Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 – The year that was

It’s that time again. Time when bloggers worldwide—especially those who focus solely on music—post their best-of lists for the year gone by. Well I’m not gonna do that. Not exactly anyway.

Coming up with a decent best-of list requires having spent the year up to your eyeballs in whatever the subject is. If you’ve seen 10 films this year, you can’t really make a list of the 10 best films, now can you?

So what follows is not a best of, but a list of thoughts on the year that was. Let’s get to it.

First, since it’s still the season…

Best and worst Christmas songs

Best: “Father Christmas” – the Kinks

Runner-up: “Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses
If these aren’t part of your annual holiday tradition, your tradition’s broken. (Is that too strong? Maybe.)

Worst: “Little Drummer Boy”
I really hate this song. Doesn’t everyone?

Five books I liked

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a sweeping, multi-generational, coming of age epic novel. This one is fantastic. (What, the Pulitzer Prize wasn’t enough of a hint?)

Black Postcards, by Dean Wareham
Dean’s memoirs of his youth and his days leading Galaxie 500 and Luna are surprisingly funny, candid and unapologetic—and very entertaining. Great insight into one of my favorite bands.

The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright
This compelling look at the roots of fundamentalist Islamism, the formation of al-Qaeda and the attacks of September 11 should be required reading for every American.

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
I’d been meaning to read this book for years, after David Gates (one of my favorites) raved about it in an interview. When I heard Hollywood was working on a film version, I got motivated. So good, yet so brutally heartbreaking. (And completely Leo-free!)

Old School, by Tobias Wolff
Wolff is a master; ‘nuff said.

Two books I didn’t

And Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris
Personal Days, by Ed Park
Both of these books garnered a lot of buzz this year. Both are ostensibly humorous, both take place predominantly in modern-day big city office environments (the latter in an ad agency) and both—how can this be?—are written in the first person plural. I’m not gonna lie, that first person plural thing is a real bummer, making it difficult to develop characters beyond caricature or cliché. I struggled to get into these novels and put them both down after about 100 pages. Next!

A bunch of songs I really liked

In a really strange development, I bought very few albums this past year. I’m not sure what that’s about other than being really busy (the move, the job, etc), no longer having the music-sharing friendship base of years past (sniff) and possibly even a declining interest in what I heard out there. So instead of a best-of albums list I’m gonna share some of my favorite songs from 2008. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

“Re: Stacks” – Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
would have to be my album of the year. Even though technically it was first released last year. Whatever, stickler. (No mp3 for you; just buy the damn thing already.)

“Sex Tourists” – French Kicks
Hidden near the end of Swimming, the band’s best record in maybe ever, this gem of a track’s verses have a slow, yearning—but catchy—vocal melody laying over simple, repetitive instrumentation. And how about the restraint of the band? Awesome.

“Electric Feel” – MGMT, Justice Remix
Crazy delicious.

“Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let It Fall” – Lykke Li
In addition to the things I said about it when I posted “Dance” a few weeks ago, I love the ska-influenced backing vocals Li uses on some of these tunes. Here’s “Let It Fall”:

“There’s A Reason” – A.A. Bondy
DY turned me on to this. If you like A.A., you should be sure to check out the fruits of his Daytrotter session, especially “Oh The Vampyre,” here.

“No One Does It Like You” – Department of Eagles
“Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others” – Grizzly Bear
Grizzlies continue to be awesome, in all forms.

“Sex On Fire” – Kings of Leon
Say what you want, this song rocks, and makes me think of high school parking lots. (From back when I was in high school, you perverts.)

“That’s Not My Name” – The Ting Tings

“ArtStar” – The Oranges Band
Already discussed and posted here.

“The Light” – Sun Kil Moon
April is among the more difficult Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters/Mark Kozelek records (though they tend to take a while to hit me), but this song was an instant favorite. Yes it’s slow and repetitive, what were you expecting? But the hook (if you can even call it that) is great and the whole thing is perfect for cold Sundays spent indoors.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Rolling Stones, Soulwax Remix
Just shut up and listen to it already.

Best live shows I saw

Radiohead at the All Points West festival (night 1)
Probably the best outdoor show I’ve ever seen, with the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty looming behind us (and with great sound, somehow). The band took the stage and played “15 Step,” “There There,” “Morning Bell” and “All I Need” in succession—I couldn’t have picked it better myself. Radiohead make everyone else look like the JV squad. It’s unreal.

French Kicks at the Bowery Ballroom
I didn’t realize how sexy this band’s music has become until I was among the crowd slowly bobbing back and forth to these blissfully easy and catchy tunes. Everyone was absolutely hypnotized. They started their encore with Lindsay Buckingham’s “Trouble,” a song that sounds like it could be theirs (and wins the award for best live cover tune of 2008). Here they are doing “Trouble”:

The National with Grizzly Bear at the Hammerstein Ballroom
A great pairing and a great venue. Both bands firing on all cylinders.

The Oranges Band at the Blender Theatre
I came around to these guys late and was sure they were never going to tour again. Sometimes being wrong is a good thing.

Biggest disappointments

Zach and Miri Make A Porno
You could argue that for this film to be a disappointment requires high expectations on the front end, which indeed seems unlikely. I guess this is more a disappointment of the folks who brought us the latest wave of popular comedies. The only “oh no they didn’t” element of this film’s précis is that Zach and Miri turn to the porn industry to get out of their bad financial situation. This same film without the porno element (which is pretty easy to imagine) is tired. Actually, it’s tired with it too.

The Cleveland Browns
High hopes abounded for the Browns coming off last season’s 10–6 record (and narrow miss of the playoffs). Oh how the not-so-mighty have fallen. Sure, they had a couple good performances on national TV (beating the world champion Giants, most notably), but Braylon Edwards leads the league in dropped passes, the team is down to its fourth-string quarterback and their last 30 offensive points have all come via the leg of Phil Dawson. Following last Sunday’s egg at home against the awful Bengals they head into Pittsburgh looking down the barrel of 4–12. Just sad. (Oh look, it’s 14–0 Steelers at halftime!)

Well that’s it. I’m sure there’s more, but we both have lives to live. Here’s to a fantastic 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Super Floss holiday gift guide - final installment!

Don’t lug that heavy pot of water! Use the Egg Genie.

And how about that pleasant audible signal when your eggs are done? It’s a snap! Now if only it came with the famous Bacon Wave. Wait, it does?

Welcome to America.

On a side note, don't you find the word "genie" in the product name to be sort of... quaint? It's like a postcard from the land of 1988.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

Following last week’s post there was a pretty strong call for rock. This was good feedback as the previous few music posts were pretty darn soft. (I don’t know if I agree with the comment that they were songs for children, but everyone gets an opinion.) Yesterday’s mega-headbanging—and hair-swinging—metal could be seen as a reaction. Or maybe it was just funny.

Today, I bring you some honest to goodness R-O-C-K.

Up The Empire is a band from Brooklyn. Their new EP Loose Ends features three rocking originals plus a cover of Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel The Pain.”

Oh, and their drummer was arrested at an Obama street party (story and awesome photo here). I think it was the same day their EP was released.

So here’s Up The Empire with “It’s Alright (For Now)”:

Happy weekend.

Survival of the fittest

In contrast to this morning’s news that the auto bailout is moving forward, here’s an interesting opinion piece from the New York Times that ran on Wednesday.

Pan Am Dies, America Lives

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not the song of the day*

But awesome nonetheless.

* Unless you want it to be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yellowbook doesn’t get it

A few years ago advertisers figured out that one way to get consumers to visit their websites was to run TV spots that showed just the first part of a two-part story. Curious TV viewers were required to visit advertisers’ sites in order to see the end of the story and get closure (and thereby be able to sleep at night).

This device actually worked OK for some early executions of it. If the story is compelling enough, and the target is right, and the product or service makes sense for such an action, it can drive traffic.

Yellowbook, and its latest spot, does not fit the above criteria.

Ooh, what in the world will she do?! She’s been so wronged by this awful boyfriend! Perhaps I’ll go the site and help her make a decision and put her back on the right track! Oh, what fun!


Friday, December 12, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

I was just read a short blurb on PWRFL Power (the nom de rock of Kazutaka Nomura) the other day. And now PWRFL Power is the song of the day. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Here’s PWRFL Power with “It’s Okay”:

Hey look, he’s also been animatized by Esurance!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Even more Super Floss holiday gift guide

With all of these amazing products to choose from, it's sure to be a great holiday!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

And I thought updating the blog on a regular basis was tough

How about doing a drawing a day? Lauren Nassef does it. And she’s got some great stuff to show for it.

Check out her site here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

I doubt anyone noticed, but some of my recent Fridays’ songs of the day selections have been a little… uninspired? What I mean is that a few have been posted not because I really liked them but because of my undying dedication to bring you a new song each Friday.

Today is a different day.

I recently heard Lykke Li for the first time. I’m late to the game, I think. Seems she’s been a pretty hot commodity this year. If you live in a city with an awesome radio station and if you commute in a car, you’ve probably been exposed to her already. I do not, and I had not.

Songs from Li’s debut album Youth Novels—which was produced and co-written by Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John* fame—might initially come off as overly simple, but to me they seem simple in the way that requires a lot of work. They’re often stripped of excess instrumentation, with only the basic elements intact. And they’re surprisingly groovy, with Li’s voice often creating the head-bob-inducing syncopation.

Sure, you could dismiss her music as being “cute.” You could also try being less of a dick.


So here we go. Get your happy groove on today with Lykke Li and “Dance, Dance, Dance” from Youth Novels.

* Sweden pretty much kicks ass for music.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You ain’t the Dukes of Hazzard

Awesome long-format commercial for Jones Big ASS Truck Rental & Storage.

Check out the website too (this is my nomination for best business URL of 2008). Toby’s bio is not to be believed.

I called the phone number but the mailbox is full. Toby’s voice is on it, though.

Thanks, DT.

Strange bedfellows

Has anyone else seen this? When I first caught it the other night I was surprised to see what I thought was Cloud Cult selling out to an insurance company.

As I watched the spot I kept waiting for the sell, but it never came.

I scratched my head and wondered, “Esurance is suddenly spending their media dollars to promote bands they like?”

Which immediately led me to a second thought: "Esurance likes bands?"

According to the site, Esurance and Cloud Cult met up at the 2007 Monolith Festival, and they bonded over their mutual passions for environmental friendliness. According to Craig Minowa, leader of Cloud Cult and an environmental scientist (really?), Esurance has been “incredibly friendly and supportive of our environmental goals. We wouldn’t do something like this if those ethics weren’t adhered to.”

So Esurance animated the band for a full-length video and runs a 30-second version on TV.

In these tough economic times, when many companies are surely slashing marketing budgets, it’s a bit shocking to see a company go this route.

Here’s the full song/video, available on the Esurance site:

Also, check out the Esurance/Cloud Cult site for free downloads of three Cloud Cult songs.

More Super Floss holiday gift guide

I don't know what kind of crappy late night TV he's been watching, but Brian alerted me to this fine product and, well, who am I to get in the way of you finally solving that embarrassing problem you've been trying so desperately—albeit unsuccessfully—to hide?

Available here.*

* And at participating CVS stores.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No sense of humor

So Dr. Pepper had a funny promotional idea. They offered everyone (and I mean everyone) a free soda when (by which I think they meant “if”) Axl Rose ever got around to putting out Chinese Democracy.

And then Axl did in fact complete and release the album, Guns N’ Roses’ first in about 17 years.

Awesomely, Dr. Pepper held true to their word. Unfortunately, the site where fans went to get their coupon couldn’t handle the insane amount of traffic and it crashed.

Now Axl is suing (read: trying to get even), claiming some fans are blaming him, assuming he was in on the promotion. It’s tarnished his image!


Here’s the story from

Warning: The opening sentence reads, “Guns N' Roses became Guns N' Roses N' Lawyers this week.” Ha ha! Ugh. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Super Floss holiday gift guide

Unsure of what to get that special someone for the holidays? Not since the Hawaii Chair has there been a product quite as exciting as this.

One benefit not mentioned: it’s sexy!