Monthly Archives: January 2009

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“Scars are souvenirs you never lose.”

This is a strange title to discuss the tranformative power of yesterday’s events, but trust my train of thought.  Alas, I missed the inauguration ceremony proper since I was at the Student Health Center for two hours.  Sidebar: if you have a swollen knee, you need to have a $40 blood lab to rule out Lyme Disease.  So the most I can comment on is seeing Aretha’s crazy bow headband, which still isn’t as tacky/cool as Whitney’s monstrosity from this week’s The City.  I also was lucky enough to catch the crowd spontaneously burst into song upon 43’s departure from The District via helicopter: “Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, good byyyyyye.”  After that, though, I was overwhelmed with the inanity of the coverage, including how Rachel Maddow thought Senator Byrd’s hair looked awesome.  This, naturally, followed Chris Matthews’ total failure to positively identify the elderly senator.

Its a joy to finally call this Americas First Family.

It's a joy to finally call them America's First Family.

The hype was an attack on all fronts, though, and the fact of the matter is nothing could live up to that.  Stop talking about how this is history in the making and let it be history in the making.  When one is hyperaware in the meta-cognitive sphere of the function of historical events, it distracts from simply experiencing the event at the most basic level.  Yesterday was a momentous episode in the history of America, and it led millions of people to tears, but constantly pointing this out cheapens the entire concept for everyone involved.  When I was allowed to turn off the new coverage and just think about what an accomplishment it is to elect an African-American man, regardless of his mixed heritage, into the White House, it was very moving.  I am human, however, and I must freely admit – I wish it was Hillary.  I love Barack and am ecstatic to see him as our President.  He has brought credibility, eloquence, and transformative powers to our country.  Deep down, though, I would have loved to see Hillary’s hand on that bible.

Irregardless, that’s just the rules of feminism.  To be sure, Barack is ushering in a new era in American relationships.  The work we have ahead of us was all too apparent for me, though, when I attended my Tuesday night meetings with a student group on campus.  You may request a slight back story, and I will tell you what I can.  My school hosts a student-run event at the end of the semester to celebrate finishing another academic year, and musical artists and groups have been known to attend in the past.  These students band together to plan and execute said event, and as a graduate student, I am assisting them this spring.  Last night’s topic of discussion was bringing an urban act to campus.  I want to preface what I am about to write with the fact that I love my students.  I seriously enjoy the students here and think of many as little brothers and sisters.  That said, there is a distinct and deeply entrenched problem here with articulation, tact, and, worst of all, upper middle class racism.  In the tradition of my over-dramatizing the words of my opponents when retelling the story, out of my own laziness, lack of respect for their behavior, and mouth of a herpes-infested sailor, here is a summary of things I heard them say last night.  Apply copious amounts of poetic license wherever needed.

“Why do we even need an urban act?”
“I will just say now, I thought we all agreed several times that there is no need for an urban headliner and we’re wasting our time here.”
“I don’t listen to hip hop and I have no idea if black students would come to that concert.  I just don’t know black music that well.”
“If we booked that guy and this group, it would be around $80 grand on urban music.  That’s such a waste, why can’t we just stick to one and move on?”

I cant tell you much, but I can say Common is not coming.

I can't tell you much, but I can say Common is not coming.

Read “urban” as privileged white person speak for “black/hip hop/soul/funk/R&B.”  The way things are set up here, there is a concert around homecoming that has traditionally been a hip hop act or rapper in years of late, so there is frustration in bringing more urban acts to the spring event.  I think it is prudent to keep in mind that the advisor of the group is an African-American staff member, and there is an African-American student on the board, as well.  They were not only asked to defend any choice in this category, explaining any artist the group hadn’t heard of, but also shot down repeatedly when they did offer their opinion of various acts.  I was blown away that a student group could begin a meeting gushing about every detail of Obama’s inauguration and quickly devolve into maligning several genres of music because they didn’t think the event needed representation in the area.

By all means, it should also be noted that several of the students weren’t the least bit racist or even slightly disrespectful to either African-American member or any of the music.  Some thoroughly enjoy hip hop and led impassioned speeches defending several artists we fought over throughout the night.  To me, though, the night was a sober reminder of how far we had to come.

I finally got back to my room around 8 or 8.30 last night, and one of my students had brought me a Baconator from Wendy’s, which made the bitter taste of disappointment wash down a little more easily.  After wasting an hour or two doing nothing, I got into bed and signed onto Netflix to watch a movie before I fell asleep.  I had been kicking around the idea of Mississippi Burning for a few weeks, especially after I read that Frances McDormand should have won the Oscar instead of Geena Davis way back in 1989…you know, the year before my residents were born.  I loaded it up and started to watch.  It was truly a phenomenal film, and possibly even more moving given the day I had just experienced.  This movie, shot twenty years ago and taking place in a country of forty five years past, highlighted how we had been ripped apart by hate and fear.  Yet, after all the monstrosity depicted in the film, the havoc wreaked upon the poor African-American men, women, and children of that small town in Mississippi, there was hope.

I will see anything she makes.  Period.

I will see anything she makes. Period.

Just like today, there was hope that change would come about.  That we would live in a world where the color of your skin didn’t matter.  I like to think that today, we are one giant step closer to that goal.  We just need to be realistic when we pat ourselves on the back for living in a post-racial America.  So you can mock me for taking a line from a Goo Goo Dolls song to encapsulate what I’ve been feeling these past couple of days, but I find it strangely fitting.  We have to be mindful of our past to truly change our future.  We do not need to have slavery and racial apartheid endlessly hashed out on the national stage, but we, as a country, must be mindful of racism today.  Electing Obama does not erase racism, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.  Congratulations, America, you made a great choice.


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I Know I’m a Prick

But am I obnoxious enough to be selected for reality television?  That’s right, my friends, I am applying for Survivor.  As in, I am about to walk across campus, video camera in hand, and tape a submission for my application.  I’m getting nervous just thinking about it, but then I remember how much of a douchebag I am, and I start to calm down a bit.

I mean seriously, how many people in reality television aren’t at least a little douchey?  It’s almost as if the casting directors have a box they check on the recruitment applicant paperwork.  And I can always fall back on the fact that, I don’t know, I’m getting a master’s degree.  Or that I went to a phenomenal undergraduate institution.  Or I have great friends that have my back no matter what.  Or, best of all, I am not applying to be on Tool Academy.

I already filled out my application, all twenty pages of it, and now I just have to talk about myself.  To be perfectly honest, and rather ironic seeing as I’m writing this on a blog, I vehemently hate talking about myself.  As in it legitimately makes me uncomfortable and I have to suppress the urge to squirm.  However, if I’m going to be successful and get on the show that everyone tells me is perfect for my personality, I’m going to have to learn quickly.  I already listed my three adjectives as “abrasive, charming, and intelligent.”  I already told them that my friends think of me as the loud and obnoxious one, the guy who’s psychotically competitive and turns everything into a game, that player that would be borderline sociopathic in how he used other people to get himself closer to the finals.  They asked me who I would play like from a previous season, and I listed Randy – because I honestly don’t care what strangers on a TV show think about me.  So now I have to drive it home with this video.

I have to make what is abundantly clear to anyone who meets me in person come across on a cold, stale camera.  I have to make it obvious that I am brutally honest, sarcastic, and sometimes downright rude in how I assess people around me.  Sometimes I don’t even notice a line when I go after enemies, or friends for that matter, and while it certainly doesn’t help my relationships, it would be perfect for ratings.  My problem with male authority figures, and authority in general, would most likely rear its ugly head and make for a good fight at some point.  And I guarantee you I would call out Probst for being such a jack ass.

So here’s to wishing myself good luck.  Because that’s what real douchebags do – they look out for themselves.

I learned how to cheat to win at an early age.

I learned how to cheat to win at an early age.


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Proper Date Behavior

The new semester officially kicks off today, and things have been a little crazy with spring training for staff and residents returning and sorority recruitment for my female residents.  That said, I haven’t really had time to sit down and come up with a new post, so I’m stealing.  This is a guest post from a guest post – Restaurant Refugee wrote this post for Kris on Not Yet a Girl, Not Yet a Wino and I thought the advice was spot on.  As a former door man, host, bartender, and server, everyone should read this post about appropriate behavior on a date.

A man’s guide to dating women – in a restaurant:

1. Go to a bar
2. Order a beer
3. Take one sip
4. Understand that the collective knowledge of men about women couldn’t fill the rest of the glass

While I am a man and therefore my knowledge is commensurate with the points above, I am the Restaurant Refugee and have seen more than my fair share of restaurant dates excellent, tragic and all variety between. Gents, I offer you the limited benefits that my observations might provide.

Know that because you have a Y chromosome you will get distracted by French fries, bright lights and shiny things. It is important that you reduce the appearance of potential distractions in your field of view. Get over your fear of a mob hit and sit with your back to the room. Besides being the generally courteous thing to do, it may also help you with your naturally wandering eye.

Like a job, you’re on time if you are early; you’re late if you’re on time. Ten minutes early gives you enough time to familiarize yourself with the place – know the location of the wash closets, the emergency exits just in case your date necessitates a swift escape (just kidding – mostly,) make friends with whomever is staffing the host stand. Let your host know that you are on a date, smile a bit, DO NOT ASK FOR A NICE TABLE – that usually inducts you into the fraternity of assholes with whom s/he deals all night. An easy smile, proper salutation, and the occasional please and thank you will almost always ensure a better table than a direct request. Should you get a great table, a tip to the host is in order. This is tricky in restaurants where the host is also a manager – most common in smaller restaurants – as it is rude to tip a manager anything less than enough to buy a couple drinks after their shift. If you are certain that the host is only the host, then a $5 tip is sufficient. If you believe that the host is also a manager, a tip is only appropriate if above and beyond service is provided in addition to the great table in which case a palmed twenty is the right way to go.

Do not fake wine knowledge – asking for assistance is a sign of strength not weakness. If the wine list is offered to you, ask your date if she would like to see it as well. Do not attempt a pronunciation with which you are unfamiliar. Read this if you want some more detail about ordering wine in a restaurant.

Under no circumstances should you do anything that could be perceived as flirting with the waiter, bartender, host or anyone who has the same chromosomal values as your date. Understand that your date mostly likely has a more sensitive flirt-o-meter than you.

Do say thank you to the bussers – the people who pour your water, bring your bread, clear your plates, etc. – besides being good for your karma as these are generally the hardest working/least paid people in the restaurant – this will mark you as a stand-up guy.

Do have an idea of where to go when dinner is finished – two ideas are even better. A swank lounge for quiet conversation and a dive bar where you can throw back some beer and darts are both great post-dinner destinations. Also of great note is going to a place just for dessert. Though you have all of these plans in your back pocket, do not cleave to them blindly. A date is a conversational dance best done in a semi-improvisational style.

Knowledge of the fact that the same words with the same delivery can be alternately charming and repulsive depending upon your date’s level of interest and attraction is important. If your date likes you, then ordering for her – after consulting with her – can be a great thing though still not advised unless it is a maneuver with which you are practiced. If her feelings are tepid or worse, then it is an affectation of bygone era.

If your date was arranged with the assistance of the interwebs, saying her name as a declarative rather than a question is a strong precursor to a good evening.

Contrary to popular belief, sharing dishes is not a marker of excessive frugality which might convey to your server the potential for an equally frugal tip. Sharing an appetizer or two is a good thing – food is sensual when done properly and sharing it can be great foreplay.

Unless your service is awful, do tip at least 20%. 9 out of 10 dates will try to sneak a look at the bill and take note of your tip. The 10th date didn’t have an opportunity because you smartly settled the tab while s/he was freshening in the restroom.

I don’t care how fabulously your date is going do not be the last table in a restaurant. Movie scenes paint a romantic picture of a couple lingering in an otherwise empty restaurant gazing into each other’s love struck eyes – that’s unadulterated bullshit. Every member of the staff of that restaurant has lives they’re all eager to resume and you are the speed bump in that process. The bad karma of impeding their path to shots of Grand Marnier at the bar next door is not worth it.

Do have story about why you selected this restaurant – stories make food taste better. However, in the vain of “do as I say, not as I do,” do not be pretentious about your story.

I just had a conversation with the three women to the left of my perch at the bar where I wrote this. Besides their wholesale agreement to all of the aforementioned points, they had the following helpful additions:

* If your date chose the restaurant, refrain from being hyper-critical as it is a criticism not just of the restaurant but of her, and her judgment.
* Do offer to share whatever is on your plate.
* Do say thank you to everyone who serves you – this is a repeat but it bears repeating
* Do not push anything – a drink, dessert, a nightcap, a dish of which you are particularly fond whatever.
* Don’t be a tool.
* Do not let her pay any part of the check (on the first couple of dates.)
* Do notice if she at least offers to pay the check.
* Assuming that any level of PDA is appropriate, do keep it to a minimum [ed. note – the staff will mock you for excessive PDA.]
* Unless your job involves national security, you’re a doctor on call, or you have a sick child at home (in which case what the hell are you doing on a date?) for the love of bacon and all things holy, do not answer your phone.

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“Without music, life would not be fair,” The 2008 Edition

I was kind of pushed last year to make a top ten list of my favorite albums from 2007, and women dominated the list.  This time, things are a little different.  Not only did I do this because I wanted to, but I significantly expanded it.  This year I have twenty albums and five honorable mentions – and the top twenty are even ranked.  Men are very much in power this year, and guy/girl duos take four of my top twenty slots, including three in the top ten.

2008 was a huge year for music, and I’ve spent the past month or so putting my list together.  In no way does this list attempt to coalesce with what other critics have compiled.  I am not Rolling Stone or Pitchfork or Stereogum or NME or SPIN….and I’m not really trying to be.  That said, the time I spent putting this list together was so much fun and so involved, that I decided to create a list of the best singles of the year, too.  That will have to wait for another day.

For now, I’ll start off with my five honorable mentions – five albums that were great in their own right, and that I strongly considered using in my list.  Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t compete with the other artists I ended up choosing for whatever reason.

Honorable Mentions.

Teddy Thompson – A Piece of What You Need.  The last album that I really noticed from Teddy was 2005’s Separate Ways.  Things have changed for him in the last three years; two albums later, his sound is more electronic, more pop-oriented, but still centered around the harmonies he does best.  Here’s to growth and experimentation being successful.  “In My Arms,” “The Things I Do,” Don’t Know What I Was Thinking.”

Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul. Oasis is back with some of their better music in years.  The grooves can get a bit heavy on this disc, and it’s no (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, but the brazen shamelessness that characterizes Noel and Liam’s work is front and center.  It’s no comeback record, but it will certainly keep them relevant, as the riffs are spot on and thundering.  “I’m Outta Time,” “Falling Down,” “Solider On.”

TV On The Radio – Dear Science.  A fascinating mix of beats, horns, keys, and vocal notes from all over the range.  The energy is contagious and off-kilter, with pop experiments like the opening track “Halfway Home” – a song where “ba ba ba” runs can be buried by heavy guitars.  The genre is all over the place, and some songs’ energy is truly contagious.  “Family Tree,” “Red Dress,” “Dancing Choose.”

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue.  A haunting album that branches out from her phenomenal 2006 album, Rabbit Fur Coat.  Unfortunately, it’s not as strong as its predecessor.  However, songs like “Acid Tongue” stand out as particularly strong with her ability for mingling story telling with sarcasm.  Not her best, but still incredible. “Acid Tongue,” “Black Sand,” “Carpetbaggers.”

Super Mash Bros – Get Euros. Fuck Bitches.  Billing themselves as Girl Talk’s hot cousin, these guys are a more playful version of the mash up king.  The songs they use are more contemporary and recognizable, if perhaps a little immature.  Some of their arrangements could be tighter, and they can’t compete with Girl Talk’s flurry of samples, but some of their selections are brilliant.  Eminem’s “Without Me” over MGMT’s “Kids,” Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” over Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” over Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” are truly genius.  The best part?  The album is free online “I Fucking Bleed Purple and Gold,” “Future Dads (Platinum Edition),” “Broseidon, Lord of the Brocean.”

A small sample of my listening habits.

A small sample of my listening habits.

Top Twenty Albums of 2008.

20. Amos Lee – Last Days at the Lodge.  Amos Lee has returned, and his third album isn’t his best.  But he’s taken his work in a new direction, using more soul, more blues in his songs.  He’s one of the most underrated artists out there, and this album builds on his already impressive catalog, lulling you into security before slamming you with heart break.  The cadences he uses are inspired, and his next album should be even stronger.  “Kid,” “What’s Been Going On,” “Street Corner Preacher.”

19. Glasvegas – Glasvegas.  Their sound is almost like if The National were Scottish.  Their use of deep, lifting vocals and sweeping sonic landscapes are moving.  The piano is ghostly at points, especially in “Stabbed,” and the space of “Flowers and Football Tops” is huge, largely due to the sparse instrumentation.  Besides, who else could pull off dropping Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” into the middle of an indie rock album?  “Geraldine,” “Flowers and Football Tops,” “Go Square Go.”

18. Kate Nash – Made of Bricks.  Imagine, for a second, that modern science could create a baby from only women.  Then go even further and try to merge the cynical hooks of Lily Allen, the piano-driven beats of Regina Spektor, and the bitter soul of Adele or Tori Amos.  That freakish baby would be Kate Nash, and her album really is that good.  She can deliver an up beat song with painful lyrics like the best of them, and her talent can only improve from here.  “Foundations,” “Merry Happy,” “Pumpkin Soup,” “Nicest Thing.”

17. The Kooks – Konk.  The Kooks set out to make a pop record, and the result is some of the best Britpop of the year.  They succeed with bravado where the Kings of Leon failed.  There’s a bounce and energy to their sound, similar to Franz Ferdinand or The Fratellis in years past.  Unfortunately for them, little has changed from their first album to their latest outing.  More growth in the years to come will ensure they become the stars they so clearly want to be.  “Do You Wanna,” “Mr. Maker,” “Always Where I Need To Be.”

16. Adele – 19.  What can you say about this ginge powerhouse that hasn’t already been mentioned?  I could make an argument that she’s Amy Winehouse’s potential fully realized, but she would need stronger material to prove that.  Mark Ronson, who brought us last year’s Lily Allen and Winehouse herself, produced the superb “Cold Shoulder,” a track that merges swirling strings and a drum beat straight out of Memphis.  In time, this one will be even more powerful.  “Cold Shoulder,” “Chasing Pavements,” “Make You Feel My Love.”

15. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours.  These Aussies really know how to cut an album.  If you’re trying to reconcile dance music with indie pop, then this is the album to grab.  Electronic beats meet vocal harmonies and superb music is the result.  It’s like a more hyper brother of The Postal Service, or if Daft Punk met Apples in Stereo. “Far Away,” “Feel the Love,” “Hearts on Fire.”

14.  The Weepies – Hideaway.  How can you not include this group – they got Obama elected.  One of the best songs of their career, “Can’t Go Back Now,” was used in nationwide commercials for Obama’s campaign.  Ironic, since I first likened it to Hillary’s attempt to wrest the nomination from him.  Marriage and a baby has certainly changed the style of Deb and Steve, and in some ways strengthened them.  There’s a sense of calm in this album’s tracks that isn’t present in earlier songs.  “Can’t Go Back Now,” “Hideaway,” “Orbiting,” “Just Blue.”

13.  Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs.  Bucking the glossy and pop-influenced sound of Plans while still expanding the detached, experimental style of Transatlanticism, this album is easily one of the year’s best.  It somehow merged the two previous albums as it headed into new territory.  Whereas the earlier work usually had a bright tinge to the depression, this album fully embraces the despair that marks Ben Gibbard’s lyrics, and the result is downright claustrophobic…in a good way.  “Grapevine Fires,” “Cath…,” “Your New Twin-Sized Bed,” “You Can Do Better Than Me.”

12. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals.  In an album from an artist that The New York Times Magazine called “a law suit waiting to happen,” Gregg Gillis hits you with an onslaught of samples.  His aural hurricane is a flurry of songs overlaid each other, easily utilizing two dozen different songs for just one track on his album.  His mash-up’s are so masterful that the lyrics sometimes take on new meaning, and the entire album is meant to be one long song that he broke up into individual tracks.  Gregg blows the Super Mash Bros. out of the water, and truly sets the bar for the entire genre of mash-up’s.  “Play Your Part (Pt. 1),” “Set It Off,” “No Pause.”

11. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cardinology.  Drugs, alcohol, and general miscreant behavior have overshadowed Adams for far too long, and while he has been known for his prolific writing, it’s not always as good as it could be.  This album reestablishes not only his credibility but why people started listening to him at all.  It’s easily his strongest in years and possibly ever. It pulls his influences of classic rock and country together, and produces truly excellent music.  “Magick,” “Born Into a Light,” “Go Easy,” “Stop.”

10.  The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing.  With pop like this, why would you ever turn on the radio?  Jules DeMartino plays the drums, and Katie White sings/plays the guitar, and together, they make first-rate electro-pop/punk.  The hooks they create are ridiculous catchy, and their peppy and bouncing approach to New Wave is refreshing, to say the least.  No wonder their songs were ubiquitous all year.  “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” “That’s Not My Name,” “Great DJ,” “Keep Your Head.”

9.  Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago.  The passion that pushes through in this album is outstanding, especially given the sparse instrumentation.  The isolation that Justin Vernon created when he recorded this while alone in a Wisconsin cabin is palpable.  The heartbreak of his shattered relationship is distinct, but without ever using lyrics for a narrative or even so much as a confession; Justin’s breaking falsetto only adds to the emotion.  “Flume,” “Skinny Love, “Re: Stacks,” “The Wolves (Act I and II).”

8. Mates of State – Re-arrange Us.  Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have produced some of the catchiest pop of the entire year.  Expanding their drum and keyboard aesthetic to include strings, MoS builds on their previous work to create achingly infectious tunes with head-bopping lyrics.  Becoming parents have clearly changed the duo, and some of the strong points of the album have them belting melodies at each other on songs like “The Re-arranger.”  Overall, though, they stick to addictive pop songs with a hint of indie rock, just to prove they still have it in them.  “My Only Offer,” “The Re-arranger,” “Get Better,” “Great Dane.”

7. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes.  The folk music on this record is so calming and choral that it’s practically hymnal.  The multi-part harmonies wash over you and the pastoral lyrics take you away.  I’ve never really heard anything like it, unless the Beach Boys wrote music in medieval times.  The style is all over the place, and in this case, that isn’t a bad thing.  More artists should strive to blend this many instruments and voices so well.  “White Winter Hymnal,” “He Doesn’t Know Why,” “Quiet Houses,” “Ragged Wood.”

6.   MGMT – Oracular Spectacular.  Brooklyn, like always, comes through again with some of the best music in the world.  This alternative/electro-pop is so fresh and new, you almost don’t realize how multi-layered the arrangements are throughout.  Then the nostalgia of the lyrics hit you, and you’re absolutely hooked.  Funk meets acid rock meets disco as  Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden take the listener on a true journey.  The duo can embrace youthful innocence like no other act I’ve seen, while still clinging to charming sarcasm.  Even better, the beats on this record will get under your skin and stay for weeks.  “Kids,” “Time To Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” “Weekend Wars.”

5. Coldplay – Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends.  The world’s biggest band finally owned up to their title and made music for their global fan base. By snagging producer Brian Eno, of Talking Heads and U2 fame, Chris Martin and company set out to make a record where all of the songs don’t sound the same.  By experimenting with exotic instruments and truly huge arrangements, the expansive feel of Viva la Vida is still…comfortable enough for any fan to appreciate.  Turns out talking about actual events in the world instead of their own feelings actually worked.  The bonus tracks of acoustic versions of “Lost?” and “Lovers In Japan” push it over the edge to make this the best Coldplay album ever.  “Lovers In Japan/Reign of Love,” “Strawberry Swing,” “Lost!,” “Viva la Vida.”

4. Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke.  Only this Kiwi could take the 80’s and make them hers, bridging styles from Cyndi Lauper to Kylie Minogue and creating the best throwback I’ve ever heard.  Her synth pop embraces all that was great about the 80’s and leaves behind all of the trash.  Pip Brown’s album is all over the place, from shagging a groupie in “Magic” to calling out the bullshit of her predecessors with “Professional Suicide.”  The album is even more incredible given the fact that Brown was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Despite her condition, her layered beats and sublime lyrics are so old that they’re new.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet pure pop perfection. “Magic,” “My Delirium,” “Paris Is Burning,” “Another Runaway.”

3. Fredrik – Na Na Ni.  I haven’t seen any other magazine even mention Fredrik this year, which is a total shame, because this album is stunning.  There is a Sufjan Stevens-tinged folk here, with the natural sound of Sigur Ros, and the melodies are glorious.  Themes of vulnerability and good versus evil stretch throughout a dark sonic world, but the notes constantly sooth away the fear.  Listening to this album can honestly transport you to a time when things were simpler and infinitely more complex, when the world seemed shaped by stories and imagination and creativity instead of greed and bitterness and ignorance.  In short, this album is transcendent.  “Black Fur,” “1986,” “Alina’s Place,” “11 Years.”

2.  Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend.  Oh, Vampire Weekend, you poor bastards.  You never asked for the hype wave to build so much last year that it lead to an inevitable backlash.  It sucks that mainstream ass hats like MTV caught on, but why should anyone hold it against you?  Your trust fund frat rock, as some have deemed it, is still light years ahead of almost anything on the radio right now.  Your sunny, irrepressible pop shined through, utilizing African beats to catch music lovers completely off guard.  Comparisons to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” or even Talking Heads don’t do you justice.  The result is not a feeling of awe from the sheer brilliance or a jealous pang that I could have done better.  The simple realization that I can’t stop listening to you for months on end is, alone, recognition of your achievement. “A-Punk,” “Walcott,” “M79,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”

1. She & Him – Volume One.  Zooey Deschanel’s had a big year. She had a shitty movie (The Happening), a hit movie (Yes Man – do not read as “good,” as hit and good are not synonymous terms), and she even got engaged to Ben Gibbard.  But, in my eyes, her biggest achievement was creating Volume One with M. Ward – the best album of the year.  Zooey and Matt fully realized what Mark Ronson wanted to do with Amy Winehouse with this truly phenomenal disc of retro pop gems.  These blissful throwbacks to bubblegum 60’s pop are perfectly arranged by Matt, and all of the lyrics are written by Zooey herself.  The exuberance of the pair literally jumps off the shelf, and as I have listened to it regularly since June, I don’t see this one fading away any time soon.  “This Is Not a Test,” “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” “Black Hole,” “Sentimental Heart.”


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