Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Lists By People Whom Responded To My E-Mail Asking Them To Make A List

Jennie Keinard's Top Bloody Marys!

1. Gravy - Portland OR - this was mad with a couple giant roasted tomatoes, smashed, instead of just tomato juice. +points for giant celery

2. Bar I Forget - South Beach, San Francisco - basically a salad inside a drink. it included an entire stalk of celery, numerous of olives, a dill pickle spear, and a BABY CORN

3. Five Leaves - Brooklyn, NY - just plain delicious and reasonably cheap for the locale. +points for being spicey-but-not-too-spicy.

4. Lodge - Brooklyn, NY - a solidly good drink that happens to be two for one during weekend brunches.

.....100. Elevage Hotel, Buenos Aires - the worst I've ever had and bad enough I'm relatively confident will be the worst I ever will have. no accouterments, 90% sure they used vanilla flavored vodka, so bad the bartender charged us half the menu price he knew it was that bad. BUT +points for being so strong it was pink.

Arshan Sadri’s Top Album

Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager

Top 5 Awful Shows of 2010

1.) Outsourced

2.) Hawaii 5-0

3.) No Ordinary Family

4.) Chase

5.) Commercials for Outsourced

Top 5 Bad Sports Choices of 2010

1.) Playing Basket ball in Miami

2.) Texting reporters small penis pictures

3.) Walking Josh Hamilton to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero

4.) Showing up to play against UCONN girls bball

5.) Being Ben Roethlisberger

Top 5 Last 20 Minutes of a Movie in 2010

1.) Black Swan

2.) The Town

3.) The Expendables

4.) Brooklyn's Finest

5.) Inception

Top 5 Movies You Paid for you knew would suck (keep in mind these aren't just bad ones...they are bad but made A LOT of money hence why "Furry Vengeance didnt make the list

1.) The Last Airbender

2.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

3.) Cop Out

4.) Alice in Wonderland

5.) Resident Evil Afterlife 3D

Top 5 Forgotten by Awards Season

1.) Cyrus

2.) The Ghost Writer

3.) The American

4.) Shutter Island

Jessica Engel’s Top Site for Music Discovery

Kirby Lee’s Top Albums

The National High Violet

Lower Dens - Twin-Hand Movement

First Aid Kit - The Black and The Blue

Suckers - Wild Smile

Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises

S. Carey All We Grow

Suuns - Zeroes QC

Damien Jurado - Saint Bartlett

Horse Feathers Thistled Spring

Justin Townes Earl - Harlem River Blues

Andrew’s Top Sitcom Guest Stars

1. Will Forte (30 Rock)

2. Kathy Bates (The Office)

3. Hilary Duff (Community)

4. Fred Willard (Modern Family)

5. Paul F. Tompkins (Community)

Drew Blumenthal’s Top Albums of 2010

B.O.B = too good

Kanye = amazing

Cee Lo = very show tunesy and great

Vampire Weekend = giving up the gun never gets old

Aloe Blacc = solid

Maroon 5 = guess i have to admit it, i'm pretty lame

Rachel Brickner’s Top Things

1) Best Coast "Something In The Way" EP

2) Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film

3) Winter's Bone (!)

4) America's Next Top Model Season XV (Mostly just for freakishly tall Ann)

5) Toy Story 3 (giggles)

6) The Kids Are All Right

7) Belle & Sebastian "Write About Love"

8) Beach House "Teen Dream"

9) Janelle MonĂ¡e "The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)"

10) Salvatore Scibona "The Woman Who Lived In The House" (short story) in Issue 10 of A PUBLIC SPACE (sooo good)

11) Jeffrey Eugenides "Extreme Solitude" (short story) in The New York June 7, 2010

Shaun Dolan: “I basically spent the last two months holed up in my room watching this trailer”:

Dr. Steven Fox’s Top Album

Sharon Jones & Dap-kings - I learned the Hard Way

Top Song

Glee - I Dreamed a Dream

Trevor Fox’s Top Video Game Soundtrack

Scott Pilgrim v. The World

Michael Fox’s Top Golf Clubs

1.Burner Superfast TP Driver

2. Ghost Putter

Simon Fox’s Top Records of 2010 By "Black" Bands

1. The Black Keys - Brothers

2. The Black Angels - Phosphene Dream

3. Black Mountaintops - Wilderness Heart

Noreen Tahir - Top Thing of 2010


Laura Kennedy’s Top Songs

1) I've Been Thinking 'Bout Something, Hanson. Don't hate; If you close your eyes and forget it's Hanson, you will probably love it. Also, watch the video.

2) Back to December, Taylor Swift. God, she just knows.

3) DJ Got Us Falling In Love, Usher. Usher's still got it. We also danced, danced like it was the last, last night of our lives, lives to this at my cousin's fantastic wedding.

4) Bulletproof, La Roux. This sounded insane at first, but I love it more every time I hear it.

5) Firework, Katy Perry. I think she got me with the video set in Paris (but not with the fireworks boobs).

6) Jessie's Girl, Glee version (if their album of covers can be nominated for Grammys, I can put it on this list). Mostly I love the staging of this on the show, where I heard the opening chords and had an amazing moment of realization that Finn was going to sing about the character named Jesse.

7) Carry Out, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. Because this is the closest thing we got to music from JT this year.

8) Do You Love Me, Guster. I like singing along to things.

9) I Like It, Enrique Iglesias. The "Jersey Shore song." Can't not (only half-ironically) fist-pump to it.

Rose Ludwig’s Top Neighborhood Blog

This year, Andrew Dudley (a fellow Lower Haighter) created the blog Haighteration, dedicated to all things in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood. I’ll admit an inherent bias as a resident of this neighborhood, but Haighteration is fun beyond its appeal to the locals. The blog is clean and user-friendly – a busy blog is an inferior blog – and more importantly, it covers everything from low-to-high brow. You might log on and engage in a debate about whether motorcycles on the sidewalk are annoying (YES); meet an abandoned puppy; get an update on the latest crime; get information about businesses opening or closing in the vicinity; or find a one-stop-shop for all the cultural and social goings-on of the week. The blog features links to eating, drinking, shopping, and activities in the neighborhood for locals and non-locals alike without the fussy reviews one might find on, say, Yelp. Dudley also grandfathered in certain fun features, such as Weekend Quizzes and Leftovers, giving the blog a recurrent stability that keeps us readers involved in and proud of our community. Haighteration does something that few blogs do these days: provide information and entertainment with no muss, fuss, or snark. All neighborhoods should be so lucky.

Dawson Ludwig’s Top Albums

1. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

2. The National - High Violet

3. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

4. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today

5. Four Tet - Angel Echoes

6. The Walkmen - Lisbon

7. Magic Bullets - Magic Bullets

8. Twin Sister - Color Your Life EP

9. Vampire Weekend - Contra

10. Suckers - Wild Smile

Briana Lurie's Top Cats Ever of 2010


Top 4 worst/unnecessary characters on otherwise great shows:

1. Lucy (Paz de la Huerta) on Boardwalk Empire

2. Assistant Coach Stan (Russel DeGrazier) on Friday Night Lights

3. Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Valez) on Dexter

4. Greg Harris AKA Joan's husband (Sam Page) on Mad Men

Dishonorable Mention: seeing George Lopez on the air makes me hate television.

Jon/Jonny Lurie's Top Albums

MGMT - Congratulations

Tame Impala - Innespeaker

Katie Minkoff's

Best Deceased Dog: Samantha Minkoff

Best Odd Concert: Transiberian Orchestra

Best Groupon Purchase: Cooking Class with Top Chef Carla Hall

Best Actual Concert: Guster at DAR

Best Meal: BGR (The Burger Joint) Lamb Burger with Asparagus Fries

Best DC Gallery: Smithsonian Portrait Gallery

Best Rally: Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity

Best Movie: Waiting for Superman

Melinda Rodriguez’s Top Albums

the suburbs - arcade fire

broken bells - broken bells

plastic beach - gorillaz

high violet - the national

this is happening - lcd soundsystem

body talk pt. 3 - robyn

raymond vs. raymond - usher

Top Songs

dancing on my own - robyn

sprawl ii - arcade fire

ready to start - arcade fire

firework - katy perry

teenage dream - katy perry

power - kanye west

bloodbuzz ohio - the national

lemonworld - the national

no one's gonna love you - cee-lo green

hey daddy (daddy's home) - usher feat. plies

Top Movies

the kids are all right

toy story 3

the king's speech

how to train your dragon

the social network

127 hours

never let me go

exit through the gift shop

Anna Novosel’s Best Songs

1. LCD Soundsystem, Dance Yrself Clean - No other song makes me as happy as this one does at 3 mins and 8 seconds in. And I like that it’s kind of an up yours to anything that makes one less than happy.

2. Black Keys, Everlasting Light - Makes me feel way cooler than I’ll ever be

3. Grouplove, Don’t Say Oh Well - This is the overall happiest song of my 2010 from my favorite new band. Not their best song (that’s probably ‘Colours’). It’s not genius, it’s just good, simple fun.

4. Kanye West, Runaway - So many conflicting things in one song, it’s great. I just know that it will soon be overplayed and I will no longer love it. But as of now, LOVE.

5. Local Natives, World News - Great build, makes me run super fast mid-jog.

Best Albums

Arcade Fire, Suburbs

Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More (US release was Feb. 2010)

Black Keys, Brothers

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Top 3 buzz bands I jumped on in 2010



Lord Huron

Heather Hryciw’s Top Songs

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three - "Migraines & Heartpains" from Riverboat Soul

Gorillaz - "Sweepstakes" from Plastic Beach

Joe Finkel’s Top Albums of 2010

1. free energy - stuck on nothing

2. ariel pink's haunted graffiti - before today

3. gorillaz - plastic beach

4. LCD soundsystem - this is happening

5. cut copy - where i'm going (single)

6. the walkmen - lisbon

7. blur - fool's day (single)

8. grinderman - grinderman 2

9. the national - high violet

10. titus andronicus - the monitor

Top 10 TV Shows of 2010

A year ago today I made exceedingly attainable New Year’s resolution: watch more good Television.

I nailed it.

There is no need to further make the argument that we are in the midst of the TV renaissance, it is fact. The below ranking does not make up the only shows I watch, just the ones from which I got the most joy.

10. 30 Rock

I complain a lot of 30 Rock and its slumping but it is always out of love. When it is on, there has never been a funnier show.

9. Lost

I am well aware that a lot of people were not happy with the final season, and I myself have some grievances (the glowing cave was an atrocity), but I think there was more good than bad. Character resolution won out over mythology exposition and I could not be happier.

8. Breaking Bad

Season 1, I knocked out in a week in late winter and was none too pleased. I already had a copy of season 2, so I made a go at it in mid-spring and was left intrigued though slightly underwhelmed. Finally, Season 3 came on this summer and, despite my low expectations, I loved it. The show’s bravado and masterful character development finally won me over. The biggest difference was the ascension of Bob Odenkirk’s character, which brought MUCH needed levity to a show I previously found dreadfully staid.

7. Modern Family

You know what show is really funny? Modern Family. It is clear it does not have aspirations to reinvent wheel, like some comedies on this list, but it is sure a great new wheel.

6. Work of Art

There was a lot of shitty art on display and a lot of average personalities masquerading as serious artists, yet there were a handful of pieces produced that completely justified the series. More importantly, it fostered a debate over art’s relationship with popular culture and the difference between high and low art.

5. Party Down

The lingering one-dimensionality of the characters in the solid albeit lacking first season, gave way to a truly wonderful second season focused on incredibly dynamic characters and a distinctive brand of dark absurdity. I have probably watched over 60,000 minutes of situation comedies in my 25 years and there have been few more enjoyable than the 30 of Party Down’s Steve Guttenberg episode.

4. Friday Night Lights

A show that was completely off my radar until a friend recommended I watch it this year. For my money, there is no show on television that is more emotionally resonate or better acted. Astonishingly, Season 4 and 5 (so far) features the best output in the shows entire run. It is a show I feel lucky to be able to watch.

3. Mad Men

Knowing myself, it is amazing I did not watch Mad Men until last winter – hell, I have been wearing tie clips and drinking old fashioneds for four years. The fourth season was easily my favorite mostly because it acts as both the shows most melancholic and its funniest.

2. Parks & Recreation

The first half of Season 2 was about changing minds, the second half focused on blowing them. P&R takes the best parts of The Office and 30 Rock and mixed it up in a way that is distinctly its own. The not at all secret weapon is what might be the best-written and performed comedic ensemble ever (EVER!). There were only 12 episodes in 2010 but there was not a miss in the lot, especially the final four episodes, which were all instant classics. The hardest decision was to have this not top the list but...

1. Community

It is weird to feel proud of a Television show. Other than sitting next to Danny Pudi at a coffee shop, I had nothing at all to do with the making of Community, yet I watch like it is my son/daughter taking its first steps/saying its first words/developing its first neurosis. In 2009, I enjoyed Community as another smartly written comedy in THE night of smartly written comedies. Then starting with the last episode of 2009 (their first perfect Christmas episode) and continuing through 2010, it grew into something different entirely, the best show on television. Week in and week out it is rewriting what is possible for the format. I am constantly reminded of the comedic reveal about the groundskeeper at the end of "Aerodynamics of Gender" (the Mean Girls meets Robocop/Secret Garden with a trampoline episode) that perfectly sums up Community; it demanded a commitment to set up a character in order to play against expectation, it subverted the traditional form, and it was supremely funny.

I might fawn over the show a bit much (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) but what is the point of a blog if it is not to celebrate the fairly common things you adore.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A One Screenshot Top Chef Recap: Week 4

This season, the Cheftestants might be entitled babies with antagonistic relationships with the judges, but they sure seem to get along (the picture shows two "alpha-males" performing the ritual known as "fist-bumping" that is oft popular with friendly "alpha-males”). Maybe it is because the competitors are a bit older than usual, maybe it is the result of having already seen oneself on TV*, but so far every one has been on their best behavior towards each other**.

This politeness has not necessarily worked out for everyone involved. Spike's mastermind tendencies were trumped by his couth this week. While old Spike would have forced Jamie to serve her eventual losing dish because it would be in his best interest, new Spike seemed hesitant to press the issue too much. It was this same reasoning that allowed him to trust the ever so sneaky-looking Angelo. His elimination came as a result of this jovial attitude***.

He also got eliminated because his food was not good. The hope is if you remove the mind games inherent in previous seasons, then it will be simply about the cooking. Will this last after the more agreeable sorts (Carla, Antonia, Tiffany, Jamie, Mike) are gone? If anything, this seems like an environment where the front-runner with a proclivity for choking, Blais, can easily win.

* There is a great NPR post about the question, "What does a person who's seen herself on television do differently the second time around?" It compares Jen and Tiffany's behavior.
**There have been so squabbles, bickering, and name-calling but it has been comparatively mild. It sure seems like them spend more time dancing.
***I would not be surprised if the savvy Spike was conscious that being on his best behavior was important for his long-term branding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010

Honorable Mention: Kyle Kinane - Death of the Party & Hannibal Buress - My Name is Hannibal

I always liked stand-up comedy but this was the year I fell in love with it. I have gotten more enjoyment out of these two records than maybe any other album on the below list.

10. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

Jesus, if I hear another person refer to Sufjan’s music (or anything twee/hip) as “precious” again, I am going to break their glasses (they probably wear glasses). The first 30 utterers can feel comfortable in calling themselves clever - EVERY ONE else was just being lazy and trite. Precious is the most precious adjective one could use in aesthetic criticism. It does not matter if it is a correct assessment, if the man can arrange choirs and 16 piece orchestras, then the listener should be able to come up with their own descriptive disparagement. The point is moot anyway, The Age of Adz is not THAT, it is glitchy, tense, and impassioned. It might still have a bit too much flute for my liking but there is some very personal songwriter at work and lots of cursing.

9. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

How many Canadians does it take to make a great record? Apparently, the 17, or so, folks around to record with Broken Social Scene that day. I guess the too many cooks in the kitchen idiom doesn’t exist up north, as BSS has consistently released their own brand of sprawling yet focused, oddly sexy indie rock music. This is their decidedly most upbeat record and is from beginning to end great.

8. Vampire Weekend - Contra

When revisiting the early in the year released Contra it dawned on me that lead singer Ezra Koening Jewish upbringing completely changes my perception of the band. Since day one Vampire Weekend was being criticized for making music about the problems of being privileged from the perspective of the privileged. Upon reexamining I realized the songs are exploring the concept not reveling in it. The songs can be seen as an outsider trying to figure out how to reconcile himself with the world of which he is now a part. The bands self-titled debut was the most easy to like record of the last ten years and Contra is better; the melodies are tighter, the fast songs are more urgent, the slow songs are more resonate, their perspective is more clearly articulated. It is also nice to see them finally release themselves from the hype, backlash cycle - they are just an accepted great band now.

7. Suckers - Wild Smile

If the sound of white Brooklyn music was shoved into one band, I think they would sound kind of like Suckers. With so many varied influences, they end up on the other side sounding unique. The most exciting part is that this is their debut and if they are able to buckle down and focus, I expect something really special from this rag tag group.

6tie. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening & S. Carey - All We Grow

This is Happening is a record that has a lot of songs I love on it - where All We Grow is a record I love as a singular entity – they are tied. On the basis of style, tone, grandeur, cohesiveness the two records could not be more different. They are musical mirror opposites – though both use repition to great effect – that represent the vastness of the current musical landscape. I can imagine them reconciling their differences over a cup of coffee (to celebrate their Top 10 Rankings here, of course) and actually getting along famously. They would talk about Brian Eno.

5. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Brutalist Brick

This is not my favorite Ted Leo record ever; in fact it might be my least. Still, Mr. Leo and the RX is my favorite band so I end up loving somewhat down records anyway. He writes melodically dynamic, rhythmically urgent music that just gets to me. Take “Bartolomeo and The Buzzing of Bees” that mixes a Hall & Oats style 80’s pop song with a DC Punk edge to make a deceptively simple power-pop tune. It is songs like this that remind me why I love Ted Leo; his voice as a songwriter is completely unto itself.

4. The Walkmen - Lisbon

This record, which I see as their pound-for-pound/song-for-song best, helped me accept that they are not going to write “The Rat part deux”. By intentionally scaling back their instrumentation and production, The Walkmen's strengths – the voice, the drumming, the guitar – are up front at full display. More than anything, Lisbon is a showcase of the band’s meticulous and purposeful songwriting. There is no band on the planet that can make “All My Great Designs” work, let alone have it kick so much ass.

3. Hurray for the Riff Raff - Young Blood Blues

In a year where I moved to my 7th home and 5th city in the last 3.5 years, the music of Hurray for The Riff Raff seemed appropriate. Lead singer, Alynda Lee Segarra, is just a refreshingly intuitive songwriter who writes an alternative version of bluegrass that is filtered through her punk Bronx upbringing and nomadic young adulthood. She sings mostly about the earnestly sad triumvirate - loneliness, loss, and addiction – in a way that makes the well-worn themes seem fresh. The album is anchored by stripped-down titular song, in which she sings of the isolation that stems from her leaving home, and taking solace in the companionship of musicians living and dead. As casual as it is impassioned, it is a song that makes everything seem right in world for 6.5 minutes.

2. The National - High Violet

I remember very clearly the lead up to High Violet:

- They played “Terrible Love” on Fallon and I could not listen to anything else until…

- They released their first single, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, an exceedingly American song that will endure as the defining soundtrack of my trip to Buenos Aires.

- A month or so later the whole record was streaming on and I listened to it maybe four times a day.

- Then I bought the album the day it came out.

In certain circles this was this year’s event record. I became a fan in the time following Boxer, so this was the first record of their’s where I was part of the build up. This may be the reason it is my favorite of their catalogue. A second possible reason is it is incredible. It successfully blends the restraint and tension of Boxer and the catharsis and resolution of Alligator, all while being their most tuneful album. I remember I having to pull to the side of the road when I first noticed the high “oooOOOOOOO” harmony part of “Terrible Love” – few bands have the ability to make music that is both this subtle and this completely devastating at the same time.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I have written a lot about Kanye West in the last few months:

My Review of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Review of the lead up to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I talk about his assistance in helping me DJ successfully

My Recap of his 35 minute long music video "Runaway"

My Comparison of Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry

My Top 5 Comments to his Tweet of a Van Gogh Painting

There really is not anything more for me to say about this record. So I decided to just print the lyrics to my favorite verse on the album (The 3rd of "Gorgeous").

"I need more drinks and less lights

And that American Apparel girl in just tights

She told the director she tryna get in a school

He said “take them glasses off and get in the pool”

It’s been a while since I watched the tube

Cause like a crip said: 'I got way too many blues for any more bad news'

I was looking at my resume feeling real fresh today

They rewrite history I don’t believe in yesterday

And what’s a black Beatle anyway, a fucking roach

I guess that's why they got me sitting in fucking coach

But God said I need a different approach

Cause people is looking at me like I’m sniffing coke

It ain't funny anymore try different jokes

Tell ‘em hug and kiss my ass, x and o

Kiss the ring while they at it, do my thing while I got it

Play strings for the dramatic

And end all of that wack shit

Act like I ain't had a belt in two classes

I ain't got it I’m going after whoever who has it

I’m coming after whoever. Who has it?

You blowing up, that’s good, fantastic

That y’all, its like that ya’ll

I don’t really give a fuck about it at all

Cause the same people that tried to black ball me

Forgot about two things, my black balls"

Friday, December 17, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Top 5 Episodes of 2010

5. Community – “Modern Warfare”

30 minutes that redefined what a comedy could do on television.

4. 30 Rock – “Regeaning”

Touching Liz and Jack moments, Kelsey Grammer assisted long-con, Season 2 level hilarity.

3. The Office – “Classy Christmas”

An episode that reminded the viewer why The Office is one of the best Television shows (not just comedies) ever.

2. Parks & Recreation – “Freddy Spaghetti”

A perfect blend of 30 Rock and The Office, the second half of the Parks & Recreation 2nd season was juggernaut. So much so that any of the final six episodes could have been here. The Finale gets the slot because under the laughs and heart, it exhibits P&R as a subtle examination of the state of American politics. Also it has three tear inducing physical gags.

1. Community – “Cooperative Calligraphy”

“What seems more likely, that someone in this group doesn’t belong in this group or ghosts?”

This quote from Jeff at the end of “Cooperative Calligraphy” sums-up the show in a bizarre nutshell. It has done so much legwork creating dynamic characters with complex relationships with one another, that the impossible seems likely. There is such a solid emotional foundation that it allows them to do episodes completely outside of reality that seem more real than any other comedy on TV. There is no better showcase of this than “The Bottle Episode”, which, by constraining the setting, allows the characters to explore the state of their relationship. Most importantly, “Cooperative Calligraphy” is a supremely hilarious 30 minutes of television. It is the type of episode that demands an instant rewatch to catch the jokes missed from laughing. I honestly watched it 6 times in its first week because it really is that good. Flatly, Community is the best comedy on Television, if not show period, and there needs to be no more proof that this episode.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A One Screenshot Recap of Top Chef: Week 3


Anyways, for me, this was the first great episode of the season and it was all because of the challenge. There are two types of challenges:

1) Low Concept ones set-up for the Chefs to look amazing

2) High Concept ones set-up for the Chefs to look awful

Last week was a definite #2 (poop pun intended?), where this week was a 1. The dishes of the Top 4 showed how good the cooking on the show could be (though I think Angelo got robbed – that IS a Momofuku dish). Since I am the type of Top Chef fan that watches to see great cooking not kooky cooks being coo-coo for cocoa puffs, this was exactly what I want from an episode. Also did I mention DAVID CHANG.

Other thoughts:

- Last time Top Chef was in New York they did a famously awful job of using the city, this season has been MUCH better.

- Stephen had the most professional and mannered exit interview in the history of reality competition.

- Who did David Burke falate to be included as one of the four restaurants?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 30 Songs of 2010

When I make year end song lists I try to follow two rules:
1) No songs from top ranked albums*
2) One song per artist

Yes, this helps spread the wealth but it is really about celebrating the song as a singular entity. Truly great songs have all the depth and emotional range of a full length and are best heard outside of the context of its record.

I think this might be the single best explanation of what my taste looks like at this point in time so enjoy (at the bottom there is a link to download a zipfile of all 30 songs).

Beck – Garbage Truck

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a fine enough movie with a damn good original soundtrack. This song is my most lasting memory of the film and is generally badass.

29. Baths – Hall

Read enough music blogs and you will end up liking songs like this.

28. The Hoof & The Heal – Fireworks

The first 2.5 minutes is pretty solid if not workmanlike indie pop, but then there is that GD refrain where the lady sings the main theme sweetly and the male incessantly shouts. It reminded me of a happy version of the ending of The National's “Secret Meeting”.

27. Cloud Nothings – Didn’t You

It’s fun, bouncy, and a tad bit grating – it’s the music of an 18 year old in 2010. It might be the shortest 4 minute song of the year.

26.The Tallest Man on Earth – King of Spain

When I make these lists every year there is always a misguided desire to get it completely right. I try to jam every album I missed into the first week of December. This year, The Tallest Man on Earth was the artist to separate himself from the rest of the previously missed pack (take that Ben Folds/Nick Hornby). Thus, I have only known this song for less than a week - maybe it will grow on me more, maybe I’ll grow tired of it in 6 days – still I am very comfortable with it joining the ranks.

25. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Our Hearts Are Wrong

With her voice and unique vocal phrasing, I would buy an album of Jessica Lea Mayfield singing names from the Ohio phone book. This might be the most peppy song of her career sonically but as the title suggests JLM is still the same downtrodden, oddly world wary 21 year old that I love.

24. Bear Hands – What a Drag

There was a time back in 2007 when I was certain Bear Hands would be the next big thing. They were not. Regardless, they can write a single and the lead singer can turn a phrase, “You got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails”

23. Male Bonding – Year’s Not Long

It is a scrappy fucking song. Frantic, brash, catchy, or more simply the type of song I always want to hear.

22. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II

Smiles. What I like about Mrs. Arcade Fire is that it sounds like she is smiling when she sings. It is refeshing, especially compared to her ever-stoic beau. "Sprawl" is so joyous it allows me to ignore the “important” lyrics.

21. Yeasayer – I Remember

“Ambling Alp” would have easily been by my top song of 2010 but it was released as single in November 2009. When the album did come out in 2010 this stood out. I instantly loved the vocal melody, partly because it is very similar to a song I once wrote with Dawson.

20. The Black Keys – Everlasting Light

I don’t want to be the “I liked them more before they got big” guy but for me The Black Keys are at their best when they are doing punked up version of Junior Kimbrough songs. Still this song is special, blatantly forward thinking yet still securely rooted in their blues core.

19. She & Him – Home

I have written about this song before and I think I said it best, “You can actually here Zooey smile as she sings the refrain. Smiling! Actual audible happiness recorded for the listener to empathize! No Auto-tune. No American Idol belting for belting sake. No Beyonce aimlessly singing runs without any regard to the melody.” I am sucker for refrains, especially when they are performed with as much heart and honesty as is the case with “Home”.

18. Here We Go Magic – Collector

For a band that is as psychedelic and ambient as Here We Go Magic often is, this is their equivalent to a four-on-the-floor rave up. Kinetic and propulsive, I always hope it would last at least 85 minutes longer.

17.Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union

Just a seven minute and ten second powerhouse of a song.

16. Nathaniel Rateliff – Early Spring Till

There I was on a second date, talking about music, and recommending bands my counterpart would surely never listen to, when my guest brought up Nathaniel Rateliff. In her words, “he just gets up on stage and sings his heart out.” Though trite, she was ultimately correct.

15. Janelle Monae (Feat. Big Boi) - Tightrope

Plainly, this is song is a real hoot.

14. The Hold Steady - The Weekenders

This first half of 2010 was defined by its disappointing releases. The Hold Steady was one such release for me; the sonic equivalent of a band trying to figure out where to place its next step. I remain excited for their future because even on a down record The Hold Steady were able to come up with my favorite lyric of the year:

“She said the theme of this party's the Industrial Age/

And you came in dressed like a train wreck”

13. Gayngs – The Gaudy Side of Town

Talented people can take even the most flimsy premise and churn out gold. A bunch of Mid-westerners (including Mr. Bon Iver) half-ironically taking their best stab at 1980’s blue-eyed soul sex jams is not something I ever thought I would want to listen to but alas here I am.

12. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Mama Don’t Like My Man

Here is a fun fact about my taste in soul music: I like the sweet Sam Cooke stuff more than the imposing Otis Redding variety. This is my favorite SJ&TDP song because it is just a beautiful, tender, minimal doo-wop number. Anachronistic schmanachronistic, the song is a joy

11. Japandroids - Younger Us

Japandroids writes songs about the forced nostalgia of a generation of twenty somethings ready to talk about last night like it was the roaring 40 years ago. They are me at my most earnest, they are my Bruce Springsteen – I sing along, fist pumping accordingly. Musically, they are tenacious and brash, allowing me to accept how close they are to sounding like Taking Back Sunday. I hate that I relate to the below lyric but it is what it is:

“remember saying things like 'we'll sleep when we're dead'

and thinking this feeling was never gonna end

remember that night you were already in bed,

said 'fuck it' got up to drink with me instead!”

10. Mark McGuire – Brain Storm (For Erin)

This is not really the type of music I listen to unless I am watching Friday Night Lights, but there is something special about this track. I realized my affinity for it when I was deciding to play it on the Podcast I co-host. What sets it apart is the recording; the left speaker plays the track as recorded and the right speaker picks up the delay. So completely immersive after multiple listens, it has a way of worming itself into your brain, allowing the melody slowly reveal itself over time.

9. Cee-Lo - Fuck You

Enough time has passed since this song’s grotesque ubiquity, allowing me to listen to it once again with fresh ears. Now I can securely say that is as lasting as it was once immediate. The song just grabs you and makes you want to instantly play it again. Yes, he curses but its impact is secondary to how he chooses to sing it. I would like to believe “Flub Glue” would be equally as compelling.

8. Crystal Castles – Violent Dreams

Ethereal yet tense, beautiful yet jarring, this is the type of song I never would have imagined liking five years ago. Abstract and indecipherable, it is a song that allows each listener to project his or her own meaning. In my opinion it is the high water mark for how affecting digital music can be.

7. Tennis - Marathon

A song that sounds modern regardless of the de rigueur 1950’s girl groupness and the That Thing You Do rhythms. It all comes down to the vocals - the dove singing through a speak & spell lead and the specter with a bouffant harmonies – that are just perfect. It might be the most aggressively pleasant song I have ever heard.

6. Spoon – Who Makes Your Money

Transference was one of my biggest disappoints this year, since I expect complete perfection from Spoon. Though very different from the rest of their catalog this track still highlights what Spoon does better than anyone: subtlety. The songs unfolds slowly, building a melodic tension until there is just 30 seconds left and Britt hits that hushed falsetto, “who makes your monaaaaay, who makes your money”. It hit me like a sledgehammer to the shin upon the first listen and for every subsequent one to this day.

5. Best Coat - Boyfriend

My time living in LA directly coincided with the era of bands making music like this. Why is this song special? It is just better. Waxing poetic about a song this simple seems ridiculous; sometimes it is just that easy and songs are just good.

4. White Denim - tony fatti

I am the first to admit White Denim is not a great brand, yet there is no one I listened to more this year. They are exactly what I want from new music: fast, twitchy, disjointed, driving, guitar heavy, spastic, kinetic, soulfully sung. I wish they were my songs, I wish it was my band.

3. Sam Amidon - Relief

Sam Amidon sings only covers of old regional folk songs. “Relief” is the exception as it was originally performed by the incomparable R. Kelly. The instrumentation is drastically changed and yet the big difference is how Sam beautifully phrases the melody. I did not truly love the song until I saw him live and he explained why he decided to cover the song, its lyrics:

“What a relief to know that, we are one

What a relief to know that, the war is over

What a relief to know that, there is an angel in the sky

What a relief to know that, love is still alive”

He pointed out how completely untrue this refrain was when it was released and how odd it was for R. Kelly to write a joyous song about a non-existent reality. He continued, that the truth of the song would shift in and out over time. His incredibly heartfelt performance focuses less on the possible irony here and more on the beauty of its potential. When Sam lead a sing along of this overly idealized refrain, I could hear that the best singing crowd I have ever been part of decide to believe these words even if for just the five minutes.

2. Weekend – Coma Summer

I do not like A Place To Bury Strangers, the existence of My Bloody Valentine has had no effect on my life, Sonic Youth always seemed pointless, yet this song really got to me. Yes, there is a lot of noise but its nowhere near the masturbatory levels of the previously alluded to band, it simply brings an urgency and dynamism to the bittersweet song. The vocals are mixed low, as is expected for the genre, but the melody is sing along-able even on the first go around. I think more than anything else what got them so high was being from San Francisco. Moving to a new city is never easy but finding a band or song that you love can make you feel like you are in the right place.

1. Sharon Van Etten – Love More

Sometimes it is just about a voice. Sharon Van Etten’s is powerful, oddly lived in considering her lack of age, and with a purity that reminds me of Sam Cooke of all people. “Love More” is a vocal showcase for Ms. Van Etten, which I keep on coming back to so to marvel at the impossible to ignore talent and emotional resonance. She does not merely sing the notes; instead she slyly approaches from above or below, creating brief discordant moments. This disharmony underlies the bittersweet meaning of the song, which though intentionally uneasy is not purely morose. “Love More” is true to Sharon’s tendency of lyrical specificity; however, broadly it is a song about coming to terms with both the best parts and especially the worst parts of failed relationships.

The meaning is brought to life by the flourishes surrounding the lead vocal. The greatest impact comes from harmonies that are surprising and painfully beautiful. I have never heard a more affecting example of an artist overdubbing her or his own voice. Smartly, the instrumentation does not draw to much attention to itself: Quiet percussion simply helps to maintain momentum, brief guitar swells and fills boosts the melody with out getting in the way, and the repetitive pump organ creates a space for the loneliness to reside.

Though obviously recorded in a studio with multiple takes for multiple parts, the result feels three-dimensional. A moment in time is captured as much as a feeling. “Love More” is my favorite song of 2010 because ultimately it lives, it breathes, it grows, it evolves.

Download all 30 Songs Here

*I expect many will be able to reverse engineer my top album list by what is not on here. For the rest, that list will be up next Monday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Power Rankings: Week 11

This Week: Community>The Office>30 Rock

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community

2) The Office
3) 30 Rock
4) Outsourced still exists

Call me morose or Jewish but I realized last night that I LOVE characters being sad on Christmas.

I am reminded of the wedding scene from the Nora Ephron penned “When Harry Met Sally…”

Harry: Boy, the holidays are rough. Every year I just try to get from the day

before Thanksgiving to the day after New Years.

Sally: A lot of suicides.

Last night’s comedies were rife sadsackery – it was like…CHRISTMAS!

It is always darkest before the dawn, and really sad 2nd acts allows for the eventual more saccharine 3rd. Nowhere was that more apparent than the super dark, super brilliant episode of Community. Abed’s Christmas mother issues were alluded to in the Robocop episode so I expected there to be sad notes to this episode. That being said, I was not planning on viewing a bizarro world episode of In Treatment.

Beyond the Abed storyline it was arresting how honestly the characters addressed one another. Specifically, Abed’s song about why Britta cannot continue on the journey floored me. Stop-motion tears, jeeeez. Dan Harmon and Starburns (he co-wrote the episode) understood that characters in this ilk of Christmas story tend to emote in a more straight forward manner than what is commonplace in ironically-distant sitcoms. So the sad parts had to be more directly sad – Abed needed to get a letter from his Mom spelling out everything – and the ending needed to be overly sweet because that is the vocabulary of the platform.

This is what Community is so special at doing; their high-concept episodes are not spoofs or satires they are thoroughly understood homages. Where a lesser show would have tried to get cheap laughs by bastardizing Rankin/Bass plots or characters, Community approaches their iconic style of stop-motion with an appropriately sentimental point of view. And like the shows other high-concept episodes (Chicken, Paintball, Zombies), the use of genre mirrored the message of that episode. In this case, Abed put it best, “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning.”

In last night’s great episode of The Office the meaning was not necessarily that Darryl's daughter was visiting or that Holly was back or that Pam made a comic book for Jim, but the fact that this all transpired inside the office of The Office. One of my favorite parts of the series is that characters care about each other more than they realize. Holly was right, Jim and Dwight are obviously best friends.

This is the third great episode in a row, which is enough merit to 2nd place in the overall power ranking. Maybe this is a premature move stemming from my expectation that some of the series’s best work will come from the goodbye to Michael Scott arc. Regardless, last night’s The Office was darkly comedic and unabashedly sentimental, classic Mindy Kaling (the writer of the episode and our generations Nora Ephron in the making). Like Community, or probably vice versa, The Office has succeeded by creating as fully formed characters as have ever been scripted for TV. Jim speechlessly loving is wife and her gift, Andy failing at playing a Grinch, Erin fearless defending Michael, Kevin deriding Holly’s selfish maple candy hording ways, were all flawless executed moments rooted in 7 years of established characters.

This sort of sentimentality is hard for 30 Rock a show I love for its emotionally distance from its characters. 30 Rock has had some great Christmas episodes (“Ludachristmas” comes to mind) but this was not one of them. It kind of just went through the motions and had a character in black face, you know, classic 30 Rock.

Still, 30 Rock’s forgettable episode will be forgotten, where last night’s Community will last as another example of the tireless ambition and focused vision of the current best comedy (if not show period) on Television. To the victors goes the spoils...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A One Screenshot Top Chef Recap: Week 2

The T-Rex was considered the overly entitled brat of dinosaurs, right?

As last night's episode was coming to a close, I was reminded of a much talked about quote from last week's Gawker Recap, "Unlike all-star seasons of other shows, there isn't one winner in the bunch and, just like all inmates say that they're innocent, each of these contestants think they should have won. But they didn't. They are literally losers." At the time, I chuckled and tried to focus instead on my first day of schoolesque excitement. After last night's judges table, I realized the quote actually highlights what will likely be the running theme of this season. Every one of these chefs save black Tiffany has an obscene chip on their shoulders that is more revolting than the thought of eating Jen's plate of mush. This was a hard pill for me to swallow as I legitimately thought Jen was going to win but last night made me realize that all bets are off when the competition is actually a battle royale of losers.

It is also important to consider that not only did these contestants lose their seasons, they have lost outside of the show. What I love about Top Chef is that the winners, save Hosea and whatshisface from last season*, have gone on to have more legitimate careers than any winners of any other comparable reality show: Harold just opened his second critically acclaimed restaurant in New York, Ilan owns one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the country, Stephanie's Girl and the Goat was easily the most celebrated new restaurant opening in Chicago last year, and Michael V is set to open LA's most anticipated restaurant next year. Also consider that Brian V (easily the series' 2nd most talented), Kevin (arguably the 3rd most talented), Sam, and Stefan did not feel the need to return because of their success outside of the show. The fact is these "All-Stars" are still just grunting along like they were pre-TV**. As talented as Jen might be, she is still running someone else's kitchen like she was three years ago.

Yet Jen, and the rest of the cast for that matter, in the first two episodes carried herself like she was not just a winner of Top Chef but an actual Top Chef. Like they were all supposed to be on Top Chef Masters but accidentally went into the wrong kitchen. I hate to beat a dead Hosea, but Hosea won Top Chef Season 5, it is not like winning the title alone makes you a great chef. Tom, on the other hand, is the real deal.

Usually my favorite part of a Top Chef season is watching Tom slowly grow to admire the really talented chefs. This season, Tom already knows all their food (partly because it seems like NO ONE has gotten better) so this season his focus will likely be on pulling these egos back to reality. Not just reality television reality, like real reality, the one where all these guys have day jobs cooking some one else food.

Two Stray Thoughts:

- Dale's Joe Jonas/Pastry Chef comment seemed like Bravo's way of calling him Gay

- How awkward was it bringing back Katie Lee Joel, a Top Chef loser in her own right?

*The jury is still out on Hung, who has yet to really put himself out there.

**Spike is the only exception here. Since leaving the show he has done an awesome job of branding himself, opening a very popular high-end fast food concept, and even signing to a major agency. He is one of the few chefs so far that I have enjoyed watching because he obviously does not plan on winning.