Wednesday, March 28, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2002

If 2001 as a year in music felt schizophrenic and unfocused, than 2002 was just as splintered and eclectic. The synthetic "boy band" sound that dominated most of my teens was finally dying out; it felt cool to play an instrument again. In an irony-free post-9/11 soceity, the goofy punk-pop stylings of Green Day, Blink-182, and The Offspring --nothing against any of them, of course-- was giving way to raw, typically serious acts like The White Stripes, The Vines, and The Hives. (Having a "The" in your band name was also in vogue.) After a prolonged battle between Courtney Love and the surviving members of Nirvana, their final single hit the airwaves eight years after it was recorded (see below). 2002 was a transitional year for other heroes of '90s grunge, an awkward 12-month span that included: the death of Layne Staley; former members of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine joining forces as Audioslave; the failure of Krist Novoselic's new project, Eyes Adrift; Dave Grohl's return to the drum set, courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age; Billy Corgan forming Zwan; and Pearl Jam quietly releasing a new studio album --on top of a gazillion "official bootleg" live discs-- as they fought to stay relevant.

My discovering The Strokes and The White Stripes in late '01 kindled my heretofore delayed interest in alternative rock; I was still a classic rock DJ at heart, but the indie/garage/DIY renaissance was enough to stop me from completely writing off "new" music. A tiny, now-defunct UHF channel in Chicago would similcast MTV2 --back when they still aired videos, of course-- half the day, so I would tape two-hour blocks of programming when I was at school. Quaint, eh? On a more personal level 2002 was a very eventful year, one that culminated with my braces being removed in early January, than my first (and so far only) cruise, my first alcoholic beverage (a banana daiquiri, don't judge), first kiss, the deaths of four relatives in a three-month span, the craziest baseball game I've ever seen*, being nominated for Homecoming court, and the long-delayed, long-awaited installation of internet in the Allard household. In short, 2002 was just as crazy and exciting for me as it was for music.

*Sorry to keep you hanging, but I'll give you all the details about that game on or about the 10-year anniversary in September.

1. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco. Seeking a change of pace following the power-pop of 1999's Summerteeth, Wilco's fourth album now stands as an example of brilliance under duress. Lambasted by their former label as "not commercial enough" and devoid of a single, Foxtrot takes the sonic experimentation of Summerteeth several steps further, like a Midwestern answer to Radiohead's Kid A. The brains of the outfit, Jeff Tweedy writes lyrics both cruel and compelling, homespun yet articulate. One of the first albums to be extensively bootlegged online, the Foxtrot legend was already in place when it was finally released in April 2002.
2. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips. Both a concept album and a collection of songs with recurring themes, the often intergalactic Yoshimi does the undesirable task of following up The Soft Bulletin while holding its own and setting its own rules. Balancing spacey with somber, Fortune magazine (of all people) dubbed Yoshimi "a lush and haunting electric symphony." I can't argue with that.
3. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay. At what point Chris Martin go from charismatic, workman-like rock pianist to electrical tape-wearing, Gwyneth Paltrow-impregnating rock god? Probably around the time Chris and the boys cut Rush of Blood, their staggering sophomore effort. Soft-rock at its least cloying, tracks like "In My Place," "Clocks," and "The Scientist" are straight-up earcandy.
4. Turn On the Bright Lights, Interpol
5. [ ] (a/k/a Parentheses), Sigur Ros
6. Songs for the Deaf, Queens of the Stone Age
7. Power in Numbers, Jurassic 5
8. O, Damien Rice
9. Up the Bracket, The Libertines
10. Sea Change, Beck. One of the very few alternative acts I paid attention to before my "awakening," I was one of many that initially couldn't make heads or tails out of Mr. Hansen's eighth album. Trading in his wacky, recondite sound for something more organic and melancholy Sea Change was, depending upon your first listen, either another wild, left-field turn by an artist you couldn't quite pin down or one dramatic reinvention too many. A decade later the former party has the edge; the lush songcraft overwhelmingly trumps any fan's expectations.

Honorable Mentions: Geogaddi, Boards of Canada; The Coral, The Coral; When I Was Cruel, Elvis Costello; Whip It On (EP), The Raveonettes; The Execution of All Things, Rilo Kiley; Kill the Moonlight, Spoon; Original Pirate Material, The Streets; Highly Evolved, The Vines.

"Losing My Edge," LCD Soundsystem
"One By One," Foo Fighters
"Don't Know Why," Norah Jones
"California," Phantom Planet
"You Were Right," Badly Drawn Boy
"Cochise," Audioslave
"Diamonds and Guns," The Transplants
"Hands on the Bible," Local H
"City of Angels," The Distillers
"Son of Three," The Breeders

Best 1994 Single of 2002: "You Know You're Right," Nirvana. The first song recorded for what would've been their fourth studio album ended up being their last song as a band. After years of legal entanglements "Right" was finally released as a single that September, giving Nirvana fans some type of closure, yet leaving them wonder what might've been.

1. "Fell in Love with a Girl," The White Stripes. Director Michel Gondry's lengthy association with Jack White began with this all-time great clip, a stop-motion tour de force involving thousands upon thousands of Legos.
2. "Star Guitar," The Chemical Brothers. Another Gondry gem, "Star" is a continuous shot filmed from the window of a train, where somehow all the buildings and objects passing by are exactly in the time with The Brothers' 126 BPM dance track. Nothing short of a marvel.
3. "This Train Doesn't Stop There Anymore," Elton John. Justin Timberlake's first great performance --actor, singer, or otherwise-- was in this video, another continuous shot. One of Sir Elton's better late-period songs, JT plays his hero circa 1973, struggling to survive the rigors of fame. Also, look out for Paul Reubens as the Rocket Man's former manager, John Reid.
4. "The Middle," Jimmy Eat World.
5. "No One Knows," Queens of the Stone Age.
6. "We Are All Made of Stars," Moby.
7. "Rush Hour Soul," Supergrass.
8. "Someday," The Strokes.
9. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," Good Charlotte.
10. "Do You Realize?" The Flaming Lips.

Honorable Mentions: "The 15th," Fischerspooner; "Aerials," System of a Down; "Still Waiting," Sum 41.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

30 Teams, 30 More Haiku: A 2012 Baseball Preview

Last year, I wrote my annual baseball preview in the style of a haiku. I considered writing a sonnet or possibly a sestina for all 30 teams this year, but ultimately that felt like overkill. I mulled explaining why your team wouldn't win the World Series again (see 2009), posed some pressing questions (see 2010), or something entirely new, but for some reason the haiku concept kept bouncing around in my head. With that said, I present my 2012 baseball preview: 30 teams, 17 moras, no boundaries.

PS: my kudos to the Royals blog for the Moose mock-up seen above.

*denotes Wild Card

1. Phillies No real changes here/Howard's gone for awhile/but wins come easy.
2. Marlins* Behold! A circus/hey Ozzie, new stadium/and loud uniforms.
3. Braves A burning question/who's Tyler Pastornicky?/a prospect, I guess.
4. Nationals Harper is coming/and Strasburg is okay now/potential sleeper?
5. Mets This, that, or Duda/the song they sing in Queens is/a funeral dirge.
1. Cardinals Farewell, Prince Albert/your power will be missed, but/we'll win without you.
2. Brewers Braun dodged a bullet/no suspension, despite shame/can we move on now?
3. Reds "Win now!" is the cry/if Stubbs cuts down on the whiffs/expect fireworks.
4. Pirates Huh? These Bucs have bite?/no longer dormant, Pittsburgh/may play the spoiler.
5. Cubs Poor Theo Epstein/doesn't he know rebuilding/won't go anywhere?
6. Astros Woe is Carlos Lee/a veteran among rooks/expect much struggle.
1. Giants Buster Posey is/not the next Ray Fosse, fools/health is on his side.
2. D-Backs* Chomping at the bit/hungry snakes want a dogfight/you hear that, San Fran?
3. Rockies More injury woes/the Tulo and Cargo show/need to watch themselves.
4. Dodgers Strangely average/Kemp and Kershaw need some help/if they want to win.
5. Padres Further rebuilding/not awful, but somebody/has to finish fifth.

1. Yankees Heavy favorites/for the umpteenth year, but age/might be a concern.
2. Rays* Young and confident/Maddon's boys want the whole thing/LCS won't do.
3. Red Sox Winners in decline/last year's collapse still lingers/new mindset needed.
4. Blue Jays North of the border/these Canucks think they'll contend/delusions, indeed.
5. Orioles The burning question/Duquette: genius or moron?/we'll learn the hard way.
1. Tigers O Prince, man of girth/you and Miguel are lethal/plus Verlander, eek!
2. Royals Ready to breakout/this fan won't whine much longer/but playoffs? Next year.
3. Indians Fantastic bullpen/but where is the Tribe offense?/.500 at best.
4. White Sox Almost a youth movement/AJ and Paulie still stand/but don't expect much.
5. Twins Joe Mauer aside/the small market rebuilding/cycle continues.
1. Angels Arte's deep pockets/bought Prince Albert and C.J./this division: sold!
2. Rangers* This is an arms race/big bats and smokin' hurlers/don't mess with Texas.
3. Mariners No contenders here/in two words, "nothing special"/but Felix still rakes.
4. Athletics Nothing makes sense here/sign Manny and Cespedes/but trade all the youth?

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers
NL Rookie of the Year: Yonder Alonso, Padres
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, Angels
First Manager Fired: Buck Showalter, Orioles
Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, Giants
2012 World Series: Rangers over the Phillies in 6

Next Week: the year in music, 2002.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Passing The Torch, Part 2

Around the time of my 27th birthday last year, I found myself lamenting the last "pure" days of my youth. Over the past few weeks, my aimless pondering found a focal point of sorts. About two weekends ago, a man named Phil Patnaude died under mysterious circumstances near Belmont Harbor in Chicago. Patnaude graduated from my high school a year before I did, and the sudden death of such a promising young man rocked the community. I barely knew the guy, but his passing dominated my news feed on Facebook. He was unquestionably assertive, a go-getter, a leader and an achiever. Suicide or not, very little about his death seemed to make sense.

As it turned out, this was a case where bad things came in threes. Around the same time Patnaude perished two other Downers Grove North alums, both around my age, also died suddenly. Unlike the type-A Patnaude, these other two boys were underachievers --out of respect to their grieving families, I will not share their names-- and were barely mentioned in my old yearbooks. Their deaths didn't grab the local media's attention; in fact, I found out about their passing via word of mouth on Facebook, almost like a weird afterthought. A part of me wondered if I should mourn or just walk this off. More than anything, I was spooked by this abrupt barrage of mortality, by three deaths that happened much too soon. Is it survivor's guilt?

From my experience, unless one's passing garners the attention of the local media, you find yourself wondering how someone could passed away so young, and yet you'll never truly find closure. For example, if this person made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq or Afghanistan, you'd right away. If said person had a prolonged illness and heroically fought this malady to the bitter end, same thing. If it's anything else, everyone --including the family-- keeps mum. Maybe its that level of modesty and Catholic guilt you only find in the midwest, I'm not sure. In those cases, a life isn't celebrated, but a death invokes an unexplained shame.

Next week: my 2012 baseball preview.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Reluctant Eulogy

Part of the appeal of right-wing radio talk show hosts is that they bait potential audience members with one singular "liberal" quirk. Dr. Michael Allen Weiner, better known to the world as Michael Savage, is a vegan and a champion for humane shelters. Bill O'Reilly has spoken out for climate change, though whether or not he was swayed by Rupert Murdoch is up for debate. Andrew Breitbart, the conservative pundit that passed away suddenly last week, took his own left turn by supporting gay rights and pledging money to the Log Cabin Republicans.

Whenever I go on a topical rant, I tend to reserve my vitriol for the cable talking heads. I try to avoid the "big three" cable news outlets, though I can handle CNN in small doses. To me, MSNBC and Fox News may be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they're really cut from the same cloth. Boring ol' CNN might try to be non-partisan, but MSNBC and Fox News rely heavily on their loud, over the top, politically slanted personalities. So what happens when one of those loudmouths suddenly passes away?

A weaker, more bull-headed liberal would probably clammer for the opportunity to spit on Breitbart's grave. I, on the other hand, channeled him out after a certain point and didn't look back. As much as I appreciate that he went against the grain on gay rights, there's a part of me that is very reluctant to forgive him for his actions in the ACORN scandal. Plus, one could also argue that he took too much credit for the downfall of Rep. Anthony Weiner last year. For his past sins, perhaps it'd be best to remember him for the man behind the bully pulpit: a husband and father, the son-in-law of actor Orson Bean, a witty intellectual and man of contradictions. Bill Maher, his frequent sparring partner on HBO's "Real Time," was Breitbart's off-screen golf buddy.

Naturally, that brings me to the recent flap between overbearing radio icon Rush Limbaugh and unfortunately-named law student Sandra Fluke. Labeling an otherwise unassuming law student a "slut" was way out of line but Rush's apology, partially dictated by a mass exodus of sponsors, was surprisingly gentlemanly. It's an election year, and women's health concerns taking an unfair amount of attention away from more substantial concerns like job growth and the economy. Uproars like this come and go, yet I can't help but think that this could potentially linger until November. Limbaugh's comments were idiotic and even he acknowledged that, but whether the four GOP candidates sweep this under the rug or address it head-on could sway the election.