Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Post With No Media

I drove my friends to the airport at four o'clock this morning. Last night, I wasn't sure what approach I should take. Should I try and just stay up and crash when I get home or split up my sleeping time? I took a different strategy and it seems to have worked.
At about 8 PM last night, I turned off all the lights, got under a blanket, and started Lord of the Rings. At about 9, I was passing out, so I shut off the movie and slept for 6 hours. I must have had it in my mind all night that it was coming, so when my alarm went off, I was able to jump right out of bed and my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I feel like I could have just driven to Vegas. The only problem is that now I'm back here in my apartment, it's the middle of the night, I can't possibly go back to sleep, and I'm checking online to see if and when the Starbucks will open. I'm also checking movie times because if there's one thing you can do on Christmas, it's go to the movies. I tried typing "Starbucks Open Christmas" into Google, and what came up were a bunch of employee message boards whining about how they have to work on Christmas, so I took that as a positive sign that I'll be able to get coffee come 6:30 AM. I also hope that by this time tomorrow I will be #1 in Google for "Starbucks Open Christmas" based on my use of the phrase twice in this blog post. I will check tomorrow and report (not at this exact time).

Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Top 25 Albums of 2007

I really had to think about this list, especially the top 10. Last year, there were a few clear frontrunners, and my top 4 or 5 from last year, if released in 2007, would all be vying for the top spot. That's not to say that 2007 was not a good year for music. Dance and Experimental Pop really took over this year
and made a good case that the standard guitar-bass-drum rock band is dead, or dying.

Another difficulty were the 21-25 spots. I originally was only going to post a top 20, but there were so many albums I wanted to squeeze in that I expanded it to 25, and even so some great records didn't make the cut (there is an "honorable mention" section at the bottom).

So, let's get things moving. The Top 25, in reverse order (you know, for suspense):

25) Radiohead - In Rainbows - Why so low? I'm not sure. This is a great record, but I just didn't love it as much as some other people. I'm listening to it right now, and the trio of "All I Need", "Faust Arp" and "Reckoner" make me think it should be higher, and it shouldn't be held against Radiohead that In Rainbows is a bit underwhelming. Still, high expectations can be the undoing of a piece of art. So, don't get me wrong: I love this album. But, Kid A it ain't.

24) Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab - Another great hip-hop album from the most consistent rapper in the business. Though undoubtedly not as life-changing as 2006's Fishscale (what could be?), Big Doe Rehab is a solid effort with some great retro-infused tracks. Love the garb, Ghost.

23) Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover - This is probably the most complex album Spencer Krug has ever made, and that's saying quite a bit. Like songs from his other albums, the melodies are in the details, and Random Spirit Lover has some real gems. "The Courtesan Has Sung" has one of the best build ups this year.

22) Low - Drums and Guns - A retreat from the 8-minute droners of Trust and the masterpiece Things We Lost In The Fire, Drums and Guns sees Low putting out 3-4 minute, soft-spoken rock songs. It's their most accessible record and very under-appreciated.

21) Bill Callahan - Woke On A Whaleheart
- Even though he's dating my lovely Joanna, I just can't hate Bill Callahan forever. The songwriting on this record is very precise. Opening track "From The Rivers To The Ocean" is pretty staggering.

20) Caribou - Andorra - "Melody Day" really sets the tone for this one. It's a bright, sunshiney album that gets better each time I listen to it.

19) Black Moth Super Rainbow - Dandelion Gum - Freaky Deaky. Jeff over at I'm Only Sleeping introduced me to these guys, who should definitely be bigger than they are.

18) Justice - - The only reason this album isn't higher is because it doesn't end as strongly as it begins. That would be a tough feat to match, however, as "Genesis", "Let There Be Light", and "D.A.N.C.E" are a dynamic trio of dance songs, and some of the best tracks in a long time to put on your party mix.

17) Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation - How could I not include the album containing the song from which this blog gets its name? An eclectic mix of songs here, throwing together folk, punk rock, and some other sounds I can't even think of a name for.

16) The Field - From Here We Go Sublime - The only electronic album on this list that isn't really dance music. I listened to this album while driving from L.A. to San Diego and it put me in a weird, fourth dimensional trance. It has more of the repetitive elements of house music, but it's so much better than what they're playing in the shoe store.

15) The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters - Rock music with an accordian and a lead singer with a heavy Scottish accent. So heavy, in fact, that sometimes you might think it's Mike Myers doing one of his voices (any of them really, they all sound like some Scottish guy). With searing melodies building to some pretty intense crescendos, this album ended up a bit higher than I expected it to.

14) Battles - Mirrored - Listening to Mirrored is like being in a frenetic, extended chase sequence. Just having it on here at the computer makes me feel like I'm in Run Lola Run. A "genre" description I'm reading online calls it "noodled, mathy electro". That's one way to look at it.

13) Frog Eyes - Tears of the Valedictorian - This is pop music at its fastest and most eccentric. It also contains "Bushels", possibly the best song on any Frog Eyes album.

12) The National - Boxer - The National follow up Alligator with another album of emotional, hooky rock songs. Contrary to most of my peers, I think Boxer is even a little better than their last record, with "Mistaken For Strangers", "Green Gloves" and "Start A War" showing that their songwriting hasn't let up in the least.

11) Jay-Z - American Gangster - HOVA is back! Sure, he pulls out the big guns with "Roc Boys" and "Hello Brooklyn 2.0", but c'mon man, these beats is so good, he don't even need no hook for this shit!

10) Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - This is a remarkably tight rock record, which, like most Spoon records, has a few songs you can't get enough of for about a month. On this one, those would be "Don't Make Me A Target", "Don't You Evah", "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb", and "The Underdog".

9) Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - It's hard to follow up an album like Funeral. The initial complaints about Neon Bible was that it wasn't as "big" or "powerful" as its predecessor. Maybe it is a little more intimate, but it's no less intense, and it shows a willingness to not be tied down to one sound. It makes me very excited for what they'll do next.

8) Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity - Deerhoof just doesn't get tired of busting out insane pop songs. I'm convinced that +81 would be a huge hit if it could make its way on the radio. I went to a Deerhoof show once, and I was one of the oldest people there, which surprised me. But, now that I think about it, their music does sort of have a childlike, dreamy quality. Plus, they use them in Crayola commercials.

7) Kanye West - Graduation - Seriously, Kanye has all you rappers beat right now. People talk so much shit bout him at barber shops, they forget to get they hair cut! He samples CAN on this, people!

6) Okkervil River - The Stage Names - Equal in pretty much every way to the also-brilliant Black Sheep Boy, this record has some real beauties. Listen to it while driving alone in the desert, if you have a chance.

5) Panda Bear - Person Pitch - This one, on the other hand, listen to alone in your room in the dark with the headphones on. Or, maybe listen to it while leaning up against the only tree in a long grass field on a really sunny day. No matter the setting, Person Pitch feels like the perfect mood. It also was recently named Pitchfork's Best Album of 2007.

4) Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog - Sam Beam's most recent and most intimate album is also his best. The songwriting on here is quiet and beautiful. It's also remarkably accessible. There's really no reason anybody out there shouldn't like it.

3) Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? - This is the best Blondie album in 20 years. No, seriously, this has elements of the best glam rock and the best new wave. It's different from earlier Of Montreal albums as it's more immediate and the melodies just jump out at you. This record is in HD.

2) LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver - Play this album at a party. If everyone is not dancing by the 3rd minute of "Get Innocuous!", kick them out.

1) Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam - Was there ever really a question? I tried this year. I really tried to like something more than Animal Collective, but it's just not happening. The most consistent, energetic, and creative band of the last 5 years has released another masterpiece. From the opening rush of "Peacebone", through the screaming anthem of "Fireworks", to the underwater cabana groove of "Derek", Animal Collective delivers exactly what music should be.

Honorable mention-- As I said before, great albums undoubtedly got left out, and here they are, presented mercifully without my endless commentary:
Deerhunter - Cryptograms
The White Stripes - Icky Thump
The New Pornographers - Challengers
Feist - The Reminder
Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
St. Vincent - Marry Me
Sea Wolf - Leaves In The River
Thurston - Trees Outside The Academy

Disagree with me? Please post your own lists, arguments and criticisms in the comments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

White-Hat ELO

Google is truly amazing. Here's how Google works in a few short sentences:

Google looks at keywords on your page to determine what the page is about. For example, if I have the words "albino", "fetish" and "porn" on my page, chances are my page is either about Albino Porn Fetishes, or is my brother's blog. Google then decides how good your page is based on whom you link to, and more importantly, who links to you. Therefore, just based on that link above to my brother's blog, Google thinks that my brother's blog is just a little bit more important than it really is. Google uses the "twin schmuck" theory, which states:

If one schmuck links to another schmuck, both may be slightly less schmucky than we think, and could be worth looking at.

However, the system isn't perfect. Some people don't understand that Google is a machine just looking at groups of keywords, and will type in actual questions, thinking that it is smart enough to understand the question and its context. Google is essentially just that "Dr. Know" character from Spielberg's A.I.

At any rate, this "asking a question" idea of searching is what led to Ask Jeeves many years ago, which argued that you could actually do that and the search algorithm would understand it. Of course, this didn't work, and that is why you have Ask.com today, which apparently is only good for helping Bigfoot learn how to shave.

This brings me to the point. Someone made it to my blog by typing "can $1,000,000 in one dollar bills fit into a suitcase" into Google. Those quotation marks are mine. Why would you need to know this information? I doubt any gun dealers have ever asked to be paid in "One million dollars, all in unmarked one-dollar bills, please."

Of course, I soon realized that this was likely a third or fourth grader, based on the top result in Google for this query. This link is a series of activities for youngsters to teach them math, within which is this word problem. Fabulous! Google works. Someone typed in that question and Google immediately provided an answer. This begs the question: If someone typed this into Google, and the very top result clearly provided the answer, why would the searcher scroll down and click on the #6 result, which says this:

"Country Caravan: September 2007
Unfortunately, you can only fit in 16 letters at a time on this one, .... There are forty suitcases. One of them has 1000000 dollars, one of them has 1 ..."

This blurb obviously has nothing to do with the question asked. It's not clear what exactly I was talking about, but based on the series of ellipses, I was certainly not providing an answer to the question.

Some of these results are interesting. My blog is currently #20 on Google for "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" which I'm pretty sure is the exact quote from Romeo and Juliet. I am going to try and get myself in the top 20 for a whole slew of Shakespeare quotes. Can you imagine if I were in the top 20 for "E tu, Brutus?"

Oh, and I suppose, if you think there are some good alternatives to Google completely owning your search experience, you should check out Mahalo. But honestly, if you're on my blog and you don't know what Mahalo is, what is with the caravan jokes?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc is available in its entirety on YouTube. This is a really great and engaging movie, even if you don't often watch silent films. If you have 80 minutes with nothing to do I suggest you watch it.
A few warnings: There is no soundtrack. Choose your own and play it in the background. The Mulholland Drive soundtrack would probably work or anything by Scott Walker.
Also, there are a few title cards in French with no subtitles, but that doesn't really matter. It's just the story of Joan of Arc and it's pretty simple to follow even without being able to read French. Just watch Maria Falconetti's face. One of the great performances in film history. Enjoy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

My name is Jonathan Harris. I work at Mahalo.com. However, type "Jonathan Harris" into www.mahalo.com and what you get is not me. What you get is this guy. He is an artist or something. He apparently creates "projects that explore human expression on the Internet."

Wow, I do that, too. Me and this Jonathan Harris guy have so much in common. I'm not bitter, really. After all, would I actually expect the "Jonathan Harris" result page to be about me? I haven't done anything of note, and it is, admittedly, a rather common name. I have one of the most popular male boys names in the country, and "Harris" is up there among the most common last names. I've often wondered whether my name has restricted me, made me seem more common and average than I might really be.

There are many notable Jonathan Harrises who have accomplished quite a bit. He was the villain on the original "Lost In Space" show. (Side Note: Weird to read an obituary with your name in it) He's this artist guy mentioned above. He's a Connecticut State Senator. He, apparently, sells totally badass camera equipment. AND! I just discovered that he's a fairly ridiculous country singer. <----Seriously, this link is worth clicking on. The biography on his official website describes him as "a popular fixture of the Puget Sound country scene". Golly, and I've just done nothing with my life!

I know I'm not the only one to have this problem. Just in my office alone, I work with a Michael Moore, an Andy Kaufman, and an Adam Smith. I also work with people who have completely original names. So original that the chances of someone also having it are extremely slim. I envy them at times. All of this is covered quite festively in Alan Berliner's film The Sweetest Sound where he finds about 11 other people in the world with his same name and invites them all to dinner. It's quite interesting.

Anyway, here are images of the people I also am, none of whom look anything like me.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I Made A List Today, Oh Boy

I was discussing The Beatles with my friend Lelah yesterday and what our favorite songs by them are. I'm not sure she has a specific favorite, but she said she's had "I'm So Tired" in her head for several days now. I don't think I've listened to The White Album all the way through for awhile, and I remembered what a great song that was. I thought I'd post my Top Ten Beatles Songs, which is a harder list to compile than you might imagine, because so many brilliant songs are inevitably cut.

Keep in mind that I went with my first instincts here, and would almost certainly create a different list in another month or another year. Here they are, in reverse order:

10) I've Just Seen A Face - Amazingly, this is the earliest song on this list. One of Paul's very best two minute pop songs.

9) Dear Prudence - It was between this and "Happiness is a Warm Gun". John's best song from The White Album gets the spot at Number 9, Number 9, Number 9...

8) Eleanor Rigby - I don't have much to say about this one.

7) While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Something - I know I'm cheating a little bit, here, but I wanted at least one George song on this list, and I just can't decide between these two.

6) Dig A Pony - A frequently overlooked song, considering some of the softer melodies on Let It Be. A miraculous song, and maybe the best straight-out-rock tune John ever wrote.

5) Tomorrow Never Knows - It's trendy to pick this one, but can you imagine hearing this for the first time in 1966?

4) She's Leaving Home - I don't have much to say about this one either, but it's a beautifully sad song and seems to fit in perfectly in the middle of Sgt. Pepper.

3) I Am The Walrus - What can you say? This song is out of its mind:

2) Let It Be - Heather Mills says Paul was violent and abusive to her, and maybe he was, I have no idea. How could someone who did those things write this song? It doesn't make any sense.

1) A Day In The Life - If I had the strength right now, I'd do my "Greatest Songs Ever" list. This would be high up there. It's a song I've heard countless times and I don't get tired of it.

I invite lists of your own in the comments below and I'm sure I'll be reminded of a few songs that I'll want to include into my own list. "Top Ten Dylan Songs" coming soon.