Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My New Year's Eco-Resolutions

I think New Year's resolutions are stupid. No one ever keeps them, and they just make you feel guilty.

Having said that, here are my environmentally-focused resolutions:

Eat less meat. While I feel little to no ethical concern regarding eating meat (at least not on a 'All life is sacred' sort of level), I do believe that the way farm animals are raised in our country is both unnecessarily cruel to the animals and harmful to our environment. Although I'm not quite ready to go vegetarian, I think I can cut back further than I already have. That means you all have to provide me with good, easy vegetarian recipes. Hop to it!

Take shorter showers. These are things I often do in the shower: dance, sing, stand, think, and stretch. None of them are really essential activities at that time. I'm going to try and keep focused on the task of cleaning myself so as to not waste water and the energy necessary to heat the water.

Buy carbon offsets for my air travel (once I can afford them.) I don't fly that often, but when I do, I want to start accounting for it through offsets from a reliable source. I don't have the economic means yet, but when I do, I'll start working on it.

Ingest less high-fructose corn syrup. I already try to limit my intake of HFCS, but I could go further. I still drink way too much pop, and I sometimes settle for bread with HFCS. I'm going to do what I reasonably can to cut HFCS out of my diet completely.

There. Maybe now that I've written this down on the Internet, I'll feel more compelled to keep with it. Let's hope. Have a great new year!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Best of '08 - Singles Edition (Pt. 2)

Kicking off the second half of the list, we have:

American Boy by Estelle ft. Kanye West (from Shine)

This song should have been a lot bigger than it was. It made it to just #9 on the U.S. singles chart, despite kicking all kinds of ass. Example: the beat is AMAZING. I love the way it builds during the verses before the full-on whoomp-whoomp-whoomp action in the chorus. Estelle's delivery is light, fun, and sexy, and Kanye delivers what may be his last great pre-Autotune verse. Instant classic.

Hearts on Fire by Cut Copy (from In Ghost Colours)

Cut Copy are my Band of the Year. I always say that if New Order stayed good instead of making crappy songs with members of the Scissor Sisters, they would sound like Cut Copy. I had a hard time choosing between Lights and Music and this song for the list, but I chose Hearts on Fire for a few minor reasons. First of all, the verses feel more urgent, and the lead-up to the chorus with the "Woo!" and "Oh-oh-oh!" is fantastic. Also, saxophone in a dance song? Awesome. Also, while "With heart on fire, I reach out to you tonight" should sound really lame, it somehow comes off entirely sincere.

Where Do You Run To by Vivian Girls (from Vivian Girls)

I have a hard time explaining why I like Vivian Girls so much. "See, you can't really understand the vocals that well, and the whole thing sounds kind of muddy, and they harmonize and it sounds nice." In a more slickly produced form, this song could have appeared on Liz Phair's Exile on Guyville. (And that's totally a compliment.) I think the main appeal for me is that it feels so classic - get in, ask where your love went to, get out in 3 minutes or so.

The Rip by Portishead (from Third)

Although most of the year-end lists are opting for Machine Gun, I found The Rip to be a much greater song. We start with just the vulnerability of Beth Gibbons' beautiful, dramatic vocals before the electronics wash over the song, taking it to a new level. And where Machine Gun was alienating and startling, The Rip is almost comforting and hopeful, with the refrain of "White horses/they will take me away." I love the harsher Portishead stuff, but I appreciate the occasional glimpse into their more emotional side, which is why this song made the list. (Note: Sadly, The Rip is not available on Imeem, so I've substituted We Carry On, my favorite non-single from Third.)

Blind by Hercules & Love Affair (from Hercules & Love Affair)

I never quite hopped aboard the Hercules & Love Affair train - Antony has never really done it for me (Yes, he sounds like Nina Simone - I'll still take Nina Simone), and I found some of the album quite boring. But Blind is anything but boring with its insistent disco beat and introspective vocals from Antony, who totally sells the song. In fact, it succeeds for the same reason that Nina Simone remixes so often do. The voice is so unexpected for the style of music that it ends up adding another layer to the song; you can dance your ass off, but you'll enjoy it just as much on headphones. I can only hope that if Hercules & Love Affair make another album, it sounds more like this and less like some of the mid-tempo clunkers from their full-length.

And there you have it! My Top Ten of 2008. You can stream them on the player below, which will also become my new In Heavy Rotation sidebar. Enjoy!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best of '08 - Singles Edition

So maybe I'm just inspired by a recent re-reading of High Fidelity, but I felt compelled this year to write up my favorite singles of the year. (Besides, I have a blog and it's the end of the year - isn't it sort of an obligation?) I'll give you my first five today and five more tomorrow. They're in no particular order, because I mean, really, it was hard enough to come up with just ten to begin with. So, without further ado, let's begin with...

Strange Overtones by David Byrne and Brian Eno (from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

When I saw David Byrne in October, he opened with this song about songwriting, setting the tone quite nicely. Although much of the other material from ETHWHT is more sedate, the syncopated rhythms and transcendent chorus of this song give it the feel of a calmer, more mature Talking Heads track. There are both good and bad things about that, but it's good to see the pair still progressing when they could easily be treading water without catching too much flak.

Disturbia by Rihanna (from Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded)

As Rihanna sings "I'm going crazy" in the intro to this song, one imagines that she's going to be going crazy for her man, or perhaps going crazy because he left. No, in fact, she's actually having a bit of a mental breakdown. For a pop song, the description of Rihanna's impending insanity is actually somewhat harrowing. (I mean, it's no Velvet Underground track, but it's not trying to be.) And despite all this, it's still a fantastic dance song. Where someone like Beyonce would run this shit into the ground, Rihanna sounds just frightened enough without ever losing the hook.

On the Train by Theatre of Disco (from Theatre of Disco EP)

This is the one "what?" entry I'm allowing myself on this list, but I swear I'm not being deliberately obscure. I just love this song. The lyrics are mostly unintelligible until the chorus, at which point the singer informs us of a key fact: "Everybody on the train got herpes/they've got STDs on the (unclear. In my head, I sing Burpee's, but that's a seed company)" Oh dear. If you don't giggle upon hearing that for the first time, then you probably won't come around to this one, but if juvenile lyrics and a killer beat appeal to you, give this a try.

Crimewave by Crystal Castles vs. HEALTH (from Crystal Castles)

I'll admit that I've never heard the original version of this song, but I don't think I need to. I've described it before as The Knife meets Ladytron (I forgot to add "meets Atari"), but I don't think that quite captures it. The altered vocals, the video game noises, the repetition, the minimal-but-awesome beat; they all show that when Crystal Castles are on their game, there isn't much one can compare them to. (Too bad they aren't on their game more often.) OR I might just have a thing for indecipherable vocals.

Ready for the Floor by Hot Chip (from Made in the Dark)

This song created the following exchange when I was out dancing with a friend, months after this song came out:

Hot Chip: Do it do it do it do it do it do it do it now...
Friend: Oh, fine.

I am so into this song. STILL. According to my account, this has been my most-played song in the past 12 months. This is surprising, given my initial ambivalence about the song. I mean, coming off of a song like "Over and Over," I had pretty high expectations for Hot Chip, and I felt almost betrayed. Where were the guitars, the kickass beats? Fortunately, I continued to give the song a chance, and I'm glad I did, because it shows something that Hot Chip lacked on their first album: sweetness. Hot Chip just wants to dance with you, and hey, you're even their number one guy. I know it's dorky, but if a guy were to put this on a mixtape for me, I'd consider that much more romantic than a lot of the more standard options. (It doesn't count if he reads this, though.)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Animal Dance, Animal Dance

File this under amazing:

When one of the monkeys refused to ride on a child's bicycle in a street performance in Sizhou, in eastern China, their owner beat it with a stick.

Although they were tied to the man with ropes attached to their collars, the monkeys appear to have decided to fight back.

The two animals came to the defence of the third monkey, grabbing the stick from the man, pulling on his ear and biting his head.

When he dropped his cane, on monkey snatched it up and began beating the trainer on the head until he broke the stick, witnesses said.

Fight the power, monkeys!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Take Your Money

So, apparently, "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. became a big hit and I never noticed it until recently. (The same thing happened with Twilight - where the hell did that come from?) This confuses me. It's not that I don't like the song; it's quite good. But I never really pictured it as M.I.A.'s breakthrough hit. I mean, it went to #4 on the US charts, and now it's up for Record of the Year at the Grammys. I don't get how this happened.

My consternation has many sources. First off, this song is old. It was released as a single pretty early this year, all the "hip" folks went nuts, and then it sort of went away. Apparently, it entered the mainstream upon being featured in the trailer for Pineapple Express, gradually climbing the charts. It's not the first song to experience delayed success, so this isn't really the main cause of my confusion.

Bigger cause of confusion: Musically, this song is weird. Not super-weird, but for mainstream radio? Weird. It's way repetitive, M.I.A. seems stuck somewhere between singing and rapping, and the chorus? It is made of gunshots. Lyrically, the song's popularity is even more confounding. M.I.A. goes all Randy Newman on us and attacks Americans for our assumptions about foreigners by acting like we're right. This is where I get truly concerned, as I assume that most people ignore the lyrics in favor of the nifty beat and the novelty of the gunshots. I can't decide if this means M.I.A. wins (she gets our money and our love while totally subverting us) or loses (her message gets totally lost on the deaf American ears she's mocking.) But mostly, I'm just confused how I managed to be entirely unaware of this until now. I need to get back onto the pop culture bandwagon once I'm done with this blasted graduate degree.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Grease is the Turd

Yesterday, I acquired a ticket to see a live performance of the current touring production of Grease when the previous holder of said ticket fell ill. Although I was reluctant to go, I was in fact quite a fan of the movie in my middle school years, so I figured it couldn't be all bad. I was wrong. It was. Here are all the things that suck about seeing Grease on stage.

1.) The plot. There is no plot to Grease. Here is what happens:

Act I - They hang out and sing.
Act II - There is a dance. They hang out and sing. Rizzo is pregnant. Wait, five minutes later, it turns out she's not. Sandy changes everything she is to satisfy Danny and all is resolved.

That's right, little teenage girls who are the target audience: Do what you have to so you can get with the school asshole. AT ALL COSTS.

2.) The characters. Here's where Grease benefits from having such a popular movie version, where the characters are at least moderately well-drawn. In the stage version, they can be identified by one or more of the following characteristics: dumb; fat; slutty; mean; horrific. When people see Danny and Sandy on stage, they see John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. They have to, or else they'd have nothing to go on.

3.) The music. I have fond memories of several songs from Grease. These songs have been incorporated from the movie version into the musical to make it more like the movie. The songs that were already there? They (mostly) suck. They're sung by minor characters who have little bearing on the tiny amount of plot actually present, and they have nothing to do with the show. They don't progress the story in any way, and frankly, they're just not very good. Sure, songs like "Summer Nights" and "Greased Lightning" are fun, but they're practically rote at this point.

And here's something that made this performance of Grease uniquely horrible:

Taylor Hicks. Taylor Hicks, winner of the fifth season of American Idol, played the role of Teen Angel (the guy who sings "Beauty School Dropout") and boy, was it a hot damn mess. Yes, he sings well. HOWEVER, they extended his scene as long as possible, resulting in extreme awkwardness; Frenchie even said, "I voted for you!" at one point. Sorry, but I reject the anachronism. He also did a harmonica solo during the song, which was bizarre.

But just when you think you're done with Taylor, the curtain call happens, and he launches into a few bars of "Grease" before the cast does a medley of all of the most memorable songs from the show. Yeah, the ones they just sang in their complete forms. You get to hear them again. While they do this, Taylor more or less wanders around the stage, looking mostly lost, unable even to hand jive. At that moment, I felt just as lost as him.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who's on first? Yogurt is!

So, keeping in the trend of me informing you about things I like when I discover them, which usually 3-4 months after their heyday, I'm going to tell you about the awesomeness that is Sarah Haskins, host of the "Target Women" segment on Current TV.

Birth Control

Each of her 3-4 minute segments discusses the absurd, generally patronizing way media reaches out to women. BUT, instead of coming off all Camille Paglia, she's funny! I totally want to be her friend.


I don't have too much to say about these beyond, "Watch these! They're hilar." So yeah. Here you go. Watch these, and more!

Chick Flicks

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Fashion Isn't Always Pretty

Have you gone into withdrawal since the conclusion of Project Runway? Are you craving more? Well, here's some fantastic news: Project Runway Canada is coming back in January! For those of you who didn't see the first season, HOLY CRAP DID YOU MISS OUT. First of all, PRC is hosted by Iman (David Bowie's wife!!), and while I love Heidi, Iman's crazy ass makes for much better TV. She yells at contestants, seems very above it all, and most importantly, looks fabulous the entire time. Also, the producers seem to have an eye for casting; the first season had some of the most interesting contestants to grace any Project Runway. Who can forget Biddell's awfulness? Or Lucien's bizarre cryfest with one of the judges during the finale? Plus, Stephen? He may have kind of sucked, but he was awesome.

The entire series used to be available on YouTube, but it sadly seems to have been taken down. You could probably still torrent it or something. Let's hope that us Americans have some sort of way to view it come January.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'll Stop the World

Photo: Red Cross of Argentina

Here's an interesting global warming awareness campaign from the Red Cross of Argentina: melting people! These people hand out fliers and such that urge climate-friendly activities and choices. I think this is awesome - it's an attention-getting conversation piece and plus, that guy is waaaaaaay cute. I def don't want him to melt.

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Monday, December 1, 2008


Here's another addition to the "Brian-Manages-To-Date-Some-Really-Weird-People" file:

Someone I dated for a few months last year messaged me on MySpace as though he doesn't know me, even referring to himself as a stranger.

I mean, really? I think it's time to get rid of my MySpace profile.

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