All the Best in 2009

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?, originally uploaded by ccsbandwagon.

Top Five Music Sites

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Note - due to potential bias, companies that employed me are ineligible.

Any run-of-the-mill music fan knows that there's an absolute plethora of online sites for reviews, streaming, purchasing, and so forth. There's so much that it's nearly impossible for many to streamline the good from the not so good. And as anyone in Silicon Valley knows, the past decade has seen many a start-up come and go. And many are still trying to make a mark right now. In time, more will fall, some will rise, others will plod along and a few will find sustainability over time.

I am not basing my favorites on their business models, but rather on what they offer music fans. Instead of breaking my selections into categories (e.g. purchasing, streaming, reviews, blogs), I decided to just go with the five that I visit most and those that have built tools and staffs that understand the way lovers of music feel about an artform that changes and impacts our lives.

#5 All Music Guide
Allmusic is chock full of information about nearly every artist and record ever to land in a record store, or online. You can search artist biographies along with every record released with all the necessary information. In addition, Allmusic has staff writers who review all those records. And unlike sites that clearly lean in a particular direction, AMG covers it all and is almost always spot on in their reviews. So if you hear that certain song and can't remember the artist, hit up all music. If you're getting into Ry Cooder, but don't know which record to buy, once again, AMG. And if you just want to spend time browsing endless information about music, well, this is your spot.

#4 eMusic
The best place to download music. Users can choose from two monthly packages, both of which are absurdly cheap. I opt for 90 downloads for $19.99. That works out to about $.22 per song. That is just slightly over 20% of what a download on iTunes will run you. And on eMusic the tracks are in MP3 format. In other words, there are no tedious locks on the songs. You can burn, rip, trade, trash, caress, whatever. Sure, you don't have access to major-label content, but how much good music is being delivered by the majors these days? Answer: very little. On eMusic, you have content by the best labels/distributors around, including Secretly Canadian, Merge, Redeye, Matador, Touch & Go, Domino, Bar None, Beggars, Smithsonian Folkways and Stax. And when it seems as if you've exhausted everything you'd want to buy, think again; you've just gotten started.

#3 Largeheartedboy
The current king of the music bloggers. Largeheartedboy offers only a snippet of his own content, relying predominately on links to the day's best in music. Instead of jamming the predictable big-label garbage down your throat, he takes his time and steers you to the interviews, downloads, and reviews with substance. Add to that song downloads and full-show downloads, his book reviews, comprehensive lists, links abound, and you have just about everything you need. And it's all done on one page in a simple and cohesive format.

#2 YouTube
Granted, it's not a "music" site, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to find footage of nearly every artist ever to make music. You want to see some Replacements footage from back in the day? How about Kenny Roby performing in a coffee shop in North Carolina? Or the Stones around the time that they recorded Exile on Main St.? Well, it's all there. And the discovery is absolutely endless. Country, rock, indie, hip-hop, soul, punk, funk, crunk....it's all there. And it's just growing and growing.

#1 last.fm
I joined last.fm in June of 2005 and I still check the site every day, usually numerous times a day. Last.fm is unique in that not only can you stream just about anything and link to YouTube videos of the artists you're streaming, but all of your listening is tracked. Any song that you listen to on your computer or iPod is added to your charts, which grow with each listen. You can check out your all-time lists or break it down by month or week. You can do this by track and artist. In addition, you can check the same of your friends, colleagues and strangers, in real time. So if you're in your living room and want to see what your brother or boss are listening to, as long as they're signed up and listening, well, it's right in front of you. And then you can scour their charts or listen to their last.fm radio, which is culled from their libraries. The site also contains forums, site-wide charts, playlists and groups. If you're looking for discovery, community and all the music you can absorb, this is the best site out there.

So close:
Pitchfork
For a few years this was far-and-away my favorite music site. I'd rise each morning and look forward to the five records they'd review each weekday. I discovered hundreds of artists and albums via their reviews. I came to trust their writers. I would also dive into their features, news and lists. This was a treasure trove for "real" music fans. Then they started to realize this and began to lose their way. The days of discovering great bands such as The Wrens and Grizzly Bear appear to be on the downswing as Pitchfork has grown a bit full of themselves. They now choose obscurity over quality and this is precisely what they set out not to be. No, I no longer check each day, but I do check a few times a week. I love the "Guest List" section and still scour the reviews. And from time-to-time they do nail a review and lead me to something new. And oftentimes I learn some news that's appealing. But a once great site is clearly falling into obscurity, exactly where they now appear to be most comfortable.

Worth noting: Insound, Daytrotter, Metacritic, Magnet Magazine, PopMatters, Blurt, Fabchannel, Black Cab Sessions

New Pets

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New Pets, originally uploaded by ccsbandwagon.

Thank You

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In the three years that I've been writing on this blog, I don't think I've taken the time to thank those of you who visit and read what I have to say. That said, not a post goes up without acknowledging that some folks actually find interest in what I have to say. I've received many e-mails and texts regarding something I wrote about, a video I posted or a few pictures I shared. And every single time I remain amazed that people, whether friends or strangers, have taken an interest in, well, things that interest me.

I write on this blog solely out of passion for the things that influence my life. Music and politics clearly take the forefront, but I also try and share anything that may move me both negatively and positively each day. There are many times that I'll be on the bus, in the park, at dinner or in the car when an idea pops in my head. Maybe I'm listening to NPR, reading the NY Times, listening to Bob Dylan or talking about the economy or the environment when suddenly there's an idea or concept. And I immediately need to find my computer. And my uncontrollable urge to write stems simply from a need to share my thinking, passions or whatever captivates me at that time.

I started casually tracking visits to my site earlier this year. I don't dig deep into the stats, but rather just check the unique visits every few days. It turns out that this month has been the most popular month on this site. I can certainly attribute a lot of visits to www.largeheartedboy.com, who has linked to my site a number of times. But in addition, I know that some of you come back regularly, and have shared the address with friends. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.

I noted in late October that for the first time since graduated college in 1996, I have found myself without a day job. This news did not come as a surprise and was something that I'd been preparing for, as best I could. Given the free time, I have been writing more on this blog, working on a few short stories and doing many things I didn't have time for in the past. It should also be noted that I do not earn a penny from this blog. I'm not sure I could even if I wanted to, but even a modest financial return has never been the impetus for writing here. However, since I am out of "work", I have come to the realization that one of my many passions does lie here. In all likelihood this will remain a hobby, but if I ever took the time to try and monetize this site (if at all possible), and could sustain even a meager living doing this, I can't imagine being happier. I write here almost because I feel as though I have to. Whether a day brings three readers or 350, the notion that anyone is listening is incredibly rewarding.

As we move into 2009, I plan on continuing to share my oft over-the-top opinions on music, political events, Barack Obama, policy, books, movies and happenings in my daily life. I plan on taking more pictures, reading more books and yes, listening to more and more music. And for some unexplainable reason, I will find the need to share everything here.

I Took Road and Said Goodbye : The Essential Will Oldham

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He's certainly had his share of monikers, including Palace, Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Will Oldham, and most prominently, Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Whatever his name of choice, it's always Oldham. And in 15 or so years, he has produced some of the best music of our time.
The Essential Will Oldham
Lion Lair
Big Friday
New Partner
Death To Everyone
Wolf Among Wolves
Easy Does It
Strange Form of Life
Work Hard/Play Hard
A Minor Place
Hard Life
Antagonism
Love Comes To Me
Arise, Therefore
Missing One
I See a Darkness
A King at Night
The Way

Fourteen Books

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No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, Stories, 2008: 8.3

Take a Picture Here, Take a Souvenir : The Essential R.E.M.

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The Essential R.E.M.
Gardening at Night
(Don't Go Back To) Rockville
Disturbance at the Heron House
Talk About the Passion
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Green Grow the Rushes
Fall on Me
Losing My Religion
Crazy
Cuyahoga
So. Central Rain
Nightswimming
Driver 8
Pale Blue Eyes
I Believe
Shaking Through
Near Wild Heaven

R.E.M. "Harborcoat" (Video)

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Cheri Knight "All Blue" (Video)

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Not a word from Knight since 1999 or so. This tune remains one of my favorite songs of the late 90s.

The Possibilities @ The Baggot Inn, NYC 10.26.02 (Pics)

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I listened to Athens, Georgia native The Possibilities' 1999 debut this afternoon. Following their 2002 follow-up, Way Out!, this virtually unknown band were no more. Fortunately, I was able to catch them at a downtown New York City bar in October of 2002. There were about 20 other people in the room, but man did they put on a great set.

Magnet Magazine's 15th Anniversary Issue

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As a number of the premiere music magazines fall by the wayside, and the bigger, corporate mags attempt to reinvent themselves and remain relevant, Magnet Magazine, after 15 years, remains the most all-encompassing and knowledgeable music resource out there. There are certainly some great bloggers and online resources that have challenged Magnet, but most are either lacking in diversity or far too predictable and/or pretentious.

I first started reading Magnet over ten years ago. I recall great features on Elliott Smith, Guided By Voices and Wilco. I can think of hundreds of records that found their way onto my racks due to Magnet. And perhaps more influential than anything, the photographs. I can't think of another resource that has so beautifully and appropriately captured most of the best artists making music over the past decade and a half.

Yesterday brought the arrival of the Magnet 15th Anniversary Issue. Nick Cave graces the cover and inside are features on the Philly music scene, outstanding shots of Joe Strummer, Paul Westerberg and Cat Power, and one thorough review after another. And that's just the beginning.

As our media continues to evolve, editors and boards everywhere are scrambling to adjust, tailor themselves and please as many folks as possible. Magnet has resisted the temptation to jump on this bandwagon and has remained true to its core: great features, stunning pictures, the best in art and in the end, arguably the best music magazine ever.

Kiran

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Kiran, originally uploaded by ccsbandwagon.

Our little pal Kiran visits the day after Christmas.

Albums of Weeks 50 & 51

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Throughout the year, I have chosen one record per week, primarily based upon what I'd listened to most during the previous week. My hope is that a few mentions have led you to return to a record or to pick up something new.

On Tuesday, I will post my final Album of the Week for the year. Instead of choosing what I'd listened to most this final week, I will select the album that had the most impact on me in 2008. I'm 90% certain of what that record will be. If you have an idea, given my posts throughout the year or some conversation we've had, feel free to take a guess. I will only say this: This album is as timeless as it was timely in 2008.


Low : Christmas
Kranky, 1999


Conor Oberst : Conor Oberst
Merge, 2008

Remember Those In Need

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Market Street, San Francisco
December 24, 2008

2008

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Of all the great music, books and trips, nothing from 2008 can compare to the joy I felt at this moment. I have chills from head-to-toe every single time I watch any clips from that night.

Gus Van Sant's "Milk"

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Gus Van Sant has never had a keen ability to direct movies for a large audience. The one blatant attempt was 2000's Finding Forester, a film so devoid of nuance that it would've fit perfectly as a late-80's after-school special. But when he sticks to his art, Van Sant has the directorial eye and vision of one of the best of our time. Films such as Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For, My Own Private Idaho and Paranoid Park are stellar works of filmmaking. And the one film that far exceeded its expectations, Good Will Hunting, is a wonderful movie that brought Van Sant to the masses.

This year's Milk seemed to be new territory for Van Sant. Despite remaining true to form and taking on a topic with depth and importance, the movie enlisted top Hollywood actors and appeared to be geared towards a large audience. But unlike Finding Forester, Van Sant held onto his trademarks and oversaw a movie that stands with his best. Gone is the quirky and unique camerawork evidenced in Paranoid Park and Elephant, but remaining are the moments, spirit and soul that make Van Sant a tour de force.

Most importantly, this is a film of grand importance, especially given the present-day civil rights issues around gay and lesbian rights and marriage. Harvey Milk's fight in the mid-to-late 70's brought rise to many of the same fights being staged today in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and throughout the country. And Van Sant was the perfect fit for a film that needed to be done right. Milk is the first great movie I've seen released this year. All the accolades thrown upon this picture are well deserved.

Springsteen Gives Exclusive to Wal-Mart

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Some of Springsteen's actions of late are really starting to wear on me. Bruce is likely my biggest musical hero and it's been the way he carries himself and manages his career that's always been all the more reason to admire him. I first heard his music when I was still in a crib, and his music has played an enormous role in the way I see this country, and the world.

He's always been very reluctant to license his songs for advertisements. He's been very selective in the licensing of his songs for films or television, usually opting to only work with directors/actors whom he respects. And he's stood up for causes in the face of very harsh audiences. (Recall the NYC Cops's reaction to "41 Shots".)

But things seem to have changed for Bruce in the past few years. First came the wildly overproduced Magic, then the move to play at the, gulp, Super Bowl. And now, in perhaps the most outrageous and contradictory move to date, Billboard is reporting that Springsteen will release a 12-track Greatest Hits album solely via Wal-Mart, in an effort to hype him up prior to the Super Bowl.

This move is pathetic on countless fronts. For one, Bruce has already released two greatest hits packages, one aptly titled, well, Greatest Hits, and another titled The Essential Bruce Springsteen. And then, most importantly, it's Wal-Mart we're talking about here. Springsteen has made his career on the backs of working men and women, songs about unions and the lower-to-middle-class American dream. And he's now spitting in those people's faces by supporting a massive organization that vehemently opposes workers' rights and pays absolutely despicable wages to its employees.

This is one of few baffling and sad moves in the career of Bruce Springsteen. But these moves are beginning to add up. And it's not settling well.

The Rolling Stones "Loving Cup" (Video)

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Rock n' Roll...

The Kinks "A Well Respected Man" (Video)

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The Town That Lost Its Groove Supply

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2008 : Most Listened To Artists

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This isn't 100% accurate since I listened to a lot of vinyl, CDs and tunes in my car. But of the music that I listened to via my computer and ipod (probably about 70%), here's the list of top 50 artists I listened to this year (along with number of plays).

I was going to wait until 1/1/09 to make it an entire year, but hell, I've got egg nog to brew up.

1 Bonnie "Prince" Billy 850
2 Bruce Springsteen 827
3 Neil Young 578
4 Bob Dylan 574
5 Wilco 547
6 Okkervil River 474
7 Centro-matic 446
8 Tim Easton 408
9 Josh Rouse 400
10 Old 97's 376
11 Richard Buckner 339
11 The Kinks 339
13 Damien Jurado 336
14 Eels 304
15 Josh Ritter 290
16 NIck Drake 289
17 M. Ward 283
18 Beck 282
19 Aimee Mann 228
20 Matthew Ryan 218
21 Thao 215
22 Uncle Tupelo 202
23 Blue Mountain 201
24 Son Volt 191
25 South San Gabriel 180
26 The Rolling Stones 178
26 REM 178
28 Sam Cooke 170
29 The Jayhawks 167
30 Jens Lekman 165
30 The Gourds 165
32 The Go-Betweens 151
33 Jay Farrar 141
34 Teenage Fanclub 131
35 Easton Stagger Phillips 130
36 Nathan Moore 128
37 Joe Henry 126
38 Yo La Tengo 124
39 Steve Earle 117
40 The Beatles 115
41 Jason Isbell 114
42 Gillian Welch 111
43 Elliott Smith 106
44 The National 103
44 Gob Iron 103
46 Mark Olson 101
47 The Drams 97
48 Peter Case 96
49 Juana Molina 95
49 Billy Bragg & Wilco 95

2008 : Best Movies

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Since I only saw a few films actually released in 08, let's just go with the best movies I saw this year, regardless of release date:

10 William Eggleston in the Real World (2005)

9 The Savages (2007)

8 Paranoid Park (2007)

7 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

6 Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

5 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

4 Street Fight (2005)

3 Born Into Brothels (2004)

2 The Big Bad Swim (2006)

1 Deep Water (2006)

I do plan on venturing out to the cinema in the next few weeks. I plan on seeing: The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Class.

Greatest Interview Ever

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"He filled it with another centimeter, probably."

2008 : _____________

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Many of the most lasting moments or events can't be qualified or quantified, but rather just elicit some feeling or feelings. Here are some from the year 2008:

The election of Barack Obama. This is the greatest political achievement of my lifetime. Almost two months out, the shock and pride hasn't worn off one bit. Every time I watch Barack's weekend YouTube videos I get chills. Simply amazing.

The feel at the Bonnie "Prince" Billy show in Big Sur. It wasn't just the music. The entire atmosphere was simply stunning...the weather, the mountains, the people, the smells, the words, the guitars. As Billy said as he left the stage, "beautiful, beautiful, beautiful night."

SXSW. This very well may have been my last. I've now been to Austin six times (99-01, 05-07) for the annual SXSW conference and this year was one of the best. The friendships that have been born in this town still amaze me. Music, friends, good food and drink and some of the greatest times of my life. And Brent's still better than Paul.

Trips with N. We visited Yosemite, Chicago, Jenner, Joshua Tree, LA and every trip provided endless memories.

Music. No matter the state of the industry or the economy, great music will always be there and will continue to be made. I feel as thought I've barely touched the surface.

Fillmore Grind. This little coffee shop, which may soon fall out of business, makes my morning every day. Mike is a treasure and everyone who's familiar with the place agrees.

Friendships. Many have been around for decades and many just got off the ground this year.

Animals.

Books. I've read a number of great ones this year. And the short story I read last night in No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July still swirls in my head.

New opportunities. They've already begun and I'm certain that 09 will bring many more. It's quite the exciting time.

And once again, one of the most moving five+ minutes of my life (see Billy at Big Sur above):

Tragedies of Katrina

Science Returns to Washington

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Unlike the dolt who mans the Oval Office for another 30 or so days, Barack Obama will work with the nation's leading scientists to confront some of the world's biggest threats and possibilities, including climate change and stem-cell research, respectively. When considering George Bush's legacy decades from now, despite his massive failings in nearly every area of his presidency, his inability to embrace and even lend an ear to science, may prove to be his most egregious crime. If the next few generations face a worldwide crisis around climate change, resulting in millions (billions?) of deaths, famine and displacement, George Bush's eight years as president will mark the most miserable worldwide failure on this front. With the scientific community unanimously calling for immediate action to avoid grave peril, Bush not only disregarded the warnings but instituted policies to make matters worse, much worse.

It appears as if Obama and Biden will do exactly the opposite. And if this becomes a reality, the results could create millions of jobs, help stabilize our economy, strengthen our standing as a world leader and in due time, create a cleaner, safer and more prosperous planet.

2008 : Year in Photos (Well, My Photos)

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Yosemite


Joshua Tree Inn


Big Sur, California


Roxxy in Mahwah, New Jersey


Yosemite


Chase & Lucy in Los Angeles


Construction Site in San Francisco


Election Day in San Francisco


San Francisco


Yosemite


Emmett Kelly & Bonnie "Prince" Billy in Big Sur, California


Alamo Square Park, San Francisco

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Jenner, California


Pacific Ocean, San Francisco


Pescadero, California


Port Costa, California


Obama Rally in San Francisco


Golden Gate Park


First Snow in Yosemite


Beach in San Francisco


Kiran in Los Angeles

New Tim Easton Artwork

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Looks like Tim is collaborating with Diane Best for a new series called "Dust Devils". The show runs from Dec 13 - Jan 3 at the Red Arrow Gallery in Joshua Tree. I don't see any of the items for sale online yet, but I'm sure they'll be up soon. If you'd rather not wait, give them a call at 760.366.2519.

The Rick Warren Choice

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Similar to many on the left (whatever "left" means), I was initially shocked to hear that Barack selected Rick Warren to preside over the invocation. But unlike many, I didn't follow that surprise with an explosive response (I know, very unlike me). Over the course of two years, there have been countless times when I wanted to pounce on Obama, but almost every time, whatever decision he made or course he charted, I ended up thinking and ultimately understanding. He's a man of immense intelligence and forethought. Knowing this, I decided to let this one play out.

But I have come to a conclusion that's been rare in my living room tv/internet/paper interactions with our president-elect. My issue with the Rick Warren selection doesn't necessarily have to do with Warren's views on homosexuality and other social issues which I clearly disagree with (similar to Obama). Why I'm disappointed with this selection is Obama's move to assuage the conservative right instead of selecting a religious figure with less "mass appeal", but one with major accomplishments in the community and with people in need. I will admit, I don't know much about Warren's work in the Church, but I do know that he falls into that camp of celebrity evangelical leaders that I have grown to disdain.

For some reason that I still don't quite comprehend, I attended not one, but two Jesuit Universities. Over the course of four years, despite not following any organized religion myself, I was incredibly influenced by some of the religious leaders at these schools. Yes, I always questioned, but at times, when I let my guard down, I was opened to a world that I'd been uncomfortable with my entire life. I grew to realize that the majority of folks who live their lives through religion due so for the right reasons. They are not interested in fame or glorification, but rather seek to help those less fortunate, provide hope to the hopeless and bring people together in a common cause.

And this is exactly why I'm disappointed with the Warren choice. Yes, he's brought together what I can only surmise are millions of people. But he's needed to do so in the limelight in a more aggressive and showy way than Cardinals or even the Pope. Similar to Falwell and the fools you see on Sunday Morning tv, there's something that comes across as incredibly fraudulent about these people. I'm certain that some, perhaps even Warren, are genuine in their work, but there are thousands leading quieter yet more influential and compassionate roles in the Church. And it's these people that I wish Barack had turned to.

More Scott Miller (Videos)

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2008 : The Worst in Music (Revisited)

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This is exactly why I never review movies and especially records right after seeing/hearing them. For example, I remember departing the theatre in 2000 after seeing "You Can Count on Me" and thinking, "It was ok, but a bit sentimental". Since 2005 or so that film has sat atop my yawner list of favorite movies ever made. In 1992, I recall listening to Springsteen's career-clunker Human Touch and thinking, "Brilliant!". You may remember the song "57 Channels". God is that record horrid.

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a good amount of time with two of the records that I listed on my atrocious list. And I would now like to remove them from that list.

I've heard over-and-over about the greatness of the Fleet Foxes song "White Winter Hymnal". And I must admit, I now kind of agree. And the rest of the record is growing with each listen.

With four songs remaining on my eMusic a few weeks ago, I decided to download four tracks from the Vampire Weekend record. As I hit the download button four times (would've only taken one had I had enough credits for the entire record), I felt an instant wave of nausea hit my gut. A few days later I grudgingly listened. "Meh", I thought. A few hours later I was listening again. And again. "Oxford Comma" is one of the best songs of the year.

I have turned into everything I detest. And that can be read many ways.

2008 : Best Music Video Discovery

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No competition:

Look! (at that band)

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After picking up coffee this morning and running back to my apartment to dive under the covers (brutal cold/flu), I opened up The Onion and went right to the music section. There sat two band photos, one of the band Fucked Up and the other of Los Campesinos! As is the case with 95% of grating present-day indie bands, both photos were predictably oh so cool. The Fucked Up photo is a full-band shot, all members tightly packed. One dude is holding up the female member's head, while the woman has a look of shock on her face. Then there's the predictable fat bald guy, the emo suck and well, another emo suck. Then there's Los Campesinos! (Why the !? How many times has the explanation point been used by other bands?) The band is standing in a field and they're spread equidistant while each holding some sort of bird. Flannel shirts, hip t-shirts and beards abound.

This whole thing is getting beyond bearable. I guess that would make it unbearable. Why must every damn Pitchfork band have an over-the-top image? Like that cow from Les Savvy Fav or Kayne's shades or whatever the hell Of Montreal's doing to garner attention or Santogold or the fucking Fuck Buttons. (And enough of the expletives and animals in your names.)



Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young or hell, even The Ramones or The Clash didn't have to shove some rehearsed look down your throat round-the-clock. You're making music. Yes, the images help create a bigger picture of the act, but what the majority of these bands are putting forth is just that, an act.

Confession: I think I love Vampire Weekend.

Aimee Mann "Save Me" (Video)

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No Longer Riding on the Merry-Go-Round

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Scott Miller / The V-Roys

Scott solo:



The V-Roys:

I caught the V-Roys live once, at Wetlands in NYC opening for God Street Wine. The entire show I stood next to Steve and Justine Townes Earle. I tried to make a little small talk with Earle but he wasn't having it. The V-Roys were absolutely amazing. I left two songs into God Street Wine's set. My days of following crap jam bands had ended as I'd been opened to the best rock n' roll of the day.

Flight of the Conchords, Season 2, Ep 1 (Video)

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Much to my surprise, the entire first episode is streaming. I will now watch.

Album of Week 49

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Matthew Ryan : Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State
2:59, 2008

Top 20 Albums Downloaded from eMusic

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I spend a LOT of time on eMusic scouring around for the hidden treasures. Until their recent site relaunch (which is still far from perfect), it was quite the laborious task to find the good content. I attributed this to a business model that only survives if users fail to download all their allotted tracks each month.

Nevertheless, I have been on the service since December 2005 and have found many, many great records. If you're an eMusic subscriber, or perhaps given the economy, you're looking for a cheaper way to find some good records, here are my 20 favorites (in no order):

Rachel's - Music For Egon Schiele
Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
The Kinks - Misfits
Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent Jens
Richard Buckner - Meadow
Tom Waits - The Early Years, Vol 2
Grizzly Bear - Horns of Plenty
Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch
Thao - We Brave Bee Stings and All
The Drams - Jubilee Dive
Roy Orbison - In Dreams, Greatest Hits
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
Deerhoof - The Runners Four
The National - Alligator
Teenage Fanclub - Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty
Josh Ritter - Hello Starling
Cat Power - The Greatest
Mekons - Fear and Whiskey
Tim Easton - Ammunition

Neil Young Archives, Vol 1 Due 2/24 (Video)

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Dick Cheney Approved and Defends Torture (Video)

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Finally Dick Cheney admits that he gave the green light on torture. And to this day, he still defends tactics such as waterboarding. Remember, this is what he's admitting after seven years of silence. It's hard to imagine what else he approved. Bush, Cheney, Rice and the rest need to prosecuted for war crimes.

I have turned on CNN and MSNBC numerous times today and there's been zero mention of this. The top brass at the United States government has APPROVED torture yet the media ignores it.

If America remains silent on this, which I imagine we will, this is another massive dent to the side of democracy.

Jay Bennett Releases "Whatever Happened I Apologize" For Free

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Former Wilco guitarist (1994-2001) and perhaps the driving force behind Wilco's sonic evolution on "Summerteeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", has quietly released his fifth full-length since departing/being ousted from the band. I have heard each of Bennett's recordings since his fall from Wilco, and 2002's collaboration with Ed Burch, The Palace at 4am, still remains the one solid top-to-bottom listen.

The new record is available for free download at Rock Proper. I'm only on the third track, but this certainly sounds like a step up from his past few releases. Like many Wilco fans, despite seeing a wonderful band still at the top of its game, something's always been missing since Bennett's tenure in the band ended. And since his career outside the band has been met with little notice, I'm going to give this one some time. Whether it's good or not, his first post-Wilco effort still stands as a solid achievement.

More later....

Over the Wires : Matthew Ryan

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As I noted late last week, today is the first installment of Over the Wires, a new series where I find myself fortunate enough to share correspondence with musicians, folks in policy, writers, and just about anyone I think would be interesting to hear from.

I first heard Matthew Ryan's music in 1998 or so. I was at a friend's apartment in Brooklyn, and before we even exchanged greetings he was raving about this new artist. We sat down, and I was introduced to the beautiful songs that make up Ryan's debut, May Day. Every song on the record resonated, but there were a few that still stand as some of the most powerful songs I've ever heard, most notably "Chrome" ("It's not the fact that you walked out, that bewilders me. It's not the sleep that I can't steal, that wires me.") and "Lights of the Commodore Barry". And although these are my favorites, as a whole, this is one of the best records of the 1990's.

I've bought everything Ryan has released to date, and it was this year's Matthew Ryan Vs The Silver State that once again reminded me that the unison of storytelling and rock n' roll is what makes Ryan's music so enduring. Just like Springsteen, Dylan and Drake, Ryan has a keen ability to make songs more than just songs. They bring you inside the world of others and even one's self and fill the listener with imagery, understanding and honesty.



Over the Wires : Matthew Ryan

You've been on numerous labels, both big and small, over your eleven years releasing records. Given the current state of the music industry, how has the landscape played out for you?

Well, things are quietly, slowly getting better. My live show in particular is seeing growth. Which is beautiful, because that's where the real intimacy is. I believe good music is as relevant and valuable to people's lives as ever. I know it is for me. The only thing that bothers me today is the cultish nature of so much music. I grew up thinking that good music could and should overthrow pop music from time to time. It should come up from the underground and win by virtue and honest resonance or new creativity. That seems even harder to do these days. I feel it's important for music to unify and connect people. I'd like to try and figure out how that can be possible again. Today, things often feel too segmented or exclusive or simply niche. I always liked how music identified or connected my thoughts to others as a listener and an artist.

It seems that you've perfectly bookmarked your career to date. In a sense, your debut and your latest are both major creative accomplishments. How do you view your overall catalog?

Hmmmm. I'm both proud and disappointed by my work to date. I want to write the great American novel. I thought I could write and sing a song for everyone. Sometimes I feel that I have, but then I'm daunted or dogged by the notion that the world doesn't want it or need it or even worse that marketing is the sole god of relevance today. I don't know. I have only wanted to do exactly what I meant to do every time I sat down to write, or sing or step into a studio. In some ways I'm always trying to save the world. I'm eternally optimistic. For me though, every record has a thread through it, every record is conceptual on some level. It's the songs and what excites me at the time that makes them sound one way or another. My hope is to only capture or express their weather as best I can. I just hope people continue to find my songs, I hope they continue to somehow find them inside the enormous avalanche that is entertainment and art today.

How did the political atmosphere over the past year or so play into the writing on Matthew Ryan Vs The Silver State?

Well, I started writing political songs, overtly political songs for Regret Over The Wires just after the 2000 election. I'm not a fan of trickle down economics. I'm also not a fan of inherited opportunity. I believe society is best served by a well-educated population; competition and innovation is then at it's optimum. I'm also not a fan of fortunes made on scarcity, war and disease. We're gonna have to re-think how we live, how we consume. Our role as American consumers make us complicit in so much that undermines the world's and our own well-being, safety and health. It's time we realize consumption is a political activity. Engaged and informed consumers won't make the same decisions. Sustainability has to be a priority. I also don't like the notion that some lives are more important than others. In America, wealth gets you better health care, a safer car, a better school, a safer neighborhood. Marketing and political science has divided people into simple categories that can be targeted and manipulated. It's disgusting and doesn't serve a greater good. People are complex, every one dreams, I'd like to see a world where everyone has a shot and a voice.

How do you feel about albums vs. singles in today's world? MRVSS plays like a collection of rockers and ballads, and sounds like it should be listened to as a whole.

Hmmmmm. I understand why it's like that. But I wouldn't just read a page or a chapter from a great book. I want to absorb the whole thing. I want to wonder what happened to the characters the days after the story ended. The cynical or despairing side of me might say that marketing has won. But people are so inundated with information and crap, it's sensory overload, it's a great flood while a blizzard unloads every day. The world today is so quick now, things that offer the most saccharine or explosive are the things that break through. I think art and entertainment are at war. Right now entertainment is winning. But there's no real peace there. Art will win again eventually.

Who are your favorite artists making music today?

Joe Henry, Joesph Arthur, Lucinda Williams, Frightened Rabbit and The Constantines.... And by the standards of what I said above, Katy Perry of course.

What did you think of the election?

I thought it was beautiful. Absolutely inspiring. And now the real work begins. But I have to say, one thing that has frustrated me during this period between presidents - the news is finally completely engaged. And there's this palpable anxiety and countless segments every night on what will Obama do to fix the mess we're in. I find this wildly annoying because where were these fuckers when they should've been riding Bush's ass for the last 8 years while all this great undoing was getting done? I mean, why was our press so silent? Hell, why were we so silent?

What are your plans for 2009?

I'm currently writing. My hope is to have a new record finished by February, early March. Hopefully the new record will be out by fall next year. I have a pretty ambitious idea for how I would like to release this record, so we'll see. As far as the rest of the year, I'll continue to work hard. I'm sure there will be some surprises, some successes and some heart breaks... But you know, that's how it goes. I love new years.

Ryan's homepage

2008 Playlist

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I've tried most playlist services, and today I figured I'd give Lala a whirl. I attempted to compile about 30 songs, but could only find about 17, which is clearly a reflection of the service. In addition, if I wanted to keep going and create additional playlists, after exhausting my free 50 tunes, I would have to pay $.10/song to simply have the right to stream said songs. This is, well, lame. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorite songs of this past year.

Blagojevich, Spitzer, Edwards.......George W. Bush

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The media frenzy over the findings around Governor Blagojevich are understandable. The moves he's made are so egregious that his suitability for governorship is obviously over. We are also reminded of similar highly-publicized political downfalls this year, such as the former Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer and former presidential-candidate John Edwards. Both were guilty of infidelity, and Spitzer's downfall included a longstanding "relationship" with a high-priced prostitute. There's little chance that this trio will receive any remorse from a public that loves to witness the powerful fall.

But the actions of all three of these men pale in comparison to the atrocities thrown upon Americans and the World as a whole by President Bush. After eight years as president, the destruction he's dumped on us day-in and day-out is almost beyond comprehension. There's no need to highlight all of the mistakes but let's note just a few:

-Ignoring the August 6, 2001 memo entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.". Just imagine if our president had done his job and addressed this.
-Invading a sovereign nation based on lies, bogus intelligence and fabrications. This move led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were innocent civilians. Imagine a country did that here in the United States.
-Torture. This needs no explanation. Bush, Cheney and Rice knew of this and all three should be prosecuted.
-Katrina. One of the worst failures of government in the history of this country.
-The Environment. The day will come when millions, if not billions of humans will perish due to climate change. Bush had an opportunity to get us started on the right course; he did exactly the opposite.
-FISA. Simply unconstitutional in its very nature.

This is just a small sampling of some of the policies of the 43rd president of the United States that should have resulted in his removal of office and ultimate conviction. Lest we forget our national debt, the worst economy in perhaps a generation, an atrocious trade policy, the near end of civil rights, a public education system that's nearly beyond repair, a health-care crisis beyond reproach, a disparity between rich and poor that we've never seen, and our failures in Afghanistan, where the 9/11 folks actually trained.

This list could go on and on and on. My point is that our media has absolutely failed us. They jump on the stories involving sex, bribery and other mistakes that are easily understood and simple to cover. But when the president trampled on the constitution and did everything imaginable to destroy this great country, where was our media? They decided to show up when Barack Obama became popular and exposing Bush et al became trendy. This is a disgrace. Just like 9/11, the words "never forget" should be applied to the presidency of George W. Bush. We can never let this happen again.





Thirteen Books

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Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, Memoir, 1995: 9.0

When the year started, I set a goal of reading 26 books this year. As of last night, I'm at the midway point. With 18 days remaining in the year, I am fairly certain that I won't meet my goal.

Nevertheless, I have read some great books this year. And the one I finished last night may have been the most important. Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father was published in 1995, one year before he was elected to the Illinois State Senate. This is a fantastic read on many fronts, and provides a glimpse into Obama's life and heritage, but most importantly, his intellectual curiosity.

Over the course of 400+ pages, Obama's interest in his family both present and past, his neighbors, those facing hardships, the political climate and just about every aspect of daily life from the ground up is somewhat astounding. He doesn't seek out this understanding at a manic or scattered pace, and never seems to be exploring different areas of life in an attempt to gain advantage. Just about everything seems driven by a genuine interest in understanding and doing a small part to assist in making things better.

If this memoir is an indication of the man, then we can rest assured that we have elected a man of monumental character. Granted, there remain parts of Obama that we've yet to see, and his ability to preside over this country is still a wide open question. But as I put this book down, I had an overriding feeling that despite all the questions and uncertainties, unlike the past two elections, we have elected a good man. And this represents his first promise of change.

The Jayhawks "Over My Shoulder", Germany, 1995 (Video)

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Benefits of Unemployment

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Ok, so the basic benefits such as a bi-weekly paycheck and well, health insurance coverage are gone. And yeah, the bank account's dwindling which is bringing on some mild stress, but boy does this time off educate in more ways than your average 9-6 job. And let me stress that I've been fortunate enough to have some incredibly fulfilling and inspiring jobs; I only highlight that there are areas of personal development that even the best job can't touch.

One of the things I've noticed most is how much I now appreciate things that used to simply be inserted into some part of the day or month. A trip to Golden Gate park has taken on new meaning. A run through the neighborhood is no longer a task, but rather provides some stress relief and enjoyment. Since moving out on my own, I've never once bought a Christmas tree, but despite the wallet constraints, this year we picked one up and man has it provided some warmth. The morning trips to Mike's make my day, every day. Capturing a moment in time via my camera brings great satisfaction. A good movie will leave me thinking. The hours I spend writing, whether on this blog, or on other projects, is not only therapeutic, but seems to be building perspective. Records sound crisper. I appreciate the fact that I have enough money to buy food. I miss my family more than usual. And perhaps most importantly, for the first time since I subscribed three years ago, I'm actually awaiting the day (tomorrow) when my eMusic reloads. I have always been quite good about exhausting my downloads each month, but I've been on such a rapid search for new music, that my account has sat empty for over three weeks. And I now have about ten records saved. Tomorrow morning should be fun. Maybe I'll grab a Christmas record or two.


When you're bound to a day job, a lot of these things are either not noticed or severely taken for granted. The events of each day: e-mails to be answered, meetings to attend, trips to take, calls to make, deadlines to meet, pong tourneys to play and the usual politics of the office to defend or vent about, leave little time to notice the things that truly bring not just enjoyment, but development.

I'm closing in on two months without a full-time job, and just now, things are starting to slightly clear up. I have a number of goals during this time, none of which are financially beneficial, but I'm coming closer-and-closer to focusing more time on these things, and in time, other things that come my way. It remains a bit of a perplexing time, but it's a time that's more enriching than I could have ever imagined.