Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Top 20 Favorite Albums

#20. "Long Knives Drawn" - Rainer Maria 
Released: January 21, 2003 by Polyvinyl Records

Although they recently split-up, Rainer Maria were an enigmatic three-piece indie rock band full of passion and character.  In their earlier recordings, they’d do duel female/male vocals, that’d seamlessly trade back and forth, or sometimes, overlap each other.  This record marked the first time the vocals were exclusively female, which disappointed some original fans, but were done splendidly in my opinion, full of poetic power, contemplation, regret, questioning, and honesty.  For the uninitiated, this nine-track album is a perfect introduction to a band that unfortunately met a premature demise.

#19. "Social Life" - Koufax 
Released: October 22, 2002 by Vagrant Records

This infectious pop-rock record saw much exposure during drives in my car.  The first four tracks are undeniably catchy, piano-driven, toe-tapping tunes.  To me, Koufax, on this album specifically, represent rock for the workingman’s weekend.  The songs are leisurely and carefree, and as the title suggests, invocative of enjoying a social life of drinks, friends, and late nights.

#18. "The Love of Life" - Watashi Wa 
Released: June 24, 2003 by Tooth & Nail Records

Christian rockers Watashi Wa delivered one of the most sugary sweet rock records I’ve had the blessing of discovering.  Albeit not for everybody, especially the pessimistic, I absolutely adore driving around during the early days of summer with the windows down and the sun shining while blaring this record.

#17. "Forget What You Know" - Midtown 
Released: June 29, 2004 by Sony

On their first record Save the World, Lose the Girl, the guys dropped out of college, and subsequently wrote and recorded the pop-punk record with the best vocabulary I’ve heard.  Their second album Living Well Is the Best Revenge was a more straightforward pop-rock album, in terms of technicality and lyrically, it was more simplistic, and overall a critical and commercial failure.  This, their third (and potentially final) album, as the title suggests, ditches their lineage and the result is one of the most somber, dark, and completely honest rock albums of the last decade.  The lyrics are cutting, with lines like, “sex is old, old and boring”, and, “even though we sleep together we’re alone.”  It was my favorite album of 2004, and will likely keep a permanent spot in my music library.

#16. "Something to Write Home About" - The Get Up Kids 
Released: September 28, 1999 by Vagrant Records

This is my all-time favorite sing-a-long album.  Any combination of a car full of my friends can sing along to this record word for word, as its left an indisputable mark on all of us in our formative teenage years.  The Get Up Kids left a legacy of several brilliant albums, but for me, this will always be their best and most meaningful recording.

#15. "The Chinkees Are Coming!" - The Chinkees 
Released: February 24, 1998 by Asian Man

The Chinkees’ lead singer Mike Park is an inspiration and an idol of mine.  He runs the non-profit organization Plea for Peace, and through his music, writings, and actions contributed so much to the awareness of many important topics like racism, sexism, violence, volunteering, animal rights, and public consciousness.  This album is full of an exuberant energy and spirit, brimming with life and caring.

#14. "Return" - The Impossibles 
Released: June 13, 2000 by Fueled By Ramen

Texas’s own The Impossibles were first known as group that balanced fun songs about girls and pop culture, with a youthful flair and knack for quirky lyrics.  This, their second full-length record, was a departure from their early sound, and the definition of a band maturing.  This is a moody rock record by a group of guys who were growing up, putting away their comic books, and looking towards the future, even if it held sorrow.

#13. "Diagram for Healing" - No Motiv 
Released: May 1, 2001 by Vagrant Records

No Motiv is a bit of an enigma with me, as even though I like them a lot, I don’t really recommend them to anybody, and keep them as my little secret.  Largely, the reason why, is that they’re such a straightforward rock band, with a simple sound and lyrics, that I figure most listeners will casually toss them aside in favor of something more flashy.  They don’t have a signature look or appearance, their live show is essentially just the band on stage playing, and they don’t appeal to the current trends or genre developments.  That all being said, this album is a heartfelt recording, almost as if it’s a young man’s diary turned into music, and a record that I can listen to completely through without even considering changing tracks.

#12. "A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special" - Vince Guaraldi 
Released: 1965 by Fantasy

I absolutely adore A Charlie Brown Christmas, and its soundtrack is full of Christmas spirit, with a delicious jazz touch by genius composer Vince Guaraldi.  A couple winters ago, while working at a seasonal job in a calendar store, I’d play this album on repeat for several hours, and do so consistently throughout the workweek.  It’s perfect for background music while you and loved ones drive around on dark winter nights, looking at Christmas lights and decorations.  It feels me with such a genuine good feeling that words can’t express – an essential recording.

#11. "Seven More Minutes" - The Rentals 
Released: April 13, 1999 by Maverick

Quite the departure from their previous album and sound, which admittedly took a little getting used to, something some fans were never able to do.  Rentals’ frontman, and former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, trekked to Europe where he did a lot of drinking, discussing, traveling, reflecting, and growing up.  This is an admitted ode to Europe, its diversities, complexities, culture, and soul.  This is the perfect album for your next road trip.

#10. "Progress" - The RX Bandits 
Released: July 17, 2001 by Drive Thru

The RX Bandits were my personal soundtrack in my early 20’s.  I connected strongly with their music and message.  Their songs, attacking commercialism, war, media, unattainable beauty standards, amongst other things, spoke so clearly to me.  They're passionate individuals, full of respect and love, and a tremendous live band.  This album was a big eye opener to me, in terms of how powerful music could be.  It definitely shaped my views and me profoundly.

#9. "Fear of a Black Planet" - Public Enemy 
Released: March 20, 1990 by Def Jam

In my eyes, the most influential and important hip-hop and political band of all-time.  Public Enemy is notorious for speaking out, taking a stand, raising awareness, and inciting action.  I don’t want their legacy to be Flavor Flav’s absurd antics on poorly produced TV shows; instead, it should be their impassioned and brutally honest songs.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live a couple years ago, it was easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen live and a truly memorable moment in my appreciation of the art form of hip-hop music and culture.

#8. "For You My Dear" - Steel Train 
Released: January 28, 2003 by Drive Thru

This was Steel Train’s first release, a six-track EP, and a recording they’ve yet to top in my opinion.  They’ve transformed into what’s commonly referred to as a “jam band”, a term closely associated with hippies and folk music.  Their lead singer’s first love was famed actress Scarlett Johnasson, and their short-lived romance reappears and manifests itself several times on later recordings. This record, however, isn’t as loose, sprawling, and eclectic as their later stuff and live show.  It’s a beautiful album; full of soul, incredibly mellow, with a terrific vibe and some of the best bass lines I’ve heard.  If I had to name a recording that’s the best musical equivalent of who I am as a young adult, it’d be this one.

#7. "Rock and Roll Part Three" - Ozma 
Released: August 21, 2001 by Kung Fu Records

Early comparisons to Weezer were abundant, but Rivers Cuomo, Weezer’s famed frontman, chimed in by saying of all the bands that people have compared to Weezer, Ozma is by far his favorite.  This, their first record, is such a strong rock album, with so many exquisite songs.  The track “Natalie Portman”, full of emotional longing, “Shootingstars”, about a solider who returns from war only to find out his lover has moved on, and “Baseball”, a song that magically uses baseball as a metaphor for a relationship.  Nintendo fanatics, and all-around nice people, Ozma hold a special place in my heart

#6. "Sha Sha" - Ben Kweller 
Released: March 5, 2002 by Ato Records

Ben Kweller is a loveable guy, kind of like Richie from Happy Days.  He’s a young guy, full of wide-eyed wonder, and some of the tastiest rock songs of our current generation.  This, his first record, is an achievement of the highest order, from the first track, with its nifty Planet of the Apes reference, to the last track, “Falling”, arguably my favorite of all of Kweller’s songs.  This is the type of album that anyone with an open mind and a good attitude could easily fall quickly for, full of catchy and finely crafted songs.

#5. "Lost In Translation" - Various Artists 
Released: September 9, 2003 by Emperor Norton

I identify and genuinely love the film Lost In Translation.  Its soundtrack is the perfect compliment to the film, a collection of mostly ambient music, which totally recaptures that sense of wandering, lonesomeness, discovery, and wonder that the film so poetically displays.  I bring it with me on all of my travels; I recall listening to it while lying on the beach in Miami, FL in the middle of the night, and while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easily a recording that I can just get lost in (no pun intended).

#4. "Pinkerton" - Weezer 
Released: September 24, 1996 by Geffen Records

Out of Weezer’s five albums, Pinkerton is definitely the odd one in the group.  After their widely accepted debut record, full of nerdish charm, this album delved into a much deeper and more personal side.  Frontman Rivers Cuomo doesn’t like dwelling on it these days, but it has a loyal underground following that’s unparalleled.  The first track, “Tired of Sex”, pretty much lays out the foundation of the album, with songs full of uncertainty, sexual frustration, lonesomeness, and ambiguity.  An interesting side note, when it originally was released, Rolling Stone Magazine trashed it; saying it was “one of the worst albums of 1996.”    In 2004, they changed their rating to “5 stars”, and inducted Pinkerton into their Rolling Stone Hall of Fame.

#3. "Blue Skies, Broken Hearts...Next 12 Exits" - The Ataris 
Released: April 13, 1999 by Kung Fu Records

This album is the definition of my high school experience.  Not only did I listen to it religiously my senior year, back in ’99-’00, but the emotion it exudes in tracks like “Your Boyfriend Sucks” and “Broken Promise Ring” pinpointed exactly how I was feeling at that time in my life.  Most people want to forever forget high school, but this album will always serve to me as a bittersweet reminder of those times, where life was full of angst, awkward sexual escapades, and passing notes in study hall.

#2. "Return of the Rentals" - The Rentals 
Released: October 24, 1995 by Maverick

This is the most infectious, keyboard and synthesizer heavy, pop-rock album ever.  The female background vocals are the perfect accompaniment, adding a wonderfully sweet and endearing touch.  When Matt Sharp ditched Weezer to start The Rentals, he took a bold chance, and delivered an album that in some ways surpassed his super popular former band’s offerings.  Last year, I drove to Chicago to finally see The Rentals live, after their long hiatus, and even though these songs are more than a decade old, they still sounded just as good as the first time I heard them.  If I was stuck on a deserted island, and could only have one album with me for the rest of my days, I can safely say I’d be perfectly content with listening to The Return of the Rentals forevermore.

#1. "Calendar Days" - The Rocket Summer 
Released: February 25, 2003 by Militia

Bryce Avery started playing instruments and making music as a young kid, and recording songs and playing small shows as a teenager.  On Calendar Days, he plays every instrument, the bass, guitar, drums, and piano, as well as adds his signature vocals, full of youthful energy and sincere optimism.  This album makes me so incredibly happy.  It’s literally brimming with life, and it’d take the most jaded individual to not at least crack a smile while listening to it.

Maybe it’s that Bryce’s philosophies so closely resemble my own, but I feel a heartfelt closeness to this recording that’s unquestionable.  To put it in the most base and simple terms – this album is about being happy.  The songs are full of a love for life, appreciating the small things, as in “Skies So Blue”, being in love, “She’s My Baby”, and wanting to make the best of the future, “TV Family.”

Most versions of this album come with a second disc, a DVD containing two music videos, and a documentary.  This video footage is also overflowing with positive energy, and a treasured addition.  I’m going to end my review of my all-time favorite album by quoting lyrics from the opening track, “Cross My Heart”:

“I know you’re going crazy / but happy is all you make me / and now things are gonna get better baby / I know everything went wrong, OK / but now it’s time to get some better days / ‘cause I don’t want to keep acting this way”

Thanks so much for reading this article.  I think maybe by sharing it, you’ll all get to know me a bit better.  It took several hours to compile, research, and complete.  I’d love to hear your comments, opinions, and favorites.  Please share them with me via the comments section.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Superman Returns

After a failed theatrical viewing of the film (hey, I was tired!) I finally got around to getting my hands on the DVD to give it another shot.  Unfortunately, the library only had the bare bones edition, sans any additional extras, to my dissatisfaction.  One major plus to my home viewing experience was my surround sound system, which I had cranked up to the extreme, literally making my house rumble due to sheer volume.  Complaints on the film aren’t too abundant, it does feel a bit long, and the idea to use a muted color palate, while aesthetically interesting, might not have been the right route to tow.  Singer, who did a commendable job adapting the X-Men legacy to film, is successful again here, resurrecting Superman onto the big screen for the first time in far too long.  Brandon Routh was a great choice as Clark Kent, but a little less appealing as Superman himself.  I didn’t feel he changed his mannerisms convincingly enough, for example, upon saving Lois Lane and her intermediate family, his verbal exchange with her fiancĂ© Richard White (played by James Marsden) seemed awkward and aplomb; I contest that the world’s biggest hero would be more poised and confident.

One of my biggest complaints would be Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.  In the comics, past film versions, and done splendidly by Terri Hatcher on the TV series The New Adventures of Lois & Clark, Lois was always a fiery go-getter, full of energy and grit; here, she came off without any of that loveable fire and tenacity.  The casting of perennial comic bit actors Parker Posey, Sam Huntington, and Kal Penn (think White Castle) could also be taken under question.  To round out the principal cast, Kevin Spacey played a wry and ruthless Lex Luthor, and Frank Langella played Perry White, although I preferred him as Skeletor, in the live-action Masters of the Universe.

I love the Smallville aspect of the Superman mythos, and wish we could have spent a little more time on the farm, but, there was a lot of story to tell here, so we never dwelled for too long.  Ultimately, as a fan of the character and franchise, it was a real joy to see another film made, especially one that tried to honor the source material.  The effects are stellar, the story’s moderately good, with its high and low points, and there’s potential for a forthcoming sequel.  I’d definitely recommend at least seeing it once, to form your own opinion, instead of accepting the general consensus, which wasn’t too positive.

Overall Grade: B