Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Greatest Music You Will Ever Hear (If you went through my collection and picked only the CD's from 2004)

Here's a little list of my favorite albums of 2004. They aren't in any specific order. That's like picking your favorite kid of the year. Right Mr. Kemp?

The Go! Team ~ Thunder, lightning, Strike

Last year I had Junior Senior and the Avalanches. This year it's The Go! Team. They combine everything (early hip-hop, Cheerleader cheers, sitar, Action hero themes, etc ) to create a musical experience that results in nothing put absolute glee.

The Twilight Singers ~ Blackberry Belle
The Twilight Singers ~ She Loves You

I am bias when it comes to Greg Dulli the regretful yet boastful fallen angel that fronts the Twilight Singers. He used to lead a group called the Afghan Whigs that is my favorite band of the nineties grunge/modern rock era. Though that was because they were neither grunge or modern rock. Those who were disappointed with the Twilight Singers first album will be pleased to hear Dulli back at his rock & soul best on Blackberry Belle. She Loves You is a covers album. Wait don't all groan at once. Rather than an attempt to get airplay by making copies of popular songs, the Twilight Singers actually reinterpret the songs and make them their own. From Topley's "Too Tough to Die" through Bjork's "Hyperballad" ending at "Summertime" you get a great handful of tunes chewed and spit out Dulli's way. As I side note, I highly recommend seeing this guys in concert. It's a true rock & roll show. Mr. Dulli will inject your soul, break your balls, and then break your heart in one night.

The Hives ~ Tyrannosaurus Hives

I saw these chaps from Sweden perform on Letterman. I think performing well on a talk show has to be one of the hardest things to do as a band. The second would be actually impressing Letterman. The Hives did both that night as they strive to win hardest working band in the world. Plus, I'm always a sucker for matching suits.

Kanye West ~ College Dropout

Okay. We all know of Mr. West's ability as a producer. But did we really have any idea of his ability to rhyme? On this debut album he's sarcastic, contradictory, funny, and spiritual and it all works. He created a hit about Jesus. Who in the mainstream hip-hop community could pull that off? I put this album in the hierarchy of hip-hop albums. And I really never expected to think that when I first bought the album.

The Killers ~ Hot Fuss

Is there anything you haven't heard before on this album? No. Will you be energized and awed by their live show? No. Will we ever hear from them again? Not likely. Then why should you care? Because this is perhaps the catchiest album of the year. From the single "Somebody Told Me" to the rousing chorus bridge of "All These Things That I Have Done" it's near pop perfection.

The Secret Machines ~ Now Here is Nowhere

Forget the Pink Floyd comparisons. Forget the nine minute plus opening track that actually makes you wish it went on longer. Forget that this album is probably best enjoyed while high. You could justifiably buy this album simply for their rhythm section the rest is gravy.

Brian Wilson ~ Smile

This sort of thing never works. Just ask Star Wars fans about episode 1&2. Only make sure you ask them when they are alone so that they aren't peer pressured by their fellow enthusiasts. After years of waiting, speculation, demos, and unofficial playlists Mr. Wilson finally releases Smile. It's a great achievement that this album doesn't blow. It's an even greater achievement that the album is actually wonderful.

De La Soul ~ Grind Date

Amid all this club-hop comes a nice little gem of an album from these hip-hop veterans. That's all I'm going to write about it, because to go any further would mean I'd end up ranting on the state of hip-hop today. And having a white boy like me rant about hip-hop is something you shouldn't have to read...

DM & Jemini ~ Ghetto Pop Life

or I should have to write when three of my top albums are hip-hop. The DM stands for Danger Mouse. In case the name doesn't ring a bell he's the DJ that mixed beats from the Beatles White Album with the acapella tracks from Jay-Z's black album. Here he shows again what a wizard he is a creating these beatscapes that even I would sound good rhyming over. How do I know? I worked a little studio magic myself and dropped my own rhymes over the tracks. Aw yeah. It is hot that which I drop. As soon as P. Diddy takes away that restraining order I'm going to the top!

There you go kids. Since I know the impact my opinions have on the world, I'm sure Soundscan will see a spike in sales for the aforementioned albums. Coming up next will be my favorite films of 2004. It may be awhile so please go do something with yourself. Get up from the computer and spend the holidays with your family and friends. I appreciate the support but you don't need to sit here and wait for updates. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Me and Ryno down by the school yard

Amid all the hot stove rumors and the steroid confessions dominating the baseball talk one of my favorite things about baseball happened this week. The ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame were mailed out. I’m a third generation baseball fan thanks to my father and his dad. I was the kid who collected soda bottles and turned them in at the drug store for packs of baseball cards. With a mouthful of stale gum I’d sift through the new cards looking for my favorite players, studying their stats, and trying to collect the current roster of the Chicago Cubs. I’d play baseball in the backyard with the plastic helmet I got at the last game I went to. Even after the strap inside broke I’d wear it with the hard plastic nubs digging into my scalp. Why? Because it would fly off easier when I rounded first just like Charlie Hustle. In the last few years I’ve begun to feel my age as players whose rookie cards I have tucked into mylar sleeves are being inducted into the Hall. But that’s fine with me because my baseball history is now becoming a part of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Except that is for my favorite baseball player of all time, Ryne Sandberg. This is Ryno’s third year on the ballot. Last year on the ballot he received 61% of the votes. You need at least 75% to get in. So there is a strong possibility that he won’t get in, ever. Which is in my opinion is a crock. But I’m no Rob Neyer or Bill James, so I won’t try to validate his numbers and achievements with comparisons to other players throughout the history of baseball. This is just me remembering my growing up with Ryno and coming to love the game of baseball.
In fifth grade I started my baseball career. Being one of the last to make the team, I was stuck out in right field. But I got to play every game, so I didn’t care. I had my uniform that I’d make sure to get dirty…before the game. I didn’t get a lot of chances to dirty my uniform in right field. And considering I was awful with the bat, I never got to slide into base either. In fact I was pretty much awful in all respects my rookie season. When the coach starts offering rewards of ice cream if you just catch the ball, it’s not a good sign. My sophomore season was my breakout year. My father was my coach that year. Realizing my ability at using the leather, he penciled me in at second base. There on that dirty path between first and second I flourished. I still couldn’t hit, but I could it pick it. My greatest moment coming with the bases loaded in a tie game, and I backhanded a grounder near second to keep the tie. My father still wonders how I ever got to that ball. With my position on the field cemented, I now needed someone to emulate. This is where Ryno comes in.
My father pointed him out to me when I asked him his opinion on second basemen. Being a Cardinals fan, I’m sure he wished he’d have mentioned someone else. And that’s where it all began. I collected every card, watched every game, tried to swing like he did. On my TIVO I have ESPN Classic's broadcast of the June 23, 1984 game against the Cardinals where he two game tying home runs in an eventual 12-11 win in 11 innings. Among the many Ryno posters adorning my wall, I had a poster of him with the title: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That’s what I liked about him. He didn’t strut or talk smack. He just played ball hard and consistently well. My favorite memory is driving from Virginia Beach to Wrigley in a Ford Escort wagon to see my baseball hero play his last home game. There I sat along the first base side on September 21st, 1997. I still remember distinctly the hard double he hit off the ivy. Standing on second, the crowd stood and cheered as he tipped his hat and walked off the field. A couple tears hit my score card as I penciled in Miguel Cairo as a pinch runner. Ryno's 16 year baseball career had come to an end.
Every January I now wait to see if my Ryno will finally be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year he needs 71 voters to change their mind. That’s a lot of minds to change. But with the same hope I hold for World Series Champions to be finally linked with my Cubs, I hope that Hall of Famer will be linked with Ryno. Then I can finally spend that money I’ve saved in a jar with “1st trip to the Hall of Fame” written on the side.