Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings by Counting Crows by justuntilsund0wn
May 26, 2008, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Music Reviews | Tags: ,

To put it simply, they’re back. Most people myself included think that Counting Crows have spent the past 6 years writing catchy little ditties for the Shrek soundtracks that appeal to both eight year olds and their moms who listen to it on the way to school. But when the opening track “1492” explodes like a shotgun blast to the gut, it’s a whole different game. The first 70 seconds of the album reference guns, all-night partying, skinny girls performing fellatio, and tranny whores. Ladies and gents, we are no longer in the Kingdom of Far Far Away.

“Hanging Tree” keeps the rapid fire good times rolling, complete with screaming guitar solos and all the hooks you could ever cram into a chorus. The song slows, then winds itself back up like drinking off a hangover. It’s the musical equivalent of running to catch the tour bus before it heads full speed for the next town.

“Los Angeles” starts out sounding like every Ryan Adams song about New York, which is to say it sounds like long, slow, whiskey soaked nights, which is to say it sounds like damn good rock n roll. Especially when the staccato chorus offers amends for sexing, drugging, and rocking: “I’m just trying to make some sense out of me.” Ah yes, rock n roll indeed.

“Sundays” trolls along with a Grateful Dead lead guitar before an echoing crash cymbal sends it into wistful crooning backed by mandolin. “Insignificant” is full of erupting guitar chords and high lonely solos that could be coming out of Springsteen’s amp. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’ve heard the song before, which is probably more a sign of a strong chorus rather than a retread.

The highpoint of the album naturally comes at the end of the Saturday half of the album. “Cowboys” returns to that crazy never-ending dizziness of “Hanging Tree”, but is darker. The song will turn sweet for a few bars but then it’s back down the rabbit hole. The song blisters as Duritz loses it beautifully. He gets angry, shouts, stutters, points fingers, and gives up. Favorite line of the album? “She says she doesn’t love me, like, like she’s acting/But it’s as if she isn’t talking/’Cause Mr. Lincoln’s head is bleeding/On the front row while she’s speaking”.

The second half of the album slows down to reflect on the morning after. The first song here, the lackluster going home song “Washington Square”, is a complete misfire. “Almost Any Sunday Morning” and “Michelangelo” are salvaged by pedal guitar, banjo plucking, and pattering percussion. In fact, these two are probably the best Sunday songs here with their tastefully rationed instrumentation.

“Anyone But You” helps break any mopey mold being cast. With its lilting coo, some odd effects, and a squawking guitar helps the album pulls itself out of a mediocre B side. The addition of the catchy first single “You Can’t Count on Me” buoys it even further. It has a simple 4/4 chorus that works well, which excites me because its not even their strongest song. If this one takes off with radio play then we could have a classic Counting Crows album on our hands.

But you can add “Le Ballet Dor” and “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago” to the scratch list. Combined with “Washington Square”, these are the major pitfalls detracting from the flow of the album. Which is a shame because at 14 songs they could have spared a few songs and made an airtight album. I’m sure the desire to balance out Saturday night with Sunday morning led to some weaker songs being included.

“Amsterdam” is the real tragedy here. It has truly amateurish lyrics, complete with over explaining the context of the song (see song title), and tacking objects and verbs on the ends of lines to make rhyme schemes work. Some nonsensical lines muck up the song even more. “She is the film of a book of the story of the smell of her hair” just seems dopey. Same with the melodramatic “Come back to me!” chorus, where Duritz forces his strong voice to compensate for a weak song. I seriously can’t stand listening to that song.

Luckily the album closes on a high note, just the way it came in. Same tempo, but with a more conciliatory message that fits the Sunday theme. It just sounds like a closer, as the wounds of Saturday night have duly healed on Sunday morning. And it certainly echoes the Counting Crow’s favorite phrase. There are probably a half a dozen references to coming home, coming back, coming up, and coming around. Pretty fitting for a great band that has done just that. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is one hell of a rock n roll album, especially the heavier half. And just like we can forgive “Accidentally in Love”, we can ignore the few missteps on the album’s second half. Duritz even says as much: “After I’ve been missing for a while…We’ll still come around. We will come around.”

OPEC Sucks, But You Can Save Your Summer! by dedoty
May 24, 2008, 11:45 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , ,

There’s been a hell of a lot of negativity going around recently on the news, in the blogosphere, and in the homes of SUV-driving soccer moms around the country about rising oil and gas prices. The Drudge Report had a running ticker on the top for a little over a week constantly advertising the new records oil prices were breaking. It was getting updated, it seemed, almost by the hour. Farmers are switching to mules to pull their tractors, saying it’s “the way of the future!” Cops are going old school too; with their cruisers chugging gasoline like desperate alcoholics, they have no choice but to start walking their beats in an effort keep costs down. And it’s only going to get worse says Robert Hirsch, an economic analyst and apparent Prophet of the Apocalypse. Hirsch stated on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “$12 to $15 gas is inevitable” in the next two decades. That would mean that, the average American, filling a fifteen gallon tank just once a week, would spend between 20 and 25 percent of pre-tax income on gasoline.

Anyway, with all this pessimism floating around it was refreshing to find an article that, perhaps inadvertently, took a step back and put things into perspective. Some of the highlights:

  • When you adjust for current exchange rates, gas costs $7.70 in France. Somehow it seems like it should feel better to know that somewhere, there’s a French guy getting screwed worse than you.
  • Currently, an average of 3.7% of disposable income in America goes to covering fuel for transportation. That sounds like a lot, especially compared to 1.9% just ten years ago, but it’s still not as bad as the 4.5% people paid in 1981.
  • Also, when you factor in improvements in fuel economy (which averaged LESS than 10 mpg in the 1970s!) and inflation, Americans are paying less per mile—“only” fifteen cents—than in 1981, when the cost was just a little over seventeen cents per mile.

But things are still pretty terrible, right? Well, not necessarily, for the middle class at least. In a heart-wrenching tale worthy of the silver screen, this same article wrote, “For many people, high energy costs mean fewer restaurant meals, deferred weekend outings with the kids, less air travel, and more time close to home.” Since I don’t have kids who could spend all Memorial Day weekend complaining about how we don’t get to go to Disneyland, maybe I don’t have room to talk, but it seems to me that staying at home with your family and friends to barbecue and play Frisbee instead of going to Applebee’s and spending three days crammed into an overcrowded campground with every family from suburbia is far from the worst tragedy that could befall today’s American home.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the gas crisis today is certainly a serious one. But it’s far from another Great Depression:

It isn’t even the worst energy crisis our country has faced. Just like the last one, we’ll get through it alright, and who knows? Maybe this was just the wakeup call our country—and our leaders—needed to make major strides towards energy independence.

The November Rundown by justuntilsund0wn

About once a month, I’d like to do a rundown of the music I’ve been listening to recently, and I encourage everybody to do the same. When you don’t have time to do a full album review, just give us a word or two about each album so we can share what is worth checking out ourselves. My friend and I have been doing this all year, and I plan on posting some back issues to get us started.

A) “Sawdust” by The Killers
B) “The Wire Tapes: Volume 1” by Dashboard Confessional
C) “The Shade of Poison Trees” by Dashboard Confessional
D) “Boxer” by The National
E) “Cassadaga” by Bright Eyes
F) “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning” by Bright Eyes
G) “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” by Bright Eyes

A) It’s that good.
B) Absolutely the best covers album I’ve ever heard. The breadth of Dashboard’s talent is really made apparent.
C) Sugar, baby. I’ve listened to this album something like 60 times in 2 months. 12 songs, 33 minutes, delicious pop sounds. *cough* Brian Wilson *cough*
D) Beautiful, wistful, symphonic.
E) Perfect.
F) Classic.
G) I-can’t-even-believe-how-good-this-is-considering-its-electronic-folk good.

N.B. Yes, I linked to MySpace. Its the best way to listen to a bands music quickly. I’ve noticed since nthe networking sites took off, bands have really let their home pages slide. Sucks.

Why You Gotta Be Like That, John? by dedoty
May 22, 2008, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,

Just yesterday I was watching Lou Dobbs when he showed a clip of John McCain speaking to reporters on his campaign bus, criticizing Barak Obama’s plans for foreign policy. I have to say, I was a bit surprised—I knew McCain called him naïve, on more than one occasion, but he really didn’t pull any punches this time:

“Barack Obama is naïve enough to believe that if he sits across from … Raul Castro or, uh, Ahmadinejad, that they’ll be able to work things out”

This, of course, is because diplomacy, communication, and negotiation are unwieldy, time-consuming, and ineffective means for getting what you need, when you need it. If the President says the US will open talks with a rogue leader, what he’s basically saying that the United States plans on “Caving in like a little girl and giving the terrorists what they want.”

After all, when Kennedy decided to engage in an extensive dialogue with Nikita Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and install a phone line between Moscow and Washington immediately afterwards, it forced the only direct war between the Soviet Union and the US. And when Nixon went over to Beijing to talk with Mao about thawing relations between China and the US, the Communists took over the Senate in the 1974 elections. Oh, wait…I forgot. None of that actually happened, because the use of diplomacy as a viable alternative to economic sanctions, the silent treatment, or military force actually managed to heal old wounds rather than pour salt in them.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that McCain may be right in his underlying message. An unflinching reliance on diplomacy alone, accompanied by the inability to recognize when negotiations have collapsed *cough cough Jimmy Carter cough cough* is dangerous and absurd. No president should ever take any options off the table, and the willingness to adapt should make up a major part of any approach to foreign policy-making. That goes for anything, though. The last eight years have taught us that an unflinching reliance on hard power is equally as destructive—inflexibility, like radicalism or eating paint chips, is inherently misguided.

We know McCain thinks Barack Obama is some sort of idiot romantic. But what does he think should be done instead? In one interview, he stated that he would not “legitimize someone like Raul Castro by quote, sitting down with him,” also saying that “As soon as the political prisoners are free … and free elections have been held. Then I would sit down with any freely elected president or leader of Cuba.” Now who’s naïve? Since when was ignoring a major problem ever the best solution for it? Not only do you fail to cultivate any sort of meaningful partnership, but by stubbornly giving another government the cold shoulder, you implicitly give it recognition. The “tough guy” approach also coalesces popular opinion in that country against you, as has been seen in Russia, Iran, and Iraq. If McCain, as President, plans simply to ignore the leaders of other countries and cut off diplomatic ties with them in the hopes that their people will rise up, overthrow them, and vote in a pro-American government backed by an iron-clad, democratic constitution, he is clearly living a fantasy. He would be better off coming back to reality, recognizing the current world situation, and attempting to regain Third World support for America.

McCain’s criticisms seem even more foolish when one takes into account the fact that, to my knowledge, Barack Obama is no Pollyanna about the prospects of diplomacy. It is not, and never has been, Obama’s expectation that he and Castro and Ahmadinejad and Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il would all sit down, have a couple of beers, slap each other on the back and say “Wow, sorry about all the shit that’s happened for the last few decades. You guys want to just call it even and we can go bass fishing next weekend?”

No, the route to the peaceful resolution of any dispute is much more difficult than that, and Obama knows it. Diplomacy with all nations, regardless of their values, is simply a long-neglected tool that he is willing to dust off and use to rebuild America’s image and standing in the world. McCain would be wise to quit pandering to the masses of uneducated voters who fail to grasp the current international picture, recognize that America cannot achieve her goals with her enemies with hard power alone, and start making plans of his own to meet with world leaders, both pro- and anti-American. Evil isn’t contagious, so I’m sure he could do it without endangering himself too much.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac by justuntilsund0wn
May 22, 2008, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , ,

I’ve decided that On the Road is like Catcher in the Rye for college kids: it’s blurbed on facebook and spoken about in an attempt to establish hipster legitimacy. “Oh YOU’VE read Kerouac? Yes, but I thought Dharma Bums was much better!” I’m still trying to find the connection between college stiffs and Sal Paradise, just like I’m still trying to find the connection between AP kids and Holden Caufield. I think it has something to do with vague senses of confusion and aimlessness. Rich kids that feel alienated from their parents cling to Holden as a callous renegade. And my friends and I college students live out their fantasies of complete irresponsibility through Sal. So I guess the connection is really in spirit, since none of the towels people I know have approached anything close to the craziness of the Road.

First, some reactions. Sal is 30 YEARS OLD in the book. He is not a kid. He’s already divorced and still lives with his “aunt” (Jack actually lived with his mom). He repeatedly refers to himself as a “college boy” although he is no boy, and certainly puts college on the back burner here. He drives across country to get back in home time for the spring semester. But he doesn’t like to be at home in the spring, so he sets off again to hitch more rides and hook up with more moms.

But the hero of the story is of course Dean Moriarty, who is so manic and unhinged he is famous for being manic and unhinged. The guys is considered the forerunner of the rock and roll archtype, but he didn’t play music, write books, write poetry, or act at all. No art. Dudeman just lived such a crazy life he was known all over the country. Just driving around, lying, stealing, bumming, chasing skirts, making babies, doing drugs, working railroads, talking incoherently ALOT, getting married, getting divorced, and getting married again. This all makes for great reading, mind you.

And how the story reads is half the battle (the other half is knowledge!). The prose is as rambly and incoherent and hopped up as the characters within it. Kerouac typed the book in one long continuous scroll over 4 days, sans punctuation, chapters, paragraphs etc. Swears he was not on amphetamines at the time either. The Scroll is sort of famous now and goes on a tour around the country (how appropriate) to libraries, museums and campuses. It explains what the Beat Generation was all about.

So Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the like were the Lost Generation of World War I. Their work is characterized my the modernist attitudes: “the world has gone crazy, nothing makes sense anymore, the normal modes of literary expression are dead, let’s wander around and drink and write things exactly like we feel.” After World War II, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and their ilk self-consciously decided they would be the the next generation. And so their crazy hyped up prose and poetry was lumped together in a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they were the Beat Poets.

All the running around, all the insanity, all the drinking and women exhausted me by the end. Afterward I wanted to just crawl in bed and get my scrambled head straight. I’m pretty sure I could only do maybe one week of the hard living they do on the road. I think I enjoy regular meals too much. That being said, I’m all for striking out West in better funded, slightly less irresponsible trip. But theres always school and work and gas to think about. I’ll probably just end up like every other kid my age with a touch of the wanderlust, and just be satisfied with talking about how much I loved reading the book.

“There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right / Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together” -“Stuck Between the Stations”, The Hold Steady