Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Last Blog of 2010

When you think about it, 2010 went by like a blur. I guess time flies by when you're fruitlessly mailing and e-mailing resumes to prospective employers. In all seriousness though, with the exorbitant amount of free time I had during the Summer and Fall of 2010, it doesn't seem like the year is almost over. From a media perspective, it was a year of buzzwords: from Eyjafjallajökull to "refudiate," from vuvuzela to WikiLeaks, it was a solid 12-month span for gibberish and foreign proper names. It was a great year for pop culture --especially TV and music-- and a terrible year for almost everything else. (Forgive me if this blog seems a little slipshod; there's so much to reminisce about and too little time to express it.)


1. "Mad Men," AMC. Jon Hamm was runner-up for EW's Entertainer of the Year, and for good reason. Besides two strong outings on SNL and a dilligent performance in The Town, his portrayal of enigmatic '60s ad exec Don Draper has nearly made him a TV icon for our time. The show itself has also benefitted with Hamm at its center, turning out a somewhat polarizing season of bravura performances and clever writing. Notable Episodes: "The Rejected," "The Suitcase," "The Beautiful Girls."
2. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Comedy Central. As inherently political as TDS might be, the show is first and foremost a parody and skewering of a mass media that can't bother to be objective anymore. People have caught on, too: on any given night, Jon and his "correspondents" are pummeling Leno and Letterman in the ratings. Notable Episodes: TDS doesn't really have episode titles --it's a talk show, mind you-- but there's plenty of clips on Hulu, YouTube et al. that prove my point.
3. "Parks & Recreation," NBC. With "The Office" slowly fading into the sunset, P&R has become Thursday night's best and most underappreciated comedy. Amy Poehler earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination as eager small-town bureaucrat Leslie Knope, but Nick Offerman and Aziz Ansari were snubbed outright. If only more people would catch on... Notable Episodes: "Sweetums," "Telethon," "The Master Plan."
4. "Modern Family," ABC. No show balances laughs with low-key charm quite like the blended Pritchett clan. It's a family sitcom at heart, though not always family-friendly, but honest and grounded enough to keep you tuned in. Few shows have ever captured the complicated dynamic of a strong, lasting marriage quite like Mod-Fam. Notable Episodes: "Airport 2010," "Strangers on a Treadmill," "Halloween."
5. "Community," NBC. Talk about patience and perseverance: I put this show on my best of 2009 list on the heels of two strong episodes following an uneven start. I'm relieved to know that my praise was a sign of things to come, as "Community" has really come into its own in the past calendar year. "Modern Family" notwithstanding, this show has quite possibly the best comedy ensemble on television. Notable Episodes: "Modern Warfare," "The Psychology of Letting Go," "Epidemiology."

Honorable Mentions: "Boardwalk Empire," HBO; "In Treatment," HBO.

Best Show That I Need to Start Watching on a Regular Basis: "Breaking Bad," AMC.

Best Random Guest Appearance: Norman Lloyd on "Modern Family." Forget about Betty White for a moment-- it's a marvel that the 96-year-old thespian still manages to nab steady work. Best known as the last surviving member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater players and as Dr. Auschlander on "St. Elsewhere," Lloyd is a living legend that 90% of the populace knows nothing about. I almost didn't notice him when I saw the "Manny Get Your Gun" episode, which either says something about Lloyd's advanced age or his workman-like ability to disappear into a role.

Worst Random Guest Appearance: Justin Bieber on "CSI." Do I really need to explain this?

Worst Show of 2010: "Bridalplasty," E! Aspiring brides-to-be compete for boob jobs and facelifts in a narcissistic, disturbing, and altogether sad mash-up of "The Swan" and "Say Yes to the Dress." Case evidence of reality television and their obsession with the lowest common denominator.
Runner-Up: "Outsourced," NBC. If this were halfway decent, I would've forgave NBC for handing Park & Rec's time slot to this culture-clash single-camera comedy. Instead, "Outsourced" is more or less the Indian "Amos n' Andy," playing to stereotypes about spicy food, funny accents, and polytheism like a New Dehli minstrel show. Saying this show is an accurate depiction of an Indian workplace is like saying Sbarro is the cutting edge of Italian cuisine.

My Favorite Political Cartoon of 2010: This.

In Memoriam: Miep Gies, J.D. Salinger, Eric Rohmer, Doug Fieger, T-Bone Wolk, Merlin Olsen, Lynn Redgrave, Dennis Hopper, Sen. Robert Byrd, Lena Horne, Ronnie James Dio, Rue McClanahan, Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel, John Wooden, Gloria Stuart, Greg Giraldo, Robert Schimmel, Tony Curtis, Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Billingsley, Tom Bosley, Leslie Nielsen, Dino DeLaurentiis, Elizabeth Edwards, Ted Sorensen, Maurice Lucas, Pat Burns, George "Sparky" Anderson, Bob Feller, "Dandy Don" Meredith, Roy Neuberger, Richard Holbrooke, Steve Landesberg, Blake Edwards, Teena Marie, Gardner Kissick, and "Still Bill" Johnson.

Finally, because I haven't posted any in awhile, here's a couple of Top 5 lists to wrap up the year.

Five Obscure Monty Python References That Might Work as Names for Bands:
1. Hovercraft of Eels
2. Whicker's World
3. The Machine That Goes Bing
4. Kamikaze Highlander
5. Toad the Wet Sprocket*

Five Tips for Aspiring Grad School Students:
1. You have at least six bodily fluids you can donate to pay for tuition
2. If the school crest has a bottle of trucker pills on it, you're in good hands
3. Don't be afraid to consider moving far away to earn your masters or doctorate, as you will never see your friends and family anyway
4. As impressive as the publication of your epic research paper might be, it won't score you a free Whopper at Burger King
5. There is a growing perception in American culture that baccalaureate degrees are "the new high school diploma" since in the last 25 years, job growth has stagnated for Americans that stopped their education with a bachelor's, so imagine how far that masters will get you in the long run

SEE YOU IN 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2010

To be honest, I was blindsided by what a strong year this was for music. The number of new albums I listened to this year didn't vary much, but there was more to enjoy than I did in 2008 or 2009. I typically check out new sounds concurrently with whatever year I'm analyzing for my monthly music blog, and it got to a point about three or four months ago that I putting more energy in my year-end list than whatever else I listening to. There's a running theme to this year's list: established artists releasing career-defining albums, familiar faces with seemingly nothing left to prove but plenty of ways to prove that assumption wrong, newer acts challenging themselves in unexpected ways, a weird sense of fearlessness and a general lack of inhibition. Of course, you never would've heard any of this brilliance on CHR radio, but that's a discussion for another time.

On that note, I defeated myself somewhat and expanded this list to 20 albums. Like I said before, there was too much in 2010 that I enjoyed that had to merit some type of mention. I tried to make this list as complete as possible, though there are a few discs I still need to check out (sorry, Janelle Monae).


1. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire. I'm probably one of the few people on the planet that thought the Fire's 2007 album Neon Bible was better than their 2004 debut Funeral. It wasn't a mere extension of ideas, I argued, but the next logical step. Their third effort, The Suburbs, raises the bar even higher. Inspired mostly by the Butler brothers' Houston upbringing, this is a concept album about a world of nostalgia that may not really exist. The Suburbs is whimsical without being too quirky, cynical but not too apathetic, and the right amount of sentimental.
2. Brothers, The Black Keys. What if the White Stripes had a more pure blues-rock sound, and was a real band rather than a vehicle for Jack White's guitar noodling? Enter The Black Keys, a visceral, Ohio-based guitar-drums duo with a yen for '60s soul and psychedlic-period Howlin' Wolf. Their third proper album is 15 tracks of scruffy, growling blues-punk whose appeal never wears out. This is by far the best music produced in Muscle Shoals, AL in decades.
3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West. Kanye might very well be the most enigmatic superstar in the world. When he doesn't keep his ego in check, he's an annoying, attention-hungry jerk. When he shuts his mouth and gets to business, he's an indisputable genius. His fifth album is paid as advertised; no album in any genre has been so sonically sparwling yet so singular in its madness anywhere in recent memory. It's as if Kanye set a Thomas Pynchon novel to music...
4. Congratulations, MGMT
5. This is Happening, LCD Soundsystem

6. Contra, Vampire Weekend
7. Treats, Sleigh Bells
8. King of the Beach, Wavves
9. High Violet, The National
10. Together, The New Pornographers. After four albums of fascinating power-pop/indie-rock workshopping by a confederacy of similar-minded musicians, Neko Case, AC Newman, et al. finally begin to sound like a real band on the fittingly named Together. A supergroup in concept only, the Pornographers' sound is now less of a buffet and more of a potluck dinner, a scrappy feast of catchy songs and whimsical songcraft.

11. Broken Bells, Broken Bells
12. Odd Blood, Yeasayer
13. Beat the Devil's Tattoo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
14. Teen Dream, Beach House
15. The Monitor, Titus Andronicus. The unofficial award for most improved band goes to this New Jersey-based quartet, whose nondescript garage-rock debut in 2008 bears precious little resemblance to their stunning second effort. An entire album of songs about the Civil War, played by what sounds like the best Pogues cover band on the planet, should've been too weird to work yet it demolishes what low expectations such a far-fetched idea might garner. I guess all you need is a little ambition.

16. Plastic Beach, Gorillaz
17. One Life Stand, Hot Chip
18. Infinite Arms, Band of Horses
19. The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot
20. /\/\/\Y/\ (a/k/a Maya), M.I.A. One of the most undeservedly maligned albums of the past year, the Sri Lankan alt-dance star reinforces her knack for lyrical tongue-twisters, and that motherhood and marriage hasn't quashed her desire for a challenge. The percussion work on this disc is raw and often relentless, perhaps too sonically brutal for certain tastes. Beneath all the chaos, however are some instantly satisfying yet intentionally imperfect tracks.

Coolest Gimmick: The compact disc of The Black Keys' "Brothers" changes colors while the disc is playing.

Worst Album of 2010: Rebirth, Lil' Wayne. There is little denying Weezy's gifts as a rapper, but when it comes to dabbles in other genres --especially this somewhat anticipated, mostly embarassing foray into rap-rock-- even a genius should stick to what he knows best. Worse yet, amidst piles of insipid guitar solos and gaudy overproduction, the wit and wacky wordplay of his previous work is nowhere to be found on Rebirth. Young Tune declares himself a "funky monkey" on the track "Da Da Da," and had that track found a greater audience, that alone probably would've set rock, hip-hop, and race relations back 50 years.


"Symphonies," Dan Black feat. Kid Cudi
"Fuck You," Cee-Lo
"One Way Road," The John Butler Trio
"When My Time Comes," Dawes
"You And Your Heart," Jack Johnson
"In The Sun," She & Him
"Swim Until You Can't See Land," Frightened Rabbit
"Bushwick Blues," Delta Spirit
"Early Morning Wake-Up Call," The Hives
"National Ransom," Elvis Costello

Worst Song of 2010: "Hey Soul Sister," Train. If I have to hear this song one more time, so help me God...


After a weak 2009, music videos enjoyed a minor renaissance in 2010. Though second-hand VHS downloads of old MTV videos have been a staple on YouTube et al. since the site's inception, it wasn't until the last year or so that video directors really took advantage of the medium. Better late than never, I guess.

1. "This Too Shall Pass," OK Go. When I was in eighth grade, I was assigned a Rube Goldberg-type project in science class. My final assignment was a complete mess, and I earned one of the few F's of my academic career. It was not until after I saw this video that I finally got over that humiliation.

2. "Tightrope," Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi. '60s soul meets 21st-century hip-hop in this well-choreographed clip.

3. "Love The Way You Lie," Eminem feat. Rihanna. A big part of Marshall Mathers' renaissance in 2010 was this VH1/Fuse staple, starring Megan Fox and the guy who played Charlie on "Lost" as lovers that shouldn't be together yet can't stay apart.

4. "Drunk Girls," LCD Soundsystem. Word to the wise: this is what happens when you piss off a bunch of guys in panda costumes.

5. "Madder Red," Yeasayer. A shot-for-shot remake of "Old Yeller," except its four minutes long, shot in modern-day Los Angeles, and stars Kristen Bell and a one-eyed alien blob.

6. "Dog Days Are Over" (Version 2), Florence + The Machine. The British singer-songwriter jumps around in Kabuki garb in this strange yet alluring clip.

7. "Tighten Up" (Version 1), The Black Keys. Rawr! Funky puppet dinosaurs!

8. "Giving Up The Gun," Vampire Weekend. Tennis, anyone?

9. "White Knuckles," OK Go. It's not uncommon for an artist to have multiple clips in one year, but two outright great clips in less than 12 months is quite a feat.

10. "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood," St. Vincent. An early preview of the upcoming IFC comedy series "Portlandia" finds Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Carrie Brownstein as prickly lesbian bookstore owners and the singer-songwriter as their unwitting foil.

Next Week: the year in TV, and my final thoughts on 2010.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random Notes, December 2010

+ It's hard for me to fathom that I graduated from college three years ago this week. I say that wistfully because not much has gone according to plan. When I left Illinois State in 2007, my intent was to go home for a few months, then head back down when a potential radio job opened. Though I spent two years doing traffic and billing at a two-station cluster up in Chicago, I have yet to put my training in radio production to use in the professional world. Worse yet, the majority of my connections at Great Plains Media (where I did an internship in the Fall of '07) left the cluster within a year of my departure, and the one person I used as a resume reference was forced out by corporate around that same time. Though I'm happy with my temp gig, I still don't know if it'll lead to something permanant. Simply put, I still have time on my side and I want to resume my career in the radio industry. Sadly, I don't feel like I'm getting a fair shake from anyone. However, I'm not ready to put my dream on the backburner.

+ I thought this was going to be a slow lame duck session, but it's proven otherwise and not for the better. Extending tax cuts for the richest 1% --represented by the selfless, modest, hard-working likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian-- could be a death blow for the American economy. I don't like using hyperbole, but this is a terrible mistake and I'm appalled that President Obama conceded to the GOP like that. I cannot and will not understand why the very wealthiest Americans should be exempt from chipping in their worth, regardless of whether or not they're politically active and throw around campaign money like green confetti. I have no problem with the extension of jobless benefits, but it doesn't sound like a fair exchange.

+ How's improv? This week I finished Level 4 at IO, and I start Level 4B on January 2nd. I've also completed Writing 2 with Nate Herman, and I begin W3 the day after. On alternating Saturday nights, I've been performing in the opening act for a Midnight show at IO. Lyndsay Hailey --the teacher I was describing at length a few weeks back-- is headlining her own show, and she launched an impromptu improv team to start off each "program." She dubbed our group The Hangover Clinic because we practice and workshop on early Saturday mornings, when most of our classmates and contemporaries are still working off the previous night's buzz. For those of you in or around Chicago, we're up every Saturday night just after 12AM through the end of January, and admission is only $5.

Next week: the year in music, 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Imperfect Ten

I woke up early Friday morning to some very startling news. My radio alarm is set on a classic rock station, and the DJ and the news-reader were discussing the passing of Ron Santo at length. I knew that Santo had a history of health problems, including two boughts with cancer and a lifelong struggle with diabetes, but I was still shocked.

As a Chicagoan, it's very difficult to say anything bad about Ron Santo and get away with it, and his passing has only reinforced the defense shields. The Cubs have an almost nationalized fan base, and not surprisingly my home city is their apparent Mecca. On the north side of the city, the Cubs are a religion --a cult in the most literal sense-- and Wrigley Field is their Hagia Sophia. Good luck finding a White Sox cap within a one-block radius of the stadium, which is almost nothing but sports bars and fan boutiques. In spite of that even Sox fans are sitting shiva, and the most cynical Cubbie-haters are keeping their mouths shut or carefully choosing their words... myself included.

For the longest time, I waffled on Ronnie's Cooperstown credentials. Without being too blunt, a career line of 342/1,331/.277 over 15 seasons is pretty good but not good enough. The fact of the matter is, what exactly puts Santo on the same level as Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, or Eddie Mathews? If all-around nice guys with decent power stats made the Hall of Fame, Dale Murphy would be in by now. If players that dominated their position for one decade but didn't do much else afterward were inducted, so would Dwight Evans. A remarkable start followed by a string of injuries? Don Mattingly. At least five Gold Gloves? Jim Kaat and Dave Concepcion. Harold Baines has nearly 300 more career ribbies, but he'll be lucky if the Veterans' Committee votes him in. Yes, you could argue that if you put all of those factors together Santo should be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but that's not what it's all about. Being above-average at a wide variety of things and excelling at nothing does not merit enshrinement. That'd be like if a career B+ student were chosen for National Honor Society.

The iO Theater is one half-block south of Wrigley on Clark Street, so I typically walk past the stadium about two or three times a week. I was in city late Saturday night for a show, and two separate but equal tributes had mushroomed on the stadium premises. The first and most visible was along the home plate entrance under the red "Friendly Confines" sign, inside and along the locks and barricades. The second was on the Walk of Fame along the first base side, where each team HOFer has their name engraved into Addison Ave. sidewalk. There were photos, flowers, letters-- pretty much everything you can think of except baseball cards. The outpouring of support to Santo's family and the Cubs' organization was remarkable. This tribute could curb the most tactless soul from saying anything disrespectful about the deceased, it was that resonating. However, I'm still not convinced that he should be enshrined --a sizable albeit quiet minority-- though right now stating such a strong opinion makes me feel a tad squeamish.

Other notes:

+ I finally found a job... for now. I interviewed with a temp agency in early August, and just before Thanksgiving they recommended me for an interview with a local catering company. I aced the sitdown and now I work 35+ hours a week in a calling center. I'm only officially employed with them through New Year's, but hopefully this parlays into something more substantial.

+ My TV.com fantasy football team is 5-8, and even though I've won four of my last five matchups, I'm nowhere near playoff contention and the window has all but shut. My other team is 3-10 and couldn't even beat our resident last-place roster in Week 13. As most of you know, I'm still doing decent in NFL Pick 'Um, though.

+ Late last week, I noticed that several of my Facebook friends had changed their profile photos to beloved childhood cartoon characters for the purpose of raising child abuse awareness. In solidarity, I changed mine to "Mathman" from Square One TV. On Sunday afternoon, I heard through the gravepine that the organization that promoted the stunt had ties to NAMBLA and was conspiring to hack the accounts of preteen Facebookers. Oops.