Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Best music of 2008 (featuring top 10 albums)

Oh, music. When I took a recent five-day excursion into the wilderness of the Aleghenny National Forest in Pennsylvania in late November, with only a large pack on my back filled with food and essentials, I wondered exactly what I would miss, being away from civilization for the better part of a week. Turns out the only thing I truly missed was not my cell phone, computer, Internet, newspaper, books, or anything like that, but music. This, of course, did not come as a surprise to me, but as I was reunited with my iPod for the long drive home, I found myself appreciating my music even more.

I was fortunate enough to see three concerts in the second half of 2008: Wolf Parade performing in Pontiac, MI at the beginning of July; The Hold Steady at the same venue later in the month; and Minus the Bear in Columbus in mid-October — three great shows. Wolf Parade gave a particularly impressive performance, and Minus was just sublime, performing some tracks from their new acoustic EP as well as some old favorites.

My Top 10 Albums of 2008

  • 1: TV on the Radio - Dear Science
    Deep, diverse, funky, elaborate, passionate and energetic yet wholly chill. Innovative beats AND lyrics (when evaluating music I put a lot of weight on lyrics). The poetry of "Dancing Choose" is striking (my favorite lines: "A palette blown to monochrome" and "In my mind I'm drowning butterflies"). Dear Science is less raw and rough as their 2006 LP Return to Cookie Mountain (also an amazing album), which is, I suppose, both good and bad. The album has found mainstream fans, being named album of the year by Rolling Stone and Spin. To me, TV on the Radio is to the '00s what Television was to the '70s. At least TVOTR is receiving the accolades they deserve, while Television really haven't been fully credited for their contribution to punk rock.
    Favorite song: "Halfway Home"

  • 2: MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
    Fun, energetic, electro-poppy, psychedelic.
    Favorite song: "Time to Pretend". Just so much fun. "Kids" and "Electric Feel" also very representative of MGMT's sound.

  • 3: Deerhunter - Microcastle
    Read a good article about this album, including an interview with man-behind-the-magic Cox, here. Anyone who enjoys Microcastle should check out other Deerhunter albums, especially my personal favorite, Cryptograms.

  • 4: Portishead - Third
    Excellent electronic/trip-hop. Sucks you into the music, where you go from there is up to you...

  • 5: Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
    Sweeping, earthly "indie" folk.
    Favorite song: "Your Protector". One of the best songs of the year.

  • 6: Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
    Kevin Barnes' follow-up to Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? may not live up to the 2007 album's glory, but it is an interesting, sometimes abstract work of psychedelic pop. Barnes and the gang often include several short compositions in every one of the album's 15 eclectic songs; each song jumps about. A sexual, playful, personal album (e.g. the chorus "When we get together/It's always hot magic" from "Wicked Wisdom"; "We can do it softcore if you want/But you should know I take it both ways" in "For Our Elegant Caste"; and plenty of others), Skeletal Lamping has its intelligent moments too ("Technology makes such an ugly mother" in "Mingusings"), though it is in no way as clever as Hissing Fauna. Of Montreal is known for churning out quirky neo-psychedelia and while Skeletal Lamping is a fine piece of work, I hope to see another album on par with Hissing Fauna within the next few years.
    Favorite song: "Women's Studies Victims".

  • 7: No Age - Nouns
    An intense, experimental-ish rock album.

  • 8: Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

  • 9: Sigur Rós - Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
    Beautiful music; I can't think of anything more perfect to listen to as I fall into a dreamy, peaceful state.

  • 10 (tied): Beck - Modern Guilt
    Some people weren't pleased with Beck about this album, I, however, view it as a solid entry out of this year's top albums.

  • 10 (tied): Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
    High-speed pop. I have to be in the right mood to listen to Girl Talk, the stage name of Gregg Gillis. But when I am in an upbeat mood, ready to be bombarded with little snippets of pop, hip-hop, and whatever else Gillis decides to mix into his mashups, Girl Talk is a thrill to listen to. The music is not serious; its just a blend of some of the more popular beats ridin' the airwaves, except Gillis is able to make them sound good. If the average poppy pop song has 20 seconds of catchy beats, Gillis fishes those 20 seconds out and mixes it with complementary beats. Listen and you'll understand.

    Honorable mentions: the albums that just barely made the top 10
  • The Dodos - Visiter

  • Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs

  • Beach House - Devotion
    Dream pop for those quiet afternoons.

  • The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
    Darn good rock & roll. Saw these guys in concert over the summer.

  • Cold War Kids - Loyalty to Loyalty
    I personally don't enjoy this album as much as 2006's Robbers & Cowards, but Loyalty to Loyalty is a decent album. Cold War Kids' sophomore work is an evolution of the band's soulful tunes, but I do have greater expectations for them in the future.

    To see all major music magazines' top album lists, see the Metacritic best of 2008 page.

    Currently, my two favorite musical artists are Elliott Smith and The National, followed by TV on the Radio (a more recent love) and Radiohead (a long-time favorite).
    If you're interested in what I've been listening to lately, feel free to check out my profile.

  • Monday, 29 December 2008

    Best movies of 2008

    The two best movies I've seen in theaters this year are Milk, Gus Van Sant's incredible movie covering the life of America's first openly gay major politician, San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, and In Bruges, an under-appreciated dark comedy (just the way I like 'em). If you don't feel something, I mean really feel something after seeing Milk, there must be something wrong with you.

    Three other movies out or soon-to-be-out in theaters I really want to see are Revolutionary Road, Doubt, and Slumdog Millionaire; and I'll have to rent Man on Wire, among others, on DVD.

    Within the comfort of my own home I was also treated to some fine cinema. The epic Godfather, The Departed, the deeply disturbing but funny Dr. Strangelove (if you haven't seen it, see it), the haunting Vietnam war tale (based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) Apocalypse Now, P.T. Anderson's Magnolia, and Fellini's 8 1/2 have all made it onto my list of all-time best movies, along with the two mentioned at the beginning of the post.

    Best of '08

    2008 has been a momentous year for me personally. I have matured a good amount, learned many new things, cemented new friendships, and discovered a great amount of music. Over the next few days, dear readers, I will be posting my own end-of-the-year lists: The best I have read, watched, listened to, and found this year...

    Also see the New Yorker's Year in Review and The New York Times' Year in Ideas.

    Thursday, 11 December 2008

    Bush reverses 35 years of endangered species protection... order to help his bigwig pals — concerned only with their money — who have gained from the past eight years of environmental injustice. Pulling America backwards, thanks George W!


    Just six weeks before President-elect Barack Obama takes office, the Bush administration issued revised endangered species regulations Thursday to reduce the input of federal scientists and to block the law from being used to fight global warming.

    The changes, which will go into effect in about 30 days, were completed in just four months. But they could take Obama much longer to reverse.

    They will eliminate some of the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years on dams, power plants, timber sales and other projects, a step that developers and other federal agencies have blamed for delays and cost increases.

    The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.

    Bush is trying to maximize the damage he does to America during his last days in office (mostly to the environment, but also abortion/employment rights).

    From a must read Rolling Stone article:
    "It's what we've seen for Bush's whole tenure, only accelerated," says Gary Bass, executive director of the nonpartisan group OMB Watch. "They're using regulation to cement their deregulatory mind-set, which puts corporate interests above public interests."

    While every modern president has implemented last-minute regulations, Bush is rolling them out at a record pace — nearly twice as many as Clinton, and five times more than Reagan. "The administration is handing out final favors to its friends," says Véronique de Rugy, a scholar at George Mason University who has tracked six decades of midnight regulations. "They couldn't do it earlier — there would have been too many political repercussions. But with the Republicans having lost seats in Congress and the presidency changing parties, Bush has nothing left to lose."

    Easily the worst president in the past 100 years — yes, it's my personal opinion that Bush has had a more destructive reign than recent blunders like Reagan and Nixon. One hopes there will be no worse leaders in this century.

    Just imagine folks — in less than a month and a half we'll have a new president with a reasonably level head! It's going to feel good.

    I expect President-elect Obama not only to reverse these horrendous last-minute executive actions by Bush, but also to move America forward in terms of environmental regulation. Hopefully the government will begin to protect what needs protecting (the poor, the environment) instead of powerful business interests who already hold far too much sway. Hopefully the value of what can not be replaced (including human lives) will overtake the value of a dollar. One can only hope.

    Wednesday, 3 December 2008

    Bush's pushes through last-minute anti-abortion plan

    A friend pointed this out to me today:

    A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job discrimination laws.

    The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

    It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.

    There are so many things wrong with this, as is common with orders coming out of the Oval Office in these Bush years. Often things like this go unnoticed; there really isn't much in the media on this abortion ruling.

    Religion should not get in the way of healthcare, and of the patient's personal choice. In addition, last time I checked the government's role didn't include endorsing job discrimination. In effect the administration is trying to withhold funds from health institutions who don't let their employees' views on abortion get in the way of them doing their jobs. Another step backwards for a woman's right over her body fueled by the Catholic church and an ultra-conservative executive.

    Monday, 1 December 2008

    The dreaded recession, one year on

    At last, the recession is made 'official'; officially the US economy has been in recession for a whole year.

    Forbes reports:

    The keeper of the business cycle books, the National Bureau of Economic Research, announced Monday what economists have been saying for a long time--this is a recession. And, NBER says, it's been a recession since December of 2007.

    The economic crisis is putting a stranglehold on the global economy in general and the American economy specifically, but I may just have to verbally assault the next person who compares it to the Great Depression. What we're looking at is NOT the Great Depression, but at the same time it's no temporary (i.e. a few months) downturn either.

    And while we're all looking after our money and jobs, let's also keep the environment in mind. It's priceless. Even if you're constrained to thinking in terms of money, imagine the long-term economic devastation from lost of usable soil, pollution, lost of forestry, etc. not to mention global warming.

    People are stupid

    Well, we already knew that, but still...


    • 1. Britney Spears
    • 2. WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)
    • 3. Barack Obama
    • 4. Miley Cyrus
    • 5. "RuneScape"
    • 6. Jessica Alba
    • 7. "Naruto"
    • 8. Lindsay Lohan
    • 9. Angelina Jolie
    • 10. American Idol

    (I imagine Google's looks about the same.)