Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School of Hard Knocks...

I was talking at length with my Dad the other day about our assessments of Obama's first year. In a fun little role reversal that we've shared for some time, my Dad is a little more of a liberal and lot less of a cynic than I am, and he brought up Bob Woodward's scathing defense of Obama's work so far.

I came away from our conversation with a little different perspective. It's apparent that I've become used to a president who simply never learned from mistakes... whose responses to any cause and effect were essentially the same- a smirk, a defensive quip, hiring a friend to do a professional's job. Obama, for all his biting-off-more-than-he-could-chew in the crucial first year, has three years to go. And I'm confident that he has learned several things the hard way in the past 12 months.

What would I like to see? Well, I've decided that I've waited this long for a sensible health care plan, how about that goes on the back burner while we try to figure out how to re-employ the one out of ten people in this country who are atoning for the sins of a hideously unregulated market during the Bush years? I'd be OK with health becoming a year 3, maybe even 4 priority. So long as my friends are employed and my scooter shop survives.

I'd like to see energy and the environment (issues that, if you scratch the surface, are actually tied to long-term health effects) be more of a focus. Because I know that if we're smart about the environment, we'll create viable jobs.

I'm fairly confident that the health-care bill in its current incarnation is pretty awful. Howard Dean has said so, among others. I want to see it get better. I want to see it with a real, appropriate deadline for release. I want it make health more affordable by reforming the health care industry rather than simply putting taxpayer dollars into a wasteful, inflated business that long ago stopped caring about making people healthy.

So my faith in change is not gone yet. I think Obama will take several solid deliverables away from this first year- both positive and negative. And I'm really interested in hearing what his plans are moving forward.

Tonight, I'll be listening.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My best albums of the 00s

It's amazing for me to think of how much growing up I did in the aughts- I started 2000 as a painfully shy 18 year old, and ended 2009 as a tattooed and pierced 28 year old with a vintage engagement ring on one finger. Frankly, it was a long decade, and one in which I feel I truly came into my own as far as musical tastes are concerned. So here's a roundup of the soundtrack to my post-adolescence... for your consideration: the top 10 for *MY* aughts.

10. Moby, Play (1999)

OK, I know this is cheating, since this is technically a 90s release. But it didn't really come into my life until 2000, when it seemed you couldn't turn the TV on without hearing a part of this album on some commercial. "Play" was inescapable. And it was a techno album that could actually make you feel something. There was soul to it, rock and roll, too. My theory on the DJs of the 90s and 00s is that each of them secretly wanted to be a black musician: Fatboy Slim wanted to be James Brown or George Clinton, Dangermouse wanted to be Jay-Z, and Moby, well, Moby just wanted to be a little old, black Blues Man, forgotten through the years, rediscovered by some music nerd via a long-lost 45 at a garage sale.

9. Neko Case, Blacklisted (2002)

This was the first Neko Case album I ever heard, and it pretty much changed my attitude toward music, especially country music, and toward female artists in general. At the time of this release, Tori Amos had kinda gone off the deep end (Strange Little Girls will probably go down in history as one of rock's better WTF moments) and all my other favorite 90s females had either gone eerily quiet or had sold out in the weirdest ways (Liz Phair, Luscious Jackson, Sarah MacLachlan). Neko came to me at a point where I'd mostly given up on female artists in Rock, and chalked it up to the rise of Pop Tarts and the wretched dick-swingery of Rap-Rock crossovers. But in came Neko- voice like a typhoon and guitar like a David Lynch Western- and I was never the same. For me, listening to this album is like wrapping up in a vintage Mexican blanket- warm, a little frayed, a reminder of the spirit of the West.

8. Green Day, American Idiot (2004)

You know what? I don't have to be ashamed of loving Green Day anymore. Of having a huge crush on Billy Jo Armstrong. Of loving "Dookie" even though I never bought it, out of fear of my Punker-Than-Thou friends finding out. By 2004 Green Day had truly come into their own with this album, and I really believe that. This is such a great satire on what America looked like at this point, such a stinging treatise and such a well-tailored, punk-informed point of view. I am perfectly comfortable with loving this album.

7. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003)

This is one of those cases where someone I'd really rather forget about had the audacity to introduce me to an album, to a band, I will never be able to forget. This is easily one of my favorite albums of all time, much less the 00s, and it is the soundtrack to some of the most emotionally intense experiences of my life. For me, this album is the soundtrack to love gone wrong, to pain like I've never known, but also to renewed faith and healing. EITS introduced me to a beautiful new realm of Post-Rock, and now I've found that my life is so much better for it. This is not just music... it's the ever-appropriate score to my young life.

6. Everything Absent or Distorted, The Great Collapse (2009)

The crowning achievement to one band's shining Denver career, "The Great Collapse" is pretty much my favorite local album from my favorite local band. I really think that even if I didn't have the history that I'm lucky to have with the members of this band, I'd still love this album. There is just such an aching amount of love to this album, such a beautiful and bittersweet tone to it. It sounds like it actually kind of hurt to make this kind of music, but they did it anyway. And there's no way to come away from a listen of "The Great Collapse" without feeling so grateful that they put themselves through that to make something so important.

5. Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)

I learned of Andrew Bird by accident- I filled in for another reporter to review the Ani DiFranco show for which he opened at Red Rocks. That show review later scored me a SPJ award, and a renewed excitement in folky rock. The genius of this album, its flawless live-looping and quirky, chamber-rock stylings, are what I now associate with a lot of Denver music. It's as if Rufus Wainwright were a band geek. Just so lovely, so intricate. And of course... there will be snacks.

4. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)

I bought Arcade Fire because I liked the name. It was that random a choice. And, unlike most choices made with that little precognition, it turned out to be one of the more significant musical choices of my life. It took me a while to really like "Funeral," it was so unlike what I'd grown accustomed to. But I remember listening to it one time when driving, and it was so breathtakingly unusual that I was instantly a fan. When I finally got the opportunity to see the band live, it was everything I'd hoped for. The album title meant a great deal to me- I'd gone through a rash of funerals as a kid and my parents had always encouraged me to think of a funeral as a reflection of life rather than a recognition of death. And that is how "Funeral" affected me- it made me think deeply about life in general, and the kind of life I want people to reflect on once I'm gone.

3. Sigur Ros, () (2002)

I wept openly during the entire Sigur Ros show at Red Rocks in 2008. Their music holds so much gravity and so many associations for me that seeing it being made was like seeing my life flash before my eyes. There is simply nothing like Sigur Ros: instruments made from driftwood, guitars played with violin bows, made-up languages, vocals more akin to a woodwind instrument than a human voice. This is the music my heart would make if it could. And "()" remains unparalleled in its strange, stark, Icelandic beauty.

2. Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)

I was never much of a hard-rock person... Punk appealed to my ADD sensibilities more than the growly notes of death metal. But Mastodon is different from most of the unintelligible stuff I associated with late-night programming on KBPI. It is operatic in its grandiosity. And "Leviathan" was about Moby Dick, which got this English Major interested. This entire album gets better the more you listen- it is not simply shouting mixed with a mess of jackhammer drums and screaming guitars. There's an order, a plan to it. It's really quite beautiful for all its hard edges; like a well-engineered machine. And if you're an uber-music-nerd like me, and you listen closely enough, you'll hear echoes of Genesis, Yes and Rush coming through. Think of it as Prog metal.

1. The Postal Service, Give Up (2003)

Now that every pop band wants to be The Postal Service, it is hard to remember what it was like to listen to "Give Up" when it first came out. But for me it was the blend of the kinds of electronic music I loved, warmed up by human lyrics and instrumentation (kinda like what Moby did a few years earlier). There is such a simple sadness to this album. In my mind, it tells the story of one's own perceptions of love clashing against the realities of what really happens. Love was supposed to be easy, and it's not. Love was supposed to be enough, and it's not. There are distances to cross and issues that come into play, and sometimes love doesn't survive. But the upbeat sound of the songs imbue the album with this sense of hope- like it's not over yet. Like love still survives.


Honorable Mentions (i.e., albums that kicked ass but weren't so closely associated with the highlights reel of my 20s...):

The Shins, Oh Inverted World
Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker
Band of Horses, Everything All the Time
Elliot Smith, Figure Eight
Bjork, Vespertine
Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary
M.I.A., Kala
TV On The Radio, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Beck, Guero
The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise
Radiohead, Kid A