Archive for January, 2010

Hype.  Intrigue. Curiosity.  There are many ways to go about describing the emotions that surround the propulsion of a young athlete into the national consciousness.  Last night, baseball’s newest phenom Bryce Harper took to the stage in his first collegiate contest, nationally televised on ESPNU. Not even 18, Harper has found himself on screens in bars and homes around the country for the better part of the last two years. 

The debut couldn’t have happened at a better time for baseball junkies such as myself, as it gives us something to salivate over in the winter months that doesn’t involve contracts, fan fests or illegal streams of Venezuelan baseball.

I contemplated how I should commemorate the moment.  First stop was Wikipedia.  I needed to know why a hot-shot phenom would go to some “no name” JUCO.  But finding out that the College of Southern Nevada was in fact an NJCAA powerhouse wasn’t enough.  Next stop was YouTube, where I watched a couple videos, including the ten minute ESPN feature from a few months back.  Again, the beast could not be sated.  I decided just knowing about the man, the myth, the legend in the making wasn’t enough.  No, I had to take it one step further.  To I went.

It was at this point that I realized the absurdity of it all.  Here it was, not even 3/4 of the way through this kid’s FIRST collegiate game and I was gonna go and buy his school’s cap?  Not just any ‘ol Division one lid either.   This was an NJCAA school we were talking about.  It’s engrained in our American DNA the desire to be first, to know something before everyone else, to be the guy that gets the inside joke.  I didn’t really want the cap anymore than high school kids really need a new pair of Air Jordans.  What I really wanted was to be able to tell my baseball buddies “Yeah, I BEEN had that hat.  What rock have you been living under?!?”

I got a feeling Bryce Harper is going to have a fine career, at least, by the standards of the average major leaguer.  But to go ahead and even anoint him as the next Matt Weiters would be an awfully large stretch.  Maybe the fans, scouts, writers and networks can take their/our feet off of the gas a bit and give Mr. Harper a chance to earn the headlines and the airtime.  Heck, even the cap purchases.

The fun starts at around the 4 minute mark.


2009 has gone into the record books as the year of redefined “pop” music.  No longer is it reserved for those who prefer music that lacks substance or for those who list their favorite songs as whatever the pop radio station plays.  Quality pop music reared its head all over the musical landscape from bands like Cobra Starship, La Roux and Passion Pit to solo artists such as Kid Cudi and Lily Allen. 

So it’s only fitting that this year’s Song of the Year be awarded to……………….. an Alternative Rock band. 

“Panic Switch”, Silversun Pickups, 2009 Song of the Year

Epic.  That’s what I’d use to describe “Panic Switch” in one word.  Everything about the song seems big.  The emotions and how they swing from verse to chorus and back again.  The lyrics and how lead singer Brian Aubert makes you feel like there’s almost too much to take.  All this passion and emotion condenses in the first two verses, leading you to the bridge, where the most appropriate release imaginable occurs.  To listen to this song and to get this song is to feel the release with them.  Your emotional breakdown is theirs.  Theirs is yours.  I believe the best music has the ability to physically affect you, to creep inside of your head and for five minutes make you a part of the journey.  It is that quality that vaults “Panic Switch” into the same realm as “Teen Spirit”, “The Distance”, and “We’re All to Blame”.  Panic Switch isn’t just the best song of 2009, its one the very best songs of the last ten years.

And now, the rest of the top 17:

 “3 AM”, Eminem
 “Medicate”, AFI “If Rap Gets Jealous”, K’Naan
 “There’s No Secrets This Year”, Silversun Pickups
 “Kingdom of Rust”, The Doves
 “I’m Not Your Toy”, La Roux
 “Black Heart Inertia”, Incubus
 “The Reeling”, Passion Pit
 “Isis Unveiled”, ….And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
 “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez”, The Arkells
 “Know By Now”, People In Planes
 “Rusted From the Rain”, Billy Talent
 “How I Got Over”, The Roots
 “Where Did All The Love Go?”, Kasabian
 “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake”, The Sounds
 “Dirtee Cash”, Dizzee Rascal

I wanna thank everyone who actually looked forward to this and to everyone who’s been inspired to go and download some of this stuff.  It was a great year for music, a ton of cool shit, and I absolutely can’t wait to do it again! 

Oh, what’s that you said?  There’s a new Vampire Weekend record out?  Yeah, 2010’s already off on the right foot!

Don’t forget, (well, you didn’t really know) in approximately one month we’ll go over the best of the decade in nearly every category imaginable.  The last ten years began with Creed and ended with the Silversun Pickps, but I’m gonna back and reminisce about what happened in between.  Stay tuned!

Concept albums are generally a good idea.  When a band or artist lacks inspiration or their current act has gotten stale it’s an awfully great crutch to fall back on.  It allows them to create a series of characters and focus only on telling stories revolving around that group.  There’s no need to differentiate from what they do best since the nature of the concept album allows the artist to repeatedly touch on similar themes throughout the disc.
Enter Eminem, 2007 edition. 
Coming off of a fairly serious drug addiciton, Eminem reached that point in a star’s career where he can either: keep doing the same old thing, falling behind the times, thus making himself irrelevant; or, he could try something new, or slightly innovative and hope that the avant garde style that brought him to prominence had one more lap in the gas tank. 
After nearly two years of work, 2009’s “Relapse” is a bit of both those ideas.  It’s still Mr. Mathers, it’s still over the top, still shocking, but this time he dials in as his alter ego “Slim Shady” from the jump and never takes the character’s hands from off the steering wheel.  He uses the idea of the concept album to parallel the addiction and subsequent rehab of “Slim Shady” against the one he experienced in his own life.  What ensues is a journey of enlightenment into the things that helped produce an individual who advocates raping drunk 15 year olds, and who aspires to murder celebrities.  (Shady takes one last dig at Christopher Reeves, promises Nick Cannon a beatdown and he even asks Lindsey Lohan to call the cops because someone is breaking into her home and he hasn’t had chance to finish murdering her yet.) 
Underneath the hood of all of this questionable lyrical content is the thing that makes me feel guilty for liking the album so much: the music.  Dr. Dre has once again done what Dr. Dre so easily does.  He’s made half of a record, immaculate in it’s production and handed over the reigns to Mr. Mathers to say and do what he pleases on top of it.  Any one of these songs could be a groovy, funk laden instrumental, but Eminem finds a way to contort the rhythms into the sickest rhymes imaginable, giving seemingly “windows down, bass up” music a very “holy crap, I don’t want people to know I like this” kind of vibe.
Eminem may not have actually relapsed after his rehab in the same manner as his alter ego, but it feels like so much of his brain and emotion were left all over this record.  The passion that he showed at the beginning of the decade seems to have returned, in a slightly different, more adult form.  Only question is, has America grown up with him?

“3 a.m.”, Eminem

Taken out of context it’s reasonable to assume that someone listening to “3 am” for the first time could dismiss it as crude, crass and classless.  But snap judgments such as that are what mask our society’s most beautiful things.

The song walks you into the mind of Eminem’s alter ego “Slim Shady”, a fragile individual recently released form rehab, who’s probably better suited for a few more months locked away, this time in a psych ward.  The song is more than just a four minute shock fest, as it and the intro that comes prior deal with the hasty nature with which some disturbed individuals are pushed back into society.

Pure and simple, above all else, it’s just a clever song.  The wordplay may deal with murder, masturbation and public execution, but there isn’t any other artist that could deliver this type of content with any sort of conviction. “3 am” is THE concept song on THE concept album of 2009.

I came up with the idea for these awards because year in, year out there were tracks that didn’t have a true home.  Very enjoyable songs that didn’t quite belong in the regular “Song of the Year” competition.  For a thorough explanation of what each of these awards are for, click here.
And now, onto this year’s winners.
Funniest Song
It’s extremely difficult for me to shake my rep as a “petulant middle schooler” when I continue to be amused by jokes about fucking mermaids, riding dolphins and drinking awful champagne made by Carlos Santana.  But here we are, for the second year in a row awarding Andy Samberg and his crew with the funniest song of the year.
Off of their debut album “Incredibad”, The Lonely Island has found their stride.  Three nerdy white guys who know they’re nerdy white guys who knowingly do a poor job of acting tough, cool and hip.  “I’m On A Boat” lampoons mainstream rap with such precision that one could actually play this song at full blast and fool true rap fans into nodding their heads and singing along.  A joke so good that people start to take it seriously?  Yeah, that’s good enough for The Lonely Island to win their second straight “Funniest Song of the Year” award.
Song of the Summer
“I’ve got those lovesick blues and I feel it more than ever”
The opening guitar strings. the opening line, the overall tone.  Everything about this song screamed summertime.  The fleeting romances, broken apart by the end of sunshine, by the obligations of adulthood, by the realization that the fling you thought had enough gas for the future was running on fumes well before labor day, “Let Down” perfectly encapsulates all of those feelings and will forever be my reminder of how the last summer of the decade felt.
The 18th Song Award
Make no mistake about it, this is not a minor award.  I don’t hand this one out lightly.  It’s not just awarded to the best undiscovered track from the previous year, but also to a song that could have legitimately won “Song of the Year”.
“Time To Pretend” is the opening song from MGMT‘s critically accalimed “Oracular Spectacular”.  In a sense the song is about the entirety of the album.  It deals with dreams of excess and the realization that these dreams don’t equal happiness.  The band spends the rest of the album navigating these emotions, but it is in the opening four minutes that you get them thrown at you, seemingly all at once.  The electronic dance rock movement that has seen the rise of groups such as Digitalism and La Roux owes a great deal of any future notoriety to the band that crafted 2008’s best hidden gem.

Sorry for the delay folks, let’s get down to business!

The “Best New Artist” award is given to the band or individual who, in the year of their debut LP’s release, shows not just exemplary talent but also a willingness and ability to present something entirely new to the musical landscape.  Think Lupe or the Arctic Monkeys in 06, or Eminem in 1999.  It isn’t enough to just have 12 good tracks, the tracks should separate the artist from nearly everything their genre has produced in recent years.

This year that honor goes to Passion Pit, who dropped their debut album Manners in 2009.  

Michael Angelako originally formed the group in 2007 in an effort to produce a few tracks to present to his girlfriend on Valentine’s day.  In the two years since, the group that came to be know as Passion Pit has gone from selling that disc for $4 dollars a piece on his college campus to creating tracks like “Moth’s Wings” that even John Mayer says is “one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time.”
The music is a blend of electronic, dance rock, and even a little bit of disco.  I hear Los Campesinos, The Bee Gees and MGMT converge onto one disc and at times I wonder if I should be upset that one band has “stolen” all these styles, or should the fact that their imitation has gone several steps beyond cheap flattery be the lasting legacy of “Manners”?  
I choose the latter.  Passion Pit did not reinvent pop music, but their innovation stands like a beacon in the middle of the ocean, a single, distant light in the far off desert, waiting for others to arrive.