Saturday, July 18, 2009


A couple of quick items:

- On the CFL front, how do the Winnipeg Blue Bombers keep sniffing out such abject clowns to take the head coaching reins? Hot on the heels of the cartoonishly hardassed Doug 'Ready, Set, Alienate' Berry (who, incidentally, looks like the type of guy you really wouldn't want to use the bathroom after), this Mike Kelly character has pretty much discredited himself three games into his meagre tenure. It's not like he was exactly bathed in glory (or dignity, for that matter) before the mini-Spygate foofraw due to offseason hijinks, but they even lost to Hamilton! Ha, losers! Oh, uh, wait a minute...

Rapidly changing the subject, I never did get a chance to post my CFL predictions, so am doing the honourary thing and slapping down the picks I made to friends before the regular season kicked off (Montreal is already clearly going to win the East, so I'm chastened from the get-go).


1) Calgary Stampeders
2) Edmonton Eskimos
3) BC Lions
4) Saskatchewan Roughriders


1) Toronto Argonauts
2) Montreal Alouettes
3) Winnipeg Blue Bombers
4) Hamilton Tiger-Cats

I also have the fourth-place 'Riders crossing over, as they'll finish higher than the Bombers.

I plan a lengthy state-of-the-Lions blog within the next couple of weeks, but, mercifully, they're off the schneid after a huge victory in Edmonton. More to come, but how glorious are those retro unis? Seriously, the Leos current threads are amongst my favourites in the sports world, but I won't complain if they designate a couple of dates later this season to rock the old-school duds again. In other news, Geroy Simon is god.

Jarious rocking the retros! To American readers, yeah, that same Jarious Jackson.

- Let's just pretend my preseason baseball blog never happened, okay? Cleveland has been a massive disappointment, Florida was schooled by Philly over the past couple of days after somewhat climbing back into the race, the Giants, Tigers, and White Sox are decent, and Trey Hillman ain't winning no trophies.

Sadly, it appears as though my 5th-place Jays prediction is going to come true. For those who don't know, after growing up worshiping the game, I essentially stopped seriously following baseball around the '99 season: the dumbed-down juiced ball era was the biggest culprit, and minor factors were my disillusionment with pro sports in general when the Grizzlies skipped town, combined with the fact that, as a suddenly anti-everything punk kid, my previously crazy sports-fan wattage dimmed a bit, save for the 'Nucks and Lions (happily, I very much returned with little prodding, but MLB continued to take it on the chin until around mid-decade...I regret nothing). That '05 Jays team, starring the O-Dog, a rookie Aaron Hill, and other heroic protagonists brought me back to the game, but nobody was more responsible for my supplicatory return than one Doc Halladay. I actually began planning my schedule around his starts, and, as one who favours the cerebral (yes, I prefer the NL version of baseball, and miss the 'Spos) aspect of the game, flat-out marveled at his ability to gear ground balls based on the particular alignment of his fielders. The power-pitchers get all the ink, but Roy is downright virtuosic in this respect. Of course, his season ended horrifically when Halladay was nailed on the leg by a frozen rope in Arlington, but the damage had been done: Jared was a baseball junkie again.

The function of this preamble is to serve as a warning to ridiculously inept Jays GM J.P. Riccardi. I fully understand that we're rebuilding and, after refusing to accept the notion for a solid week, am willing to accept a Doc trade. This said, if he's dealt to Boston or the Yankees, I'm done with baseball again, and this time for good. The thought of having Halladay come into Toronto to wipe out the Jays three or four times a year while the spoilt fans of the Sox / Bronx Bombers cackle is just too much to bear. I realize, and grudgingly accept, that Toronto has rolled snake-eyes by ending up in the AL East with these twin leviathans, but refuse to have my nose rubbed in it to this extent. The ball's in your court, J.P. Fuck, he's a Massachusetts guy, isn't he?

- Check out Craig Dodge's preseason NFL Powerlines at his always entertaining Vertically Striped Socks blog. I plan on posting my list o'32 within the next two or three weeks as a rebuttal: there's a fair amount of common ground, but, as a sneak preview, I have issues with his placement of the Chargers and Cardinals (should be lower), plus the Bears and Seahawks (should be higher).

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Hey, everyone. I apologize for the lack of updates lately, but there has been a heap on my plate. Long story short, I was laid off from my job about a month ago: in blogspeak, this makes for short-term pain, long-term gain. I'm still at the gig until late July, see (which makes for welcome hoarding towards my existing nest-egg), plus I get a nice summer break. Oh, the quote-unquote 'gain': I plan on reading and writing a lot (mostly on a beach and/or alternate sunny setting) during August and September while I weigh my future, so will be adding content frequently then. Thanks for your patience, and, truth be told, I am pretty enthused about this turn of events. Not only do I get an actual vacation, but it's driving my ass back to school.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cigarettes and chocolate milk

Okay, a bit of housecleaning here. First and foremost, I figure that a running series will function as an effective spur to my writing more frequently, plus I've largely ignored music commentary for the past couple of months, so here's the scoop. I've been going through my records for the past two hours, and plan on writing blurbs for each five star album I've ever heard over the coming months. Literally thousands of discs have graced the stereo over my lifetime, and especially over the past decade, but I'm pretty chintzy when it comes to doling out perfect ratings. At last count, fifty-nine artists managed to pull it off (there are numerous instances where a single entity has two or several five star efforts) . There's also a lengthy honourable mention list of 'four-and-a-half-bordering-on-five,' which I'll publish shortly. My selection criteria was basic: if there was even a nanosecond of dwelling upon whether the record in question belonged amongst the cream, it was punted to the runner-up stack.

Record-geek list-fetishism aside (Nick Hornby's legal team on line one), some commentary on a couple of other things.

First of all, I'm loath to bring up the subject, but Susan Boyle. Can we stop the self-congratulation about this, please? If you watch that clip, and who hasn't, there's literally laughter coming from the audience before she bursts into song, yet we're supposed to accept that a single competent performance from a figure viewed as a bog monster mere seconds earlier had inalterably morally shifted this bunch of judgmental, shit-for-brains jackals? I'm sure Ms Boyle is a nice lady and all, and she sings well, but this isn't even about her: it's about us. We're hypocrites and marionettes: the entire scenario was obviously jerry-rigged by the show's production team, essentially heartwarming-by-numbers. If there were a show full of Susan Boyles, nobody would watch. I've crossed swords with many people about this already, and suspect that it would be more socially acceptable to blurt that Terry Fox was a complete asshole rather than question the piety of Saint Susan. Enough! Again, this isn't about Boyle herself, but can we go back to manufacturing genuine emotion ourselves, within our own social circles, without having media conglomerates do it for us over the teevee? I'm willing to be tagged a grump and curmudgeon on this. Matter of fact, it would be a badge of honour. Now, let's talk about something else.

Secondly, on a more positive note, I'm a huge fan of the new phalanx of basic Facebook fan pages. What I refer to is friends becoming fans of generalities, such as music and sleep. In this spirit, I searched for pages using these terms, and each had their backers. There's no fudging any of these figures, and they're the real deal:

Oxygen - 19,366 fans
Trees - 24, 189 fans
Breathing - 43,573 fans
Blinking - 344 fans

Like, aren't we fans of life's wallpaper by default? When did supporting these things require an opt-in clause, like a Ralph Nader PIRG or something? This is my personal fave, as shared with several co-workers:

Existence - 262 fans

Do we really need to fly the flag that we're happy to basically exist? Is anybody really on the fence about this issue? Good times. I work in front of a computer all day, and have become mildly addicted to Facebook, so I notice these things. I'm not proud or anything; it just sort of happened...

Finally, on the lighter side, a right-wing luddite spewing blue-collar patois over demonstration-button techno. My brother Jud put it best:

This is horrible. Horrible. But I couldn't resist the lure of sharing a video of Don Cherry hesher-toasting over a flaccid Eurovision-lite backing track. Honest, I have to warn you that - to quote Charlie Brooker - your eyes may very well spin around and vomit down their sockets.

In all honesty, this clip has long been the great whale to my Captain Ahab, and it finally surfaced on YouTube. I recall watching it as a dumb kid on Rock 'Em Sock 'Em 5 (I believe), and even my then sarcasm-bereft junior self recognized this as a serious shark-jumping moment. If you can make it to the forty-five second mark before your small intestine begins leaking, you're a stronger person than I.

Anyway, yeah. My top rekkids coming soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gopher balls (NL)

For your perusal, I present the belated Senior Circuit picks. I wrote most of this on Monday, so it doesn't really factor in Tuesday's action, which included a blue-ribbon performance from my under-the-radar Wild Card pick. Of course, the best news to emerge from yesterday's slate was the mammoth 6 RBI performance from my boy Adam Lind, as Toronto went on to crush the woeful Tigers 12-5. And this came mere days after a suddenly feisty Cito Gaston called Roger Clemens 'a complete asshole' - maybe this year isn't going to be so bad after all!

National League

NL East

1. New York Mets. Despite playing in this killer of a division, I truly do believe that they have a shot at baseball's best record, and are probably the most complete team top to bottom. Much like those Rivera-Wetteland Yankee teams, games have essentially been reduced to six or seven innings with J.J. Putz and K-Rod waiting in the bullpen. There's been much wringing of hands about Rodriguez's drop in velocity, as he's mostly hitting 90-92 nowadays, but you wouldn't have known it from watching him last year. Johan Santana will get his NL Cy Young one season late, and the remainder of the rotation is serviceable, if unspectacular. In terms of the lineup, the only truly weak link is Luis Castillo at second (Brian Schneider couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag, but is good defensively and handles pitchers well, and Daniel Murphy is going to be fine in left, as he hit .348 with 17 RBI during spring and then homered in the opener). The bench is presently a bit iffy, but look for Omar Minaya to recify that during the season via prying bats from financially-challenged bottom-feeders.

2. Florida Marlins. I think I love them, so what am I so afraid of? Their general scrappiness and pluck under the tutelage of manager Fredi Gonzalez caught my eye last year, but they're graduating to Wild Card status this season, mark my words. Hanley Ramirez is your 2009 National League MVP, Cameron Maybin will take top rookie honours, and expect to hear Ricky Nolasco's name in the Cy conversation. Nolasco finished fifth amongst starting pitchers last season in my beloved WHIP (1.10), and the remainder of the young rotation, which features anti-household-names Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibal Sanchez (okay, I think he had a no-no a couple of years back, so is marginally known) should be gangbusters. Buttressing Ramirez in the middle of the order is future Yankee/Red Sox/Mets second baseman Dan Uggla and a rejuvenated Jorge Cantu, who, aside from their cool uniforms, provided some of the only highlights for a disappointing Mexico team at the WBC. Owner Jeffrey Loria is a fucking scumbag (ask me about his ransacking of the Expos), plus Miami is a gawd-awful sports town, so it pains me to make this prediction in a way, but the 326 or so die-hards should start saving for playoff tickets.


3. Philadelphia Phillies. They're going to be good again, but I just don't see them keeping pace with the top two. Swapping Pat the Bat for Raul Ibanez is a wash offensively, but the latter is a comically bad fielder, regularly driving my M's-fan buddy Corey to forehead-slapping and expletive-spewing. Seriously, watching him from the outfield bleachers at Safeco gives you a genuine perception on how wonky he really is out there. Generating runs isn't going to be an issue, but after Cole Hamels and the wizened Jamie Moyer (who you just know is going to get his 10-15 wins), the rotation kind of alarms me. Joe Blanton looked good okay after being acquired during the stretch drive last year, but his early season numbers in Oakland's pitcher-haven of a park were awful, plus I don't trust Brett Myers. Key setup guy J.C. Romero is gone for the first 50 games for juicing, and the law of averages says that Brad Lidge can't pull off another perfect season as closer.

4. Atlanta Braves. There are many question marks on paper, but this is a solid team that has an opportunity to put on a decent performance in baseball's toughest division. Chipper Jones is only playing his usual 90-120 games, but will post the numbers he always manages to, Brian McCann is one of the better hitting catchers in the game, and I was a backer of young'un Jordan Schafer even before he hit one out and was later intentionally walked (!) in his first career game the other night. Pitching seems a bit dodgy: Derek Lowe and Javier Vasquez will effectively chew innings, but Jair Jurrgens sounds like the name of a shampoo, and I don't know what the Jesus a Kenshin Kawakami is (after doing some research, he's a Japanese import who seems to have pitched his way into the rotation, but walked more than he struck out in spring). Never count out a Bobby Cox team, the cagey old bastard.

5. Washington Nationals.
The most entertaining thing about this team is that both recently acquired Scott Olsen and lunatic outfielder Elijah Dukes are graduates of an anger-management program, so maybe they can bond over beating the shit out of teenaged ballboys they perceive as looking at them askance. Dukes seems to be getting a lot of love from fantasy columnists in the leadup to the season, but I'm more of a Lastings Milledge fan. With Dukes, Milledge, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and Austin Kearns all active, this team has way too many outfielders, while largely bereft of talent at other positions. It kind of reminds me of playing franchise mode in video games with the 'computer teams can make trades' option selected. What always happens is that clubs end up with, say, both David Ortiz and Albert Pujols at first base while some stiff like Sal Fasano is the everyday catcher racking up 160 games played. Still, the simple departure of shady Jim Bowden is a step in the right direction for this team.

Oh, I just have to get this off of my chest: the Sporting News yearbook is listing the top three third basemen in team history for each club, and number one for the Nats is Tim Wallach., he's an Expo, so spare us the defiling of my childhood. I've never been a supporter of transplanted teams maintaining histories of franchises over that of cities: fans in jilted towns are distraught enough without the indignity of having prized civic milestones and revered figures adopted ready-to-wear by a new group of backers that wouldn't know them from a hole in the ground. It reminds me of when the Winnipeg Jets were spirited to the Arizona desert (to Count Bettman's delight), and the 'Goals For Kids' jersey shoulder patch and fans doing the playoff 'whiteout' were adopted. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure fans in Phoenix thought they were doing the 'Peg a favour in maintaining those traditions, but it only served to keep old wounds open. In the interest of full disclosure, this burst of nationalist sentiment could have something to do with the fact that I'm spinning Stompin' Tom vinyl as I type this.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs. Respect. The Z is a bit of a head-case, granted but the rotation is top notch overall, the bullpen's loaded, and, with the likes of Aaron Miles and Joey Gathright, the bench is strong and flexible. Apparently Milton Bradley has been behaving, and if Lou can keep him from being a distraction, he should have a monster year batting between Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. I love Geovany Soto, and gritty Reed Johnson is platooning in center field: he was one of the more underrated Jays during his time in Toronto, and a fan favourite due to his hustle. Easily the class of this division.

2. Cincinnati Reds. This is my backup sleeper behind the Marlins: unfortunately, I don't think they have quite enough to catch the Cubbies, but it should still be an overall enjoyable season in the Queen City. Start with the dynamite young rotation: Aaron Harang is going to bounce back, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto are exciting, Homer Bailey should improve, and Bronson Arroyo is decent. I could easily see four of the starters winning at least twelve games. I'm also impressed with the batting order that GM Walt Jocketty (which, by the way, is one of the best baseball names out there, along with Skip Schumaker of the Cards: somebody get these guys a snuff endorsement already) has put together. If Willy Taveras can stay healthy, he's an ideal leadoff guy, Brandon Phillips borders on five-tool, and there's adequate power with Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Votto, Ramon Hernandez, and phenom Jay Bruce in the mix. Ditching Adam Dunn's one-dimensionality should be addition by subtraction, as this is a lineup of useful multitaskers. Ninety wins isn't out of the question.

3. St Louis Cardinals. Average. Based on the sum parts of their talent alone, the Cards look pretty decent, but I just don't have a great feeling about them. If Pujols remains healthy, he'll take his usual run at MVP, Khalil Greene is an upgrade at short (though the idea Tony LaRussa was floating about batting him in the cleanup spot is ludicrous), plus Rick Ankiel should be good for thirty homers. That said, Troy Glaus is out for the forseeable future, and I have questions about starting pitching. Adam Wainwright is a serviceable number one, but journeyman Kyle Lohse was re-signed for over $10 million per year: I don't particularly want to live in a galaxy where Kyle Lohse is making lottery money. I'd love to see ex-Jay Chris Carpenter battle back, but that's a massive 'if.' Making matters worse, the team drafted Scott Boras' kid, which is just a total karma-killer.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. The major question mark for the Brew Crew concerns pitching, though CC Sabathia moving on means that the catering budget may have dropped sufficiently to free up money for pursuing an arm. Yovani Gallardo has fantastic stuff, but he's still fairly unproven, and the team did reach terms with Braden Looper, who should eat up quite a few innings. Offensively, this group should steam right along. I see Prince Fielder leading the National League in homers this time around, which would be one giant leap for maligned vegetarians such as myself. By the way, would it have killed someone to have snapped a photo of Prince and Sabathia sitting side-by-side on motorcycles during CC's brief time in Wisconsin? It will be interesting to see if Rickie Weeks can finally break out; he may need a change of scenery at this point. Ken Macha is the 'that guy' of managers, in Sports Guy parlance.

Best mascot ever.

5. Houston Astros. People have been predicting the demise of this bunch for the past three or four years, yet they always seem to end up around the 85-win mark. Still, the run ends here: I see them being fairly dreadful this time around. It's a bad sign when the redoubtable old warhorse Doug Brocail is still kicking around in their bullpen. Roy Oswalt is Roy Oswalt, and Wandy Rodriguez should be a decent sleeper, but the bottom three rotation spots are seriously suspect. I figure that karma also feeds into their impending suckitude, as they play in a park named after juice (which is just weird, and I feel the same way about Tropicana Field), plus it has that fucking train and idiotic hill in center field that reeks of trying too hard. Moreover, it was originally corporately christened for oil company succubi.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates. First of all, I'm not exactly sure what happened to that Tom Gorzelanny guy: somehow he managed to win 14 games for a putrid team a couple of years back, yet people have figured out that he actually sucked like a bucket of ticks the entire time. Secondly, Nate McLouth is fantastic, though I don't see him duplicating his all-world season from a year ago. Third, their offensive fortunes largely rest on the shoulders of the brothers Laroche, so pardon my skepticism. Fourth, I freely admit that I know nothing about this team, and why would I? They're so forgettable that, before writing this, I undertook a crash course of sorts, yet actually did see them on WGN last season several times. This could seriously be the most anonymous team in pro sports of the past ten years, supplanting that New York Islanders team from a couple of years ago that Mike Comrie led in scoring. And the worst part is that there's not even really an excuse: yeah, they're a mid-to-small-market club, but their payroll is around $50 million. I have the Marlins going to the playoffs, and theirs is around $30 million! Sigh.

Where have you gone, Tom Gorzelanny? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers. I'm not completely sold on the LAD, but they should essentially take this division by default. As far as offseason signings go, that Manny guy is okay, but they had me when they inked the O-Dog. Biases aside (he's a personal favourite), I think Hudson will fit in nicely with what's looking like a pretty solid infield also featuring Rafael Furcal, steady Casey Blake, and young gun James Loney. Also, I'm solidly on the Russell Martin bandwagon nowadays. While never doubting his talent, for some reason I believed that he was kind of a head-case, but seeing him grit it out for Canada in the WBC (seemingly #1 on the give-a-shit meter) disabused me of that idea. Jonathan Broxton should succeed at closer, but Hong-Chih Kuo is waiting in the wings should he falter. Though young, the starting pitching will be fine. Speaking of which, is Jason Schmidt still lurking around? If yes, it's kind of like a hobgoblin rattling chains in a manor attic at this point.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. Their pitching depth is admirable, but a .251 team batting average last year? Sweet Jesus. The majority of the lineup is young and strikeout prone (Mark Reynolds in excelsis), plus the bench is pretty thin, with the only truly plausible options sitting at has-been Tony Clark and the heinously overpaid Eric Byrne. Still, they simply can't be worse offensively than they were last season. The aforementioned hurlers give the team an outside chance at a pennant: besides able veterans Webb, Haren, Garland, and Davis, phenom Max Scherzer, who was brought to my attention by workplace arch-nemesis Jason Li (check out his Hobbyboxco card store found in the 'Honourary Conjecturists' links above) has a chance to make a real impact. The bullpen is a bit iffy: Chad Qualls converted his first save opportunity today, but he and incoming setup man Jon Rauch rival a truckstop whore (my old job) in the blowing department. In other news, this blog has no class.

3. San Francisco Giants. I'm not quite as high on this bunch as a sleeper as many others, since obviously the offense reeks to high heaven. Bengie Molina is in the cleanup spot, and he couldn't even wrest Toronto's starting catching job from the immortal Gregg Zaun a couple of years back (though, admittedly, Zaun's unique ability to turn opposing players to stone with a single glare may have also played a role in maintaining that platoon situation). On that note, watching Bengie leg out his sole triple as a Jay was easily the most entertaining moment for T.O. fans since Joe Carter's 1993 round-tripper, and it actually gives that milestone a run for it's money. Digressions aside, I maintain that they'll finish behind the Arizona Dirty Snakes: the Tim Lincecum factor is essentially cancelled out by Brandon Webb's presence in Phoenix, and the remaining D-Back starters are better 2-5. If Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is ever made into a TV series (I smell a sitcom...), casting Barry Zito as The Albatross is a no-brainer. Apparently he had a good spring, and, to his credit, there was a bounceback of sorts during the second half last year. The 'pen is looking pretty decent with steady Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry setting the table for closer Brian Wilson. One sleeper worth keeping an eye on is young first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who hit over .300 with 7 HR in the spring.

Gregg Zaun. You'll be granite soon.

4. Colorado Rockies. Downside: Good B.C. boy Jeff Francis is done for the year, the Matt Holliday trade has left an gaping crater in the lineup, Todd Helton will inevitably be injured within the calendar month, and no more Brian Fuentes. Upside: Clint Hurdle smacks gum like nobody's business. This is going to be a generally dreary summer in the Mile High City, but there are a few things worth watching. Foremost amongst the positives, Ubaldo Jimenez naturally possesses some of the best stuff in the National League, only he's presently afflicted with a bad case of Daniel Cabrera syndrome (meaning his control is roughly on par quality-wise with that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Secondly, although losing Fuentes is obviously a complete and total drag, it does give Manny Corpas an opportunity to regain the role he occupied during the Rocks' Series run a couple of years back. Huston Street has first crack at the stopper job, but even if Corpas has a nice year in the setup role, it could bode well for his future prospects as a ninth-inning guy. I've read nice things about this Ian Stewart kid as well, and he ended up starting at second base in the opener. Denver sports fans are really taking it on the chin at the moment, what with the middling Rocks, Cutlergate, and the suddenly lousy hockey team. My advice: take a deep breath and focus on the Nuggets instead, plus I just have a weird hunch that the Avs are going to win the NHL draft lottery and wind up with John Tavares.

Come on, we all knew that I'd work hockey into this somehow.

5. San Diego Padres. Potentially one of the worst teams in my lifetime. Wasn't Chris Young, like, a super-prospect as recently as a year or so ago?

NL Wild Card: Florida.

NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Florida.

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, New York.

NL Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin, Florida.

NL Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, Florida.


ALDS: Indians over BoSox, Rays over Angels.

NLDS: Cubs over Marlins, Mets over Dodgers.

ALCS: Rays over Indians in six.

NLCS: Mets over Cubs in four.

World Series: Mets over Rays in five.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Gopher balls (AL)

Hey, guys. The season is almost upon us, so welcome to Jared's 2009 fearless baseball predictions!* I plan on posting the American League today, then the National League and postseason picks tomorrow. Before reading, bear in mind that I'm a music/hockey geek masquerading as a diamond authority, so take these picks with a grain of salt. Actually, nah: kneel before them, and commit this post to memory, because truer picks were never presented within blogospheria. I sort of went chalk, but there are a couple of surprises that I genuinally believe will occur. There are brief synopses for each team, but I plan on writing a full Blue Jays preview within the next few days, so essentially their capsule is empty. Well, save for a shot of raw pessimism. I love them and all, but Jesus wept. Oh, and my fantasy league this year is AL-only, so I'm less-versed in the Senior Circuit. Anyway, here goes: the only other thing I feel requires mentioning beforehand is that the NL East is the best division in baseball, not the typically slobbered-upon AL East. There are four teams in that NL East group who I feel have a legitimate chance of making the Series, and when was the last time you were able to say that about any division?

* There was actually fear aplenty. Oh Christ, the fear...

American League

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays. Don't believe the backlash, gang: the notion of having the Yanks and Sox once again contesting the division is traditionalist comfort food, but this bunch isn't going away. I steadfastly think that Joe 'Hipster-Glasses' Maddon has the best group of talent in baseball, and what is rarely factored in when analyzing their chances for the coming season is that Carl Crawford, probably their best player (with apologies to Evan Longoria, who will be amongst the best anywhere within 365 days or so), had a dreadful season last year. He has something to prove, and now has Pat Burrell batting behind him, which, by the way, may turn out to be the best acquisition of the offseason (no more heckling Philly fans). The rotation goes four-deep, with Shields, Kazmir, Garza, and Sonnanstine. Wait, what am I saying - a measly four? Factor in David Price, who will be in South Florida within a month or so, and they throw out five total studs. I think Dan Wheeler will end up with the closer role ahead of vet Troy Percival due to injury/attrition, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not to spoil my playoff picks tomorrow, but expect an epic Rays-Tribe battle at some point during the coming postseason.

2. Boston Red Sox. Harrumph. Alright, so they'll be good: Nicky Lau* will sleep well this year, since even though the lineup is suspect, the forty-six-deep rotation will head to the rescue. Isn't Brad Penny anchoring the rookie ball rotation or something, considering that they have nowhere else to really stick him? Sporting! Complaining aside, this crew is clearly superior to the Yankees: they've becoming acclimatized to the Manny void, and good-guy Jason Bay has largely won over Fenway in his place. Granted, there are health questions about Big Papi and Lowell, but those circles can be squared. On the mound, I'd happily go to war with Lester, Beckett and Matsuzaka, plus they have Smoltz (who is apparently amazing in the room, no matter what he physically contributes) and Buchholz waiting in the wings. Papelbon is obviously one of the best closers in baseball, but an underrated pick-up was Takashi Saito, who I've always really liked: move over, Scot Shields, as the premier AL setup guy. In sum, they'll battle the Rays to the bitter end, and emerge with the Wild Card spot.

*Cameo from a Red Sox fan friend of mine.

Jon Lester: I hate you for your competence.

3. New York Yankees. Simply put, I'm not sold. I could easily see A-Rod missing more time with phantom injuries, the lineup is creaky from age, and AJ Burnett is a monstrous ass who doesn't show up unless a new contract is in the offing. Joe Girardi deserves better than this soap opera, as I think he's a great manager. I believe Torre was the perfect alpha figure for this bunch, as he's a 'reluctant' celebrity, while Girardi is more of a nuts-and-bolts baseball man, which doesn't alway succeed with the pinstripes. To wit, he thrived with underfunded Florida. Blame Billy Martin. I sincerely do think CC Sabathia will come through this year with 17-22 wins, but it won't be enough: Wang will end the year as the second starter, displacing Burnett, but the overall hijinks will reduce the team to 80-85 wins. Girardi is fired, destined to take a job in a smaller market where he can thrive.

4. Baltimore Orioles. Nick Markakis is one of my favourite players in the league to watch, but I would still charitably give them 75 wins at best. Matt Wieters will be up soon, which is kind of a drag, since my guy Gregg 'Grumpy' Zaun is catching in the meantime. I see Canadian TV analysis in his future: fuck, in the interest of full disclosure, he very well could be my favourite player. Bedraggled intro to this preview aside, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time: if they were stationed in, say, the NL Central, I could see them achieving .500, but it's perpetual cannon-fodder status in the AL Ea$t. Pitching-wise, I'm not entirely sold on George Sherrill as the closer, and think Chris Ray will retake the gig. The rotation is pretty goddamn shaky: Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson are both pencilled in, so do a few dozen rosaries for O's fans tonight.

5. Toronto Blue Jays. Le sigh. As mentioned above, my full team preview will be up within a few days, so, in two words: lost season. Vernon Wells is an idiot. Aaron Hill and Doc Halladay rule. JP Riccardi getting shit-canned is my World Series.

Some JP action.

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians. I'm going off the board with this pick: not only do I think that the Central is Cleveland's to lose, but they'll win more than the 85-90 games that are generally prescribed to take the division. As a matter of fact, bet the Tribe to challenge for home-field throughout the ALDS and ALCS, partly because the AL East titans will be cannibalizing each other, but mostly because I just think this group is going to succeed mightily. First of all, Grady Sizemore is my MVP pick: he put up a gaudy 33 homers and 38 steals last year, and should have a better Travis Hafner (who everyone has written off) batting behind him this time around. Victor Martinez will have a bounce-back year, Kelly Stoppach will pick up where he left off, Mark DeRosa epitomizes 'solid,' and Shin-Soo Choo will build upon a stellar WBC, plus Asdrubal Cabrera will flash a nice glove at second before being granted honourary citizenship in Narnia after the season thanks to his name. Pitching-wise, I'm a big Fausto Carmona fan, and think that the loss of Jake Westbrook for the first couple of months will easily be mitigated by Cliff Lee and the emergence of Anthony Reyes. People expected big things of Cleveland last season and were bitterly disappointed, hence the lukewarm prognostications this spring. I'm buying low and planning on selling high, though: those moon-sized expectations were a year early, but look for the Indians to come through in ought-nine.

2. Minnesota Twins. Ron Gardenhire is the shit. Please, you have no comeback. He looks like a slovenly tool-and-die representative, but possesses one of the best minds in the game: hell, you know you've made it when people have to hesistate a second to remember who Tom Kelly is. I'd see Minny challenging Cleveland for the division title, only Joe Mauer's health is a major uncertainty at this point, plus the rotation is greener than T. Boone Pickens' born-again environmentalist persona. That said, Francisco Liriano is going to be in the Cy discussion, plus Glen Perkins is a total sleeper. Joe Nathan is back as well, which is never a bad thing. In terms of hitting, Justin Morneau will get his .300-25-110 from routine, Delmon Young came on in the second half last year, and Denard Span has a chance to establish himself as one of the league's better leadoff hitters. Mauer or no Mauer, they're still going to bump their heads on 85 wins.

3. Kansas City Royals. In spite of crummy crowds during the lean years, I think that Kansas City is a great baseball town, so it's fun to see a young bunch the area can rally around this season. Trey Hillman is a nice manager, and he handles young players remarkably well (prima-donna, Jose Guillen veteran types not so much, but who fucking cares). The endorsement from Bill Simmons has kind of led this bunch to fashionable pickdom; I don't see them in the postseason this time around, but they should challenge the Twins for second, and have a really sporting chance at cracking .500. It starts with the pitching. First of all, Joakim Soria in the 'pen: I honestly do think he's the best closer in the majors presently. Zack Greinke has always had Robert Kron syndrome for me*, and I think he's going to be spoken about in the company of the top five AL pitchers this season. Gil Meche is never pretty, but he'll get his 12-15 wins. I think that Alex Gordon will experience a mini-breakout at third this year, plus I just dig the look of this lineup. It appears destined to manufacture runs efficiently, what with Crisp and DeJesus at the top, and reliable Gordon and Jacobs to knock them in.

*Robert Kron syndrome: Back in the early 1990s, the Vancouver Canucks had the titular Czech winger in the fold, and he was noticeable every shift, making a pest of himself against the top line of the opposition. Alas, he rarely scored, so his contributions weren't particularly chronicled. It was much the same with Greinke throughout the first few years of his career: he always owned the Jays, but didn't have spectacular overall stats.

4. Detroit Tigers. This is just wholly depressing: apparently attuned via osmosis to the great state of Michigan's sinking fortunes, the team is essentially carrion. On the bright side, I do see them topping their 74 wins of last year, but Dave Dombrowski essentially assembled this unit like a sports neophyte lumping together a stacked video game team. Miguel Cabrera is going to battle the aforementioned Grady Sizemore tooth-and-nail for the MVP, Granderson and Mags are rad, plus Justin Verlander is going to have a bounce-back season, but the rest of these retreads? Please. I'm a believer in Armando Galarraga (most outlets have him greatly regressing), but have no faith in Bonderman, Edwin Jackson, or Nate Robertson. Fernando goddamn Rodney is the closer, and Joel Zumaya (the should-be finisher) is hurt yet again. Is Jim Leyland still allowed to smoke in the dugout in these enlightened times? Probably not, but we should grant an exception: the man is going to need a good butt or two this year.

Jim Leyland radiates dissatisfaction via his constipation face.

5. Chicago White Sox. These guys are due to combust. Kenny Williams is one of the top five GMs in the game, and Ozzie Guillen is...Ozzie (read: wildly entertaining), but I just see it all going pear-shaped this season. Jim Thome is ancient, Paul Konerko is visibly on the decline, and Jermaine Dye has seen his best days. One thing I do like about this club is their young pitching (Floyd, Danks, et al), but they aren't at the point where they can right the ship. Carlos Quentin will rebound after the hothead incident that possibly cost him an MVP, though.

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels. Halo-bashing seems to be de rigeur this offseason, and the detractors do have some nice ammo. Key position players are aging and brittle, they've lost K-Rod, and the rotation is being held together with gum and twine. I appreciate the negatives, but, conversely, they're still in a weak division, have a nice bullpen, an above-average lineup, and the best manager in baseball roams the dugout. As per usual, the remainder of the clubs in the division will serve as a mere annoyance: the only obstacle this team faces, and it may be formidable, is injuries. John Lackey's return date is uncertain, and apparently Ervin Santana could be on the receiving end of a visit from Tommy John.

2. Texas Rangers. Andruw Jones somehow made this team, when he should realistically either be eating competitively or shagging flies in Rancho Cucamonga or some such outpost. Making matters worse, his roster spot was secured when the club cut blood-and-guts scrapper (and beloved ex-Jay) Frank Catalanotto. Fine, fine work, Jon Daniels: in the spirit of his predecessors, I can hear him yowling 'ah can't quit yew, washed-up veterans.' Questionable personnel decisions aside, I kind of like this team. I've been a big fan of Jared Saltalamacchia since he was brazenly stealing ABs from my then-fantasy-catcher Brian McCann in Atlanta a couple of seasons ago as a rook, Michael Young is one of the more underrated hitters of the last five years (I maintain that his stats would be strong in any ballpark), Josh Hamilton is the real deal, and their second baseman is named 'Elvis.' Taylor Teagarden looks like a beast, and should spell Saltalamacchia at catcher plus DH fairly regularly. Those assets aside, please note that there are no kind words extended towards their pitching staff. I'm not sold on Vincente Padilla, Kevin Millwood is Kevin Millwood (a workmanlike innings-eater, nothing more), and the remainder of the rotation is unproven. I do think that Frank Francisco is going to do a nice job as closer, though.

Saltalamacchia rules!

3. Oakland Athletics. Picking this hastily restocked bunch to make noise is roughly on par fashion-wise with auto-tune abuse in pop music (seriously, that Kanye record is amazing, but he has a lot to answer for), but something smells funny here. Yeah, they snared Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera, plus the washed-up husks of Giambi and Nomar, but the rotation is a septic tank. Justin Duchscherer, the one starter you could plausibly take home to meet your mother, starts the year on the disabled list, and last year's pleasant surprise Dana Eveland nearly pitched his way to Sacramento during spring (and yes, I did draft him on my fantasy team, goddamn it). My best guess is that they'll be within a few games of .500 in July and decide to blow the thing up and start anew. Trevor Cahill is an interesting pitching prospect, though, and should get a good look.

4. Seattle Mariners. Yeah, I gave second and third thoughts to the idea of this team somehow being a 'sleeper' of sorts in this division, as I quite like the M's and want them to succeed, but fuck it: they're just terrible. As if the potpourri of has-beens and never-will-bes fouling rookie skipper Don Wakamatsu's lineup card aren't egregious enough, Ichiro starts the season on the DL with a bleeding ulcer (which probably surfaced when the enormity of his woeful teammates hit him), plus for some insane reason they're starting Jeff Clement in the minors this season. On the positive side of the ledger, I've always been an Adrian Beltre fan, as his stats are more than respectable considering he plays 50% of his games in hitter-unfriendly Safeco. And, even though it's going to cost Clement playing time, only a scrooge would complain about the return of Ken Griffey Jr. It's blatantly designed to throw the fanbase a bone, but so what? They aren't going anywhere this season, so it's neat to have the favourite son come home for a farewell lap. I plan on hitting Safeco as per usual sometime this summer, and seeing Junior in M's colours one last time should be a trip.

AL Wild Card: Boston.

AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland.

AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Toronto.

AL Rookie of the Year: Taylor Teagarden, Texas.

AL Manager of the Year: Trey Hillman, Kansas City.

Back tomorrow with the Senior Circuit, playoff picks, and record of the week. It won't be done until after the 'Nucks game, though. Yeah! Oh, I forgot one of my favourite facets of baseball season: going to Vancouver Canadians games at Nat Bailey Stadium. I have Wednesdays off this summer, so should be bleacher-bumming at many a nooner, especially since my place is within walking distance of the park. Let it begin!

The Nat.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sad scenes and dodging paranoia

Hey, everyone. I haven't posted in ages, but there's a valid explanation. See, I started this blog at the beginning of January as a New Year's resolution intended to spur me to write more often. However, Chinese New Year rolled around at the beginning of February, and my main resolution for that holiday was not giving a shit about the blog. No harm, no foul. By the way, my secondary Chinese New Year's resolution was to find out if resolutions are even part of Chinese New Year, lest I come off as a dumbass cultural imperialist with egg on my face. In all honesty, I haven't gotten around to that one yet. Can someone help me out?

In addition, I've been saddled with a horrific cold virus, which I'll explain in geopolitical terms to spruce up the symptoms. See, imagine the top-half of my head being western Pakistan, and the lower half plus neck and chest Afghanistan. Disasterously, mucus jihadists overran the entire works about ten days ago, but international forces (represented by assorted over-the-counter remedies) beat the insurrection back and have reduced it to a smaller, localized rump. Unfortunately, mucus has centralized their operations around the inner-ear region in largely uninhabitable terrain that has been essentially ceded to them (much like the Swat Valley). So while I'm not sneezing and coughing as much, the beachhead in my inner ear/Pakistan endures unmolested, which is incredibly annoying. In other news, suddenly I feel like playing RISK.

Dimensions of the Swat Valley. Not pictured: Jared's anthropomorphized snot warriors.

Anyway, I remain pretty wonky health-wise, so don't feel like doing anything lengthy: here's some abbreviated rants, questions, and general crap. As per usual, it's all over the map, so will hold the attention of approximately nobody.

- It's the eve of Selection Sunday for the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, and I'm already ridiculously excited regarding potential matchups. There's not really much drama personally, as my team (Wake Forest) is in and locked into a high seed, but the crazy conference tournaments from this week have only served to whet my appetite further. As a bonus, this is the first time in recent memory that the favourite clubs of my entire small college-hoops-watching posse (Wake, Gonzaga, Washington, and Michigan) are all going to appear in the same tournament, so the beery hijinks and smack-talk should be for the ages. I was also reminded of the upcoming tourney at Safeway earlier this evening upon spotting Jeff Teague's photo on a milk carton. Hey, I kid the Teague. Well, sort of. I'll give my picks in a post over the next few days once the matchups are announced, but have no problem sneak-previewing my sleeper team: take a bow, Villanova Wildcats. In a stunningly uncharacteristic display of competent prognostication, I successfully picked them to go to the Sweet 16 last year as a twelve, and they return essentially the same personnel this time around. As mentioned, more to come on the pending roundball buffet in the near future.

Final Four or bust.

- While in the basketballian vein, a simple request to the NBA: stop talking to Canadians like we're stupid, okay? You've been here for fourteen years now. I had Raptors TV on a couple of weeks back, and watched the network's coverage of Toronto's introductory press conference of Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks following the Jermaine O'Neal trade. Before the scrum started, Sherman Hamilton, who really should know better, noted in a disturbingly faux-soothing tone that 'a good trade is one where neither general manager gets fleeced and both teams can move on' (not exactly verbatim). Um...what? At the risk of not sounding sporting, a good trade is one where the other party is on the business end of an egregious goddamn rip-off. This isn't just a basketball thing, Sherm: even in elementary school, kids instictively know that bartering a mealy apple with a clod of dirt to be named later for a chocolate bar is the best possible outcome.

See, the thing about the demise of the Vancouver Grizzlies is that it wasn't about a lack of fan support, passion, or knowledge. It was due to the then-62-cent Canadian dollar and uber-incompetent, silver-tongued Stu Jackson running the team into the ground. For God's sake, the man couldn't even grow a moustache properly. I'll leave it there, as talk of the Grizzlies always leaves me cranky, but we knew the game.

- Am I wrong, or has Gary Roberts retired about five times this season already?

Go away.

- I plan on doing a lengthy music-centric post in the near future (seriously) but, quickly, here are two albums I heartily recommend. The first is Circlesquare's Songs About Dancing and Drugs, which is 2009's first really fantastic record. Circlesquare is the project of one Jeremy Shaw, a native Vancouverite who wisely escaped to Berlin. The disc came out on the K7! label, so I naturally expected pep, but it's actually a laconic, comedown effort with an endearing backdrop of looping instruments and capering observation. The other is a compilation by a band called Manhattan Love Suicides titled Burnt Out Landscapes. I've never been a fan of artists nakedly aping their forbears, but for whatever reason, The Jesus & Mary Chain lends itself exceptionally well to imitators. A miasma of feedback, distortion, female vocals, and subterranean pop hooks, this is really excellent. The JAMC influence is ridiculously visible, admittedly; one of the songs essentially rips off the introduction to 'Upside Down' wholesale. The band hooked me anyway, so their ably covering Daniel Johnston's 'Life In Vain,' which is one of my favourite songs of all time, is gravy. My only gripe about their version is that the guitars in the chorus kind of make the track sound like the theme song for a prime-time soap from the mid-to-late nineties.

- Has the word 'bane' been used even once outside of a heavy-metal context within the past couple of decades?

- I work in Burnaby, and we have crows. Not merely the odd murder, but a veritable blackout commencing each twilight that has been immortalized in at least one Douglas Coupland novel. I've always hated them, especially since they shit all over my beloved Brown Car with impunity. However, I read an archived article about their history on the site the other day, and it kind of made me feel sorry for them. Apparently this was their primary regional roost: the birds come from all corners of Greater Vancouver each night. Rampant development (the office park containing my company's building, a car dealership, Costco, and The Keg) has left the area essentially barren and treeless, so the confused crows perch upon any standing edifice as a poor substitute (I've noticed that they've especially gone hog-wild recently at the construction site of the Morrey Auto dealership across from McDonalds, especially since the walls have started popping up).

Adding insult to injury, apparently the building next door to my workplace thinks that crows are abject morons. As a deterrent, they've mounted several fake owls on the roof of the building. See, that's just not necessary; not only are crows acknowledged as fairly bright amongst the avian set, but they haven't seen nature documentaries, plus I highly doubt they sense predators purely visually. Not surprisingly, the crows aren't buying the whole thing; the nadir probably came the other day when I was outside on break and spotted a crow perched upon one of the owls.

All of this devil's advocacy aside, though, I really do wish they'd stop crapping on my ride and fuck off toward Burnaby Lake already.

The real deal.

- The Koivu brothers, Saku and Mikko, are probably the closest entity that hockey has appearance-wise to Patrick and Don Swayze. In both instances, the younger brother (Mikko and Don) kind of look like a bastardized, cartoon version of their more recognized sibling.

- What's up with those Vancouver bus shelter ads for CTV Olympic coverage that have the network's talent swathed in white, puffy winter gear? Bill Good and Pamela Martin look like cosmonauts from planet WASP.

- That new Apple commercial bugs the hell out of me. Yeah, so the thing is that 'funnest' is TOTALLY NOT A WORD!!

That's enough. I really do plan on writing more going forward, health willing. Enjoy Selection Sunday, basketball fans.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mark E Smith reads the soccer scores

Many thanks to my brother Jud for pointing me in the direction of this clip, where the legendarily caustic genius behind The Fall has been invited to give the days footy results. His obvious boredom in reading the scores themselves is strangely hypnotic, and when the task is completed (around the 4:30 mark), Smith has a brief interview with the studio guys, which includes mocking the host's haircut. I kind of love this.

For those of you not familiar with Smith's work (The Fall have gone through at least forty lineups - Smith is the only constant - while releasing innumerable records over the years), here's the clip for 'Mr Pharmacist' from the Bend Sinister album, one of my favourites.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

And now for something completely boring...

There was a really interesting piece in last weekend's New York Times Magazine that presented recommendations and alternatives for the Obama administration in resuscitating the American economy. What caught my eye was a policy map advocated by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (titled Rahm's Doctrine), which is essentially a lay-person edition of University of Maryland scholar Mancur Olson's 1982 work The Rise and Decline of Nations. Basically, what it advocates is seizing the financial crisis as an opportunity to lay a new social groundwork, with the infusion of dollars into recharting such decidedly unsexy arenas as health care, infrastructure and education.

At this point, anyone who has read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is probably noticing some serious parallels. Klein's thesis, which was thoroughly verifiable based on historical events, added another notch in its belt with the recent $700 billion bailout package bestowed upon failing U.S. financial institutions. What she posits is that governments have utilized instances of disaster, be it physical, financial, or military conflict, to unfurl a slew of freeper-friendly measures and programs designed to enrich their corporate boosters. These changes are codified and acted upon in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, as the populace is often too weak and traumatized to put up any sort of opposition. Pertinent recent examples include the 2003 Iraq invasion (the plunder of the country and establishment of security industries by the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater) and Hurricane Katrina a few years back (where the Bush administration outsourced essentially everything in the aftermath, even to the crass point of awarding a contract to a major campaign donor to retrieve bodies of the dead once the floodwaters receded).

Emanuel's proposal essentially turns Klein's theory on its head while simulatenously validating it. In his world, changes are similarly made while the population is in punch-drunk, only the shifts are to benefit the commonweal rather than bloated corporations and greedy executives. For instance, Obama's new stimulus package would essentially double the education budget, which predictably has Republicans and states-rights types spoiling for a fight. Here's the thing, though: not only does increased program spending make moral sense, it makes economic sense. Matter of fact, Rahm's Doctrine is ultimately the most feasible method of salvaging the American economy; it's going to require a healthy degree of trial-and-error and, above all, patience, but how is the alternative of pitchforking money into the maw of existing unsustainable industries and financial schema even remotely sane? Instead of lending and opening the credit spigot, what have the banks done upon receiving their stimulus cash? Hoarded it. Well, save for expenses incurred attempting to tenaciously maintain their disgusting opulence.

Much like a smack-addict, deregulated capitalism operates on jolts and insularity. Looking beyond the next fix simply doesn't occur; there's a myopia and tunnel-vision that manages to ignore (or merely pay lip service to) happenings without, but change won't occur unless its through painful sacrifice. In the case of the junkie, it's the excruciating path to rehabilition. For the U.S., it's eschewing rigid economic dogma and instead taking a hard look at social determinants: a recognition that increasing numbers of undereducated and unhealthy citizens are providing a drain on the economy without precedent. Reinvigorating the school system to create a generation of engaged achievers is going to require an assload of cash and political capital, which is why it's normally a non-starter amongst elected officials. The financial turbulence presents an opportunity to examine ideas generally branded 'unorthodox.'

Despite Obama's popularity, I remain pessimistic. Bafflingly, the Republicans have managed to co-opt the idea of the 'American Dream,' which they've used as a cudgel to beat down detractors of the unbalanced status quo (which is probably a reason why Democrats haven't been able to mount an effective challenge to this greed-heavy school of thought, although their general spinelessness and the fact that their noses are nearly as deep in the trough as the GOP are the major factors). If you question America's brand of capitalism, you're disparaging wealth and industriousness, no questions asked. I was at a bookstore the other day, and have developed an ongoing game: when I see a book on display by a right-wing media figure, of which there are a depressing amount, I open it up to a random page and see how many nanoseconds it takes to completely debunk the first claim I read. The other day, it was a tome called An Inconvenient Book by some guy named Glenn Beck, who apparently is a particle physicist (nah, I'm just fucking with ya: he's an angry, doughy radio screamer, just like the rest of them). The first line I saw was along the lines of 'liberal fun fact: they think government were awful during Hurricane Katrina, yet they want them in charge of a massive, complicated plan to manage carbon credits.'

First of all, huh? Secondly, Beck is flaunting a tried-and-true right-wing trick, which seems to have spread to the general public through the airborne, anti-intellectualist disease that has overridden the country: the distinction without a difference. No, we weren't repulsed by the government response to Katrina, we were sickened by that government's inaction. The same holds true in this debate: when myself and like-minded people question U.S. capitalism, we're disparaging greed, not wealth. Earlier today, President Obama spoke of an admirable initiative to cap the salaries at a half-mil of executives with companies receiving taxpayer bailout money. You'd think this would be common sense, really, and that it wouldn't be necessary for the President of the United States to intervene in remedying such blatant injustice. Upon announcement of the administration's endeavour, a rebuke was issued from a 'compensation consulting firm' called James F. Reda & Associates. Their managing director had this to say:

“That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus.”

Okay, to expand upon my earlier claim, we're disparaging greed and shitheads, not wealth. Simply unreal: as working-class people lose their jobs and homes, the entitlement knows no bounds. When it comes to the idea of wealth, if you invent something or otherwise make an honest impact, fine, and there should be a carrot. However, if you're simply head bean-counter for a gaggle of white-collar kleptomaniacs, this is entirely different. Menial labourers receiving minimum wage often make a far more quantifiable contribution to society than CEOs, and it's ridiculously unfair that they're the ones suffering through this downturn. Personally, I'm a democratic socialist a la the Nordic states: I believe firmly in markets, but think they should be closely regulated, and that a strong social safety net and equitable wealth distribution is imparative. In short, I think a rising tide should raise all boats, not just the yachts.

Weighing the peril of the times, let's hope America casts aside established orthodoxy and opts to construct a fairer, more just society out of the ashes. It's going to take a strong stomach, but the Obama administration has a chance to entirely discredit the prevailing ethos of greed while forging a more equitable country. Such a change doesn't mean that prosperity and individualism won't flourish. Let's use Klein's Shock Doctrine benevolently instead of greedily.

By the way, sorry this wasn't very funny or anything, but hearing the news today about those avaricious executives spurred me to write. Also, it wasn't supposed to be this lengthy. I'll return to tomfoolery going forward, promise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jared's 25 biggest NHL creeps

The subject of the largest jerks to ever haunt NHL rinks recently arose; while most lists named a few offenders, my quickie brainstorming session exposed a whopping thirty-five or so roaches to the light. I've managed to boil them down to a tidy, round group of twenty-five. Before starting, bear in mind that this group only includes players, so any off-ice culprits get a temporary reprieve, though their day of reckoning will surely come. This means that the roll-call won't include figures such as Marcel Aubut, Harry Neale, Leafs fans, lame mascots, Mike Keenan, local Benedict Arnolds who jumped on the Flames bandwagon during the 2004 playoffs, PJ Stock, Peter Karmanos, the intermission blimp at GM Place that never drops prize envelopes in my direction, Brian Murray, any Canucks owner since the Griffiths family sold the team, Ron Wilson, or Gary 'The Count' Bettman.

'Ten, ten failed franchises, AH AH AH AH AH!'

25) Frank Caprice - Let me explain: I don't actually dislike the 1980s Canuck backup netminder, even if his numbers were pretty wretched ( year he had a 4.81 GAA and .851 save percentage in 28 games), as he seemed like an affable enough sort. However, for part of his Canucks career, I recall him sporting an oily attempt at some sort of quasi jheri-curl, which is unspeakably tragic once you bear in mind that he's caucasian. I tried sleuthing out a picture of this tonsorial quarterlife-crisis on the interweb, but all I could find was a stock photo where the hair is cut straight across his forehead like a six-year-old boy.

24) Craig Janney - This dead-eye passer, who would be incapable of locating the defensive zone with the most expensive GPS device on the market, would have snared a much higher spot if only his fuckfacingly stubborn refusal to accept a trade to the Canucks didn't end up abetting Vancouver reaching that season's Stanley Cup finals. After Janney refused to report to the west coast, GM Pat Quinn dealt his rights back to the Blues for Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican, and Nathan Lafayette, all of whom were stellar contributors during the 'Nucks Cup drive. Janney's repeated, infamous answer to media inquiries during his pout-a-thon when pressed on why he wouldn't report was 'I just need some time.' Huh? First of all, you were traded, not dumped: man up, Jennifer. Second, you were dealt to Vancouver, a beautiful city merely two time zones over, not sent to a remote outpost like Abu Dhabi, Kandahar, Antarctica, Neptune, or Cleveland.

23) Vladimir Krutov - Canucks fans rejoiced (well, excepting local reds-under-the-bed types, I assume) when the team announced during the summer of 1989 that they were involved in the offseason's initial Russian NHL influx (which also brought over the likes of Slava Fetisov and Sergei Makarov), and that Red Army standouts Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov would bolster the forward corps in the upcoming season. Well, one out of two ain't bad: while Larionov proceeded to win Stanley Cups and justifiably landed in the Hall Of Fame, Krutov ate his way out of the league after one season. He also bore a striking physical similarity to that Soviet cable guy who wanted to hook Jerry up illegally in an early Seinfeld episode.

22) Keith Tkachuk - A textbook version of the bristle-haired, prototypically villainish fratboy type, Tkachuk openly gushed about his team leaving Winnipeg for Phoenix right in the midst of their final Manitoban homestand. Moreover, he was seen at a 2004 Busch Stadium World Series game wearing Red Sox apparel. Annoyingly, his mouth is consistently agape, as if he proceeded to close it for a nanosecond the earth would go flying off it's axis and careening towards the Horsehead Nebula.

21) Derian Hatcher - Possessing all the cunning and quickness of a retarded snail, Hatcher was the poster boy for defensive success throughout the NHL's interminable dead-puck era. Which means he was really big, and, uh...what else? When not looking for the smallest opponent to latch onto during post-whistle scrums, Hatcher was often seen grinding forwards to a halt by the most boring means possible. When the league re-convened following the lockout committed to a more free-wheeling style of play, Derian was exposed pretty quickly.

20) Martin Rucinsky, Keith Carney, and Eric Weinrich - I actually liked these three on other teams, but all were acquired by Vancouver with much fanfare at the trade deadline over the past few years, and each failed spectacularly. Given Mats Sundin's slow start, I'm wondering if this bunch have founded some curse on Canuck midseason acquisitions.

19) Jordin Tootoo - Remember those heartwarming stories a few years back when Tootoo managed to emerge from isolated Nunavut to win a spot with the Nashville Predators? Those tales seem oh-so-long ago now, as the plucky Inuk has established himself as one of the dirtiest players of this or any other decade. I was really rooting for this kid at first, but he's going to end up seriously hurting a fellow player; the nadir of his misdeeds thusfar is probably the surprise, turnaround gloved-punch against Stephane Robidas of Dallas that left the defenseman unconscious and concussed.

18) Joe Murphy - One-dimensional, whiny, and, by all accounts, a wretched teammate, Murphy made a career of hitching his wagon to talented linemates. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to Carl Spackler of Caddyshack fame (alright, I promise I won't compare physical appearances of pucksters to pop cultural figures going forward - two is enough).

17) Glenn Anderson - I never much cared for him as a player, as he was undercover-dirty (a fun memory is a shirtless, batshit-nuts Gino Odjick chasing him around the rink after the play during 1995's Canucks-Blues series), but my antipathy stems mostly from encountering him directly when I was a child. We were fortunate enough to attend an Oilers morning skate at Pacific Coliseum during the 1990-91 season, and nearly all of the players were exceedingly generous afterwards in granting autographs. Not only did Anderson refuse to sign, but he was clad in a ludicrous fur coat. And here you all thought that Wilt Chamberlain was the number one pelt aficionado in pro sports.

16) Tom Barrasso - One of the most intemperate jerks to ever lace up the skates, his aloofness and outright harshness with media members and fans is the stuff of legend. I was in attendance at GM Place for his first game with the Senators after being dealt to Ottawa earlier that week, and it was enjoyable to watch him get torched in Andre Racicot-esque fashion.

15) Standup goalies from the 1970s and 1980s (read: pretty much all of them) - When tuning into old games on ESPN Classic or the NHL Network, watching the goalies from thirty or so years ago is downright maddening. They never, ever, ever go down. Someone can be doing a wrap-around and they'll be bolt-upright, hugging the post, and swatting impotently at the puckhandler with their stick. The most comical is when there's a shot between the face-off circle and blue line in the attacking zone - when the puck comes towards them, they'll kind of half fall-backwards as the disc inevitably whizzes by. My younger brother is a goalie, and he thinks it's hilarious. On behalf of puck fans everywhere, I just want to give a heartfelt thanks to the province of Québec for illustrating how to play goal properly and rationally, starting around the mid-to-late 1980s.

14) Gary Roberts - After courageously battling his way back from early retirement following a chronic back condition, Roberts gained a sort of amnesty standing with me, despite the fact that he was a prime mover with the hated Flames during the first phase of his career. It didn't take long for the goodwill to dissipate, however, as he resumed an identical, chippy style of play, and even worse, eventually turned up with the loathsome Maple Leafs. Consistently overrated by the Don Cherry set (I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that this 'winner' won a single Cup, and that was during his third year with Calgary when he was only a minor contributor), Roberts never carried himself like a bona fide grown-up in his late thirties like real leaders such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic did.

13) Joel Otto - I never really had a serious gripe with this guy other than the fact that he was lumbering, boring, and played for the Flames, but that all changed in round one of the 1989 playoffs. The gutsy, underdog Canucks had pushed Smythe Division champ Calgary to overtime in game seven; with the first extra session nearly over, Jim Peplinski threw a pass toward the Vancouver net, which was directed into the cage by Otto's skate. Remember, this was pre-instant-replay, thus the goal stood. I was just a little kid and found the whole thing unspeakably traumatizing; it felt like a pet dying. In all honesty, I'm getting worked-up just typing this: Google 'Joel Otto kicked in,' and it returns 43,000 hits.

12) Marty McSorley - The frightening incident where he struck Donald Brashear on the side of the head with his stick leaves me sickened to this day. Making it worse, he hid behind the ref afterwards when Brashear's teammates came to exact revenge (the team's furious on-ice reaction illustrates in itself what an egregious act this was, as that forgettable edition of the Canucks had no jam or grit, plus I'm pretty sure they all hated each other) Granted, McSorley was widely condemned afterwards in media circles, but there naturally remained a small coterie of apologists who wrote it off as justice meted by a 'good Canadian kid.' If a Euro had committed the offense, the same bunch would have ordered him crucified.

11) Dan Woodley, Jason Herter, Libor Polasek, Alek Stojanov, Josh Holden, Nathan Smith, Michael Grabner (potentially), etc - Few teams have as grim a record as Vancouver when it comes to first round busts. Well, at least Stojanov fetched Markus Naslund in return; many thanks, Craig Patrick. Grabner is putting up nice numbers in Manitoba this season, but I just have an overriding bad feeling about him adjusting to the pro game.

10) Ed Jovanovski - There are creeps, and then there are creeps so repellant that one can't help disliking them even when they suit up for the home team. Jovo falls into this category for me: his arrogance, carelessness in his own end, and penchant for stupid penalties ensured that I'd never take to him. Expanding on the latter complaint, Jovanovski managed to take an undisciplined penalty during the last minute of the third in game seven against Calgary back in 2004. Naturally, the Flames scored at the beginning of overtime while he was still in the box to end the series. To borrow a quote from Bill Maher, that's powerful stupid. What's especially annoying is that the rock-solid Mattias Ohlund toiled in relative obscurity while bombastic Jovo grabbed the headlines. Good riddance.

9) Rick Tocchet - I'll bet you that I can go this entire paragraph without making a gambling-related pun. Oh, never mind. A dirty player turned dirty coach, and I can't believe he actually landed a head coaching job (albeit in the circus that is Tampa - I give it six months before both Len Barrie and Oren Koules are residents of the crowbar motel). I was going to ladle on more gratuitious smartassery and further indictments on his playing days, but there's a guy lurking outside of the window with a violin case.

8) Eric Lindros - Formerly among my top-three least favourite players of all time, but he seems to have morphed into a sincerely good guy upon retiring, so I'll cut him some slack. Still, the fact remains that he was a first-class creep during his heyday. Who can forget his shunning of Les Nordiques de Québec on draft day? Shame! To play devil's advocate, however, he was saddled with perhaps the most demanding, horrific hockey parents of all time, which is a tough environment to emerge from. In hindsight, maybe I should have placed Bonnie and Carl on this list instead.

7) Alexei Yashin - Alright, three contract holdouts in five years is bad enough, but he's also the first person I've ever heard of who donated to charity and then later took it back. This happened back in 1999, when Yashin donated $1,000,000 to the National Arts Centre, only to insist upon it's return when the museum refused to pay his parents $425,000 in 'consulting fees.' Amazingly, this sordid arrangement even makes the aforelampooned Rick Tocchet seem squeaky clean by comparison. On the ice, Yashin was the epitome of a me-first player, and has never been highly regarded by teammates. He's currently toiling in Russia, but there are occasional NHL comeback rumblings. Don't hold your breath.

6) Brad May - Along with Jovo, another rare Canuck whom I couldn't stand. May's purportedly a 'tough guy,' yet has never met a bout he couldn't lose. Fittingly, he was recently dealt to the Leafs, and scored his first goal with the Buds the other night when a puck careened off his ass into the net, which is pretty much a microcosm for his career.

5) Chris Simon - Simon's insanely reckless cheap shots are without peer. Here are a few 'Greatest Hits': Imagine the following scrolling down a screen K-Tel commercial style.

- Stomping on the back of Jarkko Ruutu's leg with his skate blade.

- Cross-checking Peter Popovic across the throat.

- Baseball-swinging his stick into the face of Ryan Hollweg.

- Hurling racial epithets at Edmonton's Mike Grier.

Thankfully Simon's finally out of the NHL, but it's pathetic that it took so many incidents before the league finally turned it's collective back on him.

4) Tie Domi - Jeff Blair of the Globe & Mail put it perfectly the other day when noting that Leaf Nation, punch-drunk from years of failure, have 'turned mediocrities such as Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker into folk heroes.' I recognize that enforcers are often amongst the most popular players on a club, but the Domi-adoration took it to a ridiculous new extreme. What's rarely noted is that Domi was never even a that great of a fighter; I remember storied pugilist Jiri Slegr bloodying Tie's nose and handily defeating him back when he still played with the Jets (the camera caught him smashing furniture back in the tunnel, which made for nifty television). Following his playing days, Domi was briefly hired as an NHL studio analyst with TSN, but the network relieved him of his duties a few weeks later upon realizing that he can't actually string a sentence together. It's hardly a coincidence that the letters in the man's name can be rearranged to spell 'me idiot.'

3) Gary Suter - Strike one: playing for the strong Flames club that frequently steamrolled the hapless Canucks. Strike two: injuring Wayne Gretzky during the 1991 Canada Cup after smashing him into the boards from behind. Strike three: inflicting a serious ACL injury on Pavel Bure during another dirty play, starting the Rocket's slow decline to early retirement, and robbing the hockey world of one of it's most exciting talents right at the cusp of a period when his brand of play was sorely needed.

2) Dale Hunter - I remember watching the 2005 Memorial Cup, which featured as the host club coach Hunter's London Knights. They eventually beat Kid Crosby's Rimouski squad in the final, but what made me throw up in my mouth was that Hunter had clearly bequeathed his unsportsmanlike ethos on a bunch of impressionable kids. The Knights were the dirtiest team I'd yet seen at the junior level. Hunter's lionized in hockey annals as a blood-and-guts tough guy, which conveniently ignores the fact that he was at least as likely to swing his stick as drop his gloves (especially during the latter half of his career). His most egregious and infamous moment, laying out a prone Pierre Turgeon via the cheap-shot to end cheap-shots, is only the most visible lowlight.

1) Mark Messier - What can be said, really? I wouldn't know where to start, and time is short, so I'll hold my fire (lest it lead to a 10,000-word, splenetic denouncement). The only remotely positive contribution Messier made to the game, in my opinion, is this inarguably hilarious picture.

Yeah, that is Gary Coleman, if you're wondering.

This was negative, so I'll do up a list of my all-time favourite players in the near future.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Year In Music, 2008. Part II.

Alright, here are my top records. Disclaimer: while a voracious listener, I'm not a music writer, and bear in mind that this is meant as gushing, not criticism, plus it was a bit of a rush-job. I'm a busy man *. To put it another way, if competent music writing is a well-behaved, impeccably groomed showdog, this is a gamboling, drooly-jowled, three-legged mutt going in for the crotch-sniff. I'm not a chin-stroker, but a forehead-slapper. I started linking to the MySpace pages on Wednesday night, kicked off the writing itself around 9 PM tonight (after much procrastination: it's the 17th of January, for god's sake, which is why not everyone has synopses), and am publishing a few hours later; yeah, I'm officially losing interest in the blog already.

* I'm actually not that busy, in the grand scheme of things.

Now that I've set the bar suitably low, here we go.

Oh, if you're so inclined, as alluded to above, the names in the top records list are all clickable and will open the artist's respective MySpace page, which include sound-clips and songs. Technology is my homeboy.

25) Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling

I freely admit that their being included in the top 25 has the faintest whiff of lifetime-achievement to it, but they also have to contend with the tyranny of high expectations; even an effort that's considered mediocre by Mogwai's standards could easily be considered a lesser band's career highlight. The mere presence of 'The Sun Smells Too Loud' guarantees a spot on this list, plus the group re-released their seminal Young Team debut this year, which is one of he finest records of the nineties - bonus points for that.

24) Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - Many Things

Fela's youngest follows in his late father's formidable footsteps and releases a straight-up Afrobeat record thankfully unadorned with hip-hop cameos, contemporary electronics, or other obtrusively 'modern' measures meant to generate some sort of artificial crossover that have popped up within the genre over the past decade. Even better, he brings back the Egypt 80 band, who backed Fela on my favourite record of his, 1989's underrated Beasts Of No Nation.

23) Atlas Sound - Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

Deerhunter hogs most of the press (and they're great as well), but Bradford Cox's other project also micro-employs a myriad of indie-influences. The difference is that, while Deerhunter zigs into (admittedly offbeat) song structures, Atlas Sound zags expansively and ambiently.

22) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

This sagacious warhorse, and author of the most depressing novel I've ever read, has spent the past thirty years plumbing the dank cellar of the human condition and personally conquering the potentially tragic (heroin addiction, mullet flirtation). What's emerged is a songwriter more willing to trade in levity and, dare I say it, fun.

21) Young Jeezy - The Recession

20) Cursed - III (The Architects Of Troubled Sleep)

19) Nomo - Ghost Rock

18) You May Die In The Desert & Gifts From Enola - Harmonic Motion Vol. 1

17) Times New Viking - Rip It Off

Low-fi haters need not apply, but for the sane amongst us, TNV tear off sixteen bratty, fuzzed-out songs in a half-hour. This album sounds like it cost about ten bucks to make, but impeccable pop-hooks are clearly audible beneath the persistent hiss. Glorious.

16) The Bug - London Zoo

Kevin Martin goes dubstep, and the results are stunning. Tracks that would rock a club, political ruminations, and general kvetching. This is a gem.

15) Parts & Labor - Receivers

It's not up to the lofty standard of last year's gloriously spastic Mapmaker, which has all the earmarks of a career-definer, but the NYC lads show that reining in their loose ends hardly crush out adventurism. The best warped guitar pop of '08.

14) Li Jianhong - San Sheng Shi

One of the year's most pleasant discoveries, Jianhong is a Chinese avant-garde noise artist who makes records using only his guitar. On paper, this is comparable to someone like Orthrelm alum Mick Barr, but there are significant differences in their respective sounds. While Barr is more of a pure shredder, Jianhong layers and sprawls his compositions in a drawn-out manner, birthing simultaneously intense and contemplative soundscapes. This effort, a 51-minute monster released as a single song, ripped my face off.

13) TOBACCO - Fucked Up Friends

12) Russian Circles - Station

11) T.I. - Paper Trail

10) Nico Muhly - Mothertongue

No record this year was more outright compelling: it's variously brilliant, pretentious, adventurous, annoying, precocious, and bold, but the bottom line is that I haven't been able to stop coming back. In a quick capsule, Muhly is a twentysomething compositional wunderkid who was born and raised in New York City, and has worked with Philip Glass and Bjork in the past. This album is divided into three compositions, each encompassing several movements. Upon hearing the first, 'Mothertongue,' I nearly threw a shoe at my stereo: it opens with a mezzo-soprano, which I naturally have an aversion to, singing out random addresses over strings, before being joined by other voices and having the strings fade out to be replaced by the sound of a shower and spare piano. It grates, and I still need to be in the mood for it.

Where this album weakened my knees, though, is on the third piece, The Only Tune. A reworking of an old English murder ballad, it alternately features organ, walls of feedback, and multi-tracked vocals, and brazenly shapeshifts while still maintaining the plot. While not a 'song,' per se, this composition is easily the best fifteen minutes of music released in 2008.

09) Fleet Foxes - s/t

Reams of ink have already been spilled on this record, so I'm not really sure if I can add anything fresh to what's already been said. Impeccable harmonies.

08) M83 - Saturdays = Youth

07) Fennesz - Black Sea

06) Genghis Tron - Board Up The House

05) The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride

It's a kick to have John Darnielle creating lyrical character sketches again after a series of inward-looking albums over the past several years. When he's on his game, few are better: the fabulous closer, 'Michael Myers Resplendent' (written from the perspective of the titular Halloween killer), was described by Darnielle on the band's website as 'about a negative epiphany arrived at through the glory of progressive trance.' Which is a weird coincidence, by the way, considering that the first time I heard the song, the immediate thought that popped into my head was 'wow, talk about your negative epiphanies arrived at through the glory of progressive trance!' Also, 'San Bernadino' is glorious, and I'd advocate it as a gateway drug to anyone unfamiliar with Darnielle's storytelling.

04) Aidan Baker & Tim Hecker - Fantasma Parastasie

Two of my favourite experimental artists, and both Canadian, come together to release this effort. Why is it that both wallow in relative obscurity in this country, yet Metric has a healthy career? Whatevs. This skews more towards Hecker-esque drone, but Baker brings some Nadja-esque guitar to the proceedings.

03) Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna

This is a polarizing unit; some are turned off by the yelping, ululations, and generally spacy disposition of singer/percussionist Lizzie Bougatsos (I bought merch from her once at a concert, and after I chose a CD she woozily exclaimed 'woooah, you guys really know the discography,' which has become a bit of a running gag with friends), plus the live show has been known to reduce hipsters to moronic, new-agey convulsions that can't even generously be filed under 'dancing.' I love them, though, and this newest effort even manages to trump 2004's excellent breakthrough God's Money. Aside from bringing back the endearing polyrhythms, freak-folk traces, and electronics that made it's predecessor such an unclassifiable marvel, GGD includes elements of dubstep and hip-hop this time around. Rather than coming off as mere dilettantes, they manage to fold it into their sound seamlessly and naturally; like Radiohead, GGD can seemingly incorporate anything and yet still managed to unmistakenly sound like themselves, which is an enormous compliment and underrated asset. 'Dust' is one of the best closing tracks I've heard in years, a shimmering conclusion that brings the album in for a smooth landing.

02) Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

I knew nothing about this duo other than they were opening for Caribou at an upcoming local show, so didn't know what to expect upon cueing up debut Street Horrrsing for a first spin, really. I figured that it would be somewhere in the same ballpark as Dan Snaith's warm, intricately concieved kaleidoscopic pop. This speculation seemed to be confirmed for the first minute or so of leadoff track 'Sweet Love for Planet Earth,' which opens with what sounds like a burbling music-box. However, once a forboding buzz creeps in around the 1:05 mark, we're not in Kansas anymore. Granted, there's a non-linearity to the music of both Caribou and Fuck Buttons, but that's about where the similarities end: from it's defanged introduction, 'SLFPE' morphs into a ten-minute-long maelstrom of concussed propulsion, drone and frenzied, unitelligible screaming (for good measure, an added landslide of fuzz is piled on around six minutes in). What makes it more gloriously unsettling is the constant presence of the music box lingering at the bottom of the mix throughout, like the cries of a child trapped in a well. This track dissolves into the terrifying primivitism of 'Ribs Out,' which is essentially four minutes of rhythmic pounding augmented by disembodied banshee wails.

I adore formless noise records, but also have a weakness for pop, so a great selling point for me here is that the barbed mien of droning noise obscures occasional melodic flourishes, believe it or not; this isn't Wolf Eyes or anything. The finest example is 'Bright Tomorrow,' a hazy kicker which employs a hearty 4/4 thud behind looping organ.

01) Why? - Alopecia

Whither 'indie?'

Whatever happened to the original indie spirit: y'know, the fuck-shit-up-and-take-names one that didn't lead to gigs in St Andrews-Wesley church on Burrard? The records that didn't sway into a buoyed-off, Sufjanesque safety zone; the albums that brazenly challenged, elevated, and offended? Here it is, kids; this LP fits the bill, though Steve Albini would hardly be folding his arms and chuckling over rank discordance; this is (sort of) a pop effort through-and-through. In short, Yoni Wolf and company elevate themselves to a similar stratosphere not through naked aggression, but rather pop nous, unorthodox instrumentation, and junkshop patois. Why? had me from the Sanddollars EP, but this is a cut above, and it actually took me a few months to fully appreciate it's greatness: ragged, babbling, yet somehow entirely cogent. It helps that Wolf is a lyricist without peer nowadays, and here are a few examples:

I'm not a ladies man, I'm a landmine. (The Facebook status update of every fellow Why? fan at least once this year)

At your house / The smell of our still living human bodies and oven gas. (This is my personal favourite; it's Elvis Costello-esque in terms of wringing imagery out of a single line)

You're the only proper noun I need. (Fuck gloopy love songs, 'Simeon's Dilemma' is the best crush-track since the Dead Milkmen's 'Punk Rock Girl.' Uh, it is a stalker waxing on his beloved, but divorce that from the equation and it's gold! Okay, I admit that may be hard.)

By the way, honourable mentions go to Girl Talk, Benga, King Creosote, Black Milk, Deadbird, Lawrence English, Autechre, Santogold, Adem, David Byrne & Brian Eno, Leona Lewis, Destroyer, Lindstrom, No Age, Woodhands, Wolf Parade, Flying Lotus, Sun Kil Moon, and Headhunter, all of which narrowly missed the cut.

Nice work, champ.

Here are some of my favourite reissues, anthologies, and compilations of the year:

*Various Artists - Emergency Room

*Various Artists - Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-79

*Various Artists - BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-85

*Various Artists - Mary Ann Hobbs Presents: Evangeline

*Various Artists - Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Disco Classics 1974-1986

*Carl Craig - Sessions

*Mogwai - Young Team (remaster)

*REM - Murmur (remaster)

*Michael Jackson - Thriller (remaster)

*The Jesus & Mary Chain - The Power of Negative Thinking

*Pavement - Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creeders Edition (remaster)

*Big Dipper - Supercluster

*Gas - Nah Und Fern (remaster)

I was going to include the year's 'Worst Albums' list in this overview, but will make that a stand-alone post sometime in the near future. I'm not cranky enough to do it now. To close, here's a list of the best shows I attended this year. These are in no particular order, and I may be forgetting some.

*Daniel Johnston, Richard's on Richards

*The Doers, Little Mountain Studios

*Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Richard's on Richards

*M83, Richard's on Richards (twice!)

*Laura Veirs, St. James Hall

*R.E.M. / Modest Mouse / The National, Deer Lake Park

*Silver Jews / Monotonix, Richard's On Richards

*GZA, Richard's On Richards

*Mission Of Burma, The Plaza Club

*Mogwai / Fuck Buttons, Commodore

*Holy Fuck / A Place To Bury Strangers, Richards

*Alejandro Escovedo, Pat's Pub (first time) and The Biltmore (second time)

*Buck 65 / Cadence Weapon / Skratch Bastid, Commodore

*Neko Case / Destroyer / Andrew Bird / Deerhoof / The Evaporators, Malkin Bowl

*Neil Diamond, GM Place

*Why?, Media Club (first time) and Richard's on Richards (second time)

*Bob Mould, Richard's on Richards

*Acid Mothers Temple, Pat's Pub

*Gang Gang Dance / Marnie Stern, The Biltmore

*Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, GM Place

Here's to a great 2009!