Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best of the Year 2008: Songs

Annually reviews some pop culture and ranks a best in categories like film, music and television. This year is expanded to include critiques. This.... is.... 2008!
(2007 songs)

Beck: "Orphans"
Danger Mouse's beatnik vibe introduces Modern Guilt with this little tune about meeting your maker, complete with acoustic strums, piano twinkles, xylophone accents and ambient sounds. It's the only one on the disc that doesn't sound like an outtake or B-side.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: "Wicked Wanda"
Feedback fuzz, echo choruses and crawling guitar solos just work here. Combined with Malkmus' weirdo lyrics, they create an indie oasis that quenches a thirst for some beautiful noise. The intro makes me think I'm playing the opening of Metroid.

Nine Inch Nails: "Echoplex"
This is track is the centerpiece of an album thrown together, as an eventual means to put on one juggernaut of a tour. Sounds of an erratic 80's drum machine perfectly compliment Reznor's imagining of studio claustrophobia (and the industry's agoraphobia of free music). The instrumental outro (especially in concert) shows how plex these sounds can be.

TV on the Radio: "Stork and Owl"
What was lacking from TVOTR's Dear Science was the gloom and glum of their previous album. The industrial-strength coldness of Cookie Mountain showed the world how this Brooklyn band could channel solemn times in America. "Stork and Owl" comes closest to that high water mark, via quivering spoken lines and howls to the moon.

Coldplay: "Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant"
"Where's an Arabic violin break when you need one?" Will Hermes said it best when he compared this song's bridge to the rest of the bunch from the predictable Viva la Vida. The guitar and drums hypnotize in the verses, and the lyrics on consenting make the chorus internationally arousing. The hidden ending of a sleep chant is just cool... I don't know what's so Chinese about it.

***** 2008 BEST SONG *****
Guns N' Roses: "Catcher in the Rye"
Many people forget they've had to wait LONGER for albums to shape up: the music world had to wait 24 years for the Who to release an album; and Peter Gabriel's Big Blue Ball project took 15 years from recording to release. So, give Axl some slack. Maybe he was busy! I'd like to think that the last few years of the Chinese Democracy journey were spent crafting and executing this (relatively short for GNR) song about insanity and assassins. Of all the goodies on the album, this one symbolizes Axl's id and the current band (are they the same thing?)


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best of the Year 2008: Music Videos

Annually reviews some pop culture and ranks a best in categories like film, music and television. This year is expanded to include critiques. This.... is.... 2008!

Last year was rich with artistic and unique music videos, many by new contestants. But in 2008, the perennial favorites have come back. With the launch of, there is a sense of nostalgia in the air. Old bands that make good video art are back for one more round. And, it seems that Grindhouse is more inspirational than critics originally thought! No Rickrolls here!

Coldplay: "Viva la Vida" (Version 2) [dir. Anton Corbijn]
If you don't know already, this is a tribute to the original video of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence", a concept that that band hated. But, Corbijn's idea of a "king who is looking for a quiet place to sit" was brilliant. Instead of a beach chair this time around, the King is toting a painting and a sad expression.
Killer scene: Now he's got a boombox??? (1:53)
Yawn moment: I don't want to see the band ooh-ing the outro. (3:53)

Beck: "Youthless" [dir. Kris Moyes]
This music video shows that there are about 100 ways to depict Beck Hansen's head using art. We get stop-motion animation of stuff that looks like it came from the Neverending Story or Nightmare Before Christmas. All interesting.
Killer scene: Leatherface Beck! (2:08)
Yawn moment: That ghost looks nothing like him! (2:11)

Santogold: "LES Artistes" [dir. Nima Nourizadeh]
This is some surreal blood and guts. Basically this is all the violence an American could hope for, with no real bloodshed. The opening shot of the video (pictured) is just marvelous.
Killer scene: Stomping the melon-head (2:06)
Yawn moment: Stop crying that you're wet! More violence! (2:37)

MGMT: "Time to Pretend" [dir. Ray Tintori]
Every new band should wish for a video like this: something that perfectly describes their sound and theme. The special effects here are cheap, but do their job. Psychedelic!
Killer scene: The zebra feast. (1:33)
Yawn moment: Does the dolphin explosion really need to be in this vid? (3:40)

***** 2008 BEST VIDEO *****

Metallica: "All Nightmare Long" [dir. Roboshobo]
Twelve years after their last notable video, the old guard of speed metal return with a Soviet-zombie documentary. In metal, there are lots of music videos that try to mix horror and cool imagery with a song, but only Metallica has the budget to pull it off right.

The band is missing from the set (thank god) and replaced by a Russian scientist recalling the (oft-discussed-in-paranormal-circles) Tunguska event in Siberia. In this alternate history, it seems the Soviets have found something that could help them destroy capitalism once and for all. Animation and live action both help the plot. There's also this excerpt about chemtrails from a man in Stamps, Arkansas, which is pointless but intriguing.
Killer scene: at the crescendo of the song, the Commie robots appear! (7:08)
Yawn moment: the bad cat CGI (3:12)

Bjork: "Wanderlust" [dir. Encyclopedia Pictura]
This took 9 months of post-production to get the special effects just right. The water is cool, but I wouldn't ride a buffalo down it with a haunted backpack.

Oasis: "Shock of the Lightning" [dir. Julian House and Julian Gibbs]
This stock footage interspersed with album art video is surprisingly good.

Sammy Hagar: "Cosmic Universal Fashion" [dir. Todd Gallopo and Zan Passante]
Trying to re-capitalize on 1992's "Right Now" video, Hagar gives viewers updates on current affairs and new (but cheap looking) stock footage.

Yeasayer: "Wait for the Summer" [dir. Mixtape Club]
The effects are super, but why such an obsession with the apple?

The Blizzards: "The Reason" [dir. Chris Sayer and Jason Arber]
Reminiscent of the effects of Muse's "Invincible", the story is about a 90-ft-tall female monster babe and the man who can't take his eyes off her.

ANJ: "Gorbachov" [dir. Tom Stern]
This international entry comes from Mother Russia (and it took me a few viewings to realize it was sung in English). But, the song is secondary to the video, which depicts buxom babes being attacked by undead communists! The protagonist, a shirtless, axe-wielding Mikhail Gorbachev runs in to save the day, just like in real life!

Flying Lotus: "Parisian Goldfish" [dir. Eric Wareheim]
Simple, tasteless; flashing lights.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Excel saved my life & Sorting issues

(For the Excel sorting "bug", scroll down...)

Personal Tasks
I have been using Excel 2007 as a personal planner for about six months, and I love it. For some reason, this little XLS has made me efficient, and helped reinforce my often-forgotten priorities. I put almost everything on here--the stuff I want to put off, the stuff I won't remember and the stuff that is really important. I don't keep it as specific as "brush teeth today" or "put clothes on", but do put stuff such as "clean house for party" and "vacuum car" that aren't really once-a-week kind of things. When I do a task, I simply place an "X" in the Done column, and then Sort. Here is a screenshot.

You can't understand how this has greatly improved my efficiency. But this is not why we're here.

Sort data problem
I want to discuss something that is common for those spreadsheet movers and shakers: SORTING. Sorting is beautiful for a user, when it works. It took me six months to figure this issue out, so I want to help those in need on this "feature". By default, Excel is supposed to memorize your sorting options from previous saves. It also remembers sort settings on a new instance or a computer restart! This is not new to version 2007, and I think this has been a mainstay since Office 97.

When my "personal tasks.xls" started to get huge, I started sorting. I could prioritize the list and push the finished tasks away from the main list:

This was all good and fine, until I began to sort constantly, sometimes 20 times in a day. To boot, I would often open and close Excel in the process, and that's when I stumbled upon this hair-pulling problem: it would not remember any of my sorting options! So without moaning and groaning, here is the solution:

How it happened

It was my own fault. I love noodling with column titles, and I renamed a few of them over time. Excel does not adapt the sorting tool when you rename the headers! This could be considered a bug, but I doubt Microsoft would flag it as a high priority. And that fricking "My data has headers" really has no purpose, other than cosmetic. In the meantime, you may want to try my personal tasks spreadsheet idea. Who knows, you may be thanking me in a few months (hopefully with cash)!

And another thing...
One more great, great organizing application I discovered a few years ago is Desktop Calendar. It just plain rocks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Random Observations (November-December)

  • ESPN, I hate your website. I know you have the best coverage and everything, but I cannot stand auto-loading videos that play loudly while I'm reading an article. Screw you.
  • Dear rock bands, PLEASE STOP WRITING SONGS ABOUT SUPERMAN. Yes, he is a great symbol, but so is Batman. There are so many freaking songs with Clark Kent in them, and that means your new song idea is immediately irrelevant.
  • The same goes for new mascots. Please, lets retire Tiger. Maybe, perhaps we could use something more local? Panther is more local, so are bears and pronghorn sheep, which scare me. If you're going for scary, why not Tiger Shark?
  • Every time Architecture in Helsinki is/are mentioned, it sends me into a blind rage. Maybe it's because they're not from Helsinki. Maybe it's because it would embarrass the hell out of me if I were Australian. Maybe it's because they have five band members (four would be overkill). Maybe it's because they make the kind of music that Paul Simon would be into.
  • Carrie Fisher's autobiography (Wishful Drinking) is remarkably well-written. I always knew George Lucas was an ass...
  • The Spirit and Benjamin Button are coming out in December, and I will probably crown them the best two films of the year. Plus, they're both from stories more than 50 years old. Yes, the world did exist 50 years ago, Hollywood.
  • I had my fill of Simon Pegg about 10 seconds after I heard his accent. Anyone else want on the hate bandwagon?

Movies watched in 2020

Here's my annual list. I beat 2019 by about 60 . I stopped tracking TV series, too. The only films I saw in theaters were: Star Wars IX,...