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!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Flavour Country Revisited

One of my favourite new television shows is AMC's Mad Men, which chronicles the drama and tension (of both the professional and sexual vintages) rampant within early-1960s Madison Avenue advertising culture. The show's steely, unimpeachably cool protagonist, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), spends his days alternately devising pitches for soap flakes, striving to uphold a typical suburban household, bedding comely women, and wrestling with demons from his past. The secretaries, underlings, and higher-ups are superbly portrayed, bringing to life a savage brand of office politics that makes the average workplace look like student government by comparison. Don's long-suffering wife Betty (January Jones), besides being ridiculously foxy, is a vivid case-study of the era's restless housewife, shackled to subservient child-raising and a generally anomic existence. The sets are spot-on, the characters superb, the storylines clever, and the dialogue never fails to bring it's A-game. In fact, in light of the manifold factors that go into making the show an absolute winner, I only have one minor complaint.

The smoking.

In stellar period re-creation by the program's writers, essentially every character is rarely seen without a Lucky Strike dangling from their lips. The men smoke. The women smoke. Children, the elderly, and household pets smoke. It's a wonder that we can make out scenes through the carcinogenic haze generated by the show's talent.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, Don.

Before I go any further, don't get me wrong: I heartily endorse the abundance of on-screen puffing, as it undoubtably accurately captures the age and environment. No, my complaint is bred purely from personal weakness: see, I'm a recovering cig-monkey. I quit on my twenty-seventh birthday, after roughly seven years of dancing with the regular-filtered, king-sized temptress (wow, 'king-sized temptress' kind of makes it sound like I have a fat fetish). The reasons for my deciding to surrender the habit were threefold:

1) Saving money. I figured that any cash freed up could be re-routed to my first loves, hookers and blow.

2) I'm already cursed with garden-variety looks, room-temperature intelligence, and an overly large head, so figured that not reeking like an ashtray would help keep my then-girlfriend from coming to her senses and ditching me.

3) Blah blah health blee blee whatever.

Fast-forwarding to the end of the story, I managed to quit fairly painlessly. My secret? I was aided by determination, fortitude, and pluck. Well, those combined with the fact that, about a week after my last cigarette, I was afflicted with a painful, mononucleosis-like viral infection that left me hospitalized, and it ensured that sucking Du Mauriers was the last thing on my mind for a few weeks. In all honesty, I'm not sure if I would have been able to kick were it not for said affliction. Still, at the end of the day, I'd recommend trying out nicotine gum or patches to assist in quitting before contracting a dangerous illness. Any port in a storm, I guess, but just an FYI.

But back to Mad Men. I hadn't felt nic-twinges in ages, but, to get down to the brass-tacks, Don Draper is just such a goddamn fantastic smoker that it occasionally makes me consider running to 7-11 for a pack. The man really knows his way around a cigarette, suffice it to say. I haven't succumbed or anything, and I don't really see it happening (after drunkenly accepting a smoke at parties or bars since quitting, I've always regretted it immediately and end up crying 'uncle' after a few drags), but Draper's cig-virtuosity deeply undercuts a taboo promulgated by the health-care industry, authority figures, and the terminally dull: that smoking's a rote, joyless addiction practiced by dead-eyed adherents. I couldn't disagree more: smoking is addictive and extremely dangerous to one's health, but the dirty secret is that it's kind of awesome at the same time, at least when you're young and bulletproof. When I was a student at UBC, I lived to smoke; there was no better feeling than stepping outside following a particularly dull lecture or whilst knee-deep in term papers and lighting up. It enhanced concerts I've attended, plus I met a ton of interesting people in outdoor venue smoke-pits over the years. Stopping off on long road trips for a stretch and a cigarette was just glorious.

Wait, what was my point again? I suppose the underlying message of this blog is that, if you're a recent tobacco quittee, avoid Mad Men like grim death (you may also want to give it a miss if you're a recovering alcoholic). For everyone else, purchase the DVDs immediately.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Year In Music, 2008. Part I.

Welcome to my review of what I believe to be a pretty strong year for music. This didn't always seem as though it would be the case; the first few months were mostly creatively arid, but 2008 salvaged itself with a great latter-half of the calendar year. Personally speaking, I'm finding it to be an outright thrilling time to be a music geek; my tastes continue to grow more eclectic, and the broad expansion of read-write culture that digital technology has enabled allows us to explore and engage with artists or fellow fans in a manner unimaginable even five years ago.

I've decided to break my year-end synopsis into two posts, mostly for the sake of length and readibility. Part I is centered around my list of the top songs of the year; also included is some assorted music-related stuff that doesn't really fit anywhere else (disappointments, trends, rants, pleasant surprises, etc). Part II, which is to be posted over the next few days, features my top 25 records of the year, plus the top compiliations, reissues, live shows, and the always-entertaining worst records of the year. Come on, who doesn't love a good hatchet job?

Anyway, I want to get the negative stuff out of the way first, so am starting with a roll-call of 2008 records that didn't live up to expectations; in shorthand, the biggest disappointments. Before starting, I just want to stress that these aren't necessarily bad records, but merely tepid efforts from artists who are capable of doing better.

Man Man - Rabbit Habits: The weirdness on their first seemed enlightened and inspired; the strained grasps at oddity on this sophomore release are calculated and uninteresting.

Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild: It has it's endearingly whimsical moments, but there's an undercurrent of tiresome preachiness, which seems anathema to the Richman ethos.

Crooked Fingers - Forfeit-Fortune: Not bad, but more ingredients are added than Eric Bachmann's previous post-Archers outings, which gives the album a bit of a too-many-cooks feel. On the whole, it doesn't measure up.

Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers: no, this isn't creepy at all.

Islands - Arm's Way: I loved their first record, and really wanted to like this. It was spun about 10-12 times before I ultimately gave up; there isn't a single track that sticks to the ribs. Still, what with the great debut and a quality Unicorns catalogue, they deserve a mulligan.

Opeth - Watershed: This wasn't enjoyable at all; the slower moments sounded like something from the 604 Records stable. Remember what I said at the commencement of this category that these weren't necessarily terrible records? Go ahead and waive that caveat for this one.

The Breeders - Mountain Battles: I've never been a huge Breeders enthusiast, to be honest, but this may be their most boring yet. I'm a major Pixies fan who firmly contends that Kim Deal rules, but this project should be put out to pasture; they haven't really done anything memorable since 'Cannonball.'

Beach House - Devotion: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This is exactly the type of rounded-edged 'indie' that sneers at the adventurism of predecessors from a less-charitable distributive age.

Del The Funky Homosapien - Eleventh Hour: The fact that he's probably my all-time favourite MC while never releasing a solo record that I'd grade over a middling C-plus (Deltron 3030 is an A-plus album, but that was done with Automator, so it doesn't count) bespeaks the quality of his extracurricular projects and live presence. I was excited to hear that he'd signed to Def Jux, and this is a servicable effort, but, as per usual, it's mostly frustratingly spotty.

From here, we delve deeper into the thicket of crumminess.

Worst Song Of The Year: My Morning Jacket's 'Highly Suspicious.' I can say without hyperbole that this is one of the most offputting songs of the decade, and I'll never look at the group in the same way again. Here's the scoop: MMJ, a collective of bearlike, hairy Southern rustics who have built a career upon releasing albums of smart, experimental Americana (2001's At Dawn, in particular, is actually a really great record) decided to cook up a Purple Rain-era Prince pastiche. Amazingly, it's even worse than it sounds on paper; the dichotomy between lead singer Jim James' burly, blue-collar appearance and the nuts-in-a-vice falsetto he employs here is truly jarring. The nadir comes partway through when the aforementioned singer begins giggling coquettishly. I'm sorry, but I really can't do it justice. Summary: I'd rather be beaten with a table leg than hear this ever again.

Phew, I'm glad that stuff is out of the way. Now, in the parlance of Dave Dameshek's Jerk List, it's time to bring a little sugar to the proceedings. First off, here are a list of the year's pleasant surprises.

Paul Weller - 22 Dreams: 'In The City' aside, I've always found The Jam to be little more than plodding dadrock, plus Paul Weller's solo career has been a snooze-inducing streak of piss. I'm not sure how exactly it even ended up in my Winamp, given his track record, but this is a legitimately interesting, ambitious album.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer: I didn't mind their first record, but was obviously drinking different Kool-Aid than the majority of the slavering music press, who rushed to not only crown Apologies To The Crown Mary 2005's album of the year , but essentially elevated it to the pantheon of indie rock classics. I couldn't disagree more - one only needs to listen to the Swan Lake record to hear that Spencer Krug doesn't yet measure up to a Carey Mercer or Dan Bejar in terms of songwriting heft - but this sophomore effort was much more satisfying.

Conor Oberst - s/t: I'm allergic to the fundamentals of emo, but have always loved Oberst's Bright Eyes; despite the media attention they've received, I think their catalog will be viewed as surprisingly strong in ten or twenty years. That said, Cassadega was the first Bright Eyes record that didn't really do anything for me at all, thus I figured the Nebraskan pretty-boy had reached his artistic ceiling and was settling in for a career denouement of diminishing returns. Boy, he sure showed me - this record's a delight.

Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane: Confession: I've often found CVG's records trying and overcooked, plus his live show bored the ever-loving bejesus out of me (especially when the excellent two-fer of The Doers and Fond Of Tigers opened said gig and served to set the bar ridiculously high). This is a step in the right direction, though; it's more judiciously edited and coherent than his previous work while still maintaining an experimental bent.

Crystal Castles - s/t: In a textbook example of judging a book by it's cover, I ignored this record for ages because the duo came off as buffoonish hipsters in the press. After finally giving it a chance, I felt shame; don't get me wrong, I still think they're buffoonish hipsters, but they've made an icy, intriguingly varied hum-dinger of an electro record.

This next list are also pleasant surprises, but fall under the 'old warhorse' category.

Stephen Malkmus - Face The Truth: Obviously it doesn't measure up to Pavement, but he's at least made a solo record comparible to the stellar Pig Lib.

Local H - 12 Angry Months: I've always enjoyed the caustic Scott Lucas; back when I was in high-school, he made bullying jocks pogo to a song insulting their entire culture simply due to the inclusion of a naughty word. Always too clever and subversive to make it big, yet with enough polish on their records to alienate the indie crowd, Local H has always been the above-average tweener of post-Nirvana rock (think Ben Gordon, basketball fans), and this concept record spanning 12 months following the end of a relationship is alternately splenetic, heartbreaking, and hilarious.

REM - Accelerate: A nice, taut rock record from one of my early favourite bands. The last couple of REM releases have been pretty ghastly (though I'd take a bullet for Up, which most unfairly lump in with the remainder of the subpar post-Berry output), but the punchy songs here make for a nice live experience.

Portishead - Third: I always came down on the Massive Attack side of the fence during the great trip-hop debate of the late nineties, but the music of this bunch has aged much better. Moreover, this comeback effort following a lengthy hiatus is a classy augmentation of their sound.

Here are a few loose-end categories.

Biggest journalistic starfucker: For the fourteenth straight year, take a bow, Rob Sheffield. He used to be solely confined to the already wretched Rolling Stone, but seems to have taken his sycophantic junk down the freelance path: his Blender cover piece on Katy Perry was a fawning disgrace. I'd almost admire his plucky attempts to render such obviously two-dimensional figures in IMAX, if only they ever actually succeeded.

Tangent: when the NHL's Lady Byng trophy was instituted back in the late 1920s for gentlemanly play, it was won by New York Rangers forward Frank Boucher seven of the first eight years. As a sort of tribute, the NHL decided to just give the trophy to Boucher following the seventh win, and the Byngs donated a new award to the league. That's essentially the point we're at with Rob Sheffield and the starfucker award: just keep the thing.

I'll bet you didn't expect to see Frank Boucher and Man Man come up in the same post. That makes two of us.

Most overrated claim that's gained a depressing amount of traction: Death of the full-length album in the age of the iPod. Records haven't changed for the worse, and fantastic ones continue to be churned out by the dozens each year. To the leading proponants of this theory, no offense, but your attention span probably just sucks. I realize that some listeners are just more singles-oriented by nature, which is fine, but the debate is being being portrayed as a zero-sum-game. The entire theory points directly to consumerist, gadget-driven overstimulation, which is what I find really annoying.

Most frustrating record: L'il Wayne's Tha Carter III. Rather than having the chance to listen through the entire record in one sitting, I first heard this in three chunks upon purchase. At that point, I figured it was headed straight for the year's best list, but that prospect dimmed with each ensuing spin. There are a lot of incredible tracks on this disc ('Lollipop' excepted, which is retarded), and Weezy's rhymes are as wonderfully out-to-lunch as I expected, but Jim DeRogatis hit it on the head when he noted that there's a bit of a mixtape quality to this record. I love tearing it up for parts, but find it difficult to make through in a single sitting.

Best Record of 2007 (in hindsight): With apologies to last year's winner, Parts & Labor's Mapmaker, it has to be Kanye's Graduation. Even the hookiest tracks, which by design can be prone to losing their flavour like a piece of gum, are finding new ways to endear themselves to me, and there's hardly any fat. The only thing keeping it from being considered one of my top-five hip-hop albums of all time is the unfortunate presence of Mos Def on the lunkheaded 'Drunk And Hot Girls.' The unwavering critical appreciation of Mos Def has always really bothered me, and, going by his cameos on other records, I've come to the conclusion that he pretty much ruins everything. Here's a game you can play at home: wrecking historically venerated feel-good events through insertion of Mos Def guest spots. I'll get things kicked off.

[SCENE 1: Charlie Brown arriving to find his famously puny Christmas tree decorated beautifully by the neighbourhood kids]

Lucy: Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree.

*group starts humming 'Hark, The Herald Angels Sing'*

Charlie Brown: What's going on here?

*pause while he incredulously inspects tree*


Mos Def: She spot me like paparazzi / shot me a glance / in that catwoman stance with the fat booty pants, hot damn!

*Christmas tree bursts into flames*

[SCENE 2: The moon landing]

Neil Armstrong: One small step for giant leap for mankind.

Mos Def: Up top is you getting up with it? / Dirty dirty is you getting cronk with it?

*entire galaxy is sucked into a black hole*

See, it's hardly brain surgery. Create your own.

Mos Def enjoying his new hobby, zeppelin pilotry.

Best Record Store: Vancouver's own Red Cat Records. Unpretentious staff, great vinyl selection, and close to my house; what's not to like? I still can't believe it took me so long to discover this place. Audiopile and Zulu are strong runners-up.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my list of 2008's top songs. I've left the tracks unranked, with the exception of awarding a gold, silver, and bronze for the three best. Admittedly, the medal-based reward system may not be entirely kosher at the moment, as it makes myself and probably any other Vancouverite reading this think of white-elephant venue construction, general cost overruns, and insufferably smarmy, reptilian VANOC CEO John Furlong. Sorry, there's no hyperlinking to sound clips, but I'm sure these can be tracked down relatively easily over the interweb. Via purely legal channels, of course. Wink.

Silver Jews - Strange Victory, Strange Defeat: The reviews for this album were tepid, but David Berman's return can be filed under 'triumphant' for this cryptically astute nugget alone. The chorus is bigger than one usually finds on Joos tracks, but, as per usual, the lyrics steal the show.

Robert Pollard - Gratification To Concrete: The one where everyone's favourite beer-swilling, hyper-prolific former elementary school teacher comes up with his best track since 'I'll Replace You With Machines' five years ago.

Robert Pollard wrote thirty-two songs in the time it took to read this caption.

Ill Bill - My Uncle: The Non Phixion alumnus wrings a chilling anti-drug screed from familial experiences with heroin addiction. Commencing with a creepy sample of Bill's smack-ravaged uncle, what could have been a preachy no-mark instead resonates with a charged, Dead Prez-esque willingness to flout hip-hop convention.

Nas - Sly Fox: Many critics wrote this song off for it's hunting-sheep-with-a-bazooka targeting of Fox News, but the fact that cable's number-one coven for bloviating fucktards is an easy target shouldn't detract from the brutal elegance of the lyrics. The reply to a feud instigated by race-baiting alpha figure Bill O'Reilly, Nasir Jones knocks Papa Bear six ways from Inside Edition with this tour-de-force.

Bill O'Reilly came a disappointing third in the sack-race at the Fox News summer picnic, but later redeemed himself with a first-place harrumph-off finish.

Sun Kil Moon - Tonight The Sky: The SKM album narrowly missed my top 25, and it's highlight is this sprawling road-tripper, replete with irresistable chorus. Mark Kozelek's own 'Cowgirl In The Sand.'

Slow Down Tallahassee - Never Be Lonely Again: I'm quite possibly biased, as both my twin brother and arch-nemesis were both once members of this Sheffieldian unit, plus the primary songwriter bought me numerous beers and complimented hockey when I was visiting England (he was pretty hammered at the time, I think), but that doesn't change the fact that this summery track has glorious hooks aplenty.

Terrence Dixon - Unit: Dixon is one of my favourite discoveries of the year, even though he's been kicking around for ages (I'm late to the party); he released three EPs this year, and this gem from Point Of View best shows off his Detroit-leaning techno.

Parts & Labor - Nowhere's Nigh: The Brooklyn-based Record Of The Year emeriti tone down the kitchen-sink element and emerge with an anthemic-yet-warped nugget.

The Bug - Fuckaz (featuring Spaceape): In this grumpy slice from an already dyspeptic album, an ornery Spaceape tees off on greed, materialism, self-absorption, and your old man (okay, that last one's made up), amongst other things.

White Lung - Therapy: Some local content, this track is probably the finest sautering of seminal forbears (elements of Sonic Youth's 'Trilogy', Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, etc) and contemporary jagged noise energies that graced my stereo in '08.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Out Of Reaches: The song starts off in a fairly average manner, but works it's way into an endearingly widdle-y Malkmusian guitar solo around the three-minute mark. By the way, when the term 'widdle-y' works it's way into a music review, it's fairly obvious that we're not exactly dealing with Robert Christgau or Peter Guralnick here.

Stephen Malkmus is off to the deli for his usual pastrami on wry. Har har! Slide whistle.

Cloud Cult - Love You All: Far and away the best track from an otherwise unremarkable album, this song starts with isolated, vocodered singing before gradually building into a gloriously lush climax. The brand of twee indie rock Cloud Cult trades in has mostly bored me shitless over the past few years, but this is a cut above. Beautiful.

Bvdub - It Could Have Been So Beautiful: Cinematic ambient dub really doesn't get much better than this exercise in lush, sweeping bob-and-weave. It was hard picking one song from his I Never Cried A Tear EP, as every track was stunningly accomplished.

TOBACCO (feat Aesop Rock) - Dirt: Combine Black Moth Super Rainbow's woozy, seasick psych-pop with Aesop's flow (crazily enough, he seems to be getting even better with age) and you have the best of both worlds.

Dr Dooom - R.I.P. Dr Octagon: Kool Keith, hip-hop's last word on batshit craziness, resurrects one of his underrated personas to re-murder Dr Octagon. By the way, Octagon is also a Keith creation. The villainous Dooom (Keith) had already previously knocked off Octagon (Keith) back in the 1990s, but after Octagon (Keith) rose from the grave earlier this decade, Dooom (Keith) arrived back on the scene to 'beat him (Keith) to death with rocks'. Follow? In other news, Kool Keith is a fucking lunatic. Great line about 'the critics giving him (Octagon) mouth-to-mouth' while in his death throes the first time around.

Kool Keith with an Elvis wig glued to his skull. No wisecrack required.

Skelm - 9 Ball: With the possible exclusion of the aforementioned Spaceape-helmed Bug track, this is probably my favourite dubstep cut of the year. Nearly ten minutes of crepuscular shiftiness, and it's even better on headphones.

T.I. - No Matter What: This is one of the biggest pop songs I heard this year; meat-and-potatoes thumping beats, a five-alarm synth-line, and a chorus built for arenas (ironically enough, T.I. couldn't actually go to said arenas due to his being under house-arrest, but that's neither here nor there). The obvious pick is the ubiquitous 'Live Your Life,' which is also great, but Rihanna's taking part in the 'ayyyayyyayyys' is hugely unbecoming. She sounds like a dude; it reminds me of Daphne Zuniga singing 'Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen' while imprisioned in Spaceballs.

T.I.'s hat nearly pulled off the great escape, but eventually ended up back in the cooler.

Alejandro Escovedo - Swallows Of San Juan: One of my favourite songwriters of the past twenty years released a sort of concept record this year ruminating on his fascinating career, from his time hanging out with Sid Vicious in NYC to the present-day. Some of the songs are too beholden to a rockist template for me, but it makes for a really fun listen on the whole; the best song, though, 'Swallows Of San Juan' is more classic-nineties Escovedo, which I feel is his best phase.

And, without further ado, here are my favourite three songs of the year.


M83 - We Own The Sky: The track closest in spirit to the captivating rococo of 2005 predecessor Until The Dawn Heals Us (somewhat-interesting fact: Jared's '05 Record of the Year), this French unit's exercise in candy-coated ethereality is absolutely spectacular.

Anthony Gonzalez of M83: 'My kids need wine.'


Adem - To Cure A Weakling Chile (Boy Girl Song): Taken from a record of covers released by the less-famous half of Fridge, this staggeringly ambitious spinning of an Aphex Twin track into breathy, pastoral folk (!) is nothing short of a marvel. Just absolutely stunning, and I encourage anyone to track this one down - it's appeal should be fairly universal, unlike the often-difficult source material.

Adem: for my next trick, I'll convert Windowlicker into spoken-word.


Subtle - Day Dangerous: The full-length was a bit of a disappointment, but Anticon's favourite supergroup (I don't tag the mighty cLOUDDEAD with the same designation, as they're representing a sort of ex post facto supergroupism) comes up with the left-field pop song of the year. The soundtrack to my summer, it still pops into my head each time I drive near Jericho Beach.

Subtle. Didn't the guy in the back make Super Size Me?

Anyway, the top full-length albums (as well as top compiliations / reissues and the year's worst records) are on deck. Unlike this wisecrack-laden mess, I'll try to maintain some semblence of reverence in that piece. Well, except for the 'worst records' part. If you made it this far, please feel free to post some of your favourite songs from 2008 in the 'Comment' section below. Cheers!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Jazz Is

It didn't take long for the first truly wretched decision of 2009 to happen (outside of the Israeli offensive into Gaza, but that's another rant), as iconic polymath Nat Hentoff has been let go by the Village Voice, the NYC weekly he's maintained a column at for the past 50 years. The old cost-cutting saw was given as the reason for his being included within a round of job cuts at the Voice. Given the current precarious environment traditional print media finds itself in, layoffs within the industry don't come as a huge surprise, but releasing Hentoff when he's 83 and in possession of such an augustly tenure at the paper is pretty tacky. Mysteriously, the just-okay Tom Robbins emerged unscathed.

Hentoff: giving your Pop Pop a run for his money in the terrific sweepstakes since 1925, see.

If you're not familiar with the man's career, he's done yeoman's work advocating pretty much everything that's important and/or cool. Yeah, that's an overstatement, but here's a quick overview of Nat's achievements:

  • Hentoff's known as perhaps the foremost jazz authority of the past 60 years who isn't an actual musician; he's advocated, recorded, presented, and written tirelessly about the form, and his credibility was bronzed a few years back upon being the first non-player given the Jazz Master designation by the National Endowment for the Arts. Nat was a great help in introducing me to jazz as 'the sound of surprise' with his liner-note essays for albums I bought over the years, which is actually where I first stumbled upon him personally. By the way, is there really anything cooler than the jazz sleeve essay? C'mon.

  • He's been a tireless journalistic attack-dog for First Amendment rights, and actually testified on behalf of Lenny Bruce at the profane comedian's trial (some would call it a witch-hunt) back in the 1960s.

  • Even in his twilight years, Nat's been one of the most tenacious, effective critics of the Bush administration during it's interminable time in office. Not given to the embarassing rhetorical propensity that has crept into print media from the shit-show that is cable news over the past couple of decades, his dignified-yet-pointed pieces exhibit the thorough research, shoe-leather journalism, and sheer instinct that can only be procured through years of experience.

  • He was immortalized on a hilarious Patton Oswalt stand-up riff about bookish NPR types (see the underrated No Reason to Complain DVD performance). Ah, I love me some Patton.

I've been profundly depressed since hearing the news, so spent today at work staging a bit of a mini-celebration of Hentoff's career; I scoured the web and found hours of audio and YouTube interview material (including his inclusion in a 1995 Charlie Rose roundtable with Allen Ginsberg, which was the poet's last media appearance before his death a few weeks later - skip ahead to 22:35 in that clip), and played it in the background while busting fraudsters. It really served to cheer me up, and it's not like Nat's dead or anything; he's still going to be contributing to other outlets. Still, I'll greatly miss his Voice column.

Even while doing the press rounds expounding on his recent firing, though, the man still has things to say. This is from the NPR piece I linked to above:

"It's happening more and more: Those small papers in those small towns, some of them are folding," Hentoff says. "And that, of course, means... the Internet — which is fine, except what you get most of the time is people going to sites and blogs [with] which they already agree.

This very subject is fodder for an upcoming post of mine: the ideological divide in the wake of traditional print media's demise. Sounds like a barn-burner, hey? Well, I think it's interesting, and will spruce it up, I promise (I plan on alternating between goofy and serious pieces with this blog). By the way, I realize that I'm out W-Axl-Roseing Chinese Democracy, but the 2008 music lists are on tap for this week. I think I was overly ambitious in terms of length and variety of subjects, and may actually break it up into two pieces over a couple of days for the sake of readibility.

Take care, and, in conclusion: fuck snow. I'm writing this on Sunday night, and so Vancouverites will get that.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Things to be frickled

The merry year is born
Like the bright berry from the naked thorn.

Hartley Coleridge penned these words; in them, the eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (and who, frankly, I'd never even heard of until around ten minutes ago; I suspect he had his labour swapped for opium numerous times as a child by the old man) spins a simple, comforting rumination on the passing of time. In this spirit, it serves to remind contemporary society to take time and savour the transistory aspect of this annual milestone. Perhaps you spent the first minutes of 2009 surrounded by loved ones and reflecting upon the previous year, be it on triumphs or missed opportunities. It could be that you made silent, solemn pledges for the coming months. Or, if you're like me, you watched daredevil spawn drive his motorcycle over a gigantic motherfucking jump.

That's right, I was at a friend's place yesterday evening when the ball dropped, and FOX's thermo-nuclearly cheesy New Year's Special had the house transfixed. Diversions included performances by has-been (Scott Weiland) and never-will-be (David Cook) musical hacks, plus a bizarre piece on an apparently pantsless Cirque du Soleil revue currently running, but the production was built around the late Evel Knievel's son, Robbie, jumping over a spanking new faux-volcano at The Mirage in Vegas. All I could think about during shots of the burping, flaming edifice was how much fuel was being wasted on such a useless diversion, but the people seemed happy. Who am I to complain, at the end of the day? I guess.

Robbie Knievel jumps 21 Hummers in June 2008. Not pictured: the 21 assholes who own them.

Anyway, the funniest, albeit most macabre, part of the lead-up, which included interviews with Robbie's main stunt co-ordinator and sundry crew members, was a lovingly CGI-ed sequence done by the network that graphically illustrated each potentially deadly unhappy-ending should anything go awry. As such, along with cartoonishly grave narration, we were treated to visual simulations of flaming Robbie, Robbie flying from the bike and landing in a crumpled heap on the ramp, and Robbie dropping directly into the heart of the volcano after failing to attain the required speed. Believe me, I scoured the internet for the better part of a half-hour trying to find this footage, but came up empty; it was just so wrong, yet hugely entertaining. By the way, this was tape-delayed, so we knew nothing gory happened, lest you think our group was a pack of rubbernecking ghouls.

After this warm-up, the jump itself seemed a bit anti-climactic, to be honest.

What's amusing is that, as I scoured YouTube for a clip, there were already heated debates in the comment sections about whether the jump was a 'hoax,' or if it lived up to his father's formidable legacy. My two cents: it's difficult to bring dignity into the argument when the subject is wearing a doo-rag.

Hope you all had a great New Year!