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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Best and the Rest (and everything else too)

Just like every year, here are my top CDs of the year. Because I'm poor, it's actually all the CDs I got, but you know, the intentions are there. I wish to be irresponsibly rich and spend all of my dispensable income on CDs, that would be sweet. So here we go - from worst to first in my saddest year, musically, ever.

Weezer - Weezer (The Red Album)
**Weezer has officially become one of those bands that's hard to figure out and this album really puts that into a tangent light. This album is wildly much so that the tracks by the three other members of the band actually come out as the most solid stretch. It's kind of depressing when one can't string together more than three strong songs...especially out of ten...but that's the beast we're dealing with here. The tracks, individually (like most Weezer albums) are solid enough, but far from coherent when put together. The thing is, whenever this album let me down, it had a pick-me-up almost immediately, meaning that regardless, I'll still get the next Weezer I guess it has that going for it. Check out "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations of a Shaker Hymn)"

Juno Soundtrack
**One of the big movies of the year was a huge hit in the soundtrack department too. Little known Kimya Dawson (one half of the Moldy Peaches) holds the album together while throwing in a handful of classics (a little Mott the Hoople here, a little Buddy Holly here) make it a good listen. Like the movie, it's a little out there, but it's heart is in the right place. Sadly, it's Kimya Dawson's tracks which are the thinnest in the all-star bunch and while they stand out and they are fun the first few listens, they are overall pretty thin which means they are only good for a relisten every once in awhile. What's worse, is that the original version of "Anybody Else But You" (who many swear by) is completely blown out of the water by the movie version, sung by Michael Cera and Ellen Page, which contains a lot more emotion and has a quiet grace about it. Check out "Anybody Else But You" by Michael Cera and Ellen Page.

The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
**The Raveonettes came back in '08 and released more feedback than your eardrums even knew they wanted. While easily holding the strongest opening song on any album this year (and very likely since "Seven Nation Army") in "Aly, Walk With Me" the album still lacks where past Raveonettes albums didn't...diversity. In the past, the band has recorded an album all in B Minor ("Whip It On"), B Major ("Chain Gang of Love") and then the very schizophrenic "Pretty in Black" but that's neither here nor there, the problem is that while the songs here are all great Raveonettes songs, it's very easy to put it on and let it fade into the background. Only "Aly, Walk With Me" rises above the static, while everything else while great alone, sounds like white noise in the context of the album. Since then the Raveonettes have released four digital only EPs, including a Christmas one, which I'm hoping are released via CD soon because you all know how I hate not having physical versions of my songs. The EPs show a much more experimental side, which is what "Lust Lust Lust" was lacking. Check out "Aly, Walk With Me" with your headphones's amazing the first time.

Katy Perry - One of the Boys
**Ahh, yes, my annual foray into the annals of pop music. This is a frustrating album because it's good in spite of itself. The production is often flat, the lyrics atrocious at times (see "If You Can Afford Me") and yet, it's strikingly different than anything else out there. It begs to for you to sing along with it and it's a solid album, but there's very little emotion in it which is where it comes up the shortest. Maybe next time? Check out "Ur So Gay"

The Kills - Midnight Boom
**When I first heard "Cheap and Cheerful" I thought - what is this? This isn't the Kills. The Kills have a dirty guitar and a cheap drum machine and that's it! This is borderline dance music. Last I checked in with the Kills, they were actually taking more from their minimalist approach than before...taking an almost engineering approach to their albums. So they head back to Benton Harbor and hire a producer? And bust out an album focused the drums instead of the guitar? This album flipped the band on its head and what a result! Even when it feel rudimentary ("Getting Down"), it's still a blast and you feel like you're at the best house party ever. The album is consistent, yet diverse enough that every track has it's own personality. It has all the same sexual tension of their live shows and usually more than previous albums and the emotions here are high too. The Kills debuted their softer side on "Rodeo Town" from "No Wow" but here, they nail it. "Goodnight Bad Morning" is the hangover at the end of the album and will someday accompany the final credits to some great indie film about the perils of youth. Almost like a sequel to the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," the song is the perfect conclusion to a great album. Check it out because you'll find at least one track you like, I promise you that. Check out "Goodnight Bad Morning"

Biirdie - Catherine Avenue
**Released on January 22, this album blew me away in many ways. Where their debut album ("Morning Kills the Dark") was a sparse cross-country trip of Americana, recorded in living rooms and kitchens across the nation, "Catherine Avenue" is a return trip home in Los Angeles and if I had to associate an album with a city, this one nailed it. Rooted in the late sixties folk-rock movement, mostly the Beatles let's be honest here, the band doesn't really do anything revolutionary or new but what they do is absolutely gorgeous. The album isn't nearly as consistent as their debut, but by taking chances, the band is able to really start to carve out their own little niche in the music scene. The best example of this album comes on the one cover from the bands previous effort, "I'm Gonna Tell You Something" - originally this was a sparse song that sounded lost in traffic across the world but when the band puts a Pink Floyd spin on the song including some mad crazy atmospherics, it becomes something totally different. No longer is this star drawn couple just separated by the perils of the road but now it's their own's the day to day come-and-go which muddles everything. Then there's the album focal point, "Careless and Unconcerned" - somewhere between a break-up song, a love song and an advice for graduating seniors song - with crippling lyrics and a piano buildup worthy of its own film montage, the song is absolutely engaging. Now throw in songs like "LA is Mars" which wouldn't find itself out of place on a soundtrack like Donnie Darko, or the "Hey Jude" aping "Estelle" and this album hasn't left my car since I got it. There was a long stretch of time I'd listen to a good stretch of it daily, a la Lifted, when I first got it. Plain and simple, this album is amazing - again, it won't blow you away, but it is beautiful and worth a listen and for many, I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't require more than that. Check out "Estelle"

So that's it, like I said, this was a depressingly down year for me and music (I think my worst to date) so hopefully I'll be able to expand my '08 catalog in '09 as well as get some new stuff in there as well. Ta.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bad News for your AFL Fantasy Keeper League...

Evening everybody - couple quick topics on my mind.

1) Santa Claus - doesn't exist, right? So I've been thinking lately - it is even possible for a kid in this day and age to believe in Santa Claus? Now, perhaps I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who knows he's mostly just a marketing tool at this point, but given all of the commercials and advertisements using his image, and given the many contradicting views these all give - how can a child still believe? I don't remember ever believing in Santa Claus, although I do remember confirming he didn't exist at some point so I must have bought into at some point. I suppose the question then is, would you or will you perpetuate the lie with your children? I honestly don't know what I'm going to do. Too often I think of Santa as a cheap gimmick to get children to behave when a little discipline wouldn't hurt. I'm a firm believer that good behavior shouldn't be rewarded, it should be expected. I'm all for boys will be boys and all that jazz, they are kids and I expect them to get into trouble from time to time - but when they are bad, they need to be punished. They need to be taught right from wrong and it's as simple as that. If we're going to go around rewarding simple good behavior, these kids are going to grow up thinking the world owes them something. "I don't break the law, I pay taxes - I deserve something for doing what I'm supposed to do" - it happens in the work place too, "I do my job they way it appears in my job description, I deserve a raise." This isn't how the world works - success comes from going above and beyond, not doing what you're being paid to do! Nobody owes you anything, you have to earn every inch in this world and I think this whole Santa Claus shtick is at least a part of this problem. Thoughts or comments?

2) The Arena Football League is expected to cancel it's 2009 season in hopes of stabilizing its financial situation and coming back for 2010. I know what you're thinking - who cares, right? Well I think it's a good measuring stick for the times. Think about it - football is currently America's past time (argue me that, please) and while many scoff at the AFL, it shares a small slice of the NFL's pie and many leagues like it are struggling as well. Why is this a big deal then? Because the NFL also just laid off 10% of it's workforce. The economy is down, the Detroit Three are struggling and guess who is the biggest sponsor of most athletic endeavors? Guess who's advertising dollars fund the sports we take for granted as entertainment? C C Sabathia isn't getting 160 million from ticket sales, I'll tell you that much. The smaller sport leagues are expected to stumble a bit and many fail in hard economic times, but the AFL seemed solid - they had a contract with ESPN and were well known, if only conceptually, nationwide. In similar news, the Houston Comets (WNBA) are folding as well - this same team won the first FOUR championships of that league. Movie theaters say patronage is up during this recession, which makes sense - if people have a little extra money and need a little escape from reality, it's easy to go catch a movie. However, sport events require a little more foresight as they are scheduled months in advance and if there's a chance I'll be laid off by the time that game rolls around, I think I'll take my $20 now over seeing the game then. I mention all of this because this is just another sign of things getting worse before they get better and while I have no doubt things will indeed get better, it makes me wonder what kind of cultural landscape we'll have when all is said and done. What sports will survive? What leagues will? The NFL was thought to be untouchable by the recession, but they feel it and are starting to tighten their belts a little in anticipation of things to come. It makes me more than a little anxious thinking about it.

3) So I work at a grocery store now and there's a few things I've come to realize, and I'm going to tie it into a proposition I made a few months ago. I asked what kind of innovations have really made you applaud the person who thought it up - at the time my inspiration was the reusable bags popping up at grocery stores nationwide. For many reasons, this idea did and continues to impress me. So a store makes a bag...a nice cloth bag, sturdy design but nothing fancy, plucks its logo on it and calls it good - probably costs a little to make, but not very much in the grand scheme of things. Next, you sell the bag to your customers - bam! Profit has been made. Finally, your customer stops the constant stream of plastic bags to the landfill by using these cloth bags instead of your plastic buy less plastic bags and now you have less costs and more revenue! Now, I know you're thinking how minimal saving one plastic bag is or how little the profit on selling those cloth bags is (by the way, one cloth bag can fit about three plastic bags worth of that I'm packing them myself, I know this)...however, add it up - you have one store which has about 2000 customers a day, maybe only 100 brings in or purchases reusable bags (I'm estimating on the ratio, although I think it's pretty close) - given an average of 10 plastic bags or 6 cloth bags per customer, you just saved yourself 1000 plastic a one store. You have a chain of 100 stores open 365 days a year - that's a lot of plastic bags...that's a lot of cost you just saved. Now naturally, all these savings are passed on to the customer via lower prices, which encourages more customers which...brings in more cloth bags and saves even more money! See where I'm going with this? Now the first place I saw these bags was at Meijer, although I would be surprised if they actually first acted on the concept, but I think in the area - this is a huge jump on competing Walmart (for those not from the Kalamazoo area, we have four Meijer and three Walmart right now). I often look to grocery stores for the best innovations because frankly...they've got the best chance and the harshest competition. Obviously, the big one people want to bring up is Walmart and how it cut out the middleman and just operates its own distribution and warehouse (Sam's Club) system, or how Walmart put pressure on manufacturers to keep prices down so they could keep prices down ("Your product WILL cost this much, or we won't sell it") - which agreed, completely flipped the chain of command on its head but makes perfect sense. I don't shop at Meijer because they sell Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I buy Kraft Macaroni and Cheese because its sold at Meijer. So a quick history lesson - when Meijer first opened it was one of TWENTY SIX grocery stores in Greenville...a town the size of Mattawan in that day. That is some harsh competition - no? Obviously I'd account luck to that success as anything else, but since then, the innovations have been marvelous. The one stop shop...great idea. As Hank Hill put it, "I like the idea of buying my hammer and jeans at the same store so I can see how they'll look together." People are busy, one less stop is worth a lot - especially if I can get the same drill at Meijer as Lowe's...oh, and I can get the drill at Meijer at three in the morning, should I need to (you'd be surprised, but I have needed a drill at three in the morning before). Add that to the list - 24/7 - and recently, even being open part of long until true 24/7/365? I'm sure it's coming...McDonald's is already there as well most gas stations. Next we have the U-scan lanes...again, I first saw these at Meijer. Why pay a cashier $8/hour to run one lane when we can pay a cashier $8.50/hour to run eight lanes and make the customer do all the work? Anyone can scan a bar code, it doesn't take a degree in anything, and while I'm guessing (probably right too) that theft is a little higher because of U-scan (there are preventative measures in place, but once anyone gets to know how these work, it's easy to get around them), the cost of those cashiers is worth more than anything that could possibly be stolen that way. Add to the list the bagging carousel - why? Another staff cost eliminated - why should we have specialist baggers when the cashier can bag just as well? Meijer still has "baggers" on payroll, although they just push carts and shovel walkways now. Funny how that happens. I'd even tack plastic bags to the list because paper ain't cheap and if I can buy my milk or eggs for three cents cheaper across the street, I'm going there for all of my groceries and that's just the bottom line. Thoughts? Additions?

4) I had to cheat and look what number I'm on and this is the last one for tonight, although I'm sticking with the economy theme, at least for this paragraph. The other day, someone said I look like a socialist. I'm not sure what that means, but I was a little taken aback and quickly corrected them by dropping a little Ayn Rand knowledge on them. Here's my beef though - the topic came up because she was talking about how unions are the biggest cost facing the Detroit Three and while I think many different elements have gone into the failure in Detroit, unions have a lot to do with it. Let's actually do a complete breakdown of things that have gone wrong - 1) Unions...I'll get to these last because this paragraph will ultimately be about unions. 2) Management...yeah, taking private jets to DC to ask for a couple hundred billion wasn't a smooth move - and then going back two weeks later and asking for a couple hundred billion more than you asked for the first Rob Gordon (High Fidelity) would equate this to trying to touch a girl's breast and when being rejected, going up the skirt instead. 3) Technology - on this front Detroit did a couple of things wrong, the first being sticking with the SUV for far too long. This was an inevitable fad as just the simple fact that inflation would continue to make these beasts more and more costly just to own while they quickly would lose value and then, add in the green movement and everyone wants gas mileage and compact cars now, and on the other end, when they did try to go to the cars everyone wants it was clear that they just couldn't hold up to their foreign counterparts. 4) Regulations - as is better explained here, by TMQ (Gregg Easterbrook) who I would easily add to a short list of current idols of my own. However, like I said, this is about unions. I don't like unions and now that I'm in a union...I still don't like unions. I had to join the union, or else I couldn't work - it's in the union agreement (I'd be employed, but I couldn't work). Because of the union, hours are decided by seniority and not by performance - that's all well in good, except it promotes people to become complacent in their jobs...again, this is a case of doing your job so that you don't get fired is enough to (eventually) gain rank while excelling at your job gets you the same! Why even try? Why not just coast through and not get fired? Anyone can do that! Also, because of the union, the company needs to have just cause for firing know what? I don't plan on getting fired from this job's not that hard and because it's such an easy job, I think any degree of failure should result in immediate termination because you're just an idiot if you fuck this up. Yes, I'm cold hearted, but I don't care. Because of the union, I can only work in my single department...I'm sorry, I'm a pretty adaptable person and if I could get more hours doing something else in addition to my current job responsibilities, I'd be all over...but alas, I cannot. I understand a lot of things about unions - how they were formed to protect employees who were being abused by employers...I've read the Jungle and if you wanted a job before unions, you had to put up with a lot but - I guess I don't see the benefit anymore. It breeds mediocrity, it raises costs which leads to outsourcing. I think now that people are more aware of working conditions and employee morale, an environment like that in the Jungle is unlikely. If this factory has a crappy work atmosphere and I'm good at what I do...I'm going someplace else - now this factory has a crappy work atmosphere and crappy employees and...they fold. High morale will lead to success, end of story. I'd like to hear of any union right now that is making a positive difference in its industry - please.

I feel like I had another topic in me, but it's blanking my mind right now so I'm out. Ta.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ever wonder...

How some people appear to have more compassion for animals that fellow human beings? I suppose I'm probably one of them, where if I don't know the person - frankly, I don't care if they die or not (okay, I'm probably not that cold...but pretty close I bet), but say I see even an image of a dog or cat being ill-treated and it upsets me something good. What is with that?