Sunday, November 29, 2009

As for Film: The Road


It seems a little strange at first, but "The Road" couldn't have been released at a more appropriate time of the year. The holiday season is when most of us forget about our troubles, buy each other crap and ignorantly sings hymns about a God we don't believe in. So what does "The Road" have to do with Christmas? On the surface, not much, but just as the story's characters live in an America stripped of its materialism and economy, where only banal humanity and invisible intangibles remain, so also should the individuals in the audience look into themselves for the true meaning of "peace on earth, good will towards men."

A father and son are carrying the fire, the hope that keeps life worth living. The man is born of another world, raising his boy in a foreign place. But the boy has never tasted Coca-Cola before. He will never learn about Karl Marx. The sun has never shown on him. And he has never complained about any of it. There is no hope for him, but he doesn't realize that yet. The boy believes in good, and evil, but he believes that he and his father are dedicated to the former.

The sad aspect of this movie isn't necessarily that the world which has been destroyed was one full of happiness and vitality, but that it was a very ugly place even before the fires (as flashbacks of an unhappy marriage prove). Whatever happened to the planet was the result of humans. All of the animals were gone, no plants could grow, and only a few cannibalistic people remained. With few exceptions being humans who refuse to eat each other.

The father who is trying to teach his son how to survive in the burning world is teaching him things he learned from the old world. But in the new world, the slate has been cleaned and readied for a child. It is not so much that the world is completely hopeless, but that hopeless humans have burned it to ash. There could be hope, hope for rebuilding. But not because of anything that could be taken or learned from the old world. The old world was one of selfishness, greed and foolishness.

Our main characters represent two extremes. The man is all that destroyed the world in the first place. We do not feel warmth from him, he does not remind us of our fathers. He is dying. But the boy is innocent. He is pure, angelic and compassionate. He is that glimmer of humanity that is not all bleak and dark. He carries the fire.

These two extremes, in them we see the duality of man. There is grimness and fear, but there is also love and strength. Strip away the materialism for a moment and take a good look at mankind. Who are we when all we have is each other? If we cannot eat burgers, will we eat each other? If there is no electricity to produce violence on television, will we kill each other? If there is no pornography to jack off to, will we rape each other? Most signs lead to "yes," until we meet the boy. He is that rare gem of the human spirit who proves that goodness is not the result of a judicial system. The innate morality within him is godlike to the father, and rightfully so.

In this world where God no longer exists, prayers go out to the "people" who have already died. But in a world where humanity has been so lost, even this deity is useless. Thanking "people" is just as meaningless as thanking God in a world where spirituality no longer exists. Humans have returned to their primal states, living solely on instinct. They are animals, without a duty to God or each other or anything. They kill to survive, until they themselves are killed.

At times I've wondered how Cormac McCarthy could have written such a staggering book in his old age. Why isn't he becoming content with the world? How does he still have the mental strength to go back into the depths of his soul and come back with even more muck? And then I simply shake my head and quietly thank him for persevering. I am thankful that he has retained the courage to tell me about the ugliness that he has seen, and continues to see. I appreciate his brutal honesty. He shows me that there is much darkness in man, underneath the material, when the slate is wiped clean. And his strength to continue probably comes from that glimmer, that boy who he knows exists. He knows it's not a hallucination or a myth, he knows there's hope.

What would I do this Christmas if I couldn't buy anything? What if I didn't have anything to give, and nobody had anything to give me? How would we celebrate? How would we love each other? This is what we can learn from "The Road." What it requires to be a human is not something superficial, nor is it instinctual. There is a fire inside of us that needs to be carried down the road, otherwise we would cease to be what God created.

Peace on earth is not an external manifestation, nor will it ever be. Good will towards men is not a natural phenomenon. But these are not idealistic fantasies either. We can look inside ourselves and still find a child, and we can live in hope, in faith, and in love. Even in the cold. Even in the darkness.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blind Pilot and Laura Veirs like Thanksgiving

It felt a lot like northwest America in Chicago this Thanksgiving Eve. Three Portland acts made a stop at the Windy City’s newest venue, Lincoln Hall, for a relaxing evening of dim lighted indie folk. Blind Pilot, Laura Viers and Mimicking Birds played quietly, encouraging the crowd to keep their conversations to a whisper on the biggest drinking night of the year.

Mimicking Birds opened to a venue not even a quarter full, but those that came early were treated to one of the few bands Isaac Brock has deemed good enough to reside on his Glacial Pace label. Their low-key indie quirk even hinted at pre-Moon and Antarctica Modest Mouse. It wasn’t poppy, it didn’t demand your attention, but it was a welcoming intro for a night of Portland pleasantry.


Laura Veirs kicked the energy and the smiles up a few notches with her backup band, the Hall of Flames. Her set consisted mostly of songs from her upcoming album, July Flame. As she joyfully rocked out, I couldn’t help but wonder why she’s still relatively under the radar. Her wealth of songwriting talent is spectacular. Each new album proves that she has endless reserves of the catchy melodies and pop gems.

She was beautifully pregnant too. And there aren’t many things in this world more wonderful than a pregnant woman rocking an electric guitar. That kid is going to be so cool.

Chicago show-goers can be pretty polite at most indie shows. It’s a music town to the core, where most people are more interested in actually hearing the band than just having some background music to get trashed to. But if anything, we were too polite tonight. You could hear a pin drop in Lincoln Hall between songs. Until Laura Veirs loosened us up with a little country hoedown. Acoustic guitar and fiddle got the hands clapping and Laura’s boots stomping. By the time she was finished, the crowd was more than warmed up for Blind Pilot.

And this is when you hear the value of touring with the Decemberists. When Blind Pilot hit the road with them half a year ago, not many people had any idea who the band was. But tonight, a packed house was loudly singing along with all of their sad indie folk.

The six-person band looked downright literary. Upright bass, squeeze box, dulcimer and xylophone crowded every inch of the stage. And their mix was just as crisp at Lincoln Hall as it is on 3 Rounds and a Sound. People slow danced together, girls leaned their heads on the shoulders of their men; it was actually a pretty romantic show. And though the crowd’s quiet politeness persisted (people were even shh-ing each other), they got loud enough to bring the band back for an encore.

While a cold mist fell outside, Blind Pilot warmed hearts and got Chicagoans ready to feel very thankful on this particular Thanksgiving. It was one of those shows that in spite of its soft and somber tone brought a sense of gratefulness to the audience. While enjoying stuffing and mashed potatoes the next day, there will definitely be hums of “The Story I Heard” at dinner tables in Chicagoland.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

You Missed Out: Fuck Buttons at Empty Bottle


I've been trying to think of an explanation for what I experienced tonight at the Empty Bottle, but the only thing that seems to work is hyperbole.

We say that things "blow our minds" all the time. If we're in the right mood, a basket of greasy french fries might even "blow our minds". But Fuck Buttons did something tonight that I haven't experienced in music before. It's the closest I've come to literally having my mind blown. They started with my ears, and after blowing through my ear canal with some of the loudest noise rock I've ever endured, their vibrations started cracking through my skull and began prodding at the surface of my brain. I experienced their music beyond my eardrums. I was feeling music in a new part of my body. It was incredible.

This duo made an art out of abusing my ears. Their distortion almost made me bleed from the sides of my head, but they made very sure to never take it that far. No, Fuck Buttons wanted my ears fully functional for their experimental knob show. They didn't want to hurt their audience's ears, but they did want to challenge them.

Mine were taken to the brink of auditory climax tonight. For about three quarters of their hour long set I kept my ears naked, but eventually became so nervous during one of their prolonged techno beat, droning buildups that I had to pull my hood up to get at least some single-layer cotton protection (for future music reviews). I couldn't even tell if I was actually hearing anything for a while. All audience and bar noise disappeared, and a world of sound enveloped me.

At one moment, I even lunged back. Fuck Buttons challenged me so fearlessly. It was easily the best show I've seen all year. I didn't have a single drink from the bar, but by the end of the show I felt woozy. Like I had just stepped out of one of those rocket cars that speed through the desert at 1000 miles per hour. The experience was almost transcendental.

And this is all very surprising, because I've seen Fuck Buttons before. They played at the Pitchfork Fest a few years ago, but I was mostly unimpressed then. I think this is proof of how important a venue is. Outdoor stages are great for bands like The Flaming Lips, The National and Animal Collective, but experimental noise rock bands need an Empty Bottle. It also helps that the Bottle has miraculously good sound. I'm not sure how that dank pit is capable of such amazing acoustics, but it's hard to find a rock venue in Chicago that sounds better.

It also might have helped that I saw this show by myself, and completely sober. Sure I was surrounded by hundreds of people (the show did sell out), but all my friends who were going to join me ditched at the last second. I didn't care though, I wasn't going to miss it. And I'm so glad I didn't. The last time this happened to me was over five years ago when I saw Sufjan Stevens by myself at Schubas (before Illinois came out), and that might have been my reigning "best show" ...until tonight.

I doubt if my ears will ever be treated to such a sonic delight ever again. For one thing, I think Fuck Buttons murdered my ears. But in the process, I might have evolved a deeper sense of listening. A patience and a subtlety for noise that I hadn't previously known. My ears have been born again, and glory hallelujah they shall sin no more. Praise be to Fuck Buttons! (Holy shit they were good...)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Sick Man


I have a suicidal personality. But I never actually attempt suicide. Life is awful, useless and painful, yet I remain. I'm sticking around, because, I might as well. I have nothing to offer to the world, but it has nothing to offer to me. So it's a mutual relationship. It's friendly enough.

If anything, I don't have to kill myself because a cancer, accident, or human being will do it for me eventually. I'll get sick and lose my hair while all of my friends and family members cry. I'll look at them and say "you're next, you know."

I'll be riding a bicycle when I hit a pothole that sends my face into the pavement. First I'll experience major brain damage, and after many long and difficult weeks they'll pull my plug.

Or maybe I'll be stabbed or shot. I'll be walking home from the store with food in a bag when someone kills me. They might not even say anything to me first, they'll just kill me and walk off with my wallet.

I've been saying this for years now, but the way I want to go is by tornado. I think it has something to do with The Wizard of Oz or A Serious Man. There is no image that terrifies me more than a tornado in the distance. It is so reckless, so powerful. There is nothing that anyone can do about it. There is no technology that will protect innocence from this natural disaster. There is no arguing with a tornado. There is no tragedy, no moral. The tornado is simply God's finger, taking sweet life away from the earth he created like a baker swiping a finger-full of frosting off the top of his cake.

But I know the tornado will not come yet. I can tell that I'm still in the midst of God's story. He's still playing me out, watching the struggle like a dramatic movie. And I don't want to disappoint him. I don't want to end the movie too soon. All I have now is a fever.

I'm a sick man. I look at my self, and I see nothing but uselessness. I try to write for others, and am told "bad job. try again." I am not funny. I am not nice. I am nothing but a screw up. So I write in this blog, hoping someone will be able to tourniquet my emotional bleeding for a day or two.

There's no one to blame but myself. I am a failure and I hope I get better. The point I'm at now is suicide. But since I don't want to be a complete failure, I will make sure to keep myself alive.

A living failure, that's me. I've disappointed my mother, confused my family and hurt my friends. I don't play any instruments anymore, I've quit them all. I don't even have a bicycle anymore. I'm so sick of the lousy human being that I am, and I want everyone to know how sorry I am for leading such a frivolous life.

Realize that this is not a character speaking, this is Dylan Peterson, being as honest as possible. I am very sad today, sad to be alive. It makes me sad to think that someone may actually be reading this, taking some sort of useless pity on me. I hope you don't! I hope you say "fuck him. and his self-loathing internet bullshit." Say it to my face. I have no reason to hear anything more positive.

And yet I'm still intelligent. I'm probably smarter than most of you and yet receive your pity. I have nothing to talk with you about except my own misery. If you want music suggestions, go check out fucking pitchfork.com. If all I am is a pandora station, I'm about as valuable as a computer algorithm.

But I dare you to find an intelligent person who isn't an asshole. He's the prick who says "only an unwise man will declare himself wise." There's no wisdom in that. Only trickery and nastiness. We know when we're wise, and we know when we're assholes. We know exactly who we are, whether we're lazy, perverted, manic, bubble-headed, boring, funny, pretty, uptight or rude. We are aware of ourselves. That sorry old excuse of a prayer that goes, "show us our sins so that we might ask forgiveness of them," is the most poignant example of human bullshit.

I know what I have to offer. I have cynicism and criticism for you if you'd like it. If not, turn around and run away from me. I am a carnivore who preys on the less intelligent and unenlightened. If you believe I am your friend, you mistake my evil for solidarity. Because I am only here to take from you. I am here to enact a stronger blow than what you can deliver. I am here to be stronger, taller and better than those around me. If you are my friend, you are lower than I am.

Is there hope for us? Sure, we will change our minds and write new blog posts and become parents and drink champagne. This is why God continues to watch our story. If he became bored, he would offer his tornado. But for the time being, let's fight each other and make it worse. Let's not offer encouragement anymore, but insults and violence. If I am the only one here with serious emotional problems, make fun of me for it.

We'll be done soon anyway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Out and Hyped: World's Greatest Ghosts - No Magic


Originally published by Oregon Music News


When I uploaded World’s Greatest Ghosts’ new album, No Magic, into my iTunes, its genre automatically came up as “Alternative & Punk.” Who knows why Apple does this for artists that couldn’t be further from the label, but Andrew Bird, Captain Beefheart, Fleet Foxes and Glenn Kotche have all received this misnomer. To my surprise, World’s Greatest Ghosts aren’t out of place this time.

No Magic is a refreshing return to raucousness. It’s indie-spazz rock in rapid-fire common time. The upbeat, energetic rhythms are made for dancing with your arms flailing wildly like Elwood Blues doing the “running man”. Sing-along melodies standout from start to finish, and you can just picture a guy doing a handstand on a Moog while the guitarist repeatedly scissor kicks. Reggie and the Full Effect will be jealous of the warm, playful synths on tracks like “Mazes and Monsters,” “The Royal Court” and “On the Shore”.

Journey-ed rock-outs prove that WGG has a lot of musical ideas. No Magic is an album for anyone who just wants music to be fun again. The lyrics are occasionally cringe-worthy (“Can you show me a way/A way to wake up/ It’s time for me to wake up/We’re on a mission/To find our way/Out of these nightmares”) and the melodies are overly sugary, but it’s all too sincere to refuse.

The Magic themes are prominent throughout the album and an apt compliment to the wildly spastic twists and turns from one harmonized guitar riff to the next. It’s like the musical version of playing the Legend of Zelda for the NES and occasionally finding secret levels in the next screen over. There are a lot of surprises on No Magic, none of which are unpleasant. The vocal/guitar duo breakdown near the album’s end comes out of nowhere, but kicks the energy up to a level that can only be reached in the poppiest moments of punk rock.

Coming in at just over a half hour, the album is over too soon. The nine tracks blaze by like a fire-breathing dragon dousing the countryside, villages aflame. But it’s just as easy to put it on again for a second ride. Or, even better, this is an album that beckons its listener to come out to a WGG show. I’d expect full LARPer garb from these kids.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veteran Animals


As soon as we realize that life sucks, it's not really that bad. If we try to make our lives great, we are going to have a lousy time on earth. Someone once said that the margin between "great" and "sucks" is actually very small anyway. Our friends tell us to check out some great restaurant or that they just watched a great movie. So we go check out these great things, only to discover for ourselves that they actually suck. What gives? Well, first of all, truth is subjectivity. That's the easy answer. But even that stems from a more troubling human condition: self-awareness.

Attaining self-awareness is a slow process, but eventually results in the knowledge of our miserable situation. We are alive, for a while, until we're not. That's it. Life is quick, painful, and useless. Here's the problem with self-awareness though: when we realize life is meaningless, we try to argue. We try to give ourselves some sort of value by working hard or seeking justice. We don't want life to be meaningless, but something precious and ordained by the creator of the universe.

Cornel West poses a question to all who visit his website: "What kind of human being do you want to be?" It's not a simple question at all. Because even though human beings have free will and rationality, we still have instinct and unpredictability. West's question can easily be dodged by the latter truths, because no human should want to live completely unpredictably or by instinct (which would just be like any other animal). Humans are a unique species because they have rational self-awareness that allows them to ask the question "what kind of human do I want to be?" Cats don't ask themselves what sort of cat they want to be (except Garfield. But he's a lazy excuse for a cat anyway).

The terrifying thing about the question is that many humans may decide to answer: "a killer" or "a thug". When a youth looks at 50 Cent and aspires to be like him, he is merely aspiring towards the instinctual and unpredictable aspects of the human being. It's not that being a "killer" or "thug" aren't viable options, they're just such uncomfortably violent aspirations.

But this isn't surprising, because all humans are violent. We all have the capability to do horrible things to each other. Violence is a part of nature, for nothing lives without death. But, again, we are a complicated species when self-awareness gets thrown into the mix. A lion cannot look at the gazelle it killed and feel remorse. But we can look down at the sirloin on our plate and feel guilty of murder.

Are we guilty of murder? Absolutely. Which is why ethics and justice have evolved into the systems we have today. We are absolutely violent creatures, still (occasionally) attuned to the violent ways of nature. But since we have this knowledge of ourselves, we can lie.

A dog will not chase its tail if it doesn't know it has one, but as soon as it sees it, the race is on. We have discovered ourselves in an innate sense, and do everything possible to mend the deformities nature intended for us. The concept of "peace" is a human invention. "Hope" and "faith" do not exist outside of humanity. There are intangibles we have created for our own sake. God didn't give us faith, we've fashioned it ourselves.

This means, we determine our own fate. We can pray or struggle or protest or whatever we think will help our belief, but each individual human has their own choice to make. And if they choose violence, they have the right. Sure, they'll die by the sword eventually, but they'll have a blast for the few years they'll have living by it.

So when my bike is stolen off of my back porch in the middle of the day by people who don't know me, or my friend is beaten up at gunpoint in an alley by thugs, what kinds of human beings are we dealing with here? You and I would never steal from a neighbor or point a gun at a stranger, so why would they?

I so desperately want to believe that ignorance is bliss. But it's too late for that. I am not ignorant, and I never will be. And I do think that everyone, at some point, asks themselves "what kind of human do I want to be". And sometimes they actually answer "50 Cent" instead of "a judge" or "a writer". Not all humans aspire to go down in history, many of them simply want to go to heaven when they die, and others just hope that they might someday become a gang leader. It's not always a result of poverty or lack of discipline either, some humans just want these things.

---

But look at the military. On this Veteran's Day, we have to respect the army guys. Realize that they take on the burden of violence for the sake of us all. We don't have to be violent, because they already are. In Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Joker remarks, "The Marine corp does not want robots. The Marine corp wants killers. The Marine corp wants to build indestructible men. Men without fear." He wasn't speaking as a brainwashed sheep. A robot cannot be a killer, only a human can. This is because a human being has self-awareness. A human being kills, and says "I have killed".

Of course, everything in nature kills. Deer kill plants and tigers kill deer, but there isn't an ethical problem when they do it because they only know instinct and survival. Animals do not feel remorse, for they do not have self-awareness. When they kill, they do not say "I have killed," they just eat and survive. We are killers with remorse. We know what it means to kill. We may even kill when it has nothing to do with our survival. But our way of killing works on two levels, the instinctual and the conscious. There is a deep, natural darkness within us that makes it possible for us to kill, and it has nothing to do with evil. Killing is something that happens in our most natural states. Our remorse and "justice" is simply a reaction of our awareness of our killings.

But even though the inscription on Joker's helmet is true ("born to kill"), we all want to forget it. We want something like, "born to be peaceful," but the military quickly calls bullshit on that. The military realizes that we're still just a bunch of animals. A bunch of rational, self-aware animals. Human beings are not peaceful, never have been, and never will be. We are going to kill each other, for one thing or another. This will never cease. We know we're going to die, but we believe in things like dignity, pride and country.

But a military man is a beautiful example of dual nature. Completely brutal and violent on one hand, but also capable of asking "what kind of human do I want to be?" They will kill people they've never met, in very organized fashion. They do not refuse the evolution that raised them to be the killers they are, and are completely conscious of the horror that they have decided to take part in.

Not unlike "greatness" and "suckage", the margin between military aspirations and thug aspirations are slim, but crucial. Thug aspirations are selfish, and military aspirations are selfless. Living the thug life improves the life of the individual, at the cost of others' lives. A military man will knowingly lose his life, for the sake of a greater good. Both lives can be great, but they pretty much suck too.

War is certainly dreadful. But it is a part of nature. We no longer fight against other species, but we still have to fight something. So we fight ourselves.

We fight ourselves internally and externally. We have to fight. We fight to live. Life sucks, and so must be fought. Life is always trying to bring violence upon us, and the only way to survive is to be peaceful and pray. Wait, no. Sorry. We have to be killers. We were not born for peace, but for nature. Homeostasis is not maintained through world peace, but constant war. Happy Veteran's Day. Support the troops.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Not even halfway through November and the year-end lists have begun. What a time to be alive! Well here you go, the best albums of the year. Argue with me, tell me what I've overlooked, whatever. And hey, if anybody wants to listen to one or more of these albums yourself, just ask and I'll toss you a download link. Thanks for reading!

10. Mos Def - The Ecstatic


I don't know about hip hop anymore. This is the only rap album I've enjoyed all year. The Kanye antics were fun, but I think this genre needs serious help. And what's ridiculous is that it wouldn't be a problem if rappers could just take a cue from Mos Def. This album is thoughtful and creative, but it doesn't sacrifice any rhythm or rawness. If anything, the music is stronger as a result of its fiery content. Best rap album of the year by a dozen miles.

9. Ramona Falls - Intuit


This band is kinda just "Almost Menomena". Two thirds of the band play and tour in Ramona Falls, along with a bunch of other Portland musicians. It's as good as any Menomena album, which means it's really really good. By definition, a side project can never be king though. Ramona Falls may never tour or release another album again, because Menomena is priority number one. ...But I wouldn't complain if Menomena broke up and Ramona Falls continued. Not for a second.

8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca


The novelty of the weird Black Flag cover album has worn off just in time for a full length record of original songs by the most physically attractive indie band in the world. This album suits the Dirty Projectors. It's fully realized and original, and basically insists that you see the music performed live in order to get a real grasp of just how impressive The Dirty Projectors are.

7. Dan Deacon - Bromst


Dan Deacon was always fun, but it was hard to tell just how skilled he actually was amidst all of his meowing and trippy green skulls. Bromst is a marvel. His talent is proven in the first track. Overwhelming, unbelievable, verbose, hyperbolic, any emphatic word you can find in your vocabulary will suit Bromst adequately. It's a testament to how far music has come in both composition and production. If one man can create sounds like this all by himself, we're living in an incredible age.

6. Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence


When the Kings of Convenience are being quiet, it's like the entire world has stopped just to gather around and listen. This album will not amaze anyone when they hear it, but they'll want to hear it again. And again. It's music with fundamentals. Working hard to make it sound like no work at all, the Kings are as refreshing as a warm night at the beach with friends and a big bucket of nothing to do. Relax or swoon, as long as you react with your heart instead of your head, Kings of Convenience will move you.

5. Jonsi & Alex - Riceboy Sleeps


Ambient music can be awfully offensive sometimes. It's so minimal and slow and boring that you can almost smell the roses between the ass-cracks of the synth players as they bend over to fiddle with their knobs. Ambient music fails hard when you can imagine its player. The success of Riceboy Sleeps is its purity. If humans created it, I can't tell. This is Mother Nature's music. After a decade of Sigur Ros, Jonsi and Alex should be this good though. Whether I'm dreaming with them or forgetting they're there, it's always better to have Riceboy Sleeps on.

4. M Ward - Hold Time


An album like Hold Time doesn't amaze anybody. I don't really want to apply any adjectives to it either. It just sounds like songwriting. Quite the opposite of ambient music, the genius of M. Ward is in the blatancy. These songs tap into that timeless folk sound that keeps Bob Dylan relevant from decade to decade. Hold Time will inspire one day, and act as light car-ride accompaniment the next. Knowing the sorts of musical virtuosity that M. Ward is capable of and hearing an album like this is like a musical iceberg. You know there's so much more underneath, but you don't need to see it, because what he's given us above the surface is perfectly beautiful as it is.

3. Japandroids - Post-Nothing


I have not been enjoying the 90s' comeback. The 80s' revival wasn't too great either, but even that only lasted for a few years. But I cannot dismiss the times. If what I'm living in is bringing the lo-fi and grunge back, so be it. There are at least a few positives to find here and there. Japandroids' Post-Nothing has been the strongest example yet. These two guys bring back that aspect of the 90s' that was concerned with the inclusion fun and emotion in music. These songs work on the same level as Jimmy Eat World's Clarity. A high schooler can pump his fist to it, and an aging hipster can get that old high school feeling again. If "nothing" came before Japandroids, they're not really following up anything or paying any homage. They're just making rock music for their band. There's no need to put that on a timeline.

2. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


There's nothing quite like a good summertime album. Lord knows there have been too many bad ones. But Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is like warm romance during summer break in the city. There isn't a down moment on the album, but Countdown (Sick for the Big Sun) is the song that really asks the question that Phoenix poses throughout the whole album: "Do you remember when 21 years was old?" Like Japandroids, Phoenix produces a sound altogether youthful, nostalgic, and immediate. None of us can stay young forever, but who cares? If we can tap back into it through a song, we're not missing anything.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion


Let's disassociate Animal Collective from Pitchfork and indie rock for a moment. Why is this a great album? It's not because it receives positive reviews. It's not because it's now popular. There isn't a valid reason at all really. But I think Merriweather Post Pavilion is great because of the way it makes us feel. I feel elated, terrified, confused and excited when I hear it. It gives me a new experience with music, something totally averse to nostalgia, something even better. Animal Collective are a band of their time. They're a siren alerting the music world of the post-commercialization of rock and roll that we've experienced this decade. Music cannot be attached to a product anymore, it will not be consumed as it was before. Animal Collective are not doing anything but their art. It's a really simple thing actually. Instead of exploiting their popularity, they're just becoming accustomed to it. Popular or not, this is music for anyone who steals music online. It's the weird sound of an experimenter. The wilderness within us that we've tried to cover with fabrics, headphones and eating utensils. The lion in the coma is awake, and it has devoured the humans.

The best albums of 2009. Listed.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Top 25 Songs of 2009

On Monday I'll post my top 10 albums of the year, but I thought I should do something to hold us over. At the bottom of this post is a link do download my 25 favorite songs from this year. The tracklist is below, and it's in the order of my favorite to least favorite (that doesn't mean the compilation gets worse as it goes on though, all of the songs are wonderful).

1. The Antlers - Two

I'll come right out and say that The Antlers album didn't make my AOTY list. I wanted to fit it in somewhere, until I realized that the only song I really like on it is Two. But I like Two a lot. It gives me a feeling of simultaneous sorrow and jubilation. I guess it's a perfect example of musical juxtaposition, and since my life has been similarly both wonderful and horrendous this past year, it's the only sound that seemed to capture the way I feel.

2. M Ward - Fisher of Men

If anything prevented me from ditching Christianity this year, it's this song. As dramatic as that sounds, it's completely true. It's this line: "He put his name in my chorus and the dark before the dawn, so that in my time of weakness I'll remember it's his song." Seriously folks. You have no idea how badly I needed to hear that this year.

3. Andrew Bird - Anonanimal

I've wondered if this might be Andrew Bird's best song. I still wonder that. If it isn't, it's in the top three.

4. Phoenix - Lisztomania

I know this wasn't the track that shot them off like a rocket into space (that one's coming up), but it is the first track on the album, and it really is like an alarm of what's to come. And how fun it is to sing that ridiculous line, "like a riot, like a riot, OHHH!"

5. The Books and Jose Gonzalez - Cello Song

It's been too long since we've had a new track from The Books. So this collaboration they did with Jose was very welcomed. Jose might even do well to tour with The Books. This song is one of their best, and I mean that in regards to both parties. It was the coolest track on the overstuffed Dark Was the Night comp, and got music fans excited for The Books' upcoming tour and new album. (2010, get here now!)

6. Dead Man's Bones - Pa Pa Power

I don't know how this song fits in with the rest of Dead Man's Bones' creepy Halloween album, because this ditty is pure fun and pop. But the plinky little synth jobs by Ryan Gosling that play tag with the children's choir is the smirkiest thing I've heard in indie rock in a while. I love it.

7. Volcano Choir - Island Is

Justin Vernon shouldn't quit Bon Iver, but he needs to make a lot more music like this. He has a talent for subtlety, even without an acoustic guitar in his lap. And that takes skill, folks. As amazing as The Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective can be when it comes to this kind of underachieving musical verbosity, I haven't heard it done better than in Volcano Choir's 'Island Is'.

8. Animal Collective - Daily Routine

This isn't everyone's favorite track on MPP, but it is mine. It's just those ear piercing high-end squeals. I never want them to stop. Even better when they're accompanied by ultra-bright rainbow colored LED columns at Animal Collective's live show.

9. The Flaming Lips - Watching the Planets

It takes a long time before we can get to this triumphant conclusion of Embryonic, but I think enduring the entire psychedelic experience makes this last hurrah all the more massive. It's the best album-closer of 2009.

10. Lymbyc Systym - Teddy

This wins the best instrumental track of the year. What makes it stand out? I'm not exactly sure, except that it sounds like Lymbyc Systym just does everything that two musicians can possibly pack into a 4 and a half minute song.

11. Wilco - I'll Fight

It's a perfectly simple song. So simple, that it's easy to overlook. But that's what Wilco has gotten so good at over the past few years. They have nothing to prove anymore, so they're not going to try. I'll Fight is the most comfortable Wilco song yet.

12. Kings of Convenience - Mrs. Cold

I want to call this the love song of the year. It's just the way Erland sings "Hey baby...". It's so flirtatious. There's nothing creepy or cheesy going on here. It's the song that makes you want to walk over to your crush and smile at them. And get a smile back. (phew!)

13. Japandroids - Young Hearts Spark Fire

Every track on Japandroids' Post Nothing is a fist-pumping, rock out jam. But Young Hearts Spark Fire sounds like their quintessential effort. It's packed with energy, emotion and sincerity.

14. Mos Def - Auditorium

It was a bad year for rap, but not if the only album you heard was Mos Def's The Ecstatic. From start to finish, this record is a jam. But Auditorium stands out. It's the old 70s movie soundtrack sample, the Slick Rick rhymes, and the Madball production. It's just a perfect rap song.

15. Why? - This Blackest Purse

On a pretty disappointing album, Yoni finally got interesting at its end (intentional irony?). This Blackest Purse is a dreadful song, one that is clever enough that it won't bore, but is dark enough to make you think you've wasted your life. And hey, anytime a song can make us ponder our existence, it's doing something right.

16. Phoenix - 1901

This song was probably used in about 15 percent of all electronic media this year. Commercials, film trailers, TV shows, whatever. It was everywhere. But I never did mind it, because it's a great song. I hope Phoenix are now rich as a result of selling it out so much, that way they'll be able to produce many more like it! But seriously, excellent song.

17. Animal Collective - My Girls

There it is! The track that solidified Animal Collective's status as an artistic and cultural icon. They became indie rock, pitchfork media, and CMJ in one moment. It's as if all of this ridiculously indiesploited decade was leading up to this song. Personally, I think it was worth it.

18. Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks

Two Weeks isn't painfully impressive or engaging, but it's not boring or forgettable either. That's what I love about it. It's a balanced song. Never forcing itself into your head, but never unwelcome there either.

19. Noah and the Whale - Blue Skies

I love cinematic music. When I hear it, I feel like I'm in a movie. And, honestly, who doesn't have fun imagining they're in a Truman Show? I guess this song had to be that way though, because Noah and the Whale filmed a movie to go along with the album. I haven't seen the movie, but if it has music like this in it, I'm sure it can't be that bad.

20. Built to Spill - Nowhere Lullaby

Doug Martsch writes the most vulnerable melodies. The things he decides to do with his voice are embarrassing, but who can hate it when he sings with such honesty. Just that he doesn't care if he's stuck in the 90s', what a boss.

21. Wilco - Bull Black Nova

There's some tension and fuzz in Bull Black Nova. It almost takes you back to A Ghost is Born, but not quite. Either way, it's another example of Wilco being incredibly simple on the surface while covering their talented tracks under old snow.

22. Franz Ferdinand - No You Girls

Maybe my love for this song has something to do with my nostalgia for Take Me Out. It has that same pop-dance-rock feeling of the old Franz Ferdinand. But none of it seems worn out to me. I think it's fun. Seriously though guys, what's not to like about this music?

23. Here We Go Magic - Tunnelvision

Sometimes you just have to gradually build your sounds on top of each other until you've reached a crescendo of noise. I don't know why this must be, but it's just how it goes every now and then. Here We Go Magic isn't really doing anything new, they're just another Brooklyn hipster band playing with reverb and fuzz. But they're doing it right.

24. Wooden Birds - False Alarm

I always want to call this an Elliott Smith song when it comes on. And, if you don't realize, that's a very good thing.

25. Voxtrot - Berlin Without Return

Well, this song is pretty good, but the main reason it's here is because my wife and I actually saw Voxtrot play in Berlin when we were there for our honeymoon. Returning to America is something I wouldn't have done if we could go back in time. So this is a song about Berlin, and how it impacted me and Voxtrot in the same way at the same time. We're still going to move there...


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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

NBA Playoffs 2010

I hate fantasy sports stuff. But I like sports. Competition amongst humans is one of those beautiful ways in which we curb violence and frivolity through a more peaceful interaction of sport. Instead of settling issues with guns, athletes opt for a pair of sneakers. If it weren't for organized sports, we'd have a lot more war. Isn't that the beauty of the Olympics, after all?

Alright, this post isn't about that nonsense. I'm just excited that the NBA is on again. I'm a Bulls fan, and I can't wait to see if Derrick Rose can prove himself this year. What I hope is that he shows the rest of the league that he can be the best point guard in the game. If he can do that, we'll have big men knocking the United Center's door down next season.

That's how the NBA works these days. Once the team proves it's capable of going all the way, the superstars want to come to them. Shaq to the Cavs. Rasheed to the Celtics. Vince Carter to the Magic. Artest to the Lakers. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. This is the NBA. This year, the Bulls are middle-class. They're a 6th seed in the playoffs. Not championship contenders. But it's an important year for them. A year to grow and prove just how threatening a team they'll be.

What will the playoffs look like this year? After a week of games, I've made some very hasty predictions. A lot will change, injuries will befall superstars and trades will turn tides. But regardless of what's possible, this is what I'll expect to happen half a year from now:

Eastern Conference Playoffs:

#1 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Toronto Raptors

#2 Orlando Magic vs. #7 Washington Wizards

#3 Cleveland Cavs vs #6 Chicago Bulls

#4 Miami Heat vs #5 Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference Playoffs

#1 Denver Nuggets vs. #8 New Orleans Hornets

#2 LA Lakers vs. #7 Phoenix Suns

#3 Portland Trailblazers vs. #6 Dallas Mavericks

#4 Utah Jazz vs #5 San Antonio Spurs



Alright, let's break this down. Best teams in the NBA:

1. Boston Celtics

This team is nasty. I'm definitely not going to root for them, but I don't think anything can stop them this year. What's worse is they're a bunch of barking assholes. Rondo's already talking trash. Garnett is as Garnett as ever (mothah fuckah!). Ray Allen is 100 percent ditry. And the newly acquired Rasheed Wallace is just as intimidating as a Celtic as he was during his championship days with the Pistons. Nothing's stopping them this year.

2. Orlando Magic

I hate everything about Florida, and my hate is strongest for Orlando. Even though I want these guys to lose, I can't deny how strong their basketball team is. They were unbeaten all the way through the preseason and just tonight finally lost to Detroit (really?). They're not perfect, but this Dwight Howard/Vince Carter combo looks REALLY good. The best playoffs series we'll see this year will be the Magic and Celtics.

3. Denver Nuggets

Melo got a taste of blood last year, and now he's going for the full course. This will be the Western conference team we see in the Finals this year. A full year of Billups and Anthony is going to be tough to beat. Even for Kobe.

4. LA Lakers

Just because they're not going to the Finals doesn't mean they suck. They don't. Kobe is gonna defend it like you won't believe. Luckily, LA has also gotten some help in Ron Artest. They're going to put up a hell of a fight this year, but they won't make it past Denver this time. And even if they did, the Celtics would sweep them.

5. Cleveland Cavs

They're out to a rough start, but adding Shaq into the mix means things are shaken up longer than desired. But things will fall into place, Lebron will be amazing, and the Cavs will become a dominant force within the next few weeks.

6. Portland Trailblazers

Another team having a shaky start (a lot of the West is for some reason), but the Blazers are going to keep basketball sick. They're one of the most enjoyable teams to watch, and they're only going to get better with experience.

7. Utah Jazz

Their early play has been interesting. They've lost a few games, but it's hard to count Utah out when you watch Deron Williams play. This team just has fundamentals. And as the Spurs have showed us multiple times this decade, sound basketball can win championships.

8. San Antonio Spurs

Speaking of the dynasty, they're not done yet. The guys are getting old, but they've still got what it takes to cause some damage in the NBA. There's not much new to say about the Spurs, but that only means good things for the legendary organization.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki. One of the best players in the league, he'll prove it again this year. And with Kidd still around for fun, the Mavs are going to be one of the peskiest teams ANYONE will play this year. These guys are competitors who refuse to give up until they have a championship. They just won't be able to withstand the immense talent on teams like the Nuggets and Celtics, but they'll be sure to take it to 7 anyway.

10. Miami Heat

Dwayne Wade isn't fooling around. All of the MVP talk from last year wasn't loud enough. With the staff he has to work with, Wade does way more than what he should have to do. If he found himself on any of the teams below, they would be a shoe-in for a ring. Alas, he's on the Heat, and they probably won't make it out of the first round again.

11. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are an exciting team to watch. They're young and athletic, and know how to win games. This certainly isn't their championship year. And in fact, who knows how they'll ever get there. But fun basketball is usually better than barking Garnetts anyway. So the Hawks are alright.

12. Phoenix Suns

A few of their pieces have scattered around, but they still have their core in Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire. As a result, they're one of three teams who are still undefeated after the first week (along with the Celtics and Nuggets). This Suns team is actually better than it was last year, and that might have something to do with old man Shaquille saying bye-bye.

13. Chicago Bulls

They'll be lucky to get out of the first round this year (they will not if they end up playing the Magic or Celtics), but the Bulls are a team with the most to gain in the league. Derrick Rose will prove himself this year, and then they'll reel in a free agent who will turn the Bulls into serious contenders for next season. It's all about the growth this year folks.

14. New Orleans Hornets

The only reason the Hornets are making the playoffs is because of Chris Paul. He's arguably the best point guard in the league (if Deron Williams isn't around), and he's one of the best players in basketball, period. If only he had more to work with.

15. Washington Wizards

These guys are turning things around, mostly because Arenas is healthy this year. They're threatening in 2009, but the Wizards still won't get out of the first round (if they can indeed make it that far). They're another team who has a lot of growing to do, but shows promise.

16. Toronto Raptors

Chris Bosh is awesome. Maybe even underrated. He gets better every year though. And if the Raptors can figure out how to use Hedo efficiently, they'll invoke a lot of upsets during the season this year.

Showing Compassion Towards the Charitable

A man with two arms stands on a mountain. In the distance he sees a sick child dying under a tree as vultures fly above. The man stretches out one of his arms toward the child. And then he contorts his other arm, bends it in the opposite direction, and pats himself on the back.

---

Who deserves our compassion? Is it sick children and impoverished families? The elderly and disabled? The kid who was beaten by his father or molested by his uncle? Are they the ones who have become less fortunate than the rest of us? Are they the ones who need our help?

They are certainly easy targets for compassion. But the danger in having compassion on those who seem less fortunate is the possibility of entitlement this brings. You are better off, so you have the ability to help. Oh, dear readers, that is certainly a lie.

Most of us are members of the middle class. And this is a good thing. By definition, we are more balanced than the poor and the rich. Compassion should start here, not in the middle class, but where we know it. We must be aware of our selves before we try to help the lives of people we don't understand. Compassion is not charity. Charity is way of alleviating the guilt that overcomes us due to our misunderstanding of suffering. "A child is starving! Give ten dollars a month to Compassion International and you'll help." Maybe you'll help something, somewhere (maybe), but you will not be showing compassion.

The word "compassion" should always remind us of the word "companion". As its definition shows, compassion is "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it". Somehow, many of us have chosen to focus on the second half of compassion's definition. We want to alleviate distress, but we don't want to personalize it. But, dear readers, the only way compassion is possible is through sympathy.

What is sympathy? "An affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other." Does this sound like giving money to poor kids in Africa? Or pouring soup at a homeless shelter?

Compassion and charity are not synonymous with each other. Charity is certainly a helpful thing, and should continue, but it must never be confused with compassion.

Those who need charity are those who have fallen victim to fate's cruelty, and have no say in their situations. The ones who deserve compassion have brought suffering upon themselves, and could have very well avoided their suffering through wisdom or humility. So when we watch Maury and laugh at the 18 year old girl who became pregnant as a result of sleeping with one of three (or more) men, we are getting closer to the person we should have compassion on.

Of course, television perverts the entire process. Compassion isn't possible through airwaves. It requires physical contact and time with an individual. Family is where compassion really starts. That automatic group of "loved ones" who have no choice but to treat each other with dignity and respect. This is where we first learn compassion.

And if we can learn it in our family, we can take compassion further out into the neighborhood. Just as it should be with birth, everything starts with family. Everything.

Your douchebag cousin, your cougar aunt, rapist uncle, gangbangin' brother, hypocritical mother. These are the people you must show compassion towards. Because if you don't start with them, you'll never be able to love your douchebag neighbor, slutty neighbor, pervert neighbor, gangbangin' neighbor, and Christian neighbors.

Do not have compassion on those you've never met. Do not try. That would be a perversion of compassion, and you will confuse yourself. Charity should not even be attempted until compassion has been learned. Because charity seeks to reach what compassion could not. If you overreach, you could easily fall over the ledge.

Compassion shows me that I am no better off than any rapist, douchebag, whore or hypocrite out there. I am just as bad as they are. I don't look down on them, I sympathize with them.

"Sympathize with a rapist! Surely thee jest! That is sin!"

Oh, sorry Mr. self-righteous American. I didn't see you there.

Of course nobody wants to sin. But that's not the point (because everyone does sin). The point is compassion for those who do sin, instead of judgment. One of the definitions of charity is actually "lenient judgment of others", but compassion does no such thing. Compassion is admitting one's situation as it mirrors another's. It is not pretending to be on a higher level than another human being. It is sitting on the same park bench and feeding the same fat pigeons.

Sin is not a requirement of compassion, but it always turns out to be a prerequisite. Don't make friends based on your virtues, but on your vices. You will be able to hold each other up when weakness sets in, because you will have a conscious understanding of each other's distress.

---

A man with two arms sits under a tree with a sick, dying man who he had previously thought to be a sick, dying child. In the distance he sees a mountain. He uses one arm to bat away vultures, and the other to hold the man's dying body. Eventually, someone dies. But not alone.