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Friday, April 28, 2006

Adjusting Ourselves
Getting back to this for a moment, here are a few recent scores:

Flaming Lips 171
Dresden Dolls 151.5
Drive-By Truckers 152.5
Yeah Yeah Yeahs 173

Metacritic seems to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy, but for now I'm going to let this all play out for a few months and see what we get.

To the right you will soon find a regularly updated Top 15. I'm limiting the range though - so instead of covering 2004 to present, it will now cover 2005 to present.

Anyway. Let's see how this goes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

You Can Come Home Again
It's nice to know that no matter how long I'm gone or wherever I go, when I eventually return, the Fiery Furnaces will still be terrible.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tomorrow: Young Jeezy Hangs With The Lombardi Trophy
liljon_041106_4
(via Deadspin)

"Between pictures and video promos, the hip hop superstar took some time to explain how he got hooked on hockey. 'I grew up back in the days of the Omni, back when we had the Atlanta Flames,' he explained. 'We used to go to the games at the Omni. We even went ice skating back in the day. That's how I got into hockey in the A-T-L.'"

Related: Lil Jon at his first Thrashers game.

Atlantathrashers.com: Last question - how cool would it be if the Thrashers won the Stanley Cup?

Lil' Jon: That would be great - we'd have to put some crunk juice in the Cup, drink that out of it, it'd be awesome.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Diaria: Watching The VJ Search Finale (Now With Special Guest Commentary)
All right, here we go. This is it. One hour. One VJ. It's like Game Seven of the World Series. Or a Presidential election. Or at least a day at your local mall's food court.

Anyway. Don't blame me for what follows. I'm just the messenger. Though perhaps we are all complicit one way or another.

8:01pm The judges, losers and final four arrive to a red carpet and a heaving throng of about 15 teenage girls. 'People are screaming like they mean something,' observes Miss Pop.

8:02pm. Sean arrives. 'Oh my god Dina, what the hell?' What the hell indeed.

8:04pm. Cue the opening montage. Each would-be VJ is shown in their natural habitat. Erik's playing hockey. Casey Jo answers a phone. And Sean... he's shopping. Of course. Take that homosexual stereotype.

8:05pm. There are actually some guys in the crowd. How did that happen? Are they there with their girlfriends? Because no relationship is worth that.

8:06pm. Steve Anthony's opening remarks: 'My decision hasn't changed and at this point I don't think I can influence anything.' At this point? Meanwhile, there are about 117 signs in the crowd supporting Tim. One dude in the front row even pledged his support when asked by Dina. So begins the most unnecessary 54 minutes in Canadian television history.

8:08pm. Cue the quick overview of the series. Why is this a mandatory part of every reality show? If you've been watching, you don't need the reminder. I mean, really, the show's only been 10 episodes long. We're not talking about M*A*S*H here. And if you haven't been watching, why on earth would you bother tuning in at this point? Seriously. Get a life. And while you're out, pick me one up too.

8:12pm. Miss Pop during the retrospective, 'This is such a ridiculous show... This show is awful.' And? Your point is what exactly?

8:16pm. A quick review of how each candidate campaigned in their hometowns. Sean got a pep rally at his high school. Nikki came up with a catchy slogan - "Rah Rah For Nikki Mah." Tim was mobbed by 11-year-old girls, took his shirt off and held a concert to benefit some women's shelter. Erik appeared to be wearing a white denim jacket. Again, the choice couldn't be more clear, could it?

8:21pm. Erik, how are you handling the attention? 'We're just the same as everyone else in this room.' Several kids in the audience actually raise their hands to object.

8:22pm. Miss Pop on Tim, 'There's something up with his face, is he wearing a lot of make-up or something?' Yes, make-up. Oh, and the trademark stain of emptiness that marks a man who has sold his soul.

8:23pm. Time for the losers to ask questions of their superiors. Norm asks Sean if he's worried about people who are threatening to stop watching Much if they hire Sean, on account of his homosexuality (wait, Sean's gay?). Sean seems to respond that he isn't interested in having a gay orgy on television. But wait. If we stop televising the gay orgies, haven't the homophobes won?

8:30pm. Polls are now closed.

8:32pm. Another retrospective. This one focusing strictly on the judges. A full three minutes dedicated to shots of Steve Anthony looking confused.

8:33pm. Miss Pop on Robin Black, 'Who is he again?' Exactly.

8:35pm. Traci implores the contestants not to give up their dreams. Her prominently displayed breasts decline comment.

8:36pm. The eliminations begin. Dina's left shoulder strap snaps and it appears we might get a little nipple. Of course, Much can't even get that right and the dress stays up.

8:38pm. Erik's gone. Some 12-year-old girl in the crowd commits ritualistic suicide. Erik walks over her still-twitching body as he exits.

8:40pm. Commercial break. Almost forgot to mention, VJ Leah was sitting in the front row at Sunday's Raptors game. Cuddled up beside her? Alexisonfire's Dallas Green. If Much had any sense that relationship would already be its own reality show.

8:43pm. Norm gets behind the keyboard to sing his song, 'I'm Not A Loser.' Which is probably ironic. Miss Pop would like to interject: 'This show really sucks... That was pathetic. Did you actually watch every episode for the last ten weeks? I don't know if you should be allowed to diary this.' We've now entered the anger stage of grief.

8:47. A cry for help from Miss Pop. 'Please diary: This show is pathetic. Can't believe I am watching this. Must really like boyfriend.'

8:48pm. Second elimination. Tim is safe. Sean begins to cry. But he's safe. Goodbye Nikki. Sean now sobbing. Dina to Nikki: 'Something tells me we haven't seen the last of you.' Translation: 'Our producers will be in touch with a contract offer just as soon as we get done with this crap.'

8:55pm. Final decision. Dina spends several minutes trying desperately to build some suspense. Even Sean is chanting 'Tim' at this point... and the next VJ is... Tim Deegan. Confetti flies. Several girls in the front row scream so hard they technically lose their virginity. Tim looks genuinely humbled. Or clueless. Dina signs off: 'This has been an incredible journey.' Indeed. A journey... into the heart... the heart of darkness. The horror, etc.

Several conclusions:

1. Social progress is great. But really only in theory.

2. The exact proportion of the general population that should be allowed on TV is something less than 1%.

3. Steve Anthony never should have left us.

4. In hindsight, Bradford How wasn't that bad after all.

Epilogue: Afterwards I went to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert. VJ Sarah was there. At one point our eyes met across the room and she mouthed the words, 'Help me.'

Alright, I made that last part up. But with Tim's victory, Sarah officially claims the title of VJ Most In Need Of Rescue, a post left vacant since George Stromboloupolous departed for the CBC. If Nikki had won, Sarah would have received the seemingly literate ally she needs. Instead, I give her about a week around Tim before she realizes she's better than this and takes off to become a fashion correspondent for The Hour or something.

(The YYYs were good. Maps, on its own, is a staggering achievement. Maps sung by a woman in a zombie costume... I lack the adjectives to describe such an accomplishment.)

Friday, April 7, 2006

Buzzing Like A Fridge
The essential quality of any given band is a completely subjective measure. This why even those who insist The Offspring are the best band in the world are not inherently wrong in their assertion. Wrong, perhaps. But not to a degree that anyone could prove beyond doubt.

Generally speaking, all of the above goes without saying. Everyone understands this. It is not a particularly interesting revelation. But I feel I should say it again here at the outset, like the disclaimer of potential nudity that begins every program on Showcase. Because I will now attempt to piss all over this touchy-feely sense of neo-socialist subjectivity.

Rock bands are basically charged with two purposes. First, making vaguely interesting music. Second, getting people to like them. This applies to pretty much every band. Even the Fiery Furnaces. Though just barely.

Bands can decide to add certain elements - fireworks, furry costumes, biting social commentary, a female drummer - but eventually everything comes back to these two basic ideas. (Of course, some bands choose to focus on one more than they other. Or even flat out ignore one of the two. But in these cases we get Creed. Or the Fiery Furnaces.)

Helpfully, these two criteria show themselves separately - through critical acclaim and record sales. So, first, let us assume that the best bands in the world manage to please both critics and the record-buying public.

The happiness of critics is typically difficult to measure. In part because critics are generally unhappy people. But also because critics regularly work in a less-than-uniform system of stars, letters, numbers and sometimes thumbs. Often, being the unknowable intellectuals that they are, they eschew any kind of rating entirely.

The best anyone has so far been able to offer is Metacritic, which distills all of this random insight into a single number between 1 and 100. For instance, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record rates a 79, while the latest P.O.D. album receives a less-impressive 53. This means that critics generally prefer the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to P.O.D. And, also, that critics are godless and hell-bound.

Despite the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the American recording industry, the relative mood of the record-buying public is more easily measured, namely by Billboard. For instance, right now, lots of people love country heart-throb Tim McGraw, but not as many as love hip-hop heart-throb T.I. (though after the inevitable duet, this difference may be negated).

If you were so interested, the challenge would come in combining these two measures into one, easy-to-understand rating.

Well, I am so interested. At least today.

The Metacritic score can actually stay as is. For our purposes, it works just fine. Billboard, on the other hands, requires some math.

Let's first take the Billboard 200, the basic chart for albums. There are plenty of numbers you could take from that - current position, weeks on the chart, etc - but let's work strictly with peak position, which gives us an idea of where the band's most recent album stood at its most popular.

To get a rating, let's say that peaking at number one is worth 200 points, while peaking at 200 is worth exactly one point. Then, to get that number on the same level as the Metacritic score, let's divide the Billboard rating by two. In the end you get something like this:

Billboard/2 + Metacritic = X.

(In general, this equation should only be applied to bands who released records in, say, the last couple years. With anything older, time renders the numbers less relevant.)

That would give you a score between 1 and 200. For example, Broken Social Scene, whose last album had a Metacritic score of 82 and peaked at 105 would receive a rating of 130. Arcade Fire is just behind at 124. Nickelback is just ahead at 138.

Now, does this mean that Nickelback is better than Broken Social Scene? Well, yeah, sorta.

But, here's the thing: neither are among the best bands in the world. In fact, they're not even close.

Using the same formula and applying it to some of the biggest and most acclaimed bands of the last couple years, here's your Top 10:

White Stripes 179
Franz Ferdinand 178.5
Gorillaz 178.5
U2 178
Green Day 177
System of a Down 177*
Wilco 175.5
Queens of the Stone Age 175
Yeah Yeah Yeahs 174
Modest Mouse 173.5

(*I used Hypnotize for this, which seemed to be the more recent of their albums. If you use Mesmerize, they actually score 184.)

So there you go. Assuming I haven't forgotten anyone and my Grade 12 math skills are as sharp now as they were so many years ago, the best band in the world is the White Stripes. And, without having tried to make the numbers match a pre-conceived conclusion, the calculation has actually produced fairly respectable results. I'd even go so far as to say the Top Ten is a pretty accurate assessment of the last two years in rock music.

(For the sake of argument, some other scores: Mars Volta 172.5, Interpol 171, Arctic Monkeys 170.5, Coldplay 170, Rolling Stones 170, Foo Fighters 167.5, Strokes 165.5, Audioslave 165, Velvet Revolver 163, New Pornographers 162.5, Killers 161, Korn 161, My Morning Jacket 156, Yellowcard 154, Weezer 148.5, Sleater-Kinney 147.5, Kings of Leon 145, Bloc Party 124.5, Rilo Kiley 93)

Suffice it to say, by the time you read this, I will already be at the patent office. (And, suffice it to say, there I will find out that someone figured this out about three years ago.)

Thursday, April 6, 2006

VJ Search Update: Now With Bonus Whining
So I had most of this written last night but then, because coming up with this stuff is so taxing, I retreated to a nearby couch. I awoke at 6am and somewhere in the confusion the computer was turned off. And then my dog ate it.

Anyway. As if I wasn't resentful enough already, I will now comment on Episode Ten not once, but twice.

Onward...

1. So this week Sean, Nikki and Erik were each interviewed in front of a live studio audience. The whole thing set a new Canadian television record for most awkward teenagers in a single studio. And it also gave the Much producers a rare chance to make use of their slow-motion flashback skills. Award-winning stuff. Finally they introduced the viewer-selected "wild card"... and it was dopey dreamboat Tim. One teenage girl in the audience actually exploded when this was announced. Rather messy. Then the four finalists competed in their toughest challenge yet... a music trivia contest. And that was it. Nobody got eliminated. Viewers now get to pick their favourite from the four. Dina, the host, signed off with: "Thanks for watching. Start voting. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

2. Somehow the show's producers thought it was perfectly fine to set up the interviews so that whenever they cut to Dina you could see the judges looking bored and distracted in the background. Endlessly entertaining.

3. To review then: It took MuchMusic ten episodes to eliminate a grand total of six contestants. That has to make this the most inefficient reality show in the history of the genre.

4. At one point it was noted that if Sean wins he will be the first "openly gay" VJ in MuchMusic history. Wait. Hold on. Sean's gay?

5. Kardinal apparently found time despite his VJ judging duties to attend the Junos in Halifax. But he swears he's never going back. To the Junos, at least. "It's just a bunch of garbage so I won't be a part of it anymore," he said. That, I believe, is irony.

6. Tim is going to win. I have no inside information. I have not consulted a psychic. I just know that a lot of 12-year-old girls watch MuchMusic. And 12-year-old girls like pretty, polite, personality-deprived guys. It's the Kalan Porter Rule. If it comes down to a bland, but pretty guy and a pretty, slightly quirky girl on a reality show aimed at teenage girls and their mothers, the dude is going to win. Is anyone taking bets on this? I could use the extra cash.

7. It'll be fun after next week's show to see how long they keep Tim off the air to train him. And then how long after they've put him on the air that they quietly shuffle him off to the research department. Dude's going to make Aaron Strate look like a legend.

8. Something else to watch for: How quickly Much finds an excuse to bring Nikki back. She's obviously the most able. But that doesn't really matter and so she'll finish, at best, a distant second (even she seems to realize as much, judging from this).

9. Nikki name-dropped Controller.Controller at one point to prove her music cred. Is this a new high point for the on-going indie rock revolution or the first sign of the end?

10. This is apparently her MySpace site. Seems she's friends with Metric too.

11. Where do I get one of those Nikki For VJ t-shirts?

12. Finally, making sure to take all possibilites into account, let's review the first question each would ask 50 Cent if provided the opportunity:

Sean: What hurts more, getting shot or getting a bad review?
Nikki: How do you feel about being a role model to youth and having them listen to your music?
Erik: What is your biggest fear in life and why?
Tim: How does it feel being in your own movie?

Yeah. There's really not anything more I can say here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Good Name For A Band: Poor Posture
So I've been getting treatment for a bad back, which is sort of ridiculous because I generally don't do anything more strenuous than yawn. Anyway, this wouldn't generally be worth mentioning here save for the fact that the first time I went to the clinic they were playing the Garden State soundtrack and this latest time they were playing the most recent Death Cab for Cutie album. And it occurred to me that that just about tells you everything you could ever need to know about this generation of rock. Music for physiotherapy.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Fight For Better Music
(Aside from a repeat of Broken Social Scene's performance, I didn't watch the Junos Sunday night. Not intentionally. But not unwillingly either. I can only assume that a) Pam Anderson said something controversial about the seal hunt, b) there were about 37 poorly veiled jokes about Pam Anderson's breasts and c) Jacob Hoggard walked on stage and apologized to the nation... for everything. Anyway. This will have to count as my Juno post. At some point this past weekend Bryan Adams was inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame or won a lifetime achievement award or something. Or so I can only assume.)

When I inevitably sell out and take this blog big time, rest assured I will be hiring Bruce Allen as my manager. And Keith Scott as my guitarist. For reference, consider their work for Bryan Adams.

According to Allen, Adams is "indefatigable" and "the furthest thing from a robot there is."

But wait, there's more...

"If he made a decision in his younger years to be a neurosurgeon, he'd be the best neurosurgeon in the world."

"He takes a lot of risks, but he challenges all those around him to keep up with him. He's just driven to be excellent. It's unbelievable."

"Most of all, he's got a terrific work ethic, loves to work."

"I don't think he's ever got the credit for what he's done musically."

"He might be - as Mutt Lange and Bob Rock, two of the greatest producers in the business, said - the best white singer in the business today."

"He's done so much in his career, done things that you can actually take a look and say, 'He was the first act to go to Pakistan; first in Vietnam; first in Turkey.' He believes that music breaks down all borders. That's what he really thinks about music."

"His actions speak louder than his words. He shows up. The money he's raised for cancer; he's the guy who got the whale sanctuary going in the southern hemisphere; he's built schools in Pakistan. He played Jordan on the last tour. Korea, Iceland, Egypt, Qatar, India, Chile, East Berlin, Russia -- a lot of people would never even go to these places."

"He's Canada's number one ambassador by far. There's nobody close."

To review: He fights oppression, heals the sick, could have been the world's best neurosurgeon, can sing better than Justin Timberlake and is most likely not a robot.

So there is probably a decent argument to be made that Bryan Adams is criminally under-appreciated. Then again, there's also a very valid argument to be made that Bryan Adams is incredibly over-appreciated.

If you've ever read this blog (all four of you) or at least come here looking for those semi-nude picture of Michelle Branch (the other seven of you), you may know that I'm vaguely obsessed with the successful but completely insignificant. It's a theory I'm working on.

Well, if there were a Successful But Insignificant Hall of Fame, Bryan Adams would probably be among the inaugural inductees. He's just that successful. And insignificant.

Adams is undeniably the first. He's one of the best-selling artists in Canadian history and he's recorded probably a half dozen bonafide international hits. According to a study I just made up, one in four adults worldwide owns a Bryan Adams record or has awkwardly made out with someone to the strains of Everything I Do (I Do It For You).

But Everything I Do is probably a perfect metaphor for his career. Though massively popular and having spent approximately four years atop the Billboard charts, it is entirely forgettable. Honestly, until I started thinking about Bryan Adams, I had erased it completely from my mind. The same cannot be said of, say, Love Me Do or Start Me Up or even Life Is A Highway.

Furthermore, it wasn't even the most important melodramatic ballad of its era. In fact, it pales in comparison to Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You.

Now, there is a certain idea that Adams blazed a trail for Canadian artists hoping to succeed in the United States. That he paved the proverbial trail for Celine, Shania, Alanis, Avril and, of course, Kazzer. Unfortunately, there are several flaws in this theory. First, Rush, The Guess Who and William Shatner all pre-date Adams. Second, it assumes that previous to Adams, the American public held a pre-conceived hatred for Canadian recording artists. And that once Americans heard Summer of '69, they decided to give our humble nation a second chance. Even if we assume the prejudice existed, I'm hard-pressed to believe that solution is plausible.

So what, beyond the people who work for him, is Bryan Adams particularly famous for at this point? Well, being Canadian. And existing in the 80s. And being schmaltzy... though not as famously schmaltzy as say Sting or Phil Collins or Anne Murray. And having a name that sort of sounds like Ryan Adams, much to the latter's chagrin.

The problem, of course, is that there are plenty of schmaltzy Canadians who existed in the 80s. In fact, most Canadians who existed in the 80s were schmaltzy. Some of them probably even had or have names that sound like Ryan Adams.

This is not to say that Bryan Adams is entirely without merit. Quite the contrary. I imagine he's exactly twice as interesting as 95% of professional musicians. All things considered, this country, at the very least, should care about him a bit more than it collectively does.

But, at the same time, it has plenty of excuse not to.

Look at it this way: when David Fricke finally gets around to writing the definitive Rock N Roll bible (if he hasn't already), Bryan Adams will be lucky to merit a sentence. And, if that, it will probably be one that starts "Several other popular soft rock stars included..." or "Ryan Adams eventually committed suicide one night after the 7,489 request for Summer of '69, a once-popular song written by..."

What is perhaps most significant about Bryan Adams is that he has managed to remain so insignificant. He was never at the forefront of anything. He can't be said to have led a particularly important movement or defined an enduring sound. His influence cannot be heard in the hip music of today. He has so far failed to die via drug overdose. Or at least over-eating. We probably will not feel a need to tell our children about him. Unless, perhaps, the story goes, "I remember when I met your mother, it was our senior formal and that song from that Robin Hood movie was playing. I think it might've starred Christian Slater. You know, the actor who went on to become that famous used car salesman. Anyway..."

This is not particularly Bryan's fault. We could probably take a few hours to debate the system of social prejudices and pre-conceived, intellectual wisdoms that create significance. But, until then, consider just this: Bryan Adams is arguably the most successful artist ever to achieve such insignificance. I struggle to find a comparison - an artist as successful who is less significant (or at least equally insignificant) than Bryan Adams. He basically epitomizes this entire half-formed concept.

Go through the list of the most popular recording artists of our time and every one of them could make a greater claim to significance. Even MC Hammer. You laugh, but if asked I bet I could put together a decent university paper placing him within a greater context of popular hip-hop and race relations in middle America. Bryan Adams? Close, but not so much.

It's difficult even to figure out what Bryan Adams could do at this point to render himself significant. Form a band with Pete Doherty? Shoot Pete Doherty? Help Pete Doherty shoot up? Try out for American Idol? I have no idea.

Well, I do have one theory. It's crazy, but it might just work. First, he'd have to get himself booked on some big awards show (the Junos don't count). At his designated time he would then stride on stage and, to the screams and shrieks of onlookers, begin peeling off his face. As he began to reveal his true, metallic face, he would announce that all along he was part of an elaborate ruse - he was not Bryan Adams, a good Canadian kid who made, good, forgettable rock music, he was Bryan Adams, the first and most successful robot in pop music history.

I can dream.

(VJ Search update coming soon. Suffice it to say, I'm frustrated. And now resentful.)
Single Of The Year
Dirk Nowitzki - Courtside

Soul Asylum meets Radiohead meets a German basketball player.

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