Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Music Review 2K10

It's been an interesting year. The Cardinals underperformed and I really am tired of LaRussa's genius. In June, I moved in with a friend. It's a great house, but it increased my work day drive time by more than double. While that has increased my car fuel costs, I also have a lot more time to listen to and think about music. I can nearly get through complete albums in one morning. Some albums I do. Rather than ranking albums this year, I wanted to give a little more detail on how I feel about some albums. This list isn't comprehensive, but what is?

Best Album For Your Inner Teenage Punk:  RVIVR -- LP.
This LP had some of the best hooks I've heard this year. The dual vocals between Matt Canino and Erica Freas create a great atmosphere. The lyrics are simple and, although the songwriters are at least in their mid-20s, have an innocent and idealistic quality to them. This can be distracting if you're looking for something more substantial than "everybody's talking shit/you get used to it/we float on and on and on/." That said, I can see this album being very reassuring to a young, disillusioned punk looking for a band that knows what they are going through. RVIVR also released the Dirty Water EP this year. Of the few listens I've given it, it's pretty damn good, too. All releases are available for free (or donation) at Rumbletowne Records.

Best Album to Get PWNED to: Sleigh Bells -- Treats
TreatsI had heard this album was loud. At first, I kind of brushed off the analysis because being the seasoned veteran I am of loud bands playing loud shows, I had never heard of these guys. My roommate actually bought it. He cued it up in his iPod as we went to some shindig this summer. I'm sure my first reaction to that earsplitting first riff was the same as everyone who hears the album for the first time: WHAT THE FUCK IT THIS? Anyway, it turns out that this album is the perfect soundtrack to play Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty: Black Ops. I've been shot in the head many times as "Crown on the Ground" encourages me to keep going.

Rager Soundtrack of the Year: The Brokedowns -- Species Bender
Species Bender
This is the soundtrack of getting drunk and partying at a show with your buds. Let's not kid ourselves here: a lot of bands do the gritty vocaled Midwest punk thing. But to me, The Brokedowns do it without a lot of frills aka the right way. Quick bursts of yelling. Throw in some fun sing-a-longs. You got a fantastic party album. Red Scare Industries out of Chicago put out this album. They do good work there and this album is no exception. This album is my audio 4 Loko this year.

Anticipated Album from this Year Satisfied Division: Gaslight Anthem -- American Slang
American Slang [+Digital Booklet]Gaslight Anthem has been one of my favorite bands for the past few years now. I've trekked hundreds of miles to catch them live, on numerous occasions. These guys put in their dues and all success they get is earned. American Slang is an improvement over '59 Sound in that it sounds like an album Bandleader Brian Fallon wanted to make. It has a consistent theme and each song highlights that theme in a unique way. Also, no more annoying reverb. I didn't listen to this album very much in the latter half of this year, but after a few recent listens, I can say this album is a strong statement by a great, young band.

Anticipated Album from this Year Disappointed Division: VRGNS -- Manimals
ManimalsBoy, did I really want to like this album. After hearing a few of their songs off of compilations and EPs, I eagerly awaited this release. I preordered the damn vinyl. This band, consisting of former members of New Mexican Disaster Squad, had some high expectations from me, and for the most part, didn't quite meet them. The first track, "Everyone is Weird," is fantastic. Unfortunately, many of the other tracks don't quite reach that success. A lot of them sound like forgettable B-sides.

Best Album to Mash Potato to: Titus Andronicus -- The Monitor
The MonitorSure there are some convoluted themes about the Civil War but it's not actually about the Civil War but about today's political climate, but actually about Patrick Stickles internal conflict. Whatever. This album is fun. Forget the eerie monologues performed by Craig Finn, a lot of these songs about enemies being everywhere and being fucked from the start are just fantastic to beat your steering wheel to or even dance if you're so inclined.

Sad Bastard Album of the Year: Mumford & Sons -- Sigh No More
Sigh No MoreI didn't really know what to expect with this band. I had never heard of them. After a local musician whom I respect told me it was his favorite album of the year, I had to give it a chance. Do you like Avett Bros., but hate when they cut that tension with a sweet love song? Then this album is for you. While I confidently compare the two bands, I will say Mumford & Sons have a little more balls behind their tunes, even if it is one of the most depressing albums I've heard. (Except for the song I picked below. I don't even know any more.)

Best Overall Album of the Year Part 1: Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin -- Let It Sway
Let It SwayI hadn't expected to give this album such praise. They are the local band that has made it (relatively) big (Polyvinyl). I am a moderate fan of their debut, Broom, and was less than enthused with their follow-up, Pershing. Pershing felt tired, like they had burnt out before they ever reached their full potential. I bought Let It Sway partly out of local scene loyalty and partly to see if they could capture the lightheartedness they had in Broom. Initially, I wasn't very impressed, but after putting it on the shelf for a few weeks and coming back to it, I couldn't stop playing it. I might have exclusively played this album for most of September. Each song fits perfectly with the next. If someone had told me something so poppy would be one of my favorite albums of the year, I'da asked them for lottery numbers then punched them in the throat. But here we are. Sorry about the punch, dude.

Best Overall Album of the Year Part 2: The Riot Before -- Rebellion
RebellionRebellion opens up with a distorted guitar and an almost primal drum beat. Brett Adams sings over the odd beat as if stumbling, then all of a sudden with one beat: everything is coordinated. A driving rhythm that is as good an album catalyst as you can get. The Riot Before's Rebellion has improved on their previous, more folky releases with an honest, brutal, and beautiful vision. If you follow lead singer Adams on Twitter or Tumblr, you can see that he has no bullshit notions about what he is doing. When his band has to play sparsely filled rooms in the middle of nowhere, he doesn't just say "It's okay, everyone that was there was THE BEST!" No, he is honest and says it sucks. He's been on the road with bands for years. He's in his mid-to-late 20s and you can tell he's starting to have doubts. He honestly misses his girlfriend on the road. His doubts are often my doubts. Can you be punk at 26? Is that embarrassing? Is it okay? When do I have to grow up. This album was written at a very specific time in a young man's life, and I feel like I am also at that point in my life. I don't know if this album is as universally understood as I understand it. I hope it does. And I'm sure Adams does, too.

Per usual, here's a track from each featured album:

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Confounidng Art of a 20-Inning Loss

A no hitter, no matter how "sloppy" is one of the most beautiful things in sports. I love seeing the joy of the pitchers and his teammates after the historic achievement. That said, it is a little disappointing when a 20-inning, dead whale of a game drifts ashore and the Coast Guard managers decide the best way to deal with it is stick a half a ton of TNT into the bloated carcass and blow it into pieces on top of the 1968 Lincolns.
Like a lot of epic art, there is a lot to like about this game and even more to throw 74 m.p.h tomatoes at. This game was that long running joke that was funny at first (Jaime Garcia had his own no-no after five) then annoying, (ok, it's the 8th, lets string together some runs), then dumbfounding (Holliday removed and the pitcher's spot "protecting" Pujols in the 11th), then kind of funny again (Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather: the new Todd Stottlemyre and Donovan Osborne), and finally somewhere between exhaustion and apathy (Lohse is in left field, Mather is IBB the bases loaded).
First, let me say that any sabermetricians that Gladwellian try to prove that protection in a line-up doesn't work can go shove it up their ass. LaRussa stuck with the back-up catcher on the bench until the 16th because he represented the "last bullet." That's fine if you have some hard and fast rules that you always follow. I'm okay with that. But one of those rules must be "NEVER EVER LET A PITCHER HIT BEHIND PUJOLS."
Despite what others  might think, LaRussa isn't a bad manager. You don't win as many games as he has by shear sheer luck (Maybe by shear sheer cash, and a league that favors do-nothing managers, but not by shearsheer luck). But LaRussa needs an editor. He is Charlie Kaufman. He is capable of brilliant work, if he has somewhat rigid guidelines. But when he gets free reign, occasionally long, drawn out  monstrosities like a 20-inning, no run game or Synecdoche, New York come to ill-advised fruition.
But how disappointed can you be in this game? The players and managers for the most part, were in awe of it. See the audio quotes posted by BJ Rains. Sure, each team wanted the win, but it's one game (actually more than two games that count as one). They'll be ready for the next day's game, which is conveniently against the Mets.

**Edit** I have removed some dumb comments I made about a fellow blogger. They were unnecessary and after some thought and manual labor, I came to my senses. Indeed, I, of all people, should not accuse others of being a reactionary (and yes I see the irony snake eating itself here and I am a snake's ass). So I apologize to 310toJoba, who was only expressing his opinion as freely as I enjoy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MLB and Music Mashup

Let's take a quick look around the league for "hot" stories on this young season. (That first sentence is for unintended googling purposes.) In no particular order, here's what's struck my fancy:
  • Vernon Wells is raking. Four dingers in seven games and OPSing at a 1.450 clip. He hasn't been found to be gloating, either, according to the new Tater Trot Tracker. Good for him.
  • Despite Wells' paternity claim, Pujols IS your daddy.
  • The Seattle Mariners don't look like a team that will live up to their pre-season hype. Balky Cliff Lee and heavy leaning on Chone Figgins makes for a middling team at best.
  • Los Gigantes de San Francisco es mas bueno (or something, my apologies). This team has been pitching well (which isn't entirely unexpected when you have a couple Cy Young winners and the boyish good talent of Matt Cain), but they have also been hitting well beyond their pay grade. This includes a 5 for 5 outing from octogenarian Edgar Renteria. Let me tell you: if you have the summer sniffles, go play an Astro in a game of Minesweeper. It'll cure what ails ya.
  • Carlos Zambrano's ERA was at 54 even for a little less than a week. He got it down to a pitiful 11.88. LOLCubs
  • I drafted Jason Heyward in both (yeah, only two. I'm a bum.) fantasy leagues this year. Dude is feast or famine at the plate, but I don't think I'll be begging for scraps too often this year.
  • The Yankees and the Red Soxzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Musically, some fantastic albums have been released in the past few months. I endorse all these albums to one degree or another.
Each of these is compelling in its own magic way. If you're looking for something jangly, go for that new MBD. Some straight up tight punk rock, go for The Riot Before or The Flatliners. If you like your punk a little less formal, try RVIVR or The Holy Mess (both donation based releases). Glossary is for the alt-country fans. For a great write-up on the Titus Andronicus album, check out my pal Kris's take at 10 Listens.

(Image via here)

Monday, April 5, 2010

I no longer care what anyone eats ever.

That's pretty much how I feel after the previously announced contest. I just started the thing on a whim, but then it got a little pub from my friends at Walkoff Walk, On The DL Podcast, Big League Stew, The Star (oooh international intrigue!), and Deadspin. In the end 18 Twitterers documented more than 180 tweets from baseball writers. The highest scoring tweet was found by Rob Iracane of Walkoff Walk and was courtesy of Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times with an admirably shameless display of In-N-Out love. Take note other beats: you may like In-N-Out, but you will never touch Baker's passion for the west coast chain.
So who won the contest? It was Mike Meech of the Phillies blog The Fightins. Meech won through shear volume of RTs. Whether it was a legitimate food tweet or whether it was utter crap, Meech threw it my way. After I weeded out the reaches and the blogger entries he tried to sneak through, Meech still earned a very impressive 279 points. The next in line was nathaniel_g, who started very strong, but couldn't keep up with Meech's seemingly endless supply of hungry baseball writer quips. If you would like to see all the results, or see how I scored every food tweet, go here.
I know what you're asking: what have we learned through this experience? First, the line between blogger and beat writer or columnist is razor thin if existent at all. I didn't include tweets from the guys at the the Yahoo! blog Big League Stew, because of their blog status, even though it's the bloggers' full time jobs. I didn't include tweets from Jonah Keri even though he has some new paper credentials under his belt. I did include tweets from former newspaper writers that lost their jobs due to the crumbling of the newspaper industry, like ctrent. It's hard and futile to make the distinction.
I also learned that most of the beat writers that "participated" in this contest accepted the good-natured ribbing (mmmmm . . . ribs) as it was intended. Guys like Evan Grant and Matthew Leach kept the contest fun and sometimes made the scoring difficult. There was only one instance where, I suspect, a writer deleted his tweet after it was RT'd.
Thank you to everyone that participated and/or promoted the contest. I didn't do this contest as some ploy to get readers or followers on Twitter (as could be concluded from my minimal promotion of it, especially the last few weeks), but that was one of the happy results. A special thanks to Iracane from WoW for all the advice and enthusiasm for the project.
Since the contest finally ended, it means the baseball season has begun. The Yankees lost their first game and the Cardinals won. The season is already shaping up well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Scarfing Scribe Scavenger Hunt *SCORING UPDATE*

Beat writers love to eat. You know it, I know it, the guys at Walkoff Walk know it. But until the advent of Twitter, we never had to get every grisly detail of their comestible life. The prime time to witness the public gluttony is Spring Training. It's simple math: time * light work load - wife + smorgasboard = pig out.
There are a couple ways to deal with this. You could stop following these beat writers, but that's impractical. Most of them do good jobs at keeping us degenerates up-to-date on the health of our teams' stars or the prospects that we lust over. Another way to deal with this phenomenon is to embrace it and that's exactly what I'm going to do, and I want you to join in.
For every tweet by a beat writer (from a newspaper, TV, Radio, or MLB writer. NO BLOGGERS), you can earn points. Starting on February 8 and ending April 3, any food related tweet that your RT will be worth points. The winner will receive a $25 iTunes Gift Card.

-- The first person to retweet a beat writer's food related tweet with "@punkondeck" will receive points for that tweet.
-- Once a tweet has been sent to me via Twitter, that tweet is dead and can no longer be scored.
-- For this contest, a beat writer is anyone that writes about baseball for a newspaper, radio, or television. Writers for individual teams will also count. Independent blogger tweets will not count for various technical and practical reasons.
-- The writer must be at Spring Training.
-- Scoring will be judged by me. Because of the nature of the contest, there is a bit of unavoidable subjectivity involved in scoring. I am the judge and will try to score tweets in the most fair manner possible.

-- Tweet mentions food among other things. e.g. "Saw F. Hernandez in a bullpen session. He looked good. Much like my grilled ruben." 2 points
-- Tweet is exclusively about food. e.g. "Hit the In-n-Out. So good." 4 points
-- Tweet goes into detail about what food they are eating. e.g. "Nice breakfast in bed. OJ, corned beef & hash, topped off with a Krispy Kreme" 1 point per food (or drink) item
-- Tweet goes into taste detail/turns into food porn. e.g. "Found this quaint little Italian place that Lasorda rec'd. The savory tort was delightful despite the over dependence on rosemary." OR "The wraps on the team provided buffet were as soggy as my cinnamon bun this morning." 3 points
-- Tweet references drinking alcoholic beverages. e.g. "Going back to the room. Don't bother me and Mr. Beam." 2 points
--Just thought of this but it's important because it's likely to happen: a writer posts a photo of food or drink. 6 points

As you could probably tell, there is some gray area in this game and a lot of tweets could be worth multiple points. I'm the ultimate decider on these things, so if you decide to participate, please cut me a little slack if you think you were shortchanged on points. For an example of how I will score take this early entry from St. Louis Post-Dispatch Beat Writer Joe Strauss:

The tweet isn't exclusively about food (although it's close). That's 2 points. He then gets specific about what and where: Pyro's Grille (1 point), original (1 point), chicken (1 point), curry mustard (1 point) tomato (1 point), and yellow rice (1 point). If this were tweeted between Feb. 8-April 3, it would have been worth a total of 8 points.
Remember: make sure you retweet the entry with @punkondeck, otherwise I won't see it.
If you have any questions about the contest or have an idea on how to improve the scoring system, please get in touch with me by leaving a comment or sending me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you. Let's have some fun because it's almost baseball season.