Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crosses all over the boulevard

Late last year, some peace activists put a sign on the hillside above the Lafayette BART station to honor the US soldiers killed in Iraq. The sign read "In memory of the XXXX U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq" along with an updated count of the death toll. Initially, they had a few hundred crosses as symbols of the conflict, but for the last few weekends, volunteers have been erecting crosses (plus a few Jewish stars of David, Muslim crescents, and Buddhist wheels of life -- not sure how they know each fallen soldier's religious persuasion) feverishly, hoping to eventually have one for each fallen soldier. The current death toll is 3254 and counting and the whole hillside is full of crosses. And they add more crosses each weekend. This cellular photo from a train window doesn't do justice to the actual visual experience of this memorial.

I pass the memorial twice each day on my daily commute, and it's a somber reminder of the costs of this war. It's visible from the BART line and Highway 24, so there are lots of other people who see these crosses every day. Like most outlying suburban area, Contra Costa County leans a little more to the right politically than the rest of the SF Bay Area, probably deep magenta on the national blue/red spectrum. If the memorial were in San Francisco or Berkeley, it would mostly be "preaching to the converted", but putting it in Lafayette sends a much stronger message. Many people who pass the memorial probably think that the crosses disrespect the honor of the soldiers, and the site has been vandalized a few times, but it's probably also opened a lot of eyes that wouldn't have been opened otherwise.

Each cross, star, crescent, or wheel represents a person. A dead person who used to be alive. Lately I've been hanging my head averting my eyes as the BART train rolls through Lafayette, since seeing all those crosses puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. But today my portable music player decided to play Jose Gonzalez's "Crosses" as the train pulled into Lafayette station, and I looked left at thousands of crosses on the hill. And now I'm in a bad mood. How many more crosses will it take?

Jose Gonzalez - Crosses (mp3 from music is art)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Straight up now tell me

From The Big Picture

Which Barry makes a better Paula Abdul, Bonds or Zito?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar talk

Why does the telecast run long every year? It's a TV show, not a sporting event! Can't they either schedule each segment to fit within the allotted time or schedule a longer time period? And why am I watching? I don't even like movies! Hey, Scorsese finally won best director (and also picture, but he's probably done that before). Cool!

Addendum: Al Gore's best documentary award for An Inconvenient Truth has to be the first Academy Award by a former US Vice President.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hire Bob

New A's manager Bob Geren sat down for a three part interview with athleticsnation. Bob's favorite band is Led Zeppelin and his favorite movie is Caddyshack. That sounds like me... when I was 15! I wonder how he feels about Jan Smithers and Intellivision Baseball.

Actually, these interviews show Bob to be the right man for the job, intense, well-spoken, and the perfect antidote to Ken Macha, even though he shares Macha's views on the sacrifice bunt.
My philosophy on sacrifice bunts is that statistics show that no outs and a runner on first, you're probably going to score more runs than with one out and a runner on second
Geren doesn't completely follow the Moneyball party line, since he isn't averse to stealing the occasional base, but he isn't one of those NL managers that feels the need to bunt, hit & run, or steal whenever someone gets on first base.

Friday, February 23, 2007

FOMM: Five For The Bees

There are two parts to learning about the birds and the bees.
Last week it was the birds. This week it's the bees.

As in Bee Gees. They've just released The Studio Albums 1967-1968 a box set of their first three Polydor albums ( 1st Album, Horizontal, and Idea) with complete mono and stereo mixes of each album and tons of singles, outtakes, and other bonus tracks.

Anyone who doesn't like the Bee Gees because of excess baggage from their late 70s gold chains era, should immerse themselves in their early albums (not just the hit singles but the albums) before making any judgements. Having all the songs in both stereo and mono is probably overkill, but the Bee Gees rule, and not liking them is weird.

Here are five covers of early Bee Gees tracks, recorded between 1983 and 2006. Artists link to artist info and tracks link to mp3s.
  1. The Three O' Clock - In My Own Time
    (1983, from Sixteen Tambourines)
  2. Moxy Fruvous - I've Gotta Get A Message to You
    (1997, from You Will Go To The Moon)
  3. The Jigsaw Seen - Melody Fair
    (2002, from Songs Mama Used To Sing)
  4. The Lucksmiths - I Started A Joke
    (2005, from "The Chapter In Your Life Entitled SF" single)
  5. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Run To Me
    (2006, from Under The Covers: Volume 1)
Bonus cover from the Bees' Saturday Night Fever disco era:
Baby Lemonade - How Deep Is Your Love?
(1994, from Melody Fair, one of the best tribute albums ever!)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle

This week is the Amgen Tour of California, a 7-day, 700 mile, bike race from SF to Long Beach. All the big names are here, and it's exciting to see Levi Leipheimer and Ivan Basso riding in familiar Northern California scenery. This is only the second year, but it's already the biggest bike race in North America, and they're aiming to make it a major stage race like the tours of Italy, Spain, and France.

I watched some of the prologue on Sunday in SF. It was a short 1.9 mile jaunt from the Ferry Building to the Coit Tower, but they were riding as fast up Telegraph Hill as I could ride downhill with a fair tail wind!

Yesterday's stage was from Stockton to San Jose, and it was fun to watch the riders on the same roads I bike occasionally. Just finishing the Calaveras Rd. loop is a major accomplishment for me, but the pros average about 20-25 mph and ride the ten miles in less than 30 minutes, before going on to an even more severe ride over Sierra grade to San Jose. When I'm in better shape in the summer, I top out at around 20mph on a bicycle. These riders average that over 100 miles!

Hopefully the tour will stay around and keep getting bigger. It is ironic that the race is sponsored by the company that makes EPO (the #1 banned drug in pro cycling). It's like the San Francisco Giants playing at Balco Park.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Living With the Lightning

Touch and Go has just added another mp3 from Ted Leo's upcoming album Living With The Living. The new mp3, "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb" is another wild rocker just like "Sons of Cain" (which was previously posted at the label and pitchfork). Judging from these two songs and the titles of the others, this is Ted's angry political album.

I downloaded "Sons Of Cain" a few weeks ago, and the riff sounded eerily familiar like I'd heard it somewhere before. Yesterday I realized it sounds a little like "Remember The Lightning" by 20/20. Here are both songs for a 2fs side-by-side comparison. Any excuse to kick it with some old school power pop!

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Sons of Cain
20/20 - Remember The Lightning

I bought tickets for Ted Leo's upcoming show at the GAMH in a couple of weeks without realizing it was a S.F. Noise Pop show with three opening acts: Georgie James, So Many Dynamos, Pony Come Lately. That might be a late one. After last weekend's auto adventure, I'm still not going to drive to the show, so hopefully the 8pm show will wrap up by midnight before the BART stops running. By the way, I now have a new $200 car window, just in time for tomorrow's rainstorm.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Broken bits of you and my window

Went to see the Smithereens last night at the Red Devil Lounge. I hadn't been to the Red Devil in a long time, and didn't realize what a tiny place it was. It's a tiny little hole (in every sense of the word) that was packed for the Smithereens. They were touring behind their Beatles tribute Meet the Smithereens, so the crowd was an interesting dynamic of older Beatle-geeks and younger (my age) 80s-geeks.

DiNizio lost his voice after the eighth song, so they started playing more of their quieter less vocally challenging songs ("In a Lonely Place", "Cigarette", "Especially For You") which also tend to be my favorites, as well as letting Jim Babjak and Dennis Diken take turns as George and Ringo on "Don't Bother Me" and "I Wanna Be Your Man" during the Meet The Beatles interlude. They said they hadn't played SF since 1992, and I hadn't seen them since way back in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, I was parked on a busy street (Van Ness) , and some idiot broke the side window on my car. They didn't take anything, didn't even break in, just smashed the side window to smithereens in a senseless act of vandalism. And I just raised my insurance deductible, so I'll have to replace it myself. But they can't replace it today because it's a holiday. Senseless vandalism sucks!

Between the theft and the vandalism and the traffic and $4 bridge tolls and parking tickets, I've pretty much decided to stop driving to SF for awhile. Like Garry Templeton once said, "If I ain't BARTin', I ain't departin' "

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You got Zitoed!

Seeing photos of Barry Zito pitching in his new orange and black Giants uniform this week has helped me come to grips with the fact that he doesn't pitch for Oakland anymore. Barry was always my favorite of the A's so-called "big three", and even though I was prepared to see him playing for another team this year, it's still kind if jarring to see photographic evidence. At least he just moved across the bay, so I can still watch him pitch.

In Mychael Urban's book Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito (a long title with two colons), Zito comes across as the most interesting of the big three by far. He surfs, acts, dates actresses, dabbles in "music" (or some Dave Matthewsy variant thereof), and in short leads a very interesting life. Both Hudson and Mulder fizzled out after signing their big contracts and moving to the NL, but Zito should do fine with the Giants.

In that book, Urban explains Zito's views on pitching, which come down to some zenlike "throw my pitches, hit my spots, and don't worry about results". No worries about about getting inside his own head, because Barry's always inside his own head. Sometimes he'll say "I think I pitched pretty well" after giving up six runs and getting chased in the fourth inning, and sometimes he'll say "I had nothing out there" after a four hit shutout. Zito focuses the things he can control (the speed, location, and delivery of his pitches) and doesn't worry about the other things. He's like an anti-headcase!

Anyway, in the first few days of Giants camp, since there's nothing much to talk about, there's was this mini brouhaha about Barry Zito altering his pitching delivery to increase his leg drive. On Friday, pitching coach Dave Righetti expressed concerns that he might injure himself with that directory, and the S.F. Chronicle reported that it was like "Michelangelo arriving for his new job at the Sistine Chapel and announcing he is going to paint still lifes".

Zito must have seen that Michelangelo quote, because yesterday he said the new delivery was just an experimental work in progress and told the same writer (in one of the best sports quotes ever). "You don't look at a Michelangelo sculpture halfway done and start commenting on how terrible it is.. you wait until the final product." Today, the Chronicle reported that Zito's new delivery was a non-story that was somehow blown out of proportion. Blown out of proportion by the media (including the Chronicle), I hasten to add.

It's fortunate that the Giants have learned to say "that's just Barry being Barry" over the past few years, because I get the feeling they'll be saying it twice as often in 2007.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Four decades of bird bands

Sunday is Chinese New Year, and this is the year of the boar, so here are four songs from four decades by four bands, all named after ... birds!

From the 1960s:
The Yardbirds - Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
(from the album Roger The Engineer )
This song is from the few months in 1966 when the Yardbirds had two lead guitarists (Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page), and features a session bassist named John Paul Jones instead of Paul Samwell-Smith. The Yardbirds' first leaden zeppelinic steps . We're skipping the 1970s, so take a moment to yell "Freebird" really loud!

From the 1980s:
The Hummingbirds - Word Gets Around
(from the album Love Buzz)
The Hummingbirds were from Australia, and their album was produced by Mitch Easter, so you know what to expect. Lots of guitars and male-female vocal harmonies. Some band from Aberdeen WA covered the song "Love Buzz" (by the Shocking Blue) at the same time. 1989 was the year of the love buzz.

From the 1990s:
The Mutton Birds - She's Been Talking
(from the album Envy of Angels)
The Mutton Birds were from New Zealand, and were named after an actual bird from the South Pacific. Envy of Angels is probably their best album, and also the one that's the easiest to find in the US. You can buy it for $10 here or here, while all the other Mutton Birds CDs are $25 or more. It could be your new favorite album too. They broke up at the end of the 90s, but Don McGlashan put out a solo album last year (from which I posted a song last week), and Alan Gregg leads the band Marshmallow who put out a great CD a couple years ago.

From the 2000s:
The Bye Bye Blackbirds - In Every Season
(from the CD Honeymoon)
The person who deserves at least co-credit for turning me on to the Mutton Birds is Bradley of the Bye Bye Blackbirds, so it seems apt to follow the MBs with the BBBs. This song is from their EP Honeymoon, which came out late last year, and the mp3 links directly from the band site. If you don't have the CD, you can order it here, or pick one up on March 29th when they open for Mitch Easter at the Rickshaw Stop.

Bonus tracks: 125records reported that the French band Swan Plastic Swan have a few tracks from their Scott Miller produced demo on their myspace page. They call themselves "psychiatric music lovers", which is probably an incorrect translation of "psychotic music lovers" or something else, but I like it, because I'm a psychiatric music lover too. Aren't we all?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Moneyball Manifesto

In preparation for the baseball season, I've updated my blogroll with a couple of my favorite baseball sites, Catfish Stew and Athletics Nation (yes, I'm an A's fan). These blogs publish year round, but I can't read about baseball during the offseason, so last year I stopped reading my baseball blogs as soon as Magglio Ordonez hit the homerun that knocked the Athletics out of the playoffs.

I've also reread the Michael Lewis Moneyball book in preparation for this season. This book came out in 2003, and I didn't read it until a year later when it showed up in paperback, but I've read it every year for the last four at the start of the baseball season. It's probably one of my favorite books of this millennium (sports or otherwise).

Moneyball explains how A's GM Billy Beane built a winning team on a shoestring budget by building up the farm system and trading for players that were undervalued by other teams. In other words, "exploiting market inefficiencies". When the book was written, the baseball stat that was most undervalued was on base percentage (OBP), so Beane and his assistant GM Paul DePodesta sought after players who got on base. It seems obvious that OBP is the most important offensive statistic in baseball, since the object of a game is to score more runs than the other team, and in order to score a run, you must first get on base.

This theory was viewed as heresy by the baseball establishment, from the five tool scouts to old school announcers who played the game, but it has proved to work, so now most teams use OBP (and it's cousin OPS) as a good indicator of offensive efficiency. So for the last couple of years, the A's have started exploiting other market inefficiencies to find qualities that are undervalued by teams that are doing what they were doing five years ago.

It's fun to contrast the economic theories of Moneyball, which is how Lewis (a financial writer famous for the book Liars Poker about Wall Street) tackled the story versus the sabermetric "moneyball" theories (get on base, don' t waste outs) that the baseball world thinks of when they hear the term. The Billy Beane A's are successful because they go against the grain and zig when everyone else zags, not because they have some secret baseball formula
that no one knows about.

And now that I've finished reading Moneyball, I'm ready to start watching baseball again. Camps open next week for all players.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Mix Tape

Probably the most popular Valentine's Day gift after flowers and candy is the mix tape. Or mix CD, but compact discs are a lot less personal than old-fashioned cassettes, collected with favorite songs from various sources.

Here's a 14 song virtual Valentine's Day mix tape, split into two seven song sides. These are either songs I've recently posted here or deep links to other places on the internet. Side A is mostly my stuff and side B is mostly linked elsewhere. I had to end with "Whole Wide World", because that's one of my personal theme songs. My jam, as the kids say.

Side A:
  1. Baby Lemonade - How Deep Is Your Love?(Bee Gees cover)
  2. The Chevelles - Lost in Love(Air Supply cover)
  3. Marshall Crenshaw - Cynical Girl
  4. The dB's - Big Brown Eyes
  5. Donovan - Wear Your Love Like Heaven
  6. Flying Color - I'm Your Shadow
  7. House Of Love - I Don't Know Why I Love You
Side B:
  1. Jennifer Gentle - I Do Dream You
  2. Nada Surf - Always Love
  3. Rogue Wave - Every Moment
  4. Todd Rundgren - I Saw The Light
  5. Teenage Fanclub - Your Love Is The Place I Come From
  6. Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know
  7. Wreckless Eric - Whole Wide World

Four little words

..that everyone loves to hear on Valentines Day
Hooray baseball!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Early Easter eggs

After many years of no Mitch Easter releases, there have been two so far this year: a Sneakers reissue, Nonsequitur Of Silence, and a brand new solo album, Dynamico.

The Sneakers reissue has been out for a couple of weeks now, and features both of their original eps (Sneakers and In The Red) plus nine bonus tracks, mostly from the long out-of-print 1992 Racket cd. Sneakers, for the uninitiated, were the late-70s band that included two future dB's, Chris Stamey and Will Rigby, as well as Easter. The first ep (engineered by Don Dixon) was mostly Stamey with a backing band, and the second was a Stamey/Easter collaboration. The Racket bonus tracks were recorded by Chris and Mitch in the early 90s on vintage 70s equipment. dB's or Let's Active fans who haven't heard the Sneakers or don't have Racket should definitely grab this disc.

I have Racket, so I haven't picked up the new Sneakers reissue, mostly because I've been too busy digging Mitch Easter's new solo album Dynamico. This is his first album of new material in nearly 19 years (Imagine if Scott Miller stopped making music after Game Theory's Two Steps From The Middle Ages, didn't form the Loud Family, and hadn't done anything until now. 19 years is a long time), it sounds like the logical followup to the last Let's Active album, Every Dog Has Its Day, with the same crunchy guitars and twisted hooks that made Mitch famous twenty plus years ago. The album isn't officially out until March 14th, but it's available from right here, right now. And like Jesus said (Jesus Jones), there is no other place I want to be!

I've had the album for about a week, and in classic Let's Active fashion it took awhile to sink it, but now I can't get enough. All 14 tracks are great, but early picks to click include both songs available for download ("Sudden Crown Drop" and "Time Warping". links below) and "Dusky Lair" (speaking of Scott Miller, am I tripping or does that intro sound like "Rise of the Chokehold Princess"?). After all this time, it's great to have Mitch Easter back!

And next month, he's coming to San Francisco. Mitch Easter will be at the Rickshaw Stop on March 29th with Magic Bullets and the Bye Bye Blackbirds. And all ages are welcome so bring the kids. There's a link on his web site where you can email song requests, where I've requested my favorite Let's Active song, "Waters Part", but I think that's usually part of the setlist. Here's the video of "Waters Part"from youtube.

The last time I saw Let's Active live at the Berkeley Square, I'd just seen an magazine intervew with Robert Plant where he raved about Every Dog, calling Let's Active "the new Moby Grape". Mitch must have taken that interview to heart, because at that show, they encored with Moby Grape's "Hey Grandma" followed by the Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow". That was the last show on their Spring 1989 tour and may have been the last Let's Active show ever.

Mitch Easter mp3s (from Dynamico)
Sudden Crown Drop (
Time Warping (

Sneakers mp3s (from Nonsequitur Of Silence)
Ruby (

Monday, February 12, 2007

The police in different voices

For me, the Police were a prototypical "high school band". Their four years in the spotlight (1979-1983) coincided exactly with my high school years, and I think of their last four albums in tandem with my freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior years.

The month I graduated from high school (June 1983), the Police put out their last album Synchronicity, which I took as the symbolic end of my high school era. After that, they broke up and I pretty much stopped listening to them.

At least voluntarily. I still hear their music on the radio and in the checkout line, but I don't own any of their music on that newfangled compact disc format, and haven't felt the need to pull out my cassette of Ghost in the Machine. Their "regatta de blanc" sound hasn't aged that well for me, and their lead singer is (as the Brits would say) kind of a wally.

Still, when I found out the Police were kicking off Grammys last night, I figured I should reconcile my high school self by tuning in to see them. At the very least it would build up my DVR buffer, so I could watch the Simpsons commercial. They played "Roxanne", their first international hit, and it was a great performance. With all the baggage associated with the Police, it's hard for me to remember that they used to be a pretty decent band. When Stewart Copeland started banging his drumkit before the first chorus of "Roxanne", it was like the first time I heard that song, in the summer between middle school and high school.

I changed over to Fox and the Simpsons after T.I. and Pink (two people who weren't even born when "Roxanne" was a hit) gave a lifetime achievement to the Doors, another band inexorably tied to high school for me. Apocalypse Now came out during my freshman year, and I liked "The End" so I bought the first Doors album, followed in succession by the second thru fifth albums. Jim Morrision had already been dead for ten years then, so I thought they some obscure band that only Francis Coppola and me knew about. My "Doors phase" ended abruptly in the summer of 1982 after I read Danny Sugerman's No One Here Gets Out Alive and found out that Morrison was kind of a drunken loser. Say it ain't so, Jim!

But even after nearly 25 years of Doors detox, I still like some of their music.. In this interview from pitchfork today, David Brewis of Field Music talks about playing a Doors tribute band, which I think might work. In their standard live setup, FM has a guitarist, a keyboardist, and a drummer, but no bass player. Just like the Doors.

By the way, Field Music's new album Tones of Town which I plugged a few weeks ago, is now officially out, so pick it up. It doesn't sound like the Doors or the Police.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

some band on some TV show

four three years ago
four youngsters from Liverpool
and now here they are

Friday, February 9, 2007

2006 Metamix

Continuing my "Friday On My Mind" five-song playlist tradition. Here are the five best tracks I discovered on other people's 2006 end-of-year mixes. My "2006 Metamix" if you will.
  1. Chris Brown - I Won't Ask Why
  2. Jonathan Coulton - Skullcrusher Mountain
  3. Figurines - The Wonder
  4. David Mead - Chatterbox
  5. Don McGlashan - Harbour Bridge
Artist links go to artist info and track links go to mp3s. The Chris Brown is from 125records and the Figurines song is from their site. The other three are hosted at esnips by me.

I may add a writeup for each track but don't have time right now. The comments are open (even anonymous ones) in case any original compilationists or fellow recipients of these compilations feel like giving their own writeups.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

High def hockey jams

February has to be the worst sports month of the year. The period between the football and baseball seasons just doesn't have a lot going on unless you're either a basketball or hockey fan.

Even though I wrote about the 1975 NBA Championship last week, I'm not much of a basketball fan. I'm only interested in college hoops during that one year each decade when my alma mater makes the NCAA tournament, and have less than zero interest in the NBA because of their thug mentality and the perpetual crappiness of our local side.

And interest in hockey usually waxes and wanes through the course of a season, waxing during the Stanley Cup playoffs and waning during most of the regular season, but since I got HDTV and started getting Sharks games in high def, I've been catching every period of every game.

Hockey is a sport that doesn't televise well on regular TV: everything moves so fast, it's hard to follow the puck, and the center-ice camera misses most of the action. In high definition, it's like being right there at rinkside. You can follow the puck and the action away from the puck, and there are all sorts of interesting angles to keep you interested. Ice hockey was invented for HDTV.

This week our San Jose Sharks had back to back home & home games with their main Pacific Division rivals, the Anaheim (no longer Mighty) Ducks. These teams have been 1-2 in the division for the past few years, and entered the NHL around the same time, and the two cities (San Jose and Anaheim) are mirror images of each other -- second cities in a large metro area that are derided as faceless suburbs by their famous northern neighbors. As a NoCal-SoCal rivalry, Sharks-Ducks is right up there with Giants-Dodgers and A's-Angels.

The two games this week were a split, with the Ducks winning 7-4 in San Jose and the Sharks winning 3-2 in Anaheim. I watched nearly every period, except the final period on Tuesday after the Sharks fell behind 6-1. I can't remember ever watching an entire regular season game in the pre-HDTV era, but HD hockey vs. non-HD hockey is like day vs. night.

Almost everything is better on HDTV. I saw the New York Dolls on PBS Soundstage last weekend, and the Dolls (esp. Johansen and Sylvain) were not better in HD. Every rule has an exception.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


The results in the 2006 Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll came out today, and Bob Dylan's Modern Times was the winner. Dylan has won the P&J poll every year that he's made an album in the past decade.

This year the Voice's authority as the poll of record was challenged by the idolator blog and their own Jackin' Pop poll. I like that term "jackin' pop" because one of its double meanings is a great euphemism for end-of-year critics polls.

It's hard to determine which poll is more authoritative because they both had around 500 voters, and the consensus from both polls were nearly identical, with eight of the ten albums in their top tens being the same.

Idolator 2006 Jackin' Pop Critics Poll (497 voters)
  1. Return To Cookie Mountain by TV On The Radio
  2. Fishscale by Ghostface Killah
  3. Boys And Girls In America by The Hold Steady
  4. Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse
  5. Ys by Joanna Newsom
  6. Modern Times by Bob Dylan
  7. St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley
  8. Silent Shout by The Knife
  9. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood by Neko Case
  10. The Life Pursuit by Belle & Sebastian
Village Voice 2006 Pazz & Jop Poll (494 voters)
  1. Modern Times by Bob Dylan
  2. Return To Cookie Mountain by TV On The Radio
  3. Fishscale by Ghostface Killah
  4. Boys And Girls In America by The Hold Steady
  5. St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley
  6. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not by Arctic Monkeys
  7. Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse
  8. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood by Neko Case
  9. Ys by Joanna Newsom
  10. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards by Tom Waits
Hard to tell which poll has more pull. I've always thought that the best way to determine the critical consensus "best albums of 2006" would be to feed a bunch of polls into a database, with the albums that show up highest ranked in the most polls being the best by consensus.

Metacritic does something like that, but their "best-reviewed albums of the year" tend to be more things that a small number of reviewers liked a lot rather than the albums liked by the most reviewers. I think the ideal way to find a critical consensus would be to treat metacritic's individual critic's top-ten lists like electoral votes in the "hot rox metapoll" a poll of polls to determine which albums appeared in the most polls with the highest rank.

Luckily, metacritic does all the leg-work by putting together all these top-ten lists in a readable format, so all you need to do is cut and paste that into a text file and write a little perl script to parse the file and determine the votes and rankings. Since this is an electoral vote, I restricted the list to American polls. One of the reason the colonists dumped all that tea in Boston Harbor was so the Arctic Monkeys wouldn't top our album polls 230 years later!

The scoring is based on the loud-fans poll, with each vote counting as 11.01 - (ranking), so each #1 gets 10.01, each #2 gets 9.01, etc. By that scoring system, here were the most awesome albums of 2006 by virtue of appearing in the most polls.

2006 Hot Rox Metapollism Top Ten
  1. Return To Cookie Mountain by TV On The Radio (182.23)
  2. Ys by Joanna Newsom (117.21)
  3. Fishscale by Ghostface Killah (106.18)
  4. Boys And Girls In America by The Hold Steady (93.15)
  5. St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley (80.11)
  6. Modern Times by Bob Dylan (69.12)
  7. Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse (62.11)
  8. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not by Arctic Monkeys (61.08)
  9. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood by Neko Case (58.14)
  10. The Life Pursuit by Belle & Sebastian (57.11)
This critical electorate consensus is nearly identical to the Pazz & Jop and Jackin' Pop top tens, having a 9/10ths overlap with each poll. Turning the poll inside out, we can determine which polls are the most "normal" (statistically speaking) with their top-tens being the highest ranked among the consensus. Ranked by normalcy, the Village Voice has a slight edge over Idolator.

Most Normal Polls in the 2006 Hot Rox Metapoll
  1. Village Voice Pazz&Jop (852.38)
  2. Idolator Jackin' Pop (841.39)
  3. Spin (700.09)
  4. Pitchfork (687.11)
  5. PopMatters (669.02)
  6. Rhapsody (662.09)
  7. Rolling Stone (630.01)
  8. Tris McCall Report (621.03)
  9. Shaking Through (618.04)
  10. Stylus (606.98)
The 182.23 points for TV On the Radio in the 2006 poll is still short of the consensus best album of 2005, Illinois by Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan was on 3/4ths of the polls in 2005, and dusted the competition with 208.30 points. Illinois is the most acclaimed album of the 2000s!

2005 Hot Rox Metapollism Top Ten
  1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (208.30 points)
  2. M.I.A. - Arular (133.20)
  3. Kanye West - Late Registration (113.18)
  4. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now (93.16)
  5. My Morning Jacket - Z (86.13)
  6. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (76.12)
  7. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (74.12)
  8. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (73.12)
  9. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (67.11)
  10. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (66.12)
By the way, the term "metapollism" doesn't google, so I may have just invented a new word!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Forty years younger than yesterday

This week marks forty years since the release of Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers (aka Echoes), the first country-rock record ever according to wikipedia.

This was Clark's first solo album after leaving the Byrds, and features Chris Hillman on bass and Michael Clarke on drums, as well as future Byrds Clarence White and Doug Dillard, so it sounds like a close cousin to the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday (which was also released forty years ago this week).

As the title suggests, the album was a collaboration with the Gosdin Brothers (Vern and Rex), who added guitars and harmonies and brought Gene's Byrdsy folk rock to the country, more than a year before Sweetheart of the Rodeo or the International Submarine Band brought "country-rock" into the vernacular.

Since it came out the same week as Younger Than Yesterday, and featuring such a novel sound, Gene's album got lost in Columbia's promotional shuffle for the Byrds and didn't have a chance on either the country or pop charts. Back in 1967, there weren't Americana or even FM-rock stations to play albums like this, and alt-country was still decades away from being "invented" by Uncle Tupelo, so this album was a masterpiece without an audience.

One of the standout tracks on Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers is "Tried So Hard", which was later covered by Fairport Convention, the post-Gram Flying Burrito Brothers, and Yo La Tengo (on their Fakebook album) . Besides Clark/Byrds diehards, most people know this song from the cover versions, but here's an alternate take of the original, from the long out-of-print 1990 Epic/Legacy reissue of the album. This site gives a good writeup of the recording for this album, and is a great resource for Gene Clark and Byrds info.

Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers - Tried So Hard [mp3]

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Super Dull

Geez, wasn't that the dullest Super Bowl in the last decade? The only one that might come close was the Bucs-Raiders debacle, but this one was down there with the worst of them.

Back when halftime entertainer Prince was at the height of his popularity in the mid-80s, all the Super Bowls were bad games, but there's been a run of good games for the past few years. This one was badly played at both ends by both teams, and helped me realize why NFL football doesn't hold the same allure for me that it once did.

Even the commercials were boring. I watched the game time-shifted on my DVR, but kept watching the ads anyway hoping for someone to make good use of their $3M worth of ad time. I liked the K-Fed Nationwide ad, and a few others, but when the best Super Bowl commercials are the Letterman and Craig Ferguson , it's a bad year for advertisers too.

But congratulations to the Colts for finishing what Mrs. O'Leary's cow started and putting away Chicago. Instant karma's gonna get you, Bears fans. And Prince's halftime show rocked. Performing "Purple Rain" in the rain. Pure genius. That's why he's Prince, and we're just us.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Two more for the Groundhog

Because Groundhog Day should be Groundhog Week!
The Sneetches - Flying on the Ground Is Wrong [mp3]
During their decade together, the Sneetches were the kings of the cover tune. Besides this cover of the Buffalo Springfield's "Flying On The Ground", they also covered Colin Blunstone ("Caroline Goodbye"), the Easybeats ("Pretty Girl"), the Monochrome Set ("He's Frank"), The Left Banke ("She May Call You Up Tonight") , and the Raspberries ("I Wanna Be With You" w/Shoes). And that doesn't count their contributions to those tribute albums that were all the rage in the early 90s (Zombies, Bee Gees, Hollies).

This cover of "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" was chosen because it came up in an iTunes search for "ground". It's from a 1990 single on the Bus Stop label, and sounds like it was recorded live. I have it on an import cd called Obscureyears, which collects all their non-LP singles.

The songs the Sneetches chose to cover, both on disc and in concert, were integral in expanding my musical universe as a young adult. For example, I'd never heard of the Monochrome Set before the Sneetches covered "He's Frank". And all I knew the Left Banke, and the Easybeats, and the Buffalo Springfield were the one or two songs they played on oldies radio. There was an earlier cover of "Flying On The Ground" by Kendra Smith & David Roback on the 1984 paisley underground compilation Rainy Day, but I heard the Sneetches version first.

And I kept discovering new things via individual Sneetches after the band broke up. A few years ago I saw Mike Levy play a cool song called "Caroline" at a solo show that he said was by a band called the Magic Moles (or that's what I heard). I looked up that on the internet, and couldn't find anything on the Magic Moles. Turns out it was by Robert Wyatt's post Soft Machine band Matching Mole. How did I go through my whole life without hearing that band?

The Sneetches broke up in the mid-90s, but have reunited a few times since for one-off gigs. Matt Carges moved away from the Bay Area in 2000, but the other three are still around. Mike Levy still plays the odd solo gig. Daniel Swan plays in a bunch of local bands. And Alec Palao plays in a band called The Magic Christian with erstwhile Flamin' Groovie Cyril Jordan.
The Sneetches' band name came (of course) from Dr. Seuss, and I think its extra cool that if you want to convert this Sneetches mp3 to flac or ogg/vorbis, just run it through the sneetchalizer!

Flying Color - I'm Your Shadow [mp3]
Flying Color were another San Francisco band from the late 80s who had one member in common with the Sneetches (a bassist/guitarist who did time in both bands before heading out on his own. He didn't appear on records by either band, so his identity makes a good trivia question). Anyway, I consider this a groundhog song because the title is "I'm Your Shadow", and if the groundhog doesn't see his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter. Flying Color was an anachronism in the Bay Area scene of the late 80s with their paisley shirts and jangly guitars, but their music still sounds fresh and new twenty years later. This self-titled LP (their only one) was reissued on CD by Munster Records in Spain in 1996, but it's way out of print in the US, and should be reissued.
Just The Songs:
The Sneetches - Flying On the Ground (from the CD Obscureyears)
Flying Color - I'm Your Shadow (from the LP Flying Color)

Friday, February 2, 2007

What if it doesn't work?

Thursday: You notice this review on Pitchfork for a new album by The Broken West called I Can't Go On, I'll Go On. It's kind of a so-so review (6.7/10), but the first sentence grabs you: "Power pop is easy to do, but difficult to do well." A power pop band! Sounds promising. You scan the review for the other bands mentioned: Big Star, Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet. Worth checking out. You notice that it's on Merge, and figure it's probably on emusic so you click on Pitchfork's download from emusic link.

The first sample you check out is "So It Goes", wondering if it's a Nick Lowe cover, but it isn't. You sample a few more songs, but there seems to be a whole lot of not much going on in them. You click on an album comment that takes you to this review on The Fire Note and notice the first sentence "The Broken West represents everything that is right about quality music." You sigh and go on to other things, noticing that the Broken West album is reviewed in the latest SF Weekly. Someone must want you to discover this band. This review tells you to give them another chance.

The band's sound is a retro confection cooked with five parts Big Star, three parts Byrds, and a pinch of Flamin' Groovies, stirred with an unscuffed Rickenbacker..

5 parts Big Star, 3 parts Byrds, and a pinch of Groovies. If it was stirred with a scuffed Rickenbacker you'd be sold, and even an unscuffed one merits further exploration. Off to AMG. Their Broken West review also mentions the Byrds and Big Star as influences. How does every review namecheck the same bands? They list three track picks: "So It Goes","On The Bubble", and "Hale Sunrise"). Back to emusic for more sampling.

You've already heard "So It Goes", so you try "On The Bubble". Is that a keyboard? This song couldn't sound any less like Big Star if it tried! Your last chance to click is "Hale Sunrise". The singer sounds like the guy from the Thrills trying to sound like Jeff Tweedy. More keyboards. Not a jangling Rickenbacker to be heard. You're just about ready to give up.

Friday: The next day you notice this Broken West writeup at Idolator. It mentions Wilco, but also "effervescent Spectorisms with handclaps and sunny falsettos". One of the comments says of the Broken West

These guys sure nail that Bay Area Big-Star-Loving Pop thing. Kind of like a Braff-friendly Game Theory.

You're so jazzed to see Game Theory namechecked in a cool indie-rock blog that you don't eve wonder what a "Braff-friendly" GT would be. And how have you lived in the Bay Area and loved Big Star for nineteen years without even knowing there was a "thing" associated with those two traits?

Luckily there are full-length mp3s so you can listen and make up your own mind.. Maybe one of the other songs is the one that sounds like the Byrds and Big Star. Or even better, a Braff-friendly Game Theory!

The Broken West:
On The Bubble (mp3)
Brass Ring (mp3)

Two For The Groundhog

Today is Groundhog Day, so I'm continuing my Friday On My Mind tradition another week by including two groundhog-themed songs of sorts. Anyone who's ever tried to put together a Groundhog Day mix tape or CD (that would be me) soon realizes that it isn't a very sung-about holiday. With that in mind, here are a couple of "underground recordings" (aka bootlegs) with some connection to Groundhog Day.

R.E.M. - "I Got You Babe" [mp3]
from the Mad Hatter in Athens, GA 09/30/1983

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray keeps experiencing the same day over and over, and what's worse, every morning at 6am, he gets awakened by Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the clock radio. Here's a cover of "IGYB" by R.E.M. from a September 1983 show in Athens, GA. It's a loose and lubricated hometown performance, which this writeup from Bullz-Eye sums up best (though I'm not sure what it means for a bootleg to be "out of print").

Don’t bother looking for this in your local Wal-Mart; not only is it a bootleg, but it’s long since out of print. But if you do, by some slim chance, happen to stumble across an opportunity to hear this Sonny and Cher cover, take advantage of it, because you’ll never, ever forget it. They’re drunk, they don’t know the words (I’m pretty sure there’s no lyric where Sonny says, "I’ve got you to wash my clothes"), and they’re sloppy enough to make even the late, great Bob Stinson go, "Damn, man, ya’ll sound pretty rough". It’s complete and total shit and yet, you can’t help but grin all the way through it. Michael Stipe has become such a pariah over the years that it’s somehow comforting to hear this and remember that, once upon a time, he was just another guy fronting a bar band.

Note: Speaking of shit, this song was ripped from a 20 year old audio tape copied from an even older vinyl bootleg then transcoded to mp3, so rather than complaining that this recording sounds "a little rough", just be happy that it makes any noise at all.

The accompanying photo shows pariah Stipe singing "I Got You Babe" with Cher in 2002. It was part of some award show when Michael was presenting some award to U2's Bono ("Longest Tenure In An Irish Rock Band Without Losing Your Hair?) and gave the standard award show intro: "A singer, a statesman. A who truly needs no introduction.. Bono, this song goes out to you", then launched into "I Got You Babe", joined mid-song by Cher. It was the end of the world as Jim DeRogatis knew it.

"I Got You Babe" is my birth song, and I've always wanted to get someone willing to do a karaoke duet with me. Maybe Cher would sing it with me if I asked her?

The Loud Family - "Just Gone" [mp3]
from WCBR FM, Chicago, 09/13/1996

One look at the title of this blog should be enough for anyone to realize that I consider Interbabe Concern by the Loud Family to be one of the greatest audio sound recordings of the 20th century. "Just Gone" is one of the highlights of that album, and should be a Groundhog Day standard.

That's last year there
Still around in February
Doesn't see his shadow, baby
Doesn't know to leave

I'm not normally one to analyze lyrics, but this is one of Scott Miller's most direct songs, so I can probably tackle it. Imagine the couple from "I Got You Babe" ten years after that song, when they're older, and their Vegas nightclub act and hit television show can keep them from worrying about not paying the rent, but they're now stuck playing a happy couple on stage and screen when they can't stand the sight of each other. And that, as a groundhog would say, is "Just Gone" in a nutshell.

Everyone probably knows the recorded version, so this is a September 1996 live performance from Chicago radio station WCBR (which doesn't seem to exist anymore. c'est la radio!), complete with a minute of DJ chat at the end that I'm too lazy to edit out.

The Songs:
R.E.M. - I Got You Babe (Athens GA, 09/30/1983)
The Loud Family - Just Gone (WCBR radio, Chicago, 09/13/1996)

Note about the songs: These are hosted on an external site called esnips, which is aiming to be another youtobe. They don't let you directly download the songs (right-click save-as) so just click the link to launch the player, then click the download button if you want to save the song, but I'm pretty sure no one will want to listen to these more than once. Leave a comment or email if you can't download. And don't forget to have a Happy Groundhog Day.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Only the ball was orange

Another entry to keep the "sports" tag and blog heading accurate.
A big part of the pre-Super Bowl XLI (being born in 1965 means always knowing which Super Bowl it is) coverage is the discussion about two African-American coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovey Smith, will be coaching against each other for the first time ever.
That happened 32 years ago in the NBA. Our local paper had an article yesterday about the 1975 NBA Finals, when Al Attles led the Golden State Warriors to a four game sweep over K.C. Jones' Washington Bullets. There wasn't much media fuss then about two black coaches facing off for a championship. This was the year I became a Warriors fan (winning titles does that to kids), and I don't remember anyone mentioning anything about Al Attles being black.
I mostly remember that the Warriors only had two white players that year, but one of them was their biggest star. I still shoot free throws underhanded because Rick Barry did. And because I really suck shooting them overhanded.