Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Ask random friends to instantly tell you something funny and this is what you may hear...or not.

Q: What do u call an Italian man w/ a rubber toe?
A: Roberto.

Why this is funny: Because Roberto is an Italian sounding name which, coincidentally, also sounds like "rubber toe." Moreover, it is rare to really see a man with a true rubber toe. But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe rubber toes are all the rage in the prosthetic digits market. Which would then make the joke a bit less funny because it's almost reality-based.

Use this joke on children ranging from ages 3-11, or adults that enjoy humor involving bouncing appendages.

Judy gave me a pair of panties today.

Why this is funny: Brock is a man. He is a tall, soft-spoken man. Imagining him in panties is pretty funny. Finding out that said panties are also blush pink makes this statement even funnier. Or gross. I'm not sure yet.

Use this joke with people who know both Brock and panties. Not one or the other.

I can't.
I'm humorless.

Why this is funny: It's funny, only sort of, because Noah can't follow directions. He did not tell us something funny but rather, he wrote us a haiku. And as most poets will tell you, poetry isn't funny. It's very serious stuff. And by "serious," of course they mean "boring." Note to Noah: haikus aren't funny. Follow directions.

Use this joke on your therapist. I'm sure he'll have something to say about it.

Two Jewish guys walk into a bar, right.. And the one Jew.. He's like, totally gay..
Wait.. Wait.. I forget the punchline.

Why this is funny: As you may have guessed, this isn't funny because we don't ever find out what happens at the end. In fact, this is frankly unnerving. Thanks to Anthony and his selective memory, the two individuals (whether one is gay or not is not our business. Unless this bar did not serve gay men. Which would be wrong and inconsiderate. And in that case, this would no longer be a joke but rather a potential law-suit) that walked into the bar will never know their own fate. You could always improvise your own ending by using the "and one says "ow"" standard but then their religion and sexual preference is irrelevant and should be left out. Unless you say "oy vey, ow" or "ow" with a subtle lisp. Then it would be both relevant and somewhat funny, although nowhere near hysterical.

Use this joke with your boisterous uncle that always appreciates a gay or Jewish joke.

ummm...sorry, i gots nothin'.

Why this is funny: Actually, Megan isn't really trying here at all. Unless this is her criticism on humor and society as a whole which would therein make her a editorial genius. Whoa, Megan. I have been under-using your wisdow.

My department is doing winter wonderland with props and snowflake turtlenecks and karaoke at the holiday party in front of the entire company, choreographed and all that complete with props.

Why this is funny: Any time you have a group of twenty-somethings in snowflaked mock turtlenecks, you already have a joke waiting to happen. If there was justice in the world, we would see a gathering like this wherever we went. And furthermore, watching Ilana's whole company watch this small and soon-to-be-mocked turtlenecked choir belt out a holiday classic earnestly, complete with props such as candy canes and plastic reindeer make this a unfortunate and tragic-in-a-good-way holiday scenario straight out of the unwritten Office Space sequel. Upon closer analysis, we see that the company is also too cheap to hire a band and demands that the choir perform "Winter Wonderland" accompanied by a cassette recording.

Use this joke whenever you can. Something like this happens all too rarely.

i like Arye.

Why this is funny: This also is not funny. It's sweet and sincere. And despite Miryam's attempt at being sarcastic, textbook psychology dictates that behind every joke is a little bit of truth. In this instance, it's a whole lot of truth. You like Arye. All of you do...?

Use this joke with no one. Cuz it's not funny. It's actually quite true, and I'm getting teary just thinking about all the lurve.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Today is Thanksgiving but the day that I'm truly focused on was yesterday. November 23rd, this year and every year before it, is the day my father celebrated his birthday. He would have been sixty-one.

And in truth, I had forgotten about this special occasion. I was so preoccupied with the work I was given, which was attending to the needs of 100+ mentally ill, ex-homeless, and some drug-addicted, consumers, serving them food during their Thanksgiving dinner. Granted it was a day before the actual celebration but when you have little-to-no family to celebrate with and you have almost no money to spend on turkey and stuffing, you take what you can get. Even when it comes prematurely.

I stood behind a few heaving trays of mass produced food--food I wouldn't normally consider appetizing--scooping out healthy servings of whatever it was I was stationed in front of, whether it was an unusually yellow vegetable mashed potatoes or unusually yellow macaroni salad. The people I served asked no questions, made no critical or disparaging remarks, and rarely, if ever, refused anything offered (the soy glutton wasn't, understandably, popular). There was not a centimeter of plate left exposed as they piled their food like edible mountains. As their appetites increased, mine decreased. I felt simultaneously saddened and sickened by their extreme appetites and forgotten, or perhaps never-learned, table manners. I felt even guiltier for judging them. This was a meal unlike the ones they would have the other 364 days of the year. And the consumers were obviously all well aware of this. They made repeat trips down the line with a Tupperware or two in hand. All the while, I thought that while I did not have much of my own (I'm not making a pay check and moreover, all the money I have is going to a sub-par education), there is so much that I do have.

To be a minority with a mental illness coupled with a persistent drug addiction, to have been such a person, and to have lived on the street for years with no one caring for you--this is almost something I could never fathom. Yet here I was surrounded by dozens of people who were celebrating Thanksgiving as if they had plenty to be thankful for. And in reality, they did in this specific moment, this afternoon, they had food, friends, people caring for them and ultimately, that's what we all need.

On this day, eerily, I thought about my father as if his presence were hovering over me. And while I do think of him often, on the pre-Thanksgiving Day celebration, his memory somehow weighed heavier on my mind.

The next day, when speaking to my mother on the phone, we spoke about Dad's birthday and how much we missed him. I told her what I had done on Dad's birthday and she said that my father would have been proud of me had he been there.

In retrospect, I realized that he had indeed been there, channeled through the memories in my mind.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Like, whoa.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Is one of America's funniest people actually just an anti-Semite in Jew's clothing?

In one of the early classic Seinfeld episodes entitled "The Yada Yada," Jerry suspects that his dentist Tim Whatley converted to Judaism just so he could make Jewish jokes. The jokes aren't all that offensive, but the concept behind the episode is an age-old dilemma; do we, as members of a "club," have carte blanche to point out our own faults through mean-spirited and self-deprecating jokes?

Over the past five seasons of the hit show Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David has tested this weighty question on a weekly basis. David exemplifies the worst qualities in the Jewish stereotype and displays them unabashedly, as if they were badges of honor. But what made David¹s show so brilliant was that for the most part, it was funny. That is, until now...

In his most recent season the fifth and perhaps weakest, David has been teetering on the tightrope that separates humor from self-hatred. "The Seder," an episode that ran last week, was almost respectful of the age-old tradition... except for the fact that the villain of the episode, a snitch, is also the only man at the table wearing a yarmulke. Traditionally, during the Seder, the host hides a piece of matza known as the afikomen for the children to find. David, as the host, conceals the afikomen in an armoire, but upon leaving the bathroom, the skullcapped Jew (David's agent Jeff's brother-in-law) spies David putting the matza in his carefully considered hiding place. Not coincidentally, the son of the yarmulke-wearer later finds the matza an wins the prize (a whopping dollar bill). David becomes suspicious and refuses payment, making wild accusations. "Hilarity" ensues.

The most recent episode, "Skiing," is not only unfunny but also wildly inaccurate. David not only makes fun of his own religion, he also makes up half of its customs, thereby misinforming unfamiliar viewers. His gross portrayal of Orthodox Jews (who feature prominently in this episode) is reminiscent of the cartoons published by the Germans and French during World War II (the only thing missing were the grossly exaggerated noses). Not only does David ridicule religious observance, he also succeeds in making Jewish people sound like aliens throughout the episode. When the actors were quoting Yiddishisms, they were mostly clearing their throats, rarely saying anything decipherable. If you tried translating the guttural "chuh chuh chuh" you would find that it means "chuh chuh chuh."

The Orthodox girl in "Skiing," named Rachel, keeps her hair covered, but with a little research you would find that single girls do not cover their hair; only married women do. Moreover, her character is dismissive, angry, judgmental, antagonistic and ungrateful. While such people do exist, I can't help but wonder if this is how David sees all Orthodox females. Similarly, a couple of seasons back, David cast Gina Gershon as an Orthodox dry cleaner who would willingly have sex with David, despite being married, as long as it was done through a hole in the sheet (which is also a myth). Gershon's character, which must have been based on a shtetl whore from the 1920s, acts morally bankrupt, speaking in an awful faux-Yiddish accent that further re-enforces David¹s apparently low opinion of observant women (Incidentally, I won't even bother nitpicking at events of the last ten minutes of "Skiing" which was as close to representing Jewish law as Christmas would).

So why take offense at Curb Your Enthusiasm when, after all, it's just a half-hour comedy?

A few years ago, I remember meeting someone in Australia who insisted that all New York Jews act like Seinfeld. While the titular comedian was a disarmingly funny man, he was also a whiner, a frequent complainer, an unethical character, paranoid, selfish and uncaring. Not the sort of person you want representing a population of 11,000,000. Watching the most recent Curb, one might walk away with similar impressions. I was saddened by David's obvious self-hatred and disrespect for his own tradition, but even sadder for the viewers who watch the show (albeit with a grain of salt) and are left with a false impression of Orthodoxy. A friend says we should not take the show so seriously. David's misrepresentation of Judaism, he says, is a warped, misguided love letter to his own tradition. And besides, David is consistently offensive to all religions and conditions.

True to an extent, but if one took a closer look at the show's cast of characters, you would find that Judaism is the most poorly represented. The cast, which features Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, Larry David, and Richard Lewis, is overtly and predominately Jewish. All four characters have similar traits, mostly of them unflattering (with the occasional exception of Garlin, who can be a well-intentioned individual) and generally confrontational personalities. The one non-Jew Cheryl Hines is the voice of reason to the aforementioned actors' voices of insanity. Interesting.

A few weeks back, New York magazine had a cover story about the genetic research done in regard to the high intelligence of Jews. The cover headline, "The Jewish Brain" was plastered across the bald head of Larry David. Unfortunately, the cover choice suggested that David represents the paradigmatic Jew. All I could do was mutter that old Jewish expression of disgust: chuh chuh chuh

Thursday, November 17, 2005


What do these songs say about your average adolescent magician?

When I opened their music store this evening, I noticed that iTunes was featuring a celebrity playlist selected by Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. The kid plays a teenage magician, so ultimately I wasn't expecting much but when I looked at his choices, I was actually quite impressed. At the age of only fifteen, Radcliffe has picked some decidingly non-commercial songs. While they're not necessarily fringe (well, Antony is a transvestite), it's still commendable. The dude flies on a broom but still keeps it real with British Sea Power. Word to your Hogwart.

"Hope There's Someone" by Antony & The Johnsons
"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" by Arcade Fire
"Man Ray" by The Futureheads
"Carrion" by British Sea Power
"Buddy Holly" by Weezer
"Music When the Lights Go Out" by The Libertines
"Gouge Away" by the Pixies
"Me Ves y Sufres" by Hope of the States
"What I'm Looking For" by Brendan Benson
"Boredom (Live)" by the Buzzcocks

But wait. Lest you think all British magicians have a decent palette for music, Radcliffe's co-star Rupert Grint selects his choices as well.

"Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
"U Got It Bad" by Usher
"I Am Not Your Broom" by They Might Be Giants
"Minority" by Green Day
"Stand Up Tall" by Dizzee Rascal
"Sucker Train Blues" by Velvet Revolver
"Forgot About Dre" by Dr. Dre, Eminem & Snoop Dogg
"Common People" by Pulp
"White Wedding, Pt. 1" by Billy Idol
"Fit But You Know It" by The Streets

While Grint proves himself old school with both Nirvana and Pulp, he negates any credit with a Velvet Revolver selection. And no, not every Usher song is bad but "U Got It Bad" just happens to be one of them. Moreover, the Buzzcocks beat Franz Ferdinand and the Futureheads, British Sea Power, and Arcade Fire will always win out over, er, a Billy Idol song (regardless of the retro-ironic factor).

In the iPod battle of Ralph versus Harry, Radcliffe's iPod is just a bit more wiggum...whatever that means.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Dispatch After the Show

As I stood in the back of the dimly lit Mercury Lounge, I found myself surrounded by five middle-aged balding men. Not that I have anything against middle-aged balding men--I've known many in my life--but the follicle challenged wall blocking my view was especially odd considering I was at a rock show.

The first American Arctic Monkey audience was a veritable who's-who of, um, the corporate men that sit amongst piles and piles of unsolicited demos sent in by unsigned bands. Needless to say, they don't shout song requests, they don't cheer, and they certainly don't mosh. Not necessarily a thrilling live experience. The band, a nervous, pimple-ridden quartet of nineteen-year-olds performed on stage appropriately like teenagers. Unsure, a bit defiant, and somewhat apathetic, as if to say, We're the Arctic Monkeys and we're here. You're here. Why not play a few songs?

The Monkeys sped through a feverish and hyperactive set of post-punk pub rock, their sound akin to a un-metrosexual Franz Ferdinand, a brattier Buzzcocks raised in the Oasis versus Blur decade. While the songs are strong and catchy, ultimately, after five or six of them, they lose their memorable distinctiveness. This is a band that's neither great nor bad. They're just pretty good (not that that's a bad thing. Being pretty good is definitively a feat). But perhaps my lack of enthusiasm is due in part to the incessant and insane hype imported from the UK. How could my personal expectations not be sky high? After all, I expected Jesus and the Christs, not an admirably tight foursome of rebel-rousing teens.

When I met the Arctic Monkeys before their debut show, none of them could understand why they were the source of so much excitement. "We're just okay," said bassist Andy Nicholson. "Not sure what all the bloody fuss is about." And in fact, he's right. This is a band at the very beginning of their career. These songs and albums are the equivalent of awkward high school portraits. They're really good and quite enjoyable although I'm not sure if they're going to unite a generation. But perhaps when the industry finds a new carcass (a good band name?) to feed on, maybe the Arctic Monkeys will then finally have the opportunity to be the heroes they have the potential to be. Or, maybe they won't.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


They're not old enough to drink Stateside but yet they're old enough to "unite a generation." With nary an album released, are the Arctic Monkeys becoming too famous, too quickly?

Dispatch Before the Show:

I'm going to see the Arctic Monkeys play a sold-out show tonight at New York's Mercury Lounge. It may not sound like a big deal but I'm told it is. After all, the Monkeys, sweeping into New York for their first American shows are an immense hype sensation. The kind of band that makes indie rock devotees clamor around for the important industry connection that gets them into a buzz show. But as their publicist told me, no such connection exists.

Their two New York shows are beyond sold out (they've even moved the second one to the larger Bowery Ballroom because of the high demand) and their label hasn't any more physical tickets to offer even to the more important journalists (one photographer went so far as to subtly threaten the label that if he didn't get a ticket, his magazine wouldn't cover the band). There are 76 matches on Craigslist regarding the exchange of Arctic Monkeys tickets to these two sold-out shows. Some want hundreds of dollars, others are looking for, er, favors ("Extra Arctic Monkeys ticket for HOT girl with loose morals!").

It's undeniable that the band is causing quite a stir. In England, they already have a legion of rabid and devoted fans. The British music weekly NME has christened them the band to "unite a generation" likening the words of 19-year-old lead singer Alex Turner to those of the great lyricists Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker. But this is all extremely surreal and odd when you consider that they've yet to release an album (tellingly, their MySpace page features the quote "Don't believe the hype.")

The Arctic Monkeys, made up of four high school friends from Sheffield, England, have only officially released one single with only two songs on it and that single debuted on the English charts at No. 1 beating out the respective new releases by radio-friendly pop acts the Sugarbabes and McFly. Moreover, their debut doesn't come out for another few months but there's already an anticipated pre-order. Finally, and even more incredibly, they're still all under 20-years-old.

So, the question must be asked (putting on my Objective Hat), are they really that good?

Well, I'll let you know later tonight after the show.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Dept. Mins: Safety & Security
Private Bag X463, PRETORIA, 0001
Wachthuis, Thuvalk Arcade
Pretoria,South Africa

Dear Sir/Madam,

I Am Quite Sure That This Mail Will Surprise You Since we Have Not Been Having spoken Correspondences since we had That awkward first Date. First, let me start by telling you as MRS SUSAN SHABANGU, a mother of three children (I am sorry that I did not tell you on our date that I had children. LIke, totally slipped my mind) and the Deputy Minister, Safety and Security, since 29th April 1996 to date under the auspices of the President of South Africa MR THABO MBEKI. I swear I have not made that name up. Does it sound like I did? After due deliberation with my children, I decided to contact you for your assistance in helping me get some pizza because I am very hungry. Oh, and I would like to also liberate my country. I need a lot of money for this pizza and liberation (US$19.5 Million United States Dollars). You can view my profile at my website www.gov.za then click on contact formation, then also click at deputy ministers, then click on my office (Safety and Security). www.info.gov.za/gol/gcis_profile.jsp?id=1066. You most likley find a website that was not made by my teenage son. YOu may think it was but I swear it was not. Like that black man said, you cannot touch this.

After the swearing in ceremony making me the Deputy Ministry, Safety and Security, because women have always been in political power in third world countries, contrary to popular belief. My husband Mr Ndelebe Shabangu (snap. did I not tell you that I was married either? Really uncool of me) died from death while he was on a skiing trip to Trinidad and Tobago in 1996. He is an excellent skier but the problem was that there was no snow in Trinidad. After his "accident," I discovered that he had some funds in a dollar account which amounted to the sum of US$19.5 Million with a security and finance institution in South africa of which i will divulge information to you when I get your full consent and support to go for a change of beneficiary and subsequent transfer of the funds into you a comfortable and condusive account of your choice. Actually, scratch that; I want to give you all this money. I want nothing in return. It is all yours. Take it and run.

Wait, I cannot do that. Even though I would like to. But I can't. I changed my mind. This fund emanated as a result of an over-invoiced contract which he executed with the Government of South Africa. The whole government. Oh? You did not know this? It was on the news? Yes, the news. What news do you watch?
No, not that channel. The other one.

Though I assisted him in getting this contract but I never knew that it was over-invoiced by him.
I am afraid that the government of South Africa might start to investigate on contracts awarded from 1990 to date. If they discover this money in his bank account, they will confiscate it and seize his assets here in South Africa and this will definetely affect my political career in government and obviously, my pizza. For it will never come to me.

I want your assistance in opening an account so that this fund could be wired into your account directly without any hitch. Does this not seem too good to be true? How could this be legitimate? I mean, unlegitimate. Although that does not feel like a real word. "Unlegitimate.' Hmmm....

As soon as the fund gets to your account, you are expected to move it immediately into another personal bank account in your country. I will see to it that the account is not traced from South Africa. As soon as you have confirmed the fund into your account, I will send my eldest son with my Attorney, who went to Harvard Law, I swear, to come to your country to discuss on business investments. For your assistance, I am offering you 20% of my pizza.

However, you have to assure me that you will eat the crust and also be ready to go into agreement with me that you will not elope with my son because gay marriage will complicate everything. If you agree to my terms, kindly as a matter of urgency send me an email. Due to my sensitive position in the South African Government, I would not WANT YOU TO CALL ME ON PHONE or send a FAX to me. This makes perfect sense, no? Do not call me. All correspondence must be by smoke signal.
Look outside your window.
No, not that one. The other one.
Yes, that window.
See the smoke?
If you want to speak with my Banker, that is fine and okay by me. Although do not expecting him to talk back because he is mute. You will have to send down your private telephone/fax number and underwear size (your favorite pizza topping is also a good idea) so that I can forward it to him to reach you from time to time. This is for security reasons.

Please I do not need to remind you of the need for absolute Confidentiality for this transaction must succeed...or do I? Perhaps I will flip a coin and decide that way. Also, I should mention that I do not like wearing socks.

If you do not feel comfortable with this transaction, please ignore this mail, and pretend you never received this information. This is only on the condition that you are a good actor. If you cannot act, then I will ask you not to pretend because pretending is quite difficult for people who cannot act well. Rather go and watch TV instead, or garden. Take advantage of this simply marvelous fall weather.

Thanks for your anticipated co-operation and my regards to your family who, I did not mention, i also know. I know them from college/camp/work/or a party I got seriously wasted at.
my son Tony Shabangu on+27-734-469407, he is grown up, pretty good looking and can still attend to you in my absence. And when I say "attend," I think you know what I mean. Wink, wink.

Yours faithfully,

Ps I am an airplane. Look at me fly. Wheeeee!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Being a music journalist, people talk to me about music. Not surprisingly, it happens quite often. And while most would prefer to seek respite from their profession, I don't mind mixing my business with your pleasure. In fact, I even encourage it. I'm always reminding my roommates that just down the hall from them is a collection of music that could last them approximately twenty-one and a half days if played straight-through. And that's just the music fiound on my hard drive. My complete music collection is an overwhelming treasure trove of classic albums, strong debuts, one-hit wonders, and, ahem, a Bee Gees boxed set. If only they took advantage…

And while I would love to share my suggestions with every one I know, sometimes I am simply not around. I cannot be everywhere. I just cannot, no matter how hard you wish it. As a result, some--the mistaken few--will purchase music blindly! With eyes shut! With ears that do not know what they are in for! Surprising the ears! In one specific instance, a friend mentioned casually that he had recently purchased a few CDs off of Amazon.com. I asked him which ones? And he showed me his new booty.

In his hand, he had the Bravery's self-titled debut, Phantom Planet's The Guest, the Killers's Hot Fuss and some other stuff that I kinda dislike but nevertheless understand their appeal (damn you, "Mr. Brightside"!). As I looked at his selections, I considered putting my friend to sleep right then and there. A quick shot to the jugular--he wouldn't even feel the pain and better yet, he would never have to suffer again. But then, I conjured up my role-playing skillz and put myself into Mister Average Listener's shoes. All of a sudden, I wasn't receiving free promos in the mail on every other day. I wasn't getting phone calls and emails from publicists keeping me in the loop regarding upcoming releases. Nor was I being asked to attend shows in local venues for free. Mister Average Listener, or "MAL" as I call him, finds out about music from websites and blogs like Pitchforkmedia.com, magazines like GQ and People, or hears something he digs on a song snippet featured on a TV show.

I asked him where he heard about these bands.
"The O.C.," he said.
The O.C.. Hmph. Like I said, a TV show.

Now, this isn't an opportunity for me to talk about how implausibly lame The O.C. is. Because while it is completely ridiculous and transparently thin show (and for the last time, I do not think I am Seth Cohen. I have always been a comic collector!), it’s simply a guilty pleasure. Analyzing a harmless guilty pleasure would be like reading the nutritional information on the back of a Ben & Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Dough container. What's the point? Just enjoy it.

Anyhoo; So this friend and his CDs and me. We're, like, all there and I'm thinking, if you think about it, there's some decent music on The O.C.. While creator Josh Schwartz's taste is wildly inconsistent and sappy, some of his choice cuts are released by noteworthy bands. But how to filter the wheat from the chaff? How canst thou, Mister Average Listener (btw, I don't mean that you're average in any way. You're great. Trust your mother and me when we say that) make sure the music you're procuring is the primo stuff? How do you know that the album you’re buying is the one you're going to cherish like cherishing is your job? No, like you're CEO of Cherishing Company.

Today I turned on my computer, opened my iTunes and did a search for "The O.C." and jackpot! I received a list of all the songs "as featured on tonight's very special, unprecedented O.C." (imagine me saying that with that really raspy Coming Attractions voice). I then hand selected my personal favorites from the hit Fox show’s multiple soundtracks and even--yes, even!--wrote a brief descriptor on why I enjoy that particular artist or I do album. Then the rest is in your hands, dear Reader. You could either take my suggestions seriously or you could ignore them. That's entirely up to you. Just explain to your kids in twenty years why you were such a cheeseball in 2005 (it wasn't my fault, kids. Swear).

1. Death Cab For Cutie
It's no surprise that the first band on the list is Seth Cohen's favorite (if only he'd stop being a total dork about it). After all, Death Cab For Cutie is almost synonymous with The O.C.. And if it weren’t for the fact that the Seattle group is so incredibly boring live, they would be mainstream contenders. But bottom line; they're boring live, so who knows if they’ll ever make it further than where they are, i.e. on a teenage girl’s iPod. Ultimately, their strength lies in their polished and produced sound. Chris Walla, both their producer and guitarist, is an underrated studio ingénue making each album a shimmering collection of crystalline music. If you're looking for heartfelt, overtly sincere music, or a perfect fall soundtrack for the sensitive-inclined (bonus! Season-relevant!), then start with Transatlanticism. This 2003 release is easily, lead singer Ben Gibbard's best and frailest performance. If you have that one already, then this year's more confident Plans(as confident as an indie-emo band can be) works successfully as a follow-up, albeit a more secure follow-up. The first hit single off that album, “Soul Meets Body,” is actually just that—an electro-pop song that bears its soul while also moving your body.

2. Youth Group
The Australian sensation Youth Group are virtual nobodies here and criminally, that hasn't changed despite an opening slot on Death Cab For Cutie's last tour. And what's even more disappointing is when considering that their sound, which is not completely unlike their past touring mates, is totally accessible. They are the sentimental hope to Death Cab's full-of-despair hopelessness. This optimistic and anthemic debut album shimmers with an unequaled production value, successfully replicating the moods of Leonard Cohen ("Piece of Wood"), Built To Spill ("Drowned), and James ("Baby Body," the best song I've heard about the paralyzing impact of a poor self-image). This debut is, simply put, lovely. Youth Group sounds like a band you could take home to your mother.

3. Pinback
Pinback, the Californian group, essentially a partnership between Armistead Burwell Smith IV and Rob Crowe, has been wrongfully tagged as "emo" and but ultimately Pinback's third release is a slinky, rhythmic pop album that is more sunny day harmonies than bored confessionals. Granted, the soft and unobtrusive tones of Summer in Abaddon would work as appropriate background music but when you listen to the delicate record on headphones, the subtle nuances and bittersweet instrumentation warmly envelop you, making this a well-seasoned release that's appropriate all year around.

4. The Album Leaf
Perhaps the gentlest release I have ever heard. Listening to the Album Leaf's In A Safe Place is like a mental massage, an audio hammock, a recorded hug. I have personally used this album on many occasions as background inspiration for my writing (yes, you can blame this record). At the core of this collective is Jimmy LaValle, a supremely talented and chilled-out dude who composes these ambient lullabies and then records them with session musicians. His latest, and third album, was tellingly recorded in Iceland and encapsulates the sound of (warning: here comes a cliché) moving glaciers. The potency of this sublime record is so potent (just how potent is it, Arye?) that it just could finally inspire Marisa to truly commit to Ryan forever (I had to make at least one O.C. reference). Recorded with members of Iceland's favorite sons Sigur Ros, In A Safe Place could stir feelings in you in ways your therapist never could.

5. Rogue Wave
A few years back, Zach Schwartz probably decided that Schwartz Wave didn’t make the best band name, so he changed his surname to “Rogue” and recorded one of the best, overlooked albums of 2004. Out of the Shadow (Sub Pop) was rife with melodies so effortless and sublime that it played like a kick to the Shins, the likeminded Albuquerque labelmates who were successfully changing Natalie Portman’s life. Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave’s second release, is another warped carnival ride into the school of more power, less pop. While not as strong as their debut, the unpretentious Shadows won’t boldly claim to change your life, but it will sure make it a lot more pleasant.

6. Matt Pond PA
After one look at a map of Pennsylvania, you’ll discover that Matt Pond PA doesn’t really exist. But if it were indeed present, what kind of city would it be? Well, for one, Matt Pond, PA would experience autumn all year long where the trees would prophetically wither and the leaves would gently fall (in fact, lead singer, and band name-inspiration, Matt Pond¬ references trees and leaves in many of the lyrics). Throughout Pond PA’s fifth full-length release, Several Arrows Later, Pond strums his acoustic guitar over songs of nostalgia and longing, his earnest voice yearning for summer’s past while the brutal winter looms in the near future. In the titular song, he yelps, “you shouldn’t want to sound like they do/ you should want to sound like you.” Pond takes his own advice and produces a mature autumn album, perfectly seasoned. Start with this record and not with his awful cover of “Champagne Supernova” on The O.C. soundtrack volume 3.

Friday, November 04, 2005


A friend involved in the fashion industry just recently gave me the inside tip that “Communication is sooo out this season." And while I am brand-conscious, I wasn’t familiar with the specific one she mentioned.

“No, it’s not a brand,” she laughed. “I meant “communication.” Like talking and discussing and stuff.”

My friend, a great communicator in her own right (to put it mildly), is known for making random generalizations without much substantial consideration. After all, her industry encourages her to change both her mind and her style on a whim. How do you feel right now, they ask themselves? And then there is nothing more to ask.

But this time, she had a point. Except communication isn't just out this season. It's been out for a while.

"It's not a profound statement," said another friend who I regularly IM with, "but I have Instant Messenger, a cell phone, a land line, two email addresses but yet I feel like the people I talk to...we're not quite communicating." Somehow I understood what she was saying without much of an elaboration. We have all so many outlets for communication that, inevitably, we're overwhelmed by the multiple options. We may communicate with all of our contacts often enough but it's rarely substantive. I have one friend in particular who has broken up with his girlfriend three times (and is now back together with her), essentially, because he had never found the courage or the time to share his frustrations and concerns with her. All the while, he spent his time with his on-and-off girlfriend never quite communicating. It was easier being non-confrontational…than tackling their issues.

"I find that I'm generally afraid to tell people what I'm thinking," said this vertebrae-challenged friend. "And because of that, I suppress my feelings, keep things bottled up, so much so that I come to resent the situation I’m stuck in. And as a result, I resent the person I’m stuck in the situation with. I realize that when I'm not communicating, it just makes it worse in the long term. But, man, it’s hard to tell people what you’re really thinking. Especially when you care for them."

But as Tears for Fears said, shout, shout, let it all out. "Situations do get worse when there is no communication," said a psychologist friend of mine. "It sounds obvious but it's advice rarely taken to heart. One half hour conversation revealing your inner thoughts and truest wishes...and in the long term, it could save your relationship a lot of torment and misunderstanding. It could make it the richer for it."

I asked the psychologist whether all these outlets for expression and interaction were harming or helping create more opportunity for an open dialect. “Well, that's a tough question to answer in one conversation...but I would think, in some ways, it’s harming our ability to truly connect,” she said. “You rarely get time alone these days that you’ll take any opportunity to not talk. And you're so overwhelmed by messages, and emails that when we do finally get back to people, it's rarely meaningful or expressive.” She continued, “We're overexposed to people and underexposed to ourselves. And therefore, we don't always have the time to even figure ourselves out.”

There's a song by the Cardigans entitled "Communication." Coincidentally, it's a song that I heard on shuffle on Saturday night during a productive conversation of my own. In fact, that very discourse was perhaps one of the best conversations I've had in a long time, therein allowing me to truly communicate. While we spoke, the lyrics softly passed in the background, "If you want communication/That’s what you get/I’m talking and talking/But I don’t know how to connect." There's a real difference between talking and communicating. Talking is when the mouth isn't afraid to let the words go. There’s not much attachment involved in talking. But communicating usually involves risk. Communicating is when your thoughts break free from the inner-workings of your mind and offer themselves to the listener, who hopefully embraces them.

So perhaps my fashionable friend was right. Maybe communication, along with the argyle pattern, is out this season but I, for one, am doing my best to be unfashionable.