Apropos of Something
Top 100 Albums Of 2011

I made this list because I’m an idiot who likes to waste your time. Bon listening! Organized by top 100, perfectly good albums not on the list, disappointments, and worst. I also added two photos I took of the Psychic Paramount’s show from the Empty Bottle this past July, precisely because no one asked for it.

Their album II is my number one. I’ll trust you saw what I did there.

But anyone who likes music should ask for their album post-haste, because holy balls. If the MP3 killed the album, my number one is the album’s hand violently shooting out of its grave in order to seek bloody revenge. Yeah, it’s fucking magical.

Criteria? Sure, Criteria. Let Me Pull This From My Nether Regions:

100 — 81: Formulaic pleasures at their best, with two or three really great songs helping to carry the weight of amiable placeholders. The best of music you can do the dishes to.

80 — 61: The number of great songs per album up to four, but overall album consistency is greater, if not exactly consistently inspired yet. There’s a little bit more artistic spark here, in some cases resulting in records that are quite, quite good, but whose reach just barely exceeds their grasp.

60 - 41: Very good artists reaching their individual artistic pinnacles, resulting in strong, if not exactly forward-thinking, innovative, or earth-shattering efforts. Toward the top of this group, the tip into greatness begins.

40 - 21: Artists working at the best of a particular sub-genre, resulting in great albums touching on transcendence, but not holding on to it for the duration. Still, holy crap. Buy these records if you haven’t already.

21 - 4: Albums of the year. Album consistency starts at great, and ends in fantastic.

3 - 1: Album of the decade contenders, ones that will hopefully come to define how subsequent generations look at music. Only time will tell though.

Best albums of 2011

1.     The Psychic Paramount – II

2.     PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

3.     Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

4.     Tune-Yards —  W H O K I L L

5.     Radiohead – The King of Limbs

6.     Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

7.     Disappears - Guider

8.     Liturgy – Aesthethica

9.     Deep Earth – House of Mighty

10.  Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

11.  St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

12.  Indian – Guiltless

13. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient

14. Implodes – Black Earth 

15. CAVE – Neverendless

16. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

17. The Atlas Moth – An Ache For The Distance 

18. Zola Jesus – Conatus  

19. Bloodiest - Descent 

20. Danny Brown - XXX 

21. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

22. Food Pyramid – III

23. Das Racist - Relax 

24. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

25. Vee Dee — Vee Dee

26. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints  

27. Wume - Distance

28. Oneida – Absolute II

29.Anatomy of Habit – Anatomy of Habit 

30. Grails – Deep Politics

31. Mountains – Air Museum

32. ‘Spective Audio – Vital Sound I compilation

33. The Men – Leave Home

34. Bruce Lamont – Feral Songs For The Epic Decline

35. Seun Kuti – From Africa, With Fury: Rise

36. Jesu –Ascension

37. Wye Oak - Civilian

38. True Widow - As High As the Highest Heavens and from the Center to the Circumference of the Earth

39. Ga’an – Black Equus

40. Verma – S/T II

41. Lee Forest — Leaf Auras

42. Barn Owl – Lost In The Glare

43. Anthrax – Worship Music

44. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo – Cotonou Club

45. Eleanor Friedburger – Last Summer

46. Freddie Gibbs – Cold Day in Hell

47. Heavy Times – Jacker

48. DJ Quik – The Book of David

49. l’Eternebre – l’Eternebre

50. Battles — Gloss Drop

51. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread

52. Catacombz — Catacombz

53. Wilco – The Whole Love

54. Crystal Antlers – Two-Way Mirror

55. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

56. Russian Circles - Empros

57. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

58.  Cinchel – Friday. Deconstruction

59. Adele - 21

60. Cliff Martinez – Contagion Original Score

61. Mastodon – The Hunter

62. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

63. The Antlers – Burst Apart

64. Atlas Sound — Parallax

65. Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse

66. Deerhoof – Deerhoof Vs. Evil

67. Young Widows – In and Out of Youth And Lightness

68. The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts

69. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

70. Domo Genesis – Under The Influence

71. Hella - Tripper

72. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys

73. Tee Pee - Morals

74. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

75. Panda Bear - Tomboy

76. The Horrors - Skying

77. Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I

78. Netherfriends – Alap

79. The Dodos – No Color

80. Secret Wars – Double Fantasy Vacation

81. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years

82. The Rapture – In The Grace Of Your Love

83. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound – Want More

84. Roommate – Guilty Rainbow

85. Feist - Metals

86. Mannequin Men – Mannequin Men

87. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

88. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

89. Save the Clocktower - Carousel

90. The Cool Kids – When Fish Ride Bicycles

91. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

92. The Eternals – Approaching The Energy Field

93. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

94. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne

95. Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin

96. Esben and the Witch – Violet Cries

97. Mickey – Rock and Roll Dreamer

98. Ponytail – Do Whatever You Want All The Time

99. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

100. Stephen Malkmus – Mirror Traffic

  

Perfectly Good Records Not On This List 

Apteka – Gargoyle Days

The Roots – Undun

Grey Ghost – Songs To Wake Up To

Drake – Take Care

Yawn - Open Season

VakillArmor of God

Psalm One — Get In The Van Vol. 3

Disappointments

1. Gillian Welch

2. Ponytail*

3. The Eternals*

4. Tori Y Moi

5. Neon Indian

6. Alela Diane

7. Wiz Khalifa – Black and Yellow

8. R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

9. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

10. Mountain Goats

11. Wu Lyf

12. Yuck

13. Pains of Being Pure At Heart

14. Julianna Bartwick

15. Lil Wayne

*These albums still have three or four amazing tracks; they just pale, vastly, compared to their predecessors. Hence, they’re on the list, but are very, very far down on it.

Worst:

 

  1. Tennis
  2. Fleet Foxes
  3. Destroyer
  4. The Strokes
  5. Lupe Fiasco
  6. The Weeknd
  7. Art Brut
  8. Cults
  9. Bon Iver
  10. James Blake
  11. The Dears
  12. Thurston Moore
  13. Azita
  14. Broken Records
  15. Girls
  16. British Sea Power
  17. John Maus
  18. Bright Eyes
  19. Wyoming
  20. Grouper
  21. Tyler, The Creator
  22. Loutallica
  23. Childish Gambino
  24. Tapes N Tapes
Restrepo Depicts Soldiers As Journalists

Soldiers are journalists with license to kill. The United States soldiers portrayed in the 2010 Afghan war documentary Restrepo are charged with clearing the Korengal valley of the Taliban insurgency. Theirs is a job that requires not just firepower, but negotiation prowess as well. While the former can come all too easy for the American soldiers and their enemies, it is the latter that provides the most frustrating, enlightening, and, ultimately, humanizing moments of the Sebastian Junger/Tim Harrington co-directed documentary.

Lauded for its unflinching, harrowing depictions of loss and suffering in war, as well as for its cinematic depiction of beautiful mountainscapes, Restrepo follows the 173rd Airborne Brigade on their mission in ‘the deadliest valley in Afghanistan.’ In the first scene, we see camaraderie as Juan ‘Doc’ Restrepo rallies his fellow soldiers in arms before they are sent to combat.

Restrepo, sadly, is one of the first casualties from the brigade. His death, and the outpost that is named after him, provides the film’s haunting foundation. While the soldiers share their struggles and their frustration, Restrepo is always on their mind.

What makes Restrepo most fascinating is watching soldiers who had no previous context for the Korengal valley – many of the soldiers at the beginning of the film scoff at, or are ambivalent toward, its reputation – suddenly have to become sensitive to numerous local conflicts.

They have to figure out ways to appease the cow-owning farmer, in a scene that rivals any black comedy about the absurdity of war, who is claiming that one of his cows got caught and died on one of the outpost’s fences. Restrepo is remarkable not only for its candor about the death and violence faced in war, but the smaller, more personal conflicts that soldiers have to face; not just with each other, but with the skeptical populace who they have to convince of America being better allies than the Taliban. (Not helping their case is the aftermath of Operation Rock Avalanche, which results not only in soldier casualties, but in the deaths and injuries of innocent Afghan civilians as well.)

Throughout these setbacks, the soldiers ask questions in the same way journalists do. They seek information, and the only way to get it is to wade into uncertain, potentially harmful territory. There’s only one way to do it, and doing it is not at all easy.

There are plenty of tragedies on screen in Restrepo, and, with co-director Tim Herrington’s death in April 2011, an even sadder postscript. But what’s most tragic is, for all of the soldiers’ efforts, fraught with error and danger as they are, they don’t make a connection with the locals. Perhaps they can’t, and, given the wind down of the Afghanistan war, perhaps it doesn’t matter if they don’t . But, in portraying the futility of war, both in combat and in negotiations, Restrepo becomes the most forthright documentary about war perhaps ever committed to film.

 

A News Failure Pile In An Egypt Blog Sadness Bowl

http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/39/2011/11/10dc0ba0ae68d3c806ec3f6b1c41cb58.jpg

(Photo via Jezebel)

The Thanksgiving weekend provided lots of news regarding Egypt, most of it discouraging. First, there was good news, in the form of the three American students who were detained in captivity returning home.

The students, who Egyptian authorities thought had thrown bombs during pro-democracy protests, were ordered released Thursday, and they each individually took flights home. Previously, they’d been studying at American University in Cairo.

Derek Sweeney, one of the three students who participated in, spoke to both the Associated Press and Reuters in separate phone interviews describing the students’ ordeal.

(Homeslice is totally wearing a Def Leppard shirt. Photo via AP)

Here’s what Sweeney told the AP, brackets mine:

"They said if we moved at all, even an inch, they would shoot us. They were behind us with guns," Sweeney said in the brief interview …

[Sweeney continues]

The first night, it was kind of rough. They were hitting us; they were saying they were going to shoot us and they were putting us in really uncomfortable positions. But after that first night, we were treated in a just manner … we were given food when we needed and it was OK.

Meanwhile, Sweeney tells Reuters that he and his fellow students were told they would be made to drink gasoline. Despite his treatment, Sweeney said he’d like to go back to Egypt. That’s dedication.

Journalist/writer/activist Mona Eltahawy had a similar, yet decidedly different experience in Egypt.

Eltahawy was reporting on the pro-democracy protests when she, like Sweeney, was arrested for no doubt participating in what the authorities thought were suspicious activities. Eltahaway’s arrest drew attention from the State dept., which is quite impressive.

Also impressive is Eltahawy’s resolve, especially considering her experience, which includes a wide variety of assaults and intimidation. After she was freed, she Tweeted her experiences.

She flew to NYC on Sunday, apparently not in the most comfortable of conditions.

(A picture of her hand is at the top of this post).

Naturally, not only were Eltahawy’s Tweets Storified, but so was the story of how journalists found out about Eltahawy, and how they confirmed she’d been released.

Eltahawy is a brave, courageous example for all journalists, but journalists don’t need to Storify how they found out. How does that serve any interest besides their own? They just need to tell Eltahawy’s story — Storifying her words does that to a T. Anything else dabbles with narcissism.

One last Egypt note: The New York Times reported about the risks the Obama administration faces by vocalizing support for a civilian-led government in Egypt, which they did this past Friday. Interesting stuff, especially as it relates to Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. We shall see how this pans out…

Some Pre-Thanksgiving Absurdity, Courtesy of Indian Television

Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like people on foreign reality competition TV shows eating broken glass. Gobble Gobble!

Press Freedom and Occupy Wall Street

I woke up this morning to some serious Twitter chatter: Namely, that the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York were being evicted from their camp space. A court order has since allowed the protesters to return to Zuccotti Park, perhaps at least for the time-being.

This was huge breaking news, but what was perhaps most intriguing — and relevant for this class — was the mistreatment of the press. This Storify does a great job of describing what happened to reporters who tried to cover the scene — apparently, the NYPD isn’t so easily impressed by press credentials. Or the first amendment.

While the crackdown on protesters and press isn’t nearly as violent as those that have happened abroad, these egrigious police actions are enough to make any fair-minded citizen pause. Say what you want about the OWS movement, but denying coverage of it by de facto censorship is simply un-American.

Glenn Greenwald spits some serious fire on Mayor Bloomberg:

To justify his raid, Mayor Bloomberg said: ”We must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.” Leaving aside the fact that torturers, illegal eavesdroppers, wagers of aggressive war, Wall Streets defrauders, and mortgage thieves are some of his best friends who thrive and profit rather than sit in a jail cell, this is the same Mayor Bloomberg who, now beyond all dispute, is knowingly and deliberately breaking the law by violating a Court Order of which he is well aware. He’d be arrested for that if he weren’t a billionaire Mayor

There’s lots of other great commentary about this. Go find it!

A side note, Non-Occupy related: The Chicago Tribune's investigative series Across Borders, Beyond The Law is now available as a Kindle e-book for .99 cents. The product description is this:

 ”In an unprecedented project, the Tribune identified dozens of fugitives who remain at large after crossing U.S. borders. Reporters traveled to Mexico and located eight. This is the in-depth look at what they found that authorities couldn’t.”

I read the beginning of this series, and it was quite astonishing. Looking forward to checking out the rest when I get the chance. 

In Memory Of A World Traveler, And The Difficulty Of Foreign Reporting

The last time I spoke with my senior year college roommate Sam Lee (pictured above), he had been one year on the job that would take him around the world, and, sadly, through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, to his untimely death on Oct. 19.

First, some background: Sam, who had one of the most hard-to-pin-down, yet easily appreciable personalities I’ve ever encountered. Explaining him is difficult, but the “whirlwind of humanity” descriptor I’ve used on Dee applies here tenfold. That whirlwind took him to South Korea after we graduated college and, while we’d been quite close in college, I seldom heard from him since.

But I knew what he was up to though. He’d gone to Korea, fallen in love, gotten married found a job that took him to Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, and Malaysia. It was in Malaysia where Sam was murdered in an botched robbery attempt last month. He had gone to lead a teaching workshop. For some reason, his States side friends didn’t find out about his passing until two or three days ago.

According to the Jakarta Post, Sam was killed because his robbers thought he was a Chinese tourist, and thus flushed with cash. (Never mind the fact Sam was of Korean ancestry, and was an American citizen.) His robbery has been part of a crime wave in Indonesian countries. Any information other than that has been hard to come by.

Where Sam’s death becomes relevant to this class is the realization that an English-language newspaper in an Indonesian country is probably not the primary newspaper or source for information for its citizens.

Thus, I’ve basically been cursing to myself about the lack of witnesses, primary sources, or the fact that no story about Sam’s death has had more than two or three sources. This shit would barely muster a D grade in any J-School. How is it possible to publish in what I assume is a widely-read news source? I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to rely on such outlets for information on a loved one’s death. 

Perhaps it’s for the best. I’ve been remembering Sam as the character who first showed me South Korean films (including “Oldboy,” the trailer for which is below), introduced me to K-Pop, and had no problem articulating his joie de vivre for international issues.

He and I took an Asian Studies class together, and it was one of the most fun, enlightening experiences I ever had in college.

Sam was always a world traveler, and a mover and shaker on campus in general. What’s frustrating with his death isn’t that he’s gone. He was always coming and going. In death, though, he’s finally gone to a place from where he can never come back. RIP, Sam. You were one-of-a-kind.

WBEZ To Ditch “Worldview”?

Very interesting news, via Crain’s Chicago Business:

Chicago Public Media is evaluating whether its current Chicago magazine programs, including “Eight Forty-Eight” and “Worldview,” are meeting its strategic goals and the shows may take an extended break soon while that review is completed. …

“Eight Forty-Eight” and “Worldview” are the station’s only locally produced daily non-news shows.

The rest of the article focuses on “Eight Forty-Eight,” the WBEZ-produced news show hosted by Alison Cuddy.

But for the time being, let’s focus on “Worldview,” the locally produced program that covers international issues.  The fact that “Worldview” is potentially going on hiatus must be bothersome to those who follow international news, in that it’s the only program on WBEZ to have a specific, local angle on such news.

It’s all well and good to host BBC News, or CBC programming, but having an originally produced local news-magazine helps in a way that those other programs can’t, in that the original programs help humanize international issues by bringing them down to a local level. If WBEZ puts “Worldview” on hiatus, and replaces it with something else, public radio listeners will have lost something truly irreplaceable.

Watch video of “Worldview” host Jerome McDonnell interviewing Dr. Imran Qureshi


Dr. Imran Qureshi is interviewed by Jerome… by bilalzq

Gathafi Capture Video: A Real Life Horror Show

(Via Global Post)

Watching the video of Libyan dictator Muammar/Moammar Gaddafi/Qaddafi/Khadafy/Gathafi’s capture, I couldn’t help but notice that I’d seen it before. This isn’t because I was experiencing deja vu, or that I was able to compare the video to others of dictators being captured. (Although, hey there Saddam’s capture).

No, it’s because the video reminds me of horror movies, both classic and modern. The the shaky-cam video is reminiscent of films like 28 Days Later or The Blair Witch Project, while the people capturing Gathafi remind me of the mob from Frankenstein.  The grimy, gritty look of the video  reeks of grindhouse cinema, particularly now that the specter of sexual assault has been introduced into the mix.

This is life imitating art, which is sad, because this video shows mob justice, not actual justice. Gathafi deserved punishment — he was a dictator, after all — but that punishment and justice should be delivered through the rule of law, not through mob justice.

At their best, horror films confront primal fears, and illuminate subconscious ones. At their worst, … well, you don’t need to think very hard to imagine horror films at their worst. But the best ones make give their villain or monster some amount of sympathetic traits and humanity.

Doing so helps juxtapose the inevitable comeuppance with the original horrific deeds.  What’s tragic about the Gathafi video is that it, like the video of Saddam being hanged, makes Gathafi, an authoritarian monster, more sympathetic than his victims, those whose grievances and sufferings motivated them to rebel. Life, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

Stephen Colbert Praises Tunisian Elections, Zings American Ones

And that’s why Stephen Colbert is awesome.

Following The Arab Spring, An American Awakening

Entering its fifth week, anti-establishment social movement Occupy Wall Street, which protests against what it views as an unfair, unethical, and illegal imbalance in American democracy toward corporate influences, creating an de facto oligarchy that harms disproportional the middle class and poor, sharpened its methods and message by growing in size.

(Whew.)

Though protesters adamantly embraced initial criticisms of an unfocused movement with vague demands – saying theirs is a movement of leaders, not a leaderless movement — the focus of the movement’s grievances has grown to include specific measures toward restoring what it views as a fairer system of economic governance, including increased taxes, spending on infrustructure, and repealing tax cuts implemented during President George W. Bush’s administration. Its anti-corporate message is resonating around the globe.

(Whew 2: Electric Boogaloo.)

On Oct. 15, a united global front was presented by the protesters, which saw arrests in both in Chicago, where 175 protesters were arrested, and violence in Rome, Italy.

If you weren’t interested in this movement now, you better become interested. I’ve been reporting and following this for the past couple of weeks, and I am quite excited to turn in what I’ve found into a report.  The story of Occupy Wall Street isn’t whether or not the movement’s message has gone global, what what does it mean now that the message has gone global. Stay tuned.