mid-tempo rocker exactly 73 times, and still haven’t tired of it. Sounds like a radio hit to me.
Gnarls Barkley, “St. Elsewhere”: Speaking of radio hits, “Crazy” is shaping up to be one of the biggest of the year. When I first heard “Crazy” several months ago, I didn’t think radio would embrace it. Sure, DJ Danger Mouse’s soulful spin on speghetti western music quickly burrows in your brain. But rapper Cee-Lo sounded too deranged for the mainstream spotlight.
What a pleasant surprise I was wrong. Not about the slightly unhinged eccentricity of Gnarls Barkley, which is obvious on the rest of the group’s debut “St. Elsewhere,” but the mainstream’s willingness to be subverted every now and then.
Cat Power, “The Greatest”: Chan Marshall’s latest came out in January, which seems like an eternity from the humid armpit that is Wisconsin in July. But the sexy-sad soul of “The Greatest” was so stunning upon first listen I knew the CD would stick with me for all of 2006.
Coming on like Dusty Springfield in her “Son of a Preacher Man” phase, Cat Power sounds supremely confident on “The Greatest,” strange praise for an artist known for scribbling songs that read like depressing journal entries. Of course, if you wrote songs as memorable as “Living Proof” and “Could We,” you would be confident, too.
I like all these albums a lot, but the only album I LOVE so far this year is “Rabbit Fur Coat” by Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins. A former child actor (she appeared in the forgettable Shelly Long comedy “Troop Beverly Hills”) and lead singer for indie rock band Rilo Kiley, Lewis has a knockout voice and writes indelible country-soul songs that sound like late night conversations at the after-bar, full of too many words articulating too many big ideas inspired by too much alcohol. “Rise Up With Fists!!”, the album’s best song and my favorite of the half-year, is nothing less than a summation on the meaning of life. (“There but for the grace of God go I,” just in case you wanted to know.) It’s to Lewis’ credit that “Rabbit Fur Coat” sounds as good the morning after as it does at closing time.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
"Entourage" is kinda of a big deal
For some reason I'm sucked into the latest season of "Entourage," HBO's lightweight half-hour sitcom that airs Sunday nights. I don't get why I watch this show. I guess I like it, even if I don't find it all that funny or compelling.
If you haven't seen "Entourage," it's about a hunky actor named Vince Chase and his three mookish New York pals running amok in Hollywood and enjoying the spoils of celebrity. And that's about it. None of that dark side of fame junk here. "Entourage" might be the most willfully shallow TV show not associated with Aaron Spelling (RIP) ever. Whenever a plot seems to be veering toward something mildly dramatic, it takes a quick turn toward happy-go-lucky back-slapping. By the end of every episode, you're sure to see Vince and his pals in a hot tub, drinking expensive champagne and beaming at the camera, and basically being all "This fame and fortune thing rocks!" What can I say? "Entourage" might be crap, but it's an entertaining way to spend 30 minutes not thinking.
Anyway, "Entourage" has a disproportionate (in terms of its quality and importance) amount of media coverage, praise and pop culture clout. Dig this story about a CNBC anchor who apparently thinks Vince's fictional blockbuster, "Aquaman," is a real movie.
JUST like Ron Burgundy, the lead character in "Anchorman," it seems CNBC anchor Joe Kernan will say anything that's on the teleprompter. Monday afternoon, while doing a roundup of the weekend's box office, Kernan said: "Disney was the big winner . . . 'Pirates' plunders the box office, making $132 million in its first three days at the box office. The previous three-day record was 'Aquaman' at $120-plus, which beat out the 115 million which was set back by 'Spider-Man' back in May of '02.' " Unfortunately, there has been no "Aquaman" movie - except in episodes of HBO's "Entourage." A rep for CNBC didn't return calls.
Celebrity blog Defamer points out that "Aquaman" actually grossed $116.8 million, so CNBC couldn't even get the fictional truth right. At any rate, this is the funniest thing to come out of "Entourage" yet.
If we can make it Fox City, we can make it anywhere
In 1953, the late, great Post-Crescent publisher V.I. Minahan coined the phrase “Fox Cities” in an editorial to describe the cities, towns and villages located along the Fox River. He wanted readers to think of themselves not as a bunch of dinky little communities but a unified metropolitan area.
Fifty-three years later “Fox Cities” is still around. With a name as cool-sounding as V.I. Minahan, the man was destined to be good at naming things. (He also was destined to star in a primetime TV show about a wisecracking private detective, “P.I. V.I.,” but apparently that never panned out.) Still, I think it would have been even better if Minahan went with the name he originally he want to use, Foxy McWiscoFoxiness. Now that’s catchy. (And a joke. Because that’s what I do.)
Here’s the thing about Fox Cities: The phrase doesn’t work. I grew up in Appleton and have lived most of my life here. If I think about driving to Neenah, which is about 10 minutes from my apartment, it seems like a major undertaking that requires commissioning a steamship and hiring a crew of loyal crewmates. As long as I avoid storms and pirates, I can make it there in about three weeks, I reckon.
Meanwhile, if I think about driving to my mother’s house on the other side of town, which is about 15 mintues from my apartment, it’s nothing. That’s because it’s still Appleton, my hood. It’s like there is an invisible mote surrounding the city limits.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. This is a very provincial area. The borders between places like Little Chute, Kaukauna and Kimberly are as clear as the separation between peanut butter and jelly on white bread. But don’t tell that to the people who live there. They know where they live, they are proud of it, and they probably know a good joke or two about the people from neighboring towns.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be proud of where you are from or to be protective of your small town tradition. But Minahan had a good point 53 years ago: Thinking of ourselves as a single metropolis is a good marketing move that gives us greater standing in the state.
So, in the tradition of Post-Crescent writers coining phrases for the area, I am picking up Minahan’s torch and tweaking his idea just a lbit. Instead of Fox Cities, I propose calling the area (and I’m bolding this so nobody misses it) Fox City.
Doesn’t that sound cool? Not to mention more singular? That’s the point. Instead of saying we are a bunch of towns bundled together, I say we band together to form a solitary entity.
Read more in my Under 30 column on Friday.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Does July kick Cupid's butt?
Something strange is going on this month. I know four people who have broken up with significant others in the past week. I know this is probably a coincidence, but maybe not. One of the biggest break-ups of my life happened in July five years ago. Is this month a no-love zone?
Maybe there's something about the dog days of summer that makes people romantically restless. Or irritable. Then again, summer is supposed to get the blood flowing and speed up amorousness, so I don't know.
Anybody else out there experiencing romantic woe or seeing mass romantic woe around him/her?
Monday, July 10, 2006
Here is a story I wrote about local bands that got their start playing churches and religious festivals like Lifest.
I'm pretty happy with how it turned out and the feedback I have gotten thus far has been positive. It's always dicey writing about anything related to religion because people are very sensitive about it. And some of the musicians I talked to very pretty critical of the Christian rock scene. Anyway, I worked hard to give an honest, truthful account of (what I think is) a fascinating subculture.
A first-person account from a Screech stalker
I wrote a column a few weeks ago about not wanting to meet my idols because it seems potentially weird, awkward and disappointing. My friend Tom Roz does not share this philosophy. Last weekend he tracked down Dustin "Screech" Diamond's Port Washington address and bumrushed his suburban house.
If you click the link, you'll see that Tom goes on forever about the experience, even though he didn't actually meet Screech. Tom is a "Saved By the Bell" freak. We have this ongoing argument over whether the show is legitimately funny. He swears there are moments where the writers were clever. I maintain that if not for the existence of irony and marijuana, there's no way "SBTB" would be on DVD.
Anyway, here's my favorite part of the post where Tom talks about meeting Screech's Kato Kaelin-like houseguest in the driveway.
Kato somewhat awkwardly responded that it was the Screechmeister's humble pad and I let him know of our interest in buying two T-shirts. Scott and I could sense his hesitancy, but ultimately he was polite and said "sure." I then asked if Dustin was home, to which he responded rather quickly "no." For the record, I believe this to be the case, and frankly, the encounter was rather anti-climactic considering we were now dealing with a middleman, not the actual Samuel "Screech" Powers. Had Kevin the Robot been present, I would have perked up considerably ... but I digress. Our new friend then asked our sizes, got us two T-shirts and we proceeded to get our picture taken in front of the house on our way back to Corey's car. I apologized for any potential rudeness for ambushing the mystery houseguest in Screech's driveway, and he actually laughed, which still has me baffled as to whether we are one of the first tag-teams to approach the T-shirt sale in this guerilla fashion.
Yes, Tom did make a Kevin the Robot reference, which means his "SBTB" fandom has officially gone from "cute" to "uncomfortable."